The first time Hoseok meets Taehyung, he’s balancing a duffle bag on top of his suitcase while trying not to fall over from the weight of a backpack over his shoulders. The summer heat here in Daegu is sweltering, and it’s all he can do not to pass out right there on the sidewalk before he even makes it to Yoongi’s house. He’s just gotten the duffle bag at the right angle so it won’t fall while he rolls it behind him when he hears the rattling of wheels on pavement. Someone’s on a skateboard, whizzing down the sidewalk far too fast for Hoseok to realize that he’s heading straight for him, resulting in a predictable yet still cringe-worthy crash.
The kid on the skateboard topples straight into his suitcase, his orange hair becoming a blur as his lanky limbs tangle over themselves, his skateboard skidding off down the sidewalk.
“Hey!” Hoseok cries out in shock. “Are you okay?”
The boy brushes off the grass stains from his torn jeans and gets back to his feet, ignoring the bloody scrapes on his exposed knees. He’s got skin that looks well-loved by the sun, dark droopy eyes, and a mole on the tip of his nose, but what stands out the most is his head of bright tangerine colored hair, scruffy and sticking up on one side due to his fall.
“Sorry,” he says in a voice that’s far too deep and throaty for such a youthful face. He stands Hoseok’s suitcases back upright, steadying the duffle bag to make sure it doesn’t fall, then ruffles his own hair and looks down at Hoseok with attentive eyes. “Wasn’t paying attention.”
“It’s fine,” Hoseok tells him. “Are you alright?”
The boy points at his knees, still bleeding onto his pants. “This?” He laughs and waves his hand. “This is nothing. I’ll survive.” He gestures toward Hoseok’s suitcases, not giving him any time to respond. “I’ve never seen you before. Are you moving in or out?”
“In,” Hoseok says. “For the summer, anyway.”
“Well, it’ll be nice to have a new face around here, even if it’s just for a couple months. I’m Kim Taehyung, by the way.”
“Jung Hoseok. S’nice to meet you, Taehyung-ssi.”
Taehyung scrunches his nose up. “Hey, if you’re moving in, then no honorifics from now on, okay? I’m just Taehyung.”
Hoseok raises his eyebrows. “But what if you’re older than me? What year were you born?”
“Seventy-seven. So I guess that works out, then. You can call me hyung, since we’re being so familiar.”
The grin Taehyung gives him is almost blinding. “Will do, hyung. I’ll see you around, okay?” And with that, he chases after his skateboard, flipping it back over and speeding back down the sidewalk.
Hoseok doesn’t have much time to process exactly what just happened because no sooner had Taehyung zipped around the block and out of sight, his cab approaches on the street and pulls over. He loads his suitcase inside and hands the driver Yoongi’s address, and his thoughts focus on seeing his friend again rather than the strange kid with orange hair that had crashed into his luggage.
The drive isn’t all that long, but Hoseok tries to look out the windows the entire way, taking it all in. He doubts he’ll have much time to explore, with how busy Yoongi had made his parents’ restaurant sound, but Hoseok’s never been to Daegu before and he wants to make the most of his time here.
Technically speaking, it’s not Daegu proper, more of a tiny mountain town on the outskirts of the big city, far enough removed that it’s spared from all the foot traffic of the city, but not so far that its residents can’t get away with saying that they’re from Daegu. “It’s easier than telling people I’m in the little town next to Daegu, you know?” Yoongi had explained to him.
To be honest, Hoseok is glad for it. He likes being in Seoul just fine, with all the bustling crowds and abundant shops and nightlife, but there’s something about a small town where everyone knows each other that makes him feel relaxed. Every family owned shop and cluster of small houses leaves such a charming impression, even just from inside the cab.
The driver pulls over on the side of the road, a couple elementary school aged kids ringing the bells on their bikes as they pass, and Hoseok thanks him, ducking out of the cab and back into the sweltering heat. “Thank you,” he tells the driver, handing him a few bills to cover the fare and hoisting his suitcase out of the trunk.
Yoongi’s house is somewhere around here, but the buildings on this street are all similarly colored and have the same style, so he’s not sure which of them is the right one.
“Hey, Seokseok, what’s up?” Yoongi’s familiar throaty voice calls out to him at the end of the street and Hoseok looks over, a smile breaking out over his face at the sight of his friend. Yoongi hasn’t changed much since they’d last seen each other, still dressed all in black despite the debilitating heat, but now with a few new piercings in his ears and a coat of black dye on his hair to cover the platinum blonde that he’d had over winter break.
Yoongi’s cousin Jungkook is there, too, and he seems to have grown another five inches since Hoseok’s last seen him, his shoulders broadening out and his face finally catching up to his large eyes and nose. “Hi, hyung!” he says, darting over immediately to help him carry his bags.
“Jungkook, what the hell?” Hoseok says, looking up at him. “When did you get so tall? That’s not fair!”
The last time he’d seen Jungkook had been a few years back, when he was about Hoseok’s height, with oversized front teeth and bugged out eyes and a quiet shyness to him. He’d only been fifteen years old, Yoongi’s dorky little cousin who followed him around everywhere and did nothing but watch anime. Now he looks like the guys who would have been able to kick fifteen year old Jungkook’s ass.
“I didn’t get that tall,” Jungkook says, though his expression shows clearly that he knows he’s spouting bullshit. He grabs Hoseok’s duffle bag and slings it over his own shoulder, his muscles flexing while he does so. “Lemme get this for you.”
Hoseok catches Yoongi’s eye and the best friend telepathy that they’ve diligently cultivated over the years is all they need. Yoongi’s tiny cousin towers over both of them now, and that’s just something they’re going to have to deal with. He effortlessly carries Hoseok’s bags to the second house from the end of the street, the one with a single car in the driveway and a series of pinwheels stuck in the flowerbed out front.
“Your house is huge,” Hoseok comments, eyeing the second floor and what appears to be an attic with a window. The garage is decently sized too, and could probably fit two cars easily if not for all of the woodworking and painting supplies crammed inside.
“It’s falling apart,” Yoongi says, pointing to the roof. “Fuckin’ thing leaks every spring and floods the garage. Your apartment is in way better shape than this, trust me.”
“My apartment is one bedroom, and I live there with two other guys,” Hoseok says as they approach the front door, giving his friend a look. “I’ll take the leaky roof if it meant I got my own room.”
“Sure, you say that now, but wait until it rains here,” Yoongi says, shaking his head. “All that wood in the garage is gonna get wet, and you’re gonna hear my dad break the sound barrier by yelling ‘Fu—’ Oh, hey, Ma.”
The door had opened while Yoongi was mid-sentence, revealing a short and stout older woman with Yoongi’s eyes and gummy smile.
“Hoseokie!” she shrieks once she sees him, throwing her arms around Hoseok and tugging him down into a bone-crushing hug. “Oh, honey, I’ve missed you so much!” She releases him, holding him at arm’s length and giving him a once-over. “Look at how big you’ve gotten! You’re a man now, not my little sunshine baby anymore.”
Yoongi swears his parents would adopt Hoseok and make him their new favorite child if they could. Secretly, Hoseok doesn’t think he’s that far off from the truth.
Behind her, Yoongi shakes his head and gives Hoseok a good-natured eye roll with a half-grin on his lips. “C’mon, Ma, you’re smothering him,” he says, slipping back into a full fledged Daegu drawl when he addresses her.
His mother lets go of Hoseok, waving her hand at her son dismissively. “Oh, go get your father,” she says, her cheeks still pink from how hard she’d been smiling at Hoseok. Yoongi steps off the porch and heads back over to the garage, where his dad is probably polishing the hood of his car. If there’s one thing Hoseok remembers about Yoongi’s father beside his unusually tall stature, it’s how much he loved his sleek foreign car. When they were younger, Yoongi had dared Jungkook to climb inside the front seat and honk the horn in exchange for getting to hang out with them all day. Hoseok isn’t sure what happened after that, but ever since that day Jungkook never could look his uncle in the eye.
Once Yoongi leaves, his mother hooks her arm through Hoseok’s, holding the front door open for him. “Come on inside, my little sunshine, I’ll show you to your room. It’s right across from Yoongi’s, so you two can goof around just like you used to.”
Hoseok blushes, not used to having so much affection showered over him like this; he loves Yoongi’s parents, but sometimes his mom can be a little much. He wonders if she knows that all of his and Yoongi’s “goofing off” when they were kids had mostly been messing with Jungkook or pulling pranks on the neighbors. Jungkook chuckles behind them, still holding Hoseok’s bags as Yoongi’s mother leads Hoseok up the stairs to the room she’s prepared for him.
Hoseok’s room back in Seoul is a one-bedroom apartment near campus that he shares with Kim Seokjin and Kim Namjoon, his friends-by-proximity that quickly became actual friends after a year of living together in the same bedroom. They haven’t decorated the common space at all, leaving it as bland as it had been the day they moved in, save for the posters of the human body strategically hung on the walls to help Seokjin in all of his pre-med suffering.
Their collective bedroom, consisting of a bunk bed and futon, is a bit more akin to a college student’s living space, with clothes and homework and books scattered everywhere. The walls are covered in sheets of printer paper stolen from their building’s public printer, and motivational quotes are scrawled in black marker on them, about half of them attributed to Namjoon (who is, coincidentally, the one who made that particular decorating decision).
Meanwhile, Yoongi’s parents’ house is spacious, boasting two floors and three bedrooms, one of which is set up specifically for Hoseok. There’s photos of himself and Yoongi on the mirror above the desk, a few of them with a much younger Jungkook hovering in the background, and the bed is made the way that Yoongi’s mother remembered him liking: pillows under the blankets, not on top.
“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble,” Hoseok says.
“Oh, please,” Yoongi’s mother says with a wave of her hand. “This is nothing compared to the help you’re giving us by coming here for the summer. You’re still such an angel, Hoseokie.”
“It’s really not a big deal,” he insists. When Yoongi had asked him to come down to Daegu to help out at his family’s lamb skewer restaurant, he’d actually been grateful that he now had something to do for the summer rather than just lazing around in Seoul. “You and your family have always been so nice to me.”
Luckily, before their conversation can evolve into a never ending circle of downplaying each other’s help, Yoongi appears in the doorway with his father beside him, causing Jungkook to go rigid at the sight of his uncle, apparently still having not recovered from the car horn incident back when they were kids.
“I was going to show you around the restaurant today,” Yoongi’s father begins after greeting Hoseok, not as warmly as his wife but still with a large smile on his face, “but Yoongi said you might be tired after such a long train ride down here.”
“It’s four hours, Dad,” Yoongi says. “Poor Seokseok probably just wants to eat dinner and rest.”
