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Kiss Me Hard Before You Go

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The first time Taehyung sees Jeongguk, he falls on his ass.

In his defense, though, he’s walking backwards immediately before he does. It’s an art form perfected through practice, like most art is, and if Taehyung ever needed to learn how to moonwalk he can say he has a head start in mastering it without even needing to look over his shoulder. Such is the life of a university campus tour guide.

No, it’s not professional, not in the least. Taehyung gestures a lot as he talks like an enthused peacock, so he assumes it does not look graceful or coordinate, either.

“For our first stop, we’re passing by the University Center to your left,” he says, voice booming over the bustle of students getting to class. “You’ll find a lot of student services in there, a computer lab, the bookstore, and study halls. In the beginning of each semester there are plenty of organizations stationed there go recruit as many—“

And, really, someone who drives a red Hummer H3 is just begging for attention so it's not his fault that he looks. It roars into the parking lot beside the walkway, tires screeching when it pulls into a parking space. Taehyung is about to look back at his tour group when the driver’s side door opens and a boy steps out. Then the world moves in slow motion and Taehyung is disappointed he does not have dramatic backtracks to his life, and swears he’s going to upload appropriate theme music into his phone so he can blast it whenever he so needs. No one can ever go wrong with Careless Whisper - Saxophone Instrumental.

The boy steps down like a king descending from his fucking throne. Keys jangle in his hand as he does, and he slings his backpack over his shoulder in one fluid motion. The car door slams behind him, and he glances down at his keys before he aims the car remote behind him. Beep beep, chirps the sacrilegious monstrosity of a passenger vehicle, and then he is gone.

And then Taehyung is on his ass, on the ground, palms planted on the cement.

“Are you okay?” One of the fathers has his hand extended. “You took a pretty big fall there.”

“I’m great! Sorry, even with practice, we tour guides are not always creatures of agility,” Taehyung says cheerfully, letting himself be helped up. “Right! Where were we?”

Taehyung has given tours with high fever forced down with an overdose of Dayquil, he’s given tours hungover, he’s even given tours sore in the ass from one night stands and the route is over a mile long—but for the rest of the walkthrough he can hardly keep his mind from wandering back to that boy with the dark hair that drives an Iggy Azalea of a car.

 


“I heard you had a little accident today, Taehyung.”

“Oh, uh. Yeah, about that.”

“You make it sound like he peed himself in kindergarten,” Jimin remarks. He has his head in Seokjin’s lap, feet propped up against Taehyung’s shoulder. They smell like neglected laundry and death, but Taehyung has gotten used to Jimin. “Which I, if I didn’t know better, will wager would be less embarrassing than what actually happened.”

“I heard you fell. Were you okay?”

“I was okay,” Taehyung says quickly.

Seokjin narrows his eyes. The problem with being friends before mentees with Seokjin is that, yes, Seokjin can see through anything and everything that Taehyung tries to pull. This is especially inconvenient considering Seokjin is the head of the tour guide department of the admissions office and has real power to remove Taehyung from his job if he so pleased.

“What happened?”

Taehyung bites the inside of his cheek for a moment. Well, better to be truthful than to let Seokjin know he lied. “I got distracted for a second,” he admits, hanging his head. “And I didn’t look where I was going.”

“You usually can’t when you’re walking backwards,” Seokjin says knowledgeably.

“I’m sorry!” Taehyung cries. “I swear, I was doing fine, but I got distracted and stumbled. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“You are so hot when you’re scary,” Jimin comments from Seokjin’s lap, and Taehyung fights the urge to roll his eyes so far into the back of his head he’ll see his own brain matter. “You should do that to me more often when we—“

“I am very sorry,” Taehyung emphasizes, raising his voice over Jimin’s. Seokjin fights back a laugh.

“We’re reading tour guide evaluations next week, so don’t apologize to me,” Seokjin says. “We’ll just let the surveys do the talking.”

“Oh, okay,” Taehyung says, marginally relieved. He always gets glowing evaluations, rated between eight and ten for helpfulness, friendliness, approachability, did your tour guide give you a better feeling about this school? So he’ll worry about that if his ratings drop below seven next week.

“What did you get distracted by?” Jimin asks. “Though knowing you, it was probably a puppy. Or the guy that rides a unicycle.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, going with Jimin’s assumption. “It was.”

“Was it really?” Jimin says. He slides his feet off Taehyung’s shoulder and lifts his head off Seokjin’s legs slightly.

“No it wasn’t,” Seokjin says. He’s scrolling through his Facebook feed now, not even half paying attention to Taehyung. “You know it wasn’t, Jimin.”

Jimin squints. “You dare lie to the mighty Park Jimin?”

“It was a guy!” Taehyung says, throwing his hands up over his head. “I’m sorry, I know. It was unprofessional of me, but this is the truth. It was a guy. I said it.”

“Oooh,”Jimin says, sitting up properly now. There is a look on his face that Taehyung knows usually comes before a shitload of trouble. “What did he look like?”

“Uh,” Taehyung says, feigning thought. In reality he actually remembers what he’d looked like with unreasonable detail. “Not huge, like Seokjin hyung. Maybe around my height, I’d give him an inch or two on me at most. Black hair, like, it fell into his eyes a little?” Taehyung says, shaking his head and sitting back in the couch cushions. “You would’ve fallen on your ass too, Jimin. God, he was hot, in that shitty douchebag tool way. He was driving a red Hummer, that’s how I noticed him at all. You don’t get more obnoxious than that.”

Taehyung jumps when Jimin grabs his upper arm, eyes wide. “He drove a red Hummer?” he asks, scrambling off the couch and standing up. “Wait, wait. Was he about like, yea big, kind of has an itty bitty baby face, walks like he owns half the New York stock exchange?”

“Whoa,” Taehyung says. “You know him?”

“Oh my God,” Jimin says like Taehyung has just betrayed him in love and war. He collapses into Seokjin’s lap again with the back of his hand pressed to his forehead in a melodramatic faint. “Oh my God, Taehyung, that’s Jeon Jeongguk. Oh my God, love yourself.”

“What!” Taehyung says. “He’s hot!”

“What you said not more than ninety seconds ago was exactly what he is,” Jimin groans. “A shitty douchebag tool.”

“He’s not that bad,” Seokjin says. “He offered me Coke out of his cooler that time I came to visit you guys at dance practice. And he even invited me to your team’s afterparty once.”

Jimin gives him a dirty look. “He is a spiteful human being put on this Earth by forces greater than me to punish me for my sins.”

“You were like, in love with him before we started dating,” Seokjin points out. “Besides, said forces greater than you also helped us meet, so I don’t think you should be badmouthing them right now.”

“True,” Jimin says. “True. I’m sorry, greater forces.”

“So, what, you guys don’t talk anymore?”

