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(even at my worst) i’m best with you

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Kim Taehyung is on a mission: to get over Jeon Jeongguk.

Like, for real this time.

The mission is off to a good start, if he does say so himself. He’s on the plane, after all. On the plane and en route to three Jeongguk-free weeks in America, where he’ll be surrounded by other lovers of marine life and won’t have time to dwell on doe eyes and sweet laughter and thighs that make him want to -

Anyway. It’s a work in progress, but the mission is totally still on.

He does feel pretty guilty about missing Jeongguk’s birthday, but it kind of would have defeated the whole point of the mission if he’d bailed on a major career opportunity just to be present at the birthday party of his unrequited crush. Even Jeongguk himself had urged Taehyung to go on the trip, insisting that the party was no big deal. Still, Taehyung had been sure to get him a great gift, leaving it with Jimin for safekeeping in his absence. Other feelings aside, Jeongguk is still one of his closest friends, and Taehyung wouldn’t dream of letting his birthday go by unnoticed.

So, he’s missing Jeongguk’s birthday, but it’s for the sake of the mission, and also so that he can attend this super cool marine animal conference in New York, where he’s never been before. He’s kind of terrified, to be honest, and he still can’t believe the museum picked him of all people to attend - something about “young leaders” and his (barely) passing English abilities - but he’s also really excited. He’s always wanted to go to New York, and he loves the ocean and all its creatures, and what better way to get over someone than to spend three weeks meeting new people and focusing on something he loves and is good at? Hell, maybe he’ll even meet some-

“Hey,” comes a voice, not quite as deep as Taehyung’s but also not all that far off. It belongs to the young man dropping down into the cramped seat next to Taehyung, circular glasses perched on his - very handsome, shit - face. “Are you going to the marine life conference in New York too?”

Taehyung blinks at him for a moment, wondering if he’s encountered some sort of mind reader, until he realizes they’re currently on a flight to New York and the pamphlet for the conference is lying open on the tray table in front of him. He’s also wearing a T-shirt with the words “might as whale” printed across the front; that has to be a bit of a giveaway.

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Taehyung says, smiling. This mission was a great idea; it’s barely even started and he’s already meeting new (cute) people. “You too?”

The man nods. He can’t be much older than Taehyung, but there’s a sort of distinguished air about him that Taehyung finds oddly reassuring. “Yeah! I specialize in crustaceans specifically,” he explains, his face lighting up as he says it and revealing an alarmingly cute set of dimples. “I’m Namjoon.”

“Taehyung.”

“I like your shirt,” Namjoon says, once they’ve finished shaking hands. The dimples are back and Taehyung is beginning to think this 14 hour flight might not be so bad.

“Oh, thanks,” he replies, only a little embarrassed as he glances down at himself. “I like puns. And the ocean, obviously.”

“Me too,” Namjoon grins, and Taehyung loves when this happens, the rare pleasure of meeting someone who nerds out over all the same weird stuff as you do. That’s how it is with him and Jeongguk too, except it’s video games and anime and art and - right, Taehyung is not supposed to be thinking about that right now. Especially not when he’s in the middle of talking to a handsome, crustacean-loving stranger who he’s about to be spending three weeks with.

“Have you ever been to New York before?” Namjoon asks then, and Taehyung is grateful for the distraction.

“Never,” Taehyung shakes his head. A flight attendant passes, checking to make sure their seat belts are fastened, and Taehyung locks his tray table back into place. “I’ve always wanted to go, though. Have you?”

“Once, with my parents, but I was only a teenager,” Namjoon says. “I’m excited to go back as an adult. I’ve been watching Friends to brush up on my English skills.”

“Really?” Taehyung laughs. “That’s awesome. My English is mediocre at best, but don’t tell my bosses that.”

Namjoon chuckles. “Guess you’ll just have to stick with me then.”

Taehyung’s heart stutters ever-so-slightly in his chest.

***

“Happy birthday to Jeongguuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuk, happy birthday to youUUuuuuUUUUuuuUuu!”

Jeongguk’s friends are gathered around him, singing the final lines of the happy birthday song as obnoxiously as possible. They’re all trying to outdo each other, Yoongi going low and drawing out every note while Seokjin screeches at a pitch that surely only dogs can hear. Hoseok is just shouting at this point, and Jimin has given up and surrendered to giggles as he holds the cake out to Jeongguk. It’s dotted with tall, pink candles, little orange flames dancing merrily atop them and heralding the start of Jeongguk’s 25th year of life.

He takes a deep breath and blows them out, wishing for this to be the year that he finds a job doing something vaguely related to his art degree so that he can finally quit working as a barista. It’s not that he hates his job at the cafe, except yeah, he completely fucking hates it, and it would be nice to have more than 5,000 won leftover at the end of each month once he’s done paying for rent and food. He doesn’t even like coffee.

“That was atrocious,” Jeongguk says, plucking a candle from the cake so that he can lick at the frosting. “Thank god you guys don’t sing professionally.”

“Rude,” Seokjin replies, cuffing him across the back of the head. Jeongguk immediately retaliates by punching him in the arm, and Seokjin huffs indignantly. “Isn’t 25 too old to still be acting like a brat?”

“You just need quicker reflexes, hyung,” Jeongguk taunts, wandering over to where Jimin is now cutting the cake at the kitchen counter. “You’re getting slow in your old age.”

“How big of a slice do you want, Jeonggukkie?” Jimin asks as Seokjin makes another disgruntled noise behind them.

“Big - bigger - bigger - yeah, that’s good,” Jeongguk says, happily accepting a slice that’s roughly a quarter of the whole cake.

“No respect and the fastest metabolism known to man,” Seokjin grumbles, eyeing the cake as they all sit down in the living area. “I wish I was 25 again.”

“Let’s open presents!” Hoseok cries, pushing a small stack of wrapped gifts in Jeongguk’s direction. It’s sweet how they’ve all taken the time and money to get him something, even though Jeongguk had insisted he wasn’t expecting any gifts. It makes him feel guilty, honestly, since he can barely offer them more than a coffee on the house on their birthdays.

Jeongguk unwraps each present slowly, wanting to savor the experience for as long as possible. Around him, his friends bicker and laugh, teasing Jimin for wincing when Jeongguk rips through his impeccable wrapping job, oohing and ahhing when they see the sick pair of headphones Yoongi got for him.

“You know I have an employee discount,” Yoongi says dismissively, but Jeongguk hug-tackles him anyway because his current headphones are barely hanging on by a thread.

“And last but not least, Tae left this for you,” Jimin says, presenting a thin, rectangular package wrapped - of course - in colorful, fish-patterned paper. Jeongguk accepts it curiously, touched that Taehyung had gotten him something even though he’s in New York right now. It had taken a lot of convincing to reassure Taehyung that his feelings wouldn’t be hurt if he missed Jeongguk’s birthday, and it’s true but Jeongguk still selfishly wishes he was here. He’s Jeongguk’s best friend aside from maybe Jimin, and they’ve grown especially close in the two years since Jeongguk graduated university and moved in with Jimin in the city. It’s only been two days since he left and Jeongguk already misses him.

Smiling to himself because Taehyung would have fish-themed wrapping paper, Jeongguk is halfway through opening the gift when he realizes what it is. He stills, mouth dropping open as his heart leaps into his throat.

“Guk?” Jimin asks. “You okay?”

Jeongguk nods numbly, pushing the rest of the paper away and running his fingers reverently over the box in his lap. It’s a set of the professional-grade colored pencils he’s been wanting forever, high quality and far too expensive for him to even think about buying for himself. He’d pointed them out to Taehyung in an art supply store months ago, one afternoon when they’d gotten lost wandering in and out of any little shop or gallery that caught their eye.

“What are those?” Hoseok asks, shuffling over on his knees to get a better look.

“They’re these colored pencils I’ve been wanting,” Jeongguk explains, his voice rough with emotion. Now he really wishes Taehyung was here, so that he could thank him in person. “They’re really nice, I can’t believe - and he remembered, I don’t know how - ”

“That’s typical Tae,” Hoseok says, and Jeongguk is only half-listening because he’s still so dumbstruck by the gift. He can’t believe Taehyung did this for him; it makes his stomach feel warm and his heart all giddy and fluttery. “Remember when he had a huge crush on Bogum in university? He got him amazing tickets to see that horrendous band, what were they called - ?”

Hoseok cuts off when Jimin kicks him sharply, and all at once the room is very silent. It takes a few seconds for Jeongguk to figure out why, but all of a sudden Hoseok’s words catch up to him.

Remember when he had a huge crush on Bogum in university?

“Wait, what?” Jeongguk says, his heart rate picking up. His friends are all very still around him, and Hoseok is watching him with an expression that could only be described as a deer caught in headlights. “What did you say?”

“Horrendous band?” Hoseok tries, eyes wide, and he is a truly a terrible liar. “I can’t remember their - ”

“Not that,” Jeongguk protests. The panicked look on Hoseok’s face only confirms his suspicions. “About - a crush? Did you say a huge crush?”

“No?”

Hoseok glances around helplessly at the rest of their friends, but they’re all shifting awkwardly in their seats, seemingly at a loss for what to say. Jeongguk’s mind is suddenly reeling.

“Are you - does Tae have a crush on me?” Jeongguk asks, his voice vaguely hysterical. “Guys, come on - Jimin?”

He looks imploringly at his roommate, and Jimin sighs, squirming uncomfortably.

“I’m really not supposed to say anything,” Jimin says, biting his lip. It’s not a straight answer, but it speaks volumes anyway.

“Holy shit,” Jeongguk breathes, staring down at the case of colored pencils. He feels a sharp tug of fondness for Taehyung, thinking of him taking such care with his gift, of him harboring feelings for Jeongguk. “I mean, I had no - holy shit.”

“Tell us what you’re thinking, Guk,” Seokjin urges gently. He has his arm around Hoseok now, who has clambered back up onto the couch and is looking immensely distraught.

“I’m not sure what to think,” Jeongguk admits. He feels stunned more than anything else, and he hates that Taehyung is so far away when he’s finding this out. “I mean - it’s Taehyung. It’s Taehyung. Like, our best friend.”

“Is that a good thing or bad thing?” Yoongi asks.

“I - I don’t know,” Jeongguk sighs. Mostly, it feels too overwhelming to fully wrap his head around. “I guess I just never really thought of it as a possibility.”

He and Taehyung have had their moments, for sure - that afternoon in the art shops for example, when they’d talked about everything from their shared love of art to Jeongguk’s fear that he’d never get any use out of his degree. Another night when Taehyung had insisted on buying Jeongguk dinner after he’d had a particularly garbage day at work, just the two of them, a truckload of fried chicken and a bottle of wine. And countless times when they’ve been drunk together, Taehyung even touchier than he is while sober, which Jeongguk had always written off as his natural propensity for physical affection.

Taehyung is smart and gorgeous and kind; Jeongguk would be lucky to be with him, anyone would. The potential for something more has flickered in the back of his mind more than once, but never powerfully enough to make him want to jeopardize their friendship. This changes things, though, and changes the stakes. Getting involved with a friend is always a little risky, but when it comes to Taehyung, something in Jeongguk’s gut tells him it could also be really good.

“You’re smiling,” Jimin points out slyly.

Jeongguk blinks and snaps back to reality, his cheeks heating up. “What? Oh.” He bites down on his lip, trying to school his expression into something more neutral, but it’s hard when there’s this strange fluttering sensation in his stomach. “I’m just - thinking about it, I guess.”

Jimin folds his lips in on themselves, clearly trying to contain his excitement. “Oh my gosh, Gukkie,” he breathes. “You and Tae, I mean - that would be amazing.”

Jeongguk nods numbly. This all still feels kind of surreal, and he can’t believe that all of a sudden the possibility of him and Taehyung dating has become a serious topic of discussion in their friend group. He certainly hadn’t expected this when he woke up this morning.

“Is it, I mean. You’re sure he likes me like that?” Jeongguk asks. He knows his friends wouldn’t say this just to fuck around with him, but it still seems impossible that Taehyung has had a crush on him while Jeongguk had literally no idea.

“Pretty sure,” Yoongi replies, and the others nod.

“Like, how serious?” Jeongguk presses. “For how long?”

His friends exchange a look. “It’s not really for us to say, Guk,” Yoongi says, and Jeongguk groans. “But - it’s not nothing, and it’s not new.”

Jeongguk takes a deep breath, tracing his fingers over the raised designs on the colored pencil case. He can’t wait to break these out - maybe drawing will help him process everything he’s thinking and feeling right now.

“Wow,” he says eventually.

Jimin nods sympathetically, squeezing his knee. “You should talk to him.”

“And maybe just - don’t mention how you found out,” Hoseok adds anxiously, making Seokjin snicker.

“I think I’m gonna wait for him to get back from New York,” Jeongguk says. “I need some time to think. And I’d rather talk about this in person.”

Even just the prospect of having that conversation makes butterflies erupt anew in his stomach. As much as he misses Taehyung, maybe it’s a good thing that he has a few weeks to figure out how he feels and what he wants to say. This is a big deal, and he wants to make sure he handles it well and doesn’t rush into any decisions.

“That’s fair,” Jimin agrees. “We’re here if you want to talk about it.”

Jeongguk nods gratefully, and the conversation gradually drifts on to other subjects. They finish the cake, Seokjin pops a bottle of champagne and nearly takes Jimin’s eye out, there are several rounds of drunken Twister that inevitably end with them all in a giggly heap on the ground, someone’s ass in his face and Yoongi half laughing, half judging from his place as the spinner. All in all, it’s a really good birthday, and Jeongguk falls into bed later that night sleepy, content, and cautiously hopeful for the year to come.

***

Me
[image attachment]
you’re amazing
thank you so much
i’m obsessed

Tae
:) :) :)
you deserve it birthday boy
did you have a good day?

Me
very
we should talk when you get back

Tae
???
should i be worried

Me
no it’s good stuff

Tae
ohhh mysterious
but ok

Me
:)
just enjoy New York
and send pics

Tae
i will
see you in a few weeks <3

Me
<3

***

It takes three hours into the flight for Taehyung to accidentally fall asleep on Namjoon’s shoulder, and another two for Namjoon to accidentally wake him up by knocking his drink into Taehyung’s lap. By 9 hours, they’ve exchanged phone numbers, and when they finally get off the plane in New York, they wordlessly agree to share a cab to the hotel together. They exchange a sleepy goodbye in the hallway, and when Taehyung finally steps into his silent hotel room, the door thudding shut behind him, he finds himself missing the company. Namjoon’s company, specifically.

It doesn’t last long, though. They have lunch together at the conference the next day, and every day after that, and on their first Friday Namjoon asks Taehyung if he’d like to join him for some sightseeing the following afternoon. Taehyung says yes, endeared by his dimples and his fierce love of crabs and the way he’s always pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He’s not even really thinking about the mission when he agrees, just that he likes Namjoon and wants to spend more time with him.

Sightseeing is fun, even if their wanderings through the MoMA make Taehyung think of Jeongguk and how much he would die to see this for himself. He snaps a few pictures and fires them off quickly, reminding himself it’s what any good friend would do before pocketing his phone and rejoining Namjoon in his thoughtful analyses of the art surrounding them.

The afternoon segues naturally into dinner, a pizza pie and a few glasses of wine at a tiny, lopsided sidewalk table. Their shoulders brush as they walk back to the hotel, Taehyung’s heart thumping a little harder than usual in a way it doesn’t often do for anyone but Jeongguk. And so, when they come to a halt in the hallway outside Taehyung’s hotel room, he doesn’t step back when Namjoon steps closer, just meets his gaze and return his slightly shy smile. And when Namjoon leans in to kiss him, Taehyung closes his eyes and focuses on the person in front of him, not the one still lingering in the back of his mind.

***

In the three weeks that Taehyung is away, Jeongguk spends a lot of time thinking. About himself, about Taehyung, about him and Taehyung together. What that would look like compared to how they are now. In all honesty, he doesn’t think it would be that different, at least not tangibly. Except for the sex part - that, of course, would be entirely new. At first, it’s a little weird to think about, given how long they’ve been friends, but Jeongguk would be lying if he said he wasn’t interested. Especially as more time passes and he settles into the idea, allows himself to indulge a little in the things he’s always noticed about Taehyung - his long fingers, the fullness of his lips, his cute little butt. His mind starts supplying visuals and scenarios of its own accord, making him flush when he accidentally zones out in the middle of work or watching TV with Jimin.

He also thinks about what it will mean for their friend group if he and Taehyung start dating, whether it would change things or make anyone uncomfortable. Of course, there’s always the risk that they could break up and make things awkward for everyone, but Jeongguk likes to think that he and Taehyung will always be in each other’s lives, regardless of whether things work out romantically. And then there’s the fact that Jeongguk doesn’t think he could go back to how things were even if he wanted to, not now that he knows about Taehyung’s feelings. It’s changed his entire mindset.

As Taehyung’s return draws closer, Jeongguk starts anxiously planning for what he’s going to say when he sees him. They’ve talked a bit while he’s been gone, Taehyung sending periodic updates via text or Instagram. Most of the pictures are of him sightseeing around various New York tourist destinations or pointing enthusiastically at giant posters of sea creatures. In some, he’s accompanied by another young man with glasses and prominent dimples, but Jeongguk tries not to dwell too much on what the nature of their relationship might be. Taehyung hasn’t mentioned anything about him, so it’s probably just a new friend from the conference.

In the end, Jeongguk decides his best bet is to surprise Taehyung at the airport. Partly because he’s impatient and doesn’t want to wait any longer to see him, and partly because it’s a perfect excuse to get him alone so that they can talk. He’s still not totally sure what he’s going to say, has never been particularly good at this sort of thing, but he’s hoping seeing Taehyung face to face will help. Unlike with most people, talking to Taehyung has always come easily.

On the morning of Taehyung’s return, Jeongguk wakes up early, his stomach a mess of nerves. He’s too anxious to eat anything, so he paces nervously around the apartment instead, fiddling with his hair and adjusting his clothes. Jimin sits at the kitchen table with a banana and eyes him in amusement.

“Nervous?” he teases.

“A little,” Jeongguk grunts, clearly lying.

Jimin snorts. “Have you decided what you’re gonna say when you see him?”

“Not really,” Jeongguk sighs. “I mean, the gist I guess.”

“Maybe you should just fling yourself into his arms and plant one on him,” Jimin suggests.

“Yeah right,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes as if he hadn’t actually considered that option at one point. There are too many problems with that plan, though, not the least of which is it completely eliminates Taehyung’s choice in the matter. Even if Taehyung has liked him for a while, Jeongguk wants to be absolutely certain they’re on the same page before taking things any further. Plus, he’s not particularly keen on having their first kiss in the middle of Incheon Airport.

“Well, whatever you decide,” Jimin says, standing and tossing his banana peel in the trash. When he turns back to Jeongguk, any air of teasing is gone, and he’s smiling sincerely. “I’m sure it’s going to be great. I’m really excited for you guys.”

“We don’t even know what’s going to happen yet,” Jeongguk protests, blushing. “He could have totally lost interest in me while he was gone.”

“I doubt it,” Jimin replies, still smiling. “I shouldn’t really be saying this, but - he likes you a lot, Jeonggukkie.”

Jeongguk’s stomach flips in that way it’s been doing every time someone mentions Taehyung lately, a mix of nerves and excitement. He can’t imagine how it’s going to react when he actually sees Taehyung in the flesh, let alone when he has to fumble his way through explaining his feelings.

Jimin pulls him in for a hug, squeezing tightly. It takes Jeongguk until this moment to remember it’s a Saturday, and on any other occasion Jimin would be sleeping in right now. A wave of fondness warms through him as he realizes his roommate probably woke up early because he knew Jeongguk would be a walking ball of nerves.

“Good luck,” Jimin murmurs. “Go get him.”

Jeongguk blushes, grinning in spite of himself. He can’t believe he’s seeing Taehyung today. “Thanks.”

The drive to the airport seems to simultaneously take eons and no time at all. His fingers tap anxiously on the steering wheel, the pop music playing on the radio doing little to calm his nerves. By the time he manages to find a parking spot and make his way into the arrivals area of the airport, he’s practically vibrating.

Jeongguk sees Taehyung before Taehyung sees him. He looks sleepy and soft, glasses on and dressed in his standard, loose-fitting clothing, dark pants and a baggy cardigan. Jeongguk has always recognized that Taehyung is objectively beautiful, but seeing him now makes his heart feel too big in his chest, fingers itching to reach out and touch. It’s not so much how he looks, more just the mere fact of his physical presence, here and finally so close to Jeongguk.

Except -

He’s so caught up in drinking in every detail of Taehyung that it takes Jeongguk a few seconds to realize that he’s not alone. In fact, he’s accompanied by a man, the same dimpled, bespectacled man Jeongguk had seen in so many of Taehyung’s photos from his trip. They’re walking very close together, the man helping Taehyung with his bag, the same massive roller suitcase that Jeongguk had helped him wrestle into a cab on the day he left. And oh, oh god, when Jeongguk’s gaze drops to the small space between their bodies, he sees that they’re holding hands.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Jeongguk’s stomach drops, the bubbling nervousness he’d felt before shifting rapidly into something more like panic. He hadn’t accounted for this possibility at all, hadn’t stopped to think what would happen if Taehyung rejected him not because he’d lost interest, but because he’d met someone else. Which, in retrospect, was stupid of him, considering what a catch Taehyung is, but he’d been so caught up in the revelation of his own feelings that it hadn’t even occurred to him.

And now, well - this is terrible, Jeongguk thinks, looking around frantically for someplace to hide. Would people notice if he crawled into the nearest trash can? It would be gross, but at least he could freak out in peace without having to face Taehyung and his new - whatever the hell this person is.

Oh god. Ohgodohgodohgod, Jeongguk can’t fucking believe this is happening to him right now -

“Jeonggukkie!”

Fucking hell.

Jeongguk looks up to see Taehyung hurrying over to him, arms open wide and a huge smile on his face. His heart gives a particularly desperate thump as Taehyung engulfs him in a huge hug, babbling in Jeongguk’s ear about how happy he is to see him.

“I didn’t know you were meeting me at the airport!” Taehyung says excitedly, stepping back. “This is such a nice surprise!”

“Oh - yeah,” Jeongguk says weakly, determinedly not looking at the man hovering a few steps behind Taehyung. “I just, umm, had the day off, so.”

He’d actually had to specifically request the day off, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.

“That’s so nice of you!” Taehyung beams at him, looking so adorably thrilled that Jeongguk wants to die a little. The guy is standing at Taehyung’s shoulder now, observing the encounter serenely, and Jeongguk is hit by an irrational desire to punch him in the face.

“Oh! And I want you to meet - ” Taehyung turns slightly, gesturing to the guy. “This is Namjoon. My, uh - my boyfriend, I guess.” He flushes slightly at this, but grins when Namjoon nods and smiles encouragingly at him. Jeongguk feels like he might throw up. “Namjoonie, this is Jeongguk.”

“Nice to meet you,” Namjoon says intently, extending a hand that Jeongguk reluctantly shakes. His dimples are on full display as he smiles and Jeongguk decides that he hates them.

“Likewise,” Jeongguk replies, wondering hysterically how this could possibly be happening right now. Taehyung had allegedly had feelings for him as recently as three weeks ago, how could he have gotten over it and found himself a shiny new boyfriend so quickly?!

“Did you drive here?” Taehyung asks.

“Yeah, I borrowed Jin-hyung’s car,” Jeongguk nods, feeling a prickle of hope at the prospect of ditching Namjoon for the drive home.

“You’re the best,” Taehyung says, still smiling brightly, and Jeongguk’s chest swells. Screw Namjoon, Jeongguk has years of friendship going for him - “Would you mind if we give Namjoon a ride too? We were going to share a cab, but - ”

Years of friendship: 0. Random airport guy: 1.

“Sure,” Jeongguk grits out, willing himself not to visibly grimace.

“Thanks, man,” Namjoon says.

Jeongguk wishes he would fuck all the way off.

The drive home feels almost like an out of body experience. Jeongguk hears all about the conference and Namjoon, nods and smiles at what he hopes are the right places, all the while wondering if this is some sort of prolonged nightmare. When he gets home, the first thing he’s going to do is find Hoseok and murder him for getting him into this mess in the first place.