Hoseok shakes his head politely, but Yoongi’s suggestion sounds like heaven. Yoongi’s parents have always been amazing chefs, hence the big success of their restaurant despite the difficulty of getting that sort of business off the ground in a town like this, and Hoseok has definitely missed their home cooked dinners.
Yoongi’s parents in the kitchen are like an unstoppable team, working around each other effortlessly and churning out dinner in record time. Jungkook stays to eat too, and Yoongi whispers that he always makes him clean up afterward; he may be taller than the two of them, but they are still his hyungs, after all.
After dinner, while Jungkook is begrudgingly doing the dishes, Hoseok ducks into Yoongi’s room, glancing around at the posters of foreign hiphop artists on the walls and the large shelf of cassette tapes that are probably organized in a way only Yoongi could understand.
“You got any new songs for me to listen to?” Hoseok asks. “I miss getting the new D-boy single every month.”
Yoongi chuckles, but his eyes cloud over for a moment at the sound of his old alias. “Nah,” he says. “I kinda stopped doing that ever since I came back here. The restaurant’s a full-time job, you know? No time for anything else.” He doesn’t sound bitter, or upset; just a bit nostalgic. He’s accepted this as reality a while ago, Hoseok can tell.
“I’m sorry, hyung,” Hoseok says. Yoongi doesn’t act like there’s anything to be sorry for, but he apologizes all the same. “I wish it hadn’t turned out this way.”
Yoongi shrugs. “Hey, c’mon, don’t get all misty-eyed. You should be proud of me. Your best friend is the most filial asshole in South Korea.”
Hoseok shakes his head, smiling, but his heart still twinges at the idea that Yoongi’s sacrificed everything that had been his dream when they were kids. He’s stuck here in this tiny mountain town, making lamb skewers at his parents’ restaurant and wiping down counters while Hoseok spends most of the year up in Seoul working toward his dream. (Or at least what he thinks is his dream, anyway, but that’s a whole line of thought that he doesn’t like to dwell on too much.)
“I am proud of you, hyung,” he says, lightly punching Yoongi’s arm. “I’d never be able to do this, and I love my parents to death.”
“It’s not so bad,” Yoongi says. “The restaurant’s nice, and this town’s a lot quieter than Seoul. I never got any sleep up there.”
Yoongi is right, in a way. This town is much quieter than Seoul, though the quiet is almost deafening when he tries to go to sleep. It’s a change from the constant sounds of traffic and nightlife outside his dorm.
He doesn’t get much sleep that night, and he’s still yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes when Yoongi wakes him up the next morning to come with him to set up the restaurant for the day. It’s a relatively small place, with fading paint on the outside paneling of the building, a hand painted sign hanging above the door, and a small laminated sign on the door with the hours written in what looks suspiciously like Yoongi’s handwriting.
Yoongi leads him inside, where things are a little less unassuming: the place is practically sparkling from how clean it is, with modern looking tables and booths, and even a cash register that looks straight out of a movie about the future.
He and Yoongi get to work immediately, preparing the tables and silverware and getting all of the kitchen appliances fired up for the day. By the time they’re done, Yoongi’s parents have arrived as well, and the first of the customers begin trickling in soon after. They’re all older, most of them using canes or walkers to get around, and it’s an odd sight compared to the modern interior of the restaurant.
“I have to say, I’m impressed,” Hoseok tells Yoongi. “You guys have like, all the latest and greatest stuff in here.”
“I know, right? Look, we even got a machine that automatically rotates the skewers,” Yoongi says proudly. “We’re in the new age now, Seokseok.”
“New age, huh? Then how come all your customers are over sixty?”
Yoongi crosses his arms. “Hey. They’re old as shit, but they know good food. That’s why they all come here.”
Hoseok thinks of the restaurants he, Seokjin, and Namjoon go to when they can afford to actually eat out after classes, all of them filled with young people and cheap processed food, and doesn’t tease Yoongi further.
Yoongi is still showing Hoseok around when the bell above the door jingles and someone walks in. Hoseok glances over, expecting an older customer like the ones Yoongi had just been describing, and instead making eye contact with Kim Taehyung, the kid with tangerine colored orange hair and scabbed knees from his fall yesterday.
“Tae, you’re never here this early,” Yoongi says, startling Hoseok with how familiarly he’s speaking to Taehyung. “Got bored?”
“Yeah, I got a board. I also got bored of my board, so now I’m here,” Taehyung babbles, his grin growing the longer Yoongi tries to hold back a grimace at his awful puns.
“Yeah, okay, you dork. Getting your usual?”
Taehyung makes finger guns at him and strolls over to a table near the window, pulling out a book from the giant pockets of his windbreaker and flipping through it.
Yoongi grabs a glass from the counter and fills it with soda and crushed ice. He’s about to head over to hand it to Taehyung when Hoseok stops him. “You know him?”
“Do I know him? Seokseok, there’s not a single person in this town that doesn’t know Taehyung,” Yoongi tells him, half-laughing.
As if to prove his point, Jungkook comes bursting through the door, dashing into the kitchen and throwing on his apron, but even in all his haste he still stops to high five Taehyung. “Sorry I’m late,” he tells Yoongi, slipping his timecard in the slot. “My bike chain fell off and I had to fix it.”
“Okay, whatever. Go make yourself useful and bring Tae his soda.”
Jungkook obliges, and even as more orders come in and Yoongi is teaching him how to make them, he keeps one eye on Taehyung over by the window, sipping his cola and reading his little book. Among the heads of black and old white hair, his messy orange locks stand out like a sore thumb, his honey-tanned skin radiant in the sunlight from the window. He doesn’t even look real.
“Hey,” Yoongi says, snapping his fingers in front of Hoseok’s face, jolting him out of his stupor. “You’re spilling the sauce. You gotta keep sharp in my kitchen, Jung.”
“Your kitchen?” Hoseok says with a wry smile, tearing his eyes away from Taehyung. “You’re turning into your parents.”
Yoongi snorts, fiddling with the stove and checking the timer on the automatic-rotating skewer rack. “If that ever happens, just shoot me.”
Jungkook sidles back into the kitchen, the opening rush having died down, and leans against the wall with his arms crossed. Hoseok notices that he folds his arms in a way that shows off his biceps obnoxiously, but he bites back a teasing comment in favor of going back to glancing at Taehyung.
Even after Taehyung leaves, rolling away on his skateboard, Hoseok can’t take his eyes off the place where he’d been sitting.
“Have you ever fallen in love with someone at first sight?” He isn’t being serious, but he can’t get Taehyung out of his head, and figures that’s about as close to ‘love at first sight’ that he’ll ever get.
Yoongi scoffs and shakes his head but Jungkook nods solemnly.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I’ve been in love with my boyfriend from the first time I saw his ass.”
Yoongi smacks him upside the head. “Don’t talk like that. And quit making shit up.”
Jungkook huffs and crosses his arms. “I’m not making anything up. He’s got like, a perfect ass. I didn’t even have a chance.”
Hoseok raises an eyebrow. “You sure this isn’t some character from a drama?”
Yoongi laughs. “Poor kid probably sits there pretending Ahn Jaewook will come out of his TV.”
“Yeah, very funny, assholes,” Jungkook grumbles. “We’ll see who’s laughing when he comes to visit me.”
“Visit you?” Hoseok says, sharing a glance with Yoongi. “So he doesn’t live around here?”
“No, he’s in Busan.”
Yoongi shoots Hoseok a knowing look, and the two of them stifle their laughter, returning to their work. It almost feels like they’ve gone back in time, with Yoongi and Hoseok playfully teasing Jungkook like this.
Jungkook mumbles something else about his “boyfriend in Busan” and though he and Yoongi have gone back to work, Hoseok still finds himself thinking of Taehyung, with his tangerine hair and scabby knees and boxy grin.
It doesn’t take very long for Hoseok to get settled in Daegu. Working at the restaurant doesn’t take much time to get the hang of, and before long the regulars begin to recognize him when he hands off the orders to Jungkook or Yoongi’s mother. Yoongi’s neighbors greet him by name now, too, treating him as if he’s lived there all along. The nights have gotten easier as well, once he’d gotten used to the lack of city nightlife outside his window; the countryside sounds are there, just more subtle. Now he finds himself being lulled to sleep by the chirping of cicadas and the occasional rumble of a car in the distance, or a dog barking.
He’s also gotten used to Taehyung being an almost constant presence, with how much he visits the restaurant. Hoseok notices that the scabs on his knees from when he’d fallen when they first met never heal, so he must keep falling off that skateboard that he takes everywhere.
The next time Hoseok sees Taehyung, his orange hair is replaced with a shade of bleached blonde that’s bordering on yellow. The ends of his hair are frayed and stick out all over his head in a strangely endearing way, despite the garish color and unfortunate damage. His eyebrows are still thick and dark, standing out even more starkly on his face now, and Hoseok finds it even harder to look away from him.
With how often he visits the restaurant, he and Hoseok eventually begin making small talk every time he comes in. Hoseok has taken to setting out a glass for him automatically so that he has cola ready for him right when he walks through the door after hanging up his skateboard on the bike rack.
Every day he has a new story about some wild thing that he’d done. Monday it was hanging onto the bumper of a truck while he was on his board and hitching a ride all the way to the shopping mall before the driver realized he was there. Tuesday it was sneaking into the old farmhouse at midnight and checking for ghosts. Wednesday it was casually joining a marathon that was being held in the town over and jogging five miles in flip flops. Today is Thursday, and while he hasn’t done anything of note yet, Hoseok is sure he’ll be off spray painting brick walls or something before the day is up.
The restaurant closes after lunch on Thursdays, so at three o’clock Hoseok hangs up his apron, grabs a water bottle, and steps outside into the heat. Yoongi offered to stay behind and help his parents clean up, and had all but forced Hoseok outside, saying he deserves a break.
He’s lounging against the side of the restaurant, downing the contents of the water bottle like it’s his only lifeline, when he sees Taehyung gliding over on his skateboard, waving hello.
Hoseok chokes on his water, his eyes stinging as he blinks at Taehyung in shock. “Um, thanks?” he says once he coughs out all the water he’d accidentally inhaled.
“It’s thirty-three degrees out, I mean. You’re hot. Sweaty,” Taehyung laughs, pointing at Hoseok’s face, which he’s sure is shining with sweat.
“Oh. Right. Yeah, it is really hot outside. I dunno how you guys deal with this every summer.”
Taehyung grins. “Want me to show you how we deal with it? I have the perfect place for days like these.”
Hoseok tosses his now empty bottle in the nearby bin and wipes his damp forehead with the back of his hand. “Sure,” he says. “Lead the way.”
