1996; a hint of freesia
“People have guts in their chests, not flowers, stupid,” is what his brother says. He gets in trouble for using the word stupid, even though Yoongi’s father uses it plenty, which is weird.
“He doesn’t mean it,” says his mother, putting Yoongi on her knee as he wipes angry tears from his face. “But why do you say you have a rose in your chest, baby?”
“A book said I do.”
“A book? What did the book say?”
“The drawings had pictures of people with flowers in here,” Yoongi pokes at his own chest, slight and a little bony, whole just the same. Full of shy roses, he’s sure of it.
“Oh,” she says, sitting back. She must know which one he’s talking about. A frown tugs on the corners of her mouth. “Baby, that book is just saying that—people are like flowers, because even if we look different, we’re all beautiful. That’s all. It’s not saying you have a flower in your chest.”
“The pictures say I do.”
“They’re just pictures.”
“No,” Yoongi says, stubborn. His mother exhales, then decides to mold to the logic of a three-year-old.
“Well, if you have a rose in your chest, will you help me plant the garden one day?”
“Sounds good, right?”
1997; an overture of bluebells
When his mother tells him that they’re going over to her friend’s apartment, and to behave himself, his first reply is “Why?”
“We’re watching a movie.”
“It’s called Titanic.”
“Why do I have to behave?”
“One should always behave as a guest in someone else’s house.”
“You never told me to behave before,” Yoongi says.
His mother fixes him with a look that Yoongi is not quite shrewd enough to read yet, but in time he will learn that she finds his astute perceptive ability inconvenient and hard to lie to. “You’ll see.”
Which is another adult thing to say when adults don’t want to answer questions. Yoongi does the Velcro fastenings of his sneakers, takes his mom’s hand, and decides the next most important order of business is to ask if he can eat some of the vanilla caramel cake he had watched her bake all day. The answer is no, obviously. Just one strawberry?
“Why’d you make a cake?”
“Because Soomi-imo had a baby.”
Yoongi knows what a baby is in theory. He’s seen plenty of them. Tons of his classmates have baby siblings. They’re always weepy, filling up the ends of the days before school lets out with the cacophony of hungry, nasal crying. He does not like babies.
When they finally arrive, he doesn’t expect to actually see A Real Baby. He’s half convinced it’s fake, because it’s not crying. It’s strapped into a rocker, one that Yoongi knows you can tie onto the seats in the car.
“Oh my God, he’s so cute,” his mother says, bending down to coo over it. It’s a he? Yoongi grimaces. How can you even tell?
“How’s he been treating you?”
“Pretty good. Jeonghyun was so much worse. Jeonggukie cries only enough to get my attention, doesn’t do it at all otherwise.”
They leave him with The Baby. Yoongi looks at him again. What are babies good for, exactly? Like, what tricks can they do? How old is this one? Can it, he doesn’t know, breathe on its own yet?
He probably shouldn’t be watching this movie, but he sits on the floor by the baby—his mom’s friend calls him Jeonggukie, Jeongguk-ah, so that must be his name—and watches Titanic with them. Most of it doesn’t make any sense, in his humble opinion. The most exciting part is when Jeongguk wakes up in the middle of it and immediately proceeds to demonstrate his best imitation of a fire alarm, and Yoongi skitters into his mother’s arms with surprise.
He isn’t sure when he starts yawning. Maybe sometime between Jeongguk’s mom putting him back in his cradle swing, and as the ship on TV begins to flood, his eyelids begin to droop and the world begins to fuzz at the edges.
The next thing he knows, his mom is shaking him awake.
“Let’s go home, Yoongi.”
“Is it over already?” he asks blearily, blinking in the darkness. Only the TV is lit, static hissing across the screen, and he peeks into the cradle.
“Yep. Say good night to Jeongguk, and say thank you to Soomi-imo for having us.”
“Thank you,” he chirps. “And good night, Jeonggukie.”
2000; a smattering of primrose
“Will you pull me in the wagon?”
“No, you’re heavy,” Yoongi says, ignoring him. Jeongguk watches him mash the buttons of his Gameboy for a breath longer before he begins tugging at Yoongi’s arm.
Yoongi shakes him off like a leaf. Jeongguk falls heavily on his butt, and glares for a moment longer before he decides to use Noisy Sobbing. It’s extremely effective: Yoongi tosses his Gameboy over his shoulder in fright and shouts, “Okay! Okay. I’ll pull you in the wagon. Shh! You’re fine, shh, don’t get me in trouble!”
Jeongguk wiggles as he scrambles to his feet, wiping at his eyes as he reaches for Yoongi’s hand. “Yay!”
“You’re so annoying,” Yoongi says.
“I love you the most. You’re my favorite hyung.”
“What about Jeonghyun?”
This is enough to make Yoongi snort. “Lying is bad.”
“I’m not lying!”
The wagon is nondescript, rickety red, leftover from the days of Jeonghyun’s childhood. A dent in the bottom rises like a molehill in the center and paint stains the wagon bed when they’d used it as a tray for painting the interior of the living room a year back. Yoongi waits for Jeongguk to settle himself before he picks the handle up from the ground.
“And we’re off,” he announces, saluting, and turns.
“Can we go to the convenience store?”
“I don’t have money.”
“I want to see their dog.” Ice cream is the most bestest thing, except for dogs. They are bestest-er. The owner at the store has a white one called a “maltipoo” which sounds funny, why would anyone ever call their dog a melted poo?
“I think it’s a kind of dog.”
“Melted poo dog.”
“Like golden retriever or something.”
“They should call it melted retriever, then.”
“What would you get if you had money?”
“Canned mung bean pudding.”
“Boring. I would get ice cream.”
“Ice cream is boring.”
Suffice it to say that they get into no shortage of trouble. Neither of them had thought to tell anyone where they were going, so by the time they get back, the first thing they hear is “Oh God, they’re safe!” The next thing is “What on Earth were you thinking?”
A jury of parents are rising to their feet, relief hanging in the air. The anger is palpable, so Jeongguk shuffles closer into Yoongi’s side and tightens his hand in his. Yoongi steps in front of him, and Jeongguk peeks out from behind his arm to see.
“He wanted to go see the dog downstairs.”
“We thought someone had taken you!” Yoongi’s father is on his feet, hulking. Jeongguk has never liked him. He does not smile. He doesn’t trust adults like that. “What if something happened to Jeongguk? What then? How do we answer to his parents?”
“Hojung-ssi, it’s okay—”
Jeongguk stumbles in shock when he sees a heavy hand come down and smack Yoongi, hard, across the side of his head. It doesn’t look forceful, but there still is an audible, dull thwack when palm meets cheek.
Naturally, Jeongguk bursts into tears.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It was in good fun.” His mother hoists him up into her arms, and Jeongguk’s hand is yanked out of Yoongi’s.
His mother tugs at Yoongi’s father. He’s still red in the face with anger. “It’s really okay. Don’t worry. You don’t need to hit him.” She turns to Jeongguk, whose crying only grows more heartbroken, as if he had been the one to take the blow. “Shh, baby. Shh. Crying will make your eyes swollen.”
“I just wanted to see the melted poo,” Jeongguk wails. “It’s not his fault, don’t hit Yoongi-hyung.”
“The melted poo?”
“The dog,” Yoongi says. He rubs ruefully at the side of his head. “The maltipoo.”
Jeongguk sits on his mother’s lap to come down from the crying. Their parents and their friends had been sitting around the dining table, splitting sunflower seeds and rice crackers. The sound of crackling seed hulls is rhythmic and soothing.
“You want some?” His mother puts a peeled peanut in his hands. “Don’t choke.”
He decides, after four peanuts, that he’s bored listening to adult gossip, and squirms out of her lap. “Go play,” she says. “Go find hyung.”
Yoongi is in his room where he’d been sent. At first Jeongguk can’t see him—there’s a big, shapeless blanket fort built in the center of the bedroom. The cheerful soundtrack of Pokemon Yellow fills the space.
“What,” Yoongi says.
“Can I come in here?”
Jeongguk lifts the edge of the blanket. “Whatcha doing?”
“Is it still timeout if I’m here?”
Yoongi looks up. This is a spectacularly designed blanket fort. The ones Jeongguk makes always fall apart before he can do anything cool, like take a nap or watch TV inside. He’s still working on the pillow arrangement part of it.
“I guess we can both be in timeout.”
Jeongguk sits down next to him. He can see the lines move across the screen of Yoongi’s Gameboy as he plays.
“Sorry I got you in trouble.”
“It’s okay.” He shrugs. “My dad always hits me.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Yeah. Me neither.”
“Do you hurt here?” Jeongguk pats the side of Yoongi’s head.
Jeongguk scoots so he can lie down. It’s not a perfect angle, but it’s comfortable enough so that he can stretch his feet into Yoongi’s lap and lie flat. Above his face is the underside of a chair.
“Do you ever sleep in here?”
“No. Umma wouldn’t let me.”
“Yeah, it’s fun.”
“I’m gonna sleep now.”
Jeongguk frowns. “Yeah. Good night, hyung.”
“Okay. Night, Jeongguk.”
2005; a march of tulips
The piano bench is long and easily fits two people. The thing is, there’s someone else next to Yoongi, someone Yoongi’s age, Jeongguk is sure. Someone cool and not—
“So annoying,” Yoongi mutters, tugging the other boy’s elbow so he’ll turn around and face the keys again. “Just ignore him.”
“But I wanna play too!”
“You don’t even know how to play. Go away.”
“How come Kihyun hyung gets to sit here?”
“Because he knows how to play piano!”
Kihyun turns from Yoongi, back to Jeongguk. “It’s really okay,” he ventures.
“No, he’s going to mess everything up.”
When Jeongguk starts to sob now, Yoongi doesn’t turn around to look at him. He’d started mostly just to scare him, only enough so Yoongi would leap off the bench and say he didn’t mean it, you’re fine, shh, don’t get me in trouble! But he resolutely keeps his back to Jeongguk, and it’s suddenly too much to take for his fragile seven-year-old heart. He opens his throat and wails.
“Hey, hey, what’s going on?” His mom hoists him up with some difficulty, and Jeongguk clings onto her neck as he takes a single shuddering breath and cries. “Are you bothering hyung?”
“Is that little—”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, Hojung-ssi. Jeongguk cries easy. Shh, hey. Stop it. Come on, let’s go watch TV, okay?”
Yoongi gets in trouble, as usual, like always, again. His dad hits him, as usual, always, again. Jeongguk feels bad, because he really had just wanted to sit next to them on the piano bench. But he didn’t want Yoongi to get hit. He wasn’t going to play the keys or mess anything up.
Lately Yoongi has felt cold and closed off, not making funny faces at him across the table at this family dinner. He looks down at his plate and eats. He doesn’t blow bubbles in his glass anymore. If this is what it means to grow up, Jeongguk doesn’t like it.
After their parents have progressed to the tea part of the evening, Jeongguk finds Yoongi at the piano again. It isn’t one of the shimmering black ones so shiny he can see his reflection in it. It’s dull and wooden, with cracked keys here and there.
Kihyun’s family had gone early. Still, Jeongguk doesn’t seat himself in the vacant spot beside Yoongi without asking.
“Can I sit?”
Yoongi looks at him. He shrugs. “Whatever.”
So Jeongguk sits.
“Are you mad at me?”
“No.” It doesn’t sound very truthful.
“What can you play? Can I see?” Jeongguk tries, because this must be a safe question.
He’s right. The transformation is instantaneous. Not dramatic, but Yoongi smiles, and he looks at Jeongguk out of the corner of his eye, and puts both his hands on the keyboard. “I’m learning this. It’s pretty whatever, but I think it’s cool.”
Yoongi plays him something lilting and half haunting. It reminds Jeongguk of something he’s heard in grocery stores before.
“I’ve heard this in a grocery store before,” he says when the song ends.
“Cool,” says Yoongi, because this is apparently not an insult.
Yoongi eyes him. “Do you know how?”
What Jeongguk doesn’t predict is Yoongi scooting over so that Jeongguk can sit more in the center of the bench and grabbing his hands. He places Jeongguk’s right hand on the white keys. “These are the easy ones. The black ones are harder.”
“They have funny names. You’ll see why.” Yoongi presses down on one of the white keys. “Okay, this one is C.”
“C, like the letter C.” Then the next. “D. Do, re. E. Do, re, mi.”
“Wait, I know this! I know this!” Jeongguk taps the next one. “Fa?”
“Yeah. Fa, so.”
No, Jeongguk can’t play the song that Yoongi had shown him by the end of the evening, but he does know a whole scale, and which keys come after the next. Yoongi stands in the doorway beside his mother as Jeongguk climbs into their car, sleepy as the moon hangs overhead on the high ceilings of nighttime.
“Don’t forget everything I just taught you!” he calls.
“What’d he teach you? You two were at that piano for ages. I thought you guys were fighting. I never know with you guys,” says Jeongguk’s mother.
“He taught me notes! They’re easy, Umma.” He leans out the window. “I won’t. I’m not stupid.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“Jeongguk, say something nice.”
He waves. “Good night, hyung.”
2010; a minuet of lilac
“You’re already thirteen,” his father says sternly when he expresses for the umpteenth time that he does not want to go to a summer science camp and sleep in a cabin with twenty other boys. “You’re not a child anymore. It means you’ll have to start thinking about academics and what direction you want your future to go in.”
Future? Jeongguk’s going to be a professional esports player. He’s already not bad at League of Legends. He’s got this figured out.
“Okay,” is what he says, because he needs to play the part of the filial, obedient son.
“Yoongi is a counselor there this year,” his mom adds.
Jeongguk groans. As if it’s not humiliating enough to be all-around shy, he doesn’t want to be that kid that makes friends with one of the counselors of all people.
“What? You and Yoongi were so close.”
“Ugh, umma, were. I haven’t talked to him in ages.”
“That’s just because he got busy, baby. You don’t know, maybe you guys will still have stuff to talk about! For old time’s sake, you know?”
See, what Jeongguk also does not plan on is Yoongi, well, being h*t. The last time Jeongguk remembers seeing him, Yoongi had been wearing some nylon trainers, an ancient hand-me-down band shirt from his older brother for a band that Yoongi wasn’t even in, and generally didn’t look like someone who’d ever heard of what a mirror was.
Now, Jeongguk hardly recognizes him. He has a nice haircut, he’s wearing dark acid wash jeans that actually fit him, but most importantly, his ears are pierced, twice in each earlobe. It’s so unthinkable for the guy that used to lie in a blanket fort and play Pokemon Yellow that Jeongguk thinks that this guy must just really look like Yoongi, but isn’t him.
But then Yoongi looks right at him, and gives him a little wave as they shuffle into the main hall for orientation night. Jeongguk squeaks, and everyone glances at him when he does. He raises his hand and waves back, or so he tries; it might have looked like he was trying to smack at a fly. Great!
He’s not sure if he’s concerned or relieved about being assigned to Yoongi’s troop. He does allow himself to wonder if Yoongi had seen his name on the camp roster and asked specifically, maybe because he remembered how shy Jeongguk is. Yoongi would—he thinks. If Jeongguk has learned anything about him from spending his whole life around him, it’s that Yoongi is spectacular at pretending he gives no fucks while giving so many fucks.
