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Your Hand In Mine

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Kim Taehyung had an embarrassingly long and memorable reputation of taking the expression ‘wrong place at the wrong time’, considerably too serious.

He always seemed to stumble into trouble rather than discover it seamlessly, erratic at times and more often than not oblivious in his own carefree spiritual sort of way, and he walked the world with a willing hand thrown teasingly over his wide eyes.

There was just something about him that made people want to both coddle the tan sun kissed boy and chuck him through a window at the same time, his fearless demandance to unapologetically be himself at any given time overbearing but intoxicating in the best way. He managed to surround himself with people that didn’t seem to mind too much when he’d pull complete and utter bullshit, and got by with little to no confrontations.

Taehyung wasn’t unaware of his alarming presence, and he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that his sticky hands and scaringly massive smile discouraged him at times, but he found solace in Jimin and the constant affection he provided, his roommate’s smile kind enough to light stars and his ability to understand Tae never ending.

Taehyung had been on his way to Jimin’s studio, the same empty street he always walked as the sky swirled with colors and the moon overtook the sun, when the scuffle of boots on concrete and an unmistakable shout of pain erupted from the dampened walls of an alleyway, corridor dark and scent musty as the boy shuttered to an abrupt stop and peered through the shadows. The noise had softened just as quickly as it had magnified, but the dulling mutter of voices were reverberating and distinct as they reached Taehyung’s perked ears, the man unable to breathe as he listened intensely. He couldn’t stop the spike in his heart and the thrumming surge his pulse experienced as he stood beneath a fluorescent street light that sent his limbs cascading in hollowed emptiness, the only brush of visibility through the entire alleyway. He was frozen with uncertainty as the voices grew louder, a sickening edge to the disgusting tone of it.

The boy was almost tempted to turn around, run away until he was collapsing into Jimin’s arms and explaining his whole endeavor through terrified gulps of air that would make the photographer smile fondly and brush Tae’s hair out of his face, encouraging him to calm down with a voice as soft as silk. He was close to the studio now, a few blocks away and he’d be there with no problem, but the fearful pressure in his heart was slowly colliding with worry, unabiding concern for the possible trouble the pained voice could be in, and it wasn’t until another muffled scream rose past the city buildings did Taehyung’s feet move forward without another thought, the cry more desperate and raw than the last. Now, despite popular belief, Taehyung wasn’t stupid. He never entered a cage without a key and he never walked down a dark alley without a plan.

The commotion was louder now, voices closer and malice audible, and Taehyung had never been more aware of the small pocket knife he had in the worn fabric of his jeans. His hands remained still, nowhere near daring enough to use such a weapon unless forced upon, and even in the glowering dimness of the colored storage units and fading street light, Taehyung could see the dark haired silhouette of a boy as he was flung into the metal paneling.

“This ones always so much fun.” A voice seethed, and Taehyung could barely decipher how many men there were, the hunched group of colliding limbs seeming to never end as they surrounded the boy who caved in at their approaching figures.

“What’s wrong kid? You look like you’re about to cry.” Taehyung watched as the boy lifted his head from the ground, gaze broiling with heat and venomous rage that sent his mouth into a violent snarl, teeth stained red with blood. His hands struggled to pull himself upright, fingers curling and feet twitching as he glared violent daggers even from below his enemies. Taehyung couldn’t believe how beat up the boy already was, cheek swollen and tinted a blooming purple that seemed to spread down the sharp cut of his jaw and line of his neck, the missable but harsh presses of fingerprints littering the sensitive skin, right against his windpipe. Taehyung felt a violent twist in his stomach at the sight. His eyebrow was bleeding and even the slightest movement seemed to send the kid reeling with dizziness, teeth gritted and forehead furrowed in a painful crease as he held his stomach.

One of the men, short but thick around the shoulders with a heavily combed back blond mop on his head, bent forward to inspect the boy with mock pity. He tapped suspiciously against his bruised cheek, grinning when it earned a sharp hiss and a death glare that sent the whole group roaring with laughter.