Taehyung does lead the way, but it’s to the pickup truck that Hoseok has noticed a few times in the lot near Yoongi’s restaurant. It’s a bit banged up, probably from the seventies, and the last kind of car Hoseok would have expected Taehyung to drive. In fact, he hadn’t expected Taehyung to drive at all, what with the way he skateboards everywhere.
“You don’t seem like the kind of guy to have a truck,” Hoseok says, examining the large dent in the passenger’s side door.
“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not,” Taehyung says, climbing into the front seat and turning the key in the engine, making the truck groan and sputter to life, the exhaust pipe shaking.
Hoseok opens the door and climbs in, settling into the worn leather seat and staring at the Buddhist charm hanging from the rearview mirror next to the pine scented air freshener. “No, I just mean,” he begins, scratching at his neck, “usually when I picture guys with pickup trucks they’re big and bulky, with a cigarette in their mouth and a bandana ‘round their head, you know? Rough and tumble. Not…”
Taehyung grins and raises his eyebrows “...Skinny blonde college dropouts?”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Taehyung reassures him with a wave of his hand, putting the truck in reverse and backing out of the lot. Hoseok notices that he takes much longer checking his blind spots than even careful drivers, but doesn’t comment on it. “You’re not that far off. This truck was my dad’s, and he was a rough and tumble guy.”
Once they’ve passed the farthest set of houses and it’s very clear that they’re heading toward the mountains, Hoseok cracks a grin. “Are you taking me out to the middle of nowhere to dispose of my body?”
Taehyung’s expression becomes solemn. “You figured me out,” he says. “I’m sorry it had to be this way.” He makes a turn down a dirt road, heading toward what looks to be a lake near the base of the nearest mountain.
“Ooh, if you’re using the lake, don’t forget to tie rocks to my clothes so I sink to the bottom. The cops will never find me that way.”
“Good tip. You’re the most cooperative victim I’ve had so far.” He pulls over near the shore, where there are tire tracks in the dirt indicating that he’s been here a few times before, and turns to face Hoseok with an ear-splitting grin. “You’re funny, you know that? Most people don’t play along with me.”
“It’s no fun to be serious all the time,” Hoseok says with a shrug. “But I’m guessing the real reason we’re here is to swim in this lake?”
Taehyung clicks his tongue and shoots him a finger gun. “You betcha.”
They both hop out of the truck, Taehyung tossing the keys through the window onto the front seat, and Hoseok cautiously peers into the water. It’s a relatively small lake, only stretching about two acres across, but it’s so deep in the middle that Hoseok can see a dropoff past the first few feet of water. There’s an outcropping of rocks almost like an overhang nearby, with a pile of rocks that look as though they’ve been deliberately stacked to make stairs. People (most likely Taehyung) probably jump from that overhang often.
“Are there leeches in here?” Hoseok asks, sticking his big toe in the water just enough to create ripples on its surface but not enough to disturb any leeches, if they do exist.
“Does it look like there are any?” Taehyung asks, gesturing toward the crystal clear water. It looks like glass with the sun beating down on its surface, and Hoseok feels a little better. He’s about to make a joke at his own expense when he sees Taehyung lift his shirt up over his head and toss it up on the hood of his truck. His arms have a bit of muscle on them, but his stomach protrudes ever so slightly over the waistband of his shorts. That’s not what Hoseok’s eyes are drawn to, though. There’s a long line of jagged pink cutting across his ribcage, trailing up as far as his collarbones. It stretches when he moves to step out of his socks and shoes, the only blemish on his otherwise smooth skin.
Hoseok looks away before Taehyung can catch him staring, shrugging out of his own shirt and placing it next to Taehyung’s. If he’s not going to mention it, then Hoseok can pretend he doesn’t see it. It’s none of his business, anyway.
“You wanna jump from the overhang?” Taehyung asks, a wicked gleam in his eye. “See who can make a bigger splash?”
Hoseok steps out of his shorts, glad he chose a pair of boxers without any holes today, and climbs up the makeshift stairs to the top of the overhang. It’s not terribly high up, but it’s high enough that when he looks over the edge, his heart rate picks up a bit and he gets a rush of adrenaline that he uses to spur himself forward, getting a running start.
When he hits the water he sinks down like a cannonball and then rockets to the surface, shrieking involuntarily. The water is freezing, the cold piercing through his skin like needles and chilling him to the bone. His feet scrabble against the rocky bottom and he hugs his arms to his chest while he shivers, glaring up at Taehyung.
“Watch out!” comes his smug call, and then there’s a giant splash as Taehyung drops in near him, sending a small wave of the ice cold water that drenches Hoseok for a second time. Taehyung’s head bursts up and he shakes his long hair out of his eyes, raining droplets around him.
“This lake is a freezer,” Hoseok says, trying to sound accusatory, but the effect is ruined somewhat by his chattering teeth.
“It’ll warm up the more you swim around,” Taehyung assures him, spreading his limbs out and lying backwards, kicking his feet to propel his floating body around. “I won, by the way. My splash got all the way to our clothes.”
Hoseok looks to the hood of the truck, which was closest to the water and therefore got the full brunt of Taehyung’s splash, seeing their clothes lying there sopping wet. “Taehyung!” he shrieks, paddling over to him and laughing when Taehyung yelps and tries to swim away. After only a few minutes of horsing around like that, the water does warm up a bit, Hoseok has to admit.
By the time they’re out of the water, the sun setting on the horizon and casting a golden sheen over the surface, their clothes have mostly dried. Hoseok uses his shirt to dry his dripping wet hair so he doesn’t soak the inside of Taehyung’s truck, but Taehyung shakes his long blonde hair out like a dog shaking its fur, laughing when he gets a few droplets on Hoseok.
He’s still a bit damp by the time they make it back to town, Taehyung pulling into Yoongi’s driveway just as the sun disappears behind the mountains. “I had fun today,” he says. “You should come be crazy with me more often.”
“I should,” Hoseok agrees, standing in the driveway and waving until Taehyung’s truck sputters around the block out of sight.
“Why’re you all wet?” Yoongi asks when Hoseok steps inside, knocking his muddy shoes against the porch before taking them off at the front door.
“I went swimming with Taehyung in this lake by the mountains.”
Yoongi raises his eyebrows and chuckles to himself, grabbing a towel from the hall closet and tossing it to him. “He’s a bad influence on you,” he jokes.
Hoseok gives him the finger and dries off, following Yoongi into the kitchen, where his parents have prepared dinner. Surprisingly, Jungkook is seated at the table as well, despite having talked about his plans with his boyfriend for the past week.
“Oh, hey, Jungkookie”, Hoseok says, ruffling Jungkook’s hair when he passes him to take the seat beside Yoongi. “What are you doing here? Didn’t you say your boyfriend was coming to see you?”
“His ‘boyfriend,’” Yoongi makes air quotes as he says the word, “cancelled on him last minute. Such a shame.”
“He’s really busy with school,” Jungkook grumbles. “It’s not his fault.”
“Oh, I’m not saying it’s his fault. I’m saying he’s not real.”
“Yoongi, stop teasing your cousin,” Yoongi’s mother chides, though she’s biting back a smile.
Yoongi and Jungkook keep bickering through dinner, but Hoseok’s mind is elsewhere, thinking of mountain lakes and a deep, infectious laugh coming from a rectangular grin and soft-looking lips.
Taehyung’s hair is a minty shade of green the next time Hoseok sees him, ducking into the restaurant with bags under his eyes so purple that it almost looks as though he took a marker and colored the puffy skin there.
“Sleep much?” Hoseok says, handing him his soda. “You look dead.”
“Oh, I, um,” he’s cut off by a yawn that makes him squeeze his eyes shut, “I was up all night studying English.”
Hoseok raises his eyebrows. “Are you taking summer classes?”
“No, I just have the TOEIC scheduled in a couple days and I really want to pass.” He sits at the counter near the kitchen today, resting his chin in his palm and sipping at the cola. “It’s pretty rough since I didn’t pay attention to my English classes in high school.”
“Neither did I,” Hoseok admits, standing up straighter and grabbing a rag so it looks like he’s doing something when he sees Yoongi’s parents walk in. Yoongi emerges from the back part of the kitchen where his father stays, having finished prepping the day’s supply.
“Distracting my employee,” Yoongi says, shaking his head and clicking his tongue. “For shame, Kim Taehyung.”
“Hello to you too, hyung. Oh, by the way, do you by any chance know someone who owns a motorcycle and would be willing to let me borrow it?”
Yoongi looks very confused when he answers, “Yeah, I think one of the neighbors has one. But, Tae…”
“I got my license recently,” Taehyung continues, either oblivious to or choosing to ignore Yoongi’s softened expression and furrowed brows. “But I forgot that you actually need to have a motorcycle to ride one.”
“I’ll give you my neighbor’s number, and he can hook you up,” Yoongi says, though the confusion in his face doesn’t leave him even after a rush of customers enters the restaurant and renders them all unable to have a conversation for how busy they are. Every so often, though, Hoseok catches Yoongi shooting Taehyung a look that seems almost sad.
The rush ends after a while, and Yoongi retreats to the back to help his father while Hoseok stays up front wiping down counters and helping out Yoongi’s mother. Taehyung pays for his soda and says that he has to leave, and Hoseok wonders why Yoongi had reacted so oddly to Taehyung’s request.
“He’s a little self-destructive, isn’t he?” Yoongi’s mother comments, watching Taehyung unhook the wheels of his skateboard from the bike rack and hop on top of it, a bit unbalanced at first. “I worry sometimes.”
Hoseok just nods, not sure what to say.
A few days later, Hoseok sees Taehyung outside a house a few doors down from Yoongi’s place, talking to a guy who looks a little older than himself, running his hand along the seat of a motorcycle parked out front. He watches as Taehyung hops on, revving the engine a couple times and then taking it for a spin up and down the street. He looks as though he knows what he’s doing, and figures that maybe Yoongi had just been acting as a concerned friend the other day when he’d reacted so oddly to Taehyung’s request.
He stays there watching Taehyung round the block on the motorcycle when Yoongi pokes him in the shoulder blade. “Yo, Hoseok. You coming to work, or what?”
Hoseok snaps out of his trance, but he when they get to the restaurant, he keeps glancing toward the window to see if Taehyung will come by today.
Finally, when it’s already lunchtime and Taehyung still hasn’t showed, he breaks down and asks Yoongi. “D’you think Taehyung’s gonna come in?”
“Oh my god, just ask him out already,” Yoongi groans in exasperation. “It’s obvious that you like him.”
Hoseok doesn’t even deny it. “I can’t.”
“Why the hell not? It’s not like you’re exactly the shy type, Seokseok.”
