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August Our Hearts

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It’s silent in the car, and tense, as the tires eat up smooth miles of the interstate, hot air making the ground melt and morph on the horizon.

Jeongguk has one forearm propped next to the window, nails tapping out a soundless rhythm on the hot plastic of the door, while his ear presses back against the headrest and his teeth tear through his lip anew.

No amount of small talk seems to take away the awkwardness, the distance, the fear, that have settled between them – but they’ve had years to make their home. His eyes had kept leaping to Taehyung’s left hand throughout the first half of the ride, but the steering wheel stays in the way, and the latter hardly ever shifts his grasp from eight-and-four.

In the small moments when he braves letting his gaze skid sideways to study the longtime focus of his heartache, Jeongguk takes notice of all the things that have changed. Taehyung’s started to fit himself more, like he’s finally relaxed into the spaces of himself that used to scare him. His jaw is wider and more pronounced, his neck thicker. His shoulders, which had always fought against the binds of his shirts, are padded with muscle he hadn’t had back when Jeongguk had still known him. Even his taste in clothes is more solid, like the eager little jumps into experimentation that he’d made during college have finally found their speed; the silky coral robe that hangs open from his frame now is bolder than anything Jeongguk had been privy to before.

He drags his eyes back to the window, studying the blur of colorless grass that passes them on the side of the road. Everything feels ill-fitting, and the air feels thin. He wonders if he’s heading for another panic attack, one fist clenched tight in his lap.

It’s just four-and-a-half hours. You can handle a few hours in a car with him, Guk, for Yoonji you can. On the way back, you can ride with me and Hobi. He curses Namjoon in his head, wondering why he’d believed him. The past three hours have been torture, and he’s ready to jump out of his skin.

He startles when Taehyung clears his throat quietly and turns down the tinny radio, which had been playing the Top 40 – or maybe something indie? – for the life of him, he cannot recall. “There’s a rest stop coming up at the next exit, did you want anything?”

They’re the first words Taehyung has said to him since the mindless greetings they’d exchanged when Jeongguk had first climbed into his seat back in the city. Like some leftover melody bouncing around his skull, he can still hear the tick of the emergency lights and the honk of cars passing them, busy downtown street blessedly making their reunion just a little bit less intimate.

He drops his right arm into his lap, intertwining his fingers until the knuckles are white. “I’m – I’m good,” he murmurs, eyes staring straight out the windshield. There’s a water bottle in the bag at his feet and a granola bar somewhere in a neighboring pocket, and he really doesn’t want to extend this drive for longer than it has to be. Four-and-a-half hours? What’s four-and-a-half hours? He’s taken naps longer than this ride should take, but passing out in a car with someone he hasn’t spoken to in seven years just for the sake of making the time pass him by probably wouldn’t be his best call.

Taehyung hums, then flicks the turning signal on as he merges into the exit lane. “I think I need to walk around a little. I’ll be quick.”

“No, don’t rush,” Jeongguk says quietly, studying the families that swarm the gas station they’re pulling up to. Little kids squeal near the water fountain, splashing each other happily like the world is fine and good, like Jeongguk isn’t suffocating slowly. Seven years, and it isn’t any easier. Seven years, and he’s still not over him.

Taehyung leaves the car running as he opens his door, and Jeongguk watches him depart toward the store’s entrance, studies the sway of his shoulders as he walks. The robe billows behind him like a cape, and it's majestic; Taehyung's majestic. After a few seconds of biting on his lip so hard that it starts to hurt, Jeongguk flicks the keys so that the engine quiets, and then climbs out, too. With one foot on the pavement and one still on the floor of the car, he leans his elbows on the roof, piling his forehead on his forearms. The air is cool and dry, soft breeze washing over him gently. He inhales for long seconds, hoping to cleanse himself of the anxiety that’s been ratcheting up with every half hour spent in wordless silence within the confines of Taehyung’s Audi.