“You’ve got a fire to you, huh? All that anger. It’s a shame you don’t do shit about it.” He growled out, almost like the sickening crunch and screech of gravel along pavement, a terrifyingly horror filled tone that sent panic into motion and forced Taehyung to shamefully back away, eyes wide and glistening with anxious tears. His heart was racing fast enough to feel the trembling force of it rise up his throat and cloud his senses until his hands were frantic and his feet were close to bolting entirely, because if Taehyung knew anything, he knew how to successfully pull off the questionable skill of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this was undoubtedly an example.

However, the consequences of being seen in his predicament, would be much greater than walking in on Jimin in the shower. The night was awakening and the city had gone silent, the only inkling of life glowing from the cafe Taehyung had left at the end of his shift to go meet Jimin at his studio, a far away beacon of light that strained behind him. The alley was dark and morbid and his face was just as bland as his name, and if Taehyung were to be found dead in a ditch somewhere with his organs ripped out and his heart missing, he would have nothing that would stand out as different or having been worth saving in the first place. He was scared and alone and hated the feeling in his chest, the selfish aching pull of it as he placed a hand over his mouth and made his move to turn away with a sinking gut, the boys guttural cries and reddening eyes like a burn against his vision.

“Come on, man. Stop teasing. He’d bend over for you if you just asked.”

Taehyung took a few more steps before his mind managed to catch up, faltering and stuttering before gasping with sudden realization. His hand twitched against his lips and he felt his heart hammer at the same time it hardened angrily, a roiling surge of energy that made the pathetic chip of metal in his pocket stick out like a singeing hot scorch against his thigh. Taehyung didn’t always carry the knife with him. Jimin would kick his ass and never let him live it down if he found out, but the boy couldn’t stop the nagging feeling he got when he was alone, almost like his sins were a mark branded into his skin for any and all eyes. Look too closely, and they’d see everything, and Taehyung had become too familiar with failed acceptance from others to leave himself empty and vulnerable.

Which is why he barely thought twice about how right it felt holding the small blade in his hand, long fingers wrapping almost twice around the greasy handle, and he hardly had time to convince himself of how pointless it really was before he was wheeling back around and charging towards the group with his eyes dead set on the withering boy, his casted shadow like a melting life against the damp cobblestone ground.

“Fucking disgusting.” The man seethed shortly, only moments before Taehyung slammed against his side and sent the stranger staggering to the floor along with three other men, eyes ravenous and relentless as his mouth straightened into a blank line that was a terrifying replacement of his usual devouring smile. His feet reached and stretched with erratic movements, kicking anything within distance. Colliding painfully with bare shins and calves, soon becoming a colorless blur of violent grunts and blinding rage that forced heavy breaths through his nose and a threatening raise of his knife. The group of men stumbled and struggled to gain their feet as they scuffled back, frozen with similar shocked gasps and parted lips that Taehyung only glared at, moving closer beside the boy who couldn’t help but stare up at his savior with the same dumbfounded expression, gaze sparkling curiously.

It was obvious that Tae’s sudden attack had taken the hustlers by surprise, clothes ruffled and chests heaving as they stared at one another helplessly, wide eyes flickering from Taehyung and the knife like wild animals deciphering prominent danger. Taehyung knew he wasn’t intimidating, not in the slightest. His arms were thin and his stomach was smoothed over chub, and even the intensity vibrating across his violent gaze couldn’t hide his rosy cheeks and innocent aura, red hair that was held back with a bandana like a wild flame ignited over his sharp eyebrows. But his stance was what counted, shoulders strong and determined as he squared without fear and stood tall. He thought about taking a step forward, insanely aware of the trembling boy by his feet and the sharp blade in his hand and the fuming storm in his chest that only strengthened the more he beheld the crumbling group of enforcers. They weren’t burglars or thieves or even criminals. They were nothing but discriminators, drowned in hate and laced in shielded views, and Taehyung couldn’t bear to look at them a minute longer.