They’re to share a cabin between ten boys, next door to another cabin of ten boys, next to—well, so it goes. The girls are in the cabins across the gravel path, with the communal bathrooms in between. When Yoongi unlocks the door to their home away from home for the next month, the others dart inside and start claiming bunks.
“I want this one!” one of them says, leaping up onto one of the top bunks.
“I want this!”
“Hey, kid.” Yoongi is frowning at his clipboard, then looking up at the maelstrom of boys whirling through the cabin. When did he get so tall? Was he always this tall? Why are his hands so veiny? “Pick a bed.”
“I’m not a kid.”
“Maybe so, but you’re under my watch for the next month, so pick a bed. Hey! Don’t hang upside off the ladders unless you want a broken neck.”
This is how Jeongguk ends up in the top bunk over Yoongi, in the bottom.
They don’t get a chance to speak until after dinner, after the procession of showers, and herding everyone back into their respective cabins.
“How’s your mom?”
They’re brushing their teeth, the last stragglers in the bathroom. There’s no more warm water in the sinks. Yoongi has the obligation to wash after all his kids, but Jeongguk only waited this long because he didn’t want to strip naked around ten strangers to shower. “How’s, uh,” Jeongguk grasps wildly, “your dad?”
Ugh. Bad choice. Yoongi’s father, as Jeongguk recalls, is a bit of a loose cannon.
The stream of mountain tap hits the bottom of the sink when Yoongi turns the knob and spits. He chuckles. “Gave me a right club around the head when I showed up at home with pierced ears.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk spits too. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, it was fucked up. He gave me a bruised cheek and I had to go to school with it.”
Jeongguk chokes. He’s never heard Yoongi curse so freely, and Yoongi seems to realize it, too. “Sorry,” he mutters. “Forgot you guys are little tiny ones.”
“I am not tiny!”
“You’re like, twelve.”
“So basically you were born yesterday.”
“I am n—”
“Shut up and finish brushing your teeth, I can’t leave this bathroom until you’re done. Then I’ll think about not calling you tiny.”
A lot can change in five years, and it’s not just that Yoongi wears spiked earrings.
He talks different. His voice is different. He talks less. He suddenly knows a lot, about everything, specifically hiphop music, and music composition, and string instruments of all kinds. It makes Jeongguk feel incredibly small and childish around him. He holds himself different, doing everything—the way he sits and texts during dinner, or the way he talks to his co-counselor. Some nights, when it’s warm even in the mountains, he listens to Yoongi tell their stories about high school as they curl up for bed.
“Is it scary?”
Jeongguk hasn’t spoken up all evening, and he waits until he knows everyone else is asleep—Wonwoo snores, and Joshua, who seems physically unable to lie still, is quiet in his sleeping bag.
“Are you talking to me?” Yoongi asks after a heartbeat of silence.
“Who else would I be talking to?”
“Just making sure you’re not sleeptalking,” Yoongi says. He’s still texting, phone a spot of electric brightness in the dark cabin. “What, high school? It’s not what the movies say it is.”
“Better or worse?”
“Better. More boring.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk puts his hands over his head. “Is everyone dating each other?”
Yoongi snorts. “No. There’s a lot of gossip about it, though.”
“Because I th—wait, what?” Jeongguk sits up, leans over the railing of his bunk. “You are?”
“Yep,” Yoongi says, still focused on his phone.
“A guy. It’s not like you’d know him, anyway.”
“I know. You can like, find domesticated ones if you look hard enough.”
This is enough to get Yoongi to stop texting. He looks at Jeongguk, whose blood is rushing to his head from still peering over the bunk rail. “Your faith in me is flattering, kid.”
“I mean, how did you did it?” Jeongguk sinks back into his pillow, staring at the ceiling.
“Just because I have a boyfriend doesn’t mean I know how I did it,” Yoongi says.
“But you must have done something right,” Jeongguk insists.
Jeongguk twiddles his thumbs in the darkness, then pulls his sleeping bag up higher on his chest. “If you’re dating someone, then do you know what love feels like?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I do. But also maybe not.”
“What do you think it is?”
Yoongi sighs in the darkness, and Jeongguk can see the light of his phone vanish when he turns it off. “I dunno. Sometimes I feel like love is what makes you smile when nothing else can. They say your name different. It makes you feel like your name is safe in their mouth. I don’t know how, but it’s different. Other times, I feel like it’s when you go out and they let you eat their ice cream or drink their milkshake or whatever—eat their fries, you know, even though they got it for themselves. And they’ll complain about how you have your own food or that you said you weren’t hungry. But they let you eat it anyway.”
“Or something,” Yoongi mutters. “It’s not like that always. Or for everyone.”
“I hope it’s what it’s like for me,” Jeongguk says to the ceiling.
It takes a beat longer for Yoongi answer. “What are you so concerned about, kid? Are you interested in someone?”
“Good. Don’t be. Whoever it is is going to break your heart, and you’re way too young for that shit.”
“I’m not that young, hyung.”
Yoongi snorts. “Again, you’re young enough for me to say you’re young. And also young enough for me to say that you need to sleep, I’m not carrying you if you fall asleep on the trails tomorrow.”
The bunk creaks as Yoongi tosses below. Yoongi sleeps curled up in fetal position. Jeongguk’s not sure why he remembers this.
“Anyway, don’t tell my dad about what I just said. He doesn’t know.”
“About what, your boyfriend?”
“Yeah.” Yoongi yawns.
“Good night, hyung.”
2013; a pirouette of phlox
Still, Yoongi blames himself.
If anyone asks him what he plans for himself, he’s not quite certain yet. No college student really is. All Yoongi knows is that he sure didn’t fucking plan for this—waking up pinned under a car, the tang of blood on his tongue, and for a wild moment, afraid he doesn’t have all his limbs anymore. There’s a car tire so close to his nose that the acrid smell of hot rubber fills his lungs.
It’s not even a nice car.
“Are you okay?” A man’s horrified face appears in the small space between the bottom of the car and the asphalt. “Oh God, your face. Oh God—someone call 911!”
After all is said and done, Yoongi’s mother bends over him and fluffs the pillow that he sleeps with pinned under his broken shoulder and sighs. “My poor baby. I told you delivery was a dangerous job, why did you not listen? This never would have happened if you just took a job at a cashier or something instead.”
“M’fine, Umma. It’s money for tuition.”
“And now money for hospital bills.”
Yoongi looks away.
Aside from a shattered clavicle, a slight tear in his rotator cuff, and some road rash on his shin, Yoongi could be worse. He could be, you know, dead. For the amount of stories he’s heard about motorists getting smeared like jam over the asphalt in accidents, he considers himself lucky.
“Have you finished all the paperwork for leave of absence?” she asks as she sits back on the edge of his bed. He nods.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good. Get some rest.”
Yoongi sleeps. He’s still doped up from the pain prescriptions the hospital had given him when he was discharged. Apparently, once they deduced that his brain wasn’t bleeding, everything else was considered a minor injury. Minor. Yoongi wants to scoff. He can’t even hold his chopsticks without it hurting but sure, it’s minor.
He doesn’t dream much when he sleeps, but whatever painkiller he’s on gives him dreams that are so vivid and real that Yoongi feels like the line between them and reality blurs. So it is that he wakes up near evening to the sensation like he’s having an out of body experience and a quiet chorus of murmurs in the living room. What time is it? Hell, what year is it? Where is he?
Okay. Evening. 2013. Home. Why’s he home? Yoongi makes to toss in bed and, ow, fuck, there’s his reason. He winces. The pain in his shoulder is dull but there, sluggish as the meds wear off.
The voices come closer to his room, and Yoongi stiffens. Wait, no—he does not want to see anyone that isn’t his mother right now.
His door cracks open slowly.
“Hey. You have visitors.”
“Oh,” Yoongi says. He puts up a very good effort not to sound displeased.
“Oh, what the fuck? Jeongguk?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“What are you doing here?”
He turns on the light overhead, and Yoongi winces in the sudden brightness.
“Sorry, do you want them off?” Jeongguk asks.
“No, it’s fine.” Yoongi shuts his eyes and lies back in his pillows. “Just. Sit down and don’t make loud noises.”
“You look rough,” he says, after a stretch of silence. “How—how are you?”
Yoongi cracks on eye open. Jeongguk looks older than he remembers, sitting in Yoongi’s old desk chair wrapped in a scarf and jacket. There’s just a lot more of him than Yoongi remembers. He fills out his coat; it doesn’t hang from his frame, and his eyes are darker. His hair isn’t the curly, floofy mess it had been when he was in middle school; it lies flat on his head, shiny, like he’s actually put some care into it.
“Rough,” Yoongi echoes. “And you look good.” He closes his eyes again. “Trying to make me look bad, huh?”
“I thought flowers would be weird since you’re not like, dying in a hospital. And I feel like you’re not really into that kind of stuff,” Jeongguk says, words tripping over their own shoelaces in their rush to be heard. “So I brought you, uh.”
He holds out a can. Initially, Yoongi has no idea what it is, and has a lot of trouble focusing on the words. Then he sees the folding disposable spoon in the lid, and can’t help the smile that breaks over his face, a miniature dawn in a dreary autumn evening.
“Shut up. Is that canned mung bean? I can’t believe you remember.”
“Of course I remember.” Jeongguk chuckles, and even the timber of his voice is deeper. It’s not deep, but it’s deeper. “We got in a fuckton of trouble for it once.”
“Thanks. I’m not that hungry right now. But thank you.”
The last time Yoongi remembers Jeongguk—really remembers him, not just in fleeting moments such as the time Jeongguk came to his high school grad, or in between family visits on the holidays when Yoongi was home from university—was the time in the mountains. He’d only been thirteen, lost and awkward, with an astoundingly bad haircut. He’d also clearly been confused about himself, or someone, or all the things in between that thirteen year olds worry about. Yoongi used to laugh at people younger than him who said that being their age was so hard, but now he gets it.
Being the age you are will always be the hardest age you ever have known. That’s all you’ll have known up to that point.
“How is high school?” he asks, now, and he means it.
Jeongguk tells him. “You were right, hyung,” he says in between accounts of how much of a hardass his literature teacher is, how couples make out in the halls like they’ll never see each other again, and the almost-food-fight that never culminated in anything worth documenting. “High school isn’t as exciting as I thought it would be.”
“I’ll be honest with you right now.” Yoongi shifts. His tailbone is sore from being on his back and sitting for so long. “College is way better than high school.”
“All that bullshit that your teachers tell you about college being even more intense than high school is, well. Bullshit.” Yoongi snorts when he recalls. “I had a professor come in and announce that he was hungover and didn’t want to hear any stupid questions for the day.”
“What class was this?” Jeongguk asks incredulously.
“A Religious Approach to Death,” says Yoongi.
Jeongguk doesn’t believe him. To be honest, Yoongi wouldn’t have believed half the stories he’s telling Jeongguk right now when he was sixteen, but he listens to all of them, laughs at all of them, and it doesn’t feel as though three years have passed in between the last time Yoongi had a real conversation with him.
Somehow, this time, Jeongguk’s stopped sounding so much like a little brother. This time, he’s something more like a friend.
They talk until it’s late. He shrugs on the jacket that he’d shed, and Yoongi waves his good arm as he goes.
“Don’t forget to eat your pudding.”
“Feel better soon.”
“I do already, actually. Thanks for coming.”
“Good night, hyung.”
2015; a clamoring of bromeliads
He ends up at the same university where Yoongi, as far as he knows, is pursuing a Doctorate of Musical Arts. It’s not his fault he got into a prestigious liberal arts school where Yoongi just so happens to also be studying. And, besides, undergrads and grad students never see each other, anyway. It’s just kind of cool to already know someone there, in a big, strange land, and Jeongguk’s never been one for walking into a room full of strangers and feeling at home.
“You know Yoongi? As in, Min Yoongi?”
“Is that a surprise?”
“Uh, yeah. How is this such a small world? How do you even know him?”
“Well, how do you?”
“He’s one of the doctorate conductors of the symphony orchestra,” says Jimin, Park Jimin. Jeongguk had met him in the official university art coalition, the members of which he is still thoroughly intimidated by, but Jimin had been easy to befriend. “They did some music for the performing arts exhibition last year, I met him then. A real character.”
“I grew up with him.”
“No kidding. Really?” Jimin sits back. He has one leg up bent at the knee, heel resting on his chair, and the other flat on the ground. He chews on his highlighter. “Was he always like this?”
“Kind of.” Jeongguk laughs. “Always well-meaning, despite being stand-offish.”
“Stand-offish is a bit of an understatement, don’t you think?”
“Hey. He’s a really nice guy.”
“Bitch, I’m kidding. I love giving him a hard time.”
Jeongguk meets Mingyu. He meets Jaehyun and Junhwe and Minghao, this exchange student from China who has a taste for the finer wines in life, even though every other freshman survives on getting drunk off shitty vodka from the corner store that they had shoulder tapped someone for.
And, despite what he expects, he meets Yoongi. In every curious crossroad in his life, Yoongi is there. He always walks beside him like he hadn’t noticed that Jeongguk was there, a cat that finds him in the fog.
“You look like you had fun last night,” Yoongi says blandly when Jeongguk opens the door. Yoongi is armed with two takeout boxes of Thai food and brilliantly orange cups of Thai tea, and nods at the mess of alcohol on the floor by the mini-fridge that both Jeongguk and Jaehyun had been too sloshed to clear up. But he’s wearing an indigo dress shirt and slacks. The whole picture clashes. “How are you not hungover?”
“This morning was. Bad,” Jeongguk says, allowing himself a sheepish laugh. “Don’t tell. Why are you so dressed up?”
“Hey, I was an undergrad once, too. My lips are sealed,” Yoongi says. He sits down in the center of the room with a thump. There’s not any other clean surfaces on which to sit, so Jeongguk sits down with him. “Drama had a performance tonight. I do conducting for the orchestra.”
“Oh! Jimin told me,” says Jeongguk. “So you’re like, a real conductor?”
“Not a very good one.”
Jeongguk doesn’t deign him with a follow-up to this, because he’s opened the box of food. “Ugh, yes. You got pad thai. I love you the most. You’re my favorite.”
“I know,” Yoongi says as he tosses a Coke to him. “How long have you been here? How are you settling in? Last time I checked you’re about as outgoing as a sea urchin, but it looks like you’re doing just fine.”
“I will pistol-whip you with my chopsticks,” Jeongguk threatens, and all Yoongi does is laugh.
Between Jeongguk recounting how he and his entourage of friends had stumbled blackout drunk past a pair of campus police and Yoongi getting him up to speed about grad school and his own motley crew of grad student urchins, they finish the pad thai, and the coconut mango rice, and the Thai teas. Jeongguk’s roommate comes back in the middle of it, scrolling on his phone with a can of sparkling water in hand.
“Oh, hi,” he says. “I’m Jaehyun. Do you live in this hall?”
“I’m a grad student,” says Yoongi flatly. Jaehyun recoils.