“Guk,” he hears, and it’s soft, wary. He looks up through bleary eyes to find Taehyung leaning halfway through the door of the 7-Eleven. “Want some chips or something? They have a little deli.” His eyes are wide, and it’s the first time since Jeongguk had seen the car pull up to the curb beside his apartment building that he’s gotten a full look at the elder’s face. His lips are downturned in a resigned, lasting way, like he feels the pressure around them as a physical weight, too, but his long hair flutters in the wind to soften his sadness.

Jeongguk thinks of the snacks he’d packed for himself in the bottom of his messenger bag, then licks his lips and nods with a faint smile. “Sure, chips would be nice.” Taehyung quirks his own half-smile back and ducks back into the store, leaving Jeongguk’s soft, “Thank you,” unheard.

He looks around, watching people gas up their trucks and SUVs lazily, and when the glimmer of coral in his periphery reappears, he takes one final breath in and drops into his seat again, shutting the door behind him with a click.

Taehyung still smells like the ocean, Jeongguk learns, when the elder swings himself into the car. The familiar, beloved scent of saltwater mixed with something sweet pervades his senses, forcing a swift calmness deep into his core. He inhales and shuts his eyes with a brief flicker, fisting his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

“You okay?”

He looks at Taehyung and nods, lips between his teeth. A faint crinkle by his hip makes him glance down, finding a bag of Funyuns lying next to the gear shift. He lifts it slowly, stuck between gratitude and confusion that Taehyung remembers his favorite kind of chips, before letting it drop in his lap.

They drift out of the parking lot and back onto the interstate in silence, the radio off. Two minutes into the drive, Taehyung rubs a hand over his mouth and then scratches at the corner of one eye. “The girls texted me photos of their wedding dresses in separate chats, and it kind of finally hit me. Can’t believe they’re getting married.”

Jeongguk hums, having seen the messages on his own phone half an hour ago. “And so young.”

Taehyung glances at him with a wry grin.

“I mean – for them, young for –“

“I know what you meant,” Taehyung laughs, turning back to the windshield. His hands are clasped at the bottom of the wheel as he slouches, one knee bobbing nervously. Jeongguk studies its motion and swallows. “So I take it you won’t be tying the knot anytime soon?”

Jeongguk stares unseeingly between his own thighs at the footwell. “Not anytime soon.” He senses eyes on the side of his face, but when he looks up, Taehyung is looking straight ahead, jaw clenched.

“You seeing anyone, though?”

It isn’t clear where Taehyung is going with this, or why. Of all the aspects of their long-disconnected lives that they could talk about, this is the one he never thought they’d approach with even a ten-foot pole. Brows furrowed and eyes low, he clears his throat. “Uh, no, not … no.”

“Hmm.”

When Jeongguk chances a glance up, Taehyung’s eyes are narrowed on the road in front of them, pondering look on his face like the answer has cast him deep in thought. After another few silent seconds, Jeongguk turns back to his window.

“How come nothing ever came of you and Hyuna?”

Jeongguk jerks to face him so quickly that his vision shakes. “What?”

“You guys were so fresh and happy back around my graduation, I just never found out what happened there.”

Jeongguk can feel his heartbeat in his throat, eyes hot and wide as they bore holes in Taehyung’s profile. The slope of his nose, high and elegant, is the same as it always was, but it doesn’t feel familiar anymore, after all these years. Like Jeongguk has lost all connection to the emotions that arise in him at the sight of it. He swallows and again attempts, “What?”

With a small frown, Taehyung glances away from the road and throws him a confused look. “What?”

“Are you deliberately being a dick, or is this some stupid joke to try to smooth shit over?”

Eyes jumping between the road and Jeongguk, Taehyung lets his mouth move soundlessly for a few seconds before one of his hands drops to his thigh and rubs it nervously. “I don’t follow.”

Jeongguk snorts mirthlessly, grits out, “Forget it.” His elbow lands on the windowsill again, arm folding so he can rub two fingers over the corners of his mouth listlessly. The tension in the car is thick, and he can feel his companion throwing glances at him every few seconds, but he stays turned away.

