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shake bend and break

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You make my heart shake
Bend and break
But I can't turn away
And it's driving me wild
You're driving me wild 

-Troye Sivan, Wild

***

Yoongi really, truly hates his next door neighbor.

Don’t ask him why. He doesn’t have substantial evidence (yet). It’s more of a feeling, seeing as how Yoongi’s never even met them. Not that he needs to. He knows, deep down in his gut, that they’re most likely terrible in every way.

It may be just a feeling but there are signs—several signs that Yoongi likes to mentally stack together when he’s feeling particularly self-righteous and irritated toward said neighbor—that tell him the gut feeling isn’t far off.

For starters, there’s the elevator. Several times Yoongi’s called for his neighbor to hold the door while jogging to catch up, only to have the doors close right in his face as he gets there. The asshole lets the doors close, and Yoongi knows it’s his neighbor in how the elevator ticks upward towards their floor (one where no other tenants in this run down apartment building are currently renting). It’s happened only a handful of times, but it’s enough to leave Yoongi seething every time.

Then there’s the noise problem. Music (shitty Top 40s music, with a heavy emphasis on Justin Bieber) which plays (blasts) through the walls (several times, several dozen fucking times, practically a daily fucking basis). Loud enough that the thin plaster between their places vibrates and the plates in the dish rack rattle. The leftmost wall above Yoongi’s bed used to be white. Now, it’s a collection of scuff marks from times Yoongi has chucked his boots at it in a feeble effort to get the noise to stop.

There are days where Yoongi has considered marching down the hallway and confronting the asshole himself. Give them a piece of his mind. He never does, though. Because, again, not a people person.

(Because those days, by coincidence, often are the Bad Days. Where Yoongi can’t seem to crawl out from under the covers. Or forgets to eat until long after the sun goes down. Those days where he stays up all night just to get a grand total of jackshit done—internal systems firing on a fucked up cocktail of caffeine, self-hatred and a constant stream of fuck this fuck that fuck you. An engine sputtering until it restarts again. Those heavy, hollow, grey-tinted days.)

So, yeah.

Besides, as much as Yoongi hates his neighbor, he doesn’t have the time for confrontations or passive-aggressive behavior. The elevator thing is annoying, but it’s tolerable. The music is loud, but it’s not like Yoongi sleeps much anyhow. The scuff marks add a little personality to the apartment if anything. Like someone actually lives here, instead of just crashing on weekends when they can’t run on fumes for a second longer.

He can deal with all of that and more. He can even deal with the odd slamming door and the occasional weird thumps and slams—the distinct noise of body-meeting-floor that makes Yoongi speculate whether his neighbor is either a) an enthusiastic participant in inhumanely rough sex, or b) a literal fucking serial killer.

Still, he can deal. It’s not a picnic, but he can deal. He hates them fervently, but as long as the tenant of apartment 86-D stays out of the way and doesn’t specifically intervene in Yoongi’s life, it’s fine.

The straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back was never supposed to be the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper. But lately the recurring theme in life seems to be And This is Why Min Yoongi Can’t Have Nice Things, so it just fucking figures.

Crossword puzzles in the Sunday paper—AKA pretty much the only reason to get out of bed on the bad weeks—are Yoongi’s secret coveted hobby. Monday through Saturday is for lyrics and studio time, grinding his thoughts down with mortar and pestle to try and concoct some sort of working melody.

But Sundays are for crossword puzzles. For sitting in the sliver of sunlight that spills through the window, drinking a pot of coffee as the morning unfurls to afternoon. Paper laid out on his lap, dictionary in one hand, pen in the other. It’s the closest thing Yoongi has to meditation, or what Namjoon would probably call mindfulness—what the fuck ever. Bottom line, it’s the quietest part of Yoongi’s week. He actively enjoys it.

The first week the newspaper goes missing, he doesn’t even spare it a thought.

The second, he’s miffed and confused, but not suspicious to chalk it up to anything but a glitch in the delivery system.

The third, the paper does actually turn up, but the crossword is missing. As well as the Music & Arts section, the whole thing looking like someone unfolded it in sections, and then put it back together in a hurry.

86-D is suspiciously quiet that day.

The fourth week—well.

Yoongi is barefoot and his toes are numb. It’s that time of the year when the chill of autumn flips right to uncomfortably cold, especially in the hallway as he bangs his fist on the door to 86-D.

He knows the fucker is home. The crossword was missing again, plus half the actual paper. That, coupled with Justin Bieber blasting since the sun came up makes for a complete sum of nope. Just, nope, tolerance level: hit. Yoongi’s had enough of this shit.

The truth is, Yoongi has never really seen his neighbor, they always seem to miss each other. Not that it matters. Someone as annoying and as rude as this asshole has got to be either a partially deaf old person who hates everyone younger than them, or one of those uncomfortably pretentious white dudebro exchange students who saw like, a single episode of Naruto and decided they “really connected with Asian culture.”

So as he knocks on the door, ready to give 86-D a piece of his mind, it never occurs to Yoongi that he doesn’t really know.

And because he doesn’t really know, there’s no way in hell to prepare.

Because the person who opens the door sure as shit ain’t a tiny elderly person.

Sure as fuck ain’t American Horror Story: Hipster either.

The sight of 86-D hits like a wet towel to the face. A cold wet thwap to the system, and all at once Yoongi’s brain bursts apart in twelve different directions like a spilled bucket of marbles, loud and clattering and heading every which way.

Eyes. Huge very wide very brown eyes. Sweat gathered on the temples, making his bangs stick to his forehead. His? Yup. Yup, definitely a dude. Definitely a man because said man is shirtless and said man is standing in the doorway shirtless and sweating and said man’s chest is flexing like he’s out of breath and did Yoongi mention he is a Man and that he is sweating despite the cold and also Jesus fucking goddamn shitting Christ somebody help him

“Uh. Can I help you?”

“Abs.” Yoongi blurts, because yup, turns out 86-D has those too.

For an agonizing moment they just stare at each other, and if god cared about Yoongi whatsoever, He would have caved the entire apartment building and killed him instantly right about now.

“…What?”

But god does not care at all about Yoongi’s suffering, leaving him alone to scoop the shards of his brain together with a fierce mental kick and a resulting scowl.

“Stop stealing my newspapers.”

“Um.” 86-D blinks again, and his eyes are so fucking big what the fuck. Yoongi would look down to avoid them, but he learned his lesson the first time around. “Yeah. Okay. Sorry. One sec.”

The guy disappears back into his apartment for a moment, leaving Yoongi alone in the hallway for several horrified seconds of silent gay panic. For a brief second he almost walks back to his apartment and pretends this entire interaction never happened, but before he can retreat the guy returns, clutching a slightly creased newspaper.

He’s still slightly out of breath. Still definitely shirtless. It doesn’t matter that Yoongi was already aware of these facts, his thoughts scatter like marbles all over again.

“Do you, um. Do you want it back?” His voice is tentative, unsure. Young.

Yoongi grunts, like that somehow communicates anything coherent. He takes the paper, turns heel without another word.

“Uh, wait,” 86-D calls after him, “I didn’t quite get your name?”

“Wasn’t offering it, kid.” Yoongi replies, and closes his door with a pointed click. 

 

***

 

That’s all he sees of his asshole neighbor for several weeks. The Justin Bieber continues. The newspaper stealing does not. 

(The Bambi eyes and the washboard stomach are absent as well. Yoongi hates himself for even noticing.)

Outside, in the world beyond the cold floors of the apartment, leaves turn from glowing orange to a curled and ugly brown, brittle as they fall.

Yoongi pulls two all nighters at the studio and puts out a new track that picks up traction on Soundcloud. Three days after it’s posted, his name gets actual search results on Naver that aren’t just his social media accounts. He’s exhausted beyond capacity; the last of his measly savings went into the studio time for this track and he knows he’s gonna regret it when he’s going hungry next week, but it feels—for once—like he’s got the upper hand on things.

Leave it to 86-D to ruin all of that.

 

***

 

At first, Yoongi doesn’t even hear the meowing.

He’s right in the middle of one of those quick-doze-turned-seven-hour-long-naps that he so rarely gets. The ones that leave him somehow more disoriented and groggy then when he first fell into bed. It’s too easy to sleepily dismiss the noise. After all, it’s Seoul. Constant din of city life in a given—even if the ambulance siren in question sounds really close, it’s nothing he hasn’t both heard and slept through before. He keeps his eyes closed, curls tighter into the bed.

Instead of tapering off, the sound only gets louder. Higher pitched. A wail that seems to come from all over, the noise bouncing off the walls of the alleyway below like the ambulance is parked there, right below Yoongi’s apartment.

The siren is persistent, but so is Yoongi when it comes to his sleep.

And then—right before dropping over the edge into unconsciousness, Yoongi’s drowsy brain supplies the word cat.

As in: Hey asshole, that’s not an ambulance, that’s a CAT.

No. Yoongi burrows even further into the blankets, screwing his eyes shut as if that will tune out the sound. No.

It’s raining outside. Already there’s a lullaby forming in the rain that’s begun to pitter-pat on the windows, light drizzle oozing into steady downpour. Sleep crooks its fingers and beckons again; it’s all too easy to give in.  

But then the meows become ugly yowls, increasing in both volume and frequency until they’re louder than even the rain.

“Jesus fuck alright.” Yoongi peels himself off the mattress like duct tape, body resisting every inch of the way. It’s way too early (late?) for this shit. Min Yoongi’s got ninety-nine problems and he doesn’t plan on adding a stray animal into the mix.

He trudges out into the living room and there, sure enough, just outside the glass door to Yoongi’s tiny fire escape—drenched and yowling and hardly distinguishable from a used floor mop—is a cat.

Yoongi blinks. The cat blinks back. He lives on the seventh floor—how did a cat even get up this far?

A flash of lightning goes off in the distance, rumbling thunder on its heels.

Before he’s got another second to talk himself out of it, Yoongi slides open the door. The cat streaks inside, still yowling.

“If you shit or piss anywhere in this apartment I will throw you back out into the rain. I swear to god,” Yoongi says by way of greeting. The cat doesn’t seem to hear him. It’s already disappeared somewhere in the room.

Right. Okay. It’s cold outside. Cats need…what do cats need. Yoongi’s only ever had a dog. Holly liked sleeping on warm things to heat his tiny body up. A bed seems like a good plan, for starters. 

Brain still working through the stages of waking up, Yoongi hits up his pitifully stocked closet down the hallway and grabs the first thing at the bottom. One of those joke novelty shirts Hoseok bought him back in college with a marijuana leaf pattern—something he’d worn only once in public and only ever because he was way overdue for laundry.

Should he dry the cat off? It’s not exactly toasty in Yoongi’s apartment right now and he really can’t afford to crank the furnace until mid-winter. What if the cat gets hypothermia? Will the cat let him touch it? It could bite him. It could have rabies. Yoongi doesn’t have cat food. He doesn’t even have people food. His apartment is a Category 5 disaster zone of empty coffee cups and mix CDs and those mental health pamphlets that Namjoon so conveniently leaves lying around whenever he stops by, and Yoongi does not have the ability nor will to take care of another living thing when he’s already bad at it with himself.

The mini-crisis held in his closet—oh, irony—turns out to be for nothing. Yoongi comes back to the living room and stops short. The cat is curled up inside his favorite hoodie, which had been sitting on the sofa. 

“Hey, that’s mine,” Yoongi whines, trudging over and lifting the cat briefly before depositing it on the couch cushion. It hisses at being jostled but otherwise doesn’t bite or scratch Yoongi, which he considers a plus.

He sits across from the cat, bunches the weed shirt into what looks like a comfortable cushion (do cats even sleep in beds? He feels like whenever Tae sends pictures to the group chat they’re sleeping on windowsills or in shipping boxes).

“Here. Get in.” He gestures at the make-shift weed shirt slash cat bed.

The cat looks at the shirt, looks back at Yoongi. Then it crawls over the shirt and sits right on his lap instead.

“Agh,” Yoongi grunts, “No. That’s not for you, either. Stop that.”

It tips its head back at him as if to say do I look like I give a shit and no, no the cat does not look like it gives a shit. It’s still wet, Yoongi can feel the rain seeping into his pajama pants.

Praying for his life and limbs, Yoongi picks up the T-shirt and gently pats down the cat in an attempt to dry it off. It’s fur sticks up at odd angles and it looks miffed, but it doesn’t try and claw him for his efforts.

He can’t help but notice that the cat is kind of ugly—not that Yoongi’s really one to talk by way of comparison. Still, this ain’t no cute orphan kitten with wide eyes and a tiny head. This is one ugly ass cat, with a patchy dishwater grey coloring to its fur and only one eye, bright yellow. There’s stubbiness to the tail that makes him think it’s probably been broken a few times.

This is not the cat you rescue from the thunderstorm. This is the cat you see at the beginning of the horror movie when you move into the creepy abandoned house right before you get possessed by a demon or eaten by a zombie.

And right now, ominous horror movie cat is purring. Eye closed. Like it doesn’t plan on moving from this spot any time soon.

Yoongi doesn’t have anything to feed it and he isn’t even sure if he has running water at the moment, but the cat is purring. It must have been exhausted to have fallen asleep that fast. Especially if it climbed seven fucking stories of fire escape.

With a resigned sigh, Yoongi sets the T-shirt aside and settles his fingers along the shape of the cat’s spine, pets once. Twice. Settles his fingers in the warmth of fur that’s quickly drying. Once the rain lets up, he’ll put the cat back out again. Should be any minute now.

He tips his head back to the ceiling and rests his eyes. Any minute now, the rain will ease up.

Yoongi doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but it happens just the same. 

 

***

It doesn’t occur to him until the next morning, ushering the cat out onto the fire escape and into the dewy sunlight, that said cat probably belongs to Mr. Asshole 86-D himself.

The notion makes him almost pity the wretched thing, which doesn’t even have a collar or a name tag. There’s less chance of strangers taking it in, because of the whole cuteness factor that this cat seems to be seriously lacking in. Having to deal with 86-D as an owner seems downright depressing. Imagine living with someone whose favorite music is Justin Bieber and makes noise 24/7 and apparently wanders around shirtless. Imagine living in an apartment with someone like that.

(A quieter and much gayer part of Yoongi says it wouldn’t be so bad. He ignores it.)

"Go on. Shoo." Yoongi ushers the cat onto the landing. The cat blinks its one yellow eye at him, opens its mouth with another loud meow as if to say you’re not my mom

"Shh. No complaining. You don't belong here,” Yoongi grouses, and promptly shuts the door. Refuses to feel guilty even after the cat meows again, forcing himself to turn around and trudge to the kitchen to make coffee.

The meows taper off by the time Yoongi’s got a pot brewing and convinced himself the incident was a one-off. A fluke. The cat probably got sick of having a neglectful asshole for an owner, or got locked out and caught in the rain, and decided to chill with Yoongi for a bit. Which is fine. Yoongi’s an asshole in his own right, sure. But he’s not going to say no to a defenseless animal in the middle of a storm.

Between sips of coffee, Yoongi puts out the small guilt fires burning in his chest—the kind that spark from seeing lonely things that don’t have real homes. He carefully boxes up the ashes and buries those ashes ten feet under other suppressed emotions where they’ll never see the light of day.

The way Yoongi figures it, the quota for random acts of kindness is filled for the rest of the year, allowing him to go back to being a piece of human garbage. It’s a one time thing with the cat. If it ever comes back, well, tough shit.

He glances out the window. The fire escape is empty.

Good, Yoongi thinks, refusing to wonder where it went off to. It’s not like it’s his problem anymore.

After all, the cat is never going to come back.

***

(Suffice to say, the cat comes back.)

***

 

Ask anyone who knows Jeongguk, and they will tell you that he likes his sleep. Full eight hour cycles, circadian rhythm, REM, all that bullshit doesn’t really matter to him. Just the sleep part. With a full course load and two jobs on top of it, he can feel stress already starting to build like pressure steam behind his eyeballs—he really can’t afford to be picky. He’ll take whatever he can get when it comes to rest.

Other people like long walks on the beach, piña coladas, getting caught in the rain, whatever. Jeon Jeongguk likes to sleep.

What he does not like is when that sleep is disrupted.

He’s having a nightmare about textbook prices when the distinct noise of hammering on the door breaks through. His neck cricks when he snaps to. There’s drool on his anatomy textbook and a crease from a notebook impressed on his cheek.

The clock reads 3:27 am, and someone is knocking on Jeongguk’s door.

It better be a murderer, is all Jeongguk thinks as he heads for the door. Being awake at this hour isn’t worth it unless the sweet embrace of death is following suit.

It’s not a murderer at the door, but it might as well be the way Jeongguk’s heart comes to full stop for a solid second.

Jeongguk doesn’t know much about his next door neighbor other than he’s pretty cute, hates cold weather, and hates Justin Bieber probably more than he hates cold weather.

(He knows the third thing because the banging on the wall is never more fervent than when “Let Me Love You” is playing.)

(He knows the second thing because after the Newspaper Incident he walked down the hallway toward the elevator with 85-D’s door hanging open and overheard “Hyung it is September and barely seventy one degrees out why are you putting on a coat” followed by “Shut the fuck up, Hoseok” in a raspy voice Jeongguk recognized all too well.)

(He knows the first thing because—well.

Because three weeks ago Jeongguk got his ass dragged for nicking the newspaper, and then shot down before he could even invite the guy in for an apologetic cup of coffee.

Because despite a spectacular rejection that’s going to have Jeongguk hating himself for at least twenty more years, his neighbor had sharp eyes and stood about an inch shorter than him, and Jeongguk’s had a hard time thinking about much else since.)

He knows only these three things and now, a fourth.

Jeongguk should probably be more drawn to the fact that the person standing in front of him looks pissed off. Or at the very least, notice that said person is holding a very large and equally pissed off looking cat in his arms.

Maybe it says more about him than his neighbor that Jeongguk notices the giant fuzzy slippers first.

Kumamon slippers, to be more specific. Giant fuzzy Kumamon slippers, something Jeongguk has never really seen on a fully grown man. He didn’t even knew those came in adult sizes. But being that his neighbor seems to have an exceptionally slight build, Jeongguk notes, it would make sense if they were still kid-sized slippers after all.

It’s cute, is what it is. It’s really, really—

“Your cat keeps showing up at my apartment.”

Jeongguk tears his eyes away from the slippers and looks up. His neighbor is puffy-eyed and rumpled, like he just woke up. Which again makes sense, seeing as it’s three in the morning.

“It’s annoying,” Kumamon Slippers adds, like he’s waiting for Jeongguk to interrupt with an explanation. “I’m busy as it is and I could really do without the meowing in the middle of the night. So, here.”

He holds the cat out like it’s baby Simba and “The Circle of Life” is blasting in the background.  The cat stares apprehensively at Jeongguk, one eye and uneven whiskers. It looks bored, and  decidedly unenthused to be dangling mid-air.

Several dumbstruck seconds of blinking later, Jeongguk realizes he’s supposed to take that thing. Which is so not happening. It’s not that he has anything against cats. Cats are fine as a concept, and most are cute. But this one might try to bite his head off if he so much as touches it.

Not unlike his neighbor.

Heat floods Jeongguk’s cheeks, even though he hasn’t done a single thing wrong. He certainly doesn’t need to be the one embarrassed in this situation and yet—

“Um, that’s not my cat?”

“Are you…asking me?”

Jeongguk shakes his head so hard his teeth rattle. “No, no. Sorry. I—that is not my cat.”

Kumamon Slippers looks at Jeongguk like he’s an idiot. “Really.”

“I mean, yeah, I think I would know if I had a cat. It must be someone else’s.”

Another are-you-a-fucking-idiot stare. “We live on the seventh floor. There’s no other tenants up here. How did a cat get up seven floors?”

“Maybe it took the elevator,” says Jeongguk without thinking.

A strangled noise cuts itself off as his neighbor coughs sharply into his sleeve. Probably dust in the air. Jeongguk’s pretty sure there’s asbestos in the ceiling on some of the floors.

Kumamon Slippers looks at Jeongguk again, this time a little less murderous.

“Look, kid, I’m not mad. But I can’t take care of this thing.”

“Well. Neither can I. So.”

The guy sighs and takes the cat back, leveling Jeongguk with a look that’s completely blank. Quiet and considering. Like Jeongguk’s one of those flimsy pieces of carbon copy paper that needs to be held up to the light to read. Completely and utterly transparent.

Despite being the taller between them, it makes Jeongguk feel suddenly and inexplicably small, that look. He schools his features, tries not to blink so much, wills his shifting feet to still.

His neighbor’s hand absently settles to pat awkwardly at the cat’s head. Like he’s not even aware he’s doing it. Jeongguk might be sleep addled and even dreaming right now, but he swears he hears the cat purring. “Fine. I’ll take it to the shelter tomorrow.”

“That’s probably a good idea, yeah.” Jeongguk nods, and waits another beat as he continues to be stared down with narrowed eyes.

“Unless you want to fess up and admit it’s yours.”

“Dude,” Jeongguk frowns, “It’s not my cat.”

“Whatever,” his neighbor mutters, turning around, “And don’t call me dude. Shit’s disrespectful.”

“…Dude-ssi?”

“Min Yoongi,” his neighbor says, and then blinks, like he’s just as surprised to hear the name as Jeongguk is.

“Thank god.” Jeongguk gets the feeling that he’s not supposed to be smiling, so he ducks his head down as he mutters it. “I thought I was was going to have to refer to you as Kumamon Slippers from hereon out.”

There’s that odd strangled choking noise again, followed by a cough. Jeongguk doesn’t really know why he feels like fucking smiling all of a sudden.

“Sorry to wake you up,” Yoongi says after a moment, “I’ll deal with the cat.”

“You do that.”

He’s stepped back into his apartment and is halfway to closing the door before he hears, “By the way—if you’re going to play loud music, fine, but please for the love of god play something that was written before 2008 and isn’t Justin Bieber.”

The door to 85-D slams, and the hallway goes quiet again.

It’s four a.m. Jeongguk’s got a morning lecture at eight and a double shift after that. He’s got nowhere near enough sleep to make it through the day in one piece, but he’s suddenly keyed up. Antsy. Like he just knocked back a double espresso on an empty stomach. May as well squeeze in an early morning workout and be up with the early bird if he’s going to be productive.

When he queues up the workout playlist, he barely hesitates before he taps the Repeat Track button on his phone, selects “Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber, and starts to stretch.

If he cranks up the bass extra loud, it’s only because he likes the way the music pounds in his bones. No other reason whatsoever.

 

***

Yoongi tries his best to get rid of the cat. He really does.

The first attempt is met with extreme resistance from the cat. Yoongi gets within ten feet of the animal shelter, which he drove halfway across the damn city to get to, and the cat promptly freaks the fuck out. Scratches Yoongi’s arms to hell and won’t come out from under the car because Yoongi’s the idiot who didn’t try and put it in a crate.

The second attempt on the following day—makeshift crate out of shipping boxes with holes for oxygen in tow, Cat yowling miserably within—goes better. Only Yoongi gets out of the car, sees a line of people out the door holding animals as well, and stifles a groan in the back of his throat. He’s got studio time in thirty minutes that he sacrificed this week’s food budget for. He literally can’t afford to miss it.

On the third attempt—crate in tow, on a day he’s sure there’s plenty of time—Yoongi makes it as far as the counter. A shelter worker with bags under their eyes and a cup of coffee in hand passes him an intake form and tells him in a matter of fact tone that the shelter is at capacity. Any animals not adopted or reclaimed by previous families within fourteen days will be euthanized for efficiency. Starting with any and all animals that qualify as seniors, or invalid.

Yoongi looks at the box in his hands, where he can see one yellow eye glaring up at him. He doesn’t have any idea how old the cat actually is, but he knows it ain’t no fluffy kitten. No potential adoptee is going to see this thing and think, “Yup! That’s what I want to pay 100,000 won for!”

It’s not your problem, Yoongi thinks fiercely. You’ve got enough bullshit on your plate and this is the last thing

A single scraggly paw pokes through one of the holes in the box, bats at Yoongi’s hand where it’s resting on the lid.

He doesn’t necessarily sprint back to his car. But there’s a fast enough power walk there that by the time he gets into his seatbelt, turns on the engine, he’s panting.

Cat pokes its paw through the hole in the box again. The yowling has stopped.

“Yeah, whatever.” Yoongi turns his blinker on and tears out of the parking lot. “Rent’s due on the first of every month. This is temporary. Don’t get too comfortable, okay? God—,” he grips the steering wheel at a stop sign, “God, I must be out of my mind, Jesus Christ.” 

His phone battery is on its last death throes, but he finds himself looking up the nearest pet supply store on his route home anyhow.

***

Five times in the past three days Jeongguk almost goes down the hallway to knock on the door to offer something. Offer what, he has no idea. Offer to take the cat off Yoongi’s hands, even though he’s never had a cat before. Offer to pitch in for some cat food, even though it’s not his responsibility whatsoever. Offer to do something, anything, if it means Yoongi’s looking at him, especially if it means Jeongguk doesn’t feel quite so alone in this big apartment building in an even bigger city. He almost steals the newspaper again just to see what happens.

But something a little too close to shyness keeps Jeongguk quarantined from doing any of these things. Too much, all of them. So he studies and works out and sleeps in tight increments and exists on a meticulous packed schedule but somehow still manages to feel lost. It’s been like this for a while. Loneliness in a new place is normal. He’ll get used to it soon.

(The truth is, Jeongguk’s been here going on three months now, and he’s pretty sure the only people he’s had a 5+ minute conversation with here begin and end with: his landlord, his lab partner who never fucking contributes to group projects, and his boss at the musty old record store two blocks away.)

(The truth is, his cranky ass neighbor with a cat had been one of the few who’d made Jeongguk want to try a little harder not to be such a fucking headcase.)

So it’s not that Jeongguk jumps at the opportunity to interact with him. It’s just when that the opportunity presents itself one afternoon with a clatter and curse in the stairwell that echoes down the hallway, Jeongguk may or may not dash out of his unit to meet it.

Yoongi’s hands are swimming in a jacket that looks at least three sizes too big for him. Those hands are white knuckled on a heavy looking box with one of those plastic straps at the top, and he is straining and grunting to heave it up the stairs. The elevator’s been broken all week—did he just climb seven flights with this thing?

Before he can chicken out, Jeongguk’s there and lifting the box from Yoongi’s hands (cold and pale with a purple bandaid wrapped around his right ring figure, not that Jeongguk’s looking), “Here, let me help.”

Yoongi darts back like he’s been burned, scowling. “I’ve got it just fine—,” he starts, but his protests cut off the second Jeongguk lifts it the whole box with one hand like it’s nothing, balancing it on his shoulder.

For a second, Yoongi just sort of stares at him. Which makes Jeongguk feel self-conscious, like maybe he shouldn’t have been so eager in coming out here to help. Like, he absolutely wanted to. But did he have to be so obvious about it?

So much for being chill.

“Were you taking this to your apartment?”

“Yeah,” Yoongi says faintly, and then coughs. “Yeah, I am.”

“Okay. Lead the way.”

“I really did have it.”

“Clearly,” Jeongguk snorts.

“How did you even hear me? What, were you sitting behind your ear listening for me to get home?”

Yes, Jeongguk’s brain supplies but he says, “Nah. I was just heading out, actually.”

Yoongi’s gaze slides past Jeongguk’s shoulder. “You left your door open.”

“Well, obviously I saw you struggling before I closed it.”

“My knight in shining armor.”

“By the way, um.” Jeongguk bites his lip, grips the strap of the box a little harder, “I’ve been meaning to ask you. Or like, tell you, I dunno. Anyways. I really hope you didn’t get rid of that Cat?”

“Thought it wasn’t yours,” replies Yoongi testily.

“It’s not,” he shakes his head, “But I was doing some research on pounds and what actually happens to homeless pets in Seoul, and there really aren’t many no-kill shelters in this part of the city so I just wanted to say, if you can’t take care of it or already took it to the pound let me know. Because I’ll take it. I can take care of it if you can’t.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t.”

“I mean yes. But I don’t want it to die. Like I really really really don’t want that on my conscience, I don’t want to deal with showing up at the pearly gates to heaven in like seventy years and having whoever’s in charge be like ‘oh sorry Jeon Jeongguk, you let your neighbor kill that poor homeless cat that one time, off to hell you go.’ That’s less than ideal for me. So let me take it off your hands or, uh. Give me the address for wherever you gave it away. I’ll go pick it up.” Jeongguk, finally run out of steam, forces his stupid mouth shut. 

Yoongi stares at him for another beat. Then slowly shifts his body weight and there—down on the stair landing below, tucked against the wall—is a cat crate.

“I was taking trips,” he says quietly, and there’s something in his eyes that makes Jeongguk want to slam the door to his apartment closed and never set foot outside again. “I just got back from the pet store.”

Jeongguk shifts the box on his shoulder, kind of wants to die when he spots the blatantly obvious label KITTY LITTER bright purple lettering on the side of the box.

“Oh,” he says lamely. There’s no way to recover from the completely unnecessary meltdown he just had. “You didn’t get rid of it.”

“No,” says Yoongi, giving him an odd look. “I didn’t. Did you really research pounds and shelters?”

“Yeah.” 

Silence in the hallway. The cat meows forlornly.

“Well, I’m gonna go ahead and get this set up for you. You take the cat,” Jeongguk blurts, hoists the cat litter a little higher, trudging over to Yoongi’s door. More for an excuse for Yoongi miss his face turn the color of a tomato than anything else.

A few more stilted seconds of awkwardness pass. Yoongi lifts the cat crate and gropes for his apartment key, and then they’re in pushing inside.

The first thing Jeongguk thinks upon entering Min Yoongi’s apartment is that nobody lives here at all.

Even though Jeongguk’s only lived in his tiny space next door for a few months, the space still looks like his. There are pictures of his family on the walls, a sketch his brother drew for him on his birthday taped to the fridge, some post-cards from the touristy spots in Busan. It’s not much, but it’s Jeongguk’s.

There’s nothing like that in Yoongi’s.

There are no pictures, no memorabilia on the walls.The only sign of clutter in the living room lies on the tiny desk shoved into the corner, covered in small stacks of paper that seem to be torn out of notebooks. There’s a tiny laptop and what looks to be a bunch of recording equipment and expensive looking headphones, but nothing more specific than that. Above it, where Jeongguk would expect to see a TV stand, there’s just a cork board covered in post-its and thumb tacks. While trailing Yoongi across the room, Jeongguk gets a look of some of the notes, random phrases in a cramped looking scrawl. Stuff like “breathe OR dream??????” or “I already killed him” that makes no actual sense and should cause alarm. Really, Jeongguk’s just curious about it. He’s never seen such a specifically organized mess. Like there’s purpose in every single note tacked up on that cork board.

Huh.

Yoongi wordlessly sets down the crate, unbolts the tiny door, and lets the cat out. It exits precariously, and then—recognizing the space—leaps up onto the futon next to where Jeongguk is standing.

“You can set the box down there.” Yoongi gestures to the only unoccupied corner of the room. “I’ve got a cat tree down in my car but I’ll grab it later. Thanks, kid.”

