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Granite Burns

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PLEASE READ: To retierate, this work borrows BTS' real-life situation as a fictional background for fictitious worldbuilding. It is in no way meant to imitate, represent or assume BTS' actual situation. Whatever the characters do are of absolutely no relation to the actual BTS members and no reader should take away that these are how the actual members are like. I borrowed some aspects of their situation as a premise to base a story upon, in a similar way to how BTS World is crafted (though I understand fully there are many differences between writing a fic like this and BigHit Ent releasing BTS World) and movies and stories about impactful figures. The similarities between BTS' real life-situation and this fic may cause discomfort, so please do not read if you foresee you may be uncomfortable.

By reading on, you agree that you have understood this entire note and that you are reading on at your own risk.

 

 

 

 

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

The studio lighting burns into his corneas, so Taehyung shuts his eyes. His ears stay listening to the shutter sounds, so he whispers to himself to keep the sounds out. His flesh itches with the overhead spotlight so bright, shape of his cartilage mapped out behind him as a shadow. Brighter, till the satin of his skin is clear to every single person bustling in the room.

They can see the pigmentation of his legs, uneven over his shin, and the scar he got from last Tuesday. He wasn’t sewed together as well as they think he is, but the airbrush over the hi-res photos will cover up as usual.

The photographer kneels. Release, focus—click, the sequence of shutter sounds. The cameras look like eyes after a while, but maybe more extreme with the infallible memory. Taehyung stands still as the staff ties the scarf around his neck, cold fingers brushing his neck. The loose knot sits below his collarbone.

The staff catches his wince.

“Are you okay?” She asks softly.

“Yeah. It’s bright,” Taehyung smiles a little. He jokes, “Since everything’s white.”

“You should be used to it by now,” the staff teases, briskly walking off for the shoot to start.

Taehyung slants like a ragdoll to the director’s calls. The staff look pleased, as always; they often say he’s the easiest to work with since he’s a natural. Effortless poses, like it’s a reflex. He’s crafted so beautifully some photographers can’t help but gape in awe.

As he roams back to the waiting room, he asks if he still needs his make-up. When the staff says no, he heads straight for the bathroom and splashes his face with water. The lipstick stays but some of the concealer seeps off, bringing some colour to his paper white cheeks.

The water droplets roll down his neck and stain his shirt. Taehyung looks up at the mirror and sees Namjoon staring back at him.

He had tailed him. “You seem kind of out of it. Everything alright?”

“Just feeling kind of tired, hyung,” Taehyung honestly admits, making a face to lighten the mood. He’s asked this question twice, once was just last week.

“You said you haven’t been sleeping well, right? Should you see a doctor?”

“It’s not that bad. Anyway, Bogum-hyung says it’s not good to get sleeping pills. You’ll get used to it.” Taehyung snivels.

“He’s right. But sometimes, people just need it.” There’s a hint of a question in his tone.

Taehyung replies to it. “I don’t, hyung. I think that since we just finished our tour, it’s weird for me to rest. So, it’s hard to sleep.”

Namjoon nods empathetically, squeezing his shoulder. “Just don’t become a workaholic. Tell me if it continues, alright?”

“Yeah. Thanks, hyung. I appreciate it.” Taehyung grins.

He walks out with Namjoon’s arm around his shoulders. They find Seokjin and Jungkook sitting on the couch, Seokjin with a camera in his hand. He speaks animatedly to the camera and Namjoon instinctively muffles a laugh, strolling over to join them.

Taehyung throws himself onto a chair and watches the three. Yoongi and Hoseok are off to the side on their phones. As he carelessly looks for Jimin, he shows up, sitting by Taehyung’s side.

“Are you okay?” Jimin asks.

Taehyung answers more bluntly this time. “Tired.” He goes back to staring at the trio.

Seokjin laughs at some small comment Jungkook makes. His eyes gleam with a childish optimism that rivals the youth Jungkook has in his expressions. With how happy-go-lucky he is, Taehyung has rarely seen him genuinely upset.

He’s envious. Why does Seokjin age differently?

It must come with a price.

Taehyung leans back and glances to Yoongi. He seems tired, not that he’d bother to hide it. As he’s about to get up, he catches Namjoon whispering to Seokjin.

Seokjin’s eyes go to him while Jungkook tries to listen in. Taehyung stares back and curls his lips.

Seokjin stands, holding the camera, and heads towards him. Taehyung sighs inwardly and glances away.

“Taehyung, Jimin, say something for the camera,” Seokjin calls, settling down by Taehyung’s side. Their hands brush and Taehyung leans a little away, mustering up a brighter smile.

Jimin prods his face into the camera. Seokjin swats him away and puts an arm around Taehyung, doing the talking along with Jimin.

He leaves in a few minutes to find Hoseok. Taehyung finally relaxes, letting out a long breath.

The trip back to the dormitory is shorter than he expected, the van quiet with darkness. Taehyung unwinds into the seat and the late night radio, feeling every crackle down his skin. He basks in the flitting darkness the highway affords him, watching the cars rush by home. The tawny lampposts paint his arms with jaundice.

Once they reach home, Taehyung goes to his room. He doesn’t switch on the lights, sitting on the edge of his bed and staring at nothing.

It’s comfortable. Like a warm cloak, despite how the air stings with coldness.

He jolts when the door creaks open and the light rushes in, along with Seokjin’s profile. Taehyung smiles, hoping his lips turn the right way.

“Why are you sitting in darkness? You’re so weird,” Seokjin remarks, softer than his usual loudness—quite obnoxious at times.

“I was going to sleep, hyung. Tired,” Taehyung says, hoping he gets the hint. “Didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“You and Jungkook. I have no idea what you two are up to at night. You’re still growing so you should sleep early.”

“Growing? I'm in my twenties, hyung.”

Seokjin enters the room and shuts the door behind him. He sits on the floor by Taehyung’s legs, back against the bed. Surprisingly, he doesn’t turn on the lights.

“You aren’t going to turn on the lights, hyung?”

“It’s okay. Didn’t you want to sleep?”

“You’re going to sit here while I sleep?” Taehyung raises his brows. He can only see Seokjin’s face vaguely with the curtains drawn close.

“I haven’t been spending much time with you, so this will do.”

Taehyung scoffs in amusement, making out Seokjin’s grin without the need for seeing. Taehyung slides down to join Seokjin on the floor and pulls his legs towards his chest.

“I thought you said you were tired?”

Taehyung shuts his eyes when Seokjin gently strokes his head. “It’s fine. Haven’t spent much time with you, hyung.”

Seokjin chuckles. They sink into an all-encompassing silence, one Taehyung feels through the fibre of his skin—along with an unusual warmth on his left.

They’ve never been particularly close out of the group, though it doesn’t mean they aren’t close. All seven of them are, with how the years have burned by into a revolutionary development they never expected—how the spotlight has expanded, is still expanding at an alarming rate. The headlines today will never forget to slap on the word ‘global’ whenever they’re mentioned.

It’s just that there are years between Seokjin and Taehyung that naturally puts some distance. For the older ones, Namjoon and Seokjin dote on Jungkook most while Hoseok and Yoongi treats them equally. That’s not to say Seokjin never took care of him. He did. A lot. In a time that should be resevered for growing up and making mistakes, they had to stress out over how the public saw them and never to slip up. Seokjin would often comfort them and handle questions that stumped even Namjoon, keeping things under control.

“Sorry. I know it must have been annoying, bringing the camera over to you when you were tired.”

Taehyung flutters open his eyes while Seokjin continues touching his head. “I wasn’t annoyed, hyung.”

“I mean, it must have been more tiring for you.”

“It’s fine. Our schedules have been lighter recently. This is nothing.”

Seokjin hums in reply. Taehyung thinks back to several hours ago. If Seokjin knew he was annoyed, why’d he do it anyway?

They settle in quietness once more as the minutes ebb away, hearing the vague noises from the members outside. Seokjin’s hand moves to rest on Taehyung’s shoulder.

It’s nice. These past months, he’d sit in the pitch black of his room alone and enjoy the serenity. It was somewhat sombre and a little eerie initially, but Taehyung found it oddly nice after a long day in front of the camera. Quiet, no bright lights. The shutter sounds get so loud sometimes, like gunshots.

Like a second skin he can wear, it became somewhat of a habit to soak in the dimness of his room. It’s just difficult to get some peace and quiet.

Taehyung glances at Seokjin, discerning only his bright eyes. In a darkness like this, he can’t even tell himself apart from the wallpaper.

From Seokjin’s hand on his back, he feels up Seokjin's arm to his neck, making Seokjin jerk.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Taehyung chuckles. “I thought you left the room, hyung. You’re so quiet. It’s not like you.”

“Wouldn’t that be scary? Whose hand is this on your shoulder, then?” Seokjin jokes. “Oh, then, do you want me to make some noise?”

Taehyung laughs softly. He puts his fingers over Seokjin’s hand on his back.

“Don’t let go, hyung,” he sighs, shutting his eyes. Now that Seokjin's here, he realises something—sitting in darkness is a little scary, even if it is comfortable.

Seokjin shifts closer. “I won’t.”

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Taehyung wakes up to darkness, barely differentiating sleep from wake with the help of the moonlight trickling in. He feels to his left to touch only air.

He straightens his head, realising that Seokjin put a neck pillow around him. Taehyung cringes as he unfurls his numb legs and stands.

He squeezes the neck pillow. Isn’t this Namjoon’s?

Taehyung quietly opens the door to the sound of Namjoon and Seokjin speaking.

“Where’s Jungkook?”

“He went out,” Namjoon replies between the clinks of his coffee mug. “Meeting friends. Are you going back to Taehyung?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin says between munches. Taehyung heads closer towards their voice, standing by the wall to not interrupt.

“Hyung, you said you weren’t feeling well this morning,” Namjoon states. “Go to bed. I’ll wake Taehyung to sleep in his bed.”

“See? You’re warm,” Namjoon continues.

“I told Taehyung I’d stay with him.”

Taehyung steps into the kitchen at this moment to find Namjoon with his palm against Seokjin’s neck.

“Hyung, I’m fine. You should sleep,” Taehyung remarks, grogginess chasing his words.

“It’s fine. I came out because I needed to pee.”

Namjoon laughs avidly, addressing Taehyung. “When I went to check on you, Seokjin-hyung looked like he’d seen the light. I don’t know how long he was holding it. You should have heard him hissing at me to get a neck pillow.”

“Literally, I saw the light when you opened the door,” Seokjin says in amusement.

Taehyung chuckles softly. “You should have just woken me up, hyung.”

“You were sleeping like a baby on my shoulder. How could I?” Seokjin grins.

“You’re alright?” Namjoon reaches out and squeezes Taehyung’s arm.

“Yeah, hyung. I just needed sleep.”

“That’s good. Go back to bed.”

Seokjin nods in agreement, twining an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders. “You missed your mother, huh? That’s why you came out. My baby.”

“Gross.” Namjoon makes a face while Taehyung rolls his eyes with a smile.

“Let’s go back to bed, my child.”

Seokjin leads Taehyung back to his room. Taehyung climbs into bed while Seokjin sits by his side, quite literally playing a mother by tucking Taehyung in.

“I’m fine, hyung,” Taehyung laughs. “Go to sleep.”

“Mm. Sleep well.” Seokjin tenderly brushes Taehyung’s hair, much to Taehyung’s enjoyment. It’s warm—unusually so.

“You’re sick, hyung?”

Seokjin pulls away his hand. “No, I ate too much for lunch, so I told Namjoon I was bloated.”

Namjoon said Seokjin was sick since this morning. Taehyung stares up at Seokjin, moonlight emphasising his jawline and the shallowness of his lit eyes. Seokjin makes a funny face.

It’s something that comes up ever so occasionally. A lie crops up that doesn’t seem to fit with how Seokjin is as a person, someone who doesn’t give much thought to things and wears his heart on his sleeve. Taehyung catches them here and there, but he can’t put these pieces together with those of Seokjin. So he chucks them out of his head.

“Alright.”

“Goodnight.”

“Mm, goodnight, hyung.” Taehyung turns to face the other way as Seokjin rises from the bed. He shuts his eyes as Seokjin reaches for the doorknob.

“Namjoon-hyung said you were warm.” Taehyung suddenly says. He didn’t feel like probing but he did, for whatever reason.

“Yeah, since I just woke up. I slept while you slept.”

Taehyung keeps his eyes shut. “Alright. Sleep well, hyung.”

 

--

 

 

Seokjin is a lighthearted person. He shows the content of himself on his cover, no blurb to mislead, all childish genuineness with how his eyes easily translate his thoughts and feelings. Like a nursery rhyme, like a children’s book, he lives with a straightforward simplicity that Taehyung is envious of. No underhanded words used to hurt first because the heart can’t translate what it wants without fear. No horrible interpersonal habits that worked in a terrifying childhood to decipher. No self-destruct, no crash and burn.

Hopeful? Perhaps that sums Seokjin up better. His genre seeks for a happy ending for everybody. He likes to be happy; he keeps others happy. He eases the tension when the members fight, trying to lighten the mood with silly faces and jokes. Sometimes, he angers them more, but they appreciate his effort at the end of the day. That in itself is enough to relax the atmosphere. He might be the type to think conflict is never necessary, now that Taehyung thinks about it.

Content and easygoing. The pursuit of satisfaction isn’t just defined by the effort you put in but the standards you set for yourself. It’s easier to revise your expectations than bend and break for an elusive gratification—which only gets more out-of-reach. Seokjin seems to not take anything seriously, not even himself. Life must be less stressful when you’re at peace with being less than.

Or is innocent a better word? There’s no reason to overcomplicate things or to read into what others say. That’s why Seokjin glosses over backhanded compliments to sieve out only the good within. He forgives and forgets. He lives with no grudges.

Naïve is too harsh of a description.

“Jimin, try the fried shrimp. It’s good.” Seokjin holds out his chopsticks.

“It’s too salty, hyung,” Jimin says after a bite. He wipes his sweat away, regretting not taking a shower before they went for dinner.

“Really? Taehyung, try it.” Seokjin feeds Taehyung a piece.

“It’s great. I like it,” Taehyung remarks.

His thighs ache from their dance practice today. It bothers him how his voice seems to strain before the pre-chorus of Idol.  

“Jungkook.” Seokjin stands to feed Jungkook, but Yoongi eats it up instead. He laughs at how exasperated Seokjin looks.

“Are you a beggar? Why’d you take it?”

Yoongi laughs louder, moving over the basket of fried shrimps for Jungkook to take one.

“Yeah, hyung. It’s good,” Jungkook chimes.

“They’re famous for it,” Hoseok points out.

“Oh? I don’t like it, though,” Jimin says.

“No one cares what you think.”

Jimin stares at Seokjin upon hearing his curt comment. His hand abruptly shoots out and Seokjin screams before Jimin even lands a blow.

“Hyung, you’re being too loud,” Jimin bursts out laughing. He squeezes Seokjin’s cheeks to keep him quiet, only for Seokjin to swat him away.

“Hey, give some over.” Seokjin takes the basket from Yoongi, putting a few pieces into Taehyung’s plate before handing the basket back.

“Eat up.”

“Wow, hyung, you’re acting like you’re paying,” Jimin drawls cheekily. “So, you are, right?”

Seokjin wordlessly picks up the shrimps from Taehyung’s plate, making Jimin laugh.

“Hyung, you’re so fun to tease.”

“Oh, yeah. Hyung,” Hoseok stops in his munching, directing a serious look over. “You have to work on your pacing. You always lag behind before the bridge. It messes up the formation; Namjoon has trouble finding his spot because of that.”

“Ah, sorry. It’s hard,” Seokjin whines.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s hard. You have to do it,” Hoseok chides.

“Alright, alright. I’ll try.”

Hoseok seems dissatisfied with the wishy-washy response, but Yoongi cuts him off before he can continue.

“Namjoon, how’s your progress on your latest song?”

“Why’d you suddenly ask about it, hyung? I’m still having trouble with the chorus. The drum beats work well at the start but not the chorus. Too loud.”

“Did you ask Adora what she thinks?”

They delve into a serious conversation about compositions, going into technical terms that Taehyung is still somewhat unfamiliar with.

Taehyung glances at Seokjin. He has quietened down, though he playfully tries to ward off Jimin’s antics. They fight with their chopsticks, childish for men in their twenties. That’s what Seokjin devolves Jungkook and Jimin into—a bunch of high school boys.

Taehyung doesn’t know if he should be envious of how Seokjin reacts to criticism. He must live easily.

“You look deep in thought,” Hoseok remarks. “What are you thinking about?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “Nothing. How’s my pacing?”

Hoseok thinks to himself, back of the chopsticks resting on his chin. “No problems. I didn’t notice anything wrong.”

Taehyung nods, relief gurgling in his stomach.

 

 

On their way back, the familiar fans follow in a short distance, having gotten word of their whereabouts. Namjoon politely answers their questions while they briskly head back to the agency. Yoongi slinks into his hoodie and keeps his head low. Some of the fans joke with Seokjin, who can be more soft-hearted and sieve out their love from waiting in the rain.

Their manager constantly warns them to be strict. If you’re too nice, they’ll not just think it’s alright to follow you outside of your schedules. They’ll think they’re special to you and start having delusional expectations. When you don’t meet those demands, you’ll shatter their illusion, and they’ll be the most vengeful bunch you’ve ever met. People in love who go as far as to pay to know where you eat lunch won’t react nicely to being scorned.

So, ignore them and don’t dig a grave for yourself, their manager cautions.

But Taehyung still feels bad. He smiles politely to the fans and notices an unfamiliar face gazing up at him. She’s foreign, perhaps her first time, trying to keep up. One of the fans bump into her in her haste to follow Yoongi.

She trips. Taehyung hurriedly catches her by the wrist. “Are you alright?”

“O-Oh, yes, thank you so much,” she breathes. Her eyes glimmer up at Taehyung, drenched in a flood of gratitude.

Taehyung smiles gently and lets go of her arm.

When they reach the agency, the staff immediately usher them in and stop the fans from entering. Taehyung turns back and meets the gaze of the fan who tripped. She yells out hastily, “Thank you!”

Taehyung waves to her.

After some discussions over their new songs, they leave for their dorms. Taehyung heads straight for the bathroom for a shower before going to his room.

He lies on his bed, feeling the linens against his sore thighs and how it makes no difference even if his eyes are open or closed. His wet hair dampens his pillow. It’s soothing, Taehyung thinks for the umpteenth time, till a stream of light cuts through his consciousness.

Even with the light against his back, Seokjin’s doe eyes glow with an innocence that Taehyung wonders how he still keeps. Seokjin peeks in with his fingers curled against the door.

Second night in the row. He’s certainly still a point of concern to Seokjin and Namjoon. He’s tried to worry them less by smiling more, but he supposes he doesn’t look covincing enough.

Taehyung shifts his arm from his forehead, propping himself up before Seokjin can speak. “Hyung.”

“You’re going to sleep?”

“Yeah.” Taehyung smiles. “Tired.”

“Mm, today was tiring.” Seokjin enters. “I brought you some honey water. Drink it before you sleep.”

Seokjin crouches by Taehyung’s side and hands him the glass. “You sang well today. You worked hard.”

Taehyung gulps down the water, rehearsing how his voice strained and he couldn’t hold out while dancing. Jungkook could, so he kept trying till their vocal coach told him he’d hurt his throat if he didn’t stop.

“Thanks, hyung. You sang well too.” As Taehyung puts away the glass, his arm brushes Seokjin’s hand. It’s warm.

“You’re a good singer. I wish I was like you,” Seokjin hums with a grin.

“What are you saying? You’re good, hyung. Jimin keeps telling us how much you’ve improved. I’ve still got a lot to learn.” Taehyung grins. He shifts to the side and gestures for Seokjin to sit on the bed.

“You’ve improved, too. Really. You’re a hard worker.” Seokjin pats his head, missing a little with how dark it is. “Give yourself a break if you need to.”

Taehyung chuckles. “I will.”

A break. Who decides when he can catch a breather? When the world keeps spinning, you keep running just to stay in the same spot. People pay hundreds of dollars and queue for days, weeks, even, to see him at a three-hour concert. The spotlight is so glaring now that the world seems more updated on him than he is of himself. The little, trivial things he mentions in interviews become details of him people remember even years later. Same goes for every mistake he makes, every standard he falls short of. Who’s the one that decides he can take a break from the world?

But he guesses the world works differently from Seokjin, who can divorce himself more easily from criticism. He’s a carefree person, after all. Not ambitious that he would ask for more than contentment.

“Are you going to sleep, hyung?” Taehyung asks.

“Soon. I’m tired, too.” Seokjin yawns exaggeratedly. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t get to ask you. What happened when we were walking back to the company? I was at the front so I didn’t see.”

“One of the fans fell, and I caught her,” Taehyun recalls. He belatedly realises it came out as a sigh.

“They should be more careful. They just start shovelling each other sometimes when the road gets narrow. It’s dangerous,” Seokjin remarks.

He continues with a cheeky grin, “It’s a good thing you caught her. She must have thought it was a blessing in disguise.”

Taehyung doesn’t reply, nor does he offer a smile in return. Seokjin stares. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I was just wondering what she thinks of me, hyung.”

“That you’re a great person, of course,” Seokjin gushes. “You think she’d curse at you for catching her? That she wanted to fall?”

Taehyung laughs lowly, his voice draining out into the flutters of the curtain.

Amid the ensuing quietness, Seokjin squeezes Taehyung’s shoulder.

“Is it bad for her to think of you as kind?”

“No,” Taehyung answers a beat later. He raises his brows in wry amusement. “Why would I want her to think of me as the opposite?”

Seokjin mulls for a moment. “Well… It can get uncomfortable when people think of you well, too,” he softly starts.

Taehyung meets Seokjin’s eyes. His back untenses and he rests his head on Seokjin’s shoulder.

“But it’s mostly good for people to think well of you, hyung. Better than them thinking badly of you.”

“Maybe. But it’s hard when they think too well of you. It’s pressurising. You don’t feel like you deserve it.”

Taehyung nestles against Seokjin. “Yeah. Even when you do little things, they praise you and think of you so highly for them.”

“And now you have to meet their expectations, or you’ll disappoint them. It’s suffocating, isn’t it?”

Seokjin threads his fingers through Taehyung’s hair. His ministrations are tender, like a parent to their child with scraped knees.

“Yeah,” Taehyung wheezes, shutting his eyes.

“We’re human, after all. We make mistakes.”

Taehyung swallows. “I used to feel really happy whenever our fans praised me. But nowadays, whenever they tell me that they love me because I’m so kind, or I’m an amazing singer…”

Taehyung heaves. “I don’t know,” he mutters. “I’m not trying to be ungrateful. They’re just being nice to me when I don’t even deserve it. I appreciate it. I’m thankful they like me, but I just…”

Taehyung’s words fail him, like a wall had promptly blocked off his gurgling train of thought. With his own thoughts censored, he leaves the room silent, break in the conversation like an awkward gap in a TV programme. Shivers of static and the loud bleep.

.. - / -- .- -.- . ... / -- . / -. . .-. ...- --- ..- ...

Even he can’t decipher his own thoughts.

“Continue what you were saying,” Seokjin gently says after a short wait.

“It’s fine,” Taehyung breathes tiredly. “It’s not important. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“Continue from before, not where you stopped. You said you used to feel happy when you got praises. What about now?”

Taehyung glances up, delving into Seokjin’s earnest eyes. He falters before gruffly sighing, “It’s uncomfortable when they praise me for things I’m not. I’m not that kind. I get angry with some fans too when they follow us on our vacations. I’m selfish sometimes.”

“I’m not that great at singing. I wasn’t born good at it. I still have to switch verses if I can’t handle them that well.”

“It was hard to say it because you feel like you were complaining, right?” Seokjin hums, gazing absentmindedly at the wall. “You should be grateful they like you. And it’s supposed to be a good thing that they’re praising you. But it’s stressful.”

“Kind of,” Taehyung heaves. “I just think, maybe one day, they’ll finally find out I’m not as great as they think. I’m scared that they’ll be disappointed.”

Seokjin nods. He mulls over his words for a long while.

“It’s okay,” he starts. “It’s not your fault that they’re disappointed. We all see each other differently. It’s impossible to meet everyone’s standards.”

Taehyung shrugs in response.

“I see you like a younger brother, right?” Seokjin continues.

Taehyung nods. He watches curiously as Seokjin tries to string his thoughts coherently.

“But Jungkook sees you as an older brother he can count on. Just like we see you differently, everyone will see you differently, so they expect different things from you. You can’t meet everyone’s expectations, and that’s okay.”

“Some people will get you wrong,” Seokjin breathes, “but it’s them who see you as something you’re not. So, it’s not your fault if they get disappointed you don’t live up to what they think of you.”

Taehyun bats his lashes slowly. “Wow, hyung. I didn’t expect that from you.”

“Yeah, I’m so proud of myself for thinking of that.”

Taehyung warmly laughs, leaning more against Seokjin. His laughter ebbs away into a contemplative hum. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“It’s really not your fault. If I wanted you to be only a cute younger brother and Jungkook wanted you to only be a strong, cool older brother, how can you be both at once?

“You want me to be a cute younger brother?” Taehyung chuckles.

“You already are. All of you younger ones are cute.”

“But you act cuter than us, hyung.”

“What are you trying to say?” Seokjin feigns annoyance.

“That you’re cute for your age.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “You’re becoming like Jimin and Jungkook. It’s not a good thing.”

When Taehyung laughs, Seokjin smiles along, plump lips pulling up with a lovely beam.

“It’s good that you’re trying to improve. You’re trying hard to be better so the fans can see a better you. But don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re human; you make mistakes. The fans know that. They won’t be disappointed.”

“Most of the time, they just say it to show their love and make us happy. And for those who really expect things from you, it’s okay to disappoint them. You’re already trying to be better. You can’t meet everyone’s expectations,” Seokjin rambles.

He lowers his gaze. “You might feel like you don’t deserve the love they give you, so you should be grateful and please even those who go overboard. Don’t think that way, okay?”

“Okay,” Taehyung exhales. He’s half-listening—not because he’s unappreciative of all that Seokjin’s saying, but because they don’t seem to dig in deep at the moment. Still, just the fact that Seokjin’s trying so much is touching.

“Do you feel better?” Seokjin asks, lips quirked.

“Feel better? I was always feeling alright. But it feels good talking to you, hyung.”

Seokjin nods. “That’s good. You were tired, right? Go to sleep.”

He reaches over to pat Taehyung’s head one last time. Taehyung keeps his head rested on Seokjin’s shoulder.

“Why don’t we sleep together, hyung?” Taehyung breathes. Now, the physical exhaustion has caught up, making his eyes droop. Seokjin’s warmth is comfortable, likable to both Taehyung’s hands and his heartbeat.

“What are you, five years old?” Seokjin teases heartily, laugh high-pitched as always. He gets off the bed. “I’ll take my blanket here.”

He shows up with his pillow and his RJ plushie, dragging his blanket over the floor like a child. Taehyung keeps his amusement to himself as he shifts over.

Seokjin makes himself comfortable, joking here and there about how Taehyung’s room smells. He finally settles in, the two of them facing one another.

“Oh, this is awkward. I’m scared that you’ll take the chance to kiss me. Then, you’ll call it an accident.” Seokjin rolls over as Taehyung muffles his snort.

Gazing tiredly at the back of Seokjin’s head, Taehyung reaches out to feel Seokjin’s hair. “Thanks, hyung.”

“Mm. Go to sleep. We’ve had a long day.”

“Yeah.” Taehyung shifts nearer, putting his arm over Seokjin’s waist to pull him closer. It’s dark—but warm. It feels nice, like he’s mapping out Seokjin’s shape into himself. It’s an odd thought that disperses as the gratitude fully simmers in his chest.

Seokjin’s trying. For that, Taehyung is thankful.

“Goodnight, hyung,” Taehyung breathes into Seokjin’s hair. Seokjin shivers instinctively.

“Yeah, sleep well.”

On a second day of darkness, Taehyung sleeps with an uncharacteristic warmth by his side.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Taehyung wakes up to an empty bed, Seokjin’s RJ plushie in his arms. He winces at the sunlight peeking in and sits up, looking around for Seokjin.

The sheets are just a little creased on the side Seokjin slept on. Taehyung wonders how early Seokjin left.

Taehyung leaves the plushie in bed as he schlepps out to the living room. There, he finds Seokjin sitting at the dining table with Namjoon. He’s clad in a plain white tee and loose shorts, along with a cap.

Seokjin glances up.  His eyes are so doe that the shadow of his cap can’t obscure how his eyes glisten.

“Oh, Taehyung. Did you sleep well?”

Taehyung groggily drags himself to the chair opposite Seokjin. “You went out, hyung?”

“Mm. Went out to the convenience store with Namjoon and just came back.”

“Hyung, look at this,” Namjoon remarks, pushing over his phone. Taehyung watches them laugh over some video as he sobers up from his slumber.

“You just woke up, right?” Seokjin says when Namjoon returns to his phone. He takes out a roll of kimbap from the plastic bag, handing it to Taehyung.

“Thanks.” Taehyung unwraps the kimbap, frowning when he recognises the takeaway bag. “Isn’t this the store beside the company building?”

Namjoon looks up at this moment.

“Yeah,” Seokjin says. “We went over for a while.”

He takes off his cap, revealing the pallor in his face. His hair is matted down and he smells fresh, as if he just took a shower.

Taehyung nods, stuffing a piece of kimbap into his mouth. He remembers eating this often when he was much younger, still dawdling around as a newbie who wasn’t used to the fast-paced culture of Seoul. Seokjin would pay for their occasional meals at this kimbap shop after a long day of practice. It had a warm, serene atmosphere with how homely the décor was and the simmering chatter.

He joined late, but Seokjin treated him well from the get-go. Perhaps like a Jungkook 2.0, another little brother to his overwhelming number. It’s funny that he tried so hard to impress Seokjin the first time they met.

Taehyung glances up to Seokjin. He looks older than then, obviously. It’s been years.

The front door unlocks while they indulge in their breakfast, Yoongi stepping in. He removes his hat as he joins them at the table, helping himself to the kimbap Seokjin bought.

“Where’d you go, hyung?” Namjoon asks.

“Was at my studio,” Yoongi drawls. Seokjin perks up just as Yoongi looks over to him.

“I saw you guys.” Yoongi sighs, shaking his head. “At least go with Jimin, hyung. You going with Namjoon is like the second last in the class trying to help the last.”

Seokjin bursts out in laughter while Namjoon squints at him. “Hyung, I guess you should take over since you’re so good at it.”

“Hey, I didn’t say I was great,” Yoongi says, a subtle smirk shadowing his lips.

Taehyung raises his brows. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Seokjin says. “Is the kimbap cold? We took some time to come back.”

Taehyung blinks. “What’s that about Namjoon-hyung helping you?”

“They went to practise the choreography for Idol this morning,” Yoongi fills in lowly. He takes a roll of kimbap and promptly gobbles it down.

“Anyway, I’m kidding. It’s good to help each other. You’re both working hard.”

As he eats, he glances to Seokjin, resting his gaze for a while.

“Hyung. You did well.”

Seokjin flares his nostrils. “What’s with this personality change? Did you hit your head while I wasn’t looking? You were just insulting me for being dead last.”

Yoongi quickly blocks Seokjin from taking back the roll of kimbap.

“You don’t deserve it. Spit it back out,” Seokjin raises his voice.

“Sure, open your hand out.” Yoongi feigns vomiting, much to Seokjin’s horror.

Taehyung watches them play fight, surprised that Seokjin had actually went to practice the choreography. He didn’t think Seokjin would work on his dancing after Hoseok gave him feedback. He didn’t exactly seem to care.

“What time are we supposed to be at the agency again?” Yoongi remarks, patting down his hair after Seokjin tussled it.

“3PM,” Taehyung returns. He watches as Seokjin reaches over to squeeze Namjoon’s hand. Namjoon glances up and they simply stare at one another.

“You’re welcome,” Namjoon hums without needing Seokjin to speak his thoughts. “Don’t worry, I’m going to sleep right after I’m done eating. Which is now, actually.”

He stuffs the last kimbap into his mouth and gets up. “You should sleep too, hyung. You too, Yoongi-hyung.”

“Okay.” Seokjin gets up as well. He taps the side of Taehyung’s arm. “You slept well, right? I left RJ with you.”

Taehyung chuckles. “Yeah, I did.”

Seokjin grins, his exhaustion not able to obscure his sincerity. “Alright, I’m going to take him back.”

 

--

 

They return home at midnight, chords for their newest lead single burnt into their heads with the umpteenth times they repeated it. The song is rather atypical, borrowing from more traditional tones. The percussions are heavy, beats fierce like the stomps of a tribe. Taehyung wonders repeatedly about whether their fans would like it.

He throws himself onto his bed, the lights switched on. He's not as tired today, despite his legs burning from the back-to-back practices. What he more precisely means is that his skin isn't particularly craving the darkness, what makes him hard to differentiate from the walls. The darkness is soothing, but it feels like a mismatch for him at the moment—probably because the exhaustion-driven adrenaline still gurgles through his veins.

Staring up at the lamp, Taehyung winces, reaching out a hand to grasp at the beams. His hands grasp nothing. As he shuts his eyes, the light seethes into his eyelids like the spotlight on the stage. He can hear the crowds shrieking and the loving faces, just happy from thinking about what's to come. He finds his breaths thinning out, chest rising and falling harder.

Out of nowhere, he offhandedly wonders how it'd be like if he slipped and fell while they're performing their newest songs. He might twist his ankle. It'd be terrible if he got in the other members' ways. The stares he’d get sink into his skin, along with the endless headlines that will follow after.

He flutters open his eyes when he hears the door creak open. The vision of him with his foot slanted the wrong way disperses as he meets Seokjin's eyes.

Seokjin peeks in, blinking slowly. Taehyung only realises his own small smile when Seokjin smiles back.

"Going to sleep?"

"Not yet." Taehyung sits up, cross-legged.

Seokjin steps in, shutting the door behind him. "You're really good at Idol's choreography. I think you dance even better than all of us."

"You know that's not true, hyung," Taehyung chuckles. He makes space for Seokjin to sit on his bed.

This is Seokjin's third nightly visit. It's nice that he cares this much, even though Taehyung knows he didn’t look as weary today. Third time would mean it's a routine, right? Or is too early to call it that?

"You worked hard." Seokjin seems drained, probably from practising early in the morning.

"You too, hyung. You're getting better."

Seokjin grins. "Really? That's good. I don't know how the moves come so naturally to you guys. It's so hard to coordinate my hands and my feet, even though we've learnt the dances to so many songs."

"It's fine." Taehyung considers saying that some people just have the natural affinity, but realises it's not a great consolation. He can't offer anything else, though. Saying that it'll come with time is just a blatant lie. Seokjin already knows that.

Taehyung thinks back to this morning. "How early did you and Namjoon-hyung go out to practise?"

"I don't know. 3AM? Now that you mention it, I feel bad for dragging Namjoon out." Seokjin pulls his lips to the side.

"Why'd you ask Namjoon-hyung?" Taehyung remarks.

"Are you proud that you're this rude to your elders?" Seokjin retorts, knuckling Taehyung's head. Taehyung chuckles.

“That’s not what I meant. Hyung,” he says, “ask me next time. I’m not that great, but I can help.”

“It’s fine. You guys are already exhausted.”

“No, I want to help. So, ask me next time, hyung.”

“Alright. Maybe.” Seokjin lies back down on the bed, shutting his eyes. “Ha, I’m so tired. My legs feel like they’re going to break.”

“Because you practised in the morning. Namjoon-hyung was struggling too.” Taehyung lies down as well, facing Seokjin.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asks offhandedly.

“About what?”

“That you went to practise. You just said you dropped by.”

“I didn’t think it was important,” Seokjin murmurs.

Silence clouds the room for a long while, Seokjin clearly dozing off without noticing. He suddenly startles awake, blinking hard to rid of his grogginess as his eyes find Taehyung.

“Are you tired today?” He asks softly.

It takes a moment to realise Seokjin’s using the code word for what Taehyung can’t put the proper words to.

Taehyung hums, “Not as much.”

“Okay.” Seokjin shuts his eyes again. Taehyung laughs.

“You’re really tired, aren’t you, hyung?”

“What do you think? I practised for double the time you guys did.” Seokjin turns away from Taehyung, lying on his side to make himself more comfortable. Taehyung tugs at him to flip him over.

"Do you want to go to sleep?"

Seokjin pries open his eyes, eyelids continuously drooping. "It's okay," he says anyway, reaching out to pat Taehyung's head. He then squeezes his own stomach, feeling the roundness.

"I ate so much for dinner because Jimin kept stuffing me with those truffle fries. I feel like puking."

"Jimin likes to spoil you, hyung."

"Torture me," Seokjin corrects. He nestles against Taehyung's mattress.

Taehyung smiles. "Hyung, do you think our new album will be good?"

"It will. A lot of people worked hard on it."

"I'm afraid our fans won't like it, though. Especially our title song."

"They will. Idol isn't like our usual songs, but they'll like it after a few listens," Seokjin assures. "Trust in our producers, especially Namjoon, mm?"

Taehyung exhales, expecting Seokjin's response. Seokjin is a carefree person after all. Worries don't matter to him since he lives so simplistically. He's never bogged down by bigger, heavier concerns.

“What if I trip and fall on our first performance, hyung?” Taehyung remarks.

Seokjin frowns. “Why would you?”

“I might.”

 “Then, pick yourself back up and keep dancing,” Seokjin says after a moment.

“What if I hurt my leg too badly to?” Taehyung continues.

Seokjin flits his lashes, gazing wordless at Taehyung. “That’s okay. Things like that happen sometimes.” He tussles Taehyung’s hair. “You’re worrying a lot.”

“You’re worrying too little,” Taehyun says honestly. “You always do.”

“Well, there’s not much point to worrying. If you keep worrying, you end up doing nothing.”

“It’ll motivate you to do better,” Taehyung insists.

“But you’re worrying about hurting yourself while dancing,” Seokjin points out gently. “How much can you change by worrying? You just have to be careful. If it happens, it happens. So, don’t scare yourself and make yourself upset.”

“That’s easy for you to say, hyung,” Taehyung retorts, the tension seeming to rise in his chest. “You never worry. It’s easy for you not to care. Maybe the scenario of me breaking my leg is exaggerated, but there’s a lot of other things to worry about.”

Seokjin goes quiet for a moment. “It’s not good to worry so much, Taehyung,” he simply advises. “You’ll make yourself stressed out. I don’t like seeing you like that.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Well…” Seokjin drifts off. He offers a smile. “We’ll make it so you can.”

Taehyung furrows his brows, irritated. Seokjin doesn’t understand because it doesn’t matter to him if the articles desecrate him and the fans’ eyes turn inside out from disappointment, maybe loathing. He doesn’t know how easy it is to slip from the mountain peak. He doesn’t care how many people are waiting for him to trip up, simply waiting for a good reason to justify their hatred. He just accepts all the insurmountable love he receives that nobody in this world will deserve, while Taehyung nearly breaks his back from at least trying to be deserving—though he never will be.

“Hyung.”

Before Taehyung can continue, Seokjin reaches out to touch Taehyung’s cheek. “Let’s try to be happy.”

The ticklish feeling on his cheek maps out in the shape of Seokjin’s fingers. Taehyung wants to argue why Seokjin should worry, but he forgets what he wants to say for a moment.

Seokjin truly has childish eyes, so vibrant it’s like looking into a kindergartener’s eyes. That of a little boy who can lived removed from the world because his parents tell him the most important thing for now is the ladybug he caught.

It’s pretty.

Seokjin sits up with a yawn, rubbing his eyes. “I’m going faint if I don’t sleep now, Taehyung. Are you going to sleep?”

Taehyung slowly sits up. “I guess,” he answers late.

“Alright.” Seokjin stands up, still rubbing his eyes. He shuts off the light and they’re suddenly bathed in utter darkness. It’s calming, to the point the annoyance withers from Taehyung.

But it’s freezing. When did it get this cold?

“Goodnight.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung says immediately. “You don’t want to sleep here?”

Seokjin turns back. “You want me to sleep with you?”

“I don’t mind.”

Seokjin stares for a moment. “Well, alright.” He goes to get his things while Taehyung remains staring at the door. He plops back down on the bed, resting on the area Seokjin was lying on.

Taehyung inhales. Seokjin might leave his scent, considering he also slept here last night—for a while, that is.

Seokjin returns, nudging Taehyung side to get into bed. He curls up and faces away from Taehyung.

“You’re like a baby, seriously,” Seokjin grumbles, sleep slurring his words. “Yesterday, you hugged me so tight Namjoon had to pull me so I could get out. Did you know you sneezed in your sleep too? You nearly blew my eardrums.”

“You know my habits by now, hyung,” Taehyung chuckles. He shifts close and slips an arm around Seokjin’s waist.

“Thanks, hyung,” he mumbles. Seokjin’s a little naïve, but he guesses Seokjin has somewhat of a point. When the situation demands him he can’t be swallowed by his worries—in front of the adoring fans who gave so much to see him happy—Taehyung wraps up his apprehensions for later, like rotten leftovers. He forcefully stomps it into the corner of his head, trying his hardest to smile. For the people he loves, he has to be happy sometimes, even if his misgivings are for them as well.

“Sure. I’m going to sleep now. I really can’t stay awake anymore,” Seokjin weakly mutters. “We can talk more tomorrow.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Taehyung can hear the muffled voices of the members outside, probably Hoseok talking to Jimin. Feeling how warm Seokjin is, Taehyung experimentally leans forward to rest his cheek on Seokjin’s neck. It’s especially comfortable in the darkness, where Taehyung can’t separate himself from anything else.

Third time means it's a routine, for sure, Taehyung tells himself.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Like a shower, the light collapses upon Taehyung’s shoulders. It gets into Taehyung’s eyes with a sting, so Taehyung puts his fists to his eyes. His silvery clothing may cover much of his skin but the light still seems to seep through, making his hairs stand a little.

With this sort of bright lighting, he’s sure that they could see into his bones. Taehyung lets his eyes slowly adjust as he puts down his arms, staring into the camera. The staff briskly stride across the set, some tuning the backdrop while others tidy up the boys’ hair.

Yoongi laughs when Hoseok’s rose decoration on his shoulder falls off. Seokjin suggests using his face as a replacement while a stylist hurriedly fixes Hoseok’s coat, giggling at the comment. Hoseok snorts in amusement.

As Taehyung watches them, he feels a light touch on his wrist. He turns to find Jimin staring up at him.

Jimin offers a small smile. “Let’s do our best and wrap this up quickly. I can’t wait for dinner. Are you hungry?”

“Not really.” Taehyung pats Jimin’s head, quickly taking his hands away when a stylist makes a whale-like noise.

“I’ll treat you.”

Taehyung cocks a brow at Jimin’s cheeky grin. “Right. I didn’t know the company’s money came from you.”

“I’ll get you a 600 won ice cream afterwards.”

“Wow, our Jimin is so generous,” Namjoon laughs, hearing the comment. He looks up at Taehyung with a warm grin.

“I’ll buy you one too. Don’t need to thank your big brother.”

Jimin gasps. “Taehyung’s 1200 won richer today.”

Before Taehyung can roll his eyes at the remark, the camera director yells. The staff begin scuttling like fire ants. One of their make-up artists rush over to Taehyung, dabbing a bit more pink onto his lips.

His jacket is heavy, or is it the lights? The thought disperses into stiffness as the camera director makes a signal. Immediately, a quietness spreads like a disease, only the murmurs of the recording staff heard. All eyes are on them.

Taehyung feels his ribcage tighten. His collar reaches up to his adam’s apple today, so it’s particularly suffocating.

His heartbeat races faster than the director’s countdown.

Action!

Cold sweat runs down the nape of Taehyung’s neck. He blinks hard, concerned at his sudden nervousness. He’s done this hundreds, thousands of times—stood behind the glaring lens and the watchful crowds and cracked jokes with so much ease. Why is he acting as if it’s their debut stage, feeling perpetually unprepared despite the hours and hours of practice?

They do their introductions. Taehyung thankfully manages out the words, a bit softer than he should have. The recording staff gesture upwards to remind him to keep his volume up.

Taehyung clenches his jaw as a chill glazes over his veins. He looks to Jimin sitting right in front of him. His back is small, the view reminding Taehyung of countless choreographies since many years ago.

Taehyung reaches out, fingers hovering over Jimin’s jacket. He pulls back at the last minute. That’ll look so odd on camera.

Taehyung glances to Seokjin standing beside him. He wants to touch him just to get his bearings, but Namjoon turns around to talk to Seokjin. One camera shifts over, zooming in on the two.

Taehyung churns out a smile even he knows is crooked. They laugh in unison at Seokjin’s joke and Hoseok continues, answering the interviewer’s question with a veteran’s confidence.

His face begins to drain of colour as some of the staff set their eyes on him intently. Jungkook’s laugh is unbearably loud despite him standing on the opposite side. Everything seems so overbearing at this moment. How many people will see this footage? Tens of thousands, if they’re merciful. Millions, perhaps. Rewind it, Thursday, 17:30, static over the speakers. It’s like he’s on a CCTV.

He’s screwing it up.

Taehyung jerks when he feels his hand being nudged away. He turns to meet Seokjin’s eyes and his light smile. Seokjin’s fingers curl around his palm and squeeze firmly.

Seokjin leans over, whispering into Taehyung’s ear. “Those female staff over there are staring at you, did you notice? They wouldn’t stop talking about you just now. You’re too handsome.”

He follows Seokjin’s gaze to the staff he had noticed just now, gazing at him in particular. Taehyung gives a small smile and their flustered eyes dart down before flickering back up, much like a pinball.

He turns back to Seokjin. He initially wanted to reply, but the words trickle away at the blinding lights reflecting off Seokjin’s irises. He’s so comfortable in the spotlight, barely even flinching. He willingly makes fun of himself in front of the camera despite knowing how it’ll be immortalised for the rest of his life—how his comments go ignored, the silences that follow his weird jokes, how he creates the lighthearted atmosphere that’ll make their fans laugh.

Taehyung chuckles at the thought, squeezing Seokjin’s hand back. The warmth from their interlocked hands brim through Taehyung’s veins, soothing him with the years they’ve stood by each other. This is just another interview out of the countless that have gone by alright.

He’ll be fine.

Despite the light crawling over his clothes, Taehyung exhales bravely with Seokjin’s hand in his. He leans in and whispers, “Hyung. Thanks.”

“For calling you handsome? You’re egoistic,” Seokjin lowly says, turning his attention back to the interviewer. Taehyung muffles a laugh.

It’s funny. Seokjin has no idea what he’s done with that fleeting comment he simply itched to mention.

Their hands slip away after a few minutes, leaving Taehyung’s shoulders untensed and his breaths steady. He laughs naturally along at Hoseok’s antics and how Namjoon and Yoongi squabble. Though he still struggles to puncture his comments here and there, waiting too long for the perfect window of opportunity, he isn’t as stiff at least.

As the interview progresses, the questions go from their latest album to more personal ones. The interviewer shuffles her cue cards and asks amiably, “Wow, so it looks like you guys have a lot of hobbies. Then, have you guys tried anything new lately?”

It’s a standard question that Jungkook opts to answer, sharing about how he’s been editing videos lately. As he concludes, Seokjin picks up the question.

“Taehyung has been trying out new things too. Photography. He’s really into it.”

Caught off guard by his name, Taehyung fidgets, glancing to the interviewer. “Oh yeah, it’s not very new.”

“But you recently got a new camera, right?” Seokjin remarks.

“Yeah. It’s better than my old one. One of the BigHit staff recommended it to me. She taught me about the different type of lenses,” Taehyung says thoughtfully. “Last time, I used to shoot long shots with normal lenses, so it didn’t look good.”

“He even has a tripod now. He’s a professional. I like his nature shots a lot,” Yoongi points out.

“It’s hard to bring it overseas because it’s bulky, so I haven’t been using it much,” Taehyung mentions.

“I think Taehyung’s really good at finding the right angle. Like Suga-hyung said, his nature shots are really great,” Jimin says.

He playfully sighs. “But for people shots… I had him take my picture once. I looked weird, to the point I got a shock.”

“Hey,” Taehyung stifles a low laugh, remembering the incident.

“Why weird?” The interviewer chuckles.

“My head was huge and my hair looked thin, like it was paper stuck to my head. The background was distorted too. It made it seem like my head was a planet, and everything was being sucked in.”

The members burst out laughing.

“I accidentally used a wide-angle lens to shoot a close-up of him,” Taehyung explains lightly. “I know which one to use now.”

“Maybe you can take another close-up of Jimin to show us how the fans how you’ve improved,” the interviewer suggests chirpily.

“I should.”

Taehyung makes it to the end of the interview. Dinner is a tiring but enjoyable affair. Jungkook gets him soup, having remembered that Taehyung said he was a little cold. Jimin sits by his side during dinner and gets him the ice cream as promised. On the car ride back, Hoseok lends him his earphones, opting to chat with Yoongi (who vehemently insists on being left alone).

Taehyung hops into the shower once they reach their dorms. The water hits him harder than the lights, massaging away the uncharacteristic stiffness today. He’s lucky that Seokjin brought him back to his senses.

As Taehyung steps out with a towel over his head, he notices Seokjin and Namjoon on the balcony. Jimin is lazing on the couch while the rest are nowhere to be seen.

“Oh, Taehyung.” Jimin sits up and scoots over to him. “Dinner was good, right?”

“Yeah. I should go exercise with Jungkook this week. Did he go down to the gym?”

“Yeah, you know him. Me too, I’ll go with you. Let me know when.” Jimin holds Taehyung’s elbow, eyes tinged with tenderness.

“Are you okay?”

He was the first to notice Taehyung was in a rut—some inexplicable, imprisoning pit that words couldn’t be put to. Of course, Taehyung’s the most comfortable with him out of everyone. Jimin’s been checking up on him always, trying in his own ways to help Taehyung out of that void.

Taehyung smiles. “Yeah. Thanks for today.”

“For what? I didn’t do anything.” Jimin pulls him into a loose hug. “You can pay me back for the 600 won ice cream some other day.”

Taehyung nudges him with a grin.

“Hey, do you want to go down and-” Jimin halts and momentarily glances to the balcony. “No, tomorrow evening. Let’s go for a walk and see the sunset. We can have chicken by the river.”

Taehyung considers briefly. He might not be in the mood for it tomorrow, but it’s fine. He can lug himself out for one day.

“Alright.”

Jimin softly smiles, embracing Taehyung once more. “I’ll always be here for you. Don’t ever forget that, okay?”

He heads into the bathroom, warmth left on Taehyung’s fingertips.

Taehyung looks to the balcony, where Seokjin and Namjoon are still standing. Their backs are pressed against the railings, them laughing while the wind messes up their hair.

He heads to his room with a towel over his head, tossing himself onto his bed without turning on the lights. It’s peaceful, almost rubbing away the shadow of the seething lights from today.

He checks the time. 11:04 PM.

Taehyung closes his eyes to the darkness. The breeze tugs at the drawn curtains, making loud hollow noises relentlessly.

The minutes pass vaguely. A dim light dances over Taehyung’s shut eyes. He immediately pries open his eyelids and looks to the door, frowning when he sees no one there. He belatedly realises the wind had pulled one of the curtains loose, hence the flutter of light.

He checks the time. 11:12 PM.

Taehyung shuts his eyes again. He opens them when he hears a creak, but it’s not that of his door opening. Instead, he hears Yoongi mutter something to Hoseok.

11:26 PM.

Taehyung closes his eyes once more. He’s tricked by the flitting curtains again, much to his annoyance.

11:31 PM.

Is Seokjin coming in?

Taehyung sits up. Seokjin came in the past three nights to check on Taehyung. Last night, Seokjin did note that Taehyung wasn’t as tired as the previous nights. He took back his plushie, too.

Well, it’s not a big deal. He shouldn’t be waiting. If he wants to talk to Seokjin, he can just ask.

Taehyung turns over and closes his eyes to sleep. It’s then that an unmistakably bright light slices in along with a click of the door knob.

Taehyung slants his head back, grinning once he sees Seokjin at the doorway. He opened the door to allow just a tiny gap, one bright eye peeking in.

“Oh,” Seokjin murmurs when he finally discerns that Taehyung’s awake. He pushes the door slightly open. “Are you going to sleep?”

Taehyung parts his lips, but he decides against answering. Instead, he says, “Hyung, you can come in.”

“Okay.” Seokjin steps in and nudges the door closed behind him.

“Did you bring RJ?”

“Why? You want me to sleep here again?”

Taehyung blinks. “If you want.”

“I’ll get it later, then.” Seokjin lies on the bed, making himself comfortable beside Taehyung. He lifts his head and feels the pillow, damp from Taehyung’s hair.

“You didn’t dry your hair, did you? You know you’ll get a headache like that.”

“It’s fine. It’s almost dry.”

Seokjin sighs, pulling at Taehyung’s shoulder. “Sit up.”

He towels Taehyung’s hair dry while Taehyung sits obediently beneath him. He’s reminded of when he was a child, his father kneeling behind him and drying his hair while he sat in front of the television. Some years forward and it’s Seokjin sitting behind him in their cramped dorm, a few days before their debut. Taehyung, seventeen then, was too exhausted from their dance practice to dry his hair, so Seokjin offered to do it for him. It’d be terrible if Taehyung caught a cold when they were about to show their faces to the world.

Seokjin was much thinner back then. He was on a stringent diet that they all thought nothing wrong of. The company ordered him to do so, after all. It’s the most natural obligation of a celebrity to fit within the designated centimetres and under the terrifying kilograms.

Taehyung flutters his lashes. It must have been hard for Seokjin, but he didn’t seem that bothered. It looked pretty easy for him, actually. Counting calories, cutting portions, stepping up and down the weighing scale every day. He’d whine when he adhered to his calorie restriction for the day, but somehow went up a kilogram, as if the water he chugged weighed nothing. Other than that, he never genuinely complained and sucked it up.

Taehyung stares up at Seokjin, delving into his glistening eyes. Seokjin flares his nostrils comically, his expression obscured by the darkness.

“Hyung.”

“What?”

Taehyung reaches up to touch Seokjin’s cheek. “Hyung.”

“What? I heard you the first time.” Seokjin gets off and hangs up the towel by the cupboard. He tosses himself back onto the bed with a sigh.

“Thank you,” Taehyung breathes.

“Okay. Don’t be lazy to dry your hair next time.”

Taehyung turns to look at him. He’s grateful towards Seokjin for more than just towelling his hair dry, but Seokjin is oblivious to what he’s done today. He wouldn’t understand.

Seokjin sniffs. “Was today tiring?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung heaves. He turns onto his side and rests his hand on Seokjin’s forearm. “Hyung.”

“Mm?”

“Hyung.”

“What?” Seokjin’s a bit annoyed now, which amuses Taehyung. Taehyung nestles his head against his pillow, smiling at Seokjin.

“Your face is pretty,” he remarks, not sure where the words came from.

Seokjin scrunches up his nose, evidently weirded out by Taehyung’s choice of words. He haughtily turns his nose up.

“I already know that I’m handsome. You should tell me something I don’t know.”

Taehyung thins his lips. “You’re ugly.”

“Don’t contradict yourself.”

They melt into a tender laughter. Taehyung inches closer.

“Actually, I was really nervous today during the interview. I don’t know why, but I suddenly blanked out,” he confesses.

“You did? I couldn’t tell. You seemed like a natural.”

“Well, I wasn’t. I was panicking, like we just debuted.”

Seokjin nods. “It’s okay. Things like this happen.”

“They shouldn’t,” Taehyung returns.

“But they do. And that’s alright, Taehyung,” Seokjin states.

Taehyung exhales quietly, knowing it’s another topic where they’ll butt heads. “We should be used to things like that, hyung. We’ve done it for so many years.”

“That’s true. But sometimes, you get so used to it, and it’s like your body runs automatically, you know? Then you suddenly become conscious of what you’re doing, so you get a shock. Like when you’re dancing to our old songs and you suddenly forget how it goes,” Seokjin muses.

“Namjoon talked to me about this last week. He checked if all of you were there but forgot about Jungkook. It was fine since the staff reminded him, but on stage, he said it’d be a problem,” Seokjin shares thoughtfully.

Taehyung doesn’t reply. Seokjin gazes at him and purses his lips.

“Sorry. I get what you mean. This kind of things shouldn’t happen since we’re so experienced,” Seokjin tries instead. “It must have been scary. Was it?”

Taehyung flutters his lashes. “Yeah. I was anxious. It felt like everyone was watching and could tell there was something wrong with me. After the interview ended, I was kind of disappointed in myself.”

Before Seokjin had put some context to why those women staff were staring at him in particular, their gazes seemed so scornful. Any moment, their lips would rattle off with gossip and whispers about how unprofessional he was. Maybe they’d be able to tell he was tired.

Seokjin mulls over Taehyung’s words. “I’d be anxious too. I’d be angry with myself for messing up.”

He turns to look up at the ceiling. “As someone who’s watching instead of going through it, I’d tell you that it’s okay. But if I went through it, I’d be upset.”

Taehyung nods slowly. “Yeah. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.”

“Mm. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll do better next time.” Seokjin balls one hand into a fist. “You’re an awesome person, Kim Taehyung. The very best. You’re my idol.”

Taehyung amusedly cocks a brow. He shifts closer, this time touching his nose against Seokjin’s upper arm. “Hyung, you’re so weird.”

They talk a little more about dinner, Seokjin curious about how they’d fried the squid. He mentions that one of their stylists is getting married and sighs about growing older. His parents worry about not finding the time to settle down with how busy their schedules are. Taehyung says that turning thirty shouldn’t be a landmark for being old and needing to start a family. They should stay as BTS till they’re elderly, performing with walking canes and beer bellies. Seokjin looks at him with some askance.

Seokjin looks to the window as a gust tumbles past, flapping the curtains. “Wow, the wind’s really strong tonight.”

“It must have been cold when you were standing on the balcony with Namjoon-hyung.”

“Yeah, but it felt good,” Seokjin hums with a gentle smile. He jolts when the wind abruptly blusters against the curtains.

“It sounds like we’re on a boat.”

Taehyung takes Seokjin’s arm, hugging loosely. “Like a sail.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Seokjin’s voice raises endearingly, his interest piqued. He shuts his eyes, singing a short verse of their song Sea.

“It really feels like I’m at the ocean. What great sound effects. I can visualise it all.”

Taehyung chuckles. “Should I imagine it too?”

“Yeah. Imagine that the bed is drifting out to sea, and we’re all alone, so it’s quiet.”

On cue, Jimin yells gibberish from outside while Jungkook gives a muffled reply. Taehyung laughs, letting go of Seokjin’s arm and ambitiously reaching around his waist.

“Why do I hear Jungkook and Jimin at sea, hyung?”

“They’re stranded on a nearby deserted island. We’re not going to save them.”

Taehyung laughs louder and nudges Seokjin towards him. “Yeah, let’s not.”

“It’s relaxing, isn’t it?” Seokjin hums.

Taehyung’s chest rises and falls as he thinks of waves crashing and receding from the shore. He rests his forehead against Seokjin’s arm, listening to the wind trying to pull the curtains free. The moonlight dissolves over them like a thin quilt.

“Yeah.” Taehyung’s voice is stifled with how close his lips are to Seokjin’s skin. Seokjin giggles at the ticklish feeling.

“Hyung,” Taehyung mumbles, letting the breeze carry away his thoughts. “I wish I was better.”

Seokjin shifts a little. “I wish I was better too.”

“You’re improving. Every time you sing Awake, Jimin looks like he’s in love.”

“He’s getting a bit obsessed with me,” Seokjin comments offhandedly.

Taehyung guffaws heartily. Seokjin isn’t wrong, actually. Jimin seems especially fond of Seokjin these days, despite their philosophies once clashing.

“Taehyung, you’ve gotten better too. Dancing, singing, how you carry yourself—you’ve really matured.”

“It’s not enough. There’s still a lot I have to work on.” Taehyung’s voice isn’t as stable as Jungkook’s. He can’t replicate the life Jimin shows in his dances.

“There’s a lot for me to learn, too,” Seokjin says.

“I think there’ll always be room for improvement for us, hyung.”

Seokjin readily agrees. “You’re right. We should continue working hard. And celebrate how far we’ve come, too.”

Their conversation, so directionless, melts away as Taehyung falls asleep. He dreams of fire in a wintry darkness, meek in the distance. Taehyung runs over and squats by it, warming himself contentedly.

He wakes to Seokjin softly groaning, morning dousing their tangled limbs with sunlight. Blinking away the remnants of sleep, Taehyung’s vision focuses to find Seokjin with his lips parted. Some dribble runs down his cheek. RJ lies abandoned on the floor, along with Seokjin’s blanket.

Taehyung laughs quietly. He presses his knuckle tenderly against Seokjin’s other cheek, grazing over to his full lips. They’re really so plump, much like a swollen heart. A cherry, maybe. Using one finger, Taehyung cheekily plays with them while Seokjin makes faces.

This is the fourth night they’ve spent together. Taehyung grins at the thought, chest swelling with an inexplicable joy.

He’s right. Third time means it’s a routine.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Third time means it’s a routine, indeed. Every night for the week, Seokjin checks in on Taehyung. On Friday, he visited at eleven o’clock, peeking in with his hair dripping wet after his shower. He comes earlier on Saturday, smelling of ginger soup from their dinner. Jimin had felt nauseous and craved for it, so Seokjin brewed it for him. He said that store-bought soup would be oily from all the seasoning and would only make Jimin feel worse. On Sunday night, Seokjin pops in at twelve, a little annoyed from losing several games with his gaming crew.

Each time, he peeks in first, finding Taehyung’s eyes in the darkness in case Taehyung’s asleep. From the ajar door, he talks for a while, light brimming against his back like the crack of morning. Then, he eases himself into the darkness Taehyung wraps himself in, shutting the door behind him.

They talk about things—big, small, heavy, light. Seokjin never gives much thought about the things Taehyung brings up, so it can get frustrating. He’s too carefree and maybe a little naïve, failing to understand the burdens they should have. But Seokjin’s heart is good. He cares, and Taehyung is happy for that.

Seokjin slept with Taehyung on all nights, despite ranting in the morning about Taehyung’s horrible sleeping habits. Taehyung talks in his sleep. He hugs so tightly that Seokjin wonders if Taehyung secretly wants to strangle him. On Saturday, Taehyung randomly clapped his hands while asleep, which Seokjin said to save for his performances instead. 

Seokjin keeps saying he misses his clean bed, painstakingly kept impeccable. Yet, he stays every night.

Rehearsals end late on Monday. Jungkook suggests going out for supper, which Jimin, Namjoon and Hoseok agree to. The rest head home, craving to rest their bones.

Seokjin had debated joining the others but ultimately chose to follow Yoongi and Taehyung back. It made Taehyung pleased.

They reach home with the van ride quiet, Seokjin having napped in the front seat. Taehyung sits patiently in his room with the lights switched off and the door ajar, scrolling through his social media for some time. He reads news about other celebrities but not himself, doesn’t venture into the comments section even so.

After a while, he stops, growing bored. He wonders how soon Seokjin will come in. Taehyung feels the left side of the bed where Seokjin usually sleeps, linens crumpling between his fingers.

With how much Seokjin has been sleeping here, he has probably left his scent. Taehyung leans down, experimentally sniffing.

The sheets do smell like Seokjin. Taehyung takes a larger whiff, grinning to himself. He was going to wash them tomorrow. Maybe he shouldn’t?

“What the hell are you doing?”

Taehyung jolts at Seokjin’s voice. Seokjin stands by the door, frowning at Taehyung with a weirded-out look.

Taehyung offers a cheeky smile. “It smells like you, hyung.”

“Looks like you’re back to your usual weird self,” Seokjin snorts. “You should change your sheets if it’s got my smell. I’ll wash it with mine.”

“No, I like your smell.” Taehyung puts his face against the bed, inhaling.

Seokjin’s weirded-out expression morphs into clear disgust. “Maybe I should go back to my room.”

“Hyung, can’t I like your smell?” Taehyung whines. He moves aside for Seokjin to sit down, pulling at Seokjin’s white shirt.

“Are you my lover? If not, why would you like my smell?” Seokjin settles into the bed, taking out his phone to surf the net.

“I don’t know. You smell like home,” Taehyung truthfully admits, not thinking to filter his words. He doesn’t need to, anyway. It’s Seokjin. Everyone is so comfortable with him.

Seokjin doesn’t reply, merely glancing at Taehyung. “How much of your solo did you record today?”

“We finished the chorus, but they want to tweak some parts to see if my voice will fit better. You heard the recording I sent you, right?”

“Yeah. You sang really well. I’m proud of you.”

Taehyung smiles. He did decently, not well. “Thank you, hyung.”

“Oh, that’s quick. They uploaded the behind the scenes for our interview last week,” Seokjin remarks.

“Which one? The Hana- oh, this one.” Taehyung sits up, leaning against Seokjin to watch the video. 

He remembers that day. He felt particularly out of it, as though his ribcage was an abyss and he’d somehow gotten lost in the depths. He was tired, very tired, and Namjoon had tailed him to the restroom in worry. They talked about sleeping pills.

On that day, Taehyung was trying to avoid the camera as much as he could. Did they even catch a glimpse of him? He might not have shown up in the entire video. That’s a shame.

Seokjin scrubs through the video, quickly showing the appearances of each member. Taehyung expects not to find himself in there, but towards the end, he catches himself. 

Taehyung smiles in relief. Right. Seokjin brought the video camera over to him, including him in his short spiel about something Taehyung can’t remember. Taehyung was irritated at Seokjin for that. Didn’t Seokjin apologise, saying he knew Taehyung would be annoyed but brought the camera over anyway?

Did he want to make sure Taehyung got into the video?

Taehyung looks at Seokjin, the older man focused on the video. Seokjin laughs at Hoseok’s exaggerated expression and Yoongi’s antics. After a while, Seokjin looks over with a snivel.

“Stop staring at me. You’re creeping me out.” Seokjin puts away his phone and rubs his eyes. “It’s so dark that even though my brightness is at its lowest, my phone still hurts my eyes.”

“Do you want to turn on the lights?”

“It’s fine. You like it when it’s dark.”

“Hyung, we can turn on the lights.” Taehyung gets up, only to have Seokjin pull at his pinky. Seokjin acts like this sometimes, gestures endearingly childish. Sometimes, it’s on purpose, but Taehyung believes he does them subconsciously on occasion.

“It’s okay, Taehyung. I don’t want to use my phone. If you want to use yours then turn on the lights.”

Taehyung settles back down. “I should get a night light,” he muses.

“Jungkook has one,” Seokjin remarks. “It’s a good investment, actually. When you turn off the lights and you want to use your phone, it hurts your eyes. Or maybe not, since you’re more likely to use your phone instead of sleeping?”

Seokjin shrugs. He shuts his eyes, squirming down to rest his head flat on the pillow.

“Jungkook’s one is too bright. A good one would be when you can sleep with it.”

“Yeah, those really dim ones. At that point, you might as well just turn the lights off, Taehyung,” Seokjin laughs.

It’s cute, the way he somewhat giggles when he says something that amuses himself. His eyes crinkle by the sides, showing that he’s pleased he came up with such a joke.

“Hyung, did you ever have those glow-in-the-dark stickers?” Taehyung nestles against his pillow. He stares at Seokjin’s side profile while Seokjin looks up absentmindedly at the ceiling.

“I think I did. When I was young.”

“I never had them,” Taehyung sighs. “They were kind of expensive, so I felt bad to buy them. I said I’d save up to get some, but then I got too old for it.”

Seokjin melts into a small, fond smile. “You must have been a sensible boy when you were young. You’re never too old to get glow-in-the-dark stickers.”

It must be weird for Seokjin to hear that Taehyung found it expensive. After all, their backgrounds are rather different.

“Yeah, but if I invited my friends over to play, they’d laugh,” Taehyung snivels.

“That’s true.”

Taehyung rolls onto his back and gazes up at his empty ceiling. He perks up. 

“Hyung, what if I decorated my room with those stickers?”

“You were just talking about being too old for it, though?” Seokjin chuckles. 

He nods, encouraging, “Why not? Just make sure you don’t put too many. You can’t turn them off.”

“You really think I should?” Taehyung grins. He feels just like a child on the brink of opening a birthday present. His ceiling is so white, almost like a blank canvas inviting him to come forward. 

He could put a few stars here and there. Maybe a crescent moon in the corner. How pretty would it look? He’d sleep every night under the cover of stars, his very own night sky within four walls. 

Seokjin mulls for a moment. He breathes, “Yeah. It’d be nice if your room was brighter when you slept. I’ll get them for you tomorrow, okay?”

Taehyung sits up, excitement shimmering in his eyes. 

“Hyung. Let’s go out and buy them now.”

Silence trails after his suggestion, Seokjin staring at him as if he’d grown a second head. “Taehyung, you’re joking, right? It’s past midnight. All the craft stores are closed.”

“Yeah, but there might be some at convenience stores! I’ve seen them before,” Taehyung continues with absolute gusto.

Seokjin makes an expression bordering on dread. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them…?”

“There are! I’ve seen them, in the toothbrush section. I can’t remember where.” Taehyung impatiently sighs, trying his hardest to jog his memory.

“Well, it’s better to get them at the craft stores since you have more options. Besides, it’s late.”

Taehyung pouts. “We could go check out convenience stores.”

“Taehyung, you can’t even remember which convenience store sold glow-in-the-dark stickers,” Seokjin heaves with a grimace. “Just get them tomorrow.”

“But I want them now, hyung.”

“Well, where are you going to find them? You might have seen one convenience store sell those stickers, but I’ve never seen them. You’re not going to find it,” Seokjin stresses.

“Can’t we try?” Taehyung pleads, lips dropping at the corners.

“We’ll just end up not getting anything,” Seokjin points out, knitted brows indicating that he’s not up for a compromise—and rightly so. If Taehyung suggested this to the others, he’d promptly be shot down as well.

“I’ll get it for you tomorrow, like I said, alright? Before we stop by the company. There’s a craft store nearby. You’ll get to choose from more choices,” Seokjin tries to soothe. “It’s late. Aren’t you tired?”

“I’m not tired.” Taehyung visibly deflates, voice lowering into a disappointed murmur. “Hyung, we could just-”

“Taehyung, it’s late. Get it tomorrow,” Seokjin firmly states. “If you want, go get them yourself. I’m tired.”

They simmer in silence, Taehyung containing a long sigh. He would go out and get the stickers himself, but it doesn’t feel as exciting without Seokjin with him.

He curls up by Seokjin’s side. Well, Seokjin’s right. It’s much too late to be going out just to buy some stickers. He’s not a kid anymore. He can wait till tomorrow.

“Do you really want them that much?”

Taehyung looks up, meeting Seokjin’s eyes. “No…”

Seokjin gazes back for a long moment, as though caught up in a fierce internal battle. Ultimately, he turns away, getting off the bed.

Taehyung gets up immediately. Some anxiousness crawls up his fingers. “Hyung, where are you going? Are you angry?”

“I’m going to change. We’ll just visit the convenience stores nearby, alright?” Seokjin sighs, evidently quite exasperated with his own decision. “So, hurry up and go change.”

“Really?” Taehyung nearly stumbles off the bed. He tackles Seokjin and wraps his arms around Seokjin’s waist, pulling him close. 

“I love you.”

“Stop it before I change my mind.”

Despite Seokjin’s broad profile, he curves well into Taehyung’s bones. Taehyung laughs against Seokjin’s neck, making Seokjin shudder.

“Okay. I’ll go change. You can’t change your mind!” 

Taehyung lets go and rushes to his closet. He tosses on a black shirt and Bermuda shorts, tucking his hair into a cap. Seokjin hands him a face mask and pops into Yoongi’s room.

Yoongi is sprawled over his bed like a corpse, head propped up by the headboard with his eyes on his phone. He furrows his brows when he notices Seokjin and Taehyung, all dressed.

“We’re going out, Yoongi. Want us to buy anything for you?”

Yoongi squints. “Why? It’s 2AM.”

“Just for some fresh air.”

Yoongi looks from Seokjin to Taehyung, not buying the excuse. He can already pinpoint the reason— person —behind why Seokjin is going out this late, despite looking like a zombie.

Yoongi turns, facing away from the two. “Get me some tuna kimbap from the convenience store. It’s alright if you don’t.”

Taehyung nudges Seokjin out the door once they exit the room, all excitement and eagerness. He walks with a light bounce in his steps, hooking arms with Seokjin.

They get into Seokjin’s car and head to a convenience store five minutes away, knowing the nearest ones are way too small to accommodate household decorations. As they drive down the road, Taehyung gazes out the window. 

The residences trail by with a peaceful quietness, lights mostly out. The streets are empty, save for a few passers-by and vehicles that spark Taehyung’s curiosity. Where are they going this late? Do they look at Taehyung and Seokjin and wonder the same thing?

Taehyung’s excited. He wonders what stars he’ll find. He doesn’t want fanciful ones, truthfully. Just normal ones, simple and plain. When they get home, he and Seokjin will put it up together. Would they have to jump on the bed to stick it on the ceiling? 

Otherwise, they can always use the stepladder. Seokjin bought that. He may seem dorky at times, but he’s good at managing the small things people take for granted. He’s the one who stocked the food in the dorms back then—still does now, though it’s just instant noodles since they can more than afford delivery.

Seokjin parks his car outside the store. “Go in and check, and don’t go looking at other things.”

Taehyung grins. He darts in, looping around the aisles while the convenience store worker regards him with little attention. Taehyung thinks about asking, but decides against it.

It’s an adventure, Taehyung thinks as he pops back into Seokjin’s car. An adventure with him and Seokjin to get some stars and put them in the sky, when it’s really just about him being impulsive and dragging along a friend out to get stickers past midnight. (He’s always been a dreamer.)

“None?” Seokjin asks.

Taehyung shakes his head. He can barely contain his excitement, not a trace of disappointment that the first store was a bust. “Let’s go to the next one, hyung. Hurry.”

The dim streetlights flutter over the car and illuminate their faces at intervals. They draw shadows in their wake over their thighs and arms. Seokjin draws open the window for Taehyung, letting the wind whisk against his face.

Taehyung’s chest swells. He turns over to look at Seokjin, the wind making his eyes a bit dry.

“Hyung, isn’t this fun?”

Seokjin darts his gaze over with narrowed eyes. “Fun? Going out hunting for stupid stickers to paste on your ceiling at 2AM because you whined for it is fun? You’re seriously out of your mind, Taehyung. If hyung wasn’t so nice, he’d have left you to sulk by yourself. I really shouldn’t have bothered, so why did I?”

His sudden rant dwindles into a self-reflection, Seokjin furrowing his brows bitterly. Taehyung laughs heartily, clasping on Seokjin’s forearm. 

Seokjin melts into a small smile.

“Hyung, but doesn’t this feel like an adventure? We’re always having to do things, practise dancing, singing, writing songs, composing, exercising to keep in shape—feels like we never have the time to do something that isn’t…”

Taehyung thinks to himself. Seokjin completes his sentence.

“Isn’t planned?”

“Yeah. We rarely get to do something that’s just random. Out of nowhere, just nonsense, only because we feel like it.”

Seokjin drums his fingers against the steering wheel. “So, you yourself think this is nonsense. You’re really itching for a beating.”

Taehyung laughs, squeezing Seokjin’s arm. Seokjin tries to shake him off.

“Stop touching me.” He snivels to make a threatening face.

“Hyung, can’t you drive with one hand?”

“No, I like driving with both.”

“Don’t guys use just one hand?”

“I guess I’m not a guy, then. Why do you care?”

“I want to hold you,” Taehyung confesses sincerely.

Seokjin shrugs. “Deal with it.”

Taehyung pouts. He reaches out to touch Seokjin’s thigh instead, resting his hand on the clothed, squishy warmth. Ever so briefly, he wonders why Seokjin wore sweatpants instead of shorts.

Seokjin peers down the road. “We’re going to the one on XXX street next. It’s bigger than the one we just went to. Maybe we’ll have more luck there. Though, I doubt they’ll have any.”

“Mm, okay. Thanks, hyung.” 

He squeezes Seokjin’s thigh, forming out a rhythm like the first time he tried his hand at composing—trying his best to express the thoughts in his heart, clumsily forming the instrumental track.

They pop into the next store, Seokjin coming out to check as well. The staff manning the counter is a girl with eye circles stamped into her cheeks, restless fingers itching to accommodate a cigarette. Seokjin hesitates in an aisle, stealing glances at her. He eventually leaves, afraid to ask.

“Why didn’t you ask?” Taehyung asks as he hops back into the car. Some guys are sitting outside the convenience store, wolfing up instant noodles and talking gregariously.

“She’s in the age group that’s likely to know us.”

“Maybe she’s our fan.” Taehyung tugs on Seokjin’s shirt. “Who do you think she’ll like?”

“You, probably.”

Seokjin starts the car and they head off to the next convenience store. The scenery melts by as Seokjin drives off to a bigger convenience store, Taehyung searching for directions on his phone. 

The late night radio is a bit scratchy, probably because Taehyung didn’t tune it to the exact station. They’re looping a playlist for night owls and sleepless dreams, guitar strums gentle while the lyrics speak of a great escape. Of taking the courage and chasing after your dreams, of buying a last-minute airplane ticket and flagging a taxi to the airport. 

Taehyung can imagine running down the streets with his haphazardly-packed luggage in tow, wheels clacking against the floor. He’s rushing for the next plane home, where there’s someone else waiting on the other side—who will always be waiting for him.

Seokjin’s blinking slow, tired but not sleepy, fingers lax against the steering wheel.

With the darkness and glimpses of traffic lights, the few passing people and how some neon store signs glare back with their doors closed, Taehyung suddenly realises how happy he is.

Late night drives are far from a rarity for him. Their schedules often end past midnight, nightmarish for the nine-to-five office worker. He leans his head against the window and watches the empty streets and few cars rushing home like him. When he’s tired and the emptiness gnaws in his ribcage, it paints his conjectures with a suffocating darkness. Are they rushing because they’ve got something to hide? To an extramarital lover, perhaps, or with a body in the trunk, or just wanting to end things once and for all. He thinks of blood, broken vows and stepping over the edge of the cliff.

But now, he feels exhilarated. That everyone he passes by is on an adventure, searching for a dream they put on the shelf a long time ago. Just like him, and he has the best companion who worries like a parent and can’t bear to leave him be on his impulsive exploits.

Taehyung muffles a laugh, one that sounds almost like a giggle of a toddler. Seokjin looks over with raised brows.

“Hyung.”

“Yeah?”

Taehyung sighs, smiling so hard without putting in an ounce of effort.

“I’m happy,” he says. “I’m really happy.”

 He squeezes Seokjin’s thigh, feeling upwards till Seokjin jerks. Seokjin pulls one hand away from the steering wheel and puts it over Taehyung’s wandering hand, stopping it from going further.

Seokjin smiles back. He brushes Taehyung’s cheeky hand away, holding the steering wheel once more.

“It’s the little things, isn’t it, Taehyung? I always tell you not to worry so much.” 

He exhales, shoulders falling. The lights glisten against his gentle eyes.

“If you keep being anxious, you miss out on the small things in life… that seem so insignificant, but they’re really things that you should be grateful for. I learnt that over the years.”

“You did, hyung?”

“Mm. If you keep running, Taehyung, you won’t get to see the things you would on a stroll. That’s why you should take things slow. Don’t be in such a rush to get to the finish line. They always say… what do they say? Right, the journey is worth more than the end. Do you get it?”

“Yeah, hyung.” 

Taehyung’s half-listening, focused more on how Seokjin’s rambling, trying to impart some of his wisdom. It’s endearing.

He touches Seokjin’s thigh again. Seokjin nudges him off.

“Stop touching me. I’m going to sue you for harassment.”

“You never complain when Namjoon-hyung touches you,” Taehyung pretends to sulk.

Seokjin creases his brows. “What? He doesn’t even touch me that much. You, Jungkook, Jimin, you guys are the ones that keep touching and hugging people.”

“Yes, he touches you a lot. Just you. Jimin told me that,” Taehyung vaguely recalls.

Seokjin’s face marrs with absolute dread. “Oh my god…”

He curses under his breath. Taehyung laughs loudly while Seokjin squints.

“You better not be getting that weird influence from Jimin, you hear me?” Seokjin raises his voice. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Jimin’s head, seriously. He pissed me off enough with that stupid April Fool’s prank and he’s going on about it even to you?”

Taehyung reaches over, holding Seokjin’s arm, itching for some kind of contact with Seokjin. “He always teases you guys.”

“It’s weird! He’s insane, fu…” Seokjin trails off in his rant, trying his hardest to keep to his promise of no more swearing. 

Taehyung laughs, warmth bubbling within him. “You know he’s just joking, hyung.”

“I’ll beat him, then tell him I’m joking. Let’s see if he’ll like it.”

Seokjin pulls up at the next convenience store, shooing Taehyung out. Taehyung darts into the store, the cold air-conditioning bristling his hair. He winds down the aisle, passing the sweets and snacks section to the instant noodles. He peers into the ice cream freezer, and then whooshes past the cleaning amenities upon realising a couple wandering around as well.

He gets the tuna kimbap Yoongi wanted and some jellies, knowing it’s Seokjin’s favourite. The cashier barely spares him a glance, more focused on the game on his phone. He’s young, probably younger than Taehyung, actually. Maybe a high-school student trying to make extra cash. 

Taehyung gets back into the car and proudly shows off his loot. They talk about random things, humming along to slow, romantic songs that are perfect for lullabies. Seokjin starts belting his heart out and making funny faces, so Taehyung stuffs a whole bunch of jellies into Seokjin’s mouth.

He licks off the excess sugar from the jellies, a bit wet from touching Seokjin’s lips. He doesn’t care.

After visiting eight stores, Seokjin’s hyperness starts to wear down into fatigue. They come back empty-handed yet again, but Seokjin doesn’t show his annoyance. They drive down to the next street, Taehyung searching for directions to the next convenience store.

In the quietness, suddenly, Seokjin yells. Taehyung jolts as Seokjin slows to a stop by the side of the road, conking his head against the steering wheel.

“What’s wrong, hyung?” Taehyung hastily asks. “Are you angry? I’m sorry for making you come out.”

Seokjin remains with his forehead plastered against the steering wheel. After a short moment, he heaves before prying his head off, hissing, “Dongdaemun market. It’s 24 hours. Why are we going around looking through convenience stores?”

Taehyung lights up. Seokjin groans.

Though it’s 3AM, the market still has a steady stream of people, being famous for its after-midnight opening hours. Bright-eyed tourists, perhaps tormented by the jet lag, hike around without so much of a worry as to the last train home. The store owners have all sorts of merchandise proudly on display, mostly clothes and other souvenirs.

The scent of carp bread wafts towards them as they weave through the crowd, heads hung low. Taehyung trails behind, engrossed by the extravagant displays. 

Seokjin grabs his hand gently, eyes glimmering with all the string lights around. “Keep up, Taehyung. I’m not going to care if you get lost,” he nags.

His fingers are soft. Taehyung lets himself be pulled by Seokjin, focusing on just his back now instead of the foreign faces and yells to come see, come see. They stumble across a toy shop and Seokjin heads straight for the sticker section.

Taehyung pulls up his mask when the store owner curiously looks over. Seokjin squats by the shelves, shuffling through the loads of stickers. There’s sticker sheets of cartoons, food, clothes, but none of the glow-in-the-dark ones.

Seokjin winds out of the store and Taehyung catches up, holding on to Seokjin’s arm without Seokjin initiating. Their shoes scrape against the pavement, a little damp from the rain probably many hours ago. They stumble across a home decor store and Seokjin tugs him in, perusing the decorations.

“Taehyung, Taehyung, is that…”

He suddenly shoots his hand out and nabs a product, jaw slackening in shock. Seokjin veers his head to face Taehyung. He has the brightest, most excited expression Taehyung has seen in a while, eyes comically large and lips pulled up into a dazzling grin.

Taehyung’s heart soars.

“Hyung!”

Seokjin’s enthusiastic look simmers into a sweet smile, eyes wrinkling along the edges. He laughs a little like he’s having hiccups and they jump around in excitement. Taehyung gleefully takes the packet of glow-in-the-dark star stickers and Seokjin begins shovelling more out from the stack. 

“I told you we’d be able to find it,” Taehyung whispers jubilantly. He grabs Seokjin into a half-hug and bumps their heads together, squeezing closer till Seokjin nudges him off.

Taehyung helps Seokjin clear out the whole shelf of glow-in-the-dark stickers, buying both the big ones and small ones. They’re shaped in stars, moons, planets, even shooting stars. The packets have just a few pieces each and are a little dusty, but Taehyung doesn’t mind. 

The owner gleefully rings them up, striking up a conversation. Seokjin replies in the lowest voice he can feign while Taehyung muffles a laugh.

Taehyung offers to drive this time. As Seokjin buckles his seatbelt, he stop in surprise when Taehyung engulfs him in a sudden embrace. 

“Thank you, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, laughing with the stickers in his hand. He’s bought probably twenty sets. “Thanks for coming with me.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m the best, aren’t I?” Seokjin hums, patting Taehyung’s back.

They head home quickly. When they reach their dorm, Namjoon is shuffling through some papers in the living room. 

He perks up.

“Where did you two go? I messaged you, hyung.”

“Ah, I was driving so I didn’t see.” Seokjin grabs the bag and holds it up proudly. “This crazy guy said he wanted to get glow-in-the-dark stickers an hour ago, so we went around looking for them. Guess what? We found it.”

Taehyung and Seokjin start yelling victoriously, till Namjoon hurriedly shushes them.

Namjoon gives his most unamused look. He massages his temple. “What the hell? Stickers? Why would you even want them at midnight?”

“I wanted to decorate my room,” Taehyung fills in. It doesn’t help Namjoon’s deadpan expression.

“What? What stickers? Seokjin-hyung, Taehyung-hyung, you’re back,” Jungkook says as he peeks out of his room.

“Glow-in-the-dark stickers,” Taehyung cheerfully repeats.

“Ha, I don’t even know…” Namjoon murmurs, shaking his head.

“Are the rest sleeping?” Seokjin asks as Taehyung takes back the bag. “Yoongi asked for some kimbap.”

“I'm not sure." Namjoon takes the kimbap and walks off. "I'll go check."

They find out the rest of the members are still awake, being the nocturnal beings they are. Upon finding out about Taehyung and Seokjin's escapade, Yoongi nags at Taehyung while Hoseok simply laughs at them. Jimin, on the verge of sleeping, giggles so gleefully that he isn't able to fall asleep again.

Impatient, Taehyung grabs Seokjin’s wrist, pouting at him. Getting the hint, Seokjin hurries to take a shower while Taehyung returns to his room, excitedly prying open the packets on the floor.

Jungkook comes in and crouches over Taehyung, peering with curiosity. He sits down and helps to open up all the packets, till Taehyung says it’s enough.

Just in time, Seokjin comes out of the shower in a set of fresh pyjamas. He hangs his towel over his head and comes back into the room with Namjoon in tow.

“Wow, that’s a lot…” Namjoon comments. “They’re pretty big, too.”

“Really? I think they’re small. I’d want a really big crescent moon as a ceiling decoration.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung calls out as Seokjin peruses the stickers, “where do we put the moon?”

“In the middle!” Jungkook blurts. “Then all the stars can surround it.”

“Mm, sounds good. Where do you want to put it, Taehyung? It’s your ceiling. I’m not going to be the one staring at it for the rest of my life.”

“You’re exaggerating, hyung,” Namjoon laughs.

“But hyung, you always sleep with Taehyung-hyung nowadays.”

“Hm, that’s true. My poor, lonely room,” Seokjin sighs.

"There's a lot of voices! Are you guys having a secret meeting?" Hoseok calls from outside, creaking open the door. "What are you guys doing?"

"Sticking the stickers now," Jungkook fills in. "Come in and help us, hyung."

"You guys are sticking it now?" jimin calls upon overhearing them.

Somehow, all of them end up gathered in Taehyung's room, Hoseok pulling Yoongi out from his room. Together, they brainstorm about where the stars go. The moon is positioned towards the left and the stars are planned by its side, spaced out randomly like an actual sky. Yoongi laments that there are no sun stickers, and Jimin snorts at him for confusing day and night.

They get on the bed to paste them, Jungkook jumping up and down and smacking them on (much to Seokjin’s aggravation). When they’re done, they shut the lights, collectively wowing at the sight. Jungkook, Jimin and Hoseok lie on the floor to get a full view while Namjoon and Seokjin sit with their heads bent back. Yoongi stands in the corner with his arms crossed, wearing a small smile.

"Wow..." Jimin blurts, waving his arms out. "This is awesome.

“It’s pretty,” Namjoon remarks, impressed. “You’ll get lots of inspiration for writing your solo songs, Taehyung.”

"Yeah. This kind of sight really drives your imagination," Yoongi muses.

“There’s leftovers,” Seokjin offers lightheartedly. “You two can make your own starry night sky.”

"Hey, that's a good idea," Hoseok chuckles.

“I want them. Can I?” Jungkook asks.

“Sure,” Taehyung exhales, not really paying attention. He’s too mesmerised by how good it looks—probably an illusory effect of how long he spent to get these stickers. Some of them are a little out of place and there’s some glue left on the wall, since Jungkook slapped the huge moon sticker into the ceiling in the wrong place.

But it’s so, so alluring. To be bathed in darkness and have his own personal night sky in his room... His seven-year-old self would have been thrilled. Taehyung lowers his head and his eyes immediately find Seokjin, who is staring up still at the ceiling. 

Taehyung’s heart rises into his throat. The green glow illuminates their faces just barely, but he can always, always tell how Seokjin is from his eyes. They’re like a recipe of him—ten ounces of love, a teaspoon of vanilla, sprinkles of genuineness that make him so likable. His eyes are just so… beautiful.

Taehyung can’t breathe. He restlessly bunches up his fingers, yearning for Seokjin to look back at him. He doesn’t, instead glancing to Namjoon and asking about his work.

Jungkook and Namjoon return to their rooms. Taehyung takes a quick shower, knowing that Seokjin would rather die than sleep with someone who’s dirty.

Taehyung rushes out of the bathroom, hair blown dry. Seokjin is lying in Taehyung's bed, scrolling through his phone.

“You dried your hair?”

Taehyung beams. “Yeah, hyung.”

They settle into bed, Seokjin letting out a sigh of utter relief. His shoulders fall as the tension eases away into a thankfulness that they’re home.

“You’re lucky I finished up my parts today. So lucky,” Seokjin mutters. He hugs his RJ plushie tight.

“Thank you, hyung. I was really happy when you said you’d come with me,” Taehyung breathes. He snuggles up close, way too close that Seokjin has to nudge him back. He goes closer, anyway.

“You’re welcome,” Seokjin yawns. 

They both gaze up at the ceiling. Seokjin comments, “It’s pretty, isn’t it? It’s a good idea, since you like to keep your lights off. I know you’re like Jungkook, you guys like to use your phone in the dark. Your corneas are going to burn off.”

Taehyung laughs. “It is pretty. I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s quite magical.”

The glow from the stickers are so mellow, mimicking the serenity you’d get from a night in the countryside. They’re lying on a lush field and the expansive dimness is the universe, so broad and mysterious. The sheets are grassy leaves and there, by his side, is… 

Taehyung looks from the stars to Seokjin. His heart is beating so erratically again, but his fatigue keeps him from thinking beyond the excitement of new decor. He wants to say thank you a million times. To Seokjin, to the universe for giving him a person who would, despite his exhaustion, be willing to accompany him out at some ungodly hour to buy stickers. He knows without a doubt he’s loved. For that, he can’t be anymore grateful.

It makes him so unbelievably happy to have Seokjin.

“Hyung, thank you. Really,” Taehyung says. It’s been a while since he truly felt this lighthearted, without the heinous thoughts gnawing at his mind.

Seokjin hums. “I told you, right? It’s the little things that matter the most. The things you don’t notice, the things you think aren’t worth your time, can be the things that make you the happiest.”

“I think… because you were there with me, this is much more special to me.”

“It is?” Seokjin muses.

“Mm. I’m really so happy, hyung,” Taehyung whispers.

Seokjin turns over with an ever so lovely smile. 

“I’m happy you’re happy, Taehyung.” 

Taehyung’s chest constricts and he’s breathless again, lying in bed with Seokjin under the cover of stars. This seems romantic. When he gets married, he’ll definitely have a room like this with his wife. It’d be nice if his partner is someone as loving as Seokjin. Would it be as nice to sleep with someone else like this, though? It’s hard to imagine so.

Unable to resist the impulse, Taehyung leans over to kiss Seokjin’s cheek. It’s soft, and leaves his lips burning. 

Seokjin yells and hits him.

In the morning, Taehyung wakes up with his face buried in the nape of Seokjin’s neck. He’s hugging Seokjin tight and he can see the discomfort in Seokjin’s face. It’s funny.

Taehyung rests his head against Seokjin’s cheek, nestling close. He squeezes Seokjin closer, and thinks, just for a second, about never letting go.

 


a/n: slowburn is slow hehe. things will pick up soon, though! thanks for reading! please watch ON music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPVDGOVjRQ0

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Nights are now spent under the cover of star stickers, handmade constellations the audience to Seokjin and Taehyung’s conversations. Taehyung waits for Seokjin to come in while staring at the planets, his starry night sky helping to ease some of his gnawing emptiness. 

Sometimes, the days get bad, where Taehyung craves the darkness and second-guesses his choice to put up permanent lights. He hides under the blanket away from lighting, wanting just a moment where no one can sieve him out in this world of billions. He wants to be forgotten as the spotlight burns his skin like a rash and he knows he’s not worthy. 

The shutter clicks and the ever-tailing journalists remind him to never, ever slip up. The loneliness and exhaustion make him feel sorry to everyone who loves him so much despite never meeting him face-to-face. He doesn’t want to be a disappointment, so the best way to avoid that is to simply never be seen.

But Taehyung learns to differentiate the seething spotlight from the gentle glow of his ceiling stickers. He peels off his blanket, emerging from his sanctuary of darkness to the glow-in-the-dark stars. They are a reminder of how there’s someone who knows him intimately—has seen his worst moments, vicious and wanting to hurt; has seen him at his weakest, in tears and afraid—yet still loves him.

His homemade galaxy can’t hold his attention whenever Seokjin enters, smelling fresh of citrus. Taehyung goes from lying on his back to his side, gazing up at Seokjin. Seokjin looks especially beautiful with the greenish glow against his rosy ears and eye circles. 

As promised, Seokjin buys a night light for Taehyung. He gets a 4 watt lightbulb that has a warm orange glow to it. They don’t use it much, but Taehyung likes to fiddle with it in the day.

It’s nice to be loved.

 

 

On the living room couch, Taehyung runs over the lyrics he’s written for today. He stares at the crumpled piece of paper, holding it near and then far much like he does with paintings, picking apart words and searching for a new perspective. It’s more like an eye chart, Taehyung thinks as he sets down his ripped notebook paper.

Jungkook is sitting beside him, playing a game on his phone while Taehyung’s foot rests on his knee. Hoseok is at the other corner, laughing at some video he’s watching. Taehyung shuts his eyes, trying to borrow inspiration from somewhere but finding his surroundings too bright. He wants to write something impactful, shaking the heart, and the cheery atmosphere doesn’t help.

Sombre, sorrowful, seething. Something that’ll capture a raw part of the human condition. He started the verse writing about the passing seasons, but it feels cliched and unauthentic.

Taehyung closes his eyes and imagine a brewing winter, relentless and bitter. The deserted man walks with frost against his bleeding knuckles, footsteps left in the snow for the sun to erase. He’s on the verge of vanishing, engulfed by the sadness of the blustering winds.

“We lost.”

