“It was the best party of the year. You should’ve been there. Totally your thing.”
Jeongguk has heard this one before.
He hums. Pitches his voice interested. Cocks his hip, lashes lowered. Knows how the jeans he’s wearing make his legs look. “My thing?”
The guy’s cheeks color. His shirt catches the ceiling lights. One of those short sleeved button downs. Trying too hard for a college party on a Thursday.
Jeongguk has seen this one too.
All these boys are the same.
“Y-yeah,” the boy hurries to say. He lowers his voice, smooths his vocals. To sell the suave thing Jeongguk guesses his coiffed hair is supposed to project. He’s older than Jeongguk but he can’t remember by how much. His name is something pretty but Jeongguk can’t remember that either.
Embarrassment kicks in Jeongguk’s gut and he’s about to find a way to subtly ask because the boy is trying, when he adds,
“It was your scene. You know. People like you.”
Jeongguk raises a brow. He thins his lips. He guzzles a quarter of his drink. Too much vodka. “People like me?”
The boy doesn’t notice Jeongguk’s change in tone. The way he stands at full height. Hips pulled back. Away.
He pushes on. Cocksure. Dripping with it tackily like the shitty mid 2000’s r’n’b song pouring out of the speakers.
Jeongguk likes it. The song. Jeongguk’s taste in music is pretty shitty. He knows this. Accepts it. His taste in boys isn’t any better. He likes this boy less than he usually would.
He hasn’t had enough vodka yet. It’s still early.
“Yeah. Art people. Wes Anderson types.”
He taps his fingernails against his cup. Takes another sip.
Jeongguk has never been able to sit through a Wes Anderson film. Nothing against the guy and his color palettes are the sort Jeongguk could only dream up, but it’s just not his thing.
He blinks again. “Wes Anderson?”
The boy nods. Still doesn’t get it. Boys like this never do.
Jeongguk skims his eyes down his body. Sizes up his hands. They aren’t as big as he’d originally thought. Prim nails. Rough knuckles. A little wider than average palms. They’re okay hands. Could probably grip Jeongguk’s waist just fine.
He knocks back another sip, alcohol burning his tongue. Buzzing.
The boy says, “Yeah.”
He seems to really like that word. Yeah.
Jeongguk frowns at himself. How snippy he sounds in his head. It’s not this boy’s fault. It’s just how he is. Boys like him.
He tries to smile, to look like he really wants to know what people like Jeongguk are like.
“You know. Moonrise Kingdom? It’s pretty to look at but there’s nothing there. Art people seem to worship him. All the art majors at this university do. It makes sense. Most art’s just something pretty to look at.”
Jeongguk’s other eyebrow comes up. He makes an agreeing noise. “Really?”
The boy nods. “From an economic standpoint, art has no inherent value. It’s all assumed. Socially constructed. Who says a Picasso is really any better than my three year old nephew’s finger paints? They look the same. My nephew is really into geometric shapes. No one is going to pay billions of won for his paintings. They’ll pay that same billion won for a napkin Picasso doodled on in a Parisian cafe because he was flirting with a prostitute he could have just paid for.”
Jeongguk has never gotten it. The Picasso thing. But all of a sudden, he wants to become his crusader. Number one defender of his dead, now besmirched by some pompous upperclassman, name. Jeon Jeongguk: Pablo Picasso’s number one fan.
He tilts his chin, lets the collar of his oversized t-shirt drop, the edge of his muscled chest exposed.
The boy’s gaze falls there, comes up to watch Jeongguk lick his alcohol stained lower lip, and fuck, boys like this really are all the same. It’s kind of hilarious that Jeongguk was almost one of them.
“And I guess finance has a lot of inherent value?”
The boy frowns. He’s tipsier than he lets on, eyes out of focus, styled hair limping in the hot press of the overcrowded house. “Of course it does. That’s what finance is. Value.”
“That’s funny. Considering even America is in so much debt, the world economy is based on it. Everything is an I.O.U. The promise of value not the actual value.”
And maybe that’s not exactly right, not exactly it, the bare bones of what Jeongguk has digested from his roommate’s three a.m weed induced babbling about how capitalism has destroyed humanity, but it’s enough.
Because the boy looks at Jeongguk.
His tipsy eyes gain focus. Widen.
Because the boy finally gets it.
The blush starts in his neck. Crawls halfway up to his cheeks. The kind of color Jeongguk would get by adding a little white to his red. The tiniest hint of blue. A trick he picked up from the community art class he took when he was twelve.
“Oh, fuck. I didn’t mean-”
But Jeongguk knows he did mean. He doesn’t care that much. His hands were just okay anyway.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No! Really! I didn’t mean all art majors. I di- didn’t mean- I wasn’t talking about yo-”
Jeongguk sighs. Genuinely feels bad, watching this boy choke himself to get the foot he just shoved into his windpipe out. It’s not like Jeongguk wanted anything from him. Just to fuck him. The weight of his body on Jeongguk’s. His mouth. Just to have him put his okay hands all over Jeongguk.
He drains the last of his drink. Pats the boy’s arm, his skin sticky with sweat under Jeongguk’s fingers. He bites back a grimace. “Not a big deal. I’m gonna go get another drink,” he says, waving his empty cup.
Jeongguk doesn’t catch the rest.
The music grows louder the further he moves into the house. Past the grinding bodies. Quaking speakers. The girl with the impressive arms doing a keg stand. Jeongguk didn’t know people actually did keg stands outside of American teen movies before coming to university. Jeongguk didn’t know a lot of things before coming to university.
A few months in, he’s unsure if he knows much more.
The kitchen is sectioned off by a door. Jeongguk pushes it open. Expects more noise. Raucous laughter. Roughhousing drinking games.
The door swings behind him. Seals the sound off.
Inside the kitchen, it’s quiet.
There’s a group of girls at the island huddled over a phone, mirroring faces of disgust at whatever is on screen.
Next to the fridge a guy sits cross legged on the tiled floor. He’s wearing a dirty band t-shirt, slashes cut at the waist. He rolls a joint with shaky hands. Jeongguk thinks he’s seen him in his literature class. Always analyzes the class readings through post-colonialist thought during discussions. He’s somehow always right. Or so says their professor. Jeongguk doesn’t really get literature. Another thing he hopes college will make him more sure of.
A couple is pressed together near the microwave. The boy sits on the counter, the girl standing between his legs. They aren’t kissing. The girl is telling a story, the boy looking down at her with soft eyes, giggles pouring out of his mouth, her hands on his thighs.
Jeongguk watches them for a moment.
The vodka protests in his stomach. Fills his chest with something sour.
Jeongguk looks away.
He finds the alcohol. It’s laid out on the dining table. Dozens and dozens of tall bottles. A cooler sits on a chair stacked with ice and beer. There are at least three others in the living room alone. Another table just as full, light scattering through half empty bottles. It’s the most alcohol heavy party he’s been to so far. Real rager.
He reaches for the vodka because his mouth already tastes like it. His elbow knocks into another bottle- soju, gin, maybe. Tips his cup over. It lands on the floor with a thud. He’s maybe a little tipsier than he thought too.
“Kind of early in the night to be drunk smashing the kitchen up, don’t you think?”
The sour thing in Jeongguk’s belly stutters.
There’s a cup held out in front of him. Different colored plastic. The one Jeongguk dropped was red. Rolled under the table, stopped by a leg chair.
The new one is blue.
There’s a hand wrapped around it. Tan skin. Smooth knuckles. The palm stretches the width of the cup. Middle finger meets thumb. Overlaps.
He looks up.
The sour thing in Jeongguk’s belly buzzes.
His lips part at the feeling. His breath sticks in his lungs. His tongue is thick in his mouth. The lack of sound clogs his ears.
Jeongguk swallows again. Says, “Um. What?”
The guy smiles. Eyes first. It spreads out from there. Looks like it doesn’t fit on his face even though he should easily accommodate it. Everything about his features are big. Wide. Nose. Mouth. Eyes. Almost perfectly angled together. Calculated at the exact degree so it would all fit.
Jeongguk’s fingers curl into fists, the itching desire for his pencils burning his hands. His paints.
“You just looked really excited to get at the vodka. Usually it’s not until midnight when some athlete tries to destroy the house. Gets the cops called.”
“I’m not,” Jeongguk starts to say. Loses his tongue halfway. He hasn’t had any water tonight.
Usually, it doesn’t matter.
Usually, the cotton mouth is a good thing.
Necessary in situations like these.
He tries again. “I’m not an athlete.”
The guy drops his hand. His smile quirks. He looks a little less like he’s the most elated person to have ever been born. More amused. Like he knows something Jeongguk doesn’t. A different side to his face. Sharper.
Jeongguk’s eyes fall to the cup. To the hand.
The buzzing thing in Jeongguk’s belly drips down. Digs right below his navel. Simmers.
“Didn’t really take you for one.”
Jeongguk wonders if he’s supposed to be offended. Can’t find the focus to be.
“I mean,” the guy says, eyes following the line of Jeongguk’s body. Taking little stops. Detours. Jeongguk’s chest. His waist. His thighs.
He comes back to his face. Jeongguk’s eyes. Stays. The breath slams in Jeongguk’s lungs. His skin heat like he’s just been touched.
“You definitely have the body for it but you’re also dressed like the lead singer of an emo band so it could go either way.”
Color fills Jeongguk’s cheeks. He should probably care if it’s noticeable in the kitchen light. He’s buzzing with too many other things. Cares about too many things.
He finds it in himself to gain a little composure. Realizes how close they’re standing. Leans back. Just his chest.
Keeps his legs, his hips, where they are.
He tries the eyebrow thing. It seemed to work on the boy. Eventually. “Does anyone actually still listen to emo?”
The guy shrugs. He’s got nice shoulders. Just wide enough. For someone’s hands. Someone’s legs. For someone to hook their knees on.
The heat worsens in Jeongguk’s face, sweeps down to his neck. He wonders if this is karma. A taste of his own medicine for making pompous finance boy squirm.
“Some people still listen to disco and that’s deader than dead so. Why not?” He laughs, the kitchen lights cutting off his jaw.
It’s as chiseled a jaw if Jeongguk has ever seen one in real life. Outside of a Michelangelo sketch book cum spank bank folder. Jeongguk has always been more partial to Michelangelo than to Picasso. Cubed breasts aren’t his thing either.
The guy’s smile is a little sheepish. Still sharp. Not trying to hide it. “Sorry. I probably shouldn’t make it so obvious I’m checking you out but,” he shrugs again. Gives Jeongguk another look. Like he can’t help it. “I’m also really not sorry about it.”
The buzzing thing burns, a swooping sensation taking over in Jeongguk’s gut.
Still, Jeongguk juts his chin. Still, he asks, “Kind of early to be so forward, don’t you think?”
The smile widens. Differently. Jeongguk wonders if it’s normal to catalogue someone’s face this much. He’s always been a little more observant than others. Taking note. Watchful. Trying to figure out how to capture the way a nose arches. The natural distance between eyes. But even this, for Jeongguk, feels too much.
It happens anyway. His eyes tracking the way the stretch of this guy’s mouth this way twists him from plain attractive, cute bordering on adorable, to something a little more wild. Savage. The kind of boy that can make you feel a little wild, a lot savage, too.
“The other boys aren’t this forward with you?”
He was just talking to one, but at the moment, Jeongguk can’t think of the other boys. Any of them. The whole almost identical lot of them.
He says, “They usually wait until they’ve gotten me at least one drink before they start talking about my body.”
The guy cocks a brow. Surprised. Caught off guard. Smile just as wide.
He nods. Turns to the table. “Duly noted. So? What’s your poison?” He taps the side of a liquor bottle with his index. His fingers are almost ridiculously long. Just at the edge of clownish. Look refined instead. Regal. Make his hands look stupid big. Good stupid. “Vodka, yeah?”
Jeongguk’s hand shoots out.
He wants to tell him he shouldn’t be taking notes from the other boys. He wants to tell him what else he could do with his hands. Should be doing.
Jeongguk wants to. But his tongue is dumb thick in his mouth again. His abdomen clenches, the heat curling into a tight little knot, clawing between his hips.
Because their hands are touching.
Jeongguk’s palm is sticky over the back of the guy’s hand. His skin is soft. His hands are warm. Like his body runs hotter than normal. His hands are big. Jeongguk already knows this. But it’s different. Feeling it.
Because their hands are touching and the buzzing thing is there. Between their hands. Their skin.
The kitchen is quiet.
For a moment, they just stare at each other.
The guy speaks first. Tries to. He opens his mouth. Stops. Swallows. His lips are on the thicker side. Not too much. Just enough. They look smooth. Soft. Look like they’d look good with teeth marks in them. He tries again. Succeeds. He doesn’t move his hand. “Guess that’s a no to the vodka?”
His voice was already low but it’s deeper now, like it’s stuck in his throat. Like he has to pull at it to make it work. Yank it. Jeongguk wonders. What the vibrations of it would feel like if he tried to speak against Jeongguk’s mouth.
A laugh pushes out of Jeongguk’s mouth. He sounds breathless. Stupidly so. He wants to blame the alcohol. Knows it only carries a little of the weight. The sensation in his hand tingles, the skin touching his too warm. He pulls back. Regrets it almost immediately. “No. Uh. I mean- yes, I like vodka, but I kind of just wanted water?”
The surprise is clearer on his face this time. Jeongguk is too. He almost expects him to get annoyed before schooling his expression. He looks like he’d be good at hiding it. Jeongguk wouldn’t blame him. Has gotten annoyed himself in the past. If he wanted to fuck someone sober, Jeongguk wouldn’t come to parties. He knows the thought is shitty. His music taste isn’t the only shitty thing about him.
The guy stares. Then, he nods. Walks towards the fridge.
He comes back with two bottles of water. Offers one.
Jeongguk tries not to gape. Does. Recovers quickly. Takes the bottle.
The bottle caps snap.
The guy says, “I usually don’t go for bottles- the plastic is fucked- but I realize how creepy it probably was. Me offering you that cup like that.”
Jeongguk shrugs. Drinks. The water soaks his cotton mouth. “Didn’t think that. To think you were creepy. Just thought you were being nice. And aren’t drinking cups fucked plastic too?”
Another different smile. Eyes calm. A little hazy in the kitchen lights. The only way Jeongguk can think to describe them as is warm. Soft. Something like it.
He picks up an abandoned cup. Points to the little triangle stamped on the bottom. “Cups are recycled. Some bottles aren’t. Do you go to a lot of parties?”
Another shrug. Jeongguk plays with the plastic ring on his bottle. Is glad to have something to do with his hands. “Enough. Only been here a few months.”
Jeongguk can’t tell if that’s surprise in his voice. He takes another sip of water. Nods. He thinks to ask the question back after a moment. “You?”
The guy jerks a thumb towards himself. Grins, teasing. “Third year. As jaded as the fourth years with less hope in sight that the end is nigh.”
Jeongguk chuckles. He takes note of this too. How Jeongguk hasn’t been here long. How the end is almost nigh for this boy. This guy.
He glances around the kitchen.
The girls that were at the island earlier are gone. There are two boys now, balancing spoons of what looks like cough syrup on top of full cups. They smack the ends of the spoons. Laugh when syrup spills all over the counter top. Whoop in excitement when it lands in the cups.
The guy from Jeongguk’s lit class has his head tipped back against the refrigerator door, smoke wafting from his mouth. His fingers are steady around the joint. The skin of his peeking torso is pale in the shadowed fridge light.