Jeongguk knows a subtle dismissal when he sees one. Before he can retreat, the cat butts its head against his thigh from where it stands on the futon, arching its back, tail curling slightly about his thigh. It seems much friendlier than the other night.

“Oh!” Jeongguk smiles, crouches down to eye level. “Hey kitty.”

The cat gives him a slow level blink, as if to say you may pet me now. So Jeongguk does, a gentle line from its head to the base of its neck, very lightly. He doesn’t know much about cats but he knows enough to know they need to be approached gently. One wrong move or pet in the wrong direction and the claws come out, depending on just how trusting they are. He must have done something right, though, because the cat starts pacing, squat grey legs moving back and forth as it rubs against Jeongguk’s thigh and cranes its neck up toward his fingers.

“What are you gonna name it?” 

“Who said anything about naming her?”

So it’s a her. “Well, you’re keeping her, aren’t you?”

Yoongi doesn’t respond, just grunts, watching the cat warily as she jumps off the futon and trots over to him. She stretches her legs up as if looking for a head scratch and—when Yoongi doesn’t immediately comply—drags her extended claws down his pant leg with a rather ugly ripping noise.

“Oh, what the fuck,” Yoongi snarls. “You’re not getting anything if you act like that.”

“How about Wolverine?” Jeongguk prompts.

“Or demon.”

“Mittens?”

“Or demon.”

Another raking sound as the cat drags its claws over the calf of Yoongi’s jeans. Yoongi scoops it up with a huff, as if to scold it. But the cat goes belly up the second he lifts it, and immediately starts purring.

Jeongguk has to try really really hard not to smile.

“I think it likes you.”

“I regret this already,” Yoongi groans miserably, but it comes out like a lie.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” Jeongguk shrugs, tucking his hands in his pockets and heading for the door. “But if you ever need me to take the cat off of you because you can’t handle it—”

“I’m not an invalid, kid.”

“You kind of are. You’re like,” Jeongguk sizes Yoongi up in what he hopes conveys every ounce of cockiness he doesn’t really feel, “What—forty-five?”

“Twenty-four, you absolute asshole.”

Laughter comes so quick and so loud it startles both of them. Jeongguk has kind of an annoying laugh, doesn’t like the way his own nose scrunches up and his teeth show sometimes. This one sends his head reeling back on reflex, a full blown cackle, and when he opens his eyes again Yoongi’s looking at him again in this quiet, impossible to read sort of way. There’s something shimmering in the dark of his eyes when he looks at Jeongguk like that—like mica at the bottom of a murky riverbed, caught briefly by a ray of sun.

Jeongguk briefly perishes in mortification and resurrects all over again under that the weight of that look.

“See you around, grandpa,” he quips, with nothing else better to say, whisking out of the apartment before he has a further chance to embarrass himself. “And it’s Jeongguk, by the way.”

He lets the door slam obnoxiously loud on purpose, returns to his apartment, and gets absolutely no work done for the rest of the damn day.

***

At one point, about two years back, Yoongi’s older brother Jaewon and his wife had a baby. Yoongi was in school, so he and Jaewon don’t really keep in touch much apart from the occasional phone call, but even he remembers the recaps. Childcare was a living nightmare, according to his brother, a vicious cycle that boiled down to feed baby, change diapers, and never fucking sleep. He remembers seeing Jaewon and Emily over Christmas break and thinking that neither of them had slept in over six months, that’s how exhausted they looked. They were happy, very obviously happy, but dead on their feet. 

Taking care of Cat is like that. Only a thousand times worse.

It’s only been a week that Yoongi’s spent with her and he is exhausted. Seven days he’s forced himself out of bed at a decent hour to feed her and check her water. Seven days he’s been on high alert because there’s another living being in an apartment that Yoongi quickly realizes is not exactly cat-proof.

Keeping Cat away from every easy to open window and door and snatching away every single piece of potentially chewable wire equipment in his apartment while also making sure she is fed and watered and that he routinely changes her litter box is up there the spectrum of Too Much To Handle. When he does sleep, it’s only to be woken up by the pitter-pat of feet as Cat spazzes about on the carpet because it’s four in the fucking morning and why the fuck not. Why not try and shred the couch cushions? Why not jump up on the counter and start playing with the oven dials or—even better—the stove burners?

He’s so busy trying to navigate this newfound role of Cat Herder that he’s completely ghosted his friends. It’s with a sickening lurch of guilt that Yoongi realizes on day five that he’s missed over 357 text messages in the group chat, and several individual texts from the usual suspects (Namjoon: Dude where tf are you?, Hobi: are we still on for studio time next week?????, and Taehyung: I’ve dragged your fashion style 12x in the group chat and you are MISSING OUT, respectively).

He keeps meaning to respond, will even go so far as to take out his phone. But the Living Breathing Hell-Spawn seems to have a sixth sense for when Yoongi’s guard is down. It’s like he takes out his phone, and Cat immediately uses the opportunity to make a run for the fire escape, or find the nearest fragile object to shatter (the casualty count now up to six, by this point).

To top it off, there’s 86-D-it’s-Jeongguk-by-the-way. Who, for reasons wholly unknown to Yoongi, has begun stopping by the apartment whenever he feels like it. That’s a whole other battle in and of itself.

Rent may be cheap, but there’s a lot of downsides to living in such a shithole. The worst of them being the fact that Yoongi’s front door doesn’t exactly lock. The lock turns initially. But give the door a hard enough shove, jimmy the handle a bit, and it swings open without much resistance.

This Jeongguk discovers the first time he stops by. When he knocks a little too enthusiastically, something Yoongi assumes happens often to people with biceps of Jeongguk’s size, the door just opens.

(“Your door is broken,” Jeongguk says by way of greeting.

“Did you come here for a reason or just to mock my living situation?”

“I wanted to make sure you hadn’t turned the Cat out to the streets yet. Did you turn out the Cat to the streets yet? Did you name her yet?”

Jeongguk’s cheeks are rosy and there is sweat beaded on his forehead, making his bangs stick to his skin. Like he just got back from a run or something. He’s completely clothed in a sweatshirt and loose pants, thank god, but at 9 a.m., and barely awake, it is already too much for Yoongi to handle.

“Cat is still here, and no. Her name is just Cat. I’m going back to bed, kid.”)

The second time Jeongguk doesn’t bother knocking. He brings cat toys.

(“What the hell is this?”

“I brought some stuff for Cat to play with. You know, since you’re apparently ninety years old and hate fun, I figure she’s plenty bored.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

“Wasn’t sure you had your hearing aid turned up all the way, hyung.”

“Fucking—who said you could call me hyung?”

“You didn’t.” Jeongguk’s wearing a very large hoodie this time around, and black jeans that look less stylishly ripped and more shredded from sheer wear ’n' tear. Cat’s doing her best to make the rips even wider under the guise of using Jeongguk’s calf as her own personal cat tree. He’s been smiling ever since he burst through the door. It’s 2 p.m., and it is too much for Yoongi to handle.

“‘Hyung' has to be earned. Now get out of my house before I call the police.”

“Rude. Bye kitty,” he says, and then, with a glint in his eyes that Yoongi will spend the rest of the day trying to put down in a song lyric, “Bye, Old Man Min.”)

The third time, Yoongi isn’t even home.

(Comes home from the studio to a post-it note on the fridge that says cat’s water and food were low so I went ahead and filled them for you. Also, she LOVES to play with the weasel-ball :) in a neat loopy scrawl.

Yoongi stands in the kitchen, a bit shell-shocked. Cat is purring in her sleep on the couch. He can hear the music pounding through the wall next door, something pulsing and techno and a bit sad sounding. He could go over and say thank you. Should. Wants to.

He doesn’t.)

By the end of the week, dividing up his time between animal maintenance and composing and picking up busboy shifts at the restaurant so he has at least two won to rub together finally begins to take its toll.

And because nothing ever goes right, especially when he most needs it to, Yoongi gets horribly, uncomfortably, miserably sick.

Most of the time he’s able to function on a bare minimum amount of sleep and sustenance without complaint, but Yoongi hates being sick. The most minor of colds have him incapacitated, but at this point the word minor is a bit reflexive. His head is pounding with its own drum beat and his entire body aches to the point of feeling restless, which he’s pretty sure means there’s a fever to top it all off. He’s too weak to get out of bed and make himself some soup, he’s definitely too weak to drive himself to the nearest drug store for some Nyquil. He’s so sick that even Cat seems to sense it, takes a break from her reign of terror to curl up by his side like a living furnace for Yoongi to shiver around.

“Are you waiting for me to die so you can eat my face off?” Yoongi asks her suspiciously, half joking but also half delirious with fever. She flicks her knobby tail at his nose.

The options are limited. It’s either waste away until Cat decides she’s done waiting him out and finishes him off herself, or admit defeat and call Namjoon or Jin for reinforcements.

Guess he’ll just die, then.

He kind of loses track of time between sleeping and wheezing and occasionally dragging himself to go to the bathroom, but somewhere in the middle of that miserable cycle he can hear whistling, and the sound of a door opening, and someone stepping into his apartment.

“That better be a ghost,” he croaks from the sofa. “Because if it’s a human being you’re about to enter a quarantined plague zone and die anyways.”

“What is this, Train to Busan?” Jeongguk chirps from the kitchen. “Why do you sound so weird?”

Oh god please no. Someday he is going to get a fucking deadbolt for that door so humiliations like this can be avoided.

Jeongguk sees him and stops short. Stares a bit. Yoongi is swaddled in a threadbare blanket and shivering next to a small mountain of tissues on the couch. He sniffles, and sneezes so hard a few of the tissues scatter.

“Worse than Train to Busan, got it.” Jeongguk nods shortly. “Rad. You got a medicine cabinet?”

“Empty.” Yoongi shivers.

“Vitamin C?” Jeongguk disappears back into the kitchen only to pop his head back out moments later. “Tea?”

Yoongi shakes his head.

Jeongguk purses his lips, “I want to say ‘damn bitch, you live like this?’ but I don’t think you’ll get the reference.”

“Are you here to mock me with outdated memes or what.”

That brings a laugh out of Jeongguk, a burst of warmth in the cold space of the room. Yoongi finds himself turning towards the sound despite himself.

“You’re in luck. I was just about to order takeout. We’ll get you some ramen, how does that sound? I’ll make tea, you go back to sleep.”

“I said I don’t have—”

The door slams closed before he can finish protesting.

Yoongi dozes for a bit, too tired to feel truly embarrassed but also too embarrassed to really know what else to do but close his eyes to shut out the world.

In sleep, like the distant backtrack of a film—there is the sound of the door opening again, clicking softly shut. Footfalls in the kitchen, boots being slipped off. There’s a kettle set on the stove. He feels the warmth of Cat recede as she trots off towards the sound, mewing like she’s a young defenseless kitten and starving. There’s a brief one-sided phone conversation which Yoongi can only assume is the takeout order. A high whistle as the kettle comes to a boil that tapers off as water pours. The whistling picks up again, softer. Sweeter. Is that the kettle? It sounds nice. Soothing. Changing notes and pitch like poured water, filling the room with music. 

It cuts off a few times, and it’s only when Yoongi really begins to listen, no longer dozing, that he realizes it’s singing. Light, under the breath, barely audible singing.

The voice cuts off again. By the time Yoongi’s made the decision to try falling asleep again, a mug of tea is being shoved under his noise, along with a handful of aspirin.

“Swallow,” Jeongguk commands, and Yoongi’s too tired to choke on air at the commanding tone of voice combined with that particular word of choice. Ain’t no shame when you’re on the verge of death, is what he tells himself at least.

Jeongguk turns out to be far more fussy than he has any right to be, considering they barely know each other and all. He does Yoongi’s dishes so they have clean plates to eat from, even though the food is undoubtedly coming in boxes. He ignores Yoongi’s complaints and makes another cup of tea when the first one’s finished. It reminds Yoongi a little bit of living with Jin, the way he deftly ignores all of Yoongi’s protests and just kind of does whatever the fuck he wants.

A little bit like Jin, but also nothing like that at all.

After the food arrives, Yoongi expects the kid to head back over to his own place. But Jeon Jeongguk apparently has no problem whatsoever making himself at home here. Kicking his feet up on the coffee table as he sits on the couch, Cat sandwiched between them as he digs into a box of greasy chow mein with immense gusto.

Yoongi doesn’t know what to make of it. Of any of this. The last stranger to stay this long in his apartment was well over a year ago and a good deal inebriated. He hasn’t done this—a careful navigation of social decorum and polite chit chat—in ages. So he opens his giant tub of wonton soup in silence. Tries to find a less incriminating spot in the room to look at other than the space beside him. 

They eat in silence. It hurts to swallow but the soup is hot and delicious and though it pains him to admit it, Yoongi already feels a little better.

By the time they’re wrapping up and Yoongi can feel the awkwardness in the silence becoming palpable, or maybe he’s just finally alert enough to recognize it. There’s a hot guy on his couch and he isn’t trying to slip out the door as quickly as possible. A first for Yoongi, who’s just generally bad at this sort of thing—at having hot guys on his couch, at awkwardness, all of it.

It feels like he should say something. Say anything. He opens his mouth to utter the words thank you or can I pay you back for the food or sorry my apartment looks like this sorry I’m a fucking mess.

What comes out is: “So you sing.”

Instantly, Jeongguk’s quiet expression drops off into something wide eyed and terrified.

“You heard that? Sorry. I—I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Don’t apologize,” Yoongi says hurriedly, biting back his own apology for clearly asking something so personal. “Just answer the question. You sing?”

“Not really. I mean. Yeah, I guess I sing. But doesn’t everyone?” Jeongguk begins to tug at his bottom lip with his own teeth. Scratch at the back of his neck. All of five seconds ago he’d looked completely comfortable sprawled out on Yoongi’s couch. Now he looks like he wants to bolt out the nearest escape route because the room’s on fire.

Oh, Yoongi thinks. And then softer, ah.

He’d recognize that expression of forced nonchalance anywhere. Practically coined it at sixteen years old, back in Daegu. The practiced cool that someone uses when they love something, love it more than anything else, love it so terribly that they don’t even know how to talk about it. Afraid they’ll be ridiculed, or regarded as a fool.

It’s the same expression Yoongi uses when he tells people he’s a songwriter. Causal, flippant. Detached. As if music’s not his every waking thought of every day and the last thing he thinks about before he falls asleep.

“Not everyone, I’d say. Not like that. You’ve got some serious pipes on you.”

The words hit their intended mark. Jeongguk flushes, the pink in his cheeks earnest, belying the tone as he scoffs, “Thanks. I’m a real hit at karaoke bars.”

“You’re not a voice major, then?”

“No.” Another flush, more telling than the last. Something guilty yet pleased flutters behind Yoongi’s sternum. “Just a hobby.”

“Shame. You could be a hell of a singer,” Yoongi says. Jeongguk shifts on the couch, looking increasingly uncomfortable with the subject of conversation, so Yoongi veers, “Barring your questionable taste in music.”

It’s bait, and Jeongguk takes it. Like teasing and bickering is easier territory to navigate than compliments.

He wrinkles his nose, “My music taste is fine. What’s wrong with top 40?”

“Um—apart from cookie cutter substance-less corporate record company hell? Where do I even begin?”

“Oh, and what do you listen to, huh?” Jeongguk gives Yoongi a once-over that’s supposed to seem evaluating but really just reminds Yoongi of how he hasn’t really showered in a few days and probably looks like a hot ass mess. “My guess is either death metal or some really pretentious shit.”

Just like that, Yoongi feels something quietly unlock in his chest. Whatever tension or unease he’d been feeling at the unchartered waters of this conversation quickly disappears.

Still swaddled in blankets, sniffling, and generally miserable, Yoongi rises from the couch and grabs his laptop and his headphones from his desk.

“Budge up, buttercup,” he grunts, shoving one earphone in Jeongguk’s direction. “Welcome to Basic Fucking Taste 101.”

 

***

Upon entering the contaminated ground zero belonging to one Min Yoongi’s humble abode, Jeongguk promised himself that he wouldn’t stay more than an hour. Midterms are just around the corner and Jeongguk cannot afford to be sick amidst all the things he has to get done. No, better to not risk it. Better to get the food delivered, force feed Yoongi some medicine and tea, and be off. In and out, like a goddamn fairy godmother.

He means to stay just an hour.

He ends up staying for four.

At first, it is literally just the two of them munching takeout in silence, Jeongguk wracking his brains for something clever or witty to say.

Then Yoongi asks if Jeongguk is a singer. Then they get started talking about music.

And then, before Jeongguk can even track what’s happening, the takeout is forgotten. And they’re both bent over a laptop, a pair of earbuds stretched between them and they’re going off about music. Yoongi’s low and raspy voice guiding Jeongguk through what is actually a pretty impressive music library. Sure, there’s a few pretentious artists in there. But it’s undeniably good shit. Old school hip-hop and orchestral arrangements with ebb and flow. There’s hundreds of songs, and Yoongi seems to know something about every single one. He’s so passionate about music; how it’s composed, how it’s written, what specific equipment was used in the bridge of one track, or the hook that’s used in another.

Jeongguk doesn’t know a whole lot about composition, but what he lacks in knowledge he makes up for with enthusiasm. He drinks it up, is helpless not to. Any semblance of playing it cool nipped out the door the second Yoongi plopped down right next to him.

(Not that he was doing very well in the first place—what with breaking and entering, ordering takeout that his bank account is already weeping over, and hovering like a mother hen while he makes sure Yoongi drinks his tea. Whatever.)

They talk singers and lyrics and concept and it’s maybe the longest conversation Jeongguk has had in months that wasn’t with his brother over the phone. He tries not to overthink it. Tries not to anticipate the other shoe dropping, because it kind of feels too good to be true. Sharing a couch and a laptop and an interest. Sharing space. Somewhere between batting Jeongguk’s hand away from the laptop after one particularly pretentious track, Yoongi’s knee came to rest against Jeongguk’s thigh. Yoongi’s got on sweatpants and Jeongguk’s wearing jeans so there’s no genuine contact actually happening but. Yoongi’s knee is a little bony, yet undeniably warm.

Again, Jeongguk’s trying not to overthink it.

They’re somewhere immersed in the Korean R&B genre of Yoongi’s iTunes when Jeongguk’s phone alarm goes off.

Eight p.m.

“Bed time?” Yoongi raises an eyebrow, lips quirking.

He looks much better now. Which isn’t saying much; every time they’ve met Yoongi has generally seemed disgruntled or annoyed or half asleep.  Still haggard, still with shadows under his eyes like he looked when Jeongguk first came in, but undeniably better. There’s color in his cheeks. He raked a hand through his fingers earlier—trying to rip it out as Jeongguk coaxed him to listen to just one Justin Bieber song—and now it’s sticking up in bleach blond tufts on his head. Not unlike a baby bird.

“Study group,” says Jeongguk, and begins to put away the rest of the takeout. If he’s casual enough, he can leave everything he didn’t eat in the nearly empty fridge for Yoongi to finish off.  “I am in college, which means I can only sleep when I die.”

“That seems ill advised.”

Jeongguk snorts. “You’re one to talk.”

Yoongi’s retort is cut off as Cat meows rather prettily. Twines herself around Jeongguk’s legs as he opens and closes the fridge door.

“She’s never that nice to me,” says Yoongi, suspicious. “What are you, a cat whisperer?”

Jeongguk just crouches down, scratches her behind her ears. She takes that as permission to reach her paws up until he lifts her into a cradle hold where she purrs like a motor engine.

“Look after Yoongi-hyung, okay?” He asks, staring into Cat’s singular eye. “Don’t let him do anything stupid. Make sure he takes more Tylenol in two hours, drinks plenty of fluids. If he doesn’t, you have my full permission to claw his face off.”

“Don’t say that,” says Yoongi. “She’ll do it. The Cat’s got it out for me, I swear to god.”

“Nonsense,” Jeongguk coos. “She’s an angel.”

“She’s a demon, I’m telling you. A murderer could come in and shoot me and she would just sit there purring.”

“You’re dumb.”

You’re dumb,” Yoongi says petulantly, but the sneeze at the end of that statement takes the venom out of it.

Jeongguk tuts, sets Cat down on the sofa, and snatches Yoongi’s phone off the coffee table.

“What are you doing?”

“Putting my number in your phone. So this,” he gestures at the mess of used tea mugs and Kleenex on the couch, “doesn’t happen again.”

“Stop breaking into my apartment.”

“Stop nearly dying out of sheer stubbornness. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to take care of yourself?”

Yoongi blinks. “I can take care of myself.”

“Hyung, I simply can’t be responsible for your dead body. I’ve got two jobs and midterms.”

“No one’s asking you to be responsible for anything. I’m your neighbor, not your child.”

“False. I’m invested in the well being of your cat. Are we really calling her Cat, by the way? Is that really how we’re going to do this? I feel like not giving her a proper name will eventually traumatize her.”

“Cat is fine, you brat. Go to your study group.”

“Make him take his medicine, Cat. And tell him to listen to Purpose.”

“Enough,” groans Yoongi, mouth twisted like he’s trying not to laugh. His nose is runny and red, hair tufty and disheveled.  He’s pale and sick and kind of swimming in his plaid pajama pants and Jeongguk is one missing brain cell away from plopping back down on the couch and staying. Midterms be damned.

“Text me at some point so I know you’re still alive.” He says with a cheeky smile, because the middle finger Yoongi calmly flips in his direction is just so worth it.

 

***

 

unknown number >>>> jeongguk
thanks kid
that was totally unnecessary but i appreciate it
this is yoongi btw
your next door neighbor
not a total stranger

jeongguk
lol i figured
you’re most welcome hyung
do you feel better?

yoongi-hyung
less like road kill
more like undercooked chicken left out in the sun

jeongguk
ok gross but at least it’s progress
are you sleeping?

yoongi-hyung
relax yes
i slept after you left for like 10 hours and my fever broke

jeongguk
good.
make sure to keep drinking fluids
and tell Cat I said hi :)

yoongi-hyung
cats don’t understand korean last time i checked

jeongguk
sigh
fine give her extra head scratches

yoongi-hyung
i will do no such thing
you left all your takeout here btw

jeongguk
oh did i? lol totally spaced out
i won’t be able to come get it bc i’m basically in the library all week dying until my midterms finish me off
feel free to eat my lamb skewers and rice tho!

yoongi-hyung
okay
good luck on your midterms

jeongguk
thanks :(

***

(Privately, quietly, Yoongi sets down his phone and reaches out his hand to give Cat a thorough head scratch. She’s been curled up next to him since he’d bolted awake with a broken fever and lyrics on the tip of his tongue. He feels warm, rested. Still dead tired and a little greasy from a lack of shower, but better than he has in weeks, months even.

“Kid says hi,” mumbles Yoongi. “He won’t be back for a while. But he sends his love.”

He pets her head longer than he means to. On his lap sits an open notebook and in the span of the past few hours, since waking, he’s filled entire pages.)

 

***

Jeongguk starts coming over more often. Always with an excuse, an apologetic sweetness to his smile.

Hyung, I brought you more medicine. Hyung, my shitty coffee maker broke can I have a cup of yours. Hyung my shower isn’t working, can I use yours. Hyung, I’m too lazy to take my laundry off my bed and fold it can I nap on your couch.

Yoongi’s not an idiot. He knows when he’s being used, even if just for functioning water or a comfier couch. The innocent act does nothing to convince him that Jeongguk knows exactly what he’s doing—his eyes may be big and wide but there’s still trouble in them.

It’s embarrassing, how that doesn’t help Yoongi put his foot down one bit. He seems incapable of saying no, or even go away to Jeongguk. He just rolls his eyes like he’s resigned to it—as if he hadn’t been waiting for the door to open since he woke up—and lets Jeongguk in.

Always lets Jeongguk in.

They’re not friends, but they’re not exactly neighbors either. Not with the amount of time they spend in the same room. Usually it’s just Jeongguk talking softly to Cat while Yoongi retreats to whatever corner of the room he’s currently tucked in and continuing to work. But other times baby-talking the Cat devolves into actual conversation, devoid of teasing, devoid of Jeongguk being a brat or Yoongi being grumpy.

They’re not friends, but soon enough Yoongi somehow knows Jeongguk’s entire schedule of classes, the professors he likes and loathes. He knows about Jeongguk’s job (in the campus bookstore warehouse lifting boxes from delivery trucks, a fact that makes Yoongi choke on air and fake a coughing fit for a solid minute when he finds out), and Jeongguk’s major (he’s pre-med, studying to be a physical therapist, but Yoongi hears the wistfulness in his voice as he vaguely mentions considering a music minor), and he knows about Jeongguk’s music tastes (they’re not all that bad. Some are even really good, good enough that Yoongi searches them to download himself, long after Jeongguk goes back to his own apartment).

They’re not friends, but one day Jeongguk comes over to take a shower, starts peeling his shirt off halfway through the living room and Yoongi panics at the sight of bare skin and slender waist. Shouts something about needing to get more milk from the corner store even though he doesn’t drink milk. Doesn’t even like milk. He spends the next half hour at the corner store just sort of pacing the aisles, and tries to waste enough time for Jeongguk’s shower to end.

(He comes back to hear Jeongguk singing under his breath as he towels his wet hair. It doesn’t matter that he’s fully clothed again. Yoongi’s focus is entirely shot for the rest of the day.)

They’re not friends, but in the past month Yoongi’s texted the kid more than the collective remainder of contacts in his phone.

He wants to ask Jeongguk why he isn’t hanging out with friends from school. Why he’s choosing Yoongi, of all people, to spend his free time with. But asking that question means the risk of Yoongi not liking the answer. Of Jeongguk going, Oh, huh, you’re right, you’re actually garbage? and walking out the door and never coming back.

Yoongi’s selfish, but he’s not an idiot, nor a glutton for punishment. He’s grateful for whatever reasons bring Jeongguk into his apartment to hang out. It feels good to have something like this to himself.

However, the secret of Jeongguk’s presence in his life doesn’t last long.

He’s not embarrassed of Jeongguk. In fact, keeping Jeongguk a secret is more for his benefit than Yoongi’s own. Because Yoongi knows his friends, and he knows that his friends know him. There is no way in hell Yoongi is going to be able to casually introduce Jeongguk to the gang and not have it be a capital-T Thing. One glance at Jeongguk, one glance at Yoongi standing within the vicinity of Jeongguk, and it’s all over.

His friends are perfectly nice and good people who are immensely talented at many things. Being subtle just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

But because they have the audacity to care about Yoongi’s well-being, to miss him when he goes MIA, they’re getting restless. Yoongi hasn’t been seen in a group setting since Jimin and Taehyung’s Massive Anniversary Fondue-And-Wine Party over a month ago. This, according to Jin, means that Yoongi officially qualifies for Cryptid Status. In previous experience this leads to a literal bounty on his head and rewards to whoever can get the first “proof of sighting” picture.

So Yoongi feels a little guilty. But he knows his time is running out. He can only send so many vague texts about being busy to the group chat before one of them figures it out.

To his credit, Yoongi manages to make it three weeks.

***

There’s literally no reason to be going over at Yoongi’s place. Jeongguk’s own apartment is fine, not to mention he’s work to do. He ran out of excuses days ago, so even as he’s jiggling the door handle to Yoongi’s place, he knows he’s gonna have to come up with something quick.

He gets the sense that I woke up this morning with the sound of your laugh stuck in my head won’t make a very good one.

“Hyung,” he groans, pushing inside the apartment, “Hyung, I’m out of creamer. I know you drink it black like a heathen, but is there any chance you—”

At the same moment Jeongguk stops, clutching the door knob, there’s a sudden very un-Yoongi-like yelp.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me.”

“You’re not Yoongi-hyung.”

“And thank god for that,” says the guy on Yoongi’s couch, chuckling. He’s sitting like he lives here, feet kicked up on the coffee table the way Jeongguk is used to doing. He’s wearing a snapback, a Supreme hoodie, and he exudes ease and comfort in a way that Jeongguk could only dream of achieving. “Yoongi’s in the shower, should be out in a few.”

Yoongi’s in the shower.

A small bubble of anxiety rises in Jeongguk’s belly at the familiarity of the tone, the lack of honorifics. Yoongi doesn’t have a roommate. Up until a few days ago when his phone started buzzing incessantly, Jeongguk wasn’t even sure Yoongi even had other friends. In all of his poking about and being curious, asking careful-but-leading questions, the one thing he’s sure of is that Yoongi doesn’t live with anyone, friend or otherwise (or otherwise).

“Uh,” the guy on the couch speaks again, “Also, I mean no offense but like. Who are you?”

“Jeon Jeongguk. I live next door.”

The boy smiles. He’s got an almost comically wide smile, but it’s too even and perfect to be funny. Too handsome. The bubble in the pit of Jeongguk’s stomach expands.

“Jung Hoseok,” the guy nods. “Are you a student? I didn’t know Yoongi even had a neighbor. He hasn’t mentioned it.”

“Oh,” says Jeongguk, unsure of what to say to that. “Cool.”

Of course Yoongi doesn’t mention him. Why would he? It’s nothing to be upset over. Jeongguk’s basically the annoying kid next door who hogs all the hot water and likes top 40 music—what’s even the point of bringing him up.

Hoseok doesn’t say anything else, and in the silence, the sound of the shower can be heard, and Jeongguk is ruining everything. He is clearly interrupting something that he wasn’t meant to. Hoseok looks at him curiously, head tipped to the side like he doesn’t know what to make of him. Like he doesn’t know what Jeongguk is doing here.

Jeongguk doesn’t really know himself.

And then, before Jeongguk can fake an emergency and escape to lock himself in his apartment for the rest of his lonely and awkward life, several things happen all at once:

1) The bathroom door opens wide, steam unfurling thick like smoke.

2) A voice shouts, “Alright, you bossy bastard, I have ‘washed the unsavory filth from my vessel’ to quote you. Now can we please finish what we fucking started, Hoseokie, please.”

3) Min Yoongi emerges from aforementioned bathroom, the gentle groove of his hipbones just barely visible above the fucking Pikachu towel wrapped around his waist. Skin damp and pink from the hot water, freshly scrubbed. Hair sticking up on one side, the darker roots more prominent as he runs his hands through it. His shoulders are broad, but the lines of him are delicate and vulnerable and narrow.

There’s a brief pause. Long enough to be awkward. Long enough that Jeongguk wishes he had a samurai sword so he could just go ahead and commit seppuku right here and now.

Then—miracle of all miracles—Cat comes darting out of the bathroom straight for Jeongguk, meowing and demanding attention. Relieved, Jeongguk gives it willingly, grateful for something else to do than perish on the spot. He crouches down with a, “Hello, princess. You miss me?” and lets her twine her tail around his arm as he begins to pet her.

Above his head, Yoongi and Hoseok are silent. Jeongguk figures if he stays still long enough, they might just forget he’s here. Or that he’ll be able to dissipate into thin air by sheer force of will. Something like that.

“Hoseok,” says Yoongi stiffly, “this is Jeongguk. Jeongguk, Hoseok.”

“Oh, we’ve met. Jeongguk needs coffee creamer. Gave me quite the scare when he walked right in.”

Jeongguk looks up, glancing between the two of them. If Hoseok’s irritated by Jeongguk’s interruption, he doesn’t sound bothered by it. In fact, he sounds downright cheery.