“We were sitting right next to each other on the flight there, isn’t that funny?” Taehyung says giddily.

“Hilarious,” Jeongguk forces out.

“He fell asleep on my shoulder,” Namjoon chimes in from the back seat. He sounds fond and if Jeongguk’s own life wasn’t currently crumbling before his eyes, he would be happy that Taehyung has found someone who seems to like him so much.

He spilled his drink on my lap!” Taehyung fires back playfully.

“Haha,” Jeongguk says weakly, weighing the pros and cons of swerving into oncoming traffic as Taehyung and Namjoon giggle companionably.

He finally gets a reprieve from this personalized hell he’s been living in when they reach Namjoon’s street. Namjoon leans forward, kissing Taehyung lightly on the cheek and murmuring a “see you soon” before thanking Jeongguk and sliding out of the car. Jeongguk and Taehyung are finally, finally left alone, but all at once Jeongguk finds that he has no idea what to say.

“Thanks for driving him,” Taehyung says, turning to look at Jeongguk as they pull back into the flow of traffic. “I would have felt really bad just leaving him there.”

“No problem,” Jeongguk replies, gripping the steering wheel slightly harder than is necessary.

“How have you been?” Taehyung asks. “I missed you.”

Jeongguk’s heart gives a weak thump of approval. It’s strange, feeling this way while Taehyung is sitting right next to him. He’s barely thought of anything else these past three weeks, but it’s one thing to think about someone and something else entirely to feel yourself react to them in real time. He wonders if this is how Taehyung used to feel around him.

“I missed you too,” Jeongguk says quietly. A part of him itches to try his luck and confess right then and there, see if seven years of friendship can outweigh the blossoming of a new relationship. But another, louder part of him is shouting that he missed his chance, and if Namjoon makes Taehyung happy, Jeongguk has no right to get in the middle of that.

Sometimes being a good friend really sucks.

“I’ve been good,” he settles for saying. “Same old, same old.” Just discovering my feelings for you, no big deal. “Drawing a lot,” he adds with a smile.

Taehyung flashes a rectangular smile at him, clearly delighted. “I’m so glad you liked the colored pencils.”

“Are you kidding?” Jeongguk says. “I’m in love.”

Taehyung laughs. “Good. Is everything else okay?” he asks, expression growing more serious. “You mentioned wanting to talk when I got back.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jeongguk says, feeling a strange sort of resignation settle in his stomach. “It’s just - I just wanted to thank you for the pencils. In person.”

“Oh.” Taehyung looks like he doesn’t quite believe him, but luckily he doesn’t push it. “You had me a little worried there.”

Jeongguk laughs awkwardly. “Sorry.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Taehyung says, waving him off. “And you’re very welcome for the pencils, of course. You’ll have to show me what you’ve been working on.”

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees, making a mental note to shove the sketches of Taehyung to the bottom of the pile.

They reach Taehyung’s apartment, and Jeongguk gets out of the car to help him with his massive bag. The scene is so similar to three weeks ago, back when Jeongguk’s life was far simpler, that he almost can’t believe how much has changed in that time.

“You still coming over tonight?” Jeongguk asks, once they’ve wrestled the bag out of the trunk and up onto the sidewalk.

“’Course,” Taehyung nods. “I can’t wait to see everyone.”

Jeongguk grins, pleased that Taehyung at least isn’t planning to ditch their friend reunion night to hang out with his new boyfriend. “Cool. See you then.”

“See you, Jeonggukkie. Thanks again for picking me up.”

Jeongguk waves and hops back into the car, at once relieved and disappointed to finally be alone. His head thumps back against the headrest as he lets the reality of the situation fully sink in.

“Fuck.”

***

When Jeongguk gets back to his apartment, he finds Jimin, Hoseok, and Seokjin sitting around the kitchen table. They all look up eagerly when he enters, slamming the door behind him with a little more force than necessary.

“You’re back quickly,” Hoseok observes. “Shouldn’t you be sucking face with Tae right n-”

“You said he liked me!” Jeongguk interrupts indignantly, pointing an accusatory finger at his friends. Hoseok’s playful grin drops, Seokjin’s eyes widen, and Jimin’s brow furrows in concern. “You said - you all said he had a huge crush on me!”

“He does!” Hoseok cries, clearly taken aback. Jeongguk lets out a humorless laugh and flings himself into the nearest empty chair.

“Well, hyung,” Jeongguk says, folding his hands together and smiling maniacally around at them. “He can’t like me that much, seeing as he just introduced me to his boyfriend at the airport.”

His friends gape at him.

What?

“It’s the guy from his Instagram pictures. Namjoon,” Jeongguk explains, making a face and slumping back in his seat. “He lives in Seoul and they met on the flight to the conference, isn’t that just precious?

“And now he’s Tae’s boyfriend?” Seokjin asks, disbelieving. “It’s only been three weeks.”

“Apparently!” Jeongguk shrieks, clapping his hands together. His friends are all looking at him in alarm now, concern written on their faces. “They both love science and sea creatures. Absolutely adorable. A match made in heaven.”

“Shit,” Hoseok says, letting out a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Jeonggukkie.”

Jeongguk deflates, letting his forehead thump down onto the table. “I can’t believe this is happening,” he groans.

There’s a reassuring hand on the back of his neck, which, judging by the size, mostly likely belongs to Jimin.

“So I’m guessing you didn’t end up saying anything to him,” Jimin says.

Jeongguk sighs, lifting his head so that he can shake it. “I couldn’t. He seemed happy.”

Jimin gives his neck a squeeze, frowning sympathetically. “That’s very big of you, Gukkie.”

“Don’t give up hope,” Hoseok adds kindly. “You and Tae have been in each other’s lives for years. This new boyfriend thing might not even amount to much.”

Jeongguk’s not sure how feels about that. On the one hand, it makes him hopeful, but on the other, he’s not particularly keen on waiting around while Taehyung dates someone else.

“I dunno,” he says. “Maybe this is a sign that it’s not meant to be. I mean, I didn’t even really have feelings for Tae until three weeks ago. Maybe I got carried away.”

He can tell by their faces that his friends are disappointed by this response, but he can’t help but feel that it might be his best bet. This whole thing had evolved while Taehyung was out of the country - he doesn’t even know if he’ll still feel the same way once they get back into their regular routine. After all, he’d managed to make it through the first seven years of their relationship without having a crush on Taehyung - there’s no reason he can’t go back to that now.

Right?

“Boo,” Hoseok says, frowning. “I was really rooting for you two.”

“Let’s just wait and see what happens,” Seokjin interjects reasonably. “Mostly we just want you both to be happy.”

“Thanks, hyung.” Jeongguk offers them a weak smile. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. I just need a few days to get over it.”

They all nod, crowding around him to ruffle his hair and squeeze his shoulders. They always do such a good job taking care of him, his hyungs. Even Hoseok, who he still kind of wants to throttle for getting him into this situation in the first place. Jeongguk will let it slide since he knows Hoseok would sooner throw himself in front of a bus than intentionally hurt any of them.

Everything is going to be fine, he tells himself. In a few days everything will be back to normal, and this will just be a silly hiccup in a long and otherwise wonderful friendship with Taehyung. He’ll push the knowledge that Taehyung once had feelings for him to the back of his mind and they’ll all move on with their lives.

No big deal.

***

Of all the things Taehyung was expecting to happen when he stepped off the plane back at Incheon, it was certainly not for Jeon Jeongguk to be waiting to pick him up. And it was especially not for Jeon Jeongguk to be waiting to pick him up while Taehyung had his new boyfriend of approximately 75 minutes in tow.

It’s been an overwhelming couple of hours.

He had been pleasantly surprised when, approximately 13 hours into their flight home, Namjoon had asked him to be his boyfriend. They’d been practically attached at the hip for the majority of their time in America, so it’s not like it came completely out of left field, but Taehyung hadn’t been expecting to make things official so quickly. Still, he likes Namjoon a lot, and he’d been fully intending to continue to see him once they were back home in Seoul, so the decision to say yes wasn’t a difficult one. It had produced a pleasant sort of fluttering sensation in his stomach when Namjoon grinned back at him, clearly delighted, and for the first time in a while Taehyung felt truly hopeful that he could be happy with someone who wasn’t Jeongguk.

Which is why it had felt like a particularly sadistic twist of fate when he looked up and found Jeongguk himself waiting for him in the middle of Incheon Airport.

His heart had lurched into his throat the way it often did around Jeongguk, intensified by the fact that he was seeing him for the first time in three weeks. He looked so handsome, standing there with his hair lightly styled and his hands in his pockets, the sight calling up a familiar ache in Taehyung’s chest. And for one second, he became acutely aware that he had not entirely succeeded in his mission of getting over Jeon Jeongguk.

But then everything clicked back into place, and he remembered Namjoon and their trip and the fact that he was moving on with his life. So he pulled himself together, greeted Jeongguk like the old friend that he is, and refocused his mind and heart. The car ride had been a little awkward, something off with Jeongguk that Taehyung couldn’t quite put his finger on, but he had brushed it off when Taehyung asked if he wanted to talk. It was especially odd because Taehyung knows for a fact that Jeongguk always works Saturdays, meaning he would have had to specially request off to come meet Taehyung, but maybe he really was just that grateful for the colored pencils.

It’s almost a relief when he gets out of the car and finally has some time to himself to just think about everything. He tells himself that it’s normal that he had felt something upon seeing Jeongguk at the airport - he’d liked him for years, after all, and those feelings don’t automatically go away just because he’s met someone else. Even after seeing Jeongguk, though, he’s still 100% confident that he wants to give this thing with Namjoon a real shot, and he thinks that has to be a good sign. It’s just going to take a little time for him to adjust to his new situation.

True to his word, he goes over to Jimin and Jeongguk’s that night to say hi to all of his friends, but after that it takes four full days for him to emerge from his jet lag-induced hole. When he does, it’s for Jimin and one of their traditional takeout-and-trashy-TV nights. Which, of course, doubles as an opportunity for Jimin to grill him about Namjoon.

“I can’t believe you have a boyfriend,” Jimin coos, sitting on Taehyung’s sofa with his cheeks stuffed full of beef. “This is so exciting. But also, rude that you didn’t tell me about him while you were gone.”

Taehyung shrugs, poking at his food with his chopsticks. If he’s honest, he’s still getting used to the fact that he has a boyfriend as well, even if the knowledge makes him happy. “He wasn’t officially my boyfriend until the day we came home,” he explains. “I thought maybe it was just going to be a fling.”

“He must like you a lot,” Jimin says, smiling.

Taehyung flushes, biting down on a pleased grin. “Yeah. I think he does.”

“I’m really happy for you, Taetae,” Jimin tells him, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “Does this mean you’re over Guk?”

Of all their friends, Jimin probably knows better than anyone how much Taehyung has struggled with his feelings for Jeongguk, how hopeless and pathetic he’s felt at times. He was there when it started during university, and there when it came back with a vengeance when Jeongguk moved to the city two years ago.

“Working on it,” Taehyung says truthfully. “I mean, I kind of had a moment when I saw him at the airport, but I guess that’s kind of to be expected.”

Jimin opens his mouth like he wants to say something, then seems to change his mind, biting down on his lip instead. When he stays silent, Taehyung continues.

“I really like Namjoon, though. More than I’ve liked anyone in a while.” He smiles, thinking of how sincere Namjoon is, how intently and curiously he listens whenever Taehyung has something to say. He’s also pretty easy on the eyes, if Taehyung does say so himself, not to mention fun to make out with. “I think he could be really good for me.”

For one second, something unreadable passes over Jimin’s face. But before Taehyung can think much of it, his expression slips into one of immense fondness, so loving that it almost hurts Taehyung to look at him.

“Well, in that case,” Jimin says. “I can’t wait to meet him.”

***

Namjoon meets the rest of their friends the following weekend, at a dive bar in their neighborhood that’s probably only still in business because they go there so often. To Jeongguk, it feels a little sacreligious to be inviting a virtual stranger into their special spot, especially considering Taehyung has only known him for a few weeks, but no one else seems to think so so he keeps that thought to himself.

He had given himself a pep talk before coming here, pacing around his room and reminding himself sternly that if Taehyung is happy, that’s what’s most important. He doesn’t have to be Namjoon’s best friend, but he can at least behave like a mature, cordial adult for Taehyung’s sake and the sake of the rest of their friends. Jeongguk is not going to be that guy that makes his friends pick between him and Taehyung, especially when Taehyung has done nothing wrong.

Of course, pep talking oneself into being a mature adult is a lot easier than actually acting like one, and Jeongguk feels his resolve slipping the second Taehyung steps into the bar hand in hand with Namjoon. Is it normal for couples to hold hands that much, he wonders? It seems a little excessive, in his completely neutral, unbiased opinion.

“He’s tall,” Jimin hisses as Taehyung and Namjoon approach the table, the others nodding in impressed agreement. Jeongguk huffs and straightens up in his seat; Namjoon has a few centimeters on him at most, and who can even tell for sure when his hair is styled up like that? Also, he’s wearing glasses again, and as a concerned friend Jeongguk just wants to point out that poor eyesight is not favored by natural selection.

“Hey, guys,” Taehyung says when he and Namjoon reach their table. He’s fidgeting a little, which means he’s nervous, but he’s also smiling, that trademark, contagious Taehyung smile. It would put Jeongguk in a better mood if he wasn’t currently facing off against the competition for his best friend’s heart. “This is Namjoon.”

Namjoon nods and grins around at them, extending a hand that Jimin immediately takes.

“You’re very tall,” he blurts out, eliciting a startled laugh from Namjoon. His voice is deep and masculine and Jeongguk finds himself wondering sullenly if Taehyung is into that.

“You’re just really short,” Jeongguk scoffs, rolling his eyes. Jimin stomps on his foot under the table.

The rest of the introductions are made, and then Taehyung and Namjoon slide into the booth with them, Seokjin pouring out beer from a pitcher into cheap, plastic cups. Much to Jeongguk’s dismay, Namjoon fits in seamlessly with their friends, chatting easily with Yoongi about music, comparing notes on craft beers with Hoseok. To his even greater dismay, Jeongguk realizes that he finds Namjoon pretty cool as well, and he would probably be eager to get to know him better if he wasn’t so busy resenting his entire existence.

“I’m so jealous you guys got to spend three weeks in New York,” Jimin says as their second pitcher arrives at the table. He’s been staring unabashedly at Namjoon for the majority of the night, giggling flirtatiously at everything he says and sending exaggerated thumbs up in Taehyung’s direction. Jeongguk hates him. “I’ve always wanted to visit.”

“Was it hard to navigate without knowing the language?” Seokjin asks.

“Namjoon hyung is fluent in English,” Taehyung announces proudly, looping his arm through Namjoon’s.

Of course he’s fluent in English. Of course he fucking is.

“Wow,” Jimin says dreamily, resting his chin on his palm. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

Jeongguk elbows him while the rest of them snicker. “Are you serious?” he hisses. “You’re so embarrassing.”

“You’re so jealous,” Jimin sniffs pointedly.

Jeongguk huffs. As if.

“There’s a lot I can’t do,” Namjoon says sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. “But it’s lucky I speak English because it gave Taehyung no choice but to hang out with me.”

“I would have hung out with you regardless,” Taehyung says sweetly.

Jeongguk needs another drink. Or five.

Luckily, Yoongi cuts into their little love fest, asking: “What was the best thing you saw in New York?”

“I really loved the MoMA,” Taehyung tells them, and Jeongguk perks up at this because Taehyung had sent him pictures from the MoMA. It had been one of the highlights from the three weeks that he was away. He perks up further when Taehyung turns to look at him. “Jeongguk-ah, I think you would have loved it too.”

“It looked amazing,” Jeongguk nods, irrationally happy just to have Taehyung’s attention focused on him for a few seconds.

“Jeonggukkie is an artist,” Taehyung explains, turning to Namjoon. He says it with the same tone of pride he had used when he told them Namjoon was fluent in English, and Jeongguk feels a tiny bit better.

“Really?” Namjoon says, looking genuinely interested. Damn him and his ridiculously sincere personality. “That’s awesome. What kind of art?”

“Uh, mostly drawing and photography,” Jeongguk tells him a little reluctantly. It feels odd, sitting here and having a perfectly normal conversation with this man who has inadvertently disrupted his entire life. “Tae actually got me a really nice set of colored pencils for my birthday, so I’ve been drawing a lot lately.”

Taehyung grins at him, and Jeongguk’s heart warms. “You still have to show me your drawings.”

Jeongguk nods, even though he pretty much hasn’t been able to stop drawing Taehyung lately and that might be just a little hard to explain. Recently his drawings have gotten a little more… intimate, so to speak, and he thinks he might actually have to throw himself out the nearest window if Taehyung ever stumbled upon those.

All in all, it’s a decent night, as far as nights spent playing nice with your best-friend-turned-crush’s new boyfriend go. Taehyung is still his usual self, and it’s good to have him back even if watching him with Namjoon is a special sort of torture. It’s crazy the things Jeongguk fixates on now that he would have barely noticed a month ago - the bob of Taehyung’s throat when he swallows, how touchy he is when he talks to someone, the way the scoop of his shirt hangs low around his collarbones. He wants to go back in time and punch his past self in the face for not recognizing what was right in front of him when he had the chance.

They say their goodbyes around midnight, Taehyung’s parting hug the highlight of Jeongguk’s night even as it worsens the ache in his chest. It doesn’t help when he watches Taehyung stroll off hand-in-hand with Namjoon, his stomach sinking when he realizes they might very well be spending the rest of the night together. Jimin seems to realize this, taking Jeongguk’s elbow and guiding him gently in the opposite direction so that Jeongguk can’t stare longingly after them anymore. Seokjin and Hoseok trail along a few steps behind them, caught up in their own inevitably absurd conversation.

“Do you think they’re having sex?” Jeongguk blurts out, unable stop himself from picturing Taehyung with someone else’s hands on him because apparently he’s some sort of masochist.

“I mean, Namjoon is fine as fuck, so - ” Jimin begins, cutting off when Jeongguk punches him in the arm.

“Are you serious right now?” Jeongguk growls, glaring at him. “You’re supposed to be on my team.”

“I am on your team if it means Tae drops Namjoon,” Jimin says, twisting gracefully out of the way when Jeongguk tries to punch him again. “I would totally hop on that dick if Tae was cool with it, sweet lord have mercy.”

Jeongguk gapes at him. His friends are traitors, all of them.

“I literally hate you,” he grunts, shoving his hands in his pockets and stalking off down the sidewalk. It’s still early enough for there to be activity, some people heading home like them, others just starting their nights or moving from one destination to another. A group of women in glittery dresses and high heels passes him, and a part of him wishes he could just follow them to whatever club they’re going to and forget about his troubles for a while. He doesn’t, though, because that would be creepy and also he hates clubs.

Jimin catches up to him easily, laughing and grabbing onto his arm apologetically. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, giving Jeongguk’s arm a squeeze. “I am on your team, of course, Guk. But I’m also on Tae’s, and I want him to be happy.”

Jeongguk sighs. He wants that too, he really and truly he does.

“It was hard on him with you, you know,” Jimin tells him, his voice softer now. “He had to watch you with other people too.”

Jeongguk feels a pang of guilt at that, redirecting his gaze to the progress of his feet over the cracked sidewalk. He hates to think that he’d hurt Taehyung in any way, even if he’d had no idea and obviously hadn’t meant to.

“This sucks,” he huffs. “This timing sucks.”

“I know,” Jimin nods sadly. “It really does.”

They reach their building, the entrance lit lopsidedly because one of the outdoor lamps has been out for months and no one has bothered to fix it. They’ve lost Hoseok and Seokjin somewhere along the way, probably to some sort of late-night food joint. Jimin fumbles with his keys while Jeongguk leans back against the staircase railing and laments his own misfortune.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Jimin says once they’re inside, weaving their way up the cramped staircase to their floor. Jeongguk spots their neighbor’s cat staring at them from the top of the next flight of stairs, eyes bright in the dim hallway. “I don’t think they’re having sex yet.”

It’s almost comical how quickly Jeongguk’s mood lifts at this revelation.

“Seriously?”

Jimin shrugs. “It’s been a while since Tae has been with someone, and he usually doesn’t rush into that sort of thing. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Maybe he just isn’t that into Namjoon,” Jeongguk comments innocently.

Jimin snorts, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “Maybe, Guk.”

A guy can dream, right?

***

The nights that they hang out without Namjoon are Jeongguk’s favorite. It’s still hard, because Taehyung still talks about him sometimes, and Jeongguk still wants so much more than he’s allowed to have. But at least it’s better than having to sit there and watch while Taehyung sits on Namjoon’s lap or lets Namjoon kiss him, a fake smile plastered on his face to hide the way his fingernails are digging crescents into the palms of his hands.

Tonight, it’s just the six of them, cooking dinner and having a game night at Seokjin and Hoseok’s apartment. Namjoon had been invited to join, because apparently all of Jeongguk’s friends are fucking obsessed with him, but regrettably he already had other plans.

(“Big fat bummer,” Jeongguk says when he hears the news.

Taehyung gives him a weird look and Jeongguk quickly pretends to hear Yoongi calling for him.)

The food is good, the drinks are cheap but effective, and Jeongguk is the happy kind of tipsy where being around his friends makes him feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s an added bonus when he and Taehyung get teamed up for their table football tournament, mostly because it gives him an extra excuse to be close to Taehyung and touch him when they score a point. Which is often, because not to brag or anything but Jeongguk is really fucking good at table football.

(Better than Namjoon, probably.)

They beat Seokjin and Jimin and wipe the floor with Yoongi and Hoseok, and then they have to take a break so that the others can play to see who gets second and who gets stuck with dish duty. It’s during this time that Taehyung takes his arm and asks quietly if he can see some of Jeongguk’s new drawings.

The others are too distracted by their match to notice as Jeongguk and Taehyung slip out into the hallway, the door muffling the sounds of vicious trash talking as it closes behind them. Jeongguk and Jimin have left their own door unlocked, as they often do when they’re over at Seokjin and Hoseok’s - perks of living directly across the hall from your best friends. Plus, it’s not like they own anything valuable anyway, so if someone tried to rob them, joke’s on them.

Jeongguk leads the way to his bedroom, heart rate picking up when realizes he’s going to be alone in his room with Taehyung for the first time since this whole crush thing happened. He’s grateful that he has a few drinks in him, otherwise he’d probably be an awkward, stuttering mess right now.

The drawings of Taehyung are hidden away in the top drawer of his beaten-up old desk, but he has the ones that are acceptable for public viewing stacked in a neat pile on top of it. The colored pencils Taehyung had given him are laying right beside the pile, meticulously cared for and still organized by color. Taehyung smiles when he sees them, reaching for the topmost drawing but hesitating just before he picks it up.

“Can I?” he asks, glancing over his shoulder at Jeongguk.

Jeongguk nods, affection swelling in his chest. Taehyung has always treated his art with reverence, as if Jeongguk were some sort of celebrated artist and not just a kid with an art degree and no idea how to get any use out of it. “’Course.”

Since Jeongguk’s bedroom is roughly the size of a small closet and there’s nowhere else to sit, Taehyung drops down on his bed as he begins sifting through the sketches. It’s a position they’ve been in many times before, but now Jeongguk’s heart races at the sight, his fingers twitching restlessly at his sides. He settles for sitting down beside Taehyung instead, the alcohol making him bold enough to press their thighs together, head close to Taehyung’s as they peer down at the drawings.

It’s a random mix of things, some scenery, some superheroes, some random strangers he’s sketched haphazardly while on break at the coffee shop. Some are finished, or close to it, while others are rough, half-formed, just something to do with his hands when he needed a distraction. All of them have color of some sort, the traces of Taehyung’s gift bleeding across the pages in shades of blue, pink, yellow, red. He’s always liked experimenting with color, no matter the format, and his friends often tease him for it since his own wardrobe is primarily black, white, and gray.

“Oh,” Taehyung breathes, stopping on a sketch that Jeongguk had drawn with him in mind. It shows a massive whale swimming through the sky, wisps of clouds around it and a vaguely defined mountain range below it. It’s actually one of his less colorful drawings, primarily blues and grays, but it’s also one of his favorites.