The couple is still by the microwave. The boy is talking now. The girl tugs at his lips every so often. He snaps his teeth at her, playful. He curls his fingers in the ends of her hair. Her smile is almost unbearably soft.
Jeongguk looks away.
Eyes meet his.
Jeongguk’s skin buzzes.
He looks further down.
This guy is wearing a band t-shirt too. Different than the one the guy from Jeongguk’s class is wearing. A sort of band t-shirt.
Jeongguk grins, wrinkles his nose. “Oh. So when you were defending emo, you were really defending yourself.”
The guy frowns. His eyebrows are like the rest of his face. Wide. Big. Shouldn’t work. Work a little too well. “What?”
Jeongguk gestures to his front. “Your t-shirt. The Beegees? Disco? Deader than dead, you said.”
That gets Jeongguk a gape. A gasp follows, one of the guy’s big hands coming up to grasp the front of the t-shirt in question over his chest. His heart. “I did say that, yeah,” and it’s so strange. How a few minutes ago that word prickled at Jeongguk’s sides, his temper. Now he can’t get over how smooth it can sound. How throaty. He wonders if this guy likes weed as well band t-shirts too. If he was blowing smoke out of his mouth while Jeongguk was getting talked up by some uppity finance major. If that’s what gets his voice like this.
“Okay. First off? Wow. Okay. First off. Those are two completely different things. I know I made the comparison but, just so we’re clear, emo shouldn’t even be uttered in the same phrase as disco.”
Jeongguk makes a face. Feels a laugh crawling up his throat. Bites his lip.
The guy’s eyes drop to Jeongguk’s mouth. That wasn’t Jeongguk’s intention. Not consciously. He digs his teeth a little harder anyway, presses the tip of his tongue to the wet pink skin. Lets go slowly.
His dark eyes go darker.
Jeongguk has never really understood it. What it means when other people have said that. When he’s read it in books. Dark eyes. Eyes darkening. But he sees it now. He gets it now. The way someone’s eyes get a little lost. Zero in. Focus. On something. Someone. The way the color of their irises becomes richer. Thicker.
The way they bloom.
Jeongguk doesn't have to wonder. Knows his eyes are doing the exact same thing.
Something shifts. The air. The stance of their bodies. The balance of distance between them.
For a moment it looks like the guy is going to come forward. Come closer.
Jeongguk inhales. Quick. Has to lock up his muscles so he doesn’t do the same. So they don’t accidentally crash.
Then the guy’s face changes. Jeongguk doesn’t catch it before it’s something a little less intense. Friendly.
Disappointment claws at Jeongguk’s stomach.
Jeongguk clears his throat. Looks at the t-shirt again, the three guys with perfectly slicked disco hair faded across the front. He asks, “Second?”
The guy blinks. Even his lashes are long. Thick. Dark. They’re sort of what someone would call mooney eyed. His eyes. Like a baby cow. Innocent. Sort of because there’s that touch of something. The edge of it. He’s a third year. As jaded as a fourth year. Jeongguk can’t imagine there’s a lot of innocence left in someone like that.
He shakes his head. “Second? Oh.” His face settles, doesn’t look too big for itself for the first time all night. “Right. Second. It’s Bee Gees. Two words. No The. And third. Bee Gees aren’t disco.”
Jeongguk frowns, automatic. “W-”
The guy rolls his eyes. Is kind of soft about that too. His annoyance. “Okay. Not just. More than just. So much more.”
“Aren’t they the dudes from that John Travolta movie? The really old one with the ugly jumpsuits?”
If heartbreak had a personification, it would be this guy right now. He sighs like there’s no more air left in his lungs. On earth. Looks at Jeongguk so intensely, Jeongguk wonders if he’s going a little crazy. Drunk off a couple of inches of vodka chased down with a splash of mango juice. He has to be. It’s the only explanation for why it feels like everytime this guy looks at him, Jeongguk is being touched. Why it feels like there are hands on him.
“I don’t even know where to start with that. It figures. My mom did always warn me.”
“Warned you about what?”
Jeongguk thinks of all the things his mother warned him about before he came to university. Eat your vegetables or you’ll be sorry when you’re forty. Put yourself out there. Go to your professors’ office hours. Have fun or you’ll be sorrier when you're forty.
He’s headed some of them. Is working on the others. The vegetables thing mostly.
The guy says, “It’s always the most beautiful boys who break your heart.”
His blush has to be noticeable now. Jeongguk’s cheeks smeared in hot pink. He’s been called a lot of things. Hot. Attractive. Good looking fucker. Sexy. Someone called him pretty once. Beautiful isn’t one of them. College boys don’t seem to throw it out. Not at other boys. Not at Jeongguk at least.
It’s kind of ridiculous. This boy, this guy, calling Jeongguk beautiful. Calling anyone beautiful when he looks the way he does. Like not even Michelangelo could have sketched him. Carved him. Would have fallen over himself if he’d materialized in his art studio centuries ago. Even the most blessed hands in the history of art, the hands every other artist envies, unable to pin down that kind of perfect likeness on paper. With marble. He looks like he would have made Michelangelo spending the rest of his life thinking he dreamt him up. Hallucinated him.
The boy, the guy, with the perfect face. Shouldn’t be perfect but is.
He likes this too. That he can make Jeongguk flush. Nervous. But his smile isn’t smug. Cocky. It’s just pleased. The sort of soft thing again. A little nervous himself.
Unless he’s really good at hiding it. His smugness. His cockiness.
Jeongguk hopes he isn’t.
Squeezing the sides of his water bottle, Jeongguk laughs. High in his throat. Breath more than anything. He stares down at his shoes, black and shiny. Feels the guy’s gaze fall on his cheek. The place Jeongguk’s shirt dips open. The cut of his waist. He doesn’t mind it. Wants it. This guy’s eyes there. On other parts of him too. “I don’t want to. Break your heart.”
He only realizes how stupid it sounds once it’s out of his mouth.
He looks up, alarmed. Eyes wide.
It’s not just his smile anymore. The soft thing. It’s in the guy’s eyes too. All over his too big for his face face.
He says, “It’d make sense though. All Bee Gees songs are about heartbreak.”
Jeongguk tilts his head. Thrown. Asks, “Stayin’ Alive is about heartbreak?”
“You mean, the grooviest treatise ever composed on the plight of the fragile meaninglessness of human life? How everyone is just struggling to find a reason to keep living and that in itself is humanity’s curse? None of us can escape life and yet deep down, we’re all terrified of not living. In the end everyone dies the same no matter how they lived.”
It’s the best thing Jeongguk can come up with. He’s probably not tipsy in the right way for this.
The guy looks down. Uses the movement to scratch at his nape, a shy gesture. Maybe a little awkward. It causes a different reaction in Jeongguk. This guy’s possible mortification. He tries to think of something to say back. Something smart sounding. Deep. Jeongguk hasn’t thought about it much. Mortality. Human fragility. Grooviness. Maybe when he’s a jaded third year.
He doesn’t get the chance to because the guy recovers. Hides this well. He shrugs, all loose shoulders, and smiles at Jeongguk from under his arched brows. “Biggest fucking heartbreak there is.”
He brings his bottle to his mouth. Like it’s that casual. The biggest heartbreak there is.
Jeongguk tries to not make it too obvious. How he’s staring at the bob of his adam’s apple. The tendons in his throat. How golden the skin of his neck looks. Like the sun itself reached out for him. Put the color there.
The guy smacks his lips, gestures with his water bottle. “Add to that, the backdrop of the knife cut life that was coked up 70’s New York City to it? Even bigger heartbreak.”
Jeongguk perks up. “Have you been there? New York?”
“No. But I want to. But really,” he pauses. Not for dramatic effect this time. Voice going kind of quiet. The white kitchen lights cut off his nose, really make him look like someone that could haunt you. Haunt Jeongguk. “I wanna go everywhere. Anywhere I can go.”
Jeongguk smiles. It makes his cheeks feel impossibly warmer. How easily it spreads on his face. His too big front teeth on display. “Me too.”
The smile he gets back makes it worth it. “Yeah?”
One of the syrup spoon boys whoops loud enough to make someone from the other side of the party throw something at the door.
It thwacks open, hinges shaking as it swings, sound booming forward.
Jeongguk startles. He squeezes his water bottle, shaken out of whatever this is, this swoopy feeling he’s been under for the last how many minutes at the reminder that he’s at a party. That he came out tonight looking for a certain kind of boy.
Has ended up standing in a quiet kitchen.
Talking to this guy instead.
He lets his eyes roam over him, doesn’t care if it’s obvious. He knows it is. He looks at the t-shirt. The knowingly attractive face because of course he knows. Has to have noticed the girls from before eyeing him up, grins dirty and wondering. That one of the syrup boys keeps looking over and getting lost on his jaw, his shoulders. That the smoking guy from Jeongguk’s class keeps staring at his confident hands. Steady hands.
Or maybe he is that certain kind of boy, Jeongguk thinks drinking his water. Wetting his dry mouth. Not a deluded self obsessed finance major but a philosophizing future economist. A musician. He seems to like music. Care a lot about it even if it is the kind Jeongguk’s aunt likes. A frustrated accountant. That doesn’t seem to fit but if Jeongguk has learned anything these few months, it’s that people do a lot of things that don’t seem to fit them. Can get permanently frustrated. He thinks of his earlier dramatics. Maybe a film major. A theater nerd. Jeongguk could make an exception for that. Acting. Filmmaking.
Not as far removed as Jeongguk likes but for a face like this one, he thinks, watching the light fall in the hollows of his jutted cheekbones. Hands like these, he thinks, staring at the way they spread out in a strange contrast of fine boned and rugged.
Jeongguk can definitely make an exception.
A flood of people enter the kitchen. Searching for alcohol. Food. Quiet.
The door shuts.
Keeps the sound out.
Someone skirts by them. Heads for a bottle with determined precision.
It makes the moment shift again. Makes the guy shift in Jeongguk’s direction. To make room. For someone else. The sly tilt of his mouth tells Jeongguk that’s not the only reason. The chest brushing his convinces him of it.
Jeongguk doesn’t move back. Doesn’t make room. He keeps his chest, his hips, his body, exactly where they are.
The smile grows slyer, like it wouldn’t even occur to him to hide it. How this is what he’s been working up to since he found Jeongguk in this kitchen. Since he looked at Jeongguk and thought beautiful.
Jeongguk does shift his weight. He angles his shoulders. Tips his head a little. Lets his eyelashes drop. Just a little.
He looks up at him because standing so close he’s taller than Jeongguk. Not by much. A centimeter or a few. Jeongguk has yet to finish his last growth spurt. His hyung didn’t go through his until last year. Seemed to permanently hover between 175 and 177 centimeters before shooting right past it to 182 once he turned twenty-one. Jeongguk is banking on the same happening to him. If it doesn’t, Junghyun will never let him live it down. He’s always been the worst, but since getting into medical school, his hyung has become the worst person to ever live. The most annoying at least.
But for now. For tonight. Jeongguk doesn’t mind it. Looking up at him. At this guy.
He doesn’t look away from Jeongguk’s face. Not even when the liquor focused person bumps into his back. Mumbles a drunken apology. He half twists to say something back over his shoulder. His arms reach out at the same time. Don’t touch Jeongguk. Not yet. Hover somewhere around his waist just in case the motion has sent Jeongguk stumbling. Unsteady. Jeongguk can feel it. The impression of heat from his touch.
He wants to tell him he doesn’t have to hover. Thinks about actually stumbling. Just to see if this guy will catch him.
Plastic hits the table. One of his hands come up between them. He speaks, and fuck, his voice is even deeper this close. Lower. Like there’s no reason to raise it in the less quiet kitchen because no one else has to hear what he says. Just Jeongguk.
“I just realized how crazy it is that we haven’t introduced ourselves. It’s completely crazy that I don’t know your name.” He extends his fingers, that wide palm, and it is completely crazy. Insane. The craziest thing Jeongguk has ever done. Not telling this guy his name. Not knowing his. “I’m Taehyung.”
Jeongguk blinks at his hand. Realizes what his intentions are a second later.
He realizes too. Freezes. “Shit. Sorry. That was rude. I spent the last few weeks in the US. They really love shaking hands there. Still stuck on it. Kind of a habit now. Trying to break it.”
Jeongguk smiles. He wants to ask. What he was doing there. Where exactly he was doing it. All he can do is shake his head at how crazy this is too. How he had no trouble checking Jeongguk out, calling him beautiful, but touching him is too much, shaking hands is rude. And it is maybe. Definitely technically. But Jeongguk doesn’t care. Doesn’t care about much right now. Except the simmering heat between them. The swooping thing in Jeongguk’s belly. Getting these hands on him. Everywhere.
So he sets his own bottle down. Raises his own hand. Grips his. Shakes.
The buzzing tingles at his fingertips. Spreads everywhere. Everywhere. Because those fingers really are long. Because his skin really is soft but his grip is strong. Hot. Because he was worried about being rude, too forward, but he’s stroking his thumb over the bend of Jeongguk’s thumb, the dip right next to his index finger. Jeongguk’s heart skips. The heat is everywhere too.
Jeongguk laughs. At himself. At the feeling. The feelings. He says, “No. It’s um. It’s fine. Nice to meet you? That’s what they say when they shake, yes?”
“Yeah,” he says. Taehyung says. Taehyung. It’s taken Jeongguk a moment. To readjust. Refocus. To stop thinking of him as him. The guy. Knows it’ll take Jeongguk another couple of moments. “Yeah, they do. Usually they tell the other person their name too.”
Jeongguk looks at their hands. He’s always been an easy blusher but this is ridiculous. Even for him. “It’s Jeongguk. Jeon Jeongguk.”
“Mhhhm. Is there a last name for that Taehyung or is it just Taehyung? Like Hyuna. Or Madonna.”
“I wish I was as cool as Madonna. I might actually be as cool as Hyuna but, uh, no. It’s Kim. Kim Taehyung.”
Jeongguk sounds it out in his mind. Thinks of what colors he’d shade it with. Gold. A tiny bit of yellow mixed in so the pigments catch the light. Shine. Silver. Oil based. Matte. So it looks classic. Majestic. Imposing. Like his name. Like his hands.
They’re still shaking hands. No longer shaking. Not holding hands because Jeongguk refuses to call it that.
He says, “I don’t know. I’ve seen Hyuna live. I really doubt you’re as cool as her.”
“Yeah, I doubt it too, but hey, can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Taehyung’s brows furrow. His thumb has stopped stroking Jeongguk’s skin. Jeongguk tries not to fidget. Just in case he reads it wrong. In case he takes the rest of his touch away too. “To impress you. Make you think I’m that cool. Obviously.”
Jeongguk snorts. He hasn’t really thought about it. Whether he’s impressing. Being impressed. It’s obvious. Obviously.
He asks, “What’s your major?”
“Ah. Time to speed through the rest of the generic questions.”
Jeongguk’s elbow caves. Falls really. His face follows. Knows it’s obvious. Doesn’t care. He starts to pull his hand away.