“Well, I mean… He’s so ‘live fast die young,’ and that’s just, I dunno. Intimidating, I guess?”
“You’re talking about Kim Taehyung, right?” Yoongi says, raising his eyebrows and turning the knob on the stove a little to the left. “The kid whose dream is to settle down and have six kids and three dogs?”
Hoseok furrows his brows. The thought of Taehyung with children isn’t something he can picture. “Uh, I am talking about Kim Taehyung, but that doesn’t sound like him at all.”
Yoongi snorts. “Then maybe you don’t know him as well as you think you do. Did you ever try actually getting to know him beyond thinking he’s some mysterious entity for you to drool over?”
That was a good point. Does Hoseok actually know Taehyung? He tries to think of anything aside from his name, and the fact that he does wild shit, but he comes up short. He doesn’t even know his natural hair color. (It’s almost definitely black, but maybe it’s somehow not. Hoseok just doesn’t know.) Maybe this whole time he’d been so obsessed with the idea of this mysterious wild child that he never even bothered to see if that’s really who Taehyung was in the first place.
Dammit. Hoseok hates it when Yoongi is right.
A rush of customers comes in, so neither of them have time to continue their conversation, and Yoongi’s mother is starting to look a bit harried from what Hoseok can see through the flap on the curtain separating the kitchen from the dining area. The amount of customers has doubled in the last ten minutes, and she’s darting around frantically trying to keep up.
“Hey, brat!” Yoongi calls into the tiny back office. “Quit talking to your imaginary boyfriend and get your ass out here!”
There’s a thud and an annoyed grumble, and then Jungkook ducks out of the room, joining Yoongi and Hoseok in the kitchen. “He’s not imaginary,” he says, tying an apron around his waist. “I was just on the phone with him.”
“Sure. I believe you. Now get out there and help my mom before I fire you.”
Jungkook scowls and stalks out into the dining area, his face transforming into his pleasant customer service grin so quickly that it’s a little jarring.
“Here’s an idea,” Yoongi says, picking up where he’d left off even as he’s bustling around the kitchen to keep up with the orders. “Why don’t you talk to Taehyung. Get to know him. Then, once you see what he’s really like, ask him out.”
“Says the relationship expert Min Yoongi.”
“Hey, now. This restaurant and I are very happily married.”
Hoseok grins. “Sure, hyung.”
Hoseok does not find out more about Taehyung the next day. He does find out that he looks very good with blue hair, however. He’s over by the borrowed motorcycle, parked near a small convenience store with a flickering sign that looks a bit eerie in the steadily darkening afternoon.
“You changed it again,” Hoseok says, reaching over and running his fingers through the side, hoping that physical contact will help him gather the courage to actually ask Taehyung more about himself, but all it does is make him more embarrassed. He draws his hand back, wondering what it is about Taehyung that makes him feel so unreachable. He isn’t distant, or aloof, or intimidating in the slightest; and like Yoongi had said, it’s not as if Hoseok is exactly the shyest person around.
“I don’t like keeping the same hair color for too long,” Taehyung says. “Gotta keep people on their toes or they’ll forget about me.”
“I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to forget about you,” Hoseok replies, and for a second, he thinks that maybe this might segway into a real conversation, but Taehyung just laughs and changes the subject, as he’s prone to do, and Hoseok loses his chance.
He tries again the next night after work, finding Taehyung outside that same convenience store, but this time, he’s heading inside.
“Hey, are you getting a snack?” he asks. “I can treat you today.”
Taehyung laughs. “I wish, but I have to work.” He points to the nametag pinned to his shirt that Hoseok hadn’t noticed before, making a face. “You know how it is.”
“You work the graveyard shift? That’s brutal.”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” is what Taehyung responds with. Before Hoseok can try and ask him anything, though, Taehyung flips the conversation back on him just as quickly. “You’ve got a job back home, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I work at one of the coffee shops on campus. Never get any overnights, thank god.”
“Lucky you,” Taehyung pouts, giving him an apologetic look when his manager comes out to ask him where he is, and then he disappears inside the back room of the convenience store. Hoseok doesn’t leave just yet, lingering inside and pretending to browse the sodas, but staying any longer than this would make him feel a bit creepy.
The next morning Hoseok swings by the convenience store again, catching Taehyung on his way out.
“You’re already clocked out?” he calls. “I wanted to buy a soda before I go to the restaurant.”
“Sorry,” Taehyung says, starting the motorcycle. “I’ve had enough of fluorescent lights for at least the next twelve hours.”
“Why don’t you make it up to me by letting me hitch a ride behind you?” Hoseok asks, only half-serious. With how many bruises and scrapes are decorating Taehyung’s arms, he’s not sure that getting on a motorcycle with him would be the safest idea.
He doesn’t expect the panic that it causes to pass over Taehyung’s expression, though. His eyes bug and he tenses up, his back going rigid and his shoulders raising up like he’s flinching. It lasts for only a second before his face is back to normal, but Hoseok has to wonder what happened to make him have a reaction like that.
“Not a good idea, hyung,” Taehyung laughs weakly, and changes the subject so quickly that it’s a bit jarring this time. “Oh, I took the TOEIC the other day.”
He doesn’t pry further about the motorcycle, and grins widely at the news. “How was it? Do you think you did okay?”
Taehyung rocks back and forth on his heels, his hands on his hips and a carefree smile on his lips. “I did about as good as you can do for someone who just crammed over the summer. I’ll be lucky to get a 400.”
“Hey, come on. Even I got higher than that, and I can’t speak English for shit.”
Taehyung just laughs and hooks the helmet around his neck rather than wearing it, hopping on the bike and kicking the guard down. “I’ll let you know when the results come in, ‘kay?”
Hoseok nods, Yoongi’s mother’s words echoing in his head again as he watches Taehyung speed down the street with the helmet bouncing against his back.
That night, Hoseok wakes up to the sound of a light thud against his window. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he stumbles over to the window and draws the curtains back just in time to see a pebble knock against the glass. He opens it up and leans out, seeing a familiar head of light blue hair.
“Taehyung?” Hoseok hisses, leaning out the window and squinting at him. “What are you doing?”
“Pack a bag!” Taehyung calls up to him, dropping his handful of pebbles to the ground. “Three days, two nights.”
Hoseok blinks, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to comprehend what’s happening beyond the cloud of drowsiness settled over his brain. “What’s going on?” he asks. “What am I packing for?”
“Roadtrip,” Taehyung responds.
“I dunno yet.”
If he were back in the city, and if it was anyone else knocking on his window this late at night with plans to travel that aren’t really plans at all, Hoseok would have closed the window and gone back to sleep. But this isn’t the city, and this isn’t just anyone.
“Okay,” he finds himself saying.
Taehyung grins ear to ear, and gives him the thumbs up. “Great. I’ll come pick you up in the morning.”
Yoongi’s parents are surprisingly receptive to the idea of him leaving for a couple days. Yoongi’s mother had called Taehyung “a little self-destructive,” so perhaps she thinks that Hoseok tagging along will balance Taehyung out. Hoseok isn’t so sure about that, seeing as he agreed to this road trip without a second thought, but he just smiles and thanks her without another word.
Taehyung is parked outside Yoongi’s house to pick him up, the engine rumbling amidst the sounds of the town slowly waking up. Yoongi gives Hoseok a knowing look when he hands off the overnight bag that he’d packed, and Hoseok just bites his lip and ducks out the door.
Maybe he has an ulterior motive for agreeing to go on this trip, sure. He wants to get to know Taehyung, and what better way than by going on a road trip with him?
Still, once he’s actually climbed inside Taehyung’s truck and they begin driving, doubt settles over him uncomfortably.
“Why me?” Hoseok asks, the hum of traffic and the faint sound of the radio playing from Taehyung’s old speakers the only sounds for over twenty minutes now.
Taehyung glances over, his fingers curled comfortably around the battered wheel, and shrugs. “‘Cause I like you. Do I need a reason?”
“I mean,” Hoseok breathes out his nose, “yeah. You don’t just ask someone out of the blue to go on a random road trip without having a reason. Why me, and not Yoongi-hyung, or Jungkook?”
“Yoongi-hyung’s busy,” Taehyung says immediately. “And Jungkookie hates driving. But I didn’t even consider either of them.” He looks over at Hoseok again, this time without turning back to face the road. “Like I said, I like you.”
Hoseok’s palms feel clammy, so he rubs them against his jeans as discreetly as he can and clears his throat. “Eyes on the road, Taehyung.”
Taehyung’s eyes widen for a second and he quickly faces forward again, visibly shaken like he’s confused about something. That only lasts for a moment before he’s laughing it off, though. “I have a great peripheral,” he says.
I like you. The words play over and over in Hoseok’s head, sounding more detached from reality the longer he thinks about it. I like you.
Taehyung has been an enigma to him all summer. He thrives on unpredictability and spontaneity, with his ever-changing hair and seemingly random bouts of inspiration to try everything that the world has to offer, but here he is with Hoseok. Hoseok, who tries so hard to be outgoing and fun, but has never really had any direction in life other than the one he’d decided was good enough back in high school. He can be spontaneous and fun, sure, but not like this. Not effortlessly like Taehyung.
But Taehyung likes him.
“I like you.”
Suddenly the speakers are blaring pop music so loud that Hoseok jumps in his seat and out of his stupor. Taehyung moves his fingers from the volume knob, flashing him a grin as he begins to sing along.
“Is this H.O.T?” Hoseok asks incredulously.
Taehyung sings even louder in response, and Hoseok recognizes the song as Candy, which his sister forced him to sing with her at karaoke for a solid year after its release.
“I know you know this song, hyung,” Taehyung goads him, bouncing in place to the bubblegum beat.
Hoseok cracks a smile and shakes his head, but he eventually indulges him just in time for the chorus, the two of them practically shouting over the voices on the radio. Hoseok takes off his shoe and uses it as a microphone, serenading Taehyung while he drives, singing through his laughter.
Now that the truck isn’t so quiet, the drive seems much shorter. The dusty old analog clock on the dashboard tells him that they’ve been driving for two hours by the time Taehyung finally pulls over, but Hoseok swears it couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes.
They’re stopped at a decently sized building deep in the mountains, with a sign outside that reads “Bed and Breakfast.” Hoseok chuckles and shakes his head. Leave it to Taehyung to know of a place like this.
The door is wooden, and there’s a small bell at the top that makes a pleasant sound when they enter. The elderly receptionist sitting at the wooden, rustic desk welcomes them warmly, her frail hands clutching a sign-in sheet.
“Hello,” Taehyung says, walking right up to her. “Do you have any rooms available?”
“I’m sorry, but we only have a single room available right now,” the receptionist says, giving them a sympathetic pout. “If you’d like, I can offer you a discount?”