“Jesus,” he says later, after Yoongi has left. “Dude. How do you know grad students already? Is he one of your TAs? Don’t tell me you’re already trying to get the D for the A.”
“Shut up, he’s a friend,” Jeongguk says.
“He brought you takeout.”
“That’s like, so romantic.”
“How is takeout romantic?”
Jaehyun makes a face. “For someone who spends an hour laughing at subreddits before bed, you are really stupid.”
Countless people have the same reaction as Jaehyun when they hear Jeongguk’s friend with the backwards snapback and violin case is a doctorate student.
“A grad student?”
“Why do you even hang out with a grad student?”
“He’s your TA, isn’t he. I bet he is.”
“You’re so lucky, you can shoulder tap him whenever you want.”
“Don’t you get tired of the confusion?” Yoongi asks. He enjoys Jeongguk’s company, but he can’t imagine that it’s pleasant. If it were him, and because he is a coward, he would’ve run by now.
“I tell them increasingly stupid reasons for why we’re friends. You’re a bit of a legend, now, hyung.”
“Like what,” Yoongi asks warily.
“My favorite one is that you are actually an undercover personal bodyguard because I am a well-known mob criminal’s son and that I have a bounty of twenty million on my head,” Jeongguk says casually. Yoongi chokes on his own tongue.
“Oh, come on. Don’t act like it’s not at least a little bit badass.”
Yoongi sighs. “I don’t know if I look the part.”
“That’s okay. I told them that you look the way you do because you have to be unnoticeable.”
“You fucking punk,” Yoongi says, unable to help the smile as Jeongguk laughs in the middle of the library.
But the same countless people won’t know Yoongi showing up with his beat-up old Mazda to take Jeongguk home after a night of too much drinking (Uber was, evidently, experience surge demand), or Jeongguk asking him to get sushi, or showing up in the auditorium after hours when Yoongi is practicing to empty chairs and music stands. He sits in the front row and watches, a single-man audience watching a silent symphony just for him.
“Fuck,” Yoongi curses when he turns around one of these nights, gripping his chest. “I didn’t hear you come in. How long have you been sitting there?”
“About twenty minutes. How long are these things?”
“Depends.” Yoongi massages his shoulder, sore in the cuff, and concern immediately replaces the amusement in Jeongguk’s face.
“Is that the shoulder you fucked up a while back?”
“Yeah. Not sure why I chose violin and piano and conducting professionally after that, but I’m nothing if not a masochist.” Yoongi rolls his shoulder more, until the sting fades to a dull ache, and waves his hand airily when Jeongguk still looks like he wants to say something. “It’s fine. Relax. You want to get dinner?”
“I want dinner!”
“You never eat in the dining halls. Do you even use up your meal swipes?”
“Some weeks I do,” Jeongguk says, watching Yoongi pack up his violin, wipe down his baton, shrug his jacket on. “But dinner with you is fun.”
Jeongguk drops a bomb later. It’s the first thing that ever forces Yoongi to genuinely look at himself and confront the knot in his chest that, realistically, has been tangling for years. The most he can say is that at least Jeongguk decides to drop it over Korean barbecue, so he has the help of beer to—what, not ask stupid questions? Not cry? Not do something, that’s for sure.
“So what did you do for your birthday?” The meat sizzles and droplets of oil pirouette over the grill. Jeongguk shrugs, and Yoongi wishes he could still read him as easily as he once used to.
“I went to Vegas.”
“Vegas?” Hurt tinges Yoongi’s nerves and it’s stupid, completely stupid, because Jeongguk has no reason to tell him beforehand. Maybe he thinks it would have been nice for him to have mentioned. “You should have said so. I’ve been there, I could’ve given you some recommendations.”
There, that’s why he’s upset. It makes sense, right? He just wants Jeongguk to experience the cool things he had when he was there. The overpriced buffet at Caesar’s Palace, and the Cirque du Soleil performance he’d seen at the Bellagio. The absolutely ludicrous size of the Sephora by Treasure Island. Jeongguk likes perfumes. He would have loved the fragrance bar there.
“I’ll ask you next time!” Jeongguk says. He props his chin in his hand and a smile dances over his lips. “Forgot you’re the globetrotter, hyung.”
“So what’d you do?” Snip, snip. The samgyupsal falls to the grill in chunks as Yoongi cuts it.
“You know, stuff.”
“Stuff? You couldn’t have had drinks. You turned eighteen, not twenty-one.”
Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. “America is stupid.”
“Yeah, can’t argue with you there.”
Silence settles between them, tucking its paws beneath itself. Yoongi reaches for his beer.
“I lost my virginity.”
The fact Yoongi doesn’t choke is something he’s quite proud of. In fact, he holds his beer in his mouth for so long it starts to get warm, staring over the wet rim of his glass where Jeongguk watches him carefully. He still has his chin propped in the heel of his hand, an artificially arranged picture of nonchalance.
Yoongi swallows and clears his throat. “Wow. Did you really?”
His stomach hurts really bad, all of a sudden, which too is completely stupid.
“Uhm, yeah,” and a smile that Jeongguk seems to fight to hold back flirts with the corners of his mouth.
A million questions surge through Yoongi’s brain at once. Some are curious, some are shocked, most of them are thoroughly intrusive. He blurts the first one that comes to mind. “To who?”
“You have to promise not to get mad.”
Okay, Yoongi is Not drunk enough for this. He picks up his beer again and arranges his expression into one of half-assed interest. He’s real good at that. “I dunno. Sounds like I should be mad.”
“You might be?”
Mad is the wrong word. Jeongguk could have slept with a mob boss and it would not change how Yoongi’s intestines are tying themselves in deadknots right now.
“Let’s hear it then.”
“He was a guy I met on Grindr. Uhm, he was rich. Like super rich. And like. Twice my age? But he was so nice!”
“He kept trying to buy me stuff from the Venetian. Expensive stuff.”
Yoongi finishes his glass and pours himself more Hite. Jeongguk shakes his head when he offers it to him.
“You have a sugar daddy.”
“You promised not to get mad!”
“So you do?”
“No! God, no, like, I only just met him there. We don’t talk anymore, either, we kind of ghosted each other. And, yeah. Uh.” Jeongguk blushes dark now, as if the realization of what he’s saying just caught up to him. “It was alright.”
Yeah, mad is the wrong word. Jealous is closer, but it still doesn’t encompass this. Yoongi’s been jealous before and it never was anything like this—this feels like swallowing hot tar. This feels like that time Yoongi had been assembling a bookcase and smashed a hammer into his own knuckles by accident. Or that bizarre, terrible feeling when he’s at the top of a ladder and loses his balance, and breath is suspended in an ice-cold heartbeat of adrenaline.
Yoongi wants to say something. Fuck, he needs to say something, because he’s starting to look weird and uncomfortable, probably, just blinking at Jeongguk with nothing else to say when he has everything to say. Was he good to you? Did he do anything to make you uncomfortable? What do you mean, it was just alright? Did he do what you asked? What did he buy you? He doesn’t expect anything from you, does he? What was he like? Was he gentle? Was he kind? Did he put his hands on you the way you asked? Did it hurt? And more importantly, did you like it? Did he make you feel good? Do you want more? Would you ever see me that way?
And that, that’s enough to kick Yoongi out of the din of his thoughts. He slams the lid closed on this Pandora’s box of questions and a smile from a place he doesn’t recognize comes over his face. Jeongguk visibly relaxes when it does, so Yoongi just smiles harder.
“Sounds like you had a good time.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No. Why would I be? Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“I won’t! I’m not a baby anymore, hyung.”
“Sometimes I wish you still were.”
“Why, so you could bully me when we got in trouble?”
“Hey, don’t act like I wasn’t the one who got yelled at every time you cried.”
Jeongguk giggles, and just for a moment, the thorns in Yoongi’s chest don’t hurt quite so much.
Namjoon’s verdict: “Sounds stressful. I think you need to tell me more.”
Hoseok’s verdict: “Shit, hyung. Let’s go get ice cream?”
Jimin’s verdict: “You’re fucked. If you wanna die while you still can I’m going wakeboarding this weekend.”
“Can’t I just die in the comfort of my own home?”
Jimin thinks. “You could go on Twitter and start a fight with EXO-Ls.”
“A rich sugar daddy though,” Jimin says, audibly eating a rocket pop. Yoongi’s convinced he’s throwing in the extra blowjob noises just to make Yoongi’s life hell. He wolf-whistles. “Always knew he had it in him.”
“You told him he couldn’t get a nun to notice him if he tried.”
“Yeah, for his own damn good.”
“And he ended up fucking a rich sugar daddy anyway.”
“Where do you think we went wrong, hyung?” Jimin asks, completely serious. Yoongi snorts.
“Hey, it was his choice.”
“I don’t know. I have a hard time believing you called me, actually called me with the phone app on your phone, to discuss bodily autonomy. That’s a Namjoon topic.” Another lewd slurp from Jimin’s end and Yoongi closes his eyes. “So, what are you angsting about exactly?”
“Because it sure sounds like, to me, you called just to tell me Jeongguk fucked a guy, which is neither surprising nor news to me.”
“I don’t know, okay!”
“Mm. You’re mad about it.”
“Hyung.” Jimin says, enunciates, really. Enough for Yoongi to pay attention to what he has to say. “I don’t know, have you considered that maybe you’re more invested in him than you’re letting yourself admit?”
“I grew up with that punk! Obviously I’m invested in him! You would be too if you watched something grow up for eighteen fucking years.”
“Oh my god, hyung, I have a brother. I know what it’s like to watch someone grow up for eighteen years. I didn’t go to pieces when he hooked up for the first time. I took him out for a drink and teased him.”
“How so?” Yoongi can hear Jimin’s eyebrow raise through the phone and it’s too late. It’s too late to grab the words and stuff them back in his mouth.
“No, come on. How’s it different?”
“Because he’s your brother. God.”
“And Jeongguk isn’t?” A shade of triumph begins to color Jimin’s words and Yoongi withholds a groan. Here it is, admittance. Admittance aloud, too, which frankly makes it worse. It makes it real—once the idea takes shape it never goes away. “Rather, you don’t see him that way?”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“About what,” Yoongi snaps. He’s not going to to say it.
“About the fact you’re in love with Jeongguk?”
Yoongi doesn’t actually hear the end of Jimin’s sentence because he starts shouting (censored for brevity purposes, but it’s something like “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA”) when he hears the L-word start to leave Jimin’s mouth.
A withering silence.
“You’re going to have to face it one day, hyung,” Jimin says, rocket pop wrapper crackling as he wraps his sugar-sticky popsicle stick in the plastic. “If not today, tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing to face.”
“Then I better not hear a call from you the day he gets into a relationship. And if I do—”
“—then you’re allowed to say ‘I told you so.’”
“Why do you sound so excited? It’s not going to happen.”
In love? Please. Please. Yoongi’s not in love.
Please. He doesn’t text someone he’s in love with
also, don’t wear your dorm keys around your neck. you look like an idiot. He wouldn’t text someone he’s in love with at all, full stop. If he were in love with someone he’d just make it simpler for himself and go lie down on the highway.
what? why not? everyone does it!
everyone you talk to is a freshman, so, yeah. just trust me on this one.
you are so mean hyung
Never mind with Jeongguk. Jeon Jeongguk, the kid he drew stupid hopscotch paths for on the sidewalks in the park outside their apartment complex? Jeongguk, the kid who could barely get through middle school algebra? Jeongguk, who joked about starting a YouTube channel instead of going to college, only to duck when Yoongi aimed a swat at him and tells him to study?
im trying to make sure you don’t look like a fool. anyway i gotta sleep
good night hyung
2017; a choir of dahlias
Yoongi swears he didn’t go looking for the information. It pops up on his Instagram, and he’s not sure if he’s angry about learning through social media or angry for being angry, but the feeling is the same. Hot, sticky, like the suffocating air inside a bathroom right after a shower. It fills Yoongi’s chest and he feels beyond stupid for it.
Honestly, it’s a really nice picture. Yoongi’s is a bitch for being so salty about it, and he knows it. Maybe that’s it, though? He’s just mad about how good the photography is. Artistic jealousy is a very real thing. The guy is tall, really tall; and pretty fucking muscular, to boot. Jeongguk has gotten bulkier and thicker all over and this guy still makes him look squishy soft beside him. He’s laughing, turning his face away towards the camera lens as the guy attacks his cheek with kisses. His arms are wrapped around Jeongguk’s waist and Jeongguk is scrunching his nose in the way Yoongi has seen a million times.
They look happy.
“Is it extra to be friend-possessive when your friend gets a boyfriend?”
“Depends.” Jimin sucks at his Chick-fil-A soda, straw scraping the bottom of the cup. “How close are you guys?”
“I’ve known him for a long time. But we’ve gotten really close recently.”
“I’d say yeah,” Jimin shrugs.
“I don’t know if I should trust your opinion, though,” says Yoongi.
“What! Why the fuck not!”
“The last time Taehyung said hi to someone, you grabbed him and kissed him because you said you weren’t about to let your best friend be snatched away from between your tightly clenched buttocks.”
“He is very safe there,” Jimin says seriously.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Who is this, anyway? Namjoon?”
Yoongi considers lying. Then he decides to say, “Jeongguk.”
Jimin looks at Yoongi for a split second before he bursts into an uproarious guffaw. It’s so forceful that Yoongi physically flinches, leaning away as Jimin honks like an electric tuba.
“I take it this was exceptionally funny to you?”
“Hyung, you can’t be serious. Is this a serious question?”
“Yes!” Yoongi says, halfway to insulted now.
“Oh, my God. Hyung. Are we still going over this? You are not friend jealous about Jeongguk. How many times—? Fuck me. He went and got a boyfriend? Fuck me! Do I get to say it now?”
“I told you so!” Jimin crows.
It wouldn’t feel so shitty if they weren’t in contact. That’s the thing—Yoongi expects his close friends to tell him things that matter. Things like, oh, getting a boyfriend. Namjoon reports to him what alien rotten food he’s found in the fridge this week, so he’d like to think something as drastic as a new significant other warrants a text or two.
But he hadn’t gotten anything.
Maybe this is Jeongguk just growing up and away from him for the last time?
It could be, but it isn’t. If it is, Yoongi doesn’t want it. Not when Jeongguk hits him up the next day and asks if he wants to get dinner, since he’s on this side of campus already. Yoongi agrees right away, even though he’s exhausted, and he’d really rather go home and die on the floor for an hour or three before psyching himself up to do work.
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, sliding into the seat across the table. His backpack thunks on the ground. “Oh shit, that’s my laptop—sorry I’m late. You look exhausted. You know you didn’t have to say yes if you’re so tired!”
“I always look like this,” Yoongi says, slowly. Jeongguk smells of stale perfume, but also of himself, as if the perfume heightens that half-vanilla half-shampoo smell that always lingers on his skin. “And I was hungry. I’m just convinced you ask me out to dinner because my dignity doesn’t allow me to not pay for you.”
“Impossible, never heard of that. That’s a high accusation, hyung.” The mischief in Jeongguk’s smile gives him away even as he opens up his menu. “I know you like sushi.”