After a mile or two, the radio grows just slightly louder, filling all the dark spaces that Jeongguk’s upset has carved into the air around them. It doesn’t last, though, the relative calm that Dolly Parton’s voice tries to cover them with, because eventually Taehyung blurts, “I don’t know what I did.”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond, still staring at the passing corn as his nails worry at his bottom lip. It’s gnawed bloody already, but he can’t seem to make himself stop, needing the trailing tendrils of pain to keep him from breaking down where he’s sitting. It’s as if the strength that he’d used on the weight of emotions he’s been hefting around for seven years has finally run out, and he’s crumbling under it, unable to control his reactions, his thoughts. Then again, maybe it’s just that he’s finally within arm’s reach of Taehyung again for the first time, maybe that’s what wears at his nerves, erodes him.

“Guk,” Taehyung says, and it sounds choked. Jeongguk turns. “I don’t know what I did,” he repeats, swallowing thickly as his eyes focus on the back bumper of the car in front of them.

“Neither do I,” Jeongguk scoffs, waving his hand jerkily. “But I don’t think you should be the one playing victim.”

Taehyung chews his cheek for a second before responding hotly, “Well, I’m certainly not the one who started screening texts and calls.”

“No, of course, you’re just the one who disappeared before I woke up, didn’t say goodbye, and got hitched a week later.”

Taehyung scowls, still staring down the Buick in front of them, but it’s less aggressive now, more puzzled. “Okay, and?”

“The fuck do you mean, ‘okay, and’?” Jeongguk hisses, furious.

“What?” Taehyung shouts, hand smacking against the center console as he gestures with frustration. “What, what, Jeongguk?”

They gape at each other for a long time before Jeongguk swipes a clammy hand over his denim-clad thigh and swallows down the tremble in his voice. “Maybe it didn’t mean anything to you, but it meant a lot to me. So just – stop, please.”

What meant a lot to you?”

Jeongguk shuts his eyes tight and pushes his crown back against the headrest.

The high notes of whatever song is now playing on the station tinkle between them for another mile, and Jeongguk almost thinks they’ll spend the rest of the ride like this. They're one hour out from the resort, but one hour is manageable, one hour is nothing compared to seven years.

From the corner of his eyes, he sees Taehyung’s tan hand dart out and press the power button on the dash, flooding them in silence once more. The engine buzzes beneath their feet steadily, and a large street sign passes them with the logos of several coffee shops. Jeongguk pulls enough skin off his lip that the nick is sharp and he tastes blood; dropping his hands to his lap, he laves his tongue over the wound, wincing from the sting.

“Did … Jeongguk, I’m being serious, so please answer me. Did something happen, the night that I left? I don’t – I don’t remember a lot from that evening. Or that week, really.”

His chest expands and then shrinks again, and the ends of his fingers tingle. In the most impassive voice he can muster, Jeongguk drones, “We fucked two times, you started crying halfway through the third.” Those tears have caused him to question a lot, in the time that’s passed. The weight he’s assigned to them has flickered, changed its nature, changed its focus. Was he crying because he'd hated it? Was he crying because he already knew he would leave? Taehyung is staring at him, eyes off the road for long seconds now, but at least the stretch of highway around them is empty. “Then you kissed me to sleep, and in the morning I was alone.” If his voice wavers on the last word, it’s his business alone.

“What the fuck,” Taehyung says, laughing shakily. He’s still facing Jeongguk, stealing glances at the road every once in a while. “Get real.”

Lips pursed, Jeongguk lets his eyes slip shut and presses his forehead against the window. Maybe if he stops responding, he’ll be left alone until they arrive. He doesn’t want to remember anymore.

“Jeongguk, fucking look at me.”

“Fuck off, Taehyung,” he snaps back.

“That’s ludicrous, are you crazy? You were all hung up on Hyuna, trying to figure out where to take her on a date that weekend – “

“What’s wrong with you?” Jeongguk cries out, turning in his seat to stare down Taehyung with wet eyes. “Why are you doing this?”

