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if you love me won't you say something

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I had a terror since September, I could tell to none; and so I sing, as the boy does by the burying ground, because I am afraid.  
Emily Dickinson

 

If there’s magic in the world Jeongguk thinks that it’s here now, in the air around Seoul, but it’s the bad kind of magic.  The sky is this strange sick color, so pale blue it’s almost white, so white it hurts to look at.

It’s hot.  It’s so hot and it’s not even July.  It’s the bad kind of summer hot too, the one with no promise of relief.  Jeongguk’s shirt clings to his skin and it feels like his skin clings to his bones the same way. 

He wets his lips and blinks down at the sidewalk beneath his feet.  

Whatever has been sitting low in the bottom of his lungs for the past year, heavy and hard as an unripe pear, seizes a little with each breath he takes.  It’s been worse since he got to Seoul.  He puts his hand on his breastbone and then slides his fingers down, pushes hard on his solar plexus.  He wonders if he can pull this thing out, shuck himself like he would an oyster and yank out this hard thing stuck inside him. 

Jeongguk thinks how much is enough, he thinks I don’t know what I’m doing, he thinks everything is so fucked up, he thinks things were supposed to be okay. 

He hadn’t been able to start university at the same time as everyone else, had to take a gap year to save up money.  It had been horrible that year.  Like treading water.  Like watching everyone else swim away from him.  Like waiting to drown.

He worked incessantly in Busan, thinking to avoid the feeling, but it made it worse.  He worked more.  He barely did anything but work and take pictures and sketch and try to pretend the boy he was dating and he still had things in common, until they both had to admit they didn’t.  It was almost a relief, when they broke up.  It felt sad to say that, felt mean to say that, but that’s what it was.  He saw it on Hyunseok’s face too.  Relief, after all, is an emotion that’s hard to hide. 

It had gotten better.  Slowly, but still.  His first choice school accepted him and he got a scholarship that meant he might not have to defer or take out as many loans.  (Though the scholarship makes him feel guilty.  He feels like he needs to work harder to prove that what he’s got he should have gotten.)  He saved up enough that he felt like he could survive for a bit, applied for a work study that started during summer semester.  He signed up for a few community college courses, figuring they were a cheaper way to get required classes done, that he could transfer the credits. 

It had felt like there was the possibility of something good in the future.  Something he could almost touch, like his fingers grazed it when he stretched out his hand. 

He moved to Seoul at the end of May, feeling almost hopeful. 

He had an apartment lined up, a cousin of a friend of a friend.  The guy was moving in with his fiancée and wanted to sublet his room for cheap, was even willing to give Jeongguk something of a deal in exchange for Jeongguk taking engagement photos, but that had fallen through.

Jeongguk doesn’t begrudge the situation, the breakup sounded like it had been nightmarish, but now he’s paying too much, out of savings he doesn’t really have, for this little extra bedroom in a tiny house with a strange elderly woman.  She glares at Jeongguk, crosses herself and mutters prayers in the kitchen.  Jeongguk feels like she thinks he might be cursed.  She makes him feel like he might be. 

She had told him from the start that he could only stay until July, that she had someone lined up to rent the room long-term after that.  He hadn’t really cared, wasn’t even planning on staying that long.  It was just supposed to be a stopover until he found a real place.  Now he wants to say he doesn’t care, but he can’t.  He has nowhere to go.  He has nowhere to live. 

In four days, he has nowhere to live.

His lungs seize and he stares more determinedly at the sidewalk, tries to still his hand where it’s trembling against his chest.  

He doesn’t have any friends in Seoul yet, or at least not the kind of friends for that kind of ask.  It’s off-season, leases tend to go with the school year, so places are limited.  He can’t find a room within his budget either, the few places he managed to grab viewings of were way outside of what he could afford.  It’s too late to apply for the dorms.  They’ll put him on the waiting list, they said, and let him know if something opens up, but that doesn’t help now. 

A cramped looking shared room, like an hour outside of where he needs to be, is available, but not until July 20th.  He needs to let the guy know soon if he’ll take it.  He’s trying to hold out a little longer before he says yes.  If he does that, or if he doesn’t and decides to hope he’ll find something else, there’s the university’s 24-hour library where he does his work study and PC cafés, he supposes, but those aren’t good options.  Those aren’t places to live or a good use of his dwindling savings.  He can’t ask his parents for money he knows they don’t have but would try to scrape together for him anyway.  He can’t do that.

He tries to suck in a breath but his body rebels. 

He shouldn’t have talked so big, shouldn’t have aimed so big.  I’m going to do art.  He’ll have to crawl back, failed within a month of leaving home.  Oops, should have known better.    

His lungs seize so hard he crumples over around himself, like he’s trying to defend against a knee to the gut. 

Stop, Jeongguk tells himself, calm down, stop this.

When he can straighten up, he jogs to the station even though it’s too hot to be running.  He can think better when he’s in motion, has always been able to.  When he’s moving or when he’s drawing, that’s when he problem solves.  That’s when he can stop fixating long enough to actually think it through.  Or he fixates enough on the weights or the page under his fingers and it’s like his mind goes blank and later, clearer and somehow cleaner, he’s able to figure out what needs to be done.

He can’t draw lately—

(The inside of his head feels like smoker’s lungs, the kind they show you in those PSA videos in middle school to try to get you to never even think about touching cigarettes.  When he tries to draw, all that comes out are these strange angry lines.  He can’t even tell if they’re good angry lines. When he looks at them all he sees is shadow.)

—so, he runs.

On the train Jeongguk presses in on his sternum until it hurts and tries to think it through again.  He yanks out his phone to go back on the apartment search board, flicks through things that are his price range, sends out email after email, 

hi, is the room still available?

The businessman standing next to him elbows him sharply when trying to exit, as though Jeongguk is in his way and the man can’t waste time speaking, and Jeongguk jerks, nearly drops his phone, stumbles into someone else.  He half-steps on their foot, hand awkwardly gripping their shoulder, before he regains his balance.

“I’m sorry.”  Jeongguk mumbles, pulling back as quickly as he can.  The woman stares back at him, something near criticism in her eyes.  Jeongguk feels the prick of embarrassment in his cheeks, ducks his face to try to hide the flush.  “Did I hurt you?  I’m sorry.”  His Busan drawl slips out heavy.  She heaves a tiny sigh and turns pointedly away.   

She must be tired, Jeongguk tells himself, she must be having a bad day. We all have bad days.

Jeongguk is trying so hard to keep his heart open.  

As the train starts to move she leans with one hand against the closed door and lifts her foot, adjusts her shoe minutely, brushes away invisible dirt with a quick movement that speaks to her irritation.

“I’m sorry.”  Jeongguk whispers, eyes stinging.  He shoves his phone into his pocket, moves down the train, leans into one of the corners.  “I’m sorry.”  He whispers to no one and lets his eyelids flutter shut.

When his phone buzzes in his pocket a few stops later he jumps. 

 

unknown number
hi, is this jeon jeongguk?
this is park jimin
u sent us an email about subletting yesterday?
im sorry it took me so long to get back to u
if ur still interested, u can come by anytime
bring friends hahaha
no but really
two of our roommates had to leave and the lease goes until end of Aug
and we Cannot Afford This Place and they’re paying double rent
and it’s a terrible situation
so, you know, feel free to bring along apartment hunting friends!  

jeongguk 
i don’t have any friends

 

The train car jerks and Jeongguk’s fingers slip.  He stares at his phone uncomprehendingly until unknown number texts back and yanks him out of his disbelief.

 

unknown number
oh no :(
ur new to seoul ur email said, right? 

jeongguk
sorry, i didn’t mean to send that yet
*i don’t have any friends who are looking for a place
im still interested, if the room is available
i can come whenever works for you
yes, i just moved here from busan

unknown number
I AM ALSO FROM BUSAN
can you come by tomorrow?
ive told tae (your: potential other Roomie, also my: Boyfriend) you are from busan

jeongguk
tomorrow works
i can be there at maybe 4, or ?
is there a better time?
is he from busan as well? 

park jimin (possible apartment)
4 would be awesome!
we’ll both be here then so! 4!
u have the street address and its unit 502
we’ll buzz u up!
nah, tae’s from daegu, he’s just happy im happy 

jeongguk
okay, that sounds good
thank you

park jimin (possible apartment)
great!
see u tomorrow, jeongguk!
tae says: see you tomorrow, jeongguk!  

jeongguk
okay, see you both tomorrow

 

Jeongguk puts his phone back in his pocket, looks at one of the posters on the train wall.  Someone has drawn a face in one corner with a blue sharpie.  The face has no mouth.  It looks like it can’t breathe. 

Jeongguk’s fingers twitch. 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimin and Taehyung are good roommates, but Jeongguk almost feels like he’s intruding, at first.  They never do anything to make him feel that way, but the thought is there, needling at the edges of Jeongguk’s consciousness.  It’s just that they complement each other so well it almost hurts, the feeling of stepping on a sprained ankle before it’s fully healed, a low twinge in a part of a muscle you've never really paid any mind to before.  Despite that, despite the nagging feeling of being in their way, he likes them.  He likes them a lot, actually. 

They’re easy to like. 

They talk to Jeongguk genuinely, pull him into their conversations effortlessly, fold him into their inside jokes so easy it’s like Jeongguk was part of them from the start. 

They dance around the apartment to strangely slinky classical music, Taehyung’s collection of jazz records, egregious top 40 hits and extremely good ones.  They make Jeongguk dance with them. 

They laugh loudly.  It sends Jeongguk’s blood singing when he makes them laugh, it feels like it’s been so long since he made people happy, so he does it again and again.  He follows the cadence of their laughter like it’s a song he knew from childhood, lets it ring in his ears when he falls asleep at night. 

Jimin and Taehyung touch incessantly, hug incessantly.  They hug Jeongguk incessantly. 

At first the contact was so startling that Jeongguk couldn’t even hug back, just froze in their arms.  Jimin asked him about it, sorry are you not a hugger? and Jeongguk had all but gasped, no it’s fine. sorry, just— and they seemed to understand, even though he couldn’t put it into words.  Seemed to understand that no one had touched Jeongguk in ages, understand that he wants the gentle feeling of human contact but doesn’t know how to ask for it. 

The frozen feeling lessens, much the same way feeling out of place in the apartment does, slowly at first and then all at once, like it was never there. 

It’s when Jeongguk catches himself initiating hugs, draping himself over their backs while they talk, that he thinks no, Jeongguk.  Enough is enough.  The sublet will end with the summer and so will this friendship.  It’s not even really a friendship, he reminds himself, it’s a matter of convenience.  They needed a roommate and like you well enough.  It’s best not to get attached.  