"Looks like you guys have another queer to add to your fag annihilation list!" He roared darkly as he moved forward with pursuing steps, a sickening smirk sliding along the shape of his mouth at the same time his throat churtled with a bitter laugh, the sound deep and hollow as it bounced along the alley walls and touched the very surface of the sky. He heard the boy shift along the ground, a small twitch of movement as if warning Taehyung of his confidence, but the men were already turning and running away down the back end of the corridor, voices quiet but angry as they trailed off and disappeared around the corner in a harsh whip of dark jackets and scuffled feet. Taehyung waited for their voices to disperse as they traveled farther away, curses muffled and shouts meaningless before he turned with puffed cheeks and stared at the ravaged boy.

"Shit, dude!" The kid exclaimed incredulously, thin mouth pulling into a doubtful pout as his features softened and he took a calming breath, melting against the metal door of the storage unit behind him. Taehyung folded the knife closed and cradled the object in his hand for a moment, studying the rattled stranger with roaming eyes as he ruffled his sweat dampened hair and winced when inspecting the cut over his eyebrow. He touched the wound delicately, a soft press from the pad of his finger, wide doe eyes littered with gleaming warmth that only wavered when he drew back his hand and found the skin dark with blood.

Taehyung stood and watched with weary movements, stomach churning at the sight of the red liquid. He didn’t hesitate to kneel down and reach back blindly to untie his bandana once his mind sparked and his generosity came rushing forward in full force. The dark haired boy blinked in surprise when the man drew closer, throat tightening nervously at the sudden presence of sharp eyes and caring hands that didn’t bother verifying before they were reaching forward and dabbing his cut with the bandana. The younger froze at the attention, cheeks flaming and eyes following diligently to watch the stranger as he inspected the shape of his face. Taehyung felt the boy’s round eyes like a physical pressure against his cheek, just watching with a soft sort of interest, and when he turned to pause his tendance to the cut and meet the watcher’s infatuated gaze, his brightening smile came out incredibly natural.

"Relax. I’m here to rescue you." He beamed wittedly, brushing a few strands of hair away from the cut, hand steady as he held the cloth to his forehead.

"What if they call the police?" He asked quietly, moving slightly to try and see past Taehyung’s shoulder where the men had disappeared, but his arm was blocking his line of vision and the struggling only made the cut burn where it caused Taehyung to jostle against it. The boy went pliant against the wall with a worrying pout that was just on the edge of terrified, eyes still wide and alert with trembling nerves that sent Taehyung drowning in unbelievable empathy. He tucked his bandana away into his back pocket and fell carelessly onto his knees beside the boy.

"After beating the hell out of you? I doubt that. But if they do, your face is my witness because that shit won't heal for a couple of weeks at least." Taehyung responded with a tight lipped smile, eyes squeezing shut as his cheeks rose and shoulders lifted endearingly out of pure abrupt giddiness, and the stranger felt a puzzling frown corrupt his aching features. He rose a hesitant hand to palm his face lightly, poking knowingly at the tip of his nose and swelling lump on his cheek, bottom lip split and jaw burning with every roll and clench of his teeth. His vision was still a little jarred and his entire head felt like it was flaming from the inside. Taehyung’s smile was entirely too bright for such a bleak situation.

"Oh, well, thanks?" He mumbled, voice distant and unintentionally cold, a darkening pit forming in the depths of his stomach as he tried to stand up. He felt a bristle of humiliation sever his nerves when the man bolted up with shockingly kind eyes to offer a hand, palms soft and fingers shockingly long, forcing the boy to give them a quick glance before shaking his head fleetingly and pushing the gesture away.

"Don't try too hard, now. You might pull something." Taehyung mused, the first inklings of irritation pressing hotly against the furrow of his eyebrows and lock of his jaw. He drew back his hand limply and watching as the boy staggered to his feet with a swaying body just moments away from caving in. Taehyung leaned forward, prepared despite everything to help if needed, and the brunette gave him a bizarre sort of look when he noticed, as though the stranger was overstepping an unmistakable line, and Taehyung felt his heart contort shamefully.

He wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but it was obvious that they were being questioned by bright doe eyes and an untrusting gaze, the boy seeming to subsciously size up Taehyung without so much as a second thought, hovering over his gentle presence with an uncertain sort of precaution that made Taehyung look away sharply. He wasn’t used to being beheld by such demeaning eyes, trailing and observing with the mission of finding a flaw, his joyous company usually bringing people peace or curiosity, never resentment. Taehyung didn’t think the boy hated him though. His feet were pointed slightly inward, hands twitchy and nervous with endearing gentleness that Taehyung knew he did his best to hide. His shoulders were slouched and he hadn’t even grown into his ears yet he was so young. He wasn’t capable of hate, even when his eyes were narrowed and the various colors of purple blooming across his face were darkening and bursting around broken skin.

"Do you know those guys?" Taehyung questioned lowly, looking back down the alley with a boiling gaze, as if expecting the men to round the corner in that very moment. The boy straightened unconsciously at the sound of his voice, deep and chilling, almost like a physical pull that made him stiffen.

"You could say that." He muttered fleetingly, forcing the words out with a frustrated whip of his jacket and painful wince as the night wind blew his face, a harsh stinging slash that made his nose crinkle and lips push forward slightly. Taehyung watched the movement idly, catching the natural soft pink of his mouth and unique shape of his teeth, crooked but bright as they pressed forward, and he was suddenly approached by the strange desire to see what his smile looked like.

"Hey, come on- stop that. I'm sure your smile looks a lot better than your sulking." He tried to comfort, shaking his head floppily when the boy’s features hardened, seeming torn between running away completely and staying close to the intriguing man with the fire hair, his motives and instincts strewn drastically after such a jolting experience and an even more shocking encounter with the smiling man. His mouth twisted indifferently at Taehyung’s encouraging gesture, eyes blank and breath slow. "See? I told you." The elder insisted despite the boy’s lacking response, purposely refusing to show his disappointment by the obvious rejection.

"They're just some guys that get off by being assholes." The younger tried to discard sourly, but his voice came out weaker than he had imagined and Taehyung’s ears perked at the gentle brush of it, his voice unimaginably sweet and calm when he wasn’t glaring daggers and speaking with a furious edge to his words. Taehyung studied him carefully, trying to decipher whether the incident was affecting him more than he let on, but the dark haired boy was more tired than anything else, eyes unfocused and jaw slack, and Taehyung couldn’t help but assume this wasn’t the first time he’d run into trouble for similar reasons.

"Why don't you do something about it?" Taehyung coddled, and he wanted nothing more than to assure the boy, comfort and hold him until the hatred was a casted breeze and the bruising fingerprints along his throat were shadows. But the dark alleyway sent a sickening stench of sorrow like a scent around them, the distance between the two growing the more the boy became uneasy on his feet, and Taehyung knew his efforts would be proved pointless if he were to do anything more than stare helplessly.

"I'm not going to carry around a knife if that's what you mean-" He started with an incredulous eyebrow raise that made a laugh bubble up Taehyung’s throat, amused by the jumping conclusion and weary dip the younger’s features took at the thought of something so rash. His eyes flickering oddly at the warming sound of Taehyung’s deep laughter.

"Yeah that's a bit extreme for you. I was talking more like pepper spray? You know, grandma style. Something that’s reasonable but will hurt like hell.”

Taehyung expected a laugh at the least, but the boy seemed transfixed on the curl of his voice and shape of his mouth as he talked, words ringing clear only a moment later after he blinked dazedly and met Taehyung’s gaze with burning eyes. There was something frantic there, an underlying panic that only came through at the eyes, the rest of his features stoic and cold, but his vision blurred and the dark brown of his irises grew with a blooming sort of vulnerability that somehow felt even more intimate than finding the boy being beaten for his sexuality.