“Right.” Yoongi’s chest is still looking pink from the hot water. Not that Jeongguk’s looking. “He does that.”

“Ah, I see,” says Hoseok with a slow nod. “I see.”

Yoongi and Hoseok are both staring intensely at each other. There’s a non-verbal conversation going on and it’s more obvious than ever that Jeongguk’s ruining a moment here. He should go. Yoongi may not have a roommate, but Yoongi definitely has a someone. Meanwhile, Jeongguk had woken up thinking about Yoongi’s laugh like some fucking teenaged cliche. Like this is a Taylor Swift music video and Jeongguk’s the front and center focus, Jesus Christ. 

“Um, it’s cool.” Jeongguk stands. “I’ll just get a latte on campus? It’s no big deal.”

“By all means, stay,” Hoseok cries. He actually looks a little bit like a serial killer because he’s talking to Jeongguk but he’s smiling at Yoongi, unblinking. “I want to know all about how you met our favorite hermit and social recluse Mr. Min.”

“Hoseok—”

“Go get dressed, sheesh. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that less is more?”

“I swear to god." 

“Pants first, hyung. Then mixtape.”

“Mixtape?” Jeongguk pipes up, unable to help himself.

The sound of his voice seems to startle Yoongi, who hasn’t so much as glanced at him since he first walked out. He blinks, hitches his towel up around his waist a little. “Uh, yeah. We’re laying down some new beats today. This asshole,” he jerks a thumb in Hoseok’s direction, “is a dancer and knows a good track when he hears one. Against my better judgment, he’s helping me out.”

“You cherish me immensely,” Hoseok coos.

“That’s highly debatable.”

“I’m the greatest wingman that ever lived.”

“Can I help?” Jeongguk asks. “I mean, not help, I guess. I don’t really know anything about music. But can I listen? Or uh, observe?”

“You a musician?” Hoseok asks.

“Not really.”

“He’s a really good singer,” Yoongi says, at the exact same time. He glares when Jeongguk opens his mouth to argue. “Don’t be modest, kid. I’ve heard you bust out the IU in the shower.”

Now it’s Jeongguk that’s pink all over, though for entirely different reasons.

“Woahwoahwoah, wait, he’s showering here?” The corners of Hoseok’s mouth are twitching, and he’s bouncing on the balls of his feet like he’s about to break out into a jig.

“I’m getting dressed,” Yoongi blurts, and slams his door like that’s answer enough. 

***

It’s almost embarrassing, how quickly Jeongguk comes to realize that he may or may not have jumped to a few conclusions.

Within five minutes of Yoongi emerging from his bedroom—wearing a giant hoodie and a pair of ripped skinnies that are somehow no less devastating to Jeongguk’s system than bare naked skin—it’s obvious that there’s nothing between him and Hoseok. Hoseok is a cool guy. Hoseok is a hot guy. But the way he and Yoongi go back and forth reminds Jeongguk of him and his brother, snippy and affectionate and comfortable.

It’s hard not to feel awkward and intimidated, which is kind of Jeongguk’s default setting; it’s clear that Hoseok and Yoongi have years of inside jokes and banter to fall back on, a language that Jeongguk isn’t going to learn any time soon. But there’s a tiny shrieking part of himself that feels quelled by the fact that they’re friends. That Yoongi wasn’t showering in some Post-Sex-Marathon-Recovery-Before-Round-Two period but was, in fact, being threatened by an inch of his life by Hoseok to be a functioning human.

“He thinks he can get away with it because he ignores our texts,” Hoseok explains, showing Jeongguk a brief glance at a phone screen open to a group chat that is rapidly firing off. “I was sent over as a search party to make sure he was alive.”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi says from where he’s haunched over his laptop screen, no heat to the words.

“We’d started placing bets on cause of death, hyung. Jimin and Tae were threatening to call the National Guard. But lo and behold, you’re not even a little dead. You’ve just been…busy.”

“To be fair,” Jeongguk says, “Yoongi-hyung was pretty sick a while back. Plus, Cat is kind of a handful.”

“Ah, of course. That’s what I was referring to. The Cat. Hyung has been busy with the Cat. And absolutely nothing else whatsoever.” 

Yoongi cranks up the speaker extra loud as he starts the track they’re working on over again.

Over the next few hours Jeongguk sits in the corner of the couch as they go at it. It’s a lot of sitting still with eyes closed, Hoseok asking Yoongi to replay a part, offer a note, and then listen again.

The music itself is good. Even if it doesn’t have lyrics yet. It is. A thumping bass that Jeongguk feels straight down to his sternum, stirring something primal and angry in him. An urge to run, or maybe throw a punch. It’s not his usual style. Jeongguk tends toward the gentler melodies, tempo that’s more suggestion than a demand. The music that leaves you just a little aching inside even after it’s over. But he does like it.

(Likes the way Yoongi’s brows crease when he’s focusing, likes the way his fingers play out notes on his lap, as if the knobs of his knees are piano keys.)

Hoseok and Yoongi switch up the beat a little. Add a little brass, take it out. Remix the beat after the first bridge, and then the one after the second. It’s a back and forth of digital mixing jargon that doesn’t really make sense but Jeongguk’s fascinated. He came over two hours ago for coffee creamer, and hasn’t even had breakfast. Doesn’t even feel hungry.

“What’s it about?” He asks sometime later. Yoongi’s saving the file on a hard drive, Hoseok puttering around in the kitchen, looking for snacks.

Among forcing Yoongi to take a shower, Hoseok also took the liberty of pinning back all the blackout curtains that Yoongi’s got over the windows, finally letting in some light. Jeongguk’s stretched out on the carpet, Cat curled on his stomach, sunshine pouring over the both of them, dust motes drifting through the air.

Yoongi’s leaned back in his spinning desk chair, eyes closed. In the sun, Jeongguk can make out the bluish veins on his wrists. The warm pink of his mouth.

“What do you think it’s about?”

It doesn’t sound like he’s mocking Jeongguk, or like he’s saying isn’t it obvious?. It’s sounds like he genuinely wants to know what Jeongguk thinks. What Jeongguk feels.

This would normally the part where Jeongguk plays dumb. Say he fell asleep or was too bored to listen. But he’s heard the track upwards of twenty times by now. Heard all the syncopated rhythms and let the music wash over him like tide waters, pulling him out to drift at sea.

“It sounds like the first time I ever snuck out of the house,” Jeongguk hears himself say, eyes shut tight like he’s bracing for something. “Like. Being sixteen and sneaking out to my very first party. You know, climbing the fence. Nearly breaking my leg on the jump. Drinking my first beer even though I thought it was disgusting. Drinking it anyways just because I could. Or because I shouldn’t. Like, I could be way off the mark here but I think it’s about the moment when you know you’re in deep shit, you’re so fucked, but you can’t care. So you keep going and getting into more trouble, because why the hell not.”

He peeks through one eye. Yoongi isn’t sitting back with his eyes closed anymore. He’s sitting up, ramrod straight, looking at Jeongguk. His eyes are doing that thing again. Mica in a riverbed. Glittering. 

“Was I even in the same ballpark?” Jeongguk asks hesitantly.

“Yeah,” Yoongi mutters, and then coughs into his sleeve. “Not too shabby for a STEM major.”

“That’s Potential Music Minor to you.”

Yoongi snorts. “Whatever, kid.”

“Awww, y’all are too much,” Hoseok drawls from the doorway. Yoongi scowls again. “Hyung, you’re out of food. It’s frankly horrifying how out of food you are. I found a bottle of Sriracha sauce and half an avocado. And I’m starving, but I’m not eat-my-own-feces starving, so I’m going to Jin-hyung’s to have some real food.”

“Has he not moved in with Namjoon yet?”

“No, and if you checked the group chat every once in a while, you’d know that. The landlord is installing new counters after our dearest most powerful hyung Jin threatened to bring in his lawyers to look over the leasing contract. So, housewarming party’s been pushed back to next week. Which you will be going to.”

“Can’t I just ship them a toaster from Amazon and wish them eternal domestic bliss?”

“Sure, and then when Jin strings me up by my balls on the Christmas tree this year, you can say goodbye to any and all immunity for Secret Ganta.”

“Secret…Ganta?” Jeongguk asks.  

“Gay Secret Santa,” says Hoseok, not missing a beat.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Yoongi narrows his eyes.

Jeongguk hasn’t got a clue what Gay Secret Santa is or why immunity is even involved but Hoseok’s clearly winning out. Whoever Jin is, he seems legitimately terrifying.

“Fine, Christ,” Yoongi grunts. “I’ll be there.”

“Thank you. It’s BYOB. And Jin already said you can bring a date,” Hoseok says with a wink. “Bring Jeongguk! How perfect.”

“I really wouldn’t want to intrude—”

“Nonsense. You’ve seen the inside of Yoongi-hyung’s cave so you’re basically part of the family. Casual dress, though Jin always appreciates a nice button-down. Hope to see you there!” He turns his sweet smile back to Yoongi. “I’m going now.”

“You won’t be missed,” says Yoongi tonelessly, only to emit choked off screech as Hoseok bounds forward and smacks an enthusiastic kiss on his cheek.

“See you tomorrow, hyung. Try not to miss me. And please respond to the group chat. Tae says he won’t believe you’re alive unless you send an updated selfie with a cute animal filter. Seeing as you won’t let us add you on Find My Friends, you better do what he says. He wasn’t joking about the National Guard. Nice meeting you, Jeongguk!”

“Nice meeting you, hyung.” Jeongguk smiles, a little dizzy with the load of info that’s just been thrown at him.

The door slams, Hoseok whistling as he goes. Yoongi scratches the back of his neck, sort of at a loss for words.

“Sorry about that,” he mumbles. “They can be a lot. And trust me when I say that Hoseok’s supposed to be the mild one. Sort of.”

“I liked him,” Jeongguk smiles. Cat’s woken up now, prowls over to Yoongi to hop up unto his lap.

“You don’t have to go to the party, you know. Like, I totally understand if you don’t want to.”

“No, I want to. I want to go,” Jeongguk says, and means it. “If it’s okay with you.”

Cat’s kneading her claws in the material of Yoongi’s jeans, but he doesn’t seem to notice that she’s making the tears even wider. He’s too busy looking at Jeongguk.

“Fine by me, kid. Your funeral though,” he says, lips curving upward.

He’s been lying in the sunlight for a while, but it’s only now that Jeongguk feels it sink beyond his skin and into the marrow of him. Drenching him in warmth. 

***

Like a wild fire in a drought, the situation doesn’t take long to get completely out of control. All it takes is a spark, or in this case, Useless Former Best Friend Jung Hoseok.

At the moment, Yoongi’s phone looks a little something like this:

jin-hyung >> yoongi
there better be a very good excuse as to WHY we haven’t met your new boy toy yet
either way, you WILL bring him to me and joonie’s housewarming party
that’s not a request
:)))))))))))

namjoon >> yoongi
the literal future of my relationship depends on whether or not you bring this jeongguk dude to our party so you better not let jin down
(but seriously. come. the kids miss you.)
((okay i miss you too fucker. don’t make it weird))

jimin >> yoongi
this is tae. thank you for your selca. excellent use of pink kitten filter. good angle. 10/10. a classic Min Yoongi piece.
hoseok-hyung says you made a new friend ;)
we’d really like to meet this friend ;) ;) ;)
;) ;) ;) ;)
fjkdgjksdfkjgklsdfk sorry hyung taetae stole my phone
but i support what my soulmate said.
we’d really like to meet this friend ;) ;) ;)

The group chat is even more of a disaster zone. Yoongi hasn’t opened it since the day Hoseok came over. All it took was one message (NEWSFLASH ASSHOLES!!!!! HE HASN’T BEEN IN A DOWN-SPIRAL. HE’S BEEN HOLED UP WITH A HOTTIE THE ENTIRE GODDAMN TIME! ITS NOT A DEPRESSION CAVE. IT’S A //SEX CAVE//) for the entire chat to descend into all-caps screaming, gifs, about twenty thousand dick jokes and many, many eggplant emojis.

This is his life now.

Now he’s here in Jin and Namjoon’s kitchen, a full week later, holding a glass of sangria in one hand, fiddling with his phone in the other. It doesn’t matter that Yoongi had shown up fifty minutes before the party even started just so he could sit them all on the couch and very firmly impress that he and Jeongguk are not sleeping together, are not together, are not even dating, are not anything. His friends practically peeing themselves with anticipation, just the same.

If he can get through this evening without braining himself on a hard surface, he’ll consider it an accomplishment.

On the other hand, Jeongguk had seem almost excited when they’d bumped into each other in the hallway this morning. Yoongi bundled in a sweater and going out to get the mail, Jeongguk coming back from a run, all flushed and glowing. He’d told Yoongi he’d meet him at Jin’s after he got off work, and Yoongi had nodded, still not used to seeing Jeongguk, bright and bouncing, first thing in the morning. 

“Are you sure you gave him the right address?” Seokjin has rearranged the cheese and cracker plate on the dining room table five times now. He’s outwardly more nervous than even Yoongi feels. “Don’t look at me like that, you’d absolutely give him the wrong address just to avoid this.”

“He said he was on his way,” Yoongi snaps, feeling cagey. Across the apartment, Taehyung and Jimin are standing dangerously close to the door like guard dogs. Seemingly immersed in a conversation with Hoseok, but Yoongi knows better.

“Remind me how you met this guy again?”

Yoongi, abstaining from alcohol on the hopes he wouldn’t need it, finally caves and takes his first drink. It’s the fourth time he’s been asked this question in the past hour. There are other people in the apartment—friends from college, a few Yoongi even knows. Namjoon’s talking with them, very intense and focused on the topic of conversation as Namjoon often is, but Jin doesn’t seem very interested in joining. He’s been shadowing Yoongi like a vulture over a dying wildebeest ever since Yoongi walked in the door.

Yoongi sighs noncommittally. “I thought the stray cat was his. We just started talking. I dunno." 

Jin frowns. “And you’re not sleeping with him.”

“Hyung—”

A knock echoes in from the foyer. Yoongi tosses his drink in the sink and bolts for the door, but he’s too late.

“Well hello,” Taehyung booms with a fanfare, like this is a royal ball and he’s about to announce the fucking queen. “You must be Jeon Jeongguk.”

Yoongi very suddenly regrets throwing his drink away.

“Uh, haha, yeah that’s me,” comes the voice in the doorway. Yoongi can’t catch a glimpse, but he hears the higher pitch of the kid’s voice—nervous and obviously making his best effort to be polite. It shouldn’t be so endearing. It isn’t. “You guys must be Kim Seokjin-ssi and Kim Namjoon-ssi. Thank you so much for inviting me. You have a lovely home.”

“Oh my god,” Jimin chuckles, a hand to his chest like he’s verklempt for fuck’s sake, whispering conspiratorially in Tae’s ear, “He’s adorable.”

“Jeongguk, I have just two questions for you. One: are you an orphan. If yes, question number two: are you currently taking applications for adoptive parents?”

“Alright, you two, that’s enough,” Jin calls over Yoongi’s shoulder. “Give him some breathing room. I’m Seokjin, but you can call me Jin-hyung. The gargoyles who greeted you just now are Jimin and Taehyung. They mean well, but please never sign any legal documents they put in front of you.”

Taehyung and Jimin step aside, pouting, and Yoongi promptly begins to have a heart attack.

Namjoon ambles over to shake hands, Hoseok bounds over for a hair ruffle as if he and Jeongguk are old friends. Tae and Jimin introduce themselves again, doubly enthusiastic. It should be enough recovery time for Yoongi to get over the way Jeongguk looks in the white button down shirt he’s wearing, the way it swims around his waist, the way the silhouette of his body is no less visible for it.  But his friends clear the path between Yoongi and Jeongguk and Yoongi’s smacked over the head with the sight all over again.

“Hey.” He can feel all their eyes on him. Feel his cheeks turning warm.

Jeongguk smiles, and Yoongi thinks here comes trouble all over again.

“Hey, hyung. Glad to see you actually leave your apartment when the sun is out.”

“OOOOOOHHHHHHHHH,” Taehyung and Jimin yell, falling over themselves. Hoseok cackles, and even Jin grins.

“I like him already.” Namjoon mutters, smirking.

It takes all of Yoongi’s self restraint to keep from saying me too, me too, shit, me too.

***

It’s always awkward. It was never not gonna be. But Yoongi’s accepted the embarrassment at the hands of his friends long ago, so he’s not too pressed. He only wants to die slightly when the topic of Jeongguk’s age comes up, and upon discovery that he is eighteen, soon to be nineteen, he simultaneously receives three texts from people inside the room that they’re changing his contact name to Cradle Robber.

Apart from that, and Jeongguk continuing to look no less devastating every time Yoongi allows himself to sneak a peek, it’s a night without much mishap. Nothing is set on fire, Jeongguk doesn’t run from the room screaming, and for that alone, Yoongi counts his blessings.

By the time people begin trickling out the door, he’s downed enough sangria that he can feel it, that warm and thin line between drink and not drunk enough. He’s pleasantly tipsy, just a little reckless.

Maybe that’s why he announces he’s going to walk home instead of taking the bus. That’s what he tells himself, at least, claiming to want some fresh air.

That’s what he tells himself as Jeongguk hops up with a smile and a, “Me too. I’ll go with you.”

(“You sure you’re not sleeping with him?” Jin whispers, looking completely baffled as Jeongguk says his goodbyes to everyone and Yoongi shoulders on his coat.

“No. And if you ask me one more time I’m returning the toaster.”

“Okay, okay, I believe you. But like. Why?

“Goodbye, Jin.”)

It’s maybe a ten block stretch to get back to the apartment. Far, but not agonizing.

The city is beautiful like this, as they step out into the night, closing the door to to Seokjin’s apartment and sealing themselves off from the hubbub. In a place like Seoul, you have to wait out the whole day to get a quiet like this.  Where the world has a vaguely cinematic and staged gloss to it; from the streets glistening with rain, to the burnished sunset glow of the traffic lights, to Jeongguk—who walks beside Yoongi looking like a dream. Though that part is likely the sangria talking.

There’s a safe enough distance between them as they walk that Yoongi is aware of it. The same way he is aware of the cracks in the pavement, his breath. A peripheral, constant awareness, as Jeongguk hops up on curbs and balance beams on garden walls, darting about Yoongi like a big fish in a small bowl.

“I liked them,” Jeongguk says, after a block or so of silence. “Thank you for letting me come.”

“No need to thank me, you won’t ever have to go through that again.”

“Ah, hyung, I think it’s too late for that. Jimin and Taehyung already put me in their contacts. I’ve already gotten sixteen event invitations on Facebook—looks like I’m booked solid until 2019.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

Jeongguk laughs, head thrown back with it, hand gripped loose around lamp post as he spins.

Yoongi’s not really a photographer—his camera roll is mostly graffiti and moonlight in shades of black and white, the occasional blurry photo of one of his friends. But if he had his camera on hand, he thinks he’d set aside aesthetics just to capture the way Jeongguk’s nose crinkles as he laughs, the way his whole face scrunches up.

That’s a lot to think about, even with sangria in the mix. So he shoves his itching hands in his pocket and keeps walking.

The subject of Yoongi’s friends becomes Jeongguk asking how Yoongi met them, and before Yoongi can track it he’s launching into the most ridiculous stories he can think of. He tells Jeongguk about the time Namjoon tried to cook on his and Jin’s anniversary and almost gave them all third degree burns. About how Taehyung and Jimin have basically been happily married since they were twelve. About Hoseok’s slow descent into chaotic bisexuality that has ruined many a straight boy’s life. Jeongguk listens, laughs at all the good parts, asks questions like he’s really listening, and those ten long blocks seem to pass by in mere minutes.

“How about your friends, huh? You got anyone extremely embarrassing and overbearing to introduce me to?” 

It’s something Yoongi’s been meaning to ask. He’s never seen Jeongguk with anyone, never heard other voices next door. 

“Ah.” Jeongguk hops down from a curb to fall in beside him. “Not really. Not here, at least. Which sounds a lot lamer than it actually is. I moved a few months ago from Busan, so I don’t really know that many people.”

“What about your classmates?”

Jeongguk’s mouth twists. “I’ve been invited to a few parties and such but I work early mornings on weekends sometimes so going out and getting wasted is ill advised. Plus uh, not really my thing. Parties kind of make me nervous? Not like Jin’s, that was great. But like, loud music, tons of bodies. It can be a lot. Especially when you don’t really know anyone there. Sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I. I don’t know.” Jeongguk’s eyes are wide. “You don’t think it’s unhealthy? I feel like people my age are supposed to love that stuff.”

“What—getting wasted on five dollar discount vodka washed down with generic orange soda and getting groped by some rando on the dance floor? Hard pass.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk’s got his eyes on the pavement, head tucked low. But there’s a smile there. Something small and pleased.  

“What is your thing, then?” Yoongi asks, because he genuinely wants to know. “If not destroying your liver and making other ill advised decisions, I mean. What does your free time look like.”

Jeongguk looks at Yoongi for a beat too long, before he blurts, “Singing mostly. Or working out. It helps me destress. I just sort of crank up the music loud enough to drown everything out.”

“Wait.” Yoongi stops, brain skipping over the working out part because he’s not going to touch that one with a ten foot pole. “What the hell. Is that why you’re blasting shit all the time?”

“Well, yeah. I like singing, but I don’t want to people to hear me.”

Yoongi stares at Jeongguk for a breath. He wants to tell Jeongguk that his voice is beautiful, tell him how dare he try to drown it out, but that is way too much and Yoongi is tipsy but not tipsy enough.

So Yoongi playfully punches him in the shoulder. It seems like the more neutral thing to do.  Jeongguk rolls with it, stumbling into the street, a sputtering squawk as he recovers.

“Hey, what was that for?”

“For being dumb." 

“Can’t you just use your words?”

“Fine. Kid: you’re dumb.”  

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “’M not a kid. Of course I play loud music for a reason. Did you think I was just being an obnoxious asshole this entire time?”

Yes.”

“Well, you should know better than that. I’m nice.”

That makes Yoongi snort, ducking and weaving as Jeongguk lunges after him for payback. At this hour there are no cars in the road, all the stop lights changing in eerie tandem as they direct invisible traffic.

They chase each other out into the empty intersection like children on the playground.

Yoongi’s fast. Jeongguk’s faster.

When he catches up, the playful shove changes at the last second, Jeongguk’s fingers curling in the material of Yoongi’s hoodie instead, as if to reel him back in.

The result has them both kind of bumping into each other, clumsy moths under the flame of the street lights, breathless and grinning. Yoongi’s forehead knocking against Jeongguk’s chin. Jeongguk’s breath hot against his cheek and it’s a lot, it’s a whole lot to be confronted by a solid wall of body heat that makes Yoongi shiver all the way down to his toes. He can’t tell if it’s the sangria talking anymore.

This, right here, is the reason Yoongi’s kept a careful distance between them every time they hang out. With Jeongguk so close, lips parted, Yoongi can make out a tiny mole on the tip of his nose. Another reason. 

If Yoongi were braver, if he’d had just one more glass of whatever the fuck Jin was serving, that’d be it. He’d be pushing up onto his toes to meet Jeongguk’s mouth. God, it’d be so easy.

He doesn’t know what starts that train thought. But he knows exactly how to stop it.

Jeongguk’s young. Jeongguk’s alone. And Yoongi may not know a whole lot about the kid but he knows Jeongguk deserves way better. Whatever Yoongi could possibly have to offer him—a quick fuck to take the edge off, avoided eye contact in the aftermath, kisses that taste like stale coffee and seasonal depression—it’s not good enough. 

He’s fucked up in his own right, but he's not about to drag some poor kid into his bullshit on top of it. They can be friends. Yoongi can keep his distance.   

It’s not a compromise or a letdown. It’s just how things are going to be.

“We’re here.” He steps carefully out of the circle of Jeongguk’s arms, gesturing at the apartment building. 

“Oh, right.”

He doesn’t look at Jeongguk as they head inside. The ride up the rickety ass elevator somehow feels longer than the entire walk. It's quiet. Neither of them seem to be able to remember what had them so talkative before. But that’s okay. Yoongi doesn’t trust himself to make any further eye contact tonight and have it lead anywhere good.

His mouth’s got other ideas, though.

“At the very least,” he rattles off, fishing for his keys once they’re on the seventh floor. “You now have five new dads that you never asked for. So you can no longer say you don’t know anyone in the city.”

“Fair point,” Jeongguk concedes.

“And you know me.”

“Yeah, but that’s different.”

“It is?”  

Jeongguk blinks, mouth falling open in surprise, like he hadn’t mean to say those words. He’s just standing there in the middle distance between Yoongi’s door and his own. Like he can’t quite remember which one he’s supposed to be heading towards. He scratches the back of his neck, shifts on his feet. It’s another moment Yoongi itches for his camera, if only to capture the way Jeongguk’s cheeks turn the loveliest shade of pink.

“Yeah.” His expression relaxes with a sly grin. "It's hard to make new friends when you're hanging out with a senior citizen.”

Right. Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Don’t be a shit. I’m your hyung.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says softly, fondly, reaching for his door but looking at Yoongi. “Yeah, I guess you are.”

The playful tenor of his voice—so sweet, even as he’s being a punk—trails after Yoongi like another stray, past his closed door, past his living room, past the wandering hallway and all the way to his bed.

"Don't start,” he mutters at Cat, because she's watching him from the window sill like she knows and she's judging him for it. Hell, Yoongi is judging himself—he’s being obnoxious and pretentious and romantic and stupid all at once. Musicians are terrible in this way, but Yoongi is one of them, so.

Whenever Yoongi moves through the world, he hears it. In the drip of rain, in the rustle of dead leaves. On the subway that creaks and groans and lurches. In the clubs he performs at; a verse, chorus and refrain in the crush of bodies and slide of sweat. There’s music to be heard everywhere, if you listen close enough.

It’s a dangerous thing, however, to hear it in a person, to extract melody and meaning from them. When Jeongguk speaks—when he prattles on about something, draws syllables out in thought, when he whines and complains, when he teases—there’s a song to be found in his voice, his body, in the curve of his lips as he smiles.

It’s not that Yoongi’s never heard that sort of music before.  

It’s just that now, for the first time in his damn life, he’s actually listening.

***

yoongi-hyung >> jeon jeongguk
hey kid
are you free rn

jeon jeongguk
whats up hyung?

yoongi-hyung
i think something's wrong with Cat

  

Jeongguk doesn't exactly sprint up seven flights of stairs to get to Yoongi's place. But he doesn't leisurely walk up them either.  

“Did you…run?” Yoongi asks, seconds after Jeongguk comes bursting into the apartment, clutching a stitch in his side.

“Elevator broken,” Jeongguk gasps, because he’s works out regularly but hauling ass up seven flights of stairs is extreme, even for him. He coughs into his sleeve, doubled over to catch his breath for a few beats. “What’s up—I’ve got the nearest animal hospital on speed dial, where—”

“She’s fine,” Yoongi says, and gestures to the window sill where Cat is curled up. Not choking on a sock, not bleeding from getting hit by a car, not having a seizure the way Jeongguk’s mind had conjured her up as doing. Just sleeping.

“I—what?”

“Did you…not get my other text?” asks Yoongi. He’s giving Jeongguk an odd look that confirms that Jeongguk definitely overreacted. That he’s definitely an idiot.

He blinks down at his phone screen, swipes out of the animal hospital speed dial.

There it is, just beneath the text that sent Jeongguk into a panic in the middle of the corner store: i don’t think it’s anything urgent. but i want you to watch her while i run to the pet store.

One day. One day, Jeongguk will hit the quota for embarrassing himself in front of Min Yoongi, perhaps. One day Jeongguk will be a normal guy and not such a fucking headcase. It’s a nice thought to entertain.

“What’s wrong with her?” He shoves the mortification aside for a more private moment when he can faceplant into the fucking floor, walks over to Cat.

“She’s coughing up hairballs. First I thought was just vomit but I did some research.” Yoongi grimaces unpleasantly. “Definitely hairballs. It’s nothing vet worthy, we just gotta get her some store-bought medicine.

“Good. That’s good.”

“Uh-huh.” Yoongi’s still looking at him odd. “You alright, kid?”

Ah, that’s right. Jeongguk remembers now. He’d been crying just before he got Yoongi’s texts. And he hadn’t really done anything to hide that fact before bursting in here. He’d just run.

Which means Yoongi’s obviously seen the red puffy eyes and half-dried tear streaks on his face. Great. Fantastic. Things couldn’t be better.

“Yeah,” he lies, turning abruptly so Yoongi can’t see his face, wiping it on his sleeve. “Just a long week. Super tired. Go, before the store closes, I’ll stay with her.”

Yoongi opens his mouth like he wants to say something else, but appears to think better of it. Grabs his wallet and his keys and heads for the door.

“Be nice,” Yoongi instructs Cat, like she’s ever been anything but with Jeongguk. “And no more coughing hair onto the carpet. You are a disgusting and disappointing animal and I am billing you for this.”

Then he’s gone.

Alone, Jeongguk allows himself to crumple and fold. The rug isn’t exactly comforting but the firm surface is grounding as he curls up on his side, like he used to when he was young and would get tummy aches. Cat, sensing an opportunity to cuddle, strides over.

“Please don’t puke on my face,” he whines, but she just nudges her pink nose against his hand, pushing against him with all her weight and arching her spine so he can scratch. When he’s reached her tail she turns heel and does it all again, purring happily, butting her head against his chin.

His heart squeezes like one of those sad wailing rubber chickens from those Vine compilations he finds so hilarious. It’s a dumb thought, because she’s a cat, and she has no idea what’s going on in Jeongguk’s life, but it feels like she’s comforting him. It kind of makes him want to cry all over again, even though he’s a little too tired and hollowed out for that. So he settles for scratching behind her ears and catching his breath on the unrelenting surface of Yoongi’s floor.

When Jeongguk opens his eyes some time later, it’s to the sound of Yoongi opening the door, boots heavy on the floor, freshly fallen snow dusting his shoulders. The tips of his blond hair peak out from under a beanie, and he looks like he’d blend right in with the snowflakes falling outside, delicate and crystalline.

“I couldn’t decide between the store brand or like the name brand recommended by twelve different vets and celebs, so.” He holds up two slender boxes, looking extremely disgruntled for someone who willingly spent the money on both. “Were you sleeping on the floor just now?”

Yes, yes Jeongguk was. He’s got drool on the side of the face and is still vaguely puffy faced, which he tries not to feel self-conscious about it, but such effort is futile, because Jeongguk is self-conscious always. Especially when Yoongi looks like this—all snow-tumbled and pink from cold.

“Cat has been through a traumatic ordeal,” says Jeongguk. “I’m comforting her through skin to skin contact.”

“She’s not a fucking baby, Jeongguk-ah.” Yoongi rolls his eyes, but he’s got his tongue pushed against his cheek like he’s trying not to laugh. “Now help me figure this shit out.”

According to the instructions on the side of each box, Cat is supposed to get one pea-sized blob’s worth of the hairball medication—a dark syrupy sort of goo—in the morning and at night. Easier said than done; despite the “cat food flavor” on the label, Cat has no interest whatsoever in licking the medicine from Yoongi or Jeongguk’s pinky. 