Taehyung’s eyes widen. Wide moon eyes. His grip tightens. Not forceful. Not to hurt. Not that he could. Not that Jeongguk couldn’t smack his hand off if he tried it. To restrain Jeongguk against his will. Just there. Just curled around Jeongguk’s fingers. Warm. “Hey. No. I didn’t mean it badly. Just, jaded third year, yeah? If I had a won for every time I’ve been asked that question I could buy you drinks instead of stealing free ones from house parties.” Jeongguk stops trying to pull away. Taehyung holds on anyway. Thumb stroking over the fleshy bend next to his index again, the vein there. “Shitty excuse and I wish I could say it’s another habit I picked up abroad. Being a dick. But I promise I’m only a dick sometimes. When I’m nervous. At house parties. When I’m talking to pretty boys.”
It’s the second time someone calls Jeongguk that. He wonders how other boys feel about it. How Taehyung would feel if Jeongguk called him that. Pretty guy. All the other things Jeongguk wants to call him.
Jeongguk bites his lip. Asks, “You’re nervous?”
Taehyung’s eyes soften. He nods. Half his mouth curls. He doesn’t look nervous at all. Like he doesn’t know what the expression looks like. How to make his wide face cooperate with how he apparently feels. “Of course I’m nervous.”
Somebody else forces Taehyung over, grabby hands reaching for the cups. This time Jeongguk stumbles backward. Takes Taehyung with him. This time Taehyung touches Jeongguk’s waist, fits his hand to the dip of it, helps keep them both upright. Jeongguk arches into him. To keep them standing. Because the fabric of his shirt between his skin and Taehyung’s feels nonexistent. Obliterated. Consumed by the buzzing eating up Jeongguk’s insides. At his hand. The one starting to touch at his mouth.
“You okay?” Taehyung asks, sounds harried about it. Concerned. He holds their hands against his chest and that’s a little crazy too. That they haven’t let go.
Taehyung’s shoulders ease. They’re at the edge of the counter now. It’s probably better. They didn’t have a need to stand at the table. Next to a bunch of alcohol neither are drinking. Jeongguk wonders if the other couple is still here. The pretty boy sitting up. The pretty girl between his legs.
Couple, Jeongguk corrects. The couple. The only one in this kitchen.
He looks at Taehyung. At their hands.
Taehyung asks, “What’s your major?” Like he really wants to know. Like it’s not a question he’s asked hundreds of times. Been asked even more.
Maybe he is good at hiding.
Jeongguk doesn’t care. Not anymore. Not tonight.
Taehyung grins, eyes brightening in interest. “Yeah? You have a medium you prefer?”
“Painting is my focus but I draw too. I think I might like printmaking but it’s too early to tell. I’ve liked wood working so far though it’s time consuming. Um.” He pauses. Wonders if he’s talking too much. But Taehyung just looks at him, nods as he listens. “I’m terrible at sculpture? I’m pretty sure.”
Taehyung makes a little noise. Shakes his head, lips puckered as he tuts. It makes Jeongguk’s heart flutter. The way his handsome face can go so cute. “I’m sure you’re not terrible. Sculpture kicks ass. Everyone says so. Hard to imagine you being terrible at anything.”
“No, really,” Jeongguk insist and he doesn’t know why. Usually reticent about admitting the things he isn’t good at. Too prideful. And yet here he is. Trying to convince this perfect looking guy that he isn’t perfect himself. “We had to make these metal structures for the materials section of one of my courses and I, basically, melted all the metal pieces. Instead of fusing them. With a baby blow torch. This guy from the physics department came over because he wanted to figure out how I’d managed to do it. He’s still trying to figure it out I think. Might make it his thesis.”
Taehyung laughs and it’s such a lovely sound. Full and warm in the weed liquor stenched kitchen. Jeongguk thinks he could listen to it for a while. For the rest of the night. “Okay, yeah, that’s one I haven’t heard before. You might possibly be terrible at sculpture then.” Jeongguk laughs too and he can’t remember the last time he laughed this much with someone he was going to let put their hands all over him. He’s laughed plenty, with the other boys, quite a few of them, but it didn’t feel like this. This floaty. This easy. “Might be a good thing to know beforehand. I’m kind of a dick and you’re not as perfect as you look. We’ll balance each other out.”
Something curls in Jeongguk’s belly. Close to arousal but not. Too soft. Too sweet. He scrunches one side of his mouth. Curls their hands tighter together. Taehyung lets him, makes space for Jeongguk’s fingers between his own. He can feel it against the back of his hand. The pound of Taehyung’s heart. Steady. Strong. Fast. Faster than it should be. Jeongguk’s is the same in his chest, knocking against his ribcage. He thinks about pushing their chests closer together. Wonders what it would feel like. The press of their hearts at opposite sides. What it would look like if he painted it. Tried to fuse them together right before they melted.
He doubts it very much that Taehyung is anything remotely close to a dick. A little careless with his words maybe. A lot of other things maybe. But not inconsiderate. Not genuinely abrasive. Not with the way he’s touching Jeongguk’s waist. His hand. Not with those moon eyes. Bright like suns.
He asks, “What about you? What are you studying? Something misery inducing that makes you contemplate the state of humanity so deeply. Makes you want to save it or something.”
That would fit. Microbiology or something. Something that’s made Taehyung spend hours realizing how infinitely tiny people are inside. The infinitely tiny things that can destroy them. Has made him jaded. He doesn’t look like it at first glance. Looks more like a future actor. Some spoiled chaebol heir taking space in the business department for the title. But pretty girls fill the halls of the science department. Tall guys with perfect hair populate the engineering halls. College is full of people being who you don’t expect. Jeongguk wonders. The things they expect him to be.
An athlete. An emo boy. A drunken asshole.
He wonders if Taehyung’s surprised. By the things he actually is.
Taehyung grins. “Close. More about holding a mirror up to it. If you want me to keep being philosophical about it. But, yeah. Not sure how you feel about it. Me being one of the types who put a lot of your types out of business.”
Jeongguk frowns. “What do you mean- out of business? Types?”
“I’m a photographer.”
Taehyung’s grin drops at Jeongguk’s tone. “I was kidding. Plastic arts is totally different than photography. I meant, back in the day. Like, hundreds of years ago. The daguerreotype made the portrait painter obsolete. Too expensive. Not that it wasn’t already expensive as shit. Like, most people couldn’t afford it anyway. To have a physical memory of themselves. Their loved ones. It was completely elitist. Portraits in classic art are basically upper crust ego jacking wank fests. Except the Mona Lisa. Van Gogh's stuff. The stuff he did with self portraits was unreal. But I wasn’t trying to say painting is obsolete. Or that I’m gonna put you out of business. Put you anywhere! I di- Shit. I’m not doing a very good job of convincing you I’m not a total dick, am I-”
The words buzz around Jeongguk. He knows it’s stupid, unfair, but disappointment curdles the feeling that’s been lighting him up. The sweet thing in his belly. His heart. Because he’s been making assumptions, wondering if Taehyung is a certain kind of boy, and it turns out he’s one of those guys. The kind Jeongguk got to know in his first few months here. At department mixers and lecture halls, in his classrooms and parties thrown by friends of friends. All of them full of these guys. Guys like Taehyung.
And it’s stupid because the signs were all there.
The confidence. The slyness. The knowledge veering on know it all. The thinly veiled pretentiousness. The way he knew how to move. The face that looks like people should be making art out of him instead of the other way around.
They’re all the same.
The kind Jeongguk is. Supposed to be.
Except Jeongguk isn’t. Isn’t like these guys at all. Isn’t like Taehyung at all.
It almost makes it worse that Taehyung is older. Those are the worst ones. Because then they talk down to Jeongguk because he’s younger. Less experienced. Know exactly how to do it.
The words are buzzing and he wonders how he’s supposed to ignore it. The feeling. The feelings. Swallow it up. Burn it out before it burns him. Because it will. How he’s going to spend the next couple of days thinking he hallucinated Taehyung. Sketching him in dreams. Only for a few days because Jeongguk doesn’t have the time, the life, to spend it sad because he didn’t let some beautiful jaded pretentious art boy put his hands on him.
More than he already has.
He’s thinking about it and he’s buzzing, buzzing with it, when he feels it.
His hand losing heat.
Going sticky against air.
No longer buzzing.
Taehyung isn’t speaking anymore. He’s frowning at Jeongguk, the edges of his eyes deep with something that looks familiar. Feels like what Jeongguk is feeling. Like disappointment too.
The buzzing in Jeongguk’s chest halts. Shocks him silly.
It spurs his hands. His chest. Like his body has a mind of its own. Knows something Jeongguk doesn’t.
He short of slams into Taehyung, their feet tangling, arms pressed between their chests, and okay, Jeongguk is definitely less sober than he’d decided. Drunker. He can’t remember which it is.
Taehyung saves them from going sprawling, regains his balance against the counter. Jeongguk’s too while he’s at it. He still doesn’t say anything, just stares at Jeongguk with his huge eyes. His ridiculous lashes.
Then, Taehyung does the worst thing he’s done all night. Possibly the worst thing any art guy has ever done to Jeongguk.
Jeongguk doesn’t think.
If this was what his mom was talking about when she said he’d regret it when he was forty.
If this was why he walked away from jerky finance dude when any other night he probably would have kissed him just because. Because it’d be easy to. Because Jeongguk would know exactly how to put him in his place.
If maybe, the same way Jeongguk isn’t, Taehyung isn’t one of those guys at all.
If he’s maybe his own kind of guy.
Jeongguk asks, “Would you want to go somewhere? With me?”
It takes Taehyung a moment. To come out of himself. Out of something. He stares for a long second. Then, he blinks. Then, the smile is bleeding all over his face. Seems to fit just fine.
“Yeah. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere we can talk. Yeah. Yes, I’ll go somewhere with you. Been trying to ask you all night but I was kinda distracted by the fact that you let me hold your hand.”
Maybe it’s a mistake.
Maybe Jeongguk is about to get burnt.
But Taehyung has this soft look in his eyes.
But Taehyung wraps his hand around Jeongguk’s. Pulls him away from the counter. Is carefully in the way he leads Jeongguk through the messy drunken bodies. In the way he moves them.
But Jeongguk doesn’t think so.
But it’s too late really. To pull away. To find one of those boys. Jeongguk already knows his name. Has already felt his hands.
The door swings open. Sound pushing into the kitchen.
Jeongguk looks over his shoulder.
There’s too many people at the counter now, cupboards open, food spilling out.
The couple is nowhere in sight. A mountain of bags of chips take up the space the boy was sitting on.
Taehyung laces their fingers together. His hand is warm. He glances at Jeongguk for a second. Smiles and it’s then that Jeongguk notices. That Taehyung’s eyes are electric too.
They leave the kitchen. Leave the quiet.
“I really did mean- shit, fuck, your mouth- talk.”
The hallway is loud.
The music pounds. Crawls up the wall. Makes it shake. Up to where Jeongguk’s spine is pressed to it. Jeongguk can feel it. The way he shakes too.
He can’t remember how it happened.
Just that the hallway was dark as well as loud.
Just that Taehyung was standing in front of him, leaning in as he spoke with that smile, a hand propped up next to Jeongguk’s head on the wall, the other curled over the jut of Jeongguk’s hip, hot palm pressing into the bone, thumb teasing under his shirt at his skin. Like he already knew. How to touch Jeongguk. Where to put his hands. How to make Jeongguk shake.
Just that the dim hallway light was falling over the bend of Taehyung’s neck. Making the tanned skin look even darker. Like Taehyung was out in the sun instead of in the middle of a nasty drunk college party.
Just that it wasn’t the music making Jeongguk shake. Just that it was Taehyung, thumb landing exactly over Jeongguk’s spot. That tiny inch of skin. The one on his hip that always makes Jeongguk shiver. His hips arch. Gets Jeongguk mouthy, breath choked in his lungs. Usually has to shove boys’ hands in the right direction so they’ll touch him. There. And Taehyung had found it. Got there without directions, Jeongguk’s impatient hands.
And maybe it was just Taehyung’s touch tripping in the low light.
And maybe it’s just something some guys are good at. Knowing how to touch someone. Guys like Taehyung.
And maybe it’s just Taehyung.
So it was just.
Just that Taehyung was touching Jeongguk.
Just that Jeongguk wanted to know if Taehyung’s skin feels as warm as it looks.
Just that Jeongguk gets mouthy. All the time but especially when he gets touched like this. By certain kinds of boys. By guys like this one. By this one.
Taehyung’s throat vibrates as he speaks. Jeongguk feels it against his lips. Against his mouth from where he’s got it pressed right over Taehyung’s skin, under that strong jaw. The one Jeongguk wants to draw. Touch. Is touching now. Hot. Slightly tacky with party sweat. Heat. He must have been smoking earlier or with someone who was because Jeongguk can smell it, kisses the hinge of his jaw where it lingers. He sucks, digs his teeth in a little.
Does it a lot when Taehyung make a noise, a groan unsticking from his chest, both his hands shoving up Jeongguk’s t-shirt, fingers hot and insistent grabbing at Jeongguk’s waist. Impatient hands. Jeongguk’s mouth drops open on a moan, breathy, sighing against Taehyung’s neck.
It gets lost in the music, another slightly less shitty of what his roommate calls classic slow fuck jams, but Jeongguk can hear it. Knows Taehyung can too.
Taehyung clenches his grip, digging into the curve under Jeongguk’s ribs. The heat bursts in Jeongguk’s belly. His hips kick against Taehyung’s and he wants to be embarrassed at how kind of desperate he already feels, already is, his cheeks blooming with it, but Taehyung’s hands are big and so hot on Jeongguk, and Taehyung feels so hot against him, is so hot, and he spreads his own hands over Taehyung’s chest, over the ridiculous The Beegees t-shirt- Bee Gees, he remembers, tracing a hot trail of kisses down Taehyung’s neck until he reaches where it bends into his shoulder, just Bee Gees- over the knock of Taehyung’s heart, short of clings to it, and Jeongguk isn’t embarrassed. He isn’t.
Because Taehyung is stroking his thumbs over the cut of Jeongguk’s flat stomach, fingers spreading over the small of Jeongguk’s back. Because Taehyung is pulling him closer. Because Taehyung has his face pressed to Jeongguk’s hair, lips skimming his temple, the shell of his ear like he wants to kiss too but he’s letting Jeongguk have this, have him. Because their hips are touching. Because they’re touching everywhere.
Because Taehyung is shaking too.
And Jeongguk thinks. Kissing.
Taehyung is speaking again. Mumbling. He drags his pinkies just above the dimples in Jeongguk’s lower back. Jeongguk jolts, scrapes his teeth over the jut of Taehyung’s shoulder, lightly muscled and skin so soft. Taehyung jerks, yanks Jeongguk’s hips against his, pushes Jeongguk further into the wall, hot breath fanning over Jeongguk’s ear, and fuck, Jeongguk wants to dig his nails into those shoulders, hook his knees over them, press his heels into the muscle, feel the breadth of them shaking between Jeongguk’s trembling thighs.
In the hallway of some university kid’s house, Jeongguk can only do one of those right now. He slides his hands up Taehyung’s chest, up and over, presses his fingers into his upper back, feels him twitch under his grip. Jeongguk lets himself drag his lips over his shoulder, lets himself cling here too.
“Fuck,” Taehyung mutters, dropping a wet kiss to the shell of Jeongguk’s ear. “Fuck, you’re so hot. How are you so hot? Are all first years this hot now? Is this, like, a thing now? Sure as shit weren’t this hot when I was a first year.”
Jeongguk laughs. He feels melty and drunk silly. Buzzing. Syrupy. Sticky with it. He detaches from Taehyung’s shoulder. His mouth. Kisses it one last time. Keeps his hands where they are.