“How is your dissertation coming along?” Jeongguk asks as he studies the page of special rolls. He drags his fingertip down the laminated page and matches up photos to names.
“Never do a PhD, Jeongguk.”
At this, Jeongguk looks up and laughs. “That bad?”
“Very few things keep me from just ending it all.”
“Vine compilations. The singular satisfaction of finishing a bottle of shampoo and conditioner at the same time. Namjoon’s Snapchats of him and whatever new friend he’s acquired, even if said friend is a very tiny raccoon. Oh, also spicy pork.”
“Me too, I hope,” Jeongguk sniffs.
Yoongi does not answer right away, chin in his hand. “You too,” he agrees, softly.
It’s not until later, when Jeongguk is more than halfway through his rainbow sakura roll, when it slips out of Yoongi’s mouth without preamble.
“You didn’t tell me you got a boyfriend.”
Jeongguk blinks when he looks up. “What?”
“You got a boyfriend, right?”
“Oh.” Jeongguk chews and swallows. “Yeah.”
He doesn’t continue, so Yoongi waves his chopsticks. “So. How did that happen?”
It’s not actually information that Yoongi cares to know. It’s a morbid kind of curiosity, maybe, or a need to hear a backstory just to make sure it’s real.
“He asked me out first. His name’s Mingyu, we were the same calculus 3A class, and he was in the same dorm house as me, so we ended up in those cheesy dorm study groups together and kind of clicked. Well, really clicked. And stuff.” Jeongguk picks at the pile of ginger in the corner of his plate, having demolished the rest of his roll.
“I see.” Yoongi clears his throat and tries to think of the next logical question to ask. “Is he fun?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be dating him if he wasn’t,” Jeongguk says. “He’s fun. And he’s funny, he actually makes me laugh, and he has really crazy, stupid ideas, or just dumb ones, like—two nights ago he asked me at eleven and asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping. I was like, it’s almost midnight on a Saturday. But we went anyway.”
“You like grocery shopping on Saturday nights?”
“The point isn’t grocery shopping on Saturday nights, I guess,” says Jeongguk as he swills his chopsticks in his dish of soy sauce. “It’s the weird joy in little things. Like arguing about how gross pistachio ice cream is in the frozen foods aisle and not really caring about winning the argument because you guys are going to get pistachio ice cream anyway. He always ends up getting Rocky Road and letting me eat out of his own pint, though.” He nods at Yoongi’s sushi roll. “Can I try?”
“You ate your whole roll and you’re still hungry?” Yoongi gripes.
“Please,” Jeongguk says, lacing his fingers together and tilting his head.
“Go for it. Jesus.”
Love is when they complain about how you have your own food or that you said you weren’t hungry. But they let you eat it anyway.
God, he sounds like—like he really likes this guy. Which isn’t any of Yoongi’s business beyond wishing him well. Some part of him, the unarticulated, quiet part that he never allows out of the darkest parts of himself, yearns to see this expression on Jeongguk’s face when he talks about Yoongi. Not about this tall, dark, handsome stranger. Mingyu is everything Yoongi isn’t. Still, hell would freeze over before Yoongi allowed himself the liberty of thinking about his feelings at length.
“I’m glad. You sound happy. I was worried for a second back there that you weren’t gonna find your people, but it looks like I didn’t need to be.”
“I am,” Jeongguk says, and a smile tumbles over his face in sunshine-gold. “I’m so happy!”
Namjoon is simultaneously more and less helpful than Jimin was.
On the one hand, he does not say it be like that sometimes and immediately proceed to try making Yoongi an AMF with kitchen bleach instead of vodka. On the other hand, he offers equally unrealistic solutions such as Being Honest with Himself or Telling Jeongguk About How He Feels.
“I am not,” Yoong recoils, “going to tell him how I feel. Are you kidding?”
“He has a boyfriend!”
“I didn’t exactly see you jumping the gun to say anything when he was single, either.”
Yoongi groans. He’s in Namjoon’s apartment to talk about the arrangement for the next theater play, one that Namjoon has been working on a lot more this semester, since Yoongi had started his dissertation and taken on the task of leading the symphonic orchestra through the Debussy and Strauss winter concert. He feels like he’s stumbling as he tries to catch all the loose ends of the work he should be doing, not that he’s helping his case by mindlessly reading the notes on Namjoon’s sheet music curled up on his couch.
“I don’t know what I’d tell him, anyway.”
“No. What, like, I don’t like it when you have a boyfriend?”
“Hmm.” Namjoon’s conductor baton rolls along the dining table and he just barely catches it before it clatters to the floor. Yoongi knows he has a point when Namjoon doesn’t follow up, but he doesn’t feel very victorious about winning.
“Sorry. I need to stop complaining and just focus on my work.”
“You don’t sound like you know what you want just yet, so just keep asking for his company the way you always have.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. I think so.”
The thing is, Namjoon is great at giving advice, but Yoongi is shit at taking it. He backs off of Jeongguk’s time and space and doesn’t let himself be upset about it when Jeongguk doesn’t seem to notice. His texts and calls grow fewer and farther between.
And, really, why would he notice? He has a boyfriend to fill that time and space. Yoongi, well, has his dissertation and black coffee.
That’s how things go through the winter. That’s how things go through the rain and the clouds. That’s how things go when the Debussy and Strauss concert comes and wraps.
Then, as the first black-eyed susans start to bloom in the gardens by engineering, just next door to music and arts, Yoongi gets a call.
It’s so unusual for Jeongguk to call that Yoongi has to look away from his phone to make sure it’s not Namjoon. Namjoon is the only one who still makes calls, and it’s fucking weird, but Yoongi will always pick up for him. He’d simply assumed it was him, but this is very much not Namjoon’s voice.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“Don’t tell me you’re drunk again. It’s nine in the morning.”
He laughs, a papery three-step chime through the phone. “No, I’m not. I wanted to ask if you were free today to get dinner?”
“You couldn’t text me about this?”
A pause. Then, quietly, “Sorry.”
“Nah, I was just kid—”
“I wanted to hear your voice.”
Yoongi blinks. He has a spread of Mendelssohn’s work for the upcoming Midsummer Night’s Dream show that theater and drama are putting on, and he puts his cup of coffee down to focus on Jeongguk’s words.
“Something the matter?”
Yoongi knows a lie when he hears one. Jeongguk is also not great at it. Acting, maybe. Lying?
“I’m busy through dinner. How late are you free? I’m done after nine.”
Half of him expects Jeongguk to bail. It’s a Tuesday night in the middle of the semester, and it’s still cold this spring. The other half of him glows warm in his chest when he bends against the wind to walk to sushi off campus, skin around his eyes tight and frigid, and sees Jeongguk already inside in a sunflower-yellow bomber jacket, hair a whirlwind on the crown of his head.
“Really have some nerve dragging me out here in this weather at this hour,” Yoongi offers as a greeting. Jeongguk looks up, light springing to his eyes.
“Hey,” he says. “Hyung. It’s good to see you.”
Yoongi pauses as he’s folding up his scarf. “So something is the matter.”
“I didn’t say—”
“You’re talking all weird.” Yoongi pours himself a cup of tea and holds it to his lips, letting the steam warm his mouth for a moment before he drinks. “And, I don’t know, it’s a little weird for you to be contacting me by phone after—well, you’ve been busy.”
Yes, something is wrong. But Jeongguk does not bring it up until their food is ordered and served, not until after Yoongi tells him about how far his dissertation has come along in the last few months (not far as he’d like) and how Jeongguk had decided to change majors while he still could (computer engineering to art). Frankly, Yoongi doesn’t know how he didn’t guess it already. He’s losing his touch.
“I broke up with my boyfriend.”
Yoongi has a bite of nigiri halfway to his mouth when he glances up.
“It was kind of messy.”
He puts his food down.
Jeongguk stares at him.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Jesus, Yoongi’s so good at this.
“It was a long time coming,” Jeongguk says, the words pouring forth in a rush, an opened dam. “It was stupid. And it was—God, just thinking about it makes me—I’m so mad. I don’t know what at. Myself? My bo—ex? The situation? What he said to me, which I guess falls under the ‘my ex’ header? I ask myself where I went wrong. Maybe I’m not good enough. Hyung, do you think I’m indecisive?”
“Uh.” This is a lot of information to process at once. Yoong puts his chopsticks down. “What makes you say that?”
“Did he say that to you?”
“I mean, he might have implied it.”
“I don’t know, why’s that even an issue? Did you take too long to order food everywhere you guys went? I mean, you do. I know my ass aged five years watching you try to decide between a king calamari roll and a rainbow sakura roll earlier.”
Yoongi means it as a joke, but Jeongguk doesn’t laugh. He backpedals. “Hey, did he really say that? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have joked about it.”
“We can talk about something else.”
“Hey, I’m really sorry.” Yoongi flounders, fuck, Namjoon is the one that’s good at this sort of thing. What would he say? “You sounded super upset, I can listen if there’s more you want to say.”
“He said he didn’t want to date someone whose heart was only partially in this relationship.”
Oh, goddammit. Yoongi almost regrets asking.
“Well, was it?”
Not the right thing to say, clearly. Jeongguk’s face immediately frosts over.
“Even so, how do you think it feels for someone to say that to you?” he says. “Your boyfriend to say that to you?”
“Shitty. But if it’s true, then you both are going to be happier confronting that truth sooner rather than later.”
Yoongi doesn’t know why Jeongguk came to him if he wanted handholding. Jeongguk knows better than anyone that Yoongi doesn’t handhold, even when he probably should, because it eliminates shit like this—misunderstanding of where his real feelings lie. If Jeongguk wanted someone to cradle his heart in their hands, the better person would have been Jimin.
For a moment he thinks that he should have been nicer about how he said it, but then Jeongguk slumps, like the fight’s finally gone out of him.
“So it was true?”
“I don’t know, hyung,” Jeongguk says testily, then jams more sushi into his mouth. “Never mind.”
This time it feels final. Yoongi takes a breath. He doesn’t know if he’s happy, or if he’s guilty about feeling happy, or if he’s guilty about not helping Jeongguk feel any better.
“Music building is abandoned for the evening. You want to come sit with me and watch me try to get through my arrangement for the next concert, get your mind off things?”
This makes Jeongguk smile, and just for a heartbeat Yoongi can see the kid that had climbed onto the piano bench with him to listen to his broken rendition of Pachelbel Canon years before.
“You’re my favorite hyung.”
Jeongguk comes to the Tchaikovsky exhibition that Yoongi didn’t even tell him about. He has no idea how he’d figured it out, considering Yoongi is only a guest conductor for a single movement the whole evening.
When Yoongi pops outside when the night is over, Jeongguk is there.
“I’ve never seen you conduct with the full symphony before,” he says in lieu of a greeting. “Whoa. I’ve also never seen you this dressed up. Are you feeling okay?”
“Looks way cooler with a symphonic orchestra in front of me, right.” Yoongi yanks at the bowtie at his neck until it loosens; he’s a much bigger fan of playing for theater, when they’re below the stage and concealed from view and he can wear a button-up and some slacks. “It’s a lot of me gesticulating at an empty room otherwise. And this is how I always have to dress when you can see me.”
“You should do it more often!” Jeongguk pats the crisp coif of Yoongi’s hair, and Yoongi swats his hand away unceremoniously. “Did you do this yourself?”
“Nah. Namjoon’s good at this.”
“Hyung, that was really awesome to watch.”
Yoongi casts him a sidelong glance.
“I’m serious!” Jeongguk insists. “It’s always been breathtaking that one person can stand in the center of so many moving pieces and create music. I know it’s not you playing any instruments yourself or anything, but it would be nothing but meaningless din without you leading. You can just raise a hand and the trumpets come in, or lower your hand and it’s just violins. That’s amazing.”
Just this once, Yoongi lets himself bask in the praise. “Thank you,” he says, swinging his backpack over his shoulder. The weathered fabric lies in sharp contrast to the sharply tailored edges of his conductor’s suit, and Yoongi hesitates when it looks like Jeongguk has something more to say. “Something up?”
“Are you busy?”
“Jeongguk, I’m a doctoral student. I’m always busy.”
“Can I walk with you?”
Yoongi gives him a once-over. He shrugs. “Okay.”
The coattails of Yoongi’s stream out behind him in the wind as they walk. It’s quiet, this evening, and for what seems like the first time Yoongi becomes acutely aware of how much taller Jeongguk has gotten. In the past, Jeongguk’s face has always been visible in his periphery. Now, Yoongi must look up to really catalog Jeongguk’s expression. Right now it’s unreadable, abstract conflict, like he’s waging a silent war with himself.
But Yoongi decides not to press. Jeongguk isn’t one to answer questions until he’s ready.
“You should come to more of these exhibits or the music department showcases if you’re so interested in seeing me conduct,” he says. If he’s going to fill the quiet, he might as well promote his work. “You’ll probably get to see Namjoon too. He looks cooler than me, I think. He’s tall, that majestic shit. When he’s conducting he’s so put together you’d never be able to tell how much of a klutz he is.”
“Hyung,” says Jeongguk.
“Yeah.” Jeongguk has come to a stop, standing in front of a shivering puddle. It’s spring, but it’s rainy, still. “What’s up?”
“I like you.”
Yoongi’s immediate reaction is to laugh. “I should hope you do.”
“No, hyung. I like you.”
This is where the confusion starts to trickle into Yoongi’s blood, nothing but a drip-stream, steady yet lethal. Confusion morphs into fear. His hands are cold.
“Why?” is what he says.
“What? Why, because—because you’ve been around my whole life. I like you. Hyung, I’ve loved you. What do I have to do for you to notice that?”
“You’ve understood me better than anyone. You don’t laugh at the stupid things I do, you just laugh and do it with me. Fuck, you’ve seen the stupidest things I’ve done, and you still hang out with me. Even when you’re cold to others, you’re warm to me. Whenever I ask for anything, you complain about it but you do it for me. You do all these things you think I can’t see, but I see them, and I just—it means more than just being my hyung, right? It does?”
Yoongi stares at Jeongguk over his shoulder. Then he turns to face him woodenly.
“Jeongguk, that’s. I don’t—”
“I’m not still just your kid friend, am I?”
“No, I just don’t think you’re really sure that’s what love is.”
“No?” Desperation bleeds into Jeongguk’s voice. “Why not? You told me that love is—that it’s—”
Love is what makes you smile when nothing else can. They say your name different. I don’t know how, but it’s different. They’ll complain about how you have your own food or that you said you weren’t hungry, but they let you eat it anyway.
“I was seventeen.”
“That’s not what I think it is now.”
“Then what do you think it is?”
“I don’t know, but this isn’t it,” Yoongi says, feeling like someone else is speaking when his mouth moves. Why is he scared? Why is his heart racing, but in the uncomfortable way? Isn’t this what he wanted? It has to be, right?
Is this what he wants?
What does he want?
“How can you know that?” Jeongguk’s words have lost their pleading edge, taking on something far sharper, a bitter anger.
“You said it yourself. I’ve known you all your life, seen you do all the stupidest possible shit, know all your secrets. There’s security in me. How do you know it’s not just you craving that security? Security because I’ve always been here, thinking I’ll always be here? All you’ve known is Yoongi, the hyung. Who’s to say you’ll even like Yoongi, the boyfriend?”