The lack of interest turns to some pretty adamant protest as Cat realizes she’s not getting much choice in this matter, and begins running around the apartment like a prizewinning thoroughbred at the Triple Crown. 

Twenty minutes later, they’re both sporting scratches on their arms, Jeongguk is a squirming and screeching Cat still while Yoongi gently but firmly pushes his pinky into her mouth.

“Hold still you bullshit Cat,” he commands. His beanie got knocked off around five minutes ago, when Cat’s desperation resorted to her climbing the blackout curtains like Spider-Man. A second longer—Cat hisses, gags, and then begins licking the stuff off the roof of her mouth. “Okay, Kook, I think she’s good, you can let her go. Fuck.”

Gone in a flash, Cat is a grey streak across the apartment. Jeongguk only knows she ends up under the couch because that’s where the low growling is coming from, the dirges of betrayal.

“Yeah yeah, hate you too.” Yoongi heads towards the sink, groping for the soap. “Fucking hell, see if I ever try to save you from intestinal blockage ever again.”

Another growl from the couch. Jeongguk chuckles. “How long do we have to do the medicine?”

“Until she stops coughing. Two to three times a week. I’ll take her to the vet next week if it doesn’t let up.” Yoongi holds up his wet hands, wincing at the angry red scratches. A few are bleeding. “Jesus Christ, she’s the actual spawn of satan. Should we call an exorcist?”

“Where’s your first-aid kit?” Jeongguk asks.

Yoongi raises his eyebrows. “You’re kidding me, right? You’ve seen the inside of my fridge and you think I own band-aids?”

“I know for a fact that you do. Taehyung and Jimin gifted it to you last Christmas, they told me.”

“What the hell, no they didn’t.”

“They surprise gifted you, hyung. You’re apparently reluctant to receiving help.” He casts a pointed glance at the growling couch. “Sounds familiar, don’t you think?” 

Yoongi squawks indignantly. “I am not reluctant.”

“I believe Taehyungie’s exact words were ‘Yoongi-hyung breaks out in hives if you openly care for him,’” Jeongguk chirps, already halfway down the hallway. 

“I don’t like you hanging out with them!” Yoongi calls after him. “In fact I’m extremely opposed.”

“Of course you are, hyung.”

The medicine cabinet is empty except for cologne and a bottle of prescription pills that Jeongguk forces himself not to read the label of. He strikes gold in the linens closet, however, and comes back to the living room with peroxide, ointment, and Iron Man band-aids.

Yoongi sees the spoils in Jeongguk’s arms and deflates. “Goddammit.”

At the tiny kitchen table, where light falls in jagged stripes through the window, Yoongi stretches out his hands. Only protests mildly at first as Jeongguk begins to carefully apply tacky ointment and bandages. The peroxide fizzes and stings, but Yoongi doesn’t complain. He’s watching Jeongguk carefully, quietly, as Jeongguk works. His hands are cold to the touch. Fingers long, calloused.

“So you wanna tell me the real reason you were crying earlier?” Yoongi asks, none too gently. 

Jeongguk’s hands falter for a second, but he lays the next bandage before he returns them to his lap. He picks up a stray bandaid wrapper, twisting the waxy paper, folding and unfolding it. Everything in him feels nervous and pulled tight, has been since this morning. He can’t seem to sit still, like his skin has shrunk and there’s no way to feel comfortable now.

“I bombed a test today.” 

“That all?”

“Yes. I mean. I think,” he bites his lip. “No—I bombed a test that’s like thirty percent of my grade, for this class that’s the number one pre-req for anyone trying to get into med school. I pulled an all nighter and studied my ass off, and I didn’t even hit the average on the bell curve. So if I don’t ace the next two labs and the final exam, my grade for this class is screwed.”

“Grades aren’t everything, Jeongguk-ah. You know that, right?”

“It’s more than that.” Jeongguk blurts, blinking rapidly. He snatches up another band-aid, peels it, wraps it around Yoongi’s knuckle. “I guess I’m not very happy in general. Like, with my classes and the program as a whole. I thought this was what I wanted, so it’s embarrassing. I don’t like being bad at things. Everyone in my family, they’re all doctors. Both my parents, my brother’s gonna be a freaking bone surgeon. But I can’t even get it together to pass my first freaking class in what is going to be like a six year academic track. ’S bullshit.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything. Jeongguk pours peroxide on one of his own cuts, closes his eyes at the sting, letting it seep into him.

“If you lost your hands, what would you do?”

Jeongguk’s eyes flutter open and he stares, thrown. “What.”

“I said, if you lost your hands, and you obviously couldn’t be a doctor anymore, what would you do with your life? Imagine an anvil falls from the sky, a dude with a saber sword attacks you out of nowhere and chops them off, Sharknado happens for real, and you lose your hands in the epic battle. What do you do?”

“Sharknado, hyung? Really?" 

“Humor me.” 

“Hm. Well.” Jeongguk frowns. It’s not really a hard question. He’s never had to think of a fallback career, because what’s a fallback to being a freaking doctor. But he knows what he’d like to do, what he isn’t completely shit at. “Music, probably. I was thinking of minoring in it.”

Yoongi shakes his head. “Wrong answer.”

“I didn’t know this was a quiz.” Jeongguk’s insides squirm.

“The correct answer is ‘whatever it fucking takes.’” Yoongi supplies, eyes fiercely bright. “You invent some high-tech robot hands to do the job or you travel to a fuckin’ ancient temple like Steven Strange to get some magical infinity stone hands or whatever. Whatever it takes so you can be a doctor. If you love something, or, if you’re meant to do something, you won’t give up on it, you won’t stop. Not even if a flying shark comes after you. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Jeongguk shakes his head. He’s admittedly still hung up on the shark thing.

Yoongi doesn’t roll his eyes though, or seem irritated at Jeongguk’s stupidity. Not now. He slowly pries the ointment and band-aids from Jeongguk’s hands. Begins to apply them himself. 

“I’m saying that you’re a smart kid. And you don’t strike me as the kind of person who’s going to waste their time doing something they don’t actually want to. If you’re not happy, then maybe med school isn’t for you.” The corners of his mouth turn down. “Granted, our passions don’t always make us happy, speaking from experience. But if all it took was me suggesting one tiny freak accident for you to switch to music? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate.”

“Oh,” says Jeongguk softly. It’s a terrifying revelation Yoongi’s presented him with. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make him feel like crying as much as it should. The cuts on his hands have stopped singing.

“It’s your decision entirely, Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi says after a moment. “Hell, I’m not exactly the poster boy for stellar career choices, so if you’re just having a shit week and I need to shut the fuck up and quit doling out advice, then please say so.”

“You should never shut the fuck up ever,” Jeongguk says, then, “I’m just a little overwhelmed right now, sorry,” followed by, “And thanks. I appreciate it. Sorry.”

Flustered, he looks down. Yoongi’s hands were cold when they first sat, but they are warm now. They are warm and they are touching Jeongguk’s, knuckles brushing. Their band-aids match.

“You’re welcome, Jeongguk-ah.”

He wants to sit with what Yoongi’s said to him. Maybe sleep on it too. People change career paths all the freaking time, Jeongguk knows this. He just never saw himself as one of those people. He’s driven and hard working, he has big dreams.

But if those dreams change…what then?

Whatever it fucking takes.

The words are there, stuck in his brain, a balm on a wound he wasn’t even aware existed, and he’s not thinking about medical school when he hears them.

A distinct chatter of needy mews breaks his train of thought.  It’s Cat, emerged from her hide out in the couch, opting to twine around Yoongi’s legs like a vine.

Yoongi narrows his eyes. “Just because I have band-aids doesn’t mean you’re forgiven.”

“You were worried about her.” Jeongguk smiles.

“It’d be really inconvenient to have to bury a cat in this part of the city.” Yoongi shrugs, voice flat. 

“You like her." 

“Whatever.”

“I can still take her if she’s too much trouble.”

“No,” Yoongi protests, and at Jeongguk’s raised eyebrows, he rolls his eyes. “She’s used to it by now. She sleeps by the water heater. Cat is very particular about her living situation and she wouldn’t be happy if you disrupted it.”

Jeongguk allows his shit-eating grin to grow. “You like her.” He leans off the chair to peer under the table. “You hear that, Cat? Hyung likes you.” 

“She’s a stone cold predator. I could get murdered right in front of her and she wouldn’t blink,” Yoongi deadpans, but he’s smiling, and those tightly coiled things in Jeongguk’s belly are suddenly feather light and floating.

***

jeon jeongguk has been added to SECRET GANTA™ Chat

 

tiny hyung
hi kookie! welcome to our party planning chat for Gay Secret Santa!

hobi-hyung
yooooooooo JK what’s up!!!

tallest hyung
Welcome Jeongguk!

taehyungie
so this is our planning/announcements chat for our yearly christmas party! we all talked it over and decided we wanted to invite you into our family tradition

jeongguk
oh wow
are you sure you want me to participate? i don’t wanna intrude on a tradition

taehyungie
jeonggukie you sweet innocent BUSH BABY
of COURSE we want you to come

tiny hyung
that’s the cool thing about traditions! you get to make the rules
so new rule: jeongguk’s presence is required, no ifs ands or buts :)

taehyungie
besides, certain people would miss you terribly if you weren’t there
isn’t that right yoongi hyung? 

yoongi-hyung
i know where both of you cretins live and i’ll kill you both bare handed

taehyungie
tee hee <:

jeongguk
hyung i want you to know that tae also just said ‘tee hee’ out loud

yoongi-hyung
what the shit
are you with them right now?

jeongguk
yah! they’re helping me study for finals
i would’ve come over to yours but the couch is too comfy, i would have just fallen asleep

yoongi-hyung
and fallen onto the floor mid nap like you did the other night…and then kept sleeping on the floor

jeongguk
hyung!!!!! >:( you promised to never tell anyone about that!
>:(

yoongi-hyung
all bets are off now that Cat has been abandoned by you

jeongguk
>:(((((

taehyungie
oh my god this is PRECIOUS
SOMEONE PLEASE SCREENSHOT THIS

hobi-hyung
wow you must spend so much time at yoongi-hyung’s to feel so comfortable there jeonggukie :)

jeongguk
i guess haha
so what are the rules for secret ganta?

tiny hyung
theyre pretty much:
1) 50,000 won budget MAX
2) you CANNOT trade
3) you CANNOT cheat (telling anyone in the group your secret santa counts as cheating)
4) we don’t do gift lists because true friends kNOW what to get each other for christmas.

jeongguk
oh ok. do i need to draw a name out of a hat?

tiny hyung
don’t worry about that, taetae and i have taken care of it.

taehyungie
we are the emcees and game masters of every big holiday event, we draw the names based on compatibility and maximum gift giving ability

tallest hyung
and magically…MAGICALLY, tae and jimin always get each other

tiny hyung
i know so weird right? it’s like we’re meant to be

jeongguk
lol ok
this sounds fun :)

tiny hyung
yay! we’re so excited to have you be a part of it
you’ll get your secret santa name in your email soon enough

tallest hyung
Seokjin is working rn but he wanted me to remind you all that everyone is encouraged to bring an appetizer or dessert or booze
to quote him directly “none of you fucks are allowed in my house if you don’t contribute at least one dish. i am not a MOM”
No Taehyung, before you ask, ‘Jimin’s sweet ass’ does not count as a dessert.

taehyungie
why not :(

jeongguk
gross
btw @yoongi-hyung, i’m headed home bc my brain cannot physically handle studying for a second longer
wanna go out for lamb skewers?

yoongi-hyung
no can do
in the studio tonight
sorry

jeongguk
no worries! just text me the address, i’ll swing by

hobi-hyung
LMAO good luck jeonggukie, yoongi hyung’s studio space is sacred
one time i tried to visit and he literally dead bolted the door in my face and left me to stand out in the snow
a bitch froze that night

jeongguk
okay but did you have lamb skewers hobi-hyung?
because i have lamb skewers
don’t even tell me you’re not hungry yoongi-hyung
i’ve seen your fridge, remember?

yoongi-hyung
…fine
DMing you the address

hobi-hyung
holy shiT

taehyungie
jeongguk you are. a God

jeongguk
okay hyung :) be there in 20

taehyungie
A GOD I SAY 

***

“Yoongi, help with the fricassee,” says Jin, and shoves a spoon into Yoongi’s hands. “Joon-ah, I love you so very much, but if you touch anything in this kitchen with the exception of the Brita pitcher you’re sleeping on the couch.”

Around them, the kitchen is a war zone, because despite swearing up and down he wouldn’t do most of the cooking, Jin somehow ended up doing exactly that. It’s a habit that carried over from college—Jin using his extra allowance from home to feed the rest of their broke dysfunctional asses. He complains about it, threatens that he’s never doing anything nice for his friends ever again, but Yoongi suspects that deep down Jin secretly loves it, those small unspoken acts of affection for the people around him.

It’s that suspicion that explains why Yoongi is here a bit early to help out, hideous Christmas sweater in tow, as per the Secret Ganta dress code.

“You said you wanted help, let me help,” Namjoon says in a very soothing voice, because Jin looks just a little crazed right now, flour smudged on his cheek, apron spattered with various foods.

“Stand there and look pretty. That will help immensely, thank you,” Jin snaps, but he punctuates it with a swift kiss to Namjoon’s cheek. Gross.

The moment is interrupted by a distinct and tinkling crash that sounds from the living room, where Taehyung and Jimin are supposed to be getting the tree set up.

“If they shatter a single ornament—,” a vein bulges in Jin’s temple before he catches sight of Yoongi at the stove. “Mix, I’m not paying you to stand there!”

“You’re not paying me at all.”

“Respect your elders. Now, I’m going to make sure the living room is not on fire.”

Jin leaves, and Namjoon instantly slumps back agains the counter, taking a long pull of his beer. It’s not long before he casts a furtive side glance at Yoongi. Yoongi doesn’t react. That searching glance means only one thing: Kim Namjoon’s got some Shit to Say. So Yoongi, not really in the mood for what he know is inevitably coming, focuses intensely on the fricassee instead.

The expectant silence doesn’t even make it to thirty seconds. From the living room, they can hear the sound of Jin yelling over Michael Buble’s Christmas Classics.

“So what’s the deal with you and Jeongguk?” Namjoon asks, because of course he does.

For a second, just a second, Yoongi contemplates telling Namjoon everything, because goddamn would it feel good. It’s feel so good to talk about how Jeongguk showed up that day with lamb skewers and Yoongi’s favorite soda that Yoongi couldn’t recall ever telling him about but he knew, he just knew. How they ate on the floor of the studio and talked about their days because that’s a thing they do now and it wasn’t even awkward. How it never is. How Jeongguk had looked dead on his feet from all the studying but stuck around for hours. How he asked to listen to the track Yoongi was mixing for Suran and how he’d sung along to the chorus, creating harmonies where Yoongi hadn’t even thought to put there. How when Jeongguk said goodbye, it was snowing again, falling in his hair. How Yoongi had to clench the want between his teeth to keep from reaching to brush it out.

He allows himself the notion, just a taste, and then chews it all up swallows it down like old gum.

“We hang out. I dunno what you want me to say, Joon.”

“Well then, how about I say something. I think he’d be good for you. I think you’d be good for each other.”

“Sure.” Yoongi snorts, to keep from asking what the hell Namjoon means by that.

“Have you thought about telling him?” 

“There’s nothing to tell,” Yoongi says colorlessly. “For fuck’s sake, I don’t even know if he’s queer.”

“He's coming to an event that we fondly refer to as Gay Secret Santa. I think you're in the clear bro.”

Yoongi cuts Namjoon a sharp look. “Even if he is, I wouldn’t—I don’t want to drag him into my mess. And don’t look at me like that, you know better than anyone here what I mean. Getting laid or dating someone isn’t gonna fix that overnight.”

“Maybe not. But maybe the idea of something making you happy is still worth it in and of itself. Maybe it doesn’t have to be the Cure All for it to still be valid and good.”

That’s the tricky thing about Kim Namjoon. He’s an enigma wrapped in the general physical hazard that comes from being a gangly goose-man, not to mention a plague on Yoongi’s life. But he’s also one smart motherfucker, even as he’s annoying the shit out of you.

“I hate you.”

“Yeah yeah,” Namjoon intones, straightening as Jin walks back in to bat Yoongi away from the fricassee. “Join the club, there’s a waiting list today.”

***

Secret Ganta—christened as such in the winter of 2014 after Namjoon spent a semester abroad in the States and came back with all these weird but fun traditions to celebrate in their patchwork quilt of a friend group—is lowkey one of Yoongi’s favorite nights of the year. This may or may not have to do with the fact that chances of public humiliation or indecent exposure and/or drunkenness are infinitely lower when the party takes place at a private residence rather than a bar like most of their nights out do, but really Yoongi just likes the atmosphere of it. 

He likes sitting in a tiny apartment with all his friends and opening gifts that are somehow always equal parts shady and affectionate. He likes the way Jin—after an entire day on his feet in the kitchen—inevitably gets plastered and ridiculous, drapes himself over an increasingly red Namjoon with thinly veiled come-ons and godawful puns, the way Taehyung and Jimin always outdo themselves on the decor, even if they nearly break their limbs in the effort, and the way Hoseok bounces about with a contagious energy, pouring eggnog and keeping the playlist festive. Yoongi likes having all the people in the world he cares about pressed into a single warm space. At the end of a year like this one, it serves as a nice end cap to remind him that things, while not always good, are not so terrible either.

He’s not quite sure where Jeongguk fits into all this yet, if he does. He hasn’t yet figured out a way to quantify the kid, because even if Namjoon thinks he knows what’s going on, Yoongi sure as hell doesn’t.

All the worrying and wondering turns out to be pointless; Jeongguk walks in bundled up from the cold, balancing a gift in one hand and a wrapped tray of food in the other, grinning at the chorus of greetings, and it’s like he’s been coming since the very first year they did this.

“Hey guys! I brought burgers,” Jeongguk says, shrugging off his winter coat and unwrapping his scarf. He looks, very seriously, at Jin. “I hope that’s okay. Turns out I don’t know how to cook that many things.”

“Burgers?” Jin cocks an eyebrow.

“Um.” Jeongguk bites his lip. “Yeah, the mini ones, I think they’re called sliders? If you don’t like them I can run out to the corner store and—”

He’s cut off by Jin snatching a burger out of the tray, taking a vicious bite.

“Delicious. I’ll put them right next to the gyoza platter,” Jin says around a mouthful. “You made these yourself, Jeonggukie? I’m impressed.”

“That’s high praise,” adds Namjoon. “I tried to help peel potatoes earlier and he threatened to peel me.”

Jeongguk smiles so hard his eyes crinkle up around the corners, pleased as punch. Yoongi’s hands twitch.

Dinner is a smorgasbord of everything Jin managed to whip up in the past few hours, and then some. Because they’re seven guys in their twenties, they do a pretty decent job of demolishing the lot. There is minimal mess and no food fights (officially banned after Secret Ganta 2015, thank you Hoseok) and it is, by all definitions, a good time.

Yoongi forgoes drinks. Even they’re not drinking super heavy stuff tonight, he wants very much to be fully sober right now. Doesn’t want to miss a thing. Across from him, Jeongguk sits between Tae and Jimin, and is only shy for about five minutes before he’s chatting with the rest of them, talking with his hands, cackling whenever Jin tipsily threatens to cancel Christmas on grounds of disrespecting elders. He’s wearing a headband with reindeer antlers and an ugly sweater with twinkling lights in the fabric and he fits. He fits.

After dinner, they end up in a circle right next to the tree where a naked Ken Doll sits atop for gift exchange time. Yoongi’s full, but his stomach is in knots, which doesn’t make for a great combination. He tucks himself into the farthest corner of the couch and tries not to feel the envelope burning in his pocket. 

He didn’t get Jeongguk for Secret Ganta. But that doesn’t mean Yoongi didn’t get him something period.

“Alright, ducklings, welcome to Secret Ganta 2017,” says a pink-faced Jin, swaying a bit where he sits. “Jimin, you go first. We’ll go around the circle clockwise.”

It’s over pretty shortly, everyone too full and content for antics. Jimin and Taehyung gift each other matching spa packages and somehow manage to seem surprised that they got each other in the name draw. Hoseok gifts Jin a really elegant bracelet that coordinates with half of Jin’s outfits. Then it’s Yoongi’s turn. 

“Merry Christmas, fucker,” Yoongi says, and chucks his package at Hoseok’s face.

The Supreme hoodie that Yoongi found in a thrift shop makes Hoseok’s whole face light up. The fancy glass dildo tucked into the pocket makes him cackle.

“Oh wow. I love this. Can’t wait to test the product.” He waggles his eyebrows. “Thanks hyung.”

Then Jeongguk picks his gift up, a small paper bag with a tuft of tissue paper sticking out the top. For a second, it looks like he’s beelining for Namjoon, but he turns at the last second and hands it to Yoongi.

“Merry Christmas, hyung.” 

“Ooooh,” Jimin whispers as Yoongi lifts the gift from the bag. “Tae and I have one of those. Very kinky. I’m impressed, Yoongi-hyung. Would have pegged you for the vanilla type.”

“You might have miscalculated the measurements though,” Tae chirps. “Hyung’s skinny, Jeonggukie, but he’s not that skinny.”

Yoongi ignores them, even as Jin berates Jimin and Tae, who have collapsed into giggles, “It’s obviously not for Yoongi, guys, what the fuck. Go to church.”

It’s a collar, yes, definitely a collar, no denying that. Pastel yellow. There’s a heart-shaped plate of metal at the center with “Min Cat” engraved on it, and Yoongi’s phone number beneath. Then, a simple Christmas card, to the world’s most reluctant cat mom.

“Um, obviously she’s not chipped so if she gets out and loses the collar it’s not like this is gonna surefire get her back but you know,” says Jeongguk nervously. Next to the glow of the Christmas tree, he’s bathed in color, green and gold lights tracing a halo around him. “It’s just in case. Though now that I’m thinking about it, she might try to bite your hand off for even attempting to put it on. I have the receipt, also. If you want to return and get her something else. I just thought—”

“It’s great,” Yoongi says, and his voice comes out all scratchy, which, what the hell. It’s just a Cat collar. And Cat is very much going to throw a tantrum when he puts it on her, he’s already dreading the scratches. Yoongi looks up, cupping the gift between his hands like it might vanish if he doesn’t. “Thanks, kid.”

Namjoon gets Jeongguk a couple really nice leather-bound journals, plus a few books that they'd apparently talked about. Then Jin gives Namjoon a saucy wink and says, “Your Secret Santa gift gets unwrapped later, big guy,” which is pretty much the cue for all of them to get the hell out.

But before Yoongi can even get up to gather his stuff, Taehyung shrieks that they haven’t completed the yearly tradition of watching Love Actually, which means the quick getaway is cut off as Yoongi is packed against the arm of the couch like a sardine, everyone squeezing onto a single piece of furniture. He’s got Hoseok’s feet squished up under his thigh and Jimin’s head against his shoulder and Jeongguk leaning back against his legs and it takes actual, legitimate effort not to stare at the back of his head. To see which parts of this godawful cliched mess of a movie he laughs at.

Yoongi kind of wishes he had had something to drink now, if only to have an excuse for why he gets so misty-eyed at the part where Emma Thompson cries while listening to Joni Mitchell no shut the fuck up Hoseok I have allergies, you fuck. He definitely wishes he had a drink when that dude from The Walking Dead starts holding up those creepy signs about how it’s Christmas and on Christmas you tell the truth. The contents of his pocket burn against his thigh.

It would be better to leave the present in Jeongguk’s mailbox, slip it under his door. It’s probably better that way.

Or, maybe the dude from The Walking Dead has a point.

By the end of the movie, half his friends are passed out on the couch or the floor in food comas. Jin and Namjoon have retreated to the bedroom, with softly whispered goodnights and Jin telling them where the extra blankets are in case anyone needs one. Yoongi somehow manages to extricate himself from someone’s octopus grip and not wake the lot. He gathers his stuff, careful with the cat collar as he tucks it into his jacket, and heads to the front door.

Out on the front porch are little snowflake lights wrapped around the railing of the steps, bright blue LEDs that burn a little bit to look at. Yoongi tips his head back, inhales the night.

The door opens behind him. 

“Hyung? You taking off?”

Jeongguk steps out onto the stoop, blinking sleepily, hands tucked under his arms and shivering a bit. He lost the reindeer antlers but his sweater is still twinkling, cheeks pink from the warmth that awaits inside, breath puffing like smoke in the air between them.

“Yeah. Have to be up early tomorrow.”

“Okay. Well, goodnight.” He hovers, though, like he’s not sure if he’s supposed to go inside yet. Like he wants to say something else. Like he wants Yoongi to.  

Cool. So this is happening now, clearly. Yoongi’s not gonna get the quiet gift giving like he’d been hoping for. He curls his fingers in his pocket.

He thinks that he had a speech prepared somewhere, a scripted intro to this. He must have. Can’t remember a fucking word of it for all he’s saying, but he’s sure there was one. Unfortunately for Yoongi, those big doe eyes and that small sleepy smile that Yoongi wants to lord over are directed at him and all decent brain functions kind of up and leave at that.

“By the way.” He thrusts the envelope forward. “Here. Merry Christmas, kid.”

Jeongguk’s lips quirk. “I thought you got Hobi-hyung for Secret Santa. Pretty sure this counts as cheating, hyung.”

“I didn’t spend a single won, you ungrateful brat. Just open it.”

Huffing, Jeongguk takes the envelope and opens it, and Yoongi forces himself to not turn heel and disappear in a cloud of dust. Then Jeongguk’s eyes go huge, blinking like he’s not sure what he’s seeing as he stares at the piece of paper in his hands.

“W-what is this?”

“It’s a recommendation letter,” says Yoongi, face suddenly so hot the cold air stings it. “For your music school application.”

A sharp intake of breath. “You know about that?”

“Cat sat on your laptop when you were in the bathroom and I just kind of. Saw the tab open, as I was pulling her off.”

It’s truly incredible, really, how Yoongi didn’t realize how presumptuous he was being with this until this moment. How only now it occurs to him that Jeongguk didn’t ask for this, Jeongguk might not even want this. Did Yoongi jump to conclusions? What if he did something really assholeish and totally overstepped his bounds? What if Jeongguk hates him? Yoongi feels like that asshole in Love, Actually with the fucking boombox and the signs, completely fucking unnecessary in every single way.

Whatever the results, though—it’s too late to take it back now.

Jeongguk nods slowly. He kind of looks like he wants to run away. Or cry. Or both. It’s too much, oh Jesus Christ, Yoongi totally did way too fucking much, because he’s got limited self control as it is and when it comes to Jeongguk he’s got none whatsoever and this is so goddamn embarrassing.

“Hyung, you didn’t have to—”

“I wanted to. Look,” Yoongi huffs, because this conversation is on a fast track to derailing entirely, “It’s really not a big deal. I’m not a professor in the program, so it’s not like I have pull with the admissions committee. I’m just a recent alumnus. The application needs a personal reference, preferably from someone who knows a thing or two about music. So.”

Yoongi closes his mouth before he says another word to make this whole thing worse. And Jeongguk. Jeongguk is looking at Yoongi. He’s practically vibrating on the spot, eyes big and wide and shining.

He’s not looking at Yoongi the way he looked at Jin a few hours ago, pleased and cheery and a little shy.

He’s looking at Yoongi like Yoongi just handed him a million dollars instead of a piece of paper.

He’s looking at Yoongi like Yoongi just hung the fucking moon.

Then he stumbles forward, paper clutched in hand, and throws his arms around Yoongi’s neck.

For a second, Yoongi mind goes completely blank.

The last person to hug him like this was Hoseok, sweaty and disgusting and as Hoseok yelled excitedly in his ear in a post-showcase rush. It’s Yoongi’s tendency with these sort of things to stiffen, or to screech like an angry cockatoo as he tries to pry whoever it is off, because it’s not that he hates hugs or general affection from people he knows, it’s just that he never knows what to do with it. It’s like being handed a bomb that he has to dismantle in seconds, which he knows is a dumb and overcomplicated way of looking at it; everybody knows you’re supposed to hug back.

When it was Hoseok—Yoongi had whined about the sweat and gingerly patted his back like it was paining him to do so. Hoseok knows Yoongi well enough that he could get away with it, and just held on tighter.

But this is Jeongguk. And he’s throwing his arms around Yoongi so suddenly that they tilt off balance a little with the force of their bodies colliding, Yoongi’s back bumping against the rail.

This is Jeongguk, and Yoongi’s going to hell anyways, so fuck it. Fuck it all.

In the overzealous tipping and rebalancing act, Yoongi’s nose ends up squashed up against Jeongguk’s neck, forehead pressed just beneath’s Jeongguk’s chin. His skin smells like cinnamon. Yoongi wants to press against the shape of him the way Cat does sometimes—shameless in every kind of way.

Fuck it all, indeed. 

Yoongi’s hands have a mind of their own, and that mind wanders to skim his palms over the wings of Jeongguk’s shoulder blades, settling against the small of his back. Jeongguk’s body is all toasty from the dog pile on the couch and beneath Yoongi’s hands, the lines of him are far more slender than he actually seems. His arms are wrapped around Yoongi’s shoulders and he’s all over Yoongi. All over. Mouth in Yoongi’s hair. Cheek to Yoongi’s temple. When Yoongi shivers, Jeongguk pulls Yoongi closer, their chests bracketing. Yoongi lets his eyes fall shut, breathes Jeongguk in and maybe that, in the end, is how he doesn’t realize what’s happening until it’s far too late to stop it. 

Once, on a Particularly Bad Day, just a little over a year ago—the clustered buildings of his hometown pressing in from all directions to the point of being unable to breathe—Yoongi went driving. Took his piece of shit car with half a tank of gas, and got the fuck out of Daegu for a few hours. It was winter, and a bitter cold one at that, the roads icy and dangerous, which was just fine if you asked Yoongi.

He drove and he drove and he drove, music cranked up loud so the crap speakers in the dashboard rattled. Windows rolled down, letting the wind whip snow flurry into his mouth, making his teeth sore.

Around him, in him, the world was a palette of whites and grays like an old forgotten photograph, all the color sapped out. He was freezing, but back then, Yoongi was always frozen in some way or another. Had been for months.

Cold encroached with talons that clawed into his lungs until it hurt to breathe, and Yoongi drove, wondering just how fast he’d have to go before the car shook apart to pieces with him in it.

And then, when the cold became almost too much to bear, tank bordering on empty, he’d pulled over to the side of the road. Carefully rolled the windows back up. Put the car in park. Flicked on the weak whisper of a heater, and let the warmth seep back into him, inch by inch, appendage by appendage. Let himself begin to thaw. Let himself shake and shudder and then, for what felt like the first time in years, cry. He sat like that for a very long time, leaning against the steering wheel, breathing in the smell of the world and the painful, stinging reminder of just how alive he really was.

There’s a bit of that going on now, standing on the stoop and clinging to Jeongguk. That inevitable, inescapable and intense heat, prickling like needles, awakening parts of him that have been numb for so long. It’s welcome, god, it’s more than welcome, but christ how it hurts to thaw, to become all over again.

