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Breaking: San Francisco Giants Player Taehyung Kim Comes Out as Gay

San Francisco Giants shortstop Taehyung Kim, 24, came out as gay in a team press conference held yesterday. The news comes just days before this year’s season opener.

“I’m proud of who I am and I don’t want to hide that anymore,” said Kim, who remained cheerful and composed throughout the announcement. “Nothing has changed. I’m an athlete who also happens to be gay. That’s all there is to it.”

Since he joined the team two years ago, Kim has become beloved for his charismatic personality, especially among younger fans. He shared this news with the support of his teammates and Giants field manager Yoongi Min.

“We’re very proud of Taehyung and stand behind him 100 percent,” Min said. “This should go without saying, but it doesn’t matter what his sexuality is. He’s a phenomenal player and we’re looking forward to a great season.”

Despite a gradual nationwide movement towards increased LGBTQ acceptance, the progress has been slower in sports. There are still very few out, male athletes in any professional American sports league. Kim becomes the first ever Asian man in American baseball to come out as gay.

The Giants will begin their regular season with a home game against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, March 28.

***

xxkimtae7xx: so proud of u taehyung!! Ur fans love u no matter what!!

baseballfan90: guess they let **** play baseball now… smh

joeschmoooo: so does kim pop a boner in the locker room every day or what

gregsgreatesthits_11: moved to tears by that press conference. @kimtaehyung7, you are an inspiration. thank you.

scooter45: @kimtaehyung7 your a disgrace to the sport get off the fucking diamond

parkchimmy: KIM TAEHYUNG YOU ARE PERFECT AND I LOVE YOU.

***

“So,” Taehyung says, shoving half a banana into his mouth mostly just to see the way Seokjin wrinkles his nose in disgust. “What’s the damage?”

“Well,” Seokjin says, standing on the opposite side of Taehyung’s kitchen island with two smartphones and an iPad arranged in front of him. As usual, he looks devastatingly handsome, even though there’s no conceivable way he slept more than two hours last night. “The media coverage is pretty standard. Some heralding you as a hero, a role model, you know - got a bunch of requests for interviews that we’ll have to sort through. The legitimate news outlets can’t really get away with being openly homophobic anymore, so there’s that.”

Taehyung hums, his mouth still full of banana. It’s been 24 hours since he came out to the entire world, and since then he’s been in a total media blackout. The season starts in two days and he needs to stay focused on that, not what strangers on the internet are saying about him and his sexuality.

“Twitter is…” Seokjin sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Well, it’s Twitter. Lots of people calling you an inspiration, lots of homophobic assholes talking shit.”

“Anything good?” Taehyung asks, aiming for casual and ignoring the twinge in his chest when he thinks about how much hate is being thrown his way right now. He’d known what he was getting himself into when he decided to do this.

Seokjin rolls his eyes. “The usual idiocy. The American educational system has clearly failed in teaching its children the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.” He shakes his head, disgusted. “If you’re going to insult someone, at least do it with proper grammar.”

Taehyung snorts, the pressure in his chest easing slightly. If he’s sure of anything in his life, it’s that he never would have made it this far without Seokjin. His agent has become a close friend over the past few years, and he’s been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process.

“Jimin’s tweet went viral somehow,” Seokjin continues, scrolling through something on his iPad. “And now half the country thinks you’re dating.”

Taehyung laughs outright at that, grabbing his phone to send Jimin a series of heart and kissy face emojis. Jimin was the first person he’d ever come out to, back in freshman year of college, but they’d never been anything more than friends. Well, friends who fooled around occasionally, back in the day, because Taehyung didn’t have any experience with guys but was too afraid to hook up with strangers.

“What about the other half of the country?” Taehyung asks. On the counter, his phone lights up with a series of texts from Jimin, likely all dramatic love confessions or suggestive emojis.

Seokjin frowns. “They hate you for being gay,” he says bluntly. Taehyung tries not to wince; he’s always appreciated Seokjin’s honesty, and he doesn’t want that to change now. “Or they don’t care.”

Taehyung nods, looking around his kitchen. It’s spacious and bright, sunlight streaming through the wide windows, colorful art adorning the walls. A safe haven from the outside world, but he knows he can’t stay hidden away forever.

“Well,” Taehyung says pragmatically, gaze settling back on Seokjin. “I guess it’s pretty much what we expected, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin agrees. “Pretty much.” He squints at Taehyung as if examining him for signs of distress. “How are you feeling?”

“I haven’t checked the internet or gone out in public since the press conference, so right now I feel great,” Taehyung says, mostly honest. He’s gotten a few supportive phone calls and texts from his family and close friends, but otherwise he’s been trying not to think about it. “A little overwhelmed, I guess.”

“Understandable,” Seokjin nods. “But no regrets?”

Taehyung shakes his head. “No way.”

As a rule, Taehyung tries to live his life without regrets. Even when he makes mistakes, he tries to view them as learning experiences, opportunities to grow. This doesn’t feel like a mistake, though. It feels a lot like free falling, like jumping off the deep end, but not like a mistake. Because he thinks he actually would have regrets if he hadn’t come out. Maybe not now, not right away, but eventually. He’s 24 and he’s never dated anyone, never been in love with anything but the game. He’s been keeping a part of himself hidden for the sake of that love, pursuing that dream. And it was okay, it really was, until all of a sudden, one day, it wasn’t.

So now he’s out. Taehyung Kim, Kim Taehyung, however you know him - he’s gay. And now the whole world knows.

Maybe overwhelmed is a bit of an understatement.

Maybe he’s terrified and exhilarated and wholly unprepared. Maybe he just voluntarily turned his whole life upside down. Maybe he just wants to play baseball and live his life without launching a national discourse, without his every move being viewed through the lens of his sexuality.

Still, no regrets. It’s done now and there’s nothing to gain from looking back.

“Good,” Seokjin says. “I’m proud of you, Tae.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung replies, even though it makes him uncomfortable when people say that. As if he’s some sort of hero, the advocate of some higher cause. He just wants people to treat him the same way they always have. “What else you got for me?”

Seokjin examines one of his smartphones. “Let’s talk interviews.”

***

Jeongguk wakes up to dim sunlight and the persistent sound of his alarm. Just like he has every other morning since he moved in, he stares balefully at the single, dirty window above his bed, the only one in this shitty apartment that he still refuses to call home, and weighs the likelihood that he would fall and kill himself if he tried to lean outside and wash it somehow. His apartment is only on the third floor of the building, so the drop might not be fatal. Unless he landed on his head.

Jeongguk is no stranger to serious injuries, but in this case, he decides it’s better not to risk it. Even if that means he’s doomed to a life of only seeing sunshine through a film of grime.

With a groan, he drags himself out of bed and busies himself with his morning routine. It had taken a few weeks of getting used to, but he’s got it down pat by now. Get dressed, attempt to flatten hair, shovel some form of sustenance into his mouth, brush teeth. His studio apartment is so tiny that it’s easy to do multiple things at once, such as keeping an eye on the toaster while he stands in the bathroom and struggles to make his hair just a little less fluffy. He also has exactly five (5) work-acceptable shirts, so that makes the whole outfit selection process fairly quick and straightforward. With the amount of money he spends doing laundry every week, he’s starting to think it might be worth it to invest in a sixth. He’s also pretty sure the lady who runs the laundromat down the block is trying to set him up with her daughter.

Jeongguk has considered telling her he’s gay, but he’s afraid it’ll break her heart.

Once he’s dressed and resigned himself to his hair, it’s out the door with half a piece of toast wedged between his teeth. He rides his bike to work, since the office is relatively close and the public transportation options in San Francisco are garbage anyway. The fresh air and exercise are nice at least, and the climate is usually mild enough that the ride isn’t uncomfortable. That hill at the end is a bitch though.

The jury’s still out on how Jeongguk feels about San Francisco. He’s been here for about two months now, and while it beats living with his parents in the suburbs of Texas, everything still feels kind of confusing and disjointed, like he hasn’t found his footing yet. Maybe that’s just how your first year out of college is supposed to feel, but Jeongguk feels like he’s especially lost. That might be a him problem, though, since he hasn’t really felt not-lost since the last time he played baseball.

As far as cities go, he supposes San Francisco is an okay one to be lost in. It’s expensive as fuck, hence the literal shithole that Jeongguk lives in, but it’s pretty diverse and there are lots of places nearby where he can go to hike and spend time outdoors. It’s certainly easier to be a gay person in San Francisco than in Texas, or Jeongguk assumes that would be the case if he actually had any friends or people to go out with. Namjoon has been nice about including him in things, but he has his own life and Jeongguk always feels a little bit like a puppy nipping at Namjoon’s heels whenever he tags along with him and his friends.

As is often the case, Namjoon is the first person he sees when he gets to the office. He’s one of those psychos who actually likes to wake up early, Jeongguk has discovered, and he has a whole morning routine that he goes through at a relaxed, leisurely pace. When Jeongguk stumbles into the office, still half asleep and invariably wind blown from his bike ride, Namjoon is already halfway through his first cup of coffee, sitting serenely at his desk and browsing through the day’s headlines. He’ll usually read the sports-related ones out loud to Jeongguk, since those often affect their work for the day.

Yesterday, the big news was that Kim Taehyung, one of the Giants’ star players, had come out as gay. Jeongguk had promptly dropped his messenger bag on his foot when he heard that, since Kim Taehyung is basically his idol and also the most exquisite slice of man he has ever laid eyes on. Back in college, when Jeongguk was very horny and still very closeted, he had nearly busted a nut when he saw Taehyung in the coverage from the MLB draft. Since then, he’s been a fan and a follower of his career. Seeing the announcement had only increased his admiration, knowing all too well the risk Taehyung was taking by coming out. It was something Jeongguk himself hadn’t been able to do while he was still playing, and it had tormented him. Tormented him to the point of making decisions he would never be able to take back.

But that’s all in the past now, Jeongguk reminds himself sternly. Even Taehyung’s coming out is old news today, at least on the floor of the sports department. Today marks the official start of the major league baseball season, and with the Giants playing that night, their corner of the office will be humming with activity all day.

“Morning, Guk,” Namjoon greets, smiling warmly at Jeongguk. He’s one of the most genuine people Jeongguk has ever met, had been even when they first crossed paths in college - Namjoon an intimidatingly impressive senior at the helm of the student sports broadcasting group, Jeongguk just a scrawny freshman on the baseball team. He’s the reason Jeongguk got into sports journalism after he stopped playing baseball, and he’s also the reason Jeongguk got this job after months of failed applications elsewhere. Some people (such as Jeongguk’s best friend, Ella) would say Jeongguk has a bit of hero worship thing going for Namjoon. Those people would be… 100% accurate. But it’s chill, Jeongguk swears.

“Morning,” he replies, dropping down in his spinny desk chair and booting up his computer. His Iron Man figurine, one of the only personal effects he’s brought to the office, greets him from its perch next to the bonsai tree Namjoon had given him recently. Apparently he’s cultivating a small bonsai forest at home, and he had insisted on sharing one with Jeongguk to bring more balance and peace to his work life.

(Privately, Jeongguk hasn’t noticed much of a difference, but it’s still a nice addition to his desk.)

“Ready for the big day?” Namjoon asks.

Jeongguk nods. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

The truth is, Jeongguk has mixed feelings about the start of baseball season. Baseball had been his first love, the driving force in his life practically from the time he could walk. He had pursued it with a single-minded passion for the entirety of his childhood and adolescence, and he knew the sport like the back of his hand. But then college had happened, and the incident had happened, and now things are just - complicated. It’s like an ex that he never quite learned how to be normal around. He wants to get away from it just as surely as he knows it’ll always be a part of his life.

The day passes the same way most of the others do, albeit with a bit more activity because of the season opener. Jeongguk brushes up on player stats, attends a few meetings, and keeps tabs on the other incoming sports news for the day. He walks a lap around the block when his knee starts to feel stiff and eats a homemade lunch alone at his desk because he sure as hell can’t afford to buy a $15 salad every day.

At least he has his bonsai tree to keep him company.

Around mid-afternoon, Namjoon approaches his desk. His hands are tucked into the pockets of his khakis and he has his glasses pushed up into his hair. He takes a few seconds to examine the status of the bonsai tree, and Jeongguk holds his breath, suddenly terrified that it’s somehow dying or showing signs of neglect. Fortunately, Namjoon seems satisfied with its health, and when he redirects his attention to Jeongguk, there’s a smile on his face.

“Hey, Guk,” he says. “Do you have a few minutes to come with me to Ken’s office?”

Jeongguk freezes. Ken is the head of their department. Surely this can’t mean anything good.

Maybe he’s still pissed from that time last week when Jeongguk brought tuna fish for lunch and accidentally made the entire floor smell for the rest of the day. (He won’t be repeating that mistake again. Ever. He may never eat tuna fish again in his life.)

“Relax,” Namjoon says reassuringly, obviously sensing Jeongguk’s slow descent into panicked hysteria. “You’re not in trouble.”

Jeongguk nods, only mildly relieved, and gets up to follow Namjoon to Ken’s office. His head spins with possible scenarios that would explain why the head of the department is suddenly interested in talking to him.

Ken’s office is small and messy, his desk and every other available surface covered with stacks of paper and an impressive array of kitschy sports memorabilia. Jeongguk has only been inside once before this, when Ken called him in to welcome him on his first day on the job, and it had been just as cluttered then too.

“Kim, Jeon,” Ken greets, waving them inside. “How’s it hanging, boys?”

Jeongguk has discovered that Ken speaks as if he’s constantly in a 1970s football locker room, but he’s also a pretty decent guy.

“Good, sir,” Namjoon says, unfazed. “I wanted to talk to you about Brian’s beat. He’s out sick with the flu today.”

“Right, right,” Ken nods, flicking one of the many bobbleheads scattered around his desk. “He picked a pretty shit day to be sick. You’re covering the Giants game for him?”

“Actually, I wanted to suggest having Jeongguk do it,” Namjoon says. Jeongguk freezes, his eyes going wide. Brian isn’t much more senior than him, but he goes to a lot of the professional league games and often interviews the players. “I’ll go with him, show him the ropes, but he knows a ton about baseball, sir. I think he can handle it.”

Ken squints at Namjoon, then turns to Jeongguk and continues to squint at him. “You played baseball in college, right?” he asks. “D1?”

Jeongguk nods, trying not to fidget under the scrutiny. “Y-yes, sir.”

“And what do you think about Kim’s proposal?” he asks. “You think you can handle it?”

In truth, Jeongguk is not at all confident he can handle it. The mere thought of personally interviewing professional baseball players has him nearly shitting himself, even though he’s known it would eventually be a part of his job. He and Namjoon will be having some words about this later. (Not really, though, because Jeongguk still thinks Namjoon is the coolest person he’s ever met and he doesn’t want to piss him off.)

“Absolutely,” Jeongguk lies.

Ken nods at him, continuing to squint. “Alright, then. Let’s give it a shot.” He glances back over at Namjoon. “Kim, you go with him. Make sure he doesn’t fuck up.”

Namjoon agrees immediately, grinning, and Jeongguk can’t even find it in himself to feel offended because he’s so stunned they’re actually letting him do this.

When they step out of Ken’s office, Namjoon turns to him. “Sorry to spring that on you,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck a tad sheepishly. “It’s a great opportunity but I thought you might get nervous and say no if I asked first.”

“That’s… probably accurate,” Jeongguk concedes. His stomach is already tying itself in knots and they’re not even at the game yet.

“Don’t freak out. You’re going to do great,” Namjoon reassures him, clapping him on the back. “We’ll prep when we get to the press room. You ready to head out soon?”

“Uh,” Jeongguk says, wondering if it’s too late to pretend he has the flu too. The rational part of him knows that this is an incredible opportunity, a chance to really get in on the action, but the less rational part of him feels nauseous, not to mention wholly unprepared. Still, he takes a deep breath and forces himself to put on his big boy pants. “Yeah.”

Here goes nothing.

***

The energy in the locker room is weird.

Taehyung is trying really, really hard to pretend like it’s not, but it is. Hoseok, bless him, is trying even harder, shooting out megawatt smiles like some sort of human joy dispenser and keeping up easy conversation with Taehyung and some of their other teammates. He’s the heart and soul of the team, always has been, and that hasn’t changed. But something else has, and while Taehyung wouldn’t go so far as to say the tension is palpable, it’s still… there. Present. Like a thin film of mist over a glass window.

Of course, the team had known he was going to come out before it happened. Yoongi had told him he didn’t need to tell them, had proceeded to go on a rant about the inherent heteronormativity surrounding the concept of coming out in general, but Taehyung had wanted to give them a heads up. They are a team, after all, and a big part of the incentive behind this whole thing was to not have to hide things from the important people in his life.

Hoseok, obviously, already knew, and alongside Yoongi, he led the charge of loudly and proudly supporting Taehyung. Beyond that, the breakdown in reactions was pretty predictable, if a little disappointing. Half the team didn’t really give a shit - Taehyung was a good player and a nice enough guy, and that was that. His sexuality was a non-issue. Another forty or so percent were super supportive, reaching out to him personally and making a point of making him feel comfortable. And then there was the last ten percent, the ones who were obviously uncomfortable with it, maybe even hateful, but were, at least so far, too scared of pissing Yoongi off to really do anything about it.

They may be keeping their mouths shut, but Taehyung can still feel their disapproval, almost verging on disgust. The furtive looks, the way they take care to angle their bodies away from him in the locker room. As if he hasn’t been gay this whole time, as if the fact that he likes dudes means he’s suddenly going to start salivating over every limp dick he catches a glimpse of.

They wish, frankly.

(That’s Jimin’s voice piping up in his head, as it's often inclined to do.)

Taehyung wants so badly to just not care. And on some level, he doesn’t. The fact that some of his teammates are homophobic idiots is disappointing, sure, but it doesn’t change the way he feels about himself. He knows who he is and he’s not ashamed of that. It still hurts, though. He’s played alongside these men for two years, and it infuriates him that something as unrelated to the sport as his sexuality is now going to interfere with that bond, with their cohesiveness as a team.

“Ready to get out there, Taetae?” Hoseok asks brightly, unnatural flexibility on display as he stretches. He has his hat on backwards as usual, and as usual Yoongi is going to scold him to turn it the right way. That’s probably why he’s wearing it like that to begin with.

“Always,” Taehyung says, tucking his jersey into his uniform pants. It’s true, sort of. He’s learned to love the pre-game nerves, the way his body fires up with anticipation. There aren’t many feelings quite like stepping out onto the diamond before a game, seeing the freshly manicured lawn and dirt, the neat white lines and the bleachers full of people.

Today, he’s a little more anxious than usual. Partly because it’s the first game of the season and he wants the team to get off to a good start, and partly because of the personal stuff. He’s prepared himself for heckling, especially from the away fans, and for intrusive questions from reporters. He and Seokjin had spent several hours yesterday talking through how to handle all of it. He feels prepared, but he’s still anxious. He just wants to play like he always does and not have to think about all the other stuff.

“You’re gonna do awesome,” Hoseok says encouragingly, obviously picking up on Taehyung’s unrest despite his answer. He gives Taehyung’s shoulder a squeeze, grinning warmly at him. Even in his distressed state, Taehyung is powerless against the effects of a Hobi smile. “I’ll be right there with you.”

Taehyung knows he means it in more ways than one.

“Thanks, hyung.”

Yoongi appears then, summoning everyone’s attention to the front of the locker room. Despite his small stature and the permanently sleepy look in his eyes, his presence is commanding, and the room quiets down quickly when he clears his throat.

“Alright, yeah, come on,” he says, waving a hand as they gather in front of him. “Press will be here soon, but let’s all stay focused, yeah? Remember what we focused on during training - now’s the time to put that to the test. Let’s start the season on the right foot.” He glances around at all of them, then nods. “That’s all. And Jung, fix your damn hat. This isn’t a frat party.”

“Yes, sir,” Hoseok says with a wink, saluting cheekily before adjusting his cap. Yoongi grunts and looks away, the faintest trace of color on his cheeks.

It’s been like that since Taehyung joined the team. They both refuse to talk about it.

The press files into the clubhouse not long after, and it’s the usual chaos as the team answers questions and finishes getting ready. Taehyung spots Seokjin hovering nearby, looking posh as ever leaning against a countertop and sipping on some pretentious brand of sparkling water. He holds himself casually, but Taehyung knows he’s ready to intervene at a moment’s notice if a reporter gets out of line, especially today. The thought reassures him.

It’s immediately evident that there’s extra attention focused on Taehyung, even from the reporters who are talking to other players. Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, he gets more questions about his coming out than about the game itself, and he does his best to answer politely and steer the conversation back to baseball. It’s frustrating, though, and he can’t fully contain his defeated sigh after the third reporter in a row asks him how the news will affect his game.

The reporter who had asked the question doesn’t seem to notice, shuffling off to talk to Hoseok, but the one standing just behind her does. He’s a new face, not someone that Taehyung recognizes, and young - maybe even younger than Taehyung himself. He’s cute, Taehyung thinks, with a mop of dark, fluffy hair and big eyes that regard Taehyung curiously. His eyes widen further when he realizes he’s been caught staring, cheeks turning pink.

“Hi,” Taehyung says bluntly, a little bit on the offensive thanks to the other reporters. This kid better not be from some trashy tabloid. “You’re new.”

“Oh,” the boy - man? - guy replies, seemingly startled at being addressed directly. “Uh, yeah. I’m Jeon Jeongguk. With KRON7.”

Not a tabloid, then, just one of the local news stations. That at least is a relief, but Taehyung is still wary.

“Okay,” he says, a little confused. Most reporters just shove a microphone in his face and start firing off questions. There aren’t many who lead off by shyly introducing themselves. “Did you have a question for me, Jeon Jeongguk?”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, looking mortified. Taehyung wonders how he managed to get a job as a reporter if he spooks this easily. “Right, sorry, of course.”

When Taehyung doesn’t say anything, just blinks at him in vague amusement, Jeongguk clears his throat and continues.

“Umm, I wanted to ask you,” he begins, and Taehyung braces himself for some inane question about his sexuality. “At the end of last season, you mentioned that anticipating the direction of hits was something you wanted to work on this year. I was wondering what you focused on during spring training to achieve that.”

Taehyung is both relieved and impressed by the question. He hadn’t expected something so thoughtful out of this shy, fumbling newbie, but he can see how Jeongguk’s confidence grows once they start talking about baseball. He clearly knows his stuff, and as soon as Taehyung finishes answering, he asks an equally thoughtful follow-up question. The coming out announcement doesn’t come up once, and Taehyung is irrationally grateful for that.

The conversation flows so easily that Taehyung is actually surprised when Yoongi calls out that it’s nearly game time, meaning interviews are over.

“Thank you for your time,” Jeongguk says earnestly, looking a little bit like he’s coming out of a daze.

“My pleasure,” Taehyung replies, and means it. “Thanks for having good questions.”

Jeongguk goes all wide-eyed again, the shyness from before suddenly back. “Oh. I - umm. Sure.”

Taehyung grins at him, endeared, and then turns away to rejoin his teammates.

The game goes well. They win, which is great, and the energy in the stadium is boisterous and cheerful. Taehyung had been nervous about how the crowd would react to him, his first public appearance since the press conference, but it had been nothing out of the ordinary. He’s grateful that they have the benefit of being the home team for the first series of the season.

Beyond that, Taehyung is happy with how he plays. He’s able to shake off his jitters and stay focused on the game, and he even manages to accurately anticipate the direction of some of the hits, just like he’d spent so many hours practicing with Hoseok and Yoongi. He finds himself wondering if Jeongguk the cute reporter had noticed.

Back in the clubhouse, it’s rowdy and buzzing, as is usually the case after a win. Everyone is in a good mood, hopeful that this heralds the start of a strong season. The reporters are there again, asking questions about the game, but Taehyung side steps a few of them and approaches Seokjin instead.

Seokjin smiles indulgently at him, obviously aware that Taehyung is using him as a human shield. “Good game,” he says, squeezing Taehyung’s arm. “You looked great out there.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung nods. “Felt good, too.”

“Good,” Seokjin says, still smiling pleasantly. “You’re going to have to talk to some of the reporters, you know.”

Taehyung sighs. He had hoped Seokjin would let him off the hook for a little while longer, but that’s not the Seokjin that Taehyung knows and loves and occasionally hates. That’s not why Taehyung pays him.

“I don’t want to re-explain to that asshole from Fox News that my dick preferences have nothing to do with my ability to catch a fucking baseball.”

Seokjin looks sympathetic, his eyes scanning the crowd. “Okay. How about just one interview? Any news outlet, you pick.”

Glancing around, Taehyung’s eyes settle on Jeon Jeongguk. He’s standing off to the side slightly, head bowed as he talks to a man with glasses and a handsome, heart-shaped face. Their cameraman is lingering nearby, looking bored as he shoots some B-roll of the clubhouse.

“KRON7,” Taehyung announces, pointing their way. “I’ll talk to them.”

Seokjin raises his eyebrows but doesn’t question it. “Works for me. That guy with the glasses is hot.”

Taehyung snorts as they saunter over, thinking to himself that the reporter’s not half bad either.

The cameraman notices them first, swinging around to focus his lens on Taehyung while Seokjin discreetly steps to the side.

“So,” Taehyung says, charmed by the way Jeongguk’s eyes go all round and stunned when he realizes Taehyung is addressing him. He straightens up quickly, tilting his microphone towards Taehyung. “What did you think? Have my predictive skills shown signs of improvement from last season?”

“Definitely,” Jeongguk nods immediately. Over his shoulder, Taehyung can see Seokjin leaning in to say something to the man with the glasses. The guy looks a little flustered by the proximity at first (classic Seokjin effect, Taehyung’s seen it a hundred times), but then he lifts his eyebrows, surprised. “That play in the third inning, your reaction was so quick. What was your thought process?”

Taehyung offers a bit more insight than he usually might, since he’s taken a liking to Jeongguk and he appreciates that he noticed that play, but he stops short of discussing any serious strategy. “Can’t go giving away all my secrets,” he says apologetically, laughing when Jeongguk pouts slightly. It seems like he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it, and it’s disconcertingly adorable. “It’s only the first game of the season.”

“I understand,” Jeongguk nods, still a bit pouty. In the background, Seokjin and glasses guy now seem to be exchanging phone numbers. His agent is a goddamn savage, truly. “Any thoughts on the rest of the season?”

“Today was a good start,” Taehyung says, flipping his cap around and adjusting it so that it holds his sweaty hair off of his forehead. Jeongguk flushes seemingly out of nowhere, but he doesn’t say anything so Taehyung ignores it and keeps talking. “I’m hoping we can keep up this momentum and keep winning games.”

“I hope so too,” Jeongguk says, sounding genuine. He’s sweet. “Thanks again, Taehyung.”

“Thank you, Jeongguk.”

The reporter looks surprised that Taehyung had actually remembered his name. Taehyung could truly eat him up.

Sadly, he doesn’t get the chance to, because glasses guy is suddenly there, ushering Jeongguk and the cameraman towards Cruz, their pitcher, and Seokjin is swooping in before the Fox News guy can descend on Taehyung. He’s grateful for that, but he’s a teeny bit sad to see Jeongguk go. He kind of would have liked the opportunity to talk to him off camera, although he knows this is neither the time nor place for that.

“Did I see you getting that guy’s number?” Taehyung asks, shaking off the thought. He doesn’t really have the time to go getting a crush on the local sports reporter.

“Maybe,” Seokjin teases, a slight smirk tugging at his lips. “His name’s Namjoon, he works for KRON7 too.”

“I figured,” Taehyung says. “Business or pleasure?”

Seokjin shrugs, smirk growing. “Can’t it be both?” He side eyes Taehyung. “Speaking of which, that reporter was totally making heart eyes at you.”

Taehyung tries very hard not to flush. “No he wasn’t.”

“Uh, yes he was, and it was adorable,” Seokjin counters.

Taehyung huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. Seemingly of their own accord, his eyes scan the room for Jeongguk, who is now listening intently while Cruz comments on something. He’s probably just a really good listener, that’s all.

“He had good questions,” Taehyung says.

“Business and pleasure,” Seokjin replies, smirking again. “Like I said, can’t it be both?”

***

When Jeongguk had woken up this morning, he had not expected his day to turn out like this. He hadn’t expected to get a press pass to the Giants season opener, to meet and interview the players, to interview Kim Taehyung. Twice.

He certainly hadn’t expected to make an ass of himself in front of Kim Taehyung (multiple times), although in retrospect that’s probably the one thing he should have expected. He panics to Namjoon about it the entire way home, sitting in the backseat of an Uber that Jeongguk can’t afford but Namjoon had insisted on paying for.

“It’s going to be fine,” Namjoon says calmly. “He clearly took a liking to you. His agent said he wouldn’t give anyone else an interview after the game.”

“Maybe he just said that because he was trying to get your number,” Jeongguk frets. He wonders if Ken is going to fire him for acting like a complete idiot on camera. At least it’s only local television; maybe he still has a shot at getting a job somewhere else. On the other side of the country, preferably.

“Maybe,” Namjoon says thoughtfully, and Jeongguk groans. “I didn’t see him talking to any other reporters, though.”

“Ken’s going to fire me,” Jeongguk says.

Namjoon sighs. “No he’s not. You did a great job for your first day, seriously. All of the other interviews went really smoothly.”

“But Taehyung - ”

“It really wasn’t as bad as you think,” Namjoon interrupts him. “Sure, you fumbled a little, but it was kind of charming. Kim clearly thought so. It’s not easy to win the trust of a famous athlete, especially one who’s under such intense media scrutiny.”

Jeongguk considers this, not entirely convinced. It is true that Taehyung seemed genuinely interested in his questions, he supposes. Maybe he hasn’t completely ruined everything.

“Seriously, it’s going to be fine,” Namjoon says, patting his knee reassuringly. They’re nearing Jeongguk’s apartment, and he unbuckles his seatbelt, preparing to hop out. “Ken’s not going to want to fire you, and even if he did, I wouldn’t let him.”

Jeongguk nods, slightly mollified. “Okay. Thanks, hyung.”

The car pulls up outside of his building, and he climbs out, thanking the driver and Namjoon for the ride.

“See you tomorrow,” he says, returning Namjoon’s small wave.

Back in his apartment, he makes some instant ramen (one of about five foods he can actually afford) and flops down on the couch, opening up his laptop. He starts by going to the KRON7 website, cringing when he sees his interviews have already been posted under the sports section. Namjoon is right, for the most part they aren’t bad, but the ones with Kim Taehyung make him want to crawl in a hole and die. His cheeks warm up all over again when he watches the clip of Taehyung turning his cap around, the look emphasizing his forehead and strong eyebrows. Jeongguk had not been prepared for how devastatingly attractive that would make him look. Since when are foreheads a turn-on?

Sighing, he grabs his phone and fires off a text to Ella.

Jeongguk:
SOS acted like a teenager with a crush in front of KIM TAEHYUNG today

Her response is quick but, perhaps predictably, not as sympathetic as Jeongguk would have liked.

El <3:
you are a teenager with a crush when it comes to kim taehyung
also WHAT????

Jeongguk decides to ignore the first part of her text since it is, unfortunately, true.

Jeongguk:
go look at the KRON7 website

A few minutes later, another series of texts pops up.

El <3:
OMG
MY BABY IS FAMOUS
YOU’RE SO CUTE LOOK AT YOU BLUSHING

Jeongguk:
shut up it was mortifying
also not famous it’s literally local tv

El <3:
you did so well though!!!
you’re a real reporter im so proud omg T-T

Her words make him smile a little in spite of himself. The entire experience had been completely overwhelming, but it is pretty cool that he had gotten the chance to do it.

El <3:
what was he like?

Jeongguk doesn’t need to ask to know which “he” she’s referring to. Ella had listened to him wax poetic about Kim Taehyung more than a few times in college.

Jeongguk:
perfect
so gorgeous it physically hurt
also really cool
idk i kind of went into a fugue state for both interviews

A part of him still can’t believe this actually happened. It feels like any minute now he’s going to wake up to the dingy light from his window, probably with a boner, and realize this had all been a dream.

He and Ella continue to text as Jeongguk dedicates the rest of his evening to reading every piece of information he can find about Taehyung, including whether he’s single. (As if Jeongguk, a local sports reporter who has met Taehyung exactly once and made a complete fool of himself in the process, actually stands a chance.) Some people on Twitter seem to think he’s dating someone named Park Jimin, a beautiful dancer who lives in LA, but after some extensive Instagram stalking, Jeongguk can’t tell whether they’re boyfriends or just best friends.

A small, delusional part of his brain hopes that it’s the latter. Not that it matters or affects his life in the slightest.

He ends up falling asleep on the couch, disoriented when he wakes up a few hours later with drool on the cushions and his laptop overheating on his chest. It’s lucky that it didn’t fall and break while he was sleeping. With a sigh, he shuts out the lights and shuffles off to bed, images of pretty brown eyes still dancing through his head.

***

As it transpires, Jeongguk does not, in fact, lose his job. Instead, he gets sent back to Oracle Park the very next day, because Ken wants to see if his so-called “chemistry” with Kim Taehyung had just been a one-time fluke, or if there’s more to it than that. Jeongguk doesn’t really see how him fumbling like an idiot while Taehyung stands there looking like a literal model counts as “chemistry,” but he’ll go with it if it means he gets to keep his job. Plus, he has about a million more questions he’d like to ask Taehyung about his game.

And other stuff, too, if he’s being completely honest.

No one is more surprised than Jeongguk when Taehyung actually smiles upon seeing him, cutting another interview short so that he can come talk to Jeongguk.

“Told you so,” Namjoon says under his breath, giving Jeongguk an encouraging nudge before stepping away. He immediately gets pulled into conversation with the man who Jeongguk presumes to be Taehyung’s agent - Seokjin, he thinks Namjoon had said. Seokjin has the looks of a movie star, and suddenly Namjoon’s eagerness to accompany him again today makes a lot more sense. Jeongguk wonders when it became a thing in his life to be surrounded by so many absurdly good-looking people, and how he can be expected to function normally in their presence.

“I was wondering if you’d be back today,” Taehyung says by way of greeting. Fortunately for Jeongguk’s sanity, his cap is once again facing front today.

“I have a lot more questions,” Jeongguk replies, because apparently that’s the best his brain can do right now.

To his surprise, Taehyung laughs warmly. “Okay,” he says. “You have good questions, so ask away.”

Just like yesterday, it gets a little easier once they start talking about baseball. Jeongguk still can’t quite believe Taehyung is right in front of him, speaking words in his deliciously low voice, giving thoughtful answers to Jeongguk’s questions, but at least this is a subject he knows a lot about. It feels like it comes far too soon when Seokjin steps in and says apologetically that that’s all Taehyung has time for right now.

Taehyung pouts slightly in response, and Jeongguk’s heart does what feels like an actual somersault in his chest. How is it possible for a person to be so sexy and yet also so adorable? And talented? And interesting to talk to? Why is Jeongguk being tortured in this way?

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, frowning apologetically. “Duty calls.”

“Of course,” Jeongguk nods, struggling to hide his own disappointment. “Have a good game.”

Taehyung smiles brightly at that, making Jeongguk feel all warm and fuzzy. “Thanks.”

And so it goes for the rest of the series. They play two more games against the Padres, and Jeongguk attends both of them, his confidence growing slowly each time. He tries to get interviews with all of the players, but Taehyung is his favorite, and, although the reasoning is beyond his comprehension, the feeling seems to be mutual. Taehyung always looks happy to see him, always makes time to talk to him, always thanks him when the interview is over. He tries to tell himself that that’s just how Taehyung is, a warm, genuine person, but he sees him with the other reporters and while he’s always polite, Jeongguk can’t help but feel it’s a little bit different with them. He remembers the first game, the way Taehyung had seemed to sigh in defeat as the reporter ahead of Jeongguk stepped away, and wonders if maybe there is some truth to Namjoon’s observation that Jeongguk had somehow managed to gain Taehyung’s trust.

Or maybe Seokjin just wants to get in Namjoon’s pants, and is forcing Taehyung to be extra nice to Jeongguk as a means of achieving that goal. Either way, he seems to be well on his way to succeeding, if the shameless flirting that goes on every time they see each other is any indication.

After the last game of the series, Jeongguk asks Taehyung how he feels about their upcoming games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Privately (and ridiculously, he reminds himself), he’s feeling a little sad that the Giants will be down in L.A. for the next few days, since it means he won’t get to see or talk to Taehyung. Their interviews have been the bright point of his days this past week, and his regular life feels sad and boring in comparison.

“I went to college in L.A., so it’s always nice to be back there,” Taehyung tells him. “Visit my old stomping grounds, catch up with some friends.” Jeongguk thinks of Park Jimin and hopes, like the pathetic loser he is, that the use of the term “friends” is literal in this case. “But nothing beats being at home, of course. I’m going to miss having your questions to keep me on my toes before and after the games.”

He gives a playful wink and Jeongguk, being but a mere mortal, nearly dies on the spot.

“Oh,” he chokes out, his brain completely blanking on any sort of coherent words. “I - uh, I’ll miss you too.”

Oh god.

Oh god.

This is it for him, he thinks. He’s going to self-implode from sheer mortification right here in this clubhouse.

But Taehyung, being the radiant human sunbeam that he is, just laughs, a wide, boxy thing that makes Jeongguk’s insides turn to goo.

“Save up lots of good questions for when I get back, okay?” he says.

“I will,” Jeongguk nods, cheeks still burning hot.

“Good,” Taehyung grins. “Try not to miss me too much, Jeonggukkie.”

It’s nothing short of a miracle that Jeongguk makes it through the rest of the interview without spontaneously combusting.

***

“Dude, that video of you and the cute reporter is totally going viral,” Hoseok says, sounding delighted as he settles into the seat beside Taehyung and kicks his feet up.

After a day off, they’re on the private jet that will take them down to L.A. It’s been two years, but Taehyung has to admit he’s still not quite used to traveling like this. His upbringing in South Korea had been modest at best, and he’d been on a sports scholarship at UCLA. For a long time, his idea of luxurious travel had been extra legroom and a hot meal.

“I think viral is a stretch,” Taehyung counters, although he knows from his conversation with Seokjin yesterday that the clip has been getting a decent amount of attention. He’d watched it himself, and even he can kind of see what the fuss is about - Jeongguk’s flustered reactions to him are pretty darn adorable. Taehyung had been completely charmed in the moment as well.

“There’s a small but vocal contingent shipping you guys,” Hoseok observes, scrolling through his phone. “This is so cute!”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, but in truth he doesn’t mind it all that much. He really does like Jeongguk, and he hadn’t been lying when he said he’d miss their little interviews. The public attention is strange, but from a PR perspective, Seokjin had said it’s a good thing for his rapport with another man to be getting a positive response.

Before Taehyung can say anything, Yoongi shuffles by, effectively diverting Hoseok’s attention.

“Morning, coach!” he greets brightly, making grabby hands at the massive iced coffee Yoongi is clutching. “That looks good, mind if I have a sip?”

“Get your own,” Yoongi protests, pouting slightly, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight when Hoseok ignores him and takes a sip anyway.

“It never tastes quite as good as yours, coach,” Hoseok replies sweetly, prompting Yoongi to rip the drink away from him and stalk off, clearly flustered.

I ship you two together,” Taehyung says under his breath, giving Hoseok a pointed look.

“Yeah, well,” Hoseok mutters, his sunny expression slipping slightly. “Don’t hold your breath.”

He turns his attention back to his phone, and Taehyung has enough common sense to drop it for now.

The flight is quick and easy, barely long enough for him to take a quick nap before they’re touching down in Los Angeles. As per usual, his first order of business is to text Jimin:

Taehyung:
i am near you

He gets a long stream of heart-themed emojis in return.

They play three games over the course of three days in L.A. It doesn’t leave Taehyung with a ton of downtime, but any spare moment he has is spent with Jimin. After rooming together throughout most of college, it’s been a hard transition for them to live in separate cities.

“Soulmates aren’t meant to be apart,” Jimin always says, breaking Taehyung’s goddamn heart.

On Taehyung’s last night in L.A., Jimin comes and stays over in his hotel room, gleeful as ever over how big and luxurious it is. This has become a bit of a tradition for them whenever Taehyung is in L.A., raiding the minibar and staying up too late laughing and talking. They’ve stayed over at Jimin’s apartment in the past as well, but a cramped studio isn’t quite as comfortable as a suite in a four star hotel.

“Well, people are definitely going to think we’re dating when they see photos of me entering and leaving your hotel,” Jimin giggles, sitting on the enormous bed with a glass of wine in one hand and a candy bar in the other. Taehyung’s not really supposed to be drinking during the season, but they don’t have a game tomorrow so he figures a glass or two of wine can’t hurt. “Maybe you should give me a hickey, really give ‘em something to talk about.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, dropping down on the bed and pinching the side of Jimin’s neck. “There.”

Ow,” Jimin whines exaggeratedly, swatting his hand away. “Speaking of, what’s the deal with that absolutely precious reporter I’ve been seeing all over my social media? Are you cheating on me, Taetae?”

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung supplies, feeling a small tingle of fondness. “I wish. He’s sweet.”

This seems to pique Jimin’s interest. “What do you mean you wish? More like he wishes, he blushes every time you look at him.”

“That’s not true,” Taehyung protests, shaking his head.

“Umm, it absolutely is, but okay,” Jimin says. He nudges Taehyung’s leg. “You should ask him out!”

The prospect is mildly terrifying. Taehyung hasn’t properly asked someone out on a date in years. He hasn’t been on a date, period, in years.

“That seems risky,” he hedges.

“How so?” Jimin frowns. “You’re out now. You have nothing to hide.”

“He’s literally a reporter,” Taehyung says. He’s rationalizing his irrational gut instinct, but the point still stands. “That makes me nervous. He could be - I barely know him. I don’t know if I can trust him.”

“I hate that for you,” Jimin sighs. “But I get why you would be worried about that.”

“Especially right now,” Taehyung says. He just came out publicly, the season just started - from a PR perspective, he’s extra vulnerable. Being open about his sexuality doesn’t spare him from all the other trappings of being a public figure. It’s hard not to be wary of people’s intentions, especially people in the media. Even if his gut instinct is telling him he can trust Jeongguk.

Jimin nods sympathetically. “What if you just try to get to know him better? See if he seems legit?”

“Yeah, I could do that,” Taehyung agrees. If Jeongguk keeps coming to games, he’ll definitely be seeing more of him. Maybe he can ask Jeongguk about himself some time, when the cameras aren’t rolling. He talks like someone who plays baseball and Taehyung is curious about that. “Jin has been flirting pretty shamelessly with his colleague, so there’s that.”

“With Jeongguk’s colleague?”

Taehyung nods.

Jimin grins. “Sounds like an in.”

The conversation moves on from there, the two of them properly catching up on everything from work to family to social life. As usual, Jimin is busting his ass, booking backup dancer gigs and the occasional music video as he works to make a name for himself in the L.A. dance scene. He hasn’t quite had his big break yet, but with how hard he’s working and how talented he is, Taehyung feels like it’s inevitable.

“I’m so proud of you, Jiminie,” Taehyung says fondly.

Predictably, Jimin positively glows at the praise. “Thanks, Taetae.” He ruffles Taehyung’s hair affectionately. “What about you, what else is new? How’s your family?”

“They’re okay,” Taehyung says. When Jimin frowns slightly, he hurries to add: “I mean, everyone’s healthy, doing well. All of this is just - it’s a lot for them, you know? I feel bad.”

Jimin shifts closer, pressing the sides of their bodies together. Over the course of the evening, they’ve made their way from perching on the foot of the bed to sinking into the puffy white pillows at the top, enormous duvet pulled over them. “They’re still supportive though, right?”

“Yeah, of course,” Taehyung says. His family has always supported him - with baseball, his sexuality, his decision to move to America. He knows how incredibly fortunate he is, but the guilt of being so far away weighs heavily on him. “They’re amazing. I just - I hate that I’m not even there but they still have to deal with the fallout of everything I do. It’s not fair.”

Jimin sighs. “I’m sure they don’t blame you,” he says reassuringly, leaning his head on Taehyung’s shoulder. “They love you so much, Tae. You make them so proud.”

“I guess,” Taehyung huffs, feeling sullen. The last time he had spoken to his sister it had been awkward, almost strained. She’s a teenager now, busy with her own life, no time for her older brother. He can’t even blame her though, not when he’d missed most of her growing up and isn’t there now to guide her or offer advice. “If I were them I would probably resent me.”

“Stop that,” Jimin says sternly, lifting his head from Taehyung’s shoulder so that he can meet his eyes. “They don’t resent you, they just miss you.”

It’s not worth arguing with Jimin, so Taehyung just nods. “I miss them too.”

“Maybe you can visit them for longer this year,” Jimin suggests. “When the season ends.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, suppressing another rush of guilt. He’d only managed to go home for a week this past year, despite promising he’d try to stay for longer. It had mostly been because of work, but a small, shameful part of him had been scared to stay for longer, of disrupting their lives even further.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you sad,” Jimin frowns. “Let’s talk about something else. What’s the hot gossip on the team? How are Hobi and Yoongi?”

“Still pretending they’re not into each other,” Taehyung says, rolling his eyes. He’s been thinking about what Hoseok had said on the plane, wondering how much more there is to the story beyond what he has seen over the years.

Jimin flops sideways, reaching over the seemingly endless expanse of the duvet to grab the wine bottle. He refills both of their glasses and then straightens up, facing Taehyung with an expression of avid interest.

“Tell me everything.”

***

Jeongguk is in a mood. Like, a bad mood. It’s definitely not because there are pictures of Kim Taehyung and his sexy dancer probably boyfriend Park Jimin all over the Internet.

That would be completely unreasonable, after all.

On the bright side, Jeongguk gets to see (and hopefully interview) Taehyung again today. The Giants are back in town for a series of home games, and since the viewing public seems to have responded well to Jeongguk embarrassing himself in front of Taehyung, Ken is sending him back as the lead correspondent.

It’s been an odd couple of days. The clip of Jeongguk making an utter fool of himself and saying he would miss Taehyung had somehow made its way onto social media, and there’s been a small but not insignificant amount of chatter about it. The KRON7 website and social media platforms have seen a spike in traffic, and Ella keeps screenshotting tweets about the interview and sending them to Jeongguk while screaming about how he’s going to be famous.

Famous seems like a huge stretch to Jeongguk, but it is more publicity than he ever expected to get, especially this early in his career. The wildest part of it all is that the root cause is his relationship (if you can even call it that) with Kim Taehyung, sports idol and certified dreamboat. Two weeks ago Taehyung hadn’t even known Jeongguk existed; now there are literal memes about them.

(“I always knew your highest calling was becoming a meme,” Ella had said over the phone, almost tearful. “I’ve never been prouder.”)

So, yeah. Jeongguk is a meme and he has a crush on a professional baseball player, and he can’t tell if he’s peaking or hitting rock bottom but apparently this is his life now. Also, his knee is bothering him, which isn’t really related to anything but is also sort of related to everything when it comes to the status of Jeongguk’s life. As much as he wishes it wasn’t.

Anyway.

Seeing Taehyung in person again is enough to brighten his mood slightly, his heart doing an embarrassing fluttering thing in his chest when they make eye contact and Taehyung smiles at him. Still, it darkens promptly when Taehyung is immediately swarmed by reporters, some of them clearly angling for the scoop on Park Jimin, and Jeongguk doesn’t get a chance to talk to him before the game starts. He tries not to sulk too obviously about it as they head back to the press room, but he’s pretty sure Namjoon notices.

It’s a good game, close right up until the end, when the Giants manage to pull off a win. Jeongguk hustles back to the club house as soon as it’s over, determined to catch Taehyung this time.

He’s in luck, because Taehyung saunters over as soon as he sees him. He’s wearing his hat backwards again, which is hazardous to Jeongguk’s mental and verbal coherence, as is the way he grins widely and cries “Jeonggukkie!” in greeting.

“Hi,” Jeongguk manages to reply, his voice coming out far higher than he would have liked.

“Did you miss me?” Taehyung asks teasingly. He’s so indecently stunning, with a glimmer in his eye and a playful quirk to his lips. God, his lips.

“Just a little,” Jeongguk returns, practically glowing when it makes Taehyung laugh.

“You wound me,” Taehyung pouts, and seriously, his fucking lips. They’re so full and like, generally perfect-looking, and Jeongguk finds himself wondering if they feel as soft as they lo-

Jesus Christ, he needs to reel it the fuck in. Immediately.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says, attempting to steel himself against the assault of sheer beauty being directed at him. “I meant to say, San Francisco was a little less bright without you here.”

For a fraction of a second, it almost looks like he’s caught Taehyung off guard. Then he breaks into another easy smile. “Sure that wasn’t just the fog?”

Jeongguk actually giggles at that, he can’t help it, and he knows it’s probably not very professional but Taehyung seems pleased so he doesn’t really care.

Until he looks off to the side and sees Namjoon watching him with raised eyebrows (pretty rich coming from the guy who actively flirts with Taehyung’s agent every time they’re here) and remembers he has an actual job to do. Oops.

“Pretty sure,” Jeongguk says, still grinning. “But, umm, anyway. Congratulations on the win just now. What’s your outlook for the next two games, especially given how close this one was?”

Taehyung slips into baseball talk easily, and Jeongguk is only a little disappointed that their banter (it counts as that, right?) had been cut short. At least they had bantered at all, Jeongguk supposes. And he had done a little better at holding his own this time, which feels like progress. Baby steps.

“Good job,” Namjoon says to him when they leave, clapping Jeongguk on the back. “You’re like the Taehyung whisperer.”

Jeongguk snorts, his face heating up. “You’re the Seokjin whisperer. Literally.”

Namjoon coughs, looking sheepish. “He invited us to an event he’s hosting for one of his clients. Some launch party.”

Jeongguk stops in his tracks, turning to stare at Namjoon. “Kim Taehyung’s agent asked you out,” he says, flabbergasted.

Namjoon flushes, looking down. “I mean, he invited me to a party, I dunno - ”

“He asked you out,” Jeongguk repeats.

“You’re invited too,” Namjoon points out. “You should come.”

“No, no, I don’t want to intrude on your date - ”

“Taehyung might be there,” Namjoon says casually.

Jeongguk snaps his mouth shut, blinks several times. His heart is suddenly doing some sort of jig in his chest. “Count me in.”

Chapter Text

“I’m really not sure, hyung,” Taehyung says, his phone shoved between his shoulder and his cheek so that he can continue to fiddle with the video game controller in his hands. “I don’t know if I’m up for it tonight.”

“Come onnn, Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin pleads. “I promise the press won’t harass you. I’ve made myself very clear.”

Taehyung doesn’t doubt that; Seokjin is terrifying when he wants to be and the reporters who will be at tonight’s launch party know better than to piss him off. Still, the mere presence of press means Taehyung has to handle himself more conscientiously than if he were somewhere private, so it’s a hard sell compared to the prospect of a quiet night at home. Especially when those are few and far between to begin with during the season.

“I dunno,” Taehyung hesitates. He’s in his sweatpants already, video games booted up, Yeontan curled up on the couch beside him. It’s probably pretty pathetic, especially considering he’s 24, single, and hasn’t gotten laid in over a year, but it’s also safe.

“There will be free food and alcohol,” Seokjin tries. In the background, Taehyung can hear voices and movement; Seokjin is probably already at the venue supervising the setup.

“I’m not supposed to be drinking, and I have food here,” Taehyung replies, unconvinced.

“I told Namjoon to bring Jeongguk.”

This gives Taehyung pause, and he just knows that Seokjin did this on purpose, saved this as his trump card because he knew exactly how Taehyung would respond. He can practically see the smug look on Seokjin’s face right now, and it makes him irrationally irritated.

“So?” Taehyung says, aiming for indifferent but sounding pissed off instead.

Seokjin snorts, able as always to see right through Taehyung’s bullshit. “Come on, Taehyung-ah,” he says, gentler. “The whole point of coming out was not having to hide away, remember?”

Taehyung sighs, sparing one last, longing look at his TV. Even as he does it, though, he can’t ignore the slight fluttering in his stomach at the prospect of seeing Jeongguk tonight. Away from work, in a place where they could maybe, actually have a real conversation.

“Fine,” he concedes, and Seokjin crows in victory.

“Please wear something vaguely fashionable,” Seokjin says, making Taehyung roll his eyes. “I have to go before these imbeciles butcher the hors d’oeuvres spread, but I’ll see you in a few hours, yeah?”

They hang up, and Taehyung looks around his now silent living room, suddenly nervous. He’s been to plenty of events like this before, but it’s different knowing that a guy he’s interested in might be there. If he can even describe what he feels for Jeongguk as that, considering they barely know each other and it’s not like anything is ever going to happen between them. A crush, maybe. A harmless crush.

Nothing wrong with just enjoying his presence, right? Getting to know him a little outside of the standard interviewer/interviewee dynamic, just like Jimin had suggested.

Totally harmless.

It takes him longer than it usually does to get dressed, and if that’s because he maybe wants to impress a certain cute reporter, no one needs to know.

“What do you think?” he asks Yeontan, examining himself in the mirror. He’d opted for a button down with a geometric pattern tucked into a pair of black slacks, a black leather belt cinched around his waist. He has to admit it feels kind of nice to be wearing something other than sweats or his uniform.

Yeontan yaps at him, seated on the floor with his head cocked sideways as he looks up at Taehyung. Taehyung feels a little guilty ditching him on their guys’ night in, but he thinks Yeontan understands.

“Thanks,” Taehyung says, reaching down to scratch behind his ears. “Wish me luck.”

Yeontan yaps again, and Taehyung kisses the top of his head.

He arrives at the bar where the event is being hosted thirty minutes late, nodding at the bouncers as he ducks his head and slips through the door. There are a few things that are really nice about being a recognizable athlete, and getting to skip lines is one of them.

Inside, the action is already well underway. The bar is buzzing, people toasting with martini glasses and beer bottles and champagne flutes as they lean in close to hear each other speak. Taehyung spots the guest of honor nearby, a soccer player who’s partnering with a popular sports apparel company on a limited clothing line. He’s met her a few times before, seeing as she’s another one of Seokjin’s clients, but he steers clear for now since it looks like she’s holding court with several reporters.

Presumably this means Seokjin is somewhere nearby, but Taehyung doesn’t see him as he scans the crowd for familiar faces. The place has a cozy feel, warm lighting glancing off of dark paneled walls, just enough space to seem full without being uncomfortably crowded. Just as Seokjin had promised, there’s a long table housing an impressive array of food, and in the absence of finding someone to talk to, Taehyung decides to make his way over there.

He’s just stepping up to grab a plate when he hears a familiar voice to his right.

“Taehyung?”

It’s Jeongguk, because of course it is, standing there with a positively mountainous plate of food in his hands. He’s dressed in all black (which looks unfairly good on him, for the record), eyes big and round in that way that Taehyung has already grown so alarmingly fond of. He’s torn between rejoicing and cursing internally, because of course he’s happy to see Jeongguk but he was also definitively not prepared for this to happen so early in the night.

“Jeongguk, hey,” he greets, gaze falling to Jeongguk’s plate. “Got enough food there?”

Jeongguk flushes immediately, looking embarrassed as he glances down at his plate and then back up at Taehyung. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he says, chuckling awkwardly. “It all just looked so good.”

Taehyung nods in agreement, surveying the table. “I’m sure it’s delicious. Seokjin doesn’t mess around when it comes to food.”

“Now I’m even more excited,” Jeongguk says happily. “I never get to eat food this nice.”

He ducks his head as soon as the words are out of his mouth, probably embarrassed again. Taehyung doesn’t judge him, though - he hasn’t had money of his own for long enough to forget what it feels like to be on a budget and get a meal for free.

“In that case, I hope I haven’t overhyped it,” Taehyung laughs, melting a little when Jeongguk lifts his head and gives him a tentative smile. Grabbing a plate of his own, he piles on some food, more than he might usually because he doesn’t want Jeongguk to feel self-conscious. “Want to find somewhere to sit and eat? I hate having to stand and balance a plate.”

Jeongguk looks surprised by the offer, eyes widening adorably, and maybe Taehyung is a little surprised too. But Jeongguk is sweet and it’s not like there’s anyone else here that he’d rather make small talk with, so he figures it can’t hurt. It’s just eating and talking, after all. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than that.

He can’t help but smile when Jeongguk nods vigorously, following Taehyung as he leads them over to an empty high top table. It’s pressed up against a wall, slightly removed from the center of the party, a small candle casting a wavering, golden glow over them and their food.

“Are you here for work?” Taehyung asks, the thought suddenly occurring to him. It makes his stomach drop slightly, and he’s disappointed in himself for not considering that possibility sooner. Something about Jeongguk makes his guard come down, and it’s as terrifying as it is comforting.

Jeongguk shakes his head, cheeks already full of beef slider. It shouldn’t be as cute as it is, but he looks kind of like a chipmunk. A hot chipmunk.

“No, I just came with Namjoon,” he explains once he’s swallowed. “Off the record.”

Something inside of Taehyung warms at that, relief seeping through him. He tells himself sternly to loosen up a little, that not everyone he meets is looking for something from him.

“Where is Namjoon?” he asks, taking a bite of his own food. It’s just as good as he expected, and it makes him happy to know that Jeongguk will be so well fed tonight.

Jeongguk shrugs. “Around here somewhere, I think. He ditched me to talk to Seokjin.”

Taehyung snickers, wholly unsurprised. He hasn’t spoken to Namjoon personally yet, but he can tell that Seokjin is seriously interested. It’s unusual for him to devote this much attention to a romantic prospect; most of the time he’s fending people off, too preoccupied with his work to focus on dating.

“That explains why I haven’t been able to find Seokjin.”

Jeongguk grins, but his cheeks are full chipmunk once again, so it comes out as sort of squished and scrunchy. Taehyung feels personally victimized by the level of cuteness.

“Are you enjoying the food?” he asks, even though the stuffed cheeks sort of seem like a dead giveaway.

Jeongguk nods. “It’s delicious. This japchae is incredible.”

Taehyung smiles. “Seokjin always finds a way to include Korean dishes when he plans an event.”

“That’s awesome,” Jeongguk says. “I miss Korean food.”

“Did you eat it a lot growing up?”

Jeongguk bobs his head in confirmation. “I grew up in Texas, but my parents are from Busan.”

“I’m from Daegu,” Taehyung volunteers, glad to have something else to connect with Jeongguk about. “My family still lives there.”

“Do you visit them often?”

Taehyung suppresses a familiar pang of guilt at the question. “I try to go once a year,” he says. “What about you, have you been?”

“I went once when I was a kid,” Jeongguk tells him. His plate is mostly clear now, an impressive feat for a relatively short amount of time. “I want to go back, but. It’s expensive.”

Taehyung nods in understanding, even as another wave of guilt crashes over him. He has the means to make the trip, and yet he still doesn’t make as much of an effort as he should.

“How long have you lived in San Francisco?” he asks, shoving that feeling aside.

“Just a few months,” Jeongguk says. “I graduated last May, lived at home for a little. Now I’m here.”

So Taehyung had been right, Jeongguk is younger than him, though only by a few years. There’s a definitive air of youth about him, something fresh, maybe a bit naive. And yet he’s so, so undeniably handsome, his features a mix of striking and sweet, warm eyes and pink lips paired with a sharp jawline and that thick, dark hair. Hair that would be perfect for sinking one’s fingers into, under the right circumstances.

(Not that Taehyung is thinking about those circumstances.)

He redirects the thoughts he isn’t having to safer ground. “How are you liking it so far?”

Jeongguk seems to consider the question for a few moments, the candlelight flickering over his features. Surely the lighting is making his jaw look more defined than it actually is? If not, Taehyung is in trouble.

“I’m not sure, honestly,” Jeongguk says eventually, shoulders lifting in a shrug. “I don’t really know anyone here, so I haven’t done much exploring.”

“You know me,” Taehyung replies, stupidly. “I could show you around.”

The generous explanation for his response is that he’s a kind, empathetic person, and the thought of Jeongguk all alone in a strange city tugs at his heartstrings. The less generous explanation is that he’s an idiot.

And yet - Jeongguk looks so completely overwhelmed by his offer that he can’t quite bring himself to regret it. Even if Taehyung, as a high-profile professional baseball player at the start of a new season, has no business making any such offer to a reporter that he literally met two weeks ago.

(If Seokjin gives him a hard time about it, Taehyung will point out that perhaps if his agent hadn’t been conspicuously absent at the time the offer was made, a different outcome could have been achieved. Then again, Seokjin was the one who had used Jeongguk as an incentive to get Taehyung to come to the party in the first place, so maybe he won’t mind all that much.)

“I - ” Jeongguk stammers, cheeks noticeably pink even in the dim lighting of the bar. “That would be amazing.”

Of course, this is the moment that Seokjin swoops in, as if he has some sort of sixth sense for when Taehyung is making reckless decisions. Unsurprisingly, he’s got Namjoon with him, and the two of them sidle up to the table where Taehyung and Jeongguk are sitting.

“I see you two found each other,” Seokjin comments, the barest trace of a smirk on his lips as his eyes flick back and forth between them.

“Yes, since our hyungs were too busy finding each other,” Taehyung replies sweetly.

Namjoon looks slightly abashed, but Seokjin ignores him, turning instead to address Jeongguk. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“It’s great,” Jeongguk says enthusiastically. “The food is really good.”

“And the company,” Taehyung pipes up with a sly grin.

Jeongguk grins back. “Of course. Can’t beat the company.”

Seokjin gives Taehyung a look that can only be described as immensely smug.

“Isn’t that adorable,” he says. “And to think, Taehyung here wasn’t even planning on coming out tonight.”

Jeongguk looks at him, curious. “Really? What changed your mind?”

“Probably the company,” Seokjin suggests innocently.

“Seokjin needed a wingman,” Taehyung says loudly, glaring at him. Seokjin snorts out something that sounds like as if as Taehyung turns back to Jeongguk. “But the company has been great.”

Jeongguk bites his lip, clearly pleased. “I’m glad you came.”

“Me too,” Taehyung says. He really means it.

The four of them talk for a little while longer, and then Seokjin flits off to go attend to his other client, leaving Taehyung alone with Jeongguk and Namjoon. He learns that the two of them had gone to college together in Texas, Namjoon a few years older than Jeongguk.

“We met because I was part of the school’s sports broadcasting club,” Namjoon explains. “I covered a lot of the baseball games. Jeongguk was just a freshman, but I remember being really impressed.”

Jeongguk shifts slightly in his seat, the expression on his face difficult to read, and a few pieces slot into place for Taehyung.

“You played?”

Jeongguk nods, albeit a bit reluctantly. “Until junior year.”

This piques Taehyung’s interest - Jeongguk must have been pretty good if he was playing at Texas Tech, if he caught Namjoon’s eye as a freshman. Still, Jeongguk seems uncomfortable talking about it for a reason that Taehyung clearly doesn’t understand, and even though he’s curious he doesn’t want to push it.

So instead, he says: “That’s cool. No wonder you ask such good questions.”

Jeongguk shoots him a grateful smile, and the conversation meanders on from there.