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says, turning to look at him. Their faces are very close now, Taehyung’s eyes warm and soft, and all at once Jeongguk forgets how to breathe. “I - this is beautiful.”

“You inspired me,” Jeongguk says stupidly, making Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. He panics and immediately backtracks, clearing his throat in embarrassment. “I - I mean, the pictures you posted, from the conference. Got me thinking about whales, and, uh. Yeah.”

Taehyung smiles at that, and his eyes still have this warmth to them that makes Jeongguk wonder if maybe, just maybe, he still has a chance. Or maybe that’s just the alcohol talking.

“That makes me happy,” Taehyung says, looking back down at the picture. Jeongguk can’t tell if he’s disappointed or relieved to not have that gaze on him anymore. Probably a little of both. “I love it.”

“You can have it,” Jeongguk tells him.

Taehyung’s eyes widen. “Seriously?”

Jeongguk shrugs, nodding. “Sure. It’s done, anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Taehyung asks, brow furrowing. “I could buy it from y-”

Jeongguk snorts, waving him off. “No way. It’s a gift, Tae.”

“People would pay for your work, Guk-ah,” Taehyung insists, still frowning. Jeongguk hates going down this road; it just reminds him of all the ways he’s failing at using his degree.

“Yeah, maybe,” he says dismissively, brushing it off. Suddenly, being in this room with Taehyung and his eyes and his belief in Jeongguk feels too overwhelming. It’s making him want to say things that he shouldn’t say, things that he can’t say right now. “C’mon, we should probably get back and see who lost.”

Taehyung sighs but nods, taking the utmost care as he stands up and sets Jeongguk’s sketches back on his desk. He keeps the whale drawing clutched close to his chest, almost like it’s something precious. “Thanks a lot for the drawing, Jeonggukkie,” he says earnestly. “I’ll treasure it.”

Jeongguk smiles and nods shyly, his heart squeezing painfully in his chest.

***

So like, Namjoon is hot. He’s hot and he’s tall and he’s a good kisser, and Taehyung is into him. Maybe not in the way he was into Jeongguk, where it felt magnetic, his body reaching out of its own accord, but still in a way that’s good, fresh and exciting. And Namjoon is kind, too, thoughtful and respectful, and he makes Taehyung feel comfortable.

Which is why Taehyung can’t quite figure out why, after a month and a half of dating, they still haven’t had sex.

Okay, that’s a lie. He can figure out why, and it’s his own fault. He hasn’t felt ready yet. What he can’t figure out is why he hasn’t felt ready. Namjoon is wonderful, and they’ve done plenty of other stuff, but for whatever reason Taehyung just hasn’t quite been able to get... there.

He has a couple of theories. For starters, it’s been a while since he’s been with someone in that way. Like, over a year. And his overall list of people isn’t particularly long to begin with, so it’s not like he’s oozing sexual experience and confidence. On top of that, Namjoon is the first new person he’s really, truly liked in a long time, so he feels a sort of added pressure for it to be good. Which is kind of terrifying due to the aforementioned lack of experience and confidence.

Some days, he tells himself that six weeks isn’t that long, that they’re still getting to know each other and like he said, it’s not like they haven’t done anything. On other days, he panics, certain that no couple has ever waited this long to have sex and that Namjoon will probably dump him soon because he’s a prude who doesn’t put out. Even though realistically he knows Namjoon isn’t the type of person who would ever do that.

In short, he can’t stop thinking about it, to the point that he decides he needs to just talk it out with one of his friends. Initially, he plans for said friend to be Jimin, but then he ends up getting wine drunk with Jeongguk one night when Jimin is stuck working late, and it just kind of comes tumbling out.

“Guk,” Taehyung says, seated cross-legged on Jimin and Jeongguk’s sagging couch with a half-full wine glass in hand. “Guk. Guk.”

Jeongguk nods at him from the opposite end of the couch, socked feet kicked up on the coffee table in front of them. One of the socks has a hole in it and his big toe is poking out. “Yeah. Yes. Tae, what?”

Taehyung clears his throat, premature embarrassment already setting in. “Can I ask you something?”

Jeongguk raises his eyebrows exaggeratedly, making Taehyung giggle. He always does that so easily, even now that Taehyung is Over Him. “Duh.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Taehyung hedges, staring at Jeongguk’s big toe.

Jeongguk snorts. “You’re always embarrassing.”

Taehyung throws a pillow at him that Jeongguk catches easily. “Hey.”

“I’m merely stating facts,” Jeongguk snickers. “But c’mon, ask away.”

Taehyung huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “No. Never mind.”

“Don’t be a brat.”

You’re a brat.”

“It’s part of my charm,” Jeongguk grins impishly. “But come on, seriously. Tell me.”

Taehyung sighs, unfolding his arms. He stares down at his lap, fiddling with the hem of his pants. “It really is embarrassing.”

Jeongguk softens visibly, angling his body so that he’s fully facing Taehyung. “You can tell me anything,” he says gently, and Taehyung feels a familiar tug in the vicinity of his heart that he quickly dismisses.

“I - ” Taehyung starts. It feels strange to be discussing this with Jeongguk, of all people, this guy who played a starring role in most of his fantasies for the better part of the last two years (and a few years in university as well). “How long is the longest you’ve been with someone without, um.” He clears his throat again, lifting his eyes to Jeongguk’s. “You know.”

For a few seconds, Jeongguk stares at him blankly. Then something seems to click into place and his eyebrows shoot up, an expression passing over his face that Taehyung can’t quite put his finger on.

“You mean, uh - ” Jeongguk says, clearly fumbling for words. “You - you and - and Namjoon, you haven’t - ?”

Taehyung shakes his head, mortified, and Jeongguk lets out a weird sort of gurgling noise. Wow, fuck, this reaction is even worse than Taehyung was expecting.

“Oh god, you think I’m a freak,” Taehyung wails, burying his face in his hands. He was right, something really is wrong with him, and Namjoon probably wants to break up with him but has just been too nice to do it. He’s going to get dumped before they even have sex and then he’s going to have to go back to shame-jerking off to porn of guys who look vaguely like Jeongguk.

“No!” Jeongguk cries abruptly, cutting into Taehyung’s pathetic loser spiral. He shuffles forward on the couch, gently prying Taehyung’s hands away from his face. “No, I’m sorry, I just - you just caught me off guard, that’s all.”

“Caught you off guard because I’m a freak who hasn’t had sex with his boyfriend?” Taehyung asks despairingly.

No,” Jeongguk insists. His cheeks are oddly flushed, but there’s not a trace of joking on his face. “No, Tae, seriously, I really don’t think it’s that weird.”

Taehyung sniffs. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Jeongguk nods. “I swear.”

This makes Taehyung feel a tiny bit better.

“Okay.”

“Just, umm,” Jeongguk says cautiously. “Can I ask - why? Like, is it because of him? Is he awkward in bed?”

“What?” Taehyung frowns, confused. “No, no, it’s not - it’s not him.” Jeongguk looks vaguely disappointed at that, but Taehyung doesn’t take the time to dwell on why. He’s gotten the sense lately that Jeongguk isn’t Namjoon’s biggest fan, but he doesn’t really feel like getting into that right now. “It’s my fault, I’m just - nervous, I guess? I like him a lot, but it’s been a while since I’ve slept with someone and I just - ” he sighs, frustrated with himself. “I’m kind of scared.”

“Tae,” Jeongguk says. He’s still kneeling on the couch in front of Taehyung, baggy white t-shirt hanging from his shoulders, bangs loose and dark over his forehead. A tiny voice in Taehyung’s head wonders if part of the reason he can’t get there with Namjoon is because on some level, he’s still not fully over this. “That’s not - it’s not your fault if you’re not ready. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take your time.”

“I just feel like I should be ready,” Taehyung says quietly. “I feel bad that I’m making him wait.”

“Don’t,” Jeongguk responds, his tone fierce. He rests his hands on Taehyung’s shoulders and looks him in the eye. “I mean it. Namjoon is lucky to be with someone as amazing as you. If he’s not a total dipshit, he’ll wait as long as you need.”

The way he phrases it makes Taehyung wonder if Jeongguk does think Namjoon is a total dipshit, but right now he’s more focused on everything else Jeongguk had said. There’s an intensity in his gaze that makes Taehyung feel almost overwhelmed, and he’s touched that Jeongguk is taking this so seriously. It’s the kind of thing that, a few months ago, would have made him hope for the possibility of something more between them. The kind of thing that he’d always been too scared to pursue.

“Thanks, Guk,” he says quietly, the tiniest bit disappointed when Jeongguk sits back and his hands slip from Taehyung’s shoulders. It’s just his body reacting, he tells himself. He’d spent years wanting Jeongguk, like a pathway burned in his brain. There’s a new path forming now, but its presence doesn’t erase the old one completely.

Jeongguk smiles back at him, looking a little overwhelmed himself. “Any time.”

***

“Is it Friday yet?” Jimin groans. He’s slumped in his favorite leather armchair at the cafe where Jeongguk works, one hand draped dramatically over his forehead.

“It’s literally Monday morning,” Seokjin replies. Unlike Jimin, who is at best half-alive, Seokjin looks fresh as a daisy, sipping primly on his coffee with one leg crossed over the other.

Yoongi grunts, sucking down his iced coffee like it’s a lifeline. (Which, at 8 AM on Monday morning, it kind of is.) “Don’t remind me.”

“I take it you guys aren’t morning people,” Namjoon says with a chuckle. He’s sitting on the couch with his arm around Taehyung, and Jeongguk has been stewing silently about it for the past fifteen minutes. He’s technically supposed to be working right now, but he’d collapsed into a chair after bringing his friends their drinks and hasn’t been able to move since.

“What tipped you off?” Jeongguk says, a little snarky. Taehyung makes a face at him and Jeongguk immediately feels guilty. He needs to be better about keeping his attitude in check around Namjoon.

“Let’s fantasize about the weekend for a little while,” Hoseok suggests, patting Yoongi’s hair consolingly. “Does anyone have fun plans?”

“Tae and I are going away for the weekend,” Namjoon volunteers.

Hold the fuck up.

Jeongguk straightens up in his seat, ignoring the wary glance Jimin casts his way. Suddenly he feels much more awake than he had a minute ago.

“Oh really?” Hoseok replies excitedly. “How romantic! Where are you guys going?”

Couples go on romantic weekend getaways. Like, serious couples. Serious couples who are in serious relationships and intend to stay together for a while. They go on romantic weekend getaways and they have romantic sex on beds covered with rose petals and fuck, Jeongguk can’t breathe.

“Just a little bed and breakfast out in the countryside,” Namjoon says.

Sounds lame, in Jeongguk’s opinion.

“Joon’s friend owns it,” Taehyung adds.

Of course Namjoon has a friend who owns a fucking bed and breakfast in the countryside. Jeongguk doesn’t even own an umbrella.

“That sounds really nice,” Jimin says. “What are you going to do while you’re there?”

Taehyung and Namjoon look at each other fondly. Jeongguk needs to exit this conversation immediately.

“Probably just spend some quality time together,” Taehyung says, smiling.

Jeongguk stands up abruptly, prompting the others to turn and stare at him. “I, uh,” he coughs. “Gotta get back to work. It’s - I’m - this is my shift.”

He pivots on his heel and hurries back behind the counter, using more force than is perhaps necessary to make a cappuccino for the next customer in line. A minute or so later, Seokjin saunters over to check on him under the pretense of browsing the breakfast pastries.

“You okay?” he asks casually, leaning in to examine a cream donut.

Jeongguk breathes in through his nose, trying to sound normal. “Great. Peachy. Dare I say, never better.”

Seokjin blinks at him. “You just seemed a little upset that Tae and Namjoon are going away for the weekend.”

“Who, me?” Jeongguk says, letting out a strained laugh. “No sir, nope, I’m fine. I hope they have a great time on their vacation. I mean, I think there are bears in the countryside, so I hope Namjoon doesn’t get eaten, but other than that, all good.”

Seokjin snorts softly, reaching across the counter to pat Jeongguk’s hand. “Hang in there, Jeongguk-ah. I know this isn’t easy.”

Jeongguk is not going to cry. He’s not.

Seokjin leaves him alone then, seemingly sensing that Jeongguk needs some time. He busies himself with making drinks, determinedly not looking over at where his friends (and Namjoon) are still seated, inevitably putting off going to work. He’s so focused that he doesn’t even notice Namjoon approaching the counter, nearly spilling hot coffee all over himself when he looks up and sees him standing there.

“Hey,” Namjoon greets him, grinning. He wiggles his to-go coffee cup in the air. “Tae told me you might be able to slip me another espresso shot for the road.”

This is something Jeongguk does regularly for his friends, sneaking an extra shot into their drinks free of charge like a true model employee. It’s not, however, something he feels like doing for stupid tall Namjoon and his stupid glasses. He already has Taehyung, does he really need a free espresso shot too?

“Sorry, I have to charge you for an extra shot,” Jeongguk tells him in his best professional voice.

Namjoon falters for a second but then seems to recover. “Oh, okay,” he says, pulling out his wallet. “No problem.”

Once he pays, Jeongguk pours the extra shot, and then Namjoon gives him a nod and heads off to go to work. Out of the corner of his eye, Jeongguk sees him lean down to kiss the top of Taehyung’s head in goodbye, but he quickly redirects his attention to vigorously wiping down the counter.

A few minutes later, Jeongguk is returning to the front after carrying a bin of dirty dishes to the kitchen when Taehyung corners him, his mouth set in a thin line.

“Namjoon said you made him pay for his extra espresso shot,” he says bluntly.

He has a Look on his face and Jeongguk knows him well enough to know that that Look means he’s screwed.

“Everyone has to pay for extra shots, hyung,” Jeongguk replies, opting to play dumb as his first line of defense. “It’s cafe policy.”

Predictably, Taehyung is unimpressed by this excuse, his eyes narrowing as he regards Jeongguk. “You never charge any of us.”

Jeongguk shrugs, picking at a cuticle. “That’s because you guys are my best friends. I don’t know Namjoon that well yet.”

“Seriously?” Taehyung says, raising his eyebrows and folding his arms over his chest the way he often does when he’s irritated. “Do you have a problem with him, or something?”

“No,” Jeongguk lies. He sounds every inch the petulant schoolboy and he can tell Taehyung thinks so too from the way his eyes narrow further, lips pushing out in a pout.

“Are you sure about that?” he presses. “Because you’ve been weird around him this whole time and I can’t figure out why since he’s been nothing but nice to you.”

Because I want you and he’s in the way, Jeongguk wants to scream. Because every time I see you two together I feel like I’m dying.

Instead, he settles for a partial truth. “I just am still getting used to having him around,” he says sullenly. “I don’t like having to share y- my hyungs.”

“Just think of him as a new hyung,” Taehyung says, softening slightly. “It’s not like he’s replacing you.”

Jeongguk wonders how it is that Taehyung always seems to get to the root of what’s bothering him before he fully gets there himself.

“You guys were all hanging out without me just now,” Jeongguk pouts.

“You’re on shift, Gukkie,” Taehyung says, rolling his eyes fondly. “We’re literally hanging out at your place of work so you don’t feel left out.”

Jeongguk huffs, examining his feet. “I guess.”

“Just be nicer to Namjoon, okay?” Taehyung says, reaching out to touch Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I’m hoping he’ll be around for a while, but I need him to get along with my best bud.”

It’s amazing how that one sentence can simultaneously warm Jeongguk’s heart and break it.

“Okay,” he mumbles.

“Thanks,” Taehyung smiles, squeezing Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I gotta go to work. I’ll see you later, okay?”

Jeongguk nods, not fully trusting himself to speak. He watches Taehyung leave and wishes he could just sink into the floor and disappear forever. Maybe if he starts coughing all over the pastries his manager will send him home sick.

If Namjoon really is going to be around “for a while,” then Jeongguk needs a game plan. He can’t go on like this, pining hopelessly over Taehyung and feeling a heavy weight drop in his stomach every time he sees or thinks about Taehyung and Namjoon together. It’s going to ruin his life and if he’s not careful, it might ruin his relationship with Taehyung.

He slumps back over to the couches where the rest of his friends are still sitting, flopping down next to Yoongi and pretending he can’t see the way his coworker is glaring at him from behind the counter. This is a personal emergency and she’s just going to have to deal for a few minutes.

“Can you guys set me up with people?” he asks quietly. “Literally anyone you know with a working dick and half a personality. I need a distraction.”

They all look at him pityingly, and Jeongguk feels pathetic and generally irritated with the world for putting him in this situation.

“I have a few coworkers,” Seokjin offers.

“Me too,” Hoseok adds brightly. “I’m sure they’d all trip over themselves for a chance to go out with our Guk.”

Jeongguk smiles weakly at that. Too bad the one person he actually wishes would trip over himself is no longer interested.

Yoongi reaches over and ruffles his hair. “I’ll take you out drinking tonight,” he declares. “The hard stuff.”

“That sounds good, hyung.”

Drinking with Yoongi usually ends in a pounding headache and a serious depletion to Jeongguk’s Advil stock, but he thinks it might be worth it in exchange for a few hours of not wallowing in his own sadness. Maybe he’ll even find someone to take home and really take his mind off things for a while.

His friends coddle him for a little while longer, until, with a loud groan, he drags himself up and heads back to work. The last thing he needs in the midst of this personal crisis is to get fired for slacking on the job, and he’s really been pushing it this morning. He’ll have to buy his coworker a pastry or something so she doesn’t tattle on him to their manager.

Mondays are the fucking worst.

***

When Taehyung arrives at Jimin and Jeongguk’s apartment late Friday morning, he’s greeted by a very disheveled, very hungover Jeongguk. There’s a bruise on his neck that Taehyung assumes is from someone’s mouth, his shirt is on backwards, and his hair is sticking up at angles that Taehyung would have previously assumed were physically impossible. He grunts at Taehyung when he opens the door, sagging forward until his forehead lands on Taehyung’s shoulder.

“Morning, sunshine,” Taehyung says, walking Jeongguk backwards into the apartment and nudging the door shut behind them. He lifts a hand and pets cautiously at the back of Jeongguk’s head. “Rough night?”

“Mmph,” Jeongguk responds.

Taehyung chuckles softly. “Tell me.”

“Went on a date,” Jeongguk mumbles. “Think there was a guy. Know there was alcohol.”

“Oh boy.”

“Yeah.”

“Have you medicated?”

“Waiting for the Advil to kick in.” He groans, lifting his head and shuffling off to slump over at the kitchen table. “What’re you doing here?”

“I’m borrowing Jiminie’s hiking boots,” Taehyung explains, nervous butterflies erupting in his stomach like they do every time he thinks about his weekend away with Namjoon. He’s definitely excited, but he also thinks they’re probably going to have sex for the first time this weekend, and the prospect has him a little on edge.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, making a face that Taehyung assumes is related to the hangover. “Right.”

“Do you mind if I borrow your charger while I’m here?” Taehyung asks. “My phone’s dying and I have to meet Namjoon right after this.”

Jeongguk nods, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of his room. “Top drawer of my desk.”

“Thanks.”

Taehyung steps into Jeongguk’s room, heart warming at the familiar smell and the obvious traces of Jeongguk everywhere. It’s a little messier than usual, probably because Jeongguk had been drunk last night - bed unmade, clothes on the floor, shoes that look like they’d been kicked off haphazardly. The colored pencils Taehyung had gotten him are still displayed proudly on his desk, and Taehyung smiles fondly when he sees them.

Opening the top drawer of the desk, Taehyung spots the charger immediately. He gets distracted, though, by the stack of papers beneath it, a collection of drawings that are obviously Jeongguk’s. The style and coloring are consistent with the new ones Jeongguk had shown him a few weeks ago, but Taehyung has never seen these before. Curious, he pulls a few from the top of the stack, rifling through them until he comes across something that makes him freeze.

It’s a drawing of him, a close-up of his face - his eyes are downcast, eyelashes fanning out, and his lips look full and pink. The picture makes him look beautiful, if he’s honest, and it stuns him because he never knew Jeongguk had drawn him, let alone that he saw him this way. It does something strange to his heart, calls up a rush of hope that he’s done his best to keep subdued ever since he met Namjoon.

“Tae?”

The sound of Jeongguk’s voice from the doorway startles him so much that Taehyung drops the rest of the papers he’s holding, meeting Jeongguk’s gaze sheepishly. He’s not expecting the look that he gets in return, a sort of wide-eyed panic as Jeongguk’s gaze darts from Taehyung to the papers on the floor and then back again.

“Sorry, I - ”

“Don’t look at those,” Jeongguk croaks out, rushing forward to pick up the papers that are now scattered across the small room. Taehyung kneels down to help him, a little confused and a little alarmed, but Jeongguk makes another panicked noise and pushes his hands away. “Don’t, I - ”

Whatever the rest of that sentence was, Taehyung will never know, because at that moment his eyes land on another drawing, this one of two people. His breath catches in his throat when he realizes who it is - him and Jeongguk, stretched out in bed together, foreheads and noses touching, fingers interlaces. He blinks a few times, certain he must be imagining it, or mistaking the two people, but the more he looks, the clearer it becomes. Perhaps it’s because it’s an image he himself has pictured so frequently in his own head, a scenario that he’s longed for, ached for, on more than one occasion.

His fingers close around the piece of paper at the same Jeongguk’s close around his wrist, nearly ripping the drawing in half in his effort to get it away from Taehyung. Taehyung feels as if his mind is simultaneously working very slow and very fast, a million thoughts whipping around but none of them quite coming together as a cohesive thought. He knows this means something, knows Jeongguk wouldn’t be freaking out like this if it didn’t, but his brain still can’t quite get there, can’t fathom the implications of what’s currently happening.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Jeongguk murmurs frantically, possibly to himself, possibly to Taehyung. He drops onto his ass and scoots as far away from Taehyung as his tiny room allows, only stopping when his back hits the side of his bed. Once there, he quickly stuffs the drawings underneath, all the while regarding Taehyung with wide, terrified eyes.

“Guk,” Taehyung says, struggling to speak over the buzzing in his head. “Gukkie, was that - ”

“Don’t,” Jeongguk cuts in, covering his face with his hands and shaking his head desperately. “Don’t, Tae, please - ”

But Taehyung can’t stop, not when he’s seen what he just did, not when it might mean - . “Was that a drawing of - of us? Of you and me?”

“No,” Jeongguk says stubbornly, even as his eyes bulge wider through the gaps between his fingers. He really is such a terrible liar that Taehyung sometimes wonders why he even bothers.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung says gently, shifting closer. “What - why do you have drawings like that?”

“It’s nothing,” Jeongguk insists, looking at him pleadingly. “It’s not - I’m over it, it’s not a big deal - ”

Taehyung sucks in a breath. “Over it?”

Jeongguk freezes.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes. His heart is pounding loudly in his ears. “Did you - do you have feelings for me?”

Jeongguk makes a wounded sort of noise, his hands dropping helplessly into his lap. Slowly, he nods, looking like it physically pains him to do so, and Taehyung’s whole world turns upside down.

When Taehyung says he liked Jeongguk for years, he’s not exaggerating. Sure, he’d dated other people, and there was the two year stretch between when he graduated and Jeongguk did when he kind of, maybe, mostly got over it, but the feelings have been there in some form or the other pretty much since they met. And, hand in hand with those feelings, there’s always been a sort of resigned acceptance that it was probably never going to happen. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because Jeongguk never seemed interested, and Taehyung never wanted to risk their friendship. The usual suspects.

So, naturally, hearing this comes as a bit of a shock. A massive shock, actually. A rendered-speechless-because-his-brain-is-literally-exploding kind of shock.

Before he can say anything, Jeongguk speaks up.

“But, so?” he says, curling in on himself defensively. “You had feelings for me first!”

Wait, what?

“Wait, what?” Taehyung manages to say, his own eyes going wide. His cheeks flood with color because hold up, no, Jeongguk was not supposed to know about that. “How - ?”

“Hobi hyung told me,” Jeongguk sighs, looking resigned. “It was an accident.”

Taehyung stares at him, dumbfounded. His brain can’t keep up with all of the new information it’s receiving right now.

“When?”

“On my birthday, when they gave me your gift,” Jeongguk says in a defeated voice. “While you were in America. Meeting Namjoon.”

Namjoon.

Fuck.