“No, they do, they’re actually close friends,” Seokjin says before Jimin can answer. “But it’s kind of hard on the knees when you’ve wanted kouhai to notice you for two years now.”

 


So of course, Jimin being Taehyung’s best friend, offers to hook him up the very next day.

“No!” Taehyung says. “I mean, wait. Wait. I want to see if I can meet him myself. What if we’re fated to be?”

“Fated. To be.”

“What? Don’t. Not with you all up in my face waxing poetic about Seokjin being the one great love of your life last year.“

“Which we are, so,” Jimin says, flipping imaginary hair over his shoulder, and Taehyung thinks that he really needs to talk Seokjin out of teaching him how to sass back like this. “But really, Taehyung, you’re my best friend and if you want a hookup—“ Jimin winks. “I got your back. Just say the words.”

“I don’t know, man,” Taehyung says. “I don’t know if I want to have anything to do with him until he reconsiders his questionable automobile taste.”

“Look, we all tried to get him to change his mind about it,” Jimin says. “Five of us. Well, four, Seokjin didn’t say much but he did say that Jeongguk had to prepare himself for reactions like yours. And Hoseok actually gave a good argument, too—“

“Hoseok?” Taehyung asks. “He knows your dance team sunbaenim?”

“He’s in my dance team, remember?” Jimin says. “He lives with Hoseok. It’s him, Hoseok, and another guy named Namjoon. And you know, Hoseok being the vice president of Habitat for Humanity and an environmental science major, tried to talk Jeongguk out of leasing nine thousand gas-guzzling, date-repelling pounds of metal, to which he replied, and I quote, ‘I love bad bitches, that’s my fucking problem.’”

Taehyung gives Jimin a look over his own lunch. “I don’t know how you’re friends with him.”

Jimin shrugs, holding up his hands. “I’m just saying,” he says. “And I mean, he’s a cool guy once you get to know him. And hot as shit too, so I guess I can’t blame you there. He’s just.” Jimin pauses, holding his bowl up to his mouth. “An odd one, sometimes.”

“I think you forget who you’re talking to.”

“It’s a very different brand of odd,” Jimin says solemnly. “I would never catch him attempting to build an Iron Man suit and arc reactor out of copper wire and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup cans, but at the same time I can’t imagine you getting high enough to attempt locking your bike with your car remote and then screaming in frustration when it doesn’t work.”

“Oh my God.”

“I know,” Jimin says, closing his eyes at the memory. “I know. I stand by what I said though. As much as I pretend to hate him, he’s good guy. A great friend. You just have to wait a while for him to come around but when he does, he’ll always be there.”

“I’ll take a rain check,” Taehyung says, shoveling the rest of his food into his mouth. “I got class now. Thanks, Jiminie.”

 


Class hurries on by and Taehyung gets a distress call from Seokjin about one of the tour guides coming down with severe stomach flu, and he needs to take the next tour that starts in fifteen minutes.

“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” Taehyung says, “I’m buying my books right now and I’ll bike over ASAP. No, no, it’s okay, I can take it, don’t bother Youngjae, he ate shit on his longboard on the first day of class.” He sets down the armful of books on the counter, reaching for his wallet. “Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. You might want to get in touch with him, he didn’t tell me if he’s any better.”

“Is that credit or debit?”

Taehyung looks up from the pin pad and right into Jeon Jeongguk’s face.

He gapes openly, lips parted in surprise. Jeongguk is wearing the University Center work polo. It sits so well on his frame. This close Taehyung can see they really are nearly the same height, even separated by the counter, and when Taehyung doesn’t answer, he slides his gaze to Taehyung’s face.

“Credit or debit?” he prompts again, hand hovering over the cash register.

“Taehyung?”

“Yeah hyung, I’ll be right there,” Taehyung says, hanging up. “Uh, credit.”

“Alright, go ahead and swipe,” Jeongguk says, fingers flying over the keypad. Then the machine whirs and Jeongguk holds out the receipt. “You have until next week to return those if you need to.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung says, gathering his books to his chest. He doesn’t stop walking until he’s far out of the entrance already, setting his backpack down to unload the books into his bag. He wants to go back in there and wander around, but work calls and Taehyung has twenty high schoolers to persuade into attending this university. So maybe another day, he decides, one where he actually puts on nice clothes and cologne and, oh God, Taehyung really hopes he combed his hair this morning.

 


“I saw Jeongguk today.”

“You did?” Jimin has just gotten back from the rec center, sweaty and tired, but this piques his interest. “How? When you were on a tour again?”

“No. In the bookstore, actually.”

“Oh yeah,” Jimin says, stripping his tank top off and making a swishing noise as he aims it into his laundry basket, aka the pile on the floor. “He works there twice a week, I think? Wow. You two must really be fated.”

“Ha,” Taehyung says triumphantly. “See? I didn’t need help after all.”

“I never said you needed help,” Jimin says, scratching his jaw and checking his phone. “Maybe you need to get laid, but that’s none of my business.”

“You’re not going to be saying that when you come back to a locked bedroom door, are you.”

“I think I’ve sexiled you enough for you to have accumulated sufficient roommate brownie points for me not to have a problem with that,” Jimin says, not even batting an eye, and Taehyung misses the days when he could throw Jimin into a tizzy with the mere mention of Seokjin’s name. It’s quite disappointing, really. Jimin yawns. “Besides, you’re the one that shares a wall with Sungjae and Sanghyuk.”

“Do you think Jeongguk’s got a nice dick?”

Jimin looks up from his phone with a pained expression. “Taehyung,” he says with the air of an offended parent, “why.”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says seriously. “Yeah, ignore that.”

Jimin sighs likes one of the truly martyred. “Yes, he does,” he says. “I’ve seen it. Alright? It happens when you use the rec center showers together. I don’t know how great he is with it, you’ll have to ask,” he shakes his head, throwing a clueless hand up, “I don’t know. But there is more than one person on this campus that can tell you better than I can.”

“Wow,” Taehyung says. “International playboy, huh?”

“Yes,” Jimin agrees. “You’re not the only one that’s fallen on his ass upon sight of Jeon Jeongguk, unfortunately.”

“Were you one of them?” Taehyung asks knowingly.

Jimin winces, looking away. “Ooh, don’t remind me,” he says, and Taehyung laughs. “It’s not one of my proudest moments.”

 


The next time Taehyung meets Jeongguk is under stranger circumstances.

It begins like this: taehyungie! i locked myself out ㅠㅠ could you meet me at the university center cafe? i’ll be at the place where i cried to you about seokjin hyung...you remember the one ㅋㅋㅋ

Taehyung shoots back a series of laughcrying emojis to let Jimin know he’s seen the text and he’s coming, hang on, give me five minutes. He stuffs the rest of his quesadilla into his mouth, wiping at the grease that drips down his chin, and takes off. The University Center is far from where he is, hanging out in the psychology quad. He’ll have to Yowamushi Pedal this shit if he’s going to get there in five minutes.