The rest of the party passes pleasantly. People filter in and out; Taehyung talks to some of them and pointedly avoids others. Seokjin drifts between clumps of guests, periodically checking in with Namjoon, and Taehyung entertains Jeongguk for a solid 30 minutes by pointing out when Seokjin is fake laughing and when he’s being sincere. (“The squeakier it sounds, the more genuine it is.” They both notice an increased level of squeakiness around Namjoon.) He separates from Jeongguk for a while to go catch up with a few familiar faces, but he feels an odd sense of relief when, as things are starting to wind down, they find each other again. Or rather, Taehyung finds Jeongguk, standing alone near the bar and looking a little bit lost. The sight tugs unexpectedly at Taehyung’s heart, the way Jeongguk’s hands are tucked into his pockets, big eyes scanning the room.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, sliding up next to him.

Jeongguk looks startled for a moment before his face breaks into a wide grin. “Hey.”

And - Taehyung doesn’t really know why does it. Maybe it’s just that he likes Jeongguk’s company, and he’s not quite ready for the night to end. Maybe it’s that he somehow finds Jeongguk simultaneously cute and sexy, and it’s waking up a feeling in him that he’s been pushing aside for years. Maybe there’s a part of him that recognizes the look in Jeongguk’s eyes and wants to help, extend a hand and make him feel a little less lost.

Maybe Taehyung knows exactly why he does it, and he just isn’t quite ready to admit it yet.

Whatever the reason, the words are out of his mouth before he really has time to think about them. (But what else is new, honestly? This is why he has an agent.)

“Do you want to go get a nightcap somewhere?” he blurts out, heart beating just a little bit harder in his chest. You’d think that as a pseudo-famous professional athlete, he’d be a little more confident about this sort of thing, but then again he hasn’t exactly had much practice asking out cute boys. (If that’s even what he’s doing right now.) “There’s a place nearby that I like, could be the start of your introduction to San Francisco?”

Jeongguk looks so genuinely stunned that Taehyung starts to panic a little, wondering if he’s somehow read the situation wrong and made Jeongguk uncomfortable. Maybe it’s for the best that they don’t go - they still don’t know each other all that well, and Taehyung is probably getting ahead of hims-

“I’d love that,” Jeongguk breathes, eyes so round that Taehyung nearly melts on the spot.

Screw it. They’re going.

***

The bar Taehyung takes him to turns out to be only a few blocks away, a short walk in the chilly night air. As they walk, Jeongguk does his best to get his nerves and heart rate in check. He’s not entirely sure how he managed to find himself in this situation, or what exactly “this situation” even is. Two friends grabbing a drink? Taehyung taking pity on him? A date? He almost laughs out loud at himself for even considering that last possibility, but then again, everything that’s happened so far tonight seems too good to be true.

Never in a million years would he have guessed that he’d befriend a professional athlete, let alone Kim Taehyung, but the facts indicate that that seems to be what’s happening. He thinks he’d very much like to be Taehyung’s friend, professional athlete or not, and so he tries to frame it as just that - the first steps in a new friendship. Jeongguk could certainly use a few of those, so he’s going to try to stop questioning it and just go with the flow. (And if he’s also harboring a teeny, tiny crush on Taehyung - well, no one needs to know. Except everyone on the Internet who has watched the embarrassing side effects of his crush play out on their phone screens.)

Even outside of an interview setting, Taehyung is easy to talk to, and Jeongguk is immensely grateful for that because it makes him feel more comfortable. It seems as if they make it to the second bar in no time, and Jeongguk feels relieved when he realizes they’ve done so without any awkward lulls in the conversation.

The entrance is understated, the type of place you have to know about to notice, just a dark door in a dark wall and no visible sign overhead. There’s a small queue of fashionably dressed people assembled outside, but Taehyung steps around them, nodding at the bouncer, who immediately moves aside and lets them through. Jeongguk has never felt cooler in his entire life.

“That was badass,” Jeongguk says once they’re inside, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice. “You just like - I’ve only seen that happen in movies.”

Taehyung chuckles at that, giving Jeongguk a boxy smile as he leads the way down a narrow hallway towards a staircase. There’s the sound of music thumping beneath their feet, and Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung has brought him to some sort of club.

“I come here a lot with the team, so I know most of the bouncers by now,” he explains, the music growing louder as they descend the stairs. “My job has a few perks.”

This last part is said playfully, and Jeongguk likes how humble he is about it, not denying the facts but not gloating about them either. It makes Jeongguk feel less like an inferior and more like a peer, makes this whole thing feel a little more normal.

At the bottom of the staircase, it becomes clear that the source of the music is a large room to their right, lit neon blue and filled with people dancing. There’s another bouncer standing in front of a curtain to their left, and Taehyung is just steering them in that direction when two men emerge from the louder room.

It takes Jeongguk a moment to recognize them in the dim lighting of the alcove they’re standing in, but when Taehyung stiffens slightly beside him, he realizes they’re two of his teammates from the Giants. They haven’t played much this season, so Jeongguk hasn’t interviewed either of them, but he knows enough about the team to know who they are. He also knows enough about human behavior to notice when people feel uncomfortable around each other, which is definitely what’s happening right now.

“Kim,” one of the guys - Wilson - greets, inclining his head slightly. The other one, Schmidt, nods as well, eyes shifting back and forth between Taehyung and Jeongguk. Jeongguk wonders if they even recognize him. “Having a good night?”

Jeongguk blushes at the implication behind his tone, wishing he could edge into the shadows nearby without it being obvious. It’s just two guys from the team, people Taehyung knows, but he’s still never liked the idea of people knowing his business. Even if they have no idea who Jeongguk is.

“Yep,” Taehyung says, offering no further detail. His stance is relaxed, but Jeongguk notices his jaw looks slightly tense and wonders what the beef is between them. “You guys?”

“Yep,” Schmidt echoes.

“Great,” Taehyung nods. “Enjoy the rest of your night.”

Wilson’s eyes linger on Jeongguk for another moment, something distasteful in his gaze even though the expression on his face is impassive. Turning back to Taehyung, he says: “You too.”

They brush past, and Taehyung seems to shake himself slightly before giving a nod to the second bouncer and leading Jeongguk through the heavy curtain to their left.

The room they enter is much quieter and emptier than the one across the hall - only a few of the booths lining the walls are occupied. Taehyung walks over to one, and as Jeongguk slides onto a smooth leather seat, he realizes that he’s probably entered some sort of VIP section. Just like Taehyung, though, it’s unpretentious, and Jeongguk thinks he’s starting to understand why Taehyung likes this place so much.

“Sorry for not introducing you back there,” Taehyung says once they’re settled in. He looks genuinely apologetic. “I’m just not that close with either of them.”

Jeongguk suspects there’s more to it than that, and even though he’s curious, he doesn’t want to pry. “That’s okay,” he says, shrugging. “I know who they are, anyway. Kind of my job.”

Taehyung laughs, nodding. “Right.”

“This place is cool,” Jeongguk comments, looking around. There’s an eclectic assortment of art adorning the walls, and jazz filters quietly through the sound system. It’s surprisingly calm compared to the clubbier scene across the hall.

Taehyung perks up, seemingly relieved to be moving away from the topic of his teammates. “It’s great,” he nods. “The dance floor can be kind of intense, but I love this room.”

Jeongguk doesn’t point out that this is clearly a VIP only area, and that he’ll likely never be able to return here unless Taehyung escorts him again. (A guy can dream, right?)

They order drinks from a server who stops by their table, Jeongguk picking a fruity cocktail at Taehyung’s recommendation, and then sit back to talk some more. Jeongguk finds that he has a seemingly endless list of things he’s interested in knowing about Taehyung, and the list only continues to grow with each answer he gets.

“Do you mind having to travel so much?” he asks when Taehyung mentions that he’s flying to Phoenix tomorrow. Jeongguk had traveled a decent amount when he played in college, but they never stayed anywhere for long enough to really explore or enjoy it.

Taehyung shrugs. “I don’t hate it, but it does make me feel sort of unsettled,” he says. “And I miss my dog.”

Jeongguk leans in at this, intrigued. He loves animals. “You have a dog?”

Taehyung nods eagerly, his whole face lighting up. “Yeah! His name is Yeontan,” he says proudly, pulling out his phone. “He’s a rescue.”

He tilts his phone screen towards Jeongguk, displaying a picture of a small, fluffy Pomeranian with dark fur and an alarmingly fierce look on his tiny face. It’s not exactly what Jeongguk had been expecting, but somehow he suits Taehyung perfectly.

“Does he have eyebrows?

“Yep,” Taehyung confirms, gazing fondly at the photo. “Makes him look super badass.”

Jeongguk supposes it’s fitting that both Taehyung and his dog possess disarmingly powerful sets of eyebrows.

“He’s really cute.”

Taehyung beams. “He’s my baby.”

“Do you have any more photos?”

The delighted expression on Taehyung’s face makes it clear that the answer is a resounding yes.

Their drinks come, delicious and sweet, and Jeongguk sips on his and watches with rapt attention as Taehyung shows him a whole gallery of photos and videos of Yeontan. He’s extremely fluffy and adorable, and the videos of him playing and cuddling with Taehyung are so cute Jeongguk feels like he’s going to have a heart attack. One video shows Yeontan frolicking back and forth between Taehyung and another man, and with a sting of envy Jeongguk recognizes him as Park Jimin.

“That’s my best friend Jimin,” Taehyung explains, and Jeongguk wonders if that’s really all there is to it. “Tannie loves him.”

Jeongguk steps away to use the bathroom once he finishes his drink, Taehyung directing him that it’s upstairs. On his way back, the front door opens to let a few people through, and he overhears a slight commotion coming from outside. Peering through, he sees what looks like two paparazzi arguing with the bouncer, who is trying to tell them they need to leave. Just before the door closes again, he hears the name “Taehyung Kim,” and something queasy settles in his stomach.

With an added sense of urgency, he hurries back downstairs, feeling anxious as he slides back into the booth beside Taehyung. He doesn’t know if he’s making this into a bigger deal than it actually is, but he has a feeling Taehyung would want to know that there are paparazzi waiting for them outside. Especially since he had mentioned to Jeongguk earlier that one of his favorite things about this place is how private it is.

“Hey,” Taehyung greets him brightly, but his smile slips when he picks up on Jeongguk’s obvious distress. “What’s wrong?”

“Uh,” Jeongguk says. “I think there are paparazzi here. For you.”

Taehyung’s entire demeanor changes, his shoulders slumping. “Fuck. Seriously?”

Jeongguk nods, feeling apologetic even though he hasn’t done anything wrong. “I saw them outside just now.”

Taehyung groans, slumping back against the leather cushion. “How do they even know I’m here?”

Jeongguk wonders about that too. It didn’t seem like anyone had really noticed them since they’d gotten here, but he supposes when it comes to celebrities, there are eyes everywhere. The thought makes him feel queasy again, an odd chill crawling down his spine. He doesn’t know how Taehyung deals with this on a regular basis.

“Is there any way to leave without them seeing you?” Jeongguk asks.

“There’s a back exit,” Taehyung says, frowning. “I can call a car. Shit, I’m sorry, Jeongguk.”

“Don’t apologize,” Jeongguk insists, shaking his head. He imagines this is stressful enough for Taehyung without him having to feel guilty about it. “It’s not your fault.”

Taehyung gives him a small smile, then shifts his attention to his phone while Jeongguk fiddles with the paper straw in his now-empty drink. They had been finishing up anyway, Taehyung in need of a good night’s sleep, but this feels like an unfairly sour end to the night, the little bubble they’d been living in finally bursting.

“Alright, there’s a driver on the way,” Taehyung says, setting his phone down. He seems flatter now, the glow that had been surrounding him earlier suddenly gone. “He can drop you off, too.”

They pay for their drinks, Jeongguk spluttering out an embarrassed thank you when Taehyung insists on footing the bill, then follow the downstairs bouncer through a back door that Jeongguk hadn’t even noticed before. He leads them up a very dark, very narrow staircase, at the top of which is an equally dark foyer that’s barely large enough for two people. After informing them that he’ll wait outside and let them know when the car arrives, he slips through the door, leaving Jeongguk and Taehyung alone in the darkness.

This is how Jeongguk finds himself standing practically chest to chest with Kim Taehyung, their breathing the only sound between them. In a night already full of things that Jeongguk never expected to happen, he thinks this might take the cake. Because Taehyung is right there, mere inches away, and Jeongguk can make out the dark outline of his mouth, can feel the heat emanating from his body. And, well - he wants.

He wants to feel the press of Taehyung against him, the solidness of Taehyung’s body beneath his fingertips. Wants to step closer and brush their lips together, puts his hands on Taehyung’s waist, in his hair. Wants to hear his breath hitch, taste the skin of his neck, discover the ways their bodies move together. And it’s crazy, foolish, because people like Taehyung don’t go for people like Jeongguk, but god help him, he wants it bad.

“I’m really sorry about this,” Taehyung says again, voice low, and Jeongguk almost laughs out loud at the suggestion that he could have one single complaint about the this that he is currently experiencing.

“Stop,” Jeongguk says sternly. “It’s no problem, I told you.”

“But - ”

Jeongguk reaches up, covering Taehyung’s mouth lightly with his hand. Which, in retrospect, was probably not the best choice for his sanity, considering he can now feel the curve of Taehyung’s lips, the slight intake of breath that his action elicits.

“It’s really okay,” he says softly, ignoring his racing heart. He hopes he hasn’t overstepped.

Taehyung nods, gripping Jeongguk’s wrist loosely and pulling it away from his mouth. His hands are big, fingers long enough to wrap easily around Jeongguk’s wrist, and it’s sexy in a way that Jeongguk needs to not think too hard about right now. He files that information away for later, for a time when he’s alone and not at risk of making any embarrassing noises in front of Taehyung.

“Okay,” Taehyung breathes. He hasn’t let go of Jeongguk’s wrist, and Jeongguk prays he’s not the only one who feels the charge in the air around them right now. Under any other circumstances, he would probably just go for it and make a move, but this is Taehyung, and he’s terrified. He’s sure there’s no shortage of boys gagging for Taehyung’s attention, and even though Taehyung seems to have taken a genuine interest in him (for reasons that are still unfathomable to Jeongguk), he doesn’t want to ruin that by misreading the situation.

But Taehyung is still holding his wrist, his grip slightly tighter than before, and Jeongguk can’t tell if he’s being tugged forward or if he’s shifting closer of his own accord. The stillness around them draws out the faintest sounds, a shaky breath, the rustle of clothing. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung can hear how loudly his heart is beating.

And then the door cracks open, the metallic screech as disruptive as a gunshot to Jeongguk’s ears. They lurch apart as the bouncer peers inside, informing them that the car has arrived, and Jeongguk feels grateful for the darkness because he’s not sure what his face is doing right now.

The briskness of the night air snaps him back to reality, giving him a moment to collect himself as he and Taehyung hurry over the cracked cement of a back alley and slip into the car that’s waiting for them. It feels a little bit like making a secret getaway, and if the circumstances were less upsetting for Taehyung, Jeongguk might indulge himself in a few spy-themed fantasies.

Once they’re in the car and Jeongguk has given his address to the driver (feeling simultaneously very bougie and very out of place), he sits back, trying to work up the courage to look over at Taehyung. His head is still spinning from the moment they’d just had at the top of the staircase, and he’s already half convinced that he’d made the whole thing up.

“You okay?” Taehyung asks, breaking the silence. Startled, Jeongguk turns to face him, surprised when he finds Taehyung looking anxious.

“Yeah, all good,” Jeongguk responds. All good except for the way he keeps losing his breath every time he looks at Taehyung. “That was a first for me.”

Taehyung lets out a humorless chuckle, rectangles of orange streetlight slipping over his face. “Wish I could say the same.”

Jeongguk feels a twinge of sadness for him; it can’t be easy to have your privacy stripped from you like that, to never feel completely at ease. He’d gotten a taste of it in college, where being on a sports team made him an automatic focus of campus attention, and even with those far lower stakes it had felt overwhelming. In the moments when he’s really, brutally honest with himself, he knows that’s part of the reason things went down the way they did.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

For a second, Taehyung looks taken aback by the question. Then he shrugs, sighing. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just wasn’t expecting that.” There’s a pause, and then he adds: “Thanks for asking.”

“It was a really fun night,” Jeongguk says bravely. “I’m sorry it ended like that.”

“We should do it again,” Taehyung suggests, making Jeongguk’s heart flip and soar. “There are a lot more places for you to see in San Francisco.”

Jeongguk tries not to nod too eagerly. “I’m down.”

The car is slowing down now, and Jeongguk realizes they’ve reached his street. He feels simultaneously mortified that Taehyung is seeing the shithole where he lives and dejected that their time together is coming to an end. This whole night has seemed too good to be true, and he worries that once he gets out of the car, the spell will be broken and Taehyung will forget he exists.

“Uh,” Jeongguk says eloquently when the car pulls up outside of his building. It looks shitty and depressing, a fitting metaphor for how Jeongguk currently feels about returning to his dumb, regular life. “This is me.”

“Okay,” Taehyung nods. His eyes are searching Jeongguk’s face, and Jeongguk wants so badly to stay in the car, to invent some excuse that makes this night last forever.

“Thanks again,” Jeongguk says, to the driver but mostly to Taehyung. His fingers are curled around the door handle but he can’t quite bring himself to open it. “Good luck in Phoenix.”

Taehyung grins. “Thanks. See you when I get back?”

“Sure thing,” Jeongguk nods. “Night.”

Taehyung takes one last look at him as he opens the door and climbs out of the car.

“Night, Jeongguk.”

What a night it had been.

***

“I should have asked for his number,” Taehyung groans.

“Yup,” Hoseok nods, popping the “p” as he flips through an airplane magazine. “You should have.”

Taehyung groans again, head thumping back against the headrest. He’d been so close to doing it last night when they’d dropped Jeongguk off, but the near miss with the paparazzi had spooked him and he’d ended up letting his anxieties get the better of him. Since then, he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it - him - or the whole night, for that matter.

Jeongguk is sweet, and sincere, and funny. He knows a lot about baseball and he had let Taehyung wave pictures of Yeontan in his face for a full thirty minutes (and seemed genuinely interested in them to boot). He’d reacted to the VIP room with a sort of naive awe, but it hadn’t seemed greedy or calculating, just curious, maybe a little overwhelmed. Without them having talked about it beforehand, he’d known that Taehyung would be unhappy about the paparazzi being there, and he’d been a good sport about having to sneak out.

And then - that moment at the top of the staircase. Taehyung gets goosebumps every time he thinks about it, which has been pretty much non-stop since it happened. It’s the most electric encounter he’s had with someone in years, and he knows that’s probably pathetic but shit. Jeon Jeongguk is hot and Taehyung is vibing on him hard.

Which brings him back to his original problem, namely that he wants to see Jeongguk again outside of an interview setting, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen without having his number.

“Ask Seokjin to get it for you,” Hoseok suggests, wadding a paper napkin from his tray table into a tight ball. “Isn’t he sleeping with Jeongguk’s boss, or something?”

Taehyung physically cringes at the suggestion. “No way,” he says, watching as Hoseok takes aim and sends the paper ball sailing across the aisle and into a sleeping Yoongi’s water cup. Always trying to get Yoongi’s attention, even when he’s unconscious. “He’ll never let me live that down.”

He’d spoken to Seokjin that morning about the paparazzi situation, and he’d seemed relatively calm about it (even though Taehyung knows he must have immediately sprung into action to figure out where the paps came from and who tipped them off). Then he’d asked Taehyung if he was planning on actually pursuing the Jeongguk thing, and Taehyung had pretended to lose service and hung up.

The thing is, he knows Seokjin will support him if he does decide to go for it. The whole reason (or at least a big reason) that Taehyung had come out was to avoid the risk of situations like these evolving into a media shitstorm. Sadly, that doesn’t change the fact that Taehyung himself is a personal shitstorm, wary of his own feelings and too nervous to ask for a cute boy’s phone number. And furthermore, Seokjin supporting Taehyung’s romantic endeavors doesn’t mean he’ll be spared from persistent and merciless teasing about them.

“Okay,” Hoseok says, holding his phone in front of his face to type out a message. “I’ll ask him then.”

“What?!” Taehyung yelps, lunging over the armrest, but Hoseok is too fast for him, twisting away and cackling maniacally. “Hyung, don’t - ”

“Too late,” Hoseok informs him, straightening up again and smiling sagely at Taehyung. Across the aisle, the commotion has woken Yoongi up, and he’s observing the soggy white blob floating in his water with a frown on his face. “It’s for your own good.”

“I hate you,” Taehyung replies, pointedly not mentioning it when he sees Yoongi get up, water cup in hand, and advance on Hoseok.

“And I love you, Tae-”

The rest of the words are cut off by Yoongi emptying the entirety of his cup on Hoseok’s head, wet napkin ball included. Karma, Taehyung thinks smugly.

Hoseok blinks rapidly, spluttering as he fishes the napkin out of his hair.

“You know, coach,” he says, grinning up at Yoongi with water still slipping down the apples of his cheeks. “If you wanted my attention, you could have just said something.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes and stalks back to his seat without another word.

***

Hoseok:
hyung
what’s the cute reporter’s number

Seokjin:

you mean jeongguk?

Hoseok:
yeah

Seokjin:
is this taehyung

Hoseok:
no

Seokjin:
did taehyung put you up to this

Hoseok:
no
but he’s a shy bean who’s too scared to ask himself

Seokjin:
so he is interested

Hoseok:
duh
he’s whipped af
anyway can you get it

Seokjin:
who do you think i am
of course i can

***

Taehyung:
pls disregard any texts from hobi thanks

Jin hyung:
too late
you’ve been exposed

Taehyung:
hyung!!

Jin hyung:
it’s for your own good

Taehyung:
omg why does everyone keep saying that

***

Namjoon:
hey
apparently taehyung wants your number
jin just texted me asking

***

Jeongguk:
SOS SOS SOS
TAHYNFG JUSF ASKED COR MY NIMBGWR
*TAehyng
TAEHYUNG
KIM TAEHYUNG
JUST ASKED FOR MY NUMBER

El <3:
okay
OKAY
REMAIN CALM
god you’re so hot
but seriously be chill

Jeongguk:
I AM NOT CHILL
I HAVE ZERO CHILL

El <3:
you don’t but you can pretend
i believe in you

Jeongguk:
ansfgsggatafyxhsva

***

Jeongguk:
oh rly
nice

Namjoon:
yeah
is it cool if i give it to him?

Jeongguk:
yeah for sure
i mean like
whatever
but cool
it’s cool
with me

Namjoon:
...ok

***

new number:
hey it’s taehyung!
namjoon gave me your number, i hope that’s ok :)

Jeongguk is dying. He might already be dead. He’s ascended to heaven and the words “hey it’s taehyung” are probably engraved in a little blue bubble on his tombstone.

The message had come through a full day after Namjoon texted him about Taehyung wanting his number. Jeongguk had spent the entire interim period staring at his phone, afraid to blink for fear he would somehow miss something. Now, he has Taehyung’s contact saved in his phone as a smiley face (just in case he ever loses it or gets hacked) and they’ve been talking on and off for the past few hours, because apparently casually texting with Taehyung is something Jeongguk does now.

Jeongguk tells Taehyung about his work day and sends him pictures of puppies; Taehyung tells him about Phoenix and their game last night (they lost, which had been disappointing). Jeongguk feels like his own life is infinitely boring compared to Taehyung’s, but for whatever reason, Taehyung seems genuinely interested. As strange and unexpected as it is, it’s nice to just have someone to talk to - other than Ella, his parents, and sometimes Namjoon, Jeongguk doesn’t have many of those in his life.

Their current topic of discussion is other places and activities that Jeongguk wants to explore in San Francisco. When he mentions that he’d been interested in some of the more outdoorsy things that the area has to offer, Taehyung responds with enthusiasm, telling Jeongguk all about his favorite hiking trails. Which leads to:

=):
wanna go on a hike this weekend?
we have an evening game on sat so im free in the morning

Jeongguk nearly drops his phone. It’s one thing for Taehyung to be texting him, but it’s something else entirely for him to suggest another hangout. Jeongguk would very much like to go, he’s just concerned he might die of nerves beforehand.

As he ponders this and tries to think of a chill way to respond, another text comes through.

=):
i can show you my favorite trail ;)

The winky face nearly puts him over the edge - he has to fake a coughing fit to disguise the embarrassing choking noise he makes when he sees it. Namjoon turns around in his desk chair, looking concerned, but Jeongguk just waves him off, red-faced, assuring him that he’s fine.

(He’s very much not fine, but not for the reasons Namjoon is thinking.)

Taehyung is a gratuitous emoji user, Jeongguk has discovered, so the winky face is likely just a product of that. Still, it’s sometimes hard for him to tell if Taehyung is flirting with him, or if Jeongguk is just being a delusional fanboy. The latter option seems more plausible.

He settles for what he hopes is a harmless response:

Jeongguk:
that would be great!

The exclamation point might be a bit much, but he wants Taehyung to know he’s excited for their plans. He’s a little nervous about his knee acting up during the hike, but if he does some physical therapy exercises before and after, he should be fine. He’s not going to let that get in the way of a morning spent with Taehyung.

***

On the morning they’re set to fly back to San Francisco, Taehyung wakes up to 100 texts, 40 missed calls, and 23 voicemails.

At first, he thinks something terrible has happened, panic flooding his chest as he sits bolt upright in bed. Then he realizes that the majority of the messages and calls are from unknown numbers, and a different kind of feeling settles in his chest: dread. The feeling intensifies when he sees the voicemail and texts from Seokjin, all of them telling him to call as soon as he wakes up.

Obviously, Seokjin answers on the first ring. “Hi,” he greets, sounding tense. It’s all Taehyung needs to confirm his suspicions.

“Fuck,” he says, voice still scratchy with sleep. “Fuck, hyung.”

“I take it you already know your phone number was leaked.”

Taehyung had assumed given the state of his phone, but it’s somehow worse to hear Seokjin confirm it out loud. It feels like a weight is pressing down on him, heavy and suffocating, and he hangs his head, staring blankly at the white sheets pooled around his waist.

“Yeah,” he croaks out. Fuck. Fuck. “Do you have any idea who?”

“I’m working on it,” Seokjin tells him. Taehyung doesn’t doubt it; it’s only 9 AM and his agent already sounds exhausted and pissed. He knows it’s literally Seokjin’s job to handle this sort of thing for him, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling guilty about it. It feels like he’s been causing Seokjin a lot of trouble lately. “But I was going to ask you the same thing. Any ideas?”

Taehyung considers, thinking back on the past week and the people he’s encountered. It had mostly just been Seokjin and the team, Jimin of course, and -

Fuck,” he swears again, but this time it’s weaker, more defeated. He feels nauseous all of a sudden, and foolish, completely fucking moronic for thinking he could trust - “Jeongguk.” His voice cracks on the name and he hates it, hates the feel of it in his mouth. “I’ve been talking to him. He’s the only new person I’ve given my number to recently.”

There’s a brief silence on the other end of the line, and it makes Taehyung think that Seokjin had probably already been considering this possibility as well.

“I’ll set up a meeting for this afternoon,” Seokjin says briskly. Then, his voice softens. “I’m sorry, Tae.”

Taehyung takes a shaky breath, horrified when he feels himself getting choked up. This is his own damn fault. He should have known better.

“I feel so fucking stupid,” he whispers. Seriously, how could he have been so stupid? A cute boy is nice to him for a few days and suddenly all of his defenses are down?

“This isn’t your fault,” Seokjin says soothingly, even though they both know it’s a lie. “I’m going to handle it, okay? Just get yourself back to San Francisco.”

Taehyung nods even though Seokjin can’t see him. All he wants to do is curl up in a ball and refuse to leave this hotel room, but obviously that’s not an option right now.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” he murmurs.

“Don’t apologize,” Seokjin says firmly. “This brat is going to be the sorry one when I’m done with his ass.”

Taehyung can’t help but smile weakly at that. He really does have the best agent in the industry.

“Thanks.”

“And don’t forget to turn your phone off,” Seokjin instructs, fully back to business. “If I need you I’ll get in touch with Hoseok or Yoongi.”

Once they say goodbye, Taehyung immediately does what he’s told, powering off his phone as more messages and calls stream in. It scares him, makes him feel exposed and vulnerable, even more so than the other night with the paparazzi and - Jeongguk. Jeongguk had been there that night, had been one of the only people who knew where Taehyung was, had even been the one to tell Taehyung about the paparazzi arriving. The nausea intensifies as Taehyung realizes that Jeongguk could have easily been the one to tip them off in the first place. He’s a reporter, after all - of course he would have connections in the industry. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him at the time, too dumbstruck by Jeongguk’s eyes and his smile and - fuck. Taehyung really is a goddamn idiot.

Somehow, he collects himself enough to gather his things and make his way downstairs to the bus that will take them to the airport. He doesn’t want the whole team to know what’s going on, feeling foolish enough as it is, but he does pull Yoongi and Hoseok aside to give them a heads up. They’re both supportive, kind enough not to ask too many questions, and he’s grateful because he really doesn’t feel up to talking about it right now. Hoseok pulls him in for a hug and Yoongi ruffles his hair while looking like he’s ready to commit a murder, and Taehyung thinks grimly to himself that at least he knows he can trust them.

The flight back to San Francisco is torturous. His phone is off, obviously, so he has nothing to distract himself from stewing in a depressing pit of betrayal and self-loathing for two hours. When they land back at SFO, Seokjin has a car waiting for him at the airport, which presumably means he’s already managed to arrange a meeting. Taehyung’s stomach drops at the prospect of having to come face to face with Jeongguk so soon.

Seokjin’s office is located in a suitably chic high-rise building covered primarily in large glass windows. Taehyung has been here a few times before, so he simply nods at the security guards as they buzz him through to the elevator bank. Mercifully, he’s alone in the elevator for the ride up - he doesn’t think he could handle any half-assed covert stares right now.

Seokjin is waiting for him in one of the office’s conference rooms, a large, bright room with a long table and a whole wall of windows offering views of the city. It’s a beautiful day outside, and the atmosphere feels deceptively cheery for what’s currently happening in Taehyung’s life, the conversation he’s about to have.

“How was your trip?” Seokjin asks by way of a greeting. He looks as poised as ever, dressed in a crisp maroon blazer, but his arms are folded over his chest and Taehyung can tell he’s unhappy.

Taehyung shrugs, dropping into an oversized leather chair, the kind that spins. “It sucked.”

“How are you feeling?”

“This sucks,” Taehyung says, sagging against the back of the chair and wishing to be anywhere in the world but here.

Seokjin frowns, then sighs. “Drink this,” he orders, shoving a glass of water into Taehyung’s hands. “They’ll be here soon.”

“Namjoon is coming too?” Taehyung surmises, blinking up at Seokjin.

“I need to know if he was involved,” Seokjin replies curtly, and Taehyung feels another tug of guilt. He doesn’t want his problems to mess up whatever Seokjin has going with Namjoon.

“Did you tell them what this is about?”

Seokjin shakes his head, wearing the expression that generally indicates he’s about to rip someone to shreds.

Before they can discuss it further, the door to the conference room cracks open, revealing first Namjoon and then Jeongguk. Taehyung’s stomach curls in on itself at the sight of him, doe eyes and fluffy hair, and he wants so desperately to be mad but mostly he just feels sad. It confuses him the way Jeongguk’s face lights when he sees him, the way his smile falters when Taehyung doesn’t return it and looks down at the table instead. Namjoon at least seems slightly more clued into the mood of the room, brow furrowed as he looks from Seokjin to Taehyung.

“Gentlemen,” Seokjin says in his most professional voice. “Have a seat.”

They do, on the other side of the table from Taehyung and Seokjin. Taehyung continues to avoid making eye contact, feeling a little bit like a child who’s allowing his father to speak for him.

“Taehyung’s phone number was leaked to the press last night,” Seokjin informs them, cutting straight to the point. Namjoon’s eyebrows shoot up, and Jeongguk’s eyes grow wide and horrified.

“What?” Jeongguk asks, sounding alarmed. He’s certainly a good actor, Taehyung thinks bitterly. “That’s so - shit, Taehyung, I’m sorry. What happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell us that,” Seokjin says, tone turning colder.

Jeongguk blinks at him, clearly confused. “I - what? What do you mean?”

But Namjoon seems to have already caught up to what Seokjin is implying. “You think Jeongguk did this?” he asks, skeptical. He doesn’t even look angry, just disbelieving. At his side, Jeongguk’s mouth falls open in shock, face growing flushed as he glances between Seokjin, Taehyung, and Namjoon.

What?!” he cries. His gaze fixes on Taehyung, eyes pleading. “I didn’t, Taehyung, I would never - ”

“You’re the only new person who’s had access to Taehyung’s number in the past few days,” Seokjin points out. Taehyung shrinks further into his seat, furious with himself for being so cavalier about giving out his phone number.

Jeongguk is still staring at Taehyung, looking near tears now, and Taehyung wants nothing more than to crawl under the table and die. “I didn’t even save your number under your name,” he insists. “I promise, I would never do that to y- ”

“What about the paparazzi at the bar?” Taehyung says shakily, trying to hold onto his anger and not cave under Jeongguk’s imploring stare.

Jeongguk’s mouth falls open again, his expression crumbling. “You think I tipped them off too?”

Taehyung shrugs. This is even worse than he was expecting. “I’ve never had an issue there before. Then I go with you and they show up.”

Jeongguk looks devastated.

“I’m not selling you out to the media,” he says vehemently. “I wanted - I’m just trying to get to know you better.”

“It’s difficult for us to just take your word for it, in light of the circumstances,” Seokjin says, although even he doesn’t look as impervious as usual in the face of Jeongguk’s reaction.

“You have my word, too,” Namjoon pipes up. “Jeongguk wouldn’t do this. He didn’t do this.”

“Can you prove that?” Seokjin asks bluntly. “Maybe he’s looking for a leg up in the industry, maybe he needed some money - ”

Jeongguk stands abruptly, his chair rocketing backwards. Like this, Taehyung can see that his entire body is trembling, his fists clenched. “Take my phone if you want,” he says fiercely, tossing his phone down on the table between them. “Go through it, I don’t care. You won’t find anything because I’m not fucking lying.”

Taehyung stares at the phone, feeling ill as Seokjin reaches forward and takes it. Then his eyes shift up to Jeongguk, finds him already looking back.

“I’m sorry this happened,” he croaks out. “I wish you believed me.”

Taehyung doesn’t have a response to that, and even if he did, Jeongguk doesn’t wait to hear it. He turns and rushes out of the conference room, leaving silence in his wake.

“That was shitty,” Namjoon says evenly, standing up. “He’s just a kid. He doesn’t have it in him to sell someone out.”

Seokjin shrugs. “It’s my job to protect Taehyung’s privacy,” he replies. Taehyung looks down at his hands, mortified to be the source of so much conflict. “I have to be sure.”

“Yeah, well. Keep looking, because he’s not your guy.”

And then he walks out as well, and Seokjin and Taehyung are once again alone.

“Well,” Seokjin says, sinking down into the seat next to Taehyung. “That wasn’t particularly fun.”

“Do you believe them?” Taehyung asks. He can’t get the expression on Jeongguk’s face out of his head, how wounded he had looked.

“In general, I trust Namjoon’s judgment,” Seokjin says, pensive. “But it’s also difficult to trust anyone for sure in this industry.”

Taehyung knows that very well.

“I’m sorry if this messes things up between you two,” he mumbles, ashamed.

Seokjin waves a dismissive hand. “It’s fine. He knows what I do, he knew what he was getting himself into,” he says. “Frankly, if he was spooked by this, we’re probably not right for each other anyway.”

Taehyung raises a dubious eyebrow at this, prompting Seokjin to sigh and roll his eyes.

“And okay, fine, I’ll suck his brain out through his dick if it turns out he’s right about this.”

Even in his dark haze of mood, Taehyung can’t help but snort at that. It alleviates a little bit of the pressure to know that Seokjin at least isn’t worried about him and Namjoon.

“What about you?” Seokjin asks, voice gentle in a way that Taehyung thinks is reserved especially for him. “Do you believe them?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung sighs, feeling helplessly lost. He doesn’t know where the line is between gut instinct, rational judgment, and his own emotions. “I don’t know what to believe.”

Seokjin nods in understanding. “Do you want to look at his phone?”

It’s an older model iPhone in a battered black case, clearly worse for the wear after who knows how many years of use. There’s a faint crack running diagonally across the top of the screen, cutting through a photo of Jeongguk and a pretty girl with dark, wavy hair. They’re smiling goofily at the camera, cheeks pressed together, and Taehyung feels a completely unwarranted pull of jealousy.

The idea of going through someone else’s phone has always made him uncomfortable, probably because he’s someone who clings so tightly to his own privacy. He accepts it warily, but once he’s looking down at the chipped screen, drinking in Jeongguk’s bunny toothed smile, he realizes there’s really only one thing he wants to check.

Opening the message app, he browses through until he finds the most recent exchange between Jeongguk and himself. It’s the third one down from the top, beneath a conversation with Namjoon and another with someone saved as El <3. With another prickle of jealousy, Taehyung wonders if she’s the girl from the background picture, and if so, who she is to Jeongguk.

Shoving that thought away (since it’s none of his damn business), he focuses instead on his own message thread with Jeongguk, which he recognizes from the last text he’d sent yesterday. And sure enough, just like Jeongguk had said, his number isn’t saved under Taehyung’s name - it’s saved as a smiley face. It’s a small detail, and it doesn’t really prove anything, but it does suggest that Jeongguk was trying to be discreet about Taehyung’s contact information. Taehyung’s not entirely sure what to do with that knowledge.

“I don’t want it,” he decides aloud, pushing the phone back into Seokjin’s hands. “Do what you want but I - ” he pauses, swallowing. “I can’t go through it.”

If Jeongguk is telling the truth, Taehyung doesn’t want to intrude upon his privacy. If he’s not - well, Taehyung doesn’t think he could bear to find the evidence of Jeongguk selling him out.

“I understand,” Seokjin nods, setting the phone on the conference table. “Go home, okay? Try to relax for a little, hang out with Tannie.”

“Okay,” Taehyung agrees. He wants nothing more than to curl up with Yeontan and take a fucking nap. “Thanks, hyung.”

“You’ll have a new number today,” Seokjin adds, back to business as they both stand. “And I’ve reached out to all my press contacts, so I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Just lay low for now.”

Taehyung nods. Staying as far as possible from the public eye sounds like a perfect plan right now.

***

Four hours later, Taehyung gets a phone call at his new number. After everything that had happened this morning, the sound of his phone vibrating makes him flinch, but to his relief it’s just Seokjin calling. He sits up in bed, fingers finding the reassuring warmth of Yeontan’s fur, and answers.

“I don’t think it was him,” Seokjin announces, cutting straight to the point as soon as Taehyung mumbles out a hello.

This makes Taehyung perk up.

“Why?” he asks. “Did you find something?”

“I got to the source of the leak. Some garbage online tabloid,” Seokjin says, voice dripping with disdain. “They wouldn’t give me their contact, but when I casually mentioned legal action, they said it was someone close to the team, in the MLB.”

Taehyung’s stomach sinks, mind racing as he tries to think of who that could be. There are plenty of people surrounding the team that he interacts with on a daily basis, most of whom either have his number or could easily get it from someone else. It’s an ugly feeling, knowing that he can no longer fully trust the people that are the makeup of his daily life. When he’d first joined the team, he’d been eager to make friends, happily giving out his phone number to teammates and staffers alike. Of course, some friendships stuck (Hoseok, Yoongi) while others didn’t amount to much, but still he’d never worried about something like this happening. As disappointing as it is, he’ll certainly be more discerning about who he shares this new number with.

“Well that’s shitty,” Taehyung says, processing the news. “But thanks for doing the digging.”

“Of course,” Seokjin replies dismissively. “The most frustrating part was trying to communicate with the utter morons who run the tabloid, honestly, how these people manage to remain employed - ” he makes a disgusted noise and cuts himself off, circling back to the point. “Anyway. I’m still determined to get a name, but for now at least you know your baby reporter was telling the truth.”

Taehyung’s stomach twists uncomfortably at this. It’s obviously a huge relief to know that Jeongguk hadn’t sold him out, but now he feels horribly guilty for having him accused him in the first place, for having subjected him to an interrogation that he didn’t deserve. He keeps thinking back to the way Jeongguk had reacted, how devastated he had seemed, and now that Taehyung knows for sure it wasn’t an act, it makes the memory a hundred times worse.

“Did you go through his phone?” Taehyung asks.

“I did a quick scan to see if anything looked suspicious, but that was it,” Seokjin admits. “Even I prefer not to go digging through people’s personal lives if I can avoid it.”

This makes Taehyung feel the slightest bit better. He just wishes it hadn’t gotten to this point in the first place, with Jeongguk so desperate to prove his innocence that he’d give up his own phone. Taehyung doesn’t want to make assumptions, but he has a feeling that Jeongguk isn’t currently in a position to easily replace an iPhone.

“Are you going to give it back to him?”

Seokjin hums, considering. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but yeah, I guess I should,” he says. “I can get Namjoon to give it to him. I owe him a blow job anyway.”

“Don’t bother,” Taehyung says abruptly, an idea occurring to him. When Seokjin makes a questioning noise, he adds: “With the phone, I mean. Go right ahead with the blow job, you definitely owe him.”

Seokjin laughs. “This is why you’re my favorite client, Taehyungie. Who else is this concerned about my sex life?”

Chapter Text

Jeongguk is sulking. He recognizes this is the second time in the past few weeks that he’s been thrown into a bad mood because of Taehyung, but he thinks this time it’s at least justified. It’s been a day and a half since the whole, horrible incident with Taehyung and Seokjin, and he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

The worst part, he’s decided, is that Taehyung actually believes him to be capable of doing something so selfish and intrusive. And not just capable of it - of planning it intentionally, deliberately manipulating Taehyung for his own personal gain. He can see how Taehyung and Seokjin might have come to that conclusion given the circumstances, but it still hurts. Even if his relationship with Taehyung was never meant to be anything more than this, he hates that Taehyung will go on living with this opinion of him, will have to bear this burden of feeling betrayed by someone he thought he could trust. He hates knowing that there is still someone out there who would use Taehyung like that, someone who could very well do the same thing again since they got away with it this time. If nothing else, he wishes Taehyung had believed him for that reason, for his own personal safety and privacy in the future.

And yeah, selfishly, he’s really bummed to be losing out on whatever it was that had been brewing between him and Taehyung. He’d known all along that it was too good to be true, but still, it had really felt like they connected. Maybe it was dumb of him to get so caught up in that so soon, but Jeongguk’s never been particularly good at keeping his emotions in check. If he was, his life would probably look a lot different than it does right now, starting with the dull ache in his knee.

To add insult to injury, he’d been stupid enough in the heat of the moment to leave his phone with Taehyung and Seokjin, so he can’t even call Ella and cry to her about it. He also needs a phone to like, function in modern society, and he’s starting to wonder if he’s ever going to get his back or if he needs to somehow come up with the money to buy a new one. Namjoon had sent him an email saying he’d find a way to get it back from Seokjin as soon as possible, but that had been last night and he hasn’t heard anything since. The only silver lining in all of this is that he at least hadn’t had to work today - he doesn’t think he could have beared having to see Taehyung, trying to act normal while interviewing him. Ken is going to be pissed when he learns that Jeongguk has already lost his place as Taehyung’s favorite interviewer.

God, his life is in shambles.

Needless to say, he’s miles deep in his personal pity party when he hears a knock at his door. Seeing as he doesn’t know anyone in this city, he figures it either has to be a lost delivery person or his super, likely coming to tell him the building is infested with dangerous mold and he needs to move out immediately. There’s also a slight chance it’s Namjoon having miraculously recovered his phone, but Namjoon is really more of the communicate-in-advance rather than the spontaneous-surprise-visit type.

Of every possible scenario Jeongguk could have imagined as he drags himself to the door, the absolute last one would have been Kim Taehyung, standing in Jeongguk’s dim, dirty hallway dressed in dark clothing, hoodie pulled over his head. It’s impossible, so completely unfathomable that Jeongguk actually thinks he’s dreaming for a few silent seconds, frozen in the doorway with his mouth hanging open. Then Taehyung speaks, and the spell is broken.

“Hey,” he says, his voice sounding deeper than usual, rough. “I, um - I brought you this.”

He extends an arm, Jeongguk’s shitty old phone resting in the palm of his hand. Jeongguk looks from the phone to Taehyung and back again, too stunned to formulate any sort of response.

Taehyung is at his apartment. Taehyung is at his apartment.

“It’s your phone,” Taehyung adds needlessly, probably reading Jeongguk’s stupor as confusion.

“Oh,” Jeongguk croaks out, somehow summoning the mental faculty to reach out and take the phone from Taehyung. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Taehyung says. He shuffles in place slightly, seemingly uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled so low, but Jeongguk thinks he looks a little worse for the wear. “Uh.” He clears his throat. “Can I come in for a second?”

Jeongguk nods numbly, taking a step back to allow him to walk inside. He closes the door, and then Taehyung’s just standing there, two feet into Jeongguk’s shithole of an apartment, and it’s all very overwhelming because Jeongguk’s brain is still trying to catch up with Taehyung’s presence in his hallway.

Taehyung pushes the hood off of his head and Jeongguk was right, he does look exhausted. Still the prettiest person Jeongguk has ever seen, hands down, but definitely exhausted. The whole phone number saga has probably taken a toll on him, Jeongguk thinks, and remembering that drags him back to the reality of the situation.

“Umm. I came here to apologize,” Taehyung says, meeting Jeongguk’s eyes. “I know you weren’t the one who leaked my number. I’m sorry for not believing you.”

It takes Jeongguk a few seconds to process that Taehyung is actually apologizing, and then another few to come up with a coherent, verbal response. There’s a lot of things he could say, but the first thing he lands on is: “Did you find out who did it?”

Taehyung looks surprised for a moment, blinking at him before shoving his hands in his sweatshirt pocket and shrugging. “Someone in the league. Nothing more than that.”

“Oh.” Jeongguk swallows. He knows he should feel relieved, and he does, but Taehyung still has to deal with this regardless and that’s shitty.

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “So - yeah. Like I said, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk replies, meaning it. Maybe he’s a little too weak for the boy standing in front of him. “I mean, I get it.”

Something in Taehyung’s expression lightens, his shoulders lifting slightly, eyebrows rising in disbelief. “You get it?”

“Yeah, I mean - you’re like, a superstar,” Jeongguk fumbles out. “Everyone wants a piece of you, and you don’t know me that well. You have to be extra careful about your privacy.” He pauses, hoping he doesn’t sound like a total idiot. “That must be really stressful.”

“We attacked you, though,” Taehyung says, frowning. “We blamed you for something you didn’t do.”

Jeongguk winces, looking down at his feet. “Yeah. That sucked.” He pulls his gaze up again, finding Taehyung’s. It’s strange to see his eyes so warm, so much softer than the last time they had seen each other. “I just - I hope you know I would never do that, even if I didn’t - ”

He catches himself just in time, cheeks warm as he shoves the words back down his throat. It’s surreal enough that Taehyung is here right now; he doesn’t need to ruin it with an embarrassing confession.

Unfortunately for him, it seems that Taehyung has other plans.

“Even if you didn’t…?” he repeats, curious.

Fuck. Fuckity fuck.

“Never mind,” Jeongguk tries, even though he knows his flushed face is giving him away.

“Tell me,” Taehyung persists. He’s just so - so everything, with his perfect fucking face and his deliberate way of saying things, and Jeongguk is helpless to deny him. Even if it ruins the fragile peace they’ve only just reestablished.

“Look, I obviously have a crush on you, can we just ignore that?” Jeongguk rushes out, cheeks flaming. He feels like a kid, so obvious and naive, enamored of his celebrity idol. Except it’s more than that now because he knows Taehyung, or he’s getting there at least, and the more he learns, the more he likes the person that he sees.

Taehyung, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be appalled or disgusted by this confession. Caught off guard, perhaps, but not upset. If anything, he looks bashful, maybe even a little pleased.

“You have a crush on me?” he asks.

Jeongguk lets out a rather undignified whine, embarrassed. He doesn’t want to be made to repeat it. “Tae - ”

“I have a crush on you, too,” Taehyung interrupts, his own cheeks faintly pink. Vulnerable.

Jeongguk stares at him, his heart suddenly lodged fully in his throat. “What?”

“Come on,” Taehyung says, tone aiming for playful over an undercurrent of nerves. “Why else do you think I’m here hand delivering your phone?”

Jeongguk blinks, still not convinced. “Uh. Because you felt guilty?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “I do feel guilty,” he acknowledges, edging closer. “Really guilty. But I also like you, Jeongguk.”

The distance between them is smaller now. Jeongguk is suddenly very aware of the fact that he’s been wearing the same ratty sweats and T-shirt since yesterday, his hair a puffy disaster on his head. And yet, Taehyung is here. Taehyung likes him. Taehyung likes him.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says stupidly. He’s at a loss for what else to say. Words have never been his forte, especially when face to face with exceptionally pretty boys.

“It’s hard for me to trust people,” Taehyung admits when it becomes clear that Jeongguk has nothing else to contribute at the moment. “But I - I trust you.” He shrugs a little awkwardly, running a hand through his hair. “That’s why I was so upset when I thought you were the one who did it.”

Jeongguk swallows, nods. This is difficult for Taehyung, he can tell. Trusting someone, being vulnerable in front of someone. Underneath all the bravado and easy charm, he’s scared. Just like Jeongguk.

“I’m glad you trust me,” Jeongguk manages to croak out. He feels warm at the confession and he doesn’t want to leave Taehyung hanging. “I don’t want to ever give you a reason to not.”

Taehyung offers him a small smile, shaking his head slightly. His hair is messy but it looks unfairly good on him, gleaming blondish brown under the overhead light in Jeongguk’s kitchen. “Man, where did you come from, Jeon Jeongguk?”

“Texas,” Jeongguk replies, the warm feeling intensifying when Taehyung lets out a snort of laughter.

Then he’s shifting closer, close enough that they’re on the verge of sharing personal space. Close enough to make Jeongguk’s cheeks warm again and his heart leap in his chest, because that’s the effect Taehyung has on him. Close enough for Taehyung to find his hand and tangle their fingers together, skin warm and deceptively smooth.

“This okay?” he asks, voice soft, eyes searching Jeongguk’s face.

Jeongguk gulps, nodding. “Yeah.”

It’s more than okay, it’s downright nice. Such a simple, innocent sort of contact, but living alone in a new city Jeongguk doesn’t get much of that these days. Didn’t fully realize quite how starved he was for it until just now, standing here in the middle of his tiny, gross kitchen with this boy’s hand in his.

“Your, uh - ” he stammers. Because words have never been his forte but that’s especially true around Taehyung, his presence making Jeongguk’s head spin and his tongue twist. “Your hands are soft.”

Taehyung laughs, a soft puff of air against Jeongguk’s lips. “I moisturize.”

Jeongguk wonders if that applies to all of Taehyung’s body, if every inch of tan skin would feel just as good beneath his fingers. His throat feels dry as he imagines it, mind getting carried away with fantasies.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, overwhelmed. “That’s, uh - that’s nice.”

Another soft laugh, and Taehyung’s tugging lightly at his hand, drawing him in. Their noses are practically touching and Jeongguk is a goner, a quivering puddle of goo laid out at Taehyung’s feet. “I’m glad you think so.”

“I think everything about you is nice,” Jeongguk mumbles, idiotic but earnest.

Lucky for him, Taehyung seems to dig idiotic earnesty. He smiles, leaning in until their noses brush together, Jeongguk barely breathing. All it would take is a few inches, Jeongguk pitching forward ever so slightly, and they’d be kissing.

“How about this?” Taehyung breathes, one knuckle brushing lightly at the underside of Jeongguk’s chin, and Jeongguk swears he’s about to dissolve on the spot. “Is this nice?”

He’s nodding before he even fully hears the question, every nerve ending alight with anticipation. Taehyung could ask him for anything right now and he would say yes, ready to offer up his body and heart for Taehyung to do with as he pleases.

“Yes,” he rasps out. Wonders if Taehyung can tell that he’s practically begging for it right now, eager to the point of desperation for something he can’t even fully put a name to. Just - more. More, closer, touch me, let me touch you, please, please.

(He probably can. Jeongguk’s always been shit at hiding his feelings.)

And then -

One second, Jeongguk’s eyelids are fluttering shut. Two seconds, Taehyung’s sucking in a shaky breath. Three seconds

- they’re kissing.

The kiss is soft. Curious, sweet. Tastes of hope, feels like heaven. Feels like Taehyung’s fingers curling lightly around Jeongguk’s jaw, his lips soft and full and perfect. Jeongguk’s hands falling to his waist, fingering the rumpled fabric of his sweatshirt, holding him close.

Jeongguk hasn’t kissed anyone since he moved to San Francisco. Hasn’t kissed anyone he was actually interested in since college. Hasn’t kissed someone and had it feel like this ever - like he’s being slowly filled up with warmth, something inside of him blooming for the very first time.

He’s in trouble, but he doesn’t even care.

It takes them a few minutes to fully break apart. There’s The Kiss, big and drawn-out, and then there’s a series of smaller kisses, sweet little pecks that Taehyung keeps coming back for. Like he’s not quite ready to stop, like he can’t get enough. The thought alone makes Jeongguk’s insides flutter, fists curling tighter into Taehyung’s sweatshirt.

When he finally pulls away, Taehyung is grinning dopily at him, smile wide and charmingly boxy. Jeongguk can’t help but mirror it back to him, his body needing some sort of physical expression for how giddy he feels, how utterly smitten. Jumping up and down and giggling hysterically would probably seem a bit uncool, so smiling it is.

“Umm,” Jeongguk says, clearing his throat. “That was - ”

“Nice?” Taehyung supplies teasingly.

Jeongguk flushes, resisting the urge to pout. “Very nice.”

Very nice,” Teahyung repeats, all mock disbelief. “Such high praise - ”

“Do you want to hang out for a little?” Jeongguk interrupts, blurting out the invitation before he can think better of it. Taehyung stops talking, his eyes widening slightly, and Jeongguk blunders on. “I mean, like - watch a movie, or something?”

Taehyung says yes.

***

“I should really get going,” Taehyung mumbles for the third time in as many minutes.

It’s said against Jeongguk’s lips, again, and Jeongguk hums in agreement, again, and neither of them makes any move to get up or stop kissing.

Again.

It’s just that Taehyung’s never found a seat he liked quite as much as Jeongguk’s lap, and now that he’s found himself here he’s having a really hard time giving it up. Jeongguk’s narrow waist squeezed between his knees, Jeongguk’s thick thighs toned and solid beneath his ass, Jeongguk’s hands creeping under the hem of his sweatshirt. It’s good, it’s all so damn good, and Taehyung really does need to leave but fuck, he so very badly doesn’t want to.

Jeongguk’s laptop has been shoved to the side, half buried under sheets and a pillow, the movie still playing at a low volume even though neither of them has paid any attention to it in the past half an hour. To be honest, Taehyung’s surprised they even made it as far in as they did, but Jeongguk’s kind of shy and Taehyung thinks it’s kind of sweet. Really sweet, actually. Almost as sweet as Jeongguk fumbling through explaining how the charger for his dying laptop didn’t reach his couch, so they’d probably have to watch the movie in his bed instead.

(“Trying to get me into bed, Jeon?” Taehyung had teased, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Trying to keep it playful even as butterflies were exploding in his stomach.

Jeongguk had turned beet red and stammered his way through an apology until Taehyung kissed him to shut him up.)

And now here they are, sitting together having led to making out having led to Taehyung (rather boldly) clambering into Jeongguk’s lap and planting himself there. He likes kissing Jeongguk, likes it a lot, and if he’s not careful all of this is going to lead to something else pretty soon. He can tell that Jeongguk’s half hard, isn’t faring much better himself, but if he’s honest with himself he kind of likes the idea of taking things slow. Or slow-ish, at least. Even if he still really, really doesn’t want to get off of Jeongguk’s lap.

“I’m gonna go,” he says again, more to himself than to Jeongguk.

“’Kay,” Jeongguk replies, kissing the corner of his mouth before moving back to the center. His hands stroke lightly up and down Taehyung’s sides, exploratory over his sweatshirt-heated skin. He hasn’t made any move to go further south, and even though Taehyung kind of wishes he would, he also sort of likes that he hasn’t. It frees up his attention to focus solely on the simple glory that is kissing Jeongguk, the lovely slide of his lips and the occasional slip of his tongue.

Which, speaking of, Taehyung is supposed to be stopping. Any minute now.

Summoning all of his willpower, he places a hand on the center of Jeongguk’s chest, finally putting some physical distance between them. This doesn’t prove as effective as he’d hoped when he sees the state Jeongguk is in, his sweet mouth pink from kisses and the color high in his cheeks. All because of some heated making out, all because of Taehyung. He suppresses a shudder at the thought of what Jeongguk will look like if and when they do more than this.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, voice deliciously hoarse. He retracts his hands from underneath Taehyung’s sweatshirt, resting them at a more demure place on his hips.

“Don’t be,” Taehyung shakes his head. “I don’t - I mean, I don’t want to go. But - yeah.” He nods. “I should.”

Through the window behind Jeongguk’s head, he can see that it’s fully dark outside now. The road is quiet, and there are lights on in the apartment buildings across the street. When he’d come here, it had been dusk, and he’d been anticipating a short visit, for Jeongguk to be sullen and cold towards him. This outcome is far better than he’d hoped, but he really does need to go. It’s getting late and he has a game tomorrow.

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods. His expression is still faintly glazed over, and it makes Taehyung hot as he climbs off of Jeongguk’s lap and slides to his feet. Jeongguk follows, both of them blushing when their eyes meet halfway through straightening their clothes.

“Well,” Taehyung says as they walk to the door. It’s only a few steps away because Jeongguk’s apartment is so tiny. “This was nice.” He shoots Jeongguk a sly look. “Dare I say, very nice.”

Jeongguk snorts, shoving him lightly. “Shut up.”

“You’ll have to kiss me to get me to do that,” Taehyung grins, ridiculously pleased with the way Jeongguk’s blush deepens. It makes him feel a little less shy about what he’s about to say next. “So, ah - seeing as we like each other, and everything. Do you still want to go on that hike some time?”

Rationally, he knows it’s silly for him to be anxious, seeing as it’s pretty clear that Jeongguk is into him in a big way. Still, it’s not often (or ever) that he goes around asking people out, and he’s still getting used to the idea of being this open about his feelings. Taehyung has mastered the art of coming off as an open book in the public eye, but in reality, he’s always played the big stuff - the stuff that actually matters - close to the vest.

“Yeah!” Jeongguk agrees, head bobbing eagerly. The anxious ball in Taehyung’s stomach loosens. “That would be awesome.”

“Cool,” Taehyung says, relieved. “Cool.”

“Saturday?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Saturday.”

They smile awkwardly at each other.

“Right,” Taehyung says, remembering he’s the one that supposedly needs to leave. “See you Saturday, then.”

“Tomorrow, actually.”

Taehyung blinks at him, confused.

“I’m working the game,” Jeongguk reminds him.

“Oh! Shit, right.” In the midst of all of this, he’d kind of forgotten the reason he and Jeongguk know each other in the first place. He feels a little thrill of excitement at knowing he has another excuse to see him before their hike. “Better keep the questions professional, Jeon.”

“Better not flirt with me while I’m asking them,” Jeongguk fires back.

Taehyung raises his hands up on either side of his head, palms facing Jeongguk. “Can’t make any promises.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Just keep your hat facing forwards and we’ll be fine.”

“What?”

Jeongguk’s eyes widen, his cheeks flooding with color. “Nothing.”

“Wait, Jeongg- ”

“Don’t you have to leave?” Jeongguk rushes out, opening his front door.

“Yeah, but - ” Taehyung continues speaking as he’s unceremoniously shoved into the hallway.

“Wouldn’t want to keep you, then,” Jeongguk says, voice slightly squeaky. “See you tomorrow!”

And with that, the door slams shut in his face.

***

On Saturday morning, Jeongguk wakes up when it’s still dark outside. It takes him a moment to get his bearings, the apartment around him unfamiliar in the shadows, and for one, wild second he thinks he’s back in college, waking up for an early morning practice.

Then, everything slots back into place, fluttery nerves erupting in his stomach, and he remembers the reason he’s awake this early in the first place - his date (is it a date? If they’ve both admitted they like each other, that means it’s a date, right?) with Taehyung is this morning.

He rolls out of bed with a bit more alacrity than usual, equal parts nervous and excited. He’s seen Taehyung a few times since they confessed their feelings and made out a few days ago, but only in the context of interviewing him before and after games. It’s obviously a far better alternative to not seeing him at all, but being around the guy you’re maybe almost starting to date in a professional setting is definitely a bit odd. If Jeongguk was crushing before, he’s completely whipped now, his eyes darting to Taehyung’s lips every time he answered a question. The worst part was that Taehyung could obviously tell, flashing Jeongguk these knowing little smirks that made his heart rate spike higher each time.

But now it’s finally Saturday, and if Jeongguk is going to moon hopelessly over Taehyung he can at least do it away from the prying eyes of the entire Giants baseball team and every sports reporter in the Bay Area. And maybe sneak in a few kisses while he’s at it, because ever since he’d gotten a taste (quite literally) of Taehyung’s mouth, he hasn’t been able to think about much else.

He fumbles around getting ready in the near dark, fighting the usual battle with his hair and pulling on comfortable hiking clothes. He’s been doing physical therapy exercises and stretches for his knee all week, determined not to let it ruin their date. Most of the time it doesn’t give him too much trouble, but steep inclines and declines can occasionally be an issue. Kind of ironic that he ended up in San Francisco of all places, the hilliest city in the whole damn country.

At 6:02 AM, he looks out his window and sees Taehyung’s car, a discreetly sleek black sedan, idling on the street below. Stomach jumping with nerves, he grabs his keys and phone and hurries out the door, the staircase eerily dark and silent so early in the morning. Outside, it’s damp and misty, air heavy with the trademark San Francisco fog that will only grow thicker as they get closer to the water. Not preferred for an idyllic seaside walk, but useful if your date is a celebrity athlete who doesn’t want to be recognized.

It’s not like he’s expecting anyone other than Taehyung to be waiting in the car, but it still sends a little thrill down his spine when he opens the door and sees him in the driver’s seat. He looks fine as hell sitting there, one hand draped casually over the steering wheel, and seriously, who gave him the right to look this effortlessly sexy so early in the morning?

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, feeling a little bit like the wind’s been knocked out of him as he slides into the car.

“Hey,” Taehyung returns, grinning widely at him. “Ready?”

Jeongguk nods. “Ready.”

It’s not a particularly long drive, the roads largely devoid of traffic at this early hour on a Saturday. They chat easily as they go, the mere fact of Taehyung’s presence all Jeongguk needs to feel fully awake. He tries not to stare openly, but it’s hard not to admire the flawless line of Taehyung’s profile, the way his fingers look wrapped long and steady around the steering wheel. It sends Jeongguk’s brain into horny overdrive, makes him wonder what those fingers would look like wrapped around -

Well. Things. Other things. Certain body parts, perhaps.

But anyway. He needs to seriously chill before he pops some belated morning wood in the front seat of Taehyung’s fancy car.

As they’d hoped, the trailhead is still relatively quiet when they arrive, only the most ambitious hikers out and about. The lingering fog provides an extra layer of cover, but Taehyung pulls on big sunglasses and a dark, nondescript cap all the same.