(He can’t stop himself from getting attached though.  He’s already attached.)

He amps up his search for a place. 

Seoul is expensive. 

He looks for places with roommates, housemates, places with extra beds, extra couches, anything— but nothing seems to work out.  The days slip through his fingers and after the fifth place in a week cancels on him, sorry man someone else took the room, Jeongguk is practically shaking when he tries to fall asleep at night. 

He thinks about asking Taehyung and Jimin if they can all keep living together.   They’re moving out when the lease ends too, keep arguing about if exposed brick is actually cool or if they just think it’s cool because of hipsters.  Keep saying there aren’t enough breakfast nooks in the world.  Keep muttering about location and prices and asking Jeongguk if he’s having the same problem they are, everything expensive or terrible. 

He thinks about asking them a lot—but that’s overstepping bounds, that doesn’t make sense, that’s taking advantage of their kindness— so he doesn’t.

Alone in the apartment, Jeongguk draws his legs up on the couch and wraps his arms around them, chews on his lower lip. 

Maybe he can get some extra cash by working at Hoseok’s studio—although Jeongguk wasn’t sure how serious that offer had been.  He’ll text, he decides.  Texting gives Hoseok a chance to say no without feeling bad if the offer hadn’t been for real.  

It probably wasn’t.  He was probably just being polite.

Jeongguk shakes his head to clear that thought.  That’s not fair to Hoseok, who has been nothing but genuine every time Jeongguk has met him. 

Maybe he could work something out with Hoseok actually, now that he thinks on it, to pay him back for the classes that Jeongguk has already taken.  Offer that deal before asking about getting paid.  He knows he owes Hoseok money, even though Hoseok and Jimin keep insisting that he doesn’t, and he feels guilty about it.  

(“Hoseok was my upperclassman mentor last year pre his tragic-because-the-dance-department-lost-him graduation.” Jimin said, after they got back from the first time Jimin took Jeongguk with him to one of Hoseok’s workshops.  “He’s amazing and flawless and if he tells me his classes are 5,000 won for my friends I really don’t know why I wouldn’t believe him.  That seems like a competitive price.”

“In this economy?”  Taehyung mumbled from the couch.  “Not likely.”

“Kim Taehyung.”

“Not likely is what you might think but, in fact, it’s very likely.  This is a wonderful economy for 5,000 won dance classes.”  Taehyung amended.  “Guk-ah, want to come with me tomorrow to Gagnam? There’s this gallery doing an exhibition of Chae Sung-Pil, you would like his stuff, I think.”

Jeongguk found it hard to breathe rather suddenly, a strange feeling under his ribcage, like he was sad about something that hadn’t happened yet.

Stop it, he told himself and pressed his fingers to his sternum.

They looked at him the way they sometimes did, like they were waiting for Jeongguk to say something, but Jeongguk didn’t know what.

“Jeongguk-ah?”  Taehyung said. 

“Yeah,” Jeongguk told Taehyung, “yeah, I’m free.  That sounds good.”) 

Jeongguk tilts back on the couch and stares at the ceiling, considers his options. 

One place, a dingy looking house with five guys already living there, had said Jeongguk had to let them know by tomorrow if he was going to take the spare bed they had.  He’ll have to take it.   It’s practically the second week of August.  Jimin and Taehyung’s lease is up in two weeks.  Jeongguk’s sublet is up in two weeks.  The all too familiar feeling of his back against the wall. 

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut and focuses on his breathing, it will work out, it will work out, it will work out, he chants in his head—

“Boo.”  Taehyung says, face floating above Jeongguk’s when he opens his eyes.  “And hello.  We brought you bubble tea.”

“It’s not a bribe.”  Jimin says, tumbling over the back of the couch to land beside Jeongguk.  “Oh, hey, totally unrelated, but we have a proposition for you.”

“Not a sexual proposition.”  Taehyung sits Jeongguk’s other side, pulling his legs cross-legged.  “I mean, unless you’d be into that, but we’d really have to talk it through first.”

“Lots of talking first.”  Jimin agrees, cracking his neck and then wincing.  “Expectations, range of sexual experience, STI testing schedules, complete honesty about feelings, etc.” 

“Mmm." Taehyung agrees.  “I love honesty about feelings.  And discussions.  And consent.  Consent turns me on, man.”

“Consent is so important.”  Jimin says.  “As are discussions.  Always talk it over, Jeongguk-ah.  About everything, honestly.  Don’t ever just assume what your partner is thinking or let them assume what you are, even if it seems like it should be obvious.  Isn’t that right, Tae?" 

“It is Jimin-ah, it really is.”  Taehyung says.  “People can’t read minds.  Probably.  The average person cannot for sure.” 

They clink bubble teas in front of Jeongguk’s face.

“Okay.”  Jeongguk says.  “I mean, this feels like a weirder interaction than usual, but that’s good advice so— sure.”

“Well, we’re nervous.”  Jimin huffs.  “You know how we get.”

Taehyung nods.

They look at Jeongguk pointedly, like they expect him to connect the dots, but Jeongguk doesn’t even know what the dots are, much less how to connect them.

“Okay.”  He says slowly. 

Taehyung and Jimin exchange one of those looks that makes Jeongguk think Taehyung was incorrect when he said people can’t read minds. 

“Guk,” Jimin says, turning to Jeongguk with a little sigh “look, we don’t mean to put you on the spot here, but we have to ask—do you like us?”

“Uh, like sexually?  Because you guys are great, and I mean this nicely, but I don’t—”

“Like as roommates and friends.  Like as let’s get an apartment together the three of us, how do you feel about that?  The place we looked at today has two bedrooms and we’ve been looking at a lot of places with two bedrooms actually.  We like you and want to keep living with you and we’ve been trying to figure out how to ask you to move in with us properly since, like, July 5th.” 

Jimin nods.  “Like how Tae said.”

“Um.”  Jeongguk’s brain can’t parse through it fast enough and all he comes up with is— “I moved in at the end of June so you can’t have thought about it very seriously.” 

“No, we did.”  Jimin says.

“Yep.”  Taehyung agrees.  “We had a capital d Discussion about it.”

“But you’re moving in together.”  Jeongguk says.  He doesn’t understand.

“Yeah, well, I mean, we would still be moving in together.”  Taehyung points out.  “Just also with another roommate, for a variety of purposes.  Like, even at the basest level of things, rent-wise and stuff it helps, no?”

“You can’t deny we’re great roommates.”  Jimin says.  “We thought maybe you would want to save on rent, even if it’s just for a year or something, because studios are a fucking bitch to rent in the city and random housemates, with the exceptions of yours truly,” he gestures at the three of them, “are terrible.”

“Mmm,” Taehyung agrees, “and I’m very sociable and generally love people but even I have to agree with that.  There’s something about it, about sharing such close space.  It can bring out the worst in people.  We thought you might not want to go through that, you know?”

A favor.  They’re trying to do him a favor because they feel bad for him.  That makes sense, that he understands.  Jeongguk feels relief somewhere inside him, and also a little bit of hurt, like rejection but cut slower.  He pushes the feeling down because that one is his own fault.

“Oh, no, I can afford something.  I’ll find something.  I don't mind at all.”  He says, straightening his shoulders and pinning his best smile to his face.  “Don’t worry about me.  Don’t feel like you have to do that.  There’s no obligation, I get it.  I knew I was just subletting for a few months, it’s okay.  Don't worry about me.”

Jimin frowns. 

“No, we’re not, we don’t—we don’t feel obligation, Jeongguk.  We want to live with you.”

“But you’re going to live together.”  Jeongguk repeats.  “I don’t get what you’re saying, I don’t understand.”  He stares at his bubble tea hard.  He’s tired and confused and it sort of hurts, like he’s little and the kids on the playground are teasing him. 

There’s a few beats of silence and then Taehyung tilts his head, face appearing in the corner of Jeongguk’s vision. 

“Jeongguk-ah.”  He says. “Jeongguk, you know you’re our friend, right?”

Jeongguk nods, chews on his lower lip.

“Well, roommate friends.”  He says.  “Friends because we’re roommates.”

“No,” Taehyung says, so carefully, “no, Jeongguk.  Because you’re our friend.” 

“Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says, “we like you a lot.  If you want, you don’t have to want, but if you do, we want to get an apartment with you.  I know we’re annoyingly couple-y sometimes, so if you don’t want to live with us we get that.  But we like living with you.  We do, for real."

Jeongguk’s stomach is churning. 

“We talked about it.”  Taehyung says, as Jimin nods.  “We have all the time in the world to live just the two of us,” he shrugs, “now is the time to have roommates and we found a roommate we actually like so—” he smiles and then, when Jeongguk doesn’t respond, adds “—that’s you, Guk-ah, you’re the roommate we like.”

“Did you already sign somewhere else?”  Jimin asks.  “Or do you not want to live with us?  That’s okay.  Just let us know and we’ll drop it, yeah?  You don’t have to—” 

“No.”  Jeongguk says.  “No, I— I would like to live with you guys.  I would like that a lot.”

“Okay.”  Jimin says.  “We’re glad, Gukie.”

Jeongguk chews on his lower lip, stares hard at his knees.  The feeling in his chest is so expansive that it almost hurts.  He presses his bubble tea to his breastbone, feels the condensation sink through the fabric of his shirt into his skin.    

“Want to see pictures of your potential new bedroom?”  Jimin asks, after a second.  “Tae took some for you.  We can go back tomorrow or whatever and look in person too, but just to get an idea.”  Jimin touches Jeongguk’s knee lightly as he speaks.

“Okay.”  Jeongguk whispers.  “Yeah, okay.”

“Your room has the best light.”  Taehyung says, pressing close against Jeongguk’s side.  “So that you can draw and stuff.  See?”  He points at the picture as he brings it up on his phone.  “We figured you’d need good light.  The living room has really good light too, I’m going to set up a corner there, but we thought, you know, if you wanted to be alone to draw—"

“You like to draw alone sometimes.”  Jimin muses. 

“That’s really nice of you.” Jeongguk says, throat tight.  “That was really nice of both of you, to think of me.”  His voice wavers. 

“Look at the living room.”  Jimin says, resting his head on Jeongguk’s shoulder.  “Seriously, look at it.” 

“Isn’t the exposed brick tragically hip?”  Taehyung whispers, lifting fingers to rub the back of Jeongguk’s neck.  “I love-hate it.”

“Yeah.”  Jeongguk whispers.  “Yeah, same.” 

His bubble tea tastes like salt.  