“I – “ Taehyung cuts himself off, swallows, right hand awkwardly dropping from the gear shift to the space between it and his seat cushion. “I … I already knew about Joohyun.” The words are gentle, but they don’t make sense; something cold slithers through Jeongguk’s heart. “I’d known about her for months, Guk, I – I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t …”

Wry, betrayed smile on his lips, Jeongguk shrugs. “You did.”

Another pregnant pause, Taehyung’s face slack and eyes wide on the road. “Why don’t I remember?”

Studying Taehyung, Jeongguk realizes that he really doesn’t. Their conversation slowly settles into place, something not quite relieved but fatigued making his shoulders fall. He feels drained, empty. “I guess that’s how badly you wanted to forget.”

“No,” Taehyung says quickly, head shaking a little, “no, no, I wouldn’t forget that, I couldn’t. Come on, Guk, I – I wouldn’t.”

Head still turned to the side, Jeongguk lets it drop to the headrest, constantly exhausted from holding it up during this conversation. His eyes slide down to the door handle beside Taehyung’s wrist, studying the glimmer of the metal lazily. “Magic, then? Just abra-cadabraed your way out of the mess you created?”

Taehyung turns wounded eyes on him, but they don’t have the effect they’d used to. Jeongguk is tired. “Don’t joke.”

“Why not? It never happened, did it?”

“You’re saying it did,” Taehyung argues firmly, voice low. “Which means it did.”

The door handle reflects the minute shift of Taehyung’s hand on the wheel, blur of colors swirling when he looks in the sideview mirror. Jeongguk pokes at the loose thread on the inner seam of his jeans. “Maybe you got wasted the next day, blacked out.”

“No, I – my flight was Saturday morning, and it was, I was, I – why can’t I fucking remember?” he gasps, jaw tight.

Taehyung grows lost in thought, and Jeongguk lets himself stare without remorse. His skin is as smooth and supple as ever, features bright and perfect, right in his prime. The lips he remembers moving gently over his as he dissolved into dreams so good that waking up hurt him physically, they’re just as round, just as soft-looking. He wonders if they taste the same.

“What – “ Taehyung breaks him out of his reverie, glancing at him. But when their eyes lock, he must see something on Jeongguk’s face that Jeongguk doesn’t know about, because his face crumples a little. “What about Hyuna?” he whispers.

“She broke up with me that morning, because I told her I was canceling our date so I could go to your graduation dinner. She said I always prioritized you and it made me a shitty boyfriend. That was why you came back to my place afterward.”

“And you knew about Joohyun?”

Jeongguk’s silence makes Taehyung turn wide eyes on him.

“Guk?”

“No,” he rasps, swinging his gaze to the road. “I didn’t.” Taehyung brings one shaking hand to rub at his mouth, cursing under his breath. He looks pale suddenly, even a little green, and Jeongguk sits up. “Hey, pull over.”

“No, I'm f –“

“Pull over, Tae.”

They climb out onto the shoulder, Taehyung collapsing into the grass that stretches toward the sky like weeds, clumpy and withered and without essence. Jeongguk seats himself to the side, watching him press the heels of his hands against his eyes soundlessly.

“It’s okay,” he finally whispers, letting the wind take his words gently. Sparse cars pass them with dull roars, and the dry afternoon air shifts around them each time. In the distance, he sees the slow rise of mountains where the ski resort should be, pinkish-purple where their peaks meet the sky.

“No, it’s not,” Taehyung mutters back. “I don’t – I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know how I could’ve …”

“Cheated on Joohyun?”

His friend drops his palms from his face, agony stretched across it. “Forgotten.”

Jeongguk wrings his hands, searches for something. “Maybe – maybe you suffered a head injury? Seven years is a long time, maybe you fell or something. You know, very specific point of injury, and you lose some very specific neural connections, something like that.”

“Don’t make excuses for me, Guk,” Taehyung murmurs. “I left you that night.”

Jeongguk swallows, doesn’t argue.

“What was it like?” Taehyung still looks pale, but so wondrous, amazed, when Jeongguk turns to him.

It takes a while for him to figure out what to say. Eventually, he manages, “It was better than I’d pictured.”