"I don't want to hurt them." He declared around a whispy breath, all soft eyes and plush lips and smooth skin, and Taehyung felt his heart tremble against a gust of wind as it hurdled down the alley.

"Okay..." Taehyung muttered, slow and skeptical, trying to understand how a cut lip and swelling cheek could equivalate to someone who had no desire to reciprocate such violence. "What about just fighting back? You're not exactly a skinny guy, you could-?" He tried to suggest, unable to stop himself from noticing the lean shape of his torso and bulk of his chest, arms firm and laced with unused strength.

"No." He said with finality, glaring in warning with sharp eyes before he seemed to realize what he was doing, and looked away from Taehyung with clenched teeth. He turned completely and somehow felt entirely different when he was facing away, back strong and shoulders square, no visible sign of struggle or refused guidance, his busted face hidden from view. Taehyung could hardly believe it was the same boy that winced when the wind blew and looked at Taehyung like he couldn’t comprehend something so bright.

"Can you at least promise me you'll stay out of creepy alleys?" Taehyung tried reasonably, once again questioning how the confrontation had started without finding the blunt courage to ask, and the dark haired boy frowned as he turned back to face him.

"Why?" He asked, burying his hands into his jacket pockets and bringing them forward with a shrug, and the pure disheveled confusion that littered his doe eyes was enough to make Taehyung smile gently. He liked the boys eyes. They were different than Jimin’s, whose were sharp and rectangular against his puffy cheeks and glowing skin, disappearing when he laughed and swelling when he slept. The boy’s were round and curious with blissful youth, flickering with enticing interest. They were dark and playful and intoxicating, softening against the eyelids and wrinkling around the edges every time he came close to smiling.

"You're not the only one in the world that cares, you know." Taehyung said with an uncertain shrug, having no other reason or motive to wanting the boy safe other than the strange weight in his chest and his lingering gaze that traced the boys eyes and deemed them to memory. "Just be careful. Wouldn't wanna bust that pretty face again, would we?" He smiled as he made a move to step into the streetlight, leaving the alleyway behind in the distance, and the sudden shift caught the boy’s attention as he followed hesitantly, features twisting oddly at the unfamiliar compliment.

"I hope we can meet again under different circumstances, kid."

"Don't call me that." He retorted back instantly, voice persistent in its request, and Taehyung’s eyes widened in surprise.

"What's your name then?" He tried instead, head tilting to push his red bangs farther across his forehead where they fanned out naturally, smirk mischievous and eyes dazzling. He half expected the boy to leave him rotting in silence.

"Jeongguk." He said, a hushed breath that was soft and gentle.

Taehyung grinned adorably at the name, the sweet endearing sound of it as it reached his excitable ears, and he clenched his teeth together so hard it brought a delightful ache to his cheeks that Jeongguk raised an eyebrow at. The boy could hardly believe the man standing in front of him. He was nothing but rage moments ago, eyes like roiling magma that boiled and churned at the slightest touch or hint of disrespect, fingers long and beautiful against the knife that he wielded without hesitation, familiar and capable around the sharp blade. He had smiled devilishly around clenched teeth and laughed bitterly as his victims ran away, and it all seemed so impossible in the same body of a man who flashed rectangular grins and looked at Jeongguk like he was dying to hear him speak.

"Alright, Kookie it is." Taehyung mused humorously, rosy cheeks sparkling in the single street light that casted over their shoulders and features like a lurking shadow. Taehyung couldn’t help but admire the boy even more in the revealing glow. “Do you live nearby, Kookie?” He continued without much thought, incapable of being stopped until the concern in his heart was dampened and the emotionless line of Jeongguk’s mouth was morphed into a soft pink smile that was long overdue.

Jeongguk stopped in front of him with a nervous twinge in his gaze, seeming to understand Taehyung’s intentions without comprehending them completely. He fumbled with the front of his hoodie for a moment, fingers twitchy and eyes curious as they danced across Taehyung’s.