 

 

 

 

 

August winds down and classes start and their move happens, culminating in a terrible day where they are all trying to do everything at once.  The combination is stressful and hot and involves a lot of collapsing on their new floors and giving up the ghost.   It’s also somehow fun.

They celebrate three nights later, on the floor of their new living room. 

Jimin buys champagne and then makes an emergency run for cake, Taehyung softly scolding Jeongguk for not letting them know sooner that his birthday had just passed. 

The champagne explodes and they scream.  They drink what’s left, open the next bottle more carefully.  They can’t stop laughing.  Taehyung and Jimin sing a duet of the birthday song and then, impressed with their harmony as though it’s the first time they’ve ever sung together, sing it again.  They make Jeongguk join in, then make him sing a solo rendition.   

“Happy birthday, Jeongguk.”  Jimin sing-songs later, as he pours Jeongguk another glass of champagne, right up to the tiptop, bright grin on his face.

“Happy birthday, Guk-ah.”   Taehyung agrees, flopping across Jimin’s lap, and waving it off when Jimin proffers him the bottle.  “We love you.”  Taehyung says, throwing his hand toward Jeongguk.  His fingers graze Jeongguk’s knee. 

“We do.”  Jimin yawns, reaching out to pet Jeongguk’s head haphazardly.  “We do indeed.”

Jeongguk feels something warm under his breastbone. 

“Same.”  He whispers.

They finish the champagne and the cake sleepily, conversation slowing to a natural halt, and then tumble toward their respective bedrooms. 

Jeongguk lays spread-eagle on his bed, stares at the ceiling.

It’s been easier to breathe lately, just a little.  School started properly, his professors primarily interesting, his scholarship money in, almost inspiration in his fingertips, his friends close at hand, something like a home starting to be carved out in Seoul. 

It feels good.   

Jeongguk smiles and curls under the light cotton of his sheets, breathes in the clean scent, watches the moonlight filter in through the window, making the air look watery, his room suspended in a pale glimmer.  His last thought before he drifts off to sleep is it looks like I’m underwater, but he feels calm, not panicked.

He wakes with the sun. 

The light in his room is good. 

Jeongguk crawls to the end of his bed, reaching for his sketchpad and charcoal.  He finds, for the first time in a while, that it comes almost easy.  The images in his head don’t fall apart like charred wood between his fingers when he tries to put them on the page. 

They bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

He’s late.  He needed to speak to the professor after class but one question led to another and now he’s running across campus at top speed.  He makes it just barely in time, tumbles behind the desk of the undergraduate library, book bag thwacking against his stool where he drops it. 

“Hi, it’s really hot out.”  Jeongguk whines, collapsing next to Hwasa who gives him a cheery smile.  “It’s 8PM and it’s so hot out, noona.  It’s September.  It doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s still summer.”  She says with an easy laugh, as she gathers her things to leave.  “Happy late birthday, by the way." 

“Thank you.”  Jeongguk says, waving goodbye as—

“Hey, Jeongguk-ah.”  Someone else says and Jeongguk spins on his stool, see Namjoon.  “It’s your birthday?”  Namjoon asks.

Jeongguk met Namjoon at the library a month ago, when a misshelved book nearly had catastrophic consequences.  Namjoon was so grateful that he insisted on buying Jeongguk a coffee when his shift was over, and they ended up talking for a few hours, Namjoon interesting and empathetic, coaxing Jeongguk out of his shell gently.  Namjoon’s at the undergrad library a lot— he doesn’t like the graduate library to study because it’s architecturally hostile, he says— and, since then, he has stopped to talk to Jeongguk whenever he sees him.  They became friends before Jeongguk even realized it.

“Hi hyung.”  Jeongguk says with wave.  “It was my birthday a few days ago.  On the first.”

“Happy birthday!”  Namjoon is beaming.  “Let me take you out to dinner!”

Jeongguk grins.  “That’s not necessary, it’s really not, but I mean, okay.  If you insist.”

Namjoon laughs, nods.  “I do.”  He says with a grin.  “Oh, hey, how’s the new apartment?  You guys moved, right?   It’s been a bit since I’ve seen you.  Did you move on your birthday?”

“Right around it.”  Jeongguk says.  “It’s been crazy busy, hyung.  How are you?"

Namjoon settles against the desk and starts to talk about the books he’s been reading, a song he heard and thought Jeongguk might like, a meeting with his thesis advisor.  Namjoon's researching something convoluted about language, music, memory, and emotions that Jeongguk feels somewhere between understanding and not understanding at all.  A lot of the things Namjoon says are a good balance of that, like Jeongguk’s learning something, but Namjoon never makes him feel stupid for not already knowing it.  Jeongguk is maybe a little bit in awe of Namjoon, has one of those nice half-crushes, the ones that aren't going to evolve into anything else, but you smile a little bit bigger when you see the person.  Namjoon retreats to a study nook after a bit, wanders back for breaks.  Jeongguk wanders past Namjoon’s desk when he’s re-shelving things.  They whisper back and forth throughout the night. 

Somewhere around the fourth hour of Jeongguk’s shift, Namjoon smiles big and dimpled and invites Jeongguk to a party.

“This Friday, my friends should be there.”  He says.  “Seok might, if his schedule calms down, and I know Seokjinie-hyung will and Yoongi said he maybe might. You can invite your roommates— Jimin and Taehyung, right? I’d like to meet them.”

Namjoon does this sometimes, invites Jeongguk out to parties or shows, saying things like I bet you could keep up with Seokjinie-hyung; Yoongi-hyung’s gonna go ballistic about your music choices but in a good way, you guys would get along; you should go to one of Hoseok’s dance workshops; wait, you know Hoseok?, how do you know Hoseok?, I know Seok because of Yoongi-hyung, don’t ask me how they know each other, they literally tell a different story every time someone asks.  

Namjoon smiles earnestly at him.  “I think it will be fun.”  

Jeongguk’s turned Namjoon down before, but Namjoon always smiles like he’s not bothered, like he’s content to let Jeongguk do things in his own time, like he genuinely wants to be friends and so, tonight, Jeongguk’s brain says maybe, says why not, and he finds himself agreeing easily.  

“Okay, yeah, that sounds cool.  I would like to go.”

 

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk is nervous but he’s telling himself he’s not, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet while he waits. 

Jimin and Taehyung couldn’t come—Jimin had a dance team drinking thing at 8, which he told Jeongguk he could beg off early from, but Jeongguk knows Jimin likes his dance friends, likes making them laugh and playing pool with them, and he doesn’t want to take him away from that.  Taehyung had an evening class and then had promised a friend some sort of adventure, but swore he could switch dates, if Jeongguk wanted.  Jeongguk insisted that wasn’t necessary.  He could go to a party by himself, after all.  And he’s not even by himself by himself.  He’s meeting Namjoon beforehand and they’re going to grab dinner and head over together.

Jeongguk plucks at his t-shirt and then stops himself.  He knows he looks good in what he’s wearing— a pair of overly-ripped jeans, a thin loose white t-shirt that he’s tucked in to accentuate the lines of his body—but suddenly he feels like it’s too simple of an outfit.  Namjoon has distinctive style, not quite as distinctive as Taehyung but distinctive.  Maybe all of his friends are like that, maybe Jeongguk will look horribly underdressed and childish.  He tugs at his earring where it brushes his jawbone and rocks on his feet but, before he can get too anxious, he hears Namjoon call his name. 

Namjoon looks equally as dressed down and seems happy to see Jeongguk and that’s sort of enough, for right then. 

“Hey, hyung.”  Jeongguk says.

“Dude, I’m starving.”  Namjoon says.  “What do you want to eat?”

By the time they get to the party Jeongguk feels more at ease, even though the house is loud and thrumming and massive, some sort of shared off-campus almost-frat house.  Namjoon, despite his calm and quieter demeanor, seems comfortable with it all— the loud noise and the people and the guy who might already be throwing up in the bushes even though Jeongguk is pretty sure it’s, like, 9PM.  Namjoon sidesteps neatly when he sees the guy has a friend with him and doesn’t need their help, tugs Jeongguk along with him, and continues his rundown on who’s here and who he wants to introduce Jeongguk to all without skipping a beat.  Jeongguk is once again very much in awe of how cool Namjoon is. 

Namjoon is almost pulled away when they enter the house but tugs himself out of the hold with a laugh and a greeting, introduces Jeongguk, and then steers them along toward what turns out to be the kitchen, poking at the various bottles and asking if Jeongguk wants anything to drink. 

“Um,” Jeongguk says, wrinkling his nose at the options.  “You choose?”

“Whiskey and coke?”  Namjoon offers.  “Simple, effective, bad for your teeth.  The true party experience.”  He makes two, hands one off to Jeongguk, and they knock the plastic cups together and settle into a conversation that lasts a few minutes before someone pops up next to them and whispers in Namjoon’s ear.  Namjoon waves the guy off after a second and looks at Jeongguk apologetically.  “Sorry, I forgot that I needed to talk straight up business with Dohyeong-hyung for a second, it’s going to be boring but want to co— oh wait, perfect, Seokjinie-hyung, c’mere.  Come meet Jeongguk!" 

“Oh!”  Someone who Jeongguk can’t see shouts from the living room.  “Library Jeongguk?”

“What.”  Jeongguk whispers, clutching his cup.  “What what what.”

“’Guk, I’ve told you about Seokjin-hyung, yeah?  Hyung, take care of Jeongguk, I’ll be right back.”  And then Namjoon is gone, hand lingering apologetically near Jeongguk’s elbow, and Jeongguk is going to be a little, like, upset but he turns around to see the most beautiful man in probably the world in front of him. 

“Library Jeongguk?”  The most beautiful man in probably the world says in a kind voice, staring at Jeongguk like he’s not sure.

“Hi.”  Jeongguk responds, a little numbly.  “Hi, I’m Jeongguk.  From the library.”

The most beautiful man in probably the world smiles like it’s the best news he’s ever heard. 

“Hi, Jeongguk-ah.”  He says.  “I’m Seokjin.  Namjoon told me about you, he said you were awesome.” 

“Oh cool.”  Jeongguk says.  “Um.  Very cool.  That was nice of him.  Namjoon is awesome.”  He takes a sip of his drink, mostly to have something to do.

“I agree.”  Seokjin says.  “Joonie said you saved his life at the library?” 

Jeongguk blinks. 

“No,” Jeongguk says, “no, just something was misshelved and when he pulled it out he somehow managed to pull half the shelf with it and I was just nearby and, um, saved him.  But only a little.  Not his life.” 

“Just his dignity.”  Seokjin muses.  “That sounds valid for a how-did-you-meet-Namjoon story.”

“How did you meet Namjoon?”  Jeongguk asks.

