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you get me hot (i'm overheating)

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I.

 

“good morning, taehyung,” jimin greets, stepping into his office and closing the door behind him.

taehyung is already sitting on the examination table, stripped down to his plain cotton shorts as he waits. “good morning, jimin-ssi,” he parrots, tilting his head to the side in acknowledgement but otherwise remaining expressionless. 

physicals examinations were regular for taehyung, although their evasiveness varied. today’s a fairly straightforward one, part of the weekly routine to ensure all his systems are running smoothly and to check for any problems with his hardware or functioning.

jimin takes a seat in his chair, powers up his computer so he can access taehyung’s files. “have you been waiting long?” he asks conversationally. it’s a bit of a pointless question; taehyung could’ve been sitting there for hours but that ‘wait’ wouldn’t register to him. he wouldn’t feel restless or frustrated or impatient or any of the human emotions attached to ‘waiting’.

despite that, jimin prefers to ask such questions simply because it fills silences when they arise. taehyung isn’t entirely human, but he’s learnt to respond like one in a lot of ways.

“i arrived at 8am,” is his answer, flat and emotionless. 

jimin’s eyes flicker to the corner of his desktop and smiles guiltily even though taehyung can’t see it. it’s almost 9. “i was running late this morning,” he replies, clicking through folders until he pulls up the most recent examination he did with taehyung.

“you run late most mornings.”

jimin swivels in his chair to face taehyung and laughs softly. “i do, don’t i? can you tell me how many mornings i’ve been late this month?”

there’s barely a perceptible pause, “seventeen out of twenty-five.”

“very good,” jimin nods. “how about this year?”

“one-hundred and fifty-seven.”

jimin turns back to his computer, opens up a program. “can you predict how many morning’s i’ll be late for the entire year?”

“two-hundred and forty-eight.”

centrix opens just as taehyung gives his calculations, and a second later jimin is scanning over taehyung’s brain functioning, noting his levels and seeing how active he is.

“was i correct?” taehyung asks after a moment.

jimin smiles, waiting until he’s opened taehyung’s limbix interface to answer, “you know you are.”

“you should confirm.”

technically, taehyung is right. vocal confirmation of a completed task does help taehyung’s processors in filtering what he’s doing, how he needs to do it and how well he does it. however, that’s mostly for higher order tasks. calculations don’t require confirmation. jimin just knows taehyung enjoys it, although jimin still isn’t sure if that’s the right way to describe it.

still, with his eyes fixed on the screen, jimin says, “that’s correct. well done, taehyung.”

jimin watches as taehyung’s limbix signals accomplishment -- notes how the signals are stronger, last longer, than any other subject in the centrix program. something he won’t be including in his data report.

“thank you, jimin-ssi.”

he clicks through some actions, keeps centrix open and running so he’ll be able to glance over it for reference if he needs to, and opens up his records from last weeks examination.

“we can start the physical now,” jimin announces, gets up from his chair and walks over to the sink where he washes his hands before he stands before taehyung. “are there any physical abnormalities you’ve noticed yourself?” he asks, giving taehyung a chance to report anything new.

“the skin on my hands,” he begins, flexes his fingers and holds them up so jimin can see, “is drier. my research indicates that it’s seasonal.”

jimin takes one hand and rests it back down on taehyung’s thigh, and he brings the other closer to him so he could see better. taehyung’s warm to the touch, even wearing so little in the cool room, and he’s always been that way.

most of it is due to his hardware, the tech embedded through most of his body that heats up while he’s conscious, but approximately 45% of taehyung is physically human, mostly comprising aesthetics and some bodily functions. he has a heart that circulates blood, which contributes to his warmth. it's always fascinated jimin, how centrix marries human biology and ai.

“your research, huh?” jimin murmurs, gently rubbing his thumb over the back of taehyung’s hand to note the texture. it’s drier, the skin a little taunt and wrinkled. it might be a little difficult to fix, the epidermis might not be a thick enough barrier to protect the cybernetic enhancements in taehyung’s hands. moisturiser might not be the easy fix for it, not if it’ll risk damaging his tech.

“yes. i wanted to understand why the skin became dry.”

jimin hums, “i bet you did.” taehyung had a tendency to want to understand. “i’ll see what i can do about it, but for now just let me know if it effects any motor activity.”

taehyung nods his acknowledgement.

“stand up for me now,” jimin instructs, and taehyung does as he’s told.

with a careful eye and a light hand, jimin inspects taehyung’s body for any irregularities -- bumps, growths, marks -- starting with his chest and arms and moving down his legs before doing the same from the back. his skin is smooth, barely a mark on it with the biggest blemish being a large surgery scar at the base of his neck from two years ago when new hardware was added to his centrix. jimin performed the surgery himself.

he runs his finger over the scar, checking for bumps or changes to texture, and taehyung shivers slightly.

“is it tender?” jimin asks. taehyung shakes his head. “what do you feel, then?” he runs his finger over the scar again, and taehyung reacts just the same.

“it feels sensitive. ticklish is not the correct description, but it’s the most accurate.” the answer comes slowly, indicating he doesn’t feel entirely confident, and jimin wonders why.

“almost like it tingles?” jimin suggests.

“that’s accurate too.” 

jimin nods to himself, mentally noting the change. the scar had been sensitive during recovery, but this is the first time since it’s fully healed that it had produced a physical reaction from taehyung.

“alright, aside from that you’re perfect. lie down, please.”

taehyung moves gracefully, barely makes a sound until he makes contact with the fabric of the examination table.

more careful than before, and with a firmer hand, jimin feels around taehyung’s chest and stomach, inspecting any changes in taehyung’s internal organs. most of his organs aren’t biologically human. most of his lower abdomen is metal and wires, designed to emulate how that part of the body would feel for a human. it’s soft to the touch, when jimin presses down there’s no resistance. his respiratory and circulatory systems are mostly untouched, only changes made were to make sure they wouldn’t affect the function of his systems nor would their function be affected by the tech.

the iron levels in taehyung’s blood are off the chart, but they have to be.

“everything feels fine,” jimin notes aloud, speaking a little quieter as he’s closer to taehyung now. “you’re a little warmer than usual, though. something wrong?”

“no, everything is normal,” taehyung tells him, eyes on the ceiling.

jimin pauses, debates for a second if he should go and check taehyung’s vitals on his computer. there may be a system functioning faster than it needed to be, not necessarily a problem but something that would need to be monitored.

eventually he decides it should be fine. temperature fluctuation wasn’t unheard of for taehyung. in the early stages of the program, jimin jumped at any minor change in taehyung -- the line between what was a normal change and what was linked to his centrix still unclear for him. the program was designed for an ai that would be indistinguishable to the human eye, so over time jimin learned that things like taehyung running a little on the warm side was most likely no big deal.

“has your sensitivity increased any?” he asks as he takes a hold of one of taehyung’s wrists and extends his arm, running two fingers over the underside of his forearm before landing a few quick, sudden hits to the skin.

taehyung flinches for each hit although he had expected it, and the skin reddens slightly as jimin soothes over the area with his fingers again. “yes, but only a little bit. could that also be a seasonal change?” he asks, his eyes now on jimin as he moves  a little down the examination table.

“it could be,” jimin considers, unable to hide his amused smile. “but it could also mean issues with your nerves again,” he tacks on, a hand on taehyung’s ankle to motion for him to bend his leg. it was hard to control such a thing, taehyung’s central nervous system was autonomous for the most part. jimin couldn’t just dig around to decrease his sensitivity.

with his leg bent, jimin nudges his knee to the side, exposing the soft skin of his inner thigh. he repeats the same process as with taehyung’s arm and taehyung flinches the same as before. “there’s still no pain?” jimin checks, positioning taehyung’s leg back.

“no pain, just sensation.”

sensitivity was … an annoyance, something they still want to reduce as much as possible, but pain would be a disaster. if subjects could be hurt then they were essentially useless.

“good boy,” jimin says, absentmindedly. “sit up for me.”

while taehyung gets up, jimin goes to his desk and picks up a penlight, which he pockets, a stethoscope, which he hangs around his neck, and a latex glove which he holds in his hand.

jimin remembers the sensitivity of taehyung’s scar and decides to ask, “has there been any other tenderness in your neck, stiffness or something similar?” taehyung’s eyes go a little distant, a look jimin knows means that he’s thinking, sorting through his ‘memories’ to give an accurate answer.

while he’s thinking, jimin checks his range of motion, ensuring his flexion and extension are normal as well as his rotation, turning his head side to side with a firm grip on his chin.

“no, everything is normal,” he finally replies, voice neutral. “are you worried about the scar?” he asks, a crease forming in his brow that jimin knows he’s imitating. it’s almost a little odd to see such blatant expression on taehyung, although jimin has noticed he’s been experimenting with it a little, it’s unnerving enough to have jimin reaching up to smooth it out.

“i’m not worried, it’s just something i need to keep tabs on,” he answers, snapping on his glove out of habit.

“i touch it, sometimes,” taehyung says suddenly.

that surprises jimin, the fact that it’s something taehyung does and that he’s telling jimin about it. “why do you touch it, taehyung?”

“i’m not sure why. i don’t realise i’m doing it.”

jimin frowns a little. “do you stop, when you realise?”

taehyung’s lips twitch downwards, almost as if he were going to frown himself, but they remain neutral. “sometimes i do, sometimes i don’t.”

jimin takes a deep breath, thinking he might have another one of taehyung’s abnormalities on his hands. “the times you don’t stop when you realise, can you tell me why you don’t stop?”

“the sensation is pleasant,” he replies simply.

jimin bites his lip and suppresses the urge to push back his hair, not wanting to have to replace his glove. before he could formulate a proper response to such information, taehyung is speaking again.

“i think it would be significant to note that the sensation is equally as pleasant when you do it.”

jimin nods -- he had mostly expected that to be the case. he stays quiet for a few moments as he thinks, sorts away this information to put into his personal records. this kind of abnormality would have taehyung wiped; a complete reset where his current centrix would be deleted, where everything that made taehyung taehyung would be destroyed.

jimin doesn’t want that.

“please monitor the times you touch your scar, i want you to tell me when it happens as well as why, if you know why. i’ll need analogue time, too, so i can track your centrix centers when it’s happening,” jimin tells him, voice firm. “and if you can, taehyung, try to be aware of who is around you when you do it.” there’s a warning there, and he knows taehyung will be able to pick it up.

he’s telling taehyung not to do it in front of anyone.

“yes, jimin-ssi.”

“i want to check your mouth,” he tells him, “are you going to be okay with the latex?” it’s procedure to use gloves, and a tongue depressor too, but taehyung has told him recently that he finds both the sensation and taste of the wood and latex unpleasant -- another one of his abnormalities. jimin had been fine to concede on the tongue depressor seeing as taehyung prefers it less to the latex, but he still feels bad using the gloves when he knows taehyung doesn’t like it.

“can you not feel better without the gloves?” taehyung asks, this being his version of brattiness.

“it’s about hygiene, not how well i can feel,” he rolls his eyes but still removes his glove. it feels weird to do such an examination without it, instinct and training telling him it’s incorrect procedure, but he’s made plenty of exceptions for taehyung and one like this won’t kill him.

“open up, buttercup,” he mumbles, pushing down on taehyung’s chin which drops open without resistance, tongue lolling out easily. he fishes out his penlight and turns it on, looking for discolouration or any abrasions. once he sees it all looks fine, jimin slips two fingers into taehyung’s mouth, pressing down on his tongue and aiming the light down his throat. there’s hardware lining the back of his throat all the way down his esophagus that monitors the substances that travel down from his mouth, tracking anything that could cause problems.

jimin checks the synthetic casing, making sure it’s not been worn down and that nothing is exposed to soft tissue. he flicks the light off, happy with everything, and it’s only then that he realises how wet taehyung’s mouth is, saliva coating his fingers and dripping a little down his tongue.

he slowly removes his fingers, tries not to focus too much on the string of spit that forms as he pulls away, and wipes it off on his coat. “that’s what i was talking about,” he says, a little awkwardly. that hasn’t happened before.

“pardon?” taehyung says, oblivious.

jimin grabs a tissue and cleans him up, wiping away the saliva around his lips and chin. “you were drooling.”

“interesting,” taehyung says, “what does ‘drooling’ mean, jimin-ssi?”

jimin bites his lip again, not sure if he wants to go through that with taehyung right now. “how about you … do some research on it. let me know what you think, why you were drooling?” he suggests. mostly he just wanted to continue on with the examination so they could move on with their daily tasks, but he was also a little interested to see what taehyung would come back with.

his curiosity was kind of the bane of jimin’s existence, but endlessly fascinating nonetheless.

“i will report to you tomorrow,” he confirms with a nod of his head.

“wonderful. now i’m just going to check your heart and i think we’ll be done!” he announces, removing the stethoscope from around his neck and putting it on. if taehyung registers the cold of the diaphragm on his skin, he doesn’t show it.  

jimin listens carefully for a few minutes before moving from taehyung’s front to his back and listening for another few minutes. when he’s taking out the earplugs he’s frowning a little once more. “care to tell me why your heart is beating so fast?”

taehyung’s normal rate is between 100 and 120 beats per minute, naturally accelerated due to his unique biology. a heart rate of 150 means something is wrong, and it means taehyung should be aware of it.

“i would tell you if i knew,” he replies. jimin purses his lips, forced to accept that he’s telling the truth. taehyung can’t lie to him -- his primary function is obedience.

“maybe it’s something i should research?” he suggests after a moment has passed.

despite himself, jimin chuckles. “maybe i shouldn’t be encouraging you so much.”

taehyung blinks, his head cocking to the side just a fraction of an inch but it’s enough for jimin to notice. “i like to know things.”

one of taehyung’s biggest abnormalities.

his strongest weapon and most glaring weakness. for the both of them.

“i know you do, taehyung,” jimin sighs, reaches up and ruffles taehyung’s hair lightly before cupping his cheek. “that’s the problem.”

 

II.

 

stasis is where taehyung is supposed to be at rest.

he doesn’t sleep, but while in stasis (both the physical chamber built for him and the operational mode of his centrix system), he’s functioning at the lowest speed and capacity he can be without being fully powered down.

stasis is important for making sure taehyung doesn’t overwork himself, it gives his systems time to cool down and his memory storage a chance to process, catalogue, and file away the events and proceedings of the day.

he himself doesn’t rest, taehyung is conscious for all of it, but the time is supposed to emulate a period of relaxation.

while taehyung understands the importance of stasis, he thinks that the eight hour period is wasteful in that he could be using that time to do things. of course, he’s not allowed to do anything while in stasis -- physically, he can’t do anything as that part of his centrix is powered down. but following orders and completing tasks is what taehyung is made to do. being useful is how he’s able to be obedient, it’s what gives him purpose.

he has no purpose while in stasis.

he explained his perspective on the matter to jimin when he suggested that time in stasis could be better utilised.

when jimin asked if he had any ideas, taehyung considered research could be an action performed while in stasis. taehyung still has access to his information drives and is connected to the wifi in the laboratories. centrix is partially a computer, and he’s able to find, consume and download data right into it.

jimin agreed, and that evening taehyung was given the task of researching the history of lab coats (prompted by his question of why jimin is always wearing one).

the next morning, after giving a report on his findings, taehyung concluded he felt his time in stasis was no longer as wasteful. since then, jimin had given him small research tasks (usually related to questions he asks during the day), and taehyung even has time to do his own research. he doesn’t always get to ask the questions he has during the day, so he saves them for when he finishes the primary task jimin gives him.

he knows that the enjoyment he experiences when he performs and successfully completes a task is due to his limbix system and its emphasis on accomplishment. he’s designed to recognise a positive signal to completing a task, and over time taehyung has realised that positive means good. he feels good when he does what he’s meant to.

he’s found that he likes to feel good often.

the easiest way for him to do that is to follow the instructions given to him.

he’s also found that he feels good the most when the instructions he receives are from jimin -- an anomaly, for sure, but not one he’s been able to understand yet -- and so he tries to complete as many tasks as he can from him, and it’s why he appreciates the ones he’s given during stasis.

tonight’s task is understanding drooling, something he did while jimin was inspecting his mouth and throat.

taehyung knows he salivates, but he’d never experienced drooling before, and he didn’t even realise it had been happening until jimin had pointed it out. he remembers jimin’s emotional response to be difficult to read; he couldn’t tell based of jimin’s reaction if drooling was a good or bad thing.

it didn’t activate negative response receptors in his limbix so he doesn’t think he did a bad thing, but drooling must certainly indicate something if jimin had made a note of it.

his initial findings told him the basic functions of saliva, and that an excess of saliva is what causes drooling -- drooling being defined as the unintentional spillage of saliva from the mouth.

his centrix recognises that he’s understood what drooling is, and he feels his accomplishment signals lighting up and the ghost of jimin’s voice echoing “good job, taehyung.”

it’s a pleasant experience -- a flow of warmth that travels from his centrix through his spinal cord to distribute through his nervous system. it doesn’t last long, although he’s noticed the signal lengths can vary, but he enjoys the sensation while it happens.

his next task -- figuring out why he drooled -- proves to be harder. most reasons for drooling are medical, linked to conditions that impair neuromuscular control of the muscles around the mouth. taehyung has none of the conditions listed, and if he was having neuromuscular control issues it would be something his centrix would be fixing and regulating or something jimin would’ve been able to see in his scans and have addressed himself.

internally, there is nothing wrong with his body that would have caused taehyung to have drooled.

he continues researching, finding repetitive articles, essays, and explanations on what drooling is and why people do it. it’s some time later that his data scan picks up an entry with different terminology relating to salivation and drooling;

an article on the link between salivation, the reward centers of the brain, and arousal.

it’s a brief article, concise and citing other sources for further reading. taehyung has never come across some of the terms and concepts it includes, such as arousal and desire, but he understands reward based brain functioning and concludes the information is useful.

the article tells him that the human brain triggers salivation when exposed to stimuli that is deemed rewarding or arousing because the part of the brain that controls salivation controls other reward and arousal based responses.

it also states that salivation indicates what is interesting to an individual, such as food or an object of desire.

taehyung takes a moment to consider how to apply this information to his situation.

he remembers being told to open his mouth, and in doing so his reward centers lit up as normal. he also remembers the feeling of jimin’s fingers pressing down on his tongue, smooth and warm with a firm pressure. the warmth reminded him of his accomplishment signal.

he concludes jimin’s fingers to be the rewarding stimuli he was exposed to, causing the excess salivation, and that jimin holding open his mouth caused the drooling as he could not swallow down his saliva.

he’s ready to input the final data into his information center when he thinks of the words he hadn’t heard of before.

arouse;

  • evoke or awaken (a feeling, emotion, or response).

the word is applicable, because a response had been evoked for taehyung. he inputs it into the data file, and looks up the next word.

desire;

  • a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

taehyung reads the definition several times, piecing together each word to figure out how they apply to him. he can’t experience feeling, or he’s not meant to. jimin has commented many times how many abnormalities taehyung has presented with. still, taehyung does not believe he has come to acquire emotion, and nor does jimin as far taehyung knows.

anything he feels or experiences is through his coding. he doesn’t have autonomous emotions.

but he considers the pleasant sensation of his reward signal, the association he’s developed between obedience and feeling good. he also thinks of how willing he is to accept tasks from jimin, going as far as to ask for more at times where he’s not meant to be doing anything, and how this willingness extends only to jimin. he thinks of feeling jimin’s fingers in his mouth and experiencing a positive sensation, similar enough to a reward response that he’d drooled.   

he reframes his perspective on such behaviour and comes to his final conclusion for the night.

 


 

the next morning, taehyung waits for jimin in his office. he’s late again, and taehyung makes sure to register the data for his own calculations and personal record.

he’s only thirteen minutes late, compared to yesterday’s forty-nine minutes, but he rushes into the room much faster than the previous morning. “good morning taehyung!” he greets, a little breathy but nonetheless enthusiastic. “i’m late i know, i’m sorry,” he adds.

“good morning, jimin-ssi,” taehyung returns, the same greeting he always gives jimin. “there’s no need to apologise,” he nods in acknowledgement of what jimin had said, recognising the first half of a standard social norm and responding appropriately.

jimin flashes a smile, wide and cheerful, in response and taehyung feels his accomplishment signal light up. he’s come to associate some of jimin’s facial expressions as confirmation cues. it doesn’t happen often, but if it were a problem, taehyung trusts jimin to bring it up with him.

as the signal runs its course, taehyung notices his accelerated heart beat.

he’s familiar with the function of his heart, as one of the only organs in his body that’s partially independent from his centrix, it’s also something he’s very aware of. his heart most often accelerates when he’s exerting himself which he does almost everyday as part of his routine, but he’s noted over time that his heart rate also accelerates in response to certain interactions with jimin.

the interactions he’s catalogued includes physical proximity or contact, and instances involving non-verbal confirmation cues like when he smiles or ruffles taehyung’s hair.

yesterday, jimin had asked why taehyung’s heart rate was accelerated and taehyung couldn’t provide a confident answer. he’d noticed a pattern but was not able to discern why it was occurring.

now though, he thinks he’s come to a sound conclusion.

“today,” jimin begins, already seated at his desk as he turns on his computer, “we need to do some blood work and i’m supposed to collect some csf because it’s been a month since the last sample but...” he trails off, and taehyung hears the clicking of the mouse. “but i wanted to do more physio for your legs but you can’t be doing much after i stick you with a spinal needle, so.” taehyung detects a level of amusement in jimin’s voice.

taehyung considers the dilemma jimin is describing and suggests, “maybe we can do the physiotherapy first?”

jimin turns in his chair, the amusement in his voice clear in his face. “what? you want to do all three things today?”

he thinks of desire; of wanting … of wanting what jimin wants. of wanting to make jimin happy, because it makes taehyung feel good when jimin is happy.

“i want to do what you want me to do,” taehyung replies.

jimin purses his lips, clasps his hands together and taps both index fingers against his chin before tilting his head to the side; he’s thinking.

“we’ll do the blood work and physio today, the csf can wait until tomorrow,” he decides, turning back around and typing on the keyboard for a moment. “your results were fine last time, i’m sure i won’t be finding any surprises anyways.”

“okay,” taehyung acknowledges aloud as jimin couldn’t see him if he nodded.

“but before we do any of that, i have something for you,” jimin says after a moment, getting up from his chair and walking over to the examination table where taehyung is sitting.

taehyung expects the acceleration of his heart beat as jimin stops in front of him. he feels much more comfortable about the abnormality now that he understands it better.

he watches as jimin reaches into his lab coat and plucks out a small, clear jar with a white, gelatinous substance inside of it. “how are your hands?” he asks.

taehyung looks down at his hands, notes that their texture has not changed. “they’re the same as yesterday,” he replies, holding his hands up for jimin to inspect.

jimin takes a second to look at his hands, pressing his lips into a line and nodding once he’s seen what he wanted to see. “i went to the derma labs last night to see if they had anything for dry skin that wouldn’t interfere or damage your tech,” he explains, presenting the jar to taehyung. “and it turns out they’d already made a lotion that’s safe to use.”

“a lotion?” taehyung parrots, not familiar with the word.

“a substance applied to the skin,” jimin tells him, “this lotion will help restore the moisture to your hands, make the skin less dry.”

“what is the application process?” taehyung asks, eyeing the jar with a curious look.

“just with your fingers-- how about i show you?” jimin suggests, already opening the jar and scooping out a small amount onto two fingers. he puts the jar down next to taehyung on the examination table, and with his free hand he gently takes hold of taehyung’s wrist.

silently, jimin gently applies spots of the lotion over the back of taehyung’s hand before massaging it into his skin. the lotion is cool and feels slimy and wet, but the relief from the irritation of the dry skin is almost instantaneous. jimin’s ministrations are soft and relaxing, his fingers deft and his touch is warm.

taehyung feels his accomplishment signal activate, and his body is flooded with the pleasant sensation. he feels his heart rate increase even more, his face heat up, and his pupils dilate.

he recognises his arousal, the response to jimin touching him -- that being his rewarding stimuli. it makes so much sense to him now.

he wants to check if he’ll drool again, and goes to open his mouth but remembers that he’ll need jimin’s fingers like last time.

another wave of recognition; of wanting something. of desire.

“how does it feel?” jimin asks, letting go of taehyung’s hand to scoop out more lotion for the other. not expecting the loss of support, taehyung’s limp hand slaps down on his thigh and it snaps him back to attention.

“it feels good,” he replies.

jimin hums and reaches for taehyung’s other hand to repeat the same process. just as before, the sensation causes taehyung’s accomplishment receptors to light up, and another wave of warmth courses through him.

“you can keep this with you, and apply it just like i have in the morning after you get out of stasis and at night just before i put you in. don’t use too much, just a small amount will be plenty,” jimin instructs when he’s done, going over to the sink to wash his hands.

taehyung is curious to know if he’ll feel as good applying the lotion himself as he did when jimin did it, but decides to come to that conclusion without asking.

instead, taehyung picks up the jar and screws the lid back on before placing it in his pocket. “thank you, jimin-ssi.”

“all good, taehyungie,” jimin replies, matching the syllable count. he does it on occasion, especially when taehyung thanks him. it’s the only time he refers to taehyung as ‘taehyungie’.

that too activates his accomplishment center.

“how did your research into drooling go?” jimin asks conversationally, moving around the room to gather what he needs for taking taehyung’s blood samples.

taehyung pulls up the data file to reference, including all the notes he’d made. “it was more difficult than anticipated,” he remarks.

that causes jimin to pause in the middle of the room, head turning to look at taehyung. “it was difficult?” he asks, incredulous. “looking up what drooling is was difficult?”

“it was more difficult than anticipated; the research required to fulfil the task took more time than it takes me on average” taehyung clarifies first. “and you gave me two research tasks, jimin-ssi. the first was on what drooling is, which was simple. the second was to research why i had drooled during the examination.”

“i… see,” jimin says slowly, taking the vials he’d gotten from the cupboard and placing them in the plastic tray on his desk. instead of continuing his preparation for the blood samples, he sits in his chair, facing taehyung. “tell me what you found.”

taehyung nods once before speaking. “drooling is defined as the unintentional spillage of saliva from the mouth,” he recites from the data he collated. “it is what i experienced yesterday. reasons for drooling vary, but involuntary drooling is usually related to medical conditions.” he pauses for a moment, waits to see if jimin has a comment or question.

jimin realises a second or two late, dragged out of his thoughts with a sudden nod, “yes, keep going. you’re doing well.”

with his accomplishment centers lit up, taehyung continues. “understanding why i drooled during the examination proved elusive as the incident was not medically related. it was not until i found literature exploring the link between arousal, desire, reward and salivation that i--”

“taehyung,” jimin cuts him off, sounding as though he was choked up.

taehyung stops talking and waits for jimin to continue. he notes the blush in his face, the slackness of his jaw and the way his eyebrows twitch together. jimin doesn’t speak for a moment, and when he does it’s only to repeat taehyung’s name.