Taehyung smiles at her. “Yeah, that’s fine.” He turns to Hoseok. “It’s fine, right?”
Hoseok nods. He doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor, or on an armchair. The woman hands them a key and leads them over to the staircase that’s made of wood so polished that it gleams. She offers to carry their bags, but both Taehyung and Hoseok insist on carrying their own. Hoseok thinks that there might be a special place in hell for anyone who would have made such a frail old woman act as their bellhop.
The room is nothing short of quaint. The bed is a queen size, with a bedspread that looks like it belongs in some old European house rather than this small bed and breakfast in the mountains of Daegu. The entire room smells like some kind of flowery detergent, and there’s a cat-shaped clock hanging on the wall near the bathroom. It’s a little unnerving, but it’s definitely cozy, he’ll have to give them that.
Taehyung drops his bag down on the left side of the bed, fluffing the pillows experimentally.
Hoseok places his bag near the tragically upholstered armchair, wondering how he’s going to actually be able to get any sleep on it.
“This place is nice,” Hoseok says, pressing down on the cushion of the chair to test how soft it is. (It’s not soft in the slightest.) “Kind of out there, but nice.”
Taehyung stares at him, his eyes glancing down to where his bag is leaning against the chair, and raises his eyebrows. “I don’t have germs, y’know,” he says. “We can share the bed.”
Of course. Of course that had been what Taehyung meant when he asked Hoseok if it was alright for them to get a single room; of course that meant they’d be sharing the bed.
“Oh,” Hoseok says quietly. “Right. Thanks.”
“We won’t spend too much time in here anyway; not when there’s a hiking trail out there I have to show you.”
The brief awkwardness is dispelled once Taehyung speaks, and Hoseok just barely manages to hide his relief. He and Yoongi have shared a bed before, and it’s normal among friends; being awkward about this would only make Taehyung uncomfortable.
Like Taehyung said, they don’t spend much time in the room at all before he’s leading Hoseok outside, clutching a water bottle in each hand and waving good-bye to the receptionist.
The mountains are a little chillier than the town, and Hoseok feels goosebumps prick down his arms. He almost wishes he’d brought a jacket, but with how fast Taehyung’s moving, he’s sure he’ll warm up soon enough. The trees are lush here, since they’re still at the base of the smaller mountains, not so far up that it’s just cold and barren rock. A few birds shake the branches above them when they take flight, raining a couple leaves down on their heads. Taehyung laughs and brushes them off, plucking one out of Hoseok’s hair too as he ducks under a low-hanging branch to continue down the dirt path.
“So, how long have you known Yoongi-hyung?” Taehyung asks suddenly, walking backwards for a second to face him. “I was under the impression that he had no friends besides Jungkook.”
Hoseok laughs. “I’ve known him since we were kids. We grew up together in Gwangju when his dad still worked at a car factory over there, and we both even went to Seoul for university when his parents moved here to open up their own restaurant. But, uh, y’know. He had to move out here to help them.”
“And now they need you too, huh?”
“Hey, it’s not bad. It’s nice to get out of the city for a while.”
Taehyung looks a bit surprised at that. “You’re funny,” he says. “Most people here would say the opposite. All you ever hear from the kids around here is how much they can’t wait to move to Seoul after they graduate.”
“Grass is always greener, I guess,” Hoseok says, eyeing Taehyung’s path to make sure he won’t collide with any trees. It’s impressive that he hasn’t tripped over anything yet, with how long he’s gone since checking behind him to see where he’s walking. “Why aren’t you jumping at the chance to leave, then?”
Taehyung swivels around, facing forward again so that Hoseok can’t see his expression when he says, “I’ve got unfinished business here.”
Something about the sudden change in atmosphere and Taehyung’s demeanor tells Hoseok that he shouldn’t pry, and so he stays silent, so focused on Taehyung that he doesn’t notice the stray branch in his path and trips over it. He stumbles for a second and regains his composure, which seems to be enough to break the brief tension.
Taehyung turns and grins, holding Hoseok’s arm even though he’s not in danger of falling anymore. “Watch yourself, city boy,” he teases.
The trees begin to thin out the farther they hike, and they finally come up on an outcropping of rock overlooking the forest below. Taehyung looks back at Hoseok, eagerly checking his expression.
“Wow,” is all that Hoseok manages to gasp. “Is this real?”
The forest is so far below them that Hoseok can hardly believe they’ve walked all this way, the trees resembling a green ocean at the base of the mountain, rolling with the uneven land and growing relentlessly, even in areas that shouldn’t be possible. They’ve been hiking for so long that the sun is already beginning to sink lower in the sky, giving the entire expanse of the scenery the illusion that it’s been dusted in gold, and the sky resembles a painting with globs of yellow, orange, and pink smeared across a blue canvas.
“You don’t have views like this in the city, right?” Taehyung grins.
“No,” Hoseok says, shaking his head in disbelief. “Do people come up here a lot?”
“Other than me? Nah. Not a lot of people are willing to walk all this way. I found this spot by accident.”
Hoseok looks at him curiously, but Taehyung is already back to staring at the sunset, so serene and relaxed that Hoseok would feel wrong interrupting him by speaking again.
Taehyung sits down on the edge of the overhang, his legs dangling over the edge. Hoseok hesitates, his fear of heights beginning to creep into his stomach and make his heart clench, but he swallows it down and sits beside him, noticing the tiny smile that crosses Taehyung’s lips when he does so.
The two of them sit there in silence until the sun finally disappears behind the mountains.
Hoseok doesn’t remember much of the hike back to the bed and breakfast since the sun has set once they’ve left the overhang and most of the walk had involved Hoseok tripping over branches and trying not to think about all the rustling of unknown creatures in the trees. Taehyung had begun to tell a popular local ghost story about a couple who became lost in these woods, but Hoseok had demanded that he not even so much as say the word “ghost” until they were safely back in town.
The lights are on at a dim glow inside the bed and breakfast, but the sight of the small building is like a beacon of hope to Hoseok, who has been thoroughly scratched up by rogue low-hanging branches and ruthlessly chomped on by mosquitoes.
“Finally,” Hoseok gasps, darting inside and glaring through the small window at the top of the door at the mosquitoes and other night bugs that are drawn to the light but trapped from entering.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Taehyung says, already starting up the staircase. “They’re just bugs. Bugs are your friends.”
“Friends wouldn’t bite my arms to hell and back,” Hoseok retorts, grateful to finally be back in their room. Taehyung gives him a sympathetic look and allows him to be the first to take a shower. Normally he might have protested and insisted that Taehyung go first even though he is the hyung, but this was a special case.
Showering actually helps him move past the unpleasant walk back, his mind wandering to the time they’d spent up on the overhang watching the sun set over scenery he hadn’t even thought could exist in real life. He scrubs the last bits of nature from his skin, wincing at the way the soap stings his bug bites, and feels oddly at peace when he steps out of the shower to dry off.
By the time they’ve both showered and crawled into the bed, it’s a little after midnight. Hoseok is used to pulling all nighters at school to finish homework assignments that he really should not have waited until the last minute to do, but ever since he came to Daegu he’s been going to sleep earlier and earlier.
Now, though, he’s finding it difficult to drift off.
The queen sized bed they’re lying on is far bigger than his futon back at his dorm, but with Taehyung beside him it’s like there’s no space at all. Every movement he makes shifts the mattress and reminds Hoseok that he’s lying right there, just a few inches away, so close that it’s painful.
The room is oddly quiet, and Hoseok’s pretty sure Taehyung is asleep. That’s funny, he thinks. He’d always imagined Taehyung to be a night owl, for all of his seemingly endless energy. The room is so quiet, way more than Hoseok’s used to, so much that it’s deafening. Back in Seoul, he’d grown accustomed to the constant background hum of traffic and people on the street, even at night. In Yoongi’s town, even, there are noises. Dogs barking, the occasional car chugging along down the road, cicadas and their incessant cacophony. But here? Here, out in this tiny hotel in the mountains, there’s nothing but the sound of his own heartbeat.
His own heartbeat, and Taehyung’s gentle breathing.
Taehyung is always moving, always doing something, but right now he’s just lying there under the thin blankets, his cheek pressed against the pillow and his blue hair falling in his eyes. He looks so peaceful, and feels so warm, and Hoseok feels like a freak for lying here watching him sleep, but he can’t seem to tear his eyes away.
The way Taehyung’s face is nestled into the pillow, his lips are pouted ever so slightly, and Hoseok is overwhelmed with want; he wants to kiss him. He wants to press his lips against Taehyung’s, wants Taehyung to kiss him back, thread his fingers through his hair, trail them across his back, see every inch of his skin that’s so loved by the sun.
As if on cue, Taehyung yawns and scoots closer, seeking out Hoseok’s heat and curling in close, his pinky brushing against Hoseok’s.
“You’re beautiful, Kim Taehyung,” he whispers.
In the morning, Taehyung is already awake when Hoseok lifts himself up from the bed, stretching out his sore limbs and blinking around at the unfamiliar room for a moment before remembering where he is.
Taehyung pokes his head out from the tiny bathroom, his hair collected on top of his head in a ponytail that makes him look like an apple. “Morning, sleepyhead,” he says, a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth and remnants of soap still on his damp face. “Get ready, because we’re going on Nature Trail Part Two.”
Nature Trail Part Two turns out to be a much shorter walk than the first day, with the two of them hiking for only around twenty minutes before coming across a tiny lake in a low part of the mountains. It’s more like a large pond, really, with reeds growing at the edges and deep croaks of frogs cropping up every now and then.
“Cute, right?” Taehyung says, hopping across the rocky path down to the edge of the water, sticking his hand inside and then shaking it off. “It’s actually warm this time, too.”
Looking at Taehyung here in this isolated part of the mountains near this small lake, Hoseok feels a burst of spontaneity. “Want a rematch for the last splash contest?” he grins, and Taehyung raises his eyebrows before grinning back.
This time, he’s the first one to strip down to his boxers, darting past Taehyung to get a running start into the lake and closing his eyes to brace against the impact. He swims back up to the surface, pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the water, and shakes his soaked hair from his eyes.
Taehyung is still standing there, completely drenched from Hoseok’s splash, a competitive fire in his eyes. “You’re gonna pay for that, hyung,” he warns with an earsplitting smile, tugging his sopping wet shirt up over his head and abandoning it on the ground, tripping over his shorts in his haste to take them off, and then dive bombing into the water after him.
Taehyung comes up for air, reeds somehow having tangled themselves around his middle, clinging to his skin like the pond is trying to claim him. He’d resurfaced so close to Hoseok, both of them directly in each other’s personal space.