Taehyung pries open his eyes at the sound of Seokjin’s voice. The mental image of icy gales and heavy nightfall immediately blooms into summer and happiness. It’s too fleeting for Taehyung to notice, however.

Jungkook laughs heartily. “I was right. Hyung, was it you?”

Seokjin sighs, winding over to Jungkook’s side. “Do you not believe in me that much? It was Hyunbin. He was so bad at supporting us. And it’s all your fault, you cursed us to lose so we lost.”

Jungkook teases, “Wow, hyung. I’m so powerful. I’ll curse you again. You’ll lose every game you ever join.”

Seokjin cusses at him and grabs him in a headlock. They tussle while Taehyung grins.

“Hyung, you’re playing LOL?” He eagerly asks.

“Yeah, but I’m tired now.” 

Seokjin chokes when out of nowhere, Jungkook elbows him in the back. He wrestles Jungkook away.

“What- do you have a problem with me? You want to fight? Is this how you treat your hyung, you ungrateful bastard?”

Jungkook remorselessly giggles, pulling at Seokjin’s cheek. Hoseok tugs out his earphones and clicks his tongue.

“Hyung, you’re letting someone five years younger bully you… So sad,” he jokes.

“You really want to try fighting with this guy, Hoseok? At least I can put up a fight. He’d crush you in ten seconds.”

Jungkook wiggles his brows at Hoseok.

“That’s why I don’t provoke him,” Hoseok remarks. “I treat you best, right, Jungkookie? That’s why you don’t beat me but you beat Seokjin-hyung.”

“No, I treat you best. Right, Jungkook?” Taehyung pipes in. 

“If you say yes to any of them, I’ll kill you. Pay me back all the meals I bought for you when you were a kid,” Seokjin indignantly huffs. “I raised you. I gave you the best years of my life, and this is how you repay me?”

Taehyung laughs. Jungkook and Seokjin bicker for a while more as Taehyung waits for Seokjin to get up. 

Eventually, Seokjin does and Taehyung excitedly follows behind, trying to seem casual. He grins when Seokjin opens Taehyung’s bedroom door and glances back expectantly.

“Did you shower?” Seokjin asks as he sits on Taehyung’s bed in his pyjamas.

Taehyung nods, jumping into bed while Seokjin makes a warning sound to not hit him. Seokjin massages the area which Jungkook elbowed him in, muttering to himself.

“Does it hurt, hyung?”

“A bit. Jungkook’s violent.” Seokjin slides under the covers, turning over to face Taehyung.

One especially good thing about the glow-in-the-dark stickers is that they can see each other better. Taehyung can tell the outline of Seokjin’s lips, though blurred in the darkness.

“What’s that piece of paper you were holding?” Seokjin asks, gesturing to the paper now left on his bedside table.

“I was trying to write some lyrics. Namjoon-hyung let me hear one of his new songs he made with Hyowon-hyung. But it’s hard.”

“What have you got?”

Taehyung squirms, a little shy. “I started off talking about winter, and waiting for Spring to come.”

“Let me see.” Seokjin leans over to grab the paper, turning on the night light. A sweet orange glow paints his cheeks.

“Sounds like Spring Day?” Seokjin laughs.

Taehyung hits Seokjin’s arm and takes back his paper. 

Seokjin smiles. “I'm kidding. I like what you wrote, Taehyung.”

Taehyung heaves, leaning back. “No, I think it’s similar too. It’s difficult to be original. Feels like I have nothing to write about.”

“Yeah, it’s difficult like that. You have to find inspiration, I think. I like to look at the lyrics from songs of the same genre.” 

“That’s copying.”

“It’s not. You don’t copy them. You just use the inspiration to make something new, different.”

“Yeah, but I want it to be completely from me,” Taehyung points out.

Seokjin nods. “Mm. It’s nice when you write a song completely by yourself.”

“Yeah. Everything comes at once and you vomit out everything since it’s coming to you so fast,” Taehyung muses. “I want that burst of inspiration.”

“Oh, yes. That feeling’s amazing. Go out sightseeing when we have our breaks. Maybe you’ll get it then.”

Taehyung smiles, gazing at Seokjin wordlessly for a while. Seokjin tilts his head and turns away before Taehyung’s heart palpitations can string together into poetic words.

“Shall we go somewhere, hyung?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know. Just on a trip.”

Seokjin glances up in thought. “Aren’t we filming BV soon?”

“Yes, but I want it to be just us.”

“We’re going to get into a scandal. Two men hanging out on their own,” Seokjin wriggles his brows and laughs, high-pitched like a dolphin.

Taehyung snorts in amusement, instinctively touching Seokjin’s arm. “Hyung, who would think that? It’s just you thinking strange things.”

“We should all go on a trip. Together,” Seokjin remarks.

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “That’s just Bon Voyage!”

“It’s different. There are no cameras rolling.” Seokjin shifts against the bed, the night light emphasising his tired eyes. “But we already spend so much time together. I’d rather use our breaks to hang out with my friends.”

Taehyung mulls over Seokjin’s words. He crosses his arms behind his head and exhales.

“That’s true. We should use our breaks to see them, since we rarely ever get to.”

It’s been months, probably half a year since he’s seen any friend of his face-to-face. He even had to tell a few friends that it’d be difficult to meet for the entire year. He’s quite seasoned to the poignant feeling of being left out, his chat groups flooded with jovial photos of everyone except him. His friends try their best to remember the courtesy of saying they miss him, or teasing him about how he’s missing out on good food (but the companionship is never mentioned, else it stings). 

It still leaves him empty. When the work gets too much, the faces get too mundane and he can’t catch a breather, he wishes he could call up a friend for a chat. For a night, let him forget that he’s V of BTS, but Kim Taehyung, hailing from Daegu with mismatched eyelids he used to be teased for.

It's not just his friends. A long time ago, he used to see his mother every day. She’d call him into the kitchen to eat apples, peeled and sliced neatly. His father would ask him if he was done with his homework.

It’s been almost a month since he’s seen his parents. The years catch up with his mother so fast that Taehyung finds her a little unrecognisable. His younger siblings grow so fast along with the distance between them, no more bickers to keep them close. He doesn’t think about how long they will continue to be apart.

"Hyung, I miss my friends."

"You do?" Seokjin replies, inattentive as he scrolls through his phone.

“What about you?”

Seokjin purses his lips. “Not particularly.”

“What about your family? I miss my family.” 

“I call my mother every day. She tells me what’s going on with my family,” Seokjin says. “You should make it a habit too, Taehyung.”

“I want to see my mother, hyung. Not just using my voice.” Taehyung rolls onto his back, staring up at his glowing ceiling. His chest was heavy as usual today, but it’s weighing down even more now.

“Hyung. It’s sad that we don’t get to see our friends and family often. I want to see my little brother and sister.”

“Then call them using your webcam, Taehyung.”

“I want to see them face-to-face,” Taehyung protests. “I want to be with them and spend time with them. Do things with them.”

Taehyung exhales, a bittersweet nostalgia washing over him. “It’s kind of weird to think about it. So many years ago, I could just see them if I walked to the living room. But I can’t do that anymore. We’re too busy to visit regularly with our tours and overseas schedules.”

Taehyung hums, “My siblings have grown so tall and I can’t witness it. Every time I see them, they look different, and it makes me think about how the time’s passing by so fast.”

“Well, that’s just how things are when it comes to careers like ours. You have to work around it,” Seokjin finishes.

Taehyung heaves. “I know, hyung. It’s just sad. That even if we are doing well, we give up seeing our families and friends for it.”

“I think I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I chose to be a trainee. It was just exciting to be casted, and being adored by so many people felt like a dream,” Taehyung broods. He’s more generous with what he says nowadays to Seokjin, more truthful about the odd emptiness residing within him.

“I should have thought it through more.”

Seokjin sighs. “Are you regretting your decision? There’s no use in doing that. You can look back and think about how you should have done this or that, but the fact is that you can’t change the past. So do what you can now.”

Taehyung folds his lips, a bit upset at Seokjin’s dismissiveness.

“I know I can’t change things. I’m only saying that I’m sad,” Taehyung murmurs.

“Why are you sad?” Seokjin returns. “There’s no point to being sad. Just make sure that you plan out our next break with your family so you guys can spend time together.”

Taehyung curls his fingers. He’s used to how Seokjin speaks, but how he’s being shot down particularly stings.

“I’m just sad about things being the way they are, hyung. Is it that strange?”

“It’s not strange. I’m saying that there’s no reason to feel that way. Being sad is unpleasant, why do you want to be sad?” Seokjin says, in an easy tone that shows he’s not trying to haughtily force his point or intentionally put Taehyung.

He means well.

“Instead of brooding over things not being the way you want, change them.” 

Taehyung locks his jaw. “Hyung, I can’t help the way I feel. I wish I could be like you, since you don’t feel down about not seeing your family and friends.”

Seokjin flutters his lashes. He replies after a moment, “It’s not that I don’t feel glum. I do, naturally. I just… don’t let myself be upset, you know, Taehyung? I don’t like feeling sad, so I don’t harp on it and fix things instead. It’s useless to be sad.”

Taehyung frowns, sitting up to properly look at Seokjin. “So, I’m stupid for being upset?”

“What? No, I didn’t say that.”

“You’re saying that it’s useless to be sad.”

“Because it is.” Seokjin knits his brows together, more attentive after Taehyung threw out that accusation. “I’m just saying you shouldn’t waste your time by being down.”

“Hyung. I can’t choose to not be sad,” Taehyung retorts.

Seokjin’s eyes soften. 

“Taehyung… I know it’s hard but you have to at least try to make yourself happy. Otherwise, if you don’t do anything about the situation at all, it’s like you want to be sad.”

The words cut an odd incision into Taehyung’s heart, bound to leave a scar. Taehyung parts his lips to argue, but he shuts his mouth.

He wants to be sad? Does Seokjin really think he sits in his room, wrapping himself up in darkness and solitude because he wants to? He doesn’t do it for fun—hoping to vanish sometimes when the light gets too bright, but refusing to speak these heavy thoughts so easily misinterpreted, else the members take on his pain as their own. It’s a disposition he can’t control, enjoying how the silence helps him forget how his words from minutes ago are now chiselled into permanence all over the internet. How he's almost desperate for peace and quiet, and to be invisible.

He thought Seokjin understood. But clearly, he doesn’t. He must think Taehyung's a joke for not being able to cope with things while he can.

“I don’t feel like sleeping anymore.” 

Taehyung gets up off the bed, bitterness gurgling in his ribcage. He doesn’t spare a glance as he steps towards the door, but Seokjin’s probably looking at him with wide, doe eyes.

“Taehyung? Where are you going?”

“I said I don’t feel like sleeping anymore. You can stay here if you want.” 

Light cracks in against Taehyung’s face, stinging. He slams the door behind him. Taehyung heads to the kitchen, getting some water. He gulps down a glass in a few seconds, warm from anger. He can't believe Seokjin would actually say he wants to be sad. Was he thinking that throughout all the nights they spent together?

He loses himself in his thoughts for a while, letting the flushed sensation eat away at his skin. He glances up when Seokjin enters the kitchen, standing by the doorway.

“I’m going back to my room,” Seokjin starts, voice soft. “Go back and sleep in your room.”

He leaves without saying anything else.

Taehyung doesn’t know why he expected a confrontation—perhaps because any other member would have argued with him for how he reacted.

The bitterness continues churning in his stomach as he watches Seokjin disappear into his own room. Taehyung sits in the kitchen for a long while, another glass of water in hand as he stares at the marble counter.

He paces to Jimin’s room. Jimin is sprawled on his bed, foot hanging off the side as he uses his laptop. Jimin perks up upon noticing Taehyung, making space as Taehyung dumps himself freely beside him.

“What’s up? You aren’t talking with Seokjin-hyung?” Jimin glances past Taehyung, checking to see if Seokjin is in tow.

Taehyung turns away, not answering Jimin.

Jimin prods him with his toe. “Hey. Did you guys fight?”

He pokes Taehyung once more for an answer.

Taehyung heaves and shrugs. Jimin sits up cross-legged, his attention fully on Taehyung now.

“What happened? Come on, tell me,” he urges.

“Is it that important?” Taehyung raises his brows.

“Of course. You guys were getting along so well these past few weeks. And you looked a lot happier.”

“I did?”

Taehyung shifts to sit beside Jimin. He cocks his head side to side, hoping to ease the soreness in his neck. He offhandedly notices how different Jimin smells from Seokjin.

“Yeah. So, what happened? What did you guys argue about?” Jimin asks. “Tell me.”

Taehyung runs a hand through his hair in frustration. He takes a while to collect his thoughts, hesitating on whether to divulge what happened.

“I… was telling hyung that I was sad about not seeing my family and friends often. He said I shouldn’t be upset, that it’s useless to be that way and I should be doing something about it instead of moping around. That it’s a waste of time to feel down and things like how it’s unpleasant, so why would I waste my time being sad?” 

“I get it, I know being sad doesn’t do anything to change things. But I was just saying. That I felt sad. And I can’t help feeling like that,” Taehyung mutters. “Hyung then said I should at least try to not be. If I don’t do anything about what I’m upset with, then I just want to be upset.”

He shuts his eyes tiredly.

“And I got pissed off. I know hyung just means well, but I was only saying that it’s sad that I can’t see my loved ones regularly. He kept saying all that and it sounded like he… thinks I’m stupid or weak for being upset. Like I’m keeping myself sad.”

Jimin’s expression softens with empathy. “It is sad that we can’t see our parents a lot. You can’t help feeling that way. Nobody can. I miss my parents too.”

Taehyung nods, unable to stop another hefty sigh. 

“Not Seokjin-hyung, though. He’s not weak… like me. When something’s wrong he just jumps straight into fixing it.”

The resentment is thin in Taehyung’s words, sounding more of resignation and defeat. He restlessly bunches up Jimin’s pillow case.

“We don’t get along that well, Jimin,” Taehyung clarifies in a low tone. “Hyung and I disagree a lot. We just tolerate each other when it happens.”

They lounge in some quietness, Jimin mulling over what Taehyung said.

“Hyung’s a practical person. It’s true, he makes sense. Being sad doesn’t do anything,” Jimin exhales thoughtfully. “And there are times we get so caught up in lamenting instead of trying to make ourselves happy.”

“But we should let ourselves be sad too. It’s normal,” Jimin finishes. “We can’t not feel in certain ways, I’m sure Seokjin-hyung is the same. We shouldn’t try and squash it down and pretend like we aren’t.”

Jimin rests his head against Taehyung. “I think I understand Seokjin-hyung better now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, last time, I used to always be worrying about things. You know it too. I always wanted to be the best, so I was hard on myself and didn’t ever feel satisfied. I’d beat myself up for the smallest things.”

“So, it was difficult to see hyung be so positive. It felt like he didn’t take everything as seriously and he didn’t care as much. It was annoying whenever he tried to give me advice, saying that I shouldn’t be so harsh to myself,” Jimin laughs. 

Taehyung flits his lashes slowly. That’s exactly what Seokjin is like. When they’re exhausted, disgruntled from how they can’t seem to get the moves right, Seokjin is there joking around and persuading each other to lighten up. It’s not to say he doesn’t work hard. But while everyone gets crushed by the pressure of perfection, he’s more okay with not being flawless.

“But over the years… I finally got what Seokjin-hyung meant,” Jimin whispers. “I was always thinking I wasn’t good enough so I couldn’t enjoy what I’ve done and I just kept aiming for better. I thought that I’d be happy when I was truly good enough. But I wasn’t ever satisifed, so I kept being unhappy.”

“Hyung made me realise I couldn’t be happy if I didn’t let myself be. I started looking back, and appreciating how far I’ve come,” Jimin muses. 

“Hyung works hard, but he doesn’t harp on where he’s lacking, doesn’t get upset when things don’t go his way. He tries to be happy by taking things lightly.”

“Having that mindset is admirable. I want to think like hyung does.” Jimin melts into a fond smile, putting the reason to why he’s recently been doting on Seokjin. It’s true—Jimin used to be frustrated with Seokjin more often than now. He was dead set on how long he could hold out and wouldn’t stop reaching for higher despite how his legs wanted to give way. Dance better, sing better, such a disappointment when he can’t hit those high notes.

Then, he changed for the better. He became happier. And it’s just Taehyung left now.

(Jimin didn’t mean to leave him behind.)

Taehyung swallows, the guilt eating into his chest at how he’d left Seokjin behind. Seokjin came to his room to accompany him, after all.

“But…” Jimin snivels, playing with the seams of his pants. “I think hyung does try too hard to be happy all the time. He doesn’t get angry when he should be.”

He shrugs. “Like when Jungkook gets too rough or when we’re rude and tease him too much. We’d never talk like that to someone else that much older.  It’s obvious too when some things bother him, but he doesn’t show it and brushes it off.”

“I wonder if he really doesn’t mind. But I get it now. Hyung finds it pointless. But he should let himself be upset sometimes, don't you think?”

Taehyung blinks. Jimin turns, nuzzling against Taehyung comfortably.

“Seokjin-hyung shouldn’t have said that.  But he’s like that. He says what comes to mind. Don't take it to heart, okay? Hyung loves you and wouldn't put you down on purpose.”

“Yeah.”

Jimin pats Taehyung’s head, smiling kindly. “Be sad if you need to be. We’re human, after all. We can’t force ourselves to be happy.”

They lie against each other, the room brightly lit. Taehyung stares up at the unfamiliar ceiling as he thinks.

Hoseok pops his head into the room after ten minutes. He takes one glance at Taehyung and immediately remarks, “You fought with Seokjin-hyung?”

Taehyung squints. “How do all of you know?”

They bask in warm laughter. Hoseok climbs into his bed and they talk, mostly between Jimin and Hoseok. It’s an enjoyable atmosphere, lazing around with his closest friends, but Taehyung craves for something else.

It’s an hour later when Taehyung gets up and leaves the room. He loiters outside Seokjin’s room, the door shut, before grabbing his pillow and blanket.

Taehyung knocks and enters. Seokjin is facing the other way.

He calls out, “Jungkook? What do you want?”

Seokjin turns around when he doesn’t get a reply and is caught off guard to see Taehyung. He takes one glance at what Taehyung brought with him and the surprise ebbs away.

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts, voice husky. “Can I sleep here?”

“Do you want me to move back to your room?” Seokjin says gently.

Taehyung shakes his head. As he climbs into Seokjin’s bed, Seokjin crinkles his brows ever so slightly.

“I’m clean,” Taehyung snorts. “I’m not like Jungkook.”

Seokjin shudders. “Don’t bring up bad memories. He doesn’t like being dirty but he still purposely doesn’t wash up once he comes back and tries to sit on my bed, just to annoy me. That little bastard.”

Taehyung laughs, slipping a daring arm around Seokjin’s waist. His shirt has ridden up, so Taehyung touches his bare stomach. Seokjin instinctively nudges his fingers away but Taehyung clings on.

“It tickles.”

“It does, hyung?” Taehyung murmurs, tiredly batting his lashes as he rests against the pillow.

Seokjin wants to reply but ultimately closes his mouth, letting a long silence surround them like a curious crowd. He reaches out and tenderly combs back Taehyung’s hair.

“Taehyung, I’m sorry,” he breathes. 

Taehyung melts into Seokjin’s touch, hands soft and warm. His fingers clasp tighter on Seokjin’s hip.

“You know hyung was just trying to give advice, right? I wasn’t purposely trying to upset you. You’re not stupid. I know you can’t help being sad and I didn’t mean to say you’re choosing to stay that way. I… just don’t like seeing you sad. I should have thought it through before I said all that.”

The words dissolve like honey through Taehyung’s ribs, leaving a comforting stain over the words that sliced at Taehyung’s heart. Taehyung finds himself breathless, such an oddly common occurrence nowadays when it’s night time.

Seokjin doesn’t like to see him sad.  It’s so precious, these little words—Taehyung wishes he could keep them forever in the palm of his hands. 

“I know. I’m sorry, hyung. Sorry,” Taehyung breathes. He edges closer in a needy urge, too close for Seokjin’s comfort as he leans away.

"Why are you sorry? For leaving me in your bed when you're the one who wants me over?" Seokjin jests.

Taehyung doesn’t let him escape, nudging Seokjin’s head towards him. 

“Sorry,” he whispers, his breath lightly touching Seokjin’s lips. “Let’s not fight again, hyung.”

“You say that but you’re going to argue with me tomorrow about where to eat,” Seokjin laughs.

Taehyung smiles. The two of them lie on their sides in Seokjin’s bed, just chuckling against the pillows. As Taehyung gazes into Seokjin’s eyes, he understands better what Jimin means.

Taehyung has always written off Seokjin as naive. He tells the team to take it easy when they have no right to and doesn't understand that he should leave the tension be at times. Unbothered by what others would stress over, Seokjin just seemed so simple-minded at times.

But it's impossible that Seokjin somehow experiences the same hardships without being affected. He isn't magically immune to the growing pressures and perpetual spotlight. He just tries his best not to be negatively impacted. Perhaps because he's the oldest with a heavy responsibility to be dependable. If he can't be strong, how can the younger ones be?

Seokjin’s brave for trying to be happy. It’s hard enough to be imprisoned in the pain, the sadness, the exhaustion, the anger. To force yourself to fight against it is even harder.

“Hyung. Thank you. I know you meant well,” Taehyung whispers.

“Well, as long as you know, that’s fine. I should have said it better.” Seokjin’s lips quirk. “Sorry for making you upset.”

Taehyung’s veins itch to go closer, but it’ll be odd—how can he go any closer when their faces are already so near? They’d be kissing at that point. Still, he yearns with a borderline desperation to hold Seokjin all at once.

“Turn around, hyung.”

Seokjin cocks a brow. “Uh, okay.” 

He rolls over obediently. “I didn’t know my face was that bothersome-”

Seokjin makes a meek noise when Taehyung pulls him into his chest, hugging tightly. Taehyung buries his nose into the nape of Seokjin’s neck and breathes in his scent with comfort.

Seokjin’s shoulders jerk up at the sensation but he doesn’t scuffle out of Taehyung’s grip.

“I think you’re right. I do choose to be sad, from time to time,” he murmurs, lips touching Seokjin’s neck. 

(It’s fine. Jungkook’s just as intimate with Seokjin.)

(But they’ve always been like that since Jungkook was 15.)

“I wasn’t saying that you choose to be sad, Taehyung. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“But it’s true, somewhat,” Taehyung reflects, inscribes his most intimate thoughts into Seokjin’s skin. “I don’t think I try that hard to be happy.”

“Instead of listening to happy songs, I listen to sad ones. I don’t play games that I like anymore. I don’t call up my friends to chat. Even the movies I choose are tragedies, not comedies. Thinking about it, it does seem like I’m trying to keep myself unhappy.”

“I guess… it feels comfortable to be sad. Perhaps even more so than being happy,” Taehyung confesses.

A long pause follows. Seokjin replies eventually, voice small.

“That’s understandable. That’s how you naturally feel, after all.” 

“Humans are like that,” Seokjin remarks. “We instinctively defend the way we are, since it’s uncomfortable to be anything else.”

 Taehyung nods, appreciating the depth of Seokjin’s words. “Yeah. It’s inertia.”

“Inertia? Wow, what a big word, Kim Taehyung,” Seokjin teases.

“That’s a big word to you, hyung?” Taehyung chuckles, shutting his eyes.

Even at a moment like this, Seokjin jokes around. It must be a habit for him.

“We’re reluctant to change. But why? We should want to be happy,” Taehyung ruminates, fingers pressing into Seokjin’s curves. He maps out the dip of Seokjin’s stomach, finding enjoyment like a preschooler with a tracing book.

Seokjin stirs.

“Maybe because we feel like we don’t deserve to be happy.”

His words are so faint Taehyung would have had trouble hearing, had there been any other noise in the room. 

Taehyung opens his eyes, staring at Seokjin’s back.

“Is that what you feel, hyung?”

“No,” Seokjin’s response comes immediately. “I’m only suggesting. You know I’m not the kind of person to think these sort of things.”

Taehyung’s shoulders fall as he recalls what Jimin said. Taehyung rests his cheek against Seokjin’s back, hoping Seokjin feels his warmth.

“It’s okay to be sad and angry, hyung. Do you know that?”

Seokjin heaves. “I know. I didn’t mean to say you’re wrong for feeling that way.”

Taehyung inhales, exhales like cigarette smoke. 

“I get what you’re saying, hyung. It doesn’t feel good to be sad, so why be sad, right? But it’s natural to feel like that when things are bad. For you, too. I hope you know that, hyung.”

Seokjin shifts around. He snorts, “What are you talking about? Why’s it about me now?”

“Jimin says you try too hard to be happy,” Taehyun says faintly.

Seokjin tussles and turns to face Taehyung, brows creased. 

“What? Where’d he get that idea from?”

Staring into Seokjin’s eyes with the moonlight against his back, Taehyung shrugs. Seokjin stares back with an unreadable look, tinged with the slightest bit of wariness.

“Hyung?”

Seokjin eases up on his taut expression with a low sigh, rolling around to face away from Taehyung. 

“Don’t talk nonsense, Taehyung. Let’s go to sleep. You must be tired.”

“Not really.”

“Then get out. Why are you in my bed?”

Taehyung grins. “Because you make me not tired.”

Seokjin scoffs, letting Taehyung embrace him once more. Taehyung can feel how Seokjin’s spine bends into his contours, his flesh warm and soft. He likes the feeling of engulfing Seokjin whole, almost as if keeping him as a part of himself.

They talk about little, trivial things till Seokjin dozes off, his sentences fragmenting into irrational additions of words. Taehyung stifles a laugh when the last thing Seokjin blurts is Jimin, perhaps telling of a weird dream pulling him in.

Taehyung stays with his chest against Seokjin’s back, simply hugging and enjoying the warmth. Jimin and Hoseok peek in to check on them some time later. They chortle when Taehyung slants his head back while stubbornly holding on to Seokjin.

It’s not deliberate when he presses a kiss to Seokjin’s neck, fueled by impulse and curiosity. The second kiss he gives, however, is fully intentional—he glances to the door to make sure no one sees. He’s brimming with brotherly affection for Seokjin that he’d do good to be careful, else someone misinterprets and teases him.

Jimin’s words remain in Taehyung’s head. The epiphany dawned without him realising, manifesting only as a want to see Seokjin. Seokjin’s been there for him unconditionally, seemingly free from burden to shoulder Taehyung’s sufferings.

But now, he understands Seokjin a little better. Nuzzling his forehead against Seokjin’s hair, Taehyung hopes to bear some secrets Seokjin can’t openly say.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

When did night time become Taehyung’s favourite? Perhaps many months ago, when the tiredness began clawing at his lungs and he felt safe only when in darkness. The kind of liking he had for the after hours is hard to describe—a need for comfort from a source he never particularly wanted to turn to. He was someone who naturally tended to the lively daytime. Then came Seokjin, and the liking for dusk turned into an infatuation, much like a boy’s first spring crush. 

Eager, he now waits for the sun to sink and the moon to rise. It’s funny—there’s no reason to be so attached when they talk in the day with the other members around. The timing shouldn’t matter. But what’s special is that nights belong to him and Seokjin only. What they do is subject to change, moving around from event to interview, some members gone in the morning and others leaving in the afternoon. Their schedule is hectic where nothing is routine, no 9 to 5 grind, and the faces breeze by so fast for Taehyung to take a good look.

But nights are always the same, be it at 2AM, exhausted from dance practice, 11PM, coming home from an interview, 6AM, when the dawn is about to crack. It’s no longer a routine for Seokjin to sleep with Taehyung—it’s a habit, comparable to how Seokjin never forgets to brush his teeth. Even when they’re staying in hotels, he abandons his room for Taehyung’s when they’re about to sleep, finding Taehyung like a boat to a lighthouse. 

It’s a constant in Taehyung’s bustling life, where he knows one small mistake could cause everything to change. The world could warp in a second into the unrecognisable and Taehyung could be thrown off his feet—name plastered to the papers in a horrid scandal, or just one hateful remark to remind him that he’s undeserving of all the love. 

But Taehyung has the utmost faith in Seokjin knocking on his door as he’s about to sleep. It’s the one thing that won’t change no matter what. And that, truly, brings a peace of mind like none other.

As Taehyung wades in calm waters, waiting anxiously for the high tide to finally come and fling him aside, he remembers that he’ll always wash up on shore—the sheets where he and Seokjin sleep, Seokjin’s scent in the sandy linens. 

 

 

They’re having another interview in Osaka under the bright lights, one that all of them are long seasoned to. The make-up is a lot heavier today, making Taehyung feel uncomfortable. He rubs at it, much to their stylists’ horror. He immediately gets a re-touching and a gentle chiding.

“It’s itchy?” Hoseok looks up, asking.

“No. But it feels like it’s clogging my pores.”

“The lights they’re using are very bright,” the stylist explains softly. She pats more foundation onto Taehyung’s cheeks. “It’ll be easier to see your pimples and scars.”

“It’ll be over soon, Taehyung. Who asked you to eat so much fried gyoza on Wednesday?” Hoseok snickers.

Taehyung shoves Hoseok’s shoulder. “It was good. I couldn’t help myself.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“It was good, though! The sauce was special.” Jungkook pipes up, eyes glimmering with youthfulness under the glaring lighting.

They chat while the staff bustle around, fixing their hair and rearranging the members like dolls. The filming staff whisper to one another, running through questions and where the cameras should be. The hosts are in a corner, familiarising themselves with lines and staged banter one last time.

Taehyung glances over to Seokjin, who is sitting beside Namjoon in the corner. He leans over and accidentally jostles Yoongi aside to tap on Seokjin’s shoulder.

Seokjin slants his head back. “What? You want to fight?”

Taehyung laughs. He retorts, pretending to be upset, “I’m not Jungkook. Why are you aggressive towards me for no reason?”

“You and Jungkook are the same. No, you, Jungkook and Jimin are all the same. I have to be on guard with all of you.”

Jungkook leans out, locking eyes with Seokjin and cheekily maintaining a provocative glare. Seokjin tries his best not to blink and Taehyung melts into another hearty laugh.

Jimin rests his arm on Taehyung’s shoulder, smiling fondly at him before turning to Seokjin.

“Hyung. How can you say I’m the same as Jungkook? Huh? I’m so nice!” Jimin feigns offense, shoving Seokjin’s shoulder.

Seokjin nearly falls out of his chair if it weren’t for Namjoon catching him.

“Nice? You’re like the devil.”

“Hey, watch it, Jimin. Stop bullying the elderly,” Yoongi drawls, earning a few laughs from the members.

“Wow, coming from the second oldest! That’s brave,” Hoseok chortles, laugh high-pitched and sharp.

“I thought we were into this together! Ha, seriously,” Yoongi raises his voice in disbelief.

Amidst the ruckus, Seokjin giggles sweetly. Taehyung can’t help a silly smile as he tries to get Seokjin’s attention again.

“Hyung, you didn’t even listen to what I wanted to say,” Taehyung says, leaning over.

“What is it?”

“They put a lot more concealer on me because of my acne. My face sweat can’t come out.”

“Okay, that’s great,” Yoongi states, nudging Taehyung back.

“Taehyung, no one needs to know that,” Namjoon remarks.

“Well, I’m not telling you, Namjoon-hyung. I’m telling Seokjin-hyung.”

“I agree with Namjoon. I don’t need to hear that either,” Seokjin snorts.

Their bickering ceases when the hosts take their place. One is a lady who Taehyung recognises from TV. The other is a decently popular idol, part of a Japanese boyband, or so he’s heard. Jimin and Yoongi switch places when Jimin asks to, wanting to be by Taehyung’s side.

The questions come easily. Taehyung keeps up without any difficulty, though he’s much quieter than a few years ago. He gives input sometimes when he thinks of it, but Namjoon and Seokjin always outtalk him without realising. Jimin comes to his rescue, telling them to that Taehyung has something to say.

They’re thrown another question that asks who they depend on in the group for support, such as in songwriting or in general. Namjoon takes the microphone, answering with his usual smoothness.

“We all depend on each other,” he says, a pleasing answer that everyone would approve of. “I think without even a single member, we can feel the absence. We rely on each other for a lot of things, especially when things are more strenuous, like when we’re meeting deadlines for new songs. It’s not obvious to us, but I’ve noticed this over time when I work on my own. We discuss a lot of things like choreography and song arrangements together so no member is replaceable.

The interviewer nods. “I can imagine that. You guys have a lot of synchrony. It shows in your performances.”

Namjoon grins. “Thanks.”

“Might there a member that you guys particularly look to for help? For you, Namjoon?” The other interviewer probes.

Namjoon glances up in thought. “Well, I rely on everybody. I always seek their opinions when I’m unsure about things.”

He looks over at Seokjin. “I think I’m especially grateful for Seokjin-hyung. Nowadays, we’re venturing to places like America that we’re not as familiar with. I get nervous but Seokjin-hyung—he makes me feel calm, so I ask him to be beside me. It’s kind of like… I know things will be alright with him by my side. He’s… my rock. But of course, having everyone with me is important”

Seokjin stifles a laugh as Namjoon pats his thigh.

“I’m a rock to you.” Seokjin has that glint in his eyes that easily tells he’s going to be mischievous.

“Yup,” Namjoon says with utmost confidence.

“I’m a rock, wow… Am I a big rock?”

The rest of the members burst out into laughter as Namjoon grins widely, his teeth showing.

“Yeah. A really big one.”

“Wow. Like those when you go hiking, and there are huge boulders that people sit on?”

Namjoon tries to contain his laugh. After a moment, he offers, “You’re granite.”

Seokjin shakes his head and laments, “First, he called me a rock. Now, he’s comparing me to a kitchen countertop.”

“What? Granite’s gorgeous!” Namjoon insists, eyes widening. “It’s a compliment. They have funky patterns.”

Seokjin continues moaning, “I’m a kitchen countertop, everyone.”

“This guy can’t take a compliment. He’s trying to be difficult,” Yoongi scoffs.

“I thought countertops were marble?” Jungkook asks.

“They’re granite too,” answers Taehyung with a snort. “Someone needs to go back to school.”

Jimin nearly falls onto Taehyung, grabbing on as he laughs freely. The interviewer watch the chaos with small smiles.

Eventually, Seokjin takes the microphone, getting the interview back on track.

“Thank you, Namjoon. He’s right. We’re all close and need each other.”

He pats Namjoon’s wrist, the two gazing at each other. 

“Honestly, I think of you as my rock too. Not granite, though. Just a boulder, like at the bottom of a mountain.”

Jimin clings to Taehyung, giggling into his arm. He looks up and Taehyung churns a smile out, not sure why the joke’s suddenly not all that funny anymore.

Namjoon gently pushes Seokjin, rolling his eyes while beaming.

“To answer the question, Namjoon calms me as well. When things are hard, I’m thankful to have him as the leader, and as a friend. He’s someone I can especially count on even if it’s hard to talk about my struggles. He’s special to me.”

Namjoon contentedly replies, “Thanks, hyung. I feel the same.”

Jimin and Hoseok start making teasing noises, shaping out hearts behind Namjoon and Seokjin.

“But I didn’t know you thought of me whenever you woke up and went to the kitchen,” Seokjin continues with a chortle. “I’ll work harder on my looks so your mornings are more pleasant.”

“Drop it. You wore out the joke already,” Yoongi snorts.

The lady interviewer chuckle, “So, Namjoon and Seokjin have a special relationship. That’s heartwarming to hear. I hope Namjoon’s heartfelt message is received less literally by Seokjin.”

The members laugh once more, Taehyung following behind a beat too late. He tries to keep up a smile but it dissolves like a sheet of plastic in fire.

So, Namjoon’s special to Seokjin. He didn’t know that. Well, they do spend quite some time alone. It’s not a lot, but unlike with the rest of the members, they seem to hang out alone ever so often. In fact, before Seokjin began his habit of sleeping with Taehyung, he did go out one-on-one with Namjoon for supper occasionally. Seokjin visits Namjoon at his studio too, and even though he mentions heading there, he doesn’t invite the rest to come with him.

Why didn’t Seokjin mention him? They spend every night together, without fail. They talk a lot about different things too, just them two under the sheets.

Taehyung sobers up at Jimin’s prod, realising he had zoned out. He licks his lips and focuses on the interview.

After the interview ends, Namjoon and Yoongi head back first to their hotel rooms to work on their songs. The remaining members head to a nearby restaurant together for a late dinner, Jimin arguing with Jungkook that they already ate ramen yesterday.

Seokjin falls back to walk with Taehyung, putting a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder. “They’re going to start throwing fists in about five seconds. What do you think?”

Taehyung looks up at Jungkook and Jimin. He shrugs.

“Hyung, why didn’t you go back with Namjoon-hyung?”

“Why would I?”

“He’s special to you,” Taehyung mutters.

Seokjin stares at Taehyung, confusion clear in his eyes. “But I want to eat? What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung murmurs. He belatedly notices the petulance in his previous words and the annoyance only doubles. He walks a little faster to be with Hoseok, Seokjin’s hand slipping off his shoulder in the process.

 

 

In the hotel room, Taehyung lies on the bed, fresh out of the shower. He plays a few games on his phone, checking the time occasionally to note how long it’ll take for Seokjin to arrive. As it gets to 1AM, he evens out the sheets and sniffs it.

He misses his old sheets. Seokjin’s smell was really strong on them. It’s weird, but it’s an enjoyable smell. Has he always felt that way?

Taehyung hangs his head off the mattress, tapping repeatedly to shoot the zombies in his smartphone game. Soon, he hears the doorbell ring—repeatedly.

“Wait, wait! I’m coming.” 

Taehyung rolls out of bed, pulling open the door to Seokjin. He’s in a set of pink pyjamas, hair tussled dry and nose a little red. Taehyung leaves Seokjin to close the door, promptly jumping back into bed and going back to his phone.

Seokjin doesn’t get into bed. Instead, he stands at the corner.

“Can I lie down?”

Taehyung lifts his head, puzzled. “What are you talking about, hyung? Why can’t you lie down?”

“I don’t know,” Seokjin retorts. “You were sulking since just now, not wanting to walk beside me or talk to me. Who knows if you’d want me to sleep in your bed? You might just leave your room if I do that.”

“I talked to you! And I just wanted to walk quicker. I was hungry,” Taehyung counters indignantly, voice draining into a clearly unconfident mumble.

“Yeah, sure.” Seokjin tosses RJ onto the bed, slipping under the comforter. He opens up his laptop. “What’s wrong with you? What did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything. I said I was just hungry and in a bad mood.”

“So, is your bad mood specific to me? Since you were laughing with Hoseok but wouldn’t answer my jokes.”

“No,” Taehyung huffs. “Your jokes aren’t funny, that’s why, hyung.”

Seokjin squints. He decides to drop the topic as he pulls up some games on his laptop.

Taehyung glances at Seokjin, watching as he plays. It’s true—he was sullen. Really, it was probably plain as day that he was being a bit cold towards Seokjin. He didn’t mean to be that way, but he couldn’t help it. It’s stupid to be upset about something so small, and he normally doesn’t care at all when the members mention a special someone in the group for whatever title—most loving, most trustworthy, most responsible—and he happens to not be nominated by anyone.

But he genuinely couldn’t help showing his displeasure towards Seokjin.

Taehyung fidgets around. He moves closer towards Seokjin and murmurs, “Sorry, hyung.”

“So, you admit that you were sulking.”

Taehyung thins his lips. “Fine, I was, alright?”

“Then tell me why you were angry.” Seokjin pauses his game, locking eyes with Taehyung.

Taehyung averts his gaze. “It’s nothing. I said I was being moody.”

“To me, specifically?”

Taehyung keeps mum. Seokjin heaves.

“Something I did upset you, right? I was reflecting hard but I just can’t think of anything I did that would irritate you. So, tell me. I just want to know what I did.”

Taehyung flutters his lashes. He inhales deeply, trying to string the words in his head to have it make sense.

You didn’t say I’m special to you.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. It only emphasises how unbelievably childish and petty he is for getting hung up over something so trivial. So what if Namjoon’s special to Seokjin? He’s a reliable guy, indeed. Taehyung’s thankful that it’s Namjoon who’s the leader too, since he handles things so thoughtfully. Besides, it’s only an interview answer, not some kind of declaration of intense love that Namjoon is Seokjin’s be-all-end-all, his soulmate through his every lifetime.

Seokjin expectantly stares at Taehyung. Taehyung starts grimacing, the awareness that he was utterly immature sinking in fully.

But still. Seokjin should have at least mentioned Taehyung.

“I don’t know, okay?” Taehyung buries his face into the pillow. “I don’t know why I was annoyed.”

Seokjin snorts, resuming his game. 

“Fine, mistreat me all you want. There’s no fairness in this world, after all. I should have known.”

“…You’re overreacting, hyung,” Taehyung muffles against the pillow. 

He plucks his face out and props up his arm, resting his head in his hand. He ruffles his hair in frustration.

“Is Namjoon-hyung really special to you, hyung?” Taehyung asks in a small voice.

Seokjin knits his brows together. Slowly, his face morphs into realisation, eyes widening in absolute disbelief. He starts heaving, blinking hard at Taehyung.

“You’re joking. That’s what you’re angry about? You’re unbelievable, Kim Taehyung. You’re completely unbelievable,” Seokjin raises his voice, words speeding up—a trademark of his when he’s agitated.

Taehyung pouts. “You should have mentioned me.”

“Namjoon was talking to me! I was replying to him! Why would I suddenly mention you? You think it’d make sense if I brought you up out of nowhere? You are crazy!” Seokjin almost spits at Taehyung with how fast he’s speaking—or yelling, to be exact.

Taehyung retorts, “I said I was sorry! I told you it was stupid.”

“When did you tell me it was stupid?” Seokjin huffs.

“Now, okay? It was stupid. So, ignore it. I’m sorry for being cold to you, hyung.”

“You better, you brat. You throw a tantrum over me saying Namjoon’s special to me? So what? Yeah, he’s special. I like him. What’s that got to do with you?”

“We sleep together every night!” Taehyung snaps, wide-eyed. “I’m the one you’re supposed to mention!”

“Wow… Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. That’s worth getting angry at me? You’re too much.” 

Seokjin shoves Taehyung. He squawks when Taehyung pushes him back.

“You’re in the wrong and you’re still being violent with me?!” Seokjin nearly shrieks.

Taehyung defiantly folds his arms. His low, thick voice reverberates through the room as he yells, “I said I was sorry!”

“So, I should forgive you just because you said you’re sorry? Next time, I’ll beat you up and then say I’m sorry.”

Taehyung narrows his eyes. “You know they aren’t the same, hyung.”

“Whatever. I’m leaving. I don’t want to sleep beside someone who would ignore my good jokes because he’s angry that I didn’t mention him in an interview,” Seokjin states, scooting to the edge.

Taehyung immediately grabs his arm. “I’m sorry, hyung,” his voice softens into a whine. “It’s my fault. I was petty. I’m sorry, so please don’t leave.”

Seokjin glowers at him. “Yeah, you are. You’re petty as hell. I didn’t even consider that that could be what pissed you off. That’s how petty you are.”

Taehyung puffs up his cheeks, pulling Seokjin back onto the bed. “I mean, considering how much we sleep together, you should have mentioned me…”

“I was replying to Namjoon,” Seokjin states pointedly.

“Still.”

Seokjin shuts his eyes in exasperation as Taehyung laughs. Seokjin’s face is red from yelling, up to the tip of his ears. It’s adorable.

Taehyung sneakily takes a photo, hiding his phone when Seokjin suspiciously glances at it. He hugs Seokjin’s arm, pressing it against his chest. He wonders if Seokjin can feel his heartbeat.

“Sorry, okay, hyung? I was jealous,” Taehyung says plainly.

“Why would you even be jealous over something like this?” Seokin sighs.

Taehyung just pouts in response.

Seokjin rolls his eyes. He mutters after a while, “I’ll mention you in the next interview if there’s a chance, okay?”

Taehyung brightens. “Okay. You said it.”

Seokjin scoffs, face tinged with some amusement. “I don’t know why you care, though. It’s just an interview answer.”

“I want everyone to know that we’re close, hyung.”

“Well… You already know what we do; other people knowing it doesn’t change it. And just because Namjoon is special to me doesn’t mean you aren’t. Don’t be angry over stupid things again, understand?” Seokjin states matter-of-factly.

“Is Namjoon-hyung really special to you, hyung?” Taehyung asks curiously.

Seokjin glances at him, a bit wary after Taehyung’s random tantrum episode. He eventually divulges, “Yeah.”

Taehyung bites his lip. “Why?”

“It’s as I said. Some things are hard to talk about but Namjoon… well… it’s comfortable talking about such things with him.”

“Oh. I’m glad Namjoon-hyung is that kind of person for you, hyung. That you have someone like that in your life,” Taehyung says honestly, despite the little gurgle in his stomach.

“Yeah. He’s that kind of person in general, don’t you think?”

Taehyung nods.

“Hyung.”

“Mm?”

With sincerity, Taehyung says, “Can I be that kind of person for you too?”

Seokjin meets his eyes. After a pause, he replies, “Taehyung, you’re also special to me, you know? I don’t come to sleep with you every night for no reason.”

The honest revelation catches Taehyung by surprise. His cheeks bristle with warmth and he feels his heart thump a little faster.

“You too, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, a smile drizzling over his face. “You’re special to me. I like you a lot.”

“Uh, okay.” Seokjin purposely makes an exaggerated face of askance, double chin appearing.

Taehyung laughs. Just like how the words spilled from his heart without any filter, he lets his body move as it pleases—so he kisses Seokjin on the cheek.

Seokjin’s goofy expression immediately straightens out. With an almost unnoticeable frown, Seokjin comments, “Taehyung, you’ve been kissing me a lot lately.”

“Why? You don’t like it? And I don't kiss you a lot, hyung. Just sometimes.”

Seokjin stares back. “It’s not that I don’t like it, but don’t you think other people might find it strange?”

Taehyung frowns. Over the months they’ve been sleeping together, the affection naturally progressed. It’s not that strange. They sleep beside one another and Seokjin ends up in Taehyung’s embrace one way or another. Is a kiss really too far, considering all that they do?

“So what if they think it’s strange? Do you think it’s strange, hyung?”

“Um…” Seokjin rubs his neck, hesitating under Taehyung’s expectant gaze. “It’s not really strange, I guess. But it does feel kind of… weird? But not in a bad way, I don’t mean that.”

Taehyung muffles a laugh at how Seokjin struggles. He purposely reaches up to kiss Seokjin’s cheek again, making Seokjin lean away instinctively. 

“Taehyung-”

Seokjin squeaks when Taehyung continues pecking him, this time on the ear. Seokjin elbows him aside and Taehyung cheekily wrestles him down. He locks Seokjin in a tight hug and kisses his ear again. It turns into a lovely shade of red, spreading down to his cheeks and his neck.

“Taehyung, stop it. It’s weird,” Seokjin intones seriously, breaking out of Taehyung’s grip with a stern look. “What are you doing?”

“You’re red, hyung,” Taehyung giggles.

Seokjin doesn’t laugh along, only frowning at Taehyung. 

Taehyung slants his head, still beaming persistently. He juts his head forward into Seokjin’s personal space. Seokjin comically jerks back into the headboard.

“Are you shy, hyung?” Taehyung teases.

“Stop it, Taehyung. I’m serious. It’s weird,” Seokjin’s voice drops. Despite how it’s supposed to be a warning, his meek voice only emphasises how flustered he is. He’s no more playing around like he usually does, what a rare sight.

Seokjin nudges at Taehyung’s chest and turns his head away, showing off his red ears. They look like cherries. Taehyung wants to kiss them again—only to tease Seokjin.

“Move,” Seokjin presses crossly.

Taehyung doesn’t listen, offering his boxy grin with no remorse. Eventually, Seokjin truly uses his strength and shoves Taehyung off him.

“Why are you so weird, seriously? I’m not your girlfriend,” Seokjin grunts, rolling over to face away from Taehyung.

“Is it that weird, hyung? It's not like I'm kissing you all the time. Just sometimes. I was just teasing you just now,” Taehyung remarks, curling up against Seokjin’s back. “I’m just doing what makes me happy. I kiss my younger siblings too.”

Seokjin falters in his annoyance. “I get that we’re close, but why does it make you happy to kiss me? Taehyung, you’re just asking for people to think of you weirdly.”

“I don’t know. I just like it. We’re just like brothers, aren’t we, hyung?” Taehyung insists. “As long as no one knows, it’s fine, isn’t it? As long as you don’t hate it.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, sitting up. He pushes Taehyung aside forcefully and sits his laptop on his lap.

“I’m going to play my games, so don’t bother me.” Seokjin doesn’t spare Taehyung another glance.

“Okay, hyung.” 

With large eyes, Taehyung blinks up at Seokjin, gaze falling over his features. From his monolids to his nose, from his strong philtrum to his lips.

“Stop staring at me.”

Taehyung obediently looks away, staring at Seokjin’s side instead. 

“Hyung, I feel really comfortable around you. I feel like I can tell you anything, and do anything around you. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.” 

Taehyung rests his forehead against Seokjin’s ribs. He thinks about touching them with his fingers, but Seokjin would probably get mad.

Taehyung scrunches up his nose when Seokjin ruffles his hair gently.

“Isn’t that good? You’ve been so on edge for the past few months. At least you can relax somewhere.”

Taehyung contemplates. Yeah, it is good. Beside Seokjin is where he can breathe without his lungs collapsing on him. Beside Seokjin is where he can finally swallow down the lump in his throat and let his mind be peacefully thoughtless. Even away from Seokjin, he’s doing better. He doesn’t think as much now about the stares and his minute mistakes, voice cracking, word choice subpar, moves sloppy.

Taehyung feels happier.

Why, though? What’s so special about Seokjin? It’s true that Seokjin gives a lot of advice, rambling off on a monologue. But Taehyung doesn’t think he deliberately took any of Seokjin’s words of wisdom. Why did things change?

Taehyung frowns.

“Are you tired?” Seokjin pats Taehyung’s head, all tenderness and love. You wouldn’t be able to tell at all that Seokjin was furious at him moments ago.

Oh. 

Maybe that’s why.

Even if Taehyung acts frustratingly mischievous (doing as he pleases), even if they fight and Taehyung gives him the cold shoulder (eyes so hateful), even if Taehyung makes known the bad thoughts eating at his skull (stubborn and incomprehensible)—Seokjin still comes to him before they sleep. No matter what.

There’s no explanation for it. Not blood ties, not money. It’s just because Taehyung is Taehyung, and Seokjin loves him.

So, this is unconditional love. 

Seokjin suddenly presses his hand to his mouth as he types on his laptop, snickering.

Taehyung looks up, smiling instinctively at Seokjin’s shrill chortle. 

“What are you laughing at?”

Seokjin laughs louder. He grins at Taehyung.

“I told everyone that you were angry with me, and why.”

Taehyung’s jaw slackens. He scrambles onto his butt, looking through their group chat messages on Seokjin’s laptop screen. It’s flooded with laughter.

I didn’t know you could be this childish, Taehyung. Seokjin-hyung, you’re spoiling him too much, Yoongi types.

Hoseok’s message pops up.

I noticed he was being grouchy towards you too. So, that’s why… Pitiful… 

Ha… Okay, okay. You can be Seokjin-hyung’s special one instead, Taehyung. I’m not looking for a fight. Namjoon replies.

Jimin even joins in, betraying his closest friend with no hesitation. Being the leader must be so tiring, Namjoon-hyung~ 

Taehyung turns to Seokjin, gaping in stupefaction. Seokjin just puckers his lips.

“Hyung!”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

“Hyung.”

In bed, Taehyung stops thinking about tomorrow’s filming to check on whether Seokjin’s asleep. He has an arm slung over Seokjin under the blanket, falling into the curve of Seokjin’s waist.

The glow-in-the-dark stars burn green against Seokjin’s chubby cheek. Taehyung starts counting the hours of sleep he’ll get if he falls asleep in the next thirty minutes.

“Hyung,” Taehyung tries again. He receives no response, only seeing Seokjin’s back rise and fall. 

It’s odd, but he feels a bit anxious, wanting an answer. It reminds him of whenever his mother fell asleep before him, which always made him upset. Perhaps because it feels like he missed the opening hours and he’ll have to try again tomorrow. Or maybe that those asleep have left him for today, and will only be back hours later.

Taehyung sits up and peeks at Seokjin, shoulders falling when he confirms Seokjin’s asleep. He pouts and curls up beside Seokjin.

Seokjin sleeps easily—he wasn’t like that a few years ago. Jungkook likens it to growing old.

Imagine how many hours we waste, being asleep. 

Taehyung rests his forehead against Seokjin’s back, inhaling deep. It soothes him.

Oh, well. He pulls the blanket over his head and makes sure it goes over Seokjin’s head as well. Pleased with their tiny sanctuary, he pulls Seokjin closer and kisses his head.

 

 

Concert performances are a strange high for Taehyung. The adrenaline beats into his flesh blue-black like a cane. The demands to be exceptional are overflowing and spilling all over. His anxious worries become screams but he doesn’t crumble under their weight, just pushes his body harder and harder like he’s a soldier in training.

Push, push, push till he’s BTS’ V. The worthy (hopefully) member of the top Korean boy group, representing their country on a global stage. The singer praised and hailed over different news segments. His name splatters across articles that are full of compliments, but the malicious comments are growing, written by those that will grin with glee at his mistakes.

He can’t afford to slip up when things can change so easily. V, so loved and wanted—V, so hated and loathed.

And this fear is what keeps him at the top. It’s good for him, ultimately, no matter how terrible it feels.

Taehyung falls into formation, dancing as if the music has threaded into his bones. Pop, crack, turn. He belts out his verse without time to catch his breath. He glances to Hoseok, somewhat amazed that his expression is entirely different from just now in the styling room. He’s born to be a performer, so slick and confident.

Step, touch, fall. Yoongi raps fast. Fire is energetic and spunky, so Taehyung embodies just that. MIC Drop is similarly vigorous but without the playfulness. Taehyung gasps for breath, singing loud.

Song after song, they briskly switch attires. The flashy ensembles tack against his sweaty skin. Jungkook grabs a bottle and downs the whole thing in four gulps, some spilling over.

Then, they reach the more casual segment of their concert. Perspiration streaks down Taehyung’s back as he roams the stage, music and screams booming all around. His heart soars at the crowd, each individual one representing a person full of faith and love for them. He tries his best to look at each person, thinking about each of their stories must be so different. Yet, they all come together with the same affection for the seven of them and their music. 

This is just the first stop of their tour. He’s absolutely honoured. He knows forever how undeserving he is, but the fact that he could be part of this is phenomenal.

Every little light is a person, tens of thousands. They’re so pretty, like fireflies. He wants to keep each light and blinding smile in a jar by his bedside. 

It makes him so unbelievably happy. And then, the apprehensions starts setting in, much to Taehyung’s despair.

It’s like this sometimes—the happier he is, the more he has to fear. Happiness and fear come like a package, a rose and its thorns. Sometimes, he dreads being too happy for this reason. He gets miserable all of a sudden, just thinking about how hard his fall will be from a cloud nine so high.

God, how he wishes to get out of his head for once.

No, not now. He wants to give his all.

Taehyung gazes down at the fans in the mosh pit, squatting to put out his hand. Each touch is warm and he laughs softly when some of them scream. The transience of it all gurgles in the back of his mind. 

The lights have to go out someday.

Taehyung turns, meeting Jimin’s gaze. He smiles back.

He feels a touch on his shoulder. Namjoon stands behind him, waving to their fans. Namjoon then slips away to play around with Seokjin nearby.

Taehyung watches them. Seokjin’s dancing his heart out, making silly faces and laughing heartily with Namjoon. Namjoon has the widest grin on his face, and Taehyung only realises he does too when he sees the screen.

Taehyung runs over to join them. He bumps Seokjin away and dances with Namjoon instead, crossing his knees and arms.

Seokjin widens his eyes, feigning offense. He pushes Taehyung. Taehyung shoves him back and Seokjin almost slips.

The fans squeal to see them playing with one another. Seokjin puffs out his chest, menacingly approaching. They press their foreheads together, glaring with all the fake heinousness they can muster.

Seokjin looks ridiculous. He really doesn’t hold back to be humorous.

Taehyung chortles, stumbling back when Seokjin pushes him. Taehyung grabs him by the waist and roughly pulls him close. Immediately, the fans around them shriek, leaping around in excitement.

Seokjin doesn’t break their glare, though he puts up his hands to keep some space between them. Taehyung can only see the sweat down his nose since they’re both cross-eyed. The backdrop of lights becomes an afterthought. His gaze drops to Seokjin’s lips.

Taehyung’s excited for tonight. His heart leaps and he smiles wider. Taehyung wonders what if the fans, no, everyone knew about their nightly get-togethers. Would they find it cute? Would they adore their special friendship?

Seokjin suddenly pushes Taehyung. Taehyung flails and falls, but luckily, Yoongi prods him forward.

Seokjin runs immediately. Taehyung flares his eyes wide and chases after him. Jungkook witnesses the chase and chooses Taehyung’s side with no hesitation, catching Seokjin in a tight grip.

Seokjin shrieks. “Let go of me! Let go of me, you little…”

Taehyung grabs a water bottle and dumps it over Seokjin.

They’re exhausted when their encore ends, tearing off their extravagant costumes and wiping their make-up. Their manager pulls them together for a photo before they rub off too much of their faces. 

Taehyung slouches over the couch, inhaling and exhaling deep. He did alright. Just okay, could have been better. He was a bit offbeat when it came to Dope and DNA.

“How much time do we have to walk around tomorrow?” Yoongi drawls. “There’s this record store I want to check out. It’s famous for having old records.”

Their manager shuffles around, checking their schedule. “We’ll have to be here again by 2PM.”

“Oh, that’s okay. We didn’t have much time to explore today since the flight got delayed,” Jimin muses.

Namjoon nods enthusiastically. “We’ll get to visit the museums.”

“I want to go,” Taehyung pipes up just as Namjoon glances over expectantly.

They talk among themselves as the stylists remove their accessories. Midway through the conversation, Taehyung suddenly wonders where Seokjin is, looking around the room for him. It’s become an instinct nowadays to check where he is.

Taehyung spots Seokjin sitting in the corner. “Seokjin-hyung!”

Seokjin lifts his gaze. “Yeah?”

Taehyung beams. “Nothing. Just checking where you are.”

“Why are you suddenly looking for Jin-hyung?” Jimin arches his brow with a chuckle.

“Yeah, we’re talking about places to visit and you randomly shout for Seokjin-hyung,” Yoongi snorts.

“It’s my 4D personality,” Taehyung says cutely. Jimin pushes Taehyung’s knee with his foot.

They’re completely knocked out by the time they reach the hotel, legs and arms sore. After a long shower, Taehyung walks over to Seokjin’s room. He’s too tired to wait, so he might as well ask Seokjin to come over early.

It takes a while for Seokjin to answer the door.

“I knew it was you. Who else could it be?” Seokjin says before even meeting Taehyung’s eyes. 

He holds the door open. “I’m coming over, give me fifteen minutes. Why not you sit here?”

“It’s Taehyung-hyung?” Jungkook’s voice sounds out.

“Yeah, I told you so.”

“Jungkook’s here?” Taehyung steps in to find Jungkook sprawled over the bed.

“Yeah, he was bored so he went to his neighbour’s room. He barged in when he saw it was me.” 

Seokjin bursts out with shrill laughter. “Imagine if it was Yoongi. He’d be going, ah, hyung, what are you doing? You’re going to sleep? Okay, have a good night’s sleep.

Jungkook crawls over and pokes his head out into Taehyung’s view with a grin.

“Yoongi-hyung and I are close,” he protests with a snicker. “I’m not scared of him. You are scared of him even though you’re older.”

Taehyung lets out a small laugh, mostly to give a response. “How long has Jungkook been here?”

“I don’t know. An hour? You want to join us?”

Taehyung purses his lips. “I thought you were coming over to my room.”

“I am. Jungkook’s bored so I’m accompanying him for now.”

Seokjin turns on his heels, tossing himself onto the bed. Jungkook chokes when Seokjin lands on his legs.

“Ouch, ouch!” Seokjin yelps. “Stop kicking someone who’s 5 years older than you.”

He glances up at Taehyung. “Come and lie down. We’ll go back to your room later.”

“Hyung, you can go over. I’ll go back to my room.” Jungkook sits up, pressing his foot to Seokjin’s arm.

“Get your smelly foot off me. What about you join me and Taehyung?” Seokjin offers.

Taehyung blinks.

“No, it’s okay. I should drop by the gym,” Jungkook replies. 

“Alright. Don’t wear out your body, we need you for tomorrow.”

While Jungkook gets his stuff, Seokjin gathers his plushie, phone and laptop. They part ways in the corridor, Taehyung and Seokjin entering the room.

Seokjin throws himself onto Taehyung’s bed with no qualms, sighing loudly. “Taehyung, can you dim the lights?”

Taehyung does as he is told. He clambers into bed and mulls over what transpired moments ago, acknowledging the slight unrest in his stomach. 

“Hyung.”

“Mm.”

Taehyung shuts the lights, bathing them in darkness. The light from Seokjin’s phone glimmers against Seokjin’s face.

“I was a bit sad when you asked Jungkook to come over.”

Seokjin makes a bewildered noise. “Why?” 

“Us doing this is special, hyung. Just you and me. We should keep it that way.”

Taehyung twines his arms around Seokjin’s waist, now a natural gesture that none of them find odd.

Seokjin flutters his lashes.

“I won’t ask the rest to join next time,” he says placatingly. “But Taehyung, you know it’s not just me you can share things with, right?”

“I know that. I’m not saying I’m not close to the rest. But this—” 

Taehyung clambers up to better look at Seokjin, propping himself up on his elbows. 

“This is just for me and you.”

Seokjin laughs gently, all caramel in his eyes. “This? What is this?”

Taehyung doesn’t miss the fact that he seems pleased.

“I don’t know. Sleeping together.”

“Sounds wrong.”

Taehyung grins. “Sharing the bed as we sleep.”

“That’s just worse. Sharing the bed? You think we’re a bunch of newlyweds?” Seokjin lets out another shrill laugh.

“If we can’t find girlfriends, maybe we should get married.”

You? You think there’ll be a possibility you can’t find a girlfriend? If you mean the human race goes extinct for us two, then that’s more believable.”

Taehyung flushes, bubbling at the implicit compliment. Seokjin thinks he’s attractive.

“And even if that happens, I’d never marry you. Gross,” Seokjin gurgles on purpose, as if he got stabbed.

Taehyung huffs. He hits him with the pillow, earning a long scream from Seokjin.

“Hyung, you’re being loud,” Taehyung scolds. He cups Seokjin’s cheeks to keep him quiet.

Seokjin nudges him off. His ears go a little red, much to Taehyung’s confusion.

“Hyung, you’re blushing.”

“I’m not. You slapped my face, of course the skin’s going to be red.”

Taehyung lies back down on the bed as they settle back down. He thinks about kissing Seokjin’s ears, but Seokjin would get mad.

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts, recollecting today’s events. “While we were on stage, I suddenly had this thought: one day, all of it will end.”

“What will?”

“Us performing, our fans cheering for us…”

Seokjin exhales quietly.

“Taehyung, why are you thinking about the end when it’s not even here? You’re always thinking about how you’ll make a mistake that’ll ruin everything, or that things will eventually change.”

“I don’t know, hyung. I just do,” Taehyung mumbles. “Am I annoying you?”

“No, I didn’t mean it that way,” Seokjin softens. “It’s just that you should enjoy the moment. You keep worrying and not letting yourself be happy.”

Taehyung heaves. “I know, but it keeps bugging me. When I’m really happy, sometimes, I just think about how sad I’ll be when it finally ends.”

“Your head’s always filled with these heavy thoughts.” Seokjin bumps Taehyung’s forehead with his knuckles. “How do we get them out, Taehyung?”

“I don’t know. But I feel better whenever I tell you about them.” 

Taehyung blinks up at Seokjin. “I tell you everything, hyung, do you know that? Everything.”

“Yeah, I can see that. You just narrate your thoughts like I’m your diary, jumping from one topic to another. And you expect me to follow along,” Seokjin snorts.

“Because I’m comfortable with you,” Taehyung repeats. “Do you do that with me as well?”

“Say whatever’s on my mind?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think I need to,” Seokjin chuckles.

“Why not? You can freely tell me what you’re thinking. I want to know everything about you, hyung. Even the bad thoughts you have.”

Taehyung prods Seokjin’s side. “I share with you so much, but you never do the same.”

“Well, my brain doesn’t have much in it. I don’t have those kinds of thoughts.”

Taehyung snivels. “Are you saying you’re stupid?”

“Never. I scored above full marks for the IQ test, did you know that? 107. I’m a genius.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung groans, much to Seokjin’s amusement. “You know that- no, there’s no way you don’t know. Stop faking it.”

“Hyung, you really don’t have any worries?” Taehyung probes. “I’ll listen. I want to.”

“I don’t have much worries. Even if I do, I don’t dwell on them,” Seokjin easily answers.

“Anyway, Taehyung, everything comes to an end someday. What matters is now, when it’s happening. You’re living in the present, so enjoy what you have.”

“I have to prepare myself that it’ll end. Otherwise, it’ll sting a lot when it does. Aren’t you scared, hyung?”

Seokjin ruffles Taehyung’s hair. “But when you spend all your time being frightened of losing the things that make you happy, you lose the happiness you could have gotten from those things.”

“Don’t they have a saying for that? Better to lose than to love… no, wait.”

“Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” Taehyung fills in. He rests against Seokjin with a heave.

“Hyung, your mind’s really pretty. You’re positive and you don’t worry about stupid things. I want to live inside your head.”

“You do kind of live inside my head,” Seokjin chuckles. “I think about you a lot.”

Heat clambers up Taehyung’s neck as he blinks in surprise. It’s odd to be flustered by a remark from Seokjin, but he supposes that no matter how long you’ve been with someone, you’re not immune to cheesy things like this.

“What do you mean by that?” Taehyung asks. His voice doesn’t tally with his burning curiosity.

“It’s like you’re my little brother. I’d be concerned every now and then, wondering what you’re doing.”

“Oh. Well, I think a lot about you too, hyung. I’m always looking for you and thinking about where you are.”

Seokjin warmly laughs. He pats Taehyung’s head.

“Your mind’s beautiful, too.” 

How weird for his touch to seethe like a candle flame. Taehyung rubs at his cheeks to stop the ticklish feeling, not looking at Seokjin.

Seokjin takes his phone when he receives a message. He beams, mumbling something about Sandeul.

Taehyung peeks up at Seokjin. He feels restless, but he doesn’t understand why.

“Hyung.”

“Mm?” Seokjin types, half-listening.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that makes you happy and lasts forever?”

“You yourself don’t last forever, why would you need something like that?” Seokjin scoffs, amused at his own quirky remark.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I suppose.” Seokjin gasps, snapping his fingers. “Oh, anime. Anime will last forever.”

Taehyung huffs with a grin. He takes Seokjin’s hand and holds it against his chest.

They go to sleep after some time, Taehyung dozing off first. He dreams of constellations that fade into nothingness, the galaxies changing over and over. He sits upon the crescent moon, watching the stars transform, wiped away by storms and rain.

Taehyung wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of Seokjin’s breathing. He finds Seokjin’s arms wrapped around him and smiles, nuzzling his forehead into Seokjin’s chest.

Things may not last, but he and Seokjin—they will, right? Yeah, they’ll get married and have families of their own. They’ll become washouts one day, known only in interviews reminiscing about the past. But some memories can live on forever.

He’ll always have Seokjin. Taehyung laughs a little in his sleep stupor, enjoying the brewing happiness in his stomach. 

He pecks Seokjin’s cheek, lingering for a while. He thinks for a moment before kissing Seokjin’s forehead. One above his eyebrow, another closer to his eye, then nearer to his ear. 

Pretty mind . Like a child staring in intrigue at the kettle he can never touch, Taehyung prods Seokjin’s lips.

He presses a kiss to Seokjin’s cheek, close to his lips. Seokjin grunts and feebly swats him away.

Taehyung bites back a smile.

Yeah, he’ll put his faith into them lasting.

 

--

 

On a hot afternoon, Taehyung wanders out of his room, bored. Without a second thought, he goes into Seokjin’s room and launches himself onto the bed.

“Hey, hey, have you bathed?” Seokjin says. He's in the midst of reading a webtoon, Taehyung notes.

“No.” Taehyung rolls over and slings an arm over Seokjin’s hips. He’s sweaty and smells a little. 

“Then get off.”

Seokjin flicks Taehyung’s arm off, but Taehyung stubbornly puts it back. They do it for a while till Taehyung whines, glowering up at Seokjin.

“You invade my bed and get angry when I ask you to leave.”

Taehyung ignores him. “Why don’t you turn on the air-conditioning?”

“I’m lazy. Don’t want to get off my bed. You go turn it on, since you’re using my bed.”

“I’m lazy too…” Taehyung grumbles.

“You want to use my bed? Then you gotta pay.”

“No,” Taehyung whines, using the most petulant voice he can. “I’m lazy.”

“You’re useless. Useless! More useless than the Twitter app being on our fridge.”

Taehyung’s face contorts with an amused bewilderment. “What? Why are you so specific?”

“Am I wrong?”

“Well, it’s not useless. It’s there so Yoongi-hyung can brag online about the branded gelato he bought.”

Taehyung curiously stares at Seokjin’s waist. Has it always dipped like that?

It’s pretty. Taehyung runs a hand down Seokjin’s side, making Seokjin choke. Relentless, he continues feeling up and down.

"Don't make me report you." Seokjin swats Taehyung away.

Adamant, Taehyung presses his face into Seokjin's waist. Seokjin starts bellowing his lungs out and Namjoon yells at him to keep it down.

"Wow, aren't you two close? Are you two dating, hyungs?"

They both turn to look at Jungkook, probably attracted here by the noise. He has the habit of darting into the other members' rooms, staring at the occupant silently from the doorway. Then, after getting the attention he wanted, he leaves without saying a word.

"Yeah. Why? You jealous?" Taehyung returns.

Before Jungkook can walk to the bed, Seokjin sharply points to the air-conditioning.

“Wait, wait, JK! Help us turn it on.”

Jungkook purses his lips.

“I don’t want to.”

Taehyung yells when Jungkook flings himself onto them.

 


a/n: This and the next chaps were hard to write! Originally, the chapter after this, chapter 9, was supposed to be chapter 8. But one significant scene got so long that I had to give it one whole chapter on its own. The rest of the chapter was short for a standalone chapter, so I added more scenes in.

It doesn't disrupt the overall flow of the story but it did lengthen it, so I'm sad. :( I've spent a week tinkering around, writing new scenes, deleting them, but it doesn't do much. So, I hope this chapter's alright!

Please take care and stay safe! 

Chapter Text

Warning:  This chapter contains sensitive fandom issues about Taehyung and Seokjin. Please note that this fic is in no way an accurate portrayal of BTS, nor is it my interpretation of them. Everything here is written as it is ONLY to support the plot of the story. None of the events actually happened. What is written in this fic is not actually what the real BTS members feel. Please see BTS as actors while reading this fic. None of how the characters view themselves or others is actually how the actual BTS members see themselves and each other, nor am I implying that the way the characters are written should be how the actual BTS members feel. Everything is written purely for plot and has no actual grounds.

Please only continue reading if you understand and are comfortable with this warning.

 

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

A month later, BTS embark on their overseas tour. They clear several stops successfully, numerous headlines praising them for selling out concert after concert. They break records, hit legendary numbers in how much they can fill a stadium. 

For their later stops, the company has been negotiating with their organising partners to open up more seats. They don’t go lax on the security with how the crowds don’t lie—they swarm the concert hall hours before, creating traffic jams.

Today is no different. They can already hear the commotion since this morning, but right now, it’s triple the loudness with their concert close to starting. Crowds have probably already gathered outside in anticipation, fansites showing off merchandise while others queue for fan goods. 

Taehyung watches as Seokjin goes through the dance moves for Dimple with Jungkook and Hoseok. He lagged behind while they rehearsed, trying to stop himself going the wrong way. Clockwise, anti-clockwise—he bumped into Jungkook twice before he stopped laughing about it.

Dancing is partly automatic, the steps memorised into their bones so they can put their soul into the choreography. Accentuations at the right beats, slow and smooth at other bridges. So, there are times where the wiring goes wrong somewhere in the unconsciousness.

It’s fine because they slip up sometimes, body accidentally moving to the verse ahead. They just have to fix it.

Seokjin imitates the move slowly, nodding to himself. Hoseok walks him through it again.

Taehyung, Jungkook and Jimin fall into position. The song plays and they move with ease. Hoseok scrutinises them.

“No, your pacing is still off, hyung. When everyone else is in sync, it makes it obvious,” Hoseok remarks, pausing the song. He holds Seokjin by the arms like a puppeteer, stepping to his hums. One, two, one, two.

“Watch me carefully. At this drumbeat,” Hoseok sings the line, “you immediately turn.”

Jimin sings to help out, emphasising the words. Jungkook claps slowly to form the tempo, following behind so Seokjin knows where to position himself.

Seokjin nods, watching with furrowed brows. He follows along intently.

“No, you’re still slow, hyung. Let’s do it again,” Hoseok intones. There’s a subtle frustration to his words.

“Okay,” Seokjin breathes. He does it several times, absolute seriousness in his expression. 

Taehyung falls back into position as they replay the song for the umpteenth time. He puts little effort into his moves, only marking out the steps to conserve energy.

On the other hand, Seokjin practises the dance fully under Hoseok’s sharp gaze. Sweat trickles down the side of Seokjin’s face as he does each step. One, two, three.

Hoseok stops the music. “Still slow. You need to relax your body, hyung.”

Seokjin swallows, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll just practise on my own.”

“Why? Without us, you won’t know where to position yourself,” Jungkook points out.

Seokjin hesitates. He looks anxious, a little miserable—has he always reacted this way to such situations?

“Let’s just do it quickly,” Hoseok remarks, checking the clock. “There’s not much time left.”

Seokjin lets out an awkward chuckle. “Okay. Sorry. Are you guys tired?”

“It’s fine, hyung,” Jimin hums, stretching his arms. “Let’s do it right this time.”

Taehyung nods readily. He sneaks his arms around Seokjin’s chest and squeezes him. “I’m not tired, hyung.”

Seokjin throws his head back in Taehyung’s grip and groans loudly. “This body’s too old! I’m an elderly man, I can’t dance. I’ll never get it right.”

“Why would you say that? You’re not old! You can dance!” Taehyung bellows. “Say it again and I’ll bite you.”

He pecks up Seokjin’s neck, not minding that he’s somewhat sweaty. He smells nice.

“Taehyung, stop, what are you doing?” Seokjin’s voice falls, squirming around.

Jimin widens his eyes and melts into a laugh.

“Are you trying to be Yeontan? He’s acting just like a puppy.”

Hoseok makes a face. “Gross. Hyung’s sweaty, why are you kissing him? You’re so strange.”

“Why? You guys never point it out when Jungkook does it,” Taehyung retorts, not letting Seokjin loose despite how he’s fidgeting.

“I mean, he’s our youngest,” Hoseok reminds.

Taehyung pouts. “I’m the second youngest. Just two years older.”

“I don’t kiss Jin-hyung,” Jungkook returns. “He’s the one that kisses me.”

“Well, I’ve seen you bite him on the shoulders before. You hug him and put your face in his neck.”

“Does he?” Jimin raises his brows.

Hoseok lets out a shrill laugh. “You seem to know a lot about what Jungkook does to Seokjin-hyung.”

“Hey, I don’t kiss you anymore,” Seokjin replies to Jungkook. “You’re not cute now. You’re just… some big, muscular man. Ugly and big.” 

Jimin chortles while Jungkook starts flexing. Seokjin seems to relax more with the mellow atmosphere.

“Okay, anyway, let’s get back to practising. We don’t have much time,” Hoseok says, clapping to get everyone’s attention.

“Come on. A few more times and you’ll get it right.”

Seokjin doesn’t ace it before they go on stage. Jungkook gets a bit tired after a while, having strained himself from yesterday, so he asks Namjoon if he can take over.

After their last rehearsal, Hoseok nods. “It’s not perfect, but better than before. We’ll call it a day.”

Seokjin licks his lips. “It was okay yesterday, right? I don’t know why I’m lagging behind suddenly.”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t pay attention,” Hoseok returns.

Taehyung knows—Seokjin lagged behind yesterday too. But he says nothing.

“He’ll be fine when he’s on stage. There’s a difference in adrenaline,” Jimin remarks. Hoseok nods along.

“I’m just old. You can’t force an old man to dance,” Seokjin jokes.

“Stop saying that. Anyway, good effort, hyung,” Hoseok says, patting Seokjin’s arm carelessly. He briskly leaves the room, supposed to do his last fitting some time ago.

Seokjin glances at Taehyung. He immediately darts his gaze away when Taehyung smiles encouragingly.

He turns to head out of the room, remarking that he needs to use the bathroom. Right then, Namjoon takes his hand and squeezes it.

“I’m going to get a drink!” Namjoon announces. They leave together as Taehyung watches.

 

 

The concert goes by smoothly. The roaring fans and blinding lights tattoo into Taehyung’s skin and make him feel more alive than usual, like a vitality elixir. He remembers some faces and how happy they seemed to see and hear them. So, he dances harder, sings harder, to put on the best show of his life for them.

Back in the hotel room, Taehyung waits with a damp towel over his head. He was going to blow dry his hair—it becomes flat if he doesn’t—but he knows Seokjin will dry his hair for him if he sees it damp.

The hour goes by. Seokjin’s later than usual, Taehyung notices. His hair is already close to dry.

Taehyung creaks open his hotel door to peek into the aisle. It’s empty, just a hooded figure sitting in the lift lobby.

Taehyung jams the door with a slipper for Seokjin to come in later. He waits another fifteen minutes to no avail.

Bewildered, Taehyung peeps down the hall once more. The figure’s still there, making him wary if it might be the paparazzi or an overzealous follower.

Taehyung squints when the silhouette looks familiar. To his surprise, he realises it’s Seokjin when the figure slants his head, showing more of his face.

Seokjin’s brows are creased and his glazed eyes give away that he’s heavily lost in thought.

Taehyung stares at him while the minutes go by. Seokjin simply gazes into space, hands loosely clasped over his thighs. He looks troubled.

“Hyung.”

The voice startles Seokjin out of his trance, his eyes going large.

“Oh, Taehyung. I was about to come over.” Seokjin rises and dusts his pants, pacing over with a lighter expression.

“Why are you sitting there, hyung?”

“Trying the chairs. The lobby looks nice, don’t you think? It could be a living room,” Seokjin chuckles, winding past Taehyung into his room.

“How long have you been there?”

“A minute or so.”

Seokjin’s lying.

He tosses himself onto the bed with a loud heave. 

“I’m so tired, Taehyung. I feel like sleeping right now. Should we go to bed early?”

Taehyung gazes down at Seokjin. “Hyung, are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Seokjin sighs. “Today’s concert was just tiring.”

“You did well, hyung,” Taehyung earnestly says.

“Thanks. You too, Taehyung. You did really well.” 

Seokjin offers a cute smile, ends of his lips folding a bit under his chubby cheeks.

Cute? He’s just smiling like normal.

Seokjin faces away from Taehyung, picking a napkin off the table and fiddling with it. 

Taehyung sits on the bed, looking at Seokjin for a while. Something must be bothering Seokjin, no matter how he’s acting now. Had Taehyung not seen him so absentmindedly staring into space by himself in the lift lobby, he wouldn’t have noticed it. Perhaps probed a little, but brushed it off.

Seokjin turns over, eyes glistening under the bright lights. 

“I feel like having a midnight snack. But I haven’t been working out as much. Maybe I should have joined Jungkook and went to the gym?” He thinks aloud.

“Should we get ramen? I’ll call room service.”

“No, no. Our faces will get bloated. It’s better not to.”

Taehyung nods slowly.

“Hyung,” he starts and scoots closer. “Are you okay? Why were you sitting out there by yourself?”

Seokjin arches a brow. “I’m fine. What, is it illegal to sit in the lift lobby on my own? The space looked good so I just sat for a while.”

He stills when Taehyung leans over, faces in close proximity. Taehyung gazes deep into Seokjin’s eyes.

“Hyung, you can tell me anything.”

“I know.” Seokjin nudges him to create more distance. His eyes soften. “Thanks, Taehyung.”

He faces away again, gesturing to the lights. “Turn them off. It’s bright.”

One flick of the switch submerges them in darkness, all-encompassing, impossible to swim out of. Taehyung climbs back into bed and slips an arm around Seokjin’s shoulders.

“Hyung. You’re okay, right?” He asks.

“Of course,” Seokjin heaves. His hand reaches up to hold Taehyung’s wrist.

It’s silent for a while, till Seokjin hums, “It’d be nice if I was like you.”

“Why?”

“You learn things so easily. You’re pretty much a natural in everything,” Seokjin praises warmly. “You’re amazing. I’m always impressed by you.”

“Hyung, why would you want to be me? You’re the one that’s amazing. Have you ever heard yourself sing?”

Seokjin chuckles. He speaks lightheartedly, “Well, it took me a long time to be alright when I sing. I’m still lacking a lot everywhere else. Just look at what happened this afternoon.”

Oh. Seokjin’s bothered by what happened before? Taehyung didn’t expect that.

“Hyung, you’re good at dancing,” he insists. “You just forgot how the dance went. Doesn’t everyone slip up once in a while? You still danced well at the concert, so don’t be sad about what happened this afternoon.”

“I’m not upset about today,” Seokjin chuckles. “Danced well? You have pretty lax standards for me, considering how many times I practised.”

Taehyung frowns. “I mean it when I say you danced well. Our fans screamed so loudly during your parts. It’s normal that we forget how the moves go and we all need more practice now and then.”

“I got it. You don’t have to console me as if I’m upset. I’m not,” Seokjin says more firmly.

Taehyung nods slowly. “But hyung, I just want you to know that you did amazingly. And you did your best. You practised so hard this afternoon to be good. That’s what matters most. I find it admirable.”

Seokjin’s brows crease.

“Admirable? You saw how Hoseok rehearsed with me for a whole hour and I was still too stiff. What’s so admirable about trying hard and still coming up short?”

Seokjin mutters under his breath, “It doesn’t matter if I try my best if it doesn’t translate. I could practise till I break all my bones and I’m lying dead on the floor; I’ll still never be good enough. And that’s not admirable—that’s pathetic.”

The conversation lapses. A stagnant quietness surrounds them like a watching crowd witnessing a faux pas.

Taehyung’s startled by the uncharacteristic pessimism. Seokjin’s the one who always insists Taehyung stop putting himself down as it’s meaningless. 

Seokjin seems to catch himself, like it was a slip of the tongue no one should have heard.

“Anyway, I’m not upset. I’m just saying.” 

He scoots to sit up. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to get ramen. My mind says no but my stomach overruled that order.”

Seokjin reaches over to switch on the lights but Taehyung catches his arm.

“Hyung, you’re not pathetic. How can you say that about yourself?” He presses. “You’re an amazing performer. I love how you carry yourself on stage… how you sing, how you dance… You’re incredible. You’ve improved so much over the years.”

“I already know how great I am,” Seokjin jests. “Thanks. Don’t be so serious; you’re making this weird.”

“Hyung, I mean it. I think you’re amazing,” Taehyung breathes. “You didn’t keep pace, yeah, but you tried your best. Everyone can see that.”

“Yeah, I got it. Let go of me, will you? I want to get my ramen.”

“Not until you tell me you’re great and not pathetic.”

Seokjin thins his lips, irritation manifesting. “Why are you taking this so seriously? I already told you that I was just saying.”

Taehyung frowns. “Because you seem upset. Be honest with me—did this afternoon bother you?”

“I already said no, I’m not upset. Why do you think I’m upset? Can’t I sit outside and think for a while? Are you the hotel police?” Seokjin scowls. 

It’s odd. He keeps his temper so well, rarely flaring up when things get on his nerves. Even if he fights with another member, he backs down quickly, offering a compromise. But this time, he’s showing it without a care.

Somewhat upset at Seokjin’s spiel, Taehyung blurts, “Then why’d you say all that about yourself?”

“Because it’s true?” Seokjin retorts. “Do you find the idea so crazy—that someone who’s went at something for many years and still can’t do well is pathetic?”

“Hyung, you dance just fine,” Taehyung stresses. “We all take some time to learn things! I find some verses hard to sing. Jimin does too.”

“That’s different,” Seokjin states. “You guys get a hang of it after a while. I don’t. I can’t hit bare minimum, alright?

The frustration finally breaks the damn in his mouth. “You guys don’t force the group to stay behind for hours more. You guys don’t hold the group back.”

“What? You don’t, hyung. You don’t hold the group back,” Taehyung presses. “Why would you think that? You’ve never done anything that bad-”

“Taehyung, just stop. I don’t like it when you lie to me,” Seokjin heaves, nudging Taehyung’s arms off him. The raw weariness in his voice is unfamiliar.

“It’s been years. I’m still having trouble keeping up. Six people waiting for one, the oldest member, to learn a part of a dance before they can move on, they walk him through it but he still can’t get it right even though the concert’s about to start—don’t lie that it’s not burdensome.”

Seokjin swallows. “You guys won’t ever get how embarrassing that is.”

“Hyung, I’m not lying! I’ve  never  thought about you like that. None of us think that about you,” Taehyung exclaims. “You’re not burdensome and you don’t hold the group back. There’s nothing wrong with you taking a longer time to learn the dance. Really, hyung, no one minds.” 

Seokjin’s eyes harden bitterly.

“And then? So what if you guys don’t mind? I’m not an idiot to see all of you are just trying to be nice. Just because you guys don’t mind doesn’t change the fact that we’d finish up faster without me around. You know that. Everyone knows that.”

Seokjin suddenly stops, fluttering his lashes. He holds up a hand to his mouth, curling his fingers. 

“Wait… sorry. I didn’t mean all that.”

Seokjin’s expression settles. In his weary eyes, Taehyung sieves out some anxiousness. 

“Sorry, just ignore everything I said. I was being moody for no reason,” Seokjin’s voice softens. He averts his gaze.

Taehyung’s chest deflates. How long has Seokjin thought of himself like this? Always—just that Taehyung never noticed? 

Every time Seokjin had trouble following along, he never seemed bothered. They’d point him out and he’d laugh it off, taking things lightly. He’d joke that his lifestyle in front of the computer vanquished all his flexibility or that he was living up to being the oldest, body worn and stiff.

It used to annoy Taehyung, honestly. Each time he pointed out Seokjin was falling back, he’d just get brushed off. It was fine that Seokjin needed more time, but it was upsetting that Seokjin didn’t care about the critiques and try to catch up. Seokjin should know better than they need to be the best they can. Their fans give them so much love, how can he receive it so contentedly without any worries?

“Taehyung…” Seokjin starts. “Everything’s okay today, right? Is it fine if I go back to my room, then?”

He rubs his elbow and offers, “I just want to eat by myself for a while. But I’ll come back later.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung murmurs sadly. “Do what you want. How can you worry about me?”

Gingerly, he wraps his arms around Seokjin. “I’m not here just to take from you. I’m here for you too. Can’t you lean on me?”

Seokjin heaves. “What do you mean by lean on you? I’ve told you a thousand times that I’m fine.”

“Hyung, be honest. It’s bothering you, isn’t it? Didn’t I say you could let yourself be sad? Why do you keep changing the topic- why do you keep brushing it off?” Taehyung softly asks.

Seokjin relaxes a little in Taehyung’s warmth. “I’m just a bit tired. It’s not worth talking about.”

“And why’s it not worth talking about?”

“Because it’s enough that I’m creating problems. I’m not going to mope over them and be even more of a burden on everyone by needing them to comfort me so I’d do my job, or whatever it is,” Seokjin finishes bluntly.

Taehyung goes wordless for a moment. The blue seeps all over his veins like spilt ink, pressing in Seokjin’s poignant words.

Jimin once said that Seokjin didn’t let himself be sad. It was an insight that sat in Taehyung’s head oddly, since he had never really noticed it.

Being a burden by feeling sad? How can Seokjin even think this way about himself? It’s such an innate thing to feel. For Seokjin to deprive himself of something so fundamental hurts Taehyung’s heart.

“Do you think that about me?”

“What? No, why would I?” Seokjin immediately returns.

“You can’t think that about yourself and not think that about me,” Taehyung rebounds.

“But we’re different? When have you created problems for the group?” Seokjin returns.

“I stopped talking during our filmings. You guys had to keep checking in on me, talk to me so I’d be up for it. Isn’t that why you’re sleeping with me?” Taehyung breathes. 

“I burdened all of you twice—by not doing my job, and needing you guys to comfort me so I’d do so.”

“No,” Seokjin blurts, the hurt scribbling all over his face. “Taehyung, I wasn’t referring to you. You’re talking as if we had no choice but to help you. You think we talked to you just because we wanted you to speak more on camera? We were worried about you.”

“When  I  started sleeping with you, it wasn’t so you’d feel better and talk more during our interviews,” he stresses. “I was worried. Do you think I see it as a chore to accompany you? I’d leave you alone on days you were feeling fine, if that were so.”

Taehyung exhales, nestling his face into Seokjin’s shoulder. Heaviness weighs down on his shoulders.

“Then, why can’t you see that it’ll be the same when it comes to you, hyung? You’re so harsh on yourself to even think that being sad is a burden on us.”

Seokjin goes quiet.

“It’s different,” he eventually says.

“Then tell me—how’s it different?”

Seokjin sighs. “You know it.”

“No, I don’t,” Taehyung rebounds. “Tell me.”

“No, why do I have to tell you? Figure it out yourself,” Seokjin retorts, edging Taehyung off him.

Taehyung grips his hands. “No, you’re not telling me because there’s no difference. You just don’t want to say it.”

“There is,” Seokjin hisses, explicit anger unfamiliar on his face. “We’re  performers . We’re  paid to dance-”

“And being entertaining, talking isn’t part of what a performer should do? I don’t make the atmosphere weird by being glum?”

Seokjin squints. “You’re talking again during our shows, aren’t you? So, it doesn’t matter.”

“Then, if I never went back to speaking during our shows, you’d think I’m a burden?”

Seokjin sighs in exasperation, lowering his head. “I’m the oldest. That’s the difference, okay?”

“Oldest? So what if you’re the oldest?” Taehyung raises his voice frustratedly, desperate to be heard. “Yoongi-hyung- he’s just a few months younger than you. So, he’d be a burden if he acts like me?”

Seokjin shuts his eyes. “Yeah, okay? You’re right. He’d be a burden.”

He tries to shake Taehyung off his arms, muttering, “I’m going back to my room.”

“You know that’s not what you think.” Taehyung grasps Seokjin’s face. “Hyung, listen to me.”

Seokjin immediately grabs Taehyung’s wrists to push him off. Amidst the small struggle, Taehyung presses their foreheads together, stopping Seokjin in his tracks.

Listen , hyung,” Taehyung intones. They’re both cross-eyed, looking into one another’s eyes.

“You’re not a burden and you’ll never be one. It’s okay if you don’t learn the choreography as fast. We’re a team, aren’t we? Each of us struggle with different things.”

Seokjin breathes shallowly, deer-eyed at the proximity. His exhales sting Taehyung’s lips. 

“Why do you think it’d be burdensome if you show us that you’re sad, hyung? I can’t believe you think that way. We’re your friends. You can feel sad and show it to us. We’d never find you bothersome for it.”

Taehyung thumbs Seokjin’s cheek. It’s overly intimate to be so close, but he can’t move away. 

Seokjin seems so raw and vulnerable now. Eyes large, lips slightly parted, hands loose on Taehyung’s wrist. For some reason, Taehyung feels winded.

“Whether you’re not keeping pace, taking more time to learn, when you’re sad and having these bad thoughts about yourself… you’ll never be a burden, hyung. So, don’t hide what you’re thinking from us. We want to be there for you.

“Don’t you know that we love you?” Taehyung murmurs, going closer till their noses touch. “Why can’t you depend on us? It’s like you see us as strangers.”

Seokjin forces his gaze to the floor. “Taehyung, you’re too close.”

“Hyung, don’t change the topic-”

“No, I get it. It’s just- you’re too close.” Seokjin presses a hand to Taehyung’s shoulder to hold him back.

Seokjin rubs the spot where their foreheads touched and gets off the bed.

“Um, I’ll go back to my room.”

Taehyung takes Seokjin’s hand. “I’ll go with you.”

Seokjin’s shoulders fall with helpless resignation.

They remain in Taehyung’s room, sitting on the bed. Seokjin has his legs pressed against his chest, making himself smaller as he fixates on the linens.

“Have you always felt this way, hyung?” Taehyung rasps.

“You mean, whenever I fall behind? I guess so,” Seokjin murmurs. 

“I never thought so,” Taehyung confesses.

“I’d have to be really shameless to not care.”

Taehyung rubs his knuckles. “You seemed to take it lightly. You’d joke around even though Hoseok-hyung would get angry.”

Seokjin looks over. “You’d get mad too, right?”

Once he sees Taehyung’s expression, he says, “I’m not blind. Once, you even fought about it with me on camera. Was it during one of our Japan concerts in Osaka?”

Taehyung turns forlorn. “Hyung, I…”

He remembers. That day, he confronted Seokjin for one of their dances on stage, where he spun the wrong direction. Seokjin seemed to brush it off as trivial and it ticked Taehyung off, so he began arguing with Seokjin even though he knew the cameras were rolling.

Seokjin was cornered. Even when he tried explaining to get some understanding and ask if they could talk about it later, he was still the one to make amends since Taehyung was too caught up in hurt and frustration. Seokjin must have felt terrible, but he still gave in to make Taehyung feel better and keep the peace.

Taehyung never gave a second thought to the incident after time passed, and fortunately, it never made it onto their DVDs.

“I’m not finding fault with you,” Seokjin replies. “I’d be annoyed too—seeing the weak link take things so lightly, when he has no right to.”

“Hyung, that’s not what I think,” Taehyung immediately presses. 

Seokjin doesn’t reply to his words. He speaks softly.

“It’s humiliating, you know? In a room full of people, I’m the only one struggling and everyone’s watching me get criticised again and again—I’m sure they’re asking inside their heads why I’m part of the group.  Oh, we’ll have to stay for longer again because of Seokjin. He can’t get it right again. Hopeless.

Seokjin leans his head back against the headboard. 

“It makes me wish I could bury myself in the ground. I get sick of hearing how bad I am, too. I’ll bet you guys are tired of me not getting it right—so am I. I’m sick of trying again and again but still not getting it right, while everyone’s having an easier time.”

Brushing a hand through his hair, Seokjin looks weary and woeful, emotions foreign on his face.

“It’s not that I want you guys to let up on me—I have to be better, I know that. It’s bad enough that I’m falling short, but I’m even weak to be hurt over it. Worse, I shamelessly joke about it. I don’t know why I do it.”

Seokjin shuts his eyes. “It’s not admirable, Taehyung. It’s pathetic to try so hard and not get any results. You guys pick up on things faster, while I’m just there like a fish out of water.”

Taehyung’s throat tightens. He knows how it feels, somewhat. When he clammed up during their recent interview, it suffocatingly felt like everyone in the room was looking at him with disdain. So many years under his belt but he still needed the producer to cue for him to speak louder. He’s still so stiff and uncomfortable to look at.

What about Seokjin? He must have been frustrated and disappointed in himself, and he had to endure as everyone watched him try repeatedly yet face the same criticisms. He doesn’t get as much encouragement as the rest—perhaps a symptom of how Seokjin’s thought to not need it. He’s not the type to be affected by things like this, after all.

Maybe he jokes around and brushes off the criticism because he just wants to feel less terrible. 

“Taehyung, are you crying?” Seokjin immediately uncurls himself. He wipes Taehyung’s watery eyes.

“What are you sad for? I’m not blaming you. What happened during the concert was my fault,” Seokjin placates.