Jeongguk steps back, stung. “You really think that.”
“I don’t know. I just think you should think about it some more.”
“I’ve thought about it for—” Jeongguk scoffs. “You’re the densest motherfucker I’ve ever met, hyung.”
“Try me,” Yoongi challenges.
“I can’t believe you,” and by now, Jeongguk sounds like he’s near tears. “I broke up with my boyfriend because of you.”
This is enough for curiosity to override the panic, even for just long enough for Yoongi to ask, “I thought you said that he wasn’t happy with the relationship.”
“And what makes you even think we got to that point?”
“I don’t understand.”
“How would staying be fair to him?” Jeongguk swipes at his eyes and glares at a dark spot of old gum on the sidewalk. “Fuck, as if there’s a point in acting noble or keeping it a secret, I’ve already humiliated myself. I said the wrong name when I was sleeping with him, hyung. I said yours.”
Yoongi’s head hurts.
“But it doesn’t matter. Here. Now you know. I guess now the point is just—I love you, hyung. I love you, and you don’t have to accept it. It looks like you don’t accept it, so.” Jeongguk looks smaller, all of a sudden, as if all the fight has gone out of him. “It’s been years, and I’m tired. I just don’t want to carry this secret around any longer. It’s yours to bear now.”
“Good night, hyung.”
Yoongi steps forward, every particle in his body trying to reach out, but nothing comes. It’s just him, his tattered bag, and his wet shoes on rain-soaked sidewalk.
Good night, he never says.
2019; a symphony of roses
It feels weird, somehow. This feeling has been sitting at the base of his skull from the beginning of the school year—the odd taste of the end. Graduating high school had been a relief. Graduating college, well, is a different story. The last time that he logs into his school portal to sign up for classes feels like the beginning of the end.
But trust Jeon Jeongguk to be late on his last (last, forever) first day of school. He sets his alarm to PM, instead of AM, and wakes up ten minutes before his section for Intermediate Piano Theory. Which means he has the privilege of going to his last first day of class with a bedhead flattened under a snapback.
He makes it to the fourth floor of the music building in the nick of time, just a minute past the hour, and tries not to look like sprinting up four flights of stairs has him this out of breath. Nobody is standing in the hall anymore. Jeongguk groans inwardly when he realizes this means that the only desk left will probably be the one front and center in front of the TA’s desk and he’ll have to actually pay attention in this.
But hopefully, since it’s only syllabus week, maybe they’ll get out in ten minutes. Optimism.
“—make sure, is everyone here for Intermediate Piano Theory? Last class I had someone realize that we were, in fact, not Critical Thinking and Ethics.”
Jeongguk nearly trips over his longboard. He does, a bit, his stumble loud on the linoleum. Some twenty-five pairs of eyes turn to stare at him as he straightens.
Yoongi. It’s Yoongi.
The TA is Yoongi.
Yoongi is teaching this section.
He’s a TA.
Holy shit, Jeongguk needs to drop this class right now immediately.
If Yoongi is as surprised as Jeongguk feels, he doesn’t let it show.
“Lovely of you to join us, please take a seat.”
As Jeongguk had predicted, this late, the only seat left open is the one front and center, directly across the TA’s desk at the front of the room. Robotically does he seat himself. He doesn’t even realize he should take his backpack off until the girl in the seat next to him eyes him, and he pulls a muscle he didn’t even know he had trying to get it off while also moving his limbs as little as possible.
It’s agony. Jeongguk knows he needs to pass this class to graduate, but he doesn’t hear a single fucking word that Yoongi says. After several futile attempts of trying to focus, he gives up. The more he sits there, the more anger builds in his belly—how can Yoongi stand up there, calling out names, reading off the lesson plan and syllabus, and look so composed doing it? How can it seem to mean nothing to him? Has he always been like this?
Jeongguk thinks of the Yoongi that had gotten in trouble for him as a kid, the one that had listened to his identity crises in mosquito-dotted summer in the mountains, and looks at the Yoongi at the front of the room and wonders where they’d gone wrong.
“You guys can go ahead and take off. Not much to cover this week. Make sure to bring your theory books next week, material’s going to pick up after two classes!”
Half the section class is already out the door before Yoongi has even finished speaking. Jeongguk loiters, not knowing why, not knowing what he’d say. He kicks himself because he’d wanted to turn tail and walk right back out when this class started. What is he even doing now?
“Hey,” he says, mouth betraying him.
“Hi,” Yoongi replies. No pomp, no circumstance. “Can I help you?”
He says it blandly and politely, the way strangers would. Jeongguk opens his mouth to say something. Say anything, really, but nothing comes out. There is only a desk between them, one foot missing its rubber cap, but it feels like Yoongi is too far to reach now.
Jeongguk runs before he can cry.
“What do you mean, Jeongguk’s in your class? He hasn’t even finished undergrad yet.”
“I mean I’m teaching him.”
Namjoon doesn’t immediately reply to this. Then, “Oh my God, this is so sad. Alexa, play Despacito.”
“Fuck off,” Yoongi says, not hiding the misery in his voice. “What do I do?”
Namjoon is the kind of friend that not everyone has but everyone deserves, and he sighs and looks into the camera of his phone so that it looks like he’s looking into Yoongi’s face. “I don’t know, hyung. You’re a grad student that got home and immediately called a friend on Facetime to ask what to do about an old flame, I’m not really sure I can help you at this point.”
“Ugh. I expect this kind of brutal truth from Jimin, not you.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I dunno. Tell me it’ll be okay?”
“It’ll be okay,” Namjoon recites dutifully.
“Thank you,” says Yoongi. He pauses. Then, “But what if it won’t be?”
“Oh my God,” Namjoon says. “You’re still teaching the class, fucknut. You need to fulfill your job to The Man. The System. Capitalism. What do I do, you ask. Well, you have to keep teaching, whether you like it or not.”
Yoongi’s best answer for this is staring balefully into his own phone camera and ignoring the papers he needs to grade by Thursday.
Namjoon takes a long, deep breath.
“You told me you grew up with this kid. You should know him better than anyone.”
“But I don’t.”
“I don’t know.”
“What exactly are you scared of?”
“That he’s comfortable with me.”
“I feel like,” Namjoon turns the page of his notebook and presses the page flat along the crooked spiral spine, “if someone has seen your embarrassing emo-goth My Chemical Romance phase and still wants to suck face with you, there’s really nothing you need to be worried about. But define comfortable.”
“I don’t want him to to like me, or think he likes me, because he knows I’ll always be there. Because I’ve always been here. And what if the day comes that I can’t be here for him? What if the day comes that I hurt his feelings enough that he decides that none of this was worth it? Sure, I might be a good hyung figure, doesn’t mean I’ll be a good boyfriend.”
“Hyung, I know you think you’re the personification of a 2008 MySpace profile, but you are astoundingly soft. You’ve got a lot of love to give.”
“I do not think—”
Namjoon’s Look is powerful even through the barrier of a camera lens.
“If it ever goes bad, I don’t want him to look back on this lifetime and see me in every memory and hate every single one because I taint all of them,” Yoongi says, quietly enough that Namjoon could miss it if he doesn’t strain his ears. “That’s terrifying, you know? The idea that something I’ve known and had and counted on being a permanent thing all my life will be gone if we mess up. I don’t know how you don’t see that.”
“So you’d rather him instead look back on every memory with you and ask, instead, why you’re not there anymore? Because that’s what I’m understanding.”
“Listen, I’m not saying you need to pick up the phone and confess right now. He’s probably had way more time to process his feelings and come to this conclusion—I mean, obviously, or else he wouldn’t have confessed to you to begin with. But if pushing him out of your life is something you know you’ll regret, then I’d advise you to hang on and hang on tight.”
“Or else he’ll slip through my fingers, yeah, yeah.”
“Nah, he’s not slipping from your fingers, hyung. You’re fucking flinging him away. And every time he’s gotten up and run back to you, because he’s done that his whole life, thinking you’ll always be there. But there’ll come a day when he stops being so stupid. And there’ll come a day you’ll fling him far enough that he won’t come back.”
Yoongi sits cross-legged in the center of his bed. His room feels like it’s full of his own thoughts, rising from his skin to loom over and laugh at him.
“I like him.”
“I know. Or else you wouldn’t be on this two hour Facetime call with me.”
“I’ve loved him and I’m scared.”
“I know that too.”
“Should I tell him?”
“There’s a chance he won’t accept your feelings. I mean, he won’t. He’s going to be furious. But there’s a chance he’ll come around, if you give it time.”
Yoongi inhales, slow, measuredly, through his nose. Then he lets it all out through his mouth, like dispelling a bad dream.
Sometimes friendships end. They do. Even if it lasted two years, or five years, or ten years, or all your life. Sometimes they do.
After it happens enough you just learn to be okay with it.
Jeongguk does not drop the class because he is a mature young man now and will not run at the first sight of a minor inconvenience. These are bold words for someone who texts Jimin
omg literally just kill me every time someone sneezes near him, but he still stands by them.
“Are you sure you’re not just staying in the class because you want to see the hot TA?”
Jaehyun means well. Jeongguk slides him a withering look as he sips from what must be his sixth can of tangerine LaCroix for the evening. All he’s told him is that he wants to switch sections because his current TA is “super hot but also really dumb and unhelpful” and he’s here for “a higher education to build character and stimulate his critical thinking skills,” or some similarly dishwater-bland bullshit that sounds like it was pulled from their dean’s commencement speech.
“No,” Jeongguk says, truthfully.
“See, I’m say—wait. You’re not sure?”
“I don’t know. He kind of does know his stuff. He’s just an airhead.”
“Well, if he’s doing a PhD, he probably knows plenty, right?”
“Right.” Jeongguk frowns. He’d taken Intermediate Piano Theory because he’d played the piano one (1) time, and did some casual music theory for guitar in the past—and also, the Fundamentals of Piano Theory class had been full, so it had been this or graduate late.
“I don’t know, maybe if he’ll let you, you can suck his dick for grades.”
“You know that never actually happens, Jaehyun.”
“Would it really hurt to try?”
Yes, Jeongguk thinks, watching with a tinge of queasiness as Jaehyung opens another can of sparkling water. He’s had so many Jeongguk is just waiting for him to inflate like a balloon from all the carbonation and float away so he can be left alone to mope in peace. Yes, it would.
“Maybe he’d be more helpful in office hours. It sounds like you need the extra help anyway.” Jaehyun makes eyebrows at the worksheet Jeongguk’s been struggling through for the last hour. “It looks like it, too.”
Jeongguk does not even know how to begin to tell him this would be an astronomically terrible idea.
So of course he says, “You’re right. I’ll go to his next session.”
The door doesn’t open.
“Come in,” he says, trying to sound chipper.
The door clicks. It’s so timid it sounds like a freshman, even though their sessions are supposed to be tomorrow. Maybe they got the wrong hours off his TA’s page. Yoongi puts on his best nice face before spinning in his chair and—
Oh. Oh, no. This is not a freshman.
“I had some questions.”
Jeongguk’s body fills the doorway. He’s not big, not in the hulking way, but somehow his presence exceeds the space in this office. Too big, too sudden, something Yoongi isn’t ready for. It’s cloudy today, and this building is old; his shadow quivers in a long, smoky line down the hallway, and Yoongi stares at him just long enough for it to start becoming awkward.
Then, “Yes, of course. Come in.”
So Jeongguk does. He puts his hand on the door, as if making to close it, then pauses as he’s already begun to swing it shut. It hangs ajar, indecisive.
Jeongguk opens the door again until it touches the doorstop on the wall.
“What is it you had questions about?”
Yoongi has TA’d before. This is old hat. Come in, what are you confused about, how can I help, what do you need to go over? It just so happens that any and all human functionality Yoongi might have convinced himself he had has just evaporated through his pores because Jeongguk had shown up.
“Augmentation and diminution,” Jeongguk says. He sinks into the padded steel folding chair by Yoongi’s desk. The cushion hisses as air rushes out from it. They sit side by side, instead of face to face, without the safety or security of being separated by aging plywood. “I—well, I don’t even know what I don’t know.”
There’s no reason to be sad. No, Yoongi doesn’t have the right to be sad—or whatever feeling this is. Regret, maybe. He pushed first. He’d pushed first, and the second he had, he’d forfeited the right to be sad, to cry at the bottom of the ravine over the broken pieces of what they once were. Whatever that had been. It hadn’t really been anything, and that’s the saddest part. Almost.
“So where should we start?”
Yoongi nearly has to slap himself into motion. Namjoon’s tsk clicks in the back of his head, you have to keep teaching, whether you like it or not. Right. He’s still his student. It doesn’t matter what had happened two years ago. Yoongi contractually owes him an education.
They start, well, somewhere. And that has to be good enough. Yoongi teaches him everything from the ground up. He’s lucky enough that Jeongguk has a rudimentary background in music and knows how to count beats and notes. The hour goes by, and the hour after that, into dinner. Yoongi is supposed to leave campus by now, but he stays.
He stays because Namjoon was right. Maybe one day Jeongguk really will stop being stupid enough to run to him. Staying, for Yoongi, is his form of running towards something.
“And that’s all you need to know for augmentation and diminution for this class,” Yoongi says, throat a shade hoarse. He hasn’t spoken without pause in so long. In fact, he doesn’t know if he’s said this much continuously in his life, ever. “It takes some practice and listening to fully grasp, and that just comes with experience. You don’t need to worry about that until finals though, and it’ll be a fairly easy listening exam.”
“Listening finals?” Jeongguk sighs.
“You’ll be fine. There are harder topics on the horizon to worry about.”
“I know.” Jeongguk closes his dog-eared notebook. “These are gonna be my last.”
“Wait.” Yoongi sits back. What? “Wait, are you graduating?” He does the math in his head. Of course. He’s not sure how he’d lost track of the years, but maybe less than losing track, Yoongi had chosen to stop remembering every milestone in Jeongguk’s life like his own.
“Yeah.” Jeongguk’s smile is crooked but familiar. “Little baby isn’t so little anymore. Isn’t the passage of time just absolutely unholy?”
For a second Yoongi sees a glimpse of what life might have been like if he hadn’t shuttered Jeongguk, a ghost hiding from the sun.
“Wow,” is what he says. “Congratulations, I. Didn’t realize.”
“Yeah, it kind of creeps up on you, huh? I remember my first day here like it was yesterday. It’s cliche but it’s true.”
Yoongi does too. He even remembers the smell of the first-year dorms, lemon-fresh from daily housekeeping, and the warmth of Thai takeout that he had brought to Jeongguk’s room the first weekend. He promptly slams the book of memories closed and allows himself a smile.
“Almost half done with my PhD, and I still remember, too. What are you going to do after?”
Jeongguk grimaces, and Yoongi snorts. “Sorry. I know that’s like, the forbidden question for graduating seniors.”
“I might travel a little.” Jeongguk crosses his legs, resting his ankle on his knee. “I don’t think I’ll stay here. I plan to do art and music, so maybe LA.”