The cafe is a little hole in the wall, tucked away beside the grand, cherrywood arch framed entrance of the bookstore. Taehyung is out of breath, but he reaches into his backpack for his keys as he’s walking. The place Jimin speaks of is one of the quaint bar tables beside the window. Taehyung remembers it well. He remembers wiping tears off Jimin’s cheeks with coffee-stained, recycled-material napkins here.

Right now, there is a very un-Jimin figure sitting at their table.

“What the fuck,” Taehyung mutters to himself, turning around and walking straight back out of the cafe. “What the hell. Is that Jeon Jeongguk?”

Saying this out loud makes it realer. Taehyung looks over his shoulder, and there he is, staring out the window like he’s waiting for someone. He steels himself and marches back inside. Maybe Jimin is already here and bumped into Jeongguk by accident. Or Jeongguk’s drink is being made right now and he took a seat near the counter. Yes, this makes sense.

“Hi,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk turns to him. “Are you here for someone?”

“Uh, yeah,” Jeongguk says, voice strangely defensive. Taehyung blinks. Well, okay.

“My friend actually asked me to meet him here, so I was wondering—did he ask you to come too? Or...?”

Jeongguk stares into Taehyung’s eyes for a moment before he says, in the most poisonous voice, “Does your friend happen to be Jung Hoseok.”

Oh. Oh. The pieces fall into place as Taehyung feels the cogs working in his head and Jeongguk’s face darkens like a stormcloud. “Oh, my God,” he says, uncomfortably aware that he’s sweating like an oxen. “No, not Jung Hoseok. It was Jimin.”

“I will kill both of them,” Jeongguk says murderously, and a passing girl slants him a worried glance. He shrinks in his seat, then leans forward says in a furious whisper, “We were set up.”

“Yeah, I can see that. I’m Kim Taehyung,” Taehyung says without missing beat, hopping into the bar stool across from Jeongguk, who sits back. Clearly, he wasn’t expecting Taehyung to just go along with this. “Do you have any idea why? Jimin gave me no warning.”

“Jeongguk,” he says. “Jeon Jeongguk. I’ve heard of you, actually. Jimin speaks of you often. And, well, Hoseok hyung and Jimin and I,” Jeongguk says, and Taehyung notices he drops the honorific only with Jimin, and laughs to himself. It probably drives Jimin up the wall. “We play a lot of pranks on each other, so I guess I can say I kind of saw this coming. I was next in rotation. I just didn’t see them doing,” Jeongguk gestures to Taehyung, who frowns and crosses his arms.

“Doing what?” he asks, his turn to be defensive now.

“I’m not really into the whole dating scene,” Jeongguk explains. “So.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says shortly. “I see.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk concludes. “Sorry.”

“No, no, don’t be, to each their own,” Taehyung says, waving a hand. “It’s okay.”

“Really?” Jeongguk says, smiling, and it lights up his face in a totally different way than the sunlight does. “I was worried, you looked sincerely disappointed for a moment there, and I felt really bad.”

There’s an idea brewing in the pit of Taehyung’s stomach even as Jeongguk speaks, though. He feels a grin spreading over his own face and Jeongguk looks reasonably wary by the time Taehyung says, “Wait. I have an idea. If you’re not cool with it, that’s fine, but you said you guys all play pranks on each other, right?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says slowly.

“And you said you don’t date, right? Okay, how about this,” Taehyung leans forward, beckoning Jeongguk closer. He leans in reluctantly. “You pull the biggest prank on all of them. You tell them, hell yeah, that Kim Taehyung you set me up with? We’re dating now. Let’s see how long it takes for them to fall for it.”

Jeongguk frowns and sits back. “Whoa man, I don’t know.”

“Wait, I’m not finished,” Taehyung says. “Okay, so say they do all fall for it, right—once we convince all of them, we throw a party. Happy breakup party, you guys all fell for it, surprise! We’re not actually dating, this is Jeongguk’s magnum opus of all pranks.”

Jeongguk looks unconvinced.

“You just have to act like you’re dating me,” Taehyung clarifies. “So you can still engage in whatever nefarious things you do on the weekends.”

He cracks a smile at this. “Who said I engaged in anything nefarious?”

“Jimin, actually,” Taehyung admits, and Jeongguk makes a strangled noise of anger.

“I will kill him,” he repeats.

“Now, now, if you kill him, you’ll never get to see the look on his face when you break the news to him. You do want to see it, don’t you?”

Jeongguk hesitates a moment longer. “I can’t wait to,” he says, and Taehyung knows he’s won. “He’ll never know what hit him.”

 


The thing about fake dating, first and foremost, is that it takes two excellent actors to pull it off, and even then half of Hollywood still fails to convince their audience of their onscreen romances. The thing about Jeongguk, first and foremost, is that he is such a terrible actor that Taehyung is physically incapable of taking him seriously.

“Okay, okay, how about this,” he says. They have not yet broken the news to anyone, not until they can get down pat the semblance of dating first. “You know those immigration questionnaires they administer? The marriage interviews? We should print one of those out, fill in our own answers, and exchange.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Jeongguk says thoughtfully. “Okay, you wait here, I’ll go run them off now.”

“Uh uh,” Taehyung says, snapping his fingers when Jeongguk breezes past him. “You’re forgetting something.”

Jeongguk is puzzled for a second. Then he groans. “No, come on, no one is even looking,” he says.

“You need to get into the habit of it!” Taehyung insists. “It’s rehearsal time now, showtime later. We can’t have you blanking on your lines onstage.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jeongguk mutters darkly. He doesn’t protest any more, though, leaning in and pecking his lips on the bangs that rest over Taehyung’s forehead. “Is that okay?”

“You’re going to have to use a lot more enthusiasm, but you’re getting there,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk makes a face like a stepped-on cat.

The next time they meet, they exchange finished interviews, sitting together in silence on the couch to read each other’s answers. The second Taehyung opens the door Jeongguk steps in and drops a kiss to his head, and then he steps back smacking his lips like he tasted something odd.

“How was that,” he asks.

“Better,” Taehyung says, giving him a thumbs up as he shuts the door, reading the first line of answers. “All right, let’s see what we have to work with here.”

Jeongguk likes spicy food. The spicier, the better. He tends to sleep on the left side of the bed with his back to the wall. He’s the younger brother of two children. He adores red, not like Taehyung hadn’t figured that out from his choice of vehicle color. He has a dragon tattoo.

“Whoa, you have a tattoo?” Taehyung asks, looking up and scanning all of Jeongguk’s exposed bits of skin. “Where?”