Considering how he fell apart then, Yoongi thinks he does a pretty good job of keeping it together this time around. He doesn’t have the strength to be the first to pull away, though.

“Thank you, hyung,” Jeongguk whispers into Yoongi’s forehead, into his hair. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Yoongi mumbles, and aches.

***

Over winter break Jeongguk applies to music school. Privately, he admits that the decision was made months ago, maybe even before Yoongi had first brought it up, if he’s really thinking about it. But it’s not until finals end that he knows it’s not a whim, that this is something he wants and something he’s going to get or die trying. He does his best on his finals and actually makes pretty decent grades, but all the classes he signs up for in the spring are pre-reqs and gen-eds for the music program. Because he’s not a major yet, but Jeongguk has always liked a running head start.

Busan is all sharp gusty winds that chap his cheeks, white snow on white sand as the holidays creep closer. His friends from high school wanna hang and Jeongguk’s brother wants him to read his new comic, but Jeongguk gets to work right away, hungry for it. Pulls a couple all-nighters to make the deadline. Records his vocal samples in his old choir practice room and submits his essays and rec letters from old teachers, one professor, Yoongi.

(He doesn’t read Yoongi’s letter—simply uploads a scan to the application portal without looking it over. Yoongi never said he couldn’t read it, so it’s not like that’s an issue. But Jeongguk’s being very careful these days with the things he does and does not think about Min Yoongi. And reading an entire letter from Min Yoongi saying good things about Jeongguk feels like too much. He doesn’t know why. It just does.)

***

 yoongi-hyung
merry christmas from your favorite grinch
[IMAGE SENT]

jeongguk
omfg the SANTA HAT
she looks so miserable i’m crying
Free Her

yoongi-hyung
she clawed me twice while i was putting it on

jeongguk
your sacrifice is unparalleled
so where’s the other grinch selfie, huh?

yoongi-hyung
maybe when i’ve had more spiked eggnog lol
jin says hi

jeongguk
i guess i can wait :)
hi hyung

yoongi
what are you up to rn?

jeongguk
just submitted my music school app
lowkey wanna barf :(

yoongi-hyung
don’t
you’re gonna be so great
fingers crossed just in case

jeongguk
thank you
and merry christmas to you too, hyung

***

Jeongguk is gone for roughly two weeks for the winter holidays. 

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.  That’s how the expression goes, right? Fonder, in Yoongi’s opinion, is a gross understatement. Barely taps the surface.

Maybe it works that way for other people: all that tender, all that gentle. All that not feeling like the world is caving around his ears for all the fondness he feels.

It doesn’t work like that for Yoongi. He wish he knew why.

(He knows why. He knows exactly fucking why. Knows it the same way he knew when he was sixteen years old, skinny and pale and avoiding eye contact in the locker room as other boys stripped down to their skivvies and whipped each other with towels and compared dick sizes like it was nothing. In the way sometimes you just know things about yourself, know when they are bearable, live-able. And know when they are not.

There is being aware of a thing and being able to ignore it, cope with it, accept it but not pay it any attention. Then there is being aware of a thing and simply fucking drowning in it.

Yoongi picks Jeongguk up at the train station a few days after New Year’s, and when Jeongguk throws open the passenger side door—rosy cheeked and laughing, face a little fuller from two straight weeks of his mom’s cooking, chirping at Yoongi for being late and how his ass is now frozen—Yoongi almost turns the car around and goes straight home. Just to keep from kissing him, or touching him, just to keep all that knowing and awareness of Jeongguk from creeping out his traitorous limbs and wanting mouth.)

So Jeongguk comes back to Seoul, and Yoongi has a crisis and ghosts him.

There’s work to be done, there always is, and so Yoongi does what he does best—he completely buries himself in it.

There’s a blessing in the simple fact of having stuff to do. With his mixtape, with the track Suran’s having him produce, with the lyrics Joon wanted him to look over and give feedback on. Yoongi does all that and takes up a second job bagging groceries so he can legitimately start paying the bills that are piling up on the kitchen table. His sleeping schedule gets thrown to the wind and he’s definitely out of the Christmas dinner leftovers that Jin sent him home with weeks ago but he’s so busy it doesn’t mater.

It’s a welcome albeit miserable distraction. Which pretty much sums up where Yoongi’s at right now. Where he’s always at, really, the worn out yet tried-and-true bullshit leaking back in his ears, fogging up his head. He wishes to hell he didn’t find it so damn comforting.

Jeongguk’s busy and wrapped up in school and really, it’s for the best. He’s prepping for his in-person audition for vocal performance—he passed the pre-screening test, of course he did—so Yoongi doesn’t have to give too many excuses for why he’s suddenly off the grid. He just has to never be at his apartment, and it is all too easy to do that. To exist in other places that don’t offer much comfort or rest. It’s practically a talent.

For a while, he almost gets away with it.

***

“So like, all in all, It wasn’t the worst dick I’ve ever sucked? But definitely up there. Top ten terrible dicks, perhaps,” says Hoseok into the phone, as Yoongi balances cat food in his arms and cell between ear and shoulder, hiking up the stairs to the seventh floor. “By the way, are you coming to bowling night? Jeonggukie said he wasn’t sure if you were or not.”

“Can’t,” grunts Yoongi, not acknowledging the mention of Jeongguk. “Work.”

“Dude, you said that last week for rom-com night. What gives?”

“Yeah, well. Been busy.”

Hoseok makes a whining noise that Yoongi knows is covering up some pretty heavy frustration. Honestly, he can’t even blame him. The only reason this phone call is even happening is because Yoongi has dodged the last two group hangouts and apparently missed Hoseok’s dirty rendezvous play-by-play. 

“I’ll see if I can make it to brunch Sunday, okay?” He offers, though that is a thin and bald faced lie even he can hear. “I’ll let you know when I get my schedule for next week.”

“Fine. Get some sleep, hyung, I can’t see you, but you sound like shit.”

“Thanks, asshole.”

He’s halfway to fishing around in his pocket for his keys when he spots the door to his apartment is already open. Ajar by a scant few inches. 

Fine, Yoongi huffs. If Jeongguk wants to come in unannounced, right when Yoongi least needs him to, that’s fine. Yoongi can fake tired and go to bed and eventually the kid will catch the hint and leave.

He shoulders in through the entryway, door clicking shut behind him. “Kid, you better not be using my wifi to torrent shit again.”

Silence.

That’s—odd. Usually Jeongguk has a witty retort, or at least a responding laugh, but there’s no response. Not a sound. If Jeongguk were asleep, he’d be on the couch, but the couch is empty. The kitchen is empty. There’s no sign of Jeongguk having been in here, no telltale quiet humming, no puttering about in the kitchenette making coffee. 

Something prickles at the back of Yoongi’s neck, hair standing on end. 

“Cat?” he calls softly, setting the food and his phone down on the counter, walking toward his bedroom. There’s a scuffle at the end of the hallway, but no responding yowl like there usually is whenever Yoongi comes home.

Another scuffle. Creak of a floorboard. A heavy breath that is in no way familiar.

What—

Everything clicks right into place right as the door opens, and Yoongi’s too slow on the uptake to realize until the last second, as a man he has never before in his life seen steps out of the bedroom. The face is difficult to make out, but even in the dim light of the short hallway there’s no mistaking the silver glint of switch blade gripped tightly at his side.

Yoongi goes very still. 

“That’s right,” says the guy, inching forward slowly. Although he’s got a solid few inches on Yoongi, he’s scrawnier. Not that that matters, he’s the one with the knife. Across the room, Yoongi’s car keys and cell phone sit pathetically on the counter. “Don’t try to be the hero. Nobody needs to get hurt here.”

He’s got Yoongi’s laptop tucked under one arm and a wad of petty cash that Yoongi keeps under the mattress sticking out of his pocket. It’s a sizable haul. And it doesn’t look like he plans on letting go of it any time soon.

Fact is, Yoongi’s not a fighter. He’s never even punched someone. Not really. Not when he needs it to count. Everything he’s ever made on that laptop is on a hard-drive that he backs up often because he’s a paranoid bastard.

It’ll be a loss—there’s some stuff from the past few weeks he hadn’t yet transferred, and he will have to get a new laptop, but it’s survivable.

Losing the cash could mean eviction. He’ll cross that bridge when he gets there.

Slowly, Yoongi raises his hands above his head, stepping back in retreat. The guy inches towards the front door. For a second, it looks like this is going to actually end without a gaping stab wound.

But then, because of course, of course, Cat comes trotting out from under the couch, meowing needily, beelining for the guy’s ankles to twine herself around them.

The calm holding Yoongi still shatters.

“Cat,” Yoongi pleads, snapping his fingers, wiggling them as if to distract her. “C’mere. C’mere, kitty.”

She’s not listening to him, of course. Too busy greeting the man holding a sharp object.

“What the hell?” The guy frowns, gripping his knife tighter as she rubs against him, purring, winding around his ankles, getting completely and stupidly underfoot. “Get away.”

Like a frame by frame slideshow, all jilted in stop-motion, Yoongi watches the guy’s heel lift from the floor. Watches boot cocking back and aiming for Cat’s tiny unsuspecting head.

It’s not one of his more thought-out decisions, what happens next, but that doesn’t matter because Yoongi isn’t thinking right now.

Yoongi jumps, and barrels into the guy. He may not be a fighter, but in a moment of insanity he gives it his best effort.

“What the fuck?!” The guy twists under his grip, Yoongi clambering onto his back like a very angry squirrel up a tree, not letting go.

“Don’t you fucking touch her,” he snarls, digs his fingers into the meat of the man’s shoulder until the knife goes clattering to the floor.

They tumble, bodies colliding into the dining room table, Yoongi’s back smarting, his mind a whitewashed blur of adrenaline and fight-or-flight, only able to register the thunk of the laptop hitting the floor, the frantic crash of his heart, the guy staggering underneath Yoongi’s weight.

For a second, it seems like he actually has the upper hand.

Then his skull cracks hard against tile as the guy lurches back with a roar, throwing both of them flat. Stars burst behind Yoongi’s eyes. He cringes and groans, the room tilting askew, but he doesn’t let go of the guy. Cat streaks out the door with a hiss and yowl and Yoongi can only hope that whatever home she finds is good to her because he’s surely about to fucking die.

Another sharp grunt as the guy rears backwards again, the back of his head colliding smack with Yoongi’s face and yeah, that hurts like a bitch.

Fuck, fuck.

He lets go of the guy, scrabbling for purchase, the room a smear of pain in front of him as he tries to get his wits together.

The phone. He crawls to his knees, half blind, reaching for the table. Only to be struck down again when something—a fist, a boot, or worse—slams into with his back, just beneath his ribcage. Blunt enough that he doesn’t hear bone break. Sharp enough that the blow alone causes bile to rise in his throat. He curls in on himself, phone forgotten. Maybe if he plays unconscious—which won’t be hard, he’s almost halfway there—the guy will leave.

Then, the sound of a knife being picked up off the ground, scrape of blade against linoleum.

Or not. Yoongi pulls his knees to his chest. Braces himself.  

Then, the sound of the door to Yoongi’s apartment opening with a bang.  

Then, the muted sound of fist meeting flesh.  

Then, a sudden yelp, pulling Yoongi out of the pain-bleary black, wrenching his eyes open to—

Jeongguk.

Jeongguk is here.

Jeongguk is here and he looks furious, the lines of him taut and vibrating with anger. It’s hard to tell who is more surprised. The guy recovering from the sucker punch, or Yoongi.

If Jeongguk is scared, if he’s remotely afraid, it isn’t showing. In two steps he moves to plant himself between Yoongi and the guy. Tension emanates from him like the subliminal hum from an electric fence—perfectly harmless until you get too close.

His fists are clenched so hard the knuckles are white, but his voice doesn’t once waver as he says, “Leave now. The cops are on the way. So get out and don’t ever come back.”

The guy doesn’t move. His eyes dart towards the knife on the floor again. 

Yoongi’s words tastes like copper, “Jeongguk-ah, don’t—”

Jeongguk moves with all the grace of a dancer, sudden and swift, kicking the knife under the couch and grabbing the guy by the front of his shirt, hauling him out of the room, shoving him into the hallway.

“GO!” he shouts, and Yoongi has never heard Jeongguk yell like that, didn’t think he was really capable of such a terrible sound, something so dark and threatening.

The guy goes. His scrambling footsteps echo down the stairwell, as the sound of police sirens bleed into the background, growing louder.

A beat. A breath. Yoongi’s vision flickers in and out again.

“Yoongi—,” a scramble and thunk of knees on tile and Jeongguk drops down beside him. Except there’s none of that dark anger in his voice anymore, no fury in his fists. It’s just Jeongguk, albeit a little panicked and terrified but undeniably Jeongguk. The notion is a ridiculous and staggering relief.

“Yoongi, Yoongi, are you okay? Fuck, Yoongi, look at me.”

Jeongguk touches him, his face, his neck, seeking a steady pulse. This moment is the bastard child of Yoongi’s deepest most fucked up fantasies and his top ten nightmares. Jeongguk hovering over him, looking worried, so close, touching Yoongi with gentle, careful hands.

If this is a dream—and Yoongi honest to god prays it’s a dream, because the humiliation of getting his ass so epically kicked in real life would actually kill him—if this is a dream, Yoongi might as well make the best of it. Might as well milk it for all it’s worth.

He reaches up with a lackadaisical hand, smoothes down the worried crease of Jeongguk’s brows with his thumb. If the hand drags a bit on the way down, cups Jeongguk’s face for the briefest pause, well, he can hardly be blamed.   

“Honorifics, brat,” he scolds, and passes out.

***

Ever since Yoongi groggily blinked back awake in the apartment, ever since Jeongguk clenched the relieved sob between his teeth that threatened to fly loose, all throughout giving a statement to the police, and the escorted drive to the nearest hospital, the dimly lit waiting room, all through that—Jeongguk has focused on keeping distracted, being useful. On being able to look after Yoongi without having to look at Yoongi.

Truth be told, he is afraid of what he will see if he looks at Yoongi too much.

(He is afraid of what he will see if Yoongi looks back.)

By the time the doctor finally signs off and gives Yoongi the all clear to head home, Jeongguk realizes that he’s run out of distractions. He volunteers to call a cab as a last resort while Yoongi finishes up the paperwork.

Outside the hospital, on the curb, Yoongi fists a prescription for a bottle of light painkillers and Jeongguk fiddles with his phone. Even in the February chill, dread swells hot and uncomfortable in Jeongguk’s belly like bile. He tries to focus on the way his breath fogs in the air, on the icicles on the rooftops of the houses across the street, but it’s helpless.

Jeongguk is helpless.

From the corner of his eye the sight of Yoongi’s face still hits like a punch to the gut. The ugly purple bruises blooming across Yoongi’s cheek and nose are darker than the last time Jeongguk glanced them. The cut on his lip seems somehow deeper. It upset Jeongguk so much the first time he’d stopped looking entirely, but he’s run out of distractions. There’s nothing left to do but look, now.

It’s only a tiny concussion and a few nasty bruises. It sucks, but it’s nothing worrying. Not really.

Not when it could have been so much worse.

The cab pulls up, and they get in. Outside the vehicle, the white of winter that rushes by is a sharp contrast to the shadows on Yoongi’s face. Jeongguk wonders if it hurts as much as it looks like it does, then realizes he’s not supposed to be looking, and fiddles with his phone again. Reopens the group chat to make sure everyone’s caught up, as Jeongguk’s the one who texted them from the hospital. Pretty much everyone wants to come over and check on Yoongi, damn near insistent. Jeongguk hurriedly taps out a few more reassuring messages, promising them that Yoongi’s fine, that he just needs rest, that Taehyung can permanently move in and install a five-star security system and Jimin can hire a squad of assassins to guard the door, but only after Yoongi gets a full night of sleep.

“How’d you know, by the way? That I was in trouble.”

It’s the first time Yoongi has directly addressed Jeongguk. He’s been quiet ever since coming to back in the apartment, and first Jeongguk thought he was disoriented, but the longer the quiet stretches, the more Jeongguk realizes that it must be him. That Yoongi is quiet because of what Jeongguk did. That fact alone makes him want to cry.

“Cat,” he whispers, chancing another peek at Yoongi. He clears his throat, so as to not sound so timid. “Cat, she came to my door and started scratching. I’d been in the shower, I didn’t hear the commotion until she came.” He frowns. “Actually, I think she’s still in my apartment hiding under the sofa.”

“Incredible,” mutters Yoongi, and looks out at the darkening sky, the vivid clash of orange and pink over the soupy brown of smog, turning the shadows on his face darker.

It’s a fucking miracle that Jeongguk even got there in time.

He’d opened the door to his own apartment, Cat streaking past his ankles, and for a hot second, he’d almost closed the door. Thought he’d play a joke on Yoongi, teach him a lesson not to leave his door propped open or unlocked. See how long it’d take Yoongi to notice her missing, make a game out of it. He’d wanted to annoy Yoongi, to tease him, to see if he could pull a grudging smile out of that mouth. He’d almost stayed in his apartment.

If Jeongguk had just been one brain cell shorter, one iota more selfish—Yoongi could be dead.

Something in Jeongguk quakes, but he forces the thought down. Not now. Not here. Not in front of Yoongi.

Back at the apartment, Jeongguk wheedles Cat out from under the couch with treats and a toy. He holds her close to her chest, murmuring sweet nothings into her fur and scratching behind her ears.

Yoongi stands in the precipice of the doorway, expressionless.

“Stay the night,” says Jeongguk, Cat still curled his arms.

Yoongi balks. “Why, I’ve got all my stuff over there, that’s stupid.”

Jeongguk thinks of the broken ass stupid ass front door, and sets his jaw. “Some rando literally just B&E-ed your ass by walking in, hyung. No way. You’re staying here until that door gets fixed.”

“I highly doubt he’s going to come back,” Yoongi argues, sounding annoyed now. “I can take care of myself, kid.”

The nasty oily ugly rises in Jeongguk again like before, the one he’s been swallowing back since he first put his fist in that guy’s face.

Like hell you can, he wants to spit in Yoongi’s face. He wants to be petty, wants to be mean. But that’s not him talking. It’s not. It’s just some scaredy cat punk ass kid who just threw his first punch and can’t manage to pull himself together after the fact. Jesus Christ, he didn’t even get hurt. The guy didn’t even touch him, he’s not even bleeding, and he’s falling apart. Jeongguk is so pathetic. Jeongguk is so stupid.

“Stay the night, please,” he says softly. More a plea than anything, because he feels sick to his stomach and he doesn’t know what to do with his hands now that they’ve hurt. “Just for tonight, hyung. Won’t be able to sleep. Even if you’re right next door.”

“Okay.” Yoongi breathes. “Okay.”

While Yoongi takes a shower, Jeongguk pops next door and gathers Cat’s food and water, her catbox. He grabs a change of clothes for Yoongi, those soft Kumamon slippers and the Ryan pajamas that he likes to wear. His toothbrush.

There’s no point in panicking too much about the state of his own apartment, because this might be the first time Yoongi is inside it but now is not the time to worry about Jeongguk’s visual aesthetic and whether or not Yoongi spotted his Dragonball-Z boxers lying right in the middle of the living room.

It’s pointless for Jeongguk to shower, simply because it’s what he was doing right before he punched someone in the face—he punched someone in face—so he changes into a really large T-shirt and his least embarrassing pajama bottoms and forces himself to sit on the bed and chill the fuck out.

It only works halfway. He gets like this sometimes. Anxiety is a tricky bastard, works its way through his system like a bad flu that renders him exhausted, wrung out. There’s nothing to do but let it work its way out of his system. Hope he retains a shred of his dignity by the time it’s left.

“Your knuckles are bleeding.”

Jeongguk’s neck cricks as he looks up. Yoongi’s wearing the pajamas and the slippers that Jeongguk placed at the foot of the bathroom door, shoulder propped against the doorway as he towels his hair. It falls against his forehead in damp blonde strands, and beneath it his dark brows are furrowed, concerned. He is so beautiful, Jeongguk thinks. He is so beautiful and that bruise on his face means he is strong, too. Min Yoongi is beautiful and strong because he can take a punch and still be so calm. Meanwhile Jeongguk can’t even throw a punch without becoming—

“Are they?” Jeongguk looks down and—sure enough. Several fine cuts across his right fist, a dried trickle of blood down to his wrist. He hadn't even noticed. Hadn’t even felt the sting. He laughs, only it doesn’t sound much like a laugh at all. “Huh. I must have punched him harder than I thought.”

Yoongi stares at him. “Jeongguk-ah—”

“Fuck,” Jeongguk laughs harder, the sound getting strangled in his throat and this is a whole new level of humiliating things he has done in front of Min Yoongi. This takes the goddamn cake. He’s a panic train careening off the broken tracks and into the abyss and there’s no emergency brake in sight.

Then suddenly, Yoongi is standing before him.

“Jeongguk-ah. Can I touch you?”

Jeongguk, a rictus of nerves, nods. And so Yoongi plucks Jeongguk’s hand right off his lap, stroking over the palm where Jeongguk’s fingernails left little crescent marks from clenching.

“It’s okay,” says Yoongi. “Jeongguk, it’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk babbles, and this marks the second time he’s cried in front of Min Yoongi and the five hundredth time he’s wanted the earth to swallow him whole. “I’m sorry. It’s stupid. You have a concussion.”

“A light concussion. Plus, I took a painkiller, so I’ll be right as rain soon enough.”

“I hope you don’t think I’m like. A bad person,” Jeongguk sniffs.

Yoongi frowns. “Why the hell would I think that?”

“Um? Because I punched someone? And made them bleed, and then bodily threw them out of the apartment like some kind of, I dunno, mob boss.”

“No one would ever mistake you for a mob boss. You’re far too doe-eyed.”

“Hyung,” Jeongguk groans, at the wry twist of Yoongi’s pink mouth. There’s still a bit of blood puckered at the corner of his split lip. “‘M’serious.”

In response, Yoongi silently coaxes Jeongguk’s fist open with his hand, stiff fingers unfurling like a crumpled flower.  He brushes his thumb over Jeongguk’s knuckles, light enough that the contact doesn’t sting, but Jeongguk still winces.

“Stay here.” Yoongi runs his finger down the center of Jeongguk’s palm, the gentlest touch. “Can you stay here for me, Jeongguk-ah? I’ll be right back.”

Jeongguk sniffles again. Nods.

They sit crosslegged on the bed when Yoongi comes back and they don’t get back up, which Jeongguk doesn’t question because he’s sort of still crying and he just wants Yoongi close. The thought of him taking the couch or the floor is ridiculous when the bed is plenty big enough for two. Judging by the slightly unfocused gaze, the pain meds are starting to kick in, but Yoongi still has enough wits about him to wipe the cuts on Jeongguk’s knuckles with a warm washcloth, apply some antibiotic ointment, and ward off at least three more attempted apologies.

“Unless you’re having regrets about saving my life, you better shut the hell up.”

“I’m just saying—”

“Enough. You’re not a bad person because you defended yourself. Or, defended me. End of discussion.”

Jeongguk flinches. “Sor—,” and ends up with a mouthful of pillow as Yoongi attempts to smother him quiet. 

The discussion over taking the couch or the floor never comes up. After cleaning Jeongguk’s cuts Yoongi just sort of curls up on his side facing Jeongguk, eyes closed, wrists tucked between his knees. Dozing between one breath and the next. He’s not touching Jeongguk anymore, but his nearness is a whole sensation unto its own.

In the dark, Jeongguk finally allows himself to really look at those bruises. Really look at Yoongi’s face, the dark smear of his eyelashes against his skin. Kisses that heal boo-boos are a childish notion, but damn if Jeongguk doesn’t want to give it a try just to be sure.

He’s all cried out now, that tightness inside him unwound some, but the idea that he could have lost this—Yoongi’s mouth, Yoongi’s smile, Yoongi’s delicate-but-rough hands and Yoongi’s rough-but-delicate voice—makes him feel anxious all over again. 

“Yoongi-hyung,” he whispers, surprised when Yoongi’s eye cracks open for a split second. 

Yoongi grunts.

“Why the hell did you try to fight him?” Jeongguk asks, the question slipping out unbidden. “Dumbass. Who tackles someone twice their size?” 

“Was barely a few inches taller than me,” Yoongi mumbles, a bit drunken sounding, shifting further into the blankets.

“But you didn’t have to fight.”

“I’ll fight you.”

“Hyung—”

“He was going to hurt Cat,” says Yoongi, and with his eyes firmly shut, it’s almost as if he’s talking in his sleep. “Wasn’t gonna—’m not that stupid, give me some credit. I was cooperating, let him get away, but then she came out and. I couldn’t let him do that. Wouldn’t.”

It shouldn’t be a big deal. It isn’t. Yet Jeongguk’s breath catches in his chest. His heart gives the largest squeeze. He feels precariously on the edge of something, once balanced now tipping, just seconds away from the fall.

Oblivious to all of this, Yoongi mashes his unbruised cheek into the pillow a bit more and pulls his knees closer to his chest. “Go to sleep, Jeongguk-ah. Or at least make yourself useful. It’s freezing in here.”

Words register but it takes several seconds for Jeongguk to parse them out and by the time that happens he’s already moving, because at this point Yoongi could ask him to jump off a bridge and he’d probably do it without a second thought. He wriggles right over into Yoongi’s space, presses his cold nose to Yoongi’s throat, throws his arm over Yoongi’s waist.

It’s hard to tell who’s holding who. On one hand Yoongi seems barely conscious. On the other, Jeongguk’s a fucking coward, afraid to get too close. Afraid of his own heart and the way it’s crashing out morse code through his skin. If he touches Yoongi, wraps his whole self around Yoongi the way he really wants to, there’ll be no ignoring the message that telegraphs through him. It’ll be plain as day. Impossible not to hear. 

“Hand still hurt?”

So he’s awake still. Jeongguk flexes his fist, revealing a dull ache. “Only a little.”

With eyes still closed, almost like he’s dreaming, Yoongi’s hand catches Jeongguk’s wrist, brushes his warm mouth against the Iron Man band-aid that’s stretched across the knuckle. Holds it there for a moment, maybe more.

Jeongguk doesn’t breathe.

For a second—or a minute, or an hour, or an eternity— it seems that Yoongi’s fallen asleep, but then he does it again.

A firm press of lips this time, but still unbearably gentle. Eyes flicker open to pupils that are dilated, drug-woozy, and so, so dark.

It comes over Jeongguk in a rush. Feels like sprinting down a grassy hill on the first day of spring, warm air pushing its way into his lungs. Like the first breath after a rainstorm, the whole world clean and soaked and sweet. A sensation wholly familiar, but also different. Stronger, dizzying. So dizzying he wants to sigh with it, so he does. Breathes in the scent of his own shampoo mingled with Yoongi’s skin and that too, makes him dizzy.

After the rush, the collision. Ground rising up to greet him, and Jeongguk should've known, he should have known that he was never really balanced, never on the precipice when it comes to Min Yoongi.

In reality, falling had happened weeks ago. Hell, months even. Maybe from the very start. He just didn’t realize it because it took so damn long for him to land on his ass.

He almost startles when Yoongi lets go of his hand.

“There. All better.” Yoongi murmurs, voice rumbling deep and even as he finally drops off into sleep.

Jeongguk should probably follow suit. He’s got work in the morning and reserved time with a vocal coach. Right now, however, he couldn’t be more awake. He lies on his side, body curved around Yoongi’s as close as he will allow himself to get, and lets that rush of a feeling wash over him again, the second wave more gentle, but a revelation nonetheless.

I love him, Jeongguk thinks, between one breath and the next.

It feels almost ridiculous. Should he be feeling something like this so quickly? What does he, Jeon Jeongguk of minimal lasting relationships and zero sexual experience, know about love? Is he having a stroke? Jeongguk could measure what he knows about love in a thimble. He always thought these sorts of things take longer. Life is not a K-drama. You can’t just blink and then realize you’re in love with someone. Surely these big adult decisions required more gravity and consideration than that.

And yet.

And yet, looking at Yoongi, maybe it’s not ridiculous at all. Maybe when it comes down to it, a split second is all you need to make the important decisions. Like moving to a new city, pursuing a new dream, or throwing yourself into harm’s way to protect something. Maybe these decisions are made long before you ever have to be faced with them.

If the falling had happened months ago, then there was no decision to be made.

Maybe when you love something, love someone, every question posed after the fact is a no-brainer.

*** 

So Yoongi was an idiot.

He’s man enough to fully admit it. There’s no room for denial left after the other night. Because even under the influence of powerful over the counter drugs, kissing Jeongguk’s knuckles like some kind of Austen novel suitor is a whole other level of Blatantly, Painfully Obviously Gay that Yoongi himself isn’t sure he’ll ever top.

(Then, after the knuckle kisses, after the bandaging, after Jeongguk spent all afternoon and all evening with Yoongi at the hospital, they slept together. Literally. They just slept. That’s all they fucking did. And while Yoongi’s a certified expert in denial, waking up the next morning in bed next to Jeongguk—all over Jeongguk,, Jeongguk’s head tucked under his chin, Jeongguk’s hair soft under his fingertips, Jeongguk’s body warm and solid and comforting in ways Yoongi has never known anything else to be—was not something even he could explain away.)

Suffice to say, Yoongi is a dumbass. For lots of reasons, but most especially for thinking he’d be able to dodge Jeongguk and—what?—be cured of all feelings for the rest of forever. What a moron.

After the break-in, Jeongguk sticks close, sticks like glue. Yoongi, wary and so very weak, does not shut him out.

He knows the kid’s got to be exhausted with classes and work and prepping for his auditions, but he still somehow finds time to come in with a hammer and nails to install two new deadbolts on Yoongi’s door frame. But that is just the kind of person Jeongguk is. If he cares about something, he’ll make time for it. After the break-in, he makes lots of time for Yoongi. 

Yoongi doesn’t know what to think of it. It makes him a little crazy. There are pieces of him—tiny flickering fool’s gold pieces—that are hopeful and floating. The longer he sits with this feeling of affection for the kid the worse it gets. Every singular smile, every conversation, every errant text or thoughtful thing that Jeongguk does chips a little bit further at the boulder of doubt that keeps Yoongi anchored on earth. The more Yoongi finds himself hoping, wishing, daydreaming that it might be true. That a mere fraction of the humongous ass crush he’s got might be returned.

Or, at the very least, that Jeongguk knows and doesn’t completely hate Yoongi’s guts for it. 

Something’s gotta give, and the thing in question comes in the form of what feels like a fucking broken vertebrae in Yoongi’s back.

Jeongguk’s been over since the early morning, sprawled out in his normal spot on the rug next to Cat in the sun, doing homework.  

Yoongi woke up and he was already in the apartment. He doesn’t even know how the kid gets in these days, what with two deadbolts now installed. He’s supposed to be working on a new song, but really he’s been watching the sunlight play in Jeongguk’s hair. Tae and Jimin have been begging Jeongguk to let them give him highlights for weeks now and it looks like Jeongguk finally caved. They’re barely visible; the lightest, softest shade of purple woven into the darker brown.

Yoongi needs a break.

“You want coffee?” He asks, knowing the answer will be no but asking just the same.