“He saved my life.”  Seokjins says. 

“That’s the opposite.”  Jeongguk argues.

“Okay, so, I had a phobia of needles.”  Seokjin says, pushing himself up on the counter and swinging his feet as he searches through the bottles before deciding on some gin. “Although not so much anymore.”

Jeongguk’s not really sure where this is going.

“I went to a campus blood drive first year and totally panicked when I got into my seat and was about to back out and go home to feel bad about being, like, mentally anemic, but Namjoonie was there, in the seat next to me, and despite them very literally draining the blood out of his body, he leaned over and started to talk to me.  And he’s just very calming and soothing and listens well and I managed to actually donate blood because of him and we’ve been friends ever since." 

Jeongguk thinks on that for a second.

“That’s a really nice story.” He says. 

“Mmm.”  Seokjin agrees.  “We went and got pastries afterwards because I was dizzy, even after the cookies they gave me, and he almost knocked over an entire display and, when he tried to save it, knocked over a sign and then realized he’d left his wallet at the bloodmobile and we had to go back to get it.”

“Okay.”  Jeongguk says.  “Okay, um.  Wow.”

“Yeah, so, in my head Joonie is this sweet, clumsy, dimpled giant.  Imagine my shock when I saw him rapping for the first time, I thought I was having a fever dream."

“Huh.” Jeongguk says, and Seokjin starts to laugh this weird squeaky laugh and then Jeongguk is laughing too.  

Seokjin’s easy to talk to, a gentle boisterous presence, and he makes Jeongguk feel at ease nearly instantly.  He keeps making horrible puns that Jeongguk tries not to laugh at, but always ends up laughing anyway, half from how bad they are and half from how pleased Seokjin seems with each and every one.  They drink and talk in the kitchen, refilling their glasses before wandering out and around the house, finding Namjoon and then losing him again in the crush of people. 

It’s fun, actually, Jeongguk thinks as time slides by.  He’s having fun.   

Jeongguk tugs on Seokjin’s elbow after a point, shouts that’s he’s going to grab another drink and Seokjin shakes his empty cup, makes prayer hands and pleading eyes.  Jeongguk rolls his eyes but grins big, takes Seokjin’s cup to the kitchen with him as well so he can mix them both drinks.  He considers and then adds a dash of hot sauce to Seokjin’s cup almost idly. 

When he finds Seokjin again, dancing in this absurdly controlled shimmy, he smiles as wide as he can and offers the drink.  Seokjin shrieks a litany of words at him after the first sip, falling over himself with laughter, accusing Jeongguk of being horrible, all while ruffling his hair and tugging him into a one-armed hug.   

“I wish I didn’t have rehearsal tomorrow.”  Seokjin says rather sorrowfully, as he stares into his drink. He takes another cautious sip.  “I have to be a real adult.  I can only have, like, four drinks, Jeongguk-ah, isn’t that terrible?  It’s actually probably good that you poisoned this one.”

Jeongguk smiles, feels his whole face scrunch with it, and Seokjin laughs, tugs him down onto a couch and weaves them into the conversation going on around them.

When Seokjin has to leave, Jeongguk is pleasantly enough buzzed to not be bothered.  He figures he’ll go find Namjoon who texted him only a few minutes before saying that he was out back, if Jeongguk and Seokjin wanted to come hang with him, that there was a fire pit and it seemed simultaneously dangerous and awesome. 

Jeongguk heads to find Namjoon but pauses to find a bathroom and then pauses to get another drink and talk to someone who is wearing an Epik High t-shirt, and then he gets roped into a game of beer pong, his competitive nature kicking in, suddenly very much part of a team of guys he does not know.

 

namjoon
you good?
sorry not trying to like older brother the shit out of you
just checking

jeongguk
yep!
beer pong!
thanks, hyung

 

They win, thanks to a particularly good throw by Jeongguk, and there’s a lot of cheering and someone is bringing over shots and Jeongguk thinks okay.  He downs one and it is gross, straight vodka, but he downs the second one too, more caught up in the moment than any real conscious choice.

He’s okay at first, talking about school and laughing with some of the guys, but someone keeps trying to press a third shot in his hands and Jeongguk really doesn’t want it.  The liquor in his stomach is a little too much straight and it’s starting to twist unpleasantly.  It's not that he feels like he’s going to be sick, but it's also not a good feeling.  He passes the shot off and slips away, finds a corner of a couch to sit on for a minute while he lets his body calm down.  There’s a guy next to him detailing movie plots and Jeongguk focuses in on that, listens with his eyes closed until the sick feeling in his stomach passes.  His buzz is fading into that weird place between still there and a dull headache and he thinks if he sits for too much longer he’ll drift off to sleep, so he pushes himself back to his feet. 

Jeongguk heads toward the bathroom he used before and finds it miraculously unoccupied.  He takes a deep breath, drinks straight from the tap, and then presses his head to the cool of the mirror while he thinks.  He’s not really sure he wants to drink anymore, but he’s not quite ready to go home either.  He wants fresh air and more water and a little bit of space, he decides— the hot crush of bodies in the house is overwhelming right now.  He’ll text Namjoon, find out where he is, go from there.  He splashes some water on his face, runs his wet hands through his hair, and ruffles it back out.

He pulls out his phone as he exits the bathroom, glancing down for a second, and almost gets knocked over by someone running past.  

“Careful.”  Someone says, reaching out to him, fingers looping around his wrist.  The hold is loose, like the person is trying to ground him but not keep him in place. 

Jeongguk’s first impression is bright blue.  He’s looking down at the hand on his wrist, long fingers that are maple butter pale against the darker tan of his own skin, but he sees the color blue blooming like dahlias in the edges of his vision, can nearly feel it, how vivid it is. 

If you could touch without pressure, Jeongguk thinks, watching the tendons of his wrist flex under the stranger’s fingers, this is how it would feel

It’s a good feeling.

He drags his eyes up and sees, nearly in order, a bony wrist wrapped in silver, ripped black jeans that mirror his own, a long loose black t-shirt, a curve of jaw, a mouth turned down gently at the corners, smooth cheekbones, sleepy but quick eyes, and then the blue hair, bright at the ends, so pale it glints almost silver at the roots. 

“Oh, you’re Jeongguk, right?  I’m Yoongi, Min Yoongi, Namjoon’s friend.  You okay?  Joon said he hadn’t seen you in a minute.”  Yoongi’s mouth purses as he speaks, his lips move like sand shifting with the tide.  

When Jeongguk doesn’t respond, Yoongi tilts his head slightly and his hair falls into his eyes.  Jeongguk has the overwhelming desire to reach out and brush it back for him.  His fingers flex and Yoongi, as though just realizing he’s still touching, drops Jeongguk’s wrist. 

“You are Jeongguk, right?” Yoongi asks.

“Yeah, I am.”  Jeongguk says.  “You have blue hair, Yoongi-sshi.”  He adds, unnecessarily.  

Yoongi leans in a little as the person who almost knocked Jeongguk over pushes past again.  There’s a sudden rush of Seville oranges and sea salt and, underneath that, something sweet, like vanilla beans and juniper.  It’s a scent that makes Jeongguk think of summer, of the ocean, of salt water taffy.  He has the absurd urge to close the distance between them and suck Yoongi’s bottom lip into his mouth to see what Yoongi tastes like.

He feels himself flush. 

“I do have blue hair.”  Yoongi agrees, sound kindly amused.  “Joon-ah keeps talking about you, Jeongguk.  He says you have something to tell me about the necessity of melodic dubstep?”  There’s a little grin on the edges of his mouth when he speaks. 

“I have lots of things to say about the necessity of melodic dubstep.”  Jeongguk agrees.  “He’s told me about you too, but he said you weren’t coming tonight after all.  He said that you were too busy.”

“Mm,” Yoongi agrees, “I needed a break, so I decided to come for a bit.  He told me you would be here.”  Yoongi grimaces almost immediately after he says that, his nose wrinkling for just a second before his face smooths out. “Wait, that sounded much creepier than I meant it to sound.  I just meant he mentioned you would be here, not in a weird way— shit, I feel creepy now." 

“Nah,” Jeongguk says, “you’re not creepy, Yoongi-sshi.” 

Yoongi looks at him for a second and then smiles.  He ducks his head when he does, like he doesn’t want Jeongguk to see.

“Glad to hear it.”  He says.  “You can call me, hyung, kid.” 

“Although, much creepier implies that you meant it to sound at least a little creepy.”  Jeongguk adds, not sure why.  “So, jot that down.” 

Yoongi blinks and then makes this weird sound.  For a second, Jeongguk almost thinks he’s choking or something, but then he realizes that Yoongi’s laughing.  It’s hoarse and scratchy and a little strange, like it’s supposed to be silent but isn’t.  It seems to catch Yoongi by surprise, and he bites down on his lips like he can catch the sound and the smile, stop them inside his mouth.

It’s a strange feeling Jeongguk has, like an impulse to sing. 

“I’m going to go outside for a second and take a breather, do you want to come with or are you good with all the drunken energy of this party?”  Yoongi asks.  Before Jeongguk can respond, Yoongi winces.  “Now I’m doubting myself.  Is it creepy to invite you outside when it’s the middle of the night and dark and you’re at a party and I’m a stranger?  Shit, it is.  Let’s go find Joon, he was downstairs last I saw hi—" 

“Yoongi-hyung,” Jeongguk says, “can we go outside for a minute, please?”

Yoongi looks a little startled and then his lips twitch at the corners, half a grin.

“Sure, Jeongguk-ah.”  He says.  He lifts up his empty cup and shakes it.  “Is it okay if we stop at the kitchen on the way?  I want to grab a drink.”

“Yeah, of course.”  Jeongguk agrees.  As he trails after Yoongi he adds, mostly to himself, “I want some more water, actually.” 

The kitchen is a disaster at this point, and Jeongguk pokes around looking for a cup that doesn’t look like it’s been used repeatedly.  He’s about to give up— or maybe wash something?— when a red solo cup appears out of the corner of his eye. 

“Here you go, there was an unopened pack hidden under the sink.  This one’s new, I filled it up for you.”

“Thank you.”  Jeongguk says, turning toward Yoongi, but Yoongi’s already turning away mumbling something under his breath that sounds like it’s nothing.  Jeongguk watches as Yoongi’s fingers pluck at the lined-up bottles with quick efficiency. 

“What are you making?”  Jeongguk asks, peering over Yoongi’s shoulder for a second before downing his glass of water in one go.  He refills the cup from the spout, drinks half of it, and then repeats. 

“It’s sort of a negroni,” Yoongi says and then, with a little half grin, “very very sort of.”