“Here,” Jeongguk says, patting his right bicep, not looking away from Taehyung’s packet.

“Can I see it?”

Jeongguk sets the paper down and pushes the sleeve of his shirt from his wrist up his arm. It bunches up around his shoulder. Jeongguk is far more built than Taehyung expected, the muscles in his arms straining as he struggles to get the fabric to stretch around his arm. It’s drawn onto Jeongguk’s skin in black and red and tinted gold in some places, the body of the dragon coiled twice around his bicep.

“Damn,” Taehyung breathes as Jeongguk slides his sleeve back down over his arm. “That’s intense as hell.”

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says, a faint smile on his lips.

It becomes a regular occurrence, Jeongguk coming over when Jimin is at the rec center. Sanghyuk and Sungjae are at home far less than either of them, both of them being in a frat, so it isn’t difficult for Jeongguk to sit on their couch and quiz Taehyung on all his personal information.

“Favorite movie,” Taehyung says, looking at his own answer. Hm. Maybe he should’ve changed it. It’s not very grown-up, but at least it’s honest. Either way, Jeongguk screws his face up in thought and struggles to remember, and Taehyung chews his way through another handful of pomegranate disapprovingly. “Wow, it’s not that hard.”

“I honestly don’t even remember seeing that,” Jeongguk says. “Fuck, what is it?”

Toy Story 3, dumbass.”

Toy Story?” Jeongguk repeats. “I don’t think you’re in a position to be calling me a dumbass.”

“Whoa, hey, hey, that movie teaches so much about friendship and loss and growing up, it is emotionally moving, and I cry every time. I won’t have you talking shit about it,” Taehyung says. “Besides, what’s your favorite movie? Like, Step Up 2: The Streets? At least my favorite is a classic and not an unnecessary sequel of an equally bad prequel.”

Jeongguk actually gets to his feet. “I will have you know,” he says, pointing the rolled-up packet of answers in Taehyung’s face, but he doesn’t get to have Taehyung know anything because the front door rumbles as someone unlocks it, and both of them freeze. “Hyung, stop it!” Jimin’s sharp voice comes through the wood, full of mirth and giggles, and Seokjin’s laugh mixes in with it.

“Shit!” Taehyung hisses. “What the hell is he doing back already?”

“You said he’s at the rec center until seven every day!”

“I don’t know! Shit, shit, shit—wait, hide in—“

He is standing up to shove Jeongguk into the crevice between the bookshelf and the couch, hidden from view at least from the angle of the front door, but Jeongguk stops him. He grabs Taehyung’s wrists, pushes him down onto the couch, the paper crushed under their bodies. In the next second Jeongguk is kissing him.

Taehyung stares at him, and Jeongguk has his eyes open too, alight with determination, and it’s the strangest thing he has ever had to do. Jeongguk is straddling Taehyung on the couch, caging him down into the cushions. In the split second before Jimin manages to get their finicky door open Jeongguk shuts his eyes, opens his mouth in earnest, and Taehyung lets himself be swept up in the taste of his lips. Showtime it is.

“Seokjin hyung, stop, sto—holy shit!” Jimin shouts, and Taehyung feels himself smile against Jeongguk’s mouth when there’s a thud for whatever reason. “Okay, wait! Does everyone have their clothes on?”

“Uh,” Jeongguk says, lifting off of Taehyung, who has to catch his breath. The room is spinning, and then nearly tilts on a ninety degree angle when Taehyung watches Jeongguk reach down to his fly, unzip it, then zip it back up. Jimin whimpers out loud at the implication, and Jeongguk flashes a thumbs-up at Taehyung. “Okay, now we are.”

“Jeon Jeongguk,” Jimin says, still facing the wall with his arm hooked into Seokjin’s, “is that you?”

“What are you doing back here?” Taehyung asks, sitting up as Jeongguk leans back on his heels. “You said you were going to the gym directly after class.”

“Hyung showed up outside my lecture hall,” Jimin explains. “And then we went to dinner, and—wait, this isn’t about me.“ He turns around. “What the hell is this? Jeongguk? Taehyung?”

“About that,” Jeongguk mutters, not looking into Jimin’s face, and Taehyung has to marvel at his acting. It’s not half bad. “Uh, we’re. Kind of, uhm.”

Jimin crosses his arms. “No, you’re not,” he says scathingly. “Drop the act, Jeongguk, no you’re not.”

“We are!” Taehyung chirps. “We’re together!” Jeongguk swats Taehyung’s shoulder. “What? You said it yourself, right?”

Right?

Jimin looks to him disbelievingly, then at Seokjin.

“What do you say, hyung?” he asks. “Are they bullshitting us?”

Seokjin’s gaze is piercing when he levels it at Taehyung, who forces himself not to smile sheepishly or sweat or do anything that could be a tell. In the tense heartbeats that follow Taehyung is sure this will have been a bust, but then Seokjin says, “Innocent until proven guilty, Jimin.”

And they high five when Jimin and Seokjin are out of earshot.

 


“Along this entire path are research labs for chemistry and engineering, and farther down are the physics buildings,” Taehyung says, sweeping his arm out behind him. “If you’re planning to major in STEM subjects, you’ll find yourself on this side of the campus really often. On good days you may see students taking a nap under the sun between labs, those can last up to four hours once you start getting into the upper division classes.”

“Does psych ever have classes here?” someone shouts.

“Minimal, depending on which branch of psychology you’re studying,” Taehyung says, expertly stepping over a rock. No ass-planting today, Satan. “I’m in pure psych now, but I started out as neuroscience and had just as many chem and physics classes as my biology friends did.”

The late autumn sun is watery and cold upon Taehyung’s back, and when he wraps up his tour he grabs his books and rushes to class in the last second, sliding into his seat just as the professor begins talking. Odd, he thinks, looking around. Jimin is nowhere in sight and they have this class together. It isn’t until Taehyung has taken out his laptop that Jimin slouches in, a few minutes late.

“It’s not often you’re later than I am,” Taehyung murmurs, typing in his password. “What happened to your bike?”

“Nothing happened to my bike,” Jimin says, wincing when he sits down, and the understanding slaps Taehyung in the face.

“Speak no more,” he whispers solemnly, and Jimin gives him in a shit-eating grin.

“What about you and Jeongguk?” Jimin asks, and Taehyung raises his eyebrows.

“What about us?”

Jimin waves his hand in an attempt to get Taehyung to elaborate. “When the hell? How the hell?”

“When you guys set us up,” Taehyung says truthfully. “But you guys didn’t see us hitting it off right away coming, did you?”

“I guess not,” Jimin says. “But what the hell, honestly, I’m so confused. Jeongguk hates the idea of settling down.”

“Guess he didn’t mind it with me,” Taehyung gloats.