“Fuck,” Taehyung breathes, remembering all at once that he very much has a boyfriend who he’s supposed to be going away with in just a few hours. Holy shit, he does not feel emotionally equipped to deal with any of this right now.

In what feels like a somewhat cruel coincidence, his (dying) phone vibrates just then with a text from none other than Namjoon himself.

Joon <3
Car is packed! Want to come by for lunch before we head out?

Taehyung types back a quick answer almost mechanically.

Me
Sure, be there soon

“I have to go,” he says, looking back up at Jeongguk. His heart clenches at the way Jeongguk seems to wilt further, but he can’t be here right now, he can’t deal with this right now. He has a boyfriend and he has a trip planned and he still can’t believe that any of this is actually happening. “I - Namjoon is waiting for me, we’re leaving soon.”

Jeongguk nods numbly, pulling his knees up to his chest and circling his arms around them. He looks small and sad, and Taehyung wants to hold him but he also needs to get out of here before he does exactly that.

“I - we’ll talk?” he says lamely, scrambling to his feet and backing towards the door. He catches Jeongguk’s hollow “okay,” before he turns and hightails it out of the apartment, snatching Jimin’s hiking boots as he goes.

Taehyung makes it down two flights of stairs before has to sit down and pull himself together, heart pounding so hard in his chest that it’s difficult to breathe. He folds in on himself, forehead pressed against his knees, ass planted on the dirty granite step because the cleanliness of his pants is literally the last thing he can be fucked to care about right now. He’s overwhelmed and so, so confused, and he has no idea what to do or how to handle this situation.

He was getting over Jeongguk, he really, really was. Progress has been slow, and in some moments he catches himself backsliding, but he and Namjoon are moving forward in their relationship and he’s genuinely happy about that. Namjoon makes him happy, and they have a good thing going, and they’re going to go away this weekend and finally have sex and probably fall a little harder for each other. Taehyung has a plan, see, and it’s a good plan and he wants to stick to it.

But also, Jeongguk.

Jeongguk.

How can he have a plan with anyone else when there’s Jeongguk?

***

Everything hurts and Jeongguk is dying.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. He’s not dying, but his head hurts and his stomach hurts and his heart fucking hurts, so he kind of wishes he was dead right now. Pretty much the worst case scenario had happened in terms of Taehyung finding out about his feelings: he had come across Jeongguk’s creepy drawings, and then when Jeongguk gave in and confessed, he left. He left to go on vacation with his smart, tall, deep-voiced boyfriend, and Jeongguk is just the sad loser he left in the dust. He doesn’t even blame Taehyung, really - who would pick Jeongguk when they could have Namjoon instead?

He spends the next hour or so wallowing in this manner, throwing an extravagant pity party for himself while intermittently crying on his bedroom floor. Eventually, he summons the energy to send a series of melodramatic texts to Jimin, but it turns out his phone is dead so there’s an anticlimactic period of about three minutes where he has to just sit there waiting for it to charge enough to turn back on. Then he’s able to send the texts, which go something like this:

Me
sos tae found out and hates me
im changing my name and moving to japan
do they have banana milk there
will you send me banana milk if they don’t?
what do you think of justin seagull as my new name

At this point, Jimin calls him.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Jimin sighs.

“He literally got up and left when he found out,” Jeongguk replies miserably, reliving the whole, terrible ordeal again in his head. “Oh, god.”

“I think he’s just overwhelmed.” Jimin’s voice is hushed, probably because he’d snuck into a bathroom stall at work to deal with Jeongguk’s meltdown.

Jeongguk groans, his head thunking back against his mattress. “Did you talk to him?”

“Er…”

“Oh, god,” Jeongguk says again.

“He just needs a little time to process, Gukkie,” Jimin says gently. “But he definitely doesn’t hate you, okay?”

Jeongguk makes a pained noise, and Jimin sighs again.

“Look, I’m sorry, I have to go,” he murmurs. “I’m in the middle of an important meeting and I’ve already been gone for too long. We’ll talk when I get home, okay? And eat lots of ice cream.”

Not even ice cream can make Jeongguk feel better right now, but he appreciates the sentiment. “’Kay.”

They hang up, and Jeongguk spends the next hour moping around the apartment until he has to get ready for work. He’s working the closing shift at the cafe tonight, which is the only thing stopping him from drinking a full bottle of wine by himself right now.

His shift passes in something of a blur. It’s a rainy night, so the cafe is quieter than usual, giving him ample time to think about Taehyung and all the sexy, romantic things he’s probably doing with Namjoon right now. He’s surprised he doesn’t mess up more customers’ orders from being so caught up in his own head, or maybe he does and he just looks too sad and dejected for people to bother correcting him.

Once the cafe officially closes, Jeongguk busies himself with cleaning up, sweeping the floor and stacking up dirty dishes. Most of the lights are off to indicate that they’re closed, so it catches him by surprise when he hears the familiar jingle of the bell above the door and the sound of someone stepping inside.

He spins around, praying that it’s just a confused customer and not some hardened criminal looking to burglarize the place. Jeongguk is poor, he can’t afford to be robbed right now.

“Sorry, we’re cl- ”

He stops. His heart leaps in his chest.

It’s Taehyung. Taehyung, looking a little disheveled, hair damp from the rain, but still very much real and present in the entrance to the cafe. Here, not at a quaint bed-and-breakfast in the countryside with Namjoon.

“Hi,” Jeongguk breathes.

“Hi.”

Jeongguk can’t quite read his tone, but he doesn’t sound particularly cheery. “Umm, aren’t you supposed to be in - ?”

“I didn’t go,” Taehyung says bluntly.

“Oh.” Jeongguk swallows. “Uh, why?”

Taehyung snorts, and yeah, he’s not happy. “Why do you think?”

Jeongguk shifts back and forth uncomfortably. He’s still mortified that Taehyung knows about his feelings. “Umm. I’m sorry?”

Taehyung scoffs. “Are you?”

Is he?

“No,” Jeongguk mumbles. “Not really.”

“I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me sooner,” Taehyung sighs, running a frustrated hand through his hair. Jeongguk hates this, hates that he’s made things uncomfortable between them. “This timing is shit, Guk.”

“I tried,” Jeongguk says defensively. “That’s why I met you at the airport, so we could talk. But then you got off the plane with Namjoon, what was I supposed to do?” Jeongguk makes an exasperated noise, his own frustration growing. “Besides, you’re one to talk, how come you never told me?!”

“Because you didn’t like me back!” Taehyung cries. “You didn’t, and you still wouldn’t if Hoseok hadn’t told you!”

“Well maybe I would have figured it out sooner if you had just told me yourself!”

“Well I didn’t, Jeongguk okay?” Taehyung snaps. “I didn’t, and now it’s too late, I’m dating somebody else. I’m with Namjoon, and I’m happy, I can’t just - ”

“I’m not asking you to!” Jeongguk yells. He’s angry now, angry and hurt. This is Taehyung’s fucking fault in the first place, he should have just told Jeongguk how he felt a long time ago. “Go be with Namjoon if he makes you so happy!”

“Fine!” Taehyung shouts.

“Fine!” Jeongguk shouts back.

Taehyung turns and storms out of the cafe, the glass pane in the door rattling as he slams it shut behind him. Jeongguk stands stunned for a few moments before sinking down into the nearest chair, his hands suddenly shaking. The adrenaline from the fight saps from his body and is quickly replaced by crushing sadness as he realizes that Taehyung just left him for Namjoon again. That he may have just driven Taehyung out of his life for good.

Except - when he looks up, Taehyung is standing on the other side of the door, peering at him through the rain-splattered window. He’s completely motionless, just standing there in the rain watching Jeongguk with this intense look on his face, and frankly it would be creepy if Jeongguk weren’t familiar with Taehyung’s proclivity for intense looks. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it half the time; the other half he’s doing it on purpose to make one of them uncomfortable, usually Jimin. Jeongguk honestly isn’t sure which category this one falls into.

He gets up slowly, heart in his throat as he walks over to the door and pulls it open. The rushing sound of falling rain hits his ears, the damp scent of wet pavement filling his nostrils. Taehyung’s hair is soaked, making it look even darker than usual, and there are droplets of water rolling along the lines of his flawless bone structure. It’s unfair, Jeongguk thinks, for a person to look this beautiful in the rain when any normal human would resemble a drowned rat.

“The problem,” Taehyung says hoarsely, making no move to come inside. “The problem is that I can’t be happy with Namjoon, because I want you.”

Jeongguk sucks in a sharp breath.

“I want you, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung sighs, shoulders rising in a little half-shrug. “I always want you.”

“Fuck,” Jeongguk says emotionally, making Taehyung huff out a startled laugh.

And Jeongguk - well, he can’t find the words right now. Even if he could, he doesn’t think they’d make it past the lump in his throat. So he does the only thing he can think to do instead, which is to grab Taehyung by the lapels of his sopping wet jacket and haul him forward, out of the rain and into Jeongguk’s body. Taehyung’s hands come up to frame his face, reverent and gentle, and then they’re kissing, they’re kissing, lips on lips, and Taehyung’s are wet and cold and perfect against Jeongguk’s own.

The way Taehyung kisses him is, it turns out, consistent with the way Taehyung does anything when it comes to Jeongguk: tender, sweet, playful. He brushes his thumbs lightly over Jeongguk’s cheeks, almost like he can’t believe he’s allowed to, the touch so soft that it makes Jeongguk shiver. He breathes shakily against Jeongguk’s mouth whenever they pause to catch their breath, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, his forehead pressed against Jeongguk’s. He laughs breathlessly when he tries to take a step back and Jeongguk protests, winding his arms around Taehyung’s waist and tugging him in close, not caring when the wetness of his jacket soaks through the front of Jeongguk’s t-shirt.

“You’re gonna freeze to death,” Jeongguk mumbles eventually, once he’s done getting distracted by how big Taehyung’s hands feel splayed against his waist.

“’M fine,” Taehyung retorts, even though his teeth are audibly chattering.

“You’re gonna bite my tongue off if your teeth keep going like that,” Jeongguk teases, tugging Taehyung forward until they’re both fully inside the cafe. “C’mon.”

Before Jeongguk can wander off in search of a towel, Taehyung’s fingers lightly circle his wrists, holding him in place. “I should go,” he says quietly, reluctantly.

Jeongguk tenses up, panicking that he’d somehow misread the situation. He tries to take a step back, but Taehyung holds on tighter.

“Not because I want to,” Taehyung reassures him, watching Jeongguk with eyes so soft it almost hurts. “Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather do than stay here all night with you.”

Jeongguk can’t help but shudder a little at that, mind going crazy with thoughts of spending an entire night alone with Taehyung.

“But…”

“But I’m still technically dating Namjoon,” Taehyung sighs. Jeongguk wonders if there will ever be a time in his life when he’s not getting cockblocked by fucking Namjoon. “And I shouldn’t - I owe him a conversation before I do any more of this.” He waves his hands vaguely, droplets of water splattering onto the floor of the cafe. Jeongguk’s going to have to clean that up before he leaves, but it seems like a fair trade off for getting to kiss Taehyung.

“We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?” Taehyung says, lifting Jeongguk’s hands and kissing the backs of them. It’s a simple gesture, but it makes Jeongguk melt a little, makes him want to sag into Taehyung and never let him go.

“Okay,” Jeongguk murmurs, trying not to pout. From the way Taehyung smiles fondly at him, he guesses he’s not succeeding.

Taehyung gives his hands a last squeeze and takes a step back. “Good night, Jeonggukkie.”

“Night, Tae.”

If Jeongguk finds himself just a bit breathless after Taehyung leaves, no one has to know. If he does a little happy dance alone in the dark cafe, no one has to know that either. All at once, everything seems brighter - the cafe seems like a magical place, the rain outside beautiful instead of depressing. He just feels so happy, something light and warm buzzing in his stomach, and for the first time in a while, he’s hopeful that tomorrow is going to be a really, really good day.

***

Overall, Taehyung has not made a lot of great decisions in the past 24 hours. Not that he regrets the decisions he’s made, necessarily - he doesn’t think he could ever regret kissing Jeongguk, knows he would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance. It makes a thrill shake through his body every time he thinks about it, his heart hammering frantically in his chest.

And yet - Taehyung still has a boyfriend. A boyfriend who he really, genuinely cares about, who’s kind and smart and has been nothing but good to him since the moment they met. A boyfriend who was there for him when he was feeling low because of Jeongguk, who made him feel wanted and hopeful and like he actually had a shot at being happy with someone else. Taehyung hates the cruel timing of it all, hates the fact that pursuing what he’s always wanted with Jeongguk has to come at the price of hurting someone who really doesn’t deserve it.

He’s going to do it anyway, because the way he wants Jeongguk is something deep in his core, embedded in his skin, flowing through is blood. There’s no denying it, no matter how guilty Taehyung feels, no matter how terrified he is that he’s going to lay himself out for Jeongguk only for Jeongguk to change his mind. It wouldn’t be fair to keep trying to make things work with Namjoon, not now that he’s kissed Jeongguk. He knows this, but he still needs a bit of a pep talk before he’s ready to face the music.

Which is how he finds himself outside of Seokjin and Hoseok’s door the following morning, hoping to talk things out with them before continuing on his way to see Namjoon. It’s a little risky, since he’s right across the hall from Jimin and Jeongguk’s apartment as well, and if he runs into Jeongguk right now he’s not confident he’ll ever leave. But he’s terrified about talking to Namjoon and he needs someone to tell him he’s making the right decision, so here he is.

Hoseok greets him sunnily, ushering him inside to where Seokjin is also waiting. They’d known he was coming over, and that Taehyung hadn’t ended up going on his trip with Namjoon, but they don’t know why yet.

“Taehyungie!” Hoseok says brightly, taking hold of Taehyung’s arm and tugging him over to the couch. “To what do we owe the pleasure?!”

Taehyung decides to cut straight to the point as he settles down on the middle cushion, looking back and forth between them.

“Jeongguk and I kissed.”

Even saying it out loud is exhilarating, a string of words he never thought he’d be able to utter together.

Hoseok and Seokjin make similar high-pitched squealing noises.

What?!

“When?!”

“Tell us everything.”

So Taehyung does, from the incident with the drawings yesterday morning to his decision to bail on his trip to his fight with Jeongguk in the cafe. The color drains from Hoseok’s face when he realizes that Taehyung knows about how he accidentally revealed his biggest secret to Jeongguk, but Taehyung waves it off - if it weren’t for Hoseok, he and Jeongguk might never have even gotten here.

Seokjin and Hoseok are good listeners - they gasp and wince and cheer at all the right junctures, both of them clutching onto Taehyung when he gets to the part about him confessing and Jeongguk kissing him in response. It’s sweet that they’re so invested, and Taehyung understands why - they’ve been with him on this journey for years, have witnessed every moment of heartache and hope he’s had with Jeongguk.

“So how did you leave things?” Seokjin asks when Taehyung gets to the end of his story.

“I told him I had to talk to Namjoon before anything else happened.” He sighs. “So that’s what I’m going to do now.”

“Do you know what you’re going to say?”

Taehyung shakes his head, groaning in frustration. “Not yet. I’m kind of freaking out.”

“But you’re definitely going to end things with him, right?” Hoseok presses. “You want to be with Jeonggukkie?”

“I think so?” Taehyung says, prompting Seokjin and Hoseok to raise their eyebrows in surprise. “I mean, yes, I want to be with Guk. Of course,” he adds softly. “I guess I just… am scared? About whether that’s the right decision. Like, Namjoon is such a great guy, and good for me, and I feel like I was finally moving forward with him.” He sighs, tugging at the material of his pants. “I’m afraid I’m an idiot for wanting to walk away from that.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Seokjin says gently. “This is a tough decision. They’re both great guys.”

“For the record, Jeonggukkie is crazy about you,” Hoseok chimes in, making Taehyung’s stomach swoop. “So if that’s what you’re worried about - don’t be.”

Seokjin nods in confirmation. “He’s been sulking this whole week about you going away with Namjoon.”

Taehyung smiles weakly at that. It’s classic Jeongguk, and explains a lot about his behavior these past two months.

“Would it help to make a pro con list?” Hoseok suggests. “Maybe that would give you some clarity?”

Taehyung hesitates, but Hoseok is already grabbing a pad of paper and looking at him eagerly, so he supposes it can’t hurt. Maybe it will help him sort through the mess in his head.

“Okay, so let’s start with Gukkie,” Hoseok says, scribbling Jeongguk’s name across the top of the paper. “Pros?”

Taehyung considers. It’s difficult to put the way he feels about Jeongguk into words. “I mean, it’s Jeongguk,” he says eventually. “He’s my best friend.”

“Best… friend…” Hoseok repeats, writing it down as he speaks. “Good one.”

“And we have a lot in common, like I can just do anything with him,” Taehyung adds, feeling the familiar tug of warmth in his chest as he says it. “He’s my favorite person to be around.”

Seokjin makes a soft cooing noise at this and Hoseok draws a heart next to the words on the page.

“He’s so ridiculous but he always knows how to make me laugh,” Taehyung continues, smiling in spite of himself. “And he’s such a talented artist, I love his art so much.”

“Those are some pretty good pros,” Hoseok says. “Anything else?”

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Taehyung says, then sighs. “But I dunno if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“I can write it across both,” Hoseok offers, drawing a line down the center of the page. “Which leads us to… cons?”

“I can’t really think of any,” Taehyung admits. “Other than that I worry about how serious he is.”

Seokjin and Hoseok nod sympathetically.

“And I guess… I mean, Namjoon and I have a lot in common with our jobs. Gukkie’s still a barista.”

“Guk is young, too,” Seokjin points out. “Maybe not quite as mature?”

Taehyung shrugs at that - he’s always thought of Jeongguk as a peer, despite their two year age difference. Maybe Taehyung is the immature one. “I guess.”

“Physically speaking, he’s shorter than Namjoon,” Hoseok adds thoughtfully. “He still has some baby fat on his cheeks, and his nose is kind of big.”

“I love his nose,” Taehyung counters immediately, feeling protective. “It’s so boopable.”

Seokjin snorts, shakes his head. “Man, you are whipped.”

Before Taehyung can come up with a response to that, Hoseok cuts in, flipping his piece of paper to the opposite side. “Okay, let’s do Namjoon.”

“Pros are that he was interested in me right away,” Taehyung says, nagging guilt rising in his stomach. “We have a lot of common interests because of our jobs. He’s been nothing but patient and kind with me, and he gets along great with you guys.”

“Namjoon is awesome,” Hoseok agrees.

“He’s a really good guy,” Taehyung sighs, rubbing his forehead with the heels of his palms. “I’m lucky to be with someone like him.”

A few beats of silence pass. Eventually, Seokjin voices the unspoken word that’s lingering in the air between them. “...But?”

Taehyung closes his eyes, biting down on his lower lip. It hurts to even say it out loud, knowing he’s going to have to say the same thing to Namjoon in just a short while.

“But he’s not Jeongguk,” he says quietly. His voice catches in his throat. “I can’t be with anyone else when I know there’s a chance with Jeongguk.”

Hoseok sets his list down on the coffee table and reaches over to rub Taehyung’s back soothingly.

“I think you have your answer, Tae,” Seokjin murmurs.

Privately, Taehyung thinks there was never really a question to begin with. He thinks Seokjin and Hoseok probably know that too, but he’s grateful to them for humoring him.

“Yeah.” Taehyung nods, dread filling his stomach. “I should go talk to Namjoon.”

Seokjin and Hoseok follow him as he stands and heads for the door.

“I know it’s hard, but try to focus on who’s waiting for you on the other side, yeah?” Hoseok says encouragingly, squeezing his hand.

Taehyung thinks of Jeongguk, of the way his nose scrunches up when he laughs, the way he listens when Taehyung talks, the way his presence always instantly puts Taehyung at ease. He thinks of how eagerly Jeongguk had kissed him last night, even in the pouring rain, even after they’d fought, and how sad he had looked in those interim moments when Taehyung was watching him from outside. He thinks he has no choice but to take a chance on this now, because if he doesn’t he might regret it for the rest of his life.

“Thanks, hyungs,” Taehyung says, feeling his resolve strengthening.

“Good luck, Taetae,” Hoseok responds earnestly. They both crowd in to hug him, Hoseok kissing the side of his head before sending him on his way.

His hands are still shaking as he sends Namjoon a text to say he’s coming over, but he does what Hoseok had said and focuses on the reason he’s going through with all of this. It’s going to suck, and he’s going to feel like an asshole - he already feels like an asshole - but if it means he finally gets a chance with Jeongguk, it’s worth it.

***

Taehyung almost starts crying the second Namjoon opens the door.

“Hey,” Namjoon says, stepping aside to let him in. His apartment is small and eclectically decorated, with framed photographs of crabs scattered everywhere and a small collection of action figures assembled on one windowsill. His brow furrows when he inspects Taehyung’s face. “Are you okay?”

Taehyung takes a deep breath. “Can we talk?”

Namjoon nods, guiding Taehyung over to the couch and sitting down beside him. He folds his hands in his lap and looks at Taehyung expectantly, remarkably calm for the words that leave his mouth next:

“You’re breaking up with me, right?”

Taehyung hiccups in surprise, too caught off guard to even bother trying to sugar coat it. “Wh- how did you know?”

“Come on, Tae - you bailed on our trip last minute, now you ‘want to talk’ and you’re visibly upset.” Namjoon shrugs. “I figure it can’t be good news.”

Taehyung sighs, rubbing his palms over his knees. “I’m really sorry.”

Namjoon nods, his expression still stoic. “Can you tell me what changed?”

“I.” Taehyung pauses, swallows. “I have feelings for somebody else,” he says finally, voice quiet. “I thought I was past it, but, umm. I’m not.”

Namjoon doesn’t yell or get angry, doesn’t call Taehyung out on being the piece of shit that he is. Instead, he just nods again, looking thoughtful.

“Is it Jeongguk?”

Taehyung splutters for a second before collecting himself. Slowly, reluctantly, he nods. “You’re good.”

That earns him a small smile, a hint of the dimples he’s grown so fond of these past two months. It somehow makes him feel better and worse at the same time. “It’s kind of hard to miss,” Namjoon says with a shrug. “I mean, he obviously hates me. I figured it was probably because of you.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” Taehyung protests, shaking his head. “He’s just a brat. He’d probably be obsessed with you if the situation were different.”

Namjoon laughs, and Taehyung can’t believe how nice he’s being about all of this. He certainly doesn’t feel like he deserves it.

“I think you’re amazing,” Taehyung says earnestly, because he needs Namjoon to know. “I really do. You’ve been the best boyfriend I could have asked for and I’m the worst for going and messing it all up.” Tears sting at the corners of his eyes, but he forces himself to keep looking at Namjoon. “I feel horrible.”

“It’s okay,” Namjoon says, smiling sadly. “I mean, it sucks. It really sucks. But I get it.” He sighs. “I’d rather you figure this out now than in six months, or a year.”

“I can’t believe you’re being so nice to me,” Taehyung sniffs. “You should be telling me to fuck off.”

Namjoon laughs. “I’m not gonna do that,” he says, shaking his head. “I think you’re really great, Tae. I’m bummed that it’s ending this way but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you these past few months.”

“Me too,” Taehyung murmurs, wiping at his eyes. “If you’re open to it, I’d really like to still be friends.”

“I’d like that too,” Namjoon nods, making Taehyung’s whole body sag with relief. He had really been dreading the idea of losing Namjoon altogether.

“My friends will be so happy,” Taehyung says, smiling. “They love you.”

“Except Jeongguk,” Namjoon points out.

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Jeongguk’s going to be your biggest fanboy, just wait.” He pauses, something else occurring to him. “And actually - this might be weird, but if you ever want Jimin’s number, let me know.”

Namjoon’s eyes widen. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, he won’t shut up about how much of a dreamboat you are.”

Namjoon makes a surprised noise, his cheeks flushing slightly. “Wow, uh.” He bites his lip. “I think I need a little time, but - maybe in a few months?”

Taehyung grins. “You got it.”

They hug goodbye at Namjoon’s front door, Taehyung squeezing him tightly and taking a minute to let himself sit in the sadness of it all. Even though he knows it’s the right thing, and even though they said they’d stay friends, he’s really going to miss Namjoon.

“Thank you for being so gracious about this,” Taehyung says when they break apart. “You really are the best.”