“I’m good.” Jeongguk responds, right as Yoongi rises and his spine snaps in two. Or, that’s what it feels like. A muscle twinges, one of internal pulls that makes it hurt to breathe a little, like there’s a string tugging at his lungs from behind his ribs.

He doesn’t mean to make a noise, swears he doesn’t, but Jeongguk’s been extra attentive lately, so he notices.

“What’s wrong?” He frowns.

Another chunk of gold floats up inside Yoongi’s chest. 

"Ah, when the guy attacked he sort of. Body slammed me.” Jeongguk’s frown deepens further. “I thought it initially was just a bruise, but I’m pretty sure I twisted something in my back. I dunno, something hurts back there. I'll deal with it."

He forgoes the coffee—he didn’t really want it anyway—and rumbles around in the fridge for a bag of frozen peas instead, only come to the realization that he doesn't even like peas, nor does he know how to cook peas, so why in fuck would he even buy or own frozen peas. Yoongi stares at the nearly empty fridge wondering how he’s going to explain the trip to the kitchen after this oversight when—

"I can take a look at it. If you want."

At some point, Jeongguk stood and crossed over the kitchenette. His tone is even but something’s—off. He's staring out the window, at Cat, at anywhere that isn’t the person he’s addressing.

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “You?”

“Yeah, I didn’t take a whole semester of human anatomy for nothing, you know.”

“My apologies, Dr. Jeon.”

“Look,” Jeongguk huffs, and he sounds annoyed but he looks like he very much would like to run from the room, for some weird reason. “My dad has a bad back. I know what I’m doing. Let me work you over a bit, okay?”

Let me work you over a bit.

“I’d rather not.”

Jeongguk crosses his arms over his chest, all traces of something odd gone as he gives Yoongi a stubborn glare. “Either that or I take your ass back to the doctor. You see any other options?”

Yoongi does not.

"Fine," he grouses. "But if you permanently fuck up my back, I’ll sue."

"You can barely afford cat food."

"I. Will. Sue."

"Yeah yeah, whatever.” Jeongguk rolls his eyes. "Get on the couch grandpa, before I carry you over there myself."

His tone is completely bossy and not at all implying the vivid mental images that Yoongi's fucked up brain happily provides.

Yoongi clambers over to the couch and flops facedown, thankful that Jeongguk doesn't have to see how red in the face he is. This is dumb. Jin used to habitually rub out tension in Yoongi’s neck and shoulders as a roommate bonding activity while they watched reality tv together back in college. Yet Yoongi finds himself tensing the longer he waits. He hugs a pillow to his chest for good measure.

"Get on with it." 

Jeongguk walks over to the couch with a sigh. "I'm not gonna accidentally snap your neck, if that’s what you’re worried about. I'm just gonna work the muscle over. Relax."

"You relax,” Yoongi mutters petulantly, feeling weird and exposed as Jeongguk stands over him, considering.

He can't see Jeongguk from where he's lying on his stomach, but he can feel him. Feel him, like Jeongguk’s gaze on him is a tangible thing, like Yoongi's already being touched. Yoongi shifts his hips, fidgets, mostly for the sake of having something to do.

"It might be better if you took your shirt off,” Jeongguk finally says, after an eternity of silence.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Yoongi wiggles his hips until his hoodie slips up around his torso, bunches beneath his armpits. He's not going to shed the whole thing, because he knows what he looks like naked and it’s not something anyone needs to see. Besides, it’s the lower back that hurts anyhow. This is enough to get the job done.

In the dead silence, his exposed skin erupts in goosebumps.  He tells himself it’s the cold, surely it’s the cold. It takes every ounce of whatever horrifically minuscule self control Yoongi has not to shiver.

He doesn't know what he's expecting sensation-wise, but it's certainly not warm hands settling at the base of his spine, taking to the shape of him, tracing along knobby bone to coiled muscle in light movements.

Jeongguk's hands are warm: fact. It’s not the end of the world. It's when he presses down, however— 

"Fucking hell,” Yoongi grunts.

“Sorry,” says Jeongguk, not sounding at all sorry, and presses down on the spot again, harder this time.

Through the pain and something that he’s too much of a coward to try and identify, Yoongi tries to project himself into his happy place. Somewhere far away from this absolutely humiliating moment. A quiet meadow. A soundproof studio booth with state of the art equipment. A giant bed with soft squishy pillows and those sheets that somehow always stay cool during summer and—

Fuck,” Yoongi almost wails, hips pressing down into the couch, away from the sensation as Jeongguk hits the spot where the pain is rooted. It hurts, it hurts like a bitch, yet it’s so goddamn good.

“Jackpot,” Jeongguk chirps.

“Okay,” Yoongi breathes. “Shitting dicks. Shit. Do that again. That’s—that’s the spot.”

“Obviously.”

“Shut the fu—oh fuck.” Yoongi makes another noise, higher pitched than he meant to. Really it comes out as more of a whine and boy if that isn’t the most embarrassing thing he's ever done. But he can't help it. It feels too good, pain in that weird grey area where it feels like pleasure.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the best.”

“Shut up. You’re the worst and I hhhrrnngggggg—”

Relief mixes in with the pain like sugar in hot water, dissolving quick, and Yoongi loses himself in it. Becomes a puddle of garbled noises for a hot second, stars bursting behind his eyes.

He’s well aware of how depraved he sounds. And how this whole entire interaction is going to haunt him like the proverbial Ghost of Homosexual Past for the rest of his life. But he can’t be bothered to give a fuck.

It goes on like that for a bit. Every other minute Jeongguk will hit a particularly tender spot and Yoongi will curse a blue streak to the empty apartment, threaten Jeongguk in any number of ways. The commotion is enough that Cat has been roused from her nap, comes up to curl into a ball right next to Yoongi’s face on the couch, occasionally flicking her tail against his nose. Like she know he can’t move and she personally enjoys it.

If Jeongguk is amused, he doesn’t remark on it. In fact, he doesn’t say much of anything. He’ll occasionally tell Yoongi to breathe in. Other than that he’s uncharacteristically quiet. Focused. Like touching Yoongi a few inches above his literal ass has no effect on him at all. 

(And why should it?)

The worst of the pain begins to dilute as they lapse into silence on both ends, Yoongi’s swearing now settled down to the occasional sharp inhales. The apartment feels large, cavernous, every noise seeming to echo. It’s quiet enough that Yoongi could theoretically drift off to a nap right here and now. As it is, his skin feels tight. Fingers twitchy. Blood rushing fast, running hot.

Because here’s the thing.

If it were anyone else touching him, be it stranger or friend or licensed professional, the hands on his back would be just that: hands. But these are hands attached to the body of one Jeon Jeongguk, which makes all the difference in the world.

Yoongi has known Jeongguk’s hands are big from day fucking one, has always been aware of them in a peripheral sort of way, but he’s absolutely horrified to learn that they are also precise and nimble and gentle (and gentle). He shouldn’t be surprised. After all, these are the same hands that protected Yoongi from harm, hands that helped hold Cat still while Yoongi gave her medicine, then put band-aids on Yoongi’s cuts. Jeongguk’s hands don’t fumble in the way that someone like Namjoon’s or Jin’s might. These hands seek and find tender muscle in no time, digging in firm and insistent with calluses on the thumbs that should be rough but they aren’t. Nothing about the way Jeongguk ever touches Yoongi is rough. The kid couldn’t be truly rough if he tried.

So basically Yoongi wants to die, but it’s fine. It’s totally, completely fine.

But he kind of wants to know if Jeongguk is fine too. If Jeongguk is affected by any of this the way Yoongi is. If he feels the same honey drizzle of heat drip-drip-dripping down his limbs the way Yoongi does from only a touch. He’s only human, surely. He slept in a bed with Yoongi, plastered himself against Yoongi, woke up drooling on Yoongi’s collarbone and Yoongi isn’t the biggest fan of himself but that couldn’t have been just nothing. 

…Could it? 

Yoongi has to know. It’s an itch that he needs to scratch. He has to know if Jeongguk is in this for Yoongi’s scrawny ass or if he’s in this to be Yoongi’s adoring dongsaeng. Neither is better or worse, but the not-knowing, the silent hoping, is killing him. Yoongi needs to know if he’s seeing a sea where there’s nothing but the desert, or there’s something actually going on here to account for. 

Somewhere between point A and point B—point A being Jeongguk’s hands, point B being Yoongi’s bare skin—Yoongi talks himself up enough to say something. Say anything, dumbass. 

“All done.” Jeongguk’s chipper tone sounds like a thunderclap.

The gears in Yoongi’s brain are turning in jilted movements. He only formulates half of a plan before he’s already going through with it. Sits up, all the blood in his head rushing. He feels infinitely better already.

“You should drink lots of water to help flush the toxins out,” Jeongguk says, somehow already across the room, gathering all his belonging’s in his bag, jamming his planner in the front pocket after he drops it twice. Sitting in the sunlight has turned the back of his neck, the tips of his ears, all pink.

“Where are you going?” Yoongi only has to clear his throat once to get the words out.

“I, uh. I gotta go to class,” says Jeongguk, and sets about gathering all his belongings together. He drops his planner twice before he finally jams it into his backpack, swinging it over his shoulder and nearly colliding with the bookshelf as he wheels around. “Did you need something else?”

Yoongi looks at him. Really looks at him, mentally swipes aside the rose colored glass that tends to dot Jeongguk’s frame with hearts and glitter like a freaking Snow App filter to get to the real Jeongguk.

Real Jeongguk’s got a blot of ink on his cheek from his pen. He’s wearing a faded yellow Bulbasaur T-shirt and his hair gilds him lavender and even if Yoongi does have a shot with him, he’s never going to take it. Every ounce of gumption Yoongi gathered with Jeongguk’s hands on him shrivels like a match burning out, everything turning black to grey until crumbling to ash.

“Nah,” he waves Jeongguk away. “Have a good day, kid.”

Jeongguk blanches a bit, but he’s out the door before Yoongi can give it second thought. Probably not looking forward to another long afternoon lecture. “See you later, Yoongi-hyung.”

The door closes. Cat looks at Yoongi.

“I don’t wanna hear it,” he groans, throwing himself back onto the couch and groping for a pillow to suffocate himself with.

 

***

 

 

 

 

March 31st, 2018

Dear Mr. Jeon,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the SU Vocal Performance Program Class of 2022, admitted to begin in the Fall of—

 

Jeongguk’s phone clatters to the stairwell floor with him almost following suit. He scrambles to snatch it up. Sits on the bottom step with his eyes closed, knees shaking. Thank god he’s in between lectures and there’s nobody in the hall to stare at him as he gets a grip. He didn’t sleep much last night between homework and a term paper, so it’s possible he completely imagined it. The phone screen. More specifically, the text on the phone screen. But when he flicks the screen open there it is, there it is, staring back at him, definitely not a sleep deprivation induced hallucination.

Accepted.

Accepted.

The grin that breaks out over his face is ridiculous, heart soaring, pulse leaping. There’s a classroom a few feet away so he can’t exactly shout his celebration but god he feels like he could. He kind of wants to go to the gym and workout because right now he feels like he could bench press five hundred pounds and run a marathon, happy energy bouncing like rubber balls that ping ping ping about his insides. Instead he swipes over to his text messages.

jeon jeongguk >>yoongi-hyung
i got in!!!!!
i got into the vocal performance program!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yoongi doesn’t text back right away, but that’s okay. He’s probably in the studio or sleeping, and that’s okay. Jeongguk can wait.

He grins all over again, pirouettes on his heel like a kid. Holy shit, he did it.

Jeongguk spends the rest of the day floating on air. Skips his second lecture because he’s too hyper to sit still. He ends up going to the gym after all, just to burn off the extra energy. He doesn’t run a marathon but he probably could if he wanted to try.

Around five or so, there’s still no text from Yoongi. It’s fine. His phone might be dead, or he’s busy. Jeongguk vaguely recalls something about studio time being booked today, he’s probably buried in work. Jeongguk tells himself not to be disappointed. Yoongi will text back when he texts back. It’s not a big deal.

He thinks he might text the rest of the group chat about the acceptance, because they’d probably be happy for him. But Jeongguk doesn’t want to feel like he’s bragging. Especially because he’s still not sure where he stands in the group chat quite yet. He knows they like him, but he’s not sure if they want to know about this stuff yet. He’s only mentioned it to Tae and Jimin in passing. He’ll tell them later.

Yoongi’s not home, but Jeongguk wants to see him, so eager he takes the stairs two at a time. He’ll shower and change and then he’ll head straight to the studio. He should probably study or something else more productive but all he wants is to bask in the glow of Yoongi’s attention, Yoongi’s quiet pride in him. Maybe he’ll pick up some lamb skewers and Yoongi will let him listen to whatever track he’s working on and maybe after that they can walk home together. It sounds like a good way to end the day on a high note. Even if Yoongi is working.

He’s halfway through looking up the address to the lamb skewers place to call ahead when he walks into his apartment and—

“SURPRISE!”

Jeongguk’s phone clatters to the floor all over again. His jaw drops.

The tiny apartment dining room area of Jeongguk’s apartment is full of people. There’s a cake on the table, not with candles but with sparklers on it, which is definitely a huge fire hazard, what the hell. His apartment has been transformed. A bizarre amalgamation of twinkling Christmas lights and Halloween pumpkin stick-ons and one single banner stretched across the wall over the couch that reads IT’S A BOY in bright blue font that Jeongguk isn’t sure what’s going on, not in the slightest. His friends—he does a full headcount, Jin to Namjoon to Hoseok to Jimin and Tae—are all crowded around the fire-hazard cake and smiling at him. 

It’s a lot to take in.

“What—what are you doing here?” Jeongguk’s voice comes out very small.

“Celebrating your acceptance into the music program, silly!” Jimin bounces forward. “You did it, Kookie, and we’re so proud!”

“We poppin’ big bottles tonight!” Hoseok crows.

“It was a bit of a panic getting everything together,” says Jin, “I had work tonight and get last minute shift coverage, Taehyung seemed to have every kind of holiday party decoration except for a congratulations party, hence why it looks like this. But we managed to make it work.”

“I don’t understand…,” Jeongguk’s throat feels dry and scratchy. He can’t stop blinking.

“I told you the baby shower banner was overdoing it, Tae,” mutters Jimin with an elbow to the ribs.

“We’re just really proud of you, Jeongguk,” says Namjoon softly, in his eloquent and logical Namjoon sort of way that Jeongguk will only ever be able to admire rather than emulate. “You worked so hard and that hard work paid off and that not only deserves celebration, it demands it. So, to quote Hoseok, we are indeed poppin’ big bottles tonight. We’re your friends, Jeongguk, and we’re so so proud of you.”

And it’s that, the effortlessly cool Namjoon bestowing praise on Jeongguk with nods of agreement from everyone, that more or less opens the theoretical floodgates.

Tears spill over Jeongguk’s cheeks. He laughs a little, goes to brush them off, because one or two tears isn’t anything more than slightly embarrassing. But then the tears don’t stop. If anything, they increase in acceleration and frequency.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk sniffs, rubbing furiously at his eyes, trying to clear his face of evidence that he’s having a meltdown right in front of his friends.

He peeks for a split second outside his sweater paws to find them all looking at him with varying degrees of concern (Jin and Joon) to glee (Hobi, Tae and Jimin).

“I’m sorry,” it comes out as more of a wail this time around. “I’m just—I’m so happy.”

He doesn’t mean to literally crumple under the weight of his happiness but it happens anyhow, Jeongguk burying his face into his hands with a full body sob.

It’s like he’s hooked up to a gushing hose of joy and affection, the two emotions filling him up until he’s overloaded. A bloated water balloon that’s begun leaking all over the place because it can’t contain everything inside. Sometimes the stuff Jeongguk feels is becomes too much to bear.

Sometimes that’s not always a bad thing.

They all cluster around. Taehyung gets to him first, plastering himself to Jeongguk’s side like a starfish. Then Jimin, Hoseok, Jin, then Namjoon with his arms around all of them, and before it Jeongguk finds him sandwiched in the biggest group hug he’s ever been a part of. He’s kind of gross and leaky and snotty but no one seems to care. If anything, they hug him even tighter because of it.

Then—

“What the hell, why didn’t anyone tell me he was back?” comes a voice from Jeongguk’s doorway.

“Don’t blame us,” says Jin, chuckling as he pulls away from the group hug, with one last ruffle to Jeongguk’s hair. “You’re the one that decided to go take a twenty minute trip back to your own apartment right around the possible arrival window.”

“I was feeding Cat,” Yoongi says quietly, and then, with a degree of panic as he sees Jeongguk’s face. “Are you crying?”

Recognition dawns, parting the clouds in Jeongguk’s rainy brain. “Wait, did you do this? Did you tell them to plan a party?”

“I mean.” The boot of Yoongi’s shoe kicks at the floor, scuffing on the worn wood as he avoids Jeongguk’s eyes, “For the record, I had nothing to do with the choice of decor. Nor the huge amount of alcohol sitting on your counter. But. Yeah. I might have told them.”

“Aw, don’t be modest, hyung,” Hoseok says, winking in Yoongi’s direction, an arm thrown around Jeongguk’s shoulder as he leans in. “He basically bombarded us with texts non-stop for two hours until we got the memo. We were already planning on offering to take you out to dinner after he told us but nope, Yoongi-hyung insisted on a whole fanfare.”

“You did?”

“I…,” Yoongi hesitates. “Yeah, whatever. I wanted to throw you a congrats party. Sue me.”

Jeongguk’s not crying anymore, but he feels the possibility of it still there, knows it shows clear as day on his face. Because Yoongi’s still looking at Jeongguk like he’s a stick of dynamite about to blow.

Still, he steps further into the apartment. He’s wearing one of his giant cushy hoodies and those light wash jeans with the rips in the knees that Jeongguk loves so much and doesn’t even know why. All the happiness, all the messy teary stuff Jeongguk’s feeling, and he’s at the center of it all.

“You did it,” says Yoongi, “You really did it.”

“I did.”

“Knew you would.”

“You a psychic now, hyung?”

“Ain’t gotta be a psychic to recognize talent and hard work when I see it. You were always going to get in. I just knew.”

Jeongguk smiles, then he laughs, and soon he’s rushing forward at Yoongi, and Yoongi’s rushing forward too. They meet in the middle, Jeongguk grabbing Yoongi about the waist and swinging him off his feet, lifting him high because he didn’t bench press five hundred pounds earlier and this will just have to do. Yoongi squawks a bit but he’s laughing too, looking down at Jeongguk with his hands on Jeongguk’s shoulders.

Yoongi did this for him. For Jeongguk.

And for a second, there’s no one else in the room, the apartment, the entire block, but them. Everything else is kind of faded and blurry, like bleeding water colors, like sidewalk chalk in the rain, running together in overlap.

Jeongguk’s been staring for a beat too long, but it’s okay because Yoongi’s staring back. He’s staring back.

“Good god, someone pour me a shot already,” Hoseok groans, breaking the silence with some sort of inside joke that everyone else picks up on with a laugh.

Jeongguk—spell broken—sets Yoongi back on the ground so he’s the shorter one once more. He doesn’t move away, though. He just looks up at Jeongguk.

The corners of Yoongi’s mouth are always upturned; every smile from him looks sweet no matter how small it is. But this one seems sweeter than all the others before. It’s all Jeongguk can think about as they gaze at each other, some strange awareness sinking beneath his skin, taking root.

Something just happened. Something is happening.

Then Namjoon opens a bottle of champagne and the cork goes flying, everyone screeching as it streaks across the room.

“Pick your poison, Jeonggukie!” Jimin calls over. “Unless you want Hobi to mix your drink. I wouldn’t advise it though unless you don’t want to remember this night.”

His friends are here. Yoongi is smiling at him.

Jeongguk feels full to bursting all over again. Only this time there’s no tears. Jeongguk is spun sugar, all candy floss and light, take one bite and he’ll simply melt.

***

Yoongi, for the most part, considers himself a man of simple tastes. Likes his whiskey neat, with minimal to no chaser. In his personal opinion, if you can’t handle the taste of alcohol, you shouldn’t be drinking it. This is what he says to his friends as he attempts to pour his own class of JD, only to be drowned out by a chorus of boos and jeers and a wadded takeout bag thrown at his head.

“It’s 2018. Liking the taste of alcohol is a social construct,” Hoseok says sagely, dumping the JD in the sink and shoving a mug of some saccharine concoction into Yoongi’s hands instead. “It’s okay hyung, you don’t need to hide who you are anymore.”

Without the usual hard liquor to nurse, getting wasted is not so much a mandate as it is a gentle suggestion. As sipping drinks becomes raucous drinking games, the option is definitely on the table. He just hasn’t fully committed himself to it quite yet. It feels too good to be in this pleasant middling space between sobriety and oblivion, tipsily bobbing in a sea of champagne fizz and sticky sweet soju.

Nonetheless, the in between zone is a grey area. It’s hard, at the moment, to tell which thoughts surfacing in his head are drunk or sober. To know what’s fucking with him more: the kitchen mugs of questionable substance, or the boy sitting next to him at the table they’ve all crowded around. Yoongi should be able to tell the difference between being drunk off alcohol and drunk off a person (off the tilt of their smile, off the lilt of their voice) but time and time again, Jeongguk lives to be the exception to the laws of rationality.

It’s halfway through a game of King’s Cup when Yoongi realizes that he is probably the least drunk one at the table. The rest of his friends are a mess, varying degrees of giggly and glowing, their words slurring at the edges.

Yoongi watches Taehyung smirk at Jeongguk, toasting him with a, “Drink, bitch,” and it becomes abundantly clear that Jeongguk is very much not sober.

They’re sitting at a square table, which is cramped, sure, but there’s no reason for Jeongguk to be leaning against Yoongi the way he is. For him to laugh so hard he tips over, his forehead smushed against Yoongi’s shoulder. He’s had about as much to drink as the rest of them, but he definitely doesn’t hold it as well. Normally the observation would fester guiltily in Yoongi’s stomach, alongside the intrusive thought of he’s too young for you, leading to a night of staring at the ceiling in unbearable angst.

Tonight, Yoongi couldn’t care less. Not with the way Jeongguk’s pressed against him. The way he keeps giggling.

When he hiccups, the entire room dissolves into cackles of mirth.

“Aw, Jeonggukie.”

“So cute. So cuuuuuuuuute,” Jimin coos, reaching over to pinch Jeongguk’s cheeks.

He tilts like a spinning top, pushing further and further into Yoongi’s orbit, but Yoongi doesn’t mind. If Jeongguk wants it, if he initiates it, Yoongi’s got nothing to be guilty about. If he throws his arm around Yoongi’s shoulder and doesn’t move away, then Yoongi’s not going to say a word.

Then it’s midnight, and Joon is complaining about having TA office hours in the early morning, Hoseok mentioning the dance workshop he’s leading. They leave by mass migration, piling into the tiny elevator together, blowing kisses at Jeongguk and Yoongi like children on a school bus bidding their parents goodbye.

Yoongi doesn’t move from the space of Jeongugk’s apartment, rather leans against the doorframe, watching them all trip over one another and make a general racket in the elevator.

“Goodnight Yoongi! Goodnight Jeonggukie! Have fun, but not too much fun!”

Hyung,” Jeongguk groans, but he’s laughing, and it’s cute, and Yoongi is so charmed he’s sick with it.

The elevator doors slide shut, exuberant sound of their friends cutting out. Jeongguk leans back against the other side of doorframe, laughing to himself. The sudden quiet has come galloping up to meet them in light of the gang’s exit, but Jeongguk doesn’t seem to notice it the change at all. He heads back into the apartment without a word to Yoongi, begins to collect the mugs and bottles from the table.

And Yoongi—Yoongi stands there, watching him. The same way he has been all night. He doesn’t know why it feels so necessary now, of all times, to watch. He doesn’t know what exactly he’s looking for in the way that Jeongguk’s hair falls in an easy part across his forehead, a little mussed at the back. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to find in the way Jeongguk’s humming under his breath, something too airy to be much of a melody, though Yoongi would swear he’s heard the tune before.

A sign, maybe. A sign that he isn’t crazy, or that he is.

Earlier, before the alcohol, stone sober, Jeongguk had picked Yoongi up and swung him around and looked at him with something akin to awe.  And just like that the tiniest sprig of hope sprung up like a weed between the cracks of the pavement in Yoongi’s chest. Alcohol had not done much to drown it.

So Jeongguk gathers the mugs, and Yoongi watches him and gropes for the words I should go, or goodnight then. Searches for a spot to draw a firm line between them. Everything about the moment exists in this weird middling space where only bad decisions can be made. But the open hallway feels so cold at his back and Jeongguk’s apartment is so warm and Yoongi’s not going to say a damn word until Jeongguk does.

“You can crash here.” Jeongguk’s voice startles Yoongi, even though he’s the only thing Yoongi’s been paying attention to. “Normally I’d offer the couch but, we shared the bed before, it’s no big deal. If Cat needs us, we’ll hear her meow through the walls.”

Yoongi nods. Closes the front door behind him as Jeongguk finishes placing the mugs in the sink. He’s a little unsteady on his feet, but not a total mess. Sobering up, even. He totters over to the sink, fetches a glass of water. For what feels like the dozenth time tonight, Yoongi forces himself not to watch as Jeongguk takes a drink.

“Want some?” He holds the cup out in offering.

Yoongi shakes his head, mouth dry. “I’m good.”

This would, typically, be the point at about which Yoongi starts freaking out. There’s a subtle zing of anticipation in the air, and something’s about to happen, though neither of them seem to know what. They’re certainly not talking about it, that’s for damn sure. Jeongguk keeps his eyes averted as he finishes his water, polishes off another half glass just to be thorough.

Wordlessly, they walk to the bedroom together, past the kitchenette, down the hallway, Jeongguk trailing behind him as he flicks all the lights in the kitchen, the living room, the hallway, off.

Then they’re stepping into Jeongguk’s bedroom. Then the paltry light of a bedside lamp glows a dim blue—a freaking lava lamp. Yoongi had never noticed it before.

The last time he was here, Yoongi was more or less (less) high on pain killers. Everything looks the same as it did last time, technically. A little cluttered, but comfortable. A large soft mattress pushed against the furthest corner of the room that Yoongi knows firsthand is easy to fall asleep on.

He’s been here before, but the room feels new when he steps inside. Like someone rearranged all the furniture since the last time Yoongi was here, even though it’s exactly the same as before. It’s just different, somehow. 

The door clicks shut. Jeongguk leans back against the handle. They stare at each other for a beat, the air inside the room gone heavy. Wound tight. Yoongi doesn’t know what to do with his hands so he keeps them still at his sides. Waits.

Then the tension breaks as Jeongguk bounds past Yoongi, flops back onto the mattress with a burst of laughter. He moves his arms about like he’s lying in a snowdrift instead of a bed, fingers flexing in the comforter, twisting in the fabric there. “I feel so good right now. Wow. Everything feels so good.”

“Have you never been drunk before?”

“I have. But it was vodka when I was seventeen and I got sick pretty much immediately after. Nowhere near this fun.” Jeongguk sighs, arms fanning out, making blanket angels as he repeats, “Man, I feel good.”

Yoongi snorts fondly. “Alcohol will do that to you.”

“And you, hyung? Do you feel good too?”

He glances over to where Jeongguk’s propped up on his elbows, knees spread and hanging off the bed as he cocks his head at Yoongi. His eyes are wide in the dim light, lips parted.

“Yeah, kid, I feel good too.”

Jeongguk hums, like he’s content, the sound tapering off as he frowns, like he’s thinking through something. “You didn’t have to do all this, you know. The party, the surprise. You didn’t have to.”

“Yeah well,” says Yoongi, feeling reckless, feeling a thud of bass that radiates from chest to fingertips, “I wanted to. I wanted to do that for you, Jeongguk-ah. You deserve it.”

Whatever the problem Jeongguk was thinking over, he seems to have solved it. He smiles, eyes crinkling, sits up a further. His t-shirt is yanked to the side a little, exposing collarbone, exposing skin.

The bass-line beat in Yoongi’s fingertips accelerates, and it’s going to be the hook of the next song he writes, he can feel it.

“Thank you hyung,” Jeongguk sighs, that same contented hum going off like a grace note.

Jeongguk’s all music when he’s like this, relaxed and happy. It makes all of Yoongi’s more responsible notions (he should ask Jeongguk for a pair of sweatpants to borrow. An extra blanket. He should say can I use your bathroom and then not come back out until Jeongguk is asleep) go up in smoke. There is a careful few feet of space between him and Jeongguk, him and the bed, and it should stay that way.

But the room is all different, everything is all different, and it’s fucking with Yoongi’s head.

Yoongi takes a step closer. “Anytime, kid.”

“‘M not a kid.” Jeongguk huffs. “Don’t call me kid.”

Yoongi chuckles now, ruffles Jeongguk’s hair a little as he stands over him, almost between Jeongguk’s legs. Fucking helpless. “Sure thing, kid. Whatever you say.”

He goes to pull away, hand dropping from Jeongguk’s head, and stops short when he feels a tug.

Jeongguk’s hand. Wrapped around Yoongi’s wrist. Fingertips on his pulse point. Yoongi stares at the hand. Another layer of cellophane silence settles over the room, all stretched thin and suffocating. Yoongi can’t breathe. His heart is pounding.

Then suddenly, Jeongguk is standing there. How did he get there? Hell, when did he even move? He’s so close like this. Yoongi sees his own surprise reflected back at him in those wide brown eyes.

But then it changes. Settles into an expression of careful determination, even with the Bambi eyes, even with the soft pink mouth, even with a height advantage that somehow feels less of a threat and more of an offering. Yoongi’s once again faced with something he’s seen before but somehow can’t even recognize. It’s wholly overwhelming.

Jeongguk got up from the bed and now he’s here. He’s let go of Yoongi’s hand and they’re not touching, but Jeongguk is right fucking here.

“Lemme show you,” Jeongguk whispers, and god, he’s so close, he’s too close, he’s not close enough. “’M not a kid, hyung. Lemme show you.”

For a beat, Jeongguk doesn’t do anything. He just looks at Yoongi, until Yoongi realizes its his turn to supposed to respond. As if his every cell weren’t a green light.

Then show me, he thinks hazily, tipping his chin up and looking Jeongguk straight on. C’mon, show me. Please show me.

“Lemme—,” Jeongguk breathes, and then he’s brushing his mouth over Yoongi’s. Just once.

God.

It’s hardly enough to be considered a kiss, yet the entire room seems to spin and reorient, centered around the place where Jeongguk’s lips touched his.

Yoongi’s eyes flutter open to a gaze that is heavy lidded, but intense. Jeongguk looks out of breath, though he’s barely even moved. There’s a challenge in that look, a stubbornness that says: do something. Kiss me or don’t. Stay or go. Adapt or perish, motherfucker.

Yoongi curls his fists in the collar of Jeongguk’s shirt, drags him down, and they’re kissing.

They’re kissing and—hell, Jeongguk’s mouth is every bit of soft and gentle that Yoongi had feared it would be. Worse, even. Jeongguk kisses with the same steady focus that he applies to everything he wants to be good at and holy hell is he good at it. So damn good, it’s terrible.

It is terrible, the way Jeongguk’s bottom lip drags against his own, coming away warm and wet as one mind-robbing kiss dissolves into the next.