Dating someone, even if it isn’t real, takes some getting used to. Taehyung and Jimin walk out of class together only to see someone new standing beside Seokjin, looking nervous and out of place until he spots Taehyung. Jeongguk smiles at the shock on Taehyung’s face. This is the kind of shit only Seokjin does. Jimin doesn’t hesitate to walk right into Seokjin’s arms, scrunching up one side of his face when Seokjin leans down to kiss him on the cheek, but Taehyung is a little more reserved.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk holds his hand out. He takes it. It’s natural, not odd at all. What does get Taehyung is how public it is now. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Fancy that,” Jeongguk says, tugging him in and pressing his lips to Taehyung’s temple. “Long day?”

“Oh my God, they’re so cute, I’m going to throw up,” Jimin says behind them, and Seokjin shushes him. Taehyung throws a dirty look over his shoulder and Jimin arranges his face into one of disinterested nonchalance, but the smile is still in his eyes.

“It was okay,” Taehyung says. “I had back to back classes and tours, so I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.”

“What, really?” Jeongguk asks. “What the hell, let’s go eat, then.”

“No, it’s almost dinner. I was just going to wait.”

“Fine, dinner. Let’s go get dinner.”

“As in, go out?” Taehyung asks. “Just you and me?”

Jeongguk frowns at the skepticism in Taehyung’s voice. “Well, yeah. You’re my boyfriend, right?”

Right?

“Okay,” Taehyung agrees, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand in his. It’s thicker and sturdier in Taehyung’s fingers than he is used to. “Let’s go. It’s a date!”

Jeongguk seems to be serious about it, though—they walk to his car and at first Taehyung expects him to say, “Wow, we did a good job back there, huh?” but he actually unlocks the doors and walks over to the driver’s side when Taehyung stares up into the the interior.

“What are you waiting for?” Jeongguk asks.

“Wait, are we really?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “I know I told you I’m self-proclaimed single until my late twenties, but I’m not an asshole. Missing meals sucks, I know how it feels, so let’s go eat something.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says, stepping up into shotgun. He feels like he’s ten feet off the ground, which, honestly, he might be. “Where to?”

“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. “What do you like?”

“I like...” Taehyung thinks. “Food.”

“Thank you, that is helpful.”

“When I’m hungry, anything sounds good,” Taehyung says.

“Okay, I’m just going to drive,” Jeongguk says, starting up the car, “and when you see something that appeals to you tell me to stop.”

This is a good idea. Taehyung gets himself comfortable as Jeongguk backs out of his parking space with surprising grace for such a large car. He looks at Jeongguk’s hands on the steering wheel, then says, “Wait, you have to move your hands.”

“What?”

“Put one hand on twelve o’clock,” Taehyung says, demonstrating in the air in front of himself, “and one on six.”

Jeongguk follows his instructions. “This feels weird,” he complains. “Why?”

“Because, don’t you know?” Taehyung says. “Couples never drive with both hands on the wheel if their significant other is in shotgun. And since no one is actually checking, you don’t need to hold my hand, but you should still make it look like you are.”

“Wow, good call,” Jeongguk says, impressed. “Okay.”

They end up getting Wing Stop, and Jeongguk polishes off his entire order of Atomic wings without breaking a sweat. Taehyung tries one bite out of curiosity and has to throw back his entire glass of water as Jeongguk laughs and hands him napkins for his tears, taking back the wing in Taehyung’s fingers and finishing it off. The drive back is charged with a passionate discussion of ethnic foods and spice levels and Taehyung finds himself staring at Jeongguk’s red-stained fingertips longer than he should, wondering what it would be like to truly hold his hand over the console.

 


Apparently, news of Taehyung has spread far and wide to the ears of Namjoon and Hoseok, Jeongguk’s housemates, and like most people, they want proof.

“It feels like I’m going to meet your parents,” Taehyung gripes as he shrugs on a button up in his room, Jeongguk sitting cross-legged on the foot of his bed. “Why am I nervous. Why am I so nervous?”

“Namjoon hyung is a genius, but he and Hoseokie hyung aren’t as scary as you make Seokjin hyung sound in terms of being lie detectors,” Jeongguk says. He straightens his legs, stands up. “Besides, we got this. We’re good at this.”

Taehyung tenses when Jeongguk presses up behind him, nose to his neck. Jeongguk drops a kiss on his on the curve of the junction between his neck and his shoulder and pulls away, disappearing like a passing breeze.

“What was that for?” he asks, turning around as Jeongguk searches for his phone in the folds of Taehyung’s blankets.

“And you say I’m the bad actor,” Jeongguk says, head halfway under Taehyung’s bed. “Ow, shit. How did it get down here?”

“How am I bad?”

“Well, for one, you slide out of character too often,” Jeongguk points out, emerging with his dusty phone in hand and sneezing hard. “You’re better than me at knowing objectively what we have to do when it’s just the two of us, but when it comes to actually doing it, you freak out.” Jeongguk nods at him. “So, that was to shock all the surprise out of you so you don’t clam up around them. Sound good?”

Jeongguk has a fair point. “Sounds good,” Taehyung agrees, ignoring the flutter in his chest as he buttons his shirt up the rest of the way.

The thing is, Taehyung muses to himself, is that if he doesn’t remind himself that this isn’t real every second of the way, he’s worried the line between his real affections and his fake ones will blur. Jeongguk has fallen into the habit of driving with his hands at twelve and six now without even needing to adjust his grip as an afterthought. He kisses Taehyung after class and comes over just to see him, much to Jimin’s eternal chagrin. One time he catches Taehyung shivering after a tour and unwinds his own scarf from his neck and ties it around Taehyung, bunching it up to his chin and chastising him for not dressing warmer.

So, it’s hard to keep business business and real life real life. It’s all Taehyung can do to wrench himself out of it every chance he gets.

“We’re here,” Jeongguk says, unlocking the door. Taehyung follows him inside, and sees Jimin and Seokjin already curled up on the couch as they watch a movie. Yoongi is here, too, and Taehyung wonders who took one for the team and dragged him out with physical force, and the two people he doesn’t recognize stand up.

“You’re Taehyung, right? I’m Hoseok!” Hoseok takes Taehyung’s hand excitedly, and he decides on the spot that he likes Hoseok. “Jeongguk talks so much about you, and I was telling him he had to bring you over at least sometime soon.”

“I do not,” Jeongguk protests. Taehyung side-eyes him. Hoseok can’t possibly know that this is all a setup. Does Jeongguk actually talk about him?

“Namjoon,” says the other one, taller, quieter, more regal, and Taehyung sombers up to shake his hand. “You know, none of us believed Jeongguk when he said he had a boyfriend, but it seems like he was being serious this time.”