“Um, yeah? Why?” He offered hesitantly, doubtful and suspicious as the street remained quiet and the far away hum of traffic and commotion lingered in the air around them.

Jeongguk wanted to believe the man in front of him was as kind as his smile promised and sincere as his warm voice declared, but every senseful nerve and heavy precaution inside of him was buzzing with alarm and aching with panic. He was never any good at meeting new people, and knowing the stranger had already seen him at his weakest made the young boy want nothing more than to run away and forget about the man who saved him and thought him to be more than just a confused kid to take advantage of.

“Because I’m going to walk you home. Obviously.” Taehyung responded easily, eyes forming into chubby slits as his lips stretched around a boxy smile. Jeongguk’s mind stuttered to a stumbling halt as his heart watched the movement intently.

“What? No, no, I’m fine-“ He rushed to refuse, already making his move to turn around. Jeongguk soon realized his mistake. His heart leaped and eyes widened when the joyful man beamed at his sudden movement and immediately started skipping in the same direction, racing in front of Jeongguk just so he could turn and walk backwards with a lopsided grin.

“It’s late and dark and this is no place for a little girl like you to-“ Taehyung rushed with a comically dramatic brush of his arm and flash of his hands, feigning a serious expression of hardened brows and frowning lips that faltered within seconds, eyes shining beautifully around a smile that seemed to make stars shift out of place.

In the pale moonlight of the echoing street, Jeongguk felt himself smile at the lively boy.

“Shut the fuck up.” He defended weakly, but his nose was crinkling and his lips were curling around his large display of teeth, a flash of white in the nightly sea of darkness, and Taehyung felt a melting softness enrapture the warmth in his heart. Jeongguk was an almost tantalizing kind of handsome that made Taehyung conscious of where he stepped and nervous with every breath, eyes jittery and heart excited. He was quiet but determined and his smile transformed the entirety of his face, distracting Taehyung from the unknowing coldness that would fall over his features if he wasn’t careful.

Even beat up and bruised he was still more intriguing than anything Taehyung had ever come across.

“Hurry the fuck up. I’m supposed to be somewhere but instead I saved your sorry ass.” Taehyung pushed dryly, voice mockingly annoyed despite being anything but, and Jeongguk grinned shyly before jogging to catch up, brushing against Taehyung’s side as they began walking in time again.

Taehyung wasn’t sure where he was going, or whether Jimin was waiting up for him with a warm coffee and a gossiping mouth, but he was content just watching Jeongguk as he strolled comfortingly beside him, eyes calm and dark hair heavy over his forehead that whipped with every breath of wind. He trusted Jeongguk without reason and followed him in every turn and maneuvered shortcut around buildings, unable to stop his craving gaze every time he managed to make him smile with an overly endorsed joke. He took in every curve and blissful crease that overtook his features when he grinned up at the sky and shook his head like he couldn’t believe the night he was having; Taehyung couldn’t agree more.

It was when Jeongguk finally laughed, joyous and warm like the evening sun and a triumph cry of light, that Taehyung believed he had miraculously managed to be at the right place at the right time for once.

 

……..

 

When they finally stopped at a splinted house that was a strange mix of chipped white paint and beautifully grown rose bushes, Taehyung felt as though he was sinking.

Jeongguk’s house wasn’t exactly small, a two story building that looked decent despite it obviously being old, but it was also very bland in the sense that it looked recently abandoned, as though it had been untouched for months. The only proof of life flourishing from the flower bed that was littered with reddened buds of roses, the rest of the soil dry and prickling with weeds. It was a bizarre contrast that made Taehyung chuckle lowly despite himself, attracting curious eyes that studied him cautiously as they came to a stop in front of the driveway.