“No, it’s not,” Taehyung rasps. “Hyung, I’m sorry. You’ve been enduring this for so long, and not only did I never realise, I made it worse for you, hyung.”

He loops his arms around Seokjin’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry, hyung. I’m really sorry.”

“Hey, it’s not a big deal, Taehyung. It’s my fault for joking around in the first place.”

Taehyung stubbornly shakes his head. 

“Instead of putting myself in your shoes, I just got angry at you. I’m awful to you, hyung,” he croaks. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. I’d be irritated if I were you too. You’re not awful for wanting the best out of us.”

“No, hyung, stop making excuses for me,” Taehyung protests. “You always cheer us on. When we slip up, everyone’s always encouraging us through it so we won’t beat ourselves up. But we don’t give you as much support.”

Taehyung hugs tighter. “It’s not hard to realise how bad it must feel… so why didn’t I? I just assumed you didn’t need any encouragement. I was harsh towards you. I’m sorry, hyung.”

Seokjin purses his lips and squeezes a hand out of Taehyung’s embrace, ruffling Taehyung’s hair. 

“I’m just venting, you know that, right? This is a small thing that bugs me. I’m just being stupid and making a big fuss.”

“So, don’t take this seriously. There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Seokjin soothes. “I’m not asking you to cheer me on. It already means a lot that you’re listening when you have better things to do.”

“Hyung, no. If you’re unhappy about something, say it. Don’t swallow it down. You’re upset for a good reason,” Taehyung firmly states.

“Not really. I shouldn’t be pampered if I’m doing something wrong; I’m not a kid,” Seokjin returns. “That’s why I said this isn’t worth talking about—I’m acting spoiled.”

“Spoiled? You seriously think that you’re being spoiled by feeling what you feel?” Taehyung blurts with disbelief. 

He takes Seokjin’s hand, sternly looking at him. 

“You won’t believe me, but I think you’re great at dancing. It’s okay that you occasionally take more time. Nobody thinks you’re a burden because of that. If you wouldn’t think of any of us like that when we struggle, then you shouldn’t think of yourself like that.”

Taehyung’s shoulders fall. 

“And you can’t think that you being sad is putting an extra burden on us, hyung, as if you’re asking for too much and being spoiled. That’s insane. We’ll never think that.”

“Do you think we’re strangers that you need to worry what we think of you?” Taehyung asks. “We’ve been together for years. It’s okay to rely on us.”

Seokjin gazes back quietly. He sighs, “You don’t get it. I’m the oldest. I need to be dependable.”

“So what if you’re the oldest?” Taehyung retorts. “You’re just a few years older than everyone. Why are you expected to have everyone depend on you?”

Seokjin’s expression eases into amusement. “That’s what Namjoon said to me once.”

He pats Taehyung’s head. “Aren’t you a sweet kid?”

Taehyung takes this hand as well, holding it tightly. He feels down Seokjin’s bony fingers, tracing, indulging.

“Hyung… It really makes me sad that you won’t even let yourself be upset because you’d be a bother,” Taehyung whispers. “It’s something so natural. Everyone does it.”

“It’s not that odd when you’re in my position, Taehyung,” Seokjin remarks. 

“It is. Yeah, we hide things and pretend we’re fine sometimes, but you’re bottling everything up.” 

“It’s been years, but you’re only telling me this now after I made you. And you lied about sitting outside—you didn’t feel like coming in, right?” Taehyung brings up. “I saw you way before I called out to you.”

Seokjin keeps mum. Taehyung presses Seokjin’s hands to his cheek, imprinting the metacarpals like adding a vicinity to his map.

“You couldn’t even be honest about that. Are you that afraid of me knowing? You genuinely think I’d find you bothersome?” Taehyung dejectedly asks.

Seokjin curls his fingers. “No, of course not. I just… I don’t know.”

“It’s my fault you think like that,” Taehyung mumbles remorsefully. He nestles against Seokjin’s hands. 

“I’m really sorry, hyung. I wish I could take everything back. I’m sorry for hurting you.”

“I already said that the fight wasn’t a big deal. Stop apologising. I know you meant well.”

With his hands trapped in Taehyung’s grasp, Seokjin wriggles out a thumb to touch Taehyung’s cheek.

He gives a small but sincere smile. “It’s hard to get mad at you since you’re so pure-hearted.”

Taehyung’s cheeks tickle with warmth. “That’s not true. You’ve seen how petty I can get.”

“Who’s not like that sometimes?”

“But I’m spiteful,” Taehyung mentions. “When things get heated, I say pretty horrible things.”

“Yeah, but you feel awful for them. They bother you a lot, don’t they? Every time you fight with one of us, you’re the most miserable.”

“Not everyone cares when they’ve hurt someone,” Seokjin points out. “But you do, a lot—you never truly want to hurt anyone. You’ve got a pure heart, like a child.”

Seokjin laughs. “It’s funny to watch you, actually. Whenever you argue with Jimin, you mourn like you’re going through a divorce.”

Taehyung shoves Seokjin. 

They melt into soft-hearted laughter that ebbs into a supple silence. Taehyung continues feeling Seokjin’s hands, warmth simmering in his lungs.

He feels closer to Seokjin. It may be a side of him he desperately wants to hide, but Taehyung wishes to cradle it within the ventricles of his heart. Bear each of Seokjin’s raw vulnerabilities in his flesh, love his insecurities and sour thoughts as much as his strengths.

“Hyung, from now on, I’m always going to support you,” Taehyung earnestly says. “I swear. I’m going to be better. So, tell us when you’re upset and when you need us.

Seokjin blinks. “Taehyung, I meant it when I said this isn’t a big deal. Yeah, I was upset, and I appreciate that you care and you get how I feel now — but I get over this kind of thing fast. Besides, you want me to call everyone over and yell that I’m upset?”

Unamused, Taehyung intones, “I’m asking you to show it when you’re upset. Don’t act like everything’s fine when it’s not.”

Seokjin hesitates.

“I don’t know, Taehyung. I know you mean well, but… it just feels selfish of me to do that. Don’t you think so?”

“Selfish?” Taehyung returns, in disbelief at both Seokjin’s words and the expectation of agreement in his tone. 

“It’s okay to be sad, hyung. That’s not selfish. You’re being too selfless. Stop thinking about everyone else and think for yourself.”

“If it’s difficult, then start with me, hyung,” Taehyung offers. “Tell me whenever you’re sad or angry. Whatever’s on your mind, tell me all of it and don’t filter it. Just like how I tell you everything.”

“Taehyung presses up Seokjin’s pinky, folding his other fingers.

“Promise me, hyung—you’ll lean on me instead of keeping it all to yourself. You can count on me—I’ll always support you. I’ll make you feel better.”

“I’m going to take really good care of you, hyung, I promise,” Taehyung earnestly says.

Seokjin snorts. He fails to repress his embarrassed smile. 

“Take care of me? This kid, seriously… You think this is a drama?”

“I’m not a kid.”

Seokjin lets out a carefree laugh. “This is why I say you have a childlike heart.”

A lovely jubilance lights up his rosy cheeks as he hooks Taehyung’s pinky with his.

“I’ll try,” he sighs, dwindling into a sheepish mutter. 

“Okay, you said it.” Taehyung grins brilliantly, his heart ballooning with enthusiasm. 

“I don’t know why you’re taking this so seriously. People would think I was hiding that I’m… hm, a top-secret agent on the run, wanted dead because I was framed for betraying my boss.”

“Wow, your imagination’s incredible, hyung. Especially for someone so wise in age.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“No.”

Seokjin narrows his eyes. “You called me old, didn’t you?”

“No, I said you were wise.”

“Since I’m wise, you’ll listen to me, right? Stay still. I’m going to beat some wisdom into you.”

Taehyung catches Seokjin’s arms as he lunges at him. He chortles and pulls Seokjin towards him. Seokjin stumbles and they fall back onto the bed.

Seokjin scrambles up. Taehyung twines his arms around Seokjin’s petite waist, preventing him from squirming away. Taehyung continues laughing, breathless at how startled Seokjin is.

He’ll make sure to take care of Seokjin well. He’ll be there for Seokjin no matter what—comforting him when he’s down, cheering him on when he’s having a hard time, celebrating all of his amazing achievements.

He’ll be someone Seokjin can always turn to no matter if the world collapses—just like how Seokjin is that person for him.

“Do you feel better, hyung?” Taehyung rasps.

“I was never really upset.” 

Taehyung frowns at him.

“You promised me.”

“I mean it, I- Ha, alright, alright,” Seokjin mutters. “A bit, I guess.”

He seems to contemplate before carefully resting his head on Taehyung’s chest. Taehyung curls his fingers at the sensation. 

He feels oddly shy. The intimacy shouldn’t be odd—he’s not one to be afraid of skinship, cuddling with Jimin and Jungkook whenever he wishes to.

But this… is making his heartbeat race.

A nervous thought pops into his mind. Can Seokjin hear his heartbeat? Would he think it’s weird?

“It’s a first for me to be so upfront,” Seokjin mentions.

“Ah. Did it feel good?” Taehyung replies stiffly.

“I don’t know,” Seokjin muses, cheek moving against Taehyung’s chest. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable doesn’t mean bad.”

Gingerly, Taehyung touches Seokjin’s head. He slowly threads a hand through Seokjin’s hair when Seokjin doesn’t gripe about it. 

It’s soft. Taehyung wants to kiss the top of his head but can’t lean down. 

Seokjin nestles against Taehyung. In a tiny voice, he replies, “I guess not.”

They fall away into a silence, no greenish, starry glow from the ceiling to remind them of their most carefree time. But the stars are sewed already into Taehyung’s ribcage, forever drawing him into Seokjin. 

He’s learnt so much through their nights, yet so little. It’s bittersweet. He wants to unravel Seokjin into every little thing possible, the most fundamental building blocks that compose him. Understand the recipe that makes up Kim Seokjin, who has ideals Taehyung often can’t get behind, who doesn’t translate his heart when it’s dark (so the disease doesn’t pass on), who loves Taehyung so selflessly despite their rifts and disagreements.

Taehyung’s heart pounds. It’s getting harder to breathe with Seokjin lying on him. Like his ribcage is closing in, crushing his lungs into nothingness.

But it’s strangely nice. So, he doesn’t nudge Seokjin off—and instead, holds him closer. 

Taehyung will take care of Seokjin well. He promises.

 

 


A/N: Hope you all are doing okay! Take care! 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Hours before their performance, they lounge in the styling room while the staff scuttle around to arrange their costumes by order of songs. They test the microphones, echoes reverberating through the empty stadium.

Taehyung checks the accessories put out for him. Once he’s done, he absentmindedly searches for Seokjin like a pulled magnet.

He finds him on the couch beside Namjoon. Taehyung skips over and lies down with his head in Seokjin’s lap. It’s comfortable and warm. Taehyung shifts to find the best position.

Seokjin doesn’t flinch, though he does glance at Taehyung. Taehyung beams up at him, poking Seokjin’s cheek.

Seokjin’s more and more charming these days. The way he sings renders Taehyung extra breathless. He’s always been amazing, but Taehyung just finds his fingers going numb nowadays when Seokjin belts out notes. His heart somersaults and he thinks of starry nights every time Seokjin hums into the microphone.

Seokjin’s silly antics, overbearing at times, are even hilarious. The others seem to still wince at them, but Taehyung finds his lame puns hilarious. It’s a little cringeworthy, but… it’s cute. How he waits for a reaction (and Taehyung makes sure to always give it), how his ears go red at the tips even though he’s showing such confidence. 

“Are you bored?” Seokjin soothes, grasping Taehyung’s finger and taking it off his cheek.

“Yes.”

Seokjin holds on to Taehyung’s finger like placating a child, swinging it to and fro.

“Hyung?”

“Mm?”

“You sang well. Every time I hear you sing, it’s like I’m falling in love with you.”

“Thanks. You’re a sweet kid,” Seokjin laughs.

“You danced great, too. I love the way you move in Spring Day.”

“How would you know how I danced in Spring Day when you’re dancing too?” Seokjin snorts in amusement.

“Because I’m watching you. When am I not?”

It’s then that Taehyung notices Namjoon is staring at him. But once Taehyung sends him a curious glance, Namjoon goes back to his notebook, penning down more lyrics.

 

 

After a long day of filming, they sit on the empty space of just concrete, weary but lively. Under the expanse of midnight black, they watch the aeroplanes blink while going by the stars—or satellites?

Jimin helps the staff who hands out takeout boxes, passing them to the other filming crew. They bow and thank him profusely, touched by his initiative. Namjoon passes out cutlery.

Seokjin’s sitting in the corner, already starting on his meal. 

“I’m so hungry I’m going to die,” he blurts through munches, letting out a moan of relief.

In that cramped spot beside the audio equipment, Hoseok and Jungkook form a circle around Seokjin, chatting away. Taehyung takes a box of rice from Jimin and looks around. Namjoon is sitting in a spacier area with Yoongi who has vacuumed up half of his food.

Taehyung heads towards Seokjin instead. 

“This episode will be good,” Hoseok remarks.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Jungkook replies.

“It’s because I made a lot of good jokes,” Seokjin laughs.

Hoseok rolls his eyes with a grin. “It was so cringeworthy. They’re going to cut all those parts out. Cut, cut, cut, and there’ll be nothing left, all thanks to you.”

“They better not.” Seokjin leans back, calling out to the director. “Director! You won’t cut out my jokes, right?”

“Stop bothering him, hyung,” Jungkook groans, yanking Seokjin back by the shirt.

Taehyung tugs at Jungkook’s shoulder. He gestures to Namjoon and Yoongi. “Go sit over there.”

“Why?” Jungkook returns with doe eyes. Nonetheless, he acquiesces and stands.

“It’s cramped,” Taehyung provides. “There’s more space there.”

Seokjin looks at Taehyung. He glances away once they meet eyes.

“Then, shouldn’t you sit there?” Hoseok chortles, moving over to make space.

Despite the nonsensical reason, Jungkook obediently goes over to join Namjoon. Taehyung notices Yoongi staring at him, lips folded.

Taehyung settles down happily and pokes his chopsticks into Seokjin’s takeout box. “Hyung, why does yours have a lemon?”

“I don’t know, I think the boxes of fried rice have it. You want it?” Seokjin plops it into Taehyung’s box, giving him a spoonful of rice to try.

“Okay. Mm, it’s good.” Taehyung scoops up some of his beef and rice. “Here, hyung.”

Seokjin takes a bite. “My fried rice’s better.”

Taehyung flicks off the rice grain on Seokjin’s lips. He notices Seokjin’s ears are pinkish.

“You’re cold, hyung? Your ears are red.” He asks, curiously touching Seokjin’s ear. 

Seokjin winces, pushing Taehyung’s hand away quickly.

“I’m fine. It’s just red for no reason,” he says, patting down his hair. “Don’t look at them.”

“They’re cute, though? I want to bite them,” Taehyung chuckles, continue to stare. Restlessly, his body reacts first, his fingers reaching out to play with Seokjin’s ears.

“Bite them?” Hoseok echoes.

“Hey, stop it,” Seokjin’s voice climbs in pitch as his ears grow beetroot red. The annoyance shows and he smacks Taehyung’s hands away.

Taehyung obediently keeps them to himself. He continues to stare till Seokjin presses a hand to his eyes, making him yelp.

Taehyung shifts closer. “Hyung, you did really well today.”

Seokjin smiles. 

“You too.”

 

 

The faint sound of cicadas echoes outside their room, the window drawn wide open. Tonight is a little chilly, the breeze carrying some iciness with it. Yet, both of them don't get up to shut the window, winded from today's practice. Burn through their sinews, whip their heads, twist and turn till everything blurs away.

Seokjin held his notes amazingly throughout. But from his eyes, he didn't seem entirely pleased—the glaze seeping over his irises like a threat. Taehyung wonders why it never occurred to him. Who can carry a smile so merrily after being pelted by criticism, after all? 

He used to think Seokjin was simple-minded and lived easily. At some point, Taehyung found it a little detestable, perhaps out of envy. Some people conceal themselves so well you think they wear their hearts on their sleeve, and all you see is all you get. Seokjin has bad thoughts too—but they get put on the shelf for later unpacking when nobody's watching.

“Hyung.”

Taehyung’s lips move against Seokjin’s clothed stomach. The greenish glow from the star stickers douses their forms as they lie in bed.

“Yes?” Seokjin hums.

Taehyung nestles against Seokjin’s warmth. He plays with Seokjin’s hand, feeling and squeezing. 

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

“Not really?” Seokjin frowns after some contemplation, looking to Taehyung with puzzlement.

Taehyung meets his eyes. “Are you okay?”

It then clicks for Seokjin, Taehyung’s words falling together like puzzle pieces. He turns away.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Seokjin sighs, shaking Taehyung’s fingers off his hand.

Taehyung wonders if he’s closing off again, but Seokjin’s hand goes to Taehyung’s head. He threads through Taehyung’s hair tenderly.

“Aren’t you a sweet kid?” He hums. “Worrying for your hyung.”

Taehyung indulges in Seokjin’s touch, every stroke bringing a tremor down his veins. Why is such a gentle gesture making him feel antsy?

“Hyung.”

“Mm.”

“Are you okay?” Taehyung whispers, touching Seokjin’s arm. “I’ll listen. I want to.”

It takes a moment for Seokjin to reply.

“I’m fine. Honestly.” His hand trails down to caress Taehyung’s cheek. His fingers prick like mint.

“Yeah, I’m a little down. Disappointed in myself. I’ll admit that,” his voice is small, treading into the unfamiliar territory of expressing his heart without a filter.

“But I’m okay.” Seokjin smiles, the earnestness shimmering so prettily in his eyes. He laughs. 

“You know how to make a person feel loved.”

“Oh. You feel loved?” Taehyung absentmindedly repeats, blinking slowly as he takes in Seokjin’s expression. 

His fingers curl and something rises in his throat, making him restless. The words come easily. “I mean, that’s because I love you? Of course you’d feel loved.”

Seokjin laughs heartily, eyes crinkling along the sides. He thumbs Taehyung’s cheek, glancing up at the star stickers in thought.

“Why do you think we want so badly to be the best? Is it because it’s the end, and we can say we’ve finished it? That there’s nothing left for us to do.”

“But if we really reach the end, wouldn’t that be boring?” He muses. “Since we have nothing to work towards anymore.”

Taehyung stares at Seokjin. He stifles a chuckle, much to Seokjin’s embarrassment.

“Hey, why are you laughing? You said you’d listen. I’m sorry for being cringeworthy,” Seokjin retorts.

“No, no. It’s just cute. That you have these big thoughts about the world. I like them.” 

“Cute?”

“No, I don’t mean it condescendingly. Like… endearing.”

Taehyung shifts around, finding a more comfortable position. Seokjin’s stomach moves with his breathing, and Taehyung intimately feels each rise and dip. It’s like how the moon pulls along the ocean, rhythmic pattern to the waves.

“Mm, yeah,” Taehyung hums. “We want to finish things. But our lives would be… meaningless? If we didn’t have space to keep moving forward. That’s the fun of it.”

“Mm. Working hard and making progress is what makes things fun. The end shouldn’t always be the goal. Maybe it should never be the goal.”

“The journey is worthwhile too,” Taehyung remarks. “But hyung, don’t we start because of the end? It should be both. Enjoy the way there, and enjoy the destination.”

“Yeah. Just don’t make the goal everything. Like when you start out and end up somewhere else—that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Taehyung grins. “Wow. That’s deep.”

“I know. I should write a book.”

Taehyung giggles. He puts a hand over Seokjin’s palm that’s still on his cheek.

“What do you want to do, hyung? Like, what do you want to strive for?”

Seokjin thinks to himself. “Better at performing. But we all want that, anyway.”

“What else?”

“Be happy? Everyone wants that too.” Seokjin widens the gaps between his fingers, so Taehyung can slip his fingers into them.

“I feel like Jimin and Yoongi are really learning how to enjoy life. You can just see it in their eyes. It’s like they’ve reached some higher understanding or something. They choose to do the things they like and be happy.”

“Mm. Jimin used to be so stressed about everything. He’s changed,” Taehyung wistfully replies.

Jimin’s grown. A part of Taehyung misses him simply because that was once what Jimin comprised, but he’s happy as well that Jimin seems freer. 

“Angry at himself. He has really high expectations of himself. But he’s genuinely learnt to be content. Happy with what he has. We should learn from him.”

Seokjin squeezes Taehyung’s cheek. “What about you? What do you want?”

“To be a better performer too. I want to give our fans the best.” Taehyung glances at Seokjin. “Better, not best.”

Seokjin chuckles. “You’re catching on quickly. Okay. What else?”

Taehyung ponders the question sincerely. What  does  he want? When he’s trapped in the bad thoughts, he’s so desperate for many things, tormented by inadequacy to fulfil his and others’ desires—but they seem to elude him right now.

At this moment, things feel blissful. He’s spending the night with Seokjin as always, resting his head on Seokjin’s soft stomach, their fingers twined—lying under a starry night sky they searched so hard for. They’re talking freely about the big and small ideas that whoosh past in their hectic days, caught in a butterfly net and saved for each other later.

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything right now,” Taehyung hums. 

“Really?” Seokjin returns curiously. “I didn’t expect that.”

Taehyung gazes at Seokjin. He never thought about it deeply, but Seokjin’s presence makes him feel at peace. Instead of the darkness that soothingly obscures him in its clutch, Seokjin and his embrace are now what calms him.

The restlessness begins again, churning like a disease. Why does he keep feeling this way so suddenly? Nowadays, whenever he’s lying in bed with Seokjin, or even just spending time with him during the day, it happens. Rocking back and forth between a gentle serenity to an odd agitation, like he’s discontent and pining for something—but what, exactly? 

It’s bothering him. Taehyung interlocks their fingers, wanting to rid that uneasy feeling.

“Hyung, I want to be close to you,” the words abruptly spill out.

“Aren’t we already close?”

“Closer,” Taehyung mumbles. Touching Seokjin only makes him feel more uncomfortable, but he wants to bury himself inside of Seokjin and be surrounded by his every inch. It’s such a strange thought. 

“Taehyung, we spend pretty much every day together. And we sleep together every night. I don’t think we can get any closer,” Seokjin laughs. “If we do, we’ll reach a point where we’ll be too close.”

“How can we be too close?” Taehyung slants his head with a pout.

“You want me to follow you to the toilet? That’s the only way I can think of to get closer,” Seokjin jests.

Taehyung makes a face. “Not in that way. We’re not as close as we can be, hyung. Far from it. You still can’t tell me what’s on your mind.”

“What do you mean I can’t tell you what’s on your mind?” Seokjin’s lightheartedness wanes into a frown. 

“Taehyung, I’m not hiding from you. Yeah, I was disappointed at how I sang today, but that’s it—I don’t see the need to talk about it. You can’t make me either since I’ve got nothing to say. It’s just how I am,” he seriously intones.

Taehyung shrinks. “Sorry. I was forcing you, wasn’t I, hyung? I didn’t mean to.”

Seokjin bites his lip. “No, no. You weren’t.” 

“I just wanted to support you,” Taehyung mumbles remorsefully.

“I know. That’s why you’re trying so hard to get me to open up. I appreciate it.”

“I’m comfortable with you, Taehyung. I don’t need to be anything when I’m with you. I can go to you when things are tough. And I will.” 

Seokjin’s voice dwindles a little as he touches upon his vulnerabilities. His lips quirk.

“It means a lot that you’re here with me when I’m down. That’s more than enough to make me feel better.”

“You like me being by your side?” Taehyung smiles softly.

“Yeah. Isn’t it obvious?” Seokjin doesn’t look at Taehyung despite the nonchalance in his voice.

“I’ll keep being by your side, then. Always.”

“You talk like you had plans to leave and never come back,” Seokjin snorts.

He makes a soft noise when Taehyung rolls to the side, pressing on the lower half of his stomach. His shirt has ridden up.

Taehyung sits up and rests by Seokjin’s side, curling up against him. The restlessness burns up his lungs through his windpipe, scalding through his veins. He wants to do something, but he’s not sure what.

“Hyung.”

“Yeah?”

Taehyung presses his forehead against Seokjin’s arm. He kiss Seokjin’s skin gently.

“I love you.”

Seokjin pats his head.

“You’re really just like a child,” he whispers affectionately.

 

 

In the concert hall, they spread out, doing their stretching exercises. Taehyung reaches the end of his toes, pulling till he feels the burn in his thigh.

Seokjin is lying on the ground some distance away, pulling his leg towards his chest with loud groans. Jungkook presses more weight on Seokjin’s thigh cheekily, bending it back till Seokjin glares at him.

Seokjin pushes him onto the side and rolls onto him, crushing him under his weight. Jungkook whines and hits him, brimming with his trademark youthful glee. Jimin chuckles at them.

They’re being stupid. It’s funny. But Taehyung doesn’t really feel like laughing.

Taehyung walks over and nudges Seokjin off Jungkook. He helps Jungkook up off the floor and squats down beside Seokjin, prodding him in the side with some annoyance.

Taehyung feels a small satisfaction when Seokjin yelps in pain.

 

 

Taehyung shifts against the sheets, a hand on Seokjin’s hips. Rehearsals ended late today, so their chat was shorter. Taehyung felt the tiredness tonight—not physical—but couldn’t put it into words for Seokjin to address.

The moment Seokjin came into the room to find Taehyung sitting in absolute darkness, he knew. So, Seokjin buried Taehyung’s head into his chest and tried asking. When he realised Taehyung couldn’t, or didn’t want to say how he felt, Seokjin began talking about trivial things.

He got tired of blabbering about nothing and took to playing a podcast. It’s about cooking—Seokjin randomly downloaded it for the sole purpose of keeping Taehyung’s mind occupied. It’s played softly that Taehyung can hear the words if he concentrates, but can sleep if he doesn’t focus.

Taehyung sighs against Seokjin’s chest.

Why do people loathe him so much? Just how, just how can he get them to see he’s not a terrible person? He’s a living, breathing person and he can’t recall ever doing something so horrifying that could warrant those scathing words.

They always tell them to be careful about treading online. It’s normal to find such hatred, particularly under the guise of anonymity. There’s no rationality whatsoever and there’s nothing they can do about these people who choose to hate them because they can. Their vitriol reflects more about themselves than about BTS.

Taehyung knows, but he still wonders why. If they could say it to his face and see how hurt he was, would they feel bad? Or do they genuinely believe they have the right to kick Taehyung down?

It made Taehyung angry, desperate to reply and put his own voice out there to balance things. It’s unfair that they can be so spiteful while he’s advised not to defend himself, as it only fuels their fire. 

Reasoning with them will not work, because they decided they hated Taehyung before they started finding reasons to. Everything Taehyung does to try and alter that will just backfire, his words twisted into even more justification to hate. They  want  to hate him—how can he change the minds of people like that?

Or are they right? It’s true, he’s glorified and overrated. He knows he doesn’t deserve the love he received. He’s praised to no end when he’s so absolutely mediocre compared to all those who burn years of their lives to be good at their forte, only for him to overshadow them. So what if he tries to be deserving by working hard? Fact is, he’ll never be good enough to deserve anything. Never. And soon, all the fans will realise that.

Taehyung catches the words of the podcast playing, zoning back in. There are some whisking sounds—oh, she’s baking an almond cake. He’s not sure how many episodes went by.

He’s furious and upset by the hate comments he saw. So how can he contradictorily feel so small, so worthless, so sad?

Taehyung shuts off the podcast and bumps his head against Seokjin’s collarbone. 

“Hyung.”

He glances up. Seokjin is fast asleep.

“Hyung,” Taehyung raises his voice. No reply.

He squeezes Seokjin’s arm, saying louder as he shakes Seokjin’s arm, “Jin-hyung.”

Seokjin jerks out of his sleep, blearily staring down at Taehyung. “W-what?”

Seokjin leans back and mutters incoherently. He blinks hard, but his eyelids droop heavily.

“Taehyung… you haven’t slept?”

“No, not yet.”

“Go to sleep, then…” Seokjin mumbles. He strokes Taehyung’s head tenderly.

Taehyung feels his tight chest relax. He’s able to breathe deep again, not that he noticed he couldn’t.

When everyone leaves, when everyone has gone, will he be left alone? How shameful to walk back to his family, exposed as the fraud he is, staining their pride. He’ll have nowhere to go.

The thoughts mutate like a disease. Taehyung knows he’s being extreme, but he can’t stop it.

“Seokjin-hyung,” Taehyung says suddenly, cutting through his train of thoughts. “Hyung.”

“What?” Seokjin breathes, fighting back sleep.

“Can’t you stay awake? I don’t want to be alone.”

“A...lone? But you aren’t—I’m here, Taehyung, just… sleeping…” Seokjin drifts off. 

He jolts awake in a second before heaving.

“Okay… I’ll stay awake until you sleep.”

Taehyung brightens. “Really?”

The guilt twines with his relief. “Thank you, hyung. I’m sorry to be troublesome.”

“You’re not. What’s bothering you? You can tell me. Even if it doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know.” Taehyung presses harder into Seokjin’s chest. 

“Hyung, thank you for staying up with me,” he murmurs. Suddenly, he can’t breathe again, grasping on to Seokjin for some semblance of the world.

“I love you so much, hyung…” Taehyung mumbles. “What will I do without you? I love you.”

“...You’re being a little extreme, aren’t you?” Seokjin takes a beat to reply. 

He threads his fingers through Taehyung’s hair.

“It’s alright. That’s what I’m here for,” Seokjin soothes.

The love is tender and sincere in his voice. Taehyung has to take in his breaths intentionally. Inhale, exhale. His fingers tingle like he’s being shot through his head with electricity.

He’s no longer sad, no longer angry. Instead, he feels some emotion expand so large it bursts through his veins.

Oh, how he wishes he could keep Seokjin in his chest pocket to bring around. Put him into a box like a trinket he loves so dearly, carry Seokjin with him all day. He just wants to  have  Seokjin—that’s the best way he can put it into words. 

“You love me too, right, hyung?” Taehyung asks. He shifts up suddenly, surprising Seokjin.

“Um, yeah.”

“Always?”

“Yeah…” Seokjin darts his gaze away uncomfortably. “Taehyung, what’s with the weird questions?” 

“Nothing. I just love you a lot, hyung,” Taehyung says with the honesty of a two-year-old.

Seokjin licks his lips. His gaze falters, locking eyes with Taehyung for a split second before they dart away. 

He leans forward and gingerly touches his lips against Taehyung’s forehead. His voice is minuscule.

“Yeah. I love you too.”

Taehyung widens his eyes, surprised. 

It’s the first time Seokjin has kissed him. Back when they were much younger, yes, he did it sometimes, but it's been a long time since he did so. Taehyung’s the one who randomly pecks Seokjin on the cheek nowadays, heart on an odd high. All Seokjin does is rant that it’s weird.

Taehyung touches his forehead. He tries to bite back a smile, but he can’t. His ribcage goes from feeling like irons bars to hollow sticks. He doesn’t realise how his heartbeat has sped up.

“Why are you touching your head? Are you weirded out when you’re the one always kissing me?” Seokjin returns.

“I’m not weirded out,” Taehyung laughs a little. “I’m just surprised. You’ve never done that before, hyung.”

“Thank you,” he whispers. 

He bats his lashes slowly, taking in everything that Seokjin is now. He looks good even in the dimness.

“It’s nice. You should kiss me more,” Taehyung sighs, shutting his eyes and burying his face into Seokjin’s chest.

He feels so loved that it’s dizzying.

 

 

“Ah, hyung, you’re the best.” 

Hoseok has his arms wrapped around Seokjin’s waist, toddling with Seokjin across the practice room floor. He dons the branded jacket Seokjin bought for him, an early birthday present he surprised him with today.

“I am, aren’t I?” Seokjin hums, batting his lashes slowly. He leans back into Hoseok and puts his arms out. “Say it again, Hoseok. Tell me how much you like me.”

Jungkook rolls his eyes in amusement, throwing Jimin’s towel at them. The pair remain unfazed, waddling about the room.

“You are the best hyung I’ll ever have. Jung Hoseok will never find a better hyung than you. You are godly.”

Seokjin nods slowly, shutting his eyes as if he’s truly a spiritual deity. “You’re welcome, Hoseok. I’m glad you’ve finally been enlightened.”

Taehyung laughs while watching them. His eyes go to how Seokjin curves into Hoseok’s chest, and the way Hoseok’s arms are wound tight around Seokjin’s hips.

Taehyung feels his insides turn. He comes closer, laughing, and lifts Hoseok’s arm off Seokjin’s waist.

“Hyung, I want to try your jacket.” He tugs at Hoseok’s sleeves.

“Alright. Wait, wait, you’re sweaty. I’ll let you try it on when we’re home. Or better yet, get the best hyung in the world to buy it for you.”

“This deity is retiring to the mountains.”

The three chortle. Taehyung slips his arms around Seokjin’s waist and he nudges him into a back hug. The sourness dissipates.

“Hyung, aren’t you nice?” Taehyung whispers. Seokjin smells with how hard he’s perspiring, but it’s quite nice on the senses.

“You’ll have to wait for your birthday to get something like that, no matter how much you suck up to me now,” Seokjin clarifies. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“It’s okay. I just want you for my birthday.”

Seokjin goes quiet. He squirms in Taehyung’s grasp but Taehyung holds him tighter with a laugh.

“Why are you struggling?”

“Because you’re a weird bastard.”

“Why are you cursing at me?” Taehyung grins, squeezing Seokjin till he gasps. 

With Seokjin leaning so far forward, Taehyung catches sight of his red ears.

“Hyung,” Taehyung’s wonderment dissolves into a stifled laugh. He tugs Seokjin up, Taehyung’s smile threatening to rip through his cheeks.

“Are you getting shy?” He whispers into Seokjin’s ear. “I was just teasing you. I already have you, after all.”

“You are a strange—,” Seokjin pries off Taehyung’s hand, “—a sad, strange person. Let go of me.”

“No.”

As Taehyung laughs away, he notices Namjoon staring at him. It’s almost unnoticeable, but there’s some concern in his eyes.

Taehyung stops laughing.

 

 

11 PM brings in a rainstorm that pelts against the shut windows. Pressing his head against Seokjin’s broad back, Taehyung heaves, wondering why it’s so hard to breathe. He inhales deeply to swallow down as much oxygen as he can, but his heart still hammers like he’s deprived.

It must be because of the weather, but he felt the same yesterday despite how calm the night was.

Seokjin’s warmth is dizzying. Taehyung wants to go closer, but how can he? He’s already touching him, no gap left between them.

It’s impossible, but he still wants to feel Seokjin more intimately. 

“Hyung.”

“Yes?” Seokjin murmurs sleepily.

Taehyung presses a kiss to the nape of Seokjin’s neck, shutting his eyes as Seokjin glances over.

“Nothing.”

Taehyung feels nauseously euphoric.

 

 

Really.

How can Seokjin be so ██████?

Taehyung feels like he’s drowning. 

He can’t understand it.

 

 

 

It █████ ███ ███████.

 

 

 

It makes ███ ███████.

 

 

 

.. - / -- .- -.- . ... / -- . / -. . .-. ...- --- ..- …

 

 

Chapter Text

Being overseas used to make a vast difference for Taehyung. In a foreign country with the language incomprehensible to you, it feels like you’re navigating with half your head. Everyone naturally feels more on edge, no matter how used they are to hopping from country to country. 

But interestingly, Taehyung’s grown more and more comfortable over the past few months. Nights with Seokjin give a sort of comforting stability that makes the experience more familiar and understandable. Taehyung goes out exploring more during their breaks instead of cooping himself up in the hotel.

Amsterdam carries a peculiar atmosphere as compared to home, buildings old and grand, streetlights a tangy orange. Clad in raincoats, they stroll away from the restaurant where they just had their dinner, stepping in shallow puddles.

Taehyung walks by Seokjin’s side, enjoying the petrichor. The rest talk among themselves.

“Hyung, all this is beautiful, isn’t it?” Taehyung remarks.

“Yeah. Wah, it looks like a movie cut-out, especially since it just rained.”

Some people saunter past, words and intonation like a song. Taehyung watches Seokjin peer around, the incandescent lights shading his cheeks.

Taehyung’s throat tightens. He comes closer, their shoulders bumping. Seokjin shifts to make space but Taehyung holds him by the hip.

Suddenly, Taehyung thinks about the foreign movies he watched on television when he was young, just a boy with no thoughts of ever seeing beyond the borders. The rain, the background static, the lead actress in a mellow romance. Taehyung understood nothing without the subtitles.

The non-verbal language of affection. Being in love in every single universe there is to come, in different places, times, bodies. The idea of an otherworldly force that keeps them longing for each other no matter how many times they come into the world again. 

Taehyung pulls out his phone to jot down his spark of inspiration.

“What are you doing?” Seokjin leans over.

“Ideas for a song, hyung.”

Seokjin grins. “I thought of some, too.”

“Really? Well, the scenery is pretty. It’s inspiring.” Taehyung smiles along. 

He wants to hold Seokjin’s hand, but the passers-by might mistake what they have. Even the rest of the members may tease them and call Taehyung Seokjin’s child.

“Yeah. Let’s show it to each other tonight,” Seokjin breathes, gazing up at the sky.

Taehyung’s heart flutters.

How romantic would it be to have a love that never changes, withstanding even different lives? Or maybe something a little simpler, within this lifetime—an everyday routine that sticks between lovers through rain and shine. 

It’s devotion. Blind faith, perhaps? That love can last forever.

Taehyung lowers his phone. He’s been writing a lot of love songs lately. Hopeful ones.

Seokjin turns to him with a frown.

“Why am I hungry even though I just ate?”

Taehyung laughs. He browses through what he’s penned down. Rather than a novel-like romance, should he try writing something more down-to-earth?

Hoseok squeezes between them two, pointing eagerly at a statue.

“Look at that, it’s huge. They have so many statues around here.”

“Why are you so excited, hyung? You want one for yourself?” Jimin drawls from behind, much to Taehyung’s amusement.

When they reach the hotel, Seokjin comes over an hour later and takes a bath in Taehyung’s hotel room. Taehyung waits by the window, staring out at the expansive scenery. The view is great since they’re high up, city lights and people swathed by the dark blue night. 

It’s a sight he’s used to, but it’s always nice to him. It’d be good if he could explore all of this area with Seokjin. Then again, Seokjin isn’t the type that’s extremely keen on sightseeing. 

The bathroom door clicks open. Seokjin steps out with his towel draped over his shoulders. He materialises in the glass reflection against the skyline.

Suddenly, Taehyung feels uncomfortably breathless, like he’s being wrenched up by the neck to a higher altitude. It’s excitement—to have someone who you’ve allowed so far into your heart, to have nights saved for one special person and heart-to-heart talks with them.

He turns to meet eyes with Seokjin. Seokjin doesn’t look at him, tossing himself onto the bed.

Taehyung follows suit, grabbing on immediately to Seokjin like a koala. He touches Seokjin’s arm, then decides to hold his waist instead. 

Seokjin smells of milk and honey.

“Hyung, how was your day?”

“You’ve been asking that recently. I already said, don’t we do the same things?” Seokjin returns, eyes shut.

“And I said it doesn’t matter. You think differently from me, hyung. I want to know what you think.”

“You’re always saying these kinds of weird things nowadays.” Seokjin flutters open his lashes to look at Taehyung and laugh. “I can’t give you any rewards for being poetic, Taehyung. Keep that for your songs.”

Seokjin suddenly groans. 

“Ah, I can’t believe I messed up my ment,” he sighs quietly. “I had a long speech planned out but I blanked out. Why did I do that? Our fans are going to wonder why I didn’t say much for this stop. I hope they don’t think I hated it here.”

“They won’t. You looked like you were having lots of fun,” Taehyung assures.

“You think so? I should tweet that I enjoyed my time here. Or does it make things worse? Since I didn’t tweet about the other stops.”

“You’re overthinking, hyung,” Taehyung chuckles. “Just tweet a selca. I’ll be in it.”

“No, my make-up’s off. Both of us on the bed isn’t a good look.”

Seokjin heaves again. “Why’d I mess it up? I feel bad for our fans.”

“They won’t be upset, hyung,” Taehyung insists. “Don’t worry so much. Everything else you did during the concert will make up for it. The heart event was so fun.”

“I really hope so,” Seokjin mutters, scrolling through some tweets. “I should have rehearsed more, huh.”

“Things like this happen sometimes,” Taehyung mentions, echoing the words Seokjin once used to assure him. “Even if you rehearse a lot, you might not get it right.”

Seokjin lets out a long exhale, brooding on it for a while.

“Yeah. You’re right. Thanks.” 

Seokjin glances at him. His voice drops, tinged with some embarrassment. 

“That was me being honest with you, right? Are you satisfied?”

“Hm? What do you mean- oh. That’s you being honest about what you’re feeling?” Taehyung blinks. “You mean you’d hide that normally?”

Seokjin flutters his lashes and shrugs.

“You’re strange, hyung. It wasn’t anything serious. Doesn’t everyone else talk like that all the time?”

Taehyung rests his cheek against Seokjin’s arm, nestling like a cat.

“You think we’d be upset by that?” He continues. “That’s not going to bother anyone in the least bit, hyung.”

“No, no. It’s… I don’t know. Habit, I guess?”

Seokjin shakes his head, revising his words.

“I’m not hiding it from you guys. I myself just don’t like to think about bad things I can’t fix. I messed up the ment, I can’t go back and change it. Moping over how bad I am won’t help, so I’ll just not do it again,” Seokjin remarks.

He continues, “I’ve told you before, right? When you brood over bad things you can’t fix, all you do is make yourself feel bad and it causes even more problems. So, you just shouldn’t think about it at all.”

“You’re not wrong, hyung—but if you’re upset, you’re upset. Isn’t it tiring to not let yourself feel that way?” Taehyung thinks aloud. 

“And I find that ignoring how you feel just makes it worse. You pretend it’s not there, distract yourself, but it’ll still be there at the end of the day, no matter how much you deny it.”

Taehyung speaks from experience. The thoughts rarely go away. They gnaw into the back of your head like a parasite as you ignore them by filling your head with other things. Then, you run out of filler and realise how big the bad thoughts have swelled.

Seokjin hesitates. He seems careful to broach the topic, remembering that Taehyung had gotten pissed at him for it. 

That night, they reconciled and left it at that. Seokjin still felt that it wasn’t worthwhile to mope over things being unsatisfactory if he wasn’t going to do anything about it—but was sorry for brashly implying that Taehyung wanted to be sad. Taehyung was sorry too for losing his temper and not trying to understand Seokjin's good intentions—that while misguided, Seokjin wanted Taehyung to be happy. 

Seokjin replies, “I guess it depends.”

His voice softens. “Is there something in particular that makes you think that way?”

“Hm?”

Taehyung treads through his memories, feeling Seokjin’s skin like mapping out memorabilia. Seokjin fidgets under his touch, but Taehyung doesn’t notice Seokjin’s ears going red.

“I think when I started being moody, I didn’t want to believe it, so I acted like nothing was wrong,” Taehyung hums. 

“It was scary?” He reflects genuinely. “I didn’t want to be like that. If I admitted it, it’s like there’s no going back—I’m just like that.”

“Hyung, is that the same for you?” The question suddenly pops up in Taehyung’s head. 

Seokjin flits his lashes. “I do it because it’s not productive, not because I’m scared of admitting things.”

He pauses to mull, blinks slow. His eyes are so beautiful, Taehyung thinks. He once thought that they were doe-like because Seokjin was naive and simple-minded, but the more Taehyung looks at them, the more he realises it’s hopefulness. Seokjin is timidly hopeful of the world.

“Huh. Maybe,” Seokjin hums. “When I think about things… like how I’m the weak link, am I scared to admit I am?”

Taehyung furrows his brows, clambering to sit up straight. “You’re not. Don’t you ever say that again. I’ll beat up whoever says that.”

Seokjin laughs. “You’re going to beat me up?”

“Yes.”

“It’s just stuff that comes to me sometimes. Everyone else in the group has these moments. You do too.”

Taehyung clasps Seokjin’s cheeks, forcing the older man to face him. With how small Seokjin’s face, Taehyung has the whole of him in his two hands.

Immediately, Seokjin grasps Taehyung’s wrist.

“I don’t understand how you can think that, hyung. You’re so good at what you do. I really can’t understand it.”

“I think the same for you. You always worry and put yourself down, but you’re an amazing performer. That aura you have really isn’t what anyone can do,” Seokjin returns. “It’s just how we see ourselves.”

Taehyung folds his lips to keep his smile in.

“Don’t be so mean to yourself, hyung,” he breathes. I wish I could give you my eyes.”

“That’s scary. I don’t want them.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes as Seokjin giggles away, sounding much like the squeaks of guitar strings. Taehyung presses their foreheads together, gazing into Seokjin’s irises.

Seokjin’s laughter evaporates and he grips Taehyung’s wrist harder. His other hand raises but he doesn’t know where to put it—perhaps hesitating between creating space and touching Taehyung’s face. 

“Taehyung, why are you doing this?” Seokjin remarks, as if addressing a child. 

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts, straying from his trail of thoughts with how close their eyes are. He can see part of himself in Seokjin’s irises.

Seokjin leans back, but Taehyung chases after him. Seokjin falls back into the bed and their noses brush. Abruptly, the apprehension leaps in Taehyung’s chest, pressuring his ribs to crack. Despite the uncomfortable sensation, Taehyung doesn’t back away, mind lost.

His eyes dart to Seokjin’s lips. Before he even has the chance to think, Seokjin pushes him off. He quickly places an arm to his head in case Taehyung pulls a repeat.

“What are you trying to do?” Seokjin asks, wary.

“Sorry, was it painful, hyung?” Taehyung falters.

Seokjin swallows, rubbing his forehead. He looks up at Taehyung, parts his lips, but no words come out.

“Yeah, it was,” he finally churns out, tone tainted with displeasure. He’s legitimately annoyed. 

“Don’t do it again. Do you hear me?”

“Sorry, hyung. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just… wanted to be close to you.” Taehyung reaches over to nurse Seokjin’s head, only to be swatted away.

They wallow in awkward silence, mostly on Taehyung’s part since Seokjin doesn’t look at him. Had he been too rough?

“Hyung,” Taehyung sounds out remorsefully, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not a big deal. Just don’t do that. It’s weird,” Seokjin exhales, lifting his head. He stares at Taehyung, clearly itching to say something.

Taehyung’s shoulders scrunch up. He makes himself smaller, fingers squirming under Seokjin’s lukewarm gaze.

“Taehyung, don’t look like that,” Seokjin sighs, reaching out to hold Taehyung’s upper arms. “You used to get upset whenever we got angry at you. What happened? You’re normally soft-hearted, but you act like a puppy nowadays.”

“Is it cute?” Taehyung jokes.

Seokjin doesn’t laugh. His voice is small. “That’s what Hoseok said about you. You behave like a puppy—around me.”

He lies back down and tugs Taehyung to rest on him. Taehyung lays his head comfortably on Seokjin’s shoulders, relieved that Seokjin is no more irritated. 

Seokjin lets out another hefty sigh, threading through Taehyung’s hair. Taehyung shuts his eyes at the ticklish bliss.

“I didn’t know you struggled so much. You should have come to me when you first felt down, instead of acting like nothing’s wrong. Any of us.”

Taehyung murmurs, “You know, I think I didn’t even know something was wrong. My brain didn’t let me go there.”

Seokjin nods. His fingers are soft and loving, slipping between Taehyung’s strands like sand. Taehyung wants to hold his hand, but he doesn’t want the tender ministrations to stop. 

“We’re wired like that, aren’t we?” Seokjin continues. “Deep inside, to make sure we don’t find out about things that’ll hurt us. But sometimes, we don’t work that way.”

Here it comes again. Taehyung’s lungs billow out and the unpleasantness pricks into his skin. He feels agitated and uneasy. 

“You’re right, Taehyung,” Seokjin muses. “Maybe it’s just scary and I don’t like to think about it.” 

His voice dwindles. “And maybe they won’t go away just because you pretend it’s not there. They’ll get worse, and come back to bite you.”

“So, talk to me about them,” Taehyung hums, shifting to look at Seokjin. “I said I’ll take care of you, hyung. I will. For the rest of our lives.”

“Wah. This child.” Seokjin takes just one glimpse at him, snorting in incredulity. He tries to retort, but nothing spills—only pink to his ears instead of words. The askance disguising his expression peels off into a vulnerable embarrassment.

Taehyung watches without realising how mesmerised he is. Is he the only person who can do this to Seokjin? Be it yes or no, he wants to be so.

Taehyung’s fingers tremble. He feels nauseous, yet again.

“I already do,” Seokjin remarks quietly. “It’s embarrassing to talk about all this. Normally, I’d feel pretentious. But I don’t feel awkward with you.”

“I’m glad, hyung. You’re always making jokes, but hyung, your mind has a lot of heavy thoughts,” Taehyung murmurs. 

“Oh.”

“Mm. I want to know all of them.” Taehyung reaches up to touch Seokjin’s hand on his head. “Hyung.”

“What?”

“I love you,” Taehyung says, casual as a conversation about the weather. 

Silence follows.

“I love you,” Taehyung says again, in a higher pitch that’s for sharing mildly interesting happenstances.

The words bleed like a rash over his lips. He wants to say it till Seokjin’s absolutely sick of it.

“I love you a lot, hyung,” this one comes out with some oddly-placed desperation.

Seokjin finally laughs, his ears maintaining their lovely pink. 

“I love you too.”

 

 

As they get into the van to be ferried to their interview set, Taehyung rushes out into the car park, looking for Seokjin. 

He’s walking with Namjoon, talking animatedly. Taehyung scurries up to them merrily and slings his arms over their shoulders, squeezing in between.

“What are you guys talking about?”

“Woah, you scared me,” Namjoon remarks. “Hyung, life simulation games are boring. But people like them because it’s like you have another life somewhere else. And it’s much easier to win at that life. You earn money just by clicking a few buttons.”

“Mm, that’s why MapleStory is more fun.”

“MapleStory isn’t different.”

“No, it’s very different,” Seokjin raises his voice, mildly offended. “How can you compare MapleStory to those farming games?   It has a story. It’s an adventure.”

Taehyung grins at Namjoon and pinches his arm. “Hyung, stop bullying Seokjin-hyung.”

As they step into the van, Taehyung swiftly gets in after Seokjin before Namjoon can.

He rests a hand on Seokjin’s thigh and slides up, fiddling with Seokjin’s shirt. “Hyung, are you cold? Why’s your shirt so thin? I’ll give you my hoodie.”

“It’s fine.” Seokjin nudges Taehyung’s leg. “You always wear such wide pants. It doesn’t match with the hoodie.”

“It’s more comfortable than jeans. They’re so tight.” Taehyung glances to Namjoon. “You get me, right, hyung?”

He finds Namjoon already staring at him with an almost unnoticeable frown.

“Hyung?”

“Hm? Oh, yeah.” Namjoon glimpses at Seokjin, then back to Taehyung.

“He’s not even listening,” Seokjin drawls. “We just asked you if you think we should hold all our performances shirtless from now on as fanservice. So, you agree?”

Namjoon scrunches up his face. “Wait, what? No. Yoongi-hyung would never, anyway.”

Seokjin melts into a warm guffaw. “Then don’t agree to things you don’t know about, RM.”

Namjoon laughs a little, glancing back to Taehyung before turning away.

 

Midnight moonlight cuts into Taehyung’s room with the curtains and windows drawn open, perhaps peeking in to see its beloved stars imprisoned in Taehyung’s room. The light draws a line down Seokjin’s jaw.

Taehyung lies in Seokjin’s lap, playing with Seokjin’s crooked fingers. He memorises the lines from his cuticles to his knuckles and how they curve oddly.

“Hyung, I’m still annoyed about that reporter,” Taehyung mentions, thinking back to their press conference this afternoon. “It’s already cleared up, yet he asked the question like we did plagiarise but settled behind closed doors.”

Seokjin nods. “Well, he did it to get a juicy article. They’ve already been briefed that the topic’s off-limits.”

“Yoongi was beside me and his whole face darkened,” Seokjin recalls. “Namjoon handled it well. It’s not easy to clear our name. You can’t imply that the indie artist was at fault for accusing us without checking. It wouldn’t look good since we’re from a bigger company.”

“But you have to get it across that it’s not your fault,” Taehyung chips in. “I’m glad Namjoon-hyung is the leader.”

“Yeah. He’s sensitive to these things and has a good head on his shoulders.”

“He takes care of us well too,” Taehyung adds.

Seokjin agrees with a small smile. “Namjoon’s good at reading people. I don’t say anything to him but he can still tell when I’m bothered.”

Taehyung perks up.

“You know, at one point, it just got so uncomfortable that he’d always know. I’d get nervous around him, watching my expressions,” Seokjin laughs.

“Oh, I see,” Taehyung mumbles.

Seokjin and Namjoon have always had a slightly different friendship from Seokjin and the rest of the members. He didn’t notice it till Jungkook mentioned it a long time ago. Seokjin cracked jokes and behaved silly all the time, but he didn’t play around as much with Namjoon. Sure, they could be lighthearted with one another, but Seokjin seemed comfortable being heavy-hearted with Namjoon. 

That day when Seokjin came clean about how he felt in the group to Taehyung, all because he had trouble getting Dimple’s choreography right—Namjoon was the one who accompanied Seokjin to get a drink. Taehyung stood oblivious.

Taehyung’s chest sinks. His guts stir with a potency Taehyung considers as simply disappointment.

“Do you confide in him a lot, hyung?”

“Confide?” Seokjin scrunches up his lips in thought. “A bit. More than the others, I suppose.”

“Why Namjoon-hyung and not us?” Taehyung immediately returns.

“It’s not on purpose. He’s the one who brings up the topics, so I talk to him about it a bit.”

Taehyung remarks quietly, “Namjoon-hyung must understand you really well.”

“He gets all of us pretty well.”

“But you rarely tell us what’s bothering you, yet he still knows when you’re upset.” Taehyung’s voice dwindles. “I don’t.”

Seokjin flutters his lashes. He coughs a little.

“You sound disappointed,” he says mousily. 

“I am. I want to support you.”

“Oh.” 

Seokjin rubs the back of his neck, averting his gaze. 

“It’s nice to be understood intuitively, but it’s nicer when someone doesn’t but wants to,” he hums, implication in his words.  

Taehyung blinks. Seokjin still doesn’t meet his eyes.

“I didn’t understand you well before we started sleeping together. There’s still a lot to learn about you. But I want to,” Seokjin says. Despite how his voice seems to be casual, it’s so obvious that he’s practically forcing the words steady out from his throat.

Taehyung’s heart swells. The ecstasy blooms up like a harsh spring.

Doesn’t understand, but wants to.

Taehyung laughs, a grin threatening to rip up the edges of his lips. He suddenly grasps Seokjin’s face and pulls him down, staring into his eyes better.

“Hyung, you’re so cheesy all of a sudden? It’s so weird,” Taehyung chortles. His hands creep up over Seokjin’s ears as if to hold him whole. 

“A-ah, Taehyung, I’m not that flexible,” Seokjin returns quickly, arching his back at an awkward position.

Taehyung nudges him down more and leans up himself, looking so deep into Seokjin’s eyes. Seokjin flinches, Taehyung doesn’t. 

Ah. This is a person who he’s fought with, who he’s been so petty with, yet he still remains curious about Taehyung. Those words Seokjin said were so pretty.

There’s no space to be fearful with Seokjin. He’ll always love him. Taehyung has all his faith in it.

The adrenaline desperately itches to spill from Taehyung, but there’s no outlet for it. He’s so restless he feels like he’ll truly explode into smithereens. Taehyung doesn’t know what he wants to do. He wants to-

He wants to-

Taehyung leans up to kiss Seokjin’s cheek, breathing softly against his skin. He nuzzles against Seokjin’s face, simply feeling.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin says faintly, shifting. 

Taehyung doesn’t let go. “Hyung,” he says against Seokjin’s cheek.

They stay like that for a few minutes, Taehyung brushing his nose over Seokjin’s cheekbone. 

“It’s uncomfortable, Taehyung,” Seokjin sounds out. Taehyung nestles against his ear and Seokjin whimpers ever so softly, much to Taehyung’s surprise.

It’s…

Taehyung’s heart beats faster.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin repeats with more urgency, moving a little.

“If it’s uncomfortable… Why don’t you lie in my lap instead, hyung?” Taehyung whispers, words pricking into Seokjin’s skin.

“You want to keep doing this?” Seokjin is barely audible now. “I need to reply to my father. He messaged me something important just now.”

“Oh.”

With reluctance, Taehyung slips his fingers away and plops back into Seokjin’s lap. Seokjin nudges him off swiftly.

They lie in silence while Seokjin types away on his phone. Taehyung’s heartbeat pounds in his ears. He’s flushed. Someone would think he ran a marathon.

He wants to be close to Seokjin. That desire is making him feel so jittery. His fingers tremble.

As the minutes tick by, Taehyung crawls closer to Seokjin.

“Are you done, hyung?”

“Why? You have something to say?” Seokjin shoots back immediately.

“No, I-”

“Then?” Seokjin cuts him off. He chuckles at his screen and hands his phone over. “Look at this, Jaehwan sent it to me. Oh, it’s cool. The kids nowadays like to play with these slimy things.”

Seokjin slides off the bed. “I’m going to the bathroom.” 

Taehyung sits in the middle of the empty bed, staring after Seokjin’s gone silhouette. He closes the video without watching it, rolling under the covers.

He bunches up the sheets, the blood rushing through his head. Seokjin feels so supple, like fabric. Taehyung wants to touch him like that again.

It was intimate. Have the other members done this with Seokjin before? Or just Taehyung?

Seokjin might have done it with Jungkook. Seokjin babies Jungkook so much, after all.

Taehyung’s nails dig into the blanket. Is there anything else he can do with Seokjin that no one else has done before?

That’s stupid. What’s the point of it? Nothing, but Taehyung wants to claim that title.

He thinks about nuzzling his nose into Seokjin’s neck, close to his Adam’s apple. Up to the underside of his chin, then…

Nothing else.

Taehyung swallows, exhales thin through his teeth. He’s so unbelievably agitated, so restless. It’s unpleasant, not anymore the excitement of wanting to be close to Seokjin. 

It feels like nervousness. Why won’t his body just translate what it wants?

The bathroom door clicks open, light dousing the aisle. Seokjin steps out and lies on the edge of the bed.

“Hyung.” Taehyung shifts over.

“Mm. Hey, I’ll fall over if you come too close.” Carelessly, Seokjin pushes Taehyung back.

“Sorry.” Taehyung gazes at the back of Seokjin’s head. How would he kiss up the front of Seokjin’s neck? He’d have to lie on top of him.

That’s weird. Taehyung takes back the idea, embarrassed. He’s taking it too far just because he’s so fond of Seokjin.

“I forgot to ask,” Seokjin starts. “Are you feeling okay tonight? All we talked about was me.”

“I’m okay, hyung.” Taehyung slides an arm around Seokjin’s small waist.

“That’s good.”

Seokjin raises his hand. He seems to want to touch Taehyung’s hand on him, but he doesn’t.

“Hyung,” Taehyung brings up. “Nowadays, I keep feeling restless.”

“Restless? Are you bored?”

“No, it feels more like I’m anxious.”

Seokjin slants his head with a frown. “About what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you worrying about something?”

“No. I don’t know. I can’t figure out what.”

Seokjin sighs, facing Taehyung. His eyes glimmer like dew drops. 

“Maybe it’s because of our new album making.”

The nervousness clenches Taehyung’s chest again. 

Can’t he do it again? He just wants to be as close as possible to Seokjin. So close, that they’re melting into each other.

“Maybe.”

 

— 

 

They arrive at the concert venue an hour before lunchtime, due for rehearsals and the long concert for tomorrow. The buffet spread laid out for them gets more grand with each tour they finish. Taehyung wonders if he’ll forget what it was like at their first concert.

Taking his food, Taehyung turns to find Seokjin already at the table. Jungkook follows behind Seokjin, setting down his food before going for another round.

Taehyung carelessly piles the remaining dishes on his plates and quickly takes Jungkook’s seat.

“Hyung. What main dish did you get? Carbonara?” He nudges Jungkook’s bowl to the neighbouring seat.

Seokjin snivels. “Taehyung, Jungkook’s sitting here.”

“I know. I put his food over there.”

Seokjin continues eating without replying.

“Carbonara is heavy. Why’d you get that?”

“I was craving for it.” Seokjin takes another bite. “It tastes delicious. Have some.”

As he feeds Taehyung, Jungkook returns, blinking at Taehyung.

“Hyung, I was sitting here.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know. Your food’s here.” Taehyung pats the neighbouring seat. “What did you get for the main dish? Oh, chicken chop? There were a lot, so I didn’t know what to pick.”

Jungkook stares back. “You’re not going to move?”

Taehyung raises a brow. “Why? I’m already sitting here.”

“But you could just move, hyung.”

“I’ve already started eating.”

Jungkook frowns at Taehyung. He looks at Seokjin, takes his plates and moves to sit opposite him instead.

“Hyung, why’d you let Taehyung-hyung take my place?” He takes a bite of the shrimps he brought back. “I said I was leaving to get the fried shrimps you wanted.” 

“Sorry, sorry. I forgot. It’s not any different if you sit beside or opposite me, anyway,” Seokjin brushes off. 

He puts a few fried shrimps into Taehyung’s plate and then Jungkook’s plate. “Eat up, you two.”

Taehyung reaches out and tilts Seokjin to face him, giving him a bite of his chicken.

“Is it good?” He asks, hand still on Seokjin’s cheek.

“Yeah.”

“Have more, hyung.”

A cough resounds as Hoseok takes the seat beside Jungkook. He watches Taehyung and Seokjin momentarily, and then draws up a sunny smile.

“How’s the food?”

 

 

“Hyung.”

“Mm.”

Taehyung shifts, holding Seokjin close. His heartbeat thumps in the back of his head.

“I feel… jittery. Again.”

“Is it the nervousness you mentioned?”

“Yeah.” Taehyung pauses. “It’s like I drank coffee. It’s uncomfortable.”

“What’s making you like that?”

“I still don’t know. It’s like I really want to do something. But I don’t know what.”

“You should pick up a hobby. You might be getting restless since all we do is sing and dance.”

“It doesn’t feel like that. I’m not bored. More… anxious.”

Seokjin rolls over, patting Taehyung’s head into his chest. As Seokjin strokes down his head tenderly, the jitters climb up to Taehyung’s throat like an infection.

“Does this help calm you down?”

Taehyung is within Seokjin’s grasp, but why does he want to engulf Seokjin instead? Box him up and cradle him whole, just hold everything of Seokjin, keep him somewhere within.

Just have him. 

Taehyung’s heartbeat hammers in his eardrums. He feels worse, like he’s on a nauseous high. 

“Mm, it does.”

 

 

Dance practice concludes with them drenched in sweat, clothes sticking to their torsos. Seokjin plops down in the corner of the room, resting his head against the mirror as he pants.

Taehyung settles by his side, as always.

“You did well, hyung,” he breathes heavily, pulling at his shirt to fan himself.

Seokjin nods.“You too.”

Hoseok saunters over and squats beside Seokjin. 

“Jin-hyung, you did the chorus really well,” he sincerely compliments with a broad smile. “You were smooth. So sleek.”

Hoseok candidly imitates Seokjin’s movements.

“I was?” Seokjin repeats with doe eyes, still catching his breath. He melts into a grin. 

“Thanks. The weather must be good.”

“Be confident!” Hoseok slaps Seokjin on the back.

Seokjin laughs, a sheepish jubilance radiating from him.

Seokjin seems happier to hear the compliment from Hoseok than Taehyung.

Taehyung purses his lips at the odd thought. It’s not something to be upset about.

“Thank you, kind sir. I try my best.” Seokjin holds out his hand politely, lowering his head.

Hoseok plays along and shakes his hand. “Yes, yes. You did well, Mr. Kim Seokjin. You can take over me as the choreographer.”

“I think we’re getting far ahead of ourselves, kind sir,” Seokjin drawls. They comically shake hands even more roughly, using both their hands.

“Who says so? You have an affinity with music, hyung,” Hoseok sincerely says.

“You’re making my heart flutter, Hobi.”

Does Seokjin like Hoseok more?

Taehyung stops short, shaking away the petty thoughts. It’s not like him to harp over minuscule things like this between the members. They rarely take anything personally; they’re too tight-knitted for any warmer feelings towards certain members to matter.

Taehyung looks at their linked hands. He instinctively puts his own over theirs, looking up at Hoseok.

“What?” Hoseok cocks his brow.

“What are you two doing?” Taehyung questions, gazing only at Hoseok.

“Why, what do you mean by that?” Hoseok returns. “We’re joking around?”

Taehyung pats their still interlocked hands. “Let go, hyung.”

Hoseok does as told, sinking into a bewildered frown. He steps away as Taehyung scoots closer to Seokjin.

“Hyung, you did well,” Taehyung repeats.

“Yeah.” Seokjin stares after Hoseok momentarily, and then back at Taehyung with a slight surprise. “Thanks, Taehyung.”

 

 

The lights from today’s shooting burn into Taehyung’s eyelids as he climbs into bed. Click, click, click, he slanted and bared his teeth while slipping on and off shoes after shoes. Casual, cheeky, charismatic. The lights are always so blinding that Taehyung wonders if they want to see the ridges of his skin and edit it away.

Seokjin looked good against the orange background. They weren’t paired up, though; Jungkook and Seokjin were. Did the set director think Taehyung and Seokjin don’t look good together? Their closeness should translate onto the surface. Why don’t outsiders notice?

Taehyung settles under the blanket beside Seokjin. Seokjin is already asleep, which makes Taehyung just a tiny bit sad. Seokjin didn’t wait and has left for the day, so Taehyung feels lonely and timid.

“Goodnight, hyung,” Taehyung says to nobody.

He buries his nose into the nape of Seokjin’s neck and breathes in his scent. He rests his lips against Seokjin’s back.

He falls asleep into a dream drenched in utter darkness. There’s absolutely nothing he can make out visually, but the sounds and touches are so vivid. It’s silent except for breathing, and Taehyung feels disgustingly hot.

He’s lying face down on something. His skin is touching  something  and it’s not the fabric of his clothes. It’s equally as warm as him.

Taehyung gasps for air. Seokjin—he can smell Seokjin. Taehyung frantically presses his right hand down to touch cotton and a bony hand.

It’s so hot. Taehyung nearly vomits in his haste to breathe in oxygen. The blindness only spikes his anxiousness.

The thing that’s underneath him is a person. Taehyung can’t see their face but they’re breathing jaggedly, swallowing repeatedly as though being smothered by Taehyung. They’re burning up. 

Taehyung interlocks their hands tight. Seokjin’s scent overwhelms him, polluting the air while Taehyung and this stranger lie skin to skin. Beside his ear, Taehyung hears that unmistakable voice. It’s strained into a whimper.

Taehyung-

Hysterically, Taehyung shoots out his left hand and grabs the lamp cord. He pulls over and over again but the lights won’t turn on.

Taehyung wakes up with a start, his mind clouded in a haze. He groggily focuses to see Seokjin’s back.

There’s discomfort in Taehyung’s shorts. The post-adrenaline settles into a constricting anxiousness.

Embarrassment flushes through Taehyung as he edges away from Seokjin. Seokjin is still sleeping.

Taehyung feels disoriented. He creeps off the bed and heads for the bathroom. With every passing minute, his dream breaks into undecipherable pieces, rapidly forgotten.

 


A/N: I read all the comments here and I really, really appreciate every one of them! I spend quite some time replying just one comment so it takes a while for me to find time to sit down and reply properly, but I will! Thank you for all the thoughts you leave!

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

“I think the  ah  goes better at the start. What do you think?”

Yoongi shifts Hoseok’s yelp to the start, playing through the intro to their newest song.

“Hm… The front sounds a bit cluttered,” Namjoon replies.

Yoongi strokes his chin. “Really? I think it’s the perfect timing. It gives the song impact right from the start. If it’s after the chorus, it loses its strength.”

“We don’t need to pull out all our cards at the start, though,” Jimin remarks. He sits on the couch with Taehyung and Seokjin, the three here to help out with the composing process.

“I agree with Yoongi-hyung,” Taehyung pipes up. “We should start off powerful.”

He has one hand on Seokjin’s thigh, squeezing and feeling the supple flesh. His fondling began from the knee but has shifted up to the middle of Seokjin’s thigh.

Taehyung fixates his gaze on the wall, eyes raking over Yoongi’s figurines. Meanwhile, he drags his hand further up Seokjin’s thigh.

Immediately, Seokjin stops him, putting a hand over Taehyung’s. Taehyung seizes the chance to grab Seokjin’s hand tightly.

“That makes sense too…” Namjoon mutters, sighing restlessly. “Let’s listen to the chorus.”

They replay the song, weariness scribbled into their dark eye circles.

“You have a point. It might be too much at the start.” Yoongi frets, “I really think we should put the  ah  at the start, though…”

“I get it. It does sound good at the front. Maybe we should take something else out?” Namjoon furrows his brows in deep thought. 

Seokjin leans over to whisper to Jimin, inciting Taehyung’s attention. Taehyung doesn’t get to ask what they were talking about as Namjooon interrupts.

“Guys, what do you all think?”

“I like what Yoongi-hyung suggested more,” Taehyung hums.

“What about you two?”

“Well… If you want me to be honest, both sound good. I hope you two don’t stress out over this,” Seokjin says. “It’s good to aim for the best, but you shouldn’t obsess over 98% and 99%.”

“I agree with Seokjin-hyung,” Jimin replies. “Think of it as different versions rather than one being better than the other.”

Namjoon laughs. “Thanks, guys.”

Yoongi and Namjoon continue discussing. Seokjin leans over to whisper to Taehyung.

“Hey. I think there’s too many of us giving opinions. It’ll make it harder for Yoongi and Namjoon, so Jimin and I are going to sit out.”

“You guys are leaving?”

“No, no, we’ll still be here. We’ll just leave it to you to give a third opinion.”

With that, Seokjin starts Di Bi Di Bi Dip with Jimin. He wins several rounds, triumphantly flicking Jimin’s forehead with little mercy. 

“You’re bad at this, Jimin,” Seokjin provokes, making funny faces repeatedly.

Jimin huffs. “I’ll get you soon, hyung.”

After a few more rounds, Jimin gasps, pointing an accusing finger at Seokjin.

“You were slow! You waited for me to move my finger and then turned your head.”

“Woah, what are you talking about, Park Jimin?” Seokjin widens his eyes with a cheeky smile, letting out his trademark high-pitched laugh. “Are you making excuses so you can finally hit me once?”

“You are the one making excuses. You’re sad, hyung, if you have to resort to cheating to win over me.” Jimin goes closer, faking a glare.

“I didn’t,” Seokjin playfully huffs. “Come on, Jimin. You know I’m not that kind of guy.”

“You did. Looks like you’re not just a cheater, but you’re a liar, too,” Jimin grunts, jokingly pressing Seokjin into the couch with a threatening snarl. Seokjin leans his head back with a warm giggle.

Taehyung instinctively thins his lips. The discontent has him reaching out to push Jimin’s shoulder, preventing him from going any closer to Seokjin.

“Oh, who’s won more?” He musters some enthusiasm.

Neither of them reply, butting each other with their chests.

“You cheated, Kim Seokjin.”

“Wah, he’s not using honorifics.”

“I won’t respect cheaters.”

Taehyung shifts closer to Seokjin, hand rigidly forcing Jimin back. Jimin doesn’t notice the hostility in his gesture.

“Hyung, I want to play too,” he says louder, whining for Seokjin’s attention. “Let me play with you instead of Jimin.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply, only laughing more at Jimin’s furious expression.

“I didn’t cheat, Jimin. If it’s hard to admit defeat, I’ll just say I cheated so you’ll feel better, okay?”

Jimin’s jaw slackens. “You’re horrible!”

He shoots out his hand and tickles Seokjin, making him jerk. As his fingers crawl up Seokjin’s sides, Taehyung’s insides churn like a crashing wave.

He pushes Jimin hard and Jimin falls back with a thump against the armrest. Taehyung wraps his arms around Seokjin, tugging him towards him.

“Hyung,” his voice drops an octave, annoyed. He grasps Seokjin’s jaw, light but firm, turning Seokjin’s head to face him. 

“Why aren’t you answering me? I said I want to play too,” he says coldly. “Stop ignoring me.”

“Oh, sorry. This guy here wants to lie that I’m cheating. He’s being a sore loser,” Seokjin guffaws.

“That doesn’t mean you can ignore me,” Taehyung grunts, grip unrelenting over Seokjin’s jaw. He goes closer until their noses touch. 

“Pay attention to me.”

“Hey, what are you doing?” Seokjin mousily breathes, going cross-eyed at the proximity.

“I said pay attention to me. You gave all your attention to Jimin so you have to pay it back.” 

He melts into a small, cheeky smile at how doe Seokjin’s eyes are. He resembles a hamster, tiny and frightened. 

“What? You’re being childish. Let go.”

“No. How long did you ignore me for?” Taehyung keeps their noses together. He absentmindedly glances at Seokjin’s lips. “You have to pay me back the same amount, okay?”

“Let go,” Seokjin mumbles, averting his gaze. He grabs Taehyung’s wrist and goes to his shoulder when he realises Taehyung’s grip won’t budge. 

In retaliation, Taehyung presses his body closer. He whispers, “Why should I? You ignored me.”

“But-”

Suddenly, a crisp voice interrupts them. “Taehyung.”

Taehyung glances over to meet Yoongi’s slit-like eyes. There’s not an ounce of lightheartedness in his scrutinising expression, his arms folded across his chest. Namjoon wears a slight crease between his brows.

“Stop it. You’re being strange,” Yoongi bluntly states.

Taehyung blinks, leaning back from Seokjin. “What do you mean, hyung?”

“I mean that what you’re doing to Seokjin-hyung is strange.”

Yoongi’s elaboration doesn’t give any greater clarity. Taehyung mirrors Yoongi’s frown as he lets go of Seokjin, confused.

“What? Why is it strange?”

Yoongi folds his lips. The reproach in his eyes is blatant.

“Why are you asking for Seokjin-hyung’s attention like that? He was playing with Jimin. He doesn’t need to give you all his attention. Are you a child?”

Yoongi has a curt way of speaking, which used to rub Taehyung the wrong way when they first met. He got used to it over the years, understanding that Yoongi meant well. He simply didn’t see much need to waste time on a roundabout to spare you from the sharpness of his point. He wouldn’t say it in the first place if he didn’t think it was important.

This time, however, Taehyung can’t help but let the words prick at him.

“Hey, Yoongi, he’s just playing around,” Seokjin placates, shifting forward to shield Taehyung. “He doesn’t genuinely mean it.”

“Yeah. Taehyung’s only being playful,” Jimin quickly agrees. 

“Playing around?” Yoongi repeats, reeking of scepticism.

“You know how we are. We’re always like this with one another,” Seokjin assures. He uses a lower voice, hoping to calm.

“Does it change anything if you two are always like that with each other?” Yoongi says. 

Seokjin furrows his brows, clearly unused to Yoongi pressing a topic. “Yeah, it does. It means we’re joking around.”

Yoongi hesitates on his following words.

“You two act strangely nowadays,” his voice quietens. “Do you both not realise that?”

An uncomfortable wordlessness stagnates over the five of them, sufficiently long that it becomes revealing. Namjoon has his head lowered, a finger to his philtrum as he keeps his gaze fixated on the ground. He has stayed awfully quiet despite always being the first to step in when the members have even a hint of conflict.

Yoongi’s question lingers as though he’s finally addressed some kind of elephant in the room. Unfortunately, Taehyung is too caught up in exasperation, or perhaps a vehement defensiveness, to notice. 

“How are we acting strange?” Taehyung retorts. “You keep saying that but I was just joking with Seokjin-hyung. He knows that.”

“It’s not just this one time.” Yoongi locks eyes with Seokjin. “Hyung, you really haven’t noticed?”

“Noticed what?” Taehyung stresses, his annoyance growing.

Yoongi maintains eye contact with Seokjin as he answers Taehyung, “That you guys are being strange.”

Seokjin doesn’t reply to Yoongi’s question, fluttering his lashes at him. 

Taehyung bites back in his stead. “And we’re asking you — how have we been strange? Hyung, what problem do you have with me and Seokjin-hyung being close?”

“Problem? I don’t have a problem with you two being close,” Yoongi curtly ricochets. “I’m only stating a fact. You guys act... strangely nowadays and don’t seem to care how you come off to everyone else.”

Taehyung’s eyes flare wide open. “I’m asking you, hyung, what is  strangely?

Yoongi glances to Namjoon. He doesn’t meet his gaze.

“You guys are too close nowadays. Just reflect on how you’ve been acting, Taehyung,” he simply states.

Taehyung huffs, anger brewing in his wide eyes. “What do you mean we are too close? I can’t be close to hyung? This is just how we are. There’s nothing weird about it and we shouldn’t have to care how we look to other people — and you. You’re overreacting.”

Yoongi locks his jaw. Jimin hastily dives in before Yoongi can hit a stinging rebound.

“Guys, guys, let’s not fight,” he persuades. “Taehyung and Seokjin are closer now than before, so they’re able to joke with each other more. Maybe they can be more careful with what they do when we’re with outsiders.”

“That’s not the point,” Yoongi raises his voice, expression troubled.

Without saying a word, Seokjin turns his gaze to Namjoon, tinged with some forlornness. It’s then that Namjoon finally speaks up, grasping Yoongi’s shoulders.

“Hyung,” he says nothing else, simply sending Yoongi a look that’s indecipherable to Taehyung and shaking his head.

Yoongi’s voice softens. He speaks after a short pause, “I’m not trying to fight.” 

He brushes back his hair and spins his chair to face the computer.

“I’m not arguing with you two,” he repeats in a mumble. “Sorry if it sounded that way.”

An awkward quietness falls over the room once again, just Yoongi’s mouse clicks audible over the air-conditioning. It’s not Seokjin who salvages the atmosphere which he always does with a lame joke, quick to forgive and forget. Instead, he’s spaced out, tangled in Yoongi’s words from minutes ago.

Jimin claps Seokjin’s thigh with a grin, startling him. 

“Wah, I know what’s going on. Just like Taehyung, Yoongi-hyung feels left out. He wants to play too. We’re too popular, hyung.”

Seokjin cracks a slightly overdue smile. He jests, “You’re right. Yoongi, you should have just told us.”

Jimin gets up and sits by Yoongi’s side, flicking his finger. “Here. I’ll even let you win, hyung. Don’t feel so left out.”

Yoongi swats him away. “Get lost.”

Jimin melts into a peal of warm laughter and pulls Yoongi into a back hug, Yoongi melting into a minuscule smile. Gingerly, Yoongi looks to Taehyung. 

“You wanted someone to play with you?” He mutters awkwardly. “Uh, I’ll play with you if that’s all you wanted.”

Namjoon bursts out with a chortle. “What are we, a bunch of primary school kids? You guys are embarrassing.”

“Yoongi-hyung misses his childhood,” Jimin teases. “He’s trying all sorts of ways to feel young.”

“I wasn’t the one who started playing this game,” Yoongi snorts. “Say that to Seokjin-hyung. And you think you’re so young, Jimin?”

The small attempt at reconciliation eases Taehyung’s guardedness a little, allowing him to churn out a faint smile for the sake of it. He knows Yoongi isn’t trying to attack him deliberately, but the sourness persists.

Yoongi’s speaking out of legitimate concern. For what, exactly? There’s nothing for him to worry about. Seokjin and he were playing around. He wasn’t actually demanding his attention. 

At least, not completely. So what if Taehyung meant what he said, anyway?

They’re not acting strangely.

“Alright, alright. You guys should get out of my studio. Namjoon and I will join you for lunch later.” Yoongi swats them away.

Seokjin returns a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Okay. Come on, kids. Let’s go. We’re disturbing the geniuses in Genius Lab.”

They step out into the aisle, Jimin affectionately slumping over Taehyung. He’s quick to come up with a new topic.

“Guys, where should we go?” Jimin pipes up. “Let’s go to Itaewon. We can buy back that famous ginseng stew for Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung.”

“Oh, yes, I told you I craved it this morning,” Taehyung agrees.

“Yep,” Jimin chirps, head touching Taehyung’s. “Hyung, treat us, please?”

Seokjin doesn’t answer. Jimin tugs his shirt and speaks louder, “Hyung, I know you heard me. Treat us.”

“Wait, what?” Seokjin processes Jimin’s words with a delay, letting out a slight laugh. “Jimin, are you a professional extorter or a singer?”

“Both. Being an extorter is my part-time gig. Anyway, hyung, you agree? Should we go to Itaewon?”

“Yeah, anywhere’s good.”

“Okay! Let’s grab a taxi.” Jimin continues slinging his arm over Taehyung, walking to the exit. Taehyung glances back to see Seokjin lagging behind, gaze unfocused.

He stops as they step out onto the streets, pulling their masks up. “Hey, kids. I think I should go back first.”

“What? Why?” Taehyung blurts.

“My clothes are uncomfortable. You guys go ahead and have lunch on your own.”

“Your clothes?” Jimin echoes.

“Yeah. The pants are tight and the shirt’s itchy. I’ll come back to the company later to join you four.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung untangles himself from Jimin. “I’ll go with you.”

“No, no, it’s fine. It’ll only take a while.”

“It’s alright, I’ll go with you,” Taehyung insists. “Jimin, you’re okay going on your own, right?”

Jimin falters. “I mean, it’s a lot to carry on my own.”

“Then, let’s get something else-”

“Taehyung,” Seokjin cuts in. He’s blinking hard, looking elsewhere with a faint frown. “It’s okay. I’ll go back by myself. I’m not a baby.”

“No, hyung, I said I’ll go with you-”

“Taehyung, just go with Jimin,” Seokjin raises his voice. He looks up and Taehyung notices the unsettledness in his eyes.

Before Taehyung can comment on it, Jimin takes Seokjin’s hand. 

With a warm smile, he offers, “Let’s go back together and bring Jungkook with us. He’s all alone in the dorm. It’ll be quick, anyway. I want to get another cap too.”

Seokjin flutters his lashes. His shoulders fall.

“Okay.”

 

 

In bed, Taehyung stares up at the ceiling with his hair still damp. He mulls over Yoongi’s words from today, akin to a soundtrack from an unsettling movie he didn’t get to see the end to. The admonishments are imprinted into the side of his skulls, incomprehensible.

You two act strangely nowadays. Do you both not realise that?

Strange? What’s so strange about him playing around with Seokjin? They’ve grown closer over the past months with the nights spent together. Right, they’re like blood brothers now. Is it so weird that Taehyung and Seokjin are more affectionate with one another? 

The more Taehyung thinks about it, the more bitter he gets. He knows Yoongi means well and he doesn’t loathe Yoongi for it, but he can’t understand why Yoongi selectively found a problem with them. No one bats an eye when Seokjin and Jungkook are touchy with one another. It’s not just Yoongi—the others have teased them too as if their skinship is so out-of-place. It’s as though everyone doesn’t want him and Seokjin to be close.

Seokjin is lying at the edge of the bed, facing away from Taehyung. He’s sleeping further than usual.

“Why did Yoongi-hyung say we’re strange today?” Taehyung asks suddenly, sourness lacing his question. “We were just playing around, weren’t we, hyung?”

“He was probably being moody,” he dismisses with some delay.

Taehyung shifts closer, seeking Seokjin’s warmth. He wishes he could have Seokjin in his lap, cradled him as though a beloved child, but Seokjin would never agree to it.

“Oh, really?”

“We were making a ruckus while he was working. It’s expected that he got irritated.” Seokjin exhales heavily. “Don’t think so much about it and go to sleep.”

Taehyung doesn’t buy the explanation, but he doesn’t pursue the topic, sensing Seokjin’s moodiness. “Okay.”

He scoots under the covers and loops an arm around Seokjin’s waist. “Hyung, are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? Stop asking me that,” Seokjin murmurs, instinctively gripping Taehyung’s arm in case it wanders.

“You’re moody,” Taehyung mumbles, resting his forehead on Seokjin’s spine as always. The bone prods into his skin. Taehyung briefly thinks about kissing it.

“Why won’t you tell me? You promised you’d tell me everything.”

“Do I have to tell you  everything ?” Seokjin returns, an edge to his words. He seems to realise it because he rolls around to face Taehyung, eyes apologetic.

“I’m fine, Taehyung. Really. Yes, I’m moody. It’s because I’m tired.”

Taehyung gazes back steadily. “Is it because of Yoongi-hyung?”

“...Yeah,” Seokjin concedes in a small voice, not meeting Taehyung’s eyes. “It’s because it’s been a long time since Yoongi got angry at me. So, it caught me off guard.”

“Okay. Don’t be upset, hyung. Hyung said he didn’t mean to fight.”

“I know.”

Seokjin still seems troubled. Taehyung tugs him closer, evoking a squeak from the other. Seokjin’s breath brushes his lips.

“It’s okay even if he says we’re strange, hyung. There’s nothing wrong with us being close. We got closer and now… we’re like brothers. They’re just not used to it.”

Seokjin contemplates Taehyung’s words. He gingerly brings up a knuckle to prod Taehyung’s forehead, seeming more appeased.

“Yeah. Like brothers.”

Taehyung shuts his eyes and nudges Seokjin’s body into his, thorny warmth seething into Taehyung’s skin. Once, Taehyung thought of himself as ice while Seokjin’s touch was sunlight. To a summery affection that promised him better days, he melted joyously slow into a puddle without fright. Now, he feels like candle wax to a fire—peeling down to his bare bones. 

“Anyway, Yoongi was just moody. Don’t think so much about it,” Seokjin repeats, offering a comforting smile while his cheeks blob cutely.

Taehyung nods, staring into Seokjin’s eyes till he seemingly loses his bearings of the world. 

Pretty. How Seokjin’s bothered, but still takes it upon himself to assure Taehyung. 

His lips are beautiful too.

Seokjin turns around and they fall back into the same position every night—Taehyung to Seokjin’s back, Seokjin curved into Taehyung’s contours. Skin to skin, flesh to flesh, composing one.

Is that strange?

The anxiousness gnaws Taehyung up inside out, but Taehyung ignores what he can’t understand. He’s restless again, a fiery yearning burgeoning within him. If he could get closer, if he could just-

He’d have to pry open Seokjin and get into him.

The morbid thought has Taehyung pulling closer, remorseful that he would even think of something so ghastly. But his mind continues translating his feelings in all sorts of deranged ways, unable to read Taehyung’s heart. His desires pile on as if they’re thousands and thousands of words in a foreign language. His mind tries to interpret them again and again, grabbing every reference that it can to make sense of them—only to end up wrong as always. So, his mind tears deeper into his subconsciousness to gather more hints, but all it meets is a wall of darkness.

Maybe he shouldn’t know if his mind can’t.

 

 

In the dorms, Namjoon and Seokjin talk on the balcony, the door shut. Taehyung watches them without their knowledge. 

Their shoulders touch while they lean over the railings. Each time they turn to smile at each other, their eyes drip of jubilance against the sunlight.

Barbed heat sloshes up Taehyung’s lungs, uneasiness spreading up to his throat. It’s nasty, dripping gall up his veins.

They look close. Obviously—everyone here has spent years with each other. 

What’s there to be upset about?

The more he stares, the more unsettled he gets. It’s not just the fact that Seokjin and Namjoon are talking that troubles him, he realises. It’s the clenching feeling crawling up his lungs, that of resentment and a need to stand between them.

A person who doesn’t understand him, but wants to—Seokjin said he found that nicer than someone who understands him naturally. 

But what about someone who does both?

He wants Seokjin to look at him, to tear his gaze away from Namjoon and notice him. Any moment now, Seokjin will sense Taehyung’s behind him and turn to meet his eyes.

Taehyung waits, counting under his breath. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Pins prick into his skin, puncturing into him a strange fear. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Seokjin laughs, facing Namjoon with a heartfelt grin. They talk with the freeness of being the only ones in the world.

Taehyung bites his lip. God, what is wrong with him? What kind of game is he playing by himself in the middle of the living room?

There’s no reason to be jealous. Seokjin isn’t his—It’s childish to even think that. 

Taehyung bunches up his fingers but he can’t rip his eyes away. He feels queasy.

 

 

Taehyung’s blazer cuts down nicely over his thick chest, grey and glitter emphasising the ethereal looks he’s hailed for. His collar is tight around his neck with the edge prodding at his adam’s apple.

They’re at an awards show, cordially invited to sit at the front—no more far behind in obscurity as when they just debuted, honoured to even be attending. Seokjin is similarly dressed, his shoulders broad and shaped immaculately in his suit. He has a ribbon around his petite waist and his pants are crisp, mapping out how thin he is. 

His plump lips are glowing a glossy pink, slathered with lip balm. They remind Taehyung of peaches. Do they taste the same?

As they find their seats, a director comes over to brief them on when they’ll have to leave for their performances. Taehyung looks at their seating positions and notices that Seokjin’s assigned to be in between Jungkook and Yoongi.

He swiftly switches the name cards on the chairs. As he turns back, Hoseok touches his wrist.

“What are you doing?” He breathes. He’s looking at Taehyung with the same look Yoongi regarded him a day ago, when Taehyung buried his face into Seokjin’s neck.

As though Taehyung is acting strangely.

“Why? Is there a problem?” Taehyung returns softly.

Hoseok parts his lips to say something, but ultimately keeps mum.

 

 

They’re walking backstage after a fiery concert, drenched in sweat and hair dripping. Jimin has an arm slung around Seokjin’s waist as he marvels at how energetic the crowd was.

It’s the leftover adrenaline that makes Taehyung easily ticked off. Yes, that’s what makes Taehyung flick Jimin’s arm off as he casually tells Seokjin about a fan who held a funny fan board of him. 

Seokjin notices but doesn’t say anything. Jimin sunnily joins the conversation without commenting either.

 

 

“Hyung,” Jungkook hums quietly, slipping his arms around Seokjin as the crew explains to them how to play a game for their latest Run episode. He back hugs Seokjin, resting his chin on Seokjin’s shoulders. Seokjin leans into him and interlocks their fingers. 

Taehyung’s eyes immediately go to them. It’s always Jungkook. Holding hands, hugging, kissing—he’s the most affectionate with Seokjin, and no one finds it odd because they have been close since forever.

Taehyung stares at them till his eyes turn inside out. Rancour smoulders up his windpipe and his teeth grit till he absolutely can’t stand it.

The cameras are still rolling, but he pries Jungkook off, standing between them. Thankfully, the camera crew pays no heed and continues giving instructions, writing it off as just them being playful.

Jungkook doesn’t say a single word, but his baffled expression is glaring enough to verbalise his thoughts.

You’re being strange.

No, Taehyung’s not being strange.

Everyone else is.

 

 

In the darkness, Taehyung tussles in Seokjin’s grasp. He turns to face Seokjin, then turns away, then back again. The discomposure persists in his chest.

His breathing is getting heavier each night, like there’s something lodged in his throat. He’s desperate to have comfort. Yet, Seokjin doesn’t help anymore.

Lying in Seokjin’s arms used to be so soothing. Taehyung would fall asleep with the heinous thoughts erased, Seokjin’s scent and breathing a lullaby for even the most deathly insomniacs. No matter how he worried, at the very least, even if the world crumbled, Seokjin would still be there for him. Unconditionally.

What happened? 

Maybe he’s not close enough. That must be it. Taehyung presses his face into Seokjin’s chest, inhaling in measures. Seokjin’s slow heartbeat thumps against his skin.

The distress doubles.

“Hyung,” Taehyung rasps. 

Seokjin doesn’t reply, lost away in a sweetly oblivious slumber while Taehyung burns. 

Taehyung feels he’s going to split into half. His chest swells, shivers prickling up his limbs.

He holds Seokjin tighter. His heart pounds with morphine thrashing through his arteries.

No, no, it’s just not close enough. He needs to go closer right now. But what else is there, beyond touching skin and flesh? If he digs any further, he’ll be touching Seokjin’s bones.

Hoping to stop the nervousness, Taehyung shifts up and presses their foreheads together, brushing their noses. He feels Seokjin against his cheek as he nestles closer and closer. Seokjin makes a soft noise but doesn’t awake.

The nervousness rots into fear. Taehyung knows he’s getting closer and closer to the edge of everything ripping out of him.

 

 

Rehearsals for their feature performance in the U.S. began three weeks ago. The pressure is heavier on their shoulders since it’s a festive celebration and they’re amazingly part of the line-up, telling of how far their influence is spreading. The music industry has always been dominated by Western-centrism, so them being there is more than just BTS being there—it’s that a South Korean act is there.

All of them are evidently excited and at the same time, nervous. Namjoon rehearses his speech till he’s able to say it in his sleep, while Jungkook enthusiastically brushes up on his English. He repeats what he would say to the fans and appends his heartfelt letter every time he finds a better phrase.

They book a concert hall for practice to best imitate how the environment will be. Twist, turn, throw your voice out. They’ve worked hard over the past few days, grinding and grinding till their legs give out.

Jungkook is especially putting in his 200%. He stays behind to practise his singing parts and stays up late to learn more English. Some of them warned him to not push himself too hard, but being too eager, he has yet to listen.

There are just two days left until the concert. The members watch as Jungkook heaves harder and harder with each verse. He’s sweating very heavily despite them starting practice an hour ago. His voice is straining as well, alike to a taut violin bow.

His face was pale this morning. It’s paper white now, eye circles ghastly emerging.

“Jungkook,” Namjoon pauses the rehearsal as they finish the dance for DNA. “Do you want to take a rest?”

Jungkook adamantly shakes his head. The black suit he’s donning underscores the pallidness of his face. 

“I’m fine, hyung. Everyone else is okay too, right? Then, let’s continue.” 

He traces out the steps while the rest watch in disquiet.

“Jungkook, don’t push yourself too hard,” Yoongi reminds with a tight frown. Jimin agrees swiftly.

“Yeah. Come sit down, JK. You’re overexerting yourself,” Seokjin says.

“I’m fine, hyung. Why are you guys worrying about me?” Jungkook wheezes.

“You’re not looking good,” Taehyung remarks. “You’re pale. If you can’t handle it, then take a break.”

“I can, I can.”

Jungkook waves him off and cues to the hesitant music director to start. Jungkook belts out his notes as he gets to the chorus—and then, his voice cracks noticeably, going out of tune. As the next verse begins, Jungkook begins panting audibly.

Namjoon puts up a hand to stop the music. Taehyung goes up to Jungkook as the youngest holds his forehead, gaze fixated on the ground.

Taehyung brushes aside Jungkook’s hand and feels his forehead. It’s burning up.

“He has a fever?” Seokjin asks. They crowd around the youngest who hangs his head low, expression torn with despondency.

“Yeah. It’s really hot,” Taehyung sighs. He crossly regards Jungkook, rubbing his cheek. “Why didn’t you tell us? You should have.”

Namjoon wanders away, commanding loudly, “Can someone get paracetamol? A wet towel and a thermometer too.”

Taehyung steps aside for Seokjin. Seokjin softens his voice to placate Jungkook, combing back Jungkook’s sweaty hair. Taehyung watches Seokjin’s ministrations instead of the two of them. 

“Where does it hurt? Is your throat sore?”

“No, it’s not,” Jungkook immediately returns, swatting Seokjin’s hands off him.

Seokjin grasps his wrists. “Jungkook, you have to tell us. You know why—we’ve been through this a lot of times. I know you’re excited for the festival, but your health comes first.”

He stresses, “You’re going to be in a worse condition than now when you perform if you don’t tell us how you are. Be honest.”

Seokjin reeks of the authority that truly, only the oldest will have.

“Yeah, listen to hyung, Jungkook,” Hoseok pipes up. Taehyung nods fervently.

Jungkook doesn’t meet his eyes. “It’s not a big deal. It really isn’t.” 