“Sorry,” he says, shrugging sheepishly. “Can never be too safe these days.”

Privately, Jeongguk is disappointed that he can’t see more of Taehyung’s face, but he understands the precaution and is even a little grateful for it. He doesn’t want their date being interrupted by curious fans or, god forbid, paparazzi. As excited as he is to be spending time with Taehyung, he’s definitely not ready for his dating life to be front page news.

“So you come here a lot?” Jeongguk asks as they start walking. It’s a dirt trail cut into a hillside, enclosed by trees in some places and open in others. Taehyung walks a half step in front of him, leading the way.

“When I have the time,” Taehyung nods. “I come with Tannie sometimes, he loves it.” He pauses, pouting slightly. “I felt bad leaving him behind today, but he’s a little too recognizable right now.”

Before meeting Taehyung, Jeongguk had never given much thought to the sacrifices that come with being a public figure, the privacy you have to give up. Now that he’s seeing it firsthand, he’s never been so grateful for his own anonymity.

“That sucks,” Jeongguk says. He wants to say he understands, or offer to help in some way, but the truth is that he doesn’t and he can’t.

Taehyung shrugs, kicking at a stray pebble. “Hopefully it won’t be this bad forever. The whole gay thing is still pretty big news.”

“Do you regret coming out?”

“No.” Taehyung glances at him out of the corner of his eye, playful. “Wouldn’t get to do this if I hadn’t.”

The words register, and Jeongguk looks down at his feet, suddenly flustered.

“My family and close friends already knew,” Taehyung continues. “For a while. I didn’t really want the publicity, but I was just sick of it being some big secret. It’s stupid.”

He waves a hand irritably, like he’s trying to get rid of a particularly annoying bug.

“I thought it was really brave of you,” Jeongguk offers shyly. He thinks about what the announcement must have meant to kids struggling with their sexuality, especially athletes. What it would have meant to him if it had happened while he was still playing baseball.

“A lot of people say that,” Taehyung says. “It’s nice, but I feel like it’s giving me too much credit. It was a selfish decision, more than anything.”

“That’s okay,” Jeongguk insists. “I mean - I don’t think it’s selfish to make decisions that are good for yourself. And even if it was, you’re still helping people.”

“That’s true,” Taehyung says slowly, nodding. “I mean, if me being out helps people, that’s amazing.” He shrugs, sidestepping a low hanging branch. “It’s just a lot of responsibility.”

Jeongguk thinks he understands, or is beginning to. It would be difficult to be thrust into the position of a role model when all you’re trying to do is just live your life.

“That makes sense,” he nods, hoping he can at least make Taehyung feel somewhat validated. “Hopefully some of the buzz dies down soon, like you said.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says, smiling. Even with half his face hidden by the sunglasses, his smile is dazzling. “What about you? When did you come out?”

The mist around them suddenly feels thicker, almost suffocating. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, especially in the context of their conversation, but it makes Jeongguk go cold.

“College,” he replies, wincing at how stiff he sounds. Clearing his throat, he adds quietly: “After I stopped playing baseball.”

It’s a period in his life he tries not to think about often, the darkest few months in his 22 years. Hospital rooms, chronic pain, the constant, overwhelming sensation that his entire world was crumbling around him. And the shame. The horrible, debilitating shame that he hadn’t been able to confide in anyone, that he still keeps locked away. Even in this new city, this new life, it festers inside of him, a “what if?” lurking in the darkest corners of his mind.

Taehyung’s voice cuts through the haze of memories, gentle and clear.

“Can I ask what happened? Why you stopped playing?” Taehyung looks at him, wetting his lips. “I mean, like - only if you feel comfortable telling me.”

It occurs to Jeongguk that he’s never actually told anyone what happened. The people who were in his life at the time found out from his coach, or the doctors, and the version they heard is the version he’s stuck to. Since then, he hasn’t met anyone new who’s made him feel comfortable enough to want to share. He wonders what that says about him, his life so barren of intimate relationships that he’s never had cause to talk about the single most life-altering thing that ever happened to him.

Here’s Taehyung, though. A single shoot of green poking up through the dirt, a glimmer of hope for Jeongguk’s sad, lonely heart. He can’t tell Taehyung everything, but he can tell him enough. The facts with some of the context left out, the story that his parents, Ella, and Namjoon know. Even without the layers that Jeongguk has kept hidden, it’s an integral part of his life.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want,” Taehyung says carefully, clearly picking up on Jeongguk’s hesitation.

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No, it’s okay. Sorry, I just, ah - I don’t talk about it that often.”

As if on cue, his knee gives a slight twinge in retaliation. He realizes that their pace has slowed to the point of barely moving, Jeongguk lost in his own thoughts and Taehyung focused intently on him.

“That’s okay,” Taehyung says kindly. He gestures to a boulder set a few feet down the hill from the trail, nestled in the grass amongst patches of little yellow wildflowers. “Wanna sit for a little?”

Jeongguk nods and lets himself be led down the hill, settling on the large rock beside Taehyung. They sit facing out to the water, still mostly gray and layered with fog. With their backs to the trail, Taehyung risks taking his sunglasses off, and something about seeing his eyes, warm and earnest, puts Jeongguk at ease. He wonders if Taehyung did that on purpose.

“I fucked up my knee during pre season my junior year,” Jeongguk begins. “Collision with one of my teammates during practice.”

He takes a deep breath, willing himself to stay focused on the present. His memories from the day are a mix of blurry and sharp, and he still hasn’t decided which are worse. He can feel the pain of his knee shattering with an immediacy that takes his breath away, but the moments surrounding it are hazy. He can’t remember exactly what happened, or how, and it scares him. He had been in such a dark place then, at odds with his own mind to the point that he couldn’t trust himself.

“It was really bad,” he continues, fighting to keep his voice steady. Without saying anything, Taehyung takes his hand, linking their fingers together and squeezing lightly. “I had to have surgeries, physical therapy, crutches, the whole deal. I couldn’t walk regularly for months.”

“Jesus, Guk,” Taehyung murmurs.

Jeongguk keeps his gaze focused on the water, not trusting himself to meet Taehyung’s gaze. Still, he doesn’t unclasp their hands, finding that the touch anchors him.

“I obviously couldn’t play that season, and even when it healed they said it was too much of a risk to try for senior year,” he says, neglecting to mention that a small, secret part of him had been relieved by that news. “I wouldn’t have been able to get back in shape in time anyway, and the pain would have been really bad.”

“Does it still bother you?” Taehyung asks, and boy, isn’t that a layered question.

“Yeah, it still acts up sometimes,” Jeongguk nods, going for the easiest and most obvious of the layers. He grins ruefully. “I’ve been doing exercises all week to make sure I’d be okay today.”

Taehyung’s eyes widen in concern. “Shit, I’m sorry, I had no id-”

“Not your fault,” Jeongguk shushes him. “I’m fine. Even if I wasn’t, no way I was gonna miss this.”

Taehyung makes a soft huffing noise, giving Jeongguk a chastising nudge even though he looks faintly flustered. “We could have done something else.”

“Next time,” Jeongguk says bravely, and Taehyung bites down on a smile, mollified.

“What was it like?” Taehyung asks softly. “Finding out you couldn’t play anymore?”

“It felt like my whole life was falling apart,” Jeongguk says. It’s the truth, and he thinks Taehyung will probably understand it better than most. From the time he was a child, his entire life had been cultivated around baseball, around playing college ball and eventually going pro. Whether he actually wanted that stopped mattering at some point because it was the only thing he knew. “I was a wreck.”

When he got hurt, it was like his entire future had been wiped clean in a single stroke, every vision and goal he’d had for himself suddenly gone forever. It made him question everything - his friends, his sexuality, his interests. Things that he’d been shoving aside (like being gay, for example) suddenly became unavoidable, and he’d begun the slow process of rebuilding his life. By the time he graduated, it was a barely recognizable version of what it had once been. He still hasn’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Or if he should blame himself for it.

“I’m really sorry,” Taehyung murmurs, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand tighter. “That must have been really scary.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says. He appreciates how nice Taehyung is being, but he also doesn’t really want to talk about it anymore. It’s exhausting. “Sorry to bore you with my sob story.”

Taehyung smiles, shaking his head. “Don’t apologize. Everyone has their shit.” He bumps his shoulder against Jeongguk’s. “You’ve certainly seen some of mine.”

That’s definitely true, but it doesn’t bother Jeongguk. It’s been hard at times, but having to deal with some of the shitty stuff has also made him feel closer to Taehyung. He just doesn’t want them to lose sight of the playfulness that had been the original foundation of their relationship.

“Maybe we can take a break from the shit and talk about something happy for a while?” Jeongguk suggests.

“I like the sound of that,” Taehyung agrees. They’re still holding hands, and now that Jeongguk isn’t so caught up in his own memories, he can appreciate how nice it feels. “So - hugely important question,” Taehyung says, leveling Jeongguk with a Very Serious look. “What’s your favorite color?”

Jeongguk bursts out laughing, some of the weight in his chest dissolving.

“Red,” he answers. Taking a look around them, at the sunny wildflowers brightening up the hillside, he adds: “I also really like yellow.”

“Such colorful choices from a guy who wears so much black,” Taehyung observes.

Jeongguk shrugs. “I figured you’d tell me black didn’t count as a color.”

Taehyung grins. “Honestly, I probably would have.”

“What about you? What’s your favorite?”

“I really like purple,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk thinks that suits him perfectly.

They chat about random nonsense for a little while longer before climbing down from the rock to continue their hike. At the base of the rock, Taehyung stoops down to pluck a few dainty wildflowers from the grass. When he straightens up, he offers them to Jeongguk, smiling.

“Since you like yellow,” he says, tucking one behind Jeongguk’s ear. Jeongguk flushes deeply, his insides dissolving into a warm, syrupy mess. “Looks nice,” Taehyung adds, delivering the final KO to Jeongguk’s already fragile heart.

Somehow, they finish the hike and make it back to the car without anyone noticing Taehyung. Still, Jeongguk thinks they both breathe a slight sigh of relief when the car doors shut behind them, their first covert outing into the world an official success.

Taehyung drives him home, top 40 playing from the radio and permeating the comfortable silence between them. They’d talked a lot on the hike, about things big and small, and now it feels nice to just sit quietly and enjoy each other’s presence. It’s been a long time since Jeongguk had someone to do this with, and he’d forgotten how peaceful it can be. Knowing that you’re not alone, but also not feeling any pressure to talk or be social.

As they draw closer to his apartment, Jeongguk begins to fret about whether or not he should invite Taehyung inside. He obviously would love to spend more time with him, but he also knows the implications that come with inviting someone upstairs at the end of a date. After everything that’s happened between them, especially the other night, it seems pretty clear that Taehyung is sexually attracted to him, but Jeongguk is still afraid of overstepping or, god forbid, getting rejected. There’s also the fact that it’s still only mid-morning - matters such as these always feel a little more intimidating in the raw, unforgiving light of day.

“Thanks for driving me,” Jeongguk says when they pull up outside of his building. The street is busier than it had been when they left, but it’s still relatively quiet, the city still waking up.

“Of course,” Taehyung replies, putting the car in park and angling his body to face Jeongguk. He’s so devastatingly handsome - Jeongguk doesn’t know how he’s ever managed to string more than two words together in his presence. “I’m really glad we could do this.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk agrees. He thinks about bringing Taehyung upstairs, this absolute Greek god of a man, and suddenly the prospect of it feels entirely too overwhelming. “I - umm. I had a really good time.”

Taehyung beams at him. “We should hang out again soon,” he says, the barest hint of a question in his tone.

Jeongguk swallows, bobbing his head. “Definitely.” There’s a pause, during which time the only sound is the latest Ariana Grande song playing in the background. “Well,” Jeongguk says, feeling suddenly awkward. “I’ll just get going - ”

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung interrupts.

Jeongguk’s hand freezes midway through its journey to the door handle. He turns back to face Taehyung just in time to find him leaning forward slightly, expression shy but determined. Mercifully, Jeongguk’s disaster zone of a brain manages to put the pieces together quickly enough to realize what’s happening, and he leans in too.

Their lips meet over the console. The seat belt buckle digs into his hip, but Jeongguk is too preoccupied by the very pretty pair of lips pressed against his to really notice. Even more so when Taehyung curls a fist into the collar of his sweatshirt, hauling him in closer and making Jeongguk’s breath catch in his throat. Taehyung hums quietly in response, mouth parting to suck lightly on Jeongguk’s lower lip. It makes Jeongguk dizzy, his own hand coming up to wrap around Taehyung’s wrist.

Jeongguk is pretty sure he didn’t even know what kissing was until he met Taehyung.

When they break apart, he’s mortified to find himself panting slightly, all over a completely PG mid-morning kiss. Taehyung is blushing prettily though, fingers still tangled in the drawstrings of Jeongguk’s hoodie, and Jeongguk suspects he’s not the only one affected here. Especially with the way Taehyung licks his lips and smiles cheekily at him, like they’re both in on the same secret.

That’s when Jeongguk remembers who they are, and where they are, and panics slightly.

“Shit,” he says, looking around. “What if someone saw - ”

“Tinted windows,” Taehyung reminds him, smiling. He leans forward again, pressing a swift peck to Jeongguk’s lips. “Don’t worry.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “Right.”

“We should talk about that, though,” Taehyung continues. “How, uh - discreet to be. About this.”

He gestures vaguely between them, looking embarrassed. Jeongguk can sympathize - navigating labels is awkward enough without having to worry about the added factor of publicity.

“Yeah,” he nods, once again feeling perplexed about how he managed to find himself in this position. “For sure.”

“Cool,” Taehyung says, biting his lip. It’s still so strange to see him like this, a little bit anxious, a little shy. An unexpected juxtaposition to his confident, playful on-camera persona. “Okay. So, uh - I’ll see you?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk grins. “You will.”

***

A few days after his hike with Jeongguk, Taehyung meets Hoseok and Yoongi for lunch at their favorite sushi joint. It’s kind of a dive, the sort of place where the decor hasn’t been updated since the 80s, but the food is good and the staff knows them by this point. They always find a way to tuck them away in a booth near the back, away from the prying eyes of fans.

Taehyung is especially grateful for the privacy today, as he quietly tells Hoseok and Yoongi about how things have been going with Jeongguk. They’ve been texting a lot, and Taehyung has seen him at a few games, of course, but he’s eager to hang out with him alone again. He just needs to figure out a good time and setting to do that.

“Invite him over to your place,” Hoseok suggests, popping a piece of ikura into his mouth. He’s sitting across the table from Taehyung, next to Yoongi, and they’ve spent the entire meal eating food off of each other’s plates seemingly without realizing they’re doing it.

“I dunno,” Taehyung says, twisting his napkin between his fingers. “I mean, I’ve thought about it, but - isn’t it kind of soon?”

“Soon for what?” Yoongi asks. “Sex?”

Taehyung flushes, nearly choking on a piece of salmon. “No!” he cries, even though he has been wondering about that too. He’s really attracted to Jeongguk, but he also doesn’t have much physical experience to speak of, and he’s nervous. “I meant, like - to show him where I live.”

“You’ve been to his place,” Hoseok points out.

“Yeah...” Taehyung concedes. “It’s kind of different, though.”

Hoseok shoots him a sympathetic look. “I think you’re still spooked from the phone thing,” he says, batting Yoongi’s chopsticks out of the way to grab the last piece of spicy tuna roll. Yoongi looks faintly disgruntled but doesn’t put up much of a fight. “Which is completely understandable. But if you want to give this thing with you guys a real chance, you kind of have to commit to trusting him.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung sighs. He knows Hoseok is right, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Only his closest friends have been to his house - never a romantic prospect. (Not that he’s had many of those since he moved in.) “What if - how do I make it obvious that I’m not just inviting him over for sex?”

“Don’t send him a ‘you up?’ text at 2 AM,” Yoongi offers unhelpfully.

Hoseok rolls his eyes. “Just text him a few days in advance, see when he’s free,” he suggests. “He knows you like him, right?”

Taehyung nods.

“So you’re fine,” Hoseok says. “As long as you both know where the other stands, you’re good.”

Yoongi makes a noise that sounds faintly like a snort, and Hoseok turns to him, eyebrows lifted challengingly.

“Yes?”

Yoongi shrugs, poking at a bite of mackerel. “You just make it sound so simple.”

“Who says it isn’t?” Hoseok asks sharply. “Not everything has to be complicated and painful. Some people like being happy.”

They glower at each other, and Taehyung suddenly gets the sense that they’re not talking about his situation with Jeongguk anymore. He feels uncomfortable, like he’s witnessing something he shouldn’t be.

“I’m going to use the bathroom,” Hoseok says abruptly, slipping out of the booth and walking away.

Yoongi watches him go, sighing heavily.

“Uh,” Taehyung says, clearing his throat. He’s obviously always noticed the weird energy between his coach and his teammate, but it’s never been this explicit before. “Everything okay?”

Yoongi nods, looking very tired as he turns back to face Taehyung. “Yeah. Fine.”

“Do you want to - ”

“No.”

Taehyung sighs, but he knows how to spot a dismissal when he sees one, especially coming from Yoongi.

“Okay.”

“We were talking about you and Jeongguk,” Yoongi says.

“Right.” Taehyung fiddles with his chopsticks. “So, uh - you think it’s a mistake to invite him to my house?”

Yoongi is silent for a few moments, seemingly deep in thought. “Not a mistake, necessarily,” he says slowly, shaking his head. “It’s just - I tend to see the risks when I think about stuff like this, not the potential gains.”

Taehyung nods in understanding. “So you think it’s too big of a risk.”

“For me, maybe,” Yoongi says. “But you’re different than me, Tae. I - I put my whole life on hold for this job. I don’t regret it, but I have to live with the fact that my decision affects people other than just me. People I care about.”

His gaze wanders over to the cash register, where Hoseok is now leaning against the countertop, flirting outrageously with their waitress. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots of which “people” Yoongi is referring to, and it makes Taehyung sad. For him, and for Hoseok. He doesn’t know the exact details of what has or hasn’t happened between them, but he suspects Yoongi has held himself back because of his position as their coach.

“Hyung - ” Taehyung begins, his voice hoarse.

“You, though,” Yoongi continues, cutting him off. “You deliberately chose to not let that happen when you came out.” He shrugs, smiling at Taehyung. “So maybe this risk is worth it for you.”

Taehyung swallows, feeling suddenly emotional. It’s really good advice, as is often the case with Yoongi, but he wishes that his hyung could follow it for himself, too.

Before he can come up with a response, Hoseok arrives back at their table, his mood bubbly and upbeat once more. It’s as if the previous tension between him and Yoongi never happened, and Taehyung marvels at the complicated, delicate dynamic unfolding before him.

“So, what’s the verdict?” Hoseok asks, resuming eating off of Yoongi’s plate now that his own is empty. Yoongi is quiet beside him, but Taehyung doesn’t miss the fondness on his face. “Are you gonna do it?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. Everyone moves at their own pace, as evidenced by the two messy hearts sitting across from him, but Taehyung is ready for a little risk. “I think I am.”

Hoseok and Yoongi both grin.

Chapter Text

=):
are you around this weekend?
tannie wants to meet you :)

The text is followed by a devastatingly sweet picture of Taehyung and Yeontan, Taehyung smiling softly while his cheek rests on Yeontan’s fluffy head. Jeongguk nearly implodes from the sheer adorableness of it, then has to mentally talk himself out of making it his phone background. (Too soon. Way too soon.)

He plays it cool and waits for all of about three minutes before texting Taehyung back confirming that he is, indeed, free this weekend. They go back and forth for a bit, trying to find a time that works around Taehyung’s game schedule, eventually landing on Sunday night. It takes that entire exchange for it to dawn on Jeongguk that Taehyung is not only inviting him to hang out, but inviting him to hang out at his house. As in, the place where he lives. His home. His home where he lives and eats and has a bedroom. For sleeping.

Jeongguk knows very little about being a celebrity, but he has a feeling that this is kind of a big deal, that Taehyung doesn’t just go around inviting people over to his house all the time. It makes him feel warm inside, knowing that Taehyung wants to share this part of his life with him, that he trusts Jeongguk enough for that. Especially after what had happened with his phone number.

Once the plan is made, the nerves start to set in. Sunday is still three days away, but Jeongguk’s mind is already busy thinking about what he’s going to wear, if he needs to bring anything (not that he can afford anything that would be suitable for Taehyung’s far more affluent lifestyle). And most of all, what are the expectations when it comes to them hanging out alone, in private, at Taehyung’s house? Jeongguk would be happy to just continue kissing Taehyung forever, but he can’t ignore the fact that the circumstances offer an opportunity for more than just kissing. He wonders if Taehyung had thought about that when he invited Jeongguk over - surely it must have occurred to him, right? Just the thought is enough to make Jeongguk feel hot around the collar.

It’s times like these when he wishes Ella was here, to talk him down and stop him from getting too tangled up in his own thoughts. Even though they talk almost every day, it’s still not the same as living in the same place. He feels lonely without her, although Taehyung’s company is starting to help with that.

Taehyung, whose house he’s going to on Sunday.

Jeongguk has a feeling he’s going to be making a lot of calls to Ella before then.

***

The doorbell rings, and Yeontan, ferocious guard dog that he thinks he is, starts yapping immediately.

“Shh, Tan-ah, it’s just Jeongguk,” Taehyung soothes, even as his own stomach twists nervously. He’d gotten home from their afternoon game a few hours ago and has been an anxious mess ever since, ransacking his entire bedroom in search of something suitable to wear. “He’s here.”

Taking a deep breath, he hurries to the front door, using one foot to hold Yeontan back as he opens it. His stomach swoops when he sees Jeongguk on his doorstep, wide-eyed and clutching a small plant. He looks more handsome than anyone has a right to in a simple, thin sweater and jeans, and Taehyung swallows. Whenever he’s around Jeongguk, he just wants to be closer - not even in a sexual sense, but just to be near him, to bask in the solid warmth of his body.

“Hey,” Taehyung says casually. He can feel Yeontan panting eagerly against the back of his calf, practically beside himself with excitement over Jeongguk’s presence. Taehyung can relate. “Come in, come in.”

Jeongguk steps inside, looking slightly overwhelmed as his eyes dart around the foyer before settling back on Taehyung. “Sorry, am I underdressed?”

Taehyung glances down at himself, suddenly embarrassed by his dark pants and designer button down. He hadn’t meant to, but compared to Jeongguk he does look sort of dressed up.

“No, no, it’s me,” he says, shaking his head. He feels foolish. “I’m probably overdressed. I can go change - ”

“No!” Jeongguk cries, looking slightly startled by the force of his own reaction. “No, I mean - if you want to, of course, but - ” he swallows, eyeing Taehyung shyly. “I think you look really good.”

“Oh.” Taehyung’s face warms, but it’s in a pleasant way. “Thanks, Guk.”

Jeongguk smiles, nodding. Then he seems to remember the plant in his hands and thrusts it towards Taehyung. Upon closer inspection, it resembles a tiny tree.

“I brought this for you,” he says as Taehyung accepts the plant. “It’s, umm - it’s a bonsai tree? Namjoon is really into growing them.” He shrugs. “I don’t really get it but they’re kind of cute.”

Taehyung snorts, endeared by the explanation. “It’s very cute. Thank you.”

At this point, Yeontan seems to have enough of being ignored. He emerges from behind Taehyung’s legs, cocking his head up at Jeongguk and barking.

Jeongguk’s entire face lights up.

“You must be Yeontan,” he says, squatting down and reaching out to pet the dog.

Yeontan barks again, spinning around and returning to his hiding place behind Taehyung. He eyes Jeongguk suspiciously through the gap between Taehyung’s legs.

“Scaredy cat,” Taehyung chides. Redirecting his attention to Jeongguk, he adds: “Sorry, he’s not very brave.”

“That’s okay,” Jeongguk laughs, dropping down to a fully sitting position. “I can be patient.”

He extends a cautious hand to Yeontan, and Taehyung makes a reassuring cooing noise at his dog, using his foot to nudge him forward slightly. Slowly, Yeontan approaches Jeongguk, sniffing his hand curiously. All at once, he seems to reach a decision, yapping again before curling up in a fluffy ball between Jeongguk’s legs.

Taehyung stares down at them, his very cute dog and an equally cute human blinking back up at him sweetly. He feels overwhelmed.

“I guess he likes me,” Jeongguk says, fingers scratching behind Yeontan’s ears. Taehyung’s heart melts.

“That makes two of us,” Taehyung replies, winking.

Jeongguk and Yeontan continue to have a little love session on the floor for another few minutes, during which time Taehyung looks on and tries not to betray how hopelessly fond he is. Eventually, Jeongguk gets up and follows him further into the house, Yeontan now trotting along happily at his heels.

“Your house is really nice,” Jeongguk says after Taehyung gives him a tour of the downstairs. He’d taken in everything with a sort of appreciative wonder, asking questions about some of the art and gaping open-mouthed at the size of the TV and gaming setup. “It’s - I mean, it’s really pretty, but it’s also really warm. Like, homey.”

Taehyung appreciates the compliment more than Jeongguk probably realizes. It’s always been important to him that his house feel welcoming, especially when he’s so far away from his childhood home, and when so few places in the outside world feel truly safe. He really loves his house, but he’s only ever shared it with very few people. Knowing that Jeongguk already feels at home here makes his heart skip a few beats in his chest.

They cook hot dogs and cheeseburgers on the grill in Taehyung’s backyard, Jeongguk easily polishing off one of each as he marvels over the fact that Taehyung has a yard at all. As darkness falls, it gets too chilly to stay outside (to Jeongguk’s great disappointment), so they move indoors, Taehyung pulling out a bottle of peach soju for them to share.

Halfway through the bottle finds them sprawled out on Taehyung’s living room couch, Yeontan snuggled contentedly between them, his preferred headrest Jeongguk’s thigh (again, Taehyung can relate).

“I’m surprised he warmed up to you so quickly,” Taehyung muses.

Jeongguk looks over at him. “Does he usually not like new people?”

Taehyung shrugs. “He just doesn’t meet them very often. I don’t really have many people over.”

He doesn’t think too much about the words until they’re out of his mouth, and then he freezes, embarrassed. “That makes me sound like kind of a sad loser, doesn’t it?”

Jeongguk shakes his head, eyes completely devoid of judgment. It’s one of Taehyung’s favorite things about him, how genuinely kind he is. “Not at all.” He frowns. “Or, I mean, if you’re a sad loser, I don’t even want to know what that makes me.”

Taehyung laughs. “We can be sad losers together.”

“I don’t feel very sad right now,” Jeongguk says quietly.

Taehyung’s breath gets caught in his throat. The moment suddenly feels charged in a way it hadn’t a few seconds ago, the two of them watching each other intently.

“Me neither,” Taehyung murmurs.

He finds Jeongguk’s hand, and then his mouth, kissing him as Yeontan continues to snooze unsuspectingly between them. Jeongguk kisses in a way that’s improbably sweet, eager without being pushy, gentle without being timid. Taehyung can’t help but wonder how that will translate when they’re doing more than just kissing, a restlessness building beneath his skin that makes him want to find out.

He shifts closer, the movement jostling Yeontan, who lets out an indignant huff at being disturbed and leaps off the couch to go find somewhere else to sleep. Taehyung can only find it in himself to feel mildly guilty, Yeontan’s departure allowing him to fully close the space between himself and Jeongguk.

They curve around each other until somehow (blame the soju) Taehyung ends up in Jeongguk’s lap again, his breathing shaky as Jeongguk’s hands run up his back. His fingers catch on the material of Taehyung’s shirt enough to untuck it from his pants, a small puff of air hitting his bare skin and making him shiver. He feels silly, hypersensitive to even the smallest things, but the reality is that to him, even making out on the couch feels big.

The kissing intensifies, their tongues entering the mix as Taehyung slides forward on Jeongguk’s lap. The shift positions Taehyung’s groin almost directly over Jeongguk’s, and it sends a spark up Taehyung’s spine, his fingers digging into Jeongguk’s shoulders. Jeongguk makes a low noise, his hands sliding down to Taehyung’s ass and squeezing.

A gasp slips out of Taehyung’s mouth before he can stop it, and he realizes he’s shaking slightly, his body completely overwhelmed - by the touch, the moment, the boy beneath him. It isn’t often that he finds himself in a situation like this, much less with someone he’s this attracted to, and it’s like every nerve ending in his body has decided to start firing at the same time.

“You okay?” Jeongguk asks, probably because Taehyung is trembling in his arms. He’s pulled back slightly, one hand now cupping the side of Taehyung’s neck, and god, Taehyung is so gone for everything about him - the way he touches, the way he talks, the way he looks up at Taehyung in earnest concern.

“Yeah, I - sorry,” Taehyung says, trying to control his breathing. He has his fingers resting in the soft hair at the base of Jeongguk’s neck, and he keeps them there, thumbs stroking the hinges of Jeongguk’s jaw. “I’m good.”

“You’re shaking,” Jeongguk points out gently, the hand that was on Taehyung’s butt sliding up to his hip instead.

“Oh,” Taehyung nods, laughing awkwardly. “Yeah, it’s just - ah. I haven’t like, done this.” Jeongguk’s eyes widen, and Taehyung rushes to correct himself. “No, no, I mean - I have! I have done this, just, just - not a lot? And not - not in a year.” He shuts his eyes. “Years.”

The last person he’d been with was one of Jimin’s dancer friends, some time in the blur of months leading up to his first season with the Giants. The guy had been nice enough, someone Taehyung could trust to keep his mouth shut, but he’d still been too stressed out the whole time to really enjoy it. Since then, he’d gotten used to being alone, to not wanting, not touching or being touched. It had become comfortable, a matter of routine.

But now -

Now there’s Jeongguk, and Taehyung wants.

“That’s okay,” Jeongguk says, tugging lightly at Taehyung’s chin until he opens his eyes. “There’s no pressure, we don’t have to - you know…”

He trails off, faintly flushed, and Taehyung stares down at him, completely enamored.

“What if I want to?” he breathes out.

Jeongguk’s grip tightens almost imperceptibly on Taehyung’s waist, his throat bobbing as he swallows. “That - I mean. That’s okay too.”

Taehyung grins, biting down on his lip to keep it from growing too big and goofy. “Just okay?” he teases.

Jeongguk whines, and Taehyung relents, ducking down to kiss him again. He decides to just let himself feel, to shake and gasp and lean into it for as long as it stays good. There’s nothing to be frightened of here, not when he’s with Jeongguk.

The heat ramps back up gradually. Jeongguk’s lips stray from Taehyung’s so that he can kiss down his neck, Taehyung’s head tilting obligingly to the side. When he reaches the collar of Taehyung’s shirt, he flicks the first two buttons open, parting the material and mouthing at his collarbones. Taehyung whimpers quietly at this, reveling in the way Jeongguk lavishes attention on him, warm swipes of his tongue mingling with the occasional light graze of teeth.

Feeling bold, Taehyung rolls his hips down experimentally, pleased when he feels Jeongguk’s startled groan reverberate against his clavicle. His hands slip back down to Taehyung’s ass, their weight heavy and warm and guiding as Taehyung circles his hips again. This time, he can feel the growing bulge in Jeongguk’s jeans, and it makes the pressure build in his own groin, makes him twist his fingers tighter into Jeongguk’s hair.

“God, Tae,” Jeongguk mumbles, his own hips straining up to meet Taehyung’s. His gaze keeps flicking back and forth between Taehyung’s face and the place where their crotches are rubbing together, black against faded denim. “Fuck, I’m so - I’m so turned on.”

Taehyung nods a little frantically, grinding down harder in Jeongguk’s lap as he pulls him in for another kiss. “Me too,” he breathes, pants, sparks shooting up his spine.

With fumbling fingers, Jeongguk scrambles to unbutton the rest of Taehyung’s shirt, his mouth following each inch of newly exposed skin until the angle becomes too awkward for him to reach. When the last button comes undone, he pushes his hands beneath the smooth fabric, fingers slotting into the bumps in Taehyung’s rib cage. Taehyung goes the extra mile and shrugs the shirt off entirely, the material slithering to the ground as Jeongguk stares openly.

“You’re so gorgeous,” he says unabashedly, petting at Taehyung’s stomach, thumbing over his nipples. “I - wow.”

Taehyung flushes, opting to kiss Jeongguk in lieu of a verbal response. It’s not false modesty - Taehyung knows he’s attractive, can see it himself and has been told by enough people, but it’s something else to hear it like this, with such raw, unfiltered honesty.

Now that his own chest is bare, Taehyung seeks to level the playing field, reaching for the hem of Jeongguk’s sweater. He leans forward obligingly, and the two of them work together to pull it off, Taehyung staring down appreciatively at the toned chest and arms that come into view. Jeongguk’s skin is pale and smooth, waist tapered in a way that Taehyung had guessed at but still makes his mouth go dry. The muscles in his biceps bunch nicely as he grabs Taehyung’s face and pulls him down for another kiss.

“You’re pretty gorgeous yourself, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung murmurs against his mouth, smiling when it makes Jeongguk kiss him harder.

With their shirts now gone, they resume rutting against each other in earnest, their pace building up to something bordering on desperate. Jeongguk’s fingers dig into his ass, the outline of his cock unmistakably prominent between Taehyung’s legs. Taehyung suspects they both would have no problem with getting off just like this, are probably closer to that already than either of them would care to admit. But something about that doesn’t feel like enough - he wants to see more of Jeongguk, feel more of him.

“Guk,” Taehyung says, slowing his movements slightly. Jeongguk looks up at him with dark, glazed over eyes, the expression making arousal spike through Taehyung’s stomach. “Do you - do you wanna go upstairs?”

Jeongguk blinks at him, looking just as overwhelmed as Taehyung feels. “Like - to your bedroom?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung confirms, huffing out a soft laugh.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says instantly. “I really do.”

Taehyung’s heart lurches into his throat.

They clamber off the couch in an anxious, horny rush, shirts left behind as they hurry upstairs. In the time it takes them to pad down the dark hallway and into his room, Taehyung’s nerves catch back up to him, his body starting to tremble as he flips on the light. Everything is exactly as it’s always been, the bed and the carpet and the photography on the walls, but it seems to take on a new significance now that there’s someone else in here with him.

“Holy - shit,” Jeongguk breathes, gaping open-mouthed at Taehyung’s bed. It’s a very nice bed, Taehyung will admit, king-sized with a big fluffy duvet and an impressive assortment of colorful pillows. Not to mention the mattress is to die for.

Jeongguk turns to Taehyung with wide eyes, one arm raised to point at the bed. “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve never fucked anyone in that?

It’s such an unexpected outburst that Taehyung breaks out in nervous giggles, shaking his head.

“That’s a goddamn sin,” Jeongguk says, voice lower as he steps back into Taehyung’s space. He looks breathtaking, standing in Taehyung’s bedroom with his bare chest and his low-riding jeans, body magnificent in the warm glow cast by the bedside lamps. A part of Taehyung isn’t even sorry that he’s never been with anyone else in this room, not if this is who he gets to be with now.

“I agree,” Taehyung whispers, swallowing when Jeongguk’s hand flattens against his lower back. His heart is thumping wildly in his chest, but he wants this, he wants this. “Guess we’ll just have to change that.”

Jeongguk slides his other hand around Taehyung’s waist, holding him close. Their bare toes bump together on the carpeted floor.

“You’re shaking again,” he says quietly.

Taehyung nods.

“I know.” He takes a deep breath. “Just, umm - ” The words fade into a weak laugh, some sort of warped defense mechanism, he’s sure. He shakes his head, shrugging. “Overwhelmed, I guess.”

Jeongguk leans in, kissing him softly. His hands feel steady where they’re planted on Taehyung’s lower back. “If it helps, so am I.”

It does help.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

There’s a pause, and then Jeongguk presses their foreheads together. “We’ll go slow, okay?”

Taehyung nods. He feels warm. “Okay.”

They move towards the bed, Jeongguk making Taehyung laugh again when he resumes marveling at its size.

“ - and there are like 47 different pillows, where did you even find all of these - ”

Taehyung hooks a leg around his thigh and tugs, pressing his giggles into Jeongguk’s mouth and effectively shutting him up.

It feels nice, having Jeongguk on top of him. He contents himself with exploring for a little while, hands roaming over the muscled expanse of Jeongguk’s back, broad at the top and narrower near his waist. He’s not overly built, but Taehyung can feel the strength when he moves, the definition, and it’s doing a lot for him. He feels a little bit like a kid let loose in a candy shop, giddy at each new chance to touch and taste.

Jeongguk, meanwhile, is busy sucking at Taehyung’s neck again, most likely leaving marks that Taehyung is too turned on to worry about right now. He hits a particularly sensitive spot and Taehyung gasps, arching off the mattress and into Jeongguk. Jeongguk responds with a groan of his own, rolling his hips down in a disarmingly smooth movement that effectively sets Taehyung’s brain on fire.

“Shit,” he breathes, legs curling tighter around Jeongguk’s, heels slipping over his calves. Jeongguk gets the hint and strokes down again, the pressure making Taehyung moan. “Shit, Jeongguk - ”

Jeongguk emerges from his neck, looking faintly smug and very aroused. “You like that?”

Yes,” Taehyung hisses, reaching between them and fumbling with Jeongguk’s belt. Jeongguk stares at him with round eyes, seemingly too stunned to do much until Taehyung grunts in frustration, his fingers trembling too much to work open the belt. “Can you -?”

“Huh? Oh - shit, yeah,” he says hoarsely, kissing Taehyung once before rolling to the side and twisting out of his pants. After a bit of graceless kicking and thrashing, during which time Taehyung tries not to giggle too much, the pants end up on the floor and Jeongguk ends up back between Taehyung’s legs, this time on his knees.

“Sorry,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “That wasn’t very sexy.”

“I beg to differ,” Taehyung replies, eyes roving hungrily over Jeongguk’s body. Lingering on the obvious bulge pressing against his briefs - Taehyung wants to feel the weight of it in his hand. Dropping down to his thighs, which may as well be named the eighth wonder of the world, as far as Taehyung is concerned. Thick and muscular, skin fair against the dark material of the briefs, it’s obscene and Taehyung is pretty sure his mouth is watering.

He swallows, dragging his gaze back up to Jeongguk’s face. “I mean - that little display was pretty embarrassing - ” Jeongguk tries to pout, but Taehyung shakes his head, shushing him. He reaches out, biting his lip as he skims his palms over the sides of Jeongguk’s thighs. “But you? You’re sexy as hell.”

Jeongguk visibly preens at the compliment, a lovely flush spreading down his neck to the top of his chest. He extends an arm, one hand hovering tentatively over the waistband of Taehyung’s pants.

“Can I - ?”

Taehyung nods, leaning back against the pillows as Jeongguk does a much more artful job of removing his pants than he had with his own. He peels them off carefully, one of Taehyung’s heels perched on his shoulder, his touch light over the sensitive skin of Taehyung’s inner thighs. Taehyung watches with his breath trapped in his throat, something electric happening in his chest.

When the pants have been discarded somewhere near the foot of the bed, Jeongguk sits back on his heels, surveying Taehyung with an expression that looks suspiciously like awe.

“Look at you,” he murmurs, and now it’s Taehyung’s turn to blush.

“Jeongguk,” he whines, feeling exposed.

Jeongguk grins, shaking his head as he drops his hands down on either side of Taehyung’s shoulders. “Sorry,” he says, not sounding very sorry at all. He drags a hand down the center of Taehyung’s chest, stopping with his palm flat over Taehyung’s stomach. “I just can’t really believe this is happening.”

Taehyung softens, reaching up and threading his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair, pulling him in for a kiss. “Believe it,” he whispers, pleased when Jeongguk makes a soft noise of assent.

They continue to kiss as Jeongguk’s hand travels lower, inching down until he’s cupping Taehyung through his briefs. He applies pressure and Taehyung whimpers, hips jerking up, chasing the touch. He feels himself growing antsy, a little bit desperate, and the restlessness only intensifies as Jeongguk keeps touching him, teasing, gentle. Tracing the outline of his cock, rubbing over the small wet patch that’s forming in his briefs. All the while kissing him sweetly, fervently, until it occurs to Taehyung that Jeongguk might be waiting for permission.

“Guk,” he breathes, squirming under the light brush of Jeongguk’s fingers. “Take them off.”

Jeongguk groans, pressing his forehead against Taehyung’s and taking a breath to compose himself. Then he nods and does as he’s asked, a strained noise slipping past his lips when Taehyung’s cock comes into view. It’s terrifying, being naked in front of someone after so long, but Jeongguk’s reaction to him helps quiet the fear. Taehyung has never felt so wanted in his entire life.

“Yours too?” he croaks out, shuddering when Jeongguk slides off his own briefs and stretches out over him once more.

And now they’re completely bare, bodies aligned, limbs overlapping. Jeongguk is all warm skin and taut muscle, pink lips and dark, fluffy hair falling in his face. His cock is heavy and wet where it hangs between them, brushing against Taehyung’s stomach invitingly. Taehyung is too nervous to get a good look at it, but the feeling is enough right now, anticipation building low in his abdomen.

They take a minute to catch their breaths, and then Jeongguk’s hand slides over the curve of Taehyung’s ass, along the outside of his thigh. He hitches the leg up at the same time he rolls his own hips down, the unexpected drag of their cocks making Taehyung see stars.

“Holy - fuck, Jeongguk,” Taehyung cries, clinging to Jeongguk’s back as he repeats the motion. It feels blindingly, impossibly good, and Jeongguk seems to think so too, making a needy noise as his fingers dig harder into Taehyung’s thigh.

“I have stuff,” Taehyung blurts out. “I have - I mean, if you want - ”

Yes,” Jeongguk says, sounding wrecked. “God, yes.”

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, kissing him sloppily. He feels breathless, eager and anxious and buzzing. “Fuck, okay.”

He rolls out from under Jeongguk, shivering when he feels Jeongguk follow him, pressing up against his back and dropping kisses to his neck and shoulders. It makes the process of locating lube and a condom a bit more drawn out, but eventually he succeeds, pressing them into Jeongguk’s hands as soon as they’re face to face again.

Jeongguk pauses, glancing from the bottle of lube to Taehyung’s face, looking a little bit like his mind is imploding. “Should I - ?” he chokes out, kissing Taehyung hungrily when he breathes out a yeah.

Jeongguk is careful and patient about stretching him open, almost painstakingly so. He checks about 15 times to make sure Taehyung is comfortable before getting anywhere near his ass, and when he’s finally satisfied, he coats his fingers so liberally with lube that Taehyung has to bite back a laugh. It’s sweet, though, and the laughter dies quickly enough when Jeongguk brushes a finger around his rim, easing inside slowly.

He’s not about to admit this to Jeongguk, but the truth is Taehyung does this to himself enough that it doesn’t feel like that much of an intrusion. After the initial adjustment, he wills himself to relax into it, reveling in how much better it feels when he doesn’t have his own wrist crooked at an awkward angle, struggling to get his fingers in deeper. He feels vulnerable, still a little shy, but he also feels really, really good.

If the first finger is good, the second is enough to remind Taehyung of why people want to do this all the time. The slight catch of Jeongguk’s knuckles against his rim, the mind-numbing pressure of two fingers nudging against his prostate. The steadying hand Jeongguk places on the back of his thigh, holding his trembling legs apart. It’s enough for the shyness to slip away, for Taehyung to squeeze his eyes shut and moan, body twisting in the sheets as Jeongguk takes him higher, higher.

“You’re so sexy,” Jeongguk rasps, an edge of desperation in his voice. Taehyung opens his eyes again and finds Jeongguk watching him with lust-blown pupils, his dick obviously, achingly hard. “I - god, Tae, I’m so into you.”

Taehyung whimpers, the declaration only adding to his arousal, making him want Jeongguk more. “Another,” he demands, pleased with the way Jeongguk’s eyes nearly bug out of his head as he scrambles to comply.

The third finger is a stretch, but Taehyung is turned on enough that he barely registers it, glowing in the warmth of Jeongguk’s continuous, rambling praise. He tries his best to form coherent responses, but every stroke against his prostate has him distracted, the words getting jumbled up in his brain.

“You’re doing so well, Jeonggukkie,” he manages to babble out, making Jeongguk’s ears go pink. “Prepping me so well, I - oh,” he gasps, back arching slightly. “I - I’m good.”

Jeongguk pauses, shaking the hair back from his face as he looks up at Taehyung. “You’re ready?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung breathes, spreading his legs wider. “Now, you can - ”

With a frantic nod, Jeongguk pulls his fingers out, grabbing the condom wrapper and fumbling to open it with slippery hands. He finally gets it, Taehyung watching with rapt attention as Jeongguk slicks himself up, drinking in the absolutely wrecked noise he makes when he finally touches himself. Then he’s slotting himself between Taehyung’s legs, hands on his ass to line them up properly. He takes one last glance at Taehyung, gets a nod of approval, and then he’s sliding inside.

“Oh fuck,” Jeongguk groans when he bottoms out, his hands coming down on either side of Taehyung. They’re face to face again, and Jeongguk looks utterly beside himself, his pink lips parted and inviting. “Are you good?” he asks, gaze intent on Taehyung.

Taehyung takes a few seconds, lets himself adjust to the girth inside of him. Then he lifts his head, fingers sinking into Jeongguk’s hair, and brings their lips together. “I’m good,” he confirms, heart soaring when Jeongguk kisses him back hungrily, like he can’t get enough. “Just - start slow, maybe?”

“Of course.”

Jeongguk takes the guidance to heart, fucking into him in long, slow strokes that make Taehyung feel every inch of him. He’s alarmingly good with his hips, fluid yet controlled, and when Taehyung remembers that this isn’t a one-time deal, that he’s likely going to get to experience this again (and again and again if he’s lucky), he almost starts laughing from pure giddiness.

The air between them simmers with tension, the slow pace perfect until all at once it’s not. Until Taehyung starts getting impatient, heels hooking around the backs of Jeongguk’s thighs, pulling him in tighter. “Faster, Guk,” he whispers, voice hoarse. “Can you - oh.”

“Fuck, yeah,” Jeongguk grunts, hips moving quicker. He’s thrusting with more force now, the head of his cock driving against Taehyung’s prostate, and Taehyung’s whole body is molten, liquid pleasure. He puts his hands all over Jeongguk, feels the muscles shifting in his back and arms, the light sheen of sweat forming on his skin. When he brings one hand to grip Jeongguk’s ass, Jeongguk makes an almost guttural noise, his head dropping to Taehyung’s shoulder.

“God, Tae,” he moans, biting at Taehyung’s neck. His movements are becoming more frantic, and Taehyung can relate, brain activity reduced to a sort of frenetic buzzing, the needs of his body taking over. He’s lost track of the noises he’s making, can’t tell if they’re embarrassing or sexy but also can’t find it in himself to actually care. What he cares about is Jeongguk, how well their bodies move together, how goodgoodsofuckinggood everything feels right now.

“Tae, I - oh my god, I’m so - ” Jeongguk is babbling, the words coming out as hot breath against Taehyung’s neck. Taehyung puts one hand on the back of his head and keeps the other on his ass, feeling a strange rush of protectiveness at seeing Jeongguk so vulnerable, so utterly undone. Turning his head, he gives Jeongguk’s ass a squeeze at the same time he presses his lips to his ear and murmurs:

“Come.”

Jeongguk keens, clinging to Taehyung as his body spasms and he comes with a low whine. His weight heavies on top of Taehyung, breathing ragged, and Taehyung strokes up and down his back, mesmerized. His own cock lies twitching and leaking between them, painfully hard, and he’s just wondering about the logistics of getting a hand around himself when Jeongguk jolts back up and does it for him.

“Oh - oh god,” Taehyung whimpers, completely caught off guard. The pressure of Jeongguk’s hand is perfect, sheer bliss, effortlessly drawing his body to the edge.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk murmurs, kissing Taehyung’s jaw apologetically as he works him over. “Shoulda made you come first.”

“You’re good,” Taehyung pants, hips rolling up into the delicious friction of a Jeongguk’s palm. “So-oh, so good, yeah, yeah - ”

His words dissolve into nonsense as he comes, fists clutching at the sheets as the feeling crests and then seeps slowly through the rest of his body, warm and tingly. His eyes are still closed when he feels Jeongguk’s mouth against his own, kissing him sweetly. With a happy sigh, he returns the affection, wrapping his arms around Jeongguk’s neck and holding him close.

They lie like that for a while, kissing lazily and putting off cleaning up until it becomes unavoidable. Taehyung waits for it to start feeling awkward, but it never does - not even when they’re in the bathroom, both red-cheeked and still naked as they wash the cum from their bodies. Instead, Jeongguk takes his breath away when he steals the cloth from Taehyung and gets down on his knees, wiping over his skin gently. Taehyung stares down at him with his face flaming, completely overcome by the display of intimacy. His legs very nearly give out when Jeongguk finishes it all off by pressing a kiss to his stomach.

“Do you want to stay over?” he asks when Jeongguk is back on his feet. His mind is still reeling from all of this, and even though he knows they both have early mornings tomorrow, he doesn’t feel ready to say goodbye. “I could drive you home early.”

Surprise flickers across Jeongguk’s face, but then he smiles, nodding shyly. “Okay.”

They return to Taehyung’s bedroom and change into sleep clothes, Taehyung’s gaze lingering a little too long on the sight of Jeongguk in his own t-shirt and sweats. There’s something so domestic about it, so familiar, and Taehyung finds himself wanting more. More than hanging out, more than sex - he wants Jeongguk in his life in a real way. A significant way.

The feeling only worsens when they climb into bed together, lying face to face with far less space between them than his bed actually necessitates. Jeongguk looks unfairly cozy and soft with the fluffy duvet pulled up around his shoulders, his hair a dark shock against the pillowcase. He blinks at Taehyung sleepily, a content, almost dreamy smile on his lips.

“I’m a cuddler when I sleep,” Taehyung warns him. His body is tired, but his mind still feels awake, not completely accustomed to the presence of the extremely cute boy in his bed. The only other person who’s ever slept in this bed with him is Jimin. “Sorry in advance if I latch onto you.”

“No problem,” Jeongguk says, grinning. “I’m a pretty heavy sleeper anyway. And I like cuddling.”

“You really are perfect, huh?” Taehyung muses.

Jeongguk snorts, rolling his eyes. “You’re one to talk.”

“Tonight was…” Taehyung begins, trailing off as he searches for the right word.

“Amazing?” Jeongguk supplies.

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods, warmth blooming in his chest. “Amazing.”

Jeongguk beams at him, bunny teeth poking out. “Sleep well, Tae.”

“You too, Jeonggukkie.”

Taehyung rolls over and turns out the lamp on his bedside table, plunging the room into darkness. He lies awake for a little while longer, happy to replay the events of the evening over and over (and over) in his head, giddy when he reminds himself that Jeongguk is still going to be here when he wakes up. Eventually, drowsiness overtakes him, and he drifts off to sleep to the sound of Jeongguk breathing softly beside him.

***

After so many months spent waking up alone in his sad, shitty apartment, Jeongguk honestly thinks he’s still dreaming when he first opens his eyes on Monday morning. He’s lying in a massive bed, early morning light filtering through a pristinely clean window, colorful mountains of pillows rising up on either side of him. It’s the overabundance of pillows that makes reality click back into place for him - he’s in Taehyung’s house, in Taehyung’s bed. He slept with Taehyung last night, in both the literal and figurative senses.

Damn. Life is good.

Speaking of, Taehyung is currently stirring beside him, fumbling around for the alarm that had woken them both up. He has a serious case of bedhead, lips pouted and eyelids droopy, and it’s so cute that Jeongguk’s heart skips a few beats in his chest. It’s early, uncomfortably so, but if this is what he gets to wake up to, Jeongguk finds he doesn’t mind all that much.

“Morning,” he mumbles, suppressing a yawn.

Taehyung startles slightly at the sound of his voice, rolling over to face him. “Hi,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, I am really not used to waking up with someone else in my bed.”

“Maybe you could get used to it?” Jeongguk suggests hopefully.

Taehyung grins, biting down on his lower lip. “I think I probably could.”

Jeongguk’s heart lifts. Last night had felt like a turning point in their relationship, at least for him, and it’s nice to have that reaffirmed in the (very early) light of day.

“Did you sleep well?” Taehyung asks.

“So well,” Jeongguk nods. He buries his face in a pillow, arms curled around it. “Can we just stay here all day and play hooky from real life?”

Taehyung sighs, wistful. “Don’t tempt me.”

Jeongguk peeks out from his pillow, shuffling across the space between them and climbing on top of Taehyung. Taehyung looks up at him with wide eyes, partly amused, partly… something else that Jeongguk can’t quite put a name to. Want, maybe. Desire.

“C’mon, hyung,” he pleads, nosing at Taehyung’s cheek, pressing a kiss to his lips. “Let’s just stay here and do this all day.”

Taehyung groans, arms coming up to loop around Jeongguk’s neck. His body is all warm and pliant, movements unguarded - it’s a side of Taehyung that Jeongguk has never quite seen before. “Stop seducing me away from my career.”

“I’m sure the Giants can survive without you for one day,” Jeongguk teases, as if he could actually get away with skipping out on his own job for no reason.

“Mm, Yoongi would murder me,” Taehyung replies.

Jeongguk shakes his head, brushing his lips over Taehyung’s neck, enjoying the way it makes his breath hitch. “He’d never murder his most valuable player.”

Taehyung snorts. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Not flattery,” Jeongguk retorts. “Just the truth.”

“Alright, you,” Taehyung says, palms connecting with Jeongguk’s chest and pushing him off. Jeongguk pouts at him, pulling out his best puppy dog eyes. Taehyung is unmoved. “I have a plane to catch and you have a job to do. C’mon, up.”

Begrudgingly, Jeongguk drags himself out of bed, making sure to whine about it every thirty seconds so that Taehyung knows how unhappy he is. Taehyung makes occasional soft cooing noises but otherwise mostly ignores him, and somehow they manage to get themselves dressed and down into the kitchen, where Taehyung makes them both tea. Before exiting the house, Taehyung pulls on a dark cap and sunglasses, and Jeongguk is abruptly reminded that there is very much a real world outside the peaceful idyll of Taehyung’s home.

They talk about it in the car on the drive back to Jeongguk’s apartment.

“So,” Taehyung says, clearing his throat. He has his eyes fixed on the road, one hand on the steering wheel. Jeongguk thinks he might be nervous about whatever he’s about to say. “I kind of mentioned this the other day, but, umm - as far as publicity. And, uh - us.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk replies, mostly to show he’s listening. He feels suddenly anxious, unsure of what direction Taehyung is going with this. He doesn’t think he’s ready to make things public, no matter how crazy he is about Taehyung.

“I think, for now,” Taehyung says slowly, glancing over at Jeongguk. “It would probably be best if we keep it on the down low. Less scrutiny.” Jeongguk feels relief bloom in his chest. “Is that okay with you?”

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah, totally. I think - I think that’s the right decision.”

To be honest, it’s not something he’s ever given much thought to, mostly because he never expected to find himself romantically involved with a celebrity. Still, Jeongguk is a private person, and the idea of random strangers knowing the details of his personal life - especially such a new, delicate part of it - is deeply unsettling.

Taehyung smiles at him, looking pretty relieved himself. “Okay, cool. I just don’t want you to think I’m trying to like, hide you, or whatever.” He bites his lip, shooting another quick glance at Jeongguk. “I really like you and I just - I’m not ready to share you with the whole world yet.”

“I’m not really ready to be shared,” Jeongguk replies. “I just want to hang out with you.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. “Me too.”

It’s not really a long-term solution, especially not if things continue to get more serious between them, but it works for right now. They’ll deal with anything beyond that when and if the time comes.

When they reach Jeongguk’s apartment, he feels a tug of sadness at having to leave Taehyung. This is the longest amount of time they’ve spent together so far, and whereas with most people he’d be ready for a break by now, he doesn’t feel that way with Taehyung. Last night had been one of the best nights he’s had in a while, maybe ever, and he’s finding himself a little bit hooked on the feeling. The companionship, the closeness - he thinks he’s been craving that more than he fully realized.

“You’re going to Denver today, right?” Jeongguk asks, even though he knows the answer is yes. Mostly he just wants to stall getting out of the car.

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Back Thursday. Better have some fresh interview questions ready, Jeon.”

Jeongguk snorts. “I’ll start brainstorming now. Text me when you get back?”

“I’ll text you while I’m gone,” Taehyung says, making warmth fill Jeongguk’s chest.

He leans over, pressing a swift kiss to Taehyung’s lips. “I’ll look forward to it. Play well, Tae.”

Taehyung waves as he gets out of the car. “See you in a few days.”

The promise of that is enough to keep him from descending into complete gloom as he slips back into his regular Monday routine.

***

After playing baseball at a competitive level for so many years, Taehyung has gotten used to living half of his life out of a hotel. He feels like an asshole for complaining about it, since the places they stay are pretty damn nice, but even the fanciest hotels can feel lonely and impersonal. At heart, Taehyung is a homebody, and when he’s away he misses his house, his bed, his Yeontan. And now, with the advent of Jeongguk in his life, he has one more thing to miss.

As promised, he texts Jeongguk during his downtime in Denver. They talk about the games (the Giants win two out of three), how Taehyung plays (pretty well, but he needs to work on his batting), and other mundane details of their daily lives. The weather in Denver, the sports memorabilia in Jeongguk’s boss’s office, the fact that Namjoon showed up at work sporting a poorly hidden hickey on his neck. Taehyung immediately texts Seokjin about that one, then regrets it as soon as he receives a response:

Jin hyung:
are you really surprised that i bite?

On the second day, Taehyung calls his family, feeling guilty as usual that he hasn’t found much time to speak to them in the past few weeks. In particular, he’s barely talked to his sister, so he’s hoping to catch her for at least a few minutes.

His mom answers, delighted as always to hear from him. They catch up for a little while, and he’s happy to just listen to her talk, hear all the news from back home in Daegu, no matter how trivial. He rarely speaks Korean when he’s in the U.S., but there’s something comforting about slipping back into it, the way it feels on his tongue. He gets so caught up in his life here that he sometimes forgets just how much he misses home and his family.

“Is Hyejin there?” he asks when he and his mom hit a lull in the conversation. His dad had also gotten on the line to say hi for a few minutes, updating Taehyung on the garden he’s been cultivating in their backyard.

“Let me go check,” his mom says, putting the phone down. Taehyung sits and listens to the background noises of their house, his dad humming along to what he assumes is the radio. He feels oddly nervous about talking to his little sister, like he doesn’t know the right things to ask her about anymore. It makes him feel like a terrible brother.

When his mom is the one to pick up the phone again a few minutes later, he knows he’s out of luck with Hyejin. He hates the part of himself that feels faintly relieved.

“Sorry, love,” she says sympathetically. “She’s holed up in her room writing, I couldn’t get her to come out.” She sighs. “She’s been doing a lot of that lately.”

Taehyung frowns. “Writing?”

“You know she likes to write,” his mom says. “It’s become more of a thing lately, although of course she won’t let us read any of it.”

She laughs lightly, but Taehyung is hit by another wave of guilt. He remembers Hyejin liking writing as a child, but he didn’t know it had become a significant part of her life.

“I didn’t realize,” he replies quietly.

There’s a beat of silence, and then his mom says: “You’re busy, honey.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says weakly. It’s not an excuse, though. Maybe his family has gotten used to his absence, but he should know about the things that are important in their lives. He doesn’t want to be this guy, the guy who didn’t know his little sister had developed a passion for writing.

He chats with his mom for a little while longer before hanging up, but the conversation stays with him. Feeling guilty isn’t enough - he needs to find a way to be more in touch with Hyejin’s life.

The next night, their last in Denver, he distracts himself by going out for a late dinner with Hoseok and Yoongi. They’re all in a reasonably good mood from having won their third game, and when Yoongi doesn’t immediately reject the idea of socializing, Hoseok pounces and insists the three of them go out.

Tucked into the back room of some steakhouse, Taehyung tells them about his evening with Jeongguk - and how it had turned into a sleepover. A sleepover that he pretty much hasn’t stopped thinking about since it happened.

“So you banged,” Hoseok says bluntly. “You made it to home base. Took a trip to the bone zone.”

“Oh my god,” Taehyung replies, blushing. Yoongi is regarding Hoseok with an expression of mild disgust. “I mean, yes, but why - don’t call it that.”

Hoseok whoops, loud in the mostly empty restaurant. “This is the best news I’ve gotten all week,” he says cheerily. “I feel like we should celebrate. Shots? Anyone?”

“Hyung, stop, it’s not that big of a deal,” Taehyung protests, even though it kind of is. For him, at least. “I’ve slept with people before.”

“Taetae, I love you, but you haven’t gotten laid in like two years,” Hoseok says. “This is cause for celebration.”

“We’re not doing shots, it’s the middle of the season,” Yoongi interjects, making Hoseok pout. He turns back to Taehyung, expression earnest. “But we are proud of you for getting that dick, Tae.”

Taehyung groans, slumping lower in his seat. His cheeks are burning.

“At least give us details?” Hoseok pleads. “I need details.”

“It was good,” Taehyung says reluctantly. “Umm - yeah. It was really good.”

Hoseok’s eager expression slips when Taehyung stops there. “You gotta give me more than that. C’mon, Tae, I’m trying to live vicariously through you.”

Taehyung blinks at him. “You have sex all the time,” he says, wincing a little at the deliberately impassive look on Yoongi’s face. “Haven’t you been sleeping with a model?

“Yes,” Hoseok says dismissively, glancing surreptitiously over at Yoongi to gauge his reaction. “That’s just sex, though. This is sex with feelings. There’s certainly none of that happening in my life.”

The mood at the table is suddenly uncomfortable. Yoongi stares determinedly down at his burger, while Hoseok keeps his head up in clear defiance. Taehyung feels like he’s been witnessing more and more of these moments between them lately, and wonders if something has changed. They’re clearly not together, but Hoseok seems more willful about it recently, more determined to throw it in Yoongi’s face. Maybe he’s just frustrated. Or heartbroken.

Hoseok has never told him the exact nature of his and Yoongi’s relationship, but Taehyung has his theories from having been friends with both of them for years now. There are clearly feelings on both sides; Hoseok is bolder about it, but Taehyung has seen the way Yoongi looks at him. It’s hard to say whether anything has actually happened between them, or to what extent, but Taehyung knows how seriously Yoongi takes his job as their coach. His best guess is that Yoongi is unwilling to jeopardize that, even for Hoseok, and Hoseok is frustrated but can’t get over his feelings.

In Taehyung’s opinion, neither of them is in the wrong, they’re just in an impossible situation. It makes him sad for them.

“He was really sweet,” Taehyung offers, eager to dispel the tension at the table. “Patient, listened to me, made me feel really comfortable.” He blushes, partly from thinking about Jeongguk, partly from the way Hoseok and Yoongi are now regarding him fondly. “And - yeah. He’s hot as hell and knows how to use his body.”

Hell yeah,” Hoseok cheers, reaching across the table to fistbump Taehyung. “Get it, Taetae.”

“You deserve it,” Yoongi adds. Taehyung resists the urge to reply that Yoongi deserves it too.

“Can we all hang out sometime?” Hoseok asks. “I want to properly meet this kid. His cheeks look so squishable.”