“They like you,” Jeongguk says plainly, and Taehyung laughs, Hoseok clapping him on the shoulder. “Oh my God, hyung, did you make dinner, I told you not to that’s embarrassing—

“Seokjin made it, said he wanted to,” Namjoon says. “Jimin wanted omurice and then he decided to just make enough for everyone and a billion other side dishes, you guys just got lucky or it was going to be Subway tonight.”

“Wait, I haven’t had hyung’s cooking in ages,” Taehyung says, taking the pair of chopsticks Hoseok hands him.

“I hope you enjoy, then.”

Dinner at Jeongguk’s place is the biggest production that Taehyung has attended since the last school year. Indeed, it’s just not feasible for university students to cook proper meals beyond anything that can’t be made in a rice cooker, so Taehyung has survived on steamed rice and sausages for months now. The taste of vegetables is beautiful on his tongue and he tries not to be impolite.

“No, no, we can eat this any day, we just go next door and bother Seokjin hyung for it,” Hoseok says when Taehyung gestures for him to take the last bits of tempura. “Seriously, you and Jimin live on the other side of campus, we know getting to the marketplace from there is a pain. Eat up!”

“Yeah, last time you did that, you took my entire dinner that I was saving for myself,” Yoongi grunts. “Give a guy a warning next time, thanks.”

“Actually,” Jimin says guiltily, “I might have eaten that.”

“Oh? Same difference, I still went to bed hungry that night.”

“I’m sorry!”

Taehyung has no idea how long they stay there, but night falls quickly in these early winter months and it’s dark outside by the time they’re finished. It’s cozy, sitting here full of good food, laughing when Jimin rolls his eyes when he catches him and Jeongguk playing footsie under the table (Jeongguk does not mess around, clipping Taehyung hard in the ankle with the solid front of his Timberland boot at one point), listening to Hoseok talk animatedly about sea otters. He’s really into the environment, Taehyung deduces.

“Maybe we should go,” he suggests to Jeongguk during a lull in the conversation, Namjoon folding origami swans out of his napkins. “Or rather, I should go soon.”

“Already?” Hoseok asks. “You’re not going to stay for drinks or even a movie, at least?”

“I don’t know about drinks, I’ve got work in the morning,” Taehyung says.

“What is it? If you’re just in front of a computer for most of the time, it’ll be—“

“I’m a tour guide.”

“Ah,” Hoseok says. “Wait, are you really? I thought you looked familiar, like I’ve seen you around campus before, maybe that’s why.”

“You can stay for a movie,” Namjoon comments. He’s getting up, stretching. “Jimin and Seokjin always stay for one before they leave when they come over.” He looks at Jeongguk, then nods at all the dishes on the table. “Hey, maknae. Guess what you owe me today.”

“No,” Jeongguk whines, tipping his head back and scrunching up his face. “No, no, I hate dish duty. I’ll do your laundry again this week, hyung.”

“Nope, you owe me dish duty,” Namjoon says, cutthroat and unforgiving. He chuckles at the look on Taehyung’s face. “Don’t worry, all three of us are like this with each other. Eliminates misunderstanding, you see.”

“I can help you,” Taehyung says as Jeongguk starts clearing away the bowls.

“No, no, you go sit on the couch,” Jeongguk says, shooing Taehyung away, arms laden with silverware. He leans in for a quick peck to Taehyung’s cheekbone. “Go pick a movie.”

Hoseok is scrolling through a selection of Netflix titles, waving Taehyung over. Jimin is already actively nestling into Seokjin’s chest, so he assumes that it doesn’t really matter to them what he chooses, they will probably make out through three quarters of it be it dramedy or slasher.

“Wait, I didn’t know Netflix has Toy Story 3!” Taehyung exclaims, jabbing his finger at the screen. “Can we watch this one?”

“Why, you want to see all of us cry tonight?” Hoseok jokes. “Yeah, sure. Any objections to Toy Story 3, you guys?”

“That pink fuzzy bear gives me nightmares,” Yoongi says.

“All right, no objections,” Hoseok says, clicking on the movie and connecting it to their TV. Taehyung laughs as Yoongi grumbles under his breath, and Namjoon gets out of the bathroom by the time the opening credits start. Jeongguk continues to clank away in the kitchen, and it’s another quarter of an hour before he’s done, switching the kitchen lights off.

“Oh, no,” he says aloud, and Jimin hisses shhh! “Toy Story 3? You’re planning to drown us all tonight?”

“Shh, I can’t hear,” Taehyung whispers. There’s no more room left on the couch. Jeongguk makes to sit down on the floor but Taehyung gets up, patting the space he vacates. Jeongguk doesn’t seem to understand right away, but he fills it in, and Taehyung drops himself into his lap. Jeongguk chokes in his throat when Taehyung shimmies himself, spreading Jeongguk’s thighs so he can sit between them comfortably, leaning back against his chest.

Jeongguk’s heart pounds against Taehyung’s spine, and he tilts his head back. “Is this okay?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “It’s good.”

Slowly, he wraps his arms around Taehyung’s middle, securing him against his body. Taehyung sighs contentedly, sits back, and lets the movie draw him back in.

He doesn’t know what he expected. By the last twenty minutes, Taehyung has used up all the dry spots on the collar of his shirt. Hoseok is wiping at his face beside him, and Namjoon is leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, face furrowed and mouth resting in his fist.

“Hey, hey,” Jeongguk says when the last frame fades away, and Taehyung swipes at his eyes again. “Stop that.”

“It never gets better,” Jimin says, “every time he watches it, he creates an ocean where the floor should be, then lies facedown and spends the rest of the day saying, ‘so long, partner,’ to me.” He crosses his arms. “In hindsight, he should’ve gone on with that theater major.”

Jeongguk laughs, reaching around and turning Taehyung’s face toward his with a gentle hand on his jaw. “I said stop, you’re not a pretty crier,” Jeongguk murmurs, leaning down and kissing the stray tears off Taehyung’s cheeks. He catches the teardrops on his lips, and Taehyung’s hiccups have nothing to do with his crying anymore when Jeongguk presses his mouth to both his eyelids. “There. Now stop.”

“That was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life,” Yoongi says.

“Don’t you hang out around me enough for you to be used to that,” Jimin asks.

“Jeongguk has about as much emotion as a raw artichoke,” Yoongi replies. “I don’t know what I just witnessed and I don’t know how I feel about it.”

“Life hack,” Seokjin says. “Don’t question it.”

Taehyung should heed this advice too; he’s still looking up into Jeongguk’s face, and after a while Jeongguk resolutely tears his gaze away. But he knows Jeongguk can still feel the heat of his eyes on him, the thick feeling in his chest more apparent than ever, long after the movie credits stop rolling.