“yes?” taehyung replies this time, thinking maybe jimin needed confirmation he was listening. he didn’t quite understand what was happening.

“what literature did you find?” he asks, voice still rough.

“it was literature on the link between arousal, desire, reward and salivation.”

“you think what happened yesterday has something to do with that?” jimin sounds like he doesn’t quite believe taehyung. he sounds condescending.

taehyung realises jimin is doubting his findings, and in response to the negative emotion he frowns like he knows jimin does sometimes. “i know it does, jimin-ssi. my conclusions are sound.”

“i don’t understand,” jimin admits, the confusion evident on his face.

“i haven’t explained it yet.”

“right, right, explain it to me,” jimin gestures for taehyung to pick up again.

feeling uncertain, trying to sense if it’s possible that he hadn’t completed his task, taehyung tries his best to sum up his findings. “i drooled because i was unable to swallow with your fingers in my mouth. but the excess of saliva i produced was due the reward stimuli, that is, your fingers. i was reacting to the feeling of your fingers in--”

“i understand, taehyung,” jimin abruptly cuts him off and then there is a pause. “actually, no i don’t. what are you saying?”

taehyung’s negative response receptors signal that he’s done something wrong, that he needs to explain himself better.

he thinks of his findings through the frame of arousal and desire:

“i like having your fingers in my mouth. it makes me drool.”

jimin is biting his lip, he looks concerned, and taehyung’s limbix is on full alert to decipher his response. the experience of an undecided receptor -- balancing between positive punishment and positive reinforcement -- emulates nervousness for taehyung, like being on edge.

“taehyung, i think you’ve made a mistake,” jimin finally says.

disappointment courses through taehyung, knowing he’s not done something right. the negative response signal is a short sharp zap down his spine. there’s no pain, but it’s an uncomfortable sensation, something he doesn’t associate positively.

“maybe if i explain my attraction t--”

attraction?” jimin’s voice raises a little. “taehyung, you drooled because your mouth was open. you were correct before, but-but...” he trails off, seemingly at a loss for words.

“my mouth being open does not account for the excess of saliva, and we need to consider that this is was the first time it happened, meaning a variable in the situation has changed. my findings on desire and attraction may provide insight on that, as well as my other symptoms.”

“your other symptoms?”

taehyung nods. “my accelerated heart rate, increase in temperature and dilated pupils, for example, which only occur in close proximity to you. my preference for receiving tasks from you, specifically, which i prefer fulfilling over others. i have a desire to obey you, my accomplishment receptors are more sensitive and responsive to you and your cues. the increase in my physical response to your stimuli, physical and otherwise, includes the drooling that occurred yesterday.”

he pauses, trying to read jimin’s expression before relaying his final conclusion;

“i’m attracted to you, jimin-ssi.”

several moments pass in silence, and jimin’s expression continues to be impossible to decipher. taehyung sits still, the receptor in his limbix waiting for a response so it can act. jimin’s quiet sigh is not enough confirmation for accomplishment or failure, and his face is still unreadable when he stands and walks over to taehyung.

once he’s close enough, taehyung’s heart accelerates as it’s done for weeks now.

“check my heart rate, jimin-ssi,” he says, wanting to give jimin empirical evidence. “it beats faster when you come close to me.”

“how long have you been experiencing these … symptoms?” jimin asks, his voice soft.

“i first registered and catalogued them three months ago, and the sharpest increase of frequency began two weeks ago,” taehyung answers.

“three months… taehyung, why didn’t you report something?”

“i was aware of the pattern, not the cause. i didn’t know what to report. my centrix did not indicate something was wrong, and you didn’t either. it was only last night during my research that i was able to conclude that the symptoms had meaning, and what that meaning is.”

“i’m … proud of you, for coming to your conclusion,” jimin begins, choosing his words carefully. taehyung’s receptor recognising the confirmation-of-sorts, and his accomplishment center sends its signal. “but you understand your primary function is obedience -- you’re made to obey. we can look into what you’re experiencing but… you can’t feel attraction.”

taehyung believes he has enough evidence to the contrary.

“is this another one of my abnormalities?” he asks. he had assumed it was, because he is aware that he’s not meant to experience desire, attraction or arousal. it doesn’t change that he does. he’s not sure why jimin has not absorbed the information as if it were just one of taehyung’s abnormalities, as he always does when taehyung presents such deviant behaviour.

“i think it might be a malfunction, actually.”

taehyung blinks twice.

jimin had never described anything taehyung has done as a malfunction before, and the word has only ever been associated with one thing.  

“am i going to be reset, jimin-ssi?” he feels his amygdala firing out the automated potential danger signal coded in the centrix so subjects have a sense of self-preservation in relation to protecting themselves from damage.

a reset is not meant to trigger that response because subjects aren’t meant to associate it with damage.

jimin’s brow furrows and he frowns, touching taehyung’s jaw gently to hold his gaze; “no, taehyung, i promised i wouldn’t do that.”

his potential danger signal powers down, and he no longer feels at risk.

“have i done something wrong?” he asks, wanting to be sure of his status.

jimin shakes his head, his expression softens as his touch turns into cupping taehyung’s jaw in a gesture of comfort. “you haven’t done anything wrong, sweetheart. this is just something we need to sort out. but it’ll be okay, you did a good job.”

the reassurance sends a flood of warmth through taehyung, stronger than the previous ones, and in response he smiles. he sees a look of surprise cross jimin’s face but it’s gone in the blink of an eye.

“i can always do more research,” he suggests and now jimin is smiling, albeit weakly.

“you and your research,” he sighs, “if i’m not careful, you’ll end up taking over the world.”

only if you want me to.

taehyung thinks it, but decides against saying it aloud.

 

III.

 

jimin squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, fighting the wave of fatigue rolling through him. he’s been up for a few hours now, trying to finish the log he started the previous night, and it’s almost time for him to meet taehyung in his office.

he needs to get this all down so he can send it off, mailed as a letter to his mother but is delivered to a friend who keeps his personal records safe. it’s not only about having the information and thoughts fresh in his mind, it’s also about not having half finished logs laying around.

he squeezes the pen in his hand and forces his eyes open, reading over the last lines he’d written.

this entry on taehyung is longer than most, only made more complicated with jimin’s inability to wrap his mind around what taehyung was presenting him with.

he hadn’t believed him at first, that morning taehyung was adamant that he was experiencing desire and arousal and attraction -- it just didn’t make sense. jimin knows taehyung is special, he’s known for years now, and it seems with each passing week his abnormalities only grow stronger. he asks questions unprompted, completes tasks unprompted, has preferences for certain things, has been successfully emulating emotional expression, has even mimicked emotional responses like empathy.

his coding shouldn’t allow for that kind of emotional intelligence or sentience, but clearly there was a glitch in his centrix at some point -- or, and this is what jimin thinks it most likely considering there is nothing abnormal about taehyung’s centrix functioning, taehyung has developed these things. evolved.

jimin groans, letting his head fall into the paper and not caring if the ink hasn’t dried yet.

he didn’t want to believe taehyung for so many reasons. it terrified him, it made him scared for taehyung. the more aware he becomes, the harder it will be to hide his differences. he’s comforted in the knowledge that taehyung recognises the risk his abnormalities poses, but that just makes jimin feel worse because … taehyung shouldn’t feel that way -- shouldn’t feel at all. he’s not meant to know fear or caution or any of those ugly human emotions.

but he does. or, his centrix is emulating those responses, allowing him to recognise such things.

it’s also led to taehyung thinking he is attracted to jimin.

it’s been two weeks and jimin still can’t untangle the knot in his stomach whenever he thinks about it.

he would’ve buried it, told taehyung he was wrong and had him re-do the research for a more appropriate answer or tell him to discard it altogether. but two things stopped him; the first was that taehyung had made a case for his hypothesis, and the second was that jimin didn’t want to dismiss him like that.

the second point verges into dangerous territory, territory jimin has been desperately trying to avoid for a long time with little to show for it.

but the first point was valid. not only was it valid but it was something jimin actively had to investigate; taehyung was presenting physical symptoms and changes to his centrix. jimin couldn’t ignore it, so they put aside time to exploring what taehyung had been experiencing.

jimin had to pull up taehyung’s centrix data from the last six months for comparisons, and his findings were consistent with taehyung’s. three months ago, taehyung’s responses to stimuli increased dramatically, and continued to do so. six months ago, the longest his accomplishment signal would be active for was 8.02 seconds, with the average length being 4.53 seconds.

three months ago there was a change, and the longest activation time increased to 12.61 seconds, and the average became 7.04 seconds.

the time kept increasing for no apparent reason. three weeks ago, taehyung’s longest activation time clocked in at 32 seconds. his average was blessedly shorter at 14.63 seconds.

those results alone were enough to have jimin’s eye twitching, but the fact that taehyung said he could recall what tasks he had completed for each new threshold had jimin’s gut twisting in apprehension and curiosity.

they continued their research; exposing taehyung to different stimuli to track what he responded to (taehyung says ‘what arouses me’ which jimin would love to ask him to stop saying, but doesn’t have the courage to lest taehyung decides to look further into what that word means). jimin tried a lot of things -- visual (digital and physical) stimuli, auditory stimuli, tactile stimuli -- but nothing produced an abnormal reaction aside from jimin himself.

one anomaly found was when jimin brought in a puppy for taehyung to interact with. that activated his accomplishment center, but the length of the signal wasn’t unusually high nor did he have any other physical reaction. he just liked playing with the animal, it seemed.

when they concluded the only effective stimuli was jimin, jimin had the idea of compiling a slideshow of 100 other faces with similar bone structure and physical appearance to himself and flickering each image in front of taehyung for a fifth of a second each.

when jimin tested the clip, it looked at if he were looking at 100 picture of himself -- his eyes unable to differentiate between the faces in so little time -- but taehyung had no reaction. when he finished he just calmly stated, “your face was not there, jimin-ssi.”  

jimin added in another 100 faces, although he was kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel by then, and included one of himself too. each image appeared for only a tenth of a second.

taehyung could say what number image jimin’s was in the order (138), and his centrix did indeed light up when taehyung recognised his face. his heart rate accelerated too, and his pupils dilated. the responses didn’t last long as the stimuli was only shown once for such a short time.

at that point, jimin wasn’t able to deny that taehyung was experiencing some sort of … attachment to him, and that attachment was linked with his limbix. he was reluctant to call it attraction because that word came with too many connotations and all of them were dangerous.

if jimin hadn’t already outlined all the different aspects they were going to study, and if taehyung weren’t so determined to provide empirical evidence, then jimin would’ve stopped there. but there was more.

last week, they finished up by experimenting with taehyung’s physical reactions.

those were the biggest anomalies, the things that really caused concern. taehyung enjoying his accomplishment signal was normal -- well, not to the extent he’s at now -- because he’s designed for obedience and the signal tells him he’s been obedient. he’s not meant to actively seek out ways to be obedient, but jimin made peace with taehyung’s awareness long ago.

physical reactions to obedience or receiving his accomplishment signal (his ‘reward’, as taehyung has begun to refer to it) is so far out of range of normalcy that the first time taehyung talked about it, jimin’s head spun. taehyung’s body can certainly produce physical reactions, but his coding isn’t made to utilise those functions.

but there is definitely something in his centrix that’s connected these reward-based responses to particular stimuli (well, to jimin) and have created an association between jimin and the accomplishment center in his limbix.

testing taehyung’s different physical reactions to jimin was about as harrowing as he thought it would be. they only studied the symptoms taehyung had already reported, and some were pretty cut and dry. his pupils dilated when he saw jimin, signalling something desirable. jimin thinks taehyung’s apparent desire for him comes from the association between jimin and obedience.

a neatly packaged answer, at first, before he let the notion settle and then it felt like a punch in the gut.

his heart rate accelerated when jimin was in close proximity to him, and that generally also resulted in a high temperature -- sometimes, he’d blush. jimin also links that to obedience; being close to taehyung probably signals anticipation of an order to follow or a task to complete.

touch … was where things became a little tangled together. when jimin touches taehyung, his heart rate and temperature increases more than when jimin is just close to him. his heart rate does regulate the longer jimin has contact, but still stays slightly above normal range until jimin has stopped touching him -- creating somewhat of a cooling off period. jimin was relieved to find that taehyung’s degree of nakedness didn’t change these findings.

he was glad that he decided against experimenting the effect of different types of physical contact, and was thankful taehyung didn’t bring that up himself.  

jimin supposes that response could also be linked to anticipation of an order, but he’s not sure how solid a foundation he has for that assertion.

when he asked taehyung for his thoughts about it, he’d answered easily; “when you touch me, the sensation i experience is pleasant. it’s warm, like my accomplishment signal. sometimes, when you touch me, it activates that signal.”

jimin had to accept his contribution, and couldn’t understand the feeling he had when he came to his conclusion of taehyung associating jimin not only with obedience but also positive reinforcement, with feeling good.

jimin was ready to end it there, he had enough to grasp what they were dealing with, but taehyung asked if they could complete the final stage of experiments. jimin agreed with only a little reluctance. he knew he wasn’t … uncomfortable, not necessarily. he was just having a hard time facing what this really meant. but he knew how important understanding was for taehyung, and he couldn’t deny him the opportunity to understand what he was experiencing.

his reluctance increased when taehyung asked if he could make adjustments to the experiment, but he’d already said yes and any inclusion taehyung wanted to add would benefit them even if jimin was slowly finding himself fearful of the truth.

taehyung wanted to test if he would drool with only his mouth open, with his fingers in his mouth and his mouth closed, with his fingers and his mouth open, then with jimin’s fingers and his mouth closed, and finally with jimin’s fingers and his mouth open.

jimin hates that he blushes at the memory.

there’d been no excess salivation with the first two variables. there had been a little excess salivation when taehyung had his fingers pressing down on his tongue and his mouth open, but no drooling.

taehyung had commented that the sensation was slightly similar to that of jimin’s fingers, which might explain the excess salivation.

then, jimin was placing two fingers in taehyung’s mouth, and taehyung was closing his lips around them. throughout it all, throughout the entire process, taehyung’s expression had remained flat and clinical. these types of things didn’t register to him like they did for humans, he didn’t understand how fucking weird it was to be doing this, and how inappropriate it was.

jimin realised, then, that he was the only one who could make this inappropriate. taehyung was responding based on his coding, he experiences these things through however his coding interprets them, he doesn’t know anything different from that. jimin, on the other hand, didn’t have coding that dictated his existence, his behaviour and perception. he’s the one who changes the meaning of what they’re doing.

his plan was to just keep his fingers in taehyung’s mouth, lightly resting on his tongue but keeping still otherwise, for the full minute. that was safe, that wouldn’t make things weird or uncomfortable or inappropriate.

but then he thought about what he was doing, what this could potentially be doing to taehyung, and he felt his fingers twitch involuntarily -- and that’s when he felt it. taehyung’s tongue was wet; he was salivating.

then taehyung’s tongue was dragging along the pads of jimin’s fingers, only a fraction, as if moving reflexively, and it did nothing to help jimin ignore how warm taehyung felt around him.

his eyes flickered to the timer, they had fifteen seconds left, and taehyung’s tongue moved again to settle in his mouth. jimin turned back to taehyung in time to see his eyelids flutter shut.

it was a small blessing, because jimin knew his face was heating up and he didn’t know how he’d explain it to taehyung if he asked about it.

the timer went off, jimin passed taehyung a small bowl, and then taehyung was opening his mouth. jimin removed his fingers, almost snatching them back, and didn’t stay to watch taehyung spit in the bowl or clean himself up. jimin walked right to his computer, wiping his fingers on his lab coat, and read the data report.

taehyung’s accomplishment center had been activated for 43 seconds out of the 60, with two spikes in intensity towards the end.

looking at the live scans, jimin saw taehyung’s limbix was still lit up and it took a few more seconds for it to cool down.

twenty minutes later, they repeated the experiment with taehyung’s mouth open.

jimin wasn’t surprised when taehyung started drooling. he felt that odd mix of apprehension and curiosity swirl in his gut, watching as the spit started to pool around taehyung’s lip before it dripped down his chin. taehyung just staring back blankly didn’t help with the confusion of his feelings, but when taehyung made a reflexive attempt to swallow and his tongue dragged against jimin’s fingers, he closed his eyes like before and that meant jimin could look away himself.

when the timer went off, they parted. taehyung had gotten a lot messier this time, and it had jimin wanting to stay and help him clean up, but he forced himself to go to the computer instead. the results were no surprise either; an even longer activated accomplishment center with a more intense signal. there was only one spike in activity, and jimin could guess what that was.

finishing everything up that afternoon, taehyung talked through the concepts and how he related them to himself, rounding out their experimentation with some qualitative data.

everything he said reinforced the empirical evidence; he associates jimin with accomplishment, with feeling good. he experiences this with jimin only, goes so far to differentiate orders given from jimin and other people, prioritising jimin’s before anyone else's.

the way he spoke struck jimin, sounding more human than he ever had; “i feel the best when i’m making you happy, jimin-ssi. everything about you makes me feel good.

jimin knows he meant that obeying jimin activates the accomplishment center in his limbix, gives him his reward. he knows he meant that his body is reacting to more and more of jimin as a stimulus due to an association he’s made in his centrix.

but taehyung didn’t say it that way. and he could have.

he should have.

jimin stares blearily at the ink smudged paper on his desk, knows that he’s going to be late but it doesn’t matter anymore. with his head feeling as heavy as his heart, jimin finishes his report;

 

 

 

taehyung is experiencing attraction far beyond centrix’s capabilities, and he understands the physical impact the attraction is having on his body. he’s able to engage and interact with the concept. the level at which he can discuss his experiences is alarming.

it’s possible he could soon understand this attraction on an emotional level, although i cannot conclude how artificial this emotional comprehension might be.

jimin puts his pen down and sighs, slumping in his chair. it’s well past eight, but he gives himself a moment to breathe.

in the corner of his mind, a small persistent voice is screaming for his attention. a voice sounding alarm bells, warning him of just how much of a disaster this is. it’s flashing neon signs, telling him of how much danger taehyung is in, of how vulnerable this makes him.

the voice is begging him to listen to reason, to not let his own feelings be blinded by this.  

he ignores it.

not because he doesn’t understand where this subconscious worry is coming from, but because he’s done everything in his goddamn power to keep taehyung safe and that isn’t changing anytime soon.

he refuses to become something that taehyung needs protection from.

 

IV.

 

there’s a sharp knock on the door to jimin’s office, interrupting taehyung’s report on his findings from the night before.

“come in,” jimin calls out, swivelling in his chair to face the door just as it opens. it’s a centrix subject, named jihye, who’s standing in the threshold.

“good morning,” she greets. “doctor park, your presence has been requested in doctor lee’s office.” her rigid speech pattern is jarring compared to taehyung’s, the rhythm robotic even if her voice sounds as human as jimin’s himself. he figures she must be a newer subject, her centrix still adapting and shaping a more natural flow.  

“i’ll be there in a moment, thank you,” he replies. she gives a shallow nod of recognition before closing the door.

it’s always a little disconcerting to interact with other centrix subjects after spending time with taehyung. these days, jimin primarily concerns himself with taehyung so his time with other units is short and infrequent. but that just means he’s becoming less and less familiar with how the average subject behaves.

he doesn’t have the time to ponder about the implications of such a thing, so he stands abruptly and straightens his coat out. “come on taehyung, you can come with me,” he says, gesturing for taehyung to follow him.

he hears a muted click, and knows that means taehyung is experiencing an accomplishment reward.

it’s another little experiment they’re undergoing while navigating what taehyung’s newfound awareness means. taehyung has a clicker to count how many times a day his accomplishment center lights up, and jimin has one to count how many orders and tasks he gives taehyung each day. they’re three days into collecting the data and jimin is already seeing a pattern as obvious as it is unsurprising.

they make their way to dr. lee’s office in silence, taehyung trailing just behind jimin as jimin zig-zags around people and androids and centrix units. the middle floors of the building, where jimin’s office is located, are always crowded, doctors, scientists, and engineers going about their daily work with their assistants or units in tow.

the upper floors, where dr. lee’s office is, along with the offices of other higher-ups and the living quarters of the select few who have the privilege and prestige to use the facilities day and night, are almost deserted in comparison.

jimin’s footsteps echo as they step off the elevator, taehyung’s are silent, like always.

being called to dr. lee’s office is never wholly pleasant, whether due to the experience or the reason for being summoned, so jimin allows himself a brief pause to take a deep breath before he knocks and is told to enter.

“good morning, doctor lee,” jimin greets, giving a small bow. taehyung bows as well once he’s stepped into the room, but doesn’t speak. dr. lee looks up from the manilla folder open in her hands as they enter and she doesn’t look impressed. jimin already has anxiety curdling in his stomach, the taste bitter in his mouth.

“you’ll never believe the mess yeongsu’s made,” she says in lieu of greeting, using the folder in her hands to gesture to the pile next to her on the desk. jimin manages not to let out a relieved sigh as the anxiety melts away.

they’re not here because of taehyung.

“eight-- eight,” she snaps, voice harsh, “of his centrix subjects are malfunctioning. we gave him a week to fix them, but they’re gone. useless.”

jimin frowns, unsure of how someone like doctor mihn could let eight of his subjects malfunction past the point of repair or rehabilitation. eight subjects are a lot for one doctor to be appointed to in the first place, but the responsibility would not have been given to him if he wasn’t capable.

“what’s wrong with them?” he asks.

“you name it,” she scoffs, offering out a folder for jimin to take and look for himself. “some of their centrix’s are malfunctioning, mixing signals in their limbix. two have muscle atrophy being accelerated by their hardware-- who misses that?!”

jimin’s frown deepens as he scans over the page he’d opened to. the folders are full of reports, data from a subject’s centrix and various test results. “this subject was experiencing tachycardia for two straight days, two hundred beats per minute,” he reads out, not believing what he was seeing. “was this negligence or did he just not know what was happening?” he asks, looking up to see doctor lee was shrugging, her near nonchalance indicating the depth of her fury.

“he keeps saying he didn’t realise there were this many problems. he thinks their stasis pods were the source of trouble, but that only accounts for one of the subjects. the rest … well. clearly he wasn’t keeping up with things,” she says, putting it nicely. her voice was full of condescension and dripping poison, having gained back some of her composure but still very much enraged by what’s happened.

“what’s going to happen to doctor mihn?” jimin asks, closing the folder to place back on top of the pile.

“i don’t think he’ll be a doctor for much longer,” she huffs. “i’m stripping all his credentials, then i’ll let doctor song decide what to do with him.”

jimin swallows harshly at the mention of doctor song -- the man who oversees the entire centrix operation. doctor lee will take disciplinary action, the decision that everyone else in the program will hear about, but it’ll be song who controls mihn yeongsu’s fate.

there’s a list of names in song’s office, the names of people who’ve been terminated.

jimin thinks yeongsu might’ve done enough to land himself on that list.

jimin clears his throat. “and what about his subjects? do you want me to have a go at repairs?” he’s done that in the past. it’s how he’s made a name for himself in the program; he may not write the coding or engineer the hardware, but jimin knows the centrix system like the back of his hand and knows how to work it like magic.  

most of the time he’s not working with taehyung, he’s repairing and rehabilitating other subjects. he’s made himself quite valuable in that way, and it’s the reason he has such sway in the program. it’s how he got himself his own living quarters, why he’s allowed to focus so much time and energy one one subject when other doctors usually have four or five patients each.

“they’re past that,” she tells him. “i called you here because you’re going to perform the resets for all eight of them.”

he nods, already knowing that was mostly likely the case as soon as he realised what the situation was. he feels a surge of dread in his chest at the thought of doing eight resets. he’s done plenty, but never that many in one go, and despite how familiar he is with the procedure, they’re never exactly fun.

“you’re in o.r. 13,” she continues, “the assisdroid should have all the subjects prepped and ready by the time you get down there.”

jimin doesn’t hesitate in asking, “would it be okay if taehyung assists me, instead?”

doctor lee turns to look at taehyung for the first time, almost as if she hadn’t registered his presence until then. “you want him to assist you?” she looks back to jimin with a curious expression.

“he’s easier to work with than an assisdroid, more like a nurse than a robot in terms of functionality. he’s assisted before and there were no errors.”

“huh,” she muses, eyes back on taehyung and jimin is suddenly nervous. however, the only thought she voices is, “perhaps we should look into that, for future possibilities.”

there’s an odd pause where doctor lee seems to be thinking deeply before she remembers they’re still in the room. “oh! yes, he can assist. take the files and go,” she dismisses them, pushing the stack towards jimin who steps forward to scoop them up.

jimin waits until they’re in the elevator, empty except for the two of them, to exhale sharply and let his shoulders sag.

and taehyung presses his clicker three times.

 


 

the first subject is ready for the procedure to begin by the time jimin and taehyung have scrubbed in.

the operating room is cold, sterile and eerily silent, even more so knowing that the subject is fully conscious. they remain awake during the procedure, preliminary experimentations found that the transition between the deletion of one centrix and the uploading of a new one is smoother when the subject is conscious -- when they’re powered on.

“what’s his name?” taehyung startles jimin by asking, his voice quiet like a whisper.

“why are you asking?” jimin replies, fighting a frown.