“Oh.” Yoongi wets his lips. “That’s far.”
“Just a little.”
“You’d head down there yourself?”
“Maybe. Some of my friends are there, but I’d have to see.”
“Where has the time gone?”
The way Jeongguk asks no longer sounds like a question for the sake of shooting the shit. Yoongi looks at him, really looks at him, for the first time since he walked into his office on a dreary March afternoon, and he sees someone he doesn’t recognize. Jeongguk is big now, even bigger than he was two years ago—imposing and more built than Yoongi. The way he arranges himself is aloof and casual. He’s looking out the window, legs crossed, hands in his pockets, with an expression on his face that Yoongi once knew how to read.
But somewhere in him is still the boy that asked Yoongi to pull him in a wagon to the convenience store. It’s in his smile. Somewhere in him is still the boy that asked him to teach him the piano. It’s in the way his fingers drum on the table. And somewhere in him is still the boy that lay awake on a bunk bed over Yoongi, asking him on a cricket-sleepy summer night if he knew what love felt like. It’s—
“Anyway, thanks for your time, I need to get dinner, I have—I have to get to—”
“Oh, uh—yeah, of course—”
Yoongi is standing up in a rush, because Jeongguk is. Neither of them know what they’re hurrying for. Jeongguk clears his throat. “Thanks,” he mumbles. “For the help. I might need it again, so uh. Yeah.”
“I hope it made sense,” Yoongi says, pulling his tutor persona out of his ass where he stores it for safekeeping. “And feel free to email if you have more questions.”
“Thanks, I will.” He won’t, but Yoongi needs to say it.
Jeongguk is out the door without another glance over his shoulder.
“Bye,” Yoongi says, to an empty room.
Hoseok says it’s progress.
“Is it, though?”
“You’re not actively avoiding each other, so I’d say it is. Baby steps, hyung. The Taj Mahal was not built in one night.”
“The Taj Mahal is a breathtaking work of architecture. This is a fucked up relationship. That I fucked up.”
“Self-awareness is good in moderation.” Hoseok scoops a spoonful of rolled ice cream into his mouth. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. It sounds like you guys were able to carry out a conversation, even if it was about piano theory. That far exceeds my expectations for either of you.”
“Thanks,” says Yoongi dryly.
Yoongi thinks back to the night after it things had fallen apart. He tells himself he’s forgotten most of it now but it’s the same as watching a wound gush blood and saying everything is fine, I’m fine, it doesn’t hurt. It does hurt. He tells himself he’s forgotten most of it now but remembers the smell of his sheets when he’d collapsed into them, the patter of returning rain that evening, pulling on empty when he searched for the energy to get up and close the windows. The floor had gotten wet before he did.
But hurting is his own fault, so he doesn’t get to admit it. That’s the price he pays for saying the wrong things, always.
“He bolted as soon as we talked about the future.”
“I mean, I would too,” Hoseok says. “Nothing is scarier than the nebulous behemoth that is the future. Of course he would. That’s too many unanswered questions, on top of the uncertainty of what your relationship is now.”
“How do we talk if neither of us have the balls to bring up the topic without running?”
“I never said it was going to be easy. It’s uncomfortable and it sucks. But you could speak your mind, and at least live with the satisfaction of knowing you said your part. Or you can stay quiet, and live in this artificial safety of thinking you won’t get hurt that way, and spend years thinking about the could haves and should haves.” He stirs his toppings into his ice cream. “It sounds like that’s what you’ve been doing for the last two years anyway, so feel free to keep doing that if you really want.”
There it is again, the question Yoongi has been running from for so long, without realizing that he’d been running, only to recognize now that he was already out of breath.
“What are you looking for, exactly, hyung?”
Hoseok’s spoonful of popping boba hovers, poised, in front of his mouth, as he waits for Yoongi to answer. A kind of boldness Yoongi hasn’t seen in a long time rises from his chest to take the reigns.
“I like him. I’ve loved him.”
“Good, we’re getting somewhere.”
“I want to be his boyfriend.”
“Oh, shit! Look at you, processing your feelings. I’m so impressed. Here, eat this,” says Hoseok, and offers his spoonful of sticky ice cream. More than he offers, he shoves his spoon into Yoongi’s mouth. Hoseok has an undeniable sort of big dick energy that Yoongi does not question, so he allows this to happen and chews. “There, how’s it feel to admit it?”
Truthfully, anticlimactic. Some part, or most parts, of Yoongi has always known this. Admitting it aloud to Hoseok is easy, and he’s thankful for it. Namjoon would think too hard about it and Jimin would scream. At least Hoseok sticks to force-feeding.
“What do I do now that I have?”
“Communicate it to him. I know,” Hoseok raises his voice when he sees Yoongi about to protest, “I know that you aren’t the type to tell him to his face. You’re not the type to do that. Just start with easy stuff. Get him a drink or something. That kind of thing, you know? Love isn’t always grand gestures.”
“Not grand gestures, huh.”
“Nah. Grand gestures are fun, but it’s little things. Remembering their birthday without being told, knowing their favorite song when they’re sick, buying them food. Easy shit, you know?”
“Easy shit,” Yoongi repeats. “Okay.”
Piano theory is hard, and Jeongguk has trouble with understanding modulation. This is the truth. This is the truth, he tells himself as he climbs the stairs inside the music building. He needs help. He needs to pass.
When he opens the door, Yoongi is hunched over a mess of sheet music that looks more like an army of ants than musical notes. He looks up at the sound of someone coming in, a surprise touching his eyes before he relaxes.
“I’d be happy to.” He gathers his wrinkled papers into a neat pile and pushes two untouched orders of boba to the corner of his desk. Jeongguk watches bemusedly as Yoongi pulls his sleeve over his hand and wipes down the puddles of condensation that have pooled on the wood.
“You got two drinks for yourself?”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says, turning an unannounced shade of pink.
“Hey, it’s not that embarrassing. You know I get double order of ev—” Jeongguk’s words flatten in his mouth. “I order a lot of food, too.”
“I know you do,” Yoongi says, looking up at him. Jeongguk feels like he can’t break the gaze, bound by the electricity that ripples through him when Yoongi levels him with a gaze so intense. Is he aware of it? Probably not. Yoongi has always been like this, tearing at the seams with an energy larger than himself. “Anyway, uhm. What was it you needed help on?”
“Ugh, not my favorite topic. Alright. Hit me.”
Maybe normal conversation will never be normal again between the two of them, and it’ll always be this. Just music, and a polite skirt around anything else. There’s a sadness to it that knells slow and quiet in Jeongguk’s chest for those days, but he enjoys the time he can listen to Yoongi explain music theory. It makes sense when he says it. A lot of things do. The hours fly, hurried, time trying to catch its own deadline.
At the end of the afternoon, Yoongi clears his throat and reaches for the drinks. He holds one out.
“I thought you said you got two orders for yourself.”
“I’m not that thirsty.”
“You just spent two hours talking.”
“I got one for my office buddy.”
Jeongguk looks around at the austere office, at the layer of dust blanketing the only other desk.
“Just take it,” Yoongi mutters. He thrusts it into Jeongguk’s hands, and looks away as Jeongguk takes his time to pierce his straw through the plastic seal.
“Yeah.” Yoongi’s voice is hoarse from all the talking. “I have more hours tomorrow if you need help again. Technically it’s reserved for my freshmen class, but they never fucking come in. So feel free.”
“Okay.” Jeongguk gets up. “I’ll, uh. See you.”
It’s as if, by some cosmic excitement at seeing the two of them talk again, they are unable to stay away from each other following that afternoon.
None of the encounters are even on purpose. Yoongi will arrive early for seminar, just for some peace and quiet in the auditorium, and find Jeongguk by the planter waiting for his own class to start. He’ll be in line for dinner to feel a tap on his shoulder and sense the warmth of Jeongguk leaning in and asking, “Do you think wasabi aioli is good? Should I just say fuck rhinitis and go for it?” He’ll sit by the campus lake at night just to listen to the lap of water against the banks and Jeongguk will appear from the dim evening, pulling his earbuds out of his ears out of breath from running, who sits down to stretch and call it an evening.
“Yeah, from my responsibilities.”
“Fuck. Now that’s what I call a self-drag. It’s Friday, go drink.”
“I’m not really a huge fan of alcohol anymore. I’m like, okay with just sitting in my room and drinking cabernet out of the bottle.”
“I’m not going to lie, that sounds ideal,” says Yoongi. “Though I do remember having to pick you up piss drunk more than once.”
At this, Jeongguk laughs. “Man, you remember that, huh?”
“I remember a lot of things.”
Jeongguk leans his weight back against the heels of his hands, stretching his legs out before him. It’s still too early in spring for crickets to fill the air with their chorus of chirping, but a rogue few keep the night alive.
Then, “Do you want to?” Jeongguk asks, broken. He must have been having a conversation with himself and only shared the conclusion of it aloud.
Yoongi blinks. “Want to what?”
“Come over and share a cabernet?”
“Uh,” Yoongi says, brain short circuiting. This was not a foreseen result of Operation: Wife the Shit Out of Jeon Jeongguk that he had outlined with Hoseok. “Why?”
“Sorry, you don’t have to. That was—never mind.”
Yoongi looks back out over the water.
“How about you come over to mine?” he asks. “I have better.”
“Better than cabernet?”
“Better than drinking cabernet out of the bottle alone over Netflix? Yeah. You don’t have to, though,” Yoongi adds.
“No,” says Jeongguk. “I’d love to.”
Yoongi’s made a lot of bad decisions in college. Walking by water when he’s blackout drunk, sneak into his old ex’s apartment with his then-friends and attempt to convince him that his apartment was haunted and get out before he knew they were there, trying to cook in a plastic dish. This, though, this is probably the most stupid. This is handing Jeongguk a mojito and telling him to sit on his couch. This is sitting down next to him with the TV on.
“I didn’t realize you were full time doctorate conductor, part time bartender,” Jeongguk says, sipping on his cocktail. “This isn’t bad.”
“You mean it’s good? Thank you,” Yoongi snorts, pulling his legs up onto the couch. It’s dark in the living room, and the floor is littered with books and sheet music. Jeongguk has shrugged on a hoodie so big that he swims in it.
They sit in silence and watch the movie. Yoongi’s seen it before, but if he recalls anything from Jeongguk’s life, it’s that he loves Grave Encounters. Neither of them flinch at the jumpscares. The ice in their glasses clinks as they shift. After a while, it’s obvious to both of them that they’re watching something just for something to focus on, something that isn’t each other and the gaping, bloodied wound between them.
“I miss this,” Jeongguk says.
Yoongi stares at the melting ice in the bottom of his glass. It takes a lot of alcohol to get him drunk, but it doesn’t take that much to loosen the vise of his lips. “I do too,” he says.
“I was an idiot is what happened.” Jeongguk’s gaze is upon him, and Yoongi meets it. “Whatever happened, I regret it.”
Jeongguk wears glasses now. He wears glasses, it’s so bizarre, he says they’re the reflective kind with the blue coating that’s supposed to protect your eyes, not prescription. They perch, owlish and doll-like, on his nose, and they’re sliding down right now as they stare at each other.
“Me too.” Jeongguk’s ears are dark, pink, in the light of only the TV. “I regret everything.”
It’s not recovery. It’s not even the beginning of it. But maybe it’s the first step to staunching the flow of blood that has been leaking from this wound for weeks, months, over a year now—where has time gone? Yoongi can’t find it in himself to reply after Jeongguk speaks, afraid that an ocean of fear will pour forth if he pulls the plug.
Yoongi waits for Jeongguk to look away, but he doesn’t, locked in a silent, immobile game of chicken. The consequences are unclear if neither of them break this gaze. Already, Yoongi can feel his blood warm in his hands, breath loud in his head.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says.
Interrupting him to ask if he wants more drinks is what Yoongi wants to do. That time, though, is past, of what he wants, of what he thinks is what’ll fix them. He clenches his jaw. “Yeah.”
So much teeters on the edge of Jeongguk’s tongue. Then he looks away, presses his thumbs to the side of his glass until they turn sallow white as the blood rushes out of them. “Thanks for teaching me piano.”
“Oh. That’s my job.”
“Yeah, but you still stay after hours to teach, too.”
In reality, Yoongi doesn’t have anywhere else to be. The hours between the afternoon and nighttime are the only time he allows himself to enjoy his free time, yet for months he has spent these unfilled hours with the din of his thoughts pinballing through his brain. Teaching Jeongguk gives him purpose.
He says, “It’s a privilege.”
Jeongguk smiles. It’s the first real one Yoongi has seen since that rainy day.
So, no, it’s not recovery. Not quite, not yet.
This is planting his roses. This will be the garden after the forest fire.
This time, his thesis isn’t what he’s nervous about. Or, well. To say he’s not nervous at all would be overconfident, but there’s a different edge to this anxiety. It’s not that of meeting deadlines. It’s the same feeling that Yoongi gets when he realizes he’s missed his exit on the highway, or finding out about a sale on music equipment a day too late..
At least that’s what it feels like when Jeongguk knocks on his door the last week before finals, peeking in. This session, half the class seems to have flocked into Yoongi’s office, crash-landing with armfuls of notes and panic about passing the class. He’d be lying if he said Jeongguk doesn’t distract him, but he’s proud to say that it’s not by much. Jeongguk sits down like everyone else in a makeshift circle of chairs around Yoongi’s desk, where he’s leaning against so that he can write on his whiteboard.
Yoongi puts up with A Lot of stupid questions. More than once he can tell Jeongguk struggles to withhold an eyeroll, and only once does he fail.
Then the hours wear on, and people start leaving one by one as their questions are answered. Some of them pack up and go with a kind of haste that says they have other places to be. Others take their time, dawdling to see if someone else asks a question that they want to hear the answer to.
But no one stays as long as Jeongguk, silent until now, with his notes open in his lap as he writes in the margins of his notebook.
“I hope on pain of death I covered anything and everything you could possibly ask about,” Yoongi says in the new, displaced silence. His voice is hoarse from speaking and he reaches for his water bottle. “You can’t still be confused after I essentially retaught the entire course.”
“You already told us what to focus on for the final. That’s more than I can say about my other classes.”
“Your other classes are all projects,” Yoongi scoffs.
“Yeah, can’t argue with you there. I’ve stayed up so many hours I think I saw the astral realm, hyung.”
Yoongi finishes his water. “Don’t tell me you came around just for old times’ sake. Not when you have so much work to do,” he says.
“Only partly. I needed help on chord progression.”
Yoongi shakes his head, laughing now as he sinks into his chair. He’s been on his feet all afternoon. “So it’s the end, huh?”
A gentle fwap as Jeongguk closes his notebook. “So it would seem.”
“Damn. It goes by fast, doesn’t it? It doesn’t seem possible on the first day, and yet you look back on the last day and think—”
The memory of Jeongguk staring out into the fog crosses his mind.
“—where has time gone?”
“We all were.” Yoongi fiddles with his whiteboard pen. “There is comfort in knowing that none of us ever really knows what we’re doing.”
Jeongguk sighs. “I don’t even know what I don’t know.”
“Are you moving to LA after grad?”