Outside is somewhere between pleasant and cool, late late summer almost fall uncertainty, and it feels good on Jeongguk’s skin, in his lungs.  They walk a little way down the block and situate themselves on a curb under a streetlight, just far enough away from the party that it’s quieter.

Jeongguk texts Namjoon to let him know that he’s good, he’s outside with Yoongi, and receives an answering awesome, ill come find you guys in a sec.  He puts his phone beside him on the curb.

They sit in quiet for a minute, but it doesn’t feel awkward, the silence.  It feels gentle.  Jeongguk stretches and watches Yoongi shiver once, twice, and then seem to control himself, tilting his head back to look at the stars.

“Namjoon-hyung said you guys rap together?”  Jeongguk asks, wanting to hear more of Yoongi’s voice, the gentle lilt of almost-home on the edges of it.

Yoongi hums.

“Yeah, we do.  We’ve released a few tracks together and I have my own stuff as well.  I’m getting my master’s in music production actually, and I did theory and composition for undergrad.” He turns to Jeongguk and his face is freakishly grave in the low moonlight, “I’m a classically trained pianist.”  He says. 

Jeongguk starts to laugh and then pauses—

“Wait, are you?”  He asks. 

Yoongi sighs.  “Yes.”  He stares off into the distance.  “I got into conservatory during high school and everything, pre-college musical programs.  I did a summer at Juilliard.” 

Jeongguk blinks.

“It’s horrible, isn’t it?”  Yoongi says.  The moon glints off his hair and makes it glow pale blue like flame for a half second.  “Totally kills my street cred.”

“Oh no,” Jeongguk breathes, “no, hyung, I don’t think that’s why you don’t have any street cred.”

Yoongi laughs his hoarse little laugh again.  “That’s twice now.”  He almost-whines, mouth pursed into a tiny pout.  His mouth is pretty, Jeongguk notes almost idly.  Kind of heart-shaped.  “Namjoon did not say you were such a brat.” 

Jeongguk blinks back into himself, feeling a little abashed.  He’s talking to Yoongi too easily, now that he thinks about it.  Like they’re friends already, like he knows him.  It’s inappropriate.    

“Sorry.”  He murmurs, staring down at his hands, the water in his cup. 

Yoongi tilts toward him.

“Kidding.”  He says, nudging Jeongguk with a shoulder.  “I like it.”  Yoongi adds, and then blinks hard like he didn’t mean to say that, looks away.

Jeongguk watches Yoongi’s hair move in the breeze for a second.  It looks watery now, a strange murky blue. 

“Must not be a brat to Namjoon.”  Jeongguk says finally, turning out toward the quiet street.  “You must bring it out in me.”

“I feel so special.”  Yoongi says dryly.  He’s barely there in the edges of Jeongguk’s vision but Jeongguk can see him anyway.  “Wow.”

Jeongguk can’t stop the smile. 

He feels Yoongi’s eyes on him, studying him in profile, but it’s nice.  It feels like Yoongi’s appraising him in a good way, like Jeongguk’s being found to have weight in the world.

“Joon said you were studying art?”  Yoongi asks after a moment and—

Jeongguk turns back toward him, nods excitedly, and starts to talk.  His lips are a little loose from the alcohol, but mostly from the easy way Yoongi listens to him.  Yoongi nods like the things Jeongguk has to say are important, asks questions at the right time like he wants to hear the answers, interjects with his own low rasped stories or comments that make Jeongguk laugh. 

Time sort of drifts.

Yoongi looks at some of the pictures Jeongguk has taken, scrolls through Jeongguk’s Instagram and points at ones he particularly likes.

“I like this one maybe best.”  Jeongguk says taking the phone back so that he can bring up a picture he took of Jimin leaping on a rooftop, the sun on his back like it’s wings, like Jimin carries it with him wherever he goes.  He smiles down softly at his phone.  “This is my friend Jimin.”  He says.  "We're roommates, me and him and Taehyung, his boyfriend.  He's really amazing.  They both are."

Yoongi leans closer and examines the picture, reaching out to tilt Jeongguk’s hand and the phone toward his face.  His fingertips are light where they touch Jeongguk’s skin, barely a suggestion, but Jeongguk follows easily, turning his forearm under Yoongi's hand, letting the rough of Yoongi’s palm rest on the soft skin of his inner wrist.

“You have a really good eye, Guk.”  Yoongi says.  “This is gorgeous.”  He sounds so honest. 

Jeongguk looks up at the same time Yoongi does, their faces close over Jeongguk’s phone.  So close it almost surprises Jeongguk.  So close all he can think is how easy it would be to lean forward, close the distance. 

“Thank you.”  Jeongguk says, but his voice comes out breathy.  When he speaks, Yoongi’s eyes dart down to his mouth and then back up.

“Just being honest.”  Yoongi responds after a moment.  There's another beat of silence and Yoongi parts his lips like he’s going to say something else, but then he just smiles, clears his throat, looks back down at Jeongguk’s phone.  “It’s really good.”  He repeats.  “They all are.”

“Thank you.”  Jeongguk whispers.

They scroll through the rest of the Jeongguk’s feed in quiet, Yoongi’s fingers still light on Jeongguk’s skin. 

“What’s your masters in exactly?”  Jeongguk asks, as he puts his phone down again.  His wrist is cold without Yoongi’s hand on it and he tucks it between his knees.

“Music Production, Innovation, and Technology.”  Yoongi says, with a quirked eyebrow.  “Sounds impressive, right?”  His voice says he’s joking, but when he starts to talk about it in depth it’s clear how much he cares. 

Jeongguk likes the way Yoongi talks.  His words slur together in this strange way, like they clump inside his mouth and become these little explosions of feeling dripping off his tongue.  He has this way of telling stories that easily elicits laughter, this soft way of talking about Namjoon that’s half-pride and half-awe, tells stories about Seokjinie-hyung and Seok-ah, both of whose names are said so sweetly that Jeongguk feels a little knocked back on his feet.  It’s charming, the growl of Yoongi’s voice, a contradiction of soft and rough sounds.

He’s a contradicting size too, Jeongguk thinks, when Yoongi stretches next to him, lifting his arms to the sky.  Even though Jeongguk knows he’s taller, Yoongi seems so solid and his shoulders are broad, like Jeongguk could fit into his arms easy easy.  Jeongguk wants to fit into Yoongi’s arms easy easy.  He can still feel Yoongi’s fingers on his wrist and he wants them there again.  Wants them on his jaw, the side of his neck, his shoulders blades, the small of his back, the curve of his waist.

Jeongguk shivers and Yoongi pauses.

“Cold?”  He asks.  “We can go back in.”

“No,” Jeongguk says, too quick.  “No, just a chill.” 

Yoongi shifts a little closer, so their thighs press together, and smiles at him almost uncertainly.  Jeongguk leans in, just a little, presses his shoulder to Yoongi’s.  Yoongi hums under his breath and goes back to his story.

Jeongguk inhales. 

Yoongi’s cologne still reminds Jeongguk of oranges and that tiny hint of something sweet, but there’s something sharper too that Jeongguk hadn’t noticed before.  There’s a bite to Yoongi.  Black pepper, maybe.

He’s dismayed that the urge to lean over and kiss Yoongi to see if he tastes as good as he smells seems to grow as time passes.  Jeongguk thought the pressing intensity of the want would fade, but it’s still there.  It settles in the back of his throat, glistens at the tip of his tongue, fills up all the empty space in his mouth.  

He wants Yoongi’s words in his mouth, wants to trace the rips in Yoongi’s jeans, wants Yoongi to talk about his favorite albums, about his music, for hours and hours on end.  Jeongguk wants to tell Yoongi why he likes to take pictures with vivid colors, high saturation, and see what Yoongi says.  He wants to tilt over and rest his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, wants to press his lips to Yoongi’s pulse point and feel what time signature Yoongi’s heart beats in, wants to see if he can make it beat faster, wants Yoongi to touch him and send his pulse careening. 

Yoongi is telling a story about the last show he did with Namjoon, a problem with the equipment, and his bracelets are twisted, one stuck on the face of his watch.  Jeongguk has noticed that Yoongi talks with his hands when he gets excited, goes still when he’s joking, fiddles with the skin by his thumbs when something seems to make him nervous (his music) or something matters (his music). 

Jeongguk watches the metal snag and can’t help it, fingers going up to adjust the silver strands.  He slides them down Yoongi’s wrist and arranges them against the flush of his skin in a neat line.  Yoongi stills under his touch and Jeongguk blinks, drops Yoongi’s wrist slower than he probably should. 

“Sorry.”  He mumbles.  “They were all tangled.”

“I didn’t mind.”  Yoongi say, eyes almost curious, like he’s trying to figure something out.  “Thank you.”  Yoongi adds, his fingers touching the bracelets where Jeongguk’s had just been.  His gaze drifts over Jeongguk for just a second.  “You don’t wear much jewelry, huh?” 

Jeongguk nods in agreement, lifts a hand up to tap his dangling earring.  “Just my earrings, usually.  Actually, not even this one usually, mostly just hoops.”  He flicks his earring.

“You messed it up.”  Yoongi says, his hand lifting up quickly but then his fingers hesitate in the lowlight.  “Want me to—” He trails off, starts to drop his hand.

“Yes, please.”  Jeongguk says and tilts his head.

Jeongguk’s sort of fascinated by the brush of Yoongi’s fingers on his skin as they adjust the chains to hang straight again.  Yoongi tucks a stray strand of Jeongguk’s hair behind his ear, fingers glancing over Jeongguk’s cartilage piercings.  He smiles gently, drops his hand as quickly as he raised it.

“I like your piercings.”  He says.

“Thank you.”  Jeongguk says, feeling very far away.

Yoongi makes a low sound in his throat, something like a hum. 

“Wait, so did you end up being able to perform or was the sound system ruined?”  Jeongguk asks.

Yoongi smiles, finishes his story, fishes his phone out of his pocket at Jeongguk’s request to watch a video from the show.

“It’s nothing much.”  He warns.

It’s not nothing much.  Jeongguk makes Yoongi show him again, then show him another, then play him one of his songs. 

“Holy shit,” Jeongguk says, aware that he probably sounds a little too into it, a little too impressed, but he can’t help it.  Honesty bubbles up out of his throat, the word spilling out and he doesn’t even try to stop them, “holy shit, you’re amazing, hyung.”

Yoongi shrugs, raises a hand as if to say, oh you know, a closed lip smirk on his face, but then he ducks his head and grins, a mixture of confident and shy that makes Jeongguk’s fingers tingle. 