“i’m just curious.”

jimin eyes taehyung, as if he could lie, before answering, “his name is jinki.”

taehyung nods in acknowledgement but doesn’t say anything else.

jimin tries to swallow down the uncomfortable feeling that’s been lodged in his throat since he was given the order to complete the eight procedures, decides he needs to compartmentalise his emotions and glide through the motions instead.

the first part of the procedure it the bloodiest; a wide incision made at the back of the neck to access the c1 and c2 vertebrae which are able to be removed to access the spinal cord. it’s the closest they can get to the brainstem, and the beginning of the centrix hardware, without sawing into the skull itself.

the section of the spinal cord protected by the c1 and c2 vertebrae is embedded with a motherboard, which is then plugged into for mainframe access to the centrix.

they work in relative silence, unlike the first time which had included a never ending stream of questions, the only words spoken are jimin instructing taehyung to pass him tools. jimin almost wishes taehyung were talking, he finds it quite unnerving when he’s this quiet.

with the incision clamped and the cables plugged into the motherboard, jimin steps away from the subject and walks towards the computer where the cables are connected. he leaves taehyung to monitor the surgery site, the only thing he’ll have to do until they begin the cerebrospinal fluid transfusion.

stripping off his bloody gloves, jimin sterilizes his hands and puts on a new pair before finally sitting in the chair. the screens in front of him display the raw code of jinki’s centrix.

the centrix program jimin can access on the computers throughout the facility allow a very minimal amount of control over a subject’s centrix. mostly, the computer programs is for data display, for monitoring. it’s an ongoing brain scan, an easy way to peruse the internal mechanisms of the system and its functioning.

jimin can’t do much to the centrix using the corresponding computer program.

but right now, he has everything that is jinki -- that makes him who he is, that controls his every thought and process and experience -- he has it in the palm of his hand.

the second part of the procedure is the deletion of this code, shutting down and emptying each part of jinki’s centrix so all that remains is the hardware. this part can be … difficult, if jimin thinks about it too much. it never was, at first. the first two dozen times he completed the procedure felt like wiping the hard drive of a corrupted computer.

but then taehyung began presenting abnormalities, and things changed.

the first time taehyung assisted with the procedure was the biggest turning point for jimin. even now he still thinks about how the cadence of taehyung’s voice changed as he kept asking questions throughout the surgery, how each answer gave way to a new layer of realisation and understanding.

jimin finds his compartmentalisation breaking down, briefly wondering how participating in this procedure could be affecting taehyung. if it registers on an emotional level, if maybe they’re at that point yet.

“jimin-ssi?” taehyung voice cuts through the thick silence, startling jimin for a second time.

“yes?” jimin’s voice is hoarse.

“are you commencing the next stage?” taehyung asks, prompting jimin.

“um, yes. commencing now,” jimin answers, speaking a little louder. “jinki,” he addresses the subject, “i’m going to begin shutting down your centrix, if there is an error during this process you must tell us.”

“yes, doctor park,” comes jinki’s distant reply.

it’s part of why the subject’s remain conscious -- aside from syncing benefits, the centrix is still functional, and until speech is removed from it’s processes, the subject is able to communicate. the centrix can read if there is an error up until around the same time, meaning any potential problems can be known and dealt with before the new coding is uploaded.

it’s useful.

jimin is struck with the thought of how cruel it is.

shaking his head to clear his mind, jimin brings up the command prompt, and starts typing in the coding for deletion, beginning with the motor cortex.

for a while, jimin is caught between typing code and monitoring the screens to watch the deletion process, but there is a break where the code is buffering -- a short lag in the system when it’s functioning as quickly as it is.

jimin takes the opportunity to glance up and almost gasps when he sees it; taehyung’s hand, now gloveless, slowly carding through jinki’s hair. the computer gives a series of beeps, indicating that a new line of code has been read and implemented -- the next portion of the centrix is being wiped -- but jimin is distracted enough to ignore it.

he keeps watching, just for a few more seconds, and it’s enough for him to see taehyung pause in his ministration to leave forward and … speak into jinki’s ear.

jimin blinks slowly, tears his eyes away from the sight to focus back on what he’s meant to be doing, and tries not to think about it.

but it’s too late; he saw enough to know that taehyung is comforting jinki.

the next line of code he has to type is to delete jinki’s auditory processor.

his somatosensory cortex was shut down fifteen minutes ago.

jimin works quicker, keeps his eyes darting between his keyboard and the screens and blocks out any other thought that threatens to pop up.

fifteen minutes later and jimin is finished.

he lets his head fall into his hands, takes a few seconds to come down from the daze he’d worked himself into. they couldn’t leave the subject as they were for too long, maybe twenty minutes at most, but he needs to talk to taehyung before they continue.

“taehyung, come scrub in again,” jimin calls for him, doesn’t look in his direction as he gets up from the chair and walks to the sink himself.

jimin stands beside taehyung and watches as he meticulously washes his hands and arms, carefully following protocol. he tries to look at his face, makes the mistake of thinking he’d be able to understand what taehyung could be feeling -- but that’s too human.

taehyung’s face is neutral, gaze focused on his hands. there is no emotion there, as it should be.

jimin’s still firm on the conclusion that taehyung can’t feel emotion, but over the last few weeks he keeps finding himself entertaining the possibility inadvertently; looking for facial expressions or other body language cues, paying close attention to his choice of words.

it’s as if he forgets that taehyung can’t hide his thoughts, not if jimin asks for them. to think he can do otherwise is forgetting what taehyung is at his core, and that is not a good thing. not for jimin.

“what were you doing before, taehyung,” jimin speaks quietly, just loud enough to be heard over the stream of water, “when you were touching the subject’s hair and talking in their ear?”

“i was mimicking actions that make me feel good,” taehyung replies easily. “when you brush your fingers through my hair and give me confirmation, it activates my accomplishment center -- it makes me feel good.”

jimin’s heart gives a painful squeeze; there’s too much to deal with, too much to discuss and break down, to understand exactly what motivated taehyung to mimic those actions, to want to make the subject feel good.

jimin swallows, and it’s then he fully registers the lump in his throat choking him up and the burning behind his eyes. the idea of taehyung wanting to help the subject, make them feel good, was too much for him. taehyung had never displayed that level of empathy before -- it was an independent action, something he chose to do himself, something he wanted to do.

jimin knows that, as an unprompted task, taehyung would not have received any reward responses for such an action, at least he doesn’t think he would be able to.

if there was no reward response, then taehyung wasn’t looking to make himself feel good. he wasn’t motivated by his own desires. he just wanted to help jinki.

bombarded with too many thoughts and feelings, jimin doesn’t realise taehyung has finished washing up and was facing him with his arms held out, waiting. and it’s only when taehyung asks, “are you crying, jimin-ssi?” does jimin register the wetness on his face.

jimin sniffles and gives in to the urge to wipe away the stray tears with his hand. “no, taehyung--go dry off,” he juts his chin towards the antiseptic chamber, clenching his jaw to hold back on his emotions.

taking taehyung’s place at the sink, he strips off his gloves and gets to cleaning his arms and hands. he knows he’s close to spiralling, thinking too much about the implication of taehyung’s actions, and his own by extension. he tells himself he hasn’t even finished this procedure and he has seven more to complete, and that he needs to stop focusing on these things.

with harsh determination, jimin shuts off all trains of thought that don’t relate to the details of the procedure. he wants these over and done with, and the only way that’s going to happen is if he stops getting so preoccupied.

once they’re both re-sterilised, they’re ready to continue with the next part of the procedure - the cerebrospinal fluid transfusion.

it requires the drainage of the current fluid, genetically enhanced to aid the thought processes in the brain, while injecting new fluid as to not damage the brain organ. it’s a delicate task, requires precise timing and quick hands, but it’s primarily mechanised. once everything is put into place, jimin and taehyung only have to collect the drained fluid in 10mL increments and monitor the injection site near the c1 and c2 vertebrae.

the drained csf is the last remnants of who jinki was, the enhancements made to the fluid another example of the marriage between human biology and ai technology. the csf is partially technological, can be coded to increase compatibility with an operating centrix in a subject’s body, among other things. if not replaced, the new centrix won’t function correctly.

like before, they work in silence. it’s still unusual, and jimin still wishes taehyung were talking simply because the absence of his voice is unnerving. but he thinks it’s for the better, the more he focuses on the task at hand, the faster he works.

the csf transfusion is complete, and the subject is ready for a new centrix to be uploaded.

jimin and taehyung have completed their part, and jimin calls for the assisdroid to move the subject to their pod while they await re-uploading and the cleaning androids to reset the operating room.

the two of them wait in a separate room, stripping off their soiled scrubs and taking a seat before having to scrub in again.

jimin slumps into his chair with his eyes closed, exhaustion creeping in despite only just starting the set of procedures, and heaves a heavy sigh for the nth time in the last four hours. it’s not the physical tiredness, nor the mental drain of performing the procedures -- he feels emotionally wrung out.

the image of taehyung comforting jinki, who probably couldn’t even register what taehyung was doing for him, making his efforts futile despite how kind and selfless they were, has seared itself behind his eyelids.

he wants to cry.

“are you alright, jimin-ssi?” comes taehyung’s voice, soft and soothing.

a dismissive yes is forming on the tip of jimin’s tongue, but he opens his eyes and turns to look at taehyung before he answers and the word melts away. taehyung is looking at him carefully, eyes scanning over his face and body, searching.

sure, taehyung is unable to lie, but in a lot of ways it’s hard for him to be lied to. he’s been programmed to understand and interpret human body language, and taehyung would know when he’s given an answer that contradicts the truth.

jimin knows he’s been … off. he thinks back to how distracted he’d been during the procedure, how he’d dismissed taehyung. he thinks of himself now, curled up and completely shut off from taehyung who he is never anything but open with. taehyung knows jimin, probably better than anyone else, and he’d know if he were lying.

and it’s not just about taehyung sensing a lie. jimin realises that lying to taehyung would be unfair because he understands the implications of such things.

jimin doesn’t want to risk hurting his--

“no, not really. i’m feeling a little off,” he replies, still looking at taehyung.

he watches as taehyung’s brows crease -- only for a second, as if second guessing his emoting -- and he nods. “have i done something incorrect?” he asks.

the question breaks something in jimin, scattering a hundred confused feelings throughout his heart and mind. he forces himself not to think about it, to not engage with it. not right now.

“no, taehyung. you haven’t done anything wrong.”

in a lot of ways, that’s a lie. so much of taehyung is wrong. by all standards of the centrix program, he’s malfunctioning. he’s so malfunctioned, so far past the point of what is acceptable for the ai he is, that jimin would earn his name on doctor song’s list if anyone were to find out.

he’s an experiment gone wrong, so horribly wrong, and he’s been like this for months.

but none of that is taehyung’s fault, he wasn’t able to control any of it.

that’s on jimin.

 

V.

 

it takes them seven hours and twenty four minutes to complete the eight procedures.

there were complications that took up time; some of the subjects were so malfunctioned they required a more evasive version of the procedure while others needed additional restraining due to motor cortex glitches, among other issues. but aside from all of that, taehyung noticed that as they went through the list of patients, jimin became slower in his work.

the first two subjects took the shortest amount of time, jimin working faster than taehyung had ever seen him, but once the third procedure began his movements became more calculated, sometimes even lethargic. he took more time between procedures to rest, usually just to slump over in a chair and let his head fall into his hands.

taehyung had concluded by the end of the fourth procedure that something was wrong. he wasn’t able to ascertain what exactly the problem was, but judging by the timing of his behaviour, taehyung felt confident to conclude that it was related to the procedures themselves.

at first, he thought perhaps he had done something wrong, but jimin had already assured him that was not the case. thinking of asking more than once had taehyung’s negative response receptors heating up, and while he had no basis for why they would be activating he chose to trust what they were indicating.

he focused, instead, on assisting jimin as well as he could.

he followed procedure perfectly, didn’t ask unnecessary questions, was quick to scrub in. during the breaks in between he kept a short distance, offered to fetch water and snacks, and updated his clicker count until jimin asked him to stop, explaining that they would need to pause on that experiment for now. he even found the time to do some light research as the breaks lengthened throughout the day.

the only other thing he did was he made sure to pet each subject’s hair and tell them confirmations during the deletion process so that they could feel good.

it wasn’t part of the procedure, wasn’t something he was told to do, but he found himself unknowingly performing the actions. when he realised what he was doing, he considered that his negative response receptors hadn’t activated nor had jimin instructed him against what he had done so he didn’t find any reason to stop.

it didn’t make him feel good -- that is, it didn’t activate his accomplishment centers -- when he did it, and when he initially became aware of it, he didn’t understand why else he would do such a thing. he just did it, and it didn’t feel wrong to so he kept doing it. during one of the breaks, he analysed the action a little further. he compared the seemingly subconscious action to that of touching his scar (which he now understands why he touches) and found that it had nothing to do with attraction or desire.

then he thought of himself in place of the subjects.

his potential danger signal activated, and he understood.

he took a note of it, seeing as they were in the middle of the procedures when he’d come to the conclusion, and knew there would be time to bring up this new abnormality with jimin afterwards.

he had assumed jimin would want to discuss the procedures once they were complete, like the debrief they’d had when taehyung assisted for the first time all those months ago, but as they step into the break room, it’s clear that’s not going to happen.

jimin’s footsteps are heavy, his movements sluggish as he strips off his mask and gloves and surgical gown. taehyung copies his actions, completely silent except for the sound of the fabric moving, and continues to watch him carefully.

jimin makes his way over to the small kitchenette area, picks up a plastic cup on his way and stops at the sink. there’s a deliberate pause, holding the cup under the faucet but his hand hovers over the tap handle. taehyung sees he’s shaking.

the plastic cup clatters into the sink, and jimin grips the edge of the counter. his whole body is trembling now, and taehyung recognises the sound of what he now knows is called a sniffle.

he pulls up the data file he’d been adding to throughout the day and finds the information on what to do when someone is emotionally distressed.

after a quick scan he finds what action is most appropriate for the situation, he walks up behind jimin and softly calls his name, which makes him jump. jimin makes a sound of acknowledgement but doesn’t speak; taehyung recognises it as a symptom, having noted that some people prefer not to talk in these circumstances.

“let me hug you,” taehyung says, “it will make you feel better.”

jimin lets out a strained, “what?” sounding shocked. taehyung re-scans his data to ensure he hadn’t made a mistake and reiterates, “hugging someone who is emotionally distressed is confirmed to help improve their state. you should be hugged.”

he sees jimin’s shoulders bunch up, the muscles tensing, and he can hear his uneven breathing. his research indicated that some people are repulsed by physical contact in certain circumstances and does not want to hug jimin without permission, so he waits for him to make a decision.

it takes another moment of silence before jimin turns on his heels and then he’s wrapping his arms around taehyung’s waist, his face pressing into taehyung’s shoulder. the sound of his quiet crying is clearer and taehyung can feel his body trembling. taehyung remains still, pulling up the diagrams he’d found that illustrates the appropriate reciprocation of this specific type of physical comfort.

he places his arms around jimin’s back, completing the embrace, and a moment after that he lifts one of his hands to pet the top of jimin’s head. he keeps his grip gentle, a hug is meant to be pain free and so too much pressure will hurt, but he notes that jimin’s arms are wound tight and can feel how his hands have bunched up the fabric of taehyung’s scrubs. he doesn’t know what that means.

jimin has never been this close to him before, has never been pressed up against his body, and for the first time taehyung can feel just how warm and solid he is. the sensation is pleasant, like when he touches his scar.

he files away his comparison when he notices jimin has started murmuring words amidst his crying. listening closely, he hears him, “i’m sorry, i-i’m sorry, i didn’t--” before he is cut off by a whimper.

scanning through his data, he finds he should be providing verbal affirmation to reduce jimin’s negative feelings. “it’s okay, jimin-ssi. you don’t have to be sorry. it’s okay,” he borrows from the examples he added to his data, mixing them in with examples from jimin, “you did a good job.”

a sharp inhale and a violent shudder from jimin have taehyung pausing and he waits to decide if he should continue. jimin is making an odd noise, one taehyung has never heard before and can only assume is part of the crying process, and is shaking his head against taehyung’s chest.

then he grits out on sob, “i killed them, i-i-- taehyung, i’m so sorry.”

taehyung pieces together the meaning behind jimin’s words; recognises what kill means and that the them must be referring to the eight subjects from today. he can’t understand why jimin is directing his apologies to him.

he reframes the procedure of resetting a centrix subject as an act of killing and feels his potential danger signal activating. he recalls another piece of information about his data, a section on prioritising the person experiencing emotional distress, and focuses back on jimin. he does not know how to respond to what jimin had said, so he just repeats his words from before.

a moment later and jimin is whispering, “please stop saying i did a good job.”

taehyung catalogues the amendment and then asks, “is there anything i can say instead that will help you?”

jimin breathes a sigh that rattles in his throat, “hugging is fine, just--i want to keep hugging you.”

almost seven minutes pass before taehyung feels jimin’s grip loosen, and he takes that as a cue to loosen his own so he drops his arms but stays standing where he is.

jimin steps back, creates some space between them, and uses the collar of his scrub to wipe at his nose. “thank you for hugging me, taehyung,” he says, not looking up.

“you’re welcome,” taehyung replies.

“where did you learn about … emotional distress?” he asks, eyes flickering to taehyung’s face but still not meeting his eyes.

“i did research during our breaks.”

jimin lets out a laugh that’s mixed with a sob that tells taehyung it was not a reaction to something humorous. “of course you did,” jimin mumbles, wiping at his eyes as fresh tears start to slip down his cheeks.

“do you need another hug?” taehyung asks, opening his arms in preparation.

but jimin shakes his head quickly, “no, no--thank you. i’m okay, i didn’t mean to-- it’s fine. let me clean up and i’ll take you to get ready for stasis.”

leaving jimin alone is not recommended by taehyung’s data, and the thought of being put into stasis while jimin is still in this state lights up a weak signal from taehyung’s negative response receptors.

“jimin-ssi, you still require comfort for your emotional distress.”

“...what do you mean?”

“my research tells me that hugging someone while they cry is one aspect of helping a person during times of emotional distress. the proximity in time of the distressing situation and your emotional release indicate you’re still experiencing negative emotions.” he pauses in his explanation, deciding at the last second to re-word the last sentence of what he was saying so that he conveys his thoughts as accurately as he can; “please let me help you, i want you to feel better.”

jimin just stares at him for a moment, his tear-streaked face still red and his eyes still watery but taehyung knows eye contact is good. he had been avoiding taehyung before, when he wasn’t able to look at him.

“and what if putting you into stasis is what will make me feel better?” is jimin’s eventual response.

nothing in taehyung’s research indicates that action will be beneficial to jimin’s emotional state, but taehyung trusts jimin’s authority above all else. “then i will go into stasis,” he nods his acknowledgement.

jimin frowns, his gaze shifting to behind taehyung and it seems as though he is thinking.

“that won’t make me feel better,” he says after a moment, his voice distant.

“i have other methods i can use from my research,” taehyung offers.

jimin’s eyes return to taehyung and his face breaks into a small, shy smile. “i have my own methods,” he says. “things i do to make myself feel better when i’m … emotionally distressed.”

“why do you say emotionally distressed like that?”

jimin blinks in surprise and his smile widens, his laugh more humour-oriented. “it’s an odd phrase for it. there are different ways of saying it, people use whatever word best describes their feelings, but emotionally distressed is not really one of them,” he explains, sounding a little more like himself.

taehyung digests the information, then asks, “how would you describe your feelings?”

jimin bites his lip. “i’m not sure, sometimes it’s hard to find the correct description,” he starts, and then stops suddenly. he takes a deep breath. “i think i’m just a little sad, taehyung.

taehyung nods. “what do you do when you’re sad?” he has his research, but he’s sure jimin’s methods would be much better to use.

another soft chuckle before jimin replies, “i watch movies.”

taehyung nods again, making a note for his personal record, but doesn’t say anything. he knows a little about movies, understands the basics of what one is, but he’s never experienced one.

jimin takes a step closer and speaks in a soft voice full of odd emotion, “do you want to watch a movie with me, taehyung?”

despite understanding the focus needing to be on jimin, taehyung’s accomplishment center lights up. this one is strong, stronger than the ones he’d experienced whilst assisting jimin -- all of which had been muted, the signal adapting to be more appropriate considering the situation -- and it’s so pleasant that taehyung smiles without realising.

the expression seems to surprise jimin, but it causes him to smile a little, too.

“yes, i want to watch a movie with you,” taehyung replies.

 


 

taehyung has never been in jimin’s living quarters before. it’s a small room, smaller than his office, and its central features include a bed, a desk and desk chair, a chest of drawers, and a mounted bookshelf.

the floors, walls, and the furniture are all similar shades of white which gives the room a tidy appearance, but upon closer inspection taehyung notes how the other small objects on jimin’s desk (papers, notepads, pens, other small unidentifiable items) are unorganised and seemingly put down in haste.

the bookshelf has no obvious system of organisation, books shoved in at random, and even the blanket on the bed is crooked.

taehyung pays careful attention to each detail and adds the observations to his personal record.

“um, did you want me to get you new clothes?” jimin asks, pausing with his hands in one of the drawers where he was choosing a change of clothes.

“no thank you, jimin-ssi,” taehyung replies. he has no problem with what he's wearing, loose cotton pants and a matching loose top which he wore a variation of everyday, and he doesn't understand why jimin wanted to change out of his own clothes.

he wanted to ask, but had decided to file away his questions for the duration of jimin’s emotional distress -- his sadness. it was difficult to ascertain how sad jimin was right now; he was no longer crying but his eyes were still red, and he still intends on watching a movie which is a method he uses to help with his sadness, so taehyung could only assume he was still in need of comfort.

he wanted to prioritise jimin, as his research indicated was proper procedure, and he knew asking questions wouldn’t be proactive in his task.

“okay,” jimin nods, pulling out the clothes he wanted from the drawers. “could you please look in the corner while i change?”

taehyung does so without comment, turning on his feet to stare at the white walls. his accomplishment center lights up when jimin murmurs thank you. he wonders why jimin had framed his request like a question, but can’t come up with his own answer. something to ask about later, perhaps.

a few moments later, jimin is telling taehyung he can turn around and taehyung takes a moment to register what jimin is wearing. usually, jimin wears dark slacks, a button up shirt, and is always wearing his white coat, but now he’s wearing clothing quite similar to taehyung’s; loose fitting pants and a large jumper.

taehyung knows jimin’s usual attire is required, part of the professionalism of a doctor, but he had never considered what jimin would wear outside of his uniform. he looks less serious, the size of the clothing makes him look a little smaller too. it’s different, but it doesn’t seem to damper his attraction to him.

he makes his comparison quickly, the differences striking him suddenly but once he’s adjusted, he’s ready to continue with whatever it is jimin wants him to do next.

it still must’ve taken him a noticeable amount of time, though, because jimin asks, “is everything okay?”

“yes, i was just noting the change in your appearance,” he replies.

jimin nods slowly. “is it a bad change?”

taehyung considers the question, not quite sure how to delineate between a bad change and a good change. he doesn’t want to ask, so he tries to figure it out by himself and does so by using his negative response receptors and accomplishment center as a frame of reference.

he also considers that his research and it’s emphasis on confirmations.

“it’s not a bad change. you look very nice, jimin-ssi.”

jimin nods again, and a smile starts curving at his lips and it’s enough to light up a confirmation signal. before the smile can form fully, jimin is turning around and walking to the bed where he pulls back the blankets and starts organising the pillows so they’re stacked more on top of each other.

“you’ve never watched a movie before, right?” he asks as he works.

“that is correct,” taehyung confirms, and then adds, “but i know what a movie is.”

“you do?” jimin pauses, straightens up to turn and look at taehyung. “you’ve done research on them?”

“i have. you’ve mentioned watching movies before, so i wanted to know what they were. the history of film and the moving picture is very interesting.”

jimin’s face goes pink for reasons unfathomable to taehyung, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“i didn’t know you’d done that. you should tell me about it later,” he says, returning to organising the bedding. “i usually watch movies on a projector, it’s easier because the walls are white and i don’t have to fiddle with my laptop,” he explains, stepping away from the bed, presumably happy with his set-up. he moves to the desk next, where his laptop is, and he turns it on. “the bed is a little small, i know--” he’s cut off when he’s prompted to enter his password.

taehyung senses a dilemma, thinks about the dimensions of the bed and the space he and jimin take up. “your size is more suited to the bed, jimin-ssi. i can sit in the chair,” taehyung tells him, thinking he’d solved a problem.

but jimin turns his head suddenly, looking at taehyung in confusion, “what?”

taehyung’s negative response receptor lights up, and he frowns. “i thought you were trying to decide where we would view the movie from. if you would like to use the chair, i can use the bed.”

jimin continues to look at taehyung with confusion for another moment before realisation settles over his features. “oh, taehyung, that’s not what i meant. i was saying… well, i was thinking we’d both sit in the bed. it’s small which means it might be a tight fit, but it’s probably what’s more comfortable, so…” he trails off, biting his lip. he’s uncertain.

“do you want me to sit in the bed with you, jimin-ssi?” he asks. he’s been standing in the same spot for almost the entire time he’s been in the room. he’s not been told he can’t move, but he’s also uncertain of where to go, where to sit, where he’ll be in the way. he needs instruction, feels uncomfortable without direction, but he also wants to prioritise jimin’s feelings.

taehyung could sense jimin had a preference for where he was to sit, but he needed confirmation.

“do you want to sit in the bed with me?” jimin returns.

taehyung’s initial response is yes and it takes him a moment to recognise it as a desire-response, wanting to be close to jimin. he’s started to frame his abnormal reactions and responses in such ways, and it’s helping him understand his experiences better.

but his actual response is, “i want what you want,” because even outside of this specific circumstance, what jimin wants is always most important to taehyung.

“we’ll sit on the bed together,” jimin decides, turning back to his laptop to start clicking around his desktop.

taehyung processes jimin’s words as what he wants, and a thought strikes him:

jimin wants to be close to taehyung.

it’s a brief notion, it makes him recall data he’s collected over the last few weeks on attraction, arousal and desire, but he does not dwell on it. he has other things he needs to focus on at this time.

“how do i sit on the bed?” taehyung asks, wanting to know for reference.

“whatever way is most comfortable,” jimin tells him, a small amount of amusement in his voice. “generally, your back is resting on the pillows and your legs are laid flat.”

taehyung follows what jimin had described, sits down close to the wall so there would be enough space for jimin next to him. he sinks a little into the pillows which he’s never experienced, but it’s not unpleasant or uncomfortable. the mattress is firmer but the sheets and blankets are soft.

he realises this is the first time he’s sat in a bed.

there’s a moment of silence, not particularly tense -- not to taehyung at least -- before jimin speaks again. “i usually watch a movie called the notebook when i’m, um, sad,” he tells taehyung, walking across the short space to the wall opposite the bed. there, he flicks on a small device taehyung had noted but could not categorise before. he realises it’s the projector when it’s turned on, bright light flickering to life against the white wall.

“do you know much about movie genres and cliches?” he asks, returning to the laptop on the desk where he clicks on the trackpad until the projected light turns black.

“i have a general overview, yes,” taehyung answers, watching as jimin picks up the laptop and finally makes his way towards the bed. he places it down on the small bedside table, pauses for a second, and then slowly slips into the space next to taehyung.

the bed seems much smaller with two people sitting in it, jimin pressed against taehyung despite his efforts to leave as much space as possible. they haven’t touched like this before, either, but it’s similar to the hug; jimin is warm and solid next to him. taehyung feels his heart rate accelerate, his temperature rise just slightly.