He lifts his gaze, forlorn. “Hyung, I have to perform at the concert.”

Jimin cuts in. “You will. But if you keep this up without resting, you won’t. Do you understand?” 

They nudge Jungkook into the chair Yoongi brings over. The staff scuttle around with murmurs, asking for their designated doctor. 

“Hyung, I can’t miss practice. If I’m not here,” Jungkook drifts off with a truly miserable grimace. He has always been the one who mandates even beyond 100% effort, chiding himself for every shortfall that makes him human.

“You’ve been practising hard,” Namjoon says as he comes back with a wet towel. He pats Jungkook’s face gently. 

“Do you know that when you do it too much, the results come out worse? That’s what will happen if you keep pushing. Don’t snap yourself in the process of trying to improve.”

Their manager steps up to them and informs, “We’ll take him to the dressing room to rest first. The doctor’s on her way. Jungkook, let’s go.”

“I’m sorry, everyone. I’m really sorry,” Jungkook says, leaning his head back with a long exasperated sigh. The sheer disappointment crushes into his irises.

“What are you sorry for?” Hoseok laughs.

“It’ll be difficult without me.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s not the first time one of us has to sit out. Don’t forget, you’ll be there for the actual performance. So don’t be so glum, okay, Jungkookie?”

Jungkook bites his lip. “My throat… I should have watched myself. It’s my fault. I should have listened.”

“Yeah, you should have listened, but nobody’s blaming you,” Yoongi states firmly. “Don’t talk like that.”

“You’ll recover in time. You’re a strong kid,” Jimin assures optimistically, patting Jungkook’s back. “But if you keep moping, you won’t.”

Hoseok nods enthusiastically. “Don’t pull such a long face. Things will be fine.”

Their manager escorts Jungkook to the back. Namjoon tails them while the rest settle on the stage floor, quiet. 

It’s always a huge problem when one of them can’t perform. The missing space in the choreography, the missing member’s verses, all of it needs to be made up for. It’s not as if they can just leave the parts empty and expect the audience to understand.

Luckily, it’s two songs and not an entire concert consisting of just them. Else, there’ll be an unimaginably wild rush to revise all their concert segments.

Taehyung’s eyes go to Seokjin, as always. Over these few months, his understanding of Seokjin has jumped a greater deal than over the long, long years they’ve been together. Some people describe Seokjin as consistent. He is, on the surface. It takes sensitivity to tease out the nuances in his eyes.

As Seokjin leans over to Jimin with a light smile, Taehyung knows—he’s worried for Jungkook. His grin doesn’t reach his eyes though he tries to buoy up the atmosphere with distracting remarks about the venue.

They gather with the crew once Namjoon returns, discussing who will take over whose parts. Hoseok revises the choreography as they decide on who is best to take over Jungkook’s verses. It’s split between Taehyung, Seokjin and Jimin based on who can most smoothly fill Jungkook’s position at that point in the choreography.

They’re informed that Jungkook has come down with the flu. Two days is tight for him to recover.

The creases between Seokjin’s brows don’t ease up. They take over Jungkook with some difficulty, needing to revise what’s become automatic for them. Bumping into each other now and then, tripping over the lines, they train hard for three hours to eventually accomplish the songs with no hiccups.

They return to the dressing room to find it drenched in darkness. Jungkook is sleeping on the couch.

“He didn’t want to go home,” one of the staff members explains.

The members keep the lights off, turning on just a staff member’s flashlight in the corner. The manager advises them not to go too near Jungkook or carelessly share items and food. Seokjin crouches by Jungkook’s side and brushes his hair back. He asks for a staff member to change Jungkook’s wet towel. The others settle elsewhere in exhaustion after checking up on Jungkook.

“Has he eaten medicine?” Seokjin asks.

“Yeah.” Namjoon joins Seokjin as he places the towel on his forehead. Taehyung lingers behind them.

“Don’t worry so much, hyung,” Namjoon assures.

“Of course. What’s there to worry about? It’s just the flu,” Seokjin returns.

“I know, that’s not what you’re worried about.”

Namjoon puts an arm around Seokjin as Seokjin glances wordlessly at him, nudging Seokjin towards him. However, after just a second, Namjoon takes his hand away upon noticing Taehyung is behind them.

“Why won’t this kid go back home?” Hoseok comes over after drying himself off. 

“It’s Jungkook. You’ll have to drag him by his ankles,” Jimin remarks, earning some laughter.

“It’s not good for him to stay here. He needs to rest in bed,” Hoseok heaves, shaking his head. “This kid. I don’t know how his mind works sometimes.”

“Jungkook’s practising in his dreams. He hears the music being played and practises along with it in his head,” Taehyung jokes.

“Well, you shouldn’t talk so much, then. You’re ruining his practice,” Jimin cheekily returns.

“Hey, let’s lower our voices a bit,” Seokjin remarks with a soft laugh. He threads his fingers through Jungkook’s hair tenderly and Taehyung crouches by Seokjin’s side, squeezing his thigh.

They go back to practising, sinews burning as they reroute the back-up choreography into their minds. Taehyung’s head begins to hurt after a while, unfortunately growing as practice goes on. 

As they pause between their songs, Taehyung bites back a wince. His skull throbs with pain, but it’s nothing huge he can’t deal with—he’s experienced much worse and forced himself on stage without a complaint. 

Still, he wanders over to Seokjin.

“Hyung,” he whines, nudging Seokjin’s shoulder with his head.

“Mm?”

“My head hurts,” Taehyung mumbles, pouting cutely at Seokjin.

“Oh, your head hurts?”

“Yeah.” Taehyung rests his chin on Seokjin’s broad shoulder and makes himself comfortable, trying to clear his mind of noise. 

“Does it hurt a lot?”

“Well…”

“Oh, Jungkook, you’ve woken up?”

Taehyung grunts when Seokjin suddenly steps away, making him fall forward. He looks up to find Seokjin briskly walking over to Jungkook, who has just plodded out from the dressing room. He’s still pale, but he looks better than before.

“Did you sleep well?” He squeezes Jungkook’s shoulder. Jungkook nods groggily.

“Our youngest is awake,” Jimin hums. “Why didn’t you go back? Don’t feel obliged to stay.”

“I’m feeling better now,” Jungkook says. “Maybe-”

“I know what you’re going to say. Don’t,” Seokjin states. “Go home and rest. Do you want to make yourself sicker?”

“Listen to the oldest hyung, Jungkook,” Yoongi drawls. “You’re sabotaging yourself.”

Jungkook folds his lips, replying stubbornly, “I want to sit here and watch, at least.”

“And what good would that do? You also have the option to spend this time focusing on recovering so you can perform for the show. You pick,” Yoongi brusquely states.

Jungkook falters, eyes darting over each member’s faces. 

His voice drops to a point where the rest can’t hear him except for Jimin and Taehyung, who are nearer.

“I’m sorry, hyung. I just really want to go for the concert,” Jungkook breathes to Seokjin.

“You can. But you have to rest.”

Jungkook dips his head. “It’s my fault. I should have listened to you. Now, I’ve burdened everyone.”

Seokjin walks him some distance away. He cups the nape of Jungkook’s neck, making Jungkook look him in the eyes. Taehyung can’t hear what they’re saying, but he knows Seokjin is earnestly comforting Jungkook. 

Jungkook and Seokjin’s dynamic may be composed of hilarious hijinks that make you mistake them as silly friends, but at the end of the day, Seokjin will still be Jungkook’s bigger brother when he needs to be. He was the one who babied Jungkook the most, after all. Took care of him like Jungkook was family, took it upon himself to be responsible for the youngest.

Taehyung feels his chest turn. He presses his head to ease the pain while a different discomfort burns against the walls of his stomach. 

He’s hurting too. Why doesn’t Seokjin care as much?

Taehyung cringes, feeling his skull tense. No, what is he saying? Jungkook’s more ill than he is. He’s just having a small headache, that’s all. 

Of course, Seokjin would fret over Jungkook instead of him.

Of course.

It takes a while for Seokjin to finally convince Jungkook to go home. They practise for an hour more as the ache gets sharper in Taehyung’s head. During their next break, Taehyung settles on the floor and hangs his head low. He groans quietly.

Jimin whips his head towards him.

“Are you okay?” He scoots over.

“Yeah. Just a headache.”

Jimin gently rubs the side of Taehyung’s head. “Do you want to take paracetamol?”

“No, I’ll get sleepy. I’m fine.”

Taehyung raises his head, searching for Seokjin who has disappeared. He finally finds Seokjin pacing out from the changing room.

“He’s left,” Seokjin confirms, typing something on his phone.

“You doubted our manager?” Hoseok chuckles.

“You just can’t be sure when it comes to Jungkook. He might have snuck out of the van,” Jimin remarks lightly.

“Are you texting him?” Namjoon says.

“Yeah. Just telling him to take it easy.” Seokjin puts down his phone.

“Hyung, are you worried?” Hoseok pats Seokjin’s back. “He’ll be fine.”

Namjoon stands, dusting his legs. “It’s not that he won’t get better fast. It’s that he’ll beat himself up for it. You know how Jungkook’s like.”

Yoongi interrupts. “No, Jungkook needs to learn to deal with these kinds of situations. There’ll be times where we aren’t at our best and can’t perform. There’s nothing we can do about it and beating yourself up for it won’t help. Just take care of yourself better and don’t push yourself too hard next time.”

“You think he can hear you, Yoongi-hyung? Tell him when he’s awake,” Jimin snorts. “But yeah, Seokjin-hyung, I’m worried too. But he’s getting more and more mature, so don’t worry too much, okay?”

Seokjin offers a smile and gestures to Yoongi. “This guy’s scolding when the person he’s directing it to isn’t even here.”

“It’s for all of you to hear too. Don’t grind so hard till you break. You aren’t doing anything for yourself or us.”

Resembling a neglected pet, Taehyung stares at Seokjin expectantly, waiting for him to ask if he’s okay. It takes a while before Seokjin finally spares him one look.

He says nothing and returns to the changing room to put away his phone.

The bitterness gnawing at Taehyung’s insides only worsens his malaise. Yeah, he’s not sick like Jungkook, but is a bit of concern so hard to show?

He shuts his eyes and knuckles his head to rid himself of the pain. It’s dulling, but the irritation promptly fills the disappearing pain.

“Woah, Taehyung, you alright?” Namjoon asks.

“Headache,” Taehyung grunts. He continues slouching on the floor and waits for Seokjin to come back.

When he returns, he once again doesn’t even throw Taehyung a glimpse. “Are we starting?” He asks.

“Yep.”

Resentfully, Taehyung rises to his feet. His body runs on auto-pilot while his mind swells with surly thoughts. 

He told Seokjin his head hurts, but Seokjin hasn’t even checked up on him once. He’s not that much older than Jungkook, just two years older, yet Seokjin thinks Taehyung doesn’t need any concern? He’s not asking for Seokjin to coddle him as he does with Jungkook. 

They’re closest to each other. Seokjin should care for him most.

Taehyung nearly misses his verse as he tries his best to quell his resentment. No, it’s not a competition. It really shouldn’t matter. If Taehyung needs help, he can go get it himself. 

He’s 23 years old. He’s not a child that needs Seokjin’s care and attention just because he’s got a headache.

With some determination, Taehyung trashes the pungent thoughts slipping out from his darker subconsciousness. They finish up practice right before dinnertime, talking about where to go for dinner. Jimin suggests getting takeaway and going back to accompany their youngest. Seokjin immediately agrees.

Taehyung’s headache has subsided, but his chest continues to stir uncomfortably. As they walk to the van, Taehyung quickens his pace to walk with Seokjin.

“Oh, it’s you,” Seokjin remarks. “You did well.”

Really, there’s no more pain in Taehyung’s head. Still, Taehyung rubs his head with a deliberate groan, justifying internally that there’s still remnants of numbness.

“Right, Taehyung, you said your head hurts?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung scrunches up his face further.

Seokjin strokes the back of his head. “You’ll get better after some rest. Sleep it off in the car.”

“Oh, Jungkook’s already eaten. He messaged in the group chat,” Namjoon remarks.

“Oh? What did he eat?” Seokjin returns, checking his phone immediately.

“Rice and ginseng chicken stew.”

Seokjin types in the chat, asking if Jungkook ate a lot. Jungkook replies that he didn’t as the soup made his throat sorer.

“Hm… I’ll get something else for him on the way back. What restaurants around our area sell soup that isn’t so oily?” Seokjin questions Taehyung. “I don’t think that Sun Soup restaurant is open today. Tuesday, right?”

Taehyung thins his lips in irritation, acidity oozing up his chest. To Jungkook, Seokjin frets as if a mother hen, wanting to even settle dinner for him—while Taehyung gets a  sleep it off  and even gets asked what Seokjin should buy for Jungkook.

Seokjin doesn’t give a shit about him at all. Yeah, well, a headache isn’t  as  sickly, but he could show more concern. Is Jungkook an infant to warrant such a stark difference in treatment? Seokjin must be absolutely in love with Jungkook.

“You’re so concerned for him, huh, hyung? It’s only the flu,” Taehyung snidely says.

Seokjin frowns. He seems to catch Taehyung’s hostile tone but misinterprets it as dismissiveness. 

“I’m worried because he’s really excited for this festival.”

“I’m excited too,” Taehyung bites back, not even understanding what in the world’s spilling from his mouth.

It’s just not fair.

He’s not that much older than Jungkook.

Right from the start, why did Seokjin take care of Jungkook so well, but he never gave Taehyung the same treatment? He’s not saying that Seokjin never took care of him, but he never doted on him as much. It was always Jungkook that came first.

Years later, it’s still the same thing. Why does Seokjin love Jungkook so much? Is Taehyung not as worth the concern and affection?

Why? What’s so different about him and Jungkook?

Befuddled, Seokjin returns, “What? Taehyung, I’m saying that Jungkook’s going to take it to heart if he doesn’t recover quickly.”

“I know that. I’m worried too,” Taehyung bites, gall suddenly escalating in him. Taehyung lags behind so he won’t have to walk with Seokjin, only doubling Seokjin’s confusion.

Hoseok sends him a brow raise. Taehyung finds Jimin and holds his wrist in hopes it’ll bring his mind back.

Jimin nudges him close. “Why, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Taehyung mutters because he can’t explain it.

They get into the van, Taehyung and Jimin sitting in the back. Seokjin turns back to look at him, eyes asking an explanation. Taehyung refuses to look at him and swallows back the words he can’t make out on his tongue. He rests his head on the car window and Jimin puts his hand over his throughout the car ride.

They get takeaway from a nearby restaurant. When they’re reaching their dorms, Seokjin suddenly alights from the van. Nobody knows where he’s going when Taehyung asks.

Hoseok shushes the members when they enter the dorm. They step into Jungkook’s room to find him fast asleep. He looks much better and while his forehead is still warm, it’s much less so than before.

When most of the members head back to the room, Taehyung squats by Jungkook’s side, brushing his cheek. His rancour finally settles into a pang of potent guilt, allowing his underlying worry to show. Jungkook is the most pure-hearted and always works so hard till he burns himself out—of course, he deserves the most concern. How could he have such vile thoughts to put down Seokjin’s concern for Jungkook?

Taehyung himself pampers Jungkook often. It’s just… 

Does it make sense that he’s getting mad over this?

He wouldn’t have batted an eye if it were anyone else who was doting on Jungkook. 

Discomfort gurgles within Taehyung. He rises, bumping into Namjoon by accident, and quickly sidesteps him.

Taehyung doesn’t let himself think further. He goes into his room and sits, staring up at the star stickers. He gets off again to turn off the lights, once again looking at the ceiling.

This is what Seokjin gave to him. On that cold, late night, Seokjin tore himself from the bed to comb the town for an hour to find these stickers.

No one else has this. Taehyung is special. More so than everyone else.

The reminder eases the knots in Taehyung’s stomach, but on the contrary, makes him more uncomfortable.

It’s an hour later that Taehyung gets out of bed, smelling something savoury. He exits his room just as Hoseok passes by, back into his room.

“It’ll taste great, hyung. Give me some if there are leftovers,” he calls out jovially. 

Seokjin is in the kitchen, cooking. Taehyung walks up to his side, staring at the brewing stew.

“You want some, Taehyung?” Seokjin says as he chops up some spring onions.

The ire creeps up Taehyung’s skin and brings goosebumps. He knows, but he still can’t help but ask, like in denial. 

“Why are you making this?”

“For Jungkook.” 

The resentment erupts with a splatter, staining all of Taehyung’s insides despite how he just reminded himself he dotes on Jungkook too. Seokjin went out to buy groceries to cook for Jungkook. 

Taehyung feels the bitterness wrap around his throat. “That’s for Jungkook?”

“Yeah. There’s enough for all of you, though.”

Taehyung strains a laugh in incredulity. “Hyung, Jungkook’s just down with the flu. You don’t even cook anymore for us, yet you specially do so for him?” His voice jumps a pitch, agitated.

“He said he didn’t drink much of the soup because it made his sore throat worse. I’m just making it for him since it’s hard to find lighter foods outside,” Seokjin returns, furrowing his brows at Taehyung’s tone. He doesn’t turn to Taehyung, however, focused on cutting the spring onions.

Taehyung grits his teeth. “Hyung. You don’t care about me?”

Seokjin looks at him. “What?”

“I’m asking you. Why don’t you care about me?” Taehyung rebounds, hurt soaking his voice.

Seokjin’s expression morphs into bewilderment. “What are you talking about?”

“You should take care of me too! I’m the second youngest! Yet all you care about is Jungkook?” Taehyung snaps. “You don’t care about me at all. You like him more, don’t you? That’s why you’re treating me so poorly.”

Seokjin’s jaw slackens in utter disbelief. “What- I like Jungkook more? I’m treating you poorly? Kim Taehyung, what’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing’s gotten into me,” Taehyung intones sharply. “I’m just stating the truth.”

“Kim Taehyung, you seriously think that I don’t care about you?” He puts down the ladle, irritation washing over him.

“Yes,” Taehyung hits back.

Seokjin narrows his eyes. His voice lowers dangerously. “Hey, seriously, what’s wrong with you today? I’m just making soup for our youngest member. You were talking nonsense too when we were walking back to the van and you didn’t want to sit with me. Do you think I’m some kind of toy that you can vent your anger on whenever you like, just because you’re in a bad mood?”

 

Seokjin’s words sting by the mere fact that he’s rebuking Taehyung. 

“Vent?” Taehyung seethes. “You think I’m venting because I’m in a bad mood?”

“What else is this? You’re getting mad at me for no reason. I just asked if you wanted some soup and you started saying I don’t care about you.”

“I said I was sick!” Taehyung shouts, guttural voice making Seokjin flinch. “I told you I had a headache during practice! You didn’t care. You didn’t ask me once how I was and only remembered later. All you cared about was whether Jungkook was okay.”

Taehyung clenches his fist. “You’re going out of your way to take care of Jungkook, and you tell me to sleep it off. How can I not think you don’t care about me?”

“What’s going on? Are you two fighting?” Yoongi voices out from outside, making his way over.

Seokjin blinks back, anger dissolving into astonishment. 

“Taehyung, I… I didn’t know you’d be upset by that. You seemed fine so I didn’t worry much.”

“I told you I had a headache. You just don’t care about me as much as Jungkook,” Taehyung bites.

Disbelief scribbles all over Seokjin’s face. “Taehyung, no, why would you say that?”

“What’s this about Jungkook?” Yoongi remarks as he steps in. 

Namjoon has picked up on the commotion as well, pacing over swiftly. “What’s going on? Why are you two shouting?”

Seokjin darts his gaze over to the two. “It’s nothing. Both of you, wait outside.”

“Isn’t it obvious, Seokjin-hyung?” Taehyung hits back, not caring at all that they have an audience. The bitterness won’t stop eating him inside out, bursting out his mouth in words that grow viler and viler. He’s seeking to hurt—to paint Seokjin into a reflection of his own hurt. 

“That’s why you didn’t care at all when I said I was sick. You don’t think I’m as important as Jungkook. You’ve always liked him more. You’re biased.”

Seokjin gazes back with hurt. “Taehyung. How could you say that?”

Yoongi’s face contorts. “Hey, Taehyung, what are you on about? You’re sick? Why are you saying that Seokjin-hyung doesn’t care about you?”

“Yoongi, I’ll settle this with Taehyung. Don’t get involved.” 

Seokjin steps forward to take Taehyung’s hand and pull him somewhere private. He jerks back when Taehyung snatches his arm from him.

“How can I say that? I can say that because it’s what you really truly think, hyung.”

Seokjin visibly locks his jaw. He stops trying to shroud their quarrel, openly arguing back, “Kim Taehyung, I sleep with you  every night . And you dare tell me I don’t care about you? You think I’m playing favourites?”

“From the beginning, you’ve cared more for Jungkook than you ever did for me. I’m young too!”

“Taehyung, he’s the youngest-”

“I’m the second youngest! I’m just two years older! Why do you keep favouring him?”

Seokjin huffs. “And how have I been favouring him?”

“Guys, calm down,” Namjoon dictates.

Taehyung ignores him, continuing his rapid flood of irateness at Seokjin. He can’t stop. All the frustration from the past few weeks vomit out, along with the odd, restless feelings he’s been grappling with. 

“You hug him, you kiss him, you’re always so close to him. Now, you’re even putting him above me when both of us are sick.

Taehyung’s low voice resounds loud and clear against the walls, eyes flaring in indignation. “It’s not fair! I should be the one you care about most!”

Seokjin stares back with large eyes, caught off guard.

Forget it,” Taehyung grits, the anger consuming him wholeheartedly. “If you want to dote on Jungkook, go ahead.”

Taehyung brushes past Namjoon roughly and storms to his room, slamming the door shut. He spends a whole few minutes simply standing there, listening to the murmurs outside. He can hear Namjoon, Yoongi and Seokjin talking.

There’s no reason left in him, just a furious gall chewing him up and spitting him out mercilessly.

It’s not fair.

Taehyung always puts Seokjin first.

Seokjin—

Seokjin should love him the most. 

Taehyung glances up at the glimmer star stickers. He crawls under the blanket to hide from their watchful eyes, but their glow still teeters on the blanket’s surface.

Seokjin is biased. He doesn’t care about Taehyung at all.

The petty, hateful thoughts continue like a broken recorder. Slowly, the anger abates, the fog over his mind lifting. Clarity comes bit by bit as he finally allows the red to wash off and let him see things as they are.

The anger deteriorates into a more potent emotion. Taehyung curls up into a ball under his blanket.

God, what’s gotten into him? Seokjin is right. He’s acting ridiculously. It makes no sense for Taehyung to be throwing a tantrum that Seokjin cooked soup for Jungkook who’s down with the flu, instead of him, who just had a headache.

He’s not a child that is dependent on Seokjin. He can easily take care of himself. Taehyung is acting as if they have some exclusive relationship that makes Seokjin obliged to care first and foremost for him. 

They’re all friends. It’s okay if Seokjin dotes on Jungkook more.

Yet, Taehyung feels the sourness chew up his heart over such a trivial matter. He feels the nervousness crunching within him—but this time, it’s over his petulance that even he can’t understand.

He’s scared.

He’s not acting like himself. He hasn’t been for the past month, has he? 

It’s not the first time Taehyung has felt this way. When Seokjin smiles so warmly at Namjoon, when Hoseok holds Seokjin too close, when Jimin embraces Seokjin without a second thought—all of it pricks into Taehyung with a scalding, bitter itch, one he can’t seem to scratch. He never asks why there’s that rash brewing out of nowhere, simply looks for the cure that his body desires.

Turn Seokjin’s eyes to him. Take their hands off Seokjin. Push them away from Seokjin.

Seokjin is his. His bones and heart demand for it like a man on the brink of death.

All of them are right. 

He’s acting strange.

The realisation dawns alike to when he understood that his melancholy wasn’t temporary—how the fans’ blinding smiles and screams weighed down on his ribs and made him fear he wouldn’t be good enough, how he found it difficult to smile as much as before, how the bright lights at his photoshoots made him wish there would be a blackout. Seokjin helped him out from that darkness.

But this anxiousness is different. This one is incomprehensible and makes him genuinely stricken with fear.

A knock has Taehyung shrinking more into his cocoon. The door creaks open and shuts. Taehyung doesn’t have to lift his head to know it’s Seokjin.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin starts. He speaks softly and gently but tinted with some unsureness. 

Taehyung doesn’t reply. He’s ashamed, but he can’t seem to stop the way he’s feeling and acting. It comes like second nature. 

“Taehyung.” Seokjin sits on the edge of the bed. 

He pacifies, “I’m sorry, hm? I didn’t mean to ignore you. When you said your head hurt, you were whining. So, I thought it wasn’t anything serious.”

“Jungkook—you know he’s the type to get really upset when he misses any performances. But this one is something he’s looking forward to particularly. I was worried since he kept apologising for it.”

Seokjin hums, trying for a response. “I’m sorry. Is your head better?”

Taehyung continues lying still in his little fabric sanctuary. The skittishness is making it hard for him to breathe.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin exhales. Carefully, he peels the blanket off Taehyung, revealing Taehyung’s miserable face.

“Are you so upset?” Seokjin flutters his lashes. He’s worried, but it seems it isn’t because he hurt Taehyung’s feelings beyond repair.

“Hyung,” Taehyung murmurs. He feels like a child, mangled by confusion of the big, reeling world.

“I’m sorry, Taehyung. Is… is what I did so hurtful?”

“It’s not that.” Taehyung crawls up slightly, pulling Seokjin’s sleeve. “Hold me, hyung.”

Despite his questioning look, Seokjin does as told, pressing Taehyung into his chest. Taehyung twines his hands tight around Seokjin’s waist and rubs his face into Seokjin’s warm skin. The headache returns with a blunt fierceness, insistently stepping into the side of Taehyung’s head.

Seokjin’s no longer a source of comfort.

“I was wrong, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, squeezing tighter. “I don’t know why I acted like that. I was being petty. There’s no reason for me to be mad that you’re taking care of Jungkook. I’m sorry.”

Seokjin gazes down at the boy in his arms. He tenderly strokes Taehyung’s head.

“Are you feeling better now?” Seokjin asks. “Does your head still hurt?”

Taehyung buries his head harder into Seokjin’s chest, making Seokjin grunt. He’s desperate to go close and cocoon himself inside Seokjin.

The bewilderment grapples with him. He feels like puking.

“Hyung, I’m scared,” Taehyung whispers. “Hug me tighter.”

“You’re scared? Why?” Seokjin immediately asks. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know why I acted like that, hyung. I didn’t mean to,” Taehyung croaks, distressed. “I was just so upset when I saw you doting on Jungkook. My headache stopped just now, but I still kept waiting for you to ask me if I was alright.”

Taehyung brushes his nose against Seokjin’s ribs. He’s crumpled against Seokjin, akin to a leech.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to feel bad for it,” Seokjin soothes.

“Hyung, I feel sick,” Taehyung bleats, tone pleading for a solution. 

“Your headache’s back?”

“No, I feel nauseous. I really do. I don’t know why—lately, I just… I just keep feeling so anxious.”

Seokjin touches Taehyung’s back. “Taehyung,” he whispers, dismal with worry but unable to say anything in return.

He leans down to press his cheek against the top of Taehyung’s head.

“Things have been stressful lately with the festival coming up,” Seokjin eventually lulls. “It’s just nerves. If you get more rest, you’ll feel better, okay?” 

“You were stressed so you started acting that way. It’s okay. It’s just a one-time thing,” he assures.

Taehyung knows it’s not stress, but he doesn’t say anything, nodding and putting all his trust into Seokjin. After all, Seokjin is the reason that Taehyung can now smile with ease and be okay with the fact that good things must come to an end. Seokjin will solve this too.

“Try and sleep, alright? It’s okay that you got angry. You were feeling tense and things got on your nerves easier.”

Yeah, Seokjin will solve this without a doubt.

They sit in silence as Seokjin continues to stroke Taehyung’s back, playing mother to a child who left his family at the age of 16. Taehyung’s heart continues pounding with every touch. He needs to go so close Seokjin won’t be able to breathe anything but Taehyung.

This is what Taehyung wants. To be in a world with just him and Seokjin, where nobody else can disturb them. 

This desire is frightening.

Taehyung counts sheep to the sound of Seokjin’s pretty heartbeat and sweet, allaying caresses. The exhaustion slowly catches up to Taehyung and he falls asleep to Seokjin’s lovely scent. 

He drowns in a dream of no sight and just touches. Once again, he’s above someone, skin to skin, sweat mixing disgustingly in the piercing heat. It’s nauseating, but somehow so euphorically intoxicating. Taehyung doesn’t try to pull away this time.

He slides his hand down, feeling with a frenzied want while breathing in the heavy, exhilarating stench. He presses, squeezes, fondles. The person beneath him writhes and moans, trembles only driving Taehyung more insane. 

Taehyung knows who the voice belongs to. Taehyung knows who the smell belongs to.

Taehyung, Taehyung, Taehyung…

Oh, how right is every one that Taehyung is acting so, so strange. Their bodies and heat gradually break away into empty darkness. There’s a dull knock, asking to enter. Taehyung can’t find the door to let them in.

Then, a creaking noise. A thin light slices through the middle of Taehyung’s skull and he discerns some murmurs. 

The voices are familiar. Taehyung blearily pries open his eyes to a dizzying, spinning world. He sets his eyes on three figures standing at the doorway.

Seokjin’s back is facing him. The other two—Namjoon and Yoongi—are saying something to him, expressions serious and wrought with misgivings.

Taehyung struggles to keep his eyes open. As he falls back into a dark sleep, he sees Seokjin step out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Taehyung wakes up with a start, his dream of darkness dismantling into fragments. He picks up the scraps of emotions they leave behind — all he can discern is fear. He remembers seeing someone’s broad back and telling them not to go, but soon, even that memory bit dissolves till there’s nothing left for Taehyung to remember.

It’s a strange experience, like something happened but you can’t quite put your finger on it, leaving you to grapple with the raw feelings.

Taehyung’s hand instinctively reaches out to the left. He touches just the sheets and whips his head over.

Seokjin’s not in the room. The mattress is cold.

His anxiety begins. Taehyung slips off the bed and strides briskly out of the room, while last night’s events slowly replace the space of his forgotten dream. He threw a tantrum and fought with Seokjin, bitter that Seokjin was seemingly neglecting him for Jungkook. 

Seokjin must be angry with him.

Hoseok is lying in the living room, bed hair standing on its ends. Taehyung darts into the kitchen to check and finds no one.

“Hobi-hyung,” Taehyung blurts. “Where’s Jin-hyung?”

Hoseok looks up with a slight frown, still groggy from sleep. “I don’t know. Namjoon and Yoongi-hyung went out, I think.”

Taehyung swallows thickly. He heads straight for Seokjin’s room to find it made. As he turns, he bumps into Jimin.

“Are you looking for Jin-hyung? He’s in the bathroom,” Jimin yawns.

“Bathroom?”

Taehyung scuttles over and tries the door to find it locked. He can hear the sound of water pattering against the ground, drizzling down into the drain. 

“Seokjin-hyung!” Taehyung yells.

Seokjin’s confused reply comes, “What? Did someone call me?”

The relieved sigh Taehyung lets out is ridiculous, expelling his illogical thoughts and bringing back some sanity. He isn’t sure what he was thinking when he combed the house for Seokjin, nervousness driving his hastiness. 

He was worried Seokjin would abandon him—but how would that make any sense? Seokjin can’t walk out on the entire group, his career, and run away from the dorms, all because he was pissed that Taehyung threw a fit at him. Even if Seokjin wasn’t home, he probably just went out to do something.

It’s stupid, yet Taehyung still melts into a soothed smile.

“It’s nothing!” He shouts from the other side of the door. “Good morning, hyung.”

Seokjin makes a noise of acknowledgement.

“Did you have a good sleep?” Taehyung continues.

“What?”

“I asked,” Taehyung raises his voice, “did you have a good sleep?”

After a pause, the noise of drumming water ceases. Taehyung leans closer to hear when Seokjin creaks open the door.

His hair is matted to his head, water streaking down his face. 

“Hey, what’s your problem?” Seokjin breathes. “Why are you having a conversation with me while I’m showering? What do you want?”

Taehyung laughs. His chest fully decompress at the sight of Seokjin.

“I didn’t want anything. I was just looking for you, hyung,” he says. “I thought you left. I woke up and couldn’t find you.”

“I left?” Seokjin repeats. His expression softens, tinted with some sadness. “Taehyung, where could I have gone?”

“I thought you were angry with me,” Taehyung admits. “And you left because of that.”

“...Sometimes, I really don’t understand you,” Seokjin murmurs.

Taehyung’s gaze follows a stray water droplet down Seokjin’s forehead. It streaks down the side of his face, down his neck, and collects momentarily on his collarbones. His shoulders are so wide. 

Taehyung’s throat tightens as the water droplet falls. The rest of Seokjin is obscured by the door. Though, it’s not as if he hasn’t seen the rest of him when they were younger and living in a much more cramped space. They didn’t have the luxury of privacy when hurrying to a schedule at 4 AM, throwing on their clothes while quarrelling over the bathroom.

“Taehyung.”

His gaze is forced up at the mention of his name, Seokjin staring at him with an unreadable look.

Impulsively, Taehyung reaches out and touches Seokjin’s bare neck. The sound Seokjin makes is incomprehensible and has Taehyung stunned.

“What are you doing?” Seokjin throws Taehyung’s hand off his bare skin. He glances out into the hallway, voice dwindling. “Have Yoongi and Namjoon come home yet?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see them.”

Seokjin nods slowly. “Okay. I left some soup for you in the fridge.”

Taehyung dissolves into a lovely, lovely grin. “I’ll drink it well, hyung.”

Seokjin shuts the door without another word. The muffled sound of water falling resounds once more. Taehyung looks at his wet hand while his mind tries to file the noise Seokjin made.

It was high-pitched and soft.

Taehyung gulps. He uses his wet hand to massage his neck and looks to Jungkook’s room.

Quietly, he enters, heart dipping upon seeing Jungkook curled up in the sheets. He’s using his phone, lifting his gaze when the light slits in from the outside. 

“Are you feeling better?” Taehyung asks.

Jungkook looks up with weary eyes, his innocence still shining through.

“Yeah, I am, hyung. My throat’s no longer painful.”

“We knew you’d recover fast,” Taehyung remarks. He kneels by Jungkook’s side and brushes back Jungkook’s hair.

He wonders if Jungkook knows about what happened last night. Maybe Seokjin told him, or Namjoon did, or Yoongi did. Perhaps he heard without needing anyone to inform him. Taehyung doesn’t want to think about it.

“What do you want to eat? Hyung will buy it for you.”

“It’s okay.” Jungkook nudges Taehyung’s hand off. “Hyung, you shouldn’t come so near me, in case I pass it to you.”

“It’s fine.”

Jungkook pops another lozenge in his mouth and shuts his eyes.

“Are you sure you can sleep like that? Won’t you choke?”

“No, I won’t. I did it last night. It gets stuck at the back of your tongue.”

“Well, you still shouldn’t do it.” Taehyung pauses. “Jungkook, let me know if you want anything. I’ll get it for you.”

“Thanks, hyung.”

Taehyung bites his lip. He leans closer, putting his chin on Jungkook’s arm. “You know hyung loves you, right?”

Jungkook flutters open his eyes, brows creasing. “Hyung, it’s just the flu… Don’t act like I’m dying.”

The words are familiar. Taehyung spouted them with heavy malice last night. 

“It’s not just that you have the flu,” Taehyung murmurs, parroting Seokjin’s sentiments. “Don’t beat yourself up for falling sick.”

Jungkook melts into a small smile. “I won’t. I’ll work extra hard to make up for it.”

Taehyung chuckles, unsure if that’s a good or bad thing. He gets up and shuts the door carefully behind him.

His head is lighter now, maybe due to a greater awareness surrounding his mind. He’s no more clouded by a fit of jealousy he couldn’t, didn’t know how to acknowledge properly. He knows now without a doubt he was in the wrong. It’s disturbing how his fury seemed so justified then, to the point Taehyung almost feels last night was a different person entirely in his body.

The disconcerting questions slither out, wanting to find out why he threw such a petty, childish fit at their oldest member for doting on their youngest. Why the jealousy wrapped around his head so badly that he felt so, so angry.

The most potent one, perhaps, is why he is still a little bitter as he rewinds through last night. 

It’s uncomfortable. It makes Taehyung nervous. So, he doesn’t think about it. He goes to the kitchen and retrieves the pot of soup Seokjin left for him, heating it on the stove.

The scent wafts through the air, drawing Jimin into the kitchen.

“Oh, is this hyung’s chicken soup?”

“Yeah.”

“Smells so good. Give me some.”

“No, Jin-hyung saved it for me,” Taehyung automatically says as he stirs the pot.

“Taehyung, you’re pulling my leg, right?”

Taehyung looks over. Jimin’s speaking in a lighthearted tone, but there’s a slice of unsureness behind his question. It reminds him of how Namjoon and Yoongi looked at him yesterday.

“Of course I’m kidding.” He takes out two bowls as Jimin slumps over Taehyung with a gentle smile.

They eat at the table, discussing their flight tomorrow. Taehyung checks the weather. It’s not cold, though it might rain on the day of their performance. He should buy some hand warmers for Seokjin before they go, so he can use them on his ears. They’re sensitive and go red easily in chilly weather. 

“Do you think they’ll like us?” Taehyung asks.

“I don’t know,” Jimin says honestly. “You know how some people overseas see us.”

Taehyung nods.

“Well, it’s okay if they don’t like us,” Jimin continues. “As long as our fans do.”

“Our fans are our fans because they like us?” Taehyung snorts.

Jimin laughs cheekily.

It’s a conversation they tend to have when they go overseas. Recently, they’ve been branching out more into unfamiliar territory, so the talks are more frequent. Taehyung often worried over his flaws and whether he looked right for the market. “Too feminine” is the dismissive label they’re always slapped with, written off as an exotic fad that the other, similarly exotic side of the world is obsessed with. To avoid that stigma, BTS is sent over with cleaner looks to hopefully seize a chance to be recognised as musicians in their own right.

It’s sad, a company stylist once mentioned, but for them to create change and be the first dent, they have to play by the rules at the start. 

Yeah, he would be more fretful in the past, determined to give a good impression and prove his worth of carrying the nation’s name. It’s not to say Taehyung is no longer resolute in performing well. Just that he’s not as distressed about it, and focused more on the fact that Seokjin’s soup tastes great.

It reminds him of home. Seokjin hasn’t cooked in a long time but still does it well.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live with someone like Seokjin? Coming home to a warm, lovingly-cooked dinner spread, in a time where they’ve settled down and age has caught up with them.

Taehyung pauses in his spoonfuls. The anxiousness creeps up on him and Taehyung remembers the fear from his dream.

“Mm, Seokjin-hyung cooks well,” Jimin remarks, mirroring Taehyung’s thoughts. “It’s great. I want to learn to cook like him.”

“Don’t you think we’re lucky to have grown up with Seokjin?” He continues. “He didn’t cook all the time but it felt so homely when it did. He made me miss my parents sometimes with his cooking.”

“Yeah.”

That’s what makes Seokjin charming. He’s the loving, big brother you miss from home, even if you’ve never had one.

Hoseok saunters over to the dining table. He plops himself down directly in front of Taehyung.

“Hey,” he starts, seriousness to his usual lighthearted expression. “What happened last night? I heard you and Seokjin shouting. At first, I thought it was you two playing games on the computer.”

Taehyung blinks back.

“Oh yeah, I was going to ask about that,” Jimin remarks casually. 

“It’s not a big deal. We fought over something small,” Taehyung brushes off. He tries to maintain eye contact with Hoseok but fails to.

Hoseok furrows his brows. “Doesn’t seem like it. Namjoon and Yoongi-hyung were talking to Seokjin in his room. They even shut the door.”

“Wait, what? What did they talk about?” Taehyung returns in surprise. 

His dream comes back bit by bit—or was it a memory? He remembers seeing Yoongi and Namjoon in the doorway of his room.

“I don’t know. I told you, they closed the door. So, I went back into my room.”

Hoseok crosses his arms over the table.

“Taehyung, let’s not fight when a performance this important is coming up, okay?” He persuades. “No matter how well we pretend, it’s obvious when there’s tension between us. It’ll show in our performances.”

“I know. I said it was something small. Hyung and I made up already. That’s why he saved me some soup,” Taehyung murmurs. 

He shrinks under Hoseok’s steady gaze. It truly is the most incredulous thing in the world to have fought for Seokjin’s attention like a toddler. The thought of Hoseok knowing what he argued with Seokjin about makes Taehyung’s insides crumple.

He can imagine the disdain and disappointment on Hoseok’s face. It makes him ashamed. But what’s frightening is that he can imagine, too, bewilderment and concern in Hoseok’s expression. 

If Hoseok knew, he’d think Taehyung was weird.

“Yeah, it’s probably nothing big, hyung,” Jimin fills in. He offers Hoseok one spoonful. “It’s amazing how good Seokjin-hyung’s food tastes. It makes me miss home-cooked food.”

“Huh. Doesn’t Namjoon try to cook a lot more recently? You can ask him to make a portion for you,” Hoseok jests, laughing shrilly. 

“What’s that? You want him to cook for you? I’ll let him know.” Jimin teasingly whips out his phone. “Oh yeah, they’re at the company, right?”

Taehyung feels a chill run up his spine. It’s just a small fight and he’s overreacting—there’s no way that Namjoon and Yoongi would tell management about this. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

What if they think Taehyung’s a lost cause, though? They think he’s strange, after all.

Yoongi’s words seethe into the edge of Taehyung’s skin, branding him consciously. Taehyung wonders how much the rest agree with him.

“Yeah. Namjoon’s trying to finish the title track before we go. He’s rushing it out with Yoongi now. You should have seen how stressed they were… Dragging themselves out at 4 AM.”

“Poor them. They’ve got so much work to do. They should take care of themselves, what if they fall sick like Jungkook?”

“Yeah. Oh man, don’t say that.”

 Jimin pats Taehyung’s bag. “This guy’s good at coming up with melodies. He should produce more.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a good ear for it, Taehyung. Winter Bear is amazing. It makes me think of right when winter’s about to end,” Hoseok generously gushes.

“Yeah, it’s got a bit of Spring to it,” Jimin adds.

“Thanks. I’ve been writing a lot of lyrics lately…” Taehyung gestures to Jimin. “He has this really good idea. How did it go again?”

Taehyung hums the tune. Jimin buries his face in his hands, leaning embarrassedly against Taehyung.”

“Stop! I didn’t say you could remember it.”

“Oh, it sounds cheery! That’s good, Jimin. I’ll wait for it.”

“Hey, hey, I didn’t say I was going to make it a full song? That’s just the chorus. I can’t think of the rest.”

“You will, you will. Anyway, my new shoes came just this morning,” Hoseok chirps. “Let me show you.”

He strides to his room and pulls out a pair of neon green sneakers, extravagantly making some sound effects. “Pretty, right?”

“It is. But what are you going to match it with?” Jimin asks.

“Neon green socks. The same colour.”

“That’s too much neon.”

“No, no, it looks good. Your clothes have to be plainer, of course. Otherwise, it’s too much on the eyes.”

The bathroom door clicks open. Seokjin steps out with his head dripping, carelessly drying his hair. He’s wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

Taehyung immediately stands.

“Oh, that’s what came in the morning?” Seokjin questions upon seeing Hoseok’s shoes.

“Yeah. Looks great, right?”

“It’s blinding me, Hobi,” Seokjin purposely makes a face. Hoseok grabs the paper ball in his shoe and tosses it at Seokjin’s nose.

Taehyung hastily finishes up his soup and follows after Seokjin. As Jimin’s and Hoseok’s voices dwindle, Seokjin turns around with a frown.

“Why are you following me?” He glances behind Taehyung. “Is it just them and us at home?”

“There’s Jungkook too. Hoseok-hyung says they’re rushing out our next album.”

“Right.”

Seokjin enters his room and Taehyung quickly holds the door open, letting himself in. 

“Shut the door behind you.”

Taehyung does as told. As Seokjin looks through his cupboard, Taehyung curls up on Seokjin’s bed, watching him. The sheets smell of Seokjin still, even though he barely sleeps in his room anymore.

Perhaps Taehyung’s scent has rubbed off on Seokjin. Or Taehyung smells similar to Seokjin now.

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts.

Seokjin pulls out a pair of shorts. “What?”

“I was scared. I really thought you were angry with me.”

“Taehyung,” Seokjin sighs, not looking at Taehyung as he ransacks his cupboard. “I told you. Where could I have gone?”

“Somewhere away from me,” Taehyung breathes.

Seokjin seems to pause, but he swiftly continues picking out his clothes.

“Hyung, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you yesterday. I shouldn’t have gotten angry at you. I was being petty.”

“I said it’s okay, didn’t I?” Seokjin returns, his voice soft despite his words being more curt than usual. “It’s good that you know you were being unreasonable.”

Finally, he turns his gaze to Taehyung.

“Just don’t do it again,” he warns in a whisper. “Or I’ll seriously get angry with you.”

“I promise,” Taehyung earnestly says. “I’ll never be petty again.”

“Mm, okay.”

Taehyung edges closer to Seokjin. “Hyung… I don’t know why I acted that way.”

His words sound oddly vulnerable on his own ears, though he didn’t intend for it to come out that way.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. You’ve already said you’re sorry,” Seokjin says.

“Yeah,” Taehyung mumbles. Hesitance follows his words. “You said I was stressed.”

“Mm. Taehyung, which shirt should I wear for practice later?” Seokjin tosses a pink hoodie onto his bed and dangles a yellow one from his hand. “This one? Or should I save it for when we’re rehearsing in America?”

Taehyung picks up the pink hoodie by his side. “Wear this one for practice later, hyung.”

“Okay.” He picks out a garish pink pair of sweats as well, making Taehyung laugh.

“You’re lazy, hyung. You just wear one colour and don’t even try to style it up.”

“They come in a set,” Seokjin indignantly returns. “Are you disrespecting the creator’s fashion style?”

He throws the sweats onto the bed and settles down by Taehyung’s side, drying his hair. Taehyung crawls over and takes the towel.

“What are you-”

“I’ll do it for you, hyung.”

“It’s fine,” Seokjin heaves. His mood seems somewhat low today, making him snappier than usual. “I’m going to blow dry my hair.”

“Hyung.” Taehyung’s heart sinks. “Are you still angry at me?”

“What?” Seokjin furrows his brows. “I already told you I’m not. Taehyung-”

He lets out another long sigh. “Fine, fine. Dry my hair if you want to.”

“Okay.”

Taehyung runs his hands over Seokjin’s damp hair, towelling it dry gently. Seokjin is slouching. In the wall mirror opposite them, he can see Seokjin’s lowered stare and his vacant expression.

“Hyung, I’m sad that I fought with you.”

Seokjin raises his head, meeting Taehyung’s eyes in the mirror.

“It’s okay. We’ve fought plenty of times, anyway.”

“I know. But it still makes me sad.”

Seokjin breaks their eye contact.

“You said you were feeling nauseous, anxious yesterday,” he says faintly. “Are you feeling better today?”

Taehyung licks his lips. “A little.”

“Mm. After this festival’s over, you’ll feel a lot better. Trust me.”

Taehyung doesn’t think so, and he knows it now with a conviction he’s not sure (not sure?) comes from where.

“Okay,” he says anyway. He has faith in what Seokjin believes, more so than himself.

“Hyung, Hoseok-hyung said Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung talked to you last night. In your room.”

“Oh, yeah. It was after you slept.”

“What did you guys talk about?”

“Nothing much. They were just asking about why we were fighting.”

Taehyung relaxes. The visions of Yoongi’s and Namjoon’s disconcerted faces dissolve away.

“Is that all?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin replies nonchalantly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Why?” Seokjin’s brows creases.

Taehyung nods gingerly. “What did you say to them?”

“I said you weren’t feeling well and lost your temper. Namjoon just told us not to fight when something so big is coming up,” Seokjin says casually. “Don’t worry so much.”

He wrings his hands. After a long pause, he remarks, “I feel bad. Jungkook’s sick and he has to deal with me too.”

“You? Hyung, it was my fault,” Taehyung stresses.

They dwell in a quietness layered with reticence. Seokjin stares for a long while at his reflection, eyes cloudy. His hair is sufficiently dry now, but Taehyung continues tussling his hair. Seokjin must know he’s taking too long. 

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung jerks. “Yeah?”

Seokjin’s back slumps but his stare never cracks, maintaining strict eye contact with his reflection.

“Am I strange?” He breathes.

“What?”

“I asked,” Seokjin falters, “do I seem strange?”

“You mean, how you look?” Taehyung nudges Seokjin’s head backwards with a hand to his throat. Seokjin’s innocent eyes meet his, stained with surprise.

“Of course not. Why would you look strange? You look good, hyung. You’ll get styled later.”

Seokjin chuckles. “When will I ever look strange? I look good no matter what.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. Seokjin pries Taehyung’s hand off his neck.

“Are you trying to suffocate me?”

Taehyung playfully places his hands beside Seokjin’s neck, gritting his teeth threateningly. Seokjin flings himself back and knocks Taehyung into the bed.

 

 

They spend most of the morning and early afternoon packing before heading to the concert hall. They rehearse one last time—both the original choreography and the revised one, since the doctor said Jungkook’s more than likely to fully recover by tomorrow.

They urgently file into the van for the airport as the manager hurries the staff, noting if they’ve got everything for their flight. Taehyung tries to quicken his pace when he realises Seokjin’s stepping into the vehicle with Jimin next in the line. He’s too slow.

As Taehyung reaches out to tap Jimin’s shoulder, wanting to switch seats, Jimin abruptly halts to tie his shoes.

Taehyung passes Jimin and slides into the van. Seokjin glimpses at him and shifts in closer to the window.

“Jimin?”

“Tying his shoes.” Taehyung shifts in as well.

“Yeah, sorry!” Jimin hops in as their manager turns around with an antsy grimace. 

As Taehyung makes himself comfortable, he accidentally locks eyes with Namjoon, who is cluttered in the back seat with a disgruntled Yoongi. They both look horrifically weary.

Namjoon offers a small smile.

Both Namjoon and Yoongi are knocked out a few minutes into the long, long drive. With their heads arched back and mouth extravagantly wide open, Jimin seizes the chance to take blackmail photos.

By some stroke of luck, Taehyung and Seokjin are assigned seats beside one another both to and fro. On their past few overseas trips, Taehyung had to whine for another member to give up their seat next to Seokjin.

Taehyung excitedly shows their tickets to Seokjin. “Hyung, look. We’re sitting together.”

“You’re sitting next to me?” Seokjin says under his breath. He’s wearing an odd grimace.

“Yeah!” Taehyung persists in his smile, despite his creeping befuddlement. Seokjin’s always pleased when Taehyung manages to sit with him, laughing at his antics in getting the other members to exchange seats.

Suddenly, Yoongi interrupts them. He nudges the tickets out of Taehyung’s hand. 

“Did you switch seats with someone?” He asks, tone chilly. Maybe it’s because he’s so exhausted that his mood has worn thin.

“Huh? No?”

Yoongi nods and hands back the tickets. 

“Yoongi,” Seokjin instantly begins, “want to switch with me? I’ve got the window seat. I think you can see the sun rising on my side.”

Yoongi scowls. “You want to switch seats so you won’t have to deal with the sun’s glare. Don’t make it out to be a perk, hyung.”

“Ah, he’s sharp. He saw through me immediately.”

Hoseok lets out a high-pitched laugh.

They briskly pace ahead to the shutter sounds and glaring flashes, paparazzi and avid fans capturing their every move. No matter their frame of mind—haggled by troubles, burnt out, or heavy-hearted—they still wear a bright smile so the fans don’t worry (and the media doesn’t tear them apart for not being happy 24/7, god, how arrogant and rude). 

They board the plane in the heavy nightfall, dense blue shading the windows. Once they take off, Seokjin puts on a comedy movie, responding minimally to Taehyung’s words. Deciding to leave him be, Taehyung chooses his own movie to watch. 

It’s a French movie from the seventies. The poster looks awfully romantic, that of a much older, widowed woman being pulled into a dance by a dashing young man. The stares they draw are unkind, gossiping about how strange their relationship is. How “crazy” of an august man with a life ahead of him to dedicate it to a once-married woman with a child.

Taehyung watches with bated breath and hopes avidly for their happiness. Halfway through, his left hand unconsciously reaches to hold Seokjin’s right hand.

He’s snapped out of his engrossment when Seokjin shakes him off. Taehyung peers over and Seokjin laughs at his screen, grabbing his cup of water. He takes a sip and continues holding it with his right hand.

“Hyung,” Taehyung breathes. He plucks Seokjin’s earbud out, forcing Seokjin to look at him.

“What do you want? You’re making me miss my movie.” Seokjin takes back his earbud.

Taehyung grabs Seokjin’s cup of water next. “Hold my hand.”

Seokjin furrows his brows. His voice drops. “Are you a child?”

“No…”

“Then? Go watch your movie.”

Seokjin stuffs back his earbud and crosses his arms.

Taehyung’s heart sours. He wants to argue that it’s nothing huge that he’s demanding of Seokjin, but catches himself quickly.

Seokjin’s right. He’s not a child who needs his hand to be held. 

He’s acting strangely again.

Taehyung goes back to watching his movie. The bits and pieces slip by him—the couple’s fight with the male lead’s furious uncle who is determined to bring them down, their great escape and how it’s thwarted by the female lead herself who wishes for her lover’s success in life.

Taehyung can’t focus. Is it so weird that he wants to hold Seokjin’s hand? Doesn’t Jungkook hold Seokjin’s hand all the time- no, no, no. Not this again.

After a short while, Seokjin unfurls his arms from his chest and raps a finger restlessly against the armrest. He glances over a few times into the aisle, seemingly at the other members.

Then, Seokjin turns off his movie. He informs in a hushed tone, “I’m going to sleep.”

“Okay. Do you want my pillow, hyung?” Taehyung cracks out a smile.

“It’s fine. I have RJ.” Seokjin drapes his blanket over himself and cuddles RJ underneath.

“Sleep well, hyung.” Taehyung wants to reach out and stroke his head, but he’s not sure if he’ll be swatted away like before.

Taehyung turns back to his movie. He’s lost in thought still about how Seokjin shook him off when he feels warmth on his hand.

Seokjin tenderly pulls Taehyung’s hand closer and twines their fingers underneath his blanket. Taehyung’s heart leaps so far up his throat that he believes he’ll puke it out onto the floor and leave a bloody stain in the carpet.

“Hyung?”

“Mm?” Seokjin murmurs. His eyes flutter open and reveal his misty irises.

Taehyung’s heart thumps excruciatingly hard, banging and banging against bones and veins. 

“Sleep well.” He smiles.

With that, Seokjin withers into a serene sleep, the wrinkles between his brows easing. Taehyung holds Seokjin’s hand firmly and tries to focus on the movie.

The male lead has chased down the female lead, honouring his promise of never letting her go. They kiss with fervour in the rain and the page turns to them in bed.

Taehyung squeezes Seokjin’s hand intermittently as he watches the leads melt into one another, slipping off clothing after clothing till they’re bare and vulnerable. The man slips his hand up over his lover’s stomach stretch marks. Taehyung traces out the ridges in Seokjin’s knuckles and his swan neck deformities.

The two lovers’ flushed faces are so drenched in love and pleasure. They whisper sweet nothings to one another like they’re obsessive curses that will never be lifted. The man kisses between the woman’s thighs and she arches back with a shaky moan. Then, he pushes himself in.

Taehyung lets out a shallow breath. He presses his thumb into the gap between Seokjin’s index finger and middle finger. 

Touch… caress… press a little harder…

Seokjin fidgets in his sleep. Abruptly, Taehyung shuts off the movie. He sits motionless in the grappling unease for a while, and then shakes out his blanket to sleep.

 

 

They arrive in New York with the sun already down, ushered first to the hotel while their staff bumble around to check if everything’s been prepared by the festival management. The correct backing tracks, the right introductions, and that there’s indeed sufficient space on the stage as specified for the choreography. 

BTS are briefed again on various administrative components. They’re reminded when they will perform, where the venue is, how to get there and back (in case they get lost, god forbid), who will be there, etc. Rehearsals are tomorrow, so they should get a good rest. Namjoon is visibly nervous and excited, practising with the members what responses they’ll say to standard questions and how he’ll translate it. Jimin thanks him for shouldering the responsibility of conveying their thoughts.

They choose a retro-themed steak restaurant for dinner. Though Taehyung hadn’t walked with Seokjin, he’s lucky to take the seat next to him, Jimin changing last-minute upon noticing a cartoon painting on the adjacent wall. 

“Hyung, try some,” Taehyung places a slice of his steak on Seokjin’s plate without asking. 

“I don’t want it.”

“Just try it. It’s kind of hard but it’s nice.”

“Is it?” 

Seokjin prods at the piece. Without taking a single bite, he splits it and puts them into Jimin and Jungkook’s plates, much to Taehyung’s surprise.

“These two got burgers too—you want to try it too, right? Here, eat up.”

Jimin shakes his head with a laugh. “Hyung, it’s not even yours. Stop acting like you’re being so generous!”

“Why are you talking so much? You should be thanking me.”

Taehyung’s surprise morphs into annoyance. He wants to say something, but he catches Yoongi staring at him across the table.

What? 

Taehyung’s chest stirs with nervousness. Is it weird to be angry at what Seokjin did?

“Taehyung, Yoongi didn’t get the steak too. Give some to him,” Seokjin persuades, a little buried underneath the rest of their voices.

Taehyung acquiesces. “Hyung, do you want to try it?”

“Huh? Oh, alright. Have some of my fish in exchange.”

“Wah, our Taehyung is so good to his hyungs,” Seokjin praises warmly.

“Don’t you think that everywhere should serve dishes Korean style?” Namjoon chuckles. “Then everyone can share easily.”

“Yeah.”

Taehyung smiles, feeling how stiff his lips are with uneasiness. He glances to Yoongi and watches for his gaze again.

 

 

Back at the hotel, Taehyung unpacks as minimally as possible. He takes out only what he needs since they won’t be staying for long. After he finishes his facial routine, he looks to the clock—Seokjin’s a lot later than usual. 

Taehyung wanders around in the hallway, trying to recall where Seokjin’s room was. He’s beside Namjoon. Was he on the left or the right? Taehyung’s about to knock on the right door when he recalls Seokjin’s comment of being nearer to the lobby.

“Taehyung?” Seokjin opens the door to Taehyung’s knocking. 

Upon seeing Seokjin, Taehyung sourly recollects what he did at dinner. But he doesn’t bring it up, shelving it in the recesses of his heart.

“Hyung, when are you coming over? We should sleep early.”

Seokjin shushes him. He cranes his neck out into the aisle. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Um, in their rooms?” Taehyung lowers his voice.

Seokjin nods. He seems to falter.

“Are you still sorting out your things, hyung?”

Seokjin rubs the nape of his neck. “No, I’m done. I’ll bring my stuff over.”

“Hyung, why don’t I come over this time?”

“Uh… Okay.”

Seokjin shuts the door carefully after Taehyung saunters in with his things. There’s some tension knitted into Seokjin’s expression.

“What’s wrong, hyung? You look worried,” Taehyung breathes, holding Seokjin’s arm. 

“It’s nothing.” After a delay, Seokjin adds, “Just nervous for the concert. There’ll be lots of other artists there.”

“Mm. Jungkook’s so happy he’ll get to see, what was her name?”

“I’m not sure.”

Taehyung dims the lights. They talk slowly about little and big things. The line-up is impressive, and Jungkook is thrilled to be given a clean bill of health. Seokjin mentions that Namjoon’s going to have a hard time translating for all 6 of them. Taehyung’s sure of the questions they’ll ask in their pre-performance interview—he’s prepared his answers to what American artists they aspire to collaborate with and who is their American celebrity crush .

Taehyung finds Seokjin’s hands under the sheets. Seokjin’s fingers curl in his grasp, and then they squirm out to squeeze Taehyung’s hand.

Taehyung feels nauseously pleased. 

I am so happy to meet our American fans. Thank you for supporting us. I purple you, ” he practises.

Seokjin laughs, more at ease now. “You sound really good! You sound like you’re a native speaker.”

“You’re exaggerating.” Taehyung goes closer, pressing his cheek to Seokjin’s arm. “You sound cute when you speak English, hyung.”

“Wow, I compliment you that you speak English well, and all you can say for me is that I sound cute?”

“I can’t help being better.”

“You brat.”

Taehyung catches Seokjin’s hand before he can land a blow. He places this hand on his chest, leaving Seokjin in an awkward position.

Taehyung turns off the lights. “Hyung, let’s sleep now.”

“Like this?”

“Yeah.”

“You expect me to sleep in such an uncomfortable position?”

Taehyung smiles and nudges Seokjin onto his side, switching their intertwined hands. Their faces are just inches apart and Taehyung welcomingly lets Seokjin’s warmth burn him. He has learnt a little better to live with his heart in his throat, as long as his mind doesn’t wander too far.

“Hyung.”

Seokjin’s eyes are so enthralling. They’re travel-sized star stickers from Taehyung’s room, but they glow so much brighter.

Seokjin doesn’t reply, gaze falling. He brings up a hand to Taehyung’s shoulder, pushing halfheartedly.

“Am I too close?” Taehyung whispers.

Seokjin bats his lashes. 

“...No,” he murmurs. “No, you’re not. I was just surprised.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

“It’s not strange for us to be this close,” Seokjin mentions. His nudging hand squeezes Taehyung’s shoulder instead.

Taehyung nods fervently. He interlocks their hands tighter and traces down Seokjin’s metacarpals.

A sudden, loud knock startles the two swathed in darkness. Seokjin jerks back and rips his hand from Taehyung’s hold, whipping his head to the door.

“Should I get it?” Taehyung rises.

“No, no,” Seokjin breathes hastily. “It’s my room. Stay quiet.”

He dumps the sheets over Taehyung, making the younger man splutter. Seokjin creeps to the door and cracks it open.

“Seokjin,” it’s their manager’s voice, “you haven’t slept?”

“Ah, hyung. What’s wrong?”

“Just a slight change in schedules. You’ll be happy—you can sleep in a bit more.”

Taehyung pops his head out as their manager briefs Seokjin. 

“Taehyung? You two are together? Did you hear what I told Seokjin?” He blurts as Taehyung grins at him and nods. 

“I forgot that you guys always sleep together. Yeah, I told you guys to inform me whenever you guys sleep together, didn’t I?” Their manager chides. “I’d have panicked if I went to your room first and you didn’t answer.”

When their manager leaves, Seokjin shuts the door and loiters in the doorway for a moment. He lets out a small laugh as he returns to the bed.

“What are you laughing for?”

“It’s just funny. I didn’t expect it to be our manager,” Seokjin sighs.

“You probably thought it was Jungkook, right? Since he likes to come over and bother you.”

Seokjin laughs again. “Maybe.”

“Stop laughing to yourself. You’re weird, hyung,” Taehyung remarks teasingly, prodding Seokjin on the forehead.

Seokjin’s smile ebbs, but he musters it back up soon after. 

“Yeah. I am weird.”

Chapter Text

WARNING: This chapter contains sensitive and triggering themes. Spoilers ahead, please roll your cursor over the following link or click on it for a more specific warning: [WARNING]. The author does NOT condone this behaviour nor is the intention to present it as romantic. This warning serves to make it clear to readers that under no circumstances is this behaviour right or justified as within the story itself, due to the limited POV of the character, the behaviour is not as well-addressed as it should be.

 

 

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

The concert goes smoothly, Jungkook’s voice coming back to full strength by the time they carry out their on-stage rehearsal. Surprisingly, a sizeable part of the festival’s turnout is visibly their fans, army bombs and fan boards high in the air. They scream so loudly when BTS steps onto the stage that the emcee comments on it.

Aside from a few technical issues that delay their performance, they carry themselves well. They sing and rap without any hesitation in their native language, despite how some festival-goers stare with confusion and some laughter. Taehyung knows that most of it is just out of intrigue and unfamiliarity, but there are a few who have no qualms in showing their condescension. 

Jungkook sings with all the fervour in his youthful, innocent heart, charmingly overjoyed that he’s recovered in time. He’s bubbling with thrill at their pre-performance interview, reciting his lines and rattling off impromptu answers with an admirable fluency. No matter the questioning stares they get for their seemingly flamboyant outfits, Taehyung’s proud of them for coming this far.

He goes backstage with the adrenaline pounding through his veins and a wide, wide grin. They did well. Without even consciously realising it, Taehyung looks for Seokjin, standing to the side as the other members head for the dressing room.

“Hyung,” Taehyung excitedly calls out when Seokjin emerges and reaches out for his wrist. He wants to tell Seokjin all about the endearingly crooked Korean words on some foreign fans’ signs, and how there are familiar faces in the crowd.

“Mm. Why are you here? I thought you were the first to leave.”

“I was. I waited for you,” Taehyung gleefully squeezes Seokjin’s arm. “Hyung, we did well.”

Seokjin frowns and lowers his head. “Why were you waiting for me? We’re all going back to the dressing room.”

In front, Namjoon glances at them, wiping his sweat with a towel.

“I saw some of my fansites,” Taehyung brings up. “I think there were more than ten. It always surprises me they can drop everything and just follow us.”

“There’s definitely more than ten.” Seokjin chucks his water bottle to Taehyung and raises his voice. 

“Here, you must have been waiting for me for my water. Drink up.”

“Hm? I don’t-”

“I saw a few of my fansites too,” Seokjin’s voice drops back to usual. “But not as many as yours.”

They skip the after-party upon knowing how lax the security is. Everyone’s in great spirits, excited for a nice unwinding with the staff over a good meal, rather than a crowded club filled with strangers and foreign words. 

They find a Korean restaurant and book a private room. Taehyung takes the seat opposite Seokjin in the restaurant, the rest heading for the bathroom.

He looks around with a warm smile. New York walks with an intriguing charm, as if everyone has somewhere in particular to be. 

“You don’t want to use the toilet?” Seokjin asks.

“I do. Do you have something to mark this seat as mine?” Taehyung pats his attire, considering taking off his bracelets to put on the stool.

“Taehyung. It’s fine. There’s plenty of seats,” Seokjin says quietly.

“I know, but I want to sit with you.” Taehyung plops down. “Actually, since the line’s long, I might as well go after.”

Yoongi steps in and sits beside Seokjin, gazing at them with brows knitted. Before he can open his mouth, Seokjin cuts in.

“We sat first.”

Yoongi frowns further. “What?”

“Taehyung and I sat first, since you guys went to the bathroom,” Seokjin points out randomly. There’s a slight, defensive edge to his words.

“Okay?”

Jimin settles beside Taehyung. Yoongi brings up, “Hey, in the restroom, did you see that blue box on the sink?”

“Mm, it’s air fresheners. Don’t worry, I opened it up to check.”

“Blue box?” Seokjin parrots.

“Yeah. I was worried if it was some hidden camera.” Yoongi darts his eyes to Seokjin dubiously. 

“I’ll have the manager check.” He shuffles away and Seokjin stares after him.

“Hyung,” Taehyung beams, nudging the menu over. “What do you want to get? We can get two mains and share. Look, they serve truffle fries.”

“Oh. Get one for yourself. Or share with someone else,” Seokjin mutters, getting up. “I’m heading to the bathroom.”

 

 

With the performance accomplished, they’re set to fly off first thing the next morning. Taehyung starts packing his luggage once they return to the hotel. 

Halfway in, his pace slackens as he loses himself to his thoughts. Over these past two days, he and Seokjin haven’t been talking as much. It’s expected since their schedule is hectic, but Seokjin seems a bit… aloof. Or is he just imagining things? He was just as warm as usual last night.

Taehyung might be kicking up a big fuss again.

It’s midnight when Seokjin comes over, earlier than Taehyung expects since they got back just an hour ago.

Taehyung’s heart somersaults and he melts into a puddle-like smile. “Hyung.” It could be his favourite word with how often he uses it nowadays.

Seokjin’s bare-faced, eye circles showing without the concealer. His lower lip is chapped. 

“Are you done packing?” He hums.

“Almost. I didn’t take out much stuff, but I'm too lazy to pack everything back.”

As Taehyung makes way for Seokjin to step in, he catches sight of his reflection in the wall mirror. He stops and stares for an extended moment, unable to turn away even though his expression has long gone.

He looks happy. Horrifically happy.

“Why do you chuck your underwear in like this? You’re so lazy,” Seokjin nags.

Taehyung dashes over to find Seokjin refolding his undergarments.

“Hand me those over there.”

Taehyung obediently gets the rest of his clothing, sitting cross-legged on the floor with Seokjin. Seokjin folds them swiftly and reorganises Taehyung’s messy luggage.

“You should put your clothes at the side, so they act as cushions,” Seokjin remarks. “I thought you knew that.”

Taehyung gives a fond smile as Seokjin tidies up his luggage. It feels like they’re ██████  It feels like home.

“I do. I was just lazy.” 

Taehyung tails Seokjin around as he gathers Taehyung’s belongings, sorting them with ease. Together, they finish packing Taehyung’s luggage quickly.

Seokjin sits on the edge of the bed by the large glass window, musing to himself. “Your room has a pretty view. Your bed’s nearer to the window.”

Taehyung shoves his luggage towards the door. “You should have come over yesterday.”

Seokjin nods. He remains staring at the picturesque scenery, just four floors above the ground. Instead of bokeh city lights and tiny squares, they see clear faces with directions to go.

“Can you turn off the lights?”

“Okay.”

One click and they’re doused in black, the light from outside reflecting against Seokjin’s cheeks.

“We were here for such a short time,” Seokjin comments with wistfulness.

“Yeah,” Taehyung joins him, sitting closer than people usually do. “We get to stay longer when we’re on tour.”

“You know, I wanted to ask you if you’d like to go out sightseeing with me tonight, since we’re going off tomorrow morning,” Seokjin remarks softly. 

“You did?” Taehyung perks up. A thrill bursts up his chest into an ecstatic smile. 

“I’d love to, hyung. Let’s go now.”

Just the two of them, walking on the bustling streets of New York and trying to find their way through the throng and incessant chatter. It’s a lovely sight to imagine. He’s curious if people would gawk at them holding hands since it’s much less common here.

Taehyung grabs Seokjin’s hand. 

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I don’t want to anymore.” Seokjin swats him off.

Taehyung frowns. “Why? I want to go too, hyung.”

“I don’t want us to get caught.”

“Oh.” Taehyung goes to the window, staring down at the passers-by walking hastily and those that loiter around. 

“Yeah, there was a car following us just now, wasn’t there?” He mumbles.

“There was? I didn’t know.” 

Seokjin plops back onto the bed, blinking tiredly at the ceiling. He speaks in a fading breath. “Why do I feel like a criminal?”

Taehyung sits by his side and takes his hand comfortingly. “I’ll tell the manager. With the other staff with us, it’ll be fine. So, let’s go.”

“No. I told you that I don’t want to go out anymore,” Seokjin intones bluntly, waving Taehyung’s hand off again. He covers his eyes with one arm. 

Taehyung’s chest deflates. He’s half sure now that Seokjin has been acting aloof towards him. No, not aloof, but testy. He’s not been in a good mood since they came overseas.

“Hyung. What’s wrong?”

“Why do you always ask me things like that, Taehyung? There’s nothing wrong with me. Do you want there to be something wrong with me?” Seokjin heaves in annoyance, removing his arm to look at the younger man. 

Once he locks eyes with Taehyung, the guilt instantaneously suffuses his eyes. Taehyung wonders what kind of expression he’s wearing for Seokjin to shift so quickly in his emotions. Perhaps hurt—his eyes must be drowned in it since his whole self is soaking in it. He was just worrying about Seokjin. How could Seokjin twist his words?

“I’m okay.” Seokjin props himself up on his arms and brushes back Taehyung’s hair. 

“Sorry, Taehyung. I’m kind of tired, so I’m snappy. Sorry, hm?”

His touch is so tender that Taehyung can’t reconcile the hostility just moments before. Seokjin sits up fully and continues stroking Taehyung’s head.

“Hyung’s sorry. Don’t be upset,” he whispers, thumbing Taehyung’s cheek. “I’m just tired.”

Tired. It’s such a versatile word, since Seokjin tends to park all the thoughts and emotions he deems unspeakable under that umbrella. Taehyung uses it when he doesn’t want to explain to someone how he’s feeling, sometimes because he thinks they won’t make a difference.

It’s like they’re still the same as years ago. When Taehyung was bright-eyed, much more immature and hot-tempered, and Seokjin was more generous with his affection since Taehyung was a child in his eyes. Maybe that’s why he still keeps his thoughts locked up away from Taehyung now, after all they’ve been through. 

He wants to remind Seokjin that he promised to tell him if he was upset, or at least, he’d try. But he remembers the last time he mentioned it, after Yoongi argued with him and Seokjin. Seokjin didn’t take it well.

Is he being petty?

Taehyung’s insides sour.

Is it so bad to be petty?

“Taehyung.” Seokjin pokes between Taehyung’s eyebrows. “Don’t think so hard. It’s never good for you.”

He offers a small smile, curling up on the bed. “Can you hold me?”

Taehyung blinks back in astonishment. “Hold you?”

With some awkwardness, Seokjin laughs. “Uh, if it’s weird, then-”

“I’ll hold you,” Taehyung cuts him off. He winds his arms around Seokjin and presses him into his chest. The pettiness so frivolously dispels from his tight ribcage, leaving him with woozy flutters.

“Of course I’ll hold you. You always hold me.” 

Taehyung nestles his nose into Seokjin’s hair and breathes. Suddenly, it’s as though he’s in a smoke-filled room, yet he’s not looking for an exit. The fumes of Seokjin’s smell prick into his lungs enjoyably. A tinge of sweat and baby powder. It should be a candle fragrance.

“Oh, this is comfortable,” Seokjin remarks. “Your girlfriend will really enjoy being hugged by you.” 

He stops short. “Sorry. That was weird of me to say.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Taehyung says a bit timidly. The flutters are making him nauseous, as always, but he can tolerate it now. He has to. He can’t run from Seokjin.

“Ha,” Seokjin breathes, shutting his eyes. “I’m tired. I don’t want to think about anything.”

“Let me think for you, hyung,” Taehyung mumbles. 

Seokjin lets out a soft laugh. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

His smile thins off. “Taehyung. Don’t you think these things should be said to your girlfriend, instead?”

Taehyung squirms. “Well, I don’t have one. And why should I say these things only to my girlfriend? Hyung, you’re just like a blood brother to me.”

“A blood brother,” Seokjin repeats. He musters a soft smile.

“Yeah. You’re a little brother to me. An annoying one,” he jokes. Seokjin huddles closer and presses his forehead into Taehyung’s sternum.

Seokjin is small in his grasp. He’s not actually small—his shoulders beat Taehyung’s and everyone else’s in the group so extravagantly. Still, it seems possible to cradle him whole. Hold this warm person in his arms, crumple him into a small thing and keep him near.

The insatiable need to go close seethes through his arteries once more. However, there are no more revolting mirages of tearing into Seokjin’s flesh and bones. Just… skin to skin, that would be enough.

Taehyung swallows. 

“I’m tired, Taehyung. I’m growing old and getting tired easily.”

“You can tell me anything. You know that, right?” He tries.

“You say it so many times. Even if I wanted to, I won’t be able to forget it.” Seokjin exhales, making himself comfortable.

“Thank you. I know you’re angry,” he continues. “I have bad habits, don’t I?”

“You do,” Taehyung plainly says, much to Seokjin’s amusement. “But it’s okay. We all have bad habits.”

He gingerly holds Seokjin tighter by the waist, one arm crossed over his back. Seokjin’s spine maps out into his flesh and Taehyung thinks he could tattoo it into his arm. Is that why people get tattoos? Because they’re so in ████ with intrigued by something.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin heaves.

“Mm?”

He’s saying Taehyung’s name a lot tonight. Someone would think he was trying to learn a difficult word.

“Do you think I’m strange?”

“No?” Taehyung frowns. “You asked me this too on the day we departed, hyung.”

“That was different. I stared at myself too much in the mirror and then it felt like I couldn’t recognise myself,” Seokjin says airily. “Just like how you say a word too many times and it gets strange. It was like, so that’s how people see me?

“Oh, yeah. Why does that word thing happen?” Taehyung snickers. “Strange. Strange. Strange.”

“You made the word ‘strange’ strange to me now,” Seokjin heartily chortles, face lighting up adorably.

Taehyung’s heart swells. He wants to kiss down Seokjin’s forehead to his nose.

“You’re so happy, aren’t you, hyung? You get to make a pun.”

“Yeah, and it’s not one of those I stole off the internet.”

“Hyung, why are you asking me that question? I don’t think you’re weird,” Taehyung says honestly.

“Does it matter what you think, though?” Seokjin replies softly.

“Wow, you’re so mean,” Taehyung laughs. He routes back to the topic before Seokjin can shake it off. “Hyung, why’d you ask?”

“No reason. I was just wondering. If I seemed strange.”

“Do you think you’re strange?”

Seokjin bats his lashes. He shuts his eyes with a lengthy breath. “I don’t want to think about it. My brain’s out of power.”

Taehyung rubs Seokjin’s head. “Okay. I’ll think for you.”

Seokjin laughs. “You’re really cute, aren’t you? Your future girlfriend would really enjoy hearing all these things.”

“You’re not going to get a right answer,” he finishes. He shifts around, brushing Taehyung’s chest. It ignites a chill up Taehyung’s veins.

He wants to hug Seokjin more snugly and suffocate him in his ribs. Some days ago, he might, recklessly ecstatic that Seokjin was the one asking for affection instead of the other way around.

It’s frightening if Seokjin can hear his heartbeat. 

But it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. He’s always reacted like this to Seokjin. 

Does it change anything if you two are always like that with each other?

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts with a whisper. “Is it because of what Yoongi-hyung said that day?” 

Seokjin lifts his head immediately. “What Yoongi said? What day are you talking about?”

“When we were in his studio, and he called me strange.”

Seokjin folds his lips. “Taehyung, that was so long ago. Why do you still remember that?”

“What do you mean? It happened recently. Why would I forget about it?”

“It’s just not something that you should think about. Didn’t I tell you that Yoongi was just in a bad mood?” Seokjin adamantly spouts. He’s genuinely crossed, expression unfamiliar on a face that tries his best to forgive and forget.

“Hyung,” Taehyung hesitates, misery dripping through his voice. “I think Yoongi-hyung meant it.”

“No, he didn’t. You’re not strange, Taehyung.” Seokjin softens. “There’s nothing wrong with us being close. You said we’re like brothers, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then that’s what we are.” Seokjin pats Taehyung’s head. “The other members just aren’t used to us being closer out of nowhere.”

Taehyung fidgets. He brings up stiffly, “I feel sorry towards you, hyung. You argued with Yoongi-hyung because of me. Then I acted weirdly again and got mad because of Jungkook… in front of Yoongi-hyung again. You had to speak to him and Namjoon-hyung.”

“It wasn’t because of you that we argued. We weren’t even arguing that day,” Seokjin sighs. “And I told you that Yoongi and Namjoon were just asking about why we fought.”

“You’re not strange, Taehyung,” Seokjin persuades. “Don’t think that.”

Taehyung wavers. He wants to believe Seokjin, yet it’s getting progressively more difficult. Taehyung knows he wasn’t acting normally when he threw that fit.

“I don’t know,” he honestly says. It scares him to admit it, so he refused to previously, but he can bare all his fears and vulnerabilities to Seokjin. 

Right?

Seokjin locks his jaw. “What’s so weird about you joking that you want my attention and you arguing with me for… about…” 

He flounders, struggling to describe what transpired. He gives up his words.

“There’s nothing weird about it. If there is, then tell me,” Seokjin decisively says.

Taehyung stares back at Seokjin, infused with reluctance and unsureness. Seokjin’s determined expression gradually loosens; it might be apprehension he’s wearing now on his skin.

“There’s nothing, right?” Seokjin states, in any case. “We were playing around. When we shouted at each other, you were stressed. These things are normal.”

Seokjin offers a smile, his cheeks endearingly puffing up with that little gesture. “Shall we sleep?”

“Okay.”

So, they abandon the topic, similar to writing a hasty end to a story and calling it finished. Bandaged in darkness, Taehyung becomes more aware of his sensations. Seokjin’s back arches so well into Taehyung’s grip it’s exhilarating. His tiny exhales shift the fabric of Taehyung’s shirt. Taehyung wonders what the sound crawling up his throat will be like if he lets it out.

Seokjin heaves, leaning against Taehyung more.

Taehyung keeps deathly still. His heart is banging in deformed patterns and he’s manually coordinating his breaths, unsure how he’ll rashly breathe otherwise. He feels like a covered-up crime scene on the frightening verge of being given away. 

Seokjin leans his head away from Taehyung and replaces the contact with his hand, pressing right on Taehyung’s heart. Taehyung jolts in startlement and his heart stupidly races faster, leaving even more evidence. Who’s the culprit, and what’s the crime? The genre seems to be a tragedy, so he hopes he won’t be solved.

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung might die from nervousness. “Yes, hyung?”

Seokjin presses his thumb harder into Taehyung’s rib. Then, he rests his head once again on the space housing Taehyung’s erratic heart.

“...Nothing.”

 

 

On their return flight, they settle into the seats, storing their baggage in the overhead compartment. Taehyung immediately helps Seokjin and shuts the compartment, missing out Jungkook's baggage till Jungkook whines about it.

"Hyung, I can't wait to eat sundubu," Taehyung sighs. "Should we go out and eat it together? The one at Itaewon that we used to go to pre-debut."

"Yeah, alright. I'm craving it too; it's been a long time since we ate there. They're not serving it on this flight, right?"

"I want to eat some too," Jimin calls from beside Yoongi. "Should we all go together?"

"Hey, I didn't invite you," Taehyung whines. "I asked hyung only."

"Woah, what's with this exclusivity?" Jimin blurts, feigning anger.

"Just go get it yourself. I want to eat with only hyung."

"Jimin can come with us," Seokjin remarks. He looks at Taehyung with a faint frown.

Then, he plucls out RJ from his bag and puts him over his shoulder. Taehyung giggles and takes him off Seokjin’s shoulder.

“Hey, what are you doing with my child? Give him back.”

Taehyung avoids Seokjin’s grasp cheekily. He squeezes RJ’s head and Seokjin gasps.

“Stop it, you abuser. I’ll put you in jail for kidnapping.”

“It’s not kidnapping. He’s my child too, hyung, since he sleeps with both of us,” Taehyung hums lightheartedly, dangling RJ by the ear.

Seokjin sighs. “What are you saying? You have Tata. Bring him over next time and stop taking my cute child as yours.”

“Cooky’s cuter,” Jungkook pipes up from behind.

“Nobody asked.”

Seokjin turns and locks eyes with Yoongi, who has been staring at them since before. They say nothing, just looking at each other for a long moment.

“Do you have something you want to say to me?” Seokjin utters.

Yoongi pulls his lips to the side. “No.”

“Why? You want to change seats?” Seokjin continues. 

“No, I’m fine sitting here.”

“Okay. You look like you want to change seats with me.”

If you didn’t listen closely, you wouldn’t be able to sieve out the acidity in Seokjin’s voice. Taehyung blinks at them.

“I don’t.” Yoongi returns to his phone.

“That’s good, then.” Seokjin plops down into his chair and snatches RJ back from Taehyung. 

“Stop playing around. I want to sleep,” he says curtly.

From the far left end, Namjoon gazes at them, knuckle to his lips.

 

 

It’s on a cold Tuesday afternoon in Seoul that Taehyung suddenly thinks that Seokjin has an absolutely mesmerising smile. They’re holding the photoshoot for their next album and Seokjin is dressed pristinely in white, succulent lips painted red and a faint blush on his cheeks.

It’s the make-up. No, Taehyung has had moments like this before, freezing out of nowhere as if he’s a character that became self-aware.

The minor chords draft out in his mind. The chorus will climb in pitch after a progression from the tonic note, rhythm leisurely and romantic. The lyrics will be about eyes being drawn away in a sea of people, maybe. Of walking over and kissing the life out of a stranger so breathtaking. 

Seokjin meets his eyes from across the room. Taehyung’s scared, but he lets himself be, soaking in the plethora of emotions and the lovely, lovely feeling wrapping all of them together.

What will the title be? There’s something wrong with Kim Taehyung . Kim Taehyung is acting strangely. Kim Taehyung is nervous. Any one will do.

In the corner of his eyes, he notices Namjoon and Jimin staring at him, a funny pattern of looking in sequence. Jimin quickly turns away once Taehyung notices. Namjoon doesn’t.

When Seokjin finishes, he squats in a corner. Taehyung goes over to find him with a creaky smile.

“Hyung, you did so well! You’re completely a model.”

Seokjin slurps at his water. “Why were you staring at me like that while I was doing my photoshoot?” He wholly ignores Taehyung’s words.

“Like what?”

“Like that.” Seokjin caps his water bottle, words bordering on anger. 

It takes Taehyung aback. “I was just watching you, like everyone else?”

“No, not everyone else,” Seokjin snaps. “Namjoon wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at you.”

Taehyung shrinks. “Huh? Hyung, why are you mad at me?”

“I’m not,” even that sounds aggravated. 

Seokjin softens his tone, pinching his forehead. “I’m not. It was just confusing. You looked like you were glaring so I thought you were unhappy with me.”

“Oh. Sorry. Why would I be unhappy with-”

“I don’t know, okay?”

Seokjin rises and walks away.

 

 

“Are you sleeping?”

Taehyung blearily opens his eyes, surprised that the question came from Seokjin instead of him. It’s night time, Seokjin in his grasp again.

“No,” Taehyung murmurs. He buries his nose into Seokjin’s neck.

“Sometimes,” Seokjin starts, “I wonder if I don’t notice things, or I just don’t let myself think about them.”

“Because they’re upsetting?”

“Because they’ll really be there if you think about them.”

“Hm… But they’re already there, aren’t they?” Taehyung mumbles. His grogginess makes him second guess if he heard Seokjin correctly. 

Seokjin doesn’t answer him.

 

 

Taehyung falls asleep to the visions of walking through New York with someone, holding hands and laughing. They understand bits and pieces of the language while everyone else leaves them alone for they speak incomprehensibly. They’re in a world of their own, despite being surrounded by so many. 

It seems romantic. Taehyung doesn’t take it back when halfway, he notices it’s Seokjin he’s laughing with.

He wakes to his heartbeat obnoxiously loud in his head and Seokjin asleep in his grasp, so lucky to constantly forget and be given a do-over.

It’s the stupor that has his gaze veering around drunkenly and landing upon Seokjin’s lips. Slowly, he sobers up to see more than just Seokjin’s pursed mouth, yet his focus won’t veer away. He’s just curious, as always. That’s what makes him trace out Seokjin’s bow-like lips as he thinks of how nice his dream felt.

“Hyung,” Taehyung croaks, morning roughing up his voice. Seokjin remains blissfully asleep, only squinting when Taehyung presses too hard.

Here it comes. Taehyung wonders if he’ll vomit on the bed right now with how the lump in his throat is begging for freedom. He feels sick, but not in a lethargic way, more as though he’s on a mountain peak and standing on his tiptoes.

Seokjin’s lips are lovely. A girl will kiss them someday. She’d pull Seokjin close by the sides and kiss slowly and gently.

Yeah. She’d squeeze his petite waist, arch him back without breaking apart their lips. Press him into the bed till he’s so breathless and flustered.

Taehyung gulps. He goes from following the edge of Seokjin’s lips to trying to tease them open. He felt them with his fingers several times before. He wants to learn about them in a different way.

Everyone has pointed out Seokjin’s lips before and how plump they are. But curiosity can only bring you so far till you’re left on your own. There’s no excuse. So, he shouldn’t. He knows where he’s standing, at a point of no return. How suicidal of him to want to step over the edge.

No one will know. If only he does, did it genuinely happen? 

Things won’t change if only he knows.

It lasts for a split second and tastes like nothing Taehyung knows. He trembles, leaning back to check if Seokjin’s awake with his breathing caught in his throat. His nausea begs him to stop as it teems at the edge of teeth, the faded star stickers watching him mutely.

Then, he leans over again, gently sucking on Seokjin’s lower lip. And everything erupts, but not as vomit like he thought it would—just a tragic, physical understanding of why he wants to be inside Seokjin so badly.

Taehyung lurches back in panic when Seokjin moves. He stares and stares and shivers, but Seokjin doesn’t break open his eyes. The sunlight reflects against his glossy lips. 

It’s insanity, that’s the reason he did it the first time, why he’s kissing the oldest member of their group and his proclaimed blood brother like they’re lovers. Yes, yes—but what’s the excuse for the second time?

Taehyung scuttles under the blanket, akin to a child who stole a cookie. He’s petrified, so full of guilt, yet he can’t seek comfort from his warmest refuge, Kim Seokjin. So, he soothes himself by terribly reminding himself that no one will know. It’s just him and Seokjin in this room, after all, and Seokjin is buried in an oblivious slumber.

God.

What the fuck has he done?

Taehyung clenches his hands restlessly. If everyone thought he was weird before, they’d think he’s fucking delirious now.

It’s some time later that Taehyung feels movement. The sheets pull slightly from him and rustle. Seokjin makes not a sound as he slowly sits up.

Taehyung’s heart palpitates with a deathly ferocity and the cluttering thoughts swarm in his skull. No one knows. As long as he doesn’t tell on himself, it could be as though nothing happened at all. He’s the one who makes or breaks himself.

Taehyung slips out from under the blanket. Seokjin is slouching, just sitting and staring at the mattress.

“Ah, hyung,” Taehyung’s voice cracks and his apprehension goes haywire. “You’re awake. Did you sleep well?”

Seokjin blinks slowly.

“Yeah.”

He climbs off the bed. “Taehyung, I’m going back to my room.”

“O-Oh, okay, hyung,” Taehyung prepares the worst smile he can, so crooked even he thinks he may have twisted his jaw.

Luckily, Seokjin doesn’t look back at him, stepping out of the room. Taehyung bundles the sheets up in his hands. And then, he smells them for the warm traces Seokjin left behind. 

Taehyung’s lips are swollen. 

He heads to the bathroom and runs the shower cold.

 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

The shower pelts Taehyung’s skin like rain, battering down with a prickly sensation. Taehyung stands inert in the pouring water and stares at the wall absentmindedly. He tried to close his eyes in case he’d be less tense, but that only exacerbated the vivacity of his memories. Of what happened perhaps just half an hour ago, in a room with only two people, one asleep.

Taehyung knows. He shouldn’t have done that.

He traces his swollen lips, remnants of Seokjin’s flavour on his skin. It’s difficult to breathe.

(Seokjin was asleep. How could he have done that?)

Taehyung pushes the faucet further, but the water can’t get any colder to wrenched him out of his fever dream.

His chest withers with sorriness. He regrets it, really. If he could rewind, he wouldn’t have done that. He feels utterly horrible for taking advantage of Seokjin.

(But he likes what he did. That’s the unmistakable fact.)

Taehyung turns off the shower and fills up the bathtub. He watches the water gurgle against the porcelain and lets the sound fill the space in his head.

When it’s full, he slips under the surface and shuts his eyes. Seokjin splatters against the back of Taehyung’s eyelids and the warm memories they’ve made over the past months. The water clogs up his ears and he holds his breath, praying to emerge with his mind washed into better clarity. 

He doesn’t. He comes out the same with a loud splash and gasps for air, still liking what he did. Still wanting to do it again if he was permitted to. Still hoping deep inside his filthy little heart for a possible universe where it wouldn’t be so bad to do something like that.

Taehyung gulps. He drains the bathtub and turns the faucet the other way, the water burning his skin. 

The steam has fogged up the mirror, so Taehyung wipes at it to take a good, hard look at himself. His reflection shows, and then the mirror mists up in just a few seconds. Taehyung wipes at it again but the mirror fogs up once more, much to his aggravation.

He wipes it repeatedly, desperate for one long look at himself. And then, amid his pathetic repetitions, the nervousness falls away into the back of his chest. Misery shrivels up his heart, making him sorry towards the six others in this dorm.

How did he turn out like this? He didn’t mean it. 

Taehyung steps out of the bathroom with his head lowered, darting into his room and shutting the door. The tussled sheets where Seokjin lay so peacefully feel like a crime scene. Every piece of furniture in this room is a silent witness.

Taehyung tidies up the bed.

He’s known Seokjin for six years now. Surely, there must be some kind of misunderstanding. With how it’s hard to find time and space to date, surely, the feelings must have gotten confused somewhere. It happens.

For a moment, he wonders if the furniture in his room were people, how would they be looking at him? From the sheets that hold him to sleep to the gifts from fans on his shelves, what would they say to him?

Yoongi’s right. Everyone who looked at him in confusion is right, unable to interpret his actions and words. 

The realisation is frightening. But if he keeps his mouth shut, there’s no way it’ll be slapped onto the newspaper as a headline. No eyes that’ll widen in dismay, no lips that’ll rattle with malice. No way Seokjin's gaze will twist in complete abhorrence.

All he needs to do is keep quiet and not let it show. Sooner or later, it’ll go away, and it can all be a funny memory he might confess to Seokjin thirty years later, one that’ll make the seven of them gasp and laugh hysterically. They’ll write it off as just hormones and a silly thing a kid who didn’t know better fell prey to, trying to put his feelings in the right place.

A knock shoots a length of electricity up his spine. Jungkook peeks in.

“Hyung... I'm gaming with Hoseok-hyung in a while," he remarks with some hesitance. "Do you want to join?”

Taehyung offers a stiff smile. "Oh. Sure."

Jungkook's eyes light up, as though he hadn't been expecting the response. It's been a while since Taehyung has played with him, after all. From Jungkook's reaction, Taehyung doesn't seem awkward, or at least, that's what Taehyun gathers.

"Is that all of us?"

“Yeah, the rest aren't interested. Jin-hyung's not playing," Jungkook emphasises the last part, voice lowered. "You don't want to join anymore, right?"

Taehyung tenses up at the mention of Seokjin. "Did hyung say why he's not joining?"

“He locked his door. I think he’s sleeping,” Jungkook replies, recedes from the doorway. "I'll go ahead and play with Hoseok-hyung, then."

"Wait, I'll join you guys."

"Oh." Jungkook flutters his lashes, seeming surprised. He smiles widely. "Okay. I'll wait for you then, hyung."

Taehyung nods, watching as Jungkook disappears into his room. Taehyung stretches his rigid fingers, soothing his palpitating heart. Everything will be fine. He just needs to make the right faces.

 

 

Night eases in with a startling tension for Taehyung. He passed his trials throughout the day with the other members, who didn’t seem to notice anything amiss as they played games together and bought back lunch. The swelling of his lips wasn’t too obvious and it allayed by the time afternoon came. 

Gratefully, fortunately, Seokjin was feeling lazy today, as quoted by Jimin who popped in to bother him. Thus, he remained mostly in his room in solitude to enjoy his off day.

It’s been a while since the darkness felt so comforting. Taehyung sits on his bed and hates how his mind churns out the similarity of a newlywed groom waiting for his bride. Ridiculously, he checked his expressions in his mirror, waiting with bated breath for Seokjin to walk through the door as though an examiner. 

It’s okay—the darkness will help to shade the fissures in his composure.

The door creaks open. The light cleaves in right through the middle of Taehyung’s skull and he straightens up. He pulls up his smile as rehearsed in the mirror, fixing the little crooks in his lips so his guilt and anxiety won't show.

Seokjin didn’t eat with them today and Taehyung didn’t bother him today (was that out-of-character?), so this is the first good look he’s had of Seokjin since what he did. Taehyung’s heart stammers to see his face, so lovely even with the dimness shading his features.

“Hyung,” Taehyung chirps.