“Oh shit.”  Yoongi says suddenly, peering down at his phone as though he’s just noticed something. “Shit.”

“What’s the matter?”  Jeongguk asks.  “Is something wrong?”

“It’s, like, after 4AM.”  Yoongi says.  “Holy shit, when did it get that late?”

Yoongi tilts the phone toward Jeongguk so that Jeongguk can see the time and, okay, yes, now that Yoongi mentions it the air is so cool it’s bordering on cold, the party is dead around them, the neighborhood is near silent, and Jeongguk does feel incredibly tired.

Jeongguk pulls out his own phone to a string of texts, Taehyung and Jimin saying they’re assuming he’s staying with Namjoon but maybe shoot one of them a text please since he originally said he was coming home, Namjoon saying u guys look like ur having a Serious Discussion, ill leave you to it! im inside when the spirit moves u

“I should let you get home.”  Yoongi says, and suddenly the warm press of him against Jeongguk’s side is gone.  He brushes his palms on his jeans and holds a hand out to pull Jeongguk up too.  “Shit, sorry, I didn’t realize it got so late, I didn’t mean to—  I should let you get home.”

Jeongguk slides his hand into Yoongi’s and lets Yoongi tug him to standing. 

no, he thinks, no, I want to stay here with you, let me stay here with you.

“You should get home too, hyung.”  He says instead.  “Sorry, I talked so much.”

“You didn’t.”  Yoongi says.  “I liked talking to you.”  Their fingers linger for a second, touching in the air, and then drop.  

It’s silly, but in the uber home Jeongguk feels almost cold. 

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk’s wandering. He hasn’t had that much time to explore his new neighborhood beyond the basics but today he’s free so he's doing just that.  Fall is having one of those days where it forgets it’s fall and thinks it’s summer and Jeongguk's taking advantage, strolling down the winding streets, laptop and sketchbook with him, looking for some place to maybe eventually go in and work.

He pauses to say hi to a puppy and her owner standing outside of a café that’s enough out of the way he hadn’t seen it.  It’s homey, the café.  Looks comforting, wind chimes outside the windows and a chalkboard sign.  The dog yips happily, nuzzles Jeongguk’s hand.

“Cute.” Jeongguk whispers.  “You’re cute, buddy.”  He says, when he hears—

 “Jeongguk-ah?”

— and turns to see Seokjin peering out the glass front door, a huge smile on his face.

“It is you!”  Seokjin says.  “I knew it.”

“Seokjin-hyung?”  Jeongguk blinks in surprise. 

“I work here part-time.”  Seokjin says with a laugh, gesturing behind him, answering the question Jeongguk hadn’t asked yet.  “My burgeoning acting career does not pay all the bills, though it does pay some of them.  If you’re not crunched for time come in, Jeongguk-ah.  First drink on the house.”  Seokjin shoots him little finger guns along with his rush of easy words.  

“Okay.”  Jeongguk says, standing up and wiping his hands off on his jeans.  “Okay, sure, but I can pay for my drink, hyung.  It’s really okay.” 

“It’s a special.”  Seokjin says.  “For you.”  He adds, blowing Jeongguk a kiss. 

Jeongguk settles himself on a couch in the back, finds himself relaxing, laughing easily at Seokjin’s never-ending jokes, his interesting choices for latte art, his easy rapport with the customers.

Yoongi comes in a little bit later, walking like he owns the place.   Not in a negative way, but the same way you might enter your own home, like you belong in the space you occupy.  He’d been like that at the party too, Jeongguk thinks, firm where he stands. 

Seokjin is handing Yoongi a coffee nearly before he gets to the counter.

“Saw you coming from up the street, Yoongi-yah.  Have your disgusting long coffee.”

“Thanks, hyung.”  Yoongi says, fingers reaching for the cup like a lifeline.  “Hey, I have a track I’m working on for someone, kind of like an indie power ballad vibe, do you want to do some guide vocals?”

“Hm,” Seokjin says, leaning over the counter in a way that’s so faux flirtatious Jeongguk almost snorts.  “What’s in it for me?”

“A thousand won and my eternal friendship.”  Yoongi deadpans and Seokjin laughs his hiccupy laugh.

“Wow, I would cherish that,” Seokjin says, “a whole thousand won.”  And, at that, Jeongguk does snort. 

Yoongi turns at the sound and catches Jeongguk’s eyes, recognition flashing across his features, smile gracing the edges of his lips.   

“Oh?”  Yoongi says.  “Jeongguk-ah?”  There’s this pause where Jeongguk tries to straighten out his brain to respond 

hi, hyung 

and not 

I’ve thought about you every night for the last week, I want to send you the cover I did just for fun, I want to talk to you about music again, I want to hear your laugh again, I want to see your smile again, I want your fingers on my wrist again

Yoongi frowns, gone so quick Jeongguk would have missed it if he had blinked at the wrong second. 

“Do you remember hyung from the party last week?  I’m Namjoon’s friend.  My hair was different.”

Yoongi’s hair is silver now, blue almost completely gone.  Jeongguk thinks this color suits Yoongi too though.  A lot of colors probably suit Yoongi, he thinks. 

“I remember.” Jeongguk says.  Yoongi feels so good intimidating, like being inspired and opening to a blank page in his sketchbook intimidating, that it makes Jeongguk feel almost breathless.  He wets his lips.  “Your hair was blue.”  He says. “You’re a classically trained pianist.  You have no street cred.  You drank a poorly made negroni.  You looked at my pictures.”

Yoongi smiles.

“Are you here to see Seokjin-hyung?”  Jeongguk asks.

“No.”  Yoongi face falls into a mask of solemnity.  “That’s an unfortunate side-effect." 

Jeongguk doesn’t even try to stop the laugh.

“It’s just that he’s rude?”  Seokjin says to no one in particular.  “It’s just that I’m older and his former roommate and let him play with my sugar gliders and everything, and yet he’s so rude?”

“Sorry, hyung.”   Yoongi says, looking not particularly sorry.

“You’re horrible, go away.”  Seokjin replies, but there’s no venom in his voice and he’s smiling cheerfully at Yoongi. 

Yoongi hums in agreement, purses his lips, and then walks toward Jeongguk. 

“Can I sit or am I bothering you?”  He asks, tongue darting out of the corner of his mouth.  Jeongguk doesn’t know him well enough yet to know what that means, but he noticed Yoongi doing it. Even tipsy he noticed the little flicks of Yoongi’s tongue.  Hard not to.

Jeongguk clears his throat. 

“You can sit, you're not bothering me.  I’ve been working on this paper for the past, like, hour and I’m— over it.” He smiles a little, tries not to sound too eager.  “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you too.”  Yoongi settles into the armchair across the table.  “Is this the paper you were talking about last week or a different one?”

“Different one.”  Jeongguk mumbles, trying not to feel warm that Yoongi remembered something he had mentioned offhand.  “More of an artist statement.”  He adds.  “I sort of hate them.”

“Why’s that?”  Yoongi’s eyes are calm; he seems genuinely interested.

“A lot of the time I think art speaks for itself.  If I need paragraph after paragraph explaining what I’ve drawn or telling people what to see, I don’t like it.”  Jeongguk flicks his eyes to his laptop, to his sketchbook.  “It’s like forcing it for me.”

Yoongi nods slow, like he’s considering Jeongguk’s words.  “That makes sense.  Show don’t tell, right?  Like how songs without lyrics can still evoke the same emotions.”

“Yeah.”  Jeongguk says, smile bubbling on the edges of his mouth.  “Yeah, like that.  Sometimes I think artist statements are like a game too, trying to see who can sound more pretentious, use more buzzwords.”

Yoongi muses on that for a second, in this way where his face goes sort of prickly still and he goes quiet.  Jeongguk wonders if people misinterpret that a lot, think it’s disinterest. 

“I see.”  Yoongi says.  “I don’t think I would like that very much either.  I’m sort of blunt, especially in art—well, in my lyrics, I mean.”

Jeongguk thinks over what he heard of Yoongi’s music, what he looked up after the party.

“Yeah,” He says, “I guess you are, but it’s good.  It’s good to just, like, say it.  And the way you say it is like— take it or leave it, kind of?  I don’t know, I think it’s brave.  It’s putting a lot of you on the line.”  Jeongguk glances up and Yoongi is looking at him avidly.  Jeongguk feels himself flush, casts his gaze back down toward the table and adds, “I mean, that’s how I interpreted it at least.”

There’s a silence.

“Thank you,” Yoongi says.  “I appreciate you saying that.  Sometimes it is good.  Maybe sometimes it’s even brave.  I don’t feel brave necessarily, but— maybe it can be.”  He’s not whispering, but he’s speaking so low it’s almost like he is.  “Sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to say things without just saying them though, you know?  Not in a pretentious way, but like how Joon-ah can.”

“You do though, not everything you write is straightforward, hyung.”  Jeongguk says without thinking.  “You had that line about your future being like an ink brush painting.  I had to think that over to realize what you really said.”

Yoongi blinks, straightens almost imperceptibly.

“Did I make you listen to that song?”  There’s a tiny furrow of confusion in Yoongi’s brow when he speaks.  “At the party, I mean.  Did I make you listen to that?”

“Oh.”  Jeongguk startles.  “No, I—I looked up some of your stuff after, your SoundCloud and stuff.  I was wondering about your music, like what kind of music you made.  I wanted to hear more.”  Jeongguk’s face feels sort of hot.  “Sorry, is that weir—” He starts to ask, as he glances up at Yoongi, but Yoongi is looking at him with such soft and surprised eyes that the apology catches in Jeongguk’s throat. 

“You did?”  Yoongi asks quietly.  “You listened to my music?”

“Yeah.”  Jeongguk breathes.  “Yeah, I liked it.”

“Oh,” Yoongi says, tongue darting out to wet his lips.  He looks away, looks back, smiles that smile like he’s trying to hold it inside his mouth but it refuses to stay there.  “Cool.”  He says.  “Thank you, that means a lot to me.”  He sounds almost out of breath.  “Did you have a favorite song?”

“I don’t know yet.”  Jeongguk says honestly.  “Or, I don’t want to pick yet.  I just want them all for right now, is that okay?”

Yoongi’s eyes flicker, like a candle set in a window very far away. 

“Okay.”  He says, with a little smile.  “That’s okay, for you to have them all for right now.  Will you tell me when you pick one?”

“I will.”  Jeongguk says, and their gazes snag, sliding into each other and sticking.  Yoongi’s eyes are the deep ocean, calm on the surface, teeming with something underneath, and Jeongguk can’t look at him for too long because it feels like getting dragged out by the tide.  He has to look away to catch his breath.    