“Need some help?” Hoseok asks, his voice coming out softer than usual, the competitive air completely replaced with a muted tension, both of them staring at each other, so close that Hoseok can see the droplets of water beading on Taehyung’s eyelashes.
Taehyung nods, just standing there while Hoseok reaches over and begins unsticking the reeds from his skin, letting them sink back into the water every time he pulls one off. His fingertips keep brushing Taehyung’s skin, sending jolts of electricity through him. It feels like this moment has lasted a lifetime, with neither of them taking their eyes off each other and Hoseok forgetting where he is, coming gently to a stop with his fingers poised to remove the last few reeds, nearly nose to nose with Taehyung. It would be so easy to just close this short distance, to see how those droopy, pouty lips would feel against his own, to taste his tongue, to feel his warm skin beneath his fingers--
“Oh,” Hoseok says, his fingers accidentally touching the puckered skin of Taehyung’s scar. He moves them away like he’s been electrocuted, and the brief tension is shattered instantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… Um.”
“It’s okay,” Taehyung says with a wave of his hands. “It’s from an old accident. Don’t worry about it.”
Hoseok doesn’t pry, and with the tension gone, the two of them go back to goofing off, though Hoseok can’t stop thinking about the faraway look in Taehyung’s eyes when he’d spoken.
That night, Taehyung doesn’t fall asleep right away like he had the night before, so after they’ve both showered there’s a comfortable sort of silence that falls between them. It’s almost dreamlike in the way the room smells faintly of berries from Taehyung’s color-protective shampoo, and the steam clouding the windows and mirror from the hot shower water.
This is it. This whole time Hoseok has been waiting for an opportunity to talk to Taehyung, really talk to him, and it’s finally presented itself.
“So, Taehyung,” Hoseok begins, trying to think of something on the fly. “Why are you taking the TOEIC? Are you looking into a job that requires English?”
Taehyung stretches his arms up, then flops backward onto the frilly pillows. “Nah,” he says. “What about you? You’re in school, yeah? What’re you majoring in?”
He’d flipped the conversation back on Hoseok so casually that Hoseok doesn’t even notice at first, answering, “Yeah, I’m majoring in business right now.” He stops, realizing that they’d gone back to talking about himself.
“Business? You want to be a businessman?” Taehyung asks, sounding surprised.
“Yes,” Hoseok lies. He wants to be a dancer, but that’s an unrealistic goal from a distant childhood when Yoongi still made his mixtapes and Jungkook was still a shy shrimpy kid.
“I’m kind of surprised.”
“Why?” Hoseok asks, amused. “I don’t seem the type?”
“No,” Taehyung responds. Hoseok doesn’t know how Taehyung can be so candid with his thoughts and yet still so mysterious. He says what he’s thinking, but Hoseok still has no idea what’s on his mind at any given time. It’s not as if Taehyung will let him, either, with how adamantly he’s refusing to give a straight answer to any questions about himself.
“Hey… Are you happy, Hoseok-hyung?” Taehyung asks quietly, interrupting his thoughts.
“Are you happy?”
“I guess,” he says. “I mean, I’m content, at least.”
“Content doesn’t mean happy.”
“It does for me,” Hoseok tells him, but a part of his brain had perked up at hearing that, drawing to light all the thoughts he’s been having about school lately to the forefront of his mind. Is he happy? He goes through all the motions, that’s for sure, but whether or not he’s actually enjoying himself is another thing entirely.
“Whatever you say.”
“Well, what about you? Are you happy, Taehyung?” Hoseok asks.
Taehyung just smiles at him. “Good night, Hoseok-hyung.”
Hoseok doesn’t know what to make of that. He lies there watching Taehyung burrow into the blankets and wonders if perhaps he’s said the wrong thing.
Despite his dizzying thoughts, tonight Hoseok is the first one to fall asleep.
Their drive back home the next morning is quiet. Hoseok pretends to sleep so he doesn’t have to look at Taehyung and relive all the thoughts that keep swirling around in his head and making him dizzy. He rests his head against the window and keeps his eyes closed, listening to the jumbled mechanical noises coming from Taehyung’s truck, to the hum of traffic outside, to the radio that Taehyung is keeping at a low volume so as not to disturb him.
He’s singing along to the songs that are playing, but not in the fun, obnoxious way he had been on their way here. He’s murmuring the lyrics under his breath, almost like a lullaby, and Hoseok can feel his own breathing even out. Taehyung’s voice is so soothing like this, but he sounds so sad, too.
Don’t be Sad comes on, and Taehyung turns up the volume a bit. Hoseok wishes he could open his eyes and see the look on his face, because for how melancholy his voice sounds, surely his normally bright face must be wilting, too.
Taehyung’s own voice is barely discernible above Kim Hyunsik’s for how low it’s gotten. The further into the song he gets, the more his voice is tapering out, and by the time the music begins to slow down toward the end he’s barely making any noise at all. “Don’t be sad when you feel lonely,” he whispers along, followed by a light sniffle.
Taehyung stops singing here, letting the recording of Kim Hyunsik finish off the song with, “For even such loneliness sinks into the passing of time.”
He doesn’t sing again for the rest of the drive, and Hoseok is left wondering how someone like Taehyung can be so energetic and spontaneous and fun when everyone’s watching, but so sad when he thinks he’s alone.
Once Taehyung drops him off, Hoseok barely makes it two steps into Yoongi’s room before his friend is accosting him with a smarmy look on his face.
“So. Two nights in a cabin in the mountains. Alone. With Taehyung,” Yoongi begins, raising his eyebrows and leaning forward from his spot on his bed where he’d been organizing his cassette tapes.
“Did you talk to him? Did you have a heart-to-heart? Did you swap spit?”
Hoseok groans and slides down into Yoongi’s desk chair. “No. We talked, but he’s really good at deflecting questions about himself. We still ended up just talking about me the whole time.”
“You self-centered bastard,” Yoongi sighs. “At this rate, you’re going to end up sad and lonely like Jungkook, making up fake boyfriends.”
Hoseok doesn’t even have the heart to laugh.
By now, Hoseok has finally noticed that Taehyung has been cycling through the colors of the rainbow when he changes his hair color. It must have been red before he arrived, since it was orange the first time they met. Now it’s indigo, the dark blue-purple tones shining under the sun’s rays.
Taehyung arrives at Yoongi’s restaurant, taking the soda that Hoseok already had waiting for him, shaking his hand to rid it of the droplets of condensation, and takes a swig before grinning at Hoseok.
“Guess what,” he says, and it takes Hoseok half a beat to realize that he actually does want him to guess.
“Uhh… You have another trip for us?”
Taehyung laughs and shakes his head. “No, not yet, anyway. But I have good news. I passed!”
“I got the results for the TOEIC. I passed!”
Hoseok grins and holds out his hand for a high five, exclaiming, “Oh, hell yeah! I knew you could do it.”
“I was just… God, I was so worried I wouldn’t. I’m shit at studying, y’know, so… Just… This is great.” Taehyung beams and finishes off his cola, but there’s something behind his eyes that makes Hoseok feel a little odd. A little sad, even.
“It sounds like this really meant a lot to you,” Hoseok says. “You said you’re not looking into any jobs that need a high score on the exam, so, um…?”
Taehyung goes quiet at that, swirling the straw for his cola around the glass, clinking the ice together as it slowly melts. “There’s something I want to tell you,” he says finally. “I don’t like talking about it.”
“You don’t have to talk about it,” Hoseok says.
“No, I,” Taehyung breathes out through his nose, “I want to.”
“Okay,” Hoseok says.
“Let’s go outside. Can you ask to take a break?”
Hoseok nods, and Yoongi’s parents are more than happy to let him step out for a bit; they aren’t all that busy today, and Jungkook is on time for once.
They take a walk around the block to an empty playground, walking in silence until Taehyung takes a seat on one of the swings, looking down at the sand beneath his feet.
“I used to be kind of a burnout,” Taehyung says. “I didn’t study, I didn’t work, I didn’t really do much of anything. I used to just sit around all day and watch TV or read comics.”
Hoseok shrugs. “Hey, that’s not too bad, a lot of guys our age do that stuff.”
Taehyung shakes his head. “I know. So did one of my friends. My best friend, actually. But he wasn’t happy doing it. He used to say all the time that he wanted to stop watching TV and go out and do something with his life.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. “He made a bucket list.”
The paper is severely crinkled from having been folded and unfolded so many times, the words faded and the corner of the page a little ripped, but Hoseok is beginning to understand. Some of the things on the list read, learn to longboard, dye my hair every color in the rainbow, pass the TOEIC, get my motorcycle license, go on a spontaneous road trip, fall in love, and it goes on and on.
“A couple years ago, he and I got in a really bad car accident. We were on my bike riding home from the store after buying the newest comic, and someone wasn’t paying attention. They ran a red light and hit my bike.” Taehyung’s staring down at the list, gripping it so hard that the edges are beginning to crumple. “I was the one pedaling, so all I got was a minor concussion, a couple broken bones, that scar on my side. My best friend was sitting on the wheel guard, and he got a flatline at the hospital.”
Hoseok’s heart sinks. He doesn’t even know what to say, but Taehyung doesn’t pause for very long before continuing.
“He had this list, and he was the one who wanted to do all this stuff before he died, but it was me who ended up getting to walk away from that crash.” Taehyung breathes out, his grip on the list loosening. “I figured I owed it to him to do everything on this list for him.”
“He’s a little self-destructive, isn’t he?” Yoongi’s mother had said. Hoseok hadn’t quite known what she meant back then. He knows now.
Every scrape from the skateboard, every bruise from the motorcycle, the bleach-fried hair, the long nights staying awake studying English, it’s all a way to punish himself. He’s trying to apologize for surviving.
“I’ll help you finish the list,” Hoseok finds himself saying. “We’ll finish it all together, before the end of the summer.” Hoseok has no way of truly knowing what Taehyung is going through, but he does know that no one should have to go through it alone.
Taehyung stares at him, looking truly surprised for the first time since Hoseok has known him. He’s quiet for a moment, and then a smile spreads over his lips. “I’m really glad you came to Daegu, hyung,” he says.
Hoseok returns his smile, trying to hide how severely his heart has broken for this young boy so full of survivor’s guilt that he doesn’t know how to live his own life, and says, “I’m glad I came, too.”
Later, back at Yoongi’s house, Hoseok breaches the topic with his friend as they sat, Hoseok having offered to help Yoongi continue to organize his cassettes.
“Hey, so, um. Taehyung told me something. Something about, um. An accident?”
“I remember.” Yoongi looks away, chewing on his bottom lip. “It’s the whole reason my parents wanted me to stay in Daegu full time like this instead of going back to Seoul for the school year. Parents around here aren’t used to losing their kids, so when something like that happens, they don’t know how to handle it. They just wanted me close by.”