Seokjin remains by the door, one hand behind his back. He’s dressed in a black long shirt and shorts instead of his usual pyjamas. Taehyung doesn’t think twice about it.

“I heard from Jungkook you two gamed together? With Hobi?” Seokjin hums, smiling slightly.

“Yeah, we did. It was fun. Jungkook went to call you but I think he said your room door was locked.”

Seokjin nods slowly. “Mm. I was tired and wanted to sleep. Didn’t want any of you bothering me.”

His shoulders are so wide, drawing a sharp contrast with his petite waist. Taehyung’s desperate to hold him for comfort and have Seokjin find a way out for him. It is the strangest thing that what causes your panic is what can only give you calm. Seokjin is a fire in winter that brought a lovely warmth, only to scald Taehyung when it got too big. Yet, Taehyung can’t go without him in the bristling frost.

“What did you guys play?”

Taehyung regales some tales of Hoseok screwing up and Jungkook freaking out, hoping he doesn’t sound too stiff. Seokjin just stands by the door and continues nodding.

“Hoseok’s never been that good at games,” Seokjin remarks.

“You’re saying that when Namjoon-hyung exists?”

Seokjin chuckles shortly. “He shouldn’t even be taken into consideration.”

Quietness. Seokjin seems to have fixated himself to the door frame, not moving a single inch in.

“Hyung, come in.” Taehyung shifts to make more space. “I’ve showered already.”

Seokjin’s gaze flitters and he doesn’t answer.

“Hyung?”

“Um… Taehyung,” Seokjin starts breathily, “Hyung’s going out tonight. I don’t think I’ll be back till morning, so sleep by yourself, okay?”

Taehyung blinks once, caught off guard. “What?”

“Namjoon and I—we’re going out for a while. I don’t think I can sleep with you tonight. So, go to bed first,” Seokjin elaborates.

Seokjin drops the hand behind his back to show a cap and a mask in his grasp. He seems a bit nervous, like telling the teacher he didn’t do his homework.

“Oh.”

Taehyung blinks again and realises he’s a little at a loss for words, simply because this has never happened. Be it rain or shine, whether they’re in their home country or overseas, these past months, Seokjin has never failed to accompany Taehyung to bed. He’s always made sure Taehyung would have someone to sleep with at night, even on their short breaks, playing perfectly the role of a dedicated teddy bear.

It’s an impressive feat, accomplished only because both of them did their utmost best. They tried not to schedule individual plans too late at night. If they couldn’t, they would still come back to the dorm at 3 AM after a gathering with friends or a visit home. It helped that they’ve been packed with schedules this past year.

Yes, Taehyung knows they won't be able to sleep  every  night together, but the thought of sleeping without Seokjin is just… odd now.

“Hyung, the two of you will be out for the whole night?” Taehyung shifts to the edge of the bed. 

Seokjin steps back. “Maybe. We’re not sure.”

“But what would you two be doing that will take up the whole night?” Taehyung asks, discomfort gurgling in his stomach. 

“It’s just that we might. So, don’t wait up for me.”

Taehyung doesn’t understand. There’s no need for them to go out for so long by themselves at night. 

It bothers him. 

“What are you guys going to do?”

“Just going out for a chat.”

Taehyung arches a brow. “And that’ll take up a whole night?”

Seokjin purses his lips. “Is this an interrogation? I’m only telling you that we might take the whole night if we talk for a long time,” he returns.

“You should have gone out in the afternoon,” Taehyung states, some petulance seeping into his speech. “You and Namjoon-hyung were in the dorms all day.”

Seokjin knits his brows together. “We just wanted to go out at night.”

“But we always sleep together.” 

Seokjin goes quiet at Taehyung’s remark. “Well, it can’t be helped, right?”

Taehyung rises and Seokjin recedes further, now beyond the door frame. The unsettledness brews in Taehyung’s guts at the whole arrangement, but he doesn’t pinpoint why.

“Hyung, should I go with you, then?” 

“Why?” Seokjin chuckles. “I’m just spending the night outside with Namjoon.”

“I know, but I don’t understand why you won’t come back to sleep?” Taehyung persists, searching for his cap. “I’ll just go with you two.”

“Taehyung, why would you follow us out? Is it so strange for me not to sleep with you?” Seokjin’s laugh reeks of askance, like regarding a child’s uninterpretable antics.

“Hyung, are you ready to go?” Namjoon calls from outside.

“Yeah!” Seokjin turns back to Taehyung. “Don’t wait up for me, alright?”

With that, he shuts Taehyung’s bedroom door, leaving Taehyung in the darkness.

Taehyung hurriedly grabs a mask. He throws on some clothes before briskly exiting his room.

“Oh, hyung, you two are going out now? Can you buy some strawberries if the fruit cart’s still there?” Taehyung hears Jungkook ask from the living room.

“Uh, yeah, get me some fruits too. Anything’s fine. You know what I like, right?” Yoongi adds on.

“Yeah, but guys, it’s almost midnight. She’d have left by now,” Namjoon answers. 

“Woah, I didn’t even notice. Thought it was still ten. You guys are going out only now?”

Namjoon regards Taehyung with surprise as Taehyung steps towards the front door. Seokjin is tying his shoes.

“Hyung, I said I’m coming too,” Taehyung says to Seokjin.

Seokjin whips his head back, brows twisting to see Taehyung dressed. 

“You’re coming along?” Namjoon asks.

“Yeah,” Taehyung plainly states, grabbing his slippers. “You guys are just going out to chat, right?”

“Oh, actually, we’re going to order chicken and beer, and eat by the Han river.”

“Alright.” Taehyung starts putting on his mask.

“Taehyung,” a slight exasperation materialises despite Seokjin’s low murmur. “You don’t even know what exactly we’re doing, and you want to follow?”

“Namjoon just said so.”

“You didn’t know before you agreed,” Seokjin says faintly, letting out a quiet sigh. “Stay home. You should get a good rest. We’re recording tomorrow.”

“No, I want to go too. And shouldn’t you guys stay home too, in that case?”

“No, you don’t want to go,” Seokjin mutters. “Stay home, Taehyung.”

Taehyung begins to fully read the unusual edge in Seokjin’s tone. His face contorts in perplexity. 

“What do you mean by  I don’t want to go ? I already said I do.”

Seokjin lifts his gaze, annoyance tinting his eyes. “Really? Why don’t you ask yourself why you’re coming with us first?”

“Because I want to go?” Taehyung repeats louder, knitting his brows together in utter confoundment at Seokjin’s growing hostility. 

He curls his fingers with hurt, despite his jaw locking in contrast. 

“Hyung. You don’t want me to go with you two?”

“It’s not that,” Seokjin immediately softens his tone. He averts his gaze to Namjoon and they exchange non-verbal words for a moment.

Namjoon steps forward and gently grasps Taehyung’s shoulder. “Taehyung… truthfully, we wanted to go out together, alone. Because we haven’t spent much time with just each other.” 

His face melts with apologeticness. “That’s okay, right?” 

Taehyung blinks back. His guts churn even more as he darts his eyes to Seokjin, who doesn’t look at him. 

Ah. So, that’s indeed the reason for his hostility. Seokjin didn’t want him to come as he wanted to be alone with Namjoon. Taehyung was being a nuisance.

Why do they need to be alone? What’s so special about their relationship that they have to exclude Taehyung, the rest, that they have to spend an entire night outside by themselves?

Taehyung wants to ask, but suddenly, the silence in the living room becomes utterly salient. 

It’s not just two pairs of eyes watching him.

He zones back out like a character that only now noticed the audience. His jaw unclenches and the hyper-awareness comes, bringing in a new form of tension. 

Is it intrusive to want to know? No, right? He’s just curious, that’s all. 

Is it wei̶r̴d̴ to be upset?

“Oh,” Taehyung eventually decides on saying, forcing out a small smile. “Yeah, sure. Why not?”

“You should have told me earlier, hyung,” he addresses Seokjin, hoping his voice doesn’t come out sharpened. “If you said from the start that you wanted to go out with Namjoon-hyung alone, I wouldn’t have said I’d come with you.”

“Sorry,” Seokjin murmurs. He hesitates. “You’ll be able to sleep on your own, right?”

“Of course,” Taehyung snorts. “Do you think I’m your kid?”

“Alright.” Seokjin puts on his cap and hides his gaze underneath. “We’re going, then. Text us if you want anything.”

Namjoon repeats it in a louder voice to the rest in the living room. Taehyung stares as the door clicks shut. He turns with a gingerness.

Jungkook isn’t looking at him. Yoongi is. 

“Taehyung,” Yoongi suddenly calls out. “I need your help with something. Come here.”

“With what?”

“One of my songs. I’m trying to think of a title. Come here, I’ll let you take a listen. You’ve got a good ear for this kind of thing.”

Taehyung sits beside Yoongi and takes an earbud. His limbs and posture feel a little unnatural. He wonders at the back of his mind what Yoongi’s thinking after witnessing what unfurled. Maybe that Taehyung’s...

“Wait, let me find the track.”

Yoongi lowers his voice, probably to avoid Jungkook from hearing. “Taehyung, you’re not upset at them, right?”

“What? Upset? No, of course I’m not,” Taehyung returns with affront. Warmth creeps up his bones and he frowns with a smile of askance, like Yoongi’s the strange one for thinking that. 

He’s not upset. “Why would I be, hyung?”

“That’s good.” Yoongi tastes the words on his tongue before pacifying, “You know, those two are close. They haven’t had much time to catch up with one another, so they want some time alone. That’s why we weren’t invited either.”

“Hyung, with the way you’re describing it, I’m starting to think of them as a couple,” Jungkook chortles.

Yoongi taps Jungkook’s head with an amused scoff. He looks back at Taehyung. 

“It’s not that they don’t want you there. They just want time to themselves.”

“Yeah, I know that. I’m not upset, hyung. You think I’m upset?”

“No, I’m just saying.”

“Then why are you asking me that? I’m not upset. What’s there to be upset about?” Taehyung laughs, his befuddlement turning more and more pronounced. “You’re weird, hyung.”

“Okay, as long as you aren’t upset. Here, I’ve found the track. Help me think of a title.”

Taehyung returns to his room with the echo of Yoongi’s mixtape single in the back of his mind. He stares up at the star stickers as the uncomfortable heat now daringly seethes through his skin.

He doesn’t get it. What do Namjoon and Seokjin want to talk about that it’ll take the entire night by themselves? It’s impossible to talk for seven hours straight.

Just them two by the Han river past midnight, chatting over a meal.

Why do they have to be alone, that Taehyung can’t tag along? It’s not like they’re discussing some confidential business matters. They’re behaving so exclusively. 

Taehyung touches the empty space by his side, resentment crawling up his throat. He and Seokjin always sleep together. Even if Namjoon and Seokjin had to be alone for some reason, they should have chosen morning or afternoon. Everyone knows that nights are reserved for just Taehyung and Seokjin. Was it Namjoon’s idea?

What they’re doing—spending the whole night together and refusing to let anyone else come with—seems like what lovers would do. Even Jungkook thinks so. They’re acting strangely. 

It’s not Taehyung that’s blowing things out of proportion. He should  be upset. He and Seokjin have a routine that they’ve always tried to protect. It’s okay if it can’t be helped, but they had all the time today to go out for a stroll. What more, there’s no good reason that Taehyung should be forbidden from following.

Why is Yoongi acting as if it’d be an overreaction if he was upset?

Taehyung gets up and sits cross-legged, slouching over his knees. The feverish heat has spread all over his skin. He glances at his hands but he can barely tell them apart from his legs. 

So, he scoots off the bed to the bathroom. The light drenches him and makes him recall being in the centre of the stage. He takes a good long look at himself in the mirror, touching from his eyes, to his nose, to his lips. The thumping quietness reminds him of his deep-seated fear that the fans will one day sit silently.

Slowly, Taehyung begins to second-guess his thoughts. He trawls through his memories for some reference, from anywhere before he began being this way.

Seokjin and Namjoon are close friends. They’ve done it once or twice in the past, going out on their own without explicitly asking anyone else along (but would they have rejected anyone who wanted to come?). 

Taehyung never kicked up a fuss. He couldn’t even care less back then. 

It’s normal for them to want to go out alone. 

Taehyung grips the sink, staring harder at himself as the disquietness mounts. His thoughts—they’re distorted. If he keeps letting them slip, sooner or later, somebody will easily be able to tell just what’s wrong with him.

What was he thinking when he compared it to a lovers’ night out? They’re… not like him. A long night out between friends is just that.

Taehyung returns to his room. He bunches the sheets in his hands, feeling cotton instead of skin. It’s as Seokjin said. It’s only one night. There had to eventually be an instance where he’d have to sleep alone due to conflicting schedules, or something else that isn’t as compulsory. They were just lucky to not have anything monumental get in their way over the past months.

He wonders when Seokjin will come back and what kind of things Seokjin and Namjoon will talk about to fill a whole night. The tumour in his head keeps warping them to sound slightly like sweet nothings. Toss in the exasperated look Seokjin gave and the dirty little thing Taehyung did this morning, and his mind starts to spin.

The hours twist and Taehyung keeps his eyes shut, sleep stubbornly eluding him. He tussles in bed, missing Seokjin’s warmth.

He doesn’t know how much time passes till the clear sound of the front door opening jolts him out of his stupor. He immediately sits up to stare at his bedroom door, sieving out Namjoon and Seokjin’s hushed voices.

Taehyung melts into a relieved smile. He thinks about going out to greet them but scuttles under his blanket upon hearing footsteps.

The door creaks open. Taehyung waits expectantly for Seokjin to shut the door and crawl into bed.

Shuffling noises. Taehyung feels the blanket pull, Seokjin tucking him in, yet there’s no weight sinking down the mattress.

And then, the door clicks shut. Taehyung flutters open his eyes and finds just himself in the room.

Seokjin must have gone to shower.

Fifteen minutes trickle by as Taehyung’s assumption gradually loses its conviction. He creeps out of his room to find all the bathrooms empty. Puzzled, he goes into Seokjin’s room to find Seokjin in bed, dressed in his pyjamas.

“Taehyung?” Seokjin blurts, lowering his phone. “I thought you were sleeping.”

Taehyung frowns. “Hyung, why are you sleeping here?”

“Because it’s my room?” Seokjin chuckles.

That only doubles Taehyung’s confusion. “Aren’t you going to come into my room?”

“I mean, I told you to sleep by yourself tonight,” Seokjin says, not making a move from his bed.

Taehyung blinks. “Because you’d be staying out all night.”

“Yeah.”

“But you’re back,” Taehyung points out, brows furrowing further. Is he missing something?

“Um, are you tired? Should I come over instead?” Taehyung recedes towards the door.

Seokjin flits his lashes at him. His shoulders fall slightly and he climbs out of his bed.

“No, it’s fine,” he faintly exhales. “I’ll go over.”

Seokjin settles into Taehyung’s bed wordlessly, lying closer to the edge. Taehyung gazes at him, beginning to derive the feeling that something’s amiss.

“Hyung. Are you okay?” He scoots towards him.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” 

Seokjin stiffens as Taehyung gingerly puts a hand on his hip. Taehyung doesn’t know if he imagined it.

“Why didn’t you come to my room to sleep?”

“It’s as I said. I told you to sleep on your own since I’d be going out with Namjoon.”

Iyou weren’t coming back for the night.”

“Well, it’d be weird if I told you one thing and did another. What are you doing up so late?” Seokjin throws out instead, not facing Taehyung.

“I was playing games on my phone.”

“You youngsters really don’t know how to take care of your health,” Seokjin heaves.

“Hyung, don’t talk like you’re thirty years older than me,” Taehyung chuckles.

Seokjin’s tender nagging provides him with some reassurance, allowing Taehyung to allay his worries. He leans back to stare at the back of Seokjin’s head, somewhat grateful that Seokjin isn’t facing him. Else, he wouldn’t know what to do with the proximity.

Gently, he nuzzles into Seokjin’s hair, inhaling a sweetly scented intoxication. He’s anxious again and sorry for the thoughts that whirl through his head. A hand up Seokjin’s shirt. A mark on his bare neck. Crawl up till he reaches Seokjin’s lips.

Taehyung removes the hand that’s precariously at the seams of Seokjin’s shirt. He leans away, breathing laboriously.

“Hyung?”

“What?”

“What did you and Namjoon-hyung do outside?”

“Didn’t he tell you? We talked over chicken and beer.”

“About what?”

“Stuff. It wasn’t anything important. We just wanted to have supper together.”

“Then why did you two have to go out alone? That I couldn’t even come along,” Taehyung deliberately chuckles, hoping his words pass off akin to mere curiosity about the weather. “Jungkook said it sounded like you two were on a date.”

“A date? Is he crazy?” Seokjin raises his voice, letting out a scoff. “I just haven’t gotten to talk to Namjoon one-on-one in a while. Is that so weird? Can’t we have some time alone without people thinking we’re dating or something?”

“You can,” Taehyung returns, rather surprised by Seokjin’s somewhat fierce response. “Jungkook was kidding, hyung.”

“In the first place, he shouldn’t joke about that. It makes no sense.” Seokjin tugs up the blanket over his chin, shrouding himself more.

“Let’s go to sleep. I’m exhausted,” he finishes with a long breath, checking his phone for the time. “It’s past 4 AM. You were playing games for more than 4 hours?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung lies. 

“Well, go to bed. We have a recording session tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Taehyung shifts, whispering, “I’m glad you came home earlier. It feels weird without you beside me when I sleep.” He shuts his eyes to the texture of Seokjin’s lips vivid in his memories.

Seokjin doesn’t reply.

 

 

Morning scatters in sunlight against Taehyung’s drool, the space beside Taehyung on the bed empty. Taehyung groggily gets up and frowns to find both Seokjin and his things gone. Seokjin usually leaves his blanket and RJ here so he won’t have to drag them to Taehyung’s room every night.

It makes him wonder if Seokjin coming back in the middle of the night was a dream, so Taehyung feels the sheet for some of Seokjin’s warmth. There’s none, but Taehyung finds a strand of his hair.

Seokjin must have gotten up pretty early. Taehyung groggily crawls out of bed and instinctively scours the house for Seokjin, slowly grimacing as he fails to find Seokjin in the kitchen or his room.

“Hyung, are you looking for Seokjin-hyung? He went out,” Jungkook garbles his words between munches.

“Went out?” Hoseok parrots with a raise of the brow. “We’ve got to record today. He didn’t forget, did he?”

“I think he knows,” Jungkook returns. “I told both him and Namjoon-hyung last night.”

“Okay, as long as he knows. Hey, those two went out last night, right?”

Taehyung grabs his phone and dials for Seokjin. His call gets cut off after several rings, so he tries again to find the same.

“Hyung cut my call,” Taehyung breathes with a frown, anxiousness creeping up his chest. Where did Seokjin go? Before leaving, Seokjin always lets Taehyung know where he’s going and who he’s going out with, pre-empting that Taehyung will look for him.

“Oh. He must be busy,” Hoseok remarks, getting a bowl. He empties the cereal box and tosses it out, gasping in irritation to find the milk jug empty.

“Jungkook, did you finish up the milk? How could you leave so little left just so you don’t have to throw it away?”

“I wasn’t the last one to pour it! It was Suga-hyung. He took a lot.”

“Ha, seriously…”

Seokjin doesn’t pick up on the third try, nor the fourth. Taehyung tries incessantly to no avail. While typing a message to him, Taehyung receives a message in the group chat.

What’s wrong? What are you guys calling me for?

Hyung,  Taehyung quickly types.  Where are you?

Why? The recording is at 2 PM, right?

Yes, but where are you?

Seokjin doesn’t reply. Taehyung gives him another call, which Seokjin finally picks up.

“Hey, what’s with you? Why do you keep calling me?” Seokjin exclaims crankily.

“Hyung, where are you?”

“I’m just outside. At Apgujeong, to meet a friend,” Seokjin heaves pointedly. “Why did you call me so many times?”

“Nothing… I was just wondering where you are,” Taehyung returns. “Who are you with?”

“Someone would think I committed a crime with how many times you called me. Why do you need to know?”

Seokjin’s tone is prickly, making Taehyung sullen. What does he mean by that? He should know whom Seokjin goes out with.

“Then, when are you coming back?”

“I’ll be heading straight to the agency.”

“Oh... Okay.”

Seokjin doesn’t hang up, despite how grouchy he was over Taehyung bothering him. “You woke up later than the rest, didn’t you?”

“Mm, I did.”

“Is there any cereal left?”

“No, I think Hobi-hyung just finished it.

“I bought some sandwiches to eat for breakfast today. There are leftovers in the fridge,” Seokjin says softly. “You and the rest can eat those.”

With a quick goodbye, Seokjin hangs up the call. Taehyung searches through the fridge and takes the sandwiches Seokjin left. Did he go out and buy them, come back, and then go back out again? It must have been a hassle.

For most of the afternoon, Taehyung spends it recording his parts, discussing with their producers how best to convey the lyrics. With different degrees of sadness, Taehyung tries the same verse over again till he hits just right. Enough for listeners to enjoy a car ride while reminiscing about imaginary memories of a hurting heartbreak, but not too excessive that they avoid listening to it for the sorrow it brings. 

Taehyung tugs off his headphones. He heads for Seokjin who's sitting on the armrest of the couch, wanting to grumble about how he keeps tripping on some of the words.

"Hyung," Taehyung starts. He reaches out and grasps Seokjin's hand, his fingers igniting upon touching Seokjin's supple skin. It makes him giddy, but he holds on like there's nothing wrong with his head.

As he intertwines the fingers, Seokjin tugs his hand away. "What?"

Taehyung blinks back, surprised by the pull. He doesn't think too much about it, however, brushing it off as just Seokjin playing around.

"I can't pronounce the words right."

"Which part?"

"This one." Taehyung sings it for him, scrunching up his nose when he makes the same mistake.

"Yeah, that sentence is weird. Maybe you should practise it slower and then go faster once you've got it down."

Taehyung does it slowly, melting into a cheeky grin at how silly he sounds. He expects Seokjin to laugh along, but he instead looks away.

"I'm going to the bathroom," Seokjin says, getting up.

Taehyung instinctively clasps Seokjin's wrist. "Oh, I'll come with."

"Why? Do you need to use the bathroom too?"

"Not really."

"Then stay here. Why would you follow me?" Seokjin frowns deeply, shaking Taehyung off. He leaves without another word.

Taehyung curls his hand against his chest, staring after Seokjin in bewilderment. Seokjin's being oddly hostile today.

As the recording session goes on, Taehyung tries to find the time to speak to Seokjin, but they come rare and sparse. Seokjin’s more out of reach than usual, standing at the furthest end and speaking to the other members.

Something’s not right. Taehyung feels it tangibly when Seokjin nudges him into the van and sits with Namjoon in the back instead. Looking at Seokjin in the rearview mirror, Taehyung's unsettledness festers in his guts as he recounts what he did. 

Seokjin has been a little bit testy the past few weeks and never explained why, but he’s never acted frigid towards Taehyung till today. It's one thing to be snappy, and another to give the cold shoulder, like Taehyung had done something that truly affronted Seokjin and he didn't want to be around him.

...No, Seokjin was sleeping when Taehyung did it. Taehyung’s sure of it. He didn’t move at all. It took a long time before he finally woke up and got up.

Maybe he found out because his lips were swollen.

Taehyung’s blood goes cold. His breaths thin out to the tempo of his terrifying, racing thoughts as he restlessly squeezes his hands. It can’t be, right? Seokjin would have just chalked it up to eating too much spicy food for dinner. Yeah, that’s the most logical explanation.

Taehyung can just explain it as- well, as being playful. He was just curious. There’s nothing wrong with that. Or that he was still half-dreaming when he did that, and it was embarrassing once he found out, so he didn’t come clean to Seokjin. It was an accident. Whatever it was, Taehyung didn’t mean it. He’s not thinking of Seokjin in that way. Really, he’s not.

A touch falls over his jerky hands. Jimin looks at Taehyung in concern.

“Stop. It’s bleeding.”

“Oh.” A small drop of blood trails down Taehyung’s thumb, the culprit a hangnail that’s torn too far down. 

Jimin gives him a tissue, nestling against him. “You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s good. Don’t pick your nails. It’s painful.”

Taehyung lifts his gaze. He sees Namjoon and Seokjin murmuring to each other in the backseat. Seokjin glances at him in the rearview mirror and quickly looks away when they make eye contact.

The realisation seeps in as Taehyung's brows crease.

Last night. Seokjin’s strange behaviour began last night.

If Seokjin knew that Taehyung k̶i̸s̶s̴e̶d̸ him, there’s no way he wouldn’t confront Taehyung. He'd long have sat Taehyung down since yesterday and asked him why he did so. It's a mortifying matter, after all, to be k̶i̸s̶s̴e̶d̸ in your sleep by someone you see as a brother. It messes so much things up, for one of them to be in love with the other when they're part of a band looking towards the same dream. It'd warrant a much bigger reaction than how Seokjin's behaving now.

Taehyung takes a long shower when he reaches home. He intentionally leaves his hair wet and treads into his room, waiting with a towel over his head. Some time later, Seokjin enters.

“Hyung,” Taehyung chirps, mustering the brightest smile he can. He hopes he’s overthinking things.

“You just showered?” Seokjin sits on the bed.

“Mm.”

Seokjin doesn’t offer to dry his hair. He wrings his hands, visibly contemplating.

“Taehyung.” He raises his gaze and gingerly holds Taehyung’s shoulder. 

“How have you been feeling lately?”

Taehyung blinks at the odd question. From the way Seokjin’s looking at him—hesitant, concerned—Taehyung spouts what he thinks is the right answer.

“Good. Everything’s fine. Why?”

“You’re not feeling, what was it, nervous anymore?” 

“No, not at all. You’re right, hyung. I was just anxious about the festival,” Taehyung remarks casually. “I didn’t think that I’d be worked up but I guess it’s because it's a first time thing.”

Seokjin gently smiles. “What did hyung tell you? That you’d be better after the festival?”

“Yeah.” Taehyung gives his trademark boxy grin.

“It’s good that you’re feeling okay. I was worried,” Seokjin comments. “You’re talking much more nowadays on camera too. Like you used to.”

Taehyung nods. 

Seokjin falters for some time, sitting with his back to the end of the bed.

“Taehyung.” He licks his lips. “Should we go back to sleeping on our own?”

It’s a simple request, but it makes Taehyung still, staring blankly at Seokjin. It takes a good, long moment for Taehyung to register what Seokjin said.

“Huh?” Taehyung blurts. “You mean, we should sleep apart?”

“Yeah.”

“But… but why?”  

“Well, there’s not really a need for us to sleep together, don't you think?” Seokjin hums. From how he's looking at Taehyung, it's clear that he's being genuine--unimaginably so. 

“What...? What do you mean there’s not really a need to sleep together?” Taehyung stumbles confusedly. 

“The reason we were sleeping together is that you were feeling down and I wanted to accompany you. So, there’s no need to do so anymore." Seokjin shrugs, hand slipping from Taehyung's shoulder.

"Since you’re okay now. Right?”

Taehyung stares back in disbelief, at a loss for words.

No need to do so because Taehyung’s no longer feeling down? He thought they were long past that—that this sleeping pattern of theirs was beyond some makeshift arrangement for Taehyung’s comfort. After all, it’s been so many months, almost a year at this point. Taehyung stopped being moody on air a long time ago. In all this time, Seokjin never dusted his hands and announced his work was done, and so they didn’t need to sleep together.

This is their routine. Sleeping together in each other's arms, baring the cavities of their heart and mind to each other without any judgement or fear of betrayal—this is a special space they made for themselves, removed from the rest of the world, where they know with utmost certainty that they always have each other.

“Hyung, I thought… I thought we weren’t sleeping together just for that?” Taehyung spouts. He’s engulfed more and more in bewilderment, trying to make sense of things. It almost sounds like Seokjin doesn't put any importance whatsoever to their routine. That can't be.

“We’ve been sleeping together for so many months now. Why do you suddenly want to sleep apart?” He crawls closer to Seokjin, expression turning forlorn. “Did… did something happen, hyung?” 

Seokjin leans back, that sole move answering Taehyung's question without a doubt.

“No, nothing happened. What do you mean by that?” Seokjin returns. He doesn't seem to realise his body language is telling otherwise, or if he does, he's not caring at all.

“Don’t you remember why we began sleeping together?” Seokjin raises his brows. He repeats, "It's because you weren't feeling good. You were having a hard time, so, I came over to accompany you at night. Then it suddenly evolved into us sleeping together. I mean, it makes sense that we should sleep apart now that things are okay."

Taehyung doesn't know how to reply. 

No. Something must have happened. Why else would Seokjin suggest this out of nowhere? 

Nights are the one thing that Taehyung looks forward to every single day. The only thing, sometimes, that he can't wait for every thing else to pass so he can crawl under the sheets with Seokjin into a room with just them. Without a doubt, he knows Seokjin loved their moments together too.

Taehyung widens his eyes as the revelation dawns upon him.

“Namjoon-hyung—did he ask us to sleep apart?" Taehyung exclaims. "Is that what you two talked about last night?"

"He- he said it was weird, didn’t he? For us to sleep together," his voice doubles with conviction.

“What? No, Taehyung, this doesn’t have anything to do with Namjoon,” Seokjin clarifies immediately. “We were just chatting yesterday. He didn’t say anything about you.”

“Then, why are you asking this out of nowhere?” The perplexity escalates in Taehyung’s voice, along with a clambering anxiety. He feels warm, blood thumping louder in his ears. 

“Hyung, we’ve been sleeping with each other for so many months now! I don't get why you'd suddenly bring this up!” 

“Did I do something to make you angry, hyung?” Taehyung clasps the sheet apprehensively, voice withering piteously that Seokjin's eyes seem to soften in response. “You've been acting weirdly today, too.”

"When did I act weirdly?"

Taehyung bites his lip. He goes closer and pleads, “Hyung... tell me what I did wrong. I’ll fix it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Seokjin pauses, gaze weighing down heavily on Taehyung as his face twists. There’s an undertone of sadness and anger to his expression, hard to sieve out in the darkness.

“Why would you apologise for something you don’t even know about, Taehyung? You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not anything like that.”

“Then why?” Taehyung strains, words becoming more rapid. He can hear how saturated his voice is with desperation. “I don’t understand why you’re suddenly asking for this!”

“Taehyung, it’s not a big deal,” Seokjin’s voice dwindles. His following words come with an acute pointedness. “It shouldn’t be.”

“Right now, we have schedules all the time, so it’s easier to sleep together. But when our break comes, or if there are solo schedules, we’ll have to sleep apart eventually.” Seokjin laughs slightly. “You can’t get too used to having me around—if I’m not, how will you sleep?” 

“Then, we don’t have to sleep together on those nights. I don’t mind those. But whenever we can, why do we have to stop sleeping together?” Taehyung protests. There’s a stark contrast between how he’s nearing Seokjin, upset, while Seokjin’s leaning away with a lighthearted chuckle. If Taehyung goes any nearer, Seokjin might just fall off the bed altoghter.

“Taehyung, there’s just no reason for us to sleep together, is there?” Seokjin explains, akin to placating a child. “I already said. We started this because you weren’t feeling well.”

“I know it’s not a must, but why do we have to stop?”  Taehyung blurts. “We don’t need to stop. We can continue sleeping together. Don’t you like sleeping with me?”

Seokjin goes silent. He bites his lip and then, he speaks quietly. 

“Taehyung, you didn’t think we’d be doing this forever, right? We’re not a married couple. You shouldn’t be upset about this.”

Seokjin falters. “It’d... be weird if you are.”

Seokjin’s words splash against Taehyung’s skin like ice, slithering coldness down his veins.

Wei̴r̷d.

Coming from Seokjin, the word stings terribly, searing in deep that Taehyung thinks he won’t be able to forget it.

“...Weird?"

"Yeah, weird."

Seokjin's gaze flitters away and he peers around the room. His voice drops just a little despite his laughter. "It's like I said, Taehyung. We aren't a couple. Do you think it's normal for the two of us to spend every night together?"

Seokjin pauses and asks quietly, "You're not upset about this, right?" 

Taehyung blinks once, twice, and then he lowers his head. His throat tightens and his gaze darts away to his hands.

"No… Hyung, I'm not upset," his voice wilts. He bunches up the sheet in his restless fingers.

"I... just really like having you with me when I sleep."

“What, you're making me sound like your lover? People would think you’re weird if they heard that,” Seokjin laughs. 

Another strike to Taehyung’s chest. He wonders if the word’s tattooed into his forehead for so many people, even Seokjin himself, to label him that like it’s his name.

Is it truly weird? How far removed is he from the others that he can’t tell why it’s so weird he doesn’t want to stop sleeping with Seokjin?

“It’s because I like sleeping with someone,” Taehyung musters, churning out a skewed smile when Seokjin chuckles. 

He urgently adds in an attempt, “I can’t sleep without someone. You know that, hyung.”

“You grew out of that, didn’t you? A long time ago. When we moved to a bigger dorm,” Seokjin remarks.

“That’s not true. I still like sleeping with someone—I still have to. Otherwise, I won’t sleep well,” Taehyung presses.

He shrinks when Seokjin frowns.

“You’ve been sleeping fine by yourself. What are you talking about?” Seokjin says.

He makes a move to get off the bed. “So, I’ll go back to sleeping in my room from today onwards, okay?”

Taehyung tenses. He instinctively follows Seokjin and stops when he realises what kind of look he’ll receive from Seokjin. Exasperated and befuddled, the same one from last night when he didn’t want Taehyung to come along.

Taehyung wants to say no. He really, really does, thinking about the one thing that brought so much security over the past year through his embrace. Maybe two months ago, he’d be throwing a tantrum, not at all caring if the rest of the members witnessed it. 

But what does Seokjin mean by wei̴r̷d?

Taehyung proffers an awkward smile. “Oh… Yeah, alright.”

“My bed’s getting dusty because I’ve been sleeping with you all this time. It’s like my room belongs to nobody,” Seokjin chortles. “Ah, I’m glad. I missed it.”

Taehyung’s heart drops into his guts.

“Hyung, how about we start tomorrow instead?” He tries, a final try at salvaging what they’ve built over these many months.

“Why? It makes no difference if it’s today or tomorrow.” 

Seokjin rises from the bed. He touches the towel draping over Taehyung’s head.

“Go and blow-dry your hair, or you’ll catch a cold.”

With that, he bids Taehyung goodbye and leaves the room. Taehyung is left in darkness once again, unable to differentiate himself from the furniture. He used to enjoy that disturbing solace and yearned to dissolve into the wallpaper. 

Taehyung coils up in bed, his mind thrashing with a thunderstorm of thoughts. When Seokjin said he wasn’t coming back yesterday to accompany him to bed, Taehyung was upset—but he never expected that the day after, Seokjin would ask to not sleep together at all.

They sleep together every day. Taehyung’s long accustomed to touching the dip of Seokjin’s waist and pulling him close. He breathed in Seokjin to keep a grasp on reality when the anxieties kept pounding on his skull, demanding to be let in. Thoughts and dreams of losing it all and the eyes turning inside out from love to utter hatred, quelling each presumption with the unchanging fact that Seokjin will always be there for him. 

That’s why he comes without fail to Taehyung’s room every night, despite his exhaustion, after a petty fight. Because he will always, always love Kim Taehyung, no matter what. He’s the granite floor in Taehyung’s nightmares that won’t give way.

Taehyung feels so miserable. Why would Seokjin take away such a big piece of his happiness and comfort? What did he do so wrong?

Sleeping with Seokjin is his routine. Their routine. They’ve so diligently protected it all these months. There’s no reason for Seokjin to suddenly dismantle it like it’s not wired into their sinews. 

Was it Namjoon? Did he mention that it was w̶e̶i̴rd for Taehyung and Seokjin to be so close and sleep together?

...If so, does Seokjin think that too now? Is that why he seemed to evade Taehyung today?

Taehyung wrings his hands restlessly, shaping out his fingers for a sense of how he looks to everyone else. In his body that’s diseased with perverted thoughts of Kim Seokjin, it’s hard to tell if he’s right. If it were any other member in his place, would he find anything amiss for Seokjin to say all these?

Maybe it’s true that there’s no need for Seokjin and Taehyung to sleep together. Now that Taehyung no longer goes silent at the interviewer’s questions nor shuts himself in the room, everything should go back as it used to.

It’s not like Seokjin is leaving for good. They’re just not sleeping together anymore. They’re not l̵o̶v̴e̴r̸s, so Taehyung shouldn’t be w̶ei̷r̵d̵ and kick up a big fuss.

The wind tumbles in and the curtains flutter roughly. It’s chilly. Taehyung wraps himself in his blanket, uncomfortable without Seokjin's bones to rest against, almost like he's a child made to sleep without his favourite teddy bear. He squints his eyes shut and fails to stop thinking about Seokjin's look of askance.

Wei̴r̷d.

The hours wither by into the dead of night, the festering thoughts and feelings leaving Taehyung unable to sleep. He's suffused with hurt, sadness—and a growing, upset suspicion of their group’s leader.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns (interlude)

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

 

“It’s nothing to worry about. Really. I told you, he was in a bad mood today.”

Jimin edges closer to the shut door to hear the muffled voices. Yoongi, Namjoon and Seokjin are on the other side, tones sombre.

After the screaming match between Seokjin and Taehyung, there had been an uncomfortable quietness left behind while Seokjin went into Taehyung’s room to placate him. Jimin had emerged from his room when the commotion was already over.

Namjoon briefly explained that Taehyung was upset because Seokjin seemed to be playing favourites—he was taking care of Jungkook, down with the flu, but not Taehyung who had a headache.

Hours later, he heard Yoongi and Namjoon ask Seokjin to talk in private.

“Hyung,” Yoongi sighs with a tinge of frustration. “I don’t think you can brush it off as him just being in a bad mood.”

“Why?” Seokjin chuckles. 

“He was so angry at you—and just for taking care of Jungkook, who’s sick,” Yoongi states, stressing the last part.

“Like I said, he’s not feeling well, so he flared up. He has a headache.”

“A headache doesn’t make you scream at someone for taking care of someone else,” Yoongi raises his voice. “Taehyung’s not like this.”

“It’s not a big deal. Taehyung loses his temper easier than the rest of us. Right, Namjoon?”

Namjoon takes a while to reply. “I understand that, hyung. It’s just that it’s not the first time Taehyung has acted this way.”

“In what way?”

“He’s possessive,” Yoongi cuts to the chase with a pointedness. “You haven’t seen the way he acts when you get close to someone else? The other day while we were filming, Namjoon was holding your hand, and he pushed him off.”

“You know he’s joking,” Seokjin pacifies, tone emphasising how casually he sees the situation. “Doesn’t he do these kinds of things with you guys too? He’s only being playful in front of the fans.”

“Yeah. But he doesn’t do it to us when we’re off-camera.”

Yoongi’s cutting remark seems to have hit a nerve in the conversation, leaving an awfully loud silence in place. 

Then comes Seokjin's reply, his words tinged with scepticism.

“...You’re telling me he’s not affectionate with you guys when the cameras are off?”

“He doesn’t-” Yoongi audible grunts in exasperation. “He doesn’t smack anyone’s hand off when they’re touching Jimin, or Jungkook, or whoever else—but he does when it’s you. Nor does he get mad at any of us for taking care of Jungkook when he’s sick—Jimin kept checking in on him, Taehyung didn’t say a word—except when it’s you.”

“That’s different,” Seokjin says, still with that same tone that Jimin knows will eventually aggravate Yoongi. Seokjin uses it whenever the members are quarrelling with one, hoping to convince them that the subject is too trivial to be arguing so heatedly over. Sometimes, it works and they stop brandishing their vehement words. Sometimes, they get affronted, oddly uniting over a common enemy.

That was one of the reasons Taehyung found it difficult to get along well with Seokjin at first, wasn’t it? After all, one was the type that took many things to heart, and the other was the kind to live life without being hung up on things.

“Taehyung got mad because nobody cared about him, not just me. You guys didn’t do as much for him as you did for Jungkook, did you? I just happened to be the one he took his anger out on,” Seokjin explains. “If you think about it, it wasn’t fair to him that I didn’t care much about him as much as I did for Jungkook. So, it’s my fault.”

“Hyung, Taehyung’s not a child,” Yoongi underscores. “If he wants us to care for him, he should have asked. He would have asked instead of exploding like that.”

Seokjin raises his brows. “Yeah, he would have—but he didn’t, because he was sick. I don’t get what you are trying to get at.”

“You two are overthinking this. He’ll be fine tomorrow. Trust me,” he finishes.

“Hyung, I don’t think you’re wrong, but-” Namjoon starts, but Yoongi interrupts him.

Hyung. Really…”

Silence. Jimin shifts, ready to dart away if one of them heads for the door.

Yoongi heaves. 

“Why…” His voice dwindles. “Why do you keep pretending nothing’s happening, hyung? I know you’re aware that Taehyung’s being overly possessive of you, and he’s not being his usual self. You’re denying it over and over again and it’s… it’s weird.”

“Weird?” Seokjin repeats. 

“Yes, you’re being weird,” Yoongi repeats with an edge.

Seokjin’s voice similarly sharpens. “Hey, you’re getting it wrong, aren’t you? Who says I’m pretending? I’m saying this because there’s really nothing wrong. You are the one making this a big deal when it’s not.”

“Hyung, you’re quick to pick up on things,” Yoongi strains. His voice jumps. “Stop acting like you don’t know.”

Seokjin cuts him off. “Right, and I didn’t want to say this, but that time, when you singled Taehyung out while we were in your studio—don’t you think you went too far? We were just having fun and you scolded him.”

“Because he pushed Jimin roughly just for touching you! You didn’t see that? Even Jimin was stunned! He just didn’t mention it.”

“We were just playing around! We always do that. I’m his hyung and I let him act that way. So, if you have a problem with how he’s acting with me, then scold me. Not him. Don’t call Taehyung weird,” Seokjin firmly intones, eyes hardening. 

“I didn’t mean to scold him or call him weird,” Yoongi grits. “I didn’t know what else to say and it just slipped out. I didn’t want to butt in but-” 

Yoongi releases a long, loud sigh in exasperation.

“Sorry… Sorry. Hyung, I’m not trying to talk bad about Taehyung, or you. I’m just- I’m just worried, alright? Hyung, you can’t keep acting like Taehyung isn’t getting more and more possessive of you. You can't keep covering for him.”

“I’m not-”

“We’re a team. We’re all friends," Yoongi intones curtly. "We can’t get angry at each other for getting close to a certain one of us. It’s not okay.”

“...Hyung, I agree with Yoongi-hyung,” Namjoon says quietly to the point Jimin strains to hear. 

“You know I respect you a lot, Seokjin-hyung. I trust you to know what you’re doing, so I try not to interfere.”

Namjoon hesitates. “For me to talk to you like this means I’ve really put a lot of thought into the issue before deciding to come to you.”

“Like what Yoongi-hyung said, I think too that Taehyung’s getting more and more possessive of you. I’m not saying you’re wrong that he was in a bad mood today, so he shouted at you. I’m just wondering if… maybe… he already had these thoughts, and his bad mood just made him say them.”

After a while, Seokjin breathes, “You’re saying that no matter his mood, Taehyung would have been upset at me for taking care of Jungkook and not him.”

“Maybe…”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, though?” Seokjin remarks. “It’s Taehyung. He’s delicate. If any of you were in my place, doting on Jungkook and not bothering about Taehyung when he’s sick, he’d have reacted the same way.”

“He wouldn’t,” Yoongi suddenly speaks up. “He wouldn’t have shouted at me.”

Seokjin chuckles. “I mean, you’re you, Yoongi. The kids wouldn’t yell at you.”

“I don’t think he’d treat me like how he treated you either, hyung,” Namjoon speaks up.

“...It’s not the first time you guys have met the people in this dorm, right? You know the younger ones aren’t the most polite with me.”

“Hyung…” Namjoon’s voice dips. “Yoongi-hyung and I are just worried. Taehyung doing things like wanting to sit next to you in the van or looking for you often is fine. I understand; you two are close. And Taehyung—he’s doing a lot better now after you went to him. It’s not that surprising he’s…… he’s, uh, more attached to you.”

“But… it’s going overboard if he gets angry when we do the things we've always done with you. Hugging, touching, even talking to you one-on-one… He interrupts often, and it's as though he doesn't want anyone else to be near you. He'll separate whoever's talking to you from you... and he does it roughly—enough to hurt."

Namjoon's expression softens. "Sometimes, it feels like Taehyung... only sees you, hyung. It's okay for you two to be close, but lately, he's... he’s only interested in talking to you, especially about what's worrying him. He only wants to be with you—like when we're at schedules with fixed seating arrangements, and he just changes them around so he can sit with you."

“We're a team. We need to rely on each other. Taehyung can't keep behaving like this,” Namjoon says, this time with a stronger conviction. “And we have to remembever that we’re public figures too. We have an image to maintain when we’re on camera. The fans shouldn’t have to see us squabbling among ourselves or playing obvious favourites.”

“I know Yoongi-hyung might have been a bit harsh to Taehyung,” Namjoon’s voice diminishes, “but he’s worried. We might be able to brush it off for now, and our fans too, but when it gets too far… outsiders will think Taehyung’s strange. They’re not going to be nice."

A pause. Seokjin’s reply comes small and belated.

“I know.”

His voice shrivels. “I know that…”

“But Taehyung- he’s not strange, you know that, right?” Seokjin blurts. “It’s hard for him. He’s still young and he’s trying to cope with all the pressure, from everyone, from himself, and that’s why he’s… a bit clingy.”

His voice diminishes eventually with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I’m the oldest but I wasn’t careful. I’ll be more cautious in the future, especially when we're outside."

"So, don’t be hard on Taehyung, please," Seokjin whispers. "It’s not his fault. It’s mine." 

“We’re not trying to scold you two. It’s not your fault or his fault,” Namjoon assures.

“Yeah, don’t talk like that. Nobody’s blaming anybody. You don't need to be sorry. Taehyung doesn't, either,” Yoongi mutters.

His volume falls further, tinged with awkwardness. "And it's not how you guys act outside that has us worried most. It's that Taehyung's being too possessive, and he shouldn't be closing off himself—and you too—from everyone else.

Seokjin nods gingerly. A wordlessness wafts over them.

"We'll talk to Taehyung when he wakes up in the morning," Namjoon breathes. "Do you want to be there with us?

"Wait, you're going to talk to him about this?"

"We have to," Yoongi intones. "Hyung, we just said-"

"You can't just say it out of nowhere. Taehyung won't take it well," Seokjin states firmly. "It hasn't been that long since he started feeling better, feeling less anxious. If you bring this up with him, you're going to stress him out."

"We know," Yoongi breathes. "That's why we haven't said anything up till now. But what else can we do? We can't just leave Taehyung like this."

"You guys don't need to do anything. I'll deal with this. I'll talk to him if needed," Seokjin says. "If anyone, it should be me."

"...I think it'll better for hyung to bring it up with Taehyung," Namjoon raises in agreement.

"Yeah. And I don't want you guys to fight. You all saw what happened that day when you tried to bring it up with Taehyung," Seokjin continues.

After a moment, Yoongi rasps, "Hyung, it's not a small matter. Taehyung can't keep being like this. You understand, right?"

"I know, I know. Just leave it to me. I'll handle this. I'll make sure Taehyung won't be as clingy anymore. He acts like this because of me, anyway. I've never said he couldn't."

"...You really will?"

"Yeah."

”Alright, then.” Yoongi pauses, and then musters up, “Hyung, I don’t want to stir things up. But... do you think Taehyung... the reason why he's acting this way...”

“He what?” Seokjin responds all too quickly.

Jimin curls his fingers, nervousness growing in his chest. He has an idea as to what Yoongi will bring up, but he's not sure if Yoongi would actually say it out.

“...Nothing," he decides with a lengthy breath. "It’s nothing. Just pretend like I said nothing.”

After a stiff moment, Seokjin's laugh comes, a bit harsh on the ears.

"Hey, Yoongi, don't bring up things if you're not going to finish your sentence. You'll make people nervous for no reason."

"Anyway, what do you mean by the reason Taehyung's acting this way? There's no particular reason. He's just being clingy. He's like that," Seokjin chuckles easily.

"I’ll talk to Taehyung, so leave it to me,” he continues. “You don’t have to worry.”

Sensing clearly that it's the end of the conversation, Jimin briskly steps away from the door, only to jolt when he sees Hoseok standing at the end of the corridor. His brows are creased.

"Hyung, how long have you been there?" Jimin blurts.

Hoseok doesn't reply. “What were you doing?” He breathes in a tone that shows he already knows. He steps closer.

“Uh, I was just wondering what the hyungs were talking about.”

“Taehyung and Seokjin weren’t fighting over something trivial, huh?” Hoseok sighs softly. “I was hoping they were just shouting while playing games.”

He squeezes Jimin’s shoulder.

“Let’s not get involved, Jimin. Too many of us will make things more difficult than it already is.”

Jimin flutters his lashes as Hoseok brushes past him. 

 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Staring into the mirror, Taehyung touches the tint of grey beneath his eyes, face pale from the lack of sleep. He tossed and turned last night to the scraps of Seokjin’s words, uncomfortable without Seokjin’s warmth by his side, upset at the prospect of losing his nightly pattern with Seokjin—ticking all the boxes precisely Seokjin had said would be w̷e̸i̵r̵d̷

The more he dwelled, the more upset he got. How could Seokjin give up their nights together so easily, simply because Taehyung was feeling better and so, there was no need to? Isn’t their routine more than that? Showing up at his door every night without fail, sleeping in each other’s arms, whispering vulnerably, wholeheartedly in the dimness about the craters of the soul to a person who loves you no matter what. Taehyung spoke about things he couldn't put into words and Seokjin would understand them easily.

Seokjin’s treating their nights together like counselling sessions, tagged with a graduation date of when Taehyung gets better. The thought stings with a pang. Taehyung thinks he has the conviction that Seokjin wouldn’t think that way, but what Seokjin said last night has him faltering. 

Why is he w̵e̴i̴r̴d for being upset? Even if he didn’t l̴i̴k̸e̴ Seokjin like this, he’s sure he would have cherished their nights together. It’s not a clinginess born from a pest-like l̶ov̸e̵.

Taehyung splashes some water onto his face. It only emphasises the pallor in his cheeks, drawing a starker contrast with his eye circles. He looks worse. Seokjin would probably notice; he’s the first to note even the most minute changes in Taehyung. 

Would he feel bad that Taehyung’s having a hard time sleeping without him? Or would he find it off-putting?

After some thought, Taehyung washes his face again. He opens the bathroom door and jolts to find Namjoon standing outside.

“So, you were inside. I was looking for you. Did you sleep well? ” Namjoon asks.

He slants his head. “Oh. You look pale.”

Taehyung thins his lips, wariness dripping into his chest. Namjoon must know that Seokjin and Taehyung are sleeping apart; else, why would he check on Taehyung so suddenly? Despite what Seokjin said, it seems more plausible that Namjoon’s the one who instigated all of this and Seokjin just won't or can't tell.

“I’m fine,” Taehyung mutters.

He saunters out to find Seokjin in the living room. He’s sitting on the floor, munching on his breakfast while watching television. 

Seokjin glances up at him and Taehyung’s heart slips out of rhythm. Seokjin’s eyes are puffy and his lips are chapped.

“Hyung,” Taehyung calls softly. The childish words rush in a flood out of reflex—about how he couldn’t sleep because he was so upset, of how it feels lonely without Seokjin in bed. But the memory of their conversation has him hesitating.

“Taehyung, you’re up early.” Seokjin hums.

He doesn’t say anything more, leaving an unfamiliar quietness behind. He’d normally ask Taehyung how he slept, and they’d chat about something, anything.

Taehyung shakes off the feeling of being a stranger and gets a cup of water. Involuntarily, he thinks briefly about yesterday’s recording session and how Seokjin seemed unusually distant.

His fingers tighten over his cup.

Seokjin has always treated him well and spoilt him with love and care. If… Taehyung whined a little about having grown used to sleeping beside someone, and bared his eye circles to him, Seokjin would likely give in. Yes, he might find Taehyung w̵e̴i̴r̴d, but is that honestly such a bad thing? He’d just write him off as childish, perhaps. Not necessarily that Taehyung has… questionable feelings towards him.

“Hyung, what are you watching?”

“Some drama. I don’t know the title.”

“Is it good?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not paying attention,” Seokjin yawns.

“Then why are you watching it?”

Seokjin shrugs. 

Taehyung gets onto his knees and scoots towards Seokjin. He bites his lip. 

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts faintly. He rests his hand on the inside of Seokjin’s thigh. Before he can say anymore, Seokjin abruptly shifts aside, making Taehyung’s hand fall.

Seokjin seems to halt like realising what he’d done. He looks into Taehyung’s eyes.

“Oh, you asked why I’m watching this, right? I just put whatever on.” 

He reaches for the remote on the armrest and offers it to Taehyung. “You want to watch something else?”

Taehyung blinks at him as he takes back his hand. His chest constricts. 

“No… It’s okay. Watch what you want, hyung.”

“Okay.” Seokjin pauses for a moment, and then, he suddenly stands.

“I’m going to make some coffee.”

Taehyung remains where he is, wringing his hands together while the heinous thoughts slither over his mind. Was that an accident, or did Seokjin genuinely avoid his touch? 

Recollections of yesterday come back uninvited to Taehyung, reminding him of how Seokjin pulled his hand away when Taehyung tried to hold it. He stood so oddly far from Taehyung while they were recording, leaving them with few chances to talk, and he chose to sit away from Taehyung. The way Seokjin’s expression twisted as he told Taehyung he shouldn’t be upset reminds Taehyung of Yoongi’s.

Stop it. You're being st̵r̷an̶g̸e.

Taehyung stiffens and he touches his eye circles in self-consciousness. He must be overthinking this, right? Seokjin only asked to stop sleeping together because he doesn’t see a need for it anymore. Maybe he just moved over to make space and there was nothing more to it.

Seokjin is Seokjin. He’s always loved and taken care of Taehyung, no matter what he does. He wouldn’t think of Taehyung as s̶̠̎̔t̴̡̖̾̓ra̶nge̶.

Then, how does Taehyung explain Seokjin’s behaviour yesterday?

The low sound of the television fizzles past as he submerges deeper into his quicksand of thoughts. Quite some months ago, Seokjin had mentioned it was strange for Taehyung to kiss him, even though he stopped minding after a while.

As Seokjin steps back into the living room, the hyperawareness creeps over Taehyung’s skin and he straightens himself to look more energetic.

He should make up some excuse for Seokjin as to why he looks tired. Just in case he notices. 

A pair of footsteps resound, Jimin lumbering into the living room. He collapses on the sofa behind Taehyung and Seokjin, leg slanting out to poke Seokjin’s shoulder.

“Hey, get your foot off me.”

Jimin mumbles incoherently, rolling onto his stomach. “We have practice today…”

“Yeah. Did you forget?”

“No… What are you two watching?”

“I don’t know.”

Jimin laughs softly. He prods Seokjin harder and Seokjin swats him off.

“Kids, I’m going back to sleep. I didn’t sleep a lot yesterday,” Seokjin gets up with a yawn.

“Oh, uh- okay. Sleep well, hyung.” Taehyung gives a creaky smile.

Seokjin heads into the kitchen to wash his bowl while Taehyung loses himself in more of his conjectures. Seokjin might have noticed he’s pale. If Namjoon noticed he was pale, surely, Seokjin would have noticed, being the most observant. But he would have commented if so, nagging at him to go get more rest.

Taehyung sobers out of his trance when Seokjin finally plods out of the kitchen. He blinks as Seokjin hands him a warm cup of milk and a sandwich, and then puts Jimin’s share on the table.

“Eat up. I’m going back to sleep now.”

Jimin props himself up and grins widely. “Wow! Hyung, aren’t you being too nice? What’s the occasion?”

He takes a sip of the milk. “Wow, you even warmed up the milk? I don’t like warm milk, though.” He lightly holds Seokjin’s hand, immediately kindling an instinctive displeasure in Taehyung. 

“Ah, I’m so sorry, Jimin. Hyung will do better next time,” Seokjin exaggerates, shaking off Jimin’s hand.

“Hyung, thank you,” Taehyung blurts.

“Sure. Once you finish eating, go back to sleep, you two.” 

“Why would I? I just got up.”

“You’re looking to fight, aren’t you, Jimin?” Seokjin playfully chides. Promptly, he disappears into the room.

Taehyung picks at his sandwich as his gut stirs. He turns back to Jimin.

“Jimin,” Taehyung lowers his voice. “Do I look tired?”

“Um… a bit, I guess? Why? You didn’t sleep well?”

“No, Namjoon-hyung said I looked pale, so I was wondering,” Taehyung returns. He stands and heads to the toilet, seeking another look in the mirror.

 

 

The bright lights prick into Taehyung’s eyes as he slides across the polished floor. He falls into place, switching with Jungkook and rolling his torso. He mouths the words along with Hoseok, and as he glides behind, he finds himself staring at Seokjin’s broad back. 

Seokjin’s positioned at the front, brows knitted. They’re just marking the steps but he tries his hardest to make the moves work. As smooth as he can, as natural as possible. Taehyung wants to tell him what a good job he’s doing, but it brings back his nervousness. He hasn’t gotten to talk to Seokjin beyond this morning. Once Seokjin woke up from his nap, he went out and showed up at the company by himself right as practice began.

There’s no way Seokjin would avoid him.

Practice ends early with Hoseok deciding they’ve learnt enough for today. Seokjin rests against the wall, beads of perspiration rolling down his neck and seeping into his collar. His eyes are hooded as the bright practice room lights collapse upon him.

Taehyung searches around for a mineral water bottle. He grabs two and heads for Seokjin.

“Hyung,” he cajoles, kneeling by Seokjin’s side. “Drink up. You did well.”

“Oh, Taehyung. Thanks, you too.” Seokjin hums, taking a swig.

Taehyung settles down by Seokjin’s side, their thighs touching—nothing out of the ordinary. Seokjin moves just a bit away and pulls Jungkook over from the corner.

“What?” Jungkook asks.

“Drink up.” Seokjin tosses him the bottle. He never returns to where he was.

Jungkook takes a gulp. They sit in quietness while the rest of the members discuss with the choreographer some steps, running through them to perfect every ankle swivel. Jimin’s worried about the positioning, pointing out that he and Taehyung may crash into one another.

Taehyung looks at Seokjin in the mirror. He tries not to overthink but it’s difficult to, with what happened this morning. He’s touched Seokjin way more intimately than just putting his hand on his thigh. Feeling down Seokjin’s hipbone, pressing Seokjin deep into his contours, peppering kisses on his neck. Seokjin never moved away, even if he complained about it.

Seokjin says to Jungkook, “You stepped on Jimin’s foot, didn’t you?”

Jungkook grins sheepishly. “Don’t bring it up! He didn’t get the chance to scold me just now.”

“Why? Jimin’s not the kind of person who would scold you badly.”

“I didn’t just step, I stomped.”

Seokjin laughs. Taehyung intuitively churns out a smile.

“I’m going to go remind Jimin,” he points out.

“I’ll stomp on your foot too, hyung,” Jungkook threatens.

His smile weans. “Hyung, you know, you were a bit off in the positioning today.”

“Oh, I was? Sorry. Was a bit distracted.”

Taehyung shifts his attention to Seokjin. 

“Hyung.” He pulls up a smile. “How’s the choreo? The kicking is a bit hard, isn’t it? I fall back a bit every time I land and have to get myself back in line.”

“Yeah. It’s hard for me to kick high,” Seokjin says. 

“Mm, that part’s kind of hard to be in sync,” Jungkook speaks up. “We can’t all kick at the same height. It’s hard to coordinate.”

Taehyung nods. “It’s a fun dance, though.”

He shifts to lean against the wall and places his hand over Seokjin’s. It’s a thoughtless reflex, something he does so naturally that he never pays attention anymore. But it’s his second mistake of the day. Seokjin’s hand whips away with a roughness that’s hard to misinterpret, and he gets up onto his feet.

“Hey, I’m going to see what the rest are talking about. So I can pick up some pointers.” Seokjin dusts himself and walks off without waiting for a reply.

Taehyung catches himself, curling his offending hand—his right, again. He stares after Seokjin as the horrid feeling dwells in the pits of his stomach, his hand burning as though Seokjin’s pull was a flame.

No, Seokjin just wanted to see what the rest were doing. He shouldn't overreact.

Taehyung tries to firm the thought in his mind, but it decays into a pressing nervousness. He belatedly notices that Jungkook is peering at him.

"Do your best, hyung," Jungkook hums. He squeezes Taehyung's shoulder and follows after Seokjin.

 

 

11 PM darkness looms with an unfamiliar ambience. Taehyung feels a leftover, misplaced excitement that became a habit over the months as he waited for Seokjin to step into the room. The shower water hits his back, Taehyung wincing as the fatigue chews at his sore muscles.

Gripping the sink, he stares down at the bowl, trying not to let his gut feeling bottom out into worse speculations. He restlessly squirms the hand that got brushed off by Seokjin, losing himself once again to his pounding thoughts. 

During dinner, Taehyung sat by Seokjin’s side in the restaurant. The seven of them were discussing their upcoming Festa plans. Seokjin seemed to talk as per normal with everyone, but he felt distant towards Taehyung. 

Perhaps he’s just overreacting, pettily hung up over small things. Seokjin habitually piles up Taehyung’s plate before his own at the dinner table, to the point where the other members call him biased. He asks Taehyung if he likes the dishes and endearingly asks to get more when Taehyung does. But it doesn’t matter that he didn’t do it today. It’s a minor thing to dwell upon.

Seokjin sat beside him when they were on the way home. He tucked his hands in his trousers during the van ride home because he was cold, or he felt like it. It doesn’t mean he was purposely trying to avoid holding hands like they always do—fingers intertwined, shoulders touching, eerily conjoined. 

He leaned away to rest against the window. He replied listlessly because he must have been tired. He wasn’t hoping to sit elsewhere when they got into the car.

What reason can he give for why Seokjin barely looked him in the eyes today?

Seokjin wouldn’t shun Taehyung. He’d never do that to him. He’s the one who comes to his room every night for almost a year to accompany him—he used to. 

Taehyung bites his lip hard enough to bruise. The thorny rise in his chest makes it difficult for him to breathe, hurt and misery thrashing with confusion and bitterness. He feels a little, just a bit like crying. 

He wonders what went through Seokjin’s head when Taehyung touched him—what did he see in those touches? Perhaps, he sifted out Taehyung’s feelings from underneath?

But… it doesn’t necessarily mean Taehyung feels that way towards Seokjin. He’s just touching him. What was so different about the way he touched Seokjin and how Jimin does? How gently he touched him? How firmly he did? The words he said before he did it, the look in his eyes, the smile he gave—what exactly was the culprit that made Seokjin shake him off like he was dirt? Taehyung’s done worse, committed far more intimate crimes where he kissed Seokjin’s clavicle and hid delusionally behind the alibi of brotherly affection, that which Seokjin accepted readily. What's giving him away?

Taehyung steps out of the bathroom and saunters to his room with his towel hung over his head. He settles on his bed with the lights off, hair dripping water all over his mattress. He immerses in the comfort of darkness, staring at that offensive hand of his that now can’t be told from the sheets.

As Taehyung capsizes in his ocean of thoughts, he’s drawn out instantly by the knock on his door. His heart leaps in reflex, but it’s Jimin who steps in with a steaming cup.

Taehyung’s shoulders fall with his plummeting heart. Jimin switches on the lights and Taehyung cringes. 

“Oh, sorry,” Jimin apologetically says. “I’ll turn it off.”

He brings over the cup of tea carefully and places it on the table. He cajoles, “Jin-hyung made it for everyone. I’m serving it to everyone like the good member I am.”

Taehyung fishes out the teabag. “Seokjin-hyung made tea?”

“Chamomile.” Jimin plops onto the bed and touches the mattress. “Hey, you’re dripping water all over the sheets! You didn’t dry your hair?”

Taehyung shrugs. He slurps at the hot tea, scalding his tongue a little.

“Lazy.” Jimin scoots closer. “Are you going to sleep already?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll help you tell Seokjin-hyung,” Jimin says, getting up.

Taehyung grabs Jimin’s wrist. “No, don’t. We’re not sleeping together anymore.”

“What?” Jimin’s eyes widen in surprise. “Why? Did you two fight?”

“No, we didn’t fight,” Taehyung returns. A lump forms in his throat as he tries to explain, “Jin-hyung… he just thought we didn’t need to sleep together anymore. Since I’m feeling better.”

“Because you’re feeling better...?” Jimin repeats.

“Yeah.”

Jimin furrows his brows, some bewilderment showing on his face. “But you guys have been doing it for the whole past year. Why would Jin-hyung say that all of a sudden?” 

Taehyung smiles slightly with relief. It’s not only him who thinks it nonsensical that Seokjin would suddenly say they didn’t need to sleep together.

“I think it’s Namjoon-hyung that told Seokjin-hyung to stop,” Taehyung remarks, the words coming out with a covert acidity.

Jimin’s frown deepens. “Namjoon-hyung? Seriously?”

“I think so. After they went out that night, Seokjin-hyung suddenly told me we shouldn’t sleep together anymore.”

“So, this started…”

“Last night.”

“Um, okay. You slept alright on your own?”

“Of course I did.” Taehyung fidgets, parroting Seokjin’s words softly, “It’d be weird if I didn’t.”

“Okay.” Jimin rubs the nape of his neck. He murmurs, “I know Namjoon-hyung spoke to Jin-hyung about being careful, but I didn’t think Namjoon-hyung would tell you guys to sleep apart.”

Jimin fully grabs Taehyung’s attention. “He spoke to Jin-hyung? When?”

“That day, when Jungkook fell sick before the overseas music festival. Yoongi-hyung and Namjoon-hyung were worried about you guys fighting, so they talked to Seokjin-hyung. You already know that, don’t you?”

“Oh.” Taehyung’s voice falls, embarrassed at the memory. “Yeah, Hoseok-hyung mentioned it to me, but I think he didn’t hear what they were saying. You heard what they were talking about?” 

Jimin hesitates. “Well, they just said you’ve been acting… a bit different, and you and Seokjin-hyung need to be more careful. They were saying it out of worry.” He stresses the last point.

“Ah.”

Seokjin never mentioned this. He simply said Namjoon told them not to fight with the festival coming up.

Different.

It’s just another word for it, isn’t it? Jimin must be wrapping it up nicely to not hurt his feelings.

Taehyung tries not to let his misery show. It’s blatant now. How Namjoon and Yoongi see him—how unsettling he must seem for them to intervene—and the cause of Seokjin’s sudden change in demeanour. Yoongi’s not the only one who finds him so incomprehensible. Namjoon clearly does as well, to the point he had to put his foot down. Every member of the group probably thinks the same.

Jimin squeezes Taehyung’s arm. “If you feel lonely at night, just let me know. I’ll sleep over in your room, okay?”

Taehyung smiles and nods.

He’s left behind in darkness when Jimin leaves. He looks up and notices how faded the star stickers have become. They barely glow anymore; he has trouble differentiating them from the ceiling. How long have they been that way?

Offhandedly, Taehyung thinks back to the earlier days when Seokjin popped his head into the room to check on him. Taehyung both wanted him to leave and to stay—he wanted to be in the darkness all alone, but he couldn’t shake off the deep-seated apprehension of truly being left alone there. The stickers were a middle ground that let him fade away without losing everything.

Different.

Taehyung’s mind scribbles out how things might have unfolded. At the riverbank, over a cup of beer, Namjoon speaking seriously to Seokjin about things being a problem and the way Seokjin’s face must have contorted in thought. Till he himself was convinced that Taehyung was st̵ra̷n̶g̸e, ṩ̵̟̊t̸̺̮̩͂̾͠ř̷̢͇̻ȁ̵͝n̸̪̽͆g̸̱͝ë̶́̑ enough to make him wary of Taehyung’s touches.

The possible of it rips into Taehyung’s chest. He scratches his cheek, finger creeping up to his eye to dash the bit of wetness. As he stares harder at his hands, he wonders what the symptoms of his unsettling tendencies are. If they show in his eyes, his voice and his touch. No, Seokjin never bothered about what he did, until Namjoon tinted them with suspicion.

It’s not fair. Why are people so unhappy with him and Seokjin being close?

Amidst his blistering thoughts, the fatigue slowly swallows Taehyung up. He leaves his towel at the end of the bed and falls into a shallow sleep, damp hair soaking his pillow.

He dreams of a spotlight on him, the surrounding audience bathed in darkness. He can’t tell the expressions on their faces, while the music is too loud to discern if they’re cheering or jeering. He searches around for the rest of the members but they aren’t anywhere on stage with him. 

Taehyung grips the microphone and runs from the extended stage to the walkway, eyes darting around for his teammates. The spotlight tails him incessantly. The moshpit thrashes but he still can’t tell their reactions to him. And then, finally, he spots a familiar broad frame, sitting in the front seat.

Taehyung sprints towards Seokjin. As he comes closer, his spotlight illuminates Seokjin’s face. The rest of the members are sitting with him in the row.

Taehyung freezes. He steps back upon taking in Seokjin’s expression. Seokjin’s frowning, staring at Taehyung with a mixture of concern and disquiet. 

It’s not just Seokjin. Namjoon, Yoongi, Hoseok, Jimin, Jungkook, the fans—all of them are wearing the same look, staring at him like he’s baffling.

Taehyung wakes up with a start, cold sweat trickling down his neck. He instinctively grabs the side of the bed, only to feel the sheets.

The surroundings start to register and Taehyung’s breathing slows, his heart still hammering. He goes to wash his face as his dream disperses into the miserable feeling of fear and a vague memory. His dream was awfully bright.

As he walks back, he stops outside Seokjin’s room. Instinctively, he seeks out his biggest source of comfort, reaching for the knob. Ironically, the remnant of fear is what has him pulling back.

Taehyung settles back in his room, taking a long breath to assuage his apprehension. It’s then that he notices his head was resting on a pink towel. It’s not his; he remembers leaving his white one at the foot of his bed.

The white towel isn't there anymore but instead, on the rack. Taehyung picks up the pink towel and hangs it up as well. It might be Jimin, since he chided Taehyung for not drying his hair.

Taehyung buries himself under the blanket. The swarming darkness makes him tense, so he crawls out from the covers and grabs the night light Seokjin bought for him.

It’s too bright. Though it pricks at Taehyung’s eyes, he decides not to turn it off, sleeping with his back to the light.

 

 

Groggily, Taehyung opens his eyes to the morning sunlight and the glow of his night light seething into his eyelids. He’s disoriented, thoughts racing by in a flurry.

Taehyung steps into the shower. The cold water slithers down to his feet and dismantles thought after thought, pieces about Seokjin and his stinging hand. After his shower, he hears from Hoseok that Seokjin has gone out again.

In a few hours, he’s chauffeured off to the agency for a gruelling dance rehearsal. The fatigue bites into his sinews but he determinedly keeps himself up to tempo, one, two, three, four. Verse after verse.

He catches his breath during their break, perspiration soaking his shirt. The lights are so unbearably bright that he wishes he could turn it down, but he won’t be able to scrutinise the details of his reflection.

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung turns to find Yoongi’s brows furrowed. He immediately interprets it as disdain and frowns back warily. 

“What?”

“You okay?” Yoongi touches Taehyung’s shoulder. “You look a bit tired.” 

Taehyung properly sifts out the concern permeating Yoongi’s voice, the overlay of scorn peels from Yoongi’s face. He feels bad for rashly jumping to such a hostile interpretation when Yoongi simply called him.

“I’m fine, hyung. I’m not tired—do I look that way?”

“Yeah, a little. You feel that way,” Yoongi clarifies. “Do you want an energy drink? I’m going out to get one.”

“Okay. Thanks, hyung.”

Taehyung wipes away his sweat and stares at the practice room mirror. He looks pallid, expectedly, since he found it hard to sleep after his nightmare. It was too bright to sleep but the darkness made him feel uneasy, like he had seen a deep-seated fear when his eyes were closed.

He darts his gaze furtively to the figure leaning against the mirror. Seokjin is occupied with his phone in a corner, all by himself.

Taehyung rubs his face to bring a warmer glow to his skin. He gathers a rickety smile and approaches, his heart pounding in anxiousness leftover from last night’s dream.

“Jin-hyung,” Taehyung rasps. He carefully takes a seat by Seokjin’s side and checks where he places his hand. 

“This choreo’s tiring, right? But you did well. Especially for the chorus.”

Seokjin glimpses so quickly at Taehyung he almost doubts it. 

“I keep losing my balance, though, at that part,” he sighs, speaking casually without looking at Taehyung. He draws his outstretched hand away from Taehyung. 

“It’s okay. I do too. I always slant by accident; it gets pretty bad,” Taehyung laughs, trying not to give any weight to what Seokjin did.

“That’s just a minor mistake,” Seokjin says. “Don’t beat yourself up over small things like that.”

He offhandedly comments, “You look tired.”

“Oh- uh,” Taehyung pauses, mind whirring to find the right answer. “I’m not.”

“Really?” Seokjin’s voice dips. “That’s good, then.”

“Why?” Taehyung chuckles stiffly. “I seem tired?”

“Yeah.” Seokjin’s still not looking Taehyung in the eyes.

“It’s because I’m not keeping pace well, huh? Sungdeuk-hyung mentioned it yesterday too.”

“No, no, you were fine. You did great, Taehyung. Really. If it’s anyone, it’s me that’s not keeping up.”

“Hyung, you’re doing good, too. Don’t say that about yourself. I really think you’re doing well,” Taehyung insists. 

“Taehyung’s right, hyung. I think you’re learning this dance much faster than our previous one. The chorus could use some work, though. You have to be a bit faster,” Hoseok mentions as he settles with them, letting out an exhausted sigh. 

He melts into a teasing smile. “Although, Taehyung likes anything you do.”

Seokjin doesn’t grin back. “You kids are too nice. And yeah, the chorus—I’ll work on that.” 

“We’re not being nice. You need to learn to accept compliments, hyung. Why do you praise yourself so well but go red when people praise you?” Hoseok giggles. 

“I go red at everything. My body’s just like that. I could be standing around and my neck’s suddenly red,” Seokjin points out with a snort.

“Yeah. Hyung’s like a weather forecast. When the air gets a bit colder his ears go red; when it’s a bit warmer his neck goes red.” Taehyung laughs, leaning a bit closer to Seokjin. Seokjin glances at him.

“Our own weatherman! That’s your role. BTS weatherman,” Hoseok cajoles. 

“His knees can tell you when it’s raining too. They hurt whenever it rains,” Taehyung adds. 

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to go red at everything, hyung,” Hoseok muses. “Your face practically gives away whatever you’re feeling. Even if you want to pretend, you can’t.”

Taehyung beams at Seokjin. “Yeah, it’s really cute, don’t you think?”

“Hm. I wouldn’t want people to know when I’m nervous or embarrassed.”

“I think it’s a good thing. People like hyung easily since his face is sincere, just like his heart. It’s beautiful,” Taehyung remarks.

“Wow…” Hoseok laughs, sighing lightheartedly. “Is that so? Hyung, what do you think?” 

Seokjin shrugs and returns to his phone, leaving an awkward pause in the conversation. Taehyung regards him timidly. 

“Ah, hyung has nothing to say,” Hoseok hums. “But on the inside, he must be thrilled at the compliment.”

He reaches over to brush Seokjin’s wet hair when Seokjin still doesn’t reply.

“Yucks,” Hoseok gripes as he gathers sweat.

“What are you suddenly doing? You reach out to touch me and then you complain?” Seokjin sighs, resting his head against the mirror away from Hoseok. “Don’t touch me.”

Hoseok scrunches up his nose. “You’re cranky. Hmph. Don’t be angry, hyung. I wasn’t teasing you.” 

He cheekily reaches out again and tickles Seokjin’s neck, making him yelp. 

“Hey, stop,” Seokjin mutters.

“His left rib, hyung,” Taehyung chuckles. 

“Left rib?”

“Seokjin-hyung’s ticklish there, I mean.”

“He is? How do you know that?” Hoseok arches a brow, thumbing down Seokjin’s chest as instructed. “What weird things are you two doing at night?”

"Hobi-"

"No, here." Taehyung cheekily taps his own chest and brings a hand closer to gesture. Seokjin grips Hoseok’s fingers tightly. 

I told you not to touch me,” he snaps.

Seokjin surprisingly gets up and brushes past Yoongi who’s stepping in, huddling himself in another corner. Taehyung doesn’t miss the sharp glance Seokjin sends his way.

“Wha- what’s his problem?” Hoseok mutters. “He’s touchy today.”

Yoongi tosses Taehyung his drink. “Who?”

“Jin-hyung. I was tickling him a little and he got mad at me.”

“Oh. He was fine just now though. When I was talking to him,” Yoongi remarks, popping open his can.

Taehyung's chest shrivels with such a wretched feeling of remorse and dismay. He wrings his hands, antsily, obsessively dissecting what he did. Was that wrong of him to say? He just thought to share for fun. He didn't think Seokjin would get mad over something so lighthearted. Or was it something else?

His gaze deviates to his reflection. His eyes—how did they look? Drenched with a excruciatingly questionable affection throughout the conversation? Or is it the tone he spoke with? Maybe he went too close.

"Taehyung," Yoongi says, snapping Taehyung out of his trance. “Did you and Jin-hyung fight?”

“Huh?” Taehyung blurts, clamming up. “We didn’t. Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. Just feels like you guys haven’t been talking much today,” Yoongi mentions, taking a swig. He ultimately drops the topic and settles down with them.

 

 

Doused in darkness, Taehyung has the covers up to his chin as he slouches over his knees. He stares at what bit of his hand he can differentiate from everything else. Peculiarly, he’s enamoured when he can barely tell his fingers from the skin of darkness.

He can’t remember how long he talked to Seokjin today. Maybe a few minutes, pockets of conversation and laughter that make it seem like nothing is too amiss. Seokjin’s mood recovered quickly since Hoseok teased him in the practice room, to the point Taehyung doubts the look Seokjin threw at him. But Taehyung could still strain out the traces of unhappiness despite how much he chattered with everyone.

Taehyung curls himself up, hugging his knees to his chest. He wants to ask Seokjin what he’s doing wrong and what he can do to fix things between them. But the prospect feels both frightening and fruitless. What would Seokjin say? That he thinks Taehyung’s so ṩ̵̟̊t̸͂̾r̶̾̄͑̓͂ȁ̵n̸̽g̶e̵ and it makes him uncomfortable? That the only thing Taehyung can do is to keep his distance? No matter if Seokjin thinks that deep down, he’d never admit that to spare Taehyung’s feelings.

To think that Seokjin has now branded him like Yoongi did, despite so vehemently convincing him he wasn’t as Yoongi said—Taehyung feels like his heart’s been pulverised down to his stomach. He tries not to let his misery collapse in his chest but it bruises so pathetically against the memories of days ago, where Seokjin held him to sleep. 

Where did he go wrong? Maybe, if he had been a little more modest with his affections, he’d never have drawn the other members’ consternation. If he hadn't threw a fit over Seokjin doting on Jungkook, if he hadn't interfered when Jimin and Seokjin were playing, things would be alright.

They must be relieved now that Taehyung and Seokjin separate. Taehyung wonders if everyone—some (who?)—decided on it together, or Namjoon acted on his own.

His door creaks open. Once more, it’s Jimin instead of Seokjin. Jimin sets down a cup on Taehyung’s drawers.

“Again?” Taehyung raises a brow at the chamomile tea. “Is it Jin-hyung?”

“Yeah. He went back to buy more, you know. I told him not to make it for me since I don’t really like the taste.” Jimin plops himself onto Taehyung’s bed.

“You okay?” He asks, rubbing Taehyung’s knee. “You looked tired today.”

“I’m fine.” Taehyung touches Jimin’s hand and lies down by his side. 

They sit in serenity, just staring up at the star stickers that have lost their glow. Taehyung’s heartbeat slows to a better pace as Jimin thumbs circles into his hand.

Jimin’s warmth is different from Seokjin’s. It’s more mellow and simply there, and it doesn’t make Taehyung’s heart race till he wants to throw up.

“I’m here for you, you know that, right?” Jimin begins.

“Mm. Thanks,” Taehyung breathes. He turns to meet Jimin’s eyes and for a moment, he mulls over how Jimin would react if he were to spill out the clots in his heart. That Seokjin’s avoiding him, evading his touches like they’re flames, no, grime, while still putting on the act that nothing’s changed. He’s been like that since his private talk with Namjoon, and Taehyung can’t understand why Namjoon would do this to him.

I █̶̹̎█̸█̸█̴͗̌͘ Seokjin-hyung.

Maybe it’s not saying it to Jimin that’s difficult. It’s saying it out loud and never being able to take it back.

Taehyung rolls over and presses his forehead into Jimin’s arm. Jimin caresses the back of his head.

“You need me to sleep by your side?”

“It’s fine. I’m not a child,” Taehyung heaves.

“Wanting someone to sleep beside you doesn’t make you a child," Jimin hums. He nudges the cup of tea to Taehyung. 

“Drink it now. Otherwise, it’ll get cold.”

Some time later, Jimin goes back to his room, leaving Taehyung to ruminate. His thoughts drizzle away into a warm dream—of being on a bed with someone beside him. Taehyung’s touching slowly but without restraint, fingers crawling wherever he wants. The man shifts but doesn’t stop it.

The warmth begins to stifle, climbing several degrees in a span of a few minutes. It’s become unbearable but Taehyung still holds on to the man in his bed, pressing, nudging more intimately. The man trembles and lets out a soft moan when Taehyung fondles his stomach. It’s exhilarating, so intoxicating.

As Taehyung slips his hand past the hem of the man’s boxers, the man abruptly grips his hand. He’s elbowed back and greeted by Seokjin’s horrified look, eyes wide in disbelief. Taehyung snaps to his senses and amidst the terrifying realisation of what he’d been doing, he hysterically rushes to apologise. But no matter how hard he vomits the words out, nothing leaves his throat.

Seokjin begins screaming at him, his grip getting more and more vicious over Taehyung’s hand. His touch scalds like boiling water, turning Taehyung’s skin red. There’s so much disgust in his contorted expression. 

Hyung, it hurts,  Taehyung whimpers. His hand feels like it’s broken with how hard Seokjin is grabbing it, but Seokjin keeps crushing it relentlessly.

Taehyung jolts awake with a sharp breath and damp eyes. He instinctively checks his hand to find it still intact, but the shadow of flames and rough fingernails lurk like a phantom sensation.

Taehyung switches on his night light and wallows in the glaring brightness for some comfort. He runs his hand restlessly through his hair to ease his hammering heart. Breathe in, breathe out. He scratches away the bit of wetness on his lashes.

Breathe in, breathe out, shudder. Despite the minutes that pass, Taehyung still remembers this nightmare vividly. He can’t claw out from his mind how Seokjin turned to look at him with revulsion.

Taehyung swathes himself in his blanket tightly.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Some hours later, Taehyung awakes caked in sweat from his blanket coccoon. Dusk lingers outside his window. For sanity's sake, he checks to find nobody in bed with him and moves his fingers, trying each joint to rid the persistent shadow of pain.

Crush, scald, bruise. He’s not one to play into dreams like a child that still fears the monsters in his closet, but he can’t scrub away Seokjin’s furious look. The abhorrence in his eyes remains so lucid, sticking like a stain to his mind.

It's 5 AM, yet the nightmares has endured till now. Taehyung steps into the bathroom and stares hard at his reflection. The grey has grown more prominent under his eyes. His other bad dreams comes back in flashes of being burnt alive. 

Taehyung takes a long cold shower to erase the feeling of being dirty. The shower feels like rainwater, trickling down his skin and collecting in a chilly pool between his toes. He scrubs himself a bit harder than usual.

Taehyung steps out of the bathroom with his hair dripping wet to hear some noises. Following the sounds, he notices Seokjin's room ajar, a dim light seeping out into the hallway.

Instinctively, the fright bruises in Taehyung's chest. Seokjin's leaving again. He's been doing so for a while now, but Taehyung doesn't know why. He thinks it might be because of him.

The fragments of his dream bleed in and despite how he's vividly aware it's nothing but a dream, his heart pounds nauseatingly with fear—because even if the nightmare didn't actually happen, it could.

Crush.

Scald.

Bruise.

Taehyung holds his offending hand, belatedly realising his dread comes less from the thought of Seokjin breaking his fingers, but more so the repulsed look in his eyes. That—that was a point of no return. There was simply no way he could turn back and fix their relationship the moment he crossed that line and sickened Seokjin for good. 

The understanding brings a churning heaviness within his ribcage. For Seokjin, a person who patiently tolerated and gave love to even the darkest corners of Taehyung's mind, to actually turn his back on Taehyung—Taehyung's sure now. He deathly must keep his diseased feelings to himself and only himself, and sear every insinuation of them away. No one, no one at all can know.

Despite his escalating anxiousness, he remains in the hallway, teetering between waiting for Seokjin or shrouding himself. It's a messed-up form of push and pull, Taehyung realises, to fear and seek comfort from the same thing. He wants so badly for Seokjin to treat him like he used to—to hold him, to take care of him, to love him like he promised he would. The feeling in his chest starts to tinge with resentment and hurt.

The urge to confront Seokjin burns. He wants to demand, ask with a furious disbelief if Seokjin truly has tossed him to the curb, all because he thinks Taehyung is strange. But every noise has Taehyung's throat clenching further, fear spiralling up his windpipe. 

If he were to wait here for Seokjin and whine about being given the cold shoulder, would it be disgusting? To be standing in the hallway in 5AM darkness, gravely unnerved by a nightmare of being hated by Seokjin—his dream caused by a trivial separation that most wouldn't even term as one. Can he explain his clinginess platonically?

Finally, Taehyung's legs move. He quickly scoots back into his room and bundles himself under the blanket, the night light burning through the fabric.

 

 

“No, the farms are further out. It’ll be pretty cold, so we’ll have to buy warmer clothes just in case,” Namjoon intones. 

He fiddles with his mask and pulls it down further, glancing furtively out despite them being in a private room. Outside, the restaurant bustles with liveliness, the dinnertime crowd resting after a long day. 

“I think Korea’s winter is worse than there—or is it?” Yoongi asks, reaching over the table to get more vegetables.

“Let me check.” Jungkook slips out his phone. “Yeah, seems like Korea is colder?”

“Well, anyway, prepare warmer clothes just in case. It’s the countryside. There’ll be lots of wind,” Namjoon says.

Taehyung watches them speak, eyelids moving slow and heavy with how little quality sleep he’s been getting. From time to time, like a bad habit he can’t kick, he steals a glimpse at Seokjin. He’s sitting at the other end of the table, nodding along to Namjoon’s advice on their latest filming. Taehyung didn’t try to take a seat near him, the memory of always adamantly wanting to sit with Seokjin now replaced by the memory of his hand being shaken off. 

He’s been careful nowadays whenever he approaches Seokjin. He’s watchful of his hands and every bit of himself, keeping his touches away. He sits far enough to talk to Seokjin without intruding on his personal space. He smiles and talks about more upbeat, trivial things, no more whining or pouring out his rawest, doleful thoughts that may end up too burdensome. 

Yet nothing seems to fix the distance between them. Seokjin’s technically still speaking to him. He answers when spoken to but maintains a physical distance that’s hard to overlook when they’ve always held hands without a second thought. He chats like nothing’s wrong but the way his eyes never meet Taehyung’s is excruciatingly telling. Colder, stiffer, so much more uncomfortable.

A year of baring his heart out to Seokjin. A year of gently peeling into Seokjin’s most private insecurities, those which Taehyung housed in his heart in hopes Seokjin won’t have to bear them alone. All of this closeness gone in just a day. He can’t even process what happened.

“Yeah, the wind’s always what makes it freezing,” Seokjin hums. He scoops up some soup and winces when he scalds himself.

“Let me help.” Yoongi stands and helps serve a few bowls.

Some stir-fry beef is placed into his plate. Taehyung lifts his head and Namjoon smiles warmly back.

“Eat more so you can regain your energy. You look exhausted,” he encourages. “Yoongi-hyung, can you pass some soup over?”

“I’m alright,” Taehyung breathes, but Namjoon still nudges a bowl of hot soup over. Taehyung stills when Seokjin looks at him, ever so briefly.

“Uh, hyung!” Taehyung briskly speaks up, a few of the older ones turning to Taehyung.

“Seokjin-hyung,” he clarifies, hastily taking his bowl. “Do you want it?”

“...No, I have my own,” Seokjin points out.

“I gave him a bowl already,” Yoongi mentions.

“Oh, is there anything else you want on my side? You were looking over.” Taehyung smiles lopsidedly, looking over the side dishes near him.

“I’m fine, Taehyung. I don’t want anything. Thanks.” Seokjin picks up some meat and turns to Jungkook, speaking with his mouth full, “Hey, wasn’t there some place you wanted to go?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, I think you mentioned it a long time ago. Some tourist spot.”

“No… I don’t think so?”

The conversation steers away to tourist attractions, Yoongi avidly listing out places he wants to visit. He had researched pretty keenly after their destination country was finalised, eager to sightsee and garner more inspiration. Taehyung thinks he might have talked with Seokjin about sharing a room on their next trip and sneaking out at night for a stroll, just them two.

Seokjin looks listless these days. Taehyung mistook it to be exclusive towards him, but there’s also a drip of lukewarmness whenever he’s talking to the rest. He seems troubled, and Taehyung tries not to think (dreads) that it might be because of him. 

(Poor Kim Seokjin. He’s so uncomfortable with and bothered by a younger groupmate of his, who keeps crossing the line and acting strangely.)

Namjoon puts some vegetables onto Taehyung’s plate. 

“I told you to eat more; you barely took anything. Did you try this sauce? It’s pretty good.”

Taehyung tears his stare from Seokjin and wordlessly dips a meat slice into the sauce bowl. The way Namjoon’s smiling at him gets under his skin a little. He’s noticed that Namjoon’s been “doting” more on him recently, checking in on him and whatnot. He pops in at night when Jimin and Taehyung are talking, and he makes an extra effort to talk to Taehyung.

Namjoon must have had his reasons, view of the world wider than his with the responsibility of being the leader. But did he really need to pull Taehyung and Seokjin apart like this?

The bitterness gurgles in Taehyung’s throat. He pushes away the bowl of soup Namjoon got for him. On the other side, he hears Jungkook mention his name.

“Right, hyung, how are you and Taehyung-hyung going to sleep together? We’ll probably be randomly assigned rooms.”

Hoseok adds on, “Oh, yeah. There’s always that segment, where we draw lots or randomly go into a room.”

Taehyung swallows, feeling painfully bare. He wonders if Seokjin will clarify or if he should, but the two talk over him before he can.

“Well, it’s not difficult,” Yoongi remarks. “You two can just agree on which room beforehand.”

“If it’s drawing lots, I guess you can tell the filming crew beforehand?” Hoseok suggests.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Yoongi states.

The words crawl up Taehyung’s skin like a blemish, unfurling into a summarised, one-word insinuation.

Weird.

“Why?”

Yoongi licks his lips. “It’s just not good to let outsiders know, I suppose. I know it’s a small matter, but they might wonder why and spread rumours.”

“What kind of rumours can they spread?” Hoseok laughs.

“It’s fine,” Seokjin suddenly speaks up, putting down his fork with a rather loud clunk. “We don’t have to take the same room. We’re not sleeping together anymore.”

“Huh?” Hoseok grimaces in surprise, eyes widening further when Taehyung confirms it with a slight nod. Jungkook and Yoongi look equally surprised.

“Yeah, we aren’t,” Seokjin affirms.

“When did you guys stop? How come I didn’t notice?” Hoseok’s voice jumps a pitch in bewilderment.

“Yeah, when? I didn’t notice it either.” Yoongi squints.

“Don’t know. Some days ago?” Seokjin fills in. He continues eating while being the recipient of several confused stares.

“You guys didn’t notice me coming out of my own room in the morning? Or me going in at night?”

“Recently, you’ve been out early in the morning, hyung,” Jungkook remarks. “And I wouldn’t think you’ve stopped sleeping with Taehyung-hyung just because you went into your own room at night…”

“Well, I’m telling you now. We aren’t sleeping with each other anymore.”

“Why? What’s with the sudden change?” Yoongi asks, brows knitted tautly. 

“I just thought there’s no need to sleep together anymore,” Seokjin replies simply. 

Taehyung withers under Seokjin’s words. He feels like a problem child while Seokjin details his punishment to the other curious adults in the room. Everyone must be wondering why Kim Taehyung, so fond of Kim Seokjin that he’d throw a fit over the smallest matters, has been brushed aside. Or maybe they long expected it.

Taehyung shrinks further as Hoseok frowns at him.

“That’s it? You guys have been doing it for ages, and all of a sudden, this?” Hoseok presses his lips together. “Did you two fight?”

“We didn’t fight,” Seokjin drawls. “We can’t sleep together forever, right?”

“You two must have fought. I already knew from how you two haven’t been talking much,” Yoongi mutters. “What happened?”

“I said we didn’t quarrel,” Seokjin utters sharply. He abruptly locks eyes with Taehyung, taking Taehyung aback. 

“Taehyung, we aren’t fighting, right?”

“No,” Taehyung quickly answers. “Hyung and I didn’t fight.”

“See? We didn’t. We’re just not sleeping together because there’s no need to.”

“No need to?” Yoongi echoes, frown deepening. His narrowed eyes go from Seokjin to Taehyung, instinctively wrenching up Taehyung’s anxiousness. 

“Hey, you guys need to be more attentive. Aren’t we all living in the same dorm?” Namjoon interrupts with a teasing tone. He swats the air, attempting to change the topic.

“Anyway, what were we talking about? Sleeping arrangements, right? I’m sorry in advance for the member who has to sleep with me.”

“Hah, yeah, your snoring is scary, hyung! It sounds like a motorcycle,” Jimin laughs. “Once, I woke up and was still groggy—I thought it was raining since I heard thunder, then I realised it was just you.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“I should record it down next time. No, I should get those sound level meters,” Jimin jokes. “Hey, guys, how did we all stand him at the start? When we had to sleep together?”

“I don’t think his snoring started then… The nasal strips don’t help, Namjoon?” Seokjin asks.

“Not really. But thanks for getting them for me, hyung,” Namjoon sighs. 

“Have you tried sleeping with two pillows?” Jimin suggests. “I heard it helps.”

“...Hm, I heard taping your mouth helps, too,” Hoseok hums, ripping his stare from Seokjin.

Just like that, the conversation drifts away till it seems like the topic was never brought up in the first place. Taehyung sinks into his seat and tries to ignore how hard Yoongi keeps peering at him. In Yoongi’s mind, he might be chiding Taehyung with disdain for finally stepping out of line when he’d warned him not to. But Taehyung hadn’t even done anything suddenly that warranted Namjoon calling Seokjin out for a talk and Seokjin’s distance.

Taehyung’s heart shrivels. Why does he feel like such a stranger in a group of friends he’s spent years with?

 

 

In another nightmare, Taehyung opens his eyes to being swaddled in wispy smoke. He coughs roughly as the fumes drip into his lungs. Blindly, he lurches through the heavy smog for an exit, crashing into the wall and feeling along it for a doorknob. Bit by bit, he suffocates, hastening his distraught scour for a way out.

Plaster, wall cracks, peeling paint. Finally, Taehyung grabs something tangible, but it’s not a doorknob. It’s soft and warm, and as his fingers fall into place, he realises it’s a hand.

The smoke cascades away for Taehyung to see a faceless man huddled in the corner. Their hands are interlocked sweetly while the man burns in flames. The fire spreads up from the man’s arm to their intertwined fingers, and then deluges Taehyung till everything of him is ashes.

Taehyung awakes, heart hammering roughly. Too exhausted to care, he lets the fear gnaw at him as he rolls onto his side, drifting back into his nightmare in resignation.