He tilts his head on the wall. The bass beats at the base of his skull. “You weren’t this hot when you were a first year?”
Taehyung makes a dismissive sound. Shakes his head. He leans back. Just his chest. Keeps his hands where they are. Jeongguk tries not to press further into them. His hips feel melty too. Sticky. He’s already a little hard in his jeans. It’s the vodka. It’s the hands.
“No fucking way. I was an uber nerd. Knew how to work it but you-”
Taehyung sighs, deep in the back of his throat, and Jeongguk bites back a groan, hips melting a little further at the way Taehyung is looking at him, deep brown eyes, touched by his grin. At the way he comes close, leans in and brushes his lips over Jeongguk’s pulse point, gives him a sucking kiss when it gets him a reaction, one of Jeongguk’s hands climbing up into his hair as he arches his neck, lets Taehyung kiss him there. Lets him have him now.
“But you,” and he sighs again and that really does something to Jeongguk for some reason, the way Taehyung sighs. The way he breathes. “You’re like- like Hyuna hot. Madonna even.”
A snort shoots out of Jeongguk’s mouth. “That’s your bar for hot? Madonna?”
“Yes. No? Who’s hot? I don’t-” He nips at Jeongguk’s skin with his teeth, pinches his waist teasingly. Jeongguk sucks in a breath, hand tightening in Taehyung’s hair. “Quit trying to distract me when I’m trying to compliment you. And kiss you. I can only multitask so much.”
Jeongguk laughs. His shoulders shake. He feels melty there too. Buzzes with it. He thinks of it again. Looks at Taehyung’s mouth. A little swollen from pressing it to Jeongguk’s damp heat fused skin.
“I could compare you to Jay Park if you want. You definitely have the abs for it. Or that one idol singer. With the really, really, pretty face. You definitely, definitely, have the face for it.” And Jeongguk wonders which one Taehyung is talking about. Who else he thinks has a really, really, pretty face. “Or I could just-”
Taehyung doesn’t finish his sentence. Busies his mouth with bruising the dip in Jeongguk’s neck. Noses down to the hollow of his throat. Kisses him there too.
Jeongguk doesn’t bother. To try and suppress the tilt of his hips into Taehyung’s. The way his fingers tug at him. In his soft hair. At his hard back. The grin spreading his mouth open. The one that feels too big for his mouth.
Two girls walk by.
People have been coming and going. Searching for a bathroom. Trailing to the rooms in the back. Somewhere to stand. To talk.
One of the girls gives him a look. Looks away just as fast. Smiles lewdly to herself.
Jeongguk takes note then. They aren’t the only two people together like this. All bodies. Hands. He realizes in his tipsy addled brain. How open the hall is. Exposed. He isn’t a stranger to this. Hooking up in someone else’s house. In public. But he’s aware of it now. How the press of Taehyung’s body. The swellscape of the music. The illusion that it’s just them. Just Taehyung’s hands. Just Taehyung. Is just that. An illusion.
The other girl looks too. Her lipstick is smeared. Her eyes are misty like she’s been smoking too. She gives Jeongguk a look. Doesn’t look away. Smiles.
Jeongguk watches her disappear around the corner.
Taehyung says, “Or I could just compare you to you. Are there even other hot people? Doubt any of the other first years are as hot as you anyway.”
Jeongguk blushes. He really needs to grow out of that if he’s going to spend any more time with Taehyung. Like immediately.
Taehyung rubs his palms along Jeongguk’s waist, presses his hot palms to his sides, something casually primal in his touch, something that sends a thrill up Jeongguk’s navel, less casual, just as primal, and he tilts Jeongguk’s hips further, just because, because he can, runs his tongue along Jeongguk’s collarbone, smiles against it when Jeongguk gasps hotly, and fuck, the stupid blush isn’t going anywhere.
Jeongguk gets his bearings. Sort of. Asks, “You don’t hook up with first years a lot?”
“Been a while. Though, I did, um, hook up with a highschool student recently? By accident.”
“Taehyung,” Jeongguk bursts out laughing. He kind of loves how it leaves his mouth. Immediate. Like he’s been saying it for a while.
Taehyung pulls back. Just his mouth. It’s dark but Jeongguk can see it. The hint of red in his face. Swaths around his jaw especially. It’s more than the heat. The flush of arousal. It’s kind of unfair. That a guy who looks like Taehyung, with hands like his, can look this cute too.
It’s giving Jeongguk whiplash. Makes him want to do more than just get on his knees for Taehyung. Have Taehyung put him where he wants him in some stranger’s bathroom. In their bed. In his bed. Taehyung’s. Makes Jeongguk want other things you can do with hands. All of them.
Taehyung stares at him. Looks blank for a moment, his too wide face void of anything. Hiding. But then Jeongguk sees it. The look in his eyes. Something kind of soft. The way they softened after Jeongguk laughed. Gave his name that lilt. Eased it. Like a habit. Like his name tastes good in Jeongguk’s mouth.
He wonders if he’s giving Taehyung whiplash too.
“I swear I didn’t know. He didn’t say he was. Didn’t look like one. Is that dickish to say? High schoolers can look however they want. He was eighteen so it was legit by American standards. Law-wise. I think. Pretty sure.”
Jeongguk curls his index in Taehyung’s hair. Brushes his fingers through the shorter strands at his nape. Thinks about Taehyung and some American boy. How pretty he was.
“Oh. How old are you?”
Eyes wide, Jeongguk is quick to say, “I turn nineteen soon! Like, really soon. I’m basically nineteen already,” he finishes, his grip on Taehyung frozen, the impulse to hold on a little desperately repressed.
Taehyung smiles. Takes one of his hands off his waist to push some of Jeongguk’s hair off his forehead, fingers careful. It’s a small gesture. Soft. A little too casual. Familiar. Maybe not the kind of thing some guy he’s tipsy almost making out with should do to him. Jeongguk doesn’t move. Wants to shake his bangs out so Taehyung will do it again. “We’re not in America. We’re both in university anyway.”
“Not that I have a thing for people younger than me. Not that I don’t have! Things for them. But. It’s not because their younger. It’s just always a cliche. That older guy. Douchebaggy creepy about it. I’m not. Creepy. Or douchebaggy, I-” Taehyung bites his lip, curls his hand. “I’m coming off as creepy now, aren’t I?”
Jeongguk shrugs. Grins, knows it probably looks obnoxious. “Not really. But the fact that you keep saying you’re creepy is starting to make me think so.”
Taehyung smiles. Brushes Jeongguk’s forehead again. The tiny bit of hair still curled over his eyebrow. “When’s your birthday?”
The music changes. Dives into a sweltering beat. Drudgy. Like the song is moving through something sticky. Thick. It swims up Jeongguk’s back. Rubs up against his nape. The base of his spine where it pulses. Where Taehyung is sliding his hands towards, the strip of skin right above Jeongguk’s low jeans, sweat and heat pooling there like all the heat in the hallway, in Jeongguk, is centering there.
Taehyung says, “You being a fall baby. You’re parents making you when I was being born. The time of. A few years later. It’s cute. Or maybe it’s just you.”
Jeongguk’s heart kicks. Everything else around them feels so slow. The music. The lights. The party goers. The other couples making out. The other couples of people making out. Almost making out. It scares him almost. How fast it feels in comparison.
He presses his shoulders into the wall. Cocks a brow as he asks, “You’re thinking about my parents having sex while you’re making out with me?”
Taehyung laughs. This deep belly thing that makes Jeongguk’s own belly react, buzzing pleasantly. A little hot. The soft light hits Taehyung’s jaw just right, the amusement in his eyes, the strain of his throat as he laughs, and it’s a lot hot.
Laughter shook out, Taehyung shakes his head. “No. Just about you. How cute you are. Even when you’re being a smart ass.”
“Not trying to be a smartass,” Jeongguk says though he was.
“Oh, you are. Good at it too. Look like you could easily put me in my place. Make me sorry about it too,” Taehyung says but he’s smiling, lips stretched in something that’s a little too self satisfied to be called a smile. Nasty in a different way than the girl from before. He touches Jeongguk’s face again. His jaw this time. “The funny thing though?”
Jeongguk is sure of it. His heart is about to race right out of his chest. Break out from between his ribs. Slam itself smack into the obstacle in front of it. Taehyung’s. Taehyung.
He knows Taehyung isn’t expecting an answer. His mouth drops open. He sounds breathless, stupidly so, when he asks, “What?”
The slow thing. The thick thing. The sticky thing. It’s on Taehyung’s face now. In his smile and Jeongguk wants that smile. Wants it on his chest. On the sensitive spot on his belly. The jelly leg inducing, hip kicking, tingly feeling, even more sensitive one on his hip. On his cock. Between his thighs. On his back. That one place on his nape Taehyung hasn’t found yet. On his ass. Jeongguk wants it. That beautiful nasty smile of Taehyung’s pulling Jeongguk apart, making him everything except sorry about it.
Taehyung thumbs his cheek. Too slow. Too fast. Too something. Jeongguk feels it there. The buzzing too. Taehyung says, “The funny thing is I’d let you. Want you to-” and Taehyung stops. His gaze fall somewhere below Jeongguk’s eyes.
And Jeongguk thinks, kiss me. Kiss me, kiss me, god, he wants Taehyung to kiss him, to put his beautiful nasty mouth over Jeongguk’s filthy pretty one. Because he knows that the other boys think his mouth is pretty. Knows his mouth gets filthy. When he gets mouthy. When he gets hands like the ones on him right now on him. And he wants that mouth. Wants it all over but especially there. Wants.
His fingers have gone slack in Taehyung’s hair. The other hand dangling over his shoulder. It hits him then. That he doesn’t have to wait for Taehyung to kiss him. That he usually doesn’t wait. For the other boys to kiss him.
He doesn’t have to wait except he looks at Taehyung’s face. Realizes it’s gone blank again. His heart thumps. At the fact that he can’t tell what he’s thinking when he looks like this. Hiding. That he maybe does it without meaning to.
Jeongguk blanches. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Taehyung says. Even his voice is slow now. Syrupy. Thicker than before. Through the nerves, it makes Jeongguk’s spine shiver. Makes the buzzing in his belly burn. Softer, like he can hear Jeongguk’s worry, Taehyung repeats, “Nothing. It’s just I realized.”
“I lied earlier.”
Jeongguk chews on his lower lip. Keeps the shake out of his voice. The only thing about him that isn’t. Hesitant, he asks, “About what?”
“About the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
“So? What is it? The craziest thing?”
Taehyung grins at Jeongguk’s badly veiled impatience. He cups Jeongguk’s jaw fully now, palm wide and warm, his thumb long enough to stroke his chin. Under his lip. Close. He moves in. Chests brushing again, the fabric of their t-shirts rustling. He blocks out the light, shaded and dark, and maybe this is an illusion too because he really isn’t that much taller than Jeongguk but he looks like something Jeongguk can’t contain. On tracing paper. Between his arms. Inside his body.
Quietly, Taehyung looks at Jeongguk’s mouth. At his eyes. Presses down on Jeongguk’s lower lip. Makes the color of it bloom. Quietly, he says, “The fact that I haven’t kissed you yet.”
Jeongguk inhales. Sharp. Too fast. Everything is too fast. His mouth feels something stronger than the buzzing. Like his skin is singing. Thrumming. Something like electric. He thinks about licking his lips. The thumb pressed there. Swallows instead. “You sort of have. And don’t you mean the craziest thing you haven’t done?”
“No,” Taehyung says. Laughs a little and fuck, Jeongguk wants that too. His laugh. Every single thing his mouth can do. “I don’t. Not kissing you is the crazy thing. Kissing you is the opposite of crazy. Whatever the opposite it is. Kissing you makes perfect sense.”
Maybe if Jeongguk weren’t a naive first year, were a jaded fourth year, an even more jaded third year, he wouldn’t melt the way he does at that. Wouldn’t flush so easily. Wouldn’t smile so wide, chin tucked and shy. He isn’t that naive, hopes he isn’t, but he does all that anyway, because maybe he is. Because maybe there’s something about some guys. Guys like Taehyung.
Taehyung follows his movement. Tilts Jeongguk’s face back up. Swipes his thumb over Jeongguk’s lower lip. His thumb is the tiniest bit rougher than his other fingers. Like he presses too hard on the shutter. Heat sings in Jeongguk’s belly. In his half hard cock pressed up against his zipper. He thinks his boxers might be a little wet though that might be the heat. Party sweat. He meets Taehyung’s deep eyes. Feels his touch. Knows it isn’t just the house around them. The music punching his gut. Making him melt.
Because he is. Melting. So he gives into it. Parts his lips, mouth open, breath hot and sticky on Taehyung’s skin. He watches Taehyung drag his thumb down, get wet on Jeongguk’s inner lip, coax his mouth wider, watches Taehyung stare at him, his eyes glazed, lost and like he’s still on whatever he smoked earlier, and Jeongguk is going to crawl out of his skin, fizz out of himself so he doesn’t think. When usually he would. When usually he would do this at the exact moment. When he means to.
Jeongguk follows Taehyung’s movements. Catches his teeth on Taehyung’s thumb and presses his tongue to it, curls around it and sucks. Moans a little at the heat of it, the kick of heat in his cock than the taste. Just a little. Just because he’s got a vodka stained mouth. Just because he wants Taehyung’s mouth all over him but he also wants his mouth all over Taehyung.
Taehyung’s reaction is threefold.
His eyes go hazier, look downright drunk before they go wide. Look big enough to bust out of his skull.
His own mouth opens. The breath he lets out is almost loud in the cloying beat.
Then, he says, “Oh, jesus, fuck-” pulls his hand away, and puts his mouth, his beautiful nasty mouth, right against Jeongguk’s, the whole pretty filthy thing of it.
Jeongguk’s breath goes out.
The sound buzzes.
Then, he fucking melts right into it. Lungs. Belly. Legs. His knees liquify. Mouth. Hands.
Then he fucking clings. Gets both his hands in Taehyung’s hair to yank him closer, to get him to hold Jeongguk against the wall, to get him to take. Jeongguk’s mouth. The space between his legs. All of it. Whatever Taehyung wants. All of it.
And Taehyung takes it. Wraps an arm around Jeongguk’s waist, forearm cradling his lower back, hand pressed to his hip. He sighs into the kiss, melds his soft lips to Jeongguk’s as he crowds him in close, slides one of his legs between Jeongguk’s thighs like it owns the place. Like it’s already his. The muscles in Jeongguk’s legs quake. His thighs clench around Taehyung’s leg, hips short of rutting down before he can help it.
He feels liquid. Thicker than.
Feels it worse when Taehyung readjusts his stance, their hips pressing differently, and Jeongguk feels his cock against his, the hot length of it through Taehyung’s jeans. When he kisses him differently too, these sweet, wet, tiny little things all over Jeongguk’s mouth. Too soft. Too slow for the way he grips Jeongguk’s waist under his shirt, pulls him further along his thigh, edges Jeongguk to move the way he wants to, hips twitching with it. His cock kicks against the hardness of Taehyung’s thigh. Against his own cock. Jeongguk’s hips stutter. Feels his boxers get wetter.
A whine climbs up his throat, embarrassment clawing at his gut, shamelessness soothing in his chest because Taehyung kisses that too, Jeongguk’s whining mouth, how desperate he his, his lips curling, and fuck Jeongguk wants that too. Thanks whoever the fuck decided house party has to be loud. Needs to be.