“You are not allowed to squish his cheeks if we hang out,” Taehyung replies, even though he understands the impulse. He finds himself wanting to squeeze Jeongguk’s cheeks almost as often as he wants to stick his tongue down his throat. He thinks this is what it means to want to date someone.

“If I promise to leave his cheeks alone, can I hang out with him?” Yoongi asks.

“Traitor,” Hoseok murmurs, sulking.

“If he’s down then so am I,” Taehyung says. He doesn’t want to overwhelm Jeongguk, but he’d love to have him spend time with his friends. If he can’t share him with the whole world yet, he wants to at least show him off to the people he trusts. “I’ll talk to him and see if I can figure out a time that works for everyone. Maybe when Jiminie visits.”

“That would be great,” Yoongi agrees. Hoseok claps his hands together excitedly, apparently having moved on from his sulking.

Taehyung smiles to himself, pleased. He still feels shy talking about Jeongguk, especially the more intimate aspects of their relationship, but he appreciates how supportive Hoseok and Yoongi are being. Truly genuine friendships are hard to come by in this life he leads, and he feels lucky every day that he has them. It’s a big step for him to introduce a guy he’s seeing to them - he’s never done that before, never had someone to introduce - but he has a hunch that they’re all going to like each other.

***

The main downside of dating a professional athlete is that Taehyung’s schedule is insane and often not compatible with Jeongguk’s. It helps that their jobs allow them to interact at work a few times a week, but flirting during interviews isn’t quite the same as spending one-on-one time together. Which they also do, as often as possible, even if it’s just for an hour or so. Usually at Taehyung’s house, sometimes at Jeongguk’s apartment, occasionally out in the world if they feel like being super careful about it. It’s not much, but they make the most of it, slowly coming to know each other better in the little pockets of time that they do share.

Jeongguk learns the ways Taehyung likes to be touched, the things that make him laugh, the questions that make him thoughtful. He hears about his little sister Hyejin, how he fell in love with baseball, what it was like acclimating to life in America when he first moved here. In turn, Jeongguk tells Taehyung about Ella, growing up in Texas, piecing his life together after he got injured. They watch Someone Great together and Taehyung discovers that Jeongguk is a sap who cries easily, especially during movies.

And somewhere along the way, Jeongguk starts walking with an extra spring in his step. He just feels - happy. Hopeful. He’s doing well at work, Ken still ecstatic over the dynamic between him and Taehyung and the way the public seems to have taken to it (if only they knew). He’s already talking about new assignments for after the baseball season ends, stories that he wants Jeongguk to take the lead on. Life outside of work is better too, everything a little bit brighter when he knows he won’t be spending all his free time alone. For the first time since he moved to San Francisco, he doesn’t feel desperately lonely.

A month or so after they start seeing each other, Taehyung tells him that Jimin is coming to visit, and he wants Jeongguk to meet him. Wants Jeongguk to spend time with all of his friends, if he’s okay with that. He’s brought it up to Jeongguk before, but their schedules haven’t really worked out for it to happen yet. Now that Jimin is going to be in town, Taehyung is intent on finding a time that works for everyone.

Jeongguk agrees, happy to be included in another part of Taehyung’s life, and keeps any jealousy he might feel towards Jimin to himself.

Taehyung ends up arranging for them all to go to dinner at a fancy Korean restaurant in the city, booking a private room where they won’t be recognized or bothered. In addition to Jeongguk and Jimin, he invites Seokjin, Hoseok, and Yoongi, who Jeongguk has learned are his three closest friends in San Francisco. Namjoon is included as well, mostly because he’s dating (sleeping with? Something - Jeongguk’s not sure) Seokjin, and Jeongguk is extremely relieved when he learns there’s going to be at least one other person at this event who’s in his corner. Seokjin had apologized to him for the phone number incident, but Jeongguk is still vaguely terrified of him, and Yoongi and Hoseok he’s only interacted with during interviews. He assumes they’re both nice people, especially if they’re friends with Taehyung, but he still finds them intimidating as hell. It’s not every day that you have dinner with the youngest coach in MLB history.

On the day of the dinner, Jeongguk is, of course, sufficiently anxious. Meeting someone’s friends is stressful enough without the added pressure of those friends being highly accomplished, intimidatingly attractive, and, in some cases, literally famous. Jeongguk is just… Jeongguk. Lost, awkward, practically broke. Taehyung seems to not care about those things, but what if his friends convince him otherwise? What if they make him realize how completely out of Jeongguk’s league he is?

“They’re going to love you,” Taehyung reassures him as they slip in through the back entrance of the restaurant. Probably sensing Jeongguk’s nerves, he’d offered to pick him up ahead of time so that they could arrive together. “Stop worrying, okay?”

Jeongguk nods and continues to worry.

“I swear they’re really chill,” Taehyung says, smoothing his hands over Jeongguk’s shoulders. As usual, he looks effortlessly gorgeous and stylish, clothes draped perfectly over the lines of his body. Jeongguk, meanwhile, is wearing the nicest button down he owns, which is to say, a not-very-nice button down that makes him look distinctly unimpressive next to Taehyung. “Or - okay. Maybe chill is the wrong word.” When Jeongguk’s expression slips into panic, he hurries to add: “I just mean they can be kind of a lot! But they’re really nice, I promise! And they’re really excited to get to know you.”

“Oh god,” Jeongguk whimpers. A part of him had hoped that he could get through this dinner without actually having to say anything. Lower risk of embarrassing himself that way.

Taehyung sighs, taking Jeongguk’s hand and tugging him into the bathroom, a single where they can lock the door.

“Jeonggukkie,” he says sternly, cupping Jeongguk’s face in his hands. “You are kind and funny and easy to be around. They’re gonna love you. And even without all those things, they would still like you because they know how much I like you.”

Jeongguk blinks at him, face flushed.

“Okay?” Taehyung says, squeezing his cheeks and making Jeongguk’s lips pucker out slightly.

“’Kay,” Jeongguk relents, unable to suppress his giggle when Taehyung gives him a smacking kiss.

“Good,” Taehyung nods. “Let’s do this.”

As it turns out, Taehyung is right. His friends are all gracious and friendly, not to mention a lot of fun. Jimin gives him a huge hug the moment they’re introduced, babbling excitedly about how he’s been dying to meet him, and Jeongguk finds himself instantly drawn to his warmth (even if the affectionate clinginess between Jimin and Taehyung still makes him a little bit wary). Hoseok is sunny and cheerful, listening intently to everything Jeongguk says; Yoongi is quieter but equally attentive and kind. The two of them have a dynamic that Jeongguk has a hard time figuring out - they don’t seem to be together, but there’s an energy between them that Jeongguk makes a mental note to ask Taehyung about later. Seokjin, he learns, is bitingly witty and completely hilarious, and Jeongguk’s fear of him diminishes a little when he realizes they actually have a very similar sense of humor. It also helps to see him with Namjoon, the way they play off of each other and how he seems to bring Namjoon out of his shell a bit.

By the end of the evening, everyone is drunk except for Jeongguk and Taehyung. Jimin drapes himself over Jeongguk, flushed and giggly as he whispers loudly about how happy he is that Jeongguk and Taehyung are together.

“He seems so happy,” Jimin says confidentially, as if everyone on their side of the table (including Taehyung) can’t hear every word he’s saying. “I remember when he told me about you, I knew he liked you even though he was being all nervous about it. I thought he was just going to keep fawning over you - ”

“Chim - ” Taehyung tries to intervene, looking mildly embarrassed.

Jimin ignores him, his breath hot and alcoholic against Jeongguk’s ear. “But then the thing with his phone happened, which sucked, but now you guys are in love!” He gives Jeongguk’s ear an affectionate tug. “What’s it like being in love?”

“Uh - ”

“Okay, how about a new topic?” Taehyung says loudly, grabbing the back of Jimin’s shirt and hauling him away from Jeongguk.

On the other side of the table, Hoseok and Yoongi are arguing.

“But I want to,” Hoseok says heatedly, pout on his lips. His arms are crossed over his chest like a stubborn child.

“He’s a grown man, Hobi, you can’t just adopt adults,” Yoongi replies patiently.

“But he’s so cute!” Hoseok whines. It takes him gesturing across the table for Jeongguk to realize they’re talking about him. “Look how cute he is!”

“He’s very cute, but you don’t get to just adopt people because they’re cute,” Yoongi says reasonably.

Taehyung starts snickering uncontrollably beside him. Jeongguk just stares, watching the conversation unfold in utter disbelief.

Hoseok sniffs. “Is this because you think I wouldn’t be a good dad?”

Yoongi sighs. “I think you would be the best dad.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then the pout slips off Hoseok’s face. “Oh,” he says. “Okay.”

Yoongi looks down at his hands, and Jeongguk looks over at Taehyung, completely mystified.

All in all, it’s a good night, albeit a bit strange - Jeongguk’s never had someone try to adopt him before. Still, it’s a good strange, a welcome kind. Taehyung’s friends, for all their status and accolades, had made him feel at ease and included.

“They loved you,” Taehyung tells him later that night, when they’re back at Jeongguk’s apartment. “They’re blowing up the group chat talking about how great you are.” He snorts, thumbing through his phone. “Hobi still wants to adopt you.”

Jeongguk laughs, still bewildered. “I loved them too,” he says earnestly, making Taehyung beam. “What’s the deal with Hoseok and Yoongi? Are they like - ?”

Taehyung sighs, his smile dimming slightly.

“I think they love each other,” he says. “But nothing’s going to happen while Yoongi is Hobi’s coach.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk replies, feeling a pang of sadness for them. He obviously doesn’t know Hoseok and Yoongi that well, but he could see how fond they were of each other. “That sucks.”

The idea of circumstance keeping two people apart has always seemed especially tragic to him. A cruel twist of fate, dooming the parties involved to a lifetime of “what ifs”.

“Yeah it does,” Taehyung agrees. “I’m still holding out hope that they’ll work it out someday.”

Jeongguk nods. He hopes so too.

“Thanks again for coming tonight,” Taehyung says, smiling shyly at him. It’s amazing how he looks radiant even under the washed out overhead light in Jeongguk’s kitchen. “I know it was probably overwhelming, but it made me really happy to have you there.”

“Of course,” Jeongguk says, heart soaring at the knowledge that he is capable of making Taehyung so happy. “Thanks for including me. It was really fun.”

“I hope Jimin didn’t freak you out too much,” Taehyung continues, looking anxious. He’s good at keeping his facial expressions neutral, but after spending so much time with him, Jeongguk is slowly getting better at reading them. “He has no filter, especially when he’s drunk.”

“It’s cool, it was funny,” Jeongguk laughs. He quirks an eyebrow at Taehyung. “Guess you talked about me a lot, huh?”

Taehyung groans, shoving him lightly. “Not that much,” he says, biting his lip. “But yeah, I did talk about you when I saw him in L.A.”

This actually comes as a bit of a surprise to Jeongguk. They had only met a few times before Taehyung went to L.A., and while Jeongguk was obviously already crushing hard, he’d assumed he was still nothing more than a blip on Taehyung’s radar at that point. To hear that Taehyung was not only thinking about him, but thinking about him enough to tell his best friend about it - that makes his heart do a little somersault in his chest.

“Oh yeah?” Jeongguk says, trying to maintain at least an illusion of chill as he crowds a bit closer into Taehyung’s space. “What’d you say?”

Taehyung shrugs, playful. “Just told him about this cute reporter who kept blushing every time he interviewed me.”

“Ugh,” Jeongguk groans, dropping his forehead onto Taehyung’s shoulder to hide the way his cheeks heat up traitorously. “That’s embarrassing.”

“I think it’s more embarrassing that I was talking about you,” Taehyung says, nudging Jeongguk up to face him again.

“I thought you guys were maybe together after I saw the pictures of you from that weekend,” Jeongguk admits, cheeks burning hotter. “I was so jealous.”

Taehyung’s eyebrows lift. “Seriously?” When Jeongguk nods, he laughs, fond. “That’s so cute.”

Jeongguk huffs, thinking back to the way Taehyung and Jimin had been so easily affectionate with each other at dinner. “Were you guys ever…?”

He hopes it’s not overstepping to ask, but he’s really curious. Now that he and Taehyung are seeing each other, he thinks it’s reasonable to wonder about exes and past experiences.

“Nah,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. The response makes Jeongguk more relieved than he was expecting. “I mean, we messed around a little when we first became friends, but we were young and mostly just trying to figure the whole sex thing out.” He lets out a rueful chuckle. “Since then, strictly platonic. No need to be jealous, Jeonggukkie.”

He nudges the underside of Jeongguk’s chin, a gesture he’s been making more often lately. Jeongguk loves it, how understated yet sweet it is. It feels like their own little special thing.

“Good,” Jeongguk smiles. “I didn’t really want to share.”

Taehyung grins, his gaze lingering on Jeongguk’s face in that way it does when he’s gearing up to say something. Jeongguk waits patiently, always eager to hear what Taehyung has to say.

“Speaking of,” he begins slowly. “How would you feel about, um - putting a label on this?”

Butterflies bubble up in Jeongguk’s stomach. “What kind of label?”

“Maybe… boyfriends?” Taehyung says it like a question, nerves obvious on his face. As if he hasn’t just made Jeongguk’s night, his week, his whole damn month. As if Jeongguk would ever say anything other than yes.

“Okay,” Jeongguk breathes, giddy. Boyfriends. His boyfriend. “I - of course. I feel great about that. Excellent, even.”

“You do, do you?” Taehyung laughs, his smile toothy and blinding. He wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s waist, holding him close. “Well isn’t that lucky for me, then.”

“And me,” Jeongguk replies, kissing him. “I - wow. Wow.”

Taehyung giggles, kissing him back happily. “You’re cute.”

“I’ve just - ” Jeongguk starts, then pauses, wondering if he should divulge this piece of information about himself. Decides to just go for it, because boyfriends are honest with each other about the good stuff and the bad. “I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

Taehyung’s eyes soften. “Me neither,” he admits, shy. “I’m glad you’re my first.”

Jeongguk’s heart swells. “Me too.”

Then he tugs his boyfriend closer and kisses him silly.

***

In the weeks following the leak of his phone number, Taehyung is so caught up in other things (namely, Jeongguk) that he doesn’t dwell on it as much as he usually would. It shakes him, certainly, but it so directly coincides with him and Jeongguk getting together that he’s too happy to spend all of his time worrying about who was actually responsible. He’s immensely relieved that it wasn’t Jeongguk, and he trusts that Seokjin will let him know if he learns anything more about who did it. Still, he can’t help but think back to it occasionally, especially when he’s with his team, wondering who among the people he plays and works with every day had sold him out. It makes it hard to feel fully settled, and although he’s still having a pretty good season, he doesn’t feel quite as in sync with the team as he’d like to.

When nearly two months pass without another incident, he starts thinking that maybe it had been a one-time thing, whoever it was just looking for a quick payout. Maybe the paparazzi had just been a strange coincidence of timing, a new employee or a bar patron on line outside who recognized him. Shitty for sure, but not a coordinated attack. Seokjin is more pessimistic, still on high alert because that’s part of his job, but for his own sanity Taehyung does his best to relax.

That becomes harder to maintain when, while staying in San Diego for a series against the Padres, his hotel room number gets leaked.

It starts with a series of strange calls to his room. The phone rings once, twice, three times, and every time Taehyung answers, there’s no one on the other end. The first time, he writes it off as an accident, someone with the wrong room number. The second time, he gets suspicious. The third time, he threatens to call the police and then texts Seokjin.

(Who, frankly, is scarier than the police anyway.)

Seokjin advises him to notify the hotel, which he does, and then to go hang out in Hoseok’s room for a while, which he also does. It’s while he’s there, catching up on KBO League highlights on Hoseok’s laptop, that Yoongi stops by unexpectedly. For one, wild second, Taehyung thinks he’s here for some sort of late night rendezvous and immediately starts brainstorming ways to discreetly see himself out. Then he sees Yoongi’s face and realizes the reason for his appearance is a bit more somber than that.

“I just spoke to hotel security,” he says slowly, meeting Taehyung’s eyes with a grim gaze. Taehyung’s stomach drops before he even finishes the sentence. “Apparently they caught a paparazzo trying to sneak up to your room, Tae.”

“What the fuck,” Hoseok says.

Taehyung stays silent, nauseous with anxiety. That same sense of dread that he had felt when his phone number got leaked creeps through him, making him feel exposed, like nowhere is safe. He suddenly feels relieved that only a handful of people know his home address - outside of that group, he’s not sure who he can trust anymore.

“How did they figure out my room number?” he says faintly.

“Maybe someone from the hotel staff?” Hoseok suggests.

“Maybe,” Taehyung nods, even though something tells him this is more deliberate than that. A hotel staffer would know the floor they’re all on, but the team always picks room keys at random. Which means the people with the most immediate knowledge of his room number are his teammates and their surrounding staff.

Taehyung stands abruptly. He feels awful voicing his suspicions to Hoseok and Yoongi, but he has to talk to someone. “I need to call Seokjin,” he announces, then slips into the bathroom.

Seokjin sounds upset but not altogether surprised by the news. His mind goes to the same place Taehyung’s had, that it was probably someone close to the team. Probably the same person (or people) who had been responsible for leaking his phone number, and possibly tipping off the paparazzi.

“Tae,” Seokjin says tentatively. “I know you probably don’t even want to think about this, but - is it possible it’s someone on the team?”

Taehyung stays silent for a few moments, observing his reflection in the wide bathroom mirror. It’s the kind that extends beyond just one wall, so that he can see himself head-on as well as in the periphery of his vision. The expression staring back at him is dark. He hates feeling like this, hates doubting the people he plays alongside. And yet - at this point, the possibility seems almost unavoidable.

“I don’t know, hyung,” Taehyung admits. He suddenly feels overwhelmingly exhausted. “I mean, yeah. It definitely seems possible, but I have no proof.” He sighs, thinking of Yoongi, the team, the season. “And I can’t just disrupt my whole team with an accusation like that. Not unless I know for sure.”

“I know,” Seokjin huffs, clearly frustrated. Taehyung can imagine him pacing around his palatial apartment, pinching the bridge of his nose. If he knows Seokjin at all, there’s a glass of red wine nearby, part of his nighttime unwinding routine, and maybe Namjoon is around as well. Taehyung hopes he didn’t interrupt anything too intimate. “I’m going to do some more digging, see if I can get someone to give up their source. For now, just - be extra cautious, okay? Keep your guard up.”

“I will,” Taehyung replies dutifully. “Thanks. I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Hang in there, Tae.”

He ends the call, taking a moment to steel himself before stepping back into the room. As completely as he trusts Yoongi and Hoseok, he doesn’t want to get them worked up over something he can’t even prove is true. Yoongi is his good friend, but he’s also the team’s head coach, and it would be unfair to drag him into something that could affect his ability to do his job.

The atmosphere in the suite is strangely intense when Taehyung walks out of the bathroom. Yoongi has joined Hoseok on the bed, the two of them sitting side by side with their legs hanging over the edge, Hoseok’s noticeably longer than Yoongi’s. Hoseok appears to be rubbing soothing circles into Yoongi’s back, and it’s such a rare moment of sweetness between the two of them that Taehyung very nearly shuts himself back in the bathroom, fully ready to pretend he’s not there.

Before he can do that, Yoongi catches sight of him, clearing his throat and standing up abruptly. His face is flushed and he seems generally flustered, fidgeting unnecessarily with his clothes. Meanwhile, Hoseok continues to watch him from the bed, a longing on his face that Taehyung feels like a punch in the stomach.

“All good, Tae?” Yoongi asks gruffly.

“Yeah,” Taehyung lies, trying not to let his gaze dart too obviously between his friends. “Seokjin’s on the case.”

“Good,” Yoongi nods. “I told the hotel’s manager they better fucking watch who comes and goes from now on if they ever want us to stay here again.”

Taehyung smiles. “Thanks, hyung.”

Yoongi nods again, looking briefly over at Hoseok and then back to Taehyung. “’Course. I’ll, umm - I’m gonna head back to my room. Uh. Goodnight.”

When the door closes behind him, Taehyung redirects his attention back to Hoseok, eyebrows slightly raised.

Hoseok sighs. “Don’t ask.”

“Okay,” Taehyung agrees. Hoseok will talk to him if and when he’s ready. “Can I stay here with you tonight?”

Hoseok’s face lights up, mouth splitting into a wide smile. “Sleepover?!”

Taehyung nods and dives onto his bed.

Later that night, when they’ve changed into their pajamas and curled up beside each other, Taehyung whispers:

“Thanks for letting me stay here tonight, hyung.” And then, because he’s feeling daring with the lights out, he adds: “I know you’d probably prefer me to be Yoongi.”

Hoseok pokes him under the covers. “And you’d probably prefer me to be Jeongguk,” he scoffs. “That’s what friends are for, Taetae. You’re welcome to share my bed any time.”

Taehyung hums his gratitude and snuggles closer, latching onto Hoseok as he drifts off into a fitful sleep.

As much as he tries not to dwell on it, the incident stays on his mind for the remainder of their time in San Diego. If he had felt unsettled before, he feels completely strung-out now, and having to act normal while he secretly doubts everyone on his team doesn’t help. It’s bad enough that it affects how he plays during their last game against the Padres, making stupid mistakes and even batting poorly. To make matters worse, there’s a heckler in the stands who seems particularly intent on getting a rise out of Taehyung, calling out homophobic remarks and insulting his playing. Usually, he has no problem tuning that sort of thing out, even laughing it off, but with his mind already a mess it gets under his skin.

They lose the game. It’s not Taehyung’s fault alone, of course not, but he feels like it is because of how poorly he had played. He’s frustrated with himself for losing focus, for letting the events of his personal life affect his game. He should have a better handle on that sort of thing by now.

It’s a testament to how well Yoongi knows him that he doesn’t harp on it during their post-game team meeting. Afterwards, when everyone is changing and packing up, he pulls Taehyung aside.

“Take the day and get your head on straight,” he murmurs, referring to the game-free day they have tomorrow. “You can’t let this distract you.”

Taehyung nods, feeling guilty and ashamed even though he knows that wasn’t Yoongi’s intention. He can’t wait to get home, wants nothing more than to curl up in his bed with Yeontan and shut out the world for a while. He collects his things and climbs onto their chartered bus eagerly, scrolling through his unread messages as it takes them to the airport. There are a few in particular that grab his attention - some from Jeongguk, and some from Seokjin.

Jeonggukkie:
sorry about the game :(
the padres suck anyway
can’t wait to see you!! <3

Taehyung smiles at this, typing out a reply suggesting they try to meet up tomorrow. His smile falters when he reaches Seokjin’s messages - one of them includes three consecutive winky face emojis, which, in Taehyung’s experience with his agent, can only be interpreted as ominous.

Jin hyung:
rough game, keep your chin up kiddo
left a surprise for you at your house
;) ;) ;)

Taehyung frowns, confused. Maybe he should rethink that key he’d left in Seokjin’s care.

Chapter Text

It feels strange being in Taehyung’s house without him there.

At this point, Jeongguk has spent enough time here to know his way around, but he still wants to be careful not to disturb anything. They’re boyfriends now, which he thinks gives him some privileges, but he doesn’t feel like he can just walk around like he owns the place. Especially when the place in question is so very nice, so much nicer than his own. And especially when Taehyung doesn’t even know he’s here in the first place.

Jeongguk hopes he’ll be pleasantly surprised. He knows Taehyung has had a shitty couple of days, and he had been eager to do something to help cheer him up. Seokjin had been receptive to the idea when Jeongguk (after spending several hours working up the nerve) texted him about it, asking if Seokjin would be willing to let him into Taehyung’s house using his spare key. Seokjin is not the type of person to say yes to a request like that just to be nice, so Jeongguk had taken that as a good sign. Plus, they’d picked up Yeontan from his dog sitter’s house on the way, so even if Taehyung isn’t happy to see Jeongguk, he’ll definitely be happy to see Yeontan.

Now, Yeontan is curled up next to him on the couch, occasionally blinking one eye open to stare judgmentally whenever Jeongguk’s leg starts jiggling too hard. He wishes he wasn’t so goddamn nervous - they’re boyfriends, for god’s sake. Boyfriends do things like this for each other. Still, he can’t help but worry that Taehyung will walk in and be annoyed that he’s here, or see what he’s wearing and think it’s -

A car door slams outside.

Yeontan’s ears perk up, and Jeongguk gets to his feet, hovering nervously in the living room. He doesn’t want to freak Taehyung out by standing directly in front of his door when he opens it. Yeontan, of course, has other plans, racing to the front door and yapping excitedly as the lock clicks and it swings open.

“Tannie?!” Taehyung’s deep voice floats in from the foyer, clearly delighted by Yeontan’s presence. “How did you get here? Are you Jin hyung’s surprise?”

Jeongguk can hear Yeontan snuffling excitedly, smiling to himself as he steps into the foyer. He finds Taehyung exactly where he expected him to be, on his knees ruffling Yeontan’s fur enthusiastically. It’s such an endearing scene that Jeongguk forgets himself for a moment, looking on fondly until he remembers that he should probably announce his presence.

He clears his throat and Taehyung’s head snaps up, expression of alarm slipping quickly into surprise when he sees Jeongguk. “Oh my god,” he says, clambering to his feet and hurrying over to kiss Jeongguk hello. Off to a good start, Jeongguk thinks. “What are you doing here?!”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Jeongguk explains, a little sheepish. “Help cheer you up. I hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it is,” Taehyung says, looking genuinely touched. Jeongguk’s heart soars with relief. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

He beams at Jeongguk, their fingers linked loosely between them, hands swinging slightly. He hasn’t noticed what Jeongguk is wearing yet and Jeongguk can’t decide if he’s disappointed or relieved.

“Me too,” Jeongguk smiles. “If you want to like, get settled, I can just - ”

“Wait,” Taehyung says, catching Jeongguk’s hand as he moves to back away. “What are you wearing?”

Bingo.

“Oh, umm.” Jeongguk’s cheeks heat up before he even has time to tell them not to (as if that ever works anyway). “I just, well - ”

The idea had occurred to him after Taehyung told him some asshole in the stands had been giving him a hard time. A few minutes of snooping around in Taehyung’s closet and -

“Is that my jersey?”

It is, yes.

“Uh,” Jeongguk says, swallowing. His face is on fire. Taehyung is staring at him with wide eyes, gaze fixed on the white jersey hanging from his upper body. Jeongguk can’t tell what he’s thinking and it makes him nervous. “I, uh - I wanted to show you that I’m your number one fan - ”

Taehyung makes a broken sort of noise, stepping forward and pulling Jeongguk into a kiss. Jeongguk lets out a squeak of surprise but melts into it easily when Taehyung’s big hands come up to cover his cheeks.

“You’re so cute,” Taehyung coos when they break apart, making Jeongguk smile giddily. He takes a half step back, looking overwhelmed as his eyes scan over Jeongguk once more. “This is so…”

He trails off, placing his hands on Jeongguk’s shoulders and pushing gently until he gets the hint and turns around. Like this, he knows Taehyung can see the writing on his back, the name Kim printed in big, black type, the number seven beneath it. He’s pretty sure he hears Taehyung groan softly, and it makes him shiver.

“Shit,” Taehyung says softly, spinning Jeongguk back around. “Is it weird that I find this really, really hot?”

Jeongguk shakes his head immediately, arousal pooling in his stomach. The nerves he was feeling before slip away when he sees the way Taehyung is looking at him now, eyes dark, almost hungry.

“No,” Jeongguk breathes. “I was kind of hoping you would.”

Taehyung nods, yanking him in for another kiss. Their mouths move together eagerly, hands roving over each other’s bodies, pulling at clothing. It’s only been a few days since they last saw each other, but this is still so new that even that’s enough to make them both a little desperate. That, and the fact that seeing Jeongguk in his own jersey is clearly doing a lot for Taehyung.

“I want - ” Jeongguk starts, getting distracted by the way Taehyung clutches at his hips, lips sliding over his jaw.

“Yeah,” Taehyung prompts.

“Wanna make you feel good,” Jeongguk murmurs, cheeks heating up again. It’s true, and he’s not ashamed of it, but it’s still hard for him to say things like that out loud.

Yeah,” Taehyung groans, hips pressing more needily against Jeongguk’s, enough to feel the beginning swell of his arousal. “How?”

Jeongguk walks him backwards until his back hits the wall. They’re still in the foyer, Taehyung’s travel bag discarded on the floor just inside the front door. Yeontan had been sniffing around it curiously but has since disappeared, probably annoyed that he’s being ignored.

“Wanna suck you off,” Jeongguk announces boldly, reaching between them and rubbing over the front of Taehyung’s pants. The material is soft and clingy, comfortable for the plane. It hugs his ass nicely and does little to hide the erection forming between his legs.

Taehyung makes a noise low in his throat, slumping slightly against the wall. “Fuck,” he grunts, hips arching into Jeongguk’s touch. “You’re too good to me.”

“’M not,” Jeongguk disagrees fervently, kissing Taehyung’s long, lovely neck. It continues to amaze him how much he enjoys just lavishing Taehyung’s body with attention, hearing the sounds he makes and feeling how responsive he can be. “You deserve it.”

Taehyung whimpers, the noise becoming more drawn out when Jeongguk pushes his sweats and underwear down past his ass, pausing when they’re stretched around his mid-thigh. He takes Taehyung’s cock in his hand, playing with him a bit to bring him to full hardness. Jeongguk knows he still has a lot to learn about Taehyung and his body, but every time they do this he grows a bit more confident, a little more sure of how to touch him. It’s exhilarating.

They spend a few more minutes like this, kissing hungrily, Taehyung’s cock hot and throbbing in Jeongguk’s hand. Jeongguk is hard himself just from feeling Taehyung against him, the way he keeps clutching at the jersey and gasping into Jeongguk’s mouth whenever Jeongguk does something particularly effective with his hand. And then, without any warning, Jeongguk sinks to his knees.

It happens quickly; one second, they’re the same height, the next, Taehyung is blinking down at him, expression of surprise quickly shifting into something heavier. Jeongguk stares back up at him with eyes full of intent, heat coursing through him at the way Taehyung is watching him - like he can’t look away, like he’s never wanted anything more in his life.

“Shit,” Taehyung breathes.

Instead of answering, Jeongguk drags his gaze down, licking his lips as he takes stock of the sight before him. Taehyung’s cock stands in the air between them, red and leaking, but Jeongguk ignores it for the time being in favor of wrapping his hands around Taehyung’s outer thighs, the skin warm and smooth. He rubs his thumbs in circles, kneading the muscle there, ducking in to drop a kiss to a random mole that catches his eye.

His hands slide higher, taking the hem of Taehyung’s shirt with them, exposing his tummy. Taehyung is in really good shape - athlete shape - but there’s a slight softness to his stomach that Jeongguk can’t quite get over. He brings his mouth to it now, hears Taehyung’s sharp inhale when Jeongguk starts placing sucking kisses there, tongue swiping over his belly button. Every so often, Jeongguk’s jaw or cheek brushes against Taehyung’s cock, pre-cum wetting his skin as Taehyung shudders.

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says, half pleading, when Jeongguk has been messing around for long enough for it to justifiably be called teasing. It’s not even intentional, not really - he just gets carried away sometimes, so infatuated with every inch of Taehyung’s body.

Still, he’s supposed to be giving Taehyung what he wants right now, so he pulls away, sitting back on his heels and looking up at him. “What?” he asks innocently, mostly just to be a little shit. Taehyung’s face is flushed now, eyes dark, lower lip pulled between his teeth. He doesn’t say anything, so Jeongguk adds: “You ready for my mouth?”

Taehyung’s eyes slip shut briefly, a low moan dragging up and out of his throat. He nods, gaze refocusing on Jeongguk. “Yes, you absolute menace.”

Jeongguk laughs, fingers slipping over Taehyung’s inner thighs, pressing into the tender skin as he nudges them further apart. “Jeez,” he says, teasing, head positioned so that his breath hits the head of Taehyung’s cock when he speaks. “All you had to do was ask.”

Indignance flares on Taehyung’s face, but any retort dies on his tongue when Jeongguk takes him in his mouth. He seals his lips around the head, sucking lightly, tongue pressing flat over the slit. It makes Taehyung groan, hips lifting off the wall in a way that pushes his cock deeper into Jeongguk’s mouth. Jeongguk takes it willingly, hollowing his cheeks out as he starts bobbing his head.

“Shit, Guk,” Taehyung rasps out, spreading his legs wider. The material of his sweats stretches taut, holding him in place, and Jeongguk hooks his fingers around the waistband, tugging them down further to give him more room. Taehyung hums in appreciation, fingers sliding into Jeongguk’s hair. He doesn’t pull, doesn’t even hold on that tightly, but the feeling of them resting there is enough to spur Jeongguk on.

Closing his eyes, he moves his hands to the backs of Taehyung’s thighs, gliding up until he reaches the perfect swell of his ass. It’s such a nice ass, round and tight, and Jeongguk cups the cheeks firmly, satisfied when Taehyung makes a deeply pleased noise above him. He uses his hold to haul Taehyung closer to him, swallowing as much of his cock as he can without choking.

Nghh, fuh - fuck,” Taehyung grunts, his voice rough in that way it gets when he’s starting to lose himself. Jeongguk sometimes thinks he could get off on the sound of Taehyung’s voice alone, the rich sultriness of it, deep and thick as honey.

Pulling back to take a breath, he notices Taehyung’s thighs are trembling, a telltale sign that he’s close to coming. Glancing up, he finds Taehyung looking utterly wrecked, head thrown back against the wall at an angle that highlights the sharp cut of his jaw. His fingers are still threaded loosely in Jeongguk’s hair, and when Jeongguk takes one of his balls in his mouth, the grip finally tightens.

He sucks at one ball, then the other, drinking in the desperate sounds Taehyung is making as he kisses his way back up the shaft. His dick is steadily leaking pre-cum now, and Jeongguk allows some of it to collect on his tongue before sinking back down. Taehyung shudders, crying out, Jeongguk’s name spliced into a stream of half-formed praises and curses.

With a few last, well-executed sucks, Jeongguk brings him over the edge, gagging slightly as Taehyung comes hot and hard down his throat. He keeps his hold on Taehyung’s hips secure as his legs turn to jelly, grip in Jeongguk’s hair slackening as he rides out his orgasm. Another glance upward finds Taehyung looking completely blissed out, a loopy grin on his lips that reassures Jeongguk that he did good. Really good.

“Fuck, baby,” Taehyung says huskily, regarding Jeongguk with something like adoration on his face. It’s the first time he’s used that pet name, and Jeongguk is surprised by his own reaction to it, the way it warms him from the inside out. “That was - shit.”

Jeongguk preens, starting to take stock of his own needs now that Taehyung is taken care of. His knees are beginning to hurt from kneeling on the wooden floor of the foyer, his jaw a little sore from having been held open for so long. Most pressingly, his dick is achingly hard in his pants, straining for Taehyung’s attention.

“You look so fucking hot down there,” Taehyung tells him, voice low in a way that does little to alleviate the situation in Jeongguk’s pants. “On your knees for me, in my jersey - ”

His words make Jeongguk feel like he’s on fire - in the best possible way. His face is hot, the flush burning down his chest, over his inner thighs. Heat throbs between his legs, arousal twisting wildly in his gut.

“Are you hard?” Taehyung asks. The answer must be obvious, even though from his vantage point the jersey is covering Jeongguk’s erection.

Jeongguk swallows, his eyes fixed on Taehyung’s. He’s still on his knees, which seems like a fitting representation of the power Taehyung holds over him. He nods.

“Come here,” Taehyung breathes.

Jeongguk does, practically leaping to his feet, knees cracking as he finds his balance. His bad knee gives a slight twinge of discomfort, but he’s far too turned on to really notice or care. He’s in Taehyung’s arms in an instant, kissing him frantically, pressing his own hard-on against Taehyung’s still naked hip.

Taehyung lets Jeongguk rut against him for a few moments, but then he’s reaching between them, easing the pressure on Jeongguk’s cock when he unbuttons his jeans and tugs down the zipper. Jeongguk groans in relief when Taehyung wastes no time in pulling his dick out, slicking his hand with pre-cum and stroking him firmly.

“You’re so hard,” Taehyung murmurs. He’s got his forehead pressed against Jeongguk’s, both of them staring down between their bodies, eyes fixed on the movement of Taehyung’s hand over Jeongguk’s cock. Jeongguk can only let out a strangled whimper in response, the concept of articulating actual words foreign to his brain right now.

“Do you like wearing my jersey?” Taehyung asks, a lilt to his voice that makes Jeongguk’s head spin. When Jeongguk nods, making another garbled noise, Taehyung continues: “It looks so good on you.” His breath is hot against Jeongguk’s ear, his hand moving faster. Jeongguk can barely see straight. “Wish I could show the whole world, let everyone know that you’re mine - ”

It’s too much, the combination of Taehyung’s words and his breath and the pressure of his hand. Jeongguk comes suddenly, forcefully, body bending as his jizz lands in streaks over both of their shirts. He sags forward, hands landing on the wall on either side of Taehyung, heart pounding. Taehyung kisses his hairline sweetly, allowing him time to recover.

“We’re a mess,” Jeongguk says eventually, surveying the damage they’d done. Taehyung’s pants and boxers are still around his knees, his shirt stained white with Jeongguk’s cum. Jeongguk’s now-soft dick is hanging out of his jeans rather ridiculously, and he fumbles to tuck it away, embarrassed.

Taehyung snorts, pulling his own pants up. “Should probably do some laundry,” he agrees. “That was quite a welcome home.”

Jeongguk grins, blushing.

They amble around the house together, Taehyung unpacking his things before they put a load of laundry in. He pouts when Jeongguk tries to take the jersey off, unmoved when Jeongguk points out the jizz that is now drying on it. Eventually, they compromise when Taehyung finds a different jersey for Jeongguk to change into while the first one is in the wash.

Taehyung showers while Jeongguk feeds Yeontan, and then they settle in on the couch to catch up on the past few days. It all feels very domestic, Jeongguk thinks, but he’s certainly not complaining. He could get used to being domestic with Taehyung.

“It feels really good to be home,” Taehyung says, sighing contentedly. “I never want to go back to that hotel again.”

Jeongguk frowns, his stomach twisting uncomfortably. The news of what had happened with the paparazzo at Taehyung’s hotel had made him feel deeply anxious. He hates that Taehyung continues to have to deal with this, and that there’s no way to make it all just go away.

“I’m so sorry that happened,” Jeongguk replies. “Fucking asshole. I hope he got arrested.”

Taehyung nods, looking grim. “I just wish I knew for sure who was tipping them off. It’s making me so jumpy. I feel like nowhere is safe.”

“You’re safe here,” Jeongguk reassures him, pulling Taehyung’s legs into his lap. Taehyung gives him a grateful smile. “Try not to think about it for a little while.”

Taehyung nods, guiding the conversation to a different subject. Still, despite his own advice, Jeongguk can’t stop his brain from returning to it. He knows it’s selfish, but his anxiety makes him wonder how this might eventually affect him as well. He and Taehyung are still keeping their relationship a secret from the public, but Jeongguk worries how safe that secret is if someone is deliberately trying to sell Taehyung out to the press. Only a few close friends know about them, and he trusts them not to say anything, but a particularly determined person would have other ways of finding things like that out. It makes him feel like it’s only a matter of time until they’re exposed.

Which reminds him of something Taehyung had said earlier, in the foyer. It may have just been a heat-of-the-moment type of thing, but Jeongguk finds that he needs to know how serious Taehyung had been.

“Tae,” he says, trying not to sound too skittish or weird. “Earlier, when we were, um - ” he clears his throat, flushing a little when Taehyung laughs. “You said something about wanting everyone to know that I’m yours.”

The laughter dies, Taehyung’s expression growing more serious. “Oh,” he says, blushing a bit himself. “Yeah.”

“Is that - ” Jeongguk fumbles for the right words, not wanting to upset Taehyung. “Is that really what you want? For everyone to know?”

Taehyung regards him in silence for a few moments, his expression difficult to read. “I mean, yeah,” he says eventually. “Not like - I know we said we’d keep it private for now. But, yeah. Someday I want that.”

Jeongguk nods, unsure of how to respond. It’s not like he expected them to keep things a secret forever, but it all still feels so new that a future where they go public has always felt very distant to him. Now, he’s realizing that may not fully be the case.

“Part of the reason I came out publicly was so I wouldn’t have to hide,” Taehyung continues, eyes searching Jeongguk’s face. “I obviously don’t want the details of my personal life splashed all over the news, but if there’s someone important in my life - I don’t want to have to hide that all the time.”

“I understand,” Jeongguk says. And he does - he wants Taehyung to be as open as he chooses with whatever he chooses. He’s just a little terrified of what it would mean to give up his own privacy as well, especially when there are people out there who might go digging for more than he’s willing to share.

“You look freaked out,” Taehyung observes.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk sighs, feeling guilty. The last thing Taehyung needs in the midst of all of this is to deal with Jeongguk’s inner meltdown over something that hasn’t even happened yet. “I just - this is all still really overwhelming to me. I’m not used to it.”

“That’s okay,” Taehyung says, unfailingly understanding. “It’s a lot to take in. I’m still figuring it out.” He reaches over to tug lightly at Jeongguk’s ear, giving him a small smile. “Don’t get all in your head about it, okay? Nothing’s changing now. We won’t do anything that we aren’t both ready for.”

Jeongguk nods, squeezing Taehyung’s calf, and pushes away the nagging thought that he’s not sure if he’ll ever be ready.

***

Two weeks pass without another incident, and they both manage to put it from their minds. For the most part, at least. Jeongguk still finds himself thinking about it on nights when he’s alone in his apartment, unable to sleep, and he’s sure it’s even worse for Taehyung.

Still, life goes on. When he’s not with Taehyung, work keeps him busy, and he’s excited by the opportunities that are starting to open up to him. His interviews with the Giants have clearly won him Ken’s favor, especially now that he’s developed an easy rapport not just with Taehyung, but with Yoongi, Hoseok, and some of the other players as well. They always spend a little more time with him than the other local reporters, offer a little more insight than can be found anywhere else, and the difference is showing in their ratings. Needless to say, Ken is over the moon about it.

With baseball season still in full swing, that takes up most of Jeongguk’s time - despite his lack of experience, he’s become the unofficial lead correspondent for the Giants and the MLB in general. Namjoon says he should ask Ken for a raise since he’s become so valuable to the station, but Jeongguk is still working up the nerve to do that. He could definitely use the extra money, but at this point he’s still just kind of shocked that they’re paying him at all.

(“Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man, Jeongguk,” Namjoon urges. “Where’s your sense of entitlement?”

Jeongguk blinks at him, confused.

Namjoon sighs.)

Outside of work, he still doesn’t really have any friends, but at least there’s Namjoon, and Taehyung of course. He sees Seokjin, Yoongi, and Hoseok sometimes too, but as much as he enjoys their company he’s still a little too intimidated to consider them his own friends. Even if he was brave enough to text one of them to hang out, their schedules are all just as busy (if not busier) than Taehyung’s.

There’s also Ella, who he still talks to every day even though they’re miles apart. They both take their long-distance friendship very seriously, FaceTiming several times a week in addition to their daily exchange of texts and memes. Aside from Namjoon, Ella is the only person he’s truly confided in about his relationship with Taehyung, and at this point she’s starting to get annoyed with him that they haven’t been properly introduced. She still hasn’t saved up enough money to fly out and visit him in San Francisco, but, as she has now pointed out repeatedly, that’s what FaceTime is for.

Jeongguk will deny it if he’s ever asked, but in reality he’s a little anxious about the two of them meeting. Taehyung and Ella are the two most important people in his life, and as much as he believes that they’ll like each other, there’s still a small part of him that’s afraid they won’t. On top of that, he doesn’t trust Ella to not completely embarrass him in front of Taehyung, and he worries about how Taehyung will feel being introduced to a total stranger. He obviously knows who Ella is and how close Jeongguk is to her, but meeting new people is a higher stakes experience when you’re famous.

In the end, Jeongguk’s worries are for nothing - Taehyung eagerly agrees when Jeongguk suggests introducing them over FaceTime, excited to finally meet someone from Jeongguk’s life. His response is so cutely enthusiastic that Jeongguk feels a little guilty for waiting so long, afraid he’s made Taehyung feel like he isn’t proud of him, or like this isn’t a priority.

“She’s been dying to meet you,” Jeongguk reveals, heart warming at the way Taehyung’s face lights up.

“I can’t wait to meet her,” Taehyung replies. “I want to hear all the dirt on what you were like in college.”

They set a date and a time, and Jeongguk even has a pre-call with Ella during which time he pleads with her not to embarrass him too badly. She assures him that she won’t, but Jeongguk is pretty sure she has her fingers crossed behind her back when she says it.

The night of the call finds him and Taehyung curled up in their usual spots on Taehyung’s couch, a light blanket draped across their legs and lukewarm mugs of tea resting on the coffee table in front of them. Adorably, Taehyung has spent the past 15 minutes fussing over his appearance, styling his hair and even asking for Jeongguk’s opinion on which shirt to wear. Leave it to Ella to make Kim Taehyung nervous.

“Tae, relax,” Jeongguk says when he notices Taehyung surreptitiously examining his reflection in his phone screen. “She’s probably way more nervous to meet you.”

(She’s not, because she’s Ella, but Taehyung doesn’t need to know that.)

“I have to make a good impression!” Taehyung cries. “She’s your best friend! She’s the background on your phone.”

Taehyung’s not wrong - in truth, Jeongguk probably values Ella’s opinion on things more than anyone else, even his parents. For a long time, she was the most important person in his life, the only person in his life that he felt truly at ease with. She was there for him in his lowest moments, especially after he got hurt, and even though they never really talked about it she seemed to understand intuitively that Jeongguk was dealing with more than just a physical injury. She stayed in his corner even after others lost interest, even when it became clear he wasn’t going to rejoin the team, cheering him on but also kicking his ass when he needed it.

“Yes, and she’s gonna love you,” Jeongguk says confidently.

Before Taehyung can voice any more doubts, Jeongguk’s phone starts vibrating with an incoming FaceTime call from Ella. It’s a photo of her flipping off the camera, although Jeongguk can’t even remember what had prompted that reaction. Probably something stupid that he had said to tease her.

He gives Taehyung’s thigh a reassuring squeeze and then taps to accept the call.

“Hey, El,” he greets, smiling widely when he sees her face appear on the screen. She’s in her bedroom, sunny yellow walls lighting up the background, a picture of her and Jeongguk visible on the shelf behind her head.

“Hey, babe,” she says warmly. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Jeongguk replies. He angles his phone slightly, bringing Taehyung into the frame. “I’m here with Taehyung. Tae, this is Ella.”

“Hi!” Ella says excitedly, waving with her free hand. “It’s so nice to finally meet you!”

“Hey!” Taehyung returns, equally excited. “You too, I’ve heard so much about you!”

Ella preens a bit, pretending to flip her hair. “All good things, I’m sure.”

“Eh,” Jeongguk says, making a face.

Taehyung elbows him. “Definitely all good things.”

Ella laughs loudly. “Nice try, Jeon. We all know how soft you are.”

“Soft boy,” Taehyung agrees, pinching Jeongguk’s cheek. Jeongguk pretends to grumble but secretly feels pleased that they already seem to be getting along. Even if it’s at his own expense.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, too, you know,” Ella volunteers, her smile sneaky in a way that makes Jeongguk instantly suspicious.

Taehyung perks up in interest, looking eagerly back and forth between Jeongguk and Ella. “Oh really?” he says, resting his chin on his fist. “Do tell.”

Ella’s smile gets more mischievous, and Jeongguk has the distinct feeling that this is going to be embarrassing for him. He considers faking a coughing fit to derail the conversation, but Ella is already talking.

“Well, for starters, he totally had a crush on you back in college,” Ella informs him. Jeongguk is going to murder her. “After we saw you during the draft coverage.”

Ella,” Jeongguk hisses.

“What? It’s true,” Ella replies, shrugging. In general, her bluntness is one of Jeongguk’s favorite things about her, but sometimes it also has the inconvenient side effect of ruining his life.

Taehyung is facing Jeongguk now, a positively shit-eating grin on his face. “You had a crush on me?” he asks, delighted.

“I just thought you were hot - ” Jeongguk tries, at the same time Ella says: “Huge crush.”

Jeongguk glares at her, cheeks flaming. Taehyung pokes one of them with his finger. “Jeonggukkie,” he coos. “That’s adorable. You’re adorable.”

Jeongguk huffs, trying not to be obvious about the fact that he’s melting slightly under Taehyung’s attention.

“He mostly just has a weakness for boys in backwards baseball caps,” Ella supplies unhelpfully, because she’s the worst friend in the world. Taehyung’s eyes widen as he processes this news, a smug grin spreading across his face that’s alarmingly similar to Ella’s.

“I will hang up on you,” Jeongguk threatens. Ella blinks back at him, looking nonplussed.

“You’ll thank me later,” she replies, making Jeongguk blush harder. Before he can splutter his way through a retort, Taehyung intervenes.

“How about you tell me about how you guys met?”

Ella launches into the story of how they lived on the same hall freshman year, and things progress from there. Mercifully, the rest of the call isn’t quite as mortifying for Jeongguk as the beginning, although Ella does manage to sneak in a few embarrassing tidbits about Jeongguk’s drunken misadventures. He can’t even be that mad about it when the stories make Taehyung laugh till he cries, clutching onto Jeongguk’s arm for support. Clearly his best friend and his boyfriend have a shared sense of humor, and something about that makes him really, really happy.

An hour later, it’s time for Ella to go, the time later in Dallas than it is in San Francisco. She’s just finished telling them about an annoying coworker at the law firm where she works as a paralegal, and Taehyung wishes her a sympathetic good luck in dealing with him.

“Thanks,” she says, smiling. Ella can be a tough customer, but Jeongguk can tell she likes Taehyung from the way she’s acting with him. “It was really nice to meet you, Taehyung.”

“Likewise,” Taehyung nods happily. “Hopefully we can meet in person sometime soon.”

“As soon as I save up enough to book a flight,” she agrees. “Don’t forget what I said about the baseball caps,” she adds with a wink.

“Trust me, I won’t,” says Taehyung.

“Oh my god,” says Jeongguk. “Goodbye, Ella.”

“Bye, Gukkie. Love you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jeongguk sighs. “Love you too.”

They hang up, and Jeongguk and Taehyung turn to face each other. Jeongguk wonders what the chances are of Taehyung magically forgetting the conversation’s more humiliating elements.

With the way Taehyung is currently looking at him, the answer seems like slim to none.

“Uh,” he says, hoping to head off whatever cheeky comment is clearly on the tip of Taehyung’s tongue. “So, that went well, I think.”

“Totally. She’s amazing,” Taehyung agrees immediately, and Jeongguk’s stomach does a happy little flutter. “I learned so much about you.”

Aaaand, there it is.

Jeongguk groans. “Can we not?”

“So, like, the times when you’ve been extra stuttery,” Taehyung plows on, ignoring him. “Is that because my hat was on backwards?”

“Tae,” Jeongguk whines.

Taehyung shoots him a toothy grin, leaning forward and retrieving a bright orange Giants cap from one of the drawers under the coffee table. Slowly, deliberately, as if he’s performing some sort of sultry, elaborate striptease, he places it so that it’s facing backwards on his head.

“Is this really doing it for you right now?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

No,” Jeongguk huffs, even though he does look stupidly good with his hair held back from his forehead like that.

“You sure?” Taehyung says greasily, leaning forward until Jeongguk has no choice but to lean back. Somehow, he ends up flat on his back on the couch, Taehyung hovering over him.

“Yes,” Jeongguk insists, pointedly ignoring the numerous fantasies he’s had that start out pretty much exactly like this.

“What do you think it is that makes it such a turn-on?” Taehyung asks conversationally. “Is it the boyish charm? The casual coolness?”

Jeongguk wrinkles his nose, trying unsuccessfully to knee Taehyung in the stomach. There is a certain effortlessness to the look that he’s always found appealing, but it’s really just that -

“Or do you just like my forehead that much?”

Dammit.

Despite his best efforts to repress it, Jeongguk’s cheeks heat up, and he looks away, trying to hide his face in one of the couch pillows.

There’s a pause, and then things seem to click into place for Taehyung.

“Wait, really?” His tone is positively gleeful. Jeongguk continues to stubbornly avoid his gaze, staring instead at the intricate stitching pattern on the back of Taehyung’s couch. “Jeonggukkieeee,” he whines, biting at Jeongguk’s neck in an effort to get his attention. “Look at me.”

Slowly, begrudgingly, Jeongguk turns his face halfway, peering up at Taehyung out of the corner of his eye. His cheeks are still warm, and it doesn’t help that Taehyung really does look pretty hot with his hat on like that.

“Just be honest with me,” Taehyung says, stoically, sincerely. His lips twitch slightly. “Do you have a forehead kink?”

Jeongguk groans, attempting to turn into the back of the couch and failing because his lower body is trapped under Taehyung. “Shut up,” he grumbles, swatting at Taehyung as he breaks into a fit of giggles.

“Denial is the first step to acceptance,” Taehyung informs him sagely. He ducks down, sucking more intently at the bared skin of Jeongguk’s neck. “C’mon, I just wanna indulge your forehead kink.”

Jeongguk snorts. He means to protest more, honestly, but whatever Taehyung is doing to his neck feels really, unfairly good and he just kind of ends up making out with him instead. Which, fine. Jeongguk may be stubborn, but he’s not stupid. And when Kim Taehyung is lying on top of you, not making out with him would be just plain stupid.

His hands sneak up under Taehyung’s shirt, exploring the warm skin of his back. It’s casual until it’s rather abruptly not, the kisses growing more heated as Jeongguk works one leg out from under Taehyung and hooks it around his calf. He grasps the side of Taehyung’s neck, fingers climbing into his hair until he accidentally unseats the hat.

“Hey,” Taehyung chides, putting it back in place. He looks annoyingly sexy and Jeongguk can’t stop staring. “Watch the hat, my boyfriend’s really into it.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. He tries to pull Taehyung back in for more kisses, but he resists, a mischievous look on his face.

“Should I just take it off?” he asks, coy.

A blush creeps up Jeongguk’s neck when he realizes what the honest answer is.

“No,” he huffs, then smashes Taehyung’s smirking mouth against his before he can say anything about it.

***

It sounds like a dumb, obvious thing to say, especially about someone he’s dating, but Taehyung really loves talking to Jeongguk. For someone who had seemed so shy initially, he truly doesn’t shut up a lot of the time, especially when he’s excited about something. Taehyung finds it oddly comforting, lying there listening to Jeongguk chatter aimlessly about whatever had caught his attention that day. He wonders sometimes if it’s because Jeongguk doesn’t have many other people to talk to, or at least not people he feels completely comfortable with. The thought makes him sad, but he also feels lucky to be one of the privileged few that gets to see that part of him.

Jeongguk is a really good listener, too. Sometimes it’ll seem like he’s spacing out, but then he’ll respond out of the blue with something deeply thoughtful (or, depending on the situation, completely hilarious.) He’s the one who ends up giving Taehyung an idea for how to bridge the gap with his sister.

It’s after another disappointing call home, Hyejin only coming to the phone for a few, fleeting minutes, their conversation awkward and almost forced. Taehyung hates it, hates feeling like he doesn’t know what to say to his own sister, but it’s like each strained encounter makes him even more insecure. He mopes about it to Jeongguk afterwards, lamenting his many failings as a brother, and Jeongguk listens along sympathetically.

“Teenagers are really tough,” he says. He’s stretched out on his stomach on Taehyung’s bed, one of the many colorful pillows wedged under his chest. “I definitely didn’t want anything to do with my parents when I was 16.”

“I’m not her parent, though,” Taehyung retorts, frustrated. “I’m her older brother. She’s supposed to think I’m cool.”

“Maybe it’s just a coping mechanism,” Jeongguk theorizes, fiddling with a tassel on the pillow. “With you being so out of reach, maybe it’s easier for her to distance herself.”

Taehyung feels his lips push out in a pout. “I don’t want to be out of reach,” he says quietly, staring up at the ceiling. “Not to her.”

“So maybe that’s what you need to work on,” Jeongguk says, shrugging. “Making yourself more accessible to her.”

How the hell do you make yourself more accessible to someone who’s 6,000 miles away?

“I can’t go home during the season,” Taehyung sighs, dejected. “I’ve been trying to call more, but she never wants to talk.”

Jeongguk frowns, considering. He gets this cute crease between his eyebrows when he’s Thinking about something, and Taehyung finds it ridiculously endearing.

Taehyung is definitely whipped.

“What if you wrote her a letter?” Jeongguk suggests.

Taehyung blinks at him. “A letter?”

“Yeah, like - you said she likes to write, yeah?” Jeongguk says. Taehyung nods, cheek brushing against his pillowcase. “So maybe that’s the best way to connect with her.” He shrugs. “People who write, they express themselves through writing. It might be easier for her to open up to you that way.”

Taehyung stares at him, impressed. It’s such a simple idea, and yet it had never even occurred to him. He’s never been much of a writer, never took to it in school, and when it comes to being creative he’s always been more of a visual person. But this isn’t about him, it’s about Hyejin. If this is something that’s important to her, something that helps her communicate, then he can certainly give it a shot.

“That’s a really good idea, Jeonggukkie,” he says. “Thank you.”

Jeongguk smiles, shy. “I hope it helps.”

“Me too,” Taehyung nods. “I just have to figure out how to write the damn thing first.”

So, yeah - Jeongguk gives really good advice. And he always seems to get what Taehyung is saying, or trying to say, even if it comes out sounding all weird and mixed up. Like one time, they’re lying in bed together and Taehyung blurts out:

“Sometimes I forget that I’m, like, a person.”

Jeongguk turns to face him, frowning thoughtfully. “Like, instead of an alien?”

Taehyung giggles. That’s not what he meant, but he loves the way Jeongguk says it so sincerely, like it’s a genuine possibility that he’s trying to take seriously.

“No, like - instead of just a baseball player, or a gay baseball player. I’m a person outside of that too.” He sighs, looking at Jeongguk. It’s frustrating because he knows what he’s trying to say, but he feels like he’s not articulating it in the right way. “Does that make any sense?”

Jeongguk contemplates him for a little while, doing that thing that Taehyung has come to know means he’s thinking, not just zoning out.

“It does, yeah,” he says eventually. “Like, there are all these big circumstantial things that define you, or define you to other people, at least. And they’re part of you, but sometimes it’s easy to forget they’re not the only part of you.”

Taehyung blinks at him, a warm feeling spreading through his chest. A feeling of being known, of being seen. Because -

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah. Exactly.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, voice soft. “I get it.” There’s a pause, and Taehyung stays quiet, giving him room to speak. “After my knee - I had no idea what the hell was going on. I was so lost. It was like - baseball was all anyone knew about me. All I knew about me.” He sighs. “It’s hard. I feel like I’m still trying to figure out who I am without it.”

Taehyung rolls toward him, reaching out and linking their fingers together atop the fluffy duvet. They haven’t talked about it much, not since the hike when Jeongguk told him what had happened, but Taehyung gets the sense that it still weighs heavily on him. He can understand why - if he ever had baseball ripped away from him that abruptly, he’s certain he would have no idea what to do with himself.

“You’re Jeongguk,” he says gently, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand. Maybe Jeongguk has trouble seeing all of the wonderful things that he is, but Taehyung doesn’t. He could talk about them all day long. “You’re a journalist, a best friend, a boyfriend. You’re sweet and funny and authentic and kind.” Jeongguk stares at him, eyes round and vulnerable. “You love video games and you have a forehead kink.”

Jeongguk groans, lunging forward and attempting to tickle Taehyung into submission. Taehyung shrieks, trying to squirm away, but eventually Jeongguk manages to pin him down. And, well, maybe Taehyung doesn’t put up much of a fight in the first place. There are worse places to be than flat on his back in bed with Jeongguk’s strong hands circling both of his wrists.

“You’re Taehyung,” Jeongguk says, a little out of breath from their scuffle. He releases one of Taehyung’s wrists and reaches down to pinch his side. “You’re annoying and smart and brave and creative. You’re really good at making people feel comfortable.” He pauses, gaze softening as he looks down at Taehyung. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”

Taehyung feels his own eyes go wide, heart stuttering in his chest. It’s such a sweet confession, and he can tell Jeongguk truly means it because of how shy he looks now. Which is silly, because Taehyung feels exactly the same way about him.

“Likewise,” he breathes, heart going all warm and sticky when he’s hit with the full force of Jeongguk’s bunny smile. He curls his fingers into the collar of Jeongguk’s shirt and pulls, bringing him down into a soft kiss.

“We can figure the rest of that stuff out together,” Taehyung says, toying with the hair at the back of Jeongguk’s neck. Jeongguk is still hovering over him, eyes all big and adorable, and it sounds sappy as hell but sometimes Taehyung feels like he could just gaze into them forever. “Who we are, and all that.”

Jeongguk laughs softly, nodding. “Deal.”

***

Jeongguk regrets every decision he’s ever made in his life, including and especially deciding it would be a good idea to introduce Taehyung to Ella. This is the first thought that enters his mind when Taehyung saunters into the clubhouse after a game with his hat on backwards. And he’s definitely doing it on purpose, the smug bastard, because the second he enters the room he finds Jeongguk’s gaze and flashes him a cheeky smile.

The audacity.

Jeongguk pointedly avoids him for a while, interviewing Hoseok and a few of the other players while he tries very hard to ignore the set of eyes that he feels on him. Taehyung is sneaky, though, and annoyingly persistent, so it’s not long before he quite literally backs Jeongguk into a corner.

“Hi there,” he says brightly, beaming winningly at the camera and very deliberately adjusting his hat. His eyebrows look extra devastating up close.

“Hello,” Jeongguk replies stiffly.

Taehyung’s eyes widen innocently. “Something wrong, Jeonggukkie? You don’t seem very happy to see me.”

Jeongguk takes several calming breaths and reminds himself that he is currently at his job, being filmed. Now is not the time to surrender to fantasies of hate-making out with his boyfriend.

“Nothing at all,” Jeongguk replies, plastering on a smile that Taehyung will obviously know is fake. “Good game, you looked great out there.”

“I always look great,” Taehyung says with a jaunty wink, and Jeongguk has to actively resist the urge to roll his eyes.

He manages to ask a few questions about the game, and at least with that to focus on he doesn’t feel quite so distracted by the need to jump Taehyung’s bones. He’s worried that he might be developing some sort of horny Pavlovian response to Taehyung in a backwards baseball cap, ever since that night after their call with Ella when Taehyung had left it on while they fucked. He hopes it’s not completely obvious to everyone else around them.

“Thanks for your time,” Jeongguk says once he’s gotten through his questions. Taehyung always makes time for him, and even though that probably seems like a given in light of their relationship status, he still really appreciates it. KRON7 isn’t exactly one of the big league news stations, and a lot of the time athletes aren’t particularly interested in talking to him.

“My pleasure,” Taehyung nods, wiggling his eyebrows the tiniest bit. “As always.”

When the camera pans away from him and Jeongguk lowers his mic,
Taehyung leans in slightly, voice dropping. “How does my hat look?”