 

 

In the living room, Taehyung lies curled up on the couch, bruised with fatigue. He has an arm loosely draped over his eyes, creating a mixture of darkness with cracks of light. Jimin sits on the floor beside him and strokes his head gently.

“Coffee?” Jimin offers. His eyes are drenched with worry—and a bit of anger, for some reason.

“No. I hate coffee,” Taehyung slurs his words.

Jimin chuckles. “I’ll go get you a pillow.” He ambles away.

“Where’s Seokjin-hyung?” Jungkook yawns, trudging into the kitchen.

“Went out,” Yoongi answers. There’s a clang of someone getting their utensils.

“Seriously?” Jungkook remarks. “Why does he keep going out? It’s not like him. He won’t tell me where he’s going, either.”

“He won’t?” Hoseok repeats.

“I don’t know. He forgets to answer. Like he’s avoiding the question,” Jungkook caveats.

“I wonder who he’s meeting,” Hoseok mutters.

“Beats me.”

“What are you two talking about?” Yoongi says. “He’s just with Namjoon at his studio.”

Taehyung pries his arm off his eyes and abruptly sits up. He stares at Yoongi from the living room. 

“Huh? What for?”

“Songwriting. They’re working on something together.” 

“Oh. He must be really serious about it. He should have told us.”

“You know Jin-hyung isn’t the type to share about those things with us.” 

Yoongi stirs his cup of coffee. He finally notices Taehyung’s gaze. “What’s wrong?”

Taehyung lowers his stare, picking at the hangnail on his thumb. He tries his best not to let them, but the pieces begin to gather, waiting for him to put them together. He suppressed his hunches that Seokjin was going so far as to be out of the house to avoid him—but this seems worse.

His chest feels like a blue-black. He used to have random, nighttime conversations with Namjoon who strung together his incoherent thoughts for Taehyung to grasp. Taehyung understood what Seokjin meant when he said it was easy to speak with Namjoon because Namjoon always made it a point to understand.

When he glances up, he sees Hoseok whispering to Yoongi. He catches their eyes and they stop.

“Namjoon-hyung asked if you slept well and if you want breakfast,” Jimin mentions as he returns, slotting the pillow behind Taehyung. 

He dangles Taehyung’s phone in front of him. “You want me to reply for you?”

Taehyung reads the message Namjoon sent. He nudges his phone aside and rests his arm against his eyes again, shaking his head.

 

 

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung barely catches the soft drink Yoongi tosses to him. Yoongi settles in the chair beside Taehyung, waiting for the meeting to start. Hoseok is sitting on the other side of Taehyung, rubbing his neck soothingly with his wrist.

The lights are bright. Taehyung pops the can open and takes a gulp. He rests on Hoseok’s shoulder comfortably with his eyes closed, finding the warm space somewhat placating.

The nightmares have become a consecutive series that has Taehyung dreading to sleep sometimes. He shuts his eyes to flames up his hands and looking into someone’s disdainful gaze, and splits his eyes open to silence and his heavy breathing. Nowadays, he turns on his night light before he sleeps, even though the light bothers him.

He tries to recount precisely what last night’s dream was about, piecing together the licking flames and a familiar face. What he shovels out from the recesses of his mind is instead the dream from a while back—of Seokjin regarding him like a freakshow for coming too close, touching him too far.

Taehyung instinctively moves his hand to rid the phantom grip, stretching out his fingers. He furtively glances at Seokjin who’s sitting at the other end of the table, beside Namjoon. They came in together; Taehyung assumes Seokjin was here in the morning, again.

Taehyung nestles further into Hoseok’s arm. He relaxes as Hoseok brushes his head.

The thrashing franticness and anxiety have simmered into a plain, muted sadness, the fire extinguished by resignation. He doesn’t think much about what’s happened nowadays. He talks to Seokjin when he gets the chance to, gathering trivial topics to nervously laugh about so Seokjin doesn’t feel uncomfortable with his blues. In the van, he keeps his restless fingers to himself and asks about the weather and the little details he “forgot” about their schedules—where they’re heading to, what they’ll be doing, who they’ll be meeting. 

Seokjin replies more curtly than he did before, but it’s not as if he’s giving him the cold shoulder. He continues the conversation with small comments that Taehyung jumps upon, agreeing without discretion. He asks Taehyung a few things here and there, the most often being if Taehyung’s tired (Taehyung always says no).

But Seokjin’s gaze tells a different story. He spares Taehyung such short glances as though Taehyung’s a glaring sun and it’s physically uncomfortable to look at him. With how blatantly Seokjin does it, laughing and speaking with his eyes fixated on his hands, Taehyung feels as if he’s an elephant in the room. There, clearly, but not addressed as Seokjin doesn’t know how to.

It’s okay. They still talk, after all. Just not as much. So, in the day, Taehyung acts like nothing’s wrong in hopes it could be true. At night, Taehyung turns in bed and tries not to be sad.

“Hey, if you keep getting him that whenever we’re here, it’s unhealthy,” Hoseok nags.

“But he needs the sugar. He looks like a zombie,” Yoongi mutters. His gaze darts to the end of the table.

Seokjin has his head lowered, staring at his phone. He’s occupied with it nowadays. Taehyung wonders who he’s talking to.

These days, he looks tired as well. It worries Taehyung. Why isn’t he sleeping well? Does he stay up at night? Taehyung wonders if him being absent has made any difference for Seokjin.

Taehyung stills when Seokjin glances at him. It’s sudden, and it goes away in a flash, much like a mirage, or something he shouldn’t have caught.

Such uninitiated glimpses or longer looks always bring Taehyung a sliver of hope. With nervousness, he starts, “Hyung.”

“Mm?” Seokjin responds without lifting his gaze. He knows Taehyung’s referring to him despite the rest of the older members being present, confirming that he’d looked at Taehyung.

“You look tired. Do you want my drink?” 

“It’s okay; I’m not tired. And Yoongi bought that for you.” 

Taehyung prods it over. “It’s fine, hyung.”

Seokjin doesn’t raise his eyes. He nudges the can back. “Really, it’s okay. You’re the one that looks tired.”

“Me? No, not at all,” Taehyung blathers.

“That’s a lie,” Yoongi interrupts with a click of the tongue. 

“Hyung,” Namjoon mentions to Seokjin, “you do seem tired.”

“Really?” Seokjin turns away and touches his eye circles. “I’m not tired, though. Why? Should I crack some of my jokes?”

Namjoon rolls his eyes. “They’re not yours. You just steal them from the internet. If you keep saying it on air, someone’s going to sue you someday.”

The two laugh between themselves as Taehyung watches. Namjoon squeezes Seokjin’s shoulder and his fingers creep up to Seokjin’s neck, massaging affectionately. It’s smoke that billows up into his windpipe and pricks at his lips to say something, but he only stares with a timid resentment.

They stop talking and Seokjin returns to his phone, easing Taehyung’s heart a little. Taehyung continues staring at Seokjin discreetly while resting on Hoseok’s shoulder still. Modest eyes and swollen lips, and…

Seokjin flutters his lashes and meets Taehyung’s eyes, startling him. Taehyung flicks his gaze hurriedly.

“Taehyung.”

Taehyung turns back choppily. “Huh?”

“You’re trending on Naver,” Seokjin chuckles. “The company just released the behind-the-scenes shooting for our Chuseok skit filming. They say you look like a prince from the Joseon dynasty.”

“Well, that’s why he starred in Hwarang,” Namjoon beams, looking over Seokjin’s shoulder at his phone. “Though the dressing is different. You would know that, right, Taehyung? They briefed you on the eras.”

Taehyung nods. He takes out his phone to check. True enough, he’s #1 on the search trends, his name bombarded with blog posts and articles discussing the garb he had donned for their skit. The comments are as creative as ever, comparing his good looks to the blinding sun. Even the drama he starred in has enjoyed some renewed interest.

Scrolling through the photos, he finds Seokjin’s screen cuts. He looks dashing; Taehyung remembers thinking that while they had acted. His mind had wandered off into a little cliched story about a prince and a pauper, who swore loyalty to the prince for his generosity.

“Wow, our Taehyung’s always getting attention these days for his good looks,” Hoseok grins.

“His appearance has changed,” Yoongi points out. “He’s got a more masculine look now since he’s matured. His shoulders are bigger.”

“Yeah,” Seokjin hums. He smiles slightly to Taehyung, but he’s back to staring at the table rather than into his eyes. “You’re only going to get more popular from here on, Taehyung. Look forward to it.”

 

 

The scent of chamomile begins to remind Taehyung of his nightmares, always set ablaze in an inferno. The smell makes him a bit nauseous, but Taehyung doesn’t tell Jimin that as he opens the door with another cup in hand.

The light cracks into the darkness and the breach quickly disappears as Jimin shuts the door behind him. In the brief light, Taehyung catches the crease between Jimin’s brows, telling of his concern. 

Jimin lies by Taehyung’s side as Taehyung sips his tea and absentmindedly scrolls his phone. They chat about trivial things here and there, as always when Jimin pops by. Jimin’s friend is getting married and Jimin wishes he could attend, but he doesn’t want to cause a commotion and steal the spotlight. Yoongi is obsessed with this finger-tapping game which Jimin finds stupid. Taehyung agrees.

Akin to an exchange, the vacant space of time he used to spend with Seokjin has been filled by Jimin now, albeit partially. It’s a different feeling unlike what Seokjin brings, swallowed into a fervid universe of just two and blind faith, but Taehyung finds comfort in Jimin’s warmth.

“Mm, I’m reading it now,” Jimin hums, reading off the news article. It’s yet another idol controversy, this time of a girl group member that had yelled at a stylist. 

Jimin rests his head on Taehyung’s stomach. “They have a video of her… We met their group before, right?”

“We should have. Didn’t we promote at the same time before?”

“I think so. Back in 2015? They debuted then.”

Jimin tosses against Taehyung. “Ah, the oldest member apologised too, on her behalf.”

“I think I saw that. She said she was sorry for not teaching her well, right?” Taehyung shrugs.

He struggles to drink from his cup. Jimin scoots off him, afraid he might spill it.

“You drank yours already?” Taehyung asks.

“Oh, I told Jin-hyung to stop making it for me.” 

“Oh, right. Because of the taste.”

“Yeah. You know, he told me it’s expensive. I think he’s trying to clear it since he bought so much.”

“Why the rush? It’s going to expire soon?” Taehyung chuckles, heart stirring with endearment. “I wonder why he bought so much. I don’t really like the taste either.”

“You should have told me. I’ll tell Seokjin-hyung to stop making it.”

“No, don’t. I want to drink it,” Taehyung says briskly.

Under Jimin’s telling gaze, Taehyung knows how he comes off. He squirms but says nothing.

“I’ll sleep beside you tonight,” Jimin heaves.

Taehyung furrows his brows. “I told you, you don’t have to.”

“I’m going to,” Jimin insists. “After Jin-hyung stopped sleeping with you, you obviously haven’t been sleeping well.”

Taehyung says under his breath, “It’s not that.”

Jimin’s expression falls. He wraps his arms around Taehyung and rubs the back of his head comfortingly.

“You’re so tired nowadays,” he murmurs, nestling his head against Taehyung.

Taehyung relaxes into Jimin's warmth.

It’s funny to miss someone when you see them every day. It seems like a fever dream—being held by Seokjin to sleep, inhaling all of his scent like petrichor after a heavy rainfall. They’d touch and talk about little things as Seokjin tries to be honest about the crevices of his heart, those he glosses over in his head yet tells only to Taehyung. 

If it were then, Taehyung would have buried himself into Seokjin’s chest to take cover from the fire seething in his nightmares. Seokjin would stroke his head and lovingly mumble things so the heavy thoughts can’t take up the whole space in his skull. 

A knocking resounds from the door. Taehyung’s heart misses a beat in surprise at the voice that follows.

“Jimin, you’ve given Taehyung his tea? Is he already sleeping?”

The door clicks open and light spills in. Seokjin pokes his head in.

“Did he dry his hair-”

He halts when he sees Taehyung on the bed with Jimin, the two entangled while staring back with doe eyes.

“Oh,” Seokjin’s voice dwindles into a rasp. “You’re still awake, Taehyung?” 

Taehyung jolts upright, adrenaline spiking in his bloodstream. “Oh- yeah, I am, hyung.” 

It’s been a while since Seokjin came to his room. The way he’s standing at the door seems foreign yet familiar at the same time, the light burning against his back while his face is shaded in the shadows.

“Okay. Well, go to sleep early, then.”

At the sight of Seokjin receding from the door, Taehyung blurts, “Hyung, the tea- it’s nice.”

“It’s nice? That’s good,” Seokjin hums. “I’ll keep making it for you, then.”

Taehyung replies a bit too quickly to prevent a gap in the conversation. “Why do you keep making tea all of a sudden?” 

“I have a lot of it, that’s why. There’s no way I can finish it all on my own.” 

“How much did you buy?”

“I’m not sure. 5 boxes?”

“Why would you buy so many?” Taehyung laughs, getting off the bed. He doesn’t miss the guardedness that flickers over Seokjin’s expression.

Seokjin shrugs. “I saw some the other day while I was out, and they were really cheap, so I bought a lot of it.”

“You told me it was expensive, so all of us should drink it,” Jimin pipes up from behind Taehyung.

“Oh, it was on sale, so it was cheap when I bought it. It’s originally expensive.”

“It tastes good,” Taehyung nods and repeats.

He brazenly steps close to Seokjin. Seokjin falls back a bit at their proximity into the brightly lit aisle, looking up with rounded eyes. There’s darkness blemished under his lashes. His lips are similarly dull, less rosy than usual.

“Do you like it too?” Taehyung's fingers clamp over the door near Seokjin's hand, holding it open--an unusual stance of pull and pull.

“Ah, yeah. I do.”

“Hm, right, hyung, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you make it for yourself?” Jimin says. His jaw slackens and he accuses, “He forces us to drink it but doesn’t drink it himself. How bad.”

“Hey, I do. Well, at the start,” Seokjin drifts off sheepishly.

Jimin scoffs loudly and clicks his tongue. “Jin-hyung, you’re unbelievable. I bet you hate it.”

Taehyung laughs, fingers squirming over the door. “Hyung, is that your plan? You don’t like it, so you force us to drink it?”

“Do you think of hyung so badly? I wouldn’t have bought so much of it if it didn’t taste nice.” Seokjin snorts. 

After a pause, he brings up, “Do you feel better after drinking it? The salesperson said it’s really good for your health. For sleeping, too.”

“Oh, I do,” Taehyung perks up. “I sleep better after drinking it.”

Seokjin melts into a soft smile. “I’m glad.”

His shirt is drooping off towards his left shoulder, showing his collarbone. Taehyung’s fingers restlessly clasp over the door, itching to touch him. 

“It just makes me need to wake up to use the toilet,” Jimin mutters.

Seokjin chortles. “Then, you should go before bed.”

They simmer into silence. Like a nervous boy on his first date, Taehyung hurriedly searches for topics to keep the ball rolling. Seokjin’s eyes trail from him to the ceiling.

He mumbles with a frown, “Taehyung, the glow-in-the-dark stickers have faded… No wonder you keep using the night light.”

“Ah, yeah, it’s faded, isn’t it?” Taehyung murmurs, following Seokjin’s stare. “How do you know I use your night light, hyung?”

“Ah, I saw the orange light coming from your room at night.”

Seokjin’s gaze leaps to Jimin. “Jimin, are you coming out? Don’t bother Taehyung and let him sleep.”

“Ah, okay. I feel hungry… Should I get a snack?” Jimin scuttles from the bed and slips past Seokjin into the corridor, heading for the kitchen.

“Hyung, I’m not going to sleep yet,” Taehyung presses as he feels Seokjin pull the door shut.

Seokjin folds his lips. “I just told you to go to sleep early.”

“Why?”

“Aren’t you tired?”

“No, not at all,” Taehyung insists. 

His grip tightens on the door, fingers crawling up in a fit of jitters. Then, he accidentally touches warm bones. Seokjin jerks his hand back as if he’d been scalded. 

Taehyung instinctively pulls back, the shadow of flames licking up his wrist. “S-sorry.”

He knew that Seokjin was avoiding his touch. He already knew, so why did this hit him with such razor-sharp soberness? Perhaps because there was a gap of ambiguity for all those other instances, that gave the possibility Taehyung could be wrong. This time, there’s nothing else to explain it. 

Seokjin pulled his hand back like Kim Taehyung physically sickened him.

The despondency decaying Taehyung’s heart must have crept its way up to his face, for Seokjin reaches out to touch his elbow.

“Hey, what are you saying sorry for?” Seokjin snorts, squeezing Taehyung’s arm with a smile. “You just surprised me.”

Seokjin’s touch lingers. He rubs a comforting circle into Taehyung’s skin and hums, “Go to sleep. Everyone can tell how tired you are.” 

Taehyung watches as Seokjin ambles away. He feels from his astray fingers up to his wrist, twisting it mindlessly. Only when he feels pain does he stop.

He hears Jimin address Seokjin in the living room.

“Hyung. Don’t you think you should give the tea yourself next time? You’re only making it for Yoongi-hyung and Taehyung now. Since the rest don’t want it.”

“Jimin, I’m just asking for a bit of your help,” Seokjin mutters, disgruntled.

“It’s not something you need help with,” Jimin intones, an edge of annoyance to his voice. “You know that, don’t you, hyung?”

 

 

It’s too bright. In his nightmare, Taehyung smoulders in the relentless fire as he runs after someone. He catches their hand and a malicious string of flames sear up his fingers, till his arm is nothing but bones and dead sinews. The man turns back to spare him one glance before shaking him off and disappearing. 

 

 

Practice runs from morning to night, gruelling but without complaints from any of them. Their drive to put on the best show has them running through routine after routine without getting jaded, Hoseok directing them strictly. Verse after verse, strain for the note and burn in a husky tonality, all for that perfect performance deserving of the millions watching.

At night, Taehyung takes a long shower, scrubbing his right hand hard. He tugs at his skin and bends at his joints till he feels pain, a physical reminder not to go too far. He probably can count the minutes he spoke to Seokjin today. He hadn’t tried much to do so.

Taehyung stares at the red scrawls over the back of his hand and thinks about what it’s like to be physically repulsive, tangibly sickening. He feels the shadowy grip again, except it’s clenching over Taehyung’s throat rather than his hand.

Taehyung feels so utterly miserable. He wonders if he’ll get a cup of chamomile tea tonight. Or did he ruin that as well?

He never learns. Yoongi had given him a warning; Hoseok told him to be mindful. Seokjin patiently repeated that he shouldn’t. But Taehyung truly never learns. For someone with such corrupt thoughts, he gave himself away so easily for Seokjin to brand him as disturbing.

Taehyung saunters back to his room, eyes red. As he creaks open the door, he catches sight of a figure in the darkness. It bizarrely reaches all the way up to the ceiling, form difficult to make out. Fleetingly, Taehyung has the childish thought of it seeming like a monster, till the figure moves. 

“Oh, Taehyung.” 

Taehyung stiffens at Seokjin’s voice. “U-Uh, hyung?”

He pushes open the door fully and the light splashes over Seokjin like a spotlight. Seokjin is standing on Taehyung’s bed with something clipped under his arm, hands curled against his chest as though he’d been caught. Taehyung stares back with large eyes, taken aback that it’s Seokjin who is in his room.

“I thought you were still showering,” Seokjin says. “Did I surprise you?”

“Oh, no, you didn’t.” Taehyung shuffles in timidly.

It's more than unusual to see Seokjin in his room. Especially with how he blatantly showed his aversion yesterday, Taehyung would have thought he’d never come so near.

Taehyung stretches his fingers unconsciously. “Um, hyung, what are you doing?” 

As he nears, he notices most of his star stickers on the ceiling are now gone, just a few remaining. No—the remaining stickers are different. They’re new, and they’re much, much brighter. 

Seokjin pastes another sticker, rubbing the back of his neck with a wince. 

“Ah, I should have asked Jungkook to help. It hurts to look up like this.”

He hands Taehyung the item under his arm—a big packet of glow-in-the-dark stickers—and returns to scrutinising the blank ceiling.

“Where do you want to put the rest?” Seokjin draws out an imaginary square against the ceiling. “This set’s much prettier than the one we bought at Dongdaemun. I told you we should have just waited and gone to a craft store. But you were so eager.”

“...You bought me new glow-in-the-dark stickers?” Taehyung asks, wide-eyed.

“Yeah, since yours were getting dull,” Seokjin murmurs, tracing out one sun he’d placed at the corner. “I asked Jungkook if he still had the rest, but he already used it for an art piece of his.” 

Taehyung spends a while just staring at the packet, and then, he slowly sieves through it. There are suns and more planets in this set—Saturn, Venus, Jupiter—along with itty bitty stars and elegant moons. They’re textured and heavier on the details, craters carved into the planet surfaces and “flames” licking out from the suns.

They must have been more expensive. Or maybe not, since they got the old set at a tourist spot after hours.

Taehyung’s lungs buoy up till they’re pressed uncomfortably against his heart, leaving him breathless with the cloud nine in his throat. He’s struck with confusion and a jittery hopefulness, and the coalescence of helpless feelings leave his eyes a bit watery. He peers up at Seokjin but Seokjin’s not looking at him, instead at the ceiling.

Taehyung doesn’t understand. Seokjin took the trouble to get new stickers for him upon noticing they’ve dulled? Taehyung himself didn’t think to buy new ones. He left it for weeks while Seokjin only found out yesterday.

...Yesterday, Seokjin snatched his hand back as though Taehyung’s brief touch had scorched him. The distance Seokjin puts between them and his poorly concealed aversion makes Taehyung feel like he’s filth on the back of Seokjin’s shoe. He was sure that Seokjin cared little about him anymore, convinced he’s a misfit with questionable intentions. 

Taehyung doesn’t understand at all. Does he feel bad? Is he trying to make up for yesterday? What does Seokjin think of him?

Seokjin’s gaze flickers down momentarily to Taehyung, and then it goes straight up immediately. 

“Do you like the designs? This one has suns unlike the old set, so I chose it. Should have sent you a photo to check before buying it.”

The solar system of new stickers sits innocuously in Taehyung’s palm, glowing in the darkness. The old ones Seokjin peeled off lie at the end of his bed in a dull pile. 

Taehyung squeezes the packet. “Mm. I like them a lot, hyung,” he breathes.

“That’s good.” Seokjin falls back slightly to get a better view of the ceiling.

“It’s your sky, so choose what you want to look at. I’ll paste them on for you.” 

He prods the stickers he’d already slapped on. A sun, several stars, and Saturn.

“Should we paste more of the suns and planets? They’re nice.”

Taehyung nods. He picks out a crescent moon and rasps, “The moon stickers are really pretty, hyung.”

“Really? I think they’re plain. Okay, we’ll paste more of them, then.” 

Seokjin takes the packet from Taehyung’s hand, movement stained with caution. Taehyung doesn’t miss them.

Seokjin rises and taps on a space. “Here?”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

They spend the next five minutes sticking up the glow-in-the-dark stickers. Taehyung picks and chooses while Seokjin prods them onto the ceiling. They glue well and come off easily, allowing Soekjin to shift them around when he deems the position bad.

Taehyung watches Seokjin more than where he’s placing the stickers, agreeing to wherever Seokjin suggests. Seokjin’s shirt lifts every time he reaches up, tiptoeing to press the sticker further in. His nose scrunches up as he squints at every finished pasting. And his gaze waves every now and then.

Taehyung misses him so much. It’s frightening to feel like they’re strangers when Taehyung has shown every little scar of his mind to Seokjin. 

“Hyung, um, I’ll paste them too.” Taehyung steps onto the bed. He wobbles about, brushing shoulders with Seokjin.

Seokjin leans away but grabs him to keep him stable. “It’s fine, it’s fine. Hyung will do it.” 

“No, I’ll help. It’s my room, hyung.” 

“It’s okay. I said that I’ll do it.”

Taehyung takes a moon from Seokjin’s hand and points to a blank space. “Here?”

Seokjin stares at him and sighs. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

Their hands brush again. “What about this one?”

“It’s fine, Taehyung. I told you. It’s your ceiling.”

They stand awfully close as Taehyung prods the sticker onto the ceiling. Seokjin drops the packet into Taehyung’s hand and plops down onto the floor. 

“Since you’re going to do it, I’ll go, then.”

“What? Hyung, no,” Taehyung blurts in surprise, grabbing Seokjin’s wrist. “I need your help. It’s too much for me to paste on my own.”

“It’s not that many. You’re not going to put the whole pack, right? You can ask Jungkook; he’ll help you.” Seokjin tugs his hand back to no avail.

Taehyung’s chest crumples. Has he crossed yet another line too brazenly? He didn’t mean it.

“Hyung, you do it, then. I’ll get off the bed. I’m sorry,” he whispers, stepping down as well. Even he can hear how forlorn he sounds, desperation in his grip.

“What? Taehyung- why are you sorry? I’m just saying that you don’t need my help. If you can do it yourself, why do you need hyung to do it for you?” Seokjin chuckles confusedly. His tone absolutely reeks of discomfort.

The sadness begins to froth to the edge of his lips, gurgling with so much deep-seated hurt and resentment. These past days of being ignored and treated like a nobody—how could Seokjin do this to him? He was the one who loved Taehyung so much out of everyone, so how could he just wash his hands off Taehyung like dirt?

"Hyung." His throat tightens and he can feel warmth creep over his eyes.

Before he can say anything else, Seokjin's expression softens. He puts a hand over Taehyung's fingers digging into his arm.

“Fine. Let’s do it together, okay?” Seokjin breathes. He goes to lock the bedroom door.

They return to pasting the glow-in-the-dark stickers, saying near to nothing. The silence is cumbersome, unlike when they’d first done it, lightheartedly nagging at each other to choose better spots (while Jungkook did as he pleased). 

Again and again, Taehyung confirms with Seokjin where to paste the stickers to fill the wordlessness. It’s additionally an excuse to look at Seokjin, to fulfil the unbridled, dubious desire to just stare without worrying how he’ll come off.

They finish off with a personal constellation of moons, stars and planets, the familiar green glow simmering in Taehyung’s room once again. Taehyung takes his time to paste the last moon onto the ceiling.

“It’s all done,” Seokjin heaves. He has his head slanted back, peering up at the ceiling.

“Hm, the stickers are prettier but I feel like the last one looked nicer. I guess because we had the rest to help us.”

“Mm. I still like it, though, hyung,” Taehyung murmurs, drawing a finger across their arrangement. Unlike previously, he’s not as excited about finishing. How long has it been since he and Seokjin did anything together, alone?

“Maybe it’s because we put them too neatly,” Seokjin remarks.

“Yeah, it looks like they’re in a line.”

With how small the stars are, they look like commas and full stops in a sentence of planets and suns. It’s true—because they’re arranged so neatly instead of scattered about, it looks deliberate and so, a bit unnatural. 

“This is better. It’s not as bright as your night light.” Seokjin hops off the bed, Taehyung’s hasty stare following him. 

“Hyung, uh, you’re leaving?” Taehyung steps off the bed as well.

“We’re done, aren’t we?” Seokjin puts the remaining stickers on Taehyung’s table and heads for the door. 

“Thank you,” Taehyung blurts. “For buying the stickers and helping me to paste them. It means a lot, hyung.”

“It’s fine. I just saw them while I was passing by, it’s not a big deal.”

“Sleep well tonight, Taehyung.” Without looking back, Seokjin shuts the door behind him.

Taehyung’s shoulders fall. Left with the gentle glow of the stickers, he returns his attention to the ceiling. 

He lies down to take a proper look at it. The mix of suns and moons is odd yet pretty, a quirky blend of day and night. Seokjin especially liked the sun stickers while Taehyung chose more of the moons. 

Taehyung reaches out to try and grasp them. He thinks about how they brushed fingers whenever he reached for a sticker. 

Taehyung tries to interpret the sentences of stars and suns, testimonies (hopefully) of Seokjin’s care and concern. Like a mismatched puzzle, Seokjin’s actions over the past few weeks jar, leaving a disarray Taehyung hopes he’s not reading into too optimistically.

If Seokjin was so irked by Taehyung and what his actions suggest, would he still be so doting to care that Taehyung’s stars have gone out? 

The more he thinks, the more perplexed he gets, doubt and conviction cluttering in his head. He can’t scrub away how Seokjin snatched his hand back so fast like Taehyung repulsed him. But the stars above tell him a different story (memory) of their midnight drive for glow-in-the-dark stickers. It’s believable that Seokjin was once warm and changed his mind.

Unlike his glaring night light, the greenish glow is delicate on his eyes. It’s soothing. Taehyung falls asleep to the faded memories of Seokjin holding him to sleep.

 

 

Fire. Again, Taehyung opens his eyes to a room that’s fracturing into plaster slabs, white crumbling down onto the wooden floorboards. Flames lick up his skin and threaten to eat away at his face, the one part so vital for an idol.

Taehyung scrambles for the door. When he grasps the knob, it turns into fingers, and he looks up to see a faceless man. The malicious blaze slithers from him to the man who collapses in agony, fire engulfing his entire frame in a minute.

Frenzied with guilt, Taehyung apologises profusely, trying to pull the man out from the burning room. The man keeps slipping from his grasp and finally, Taehyung’s roughly pushed aside by the man.

In a disorienting twist, the blinding flames abruptly turn into a bright spotlight. He's at an open-air concert, standing on stage while the late afternoon sun illuminates the cheering crowd. The fans give a standing ovation with excited shrieks, waving their light sticks in enthusiasm. Taehyung sees the rest of the members scattered about the stage. But no matter how hard he looks, he can't find Seokjin.

Taehyung slips out from his dream, not in an eruption of terror, but poignant sorrow. He’s greeted by his new constellation of stickers and their reminiscent green glow, a sun sticker above his nose. Asteroids and meteors, comets and sunspots. He remembers hugging Seokjin in the car after their trip to Dongdaemun market, thanking him for not leaving him alone.

That man in his nightmare felt like Seokjin. Burning, groaning in sheer agony.

Taehyung swallows. He glances out of the window to find that it’s raining heavily, water pelting against his shut windows. He doesn’t know who closed it for him.

Taehyung drags his blanket with him towards Seokjin’s room. Knocking on the door, he enters without waiting, relief cascading over him to see Seokjin’s fine. He’s bundled up in his blanket, phone light harsh on his face.

Seokjin stares back with large eyes. 

“T-Taehyung? What are you doing here?” His brows crease upon noticing Taehyung’s blanket. 

“Hyung,” Taehyung mumbles. “I had a nightmare.”

Seokjin flutters his lashes. He sighs after a moment, “Are you okay?”

Taehyung doesn’t answer. “I dreamt I was trapped in a burning room… I was on fire.”

“I held someone’s hand, and then, they were burning too.” He shifts. “It felt like that was you.”

Seokjin’s face untenses. “I’m fine, Taehyung. It’s just a dream.”

Taehyung nods slowly. He steps towards the side of Seokjin’s bed, Seokjin’s frown returning with guardedness. 

“Can I sleep with you, hyung? I’m still scared,” Taehyung asks softly. “I’ll be quiet. I won’t bother you.”

“Taehyung… It’s just a nightmare. You’re not a kid,” Seokjin heaves, averting his gaze. “We talked about this. We can’t keep sleeping together; what will happen when I’m not around?”

“Then, just for tonight. Why can’t we sleep together for just one night?” Taehyung breathes. 

His insides contort with sadness. It's such a pathetic excuse, now that Taehyung fully grasps it. They can't sleep together even once because Seokjin worries about the times he won't be around? He's not even trying to give a good justification.

The plethora of feelings threaten to bleed out from his mouth. The betrayal of being tossed aside without a proper explanation, the heartbreak of being seen as a pest by the one person he dared to safekeep his heart and mind with, the anger that Seokjin, of all people, would do this to him so easily.

“Hyung. Do you think I'm strange?”

Taehyung trembles, not sure what emotion's making him grit his teeth. It almost feels like hatred at this point.

“What?” Seokjin’s voice hardens with incredulity. “What are you saying? You aren't strange.”

“Everytime I talk to you, you avoid me. You won't sit beside me. You hate it when I touch you. You don't speak to me more than a few minutes. You don’t even look at me anymore."

Taehyung’s voice climbs with agitation. He knows he's stepping over the line but he can't stop himself. He should be keeping quiet instead of demanding like a child, else Seokjin grow more averse at how obssessed he is.

"You pretend like nothing's wrong but it's so obvious, hyung. Why do you keep avoiding me? Is it-is it because you think I'm weird, like what Yoongi-hyung said? You look so uncomfortable with me nowadays, like it's so unbearable for you to even be near me."

With every word more, it's a step further from the line he's crossed. He knows it'll just put Seokjin on the spot. He knows it'll just prove every little suspicion in Seokjin's head that Kim Taehyung is so insanely clingy for the worst, most deplorable reason.

And then, Taehyung's words collapse from his crescendo, withering piteously towards the end.

"Hyung, what did I do wrong? Can't you just tell me? Is it because I was too clingy? I'll give you space. Is it because I keep touching you? I won't do it so often anymore." Taehyung strains with misery. The tears begin welling up in his eyes. 

"Tell me, hyung," Taehyung blurts in sorrow. "Please, just tell me. I'll fix it. I promise."

Seokjin stares back like a deer in headlights. He parts his mouth to speak but can't seem to find the right words, leaving a lengthy silence in place as Taehyung childishly bites back his tears.

Seokjin almost looks frightened by Taehyung's outburst. But he recovers, expression straightening out till it's unreadable. He lowers his gaze.

"...What are you talking about?" Seokjin eventually starts, so expected of him. 

“I'm not avoiding you. You probably feel that way because we don’t get as much time to talk to each other like in the past, since I'm working on my songs and we don't sleep together anymore. And I don’t hate it when you touch me."

"Taehyung-" The words clog his throat. "Yesterday, I was just surprised. Really. Don’t think too hard about it.”

"You're not weird. Why would you say that? I'd never think of you as weird," he states this with a tangible conviction, brows furrowing like Taehyung's words had hurt him. "You didn't do anything wrong. Don't- don't say that again."

Seokjin’s gaze flitters away like paper. There’s an overt frustration in his eyes, as if caught in a dilemma, and his shoulders fall.

“Was the nightmare that scary?” Seokjin breathes. 

He shifts to the side to make space. “You look out of it.”

Instantly, Taehyung’s heart clogs up his throat. His happiness is unfathomable as he gingerly crawls into Seokjin’s bed. The familiar scent overwhelms his senses, a blend of the black walnut shampoo they use and Seokjin’s distinct smell. 

Seokjin gazes at him. Gingerly, he reaches out and brushes away Taehyung's tears with the bottom of his palms. 

"You really shouldn't be coming to me for these things, you know that, Taehyung?” Seokjin whispers. 

“It’s scary because I thought you were burning, hyung.”

It’s warm. Taehyung shifts around, trying to find a position where his pounding heart will quell. A little closer and the proximity sends electricity up his skin, despite them not touching. He’s unsure of where to put his censured hands, maintaining some space to make sure he doesn’t cross another line.

Outside, the rain patters. Taehyung's heart bruises with a covert hope. 

“When you’re no longer scared, go back to your bed,” Seokjin states.

“Okay.” 

Taehyung swallows. He shifts against his pillow, peering from his broad back to his petite waist. The sight is soothing and riveting, and Seokjin’s saturating smell makes him tipsy. Just being near Seokjin has erased his dismay of fire and bruises.

He missed this.

“Thank you, hyung,” Taehyung whispers, words closing up weakly. He curls up but makes sure not to touch Seokjin. At the back of his head, he wonders if Seokjin is only trying to make up for what he did.

“Mm.” Seokjin shifts.

After a long pause, Taehyung jerks at the touch on his head. Seokjin brushes his hair just the slightest.

“Don’t be scared. Hyung’s fine. You’re here in the dorms with everyone.”

“...Okay, hyung.”

The rain gets heavier as the minutes pass by to a stillness. From the rise and fall of Seokjin's chest, Taehyung can tell that Seokjin's still awake.

Taehyung spends a good fifteen minutes just looking at the back of Seokjin’s head and his soft hair, tenderness lingering on his skin. His offending hands reach out occasionally, a tension of push and pull and wondering what’s the line that’ll have him scalded again. He wants to hold Seokjin and burrow into his flesh like a sanctuary.

The remnants of his nightmare slither back, where he slipped his hand down Seokjin’s pants. He flushes and chides himself obsessively for being so perverse. He deserved to get his hand crushed by Seokjin in his dream. Honestly, can he ever touch Seokjin without any impure intentions when he sees him in that way?

Taehyung recoils. He plays with his fingers, yearning to go close. Eventually, he presses his forehead into Seokjin’s back.

It’s comforting. Taehyung nestles deeper, just a small gesture so preciously intimate to him. His erratic heart burns with a wildfire while the rain pours outside.

 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

 

Taehyung flutters open his eyes to a ceiling absent of stars, suns and moons, just blank plaster white staring at him. The space beside him is vacant. Taehyung bunches up the sheets in his hand for some of Seokjin’s lingering heat.

He slept well. With his head against Seokjin’s back, it felt like as always, sleeping with the granite that gives him a semblance of being grounded to somewhere. No matter the new insecurities or the ravaging thoughts, being by Seokjin’s side was his relief that he would always have something to turn to if the world gives up on him.

Despite the disappointment of waking up alone, Taehyung has the newfound assurance that Seokjin doesn’t loathe him as much as he believed. If he truly was so revolting to Seokjin, Seokjin wouldn’t have cared that much about Taehyung to do all those things for him, right? To re-put up stars for him to stare and dream of, to let him into his bed when he’s afraid of a silly nightmare.

It seems more plausible that Seokjin distanced himself because he wanted to appease the rest. He’s not like Taehyung who follows where his heart takes him and bites back when bitten. With how Namjoon and Yoongi seemed displeased with them, he probably didn’t want to cause a rift. That’s why he still dotes on Taehyung despite keeping his distance.

Or Seokjin might have just felt bad. Felt sorry for the little brother he used to coddle, after stinging him irreparably by slapping him off like filth. It would be hard for Seokjin to say anything but yes last night with Taehyung confronting him tearfully. 

Taehyung gulps. 

He has faith in Seokjin and the nights he dedicated to him. It never made sense he’d act so coldly towards Taehyung when he’s seen the worst of Taehyung, yet came back every night.

(But Taehyung’s feelings are much worse than everything else he’s shown, aren’t they?)

Taehyung spends some time staying on Seokjin’s bed, peering up at what Seokjin sees every night—a ceiling devoid of stars and suns. He bundles himself up in Seokjin’s blanket and grows a bit breathless at Seokjin’s smoke-like scent. He wonders if he should return the favour of putting up stars on Seokjin’s ceiling. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? For there to be something Seokjin can reach out for and dream of every night.

He startles upright when the door creaks open after some time of mulling. Jimin pokes his head in and widens his eyes to find Taehyung instead of Seokjin.

“I was wondering where you went,” he blurts, stepping in fully. “I went to check on you and you were gone, so I thought you went out.”

“When did you come in here?” His voice lowers, wariness colouring his gaze. “Does Jin-hyung know?”

“He knows. I slept with Seokjin-hyung last night.” 

Jimin blinks back. “You slept with him? Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” Jimin pauses. “Why?”

In spite of Jimin being his closest friend, Taehyung instinctively grows wary at the line of questioning. “I had a nightmare. You were already asleep so I went to Jin-hyung.”

“Oh... What was the nightmare about?”

"I was trapped in fire."

"That's scary... You're feeling alright?"

"Yeah."

Jimin nods slowly. “Well, Namjoon-hyung bought us breakfast. Come out and eat.”

“Okay.”

Taehyung steps out of bed and Jimin takes his hand. They walk out into the dining room to be greeted by the sumptuous smell of scrambled eggs, ham and toasted sandwiches. Hoseok fumbles around in his grogginess, face scrunched up with one eye still glued shut. Yoongi is slouched over at the end of the table, stuffing his mouth with food. 

Jungkook is fast asleep on the couch. Seokjin, as expected, is nowhere to be found.

“Oh, Taehyung, you’ve woken up. Here.” Namjoon hands over a toasted sandwich. “It’s a new store that opened near the agency. I’m lucky. I was right there when they were having their grand opening.”

Taehyung takes it gingerly. “You worked all night, hyung?”

“Yeah. I’m going back in a few minutes. Just came here to drop this off.”

“You should take better care of yourself,” Hoseok reminds. “Don’t burn yourself out.”

“You’re right. I should remind myself to take breaks every once in a while. Especially so I can get a fresh perspective.”

“It’s not just about the work,” Jimin reproaches. “It’s about your health.”

Namjoon smiles warmly. “I will. It’s just that the new album needs to be done in September. You hold up one thing and everything down the road gets stalled too.”

“You know, it’s so hard not to let out anything about our new album,” Namjoon chuckles. “During the V LIVE yesterday, I nearly hummed some of our songs.”

“Yeah,” Hoseok laughs. “I had to step on his foot under the table when he started humming.”

“It’s hard to not give away our songs, right?” Jimin chuckles, pulling Taehyung to sit with him. 

Taehyung smiles. “It’s like keeping a secret. Of course it’s hard.”

“It is. That’s exactly it.” Namjoon immediately jumps on his response, nodding enthusiastically. 

He nudges over a small container to Taehyung. “Try the sauce. I heard it’s some special beef mix.”

“...Alright.”

“Has Jungkook eaten already?” Jimin asks between mouthfuls.

“Yeah. He ate and went back to sleep. So, just take as much as you want.”

“Shouldn’t we save some for Jin-hyung?” Taehyung states quickly.

Namjoon waves him off. “It’s fine, it’s fine. He already ate.”

“Right, you guys must have gotten breakfast together, hm?” Hoseok points out. “Since he’s always with you in your studio nowadays.”

Taehyung thins his lips, unable to suppress the bile of resentment that crawls through him. Namjoon goes silent for a moment, furtively darting his eyes from Hoseok to Taehyung. 

“Yeah. Seokjin-hyung’s practising composing with me. We’re producing a song together. So, he’s spending his mornings with me.”

“He’s hard-working,” Yoongi hums, dabbing his stained hands on a tissue. 

“He should have told us. We were all wondering why he kept leaving the house so early in the morning,” Jimin remarks in a low tone.

“Don’t you think hyung’s kind of secretive? It’s funny because he doesn’t seem like that kind of person, but he’s quite reserved,” Hoseok replies. 

“He’s always been like that,” Yoongi points out in a long breath.

“I know. I’m just wondering why he feels the need to be that way.”

“It’s just how he is.”

Taehyung watches them talk while his thoughts brew between their conversation pieces. He’s a little surprised they’ve long known that Seokjin’s reticent. Before Seokjin and he grew closer in the past year, Taehyung had often framed Seokjin as someone who was too easygoing, more so over the years. He wonders if he was truly not aware of how Seokjin was, or he just never sought to empathise and understand why he acted the way he did. 

“I wish he’d be more open with us,” Hoseok honestly says. “Sometimes, I really don’t know what he’s thinking.”

A temporary quietness lingers among them. Yoongi has his gaze placed on the table and he shrugs. Namjoon nods and gives an eventual reply, clearing the bags from the table.

“Yeah. It’d be nice if he could be more frank with us. He doesn’t have to shoulder everything on his own.”

Namjoon tosses away the wrappers and hums, “I should head back now. Hyung, the intro—”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. I’ll settle the hook and let you have a go. Working on it for too long makes it hard to get new ideas.”

“Thanks.”

Namjoon tosses his hat on and leaves in a few, the rest of the members indulging in their breakfast. It’s a while after Namjoon steps out the door that Hoseok speaks.

“They get along well. For Jin-hyung to ask Namjoon and not tell the rest of us,” he hums to Yoongi, hushed to keep the conversation away from the rest. Taehyung still picks it up.

“Aren’t you jealous that hyung didn’t ask you?” Hoseok jokes. 

“Yeah. Completely. I’m crying on the inside.” Yoongi rolls his eyes with an amused snort. “They are close. Not that much in age, but since they have similar roles.” 

“Roles?”

“One’s the leader, one’s the oldest. Both responsible for us. Or they feel they should be.”

“Huh.” Hoseok picks up his cup of coffee and downs it in a gulp. “I guess so.”

 

 

Afternoon comes lined up with another onslaught of singing and choreography practices, drills of positions and stage dynamics for their upcoming concert tour. Seokjin appears right when practice is about to begin. He takes an awful lot of bathroom breaks during their rest periods, depriving Taehyung of the opportunity to speak to him. Not only him, but everyone as well, with Namjoon being the only person to get more than a few sentences with Seokjin. 

Night simmers in with a dull fatigue in Taehyung's bones. Taehyung sits on his bed in darkness and waits for Jimin, a renewed glow gentle on his cheeks. He counts the moons he put up and how they jar with the suns, those which Seokjin favoured. He wonders why. They look nice, yes, but a bit misplaced, if Taehyung were to be honest.

He thinks back to last night, fingers restlessly fidgeting. Was it really all out of remorse? He hopes not.

As expected, Jimin comes in with a warm cup of chamomile tea. Taehyung melts into a smile as Jimin jokingly shimmies in, the scent of chamomile wafting over. Taehyung swallows down the tea and pauses to loll in the spreading warmth. Jimin scoots onto the bed and squints at the ceiling.

“Hey, they look brighter… Oh, are they new?” He frowns, getting onto his feet and prodding a sun sticker.

“When did you paste them?”

“Last night.”

“You should have asked me for help.” He looks back at the ceiling and admires their glow with a grin. “Wow, they’re pretty… But it feels like the previous one looked nicer. I don’t know, I can’t really remember how it looks like.”

It takes a while for Taehyung to divulge, “Jin-hyung bought them for me.”

Jimin turns back. “Really? When?”

“Last night, I think. I found him in my room, pasting the stickers, after you left and I went to shower.”

Slowly, a confused and almost annoyed frown materialises on Jimin’s face. 

“Oh. Alright.” He sinks back down onto the bed. “Why’d he do that for you?”

“Because my old ones were dulling.”

They talk under the pretty canopy of stars, Jimin trying to figure out what’s off about Taehyung’s ceiling sky. He comments that it looks as if it had been done separately by two people and mashed together. Taehyung mentions that the previous one was done by all of them, yet it somehow looked nicer and more cohesive.

They chat about old memories and how energetic and hopeful both of them were, how sensitive they were to misinterpret each other’s words in a stressful, convoluted context of being famous. Jimin muses about whether they lost out on their youth that other kids had, grinding away in the practice room and coming of age in the unwavering camera lights. Taehyung says he thinks about that sometimes, and how none of them was really prepared for anything that was to come. 

They never really got to be teenagers. They worried about mindless hatred and wrong career choices instead of grades and classmates. There was no space to groan that they were tired or to procrastinate, not when every move they made was and is still watched by so many eyes, ready for criticism. To be 17 and be never forgiven for words carelessly said—they were given much less space to be children.

Taehyung thinks about Seokjin and how comforting was the time he spent with him throughout the year. A safe little space in Seokjin’s arms where he could act like a child and be treated like one—maybe that was why he was so prone to being immature in front of Seokjin.

They talk for a little more before Jimin decides to go back to his room. 

Taehyung dozes off into a dream of fire. There’s some resignation in his steps as he rounds the foggy room of grey, weary of being subjected to the same scenario repeatedly. Taehyung feels along the walls for the doorknob. As he goes a full circle with no sign of a door, he dismally realises there’s no exit this time.

And then, the heat twists into a completely different feeling. He’s now kneeling on a bed and inhaling something that sends his mind into a complete whirl, suffocating him in an opposite manner from the fiery smoke of before. He lifts his head to realise he had his nose buried in someone’s shoulder.

Fingers reach up his cheeks and he’s pulled closer to the person underneath him. Taehyung lowers himself to bridge any gap between him and the person as his heartbeat drums in his skull, the flames smouldering relentlessly around them. The fear brims and so does the insane thrill to be so close to someone, despite the fact that they’re burning to death.

The flames lick up the bed frame and Taehyung presses his nose into the man’s jawline. He pushes closer between the man’s legs and goes lightheaded at the gentle fingers along his neck.

Taehyung wakes up with a sharp exhale like coming up from water. He’s perspiring heavily, as usual. He takes some time to sober up to the darkness of his bedroom.

Taehyung knows who the man is in his dream. The recognition fills him with an anxious bareness and he covers himself with the blanket in dismay, as if it’d help hide his thoughts. He stretches his fingers and tries not to think about the nightmare where Seokjin crushed his hand in disgust.

It’s 1 AM. Taehyung wipes away the sweat on the back of his neck. He crumples up the seam of his blanket and looks to the door.

If everything yesterday was born out of guilt, then… Seokjin will turn him away today, without a doubt.

Taehyung crawls off his bed. He lingers outside Seokjin’s door and knocks on impulse, feeling a chill simmer through his veins. He feels like sprinting back to shroud himself in his blanket.

With heart palpitations, he waits. 

Then, Seokjin calls out.

“Who’s there?”

Gingerly, Taehyung nudges open the door, peeking in with cowardice. Seokjin peers back at Taehyung, surprise whittling into a faint confusion.

“Yes?”

Hyung.” Taehyung shuffles in, bringing his bundled blanket into view. Immediately, Seokjin’s frown deepens.

“I had a nightmare again…” Taehyung starts, wilting under Seokjin’s unwelcoming gaze.

Seokjin’s shoulders fall. He glances away and heaves.

“Taehyung, we talked about this, didn’t we? It’s just a nightmare. Go back to sleep.”

“...But it was scary. I’m afraid to sleep alone,” Taehyung protests in a murmur. He has the decency to feel embarrassed over how immature he’s behaving. 

It’s so blatant that he’s being a nuisance to Seokjin. Isn’t that enough evidence to prove Seokjin has long changed his mind about Taehyung? Yet, he’s still grabbing onto the last string of hope he has. 

It’s just so sad if Seokjin has really turned his back on him. Taehyung can accept if he did it because he was told to, but if he truly was averse to Taehyung and no longer cared about him as a person, it’d simply break Taehyung’s heart. Of everyone in the world, he put his faith in Seokjin, after all. That if the world collapsed and everything were just debris, Seokjin would still be there, waiting for him in the rubble. 

Seokjin averts his gaze. He recoils his legs against his chest.

“What was it about this time?”

“I was caught in a fire, again…”

“A fire? Why did you dream about that again?”

“I don’t know.”

Seokjin purses his lips thoughtfully. “Maybe your room’s too hot? Did you turn on the air-conditioning?”

“I did. It’s not because it’s hot.” 

Taehyung would have laughed a little at Seokjin’s theory. He fidgets at the end of Seokjin’s bed.

Seokjin folds his lips. “You’re really scared?”

“Yeah.”

Discreetly, Seokjin lets out a heavy sigh. “Really?” He asks again.

“Mm. Am I bothering you, hyung?”

Seokjin doesn’t reply. He shifts towards the edge of the bed.

“I told you to go to sleep early today. Make sure you do tomorrow,” he intones with a sternness. “It’s because you sleep late that you get nightmares.”

He sounds like a parent, conjuring all sorts of strange reasons for mishaps and whatnot. 

Taehyung’s heart leaps. He tries to suppress his smile; his heart goes from hammering with nervousness to jubilance in a split second as he takes up Seokjin’s non-verbal invitation immediately. 

It’s so foolish how easily swept away he is, heart flipping back and forth like a card. 

“I will.”

The space beside Seokjin welcomes him like an old friend but he’s careful with his proximity, tittering around on the edge and then, moving in. He feels Seokjin’s warmth skim the surface of his skin, brittle.

“Thank you, hyung.”

Seokjin neglects to answer, scooting closer to the edge. They sink in silence as Taehyung makes himself comfortable, enjoying the invisible stains of Seokjin on his skin. The fabric of his sheets feel intimate.

“Taehyung. It’s not a bad thing to dream about fire,” Seokjin speaks in a low sigh. “It means good things are to come. The fire burns down all your obstacles. You don’t know that?”

Taehyung knows of this superstition. A long time ago, when he was a child, he overheard his father being joyful after a nightmare of their house on fire. His mother explained that fires eradicate your troubles and worries. Putting it out was a no-no as it meant you were killing off the good luck to come, and preventing your bad fortunes from being vanquished.

“I know, hyung.”

“Did you see any ashes in your dreams?”

“I don’t think so.” His mother said ashes were a bad omen as well, as it meant the troubles would remain.

“That’s good. It’s foretelling you’ll have lots more success to come soon.” Seokjin’s voice softens with tenderness. “But everyone already knows you have a bright future ahead of you.”

“What do you mean?”

Taehyung nestles against his pillow, tracing Seokjin’s back with his gaze. He touches his own head to remember how Seokjin had comforted him last night. Maybe Seokjin truly was just worried Taehyung would play a prank on him.

“You don’t know how popular you are?” Seokjin asks rhetorically. 

“You’re popular too, hyung.”

Seokjin huddles under his blanket. “So, don’t be scared of your dreams.” 

“I’m going to sleep now,” he swiftly ends the conversation. “Go back to your bed when you’re not scared anymore, understand?”

“Okay.” Taehyung falters. “I wasn’t scared till I saw you in my dream, hyung. You were on fire.”

“I was in your dream yesterday, too. I’m fine, Taehyung,” Seokjin replies belatedly. 

“Mm,” Taehyung’s voice softens. “Thank you, hyung. For yesterday and today.”

“Go to bed,” Seokjin merely says. “We’ve got practice tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

 

 

Taehyung drifts out of his slumber to the sound of rustling and low voices. The blanket is pulled up to his chin and Taehyung sets his bleary eyes on Seokjin, the room clouded with darkness. He glances to the window to see the sun has yet to rise, the chirping crickets and deathly stillness indicating it must be the wee hours of the morning. There’s a faint scent of petrichor, probably having drizzled some hours ago.

There’s a dim light dripping in from the corridor. Someone loiters by the door frame.

“He had a nightmare,” Seokjin says.

“Oh.” The figure by the door turns out to be Namjoon. 

“That’s why…”

“Hyung. You don’t have to explain it to me,” Namjoon murmurs.

The voices dribble away in Taehyung’s grogginess. Taehyung doesn’t know what sound he’s making, probably a bunch of gibberish, but it startles the two in the room. Taehyung thinks he sees Seokjin head out of the room immediately, or is it Namjoon?

He wakes up alone in a bed that’s small for two. He turns to his left to find the bed empty.

Taehyung runs his fingers over the cool sheets and rolls onto his side where Seokjin was sleeping, nestling his face into Seokjin’s pillow. He’s a little disappointed, like yesterday, but a happiness festers in his chest like warm blood. His doubts trickle away.

Last night, Seokjin let him into his bed. If he didn’t love Taehyung still, why ever would he pander to a man in his early twenties, afraid of silly fires in his dreams?

It was never Seokjin—it was everyone else who made him stay away. Seokjin was just concerned by the watchful eyes and discreet whispers. As the oldest, he must have worried about the group and kept the peace by putting some distance between him and Taehyung. The last talk with Namjoon must have made him give in for the betterment of everyone to avoid creating any friction. He’s never been one to cause trouble unnecessarily, after all.

That’s why, despite how Seokjin keeps turning away, he still shows his affection towards Taehyung discreetly—placating Taehyung about a silly nightmare like he’s a five year old, sticking up new stars in Taehyung’s bedroom that only a parent would. He’s the only one who, deep down, would never change his mind about Taehyung, no matter how Taehyung acts.

Taehyung plays with the sheets as he digs up that brief moment of wakefulness in the dead of the morning. He recalls Namjoon’s voice and Seokjin leaving.

It couldn’t have been Seokjin’s heart that changed.

 

 

“Tomorrow, we’re going to the naengmyeon place. Okay?” Jimin declares, tapping the back of his chopsticks against the table with a crossed look.

Around them, the restaurant bustles with the dinnertime crowd, the seven of them huddled in a booth in the corner. The store owner had just come over to sheepishly ask for their autographs, opting to serve them himself.

Taehyung sits opposite Seokjin, an arrangement Jimin had a hand in. He explicitly switched seats when Seokjin settled at the corner with him, and didn’t say a word despite the way Seokjin stared at him.

Discreetly, he glances at him, thinking about Seokjin’s warmth from last night. He looks wearier than usual, quiet amidst the chatter.

Taehyung has a hand resting on the table. His fingers squirm every now and then, inviting a warm touch.

Hoseok points and laughs at Jimin. “He’s sulking! All because we didn’t go.”

“I’ve been telling you guys that I want to go there all morning!” Jimin pouts.

“Why don’t we just have it for supper?” Namjoon suggests.

“You have the stomach for it?” Hoseok remarks, and then, he addresses Jimin. “So? Supper?”

Jimin turns to Taehyung, squeezing his wrist. “Are you coming?”

Taehyung quickly scuttles his gaze away to Jimin. “Naengmyeon? I don’t think I should eat so late. I ate a lot for lunch.”

“Tomorrow, dinner,” Jimin announces to the rest, stuffing his mouth with more pork belly. “You’re lucky the meat here is good.”

“Whoa, you can’t go without Taehyung? They’re acting like a couple,” Namjoon snorts.

“You don’t know that they’ve been having heart-to-heart talks every night?” Jungkook teases.

“Everyone, calm down! Don’t be jealous. You may talk to me if I can fit you into a schedule,” Jimin chirps.

“Don’t worry. No one wants to,” Yoongi drawls.

“Hyung’s schedule is completely empty. If you ask him, he’ll act like he needs to check but everything’s just blank,” Jungkook chortles loudly.

Seokjin doesn’t laugh at the commotion, instead thinning his lips. He raises his gaze and meets Taehyung’s eyes, startled to find Taehyung staring at him. Taehyung glances away quickly, but then, he boldly looks back with a small smile.

He puts a slice of sweet potato into Seokjin’s plate. “Hyung, eat more,” he says.

“Oh.” Seokjin blinks. “Thanks.” 

He takes a bite as Taehyung grins contentedly. “You like it, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Take all of mine, hyung.” Taehyung nudges his bowl over. He had left it untouched upon noting Seokjin seemed to like them.

Seokjin instantly prods it back. “It’s fine, it’s fine. I don’t like it that much.”

“But that’s all you’ve been eating throughout?”

“No.” Seokjin furrows his brows and lowers his voice. “Why do you know that?”

Before Taehyung can answer, Seokjin turns to the rest. Taehyung notices then that the others have quietened down, looking over with some curiousness.

“What were you guys talking about? Why are you all suddenly so quiet?” Seokjin chuckles. “So, are we going for naengmyeon or not?”

 

 

Night comes with a quaint nervousness that feels awfully familiar. Under the stars with Jimin, Taehyung lies with his arms crossed behind his head. In sparse bits of conversation, they discuss how their next concert will go. They may cause some congestion like their last concert did, to the point the traffic authority agency had to give them a call to watch for it next time. Jimin pleads with Taehyung to go to the naengmyeon restaurant tomorrow.

"You slept with Seokjin-hyung last night again, right?" Jimin mentions.

Taehyung instinctively straightens up.

"Yeah. I had a nightmare again."

Jimin frowns. "What did you dream of this time?"

"The same thing. Fire."

"That's bad... Why fire?"

Taehyung shrugs.

"Do you feel better with someone by your side? I'll stay with you then." Jimin scoots closer.

"No, no, you don't have to. It's not that bad."

"It's fine. What are friends for?"

Taehyung squirms. "Jimin, I'm alright. You really don't have to."

Jimin stares at him and then turns to his phone, narrating Taehyung's thoughts.

"If you think Jin-hyung's more comforting, then just go to him. I'll stay with you anyway, just in case. Okay?"

As promised, Jimin stays put in Taehyung’s room and eventually dozes off, phone drooping from his hand. Taehyung drapes his spare blanket over Jimin and for some minutes, wrangles his hands in wait.

Finally, he creeps out of his bed and to Seokjin’s door. Messing up his hair a bit to give a slept-in look, he knocks on Seokjin’s door and peeks in with crumpled lips and piteous eyes.

Seokjin stares back at him, still awake despite it being 2AM. There’s no surprise this time, but his frown is blatant. Before Taehyung can speak, Seokjin beats him to it.

“Nightmare?” Despite his sigh, he looks worried.

When Taehyung nods, Seokjin rubs the back of his neck, expression conflicted. Reluctantly, he shifts over and asks, “Fire?”

“Yeah…” Taehyung lies, shrouding his eagerness as he teeters to Seokjin’s side.

“What are you stressed about? Why do you keep having these dreams?” Seokjin asks in a small voice, scooting further when Taehyung joins him in bed.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the concert… I think I’m stressed over it.” Taehyung shifts, breathing in Seokjin for another night. Just his scent sparks a fiery high through his veins. “But sleeping with you really helps me feel better.” 

He corrects briskly, “I mean, sleeping with someone by my side. The nightmares stop when I do.”

“You should ask Jimin to sleep with you, then. Does no one else want to?”

“Jimin doesn’t want to,” Taehyung lies.

“Huh. But he’s willing to have heart-to-heart talks with you every night?” Seokjin mutters under his breath. “He even argued with me the other day…”

Taehyung fidgets. “I have bad sleeping habits. You know that, hyung. That’s why everyone prefers not to room with me.”

He shifts closer. “What were you two arguing about?”

“Your habits have gotten much better, though?” Seokjin notes softly, neglecting to answer Taehyung’s question. 

“Do the rest know about your nightmares? That you’ve been sleeping with me the last few days?” 

“No.”

“Okay. Make sure you tell them why if they ask about us sleeping together.” Seokjin pulls the blanket up higher. 

“Mm, I will.” Taehyung notes the emphasis in Seokjin’s words. 

“Thank you, hyung. I’m sorry for being a burden.”

Silence drapes over them like a cold quilt, leaving Taehyung to stare at the back of Seokjin’s head. As always, he fights back the incessant urge to touch, to just feel Seokjin against his ribcage. Bit by bit, he leans closer, wondering if Seokjin can feel him coming nearer. 

“This is the third time you’ve had this nightmare, right?” Seokjin’s sudden murmur startles Taehyung.

“No… It’s been a few weeks now.”

“A few weeks?” Seokjin repeats with surprise.

“Mm. Almost every day, I've been having nightmares.”

“No wonder you look so tired recently,” Seokjin heaves. “It must be hard for you, not being able to get a good night’s sleep.” 

“Yeah, a bit.”

“It’s my fault. You’re not used to sleeping without someone now, since I slept with you every day. I shouldn’t have.”

“Hyung, that's not the reason why,” Taehyung protests in bewilderment. “And you sleeping with me every night helped me so much. I stopped feeling so down all because of you.”

“I didn’t help you,” Seokjin intones firmly. “Taehyung, you started feeling better as time passed. I had nothing to do with it.”

Taehyung scrunches up his face. “Hyung, you had everything to do with it. I stopped being so anxious, I became happier thanks to you. If it weren’t for you, I’d still-”

“No, Taehyung, none of that is because of me,” there’s an edge of harshness to Seokjin’s words. Seokjin swivels back with a serious look, making Taehyung jolt at the proximity. 

“It was all you. I really didn’t do anything for you.”

“You comforted me whenever I was tired. You kept me company every night.” Taehyung’s voice softens. 

“Any one of us would have done that for you,” Seokjin interrupts, brows creased tautly.

“That doesn’t change the fact that you did all that for me.”

“Yes, but any one of us would have done the same for you, Taehyung,” Seokjin stresses with an urgency. 

“We all just weren’t sure what we could do to make you feel better, so we did it in our own ways. Ask any one of us and they would have done the same as I did, if they knew it'd help. I honestly didn’t do anything for you.”

“There’s nothing special about me.” Seokjin’s voice drops, tinged with consternation. “You know that, right, Taehyung?”

He seems awfully keen on proving he did nothing for Taehyung—which is completely untrue. 

Taehyung didn’t even know how to make himself feel better till Seokjin stepped into his darkness and accompanied him in there. Seokjin must have been exhausted too; he trained as much as Taehyung did, even more so when he needed to stay back to learn the dance routines again. He’s subjected to the hateful comments and the never-ending flashing lights too. 

Yet, he took on the extra burden of caring for one of their youngest members, spending every single night with him so he’d stop isolating himself. Taehyung’s not implying the rest of the members don’t care about him; they’ve all tried in their own ways to help him, small or big, subtly or overtly. 

“I... know that, hyung,” Taehyung replies anyway, careful to not cause a rift.

“Okay.” The tension eases from Seokjin’s face as he turns away again, facing his back to Taehyung. 

“As long as you do. I'm not special, Taehyung. We all love and care for you. So, don't feel that it’s thanks to me that you feel better.”

It is, though?  

“Okay… Sorry, hyung.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Seokjin exhales, speaking with more gentleness. “I’m not angry with you. I was just telling you so you wouldn’t feel like you owe me.”

“There are many people in the world who would do the same for you, Taehyung. And someday, when we can meet more people without worrying, you’ll find someone you love who will do even more for you. I’m nothing great,” he whispers.

Taehyung keeps mum. Seokjin’s evidently determined to absolve himself from credit. It’s one thing to dismiss what you’ve done for others, which Seokjin normally does, and another to insist vehemently you had no part to play in helping someone—like it’s a crime of sorts. 

“Go to sleep. It’s already so late.”

“Mm. Goodnight, hyung.” Taehyung fiddles with the sheets. “Why weren’t you sleeping, hyung?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Are you having problems sleeping? You look tired recently.”

“I’m not. Don’t worry about me. I just messed up my sleep cycle from playing games too late,” Seokjin heaves. “Goodnight.”

“Okay… Goodnight, hyung. Thank you.”

Their conversation ceases there. Taehyung spends a good, long while simply staring at Seokjin’s back, unaware of the minutes and hours that go by. He comes closer when Seokjin stops shifting around and his breath evens out like calm ripples.

Carefully, Taehyung rests his head against Seokjin’s back, making himself comfortable. With just his thumb, he traces down Seokjin’s spine, feeling the sink and rise. When Seokjin doesn’t react, he adds finger by finger, till his entire palm is pressed against Seokjin’s back.

He falls asleep quickly with his heartbeat slow in his ears.

 

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

 

Taehyung pries his eyes open to a disorienting, freezing thought of rain. The pitter-patter sounds don’t fade as his vision steadies to a ceiling deprived of stars. What registers first is Seokjin’s leftover smell, and then, the gentle sounds of pitter patter crackling from his side. 

He expects to see rain pelting the windows as he sits up, but instead, he finds the sun shining with Seokjin’s laptop open on the bedside table. It’s playing a loop of rain sounds. 

Taehyung’s alone in bed again, but the sounds are enough to fill the space beside him—and the holes of his heart. 

A watery smile creeps over his lips. Like a rainstorm, his heartbeat spews all over the place, pulse most prominent in the hands he once censured. 

 

 

It begins to become a routine, like before—basking in excitement as night falls, except now for the dead of night. At 2AM, Taehyung lies awake in his bed, listening to the night stillness. Jimin had popped by as usual for a quick check-in and they had talked for a bit. He mentioned waking up alone and that Taehyung had gone to Seokjin, but said nothing more when Taehyung didn’t elaborate. 

Taehyung stares at the clock as Jimin lies asleep beside him. The seconds aggravatingly slow into minutes, and then, Taehyung exits his room. He checks the hallway to find no one.

Taehyung brushes back his hair with his heart thumping in his throat, rubbing his eyes and pulling his shirt to be lopsided. He quietly opens Seokjin’s door with a creak, peeking in with his blanket crumpled in his hand.

Seokjin is still awake. He blinks back sluggishly at Taehyung, like fighting sleep, without any surprise to his face. The blinding light of his screen frames his face eerily.

The lie slips easily through Taehyung’s teeth. “Hyung, I had the same nightmare…”

Seokjin heaves and moves over. Bubbling with happiness, Taehyung enters without missing a beat, scuttling under the sheets.

Seokjin prods at his phone and soon, a steady pitter patter resounds from the speakers. He places it on his headboard.

“Thanks, hyung.” Taehyung makes himself comfortable, smiling against the pillow while facing Seokjin’s back. The noise reverberates above him like he’s right under a raincloud.

“How did you think of this, hyung?” He laughs inwardly at how endearing Seokjin’s idea is. Taehyung dreams of fire, so the rain sounds will help him dream of rain.

“I don’t know.” Seojin shifts. “Did it help?”

“You mean, last night? Yeah, I didn’t have any nightmares.”

“That’s good.”

“How was your morning, hyung? Did you get a lot done?” 

His eyes trail down Seokjin’s spine, dwelling upon Seokjin’s hips. He forces them up when he thinks about caressing them. 

“I did.” 

“That’s really good. How many songs are you working on? Just one? What’s the genre?”

Seokjin moves around. “You came here to sleep, right? Then, go to sleep. It’s late.”

“But I’m not sleepy.”

“Well, I am. Taehyung, I’m doing you a favour because you had a nightmare. So, don’t talk to me and let me sleep,” Seokjin grunts, turning to Taehyung crossly. He realises he overreacted and eases his expression.

“Sorry. I’m just tired,” Seokjin whispers. His rough words linger in the air.

“I know. You woke up so early today,” Taehyung replies softly. “Sorry, I’ll let you sleep.”

Seokjin gingerly nods and rolls back. Quietness falters over them for some time, till Seokjin breaks the stillness with a murmur.

“What about you? Weren’t you trying to write a love song about the seasons?”

Taehyung perks up. He melts into a soft smile at the question, a rare attempt from Seokjin to genuinely continue the conversation. Thump, thump, thump, against the never-ending rainfall existing only beneath his pillow. Even if it’s because of guilt that Seokjin asked, it still feels good.

“I am. I put it on hold for a while, though.”

“Why?”

“Just…” 

Taehyung kept it aside, along with his other ongoing works, because he’d been so overwrought with the frigidity Seokjin was showing. It’s difficult to write love songs of shy fate and growing Spring in your lungs when the person you love can’t bear to even be touched by you. His heavy heart dripped with an ugly anxiousness and devastation into his songs that were never meant to be, not that he had a great headspace in the first place to pen down any words or melodies.

“I had a block.”

“Ah.” Seokjin shifts. “It’s hard to write about love when you’re not in love with someone, right? I also have that problem.”

Taehyung fidgets at the question. He whispers with a covert vulnerability, “It’s not that hard for me to imagine the feeling.”

“But it’ll never be the same as being inspired by the real thing. Right?” Seokjin returns swiftly.

“...Yeah.”

“Don’t worry. When everything finally settles, you’ll be able to find someone.”

“Hm? That’s not really on my mind now.”

“Oh, that’s good. You shouldn’t be thinking about finding a lover now. It’s not a good time.”

The conversation is flowing a little strangely, Taehyung thinks as he stares at Seokjin’s back. He remembers when they would face each other, breaths shadowing each other’s lips as they mused about pretentious things under comforting darkness—that would have them be mocked if they did so in daylight. Melding into each other like puzzle pieces, Taehyung burrowing himself into Seokjin’s chest and feeling his intricate ribs. 

Seokjin was a sanctuary that would give him the answers if the questions were too difficult, who would contemplate on behalf of him if Taehyung didn’t want to think. He was a home that belonged to Taehyung and only Taehyung.

“Mm. Because it’ll be hard, right? Now that we’re growing more and more,” Taehyung hums. “It’ll be difficult to hide a relationship… I can’t imagine how big the uproar will be.”

A long time ago, he had thought about relationships before he grew his grimy feelings for Seokjin. To watch others hold hands and embrace, to have someone to call theirs—it was natural to be envious. Taehyung yearned for intimacy sometimes but knew it would be more than troublesome. Like a sin, he’d be blackmailed for it by the paparazzi, and his lover would bear the brunt of it. Gossip and insults of whether she was worthy enough for him, malicious comments from the public about him swindling fans like he vowed to each person who bought an album eternal chastity. If a dating scandal broke out, he’d pull down the entire group with him.

“It’s not just that,” Seokjin replies. “Right now, we’re in a vulnerable position. We can’t meet a lot of people and make friends normally… so we end up just liking whoever’s available around us.”

Taehyung blinks. “I thought you were thinking about how dangerous it’d be to be in a relationship.”

“There’s that, too. Everyone suffers because of you.”

Seokjin’s not usually this pessimistic, dictating what the members should or shouldn’t do and directing blame. 

Taehyung dwells on his words. 

“What do you mean by just liking whoever’s available ?”

“Well, everyone wants to have a lover, right? But we can’t meet girls easily. So, we become needy and end up leaning towards whoever’s around us, for the smallest things.” 

Again, Seokjin speaks in an oddly calculated manner, a little like he’s talking about cattle rather than people. 

The words touch a nerve in Taehyung, hitting much too close to home. He had broached this possibility when he finally came to terms with his feelings, anxiously brewing reason after reason for why he saw Seokjin differently. He reasoned he was just restless and displaced his deprivation onto the closest person in his heart. Years later, decades down the road, he’d laugh about it like it was a silly antic. 

It was an assurance back then, but to hear it from Seokjin himself is insulting, even though he knows Seokjin isn’t directing it towards him. Needy? Liking whoever’s available? He’s essentially writing Taehyung off as someone desperate to be in love, that he’d blindly like whoever.

“You make it sound like we’re animals. Why would you say it like that?” Taehyung thins his lips.

Seokjin rolls over. The proximity has Taehyung leaning back instinctively, warmth spreading over his cheeks. 

“Am I wrong?” Seokjin remarks softly. He fails to hold his gaze with Taehyung.

“It can get really lonely for us, Taehyung, even when we have the love of so many people… We end up grabbing on to people who are the first to put out their hand, when we shouldn’t. When they’re nothing special.”

His words are elaborate and sombre—more and more prominently uncharacteristic of him. He sounds as if he had already put a lot of thought into the topic.

“Do you think that for Junghwan-hyung? He’s dating his stylist,” Taehyung rebounds.

Seokjin bats his lashes. “I’m just telling you to be careful. As long as you are and you know what you’re doing, it’s fine. Don’t love for the sake of being in love. You have a lot to look forward to—better things out there for you.”

“...You’re being strange, hyung,” Taehyung mutters. “You’re not the kind to say stuff like this.”

“Strange? What have I done that’s so strange that everyone thinks of me that way?” Seokjin breathes faintly, angling back. Though his words seem curt, his tone is more fatigued than anything.

Taehyung straightens himself. “Who thinks that of you?”

“It’s nothing. Let’s stop talking. I want to sleep.” Seokjin pulls the covers over himself.

“Hyung. Are you okay?” Taehyung persists. “If someone calls you weird, you’re not. You know that, right?”

Seokjin replies belatedly. “I am okay. It’s almost like you want me to not be.”

“What? How could you say that?” Taehyung grows affronted, hurt lacing his words.

“I’m kidding. Don’t take it so seriously.” Seokjin glances back slightly. “Shouldn’t I be asking you if you’re okay? You’re the one coming here because of your nightmares.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then, let’s go to sleep, Taehyung. I’m tired.”

In the lingering quietness, Taehyung dwells on Seokjin’s words. Surely, someone around them must have called Seokjin strange—probably one of the members did over how intimate Taehyung and Seokjin were. Was it during that night chat with Namjoon, where he refused to let Taehyung come along? Did Yoongi speak to Seokjin privately too—did everyone else do so too? Maybe not Jimin, but the rest.

Taehyung locks his jaw. Everyone just wants to come between him and Seokjin. They’re the reason things have devolved to this state, nitpicking at what they do. It’s funny how they pretend to care about and worry over how down he’s been lately, when they drove a wedge between Taehyung and the one person who brought him so much happiness.

What’s so wrong about what he does with Seokjin? He’s never gone too far. Pecks on his neck are nothing extreme when Jungkook and Jimin nuzzle into one another without batting an eyelid. He holds Seokjin’s hands like how Hoseok holds Yoongi’s hands. He says cheesy things to Seokjin like how Jimin does to every other member. 

Are they afraid Taehyung will jeopardise the group, or is it just strange to see them like this? Have they already read between the lines? They could have asked him to tone it down if they felt Taehyung was being overly affectionate, instead of forcing Seokjin to a corner and giving him an ultimatum. 

It’s unfair. Breathing down their necks, demanding they not do this and that, to the point Seokjin is hesitant to even touch him. Taehyung almost feels robbed at this point.

“Hyung. I wish you wouldn’t be so conscious of what other people say,” Taehyung breathes bitterly, disappointment chewing into his words.

“We’re celebrities. It’s our job to do so.” Seokjin sighs. 

The words feel familiar. Taehyung feels like he’s said something similar to Seokjin before, a long time ago, when Taehyung felt smothered by the watching eyes.

“Does it have to matter what other people think?” Taehyung returns. He instinctively grabs on to Seokjin’s shirt, making Seokjin jerk.

“Of course it does. Have you forgotten what we are?” Seokjin turns back and gingerly moves Taehyung’s fingers off his clothes. “If you talk anymore, I’ll make you go back to your room to sleep, Taehyung.”

In the heavy stillness, Taehyung stares and stares, words kept between his teeth despite how close in proximity he is to Seokjin. They once could lie in each other’s arms and unwrap any gall for each other to see. That was his biggest comfort in a hectic life of worrying about what everyone else thought and never what he himself felt. Yet, all of it has been taken from him, all because people couldn’t stomach their closeness.

It’s not fair.

 

 

In a disorienting dream, Taehyung finds himself in fire. Before he has the chance to panic, a downpour abruptly begins, vanquishing any traces of flames. All that’s left is ashes and the faint scent of smoke. He stands barefooted on the disfigured granite floor and catches the rain in his hands, droplets ricocheting off the floor. Somehow, the sight is more sombre than when everything was burning to ashes.

Morning comes with Taehyung all alone. He falls out gently from his dream and reaches over to touch nothing. The rain persists, isolated to his left, Seokjin’s laptop open on the bedside table.

Peeking out of the room to voices in the living room, Taehyung quickly slips out to the bathroom. He washes up quickly, noting the light peach of his cheeks. He smells himself and wonders if he gives off Seokjin’s scent.

“Oh, you’re awake?” Jimin greets once he steps out into the living room. 

“Yeah.” He settles beside Jimin on the couch, resting a hand absentmindedly on his thigh as they talk.

Yoongi joins them, exhaustion wrangling his expression. He and Namjoon have been caught up with a bulk of their next album’s production, cooped up in their studios with whatever free time they have.

Despite his tiredness, he offers a small smile and pats Taehyung’s head. “You slept well?” 

He hums, gesturing at the tray on the table. “I bought some drinks. Take one—there’s hot chocolate for you.”

The brewing resentment from last night has left a bitter taste in Taehyung's mouth. Without replying, he brushes Yoongi’s hand off him. He returns to his room, ignoring Yoongi’s bewildered call.

 

 

“Hyung.”

With his puffed-up hair ready, Taehyung doesn’t wait and shuffles into Seokjin’s room. He shuts the door as silently as he can, checking one last time for anyone in the hallway to notice his nightly escapade.

Nightfall frames his back as the curtains flutter behind him, window wide open for the cool breeze to enter. His shirt is crumpled deliberately at the ends, marks in clumps instead of all over.

“Nightmare.” Taehyung purses his lips, not longer trying as hard to pass his fatigue off as distress. 

Seokjn stares up at him with tired eyes, lifting his gaze from his phone. Despite his frown, his alleged annoyance doesn’t reach his eyes.

“You’re not a kid, Taehyung. How many times has it been? Why doesn’t your nightmare go away?” Seokjin sighs. 

He scoots over anyway. Before Taehyung even gets into bed, Seokjin grabs his laptop and starts playing the same track of rain sounds. He ups the volume, painting in Taehyung’s head the image of a storm against the window. Taehyung briefly thinks of water streaking down Seokjin’s rosy skin.

Taehyung crawls under Seokjin’s blanket. He stares as Seokjin stretches over him to put the laptop on the bedside table.

“Thanks, hyung.” 

“Yeah,” he breathes, turning over.

“How was your day, hyung?” Taehyung tries. 

He gets the response he expected. “It was okay. Taehyung, it’s late. Go to sleep.”

“Okay…”

Seokjin turns around and they meet eyes fleetingly. “Should we bring you to a doctor?” He heaves, voice small with a nearly unnoticeable hint of tenderness.

“No, no. It’s not that serious. When I have someone by my side, I don’t have nightmares anymore.” Taehyung smiles. “And the rain sounds—they make me dream of rain in my nightmares.”

Seokjin raises his brows. “Really?” 

“Yeah. Just yesterday, I dreamt of rain putting out the fire.”

“That’s not a good omen…”

Taehyung warmly chuckles, staring up at Seokjin with a smile he hopes isn’t visibly lovesick. “Hyung, you’re showing that you’re old. Don’t tell me you really believe in it?”

Seokjin doesn’t reply. As he shuffles back under the sheets, Taehyung discreetly takes the chance to go closer. The rain drums in his ears as he watches Seokjin’s chest rise and fall. He carefully holds the edge of Seokjin’s loose shirt, making sure not to alert him.

“Has anyone asked about you sleeping with me?”

“No… Besides Jimin.”

“Oh,” Seokjin’s voice falls. “Did he say anything about it?”

“No. He doesn’t mind.” Taehyung plays with the loose thread from Seokjin’s shirt, much like a restless child. “What did you think he’d say about it?”

“Nothing. I was just curious.” Seokjin remarks late, “I’m surprised no one noticed.”

“Mm. Hyung, it’s okay. No one knows.” Taehyung brushes his thumb over the small bit of fabric crumpled in his hand.

“Well, it doesn’t matter if they know or don’t,” Seokjin heaves. “Taehyung, since you said the rain sounds work for you, why don’t you sleep on your own with it?”

Taehyung stiffens. Briskly, he explains, “They don’t work if there’s no one by my side.”

“You tried it?”

“I did. Last night,” Taehyung lies with an unwavering earnestness. “The nightmare came back. So I came to you.”

“...I see.” 

Seokjin goes silent. It’s a while later that he reaches behind and gingerly brushes Taehyung’s grip off.

“Stop it and go to sleep.”

“Okay,” Taehyung mutters, suppressing a scowl. “Goodnight, hyung.”

 

 

Sitting with Jimin and Namjoon in the brightly lit room, they privately pour over the new album’s designs, concepts now firmed up with themes and lore in place. Symbolism, metaphors, ideas for the special notes are fleshed out neatly for their inputs. The intricate links between each part are pretty phenomenal, mapped out by them and the staff in a concerted effort for a sophisticated big picture.

Taehyung glances to the door, wondering when Seokjin will come. He’s already at the agency, presumably, but he wasn’t with Namjoon.

Namjoon tugs at his jacket. “Taehyung, why don't we move over? It’s cold here. The air-conditioning is right above us.”

“You can move if you want. It’s fine for me.” 

Taehyung remains in his seat, flicking through the pages. He can feel Namjoon’s uncertain stare on him.

Jimin steps over to the air-conditioning remote fixated to the wall and hums, “It’s alright, I’ll just turn it down.”

He settles beside Namjoon and asks, “Jin-hyung’s working hard, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.” Namjoon sorts through the papers.

“Is his song finished? He never wants to show me—or anyone.”

“He’s working on a few different things at one go,” Namjoon hums. 

“Will they make it for the next album?”

Namjoon purses his lips. “There’s one that’s close to being completed, but overall, they don’t really fit the theme so they won’t be added into the next one. Maybe a solo release?”

“Oh, they don’t fit the theme?”

“They’re a bit sombre.”

Taehyung folds his lips, irritation crawling up his skin. It bothers him that Namjoon has a window to Seokjin’s most inner thoughts, penned down into lyrics and harmonies for Namjoon’s second opinion, when Taehyung isn’t allowed a single listen. Shouldn’t Taehyung be the first to know, considering he’s closest to Seokjin? They don’t understand as much about him, after all.

Jimin blinks. “I didn’t expect that. What are they about?”

Before Namjoon can speak, Taehyung interrupts curtly.

“Hyung, should you be answering on behalf of Jin-hyung? It’s not your work. If Jin-hyung wants, he’ll tell us himself.”

The air stiffens somewhat with how icy Taehyung’s words are, Jimin leaning back hesitantly. Namjoon rubs at his elbow.

“That’s what I was going to say. That I should let Seokjin-hyung answer instead,” he returns. 

“Really?” Taehyung hums, an edge to his words.

Namjoon frowns. “Really.”

Once the rest of the members arrive, they go over the lines for their next album’s title track. Taehyung finds his eyes inevitably drawn to the person sitting opposite him. Seokjin mouths the words, lets it roll off his tongue like tasting them carefully. The pitch rises considerably at his part, a feat that isn’t easy to pull off with all their strenuous dancing and putting on the right expressions.

“This part seems a bit high,” Seokjin comments with a low chuckle.

“It’s nothing you can’t handle,” the producer says without a shred of doubt. Seokjin’s ears redden slightly and he laughs it off, but the subtle hesitance in his eyes remain. He’d normally follow with a joke but he doesn’t.

As Seokjin stands in the corner and conscientiously pours over his lines, humming the tune softly, Taehyung paces over.

Seokjin notices immediately. Taehyung leans over and discreetly squeezes his hand, his fingers threading between Seokjin’s. They fall in place in such a lovely movement, skin brushing, tingling, bones between bones.

Resembling a startled rabbit, Seokjin flinches, but Taehyung doesn’t let go.

“You can do it, hyung,” Taehyung whispers with a warm smile. He releases his grip and briskly joins Hoseok on the couch. 

 

 

Sitting in the dim glow of his room, Taehyung antsily glances at the clock every now and then to see how much time has passed, counting down the minutes to the witching hour, an ironic venture of waiting for time to pass. Jimin has his head on Taehyung's lap, typing a few messages to his friends.

“Hey."

"What?" Taehyung looks down.

"Are you angry with Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung?”

“No. Why?”

“You’ve been a bit hostile towards them lately.”

Taehyung shrugs. "I'm not. Was I wrong today?"

“You weren’t, but you didn’t need to be so gruff about it to hyung.”

“If he found me rude, he should have told me. Same goes for Yoongi-hyung,” Taehyung points out.

“You know they wouldn’t kick up a big fuss over it, especially if it concerns you,” Jimin mumbles.

Taehyung creases his brows. “Me?”

“Well... they don’t want you to be sad.”

Taehyung has to suppress his chuckle. “Huh.”

Jimin lowers his phone, staring up at Taehyung with glassy eyes. "Do you still get nightmares, now that you're back to sleeping with Jin-hyung?"

"No, not anymore."

Jimin chuckles. “Jin-hyung is really your cure-all.”

Taehyung sieves out a tinge of mockery from Jimin’s words. He  folds his lips with wariness. “Why? Are you going to tell the rest I’m sleeping with Jin-hyung again?”

Jimin flutters his lashes at Taehyung’s surly tone. “I won’t. You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.”

“Because they’ll stop us,” Taehyung points out matter-of-factly.

Jimin bites his lips. “I think they’d be more relieved than anything that you’re not as down as you were before.”

He sits up and faces Taehyung with some seriousness. He broaches the topic with some hesitance and caution.

“I know you don’t really like to talk about it but... I asked Namjoon about that night he went out with Seokjin-hyung alone. He said he couldn’t tell me what they talked about so I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it really doesn't feel like he told Jin-hyung to avoid you.”

Taehyung whips his head to Jimin. He grits in chagrin, “What- why would you ask him that? I didn’t tell you to!”

Jimin leans back slightly in surprise at Taehyung’s brusque reaction. “I didn’t tell him what you thought. I just asked him what happened that night.”

“And I’m asking you, why did you do that?” Taehyung snaps irritatedly. “You think Namjoon-hyung would tell you?”

“What’s wrong with Namjoon-hyung knowing? And yes, I think he would. Because hyung isn’t the kind of person to do that in the first place,” Jimin states firmly, brows furrowing.

Taehyung shuts his eyes in frustration. God, he shouldn’t have told Jimin. Even he is causing trouble for Taehyung and Seokjin now. Everyone really just wants to get between him and Seokjin.

“You’re making things worse for Jin-hyung,” Taehyung seethes. “Namjoon-hyung called Jin-hyung out that night alone and didn’t let me come along. He didn’t want me to know what he said.”

Jimin locks his jaw. He speaks with a tinge of incredulity, “You’re talking like you’re sure Namjoon-hyung told Jin-hyung to stay apart from you.”

“Why else would Seokjin-hyung avoid me out of nowhere?”

“Does it have to be someone else’s fault? Maybe Jin-hyung-” 

Jimin swiftly bites back his words, letting out an exasperated sigh as he rubs his face. Taehyung catches the insinuation anyway. 

He thins his lips, resentment beginning to lace his tongue with bitterness. Of all people, he at least thought Jimin would be on his side. It was Namjoon and Yoongi that began all of this from the disapproving stares to the curt insults of them being strange. Yet, Jimin puts the blame on Seokjin?

“Taehyung… you should know you can trust us or lean on us too when you’re troubled. And you should. I know that Jin-hyung is special to you but we’re your friends too. We’re practically brothers; we’ve been together for so many years. You shouldn’t be wary or… suspect us for trying to sabotage you. Even the fact that you only go to Seokjin for your nightmares...”

The words trickle off, barely making an impression on Taehyung as he dwells upon Jimin’s veiled remark from before.

“So, I shouldn’t go to Jin-hyung?”

“No, no,” Jimin briskly clarifies. “I’m just saying that you always turn to Jin-hyung when you have problems. You need to know that you can rely on us too. Everyone wants to be there for you. We’re not- we’d never try to hurt you. We love you.”

“I know,” Taehyung returns simply.

“Really? You promise?” Jimin heaves, a concerned doubtfulness shading his eyes.

Taehyung knows that look well. He’s memorised it off of Namjoon whenever Taehyung tries to stand between Seokjin and another member, forcing a gap.

“Yeah.” 

Taehyung checks the time.

When Jimin finally turns in, Taehyung creeps into Seokjin’s room with a quick knock, entering immediately.

“Hyung.” The words drip from his tongue with honey.

Seokjin heaves.

Taehyung settles in bed to the routine rainfall within the four walls of Seokjin’s room. As he snuggles in, Seokjin stares at him.

“Why’d you do that to me this afternoon?”

Taehyung perks up from his pillow. He’s surprised Seokjin is talking to him, since Seokjin usually keeps silent.

“Do what?”

Seokjin fidgets, but doesn’t face Taehyung. “You held my hand today.”

Taehyung sits up further to get a better look at Seokjin. Seokjin has his eyes closed, hand curled near his cheek.

“I wanted to encourage you. I can’t do that?” Taehyung returns softly. “Nobody saw.”

Seokjin’s eyes flutter open and he knits his brows together in befuddlement. He leans back to speak and jolts upon finding Taehyung already looking at him. His gaze skittishly flickers away.

“I didn’t need any encouragement. I was fine,” Seokjin murmurs, turning around.

“You looked nervous, hyung. I just wanted you to know you could do it.”

“How would you know if I can or can’t?” Seokjin sighs, sounding like he’s arguing for the sake of it.

“I just do.” Taehyung leans closer. Seokjin glances back at the movement.

“Whatever you want to do… I’ll always believe you can do it.” Taehyung smiles gently at Seokjin, loving the little crease on his eyelid—probably from lying on his side while using his phone. 

“You know that, right, hyung? You’ll always have me to believe in you. Even if nobody else does, I always will,” Taehyung hums without hesitation.

Seokjin blinks at him. He slips under his covers, pulling it all the way up to his ears.

 

 

As they cross through the street towards the broadcasting stage, the camera flashes burn into their corneas. Taehyung strides behind Namjoon, a little groggy. He’s clad in a heavy brown coat, matching that of Jimin’s, and loose trousers. They walk quick and fast as the lights never cease, reporters tripping over each other to get the best angle. Far past the barricades, he notices the fans outside, waving their fanboards vigorously.

Taehyung looks to Seokjin ahead of them. He’s wearing a dark blue sweater and ripped jeans, revealing parts of his thighs and his knees. He has a slight crease between his brows, weariness eating at his skin. He winces at the camera flashes but still smiles warmly for the journalists.

Offhandedly, Taehyung wonders how nice it would be if they could have one day to themselves, without the world recognising them and the whispers following them. The thought mutates into a conjecture of him and Seokjin in an empty city, where the camera flashes are the lights left on by all those who have disappeared. The buildings tower over them and it’s all silence, like the end of the world.

No one to call them strange. No one to judge the way they sleep together and how Taehyung looks at Seokjin. A world of just them, eerily devoid of human life, no more devoted fans to sing his heart out to on stage, no more friends and family. 

The reverie engulfs his mind and he forgets to smile for the cameras, walking ahead till he bumps into Jungkook.

Taehyung thinks he might be happy with a place like that.

 

 

“Hyung.”

Taehyung enters under the guise of darkness, not even bothering to mention his nightmare this time. He crawls onto the bed and Seokjin turns back with ruffled hair, groggily frowning up at him.

“What?” He instinctively moves aside.

“Oh. I had a nightmare again… Can I sleep by your side?” Taehyung hums, slipping under the blanket. He doesn’t lie down, though, staring down at Seokjin in wait of a response.

Seokjin narrows his eyes. He parts his lips momentarily to speak but shuts his mouth ultimately, turning away with a grunt.

“What did I put up those stickers for if you’re just going to sleep here all the time?” He heaves in exasperation. “Really…”

Taehyung blinks at him. “Does that mean you want to sleep in my room instead?”

Seokjin’s grimace deepens. He ignores Taehyung and bundles himself up in his blanket.

Taehyung gazes at him with a grin, fondness bleeding out like an open gash. He has the itch to crumple Seokjin up into his arms like a small thing, hold him close and feel his bones and bumps. He stops thinking before his conjectures devolve into imaginations of unspeakable intimacy.

Slowly but surely, things seem to be moulding back into what it once was. Seokjin is still curt, exasperation showing whenever Taehyung comes in whining about another nightmare. But he doesn’t try to turn Taehyung away anymore, nor does he insist so stubbornly that they not speak to each other, allowing just a shred of conversation before turning in. Their backdrop is the clatter of rain that lives only within this space, clear skies prevailing outside.

A breeze slips into the room, urging Taehyung under the blanket.

“How was today, hyung? Practice was tiring, wasn’t it?”

“Mm. It was.”

“You did well. You get better every time I see you.”

“Thanks. You did well too,” Seokjin sighs. 

“Are you looking forward to our new album’s release, hyung?” Taehyung hums. 

“Taehyung, we have an early schedule tomorrow.” Seokjin sends Taehyung a look that Taehyung knows means he’s said his fill for today. Despite his expression, his voice is tender.

Taehyung tries to shroud his crestfallenness, discreetly tracing a loose thread from Seokjin’s shirt. 

“It’s still a long time away but soon, everyone will hear our new music,” he attempts anyway. He gets no reply.

“I feel kind of rusty, even though we’ve been practising,” Taehyung divulges after a moment. “I’m nervous I won’t be good.”

Seokjin seems to react once Taehyung says nervous , jostling around.

“...Why are you nervous? You’ll do well. Your self-composition even made it in.”

Taehyung softly laughs, heart churning with a lovely warmth at Seokjin’s praise. No matter how he ignores him with terseness, Seokjin still reassures Taehyung whenever he’s unsure.

“It only made it in because I had so much help from everyone,” Taehyung hums.

“Whatever it is, at the core of it all, you still created it. Be proud of yourself.”

“Hyung, you’re always so kind,” Taehyung exhales. He twirls the thread between his fingers, gently tracing down.

“I’m not.”

“You are.” Taehyung leans closer. “Hyung, I’m excited to hear what you’re making. I heard from Namjoon-hyung that the songs are a bit dark—and you’re going to finish one soon.”

“...Dark? Is that what he called them?” Seokjin mumbles under his breath.

Taehyung sieves out the underlying embarrassment from his words. “Well, he said they were sombre.”

“They’re not. He makes it sound like they’re deep or something.”

“What did you write about?”

“You’ll know if they get released.”