He fists his hands in Taehyung’s hair and kisses him harder, mouth gasping little breaths every time Taehyung moves him, licks his tongue into Jeongguk’s mouth, lets him suck on it, yank Taehyung’s hair harder. Does nothing expect let Jeongguk do it. Just kisses him even deeper, softer, hands guiding Jeongguk through it.
Jeongguk digs his heels into the floor, tries to lock up his knees so as to not lose it. His balance. His mind. Taehyung’s mouth. The simmering hot buzzing pleasure of it. He keeps a hand in Taehyung’s hair. Brings the other shakily to Taehyung’s belt, knuckles hitting the metal clasp.
Taehyung chokes on a breath, hands tightening on his waist. He goes to pull away, because they’re at a drunk college party but it’s still someone’s hallway. Still other people’s nasty smiles. But Jeongguk hooks his elbow around Taehyung’s neck, keeps his mouth where it is by the back of his head, and slips his hand up Taehyung’s ugly Bee Gees t-shirt, presses his palm to his hot skin. Smiles. Slides his fingers up Taehyung’s soft stomach, his firm chest, his wide shoulders. Likes the way he’s different in places. Warm everywhere.
Taehyung’s shoulder’s ease. He laughs against Jeongguk’s mouth and it feels better than Jeongguk imagined, full and rich and light. Achy in the good way. The best way. He makes Jeongguk’s chest ache with it. Feeling his laughs, his chest, against his. Jeongguk smiles wider till they’re barely kissing, just pressing their lips together, too much teeth, too much something. It’s almost easy to ignore the throbbing in his jeans. The melty thing in his hips. His lower back. Because the melty thing is on his face too. He can feel it. In his smile. In his eyes.
Sees it in Taehyung’s too.
“Ay, yo, Taehyung-ah!”
Their lips come apart. The sound is sticky to Jeongguk’s ears. Too loud.
He wants to bring a hand to his mouth. Feel the buzzing thing for himself. Doesn’t.
Jeongguk looks before Taehyung does. Is the only one who does.
The hallway is already crowded. The group coming through drives the press of heat worse.
Jeongguk’s hands stutter. He doesn’t have to speak to them to know. One look and it’s obvious. They aren’t boys like the other ones. They’re guys. Closer to the kind Taehyung probably is. It’s in the way they move. The ease. The confidence. The fact that he’s pretty sure one of them talked him up at a party once, all sharp attractive mouth, even sharper eyes. Calling Jeongguk pretty. Calling his art decidedly not. Almost convinced Jeongguk anyway. To let him put his hands on him. Succeeded almost a little too easily.
Taehyung stands a little straighter, still curled over Jeongguk a bit. He keeps their hips together. Doesn’t look away from Jeongguk’s cheek. Moves his thumbs over the arch of his waist in soothing motions. Calming.
It helps. A little. It does. Jeongguk’s shoulders still go up when the group is level with them.
But only one of them stops, the rest sauntering by with leering smiles, the shortest reaching out to pull teasingly at Taehyung’s hair and say, “Shit, man. Don’t fuck the kid in public. There’s a love motel three streets over.”
Jeongguk’s cheeks heat. He wants to push Taehyung’s hands off but he also really doesn’t.
Taehyung rolls his eyes at Jeongguk, something smiling about it like they’re sharing the same secret.
Jeongguk thinks they might be.
“Jimminie’s right, Tae.”
Taehyung looks over. It’s hard not to with this guy. He takes up space. The way Taehyung does but different. Maybe it’s just different to Jeongguk.
He smiles. Nothing leering about it. Not as much. He gives Taehyung a nod, familiar. “I’ll clear out tonight. Apartment’s all yours. No more public indecency fines, yeah?”
Jeongguk widens his eyes, heat swarming. He hooks a finger on one of Taehyung’s belt loops.
The guy doesn’t wait for an answer. Skims his gaze over Jeongguk. Lands it back on Taehyung, eyebrow cocked, smile all nasty now, like the two of them share a secret too.
Taehyung just laughs. Swipes an arm out. “Fuck off, Namjoon.”
The guy, Namjoon, dodges it. Catches up to the group, hanging off one of their backs as they turn and disappear into the far end of the house.
Jeongguk watches them go. Wonders if one day he’ll be like that. That kind of self serving confidence. That kind of ease.
Breath touches his face.
Taehyung sighs again. Tucks his face back in Jeongguk’s neck, kisses him there like it’s nothing. An afterthought. Jeongguk’s knees go shaky with it. “Sorry about them. They’re the best people ever but unfortunately that means they’re also the worst.”
Taehyung’s mouth curves against Jeongguk’s throat. “You wanna ask don’t you?”
“Hmmm?” Jeongguk asks, distracted. By the music changing again. Darker. Faster. By Taehyung mouthing at the column of his neck. By Jeongguk’s knees trying to shake themselves apart.
“Fuck, you’re cute. I promise there was no fine. It was barely indecent.”
“No, really. It’s okay. Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung flexes his hands at his waist, surprised.
Jeongguk’s entire body goes red. Feels like it. “Oh, sorry! I’m sorry- I shouldn’t have-”
“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees, dropping one last kiss on Jeongguk’s pulse. Under his jaw. Pulls back. There’s nothing harsh about his voice. Everything around them is dark, fast, but Taehyung’s voice is slow. Melty. A little breathless too. And his eyes. The hallway is almost somber in comparison to them. To the way that, in the weak light, they look like they spark. Look something like electric. “I mean, yeah, you shouldn’t have but, yeah, you can. You can call me hyung too.”
“Oh, I um- Oh.”
“Kind of a given at this point but can I call you? Jeongguk-ah?
“Oh.” Oh. It’s sort of Jeongguk’s yeah. Doesn’t sound as nice. As whatever it in the way Taehyung says it that makes heat bleed in Jeongguk’s belly. He scrunches his hands at Taehyung’s waistband, restless. “You, uh. You already kind of did? But it’s fine!” he rushes to add when Taehyung’s face goes sheepish.
“It’s okay. We’re both a little rude. That means we’ll get along well, rig-” Jeongguk cuts off when he realizes what he just said. Because yes Taehyung did call himself a sort of dick and he maybe hasn’t observed all the rules he should, but he’s still older than Jeongguk, still deserves respect in a different way than Jeongguk does, expects it probably.
And maybe he does but Taehyung smiles. Squeezes his waist one last time. Says, “Yeah, I think it does.”
His hands slide down to Jeongguk’s hips, hands a leaving a trail of hot. Of the buzzing thing. He holds on for a moment. Lets go after another, taking the time to tuck one side of the tail of Jeongguk’s t-shirt into his jeans. The way it was before his hands took over his hips, his waist, his body. Like he wasn’t ever there. Like it’s not already his.
Jeongguk sucks in a breath. Thoughts racing. Thoughts too fast.
He unhooks his own hands from Taehyung’s waist. Tucks his shirt the rest of the way, chin tucking as he does it.
Taehyung says, “But Namjoon was right. Jimin too though I’m not gonna- yeah. But.”
Jeongguk’s head shoots up, fingers tangling in his shirt because Taehyung isn’t going to what? He opens his mouth but Taehyung beats him to it. Asks,
“Will you go somewhere with me?”
Everywhere, Jeongguk thinks. Everywhere. It doesn’t scare him. That he thinks he could go any place with Taehyung. Doesn’t scare him to feel this way the way he always thought it might.
The way he always hoped it wouldn’t.
And Taehyung smiles and he makes it so easy. To realize that he isn’t that big. That wide. That Jeongguk can contain it. Him. Even if he has to string all his canvases together to get down every precise beautiful angle of him. Even if he has to stretch his arms wide until they hurt. Even if he has to spread his legs until his thighs go shivery, achy.
Because the electric thing is in his eyes.
In Taehyung’s hands when he grabs one of Jeongguk’s and pulls him from the wall, leads him through the hallway, away from the far the end of the house.
Because it’s on Jeongguk’s mouth. Inside of it.
He’s pretty sure it’s on Taehyung’s, inside of him, too.
“So what do you like?”
“Yeah. What do you like?”
“In terms of?”
“Everything. Wanna know what you like. About everything.”
“Sorry. That was too general. Let’s start small, yeah? Do you like your food?”
The shop isn’t busy. Steam pours from the kitchen window. Soft vocals stream out of speakers. The interior is kept cool, invites late night stragglers to stay.
Jeongguk stirs his noodles. Face warm. Belly warmer. Hips still kicking with it. Quieted. Soothed for now. “They’re good. U- brothy. Good.”
Taehyung frowns. “Yeah?”
Taehyung purses his mouth, barbecue sauce making his lips look swollen. Wet. Bruised. No longer Jeongguk’s mouth making it that way.
“That’s not a ringing endorsement. Here.” He pushes his plate to the middle of the table, chicken skewers grilled to perfection. Jeongguk’s mouth waters. “Try mine.”
Jeongguk shakes his hands, a piece of cabbage falling from his chopsticks. “No. It’s fine. Really. It’s good-”
Taehyung cocks a brow and Jeongguk’s gut clenches and what is it about the way a guy looks when he knows you’re bullshitting him. The reminder. I’m not as dumb as I look. I’m paying more attention than you think. Jeongguk knows he can do it to, does it a lot, but there’s something in the way Taehyung does it. Taehyung doesn’t look dumb at all. Is paying maybe too much attention.
Jeongguk likes it. All of it.
“Try this,” Taehyung says, tilting the plate in Jeongguk’s direction. “If you like it, I’ll try yours and we can switch. Or I’ll buy you something else.”
“You don’t have to-”
“Of course I do. What kind of hyung would I be if I can’t feed you properly?”
Steam wafts up Jeongguk’s face. Kisses his nose pink. Heats the tip of it. He fumble s with his chopsticks, plastic rubbing against his skin.
“A not impressive one, I’ll tell you that. Now eat,” Taehyung says. Adds, “Yeah?” after a moment.
Jeongguk nods. Eats.
His eyes widen, mouth shaping into a little o. He tries not to. He tries. Moans anyway, hums around the slightly spicy chicken in his mouth. “Oh. Hyung! It’s good!”
Taehyung smiles, looks so pleased about it like he’s done something far more important than getting Jeongguk to eat something he likes. He nods. Slides the plate the rest of the way over. Makes hands at Jeongguk’s bowl. “Good. Good. There’s more sauce over there if you want it. Now let me at that bowl.”
Jeongguk furrows his brows but he’s too busy with the chicken to protest. “Don’t you wanna make sure you like it first?”
“Nah,” Taehyung dismisses. He doesn’t bother with fresh chopsticks, already pinching a mouthful between the pair Jeongguk was using. “Shouldn’t have ordered that chicken anyway. I can’t eat spicy food for shit. Always think this might be the day it won’t make me cry.” He bows his head over the bowl, steam touching his jaw, grins at Jeongguk across the table. “Guess I was finally right.”
It should be hard to beam with a mouth full of chicken, but Jeongguk manages it, cheeks puffed.
The next few minutes are filled by the sounds of cutlery. Jeongguk’s fingers working at the chicken pieces, metal clicking against his drink cup. Taehyung smacking the chopsticks on the lip of the bowl, excess broth dripping down.
The soft music gets a little softer. The steam a little less stifling. Comforting warmth.
Taehyung slurps his noodles. Wipes his mouth with with a balled up dirty napkin. Jeongguk almost thinks he’ll wrinkle his nose in disgust, annoyance, but all he can focus on is his wet his mouth looks, how cutely his eyes light up in satisfaction at the taste, how good the chopsticks look gripped in his big hand.
“So,” Taehyung says, elbows on the table, focus only half on the noodles, most of it on Jeongguk. “Do you have a favorite painter? Or painting?”
Jeongguk doesn’t fidget under his attention. Lays the skewer down so he can pick at it more easily. Gives Taehyung his attention back. “Too many. It depends on my mood. How I’m feeling. I really like Kim Po. My stuff isn’t like his. I’m not abstract really. But it’s expressionist. I think? I try to be. I try to express when I paint. Emotions, you know?”
He looks down. Pulls at a piece from the skewer too hard. He wants to swallow back his words. How unsure he sounded. Small. Like he’s looking for approval. From someone else. From Taehyung. Like he just gave Taehyung the perfect in to poke holes in his phrasing, how inexperienced he is, how much he doesn’t know about the thing he supposedly loves.
He rips the chicken from metal. Rips it with his teeth.
Taehyung asks, “Who else do you like?”
Jeongguk peers up at him.
There isn’t anything on Taehyung’s face. Gaze calm. Focused. On Jeongguk, his noodles billowing steam into his lashes.
Jeongguk says, “There’s this newer artist. Kwan Hoshin. His stuff’s really cool. Colorful. His colors look so alive. Real. I want that someday. To make my paintings look alive.” He stops again. Taehyung’s mouth quirks, soft. Like he gets it. Like he’s thought about it too. How to make the two dimensional look alive. Real. Jeongguk guesses that would be the whole point of photography. Make a picture look there. Make you feel there. That’s always in the back of his mind when he takes a picture with his phone. How to prove he was there. Real. A flicker or embarrassment goes through him at comparing his iphone pictures with Taehyung’s educated shots. Remembers the way Taehyung called himself a photographer. Not a photography major. A photographer already, halfway done with his third year and already jaded from it. How he already is what he wants to be. He sips his coke. Continues, “There’s also David Choe. I know he’s just a street artist but-”
“No way,” Taehyung says with a firm head shake. He plucks a couple of napkins from the dispenser, places them next to the chicken plate. “Choe’s amazing. Gritty. Real, yeah? Who cares if he isn’t highbrow? Art is art. If it’s good, it’s good.” He pulls at the edge of his lip for a moment. Seems to chew his words over, bright shop lights landing in the dip of his mouth. “I’ve always disliked that distinction. There’s way too much gatekeeping in plastic arts. It’s behind the times in comparison to a lot of other art. Way too much money still in it. Music is mostly accessible to everyone. Instagram has made everyone a photographer. Most museums are free or have pretty cheap entry but the reputation it still has? That it’s for a higher class? It keeps so many people out. People that would benefit from it the most.”
The door to the shop opens. Gaggle of heat. Of stumbling club goers. Tiny dresses. Sharp shoes.
Taehyung doesn’t seem to notice. He darts his eyes around Jeongguk’s face. Searching. His brows flick for a second. Settle. He gestures his hands as he speaks, anchored by his elbows on either side of his bowl. Big wide movements. Something placating about them. “I mean, you can hold that distinction. Or anyone can. Painting- Plastic arts in general, is time consuming. Material consuming the way other art isn’t. Expensive too. It can take someone years to finish an art piece the way it never will a picture or a song. A photo series or an album, maybe, but it’s different. A body of work versus one piece. I just meant-”
He stops but he doesn’t look away from Jeongguk’s eyes and Jeongguk almost wishes he could make himself look away. Wishes Taehyung had just taken him back to his empty apartment. Had listened to whatever his name was- Jinmin, or was that one Namjoon?- and had Jeongguk spread out under his hands on some dirty love hotel mattress right now. Instead of this. Making sure Jeongguk eats something he likes. Trying to impress him. Proving himself to be one of those guys.
Except Jeongguk doesn’t.
Doesn’t look away.
Except Taehyung says, “I just meant don’t put yourself down. Or the stuff you like. You like it. That's all that matters.”