Jeongguk hates the way he can’t stop his cheeks from heating up. “Terrible,” he mumbles, which makes Taehyung laugh heartily as he pulls back and allows Seokjin to lead him away. Jeongguk can’t help but smile a little bit to himself once he knows Taehyung isn’t looking at him anymore. Because the truth is, even if he’s embarrassed, the hat is hot as hell and Taehyung is fine as fuck and Jeongguk gets to date him. So, yeah. That’s pretty awesome.

The smile drops off of his face when he starts looking around the room for the next player he wants to interview and finds someone already looking back at him. It’s Taehyung’s teammate Wilson, one of the team’s reserve infielders. Jeongguk hasn’t spoken to him much in the past since he’s usually focused on the starting players and the coaches. Still, Wilson is watching him like he knows who Jeongguk is, a shrewd expression on his face as his gaze shifts to Taehyung, then back to Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s stomach drops, and he quickly looks away.

It’s not like it’s a secret that Taehyung and Jeongguk are kind of flirty with each other in interviews. It’s the thing that had caught Ken’s (and a small corner of the internet’s) attention when they first met, the easy chemistry and playfulness between them. Even now that the private nature of their relationship has changed so much, they don’t try to hide it. But no one (with the exception of their close friends) is supposed to know there’s anything more to it than that. And yet, the way Wilson had looked at him just now makes Jeongguk feel sort of exposed, like maybe they’re being more obvious than he realized.

It really freaks him out, if he’s honest. But he’s at work, and he doesn’t even know for sure if that’s what’s going on here, so he tries to push the thought to the back of his mind. Later, he wonders about whether he should bring it up to Taehyung, but he doesn’t want to make a big deal out of nothing and give Taehyung something else to worry about. He certainly has enough on his plate right now without having to deal with Jeongguk’s paranoia. And so he shoves the feeling down and away, keeps the nagging sense of dread to himself and hopes he really is just being paranoid.

Chapter Text

It starts out as a joke.

Kind of.

Taehyung:
send nudes ;)

It’s not like he thinks Jeongguk is actually going to do it. But he’s bored and kind of horny in his hotel room and he mostly just wants to see how Jeongguk will react. He can imagine him blushing, blinking down at his phone and trying to figure out if Taehyung is actually serious.

Which he’s not. But like, he could be. If Jeongguk was down.

Anyway, he sends the text and then mostly forgets about it, wandering downstairs to meet Hoseok and Yoongi for dinner at the hotel restaurant. As is often the case, he gets caught up in observing their pseudo-flirty-bickering bullshit for a while, and it’s enough to keep him distracted until his phone vibrates with a text from Jeongguk.

Jeonggukkie:
seriously??
are u joking
i can never tell if ur joking

Taehyung smiles to himself, just as pleased with his ability to predict Jeongguk’s response as he is with the response itself. He decides to play it vague, keep Jeongguk guessing for a little while longer.

Taehyung:
;) ;) ;)

He can practically hear Jeongguk’s groan of frustration.

Jeonggukkie:
tae!!
that’s not an answer

Taehyung sighs, taking pity on him. Across the table, Hoseok and Yoongi are squabbling playfully over Yoongi’s workout routine (or lack thereof), too preoccupied to even notice that Taehyung’s nose is buried in his phone.

Taehyung:
sorry i just miss you
just messing around you obv don’t have to

There’s a slight delay before Jeongguk’s next response comes through, and Taehyung hopes he hasn’t overstepped or made him uncomfortable. They’ve been pretty much on the same page about stuff like this so far, but it’s still relatively new and they’re still learning each other’s limits.

Jeonggukkie:
i mean like
i would
if u wanted

Taehyung nearly chokes on his ice water, eyes bugging out of his head. He really, truly, in all seriousness, did not anticipate the situation playing out this way. He thought he would tease Jeongguk a bit and Jeongguk would brush him off and that would be it. Then again, he supposes this is just another way that Jeongguk is continuing to surprise him.

He’s never typed out a response so quickly in his life.

Taehyung:
i mean
yeah
of course
but also only if you want to

Jeonggukkie:
yeah i do
never done this before
it’s kinda hot

Well, this situation has certainly taken a turn. Jeongguk is being bolder than he had expected and it’s really fucking sexy. Taehyung will be damned if he doesn’t rise to the occasion.

Taehyung:
yeah?
you getting all hot thinking about it?

Jeonggukkie:
yeah
really hot

Taehyung is starting to sweat, eyes glued to his phone. Is it warm in this restaurant? It feels warm.

Taehyung:
guess you better take your clothes off then

Jeonggukkie:
already did

Taehyung swears under his breath.

Taehyung:
fuck
show me

Jeonggukkie:
what should i send

Taehyung:
anything
everything
wanna see all of you

Jeonggukkie:
k
hang on a sec gotta figure out how to actually take this

Taehyung laughs quietly, endeared by Jeongguk being so unfailingly Jeongguk, even via sext. Then a photo comes through, loading slowly on his phone, and he realizes abruptly that he needs to remove himself from this very public location immediately.

“It has nothing to do with how you look,” Hoseok is saying, exasperated. “I’m saying it’s good for you. You’re a freaking athletic coach, you of all people should know this.”

“I obviously know it’s good for you,” Yoongi retorts, rolling his eyes. “I just hate it too much to care.”

Hoseok opens his mouth to reply, but Taehyung interrupts, standing. “Sorry guys, I’m kinda tired, I’m just gonna… head upstairs.”

They seem unfazed, too engrossed in each other to notice that Taehyung is very obviously lying. They nod vaguely at him before diving back into their bickering, and Taehyung laughs to himself as he makes his escape.

The photo loads as he’s walking to the elevator, and he nearly panics until he realizes it’s just a goofy selfie, Jeongguk pulling a dumb expression with his face pressed close to the camera. Taehyung laughs, charmed, feeling stupidly soft and warm at the sight of Jeongguk’s face.

Taehyung:
you’re a tease
but a cute tease

Jeongguk sends a kissy face emoji in response.

Taehyung is so distracted staring adoringly at the photo that he nearly walks into someone as they’re coming out of the elevator. His head whips up, apology fading on his lips when he comes face to face with his teammate Schmidt. He shoves his phone away hurriedly, unsettled by the way Schmidt’s eyes dart curiously down to the screen. Ever since the incident in San Diego, he’s been extra paranoid around his team members, especially the ones he’s not particularly close with. It’s not like there’s ever been an explicit problem between himself and Schmidt, but there’s also never been much warmth. Schmidt is one of the reserve players, and Taehyung has always gotten the impression that he resented him for being the team’s starting shortstop.

“Sorry about that, man,” Taehyung says, willing down his anxiety as he steps around Schmidt and into the elevator.

“No problem,” Schmidt replies coolly. His gaze lingers on Taehyung for just a beat longer than is comfortable, the barest hint of a smirk on his lips. Then he turns and walks off into the lobby, and Taehyungs finds himself far more shaken than he reasonably should be over such a mundane interaction. It’s a relief when the elevator doors slide shut, leaving him alone and separated from Schmidt by a full wall of metal.

Fortunately, he doesn’t have much time to muse on it, because no sooner does Taehyung step into his room than his phone vibrates with another text from Jeongguk. All thoughts of Schmidt (and of anyone or anything else, frankly) fly from his mind when he looks down at the screen and finds a photo of a nearly naked Jeongguk staring back at him.

It’s taken from the neck down, the angle such that Jeongguk’s shoulders look extra broad and his waist extra tapered. He’s dressed in nothing but a pair of tiny, gray boxer briefs, the shape of his cock visible in a way that makes Taehyung’s throat feel suddenly dry. Everywhere else it’s bare, pale skin, the line of his abs and the brown of his nipples. He looks delectable, obscenely sexy, and Taehyung thinks that for someone who’s never sent nudes before, he’s sure gotten the hang of it pretty quickly.

Taehyung:
fuck
guk
you look so hot

It’s stupid, really, how good-looking he is. Stupid and stupidly lucky for Taehyung.

Jeonggukkie:
send me one too
please?

Taehyung nearly trips over himself in his hurry to get in front of a mirror, clothes flying everywhere as he rushes to disrobe. He doesn’t have much practice taking nudes either, but he knows his way around an iPhone camera and he knows his good angles, so he figures it can’t be that hard. Jeongguk loves his ass, so he decides to highlight that, laughing at himself as he twists around in front of the mirror and tries to get a good shot. It takes several tries, and his arms get kind of tired from holding up his phone the whole time, but in the end he’s satisfied with the final product.

As his thumb hovers over the send button, he spares one, fleeting thought to Seokjin, who would probably have a heart attack if he knew Taehyung was not only taking nudes on his phone but also sending them out to other people (other person, really). He knows it’s a little reckless, especially with everything that’s happened these past few months, but Taehyung is turned on and restless and also, it wouldn’t be fair to leave Jeongguk hanging after he’d sent one of his own. The photos are from the neck down, anyway, and he promises himself that he’ll delete them all as soon as they’re done messing around.

Then he hits send and promptly stops thinking about Seokjin.

Jeongguk’s response is almost immediate, and it sends a pleasant little shiver down Taehyung’s spine.

Jeonggukkie:
jesus
ur so fucking sexy
i wish u were here

It’s hot, thinking about Jeongguk responding to him like that, basically naked and halfway across the country and wanting Taehyung. Taehyung understands it, he really does - there’s nothing he wants more right now than to put his mouth all over Jeongguk’s tight, perfect body. And so, when he sends his next text, he decides to up the ante a little bit.

Taehyung:
are you touching yourself

He imagines the way Jeongguk will blush when he reads that, cheeks staining pink, a moan slipping past his lips. It makes Taehyung’s cock plump up in interest, heat tingling in his lower belly.

Jeonggukkie:
i want to

Taehyung groans.

Taehyung:
fuck
do it

He makes his way over to the hotel bed, large and bland-looking and tragically devoid of one Jeon Jeongguk. He needs to be horizontal for this, he thinks, settling himself against a stack of big, fluffy pillows and stretching his legs out over the duvet. His mind is in overdrive, imagining Jeongguk here with him, between his thighs, hovering over him. He wraps a hand around himself and sucks in a sharp breath, eyes closing as he waits for Jeongguk’s response.

It sure as hell does not disappoint.

It’s another photo, again taken from the neck down, except this time the gray briefs are gone and Jeongguk is lying on his bed. His cock is hard and flushed, jutting up over his belly, grasped in a loose fist like he’s only just teasing himself. One of his legs is bent at the knee and propped up, calling attention to the glorious thickness of his thigh, and he totally did that on purpose but Taehyung doesn’t even care because it looks so ridiculously hot. He feels another pang of frustration that Jeongguk isn’t there, that he can’t touch him the way he wants, and he resorts to fisting his own cock more vigorously while he attempts to type out a response with one thumb.

Taehyung:
fuck that’s so sexy
you’re so SEXY
does it feel good?

Jeonggukkie:
so good but want it to be u
want u

Holy shit, Taehyung is going to die. He’s literally going to DIE.

Jeonggukkie:
tae
r u touching urself too?

Hell fucking yeah I am, Taehyung considers responding. Then he opts to just send a photo of himself jerking off instead. It’s not particularly artful, taken hastily because he’s a little distracted okay, but he thinks it gets the message across loud and clear.

Jeonggukkie:
holy shit

Taehyung wants nothing more than to know what’s going through Jeongguk’s mind right now, what he’s fantasizing about while he touches himself. Is just looking at the photo enough, or is he imagining Taehyung’s hands on him, the dirty things they whisper in each other’s ears?

Taehyung:
what are you thinking about

Jeonggukkie:
you

Taehyung bites his lip, pleased. It’s taken a little while, but when he forgets to be embarrassed Jeongguk is so shameless about how much he wants Taehyung, how affected he is. It makes Taehyung feel almost drunk, giddy like he could vibrate right out of his skin.

Taehyung:
be more specific
please?

This is what gets him off more than anything, learning what gets Jeongguk off. There’s a longer pause after this message, and Taehyung waits impatiently, wondering if Jeongguk had gotten too caught up in touching himself and forgotten to respond. Or - and equally likely - he’s temporarily abandoned masturbating and is lying in bed frowning, trying to think of a smooth, sexy response to Taehyung’s text.

As it turns out, it’s neither of those options, but Taehyung has never been happier to be wrong.

His eyes bulge when a video comes through, and he’s frozen for a moment, a shiver of arousal spiking through him. When he snaps out of it enough to press play, he’s greeted with a visual similar to the most recent photo Jeongguk had sent him - his boyfriend splayed out in bed, completely naked and cock in hand. Except this time there’s motion too, the slightly erratic tug of his fist, the occasional swipe of his thumb over the head. Even more importantly, there’s sound, Jeongguk’s voice just a touch higher like it gets when he’s turned on, breathless little whimpers and moans that go directly to Taehyung’s dick. Taehyung watches, transfixed, eyes tracking the movement of Jeongguk’s hand hungrily, letting out his own noises to match every sexy little sound Jeongguk makes.

And then -

And THEN.

Jeongguk must do something to himself that feels especially good, because his breath hitches and he gasps out “Tae” in the most devastatingly enticing way, the hottest thing Taehyung’s heard in his entire goddamn life. He slams his thumb down on the FaceTime icon with such force that it actually throbs for a full minute afterwards.

Not that Taehyung can be fucked to care or even notice, because Jeongguk answers less than one ring in, his lovely flushed face filling up the screen and making Taehyung weak.

Tae,” he groans, exactly like he had in the video, and this is so much better but also so much worse because now Taehyung can see and hear him in real time but he still can’t touch.

“Holy fuck, Guk,” Taehyung grunts. His palm is slippery with pre-cum now, gliding easily over his cock. “You’re so - holy fuck.”

“Why aren’t you here,” Jeongguk pouts, eyes half-lidded with pleasure. It’s clear that he’s already close, so worked up just from these dirty texts, and Taehyung briefly contemplates just how outrageous it would be to charter a private jet back to San Francisco tonight.

“I wish I was, believe me,” Taehyung assures him, voice low. It’s like a deeper, subconscious part of him is taking over, the words spilling out before he can give them much thought. “What would you do if I was there?”

“Touch you,” Jeongguk replies immediately, and it’s so oddly innocent that Taehyung feels another rush of fondness. He likes this about sex with Jeongguk, how it can be sexy and sweet and funny and intense all in the same experience.

“Oh yeah?” Taehyung asks, a little playful. “Touch me where?”

“Everywhere,” Jeongguk says earnestly, biting down on his lip. “Your thighs. Your - your ass.”

“Mm,” Taehyung hums, a weird mix of charmed and turned on. “With your hands or your mouth?”

“Both,” Jeongguk breathes, his mouth falling open and his brow furrowing when he does something to himself that must feel really good. It brings Taehyung back to the reality of the situation, the fact that Jeongguk is touching himself as he talks to Taehyung.

“If I was there I’d suck you off,” Taehyung announces, fingers teasing over his balls. “Maybe spread you open and eat your ass.”

Jeongguk groans, eyes rolling back as the camera jostles slightly. “Fuck,” he croaks, his voice ragged. “Tae, fuck.”

“Are you close?” Taehyung asks, even though he already knows the answer. He can see it all over Jeongguk’s face, hear it in the way his breathing has become more labored. Jeongguk nods, looking close to desperate.

“Show me,” Taehyung says breathlessly. When Jeongguk’s eyes widen, Taehyung gives him an encouraging nod. “Please, Guk. I wanna see.”

There’s some more fumbling, and then the camera view is switched, bringing Jeongguk’s lower body into the frame. His legs are flat on the bed now, and he’s stroking himself furiously, the slick sound of it filtering through the camera. Taehyung feels an almost frantic sort of lust, the frustration of not being able to touch making him want to claw his way out of his skin. He resorts to jerking himself more deliberately instead, trying to split his attention between the gorgeous view in front of him and the tension mounting in his body.

“Let me see you come,” he begs, shuddering when he hears Jeongguk moan off camera. “C’mon, baby.”

“God, Tae, I want you so bad,” Jeongguk says hoarsely, making Taehyung’s cock jump in his hand. He grits his teeth, feels himself teetering on the edge, trying to hold off until Jeongguk comes - which should be any second now, given the way he sounds. “I want you, I’m gonna - oh - I’m gonna - ”

And then it all seems to happen at once - Jeongguk’s hips are arching off the bed, cum spurting over his stomach and chest, and Taehyung sees it and hears it and lets himself go as well. The feeling crashes through him, a crest of pleasure followed by relief, and on the other end of the call he hears Jeongguk make a deeply satisfied noise. The sound hits him like a deep pull in his stomach, an ache to be close, to experience it firsthand. Then Jeongguk turns the camera back to his face and he looks so blissed out, dazed and gorgeous and Taehyung wants to kiss him so very badly.

“Good?” Taehyung asks.

Jeongguk nods, grinning dopily. “Really good. That was fun.”

Taehyung snorts. “Most fun I’ve had this whole trip.”

Jeongguk giggles, shifting to lie on his side. “I miss you,” he says softly.

“I miss you too,” Taehyung replies.

It’s really only been a few days since they’ve seen each other, so they’re being a little ridiculous, but they’re definitely still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship so Taehyung thinks they get a bit of a pass. Also, Jeongguk is extremely cute and extremely hot so any normal person would miss him an abnormal amount.

They chat for a little while longer, catching up on their days, but they’re both sleepy post-orgasm so it’s not long before they decide to call it a night.

“You didn’t save any of the stuff I sent you, right?” Jeongguk asks groggily, back to being shy now that he’s no longer caught up in a haze of lust. “I promise I didn’t save yours.”

“’Course not,” Taehyung says with a yawn, even though it pains him deeply that he won’t be able to revisit that video of Jeongguk moaning his name any time he wants. It’s just too risky to keep stuff like that saved on his phone, even if their faces aren’t actually visible.

“Cool,” Jeongguk nods. “Night, Tae.”

He makes a half-hearted smoochy face at the camera and Taehyung laughs. “Night, Jeonggukkie. See you in a few days.”

***

The next morning is a bit of a blur. Thanks to his - er, extracurricular - activities with Jeongguk the night before, Taehyung had fallen asleep without setting his alarm, and so he oversleeps and ends up running late to his scheduled morning workout with Hoseok. This means he’s also running late getting ready and getting on the bus to the game, darting onboard just in time to avoid a lecture from Yoongi. In his haste, he doesn’t even realize he’s misplaced his phone until Hoseok places it in his hand, saying someone else had found it and passed it on to him. Taehyung is a little surprised - he can certainly be forgetful at times, but his phone is like a third hand at this point and it’s unlike him to leave it lying around. Then again, he’d been out of sorts all morning, so he accepts the phone gratefully from Hoseok and doesn’t think much more of it.

That is, until he gets a series of texts that make his heart drop straight into his ass.

They come from a blocked number, which is in and of itself a little unsettling, especially after the incidents from earlier this year. But it’s really the content of the messages that makes Taehyung feel like he might be sick.

Unknown:
Might want to sit today’s game out

He blinks down at the first message, more confused than alarmed at first. It seems like a threat, or possibly a warning, but it’s so vague that he’s not sure how seriously to take it. He knows of other players who have had to deal with stuff like this in the past, and it’s shitty and scary but most of the time it doesn’t amount to anything. Then a photo comes through, and all at once it becomes inescapably clear to Taehyung just how very serious this is.

It’s a photo of Jeongguk. His face isn’t visible, but Taehyung knows it’s him because he knows that body, knows this photo specifically - it’s one of the nudes Jeongguk had sent to him just last night.

Taehyung panics. The bus suddenly feels too cramped, the air stifling and the sun streaming in through the window far too hot. He looks to his left; Hoseok is still beside him, completely oblivious with his eyes closed and his Bose headphones pulled down over his ears. Taehyung feels like screaming.

He doesn’t understand what’s happening. He hadn’t saved those photos and he knows Jeongguk wouldn’t have either, so he doesn’t understand how someone could have gotten a hold of them. Had someone hacked into his phone? Was that even possible with iPhones? And even if they had, how would they have found pictures that weren’t even there -

His gut twists when he realizes there is one place the photos still exist, a place he’d completely overlooked - his message thread with Jeongguk. It hadn’t even occurred to him, but as he opens up their texts he sees all of the pictures they’d sent to each other, both in the body of the conversation and saved in the Details. Frantic, he deletes it all immediately, but he knows it’s already too late. The damage has been done, and Jeongguk is caught in the crossfire.

Jeongguk. His sweet, lovely, innocent Jeongguk, who’s still terrified of the publicity they’ll get if people find out they’re even dating. If the media were to get their hands on these, on this most private, vulnerable part of their relationship - it would destroy him. Taehyung honestly doesn’t even care if the photos of himself get out, but he can’t let that happen to Jeongguk.

How could he have been so careless? It was his idea to send the stupid nudes in the first place, even when he knew full well just how reckless of an idea it was. And he’s the idiot who forgot to delete the photos off of his phone, even though he also knows his privacy has been jeopardized these past few months. How could he have put someone he cares about so deeply in this position? How could he have been so remiss about protecting their relationship?

How is he going to break the news to Jeongguk?

Taehyung feels more trapped than he ever has in his life, mind spinning as he tries to look for a way out, any way to fix this that will spare Jeongguk. He doesn’t know if he should tell other people or keep this to himself, if he should try to negotiate or just do as the message says. Even if he does obey the message, that doesn’t change the fact that someone still has the photos and could potentially release them whenever they want. The thought makes him skittish with anxiety, and he knows he’ll never feel at ease again as long as that’s a possibility.

By the time they arrive at the stadium, he’s concluded that he has no choice but to sit this game out. They’re flying home later tonight; he’ll go see Seokjin first thing in the morning tomorrow and hopefully find a way to resolve this whole mess - that’s what Seokjin is best at, after all. For now, though, he can’t risk it, even if it means pissing off Yoongi and letting down his team.

In his entire baseball playing career Taehyung has only missed two games, and that was when he had twisted his ankle in college and was literally prohibited from taking the field in case he made it worse. Other than that, he’s played through sickness and injury, always determined to prove how much he wants to be there, how dedicated he is to his team and their success. He’s never missed a game since he started on the Giants, which is probably why Yoongi doesn’t seem to believe it at first when he tells him he can’t play today.

“What?” Yoongi says when Taehyung repeats himself. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Taehyung replies, the guilt and stress weighing on him in a way that makes him feel almost as ill as he’s pretending to be. “I’m sorry, hyung.”

It’s really hard lying to Yoongi. He has an exceptionally strong bullshit detector, plus Taehyung just hates doing it since they’re friends.

Yoongi squints at him, still looking skeptical. “Are you sure? What’s going on?”

“I just - ” Taehyung swallows. His palms are sweating. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do if Yoongi forces him to play. “I’m really not feeling well enough. I - ” his voice cracks, sounding desperate. “Please, hyung. I need to sit this one out.”

Yoongi continues to squint on him, and Taehyung is pretty certain he can see through his pathetic attempt at a lie. Still, by virtue of some miracle - or maybe just because he can hear the desperation in Taehyung’s voice - he eventually nods, shrugging his shoulders. “Okay,” he says. “I trust you to know what you’re capable of.”

Taehyung’s entire body sags with a mixture of relief and guilt. He bows his head, unable to meet Yoongi’s eye. “Thank you, hyung.”

Sitting through the game is miserable. It’s miserable not being able to play and it’s miserable not being able to check his phone, not knowing if another message has been sent or, god forbid, if anything has been posted publicly. He imagines Jeongguk having to find out that way, just by seeing something online, and how utterly violated and betrayed that would make him feel. Taehyung absolutely cannot let that happen.

He checks his phone as soon as he gets back to the clubhouse, going practically weak-kneed with relief when he finds that nothing new seems to have transpired. The only new text he has is from Jeongguk, a concerned one asking why he didn’t play in today’s game. It only serves to make Taehyung’s guilt worse, but he dashes off a reply about not feeling well and hopes Jeongguk won’t push it. He doesn’t want to keep things from him, but he also thinks this is a conversation that needs to be had in person.

To make matters worse, they had lost the game, so the mood in the clubhouse is bleak. Even though he knows he alone can’t dictate the outcome of a game, Taehyung still feels responsible, especially because he left Yoongi and the team hanging with absolutely no notice. He can tell everyone is wondering what happened, particularly Hoseok, but he manages to dodge any questions as they pack up their things and get on the bus to the airport. Once they’re on the plane, he curls into a ball facing out the window and pretends to be asleep for the entirety of the flight. In reality, he doesn’t sleep a wink, mind running through a panicked reel of possible scenarios for how this could play out. None of them have a particularly happy ending, and each prospect makes him more nauseous than the next.

By the time he finally gets home, Taehyung is both mentally and physically exhausted. He strips down to his underwear and crawls into bed, feeling at once completely frantic and utterly defeated. After doing one last check of the news cycle to make sure there’s still no trace of the photos, he sends one text to Seokjin confirming he’ll see him in the morning and another to Jeongguk begging off of FaceTiming before they go to sleep. It makes him feel like a supremely shitty boyfriend (as if he could get any shittier at this point), but he knows he won’t be able to stomach seeing Jeongguk’s face right now. Then he pops a sleeping pill and lets the darkness claim him, hoping naively that this will somehow all go away in the morning.

(It doesn’t.)

***

“Fuck.”

This is Seokjin’s reaction once Taehyung has explained the entire, twisted situation to him. It’s uncomfortably bright in his office, the sunshine almost offensive to Taehyung’s eyes. Never in his life has he so desperately wanted to crawl into a hole and die there.

“Fuck,” Seokjin says again. He stands up and stares out the window for a few seconds, his back to Taehyung. When he turns back around, he has a determined look on his face, all traces of an emotional response gone.

“Okay,” he says decisively, sitting back down. “First of all, I’m not even going to yell at you for taking and sending nudes because this is fucked and absolutely a violation of privacy.”

Honestly, Taehyung kind of wishes Seokjin would yell at him. He feels like he deserves it.

“Second of all, I’m going to assume this is the same fuckwad, or wads, who leaked your phone number and your hotel room. It seems like it’s getting more personal and at this point I’m pretty much certain it’s someone on the team or very close to it.” He frowns, steepling his hands in front of his face. “I think we need to seriously consider getting the police involved, but that’s going to draw media attention so we need to tread carefully there.”

Taehyung nods his agreement. He’s been on edge since he woke up this morning, strung out like his entire world could explode at any given moment (which it very well might). It’s a comfort, albeit a very small one, to share the burden with Seokjin, to let him take charge and tell Taehyung what needs to be done.

“And lastly, you can’t see Jeongguk’s face in any of the pictures, correct? Or yours?”

Taehyung startles slightly at being directly addressed. “No,” he says, grateful for this single saving grace. “Just our bodies.”

“Good,” Seokjin nods. “Okay, that’s good. In that case - ” he pauses, as if giving them both a moment to gear up for what he’s going to say next. “I think you should play tomorrow.”

Taehyung blinks at him, alarmed. “Hyung - ”

“Hear me out,” Seokjin cuts in. “There’s no way to prove who it is in those pictures. Your faces aren’t visible, there’s nothing notable about the backgrounds, and it’s not like either of you have any tattoos that would be an obvious giveaway. If they were released in conjunction with your name, sure, your body might be recognizable, but there’s still no way to prove it. And no one’s going to know that’s Jeongguk, especially since no one even knows you’re together.” He sighs. “Obviously, the ideal outcome is to stop the photos from being published at all, but I worry that if you keep doing what they ask, you’ll just give them more power over you. There’s going to be a breaking point eventually. And you have no guarantee that they won’t just go ahead and release everything anyway.”

Taehyung stays quiet for a few seconds after Seokjin finishes speaking, mulling it all over in his head. He’s always admired Seokjin’s ability to step back and look at situations from a holistic, rational perspective, to be calm and decisive even when everything is going to shit. Even in this case, Taehyung understands his logic, even agrees with it, but the problem is he’s still terrified. He’s so fucking scared, not so much for himself but for Jeongguk, and he knows he would do just about anything to protect him from this.

Still, Seokjin is right. Someone has those pictures, and short of figuring out who it is, Taehyung has no guaranteed way of stopping them from being released. Maybe it is better to just face it head on rather than dragging it out - inevitably, whoever it is will eventually get bored and realize they can probably make a lot of money just by selling the photos to the media. And then Taehyung will have sacrificed who knows what for nothing.

“What will we do if the photos get out?” he asks eventually.

Seokjin shrugs. “We have a couple of options. You could deny or you could just own it. You’re a grown man who has sex life, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, you’re super hot.” He offers Taehyung a small smile that Taehyung can’t quite manage to return. “Either way, we’ll keep Jeongguk’s name out of it.”

Taehyung nods slowly. “Okay.”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it though, okay?” Seokjin says. “Ideally we won’t even need a response because we’ll find out who’s responsible for this and nail their asses.”

Taehyung nods again. “I suppose you have a plan for that as well?”

“Obviously,” Seokjin says with a smile. “First off, we need to tell Yoongi and General Manager Bang. Ideally we’d do a random search of everyone’s phones to see if we can find anything incriminating, but we’ll need their help facilitating that. I’m also going to preemptively find you a lawyer. And then I’m going to call our tabloid friends with the lawyer and threaten them until they give up their sources.”

He leans back in his chair and crosses one leg over the other, hands folded neatly in his lap. Seokjin is truly a force to be reckoned with in situations like this, and Taehyung is in awe.

“Oh,” he adds. “You also need to tell Jeongguk. As soon as possible.”

“I know,” Taehyung says, another wave of guilt crashing over him. “I wanted to do it in person. I’m gonna tell him tonight.”

As Seokjin nods his approval, Taehyung’s phone vibrates in his pocket. He startles violently in his seat, just like he has every other time he’s received a text since the anonymous ones that came through yesterday. Except this time, he has good cause - it’s another message from a blocked number.

“What’s wrong?” Seokjin asks sharply, clearly reading the horror in Taehyung’s expression.

“It’s them,” Taehyung whispers, opening the message with shaking fingers.

Unknown:
Might want to sit today out too
Maybe the rest of the season

This time, there’s not a photo included - there’s a video. Taehyung doesn’t even have to press play to know what it is, or to remember that you can hear Jeongguk’s voice in it. Jeongguk’s voice, saying Taehyung’s name.

Fuck.

As if to reinforce what Taehyung has already realized, another message follows the video.

Unknown:
Sounds a lot like that little reporter who’s always following you around

If he weren’t already sitting, Taehyung thinks he might actually collapse. This is infinitely worse than the photos, and he feels so overwhelmed and heartbroken that it takes him several minutes to even explain what’s happened to Seokjin.

“Okay,” Seokjin says grimly, once Taehyung has choked out a garbled explanation. He’s moved around his desk to sit next to Taehyung, and is rubbing his back soothingly while kindly not commenting on the way his body shakes with silent sobs. “This changes things a bit.”

“I can’t play, hyung,” Taehyung whispers. “Not if they know who he is.”

“I understand,” Seokjin says. “And I agree. So, slight change of plans. You need to get in touch with Yoongi and explain what’s happening so that he understands why you can’t play. I’ll handle the lawyer and get a meeting set up with Bang ASAP.”

Taehyung nods numbly. Before he does anything else, even talking to Yoongi, he knows he needs to tell Jeongguk. As horrible as it’s going to be, as much as it causes him physical pain to even think about, it feels wrong to keep this from him any longer. Especially now that the video is in play.

“We’re going to figure this out, Tae,” Seokjin reassures him, squeezing his shoulder. Taehyung doesn’t believe him. He feels paralyzed, like the weight of this entire, fucked up situation is pinning him down, crushing him. Despite Seokjin’s words and his plans, Taehyung doesn’t see a way out of this.

“You can stay here as long as you need,” Seokjin continues. “Have you eaten? I’ll get us some food.”

Taehyung doesn’t have an appetite, but he feels too listless to bother fighting with Seokjin about that. He can’t even remember the last thing he’d eaten, or when that had been. Definitely before he received the texts yesterday.

“I know this feels too overwhelming to deal with,” Seokjin says. At this point, he’s having a one-sided conversation, but he seems unfazed by that. “It’s a fucking nightmare. But the only way to fix it is if we take action as soon as possible, okay? You can’t just hide until it goes away. That’s not fair to you or Jeongguk or the team.”

These words manage to worm their way into Taehyung’s glazed-over brain. Because it’s not just him that’s going to be affected by this, it’s the people he cares about. If nothing else, he needs to pull it together for them.

***

Jeongguk is worried.

He doesn’t want to be that boyfriend that gets worked up and anxious over nothing, but at this point he’s pretty sure something is wrong with Taehyung. He hadn’t played in his game yesterday (which never happens), he’d bailed on their plans to FaceTime before bed last night (which also never happens), and his texts today have all been oddly flat and notably devoid of emojis. Still, he hasn’t cancelled their plans to hang out tonight, so maybe Jeongguk is just getting worked up over nothing.

As soon as Taehyung arrives at his apartment that night, it becomes evident that Jeongguk was not just getting worked up over nothing. Taehyung looks terrible - sort of like he had the night he first showed up at Jeongguk’s apartment, after the whole mess with his phone, but even worse. His face is pale and drawn, and there’s a skittishness to him as he steps inside that makes Jeongguk instantly concerned. On top of that, he barely manages a smile in greeting, only kissing Jeongguk briefly on the cheek as he slips past.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, closing the door and turning to face Taehyung. “Are you okay?”

“I have to tell you something,” Taehyung replies, making Jeongguk’s stomach drop. No good news has ever come after those words, at least not in Jeongguk’s experience. His first thought is that Taehyung must be breaking up with him.

“Okay…” Jeongguk says slowly, trying to steel himself. He’d kind of assumed Taehyung would dump him eventually, but wasn’t ready for it to happen quite so soon.

“Someone got into my phone,” Taehyung starts. He’s clutching the edge of Jeongguk’s counter tightly, almost like he’s trying to hold himself up. “I don’t know how. But they, umm - ” he takes a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly. “They got the pictures and the video you sent me. From the other night.”

A different kind of alarm sparks through Jeongguk’s body, something closer to panic. Dread.

“What?” he says blankly, his voice pitching higher than usual. “How - you said you didn’t save them.”

“I didn’t,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. His eyes are round, veering towards watery. He looks devastated. “I swear, Guk. But I - they were still in our message thread. I forgot to delete that.”

“What?” Jeongguk repeats, because he’s at a loss for what else to say. He doesn’t understand how this could be happening. This can’t be happening.

“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung whispers. “They got the pictures and the video and they’ve been using them to blackmail me. That’s why I didn’t play in the game yesterday.”

Jeongguk gapes at him, horrified. Suddenly Taehyung’s stance makes sense, and he reaches behind himself, grasping desperately at the countertop.

“Oh my god,” Jeongguk breathes. He thinks he might be on the verge of having a panic attack. It feels like the world is narrowing around him, his mind spinning so quickly he can’t keep up with his thoughts. “Oh my god - this can’t, I can’t - ”

This is literally his worst nightmare, an invasion of privacy in the most intrusive, violating way. All of the things that had scared him in college, all of the reasons he’d been hesitant about going public with Taehyung - this surpasses all of those fears. This jeopardizes everything - his career, Taehyung’s career, their reputations, oh god, what if his parents find out -

His knees wobble, and he slumps backwards against the counter, barely managing to keep himself upright. Taehyung rushes forward, arms sliding around his waist in an effort to support him. Jeongguk is torn between wanting to cling to him and wanting to push him away.

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says fervently, lips against Jeongguk’s ear. “I’m going to fix it, okay? I won’t play until we figure out who has them. I won’t let that stuff get released.”

“Don’t say that,” Jeongguk croaks out, twisting out of Taehyung’s grasp. Something ugly is growing in him now, the need to lash out, to cut and run. “Don’t - you can’t promise that. They already have it, they can do whatever - ” He takes a shuddery gasp, nearly hysterical. “Fuck, Tae, how could you - ”

Somewhere, in the back of his brain, he knows it’s not entirely fair to blame Taehyung for this. It had been careless of him to not delete the photos and video, but it hadn’t been malicious, and it’s not his fault that someone had gotten into his phone. But Jeongguk’s not thinking about that right now. All he can think about is people seeing, people talking, the whole world knowing the most private, intimate details of his life.

“I’m so sorry,” Taehyung says again. He looks helpless, arms hanging limply at his sides, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I wish - I would do anything to take it back. I’m so sorry I put you in this position.” He bites his lip, rubbing roughly at his face. “I’m doing everything I can to make it go away. I already talked to Jin, I’m talking to Yoongi tomorrow - we have a plan.”

Jeongguk knows this is meant to reassure him, but in reality it just makes him feel more alone. Taehyung has a whole team behind him, people whose literal job it is to make sure he comes out of this unscathed. Jeongguk is just - Jeongguk.

“For you, maybe,” he says bitterly.

Taehyung blinks at him, confused. “What?”

“There’s a plan to make it go away for you,” Jeongguk says. “No one - ” he chokes on a sob. “No one is going to care what happens to me.”

I do,” Taehyung replies fiercely. “Jeongguk, I don’t give a fuck about what this means for me. My priority is protecting you.” His hands curl into fists at his sides. “Jin knows that too.”

This just makes Jeongguk sob harder.

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says in a gentler voice, inching closer. Jeongguk takes a step back and Taehyung sighs but doesn’t follow. “I’m scared too,” he adds in a small voice.

But the thing is, Jeongguk isn’t scared. He’s fucking terrified. A sort of fear that sinks into his bones, invades his brain so that he can’t think clearly. He knows Taehyung is trying to help, but he doesn’t feel like he can accept his help right now. Even if he can acknowledge that what happened had been an accident, it still feels like Taehyung had let him down, like he’d been negligent with something precious.

“I think,” Jeongguk breathes out, his voice wet. “I think I just need to be by myself right now.”

“Jeongguk…” Taehyung protests, his eyes pleading.

Jeongguk shakes his head. “Please, Tae.”

“I don’t want to leave you like this,” Taehyung says, still looking hesitant.

“Taehyung. Please.”

Taehyung swallows, then takes a step back, nodding. “Okay,” he says reluctantly. “Just - call me if you need anything, okay? Seriously, anything. And, umm - I’ll keep you posted. About everything.”

Jeongguk nods mutely, moving towards the door. Taehyung seems to take the hint and follows.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs one last time, then shows himself out.

As soon as the door shuts behind him, Jeongguk sinks to the floor, buries his face in his knees, and sobs.

Chapter Text

Taehyung doesn’t sleep that night. He thinks about taking another sleeping pill, but then he gets anxious about something happening while he’s out and decides against it. There’s also a masochistic voice inside his head that tells him he doesn’t deserve to rest, that he should stay awake and stew in his own misery as some sort of penance for getting into this mess.

Telling Jeongguk had been even worse than he expected. The horror on his face, the way he’d pushed Taehyung away - if this doesn’t get resolved, Taehyung will never forgive himself. As it stands, he doesn’t know if Jeongguk will ever forgive him, regardless of the outcome. The thought breaks his heart.

It’s a long, restless night, Yeontan’s concerned, persistent nuzzling his only source of comfort. It’s a relief, albeit a small one, when the first traces of pale dawn light appear through his window. The past 48 hours have felt like a continuous, waking nightmare, but at least during the day he can get up and actually try to do something about it.

Yoongi usually arrives at the clubhouse a few hours before their games, so Taehyung does that as well, relieved when he gets there and finds Yoongi already in his office. He doesn’t even bother with a greeting, just walks right in and closes the door behind him. Yoongi glances up at him expectantly, eyebrows raised, but his expression shifts when he sees Taehyung’s face.

“You look like shit,” he says, setting down his tablet.

“I’m being blackmailed,” Taehyung replies, and then blurts out the entire, sordid story.

By the time he’s done, Yoongi looks absolutely livid.

“Fuck that,” he snarls. “Seriously, fuck that. This is fucking illegal. Not to mention the slimiest, most despicable shit I’ve ever heard.” He pauses, running an agitated hand through his hair. “I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, Tae. I wish you had told me sooner.”

Taehyung stares at him, suddenly overcome with a rush of gratitude so strong he feels like he might cry. Something about the ferocity of Yoongi’s reaction, his indignance on Taehyung’s behalf - after the crushing guilt he’s been feeling for the past two days, he appreciates it more than he can possibly say.

“You have enough on your plate,” Taehyung says. “I didn’t want to make you question the team when I wasn’t even sure it was one of them.”

Yoongi scoffs. “You better fucking believe I’m going to question them,” he says fiercely. “Anyone who would do something like this is trash and I want them out. Forget the personal stuff, by taking you off the field they’re jeopardizing the success of the whole team.” He huffs. “If I have to play fucking Schmidt for the rest of the season - ”

It’s one of those moments when Taehyung can practically hear the pieces click into place in his head. Suddenly, he remembers Schmidt and Wilson at the bar that first night with Jeongguk, the same night the paparazzi showed up. Schmidt coming out of the elevator the other day, his eyes lingering too long on Taehyung’s phone, where he’d had a photo of Jeongguk opened. He’s sure they both had his old phone number, from back when he was new to San Francisco and had just joined the team. And he even thinks he remembers Wilson casually asking what his room number was the day the paparazzo had tried to sneak up to his hotel room.

It seems almost impossible at first, but the more he thinks about it, the more it really doesn’t. Taehyung had beaten out Schmidt for the position of starting shortstop when they both first joined the team, and he knows Schmidt has been coveting it ever since. Neither he nor Wilson had been particularly supportive when Taehyung had come out; in fact, Taehyung had gotten the impression that they only kept their mouths (mostly) shut because they were afraid of Yoongi. They’ve been in the clubhouse plenty of times when Jeongguk has interviewed Taehyung, so they easily could have witnessed the dynamic between them and suspected something more - especially after that run-in at the bar. They probably realized Taehyung was vulnerable because of the extra media attention surrounding him this season and decided to use it to their advantage.

It makes him feel sick to think about it, but it also makes him really fucking pissed off.

“Shit,” Taehyung says, probably interrupting something Yoongi was saying - he had kind of tuned him out for a few seconds there. “Shit, hyung - I think it might be him. Schmidt, I mean. And maybe Wilson too.”

Yoongi’s eyes widen, and he grimaces. “Fucking pricks,” he mutters. “How do you know? Can you prove it?”

Something else occurs to Taehyung then, a memory from just the other day, right before the first texts came through. He had temporarily misplaced his phone, and Hoseok had given it back to him, saying someone else found it. He hadn’t mentioned who, and now Taehyung wonders if it had been Schmidt or Wilson - if he hadn’t actually misplaced his phone at all, but rather someone had taken it from him deliberately.

“I need to ask Hobi something,” Taehyung says abruptly. Yoongi looks perplexed, but he waits patiently while Taehyung gets out his phone and hurriedly types out a text to Hoseok.

Taehyung:
hyung
the other day when you found my phone
who gave it to you?

Fortunately, Hoseok is a very responsive texter, and his reply comes through almost immediately.

Hobi hyung:
wilson
it was weirdly nice of him
why?

Taehyung feels a bizarre, twisted sort of thrill spike through him at having his theory further confirmed.

“I’m pretty sure it’s them,” he tells Yoongi. “I can explain why, but I need to call Jin hyung first.”

Yoongi nods. “I trust you,” he says. “Tell Jin to get the fuck over here so that we can figure out a plan. I want to light these motherfuckers up.”

***

Jeongguk has had some really, really bad days in his life. He always looks back on his injury and the weeks immediately before and after it as his lowest point, a time when everything was so dark that he couldn’t tell which way was up. He feels like he’s still rebuilding from that, figuring out who he is and what makes him happy and how he wants to live his life.

The news that Taehyung is being blackmailed comes like a sucker punch straight in the gut. All at once, everything he’s worked for since his injury is at risk, all the progress he’s made set to be shattered. And in a lot of ways, it’s his own damn fault, for being stupid enough to send those pictures and that video in the first place. Just like he had been stupid enough to go and get his knee broken in college because he couldn’t handle the pressure of being on the team anymore.

He wonders if he’s just one of those people who isn’t meant to be happy. If he’ll keep destroying every good thing that comes his way until there’s nothing left. First baseball, now his career - there’s no way Ken won’t fire him if that video gets out. No self-respecting news agency in the state will want to hire some junior reporter who’s best known for sending nudes to Kim Taehyung. Everyone is going to think that he was just sleeping with Taehyung to get famous, or to advance his own career.

Maybe some trashy tabloid will hire him. Or maybe if he moves across the country and changes his name he has a chance at getting a job reporting on high school sports in, like, Maine.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, he’s pretty sure he’s going to lose Taehyung in all of this too. He knows his reaction had been shitty and selfish, that he’d pushed Taehyung away, that he hadn’t even bothered to ask how he was feeling in the midst of all of this. There’s a lot at stake for Taehyung, too, and if that stuff gets published he’s going to need someone by his side to support him through it. Jeongguk wishes he was strong enough to be that person - he just really doesn’t think he is.

He ends up calling out of work because he knows there’s not a chance in hell he’ll be able to focus on anything while he’s there. It’s the first day he’s missed since he started nine months ago, and it feels strange to not go. Then again, if they’re going to fire him, he supposes he might as well get used to the feeling.

He knows Ken will be frustrated that he’s not there to cover the Giants game, but the mere thought of being in the same room as the team, the same room as Taehyung, feels almost unbearable. Fortunately, Namjoon had sent him a nice text saying that he had it covered, and that he would handle Ken to make sure he didn’t get too worked up about it. He’d also sent a follow-up text telling Jeongguk to reach out if he needed anything at all, which makes Jeongguk think that Seokjin must have given him at least some indication of what’s going on. He appreciates the sentiment, but it also makes his cheeks burn with shame to think that Namjoon knows about this.

With nothing else to do, he lies in bed and alternates between staring forlornly up at his ceiling and staring forlornly out his dirty window. The problem with that plan is that it gives his mind plenty of freedom to roam, and soon enough his panicked thoughts get the better of him, sending him spiraling down rabbit holes that make his skin crawl. When it gets to be too much, he calls Ella, and even though she’s at work she sneaks into the bathroom and listens while he croaks and stutters his way through telling her what happened. She cries with him over the phone, and she tells him she loves him, and that he’s still a good person who deserves good things. She tells him she’s going to find any way she can to come see him, and he tells her it’s not worth it, and she tells him to shut the fuck up and let her handle it. Then it’s been 30 minutes and she has to go back to work before they fire her, but before they hang up she makes Jeongguk promise to get out of bed and go for a walk and find something to eat. He actually does what she says, not because he believes it’ll make him feel better, but because Ella can be scary and he knows that she’ll somehow find out if he doesn’t.

It does end up making him feel a tiny bit better.

He gets a text from Taehyung just as he’s returning to his apartment. It takes him six tries to open his phone because his hands are shaking so badly, but it turns out Taehyung is just providing him with an update. He’s pretty sure they’ve figured out who it is - two of the reserve players on the team, Schmidt and Wilson. Jeongguk remembers meeting them that first night at the bar, the way they had looked at him with clear disdain. He also remembers Wilson staring at him in the clubhouse that one time, how his gaze had felt too knowing, too intrusive. He wonders how long they’ve been watching him, how much more they know. The thought makes his stomach churn, and for a few seconds he truly thinks he’s going to be sick.

Taehyung tells him that he’s with Seokjin and Yoongi and they’re coming up with a plan, the outlook much more promising now that they know who’s responsible. Just like when Taehyung had said that to him in person, he knows it’s meant to reassure him, but again it just makes him feel worse - like a child forced to sit on the sidelines while the grown-ups figure things out amongst themselves. A part of him wants to storm down to the stadium and demand to be involved, if for no other reason than just to feel like he’s doing something. The rest of him knows he’s way too far out of his depth, caught up in the crosshairs of a world he doesn’t belong in, surrounded by people playing by rules he doesn’t understand.

=):
how are you holding up?

Jeongguk:
been better

He pauses for a full 30 seconds, then adds:

Jeongguk:
u?

=):
same
do you want me to come over later? i could bring food?

Jeongguk swallows. Even though it breaks his own heart a little bit, he still doesn’t really want to see Taehyung.

Jeongguk:
i don’t think so
sorry

He watches the little typing bubble appear and reappear for several minutes before Taehyung’s response comes through.

=):
ok
let me know if you change your mind
i’ll keep you updated

Jeongguk:
thanks

Blinking back tears, Jeongguk climbs back into bed.

***

Of all places, Taehyung catches Schmidt in the bathroom.

It’s stupid, because he had deliberately planned it this way, but there’s one second when Taehyung completely freezes at the sight of him. That sickening, paralyzing panic curls around him, makes him want to turn and run, be anywhere but here.

Then he remembers the anger. He remembers the fury, the sheer fucking outrage that this man would dare to manipulate his life like this, to intrude on his privacy and threaten the things and people that he treasures most. He had been so caught up in his own guilt and fear that he hadn’t recognized it at first, but now he’s fucking pissed. And he’s ready to take his goddamn life back.

He positions himself by one of the sinks, standing there with his arms folded over his chest when Schmidt emerges from the nearest stall.

“Need something, Kim?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at Taehyung as he washes his hands. There’s a cockiness to his tone, a smugness, like he knows something Taehyung doesn’t - or so he thinks. It makes Taehyung want to spit in his face.

“What do you want?” Taehyung says bluntly.

Schmidt falters for a single second, just like Seokjin had predicted he would. Because here’s the thing - they’re not masterminds, Schmidt and Wilson. They’re getting away with something and it’s made them think they’re smarter than they actually are. It’s made them cocky, which means their guards are down.

“What?” Schmidt says. He’s regained his composure, that haughty expression back on his face.

“What do you want?” Taehyung repeats, doing all he can to keep the emotion out of his voice. “For the pictures, the video. To make them go away.”

Schmidt stares at him, calculating. Maybe he was expecting more of a show, for Taehyung to yell or beg or get violent. Taehyung’s not going to give him the satisfaction.

He glances around the bathroom, probably checking to be sure that it’s empty. Then he says, “Quit the team.”

Taehyung has to school his expression to keep it from showing too much surprise. He hadn’t been expecting that answer, but he supposes that maybe he should have been.

“Why?”

Schmidt rolls his eyes. “Why do you think, dumbass? Your spot should have been mine.”

It shouldn’t, really. Taehyung is objectively a better player and, perhaps more subjectively, a better teammate. Still, there’s an odd sense of detachment that comes with knowing the reason isn’t personal, that all of this is just the means to a self-interested end.

“I’m not quitting,” Taehyung says, and it’s a miracle that his voice doesn’t shake around the words. “Pick something else.”

Schmidt’s mouth curls into an ugly smirk, and the urge to spit at him is back in full force. “Yeah? I know a lot of reporters who would pay good money to expose naked pictures of Taehyung Kim,” he says. “And a sex tape that proves he’s screwing some no-name local reporter. Guess you’re really just that desperate for dick, huh, Kim?”

So yeah, maybe it’s a little bit personal.

There’s the sound of feet hitting the ground, followed by a stall door banging open. Schmidt startles, and a second later, Hoseok appears, smiling brightly.

“I know a lot of judges who would consider this extortion,” he says cheerfully, holding up his phone, which had recorded the entire interaction. Taehyung feels suddenly shaky on his feet - their plan had worked. The first part of it, at least. “Pretty sure people go to jail for that.”

Schmidt gapes at him, clearly blindsided. Taehyung can practically hear the wheels turning in his head.

“Good thing we got it all on record,” Seokjin adds, barging through the bathroom door with his own phone in hand and Yoongi in tow. Schmidt visibly shrinks at the sight of Yoongi. “You made it a lot easier for us by explaining the whole thing. Motive and everything, impressive.”

He flashes a serpentine grin that puts Schmidt’s smirk to shame.

“It wasn’t my idea,” Schmidt blurts out, and Taehyung almost wants to laugh out loud, that that’s the best he could come up with.

Seokjin blinks at him, all faux curiosity. “No? Whose was it, then?”

“Wilson,” Schmidt says immediately. “It was Wilson’s idea.”

“That’s interesting,” Seokjin says. “Because he just told us it was entirely your idea.”

“He’s lying,” Schmidt insists, eyes wide as he looks to Yoongi. “Coach, I can - ”

“You disgust me,” Yoongi spits out. Taehyung wants to simultaneously scream and cry and hug all of his friends.

“Bang’s office,” Yoongi says in a tone that leaves exactly no room for argument. “Now.”

***

It gets worked out.

Taehyung doesn’t even participate, really, and he’s glad for it. After everything that’s happened the past few days, he feels impossibly drained, like all he wants to do is go home and sleep for the next 48 hours. It’s a relief to sit back and let Seokjin and Yoongi and General Manager Bang work out a deal, because at this point he feels as if he has nothing more to give.

Schmidt and Wilson really don’t have a leg to stand on, in the end. Yoongi wants them off the team, Seokjin has a lawyer on standby, and Bang has friends in high places in the league. It’s obvious that their best choice is to take the deal - they turn over their devices to be wiped clean, and at the end of the season they’ll be suspended from the league for one full year. In exchange, they’ll have the chance to be traded to another team once their suspension is over, and no legal action will be taken.

“I swear to God,” Yoongi hisses, getting right up in their faces. “If I ever see those pictures or that video anywhere, I will personally see to it that you never play baseball professionally again.”

Hoseok nods along behind him, looking mostly awed and faintly aroused as he stares at Yoongi.

“I can confirm that,” Bang adds mildly.

“Also, I’ll sue you for literally every pathetic penny you’re worth,” Seokjing says, his grip just a little too tight on Schmidt’s shoulder.

And that’s that.

Kind of.

The immediate crisis has been resolved, which is a massive relief, but Taehyung still has to deal with the fallout. He still has to see Schmidt and Wilson every day for the rest of the season, and he still feels violated and exposed in a way that he knows will take a very long time to heal. He’s skittish and afraid, battling the feeling that no one and nowhere is safe.

And, perhaps worst of all, he’s worried that his relationship with Jeongguk may have been damaged beyond repair.

The first thing Taehyung does when he leaves the negotiation meeting is call him. He’s been keeping Jeongguk as updated as possible, but it’s clear he doesn’t really want to talk and beyond that, Taehyung hasn’t wanted to give him false hope. Now, though, he wants Jeongguk to know that he’s safe, that the photos haven’t and aren’t going to be leaked. Even if he still doesn’t want to talk to or see Taehyung, he deserves to have that peace of mind.

It comes as a relief when Jeongguk actually answers his phone call. They haven’t spoken directly since Taehyung had broken the news to him, and Taehyung hasn’t been able to stop dwelling on it, how utterly shattered and betrayed Jeongguk had seemed. It’s been killing him not being able to see him, not being able to comfort him when he’s so upset. Taehyung has been craving his comfort as well, has felt crushingly lonely these past few days as he’s tried to deal with all of this on his own.

“Hi.”

Jeongguk’s voice is rough when he answers, like he hasn’t been using it much. Still, the sound of it makes Taehyung weak in the knees, and he almost feels like sinking to the ground and crying.

“Hi,” Taehyung replies. “We got them.”

He explains everything that had happened to Jeongguk, trying to reassure him as much as possible. Jeongguk, for his part, doesn’t say much, although Taehyung is pretty sure he picks up the sound of stifled sobs on the other end of the line.

“Are you okay?” Taehyung asks.

Jeongguk doesn’t reply right away. “I don’t know,” he says eventually, voice thick. “Are you?”

“Not really,” Taehyung says. There’s a pause, and he adds: “I think we need to talk. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk breathes, and Taehyung feels the slightest flicker of hope that he’s at least agreeing to that. “Maybe tomorrow?”

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, even though Jeongguk can’t see him. A part of him had hoped they could meet up tonight, but given what a wreck he is right now he recognizes it’s probably better to wait. “I can come over.”

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees. “Uh - I’ll see you then.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. “Get some rest.”

“You too, Tae.”

***

When Taehyung arrives at Jeongguk’s apartment the next day, he has no idea what to expect. He’s glad that they’re finally able to talk face to face, but he honestly doesn’t know how that talk is going to go. Now that the issue of the photos and video has been resolved, he wishes everything could just go back to normal, but there’s a heavy feeling in his gut telling him that’s not possible.

The morning is misty and gray, typical of summer in San Francisco, and he zips up his jacket as he steps out of his car, parked a block over from Jeongguk’s apartment. Despite the weather, he’s wearing sunglasses and a hat pulled low over his face, the attire and parking location all part of the usual precautions he takes when he goes to see Jeongguk. It feels oddly ironic when he thinks about how close they had come to being exposed in a far more intrusive way, and about the conversation he knows they’re about to have. The things he knows he needs to say, no matter how badly he doesn’t want to.

The grating sound of Jeongguk’s door buzzing him in is familiar by now, as is the narrow, dirty staircase leading up to his apartment. Jeongguk opens the door after just one knock, and they follow their usual pattern of Taehyung slipping inside quickly lest there be any watchful eyes in the hallway.

Jeongguk is drowning in an oversized black hoodie today, the hem hanging down almost to his mid-thigh. It’s a look Taehyung is particularly fond of, and it hits him with a sort of aching wistfulness, wanting nothing more than to drag Jeongguk to bed and cuddle him for the next 12 hours straight. Or however long it takes, really, until they both feel safe again, until everything is warm with trust and forgiveness.

“Hey,” Taehyung says. The last time he was here, something broke between them. It’s impossible not to think about that now. “How are you?”

Jeongguk shrugs, dark shoulders rising up towards dark hair. “Better, I guess.” He sighs, making a helpless gesture with his hands. “I don’t know. I mean, I’m obviously relieved, but - I’m still kind of all over the place.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Me too.”

Jeongguk’s eyes match his words, shifting around like they don’t know where to land.

“I wanted to apologize,” he says abruptly. “For how I reacted when you told me. It was selfish and - and I wasn’t fair to you.”

Taehyung stares at him, surprised; he wasn’t expecting this at all. “It’s okay,” he says automatically.

But Jeongguk shakes his head, and this, this kindness - it’s part of the reason Taehyung had fallen so hard for him. “It’s not,” he insists. “I just - I was so scared, and I panicked, and - I’m sorry. You must have been so scared too, and I should - I should have been there for you. I should have been stronger for you.”

Taehyung blinks rapidly, fighting back the tears stinging at the corners of his eyes. “It was my fault, though,” he says around the lump in his throat. “This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for me.”

“This happened because of Schmidt and Wilson, not you,” Jeongguk tells him firmly. “It’s not your fault, Tae. We were both careless, yeah - but it’s not your fault.”

It’s like Taehyung didn’t know how badly he needed to hear that until Jeongguk said it, but he’s found that to be the case with a lot of the things Jeongguk says and does. The lump in his throat grows larger, but there’s a weight lifting off of him now, one layer of guilt gradually falling away.

“Can I hug you?” Taehyung asks - pleads - and, miraculously, Jeongguk nods. Then they’re wrapped up in each other’s arms, and it’s so good to feel him again, to hold him. “I’m still sorry,” Taehyung whispers, hot tears leaking down his cheeks, dampening the shoulder of Jeongguk’s sweatshirt. Jeongguk squeezes him tighter in response.

Eventually, reluctantly, they break apart, both of them wiping at their eyes. All is forgiven, and yet a certain sadness still clings to the air, pervasive in a way Taehyung wishes he could ignore. He wonders if Jeongguk notices it too, if it feels the same way to him.

Like an ending.

“Uh,” Taehyung gulps. He wants to hold Jeongguk’s face in his hands, kiss his cheeks. If he thinks too hard about it, he might realize he loves him. “Thank you for saying that. It means a lot. Obviously.” He gives a rueful laugh, smudging at his tear-stained cheeks.

“The thing is - this is always going to be my life, you know? I mean, not this specifically - hopefully nothing like this ever happens again - but, like. People are going to know who I am, and stuff about my life.” He takes a deep breath. Jeongguk is watching him with a sort of resigned expression on his face, like he knows where this is going. “And that’s also going to extend to the person I’m with, eventually. Whether I want it to or not.”

Jeongguk nods. “I know.”

“So I guess the question is - can you handle that?” Taehyung asks. It’s the second time he’s laid himself bare in Jeongguk’s tiny kitchen, placed his cards on the table (metaphorically speaking, since there’s no way Jeongguk could actually fit a table in this kitchen) and waited to see how Jeongguk would respond.

“And if the answer is no - that’s okay. I understand it’s a lot to ask. It’s probably not something I would choose for myself, if the situation was reversed.” The words are hard to voice aloud, but he has to speak them. He has to be honest about what he wants, about what they’re really doing here. “But that’s just the reality of my life. And if I care about someone, I don’t want to have to creep around in constant fear of other people finding out.”

“I understand,” Jeongguk replies, his voice raw, cracked. “I don’t want you to have to do that either. You deserve to be with someone who isn’t afraid to stand beside you.”

Another hot rush of tears wells up before Taehyung can stop them. “I want that person to be you, Jeonggukkie,” he says quietly, weakly.

Jeongguk nods, his own eyes watery. But he has his arms wrapped around himself, a protective stance, and Taehyung knows the answer before he says it. Knew the answer before he even set foot in Jeongguk’s apartment this morning.

“I want to be that person, too,” Jeongguk whispers. “But I just - I’m not.” His voice catches. “I can’t be.”

Taehyung had known it was coming, but the finality of it still stings. It’s a rejection, and even though he knows the reasons are complicated, that all fades behind the knowledge that Jeongguk isn’t choosing him. His head understands the decision, but it doesn’t make his heart hurt any less.

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, decisive. His voice is wobbly and he’s given up on trying to fend off his tears. “I - yeah. I get it.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says. He looks miserable.

Taehyung shakes his head, attempting an (admittedly very sad) smile. “It’s okay. I - thank you for being honest with me.” He takes a long look at Jeongguk in his massive hoodie, feels a little bit like his heart is cracking when he realizes he has to walk away from this. “Fuck. I’m going to miss you.”

A sob slips past Jeongguk’s lips, and that at least is a small comfort, knowing that Jeongguk is affected by this too. “Me too,” he chokes out. “So much.”

This is terrible, truly. A person can only stand so much heartbreak in such a short amount of time, Taehyung thinks.

“I’m, uh - I’m gonna go,” he forces out. “Yeah.”

Before he can take a step, Jeongguk lunges forward, pulling Taehyung into a tight, breathless hug. It catches Taehyung completely by surprise, but he squeezes his eyes shut and holds on tight, fingers twisted in the material of Jeongguk’s sweatshirt.

It ends too soon. Far, far too soon. And then somehow, as if on autopilot, Taehyung is stepping away, saying goodbye, turning his back on Jeongguk. Down the stairs, around the corner, into the front seat of his car. With his hands on the steering wheel, he realizes he probably does love Jeongguk, and it feels like a goddamn tragedy.

***

How to Lose the Guy of Your Dreams Because of Your Stupid Anxieties and Insecurities, a novel by Jeon Jeongguk.

Chapter one: your hot, perfect boyfriend breaks up with you because he’s a literal celebrity and you’re too afraid to date him publicly. Chapter two: you wallow in self-pity until your best friend swoops in to snap you out of it.

Ella arrives in San Francisco five days after Jeongguk and Taehyung break up. For the first 10 minutes after she shows up at his door, Jeongguk can’t do much more than blink at her in awe, because even though she’d literally told him she was coming, he hadn’t actually believed her. He still doesn’t really understand how she’d come up with the money to get here on such short notice, but he’s too deep in his post-breakup hole to question it all that much. Mostly, he’s just incredibly grateful that she’s here. Even if squeezing two people into his barely-a-double bed isn’t particularly comfortable.