“So, what are you doing here?”  Yoongi asks after a moment, clearing his throat.  “No offense, hyung,” he says over his shoulder in response to the affronted noise behind him, “I mean here like in this neighborhood not in this café.  This is a residential, non-studental, like thirty-minute bus ride to campus on a good day neighborhood.”

“I, um, I live like five blocks that way with my friends.”  Jeongguk says, shaking his head a little to clear it, pointing sort of the way he would go if he exited the cafe.  “Do you live around here too, hyung?” 

“Mmm.” Yoongi hums as he takes a sip of his coffee.  It’s in a smaller clear cup, the color black as mud and sort of deadly looking.  “I live like six blocks that way.”  He says, gesturing in what approximates to the opposite direction. 

“We’re basically neighbors.”  Jeongguk says and can’t stop the grin, feels his features scrunch up with it.  “Cool.”

Yoongi is looking at him almost fixedly and he flicks his eyes away when they meet Jeongguk's, skitters them back to Jeongguk’s face.

“Cool.”  He agrees.

“Is studental a word?”  Jeongguk asks.

“Absolutely not.”  Yoongi says.  “Who said that?”

“You.”  Jeongguk sputters.

“Doesn’t sound like me.”  Yoongi replies calmly, sinking lower in his chair.  He looks almost tiny for a second, wearing an oversized t-shirt that falls off his collarbones, dwarfed by the overstuffed armchair, coffee cup pulled close to his face.  His gaze drifts across the table, catches on Jeongguk’s cup. 

There’s a pause. 

“Are you drinking that white chocolate lavender latte thing?”  Yoongi asks, sitting up a little from where he was slouched. 

“Yes?”  Jeongguk frowns at his drink and then up at Yoongi. 

“Holy shit.”  Yoongi seems shell-shocked.  “Holy shit, I’ve never seen someone actually order that.  Is it good?  It can’t be good.”

“It’s good!” Jeongguk says.  “It is sweet, but good sweet.  What are you drinking anyway, what did Seokjin-hyung say, long coffee?  What does that mean?”  

“A lungo.”  Yoongi says as though it’s obvious.  “A café allongé, Jeongguk-ah.  It’s good.  Do you want to try some?”  He leans forward to wave the cup enticingly under Jeongguk’s nose.  It does smell good.  Strong, but good.  “It’s good.”  Yoongi repeats.  “Do you like espresso?”

“No.”  Jeongguk says.

“It’s nothing like espresso.”  Yoongi amends smoothly. 

“That seemed like a lie.”  Jeongguk says. 

Yoongi looks at him blankly. 

Jeongguk’s starting to pick up on that expressionless face being not so expressionless after all.  Something in Yoongi’s eyes flicker when he does it, the corner of his mouth twitches.  It seems to mean that he’s either going to obviously lie through his teeth or say something that he thinks will provoke some sort of outburst— one of amusement or indignance or just in general some sort of chaos. 

His hand is still outstretched for Jeongguk to take the cup. 

“Fine.”  Jeongguk says. 

He takes a cautious sip and then tries very hard not to screw up his whole face because oh god is that bitter.  He gives up on being stoic after a beat, pushes the cup back toward Yoongi, scrunches up his nose, and shakes his head no.

“That was wild.”  Yoongi says, sounding more than a little amused.  “Your entire face just, like, froze for a whole three seconds.  It was like someone hit pause on you." 

“You lied to me.”  Jeongguk grimaces.  “That’s definitely at least a derivative of espresso.”  Yoongi goes to respond, but Jeongguk cuts him off.  “Anyway, they did a study, you know.”  He takes a gulp of his own drink to try to clear the taste of Yoongi’s from his mouth. 

Yoongi raises an eyebrow.  “They did a study?”  He repeats in monotone.

“They did a study.”  Jeongguk confirms.  “People who like bitter tastes, like black coffee and such, they’re more likely to have antisocial personality traits.  Like, malevolent ones.”  

“What.”  Yoongi says, blankness slipping into confusion.  “They what?” 

“People who like bitter things have sadist tendencies.”  Jeongguk clarifies and reverts his features into casually neutral, asks, “Are you a sadist, hyung?”

Yoongi’s mouth falls open, this little round oh of surprise, and then he bursts out laughing.

Jeongguk imagines Yoongi’s laugh like music notes, thinks he can see them sticking to his papers, thinks he’ll find them for days and days, open up books or dump out his pencil case and there will be Yoongi’s laugh waiting for him.

“Kid, Jesus fuck.”  Yoongi says, after a moment, catching his breath. 

“The study had a limited sample size though.”  Jeongguk muses and Yoongi snorts, puts his face in his hands.  “And it was self-reported, so that’s usually not reliable.”  Jeongguk admits after another moment, something like pride at the base of his spine every time he makes Yoongi laugh afresh.  

“Jeongguk-ah, why?”  Yoongi says, which Jeongguk takes to mean why do you know this. 

“I had to take statistics over the summer.”  Jeongguk says.  “Part of one of our projects was going through a reliable study and analyzing data, limitations, etc. and then figuring out how we would rework the study to confirm or deny the results." 

“So you went with ‘are people who drink black coffee sexual sadists?’”  Yoongi looks like he might cry.

“No!”  Jeongguk flushes, squirms in his seat, dropping his voice.  “Don’t say that so loud, I don’t want hyung to think we’re talking about sex stuff.”  He hazards a glance, but Seokjin doesn’t seem to be paying them much mind. “Just everyday sadists, not sexual sadists.”  He grumbles.  “I forgot it also had that meaning.  Or not forgot, but that wasn’t what the study was about, so I didn’t— I’m actually kind of embarrassed now.  That was inappropriate.  That’s between you and your girlfriend.  Boyfriend.  Significant other.  Others.  Whomever.”  Jeongguk snaps his mouth shut and picks at the wood at the edge of his table. 

There is a long pause.

“Okay, well, I’m not a sadist—" 

“He’s, like, a baby boy.”  Seokjin shouts from the counter.  “Honestly, he probably pouts during sex." 

“Oh my god.”  Jeongguk says, feeling himself flush bright red.  He darts eyes to Yoongi, who is staring at the ceiling looking very much like he wants to sink into the void.   

“Thank you, hyung.”  Yoongi says tonelessly.  

There’s a pause while Jeongguk figures they’re both trying to pretend Seokjin didn’t say that, but Seokjin’s raucous laughter is making it hard. 

“I’m not a sadist,” Yoongi repeats after a moment, clearing his throat and tilting his head back down.  “Boyfriend would be right, but I don’t have a boyfriend right now.”  He’s flushed lightly over his cheekbones, but his gaze is steady.

“Oh, cool, same.”  Jeongguk says dimly. 

“It’s cute that you didn’t even think about that meaning of sadist when you said that, Jeongguk-ah.”  Yoongi adds.

“I’m not cute.” Jeongguk gets out, trying to control the part of his heart that is going yoongi likes boys, yoongi likes boys too, yoongi said you’re cute, “I’m an adult.” 

“You look like a baby rabbit.”  Yoongi says. “You’ve got little rabbit teeth.” 

“I have a black belt in taekwondo.”  Jeongguk mutters.  “I can deadlift 400 pounds on a bad day.  Rabbits can’t deadlift that.  Rabbits can’t deadlift at all—they have terrible form.  You want to see me do it?  I could deadlift you easy, you’re like 140-150 pounds, right?  Let’s go right now.”  He stretches his arms, pulling them across his chest, glad to be back on stable conversational ground. 

Yoongi looks at him impassively.

“No.”  He says.

“Getting deadlifted doesn’t hurt, hyung.” Jeongguk says, figuring the name is why Yoongi’s refusing.  Yoongi looks like he’s strong, but a different kind of strong, not gym rat strong but— toned.  He idly wonders if Yoongi works out.  “My gym buddy did it to me all the time.  Let me show you.” 

“Do not deadlift people in this café.”  Seokjin calls.  “Please, we’re not insured for that.  We don’t have waivers.” There’s a little pause, “We only have wafers.”  He adds, with a burst of tinkling laughter.

“Jeongguk-ah, I believe you.”  Yoongi says gravely, ignoring Seokjin.  “You look—” Yoongi’s eyes do this thing where they look at Jeongguk’s chest and his arms and his shoulders and then snap back up to his face incredibly quickly, “—fairly strong.”

“Fai—fairly strong?”  Jeongguk frowns.  “I’m very strong, hyung.  I mean—look.”  He flexes his arm, rolling up the sleeve of his t-shirt a little.  “See?  I work out a lot.”

Yoongi looks for a second, makes a noncommittal sound, flicks his cup with one finger.

“You like the gym?”  He asks.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, “it clears my head, working out.  Thank god the campus has a free gym for students, I couldn't afford a membership in Seoul.  I just wish I had someone else to train with— I don’t know, it’s motivating, having a workout partner, and you can do silly stuff too.  Like, once I tried to do pushups with my gym hyung on my back?  He looked like this giant koala, he was way too big for me.”  Jeongguk considers Yoongi for a second.  “Actually, you’re the perfect size for me, hyung.”  

“What?”  Yoongi says, sounding a little startled.

“You’re the right size to lay on me.” Jeongguk explains. 

Yoongi stares at him.  “Lay o—” he clears his throat, “lay on you?”

“Mmm, like on top of me.  Because I’m a little taller, you’re the right size.  Haven’t you seen people do that online?”  Jeongguk asks.

“No.”  Yoongi says, almost hesitantly. “No, I don’t think I’ve seen that online.”   

“Do you not work out?” Jeongguk asks, because now he has to know.  Yoongi doesn’t look like he lifts a lot, doesn’t have a runner’s body, but he doesn’t look like he doesn’t work out either.    

“I box like a couple of times a week.”  Yoongi says after a moment, which, yeah, that explains it actually.

“That explains your pecs.”  Jeongguk says with a nod. 

“That explains my pecs.”  Yoongi repeats.  He glances down at his chest and then back up to Jeongguk.

“I mean obviously you have a shirt on,” Jeongguk says, “but they seem pretty well defined is all.”

“You think my pecs are well defined.”  Yoongi says blankly.

 “I just noticed.” Jeongguk huffs.  “Your arms are that kind of toned too, not over muscly, but toned. You look good.” 

Yoongi clears his throat, crosses his arms, uncrosses them.  “Well, thanks.”  He says, his ears bright pink against the pale of his hair.

“I still think I’d beat you in a fight though.”  Jeongguk muses, grinning a little cheekily when Yoongi snaps his eyes back to Jeongguk looking almost affronted and also something else that Jeongguk can’t quite place.  “You seem pretty strong, but I bet I could pin you down easy.”  He looks Yoongi up and down, letting his eyes drag a little bit even as he tells himself not to, and nods.  “Yeah, I could take you.  Want to go?” 