It is terrible, the way Jeongguk gasps against his mouth, another grace note that Yoongi devours.

And it is terrible how Yoongi attempts to get his bearings with such things as oxygen and lung capacity, only to be dragged in again by sheer centrifugal force.

Gravity has got nothing on Jeon Jeongguk, whose hands spread at the base of Yoongi’s spine, wrap around Yoongi’s waist, pressing them together as he dives in for another kiss and fuck oxygen, fuck gravity. Fuck it all to hell.

One kiss spirals into another. And then another. Every effort one of them makes to pull back and rein it in thwarted as the other strains forward, chases after his mouth, until they’re colliding together all over again, the most delicious landslide. Yoongi could go on for hours like this. For days.

But his hands are traitorous things that have wanted too much and for too long. They wander, skimming up and over the swell of Jeongguk’s shoulders to cradle his face. To thumb at the fine angle of his jawline, the sharpness there. When hands aren’t enough, Yoongi ducks down to press his mouth there too.

“O-oh,” a soft keening sound, Yoongi feels the syllable vibrate against his lips as Jeongguk’s head tips back, exposing his neck. It makes Yoongi pulse pulse pulse down low in his belly, that sound, so he does it again, trails kisses wherever he sees fit, threading his fingers in Jeongguk’s hair, scratching lightly at his scalp. Delighting in the full body shudder it elicits from Jeongguk, all pleased and shivery, bordering on a laugh.

It’s a revelation—the way Jeongguk reacts to the slightest touch, the way he lets Yoongi touch him. He’s a fucking symphony is what he is. Yoongi wants to spread him out, take him apart, measure by measure, find all the possible chords and harmonies until he’s got the whole damn piece memorized. 

“Yoongi-hyung,” Jeongguk gasps louder, as Yoongi nips at his earlobe with a not-so-subtle drag of teeth. He’s gripping hard at Yoongi’s waist, Yoongi’s hips, lower. “Yoongi-hyung, don’t tease—”

Their mouths catch before Jeongguk can finish the plea, and when he licks into Yoongi’s mouth it’s still a bit wicked. A bit bold. But he’s soft as warmed butter underneath Yoongi’s hands and god his mouth.

“Jeongguk-ah,” says Yoongi, senselessly, aware of nothing but the simple fact of knowing what Jeongguk tastes like—soju and pork rinds and all the sweetness that lies, the sweetness that’s entirely and innately Jeongguk—Yoongi wants to lick it right out of his mouth. “Jeongguk-ah.”

The sound of his own name seems to break down something in Jeongguk that Yoongi didn’t know he was holding back. Between one breath and the next Jeongguk’s got his hands on the backs of Yoongi’s thighs, and he’s fucking lifting Yoongi up, holy shit. He’s carrying Yoongi toward the bed. Their hips are flush, Yoongi’s got nothing to do but cling for fear of falling down.

Yoongi hisses through his teeth at the shift of their bodies, burying his face in Jeongguk’s neck and going limp for a hot second. Shit. He’d been so wrapped up in exacting those sweet puppy noises from Jeongguk. He hadn’t even considered—not when all they’d done so far was kiss.

But the thing is Jeongguk is strong. He’s really, really strong. Christ, he’s holding Yoongi up like it’s nothing. He’s not even straining, or grunting. He manages to both carry Yoongi and lick a long hot stripe up Yoongi’s throat like the fucking multi-tasking champ he is, what the fuck. It really shouldn’t be this hot in the grand scheme of things. Yet here Yoongi is, popping a boner like he hasn’t since he was a fucking teenager.

There’s no escape, not that he would even try. Nothing to do but let himself be carried to the bed, legs wrapped around Jeongguk’s hips, increasingly aware of how very turned on he is.

Jeongguk sets Yoongi down, so careful Yoongi hardly even bounces on the mattress. From the foot of the bed, Jeongguk looks down at him, eyes huge, mouth kiss-bruised and wine dark, chest heaving. He looks fucked to hell and they haven’t even done anything. They’ve literally only kissed.

“C’mere,” Yoongi breathes, and he hears the desperate jagged edge to his voice, sends up a prayer that Jeongguk doesn’t. He spreads his knees where they hang over the edge of the bed so that Jeongguk can slot between them. “C’mere, Jeongguk-ah, too far away." 

The small distance between them suddenly feels like a palpable ache, and still Jeongguk doesn’t move. Does Jeongguk want to stop? Is he regretting this? Did he feel Yoongi’s embarrassing-ass boner and decide the package size wasn’t enough to go through with it?

In the shitty bedroom light, Jeongguk’s skin is rose gold with flush. He’s so beautiful it physically hurts, and it’s that notion that allows Yoongi’s snowballing concerns to lose steam and traction. It’s okay if Jeongguk wants to stop here. They don’t have to have sex. They don’t have to do anything. It’s okay, it’s fine.

Yoongi just wants to touch him.

Then Jeongguk steps between Yoongi’s legs and stoops down, swiftly fitting their mouths together, cupping the back of Yoongi’s neck. A chaste kiss, but it takes little to no suggestion from Yoongi’s open and wanting mouth for things to turn dirty all over again—Jeongguk’s hands fisting in his hair, tongues curling together. Jeongguk gets a knee over Yoongi’s hip, that delicious pressure between layers of clothing making a comeback. Which should be suggestion enough that Jeongguk does not plan on stopping any time soon, but still Yoongi’s hands hover a bit at Jeongguk’s waist, unsure.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk whines. He sits down on Yoongi’s lap with an unpracticed and jagged roll of his hips that has Yoongi seeing stars. “Hyung, you better touch me right now or I swear to god—”

“Brat,” Yoongi mutters, like his hands aren’t practically trembling with eagerness as he yanks Jeongguk’s T-shirt out from where it’s tucked in his jeans.

It burns, the feeling of all that skin under his palms, it actually burns. He doesn’t know how he’s going to survive seeing Jeongguk naked because just the feel of him is almost too much to bear. He’s probably going to combust on sight.

Jeongguk moans again, such a pretty sound, leans too far forward. They tumble back against the mattress, the air between them static, sparking. Jeongguk feels so damn good against Yoongi, warm and hovering over him.

He hovers like he’s not sure what he wants to do with himself. Like he’s not sure what Yoongi wants him to do. Which is honestly ridiculous because at this point Jeongguk could kill him and Yoongi would probably say thank you—but that’s besides the point.  

When he tries to roll Jeongguk over onto his back, Jeongguk goes, wonderfully pliant beneath his hands, his mouth. Yoongi sucks kisses along his neck, dragging hands down his chest, grinds their hips together a few times for good measure, committing to memory the exact note of Jeongguk gasping his name.

Jeongguk’s shirt is rucked up around his ribs and Yoongi wants his mouth there too. Wants to find out exactly which parts of Jeongguk are as sensitive as Yoongi thinks they are. His mind is a blur and this is how it feels to be drunk off a person—off the taste of their skin, the shape of their mouth. Yoongi’s pretty sure he’s halfway to a state of actual nirvana as his lips trail down, down, down—

“Hey. Hey.” Jeongguk shivers beneath him, panting a bit. “Yoongi-hyung, talk to me.”

“What,” Yoongi slurs, punch-drunk, letting Jeongguk feel his smile with a lascivious scrape of his teeth against Jeongguk’s collarbone, eliciting a sound from Jeongguk that sends all of Yoongi’s blood rushing south. “You want me to talk? You want me to tell you how good you feel? How pretty you are?”

Jeongguk shivers again, harder, and Yoongi takes note of it. “No, no—like. I mean talk me through this. I’m kind of flying blind here.”

“You never bottomed before?” Yoongi doesn’t mean it in a cruel way, in a teasing way. When Jeongguk doesn’t respond, he presses a kiss over Jeongguk’s T-shirt, over the thundering of his heartbeat, just to be clear that he isn’t being mean. “It’s okay, Jeongguk-ah. No worries. I’ll bottom if you want. Whatever you want.”

“I mean that’s fine, ah, shit,” Jeongguk’s voice cuts off into a moan as Yoongi nips at his collarbone again, rolling his hips up sharply. “But I’ve never topped either. I’ve never done, well. Anything. Never had sex.” 

Yoongi frowns into Jeongguk’s skin. That doesn’t compute. If his pale chicken-y ass has managed to get laid by this point, there’s no way that someone as gorgeous and sweet as Jeongguk hasn’t. Surely the opportunity must have popped up.

He pulls back until they’re face to face. Jeongguk’s eyes flutter open, dazed, like he immediately felt the loss of Yoongi’s mouth on him and is searching for it.

“This is your first time?”

Jeongguk shrugs his shoulders. “Yeah, but it’s not a big deal or anything. ’S just sex. I don’t have any illusions about my first time or whatever. It’s okay. I want this right now. Hyung—”

I want this right now.

Panic. Sheer fucking panic hits Yoongi, gridlocking all the thoughts in his head in bumper to bumper traffic. Blood rushing through him a moment ago turns to permafrost. He doesn’t realize he hasn’t moved until Jeongguk starts squirming beneath him, straining to get at Yoongi’s mouth, Yoongi’s neck, completely unaware that Yoongi’s entire brain has just turned to drywall.

It’s not a big deal or anything.

Jeongguk is a virgin. This is not a problem, not in the slightest. Not for Yoongi. He hadn’t expected it, is a little thrown off by it, because surely the kid’s had copious amounts of opportunities, but it really is okay.

It’s just—

’S just sex.

It’s just that this doesn’t mean to Jeongguk what it does to Yoongi.

Oh holy shit.

What had he been thinking, getting into bed with Jeongguk? Had he thought this was going to actually go somewhere? That they’d sleep together and wake up and they’d be what—boyfriends? In a sudden domestic bliss that had seemed literally impossible up until fifteen minutes ago?

He hadn’t been thinking at all. That’s the point. Jeongguk kissed Yoongi and Yoongi pretty much tossed all notions of thinking out the window. Didn’t even stop to consider that Jeongguk might want something else. That he just wanted sex. That Jeongguk might not be as pathetic and needy and head over heels as Yoongi is.

How fucking stupid.

If Jeongguk wanted a relationship—a boyfriend, Yoongi’s beating heart on a silver platter—Yoongi would have known. Jeongguk goes after what he wants. He does not half-ass this shit. If he wanted to date Yoongi, he would have made that obvious. But that’s not what happened.

What happened is: Jeongguk got drunk and kissed Yoongi and said I want this right now.

The worst part of all of this is—Yoongi can’t even blame him. He can’t even be mad. Hell, he’s almost flattered, because Jeongguk trusts him enough to ask this of him and that should be more than enough. He’s a twenty-year-old kid who wants to have fun and live a little—this is exactly what Yoongi should want for him. 

It’s not Jeongguk’s fault that Yoongi was too stupid to see this for what it is.

It’s not Jeongguk’s fault that all it took for Yoongi was a few heated kisses to think that this meant something more.

It’s not Jeongguk’s fault that Yoongi should have known better. Especially after all this time.

“…Hyung?”

Yoongi has to get out of here. His thoughts unfreeze, gushing chaotically about. He clambers off of the bed, off of Jeongguk, and sits up.

“I should go,” he says, brain sparking to think up something that’s not transparent bullshit. “We’re both pretty drunk and I’m not—we shouldn’t do this.”

“What?” Jeongguk sputters, sitting up halfway. “Don’t be dumb. I’m practically sober. And I want this.” He tips his head to the side, giving Yoongi a dark eyed look. “Want you.”

Yoongi believes him. He just knows it’s not enough. He is too selfish and too clingy and too in love to be able to hide everything else. Jeongguk just wants sex, and Yoongi can’t give him just that. Come morning, it’d be written all over his damn face.

“I should go,” he repeats. Carefully saps any and all emotion out of his voice so it’s expressionless, blank. “This isn’t a good idea." 

“Yoongi, wait, c’mon—”

But he’s already halfway gone, fixing his shirt where it’s been twisted loose. Flattening his hair. Jeongguk could catch him—if it were a matter of strength or speed, there’d be no contest. But Jeongguk just sits there on the bed, blinking confusedly, like he’d just been jilted awake from a dream, trying to get his bearings, scrambling to alertness.

He doesn’t try to grab Yoongi and pull him back down, doesn’t try to kiss him quiet. He just kind of sits here and lets Yoongi say these awful things and that makes it even worse.

It’s okay though, because Yoongi’s mind is ahead of the curve. Mapping out excuses, escape routes, ways to run over the weeks to come.

“C’mon,” Yoongi says, and it’s amazing, truly an incredible feat that he manages to smile, play this off as light and joking. “You don’t want to lose your virginity like this.”

“Like what?”

“You know.” Yoongi doesn’t know. “A one night stand. Casual.”

“Is that what this is for you? Casual?” Jeongguk asks, his tone somewhere between curiosity and something else Yoongi can’t name. “You kissed me back, hyung.”

Yoongi stares at him, found out. Oh god, Jeongguk already knows. He already knows about Yoongi’s massive ass crush and he doesn’t believe a single word of shit Yoongi says. Yoongi kissed him back, exposed himself plain as day. Jeongguk knows, and what’s worse, he’s calling him out on it, letting him in on the secret.

There’s no way Yoongi gets out of this with his dignity in tact but he gives it his best try. His best I-don’t-give-a-shit eye roll and jagged I-don’t-give-a-fuck smile.

“What else would it be, kid?”

The question scrapes him out, leaves him hollow, even though he’s the one who asked it. What else. What else would this be. What else would Jeongguk want. What else would anyone in this world want from Min Yoongi?  

He doesn’t blame Jeongguk for wanting it. He just blames himself for wanting more.

A slight crease between Jeongguk’s brows. His gaze shifts, staring at something over Yoongi’s shoulder.

“Right,” says Jeongguk. His voice sounds like Yoongi’s now, all colorless and smooth. He’s annoyed, and Yoongi can’t blame him for it. Yoongi probably just gave him the biggest blue balls in his life, like a total asshole. “You’re right. Don’t want to do something I’d regret in the morning.”  

Ouch.

Hurt, twined with bitter self-hatred, rises in Yoongi, sinking fangs right in his jugular but that’s—good. That’s familiar. He had it coming. There will be plenty of time to sit with that later. When he’s alone. 

“Right. See you around.”

Yoongi’s out the door before he can hear Jeongguk’s response, if there’s even a response to hear.  He retreats back to his own apartment to lick his own stupid, self-inflicted wounds, pulls the covers over his head, and tries not to think of anything at all.

***

Jeongguk has never considered himself much of a wallower. He does not like to wallow as a past-time.

He likes being productive and involved instead of sitting with the bad feelings. So even when things bother him, or he feels particularly sad, he’s usually good at channeling those bad feelings into something. Finding a way to physically work through it.

Now, however, he’s basically an expert in the wallowing. If he could get paid for wallowing, or compete against fellow wallowers for prize money, he’d basically be a millionaire by this point.

For the first twenty four hours post Getting-His-Literal-Heart-Ripped-Out, Jeongguk doesn’t do much of anything. He cries a lot. He sleeps little. He orders a pizza and eats half of it and then feels sick and then cries again because too much cheese gives him tummy aches, and then cries harder because what kind of child cries over a pizza.  

Jeongguk does. Because Jeongguk is a child.

He’s grateful that it’s spring break. The thought of being in the class, being at work, being anywhere, is just too much.

So that part of the moping stage lasts twenty four hours, followed by some severe zippiness. Jeongguk reorganizes his closet at four a.m., Goblin OST on loop, headphones in. He’s stopped playing music on the big speakers, because that makes him think of Yoongi, and thinking of Yoongi makes him think of all the ways he is a pathetic virgin who can’t seem to grow up.

It’s a vicious cycle of being angry at himself and then angry at Yoongi and then sad about Yoongi and then sad at himself and then again, rinse, lather repeat.

Cat showing up out of the blue is definitely not helping him get over it.

“What are you doing here?”

It’s a stupid question to ask an animal, but he’s still surprised the first time she shows up on Jeongguk’s doorstep. The last time she came to his door, it was an emergency, and Yoongi was hurt. But Yoongi isn’t home right now—Jeongguk watched him leave a half an hour ago, eye pressed to the peephole and following Yoongi’s blurry figure head for the stairwell.

When had she slipped out? He should tell Yoongi. Call him, maybe. He’s pretty sure he didn’t want her escaping.

Cat winks up at him. Her meow cracks a bit, forlorn. Jeongguk feels like crying all over again.

“You don’t belong here,” Jeongguk pleads with her, allowing her only one head-pet because he doesn’t want her to get too comfortable or feel too welcome scratching at Jeongguk’s door. “Go back to hyung. C’mon, sweetheart.”

She goes, albeit unhappily, Jeongguk using the spare key he’d made on the down low a few months back after Yoongi got his door fixed. He really should say something to Yoongi about her getting out, but the mere thought of facing Yoongi makes Jeongguk want to throw up so: not happening.

The second time she shows up, Jeongguk’s five days into his wallowing and hasn’t really left his apartment at all. He’s at the point where he thinks he’s less human and more an anxiety-driven nocturnal creature crawling all over the walls and furniture. More gross Kafka-esque cockroach than sad boy. Or some mix of the two. It’s almost like she’s trying to get him to come out of his apartment, because she won’t enter, only meows in increasing volume as he frantically tries to shush her.

The third time she shows up—he finally cracks.

***

 

jeongguk>>jin-hyung + tall hyung + hobi-hyung + tiny hyung + taehyungie
this is a shot in the dark but is anyone free and willing to let me into their house for some much needed decompression time

taehyungie>> Jeongguk
my front door is unlocked and open wide for you my son
come to my bosom

 

***

Tae’s front door is, in fact, wide open.

“You know this is really unsafe, right? Like. This is exactly how Yoongi’s place got broken into,” Jeongguk says, stepping over the threshold.

“Nonsense!” calls Taehyung from the couch. He turns around, tossing Jeongguk a wide boxy grin. “That’s part of the fun of it. Always a great way to make new friends." 

Jeongguk tries to laugh, but it comes off sounding fake, leaving him to shift awkwardly in the entry way. He’s been to Tae and Jimin’s place a few times, but usually to let one of them grab a sweater or put down their bags before running out again for an outing.

He’s never been here by invite, or rather, forced invite that he himself initiated. It feels weird.

But Taehyung’s smile unfurls like a blossom. “Welcome to our humble abode. Glad you could drop by.”

“I hope I’m not intruding.”

Part of him feels guilty for even coming, even though Tae said it was fine. Jeongguk shouldn’t be hanging out with Yoongi’s friends. Guilt shouldn’t be a part of this, but Jeongguk doesn’t want to make things worse, or more awkward than they already are.

He should be going out. Starting over. Making other friends. Maybe try not being such a shy loser for once in his life. Isn’t that what you do when you get your heart ripped out? Clean slate?

“Dude, not even? I literally invited you over. Come in.” Taehyung hurries over and closes the door.

“Oh. Right.” He’s such an idiot. He hardly knows what to do with himself.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Juice?” He’s wearing a pair of fancy looking silk pajamas even though it’s four in the afternoon and somehow, Jeongguk isn’t even surprised. “Do you want some strawberries? They’re fresh from the farmer’s market! Jimin and I went this morning.”

“Sure,” Jeongguk says. He’s not really hungry, but it feels rude to refuse. At least he’ll have something to do instead of stand here like an idiot. “Where is Jimin, by the way?”

“Dance practice. Won’t be home till later.”

“Oh, cool.”

Taehyung rinses a giant bowl of strawberries and ushers Jeongguk over to the kitchen table, like he’s seating an esteemed guest at a five star restaurant. Jeongguk manages to shove a total of three strawberries in his mouth and guzzle a whole glass of water before Taehyung levels him with a pensive look and a raise of his eyebrows.

“So…what’s up?”

“Nothing,” Jeongguk says, too quickly, swallows so fast he nearly chokes.

“Interesting.” Taehyung strokes his chin. “Because last time I saw you, it was your surprise party, and something was definitely up.”

This is, in part, why Jeongguk felt such a huge sweep of relief when Tae was the first one to respond to his text. He wouldn’t have minded hanging out with the others, but Tae just gets it. Taehyung knows. Has ever since the Christmas party when Jeongguk walked back into Jin’s apartment red-faced and clutching the recommendation letter. All it had taken was one look at Jeongguk’s expression and “Oh” and Tae had just understood. Jeongguk hadn’t needed to explain, and he doesn’t now. Not for Taehyung to at least know something’s wrong.

Jeongguk picks at a nail bed on his thumb absentmindedly, fidgeting, “If I tell you that I don’t really want to talk about it, will you be mad at me?”

Taehyung laughs breezily. “Of course not, Kookie. Concerned, maybe? Hella curious, for sure. But I’ll respect your wishes and your privacy. I’m here for whatever you want or don’t want to tell me. That’s what friends are for.”

Jeongguk’s heart flops over like an undercooked pancake. He feels like crying. Again.

“Okay,” he says softly, emboldened by Taehyung’s words. “Okay, I’ll tell you a little.” He bites his lip. “Basically, like, Cliff Notes version: Once upon a time, after that party, Yoongi-hyung and I kissed. Or, I kissed him. It was like the greatest moment of my life. Definitely top five, ha. But then, I sort of let it slip that I’m a virgin. And I think he sort of realized that I wanted more than just a hookup, and he apparently did not want more than that. So he left. And I resigned myself to a life of solitude and chastity and dying alone. The end.”

There’s more, of course. There’s so much that Jeongguk doesn’t know how to even begin to put into words. The way he’d felt beneath Yoongi, the way Yoongi had felt above him, pressed so close, mouths dragging together. How they hadn’t even begun to take off their clothes but Jeongguk knew he’d never felt more intimate with someone. How Yoongi had unraveled Jeongguk with nothing but but a few kisses. How Jeongguk was pretty sure this was it for him, and he’d never feel something that good again, because he’d gone and fucked it up.

What else would it be, kid?

The words have echoed in Jeongguk’s head for days now on loop, a broken fucking record and every time he lets them play it hurts, over and over. 

None of this would have mattered if Jeongguk could have kept it casual. If this has just been about sex, and not about sex with Yoongi. If Jeongguk had been able to keep his dumb heart from wanting more than that. But it wasn’t casual. Not even close.

What else would it be, kid?

It was so much more than sex.

It was Yoongi’s big hands and Yoongi’s soft mouth and the way he looks when he’s working on a song and it’s the sound of his weird sandpaper laugh and it’s all the months spent walking into the apartment next door because Jeongguk’s impulse control has always been bare minimum but when it comes to Yoongi he just. Can’t. Stop.

He would take it all back though. Jeongguk would literally take back everything un-casual he said and did to fuck it up, if it would have kept Yoongi there with him in the dark.

Jeongguk peeks through fingers, which somehow covered his eyes in the retelling. Taehyung’s eyes, by contrast, are wide, mouth is hanging open a little, but he covers well enough. Adopts an expression of sympathy. 

“That really sucks. I’m sorry to hear that happened.”

Taehyung means it sincerely—Jeongguk’s never heard him say something insincere ever, doesn’t think Kim Taehyung is capable of it—but the simplicity of the statement feels suddenly too much to handle. This really sucks. There it is, out in the open. It’s like Jeongguk has been avoiding those words all week and now that they’re staring him in the face, he has to run.

This was. So stupid. Taehyung is Yoongi’s friend first, and not Jeongguk’s therapist. What the fuck, what the hell is Jeongguk doing here using him for emotional support? Why did he even think it was okay to leave his apartment in this century?

Jeongguk stands abruptly. “Well, thanks for the chat, hyung. And the strawberries. I’m gonna go now." 

“Whoa whoa whoa, hold on a sec, Kookie, you just got here, you got somewhere to be?”

“Um.” Jeongguk blinks, halfway to the front door. “No?”

“Then sit your ass down and hang out,” says Taehyung. “I had just been about to start a game. Do you like Overwatch?”

Jeongguk nods.

So they play Overwatch. He kicks Taehyung’s ass for a solid three hours, often enough that he gets the suspicion that Taehyung is letting him win, but decides not to ask. It’s fun either way. Between games they swap random stories and insults and even when they’re not talking the silence is comfortable. Is welcome.

By the end of it, after the fifteenth consecutive ass-kicking, Jeongguk actually feels a little bit better, if that counts for anything.

At eight o’clock Jimin gets off practice and brings home takeout for three. He puts down a beef bowl right in front of Jeongguk, waves away thanks and offers of paying back and kisses Taehyung sweetly on the mouth. Tae whistles low at his retreating back as he goes to change out of his dance clothes and Jimin’s resounding laugh bounces down the hallway. Jeongguk feels this strange pang go off in his chest.

He feels a little bit better, and then not so much.

They eat the food and chase it down with shitty saccharine cider that only Jimin seems to really like. Conversation wanders but Jimin never asks why Jeongguk is here or maybe Jeongguk just forgets him asking. It’s hard to tell, because Jeongguk chased down five of those nasty ciders, feels embarrassed but not really that surprised when he ends up kind of drunk.

(He’s pretty sure he’s more drunk than the other night. The night when he got his literal heart ripped out. The night when he told Yoongi—like a moron—that he was a virgin. Not to scare Yoongi off. But because he wanted to make Yoongi feel good. He wanted to let Yoongi know that he had no idea what he was doing and it was okay if Yoongi took the reins, if Yoongi showed him how to be good. He’d just wanted to make Yoongi feel as good as Yoongi was making Jeongguk feel in that moment with his hands, his mouth, his tongue. Everything. Jeongguk had just wanted to be good for him. But he’d been too eager, too inexperienced, too obvious about everything. Too much, as always. And he’d fucked it up.

Yup. Definitely more drunk than the other night.)

It’s not entirely unwelcome. This feels better. Being sad always feels more warranted when alcohol is involved.

Time slips and slides, like hot butter sliding down a gradually heating skillet. Slow, then quick all at once.

“Aw, our baby lightweight,” Taehyung coos from somewhere over his head, because Jeongguk somehow ended up on the floor at some point. It just seemed easier than being upright. Chairs are uncomfortable. “He’s so cute.”

“You’re cute,” Jeongguk slurs, tipping over and knocking his head against the table.

“Sweet baby boy,” Jimin’s laugh is warm and affectionate, but his face is kind of all over the place, hard to track. “You’ve got so much catching up to do, my young maknae. We’re gonna have to work on your tolerance levels if you plan to survive karaoke night on New Year’s.” 

Jeongguk nods seriously. “Okay, hyung. Let’s drink more.”

“Another time, Kookie,” says Taehyung gently, and gentle hands pry a bottle from Jeongguk. “I think we’ve got enough practice in for tonight.”

“Oh. Okay. I’m gonna go home then, ’m sorry,” Jeongguk mumbles.

“You’ll do no such thing. We’ve got clean sheets galore and the comfiest couch of anyone in the gang, Hoseok can testify. Does that sound okay to you, honey?” 

If he thinks too hard about the kindness being offered to him, he’ll cry. So Jeongguk just nods, pouting slightly, gripping the table leg like he’s going to fall. “I need help getting up probably.” 

It’s quite an episode, but most of it happens in blurs for Jeongguk. Somehow, through a combination of Jimin’s immense tiny strength and Taehyung’s general lack of strength but helpful size—Jeongguk ends up on the couch, which is indeed comfy. Very comfy.

“This is comfy,” giggles Jeongguk.

“Yeah? Good. How about some water, buddy?” Taehyung says, pushing a glass into Jeongguk’s hand. 

“Can’t I have more cider?”

“Nah, but why don’t we drink some water together? Water’s yummy. I’ll drink some too, Kookie. Trust me. You don’t want to regret this in the morning.”

don’t want to do something I’d regret in the morning

Jeongguk’s eyes water before he can even remember where that phrase comes from, why it sounds so familiar, and then there are small hands and large hands petting his hair, shushing him, letting him cry into someone’s soft sweater (Jimin) while simultaneously being spooned from behind (Taehyung).

“I’m sorry,” sighs Jeongguk. “You’re being so nice to me. ‘M sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, dude, it’s okay. We’ve got you.”

It’s a senseless kind of exhausted crying, coming out more like wet sighs than anything else. You’d think he’d cried himself out by this point but nope, apparently not.

Pathetic, a tiny bitter and bruised part of Jeongguk whispers. So pathetic. No wonder he left.

“I’m going to kill him. Actual murder,” comes a whisper from somewhere over his head. “Honey, do you still have that Gucci mace on you that you got on sale last year? Because I am going to—”

“Babe, be real, you’d look terrible in those prison jump suits.”

“Are you implying there’s an outfit that this ass can’t pull off?”

“Of course not. But I can’t lovingly worship said ass if it’s behind bars.”

“It’s called a conjugal visit for a reason, Kim Taehyung.”

“He’s just—,” Jeongguk waves his hand, a small circular motion in the air, like he’s tracing the flight path of a bird in the sky. “He didn’t want me. I told him I was a virgin, like an idiot. He freaked.”

“Hate to break this to you, but hyung isn’t exactly a Seasoned Dick Harvester himself. He dated like what—,” Jimin looks to Taehyung, “One dude back in college?”

“If you can call it dating,” Taehyung tacks on. “From what Yoongi has said about it, it was more just scratching an itch.”

The thought of Yoongi hooking up with other guys is unbearable to think about. The cider churns unpleasantly in Jeongguk’s stomach. “He hates me.”

“He does no such thing. Yoongi-hyung’s a total softie, Kookie. Especially when it comes to you.”

“You didn’t see the way he looked at me. Like I. Like I was a little kid. Stupid kid.

“Shush. That’s my friend you’re talking about,” Taehyung says. “C’mon Kookie, you will feel a lot better if you drink the water.”

With a lot of gentle coaxing on Taehyung’s end and a lot of tearful complaining on Jeongguk’s, and Jimin eventually having to intervene again with his shockingly strong grip—Jeongguk drinks at least half a glass of water, spilling the other half on himself.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, only to get shushed again. He’s aware of his limbs being maneuvered, the soft cotton of a T-shirt being slipped over his head. “‘M so sorry, I don’t wanna be a burden.” 

“No more apologizing. We don’t allow ‘burdens’ in this house on principle, so you’re in the clear.”

“Everyone gets a free pass to be messy, Kook-ah. Especially if they’re gay. Or sad. You’re both, so.”

Jeongguk flops back on the couch, sprawling and dizzy. Everything feels soft. Warm. He wants wrap his arms around something, someone, and that thought makes him ache.

“Just wanna know what’s wrong. What’s wrong with me, hyung? Like. I mean, if something’s wrong with me, I fix it. I don’t like being bad at anything, or fucking up. If Yoongi-hyung could just tell me what I need to work on.”

“Sweetie.” Jimin cards his fingers through Jeongguk’s sweaty bangs, a gesture tender enough to remind Jeongguk of his mom, and he swallows dryly against a lump in his throat. Their voices sound farther and farther away with each second, like Jeongguk’s sinking underwater. “You’re not the problem, Jeonggukie.”

“Maybe I just need to sleep with someone else. Get experience.” He blinks wide at Jimin. “You’d sleep with me, wouldn’t you?”

Taehyung makes a noise that’s not unlike growling, but Jimin waves him off with what sounds like a muttered, “Down, boy,” and a rueful smile. “As much as I’d love to invite you into our bed, because that would truly be the threesome of a fucking lifetime, I’m not going to do that, Kookie. Because the whole time you’d be thinking of Yoongi-hyung, and that wouldn’t be fun for any of us.”