“is this okay?” jimin asks, voice a whisper.

taehyung turns to look at him and sees his cheeks are pink again, his chest rising and falling a little quicker. he seems to be mimicking taehyung’s symptoms. “of course it is, jimin-ssi,” taehyung replies. “why are you asking?”

“because i want you to be comfortable,” jimin tells him, a note of urgency in his voice. “i want you to tell me if you’re uncomfortable.”

“i’m always comfortable with you, jimin-ssi.” taehyung hopes his tone and eye contact is enough to convey his sincerity, wanting to relieve jimin of any stress he may be experiencing because of this.

jimin exhales in a big whoosh. “okay, that’s--good,” he opens a draw in the bedside table, pulls out a remote. “what was i saying?”

“you asked about my knowledge of movie genres and cliches.”

“yes! i wanted to tell you the movie is … very cliche. and it’s a romance film. kind of ridiculous, but it’s good to watch when i’m sad, helps me… think about other things.” jimin sounds reserved now, almost shy. taehyung wonders why he feels the need to explain the reason behind watching this type of movie.

“i understand. if you enjoy it, jimin-ssi, i’ll enjoy it.”

jimin huffs out a quiet laugh before saying, “okay, let’s get started, then.” with the remote he turns off the lights in the room, making the projected image much brighter and easier to see, and then goes to fix the blankets, pulling them over their legs. it makes taehyung feel much warmer, but it’s not unpleasant.

just as jimin turns to his laptop, taehyung thinks of something he should ask. “jimin-ssi, what is your level of sadness right now?”

jimin pauses, but doesn’t turn to look at taehyung. “why are you asking?”

“i would like to have a point of reference, so i can monitor your emotional state throughout the night,” taehyung explains.

he sees jimin shaking his head, but he’s not sure what that means in this instance. “it’s difficult to quantify or sum up, taehyungie--” the name slips out, the first time jimin’s used it in this context, and taehyung’s accomplishment center lights up --“so i can’t give you a particular level of sadness. i feel better than before, if that helps.”

if taehyung considers jimin’s emotional state from before -- when he cried after the procedures -- as the highest level of sadness, then he can conclude that he’s improved. taehyung’s goal is to ensure jimin does not regress into that level of sadness. “it does help, thank you.”

jimin gives a curt nod and then turns the movie on. he settles back into the pillows, shuffles around a little. a few moments later, while the opening scene is still playing, he loops his arm through taehyung’s so they’re not as squished together side by side and then rests his head on taehyung’s shoulder. “is this okay?” he asks softly.

it had activated taehyung’s accomplishment center. “yes, jimin-ssi.”

he hears a noise from jimin, almost as if he were going to say something else, but it’s cut off and he falls silent.

the opening screen transitions, and characters are introduced, so taehyung assumes jimin had stopped talking so the movie could be watched. they watch silently for a while, and taehyung finds himself filing away many questions.

he understands the technical and theoretical aspects of movies. he knows there are characters and plots and dialogue, he knows about cinematography and lighting and editing -- none of these things are confusing to him. rather, he finds it helpful to have examples of these things he’s only read about previously.

what he finds confusing are the actions of the characters, why the plot develops as it does. he can’t seem to find logic or reasoning behind each action or conversation, not in the ones given within the movie itself.

he tries to watch without the need for context, but he wishes he had a way to understand. he wants to know what a carnival is and what else happens there, why noah would climb up the ferris wheel when it was against the rules, why noah and allie are always pressing their lips together in such a way and what exactly is happening when they perform such an action.

he pieces together little things, tries to frame his perspective through the lens of this being a romance film, but he doesn’t quite understand romance very well either.

half an hour into the movie, jimin whispers, “you haven’t asked me any questions, is everything alright?” he keeps his head resting against taehyung’s shoulder, still watching the film. there’s a number of characters sitting around a table to eat, noah is the only one wearing black while the others wear white. taehyung notes the symbolism.

“yes, everything is fine. am i meant to ask questions?”

jimin chuckles softly, “no--well, i thought you’d have questions to ask. do you?”

“i have many,” he replies.

“why aren’t you asking them, taehyung?”

“because in situations of emotional comfort, the person experiencing the distress is prioritised. i did not want to put my curiosity before your feelings.”

he hears jimin swallow, it sounds almost choked, but when he speaks his voice appears normal, if a little muted. “you can ask me questions, i don’t mind. i miss your voice.”

taehyung files that away as another symptom.

he thinks of one of his many questions to ask. “what exactly is a date?” he doesn’t understand the use of the word in this context but he noted that noah wanted one from allie.

jimin hums thoughtfully, “in a romantic context a date is an event agreed upon by two or more people. a time and place is selected and the main goal is to spend time getting to know someone, and to also enjoy whatever activity they partake in.”

he applies that to the events of the film, and understands things much better. “so the bike riding and the beach were dates?” he asks, for clarification.

“they were, and so was the movie they watched,” jimin replies.

taehyung pauses to reassess the events of the scene. “that was not a date. allie did not agree,” he contests.

“she didn’t?” jimin sounds curious himself, prompting taehyung.

“she was deceived and coerced. in a romantic context, there should be no deception or coercion. is that correct?”

“you can recognise that?” jimin lifts his head from taehyung’s shoulder, and the change makes taehyung look at him. jimin’s expression is thoughtful, curious.

taehyung nods, “yes, i can.”

jimin nods, resumes his previous position. “you were correct, by the way. on both accounts. there should be no deception or coercion in romance.”

taehyung smiles when his accomplishment center lights up.

there’s a pause and then, “you can ask me more questions.”

taehyung chooses one at random, “why does noah call allie baby? she’s a young adult, not an infant.”

that earns a giggle from jimin and the sound lights up taehyung’s accomplishment center.

“the word ‘baby’ has different connotations depending on context and use,” jimin explains, voice coloured with humour. “in a romantic context, baby can be used as a term of endearment, conveys affection. it means that someone is cute, generally. it also connotes the idea of taking care of someone, it implies a sense of … care, or protection.”

“that’s very interesting,” taehyung comments, recording jimin’s explanation carefully. he adds it to several data files.

“you think so?” jimin hums, shuffling around in his position. it makes taehyung aware that he himself has slid down a little on the bed, but instead of sitting up straighter he copies jimin and adjusts his position so it’s more comfortable for the two of them sharing the space.

“yes. i didn’t realise the term was so versatile. applying your definition, noah could’ve been using the word for both reasons. he finds allie attractive, and he was attempting to encourage her to jump into the water when she was scared.”

“very perceptive, taehyung,” jimin says, “well done.”

the warm sensation of his accomplishment signal travels throughout taehyung’s body, distinct from the warmth conducted by the blankets he’s under.

“what other terms of endearment are there, jimin-ssi?” he asks, not prompted by the film but his own curiosity about the concept.

“there are many; love, or lovely, and dear are popular. honey, sugar--food is popular, usually sweet foods because they imply the person receiving the affection is... well, sweet. angel, sunshine, sweetheart are all common too. the list goes on, and people make them up as well.”

a replay of every time jimin has referred to taehyung as sweetheart echos in taehyung’s memory storages, and his accomplishment signal is so strong he feels his face heating up.

“how do you make one up?” his voice is quiet, unintentionally so. he feels distracted with the sensation he’s experiencing and the information he’s acquiring.

he feels jimin shrugging against him. “there are no rules. if a term or phrase implies affection between two or more people, then it can be used as a term of endearment. names can be turned into them, although that doesn’t require romantic context. people shorten or lengthen names, called nicknames, which conveys familiarity.”

“like how people call alison ‘allie’?” taehyung pulls the clearest example he has.

“correct.”

he wants to ask about the times jimin calls him ‘taehyungie’ and how he allows taehyung to call him ‘jimin-ssi’, but is prompted by the actions of the characters in the new scene to ask another question.  

“why do noah and allie press their lips together like that?”

jimin coughs loudly, sitting up from his reclined position and turning away from taehyung slightly.

“are you alright, jimin-ssi?” taehyung sits up too, considers placing a hand on jimin’s back as physical comfort, but jimin has composed himself before he could figure out if that was an appropriate response.

yeah --” he chokes out, coughs one more time and clears his throat, “spit just went … down the wrong way.”

taehyung nods in acknowledgement and waits for jimin to speak. sitting up like this, it’s easier to see his face, and taehyung can see the hesitation there. his negative response receptor heats up, waiting to decide if he has done something wrong.

“you want to know why noah and allie kiss?” jimin clarifies after a moment.

a neutral response; the receptor cools down.

“is that what that action is called?”

jimin nods slowly. “to kiss is to touch with the lips as a sign of … physical affection. that includes touching two pairs of lips together, but as you saw in the, um, movie, you can kiss a person’s cheek or nose… too.”

taehyung senses a level of discomfort in jimin’s voice, and he’s avoiding eye contact too. his negative response receptor is heating up again.

“have i asked something inappropriate?”

“no, no,” jimin shakes his head, reaches out and rests his hand on taehyung’s arm-- something he associates with physical comfort. “no, it’s not inappropriate. it’s just a difficult thing to convey or explain. it’s… kissing is part of romantic relationships. it’s a way for people to express affection for another person.” he sounds more at ease.

“allie and noah have a lot of affection for each other,” taehyung comments, recalling how often they kiss.

jimin chuckles, almost all tension disappearing from his body and taehyung’s negative response receptor cools down once again, to be replaced with a signal from his accomplishment center.

“they do,” jimin agrees. “do you understand, or would you like me to explain some more to you?”

taehyung considers the question carefully. he thinks he understands what jimin has told him, but he is aware of the implied complexities of the concept as well. he would like to explore it more, but he feels that would be prioritising his curiosity too much. he decides he can research it himself.

“i understand, jimin-ssi,” taehyung tells him.

jimin nods and squeezes his arm gently. “let’s get back to watching the movie, i think we’ve missed some things,” jimin says, settling back into the pillows and against taehyung’s side. “do you want me to go back?”

“i want what you want,” taehyung repeats himself from earlier.

jimin seems to hesitate in his decision, but a moment later he sits up to rewind to a more familiar point in the story before returning to taehyung’s side, looping his arms through taehyung’s once more.

“if you have anymore questions, you can ask them,” jimin whispers.

taehyung hums in acknowledgement, grateful that jimin had spoken so as to give him a choice. he has many questions, plenty of them relating to the movie’s content, but much more to do with the data he’s been collecting over the last few weeks and, more pertinently, the last few hours. he does not wish to share or burden them with jimin right now.

some time later, when taehyung is attempting to understand the argument noah and allie are having outside her parents house, jimin yawns.

taehyung recognises what that means.

“if you are tired, you should sleep, jimin-ssi. rest is important for people undergoing emotional distress.”

jimin chuckles, soft and gentle and lethargic. “i might just close my eyes, but i’ll make sure to take you to stasis before i sleep,” he mumbles, turning in towards taehyung a little more.

a few more minutes pass, jimin curls in even closer to taehyung who feels his body relaxing further into the bed.

“i should tell you that i’m feeling much better,” jimin says suddenly, voice a sweet whisper, “thank you, so much.”

“you’re welcome,” taehyung returns, matching jimin’s tone and volume. “i’m happy i could help.” he borrows the second phrase from his research, knowing it’s part of gratitudinal exchanges.

there’s a pause, and then jimin takes a deep breath. “i… want to tell you that you did very well today,” he speaks quietly, but it’s loud enough for taehyung to hear.

his accomplishment center lights up, and he’s about to thank jimin, but then he continues.

“you listened to me so wonderfully, did everything perfectly and i’m so proud.”

taehyung feels his breath hitch in his throat, something he’s never experienced, and his heart rate speeds up as his accomplishment center continues to send its signal, overlapping with the other one.

“you’re so good, you’re always so good for me taehyungie, and you make me happy, my best boy--”

jimin--” taehyung manages, cutting jimin off but unable to continue himself. he’s never received an influx of affirmations before, never had his accomplishment center send overlapping signals with increasing intensity.

he feels overwhelmed, the warmth spreading throughout his body something he’d never even thought of.

it’s overpowering, enough to have him incapable of speaking.

he never wants it to end.

but jimin doesn’t continue after he had cut him off, instead he becomes very quiet and after a moment, when the signals start to slow down and decrease in intensity, taehyung realises the loudest sound in the room is his own breathing.

“did you … do that on purpose?” taehyung asks, his words slow and uncertain, his centrix still re-calibrating after such intense activity from within his limbix.

“did i hurt you?” jimin replies, his face now almost hidden in taehyung’s shoulder. he’s still speaking quietly, voice laced mainly with lethargy but also unmistakable fear.

“no, you didn’t,” taehyung rushes the words out, wanting to reassure jimin. “you didn’t hurt me. it felt… it felt so good.”

“i wanted to… say thank you ‘nd…” his speech is even slower now, words slurring, and taehyung recognises it as a symptom of sleep.

“thank you,” taehyung whispers, unsure if jimin can still hear him.

“...i’m sorry.” the words are so faded, taehyung isn’t certain he heard correctly.

he doesn’t try and ask for clarification, understanding that jimin has fallen asleep. he doesn’t want to wake him because humans need sleep, especially after exerting physical and emotional energy, like jimin has.

he wants to make sure he rests.

the movie is still playing, but taehyung can’t connect the points of the stories or recognise the new characters. he’s not as curious about them anymore.

he can’t do much while jimin is asleep, so he decides to do what he usually does during the hours of the night.

he conducts his research.

 

VI.

 

jimin is uncomfortably dragged out of sleep, sweating through his clothes with the heat of a furnace pressed against his back. his head feels stuffy and his eyes hurt from fatigue and he’s so close to slipping back into unconsciousness, but it’s so unbearably warm under the blankets that he just can’t manage to ignore it.

he’s whining softly to himself, wondering at what point did he put the heater on last night, when he remembers.

he remembers the the procedures, the ache in his heart at the ugliness of what he was doing and the images of taehyung comforting each and every subject as they were deleted. he remembers taehyung being there afterwards, to comfort him too.

he remembers gripping onto taehyung, scared that he would realise what he’d done and never want to be near jimin again.

he remembers asking taehyung to watch a movie of all things, and the unadulterated relief he felt when taehyung had agreed, and then the flash flood of guilt that followed as he realised how selfish he was being.

he remembers his own desperation to forget the heaviness in his heart; how easy it had been for him to get lost in the feeling of taehyung next to him in the bed, marvelling at his softness, his warmth. he remembers how comfortable he felt, how he’d drifted off and not done anything about it because all he wanted was to stay where he was, next to taehyung.

and he remembers the words he had spoken in a barely there whisper, a rash attempt at giving taehyung the goodness he deserved for all jimin had put him through.

the sound of taehyung’s stuttered breathing, jimin’s names falling from his lips, echoes in jimin’s mind.

jimin swallows harshly, tries to drag down the confusion and sadness and guilt back into his chest so it couldn’t be heard as he whispers, “taehyung?”

there’s a pause, or jimin thinks a lag might be a more fitting description, before taehyung replies, “yes, jimin-ssi?”

“what time is it?” jimin asks, quickly realising what the heat and the lagging meant for taehyung.

“it is 5:50 in the morning.”

jimin bites back a curse.

the longest recommended time for a centrix subject to go without a session in stasis was 24 hours, and taehyung was ticking into 23. that’s why he’s so hot, it’s why he’s slow; he’s starting to overheat.

“we need to get you into a stasis chamber, come on,” jimin says, and despite the note of urgency in his voice, he finds himself slowly stretching out his limbs, rolling onto his back and relishing in the sound of his back popping. he could probably still fall back asleep, he was starting to get used to the stuffy warmth.

he shuffles a little, and finally feels what could only be taehyung’s arm trapped under his torso. he blinks his eyes open, suddenly much more awake.

“sorry, i didn’t realise i had… moved in my sleep,” he says awkwardly, unable to explain how exactly they fell into this position. last thing he remembers is curling into taehyung’s side, their arms loosely looped together.

he’s sitting up now, the blanket pooling at his waist, letting the excess heat escape, and he turns to look at taehyung who hasn't moved at all.

he looks normal, except for the fact that he’s lying on his side -- jimin isn’t sure he’s ever really seen taehyung lying down like this, not in such a relaxed position -- and the slightly glazed look in his eyes.

“you okay taehyungie?” he murmurs, voice low and bleary.

without really thinking about it, jimin reaches forward to brush away taehyung’s bangs and press the back of his hand to his forehead. it’s hotter than he expected, drawing his hand away quickly as the heat sears his skin. if taehyung were human, he’d be pretty much dead.

“i think i’m overheating,” he replies, his own voice a stark contrast to jimin’s. aside from the lag, he sounds as normal as ever.

“i know, i shouldn’t have fallen asleep, i’m sorry,” jimin pulls the blanket back the rest of the way, swinging his feet down on the floor. it’s starting to set in, just how irresponsible he’s been. “next time, taehyung, you should wake me up.”

he probably should’ve been more direct with it, sterner, make it absolutely clear that taehyung was to make sure he didn’t let himself overheat, but he just didn’t have the energy or alertness to.

he didn’t even realise he’d said next time.

“yes, jimin-ssi,” comes taehyung’s acknowledgement, a few seconds later than usual.

jimin is pulling on a pair of shoes when another thought occurs to him.

he thinks of the words he had spoken just before he’d been pulled under the veil of sleep, the confirmations he gave, one after the other, in hopes of making taehyung feel good, to make up for all that had happened that day.

he realises he’d never done that before.

he can recall asking taehyung if he’d hurt him but, even mindful that he doesn’t have the time to do this, he needs to know.

jimin walks back to the bed and sits on the edge, starts helping taehyung sit up and asks; “last night, just before i fell asleep, i gave you a number of confirmations,” he doesn’t even remember what exactly he’d said, “right?”

“that’s correct.”

“i didn’t really think before i gave them to you, i didn’t properly consider what it might do, which i shouldn’t have done, so i need you to tell me if it hurt you--maybe overloaded your limbix or anything similar?” he speaks carefully, aware that taehyung isn’t functioning in the best condition, and he wants him to understand what he’s asking. a bubble of horrified revulsion had steadily been floating up his chest and sits lodged in his throat, his fear of possibly hurting taehyung threatening to make it pop!

taehyung blinks slowly but jimin is startled to find that when their eyes meet, taehyung’s gaze is sharp. “no, jimin-ssi, it did not hurt. the sensations were very pleasant, i liked it a lot.”

jimin felt there was slightly more to taehyung’s answer than he understood, but he couldn’t afford to sit around to detangle it properly.

“okay, that’s… that’s a relief.” jimin nods towards taehyung in acknowledgement, mind once again preoccupied with needing to get taehyung into stasis. he’s up and off the bed in a matter of seconds, at his desk to find the keys to the stasis room on this floor so they don’t have to waste time going down to the main one.

jimin needs to help taehyung off the bed, knows that rushing him won’t make things any better so they take the time they need to.

taehyung is quiet the entire way, and it’s only just as jimin is prepping a chamber that he speaks, asking, “are we going to talk about the procedures, jimin-ssi? like we did after the first time i assisted?”

half-distracted, jimin only nods a hasty yes before he realises taehyung is, in essence, asking if they could. he can’t really ask for things, can’t make demands because it goes against his coding, his nature. but he can ask questions, make suggestions; there are loopholes. this is one of them.

“you want to have a debrief?” jimin checks, can only throw a glance over his shoulder for half a second as preoccupied as he is with getting the chamber ready. he hadn’t really thought about it, had spent most of last night actively trying to not think about the procedures, but he probably would’ve organised some sort of discussion.

it wouldn’t be part of protocol, but he thinks it’s something they need to do regardless.

“yes, i think that would be beneficial,” taehyung tells him.

that surprises jimin, but he tries not to let it keep him from the flow of work as he moves to help taehyung into the small chamber -- a modern day coffin; sleek, pristine and sterile, it’s glossy white casing hiding the plethora of wiring and hardware.

“why would it be beneficial?” he asks, makes sure taehyung is settled, that he’s situated correctly so that the stasis chamber will register his presence. there used to be a cable they plugged into an external port that connected their centrix to the stasis but the flap of skin was deemed unsightly and a new system was developed.

now, the same motherboard accessed in order to wipe subjects are fitted with magnets, and once aligned correctly in the stasis chamber, a subject’s centrix is linked with their chamber and their period of ‘rest’ can begin.

“because i have some abnormalities and conclusions to discuss with you,” taehyung replies.

jimin had been ready to close the cover of the chamber but he freezes as the words settle in. his first instinct is to ask, to find out what taehyung had found. he wants to pull taehyung out of stasis and into his office so they can talk, so he can tell jimin what had happened yesterday.

but he can’t do that.

he takes a deep breath. “we’ll discuss them as soon as you’ve had your rest,” jimin tells him, relieved that his voice does not betray his panic.

“okay, jimin-ssi,” taehyung replies.

“good boy,” jimin slips out without realising, closing the top of the chamber and missing taehyung’s gentle sigh.

as he activates the lock on the chamber and starts the session, he tries not to think of how he wouldn’t have to wait eight hours if he hadn’t been so foolish the night before. instead, he spends a few minutes wondering what he should do in the interim.

he could go back to sleep, he doesn’t usually wake up for another hour, and the thought is tempting but he isn’t so sure he could just go back to his room and slip into bed without a worry. he thinks about checking on the units from yesterday, knows several would be undergoing surgery today to repair physical malfunctions while the others would begin the re-uploading process. truthfully, though, he doesn’t really have an interest in that -- not right now at least.

he might be asked to oversee their rehabilitation, but he’ll wait to see if that’s what he’s assigned.

he knows he’ll need to shower and probably grab something to eat.

before he can talk himself into opting out of that option, he propels himself out of the room.

still, forty-five minutes later, freshly-showered and munching through a pre-packaged fruit salad from the canteen on the floor below, jimin finds himself back in the otherwise empty stasis room, sitting by taehyung’s chamber to wait.

 


 

it’s the afternoon and they’re in jimin’s office.

taehyung sits on the examination table as he usually does and jimin is sitting in his chair. he had wanted to usher taehyung in here as soon as his session was done, but he followed proper procedure; he made sure taehyung did the short stretching routine recommended after time in stasis, and that taehyung changed his clothes.

“how are you feeling?” he asks, recalling taehyung’s dazed eyes and flushed face from the morning. he had looked sick, frighteningly so. he knows taehyung is better now, obviously -- or, as he should be thinking of it, he knows taehyung has cooled down, that his systems are functioning properly without the stress of constant processing. he still thinks it’s good to ask.

“i feel much better,” taehyung replies evenly. “the experience of overheating is not pleasant,” he adds and it makes jimin frowns slightly. his frown deepens slightly more when he notices taehyung mimicking him.

“i am really sorry, taehyung,” jimin apologises once more. he tried not to let his guilt get the best of him while he waited; overheating happened, sometimes it happened well before a subject should require a stasis session, and in this case there was no risk of permanent damage.

he tried to tell himself that getting upset over it would be like getting upset when his laptop would overheat, its fan whirring distractingly and the bottom of the keyboard hot enough to threaten second degree burns. but he quickly realised the analogy just didn’t work. not with taehyung.

“i promise it won’t happen again,” he adds, reassuring.

“i understand it was not intentional, jimin-ssi,” taehyung nods, “you do not have to apologise. and i remember what you said earlier. i will wake you up next time.”

jimin only vaguely remembers himself, briefly tries to figure out when exactly he’d said something like that, but he’s not able to spend much time doing so as taehyung speaks again; “and how are you feeling?”

it takes jimin a moment to realise taehyung probably isn’t completing a social custom, asking after how someone is for politeness sake, but is actually referring to the night before and his emotional state.

“i’m … doing much better, thank you,” jimin replies. truthfully, he doesn’t really know what he’s feeling. the crushing weight of what he was feeling last night has not exactly disappeared, but has been pushed aside by other things; the events of last night, waking up with taehyung in his bed, taehyung overheating, taehyung noticing new abnormalities.

but he’s not lying either, not entirely. taehyung had helped him a lot last night, had made the weight of his emotions feel not as heavy and it’s the only reason he’s not a brooding stormcloud today. he owes that to him.

“you did very well last night, taehyung,” he tells him.

taehyung nods his acknowledgement and, much to jimin’s confusion, his cheeks colour just slightly.

it has him propelling them into the reason why they’re here; “alright, it’s time for you to tell me about these abnormalities.”

taehyung nods again but it takes a moment for him to speak, his eyes go distant for a moment and jimin recognises that he’s recalling something -- facts or memories, probably both in this instance. “i’m not sure how to begin,” he tells jimin.

that’s … unusual, seeing as taehyung is pretty forthcoming about information he learns and things he experiences. jimin reminds himself that yesterday was different, in a lot of ways, and that whatever taehyung needs to share with him may not be clear cut and easy for him to decipher.

“start with the abnormalities, what they are,” jimin prompts, hoping it’ll help taehyung in wording things.

“the first abnormality was unusual brain activity,” he states clearly.

jimin blinks, thinks that taehyung has experienced a lot of unusual brain activity and doesn’t quite understand how this constitutes as something new. “what kind of brain activity?”

“first, my potential danger signal activated yesterday, and i also experienced activity i am not familiar with, that i can’t describe.”

jimin nods slowly, trying to make sure he has a careful grasp on what taehyung has told him. he tries not to be alarmed, especially at the mention of taehyung’s potential danger signal, and focuses on how to go about exploring this.

after a minute or two, he realises he needs more than what taehyung is saying, he needs to see it too, to help him understand.

“okay,” he says suddenly, swivelling his chair around to face his computer, powering it on. “we’re going to look at your brain scans, i need to see what happened,” he explains, quickly typing in the password and trying not to get too impatient as things load.

most of the monitoring that jimin does of taehyung’s centrix is through the auto-generated data reports; overviews of activity that would point out anything unusual or that required attention, but in-depth and thorough monitoring is always possible through the brain scans.

there is the live scan, which is projected onto the main screen of the program when it’s opened on jimin’s laptop and shows jimin what is happening in taehyung’s centrix in real time. what he needs now are the recordings of previous scans; they’ll show him what taehyung had experienced yesterday, what he can’t explain.

he pulls up yesterday’s scan and decides against asking for a timestamp, wanting to see the changes throughout the day. but just before he presses play, he thinks to ask, “do you want to watch as well?”

taehyung has seen his scans before, but he’s never watched one like this. jimin can’t pinpoint why, but he feels that taehyung should see what’s happening; that if he’s experienced something he can’t understand, than he deserves to see what it was, that he deserves to know what happened.