“I try,” Namjoon grins. “Good luck with everything, Tae. Don’t be a stranger, yeah?”

“Promise.”

Walking away from Namjoon’s apartment, Taehyung feels sad, but he also feels like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He’d done what he needed to do, and now… now he can go back to Jeongguk with a clear conscience and try to figure out what all of this means for them. Despite what had happened, they still haven’t properly talked about their feelings, and Taehyung knows that’s a conversation they need to have. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, and a part of him is still waiting to wake up and realize this had all been a dream. He’s pretty sure that feeling is going to stay with him for a while, but for now, it’s time to go find Jeongguk.

***

Jeongguk doesn’t think a shift has dragged this badly ever in his entire life. Not even the times when he’s been hungover at work, not even the day he had tickets to see Avengers: Endgame right after his shift. No, this is by far the worst, and that’s before Taehyung even texts him. He spends the whole morning staring wistfully at the spot where he and Taehyung had kissed, playing the moment over and over in his head and agonizing over what’s going to happen now. He shuttles rapidly back and forth between feeling giddy with excitement and terrified that Taehyung will decide he wants to stay with Namjoon.

Then Taehyung texts him asking if they can talk when he gets out of work, and Jeongguk’s mind fully goes into overdrive. He seriously considers pretending to be sick so that he can leave early, but then Taehyung would know and he doesn’t want to come off as desperate.

(Even though he totally is.)

After what can surely be no less than 45 hours, his shift ends, and Jeongguk nearly rips his apron in half in his rush to take it off and get back to his apartment. He forces himself to walk at a normal pace, not wanting to show up sweaty and out of breath, but every step feels stressful as he frets over what Taehyung is going to say. Maybe he thinks Jeongguk is a creepy stalker for drawing him and never wants to speak to him again. Maybe he didn’t find their kiss to be quite as earth-shattering as Jeongguk did, and he’ll say it was all just a dumb mistake.

By the time Jeongguk gets to his floor, he’s a walking, breathing ball of anxiety. Taehyung had texted saying he was waiting for him at Seokjin and Hoseok’s place, so that’s where he goes, the door opening easily since they never bother to lock it when they’re home. When he steps inside and sees Taehyung, facing away from him to talk to Hoseok, it’s like the bottom drops out from his stomach.

Taehyung whirls around when he hears the door open, his eyes going wide and a shy smile creeping across his lips as his gaze settles on Jeongguk. Jeongguk feels something akin to fireworks erupting in his stomach, and all he can do is stand there like an idiot and smile back.

“Hi, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says.

“Hi,” Jeongguk says back, almost breathless. He’s vaguely aware of Seokjin and Hoseok lingering on the periphery of his vision, but he can’t bring himself to look away from Taehyung just yet.

Taehyung takes a step towards him, and Jeongguk’s heart rate picks up. “I just came from Namjoon’s.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, trying to keep his tone indifferent. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to glean from that. “Umm.”

“It’s good,” Seokjin chimes in.

Jeongguk’s gaze darts over to him quickly, then back to Taehyung. A cautious sort of hope swells in his stomach, but he finds himself incapable of speaking. Taehyung seems to be in a similar boat, because he’s still just staring at Jeongguk, cheeks pink and tongue poking out to lick his lips nervously.

“He broke up with Namjoon!” Hoseok cries excitedly, apparently too impatient to wait out their little staring contest. Jeongguk’s eyes widen, his heart hammering in his chest. Seokjin gives Taehyung a nudge and he stumbles forward, continuing until he’s standing right in front of Jeongguk.

“I told you,” he says shyly, so quiet he’s practically whispering. “It’s always been you, Gukkie.”

Jeongguk makes an embarrassing choking noise and lurches forward into Taehyung’s arms, practically dissolving into a puddle of goo on the floor when Taehyung hugs him back tightly. He hears Hoseok and Seokjin cheering in the background, and he lets out a watery laugh, pressing his face into Taehyung’s neck.

“I’m so happy, Tae,” he murmurs, soft enough for just the two of them to hear, and Taehyung nods frantically against his shoulder, turning to press a kiss to Jeongguk’s temple.

When they finally break apart, Jeongguk looks over at Seokjin and Hoseok in pleased embarrassment and spots a piece of paper with his name across the top lying on the coffee table.

“What’s that?” he asks curiously, walking over to the table.

All three of his friends make noises of alarm, and Hoseok lunges forward, snatching up the paper before Jeongguk can reach it. Still, he’s not quick enough for Jeongguk to miss that Namjoon’s name is written on the paper as well.

“Hey,” Jeongguk pouts, confused. “I saw my name on there, show me.”

“It’s nothing!” Hoseok practically shouts, clutching the paper to his chest. Taehyung has hurried over to his side and is watching Jeongguk with the color completely drained from his face. This, of course, makes Jeongguk even more suspicious.

“Guys, come on,” Jeongguk presses.

“Seriously, Guk, it’s nothing,” Taehyung insists.

The thing that the three of them are forgetting is that Jeongguk is 1) not someone who lets things go easily and 2) stronger than all of them. Surging forward, he pries Hoseok’s arms apart and steals the paper from his grasp, crowing victoriously when he dances out of reach.

His triumph doesn’t last very long, though, because when he looks down, he realizes it’s a list. A list comparing him and Namjoon. A list that calls out some of his biggest insecurities, the things about himself that he hates the most.

not serious
just a barista
immature
not as tall
baby fat
big nose

He looks up slowly, mortified, and finds the three of them watching him with guilty expressions on their faces.

“What is this?” he says hoarsely, even though it’s pretty obvious what it is. “Tae?”

Taehyung steps forward, his expression imploring. He tries to take the paper from Jeongguk’s shaking hands, but Jeongguk holds it out of his reach.

“It’s not important, Gukkie, I swear,” Taehyung says. “They were trying to help me get ready to talk to Namjoon, but it’s dumb, it’s not - ”

“Immature,” Jeongguk reads, his voice trembling. “Big nose. Just a barista.” He looks up at Taehyung and finds him near tears, but it doesn’t make him feel any better. “Seriously? For someone who supposedly wants to be with me, you sure found a lot that’s wrong with me.”

“It was my fault,” Hoseok pipes up, looking absolutely anguished. “I’m so sorry, Guk, Tae didn’t even s-”

Jeongguk holds his hand up to stop him. He doesn’t want to hear it right now - he feels embarrassed, pathetic, betrayed. He can’t believe he was stupid enough to think he actually stood a chance with Taehyung.

“Gukkie, please,” Taehyung tries, tears flowing freely now. He reaches for Jeongguk but Jeongguk flinches away. Of everyone in his life, Taehyung is one of the only people who has never made him feel this way before - like he isn’t good enough. He doesn’t know how to process it, especially not when he’s already feeling so vulnerable from Taehyung finding out about his feelings. “Look at the rest of it, look at Namjoon’s side.”

There’s only one thing on Namjoon’s side, and it doesn’t make Jeongguk feel any better.

“Not Jungkook?” he reads, angry and confused. “Who the fuck is Jungkook? Some other fancy science guy who I wouldn’t know because I’m just a barista?”

“What?” Taehyung says, grabbing for the paper again. Jeongguk lets him take it; he’s seen more than enough. “No, Hobi’s writing is messy, it’s supposed to say not Jeongguk - ”

“Whatever, Tae,” Jeongguk interrupts. He can’t be here anymore, and he certainly can’t be around Taehyung. “Sorry for wasting your time with all my inadequacies. I’m surprised you even deign to be my friend.”

Taehyung shakes his head miserably, following after Jeongguk as he backs towards the door. “Guk, no, I’m so sorry, please just - ”

“Stay away from me,” Jeongguk chokes out, horrified to feel tears forming in his own eyes. He rushes out into the hallway and slams the door to his own apartment shut in Taehyung’s face, locking it to ensure he can’t follow. Once he makes it to his bedroom, he locks himself in there too for good measure, then burrows under his blankets and finally gives into the sobs wracking his body.

***

Jeongguk spends the next three days avoiding everyone except for Jimin and Yoongi. They’re both nice about it, not pushing him when he still isn’t ready to talk about it and listening patiently when he finally is. They don’t tell him he’s overreacting or being dramatic, which he appreciates, and they don’t try to force him to talk to Taehyung, which he appreciates even more. He feels raw in a way he’s not accustomed to, his feelings hurt and his pride wounded. He’s angry, too, at Taehyung for being so thoughtless and at himself for being so naive. He wishes he’d never found about Taehyung and his stupid feelings - everything would be so much easier that way.

On the fourth day, Jeongguk agrees to see Hoseok and Seokjin, who practically fall over themselves in their efforts to apologize to him. He’s not even that mad at them anymore, his energy channeled mostly at Taehyung at this point, but it’s still kind of nice to hear them grovel a bit.

“It was really stupid, Guk,” Seokjin says, standing with his head bowed in shame and his hands clasped in front of him. “It was a dumb idea and I’m really sorry that we hurt your feelings.”

“It’s all my fault,” Hoseok cuts in miserably. He looks so wracked with guilt that Jeongguk almost wants to stop him and tell him everything is fine, but he’s not feeling that nice just yet. “If it weren’t for me and my big, dumb mouth and my stupid list idea none of this would have happened. I’m so sorry, Jeonggukkie.” He fixes his eyes on the ground. “I hope you can forgive me eventually.”

Jeongguk observes them from where he’s seated on the couch with Jimin and Yoongi, feeling a little bit awkward under all the attention. He’s still hurt by what happened, but he appreciates their apologies and he can tell how sincerely sorry they are. It’s not like he even cares that much about what Seokjin and Hoseok think of him as a potential romantic partner, and at this point he’s ready to just move on from the whole thing.

“It’s okay,” he says, almost laughing at how quickly both of their heads whip up in astonishment. “I mean - you know. You’re both dumbasses, but I already knew that.”

Seokjin snorts, for once not retaliating with an equally rude comment, and Hoseok sags in relief, flinging himself forward into Jeongguk’s arms.

“Jeonggukkie!” he cries, sitting on Jeongguk’s lap and pinching his cheeks fondly. “You’re perfect just the way you are, okay? Hyung loves you.” He presses a wet, smacking kiss to Jeongguk’s forehead. “You’re my favorite dongsaeng.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, shoving him off, while Jimin makes a disgruntled noise somewhere to his right.

“Sorry Jiminie, these are Jeongguk-loving hours,” Hoseok says, climbing into an empty chair. “But hyung loves you too.”

Jimin preens and Yoongi reaches around Jeongguk to flick the back of his head.

“Listen, Guk,” Seokjin says more seriously, perching on the arm of Hoseok’s chair. “I know you don’t really want to talk about Tae right now - ”

“You’re right,” Jeongguk interrupts, hackles rising. Every time he even so much as thinks about Taehyung, he gets an ugly, sick feeling in his stomach. “I don’t.”

Seokjin presses on. “I get it, but I think you need to know that it really wasn’t his idea. He didn’t even come up with half the shit on that list.”

“I was the one who said the thing about your nose,” Hoseok says guiltily. “And when I did, he literally said - and I quote - ‘I love his nose, it’s so boopable.’”

“It was disgusting,” Seokjin jokes, but Jeongguk can’t manage a smile. Hearing all this is confusing, because it tugs at his heart but his heart still hurts. “He likes you a lot, Guk. We were trying to help because he felt guilty about breaking up with Namjoon, but it was pretty obvious that when it comes to you, it’s really no contest for him.”

Jeongguk makes a frustrated noise, balling his hands into fists at his sides. He doesn’t want to hear this right now, not when he’s still so hurt and humiliated and pissed off at Taehyung. None of it changes the fact that it happened, and none of it makes him feel any better.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk says, hating the way his voice breaks when he speaks. Jimin runs a reassuring hand through his hair, soothing him. “He was still there, he was still part of it. He still agreed to make a fucking pro con list to see if I was worth dumping his boyfriend for.”

“It was shitty,” Jimin agrees. Jeongguk knows the past few days haven’t been easy for him, knows that he’s been comforting Taehyung just as much as he’s been comforting Jeongguk. He’s grateful to Jimin for being such a good friend and managing to keep the two separate. “He knows that. He’s been inconsolable.” Jimin sighs. “I know you’re not ready yet, and I’m not expecting you to be, but when you are - he’s desperate to apologize.”

Jeongguk doesn’t say anything. He knows Taehyung wants to talk to him; he’s been calling and texting incessantly, had even sat outside their front door for five hours until Yoongi came over and convinced him to go home. At this point, Jeongguk should probably hear him out, but he’s afraid he won’t be able to hold himself together if he does.

“You should take the time you need, Guk,” Yoongi says. “But we can all see how much Taehyung adores you. Plain as day.” The others nod and Jeongguk huffs, folding his arms over his chest. “He made a mistake and I know that he hurt you, but I think he was scared. He spent years struggling with his feelings for you. And then right when he thought he was finally moving on, this happens.” Yoongi shrugs. “It’s overwhelming.”

“Can we talk about something else?” Jeongguk blurts out. He knows his friends are trying to help, but he wishes they would stop talking about how much Taehyung allegedly liked, or likes, him. So much of what he’s seen over the past few months points to the contrary, and he can’t help but wonder if they’re exaggerating.

“Sure,” Jimin says placatingly, but he’s still frowning.

“I’ll talk to him soon, okay?” Jeongguk grunts. It’s said partly to make his friends feel better, but he also knows he’s going to have to deal with the situation at some point. He can’t just ignore Taehyung forever.

***

It takes a week, but Jeongguk finally agrees to talk to him. It is, without question or argument, the worst week of Taehyung’s entire life.

Nothing his friends say can make him feel better. The worst case scenario had happened, which is that he’d lost Jeongguk as a friend. Worse still, he’d hurt Jeongguk, so badly that he wouldn’t even tolerate Taehyung’s presence to hear an apology. Somehow, he’d managed to take the situation with Jeongguk and Namjoon and resolve it in the most destructive way possible, hurting two people that he cares for deeply. Needless to say, he’s absolutely beside himself.

In all the years he’s known Jeongguk, his top priority has always been their friendship. Even halfway through junior year, when he finally stopped trying to convince himself he didn’t have a crush on a freshman and instead accepted that was royally, head-over-heels fucked, he’d known that keeping Jeongguk as his friend was more important than anything else. Even when Jeongguk had shown up in Seoul after graduation, looking sexy and grown and like Taehyung’s greatest weakness, he’d tucked his feelings away, deciding that a connection like theirs was too special and rare to risk on a one-sided infatuation. And so, what’s happening now is his actual worst nightmare, because he could deal with Jeongguk not wanting him back, he could even deal with Jeongguk flat out rejecting him, but he can’t deal with losing Jeongguk’s friendship.

He nearly cries in relief when, a week after the incident with the list, Jeongguk texts him out of the blue and says he’s ready to talk. Taehyung drops everything he’s doing (which is pretty much just sitting on his couch, wallowing in a pit of despair) and heads straight for Jeongguk and Jimin’s apartment. It’s not until he’s stepping inside, coming face to face with Jeongguk for the first time in a week, that he realizes he must look like absolute shit right now, dark bags under his eyes and clothes stained and wrinkled.

“Hi,” Jeongguk says when he opens the door. He’s not visibly angry, but he doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Taehyung either. He seems… indifferent, apathetic almost. It makes something cold and painful twist in Taehyung’s stomach.

“Hi,” Taehyung breathes. His heart slams against his rib cage at being so close to Jeongguk again, his sweet face and big eyes. He’s dressed in an oversized sweatshirt that makes him look impossibly soft and cuddly, and Taehyung aches with the knowledge that he can’t reach out and touch. “How - umm. How are you?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Been better,” he says, leading the way to the kitchen table, where they sit down across from each other. Jimin is nowhere to be seen, but if Taehyung knows him at all, he’s most likely hiding in his bedroom, ear pressed to the door. “You?”

“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung blurts out in lieu of an answer. “Jeongguk, I’m so - ” he takes a deep breath, willing himself not to burst into tears. “I have no excuse. I should never have agreed to do the stupid list in the first place. It was careless and mean and I just - I’m so sorry that I hurt you. You’re so important to me and I can’t - ” he sucks in a shuddering breath “ - I can’t believe I did that.”

“You made me feel really shitty,” Jeongguk says quietly. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, but it’s like - all of my insecurities, all of the things I hate about myself - you took those and used them as reasons not to be with me.” Taehyung hiccups around a sob, because Jeongguk looks so sad and it’s his fault, he’s the one that did that. “You’re like, the one person I trusted to never do that.”

“Oh god,” Taehyung breathes, voice thick.

“I’m not trying to make you sad,” Jeongguk says, his own eyes watery. “You’re just, like, the only person I never doubted myself with, and now… I don’t really know how to come back from this.”

“I would do anything to make it up to you,” Taehyung chokes out. He feels like he’s drowning in a pool of misery, the water rising higher and higher, filling his lungs and making it impossible to breathe. “And to show you how sorry I am.”

“I know,” Jeongguk nods. He seems sad, defeated. “I don’t want to cut you out of my life, Tae. We have all the same friends, we’re obviously going to see each other.” He looks down at his hands. “I accept your apology, I just - I don’t think I can go back to the way things were. At least not right now.”

It’s better than Taehyung deserves, but it still feels like a crushing weight settling over his heart. Jeongguk, close but still out of reach, now even more than he was before.

“I understand,” he whispers. He stands. “I’ll, uh - I’ll leave you alone now. Thank you for hearing me out.”

Jeongguk follows him to the door but makes no move to stop him from leaving, and Taehyung’s heart breaks a little further.

“I’ll see you around, okay?” Jeongguk says placatingly.

Taehyung nods. “Just - Jeongguk.” Jeongguk looks at him with big, sad eyes, one hand braced on the side of the door. It seems impossible that they’re here now when just a week ago they had been teetering on the brink of something more, something spectacular. Taehyung doesn’t think he’ll ever forgive himself for losing that chance. “Please believe me when I tell you that I like literally everything about you.” He flushes, fingers flexing at his sides. “I have since I was 20 years old.”

Jeongguk sucks in a breath, his eyes somehow even rounder than before. He nods, and Taehyung takes that as his cue to go. He’s never quite bared himself like that to Jeongguk, but he supposes there’s no time like the present.

“Bye, Guk,” he says, backing away.

Jeongguk nods again, looking a little dumbstruck. “Bye, Tae.”

And then the door closes in his face, and Taehyung is alone again.

***

It takes a few weeks, but life gradually goes back to normal. Or to a new normal, Taehyung supposes. Things between him and Jeongguk are still awkward and strained, so it’s not at all like it was before, but at least this is better than Jeongguk outright refusing to see him. At least Taehyung gets to be in his presence and cling to the hope that someday Jeongguk will be able to fully forgive him.

It’s hard, though. As much as Taehyung prefers this to the total absence of Jeongguk from his life, it’s hard to be around him and not feel sad. Every stilted interaction is a reminder of what he’d lost, and Taehyung is pretty sure it’s killing him slowly.

As if this isn’t bad enough, Jeongguk announces one day about a month after the incident that he’s going on a date. He doesn’t do it on purpose, or throw it in Taehyung’s face, but when Hoseok asks him if he wants to go out for a drink that night, Jeongguk explains that he can’t.

“I, uh,” Jeongguk says awkwardly. They’re at the cafe, keeping him company on his early shift before they have to go to work themselves. His little green apron rides low on his hips and Taehyung doesn’t know why he finds that attractive but he does. “I actually have a date tonight.”

He says it quietly, in a rush, almost like he doesn’t want them to hear. Under different circumstances, they would probably make him repeat it just to watch him squirm, but this time no one does. The tension in the air is suddenly palpable, and Taehyung knows they’re all physically restraining themselves from turning to see what his reaction is.

“Oh,” Seokjin says, falsely cheery. “That’s nice.”

Jeongguk nods, looking everywhere but at Taehyung. It’s probably for the best, though; Taehyung isn’t having much luck with keeping his expression under control right now. “Yeah.”

“Who’s the guy?” Yoongi asks.

Jeongguk shrugs. “Just a guy I met at the bar last weekend. Friend of Yugyeom’s.”

“Cool,” Hoseok says, even though he looks like he finds this news to be anything but. “Well. Have fun.”

Jeongguk thanks him and scurries back to work, leaving the rest of them to worriedly redirect their attention to Taehyung. He sinks further into the couch cushions, thankful for the concern but not at all ready to deal with their pity right now.

Perfect soulmate that he is, Jimin takes one look at Taehyung and pipes up before anyone can figure out what to say. “Let’s talk about something else,” he says firmly, throwing an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders. Taehyung burrows gratefully into his side and promptly tunes out of the conversation.

It’s not like it’s a really a surprise that this is happening, but Taehyung had still kind of been in denial about it. He’d been so caught up in his own sadness and guilt that he hadn’t spared much thought to the possibility of Jeongguk going out with other people. Now that it’s happening, though, he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to think about anything else. Someone else touching Jeongguk, making him laugh, kissing his mouth. The images play like a masochistic film reel in his head, to the point that he wishes someone would just punch him in the face so that he could think about something else for a while.

That night, Jimin shows up on his doorstep holding a tub of ice cream and a bottle of vodka that’s approximately the size of his head. Taehyung hadn’t even invited him, but the moment he hears his buzzer go off he knows that’s who it is.

“How ya doin, champ?” Jimin asks, breezing past Taehyung and heading for the kitchen. Taehyung spills himself onto the couch and waits until Jimin reappears with a set of shot glasses and two spoons. “I figured this wasn’t really a bowl kind of night,” he explains. By way of acknowledgment, Taehyung simply takes a spoon and dives into the ice cream.

“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think he really wanted to go,” Jimin says while Taehyung gives himself brain freeze.

It does make Taehyung feel better, but the fact that it makes him feel better also makes him feel worse. Jeongguk deserves to be happy, and it’s not his fault that Taehyung had completely blown his own chance at being the one to make that happen.

“I want him to be happy,” Taehyung says, then immediately bursts into tears.

“Oh, Tae,” Jimin coos, snuggling up closer to him and wrapping his arms around Taehyung. “It’ll get easier, I promise.”

“I ruined everything,” Taehyung bawls, clutching at the front of Jimin’s shirt. “I hurt Namjoon, I hurt Gukkie. This is what I get for being such a shitty person.”

“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says sternly, pulling back slightly so that he can thumb away the tears from under Taehyung’s eyes. “You made a mistake, but you are not a shitty person, okay? Do you think I would be platonic soulmates with a shitty person?”

Taehyung considers this and makes a frustrated noise when he realizes Jimin’s logic is sound. Actual angel Park Jimin wouldn’t be platonic soulmates with someone selfish and rotten, not unless it was part of some sort of pity program that paired wonderful people with awful people in hopes of making them less awful.

“I just really miss him,” Taehyung sniffles.

“I know,” Jimin soothes, stroking his hair. “He misses you too. He’s just… wary right now.” He sighs. “You know how Guk is, he needs to get through things at his own pace.”

Taehyung nods, blowing his nose loudly when Jimin passes him a spare napkin.

“Just keep reminding him you care, okay?” Jimin says. “And try to be patient. Building back trust doesn’t happen overnight.”

“You’re the wisest soulmate ever,” Taehyung says solemnly.

Jimin giggles, pinching his side. “Of course I am. Now hurry up and eat this ice cream I bought you before it melts all over the place.”

***

So, Jeongguk probably shouldn’t have agreed to go on this date. The guy is cute, and nice enough, but Jeongguk hadn’t been particularly interested in him when they met and he’s still not interested in him now. He just hadn’t been able to come up with an excuse not to go without admitting that he still wasn’t over Taehyung.

But now, sitting in this bar and trying to act interested while this guy tells him about the Ultimate frisbee league he’s part of, Jeongguk can’t really deny it anymore. He’d rather be with Taehyung. He’d rather be at home listening to Taehyung talk about the digestive systems of whales than here on a date with this perfectly nice, interesting, attractive guy. And that really pisses him the fuck off.

At this point, he realizes he’s in part just being stubborn about getting over what had happened with the list. Or maybe stubborn isn’t the right word - maybe scared is a better choice. Maybe he’s holding onto his anger because it’s safer than making himself vulnerable for Taehyung again. Maybe he’s terrified that if they do get together, Taehyung will see all of the things that really are wrong with him and change his mind.