 


Hoseok and Namjoon, at least, seem convinced, and Yoongi only sees Taehyung on a normal basis in the admissions and tours office, so neither of them are too worried about him. Jimin hasn’t given away any indications that he doubts them, either, though he’s next in line for pranking—maybe his entire plan revolves around feigning cluelessness. And Seokjin, well, Seokjin is even harder to crack. All he does say, though, is,

“Taehyung, I get that you and Jeongguk are the poster couple for advertising a honeymoon package to Rio de Janeiro right now, but he can’t be dropping in at a professional workplace every other break you have.”

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, shoving Jeongguk’s face away from his. “You heard the boss. Scram.”

So Jeongguk opts to drop by the townhouse so often than even Sungjae and Sanghyuk get to know him, between their frat activities. Sungjae declares, “hot,” and Sanghyuk follows up with, “12/10 would quantum smash into the fourth dimension,” so Taehyung knows at least in this much they approve greatly of Jeongguk.

Sometimes, Jeongguk stays late. Late, later, the hour growing tired and weary before he’s standing up to leave, both of them sprawled out on the couch with their books and materials all over the beat-up coffee table and floor. Even in these lengthening winter days it’s cold as loneliness outside and in, and one night Taehyung feels himself doze off against the warmth of Jeongguk’s side as he’s studying for his developmental psychology midterm, eyes sliding shut of their own accord.

When he wakes up, Jimin is eating popcorn beside him, crunching quietly away as he watches some old reruns of The Office in the darkness. Taehyung sits up, rubbing his eyes, and a thick, red woolen overcoat falls away from him. It smells like Jeongguk, and he hugs it to himself. It’s toasty warm, even with the satin-lined insides. Jeongguk must have walked out to his car in the frigid midnight air in nothing but a thin t-shirt and Taehyung feels his heart clench, wants to run out there belatedly after him and throw it over his shoulders, it’s freezing, are you crazy?

“Time is it?” he croaks, groping for his phone in the darkness.

“Just past one thirty AM,” Jimin says. He holds the bowl out. “Want some?”

Taehyung shakes his head. There’s a crick in his neck and he stretches, yawning, the psych book in his lap sliding to the floor with a thud. “When did Jeongguk leave?”

“Around one.”

“I thought you weren’t going to be back tonight.”

“Nah, I’ve been in all evening, studying. You probably thought I was at Seokjin’s because I was quiet for so long.”

Jimin isn’t teasing Taehyung for Jeongguk’s jacket. It’s strange, but he’ll take it.

“He must love you a lot to leave that with you,” Jimin says as an afterthought, nodding at it. “That’s his favorite jacket, and he despises sharing clothes.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees, glad for the hoarse rasp of sleep still lingering in his words so Jimin can’t hear the yearning in his voice. “He sure does, huh.”

 


Winter gives way, slowly and steadily, to warmth-tinted spring days. The world wakes up little by little as first semester finals hurtle towards them, then leave a path of destruction in their wake.

Naturally, the first weekend of the new semester is bumping with frat recruitment parties and welcome backs. Taehyung and Jimin are invited to Sungjae and Sanghyuk’s frat party on special invitation, but just to be safe, Jimin calls up his squad of dance team girls just to ensure they can all get in without questions. It’s fun, and Taehyung has a few drinks but by 2 AM he and Jimin agree that they are “too old for this shit” and bid goodnight.

“Have you seen Jeongguk since we got back?”

The night is quieting around them, the hour far past curfew. “No,” Taehyung says. “We just got back.”

“I mean, knowing you two, he should have been on your bones the second you stepped back on campus,” Jimin says, yawning. “But it’s none of my business.”

Well, yeah, if Taehyung has a choice, Jeongguk would be. But he doesn’t. He and Jeongguk had texted steadily through winter break, nothing earth-shatteringly special, but Jeongguk had loved his daily chronicles of Taehyung’s sibling adventures and was delighted to learn that he also had a dog. “Eh. I don’t know.”

Jimin glances at him. “You guys didn’t get into a fight, did you?” he asks.

“No! No, we didn’t. We’re fine.”

Jimin doesn’t pry further when they get home, washing up and climbing into bed. Taehyung feels wide awake, despite the last bits of alcohol buzzing through his brain, and he rolls over in bed with his phone instead as Jimin knocks out cold. He’s close to falling asleep, screen still glowing in his hand, when a dark shape looms up in frame of his window and Taehyung feels his heart jump into his throat.

“Jimin,” Taehyung whispers, as the loose lock of the window is jiggled open. He knew procrastinating on not getting that replaced was going to come bite them in the ass. This is how he dies. Jimin is too deep asleep to wake up unless Taehyung bodily goes to shake him awake, so he very slowly reaches behind himself and pats the nightstand between their two beds until his hand closes over a worthy weapon.

He waits until the figure hoists themselves over the windowsill, and in that moment, they look right into Taehyung’s face, as if realizing the house they’re breaking into is not empty.

“Get out!” Taehyung says, whipping his hand out from behind, ripping the cap off his Armani cologne that he hasn’t used since last June. He aims it right into where their face should be, and they caterwaul like an angry cat before toppling onto Taehyung’s bed, hitting the floor with a thud. “Get out! Not fucking today, Satan!”

“Stop!” the intruder shouts at the top of his lungs and only then does Taehyung cease fire, the furious spritzes of cologne settling in an alcoholic cloud over the body curled up into a fetal position on the floor. The voice is familiar. Actually, the voice belongs to Jeongguk, who at present resembles a pill bug, holding his phone over his head like a measly shield. “Hold your fire!”

“Oh my God,” he says, bending over Jeongguk, trying to pry his arms away from his face. When he finally manages it, Jeongguk turns his face away. Taehyung can see why—his cheeks are streaked with tears, eyes watering up storm, the whites bloodshot. “Oh my God, I am so sorry.”

“I’m blind. I can’t see.” Jeongguk stares at his own open hands in front of his face, turning them back and forth. “Holy fuck, I’m blind, you just sprayed cologne into my eyes.”

It takes twenty minutes for Jeongguk’s eyes to stop watering, and in that time Jimin wakes up properly, hair a haystack on his head, eyes puffy with sleep. He’s watching Taehyung pipette Crystal Geyser into Jeongguk’s eyes, washing out the cologne, with the expression of someone assigned to academically analyze porn.

“I’m out,” he says, gathering up an armful of blankets. “I’m out. Nope, don’t even start with me, Taehyung. I’m sexiling myself.”

“It really isn’t—!”

“Good night, you guys.”

Taehyung stares at the door when it clicks shut. The sound of the coffee table being dragged out of the way so that Jimin can pull out the sofa bed fills the living room and he looks back to Jeongguk, whose eyes finally resemble something a little more human and he doesn’t look like he’s high out of his mind.