“Is this the part where I’m supposed to say what a great time I had?” Taehyung teased naturally, trying not to be disappointed by the sudden halt in their conversation. He hadn’t meant to talk so freely and wildly on their way there, but his eyes were dancing without a mere scent of exhaustion and his chest felt warm and content with the way Jeongguk had listened so intently, gaze flickering to the sidewalk thoughtfully before eventually falling back to the side of Taehyung’s face as he spoke, curious despite himself. The boy didn’t talk much, but he nodded and smiled shyly with his chin tucked and Taehyung knew he didn’t mind the rambling.

Taehyung could’ve even sworn he saw the same reluctant expression reflecting back across Jeongguk as his jaw went slack and he chewed on his lip bothersomely. His face had swollen more over the last half hour and he seemed to be feeling the burning heat of it beneath his skin, suddenly overwhelming conscious of it. Taehyung felt his heart lurch when the boy gave him a weary glance before stepping away with a polite smile that looked unbelievably forced.

“No, this is the part where I leave,” He corrected quietly, “goodbye.” He was hesitant and already apologetic as his mouth twisted sourly and he forced himself to turn away. He seemed to shrivel and crumble the moment his face was out of view, and Taehyung watched in silence as he walked slowly across his lawn, the grass a faded yellow green that looked like hay in the darkness. Taehyung did his best not to feel hurt, but his mouth turned down without missing a beat and the thought of never seeing the boy when the sun was shining and the darkness didn’t condemn his heartfelt laugh was causing his mind to spiral drastically.

Jeongguk continued further until he reached the large oak tree that was sent towering towards the sky in the middle of his yard, branches long and jagged where they were just beginning to regain their warmful color and pale green leaves after the frigid winter. The bark cracked beneath the boy’s weight as he clambered up the bottom and maneuvered his way into the sea of wooden limbs, eyes focused and hands familiar as they gripped sturdy branches and avoided splintering wood that trembled beneath his demanding movements. Taehyung barely had the effort to compensate just how bizarre the whole thing was before Jeongguk was stepping carefully onto the dark blue shingles of his roofing and crawling sideways with only a slight waver in his footing that made the elder’s eyes widen momentarily.

“You ever heard of a door, Kookie?” Taehyung called out as the dark haired boy pried his fingers beneath his window sill and pulled with a soft grunt, successfully sliding the pane of glass open in one fluid motion. He straddled the beam with a lopsided smile as he finally turned to look at Taehyung that was now standing in the middle of his yard, mouth open and gaze adoring as he watched the boy settle against the window sill.

“You ever heard of stranger danger?” Jeongguk retorted back pointedly, but his voice never darkened and his smile only grew, eyes crinkling and split lip aching as it stretched with the size of his smile. He couldn’t bring himself to truly find Taehyung threatening in any sense of the word, features too gentle and caring as they watched Jeongguk dangle from his window nervously, limbs loose and careless as they churned with heat. He was so fucking tired, exhaustion seeping deep into his bones and spiraling outwards, but Taehyung’s presence was almost too good to leave.

“Doesn’t exist when it comes to me.” He declared with a bright smile, hands delving deep into his pockets to hide his anxious uncertainty.

“Of course it doesn’t.” Jeongguk smirked, completely indifferent to his original plan of running away and avoiding this man as much as possible, because never in his entire life had he been okay with someone seeing him so weak and helpless, practically on the verge of death as his vision blurred and the bitter taste of blood coated the walls of his throat. But Taehyung had saved him, expectant of nothing in return, and Jeongguk couldn’t remember the last time he was treated with such sincere kindness.

“This is kinda cute, isn’t it?” Taehyung grinned suddenly, drawing closer until his figure was casted in shadows beneath the twisting tree and he was peering up at Jeongguk through the endless curling branches. “Talking to you from your window.” He explained warmly, and he hoped somewhere deep in his chest that Jeongguk couldn’t see the hint of pink that was slowly tracking the skin of his cheeks, the darkness concealing his strange desire to be accepted by the injured boy.

Jeongguk’s mouth opened in surprise before quickly filling with a prominent flash of teeth, his smile goofy and crooked but beautiful as he laughed softly to himself.