“Jeongguk, you’re going to break Yoongi-yah.”  Seokjin shouts from the counter, laughter in his voice. 

“We’re not really going to fight.”  Jeongguk says, surprised.  “I’m just teasing.”

“No, I’m— I’m aware of that.”  Seokjin says.

“Then what?”  Jeongguk asks blankly.  “How would I brea—  oh, the push-ups?  No, no, that’s not dangerous, I wouldn’t crush him or anything, he’d be on top of me.  Don’t worry, hyung, I want you on top of me—"

Yoongi gives Jeongguk a vaguely incredulous look. 

“Wait.”  Jeongguk stutters to a stop, the words he’s saying clicking in his head.

“There you go.”  Seokjin says. 

“Oh my god.”  Jeongguk says.  “Oh my god.”  He repeats, burying his face in his hands, cheeks burning.  He sinks as low on the couch as he can go.  “I was—I was literally talking about the gym, I swear.”

There’s a deadly silence.

“What did you say your last name was again?”  Yoongi asks.  "Jeon, right?"

“Yes?” Jeongguk whispers, sneaking a peek at Yoongi through his fingers. 

“Jeon Jeongguk.”  Yoongi complains, his features still stoically impassive despite the fact that he’s flushed down his neck and over his collarbones.

“I know, I’m sorry, I don’t know how I didn’t realize that sounded like a series of gym-bro pickup lines.”  Jeongguk says, dull horror in his veins.  “Seoul is a failed experiment for me.  Please just let me go back to Busan in peace.  I’ll never bother you again.” 

They stare at each other for a beat. 

“I’m really glad I got to experience this.”  Seokjin says.  “I wish Hoseok had been here too, he would have loved it.”

“I’m really sorry.”  Jeongguk is almost certain he whimpers. 

Yoongi clears his throat.

“No, no, it— it’s okay, you don’t have to be sorry, ’Guk.   Hyung was just— surprised.”

“Surprised.”  Seokjin snorts. “Is that what the kids are calling i—”

“Thank youhyung.  You’ve been so helpful today.  Aren’t your scones burning or something, go away.”

“I’m not making scones.”  Seokjin grumbles with a grin, but he puts his hands up, relents, goes to fiddle with the pastries in the display.   

"Here, let’s, um, let’s move on.  Read me your artist statement?  Want me to help you edit your artist statement?”  Yoongi runs his hands through his hair once, twice, three times and then shakes it out. 

“Yes, yes.  Great, good, actually yes for real.”  Jeongguk whispers, fumbling for his computer.  “Or—no, wait, you have to look at what I painted first though, let me get the pictures.”

“Okay,” Yoongi says, finishing his coffee in one go. 

Jeongguk pauses his movements to watch Yoongi’s lips catch on the rim of the glass.

Yoongi looks pretty like this— flushed just so slightly, lips soft-pink and wet from where he’s licked the coffee off of them, hair mussed like he’s been in bed.  Jeongguk thinks Yoongi’s pretty anyway though, this strange mixture of strong and delicate features that combine, in aggregate, to be completely compelling. 

It’s partially Yoongi’s confidence too, like he’s gone through enough to know who and what he is, what he wants from the world.  It makes him instantly appealing and the brashness of it is tempered with that softness that simmers in his eyes and the shyness Jeongguk catches glimpses of, Yoongi ducking his head to hide smiles or blushing just so faintly at compliments.

“Jeongguk?”  Yoongi says.

Jeongguk’s been quiet too long.

“Here, this one.” Jeongguk spins the laptop and Yoongi’s eyes change from vaguely questioning to something else.  He leans over and looks at Jeongguk’s screen intently, eyes roaming the picture like it means something.  Jeongguk feels himself flush again, a different sort of flush. 

“Huh.”  Yoongi says, as he tugs the laptop a little bit more toward him. 

“It’s, um, better not as a picture.”  Jeongguk says after a long moment, trying to stop the weird buzzing in his veins, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  “I mean, I’m not saying it’s like good on canvas or something, but it looks better than the pi—”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.  It’s just— abstract.  More abstract than I was expecting, I guess?  When you talked about your art there was something in your voice that was lyrical.  You made your visual art sound like a song to me and I guess I thought I might know what the melody was.  That sounds presumptuous, now that I say it.  That was presumptuous.  I’m sorry.”  Yoongi stops, clears his throat.  “I thought about it, was all,” he says, voice quiet, “about the way you must draw and paint.  I like this, I’m sorry if I implied otherwise, it just wasn’t what I expected, I guess, and it threw me.”

“This isn’t actually my normal style.”  Jeongguk says, feeling warm and a little shaky, like there’s a sparkler lit low in his belly.  Yoongi turns his intent eyes to Jeongguk.  “We had to do this, in this style, for class.  It was fun and interesting, to do something different like this, but you’re right.  It’s not me.” 

Yoongi’s eyes flick down to Jeongguk’s sketchpad. 

Jeongguk waits. 

People always ask.  Demand really.  Show me, they say, what are you drawing, show me.  Like they have a right to see.  Like it’s not important— just drawings, just pictures, just lines.  People always ask.

Yoongi doesn’t.

He returns his eyes to the computer screen to look at Jeongguk’s painting again and nods once, like he’s confirming something with himself. 

“Where’s your artist statement?”  He asks, looking up at Jeongguk.

Warm warm warm.  Jeongguk’s blood crackles with the sparks. 

“Do you want to see my sketchbook?”  Jeongguk asks.

Yoongi blinks, almost like he’s startled. 

“I mean, if you’re comfortable with it?” He says slowly.  “I figured that it was like my notebook.  Maybe you don’t want people to…” He trails off.  “If you would like to show me.”  He says. 

“Do you want to see?”  Jeongguk repeats, suddenly unsure.  “You don’t have to want to, you don’t have to be nice to me.” 

“Do you think I’m being nice to you because I have to be?”  Yoongi sounds somewhere between hurt and cold, like the coldness is to try to stop the hurt from getting through.

“No.”  Jeongguk says softly, and then again, with more force.  “No, I don’t think that.  I just meant that you already spent so long talking with me about it at the party and I know it’s not that interesting.  I know I’m not that interesting.”  He bites down on his lower lip hard to stop more words from slipping out. 

There is a very long pause.  Jeongguk chews on his lower lips while he waits, finally relents and looks up.  Yoongi is staring at him, like he was waiting for Jeongguk to meet his eyes. 

“I think you’re interesting, Jeongguk.  If you want to show me, I would like to see.” 

Jeongguk feels the smile spread across his face, so genuine he couldn’t stop it if he tried. 

“Yeah?  Yeah, okay.”  Jeongguk says.  “The ones toward the end though.  My sketchbooks always start out a little shaky, something about all that blank space I get kind of freaked out for the first few pages.”  He stops himself from saying anything else, flips to a page he likes, pushes the book toward Yoongi.  This page is entirely flowers.  It’s one flower, actually.  The same flower, over and over again.  Budding, blossoming, dying, growing. 

“These are amazing.”  Yoongi says after a moment.  “Shit.”  He stares for a bit longer. “Is this all the same flower or different ones?”  He asks.

“The same one.”  Jeongguk whispers.  “I was trying to figure it out.”

Yoongi nods, eyes travelling across the lines again.  His hand hesitates at the corner of the page. 

Jeongguk leans across the table and flips it for him.  

“What do you like to draw with best?”  Yoongi asks.  His eyes move slowly, like he thinks the lines Jeongguk has drawn might move and he doesn’t want to miss it when they do.  “What medium do you like?”

“Charcoal.”  Jeongguk whispers.  “Well, and video production.  I like video production.  I know those don’t go together but those are— those are my two favorite things.”

Yoongi looks up at Jeongguk questioningly, fingers hovering, and Jeongguk nods, so Yoongi turns to the next page.

“They go together.”  Yoongi says quietly, as he stares at the drawing Jeongguk had been working on earlier, endless boughs of summer berries, still not colored in.  Jeongguk’s been having difficulty with color lately.  “If you like them then I think they must go together.” 

Jeongguk likes the way Yoongi looks at his drawings.  He likes that Yoongi gives the sketchbook back without comment or prodding when Jeongguk says no to the next page.  He likes the way Yoongi sits back in his chair, legs stretched wide, eyes attentive.

“Thank you for showing me.”  Yoongi says. 

Jeongguk’s heart skips, just once, just a little missed beat, but he forces himself to pay it no mind. 

They sit and talk until Yoongi says he has to leave for the studio time an artist has booked with him. 

When they go to part Jeongguk gathers up his courage and says,

“Wait, can I give you my number?  That way we can text and stuff.  And I can let you know what I get on this artist statement, thanks to your editing skills.  If you want.”

Yoongi smiles.  

Jeongguk hadn’t asked for Yoongi’s number after the party because Yoongi hadn’t asked for his, but it occurs to him now, as he types his number into Yoongi’s phone, that maybe Yoongi hadn’t asked so he wouldn’t make Jeongguk uncomfortable, wouldn’t cross a line, wouldn’t make things awkward for Jeongguk.  

“Now you can text me.”  Jeongguk says, handing Yoongi’s phone back with a grin.

“I will.”  Yoongi says, as he takes it.  His fingers glance over Jeongguk’s.  “I’ll text you later, okay?”  He says.  

Jeongguk nods.

 

Yoongi texts him that night, when Jeongguk’s curled in bed, trying to fall asleep.

 

yoongi
it was good to see you today jeongguk-ah
thank you for showing me your art
shit, sorry, i just noticed what time it is
hope i didn’t wake you  

jeongguk
its not so late, you didn’t wake me
it was good to see you too

 

And then, because he’s still feeling a little brave, because something about Yoongi makes him want to be a little brave,

 

jeongguk
that ramen place you said was in the neighborhood
we should go sometime?

 

He’s nervous after he hits send, but Yoongi responds quickly, like he was near to his phone,

 

yoongi
okay
i would like that
day after tomorrow even, if you’re free?
ive been craving noodles, i’ll be honest here

jeongguk
same, idk why they taste so good in fall
and yeah, that would be good!
but is like 8 okay?

yoongi
that works for me
let me know if anything changes, yeah?

jeongguk
sounds good, hyung

yoongi
okay, jeongguk-ah

jeongguk
g’night hyung

yoongi 
sleep well, 'guk

 

Jeongguk curls up under his sheets, bites down on his lips, and tries to ignore the feeling he's had all day— something unfurling in his heart, tentative and more than a little shy, but blossoming all the same.