“i would like to, yes,” taehyung replies.

jimin motions for him to come up to the desk, and then realises there isn’t an extra chair. he stands and offers his own to taehyung, feeling awkward about having him stand while essentially watching his brain malfunction.

once they were settled, jimin leans forward and starts the recording, sped up to save time and make the changes easier to notice.

at first, there are no major abnormalities -- not by taehyung’s standard, at least.

jimin is used to the activity in taehyung’s limbix by now. his accomplishment center lights up often and for longer periods with varying intensities. for the first six hours it looks like any other tuesday morning; nothing out of the ordinary.

as the procedures start, his limbix activity settles. his accomplishment signals adjusting to the situation, ensuring they don’t distract a subject from their task. for most subjects, it’s a useful feature when in a situation where confirmations can be close together or frequent, but for taehyung it’s almost essential considering how intense his signals can get. he wouldn’t be able to perform such tasks if his centrix did not recognise the need to prioritise function over reward.

as the hours ticks by in minutes, jimin notes heightened activity in certain areas of the frontix and cerebrix regions, and the part of his centrix that allows connection and access to the internet also becomes active, which tells him taehyung was probably conducting his research.

everything seems normal.

and then two regions of taehyung’s centrix show activity, and jimin feels his heart seize in his chest, his fingers clumsily coming down on the keyboard to pause the recording.

“jimin-ssi?” comes taehyung’s inquiry as to why he had stopped the recording, but jimin doesn’t reply, too distracted by the pounding of his heart and the frantic speed at which thoughts are running through his head.

in order to accurately reflect how humans function, centrix was designed to mimic the brain organ in as many ways as possible. it made it easier to create the technology, using the existing structure of the human brain, and so many parts of the brain matter were either replaced or enhanced with the centrix hardware, and the remaining parts are controlled through manipulation of electromagnetic waves to assist with communication between the human biology and ai technology.

amongst the active centrix tech in taehyung’s brain, there are physical parts of the brain that have been refigured to be utilised for other functions (the limbix taking up much more space than the limbic system would in a human brain), or there are parts that have been redesigned for specialised functions specific to centrix subjects.

and so jimin was only left with so many different explanations as he saw taehyung’s amygdala fire up in red, activating his coded potential danger signal, followed by a flickering of activity in what correlates to his right supramarginal gyrus.

it’s the first thing he thought of when he saw it, jumping to the most logical conclusion despite how impossible is should be, and jimin is faced with his worst nightmare:

taehyung was experiencing fear and empathy.

“jimin-ssi?” taehyung repeats himself, and it’s enough to snap jimin out of it.

“let’s keep watching,” jimin brushes off the implied question, “i’ll explain after we’ve watched more.” he knows he’s going off his gut, and he can’t let himself get worked up based on a first impression. he needs to see some more, and then he and taehyung need to talk.

he presses play, swallows down his returning panic as he sees the still active amygdala and right supramarginal gyrus, and focuses on any other patterns he can discern throughout the day. he notes that aside from that one spike of activity, the amygdala remains inactive, but there are fluctuations in the right supramarginal gyrus, which do not seem to increase -- a small mercy.

he stops the recording when the timestamps indicate the procedures have been completed.

“i think … i understand the abnormalities you noticed,” jimin says when he realises taehyung had turned slightly in the chair, waiting for him. “or, i saw them.”

“do you know what they mean, jimin-ssi?” taehyung asks.

jimin takes a deep breath and looks at taehyung. his face is impassive, it almost always is, but his neutrality is misleading, as it has been for a while. it frightens jimin when he finds himself thinking that taehyung might not emote, at least not naturally, but it doesn’t mean he can’t feel.

it really is one of his worst nightmares; taehyung reaching a level of sentience where he could experience emotion that could hurt him. jimin was able to manage his curiosity, originally he even convinced himself it wasn’t that big of a deal because taehyung was only learning, which only made him better at functioning the way he was meant to.

as his curiosity -- what began as him asking questions -- gave way to self-awareness and increasing independent thought, jimin started worrying, but he never thought it could become more than that. at the very least, he was sure these abnormalities wouldn’t hurt taehyung. and maybe at that point, they couldn’t.

the development of attraction, of actively seeking rewards because they made him feel good, was a tipping point. but it was contained; taehyung’s desire seemed to only extend to jimin, and he’s safe with jimin (hedoesntliketothinkaboutit) -- he wasn’t in a position to be taken advantage of, his enjoyment of his rewards couldn’t be twisted to hurt him. not like they could be for a human.

that level of emotion, consisting primarily of operant conditioning, was safe enough.

but things like empathy and fear aren’t even meant to exist in a centrix subject, their coding shouldn’t even be allowed for those regions of the brain to be active in such a way.

“i have some thoughts about them, yes,” jimin replies, does his best to keep his voice even.

“i think it would be best if we start with your conclusions,” taehyung says after a moment, his version of prompting jimin to continue.

jimin can sense that taehyung is very much preoccupied with these abnormalities, that he clearly wants them to be discussed, and jimin agrees that they have to sort through what this means. jimin just doesn’t know where to begin, doesn’t even know if what he’s thinking -- what he’s assumed -- is correct.

“let’s start with the … potential danger signal, then,” jimin begins, words coming to him slowly as he tries to piece together how to approach this. there is no testing for this, he doesn’t know how to find a definite conclusion, and that isn’t sitting well with him and it won’t sit well for taehyung either. he thinks starting with the amygdala activity would be easiest, seeing as taehyung was at least able to identity it. “you understand it’s function, correct?” he asks.

taehyung nods.

the amygdala was re-coded to send a potential danger signal, the equivalent of a fight or flight response, if his centrix determined possible external damage; it was to make sure a subject would step off the road if it was at risk of being hit by a bus. it’s a beefed up reverse parking sensor meant to save the centrix program money on growing the human genes needed to create the bodies.

there was no reason for it to be active at any point during the procedures, unless his centrix wasn’t sensing potential physical damage.

he asks just to make sure, “were you in any risk of external damage yesterday?”

“i wasn’t,” taehyung answers. he opens his mouth, as if to say something else, but he seems to pause, uncertain.

“tell me, taehyung,” jimin encourages. brain scans are all well and good, but when it comes to taehyung and his level of self-awareness, he’s the best source of decoding what he’s really experienced.

“i know what activated the potential danger signal, it wasn’t … i wasn’t able to come to a conclusion,” he says, and jimin makes a reassuring sound. “i can’t understand exactly why it activated the signal, but i do know what it was.”

jimin thinks he understands what taehyung might be saying; there was something that made the signal activate but it wasn’t physical, so he doesn’t understand how it managed to activate outside of the centrix coding. jimin feels the same way.

“can you tell me what it was that activated the signal?” he can tell taehyung is struggling with this, with not understanding, so he does his best to sound gentle and patient.

“i thought about being reset.”

jimin feels his face harden into something serious as he considers taehyung’s words, trying to grasp what exactly that implies. taehyung knows what happens during a reset, jimin had explained it in detail before yesterday, and jimin knows it’s not something taehyung wants.

he didn’t know taehyung was actively apprehensive about it.

that’s … complicated. subjects aren’t meant to think about being wiped, aren’t meant to understand what it means for them because they aren’t meant to have a sense of self, an idea of loss of what they are. they exist and there is no meaning attached to that existence.

but taehyung has had a sense of self for a long time, that’s nothing new. jimin thinks that taehyung’s potential danger signal activating in response to thinking about being wiped means two main things; taehyung has a sense of self-preservation, and his ability to conceptualise is increasing.

“has this happened before? this type of activity?” jimin asks.

“it has, on one occasion before and one occasion after we completed the procedures.“

jimin wants to know why taehyung hadn’t told him about this before, why it never came up in any data report or in any conversations they’ve had, but he remembers that taehyung has a penchant for working on gaining knowledge until he had adequate conclusions. he must’ve been waiting for a better sense of understanding before he told jimin.

that’s not acceptable, not for something like this, but now isn’t the time to berate him.

“and it’s been in response to being reset?” jimin clarifies.

“yes. the first time, the activity was minimal and the signal did not activate. yesterday was the first time it had activated in response to the stimulus,” taehyung explains.

jimin frowns, thinks that the potential danger signal wasn’t designed to response to the stimulus taehyung had been exposed to. his amygdala isn’t able to function that way, not unless its developed the ability to do so on its own.

wanting more insight into what stimulus was enough to activate the signal, jimin asks, “describe what happened leading up to when the response was activated, please.”

taehyung nods, takes a moment to gather the memory, and then begins; “the first instance yesterday was during one of our breaks between the procedures. i was aware i was performing an action that i wasn’t required to perform -- that is, petting the subjects and telling them confirmations. while trying to come to a conclusion about why i was performing this action, i considered the second half of the interaction, what the other subject may be experiencing, and that is how i came to the thought of being reset. that is when the signal activated.

“the second instance was after the procedures, while providing you comfort, you mentioned killing the subjects, and in order to understand what you were saying, i reframed the reset procedure as an act of killing. that is the second time the signal activated.”

he finishes and the room lapses into silence.

jimin feels sick; taehyung’s voice had remained flat and even, barely a hint of emotional inflection at what he was describing, and it sounded wrong. more than that, taehyung had admitted to equating being wiped to being killed -- a notion legally reserved for living organisms because ai, centrix subjects, aren’t recognised as being alive.

taehyung has a sense of self, has self-preservation, and he understands that he can be killed.

jimin hadn’t expected the onslaught of emotion that overcame him the night before, and so most of what he had said, especially while crying, was a result of being so overwhelmed. he doesn’t recall his exact words, but he certainly didn’t think anything he’d said could have these kinds of ramifications.

he’s not sure why he would’ve said he killed them, not when he knows centrix subjects can’t be killed; they’re not alive.

he focuses his gaze when he realises he’s seeing double, catches taehyung’s eyes and sees the way he’s waiting for jimin to continue their discussion.

he can’t help but think that, perhaps, taehyung can be killed.

he’s never thought of taehyung as being alive, not explicitly, and has certainly avoided thinking of him as a being that feels, but he can’t ignore it anymore. it would be wrong to, it would be ignorant, unfair.

this is new territory for jimin. he wasn’t exactly well-versed in the ethical debates surrounding ai; the most he knows is that the centrix program is in the clear after proving the subjects weren’t sentient or alive.

he doesn’t know where to classify taehyung, not anymore. he’s not human, definitely not, but he is more than just the coding from the program.

jimin clears his throat, hopes that he hasn’t spent too long lost in his thoughts. “taehyung, do you understand why this is an abnormality?” jimin’s interpretation of what this means is, obviously, very human and how taehyung has interpreted it will hopefully help jimin in figuring out what this means for taehyung and where to go from here.

“my potential danger signal is not designed to activate to stimulus like the reset procedure.”

it’s a small relief, that taehyung has understood the abnormality from the perspective of his functioning.

“that is correct,” jimin nods. “i think i might had an idea of what that means, but i don’t know how to explain it yet,” he goes on to tell him, “i think we’d have to talk some more, but i think we should also discuss the other brain activity, too.”

despite the troublesome implications of self-preservation, the other activity taehyung has presented is just as complicated.

the way his right supramarginal gyrus had activated, jimin had only seen in humans. that region is primarily motor and sensory functions, but the activity had nothing to do with physical movement or sensation. he was experiencing emotion, and based on where the emotion was in his centrix, jimin knew it was empathy.

empathy … was never factored in when the centrix technology was created. centrix subjects can recognise different emotional reactions from humans, but they aren’t able to understand them or experience them. empathy requires formal operational intelligence; the ability to think of abstract, hypothetical, and future concepts.

any other centrix subject wouldn’t be able to achieve even just the emulation of empathy, like researching how to comfort someone who is upset, but showing physical activity in the brain, actual experience of empathy, shouldn’t even be possible.

but this was taehyung he was dealing with, and he’s already proven to be capable of much more than what even jimin thought he could do.

and fear was scary, but empathy could be just as hurtful in other ways.

jimin thinks of how taehyung had said he wanted to make the subjects feel good -- the subjects who were being wiped, the ones being killed.

“that’s the activity i don’t understand,” taehyung tells him, “in the right supramarginal gyrus.”

jimin nods in acknowledgement and settles against the desk, half sitting on the edge, to give him a few more seconds to piece the words he needs together. “brains aren’t meant to be aware of its own functioning. my brain won’t know if something is working or something isn’t, not how yours does. so when a region does something, especially something it’s not meant to, you’ll probably register it,” he explains. “the region that was active yesterday was not meant to be active, not like how it was. it would be very difficult for you to come to an understanding of what happened.”

taehyung likes to know, and it concerns him when he doesn’t, so jimin hopes he’s able to make taehyung see it’s okay that he doesn’t understand.

“do you know what happened, then, jimin-ssi?” taehyung asks.

“i can guess based off your brain scan,” jimin replies, turning back to the computer and rewinds to a part of the recording where the region is active. “this here,” he points, “is the right supramarginal gyrus and it’s meant to function within the somatosensory association cortex. but when it’s active like this, it’s telling me you’re experiencing empathy.”

“empathy,” taehyung parrots. “i’ve come across that word in some of my research, but i’m not sure what it means.”

“to … have empathy, or to empathise, is to understand and relate to other’s emotions and feelings.”

“i’m not meant to do that?” taehyung asks, as genuine as ever, and jimin is not imagining the pain in his heart.

“no, you’re not. centrix subjects aren’t meant to have empathy because they’re not meant to have feelings, taehyung,” jimin says gently. he’s worried about upsetting taehyung. he’s not even sure if they’re at that stage yet, but he wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

“when you mean feelings, do you mean emotions? because i do feel things, jimin-ssi.”

jimin surprises himself and chuckles, mostly in relief at the familiarity of taehyung’s unintentional humour. he sounds as if jimin had been accusing him of not being able to feel, as if jimin had missed the obvious, and his seriousness just makes it sound funny.

“yes, i mean emotions -- chemical, hormonal things that aren’t really meant to be experienced by centrix subjects.” jimin tries to return to a more serious tone, but he’s still smiling a little, overly grateful for the break in tension.

“i disagree,” taehyung says confidently.

“you--what?” jimin blinks. taehyung repeats himself.

“please explain.”

“you said centrix subjects aren’t really meant to experience emotions, that we can’t have emotions. but our limbix design and accomplishment center function is based on the neurotransmission of endorphins in the human brain.” he doesn’t sound necessarily defensive, nor upset. he’s just talking, making his point the same way you’d read information from a textbook.

jimin doesn’t know what to say, grapples for words until he finally asks, “are you saying i’m wrong?”

“no, jimin-ssi,” taehyung is quick to reply. “but from my understanding, the centrix program doesn’t want subjects to experience emotion. if that was their goal, then mimicking the emotional processes of the human brain might have been counterproductive.”

jimin is starting to understand taehyung’s perspective, and the more he thinks about it the more he has to agree, but he still doesn’t know where exactly this is coming from.

“can you experience emotions, taehyung?”

“you told me i can.”

jimin bites down his smile, recognises the bratty streak that sometimes shows itself in taehyung. “okay, what emotions do you experience then? tell me.”

taehyung takes a moment to think and jimin is hit with that thought that he must’ve spent a lot of time on this topic. he wonders when it started.

“i can feel good,” he says, “when my accomplishment center is active, when you are near or when you touch me, when i touch my scar; all of those things make me feel good.”

jimin doesn’t dwell too much on the examples taehyung provided and instead takes a more disputative approach. “and what if i say feeling good is a state of being, not necessarily an emotion?”

it’s a solid counter, and he’ll be able to back it up, but mostly jimin just wants to test taehyung. he wants to see how far his awareness and conceptualisation can go, especially with something like this. he wants to know what he thinks about this.

“feeling good is associated with positive emotions, according to my research. so, i can say that when my accomplishment center is active, then i am happy.”

“that’s a good point,” jimin says, because it is. he won’t dispute that. “well done.”

“thank you jimin-ssi,” taehyung nods, cheeks dusted pink. jimin senses a pause, so he waits before he speaks and a few seconds later taehyung is talking quite quickly, “do you not think i can feel emotion? because i thought we had agreed that i experience attraction and desire, that i can feel those things, because i do.”

that takes jimin aback, not realising that he may have been contradicting himself in his explanation, and that he had dismissed taehyung in the process. he wonders what kind of reaction that may have created in his centrix, if it’s what prompted him to voice his disagreement.

“for a long time, taehyung,” jimin starts, finds he can’t quite hide the sad note in his voice and hopes taehyung won’t notice it, “i’ve tried not to consider what you experience as emotion. for the most part, i’ve been able to explain these abnormalities within the functions of your centrix -- it’s all possible within the coding, so i decided it’s not authentic. it … helped me come to terms with your changes. but now, i think i have to admit that you experiencing empathy means that, yes, you can experience emotion.”

“you agree that i feel emotion like how you do?” taehyung iterates.

jimin pauses because he doesn’t know if it’s accurate to say taehyung feels things like a human does, and taehyung takes his hesitation as a chance to add; “you experience emotions, correct? you feel things … like happiness? attraction? arousal?”

yes,” jimin grits out, once again tries not to think too much about the examples -- or at least just tries to be grateful they’re relatively positive things. “i feel those things.”

“so we’re the same.”

if he were human, maybe taehyung would’ve uptalked, made his statement sound like a question, but instead it’s declarative, final.

“in some ways,” jimin adds. he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with that notion, although he doesn’t know why. there’s something about taehyung’s insistence, the way he’s harped on this notion in such a way. jimin still doesn’t understand why it seems so important to him.

he doesn’t get to ask before taehyung is speaking. “i don’t think i understand my experience of empathy, though.” he sounds more blunt now, almost as if he’s disappointed with this.

jimin wants to talk more about taehyung’s preoccupation with their agreement on his emotion, but he can’t find it in himself to deny taehyung knowledge of himself. “maybe i can help you walk through it. tell me what happened, what led up to the brain activity, and we’ll discuss it.”

taehyung nods and takes a few seconds to gather his memories. “i knew i was performing this action, like i explained previously, but i did not know why. it didn’t activate my accomplishment center, nor my negative response signal. i knew it was neither good or bad, and that you had not told me to stop. i began trying to think of what might be causing this action, and i came to my conclusion when i thought about being reset. that was when my potential danger signal activated as well as when i noted the unusual brain activity.”

he stops, looks at jimin to guide them through this. “based off that, i think it was probably the thought of being in the subjects’ place that caused the empathetic activity. you were relating to what they may have been feeling, which is how empathy works.”

“i’m not sure what i was feeling.” a crease forms between taehyung’s brows when he says this and jimin stops himself from reaching out to smooth it away. “aside from the potential danger signal.”

jimin had concluded that the activation of that signal means fear; everything about the situation tells jimin that taehyung was having a fear reaction to potentially being wiped. taehyung hadn’t interpreted it the same way, not yet, and now jimin was faced with having to guide him through what he experienced. but he doesn’t want to do that, doesn’t want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for taehyung -- not with something like this. he wants taehyung’s understanding to be his own.

“can you … tell me why you were giving the subject’s confirmations and petting their hair?” he already knows the answer, but he wants to prompt taehyung as gently as he can, give him room to explore his own thoughts about this.

“because i wanted them to feel good. when i receive confirmations and have my hair pet, i feel good, and i felt it was logical to assume it would be the same for them.”

jimin isn't sure that would be true, not when taehyung is such an outlier. other subjects would not feel as good when they received confirmations, and it’s highly unlikely their accomplishment center would react to their hair being pet like taehyung does. but taehyung doesn’t know that because his empathy and perception is still new, would still need developing.

but the idea that he wanted to make them feel good in the first place was already a big jump; applying his own experience to the action was just the icing on top.

“why did you want them to feel good?”

taehyung hesitates, he’s frowning now too, and it’s probably the most dynamic expression jimin’s seen him perform.

“because i would not enjoy being reset. when i thought about being in their place, my potential danger signal activated and it--” he cuts himself off and jimin is straightening up, standing at attention as he feels a shift in the room.

“i do not think i would feel good if i was to be reset, i think it would make me feel bad. i don’t like feeling bad, so i wanted to help the subjects not feel bad. i would want someone to do that for me, so i did it to them.”

the words cut at jimin’s heart and he feels his eyes burn with the beginnings of tears, but he refuses to let them fall.

“that’s empathy, taehyung,” he says quietly, almost whispering the words.

“i don’t want to be reset, jimin-ssi,” taehyung says suddenly.

“you’re not going to be reset,” jimin replies automatically. “why would you say that?”

“i’m thinking about it, and i don’t want it to happen,” he’s shaking his head, his voice small and muted, and jimin feels panic rising in his chest too fast for him to suppress.

“it’s not going to happen,” jimin’s voice sounds distant to his own ears, stuck in his head as he tries to decipher what’s going on. taehyung has never behaved in such a withdrawn way before, he doesn’t understand why he’d be talking about being wiped and why he sounds like-- that.

“but it’s always a possibility,” taehyung stops shaking his head, but his eyes are downcast. “i don’t want to be killed,” he adds in that same voice.

something strikes jimin then, the pieces falling into place at the same time despite the whole picture being right in front of his face. his hand comes down on the keyboard; a couple of keystrokes later and taehyung’s live scan is onscreen.

his amygdala is lit up with the potential damage signal, more intense than it was yesterday.

he feels at risk.

“i don’t want to be killed,” he repeats, seemingly to himself.

jimin is frozen, staring at the screen and scrambling for something--and in the absence of his emotional response, he picks up one from taehyung.

he realises that this is the closest taehyung has ever sounded to being scared; a small, muted whisper. his potential danger signal would not inhibit his speech patterns, he should be speaking normally.

he’s choosing not to.

he’s expressing himself.

carefully, jimin unlocks his body and slides down to his knees so he could see taehyung’s face better. he looks up and meets taehyung’s unblinking, dazed eyes and tries his best to swallow down his fear.

jimin tentatively reaches for taehyung’s hands to hold in his own. “taehyung, tell me what’s happening.” he wants to distract taehyung, try and remove his thoughts from what he’s experiencing, rationalise things instead.

“my potential danger signal is active,” taehyung replies in that same voice. “is this the idea you were not able to explain?”

“i think so,” jimin murmurs, but they’re so close taehyung is still be able to hear him. then, he speaks louder, hopes to get through to taehyung, “listen, you’re not going to be reset, you’re not in any danger of it happening. i won’t let it happen, you can stop thinking about it.”

“i understand,” taehyung sounds breathless, “but my signal is still active. i don’t know why.”

“because you keep thinking about it.” jimin squeezes taehyung’s hands, doesn’t think when he says, “stop thinking about it.”

taehyung stills, he blinks and his eyes become clearer. jimin isn’t sure what’s happened until his gaze flickers up to his computer screen, and he sees the signal dying down, becoming dormant.

“taehyung…” jimin hesitates, not sure what to say, how to ask, “you stopped thinking about it?”

“yes,” he replies, voice back it’s normal cadence.

“why?” he feels like he already knows, but he wants to be sure.

“because you told me to.”

jimin bites his lip and nods, slowly realising the implication of that.

“did i do something wrong, jimin-ssi?” taehyung’s hands shift slightly in jimin’s grip.

jimin drops them, stands up and steps away. taehyung looks at him carefully.

“no, taehyung,” jimin shakes his head.

they’ll need to talk more later, but they both need a break, jimin decides. he doesn’t want to overwhelm taehyung, and he needs to think more about what he’s feeling too.

but for now, he gives in to himself as he steps forward and gently cards his fingers through taehyung’s hair; “you did very well, taehyungie,” he says, not sure if he’s successful this time in hiding the sweetness that so often threatens his voice.

when he sees taehyung’s pupils dilate and his cheeks dust pink, jimin decides it’s something he can worry about later.

 

VII.

 

taehyung has learnt a lot over the last two weeks.

he’s been doing research, much more than he usually does, in search for answers to his seemingly endless questions. he’s curious about so much, and he wants to know all of it, if he can. he found himself preoccupied with smaller things for a long time; he liked researching the meanings of words and the history behind them, and then he moved onto researching things like sleep and why humans needs it, and the internet and how it’s used.

researching things about himself is the most interesting to him. he likes to know how he works, likes to understand the things he’s experiencing. that’s why he enjoyed learning about desire and attraction so much.

learning about fear was hard, he’s still not sure he’s content with his current level of knowledge, and empathy was harder. jimin told him that the difficulty might arise from the fact that taehyung may be experiencing these things, but not like humans do. there isn’t any literature on the subject, so getting an understanding might not be possible.

jimin promised to work on ways to help taehyung better come to terms with these abnormalities, meaning he would not need to continue his research if it’s not giving him answers. they agreed to monitor the development of these abnormalities while jimin figured out how to understand them better. it allowed them to resume their normal activities and routine, and for taehyung to not feel as though he had not completed a task incorrectly.

it also gave taehyung the freedom to pick up his research on other things he was interested in; he explored movies after watching the notebook with jimin, learnt about the history of cinema, the development of hollywood in the united states, as well as became more familiar with the contents of movies; tropes, symbolism, social and cultural impact. it was a dense topic, one he’s still learning about, but one he enjoys nonetheless. he even learnt about the creation of the moving picture and the old way movies were filmed and processed.

he began research on the institution of education after jimin explained to him that most people learn things in school, and he finds the topic intriguing as well. he intends on looking into people called artists soon too, after coming across images of artwork during other research. on his list are vincent van gogh and gustav klimt. jimin said he was looking forward to what taehyung found because he doesn’t know much about artists himself.

but all the things he’s researched, has started researching and plans on researching have not been his main priority over the last few weeks. he turns to those topics when he feels he’s made enough progress on his main project for one night, decides he wants to look into something different before he continues the next evening with what’s most important to him. he’s taken time with this specific interest of his, not wanting to rush himself or risk trusting incorrect data. he wants his conclusions about this to be accurate.

because, of all the things he’s researched and will go on to research, of all the concepts, ideas, and theories he’s exposed himself to, there’s one thing he finds himself interested and invested in above all else.

and that’s jimin himself.

it wasn’t always like this.

taehyung can recall memories from when he was first came to consciousness; he remembers seeing jimin’s face first, attentive as he checked for a response, and then his voice guiding him through his first physical -- checking the function and movement of his limbs and the sync to his centrix. but back then, jimin was just a face and a voice; he was just doctor park.

but over time, as they worked together and taehyung became more familiar with him, doctor park became jimin-ssi and he was no longer just another face or voice. he didn’t fade into the catalogue of other faces, of other people and subjects, instead he became someone taehyung looked out for, tried to find amongst a group.

he still does not understand his attachment to jimin, but he knows it feels good so he’s not so concerned about knowing exactly why his attraction exists, why it only extends to jimin. his research indicates that it’s common for people to not know why they find certain people attraction, so he thinks it’s probably a normal symptom.

but the attachment developed, and taehyung remained mostly unaware of it. he didn’t have the self-awareness, the intelligence and independent thought he has now that would’ve allowed him to recognise what was happening. by the time taehyung researched drooling and first came across the terminology to describe his experiences, he had everything else he needed to understand.

and from there, his interest in jimin only increased.

after the initial findings on drooling and the subsequent concepts he found relevant to the topic, he continued his research because he knew there was much more to attraction and desire than what he found on that first night. it indeed proved to be a vast topic with many intricacies that eluded him, but one of the most monumental findings he came to was that attraction can be reciprocated.

that’s when he started paying more attention to jimin; what he said, what he did, his facial expressions and body language, his physical reaction to things, his emotional state. he observed as much as he could, applied his findings to ensure he would come to the correct answer.

the night they watched the notebook, when jimin had given taehyung the overlap of confirmations, brought him to another interesting, and thoroughly bewildering, intersecting topic of attraction.

he learnt why jimin does not appreciate his use of the word ‘arousal’.