“Jesus- who are you?” He questioned incredulously, voice loud despite his flickering eyes that found his bedroom door worryingly, conscious of their dragging conversation that could awake his mother at any moment.

Jeongguk wondered whether she’d chase Taehyung away until the night was silent and the only living souls were the two of them, just like it always was, alone but together with the false thinking that they were somehow enough even when they weren’t. He wondered if his mother would smile at the sight of her son laughing so freely, shoulders shaking and teeth bared, heart overjoyed with the sudden inkling of a friend. But his thoughts were skewed and common sense wasn’t far behind. His mother would probably toss him into bed with an overly concerned gasp at the sight of the tan boy with the bright red hair, locking his window before crying and pestering about the dried blood coating his tainted skin and the sickening purple his face had become.

It was hard to tell with her. She’d either ignore Jeongguk for days and barely register that he’d left for school or returned from a dance recital, or drown the boy with endless projected love and pressured responsibilities that always felt like a crippling weight tightening his lungs. She was unpredictable and painfully impulsive, but her good intentions made it that much harder for Jeongguk to feel any sort of resentment for the parent that stayed.

“What? It’s what girls like.” Taehyung defended with a rolling shrug, his deep and blissful laugh tearing Jeongguk’s gaze away from his door to instead watch the movement the sound made against his throat, warmth pressing hotly against his rib cage.

“I’m not a girl.” Jeongguk said sharply, head tilting thoughtfully, and a thick laugh found its way as it bubbled past his chapped lips.

“Thank god for that...” Taehyung mumbled anxiously, bouncing on his feet with a gnawing smile.

“I think it’s time for me to go.” Jeongguk announced abruptly, eyebrows furrowing slightly as his heart rose at the far away sound of footsteps lingering in the hall. He cursed lowly at the spike of fear that cut his breath in half as he threw his leg over the window sill and dove into his room.

“Why did you have to sneak in through your window?” Taehyung asked quickly, now seeming to understand the hurry as his gaze narrowed and he looked towards the front door questionably.

“My mom's asleep and she didn’t know I was out. She won’t know I got jumped, and she won’t know I got beat up. So you need to leave.” Jeongguk answered in a long breathless rush, gripping the sill with jittery hands as he fought the urge to just climb back down and meet Taehyung on the ground. It’s not like his mother would notice.

The red head’s features contorted into hilarious confusion that almost made the younger choke, hand reaching up quickly to cover his startled laugh as Taehyung struggled to form words.

“How are you gonna-?”

“I barely see her. I get up and go to school and get home late.” He explained sourly, and the immediate pitying frown that Taehyung gave him made his stomach sink discouragingly, an obvious question lingering in the twitch of Taehyung’s mouth and flickering gaze, but he decided to smile rather than voice his speculations.

“College boy, huh? What do you major?” He asked, and Jeongguk was panicking now. He laughed chaotically despite everything though, because if the pounding in his heart and the knowing smile Taehyung was wearing as he jumped excitedly and rushed for answers wasn’t the most hilarious thing he’d ever experienced, he knew he would’ve slammed the window closed minutes ago.

“Dance.” Jeongguk giggled out, voice almost incoherent, and Taehyung felt his eyes soften at the unfamiliar sound, suddenly satisfied enough to take a breath and step back with a winning smile.

“Alright, are you sure you don’t need anything? Promise me you’ll ice your face, it’ll help the swelling.” He insisted sweetly, tone dropping and words slurring endearingly with trembling concern and interest, and Jeongguk felt something heavy but subtle shift along his heart.

“I promise.” He said without pause, and Taehyung smiled softly, content.

“Stay safe, Jeongguk.” The elder breathed warmly, the curl of his mouth gentle and laced with wavering joy. The unmistakable sadness of his eyes followed soon after like a melting spark against his highlighted face as he watched Jeongguk close his window with a soft click, unsure whether he’d ever get a chance to see the boy in the sunlight.