In the end, he politely excuses himself after one drink and goes to meet Hoseok and Yoongi at the bar. They’re both delighted to see him, if a little surprised.

“What happened to your date?” Hoseok asks.

Jeongguk shrugs, sliding into the booth next to Yoongi. “Wasn’t feeling it.” It’s not a total lie, it’s just not the full truth.

“Oh,” Hoseok says, nodding sympathetically. “That’s okay. That happens sometimes.” When Jeongguk doesn’t say anything, he adds tentatively: “Was it because, umm - ?”

Jeongguk slouches further in the booth, covering his face with his hands. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he’s also a terrible liar. “I fucking hate feeling this way.”

Yoongi pulls one hand away from his face so that he can he can press a beer into it. “Maybe you should focus on forgiving him as a friend first,” he says in that casually sage way of his. “Before you think about anything else.”

And, as Yoongi’s advice often does, that sticks with Jeongguk. It makes him more receptive when, the following week, Taehyung approaches him nervously with a blue flyer clutched in his hands.

They’re at Seokjin and Hoseok’s apartment, the atmosphere loud and chaotic as usual. Hoseok and Yoongi are drunk and engaging in what Jeongguk thinks is supposed to be a rap battle; Seokjin is watching them with wide, horrified eyes while Jimin cheers loudly and tries to convince them to take their shirts off. Jeongguk has gotten up to get another beer (because frankly, he’s too sober for this), but he doesn’t realize Taehyung had followed him until he hears a tentative, “Hey, Guk?”

Straightening up, he finds Taehyung observing him anxiously, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. “I, uh - ” he stammers. “This woman in my building, she’s organizing an art show for local artists? I thought you might be interested in submitting something.”

He extends the blue flyer, and when Jeongguk takes it, he realizes Taehyung’s hands are trembling. It makes something crack inside of him.

“Oh,” he says awkwardly. Behind him, he hears Jimin shriek and assumes this means Hoseok had finally removed his shirt. “Uh, thanks. Do I have to like, apply or anything?”

Taehyung shakes his head, eyes widening. “She actually, ah, saw that drawing you did, of the whale in the sky? She thought it was mine and got all excited, said I should submit it.”

Jeongguk blinks. “How - ?”

“I have it hanging in my apartment,” Taehyung says quietly, flushing.

Something happens to Jeongguk’s heart then, a warm, fluttery something. It makes him feel a softness for Taehyung that he hasn’t experienced since before all the shit that went down.

“Oh.” Jeongguk clears his throat. “Uh, well, I’ll definitely look into it. Thanks, Tae.”

Taehyung’s whole face lights up with a grin, and he nods emphatically, visibly relieved. Jeongguk feels another tug of fondness for him.

“’Course,” Taehyung says.

Then they turn and head back to the rest of their friends together.

***

Jiminie <3
everyone needs to cancel their plans and come over tonight
i just found a hard drive w all the videos i recorded in college
LOL guk looks like he’s 12

***

“Jeongguk literally looks like a fetus,” Seokjin says, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes as they watch a video of 21 year-old Hoseok trying to teach a freshly 18 year-old Jeongguk how to dance. The Jeongguk onscreen is baby-faced and sporting a terrible haircut, but seeing him makes Taehyung ache with fondness because he remembers those days so, so well. Jeongguk had been so shy back then, but it had only made Taehyung more curious about him, eager to get past the shyness and figure out what really made him tick.

“You’re too old to even be in these videos, hyung,” Jeongguk retorts, but he’s also laughing.

They’ve been at it for almost an hour, Jimin’s computer hooked up to the TV so that they can all crowd around and watch these snippets of their past. The teasing has been merciless; Jimin’s hair, Taehyung’s clothes, Yoongi pouting every time one of them sticks a phone in his face to record. There are clips of them doing everything from drinking to eating to visiting an amusement park, even one 10-minute long segment that’s just Jimin and Taehyung giggling together in the dark.

(“We must have been high,” Jimin says.

“Without question,” Taehyung agrees.)

“Oh, look, this is Jeonggukkie’s winter formal!” Jimin cries a little while later. They’ve made it into the footage from Taehyung and Jimin’s senior year, and Taehyung is sad to report that his fashion sense was still highly questionable at that time.

On the screen, Jeongguk appears, still looking young but also quite handsome in a simple black suit. His dark hair is flopping slightly over his forehead, like he’d tried to style it but hadn’t done a very good job, and he’s in the midst of fiddling helplessly with his tie. He whines at Jimin to put the phone down and help him with it, but Jimin ignores him in favor of cooing about how dashing and grown-up he looks from the other side of the camera.

Pouting, Jeongguk directs his attention to someone offscreen. Taehyung startles when he hears his own name. “Tae, can you help me with my tie?”

Senior-in-college Taehyung steps into the frame then, dressed in a ratty pair of sweatpants and with a bandana holding his hair off of his forehead. Present day Taehyung watches with a strange tension in his chest as his past self deftly fixes Jeongguk’s tie, then cautiously reaches up and adjusts his hair as well.

“Thanks, Tae,” on-camera Jeongguk grins, and on-camera Taehyung noticeably blushes. Taehyung feels uncomfortable all of a sudden, exposed and vulnerable in front of all of his friends. His crush had been so hopelessly obvious, it’s amazing to him that Jeongguk had never noticed.

A few more minutes pass, during which time Jeongguk appears to check his own phone obsessively while some of their other housemates flit in and out of the frame. Then Jeongguk comes up close to the screen, his expression anxious, and for a while they only see part of his cheek and his ear while he talks to Jimin.

“He was supposed to be here 30 minutes ago,” they hear him say in a dejected voice. “And he’s not responding to my texts.”

Back in the living room, Yoongi turns to Jeongguk with an indignant expression on his face. “Did your formal date stand you up?”

Taehyung doesn’t even hear Jeongguk’s answer, because all at once he remembers exactly which night this was, and what happened. It’s even more embarrassing and pathetic than what they’ve already watched, and all of his friends - and Jeongguk - are going to see it.

Onscreen, Jimin is consoling Jeongguk, telling him he doesn’t need a date to go to formal. Jeongguk scoffs disbelievingly and wanders off, still staring at his phone. The camera jostles slightly as Jimin appears to be walking somewhere, and then the view lands on Taehyung again.

“Taetae!” Jimin hisses, making Taehyung look up. “You should take Jeonggukkie to formal!”

On-camera Taehyung looks completely taken aback by this idea, color rising in his cheeks once more. “What?”

“He’s convinced he can’t go without a date,” Jimin explains. “You could be his knight in shining armor!”

Taehyung looks unconvinced. “He’s not gonna want to go with me,” he says quietly.

“Maybe we can just skip this part,” present day Taehyung tries, cheeks burning. The others shush him, all eyes fixed on the screen.

“Shut up, yes he will,” Jimin is insisting. “Come on, Tae, this could be your shot.”

Taehyung has never wished so badly for the floor to open up and swallow his whole, miserable existence.

What happens next is a sequence of events he remembers all too well, his past self hesitantly agreeing to go, a small, hopeful smile tugging at his lips. The camera follows him to his room, Jimin cheering him on as Taehyung rushes to get ready with a growing sense of excitement.

“You look so handsome,” Jimin tells him once he’s dressed, the view panning over Taehyung’s outfit. Taehyung himself looks nervous and a little awkward, cheeks glowing with anticipation, and in the present day Taehyung’s heart aches.

“Guys, seriously, I don’t think - ”

“We want to see what happens!” Seokjin says, and so Taehyung gets up and walks towards the kitchen, hoping to avoid the looks on their faces when they do see how this plays out.

On the screen, Jimin is leading Taehyung back downstairs as they search for Jeongguk, murmuring encouragements as they go. “You’re gonna be great, Taetae, he’s totally gonna realize what he’s been miss-”

He’s cut off by the sudden appearance of Jeongguk in the frame, this time smiling widely and hand in hand with a tall, handsome guy who had also been in Taehyung and Jimin’s year. Taehyung can’t remember his name, but he does remember that the guy was Jeongguk’s formal date and that they’d hooked up for a few months after that. In Taehyung’s totally unbiased opinion, he was a complete prick, but Jeongguk had been pretty gone for him.

“Oh, shit,” Jimin’s voice murmurs as Jeongguk waves and disappears out the door with his date. The camera pans back to Taehyung, who is now standing there motionless, a crestfallen expression on his face. Jimin mumbles something, and the frame drops to the floor briefly before going black.

The room is suddenly silent, all eyes turning to Taehyung, who hovers awkwardly in the kitchen wanting nothing more than to just evaporate. He can’t bear to meet their gazes, to see the pity on their faces at witnessing how miserably, transparently pathetic Taehyung has always been for Jeongguk.

“That was a really nice thing to do, Tae,” Hoseok says cautiously. The others make noises of agreement.

Taehyung shrugs noncommittally, staring determinedly at the floor. “Yeah, well.”

He doesn’t know what else to say. I loved him. I love him. It’s as simple as that.

He wonders what Jeongguk is thinking. If he also thinks it was a nice thing to do, or if he’s weirded out. If he feels sorry for Taehyung. If this will make him even more wary of repairing their already fragile relationship.

He hears someone get up, then the sound of footsteps, and a pair of feet enters his line of vision. His breath catches when he recognizes the socks as Jeongguk’s, heart lurching into his throat when one hand settles on his chest, the other cupping the side of his neck. Jeongguk’s nose skims along his cheek, lightly nudging, and Taehyung sucks in a shaky breath because this has to be a dream, or some kind of sick joke. In no possible universe are Jeongguk’s lips actually sliding against his right now, soft but insistent, just as perfect as Taehyung remembers them to be.

His body catches up faster than his mind does, arms rising to wrap tightly around Jeongguk’s torso. He grips at the material of Jeongguk’s shirt, clinging to it desperately, and he doesn’t even realize that he’s crying until Jeongguk pulls back to wipe gently at his tears. He gets a brief, blurry glimpse of Jeongguk’s face, all soft eyes and sweet smile, before his own is being pressed into Jeongguk’s shoulder, a reassuring hand coming up to cradle the back of his head.

“It’s okay, Tae,” Jeongguk murmurs, making Taehyung’s body shake with another sob. He can’t help it - he’s just so overwhelmed, so relieved right now, and it feels like all of the emotion that’s been roiling inside of him for the past month is finally spilling out.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, lifting his head and trying to pull himself together.

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says again. His eyes are warm when they meet Taehyung’s and Taehyung is still half convinced he must be dreaming.

There’s movement in the periphery of his vision, and then the others are surrounding them, all smiling fondly.

“We’re gonna go hang out at Hoseokie and Jin-hyung’s for a little bit,” Jimin says, looking almost on the verge of tears himself. Then they’re filtering out of the apartment, giving little nudges and nods as they go, and Taehyung and Jeongguk are left alone.

“I can’t believe you did that for me,” Jeongguk says quietly. They’re still standing very close, barely an inch between them, and Jeongguk tips forward until his forehead rests against Taehyung’s.

Taehyung feels his cheeks heating up again. “Of course,” he murmurs, embarrassed, breathless. He’s sharing air with Jeongguk and he doesn’t know how to process it, not after how strained things have been these past few weeks. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

“It is to me,” Jeongguk breathes. His knuckles brush lightly against Taehyung’s, and it feels like forgiveness.

“I would do anything for you,” Taehyung whispers. His voice is shaking but he needs Jeongguk to know, to understand. “Then. Now.”

Jeongguk bites his lip, grasping lightly at the sleeves of Taehyung’s shirt. “I know,” he says. It sounds like he means it.

“I’m still so sorry for what I did,” Taehyung rushes out. It feels like they’ve reached some sort of turning point, but the guilt still weighs heavily on him. “I really - you’re my favorite person in the whole world, Guk. I’m so sorry for making you doubt that.”

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says softly, loosely linking their fingers. Taehyung opens his mouth to protest, but Jeongguk stops him. “It’s over, okay? I forgive you.” He squeezes Taehyung’s hand. “I’m telling you I forgive you.”

Taehyung is not going to start crying again. He’s not.

“Don’t cry,” Jeongguk shushes him. It’s gentle, so gentle, and Taehyung cries even harder.

“Sorry,” he blubbers, hiccuping out his words. “I just really missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Jeongguk murmurs, using the sleeve of his shirt to dry Taehyung’s tears. “But now you don’t need to miss me anymore, okay? I’m right here.”

Taehyung lets that sink in, gives himself a few seconds to absorb the fact that Jeongguk is really here in front of him, that he’s smiling, that he’d -

“Did you kiss me before?” Taehyung blurts out. “Or was I hallucinating?”

Jeongguk snorts, rolling his eyes fondly. “I kissed you.”

Taehyung nods jerkily, his heart racing because they’re still standing so, so close. It seems too impossibly good to be true - that he’d get a second chance at all with Jeongguk, let alone a second chance at this. “Wow.”

Jeongguk grins, a little shy, a little playful. “I could do it again?”

Taehyung’s heart lurches.

“Please,” he breathes, leaning in.

Their lips meet, gentle at first. Taehyung’s hands come up to cup Jeongguk’s face, Jeongguk’s circling his wrists. He kisses Jeongguk like he’s precious because he is, this moment is precious and there is not a chance in hell Taehyung is going to mess it up this time.

“Can’t believe I’m kissing Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung says reverently, enraptured by the feeling of Jeongguk’s mouth moving against his. If only his college self could see him now.

Jeongguk lets out a breathless laugh and it’s the sweetest sound Taehyung has ever heard. “You could continue kissing Jeon Jeongguk over on the couch,” he suggests, making Taehyung’s stomach swoop.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk confirms, keeping his lips connected to Taehyung’s as he walks them both in the direction of the couch.

Taehyung collapses backwards onto the cushions, tugging Jeongguk along with him until he’s straddling Taehyung’s waist. It’s new, and it’s exhilarating, and Taehyung’s heart races at having Jeongguk heavy in his lap, Jeongguk hovering over him all flushed and smiley.

“Gukkie,” he says, hands settling tentatively on Jeongguk’s hips. It’s strange, because he’s touched Jeongguk so casually so many times, but all of a sudden every point of contact feels loaded. “Does this mean, like - ” he pauses, swallowing. “We’re doing this, right?”

Jeongguk cocks his head to the side, fingering the soft hair at the base of Taehyung’s neck. “Define ‘this’.”

“Like - you and me,” Taehyung elaborates, hoping he doesn’t sound too desperate. He just needs to know where they stand right now, before he can fully give himself over to the moment. He needs to know if this really is what he so badly wants it to be. “Together.”

Jeongguk leans in until their noses brush and they have to go cross-eyed to keep looking at each other. In a deeply serious voice, he says: “Hell yeah we’re doing this.”

And, in that one moment, it feels like everything just - clicks into place. All of the pain and heartache, the years of wanting and doubting, the hurt on both sides - it all comes together and then it falls away, leaving, finally, just the two of them. Taehyung looks up into Jeongguk’s smile, all bunny-toothed, scrunchy-nosed adorableness, and it feels like sunshine is spilling out of his heart, seeping through the cracks in his rib cage, making him shine, making him glow. He gets to keep this. He gets to keep this.

He pulls Jeongguk in for another kiss, one hand still on his waist, so firm and slim and warm under Taehyung’s palm, the other rising to cradle the back of his head. Jeongguk returns the attention with gusto, scooting forward on Taehyung’s lap and nudging his tongue past Taehyung’s lips in that bold, curious way of his. It’s dizzying, the baseline pleasure of making out with someone amplified by the giant flashing sign in his head that keeps reminding him this is Jeongguk. This is what Jeongguk tastes like, this is the way he uses his tongue when he kisses, these are the sounds he makes. This is what Taehyung has been longing for since the day that stupid video was filmed and way before that, too.

“I want you to know,” Taehyung breathes, pulling his mouth away from Jeongguk’s to explore the smooth skin of his neck. Jeongguk shivers slightly at the attention, a noise like a whine slipping from his throat and making Taehyung’s entire universe implode. “I meant it when I said I like literally everything about you.” He pulls back slightly, stroking his thumbs over Jeongguk’s cheeks. “Especially your nose and your cute cheeks.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, but his blush and the huge smile on his face give him away. “Hobi hyung told me you said my nose was boopable when he said that.”

“I did,” Taehyung confirms immediately, lifting his index finger and prodding gently at Jeongguk’s nose. Jeongguk wrinkles it in response but doesn’t pull away. “It’s true. It’s the cutest nose ever.”

“Now you’re just sucking up to me,” Jeongguk teases.

“’M not,” Taehyung insists. He feels giddy and it’s making him lose his filter. “I’ve liked you since college, Guk. I pretty much think the sun shines out of your ass.” He pauses, thoughtful. “Even when you’re being a brat.”

Jeongguk snorts, punching him lightly in the arm. Taehyung winces anyway because Jeongguk is stronger than he realizes.

“It’s mutual,” Jeongguk says, biting at his lower lip like he’s trying to contain his smile. It’s going to take a while for Taehyung to get used to this, these gestures and words that seem so simple but mean so much. “I mean, even before I had - feelings, I still - ” he pauses, taking a breath. “You know.”

“I know,” Taehyung nods, extending his pinky finger. He knows Jeongguk has loved him for years, in a different but no less real way. “Best friends no matter what, right?”

Jeongguk smiles, looking pleased that Taehyung had understood so easily. He hooks their pinkies together. “Wanna have a best friends sleepover and watch superhero movies?”

“Obviously.”

“And maybe… make out some more too?”

Taehyung laughs, yanking Jeongguk down for another kiss. He’s so, so happy right now. “Like you even have to ask.”

***

The first few days are strange. In a good way, in an exhilarating way, but still - strange. Jeongguk keeps having to remind himself that they’re actually together now, that he’s allowed to reach over and hold Taehyung’s hand, to lean in and kiss him. It feels almost unnatural after having spent so much time actively repressing those very instincts, and he suspects it’s even stranger for Taehyung. Even now that they’ve made up and agreed that they want to be together, he still senses a trace of hesitation from Taehyung, almost like he’s afraid Jeongguk is going to change his mind or go back to being mad at him. Jeongguk is intent on convincing him that’s not the case, but it’s hard when Jeongguk himself is nervous and not particularly gifted at expressing how he feels.

There’s also the complicating factor of their friends, who insist on staring and cooing fondly any time Jeongguk is standing within two feet of Taehyung. Jeongguk knows it’s coming from a good place, knows that they’ve been dragged along on this emotional rollercoaster ride too, but it creates an added layer of pressure anytime he’s trying to be casually affectionate with Taehyung. Because if Taehyung himself doesn’t notice Jeongguk awkwardly trying to hold his hand or put an arm around him, it’s almost a sure thing that one of their other friends does. And it’s an equally sure thing that if they notice, they’re going to make an embarrassing comment about it and effectively ruin Jeongguk’s sad, pathetic attempt at making a move.

Case in point: they’re having a movie night at Jeongguk and Jimin’s apartment, and Jeongguk finds himself sandwiched between the thick armrest of the couch and Taehyung. It’s not a bad place to be, not by a long shot, but his arm is pressed up awkwardly against Taehyung’s and he feels like he should be doing something with it. As in, touching Taehyung in some way and not just sitting here internally panicking like a teenager on a first date. He contemplates the classic yawn-and-stretch move, but immediately cringes when he imagines how obvious that would be and how mercilessly he would be teased for it. Putting his hand on Taehyung’s leg seems like a good alternative, but he keeps losing his courage halfway through and pretending to examine his fingers instead.

After his third aborted attempt, Yoongi makes an exasperated noise from the armchair next to them. “For the love of God, Guk. Just hold his hand or whatever it is you’re trying to do over there.”

Jeongguk freezes, his whole face heating up. He glares over at Yoongi, who raises an expectant eyebrow at him while the others snicker softly in the background. The weight of their gazes on him makes him blush even harder.

Has Jeongguk mentioned that he hates his friends?

Sheepishly, he glances at Taehyung out of the corner of his eye, finds him already looking back and smiling shyly. His cheeks are faintly pink as well, and Jeongguk finds himself wanting to lean over and kiss the rounds of them. Before he can, Taehyung takes his hand, linking their fingers together and bringing them to rest atop his own thigh. It’s not quite what Jeongguk had been aiming for, but it feels just as nice.

“Good?” Taehyung murmurs.

Jeongguk nods, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. He pointedly ignores the “aw” that comes from somewhere to their left and instead focuses on the pleased way Taehyung smiles, pulling his lower lip between his teeth.

They spend the rest of the movie this way, Jeongguk eventually working up to rubbing circles with his thumb over the back of Taehyung’s hand. Around three quarters of the way through, Taehyung’s head drops sleepily against his shoulder, soft hair brushing against his jaw. He smells nice and Jeongguk tries to breathe in the scent without being too creepy and obvious about it. Taehyung is probably too drowsy to notice, but he wouldn’t put it past Jimin to call him out for a change in his fucking breathing pattern.

By the time the credits roll, Yoongi and Seokjin are both sound asleep. While Hoseok gently shakes his roommate awake, Jeongguk leaves Jimin with the formidable task of waking up Yoongi and turns his attention to Taehyung, who’s stirring against his shoulder.

“You wanna stay over?” he asks quietly, heart squeezing when Taehyung blinks cutely up at him. Taehyung nods, and they drag themselves up off the couch and slip into Jeongguk’s room before anyone else can comment on it.

Jeongguk lends him clothes to sleep in, both of them blushing when they realize they have to undress in front of each other. It’s silly, since they’ve changed in the same room plenty of times, and also since they’re dating now and are inevitably going to see each other naked at some point. Like, a point in the near future, maybe. Possibly. Hopefully. They fumble their way through it, and somehow it’s both awkward and intense every time their eyes meet. Jeongguk catches the way Taehyung licks his lips when he sees him shirtless and it sends a pang of heat through his lower belly.

“Sorry I was awkward earlier,” he says, once they’ve both changed into t-shirts and sweats. “With the whole - hand thing.”

Taehyung laughs, shaking his head. “You’re good,” he promises. He shifts back and forth on his feet, hands twisting in the hem of his (Jeongguk’s) shirt. “You don’t have to be nervous, though. I like it when you touch me.”

Another lick of heat. “I like it too,” Jeongguk tells him, stepping closer. Taehyung’s eyes track the movement before darting to his lips. “I just - don’t know how, always.”

“Any way is good,” Taehyung breathes, shivering slightly when Jeongguk’s hands find his waist. “You can touch me however you want.”

In lieu of a response, Jeongguk crowds in further, pressing Taehyung gently up against the nearest wall and kissing him. He basks in the slight gasp that Taehyung lets out against his mouth, his hands coming up to wind around Jeongguk’s neck. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get over the way Taehyung responds to him, how good his mouth and body feel against Jeongguk’s own.

“I want to touch you too,” Taehyung whispers, as if he’s confessing to something shameful rather than something unspeakably sexy. “All the time.”

“That’s good,” Jeongguk confirms hoarsely, hand sliding up Taehyung’s side. “Really good.”

Taehyung laughs a little. His chest is rising and falling heavily, and Jeongguk can’t tell if it’s from nerves or arousal. Maybe both.

“I don’t want to be clingy,” he admits.

And there it is again, that hesitation that Jeongguk has been sensing in him these past few days. It makes him think back to the video from his formal night, the way Taehyung had blushed while he fixed Jeongguk’s tie, how crushed he had looked watching Jeongguk leave with another guy. Seeing that had done more to convince Jeongguk of the strength of Taehyung’s feelings for him than anything else could have. It had been the nudge that he needed to get over the list and let himself be vulnerable with Taehyung, because it made him realize just how vulnerable Taehyung has always been with him.

He gives Taehyung’s waist a light squeeze. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re already clingy.”

This earns him a small smile, but Taehyung still looks doubtful. “I don’t want to overwhelm you,” he says quietly. Jeongguk’s heart breaks a little.

“You’re not going to,” he says firmly, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Taehyung’s mouth. Oddly, it puts him more at ease, knowing he’s not the only nervous, fumbling one here. They both have their own stuff that they’re working through, and in this moment, Taehyung needs Jeongguk to be the brave one. “Promise.”