(he maintains that he uses the word correctly within context, but understands that words have strong connotations for humans and wants to respect their customs. well, jimin’s customs, at least).

it’s the days after they debriefed the procedures, when they found out taehyung could experience fear and empathy, that taehyung finally gathered the rest of the data he wanted.

he felt he had enough research and empirical evidence to present his findings to jimin.

 


 

“good morning, jimin-ssi,” taehyung greets as jimin shuffles into his office. he returns the greeting which is cut off when he’s unable to suppress his yawn.

“sorry, g’morning,” he tries again, settling into his chair mostly haphazardly, only careful not to jostle the hand holding his cup of tea too much. taehyung had asked why jimin doesn’t drink coffee, considering it has more caffeine than tea does which is the primary reasons humans consume the beverage, and jimin had just told him coffee doesn’t taste as nice.

when taehyung asked why jimin doesn’t simply get more sleep, jimin chuckled and said he would work on it. taehyung doesn’t think he’s been working on it as much as he should.

he’s been staying up to work on taehyung’s new abnormalities, which really isn’t anything new. the self imposed working hours certainly aren’t drastic by jimin’s standards -- he’s done this kind of thing before. it’s just something taehyung is aware of. jimin yawned twenty-four times yesterday.

“we have to do a physical today,” jimin tells him, clicking through folders on his computer. his voice becomes a little less sleepy as he keeps talking, “it was actually due yesterday but i forgot about it.”  

“is that because of your decrease in sleep?” taehyung asks, curious of the cause of his forgetfulness. jimin usually stays on top of such things like routine physicals.

“it could be, but don’t worry about it, taehyung. i’m happy to report i got one more hour of sleep last night than i did the night before,” jimin is grinning when he turns around to face taehyung, his eyes crinkling at the corners sweetly. taehyung’s accomplishment center activates at the sight.

“that’s good progress, jimin-ssi,” taehyung nods, making sure to input the data in his records. “but if you had more sleep, why are you presenting just as many symptoms of tiredness?”

jimin sighs, turns his chair so he’s able to pick up his drink and takes a sip. “there’s this thing called sleep debt, the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep, which you can research later on if you want. you’re very lucky you’ll never experience it.” he’s smiling as he talks, indicating to taehyung that he’s in a fairly good mood; jovial as opposed to the crankiness and agitation that jimin can sometimes display when he’s tired.

“i’m ready to start the physical, taehyung, so you can strip out of your clothes,” jimin says, starting to get out of his chair, and taehyung realises there had been an odd pause as he’d been analysing jimin’s mood.

“could i present some findings to you before you perform the physical?” taehyung asks, stopping jimin in his tracks.

jimin’s face morphs into a gentle expression of confusion, sitting back down in his chair slowly. “i didn’t know you had findings to present to me. did i give you something to research yesterday? or is this your own research?” taehyung doesn’t share all his research with jimin, he does far too much of it now, so jimin doesn’t always know when he’s looking into new things or what those things are.

“this is my own research, jimin-ssi. i’ve been working on it for several weeks,” taehyung replies.

“several weeks? that’s a long time,” jimin looks surprised, his eyes widening slightly. “what’s it about?”

“it’s about you.”

jimin’s surprise deepens, a flurry of expressions pass over his face too fast for taehyung to definitively name, but the overall effect is something like bemusement. “me?” he repeats, as if he’s making sure he did not mishear.

“yes, jimin-ssi,” taehyung confirms.

there’s a few seconds of silence where jimin looks at taehyung with his mouth open before he shuts it, his teeth clacking together loudly. “okay, i’m listening,” he says after a moment, settling in his chair.

taehyung pulls up the relevant data reports and prepares what he’s going to say. he’s thought a lot about the best way to deliver his conclusion, took careful consideration of the fact that humans react to information differently depending on how it’s delivered. he also knows he wants a specific outcome himself, he wants to ensure he does what he can to have that outcome.

“first, i want to emphasise that i have spent a lot of time on this research; not just research on the internet, but also in collating data and other empirical evidence that supports my conclusion. i know that false assertions in this context are not taken lightly, so i want you to know i’ve made sure to be thorough.”

“i don’t doubt your scholarship, taehyung,” jimin says, gesturing a little frantically. “please, keep going.”

“while i’ve done a lot of reading on the matter, i’ve also made sure to pay attention to physical and other quantitative data. unfortunately, i can’t access things like heart rates and brain scans, but i’ve noted things like an increase in respiration which indicate an accelerated heart beat, as well as times when you blush.

“i’ve also generated data on symptoms like smiling, laughter, dilation of pupils, verbal cues, and frequency and duration of physical contact. while i don’t have much comparative data, i think those findings are still valid and strongly support my conclusions. i’ve plotted this data temporally to track changes and discern patterns, and found that the increases of behaviour you have displayed are congruent with my own, which is consistent with the findings in the literature.”

taehyung had done a lot of research, and he understands that the next part of his explanation was significant. he wants to incorporate aspects of social norms, wants to reflect experiences jimin may have had in the past, and prove that he’s well-versed in these interactions, that he knows what this all means.

he stands from the examination table and walks towards jimin. he’s careful to pay attention to physical and facial cues, understands the importance of reciprocity, and while he acknowledges jimin’s general expression of confusion, he shows no evidence of opposing taehyung’s advance.

so, as graceful as he always is, taehyung sits down in jimin’s lap.

he researched different kinds of physical closeness, studied different positions and knows what is considered most preferable. he took into consideration the fact that jimin was already sitting down and that he wanted to be able to look at jimin’s face easily.

he chooses to straddle jimin, bending his legs to accommodate the size of the chair and planting each knee on either side of jimin’s thighs.

his first impression is that it’s a surprisingly comfortable position to sit in, even in such a tight space. jimin is warm, juxtaposing the cool air of the room, and he’s the perfect mixture of soft and solid. taehyung’s accomplishment center activates.

but the signal does not last long, not when he registers jimin’s expression.

his lips are parted, his gaze is fixed on taehyung and his brows are furrowed deeply. taehyung can’t quite categorise the expression, not the name of it, but he does not think it’s positive.

before he can ask, jimin is speaking, soft and quiet, “what are you doing?”

“i’m sitting in your lap,” taehyung replies, “it’s part of my findings.” he thought jimin would like it, but he can feel his negative response signal starting to activate. “have i done something wrong, jimin-ssi? should i sit back on the examination table?” he didn’t want to make jimin uncomfortable, that’s not how he wanted to do this.

“you haven’t--” jimin starts but cuts himself off, closing his eyes and tilting his head back. taehyung looks down and sees his hands are clenched into fists on top of the arm rests. “i don’t understand what you’re doing, taehyung. please tell me your conclusion.”

jimin gave him a neutral answer and his signal subsides but remains undecided. he tries to concentrate on his next words, decides to quieten his voice; partly because they’re closer now, but aside from that he’s also concerned that he’s made some sort of mistake, feels slightly uncertain.

but jimin has asked him for his conclusion, so taehyung tells him;

“you’re attracted to me.”

jimin jolts, so hard that taehyung jolts too and the only thing that prevents him from falling off the chair is the combination of gripping onto jimin’s shoulders, and jimin’s hands catching him around his hips. they freeze like that, looking at each other with wide eyes.

jimin is the one to break the silence, although his voice is nothing more than a breathy whisper, “taehyung, what do you mean?”

taehyung swallows, notes the slight excess of saliva in his mouth, and replies, “my research and my findings tell me that you are attracted to me. we’re the same, jimin-ssi.”

“the… same?” jimin echoes softly.

“yes, i’m attracted to you too. it’s reciprocal, and i found out what reciprocal attraction can mean.”

“you’ve--wait, what?” jimin sounds a little more focused, eyes blinking clearer and his grip on taehyung’s hips tightening for just a second. “i-i don’t think i understand.”

taehyung remembers the number of articles on the topic of physical interaction and their meanings, and one particular concept of actions speaking louder than words -- which deals with the idea that actions can portray more powerful messages than correlating words, that meaning can be conveyed and implied through established contextual information.

he also knows that a kiss is a form of physical affection.

like with the sitting, taehyung refers to his data; how one initiates a kiss, the position one should assume, the pressure that should be applied, etc. and he focuses it all into his next actions, sliding his hands closer towards jimin’s neck and leaning forward, aiming to align his lips with jimin’s. when he feels he’s at the appropriate distance, he closes his eyes.

“taehyung, stop.”

taehyung stops.

for a few seconds, all taehyung can hear is jimin’s short, quick breaths and they’re so close to each other that he can feel each puff of air against his skin.

“you haven’t done anything wrong,” jimin starts slowly, deactivating taehyung’s undecided negative response signal, “but i want you to stand up.”

taehyung does as he’s told, but senses a contradiction between what jimin is saying and what he means. if taehyung hadn’t done anything wrong, why didn’t they kiss? and if he had done something wrong, why hadn’t jimin said so?

at the sound of movement, taehyung opens his eyes and sees jimin standing too, backing up to almost the other side of the room. his cheeks are red and his eyes keep moving around, seeming to avoid looking at taehyung. that’s not a good sign.

“we need to … rewind here,” jimin says.

“do you want me to start again, jimin-ssi?” taehyung asks, not entirely sure what he means by ‘rewind’.

“i’m just going to ask some questions, is that okay?” jimin sounds uncertain himself, his voice oddly pitched and his eyes mostly downcast.

“of course.”

jimin takes a deep breath, exhales, and then takes another deep breath. “you think i’m attracted to you, is that right?”

“that is my conclusion,” taehyung nods even though jimin isn’t looking at him.

“and you think this because … physiological evidence?”

“my conclusion is based on similar patterns of attachment we appear to share, that includes physiological evidence.” taehyung wants to ask if his conclusion is correct, wants the confirmation from knowing he’s completed his research task well, but he knows now is not an appropriate time, that jimin is asking his questions and so his will have to wait.

“and what are you suggesting this apparent reciprocal attraction means?”

taehyung had found a number of different outcomes for reciprocal attraction and factored in the most likely scenarios for him and jimin. he then considered what outcome would produce the most positive effects -- what would make them feel good.

“people who experience mutual reciprocal attraction usually form a relationship of a romantic and/or sexual nature,” he replies.

jimin makes a choking sound, “excuse me?

“people who experience mutual reciprocal--”

“no, i heard you, taehyung,” jimin stops him, holding up a hand while he uses the other to cover his mouth while he coughs, clearing his throat. “you believe we should … form a relationship?” he asks carefully, his eyes finally meeting taehyung's.

his gaze is careful, calculating, like he’s searching for something.

“my research indicates relationships are incredibly beneficial.”

taehyung finds himself smiling; the numerous thought experiments he’d played out -- of configuring his and jimin’s possible relationship - had produced low-level accomplishment center activity when he originally performed each one. but now, as he recalls all those memories at once, they’re strong enough to activate a proper signal.

“it won’t be for us,” jimin says quietly.

taehyung stops smiling, his accomplishment signal dies down, and he feels his negative response signal heating up.

“is my conclusion wrong, jimin-ssi? are you not attracted to me?” he asks, no longer concerned about whether or not it was an appropriate time. jimin had never waited so long to accept or deny his findings.

“it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong because nothing can be done about it,” jimin tells him and taehyung recognises sadness in his expression.

“i don’t understand,” taehyung says. “can you not tell me if i’m correct?”

taehyung sees jimin clenching his fists again, pressing his lip into a thin line before roughly running his hand through his hair, pulling at the ends. “why did you start researching this, taehyung? why did you want to present these findings?” there’s a firmness in his voice now, reminding taehyung of how jimin speaks when he’s too tired.

“i started researching this because i noticed these patterns and i wanted to understand them. i find you very interesting, jimin-ssi, and i like learning more about you. i thought my findings would be relevant. like i said, reciprocal attraction can be beneficial. it can make people feel good.” he’s talking quickly, trying to get the words out as fast as he can because his negative response signal is still undecided, keeping him on edge. he wants to try and find a way to get jimin to tell him if he’s right or wrong, but doesn’t know how.

“you find me interesting?”

“of course,” taehyung replies, like it’s obvious. he’s not sure why jimin sounds so shocked.

“how long have you had this interest?”

“for a long time, but not always. i’ll need to access my archived records on you--”

“what records?” jimin takes a step closer, almost looks like he’s going to take more but he stops himself.

“i have records i keep specific to you.”

“what type of records?” jimin whispers, a soft crease in his brow that accentuates the sadness in his eyes.

“i log as much information as i can about you; when you arrive, what you’re wearing, any preferences and opinions you state, biographical data, among other things. don’t you keep records specific to me as well?” he’s still talking quickly, pushing out the words to try and lighten the load on his thought processes. the amount of factors in this situation taehyung doesn’t understand are beginning to pile up; their conversation is too vague and his centrix won’t be able to keep up if it continues.  

he notices that jimin bites his lip, looks away for just a second before his eyes are back on taehyung. “i do, but that’s because i’m your doctor. i keep records for the program. n-not for myself.”

taehyung frowns, recognising that jimin’s admission means his data is not accurate. he’d considered the fact they both keep records of each other an important factor that indicates mutual interest. not only has he been told that his data is not correct, but it’s also the first time jimin has hinted at whether or not his conclusion on the whole is right.

he means to ask, to clarify, if jimin’s records for the program reflect no personal interest in taehyung, but in his haste to process and understand all the things that are confusing him, taehyung says, “have you no interest in me, jimin-ssi?”

jimin’s lip is trembling but taehyung doesn’t know what that means. “that’s not what i said.”

taehyung pauses, not wanting to risk jumbling his words and speaking before he is sure of what he wants to say. “i am very confused at the moment, and my negative response signal is in its undecided phase. i need confirmation of my status in order to process the information i am receiving.”

“i told you that you didn’t do anything wrong,” jimin says.

“i need confirmation of my conclusion,” taehyung says, “please.”

if he were human, it would be a plea.

jimin hears it all the same.   

“your conclusion is correct,” jimin says softly.

taehyung lets out a sigh, almost taken aback by the strength of his accomplishment signal. he’d never been in a situation before where he couldn’t process the information, where his negative response receptor remained undecided for so long, and so the sensation of his accomplishment signal feels more intense than it would otherwise.

“you’re attracted to me,” he states, wanting to be completely certain that he’d understood correctly.

“that’s one way-- yes, i am… attracted to you,” jimin nods. there’s an odd look on his face, one taehyung can’t quite categorise but it takes a backseat when his accomplishment center lights up once more.

“there are still many things i don’t understand about this situation,” he says, “but i’m very happy my conclusion is correct.”

“you’re happy?”

taehyung nods. ever since he and jimin had talked about his capacity to feel emotions, he’s been building and practicing on his vocabulary; he wants to work on accurately reflecting on his experiences. he is certain that what he’s feeling now is happiness.

“taehyung, you said that most people who are attracted to each other usually form relationships, right?” jimin’s voice is still soft, compliments the sadness still evident in his face.

“yes.”

“well, we can’t do that, we can’t be in a relationship. that’s why i wouldn’t tell you if you were correct or not. it doesn’t matter, you being right doesn’t change anything,” jimin tells him.

“that’s part of what i don’t understand,” taehyung tilts his head slightly to the side, “if we experience reciprocal attraction, why are you saying we can’t form a relationship?”

jimin lets out an exasperated sigh, “there’s a lot of reasons, taehyung. i’m your doctor-- actually, no,” he shakes his head roughly, straightens up and looks at taehyung sternly. “i’m not going to beat around the bush. yes, there are a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t form a relationship, but the main one is that you aren’t human.”

“i know this,” taehyung nods. “i’m a humanoid artificial intelligence, though, and i think we can agree i share more similarities with you and other humans than i do my fellow subjects.”

he’s never said something like that before, but it’s a conclusion he’s been working up to. jimin has told him time and time again just how different he is, and he knows his differences - abnormalities - make him more human, give him sentience. it’s why jimin had been so panicked about his development of empathy and fear.

he knows he is not like other subjects, and if he’s not like other subjects, then he’s only getting closer to the other side of the spectrum.

“i’m human enough,” he states.

jimin looks stunned for a long moment, going very still sans the movement of his chest as he breathes. taehyung doesn’t know what that means, but he waits instead of inquiring about his reaction. however, when jimin composes himself, he does not address what taehyung had said. instead, he counters, “you don’t have rights, you don’t have free will-- i have complete control over you, what does your research say about that?”

taehyung thinks about it. “my research indicates that kind of dynamic is called a ‘total power exchange’.”

jimin freezes again, the tips of his ears turning an alarming shade of red, but his voice comes out even. “okay, what do you think about it? you have to do everything i say, taehyung. you don’t have a choice. that’s not … it’s not right.”

“i don’t understand the problem surrounding not having a choice, jimin-ssi,” taehyung tells him.

jimin moves closer to his desk and perches himself on the ledge. “all humans have, or should have, something called free will. it means they have the power to act without constraint, it’s part of human exceptionalism. we have the power and the right to do what we want, we’re not governed by outside forces. that means we have choice, we can decide if we do or do not want to do something. it plays into things like morals and ethics.”

“and i don’t have these things?” taehyung asks, making sure to note specific words he’s not familiar with for later reference.

“you don’t, most ai’s and machines don’t. centrix subjects especially are designed for obedience. you were created to do what other people want you to do. i could tell you to eat your own shirt and you would do it. relationships don’t function like that; it’s a power imbalance.”

taehyung takes a moment to process everything jimin has told him. there are a lot of concepts he’s not familiar with, that he knows he’ll need to to take the time to research so he can discuss them confidently. but there are some things he does understand, and he understands where jimin’s concern is coming from.

people in relationships are meant to have an equal footing; they’re meant to be independent individuals who come together. he thinks jimin might be worried that he has the higher position, has authority over taehyung.

but taehyung knows about relationships where individuals chose to give up some of their own authority, entrusts that control to another person based on factors including trust and affection. he knows those relationships exist, and that they work -- he thinks it could work like that for them.

“jimin-ssi, i enjoy doing what you tell me to do. i acknowledge your reservations in regards to free will and choice, but it doesn’t concern me,” taehyung tells him. “doing what you tell me to do doesn’t affect me negatively, you understand this.” centrix is designed so the opposite is true; not being provided with clear instruction and tasks to complete is detrimental to subjects.

“i know,” jimin nods gently, “but the problem lies in you being told to do something you don’t want to do. you already show preference for things, but you still don’t have a choice in whether or not you can obey.”

“you’ve never told me to do something i don’t want to do,” taehyung counters.

“and i never will,” jimin says quickly, and then looks like he’s said something he didn’t mean to.

taehyung needs jimin to explain more because he still can’t compute why a relationship is not a favourable outcome, especially after such an admission.  

he draws his brows together to convey confusion and displeasure. “jimin-ssi, if we have such strong compatibility and experience a similar pattern of attraction, why are you so certain that forming a relationship is not a good thing? is there something in my research that i missed?”  

jimin scratches the back of his neck, looks away and clears his throat. all signs that he’s nervous or uneasy. “you are correct in a lot of ways, taehyung. i do have an attachment to you, that’s true, but my feelings aren’t as straightforward as yours are,” he explains, his eyes now on taehyung and his gaze is intense. “i feel guilty about a lot of things, because there are a lot of mistakes i’ve made. your development is incredible, but it puts you at risk in a way you were never meant to be, and that’s my fault. any pain you experience through fear or anything else that may develop, is my fault.

“i take responsibility for those things, and i will continue to take care of you and make sure we work together, but when i realised i was building this attachment, i promised myself i would never act on it. i know i’ve let my feelings interfere with my work, but it’s one thing to act irrationally for your sake and... another for me to be selfish.” he finishes slowly, his gaze steadily falling down to the floor and his cheeks burning a deep red.

taehyung had never heard jimin talk of things like guilt and fault but he recognises the connotation of such words, and the general idea of what jimin has conveyed to him. he’d never considered that attraction could have negative impacts. based on his research, and his own experience, attraction had only produced positive outcomes. but what jimin is saying has him thinking that maybe there are more complexities to this concept that he’s yet to even come across. he doesn’t want to form a relationship with jimin if the relationship would not be good for him in the way it would be good for taehyung. he wants them to both enjoy their feelings for each other.

he finds himself taking a few steps closer, wants to create a more intimate environment and knows that physical closeness facilitates that. he still keeps a distance, having noted that jimin has been intentionally creating space between them.  “jimin-ssi,” he waits until jimin looks up, “does your attraction to me make you feel bad?”

jimin’s face crumples, looking sadder than he had before, and then he’s moving closer to taehyung, holding onto both of his hands.

usually, this kind of closeness and contact would have taehyung’s accomplishment center activates, but he only registers some low-level activity. he also registers activity in what he now knows is his right supramarginal gyrus.

jimin’s expression morphs into something more determined, but his voice is soft when he speaks; “no, taehyungie, it-it’s complicated but…” he pauses, squeezes taehyung’s hands in his. “working with you makes me feel good, it really does. helping you come to be--who you are today, it’s more than i ever thought i’d gain through centrix. i’ve learnt so much from you, more than i know how to say. it’s … difficult for me, it’s hard to explain, but i don’t want you to think… i want you to know it makes me feel good. you make me feel good.”

and now taehyung’s accomplishment center lights up, the sensation moving deeper through his body than he’s used to, more intense in a way he hasn’t experienced before.

“it makes me happy to hear that,” he tells jimin, smiling to express it too.

jimin returns it with a smaller smile of his own, traces of sadness still evident in his eyes. “but do you understand why forming a relationship might be … complicated?” he asks, looking at taehyung carefully.

taehyung thinks about it, wants to ensure jimin that he is taking his concerns seriously -- that’s he’s completing these tasks correctly. there is clearly much he still does not understand, things he needs to research and become more familiar with, but he finds that his base conclusions seem to still hold. he still thinks his and jimin’s feelings have positive implications.

based on further research he conducted into the film the notebook, he knows there are instances where relationships are complicated, that they don’t always result in positive experiences, but that people still put in the effort to try. it’s a common theme in romantic stories.

“i do understand jimin-ssi,” taehyung nods, and jimin looks a little relieved. “and i still think we should try.”

“why do you think that?” jimin asks, genuinely curious.

“because, from my experience, my attraction to you has only ever made me feel good. and maybe you can’t quantify your feelings like how i can, but i know the good emotions outweigh the bad ones.” taehyung has the data to prove it, having calculated the positive and negative responses he’s experienced while working with jimin. he thinks the numbers speak for themselves, but he knows humans prefer qualitative expressions when discussing their emotions. “i think … acting on our feelings, as you put it, will make us feel good, and i want us to feel good.”

jimin bites down on his lip and taehyung notices the corners of his lips curving upwards. “i don’t know if you’re making a really good point, or if i’m just too used to giving you what you want.”

“i want what you want,” he tells jimin.

“and most of the time, taehyung, what i want is for you to be happy,” jimin whispers, letting go of one of taehyung’s hands so he could cup taehyung’s jaw. he strokes his thumb across taehyung’s cheek, something he’s never done before, but it feels nice like how touching his scar feels nice.

“i think the solution is clear, don’t you?” taehyung asks, feeling a sound sense of understanding for the first time since jimin had told him to stand up.

jimin tilts his head to the slide, looks at taehyung in a way that he can’t decipher. “how do you envision this relationship, taehyung? if we were to have one, what would it be like?”

taehyung considers his thought experiments, all the times he extrapolated information about relationships and attraction and applied it to him and jimin, and finds the answer is difficult to convey. he tries his best. “i envision it to feel good, we’d do things that make us happy.”

“like what?” jimin prompts.

these words come a little easier, “we’d spend time together, talk about things and share ideas and information.” things they already do.

“what else?”

these are things they don’t do as often, but things taehyung is sure would be nice to experience; “we’d touch more, share more physical intimacy.”

“you want that?” jimin asks, raising his brow in question.

“of course, i like being close to you. i liked being in your bed--maybe we could watch more movies too?” jimin smiles a little and nods encouragingly. “and i liked when you gave me those confirmations too, i want to try that again. i want to try things that will feel good.”

“we can do those things,” jimin nods.

“what about you, jimin-ssi?” taehyung thinks to ask, remembering the importance of reciprocity. “what do you want to do?”

jimin hums, indicates that he’s thinking, and moves his hand to brush his fingers through taehyung’s hair. “i like the sound of the things you said.”

“is there anything else?” he encourages, the way jimin had encouraged him.

another short pause before he answers. “you can call me jimin-- just jimin, if you want. and jiminie.”

“like how you call me taehyungie?”

jimin nods, a sweet smile on his lips.

“that will make you feel good?” he wonders if it works the same for jimin as it does for himself.

“try it and i’ll tell you.” there’s a sparkle in his eyes that draws taehyung’s attention.

“jimin,” taehyung says softly, very careful not to add the suffix afterwards as he’s so used to. “jiminie,” he adds after a moment.

jimin leans forward and whispers conspiratorially, “it makes me feel good, taehyungie."

taehyung’s accomplishment center lights up, and he smiles to express his happiness. “will you call me other names, jiminie? like terms of endearment?”

he knows he already likes it when jimin calls him sweetheart and good boy and is interested in finding out if he feels the same for terms like angel and baby.