“But don’t worry,” chirps Taehyung. “Hyung will figure his shit out. Eventually. You guys will work it out.”

Taehyung sounds so sure that Jeongguk, in his very inebriated state, almost believes him. 

They move towards the bedroom, flick the light off. From the golden glow of the hall behind them, he can make out their fuzzy silhouettes. Taehyung’s lankier frame, the hair that hangs in his eyes, and Jimin leaning a head against his shoulder as they look at Jeongguk.

“We left a glass of water next to you. Drink it when you wake up."

“Thanks,” Jeongguk croaks, “Love you guys." 

“We love you too, Kookie. Just holler if you need anything. Sleep tight.”

He hears their footsteps and voices retreat, a murmured conversation that first sounds hushed but then just feels intimate. Because he’s drunk, Jeongguk listens, lucid and a bit too sad to fall asleep just yet, staring up at the dark ceiling. There’s occasionally a soft laugh or a pause, but the murmurs eventually fade into the quiet. Like Taehyung and Jimin do this every night. Chatting away until they drift off, falling asleep together only to wake up in the morning to do it all over again.

It’s nice knowing things like this exist. Cramped apartments filled with laughter and comfy couches and talking to someone until you can hardly keep your eyes open. Jeongguk might not get that for himself. He might not get it for a very long time.

But right now—just knowing the Park Jimins and the Kim Taehyungs of the world are alive and together and so so sweetly in love—is enough for Jeongguk. Enough to soothe his big and dumb and hopeful heart to sleep.

 

***

Yoongi’s had better weeks.

At first, he goes to the studio with the genuine intent to work. But every lyric he writes seems drawn from a riverbed in drought, insincere and trickling slow. Digging farther beneath the surface for something real hurts too much. Switches tactics and attempts to record a track he’d already written, starts angry and sharp but the session sort of ends with him just yelling incoherently into the mic until he’s hoarse. He calls it a day after that.

He tries going to work instead, picking up extra shifts to fill the time he’s not using to make music. But he barely registers half of what he does. He’s not coping, coping’s never really been a term Yoongi’s had in his toolbox. Everything’s gone fuzzy and tired in the worst possible way. He wishes it was still snowing. He wishes he could drive in it.

But spring only brings out shivery rains that are miserable and not shocking. Cold, sure, but not cold enough to burn. Yoongi doesn’t spend a ton of time outdoors by rote, but now he straight up avoids it. Any time not at work or the studio is spent in his apartment, where he is increasingly aware of the quiet next door. Of the way Jeongguk’s presence in his life has been whittled down to the occasional light footfalls and the sound of a door closing, dishes clattering in the sink on the other side of the wall. There is no music. There is no singing. There are no knocks at Yoongi’s door.

Where the silence becomes downright unbearable, Cat helps.

If he sits still for too long, she demands attention. She’s not so much a reign of terror as much as she just insists in being up in Yoongi’s business. At all times. Sits on his lap while he tries to work, scratches his pant leg if he sleeps for too long. More often than not, he finds himself giving her the attention she demands. If only because it makes him feel a little less dysfunctional. Like he can fuck up everything in the world but at least she still likes getting head scratches from him.

Her fur is soft and she is warm and when Yoongi stumbles home from the studio or from work, it’s nice not to have a completely empty apartment. She’s a shit, and Yoongi talks to her in a mix of insults and whining but it helps. It helps.

Still, even with Cat, he spends most nights, like tonight, staring at the ceiling, wide awake even though he’s bone tired. Trying to figure out where the fuck he went wrong with all of this.

It becomes evident soon enough. His phone buzzes about ten times before he finally acknowledges it.

 

jimin
HEY
ASSHOLE
WHAT
DID
YOU
DO
TO
OUR
BOY
!

taehyung
good evening yoongi-hyung
you know i love you and respect you and am slightly afraid of you
but you hecked up

jimin
YOU GOT THAT RIGHT
jeongguk is crying on our couch! crying!!!!!
im gonna mURDER YOU!
what the hell did you do to him!!!!!!!

 

Yoongi sits up in bed, listening to Cat’s purrs as she sleeps, the only other sound beside his phone going off in his hand. There are other texts that he hasn’t checked, but these ones he can’t ignore. Jeongguk is crying? Why the hell is he crying? He’s the one who wanted to keep things casual. It’s Yoongi who couldn’t keep his shit together. It’s Yoongi who should be crying on someone’s couch. Unless—

 

taehyung
what my soulmate means to say is that we think there was some sort of misunderstanding because you both seem sad af
and we think you two need to talk

yoongi
?????
did he say something to you guys?

jimin
not much other than he’s sad and virginal and IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!

taehyung
tldr; that y’all started to hookup and things got Heated and then he told you he was a virgin and you essentially bolted 
which doesn’t sound like you at all
so what gives?

 

Yoongi’s heartbeat picks up. He feels like he’s been slapped in the face. Jeongguk thought Yoongi left because he was a virgin? Hadn’t been Yoongi been clear? Hadn’t Jeongguk been clear? He’s dissected the conversation and there’s no way he’d misinterpreted it. The words don’t want to do something I’d regret in the morning couldn’t be more clear, right?

He types out a reply and waits, heart hammering in his chest.

 

yoongi
he said that?

taehyung
yeah
something tells me that’s not what actually happened tho
either way he’s really drunk and really upset
and methinks that you might’ve hecked up 

jimin
YEAH NO SHIT HONEY

taehyung
we know you’re not a cruel person hyung
that’s why we’re a bit confused

jimin
what taetae said
but also if you intentionally hurt my baby i will castrate you
fix this!!!!!!

 

“Fuck,” shouts Yoongi, and reaches for his laptop.

***

It’s pouring outside.

Jeongguk tips his head back, loving the smell of rain, keeping the windows wide open so the smell drifts into the apartment, sinks into the carpet and the curtains. He’s happy to not have anywhere to go today, for once. It’s been a couple weeks since he got spectacularly drunk and slept on Taehyung’s couch but as awful as the ensuing hangover was, he feels better. Not good, but better.

Maybe it was waking up on Taehyung’s couch to find Jimin making breakfast for three in the kitchen. Maybe it was Seokjin asking if Jeongguk wanted to go workout together, out of the blue,  and the fact that they had a really good time of it. Maybe it was signing off on the paper work and confirming his major change from pre-med to vocal performance. Maybe it was a little bit of everything combined.

Whatever the reason, Jeongguk doesn’t feel so much that he’s going to crawl out of his skin anymore.

A few days ago, two of Jeongguk’s future classmates living in Seoul messaged him on Facebook and asked to hang out. Normally Jeongguk would’ve felt too awkward and nervous to meet anyone, but he found himself saying yes.

He’s really glad he did, because Mingyu and Hansol were so cool and nice. And they thought Jeongguk was legit funny, and before the outing for boba had ended Jeongguk found himself making up a group chat with them and the other voice majors they could track down. The group chat is mostly a mix of swapping weird memes and talking about obscure music, but it’s fun. 

It feels good to make new friends. Make more friends. Like he’s starting to finally belong here, after months of stilted adjustment and feeling halfway to homesick.

He hasn’t seen Yoongi around, but that’s okay. It doesn’t feel so much like a purposeful avoidance anymore. There’s noise in the apartment next door. Jeongguk thinks he even hears Hoseok’s loud cackle one Saturday afternoon. It is a small thing, but the simple presence of sound feels like an invitation. A bridge over the gap. Like someday, maybe not now, but soon, Jeongguk will text Yoongi and ask him to hang out as friends. Maybe go get lamb skewers together. Start the tentative job of fixing whatever was broken.

Someday. Just not right now.

Now, it’s raining, and Jeongguk feels calm, and unfidgety, and that within itself means this is the best he’s felt in a while. There’s been a tune in his head that came out of nowhere. He’s working on transcribing it. He wants to add lyrics, even though he’s nowhere near a songwriter. The potential of being one one day is there. He likes the idea of that.

The sound of the downpour washes over his ears in a pleasant hum, loud enough that he doesn’t hear the knocking. Not at first. Not until it goes from regular knocking to pounding at the door so hard it rattles.

At first, when he looks through the peep hole, Jeongguk honestly thinks he’s hallucinating. 

For a second, he just looks at him. It’s all Jeongguk can do because fuck, it’s so good just to look at him. Just to see him. Jeongguk still has a lot of shit to sort through but this fact right here isn’t going to change. It feels so good to see Yoongi. It feels so damn good to be standing in the same space as him. Like stepping out of the cold and wet and into somewhere that’s safe and warm.

Only something’s off. Something’s wrong. It’s so good to see Yoongi but Yoongi is—absolutely drenched, from head to toe. He’s got one hand fisted in his dripping hair, and it looks like he’s been pulling. He’s shivering so hard his teeth are rattling.

“Yoongi? What—”

“Is Cat here?”

Jeongguk blinks. “Uh, I don’t think so.” Yoongi’s shivering seems to increase with that response. “Is everything okay? Do you wanna come in?” 

Yoongi nods. Walks in, eyes all over the room.  

“Sorry, just, she didn’t come home last night. I don’t mean to bother you, I just. I thought she might come here just to be contrary, because she’s like that. Got worried. I don’t know, it was stupid.”

“She has been visiting,” offers Jeongguk, “but it’s been a while since she last stopped by. ‘Bout a week. You haven’t seen her since last night?”

“No. And I know she’s been sneaking out, but she always comes back after a few hours. She’s usually just chasing mice in the building. She always comes back. But last night she didn’t. And it’s been raining since this morning, just fucking pouring, and it’s cold, and she still hasn’t come home and she’s not in the alleyway or outside the building. I dunno. I thought she’d be here.”

Yoongi’s eyes flick about the room. He’s talking calmly, slowly, but he’s bitten his lip raw. There’s a twitch to his movements that reminds Jeongguk of himself. The jittery shaky quiet right before a massive panic attack.

“Hyung—”

“What if something happened to her?” The words come spilling out, and the tone is no longer calm and even. “What if she’s lost?”

It’s one of the first times he’s ever seen Yoongi look scared. Well and truly afraid. It’s ridiculous, but Jeongguk had almost started to think that nothing ever scared Yoongi. Not Min Yoongi, the guy who tackles burglars and raps so angry and loud. Nothing scares him.

Evidently, some things do.

“We’ll find her. She might be lost, but nothing’s going to happen to her. I’ll help you. We’ll find her, okay hyung? You believe me?”

Jeongguk doesn’t know when he crossed the space of the room to grab Yoongi’s shoulders so that they’re eye to eye. This isn’t the time for gestures or touching but it feels like the right thing to do, with Yoongi’s eyes darting to and fro. He rubs his hands against Yoongi’s shoulders, like he can rub warmth into the wet jacket to the skin beneath.

Yoongi looks at Jeongguk, lets out a shuddering breath. “Okay. Okay." 

Jeongguk does help.

Back in Yoongi’s apartment, the remainder of the daylight hours are a blur of calling shelters, pounds, animal hospitals, every corner of Seoul that houses lost animals. They comb Craigslist for found cat notices. Jeongguk gives Jin his student ID so Jin can use the discount at the library to print flyers. Taehyung and Jimin put them up all around the block all throughout the downpour, while Namjoon bikes to all the local businesses and bodegas to ask if they’ve seen a Cat matching Cat’s description.  

The rain continues, miserably so, but their friends don’t let it stop them.

Jeongguk just tries to do what he can, because Yoongi seems more upset the more time passes, quieter and quieter.

Hours slip by, Jeongguk increasingly aware of them, and the storm that seems unending. Jeongguk orders takeout so they have something to eat while they wait by the phone. Yoongi is still combing Facebook lost and found groups with a stony expression. His ramen sits steaming and untouched on the table. Jeongguk can’t blame him. He doesn’t feel hungry either.

Jeongguk doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to fix any of this, or how to remove that terrible expression off Yoongi’s face. He wants to latch himself onto Yoongi, curl around him until Yoongi unfreezes, but those are very selfish things and Jeongguk does not want to be selfish. He wants to help.

By the time the rain lets up, it’s nighttime, and all of the shelters on their call list have been crossed out. Every car alarm or noise in the alleyway seems to wind Yoongi tighter, like he’s straining to hear a familiar meow or yowl out in the darkness.

“We’ll canvas again tomorrow,” Namjoon says to Jeongguk on the phone. “As soon as all the shops open. We’ll put up more signs. We’ll find her.”

“Sounds good, hyung,” Jeongguk whispers, one eye on Yoongi, whose fists are now clenched. “I’ll check in if she turns up. G’night.”

He sets the phone on the charger after hanging up, just in case.

“This is my fault, isn’t it.”

Jeongguk starts. Yoongi sits rigid in his chair. “No, no Yoongi-hyung, don’t say things like that—”

Yoongi pushes out of his chair and begins to pace. Back and forth. A perfect line along the side of the room. “But isn’t it? I didn’t want a Cat. You remember that. I didn’t want to be responsible for her, so I wasn’t. I didn’t get her chipped, so now that she’s gone, I’m the idiot who can’t track her down. This is my fault.” 

“Stop, you’re being way too hard on yourself.”

“Fuck,” Yoongi curses. “Fuck, Jeongguk, what if she got hurt. And it’s my fault. What if she’s somewhere cold and alone and hungry. It’s been raining all day. People can’t drive for shit in the rain. What if she got hit by a car—”

The very thought seems to suck the very breath from Yoongi’s lungs. One second he’s talking the next he’s gasping, taking deep gulps of air, doubled over and clutching his head.

The apartment is warm but Yoongi’s skin is cold, cold, cold when Jeongguk touches him. It only now occurs to Jeongguk that he never changed out of his wet clothes.

“Yoongi,” Jeongguk says, as authoritative as he’s ever been. “It’s gonna be okay. Hyung. Breathe with me. In six, out for three, c’mon now." 

He breathes, making everything more theatrical than it needs to be. Yoongi doesn’t breathe with him.

“Yoongi—”

Yoongi inhales sharply, out in a huge gust that sounds like a sob. Inhales again. Exhales. He’s not crying, but he’s still shaking. He’s still trembling beneath Jeongguk’s hands.

A police siren swells and fades outside. They breathe.

“Sorry,” Yoongi croaks. “Jesus, Kook, ’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. I’ve cried like, at least twenty-three times in front of you. You’ve got at least twenty-two free breakdown coupons left before I get to tease you for it.”

The resulting huff isn’t quite a laugh, but Jeongguk still chalks it up to a victory. At some point he wrapped his arms around Yoongi’s shoulders. Pressed his face into Yoongi’s soft hair, the tip of his nose brushing Yoongi’s ear. Let all of Yoongi’s cold and wet seep into him because he’ll take him any way he can get it. There are no exceptions to that rule.

“We’ll find her. We will,” he whispers into Yoongi’s hair. Yoongi quakes again. “Animals know their owners. They know where they’re loved and cared for. They know home. She’ll come back.”

“I didn’t get her chipped. I didn’t even name her,” mumbles Yoongi. “What the fuck. What kind of monster am I. Who names their cat ‘Cat’." 

“To be fair, hyung, your first choice was Demon. I’d say this is a step up.”

Yoongi laughs for real now, a punched out sound against his shoulder. Jeongguk wants to hold him tighter, burrow himself against Yoongi’s side and kiss his forehead, but there are lines between what Jeongguk wants and what Yoongi needs in this moment. He’s going to be very careful about not crossing them.

Jeongguk says, “I should go.”

“Stay,” Yoongi says, nothing guarded or coarse about it. He sounds exhausted, unraveled. “Please. I won’t be able to sleep anyways. I’ll be too busy worrying. Rather have company.”

“Of course,” Jeongguk says, as if there had ever been another option. “Yeah, of course.”

In Yoongi’s bedroom, an unspoken agreement formed between them, they curl toward each other on a tiny boxspring, parenthetical. Yoongi changes into pajama pants that are at least two sizes too big and a giant T-shirt that hangs beneath his collar bones. He looks small like this, and that’s the selfish excuse Jeongguk uses when he finally gives in and slots their knees together.

It’s not quite cuddling, not the ways they’d done before. There’s still respectable, clearly platonic distance between them, but it’s nice. Proximity. It almost makes Jeongguk hope, a softly fluttering thing in his throat.

There are so many things he wants to say. Explanations much needed, confessions long overdue. But they’re for after. After everything has sorted itself out, maybe then Jeongguk can speak these small hopeful things into existence.

Talking doesn’t feel possible with the tension and gloom that crawled into bed with them, so they don’t. Jeongguk watches the shadows on Yoongi’s face, the occasional flicker of lightning throwing them into contrast.

Their eyes catch, lock, and linger, and Jeongguk doesn’t shy away. When he finally drifts off, it’s staring into that glittering dark.

 

***

It’s 3:47 a.m. on the alarm clock when Jeongguk’s eyes snap open.

It takes a second for his mind to catch up and register how unusual it is to just wake up at 3:47 in the fucking morning. There’s no alarm going off. He’s comfortable. He’s really comfortable. He feels warm and there’s a heavy blanket in the shape of a boy draped over him and wow that might actually have been the best sleep he’s had in a while so why the hell is he awake?

For a breath, he just lies there. A little disoriented, the sound of another rainstorm drumming away at the windows, Yoongi tucked against his side. Maybe a nightmare he couldn’t remember. He gets those sometimes.

Breathing deep, he focuses onto the sounds outside, rainfall, far off traffic, a wailing siren, lets it wash over him, soothe his racing thoughts. He’s seconds away from being pulled back under when he hears it.

That is—definitely not a siren.

“Yoongi.” Jeongguk jostles Yoongi’s shoulder, none too gently. “Hyung. Wake up.”

Yoongi groans, pushes his face into Jeongguk’s shoulder like he he intends on doing no such thing. His eyes ease open, a thought registering through the disoriented blur or sleep, and he bolts upright like he’s been zapped with a taser, fully awake.

For a second, neither of them say anything. Like the very distinct and miserable yowling echoing up from the alleyway below will be a figment of their imaginations if they outwardly acknowledge it. But it doesn’t stop.

They bolt.

Neither of them bother with the stairwell or elevator. The fire escape rattles and creaks as they pound down it, Jeongguk tugging a hoodie over his head as he sprints, blindly, down the steps. He’s soaked the second they climb out of the window, and Yoongi’s going to get drenched all over again. It doesn’t matter. There are seven floors of fire escape to get through, but every single floor gets them closer to the sound. That very distinct sort of yowling.

Jeongguk forgoes the final flight of fire escape entirely and leaps over the railing and onto the ground, lands in a puddle with a thud, muddy water soaking his pant-legs. Yoongi’s there a second later, gasping for breath as they scan the dark alleyway.

“Cat!”

“Cat, come out sweetie!”

“I’ll never call you Demon again, c’mon now.”

It’s a fucking downpour. Apocalyptic levels of rain coming down in sheets that make it near impossible to say. They grope through the dark of the alleyway like bats, using her meows to guide them.

They find her huddled inside a soggy cardboard box at the foot of the alleyway, tipped on its side, walls sagging with water. Her fur is matted with mud, she’s drenched so much she looks more like a drowned rat than anything. Still, that is undeniably Cat, missing eye and all. She hisses a bit when they approach, and Yoongi, without a second of hesitation, gets down low on his belly on the pavement, puddles be damned, beckoning her with patient hands.

“C’mon, dumplin’. It’s okay. You can come out now. I know you hate the rain but you gotta come out of there. C’mon Cat.”

One second she’s hissing at Yoongi, the next he’s straightening up, and she’s tucked in his arms. Yoongi looks wholly overwhelmed, hair plastered to his forehead in strands, and the relieved laughter that comes bursting out from his mouth sounds almost like a sob. Jeongguk can’t help but mimic him, chest heaving.

“Can you—”

Jeongguk moves before he even knows what Yoongi’s even asking for. Helps Yoongi unzip his hoodie to tuck Cat inside against his chest and then zip it all the way back up so she’s safe and snuggled up inside, her glaring face poking out a few inches beneath Yoongi’s chin.

Tentatively, Jeongguk reaches out and gives her a slow and gentle scratch under her chin. “Welcome back, Cat. We sure were worried about you, sweetheart.”

He looks up to suggest that they take her to the vet’s to get the ear checked out and Yoongi—

Yoongi stares at Jeongguk like he’s never seen him before in his life.

“Hyung—”

Then, without warning, Yoongi surges up onto his toes, throwing all his weight forward, and crushes their mouths together.

It’s a kiss that’s clumsy and rain-slick, Yoongi’s lips near numb and fumbling against Jeongguk’s. Yoongi finally overbalances and starts to tip forward but Jeongguk brings his hands around Yoongi’s shoulders to steady him, to press him closer, wonder surging through him like a wave.

Jeongguk pulls back, reeling. “What—“

“I know,” Yoongi gasps, “I’m going about this all wrong. Was supposed to talk first. Now the order’s all off. I blame you. This is definitely your fault.”

“My fault—”

“You were being sweet to Cat. I was essentially powerless. And freezing. My brain is definitely halfway shut off. Now kiss me before I get the power back on.”

Jeongguk, confused and amazed, kisses him.

And, god, it’s been weeks, but that doesn’t matter one bit. It’s like they’re back in Jeongguk’s bedroom just like last time, everything between them laid bare and careful and sweet. The way that Jeongguk wants it to be, wants Yoongi to be. It’s like the past few weeks of silence between them never even happened, and there’s just this. Just the rain. Just Yoongi’s mouth, tilted upwards and insistent, cold but growing warmer under his.

Jeongguk shivers right down to his toes.

Something wet strikes at their mouths and he pulls back with a sharp squawk only to find Cat glaring balefully at the two of them. A single paw extended from her kangaroo pouch in Yoongi’s sweater.

Yoongi makes a low disgruntled noise in his throat, eyes narrowed at Cat. “The audacity….”

For a second, Jeongguk almost pulls Yoongi’s zipper over her head and pulls him in for another kiss. He doesn’t think Yoongi would even object.

“We should talk,” Yoongi half shouts over the downpour, “Let’s talk. But first, warmth for the baby.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods, grinning. “Warmth for the baby.”

Twenty minutes later they’re up in Yoongi’s apartment, Cat curled up on a bed of dry towels over the furnace, munching happily on a few cat treats Yoongi bestowed on her. In the morning, they’re going to take her to the vet. Make sure she’s really alright. Get her shots updated, give her a flea bath, get her microchipped.

It’s somewhere close to dawn by this point. Jeongguk feels wide awake, but in that wired slap-happy sort of way. Like he pulled an all nighter to finish a paper but drank three Monster drinks to make up for it. He’s sitting on Yoongi’s bed, wearing Yoongi’s clothes, a pair of hole-ridden sweats and an SU sweater.

Yoongi is pacing. Frowning and pacing. It looks all very serious. Too serious for half past four in the morning.

“Hyung, what are you doing?”

“I’m thinking, Jeongguk-ah. Gotta make up for what I wasn’t doing earlier.”

“Speaking of earlier, can we go back to kissing now?” Jeongguk prompts. “I was really enjoying that part.”

Yoongi makes a grumbling sound. “Impatient. Don’t you want to hear what I have to say?”

“I can think of more fun things to do with your mouth.”

The grumbling sound becomes a deeply mortified grunt, and Jeongguk is rewarded with a flush. Jeongguk grins. He feels almost too happy to sit still.

“Lemme just talk, Jeongguk-ah. Just for a bit, okay? Then you can have your way with me.”

Jeongguk hums and nods, unable to wipe the smile off his face.

“First things first. I started seeing someone.”

Oh. 

It bites. It hurts. It’s not what Jeongguk had expected Yoongi to say, but does his best to rally. He doesn’t know why he’d been expecting—hoping—for Yoongi to say something more romantic but, he can roll with it.

“Okay.” Jeongguk tries not to feel his heart shatter because that’s overdramatic, really it is. He’d just hoped. He tries to smile but it comes out warped. “Okay. Uh. Well. Okay, that makes things a little awkward. I wish you had mentioned that before kissing me—”

“What? God, no, not like that,” Yoongi blurts, stumbling forward like a blind man to stand in front of Jeongguk. “No. I mean like a therapist. You really think I’d be dating someone right now?” 

“You weren’t specific! How was I supposed to know?”

“God, there I go, doing it all wrong again.” Yoongi drags a hand over his face, frustrated. “Okay. Okay. Let’s…erase the past minute of conversation.”

Jeongguk nods. Slowly, Yoongi sits on the bed next to Jeongguk. Their knees jostle. He hesitates, then plucks Jeongguk’s hand off his own lap. He folds their fingers together. Runs a thumb over Jeongguk’s knuckles.

“This okay?”

It is very okay. Jeongguk nods.

“Okay. So. I’m gonna say shit. A lot of shit, that I probably should have said earlier, like, weeks ago, maybe months. And you’re gonna listen. And then, when I’m done spewing my bullshit, you can have your say. Alright?”

Jeongguk squeezes his hand.

Yoongi sighs, bottom lip pushing out as he thinks, drawing back in between his teeth to tug. He does this several times, tongue pushing at his cheek. Then he straightens. Looks at their linked hands. At the floor.

“I’m gonna start over. First, I started seeing a therapist. Again. I’ve seen her before. I take meds, I’ve known about my issues for a while. It can be hard for me to remember how to handle them, even though I should know by now. Some days, some months, are harder than others,” he shrugs, mouth twisting bitterly. “It’s a work in progress. Always has been and always will be. So I started seeing my therapist again to establish a baseline of good back in my life. Because sometimes, when I get too deep in the rough spots, it makes me think bad things about myself, enough that I start to believe them, so that I cut myself off from people I care about, and hurt them in the process. Sound familiar?”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond. He just leans in and presses his lips to Yoongi’s shoulder. Breathes in the scent of detergent and cedar. Waits for him to continue.

“Which brings me to my second point: I owe you an apology. A real one.”

Now Jeongguk does respond. “Hyung, you don’t have to—”

“Thought you were gonna let me talk, Jeonggukie.”

Jeongguk closes his mouth.

“That night in your apartment—I didn’t stop because you were a virgin. Or because I gave a fuck about how much experience you had. I thought you wanted things to be casual between us. I jumped to conclusions, and I got scared because…that’s pretty much the opposite of what I wanted. Casual.” 

Yoongi looks at Jeongguk, eyes bright. “So I’m sorry. I should have been honest from the start. The truth is, I cannot be casual. I really like you, Jeongguk-ah. So I can’t be casual. Not with you. Not ever.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. So. It took me a while, I had to talk with Tae and Jimin—”

What.

“And they told me you thought I was the one who wanted to be casual—” 

“—I’m going to kill them.”

“And they may have let on that I might have read a few things wrong.” Yoongi casts Jeongguk a sideways glance. “Did I read some things wrong?”

Words are hard for Jeongguk sometimes. There are so many to choose from, and sometimes Jeongguk feels—even with a solid twenty years under his belt—that he doesn’t yet have the life experience to use them. He doesn’t know how to quantify the gravity of the moment, the weight of it on his skin. But he has to try. He’s got to try.

“Yoongi-hyung, you got like. Everything wrong. Literally." 

“This sounds incredibly foreboding.”

Jeongguk laughs. Pulls Yoongi’s hand further into his lap, loosens his grip and spreads Yoongi’s hand wide, fingers splayed. He looks closely at the life lines, the bluish veins beneath the skin.

“You’re really dumb, hyung,” he says softly.

“I’m being attacked.”

“I thought you wanted to be casual,” Jeongguk near whispers, because if he talks too loud he’s worried it’ll come bursting forth in a rush of garbled incoherent emotion, too fast to discern a single thought. “I thought you just wanted sex. So I played it cool like I wanted that too, to save face. You’re so cool, hyung. Do you know that? It can be intimidating sometimes. Even though you’re not actually intimidating at all because deep down you’re like, ninety years old.”

“Is this what your generation calls romance? This is disgraceful.”

“My gener—I’m only four years younger than you!”

“It’s a big enough difference that it counts,” Yoongi says pointedly, and then, slower, “That I can still hurt you, even if I don’t mean to.”

“I know you don’t mean to. I know you’re not a cruel person. You like cats. And warm coffee. And you love cuddling.”

“I do not love—”

“Once is a coincidence. Two times though, hyung? Definitely a pattern.”

“I take it back. I don’t want to be your boyfriend. I take it all back.”

“Thought you were already seeing someone?” Jeongguk waggles his eyebrows.

“Yeah, a therapist, you asshole. To get my shit straightened out, so I can do better. And be more. You know. Open about how I feel.”

“And how do you feel, hyung?” 

Yoongi looks like he quite literally wants to die as he blinks up at the ceiling. “You know how I feel. I just monologued for like an hour about how I feel. I kissed you in the rain.”

“Isn’t that why you’re seeing a therapist, hyung? To be more open? Aren’t you a songwriter? Aren’t words like—your specialty?”

“Fine. Jesus Christ. I like you, kid. There. Happy now? No? Well, I’ll say it again. I like you a helluva lot. I like you so much. Too much and then some. Dug my grave day fucking one. Remember when we met? You opened the door to your apartment shirtless?”

“Sure—”

“Yeah, well, I died that day. Haven’t recovered since.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk grins. “Cool.”

“Cool?”

“Yeah, cool.”

Yoongi looks at him like he’s crazy. “Anything else you care to add?”

“What? Oh! Yeah. I definitely love you, Yoongi-hyung. Like, a whole lot. And I definitely don’t want to be casual.”

Yoongi makes a noise like a deflating balloon, equal parts joy and exasperation, a squeak and a groan all at once. He loops their hands back together, squeezing tighter than ever before, tipping their foreheads together. Pecks a quick kiss to Jeongguk’s temple.

They sit like that for quite some time. Until the rains stop, nothing left but the gushing storm gutters spattering the pavement down below. Until Cat hops onto the bed to rub herself against their hands, purring, all content and needy.

At some point, Jeongguk will allow the incandescent and ecstatic happiness to seep into his bones and light him up like a firecracker. But for now next to Yoongi, he's too tired to acknowledge anything but all the warm and safe and tender love thrumming in his chest.

“C’mon,” Yoongi whispers into his ear. “Let’s go to bed, Jeongguk-ah. Not like that,” he adds quickly, at Jeongguk’s semi-wondrous expression. “To sleep. It’s dawn, I’m dead on my feet.”

“Kay. Can you kiss me first?”

“Right now?” Yoongi sighs, like he’s not already smiling, already leaning in, already pushing Jeongguk onto his back, into the mattress. “Oh, but Jeongguk-ah, I’m so tired—”

Jeongguk beats him to it, nudging their mouths together. Kisses him short and quick, long and deep. He’s just as tired as Yoongi is, so he gives as good as he can, knows he only has a few more seconds before either one of them literally falls asleep.

“You really are going to be the death of me, aren’t you kid,” Yoongi sighs into his mouth, the words tasting honey sweet, like there really are worse ways to go.

“Count on it.” Jeongguk smiles, wriggling in the circle of Yoongi’s arms as they settle, Cat nestling up at their feet. “You won’t be able to get rid of me.”

He falls asleep between one kiss and the next and feeling—at last, at last, at last—like he’s home.