Not really a question Yoongi has the jurisdiction to be asking, but it slips from his mouth anyway. He has to know.
“Not right away. I haven’t gotten any offers yet, but hopefully some will come through, and maybe then. It’s not like I expect to do anything fun for a while as I get myself settled. The usual post-grad quandary, you know. Day job, then dream job.” There’s a muffled, taut noise as Jeongguk tugs at the straps of his backpack to tighten them around his shoulders. “But. It’s in the works.”
What is Yoongi supposed to do here—shake Jeongguk’s hand? Hug him? Both of these seem out of place and inappropriate. He elects to cross his arms. “All the luck in the world to you.”
“Thanks!” Jeongguk gives him that lopsided smile that Yoongi has gotten used to seeing in the past weeks, and he tries not to think about how much he’ll miss it. “You too.”
“Don’t forget us little people back home when you make it big,” says Yoongi.
At this, Jeongguk chuckles. “And I say the same to you, hyung.”
Yoongi blinks. Jeongguk, too, only seems to realize what he’d said after he says it, and he diverts his eyes to look at something over Yoongi’s head. It’s not difficult for him and his stature now.
“Well, uh,” and Yoongi’s voice is too loud, clumsy, even. “Congratulations again on grad. Keep in touch.”
“Yeah, thanks. I will.” Now, Jeongguk turns to leave, and every neuron screams at Yoongi to say something, do something. “See you—sometime again, hyung.”
“Yeah,” Yoongi replies, a single, strangled syllable that hangs between them.
He sinks into his chair when Jeongguk is gone, and Yoongi is alone again. Where there should a feeling of relief or a kind of weird closure, there isn’t. He waits for it to come, the tick of the clock counting the little eternities that pass by, and instead of closure, Yoongi feels something else. Something hot, scared, urgent, in the pit of his stomach.
It catapults him out of his chair. He moves without thinking. He’s at the door of his office before he realizes he’s stood up, and he’s at the end of the hall before he registers opening his door. The impending summer paints the sky a dust bowl orange, broken by a single thin contrail of a passing airplane.
There’s no one at the elevators. Yoongi jabs at the down arrow so hard he feels like he breaks a nail, and hops impatiently from one foot to the other as he listens to the machinery clunk and groan within the walls. After ten agonizing seconds, he turns and runs down to the other end of the hall where the stairwell is.
Don’t let him go.
The door ricochets off the wall, and Yoongi takes the stairs down as fast as his feet will carry him. He hasn’t run like this since he heard there was free ice cream and pizza in the university center, which had to have been at least six years ago.
One day he’s not going to be stupid enough to run back to you.
He spills out onto the sidewalk when he makes it to the ground floor, breathing hard and trying to ignore the stitch in his side. Oh, right, this is why he hasn’t run in six years. Yoongi makes a beeline down the corridor to where the entrance is, where anyone who takes the elevators would logically leave from, and catches a glimpse of a hooded figure passing under the flowering fig trees.
Jeongguk won’t be stupid enough to run back to Yoongi. But maybe by the time that day comes around, Yoongi will be smart enough to run to him.
The soles of his shoes slap on the cement, crushing wilted flowers underfoot. His voice isn’t loud enough. “Hey, Jeongguk!”
Jeongguk turns, perhaps not so much because he heard Yoongi calling out for him, but just from the sound of approaching footsteps, pap-pap-pap. Yoongi slows to a stop just far enough for it to be safe.
“Yeah?” Jeongguk asks, still looking over his shoulder. The lights of the engineering building pour through the windows, reflecting off Jeongguk’s glasses. Yoongi wishes he could see his whole expression. “Did I forget something in your office?”
It’s frank and candid and unpolished. It’s the truth. Yoongi has never learned how to say these things with flair and circumstance, with a good opening and conclusion, not in words, anyway.
“I have to go study,” Jeongguk says, baffled.
“No, I mean. Don’t go. Don’t leave.”
“I’m not leaving yet? And—I mean, I’ll have to, if—”
“You have to go after your dream. If it’s in LA, then that’s where you should go, but. Don’t go, like don’t leave. This. Don’t forget.”
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, and now, he’s turning around to face him. “What is this about?”
This is the part where Yoongi wants to run, more than anything. Scratch the back of his neck and say it’s nothing, never mind, you need to go study. But maybe there’s something to be said about running, and looking for happiness, and doing things that suck so that things will get better.
“I don’t want to be just a memory in your life,” Yoongi says, overwhelmingly thankful that it’s late, and it’s finals week, and everyone is holed up in the library or at a desk so that the campus is deserted. “I don’t want to be someone you tell your next boyfriend about and call ‘your childhood friend.’ I don’t want to just keep in touch on birthdays and watch your life happen in Instagram photos. I want to pull you in wagons even though you’re heavy because you want to see the fucking melted poo dog. I want you to bother me and ask me to teach you the piano. I want you to keep me awake and ask me stupid, existential questions on summer nights.”
Jeongguk gapes unintelligently at him. Yoongi has to say he’s quite impressed with his own eloquence thus far, and tries not to lose momentum.
“I know I hurt you. I pushed you away. And I know I have no place to ask you to give me another chance, but. I had to, just in case—just in case you have it in you to give it to me.”
The wind is warm and smells of rotting flowers when it runs its fingers through his hair. There is no icy puddle between them this time, no rain on the sidewalks.
“Another chance for what?”
“What are you saying, hyung?”
Yoongi falters, tries not to let his heart sink. Jeongguk stays where he’s standing, expression closed. Maybe it’s already too late. Maybe Yoongi’s learn to run towards him, but Jeongguk is one step ahead, and knows better than to let him catch up.
“I like you. I’ve loved you. I don’t know for how long. Years, probably, just like you. And I—I want—this. I want to be in your life. As someone more than just a friend. I want to be the person at your side, the one to hold your hand and—and kiss you. And I’m saying that I know that I probably hurt you too much to deserve any more space in your heart, but that I can’t live not knowing that I tried.”
Jeongguk isn’t looking at him anymore, and initially, Yoongi understands what it is. He thinks he does, at least, that it’s rejection. His belly had felt like it was full of writhing snakes just earlier, but now it feels like broken glass.
But then something wet streams down Jeongguk’s face and drips off his chin, clinging to the fabric of his windbreaker before leaving a shiny rivulet on the nylon. “I can’t believe you,” he says thickly.
“You’re the worst,” Jeongguk says, voice tight with the effort of holding back tears. “You’re the worst hyung ever. You really are. You make me wait for two years—no, four years—no, really, all my life, and right as I learn to give up hope you mow me over right before finals week and say you want to be in my life? Why, because you’re scared I’ll go to LA and never come back? Who does that?”
“Me, I guess,” Yoongi says sheepishly. He doesn’t know if this is the part where it’s okay to close the distance between them, but he puts in some steps and takes it as a good sign when Jeongguk doesn’t shirk away. “I should have done better.”
“You should have.” Yoongi comes to a stop in front of him and reaches out for Jeongguk’s hands. He lets Yoongi take them, even holds on when Yoongi laces his fingers into his.
“Am I too late? Please don’t let me be too late.”
Jeongguk sniffles, and shakes his head.
It’s a little juvenile, maybe. Yoongi hugs Jeongguk to him like he hasn’t in years, so tight that he worries he’s compressing Jeongguk’s ribs, but Jeongguk hugs him back just as tight. He’s still crying, and hell, Yoongi’s eyes are wet too, and the air still smells like rotting flowers, it’s still a little awkward, but it’s good. A little broken, but good.
A list of things he is good at includes composing, pitch, memorizing true facts about the Arabica coffee bean, sleeping, carpentry, and lying to himself. Dating, however, comes after dancing, which comes after video games prowess on his shit list, both things Jeongguk slaughters at. He’s actually not bad a the kissing part. Just the dating part.
“We should do more of that,” Jeongguk said, eyes wide when Yoongi pulled back. It happened on the first day they made up. Yoongi would have felt more embarrassed if Jeongguk weren’t so eager.
It had been quiet in the car, sounds of the world muted outside. When Yoongi didn’t put the keys in the ignition, Jeongguk turned to look at him.
“Hey, you okay?”
The night was deep, and dark. It was past midnight, and Yoongi offered to bring Jeongguk back from the library at which they both had spent the night studying, as the presence of hundreds of other students was the only thing that kept them focused on their work. But then it was just the two of them, surrounded by the stale, sweet smell of Yoongi’s car freshener and the clatter of keys between them.
“Are you sure about this?”
Jeongguk knew what he was asking.
“Never been more sure about anything in my life.”
He was still wearing those stupid reflective glasses. Without having a chance to stop himself, or think better of it, Yoongi leaned in, and only when Jeongguk’s eyes fluttered shut did it occur to him that they’d both been waiting for this for years. Better not fuck it up.
The lingering taste of Coke was still on Jeongguk’s tongue. They kissed like that, over the console of Yoongi’s car, past midnight, with only a sodium lamp as their audience. When Yoongi tried to draw away Jeongguk made a noise in a throat that must have meant no, wait, come back here.
Yoongi couldn’t have gone anywhere even if he wanted. Jeongguk’s hands held his face in place, warm, bracketing his cheeks. Every bit of it was soft and slow and the antithesis of how Yoongi chooses to present himself. It made it heart shake in the good way.
When they broke away it was for air. Yoongi allowed himself hover there, lips just barely ghosting over Jeongguk’s, basking in the fizzing warmth of that kiss. It wasn’t like any other he’d known.
“I haven’t done that in a while,” he said artfully.
“I haven’t either.” Jeongguk’s glasses were awry on his face, and he took them off. “Wow.”
Yoongi laughed. It might have been more a grunt. “I hope that lived up to your expectations.”
“It was better than my expectations,” Jeongguk said dreamily.
Yoongi had been glad it was dark, because he could feel the blood flush his ears and cheeks red.
Most people who love themselves would never begin a relationship with someone about to graduate. It’s a stage in life filled with turmoil and uncertainty of the future. You think you know what you want, but you’re chilled by the sense of knowing that you also don’t know at all.
Jeongguk has not given Yoongi any reason to think that he regrets any part of this. He had even asked Yoongi to come to his graduation, an invitation over which Yoongi had mulled for forty-eight hours straight before Namjoon had threatened to call Jeongguk himself and tell him that Yoongi would be coming.
The weird thing about dating someone he has known his whole life, Yoongi thinks, is that he already knows everything there is to know, knows all of Jeongguk’s likes and dislikes and strange habits, and now—everything is framed differently. Yoongi finds himself staring and looks away only to remember that it’s okay to stare now.
He’s not accustomed to it, not at all. Not when Jeongguk catches him watching when they get sushi, or when Jeongguk looks up from his laptop where he’s madly applying for any entry level job he can find to see Yoongi very much not concentrating on his dissertation, or when Jeongguk sits with the tip of his tongue in the corner of his mouth as he edits videos for his portfolio. He wants to be a cinematographer.
But Yoongi catches Jeongguk watching him, too, specifically his hands as he stands in his music stand with his baton helf aloft. Something about conducting fascinates him. This time around, Yoongi takes the time to teach him what it all means—downstroke beats, timing, the role of the left versus the right hand.
Right now, though, Yoongi’s not conducting. He’s lying still, and watching.
“You’re going to give me nightmares if I fall asleep with someone watching me,” Jeongguk murmurs.
They lie side by side in bed. It’s Saturday, the cusp of Sunday, and Jeongguk had come over for a date while Yoongi still has his apartment over the summer. Climbing into bed and doing nothing but holding hands is—a little weird, admittedly, but Yoongi likes it.
Yoongi blinks, shifts. “I wasn’t watching you.”
“Yeah you were,” Jeongguk says. His skin is bathed blue in the evening, hair a watery black. Yoongi’s bed is under a window, which is open to let the night breeze in. “You do it a lot.”
“Excuse me for wanting to look at my boyfriend.”
Jeongguk curls up tighter, giggling. He always falls asleep in the same position—one hand under his pillow, one thigh hiked up, the other extended straight. He insists on holding Yoongi’s hand with his free one, and Yoongi is only too happy to comply.
“I like that.”
“You calling me boyfriend.”
“Isn’t that what you are?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “Hyung, you are so unromantic.”
“I mean, I like when you say that sweet stuff about me,” Jeongguk murmurs. He’s speaking with his eyes closed, like he can barely stay awake to keep talking. Once upon a time Yoongi might have felt insulted that he’s evidently so boring that he puts people to sleep. Now he knows what it is, that Jeongguk falls asleep to his voice and his touch. “You know?”
“That wasn’t even sweet. It was just a fact.”
“Tell me more facts, then.” Jeongguk snuggles closer, not burying himself in Yoongi’s body, but close enough so that he can hug Yoongi’s arm to his chest like he would hug a pillow. “True facts about me.”
Yoongi hums. “You’re my boyfriend.”
“I’ve known you all my life. I had a feeling you had a crush on me when I was seventeen and you were only thirteen and asked me weird questions at summer camp. I expected you to just forget about it. Everyone has a crush on everything that has a body that breathes at that age, anyway.”
Jeongguk has opened his eyes, gaze searching Yoongi’s face.
“I wrote you off as a kid with a crush and didn’t think about it again for years. Not until I was twenty-two.”
“I was eighteen,” Jeongguk says.
“That you were. And you told me that you met up with someone in Vegas, and I felt like shit.” Yoongi snorts. “But I put off thinking about what that meant. I decided it was just because you were just the kid from my own childhood and it was weird imagining you in that context.”
“When did you figure out it wasn’t just that?”
“Not sure. I think even when I did realize it wasn’t so simple, I didn’t acknowledge it. There was security in you. I didn’t want to say I liked you, because I’ve known you all my life. It seemed like it would cloud my judgment, as if I’d like you because it would be easy to like you. I was okay with never confronting the issue until you confessed.” Yoongi chuckles. “I projected my fear onto you. It’s a wonder your forgave me.”
“I don’t think you confronted the issue until last month, honestly,” Jeongguk says.
Yoongi sighs. “Yeah.”
“It’s okay. I think we were both scared.”
“First I was twelve and I was rude. Then I was seventeen and aware. Then I was twenty-two and confused. Then I was twenty-four and scared.”
“Now you’re twenty-six.” Jeongguk toys with Yoongi’s fingers.
“In love.” Yoongi says, other hand pillowed beneath his own cheek. “Twenty-six and in love.”
Jeongguk’s eyes are deep, the kind that Yoongi could drown in—like the sea, see-through and eternal at the same time. He doesn’t move, like he’s scared that moving will disturb the edges of a dream and make it dissolve. At least, that’s why Yoongi lies immobile, too.
Then Jeongguk moves, as though still in a dream. The slats of the blinds slide over his shoulders and one half of his face, piano keys on his skin—moonlight, shadow, moonlight, shadow. Yoongi can’t resist and reaches up to touch.
From that point the world is tactile. Jeongguk leans in, pressing his lips to Yoongi’s mouth. It’s careful and almost worried. Yoongi wants to say he knows, and he understands. Even if this isn’t their first kiss or first—anything, with anyone, suddenly Yoongi forgets how to kiss. And what comes after it. Or where he’s supposed to put his hands.