When she gets there, Jeongguk is… not in a great place. He’s at least gone back to work, which is good, and there’s no longer the imminent threat of his pseudo-sex tape being plastered all over the Internet, which is a staggeringly massive relief. In short, he’s functional, which is more than can be said for how he was doing a week ago. Still, he’s nursing a broken heart and a bad case of paranoia, and he knows it’s going to be a while before things start to feel normal again.

The great thing about Ella (one of many great things, she would say - and Jeongguk would agree) is that she knows how to handle him. She knows when to let him talk, lying awake with him late into the night and listening to the sad, messy ramblings of his eternally conflicted mind. She doesn’t point it out when he contradicts himself, doesn’t give him a hard time when he follows the same train of thought over and over again. He misses Taehyung, he wants Taehyung, but he doesn’t want Taehyung’s lifestyle. He’s scared of Taehyung’s lifestyle. He’s frustrated with himself for being scared. He’s always so fucking scared. He feels guilty. He feels lonely. He misses Taehyung -

And so on. It’s a fun place, his mind.

Ella lets him talk, but she also makes him do shit. She’s never been to San Francisco before, so she drags him to Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street, makes him ride the cable cars and walk the Golden Gate Bridge. Basically all of the places and activities Jeongguk seeks to avoid now that he actually lives here, but at least it’s something to do, something to get him out of the apartment. Even if he’s quieter and mopier than usual for most of it, he tries to put on a brave face for Ella’s sake. It’s nice to have a friend to do things with.

One night, she makes him cook a nice (meaning not instant ramen) dinner for both of them. They buy the cheapest bottle of wine they can find and split it, getting a little bit tipsy in Jeongguk’s kitchen as the smell of bibimbap fills the apartment. It reminds Jeongguk of their senior year of college, when Ella was pretty much the only person who still wanted to hang out with him even though he wasn’t on the baseball team anymore. They’d made a tradition out of Sunday night dinners, cooking together and getting wine-drunk to take the edge off of their Sunday scaries.

Ella talks, too. And it’s nice - to just sit and listen to someone else for a while, to focus on her and her life instead of his own. He gets the update on her well-meaning but supremely annoying roommate, how she’s already setting money aside so that she can afford her own place, how she’s planning on speaking to her boss about a raise now that she’s been with the company for a year. Ella has always been like that - fearless, unafraid of asking for what she wants even when so many people have told her she shouldn’t. It’s one of the things Jeongguk admires most about her.

He also hears about her dating woes, how she has a crush on her coworker but can’t tell if it’s reciprocated, and how she doesn’t know if she even wants it to be reciprocated for fear it might jeopardize her job. And then there are the dating apps she’s tried, and the awful, awkward, ridiculous stories of failed dates that have them both laughing until their stomachs hurt.

“Men are trash, basically,” she says, sighing and taking a hearty gulp of wine.

“Taehyung wasn’t trash,” Jeongguk blurts out unthinkingly, then promptly bursts into tears.

So, yeah. Her visit has its ups and downs, mostly because Jeongguk is still kind of a mess, but it’s healing in a way that Jeongguk can never thank her enough for. When it’s time for her to leave, he cries, partly because he’s going to miss his best friend and partly because he’s afraid of what’s going to happen when he’s left alone again.

“You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, Jeongguk,” Ella says gently, touching his cheek. “It’s okay to struggle, you know? It’s okay.”

Jeongguk nods, tears warm as they slip down and off his jaw.

“You just have to keep moving forward. One day at a time.”

“Thank you,” he whispers, his voice all botched and choked up. “Thank you for coming all this way.”

“’Course,” Ella smiles, hitching her bag up higher on her shoulder. “Anything for you, nerd.”

“I still don’t understand how you managed - ”

Ella shakes her head, shushing him. “Don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll - we’ll talk about it another time.”

Jeongguk wants to protest, but he decides he owes it to her to let it go, at least for now.

“Bye,” she says, hugging him tightly. “Love you.”

“Love you too.”

And then she’s gone, and Jeongguk is alone again, left on his own to put one foot in front of the other, to take it one day at a time, just like Ella had said. It reminds him a little of when things had ended between him and Taehyung, and he wonders why it is that goodbyes always have to be so painful. Rather abruptly, it occurs to him that maybe goodbyes only hurt like this when you’re parting from someone you love.

He stows that thought away for a stronger time.

***

Taehyung is sad.

That’s really the only way to put it. He’s sad and he really misses Jeongguk.

He’d known it was way too good to be true, is the thing. He’d known from pretty much the beginning that Jeongguk had his fears, that they were going to have to address those eventually. He just hadn’t expected it to happen quite so abruptly and painfully.

Still, he can’t say he regrets it. Even if his heart is breaking now, even if he wakes up every day with an ache in his chest, he still feels grateful to have had the experience. To have known Jeongguk, and to have opened himself up to something so new and exhilarating.

Unfortunately, none of that changes the fact that he’s still really fucking sad now.

He tries to cope with it by keeping himself distracted. There’s baseball, of course, and the daily horror of having to be around Schmidt and Wilson. They leave him alone, at least, skulking around the locker room with their metaphorical tails between their legs, but Taehyung still feels a sort of muted rage any time he sees them. He tries to channel that into his game instead, and something about the combination of anger and intense focus works - he finds himself playing better than he has since the beginning of the season, before all of the bullshit started messing with his mind. It’s immensely satisfying, especially because it’s an extra fuck-you to Schmidt.

The team’s schedule has them traveling for the first week and a half after he and Jeongguk break up. Usually, Taehyung would hate that, but under these circumstances it comes as a relief to get away. He doesn’t know if Jeongguk is still going to be covering all of the Giants’ home games, and he’s kind of scared to find out. On the one hand, he would hate for their breakup to have any effect on Jeongguk’s career, especially when he’d been doing so well. On the other, Taehyung is selfishly terrified of seeing him (and completely not confident in his ability to keep his composure if he does).

Seokjin travels with the team for this series of games, and even though he says it’s for “business reasons,” Taehyung is pretty sure it’s just so he can lurk around sending withering glances at Schmidt and Wilson every chance he gets. It certainly seems to have the desired effect of keeping them freaked out, and between that and Yoongi’s completely undisguised distaste for them, Taehyung’s pretty sure they’ll be more than happy to leave the team at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Hoseok takes it upon himself to stay perpetually glued to Taehyung’s side, both around the clubhouse and during their off hours, which they mostly spend lounging around the hotel because Taehyung isn’t feeling up for much more. He’s a bright, cheerful presence but never overwhelming, understanding seemingly inherently when Taehyung doesn’t feel like talking.

The last leg of their trip is in L.A., and Jimin comes and stays with him for the whole three nights they’re there. Their work schedules keep them from being able to spend too much time together, but it still makes Taehyung feel a little less lonely when he comes back after a game and finds Jimin wrapped up in a fuzzy robe in his bed, munching happily on a $15 Snickers from the minibar. He pushes away thoughts of how badly he wanted to have this with Jeongguk and cuddles up next to Jimin instead, grateful for the affection as Jimin strokes his hair.

When he finally gets home, the house feels empty, even with Yeontan to keep him company. He and Jeongguk hadn’t been together for all that long, but to avoid being seen in public, they’d spent a lot of time either at Taehyung’s house or Jeongguk’s apartment. Every room seems to carry memories of him now, from kissing on the couch to cooking together in the kitchen to that very first night in Taehyung’s bed. He stares at the heap of multicolored throw pillows atop his duvet and thinks about how much they had amused Jeongguk, how he had used that to put Taehyung at ease. The memory is bittersweet, and it stings.

With the threat of his own misery engulfing him, he sits down to do something he’s been meaning to do for a while, ever since Jeongguk had suggested it a few weeks ago. He pulls out an old fashioned pen and paper and writes his sister a letter.

Or tries to, at least. It takes a while, and he finds he’s not particularly good at it, but he soldiers through, and in the end he has something that is, at least, unquestionably a letter.

Dear Hyejin,

How are you? I miss you. I feel like we haven’t gotten to talk much recently, and I’m sorry for that. I think it might be my fault. I know you like to write, though, so I hoped that maybe we could talk through writing instead.

Will you send me some of your stories, or at least tell me about them? How do you come up with your ideas? What are the characters like? How do you come up with them?

What else is happening in your life? How’s school? How are your friends? Are there any boys that you like, or girls? How are Eomma and Appa? I hope you’re still treating them with respect.

I’m doing okay. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with a boy, but we’re not together anymore. It hurts a lot. I miss him a lot. Love is hard, you know? It’s beautiful, but it’s really hard.

Anyway, I’m sorry I’m not better at writing letters (ha, that rhymed!). I just wanted to say hello, and to tell you how much I miss talking to you. I’m sorry that I’m so far away, and that I haven’t been around as much as I should have been. I’m sorry that I’ve let you down.

With lots of love and hugs,
Taehyungie

P.S. Tannie says woof!, which I’m pretty sure means hello! and I love you! in dog.

Once he’s read it over a few times, he folds the paper up, drops it into an envelope, and seals it with a kiss. All he can do now is hope that Jeongguk was right, and that this is one relationship that can still be salvaged.

***

The day after Ella leaves, Jeongguk calls Namjoon in a panic.

The Giants have their first home game in over a week tomorrow, and he knows that Ken is going to expect him to cover it. He doesn’t know how to tell his boss that he can’t cover it because his recently ex-boyfriend is on the team, and oh, by the way, two of his team members had tried blackmailing him with nude photos (and a pornographic video) of Jeongguk himself.

He really has no idea what to do. It feels a lot like throwing away everything he’s worked for to step away from the Giants coverage now, and it calls up unpleasant memories of college, just another example of Jeongguk running away from something because he’s too weak to handle it. Then again, almost all of his success with the Giants had been due to his relationship with Taehyung, the easy banter between them. There will be no way to recreate that now, and Ken will probably just fire him anyway when he realizes Jeongguk had been a fraud all along.

So he calls Namjoon, because Namjoon always seems to know what to do when Jeongguk is feeling lost and completely clueless.

They meet for lunch at a cafe near Jeongguk’s apartment, a little hole-in-the-wall that serves a small selection of sandwiches and soups. Jeongguk lies and says he’s not hungry, determined to sustain himself off of the lukewarm glass of water the waitress had set down in front of him. Namjoon, upon hearing this, abruptly declares he’s starving and orders two sandwiches. When the food arrives, his appetite mysteriously disappears, and he shoves his plates towards the middle of the table, insisting Jeongguk help him finish.

“You’re a horrible liar, hyung,” Jeongguk says, wincing as his stomach rumbles loudly.

“Just shut up and eat it,” Namjoon fires back, avoiding Jeongguk’s eyes.

It doesn’t take much more wheedling to get Jeongguk’s traitorous stomach to cave, and he explains his dilemma to Namjoon as he munches his way through half a sandwich.

Namjoon listens thoughtfully. “I agree that Ken is going to be reluctant to pull you away from the Giants,” he says when Jeongguk is finished. “But maybe if we go in with a plan, something new for you to take on - ” he pauses, thinking. “How well do you know football?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Pretty well. I mean - I played until sophomore year of high school, before I got really serious about baseball.” He considers. “And I’ve been tracking everything pretty closely leading up to the new season.”

Namjoon nods. “Pre-season’s about to start, maybe we could make an argument for you to run point on that. The 49ers are looking pretty good this year. And we usually cover Oakland too, so football always needs more manpower.” He frowns. “Or womanpower.”

“Do you really think Ken would go for that?” Jeongguk asks, anxious. It’s a pretty good idea, and he does like football, but he’s doubtful of his own abilities. Football is a huge deal, even more so than baseball, especially if their teams are doing well.

“I do,” Namjoon replies earnestly. “You’re really good, Jeongguk. You’ve done well with baseball, so it’s a natural next step to have you get some experience with football. And it makes sense to get you in there early, so that you can start building relationships with the players.”

Jeongguk stares at the collar of Namjoon’s shirt, still unconvinced. “What if - I mean,” he clears his throat, embarrassed. “I got lucky with Tae - with Taehyung, you know? I - that’s not gonna happen again.”

Namjoon sighs, setting down the crust he had been nibbling on and leveling Jeongguk with a serious expression. “You didn’t just get lucky,” he says firmly. “Sure, what happened with Taehyung was unique, but it started because you had good questions and you earned his trust. And you did that with the rest of the team too. Local reporters don’t usually get as much face time as you do, especially not when they’re new.”

Jeongguk’s cheeks heat up. He shakes his head slightly, almost involuntarily.

“You’re success isn’t because of Taehyung, Jeongguk,” Namjoon murmurs, and when Jeongguk finally manages to drag his gaze up, Namjoon is smiling kindly at him. “You’re good, okay? And you have the potential to be great, but you have to be confident. You have to want it.”

Jeongguk thinks about it. Sitting there in that stuffy cafe, jammed into a too-small table with the only real friend he has left in San Francisco, he thinks about what he wants. Other than baseball and Taehyung, he’s never really, really wanted something before, and even with baseball he stopped really wanting it long before he stopped playing. But this - he thinks he does want this. He wants to prove himself, and he wants to feel proud. He wants to stop missing out on things because he’s scared.

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods, a small flame of determination flickering to life in his chest. It’s fragile, but at least it’s there. “Yeah.”

The next day, he and Namjoon go and talk to Ken. They choose their moment precisely, timing it for after he finishes his first cup of coffee, so he’s in a decent mood, but before he starts his second, so he’s not bouncing off the walls yet. Jeongguk is practically shitting himself as they make their pitch, terrified of what will happen if Ken says no and forces him to go cover the Giants.

Ken does his usually squinting as he thinks it over, looking back and forth between Jeongguk and Namjoon and playing idly with one of his bobbleheads.

“Yeah,” he says eventually, nodding. “Good call, Kim. Great thinking. Jeon, you’re one of our best - makes sense for you to pick up the football beat. Make sure you’re well-prepared.”

“Yes, sir,” Jeongguk stammers out, shell-shocked and almost numb with relief. He gets to keep his job. He gets to keep his job, and he gets to do it without enduring great emotional stress while also advancing his career.

Outside of Ken’s office, Namjoon nudges his shoulder lightly, grinning.

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says intently.

“No problem,” Namjoon replies, extending his fist towards Jeongguk.

Jeongguk knocks their knuckles together, feeling a little less lonely and a little less lost than he had the day before.

***

On one of their rare nights off, Taehyung packs Yeontan into his car and drives over to Hoseok’s apartment. It’s only been a few weeks since the blackmailing incident and his subsequent breakup from Jeongguk, and even though the time seems to have passed at a truly glacial pace, the wounds still feel fresh. He’s doing his best to get out of the house and keep himself occupied, because when left alone for too long, his mind wanders to some pretty unpleasant places.

Unlike Taehyung, Hoseok lives in the city proper, in an expansive penthouse apartment with a stunning view of the bay. It’s not Taehyung’s personal preference - he likes the peace of being outside of the city, not to mention having a yard for Yeontan - but he does love Hoseok’s apartment. It’s filled with all sorts of fun gadgets and avant garde furniture, splashes of red brightening up the otherwise neutral color scheme.

Taehyung still doesn’t feel quite like himself, knows he probably won’t for a while. He’s jumpier than usual, a little on edge every time he gets a text message or checks his social media. And then there’s the heaviness in his chest, like a blanket of sadness weighing him down, tinging everything around him gray. He hasn’t seen Jeongguk since the breakup - there had been a different reporter from KRON7 at the clubhouse during their first home game back, and for every game since then. Taehyung is mostly relieved, but he can’t deny that on some level he’s disappointed as well. He misses Jeongguk terribly, and he’s still in that fragile stage where he feels like he would gladly take whatever small piece of him he can get.

Nights like this help, though. Hanging out with Hoseok, goofing around, playing with Yeontan. Small comforts, moments of laughter, reminders that one day the grayness will fade and he’ll feel normal again. Reminders that there are still a lot of good things in his life, even if it’s hard to appreciate that fully right now.

And Hoseok is great for having heart-to-hearts with, too. For all his sunniness, all the infectious laughter and constant optimism, there’s a lot of depth to him. He takes baseball very seriously, takes his relationships very seriously. He’s just as good at talking about the heavy stuff as he is at cheering Taehyung up.

Except for when it comes to talking about his own heavy stuff.

“Hyung,” Taehyung says from his position slouched on the couch, one knee hooked over its thick arm. It’s getting late, the sky a dark rectangle through Hoseok’s massive window, stark against the warm indoor lighting. “Tell me about you and Yoongi.”

It’s a question he’s been dying to ask for ages, has been trying to ask for almost as long - albeit in subtler ways than this. He feels a little bad because he knows Hoseok doesn’t like to talk about it, but he also thinks that sometimes people need to be coaxed into talking about the hard stuff. And selfishly, he’s trying to understand a truth that he thinks Hoseok is already painfully familiar with - that sometimes it’s not enough for two people to love each other.

Hoseok doesn’t answer right away, and Taehyung doesn’t push it. He stays comfortably in his slouch, eyelids slightly droopy, Yeontan snuggled securely under one of his arms.

“It’s hard,” Hoseok says eventually. Taehyung’s attention perks up, but he stays still and quiet, hoping Hoseok will go on. “It’s like - I’m always pissed off at him, but I’m also always happy when I’m around him. He’s so fucking stubborn - ” he pauses, and Taehyung’s heart aches when he realizes Hoseok is getting choked up. “But so am I, I guess. I just can’t imagine wanting anyone else. Not the way I want him.”

Taehyung wants to say he understands, but the truth is, he doesn’t. He liked Jeongguk a lot, probably even loved him, but not in the way he suspects Hoseok loves Yoongi. He can’t imagine what it would be like to see Jeongguk every day and have to keep his feelings bottled up, to be such close friends while still wanting so much more than that. There’s no out for Hoseok, not when his life is so entangled with Yoongi’s.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” Taehyung says. “I wish it was easier for you guys.”

Hoseok shrugs. “It is what it is,” he says, and he doesn’t sound bitter, just resigned. Realistic. “I don’t agree with his decision, but I respect it. Sometimes who we are gets in the way of what we want.”

That part, Taehyung understands. It’s been one of the hardest things about all of this, accepting that. The reality that sometimes no one’s in the wrong - life just gets in the way.

“It still sucks,” Taehyung huffs, petulant.

Hoseok snorts. “Yeah. It really fucking sucks.”

“I think there’s still hope for you and Yoongi,” Taehyung murmurs. He hopes it’s not the wrong thing to say.

“Maybe,” Hoseok replies with a sad little smile.

“We’re not going to play baseball forever.”

“I know,” Hoseok nods. “But I’m also not going to just wait around for his ass forever.” He sighs. “Despite current evidence to the contrary.”

Taehyung smiles, scratching behind Yeontan’s ears. Hoseok is being hard on himself, but Taehyung doesn’t judge him. Feelings can be hard to let go of.

“What about Jeongguk?” Hoseok asks. Taehyung’s heart twinges at the sound of his name. “Do you think there’s a chance he’ll come around?”

It’s something Taehyung has fantasized about, even if he refuses to consciously admit it to himself. Jeongguk calling him or showing up unexpectedly at a game, telling Taehyung he’s changed his mind and he wants them to be together no matter what.

“I don’t think so,” Taehyung tells him, and it hurts to get the words out, but the sooner he accepts them, the better. “It just isn’t what he wants. The publicity really scares him.”

“It’s a hard thing to get used to,” Hoseok acknowledges. Taehyung knows; he’s still getting used to it himself. It would just be nice to do it with someone by his side.

There’s a pause, and then Hoseok adds: “I’m sorry, Taehyungie. You guys were really sweet together.”

“Thanks, hyung,” Taehyung breathes, chest tight. It hadn’t lasted long, but he had been happy with Jeongguk. Really, really happy.

“This would all be a lot easier if we were just into each other,” Hoseok says, wiggling his eyebrows and nudging Taehyung with his foot. “Would you be freaked out if I started putting the moves on you?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Taehyung replies, dead serious.

They both dissolve into giggles.

***

It comes as a mild surprise when Taehyung looks down at his phone and finds it lighting up with a call from his family’s home phone number. Because of the ever-changing nature of his schedule, they usually wait for him to call them, but every once in a while his mom will get impatient and call to check in, or his dad will read something funny and decide he just has to tell Taehyung about it immediately. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s also not unusual.

What is unusual, if not downright unexpected, is when he answers the phone and hears his sister’s voice on the other end.

“Hi, oppa,” Hyejin says.

They’ve spoken so little in the past few months that hearing her voice instantly makes Taehyung choke up. “Hyejin?” he breathes, almost not believing it.

“Hi,” she replies.

“Is everything okay?” he asks. After the initial shock, his mind goes to the worst possible scenarios of why she could be calling.

“Yeah,” she reassures him. “I just, umm. Wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh,” he says, sagging slightly. He sets down the knife he had been holding, glinting silver on the countertop amongst strips of sliced red and orange pepper. Then he slides all the way down to the floor, back pressed against a cupboard. “Hi. How are you?”

There’s an entire kitchen table’s worth of chairs literally three feet away from him, but the floor seems like the more appropriate place to be right now.

“I’m good,” she replies. She sounds older, something more mature in the way she speaks. Or maybe he’s just building up in his head. “I got your letter.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says again. He feels like an idiot, rendered practically speechless by his baby sister. “I’m glad.”

“Thank you for sending it,” she says. “I - that was really thoughtful of you.”

Taehyung thinks of Jeongguk. He wishes he could thank him for this.

“I just really miss you,” Taehyung blurts out. Yeontan comes sniffing over, clambering across Taehyung’s outstretched legs and then back again. “I miss talking to you.”

“I miss talking to you, too,” Hyejin says quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung breathes. It’s hard to say, to admit out loud that something is wrong between them, but it also feels like a relief. “I know it’s my fault for being so far away. I know I haven’t been there for you as much as I should have.”

It’s one of the hardest parts of doing what he does, being so far away from his family. He’s missed out on so much of their lives, especially Hyejin’s, and the guilt sits heavily on his shoulders. It makes him feel so ashamed, and he’s handled that feeling by pushing even farther away, too scared to face them.

“I don’t care if you’re here, Tae,” Hyejin tells him, and Taehyung winces. “I mean, not - of course I wish we saw you more, but - ” she sighs. “I just want you to pay attention. I want you to care.”

The words hurt even more than Taehyung was expecting them to. To know that Hyejin feels this way, that Taehyung has made her feel as if he doesn’t care about her. He’s the worst big brother ever.

Before he can collect himself enough to speak, she continues. “And like, I know you do. I know you love me, and everything - ” he imagines her waving a hand dismissively. “But I just want you to be interested, you know? I know you have this big fancy famous life in California, but - yeah.”

“I am interested,” Taehyung manages to choke out. He hopes the intensity and sincerity in his voice comes through over the phone. “I swear I am. I guess I just feel like - I don’t always know what to ask you about, anymore. That’s why I wrote you the letter.”

“You asked about the right things,” Hyejin tells him. Taehyung’s heart lifts. “In your letter. I like talking about writing, and my friends. Maybe not so much dating right now.”

Taehyung lets out a small laugh at that. “That’s okay. It’s not like I have much useful advice to offer.”

“Oh yeah,” Hyejin says knowingly. “I remember you mentioning boy problems in your letter, too.”

Taehyung snorts. Boy problems. He wishes it were that simple. He supposes it is, kind of. It’s just that his boy problems are complicated.

“Yeah,” he sighs, watching Yeontan lap up a stray piece of pepper that had ended up on the floor. It sounds ridiculous, but he just has this feeling that Yeontan misses Jeongguk too. Sometimes he’ll stare up at Taehyung with this look in his eyes that says why’d you let him go, dumbass? Or maybe that’s just Taehyung projecting. He doesn’t think Yeontan would actually curse. “We don’t have to talk about that right now, though. Tell me more about your writing.”

They chat for a while longer, until Taehyung’s butt is sore from sitting so long on the hardwood floor. It’s worth it, though, to feel like he’s connecting with Hyejin again, like he actually knows what’s going on with her and her life.

“Thanks for calling, Hyejinnie,” he says when she eventually tells him she has to go.

“Thanks for writing,” she replies.

Taehyung smiles to himself, heart feeling fuller than it has since before everything went to shit. “Maybe we should be pen pals. Plus phone calls, of course.”

Hyejin laughs, but she doesn’t reject the idea. “Okay,” she agrees. “I’ll write you back.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Taehyung says, still beaming.

They say their goodbyes, but Taehyung stays on the floor for a little while longer, ignoring the fact that his ass is fully numb now. The past month has been rough, but this feels like something truly good, something hopeful. It lifts his spirits and reminds him of the person he is outside of baseball, the person he’s trying to be. The person Jeongguk had seen and had helped him reconnect with. With or without Jeongguk, it’s the direction he wants to continue to head in.

Chapter Text

It starts out like any other day.

Jeongguk gets ready for work in a rush and hustles his ass out the door, grumbling about the fallacy of California sunshine as he steps out into another misty morning. He’s not feeling bright and cheery by any means, but there is something to be said for the mundaneness of it all, the return to normalcy that comes with having nothing more dramatic to complain about than the weather. After the events of the past two months, he could do with a bit of normalcy.

It’s the same thing at work; he says hello to Namjoon and the other coworkers he’s become friendly with, checks to make sure his bonsai plant hasn’t died, and catches up on emails. He doesn’t have any games to cover today, but there’s still plenty of prep work to do with football season fast approaching. It keeps him distracted enough that he doesn’t even notice the Giants game is on in the background until he hears a collective gasp somewhere to his left.

Head popping up, Jeongguk follows the source of the noise and spots several of his coworkers crowded around the TV, varying expressions of alarm on their faces. Namjoon is among them, and when he catches Jeongguk’s eye and gestures him over, something in his gut tells him it’s not going to be good. The feeling intensifies when he sees what team it is on the screen.

He can’t tell if he runs over or if his feet drag as he moves. His first thought is that something’s happened to Taehyung, maybe he’s been injured or attacked or - something else bad, he doesn’t know. He sees Taehyung’s distraught face on the TV and for a second he can’t breathe.

Then the camera pans away and the words of the announcer start filtering into his brain. He sees Taehyung standing up, but someone else on the ground near him, body partly hidden by the EMTs crouching around him. Yoongi is there too, and when Jeongguk sees the look of anguish on his face, he realizes there’s only one person it could possibly be on the ground.

“Hoseok Jung is down and is not showing any signs of getting up,” the announcer is saying in a concerned voice. “He collided hard with Arroyo, it’s difficult to say exactly what happened but it looked like possibly something with his arm - ”

Jeongguk feels the tightness of panic rising in his chest, his mind flashing back to that day two and a half years ago, the memory of his whole world exploding in pain. He remembers the medical staff around him, the sun in his eyes, the shock, the fear, the shame. He doesn’t remember his coach or any of his teammates looking at him the way Yoongi and Taehyung are looking at Hoseok.

“ - could be a season-ending injury,” the announcer is speculating when Jeongguk tunes back in. He feels unsteady on his feet, but then there’s a hand on the back of his neck, Namjoon gripping him firmly, reassuringly. Jeongguk takes a deep breath and does his best to stay calm.

That’s disrupted when Ken comes barreling out of his office a few seconds later, calling Jeongguk’s name.

“Jeon!” he shouts, pointing vigorously at the TV. “Get down to Oracle Park now, we need coverage of the team’s reaction after the game.”

Jeongguk feels like a 500-pound stone has dropped into his stomach. He’s terrified for Hoseok, worried for Yoongi and the rest of the team, and the last thing he wants to do is show up at the clubhouse and start shoving a microphone in their faces. It wouldn't be fair to do that to them right now, especially not to Taehyung.

“But sir - ” he tries, searching desperately for an excuse good enough to deter Ken.

“No buts,” Ken interrupts, shaking his head. He’s not malicious, Jeongguk knows, just ignorant, maybe. Single-minded. “This is going to be the biggest story of the season and you know the team best. Get a camera and get down there. Now.”

“I’ll go with you,” Namjoon says in a low voice, hand still fastened securely around the back of Jeongguk’s neck. “Come on, there’s no point fighting it. Better you than anyone else.”

Jeongguk doesn’t necessarily agree with that statement, but he also doesn’t want to lose his job, so he allows Namjoon to guide him away. They collect a cameraman and then they’re on their way, the radio in the van tuned to the coverage of the game and Hoseok’s injury. It sounds like the team has resumed play, but Jeongguk can tell from the way the announcers are talking about it that everyone is still really worried about Hoseok.

By the time they arrive at the clubhouse, there are only a few minutes left in the game. Jeongguk is anxious while they wait for the team to return, his stomach practically eating itself at the thought of seeing Taehyung face to face for the first time in six weeks. It makes him feel ill that it’s happening in this context, that he’s intruding on Taehyung’s world at such a painful, scary time. He hopes Taehyung doesn’t hate him forever because of this. Maybe Taehyung already hates him forever. Jeongguk wouldn’t blame him.

The Giants win, but the players’ energy is noticeably low as they trudge back into the clubhouse. There’s no rambunctious laughter, no celebratory claps on the back - almost everyone looks anxious and worried, asking staff members for any update on Hoseok. Jeongguk catches sight of Schmidt and Wilson in their midst and feels like he might actually vomit, but that feeling gets trumped as soon as he catches sight of Taehyung. He looks dejected, shoulders slumped, standing close to Yoongi and Seokjin as they speak with one of the medical staff members. Jeongguk wishes he could go to him, comfort him, but he fears his presence will just make Taehyung feel worse.

The cameraman is nearby, ready to go, and Jeongguk has his microphone in his hand, but he can’t find it in himself to approach any of the players. Hoseok had always been one of the warmest presences in the room, greeting Jeongguk cheerily and taking the time to answer his questions even before he and Taehyung started dating. It feels wrong to treat his absence as an opportunity for a good story.

He turns to tell Namjoon this and finds him drifting casually towards Seokjin, pretending to look nonchalantly at his phone even as he very obviously edges across the room. Exasperated, Jeongguk follows him, coming to an abrupt halt when he belatedly registers that he’s now within a few feet of Taehyung. In a desperate attempt to avoid being seen, he ducks behind Namjoon, ears burning when he realizes how idiotic he must look.

“Jeongguk?” Taehyung says, and God, fuck, Jeongguk had missed hearing that voice say his name. “Jeongguk, are you - I can see you.”

Jeongguk fights the urge to shrink further and instead steps out from behind Namjoon’s broad shoulders, mortified. This isn’t quite how he had hoped his first post-breakup encounter with Taehyung would go.

“Hey,” he says, clearing his throat and meeting Taehyung’s eyes. He feels like it’s back to those first few weeks again, when he was a fumbling mess any time Taehyung so much as looked at him. Now it’s the same way, just with a lot more emotional baggage. “Uh. Sorry.”

“Hey,” Taehyung replies cautiously. It almost hurts to look at him head-on; he’s so beautiful that Jeongguk legitimately wonders whether he made their whole relationship up in his head. “What are you - ” his gaze drops to the microphone in Jeongguk’s hand. “Oh.”

Jeongguk shakes his head vigorously, feeling like the scummiest of scum for even having come here in the first place. “No, that’s not - ” he flails, trying to explain. “I mean, yeah, Ken sent me, but - ” he takes a deep breath. Taehyung is watching him with wide, guarded eyes. “Are you okay? Is Hoseok hyung okay?”

Taehyung hesitates, gaze flicking to the cameraman hovering a few feet away. Jeongguk waves him off, pointedly ignoring the voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like Ken telling him he’s fired, and steps closer to Taehyung.

“Seriously,” he murmurs, voice low. “Off the record.”

Taehyung blinks rapidly, and Jeongguk realizes with a jolt that his eyes are wet. He fights the urge to reach out and thumb away the tears.

“I don’t know,” Taehyung whispers. “We’re going to the hospital now. Do you - ” he pauses, biting his lip. “Do you want to come?”

Jeongguk is startled by the invitation - honestly, he’s surprised that Taehyung is giving him the time of day at all. Still, he feels the overwhelming urge to say yes, even if it’s probably not particularly healthy for them to be around each other right now. After everything that’s happened, he knows Taehyung wouldn’t ask unless he genuinely needed the support, and Jeongguk wants to be there for him. For Hoseok and Yoongi too.

“Okay,” he breathes. He has no idea what the fuck he’s doing. Off to the side, Namjoon, Seokjin, and Yoongi are regarding them with expressions that suggest they’re thinking the exact same thing.

Still, there’s no time to dwell on it. Taehyung nods, giving him a small smile, and then they’re heading out, piling into two cars that will take them to the hospital where Hoseok is. Vaguely, Jeongguk is aware of Namjoon calling Ken, probably making up some excuse for their prolonged absence, and he’s grateful that at least one of them had the sense to do that. He knows he’s going to feel the wrath of Ken tomorrow because of this, but that just doesn’t feel that important right now.

It’s the first time Jeongguk has been in a hospital since he was released following his own injury. He feels deeply uncomfortable as soon as he steps inside, the smell and the sterile, clinical feel of the place bringing back all kinds of bad memories. Every instinct in his body screams at him to get out, but he’s already come this far - he doesn’t want to leave Taehyung until they at least hear how Hoseok is doing.

Once they figure out what ward Hoseok is in, there isn’t much to do other than sit around and wait for an update. They settle themselves in a private waiting room, a fancy one that Jeongguk imagines is reserved for rich and famous people. It has warm wooden paneling and comfortable furniture, but none of that does much to put Jeongguk (or anyone else) at ease. Yoongi has retreated deep within himself, body folded tightly into the corner of a couch, eyes trained on the floor. If there had been any doubt in Jeongguk’s mind about the strength of his feelings for Hoseok, it’s gone now.

The rest of them spread out around the room. No one really speaks, but the tension is louder than any words could be. Seokjin paces back and forth, firing off messages and emails on his phone; Namjoon busies himself filling cups of coffee that no one (including himself) actually drinks. Taehyung is seated on the other end of Yoongi’s couch, legs bouncing as his hands run anxiously through his hair, and Jeongguk doesn’t know whether to go to him or to leave him alone. He doesn’t know what he’s doing here at all, really, and so he ends up just hovering nervously in a corner, watching everyone and trying not to sink too far into his own memories.

It’s hard. He so badly wants to sit with Taehyung, just soak up the comfort of his presence while he still has the chance, but he doesn’t want to overstep. It’s Taehyung’s best friend who’s in the hospital, after all. This isn’t about Jeongguk.

After what feels like an interminable amount of time, a doctor appears with an update. Jeongguk zones in and out while she speaks, his attention focused on the reactions of those around him - the tightness of Yoongi’s face, the grief on Taehyung’s. Still, his brain registers enough bits and pieces to get a sense of what’s happening.

Dislocated shoulder, fractured clavicle. Minor surgery required. It’s a season-ending injury, no doubt, but Jeongguk knows they’re all too afraid to voice what’s really on their minds - could it be career-ending as well?

“He’s a little loopy from the pain medication, but you can see him if you want,” the doctor says. “Room 613.” Then she nods, stepping out of the waiting area to give them some privacy.

It’s like they’re all frozen for a moment, the weight of the news pressing down, holding them in place. For a regular person, this type of injury would be a setback, frustrating and painful but not devastating. For an athlete, though - for an athlete, it could be life-changing.

Jeongguk knows that better than most.

Taehyung is the first to move, rising to his feet as if coming out of a trance. He approaches Yoongi slowly, extending a hand.

“Come on, hyung,” he says quietly. “Let’s go see him.”

Yoongi nods jerkily, getting to his feet and following Taehyung out the door. Seokjin trails behind them, but Namjoon hangs back, turning to Jeongguk. Jeongguk, who all at once finds himself rooted to the spot, unable to face the prospect of seeing Hoseok in a hospital bed.

“You okay?” Namjoon asks gently.

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I, uh,” he says, finding it difficult to get any words out. It feels like there’s a blockage in his throat. “I can’t - ” he stops, stuck.

Still, Namjoon nods, understanding even though he can’t possibly understand - at least not fully. “That’s okay,” he says kindly. “You don’t have to.”

Jeongguk nods. His palms are sweating. Being in the hospital has made him anxious, but really, it’s the shame that’s getting to him now. The shame that no one knows about, that clings to him every day when he thinks about what actually happened on that baseball diamond two and a half years ago. How it may not have been as accidental as it looked; how maybe, possibly, Jeongguk had hesitated for a split-second when he should have been getting the hell out of the way.

A career ended, a life changed. Any athlete’s worst nightmare, and Jeongguk had brought it on himself.

He can’t be around Hoseok and the others right now. He can’t bear witness to their pain knowing he had thrown away his own chance at avoiding the same fate.

“I have to go,” Jeongguk croaks out, wiping his hands on his pants. “Umm - will you tell Taehyung - and Hoseok hyung - ”

“Sure,” Namjoon nods. His brow is furrowed, eyes concerned. “Are you sure you’re okay to get home?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, even though he’s trembling. He hates it, hates himself for being so weak all the fucking time.

“I’m going to call you an Uber,” Namjoon announces, pulling his phone out before Jeongguk can protest. “Text me when you get home, okay? I’m serious.”

It makes Jeongguk feel pathetic, but he agrees. He’s grateful to Namjoon for looking after him without judgment or questioning - he just wishes he didn’t need it.

Even though he hates his apartment, getting home is a relief. He had started feeling better as soon as he left the hospital, more level-headed, able to think clearly. He’s embarrassed for how he’d acted, but at least he hadn’t had a full-blown meltdown in front of everyone. He knows Namjoon won’t think less of him for it, probably won’t even mention what happened when they see each other at work tomorrow. When Jeongguk had texted him to let him know he was home, he’d responded with a thumbs up emoji and a “let me know if you need anything” before sharing a brief update on Hoseok. Apparently he was alert and talking to them, spirits relatively high, all things considered.

Jeongguk is tempted to text Taehyung and see how he’s holding up, but in the end he decides against it. He doesn’t know what today had meant for their relationship, if anything, and he feels guilty that he had left without saying goodbye. He can’t help thinking that once again, he’d failed Taehyung in a time of need, and he doubts that Taehyung will want anything to do with him after this. Today had been nothing more than a coincidence of circumstance, Taehyung reaching out to him because he was literally right there.

Selfishly, Jeongguk had liked the feeling of being needed, of being someone Taehyung could lean on. He still wants to be that person, if only he could get past the fears that keep him from doing so.

***

Seeing Hoseok is overwhelming.

The whole day has been overwhelming, frankly. From the injury to the sudden appearance of Jeongguk and now this, Taehyung feels about ready to curl up in a ball and sleep for the next 24 hours. He can’t do that, though. His friends need him.

It’s a relief to walk into the hospital room and find Hoseok upright and smiling at them, especially given that the last time Taehyung had seen him, he’d been writhing on the ground in pain. Taehyung suspects that the smile might be a little forced (or maybe it’s just the pain medication), but still, he looks more like himself and it makes Taehyung feel better. Only moderately, though, because there’s still his arm in a sling (his throwing arm, his batting arm), and there’s still the news the doctor had given them. They don’t know anything for certain yet, but even the possibility that his career could be permanently ruined is terrifying. Taehyung wonders if the significance of that has fully sunk in for Hoseok yet.

It certainly doesn’t seem that way when Taehyung and Yoongi walk in, Hoseok waving them over with his good arm. “My two favorite people,” he greets sunnily, as if he’s not laid up in a hospital bed with a potentially life-altering injury.

“Hi, hyung,” Taehyung replies when Yoongi doesn’t say anything. He’d taken a few steps into the room and then stopped, staring at Hoseok with a look of utter anguish on his face. Taehyung swallows, trying to act normal. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Hoseok says firmly. Yoongi makes a strangled, disbelieving kind of noise and Hoseok looks over at him, expression a strange mix of tender and defiant. “Yoongi, seriously. I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.”

Yoongi seems to sag, then, and Taehyung steps in, steering him over to the chair next to Hoseok’s bed and pressing on his shoulders until he sits down. When Yoongi continues to look tormented, Hoseok lets out a huff of annoyance.

“Hold my hand,” he demands, wiggling his fingers where his hand lies palm-up on the pale blue sheets of the hospital bed. Yoongi blinks at him, startled, glancing down at Hoseok’s hand and then back up at his face. When Hoseok lifts his eyebrows expectantly, he complies, gingerly taking Hoseok’s hand in his own.

Hoseok grins, triumphant. “Jeez, if I had known this was all it would take to get you to hold my hand, I would have gotten injured a long time ago,” he jokes.

It’s obviously playful, but Yoongi looks stricken. “I swear to God, Hoseok, if this was another asinine way of trying to get my attention - ”

Hoseok snorts, cutting him off. “Don’t flatter yourself, Coach,” he says, shaking his head. “I may be in love with you, but I’m not stupid.”

It’s all Taehyung can do not to audibly gasp. He’s obviously been aware of Hoseok’s feelings for Yoongi, but to hear it voiced out loud, to hear it in those words - it just about bowls him over. The room is completely silent for a few seconds, the moment so unbearably intimate that Taehyung feels like he needs to leave.

But then Yoongi is shaking his head, eyes wet, hand clinging to Hoseok’s like it’s a lifeline. And Hoseok is glossing over it, back to coy and teasing as if nothing had ever happened.

“I have to admit, I do love the attention,” he teases, winking somewhat sleazily at Yoongi.

“You always have my attention,” Yoongi replies, voice low. It stops Hoseok in his tracks for a second, his expression stunned. The admission feels almost as loaded as the one he had made just a minute ago.

Taehyung should really probably leave.

Hoseok smiles softly, fixing Yoongi with what could best be described as a fond eye roll. “You could be a little bit better about showing it.”

As Yoongi grumbles in response, Taehyung starts inching towards the door, wondering if there’s any way he can slip out without either of them noticing. His plans are foiled when Seokjin and Namjoon come striding in, effectively ruining the moment - whatever it had been. Yoongi jolts back in surprise, but, Taehyung is pleased to note, he doesn’t let go of Hoseok’s hand.

Taehyung is so distracted by Hoseok, and by Hoseok and Yoongi, that it takes him a few seconds to realize that Jeongguk isn’t with Seokjin and Namjoon. It’s been such a chaotic day that he hasn’t really had time to process his feelings at seeing Jeongguk again, or give thought to why he had felt compelled to invite his ex-boyfriend to the hospital with them. All he knows is that in the moment, Jeongguk’s presence had been a comfort to him, and the prospect of going to the hospital had seemed a little more bearable with Jeongguk by his side. Reflecting back on it now, he realizes that that had probably been selfish of him, especially considering Jeongguk’s reticence to be seen in public together. He thinks of Jeongguk’s hesitation before saying yes and feels surprised that he had agreed to come at all.

While Seokjin talks to Hoseok and Yoongi, Namjoon sidles over to Taehyung, keeping his voice low when he addresses him. “Jeongguk had to leave,” he murmurs. He’s kind enough to keep his gaze focused on the others, sparing Taehyung from having to hide the emotions that play across his face. “He said to tell you he was sorry.”

Taehyung shakes his head, chest squeezing. “It’s okay,” he replies, even though Jeongguk’s not here to receive his forgiveness. “I - I shouldn’t have asked him to come.” He sighs. “It was selfish.”

Namjoon frowns. “I don’t think so,” he says. “He wouldn’t have come if he didn’t want to.”

Taehyung’s not so sure about that. Jeongguk is kind; if he sees someone in pain, his instinct is to help, to nurture. He easily could have agreed to come along just because he felt bad, or because he wanted to make Taehyung feel better.

“He just doesn’t like hospitals,” Namjoon adds. “I think, umm - it was making him anxious, being here.”

The realization makes guilt curl in Taehyung’s stomach. It makes sense, of course, given how traumatic Jeongguk’s injury had been for him, that his anxiety might be triggered by having to be back in a hospital - and because of such a similar sort of incident, too. But the thought hadn’t even occurred to Taehyung until Namjoon said it, and now he feels like even more of an asshole for having dragged Jeongguk into a situation that clearly made him uncomfortable.

“Fuck,” Taehyung breathes out. “I didn’t even think about that.”

“You had a lot of other stuff on your mind,” Namjoon says kindly.

“Yeah,” Taehyung sighs. “Still.”

Suddenly, Taehyung feels unbearably tired. It’s been such a long day, such a long two months, so many things to process and so many emotions roiling in his body. His fear and grief for Hoseok, his sympathy for Yoongi, his longing for Jeongguk. It seems like an impossibly unkind coincidence that his best friend would be seriously injured on the same day he’s forced to re-confront his feelings for his ex, that he should have to cope with both of those things at once when he barely feels strong enough to handle them one at a time.

Right now, though, he needs to be there for Hoseok, and for Yoongi. He knows that whatever he’s currently grappling with, Hoseok is probably experiencing tenfold, and he’s going to need his best friend to lean on. So Taehyung pushes his own feelings aside and rejoins the group, pasting a smile on his face that doesn’t even feel that forced when he sees them all laughing at a joke Seokjin had made.

***

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when Jeongguk walks into work the next day and finds himself confronted with an extremely testy Ken.

“Jeon!” he barks before Jeongguk’s ass even hits his desk chair. “My office. Now. You too, Kim.”

With a sigh, Jeongguk hauls himself up, the reassuring smile Namjoon sends him doing little to calm his nerves. His footsteps drag as he follows Namjoon into Ken’s office, stomach squirming as he tries to mentally prepare for the worst. He doesn’t regret the decisions he’d made yesterday, but that doesn’t change the fact that if he gets fired because of it, he’ll be royally fucked.

“Explain to me why there’s barely any footage from yesterday,” Ken says sternly. It’s hard to take him seriously sometimes with his big, bushy mustache, but right now, Jeongguk is scared. “It’s one of the biggest stories of the season and we don’t have any interviews with Coach Min or the players.”

“No one was really interested in talking, sir,” Namjoon explains calmly. Jeongguk is grateful he’s there, but he feels guilty that Namjoon is taking heat for something that was really Jeongguk’s decision. “Min and some of the team left for the hospital as soon as the game ended.”

Ken huffs. “Plenty of other networks got interviews,” he points out. “Jeon, the whole point of sending you was because you’ve built a relationship with the team, especially Kim. You should have used that to your advantage.”

Jeongguk thinks about how upset Taehyung had looked yesterday, how defeated he had seemed when he saw the microphone in Jeongguk’s hand. He probably would have given an interview if Jeongguk had asked him, even if he didn’t want to. But Jeongguk wouldn’t have felt right about it, and that, at least, is something to hold on to. A conviction, a sense of what’s right and wrong. He may not always be as strong as he wants to be, but this is something he believes in.

“With all due respect, sir, that’s not the type of journalist I want to be,” Jeongguk says, and holy fuck, he can’t believe he’s actually talking back to his boss. His palms are damp and his stomach is a mess; he hopes to god it’s not obvious to Ken that he’s shaking. “I have built a relationship with the team, and I did that by treating them with respect. I believe I would have damaged those relationships if I had tried to exploit their concern for their teammate.”

Ken doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, just squints at Jeongguk in that way he often does. Jeongguk can feel Namjoon’s eyes on him as well, but he doesn’t dare look away from Ken. At this point he honestly just hopes that he doesn’t pass out from the nerves.

“Hrmph,” Ken says eventually, arms folded across his chest. He looks more perplexed than pissed off now, and Jeongguk prays that’s a good sign. “That’s very noble of you, Jeon. But you’re still a reporter, and if you have that trust with the team, you need to use that to make our stories better.” He huffs again, tugging at his mustache. “I want you back covering the Giants part time, at least one game a week.”

That is… not the outcome Jeongguk had been expecting. There’s still the concern of having to see Taehyung that frequently, and the general horror of having to be near Schmidt and Wilson, but if it means keeping his job, Jeongguk will do it.

“Okay,” he manages to respond, feeling a little lightheaded with relief. “I - of course, sir.”

“Make it good,” Ken adds gruffly. “You’re on thin ice, Jeon.”

Jeongguk nods weakly, backing towards the door once Ken waves them out. It hadn’t been great, but he’d stood by his decision and he still has his job. He still has his job. He can afford to live another month, at least.

Once they’re safely out of Ken’s office, Namjoon claps Jeongguk on the shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Nice work,” he says quietly. “You really held your ground.”

Jeongguk nods again, still feeling a bit numb. “Thanks, hyung.”

Somehow, he makes it through the rest of the day, but it’s still a relief when he’s finally able to pack up his things and head home. Jeongguk’s never responded particularly well to getting reprimanded, and even though he’s happy with how he handled himself, the jitters still linger. When he gets back to his apartment, he decides to call Ella, hoping that talking to her will help him unwind a little. He’d texted her briefly after leaving the hospital yesterday, and since then she’s been pestering him for details about how it had been to see Taehyung again.

Finally,” she drawls dramatically when she answers the phone. Jeongguk can’t help but laugh, dropping his bag on the floor and sagging back against the disappointingly stiff cushions on his couch. At Ella’s request (more like demand), he gives her the full update on the past few days, starting with Hoseok’s injury.

“So what was it like seeing him again?” she asks once Jeongguk finishes downloading her.

Like a breath of fresh air. Except sad, too. Sad fresh air.

“Good,” Jeongguk says. “Also hard.” He sighs. “I mean, just - I really miss him. So I was happy to be around him, but it’s also, like - we aren’t the way we were before. So that sucked.”

He doesn’t know how he’s going to handle seeing and interacting with Taehyung on a weekly basis for the rest of the baseball season. A small part of him is secretly glad, grasping onto any excuse to be near Taehyung again, but Jeongguk also knows this means he has no shot at getting over him any time in the near future.

“Yeah, that’s rough,” Ella hums sympathetically. There’s the sound of the microwave beeping in the background; Jeongguk imagines her making popcorn, or maybe heating up leftovers. “It seems like he probably misses you too, if he asked you to come to the hospital with them.”

“I guess,” Jeongguk says. He wants to believe that, at least. “I feel shitty that I left without saying goodbye.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Ella replies sternly. “Sorry, do you mind if I eat?” Jeongguk hears munching through the phone and concludes it was definitely popcorn that she made. Before he can respond, she continues. “Anyway, yeah - it sounds like it was a really overwhelming situation. I’m sure he understands.”

Jeongguk huffs, dropping his head against the back of the couch. “I just feel like I’m never there for him when he needs me.” He blows out a long breath. “I suck.”

Ella makes an offended noise that sounds like it’s coming through a mouthful of popcorn. “Okay, first of all, you were there for him yesterday even though you were super uncomfortable. I think the fact that you went to the hospital at all is really brave,” she says indignantly. “And second of all, you risked losing your job and stood up to your boss so that you could protect his and his friends’ privacy during a really emotional time. That’s a pretty badass thing to do.”

Jeongguk frowns up at his cracked ceiling, not entirely convinced. “The whole thing with the pictures, though,” he says quietly, shame curdling in his stomach. “I totally freaked out.”

“Yeah, which any normal human would do,” Ella responds immediately. “It sucks that you pushed him away, but that was also a super traumatic thing to have happen to you. You can’t make that one incident the standard that you measure yourself against.”

When Jeongguk doesn’t say anything, Ella continues. “I really think you’re too hard on yourself, Jeonggukkie,” she says gently. The sounds of popcorn crunching have stopped, which is how Jeongguk knows she means business. “Just because you’ve struggled or had moments of weakness in the past, it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person. It doesn’t mean you can’t be strong, too.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk breathes, taking a pillow and hugging it to his chest. There are tears in his eyes, and it’s because he’s only just realizing how much he needed to hear that. He clears his throat. “It’s just, umm - that’s kind of why me and Taehyung broke up. I didn’t feel like I could be strong enough to deal with, like - the publicity, and stuff.”

“It would be a big change,” Ella acknowledges. Her voice sounds thoughtful. “But I don’t think it’s a matter of strength, you know? It’s more about tradeoffs. Like, are you willing to sacrifice some of your privacy to be with him? Or is your privacy more important to you?” He imagines her shrugging, cocking her head to one side as she considers him. “I think either choice is valid. And they both require you to be strong, just in different ways.”

Jeongguk had honestly never really thought about it like that before. He has a tendency to catastrophize things, he thinks, turning stressful situations into all or nothing decisions. He’d done it with baseball in college, and he’d done it with Taehyung when they broke up, convincing himself that he either had to accept that level of public invasiveness or they couldn’t be together. He had been too blinded by his fear to even consider the possibility of finding a middle ground, but now, he allows himself to wonder. Maybe there’s a way to be with Taehyung publicly that isn’t quite as terrifying as he’s made it out to be in his head.

“Whatcha thinkin’ about over there?” Ella asks, cutting into Jeongguk’s thoughts. He jerks back to attention, hoping he hasn’t been sitting in silence for too long.

“Sorry,” he mutters. “I just, umm - I doubt Taehyung would even want me back, after everything.” He’s saying it more to himself than to Ella. “Like - I mean. He can have anyone he wants.”

“Taehyung paid for my plane ticket to San Francisco,” Ella says bluntly. “After you guys broke up, and the whole thing with the photos. He reached out to me because he was worried about you.”

Jeongguk hears the words, but it’s like he’s having trouble actually processing them. His body seems to understand before his mind, heart leaping into his throat, a strange rushing in his ears.

“I didn’t want to make things more confusing for you, which is why I didn’t tell you,” Ella explains. “But I just think - he really cares about you, Jeongguk. He was obviously hurting at the time and he was still thinking about you.”

Jeongguk gulps. He hadn’t been expecting this. It makes the ache in his heart even worse, that persistent pull towards Taehyung growing even stronger.

“Shit,” he says.

“I’m not saying you need to get back with him because of that,” Ella says. “Or at all, if it’s not what you want. I just want to make sure you’re seeing your options clearly.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, swallowing again. He doesn’t know what to think. The combination of it all is overwhelming; seeing Taehyung again, the stuff with his job, this news from Ella. He feels scattered, raw, unsure. He wasn’t anywhere close to getting over Taehyung, but he had at least accepted their breakup, made his peace with it. Now, that sense of closure doesn’t feel so certain.

“You okay?” Ella asks, probably because Jeongguk had gone silent again.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk repeats, mostly honest. “Just - a lot to think about, I guess.”

“That’s okay,” Ella reassures him. “Take your time.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says. He takes a deep breath, trying to quiet the noises in his head for a little while. It’s not like he’s going to figure it all out right now anyway. “Tell me about you, El.”

They talk for a while longer, until it starts getting dark outside and Jeongguk realizes he should probably eat something before he goes to bed. He’s been better about that these past few weeks, his appetite mostly back to normal, but tonight he has a lot on his mind. He says goodbye to Ella, promising to keep her updated if anything else happens with Taehyung, and makes himself some instant ramen. His apartment feels quiet as he sits on the couch and eats, thinking over everything he and Ella had talked about. It honestly feels like she’s his therapist sometimes with the amount of shit she’s helped him deal with. He would offer to pay her if he wasn’t poor as fuck.

Actually, if he wasn’t poor as fuck, he would consider getting a real therapist since he clearly has some shit he needs to sort through. Feelings of guilt and shame that he’s been carrying for too long, that he’s ready to let go of. A tendency to panic in highly stressful situations and make irrational decisions. And, if Ella has anything to say about it, a habit of being way too hard on himself. Which, yeah - he’s self-aware enough to admit that’s probably true, even if he’s still not sure how to stop being that way.

Maybe by being a little nicer to himself, for starters. Maybe by taking a moment to focus on the decisions he’s actually proud of, like going to the hospital with Taehyung and standing up to Ken. And maybe by starting to think about tradeoffs, like Ella had said - what he wants, and what he’s willing to do in order to have that. How far past his own fear is he prepared to push if it means getting Taehyung back in his life?

He’s starting to believe the answer might be farther than he thought.

***

Over the course of the next week, Taehyung spends the majority of his free time at Hoseok’s apartment. His friend is maintaining an impressively positive attitude considering the long road to recovery ahead of him, but knowing Hoseok, Taehyung supposes that’s not all that surprising. It doesn’t mean that he’s not struggling - he just is determined to keep moving forward. Taehyung finds it incredibly admirable.

Yoongi has been around just as often as Taehyung, if not more. Sometimes Taehyung will show up at Hoseok’s apartment and find Yoongi already there, usually either in the kitchen or on the couch with Hoseok, sitting at a distance that’s just slightly too close to pass as platonic. On those occasions he likes to pretend he’s only just arrived, but Taehyung has caught him halfway through cooking a full meal a few too many times to believe that.

Still, he’s trying to keep his mouth shut, recognizing this is something Hoseok and Yoongi need to figure out for themselves.

(With maybe just the slightest of nudges from their best friend.)

He seriously doesn’t mean to bring it up, but it’s hard not to when he walks in on them literally cuddling one evening. He doesn’t even say anything, just raises his eyebrows as Yoongi startles and leaps up from the couch where he and Hoseok had been snuggled together under a blanket. Hoseok appears to be asleep, eyes shut and snoring softly, bad arm resting over his stomach. Yoongi presses a finger to his lips and cocks his head towards the kitchen, Taehyung following as he leads the way out of the room.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Taehyung says, trying very hard to suppress the smirk threatening to take over his lips.

Yoongi clears his throat, cheeks faintly pink. “You didn’t - uh. I was just, er. Helping him get comfortable.”

Taehyung snorts. “I’ll bet you were.”

“Shut up,” Yoongi huffs, rolling his eyes.

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, softening slightly. “Seriously, though. How’s, uh - how’s it going with you guys?”

Yoongi eyes him suspiciously, folding his arms over his chest. “What do you mean?”

Taehyung stares at him in mild disbelief. He knows Yoongi is in denial about this whole thing, and he wants to be sensitive to that, but he also thinks he has a certain obligation to step in when one of his best friends is being a dumbass. Especially if it concerns one of his other best friends.

“I mean, he literally told you he was in love with you,” Taehyung says bluntly. “I was there when it happened.”

Yoongi flushes further at this, but Taehyung refrains from commenting on it like the kind and wise friend that he is. “That wasn’t - ” he stammers, looking flustered. “He was on pain medication. He didn’t know what he was saying.”

“I’m pretty sure he did,” Taehyung counters. He sighs, looking Yoongi straight in the eye. “Hyung.”

Yoongi stands there stoically for a few more seconds, then throws his hands up in the air. “I don’t know, okay?” He runs a hand through his hair, clearly frustrated. “I - he’s still a player on my team.”

“He’s not technically an active player while he’s injured,” Taehyung points out.

Yoongi shakes his head, not convinced. “And what about if - ” he pauses, swallowing. “ - when he comes back? What then?”

Taehyung shrugs. “You figure it out then.” It’s not that easy, he knows, but he’s trying to make a point.

“Don’t you think that’s a little risky?” Yoongi scoffs. “Doesn’t that just set us both up to be hurt worse?”

“I think if the past week has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is certain,” Taehyung says quietly. “Seems like a waste to not spend your time in a way that makes you happy.”

“I think the past week has shown us that life isn’t fair,” Yoongi retorts. He once again has his arms crossed tightly over his chest, a protective stance.

Taehyung sighs. “That’s one way of looking at it, hyung.”

There’s a few moments of silence, and Taehyung turns to get himself a glass of water. Then -

“Do you regret being with Jeongguk?” Yoongi asks, voice so small that Taehyung barely catches it. “After - with how everything ended?”

Taehyung doesn’t even have to think about his answer as he turns to face Yoongi again. “Not for a second.”

Yoongi looks startled by his directness, blinking at Taehyung like he’s not sure how to respond to that.

“It hurts like hell and I miss him constantly,” Taehyung adds. The sting has been extra this week, ever since his unexpected encounter with Jeongguk on the day of Hoseok’s injury. “But I would never trade what it was like to feel that way.”

“Oh,” Yoongi says.

“Yeah.”

Taehyung nods, once again busying himself with getting a glass of water. If he thinks about Jeongguk too much right now, he might get choked up, but this isn’t supposed to be about him.

“Tae,” Yoongi says. Taehyung straightens up from where he’d spent an unnecessarily long time with his face in the fridge, taking a breath to collect himself. When he looks at Yoongi again, his friend’s expression is earnest. “I - I’ll think about it. Okay?”

Taehyung smiles. “Maybe you should just talk to him.”

Yoongi looks vaguely terrified at this suggestion. “Easier said than done,” he mumbles.

Before Taehyung can respond, Hoseok’s sleepy voice floats in from the living room. “Yoong?”

“In the kitchen,” Yoongi calls. “Tae is here.”

“Taetae!” Hoseok exclaims brightly. “Come give hyung a hug.”

Taehyung and Yoongi grin at each other, and Taehyung sees his own fondness for Hoseok mirrored tenfold in Yoongi’s face. It makes his heart warm, makes him hopeful that the two of them can figure this out. Maybe Hoseok’s injury will end up being a blessing in disguise, at least in one way.

For now, though, they’re still just three best friends, and they spend the rest of the evening like that, huddled up on Hoseok’s couch watching Netflix. If Taehyung notices the way Yoongi is attentive to Hoseok’s every need, or the way Hoseok’s head gradually tilts onto Yoongi’s shoulder as it gets later, he doesn’t comment - he thinks he’s done enough nudging for one day. The rest they’ll have to figure out on their own.

***

Jung Hoseok:
hey jeongguk, are you free to come by sometime this week? i was hoping we could talk

Jeongguk genuinely doesn’t know what to think when he receives a text from Hoseok inviting him over to his apartment. At first, he worries that Hoseok is somehow pissed at him for coming to the hospital and then ditching, but that seems like a stretch given that they don’t even know each other that well and Hoseok obviously has far more important shit to deal with right now. Unless he’s pissed at Jeongguk for ditching Taehyung specifically and wants to ream him out for it; that seems a little more plausible. Hoseok’s texts hadn’t sounded threatening, but maybe that was just meant to lull Jeongguk into a false sense of security. Or maybe it’s really Yoongi texting from Hoseok’s phone and he’s going to ream Jeongguk out. That seems even more plausible.

Regardless, Jeongguk agrees to go, partly out of curiosity and partly because he really does like Hoseok and wants to know how he’s doing. And maybe there’s also a small part of him that’s looking for any excuse to feel close to Taehyung again.

Hoseok lives in the nicest neighborhood in the city in the nicest, most massive apartment Jeongguk has ever seen. He’s pretty sure his entire apartment could fit in Hoseok’s foyer. Twice. It’s chic and bright and even though Jeongguk is nervous as he steps inside, Hoseok’s sunny smile puts him at ease almost immediately.

“Jeongguk!” he greets. Other than the sling that his arm sits in, he looks well, freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes. Definitely better than Jeongguk had looked one week after his injury. “Thanks for coming! Can I get you something to drink?”

“Oh, uh, I’m fine,” Jeongguk says, not wanting to put Hoseok out while he only has one working arm. He trails after him into a large, open living room, trying very hard not to openly gape. “Thanks.”

“Probably for the best,” Hoseok smiles, dropping down on a bright red couch and gesturing for Jeongguk to follow suit. “I’m still a bit of a klutz with my left hand.”

“How are you feeling?” Jeongguk asks.

Hoseok shrugs with his good shoulder. “Alright,” he says. “It’s been rough, but I’m trying to stay focused on getting better.”

Jeongguk is amazed by his attitude. After he’d gotten hurt, he’d been inconsolable for weeks, miserable and hopeless. Then again, it had been more than just the injury troubling him at the time. The thought makes the same guilt he’d felt at the hospital curl in his stomach.