“Pictured?”

Right. All their confessions, all the fears they’d shared – gone. “I’d wanted you since … forever. I don’t think there was a time when I didn’t.” When Taehyung doesn’t respond, a spiteful part of him makes him add, “You said the same to me.” The elder doesn’t argue, doesn’t make any sign of disagreement, just blinks at him, mouth parted in a little O. The bite of something that’s sat heavy in him like a stone finally makes itself known, and Jeongguk scoffs, averting his gaze. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. You’d been with her for months.”

The grass rustles beside him, but he doesn’t turn to look. Maybe Taehyung’s standing to go back to the car. Maybe he’ll drive off and leave him here. Jeongguk can’t say he wouldn’t be relieved. But then, a tentative touch on his knee makes him glance down, where Taehyung’s hand is gently picking a dandelion seed off his pants. “It was an arranged marriage,” he murmurs, gaze steady on his hands as he fiddles with the fluffy parachute of hairs. Jeongguk’s breath hitches. “I fought my dad the whole way through. He’d set up everything, and the Baes were old family friends of his mother, so he felt obligated to do it before she passed away thinking I was unwed. Neither of us wanted it, we didn’t know each other, and I was only twenty-one. I met her for the first time that weekend, after I flew home. She was – she was nice.”

“She was nice,” Jeongguk echoes, squinting at the fields on the other side of the road.

“I hated it, I didn’t want it, I was so in love with you. But – what I remember – “ he chokes suddenly, inhaling unevenly. “What I remember is you constantly trying to please Hyuna because you were so desperate to make it work, and I had no way out of the arrangement anyway, so – why not be with someone nice? She was a stranger then, but she could turn into a very good friend. And she did.”

The niggling thought that he’s been patiently ignoring comes to the forefront of his mind again, and Jeongguk glances at Taehyung’s hand. The ring he’d half-expected to see gleams at him teasingly. “We should get going,” he mutters, making to stand, but a firm pressure on his ribs makes him pause.

“My grandmother passed away two years later, and Joohyun’s father three years after that. Eleven months ago, she filed for divorce.”

Jeongguk’s eyes swing uninhibitedly back to the ring on Taehyung’s finger.

“This is a decoy, because the Parks are friends with my dad, and I didn’t want to announce the divorce to them at their daughter’s wedding.” He pulls the band off and holds it up between them, close enough to Jeongguk’s eyes that he can see the way the color betrays plastic at the core, rather than a weathered metal. He sighs. Taehyung looks down, pained. “I’m sorry.”

“You could have told me. I would have understood.”

“I – I can’t fucking remember,” Taehyung sobs, curling in on himself until his head almost touches the ground, words muffled into his calves. “Why can’t I fucking remember?”

“Were you drinking that day?”

A faint scoff reaches his ears, followed by, “I was drinking every fucking day. The thought of being handed off, like cattle, and of never seeing you again, of you being with Hyuna – that whole semester I was wasted more often than I was sober, and I barely slept. I – so many meds, I went to the campus health center to try to get help for insomnia, I was taking like six pills a day, I – fuck – “

“Tae, did you mix the meds with the alcohol?”

The latter sits up, staring at him blankly. “Sometimes.”

“You mixed your fucking meds with your alcohol,” Jeongguk repeats flatly.

Taehyung blinks. “Sometimes.”

“You fucked yourself up, what the fuck? How could you be so careless? Are you still doing that?” Jeongguk shouts shrilly. “Do you even know how dangerous it is?”

Taehyung raises a placating hand, letting it settle softly on Jeongguk’s arm, “Shh, Guk, I’m not. I was on the straight and narrow the day I flew back home. I don’t have insomnia anymore.”

“You erased me,” Jeongguk cries weakly, feeling brittle. “You removed me, you cut me - “

“I didn’t know,” Taehyung interrupts him gently, hand sliding down some to wrap loosely around his elbow. “I didn’t mean to.” They stare at one another for endless moments, Taehyung’s eyes roving over Jeongguk’s face hungrily. “What,” he licks his lips, “what was it like?”