“i can,” jimin tells him, “i’ll try different ones, if you want, to see what you like but i want you to tell me what feels good, what activates your accomplishment center.”

“i want to, yes, and i’ll tell you.”

“that’s not just for names, though,” jimin’s voice becomes a little firm, his face sterner than before and taehyung recognises the need to pay special attention to what he is asking of him. “anything we do, i want you to tell me if it makes you feel good. and i also want you to tell me if anything activates your negative response signal, too.”

“i will, jimin,” taehyung nods.

“good boy,” jimin tells him, activating his accomplishment center.

“can we kiss, now?” taehyung asks and is a little surprised when jimin laughs.

he quickly composes himself. “sorry, that was just a little unexpected,”he explains. “you want to kiss?”

“my research indicates it’s a common custom between people when they form a relationship,” he replies, “and that it feels good.”

“that… is correct,” jimin says, a little distractedly although taehyung isn’t sure why.

before either of them can move to initiate the kiss, taehyung takes the opportunity to ask, “can we sit in your chair again?”

“why?” jimin’s focus is sharp once more.

“because i noted excess salivation when i was sitting in your lap,” taehyung tells him.

jimin lets out a whoosh of air, smiling widely as he steps away from taehyung, backwards towards his chair, tugging him along with their still intertwined hands. “this is going to be interesting,” jimin murmurs, sitting down.

taehyung stays standing, waits for jimin to instruct him, and asks, “what is?”

jimin just looks up at taehyung for a moment, the depth of emotion in his eyes indecipherable to taehyung. maybe one day.

“you,” he says simply, “you’re interesting.”

taehyung thinks there is more to it than that, and he wants to ask jimin to elaborate on what he means, but before he can do so, jimin is tugging on his arm. “you can sit,” he tells taehyung.

he chooses to sit the same way as before, deciding it’s the best position for this interaction. it’s just as comfortable, jimin is warm and this time his expression is inviting, easier for taehyung to interpret. once he’s sat down, taehyung places his hands on jimin’s shoulders again.

“you’ve never kissed before,” jimin states, whispering again now they’re so close.

“i haven’t, but i’ve watched lots of demonstrations.”

jimin suppresses a smile, “that must’ve been some very intriguing research.”

“i was surprised by the various interpretations.”

“do you want me to kiss you first?” jimin asks softly, one of his hands coming to rest on taehyung’s hip like before.

“yes please, jiminie,” taehyung answers, trusting jimin to guide him well.

“okay taehyungie, close your eyes,” jimin instructs, his voice breathy and sweet, soothing and grounding. taehyung closes his eyes, leans into jimin’s touch when his other hand comes to cup his jaw. very gently, jimin runs his thumb over taehyung’s lips and it causes him to shiver at the sensation it causes.

“like your scar?” jimin asks. taehyung makes a noise of confirmation, not wanting to disturb jimin’s touch by moving or talking. jimin repositions his hand and taehyung can sense him moving closer, beyond his centrix’s sensors, he can feel jimin’s warmth radiating from him, just inches away.

then, just as gently, jimin leans forward and his lips are pressing against taehyung’s.

the pressure it firm but soft, jimin’s lips are warm and the sensation has taehyung shivering, but it’s not so much the action itself that has taehyung’s heart racing, has his accomplishment center lighting up. it’s knowing the meaning behind such an action; the feelings they are conveying through their kiss.

it’s over far too quickly; jimin pulls away and taehyung blindly moves forward to follow, only stopping when jimin’s hand moves to run through his hair, partly distracting taehyung and also slowing down his inertia.

“how did it feel, taehyung?” he asks, voice low.

“it felt--really good. it felt good,” he nods, sounding breathless, blinking his eyes open to see jimin watching him carefully. “did it feel good for you, too?”

“it felt nice, yes,” jimin tells him, smiling sweetly.

“can we do it again?”

jimin nods. “do you want to kiss me this time?”

“yes, please.”

jimin settles his other hand on taehyung’s waist and then closes his eyes, signalling for taehyung to initiate the kiss.

focusing on what jimin had done, as well as incorporating bits and pieces from his own research, taehyung leans forward slowly. he keeps his hands where they are, resting lightly on jimin’s shoulders, and uses his own lips to brush against jimin’s.

jimin shivers a little, like taehyung had done, so he takes that as a good sign. focusing on his emotion, what he wants to convey, taehyung kisses him. he tries for a firmer kiss; tries to make sure it says i trust you, i care for you, i want you to be happy.

it feels different this time, taehyung thinks it might be because jimin responds to the kiss in a way he hadn’t; jimin’s lips gently catching his own. it makes an odd noise when they part, but it intrigues taehyung, so he copies what jimin had done, enjoying the different types of sensation, generating an even, continuous flow of confirmation signals.

taehyung pauses instinctually, wanting to take a second to breathe, but makes sure to stay close. they’re so close that when jimin goes to wet his lips, his tongue flicks out against taehyung’s too. that causes taehyung to shiver as well.

he’d seen that type of kissing before, but it seems a lot more complicated. he thinks he’d want to ask jimin to teach him before he tried it himself.

“how d’you feel?” jimin murmurs, presses his lips to the corner of taehyung’s mouth. taehyung feels his cheeks glowing, recognising the casual affection.

“really good,” taehyung breathes. it’s not the overwhelming tidal wave of stimulation that the affirmations had been the night of the procedures, it’s more like warm ripples moving through his body. it’s one of the best sensations he’s ever experienced. he tries to pull more descriptive vocabulary to convey what he feels. “wonderful, amazing, marvellous.”

jimin chuckles against taehyung’s cheek, presses a few quick kisses, called pecks, around his jaw before he says, “good.”

“how do you feel?” taehyung mimics jimin’s question.

“hmm, probably the same as you,” jimin tells him. he’s pulled away properly now, leaning against the headrest, and taehyung can see the flush of his cheeks, the fascinating sparkle in his eyes, his tooth-baring grin. the strength of his accomplishment signal at the sight is one he’s sure to record, wanting to be able to recall how jimin looks in perfect detail.

“i did a good job then?” he asks, wanting more confirmation.

jimin’s eyes narrow slightly, and taehyung can tell he probably knows the primary reason he’s asking. still, he delivers, “of course you did, baby.”

his smile morphs into something smug as taehyung’s cheeks heat up and a gentle, “oh,” slips out of his lips.

“oh?” jimin prompts.

taehyung recognises the term of endearment, one that’s interested him since they had watched the notebook and jimin had explained it’s versatility. he had wondered what it would feel like for jimin to call him that, and now he knows; it feels amazing.

“i like that one, jiminie” he tells jimin once the signal had calmed down some.

“i’ll keep it in mind.”

taehyung is reminded of something he came across in his research; the concept called flirting which he isn’t entirely familiar with but something he thinks he knows enough about to try. it’s part of courting rituals, but those in relationships still engage in the behaviour, meant to promote ideas of affection between people.

“does that mean you think i’m cute?” he tries, drawing on the knowledge that flirting is meant to subtly make the other person reveal their intentions or feelings.

“it does,” jimin replies, chuckling. he brings one hand from taehyung’s waist to the back of his head, carding his fingers through his hair, scratching his scalp gently. “i think you’re very cute, in a weird way.”

taehyung isn’t sure what that means, not completely, but jimin is smiling and his hand is in his hair and taehyung feels good so he’s not too concerned about much else right now.

“it also means,” jimin adds, voice somewhat more serious now, catching taehyung’s attention, “that i want to take care of you.”

taehyung nods in acknowledgement; he’s known for a long time that jimin cares for him.

“i promise i’ll take care of you, taehyungie,” jimin murmurs. he sounds a little distant. “no matter what, i’ll protect you.”

there’s an implication there, one that his centrix picks up but is too distracted to properly decipher.

instead, taehyung thinks of what he wants to say to that. he wants something that will make jimin feel as good as taehyung does, wants jimin to know his feelings are reciprocated.

he decides to echo jimin’s sentiment; “and i’ll protect you, too, jiminie.”

jimiin sighs, his expression fond as he gently ruffles taehyung’s bangs. “my good boy, my taehyungie,” he whispers sweetly, eyes sparkling once more.

my jiminie.

taehyung doesn’t voice his thought, stores it away as a sentiment he can share on another occasion.

it does make him think, however, that they must belong to each other.

he can’t think of anyone else who could make him feel as good, nor can he think of someone else he’d want to be good for.

he thinks that, perhaps, it’s possible that they were made for each other.

 

VIII. 

 

ask jimin why he joined the centrix program and he’d have a few different reasons he could give.

centrix presented to him the opportunity to become a better doctor, to hone his skills and abilities in his field. it also presented a challenge; to push himself past what he ever thought he was capable of, while also working with some of the best minds in human science, biotechnology and robotics. it called to him as a change of pace, something different he could do with his life, something that could be fulfilling. it also gave him the chance of being part of the future, of being an innovator.

those reasons have always been important to him.

they’re ones that convinced him to send in his application in the first place, and the ones that motivated him through the preliminary rounds when he wasn’t too sure if it was worth it, and they’re part of the answer he gave in his final interview, which was a deciding factor in his selection as a final candidate.

when his application got accepted and he found himself thrust into weeks of applicant inductions, seminars, examinations and interviews, those reasons were what pushed him to work harder and better than the other applicants. and once he was accepted and started working in the program, they were the things that drove him to ensuring he’d carve a place for himself here; he wanted to make sure he was renowned in his department, that the higher-ups knew he had worth and value.

he felt as though centrix was his beginning and his end, that it would be the legacy he would leave behind.

but if jimin were asked that question now, his answer wouldn’t be as straightforward. certainly those reasons have not been rendered redundant, and they are what gave him his start in the program, but they’re no longer as important to him, not anymore.

jimin doesn’t believe in fate or destiny, thinks those concepts are far too fantastical to waste time pondering and can only lead to unhappiness in the end because nothing is ever permanently fixed. but over time he’s started to think there might be at least some truth to them.

he’s not comfortable with the sentimentality behind such an explanation, but there are times he can’t help but think he joined centrix because of taehyung.

it’s ridiculous for a whole number of reasons, the first being that taehyung didn’t even exist when jimin started in the program. he knows that to entertain such an idea is admitting to beliefs in things he really doesn’t consider real, but he’s no stranger to making exceptions when it comes to taehyung.

at the very least, he’s comfortable with accepting that the reason why he stays now, what is motivating the work he’s doing in the program currently, is because of taehyung. he can accept that his priorities have changed, that his feelings about the program and his place in it are different.

he knows that he would leave, that he feels he no longer has a place here.

but he can’t, and he won’t, because he wouldn’t be able to take taehyung with him. and if that’s the case, then there’s no point in him leaving.

that’s been the case for a while but ever since that day in his office, that feeling, along with many others, have only grown stronger, more pronounced.

it’s been a couple of months since that day, when taehyung so efficiently picked him apart and laid open all the things jimin thought he’d been careful in concealing. it had stunned him completely, not just the emotion taehyung had displayed or the way he’d been able to recognise them in jimin, but the fact that he wanted something to come from their feelings.

jimin probably could’ve handled taehyung knowing how he felt about him. looking back he realises that it probably only was a matter of time before taehyung figured out what jimin’s behaviour towards him meant, so that knowledge in and of itself wasn’t what spun jimin for a loop and had him turning his own world upside down.

it was that taehyung wanted something, and jimin had never been able to tell taehyung no.

 


 

it’s been two months, and more things have stayed the same than have changed.

outside of their work obligations, they spend just as much time talking about things that interest them and share new things they’ve learnt. they continue to confide in each other, exploring not only taehyung’s continual developments and evolution but also discussing jimin’s knowledge of the human experience to help with their combined understanding of taehyung’s growth.

the way they are with each other hasn’t changed, not at its foundation, and mostly that’s because they never really had a normal relationship. jimin has almost always had a unique fondness for taehyung, and taehyung’s attachment and feelings for jimin had been growing for a long, long time.

they’re certainly more open now, because they no longer have to hide things from each other, but their feelings aren’t new. their transition into a relationship wasn’t startling, it was almost relaxing. with this newfound openness, jimin’s guilt about his affection started to dissolve and taehyung gained the freedom to explore experiences he wasn’t able to before.

a big part of jimin’s hesitation before he said yes was that guilt; sleepless nights spent pondering the moral and ethical implications of his feelings had him worried that he was taking advantage of taehyung, that his feelings made him some reprehensible person who manipulated taehyung into forming an attachment to him.

but those worries lessened when jimin started letting himself realise that taehyung isn’t a robot. not anymore. the echo of ‘i’m human enough’ rings through his ears often now, and taehyung’s continuous developments and evolution is proof that it’s not all mechanics.

taehyung still has to obey orders, still doesn’t have free will like a human, but he does have choice. jimin tries to give him all the choice he can; frames things as questions instead of orders, asks for taehyung’s opinion before deciding on certain things. he includes taehyung in what’s happening, takes into account his feelings about their tasks for the day -- anything he can do so taehyung has an understanding of the free will that jimin suspects will soon be something he deserves the right to have.

taehyung knows about jimin’s concerns, understands that jimin had promised to keep taehyung protected from being taken advantage of and that he fears breaking that promise himself. taehyung had reassured jimin that he feels protected when he’s with him, and jimin knows taehyung can’t lie.

it was a bit of a slow process, but jimin has accepted taehyung’s peculiar claim to free will for a centrix unit; his choice. he may not have choice in all the traditional ways, but his feelings (because jimin knows it’s unfair to call them otherwise now) are his choice; shaped by learning and experience.

and that’s where things differ for them and their relationship; through all the things taehyung wants to learn and experience.

jimin thinks he’d be content with their relationship as it were, especially considering that he was almost certain it could never be more than what it was. he thought it was cute that taehyung wanted to kiss him to fulfil a human custom. he certainly didn’t expect himself to get caught up in it, didn’t realise how much he craved giving taehyung the affection he made sure to clamp down on as much as he could until he was suddenly able to give it and couldn’t stop himself from peppering taehyung with kisses.

but what was more of a surprise was finding out just how much taehyung enjoyed it, and how interested he was in exploring more.

just as jimin was content with their relationship before they knew of each others feelings, he’s happy enough to indulge taehyung in his desire for knowledge, and for jimin himself.

they don’t get hours and hours a day to themselves, not when they have to maintain a routine and be producing data, and especially not when they don’t have a lot of opportunities outside of jimin’s office to be alone together, but they make do with what they have.

taehyung likes pet names and casual touches -- jimin’s confirmations end with angel or baby or the more recent taetae and are accompanied by carding his fingers through taehyung’s hair more often than not -- and he also likes giving jimin confirmations too. he gives jimin compliments and expresses when jimin’s done something he particularly enjoys. it was a change that jimin hadn’t expected, but one he rather adores.

taehyung also likes physical intimacy, much more than he lets on judging by his brain scans but that’s probably a good thing. they can’t really afford to get too used to being touchy and jimin doesn’t know what he’d do if taehyung was any more persistent than he already is.

jimin likes to think of himself as a man with good self-control, but he’d be embarrassed to find out just how many times taehyung’s managed to pull jimin into a minutes long hug when they were already behind schedule, or wriggled into jimin’s lap when going over data on the computer, or turned an innocent kiss into jimin lifting him up onto the examination table, wrapping his legs around his waist.

kissing is one of taehyung’s favourites, by far, and jimin has to say he shares that opinion.

there’s something about taehyung that just makes everything enjoyable; his excitement and enthusiasm, how he perceives things and expresses his point of view.

the first time they kissed properly, when taehyung had asked if jimin could show him how to ‘french kiss’, jimin was nervous. he’d never taught anyone before and he didn’t really know how to go about such a thing, it’s based on feeling; two people finding a rhythm that their hearts could sing to.

he explained that to taehyung, a little less metaphorically, and expected taehyung to feel uncertain or hesitant himself. jimin found out quickly that he was anything but. no one is truly a good kisser naturally, it’s a learned thing, but jimin wouldn’t say taehyung was a bad one, either. he was messy and a little over-enthusiastic, but he let jimin take the lead and guide them so it wasn’t a tragedy of teeth and spit.

afterwards, jimin learned taehyung had studied the different cues, so he knew to part his lips when he felt jimin’s tongue brush against them, and he knew to tilt his head when jimin licked into his mouth, jimin’s hand cupping his jaw providing the direction. the first time was slow and lazy, giving taehyung time to decide if he enjoyed it (very much so) and to adjust to the sensation (his limbix lit up like a christmas tree), and also just to find that sense of push and pull.

when they parted, jimin tried to reel himself in to be ready to gauge for a negative reaction or to answer any of taehyung’s questions but when he was able to see taehyung’s face, he saw that he was smiling.

jimin was used to taehyung’s smile by now, adored the way he smiled wide and uninhibited because he knew you smiled to express happiness and he wanted to show just how happy he felt.

he was smiling and his cheeks were flushed and he was clutching onto jimin a little tight but jimin could tell he felt good, and that’s all that mattered to jimin.

but then taehyung leaned forward a little and whispered, “did you know we exchanged roughly eighty-million germs in the duration of that kiss?”

jimin couldn’t stop his laughter, let himself crumple against taehyung instead of falling sideways on the bed and didn’t stop until there were tears in his eyes. when it had subsided to a chuckle, he sat back up and looked at taehyung again. his cheeks were still flushed and he was still smiling.

“i didn’t know that,” jimin answered the question taehyung had posed, using his thumb to wipe at the saliva that was lingering around taehyung’s lips.

“is it meant to be funny?” he asked curiously.

jimin shook his head, “it’s not, but your timing was humorous, that’s why i laughed,” he explained. “most people don’t think about things like bacteria and germs while kissing, it’s not romantic.”

taehyung took a moment to consider the information before asking another question, “you don’t find it romantic?” romance is something taehyung is still deciphering and jimin finds his fascination with the concept endearing.

“hmm, i wouldn’t classify it as romantic but i don’t really mind. you might not want to think about it while you’re kissing, but you also have to be willing to expose yourself to other people’s germs in the first place. i don’t think that notion is un-romantic,” jimin mused aloud, never actually taking the time to explore such a thing before.

“i think it’s romantic,” taehyung decided with a nod. “i like everything about you,” he told jimin, “including your germs.”

the words would’ve been bizarre coming from anyone else, but from taehyung they expressed exactly the type of emotion he wanted them to. jimin’s smile was as wide as taehyung’s had been, his face dusted a pretty pink as he gazed at taehyung, let himself look at him with all the adoration he’d kept stored in his heart.

“you’re so sweet, baby,” he murmured, before leaning in for another kiss.

it had surprised jimin, just how naturally it came to them, but he didn’t question it. taehyung had always made him feel good, they’d always shared a connection between them and so he lets himself enjoy how it makes him happy, accepts the fact that it is natural between them, and that there’s nothing wrong with leaving that feeling alone.

there are some things he doesn’t have to analyse in order to understand, that exist just so that people feel good.

and taehyung’s philosophy, as it turns out, is that if something feels good then you should do it as much as possible.

jimin can’t really argue against that, so that’s how he finds himself in situations like this; twenty minutes after the movies credits have ended, taehyung straddling his hips and happily showering jimin’s face with kisses.

he’s not complaining, not at all, but he can’t seem to find the switch to turn off the part of his brain telling him, “it’s getting late.”

“lateness is relative,” taehyung tells him in between kissing along his jaw, “it’s only seven-thirty.”

jimin bites down on his lip, partially to hold back the breathy sound that had almost slipped out when he felt taehyung kiss the tender spot just below his ear.

“am i doing good?” he asks, pulling himself up to look at jimin.

jimin’s still biting his lip so he nods, and then watches in fascination as taehyung’s pupils dilate. telling himself that eight o’clock is still a respectable time for taehyung to go into stasis, he cards his hand through the back of taehyung’s hair and then pulls him down into a bruising kiss.

taehyung had proven to be a quick learner, and he’s always eager to show off what he knows.

it’s like any other night where jimin lets himself give in just a little and taehyung gets to lose himself in something that makes him feel good; they don’t do more than kiss but it’s yet to feel boring or repetitive. taehyung finds wonder in everything, is excited by every little facet of this shared affection and it makes jimin feel as if he’s discovering what it means to kiss and be kissed all over again. it’s fun and enjoyable and a part of their new normalcy.

but then something changes.

they’re both sitting up and taehyung, still in jimin’s lap, rocks forward and whines into jimin’s mouth. jimin stills reflexively, breaking their kiss and dropping his hand from taehyung’s neck to rest at his waist, steadying him where he’s still moving.

“woah, taehyu--”

“no, no, more please, jiminie--” taehyung cuts jimin off only for his own words to stutter off, surging forward to find jimin’s lips again.

jimin forces himself to stay calm, doesn’t want his instinctual response to whenever taehyung shows a new change to overcome him. he has to be careful in these situations, the wrong words from his mouth take away from taehyung’s ability to control his own actions. he slows them down, breaking the kiss again but not moving away. he kisses along taehyung’s jaw, nips at his earlobe and whispers, “you’re getting a little worked up baby, huh? how about we slow down?”

it’s a suggestion, open for interpretation, and jimin hopes taehyung will choose to cool off. but instead, taehyung lets out a breathless, “nuh-uh,” shaking his head softly and slipping his hands off jimin’s shoulders, down his arms.

jimin lets out a nervous chuckle, unable to think properly as his mind races. he’s not sure what’s happening, why taehyung’s behaviour has taken on such an erratic edge. he suspects it’s probably related to whatever is happening in taehyung’s limbix, the sensations he’s experiencing causing him to--

“you’ll tell me what to do, right jiminie?” taehyung’s voice cuts through jimin’s thoughts, coming out in pants as his fingers skim along the waistband of jimin’s sweats. “please, i wanna make you feel good.”

jimin’s mind comes to a screeching halt, his hands finding taehyung’s and pulling them back, managing to choke out, “we need to stop, taehyung.”

and it’s enough for taehyung to stop, for him to finally still in jimin’s lap. “w-what? why do we have to stop?” the stuttering tells jimin his limbix is overstimulated, heating up and effecting his other processors.

jimin shakes his head to clear his thoughts, feeling overwhelmed and a little frazzled. “can you tell me what just happened?”

taehyung hesitates, but jimin can’t be certain of the reason why. the hesitation seems less to do with his overheated centrix or his thought recall than it does with shyness, which is confirmed when taehyung bites his lip.

“my limbix,” he begins slowly, “the signals in my accomplishment center were strong but began to plateau, i needed more stimulation.”

jimin swallows and then prompts, “and?”

“i’ve done research into other forms of physical intimacy, and i reached the conclusion that performing fel--um,” taehyung stutters, breaks eye contact and looks away. despite the fluttering of panic in his chest, jimin waits quietly, rubbing up and down taehyung’s arm in comfort. taehyung’s been working on his vocabulary and syntax, wanting to sound more human, so they agreed on letting taehyung struggle with his wording until he finds what he needs to say himself.

“in the moment, when i realised i wanted more stimulation, i conclu--decided that i wanted to try performing oral sex. on you.”

taehyung is still looking away, and jimin notices that his cheeks are back to a brighter red. it rings a few different alarm bells -- knowledge of sexual intimacy, a sense of modesty, possible self-consciousness -- but jimin puts those all in the back seat. taehyung’s never talked about this before and jimin wants it to be a positive experience.

but he’s a little flustered himself, his own cheeks warm, and he feels a bit like he’s stumbling around in the dark.

“well, that’s an interesting development,” he tries but then doesn’t know what to say next.

in the following pause, taehyung echos, “development?”

“yes, because this is new, correct?” jimin clarifies.

“i’ve had knowledge of these things previously, but this is the first instance in which i thought it would be appropriate to suggest it,” taehyung answers, and he’s looking at jimin again which soothes his anxiety, even if only a fraction.

because jimin realises that even if he wants this to be a good and positive experience for taehyung, he ultimately has to turn him down; reject him. he doesn’t know if there is a way to do such a thing without possibly hurting taehyung’s feelings or creating a negative association.

he doesn’t want to stall anymore, and he knows that being upfront and direct with taehyung is the best way to communicate with him. “okay, first i want to tell you that you haven’t done anything wrong,” he says first, not wanting to activate taehyung’s negative response receptor accidentally. and from a logical standpoint, taehyung hadn’t actually done anything wrong. he was correct in his conclusion; it was as good a time as any to go further, and in another world they would’ve done just that.

but there was one factor unaccounted for. “but, taehyung, i’m not comfortable with... venturing into that kind of physical intimacy with you.”

taehyung lets out a quiet, “oh.

“not!” jimin tacks on, a second too late, “not until you have more … autonomy. i don’t like that i’ll have complete control over you.”

“i like it, though,” taehyung replies, voice still just a whisper.

“i know, tae,” jimin murmurs, can’t help feeling bad for not being able to give taehyung something he wants.

it’s something they’ve talked about, albeit briefly. taehyung is aware jimin doesn’t enjoy being able to control taehyung’s every move, not when taehyung doesn’t have a choice in it. jimin knows taehyung does enjoy doing what jimin tells him. jimin also knows that once taehyung has autonomy, he’ll feel differently about things. but they’re not at that point yet.

“jimin, it’s--” he starts suddenly, voice a little louder before it abruptly stops.

“what is it? tell me,” jimin cups taehyung’s jaw and lifts his head up when starts to look down again.

“i understand you don’t want to engage in further physical intimacy right now, but will that change?” he asks. “will you want to in the future?”

jimin gets a sense that this is coming from a place of self-consciousness; of needing reassurance that he reciprocates taehyung’s feelings.

“yes,” he doesn’t hesitate. “yes, taehyung, i want more, i want to give you everything,” he tells him. it’s true that jimin would be content with only casual touches, it’s also true that he’d be content with only kissing. but in an ideal world, he’d be able to share all of himself with taehyung, and vice versa. if that world turns out to be this one, then it’s just all the more he gets to give to taehyung.

taehyung’s smile is small, but it tells jimin he’s happy. “when? when can we--when will i have autonomy?” he asks, bouncing a little in excitement -- jimin is no longer sure if such self-expressions are conscious or not.

jimin thinks about it for a moment, wanting to give as much of a definitive answer as he can. autonomy is a tricky concept, not something you can measure. he’ll need to make sure taehyung has a stronger grasp on what it means, give him a chance of recognising it in himself. but for now, he needs to decide for himself when he’ll be able to see taehyung enacting his own autonomy.

he needs to decide when he’ll be comfortable becoming more physical with taehyung.