Taehyung purses his lips, containing his sigh of pettiness at Namjoon being privy to Seokjin’s works. He twists the thread in his hand, accidentally pulling at Seokjin’s shirt a bit—guaranteed to alert Seokjin. Yet, Seokjin doesn’t sweep his hand away.

“Are the lyrics personal, hyung? You won’t tell us if you’ve already made the music and the beat, or if you’re still working on them… Everyone’s curious but you won’t let us take a listen.”

“They’re not personal,” Seokjin rebounds quickly. “They were just things I suddenly thought about.”

“What about the one you’re about to finish? I really want to know. It’s been a while since you worked on songs of your own.” Taehyung goes from playing with the loose thread to pinching the fabric of Seokjin’s shirt, his voice gentle and low. 

“Or can only Namjoon-hyung know?”

“...It’s not going to be done so soon. I can’t tell you much. They’re just bits and pieces,” Seokjin says with a sigh.

“You mean, the music and the lyrics together? Or just the music?”

“Both.”

“You must have been really inspired, since we usually finish most of the music first before penning the lyrics.” Taehyung takes a bigger portion of fabric between his thumb and index finger. 

“I suppose.”

“What’s it about? Won’t you tell me, hyung? ”

Seokjin heaves. He pulls the blanket upwards as a stronger wind threads in. 

“Just…” His voice dwindles, “...about the feeling of being needed, I guess.”

“The feeling of being needed?” Taehyung hums, musing in his head thoughtfully. 

“I just wondered offhandedly about it, so I started writing about it,” Seokjin caveats.

“Do you mean like when you have to be strong because people need you?” Taehyung shifts closer till his cheek almost touches Seokjin’s spine.

“No. I was thinking that people like to feel needed… and sometimes, they get too attached to that feeling,” Seokjin murmurs.

Taehyung raises his head. “That’s a bad thing, right?”

“Of course it is. Getting attached to anything is a bad thing,” Seokjin remarks.

“If you like to be needed… you end up crippling others to always feel needed,” he says quietly. Though his voice is airy, Taehyung picks out the layers of thought that have gone into his words.

It feels personal. Taehyung bores his eyes through the back of Seokjin’s head, burrowing through his words for a deeper meaning. Does he mean sabotaging someone, perhaps, so they’ll need your help? Was he inspired by someone in particular? Himself, maybe?

...Or could Seokjin be referring to him? Does he think of Taehyung as someone who’s desperate to feel needed? That Taehyung “crippled” him or the group in some form, perhaps, through his excessive attachment?

The possibility brings a sour pang. 

Seokjin shifts and turns his head back. Taehyung finds his breath stopping as he meets Seokjin’s eyes.

“Why are you suddenly quiet?” he breathes. The dullness of his eyes give away how exhausted he is, and the sight somehow has Taehyung’s heart thumping faster. 

Seokjin rarely ever faces him while they talk in bed. In the meek twist of Seokjin’s lips, Taehyung catches a slight vulnerability.

“I was thinking about what you meant,” Taehyung replies swiftly, absorbing the enthralling sight as the warmth floods his chest. Seokjin was waiting for his reply.

“What do you mean by cripple?” Taehyung asks.

Seokjin shrugs, rolling back. “Like… a mother who won’t let her child grow up.”

“Oh, I get it.” Taehyung squeezes Seokjin’s shirt between his fingers, taking a larger piece bit by bit. Pinch, pinch, pinch.

“Because she wants them to rely on her always,” Taehyung intones. “What made you think of this, all of a sudden? Is it related to someone you know?”

“I just randomly did.” Seokjin pauses. “Is it weird?”

“It’s not. You’re creative, hyung,” Taehyung praises. “It’ll make the song interesting and meaningful to come from this kind of new perspective.”

Seokjin shrugs.

In the quietness, Taehyung pries apart Seokjin’s thoughts further and pieces them back together, guessing people arbitrarily who may fit into the profile. Seokjin’s parents? His friends? Someone in the group reminded him of this? Maybe Seokjin did just think of it offhandedly. 

Taehyung exhales, gazing at Seokjin’s back. Physically, they’re close again—though it’d never beat the physical intimacy from before. But there’s so much space still between them.

He lets go of Seokjin’s shirt fabric between his fingers. Craving to be close, he reaches out and impulsively holds Seokjin’s waist, feeling his tangible heat. 

Seokjin jerks back and catches his hand, glowering.

“What are you doing?” He scowls.

A splinter of moonlight splays over them as the curtains flutter with another gust of wind. Seokjin’s ears are red.

“...Sorry, hyung. I just wanted to hold you,” Taehyung murmurs.

“Don’t do that. You startled me.” Seokjin lets go of Taehyung’s hand and scoots closer to the edge.

 

 

“The restaurant by the retro-themed cafe?” Jungkook asks. The cars pass them quickly as lunch hour draws near, some deliberately cutting into their lane in a rush. Over the radio, they discuss their lunch plans before their recording session.

“Yes, it’s really pretty good.”

“Okay. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

Taehyung remains gazing out the window as Yoongi and Jungkook speak in the seat in front. He wonders if Seokjin is with Namjoon now.

Hoseok taps him on the shoulder. “You’re okay with it, right?”

Taehyung offers a slight smile. “I’ll to go to the company first.”

“Oh, you don’t like the food? We can always eat somewhere else,” Hoseok suggests immediately. Yoongi and Jungkook turn around.

“No, no. I just want to go by myself first,” Taehyung hums with a shrug. “I’ll ask the manager to help me get something nearby.”

 

 

As another night draws in, Taehyung follows the same routine of crawling into Seokjin’s bed after midnight. He’s worn-out after practice and he can tell Seokjin is fatigued too, despite Seokjin being awake.

The rain sounds are above the headboard again. Pitter, patter. Seokjin glances at him before turning over.

“It’s a bit chilly, so put on socks if you’re cold.”

Taehyung melts into a warm smile, memorising each of his heart flutters. 

“Okay.” He leans closer till he’s just centimetres away from Seokjin’s back, grasping just a bit of his shirt.

“Hyung.” Taehyung sighs, taking in a deep breath as he squeezes the fabric. He rests his forehead on Seokjin’s spine, making him jolt a bit. Surprisingly, he doesn’t move away.

Taehyung bites back a smile and shuts his eyes.

Some time later, Seokjin climbs out of bed, mumbling about using the bathroom. When Seokjin leaves, Taehyung takes the chance to rest on Seokjin’s pillow, feeling his warmth from the mattress. The linens move between his fingers like a peculiar downpour, raining dry threads. He breathes in Seokjin’s scent as if it’s petrichor.

After some time, Taehyung hears two voices in the corridor—Jimin and Seokjin speaking. The voices fade and Seokjin eventually enters after a long while. He slips under the sheets without a word.

Taehyung awakes later to darkness and some noises, drawers and cupboards closing. He pries his eyes open to Seokjin getting ready to leave.

“Hyung?” He sits up, slurring his words. “You’re going to the company? We have the award show later...”

Seokjin doesn’t answer him. Taehyung watches as he packs his bag and tosses on a jacket.

He turns. In the darkness, Taehyung can barely make out whether Seokjin’s looking at him or not.

“How many times have you been sleeping with me for your nightmares?” Seokjin speaks.

Taehyung flutters his lashes. “I’m not sure… Why?”

“Okay.” Seokjin turns away. “This will be the last time.”

Taehyung sobers up at the statement, propping himself up on his arm. “What? Why?” 

Seokjin goes back to packing, pulling open a drawer and ransacking through it.

“Jimin said he would accompany you.”

“Oh.” Taehyung pauses. “He did?”

“Yes. In fact, he said he offered a long time back when I asked why he didn’t want to accompany you.” 

Seokjin shuts the drawer and turns to face Taehyung. 

“So why did you need to come to my room every night?” There’s an interrogative tone to his words.

Blankly, Taehyung blinks at Seokjin. He blurts, “Why not?”

“What do you mean by why not? You can go to Jimin instead of me.”

Taehyung doesn’t understand. He’s already tried his best to hide everything since Seokjin’s so wary about others knowing about them being close. He steals glances at Seokjin so no one will know. He talks to him and initiates affectionate gestures only when no one’s looking. Every morning, he wakes up earlier to creep into his room so no one knows he’s sleeping with Seokjin.

So why is he still being pushed away?

“But nobody knows that you and I are sleeping together?” Taehyung says. He crawls off the bed and notices Seokjin retreating a step.

“You keep bringing that up nowadays. How does that make any difference?” Seokjin raises his voice with a tinge of frustration. 

“You said you came to sleep with me because you were scared of your nightmares. But you can sleep beside Jimin. You don’t have to come to me.”

He falters. “You told me Jimin didn’t want to accompany you.”

Taehyung doesn’t understand. Shouldn’t it be okay if nobody knows?

He fists his shirt and starts with a raw earnestness, “...It’s because only you can make me feel better, hyung.”

“Why?” Seokjin’s voice climbs further, an edge of exasperation to his voice. “There’s no difference between Jimin and me, is there?”

He doesn’t even give Taehyung a chance to answer, promptly continuing. 

“I’m going off.” Seokjin slings his bag over his shoulder. “This is the last time, okay? If you have nightmares tonight, sleep by Jimin’s side. I’m not going to accompany you.”

Seokjin swiftly leaves the room.

Stunned, Taehyung follows Seokjin after a delay, fingers curled with a growing anxiousness. He sees the front door shut and halts in the living room, drawing a blank on whether to chase after Seokjin or not. Will he get called strange again for being so clingy? 

A lump rises in Taehyung’s throat, along with a despairing rush through his lungs. He feels his stomach turn and the plethora of uncomfortable feelings crawl all over his skin. 

It’s so frustrating. Yes, he lied—the nightmares dwindled some time ago and never came back. But what other option was he given but to lie? He was shoved away so abruptly by Seokjin, belittled and reprimanded that he was acting like a child just whenever he tried to preserve that routine that belonged to them. The only thing he could do was to act pitiful so Seokjin would let him stay by his side.

What wrong has he done? Why does he have to make excuses and keep watch for everyone else so he can be by Seokjin’s side? What more does he have to do so Seokjin will stop pushing him away?

Taehyung’s lower lip trembles. He paces back to Seokjin’s room, the artificial sound of rain drifting towards him. Outside, rain begins streaking across the window, a downpour simmering.

Chapter Text

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

 

The chatter bustles around them as the make-up artists go scurrying left to right, patting on the last bit of compact powder and touching up their lip tint. Taehyung sits slouched in his bar stool, rocking his leg back and forth slightly. 

The cameras shift and zoom in on them, testing out angles as they shift the lighting around. They frame him like a display piece, discussing the shine on his nose and the blemish on his chin.

Hoseok looks over at him and offers a warm smile. “The set’s so colourful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Taehyung nods, not giving any more of a response.

Hoseok touches his thigh. “You’re okay, right?”

“Of course. I’m just a bit tired.”

“Okay. Let the staff know if you need anything.” Hoseok draws his hand away.

The cameras begin rolling to the cheery tone of the interviewer. In the glaring light, Taehyung feels every detail of him being splayed out for all to see—the largeness of his pores, the acne along his jaw, the deepening of his smile lines. 

He recalls a time where he began shrouding himself wherever there were shadows while on set, be it the meagre shade Namjoon’s back offered or standing as far as he could from the camera’s view. He kept eerily quiet during interviews and variety shows, afraid of saying things he couldn’t take back.

The hyperawareness of his defects haunted his every step that he felt so breathless sometimes. He wanted to be the best for the millions of adoring, loving fans that pour their faith and sincerity into an undeserving him. He feared proving his despisers right, that he was overhyped and full of shortcomings. Mediocre dancing. Embarrassingly pathetic singing. Unprofessional. Fake. Airheaded. Doesn’t watch his words. Absolutely nothing worthwhile.

It was so suffocating. His head spun and he wished someone could just help him breathe. At times, he truly wished he could vanish from the world. Those were his feelings underneath his meek smiles and excuses that he was just a little tired.

The only source of comfort was coming back from an exhausting day to his room of darkness and silence, sitting with the anxious palpitations of his heart as he calmed down to the thought that he wouldn’t be judged. Isolation was his only escape. The darkness was akin to a blanket and he was a child hiding underneath from monsters in the closet—the unknown, the uncertainty that frightened him to no end.

Everyone around him worried as he grew more reclusive. They checked in on him and spoke to him often. Namjoon, despite his exhaustion from replaying song after song in the studio, would call him out for supper. Hoseok would always ask what Taehyung thought before they made any decision as a group, and it was clear they would bend if he disagreed with them. Jungkook would deliberately accompany him when he could, and broached the topic earnestly in hopes he could help.

Softly, they began suggesting he see a professional or take medication, making sure not to imply something was wrong with him. When they noticed he only grew frustrated and more withdrawn at having his space intruded, they gave him the distance he wanted. And they were left not knowing what else they could do.

That was what began it all. The reason Seokjin stepped into his room that night and kept him company.

The interviewer laughs at the anecdote Hoseok gives before shuffling her cue cards for the next question. Namjoon’s making sure everyone gets to speak, especially those who don’t get to answer, discreetly keeping count to ensure everyone gets some air time.

Expectedly, he looks to Taehyung after a few more questions.

“What are some things that inspire you when you create?” The interviewer chimes.

Yoongi takes the question first, detailing that inspiration comes bit by bit. Sometimes it gushes like a waterfall out of nowhere, and sometimes, he has to just put down whatever his mind can churn out.

Then, Namjoon passes the ball over to Taehyung. 

“Taehyung’s been writing more songs lately.” He smiles.

The opportunity brings a surge of nervousness, a shadowy memory of how he clammed up every time the camera slanted to him and the clock began ticking for his answer. He’d stiffen because he knew doubtlessly that someone would pry into his words and find something wrong with it. They’d leech onto his one error that he never intended to be malicious.

What do you mean training was difficult? You live in such luxury yet you think you have hardships?

People out there slog day and night to put food on the table for their family while here you are, crying about having to sing and dance while earning millions.

He used to say things as he pleased as he thought his sincerity would no doubt translate. He was an innocent child too starry-eyed to realise the world wasn’t his friends and family. He wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt or a chance to clarify. It didn’t matter what his intention was because people determinedly prescribed their interpretations as his motives. 

A slip of a tongue, a momentary poor choice of wording could cement him forever as someone undeserving of forgiveness. Hence, he thought it better to keep quiet—only to learn that nothing could please everyone.

He’s so full of himself that he doesn’t even try to be engaging.

The camera zooms in on him. Taehyung flits his lashes. He looks down momentarily, and then lifts his head.

“I’m not sure,” he breathes.

“Sorry?” The interviewer asks, leaning closer to hear.

Taehyung forces a stiff smile, the awkwardness sure to be captured on camera.

“I’m not sure…” he repeats a bit louder. Taehyung glances off to the floor instead of maintaining eye contact with the interview, lack of elaboration leaving an uncomfortable silence.

“Ah, you’re not sure?” The interviewer smoothly fills in, “Seems like you have a similar answer to Suga. Inspiration comes from anywhere, right?”

They mow over the misstep well. If some journalist has a vendetta or struggles because of a slow news day, Taehyung may find a small article with implications of him being unprofessional. His antis would feed upon it with glee.

The thought is strangling. Taehyung kneads his hands and his gaze scoots to Seokjin, sitting at the other end. 

Seokjin is staring at him, and he doesn’t look away immediately upon making eye contact. 

Taehyung’s chest tightens further. He shifts his gaze back down to his thighs, lungs buoying up with an inexplicable feeling of not nervousness, but excitement.

Another question comes to him—this time, about what he likes to wear and the inspiration behind his wardrobe. Namjoon stares with earnestness, probably reasoning that the previous question stumped Taehyung and this one is more up his alley.

Taehyung knows exactly what to reply. After so many rounds of repeated cliched questions, it’s hard not to have a scripted answer in his head or to dig up something to put together. Loose trousers are comfortable. Beige and brown shades create a more mellow look. He likes minimalist fittings recently.

Again, Taehyung blows it with a lackluster response. No eye contact, lowered head, mumbling so softly that no one can hear him.

I don’t know. 

That smearing article is sure to come out. Framing him as cocky, lazy, incompetent. He’s sorry for the fans he’ll worry.

Taehyung meets Seokjin’s eyes again, so doe and surprised. He bites back a smile.

He gets no further questions for the interview. Namjoon had watched several times to try and pass the baton again but Taehyung was more engrossed in looking absentmindedly into the distance. Pick at his cuticles, slouch his shoulders, twisted lips. Anyone would be able to tell something’s off. 

Once they return to the dressing room to tidy up their make-up for the ceremony, Namjoon catches him mid-stride.

“Are you okay?” He asks with a tangible concern, clasping his arm. Hoseok lags behind to join the conversation as well, face contorted in worry. 

They must be anxious since they still have to receive the award later, which Taehyung mustn’t screw up.

Taehyung tugs his arm away. “Yeah.”

“Sick?” Hoseok puts a hand to his forehead. Yoongi turns back to look as well.

“I’m not.” Taehyung grasps Hoseok’s hand and lowers it. He musters a small smile.

“Sorry. For not answering the questions well.”

“That’s not the problem,” Hoseok firmly remarks. “Did something happen?”

Taehyung shakes his head.

Their manager pulls him into a corner for a short talk, asking too if he’s unwell. He remembers these little pull-asides they had back a year ago, the staff broaching carefully that Taehyung was looking at the floor more than the camera. There’s some discomfort in mimicking his ways from when he was antagonised by anxiety, but it dissipates quickly upon catching Seokjin in his periphery. He’s stealing glances again at him, and when they meet eyes this time, Seokjin briskly turns away.

He must be worried. Taehyung’s heart jitters like he’s about to fall apart from eagerness. He can’t wait for tonight.

Back in the dorms, Taehyung takes a quick shower and doesn’t dry his hair. He sits on his bed in darkness with a towel over his head, feeling the cold water dampen his shirt. 

Drip, drip, drip. The droplets streak down his arms and form a wet blot on the sheets, underneath his hands. He flexes his fingers and remembers the nightmare where Seokjin gripped his hand so hard his bones fractured.

He curls his hand but doesn’t hide it. Instead, he looks to the door and waits with a feeling he can only describe as thrill. The star stickers above him shower him in a gentle glow, ready to welcome Seokjin back into their old nocturnal habit. In this room, on this bed, a space of just them two—where no one can breach.

He envisions Seokjin at the door, eyes soft, asking lovingly if anything’s wrong. Then, they’ll end up in each other’s arms, Taehyung’s cheek against Seokjin’s ribs, limbs tangled like they’re one entity. His safe little haven under a canopy of stars and a galaxy of Seokjin’s being.

The excitement leaves him breathless. 

The minutes turn into an hour, Taehyung simply sitting in darkness as he goes over the memories again and again. 

Finally, the door creaks open. Taehyung’s heart leaps, only for it to plummet when it’s Namjoon who appears at the door.

“Hey, were you going to sleep? Sorry, I know it’s late,” Namjoon says softly, the light tracing out his profile. “Just wanted to check if you were feeling okay.”

Taehyung stares up with large eyes. He glances behind Namjoon to find nobody. 

“Yeah, I am…”

“Are you sure?” Namjoon steps in and shuts the door behind him. “You seemed out of it at the ceremony today.”

He settles by Taehyung’s side and Taehyung recoils, glimpsing at the door. If Seokjin comes in and sees Namjoon here, would he think it’s enough that Namjoon accompanies him? Just like last night, when he insisted Taehyung sleep beside Jimin since he learnt that Jimin had offered.

“I’m fine. Really. I was just tired,” Taehyung returns quickly. “You don’t have to come in and talk to me.”

Namjoon licks his lips, pondering over his words with difficulty. Antsily, Taehyung waits for him to take his leave.

“Taehyung, I know we’ve all been busy preparing for the new album, but I’ll always have time to talk if you want to,” Namjoon remarks gently. “Not just about today, but about anything that’s on your mind, whatever that’s bothering you.”

“There’s nothing. I’m not bothered by anything,” Taehyung replies too quickly, irritation beginning to show.

Namjoon nods slowly. He doesn’t look convinced. “Okay.”

“You can go, hyung,” Taehyung urges. He continues glimpsing at the door in worry that Seokjin may catch them at any moment.

Namjoon flutters his lashes, following Taehyung’s gaze. “Am I disturbing you?”

Taehyung folds his lips. He mutters with reluctance, “You’re not. I’m just… I’m really fine, hyung. You don’t have to come and talk to me for this.”

“Actually, Taehyung, if you have time, I wanted to talk to you about something.” Namjoon presses his hands together. 

“Sorry, I should have come to you earlier. I guess it was a bit because I couldn’t find the right time with so much on our plate… and a bit because I wasn’t sure what to say.”

Taehyung intuitively furrows his brows. He has a good guess that it’s about Seokjin. What, is he going to find a problem with them sleeping together? Since he had caught them the last time, it’s more surprising that Namjoon never made a fuss about it.

At this moment, they hear a brief commotion outside. There’s the sound of Jungkook bidding someone goodbye, followed by the front door shutting. 

“Hm. Jin-hyung must have left,” Namjoon remarks.

Taehyung stiffens. He whips his head to Namjoon. “What?”

“Jin-hyung’s heading back to the agency to work on his projects. I’m meeting him later,” Namjoon elaborates. 

Taehyung feels his stomach turn nauseatingly. No, he could just have had something urgent to tend to. He’ll be back to take care of Taehyung. Midnight, 1AM, 2AM, 5AM—Taehyung can wait, no matter how late.

“When will he return?”

He’ll just stay up like he always did whenever Seokjin returned late. No big deal. He’s not tired at all.

“I don’t know. Morning, probably? He said he really wanted to finish up, but there’s a lot left.”

Morning. 

They have practice early tomorrow. 

Seokjin likely isn’t returning to the dorms any time soon.

Taehyung goes silent. Seokjin meant it when he said it was the last time. Even though Taehyung fucked up today with his lowered gaze and anxious hands, mumbling so softly nobody in the damn room could hear him, a complete disgrace of a public figure—Seokjin still left.

Taehyung’s chest constricts. The bitterness bleeds into his mouth till he thinks he can taste it.

All he wanted was for things to go back to the way they were. To be close to Seokjin again, where they’ll be able to turn their heads and hearts inside out for each other to see without worry of prejudice.

All he wanted was for the world to leave the two of them alone so they could love like they always had.

Is that so wrong?

Why is the world so insistent on ripping away the only thing he wants?

The pent-up emotions begin clawing out of his lungs, all at once twisting up his trachea in a mad rush. The loneliness and hurt spills first into trembling fingers, layered with a hopeless bewilderment from being scorned. 

And then, the livid resentment floods out at the one person he stubbornly framed as the antagonist for it all, sitting right in front of him.

“...You asked hyung to go, didn’t you?” Taehyung breathes.

“To the agency? No, he wanted to go himself,” Namjoon hums. He notices the look in Taehyung’s eyes and furrows his brows unsurely.

“You asked hyung to go,” Taehyung repeats, venom beginning to seep into his words. “So he wouldn’t come to me.”

“...What?”

“Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?” Taehyung’s grip on the sheets starts to quiver. “You want to tell me that I’m being strange, and you’re going to cut me off from hyung for good.”

Namjoon blinks at him in bewilderment. He leans back, sensing the intensity of Taehyung’s emotions.

“Taehyung,” he starts carefully, “I think you’re getting the wrong idea. I came here to check if you were okay. Why would I cut you off from Jin-hyung?”

“You did.”

Abruptly, Taehyung wrenches Namjoon’s collar, and his voice escalates into a scream.

“You did, and it’s because you think I’m strange!

Taehyung’s eyes flare, the white of his eyes showing as his stare bores through Namjoon’s head. His voice continues to reverberate deafeningly through the room.

“You think it’s weird what I do with hyung, so, you’re separating us! You told him to avoid me!” 

You’re the reason hyung keeps ignoring me! You’re why he won’t sleep with me anymore—you’re why he won’t even fucking look me in the eyes!” 

Taehyung’s clutch grows stauncher, nails bound to leave marks in the fabric.

“It’s all your fault!”

Namjoon stares back with wide eyes, instinctively grabbing Taehyung’s wrists. He swallows, but despite his shock at Taehyung’s outburst, he collects himself and replies with firmness.

“Taehyung, I never told Seokjin-hyung to avoid you.” He says lowly, “Let go of me and let’s talk calmly-”

“You did! That’s what you said to Jin-hyung that night! You told him to stay away from me,” Taehyung seethes. 

He can barely register anything Namjoon is saying at this point, feeling an acute red bruise through him. Thump, thump, thump—the blood rushes up to his head as it begins to hurt. Seokjin was all the happiness he had for the past year. Why does everyone want to deny Taehyung his solace?

“What night? What are you talking about?” Namjoon breathes, brows furrowing warily at Taehyung’s persistent grip. 

“Taehyung. Let go of me. I’m your hyung,” he warns.

“You think I’m an idiot? You and Jin-hyung went out alone that night—you refused to let me come along because you didn’t want me to know,” Taehyung hisses. 

The warmth from his fury beats nauseatingly in the back of his head. He feels sick, akin to a high fever.

“I never told Jin-hyung to avoid you,” Namjoon raises his voice. “He was the one who called me out and said he wanted it to be private. He-”

The door creaks open at this moment, interrupting Namjoon. Jungkook peeks in with concern scrawled all over his face.

“What’s going on? I heard shouting?” He breathes with some timidness. His eyes widen at Taehyung’s hold around Namjoon’s collar and he hurries in.

“Hyung, what are you doing?” He blurts, gingerly tugging at Taehyung’s fingers.

“You’re lying to me,” Taehyung grits at Namjoon, elbowing Jungkook aside and refusing to let go. “You’re lying!”

“Jungkook, be careful,” Namjoon quickly reminds, “don’t be rough with Taehyung-” 

Yoongi’s inaudible mumble resounds some distance away before he emerges in the doorway as well with Hoseok and Jimin in tow, face contorted in worry.

“What’s going on?”

The three freeze momentarily. Yoongi quickly pulls at Taehyung’s elbow, freeing one of Taehyung’s hand. Taehyung promptly shoves Yoongi aside and grabs Namjoon’s collar once again, while Jimin hurriedly pries Taehyung’s individual fingers off. 

“Taehyung, let go of Namjoon now,” Yoongi exclaims. “What are you doing?”

Jimin’s eyes are shaded with panic. “Let go- Taehyung, Taehyung, let’s not fight with hyung.”

Despite how his nails dig into the fabric, Namjoon’s shirt finally slips from Taehyung’s merciless grip. Swiftly, Jimin and Jungkook restrain Taehyung in case he claws out once again. 

Namjoon leans back, but he doesn’t shift away. In Taehyung’s periphery, he sees Hoseok briskly dart out of the room.

“Namjoon-hyung, Yoongi-hyung—” Taehyung gasps, “all of you keep watching me, making those faces, scolding me for going too near Jin-hyung. I can’t even sit next to him without everyone giving me those looks!”

“Am I that strange?” Taehyung seethes. “Am I that weird that you guys have to look at me like I’m some kind of animal- like I’m so revolting?”

“Hyung, I’ve never thought that about you!” Jungkook blurts, the sadness shrill in his words.

“You did. All of you think that way. I know you all did!” Taehyung continues his tirade relentlessly, seeing only red in his furor—from the bloodied conjectures he used to have, dark red dripping from a stage accident that he was so sure would happen to him someday, to the soothing pink of Seokjin’s lips that made him forget all about his anxiousness.  

“What have I done so wrong? I just want to be close to Jin-hyung—is that so wrong? Why can’t you guys leave us alone? Why can’t everybody just leave us alone?!” Taehyung screams. “Was I so disgusting that you had to go so far to tell hyung to stay away from me?”

Taehyung’s vehement voice shudders, words coming out so pitifully that Namjoon’s eyes visibly soften. The hurt finally overwhelms his resentment, stinging like an infected wound, and the tears begin scalding down his face.

At the bottom of it all, he expected that they, at the very least, wouldn’t do this to him. They’re as close as brothers, after all, staying together through thick and thin and facing the same hardships their families can’t understand.

A stagnant silence overcomes the room.

“Hyung, I’ve never thought that of you,” Jungkook’s the first to break the silence, hands still over Taehyung’s fingers. His eyes have welled up with tears as he watches Taehyung silently weep.

Yoongi brushes his hair back, face contorted in anguish as the words struggle to leave him. He covers his face like he can’t bear to face Taehyung.

“I’m sorry. It was me, wasn’t it?” He rasps feebly. 

“Taehyung, I’m… I’m really sorry. That day—I’ve wished a lot of times I could take it back. I just… I didn’t know how else to put it in the heat of the moment—what was happening. And I didn’t want to bring it up again in case it’d just make things worse.”

“It was… I was a bit scared. To see you like that, and nobody wanted to say anything,” he whispers.

Despite having had his collar wrangled just minutes ago, Namjoon shifts closer to Taehyung. He tenderly places a hand on Taehyung’s knee. Taehyung flinches, but he doesn’t recoil from the touch.

“Taehyung. I’m really sorry too for making you feel that way. I had no idea that’s how I seemed when I looked at you,” he murmurs, the remorse shading his face. “I’d never want to make you feel so terrible.”

“I was worried. Like Yoongi-hyung.”

“What were you worried about? That I was being too strange and I’d ruin the group?” Taehyung grits through his tears. Jimin gently wipes them away, visibly pained at the sight of his closest friend so wounded. 

No, Taehyung, it’s not that,” Namjoon stresses earnestly. He halts in his tracks and gazes up at the other doleful faces with a grimace.

“Taehyung, you said I told Jin-hyung to stay away,” Namjoon starts after a moment. The sadness shades his eyes. “I never did that. Really.”

Namjoon bites his lip. His voice dwindles sorrily, “Hyung was the one who wanted to put some distance between you two.” 

“You’re lying. Hyung wouldn’t do that to me. Hyung’s always loved me most. He only avoided me because you all pressured him to,” Taehyung rasps as the tears continue cutting down his jaw. Despite the vehemence in his throat, his fingers start to curl instinctively.

Crush.

Scald.

Bruise.

“Jin-hyung didn’t do it to hurt you,” Yoongi emphasises. “It’s because…”

Silence sinks heavily over the room as he hesitates. Through Taehyung’s blurred tears, he notices a familiar look on Yoongi, the one he abhors so much from all the members—the faint frown that slowly grew every time he was intimate with Seokjin, the thinned lips that refused to let out what was on their minds, and the discreet stare that would dart away whenever Taehyung caught it.

But now, it’s accompanied with clenched teeth and remorse, and Taehyung can’t seem to understand it. For the first time, he sees a glimpse of blue-black worry behind it, not from a place of condescension or bewilderment. It seems like genuine, heartfelt concern from one loved one to another—but Taehyung doesn’t believe it.

“You… weren’t being yourself anymore,” Yoongi rasps. “You only ever wanted to be with Seokjin-hyung and it was like nobody else mattered to you. Not us, not our music or our work, not our fans, not even your friends and family.”

“You didn’t want to eat with us unless Seokjin-hyung was there… you’d push us away when we were close to hyung, even on camera.” Yoongi meets Taehyung’s eyes. “It… it was like your world was only Seokjin-hyung, and nothing else. So, we were worried.”

Taehyung stiffens. The words slowly prick into his flesh and the five gazes all fixated on him begin to icily sting. They seem to darken with malice, to be coupled with gossiping mouths and burning gall. 

They know, don’t they?

Taehyung glances to Jimin. The tears may obscure his vision but he can tell from Jimin’s expression that he agrees with Yoongi.

Under their stares, every second more seems to briskly peel off another layer of skin till Taehyung feels utterly bare, like an oddity at the circus. They know of all the icky thoughts he has of Seokjin. How often Taehyung wishes to be so close to the point it can’t even be denied the line has been crossed. How much Taehyung yearns to kiss Seokjin into the bed and be the only one who can do those things with him.

“Yoongi-hyung is right,” Namjoon breathes. “You were getting… too… well, too attached to Seokjin-hyung.”

The way he struggles to word it proves it further. Who is Taehyung kidding? Why did he try to deny it and push it out of his mind when it was so obvious? He wrapped it up just like they did with the word ‘strange’ and brushed it off so stupidly that that was as far as it went. For every look they gave him, there was never a moment that they didn’t know he ļ̵̨͚̙̭̦͉̼̭̥̤̙̝̠̐̂̀̊̋͌̔͒̕͜͜͠ͅo̷̠̳̻͍̍̐̾̿̌̐̏͘v̷̢̟̹͙̼̻͈͇̝̬̤͈͚̱̫̝̼̹̯̝̺̫̩̪̬͎͖͖̼̞̯̘͂̈́̅̌̎̍̐̌̍̈́͌̌̈̌͂̉͋̅̏͌̈͒̋̆̚͠͝͠͠e̵̢̢̢̢̛̱͇̜͎̗̮̝͔͉̦̱̥̤͎̱̼̯͚̯̤̩̝͎̳̣̟͚̺̓̋͑̄̔͒̍̌̓͛̆̊̌͊͗̃̏̾̇͊ͅd̷̢̢̛̥̳̟̳͕͖͖̣͔̬̜̞̱͍̯̺͕͇͔̮͕̓̄͑͆̑͒͂̐͗̑̾͋͆̊̾̄̀͂̋̇̔̾̈̚ Seokjin in an unspeakable manner. They must have realised it much, much earlier on but kept it to themselves.

Taehyung swallows dryly. They all must find it so repulsive, so freakish for Taehyung to suddenly feel this way towards one of them, despite the years of being akin to brothers. They must be completely befuddled and racking their brains to understand how it happened. Maybe they think Taehyung picked it up from somewhere after being stuck with them for so long, or that Taehyung was always like this. They may wonder if Taehyung’s ever alarmingly felt this way towards another one of them, but hid it better.

If they’re saying Seokjin deliberately distanced himself, then that means—



He knows.



He thinks Taehyung’s w̴̢̛͙͍̝̲̘̜̼̪̬̗̺͍͕͚͎̮̠̝̫̪̯͈̮͍͙͙̻̮̼̎̋̔͋͋̆̒̽̉̌̄͋̉̓́͂̎̅̈̐̆̆̇͌́̆͘͘͘͜͝͝͝ͅe̷̢̡͇̠̝̲͈̠̭̜͍̥̜̭̩̺̝̼̦̝̳̞̟͙͇̩͗͂͑̋̐̾̓̂̄̑̑̅͋͑͒̌̌͋̌̽͘͘̚ͅỉ̶̡̢̧̨̝̟͔̫̤̼̥͓̝͖̘̳̰̯̦̫̰̻̬͉̹̬̗̝̻͕̱̥̠̹͔̙̬̗͈̖̬̯̞͕̩͍͗͒͛̅̋̈́͐̈͒͂̈̍͒͒̐͋͐͆̚͜͜ͅr̷̢̨̡̲̼̩̖͔̝̺͙̳͉̺̘̘̬̳̗̬̩̙͔̩͓̟̮̻͙̯͓͈̲̣̱̗͉̓̽̎̌̽͊̾͑̊̌̓͂͑̆̌̽̀̿́͂̿͊̓͘͘̚̚͝͝ͅͅd̶̡̡̨̧̛̟̻̞͓͉͖̭͎̯̫̟̮̘̬̰̫̥͍̻̭͎̋̾͊͊̋̽̆̌̅́͆̆̌̆̌̍̏͌̇̇̓̈̈́̉̍̌̎͂̎̏̃͐͒̑̊̓͗̉͊́̕̚͘͘̚͝͠͠͝ͅ.



“...Seokjin-hyung wanted to distance himself from me?” 

Namjoon averts his gaze. He doesn’t answer the question, but his response carries the insinuation. 

“He really didn’t do it out of malice. Believe me. He did it with your best interests in mind. I didn't agree with it, but it was what he thought was best.”

Taehyung feels like throwing up.

It can’t be true. Seokjin still loved him enough to care when he had those stupid, trivial nightmares. He was always so wary about the others seeing them but with the assurance that no one did, he’d let Taehyung curl up by his side, just like old times. 

That’s why he put up those stars in Taehyung’s room like Taehyung was his beloved child—despite snatching his hand away as if Taehyung was a disease that would spread. That’s why he plays rain sounds to put out the fire in Taehyung’s nightmares—in spite of how he refuses to look Taehyung in the eyes, like it’s physically uncomfortable to look at him.

It could always have been pity.

Seokjin’s exactly the kind to show kindness to those who don’t deserve it. He loved and doted on Taehyung, though Taehyung never showed him a shred of understanding for his own struggles.

It could always, always have been pity.

“You’re lying,” Taehyung quivers. “Hyung would never do that to me.”

“Taehyung…”

“Hyung would never do that to me!” Taehyung grits, his vehemence making Jungkook flinch.

The way Namjoon’s expression melts has Taehyung feeling even more like a misfit on exhibition. All of them are looking at him as if he’s so pitiful, too slow and silly to catch up with the rest of them.

Before Namjoon can speak, they hear the distinct sound of the front door opening and hasty footsteps. Seokjin barges in, panting. Hoseok hovers behind him, equally out of breath.

“What happened?” He breathes. His eyes immediately go to Taehyung, before he glances back at the rest. “Why’s- why’s Taehyung crying?”

The glow-in-the-dark lights frame his face so beautifully as he stands by the door.

This is the sight Taehyung had been waiting for all day. For Seokjin to have his back against the bright light, staring into the room of filthy darkness where Taehyung lies with his metastasising, irrational insecurities. For Seokjin to leave behind that vivid light and shut the door behind him, willingly joining Taehyung in that ominous darkness—out of what one can only describe as love.

Today was supposed to be their long-awaited return to normalcy. Yet, this seems more like a point of no return.

“Hyung,” Jimin starts, voice taut, “you’re really asking why?”

“Jimin,” Namjoon turns with a warning glare.

“Am I wrong?” Jimin hits back. “Hyung, you know what you did. You’re the reason for it.”

“Watch your words. Hyung didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Namjoon intones with an edge.

“Yes, because avoiding him and cutting him off cold wouldn’t have hurt Taehyung at all,” Jimin sneers.

“Jimin-” The frustration spills from Namjoon unexpectedly. “Have you guys never once thought you’re too hard on hyung? He tries his best—he doesn’t always know what to do, but everyone expects him to and blames him when he doesn’t.” 

“I’m- I’m not trying to blame hyung,” Jimin raises his voice, the emotions spiking with it. “I just-”

Amid the back and forth, Seokjin meets Taehyung’s gaze. Taehyung’s breath stops.

The look in Seokjin’s eyes is the same from this afternoon following Taehyung’s screw-up, as he stared across the dozens of cameras at Taehyung, yet never approached. With Seokjin so much nearer, Taehyung can see his eyes better. Curled fingers, crumpled lips, hand teetering near to his chest.

He looks afraid.

That… wasn’t worry Seokjin was looking at him with. That was fear. 

“Seokjin-hyung.”

Taehyung’s whimper interrupts every voice in the room.

“You didn’t, right, hyung?” Taehyung rasps, staring up at Seokjin tearfully. “That night, when you went out with Namjoon-hyung alone, he told you to stay away… They all wanted you to stay away from me. Because they think we’re weird. You were forced to avoid me.”

“That’s why you keep ignoring me, that’s why you don’t want to look me in the eyes… That’s why you hate it when I touch you and come near you...”

Taehyung clambers for his last string of hope. 

“Hyung… It was them, not you, right? You’d never avoid me. You wouldn’t.”

Dead silence follows as Seokjin parts his lips. The tears promptly well up in his eyes, but he doesn’t let them fall, despite looking utterly agonised to hear what Taehyung said.

“...Taehyung,” Seokjin breathes, voice kept as steady as he can. 

His answer comes as expected, yet Taehyung’s heart still manages to plummet, so far down he feels it collapse in his guts.

“Namjoon… Namjoon never did that.”

Seokjin swallows. “It… was me. It wasn’t the rest of the members. They had nothing to do with what I did.”

“But I… I wasn’t…” 

The words seem to choke up in his throat, or maybe he just doesn’t know what excuse to conjure. In the absence of words, everything becomes so tell-tale that Taehyung wonders why he tried so hard to bargain with himself. Perhaps because it was easier to stomach the rest of the world finding him strange than the one person he put all his faith in.

Taehyung lowers his head. The sobs wrack through his body and he clasps at his face to hide himself, the plethora of emotions gnawing him. There’s embarrassment, from loving so much only to be scorned like a pest, and shame, from blaming everyone else when the clearest answer was right in front of him. And on top of it all, the lumbering sorrow crushes down on him so much he feels like dying. 

He hears Jimin sniffle as Jimin pulls him closer, muttering soft words of consolation. It’s a few seconds later that Seokjin gingerly turns to the rest.

“Can all of you leave? I want to talk to Taehyung alone. Please.” He whispers, voice thin.

“Sure, hyung,” Namjoon returns immediately. He glances at the rest to send a message, eyes stern, and stands. 

“Everyone, go out.”

Hoseok retreats and so does Yoongi, sending one last remorseful look. Jungkook follows the two uncertainly.

Jimin doesn’t budge. He glares up at Seokjin with teary eyes, tinged with more hurt and confusion than anger. He looks away only when Namjoon touches his hand.

Jimin squeezes Taehyung before reluctantly slipping away.

“Don’t say anything that’ll hurt Taehyung more, hyung.”

The door shuts quietly as the two exit the room. 

In the stagnant silence, Taehyung can only see darkness under the comforting shade of his hands. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust and Seokjin’s face clears up.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin whispers, voice strained. He carefully takes a seat by Taehyung’s side—enough distance apart that Taehyung can’t accidentally touch him.

He says nothing else for a long time. With how still the room is, Taehyung lifts his head slightly, almost believing that Seokjin had somehow left.

Through his watery eyes, he watches Seokjin falter. He looks bent and broken as his image refracts through the tears. 

“I…”

With how hard Seokjin is staring at the floor, someone would think Taehyung was sitting there, in front of him. Seokjin’s brows twist and he blinks several times, but the tears still don’t roll down his cheeks. He tries the words on his tongue and they teeter on his teeth but go back down into his throat every time he wants to speak.

“……Sorry.”

Quietness.

Taehyung waits for more to come, but the seconds tick by into a minute, and then more.

He was expecting an explanation, maybe, for why Seokjin doted on him so much and so quickly shook Taehyung off like dirt. At least an excuse, to show he’d put in the bare minimum effort to whip up something to soothe Taehyung’s feelings. Or just a little longer of an apology, out of some guilt for shunning Taehyung who loved him so insanely.

But nothing comes. It’s the only word Seokjin says and he promptly shuts his mouth. This is his proposed end to an overdue conversation with far too much for a “sorry” to smooth over. They’re left again in the long, long silence as Taehyung’s eyes begin to dry out of tears.

Taehyung wonders where it all went wrong. In the exhaustion that made him sometimes think the unspeakable, he found his light, his remedy that came in the form of Kim Seokjin and his sincerity. Somewhere along the way, it felt like it would always belong to him. Amidst the fame that threatened to disappear at every turn and the fans who would realise they deserved better, this was his. Nobody else’s. This would always be his. It must have been this complacency that doomed him, because he dared think something wasn’t empheramel.

If he had been more careful and not crossed the line so many times, maybe no one would have figured it out. Perhaps, if he had just been a bit more self-aware, he would have caught himself all those times he raised eyebrows.

No, it all began because he loved Seokjin, didn’t it? That’s the true cause of his downfall. His heart, subject to so much hatred from himself, ruined the one thing that made him so happy in such a long time—by twisting it all into the despicable. He could have held hands platonically but he thought of never letting go. He could have just hugged Seokjin to sleep but he yearned to go closer. If he hadn’t been so twisted, could he still have had it all? The warm gaze, the loving comfort, the endless care.

Taehyung clenches his jaw. He wants to scream and throw a tantrum, demand for Seokjin to love him like he did, used to the way Seokjin gave in to everything he wanted. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he whispers ever so softly, crossing the line with no hope of ever going back.

“Is it disgusting, hyung?” Taehyung rasps. “That I love you more than the rest do.”

Seokjin flinches like the words had literally scalded him. He lifts his gaze, wide-eyed, like he never in his life thought Taehyung would actually say it out loud.

“T-Taehyung.” 

Seokjin holds his gaze, despite not being able to minutes ago when he apologised. There’s so much fright in his eyes.

“You don’t like me in that way.”

At Seokjin’s denial, Taehyung feels a little like cold water had seeped over him. He didn’t realise how much it would sting to put his heart out for Seokjin to deny it so wholly. He knew it was disgusting. But to outright deny it is too much.

“...I do,” Taehyung breathes. “I love you, hyung.”

“You don’t,” Seokjin’s reply comes immediately, nearly cutting Taehyung off. He’s staring with wider eyes, ready to hit back with a denial any time Taehyung says something ludicrous.

He says it like he knows better. As if Taehyung wasn’t the one struggling through the feelings for the past months, deathly scared by his own self.

The gall gurgles in the back of Taehyung’s throat. He wonders how Seokjin sees him now.

Dirty. Disgusting. Filthy. Repulsive. S̵̥i̸̫̓c̷̪̔k̵̺̾e̴̝̔ǹ̶̳i̶̼͂n̶͖̾g̴̦̎.

He thought Seokjin loved him without strings attached. Guess he was wrong.

“I love you.” Taehyung’s voice goes taut.

“You don’t,” Seokjin raises his voice. “Not in that way.”

Taehyung mirrors his rise in pitch. “It’s disgusting, right? I love you, hyung.”

“Taehyung, you don’t-”

“I love you,” Taehyung cuts him off. He hangs his head low and the tears continue falling. He raises his voice violently, chanting like a mad man.

“I love you. I love you so much. You don’t believe me, hyung? I love you so much, I think I might just die.

Seokjin trembles as the mantra spills out of Taehyung’s mouth. He can’t get a single word in as Taehyung drills the words in deep, making sure Seokjin won’t forget them.

“I want to hold you. I want to kiss you… Every day, I wonder how much closer I can get to you. If I could be inside you, how nice would it be…” 

Taehyung heaves as the tears rip down his cheeks. He can hear how deranged he sounds but the words won’t stop gushing out like blood.

“I hate it when anyone else goes near you… I hate it so much that it drives me insane. I want you to only be close to me. Sometimes, I wish the world could be just us. So, no one can get between us. So, I can have you to myself.”

As the frenzied ire drains away, Taehyung’s sadness returns with blue. He raises his head.

“It’s disgusting. Right, hyung?” He asks softly.

Seokjin gazes back at him with shaky eyes. He says nothing for a while, simply staring, probably thinking of another godforsaken way to dismiss Taehyung again. Maybe he’ll agree and tell Taehyung to stop. Perhaps he’d leave the room in revulsion, Taehyung thinks.

Silence.

Slowly, Seokjin’s expression begins to break. 

Like a dam that’d held too much, the first crack forms as the first tear that drips off his lashes. Then, the deeper fractures come, tears spilling in streaks despite the way Seokjin keeps his face still, trying his hardest to hold himself together.

But eventually, everything comes out in a devastating downpour, Seokjin crumbling with so much despair that Taehyung freezes.

“...What have I done?”

Seokjin’s face scrunches up. He lets out a heartbreaking sob as the tears sweeps down his gaunt cheeks.

“It’s my fault. It’s all my fault…”

His shaky hands promptly cover his face and he crumples over in agony, cries wracking through his frame. There’s so much sorrow in his sobs that it’s frightening.

Seokjin rarely cries. Despite how easygoing he seems on the surface, unafraid to make a fool of himself, he guards his more vulnerable feelings with a fortress of casualness. He laughs about his tears before they’ve fallen to make light of the situation, so no one will take him seriously—as if it’s embarrassing to be sad.

“I ruined you… I’m sorry.” Seokjin shudders, crying harder and harder. “Hyung’s sorry.”

He weeps like grieving at a funeral of a loved one. In the darkness, under the dim glow of the stars, he looks so fragile and small—their dependable oldest member who wraps up his insecurities like a criminal with a corpse. Just having Seokjin admit he was upset took so much effort and dedication on Taehyung’s part over the past months, and yet, here Seokjin is, sobbing so uncontrollably.

Taehyung stares blankly, a lump taut in his throat. He trembles.

“...Ruined me?”

He hates the insinuation from Seokjin’s lips. It says everything about how Seokjin sees his feelings—a tragic package of devastation that should never have befallen them.

But despite how angered he should be, he’s entirely occupied by the sight of Seokjin so broken. The resentment and fury wanes as he instinctively reaches out for Seokjin in his most vulnerable moment, gravely yearning to comfort.

Taehyung crawls closer to Seokjin. Seokjin doesn’t flinch away.

“What do you mean, hyung? You didn’t ruin me.” Taehyung gently, desperately pries away Seokjin’s fingers from his face, each touch stinging his skin. He remembers his dream of having his hand crushed, but the trepidation doesn’t stop him from cupping Seeokjin’s tear-stained cheeks.

“Don’t cry, hyung. Why are you sad?” Taehyung quivers. “You didn’t do anything.”

“I did. It’s my fault you’re like this, Taehyung.” Seokjin’s tears fall harder as he meets Taehyung’s eyes. He looks so despondent that Taehyung bites back his own urge to cry.

“What do you mean by this?” Taehyung immediately replies in a convoluted mix of anger and heartbreak. “Hyung, nothing is your fault. It’s me. I’m sorry for liking you like this.”

He wipes at Seokjin’s tears but they keep coming relentlessly, almost like years’ worth.

“It is,” Seokjin rasps. “I knew. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t do anything.”

“When Yoongi pointed it out that day, I should have spoken to you about it. But I didn’t—I just kept quiet and pretended I didn’t understand what he was saying. I should have stopped you then and there before it got too far.”

“Every time you kept someone away from me, I kept mum and let you do so. Even when the members began saying that you were getting possessive, I- I didn’t say a word to stop you. I just kept brushing it off to everyone and myself, making excuses that it was nothing to worry about.”

Seokjin can barely get a breath in as he sobs. “I was so selfish. A-and I only realised it when it was too late—that all this time, I was just taking advantage of you,” Seokjin whimpers with remorse.

“What are you saying? Hyung… How is that taking advantage of me?” 

Taehyung clumsily holds Seokjin tighter, growing more frantic to keep the pieces together as Seokjin breaks apart further in his hands. His palms are dripping with Seokjin’s tears.

“Because I liked it,” Seokjin weeps, gasping for breath. The poignant grief has his voice straining against his throat. “Deep down, I liked it when you did those things.”

The confession has Taehyung’s blood going ice cold. Seokjin lowers his head ruefully and the tears show no signs of ending.

“I liked being special to you… and I liked that you needed me. That’s why I didn’t say anything.” Seokjin chokes up. “I’m so pathetic.”

“......What do you mean you liked it?” Taehyung breathes. He lifts Seokjin’s head but Seokjin refuses to look up, feebly nudging his hands away. 

“Hyung- hyung, what do you mean by you liked it? Tell me,” Taehyung frantically pleads. He crouches desperately to meet Seokjin’s swollen eyes, head all over the place as he struggles to process everything at once.

“Hyung.”

Seokjin tries to wrest Taehyung’s grip off his jaw. He pries finger after finger, slippery from his tears, only for Taehyung to grasp his face again tighter.

“It’s my fault. I’m so horrible,” Seokjin whimpers. “You didn’t deserve all this. I’m sorry, Taehyung.”

“Hyung, stop saying sorry. Stop it!”

Seokjin looks completely irreparable and it gouges an indescribable sorrow from Taehyung. He thought he wanted a better apology at the start, but he’d rather Seokjin just left the room after that one “sorry” than for Seokjin to collapse so piteously in front of him. Months back, Taehyung promised he’d take care of Seokjin, never to hurt him again. Now, he’s broken him down into smithereens that Taehyung isn’t sure he can piece back together. 

Taehyung chokes up.

“Hyung. Hyung, don’t cry. Don’t be sorry.” He clumsily presses their foreheads together, their noses touching. “It’s not your fault. Tell me what you mean.”

Seokjin’s every gasp and wavering exhale touches his lips. Taehyung clasps tighter as Seokjin shivers, tearfully trying to nudge Taehyung off.

“It is my fault. It is. You’re just a child,” Seokjin weeps, completely too far gone to negotiate with. 

“It’s not. Hyung, it’s okay,” Taehyung presses closer, just a few centimetres between their lips. He shakily tries to calm Seokjin down amid his own tears, thumbing his cheeks and holding firmly.

Seokjin shakes his head. His hands go from pushing to gripping after a while, Taehyung’s shirt crumpling between his crooked fingers. 

“H-how could I have done that to you? I’m disgusting.”

“Hyung, you’re not. You didn’t do anything wrong. Please,” Taehyung whispers. He tries not to cry harder as Seokjin’s tears bleed down his hands. 

Crush, scald, bruise—bleed.

Chapter Text

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

Under the almost sickly glow of the star stickers, Taehyung and Seokjin sit on the edge of the bed in silence, faces pale from exhaustion. Taehyung is crouched over in an awfully uncomfortable position, forehead nestled into Seokjin’s shoulder as his hands clump on Seokjin’s shirt.

Breathe in, breathe out. Every time Taehyung moves just a little, he breaks another dried streak of tears down his cheeks. The fabric of Seokjin’s button shirt rustles between his fingers as Taehyung presses himself closer for comfort.

Seokjin has his gaze fixated aimlessly on the opposite wall, staring at nothing. His hands are motionless in his lap, kept to himself—a contrast to the way Taehyung is draped over him needily.

Seokjin’s calm now, to the point his breakdown may be mistaken as a fever dream, if it weren’t for how his chest rises and falls. In the remnants of his grievous crying, his inhales are short and exhales thin.

In this ghastly dimness, all stillness, it’s just their breaths disrupting the air flow of the room. Taehyung inhales again through his mouth, head hurting from how hard he cried. Despite all that had transpired, he finds an indescribable solace in their proximity and thinks of nothing.

It’s nice to be this close to Seokjin again. 

He’s not sure how many minutes, hours, perhaps, have passed, but time seems to go too quickly as he counts Seokjin’s breaths. The movements are faint. Taehyung leans nearer to feel them, an odd worry in the back of his mind that Seokjin may stop.

As he wonders if this moment can last, Seokjin answers his question by speaking.

“...Taehyung.”

Seokjin rasps after such a long wordlessness, voice gravelly from how hard he’d wept.

Taehyung clams up at his name. Instinctively, he clinches tighter on Seokjin’s shirt, afraid to be nudged off. He doesn’t look up, nor does he reply.

“Should we go back to how we were?” Seokjin breathes.

Taehyung flutters his lashes.

“Back to before all this started… Before we started sleeping with one another, and having these talks at night.”

Seokjin sounds absolutely exhausted.

“Things were alright, weren’t they? Whether we had each other by our sides, we were mostly okay on our own, even though there were some struggles along the way.”

“Now, you’re doing much better… Those worries don’t come as often to you anymore.”

Taehyung keeps mum. His nails dig into Seokjin’s shirt as his heart thumps a little harder. The anxiousness sprouts a clog in his throat as he rewinds through the memories.

His safe space is in Seokjin’s arms. Where will he hide when the monsters claw out of his mind once again? Yes, they don’t bother him as much anymore, they haven’t bothered him in a while now—but he needs Seokjin. When Seokjin isn’t by his side, they’ll come back for sure. 

He really does need Seokjin, that’s why, that’s why they need to be together.

“...I’m not okay,” Taehyung rasps.

He fists Seokjin’s shirt. “Hyung, I still get nervous. I’m still anxious.”

“But you’ve gotten better,” Seokjin whispers.

“I haven’t,” Taehyung adamantly blurts. “I’m still not okay. That’s why, today, I couldn’t answer any questions. I was anxious.”

It takes a long while for Seokjin to reply. His words are faint, but they ring clear in Taehyung’s skull.

“...Were you?”

Both of them know the answer. Taehyung’s heartbeat races faster bit by bit, remembering the look in Seokjin’s eyes. He was afraid—because he knew Taehyung was messing up the interview deliberately to get his attention, didn’t he?

Taehyung’s throat tightens.

But it’s no longer a question of need but want , isn’t it?

“...You said you liked it.”

It’s funny how fast his heart palpitations change from anxious to hopeful, his chest swelling with a wry excitement despite the wretchedness of it all. Really, nothing else should matter since Seokjin likes it—through his relentless tears, in a grieving voice, Seokjin had undoubtedly said that. 



...Maybe Seokjin feels the same way. 



Perhaps Seokjin harbours the same terrible urges as well—to be close to Taehyung, to feel Taehyung so deep inside himself he’s all he can remember.

Granted, he didn’t say he liked Taehyung , but he said he liked Taehyung’s possessiveness. Taehyung made him feel special and needed, and he enjoyed it. 

That could be love. It might be.

Seokjin remains silent. The anxiousness bleeds back into Taehyung and he leans closer, brushing his nose over Seokjin’s flesh. It’s certainly a rigid position, to be slouched over like this, but he refuses to move away. Not when separating himself will give Seokjin the chance to leave.

“Hyung. You said you liked it,” Taehyung repeats, with an edge of nervousness.

The minutes tick by audibly. Along with it, the rotten doubts start burgeoning. Taehyung tries not to think about the chilly avoidance he suffered through, and how Seokjin cried about Taehyung’s love like it was the worst thing to happen to them. Seokjin’s words are like an ill-fitting piece in a nearly finished puzzle—where both tell completely different stories.

Like is a good thing. Isn’t it?

“Taehyung… You know what hyung is in the group, right?” Seokjin starts, slow and sombre. 

“I think I’ve told you before that it won’t make much of a difference if I’m in the group or not. Have I?”

Taehyung widens his eyes. “That’s not true—”

“Listen,” Seokjin breathes.

“Someone like me, who’s always struggled to find a place in this team—I’ve always wondered if I deserve to stand on the same stage as you guys, when I bring nothing to the table… If I deserve all the love that’s given to me, when I receive it only because I’m a part of the group.”

The words roll off his lips so smoothly, revealing how steadfast his beliefs are. 

All this while, no matter how much he was probed, Seokjin played off his lows like they weren’t a big deal. The most he’d say was that he was slightly upset after a mistake. A little, just a bit, only somewhat. He’s never spoken about his emotions without these softening words to minimise them.

And look at what was insidiously festering beneath. To doubt that he even deserves to stand beside the rest of them, like he’s worth less, has Taehyung gritting his teeth. How could Seokjin even think all these?

“You do, hyung. You deserve all of it. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are without you. Why do you keep thinking this way?” 

Taehyung's words are staunch. “We need you. Things wouldn’t even be close to the same without you.”

“...Is that really the case?”

The words don’t get through to him, unsurprisingly. Taehyung’s talking against who-knows-how-long thoughts, after all. Months, years of parasitic thoughts that have built a home sweet home in Seokjin’s head.

“It is,” Taehyung bristles. “It is the case. You’re an important, irreplaceable part of the group. The fans love you. You have a voice like nobody else in our group. Nobody can sing your verses like you do. You brighten the mood, you dance well, you... you know just what to say in front of the camera when we all struggle to.”

“And you took care of all of us,” he softens. “From the start, when we were young and we were away from our family, we didn’t know how to deal with things—but you made sure we were all okay. It was hard on you too—but you still took it upon yourself to look after us.”

“When I started getting tired… you took care of me every night. For a year, you kept me company, every night. Why can’t you see how much you’ve done for the group? You deserve so much to be here.”

Seokjin heaves. “I’m not as nice as you think I am, Taehyung. I'm selfish; I do things for my own greed, too.”

“Greed? How are you greedy for taking care of us? You didn't have to stay with me every night. I'm sure it got tiring at some point. To talk to me when all I could say was those negative things, and I wouldn't change my mind no matter what you said,” Taehyung persists. “Tell me what's greedy about what you did for me.”

A brief silence falls over them. Taehyung wonders what kind of expression Seokjin's wearing. It might be completely still, devoid of any emotions, expected for a face that doesn't like to show anything beyond joy. Taehyung wonders if Seokjin’s even listening, or the thoughts have consumed his entire capacity like those that suffocated Taehyung in the past.

Finally, Seokjin’s tired reply comes.

“You know…” 

He speaks frailly. “Over the past few months, I did a lot of thinking. About us… and why we changed.”

“The reason we became so close, and we couldn’t sleep a night without each other, was because you were having a hard time. But after some time passed, you got better. You no longer holed yourself up, you talked more with us and on camera—you seemed happier.”

“There wasn’t any reason for me to continue accompanying you so much. Even so, I thought it was okay to keep things up between us. I wanted to still be there for you. In case things got hard again for you.”

Seokjin’s voice falls.

“But… when you began to change, and the members started worrying about you again… I kept insisting nothing was wrong. No matter how many times they spoke to me, I pretended like everything was okay and stubbornly stayed by your side. Deep down, I must have known things weren’t alright… but for some reason, I kept brushing it off.”

His tone strains thin.

“After thinking about it a lot, I realised. Someone like me, who can’t ever find what he uniquely contributes to the group… who’s a burden at the end of the day… Every time you wanted me by your side, whenever you waited for me before you went to sleep, it made me happy.”

“You made me feel like I was needed… and it felt good.” A fatigued remorse creeps over his words. 

“That’s… that’s what I meant by I liked it, Taehyung. I kept by your side… and pretended everything was okay, even though I was crippling you… all because I selfishly wanted to be needed.” 



Oh.



Is that all Seokjin meant when he said he liked it? 



When he said he liked being special to Taehyung, and he liked the things Taehyung did—being possessive, wanting all of Seokjin’s attention—was that all he meant?  



The words stain Taehyung’s tongue like blood. His heart plummets into his guts, and a deluge of emotions contrastingly claw up his windpipe. It burns and tears into him. It leaves an almost unbearable void within his chest cavity, a hollow vacuum crumpling with nothingness—as if someone’s shred him open and is wresting his heart out of him.

So, that’s what Seokjin meant.

Of course that’s what Seokjin meant. The voice in the back of his head had already cautioned him that it couldn’t be true. There simply couldn’t be a way for Seokjin to be like him, for any one of them to be like him. 

Taehyung swallows, and the bitterness goes back down into his lungs like biting smoke.

He had held some hope, irrational as it was, that Seokjin’s enjoyment came from a similar place. That maybe, he wasn’t alone in how swollen his heart felt—and how he’d felt he’d die on some days if he didn’t breathe Seokjin in.

But where Seokjin’s liking stems from is a want to be needed—because he’s never felt necessary in their team of seven. Even though his flavour has always been so stark. Even though he’s as strong of a reason as each of them for why they’re prospering. 

When did Seokjin start thinking this way? 

What sowed the first ugly seed of doubt, and what let it flourish—the comments online that said he was the most disposable one? Whenever their trainers scolded him in front of the rest, or perhaps, the lack of consolation he received from everyone? For him to still think like this, despite Taehyung’s constant reminders of how vital he is—has he ever thought Taehyung was genuine in his compliments?

…If Seokjin never had these insecurities, does that mean he would have ditched Taehyung much earlier on?

Quickly, Taehyung stops himself from wondering further before he thinks the atrocious. It’s a difficult-to-process mess of disappointment and heartbreak—and what remains stark in the chaotic disarray is Seokjin’s persistent phrasing.

Crippled.

“Taehyung… you were vulnerable, and I took advantage of you,” Seokjin whispers. “I should have distanced myself once it began. I should have stopped everything once you were better, but I didn’t. And it was you who ended up suffering.”

His pitch rises with his sadness. “I'm sorry. It’s all my fault. I really wonder how I could have been so horrible to let things get to that point.”

The acidity begins billowing over Taehyung’s sorrow as he brushes aside all to pick apart the way Seokjin spoke. 

Again.

How has he managed to say so much about something yet not refer to it at all? Not once did he mention the word love , choosing to address Taehyung’s feelings as vaguely as possible. An outsider would have no clue what he was talking about, except for the one thing that rings clear—that whatever it is, Seokjin thinks of it as a mishap.

To Seokjin, Taehyung’s feelings are a disease he could have prevented by putting some distance—a plague he unleashed by going too close. To him, Taehyung is a stupid child, some simple-minded animal that can’t help falling in love when provided with proximity and affection. Seokjin must see Taehyung as unimaginably pathetic to explain it all so plainly.

Is it so hard to say it? 

As disturbing as it is, Taehyung had given his heart to Seokjin—a living, breathing part of himself. Does his love not even deserve a name?

“What was not okay, hyung?”

“...Hm?” 

“You said you were pretending everything was okay. So, what was not okay?” Taehyung shifts. “My love for you?”

Seokjin goes tongue-tied. Taehyung smiles a little at the missed beat of the conversation. 

The word must have startled Seokjin. Taehyung wonders if the insinuations, so blatant in Seokjin’s speech, even occurred to Seokjin—or if they slipped from his mouth so naturally without a second thought.

“I’m disgusting, aren’t I, hyung?” Taehyung hums. “It’s not your fault. It’s mine. Why are you saying sorry? Everything was fine between us but I went to ruin it all. Don’t be sorry, hyung. I’m the disgusting one who should be sorry.”

"Taehyung, don’t- don’t say that about yourself.”

Taehyung is quick to reply, the sardonic bitterness leaking out. 

“Am I wrong, hyung? I could have been normal like everyone else, but I started loving you so revoltingly in this way. If I wasn’t like this , you wouldn’t have to worry so much and feel so guilty. The group wouldn’t have to face so much trouble. I’m sorry, hyung, for ruining everything.”

“You didn't ruin anything—you didn’t do anything wrong,” Seokjin breathes. “Stop saying that."

“I did. I loved you. More than how I should have,” Taehyung hits back. “I’m disgusting, right, hyung? For loving you abnormally.”

“That—” The pause gives it all away, clawing a stinging itch through Taehyung’s throat. “Taehyung, you’re not disgusting-”

"But you can't even say it , hyung," Taehyung grits, voice tight and on the verge of snapping.

“I asked you what was not okay. You still haven’t answered me. Why? Is it so disgusting you can’t even refer to it?”

He lashes out scathingly. “I suffered? You let things get to that point? You say it like I'm dying from a sickness."

"I love you, hyung," Taehyung chokes up. "I didn't want to either, and cause so much trouble for you and everyone else.”

In a split second, so pitifully, the burning anger crumbles into a fragile sadness. Taehyung’s eyes well up with tears, blotting Seokjin's shirt as his head and chest thumps with agony.

"You're so horrible. I know it's disgusting, but- you're so horrible, hyung," Taehyung whimpers.

He presses his face against Seokjin's chest for consolation. Every little gasp is followed by a soft sob, tears dripping down over Seokjin's heart.

He didn't mean to like Seokjin. It just happened. 

How could he stop himself? It was the most natural thing in the world that he didn't even realise what was happening.

Taehyung feels Seokjin's crooked fingers over his cheeks. His head is gently tilted up and at last, he petulantly, miserably meets Seokjin's eyes. 

Under the dim glow of the stars, Seokjin's face is marred with exhaustion and hurt, all remorse behind his dull irises. He looks so apologetic, and Taehyung hates it.

"I'm sorry," Seokjin whispers, thumbing away Taehyung's tears tenderly. "I didn't mean to make you sad. Don’t you understand? Nothing good can come out of this."

The heartache doubles in his tone, revealing the concern behind his brusque words. 

“Taehyung, you shouldn't like me.  You were so anxious about what everyone thought about you. People out there won't be nice,” Seokjin strains. “I don't want to see you suffer over something that’s not worth it.”

“What can I do, hyung? I know it’s hard. But I still love you,” Taehyung breathes. He leans his cheek instinctively into Seokjin's touch.

Seokjin's expression contorts. "Do you?”

“Taehyung, I told you, didn't I?" The desperation manifests in his voice. "We're isolated from the world—but at the same time, everyone- strangers, so many of them know us. They talk about us, but we’ll never know what they say. They get so many things wrong about us, but we’ll never be able to correct them. It's- it’s stressful. It’s hard to take in all of it at once.” 

“You had to grow up so fast—you had to deal with so many people who hate you for no reason. It was suffocating, wasn’t it? Any mistake you make… and your whole world comes crashing down. People like us get lonely easily, Taehyung… and we end up reaching for whoever's near us."

“You needed comfort,” Seokjin says softly. “When we got so close… it got confusing for you.”

"Confusing? You think that's it, hyung? You’re treating me like I’m a child,” Taehyung raises his voice in vexation.

"I didn’t mean it that way,” Seokjin mumbles. “It’s not you. It's… just what happens. Any one would react the same as you—I would, too.”

He talks like he knows Taehyung best. Like he’s the one who struggled in despair for months at how his fondness for his beloved hyung grew so deformed.

“No. I love you,” Taehyung quivers adamantly. “You don’t get it, hyung. You think I want to be like this?”

“I know what will happen to me- to us—I know how hard everything will be, more than you do. I was so scared that you’d find out, that the others would—that you’d hate me and never want anything to do with me again. I tried so, so hard to stop. I wanted to hide it and let it pass. But I just couldn’t. I just kept thinking about you in that way, and… and it kept getting worse.”

The desire to be close engorged Taehyung so much on some nights, he thought he’d lose his mind. Yet, Seokjin speaks as if Taehyung comfortably went ahead without a second thought.

“I know it’s disgusting. I don’t want it as much as you do—even more than you. I love how things are between us now. Why would I try to sabotage us?” 

Taehyung goes from clasping Seokjin’s shirt to holding his sides.

“You don’t understand—I don’t have a choice but to like you.”

“When… when you started avoiding me, all I could think about was whether you figured it out. Maybe I was too clingy and it was the last straw. And you hated me now and wanted nothing to do with me.”

“I… I tried so hard to fix things. I only talked about happy things around you. I tried to give you space. I made sure not to touch you—so you wouldn’t pull away like you did in the practice room, like you did outside my bedroom.”

His voice wilts. “I felt like dirt to you, hyung. You don’t know how much it hurt. I just- I just kept telling myself, comforting myself that you’d never do this to me willingly; the other members must have put you up to it. Because you—”

Taehyung chokes on his words. 

“You’re the one person I know will always love me. No matter what.” He withers. “Was I wrong?”

It’s all silence, so heavy that Taehyung feels smothered. Seokjin’s irises bruise with misery.

“I’m sorry…” 

He can barely be heard, but his sorrow is palpable. He dashes away Taehyung’s endless tears.

“I just… I really didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry, Taehyung… I really am.”

“I’d never hate you. You’re not disgusting. I’ve never thought that about you, and I’ll never think that about you. I swear.”

His voice cracks. 

“I told you, didn’t I? It’s my fault. I made you so attached to me, so I tried to fix things… I thought you needed space away from me and- I was scared. That I messed things up and it was too late.”

Again.

“You’re still talking about me like that.” Taehyung shudders. “Stop it, hyung. You make it sound like there’s something wrong with me!”

“No, I don’t mean-”

Taehyung cuts him off vehemently. 

“I’m not in love with you because you made me too attached to you, or because I’m lonely or- or I have no one else to like. I just love you. Why can’t you just understand that, hyung?”

He clutches tighter, digging into flesh. Seokjin winces, but Taehyung doesn’t loosen his grip.

“I love you,” Taehyung quivers. “You can pretend it’s not true, but it is, and nothing you do will fucking change it. So, if you want to talk about it—call it disgusting, a problem—say it for what it is. Or I’ll do the same and act like I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Seokjin flutters his lashes. His hands have slipped from Taehyung’s face in surprise at Taehyung’s outburst.

“I’m- I’m sorry,” he swallows. “It’s… not that I don’t want to believe you.”

The words seem trapped in his throat. He leaves a long quietness and Taehyung’s jaw remains clenched in defensiveness. He knows without a doubt Seokjin’s churning out another godforsaken refutation. All Taehyung needs to do is deny it tenfold harder. 

The world may loathe his feelings, but at least he should be protective of it.

“If it’s true… why do you feel this way, only now?” Seokjin question spills with a forlorn rasp. 

Taehyung furrows his brows. “What do you mean, only now?”

Seokjin averts his gaze.

“...We’ve been together for so many years. If you really feel that way, Taehyung, why did you start only now?”

Taehyung parts his lips to counter him, but finds himself wordless. 

He knows what Seokjin’s insinuating. It’s true that he only began to love him after they got so close. Throughout the years before they began their little sleeping arrangement, Taehyung has never had second thoughts about Seokjin. Of course—Seokjin was like a brother to him. They all were. They laughed, cried and fought, like family.

But just because he started liking Seokjin only now, it doesn’t mean he’s confused their closeness for something more. In the months they’ve spent together in the same bed, he’s understood Seokjin more than he ever has—unraveled his human condition, unwrapped his happiness and pains and made better sense of a person he’s always been wrong about. It’s not surprising to have fallen in love only now.

“I got to spend more time with you in the past year. I got to know you better,” Taehyung rasps. 

Seokjin’s not convinced. “We’ve spent almost every day together, since we debuted. You don’t know me well?” 

“Yes, I didn’t. Now, I do.”

“...Really?”

Taehyung locks his jaw. He seethes, “I know what you’re trying to get at, hyung. Because I liked you only now, after we started sleeping together, it means I only feel this way because of how close we are and how much time we spend together. You’re saying that if we stopped being so close—if we stop sleeping with each other, talking so much—I’d realise I’m just confused , right? I’m just an idiot craving for someone by my side and it’s not actually you.”

Seokjin softens. “Taehyung… I’m not trying to put you down.”

“Then, what else are you trying to say, hyung?” Taehyung snidely returns.

“I… just want you to think about what I said. If you didn’t have a hard time, and I never accompanied you like I did… would you still feel the same towards me?”

Taehyung keeps mum. The question brings a sore discomfort.

He was buried in depths so far down he sometimes questioned if he could ever be happy again. Despite his loneliness, Taehyung pushed everyone away as he only felt more abnormal in a sea of loved ones. All he wanted was for people to stop looking at him, to treat him like he didn’t exist, just for a few minutes. But the thought of being forgotten, facing an audience of none, was terrifying. 

In that endless fatigue that imprisoned him, Seokjin was the one who saved him from that frightening headspace. Throughout the past year, Taehyung has relied so heavily on him. All his haunting anxieties, everything wrong with his head, he brought to Seokjin to heal with love and care, and he never once was turned away. No matter how irritating, dreary, petulant—or worthless they were.

Seokjin was Taehyung’s rock that he could fall back on, assuring him everything would be okay. For Taehyung, who drowned in hopelessness at how he’d one day doubtlessly be abandoned, could Taehyung have clung on to the one person whose love had no strings attached? In need of affection, in need of just someone, he latched onto Seokjin who offered it all and believed it was love.

Did he, perhaps, warp the one person who gave him faith that he could be happy again? 

The silence that follows is so loud. Taehyung hates the implication behind all of it—how it breaks him down so simply into a cause-and-effect equation. Kim Taehyung, so blue with sadness, clung onto the one person who could make him happy again, and mistook his neediness for love.

No matter how plausible it sounds, Taehyung refuses to believe it can explain his heart palpitations. He knows first-hand the insanity of wanting to bury himself in Seokjin—and how he envisions it in the context of being between Seokjin’s legs.

How can a distortion solve why Taehyung enjoyed kissing Seokjin? If it’s all a distortion from being too close, he should have realised it from the moment he set his lips on Seokjin. But he kept going and couldn’t pull away. Is Seokjin going to say all of it was a delusion Taehyung took too far?

The thoughts begin clogging up his skull. Skin touching, bodies conjoined—Seokjin’s whimpers by his ear, fingers twisted into the sheets. Taehyung withers with shame.

“If you knew everything that I wanted to do to you, you wouldn’t doubt me,” Taehyung whispers.

Seokjin’s fingers stiffen in Taehyung’s hair.

“...How do you know they’re not just things you want to do with someone?” 

“Because I don’t want to do them with anyone else.”

“You don’t know that,” Seokjin returns softly. “You barely have the chance to get to know other people.”

“I only want to do them with you,” Taehyung states. “No matter how many new people I meet, I only want to do them with you.”

“You haven’t met anyone else yet, Taehyung… You can’t be sure-” 

I just know, okay? I’m tired of you questioning me,” Taehyung shudders. His skull throbs with pain and he quickly reaches up to stop Seokjin’s hands from slipping away; yet, he ducks his head.

The words uncontrollably rise like bile.

“I… I kissed you, hyung. Once—when you were asleep.” 

Taehyung’s voice shrivels.

“I… couldn’t stop. I knew it was wrong, I knew- but I couldn’t stop,” he’s audibly distraught. 

The taste of Seokjin on his tongue was an euphoria he’d never be able to put into words. To feel him so intimately that no one else but a significant other could, his chapped skin, plump lips, warm and wet—Taehyung lost his mind the very second he closed the gap between them.

He dirtily took his chance that day, heart so swollen with the need to be linked.

“It felt so good. I loved it—I loved it so much, hyung. I’m- I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You never knew, and I kept it from you for so long.”

The confession leaves him feeling utterly bare. He did Seokjin wrong, and he irksomely never told a soul, suppressing it to the back of his mind for his self-preservation. And worst of all, deep inside, he hoped he could do it again.

With trembling fingers, he keeps Seokjin’s hands by his ears, waiting tensely for what’ll come. A censure as Seokjin tugs his hands away, perhaps. He might get pushed off and hit the ground, only to stare up at Seokjin’s aghast expression. Maybe Seokjin will finally admit that he truly thinks of Taehyung as revolting. 

And Taehyung deserves all of it. He really does ruin everything, doesn’t he?

Taehyung’s heart pounds queasily. He waits, waits like death for the push and the admonishing screams, but the gaunt hands never leave his cheeks.

“I know,” Seokjin whispers. 

Taehyung freezes. He stares up at Seokjin confusedly, wondering if he had heard wrong, till he notices the absence of disbelief in Seokjin’s expression.

Seokjin averts his stare.

“I… I was awake, Taehyung,” he divulges softly. “I woke up early and was trying to fall back asleep.”

Like he’d suddenly been flung into a frozen-over sea in winter, all the hairs on Taehyung’s neck stand. He feels his heart collapse into his guts.

“You… you were awake,” he quivers, words an odd criss-cross between a despairing question and a pre-emptive statement. The bewilderment rises in his voice. “But- but you didn’t move?”

Seokjin doesn’t meet his eyes.

Taehyung shudders. So, Seokjin was awake the whole time. From the moment Taehyung faltered, going back and forth, till the end, when Taehyung pulled away and despicably acted like he’d done nothing, Seokjin was aware of all of it. While Taehyung so revoltingly kissed Seokjin to his heart’s content, Seokjin lay dead like a corpse and made not a sound. 

Verbalising his icky desires to Seokjin is one thing. For Seokjin to be awake throughout the duration Taehyung kissed him is another.

Seokjin must have felt so sick. So repulsed as Taehyung nibbled on his lips, so disgusted as Taehyung slipped his tongue over his skin. It must have felt like an unbearable eternity to him as Taehyung stuttered and moaned into him, feeling him with a revoltingly warm wetness.

Taehyung nearly gags at the thought. 

“Hyung- I-”

Taehyung’s gaze shakes. He tries to quell the tremors through his fingers but they’re shivering so violently over Seokjin’s waist, Taehyung’s sure Seokjin can feel them.

“I’m… I’m so sorry. I was wrong. You were sleeping, and I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know why I did it. I just- I was out of my mind—I didn’t mean to do it. I’m sorry—I’m so sorry.”

He’s on the verge of tears, feeling like absolute filth. All this time, Seokjin knew—while they met eyes, while they spoke, while Taehyung slept by his side for his nightmares and said not a word. Days, more than a month went by as Taehyung acted like he’d done no wrong while Seokjin feigned ignorance with him. Seokjin must have thought Taehyung was so incredibly shameless. Disgusting enough to carry out the deed, and worse still, repulsive enough to pretend that it never happened.

That day—that was when Seokjin suggested they should sleep apart and the cold-shoulder treatment began. All this while, Taehyung had mistaken that Namjoon and Seokjin’s conversation was the catalyst for Seokjin pulling the plug on Taehyung. No, Seokjin just asked Namjoon out and didn’t want Taehyung, that dirty scum, to come along.

Did… did Seokjin tell Namjoon what happened? Maybe he struggled as he described how grossly Taehyung sucked on his lip. They may have discussed him like a patient on a sickbed, wondering what they should do to fix him.

Perhaps Seokjin regrets showing Taehyung any kindness. 

Taehyung shrivels.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, hyung. I shouldn’t have done that—” He whimpers, chock full of remorse. “I don’t know why I did it. I’m so, so sorry.”

Seokjin exhales softly. His hand slips away from Taehyung’s cheeks, and Taehyung stiffens—but they end up in Taehyung’s tresses instead.

“It’s okay.” 

Seokjin caresses Taehyung’s head. There’s no disingenuousness in his gestures, tender and consoling.

“Hyung-”

“It’s okay, Taehyung. Really,” Seokjin whispers.

Taehyung flutters his lashes up at Seokjin. His chest swells with not relief, but the worst of guilt. He took advantage of Seokjin, yet Seokjin’s forgiving him so easily? No reprimands, not a single wisp of repulsion, just a simple “it’s okay” like Taehyung had bumped into him. It must have been disturbing to endure through it, yet Seokjin kept utterly still instead of pushing Taehyung off. Did he let Taehyung do as he pleased because he didn’t have the heart to embarrass him?

How can Seokjin be so forgiving? Taehyung was completely in the wrong. No, Seokjin’s always been like this. He forgives, forgets and loves no matter what Taehyung does to him. Seokjin tirelessly accompanied him every night in hopes of granting him reprieve from his anxiety, minding none that Taehyung never showed him the empathy he needed at his lowest. Seokjin, in spite of his exhaustion, followed Taehyung out to find silly stickers just because Taehyung wanted him to. When Taehyun childishly threw a tantrum about being neglected over Jungkook, Seokjin apologised first and placated him nonetheless.

The realisation stings. Taehyung’s stubbornness begins to wane, drip by drip, and he finally allows himself to consider Seokjin’s words.

If… if Seokjin’s right that Taehyung got it all wrong, isn’t it ultimately better? It’s what Taehyung hoped for in the beginning as well. In his loneliness and the absence of people he could meet, he craved someone to love and reciprocate, and simply got caught up in the proximity and affection Seokjin gave. Perhaps it’s as Seokjin says—Taehyung just needs some distance away from him. If Taehyung stops resisting and they stay apart for a while, maybe, the feelings and urges will go away. With time to come, he’ll realise it never was true and laugh it off like an embarrassing memory of immaturity. 

It’ll be as if nothing had happened. Everything would go back to normal.

Could it?

After all that Taehyung has done, could things really go back to normal?

In a room that could never have been estranged from the world as he wished, Taehyung grasps that it’s a point of no return. He’ll never be able to come back from all of this unscathed. Taehyung wasn’t wallowing in some quaint phase or a strange mood that they could all brush off. In the past months, he had obsessively prevented anyone from being near Seokjin and rancorously deluded himself into thinking everyone had a vendetta against him being close to Seokjin. He pushed them away from Seokjin, and was concerned only with where Seokjin was and what he was doing, needing to be beside him at all times. It was as Yoongi said—Taehyung disturbingly viewed the world as just him and Seokjin, no one else. 

Sooner or later, Taehyung will have to walk out of this room to face the other members, and explain why he lashed out at everyone. He’ll have to tell that in his twisted, crazed jealousy over their eldest, he wrenched Namjoon’s collar like a brute and saw him as an enemy. He’ll need to confess that he had it in him to loathe them at one point, to distort all their heartfelt worry as a despicable interference between Seokjin and him.  

Then, Seokjin will start prescribing the centimetres between them again. Metres, maybe. As far as needed, so Taehyung's diseased obsession with him can be quelled. But even if it goes away, none of them will forget what happened. Like a stain, it’ll follow Taehyung for the rest of his life—the odd boy who was once insanely head over heels for his very own teammate. They’ll never see him the same.

Seokjin may just never let him come too close, lest it happens again.

A sobering chill runs down Taehyung’s spine. He instinctively clings tighter to Seokjin, gouging into flesh instead of fabric. Seokjin winces in pain.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” Taehyung’s voice is smothered by Seokjin’s shirt. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

Taehyung quivers. “You… you really don’t hate me? I kissed you. When you were asleep. Isn’t it disgusting?”

“I don’t. Taehyung, it’s okay. You’re not disgusting. Don’t say that.”

“But I did so many wrong things. I yelled at you over Jungkook; I kept clinging to you and wouldn’t let anyone near; I… I messed up the interview on purpose to get your attention. You must think I’m so strange.”

With how many times he got in the member’s way when they tried to approach Seokjin on camera, have the fans and the public noticed? They might have already picked up on his strangeness.

Taehyung's words start to race in panic. 

“Everyone must think I’m so weird, I’m insane—they must hate me. I hurt Namjoon-hyung; I screamed at everyone and accused them of getting between us. I acted so weirdly and I ruined everything.”

The crooked fingers slide down to his cheeks and Seokjin nudges him back to meet eyes.

“Taehyung, none of us will ever hate you. Everyone loves you,” Seokjin whispers. “You weren’t being weird. You didn’t ruin anything.”

“I did, I did so many things, hyung. I fucked everything up. We’re going to release a new album, everyone’s so tired and I’m here causing so much trouble -

“You didn’t cause any trouble,” Seokjin firmly cuts off Taehyung’s ramble. “All of these, everything that’s happened—it’s not a big deal, you know? You don’t have to worry. None of us will think of you badly, or hold it against you.”

“Everyone’s done weird things in front of each other; we’ve been together for so many years. We fight and we make up. It’s how things have always been,” he placates.

Yes, but nobody’s ever fallen in love with one of the members, have they?

“It’s never been like this, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, the fright seeping into his words. “I hated everyone so much. I was so hostile to everyone… especially to Namjoon-hyung and Yoongi-hyung. I kept picking fights with them, even when they were trying to be nice to me.”

“It’s okay. You didn’t mean to—they know that. We all know that. It’s fine, Taehyung; don’t worry.” 

Gently, like a parent to a child, Seokjin shrouds Taehyung’s face in his chest and strokes down his head. Through strands of hair, he weaves a lullaby that has Taehyung’s heartbeat easing a little.

“Things are fine. No one will hate you. Everyone’s worried about you, why do you think they’d hate you?”

“Because I’m weird. Everyone will remember me like this. They’ll loathe me. For shouting at them… They’ll think I’ve lost it,” Taehyung muffles. He nuzzles his nose into Seokjin’s dependable warmth.

“You’re not weird. Just now, Jimin was comforting you, wasn’t he? Would he do that if he hated you?”

“...I don’t know.”

“He wouldn’t have,” Seokjin answers on his behalf. “Why do you think Jungkook was crying? It’s because he doesn’t like to see you sad. Taehyung, if we walk out now, the first thing they’re all going to ask is if you’re okay. Nothing else. They won’t be angry with you—they’ll only be worried. Really.”

Taehyung shuts his eyes as the racing thoughts slow to the tempo of Seokjin’s touches. The ugly anxiousness seems to tangle gradually away into Seokjin’s fingers.

“But I was so terrible to everyone. Even Jimin—I got angry at him when he tried to help me.” 

“They’ll understand, Taehyung. Everyone knows that deep down, you love them. They do too. So, don’t worry.”

“...You really don’t find me disgusting?” Taehyung murmurs. “That I like you like this… that I kissed you, and that I want to do more with you.” 

“I don’t. Why would I?” Seokjin whispers. He says it with so much sincerity and gentleness that Taehyung wants to trust him.

“If I did, I wouldn’t be holding you like this, right?”

“You’re too kind to leave me alone, hyung. Like when I had my nightmares,” Taehyung mumbles.

“I’ve already said, I’m not as nice as you think I am,” Seokjin heaves. 

He nudges Taehyung closer, and Taehyung’s heart leaps.

“You’re not disgusting. I’ll never think that about you. Believe me.”

The tension ebbs. Taehyung slackens his hold on Seokjin’s waist and he comes to register the ground against his feet.

“Taehyung, when I distanced myself… it wasn’t because I hated you. I’m sorry for hurting you. I… just wanted to fix things,” he softens. “I did it with you in mind.”

"You have so many dreams, Taehyung… You said you want to keep performing till we're old and make more songs for everyone to enjoy. I just couldn’t let this affect you, when it’s going to pass with time.”

"You’re only going to become more successful from now on. You’ve heard how everyone talks about you at our meetings—all the articles about you, our CF partners that asked for just you. If… if other people find out about this, they’re going to start thinking of you badly. They’ll say a lot of things about you… and use this against you. They’ll treat you like you’re a completely different person, and you’ll forever be just that to them.”

Seokjin’s face is crestfallen.

“You’ve worked so hard to come this far. You can’t sacrifice it all for something so fleeting. You know that, right?”

Fleeting.

Taehyung says nothing. He doesn’t deny it, nor does he agree. 

“Taehyung… After a while, the feelings will go away. It just takes time,” Seokjin placates. “It might take a while… but it’ll happen someday. Things will go back to normal, so you don’t have to worry.”

Seokjin’s words drip discordantly, like the wrong chords for a song. But his assuring tone is enough to finally calm Taehyung’s heart.

Maybe Seokjin knows better. Taehyung hopes so, for his and everyone’s sake.

“Everything will be okay.”

Thump, thump—thump. Taehyung finally takes the breath he’d been holding. He nuzzles his face into warm bones and pulls at Seokjin’s shirt, wondering if Seokjin would allow him to hide inside it. No matter what, Seokjin manages to console him when things seem completely irreparable. He truly makes everything okay.

The reliable eldest who’s akin to a ground they can always fall back on.

“Okay,” Taehyung rasps.

A long quietness ensues, finally granted respite in a mess that feels too beyond hope. The caresses continue, loving and tender as ever. While it’s daunting that Taehyung will have to leave the room one day and face everyone, the door behind him doesn’t feel so frightening anymore. 

The others… they’ll understand, right? Namjoon and Yoongi didn’t look mad at him when they left, even though he’d been deliberately antagonising them these weeks. And Jimin—even though Taehyung chided him for asking Namjoon what happened that night, he still tearfully consoled Taehyung just now. 

They’ve been together for so long, after all. Years of arguments and fights, forgiveness and making up with one another, tolerance and love.

Maybe things could truly go back to normal.

Taehyung shuts his eyes and the knots unwind in his back. Amid the after-calmness and the dried tear stains, his exhaustion finally surfaces. How many hours has it been? He can’t see the clock from here but he’s sure it’s at least a few. The glimpses of the night sky through the fluttering curtains doesn’t tell him much.

Perhaps everyone’s already asleep. Taehyung hopes so.

In the calming silence, Taehyung belatedly notices something: Seokjin’s heart is palpitating uncomfortably fast. Before he can dwell on it, Seokjin speaks.

“Do you want some water? I’ll go get it for you.” 

He makes a move to stand. Immediately, Taehyung’s eyes fly wide open and he grabs Seokjin tighter.

“No, I don’t.”

“You should drink something warm, Taehyung. You cried so much,” Seokjin chuckles.

Taehyung shakes his head. “Don’t go, hyung,” he mumbles, making sure his nails are digging fabric tight into his palms. 

“...Okay.” Seokjin heaves. “Do you want to sleep, then? It’s been a long day. I’m sure you’re tired.”

Taehyung glances up to meet fatigued eyes.

“You’ll stay with me?” He asks softly.

“Mm. I will.”

Like a child, Taehyung’s tucked into bed, blanket pulled up to his chin as he curls up on his side. Seokjin flimsily rolls out his own, a spare blanket still kept here specially for him. Taehyung’s fingers stay firm on Seokjin’s shirt despite Seokjin trying to coax them away. In the darkness, touched only by the dim glow of the stars, they face each other as if they’re the only two people in the world.

Seokjin slowly strokes Taehyung’s hair, guiding how his heartbeat should go. 

“Go to sleep.”

Taehyung bats his lashes sluggishly at him, refusing to close his eyes. His gaze goes from Seokjin’s eyes down to his lips, and then, he gazes away at the star stickers.

They feel unfamiliar. He remembers the ones they first put up well, raw conversations of love and darkness underneath an audience that promises not to criticise. But because he’s been insistently sleeping in Seokjin’s room since Seokjin stuck these new ones up, he’s never gotten used to them.

“The stickers… they don’t look good, hyung,” Taehyung murmurs.

Seokjin chuckles. “Hey, I went out just to get them for you, and you’re saying this?”

“I know. Thank you, hyung.”

“We talked about this before, haven’t we? It doesn’t look nice since it looks… like it’s on purpose, I guess,” Seokjin muses.

“Yeah. When everyone stuck it up together, it looked better.”

“Well, you should thank Jungkook then, since he was slapping them up wherever he wanted.” Seokjin grins, eyes swollen.

Taehyung faintly laughs. He plays with the cotton between his fingers, melting into Seokjin’s caresses. 

“Thank you for putting them up, hyung. For always taking care of me… even when I mess things up. I’m sorry for everything.”

“Don’t talk about that anymore,” Seokjin returns swiftly. He looks up at the ceiling. “Why don’t we take these down? I’ll buy some more, and we can get everyone to stick it up.”

“It’s okay.”

“I’ll take them down tomorrow, after practice,” Seokjin hums. “Jungkook will be excited.”

“What did he do with the rest that we bought? The first pack that we got from the night market.”

“I’m not sure. He used it for some artwork—I think he stuck it on some drawing block.”

“Oh. it must look good.”

“Yeah, Jungkook’s good at art. He’s good at everything, actually. I’m envious,” Seokjin sighs. He gives a small smile. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping? You’re tired.”

“I’m not.”

“You are,” Seokjin snorts. “Don’t lie to me and go to sleep. Otherwise, I’m going to put a pillow over your head.”

“...You’re going to suffocate me, hyung?” Taehyung jokes hoarsely.

“Suffocate? You were hugging me so tightly just now, and you’re saying that? I felt like I was being smothered to death. I almost thought you were trying to kill me,” Seokjin rants comically. His eyes are so swollen.

Taehyung laughs. “I’m sorry.”

Their conversation seems so normal, a quaint aftermath of a turmoil filled with tears and hurt. How does Seokjin make things okay so easily? It’s unthinkable.

“...Hyung.”

“Yeah?”

“Things will be okay, right?” Taehyung rasps faintly.

“Of course they will,” Seokjin whispers. He brushes Taehyung’s lashes, making them flutter shut.

“There’s nothing to be worried about. No one’s going to think badly of you. You need to have more faith in everyone else. Or less faith—everyone will forget about this quickly,” he chuckles. “They’re just going to tease you about this.”

“Everything will be alright. I promise.”

The way Seokjin looks so unruffled, despite his puffy eyes, truly is assuring.

To the pacifying rhythm of Seokjin’s strokes, Taehyung eases into his tiredness. The white noise is all he hears besides the fingers brushing over his ear. He could almost forget about the world outside whom he’ll have to answer to eventually. 

How nice would it be if this moment could last forever. As much as Taehyung wants to have faith in what’ll come, he’d stay in this space with Seokjin if he could.

If only they could go back to the time where Taehyung’s diseased feelings weren’t there to get in the way. He’d want to relive Seokjin and him going on a late night drive for glow-in-the-dark stars, where he was happier about Seokjin accompanying him out than finding the stickers. That could easily be one of the best moments of his life.

He wonders how things could go downhill so quickly when he was learning gradually to be alright again. It’s miserable to have his silver of hope twist into another downfall for him.

Taehyung shuts his eyes. In such a familiar position, he instinctively reaches out to hold Seokjin, his body used to the days of hugging Seokjin to sleep. He places his hand on Seokjin’s bare waist, cold under his touch.

Slap. 

Taehyung’s hand falls away with a mild sting. Seokjin’s fingers abruptly pull away from Taehyung’s hair and Taehyung snaps open his eyes.

The first thing he sees is Seokjin’s expression. Slowly but surely, the agony creeps into Taehyung’s bones. He retracts his hand and the silence, so soothing moments ago, starts to pound nauseatingly loud.

I’ll never think that about you.