Taehyung bites his lip, regarding Jeongguk with big, vulnerable eyes. Eventually, he nods.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, clearly frustrated with himself. “I just still sort of feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Not dreaming,” Jeongguk murmurs, nudging Taehyung’s mouth with his own until his lips part obligingly. “Very real. Very into you touching me.”

Taehyung lets out a shaky laugh, softening as he gives in and kisses Jeongguk back.

“Put your hands on me, Jack,” Jeongguk teases, exaggeratedly breathy.

The effect is as desired, Taehyung giggling in earnest as he curls his fingers into Jeongguk’s t-shirt and pulls him in tighter. “You’re very charming, Jeon Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk preens inwardly. “I think you’re biased.”

“Mm,” Taehyung hums, his hands sneaking up under the hem of Jeongguk’s shirt and setting off fireworks in his brain. “Definitely.”

***

“You know, Namjoon knew it was you,” Taehyung says. He’s sitting on the counter at the cafe, long legs dangling and getting in the way while Jeongguk tries to clean up for the night. Jeongguk can’t really say he minds, though, not when Taehyung had kept him company for the entire second half of his shift, alternately making faces and blowing kisses at him whenever they caught each other’s eye. “He knew I was breaking up with him because of you.”

“Really?” Jeongguk asks, nudging Taehyung to the side so that he can finish wiping down the counter. “How?”

They’ve been dating for a month now, and Jeongguk really, truly can’t believe how good it’s been and how happy he is. It’s everything that was amazing about their friendship, but now more, better, fuller. He knows that the butterflies and the honeymoon glow will eventually wear off, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever get sick of having Taehyung at his side.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung says patiently. “My sweet, sweet Gukkie. You have many talents, more talents than is reasonable or fair for one human to possess, but unfortunately subtlety is not one of them.”

Jeongguk frowns, crossing his arms over his chest. The cloth he was using to wipe down the counter dangles at his side. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means he could tell you hated him and he figured it was because of me,” Taehyung snorts.

“I didn’t hate him,” Jeongguk protests. “I mean, yeah, he was annoyingly tall, and smart, and seeing you guys together made me want to punch him in the face, but - ”

“I know, babe,” Taehyung soothes, looking amused. “But I actually think you would really like him if you gave him a chance.”

Jeongguk huffs. “Do you still talk to him?”

“Sometimes, yeah,” Taehyung nods. “We said we would stay friends.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says stiffly. “That’s nice.”

He starts vigorously wiping down the espresso machine at this point, ignoring the way that he can feel Taehyung’s eyes boring into him.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung calls. “Are you okay?”

“I’m great,” Jeongguk replies without looking up.

“Are you sure you’re not jealous that I still talk to Namjoon?” Taehyung asks, a knowing lilt to his voice. Dammit.

“Nope,” Jeongguk lies.

There’s a tug at the back of his jeans, and Jeongguk realizes Taehyung has hooked a finger through one of his belt loops and is now pulling him away from the espresso machine.

“You seem a little jealous,” Taehyung comments, spinning Jeongguk around to face him. Before Jeongguk can retort, he continues, softer. “But you have no reason to be, okay? I literally broke up with him because of how badly I wanted to be with you.”

Jeongguk softens, partly because of Taehyung’s words, and partly because Taehyung’s hands are on his waist and that always makes him a little dizzy.

“Okay,” he concedes, shuffling forward into the space between Taehyung’s legs. Playing with the sleeve of Taehyung’s shirt, he asks: “Was he nice about it? When you guys broke up?”

“Very,” Taehyung nods. “Way nicer than I deserved. But I think he could see how gone I was for you.”

Jeongguk blushes, biting his lip. “Oh.”

Taehyung laughs, tilting Jeongguk’s chin up for a kiss. They’ve been kissing a lot these past few weeks and Jeongguk is a little bit addicted. “Yeah. Which is why I think you guys would get along if you gave him a chance.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk agrees, because really, who is he to say no to Taehyung when he’s kissing him like this?

“Good, because we might start seeing him around more,” Taehyung tells him. “I gave him Jimin’s number.”

What?” Jeongguk pulls back to look at him, incredulous. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, I offered a while ago and he just took me up on it,” Taehyung says, shrugging. “I think they’d be cute together.”

“Jimin has been aggressively thirsty for him ever since you first introduced us,” Jeongguk muses.

Taehyung snorts, nodding. “Yeah, I know. Hopefully it works out for them.”

He sounds so nonchalant about it, and it helps to put the doubts lurking in the dark corners of Jeongguk’s mind to ease. Taehyung wouldn’t be trying to set his ex up with his best friend unless he really was fully over it.

“Anyway,” Taehyung continues. “Are you done yet? We have a date to get to, may I remind you.”

“Maybe if someone would stop distracting me - ”

“I didn’t hear you complaining - ”

This back and forth devolves into a tickle fight, which ultimately ends with Taehyung escaping to the other side of the counter.

“I’ll be over here, at a safe distance,” he says, backing away and dropping down onto one of the couches. “Now hurry your cute little ass up so we can go.”

Taehyung had insisted on planning a special, secret date for their one month anniversary, even though Jeongguk had told him that was ridiculous and completely unnecessary. They’ve been on plenty of dates in the past month, some planned by one of them, some planned together, some involving no planning at all because lying on the couch making out in their underwear is just as fun as going out to dinner. It feels a little silly to celebrate their one month anniversary when they’ve already been friends for seven years, but Taehyung had seemed so excited about it and Jeongguk would be lying if he said he didn’t find the enthusiasm kind of sweet.

Without Taehyung distracting him, he finishes closing down the cafe quickly, and then they’re off, Taehyung leading the way. He’s carrying a backpack full of mysterious items, but he won’t tell Jeongguk what’s in it, which of course only adds to his curiosity. It doesn’t become any clearer when they come to a halt outside of the museum where Taehyung works, which is quiet and dark save for the bright exterior lighting.

“Uh,” Jeongguk says, looking over at Taehyung. “Did you mean to take us to your job?”

Taehyung wiggles his eyebrows, smiling mischievously. “I’m friends with the security guys. They’re leaving the back door open for us.”

Jeongguk gapes at him. “So like - we get the whole place to ourselves?”

Taehyung grins. “Exactly.”

He takes Jeongguk’s hand and tugs him along, around to the back door which they lock behind them once they’re inside. Jeongguk has been to the museum a few times before, especially since Taehyung started working there, but it’s always overcrowded with tourists and kids on class field trips. To be there when it’s empty is another experience entirely, and their footsteps echo in the silence as they slowly make their way through the exhibits.

Most of the lights are out, which cloaks some of the displays in shadows but adds to the allure of others, like the aquarium. They stand side by side in the blue light spilling from one of the tanks and Taehyung points out the different species of fish to Jeongguk, babbling on about random facts and behaviors associated with each of them. Jeongguk doesn’t understand what half of it means but he likes the colors and he likes listening to Taehyung talk when he’s passionate about something, so he stands there happily and soaks it in.

“This isn’t actually the main part of the date,” Taehyung informs him, tangling their fingers together again and leading Jeongguk away from the fish. They walk a bit further and eventually enter what appears to be a large, domed theater. There are rows of tiered seats looming like shadows up one side of the space and a massive screen that stretches over the entire ceiling. Taehyung fiddles with a few buttons on the wall until suddenly the whole room goes dark, the screen overhead transforming into a vast galaxy of stars. Jeongguk’s mouth falls open, head tipped back as he takes in the breathtaking sight above them.

“It’s a planetarium,” Taehyung murmurs, turning back to Jeongguk. “I thought we could have a picnic under the stars.”

Jeongguk lowers his gaze from the ceiling so that he can look at Taehyung, almost too overwhelmed to speak. It’s so beautiful, and Taehyung is watching him so intently, and he’s just - blown away that someone would do something like this for him. That Taehyung would do something like this for him.

“It’s amazing,” Jeongguk says hoarsely. “This is amazing, Tae.”

Taehyung smiles brightly at him, leaning in to press a firm kiss to his lips. “Only the best for my baby.”

Jeongguk snorts, shoving him lightly before hauling him back in for another kiss. He’s never really been one for pet names, but coming from Taehyung it doesn’t sound so bad.

It turns out Taehyung’s mystery backpack is loaded with supplies for their picnic - a blanket, soju and water, snacks, even a little mini speaker to play music. They lay everything out and dig in, trying to pick out constellations in the night sky and giggling when they get them wrong.

“I can’t even fathom how big the universe is,” Taehyung says, once they’ve finished eating and are lying on their backs looking up at the stars. “And like, it’s expanding? How is that even possible? Expanding into what?

“I dunno, man,” Jeongguk replies, shaking his head. “Questions like that feel too big for my brain.”

Taehyung nods in agreement. “What about aliens, do you think they’re out there? Or like, parallel universes?”

“Maybe there’s a parallel universe where we’ve been together since college,” Jeongguk muses. “Or one where I have a crush on you and you haven’t noticed me yet.”

“Impossible,” Taehyung scoffs. “What about one where we’re idols?”

“No way,” Jeongguk laughs. “Do you think there’s one where we haven’t even met yet? Or where we never meet?”

“I hope not,” Taehyung frowns, rolling over onto his stomach to face Jeongguk. “I like to think I’d find you no matter what.”

Jeongguk’s heart stutters. “I’d like to think that too.”

Taehyung grins, shuffling forward on his elbows until his face is hovering over Jeongguk’s, blocking his view of the sky. “I’m really glad I’m in this universe with you,” he says sweetly, and really, how is Jeongguk supposed to react to a line like that?

(With a kiss, that’s how.)

He cups the back of Taehyung’s head and guides him down until their lips meet, slotting together in a way that feels more and more natural with each passing day. It starts off slow and grows increasingly heated, Taehyung shifting so that he’s half on top of Jeongguk, one arm hooked over his head. His free hand wanders down Jeongguk’s side, slipping under his shirt to stroke at bare skin.

(A few weeks ago, when Taehyung had gotten Jeongguk out of his shirt for the very first time, he’d blushed furiously and eventually admitted to having a bit of a fixation with Jeongguk’s abs and waist. Since then, it’s become a favorite spot anytime they hook up.)

“I have a confession,” Jeongguk says when Taehyung pulls away from his mouth to start kissing over his neck. He still has one of his hands in Taehyung’s hair, the other pressing into the perfect arch of his back.

“Hmm?”

“I found - ah,” he starts, then gets distracted when Taehyung’s mouth hits a particularly sensitive spot on his neck. “I saw the stuff in your backpack. The condoms and the - the lube.”

Taehyung freezes with his face still buried in Jeongguk’s neck and his hand still halfway up Jeongguk’s shirt.

“Were you planning to get lucky tonight, Mr. Kim?” Jeongguk teases. Or tries to tease, at least, given that he feels like a case of bouncy balls has been released in his stomach at the mere thought of doing that with Taehyung. They’ve fooled around a lot in the past month, touched each other’s dicks and gotten familiar with each other’s bodies, but they haven’t taken that particular step yet. At least, not in real life. In Jeongguk’s head they’ve taken all kinds of steps, some that make him blush even just to think about.

Taehyung lifts his head slowly, meeting Jeongguk’s gaze with a sheepish expression on his face. “I swear I wasn’t expecting anything,” he says, words almost jumbling in his rush to get them out. “I just - wanted to be prepared. Just - uh. Just in case.”

“Just in case I wanted you to fuck me for the first time on the floor of the museum where you work?”

Fuck, Guk, you can’t just say stuff like that, ” Taehyung breathes, eyes widening. His grip has tightened on Jeongguk’s waist, and Jeongguk wonders if he even noticed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t - it seemed more romantic in my head, with the picnic and the stars - ”

He looks abashed, eyes roving anxiously over Jeongguk’s face, and Jeongguk decides to give him a break.

“It is romantic,” Jeongguk reassures him, heart warming at the relief that passes over Taehyung’s face. “It’s romantic ’cause it’s you.”

Taehyung seems to melt a little at that, smiling tenderly down at Jeongguk. And Jeongguk thinks yeah, yep, one hundred percent, he does want Taehyung to fuck him for the first time right here on the floor of the museum where he works.

They start kissing again, Jeongguk’s tongue in Taehyung’s mouth, Taehyung’s thumb rubbing circles over Jeongguk’s hip bone. Jeongguk loops an arm around Taehyung’s waist and drags until he’s fully on top of him, thigh pressed snug against the heat building between Jeongguk’s legs. He groans quietly, fingers digging into the small of Taehyung’s back, and Taehyung responds with a slight roll of his hips.

“Tae,” Jeongguk pants, trying to collect himself. They haven’t even taken their clothes off yet and he’s already getting riled up; this is embarrassing. At least Taehyung seems to be on the same page, if his breathless answering grunt is anything to go by.

“Yeah?”

Jeongguk swallows, summoning all his courage. “Let’s do it. Let’s get lucky tonight.”

There’s a half-heartbeat pause. Then Taehyung’s answering moan vibrates through Jeongguk’s chest, raw and overwhelmed.

He pulls back just enough to gaze down at Jeongguk, eyes wide. Jeongguk wonders what Taehyung sees on his face, if it matches the unbridled want he sees in Taehyung’s. “Seriously?”

Jeongguk nods, rubbing his hands over Taehyung’s sides. “I mean - as long as you want that too.”

“Of course,” Taehyung says emphatically, looking a little awestruck. “I’ve wanted - ” his voice gets quieter, and he licks his lips. “I’ve wanted that forever.”

“Even when I was a virgin with bad hair and no game?” Jeongguk teases, because he still doesn’t know how to handle it when Taehyung says stuff like that. In a good way, in the best way, but - yeah. It’s a lot for his poor little heart to take.

Taehyung snorts, kissing his chin. “You still have no game. But yeah, even then.”

“Wow,” Jeongguk says, ignoring the jab. “That’s pretty embarrassing, Tae - ”

“Alright, you,” Taehyung grumbles, pinching Jeongguk’s side and making him squeak indignantly. “That’s enough.”

“Oh yeah?” Jeongguk challenges. “Gonna find a way to shut me up?”

“Got a few ideas,” Taehyung hums, then proceeds to suck Jeongguk’s earlobe into his mouth at the same time he rolls his hips down suggestively.

Oh,” Jeongguk stutters out, his own hips rocking up almost automatically. Taehyung gives him a smug look, and Jeongguk grins back cheekily. “Dirty but effective. That’s hot.”

“You’re hot,” Taehyung returns easily. Jeongguk preens.

“Likewise, take your clothes off.”

Taehyung giggles, working up to his knees so that he can strip off his shirt. It’s stupid how good he looks sitting on top of Jeongguk like this, with his flawless bone structure and his broad shoulders and pretty skin. Jeongguk tells him so and Taehyung blushes happily, reaching for the hem of Jeongguk’s shirt as well.

“So,” Taehyung says, once he’s done staring appreciatively at Jeongguk’s stomach. “How, uh - did you want me to - ”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, sliding his palms over Taehyung’s denim-clad thighs. Anticipation builds in his stomach; he’s not even nervous, really, just excited. “Fuck me, Tae.”

Taehyung makes a strangled noise, an expression on his face like Jeongguk just told him the North Pacific right whale is no longer endangered. He ducks down and kisses Jeongguk fiercely, shaky fingers climbing into his hair. Jeongguk trails his hands down the smooth expanse of Taehyung’s back and grabs his ass, pulling him down tighter until they’re both gasping.

They work together to get Jeongguk’s pants and boxers off, and then Taehyung is kneeling between his legs, lube in hand and an absolutely reverent look on his face.

“I literally can’t believe this is happening,” Taehyung breathes, staring rather hungrily at the space between Jeongguk’s legs. Arousal pools in Jeongguk’s belly, and he spreads them further, burning hot when Taehyung makes a desperate noise in response. “Shit, Guk, you’re so fucking hot.”

“Would be even hotter with your fingers in me,” Jeongguk returns, restless. He’s never been a particularly patient person and that’s certainly not going to change with the prospect of Taehyung’s dick on the horizon.

Taehyung groans, hunching forward and pressing one slick finger against Jeongguk’s entrance. He circles it experimentally, making Jeongguk squirm, before easing inside slowly.

“Holy fuck,” Taehyung breathes, turning to press his forehead against the inside of Jeongguk’s thigh. His breath puffs out against the sensitive skin there and it makes Jeongguk shiver, all of his senses already heightened. The softness of the blanket beneath him, the shine of the fake universe above him, the slight burn of Taehyung inside of him.

He’s always found this part to be simultaneously mortifying and exhilarating, the two almost inextricably linked to each other. To be spread like this, to be bare, it makes Jeongguk feel vulnerable but it also makes him feel powerful. Especially with how harshly Taehyung is breathing, especially with the way he curses when Jeongguk grinds down against his finger.

“Do I feel good?” he pants out, relaxing his muscles and relishing the way Taehyung sinks deeper into him. He’s already so hard, cock red and curving up over his belly, but if he touches himself now this will all be over very quickly.

“Feel unreal,” Taehyung praises, teeth scraping lightly over Jeongguk’s inner thigh. He sucks the tender flesh into his mouth and then releases, tongue soothing over what is sure to be a mark tomorrow once he repeats the action four or five times. Not that Jeongguk particularly minds; the thought of looking between his legs and finding a bruise shaped like Taehyung’s mouth there sends another burst of arousal shooting up his spine.

“Tae, another,” Jeongguk says, back arching slightly off the blanket when Taehyung rushes to comply. Now they’re getting to the good stuff, now Taehyung is scissoring his fingers and really starting to stretch him. His fingers are long; Jeongguk has always noticed and appreciated that, although the explicit fantasies centering around them are a more recent development. They have no problem finding his prostate, and Jeongguk wants to cry, considers having some sort of religious epiphany just so he can have a deity to thank for the gift of Taehyung’s fingers.

“There?” Taehyung asks, the barest trace of smugness in his voice, because it’s obviously there with the way Jeongguk’s body is reacting. Jeongguk will let it slide though, because he likes seeing Taehyung act confident about this sort of thing and more pressingly because he’s too riled up to deliver a sassy comeback right now.

Yes,” he whimpers, voice starting to pitch higher in that way it does when he starts getting really turned on. It’s been an insecurity of his in the past, but Taehyung seems to love it, so he’s working on being more vocal. “Right there, fuck, yes.”

Taehyung shifts to hover above him, one hand still working between Jeongguk’s legs as he leans down for a messy kiss. “You sound so fucking sexy,” he breathes, mouth slipping to Jeongguk’s jaw. Jeongguk whines again, partly for show, mostly from pleasure, because Taehyung is everywhere and everything he’s doing is really, really working.

“Keep talking to me,” Taehyung murmurs, breath hot against Jeongguk’s ear. He’s still dressed in his jeans, the material soft and worn-out, and when he moves Jeongguk can feel the firmness of his cock straining against the material. It makes him wild to think about, because Taehyung is already this hard without even being touched, just from watching and touching and listening to Jeongguk. “Are you ready for a third?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, rolling his hips down to emphasize the point. “Please.”

Taehyung withdraws his fingers briefly to add more lube, kissing Jeongguk sweetly when he hisses at the loss. Seconds later, there are three fingers pressing back inside of him, the sting eased by the generous amount of lube Taehyung is using. It’s wet, and it’s messy, and they’ll probably have to throw this blanket away, but Jeongguk’s heart is warm because Taehyung is taking such care not to hurt him.

“Good?” Taehyung asks, kissing the corner of Jeongguk’s mouth.

“Great,” Jeongguk responds, feeling a rush of affection for Taehyung. It’s different doing this with someone you love, he realizes - there’s a layer of trust and tenderness that he’s never really encountered before. He feels so safe with Taehyung, so taken care of, and it makes him want to give Taehyung everything.

Once he’s taken some time to adjust to the third finger, Jeongguk snakes a hand between their bodies, cupping Taehyung through his jeans. His cock jumps at Jeongguk’s touch, and he makes a noise that leaves Jeongguk feeling immensely pleased with himself.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung groans, pressing his face into Jeongguk’s neck. His fingers continue to move inside of Jeongguk, albeit not quite as smoothly.

“Wanna make you feel good,” Jeongguk murmurs, grinding the heel of his palm over Taehyung’s length.

Taehyung kisses his neck. “You always make me feel good, babe.”

“Yeah, but,” Jeongguk persists, giving Taehyung’s cock a firm squeeze. “Want this in me.”

For a second, it sounds like Taehyung is choking on air, and then he pulls back to look at Jeongguk with an absolutely wrecked expression on his face. “Guk,” he whispers, pressing his hips down against Jeongguk’s hand. “Are you stretched enough?”

“Yeah, ’m ready,” Jeongguk assures him, fumbling at Taehyung’s fly. There’s a sense of urgency in him now, a need to have Taehyung as close as he can possibly be. “C’mon, please.”

“Okay, yeah.”

Taehyung slips his fingers out and scrambles to get his pants off, Jeongguk propping himself up on his elbows to watch. He insists on putting the condom on and lubing Taehyung up himself, electrified by the way Taehyung shudders under his touch.

“You’re so hard,” he breathes, and Taehyung swallows, nods, meeting his gaze with wide eyes.

“Jeon Jeongguk effect,” he says, looking faintly embarrassed.

“That’s really hot,” Jeongguk informs him, lying back down and tugging Taehyung along with him. “Now get inside me.”

“Bossy,” Taehyung teases breathlessly.

“Just want you,” Jeongguk counters, grinning when Taehyung looks overwhelmed by that response.

Taehyung lines himself up and then they’re both silent for a few seconds as he gradually slides inside. It’s a lot, but in a good way, and Jeongguk is stretched enough that the pain isn’t much. He listens to the slick sounds of the lube and watches Taehyung’s face and for a moment he can’t believe that this is actually real, that this is his life now. That after everything, he and Taehyung still managed to find their way to each other. It’s the happiest he’s ever been and he’ll never stop being grateful.

With a low gasp, Taehyung bottoms out. Their eyes meet and Jeongguk can tell they’re both kind of stunned, overcome by the physical and emotional intensity of the moment. Jeongguk splayed out on the blanket, Taehyung looming over him, their bodies connected and the whole fucking universe as their backdrop. Jeongguk’s never had sex quite like this, that’s for damn sure.

Then the more immediate details set in, like how full Jeongguk feels, how Taehyung’s cock is pressed right up against his prostate, how Jeongguk needs him to move like, now. “Tae, go,” he pleads in a raspy voice, and Taehyung snaps into action, pulling halfway out and then driving back in.

Jeongguk presses his head back against the ground, flinging an arm over his eyes as Taehyung finds a rhythm, each thrust bringing a new shock of pleasure. Having his eyes covered makes everything else seem heightened - the sound of Taehyung panting, the warm weight of his hands on Jeongguk’s hips, the way the blanket shifts and bunches under his back each time Taehyung fucks into him. He’s whining, these high, breathy noises, and it’s probably embarrassing but Taehyung is making him feel like the sexiest person alive.

“Shit, Guk, you feel amazing, you look so good, fuck,” he’s babbling, one of his hands running down Jeongguk’s side and over the curve of his ass, tugging him closer. It makes the head of his cock hit harder against Jeongguk’s prostate and Jeongguk moans and arches, fingers twisting into the thick fabric of the blanket. His heart is pounding in his chest, thrumming with adrenaline and desire and affection.

“Feels - oh - feels really good, Tae,” Jeongguk gasps out. “Feel so good, feel so good.”

“Like it when you say my name,” Taehyung tells him. There’s a faint sheen of sweat on his body and it shines in the starlight as he moves.

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk says, pleased when Taehyung groans brokenly. “Taehyung, Taehyung - ”

Taehyung grunts, palm of one hand flattening against the underside of Jeongguk’s thigh and pushing it up towards his chest. He hooks Jeongguk’s knee over his shoulder and leans forward, and frankly Jeongguk didn’t realize he was this flexible but holy fuck does it feel good. His other leg falls to the side with a gentle push from Taehyung, opening him up wider as Taehyung continues to fuck into him.

“Oh my god,” Jeongguk whines, something about being bent in half like this making him feel dirty in the best way possible. “Fuck, Tae, fuck - ”

Taehyung is close enough to kiss him now, and he leans down, swallowing Jeongguk’s words with a sloppy kiss. This new position makes his stomach drag against Jeongguk’s neglected cock, and Jeongguk whimpers, struggling to lift his hips and create more friction. The need to come is starting to become almost unbearable, and he feels himself slipping, desperate words pouring out of his mouth.