“Do you know if you’re going to be able to play again?” Jeongguk blurts out, then immediately cringes. It’s far too invasive of a thing to ask, especially when this is all still so fresh.

Hoseok doesn’t seem upset or offended, though. Instead, he offers Jeongguk a small, sad smile. “I don’t,” he says, and Jeongguk can hear the notes of pain in his voice. He’s not trying to mask it, but he’s also not letting it consume him. It just is. “I’m hopeful, though. And stubborn as hell.”

This startles a laugh out of Jeongguk, but he still feels guilty for having brought it up in the first place. “Sorry,” he says, staring at his knees. “It wasn’t my place to ask that.”

“It’s okay,” Hoseok replies, sounding like he means it. “I prefer to be honest about stuff like this. That’s actually part of why I wanted to talk to you.”

Jeongguk looks up at him, curious.

“Tae mentioned you used to play in college,” Hoseok says cautiously. Jeongguk’s nerves spike. “And that you got hurt.”

Swallowing, Jeongguk nods. He can’t quite find the actual words to reply.

“Is it okay if I ask you about it?” Hoseok says. “I thought maybe it would help me process, to talk to someone who’s gone through the same thing. But only if you’re comfortable.”

Jeongguk is most definitely not comfortable. His palms are sweating again, and he feels the shame clawing its way up his throat, threatening to choke him. But Hoseok is asking for his help, is watching him with such an open, earnest expression on his face. Jeongguk thinks about what he’d said earlier, about being honest about the bad stuff, the ugly stuff. Somehow, somewhere inside of him, he realizes he wants to do the same. Even if it’s fucking terrifying. Even if Hoseok might judge him for it. He’s sick of holding it all inside.

“Sure,” Jeongguk nods. He must look as anxious as he feels, because Hoseok eyes him with concern. “I - it’s hard for me to talk about.” He takes a deep breath, rubbing his hands over his jeans. “I don’t talk about it, really. But, I, umm - I’m working on that.”

Hoseok still looks worried. “Are you sure?”

Jeongguk nods again. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” Hoseok says slowly. “Well then, I guess - what was it like for you?”

“Bad,” Jeongguk says. “Really bad. I was a wreck for weeks. Months. I wasn’t like you. I wasn’t hopeful.” He runs a hand through his hair. He can’t meet Hoseok’s eye, so he looks at a piece of art hanging on the wall, something abstract that he doesn’t understand. “But the thing is - I was a wreck before the injury, too. It’s just that no one really knew.”

It’s a detail he hasn’t shared before. He can’t believe he’s bringing it up now, with someone he doesn’t even know all that well. Maybe that’s what makes it easier.

“What was wrong?” Hoseok asks, genuine concern in his voice.

Here goes nothing.

“A lot of shit,” Jeongguk admits. “The energy on the team was really toxic - sexist, racist, homophobic. The coaches too. I was there on a scholarship so I tried to keep my head down, but it was like they could smell the fear on me. And the pressure to perform was just, like, insane. I was constantly terrified of fucking up.” He takes a shaky breath, realizes his hands are shaking too. “I wanted to quit but I felt like I would be letting everyone in my life down. My parents were hoping I’d go pro, you know? Baseball was the only thing about me that was special. I didn’t know how to walk away from it without ruining my life.”

It’s hard to talk about, to remember. He’d hated the way he felt back then, what it had reduced him to. Frightened, ashamed, constantly hiding. Trying to avoid attention at all costs. It had slowly sapped away his love for the sport that had once been his whole life.

“That sounds really rough,” Hoseok says sympathetically. Jeongguk still can’t look at him, continues to stare at the painting. It kind of looks like a bird, maybe? A bird that’s swimming, or possibly on fire. When he doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, Hoseok continues. “So then, like - were you kind of relieved? When you got hurt?”

Jeongguk thinks his heart actually stops for a second. It’s the closest anyone’s ever come to guessing the truth, but Hoseok says it so casually, like it would have been normal for Jeongguk to feel that way. It creates a sort of dissonance in his brain, clashing with the voices that have always said he was too weak, that he should have been able to handle it.

“Yes,” Jeongguk whispers, his voice cracking. He can’t believe he’s actually saying this out loud, but now that he’s come this far it feels like there’s no turning back. “I - the day I got hurt. I think.” He sucks in a sharp breath. “I think it was partly my fault.”

Maybe the bird isn’t swimming - maybe it’s drowning. Maybe it had burst into flames and plummeted into the water, to its death.

“I - I can’t remember for sure.” It had been a particularly difficult morning, the team extra rowdy before practice. You finally gonna talk to a girl this weekend, Jeon? Maybe if you got laid you’d loosen up a bit, actually get a hit. Maybe you’d have better luck on the math team. “I just - there was a second when I knew I was gonna get hit. And I could have moved, but I didn’t. Not right away. Maybe I was just too slow, but I think - ” he digs his blunt fingernails into light wash denim of his jeans. “I think a part of me kind of wanted it to happen. Or just, like - wanted an out.”

The words are out now, hanging in the air, almost tangible. Like black matter finally expelled from Jeongguk’s body, and even though he’s panicking, there’s a certain relief at knowing there’s no way for him to take it back.

“I’ve never told anyone that before,” he croaks out, a little stunned at himself.

Hoseok looks a little stunned as well, when Jeongguk finally forces himself to look at him. It’s not in a bad way, though - there’s no disgust, no repulsion. There’s just understanding in his eyes, a downward pull to his mouth.

“Why?” he asks.

“I was ashamed,” Jeongguk admits. He looks at the bird painting again. Wonders if it had set itself on fire. “Still am.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Hoseok says firmly. “It sounds like you were in a really dark place.”

“Don’t you hate me, though?” Jeongguk asks, genuinely afraid of the answer. “Like, this horrible thing happened to you, totally by accident, and meanwhile I - I brought it on myself.”

“No you didn’t,” Hoseok protests, shaking his head. “You were struggling and it made your judgment falter for a second. That’s normal. You just paid an unusually heavy price because of it.”

It makes sense when Hoseok says it that way, even though Jeongguk had never really thought of it like that before. He feels the same way he had on the phone with Ella, like his perspective is shifting, like a weight is lifting. It’s true that a split second had changed the course of his whole life, but he doesn’t need to punish himself for that forever.

Maybe it’s not a bird at all.

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says quietly. “For saying that.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Hoseok replies, just as earnest.

Jeongguk nods, feeling a little shy, a lot vulnerable. “Sorry for coming here and dumping all my shit on you.”

Hoseok waves him off with a dismissive hand. “Don’t apologize. I asked.”

“Bet you weren’t expecting that answer,” Jeongguk says, rueful.

“Not quite,” Hoseok laughs. “But you got through it. That alone is encouraging.”

Most days Jeongguk feels like he’s still getting through it. Still, he nods. He doesn’t want to put a damper on Hoseok’s hopefulness. “Yeah.”

“Did you ever try to go back to playing?”

Jeongguk shakes his head. It feels easier now, talking about it. “Not really. They told me it was bad and I didn’t really push back. I wasn’t eager to get back to that team.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Sometimes,” Jeongguk concedes. He can never tell if he misses it out of habit or something more. “Mostly just the playing part of it. The game.”

A sad smile tugs at the corner of Hoseok’s lips. “I’m afraid,” he breathes. “Of losing it.” He shakes his head. “I’m not ready to walk away.”

“So don’t,” Jeongguk replies simply.

Hoseok nods. “I won’t.”

There’s a sound from the foyer - the front door opening. Hoseok suddenly looks guilty and Jeongguk only has a second to wonder why before he hears why.

“Honey, I’m hooooome!”

There’s no mistaking that voice. It’s Taehyung, in all his baritone glory, here and physically present in the same place as Jeongguk. Even accounting for the massive foyer, he can’t be more than a couple dozen feet away.

Jeongguk’s head snaps to the sound of his voice, then back to Hoseok, who is doing a very bad job of pretending to look surprised by this interruption. He wonders if Taehyung has been kept in the dark about this little set-up as well.

“Yo, I brought foo- oh,” Taehyung stops, now standing in the entrance to the living room, eyes widened in genuine surprise as he stares at Jeongguk. A plastic takeout bag with a smiley face on it dangles from his wrist. “Hey,” he breathes.

“Hey,” Jeongguk replies, equally breathless. It’s unfair, really, that Taehyung looks the way he does. Even on his day off, in loose sweats and an oversized T-shirt, hair messy and probably unbrushed. The sight of him still makes Jeongguk ache with want.

“Taetae! What a nice surprise!” Hoseok cries, clapping his hands together.

Taehyung’s eyes narrow, shifting to fix on his friend. “You literally texted me to come ov- ”

Hoseok cuts him off, speaking loudly. “I was just giving Jeonggukkie here the exclusive on my injury!”

This is enough to get Jeongguk to drag his own gaze away from Taehyung. “What?” he says, blinking at Hoseok in disbelief.

“Guess I forgot to mention that,” he says, finally having the decency to look a bit sheepish. “I did want to talk too, but - my publicist has been bugging me to do the story with someone. I figured you’d be the best fit.”

Jeongguk gapes at him. “Are you serious?”

“Completely,” Hoseok nods. Ken’s going to ascend to another realm when Jeongguk tells him this. “It was Taehyungie’s idea.”

Jeongguk didn’t think his jaw could drop any further, but somehow it manages. He turns back to Taehyung, catches the tail end of him glaring at Hoseok before he meets Jeongguk’s eye and offers a shy smile. His cheeks might even be a little pink, a truly rare sighting.

“I knew we could trust you,” he says, shrugging like it’s no big deal.

It’s a huge fucking deal. And it’s really unfortunate that they broke up because Jeongguk is stupidly fucking in love with him.

And - wait, that’s new. It’s occurred to Jeongguk before, while they were together and after they broke up, that his feelings were probably heading that way, were maybe already there. Now, though, he feels it with such certainty, like the final piece of a puzzle clicking into place, the full picture finally clear. He loves Taehyung. He’s in love with Taehyung.

How terribly inconvenient for his heart.

“I - thank you,” Jeongguk garbles out, completely bowled over. That word, trust - the fact that Taehyung still has it for him, after everything that’s happened. It means so much. “I promise I won’t let you down.”

“We know,” Hoseok says with a smile. He stands up, glancing between Jeongguk and Taehyung as he starts slowly backing out of the room. “I’ll be right back, just need to make, erm, a quick call…”

He disappears through another door and Jeongguk wonders idly how many of his apartment could fit into whatever room he’s in now. Then Taehyung clears his throat, and Jeongguk abruptly remembers he’s now alone in a room with his (very beautiful) ex-boyfriend. Who he just realized he’s still very much in love with.

“Uh,” Taehyung says, smiling awkwardly. “Sorry. I’m guessing Hobi didn’t tell you I was coming.”

Jeongguk shakes his head.

“Yeah. Me neither.”

They blink at each other for a few seconds, and then Taehyung continues. “Umm, so. How are you?”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk says automatically, then reconsiders. “Or, you know - getting there.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Me too.”

“That’s good,” Jeongguk replies inanely, completely blanking on what else to say. Shouting “I love you, please date me again” seems a bit too forward.

“Well,” Taehyung says when it becomes evident to both of them that Jeongguk isn’t capable of carrying on a basic conversation. He lifts the arm holding the takeout bag and gestures in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m gonna put this aw- ”

“Tae,” Jeongguk blurts out, desperation taking over. Taehyung pauses mid-step, angling his body back towards Jeongguk. “Can we, umm - would you want to talk some time? Maybe like - just the two of us?”

Taehyung looks surprised, eyebrows lifting, lips parting slightly. Still, there’s a hopefulness to his expression that makes Jeongguk’s heart leap, reassures him that maybe this isn’t the stupidest thing he’s ever done.

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, biting down on a small smile. Jeongguk’s heart feels soft. “Sure.”

It doesn’t mean anything, Jeongguk reminds himself. It’s just talking, just a conversation - he doesn’t even know what he’s going to say yet, or how Taehyung will respond. Still, it feels like a start, a step in the right direction.

“Cool,” Jeongguk says, trying to pull off nonchalant. “I’ll, umm - I’ll text you? Unless you changed - ”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I didn’t,” he murmurs.

Somehow that reassures Jeongguk too, knowing that Taehyung hadn’t tried to sever that channel of communication between them.

“Cool,” he repeats.

“We’re traveling a lot these next two weeks,” Taehyung informs him, sounding a little regretful. “But, yeah. Text me and we’ll find a time.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says.

Taehyung grins at him, still a little shy, then ducks his head and continues into the kitchen. Conveniently, Hoseok chooses this exact moment to reappear, beaming at Jeongguk in a way that makes him suspect he was not, in fact, taking a call.

“Okay, Jeonggukkie!” he says brightly, plopping back down on the couch. “Ready for the scoop?”

Jeongguk takes one last, slightly longing look at the doorway to the kitchen, then pulls out his phone and redirects his attention to Hoseok. Feeling determined in more ways than one, he nods.

“Ready.”

Chapter Text

“So - I was thinking of coming home in November,” Taehyung says into the phone. His mom is on the other end of the call, sitting under the shade of the big tree in their backyard. It’s been hot in Daegu, she told him, but she gets restless when she doesn’t get to spend any time outside. “For a longer visit, this time.”

There’s a beat of silence before she replies, and Taehyung wishes he could see her face right now - whether she’s excited, emotional, skeptical. He wouldn’t blame her for the latter - he hasn’t been home for more than a 10-day stretch since he started on the Giants. It’s part of the reason he’s been so oddly nervous about telling her his plan.

“How long are you thinking?” she asks, something careful in her voice that makes Taehyung’s heart twinge. He tries not to let the guilt weigh him down, though, reminds himself that rather than feeling guilty, he’s making a change.

“A month?” Taehyung says, phrasing it like a question even though he’s basically picked the dates out, started looking at flights. There’s an irrational part of him that worries it’ll be too much, that he’ll be disrupting their lives by staying for so long. “If that’s okay with you guys, of course. I can stay somewhere else for part of the ti-”

“Of course not,” his mom cuts in. “You’ll stay with us. We’d love to have you. A whole month, I - oh my.”

He imagines her raising a hand to cover her mouth, the way she does when she’s overwhelmed. Usually in a good way.

“It’s long overdue,” Taehyung says, feeling himself getting a little choked up. He’s sitting in his backyard too, face tipped up towards the late afternoon sun. Yeontan is prancing about, occasionally flopping over and rolling around furiously in the grass. “I haven’t been as good about visiting as I should.”

“You’ve been busy,” his mom replies, the familiar excuse. It’s not going to cut it anymore. “But - I’m very glad. It will be good to have that time together, as a family.”

Taehyung nods even though she can’t see him. A month is enough time to really be together, enjoy each other’s company without feeling rushed or pressured. “I’ll book the flights tonight.”

“Wonderful,” his mom says, and he can hear the smile in her voice. Thinks it's probably a little watery even though she’s doing a good job of hiding it. “Appa and Hyejin will be so excited.”

Taehyung had already mentioned it to Hyejin in one of his letters, wanting to be the one to tell her first. She’d promised to keep it a secret until he told his mom as well. Still, he wonders if she’ll be a little surprised too, if she’s been doubting whether he’d actually go through it. Things are better between them now, but sometimes old wounds take a while to heal.

They talk for a little while longer, eventually saying goodbye so that they can both get back to their days. Taehyung feels like a weight has been lifted off his chest now that he’s talked to his mom, and he gets online and books his flights as soon as they hang up. He smiles to himself when he receives the email confirmation, pleased with this small - or maybe not so small - victory.

Once that’s done, he has to drag himself up to do the thing he’s been putting off all day - packing for the 10 days of travel he has ahead of him. He’s never liked staying in hotels, and ever since the incident with the paparazzo back in the summer, it makes him extra jittery. After nearly 3 years on the team, he should be used to it by now, but the idea of 10 days away from home, away from Yeontan, isn’t particularly appealing.

And it’s not made any easier by the knowledge that Jeongguk wants to have a “talk” with him, that he’s going to have to wait until this trip is over to find out exactly what that means. He’s trying not to get his hopes up, reminds himself that nothing has changed about their situation since they broke up, but - he can’t help it. He can’t help the way Jeongguk still makes him feel, the way his heart had nearly leapt clean out of his chest when he’d walked into Hoseok’s apartment and found him there. He couldn’t even find it in himself to be mad at Hoseok for setting them up, not when Jeongguk had looked at him like that, like maybe - maybe he was feeling the same way as Taehyung.

But he’s not going to dwell on it right now, he tells himself. He’s going to make it through the next 10 days, hopefully get his team to the playoffs, and then he’s going to see what Jeongguk has to say. Like the mature, self-possessed adult that he is. Obviously.

Despite the fact that he’s injured and can’t play, Hoseok insists on traveling with the team, which makes the whole situation a little easier to bear. Even if it is heartbreaking to go out on the field without him, it’s infinitely better than not having him there at all. When he’s not finding ways to subtly harass Schmidt and Wilson on the bench, he acts as a one-man cheerleading squad, screeching at an almost inhuman pitch and occasionally shouting suggestive comments at Taehyung when he makes a particularly good play. Sometimes, Taehyung will look over and find him huddled close to Yoongi, heads bowed as they talk strategy (or maybe it’s just Hoseok putting the moves on Yoongi, Taehyung wouldn’t be surprised). It occurs to Taehyung that if Hoseok’s shoulder doesn’t fully go back to normal, he would make an amazing coach. Or team mascot, frankly.

On one of their nights off in Atlanta, Taehyung goes to dinner with Hoseok and Yoongi. The two of them are still doing their usual dance, but there’s something different about it now, a softness that wasn’t there before. They bicker but there’s no bite behind it, more playfulness than anything, and Yoongi is endearingly attentive to Hoseok as he navigates eating with one hand. They’re sitting close enough that their shoulders and arms keep brushing together, and Taehyung observes every moment of contact like a fanboy watching his favorite ship interact. He’s team Yoonseok all the way.

Towards the end of their meal, a teenage boy approaches them, looking shy but determined as he edges towards their table. They hadn’t tried particularly hard to be discreet tonight, just sliding into a booth tucked into the furthest corner of the restaurant, so Taehyung supposes they shouldn’t be surprised that someone had noticed. In general, he doesn’t really like being approached by fans when he’s just trying to live his non-public life, but when it comes to kids he has a soft spot.

This particular kid is kind of awkward, clearly still growing into himself in every possible way. His clothes don’t fit quite right, his hair is an unflattering length, and there are scattered patches of acne on his face. Taehyung feels a tug of sympathy for him - 15 is a hard time for everyone, especially the ones who are still figuring themselves out.

“Excuse me,” the kid says when he reaches their table. His voice is a little squeaky too, the poor guy. “Umm, I’m sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to say - I’m a huge fan.”

“Thanks!” Hoseok says merrily. He’s always been better with the fans than Taehyung, soaks up their enthusiasm and gives it right back. “What’s your name?”

The kid looks taken aback. “Oh, umm - it’s Kevin,” he fumbles.

“Nice to meet you, Kevin,” Hoseok says warmly. Yoongi nods along, and Taehyung flashes a smile when the kid - Kevin - looks over at him.

“Thanks, nice - I mean, it’s nice to meet you too,” he stammers, fidgeting. His gaze wanders back to Taehyung, and he seems to steel himself for something. “Also, I wanted - umm, to say - I’m gay. And you, just - yeah. So. Thank you.”

“Oh,” Taehyung breathes, stunned into silence for a few seconds. He’s seen the tweets, heard about the fan reactions, but this is the first time he’s had a face-to-face interaction with a fan about this particular subject. It hits him harder than he was expecting. “I - yeah. Of course. You don’t have to thank me. Just, uh - keep being you.”

It sounds kind of lame and corny to his own ears, but Kevin seems to eat it up, mouth stretching into a wide smile. “I will. For sure.” He glances down at his wrist, fiddling with a thin, thread bracelet tied there. It looks like a rainbow. “Hey - would you, uh - ” he slides the bracelet off his bony wrist, extending it towards Taehyung. “Here.”

Taehyung gapes at him, looking from Kevin to the bracelet and back again. “Oh, no, I couldn’t - ” he says, shaking his head.

“Please?” Kevin insists. “I - I want you to have it. I have another one at home.”

Taehyung gulps, touched. With a nod, he reaches out, taking the bracelet and slipping it over his own wrist. Kevin’s smile grows even wider.

“Thanks,” Taehyung says earnestly.

“’Course,” Kevin grins. “Uh - I’ll leave you guys alone now,” he says, flashing them a charmingly awkward double thumbs up as he starts backing away. “Good luck with the next few games.”

“Nice to meet you!” Hoseok calls after him. When Kevin is out of earshot, he turns back to Taehyung. “Well that was heartwarming, not to mention adorable.”

Taehyung shrugs, but he can’t keep the smile off his face. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, the publicity feels like a burden, the price he - and the people he loves - has to pay for getting to have his dream job. But every once in a while, he’s reminded that it’s not all bad, that sharing his life with the public can have a positive impact as well. After the past few months, it’s a reminder he sorely needed.

At their game the next day, there’s a heckler in the crowd that seems particularly intent on getting under Taehyung’s skin. It’s nothing original, the usual homophobic fare, and Taehyung wants to say it doesn’t bother him but he can’t deny that it’s distracting. He does at least get a good laugh when the asshole yells something about liking it up the ass and Hoseok, from his position in the dugout, stands up and shouts back: “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!”

During the break between the fourth and fifth innings, Schmidt approaches him, all faux sincerity.

“You know, Kim, if you need a break - I’m happy to step in,” he says, smile greasy.

Taehyung looks him dead in the eye, fingers tugging at the rainbow bracelet still looped around his wrist. “No thanks,” he replies politely. “I’d prefer that we actually win.”

Then he turns and walks off to take some practice hits before it’s his turn at bat, leaving Schmidt spluttering in his wake.

For the record, they do win. And when Taehyung makes a hit that sends him all the way around the diamond and across home plate, he’s sure to lift the arm that’s wearing the rainbow bracelet as he waves at the crowd. He hopes Kevin is watching.

“Thanks for your support!” he calls out in the direction of the heckler.

It doesn’t really fix anything, and it’s not like he’s magically triumphed over the scourge of bigotry and hatred, but for right now, it feels good. It feels like a small victory, and Taehyung will take as many of those as he can get.

***

As anticipated, Ken practically promotes Jeongguk to head of the network when he hears about the interview with Hoseok. Once he’s done shaking his hand off, he claps Jeongguk on the back so hard that he nearly goes sprawling out of Ken’s office.

“I knew I could count on you, Jeon,” he says emotionally, the events of a few days prior apparently having slipped his mind. “Now get me a draft by tomorrow morning.”

Jeongguk has never been much of a writer, but with Namjoon’s help he manages to piece together a story that he thinks will satisfy Ken while also preserving the trust Hoseok had placed in him. He sends out the draft to both of them before leaving for the day, and is immensely relieved when he checks his email later that evening and finds a series of enthusiastic thumbs up emojis from Hoseok. The next morning, Ken approves it with some minor edits, and the story is up on their website by that afternoon.

It gets more hits than anything Jeongguk has ever worked on, and it fills him with a sort of pride he hasn’t felt since the days when he still loved playing baseball. That feeling of accomplishment, the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done something well, produced something valuable. It’s even sweeter knowing that this time, he’s managed to do it on his own terms.

That night, Namjoon takes him out for a celebratory beer at a bar near their office. It’s nice that he’s making such a big deal about it, that he recognizes what a big deal it is for Jeongguk. It’s nice having someone to celebrate with.

“Cheers,” Namjoon says once they each have a beer in hand, clinking his bottle with Jeongguk’s. The glass is cold and sweaty against Jeongguk’s hand, heavy with liquid. “Congratulations, Guk. I’m really proud of you.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk replies, unable to contain his smile. “Thanks for all your help.”

Namjoon waves him off, dismissive. “You barely needed any help. You crushed it.”

Jeongguk opens his mouth to protest, then stops himself, taking a sip of his beer instead. He’s trying to be better about that - accepting compliments, taking pride in the things he does well. It’s a slow journey but he’s taking it one step at a time.

“Has Hoseok read it yet?” Namjoon asks.

“Yeah, I sent it to him last night. He was really happy with it.”

“That’s the most important vote of confidence you need,” Namjoon says. Then, in a tone that’s probably intended to be casual, he adds: “What about Taehyung?”

Jeongguk shrugs, fighting to keep his expression neutral. “I dunno. I haven’t asked.”

He and Taehyung haven’t spoken since they’d made plans to see each other next weekend, when Taehyung is back from traveling with the team. Jeongguk doesn’t know what the appropriate protocol is for texting in between - Taehyung had seemed receptive to the suggestion of them meeting up to talk, but that hadn’t been an open invitation for Jeongguk to text him whenever he feels like it. He doesn’t want to overstep, especially when things between them are still so fragile.

“It was his idea for you to do the interview with Hoseok, right?”

Jeongguk nods, thumb brushing over the paper label on his bottle. It starts to peel slightly, separating from the glass.

“He must really trust you,” Namjoon observes. “That’s his best friend.”

Jeongguk just nods again because finding the right words feels a little too overwhelming. He’s spent a lot of time thinking about this over the past few days, what it means or doesn’t mean about how Taehyung feels for him.

“What’s going on with you guys?” Namjoon asks. It’s blunter than he usually is about this sort of thing, but Jeongguk supposes it’s warranted. He wonders what, if anything, Namjoon has heard from Seokjin.

“Um,” Jeongguk says. “I’m seeing him next weekend. To talk.”

Namjoon’s eyebrows lift. “Whose idea was that?”

“Mine.”

The eyebrows rise higher. “What are you going to talk about?”

Jeongguk sighs. He’s still figuring that part out.

“I’m not sure yet,” he admits. “I really miss him. And I just - I dunno. I feel like I wasn’t thinking clearly when we broke up. Maybe I made a mistake.”

“Do you want to get back together?”

That’s the part Jeongguk has gone back and forth over the most. He wants Taehyung back in his life, but he knows that all of the complications that were there before haven’t magically gone away. He supposes that’s what he wants to talk to Taehyung about, whether there’s a way forward for them in spite of that.

“I think so,” Jeongguk says. “I mean - I want to be with him. There’s just a lot of other stuff that comes with that.”

“I think that’s true of any relationship, to some extent,” Namjoon says. He observes Jeongguk thoughtfully. “Maybe you just need to decide if you can trust him as much as he seems to trust you.”

And yeah, now that Namjoon mentions it, maybe that’s exactly what Jeongguk needs to decide. Because they both have had reasons to doubt in this relationship, reasons to be afraid and to keep each other at a safe distance. But Taehyung has also given Jeongguk reasons to have faith in him, to believe he has Jeongguk’s best interest in mind, even if Jeongguk couldn’t see it at the time. Taehyung has opened himself up to Jeongguk, made himself vulnerable even when he was the one who had far more to lose. Maybe it’s time that Jeongguk put that same trust back in him.

“Always so wise, hyung,” Jeongguk mutters, playful.

Namjoon grins, nudging Jeongguk’s foot with his own. “I just want to see you happy.”

And it’s really nice, having someone who cares like that. It makes Jeongguk’s chest warm, makes him feel like no matter what happens with Taehyung, he’s going to be okay.

“Thanks, hyung,” he says, grinning back at Namjoon. And when he says the next few words, he really believes them. “I’m getting there.”

***

Somehow, 10 days pass, and Jeongguk finds himself standing somewhere he never thought he’d be again - on Taehyung’s front doorstep. His stomach is a messy disaster of nerves, just like it’s been all morning and just like it was all day yesterday too. After all the time he’d spent anticipating it, he can’t believe this moment is finally here.

As soon as he rings the bell, he hears the sound of Yeontan yapping maniacally on the other side of the door, followed by the thud of approaching footsteps and Taehyung shushing him. Jeongguk is hit by a powerful wave of deja vu when Taehyung opens the door, flashing back to the first time he was ever here, the night they were first together. His stomach flips at the memory, Taehyung in his lap, in his arms, stretched out on that massive bed, naked and trembling and gorgeous.

Today, Taehyung is dressed more casually than he had been that night, in a simple t-shirt tucked into dark pants. He still takes Jeongguk’s breath away when he comes into view, his face more handsome than anything Jeongguk could dream up on his own. And there’s something about the aura of him, disarming yet so achingly familiar, that makes Jeongguk feel anxious and safe all at the same time.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, offering a cautious smile.

“Hey,” Jeongguk returns, just this side of breathless.

Yeontan is all over him as soon as he steps inside, little tail wagging furiously as he yaps and patters his paws up against Jeongguk’s shins. Jeongguk bends down to say hello, scratching behind his ears and cooing adoringly about what a good boy he is.

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, as if Jeongguk isn’t loving every moment of this little reunion. “I think he missed you.”

“I missed him too,” Jeongguk replies, swallowing when he looks up and catches Taehyung watching them fondly. He straightens up, fighting back the heat in his face as he meets Taehyung’s gaze. “I missed both of you.”

Taehyung’s eyes widen slightly, one hand lifting to scratch at the back of his head. “Yeah,” he says, glancing away and then back at Jeongguk, lower lip caught between his teeth. “Me too.”

Jeongguk’s stomach flutters. That has to be a good sign, right?

“You want to talk?” Taehyung asks.

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says, nodding too. “Yeah, umm - let’s sit.”

He leads the way back into his kitchen, pouring them both a glass of lemonade before they settle themselves side by side on the top step of his back porch. It’s a sunny afternoon, bright enough that Jeongguk has to shield his eyes to watch Yeontan frolic around in the yard. Which he does for a solid 30 seconds before he works up the courage to actually speak.

“So first of all, I really just want to apologize again,” he says, because that’s the easiest place to start. “For how I acted about the photos. And for leaving the hospital without saying goodbye when Hoseok hyung got injured.” He takes a deep breath. “I can explain more but the short version is I have a really hard time with hospitals. Ever since my injury.”

There’s about a foot of space between them, an appropriate distance for two people who aren’t together, who don’t quite know where they stand with each other. They both sit so that their gazes face out towards the yard, something about not having to make eye contact allowing the words to flow more easily, more honestly.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Taehyung insists, shaking his head. “For either of those things. Okay? Coming to the hospital at all was way more than you needed to do.”

The taste of the lemonade is a sweet tang on Jeongguk’s tongue. It reminds him of summers growing up in Texas, paper cups and front yard lemonade stands set up in the scorching heat.

“I wanted to be there for you,” he says quietly. “I should have been there for you when the whole blackmailing thing happened.”

“We already talked about this,” Taehyung reminds him, voice gentle. “It was a really scary situation, and I get why you reacted the way you did. It’s not like I handled it perfectly either. I’m the one who messed it all up in the first place.” He frowns down at this lemonade. “But neither of us were the bad guys there, and at this point I’d really just rather we leave it in the past, you know? Where it belongs.”

Jeongguk knows it’s not quite that simple, but he likes the sound of it anyway. Letting go, moving on. That’s exactly what he’s been trying to do with all of the negative things in his life.

“Okay,” he nods.

There are a few seconds of silence after that, Jeongguk letting the sun soak into his skin as he tries to figure out what to say next. Taehyung beats him to the punch.

“What else did you want to talk about?” he asks, tone neutral. When Jeongguk looks over, his expression is unreadable, but the question itself gives him away.

And so, Jeongguk thinks - this is his moment. To lay it all out there, to trust Taehyung the way Taehyung has trusted him. If he doesn’t take this chance, he might not get another one, and it’s that realization that propels him past his fear.

“I’m not over you,” he blurts out. Something flickers across Taehyung’s face, but Jeongguk doesn’t try to figure out what it is. If he stops to think, he’ll never get the rest of this out. “Probably because I haven’t been trying very hard to get over you.”

Taehyung blinks at him. “Oh,” he says.

Jeongguk gulps. The sun suddenly feels too hot. “Yeah.”

“I’m not over you either,” Taehyung tells him, so simply that it takes Jeongguk a second to process what he means. When he does, his heart swells. “I have been trying. It hasn’t worked.”

Jeongguk feels punch-drunk, a little dazed. “Oh,” he breathes.

Taehyung’s lips twitch. “Yeah.”

He cocks his head at Jeongguk, finger tracing the rim of his glass. “I don’t know what that means, though. For us.” He sighs. “My life is still the same, Guk. Dating me still comes with all the same baggage.”

“I know,” Jeongguk says, because he does. Because he’s thought about this a lot and he knows what choice he’s making. “I come with baggage too, though. We all do, right?”

Taehyung stares at him, and now the emotion is clearer on his face. “But you - my baggage, specifically. That’s why we broke up, Jeongguk.” He doesn’t sound angry or bitter, just sad, resigned. “The publicity and everything - you don’t want that.”

“I want you, though,” Jeongguk says, as loudly as he dares. “I want to be with you more than I’m afraid of all that.”

Taehyung bites his lip, gaze turning up to the sky.

“Are you sure?” he asks. He worries his lip between his teeth, doubt evident on his face. “Are you really, really sure?”

“I’m sure,” Jeongguk replies softly, but he knows he needs to give Taehyung more than that. A little more insight into what’s going on in his head, in his heart.

“I have a fear of people knowing who I am,” he admits. “Like, really knowing, the private stuff. I’m still trying to sort it all out, but I think it’s partly a control thing and partly because I don’t - ” he pauses, swallows. “I haven’t always been very proud of who I am.”

Taehyung’s features droop at that, but he doesn’t say anything, seems to sense that Jeongguk isn’t done yet. He’s always been good at reading him that way.

“I’m working on it. And I’m not just saying that, I really am. Ask Ella.” Taehyung’s lips lift slightly, and Jeongguk remembers something else that’s been on his mind. “Which - by the way. Thank you. For bringing her here.” His throat suddenly feels tight. “I really can’t thank you enough for that.”

Taehyung shrugs, just as modest as he had been when Jeongguk found out about Hoseok and the article. “I thought you might need a friend.”

“I did,” Jeongguk nods. “I just can’t believe you did that for me. After everything that happened.”

Taehyung smiles and it’s a little sad. “It’s not like we ended on bad terms, Guk,” he says. “I didn’t want you to be alone. I was worried about you. I care about you.”

Fuck, Jeongguk is going to get choked up again.

“I know,” he whispers. That’s a part of the puzzle he feels like he’s been missing, just how much Taehyung really cares for him. Not because Taehyung hadn’t made him feel that way before, but because Jeongguk was still too caught up in his own fears and doubts to really accept it. “I care about you too. So much. And I want - I really want to try again.”

Taehyung sighs, clearly conflicted. “I want that too,” he confesses, making hope flare in Jeongguk’s chest. “But what’s going to be different this time?”

It’s a fair question, and one Jeongguk has thought about a lot. Having had the time to look back on it these past few months, he thinks they fell into things a bit too quickly at first. It’s not that their feelings weren’t genuine, but they didn’t really take the time to think through the realities of their relationship, the risks they were taking and how to manage them. And when something bad did happen, they weren’t prepared.

“We’ll be different,” Jeongguk says. “We’ll be more careful, and I think - it would help me if we had, like, a plan.” He looks at Taehyung anxiously. “We could do that, right? Ease into the public stuff, do it on our own terms? And still keep some privacy?”

“Of course,” Taehyung nods. “Anything - whatever you need to feel safe. Seokjin’s a literal pro when it comes to this stuff.”

After hearing about how Seokjin had handled the whole situation with the photos, Jeongguk feels pretty confident in his ability to guide them through this as well.

“Cool,” he says, nervous energy starting to build in his stomach at the thought that they really could make this work.

It’s dampened a bit by the way Taehyung looks at him, the conflict still clear on his face. “I just don’t want to force you into a situation that makes you uncomfortable,” he murmurs. “I’ll be - I’d be so much more careful, I swear. But there will still always be risks.”

“I know,” Jeongguk nods. “As long as we can do it the way I said, with precautions and a plan - I’m okay with that.”

Taehyung looks up at the sky again, eyes shutting against the sun. The glow of it against his skin makes his features look as if they’ve been dipped in gold.

“You’re gonna break my heart if you change your mind,” he whispers.

And hearing him say that - that breaks Jeongguk’s heart a little. He doesn’t blame Taehyung for having doubts, but it’s still devastating to think that Jeongguk has given him reason to.

“Tae,” he says, his voice breaking. He wishes there were words strong enough to assuage Taehyung’s fears, but he knows it’s something that has to be demonstrated through actions, proved over time. “I won’t. I promise I won’t.”

It’s a matter of trust, Jeongguk realizes. In spite of all that’s happened, Jeongguk is making the choice to trust Taehyung fully, and now he’s asking Taehyung to do the same. Not with his privacy, not with his best friend, but with his heart. That most vulnerable part of him.

“Okay,” Taehyung says in a small voice.

“Okay?” Jeongguk repeats, stunned.

Taehyung shrugs, his smile almost self-deprecating. “I want to be with you more than I’m afraid of getting my heart broken.”

“Good thing I don’t plan on breaking your heart, then,” Jeongguk replies, and Taehyung’s smile widens.

“I’ll hold you to that, Jeon Jeongguk.”

“I’m counting on it.”

***

When the sun starts to set, the sky shifting into a display of vibrant pinks and oranges, Taehyung asks Jeongguk if he wants to stay for dinner.

“Yes,” Jeongguk agrees, his smile delighted, and Taehyung’s heart skips a giddy beat. It feels silly to be nervous around him again, but Taehyung can’t quite help it, still trying to find his footing in this familiar yet uncharted territory.

I want you, Jeongguk had said. He’d said everything Taehyung had been wanting to hear, had done it so sweetly and earnestly that he’d slipped right past all of Taehyung’s defenses. Taehyung’s not foolish enough to believe that things will turn out differently than last time, but he is foolish enough to hope for it anyway.

Like he’d said, the truth is he just wants Jeongguk more than he’s afraid of getting hurt again.

They cook dinner together, music playing softly in the background as the kitchen slowly fills with a blend of delicious scents. Yeontan follows Jeongguk everywhere he goes, nosing at his ankles and staring up at him imploringly in hopes of catching a few scraps.

Jeongguk,” Taehyung scolds the third time he catches Jeongguk sneaking food to his dog. “He’s never going to stop begging if you keep giving in!”

Jeongguk fixes him with the full force of his doe-eyed stare, face the picture of innocence. “But he’s so cute,” he pouts, and yeah, maybe Taehyung can understand that particular weakness.

Even though Taehyung’s kitchen is quite spacious, they keep finding excuses to invade each other’s space, shoulders bumping together, fingers brushing as they share various ingredients and utensils. Still, it’s a total accident when Taehyung turns around in search of a stirring spoon at the same time Jeongguk reaches around him to grab the sesame oil. A total accident that brings them rather abruptly face to face, and in very close proximity.

“Oh,” Taehyung says, startled. Jeongguk’s face is very near to his own, all big eyes and pink lips.

“Sorry,” he breathes.

Neither of them moves. Taehyung becomes extremely aware of the heat of Jeongguk’s arm around his lower back, not quite touching but close enough to make his skin tingle.

He swallows, still in a half-turned position. “Umm.”

Jeongguk’s gaze drops very obviously to Taehyung’s lips before darting back up, the question clear on his face. Taehyung gives the slightest nod, just a tiny jerk of his chin, and then gloriously, Jeongguk’s lips are on his. Nothing overly heated, no real urgency behind it, just the sweet press of their mouths, warm and familiar. Soft and dry and generally lovely.

Jeongguk pulls back after a few seconds, a light flush dusting his cheeks. His eyes search Taehyung’s face, bunny teeth poking out as he tries and fails to reign in a smile. And it’s so stupidly charming, just honestly devastating that he manages to be this adorable while also making Taehyung’s heart race.

This time, it’s Taehyung who leans in, hand coming up to cup Jeongguk’s jaw as he turns fully, bringing them to face to face. He sinks into it, melts a little when Jeongguk’s arms lock around his lower back, dragging him closer. All he can think about is how much he missed this, the easy, exhilarating intimacy of being with Jeongguk.

It’s disappointing when the kitchen timer interrupts them, although Taehyung realizes it’s probably in the best interest of their half-prepared meal. They startle apart at the sound, noses bumping as Jeongguk accidentally steps on Taehyung’s foot. He starts to apologize, but then Taehyung starts giggling, and then neither of them can keep a straight face for the next 15 minutes. It makes following a recipe and wielding a kitchen knife considerably more difficult, but Taehyung’s too happy to care.

During dinner they talk a lot more, catching up on all the little (and not so little) things that had happened in their months apart. Jeongguk tells him the full story of the accident he had in college, how maybe it wasn’t completely an accident, how Hoseok’s injury had been the tipping point for him to finally tell someone about it. It breaks Taehyung’s heart to hear how much he had struggled, how much shame he’s carried with him ever since, but it also makes him feel like he understands Jeongguk better. He’d always sensed that Jeongguk had some weight that he carried with him, but he seems lighter now, especially after Taehyung reacts to his revelation with sympathy and support rather than horror and disgust.

“I’m really sorry you had to deal with all of that,” Taehyung murmurs, his hand covering Jeongguk’s. Jeongguk looks down at their hands, then back up at Taehyung, vulnerability clear on his face. “I hope you know you have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Jeongguk nods. “I’m getting there.”

“I’ll help,” Taehyung replies. “When I said I want you to feel safe - I really mean that. In every sense.”

In a way it’s sad, knowing that they’d missed out on a piece of each other’s lives these past few months, but Taehyung also thinks that maybe they both needed that time to grow. He looks at Jeongguk and sees someone braver and more sure of himself, more settled in his own skin than he had been a few months ago. He hopes that Jeongguk sees the same in him, and that it only means good things for their future together.

Once dinner is over and all the pots, pans, and dishes are cleaned, they cuddle up on the couch to watch a movie. Taehyung wonders if it’s strange that they’re not tearing each other’s clothes off at this point, but nauseatingly he finds that all this domesticity makes his stomach flutter just as much as that would. It’s nice just to be close, to feel the weight of Jeongguk’s head against his shoulder when he knocks out half way through the movie. He likes having another person to fill the space here in this big house of his.

“Jeonggukkie,” he murmurs when the credits start to roll, Jeongguk still snoring softly against Taehyung’s shoulder. He grumbles a bit, nose scrunching up in a yawn as he blinks one eye open, then the other. It takes a moment, but when he seems to register where he is, he pulls back, embarrassed.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, rubbing at his eyes. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep on you. Literally or figuratively.”

Taehyung grins, shaking his head. His entire right arm is starting to prickle as he slowly regains feeling in it, but that’s a small price to pay. “It’s okay,” he says. “Did, umm - did you want to stay over? Since it’s late, and you - you’re sleepy?”

This is what he’d spent the entire second half of the movie thinking about, whether it would be too much to invite Jeongguk to spend the night. He’d concluded that it was really the polite thing to do, given the reasons he had just articulated to Jeongguk. Or at least that’s what he’s going to keep telling himself.

Jeongguk looks a little startled but mostly pleased by the invitation, hands dropping into his lap as he yawns again, then smiles shyly. “Okay,” he agrees, and Taehyung’s stomach does a full 360 degree flip.

Jeongguk had stayed over in his house many times over the course of their relationship, but something about tonight brings Taehyung back to the very first time. He’s nervous again as he leads the way up the stairs, not about having sex but about the situation in general, the way it all feels a little bit new again. Hell, their relationship had still been fairly new when they broke up, the novelty and thrill of it all having not yet worn off. Now, after two months of not having this, it feels even stronger than before.

When they step into Taehyung’s bedroom, Jeongguk’s attention is, of course, immediately drawn to the throw pillows.

“The pillows!” he cries, skipping over to the bed and hugging one to his chest. “I missed you guys.”

Taehyung snorts, rolling his eyes fondly. It’s nice seeing Jeongguk in his bedroom again, sleepy and smiling and looking like he belongs there.

“There’s a new one,” Taehyung informs him, making Jeongguk’s eyes widen in delight. “See if you can spot it.”

Jeongguk does it faster than Taehyung was expecting, yanking the new pillow from the bunch and holding it up triumphantly. Then again, Taehyung supposes the bright fuchsia color isn’t particularly subtle.

They change for bed with little fanfare, Taehyung determinedly casual even as Jeongguk strips down before slipping into a pair of Taehyung’s pajamas. Maybe it’s just because Taehyung hasn’t seen him naked in a while, but he thinks Jeongguk looks extra gorgeous today, the few glimpses of bare skin he catches hitting him like a punch in the stomach. Or maybe Taehyung is just really whipped for Jeongguk.

Once they wash up and brush their teeth, they climb into Taehyung’s bed from opposite sides, wading through the pillows until they’re lying face to face under the covers. Taehyung keeps having these moments where he thinks he must be dreaming, that there’s no way Jeon Jeongguk is actually back in his bed right now. But he is, he’s here and he’s real and he’s looking at Taehyung like he thinks he might be dreaming as well.

“I sort of thought I’d never be in this room again,” Jeongguk admits, reading Taehyung’s mind.

Taehyung frowns. “You thought I’d moved on?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “That, or I’d never work up the courage to check.”

“I’m glad you did,” Taehyung whispers, finding Jeongguk’s hand under the covers and playing with his fingers. “I’m not sure I would have.”

“I’m glad I did too,” Jeongguk says, eyes big and earnest.

Instead of responding, Taehyung rolls forward, coming up on one elbow to kiss him. Jeongguk greets him with lips and tongue and just a hint of teeth, hand rising immediately to cup the back of his head. It’s eager but not rushed, their mouths moving deliberately, still getting reacquainted. Taehyung shivers when Jeongguk’s hand moves to the back of his neck, giving it a light squeeze; Jeongguk makes a soft noise when Taehyung gets brave and slots their legs together.

“I really missed kissing you,” Jeongguk murmurs when they break apart to catch their breath. His lips are even more invitingly pink than usual, slightly swollen from all their time spent pressed against Taehyung’s. “Your mouth is just like… really great.”

Taehyung snickers, leaning down for another kiss. “Your mouth is also pretty great,” he says. “Best mouth I’ve ever kissed.”

“Wow,” Jeongguk breathes. His hands are on Taehyung’s lower back now, fingers tracing the dip of his spine. It makes Taehyung’s shirt ride up slightly, and somehow that feels sexier than if he was completely naked. “What an honor.”

“It is,” Taehyung confirms, serious. “Out of all six people I’ve kissed, you’re number o-”

He shrieks when Jeongguk squeezes his waist, reaching under his shirt to tickle bare skin. His elbow gives out and he collapses onto Jeongguk’s chest, the two of them tangled up and half kissing, half laughing against each other’s mouths. They flail around like that for a while, rolling on and off of each other until they’re both breathless and exhausted.

“Okay, I give up,” Jeongguk pants, flat on his back as he extends a pinky towards Taehyung. “Truce?”

Taehyung eyes him suspiciously before slowly wrapping his own finger around Jeongguk’s. “Truce. Can I spoon you?”

All the laughter has made him giddy and loose-lipped, but Jeongguk doesn’t seem fazed. Probably because of how often Taehyung fell asleep clinging to him when they were first dating.

“’Kay,” Jeongguk agrees, his chest still rising and falling heavily in a way that’s a bit distracting. “Long as you promise no tickle sneak attacks.”

“Promise,” Taehyung nods solemnly. It’s been too long since he’s had someone to hold while he sleeps, and right now that matters more to him than seeking his revenge.

Appeased, Jeongguk rolls on to his side, and Taehyung shuffles up behind him immediately, arm slung over his torso. He takes a deep breath in, stupidly content, and presses a kiss to the place where Jeongguk’s neck meets his shoulder.

“Night, Guk,” he mumbles sleepily. “Really glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk says quietly, squeezing Taehyung’s arm to his chest. “Night, Tae.”

***

The Giants end up getting knocked out in the second round of the playoffs. It’s disappointing, but not particularly surprising - with Hoseok still unable to play, they simply aren’t at their best. If he’s being honest, Taehyung hadn’t even expected them to make it this far. And if he’s being even more honest, a part of him is kind of relieved that the season is over - it’s been a long, draining one, and he’s ready for a break.

The energy in the clubhouse after the game is subdued, everyone processing not only the loss but the end of their season. There are journalists everywhere, all eager for a good sound bite, so Taehyung is immensely relieved when Jeongguk swoops in seemingly out of nowhere, microphone in hand and a sympathetic look on his face.

“Hi there,” he greets, and Taehyung resists the urge to lean over and kiss him on the cheek. He looks much more polished than he had the last time Taehyung had seen him, this morning in his bed.

“Hi, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung replies. He realizes he’s smiling somewhat dopily and tries to school his expression into something more consistent with having just lost a playoff game.

“Sorry about the game,” Jeongguk says, and Taehyung can tell by the look on his face that he wishes he could be doing more to comfort him right now. “You had a great season, though. How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” Taehyung says honestly. “It’s disappointing for sure, but this just wasn’t our year. We’ll take some time to rest and then come back next season stronger than ever.”

On the other side of the clubhouse, Taehyung can see Schmidt and Wilson moping around. One of the best things about the end of the season is knowing he won’t have to look at their stupid faces again for a whole year.

“That’s a great attitude,” Jeongguk nods. “Some rest is definitely well-deserved. I hope you enjoy the off-season.”

“I have a feeling I will,” Taehyung informs him, smiling slyly. “Got one or two things to look forward to.”

Jeongguk beams at him.

Once they’re done making their rounds with the reporters and Yoongi has delivered his signature end of season speech, Taehyung packs up his things and heads to dinner with him, Hoseok, and a few of the other guys from the team that he’s always gotten along with. It’s a very low key affair, not exactly celebratory given their loss but not mournful either. They get some drinks and blow off some steam, and Taehyung feels pleasantly loose and relaxed by the time he leaves to go meet Jeongguk.

It’s the first time he’s been back to Jeongguk’s apartment since they’d broken up, and climbing the dingy stairs brings back both good and bad memories. Still, it definitely feels good when Jeongguk’s face peeks out through a crack in the door, smile widening as he grabs Taehyung and pulls him inside.

“So,” Jeongguk says when they’re both settled on his couch. He’s sitting with one elbow propped on the back of the sofa, body angled sideways to face Taehyung. “How are you really feeling?”

“I really am fine,” Taehyung tells him, taking Jeongguk’s top leg and tugging it over his own. “I mean, I hate losing, but it wouldn’t have felt right to win without Hobi anyway. And I’m honestly kind of ready to just be done with this season.”

“I don’t blame you,” Jeongguk replies, fiddling with the backwards-facing brim of Taehyung’s hat. Taehyung is abruptly reminded of Jeongguk’s affinity for him in backwards baseball caps, and something stirs in his gut. “You deserve a break.”

“This also means I get way more free time to spend with you now,” Taehyung says, running his hand absently up and down Jeongguk’s denim-clad thigh. He’s missed these thighs a lot in the past few months, perhaps more than he cares to admit out loud.

“Lucky me,” Jeongguk grins. “Got some lost time to make up for.”

“Oh yeah?” Taehyung asks, playful. “How do you plan on doing that?”

“Lots of you touching me,” Jeongguk informs him. “And me touching you. Not a lot of clothes.”

“Hmm,” Taehyung nods, pretending to consider it. He hitches Jeongguk’s thigh higher, fitting their bodies more snugly together. “Sounds nice.”

“I think so,” Jeongguk agrees. His fingers trace the collar of Taehyung’s shirt. Taehyung leans in closer, until their noses are almost brushing.

“Now I can’t stop thinking about it,” he murmurs.

Jeongguk gulps. “Me neither.”

“Are you horny because of the hat?” Taehyung asks.

“So what if I am?” Jeongguk retorts, arching an eyebrow.

“Guess I better do something about it,” Taehyung says, then kisses him.

Right away, there’s heat behind it. It’s in the way Jeongguk’s lips part against his, the way he’s already half in Taehyung’s lap, the way Taehyung keeps coming back for more, again and again like he’s some kind of addict. Jeongguk’s mouth is sweet, perfect, his lower lip plush and full between Taehyung’s, opening up for him eagerly.

And Taehyung doesn’t really mean for it to happen, he swears, but one second his hand is still splayed out over Jeongguk’s thigh and the next it’s on his ass, the muscled swell of it evident even through the rough material of his jeans. Jeongguk makes a noise low in his throat, hips shifting, fingers tugging harder where they’ve wound themselves into Taehyung’s hair. Taehyung thinks he hasn’t quite registered it yet, but the way they’re positioned has the heat of him pressing down directly against Taehyung’s thigh. Curious, he takes Jeongguk by the hips and pulls him down, nudging his thigh up against the growing hardness between Jeongguk’s legs. Heat flares in his stomach at the way Jeongguk’s body jolts in surprise, a low moan slipping out.

“Oh god,” he pants, pressing his forehead against Taehyung’s. “Fuck, feels good Tae.”

Taehyung hums in response, pulling Jeongguk’s mouth back to his, greedy. His brain just about short circuits when he feels Jeongguk moving his hips again, grinding down against Taehyung’s thigh in a way that must feel pretty good given the noises he’s making.

“You wanna get off like this?” Taehyung rumbles, more than content to let Jeongguk rub himself off against his thigh. His own cock is already straining in his pants at the thought of it, the material becoming uncomfortably tight.

Jeongguk shakes his head, looking pained as he slows his movements. “No. Too soon. Too many clothes.”

Way too many clothes, Taehyung agrees. “’Kay,” he breathes, pressing his leg up against Jeongguk’s crotch again. The heat he feels there makes him almost dizzy. “How do you want it?”

“Don’t care,” Jeongguk gasps, rocking down. “Want you to pick.”

How to pick, Taehyung wonders, when you have a very gorgeous and very hot and bothered man on top of you and the possibilities are seemingly endless?

Without putting any sort of rational thought into it, he concludes, and decides to just follow his next instinct. Which, in this case, is to maneuver them so that Jeongguk is flat on his back on the couch, giving Taehyung easy access to as much of his body as possible.

That is, if he can stop himself from openly staring with his goddamn mouth practically hanging open. Because Jeongguk is beautiful always, but especially like this, stretched out beneath Taehyung with flushed cheeks and bright eyes that are fixed on his own. Every detail of him is stunning; the curve of his waist, the flex of his neck, the pale, tender underside of the arm he has stretched over his head. Looking down at him, Taehyung doesn’t even know where to begin.

He goes to Jeongguk’s stomach first, drawn by the small strip of bare skin peeking out beneath the hem of his t-shirt. The couch is too small for Taehyung to stretch all the way out, but he arranges himself with his legs half hanging off the other side, a position that would surely be awkward and uncomfortable if he didn’t have a man to ravish. As it stands, Jeongguk’s bare stomach is more than ample distraction, and he sets to work licking and sucking at the skin there. His hands slip up Jeongguk’s sides, pushing his t-shirt up to expose more, making Jeongguk shiver when his tongue dips into his belly button.

He can feel Jeongguk’s hard-on against his chest, which means he can also feel the way his cock twitches when Taehyung gets to one of his nipples. It’s immensely satisfying, the way Jeongguk squirms when Taehyung takes it into his mouth, sucking gently while his fingers play with the other one. They hadn’t explored this all that much when they were first together, but going based off of this reaction Taehyung thinks he’ll be doing it a lot more in the future.

Nghh, Tae,” Jeongguk pants, back arching off the couch to push himself more firmly against Taehyung’s mouth.

“You like it?” Taehyung asks, flattening his tongue over the other nipple and then deliberately blowing on it. Jeongguk makes a noise that sounds suspiciously close to a whine, and Taehyung thinks he might actually die of arousal before this is over. “So sensitive.”

“Yeah, fuck, I - I didn’t realize,” Jeongguk stammers out, his legs restless on either side of Taehyung.

“Mm,” Taehyung nods, drawing Jeongguk’s shirt all the way up and over his head. “Gonna come back to this in the very near future.”

Jeongguk groans, the noise slipping into a gasp when Taehyung buries his face in his neck, both thumbs now rubbing relentlessly over his nipples. He works his way up slowly, tugging the skin gently between his teeth, nose bumping against Jeongguk’s chin until he finally reaches his mouth. Jeongguk pulls him in fervently, shoving his hands up under Taehyung’s shirt and grasping at his back.

“I decided what I want to do,” Taehyung informs him between kisses. He’s still working at Jeongguk’s nipples, circling over one of them with the flat of his palm.

“I - ah - if it’s getting me off from my nipples alone, I don’t think I can handle it,” Jeongguk says, his voice wrecked, and fuck, Taehyung is so fucking hard.

“No, but now that’s what I want to do,” Taehyung breathes, half teasing, half extremely turned on by that idea.

“Do not,” Jeongguk warns, kicking at him weakly.

“Are you sure?” Taehyung says playfully, tweaking one of his nipples gently. “Seems like you really like - ”

Taehyung,” Jeongguk groans, an edge of desperation sneaking into what is likely supposed to be an exasperated tone.

“Okay, okay,” Taehyung concedes. “So first, I’m gonna suck you off - ”

“Mm,” Jeongguk hums, hips rocking up against Taehyung’s in a way that feels ridiculously good.

“Then I’m gonna stretch you on my fingers,” Taehyung continues, the suggestion enough to make them both groan. “And then, I’m gonna fuck you with my big, fat cock.”

Taehyung does his very best to keep a straight face as he says it, but Jeongguk catches on immediately.

Ew, fuck you, you just ruined it,” Jeongguk complains, shoving at him lightly. Taehyung takes the opportunity to sit up and tug his shirt off, throwing it somewhere on the floor.

“What?” Taehyung says innocently, stretching back over him. “You don’t want to be penetrated by my thick, throbbing member?”

“Oh my god, I hate you,” Jeongguk protests, covering his face to hide the fact that he’s obviously laughing. “My dick is literally soft now, you loser.”

“Hmm,” Taehyung frowns, reaching between them and fitting his hand over the still very present bulge in Jeongguk’s jeans. “Doesn’t feel very soft to me.”

Jeongguk glares at him, hips rolling up against Taehyung’s palm. “Then do something about it before I actually do go soft.”

“Bossy,” Taehyung laughs, kissing Jeongguk’s jaw. “Your wish is my command, sir.”

He makes a pit stop back at Jeongguk’s nipples on his way down his body, lingering just long enough to get him riled up again. When Jeongguk is just about ready to curse him out for taking so long, he travels further south, taking a few seconds to indulge his obsession with Jeongguk’s waist before reaching the waistband of his jeans. He peels them off slowly, mostly because the material is absurdly tight, dragging Jeongguk’s tiny black boxer briefs along with them. His mouth waters when Jeongguk’s thighs come into view, and he almost knocks over the standing lamp next to the couch in his haste to fling the pants away.

Because there’s a fully naked Jeon Jeongguk before him now, legs spread to accommodate Taehyung’s body, cock flushed and wet and jutting up over his belly. Taehyung is overcome by the sight of him, by the force of the sheer want that surges through his body. By the knowledge that this man is his, that he wants Taehyung too.

Sucking in a shuddery breath, Taehyung dips his head to Jeongguk’s thighs, peppering light kisses all over their most tender parts. He’d missed this so much, the scent of him, the taste of him, the gorgeous way his legs tremble when Taehyung’s head is between them. He takes him in his mouth far sooner than he had intended just to hear the beautiful noise it draws out him.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk apologizes when his hips jerk up, accidentally pushing his cock deeper down Taehyung’s throat. Taehyung shushes him, easing off slowly to drop a row of kisses down his length. At the base, he allows his fingers to explore further, teasing past his perineum to brush lightly over his hole. Jeongguk makes a fucked out sound, legs spreading a little wider in invitation, and through the sex-drunk haze in his brain Taehyung remembers that there are a few logistical elements they have to sort out first.

“Guk,” he murmurs, lifting his head. Arousal licks up his spine when he sees the way Jeongguk is looking down at him, eyes dark and hungry. “I need to get - lube?”

“Same place,” Jeongguk tells him, and something about that makes Taehyung so happy, like they haven’t lost that much time after all. He kisses Jeongguk’s hipbone before pulling away, stumbling over to the tiny nightstand next to Jeongguk’s bed and rummaging through the top drawer for lube and a condom. Mercifully, he finds both easily, although he almost drops them when he turns around and finds Jeongguk watching him from the couch, one hand wrapped loosely around his cock.

“Hey,” Taehyung protests half-heartedly, his breath getting stuck in his throat. “That’s my job.”

He hurries back across the room, dropping the lube and condom on the couch so that he can kick off his own pants and boxers.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk breathes, not sounding sorry at all. “Couldn’t help myself, had such a nice view of your ass while you were bent over.”

Taehyung flushes, trying to hide it as he crawls back over Jeongguk and bats his hand away, taking his cock in hand and giving it a few strokes. He’s been complimented on his ass before, but it feels different like this, when it’s something Jeongguk loves about him, something that turns him on. It makes him feel sexy as much as it makes him shy.

In retrospect, the couch was probably not the best place to do this, as evidenced by the way Taehyung nearly gets kicked off of it while they struggle to maneuver a pillow beneath Jeongguk’s hips. Still, they’re way too far gone to move at this point, so Taehyung digs the lube out from where it had gotten wedged between the cushions and situates himself in an awkward crouch between Jeongguk’s legs.

“Ready?” he asks once his fingers are slicked up, gulping when Jeongguk nods and plants his feet on the cushions. He looks obscenely sexy like this, all laid out for Taehyung, offering him his body. It’s the first time they’ve been intimate since they’d gotten back together, and Taehyung is suddenly determined to make it so, so good for him.

“Mm,” Jeongguk hums, inhaling sharply when Taehyung prods at his rim with a single finger. He eases in slowly, fighting to keep his cool at the way Jeongguk sucks him in, the way his finger looks disappearing between his cheeks.

It’s the sweetest agony, teasing him apart slowly, and Taehyung’s wrist hurts and his cock throbs but Jeongguk is perfect, stunning. He cries out when Taehyung takes him in his mouth again, hips bucking upward, ass clenching around Taehyung’s fingers, his body conflicted over which sensation to chase. Taehyung thinks, not for the first time that night, that he could happily get Jeongguk off just like this and be more than satisfied himself.

Jeongguk, however, seems to have different plans.

Mmph, Tae, I - ah - I want you,” he pants, body practically writhing under Taehyung’s touch. His whole chest is flushed now, nipples still perked and swollen from all the attention Taehyung had lavished on them earlier.

“You have me,” Taehyung replies immediately, like the sad, whipped fuck he is. “You literally - this is the definition of you having me.”

“Want your cock,” Jeongguk clarifies, circling his hips down against the three fingers that Taehyung now has inside of him. “Please.”

And god, the way he says that, all polite in the filthiest way possible - it makes Taehyung’s head spin. Makes his cock kick, makes him withdraw his fingers and roll the condom on, lubing himself up with shaking hands.

“Yeah,” he breathes, overwhelmed, lust-drunk, scrambling for a response that doesn’t sound completely idiotic. “Gonna give it to you.”

Not his best, if he’s being honest, but it seems to work for Jeongguk if the way he moans is anything to go by.

Saying a quick prayer for his stamina, Taehyung takes hold of his dick and lines himself up at Jeongguk’s entrance, using his free hand to press one of his legs into the side of the couch. They both swear when he starts to push inside, the sensation so blindingly good that Taehyung thinks he might actually black out for a moment.