 



D̡̧̧̛̛͕̻̯̤̺͕̼̰̬̲͓͍͖̯̮̟̻̮͕͖̮̼͕̮̫̟̦̖̏̎̌͂̈́͌͐̏͋̔̿̔̒̊́͒̀̾̏̅͛̈́̈́͛͋̒͗̆̓̓̄̅̽͑̒̏̌̾͆̈̑̈́̿̋̈́͆̚̕͘̕͠͝͝ͅͅị̢̼͔̼̻̘̙͉͕͚͔̜͚̜͖̱̳̊̈́͋͊̓̑̀̌̊̑̀̏̍͒̇͂̄̊̈́̊̄̍̒̆̌͆̔̊̏̇̈́̋̋͘͠͝ṡ̬̪̣͓̗̲̤̠̹̟͉͍̬̼̠̟͍͔͈̽̇͋̄̅̌̏̈́̎͊̑̇̾͊̃͑͊͌́̑̒̓͌̽̇̅̊̐̎͘͘͜ģ̡̢̢̛͇̰͖̮͙̯̱̰̭̫̻͕̟͓͉̯͕͕͚̺͇̰̯̱͓̟͓̐̇̓͊͗̐́̓̓͌̂͛̏́̉̿̇͗̃̄̓́̅̀̿̃͛͐̎̆̂̓̅͊͒̓̍̔͐͗̂̈̒̇͊̓̕̕͜͝͠͠ú̢̧̢̢̨̡̨̳̠͍̰̞͕͙͇̰͕͖̗̲̜͎̥̘̖̠͎̳̤̣̣̪͈͎̤͇̤͔̞̪̳̫͉̯̪̩̘̟̭̝̹̺̮̱͖̭͆̀̌͐̉̄͆̔̇͗̎̉̽͌̓̓͋͒̈́̍̎̓̏͂̾̆͒̓͗̾͆̿̒̽̅̑́͒̆̂̔̏̒͌̕̕͘͘͜͠͝͝͝͠͠ͅs̨̧̡̡̧̨̛͔͉̫̤̩̹̻̪̟̼̤̮̝̬̼͚̘̮̲̥̘̘̝̣͉͇̜̯̘̗͎̖̣̳̭͓̈́̊́̈́̑͂͆̈́͊̋̅̆̿̋͗̀̐̔̈́̽͘͝͠͠ͅͅt̛̝̠͎̼͓͎͉̰̝̻̝̅̄̃̅͋̐̑̄̃̽̍̄̿̎̋͆͋̎͆̈͊͒͌̆͐̑́̃͒͋̄͋̒̉͛͋͌̅̆̀̊̈́̇͑̉͊̅͘̚̚͘͠͠ị̢̡̫̖̦̮̝̲͍͕͇̤͓̜̬͈̱͈͙̩͚̰̪̣̦̣͈̙̈́̂̈́͒̍͐͛́̾͛̓̅̽̾̓̓̑̎̉̈́̉̿̉͆̓̊͐̓͂̈́̂͗̓̀̓́͒͛̓̓̒͊̕̚̚͜͝͠n̡̧̢͖̠̤̩̝͕͙̳̩̪̠̤̪̲̪̙̬̗̖̱͕͓̩͉̼̫̻̪͍̬͙̭͈͈̩̘͎̼̭̟̯̠͉̥̻̞̦̭̜͔͈̠̙̅̊̄͑̄̒̅͑͛̾́́̚͜ͅg̡̡̛̯̜̠̞͙̟̘̙̲͕̱̭̦̥̝̪̽͊̎͐̐͛͌̈́͆͑̈́̍͋̈́̄̅̍̅͗̍̏̑̐̅̂̿̌̈́͆͛̕̕̕͘͘͜.



 

Before the hateful thoughts can metastasise yet again, Seokjin snatches back Taehyung’s hand.

“You startled me,” Seokjin chuckles. “Your hand is so warm.”

He interlocks their fingers, all conviction in his sturdy grip, not a hint of revulsion or unease. Taehyung doesn’t know if it’s a form of overcompensation.

“Go to sleep,” Seokjin hums tenderly. He draws circles over Taehyung’s knuckles, as though rubbing a blue-black, and shifts a little closer.

“...Okay,” Taehyung breathes. 

His hand seems to bruise horrendously despite how he’d only been brushed off. The dream of Seokjin crushing his hand returns in all its vividness, much like a premonition Taehyung didn’t heed.

Taehyung shuts his eyes and doesn’t think about anything. 

 

 

Taehyung wades into a shallow sleep and dreams about a fire so bright he can barely see anything else. Through brief glimpses, he makes out that it’s his bedroom, distinguished doubtlessly by the pattern of star stickers on his ceiling. There’s just one thing missing—the door leading to the outside. 

Taehyung settles on the ground, staring into the endless blazes with resignation. Crack, split, fall; the overhead beams and ceiling plaster collapse relentlessly around him. One by one, the star stickers fall off, shrivelling into nothing. 

The granite floor, cool under Taehyung’s hand, is the only thing that remains intact as everything else burns down. Despite the flames charring in dark marks onto its surface, it stays sturdy. Taehyung shuts his eyes and waits for whatever that’ll come. Perhaps he’ll be lucky and a downpour will fall, or he might burn away before then.

After a while, Taehyung feels wetness on his palm. It can’t be rain; it feels thicker than blood. He draws his hand from the floor in puzzlement.

The granite is melting.

Taehyung pries open his eyes to silence. His first thought, full of anxiety, is about whether Seokjin has left, but he finds Seokjin still sitting beside him on the bed. He can barely be made out in the ominous darkness, legs pulled against his chest, taking up as little space as possible. His face is shrouded in his palms, body completely still.

Taehyung reaches for him immediately.

“Hyung.”

Seokjin jolts. Taehyung takes his hands, his pitch rising sorrowfully.

“Hyung, don’t cry.” 

He tries to tear Seokjin’s hands away but Seokjin won’t let him. Like scraping a scab off a deep wound, Taehyung pulls over and over again, gripping onto wet fingers. 

“I’m okay,” Seokjin says. He holds firm but his palms begin slipping away.

“I’m okay, Taehyung. Stop. I’m not crying,” he strains with a tinge of fright and desperation. 

Taehyung finally wrenches Seokjin’s hands away by the wrists, replacing them with his. He kneels between Seokjin’s legs and dashes tear after tear sorrily.

“Don’t cry, hyung. Why are you crying?” Seokjin looked so alright just now, laughing and joking about little things.

“I’m not. I’m not crying.”

Seokjin seems like he’d been caught for a crime, hands and face bloodied with evidence. In a span of a few hours, he has cried twice, for a man who weeps so rarely no one remembers when the last time was. But Seokjin’s not crying as he did before, mangled with grief and completely gone. Instead, he looks so utterly confused, as though he doesn’t understand why he’s tearing up and why he won’t stop.

“Are you worried?” Taehyung cups Seokjin’s face, nudging away the insistently prying fingers. “Hyung, you said it’ll go away with time, didn’t you? So, you don’t have to worry.”

Seokjin swallows. “There’s just a lot to take in. That’s why. It’s like just now. I’m okay. Everything’s okay.”

He shifts back to stop Taehyung from brushing his tears. 

“That’s why. I’m okay, Taehyung. Don’t worry about me,” Seokjin quivers. He’s growing frenzied because the tears won’t stop, despite what he’s insisting.

Drip, drip, drip. 

“You’re tired, aren’t you? Go to sleep. Everything’s fine, I promise.” 

Taehyung’s heart crumples with blue.

How burdensome to always be the one consoling and promising things will be okay, without any certainty for oneself. Seokjin must be tormented by anxiety as well. But he gives assurance, gives comfort, gives love, and Taehyung takes, takes, takes, till Seokjin’s left with nothing for himself. And he never expects anyone to do the same for him, doesn’t feel he deserves anyone to do the same for him.

Taehyung takes Seokjin’s interfering hands and rests them around his neck. “It’s okay, hyung. I’ll stop liking you, really. I will. I’m sorry for making you sad.”

The words only seem to worsen Seokjin’s tears. “It’s not that, Taehyung. Don’t say that.” 

“It’ll go away soon. So, don’t cry,” Taehyung consoles. He brushes another tear streak. 

“I told you, it’s not that,” Seokjin rasps. “Taehyung, I… I didn’t mean to push you off just now. You know that, right? You- you surprised me. That’s all. It’s not because I dislike you.” 

Seokjin’s sorrow escalates audibly. “Taehyung, really—I didn’t mean to.”

“I know, hyung. It’s okay.”

“I just- You touched me so suddenly- I really didn’t mean to.” 

“Hyung, I know. It’s fine.”

Seokjin lets out a strangled gasp. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m sorry.”

He’s stained all over with tears and overflowing confusion. Taehyung struggles to hold back a whimper.

“...Hyung, why are you sorry? Don’t be. There’s nothing to be sorry for.” Taehyung keeps his voice firm in spite of his surging sorrow. It’s so normal to cry, so why does Seokjin feel the need to apologise?

In the midst of trying to stop the tears, Taehyung realises there’s no point in blocking a dam that can’t hold back anymore. Instead, he wraps his arms around Seokjin’s waist, pulling him into an embrace. He coaxes Seokjin to hide his shameful tears in his chest, providing a space larger than Seokjin’s bony palms can give.

“You can cry in front of me, hyung. Don’t be sorry for it,” Taehyung whispers. “I swore I’d take good care of you, didn’t I? I said you could always lean on me.”

It was a promise from many months ago, after Taehyung made sense of Seokjin for the first time—that he denied himself the humanity of feeling sad because he couldn’t be a greater deadweight than he already was. Seokjin laughed the promise off as innocent words from a child, so Taehyung showed his earnestness by showering him with praises and validation as much as possible. He chipped at Seokjin’s walls wherever he could, hoping he’d one day be let into Seokjin’s heart.

“I’m here, hyung. Tell me why you’re crying,” Taehyung rasps. “You don’t have to deal with everything alone. You don’t have to keep it all inside.”

Seokjin whimpers like the words had punctured into him. Taehyung holds him tighter, enveloping him whole.

“Taehyung— Taehyung, we can’t , you know?” Seokjin sobs, words shaky. “You don’t know how much you’ll have to give up. If people find out, they’ll be so horrible to you. You understand that, right? It’s not that hyung wanted to do it to you. It hurt me a lot too.”

“I know.” Taehyung swallows. Seokjin’s frame is so thin and fragile in his embrace, the same one that sturdily held Taehyung as he wept just now.

“You have so much to look forward to. I- I didn’t mean to make you so sad. You know that, right?”

“I know. I know you did it for me.”

“I was scared.” Seokjin gasps miserably. “I didn’t know what I should do. I didn’t want you to have to go through so much. Especially for me. I should have just said something earlier, so you wouldn’t have to suffer so much. I’m sorry. I made things so difficult for you and everyone.”

“Hyung, it’s not your fault,” Taehyung quivers. “I’m the one that likes you. There was nothing you could do.”

“It is my fault. I told you, it’s because I kept staying beside you. I was selfish. I’m horrible. It’s me that made you like this. Not you.” 

Seokjin speaks like he’s admonishing himself, caning the words into his bones. Taehyung’s chest sinks at the realisation. 

He was so resentful of Seokjin for reducing him to a child helpless to affection, as if he’d fall in love as long as someone showed kindness. In his anger, he missed the sore implication of Seokjin’s explanation: Seokjin was taking the blame off Taehyung and putting it on himself. Seokjin is the one who came too close and didn’t draw the line; it wasn’t Taehyung who let his feelings grow too far. Seokjin should have been the one to put distance, but he was so selfishly caught up with enjoying the attention; Taehyung was only a victim.

“You weren’t selfish, hyung. It’s not your responsibility to leave me. I’m not a child.”

Taehyung brushes his cheek against Seokjin’s hair, feeling Seokjin’s tears streak down his heart. Seokjin’s weight on his chest is heavy, making it difficult to breathe. 

“I don’t know what I should do. I keep trying—I keep trying but everything I do is wrong. I hurt you, and now, everything’s like this because of me.”

Seokjin’s breaths shudder over Taehyung’s skin. 

“I didn’t want to make you so sad, Taehyung. You’re not strange. You’re not weird, you’re not disgusting. If I knew you would think all those things about yourself, I would have never done it. I thought you’d get used to it—I thought things would become better. I just-”

Seokjin breaks out into a sob. “I just want you to be happy. You’ve already gone through so much. Why did this have to happen?”

Taehyung’s chest bruises unbearably, Seokjin’s words cutting into his bones. He bites back his tears, hoping that Seokjin won’t realise them.

Seokjin made it his burden to right things on his own, praying he made the right decision instead of talking to Taehyung about his behaviour. Why? Did Seokjin want to spare Taehyung the painful conversation that he couldn’t be this way? When all Taehyung has shown him is how vulnerable and fragile he is, tormented by what everyone thinks of him, did Seokjin think Taehyung wouldn’t be able to endure it?

“Hyung—hyung, it’s okay,” Taehyung gulps when the tremors rise in his voice. “You don’t have to do anything. I’ll stop liking you, so don’t worry, okay? Things will go back to normal—I’ll stop being like this.”

Seokjin chokes on his words. “No, no, don’t say it like that. It’s not a bad thing—it’s not you. Taehyung, I—I didn’t mean to push you away just now, really. You’re not-” 

“Hyung, I know. I was warm—I startled you, right?” Taehyung whispers, repeating the excuses Seokjin gave. 

Seokjin weeps harder, the guilt poignant in his voice.

“It’s not what you think. Believe me. You’re not strange. You’re not disgusting. You’re not. It’s me, Taehyung. You were warm, and I don’t know why I felt like that. I shouldn’t have pushed you away.”

He sounds so remorseful for what he’d done, regretful for the implications and the revelation of his underlying thoughts. Taehyung doesn’t blame him for what he thinks of him.

“Hyung, it’s okay. You didn’t mean it… I know that,” Taehyung placates, nestling comfortingly against Seokjin. He feels a part of him crumble every time Seokjin trembles against him. There’s so much hurt inside a body so small that Taehyung’s afraid.

“Really… It’s alright, hyung. Don’t feel bad.”

Seokjin shakes his head. “I keep doing this—I keep making things harder for you and everyone.”

“I shouldn’t have let you sleep with me when you had your nightmares. I should have told you to go to Jimin from the start, anyone else, but I don’t know why I didn’t,” Seokjin hiccups. 

“I should have stopped it whenever we got too close. I should have left once you started smiling more. I don’t know why I stayed and told you so much. I regret it so much.” 

His voice escalates in pitch, doubling his grief. 

“I— I should have moved away when you kissed me. I really should have. But I don’t know why I felt that way. I- I really don’t.”

Taehyung stiffens. Seokjin completely crumples in his grasp, so pathetically frail as the sobs wrack through his body.

“It’s okay if it’s just me. But you can’t, Taehyung.” Seokjin’s barely able to get breaths in between with how hard he’s crying. “You can’t.”

Taehyung tries not to shudder, his eyes welling up with tears. The implication festers in his skull as he tries to understand what Seokjin’s saying, pulling apart the words again and again. 

Seokjin wanted the attention, and he wanted to be needed; hence, he said nothing about Taehyung’s possessive behaviour. That was his explanation for his self-confessed enjoyment of Taehyung’s obsessiveness.

But what about this?

“...Felt what way, hyung?”

Taehyung’s heart pounds so fast he feels like throwing it up. He thought Seokjin didn’t move to spare him the embarrassment of being found out. But what he’s saying—it sounds like— 

It sounds like he didn’t want to move away. Perhaps… perhaps because he liked it.

How could that arise from wanting to be needed? It doesn’t make any sense. Just now—why did he push Taehyung away, if it wasn’t out of disgust? 

Taehyung can’t be strung along a second time. He can’t be wrenched up by another glimmer of hope, only for him to come crashing down into the desolate understanding that Seokjin will never, ever be like him. 

Seokjin doesn’t answer him, dripping tears like a broken faucet onto Taehyung’s shirt. Taehyung hastily leans back, cupping Seokjin’s face. 

“Hyung, what do you mean?” Taehyung blurts. His frantic grip tightens on Seokjin’s jaw and Seokjin winces. 

“Hyung, hyung —what did you feel when I kissed you-”

Taehyung stops when he lifts Seokjin’s chin to meet their eyes. His cheeks are so besmirched with tears and his sorrow is so unbridled, on a face that seeks so badly to show nothing but a smile. It’s disorientingly unfamiliar. In close to a decade of all of them knowing each other, Taehyung knows no one else has seen him like this, even though he can remember such instances for the other members. 

It’s not surprising. After all, he’s their dependable eldest who’s expected to take care of the other members, accorded the role because of his age, though the rest are just a few years shy of him. He should do and know better than the others. Yet, he doesn’t always. So, when he falls short on stage and in the practice room despite everyone else doing fine, the looks and words he gets are worse than if it were anyone else—the eldest who’s funnily the worst out of the lot. 

He’s the person with the least right to be a burden.

That’s why Seokjin doesn’t speak of his struggles, and nobody thinks to ask or comfort him. That’s why he swallows everything up like it’s a sin to show even a glimpse of vulnerability, since everyone counts on him to be strong. Someone like him shouldn’t be all over the place, which is why Seokjin never changes. He’s tough to break—resistant to even the biggest fires. Lightheartedly, he walks around with all these open wounds as the years pile up, letting them fester as he tends to the other members first.

Even if Seokjin feels the same for Taehyung, he’ll never be able to say it. Not when he’s putting everyone else on the line—the most terrible thing he could do, as the eldest who’s nothing but a burden.

And here Taehyung is, praying for the worst—wishing in all his self-centredness for Seokjin’s deepest fear to be true.

It’s the same unnerving sight as hours ago, but in Taehyung’s lucidity, he finally understands how selfish he’s been. The tears sting but Taehyung swallows them back briskly. He embraces Seokjin tightly once again, hiding each of his pieces in his chest, and takes a deep inhale to steady his breathing.

“Hyung. It’s okay,” he strains against Seokjin’s hair. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I did. I did everything wrong, and now, you’re suffering because of me.”

“No, you did nothing wrong,” Taehyung repeats firmly, swallowing down a breath too shaky. 

“No matter what you did, I’d still have liked you, hyung. Even if you said it earlier, even if you stayed away—even if you didn’t sleep with me for my nightmares, I’d still love you. There was nothing you could do, so, hyung, don’t blame yourself, please.” 

He threads his fingers through Seokjin’s hair soothingly as Seokjin crumples against him.

“I’m fine, hyung. I know you don’t hate me. I know you’re not disgusted by me. That’s all I needed to know.”

“You’re not. Don’t ever think that. I’m sorry, Taehyung,” Seokjin whimpers. “I’m sorry for putting you through so much.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m okay, hyung—I’m okay. Thank you. For taking care of me and trying so hard. I know you were thinking of me.”

Involuntarily, the tears stream down Taehyung’s jaw. Drip, drip, they form small blots on Seokjin’s shirt over his spine.

“It must have been difficult to deal with everything on your own, right?” Taehyung breathes. “Next time, tell me, hyung. Tell me everything. You don’t have to go through it alone—you have me. I’ll take care of you, so, rely on me. Please.”

Seokjin shudders as he gasps softly for breath.

“It’ll pass with time. We both had crushes in the past, didn’t we? They all went away eventually. It’ll take some time, but it’ll go away. So, don’t worry so much, hyung.”

“We’re fine, hyung. Things are fine,” Taehyung rasps. “In the morning, I’ll go tell everyone I’m sorry. I’ll order something nice for breakfast before we go for practice. We can all eat together at home. Let’s watch a movie—didn’t Hoseok-hyung say he wanted to watch one?”

Seokjin curls up as another soft sob wracks through his body. Taehyung holds him tight, burying him into his warmth, and prays he can be the safe space Seokjin was deprived of all these years.  

“You don’t have to worry. Everything will be okay.” Taehyung lets out a shaky breath, rubbing his cheek against Seokjin’s head. He presses Seokjin closer when he feels Seokjin’s fingers clutch onto his shirt. 

“We’ll be okay, hyung. I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

With gentle strokes, Taehyung runs his fingers through Seokjin’s tresses. He watches as Seokjin’s chest rises and falls and his hands follow the same rhythm. In, out. Seokjin’s hair slips over his knuckles, a little matted with sweat.

The night is tranquil. Taehyung’s fingers are sticky with both his and Seokjin’s tears. His shirt has dried of Seokjin’s tears too, but the fabric over his heart still feels damp.

Usually, Taehyung dislikes falling asleep after Seokjin. It always feels like he’s being abandoned, left alone to himself while Seokjin has gone away for the day. It was a strange notion that he never sorted out, because after some time, Seokjin seemed to make sure he fell asleep only after Taehyung did. 

He wonders if Seokjin knew how he felt.

Despite Seokjin’s face being shadowed with haggardness, he finally seems to be at peace after so much tumult tonight. Free of the burdens he carries with his back straightened to the best of his ability, acquitted of all the wrongdoings he pins upon himself. Taehyung hopes it’ll be the same when morning comes.

Taehyung’s wrought with fatigue, but he can’t bring himself to shut his eyes. He’s more tired than sleepy, a sensation reminiscent of when he closed himself up in the shade of his room.

With the back of his hand, Taehyung brushes away the beads of sweat down Seokjin’s jaw. Seokjin winces, swallowing hard before leaning into Taehyung’s touch.

Taehyung turns up the fan. He thinks about getting a wet towel to wipe Seokjin’s face, with how warm he is. He should get a glass of water for Seokjin too, seeing how much he cried. 

Taehyung grabs a handkerchief and scours the room for a stray mineral water bottle he may have left somewhere. There’s nothing. Taehyung returns to the bed, patting Seokjin’s face dry.

Seokjin will surely be thirsty later. He complains about waking up with his mouth dry, so he has a little bottle of water he keeps with him on some nights.

Taehyung glances at the door. There’s light seeping in from the crack underneath, present since the two of them holed themselves up in here. Taehyung's reluctant—nervous, quite some, to face what could be on the other side. But seeing as it’s 3 AM, the members should have already gone to sleep. Even the most nocturnal of them wouldn’t last this long when they had schedules in the day.

Someone probably just forgot to switch off the lights.

Taehyung curls his fingers. The least he could do, after everything that’s happened, is have a glass of water ready for Seokjin when he wakes up. He'll have to leave this room someday, anyway. He can't hide here forever.

Taehyung slips off the bed. He slinks towards the door and falters for a moment, before creaking it open.

Light rushes in through the narrow slit, so excruciatingly bright that Taehyung grimaces. The creak he makes is unbearably loud, escalating his cowardice, and he stops to listen for any movement.

The lights in the living room and the aisle are switched on, but there are no sounds. Taehyung's eyes painstakingly adjust to the flood of light, a dire contrast to the darkness brimming behind him.

All he needs is a glass of water. His eyes dart to the other members' rooms to find their doors shut. Timidly, Taehyung steps out, wincing as the light drenches his skin.

His footsteps begin slowly and carefully, akin to a child staying up past his bedtime. Then, his conviction grows, and his worry becomes that someone might see him if he's not quick enough. As soundlessly as he can, he scuttles towards the kitchen.

"Taehyung?"

The voice has Taehyung freezing as he enters the living room. He catches a figure huddled in the corner, and instantly, his skin goes cold. 

Namjoon stares at him from where he’s sitting on the floor with his laptop, eyes large.

Of all people, it had to be Namjoon. Taehyung’s heart sinks dreadfully into his guts and he instinctively steps back when Namjoon rises. The first place his gaze goes to is Namjoon’s neck, thankfully free of any telling red marks, and then straight to his own room.

Namjoon won’t forgive him for what he did. He accused him so vehemently and laid hands on him, pinning all of his resentment and hurt on the one person who never warranted it. Despite the years of knowing one another, through all their hardships which Namjoon generously bore more so than the rest, Taehyung had it in him to malign Namjoon as the cause of all his misery.

The sheer shame overwhelms Taehyung. He shouldn’t have stepped out. He's desperate to run back to his little dark sanctuary with Seokjin, where there’s just them two and he’ll never have to care about anyone else and the consequences of his actions.

Namjoon approaches him, face scrawled with surprise. Then, his expression eases, and the tenderness fills his eyes and voice.

“Are you okay?”

Somehow, there's not a shred of rancor in his voice.

Seokjin was right. Taehyung catastrophised so much about what the members would say to him after his damning outburst, sure they’d bear malice towards him and that their friendships would be irreparable. Yes, they may return to some normalcy since they have to work together, but what Taehyung did would never be forgotten. Their closeness will always have that wedge of how Taehyung readily pointed fingers at them in all his hysteria.

Namjoon has every right to castigate Taehyung. Yet, his gaze is tender.

Taehyung swallows. He nods mutely, hiding his nervous fingers behind his back.

Namjoon offers a small smile and reaches out to squeeze Taehyung’s shoulder. The bright lights emphasise his dark eye circles.

“That’s good.” He glimpses behind Taehyung. “What about Seokjin-hyung? Is everything okay between you two?”

Taehyung croaks, “He’s sleeping.”

“Right. You should go to sleep too; it’s late."

"...I came out to get something to drink for Jin-hyung."

“Oh, yeah, you guys must be thirsty. I’ll pour some warm water for both of you, so go back to your room and rest.”

Namjoon speaks like it's just another day and Taehyung had never lashed out at him, but his creased collar blatantly reminds Taehyung of what he did. The crumples remain with all of Taehyung’s ferocious, gall-filled loathing, nail marks enduring on the fabric.

It must have hurt. Namjoon’s hand slips away from Taehyung’s shoulder and he briskly disappears into the kitchen.

Taehyung remains in the living room. The way Namjoon’s warmth lingers makes him feel so terrible. All of a sudden, he’s recalling their debut year, where the exhaustion piled and so did the sense of futility nobody verbalised. With a future so uncertain, the only thing Namjoon could offer in Taehyung’s frustration was that he was thankful it was Taehyung with them—out of everyone else it could have been in the world.

Namjoon emerges from the kitchen with two mugs. He raises a brow and jokes, “What? Is Jin-hyung hogging the whole bed?”

The surfeit of emotions bubbles over Taehyung’s ribcage.

"Hyung." He struggles to speak.

“I’m sorry.” He tries not to tear up, raising his gaze from Namjoon’s crinkled collar to his eyes. “I’m really sorry, hyung.”

“Hey, hey, it’s alright.” Namjoon places down the cups. He reaches over to hold Taehyung’s shoulders assuringly.

Taehyung takes a shaky breath to curb his tears, rubbing them with his wrist.

“...Are you okay? I grabbed you hard—” His voice strains, “I grabbed you so hard.”

“I’m fine. You didn’t hurt me," Namjoon returns earnestly. 

Taehyung nods. “I’m sorry, hyung. I don’t know what came over me. I was just- everything was so much. I’m sorry for grabbing you.”

Despite Taehyung's bid to stay collected, the guilt brims up his trachea and his face contorts miserably. He shouldn’t be pathetically crying for sympathy when he's the one who did Namjoon wrong, just like he did in Seokjin’s arms some time ago—engrossed in only himself and nobody else.

Namjoon’s eyes soften. He coaxes Taehyung into a hug, placatingly rubbing Taehyung’s back.

“I’m alright. Honest,” Namjoon hums. He lets out a small sigh of relief. 

“Thanks for apologising. I was wondering if you were still upset at me, actually.”

“I’m not. It was me, hyung—you didn’t do anything wrong,” Taehyung croaks. “I’m sorry. For shouting at you, and everything I said and did to everyone.”

He folds his lips tight when the urge to cry climbs through his chest again.

“It's fine,” Namjoon hums. “You were going through a lot, weren’t you? I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry for not realising earlier.”

Taehyung muffles his snivels. He gingerly returns the embrace, sinking into a comforting warmth only a friend can give—one that promises to be there without church vows or contractual gains. 

Against the withering 3AM, they stay like that just for a while, no words said. Truly, Taehyung wonders how he roused so much surety that Namjoon was bent on hurting him. Through the euphoric, nerve-wracking fame that came at a gruelling cost, through the debilitating practices of again, again till you get it right, through their petty squabbles that always blew over—Namjoon has always made sure to be a friend before a leader.

 

 

In the after-hours stillness, Taehyung and Namjoon stand on the balcony, elbows touching while they gaze out at the opposite blocks. The breeze weaves through their hair as the stark absence of lights stares back at them. It's not an unfamiliar sight, considering their schedules occasionally end at ungodly hours. But today, the ambience seems eerily peaceful—to be in a space so open with no eyes on them.

He holds his cup of water in both hands, warming them up. Seokjin’s cup is on the bedside table; Taehyung had gone back into his room to place it and pat Seokjin’s face with a wet towel. Taehyung dislikes waking up alone, so he hopes Seokjin doesn’t awake before he returns.

"Every time I stand out here," Namjoon starts, "I always think about how far we've come. We lived in such a cramped space last time."

"Yeah. It was so hot too."

"It's much breezier here, right? We don't even have to turn on the fans in the living room." Namjoon laughs, "I hated fighting over the bathroom most."

Taehyung chuckles along. "Mm. Hobi-hyung always took the longest. I got so mad at him sometimes."

"Well, he's always been a fashionista. Jungkook would take a pretty long time too, right?"

"Yeah. He’d take an hour to style his hair."

“And he’d get so mad whenever we touched it,” Namjoon chuckles. He raises his gaze to the sky. 

“Remember when we’d sit outside the agency after practice? I’d always look up, thinking about how the stars are so far up, wondering to myself if we’d make it.”

He drums his fingers lightly over the railings. “Now, we’re so many floors higher, but they’re still as far away as ever.”

Taehyung smiles. “That’s poetic, hyung. You could write that into a song.”

“Good idea.”

They capsize into the dead of night serenity. Against the chilly wind, Taehyung feels warmth on his shoulder.

"Taehyung, I'm really sorry for making you feel so bad. I had no idea," Namjoon breathes, hand resting on Taehyung’s back. 

"I sensed you were angry at me... but I thought it was just because Jin-hyung was spending a lot of time with me. I never knew you thought I was trying to separate you two—that we felt you were strange."

"We've never felt like that," he speaks firmly. "What Yoongi-hyung said to you that day in his studio... he never meant to phrase it that way. He wasn't sure how to put things and he made a mistake; he should have chosen his words better. He wanted to apologise—I mean it. But he thought it'd be worse to bring it up again."

Taehyung nods gingerly. The expression Yoongi had when Taehyung confronted him is still etched in his mind. He looked guilty, remorseful like he truly didn't mean to cause so much pain.

"I know it sounds like I'm covering for hyung," Namjoon murmurs, "but he said it out of concern, not to be snide."

Concern. Taehyung traces the handle of his mug absentmindedly as the blue-black thumps in his chest. He wonders what perturbed Yoongi most that day—how resentful Taehyung got towards Jimin for "stealing" Seokjin's attention? Did he realise Taehyung was seeking to hurt when he shoved Jimin back—that his inappropriate feelings were burgeoning rapidly like a cancerous growth, and he was so disturbingly unaware?

Namjoon leans against the railings, eyes clouded in thought.

"You know, last year... we worried a lot about you.”

“You went from being so lively to saying just a few words to everyone. You were closing yourself off and staying in your room all the time."

"At first, I thought it was just part and parcel of growing up. But then, I noticed you were avoiding the cameras, and you seemed so anxious every time we got on stage... You'd ask us every now and then if we saw any negative news about you. I'd find you still awake at 4AM, 5AM, even after back-to-back schedules."

"You seemed so exhausted. It hurt to see you like that,” Namjoon's voice dwindles solemnly.

"Whatever we tried just didn't seem to help. We checked in on you, tried to get you to come out and spend time with us… but you always preferred to be left alone. Sometimes, it felt like we were just cornering you further."

Namjoon lets out a hefty breath, spelling every pound of worry he’d held.

"I kept thinking... what could I do for you? And I thought too about what I should have done for you, that I didn’t. I'm sure all of us thought the same. We were all just hoping you'd be okay soon."

"Then," his voice audibly lifts, "Seokjin-hyung began accompanying you to sleep."

"I wasn't for it at first, actually, because I thought what you needed was space. But day after day passed with hyung accompanying you, and I saw you were starting to talk more... you began joining us for meals instead of eating alone in your room, you'd joke around on set with us. Then, you stopped getting so anxious in front of the cameras. You were even suggesting and planning outings for the whole group again."

"You looked so much happier." Namjoon melts into a heartfelt smile. "Really, everyone could see the difference. We were so relieved, you know? You became so close with Jin-hyung and it seemed like you finally found someone you could talk heart-to-heart with. You were yourself again, after so long."

"It got to a point where you guys were pretty much inseparable, and we got so used to it," he chuckles. "It's like, if we were looking for you, we just needed to find where Seokjin-hyung is. On breaks, on our flights, everything."

A pause follows. Namjoon's smile slips a little as the wordlessness draws out. It feels as though he's reached the part of a story where it should have ended with a happy ever after, but it didn't.

“After some time… I noticed you didn't want to come with us for things if Jin-hyung wasn't joining. The occasion didn't really matter—if hyung wasn't there, you weren't going, because, well, you wanted to be with him. And if he was joining, you'd definitely be there... even when you didn't need to be.”

“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with you two being close and wanting to spend time together, alone. We're not demanding that you guys can't do things by yourselves and can only do them with the whole group,” Namjoon clarifies. 

“I'm okay with you guys doing things like asking to be seated together, going out by yourselves, things like that. Just as long as you two weren’t making the others feel excluded, and you remembered that at the end of the day, we’re a team. We’re all friends.”

He presses his lips together, hesitance washing over his voice once again.

“But... it began to feel like you only ever wanted to be around Jin-hyung, and you didn't want to be around us at all. At times… it kind of seemed like we were even getting in your way."

Namjoon's struggling to choose his words carefully, as though a wrong choice may mean brandishing knives instead of words.

"You'd interrupt us when we were speaking to Seokjin-hyung... You'd shove us if we touched or hugged him. I thought you were just joking around, but after a while, it just... didn't feel like it anymore. You were getting rough."

"It became difficult for any of us to spend time with hyung alone," Namjoon quietens. “You seemed like you didn’t want anyone else to get close to him.”

A momentary silence ensues, with a lack of further elaboration they both know doesn’t need to be filled. The details of each strange behaviour Namjoon listed prick at Taehyung's insides and makes his skin crawl with a thorny bareness. Despite the opposite blocks doused in darkness, the windows feel like sheathed eyes.

Taehyung swallows, feeling a tight knot form in his throat. So, this was how he came off to them. It's nothing surprising, considering he can easily sieve out the many memories of acting precisely as Namjoon described.

He grew irritated watching Jimin sling himself over Seokjin. He resented the way Namjoon and Seokjin smiled at each other, like there was some special understanding between them. It wasn’t just one time where he had forcefully pried Jungkook off of Seokjin.

Simply, Hoseok didn’t need to shower Seokjin with so many compliments after their dance practice; he was the one who’s always pushing Seokjin to his wits’ end, anyway. If Yoongi didn’t like fishing, then there was no reason for him to accompany Seokjin—Taehyung could.

It was a noxious jealousy that Taehyung let run rampant, egged on by the quashing of his feelings and his covering justifications. How early had his possessive behaviour began? Seokjin was akin to territory to him, his heart contorting every time the members were close to him.

In the back of his mind, was he hoping, despite the impossibility of it all, to keep Seokjin entirely for himself? With how reliant he was on Seokjin's love and care, did he want to make sure only he would receive them?

“Sorry. I don’t know how to phrase it better," Namjoon exhales, frustratedly brushing back his hair. "I'm not saying you're strange or you're weird. You're not. I know how much hyung means to you and what he did for you."

"It just wasn't healthy, you know?" His voice dwindles. The earnestness in his expression tells with certainty that he's not trying to deride Taehyung. Put together with the efforts he painstakingly made to help Taehyung out of his haunting exhaustion, Taehyung sieves out the care behind Namjoon's eyes, instead of the scorn he always interpreted.

“...You don't have to be sorry, hyung. You're right,” Taehyung confesses hoarsely. “I was keeping all of you away from Jin-hyung."

The admission comes with a frightening vulnerability. One by one, Taehyung unwraps his heinous thoughts for both him and Namjoon to understand, tearing layers off his mind to reveal him in all his rawness.

"It bothered me whenever you guys touched hyung... so much that it was hard not to think of anything else until I got you guys off him. That's why I always stood between you guys and hyung, so you guys couldn't. I didn't like you guys talking to him by yourselves... laughing, making plans with each other, talking about things I didn’t know of."

His pitch rises slightly.

"It always made me so angry whenever hyung doted on Jungkook. I didn't like how they were close and how they played around with each other... I hated him clinging onto hyung. I wanted hyung to dote on me only. I knew I hurt Jungkook sometimes when I pushed him away from hyung, but… I always thought he deserved it."

Taehyung keeps his eyes fixated on the ground, so many floors down. The shame at how disturbingly obsessive he is doesn't stop him from spilling his crooked heart out.

“And when it came to you, hyung, I... was jealous because Jin-hyung opened up to you more than the rest of us. When he's going through a hard time, it's you he goes to. Not me."

Taehyung's voice shrivels.

“I hated how you knew him better than I did… you understood what he was going through and I didn’t. You could tell when he was sad and I couldn't.”

“I didn't want you to. I wanted it to be me who understood hyung, whom he’d turn to if he needed someone.”

There's a brief moment of quietness, and then, Namjoon nods. His hand doesn't slip off Taehyung’s shoulder, much to Taehyung's perplexity.

“Hyung comforted you a lot... you wanted to be someone he could rely on too, right?” Namjoon hums. 

"And I don't think I know him better than you do. Hyung depends on you much more than me."

Taehyung doesn’t know what he was expecting from Namjoon, but empathy was not one of them. He knows every confession that bled out of his mouth was disquieting and irrational. Yet, Namjoon doesn't seem appalled by all he's said.

Taehyung wasn’t asking for Namjoon to prove him wrong—that he’s Seokjin’s stronghold. That’s not what he wants.

Taehyung's chest stirs.

"It's not just that,” he says. He curls his fingers.

“I wanted Jin-hyung all to myself. I wanted him to pay attention only to me; I didn't want him to care as much for you guys. All of his love… I wanted every bit of it."

The aghast still doesn’t emerge in Namjoon’s eyes.

“Hyung was special to you. You hoped you were the same for him,” Namjoon remarks.

Wanting to be special? Is Namjoon really chalking everything up to just that?

Maybe Taehyung's not splaying it out right. He's talking about months of resentment, gall bleeding in his lungs each time one of the members encroached upon his and Seokjin's space. Months of hysteria, full of wrathful accusations that it couldn't be Seokjin who distanced himself—it had to be them sinisterly pulling strings.

It was as Yoongi said: Seokjin was his entire world and nobody else mattered. Not the group, not the music, not his friends and family.

That doesn’t root from a want to simply be special to someone. Kim Taehyung was desperately, deeply, unsoundly in love with Kim Seokjin, and he wanted the entirety of him like a deranged man. Every centimetre, every gram, whatever he kept within his skin and bones.

Taehyung was hoping to reach into places within Seokjin that no one else would get to. He was thinking of being under stained sheets with a man who took care of him like an older brother for over half a decade. Kneeling between Seokjin's legs, having his beloved hyung mould out a space in his body for him, nestle against perspiring skin and swollen flesh.

"No. You don't get it," Taehyung returns, desperation growing in his tone. He's seeking unease and abhorrence from Namjoon, not understanding and warmth. That's the reaction he deserves for his obsessions which stemmed from feelings taken too far. That’s what he should be punished with for ruining a normal, platonic dynamic between them all.

Does Namjoon really not know? The way everyone looked at him just now—it seemed blatant that they all did. 

I̶͔̓ ̵̼̈́ḽ̵̊o̸̫̒v̷͎͝e̴̦͝ ̶͈͝S̷̿͜ē̴̳ȯ̴̤k̸̞͝j̴͐ͅḭ̶͂n̴̠̑-̵͇͑ḫ̶̋y̵̖̌ú̶̼n̶̲̔g̶̙̒.

Taehyung's heart races. It churns out an atrocious lump into his throat for him to spit out, for Namjoon to truly see him as he is.

Then, Taehyung will finally witness it. The twisted expressions and the irked looks.

"Hyung." 

Taehyung's voice is hoarse. The anxiety billows, but he can't stop himself as he meets Namjoon's gentle eyes.

"I..."

His throat clogs. He deserves censures and reprehension. From them, and from Seokjin, most of all.

"I-I love Seokjin-hyung.”

The guttural words burn in the cool air. Each stings his lips with some dread, but Taehyung can’t find it in him to claw them back.

It’s now that herealises just how exhausted he is. Of anxiously sewing up his heart so no one knows, of hiding and running—enough to simply let whatever consequences await come to him. It's ironic to be petrified of a catastrophe, only to willingly instigate it someday to put yourself out of the misery of wondering.

When will they find out? Do they already know?

Seokjin already knows and Namjoon does now, too. Taehyung can't take it back anymore.

"It's... disgusting. Right?" Taehyung croaks, writing out how the conversation should go by himself.

Funnily, his confession doesn't feel as bloody as when he confessed to Seokjin, where Taehyung thought he was revealing a tumour rather than what should rightfully be flowers. Perhaps because it's already been said to the worst person to hear them, or maybe he has a sad shred of hopefulness from the warmth Namjoon showed just now.

Quietness. The blood thumps in Taehyung’s ears dreadfully.

Namjoon bats his lashes. There's surprise scrawled over his irises.

"What? No... of course not." 

He looks bewildered. "Why would you say that?"

It takes a few seconds before his grimace melts into a sudden realisation. Immediately, the forlornness bruises in his eyes, and he turns to face Taehyung fully.

"Wait—Taehyung, no- was that what you were thinking all this while of us?" He strains.

"Is that what you meant? When you said we looked at you like you were strange—when you said I was trying to separate you from hyung, did you think we were unnerved by how you felt for him?"

Taehyung bites his lip. Namjoon's expression contorts, and he immediately reaches over. 

“No, Taehyung, it wasn’t that…”

Wrought with remorse, he pulls Taehyung close, wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

"We've never felt that way. Not once… not ever. We've never felt you were disgusting for liking hyung," he breathes, voice tinged with distress. "I had no idea that was what you were thinking all this time."

"I swear. It was never about how you felt for Jin-hyung," Namjoon urges. He goes tongue-tied, looking desperate to clear the air but struggling to phrase his thoughts carefully.

Eventually, he relents, explaining apologetically.

"It was because you were growing distant, isolating yourself and Jin-hyung from us... You weren't as keen on performing and making music anymore if Jin-hyung wasn't involved. It was interfering with your work, and you were starting to hurt the other members too."

"It seemed like Jin-hyung was becoming the only thing that mattered to you. You didn’t want us to tag along with you and Seokjin-hyung, you were only interested in spending time with him," Namjoon murmurs. 

"That... was beyond love. You were being possessive… almost obsessive, and it was going overboard. We were worried because of that. Not because you love hyung."

Taehyung swallows thickly. The blunt words sting, but the relief it concurrently brings is so immense. Taehyung tries to steady his voice but it still comes out shaky.

"...So, you don't think it's strange I love hyung that way?"

"No. Not at all,” Namjoon immediately returns. “There’s no reason for me to—no reason for anyone to.”

"But it's not normal."

"It is normal. There's nothing wrong with how you feel. We'd never think you're disgusting for how you feel towards Seokjin-hyung," Namjoon states firmly.

His voice diminishes with guilt. 

"I'm sorry. For making you think all that. You're not strange—believe me, Taehyung. There's nothing bad about having feelings for hyung. It's normal. It's okay."

Taehyung tears up. Suddenly, every bit of blood-stained wariness he had for the members, every venom-filled conjecture he had of them as antagonists, seems to crumble down into nothing. Those looks they sent his way, the way they bit their tongues around him—just hours ago, Taehyung was so sure they rooted from distaste, that he felt the need to be on the qui vive in his own home. 

Below the bitter hostility he showed, he quietly nursed his hurt at being scorned by what he thought was lifelong friends. Oh, how unfortunately he was building weapons to hurt, in hopes of warding off any more harm. He returned their looks with glares and spiteful gestures, their unsaid words with scathing accusations.

"Even though hyung's a guy?" Taehyung quivers. “You really don’t think it’s weird?”

"Yes," Namjoon stresses. "It's okay to feel the way you do for hyung—you're not disgusting for it, and you'll never be. Believe me."

To hear it so plainly from Namjoon that they'd never seen him as he thought—repugnant and berserk—is so painfully relieving. Taehyung wonders if his head had been so warped by his anxieties, he simply couldn't interpret their gazes as anything else but contempt.

The articles the journalists will pen about him, headlines and blurbs written like it’s a gruesome discovery. The way they’ll all turn their backs on him—the fans, the public, the members—like he’s less than human. He was strangled by his conjectures that everything seemed to make sense as they were.

"...I felt like a freak, hyung," Taehyung shudders, dipping his head. “I felt so twisted… so disgusting… like a burden…”

"It felt like all of you knew sometimes and hated me for it, and you guys were so put off and couldn't understand why I'd think that way about hyung—that I was causing problems for the group by liking hyung that way.”

“Every time I’d catch you guys giving me looks, yet not say anything, and I was always wondering what it was you guys wanted to tell me,” Taehyung rasps. “That I’m being strange? Disturbing? Was it to stop and act like a normal person—that it was sickening?”

"We’d never think that about you. Not once did we ever hate you, nor did we ever find you sickening," Namjoon insists staunchly. The conviction dissipates into a remorseful tenderness.

"I’m sorry we made you feel like that, Taehyung… It's normal to love, and for you, it was Jin-hyung. There's nothing strange about that—nothing to feel like a freak for, or that you're creating problems."

"...That's not what people out there will think if they find out," Taehyung croaks. "Of me... of us."

Namjoon's eyes shade and this time, he doesn’t answer immediately. He knows well what consequences Taehyung's referring to. How can they not? The paparazzi latches onto the littlest details, hoping to dig open a trove of dirt on them. The other side of the world paints them as just men in make-up and flashy clothes (men?); all their artistry is dismissed simply because they wear lipstick and don’t sing in English.

They’re sure to dig their teeth into such a juicy vice of his, a powerful ammunition for their detractors.

Despite this, Namjoon asserts, "If they think poorly of you... they're wrong for it.”

“I can’t say what other people will think… but no matter what they do, we won't think that way about you. I promise,” he re-affirms.

It's surprising to hear this from a leader who should prioritise the group over all else. But really, it's not. Taehyung should know, after so many years through thick and thin, what Namjoon would think. He wouldn’t have condemned Taehyung for this. 

Namjoon leans back, gazing softly. “You've done nothing wrong. Remember that. Don't feel bad for how you feel.”

Taehyung brushes his tears with his sleeves, taking some time to collect himself. Every of Namjoon's assurances hold a startling tangibility. They're sincere, heartfelt, and Taehyung tries not to doubt them.

"...I'm sorry, hyung." He stifles the rise in his lungs at how unfamiliar the tenderness feels. “For everything.”

"Don't say you're sorry," Namjoon reminds. "I said you didn't do anything bad, and I mean it."

“Taehyung, if there's ever anything on your mind, anything that's troubling you... tell us. We're friends—we'll always be behind you. Trust us not to turn our backs on you."

Taehyung stiffly nods. He remembers that night where Jimin had similarly said to rely on them instead of just Seokjin. He’d felt the statement was incredulous to him then, so absorbed in the notion that everyone wanted to sabotage his and Seokjin’s relationship. 

"I was scared. I didn't know what you guys would think of me,” Taehyung rasps.

“I know. It’s scary to tell this to anyone, no matter how close you are to them,” Namjoon consoles. 

He squeezes Taehyung’s shoulder. The blue is stark in his words. “It must have been hard on you. To deal with this all by yourself.”

“...It was, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, shrouding his face behind one hand. It was excruciatingly difficult because he counted on Seokjin to always be there to solve whatever rendered him helpless. But there simply was no way to present such unnaturalness for Seokjin to tend to when it involved Seokjin himself. 

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have thought that way about you guys,” Taehyung whispers. “It just… it made sense to me then. Seokjin-hyung was suddenly so cold to me. He and you had a private talk before that—and I found you guys staring whenever I was close to hyung. And after what Yoongi-hyung said… It just seemed like that.”

Namjoon speaks grimly. “With how we were acting, it’d be hard for anyone not to think that way.”

"Taehyung, to be truthful with you, I... sort of guessed you may have feelings for hyung," he admits softly. "But that wasn't the reason I was troubled. Yes, I won’t lie—I was a bit worried, since with how affectionate you two were in public, they might gossip about you. So, I thought a few times about telling you to be more careful.”

“But it was how possessive you were getting over hyung that made me, all of us concerned."

Namjoon rests his arms back on the railings, gazing out at the dark cityscape beyond them.

"I should have spoken to you about it right from the start. I wanted to, several times... but I wasn't sure if I should. It hadn't been long since you stopped closing yourself off, you know? You still got anxious from time to time... It seemed like it was hard for you to sleep unless Jin-hyung was by your side."

"I didn't know if this… possessiveness was just part of your process of healing. I was afraid you'd take it as that we thought something was wrong with you... if I'd ruin things between you and Seokjin-hyung. You two would grow uncomfortable, awkward with each other, and you'd shut him out—shut all of us out."

“That’s why I was always looking at you two, wondering if I should say something… but never doing so. I’m sorry. I should have been more decisive,” Namjoon exhales lengthily, wisp of regret evident in his tone.

"When Yoongi-hyung confronted you… I guess it was because I wasn't saying anything that he took it upon himself to do so that day. When he said you were acting oddly, I think... he felt bad to say it outright to you that, well, you were being too possessive. You were hurting the other members... and it was getting out of hand."

Taehyung winces. He recalls vividly when Yoongi had spouted those words to him, and how the label gradually grinded into his bones as he took in all of the members' bewildered looks. He wonders how he would have reacted if Yoongi had plainly stated the issue—that Taehyung was being obsessive and denying the members any close proximity with Seokjin, and he was going way overboard and hurting the rest for it.

Would Taehyung have accepted it simply and heeded his words? He highly doubts so. Yoongi's words might have instead unearthed a horribly uncomfortable shred of understanding, familiar in the past months whenever he realised he was crossing a line—only for him to trample it down as usual.

He'd therefore probably have vehemently denied it, with a much deeper ferocity, at such disquiet and at his and Seokjin's closeness being threatened. At that point in time, Taehyung had acted however he pleased, leaving his subconsciousness to thrash with a swollen love he couldn't comprehend. 

Namjoon speaks lowly. "It was when you fought with Jin-hyung about Jungkook that I realised I really needed to step in. Yoongi-hyung and I wanted to talk with you that night, actually, but since you were already asleep, we spoke with Jin-hyung."

...That was the conversation that Seokjin passed off as nothing. Taehyung feels his insides turn with bitter embarrassment. He knows they probably spoke about him with care, but he can't help feeling like a sickly defect being discussed on an operating table—with alarming symptoms of prying hands, jealous eyes and territorial warnings. How shameful to be shown as such a broken thing, especially in front of someone he wants so much love from.

"I know, we should have just spoken to you directly," Namjoon heaves, seemingly reading his mind. "Hyung didn't want us to go to you, and at that time, it did seem like it'd be better if Jin-hyung handled things instead of us."

Taehyung bats his lashes. He has an inkling of the reason for it, but he still asks. "Why didn't hyung want you to speak to me?"

"He was worried it'd affect you. We all were."

Taehyung lowers his gaze. And so, the burden of his actions was left to Seokjin to deal with, all because Taehyung allegedly couldn't handle being implied as a problem. He's upset they all assumed so, even though he has little conviction it wouldn't have bruised him. It was his behaviour that was the problem—not Seokjin's.

"You wanted to know what Seokjin-hyung and I spoke about that night." Namjoon clasps the railings absentmindedly. 

"It was honestly hyung that called me out that night. He seemed like he had something serious to say and he wanted to do it in private, so that was why I told you we wanted to eat out alone."

"All he told me was that he wanted to do more songwriting, and he wanted my help. He thought it'd be good too for him to be busy so you'd have to spend time away from him, with the other members, other people instead."

"I didn't think much of it, until I realised that he was giving you the cold shoulder. I presumed you guys fought at first… but there just was no way hyung would be angry with you for so long. He was cooping himself up in the studio, just writing and composing… he barely ate or even talked to me, or the other producers.”

Namjoon’s voice lowers. “I figured he must be doing this because of what we said—that we needed to do something about your possessiveness.”

"I tried to talk him out of it, telling him this wasn't the way to solve the issue. The others did too. But he just kept insisting nothing was going on and avoiding us. Some of us were mad at him for it... But I felt like he blamed himself for why you were acting this way, and he didn't know what to do, so he was resorting to this.”

Namjoon locks eyes with Taehyung earnestly. 

"Seokjin-hyung doesn't hate you or think badly of you. He did something drastic, and he hurt you a lot; I’m not trying to minimise that. He shouldn’t have.”

“But he loves you a lot. He's doing what he thinks is best for you—he just… didn’t get it right,” Namjoon heaves.

His shoulders fall, a wistful look permeating his irises.

“I’m not saying this to excuse Jin-hyung,” Namjoon softly remarks. “I just don’t want you to think you were avoided because he disliked you. It was never because he was disgusted by you or how you felt towards him, I’m sure of it.”

Taehyung doesn’t reply. He gazes out at the blocks engulfed in nightfall, shadows falling into the crevices that miss the lamppost lights. There’s not a single passer-by, 4AM bleeding over the empty streets—spelling an aloneness similar to the end of the world.

Some months ago, at midnight too, Seokjin drove with him down to the convenience store two blocks away for star stickers. That raw exhilaration was the first happiness Taehyung had felt in such a long time. Prior to that, he had wondered if he simply forgot how to be happy. 

In a world so vast with his face plastered on magazines, newspapers, online, everywhere—it was a very real possibility that there would always be someone talking about him, and he would never know what they were saying. Perhaps they were compliments that he didn’t deserve: how perfect he always looks even under such garish lights (it’s make-up); how he would never struggle with a high note; how warm and kind he was to all, indiscriminately. 

Maybe they were taunts, vile, absolutely depraved, wishing him and his family misfortune and death when he’d never even met those people. Never even spoke a word to them, never even locked eyes with them. All because he didn’t rub them right when he said this or that. All because he looked cocky, seemed like he’d be an awful person.

As the unjustified malice piled, Taehyung feared that the love would someday metamorphosise into the same. He was but a prettily packaged box of lies, airbrushed and edited into a flawless figure he never said he was. He had a bit of a temper sometimes, stressed out by a hectic schedule. He said the wrong things occasionally, simply because he didn’t know everything. His voice cracked now and then, no matter how hard he practised.

But nobody seemed to understand that. That meant all of his shortcomings were bound to be exposed one day. He was safe for now, but someday, everyone would find out what a horrific wreck of a person he was. The love he was receiving was a ticking time bomb, and all he could do was wait for it to blow up.

So, Taehyung sought refuge in the darkness. It was a boundless expanse that he hid himself in, hoping, just for a few minutes, to be non-existent. He wanted to be untraceable, to be forgotten, so no one could inspect and realise his flaws. After some time, it seemed like this was the only place he belonged—disappearing into the nothingness.

That night, he and Seokjin set off to find stars and put them up in his ceaseless space of nothingness. They decorated it with moons and planets that glowed gently, unlike the blinding camera flashes and dressing room lights. In that dimness, Taehyung could now differentiate himself a little from the nothingness. It was uncomfortable, but there came a perk—he could see Seokjin a little better as well.

See those twinkling eyes that were always so full of love. See how they never changed as Taehyung shredded out each bleeding piece of his anxious mind for Seokjin to tend to—how Seokjin’s eyes glowed so forgivingly as Taehyung wept and fussed like a child.

Seokjin brought down the sky and made the stars so in reach—just a leap away for Taehyung to touch. He made Taehyung’s world smaller, more comprehensible, less formidable. Taehyung didn’t have to worry about what other people thought if the world he lived in was confined to the four walls of his room. He didn’t need to be anxious over what he needed to be but could never achieve, no matter how hard he leapt.

Taehyung knew everything there was in this tiny world, so there was no need to ruminate and catastrophise about what ifs. In here, there lived only one other person, and he loved Taehyung regardless of how detestable he was.

Oh, how happy Taehyung was. He wanted Seokjin to take as much solace as he did in this little cosmos of theirs; he was going to give back every speck of love he received and more—keep Seokjin safe here forever.

A cold draft flutters over them. Despite washing his hands just now, Taehyung’s palms still seem sticky. The shirt fabric over his heart feels so drenched even though it’s been hours, and Seokjin’s tears have long gone. 

Taehyung swallows.

"Hyung, you shouldn't have gone to Jin-hyung.” 

His words to Namjoon are prickly. 

"He has nothing to do with how I act. He's not responsible for what I do."

"I know. I’m sorry. To both you and Seokjin-hyung," Namjoon whispers. 

"I didn’t mean to make him feel like this was his fault… that there was even anyone to blame, in the first place. I should have just spoken to you. I’m sorry for that.”

Taehyung gulps again. The despondency at how terribly everything turned out is strangling him. It was his fault; he knows. He was the one who began obsessing madly over Seokjin and pushing everyone away. It’s not anyone’s duty to tell him not to cross the line, but Taehyung was simply out of his mind, painfully ignorant of what he was turning into. 

He craved every inch of Seokjin and would do anything to have him. Seokjin was a lovely little moon who sat by his side in the darkness, providing him with just that little bit of light he needed so he wouldn’t succumb to the nothingness.

“...It’s not you, hyung.”

Taehyung clenches his jaw, suppressing yet another pathetic sob. What has he done besides weep and cling onto Seokjin? Always burdening him and everyone else with his fragility and struggles—it’s a given that Seokjin could never have thought for his own well-being with how pitifully Taehyung acted.

“It’s me. It was always me.” 

Taehyung presses his wrists to his eyes, shrouding his shameful tears before they can fall. 

“I should have realised it myself; I shouldn’t need you guys to tell me that I couldn’t be doing all that—pushing you guys away, stopping all of you from going near hyung. I did whatever I wanted without thinking… and I never felt I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

“I just-” 

Taehyung chokes up. 

“I just love Seokjin-hyung so much. I love him so, so much, and it’s driving me mad, hyung. I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m sorry.”

He sobs silently, face twisted in utter misery, his palms gathering tears again. Drip, drip, they fall onto the cement a dozen floors down, leaving such light marks of Taehyung’s sorrow. His heart bruises and he can’t stop feeling Seokjin’s tears down his ribcage.

Namjoon slips his arm around Taehyung’s shoulders and pulls him close. 

“Hey, don’t cry. It’s alright. You didn’t do anything wrong—I said so just now, didn’t I?” He comforts softly.

“It was difficult for you… This was new to you, and it would have been frightening for anyone. You were figuring things out. What matters now is that you’ve realised it. We can work through it together.”

Taehyung smothers a sob. 

“Hyung, just now…” 

His hands quiver. “Just now, I told Seokjin-hyung that I loved him—and he cried. He cried so much, and he wouldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. It- it hurt so badly to see him like that.”

Taehyung strains dolefully, “I made him that way. I made him so sad, by liking him like this. I never thought about how hard it was on hyung. He kept blaming himself, saying it was his fault that I liked him, that he should have distanced himself earlier, that he shouldn’t have kept sleeping with me.”

“But it’s not his fault. It’s mine; it’s me that loves him. Hyung didn’t do anything wrong—he only took care of me. But hyung doesn’t understand that. He just kept saying he’s to blame for everything.”

Taehyung furiously wipes his tears, unable to forget how Seokjin withered in his arms. How much guilt had that gaunt frame endured, from the moment he realised Taehyung was insanely in love with him? Taehyung, such a fragile mind, was putting himself and his reputation on the line for him. He no longer feared the camera flashes or the rattling lips if it was for Seokjin.

Seokjin was so, so sorry, as though he had tempted Taehyung and shot a cavity through his heart—in the shape of himself.

“It’s not your fault either,” Namjoon whispers, holding Taehyung tight. “Taehyung, you love hyung. It’s simply that. There’s no need for anyone to be sorry for it.”

“But I’m burdening Jin-hyung so much. I don’t know what to do, hyung,” Taehyung shudders. “I don’t want to make things hard for him anymore. I just- I just don’t want him to hurt so much.”

Namjoon squeezes the nape of Taehyung’s neck, giving some consolation.

“You’re not a burden. It’s in Jin-hyung’s nature to worry… to feel responsible for us and the group as a whole. Especially since he’s the oldest, he takes it upon himself to make sure we’re all alright, and we’ll do well.”

He tastes the words on his tongue, before gingerly murmuring, “If I’m being frank… it won’t be easy if how you feel gets out. People can be awfully close-minded, and even more vile.”

Taehyung shrivels. He knows—and when he goes down, he’ll bring such terrible collateral damage.

“Hyung probably has that in mind, you know?” Namjoon says. “That things would be difficult for you, and he doesn’t want it to be that way. And with how the possessiveness was affecting your work and your relationships… he probably felt like it was his fault.”

“But it’s not. Nor is it your fault. You love hyung, that’s all.” He reaches up, brushing Taehyung’s hair gently.

Unsurprisingly, Namjoon proves once again that he understands Seokjin best.

Taehyung croaks, “Hyung said he didn’t want me to have to give up so much… he was scared of how horrible people would be to me if they found out. He was sorry for hurting me.”

“That is what Jin-hyung would feel. Especially when it comes to you,” Namjoon sighs, expression somber. “It’s good that he apologised. I was worried about how things would go between you two.”

“Were you waiting up for us?”

Namjoon nods. “I was surprised to see you, honestly. I expected Seokjin-hyung to come out first.”

He thumbs Taehyung’s shoulder tenderly. “Did you guys manage to talk things out well?”

“Sort of,” Taehyung whispers. “I told Seokjin-hyung that I’ll stop liking him after some time… that my feelings will go away with time. So, he doesn’t have to worry so much.”

He curls his fingers. 

“Even though I said that, and I know how hard it’ll be for us, for hyung, and for the group...”

Taehyung’s hands are so stained with Seokjin’s tears, but it’s not enough of a scathing reminder to his greedy heart. Against the stickiness that still lingers, Taehyung thinks about the feeling of holding Seokjin’s crooked fingers tight. Of kissing his swollen lips softly, of laughing with and loving him so endlessly.

His voice shrivels. He can barely hear himself, telling of how reprehensible his words are.

“I’m still hoping… that maybe Seokjin-hyung could love me back. That we could be together someday.”

How incredibly shameful Taehyung is. Even after Seokjin bent and broke in his grasp and he couldn’t put him back together, Taehyung’s still clinging onto the littlest hope that there could be a future for them.

“I’m selfish, aren’t I, hyung?” Taehyung rasps.

Another chilly breeze trails over their skin as the bruise-like sunrise of 5 AM approaches. The silence from the world endures, judgemental despite the lack of words. Taehyung opens his palm and stares.

“You’re not,” Namjoon hums. “That’s what everyone wants when they’re in love, isn’t it?”

Taehyung says nothing. He closes his palm and gazes out as the hint of morning red begins to blend into the dark blue of the night.

In a few hours or so, the people will start filling the streets. They’ll mumble about breakfast and the weather, caught up in piecemeal conversations about trivially interesting things from other people’s lives. The neighbour’s daughter moved back home after six years (isn’t she married? ). This idol said this ( really? ), that celebrity said that ( unbelievable). 

Talk, talk, talk. It’s nerve-wracking. 

“What should I do now, hyung?” Taehyung whispers. “I don’t want to burden Jin-hyung and the group any more. And I feel so guilty for accusing all of you. I don’t know how to face everyone after everything I said.”

“I’m afraid things won’t ever be the same again between us… That everyone will remember this and hate me for it.” 

He lowers his head. “I’m sorry for pushing you guys away, for everything I did.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Namjoon soothes. “Don’t worry about the members holding it against you. We’ve faced much more as a group together, haven’t we?”

Namjoon offers a small smile.

“It already took us so much just to debut. With all our fights, all the disbandment talks, changing members… we’re close enough, don’t you think?”

Taehyung fiddles with his hands hesitantly. Namjoon pats Taehyung’s back to reassure him.

“Trust me. They won’t be angry with you. Confused, maybe, but they’ll want to make up with you as much as you do.”

“How about we take things step by step first?” Namjoon suggests thoughtfully. “I know it might be hard… but I was thinking that all of us need to have a talk with each other. As a group. That way, we can be honest with each other, and there won’t be any more misunderstandings.”

“I’m not asking you to tell everyone how you feel about Seokjin-hyung,” Namjoon quickly clarifies. “It’d just be good if the others can explain themselves to you… and you have a chance to tell everyone what you want to.”

“I’ll be behind you. All the way,” Namjoon makes clear. 

Taehyung folds his lips. Despite his instinctive apprehension, he knows there’s no avoiding it. With everything that’s happened last night, they’ll need to bridge the rift between them with a proper talk—one that’s not laden with distortions and misinterpretations. 

And he has some faith, despite his persistent misgivings, that they won’t loathe him for what he’s done. He’s ashamed of how he lashed out, so clouded by furor that he laid hands on one of them. But if Namjoon can smile so warmly at him after the furious ire Taehyung directed at him… then it’s not so strange to think the rest can, too.

“Tomorrow?”

“Is that okay? Or is it too soon?” Namjoon asks mildly.

After a moment of mulling, Taehyung relents. He murmurs stiffly, “...I was planning to go out and buy breakfast for you guys. As an apology.”

Namjoon laughs, eyes turning into amiable crescents. “You really know how to win the members over.”

The sight puts Taehyung at ease, helping him to muster up some courage. “That’s all we ever think about, anyway,” he jokes along.

“Yeah. That’s the only force powerful enough to divide us… and unite us,” Namjoon quips. 

“Let’s go together,” he offers, the passing wind ruffling up his hair. He glances back at the living room clock to find it’s only 5 AM. 

“It’s too early now, though. Why not you go to sleep first? We can go later so the food will still be warm when everyone wakes up.”

Taehyung nods. “At seven?”

“Mm, that’s good. We’ll be just in time,” Namjoon yawns. “Are we thinking the same? About what we should buy?”

“Yoojung?” Taehyung guesses with a small smile. It’s the restaurant they frequented before they debuted, a homely enough place that brought some relief from the homesickness and pressure. It’s been many, many years.

Namjoon grins, slinging an arm over Taehyung’s shoulders. His warmth never wanes, despite the exhaustion evidently catching up with him and his dark eye circles.

In the quietude, Taehyung finds some semblance of peace, that which has eluded him for so long. He takes in a deep breath of the nightfall as some lights begin flickering on in the opposite blocks. He recedes intuitively, back into the thicker shadows.

Things seem a little more in his grasp now, even with the brewing uncertainty of how they will turn out. He knows at least that Namjoon will be there for him tomorrow.

Taehyung reaches over to clasp Namjoon’s hand on him. 

“Thank you, hyung.” He presses, touching wrinkles and bones, feeling a comforting heat instead of the distorted acrimony. It’s the same as when he spiralled into a pitless exhaustion, and there was always this hand on his shoulder, asking if he was okay.

He’s grateful to Namjoon, to the extent that no words can convey it. The thought of morning and the glaring sunlight still brings nervousness, but he knows it won’t be as heinous as he imagined.

“Really. Thank you,” Taehyung whispers.

Namjoon smiles.

He walks with Taehyung to his room. They crack open the door to find Seokjin still fast asleep, the slit of light exposing his swollen eyes. Namjoon bids him goodnight with a loose hug and Taehyung shuts the door behind him, letting the darkness engulf him once more.

He crawls onto the bed back to Seokjin and leans down to check his breathing. It’s still there, in, out, breaths weak but steady. Taehyung brushes Seokjin’s cheeks, wiped free of any tear marks, and pulls the blanket over his feet.

Things will be okay, Taehyung promises to Seokjin who can’t hear him. Tomorrow, he’ll apologise to the other members, and they’ll eat together like they always have—enjoying a filling breakfast that reminds them a little of home and their younger selves. 

He’ll figure out what to do next afterwards. Seokjin won’t have to worry.

For a long while, Taehyung threads through clumped tresses as the eerie sunrise begins staining the curtains. He gazes, gazes, wondering which of Seokjin’s fossas he should shroud himself in. Against his back, on his chest, in his arms. 

Eventually, Taehyung nudges Seokjin into his chest and falls asleep.

 


PLEASE READ: Hi everyone, I hope you're doing well! Some of you may have noticed that the rating has been bumped up to Mature since quite a few chapters back. I'm very, very sorry for bumping it up in the middle of the story. After reflecting a lot, I decided that there is a possibility to include a mature scene in the future, so, I bumped it up.

Since the warning was lower at the beginning of the story, it won't be fair to readers who expected the content to not be Mature. Hence, if there is a mature scene, it won't be vital at all to the story flow and it'll have very explicit warnings. I plan to make it a separate chapter of its own, with a clear warning and a shortcut link to skip to the next chapter at the top.

Really sorry once again for the change in the rating. :( I hope this will be okay for all of you. If you'd like to discuss or give suggestions on how the mature scene should be presented, you can leave a comment or DM me on Twitter at @hotmilktae.

Chapter Text

 

 

granite burns

Taehyung/Seokjin

 

 

To the glaring morning, Taehyung flutters open his eyes to a soft voice by his side. There’s warmth on his shoulder, and he groggily focuses to see Namjoon hovering over him.

"It’s time to go," Namjoon yawns. He shuffles out as Taehyung sits up, body laden with fatigue.

Sunlight has submerged the room, demanding to see each crevice of his skin. Taehyung blocks it out with one hand as he sobers up from his slumber, fighting the heaviness in his bones.

His first thought goes to Seokjin. Taehyung turns over to see him curled up, posture meagre, still facing him. Their hands are tangled—probably Taehyung’s doing while they were asleep.

He feels Seokjin’s fingers for a long moment before slipping away to draw the curtains. The light still seeps in and leaves a muted glow that reminds Taehyung of afternoon naps. He brushes Seokjin’s hair back, relieved to see that he’s no longer sweating.

Taehyung steps out into a dusty silence. He stays still by the door, listening for a while to nothing, before sauntering to the bathroom.

The mirror details just how awfully drained he is, face ashen and eyes grey. He washes up, feeling the nervousness climb at the thought of what awaits.

He stares at himself, finding his reflection odd after a while—much like having read a word too many times. Despite the burgeoning hesitance, the water droplets (not tears) down his fingers urge him out.

Taehyung pens Seokjin a small note, promising to be back quickly. He wears the cap Namjoon hands him and they leave for the restaurant.

The taxi ride is short, Namjoon dozing off promptly. Taehyung spends most of it gazing out of the window while picking at his cuticles absentmindedly. The blaring seven o’clock radio makes it hard to go over his thoughts, or perhaps he’s reluctant to.

Accident on lane 3, banter between the radio hosts, a morning playlist—with a few of their songs. Taehyung thinks he might have pushed Jungkook rather roughly during last night’s frenzy. He’s not sure how to word his apology—not sure how he’d explain himself and the past few months of seeing just one person in his head. The shoves, the upset looks and bitter remarks—he hopes they could see him the same, with love.

He doesn’t find the answers before they reach. The restaurant’s empty, having just opened on a weekday. The two of them discuss what to get, picking out dishes the members like. 

Namjoon makes the order and chats shortly with the staff. Shrouding himself in the corner, Taehyung examines the vast change in decor, years’ worth of their faces all over the walls in celebration of their journey.

Even the places from their past evolve with them. He remembers the first posters of him they put up from their debut album and how thrilled he was at the recognition. Then, the photos began proliferating, and the place grew more and more unrecognisable—a little like it was overcome by an infection. At one point, Taehyung felt like he could never genuinely return to this place, despite how it was still here.

They gather the bags of food, Namjoon taking a moment to look around as well before they leave.

"I don’t even remember some of these," he remarks lightly, pointing at a few photos.

Taehyung chuckles. "I don’t either, hyung."

They return to a home as quiet as they left it. Leaving the bags on the dining table, Taehyung briskly goes to check on Seokjin. 

He’s asleep, but Taehyung notices the cup of water has been drunk. Momentarily, his heart sinks at the thought that Seokjin woke up alone, till Seokjin moves.

Like a small thing that’s been crumpled away to make room, he unfurls himself and flutters his eyes open, finding Taehyung in his grogginess.

"Taehyung…?"

Taehyung’s heart misses a beat. The fervid urge to hold Seokjin immediately floods him, leaving him gurgling with neediness. Yet, the sight of Seokjin so slight has him pausing.

It’s a sudden, unfamiliar thought: he might overwhelm Seokjin. Always so full of unbridled yearning, heavy with hopelessness and blue—he wonders if he ever has.

Taehyung keeps his hands behind him. Gently, he speaks. "You’re awake, hyung?"

"...You went out to buy breakfast?" Seokjin breathes tiredly.

"Mm." Taehyung’s voice drops further, matching Seokjin’s softness. "I told you I would, last night. I bought breakfast from Yoojung for all of us."

Taehyung’s fingers curl, mapping his own wrinkles for a semblance of how Seokjin’s would feel.

"Are the rest awake?" Seokjin asks.

"I don’t think so. It’s just me and Namjoon-hyung. We went together to get breakfast."

"...Namjoon went with you?"

"Yeah." Taehyung leans closer. "Namjoon-hyung and I are okay, hyung. I told him I was sorry."

The anxiousness festers in Taehyung’s chest. There’s the ever-present need to burrow himself within Seokjin for some safety—of what will happen when everyone else wakes up—but he remains where he is.

"And… I’ll say sorry to everyone when we have breakfast, hyung."

Seokjin gazes up at Taehyung. His eyes are marred with exhaustion. 

"...It’s okay. What are you sorry for?" He whispers. "Hyung will talk to everyone. Don’t worry."

Flutter, flutter, slow blinks. Seokjin’s voice has a tender rasp to it, like someone wore him away and left him bare.

"Are you okay?" Seokjin hums. "You barely slept last night. I’m sorry for keeping you up."

Taehyung’s heart constricts. He swallows, loathing how quick his eyes are to water. Seokjin’s always the same.

"I’m okay. Hyung," his voice rises, "what about you?"

Seokjin takes a second to reply. 

"I’m fine. What else would I be?"

As though leniently offering himself just a short rest, Seokjin shuts his eyes for a while, before prying them open. He stiffly props himself up.

How nice would it be if Seokjin’s thoughts would scribble all over his skin, so Taehyung could read each and every truth that so often eludes Seokjin’s lips. Rosiness in his cheeks whenever he’s happy, blue on his fingertips whenever he’s sad. If he were made to be as obvious as the seasons, things would be so much easier.

But he’s not. So, all Taehyung can do at this moment is interpret him the best he can.

"Don’t you want to sleep more, hyung? You look tired."

"I’m okay. I should talk to the rest before we go for practice today. And if I’m tired, aren’t you?" Seokjin chuckles. Seeming a bit more awake, his eyes start to avert from Taehyung. 

He has a little clump of hair standing out from the rest. Taehyung’s fingers twist behind his back, seeking to touch.

"I thought we were talking about you."

"But you slept less than me. You went out so early, too."

Seokjin rubs his face, letting a winded breath slip. He remarks, "Was the food a lot to carry? You should have woken me up."

"...We were talking about you, hyung," Taehyung repeats.

Seokjin glances at him. Twist, turn, Taehyung’s fingers start pulling at his own shirt. 

"...I’m not. Really." Seokjin looks away. "Thank you for worrying."

Bruised blue that will paint onto his nails and clothes when his heart is dull, wisps of grey that’ll follow him like rain clouds whenever he’s upset. Seokjin once said he liked someone who wants to understand much more than someone who does with ease, but he never said he’d like someone who was both.

"Hyung," Taehyung croaks. He can taste how heavy his voice is. 

"What do I need to do, for you to open up to me?"

Seokjin’s brows crinkle. He parts his lips, probably about to feign ignorance or dismiss him entirely. Yet another iteration for them to fall back into the same patterns so ingrained into their blood and bones.

But Seokjin seems to halt abruptly, eyes doe. It’s quiet for a moment.

"Last night," he starts faintly. "I… was just really tired, Taehyung. I’m sorry you had to stay up with me."

Taehyung gazes at him. "You were tired," he picks out among everything Seokjin said. 

"Then… are you tired now, hyung?"

Seokjin bats his lashes. They stare at one another earnestly.

"...A little."

He speaks more like he did last night—without that perpetual lilt in his voice that defines him as carefree.

"Okay. Go back to sleep, then. I’ll wake you up later," Taehyung whispers. He comes just a bit closer.

"You don’t have to worry, hyung. I’ll apologise to everyone. Namjoon-hyung said he’ll help me."

"He did?"

"Yeah. You said things will be okay, didn’t you, hyung?"

Seokjin gingerly nods. The shaded sunlight caresses his swan neck fingers delicately. Taehyung’s fingernails curl tight into his own shirt.

"Then, don’t worry. Sleep, hyung," he coaxes. "I’ll save a lot of food for you. Especially the meat."

Seokjin doesn’t reply immediately. His hands find one another, fidgeting.

"You don’t need me?"

"I don’t. You’re the one who told me it’s nothing big," Taehyung reminds mildly.

"...Okay," Seokjin murmurs. He gradually slips back under the covers, fatigue accentuating in his expression. His eyelids droop but flit open again, reminding Taehyung of nights where he was too lonely and asked for Seokjin to stay awake with him.

Taehyung’s feverish with so much longing to touch Seokjin. Just a little, just a bit, just once will do. But Seokjin’s well tucked into bed, no excuses for Taehyung to tug up his blanket and brush hands accidentally.

Seokjin wouldn’t mind, right? Taehyung won’t take the whole of him like he’s always delirious to do. He’ll be careful not to startle him like last night.

Taehyung lets go of his scrunched shirt. Pathetically, he reaches over to clasp a meagre centimetre of Seokjin’s sleeve.

"Sleep well, hyung," he utters throatily.

Seokjin glimpses at the two fingers clipping his shirt. He touches Taehyung’s hand, but doesn’t nudge it off.

"Mm. I will," he whispers.

Namjoon’s waiting quietly at the dining table. Together, they ransack the kitchen for some bowls and plates.

"It’s been a while since we used these," Namjoon remarks, scrunching up his nose at the flittering dust.

"Because we get takeaway so often," Taehyung replies. "I’ll wash them, hyung. Go and rest."

He nudges Namjoon aside to rinse the dishes. "Hyung. Thank you for coming with me."

"It’s nothing." Namjoon reaches over to squeeze Taehyung’s shoulder. "It was fun. Going out with you to get breakfast."

"You were asleep the whole ride there."

"I was awake on the way back." Namjoon squints.

Taehyung chuckles. "You aren’t tired, hyung?"

"Nope. I am hungry, though. Really hungry."

Namjoon goes to pilfer some food before the rest wake up. It’s a while later that someone else emerges, the voice making Taehyung stiffen.

"What’s all this? You bought it, Namjoon?" Yoongi yawns.

"Oh, hyung. Did you sleep well?" Namjoon says between munches. "It’s not me. Taehyung bought breakfast for everyone."

There’s a short pause before Yoongi replies. 

"Oh. Where is he?" 

"In the kitchen. Come have some, hyung."

"It’s fine. I’ll eat later."

The conversation dwindles, upping Taehyung’s unease. For a moment, he considers shrouding himself somewhere so he won’t have to face Yoongi, but Yoongi promptly enters the kitchen.

They lock eyes, the atmosphere immediately suffusing with a tangible stiffness. Yoongi’s the first to lower his gaze.

"You’re awake," he mumbles, moving past Taehyung to the fridge. 

"Oh. Yeah," Taehyung answers belatedly. "You slept well, hyung?"

"Ah, I did. What about you?"

"I slept well too."

"That’s good."

Yoongi pours himself some water, facing away from Taehyung. The conversation goes offbeat in the quietness, covered by the sound of running tap water. As Taehyung mulls over what to say, Yoongi speaks again.

"Namjoon said you bought breakfast for us. Thanks," he murmurs. "You must have woken up early."

"Not that early. Just half an hour ago."

"Oh." Yoongi places the pitches away. "That’s still quite early, isn’t it?"

"...I guess it is."

In Taehyung’s periphery, he sees Yoongi lingering by the countertop, sipping at his mug. They settle in the wordlessness as Taehyung goes over pieces of last night and how upset Yoongi had looked. Rewind to a few months back, and he’s recalling the wordless stares Yoongi sent him and Seokjin. He can’t remember what he’d been doing to draw Yoongi’s attention.

"Taehyung."

Taehyung raises his head. Yoongi’s looking straight at him, arms folded, crumpling his small frame in.

"I’m sorry." 

Yoongi’s gaze holds for just that instant before it darts away.

"I… didn’t mean to call you strange that day," he whispers. "You were pushing Jimin, getting angry at Jin-hyung… and I just suddenly spoke up. I didn’t think through what I was saying."

"If… I’d known just how much it’d affect you, I would have apologised right away. I’m sorry," his voice diminishes.

Taehyung stares back at Yoongi. His stomach instinctively churns at the memory, frothing up the buried emotions from then. It began as sourness, not understanding why Yoongi was finding an issue with him. As time passed and Yoongi’s words began to hold more weight, it seethed into hurt and an incessant paranoia. What was he doing wrong—why was Yoongi looking at him again? 

Taehyung knows he shouldn’t have shoved Jimin that day. Yoongi spoke out of concern, not spite. Maybe that was the best way he could describe it then, watching Taehyung canker with resentment at a friend.

"It’s alright, hyung," Taehyung eventually breathes. "I know you didn’t mean it."

Yoongi nods stiffly. He remains in the kitchen, seemingly wanting to say more but unable to.

Taehyung places a rinsed plate aside. "I should apologise to Jimin for that day."

"You don’t have to. I doubt he even remembers," Yoongi mutters. "Knowing him, he’ll just say he likes it, anyway."

Taehyung lets out a guttural laugh, making Yoongi smile along. He falters briefly before approaching, taking a towel.

"I’ll dry the dishes."

Between the clings of ceramic gushing water, they make a patchy reconciliation, layered still with awkwardness and residual feelings. With how Taehyung was building worst-case scenarios in his head, this went better than he hoped for.

Out of everyone, Yoongi’s reactions were the most frightening, and it was difficult to see him as anything but hostile. Yet, all of Taehyung’s anxieties seem rather groundless now as they stand next to one another. Yoongi’s warmth is familiar again; Taehyung thinks it might never have changed in the first place.

Had Yoongi said something else, had he been more frank—had Taehyung himself pried further about what was so wrong—things might be a lot different now.

"Did you talk things out with Jin-hyung?" Yoongi asks.

"Yeah, I did," Taehyung returns. The discomfort rises at the thought that he might have to tell everyone eventually about how he sees Seokjin. But he can take it step by step, as Namjoon said.

"I’m glad." The relief in Yoongi’s voice is clear.

They bring out the plates, transferring the foods over. As Namjoon takes another pinch of dried anchovies, Yoongi groans.

"You’re going to finish it all up before we even start eating, Namjoon."

"It’s not my fault if the rest don’t wake up early enough."

As they wait for the rest to emerge, Yoongi compliments Taehyung on his food choices, remarking that waking up to a homely meal is always nice. Namjoon brings up that it’s hard for their parents to pack food for them, considering they’re always off on overseas schedules.

Hoseok’s first to totter out, hair ruffled and eyes somewhat crossed. He sobers up as soon as he sees the trio and the spread on the table. 

"Taehyung’s treating us to breakfast," Namjoon raises before Hoseok can ask. "He went out to get this for us early in the morning."

"You came with me, hyung," Taehyung corrects.

Hoseok melts into a wide smile. He winds over to Taehyung’s side, warmly slinging an arm over his back.

"Wow, I thought I smelled something nice! You’re a good kid, aren’t you? Getting food for everyone."

He takes a slurp of the tofu soup. "It’s been a long time since we’ve eaten there, haven’t we? I heard from one of the dancers that it’s always packed."

"Yeah. It wasn’t crowded when we went, though," Namjoon says.

"I think it’s because they didn't used to open so early. They changed it because the foreign fans couldn't get seats during the lunch rush hour, I heard."

"How'd you know that?"

They talk like always as the sunlight cascades over their figures, mild in the budding summer. The knots in Taehyung’s stomach wane amid the breezy back-and-forth and Hoseok’s hand on his shoulder. 

Jimin is next to wake up. He steps out with surprise to see everyone gathered, eyes flickering over to Taehyung with a stark worry. 

"Come and eat, Jimin. Look what Taehyung got for you," Hoseok chirps. "Didn’t you used to eat the dumplings so often from here?"

"He’d skip the rice sometimes and just have these, right?" Yoongi comments.

Jimin seems confused by the atmosphere, so lively despite yesterday’s tense commotion. But he approaches, shuffling up to Taehyung’s side and instinctively holds his arm.

His eyes and cheeks are notably puffy. He might have cried again after he left Taehyung, being so soft-hearted.

"When did you guys go out?" Jimin rasps. 

"It was just Taehyung and Namjoon."

Jimin raises his gaze. He says nothing, but Taehyung reads him easily. 

He returns a smile and reaches up to pat Jimin’s head. "Your eyes are so swollen. I’ll put some spoons in the fridge."

Jimin scrunches up his nose. Despite how he huffs, he looks eased. "You look worse than me."

Finally, they settle down to eat, much to Namjoon’s relief. They talk dribs and drabs of today and tomorrow (not yesterday), occasionally mentioning how satisfying the meal is. The prawns are especially good, so Yoongi peels several for Taehyung. They keep portions of each dish for Seokjin.

There should be nothing nostalgic about such an occasion. They eat together most of the time, after all. Yet, Taehyung feels he’d somewhat forgotten this—looking across at the others and sharing a meal together. It’s odd.

A while later, Jungkook steps out of his room, his surprise unable to shade his tiredness. He joins them when Namjoon beckons him over, stealing a few glances at Taehyung as the latter gets him some rice.

“Jin-hyung must be having some really good dreams,” Hoseok remarks.

“Hyung slept really late, so I asked him to sleep more,” Taehyung replies.

“Mm, he should rest. We have vocal practice later too.” 

“...Is Jin-hyung okay?”

Jungkook’s question lingers in the air. He seems to be broaching last night’s incident—the first to do so, despite how long they’ve all spent talking this morning. It would’ve almost appeared that nothing happened. 

His concern has Taehyung wondering if the rest perhaps overheard him and Seokjin. Seokjin cried with such a heaviness that Taehyung felt his tear stains when they’d long gone. With the door closed, the world always seems to be just them two.

“He is. He’s just tired,” Taehyung returns.

Jungkook hums. He falters for a second, and then, he asks. “What about you, hyung? You’re okay?” 

Though soft, his words are sincere.

The question startles Taehyung. As everyone’s gazes rest on him, the shame begins crawling up his skin. He had let out such scathing vitriol that revealed just what he thought of them—deliriously clawed and lunged at them too, seeking to hurt just like he’d been. 

“I’m okay,” Taehyung rasps. “Hyung and I talked things out.”

Jungkook nods. He mumbles with some stiffness, “I was worried, hyung.”

“That’s good, that’s good,” Hoseok says as well. “I’m glad you two sorted things out yesterday. We were really concerned.”

Jimin reaches over to squeeze Taehyung’s hand. He has a watery smile, telling of how relieved he is.

Taehyung feels a horrible lump in his throat. The devastating feelings rouse, sloshing and blistering in punishment. He’s chock full of disgrace and remorse, just so sorry to them for all he’s done. They tolerated his hostility all these months because they loved him. From the beginning, they were only worried and trying to help—but Taehyung was too caught up to understand. 

He can’t speak. It’s so much easier to leave it unaddressed and forget everything. After all, nobody’s asking further, and they’re laughing and talking as usual. 

Taehyung’s gaze wavers. Instinctively, he searches the room, anxious to find the one pair of eyes that forever promises everything will be alright. Unassuming, heartfelt and tender—swearing to love him no matter how abhorrent he is.

One after the other, he meets Namjoon’s gaze last. Without a word, Namjoon gives a reassuring smile. 

All of them have that same warmth in their eyes.

Taehyung’s stare goes to his hands. They’re sticky again but he hasn’t dirtied them. Despite feeling like such a deformed thing, Taehyung musters his voice.

“I’m… sorry for yesterday, everyone.”

He rasps, “I… I know, even before last night, I haven’t been acting… like myself. I’ve only been spending time with Seokjin-hyung… I only talk to him, accompany him… and I keep pushing all of you away from me and hyung.”

His words are running. None of this encapsulates exactly what happened these past months. His head was warped so badly he thought (hoped) several times of a world with just him and Seokjin. He was obsessed and praying with every fibre of his being to  have  Seokjin; have him whole, have him till death do them part. And in his feverish hysteria, he pushed away everyone who cared for him.

Taehyung swallows. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

The silence that follows is stifling. Taehyung’s heart pounds so hard he feels nauseous. His fingers wrestle beneath the table, accustomed to Seokjin comfortingly filling the spaces between. 

Then, Jimin leans over. He buries his head into the crook of Taehyung’s neck, offering an invaluable warmth.

“It’s okay. Don’t say you’re sorry,” he murmurs.

“Jimin’s right,” Hoseok soothes. “What’s there to be sorry about? It’s fine. As long as you’re okay, and Seokjin-hyung’s okay too.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi coughs. He has one hand discreetly veiling his mouth, gaze trained on the table though he’s addressing Taehyung. Still, his genuineness radiates in his voice.

“It’s no big deal, so you don’t have to apologise. It was difficult for you… and there were things we could have done on our end too.”

Amidst the gentle words, Jungkook speaks up. His voice rings firm and clear.

“I've never thought of you as disgusting, hyung.”

The way he’s locking eyes with Taehyung relays every bit of his earnestness.

“Not once. Not ever. I’m sure none of us have.”

His stare averts, and then, the tears come. Jungkook bites his lip and turns away.

“It’s as Jungkook said, Taehyung,” Namjoon gently says. “We’ve never thought that about you. I’m sorry we made you feel like that.”

Truly, Taehyung wonders how he could have doubted any of them. In his torment where he thought no one would love him if they really knew him, he let go of the very people who proved him wrong. He wallowed in anguish, dreading the day everyone would find out he was a fraud, while all of them tried their hardest to help him out of his despair. He’s always had people who loved him unquestioningly, no matter how few.

Taehyung’s heart thumps with agony. Jimin wraps his arms around him, shrouding his tears in Taehyung’s shoulder.

“Hey, hey, take his bowl—he’s getting tears into his rice,” Hoseok hushes. Taehyung splutters out a laugh.

An hour later, they’re done with their meal. They remain watching TV from the dining table, dawdling in a non-verbalised wait for their oldest member. It’s a show giving a tour of a retired celebrity’s house. She was a household icon when they were young, adored by their parents. They talk about singers from their childhood, how loved they were depending on the city, and how many of them are still active.

There’s a clicking noise down the hallway. Seokjin steps out of his room, rubbing his eyes meekly. He turns to them and Taehyung’s chest flutters. 

"Hyung," Namjoon exclaims. "You're finally awake."

Briefly, Seokjin lingers by his door before nodding. He paces up to them as Hoseok rises, grabbing an empty plate.

"Hyung, you were taking such a long beauty sleep. We saved some for you. I’ll get you some rice." 

Seokjin looks more dishevelled than before, hair flattened on the right. There are some marks on his face that Taehyung hopes mean he slept well. He thinks about asking, but he’s not sure if he should. Asking doesn’t seem wrong. But in front of everyone whom he should show he can be less clingy, he should save the talk for later, right? 

"You've all eaten?" Seokjin hums.

"Yeah. It's just you left, hyung. Did you sleep well?” Jungkook takes the opportunity instead, clasping Seokjin’s hand. 

“Mm.” Seokjin rakes his eyes over the spread, before his gaze falls upon Taehyung. "Taehyung, you bought so much."

The fact that Seokjin’s addressing him in front of the rest slightly surprises Taehyung. It shouldn’t, on second thought, but Taehyung’s gotten used to Seokjin avoiding him unless they were in bed, alone.

"Just enough," Yoongi corrects. "I think Namjoon would have eaten your share."

“Hey, I didn’t eat much for dinner yesterday,” Namjoon heaves. “You guys are making me sound so greedy.”

“Seems like Taehyung fed you all well,” Seokjin chuckles. “What are you guys watching?”

Despite how comfortably Seokjin talks, his tone is muted unlike his usual boisterousness—a telltale sign of his fatigue. Taehyung’s eager to tell him that he’s made up with the rest. Would it ease his worries? Would it lessen his exhaustion? Taehyung needs to reiterate to Seokjin that it was never his fault and he doesn’t need to be sorry—the fact that everyone’s reconciled is proof. He hopes Seokjin will be pleased.

But there are no empty seats next to Taehyung, and he knows not to save one for Seokjin. There’s no need to when being more than a metre apart shouldn’t matter. There’s always later, no matter if his fingers itch again to caress and he can’t take his eyes off Seokjin. 

“It’s that  I Live Here  variety show. Look who’s starring.”

“Oh, wow. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her,” Seokjin remarks.

“Jimin’s mother has her whole album collection. Right?” Hoseok mentions.

Jimin nods wordlessly. He’s been keeping silent all this while, uncharacteristic of him who drapes over Seokjin and praises him like honey so often. Taehyung remembers the harshness in Jimin's voice yesterday, thick with animosity and hurt towards Seokjin.

Rather than still being angry, Jimin looks stiff—awkward after yesterday’s events. 

Seokjin takes the empty seat next to Jimin instead of Jungkook. Jimin glances at him with large eyes while Seokjin pays him no mind, taking some vegetables first. 

With the vivid sunlight streaming in, Seokjin’s pallidness is emphasised. He looks mellow, much like the soft aftermath of a morning drizzle. Dew on his bony fingers, breeze through his tussled hair.

"Back then, I don’t think albums came with photobooks, right?” Seokjin randomly brings up.

“Hyung, those days, the albums were those CD jewel cases. Where would you fit a photobook?” Namjoon laughs.

“Hey, it’s possible. Our  Face Yourself  album came in those cases. There was that small booklet in the front pocket,” Yoongi reminds.

The rest begin chatting again. Seokjin quietens down after a moment and discreetly recedes from the conversation. He nibbles on just the side dishes and keeps his plate empty. 

You’d think he finished his meal if you weren’t paying attention. Seokjin’s habitually like this—good at evading worry from others. 

Last night must have taken a great toll on him. Taehyung can’t stop thinking how small Seokjin was as he folded into his embrace. 

He picks up his chopsticks to pass over some meat. Jimin beats him to it, plopping several dumplings into Seokjin’s rice.

“You always eat so little, hyung,” Jimin says softly. Seokjin looks at him.

“...You don’t want it? I thought you liked these best.”

“It's fine. I already ate a lot.”

Obediently, Seokjin takes a bite of the dumpling. As if getting the green light, Jimin begins piling more dishes onto Seokjin’s plate.

“Hey, this is enough. I can’t finish all these,” Seokjin mumbles. “Why don’t you have it? You’ve been getting thinner recently.”

Jimin puts down the now emptied plate of beef. He watches as Seokjin eats. 

“Eat slowly, then. Don't you think that's you instead of me, hyung?”

"Really, you guys are so generous with food when you’re not the one who's treating," Yoongi drawls from the other side of the table, much to Namjoon’s amusement.

Jimin glares. “That’s why you were painstakingly peeling each prawn for Taehyung, right, hyung? As if you bought them for him.”

They dissolve into loud cackles as Yoongi flushes with embarrassment, arguing back to no avail. Amongst the warm laughter, Taehyung finds Seokjin’s eyes, a little brighter than before. They stare at one another as Taehyung’s heartbeat quickens and his fingers pull and pull at fabric. 

How badly he wants to tell Seokjin that everything’s okay. For every single time Seokjin promised him without guarantee, Taehyung wants to pay him back the assurance.

Hold, warm, caress.

Seokjin melts into a small smile that leaves Taehyung breathless.