Jeongguk feels his eyes slide shut, excruciated. “Don’t ask me that.”

“I lost it, Guk, I had it and I lost it, and I didn’t make that choice. Please, what was it like?”

“It doesn’t matter. It happened, and you wrote over it, and now it’s in the past. What’s the point of rehashing it, it hurts.”

“Guk, I never – “ The hand on his arm shakes him gently, making him look up into Taehyung’s big eyes. He looks desperate, impatient. “I never got to – I didn’t get to – “

“You were my first,” Jeongguk says, bone weary. “And the best, to this day.”

Taehyung swallows, but his eyes stay trained on Jeongguk, like he doesn’t want to miss a single word, a single stutter, a single micro-expression.

“You told me you loved me. You said you’d get a job in the city and wait until I graduated in two years and then we could run away, some place where our families and our responsibilities and our problems could never find us. You said you’d make it so I’d never be alone. You – “

“Guk.”

He inhales deeply, and then starts over. “We had been drinking at your graduation dinner, and because I was still sad about Hyuna, you ditched the party early to go home with me. We continued drinking at my place, and you made us play Truth or Dare. You dared me to kiss you.” Taehyung blinks, and his eyes look wet. “I leaned in for, like, a peck, but then you threw yourself on me and we made out on the floor. You – I didn’t get it then, but I realize how emotionally out of whack you were, now. You were all over the place. You – you fucking cried.”

“The third time,” Taehyung supplies from their earlier conversation, nodding slightly, enamored.

“You had me pinned for a really long time, and – and obviously I didn’t mind, but – maybe I should have thought about it more. You were kind of rough, impatient.”

Taehyung stills. “I hurt you?”

“No,” Jeongguk protests quickly, “no, just – you seemed high-strung, but I guess I thought it was just because you were graduating, like it was nerves. Part of me thought, I guess, maybe I made you that way.” He feels his cheeks heat, but his mouth moves of its own accord. Picking at the clump of dead brown grass by his hip, Jeongguk continues, “Anyway, we went at it twice on the floor, and then you picked me up and took me to the bed – “

I picked you up?”

Jeongguk flushes again, avoiding the elder’s gaze, feeling small. “You made my body like jelly.”

“Fuck.”

When he looks up, Taehyung’s jaw is set, dull eyes drilling through the hood of the car. He looks pissed, morose. One of his hands rubs through his hair roughly, making it stick outward in various directions. Jeongguk’s own fingers itch to brush it back into place. Once upon a time, it would have been so natural. “You took me to the bed,” he continues hesitantly, watching Taehyung. “But you started crying, and you wouldn’t tell me why. You said you were just on a rollercoaster of emotions and that we should sleep. And then you kissed me for a long time.”

Taehyung turns then, tired gaze meeting his again. The moment stretches.

“And then you left.”

The breath whooshes out of him, and Taehyung lets his chin meet his chest. The moments after that feel endless.

More cars pass them, and one truck slows with the passenger window down, the driver peeking at them with concern. Jeongguk shakes his head, waving his hand gratefully, and she drives on. The sun is high in the sky, warm on their backs, but the air is easy to breathe. This summer has been mild, wild heat softened by murky clouds that never quite abandon the sky. How many summers have they lost?

“Jimin isn’t that anal about punctuality, but she’ll skin us if we don’t get there in time for check-in,” he says softly, taking a look at his watch. “We really shouldn’t dawdle.”

“You said you’re single,” Taehyung answers him, voice robotic. He looks like he’s aged a decade, when Jeongguk peeks up at him. His shoulders are slumped, his head so low.

“I’m single,” Jeongguk confirms, confused.

“Okay.” The fingers of Taehyung’s left hand tap out a senseless rhythm on the palm of his right hand, and he bites his lip briefly. Then, without preamble, he rises up and pushes Jeongguk down, straddling his waist. The soft oof that gets punched out of him is nothing compared to the way all air leaves his lungs at the long-forgotten sight of Taehyung looming over him. One of his hands is buried in the grass beside Jeongguk’s ear, and the other is clasping his jaw firmly, pushing his lips out in what must be a ridiculous pout. Or maybe not, given how Taehyung is eyeing it.