“Oh, fuck,” Jeongguk rasps out, fingers digging into the ratty couch cushions. “Fuck, yes.”

“I agree,” Taehyung pants, preening a bit when it draws a strangled half-giggle out of Jeongguk. He keeps moving until he’s all the way inside, pauses to collect himself for a second when he gets there. “Shit, Guk, you feel unreal.”

“You too,” Jeongguk says breathily, looking up at Taehyung with an expression that’s crossed between dreamy and horny as hell. “And god, you’re so fucking hot, come here.”

Taehyung laughs, giddy, falling forward easily when he feels Jeongguk’s heel on his bare ass, nudging him closer. His cock almost slips out of Jeongguk as he shifts, but they right themselves quickly, Taehyung’s hands planted on either side of his lovely, toned shoulders.

“You’re the hottest boy I’ve ever seen,” he murmurs, lips against Jeongguk’s jaw. Slowly, he starts moving his hips, encouraged when Jeongguk makes an affirmative noise, his own body following Taehyung’s.

Jeongguk grins, shaking his head. His eyes are closed now, and even though Taehyung misses seeing them, he loves how utterly blissed out Jeongguk looks. “L-look in a mirror.”

“Not when I can look at you instead,” Taehyung retorts.

“Cheesy,” Jeongguk protests, his huge smile giving him away.

Out of witty replies, Taehyung gives himself over to what he’s feeling, the toe-curling tension that mounts in his stomach with every thrust. He focuses on the movement of his hips, the press of Jeongguk’s knees against the sides of his torso, the way his body rolls up to meet Taehyung’s. As their pace picks up, they both get progressively louder, Taehyung’s lower voice blending with Jeongguk’s sweet, slightly higher one.

“Hnghh, Tae, oh god, feels - ha, so good, wow, can you, umm - ” Jeongguk cuts off, voice trailing into something unintelligible. His head presses back into the couch cushion, putting his neck on display, and Taehyung gets momentarily distracted when he ducks down to lick it.

“What is it?” he asks when Jeongguk doesn’t finish the thought, nudging his jaw with his nose.

Jeongguk flushes, lifting a hand to toy with one of his nipples, and a giant fucking light bulb goes off in Taehyung’s brain.

“Can you - can you touch them again?” Jeongguk stammers out, shy, and yes, yes Taehyung absolutely fucking can, is already reaching for his chest before the words are even fully out of Jeongguk’s mouth. Jeongguk whimpers when Taehyung’s thumb brushes over one of them, his touch gentle given how sensitive he knows they must be.

“It’s so hot that you like this,” Taehyung breathes, completely electrified by Jeongguk’s reaction, the fact that he asked Taehyung to do this. He drops down on one elbow to get their bodies closer, feels the wet drag of Jeongguk’s cock against his stomach and relishes the way it makes them both shudder.

“Feels so good,” Jeongguk mumbles, the words coming out shaky. “Feels - ah - feels too good, fuck, Taehyung, I - I’m - ”

“Close?” Taehyung asks, thrusting in harder, sparks exploding behind his eyes at the way it feels, the way Jeongguk seems to tighten around him.

“Y-yeah, I’m - wanna come Tae, make me come,” he gasps, half plea, half demand, and Taehyung gets this crazy little idea in his head, that maybe he can -

“Gonna make you come without touching your cock,” he announces, spurred on by the positively guttural groan that elicits from Jeongguk. He takes a brief detour away from Jeongguk’s chest to run a hand along his thigh, bending and then folding his leg so that it rests more securely around his waist. Jeongguk seems to get the message, clinging onto Taehyung more tightly, hands running all over his arms, his back, up into his hair.

From there, it’s a bit of a blur. They start moving almost frantically, bodies making those gross sex sounds that somehow never sound gross in the moment, words garbled and nonsensical. Taehyung fucks Jeongguk with everything he has in him, tugging at his nipples, teeth scraping over the sweat-damp skin of his neck. He feels his own orgasm building and uses every ounce of willpower in his body to hold it off, determined to make Jeongguk come first.

“Oh my god, oh my god, Tae - ” Jeongguk babbles, body arching beautifully, and this is it, Taehyung knows, can feel it in the way Jeongguk’s whole body tenses. Then he’s crying out, releasing messily between them, and Taehyung is so fucking gone that it takes exactly one half thrust of his hips for him to follow.

There are a few seconds afterwards where they just lie there in a post-orgasmic haze, bodies still locked together, and Taehyung thinks - rather inanely, perhaps - that this is where he’d like to be for the rest of ever. Which is silly, because soon Jeongguk’s cum will start drying between them, and soon the oversensitivity will set in, and they’ve only just started dating again so it’s ridiculous to think about doing anything in the context of forever, but Taehyung lets himself have the moment. Because here, with Jeongguk all around him, the feeling of his breath and his heart right up against Taehyung’s, Taehyung doesn’t care about Wilson or Schmidt or paparazzi or the fact that his team just got knocked out of the playoffs. He just feels really, wonderfully, deliriously happy, and it’s the best fucking feeling in the world.

Eventually, the discomfort starts to set in, and Taehyung pulls out of Jeongguk slowly, pushing his hair away to press a soft kiss to his forehead. Jeongguk remains sprawled out on the couch while Taehyung gets up and disposes of the condom, watching him with a slightly glazed over expression on his face.

“Nice ass, Kim,” he calls out, making Taehyung snort. He stretches rather languidly on the couch, arms over his head as he lets out a contented sigh. “Bomb stroke game too.”

Taehyung laughs outright at that, returning to the couch and rearranging Jeongguk’s legs so that he can sit down. There’s still cum cooling on Jeongguk’s stomach, and he seems to realize that around the same time Taehyung does. “Ugh, gross,” he says, wrinkling his nose.

“Wanna shower?” Taehyung suggests. His legs still feel a little wobbly, but he knows if they don’t do it now, they probably never will.

Jeongguk cocks an eyebrow at him. “Together?”

Taehyung nods, taking one of Jeongguk’s feet in his hand and rubbing his thumb over the sole.

“My shower’s tiny, it’s gonna be kind of a tight fit,” Jeongguk points out as if this is a problem.

“I can think of worse things than being squeezed up against your wet, naked body,” Taehyung replies, grinning mischievously.

“Fair.”

So they shower together in Jeongguk’s tiny, crappy shower, screeching when the water randomly becomes freezing cold or scalding hot. Taehyung thinks he may have sustained a mild burn to his ass, but he’s still laughing when they stumble out of the shower and help each other dry off. Somehow, he convinces Jeongguk to let him tie his hair up in a towel twist on his head, which ends up making him look unfairly adorable and does something funny to Taehyung’s heart. The night ends with them changing into sweats and cuddling in Jeongguk’s bed, which, similar to his shower, isn’t really big enough to fit them. Not that Taehyung minds having to snuggle extra close to Jeongguk.

They’re both drowsy, but they talk for a little while longer, their words gradually getting less frequent and further apart. Jeongguk nods off first, and Taehyung lies there contentedly, listening to him breathe as sleep starts encroaching on the edges of his consciousness. It obviously hasn’t been a perfect day, given their loss in the playoffs, but this feels like a perfect moment, and Taehyung wonders if maybe this is what it means to truly have balance in your life. To have multiple things that can bring you happiness, multiple things that make you feel at peace. He likes the way it feels.

Chapter Text

“October always seems to be the nicest month of the year here,” Taehyung says, eyes closed as he soaks in the early afternoon sun. They’re sitting in the grass halfway up a gently sloping hill, removed enough from the nearby hiking trail to avoid prying eyes - hopefully. It’s still a bit of a risk for them to be out in public at all, especially on such a beautiful day, but Jeongguk had insisted. He needs Taehyung to know he had been serious about easing into the whole publicity thing.

It’s Jeongguk’s first October in San Francisco, but going off of the weather these past few weeks, he can see why Taehyung says that. The sun has been shining every day, the temperature warmer than in the summer, perfect for spending the day outside. It’s a silly thought, but it’s almost as if the weather has been mirroring his mood, radiant and cheerful and optimistic.

“I love it,” Jeongguk breathes happily, enjoying the way the grass tickles the bare skin of his forearms. “I wish it was like this always.”

“Then we probably wouldn’t appreciate it as much,” Taehyung points out.

“Mm,” Jeongguk hums. “Remember the first hike we went on together?”

“’Course,” Taehyung says immediately, making Jeongguk smile. “It was so foggy and gross. Good for a secret first date, though.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods. “Man, I was so nervous.”

“God, me too,” Taehyung laughs.

Jeongguk glances over at him, surprised. He looks like the picture of effortlessness, leaning back on his hands with a sleek pair of sunglasses perched on his nose. “Seriously?”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows. “Of course, why wouldn’t I have been?”

“I dunno, ’cuz you’re literally a famous baseball player with a very vocal and thirsty fan base?”

It’s true, Jeongguk has seen the tweets. People are horny as fuck.

Taehyung snorts, shrugging. “So? I was still a guy with a big, fat crush and not a lot of dating experience.”

“That’s true,” Jeongguk concedes.

“I really liked that date,” Taehyung says. “I mean, it was kind of heavy, but I felt like we really connected.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk agrees. It’s a little strange to think back on it now, how difficult it had been for him to tell Taehyung even part of the story behind his injury. Now, he knows the whole truth, and he’d been just as understanding and supportive about it as Hoseok.

“So you know how I’m going home at the end of November?” Taehyung says after they’ve been lying in companionable silence for a few minutes. His voice sounds oddly tentative, enough to make Jeongguk shift up on to his elbows to get a better look at his face.

“Yeah?”

“I was wondering, umm - ” Taehyung pauses, biting his lip, and is that a blush rising on his cheeks? Now Jeongguk is really intrigued. “And like no pressure, or anything, I know it might be hard with work, but, uh - I was wondering if maybe you’d like to come with me, for part of it?”

Jeongguk blinks at him for a few seconds, his initial reaction really just surprise at how visibly (and audibly) nervous Taehyung seems to be about asking him. Then his surprise shifts into something more like delighted shock, both at the opportunity to visit Korea and the invitation to travel with Taehyung.

“Are you serious?” he asks, stunned.

“Very,” Taehyung nods, still looking anxious. “I mean, only if you want, of course, but, umm - I’d pay for the flight, and - yeah. I remember you saying you wished you could go back, so I thought, maybe. And also, I’d love for you to meet my family.”

“Holy shit, Tae,” Jeongguk breathes. He feels absolutely floored, blown away by Taehyung’s generosity and touched that he wants to share this experience with Jeongguk. That he wants Jeongguk to meet his family.

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, wincing. “Too much?”

Jeongguk almost laughs out loud. “Are you kidding? No, this is amazing, I’m so - I would love to!”

Taehyung visibly relaxes at that, grinning widely. “Oh! Good, that’s so good then!”

“Are you sure you don’t mind me intruding on your time with your family?” Jeongguk asks. “I know you haven’t seen them in a while.”

“You could never be an intrusion,” Taehyung insists, shaking his head. “And besides, I’m going for a whole month. I was thinking maybe you could meet me for the last week and we could fly home together? Or if you wanted, you could go to Busan first and then come to Daegu.”

That would actually be really nice, Jeongguk thinks. He has family in Busan that he hasn’t seen since he was a child; he would love to spend some time visiting with them. If he asks now, he thinks Ken might let him take 2 weeks, or at least a week and a half - he’s pretty much been Jeongguk’s biggest fan ever since the article about Hoseok blew up.

“I would love that,” he says quietly, still feeling very overwhelmed. He sits all the way up, scooting closer to Taehyung and pulling him in for a hug. “Thank you so much, Tae,” he mumbles into his shoulder.

“Thanks for saying yes,” Taehyung replies, sounding equally delighted.

Jeongguk tugs him down so that they’re lying next to each other on the grass, one whole side of their bodies lined up and pressed together. They pass at least another hour just like that, sun on their faces, breeze in their hair, and nothing but blue sky stretching above them.

***

In late October, Taehyung gets some truly wonderful news.

“I’m cleared to play next season,” Hoseok tells him, almost making Taehyung spit out the sip of red wine he’d just taken. They’re just finishing up dinner at Hoseok’s apartment; Yoongi cooked but had temporarily stepped out to take a call.

“Oh my god!” Taehyung cries, throwing his arms around Hoseok and hugging him tightly. “Hyung, that’s amazing!”

“Thanks,” Hoseok says with a smile. He seems happy but a bit more subdued than Taehyung would have expected given the circumstances. “Yeah, I still have to finish all my physical therapy, but they said as long as I keep up with that I should be good to go.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Taehyung says, and he doesn’t think he’s ever meant it so genuinely. “I knew it was too early for our playing days to be over.”

Hoseok grins. “Nah, we still have a World Series to win!”

“Does Yoongi already know?” Taehyung asks. He knows his two friends have been spending a lot of time together lately, so he wouldn’t be surprised if Yoongi had been the first one to hear the news.

Instead, Hoseok casts his eyes downward at the question, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “No, I - I actually haven’t told him yet.”

Taehyung blinks at him, confused. “Okay…”

“It’s stupid,” Hoseok says, sounding frustrated with himself. “I’m obviously going to tell him, it’s just - it feels like we’ve actually been making progress lately. And of course I want to play again, of course I do. But a part of me can’t help but be a little sad because I know it means I’m going to lose him again.”

Taehyung feels his heart break a little at Hoseok’s confession. He knows how painful this situation has been for both of his friends, and he wishes more than anything that there was a solution that didn’t require a major sacrifice from either of them.

“You’re not going to lose me.”

Both Hoseok and Taehyung’s heads whip around, gazes landing on Yoongi, who is standing in the doorway to the dining area with his phone in his hand. He looks rather small and helpless, but there’s a fiercely determined look on his face.

Hoseok, for his part, seems mortified at having been overhead. “Yoong- ”

“Hob,” Yoongi says, stepping fully into the room. He looks at Hoseok pleadingly. “You’re never gonna lose me, okay? I’m not going anywhere.”

Hoseok stares at him, his expression unreadable. “But if I’m still on the team, that means - I mean, we can’t - ” he trails off, hands gesturing uselessly.

“You should be playing,” Yoongi says firmly. “It’s what you’re meant to do, Hobi. It would - ” he pauses, clearing his throat, and Taehyung realizes he’s getting choked up. “It would break my heart for you not to play anymore. Even more than it breaks my heart to not be with you.”

Hoseok makes a wounded noise, and Taehyung holds his breath, trying very hard to remain unnoticed. He honestly thinks they might have forgotten he’s here. Which is fine, truly - he just wants them to sort their shit out.

“Jung Hoseok,” Yoongi continues, approaching the table and sitting down next to Hoseok. “I love you, okay?”

Taehyung screams internally.

“I know I haven’t said it outright, but - I hope you know.”

There’s a beat, and then Hoseok gives the slightest of nods. “I do,” he whispers.

“And because I love you, I want you to play for as long as you can,” Yoongi says. He and Hoseok are both crying now. So is Taehyung, even as he busily tries to blend in with the wallpaper. “Then, when you’re done, if you - if you’ll still have me - ” Yoongi swallows, nodding to himself. “- I’m going to date the shit out of you.”

Hoseok hiccups, wiping at his eyes. “You better.”

Yoongi smiles softly at him, taking his hand and squeezing it. “It’s a promise.”

Their moment is interrupted when Taehyung accidentally lets out a loud sob, startling them both. He’s honestly surprised he managed to stay quiet for this long - he feels almost as emotionally invested in this relationship as his own.

“Aw, Tae,” Hoseok coos, pulling his hand away from Yoongi to squeeze Taehyung’s instead. “It’s okay, don’t cry.”

“I just want you guys to be happy,” Taehyung blubbers.

“We will be, Taetae,” Hoseok says. “Yoongi just promised.”

Taehyung sniffs, blowing his nose noisily on a paper napkin. “Sorry for intruding on your moment.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Hoseok says, shaking his head. “It’s not your fault that Yoongi finally decided to declare his love for me with you sitting right there.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, shuffling over to put a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder. “You were the one talking about it while I was right in the other room - ”

Seconds later, they’ve devolved back into their usual bickering, but Taehyung knows it’s just the best way they have of expressing their love right now. Still, it’s encouraging to think that, someday in the future, they’ll have many more ways than that.

***

About a month and a half after they get back together, and after much discussion, Jeongguk and Taehyung meet with Seokjin to go over a plan for going public with their relationship. It’s not going to be immediate, but it’s a natural first step towards figuring out how they’re going to approach this. Jeongguk would be straight up lying if he said he wasn’t nervous - maybe even terrified - about the whole thing, but he ends up finding it surprisingly reassuring to have a clear plan in place. Rather than making him panic, it makes him feel more in control. Or maybe that’s just a side effect of having Kim Seokjin handle your life for you. Either way, he’ll take it.

The plan is straightforward enough, or at least it seems that way to Jeongguk - he’s sure there are all kinds of behind the scenes things that Seokjin will coordinate to make sure it all goes seamlessly. But basically, there are three steps. First, through a series of well-placed tips to the media and a few comments from Taehyung, they’ll start planting the seed that Taehyung is in fact seeing someone. Once the public has grown accustomed to that idea, but before the paparazzi start stalking him to figure out who the mystery man is, Taehyung (via a statement from Seokjin) will confirm that he is in a relationship with Jeon Jeongguk of KRON7 - yes, that cute reporter he was flirting with in those semi-viral videos. Conveniently, this will happen right around the time Jeongguk is boarding his flight to South Korea. The third and final step will be when they return from their trip, at which point a small, carefully chosen group of photographers will capture the first ever pictures of them together at the airport.

The strategy behind the plan is to just get it out in the open, in doing so eliminating any clout that could be gained from being the first to expose them or break the story. This gives them at least some control of the initial narrative, and also spares them from having to be in San Francisco when the news first breaks. From there, they just have to hunker in and wait it out for a bit, until some other news story comes along and inevitably dethrones them. Which, Seokjin assures them, will happen in no time.

“Someone’s always screwing someone,” he says, waving a hand dismissively. “Or maybe one of the Kardashians will announce a pregnancy, that would be great timing.” He hums, thoughtful. “Regardless, it helps that Jeongguk isn’t really a public figure - just automatically halves the number of people who are paying attention.”

Jeongguk really never thought he’d see the day where the events in his life might be directly impacted by something the Kardashians are doing, but then again he never thought he’d be dating Kim Taehyung either. He’s learning to just roll with it.

All in all, it’s overwhelming but not quite as panic-inducing as it once seemed. It helps that he and Taehyung are on the same page about how much of their lives they want to share with the public, which is basically nothing. They’ll acknowledge that they’re together, and it’s inevitable that they’ll occasionally be photographed, but other than that, they’re keeping things as private as possible. No interviews (except with each other), no social media, no high visibility public appearances. Their relationship is for them, not everyone else.

After the meeting, they pick up some food and go back to Taehyung’s house together. Jeongguk’s already getting spoiled by Taehyung’s off-season schedule - it’s not like he has nothing going on, but he travels way less and the times that he’s free are much more compatible with Jeongguk’s work hours. They can have dinner together like a normal couple, spend the weekends together and have sleepovers whenever they want. It makes him feel like they’re really getting a fresh start, doing this whole relationship thing properly this time.

“So how are you feeling about everything?” Taehyung asks once they’re home, seated at the kitchen table with an assortment of Chinese takeout containers scattered between them. Yeontan is on the prowl at their feet, eagerly waiting for scraps to accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally, Jeongguk is way too weak for him) drop.

“Okay,” Jeongguk says honestly. “I mean, you know. It’s a lot, obviously. But I feel good about the plan.”

Taehyung nods, poking at his noodles. When he lifts his head again, he looks anxious. “Are you sure?” he asks. “It’s not, like - too much? Too fast?”

From the way the questions spill out of his mouth, Jeongguk suspects he’s been thinking about this for a while.

“Tae, I told you I was serious about this,” he says. “We agreed this was what we were gonna do.”

“I know,” Taehyung says, his brow still furrowed. “But it’s just - I know it’s a lot, and I don’t want you to feel, like, trapped, or pressured, or - yeah.”

Jeongguk sets his chopsticks down, scooting his chair closer to Taehyung and disrupting Yeontan in the process. “I don’t,” he promises, voice soft. “I know I panicked over the summer, and I’m still sorry about that - ” Taehyung shakes his head, trying to interrupt, but Jeongguk continues. “ - but this is different. We have a plan, we know what to expect and when.”

“Still,” Taehyung says quietly, almost reluctantly. “There’s still a lot of that’s out of our control, we don’t know what the reaction is gonna be - ”

“I know, Tae,” Jeongguk reminds him. He reaches out, rubbing over Taehyung’s knee through the worn fabric of his jeans. “What are you really worried about? Do you think I’m gonna change my mind?”

Taehyung chews on his lip, staring determinedly at the colorful tile backsplash over his stove. Judging by his sudden reluctance to make eye contact, Jeongguk suspects he’s gotten to the root of the problem, and he feels a sharp pang of sadness. He knows they’ve both moved on from the Incident (at least as it pertains to their relationship), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t still scars left behind.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Taehyung blurts out eventually, gaze darting back to Jeongguk. “I just - ” he sighs, hands twisting in his lap. “I’m afraid of losing you again.”

Jeongguk feels himself melt like thick, gooey molasses, his insides suddenly all warm and syrupy. He’s filled with a strong rush of affection for Taehyung, desperate to reassure him that he has absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to Jeongguk.

He reaches forward, stilling Taehyung’s fidgety hands when he takes them between his own. “I’m not going anywhere,” Jeongguk murmurs. “Okay? I know what I signed up for. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Taehyung’s throat works, his eyes wide and vulnerable as he stares back at Jeongguk. Then he sighs, offering him a small smile. “Where did you come from, Jeon Jeongguk?”

“Texas,” Jeongguk replies slyly, and Taehyung huffs out a laugh.

“You’re very cute, you know.”

Jeongguk preens. “I try.”

They stay like that for a bit, Jeongguk rubbing his thumb soothingly over Taehyung’s knuckles. He has a feeling there’s still more on his mind, so he stays quiet, waiting him out.

Eventually, Taehyung speaks up. “What made you change your mind?” he asks carefully. “About the publicity?”

Jeongguk pauses, considering. “It wasn’t really one specific thing,” he says. “I mean, like, just getting some perspective helped. And then when Hoseok hyung got hurt, it was like - I just wanted to be by your side.” He frowns, looking down. “Even though I kind of panicked then, too.”

Taehyung shakes his head, squeezing his hand. “It meant a lot that you were there at all.”

Jeongguk squeezes back.

“Really, though, it was when I saw you at Hoseok’s apartment,” he admits, recalling the way the feeling had practically hit him over the head. “With the story, and you saying you trusted me, and I just had this moment where I realized I was so freaking in lo- ”

He hears himself a second too late, mouth snapping shut abruptly. The half-formed word hovers in the air between them, Taehyung’s eyes widening as it clicks into place for him. Jeongguk feels his face heat, stammering as he tries to backtrack. “I - I mean - ”

Taehyung is still just looking at him, this expression on his face that makes Jeongguk’s heart seize. It’s open, trusting, and all at once Jeongguk is reminded that he’s supposed to trust Taehyung that same way.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, ears so hot he feels like they must be on fire. “Is it too soon?”

“I hope not,” Taehyung murmurs, eyes bright. “’Cause I feel the same way.”

And well, Jeongguk hadn’t been expecting that. Emotion crests like a wave in his chest, this surging feeling that he’s never quite experienced before. It feels almost too big for his body, almost knocks him breathless.

“Oh,” he says, because he’s too dumbstruck to come up with anything else.

Taehyung shifts closer, until their knees are slotting together, close enough to lean forward and loop his arms around Jeongguk’s neck.

“I love you,” he says quietly, not quite meeting Jeongguk’s eye. His fingers toy with the hair at the base of Jeongguk’s neck.

The surging grows stronger, strong enough that it has to spill out somehow. And it does, when Jeongguk whispers the words “I love you, too” back into the space between them.

Taehyung smiles, clutching at his hair more tightly, and draws him in for a kiss.

***

The first few weeks of November pass quietly and happily. Taehyung spends a lot of time with Jeongguk, the two of them basking in the glow of their private little love bubble, making the most of the time before they have to share it with the rest of the world. It involves a lot of date nights spent at Taehyung’s house, a lot of hanging out in the backyard and playing with Yeontan. At Jeongguk’s insistence, Taehyung tells him all about his family and helps him brush up on his Korean, all in preparation for their upcoming visit.

They hang out with Hoseok, Yoongi, Seokjin, and Namjoon a lot as well, trading off hosting potluck dinners that mostly turn into Yoongi and Seokjin cooking for all of them. They all get goofily drunk at the one Seokjin hosts, the night devolving into a karaoke competition that features high levels of enthusiasm and low levels of talent. Although, Taehyung can’t help but notice that Jeongguk has a very sweet singing voice, at least in his own completely unbiased opinion. It’s nice to watch him slowly come out of his shell around this group, and in turn to see how incredibly fond they’ve all become of him.

He and Jeongguk get a little bit of practice at being apart when Taehyung goes to visit Jimin in L.A. for an extended weekend, the two of them long overdue for some best friend catchup time. It’s a lot of fun, and he actually gets to go to one of Jimin’s performances, which is amazing. The visit also brings renewed life to speculation that he and Jimin are together, especially in light of the recent, Seokjin-planted rumblings in the media about Taehyung possibly having a boyfriend. Jimin is a good sport about it as always, soaking up the extra attention easily while artfully refusing to give any actual information away.

All in all, it’s a really nice trip, but Taehyung would be lying if he said he didn’t miss Jeongguk while he’s gone. It seems that Jeongguk is in the same boat, because he pretty much attaches himself to Taehyung’s side as soon as he gets home.

“Someone’s clingy today,” Taehyung teases, trying to navigate the challenges of unpacking a bag with a Jeongguk wrapped around his back.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk mumbles, making no effort to let go. His chin moves against Taehyung’s shoulder as he speaks. “I just missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Taehyung says, patting one of Jeongguk’s hands where it rests on his stomach. “We’re getting spoiled from getting to hang out so much.”

That’s part of the reason that Taehyung doesn’t feel too worried about spending so much time with Jeongguk lately - because when the baseball season starts up again, he knows it’ll be right back to constant travel and catching whatever spare hours they can with each other.

“Gotta take advantage of it while we can,” Jeongguk replies, pretty much reading Taehyung’s mind.

The night before Taehyung leaves for Daegu, Jeongguk stays over. Naturally, Taehyung hasn’t finished packing, so Jeongguk helps him with that, although the process ends up taking much longer than necessary because it turns into a bit of a fashion show. Which eventually turns into taking the clothes off altogether and tripping over open suitcases so that Jeongguk can fuck him long and toe-curlingly slow in the middle of his bed. Taehyung doesn’t regret that decision for a minute, but it does make the next morning a bit more stressful because they pass out before he’s fully finished packing.

Jeongguk pouts at him from the bed while Taehyung scrambles around throwing things haphazardly into his suitcase, eventually getting up and refolding those items more neatly while Taehyung collects his toiletries. He continues pouting as he does this, but it’s made all the more adorable by the fact that he seems to either not realize he’s doing it, or to think he’s doing a good job of concealing it. When he walks with Taehyung to the door, the time to say goodbye finally here, Taehyung can’t help but poke fondly at his cheeks.

“Stop pouting,” he says, trying to tug Jeongguk’s lips up into a smile.

Truthfully, Taehyung is feeling just as blue about having to say goodbye to him, but he’s been a bit more distracted by the impending visit with his family.

“’M not,” Jeongguk protests, pouting some more.

Taehyung laughs, squishing his cheeks. “I beg to differ.”

Jeongguk huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m just sad you’re leaving,” he admits.

“Me too,” Taehyung says gently. “But it’s only for a few weeks, yeah? We’ll talk a bunch and you’ll be there in no time.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk mumbles, feet shuffling.

Taehyung takes his chin between his thumb and pointer finger, pulling him in for a kiss. “I love you, Jeonggukkie,” he murmurs, a little thrill running through him as he says it. He still hasn’t quite gotten used to the way it feels.

Jeongguk perks up a bit at this, kissing him back. “I love you too,” he says. “Call me when you get there. And, umm, have a nice time with your family. I can’t wait to meet them.”

“The countdown starts now,” Taehyung grins, taking a step backwards. “See you in a few weeks.”

As much as Taehyung wishes Jeongguk could just come with him now, he knows how important it is that he have some time alone with his family first. He’s a little bit nervous about it, having not spent this much time with them in years, but he’s also excited. He can tell that they are too; his mom has checked in at least 12 times to confirm his flight information, and Hyejin has been texting him more frequently with ideas of things to do while he’s there. Even though he knows it’s what families are supposed to do, he’s still so grateful to them for opening up their lives so eagerly to him, making space even though he’s been so far away for so long.

The trip from San Francisco to Daegu is long but easy enough, with just one relatively quick layover in Seoul. He sleeps for a good chunk of the first flight and watches movies for the rest, feeling deeply grateful for the comfort of first class accommodations. (He’d booked Jeongguk in first class for his flight over as well, but Jeongguk doesn’t know that yet.) The last leg, from Seoul to Daegu, is barely an hour, and he spends that filled with nervous excitement about seeing his family.

Despite Taehyung’s protests, his dad had insisted on picking him up from the airport. They find each other at one of the less densely populated curbside pick-up spots, his dad recognizing him immediately even with a baseball cap and mask covering most of his face. It’s an intense feeling, seeing him in person after a full year apart, and they share a tearful hug before clearing their throats and hustling into the car.

His reunions with his mom and Hyejin are just as emotional, the two of them clinging to him pretty much as soon as he walks in the front door. Hyejin looks even more grown-up in person than she does over FaceTime and on Instagram, something in the way she talks and carries herself now more sophisticated than the last time Taehyung had seen her. As much as it makes him sad to have missed these moments of her growing up, it also fills him with a sense of pride to see her coming into her own. He decides to focus on that, focus on cherishing this time they have together now, rather than letting his guilt weigh him down.

For all his nerves about it, Taehyung finds himself settling into a routine with his family more seamlessly than he had expected. It’s a little awkward at first, as they all try to navigate the line between treating Taehyung as a guest versus just another member of the family, but everyone’s intentions are good and they figure it out after a few days. It helps a lot knowing that he’s going to be there for a full month, taking some of the pressure off and allowing them to just be natural around each other.

He goes for long walks with his mom, gardens in the backyard with his dad, lies on the floor of Hyejin’s bedroom and draws while she writes at her desk. She still won’t actually let him read any of her writing, but she does talk to him about it sometimes, which is better than nothing. When she brings it up, he tells her about Jeongguk and how excited he is for the two of them to meet.

“Is he the same boy you were sad about when you first wrote to me?” she asks. They’re sitting together on the cold tile floor of the bathroom, Hyejin halfway through painting Taehyung’s toenails a vibrant turquoise blue.

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods, admiring the methodical way she applies the nail polish.

“What changed?”

“He came back to me,” Taehyung says, his heart tugging as he thinks of Jeongguk. They’ve been talking a lot, FaceTiming almost every day, but it’s hard with the time difference. He’ll be leaving for Busan soon, though, and then it’s only a few more days until he’s in Daegu.

Hyejin looks up at him, frowning. “How do you know he won’t leave again?”

It’s a painful question, but a fair one. He’s glad that Hyejin has the sense to ask it, even if it puts him on the spot.

“I don’t,” he says honestly. It’s been a hard reality to accept, but he’s realized that’s true for any relationship. “Not for sure. But I trust him, and he’s finally learning to trust me.” He shrugs, thinking about how in just a few weeks’ time, this won’t be a secret anymore. That’s going to be the true test, Taehyung thinks, whether they want to admit it or not. “We’re better prepared for what it means to be together than we were before.”

Hyejin nods thoughtfully. “Do you love him?”

“I love him a lot,” he tells her, growing a little choked up as he says it. He knows that loving someone isn’t always enough, but he believes in the strength of what they feel for each other, and he believes in them as a team. “And I know he loves me too.”

Hyejin smiles, returning her attention to Taehyung’s aquamarine toes. “Then I can’t wait to meet him.”

***

The story drops in the U.S. right around the time Jeongguk is disembarking from a train in Daegu and flinging himself into Taehyung’s well-disguised arms. He waits until they’re safely in the car to tug down his mask and attempt to kiss his face off, feeling giddy at being close to Taehyung again after three full weeks apart.

Jeongguk has just come from a few days spent reconnecting with his family in Busan, an experience that had been more emotional and generally wonderful than he could have even hoped for. They had all welcomed him with open arms, fussing about how much he had grown and how handsome he had become. His grandmother had broken down in tears when she first saw him, touching his face and crying for a full ten minutes before proceeding to aggressively feed him for the rest of the visit. And then there were his cousins, who he reconnected with almost instantly despite having not seen many of them since childhood. They took him to the beach even though it was nearly winter, took him out to all their favorite restaurants and bars in the city, and had a field day teasing him about his American accent. There had been more tears when it came time, all too soon, for him to say goodbye, but it had been with promises to come back and visit again as soon as he possibly could.

Which brings him here, reuniting with Taehyung in Daegu while halfway around the world, news of their relationship breaks in the media. He’s glad that they decided to do it this way, that they’re together and removed from the chaos of the initial public reaction. They’ve both temporarily disabled their social media so that they won’t be tempted to check it, instead relying on Seokjin to filter only the essential information to them. And besides, Jeongguk has more important things to focus on right now than how America feels about Taehyung dating him - after all, he’s about to meet his boyfriend’s family for the first time.

“I missed you,” Taehyung breathes when they finally break apart. “How was your trip?”

“Easy,” Jeongguk says, settling back in the passenger seat. “Have you heard anything from Seokjin?”

“Not yet,” Taehyung replies, shaking his head as he starts the car. “He’ll probably call with an update tomorrow, once he has a better sense of the response.”

Jeongguk hums, nodding. “Makes sense.”

“Are you nervous?” Taehyung asks, glancing sideways at him.

Jeongguk shrugs. He is, but not in the extreme, anxiety-inducing way he’d been afraid of.

“Honestly, I’m more nervous about meeting your family,” he admits.

Taehyung grins, taking Jeongguk’s hand and lacing their fingers together over the console. “Don’t be. They’re gonna love you.”

Even though Taehyung insists it’s not necessary, Jeongguk makes him stop at a local market on their drive so that he can pick up flowers and a small box of pastries to give to his parents. Armed with those, he enters the Kim residence, where he receives a warm greeting from Taehyung’s parents and a slightly more cautious one from his little sister (“She’s just protective,” Taehyung whispers in his ear). They usher him in eagerly, taking his bags and asking about his trip, and Jeongguk immediately understands where that intrinsic warmth that seems to emanate from Taehyung comes from.

It’s fun seeing Taehyung around his family. For starters, he looks exactly like his dad, and Jeongguk thinks to himself that if that’s what Taehyung is going to look like in 25 years, he’s in luck. Then he realizes just how far ahead of himself he’s getting with that particular thought and quickly shuts it down, feeling his face heat. Taehyung obviously notices, sending him a questioning look, but Jeongguk just shakes his head and hurries to take a sip of water.

If Taehyung had gotten his looks from his dad, Jeongguk thinks he must have gotten his brain from his mom. She has the same inquisitiveness about her, an earnest curiosity about things and people. Within a few hours of his arrival, she’s asked Jeongguk all kinds of thoughtful questions about himself, and even though he can tell Taehyung is worried it’s too much, Jeongguk doesn’t mind it. If anything, he’s appreciative and touched that his boyfriend’s mom seems so genuinely interested in him as a person.

Hyejin is a little bit tougher to crack at first, but since Taehyung had said it stemmed from a place of protectiveness, Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He’s glad that Taehyung has people in his life who are protective and want the best for him, and he’s especially glad that Taehyung and his sister seem to have arrived at a good place in their relationship again. He resolves that he’ll just have to show Hyejin how much he treasures her brother over the next few days, which shouldn’t be a problem because Jeongguk knows how obviously whipped he is for Taehyung.

He can feel the family’s eyes on them throughout the day, not in an intrusive way but just curious, observant. It doesn’t make him uncomfortable but it does make him a little anxious, unsure of how to act or how affectionate to be with Taehyung. It helps that Taehyung sticks close to his side, smiling encouragingly when he speaks and offering these little reassuring touches that help put Jeongguk at ease. Everyone loosens up a bit when Hyejin produces an album full of photos of Taehyung as a child, many of which are deeply awkward and unflattering. Jeongguk can tell that Taehyung is embarrassed, but he’s a good sport about it, shaking his head and laughing along with the rest of them as each new photo is revealed.

Even though it’s a lovely and welcoming first day, it’s still a bit of a relief when everyone calls it a night and he gets to retreat for a bit of alone time with Taehyung. He’d been a little surprised, not to mention shy, when he found out he would be sleeping in Taehyung’s bedroom with him, knowing that some parents (such as his own) have stricter rules about that sort of thing. Still, he’s glad for it, wanting nothing more than to cuddle up next to his boyfriend after so many days apart.

Jeongguk yawns hugely once they’re snuggled up in bed together, lying face to face on their sides. Taehyung’s hand is on his waist under the covers, fiddling idly with the hem of his t-shirt.

“Sleepy?” Taehyung asks.

Jeongguk nods. “Long day. Good, but long.”

“I can already tell my family likes you,” Taehyung says with a smile. Jeongguk feels warm inside. “I’m really happy you’re here, Guk.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk grins. “Still can’t believe you flew me here first class.”

(Jeongguk had legitimately thought there was some sort of mistake when he arrived at the airport for his flight to Busan and discovered his seat was in first class. It had taken a phone call to Taehyung and much astonished screeching on his end for him to believe it.)

“I wanted you to be comfy,” Taehyung says, squeezing his hip.

“Completely unnecessary,” Jeongguk grumbles, even though the flight had been the most luxurious experience of his entire life and had ruined him for all future non-first class air travel.

“Well, we’re flying first class on the way home too, so you better get used to it,” Taehyung informs him. “Unless you’d rather I switch you back to coach?”

Jeongguk huffs and Taehyung laughs, leaning forward to press that laughter into Jeongguk’s mouth. It starts as a giggly make out session but gradually turns into something more sensual, their breathing growing labored as Taehyung’s hand sneaks under Jeongguk’s shirt.

“Tae,” Jeongguk says warningly, trying not to focus on how big Taehyung’s hand feels splayed over the small of his back. There’s no denying the fact that his body wants this, especially after a few weeks apart, but they’re also sharing a hallway with Taehyung’s parents and Hyejin. “We can’t.”

“Why not?” Taehyung asks innocently, head ducking to mouth lightly along Jeongguk’s neck. His hand inches lower on Jeongguk’s back, pinky finger dipping below the waistband of his sweats.

“Because,” Jeongguk breathes, wishing he wasn’t actively getting hard right now. Taehyung’s hand creeps further down, fingers brushing the cleft of Jeongguk’s ass. “Because we’re in your parents’ house.”

“We’ll be quiet,” Taehyung murmurs, shifting his hips forward so that Jeongguk can feel that he’s hard, too. “You can be quiet, right?”

Something about the question draws a soft whimper out of Jeongguk, and in that moment he knows he’s lost. He rolls on top of Taehyung, straddling his hips, pretending to roll his eyes at the shit-eating grin being directed up at him. Then Taehyung shoves his hands fully down the back of Jeongguk’s pants, and they proceed to have very hot, mostly quiet sex while Taehyung’s family sleeps peacefully a few doors away.

Jeongguk feels a little guilty about it when he sees them the next morning, but not enough to stop him from doing it three more times during their stay.

***

On their last morning in Daegu, Taehyung wakes up to a Jeongguk-less bed. At first, he assumes that maybe he’d gone to the bathroom, but when there’s still no sign of him after a few minutes, he decides to go investigate. He heads downstairs, slippered feet shuffling over the hardwood floors, following the sound of voices coming from the open kitchen and living area. What he sees when he reaches the doorway momentarily stops him in his tracks, practically punching him in the stomach with fondness.

Jeongguk is seated at the kitchen table with Hyejin, the two of them pouring over what appears to be a crossword puzzle. Their heads are close together, and they’re talking quietly to each other as Hyejin gradually fills in answers. Taehyung’s mom is nearby, sipping coffee at the kitchen counter and occasionally chiming in with a suggestion, and his dad is seated on a couch in the living area, fiddling with his guitar. They all seem so at ease around each other, a perfect little family, and it makes Taehyung melt.

“Well aren’t you four adorable,” he says, drawing their attention to him as he strides into the kitchen. Jeongguk looks startled by his appearance, smiling shyly at him as they all say their good mornings. Taehyung wonders if he can feel the heart beams shooting out of his eyes right now.

He ends up joining Jeongguk and Hyejin as they work on the crossword puzzle, draping his arms around Jeongguk’s shoulders and reading the clues from over his head. It’s a peaceful, relaxing morning, the picture of domestic bliss, and it breaks Taehyung’s heart a little when he and Jeongguk have to go collect their bags and prepare to leave for the airport. He feels more comfortable and at home with his family than he has since he last lived at home, and even though he’s so deeply grateful for this opportunity to reconnect, it makes it extra heart-wrenching to say goodbye.

Everyone cries when the time comes, Hyejin burying her face in his chest and making him swear that he’ll write her the second he gets home. She gives Jeongguk a big hug as well, clearly having warmed up to him since he first arrived, and he catches Taehyung’s eye over her head and gives him a surprised but pleased smile. Taehyung smiles back, shooting him a subtle thumbs up.

“I’m going to make this an annual tradition,” Taehyung tells them, wiping roughly at his eyes. “I promise. And we’ll figure out a time for you guys to come to San Francisco too, maybe this summer.”

“We love you so much, Taehyung-ah,” his mom murmurs, hugging him tightly. “Already counting down to our next visit.”

Somehow, through the many rounds of tears and hugs and goodbyes, they make it out the front door and into the car, his dad having once again insisted on driving them. They go through the whole goodbye process for a second time when they get to the airport, and even though it’s emotional and kind of ridiculous, Taehyung’s heart feels so incredibly full when he and Jeongguk finally step out of the car and head inside.

Once they’re through security and waiting in the lounge, Jeongguk having wandered off the second he caught sight of the complimentary snacks, Taehyung’s focus shifts to what lies ahead of them. There will be photographers waiting for them when they land in San Francisco, reporters and fans and randoms on social media who are eager for a piece of their relationship. It’s been easy to forget about all of that while they’ve been with his family, the two of them in their own little bubble, completely cut off from the public reaction. They’ve had a few check-ins with Seokjin, who’d told them the response has been pretty much as expected so far - some love, some hate, lots of speculation. Still, Taehyung knows what they’re heading into now is the true test, when everything they’ve been planning for and talking about becomes their day-to-day reality. He has faith in them and their relationship, but it still scares him.

The trip home feels like a strange limbo period, the two of them caught between the oasis they’d come from and whatever challenges lie ahead. Neither of them is able to sleep as much as they’d like, but they watch anime with a shared set of headphones and hold hands under the blankets and that’s a pretty nice way to pass the time too. Jeongguk pulls out the bag of free snacks he’d somehow managed to pilfer from the lounge, alternating between eating them himself and feeding Taehyung bites, and Taehyung finds it oddly soothing.

Their flight doesn’t feel short, but it still seems impossibly soon when they touch down at SFO, unfolding themselves from their seats and standing to grab their bags from the overhead compartments. As they wait in line to deboard the plane, Taehyung looks to Jeongguk, his stomach jumping with nerves.

“You ready?” he asks, hoping he sounds calmer than he feels.

Jeongguk, for his part, looks anxious but not violently so. “Not really,” he says, offering Taehyung a rueful grin. “But we’re gonna do it anyway, and it’s gonna be fine.”

“Completely fine,” Taehyung agrees.

“One hundred percent, totally fine,” Jeongguk nods. “Dare I say, nothing has ever been finer.”

“The finest, if you will,” Taehyung remarks, making them both snicker.

There’s movement ahead of them, the slow, rolling effect of a crowd shifting into motion. He and Jeongguk look at each other again, their hands linking in the space between their bodies. Taehyung has a strange moment of panic where he worries about somebody seeing, then feels a little thrill when he realizes he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.

“Let’s do this,” he says, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand.

Jeongguk nods, squeezing back, and they head out into the great unknown together.

***

PHOTOS: Baseball Star Taehyung Kim and New Boyfriend Spotted at SFO

New couple alert! San Francisco Giants star Taehyung Kim, 24, who came out publicly earlier this year, was spotted arriving at SFO with new boyfriend Jeongguk Jeon early Sunday morning. Sources have confirmed that the couple were in South Korea spending time with Kim’s family. Seems like it’s already getting pretty serious!

Jeon, 23, is a sports journalist at KRON7, a local San Francisco network. He and Kim first met through his duties covering the Giants’ season. They seemed to have hit it off right away, as you can see in these videos that briefly went viral earlier this year. With that kind of chemistry, we don’t blame either of them for developing a crush!

According to Kim’s agent, the two have been an item for a few months, but this is the first time they have been spotted in public together. In the photos, they can be seen holding hands and helping each other with their bags. They smiled and waved at the cameras but did not stop to answer any questions, seeming “caught up in their own little world,” a bystander said.

We hope to be seeing more of these two in the future! What do you think of this new couple? Let us know in the comments!

Chapter Text

“Looking pretty good out there, Kim.”

Taehyung cocks an eyebrow at him, grinning as he saunters over. He’s a little sweaty from the game, a streak of orange dirt on his pant leg from where he’d slid into home base during the seventh inning.

“Glad you think so,” he says. “Anything in particular catch your eye?”

Jeongguk gives him a very deliberate once over. There’s a camera trained on them, but he doesn’t care - this is standard practice by now, the only part of their relationship that they willingly share with the public.

“Yeah, you’re filling out those pants pretty nicely.”

Taehyung snorts, his grin widening. “I meant any plays, but I’ll never say no to a blatant come-on.”

“In that case, got any plans tonight?”

Something flashes across Taehyung’s face, so fast that Jeongguk can’t identify what it is. But then he’s laughing, rolling his eyes as he says: “Yeah, with you, loser.”

They’re doing an initial walkthrough tonight for a special they’ll be recording next week, a “Behind the Scenes at Oracle Park” feature where Taehyung and Yoongi will take Jeongguk on a tour of the closed, empty stadium. It’s Jeongguk’s first big solo story since he (along with Namjoon) left KRON7 for a larger network last year, and he’s getting pretty excited about it.

“Oh, that’s right,” Jeongguk says as if he’s only just remembering. “Lucky me.”

Taehyung shakes his head, but the expression on his face is fond. “Are you going to ask me any actual questions, or should I move along to a reporter who doesn’t constantly flirt with me?”

After three and a half years, Jeongguk knows it’s an empty threat, but he plays along anyway.

“Don’t you dare,” Jeongguk says sternly. “Now, about that run in the seventh inning…”

He does manage to fit in a few serious questions, since he’s a very serious professional, after all, and then he continues on his way to interview Yoongi and a few of the other players. Once the media coverage period is over and the team is gathering to return to their locker room, he finds Taehyung again, kissing him on the cheek as they say goodbye.

“I’ll see you at home?” he says questioningly. “Or are you just going to stay here until the walkthrough?”

Once again, Taehyung’s face does something strange, almost like he’s nervous. Jeongguk figures it must be related to the special, but it’s weird because he’s obviously used to being on TV by now.

“I’ll probably stay here, I told Yoongi I’d go over some stuff with him,” Taehyung explains. “I brought a change of clothes.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk nods, deciding not to push it. “I’ll see you in a few hours, then. Love you.”

“Love you.”

He heads back to the office for a bit with Namjoon, reviewing some of the footage from today with the editors and catching up on a few emails. By the time he leaves, he has just enough time to stop home briefly to shower, change, and feed Yeontan. Even though Jeongguk had only moved in a year and a half ago, the house doesn’t feel like just Taehyung’s anymore - it feels like theirs. He feels far more at home here than he ever had in his own apartment.

The stadium is eerily quiet when he returns. He’s been here with Taehyung a few times when it’s been closed, and he always finds it so strange but also kind of breathtaking. Large, echoey hallways, rows and rows of empty seats, a place that was built to be filled to the brim completely devoid of people. It feels like a special treat to be here when it’s like this, a peak behind the curtain. It’s the kind of thing he wishes he could go back and share with his nine year-old self.

Namjoon is there already when he arrives, along with Yoongi and, to Jeongguk’s (not really) surprise, Seokjin and Hoseok. The two of them aren’t part of the special, but since it’s after hours and they’re all friends, he supposes it’s not unusual for them to tag along. He doesn’t see the camera people anywhere, but he doesn’t see Taehyung either, so he wonders if maybe they’re doing some test filming elsewhere in the stadium.

“Jeonggukkie!” Hoseok cries, the first in a series of warm greetings from the others. They’re all smiling very widely; Jeongguk didn’t expect them to be this excited about the special, but it’s nice that they are.

“Hey,” he replies. “Where’s Tae?”

“He’s out on the diamond with the camera crew,” Seokjin says, confirming Jeongguk’s suspicions. “They wanted to get a feel for the lighting out there.”

“Cool,” Jeongguk nods. “Should we head out there?”

“Yes!” Hoseok practically squeals, earning an elbow in the ribs from Yoongi. Jeongguk raises his eyebrows, confused.

When no one makes any move towards the hallway that leads to the diamond, Jeongguk takes a hesitant step in that direction himself. “Uh. I guess I’ll lead the way?”

“Yes, after you,” Seokjin says, the rest of them nodding enthusiastically. Jeongguk wonders what’s gotten into everyone tonight, but he steps into the hallway anyway, the others trailing a bit behind.

When he pushes open the door that leads to the diamond, he thinks for a second that there’s been a mistake. He doesn’t see any crew or camera equipment anywhere, doesn’t even see Taehyung at first until he catches sight of him standing alone over home plate. Jeongguk’s still sort of far away, but he can tell that Taehyung is wearing a suit, can tell that he’s fidgeting a bit as he looks back in Jeongguk’s direction.

There’s a prickling in Jeongguk’s consciousness as he starts to piece together what this might be, what is possibly happening here, and he thinks he might actually pass out because no, there’s no way, there’s no fucking way -

“Jeongguk,” Namjoon murmurs, nudging him forward from where he had completely frozen in place. “Go.”

As if on autopilot, his feet start to move, blood roaring in his ears as he steps onto the field and walks towards Taehyung. Walks towards home.

***

As a rule, Taehyung is not really someone who gets nervous. There are exceptions, of course, like when he met Jeongguk’s parents for the first time or before the final game of last year’s World Series, but generally he’s pretty composed. As a professional baseball player, he’s learned to keep his nerves in check even under high pressure situations, and as a public figure, he’s become a master of keeping his facial expressions neutral.

Today, though, he’s been practically shitting himself since the moment he woke up.

It’s stupid, because he has a plan, a good plan, and he’s like 99% sure that Jeongguk is going to say yes. They live together, and they’re really happy, and when they talk about the future it always involves the two of them as a pair. So rationally speaking, it’s not like he thinks Jeongguk is going to turn around and run screaming from him, but still. It’s not every day that you propose to your boyfriend, and Taehyung is freaking the fuck out.

The game is a good distraction, and then there’s Jeongguk himself, who, despite being the current source of Taehyung’s anxiety, also always manages to make him feel relaxed and happy. When Taehyung sees him in the club house after the game, he’s tempted to drag Jeongguk into a closet and propose to him right then, just so that he can get it over with and go back to feeling normal.

He doesn’t do that, though, because Jeongguk deserves better than that - he deserves the whole evening that Taehyung has planned, and dammit, Taehyung’s going to give it to him. Even if he literally shits himself in the process.

So he stays in the club house after the game, paces around the locker room and Yoongi’s office and, eventually, the empty hallways of the stadium. He practices his speech to Hoseok and to Jimin, who’d flown in from L.A. just for this, and allows Jimin to style his hair while Yoongi gives him a pep talk. Seokjin is off handling the last minute details of the after party, but he shows up with Namjoon in tow about 30 minutes before Jeongguk is due to arrive, just in time to give Taehyung another pep talk.

Then there’s nothing to do but wait, and Taehyung goes out to the baseball diamond alone to do that, wanting a few moments to himself.

After about a year of dating Jeongguk, he’d been pretty certain that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with him. The first few months after they went public with their relationship had been difficult, but the experience had also brought them closer. Rather than pushing him away, Jeongguk had leaned into him further, and together, they’d slowly adapted to a new normal. There had been challenges of course, paparazzi and cheating rumors and fights that had nothing to do with the publicity, just them learning to navigate their relationship. But even amidst all of that, the years they’ve been together have been the happiest of Taehyung’s life. He loves the life that he and Jeongguk have built together, and he knows Jeongguk does too.

He’d made up his mind to propose about six months ago, right after he and the team had won their first World Series together. It had been a moment of such pure, exhilarating bliss, and being able to share that with Jeongguk had made it even more special. It made him realize he wanted Jeongguk there with him for every major moment in his life, good or bad, and that he wanted to do the same for Jeongguk.

After that, it had just been a matter of planning and finding the right moment. He’d thought about doing it at home, just the two of them and Yeontan, and he liked the idea of something so simple and low-key. But Taehyung has always had an appreciation for the dramatic, the symbolic, and when the idea of doing it at the stadium occurred to him, he couldn’t shake it. Then Jeongguk told him about the behind the scenes special, and a walkthrough presented itself as the perfect cover story to get Jeongguk alone in the stadium at night.

So here Taehyung is, standing over home plate with a small, crushed velvet box tucked awkwardly into his pants pocket. The sky is a dark, navy blue above him, the harsh stadium lights illuminating the green of the field and the stark white lines drawn in the dirt. It’s the quietest Taehyung has ever known Oracle Park to be, the only sounds coming from the hum of city life on the other side of the walls.

It all feels a bit surreal, the empty stadium and the bright lights and the fact that he’s about to freaking propose -

There’s the distinct sound of a door opening, one of those heavy metallic ones, and Taehyung swears his heart drops straight out of his ass when his eyes land on Jeongguk. He’s standing stock still at one of the entrances to the field, seemingly staring at Taehyung even though it’s difficult to make out the exact expression on his face.

Please don’t freak out, Taehyung thinks to himself, his insecurities rearing their heads as Jeongguk remains motionless. Please come here, just come here -

Jeongguk stumbles forward a bit, Taehyung thinks someone might have pushed him, but then he’s walking forward, coming closer until Taehyung can see the stunned look on his absurdly handsome face. A little closer, and Taehyung is almost positive there are tears in his eyes - he just prays that they’re the good kind.

“Hi, Jeonggukkie,” he manages to say, his voice coming out a bit strangled.

“Tae,” Jeongguk replies, his eyes extra round as they search Taehyung’s face, slipping down to his suit and then back up again. “Tae, what - ”

Taehyung pulls the box out of his pocket and sinks down, one knee resting on home base. Jeongguk makes a strange sort of choking noise as he watches him, hand rising to cover his mouth.

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung begins. He’s shaking.

“Oh my god,” Jeongguk breathes.

“I really - I really didn’t know if this was in the cards for me, having a love like this,” Taehyung says. “When a cute, shy reporter stumbled into my life four years ago, I certainly wasn’t expecting him to turn into the love of my life. But he did, you did, and here we are, and I - I feel so, so lucky every single day that I get to be with you.”

He pauses to take a breath, notices that the tears in Jeongguk’s eyes are now streaming freely down his cheeks.

“You make me so happy, and I just - I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, and laughing with you, and kissing you.” He swallows, feeling overwhelmed by the strength of the emotion inside of him right now. “I want to make sure that you never feel lost or lonely again, because you’ll always have me.”

Jeongguk sinks to his knees in front of Taehyung, and he looks so stupidly adorable with his nose pink from crying that Taehyung almost forgets the rest of his speech. But then he remembers where they are, the very place their knees are currently resting, and he soldiers on.

“You’re my home, Jeongguk, and I want to be your home too.” With trembling hands, he opens the box, presenting the simple silver band to Jeongguk. Their initials are engraved on the inside. “I love you so, so much. Will you marry me?”

Jeongguk is nodding before Taehyung can even get the words out, pulling him in and kissing him until Taehyung’s cheeks are also wet with his tears. “Yes,” he says into Taehyung’s mouth, and Taehyung’s heart absolutely soars. “Yes, fuck yes, oh my god, I love you so much - ”

“Wait, wait, let me put the ring on you,” Taehyung says, crying and laughing and missing Jeongguk’s finger twice because he’s still shaking and his vision is a little blurry.

“I can’t believe you proposed to me over home plate in freaking Oracle Park,” Jeongguk says, looking around in amazement.

Taehyung grins sheepishly. “Too much?”

“No,” Jeongguk says vehemently, shaking his head. “Perfect.” He pauses, looking thoughtful. “Wait, so was everyone else in on - ”

As if on queue, Jimin, Hoseok, and Yoongi burst through the same door that Jeongguk had come from, whooping and cheering loudly. They crowd around Taehyung and Jeongguk in one giant group hug, ruffling their hair and shouting congratulations.

“I told you guys not to watch!” Taehyung chides them, although he’s really far too happy right now to care that much. He’s also not surprised.

“Did you really think we were going to miss out on this opportunity?” Jimin asks, eyebrows raised. “Please.”

“Seokjin and Namjoon went ahead,” Yoongi says. “I said we should go too but Hobi’s a sap and wanted to stay.”

Hoseok gives him a deeply unimpressed look. “Please, we all know who the real sap in this relationship is.”

Hoseok and Yoongi had finally gotten together the day after the Giants won the World Series the previous year. Hoseok had marched into Yoongi’s office and announced that with a championship under their belts, he was ready to move on from baseball. Yoongi had kissed him on the spot. So now they’re boyfriends, and they act… pretty much exactly the same as they had before they started dating, just with a bit less pining.

“Alright, well now we all need to go,” Taehyung says, shooing them along. “Come on. My fiancé and I will be right behind you.”

They all coo at the use of the word fiancé, but they do as Taehyung asks, giving him and Jeongguk a little space. When he turns back to Jeongguk, he finds him absolutely beaming.

Fiancé,” he says, squeezing Taehyung’s hand. “I like the sound of that. Are you gonna tell me where we’re all supposedly going?”

“Surprise,” Taehyung replies mysteriously, tugging on his hand so that they can follow the others off the field and out of the stadium.

The surprise is a small celebration with their closest family and friends, hosted in the VIP room of the very bar where Taehyung had taken Jeongguk for a night cap the first time they really hung out. Everyone cheers when they walk in, Ella running forward and wrapping them both up in a bone-crushingly tight hug. Jeongguk looks both stunned and delighted to see her there; Taehyung suspects he’ll be even more excited when he hears she’ll be staying for another four days.

Jeongguk’s parents are there too, a bit more subdued in their reaction but still kind and supportive. And then there’s Taehyung’s family, who had insisted on making the trip despite the distance and the fact that Hyejin would have to miss a few days of school. He’d tried to tell them it wasn’t necessary, but in truth, he’s ecstatic that they’re here. This moment wouldn’t have felt complete without them.

It’s a joyous night, full of drinks and laughter and dancing. Taehyung pulls Jeongguk onto the makeshift dance floor and the others follow, Seokjin and Namjoon making each other laugh with their increasingly crazy dance moves, Jimin twirling Hyejin around the room. He sees Yoongi and Hoseok holding hands as they talk to Ella, sees his parents deep in conversation with Jeongguk’s, and he feels blown away with awe and love and gratitude.

“This is amazing, Tae,” Jeongguk says. One of his hands is clasped in Taehyung’s, the other curled around his shoulder. “I can’t believe you planned all of this.”

“I knew Ella would kill me if I didn’t have some sort of party,” he says, only half-joking. Jeongguk laughs. “But I thought it would be nice to celebrate with the people we love the most.”

Jeongguk nods. “It’s really nice. It makes it feel even more special.” He presses his cheek against Taehyung’s, the two of them swaying slowly on the spot. “Kinda looking forward to getting home and celebrating with you alone, though.”

Taehyung pulls back to look at him, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Why, Jeon Jeongguk, that sounds like a proposition if I’ve ever heard one.”

Jeongguk scoffs, rolling his eyes. “Please, don’t insult my virtue like that,” he teases. “I’m still an unmarried man, after all.”

“Not for long,” Taehyung murmurs, pulling him in closer. He rests his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder, eyes scanning the room around them. It holds a lot of memories. “Remember the first night we came here?”

“Vividly,” Jeongguk says. He shakes his head, huffing out a self-deprecating laugh. “I thought I was dreaming the whole time.”

Taehyung tuts, swatting him gently. He’s heard it enough by now to know that Jeongguk was kind of in awe of him when they first met, but it’s still strange to think about. In his mind, he was the lucky one to snag Jeongguk, to find someone who was willing to take on all the baggage of his celebrity.

Now, he knows they both lucked out in finding each other.

“I wanted to kiss you so badly when we were at the top of those stairs,” Taehyung tells him, speaking into Jeongguk’s ear. He says it quietly, like it’s some sort of admission.

He’s close enough to hear Jeongguk’s throat click when he swallows. “Me too,” he breathes.

Taehyung turns his head, nose brushing over Jeongguk’s cheek until Jeongguk gets the message and meets him for a kiss. It’s soft but lingering, both of them a bit caught up in the intensity of the moment, of the whole night.

“Good thing we’ve been able to make up for it a few times since then,” Taehyung hums when they break apart. Jeongguk grins.

“Is it bad if we’re the first ones to leave our own engagement party?” he asks, glancing around.

“No, I think it’s allowed,” Taehyung says, surveying the room. Their families had left a little while ago, but the party is still in full swing for their friends. Jimin and Ella appear to be ordering shots, a red-faced Seokjin insisting that he wants one too while Namjoon tries to talk him out of it. For a second, he thinks Hoseok and Yoongi might have snuck out too, but then he spots them in a booth in the back corner, Hoseok straddling Yoongi as they vigorously make out. “Besides, I think they’re all having too much fun to even notice if we left.”

“In that case, let’s go home,” Jeongguk says.

Taehyung puts on his best cheesy smile, grinning smarmily at Jeongguk. “I thought I told you, babe. Home is wherever I’m with you.”

Jeongguk blinks at him, thoroughly unimpressed. “You didn’t come up with that. That’s a song lyric.”

Taehyung pouts at him. “Is not.”

“It literally is.”

“Okay,” Taehyung frowns, considering. “How about this? With you, anywhere is home.”

And the thing is, yeah it’s cheesy as hell, but Taehyung also means every word. He’s had many physical homes - Daegu, Los Angeles, San Francisco. He’s loved them all in different ways, but he didn’t feel like his heart truly had a home until he met Jeongguk.

Jeongguk laughs, rolling his eyes fondly. “Just take me home, Tae.”

“That’s a song lyric, too. And a whole One Direction album,” Taehyung points out. “But I will, gladly.”

And he does.

***

Later that night, they’re lying side by side in bed, sleepy and content. The room is dark and quiet, but neither of them is asleep yet.

“Hey, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung whispers, still buzzing from the night’s events. He feels filled to the brim with love and happiness, feels like it’s spilling out of him. “I really hit it out of the park with you.”

Jeongguk smacks him in the face with a pillow. Then he rolls over, cuddling up close to Taehyung and pressing his smile into his neck. “Yeah, same. Total home run.”