Hookups are easy. Hookups follow a script. But Yoongi has never made out in bed with someone he likes, or someone he’s planning on keeping. Most of their making out has been quarantined to the couch. He tries not to overthink it. Rather, he makes a valiant effort not to overthink it, considering his entire existence is fundamentally grounded in overthinking everything, but he digs deep in the recesses of his earlier days of college and tries to remember how this goes.
This is how it goes. He runs his hands up the back of Jeongguk’s shirt. Jeongguk gasps at the touch of Yoongi’s palms against him, his chest heaving as Yoongi tilts his face up higher to kiss at his neck. Then his breath catches when Yoongi sucks the skin to drag his teeth across it, hard enough to leave a reddening hickey behind to join the fading ones at the base of Jeongguk’s throat.
“You’re shaking already,” Yoongi says, propping himself up on his elbows. Jeongguk shivers and closes his eyes when Yoongi reaches up to curl his palm against the nape of Jeongguk’s neck. The knobs of his spine press against his hand. “Here. Lie down.”
The blankets burrito around him when he does. Yoongi hooks his finger into it right beneath his chin and pulls it away from Jeongguk’s mouth. “I’ve done this before,” he babbles, some kind of explanation. Yoongi raises his eyebrows.
“Even if you hadn’t, I don’t care,” Yoongi says.
“I don’t want to do something stupid.”
Yoongi settles himself down in between Jeongguk’s spread legs, luxuriating in the shudder and gasp that catches in Jeongguk’s throat when his hips press into the warmth where his thighs meet. “I wouldn’t worry about that,” says Yoongi.
The rest of it is a long, slow slide into mindlessness. Jeongguk tilts his face up, and Yoongi is glad for an excuse to stop talking and to just kiss. This close Jeongguk—smells like Jeongguk, a mix of Yoongi’s sheets and his shower, and something that’s just him. Strong, the same scent that always radiates off his skin when Yoongi sits beside him, part laundry detergent and part shampoo and part something nameless. Jeongguk kisses like he’s hungry and knows he shouldn’t be eating this late, but midnight snacks taste best. When Yoongi runs his hand up under his shirt again, this time in the front, he smiles at the choke that rattles Jeongguk’s ribs.
“You’re not taking it off fast enough,” he whines when Yoongi takes his time rucking it up Jeongguk’s chest. “Come on.”
Yoongi laughs, pulling back properly and kissing Jeongguk once more before speaking. “Patience, baby.”
“I’ve been patient my whole life,” Jeongguk says, pulling at Yoongi’s shirt to emphasize his point. “Just—come on—”
He stills when Yoongi puts his hands over Jeongguk’s and leans in until they’re nearly nose to nose. “All your life?”
“You waited all your life for me?”
The sweep of Jeongguk’s lashes over his cheeks is long and quivering. “Yeah.”
There’s really no way to properly answer this—this, being the solid confirmation that Yoongi has been in fact stupid for all twenty-six years of being alive. Jeongguk won’t meet his eyes, still staring at his own hands, so Yoongi puts a finger under his chin and tips his face up.
Then he leans in and kisses him.
So they pick up where they left off, a little clumsy, trying not to rush. When Yoongi slides his fingers down the front of Jeongguk’s underwear, he whines into Yoongi’s lips and tries to rut against the pressure. Yoongi only gives him so much before he starts to grow impatient.
Jeongguk gets his fingers in the waistband of Yoongi’s boxer-briefs and pulls without regard for how it catches between his body and the bed, yanking until it frees from him legs. He’s crawling in between Yoongi’s legs, needy, reaching for his cock. It lies, hot and thick, against the side of Yoongi’s thigh, and he grits his teeth when Jeongguk’s fingers curl around it.
“Easy,” says Yoongi. “Hey, you don’t need to rush—fuck, Jeongguk.”
Yoongi breaks off in another curse when Jeongguk gets his hands around his cock, hard and thick. Precome pearls at the tip and Jeongguk watches as it swells, then runs down the shaft of Yoongi's cock. He shifts his finger so it catches between their skin. Then he leans down and sucks Yoongi into his mouth, tightening the ring of his hand as he strokes.
“Fuck,” Yoongi grinds out. “Jeongguk—”
Jeongguk’s mouth isn’t that big. His lips are already tight as it is, and the sensation of the flat of his tongue against Yoongi’s cock makes the blood fizz in his veins. He spreads his legs wider, enjoying the desperate press of Jeongguk's fingers into the skin on the insides of his thighs. “We’ve got all night, slow down,” Yoongi murmurs as Jeongguk presses closer. He’s on his knees, ass up. Yoongi has to drop his head back and breathe so he doesn’t come too soon.
With other people Yoongi has put his hand to the backs of their heads and pushed when they were sucking him off. Even with old exes, it was always the same—and they liked it. But with Jeongguk he simply brushes the hair out of his face, so he can see him. His cheeks are dusted pink in concentration and Yoongi sinks his fingers into Jeongguk’s hair just to touch him. He does something with his tongue then that makes Yoongi shiver all over.
He hums, bobbing again.
Jeongguk pulls off immediately, lips swollen and red. Yoongi’s brain flatlines for a moment when the hard curve of his cock smacks gently against Jeongguk's chin, smearing a line of precome there. “Yeah,” he rasps.
So Jeongguk does, and they meet in the middle. It isn’t as practiced, but it’s a little like conducting. It’s never been so intuitive but he is the push when Jeongguk is the pull, a crescendo of trumpets or the fading cascade of the harp in all the right places. It doesn’t sound as in tune, either; the sound of traffic weaves in between the soft noises of their kissing, but all they can hear is breath, breath, breath, fuck, breath.
Yoongi pulls back when he feels Jeongguk take his hand and push it between his legs. He’d been toying with Yoongi’s fingers absently, working up the courage. Jeongguk’s breath hitches when Yoongi spreads his fingers to dig his nails into the swell of his ass.
“Please,” he whimpers.
“Bold of you to assume I have lube,” Yoongi says, leaning over Jeongguk’s face. Shocked disappointment flickers across Jeongguk’s face before Yoongi is laughing. “Hey, don’t look like that! I was fucking with you.”
“Drop the with and just fuck me,” Jeongguk says, petulant, wiggling his butt so Yoongi’s hand is trapped between him and the bed.
When he decides to relinquish Yoongi to retrieve it, Jeongguk rolls over onto his stomach and rests his cheek on his arms.
“You’re making me nervous,” Yoongi says as he rummages what feels like the entire inventory of Costco, where the fuck is the lube? “Stop looking at me.”
Jeongguk hums, stretching out like a lazy cat, and Yoongi can picture him behind himself already, rubbing his erection into the sheets for friction. “If you come before I touch you I won’t touch you for the rest of the night,” he says evenly, and smiles to himself when Jeongguk whines.
“I’m not doing anything!”
Yoongi finally finds, after an embarrassing amount of time, an almost-full tube of KY Jelly and a handful of condoms jammed up in the upper corner of his drawer. Jeongguk is where he left him, loose as Yoongi had expected, and his mouth is dry as he climbs with his knees back into bed.
“Finally,” Jeongguk breathes, shimmying himself so that Yoongi can slide between his legs. “Please, hyung.”
“Here, turn around.”
“Get on your back. Let me see your face.”
Jeongguk does not tease back, pliant and willing as he sinks into the sheets. “Good,” says Yoongi. The plastic snap of the lube opening cracks like a whip between them. “Okay, babe. Get on my thighs?”
And then, then Jeongguk is finally where he wants him. The lube is cold against Jeongguk’s skin where it lands, the thick string of it shining in the dim evening. “Sorry,” Yoongi murmurs, sliding his fingers into the slick as Jeongguk squirms. “This stuff has been sitting in that drawer for a while.”
The press of Yoongi’s fingers to his entrance means Jeongguk chokes and curls his hands into the sheets, and Yoongi has barely touched him; it’s heady, alarmingly so, as Yoongi stretches him open and Jeongguk is already shaking like a leaf where he’s spread. The sound of it is loud, and lascivious, the glimmer of lube shining at the tops of Jeongguk’s thighs.
“Let me hear you,” Yoongi says when Jeongguk clamps his teeth down on his lip. Blood rushes back into the swell of his skin when he releases, turning to look at Yoongi with a haze in his eyes.
“You do it better,” he says. Yoongi has to lean in to better hear. “You do it better.”
“Stop, don’t tease. I want it, I want you—”
Jeongguk pouts up at him. “Why are you making me talk about other guys when I’m trying to get you to fuck me?”
“Dunno. It’s doing amazing things for my ego.”
Jeongguk grumbles. “Better than my ex. It’s something about your hands,” Jeongguk breathes. “Better than the guy I hooked up with before that. Oh, and the guy from Vegas. He was hot, but he wasn’t—oh—”
The rest of his sentence is cut off when Yoongi finds something in him that makes Jeongguk gasp and arc off the bed, crying out when the pressure disappears. “Please,” he begs, and Yoongi laughs in his chest one more time before kissing Jeongguk’s jutting hipbone and pulling his fingers out.
“Ah, hyung, let me.”
Before Yoongi can protest, Jeongguk is ripping open a condom, squirting the lube into his hand and reaching between Yoongi’s legs, focus hard in his eyes as he slicks up Yoongi’s cock. His lip has found its way between his teeth again. Just so he doesn’t come from the touch of Jeongguk’s hand on his cock—oh, and he can tell he’s stroking him off on purpose—Yoongi reaches up to thumb at it.
“Pretty,” he says, and puts pressure until Jeongguk releases. “Now let me go, or I’ll come before I even get inside you.”
The rest of it is wordless, choreographed in broken moans. Jeongguk is quiet as Yoongi puts the head of his cock to his entrance and leans until he starts to slide in. He moves slowly, because Jeongguk is so, so tight, and just as their hips press flush Jeongguk lets out a strained whimper. The brush of his mouth against Yoongi’s cheek is shaky and beseeching.
“Move, hyung. Please, move,” he tries to say around Yoongi’s mouth.
Jeongguk’s thighs are hitched on Yoongi’s waist. He plants his hands on either side of Jeongguk’s face, dipping low to kiss again, before he pulls out and thrusts back in. The force of it is new, not painful, and Jeongguk presses his head back into the sheets as his fingers scrabble for purchase on something. They find Yoongi’s arms.
“Faster, please, it’s not enough—”
So Yoongi gives that to him. Yoongi has never been able to deny the things that Jeongguk has wanted—not this, not his heart, though he thinks that that has belonged, in some way, to Jeongguk from the very beginning. He fucks him, faster like Jeongguk asks, harder like Jeongguk asks, reaches between them to jerk him off. Jeongguk doesn’t ask for that part. Yoongi just wants to see him come.
“Ah—ah, I’m gonna, hyung, please—”
“If you want to come, come,” Yoongi says, lips at the column of Jeongguk’s neck. “Come, baby.”
So Jeongguk does. Yoongi sucks a hickey a bit to the left of his Adam’s apple as he does, and Jeongguk’s come spurts hot and thick between them. The splash of it on Yoongi’s abdomen is enough to push him over the edge, too. He hadn’t realized he’d been so close this whole time, too focused on finding Jeongguk’s orgasm first. And it seems, somehow, to be endless; every heartbeat that passes Yoongi thinks that Jeongguk must be done coming, until he shivers and comes a little more. Out of curiosity, Yoongi grinds his cock into him again, just a bit, even if the overstimulation is almost too much for him. Jeongguk cries out softly and, there, just a little more come.
“You like that?”
“Hyung—oh—it’s too much.”
Yoongi’s legs give like jelly when Jeongguk finally relaxes. There’s still come on them—a lot of it—so he musters up the coordination and strength to pull out and slide out of bed. Usually Yoongi would toss out the condom and find any dry-ass towel he had on hand and throw it in his bedwarmer’s general direction, stand in the middle of the room, and guzzle a bottle of water naked.
“You own purple towels?” Jeongguk asks sleepily as Yoongi returns with one in hand, dampened with warm water. “They’re embroidered. Hyung, I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“They were on sale,” is the explanation Yoongi offers when he lays it over Jeongguk’s belly to wipe away the streaks of come. Some of it had splattered as far as up to his chest, and Yoongi oh-so-accidentally drags the warm towel over Jeongguk’s nipples before he gets the rest between his legs.
“Mm. Stay still.”
“I love you.”
Yoongi’s hands still between Jeongguk’s thighs. Then, “I love you too.”
“I love it when you say that, also.”
“I should have said it ages ago.” Yoongi is not meeting his gaze now. “Years have gone by. Years I wasted listening to you say it to me when I should have said it back. I should have loved you sooner.”
“But now is good enough,” Jeongguk says, and even though his limbs are soft and boneless, he reaches out to tug Yoongi back into bed with him.
Jeongguk mumbles more, partially to himself, as he arranges himself upon Yoongi’s body. He curls up on Yoongi’s chest, and Yoongi stretches up to pillow one of his hands behind his own head as the night breeze pours over them. He runs his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair.
“Good night, hyung,” Jeongguk says before he falls silent in earnest.
“Good night, baby.”
2020; an ending of cherry blossoms
The windows are open. Jeongguk has his feet up in his chair, bad manners, but no one is watching. Well, no one who would care.
“Obviously. I might sleep naked. When I said I liked warm weather, I did not say I wanted to live in the tender, swollen folds of Satan’s ballsack.”
“Nice. Please send pics for my fapstash if you do.”
“Horndog,” Jeongguk mutters.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Jeongguk thinks that LA must at least be her little sister. “The city that is always juiced on caffeine” has a nice ring to it. He loves the fast pace of the life here, even if it’s been difficult to get used to the people. He is also not above admitting that it’s lonely.
“What time is it there again?” Yoongi asks, yawning hard without bothering to cover his mouth.
“Ten in the morning.”
“You’re up so early for a,” Yoongi pauses, thinks. “Sunday?”
“And you’re up awfully late for a Monday. Go to sleep.”
“But I wanted to talk to you,” says Yoongi.
“I know.” Jeongguk has his phone leaning against his glass of orange juice as he shovels more Cocoa Puffs into his mouth. “Me too. But you should really sleep. You can’t get sick with your defense around the corner. And your shoulder gets fussy when you’re tired.”
“I know, I know.” Yoongi yawns again. “Tell me about what you do today. I’ll read when I wake up. Send me one of those videos you’re so good at making when you can. I miss you.”
“I will. I miss you too.” Jeongguk waves to his phone. The grainy image of Yoongi waves back, and his smile is tired and fond. It’s not much, but it echoes and glows in Jeongguk’s chest. “Good night, hyung.”
“Good night, babe.”
2021; a reprise of cosmos
This is how Jeongguk wakes up, a quiet, saturated sunrise—slowly, then all at once. He always sleeps with his arms over his head, hands curled in loose fists upon his pillow. Then he shifts sleepily, unfurls petal-soft, breath catching up with wakefulness. The lines of his body are warm and blurred. When he rubs his eyes, the hard, shimmering glint of wedding band catches the sun from the window with the blinds they always forget to close, and it’s all that interrupts the soft canvas of his skin.