Everything touching Jeongguk turns warm. It already was but it’s different. The spice on his tongue. The heat in the pit of his stomach. His noodle shop flushed cheeks. A certain kind of warmth. The kind of color he gets when he mixes blues with reds. In equal amounts, the pigments bleeding into each other.
Still, he pulls another piece of chicken apart with rough hands.
Still, he says, “That’s kind of an oversimplification, don’t you think? Most of the world doesn’t even have internet so how accessible is music really unless they make it or buy cd’s? Instagram has its own way of keeping certain people out. If you don’t have a smartphone or a laptop, for one. Internet again. And isn’t photography a plastic art too? To some school of thought. All visual art is plastic one way or another. You’re still manipulating a medium.”
One of the tiny dressed girls laughs. She dabs at the sauce splattered on her expensive looking front, head thrown back, amused at herself. One of the other girls is smiling at her, her face almost overwhelmingly soft, laughing too.
When he looks back at Taehyung, his heart flips.
It’s that blank look again. Nothing on his wide face. Intimidating almost. Jeongguk wonders if this is why he smiles so much. To keep his face from looking fierce. Perfect angels dripping in disdain.
The song playing gets skipped. Melts into something sugary. Airy beats. So sweet Jeongguk can almost taste it. Choke on it.
He stammers out, hands fisting, “Sorry. I didn’t meant to say- I mean. I- I wasn’t-”
Taehyung blinks. His lashes flutter. Jeongguk’s heart imitates them. He watches Taehyung’s expression go hazy. Sticky. Feels the stickiness lick at his belly.
Taehyung shakes his head. He leans across the table even more, stops when he runs out of space. Because there’s a table between them. Plates of warm food. Half his mouth pulls up. “No. Don’t apologize. You’re right. I hadn’t thought of it that way but you’re right.” He grabs a napkin. Offers it to Jeongguk. “About most of it. Can’t really agree on photography as a plastic art but we can come back to that later. You’ve got sauce on your chin.”
Jeongguk’s chest deflates. Air wooshed out quietly. His mind is buzzing. For a moment, it feels like Taehyung is touching him again. Hasn’t really stopped feeling that way but it’s realer now. Physical. The hot touched impression of his hands.
He doesn’t feel sorry. Doesn’t think. Just leans forward. Tilts his chin. Lays himself out for Taehyung’s hands.
The other side of Taehyung’s mouth tugs. He wipes Jeongguk’s chin, uses the moment to touch his mouth again, thumbs at his kiss swollen lower lip because he can. Like he can’t help it.
Taehyung smiles. Asks, “Who else do you like?”
Jeongguk almost says it. You. He clears his throat. Only feels it a little like a terrible loss when Taehyung pulls his hands away. Says, “A lot. Um. I like Dalí. I like Matisse. Rousseau. Yayoi Kusama, though she’s more of a sculptor. Lots of random artists I’ve found on different websites. I like Monet a lot. I find him really calming.”
“Do you like Pollock?”
Jeongguk scrunches his nose. Taehyung laughs. “Not really. I get it. Sort of. But have you hear of Willem De Kooning? He’s abstract too but he was more based on reality. You can better see what he was trying to say. Or paint, I mean. At least, I think so.”
Taehyung hums. Picks up his chopsticks. “I haven’t but I’ll look him up. Tell you what I think later. But you like colors, right? Realism? In your paintings. Kind of seems like a theme?”
Pink cheeked, Jeongguk pulls the last chicken piece from a skewer. Thinks about the way Taehyung speaks. Questions that aren’t assumptions. Thinks about the idea of a later. He says, “You think Dalí was realistic? And um. I like color. Colors. I know I don’t look it but my artwork is.”
Taehyung frowns. Jeongguk doesn’t know if he’d ever be able to get all the details down on paper from when he does this. The fine arch of his eyebrows. The sudden nakedness on his face that looks like too many things. Confusion. Loss. Anger. Something else entirely.
He says, “I mean, Dalí just took reality and twisted it. Made real things seem otherworldly. Used a lot of concentrated color to do it.” Then he asks, “What do you mean look like?”
“You know,” Jeongguk says, gesturing at his overall person. “I don’t wear colors. Like ever. I wear white, mostly. Black. It surprises people. The way I paint. You said- sad emo singer?”
Taehyung’s frown deepens. Smooths out just as fast. He gathers a mouthful of noodles, the biggest one yet. “I didn’t say sad. I also said you looked like a drunk athlete. But-” He eats the noodles. Slurps. Broth drips. Again, Jeongguk isn’t as disgusted as he should be. Would be with anyone else except himself. He can be a pretty gross eater but Jeongguk doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to look at himself when he eats. Taehyung wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, looks so boyish about it, a little less than his twenty-one, and Jeongguk cares even less. “Being honest with you? Being real?”
It isn’t a question. Jeongguk nods anyway.
Taehyung grins with half of his glistening mouth. “That was my lame attempt at flirting with you. At saying anything to you. Even if it was really dumb. I kind of had to.”
“Talk to you. Get you to talk to me.”
“Why?” Taehyung repeats like the word doesn’t make sense. Doesn’t have a meaning. Is the first time it’s ever been said.
Jeongguk nods. It’s all he can do right now. Nod. Roll the empty skewer around the plate. Repress the urge to start on the next one. “Yeah. Why. Why did you have to talk to me?”
Taehyung smiles. With his whole mouth. With his entire big face. There’s a touch of shyness but like he’s purposefully putting it there, and he makes it look so good, shyness, Jeongguk sort of hates the table, the other people here. The fact that Taehyung can’t have his hands on him right now, press his flushed face to Jeongguk’s pink cheeks, his heat kissed neck and chest, his body. Everywhere.
“Because,” Taehyung says like it’s obvious. Because it is maybe. With the way he touched Jeongguk. The way he kissed him. The way he’s looking at him. The way he’s making Jeongguk buzz with it. Everywhere. Everything. “Because you were standing there reaching for a bottle of vodka like it had all the answers. Because you were standing there. And I saw you.”
Taehyung’s gaze shifts.
Called by something. One of the tiny skirt dressed girls throwing a sauce packet at her friend. An order called from the kitchen. A car going off outside.
Comes back, centers on Jeongguk, eyes touched by something. The buzzing thing too. He shakes his head softly, at himself. Lowers his voice, rich and almost frothy under the sugar sweet beat playing overhead.
“I saw you. And I knew I couldn’t leave that party without at least getting you to see me too.”
The empty skewer rolls off the plate. Keeps going. Plays with the lip of the table. Rolls off that too.
An older man steps over it, bags of grilled meat and steamed buns clenched in his overworked hands. His son trailing behind kicks it, sends it clattering near the door.
Jeongguk wonders why the old man has his son out this late. Realizes he has no idea what time it is. His hands feel too fidgety to check his phone in his pocket. Unsure.
He pulls at a piece of chicken, hair flopping on his forehead when he tucks his chin to stare at his hands. “Oh,” he says eventually. He knows it’s a line. Is pretty sure it is. Has heard something like it before. Is the kind of thing guys like Taehyung are unfairly good at. The kind boys like Jeongguk, a boy like Jeongguk, fumbles. But it’s the way Taehyung says it. The way he lays it out. The nervousness, the lameness, dressing up his obvious confidence. The timber of his voice. Something. That makes it sound like it’s not a line at all. The kind most guys like Taehyung would easily fuck up.
Taehyung laughs. Spears a floating vegetable in his noodles. Chomps it. “I really- I bring my camera. To parties. Sometimes. I use my phone some of the time when I go out but a camera’s a camera, yeah?” Taehyung pauses like he’s waiting for an answer. Like Jeongguk would know. He guesses he sort of does. He nods. Taehyung nods too. “I left it home tonight. Didn’t wanna deal with it. Wanted to get, just, totally shit faced, right? It’s a Thursday and I haven’t had a Friday class since my first term. Friday classes make no sense. It’s the weekend. Wanna lose my mind a little.”
Jeongguk has an eight a.m. tomorrow. Maybe later today.
He nods again.
Taehyung nods again too. Says, “But I was really. Kicking myself earlier that I left it.”
Jeongguk’s brows pull.
“After I saw you. You just look like someone who should be in pictures. Be in someone’s pictures. Everyone does but.” Taehyung shrugs. It shifts his bangs over one eye. His hair’s at this midway length like he’s growing it out. About to cut it all off. It’s the one obvious awkward thing about him. The one physical non-perfect thing. It adds to his boyishness. Belies his hands. Boys don’t have hands like that. Especially not ones who know what to do with them as well as Taehyung seems to. Taehyung smiles, everything about it soft. “You really do. You look like you should be someone’s pictures.”
Jeongguk doesn’t even want to think about the color of his face. How heat soaked all of him is. The pit of his stomach is one big buzzing blooming ache.
He says, “Oh.” He wants to tell him. About the fact that one of the first things he thought when he saw Taehyung was the desire to draw him. Paint him. Immortalize him. Not the way he is but the way Jeongguk sees him. Saw him in that moment. In the quiet. Hands first. Something that seemed uncontainable. He’s working up to it, how to word it, how not to fumble it, but Taehyung beats him to it.
Taehyung goes wide eyed. “Not that I would have! Taken your picture without your permission. I totally would’ve gotten your permission. And used it for non creepy reasons. Not used it all. Just posted it on my Instagram and dealt with the thousands of comments asking who that beautiful boy is and for your number. How you like your eggs in the morning. If you like being the little or the big spoon.”
Jeongguk raises a brow. Smile pulling at his mouth. “Thousands?”
“At least,” Taehyung nods, decisive. He bites his lower lip, eyes drenched in heat too. “Would have ignored them all. Partly because I’m not really interested in any of them knowing the answers to any of those questions. But partly because I don’t know the answer to any of those questions either except the first.”
Jeongguk only hesitates for a second.
Taehyung’s phone sits at the edge of the table, forgotten.
Jeongguk eyes it. Touches it with his index, brow arched.
Taehyung unlocks it so fast Jeongguk is surprised he doesn’t knock over their drinks. The noodle bowl. Pull all the muscles in his right arm.
He laughs, delighted. Feels it. Fizzing in his belly. The soft-fast beat inside his chest.
“Yeah,” Taehyung chides, tongue caught between his front teeth as he passes the phone over. “Laugh at me all you want but I gotta do it before you change your mind.”
Jeongguk shakes his head, giggles pouring out of his mouth. He wants to blame the leftover vodka, the giddiness of the moment, but it’s just how he laughs when he can’t help it. Unabashed. So unrepentantly boyish. “Why would I change my mind?” he asks, their fingers brushing unnecessarily as he takes the phone. He pulls away slowly, the tips tingling.
“Don’t know. Just seems like something beautiful boys do. Change their minds.”
The screen of Taehyung’s phone is a little tacky. Sticky. Night heat. Party sweat. Some candy he left in his pocket half melted. Taehyung seems like the type. He hunches a bit as he types his number in. “Is that what you do?”
The ice from Taehyung’s glass clacks against the plastic, hard.
Jeongguk looks up. Knows his cheeks are possibly about to burn right off. He meets Taehyung’s eyes anyway.
Taehyung’s face does the thing. The slow smile thing. Too big. Too much.
“No,” he says, jaw jutted, almost amused in a good way. Jeongguk thinks it is, anyway. “No. I can be a little flightey. My friends in high school had this joke they’d sign me up for NASA because I was such a space cadet sometimes but, uh, no. When I know I want something I do everything to get it. Can be kind of relentless about it. I’m also stubborn as fuck, in case that’s a massive turn off. I can curb it. I’m learning to, I think. But I’m really adaptable too which can make for a hell of a good time when it comes to decision making. Instinct versus survival mechanisms. If you can’t adapt you’re fucked. My friend- Namjoon, he was at the party- he’s into all that shit,” Taehyung says, taps at his temple. “The mind brain body fight. But that’s a given when you double major in psychology and philosophy. Our apartment is a fun time. Depressing, but, fun.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, entering the last digits. He hovers over the contact name. Pauses. “He isn’t an art major?”
Taehyung drums his thumbs on the table, laminated plastic making a hollow sound. “Nope. Namjoon is good at a lot of things. An obnoxious amount. Art is not one of them. Mostly. He kills it in his ceramics class, though. Embarrasses the fuck out of actual ceramics majors. Gets a real kick out of it.”
“Oh. I thought-” Jeongguk cuts himself off. “Never mind.” He leaves the contact empty. Hands the phone back. Thinks he’s ready for it when their skin touches. Severely underestimates the heat of Taehyung’s hand. The tiny zipping bird wings making itself a home in his chest. At his pulse point. The place their fingers brush. He says, “I don’t eat eggs in the morning. If there’s kimchi rice maybe. And, um, I like being the little spoon,” he adds, a quiet mumble.
At least, he thinks he does. He doesn’t actually know. He’s still trying to figure it out. The dimensions of lying close behind someone. Holding them. Lying in front of them. Letting them hold him. Wanting them to.
A smile stretches Taehyung’s face, head bent as he types into his phone. He saves Jeongguk’s number. Taps the screen.
Jeongguk’s phone buzzes in his pocket.
Then he sets the phone aside, leans over his noodles, chopsticks twirling in the thick broth. “I’m a serial cuddler. Like, to the point I’m pretty sure all my friends want to hate me but can’t because- and not to to toot my own horn- I’m a great hugger. I am!” he insists when Jeongguk laughs. He threatens to throw a picketed radish at him. Eats it. Jeongguk laughs harder, light and helpless. Taehyung grins around his mouthful. “All my exes loved it, though. ‘Cept this one guy. We would rock paper scissors for it.”
Jeongguk almost asks. How many exes are there. Did they understand art as well as Taehyung seems to. Were they pretty too. Prettier. He eats a chicken piece straight from the skewer. Asks, “Who won?”
“He did. Mostly. He was the luckiest person ever. Always finding loose change in the couch cushions. Money on the sidewalk. Scored free coffee because he smiled just right at the barista. That kind of person, you know? But.” Taehyung’s grin goes sharp. A little savage and he makes that look so good too. Too good. “We almost always ended up turned around in the morning. He’d pretend to get all mad but he fucking slept like a baby like that when he usually woke up three times in a night so. I think our bodies know. What we want. What we need. Even when we don’t. Our bodies are honest. Especially when we sleep.”
The sugary beat loops over the chorus again. Fills the shop. Fills the space between them. Fills the buzzing in Jeongguk’s veins. Fills him everywhere.
He looks at Taehyung’s hands.
Thinks about bodies. About want. About how he thinks he’d know exactly what he wants. In sleep. In dreams. While awake. Knows it now.
He feels the weight of Taehyung’s gaze. The moment it leaves. Brings his own up.
Taehyung watches his bowl for a few seconds. Laughs. He looks up at Jeongguk, says, “So. Uh. Yeah. I like being the big spoon. So I guess that works out.”
“And your eggs?”
“Your eggs? In the morning? How do you eat them?”
“Oh. Fried. So crispy they’re crunchy. But I’ll take them however you wanna make me them.”
Jeongguk cocks a brow. At the expectation in that. The thing unsaid. The satisfied smirk on Taehyung’s face that’s so stupid in how effective it is. “You expect me to make you breakfast? Kind of overconfident of you, no?”
Taehyung shrugs, smile softening. “A boy can dream,” he says, voice so dreamy itself. Like it’s the only thing he dreams of. The only thing boys, guys, dream of. Someone to make them eggs in the morning. Someone who knows how. Someone who wants to.