“Hyung, why didn’t you ever tell me?” Hoseok asks, gaping at his friend. This whole time he’d thought Yoongi had simply come to Daegu to help with his family’s restaurant.
“No one around here really talks about it. You know, out of respect for Taehyung and Minjae. It’s kind of a sensitive topic.”
“Jesus,” Hoseok breathes out, shaking his head. “So when you said there isn’t anyone in this town who doesn’t know Taehyung…”
“It’s ‘cause of the accident, yeah.” Yoongi hands Hoseok another stack of tapes to alphabetize. “The fact that Taehyung told you means he trusts you.”
Hoseok nods, mostly to himself, and contemplates that. He hasn’t known Taehyung for very long, but he finds that he trusts him too. It almost feels like a privilege to have Taehyung’s trust after such a short time, and to have been confided in that way.
He’s going to make good on his promise. He has to.
Taehyung finds him the next day, the faded indigo in his hair all bleached out and his hair back to platinum, dry and damaged and hanging in his eyes. “There’s just one color left,” he says, holding up a bag with a single tube of hair dye and a few packets of conditioner. “Would you help me?”
“Of course,” Hoseok says, and he finally is brought to Taehyung’s house, a small little apartment near the edge of town. Taehyung’s place is impossibly small, a little area to leave his shoes at the door, and a narrow hallway with a tiny kitchen and a door leading to what he assumes is the bathroom. The rest of the apartment is just one room, a tall dresser where Hoseok guesses he stores his clothes, and a little coffee table facing a television on the ground right beside a slightly messy futon.
He doesn’t comment on Taehyung’s living situation, instead following his lead into the bathroom, which has a bathtub so small that he doesn’t think it would be comfortable for even someone much shorter than Taehyung to use.
Taehyung changes into a raggedy shirt that already looks as though it’s covered in bleach stains, and sits in the tiny tub, organizing the dyeing equipment.
“Don’t have any gloves,” Hoseok notes, scanning over the anti-depressants and other pills in the medicine cabinet that he has no business inspecting further. He pushes aside the deodorant and soap, but still has no luck.
“It’s okay, I never use them,” Taehyung says, holding out his palm and squirting a dollop of the bright purple into the center.
Hoseok sighs and holds his wrist back, climbing in the tub after him. “I said I’d help you, didn’t I?” he says, and scoops the dye out of Taehyung’s hand, taking the bottle from him and squeezing half of it into his own palm. Taehyung’s shoulders relax and he turns around, settling against Hoseok’s calves, his head tipping back to rest on his knees.
“Thank you,” Taehyung says while Hoseok scrubs the dye against Taehyung’s platinum hair. The dye looks grey right now after being rubbed into his hair, and he hopes he hasn’t somehow already screwed it up. “Have you ever dyed your hair, hyung?”
“No,” he responds, coating Taehyung’s hair with as much of the dye as he can, ignoring the odd burn of the chemicals against his bare skin. “Was it that obvious?”
“A little,” Taehyung says, and Hoseok can see that his eyes are closed from the reflection on the pipe under the sink. “You’ve got virgin hair.”
“Yeah, sure, you’re hilarious.”
“No, that’s really what hairdressers call it.”
Hoseok laughs. “Wow.” He keeps scrubbing until he’s positive that he’s covered every strand of Taehyung’s hair, and then holds his hands up. “Is this good? I obviously don’t know what I’m doing, with my virgin hair and all.”
Taehyung gets to his feet, stepping over to the mirror to inspect Hoseok’s handiwork. “You’re so thorough,” he says. “This is much better than what I usually can do.”
“So what now? You wash it out?”
“No, you have to wait for it to actually dye the hair,” Taehyung says, turning back to face him. He’s got the dye staining the edges of his face already, and the gray is looking more purple the longer they stand here. “I usually wait about forty-five minutes, so you don’t have to stick around and wait, if you don’t want to.”
“No, I… I have time,” Hoseok says, and proceeds to spend the next hour there with Taehyung, the two of them sitting on the cushions on Taehyung’s floor and flipping through the limited channels that he has access to.
It’s just so easy to talk to him, so easy to listen to him ramble, that Hoseok thinks he might be able to sit here like this forever.
Finally, the egg timer he had set goes off, and Taehyung retreats to the bathroom to wash the dye out. Hoseok follows him to help him with the detachable shower head, and he uses a dirty towel to dry his hair, staining everything the same bright, vibrant purple as his new hair color.
“That’s everything,” Taehyung says, ruffling his new purple hair and admiring it in the mirror. “Everything on the list.” He crosses off, dye my hair every color of the rainbow, on the crumpled bucket list and sits back against the bathtub, staring at the piece of paper like he can’t believe it’s real.
Hoseok looks down at it, his knees touching Taehyung’s, and points at the very last number, the only one that hasn’t been crossed off yet. “What about this one?” he asks. It reads, fall in love.
“Oh,” Taehyung says, lifting his pen. “That one’s done, too.” He crosses it off and clicks his pen closed again.
“Really?” Hoseok asks, his heart sinking a little. “When did that happen?”
“This summer,” Taehyung answers easily, reaching his leg out to poke Hoseok’s hip with his toe. “You should know; you were there.”
He tries to think back to the people he’s seen Taehyung interacting with; it’s no small feat, seeing as there isn’t a single person in town that doesn’t know Taehyung. It can’t be Yoongi, who is practically married to his parents’ restaurant. It can’t be that girl on the corner, who has a wedding ring glinting on her finger and a baby bump. It can’t be Jungkook, who still insists that he has a boyfriend back in Busan.
Taehyung laughs at Hoseok’s confused expression and then he’s leaning forward, his bright purple hair falling in his eyes and his lips twitching up into a smile. “Don’t think too hard about it,” he says. “There’s only one answer.” Then he closes the space between them.
Hoseok has spent his entire summer fantasizing about kissing Taehyung. He’s imagined it being sweet and sticky from shaved ice near the park, short and hushed in the bed of their shared hotel room, a little damp from swimming in the freezing lake. He never thought it would be on the floor of Taehyung’s bathroom, his hands stained purple from hair dye and the whole room smelling vaguely of argan oil.
Taehyung’s lips are warm, though, and soft, and his hands are big, settling on Hoseok’s shoulders as he presses in closer, tilting his head to get a better angle. Hoseok has barely comprehended what’s happening before the warmth is leaving his lips and his eyes flutter open again.
“Oh,” he says softly.
“Bad?” asks Taehyung, looking concerned.
“No,” Hoseok says immediately, touching his fingers to his own bottom lip. “Just surprised.”
“We don’t have to do that again.”
Hoseok leans back in, their faces inches apart, and says, “But I want to.”
He kisses Taehyung in that tiny bathroom until his lips are numb and he wonders to himself if the purple dye will ever truly wash off his palms.
Hoseok has about two weeks left before he has to return to Seoul, but he tries not to think about it. He works diligently at the restaurant, the regulars all familiar with him now, and spends the evenings with Taehyung, trying to fit as much time as he can into what little short hours they have left together.
Taehyung seems to be doing the same, and two days before Hoseok has to leave, he asks if he’ll come with him. Hoseok says yes, entirely convinced that at this point he’d follow Taehyung anywhere.
They climb into his truck, and Taehyung drives out toward the same spot they’d swam in the lake at the beginning of the summer. He takes a bit of a different route once they leave town, though, curving a bit to the left instead, parking in a clearing that’s just beyond a tiny grove of trees.
Taehyung cuts the engine, leaving the keys in the ignition, and gestures to Hoseok to follow him outside. He grabs a few blankets from behind the seat, and spreads them out in the bed of the truck, saving one to lean against and one to huddle up underneath.
It’s warm outside, the temperature dropping enough to not be the same sweltering heat as the daytime, but still warm enough that Hoseok is perfectly comfortable even without the thin blanket that Taehyung drapes over them. Hoseok tips his head back to look up, and now he knows why Taehyung brought him here. They’re far enough away from the town, farther still from the city, that there is no light pollution, no factory smoke or smog to cover the stars, and they’re twinkling by the millions overhead.
There’s silence save for the chirping of crickets, until finally Taehyung speaks.
“I’ve been thinking,” Taehyung says. “About us. About this summer.”
“You were the best thing that could have happened to me. Whenever I’m with you, I feel like I’m me again, and not this person that I turned into after Minjae died.”
“So I’m not going to live my life for someone else, anymore,” Taehyung says, adjusting the blanket over Hoseok’s knees without taking his eyes off the smattering of stars above them. “The more I think about it, the more Minjae would be pissed at me that I spent all that time doing everything on his list. ‘The hell is wrong with you, Kim Taehyung? You got a life too, you know.’”
Hoseok doesn’t say anything. He’s learned by now that when Taehyung thinks aloud like this, giving someone a peek into his head, it’s best to listen.
“I don’t think I can do that, here. Daegu is my home, but it’s where I lost Minjae, and myself a little, too.” Taehyung sits up straighter, adjusts the blanket so it’s covering Hoseok more. “I’ve got family in Canada. Might stay there for a while.”
Hoseok looks at him, the way the dim light from the moon is making his skin glow faintly, at the stars reflected in his pitch black irises, at the determined quirk of his lips. “Canada?” he repeats. It’s so far. Not Seoul to Daegu far, like he’d been anticipating. He might as well be moving to the stars he’s so intently gazing at; it’ll be the same level of unreachable.
“Yeah. I made my own list last night. Stuff that I want to do before I kick the bucket.” He finally turns his head away from the stars to look at Hoseok. “I want to live for me, now. It’s time.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a piece of paper.
There’s a whole number of things listed, like reconnect with family, and try to get my degree. The one thing that stands out to Hoseok, though, is be unforgettable.
Everything that had been on Minjae’s list hadn’t been something Taehyung wanted to do, but he’d done it because he thought that would have been what Minjae wanted. Hoseok never knew Minjae, but he thinks Taehyung’s right. He wouldn’t have wanted Taehyung to live out someone else’s life like that. He would have wanted him to live his own life, to follow his own dreams.
At least, that’s what Hoseok wants for him.
“I’m going to miss you,” Hoseok tells him. “But I’m glad you’re doing this. You deserve to be happy.”
“Thank you,” Taehyung says. “I’m going to miss you, too. I...don’t want to leave you, but I want to make sure that I’m really me before I can be with you. Does that make sense?”
Hoseok kisses the corner of his mouth. “I get it,” he says. “I understand. Don’t worry about me.”
Taehyung closes his eyes. “Then, is it okay if I ask just one last thing from you? Will you let me be selfish for a little longer?”