“What – no, Tae – “

“Was it like this?”

Jeongguk gawks, mouth moving aimlessly as he tries to take in what’s happening. “Tae – “

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung’s voice quivers. “Please.” His heaving chest and parted lips make Jeongguk close his eyes for a moment, and when he looks up again, Taehyung’s hair glows in the afternoon light like a nimbus. The sight, even seven wasted years later, is enough for Jeongguk to immolate himself. He wants to move mountains for Taehyung, he wants to bring him the moon.

With painstaking slowness, he drops one hand to Taehyung’s thigh, refamiliarizing itself with the firmness of it, and the other loops through the collar of Taehyung’s silky undershirt, robe lying splayed around both their hips. He pulls gently, watching Taehyung let himself be tugged, until their faces are inches apart, breaths mixing hotly. “Like this,” he whispers. Taehyung’s eyes flicker to his mouth, then back to his eyes. Jeongguk brushes his hair back from his face, taking in the thick eyebrows beneath it, furrowed with concentration that this moment doesn’t deserve.

“Who made the first move?” Taehyung exhales, hardly using his voice at all. The weight of him around Jeongguk’s waist is so solid and warm, so real. Maybe tomorrow he’ll wake up alone again.

“You did,” he concedes, watching Taehyung’s tongue peek out to wet his lips. It’s so pink.

“I’m still in love with you,” Taehyung breathes out, and the words don’t process for a long moment. Then, Jeongguk scrambles up from beneath him, crawling backward in the grass.

“What?”

“I never stopped – “

“No, you – no.” He climbs to his feet unsteadily, pacing toward the car, but Taehyung stays slumped in the grass, back to him, head hanging low. “You can’t just – Taehyung, you can’t just – “

“You never hurt me the way I hurt you,” Taehyung says, flopping over to sit with one knee in the air. “So nothing that I felt has changed.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jeongguk argues hotly, not sure whose side he’s on anymore. Whichever side gets Taehyung to sit in the fucking car and take them to the wedding. “Please, Tae, we don’t have time for this.”

“Was I – “

“Tae.”

Taehyung swallows, then tries again. “Could you tell? Could you tell, how much I - ?”

Jeongguk swallows and bites his tortured lip, nodding once. “But you still left.”

“How could you tell, what did I do?” Taehyung asks desperately, like if he doesn’t get everything out of him now, the information will be lost forever. Maybe it already is.

Rubbing the bridge of his nose between two fingers, Jeongguk sighs. “Please get in the car.”

Taehyung obliges, standing up and opening the driver’s side door. But, just as Jeongguk is about to drop into his seat, he sees Taehyung pause with one hand on the roof, gazing at him forlornly. A small cavalry of cars appears on the horizon behind them, and the rush of noise that engulfs them makes Jeongguk feel safe in divulging, “I made you laugh, so you kissed me. You made,” he rubs a hand over his mouth and looks off into the distance at the mountains that await them, “you made me look at you.” When the first tear slips down Taehyung’s cheek, Jeongguk ducks his head and slides into the car, slamming his door shut.

Taehyung’s chest and thighs are visible through the open door on the opposite side, unmoving. There’s an hour of the drive left, and two days of festivities. Yoonji would never forgive them if they stole Jimin’s thunder, since this was a wedding the two had been planning and saving up for going on two years, but Taehyung had said he loves him. That means they have time. His heart is fluttering weakly in his chest, exhausted from holding onto hope, but Taehyung had said he loves him. 

When, finally, his companion lowers himself into his seat and starts the car, Jeongguk chances a look. There’s a little pink in Taehyung’s cheeks, a lot of red in his eyes. He wants to reach out and comfort, to press against all the spaces he remembers fitting into and let the distance between them disappear. But Jeongguk hides his smile into his fist and turns to watch the grass pass them as the car starts to move again; for the time being, he’ll let him suffer. Two days is nothing, nothing compared to seven years.