Taehyung laughs. A breath filled, sheepish sound. “I don’t expect that. Really. I just- yeah.” He shakes his head, eyes softly intense. It shouldn’t be possible but he pulls it off easily. It just seems to be how he is. A study in imposibles. “So. Anyone else you like?”
You, Jeongguk thinks again. Thinks it so many times he’s surprised it doesn’t tumble from his mind, his body, his heart, and out of his mouth.
“Michelangelo. The way he sketched bodies. Carved them. Some people think he made them look too perfect. I think he just made them look real. Like at any moment it could walk right off the page. The museum. I’ve always liked him. Not really sure why but I think it’s that.”
“He liked men, right?” Taehyung asks. “Boys?”
Jeongguk shrugs. “That’s what they say. It’s what his art says. His poetry too. He liked male bodies, for sure.”
“Can’t blame him for that. Some male bodies. A lot of them. But some of them. They were made to be art, yeah? Poetry. Reproduced and remembered forever.”
Jeongguk bites his lower lip. Thinks about photographs. Whether they can last forever. He rolls the abused skin between his teeth, thinks about how he might not hesitate so much with someone else. Doesn’t wonder if it is means anything.
He asks, “What about you? You said you liked Van Gogh? Who’s your favorite photographer?”
“If by like you mean I feel a soul connection with him so intense I’m pretty sure I was Dutch in another life, then yeah. I like him.”
Jeongguk huffs, amused. He pulls apart a piece of chicken thigh meat with his hands, fingers slippery.
Taehyung finishes off the last of the noodles. Pushes the bowl aside. His smile is pleased, almost inordinately so. On Jeongguk. He says, “I wasn’t bullshiting you earlier. I wish it were possible to take pictures like he painted. It kind of is. But I mean, emotionally. To paint something the way you feel it instead of see it. It’s not the same with photography. It’s still the picture of the thing.”
Jeongguk chews it over. Thigh meat. The words. Heart thudding, he asks, “Do you paint?”
A beat passes.
Taehyung is the one hesitating. Jeongguk can see it. Hands flexing before settling. His mouth almost shaping words. It isn’t embarrassment or sheepishness. He looks at Jeongguk for a long moment. It’s something else. “I’ve tried. I’ve had to. For core requirements. Just one. But no. I don’t paint. Don’t have the hands for it, I think.”
Jeongguk’s heart skips a beat. It comes back slower. Measured inside his chest.
Taehyung says, “I was too in love with photography, too, when I even thought about painting. Too late.” He lowers his voice, volume instead of depth, and Jeongguk finds himself leaning forward before can help it, slower abandoned, forgotten. Same as the damn fucking table between them. “I envision myself as this- you know the term, Renaissance man. Jack of all trades in the arts. The born again man who can do it all. But I’ve got a one track mind. The scatterbrain thing, yeah? I was scared I’d love photography less if I gave my attention to anything else. Wouldn’t take it as seriously. But I’m pretty one track about the things I love. Kinda stubborn that way.”
The shop door blares night sound. Keeps it out. The table where the tiny dress girls were sitting is empty, their disposable noodle bowls stacked in high towers.
It sends Jeongguk’s mind sideways. Distracts him long enough so he can’t tell if his heart is coming to a standstill or beating so fast it’s about to break rib cage. Shatter it. Pierce his lungs.
He wonders about how much he loves painting. How much he loves drawing. How much he loves his art. His own. Other people’s.
He wonders how much he’s loved anything at all.
Taehyung says, “Will you go somewhere with me?” He smiles and it really shouldn’t be possible. For a face that perfectly angled to look so so soft.
Jeongguk thinks, Everywhere.
Asks, “Can I finish my thigh meat first?”
Taehyung raises his brows, grin mirthful. “Of course. What kind of hyung do you take me for?”
And Jeongguk thinks something. A word.
“You never told me.”
“Told you what?”
“Well. Two things.”
“Okay. What’s the first?”
“What were you doing in America?”
“Oh. I was there for an exhibit.”
“Oh. Cool. Whose?”
Jeongguk misses a step.
He finds his footing quickly, only steps a little too hard on the sidewalk.
The street is empty. It’s sometime after midnight. Lamp posts creating pools of light. Houses quiet. Apartment buildings lit up. A cat naps belly up on someone’s balcony, moon bathing in the bright night.
Taehyung reaches out, face scrunched in worry. “Shit. Are you oka-”
“Yes, yes,” Jeongguk assures as he waves him away. He doesn’t think he could handle it right now. If Taehyung touched him. Put his hands on him right now. “You had a photography exhibit? In America? As in The United States? Where Obama lives?”
Taehyung laughs. He slides his hands in his pockets, shoulders causally hunched. “Fuck, you’re so cute. And yes. I exhibited a photograph. Just one. In America, yes. Chicago specifically. But a lot of other students were part of the exhibit so it really wasn’t- what’s wrong?” Taehyung asks, turns when he realizes Jeongguk is stopped behind him.
“Where was the exhibit?”
Taehyung’s mouth takes up half his face, eyes squinty. Jeongguk almost laughs, how kid sneaking too many snacks in the shopping cart he looks. “The Art Institute?”
“Of Chicago?! Ah, hyung-”
Taehyung squints harder. It is not cute. It isn’t. At all. “Is there another one?”
Jeongguk blanches. Then he rolls his eyes, starts walking briskly enough to pass Taehyung with a few strides. His legs have gone through that growth spurt without him. You’re all leg and I love it, a boy had told him once, the legs in question wrapped around his waist, Jeongguk’s knees cupped in his hands. He wonders what Taehyung thinks of them. His legs. If he’d like to touch them as much as he seemed to like touching Jeongguk’s waist. His hips. “And he says it so casually,” he says flatly, a little put upon, a little very much not.
Taehyung is next to him in seconds, the air around him charged. Teasing. Somehow not smug at all. “How am I supposed to say it?” Taehyung asks, the smile clear in his voice.
“Not like that,” Jeongguk insists, trying to fight his own smile. “It’s a big deal. You should say it like it is. Like you’re proud, hyung.”
The only sound is the lone car driving by. The distant murmurs of the busy city. The bell on the cat’s collar ringing as it rolls on her front. Stands on her white paws. Scales the side of the balcony back into her home.
Jeongguk stops. Turns. Taehyung is backlit. He stands just beyond one of the lampposts, every inch of his face made up of angles cut in light.
Jeongguk takes a step. Lands safely, full weight on the ball of his foot rocking back to his heel. He still feels unsure. He never carries his pencils with him, his paper, on nights like this one. Knows he won’t start but he feels the desire to. Understands it. Feels it in his buzzing belly. His hands.
Still, he says, “You’re really something, huh?”
The light moves as Taehyung does. Slides up his torso, his face, his hair. Drips behind him. Leaves him shadowed in the hidden moonlight. He makes his way towards Jeongguk, a few lampposts away, and Jeongguk feels something pull at the pit of his stomach, at his muscles. He tenses his legs, his arms. Makes himself stay where he is.
Because he wants to be conscious of it this time.
Because he wants to be aware of it.
The moment Taehyung walks up to him.
The moment their eyes meet up close.
The moment it changes.
The air around him.
Everywhere inside him.
The second Taehyung stands in front of him.
The second he looks at Jeongguk like he’s touching him.
The second he says, “You’d know. You’re really something too.”
And everything goes electric.
Then Taehyung says,
“So, what do you have against other art majors?”
Jeongguk blinks. His eyelids are heavy. His mind feels layered in syrup. Drenched in it. Hazy. Lost in with it.
The way Taehyung is looking at him. Like if they actually touched now it would light up. Everything. The street. The night. The space between their bodies. Would only make them want to touch more. Would make them not want to stop.
He shakes his head. Eyes trying to widen. Too sticky confused for it. “What?”
Taehyung is quiet for a moment. Watchful. Calculating. “Sorry. Should have eased into that.” And maybe he should have but he continues, face veering on blank, “I’m making a guess here so call me out if I’m way out of line but. You asked if Namjoon wasn’t an art major like he sells crack to preschoolers. And the face you made when I told you I did photography.”
“What face?” Jeongguk asks. Wonders if it really sounds as desperate as he thinks it does.
Something crosses Taehyung’s face. Like the light but warmer. Sweeter. “Disappointed. I thought it might have been the party. The vodka. But your face is so expressive. Not in an obvious way but sometimes it’s like…”
Jeongguk asks, “It’s like?”
Taehyung licks his lips. Takes another step. The one Jeongguk didn’t.
The buzzing reaches Jeongguk’s lungs. His breath. Static almost.
Taehyung looks at him from under his brows, from his overgrown bangs, the rest of the light shadowed, and he’s barely taller than Jeongguk, is average height at best, but Jeongguk wonders if everyone feels this way with him. A thing they want to make themselves contain. Know they never could.
Jeongguk wants to. Thinks he could. Hold the impossibleness of him inside himself. Inside his body. In his mind. On paper. In color.
He wants to try.
Taehyung says, “I don’t mean to sound like an asshole. Again. But I’ve seen a lot of people without their clothes on but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone as naked as you. It’s like you’re not even aware of it. How naked you are.”
Jeongguk says nothing. He doesn’t try to do anything with his face. Make it less naked. More.
The buzzing thing touches Taehyung’s voice now. A different kind of softness. “It makes me want to give you all my clothes but, like, for your face. But it also really makes me kick myself harder that I didn’t bring my camera tonight. Because you really do have that face. You really do look like someone’s pictures.”
Jeongguk says, “I’ve never done this before.”
Taehyung’s brows tighten. Rise. His eyes go big next, his whole face going kind of melty, like he can barely contain it either. “Oh. Uh. I-”
“Not that,” Jeongguk says hastily, face racing past pink into red. He hopes the night lights mutes it. Softens it. “I mean. Yes that. But not that. I mean-”
And it’s so sweet the way he says it. Naked with it. The way Jeongguk feels. Because he does feel it. Like Taehyung has undressed him and didn’t have the decency to do it while he had Jeongguk on his back laid out on his bed. To put his hands on him first.
Jeongguk shakes his head. Doesn’t let himself feel it. The melty thing. Not before he speaks.
Taehyung closes his mouth. Rears back a little. Looks a little naked himself too.
Jeongguk gathers a breath. Keeps it in his chest until he can’t. He says, “I have friends in my major. I know people and it’s-fine. But. Guys that I’ve, um, been with. Or almost been with. Guys like that. They’re so-”
In the quiet, Taehyung watches him. Hands in his pockets, sort of band t-shirt patty wrinkled. Body relaxed. Face anything but.
“I know it’s stupid. And, like, unfair. And, technically, I am one. But I’m- But they’re always so. It’s like they never turn it off. The art thing. And that’s fine, I guess. Some people are like that. But when I want a critique of my painting skills or how the baroque movement directly influenced the use of repurposed steel in modern sculpture, I’ll ask. I already know I don’t know a lot. That I’m still lacking. But I always want to be like, I don’t really want someone who talks at me. Down to me. I kind of just wanted someone to kiss me.”
“Or something,” he adds after a moment. More silence.
He rubs the sole of his sneaker against the ground a little, flat against concrete. His shoulders feel tight like there’s a knot tying them together hard enough to splice a bone.
“Art people are dicks.”
Jeongguk looks up. Does it too fast. Thinks he hears a bone finally snap. Crack at least.
Taehyung gives that same little shrug. Unashamed, elbows pointed gangly almost at his sides. “Even the girls, but guys especially. It’s the whole everyone always telling them they’re gonna end up as a convenience store cashier. The manager if they’re lucky. That the thing they wanna do with their lives is basically worthless. By society’s standards. Makes us all uppity. Self important.”
It’s a glaring contrast. The idea of self importance. Of pomp. In the context of Taehyung. His envy tinted love of Van Gogh. The casualness of the way he’d mentioned his trip. Like it wasn’t a big deal. Something anyone could do. The glaring lack of self importance.
Quietly, Jeongguk says, “You don’t seem to be.”
Taehyung makes a cross between a whistle and a sigh, mouth twinging. He looks almost uncomfortable. As he much as he can maybe. “Oh, trust me. I can be. But think about it. I mean, everyone’s telling you to be an accountant or work for a conglomerate, and it’s like. Fuck that. And fuck you too, man. If I wanted to be an accountant, I’d just be one, yeah? No way around it. You gotta really want it or it’ll suck the soul right out of you. It’s why you see so many businessmen with loose suits. It’s all the soul-weight loss.”
Jeongguk laughs. Dry. Too high. But he laughs. It feels a little less like he’s on the precipice of a mistake. About to be burnt.
He admits, “I was almost a business major.”
Taehyung’s brows flick, face twisting in obvious surprise. “Really?”
Jeongguk nods. “Thought about it seriously, at least. But my parents convinced me not to. They knew what I really wanted to do was paint.”
“Usually parents try to convince you to do the practical thing instead of the crazy thing.”
Jeongguk shrugs. Shifts his weight to one foot. His skin itches. For a different reason. For the sea. For the grass in the backyard of his parents’ house. For the shade under his father’s peach tree. For his mother’s warm breakfast, her voice, her smile.
“My parents aren’t your usual parents.”
Taehyung’s face eases, looks less like it’s about to take over everything. “You’re lucky,” he says. Jeongguk’s mouth opens, words wanting to trip out, but Taehyung says, “So yeah. It makes a lot of us dicks. That’s not an excuse but it- Someone didn’t-” He stops. Face darkening. Shadowed. “No one hurt you, did they? Break your heart?”
“No,” Jeongguk says and is that his voice? This soft sugar spun thing? “No, they didn’t.”
He’s never really given it for that. Thrust it into someone’s hands for them to tear it in two if they desired. Protect it, coddle it, keep it close if they wanted that instead. No one ever seemed to have the hands for it.
Taehyung nods, eyes relieved. There’s still a tension in his body, the way he’s holding himself. Not guarded but something like it. “I’m not gonna feed you bullshit or say I’m not like that. Or promise you I’m not kind of a dick about this stuff sometimes. About a lot of things. And I’ve really liked talking to you tonight. About art. And not art. With you, not at you. But I also really just wanna kiss you. Kinda wish I’d never stopped.”
Jeongguk still misses it.
Wrapped up in the soft pool of street light, it’s too much.
Taehyung standing still.
Jeongguk leaning in.
The touch of their breaths.
No other part of them comes into contact.
Just their breath.
Just Taehyung’s hand, a grounding thing on the dip in Jeongguk’s waist.
Just the press of their mouths, a little dry at first, a little too soft after a while.
But Jeongguk thinks he likes it. The too much.
Because, maybe Taehyung is right and sometimes he is kind of a dick. About art stuff. About any kind of stuff.
But Jeongguk doesn’t think so. Isn’t so sure.
Because he thinks maybe he’s the one who’s right. That there are guys like Taehyung but then maybe.
There’s just Taehyung.
Because sometimes, Jeongguk wants to be kissed. To kiss.
Because he opens his mouth against Taehyung’s and his whole body lights up. Buzzes. The brightest warmest thing on a residential sidewalk.
Everything is quiet and Taehyung is kissing him and Jeongguk feels electric.
“You never told me.”
“The second thing.”
“Second- um, oh! Thing?”
Taehyung laughs. Into Jeongguk’s mouth. His whole mouth trembles, smooth lips stretched wide over Jeongguk’s. Jeongguk smiles against it. Finds himself doing it easily. Second nature almost. Taehyung smiles. It makes sense. That Jeongguk should to.