“Tae, touch me, please, please - ”

Taehyung complies, reaching between them and wrapping a shaky hand around Jeongguk’s cock. His thumb swipes over the wetness at the head, circling around a few times before giving Jeongguk a few tugs. It’s erratic and unrefined, but the contact is enough to get Jeongguk over the edge, the tension inside of him exploding as he comes across both of their stomachs.

His body goes limp, a lazy sort of pleasure seeping through him. For a few seconds, he floats in that blissful, post-orgasm daze, and then the rest of his senses start to kick back in. The new stickiness between their bodies, the stretch in his legs, and Taehyung - Taehyung, still very much hard inside of him.

“Are you close, hyung?” he pants out. He feels sensitive and overstimulated from his orgasm, but he’s desperate to feel Taehyung come.

Taehyung nods, squeezing his eyes shut and burying his face in the crook of Jeongguk’s neck. “Want me to pull out?” he offers hoarsely, movements slowing in what Jeongguk is sure has to be a Herculean effort.

“No, keep going,” Jeongguk murmurs, lifting his leg and nudging at Taehyung’s ass with his heel. “Want you to come.”

With a groan, Taehyung picks up the pace of his thrusts again, clinging tightly to Jeongguk and pressing low noises against his throat. Jeongguk urges him on with noises of his own, one hand running up and down Taehyung’s back and noting the way his muscles shift and tense under his skin.

Jeongguk feels the exact moment Taehyung comes, the way his body locks up and his cock pulses. It’s one thing to see and hear Taehyung come, which he’s done several times at this point, but it’s another thing entirely to feel it happening inside of him. If he hadn’t just come a few minutes ago, he’s pretty sure this sensation alone would be enough to have him good and ready for another round.

Taehyung slumps over on top of him, his breathing slowly evening out, and Jeongguk gives him exactly 60 seconds of recovery time before he says: “Okay, now you need to pull out.”

Taehyung chuckles weakly, gently easing Jeongguk’s leg off of his shoulder before carefully pulling out and tying off the condom. “You good?” he asks, examining Jeongguk’s face.

“Really good,” Jeongguk confirms. He’ll probably be sore tomorrow but right now he feels loose, buzzy, satisfied. “You?”

“Really, really good,” Taehyung says, grinning goofily at him.

Jeongguk snorts, pinching Taehyung’s leg. “What, is this a competition now?”

Taehyung shrugs, still smiling. “If it is, I think we both won.”

He reaches into his backpack and extracts a small packet of wet wipes, making Jeongguk’s eyebrows raise in surprise.

“Jeez, Tae, you’re so prepared,” he says, mildly impressed.

“I planned a lot,” Taehyung admits, wiping gently between Jeongguk’s legs and then over both of their stomachs. It’s such a tender gesture, so strangely intimate, and for a moment Jeongguk feels more exposed than he has all night. “Had to make sure it was the best date for my best boy.”

Jeongguk wrinkles his nose at the sappiness, but it still makes his heart skip a little, makes him feel warm and floaty and loved. “You did a good job,” he says earnestly, pulling Taehyung back down so that he can wrap his arms around him. “Your best boy is very happy.”

Taehyung beams and kisses all over Jeongguk’s face until they’re both giggling hysterically.

They put their clothes back on slowly, taking breaks to make out, finish the wine, and nibble on the remains of their picnic. As the post-orgasm glow gradually wears off, the reality of what they’d done starts to set in.

“I can’t believe we had sex in a public place,” Jeongguk says, half pleased with himself, half horrified.

Taehyung looks amused. “It’s not really public if there’s no one else around,” he points out.

“Yeah, but like - children come here,” Jeongguk says. “We’ve defiled a place of learning.”

“It was your idea,” Taehyung points out unhelpfully.

Jeongguk gapes at him, indignant. “You’re the one who brought condoms and lube!”

“Yeah, but you’re the one who said ‘let’s get lucky tonight!’”

“Unbelievable,” Jeongguk says, shaking his head. “You bring me here, you seduce me with stars and wine - ”

“It’s not my fault that you find me irresistible - ”

Jeongguk snorts so violently that it actually hurts his throat. “In your dreams - ”

Taehyung scoots closer to him, grinning cheekily as he ignores Jeongguk’s protests and wraps his arms and legs around him. “What can I say, baby, I just wanted to give you an out of this world experience.”

Jeongguk blinks at him in disgust. “Oh my god.”

“Wanted to make you see stars - ”

“You sound like Jin-hyung,” Jeongguk groans.

Taehyung hums. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“Ya, always so disrespectful of your elders,” Taehyung teases, pinching his side.

“I hate you,” Jeongguk grunts, trying and failing to squirm away.

“No, you love me,” Taehyung coos, hugging him tighter.

“Then clearly I have terrible taste in men,” Jeongguk grumbles.

Taehyung laughs softy, releasing Jeongguk so that they can lie face to face. “I love you,” he says quietly.

Jeongguk is fairly certain his heart stops in his chest for a full second. “Seriously?”

Taehyung nods, looking shy. “I know it’s kind of fast,” he hurries to add. “And it’s totally okay if you don’t say it back. I just - I do.” He licks his lips. “I have.”

And - it’s not really that it’s a surprise, necessarily. But still, to hear it out loud, to hear Taehyung say the words - it hits differently, settling in Jeongguk’s bones, in his core. It feels right in a way Jeongguk couldn’t have described until this very moment.

So he doesn’t have to think too hard about it when he replies: “I do too. I love you.”

Which, yeah - maybe it is fast, by some standards. They’ve only been dating for a month, they just had sex for the first time. But by other standards - by the ones that actually matter - it feels like a long time coming. Because even if the romantic feelings were slower to develop, the reality is Jeongguk has loved Taehyung for as long as he’s known him.

Taehyung stares at him, eyes wide, lips slightly parted. He looks stunned, like he hadn’t been expecting Jeongguk to actually say it back. It’s moments like these that remind Jeongguk of how long Taehyung had waited for him, and it makes his heart ache, makes it call out for Taehyung.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung breathes. “You don’t have to - ”

“I know,” Jeongguk interrupts. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. I love you, Taehyung.”

Taehyung blinks at him. Takes a deep breath. Looks like he’s on the brink of tears. Then says: “Holy moly.”

And it’s such a sweet, silly response, so far from what Jeongguk was expecting, that he can’t help but laugh. A giggle slips from his lips, and then he’s crawling on to Taehyung, sliding his arms beneath his back and hugging him tightly. They lie like that for a few minutes, hugging and giggling and kissing, and it really hits Jeongguk then - that he’s in love. They’re in love.

“My Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says softly, cupping Jeongguk’s face with his hands. Jeongguk wonders if he’ll ever get used to the way Taehyung touches him. “Want to go home?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees, burrowing further into Taehyung’s embrace. “Let’s go home.”

***

One of Taehyung’s favorite things about dating Jeongguk is being in bed with Jeongguk. For sexy reasons obviously but also for not sexy reasons, such as satisfying Taehyung’s cuddling addiction. And his touching Jeon Jeongguk addiction.

Nearly two months in and it’s not getting any better - if anything, it’s getting worse. Now that he can touch Jeongguk whenever he wants, he wants all the time, a constant craving that he isn’t really bothering to keep in check anymore. He had been worried about it at first, afraid of being too much, but Jeongguk had been reassuring and encouraging that he wanted it too. That’s been one of the pleasant surprises of their relationship - how affectionate Jeongguk is, both giving and receiving.

Right now, they’re lying in Jeongguk’s bed, Jeongguk with his face buried in a pillow because he’d finally caved and agreed to let Taehyung look through the drawings he had done of the two of them together. Prior to this, Taehyung had only seen the one he’d accidentally stumbled upon on the day he found out about Jeongguk’s feelings, but it had come out one night while they were drunk that there were others. Like, plural.

“I dunno why you’re so embarrassed,” Taehyung says, patting Jeongguk’s butt. He’s dressed only in a big t-shirt and a pair of checkered boxers, his choice of sleepwear from the night before. “I love your art, I literally have one of your drawings framed in my home.”

Half of Jeongguk’s face appears. “Because this is, like - intimate,” he replies in a hushed voice, his one visible ear burning red. “And I did them while you were dating someone else, that’s so embarrassing.”

“Do I need to remind you again that I liked you for literally seven years before you noticed you liked me back? That’s embarrassing.”

Jeongguk huffs and hides in the pillow again. He hates talking about that, always feels guilty, but Taehyung doesn’t see it that way. He wouldn’t trade those seven years for anything - they’re just as much a part of their story as the past few months have been.

The drawings are gorgeous, just like everything else Jeongguk does. They’re detailed but not overdone, a light touch to them that’s distinctly Jeongguk. Some are of just Taehyung; others are of the two of them together. It’s strange for Taehyung to see himself captured this way, especially knowing it’s by the hand of the person he loves. Even though Jeongguk has said the words back to him (a reality that Taehyung is still struggling to grasp), there’s something more concrete about seeing it like this, seeing himself through someone else’s eyes. Jeongguk has always expressed his emotions through his art, and his feelings imbue every curve, color, and shadow of these drawings.

“I think this one is my favorite,” Taehyung says, stopping on a sketch of him and Jeongguk in bed together, Jeongguk with his head in Taehyung’s lap. It’s not exactly racy, but there are little details that suggest where Jeongguk’s head had been at the time - the neckline of Taehyung’s shirt dipping past his collarbones, Jeongguk shown in only his boxers and a thin, white T-shirt. It’s intimate, just like Jeongguk had said.

Jeongguk takes the bait and lifts his head to see which drawing Taehyung is referring to. His hair is fluffy from sleep and Taehyung can’t resist the urge to reach over and run his hands through it.

“Oh. Yeah,” he says, leaning into Taehyung’s touch.

“C’mere,” Taehyung says, patting his lap. “Let’s stage a re-enactment.”

Jeongguk hesitates briefly but then rolls over, landing on his back with his head pillowed on Taehyung’s crossed legs. He looks up at Taehyung with round, sleepy eyes, lips pink and slightly pouted, and Taehyung is struck by a powerful surge of affection.

“Feels even better than it looks,” Taehyung comments, fingers slipping over Jeongguk’s jaw to curl around his neck. His skin is still warm with sleep. “Is it just how you imagined it?”

“Bonier than expected,” Jeongguk teases, even though from where Taehyung’s sitting he looks immensely content.

Taehyung snorts. “Was that a dick joke?”

Jeongguk groans, laughing. “Not intentionally.”

“Well, I for one like this position,” Taehyung says.

That was a dick joke.”

Taehyung flashes him a cheeky smile. “Guilty as charged.”

Jeongguk snickers, eyes fluttering closed as Taehyung’s thumbs brush lightly over his jaw. He looks so lovely that Taehyung can’t help but lean down and press an upside down kiss to his lips, which Jeongguk responds to with enthusiasm. His hand comes up and cups the back of Taehyung’s head, fingers threading through his hair and holding him in place.

“Spider-Man style,” Jeongguk huffs happily when they break apart. “Right on.”

Taehyung laughs. “That makes you Mary Jane.”

“You’re definitely the science nerd in this relationship, so yeah, I guess so.”

“Science nerd with a hopeless crush,” Taehyung says. “Seems fitting.”

Jeongguk frowns, sitting up and turning to face Taehyung. “Not hopeless,” he protests. “Don’t say that.”

Taehyung smiles; he loves how indignant Jeongguk gets whenever Taehyung insults himself. He doesn’t really mean to do it, but he’d spent so long resigned to the reality that his feelings were one-sided that it happens almost by default.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, unfolding his legs so that they sprawl out on either side of Jeongguk. “Sorry.”

Jeongguk nods, satisfied, and cups the undersides of Taehyung’s knees, tugging until he’s lying flat on the bed. Something tingles in his belly as Jeongguk stretches out over him, press a kiss to the hinge of his jaw.

“Your drawings make me feel beautiful,” Taehyung whispers, hands slipping under Jeongguk’s t-shirt to find a familiar home on his waist.

“I just draw what I see,” Jeongguk replies, lifting his head to meet Taehyung’s eyes. His cheeks are pink, but his expression is earnest. “You’re beautiful, Tae.”

Taehyung bites down on his lower lip, overwhelmed, and Jeongguk hides his own shyness by redirecting his attention to Taehyung’s neck. His lips feel soft and warm against the skin there, a reminder that sometimes Jeongguk says more with his actions than he does with his words. Especially when his hands slide beneath Taehyung’s back, pulling him in tighter, eliminating the space between their bodies.

And these are the moments Taehyung lives for, the simplicity, the closeness, the two of them with nowhere to go and nothing better to do than lie in bed and love on each other. Jeongguk inundating every one of his senses and Taehyung always, always eager for more.

“Let me suck you off,” Taehyung blurts out, because the outline of Jeongguk’s dick is announcing itself against his hip and it’s making his mouth water. He moves his hands down to the backs of Jeongguk’s (thick, delicious) thighs and dips under the hem of his boxers, fingers grazing the lower curve of his ass.

Jeongguk jolts slightly in response, resurfacing from Taehyung’s neck with a pout on his lips. “But I wanna suck you off,” he grumbles.

“Too bad, I asked first,” Taehyung teases, knowing full well that both of them are going to get their dicks sucked this morning. He flips them so that Jeongguk is lying beneath him, grinning down at him cheekily when Jeongguk lets out a surprised huff.

“No fair,” Jeongguk whines, but he lifts his butt willingly when Taehyung tugs at his boxers.

Taehyung chuckles, wrapping a palm around Jeongguk’s length and enjoying the way his hips stutter up. “Gotta wait your turn, babe. Patience is a virtue.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, but he stops complaining pretty abruptly when Taehyung takes him in his mouth. And when it finally does get to be his turn, he more than returns the favor.

***

Jeongguk is experiencing a serious case of deja vu. For starters, it’s a Monday morning at the cafe, and he’s been pretending to take his friends’ orders at their favorite circle of couches for the past ten minutes. So, the usual basically. But what’s really triggering his deja vu is the presence of one Kim Namjoon, seated on the very same couch where Jeongguk had once looked on in jealousy as he put his arm around Taehyung.

Except this time, there are two very notable differences: Jeongguk himself is tucked into Taehyung’s side, one of his legs draped over Taehyung’s thigh, and Namjoon has his arm around Jimin.

Taehyung had been right: the two of them had hit it off and, after many reassurances from Taehyung that he didn’t mind, had officially started dating a few weeks ago. At first, Jeongguk had thought that it might just be a physical thing, at least on Jimin’s part, given his absolutely shameless (and occasionally disturbing) thirst for Namjoon. After seeing them together, though, Jeongguk has come to appreciate the ways in which they balance each other out, and he thinks they might actually be a really good fit. He’s also been forced, rather begrudgingly, to admit that Namjoon is actually a very nice, cool guy, a revelation that Taehyung is still extremely smug about.

In spite of all of that, it’s still a little weird to have him around again, and Jeongguk can’t help that he curls a little more protectively around Taehyung any time Namjoon is there. Luckily, Taehyung seems to find it kind of cute, and he’s good about making little gestures to reassure Jeongguk and soothe his insecurities. This morning, he had been the one to pull Jeongguk’s leg into his lap, and his fingers are currently scratching absently through the hair at the back of Jeongguk’s neck.

“Don’t you have to get back to work?” he asks quietly, only loud enough for the two of them to hear. Around them, their friends are talking about the usual topics - being exhausted from the weekend, dreading the start of a new work week. Jimin looks enormously content with his small hand resting on Namjoon’s thigh, making Namjoon’s dimples appear seemingly every time he opens his mouth. It’s cute.

Jeongguk shrugs, reluctant to pull away from Taehyung and his comforting presence just yet. As always, his coworker is glaring at him from behind the counter, but this time, Jeongguk isn’t overly worried about it. The art show Taehyung had told him about had been the other week, and his drawings had done far better than he expected. He still has a long way to go before he can even think about supporting himself as a full time artist, but it had been the confidence boost he needed to re-dedicate himself to his art. He’s planning to quit his job at the cafe next week, just in time to start a new job at the art supply store where Taehyung had bought the colored pencils that started this entire thing. He’ll get discounts on the supplies, and the pay will be enough to keep him afloat while he starts drawing more seriously. Taehyung had been ecstatic when Jeongguk told him.

“In a minute,” Jeongguk murmurs. He snuggles closer to Taehyung and sighs contentedly, happy just to be near him, to be the focus of his attention. Thinking back to how things had been just a few months ago makes him deeply grateful for even the little moments like this one.

He ends up going back to work three minutes later, because the line is starting to get long and he feels guilty. After that rush subsides, Namjoon approaches the counter, smiling tentatively. They’ve obviously seen each other since he and Jimin had started dating, and Namjoon has even stayed over at their apartment, but there’s still some awkwardness between the two of them. It’s strange, since things between Taehyung and Namjoon are completely normal and pleasant, but then again Jeongguk has always been the more socially awkward between the two of them.

“Hey,” Jeongguk greets, hoping he sounds friendly and not stilted.

“Hey,” Namjoon replies. “Could I get an extra shot to go?”

He sets his coffee cup down to pull out his wallet, but Jeongguk holds out a hand to stop him. “No, don’t,” he rushes out, flushing when Namjoon looks at him in surprise. “I mean - it’s on me.”

Namjoon blinks, slipping his wallet back into his pocket. “I thought you had to charge everyone for an extra shot?”

“Not - not my friends,” Jeongguk stammers, embarrassed.

To his relief, Namjoon smiles. “Friends, huh?”

Jeongguk nods. “If - if you want.” He twists his hands in the front of his apron, nervous. “I’m really sorry for how I acted while you and Tae were dating,” he says. “I was - well. Jealous, obviously. But I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

Namjoon stares at him thoughtfully for a few seconds, then nods. “Thanks for saying that,” he says. “It’s okay. I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”

“I think so too,” Jeongguk agrees, some of the tension in his stomach dissolving. “Thanks, hyung.”

There’s a pause, and Namjoon’s eyebrows lift.

“Did you just call me hyung?”

Jeongguk panics. “Is that okay?”

A slow smile spreads across Namjoon’s face. “Yeah. As long as you don’t have any secret feelings for Jimin, we’re cool.”

Jeongguk wrinkles his nose, horrified. “Ew, no. You definitely don’t have to worry about that.” Namjoon snorts, and Jeongguk can’t help but laugh. “Besides, ah - my heart is kind of taken.”

“I noticed,” Namjoon says. For a moment, Jeongguk is worried he’s overstepped, but then Namjoon adds: “I’m glad for you guys. You obviously make each other really happy.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk grins. “I feel the same way about you and Jimin.” He genuinely means it. “I’m really glad it worked out for you guys.”

Namjoon nods, glancing over his shoulder at Jimin, who’s currently giggling over something with Seokjin. When he turns back to Jeongguk, he’s beaming. “Yeah, me too. I - I like him a lot.”

“I think it’s mutual,” Jeongguk offers, and Namjoon looks pleased.

“Alright, well, I gotta get to work,” Namjoon says. He lifts his coffee in a mini toast to Jeongguk, taking a step back. “Thanks, Jeongguk.”

“See you.”

Almost as soon as Namjoon is out the door, Taehyung sidles up to the register, looking - predictably - smug.

“Have a nice chat just now?” he asks, resting his elbows on the countertop.

“Yes,” Jeongguk says airily. “We’re cool.”

Taehyung grins. “I’m proud of you, Jeonggukkie.”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Jeongguk grumbles, even though privately he’s thrilled that Taehyung is happy with him. And also kind of excited that he gets to be friends with Namjoon now.

“I gotta go to work,” Taehyung says. Stupidly, Jeongguk feels sad about having to say goodbye to him, even though he knows he’ll see Taehyung tonight. “Extra shot to go?”

“That’ll cost you,” Jeongguk informs him, straight-faced.

“Oh yeah?” Taehyung smirks. “What’s your price?”

Jeongguk glances around - with the exception of their friends, who are slowly motivating to go to work, the cafe is mostly empty. “One kiss,” he decides.

Taehyung laughs, placing his palms on the counter so that he can lean over and reach Jeongguk. “Make it two.”

***

One Sunday morning, Taehyung opens his eyes to soft sunlight and an empty bed. He’s a little disappointed, because one of his favorite hobbies is waking Jeongguk up with kisses (or occasionally blow jobs, if he’s feeling frisky). His forehead wrinkles and he makes these soft huffing noises when he’s being woken up, and it’s maybe the most adorable thing Taehyung has ever seen.

Today, though, it seems that Jeongguk had been the early riser of the two of them, and had left Taehyung to sleep. Which is sweet, really, even if Taehyung wishes Jeongguk was still here in bed beside him.

With a huge yawn, he stretches out his arms and legs, rolling around in the sheets until he feels physically and mentally prepared to get up. Then he drags himself out of bed and wanders into the living area of his apartment, where he finds Jeongguk standing at his stove looking very delicious and very much at home. It’s one of Taehyung’s favorite things, seeing Jeongguk move around his apartment like he lives here. Maybe someday - cue flurry of butterflies - he will.

The atmosphere in the apartment is quiet, peaceful. Water boiling on the stove, Jeongguk humming softly to himself, Taehyung’s bare feet padding across the floor. Jeongguk is shirtless, which is always a sight to behold, and Taehyung takes a moment to appreciate the bare stretch of his back as he steps up behind him. Pale skin, lean muscle, tapered waist - there’s a reason Taehyung can’t keep his hands off of him.

He murmurs a sleepy greeting as he slips his arms around Jeongguk’s waist, pressing a kiss behind his ear before resting his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk relaxes against him easily, turning his head to give Taehyung a quick peck on the cheek.

“Hey, sleepyhead.”

Taehyung hums. “Are you making ramen?”

Jeongguk makes a noise of assent, stirring the noodles a few times. Taehyung points out that it’s ten in the morning.

“So?” Jeongguk says. “I had a craving.”

“Fair enough.”

Taehyung doesn’t know why he’d even bothered to question it - he’s seen Jeongguk eat far stranger things at far stranger times over the years that they’ve known each other. He occupies himself with scratching his fingers lightly over Jeongguk’s stomach, reveling in the smooth firmness of it and giggling softly when Jeongguk practically purrs in response.

“You’re like a puppy,” Taehyung teases, biting lightly at his earlobe. “Love getting your belly rubbed.”

“It feels nice,” Jeongguk grumbles defensively. “And don’t pretend you don’t love having an excuse to touch my abs.”

“You got me there,” Taehyung admits easily.

When they’d first gotten together, moments like this had made Taehyung worry that he was dreaming. Sometimes, he’d pinch himself when Jeongguk wasn’t looking, desperate for the reassurance that what was happening was truly real. It just seemed too good, too lucky, that he loved his best friend and his best friend loved him back. Especially after having spent so long believing it was never going to happen.

Gradually, though, as he and Jeongguk had figured themselves out as a couple, those doubts had started to fade. Because he’d experienced, firsthand, how good they are together. It had gone from being a fantasy to something real, something that he works at every day. And yeah, it still feels like they got stupidly lucky, but it also feels like a reality now. A very happy reality.

These days, Kim Taehyung is still a man on a mission, but it’s not to get over Jeon Jeongguk. In fact, his mission is often to get under Jeon Jeongguk. Or between his legs. Or -

(Taehyung’s not quite over the novelty of the whole sex thing yet. His boyfriend’s a fucking nine course meal, okay? Sue him.)

Anyway. His real mission, the one that he’s on every day, is to be beside Jeongguk. To make him smile, build him up, make him feel loved. He likes to think he’s doing a pretty good job at that mission, because Jeongguk seems radiant lately, happy and glowing. A lot of that is just to do with Jeongguk himself, his drawing and his new job at the art supply store, but Taehyung thinks - hopes - their relationship is a big part of it as well. This little morning scene feels like good evidence in support of that theory, but as a proud member of the science community, Taehyung always likes to confirm his theories.

“Jeonggukkie,” he whispers, lips against the juncture between Jeongguk’s neck and his shoulder. “Are you happy?”

Jeongguk puts his hand over where Taehyung’s rests against his stomach, threading their fingers together. “So happy,” he murmurs, warming Taehyung’s insides. “Are you?”

Taehyung nods into his shoulder. “Obscenely happy.”

Mission accomplished.