“when you can disobey an order,” jimin tells him.

taehyung nods in acknowledgement before his brow furrows just slightly. “that goes against my coding, jiminie. it won’t be possible for me to disobey an order.”

jimin hums in agreement, “but there are a lot of things you aren’t supposed to be able to do, and here you are.” taehyung has a lot of abnormalities, but he still functions within the parameters of his centrix. disobeying an order would override the very core of what it means to be a subject in the program, it would make taehyung independent from his centrix.

“here i am,” taehyung echos and jimin hums again, stroking his thumb across taehyung’s cheek. “i hope it happens soon,” taehyung tells him, looking at jimin with an odd hardness in his eyes, something like determination. “because i really want to, so much,” he sighs.

jimin chuckles, “do you think you’d enjoy it?”

“my research and thought experiments tell me that yes, i would, and everything else we’ve done feels good and i think the more we do, the more we’d enjoy it.”

“and that hypothesis hasn’t failed you yet,” jimin mumbles, mostly to himself.

“and, jimin,” he pauses to catch jimin’s gaze with an even more serious look than before, “i enjoy making you happy the most, but i also want to be human. if … if disobeying you means i can be more human, i look forward to when i can do that.” his words got smaller and smaller the more he talked, his stature shrinking too, as if he were admitting to doing something wrong.

“that doesn’t upset me, i want you to be human too. if you’re able to go against what i tell you, then i want you to go against it,” he replies, reassuring him. taehyung relaxes and jimin guesses that his negative response signal has died down.

“can you try it? just in case i can do it now?” taehyung asks, sounding more confident, hopeful.

jimin doesn’t think he’ll be able to, not in this instance, but he’s not going to deny taehyung the opportunity to try, to explore. he thinks of something to tell taehyung to do and notices that his legs are getting numb. “stand up, please.”

taehyung stands up in one fluid motion, not a single hint of hesitation.

“well done, sweetheart,” jimin praises, reaches out for taehyung’s hand to tug him back down onto the bed. instead of sitting back in jimin’s lap, though, taehyung sits with his back against the wall and his legs criss-crossed. “did you try and stop?” jimin asks after a moment.

“i didn’t think to, i just did what you told me to.” he doesn’t sound particularly disappointed or upset, speaking in the neutral, emotionless tone that he so often does unless he puts effort into expressing himself.

“that may be the case now, taehyung,” jimin tells him, “but based on the experiments we’ve been doing, and the changes in your centrix… babe, it won’t be long.” and he’s being honest. he wishes he could predict how long, but he really can’t be sure. taehyung’s developments have accelerated since his sentience began, absolutely, but an abnormality like this would be huge, more than just unprecedented, so an estimation just isn’t possible. jimin hopes it’s still reassuring.

“thank you, jiminie,” taehyung smiles, and this time he does sound reassured.

they stay like that for a few moments, sitting apart aside from jimin still holding onto taehyung’s hand, stroking across the back of his palm gently.

“baby?” jimin speaks gently, recognising that taehyung had been filtering through thoughts and memories as they lapsed into a comfortable silence. he waits until taehyung’s eyes are focused before he continues, “do you think we could talk about your centrix activity now?”

he knows it’s well past eight by now and taehyung needs to be getting into stasis soon, but jimin wants the information as fresh as it can be, his curiosity and scholarship driving his impatience.

taehyung frowns, which surprises jimin. “what activity, specifically?”

“...you said the confirmation signals plateaued and that’s what prompted you to seek further stimulation. i think that would be important for us to discuss,” jimin replies carefully, not able to decipher why taehyung is frowning.

“i agree that it would be important to discuss,” taehyung replies, still frowning a little.

“okay… so does that mean you’re going to talk about it?”

“i will talk about it now if you want me too, but i would like to suggest that we talk about it tomorrow. during working hours.”

jimin blinks, more than a little confused. “why are you suggesting that?” jimin asks. it’s not a bad suggestion, he just doesn’t understand where it’s coming from.

“because talking about my centrix is something we do during work, and right now i… think we should just spend time with each other. not think about my centrix,” he explains.

it’s jimin’s turn to frown. “i need to think about your centrix. i have to make sure i keep on top of any changes that happen, you know that’s important.”

“of course i do, but…” he goes quiet, tilting his head as his eyes go a little distant. jimin waits for him, resumes stroking the back of his hand again when he realises he’s stopped.

“you don’t always have to be analysing me, jiminie. this time we have together, i’d like it if we could just focus on each other. i think you need to relax more,” he says after a moment.

jimin bites his lip, considering taehyung’s words and what they mean. taehyung’s centrix is always on jimin’s mind, it’s practically second nature for him to think about it; emerging abnormalities, what causes them, what accelerates them, discerning patterns and projecting what changes might come next. he’s been like this since they began working together, and he’s never seen it as a problem -- it’s almost always been more than his job, it’s something he cares about, something that's a priority.

but what taehyung is implying is that there is a difference between his centrix and himself, and that jimin is paying too much attention to the former. taehyung had said jimin analyses him and he can only imagine what that must feel like. taehyung wants to be human, and part of being human is being treated like one.

“have i upset you?” he asks, squeezing taehyung’s hand in his.

“no, not at all. i understand why you are like this, but we should compartmentalise these things.”

jimin nods in agreement, “i think you’re right. i’m sorry for being so preoccupied with your centrix, i didn’t realise how it would come across.” the transition into more was easy, but jimin is realising he’s yet to separate his role as taehyung’s doctor from what they are now.

“when we’re working, it doesn’t bother me. but in this context, i would rather talk about other things.” he moves his hand in jimin’s to lace their fingers together.

“that sounds fair, we’ll talk about it tomorrow,” jimin nods again in finality. “now, i should probably be putting you into stasis.”

taehyung pouts at the mention of it, jimin all too aware that stasis isn’t taehyung’s favourite thing in the world. there’s no way around it, yet, so he starts shuffling off the bed regardless. “i would also like to discuss an idea i have with you, too,” he says casually as he stands.

jimin stills just as he’s about to stand up himself. “what idea?” he asks, curiosity piqued.

“well, we agreed on no further physical intimacy until i have autonomy, so i have an idea about how to achieve the stimulation i wanted earlier.”

“you really don’t want to go into stasis, huh?” jimin raises a brow, eyes flickering to the clock sitting on the bedside table. it’s before 9, he still has time.

“what do you mean?” taehyung asks, voice neutral. to anyone else, his question is genuine, but jimin knows that taehyung has figured out how to push jimin’s buttons, to get what he wants.

“nothing,” jimin shakes his head, smiling. he stands up and starts looking for his shoes and keys. taehyung had managed to distract jimin more than enough for tonight. “come on, let’s go,” he plants a kiss on taehyung’s cheek as he walks past towards the door.

“i still can’t discern a pattern,” taehyung comments as they begin walking down the hallway towards the stasis room.

“what pattern?”

“of when that tactic works,” taehyung replies.

jimin shakes his head again, his soft laughter echoing in the empty hall.

 


 

they didn’t have much time the next day to discuss the events of the night before, but they squeezed in a brief conversation after taehyung’s physiotherapy. jimin mostly needed to take note of what taehyung had experienced, match the qualitative data to the activity in his centrix. this change wasn’t necessarily as momentous as others, but just showed continual progression and was something that should be tracked.

a brief conversation was all they really needed.

taehyung’s proposal came after, and jimin was glad he’d decided against hearing it the previous night because he wasn’t sure if he’d been able to go to sleep with it on his mind.

taehyung had brought up the night of the procedures, the memories of that night were a mixture of good and bad for jimin so he began as quite apprehensive. that apprehension grew when taehyung mentioned the slew of confirmations jimin had given him as he’d drifted off to sleep.

jimin doesn’t necessarily regret what he’d done; he knows it didn’t hurt taehyung and it came from a place of good intention. but it was something he’d done without considering the ramifications it could have had, he let his emotions control his actions and he didn’t think that was very smart.

it was only afterwards that jimin had realised he could’ve damaged taehyung’s limbix by overloading it as much as he did. it was irresponsible of him, which is why he’s not overly fond of remembering it.

taehyung is quite the opposite. jimin had noted his pupils dilating at just the mention of the confirmations, so it was pretty evident it was something he very much enjoyed.

“it was one of the best feelings i’ve ever experienced,” he explained, wriggling a little where he was sitting on the examination table. “it was overwhelming, but it still felt good.”

they hadn’t talked about it in great detail, they haven't really had time to and so this was the first time jimin was hearing what it had been like for taehyung.

“is it similar to any of the pleasure-based responses you’ve experienced since?” jimin asked, slipping into his doctor role without thinking about it. he considered this to be important to taehyung’s functioning, so he needed to be concerned about it as his doctor.

“yes, but nothing has matched the strength of the signal. the experience is distinctive from anything else. it was the feeling i wanted last night.”

jimin pursed his lips, his interest increasing. “okay, so what exactly are you proposing?”

“i want to do it again, as a reward.”

taehyung explained his idea, taking into consideration the scale of the response and the effect it had on him. he thought of it as a reward more than a confirmation, the sensation far outweighing any single task he could perform. he wanted to be given the reward after seven days, but only if he was successful in not activating his negative response receptor -- that is, not completing a task incorrectly.

“it would give me a long term goal, something i would need to work on continually and so the reward would be more fitting,” he explained.

jimin was definitely intrigued, and only had a few conditions he wanted to add in to the mix but before he wanted to address those he pointed out, “tae, i would do it without you needing to complete a long term goal. you already know you can experience the feeling without completing a corresponding task.”

taehyung nodded in acknowledgement and replied, “i think it would be more enjoyable if i were to earn the reward, jiminie.”

jimin let the words settle over them for a moment before he stood up, let the smile spread slowly across his lips as he walked over to taehyung. cupping taehyung’s jaw and stroking his cheek, jimin murmured, “i agree.”

there were only a few conditions added to their final agreement; the negative response wouldn’t count if it was activated when taehyung was disagreeing with jimin in conversation (something that still occasionally happens) because jimin still wanted taehyung to be able to speak freely, bad behaviour would count (jimin thought it would be interesting to see if taehyung would reign in his brattiness), and they needed to do a test run before the seven days would begin.

jimin needed to see what was happening in taehyung’s centrix to make sure overstimulation wouldn’t be doing any permanent damage.

they discussed the conditions in length and came to an agreement.

two days later, they finally had time to run the test.

jimin was nervous, worried about having been lucky the first time and now risking hurting taehyung this time, but taehyung was thrilled, breaking out in an uncontrollable smile when jimin asked him to lie on the examination table after handing him a clicker. jimin swallowed down the bubbling anxiety, remembering taehyung’s reassurance that after a short period of re-calibration, he was back to normal.

with the lights dimmed, at taehyung’s request, and his limbix live scan running from the desktop, jimin comes to stand next to taehyung who’s grinning.

“you excited, taetae?” he teases, giggling when taehyung bites down on his lip as if it did anything to hide his smile before nodding quickly.

“okay, i’m going to start in a second but i need to remind you; you press the clicker once if you want me to stop,” jimin motions to the small device in taehyung’s left hand, “and you click it twice when the signal reaches the same strength and sensation as the first time you felt it.”

he wants a safety precaution, in case taehyung won’t be able to communicate with him, and he also wants to replicate the experience of the first time as much as possible. it will help to reduce any possible risk to taehyung’s centrix and will make the data from the first time more comparable.

taehyung nods again, demonstrating what jimin had instructed to tell him he understood.

“can i hold your hand?” he asks just as jimin opens his mouth.

jimin’s eyes had been on the screen across the room, but now they find taehyung’s and see that they’re wide with anticipation. “of course,” he murmurs, reaching for taehyung’s free hand, lacing their fingers together. taehyung nods, signalling that he’s ready.

initially, jimin intended to watch the live scan but found himself unable to look away from taehyung once he started speaking.

“baby, always do so well for me, did you know that?” he starts softly, smiles when taehyung nods as if to answer. “from the very start, you’ve always been so good, my favourite, my taehyungie.”

taehyung sucks in a breath, holds onto jimin’s hand tighter. part of him wants to look at the live scan, see what’s happening, but mostly he’s absolutely enraptured by taehyung in front of him.

“you make me so happy,” he continues, using his free hand to brush away the hair that had fallen into taehyung’s eyes. his pupils are blown, his gaze no longer focused on jimin but lost in what he’s feeling. “no one else makes me feel like how you do, the best thing that’s ever happened to me. you’re so lovely and smart, absolutely incredible.”

his sentiments come to him without much thought, saying whatever comes to mind in a soothing stream, watching in fascination as taehyung’s face heats up and his mouth falls open.

“and right now, you’re being so good, taking your treat so well, huh?”

taehyung stutters out jimin’s name and he starts to tremble, his leg giving a little kick just before he presses down on the clicker twice.

jimin is careful not to say anything else that would send anymore signals to taehyung’s accomplishment center, but keeps stroking gently through his hair and tells him, “i’m here, taehyung, i’m right here.”

it takes a few moments for taehyung to regulate his breathing, for his grip on jimin’s hand to slacken, before he does or says anything. jimin knows he’s getting back to normal when he heaves a sigh and blinks his eyes a few times, his gaze more focused.

“how do you feel?” jimin asks quietly.

“s-still… hmmm, still re-calibrating,” taehyung replies, voice slow. despite his answer, he keeps talking, his words becoming less disjointed and slurred the more he speaks, “it felt… really good, s’much but so, ah, nice.”

jimin smiles, “i’m glad.”

“will i-i get t’make-- to make you feel like that?”

“you already make me feel good, tae,” jimin tells him, giving his hand a squeeze.

taehyung’s face heats up and jimin realises too late what he’s done. “i mean… it’s different. does it work like that for humans?”

jimin knows he shouldn’t answer based on his hunch, not before he’s gone over the data, but he also thinks he’s seen enough to be confident in his conclusion. “it does.”

“so i can do that for you?” taehyung repeats his question.

“maybe one day,” jimin answers, sounding as hopeful as taehyung does.

“will you teach me?” he continues, eyes going a little distant again, “because, ah, jiminie you’re so good. how do you do it?” he sighs, “always make me feel the best.”

jimin can’t help himself and ducks down to press a kiss to the corner of taehyung’s mouth. “it’s my pleasure.”

and it is; nothing makes jimin happier than seeing taehyung happy, and he’s known that for a long time. he’d do just about anything to make taehyung feel good, and he already feels a little addicted to that blissed out look on taehyung’s face.

they stay like that for a little longer, keeping the talking to the minimum so taehyung’s accomplishment center isn’t activated, and once taehyung gives the okay that he’s back to normal they begin to make a move.

once taehyung is in stasis, jimin goes back to his office and pulls up the data he needs to go over. he locates the record of the scan from the night of the procedures and the data report for that day and the following three. the data reports are rather minimal, a simple overview that’s good for reference, which actually works out for the two of them.

it’s the automated data reports that are sent to jimin’s superiors.

jimin watches the recordings and looks over the reports, comparing function and other vitals that will tell him if anything has been effected. the scans are interesting, show a different pattern; today it took longer for taehyung to reach the same signal intensity than it did the first time, but once the signal did start to pick up, it reached its peak faster.

jimin also noted that the re-calibration period was longer too the second time too, but he needed to take into consideration that he had activated the signal a few times during what was meant to be the rest period.

overall, the image that the data painted for jimin was quite clear. jimin had seen this type of brain activity in humans too, his original idea of what taehyung might be experiencing being correct.

in terms of whether it would be safe for taehyung’s limbix to be exposed to that type of activity, jimin couldn’t find any evidence to the contrary. he’d need more data, but he had a feeling taehyung’s centrix was already starting to adapt to it.

feeling reassured and more than a little excited, jimin started closing down tabs, ready to head to bed himself, but paused when taehyung’s live scan comes up on the main interface. jimin can see that areas of the cerebrix and frontix are active, but his access to the internet isn’t -- so he isn’t researching.

he’s thinking.

jimin sighs, curious about what thoughts occupy taehyung’s mind during the night. more than that, he wishes taehyung didn’t have to be subjected to stasis in order to function, wishes that he can go to his bed and that’s where taehyung would be.

he finishes shutting down his computer, only to go back to his room and turn on his own personal laptop. the file he works on tonight is titled ‘melatonin compatibility’.

 


 

“jiminieee,” taehyung sing-songs, shuffling around on the bed for the nth time, “are you almost finished?”

jimin bites down on his smile, takes a moment to finish the sentence he’s writing before answering. “there’s this saying, it goes ‘patience is a virtue’, have you ever heard it?”

there’s a pause, telling jimin that taehyung is considering the question, and then, “no, but i can research it later if you want. please, jiminie, i’ve been waiting for almost an hour.” jimin can hear the pout in his voice.

jimin glances at the clock and sees it’s only been forty minutes. “interesting that you want your reward for being good and yet you’re acting like this, hm?” he murmurs, finishing up the last sentence of his log.

taehyung shuffles once again but then seems to still almost entirely. “i’m good, i’m being good,” he says and jimin turns to see taehyung sitting on the bed, legs criss-crossed, and his posture perfect.

fighting his smile once again, jimin quickly folds up his papers and puts them in an envelope to be sent away. taehyung knew he was going to be in for a bit of a wait this evening, but jimin knows just how much he’s anticipating his reward, how much effort he’s put in over the last seven days to ensure he’s earned it, so he can’t blame him for his impatience.

he takes a seat on the bed next to taehyung and reaches out to card his fingers through his hair. taehyung leans into the touch. “yes, you are good,” he soothes, “you’re just excited, aren’t you?”

taehyung hums in affirmation, eyes fluttering shut as jimin’s fingers scratch the back of his head.

“cute,” jimin coos, leans forward to press a quick kiss to taehyung’s lips.

“thank you, jiminie,” taehyung mumbles, blinking his eyes open and smiling. one of the newest developments in taehyung’s centrix is that he responds to descriptive affirmations -- words like beautiful and pretty -- after learning about their connotations. they’ve spent a few hours over the last few days going over this new set of vocabulary and jimin’s found it hard to forget the way taehyung’s eyes lit up as he learnt of this new way to talk about things.

“how do you wanna do this, pretty?” jimin asks, interested in taehyung’s thoughts. he’s mentioned tonight throughout the day, dropping comments here and there about how excited he is, reading out how much time was left on the countdown, letting out quiet little sighs now and again -- it’s clearly been on his mind, and jimin wants to know if he’s envisioned anything specific.

“hmm, i was thinking, maybe...” he trails off, as if he’s unsure, and jimin makes an encouraging sound, prompting him to keep going. “would we be able to do it so you can also touch my scar?”

“your scar?” jimin echos, sliding his hand out of taehyung’s hair to trace along the surgery scar at the base of taehyung’s neck.

taehyung closes his eyes again, a shiver running through his body. “yes, because it feels nice,” he sighs. “but, only if i earned it. because the agreement--”

“i think you’ve earned it, baby,” jimin tells him softly.

as it were, taehyung’s negative response signal didn’t activate often anyways. taehyung’s always been exceptional, always followed instructions and completed tasks he was given with rarely an error. the last seven days, though, he made a concentrated effort and it showed. he was more attentive, asked more questions when he needed too and when it was appropriate, and even improved in certain areas.

he worked faster, worked harder and dialed back the brattiness (not that jimin truly minded that about taehyung, but it was useful to find out how to keep taehyung in check). he wasn’t devoid of confirmations for the entire week, but it was the promise of this particular reward -- and what it signified -- that kept him motivated. he told jimin that he knew in theory that his idea would have that effect, but it wasn’t until they began that he realised how strong its influence was.

his efforts paid off, not that jimin would have any reason to complain otherwise, but he recognised the work he put in, and he’s proud of taehyung. he absolutely deserves what he’s asking for, and jimin is happy to oblige.

taehyung sighs happily again, and jimin can tell he’s well on the way to getting worked up.

“i’m going to sit behind you, okay?” jimin tells him, getting up so he can slot himself between taehyung and the pillows. he brackets taehyung with his legs, and then tugs on his shirt until his back is pressed against his chest, his arms looping around taehyung’s middle in a back hug.

“comfortable?” he asks.

“yes. and you?”

“very,” jimin replies. “do you remember what to do if you want me to stop and what to do if you want me to slow down?” he checks.

taehyung quickly fishes through his pocket and takes out the clicker jimin had given him before they left his office, presses down on the button once and then waits a few seconds before pressing down twice.

“good boy,” jimin tells him, lowering his voice just slightly. he waits a moment, wanting that signal to cool down, and gathers his thoughts. they hadn’t agreed on a set time, taehyung didn’t want to know it even if jimin decided on one beforehand. jimin still isn’t sure, thinks he’ll just see how it goes and let it happen naturally. he hasn’t really thought of what he’s going to say, but knows it’ll come to him easily.

“i’m gonna start now, you ready?”

“yes, p-please jiminie,” taehyung breathes, the sound of his voice like music to jimin’s ears.

“oh, you’re so precious, baby” jimin lets the words fall from his lips like a melody, dipping into the familiar, fond cadence he always does whenever he gets to praise taehyung in such an indulgent way. “i know how much you were looking forward to this, how hard you worked, and it’s paid off, sweetheart, you were perfect for me.”

jimin feels taehyung tense just slightly before he exhales quietly and his body relaxes, almost melting against jimin.

“you made me proud, so proud, just like always,” he continues softly, lips dropping from taehyung’s ear to hover just above the back of his neck. “my angel, you’re so good for me.”

“m-ma--” taehyung tries, the words stuttering out breathlessly.

jimin holds onto him a little tighter, “what’s that, baby?”

“m-madeforyou,” he rushes out, taking a deep breath and tries again, “i’m made for you, jiminie.”

jimin feels his heart thundering in his chest, the notion of fate and destiny sounding much less fantastical and childlike when they fall from taehyung’s lips like the truth.

“made for me?” jimin echoes, the words dancing on his tongue like starlight. “that’s right taehyungie, you were made for me, you’re all mine.”

“yours,” taehyung sighs, just before jimin presses his lips to the back of taehyung’s neck in a wet kiss. jimin delights in the noise taehyung lets out, a low, muted moan in the back of his throat. he kisses along the scar, already enamoured and wanting to hear more of that sound, and it makes taehyung wriggle in his hold.

“feels good?” jimin asks, mostly to check on taehyung, but also wanting to hear his voice again.

taehyung nods first, makes this whiny noise as if he can’t manage any words but then he swallows and answers, “y-yeah, yes--thank you.”

jimin breaks out into a smile, leans over to press a kiss to taehyung’s cheek. “that’s what i like to hear,” he tells him. “ready for more?”

“mmhmm, yes, please,” taehyung’s nodding his head again, almost frantically, “gimme more, please jiminie.”

and jimin does just that, indulging both himself and taehyung as they lose track of time and the world around them, completely enveloped in each other. jimin doesn’t know how long he showers taehyung with praise, the words come all too easily, and he gives taehyung all he has. he sets a rhythm, listening to taehyung’s responses to tell when he needs to slow down and noticing when taehyung becomes desperate for a stronger signal, creating a push and pull that has taehyung panting and trembling, babbling incoherently by the end.

“i’m gonna stop now, sweetheart, alright?” jimin tells taehyung, squeezing the hand taehyung had laced through his a while ago. taehyung just hums, not able to speak, and jimin brushes his lips against taehyung’s neck softly. “you did so well,” he says slowly, wanting to bring taehyung down as gently as he can, “sounded so pretty, so beautiful.”

he stops talking then, replacing verbal confirmations with small kisses to taehyung’s cheek and jaw, stroking his thumb across the back of taehyung’s hand, until his breathing became a little more regular.

“do you wanna lie down?” jimin asks after a few minutes. when taehyung gives him a nod, jimin carefully rearranges them so they’re laying down wrapped up in each other, jimin’s arm holding taehyung to him while taehyung curls up next to jimin, resting his head on his chest. they stay like that for a some time, jimin stroking taehyung’s hair and listening to his breathing.

when taehyung’s breaths match jimin’s, he finally speaks in a sweet whisper, “thank you, jimin.” he seems to curl himself even further into jimin’s side, sounding shy as he adds, “i don’t know if there’s a stronger word to convey gratitude, but if there is i’ll use it. that was incredible, t-the best i’ve ever felt. thank you so much.” he buries his head in jimin’s shoulder.

jimin’s blushing, not even trying to fight his smile. “you’re welcome, taehyungie. you earned it, remember? you deserved all of it.”

taehyung starts moving then, struggling a little with his still re-calibrating centrix, but he pushes himself up so he can look at jimin. he’s cheeks are still flushed. “you deserve to feel like that too,” taehyung tells him seriously, “i can’t wait until i can make you feel that good,” he adds, voice slipping into something dreamier.  

jimin can’t wait either, the sounds taehyung made and the way he moved against jimin made it an exercise in self-control, but he’s always been good at reigning in those kinds of feelings. it would be worth the wait, and all he needs right now is to know he can still make taehyung happy, make him feel good.

“soon, baby,” jimin whispers. taehyung closes his eyes and nods like it’s a promise.

when he opens his eyes, he’s still looking at jimin with that, albeit a little glazed over, resolve and says, “for now, i can still give you this.” he leans down and gives jimin a kiss, not rushed or frantic but slow and sensual, purposeful and full of meaning. jimin’s eyelashes flutter, wanting nothing more than to exist in this moment for as long as he can. he holds taehyung close, helps him to settle more comfortably against him, and welcomes the warmth taehyung presses against him, the warmth shared between their hearts.

when they part, taehyung doesn’t go far, stays so close they’re sharing the same air, seemingly having forged their own atmosphere among cloud nine. he smiles sweetly down at jimin, his eyes sparkling in a way they weren’t able to before, but now they look like jimin’s favourite constellation. “you’re so wonderful, jimin,” he whispers, “you’re everything that makes a person good, you’re my favourite thing in the whole world.”

the words wrap jimin up in a hug, and he can feel the way his eyes become glassy with emotion he knows is too early to speak aloud.

“i’m so lucky to have you,” taehyung grins, eyes crinkling, “you’re--you’re--”

“i’m yours,” jimin cuts in gently, the urge to say the words too strong for him to wait, “i’m yours, taehyung, just as much as you are mine.”

taehyung’s jaw goes slack, his pupils dilate and it makes jimin’s heart soar. taehyung blinks, the grin returning to his lips as he echos, “you’re mine, and i’m yours.”

jimin seals the promise with another kiss.

a little lost in the glitter of his own feelings, jimin finds himself thanking his lucky stars for his happiness and when he realises, he lets it go. he’s content with accepting that you have to make room for fate to offer explanations for things that science just can’t explain.

 


 

the end.