“The second thing you wanted to know,” Taehyung explains, dragging his lips across Jeongguk’s cheek, these thorough little kisses that punch right up against Jeongguk’s heart. “The thing I never told you.”
He drags his hands up Jeongguk’s sides again, over his shirt this time, a try at decency in front of Jeongguk’s student housing building. Gets the same breathy gasp he got last time. Smiles about that too. They’ve already been interrupted three times, fellow students coming and going in the late night. He’d ducked his head into Taehyung’s shoulder the first two. Barely noticed the third. It was hard to pay attention to the boy catcalling them when he was too busy coaxing Taehyung’s tongue into his mouth. Jeongguk is a good multitasker but he’s stupid about it when he’s being kissed. This well. By hands like these.
He inhales a quick breath while Taehyung is distracted with his jaw, his ear, the little spot beneath it. He sucks in another sharp breath. Struggles with it for a moment. Tangles his hands in Taehyung’s hair. He’s on the bottom front step to the building, a little taller than Taehyung who’s on ground level, but he feels like he could go higher. Taller. Float right out of Taehyung’s hold. Above his head into the night lights.
Then he remembers. Says, “Uh. Right. It was, um, who your favorite photographer was. I think? Pretty sure.”
Taehyung chuckles. Pulls his mouth away from Jeongguk’s neck. Jeongguk doesn’t let go of his hair. Runs his hands through it a little. Because it feels good. Because he can.
“Ah, the favorites question. Impossible to answer. Changes every day. Sometimes it’s Roversi or Avedon. Some days it’s this one dude on instagram with like ten followers I get obsessed with. I’m really into this one photographer lately. He’s Brazilian, I think. Sebastião Salgado? He’s a documentary photographer. But he’s very emotional. It pours out of his shots. I think he’s as close to a painter as a photographer can get.”
“What about Van Gogh? Is he your favorite only some days?”
“No. It’s every day. I love him the same way every single day.”
Jeongguk’s hands buzz. His heart melts. Fizzes warmth. He finds Taehyung’s mouth again, pulls his lower lip between his own, runs the smooth wet skin between his teeth, feels his stomach kick when Taehyung groans. Does it again. Asks, “Come upstairs?”
He wonders if he’s ever said it like this. Like a question. A request. A plea. No half lidded lashes. No smart convincing mouth. Just a question. If Taehyung wants to. The same way Jeongguk does.
Taehyung makes another noise. A groan again but kind of pitiful. Too much breath. His hands are shaking a little, clenched at Jeongguk’s waist.
Jeongguk wants to hold his wrists. Cover his fingers with his palms. Quell the ache. Show him. That he’s not the only one shaking too.
Taehyung says, “I want to. I do. Like, a crazy amount. A crazy crazy amount. You have no idea- but. I can’t.”
The hands on Jeongguk’s waist go slack. Then, they tighten, grow more secure. Taehyung brushes a thumb along the curve of his abdominals, close to Jeongguk’s navel. Grounding. A sweet little touch. Absent minded almost. It makes it feel like he’d take Taehyung with him, if Jeongguk floated away.
“It’s not,” Taehyung starts. Shakes his head. Laughs. Tinged with self deprecation. “Another thing I’m gonna kick myself for tonight. I promised my advisor I’d meet him early. He’s really invested in my whole graduating next year thing apparently.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk repeats, less naked in his disappointment. Feels it less too. Ignores the twinge at the reminder.That Jeongguk is just starting. That Taehyung is well on his way to done. Jaded. “How early is early?” he tries anyway, hands gentling through Taehyung’s overgrown hair. He puts the convincing thing in his voice because it worked on some boys. A lot of them. On some guys. Maybe it’ll work on Taehyung.
In the end they’re all the same maybe. Boys. Guys. Boys like Jeongguk. Guys like Taehyung.
Except Jeongguk didn’t become one of those boys. Chose differently. Chose to be more like one those guys. Isn’t much like them anyway.
Taehyung groans again. It’s a good sound. Like his laugh. Like his voice when he speaks smooth and slow. “Six a.m.” At Jeongguk’s wide eyed look he sighs. Nods like it hurts. The pain of six a.m. “He flies out tomorrow. Some conference. Tokyo or something. Can’t remember. Remember even less now,” he adds, coming back for another kiss, smooth and slow.
Their lips come apart wetly. Jeongguk smooths some of Taehyung’s hair behind his ear, swipes his thumb across his temple. Mouths close, he says, “That’s not so bad. Six a.m. is, like, forever away.”
Grinning, Taehyung brushes their mouths together. The impression of a kiss. It feels staticy. Charged and heady. “Try four hours. It’s almost two thirty right now.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. He knew it was late but not by that much. Somewhere around midnight. A little after. He hasn’t been aware of it. Time. “Four hours can be enough.”
“Maybe,” Taehyung says, wistful. “But I know if I get in your bed right now it’s gonna be really hard to get out of it in time. Impossible maybe. It’s why I didn’t bring you back to my place. Why I wanted to walk you home. Besides,” he adds on a pause. Says all that and doesn’t keep his mouth away long from Jeongguk’s. Doesn’t take his hands from his waist. “You’ve got an eight a.m., right?”
Jeongguk frowns, mouth pursed. Taehyung kisses that too. Jeongguk kisses back. Pulls back to ask, “How’d you know?”
“You told me.”
“Yeah. Between handing my ass to me a second time and telling me about your love of naked Italian men.”
Smacking Taehyung’s arm, Jeongguk scoffs. Cheeks burning only a little, he says, “It’s not because they’re naked. They’re so detailed. Like not just anatomically correct. You could tell how passionate he was about it. Capturing them. Male bodies. They way most artists capture female bodies. He was a romantic before the romantics were.”
“Romantic, huh?” Taehyung asks, something syrupy about it. His eyes. Like his mouth is buzzing too.
The door to the building opens.
A girl skitters past them, taking the steps two at a time. She’s drowning in her coat, a dark thing in the night. Early almost morning.
Jeongguk looks down. At his body. Taehyung’s. His hands. The stone of the step he stands on.
He works his hands out of Taehyung’s hair. Touches his shoulders for a moment. Says, “Well if you aren’t going to, I better go up. Six hours from now is actually a lot closer than forever away.”
Taehyung’s hands don’t move for a movement. Slide down slowly. Fall off at Jeongguk’s hips.
He takes a step back. Still close. Just enough. To fit another body between their bodies. A breath that feels less thick. Softer.
Jeongguk folds his arms across his front. Night chill settling in his bones finally. He understands why the girl was wearing that coat now. Wishes he’d thought to bring a hoodie tonight. Hadn’t really needed it until now.
“I’ll call you,” Taehyung says. There’s no promise in his voice. Just confidence. Sure. Like he say it so he means it. So it’s true. “Or text you. People don’t really call anymore do they?”
“You can call me,” Jeongguk says before he can think on it. How he can’t filter out his voice over a call. Edit his words. He thinks it be nice anyway. Taehyung’s voice over the line. He isn’t much of a texter. “If you want.”
Taehyung smiles. Beams, really, all of him wide. “Okay. I’ll call you.” He takes another step. Another. More breaths between them. More bodies. Stops when he reaches the end of the grassy front, his heels on the line separating the building from the sidewalk. He looks up at Jeongguk, and it really is in his eyes. The buzzing thing. The heat made electric. He says, “I didn’t think any one thing when I saw you. Didn’t think you were anything. An emo or an athlete or some engineering major too smart for me. That it meant anything if you were. I really just thought you were beautiful. Just wanted to talk to you. See if, maybe, you wanted to talk to me too.”
The night is cold. Quiet.
Jeongguk smiles. Knows it’s so wide it’s all over his face. All over his body. That he’s naked with it. He’s looking at Taehyung, and Taehyung is looking at him, and he’s wearing all of his clothes but he feels like he isn’t wearing a single thing. Like he’s standing here in just his skin. His bones. His veins.
“Wanna know something?”
“I didn’t think anything either. When I saw you. Just that I wanted you to kiss me.”
And it’s not the only thing he thought but it’s the only one Taehyung needs to know. For now. Maybe someday he’ll tell him. The thing about hands.
Taehyung’s smile turns into a grin. The good kind of smug. Kind of dreamy. All of it electric. “Only thing I’m not gonna kick myself about tonight.”
Jeongguk laughs. Loud in the night. Pink cheeked, he shakes his head. Makes himself take a step backward because one of them has to and Taehyung has already taken a few, doesn’t look all that interested in taking more, jean clad legs looking unmovable on concrete.
It really isn’t that far away. Four hours. Six. It doesn’t feel like enough. Feels like a speck of paint. The tiniest pigment of color on the way to forever.
He reaches the student housing door. Presses the code into the key panel. It clicks open. Looks over his shoulder. Taehyung is right where he left him, hidden moonlight bathing his beautiful face.
Fingers wrapped around the handle, Jeongguk says, “Goodnight.”
With a last look, he pulls the door open.
“I actually really like Pollock!”
Jeongguk stops. His mouth twitches. He schools his expression. Turns around again, brow wrinkled. “Hmm?”
Taehyung’s flush is muted. All around his jaw again. Jeongguk wonders what he’d have to say to him, how he’d have to kiss him, what he’d have to ask Taehyung to do to him, to work the blush down to his chest, up to his cheeks.
Head half hung, Taehyung wrinkles his nose. His whole face really. “Jackson Pollock? The dots guy? I really like his stuff. Had my room painted in his style back home. In case you wanted to judge me for that too. I wouldn’t blame you.”
Something stutters in Jeongguk’s stomach. Doesn’t sour. He deserves that maybe. The expectation of judgement. He lifts a shoulder. Says, “No judgement. It’s kind of nice actually. More proof than your sort of dickishness that you aren’t as perfect as you look.”
The boom of Taehyung’s laugh swallows up the quiet. The almost sour thing sated. Turned sweet.
Softly, Taehyung says, “Sleep well. Have sweet dreams of naked Italian men.”
Chin high, Jeongguk rolls his eyes. Just as softly, he says, “Goodnight, hyung.”
Then, he goes inside. Doesn’t look back. Doesn’t think he’d look away if he did.
He’s halfway up the first flight of stairs when he caves.
He can still see Taehyung through the glass in the door. Catches a last view of his smile, smaller than the other, quiet too, before he finally turns, heads down the sidewalk to his apartment.
Jeongguk trudges up the stairs. Finds his room in the bright hallway lights. He fumbles with the keypad at his door. Gets his code wrong twice. He still confuses it with the one for downstairs. Eventually gets his door open.
He toes his shoes off. Stretches his arm for the light.
Jeongguk grips the wall. Settles in the next moment, spiked heart rate calming.
He says, “Hey.”
He tries to make out Yugyeom’s shape in the dark. Traces a half sat up figure in the bed closest to the far wall.
The room floods in faded yellow light. The lamp on Yugyeom’s night stand.
“Thanks,” Jeongguk mumbles as he sheds his shirt. Dumps his jeans on the floor and makes his way to his own bed under the window. Flops onto his mattress in his boxers.
He forgot Yugyeom could even be home. He guesses it’s just as well that Taehyung’s advisor has an early flight tomorrow after all.
Yugyeom grunts. Sinks back into his bed. He yawns. He clicks the light off. Turns on his side, his sheets wrapped tight around him. The temperature in the building is temperamental. Doesn’t take into account how the walls seep in the outside.
“You find another dumb boy to fuck tonight?”
Jeongguk sighs. Rolls his head around his pillow to find the softest part. His spot. “Nope. And economic majors are dumb now?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Hmm,” is all Jeongguk says.
He pushes his head into the pillow, hair fanning out. Closes his eyes. He’ll think he’ll fall asleep immediately tonight. Now. The buzz still tingling at his fingers. His toes. His belly. Everywhere.
“So why do you seem so dopey?”
Jeongguk opens his eyes.
Yugyeom’s arms are propped in front of his chest, cheek rested on his hands. He yawns again. He probably just went to bed himself, up playing games at Mingyu’s after they finished their studio tutorial. They have the terrible habit of leaving studio tutorial for the last possible slot of the week. Jeongguk gets his out of the way by Wednesday morning at the lastest. It’s why Jeongguk always goes to parties alone on Thursdays. Jeongguk hopes they grow out of it by next year. For their sake. He doesn’t think he’ll be going to many Thursday parties anymore. Not alone anyway.
“Uh huh. Happy. Like you did just hook up with some smart dummy from the literature department. Happier even.”
“You can see that in the dark?”
“I can see that always. I’ve seen you take a dump, Jeonggukie. There are no secrets between us anymore.”
“Please stop talking to me.”
Yugyeom’s laugh is light. Sleepy.
Jeongguk stares up at his ceiling. Tries to make out shapes. Splatters of paint. Fine lines. Perfect angles. Blotches of loud color.
“He wasn’t dumb. And he didn’t fuck me. And I think…”
Outside seeps in only in temperature. Heat. Cold. All the sound stays where it is. Too thick for the walls.
Yugyeom makes a snuffling noise into his pillow. Jeongguk can feel his gaze, thoughtful, even through the dark.
“I don’t know if that’s how I feel. Dopey. But I think it might be nice. To find out if I do.”
“If you think it is, it probably already is, man.”
Jeongguk just hums. Spreads more color on the ceiling in his mind. All color. He says, “Maybe. Goodnight, Gyeommie-ah.”
Yugyeom takes his cue. Another deeper snuffle. He sounds happy, kind of dopey himself, when he says, “Goodnight, Gguk-ah.”
Minutes later, snoring fills the room.
On his back, Jeongguk lies blearily watching the ceiling. Keeps painting in his head. Wonders if it’d be worth it to stay up. Grab his pencils. Sketch until the sun rises. Until it’s six a.m. Until it’s eight. Wonders a few things. If Taehyung made it home already. Safely. If he’s in bed too. If he’s wondering too. How far apart they are right now. If they could fit every person either of them have fucked between them and it still wouldn’t matter. If it would still buzz. If they could still feel it between them and no one else.
Something starts to buzz.
Not inside Jeongguk.
On the floor.
He lies still.
The buzzing starts up again.
He looks over at Yugyeom. The edges of his face placid in sleep. He inches off his bed, wood creaking faintly.
He settles back with his phone in hand. Stretches his limbs out. Makes his body melt into his sheets.
Thumb lifted, he hovers over the home button. His hand trembles a little. He’s holding his breath. He feels silly. Something like dopey.
The screen lights up, a second message.
this one’s my favorite
Beneath it is a painting of a body. Female. Thick strokes of color. Extremities in rounded geometric shapes.
Jeongguk fills his eyes with it. Woman II. Willem de Kooning.
Beneath it is a song link. A text along with that one too.
so you know i’m not just some disco boy
Finding his headphones is easy. Tangled up under his pillow.
He lies back again. Eyes open. He isn’t ready for it when the first guitars strum in, a sticky bass line. Sugary. Syrupy. A slow waving beat. The vocals are even more so, harmonizing almost perfectly. As close as the human voice can get maybe.
The lyrics are a little harder to catch with his half asleep brain. His buzzing mind. Leftover vodka. Leftover kisses.
Something about eyes. Love like breeze. Something about wondering. How deep things are. Love more than anything.
His eyes flutter shut before it plays through the whole way.
He finds sleep like that, the song on repeat, colors weaving beneath his eyelids, everything blooming electric.