“Will you touch me?”
Hoseok moves closer, kissing him on the lips this time. “Like this?”
Taehyung nods, fitting his arms around Hoseok and moving even closer. “Yes,” he breathes, “but more. I want you to touch me everywhere.”
“Won’t someone see us?”
Taehyung laughs lightly. “We’re in the mountains. You can’t even get this far in unless you’ve got four-wheel drive, and I’m probably the only one for miles who can say that about my car.” He waves his hand around. “No one watching but the stars.”
“Well, in that case…”
Taehyung hops out of the truck bed and reaches through the window to rummage through the glove department before returning with a bottle and a small foil in his hand.
“You keep your truck well stocked, don’t you?” Hoseok says, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, you know. Never know when you’re going to drive out into the mountains and have good-bye sex.”
“Do you hear yourself when you talk, sometimes?”
Taehyung just grins and kisses him. He’s slow, deliberate, taking his time, and Hoseok isn’t complaining.
Taehyung wishes to be unforgettable, and Hoseok is trying his damndest to make sure he sees that through. Every touch, every kiss, he’s committing to memory, locking it away so that when Taehyung is gone, he’ll be able to close his eyes and still feel Taehyung’s hands skirting across his back, his lips pressed to his jaw.
“You’re beautiful, Kim Taehyung,” Hoseok whispers against his skin, kissing gently at the end of his scar. Taehyung hums lightly, so Hoseok trails lower, kissing every inch of the puckered pink skin until he’s holding Taehyung around the waist and mouthing at the top of his hipbone. “So beautiful.”
When Hoseok pushes inside him Taehyung gasps, his fingertips scrabbling across his back, holding him close like he’s scared that he might leave. Hoseok runs his palms across Taehyung’s thighs, moving his hips to find a comfortable angle, and then presses their chests flush together, rolling his hips down while he kisses Taehyung languidly.
Taehyung’s mouth is hanging open with every thrust, so their kisses are mostly tongue and Hoseok kissing around his lips instead, drinking in every moan and gasp and whisper of his name.
Hoseok doesn’t go back to Yoongi’s house that night. He stays out there under the stars with Taehyung, holding him close and pretending, at least until sleep takes him, that he’ll never have to let go.
It doesn’t make sense, how quickly time passes. At times it can feel as though it drags on for ages, and then at others, it can seem as though it can leave you in the dust, wondering where the days, weeks, and months have gone.
That is how Hoseok feels on his last day in Daegu, feeling as though he has been here for a year and just one week all at once.
Yoongi and Jungkook take him to the station to see him off, but Hoseok isn’t as sad as he thought he’d be. He knows he’ll see them again soon, be it here or back in Seoul. Jungkook invited the two of them to come to Busan with him, so maybe they’ll take a trip there in the winter. Regardless, it’s with a smile that he bids them goodbye at the ticketing gate, promising that he’ll call them as often as he can.
As he crosses through the booth, hole-punched ticket in hand, he almost wishes Taehyung could have been here too, though he knows that would be a farewell he might not be able to keep dry eyes with. With Yoongi and Jungkook, he knows he’ll see the two of them again sooner rather than later, but with Taehyung, it’s a giant question mark. It’s always been a bit of a question mark with him, but now, he thinks, it would hurt more than before.
He turns, eyebrows raising and eyes widening at the voice calling out from the stairs behind him, and then a tall figure is crashing into him, sending his bags toppling to the ground. When Hoseok regains his ability to see, its a head of bright purple hair that greets him.
“Taehyung?” he gapes. “What are— How did you—”
“I got a platform ticket,” Taehyung explains, gripping Hoseok’s hands tightly. “You didn’t think I was going to let you leave without saying goodbye, did you?”
Hoseok’s eyes burn with the tears that he had known would come, and he shakes his head. “I just… Taehyung…” The train is approaching, the announcements playing over the speakers at the platform, and Hoseok suddenly wishes that time could simply stop.
“You won’t forget about me, will you?” Taehyung asks, unwilling to let go of Hoseok’s hand, even as the crowd surges around him to find seats in the car.
“You’re unforgettable, Kim Taehyung,” Hoseok tells him, bringing their lips together and intertwining their fingers until the final announcement for the train’s departure tolls out across the platform. He steps backward past the sliding doors and squeezes into the crowd of people. Taehyung is still standing there when the doors close in front of him, and Hoseok doesn’t stop watching him through the window until he’s just a tiny figure on the platform so far away.
Seoul is exactly the way he’d left it. The surging crowds, constantly passing taxis, buildings so high they’re brushing low hanging clouds, all of it is the same. Even the flowers growing outside his apartment building look as though they haven’t been touched since he left, even though he knows they must have been swapped out at some point.
He fits his key into the lock at his room on the fourth floor, peering inside the tiny apartment. The only thing that’s changed in here are the posters of the human anatomy, replaced now with more of Namjoon’s inspirational quotes all pertaining to graduation.
“I’m back,” he announces into the room, and Seokjin emerges from the bathroom, his hair done up in a towel on top of his head and wearing nothing but a bright pink bathrobe. So really, everything is exactly the same, almost like he’d never left in the first place.
“You’re so tan, Hobi,” Seokjin whistles when he sees him, pretending to fan himself. “Daegu made you sexy.”
“I’ve always been sexy,” Hoseok quips back, tugging his friend down into a hug. “How did you guys survive without seeing my face every day?”
“It was rough,” Seokjin says. “We had to sublet your futon to some weirdo who like, never did the dishes. I’m so glad you’re back.”
“How do you sublet a futon?”
“He paid us a third of the rent to sleep there.”
Hoseok rolls his eyes and shakes his head, grinning. “I hope you guys at least washed it, then.”
“Why do that when you’re back now?” comes Namjoon’s voice from the bedroom, poking his head around the corner. His hair is bleach blonde now, and shaved at the sides, and there are sunglasses hooked around the collar of his shirt.
Seokjin laughs it off before Hoseok can have a chance to argue. “Did you meet anyone down there? Had yourself a romantic summer fling?”
Hoseok looks down. It doesn’t feel like a fling, not to him. But he never got Taehyung’s number, and Taehyung never got his, and who knows when they’ll see each other again. “Yeah,” he says. “It was nice.”
And just like that, he’s back in his old routine, his classes at university and his old part-time job at the coffee shop on campus waiting for him to slide right back in like they were keeping a Hoseok-shaped hole open for him. For a moment, he worries that he might slip back into his old habits completely, but only a few days after the semester starts, he decides to dye his hair on impulse. It’s nothing too wild, just a lighter shade of caramel brown, but it’s something. No more virgin hair, he thinks to himself, trying not to smile too widely in the salon.
He changes his major, too. He’s in Seoul, working toward something that he has no passion for, something that he only ever started because he thought that’s what might make his parents proud, or sound impressive, but it’s something that he was only ever just content with. He thinks of Taehyung, and decides maybe it’s time he started doing what makes himself happy, too.
Before he knows it, summer rolls around again, the spring flowers all boasting a full bloom, and the temperature rising high enough to warrant sleeping without a blanket. Yoongi doesn’t outright ask Hoseok to come back and help, but he does anyway. Even if Taehyung isn’t there, after only one summer, his tiny town on the outskirts of Daegu became like a second home to him.
While he’s getting off the train at Dongdaegu Station and catching a cab to the town, Hoseok notes that the area hasn’t changed much. Yoongi’s father started repainting the side of the restaurant, covering up the mud splatters and fading that came with age. Taehyung’s truck is still parked in the lot, the tiny Buddhist charm still hanging from the rearview mirror, though the dents on the door have been mostly banged out. The restaurant logo has been painted on the side, and Yoongi tells him that they do delivery now. The woman on the corner had her baby, a tiny bundle wrapped in pink and sporting a full head of wispy hair.
The one thing that has changed is the fact that Jungkook has someone on his arm when he greets Hoseok; a little shorter than Yoongi but about twice the build, with messy black hair and full lips. The imaginary boyfriend from Busan who isn’t so imaginary after all.
“I’m just as shocked as you are,” Yoongi assures him, unable to tear his eyes away from Jungkook’s boyfriend, who introduced himself as Park Jimin in a soft voice. “He’s like, unreal, and he was really supposed to be, like. Not real.”
Hoseok pats him on the shoulder in consolation. “Jungkookie’s really all grown up now, huh.”
Later, when Hoseok is unpacking at Yoongi’s house, his friend hands him a tape with “D-boy ‘00” scrawled across the label in black marker. Hoseok looks up at him, stunned. “You made a new tape?”
Yoongi shrugs, trying to look nonchalant but unable to hide the proud upward twitch of his lips. “Yeah, well, y’know. I thought about what you said. Turns out my parents didn’t mind letting me have some free time.”
Hoseok’s lips split into a smile so big he can feel his cheeks burning, and he tugs Yoongi by the arm down into a hug.
“What are you doing,” Yoongi says, though he makes no attempt to move away. “Stop that.”
“I’m proud of you, hyung,” Hoseok says.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Yoongi grumbles, but even he can’t hide the grin spreading across his face. “Lemme know what you think when you listen to it, alright?”
Hoseok holds the tape close to his chest and nods. “You know I will.”
The summer continues just as it had last year, though Hoseok is like an old pro at the restaurant now, soaking in the delighted cries of joy from the regulars at his return. On his first day, he makes the mistake of getting a glass of cola ready, only to watch it sit on the counter until it goes flat, the condensation pooling around it sadly.
He’s since shaken it off, and doesn’t make that mistake again, focusing solely on the present, on the things and people that are around him. He’s sure Taehyung wouldn’t want him to be dwelling on the past, even if it’s a past that they shared together.
Some days are easier to keep his mind clear than others, like today, when they’d been down one person as Jungkook was spending the day with Jimin out in the mountains and they’d had a particularly busy lunch rush.
Yoongi is in the kitchen with his parents helping them prepare for the dinner opening, leaving Hoseok out in the main restaurant area tidying up.
The telltale jingle of the bell above the door startles Hoseok out of his determined cleaning of the counters. He pauses while in the middle of wiping away a stubborn glob of sauce, ready to tell whoever it is that they’re closed, but instead ends up dropping the rag altogether, his heart stuttering in his chest.
“Hey, hyung,” says a familiar voice. His hair is shorter now, back to its natural color (Hoseok always knew it had to be black) and held up off his forehead with a headband that shows off his eyebrows and highlights his dark eyes. He’s smiling with all his teeth showing in the same boxy grin that Hoseok remembers capturing his heart on the first day of summer one year ago.
Hoseok stands up straighter, his look of shock replaced with a smile that stretches across his lips, his cheeks warming and his heart swelling. “Kim Taehyung.”