“So. What the hell are you doing here?” Taehyung holds up a hand, shaking his head. “Wait, no, let me reiterate. Can you even explain why you had to climb in through my window?”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I really am. Fuck,” Jeongguk curses. He folds his legs in so he can sit across from Taehyung in his bed comfortably, the mattress squeaking as he fidgets. “I knew it was a bad idea but it was the only one that came to mind. I thought you might be asleep and I didn’t want to wake you up by calling you or knocking, but I’m locked out of my apartment and my housemates aren’t in tonight.” He laughs, running a hand through his hair and in Taehyung’s spirits-fogged thoughts, he registers vaguely how good Jeongguk looks, even with the smell of weed and cigarettes poking through the sharp musk of the Armani cologne Taehyung doused him in—all dark red and black flannel and jeans that hug his legs, crossed at Taehyung’s feet. “I was running away from my crazy FWB that I broke it off with ages ago. That I accidentally booty called.”

Taehyung feels his heart splutter in disbelief for a moment before he’s shushing it. Right. Right. They’re not together and by all means, Jeongguk can booty call whomever the fuck he so pleases. Jeongguk doesn’t seem to catch it, the way Taehyung hesitates a beat too long before replying. “How the hell do you accidentally booty call someone?” he asks.

“I don’t know!” Jeongguk exclaims, throwing his hands up. “I mean, I do, I just fucked up big time—I was sexting someone and I sent it to the wrong person, and it just had to be my old FWB. Goddammit. I knew I should have deleted our text thread, I’m a dumbass. I don’t think I’ve ever lost a boner that fast.”

“What’s so wrong with your old FWB?”

“Ugh, he went and caught the honey nut feelios when I outlined to him in very explicit words I wasn’t in it for anything but the sex,” Jeongguk says. “When he told me, I let him down nicely, told him that it couldn’t happen, and I was sorry, but holy shit. He wouldn’t stop. Like he brought me flowers in the dining commons once and I almost threw my entire glass of Coke in his face. And every time,” he says, dragging the words out with exasperation, “we had sex, he’d want all this vanilla aftercare shit. No, son, I said to you on day one we’re there for the dick in ass and we’re done.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says softly. So, Jeongguk isn’t into that sort of thing. That’s unfortunate.

Jeongguk blinks. “Sorry, I went off on you. Are you okay?”

Taehyung props his cheek in his palm, elbow resting on his knees that are pulled up to his chest. “Sexting, huh,” he says.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Taehyung says quickly. Nothing, of course but thinking to himself what it must be like, doing that kind of stuff with Jeongguk.

“Well, it’s fun once you get the hang of it,” Jeongguk says, smiling with a glint in his eye that Taehyung cannot help laughing at. “Especially if you do it with someone who’s good at it. You should try it sometime.”

“How can you know if someone is good at sexting until you actually try, though.”

“Hmm. As a general rule, girls are better at it than guys.” Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Guys are done way too fast.”

“Oh, amen,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. This much he can vouch for. “Well, if you ever need a place to hide, just call me. You don’t need to climb in through my damn window again and give both of us cardiac arrest.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says. “Thanks. Thank you.”

Silence settles over their shoulders, punctuated by distant car horns and fire engine sirens. Jeongguk picks at a wrinkle in Taehyung’s blanket, and Taehyung wonders if he’s as hyperaware of Taehyung’s presence as Taehyung is of his. He isn’t looking at him now, but he’s not reaching for his phone, either. Probably still terrified that unlocking it is going to somehow send another sext to the wrong person.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, breaking the quiet, “Jimin is going to be suspicious if we’re too quiet.”

Jeongguk eyes him warily. “What are you suggesting?”

Taehyung almost says something incredibly stupid, so he stands up before his mouth can do that thing where it makes him look like an idiot. Jeongguk looks up at him, and Taehyung bounces slightly so that the springs creak underneath him.

“Get up, get up!” Taehyung says, taking Jeongguk’s hand and tugging on it. Jeongguk looks bemused, but lets Taehyung pull him to his feet. “How good at porno acting are you?”

“Horrible,” Jeongguk deadpans.

“Oh. Well, whatever, you’ve had sex, you know how to moan—“

“What the hell, no!“

“Come on!” Taehyung grins. “Besides, it’ll make Jimin positively miserable.”

At this Jeongguk seems to relent, the idea of ruining Jimin’s life even for a little while too good to resist. For a straight hour he and Taehyung jump on his bed like children, moaning as filthily as they can possibly manage, and for a moment—for a moment, when Jeongguk is suspended in midair, hair bouncing in time with his jumps, holding back laughter when Taehyung tries out his best straight white girl porno voice—Taehyung lets himself believe that, what they have, whatever this is, is real.

 


The days grow warmer and Taehyung finds that he needs to exchange his thick university hoodie for a thinner baseball tee to combat the sun beating down upon his back. He’s in the administration office, fanning himself with a brochure, when a text comes through.

hey we should set a date soon

It’s from Jeongguk. Taehyung frowns, reading the notification banner on the screen of the locked phone, then swipes right.

for what??

lmao breakup party
remember?

Ah, yes. That. Taehyung’s forgotten all about it. All about how their days are numbered.

omg yeah i totally forgot about that
yeah we should
when?

me too haha whoops
uhhh
next month? middle of april
so we don’t need to worry about it during finals in may

Taehyung swallows. A month. That’s not too bad, he supposes.

april 15? right in the middle?

ayy sounds good
we can do it at my place
and split the cost of food

cool
man i’m sad
this was fun
i’m gonna miss you

Shit. Taehyung stares as the last message sends, blue bar racing across the top of the text box. He should have backspaced when he could. But Jeongguk is already replying.

lol chill
we still have a whole month
but yeah i know
same
i’m gonna miss you too.

That ominous period. Taehyung locks his phone and drops it into his backpack, shouldering it and calling out a goodbye to Seokjin as he leaves for the day. He’s on his bike when the text tone comes through again, and he’s knows it’s Jeongguk. He had customized the chime back when they first started, but he doesn’t stop until he gets home, locks his bike to the chain-link fence.

i should teach you something in this last month tho
~a learning experience~
you can take it with you for the rest of your days

“Jimin?” Taehyung calls out, dropping his backpack. No answer.

lol what could you teach me

hmm
what are you wearing right now?

Taehyung’s throat closes up faster than a door being slammed. Holy shit, Jeongguk is fucking kidding. He opens a conversation with a reminder that, by the way, we’re breaking off this fake relationship in a month. Also, let me teach you how to sext.

(btw don’t feel obligated to do this if you don’t want to)
(but the invitation is open if you do)
(just good fun!!)

Taehyung’s tongue feels like cotton, like he’s taken too many hits, but he does want to. He does.

uh
my tour guide uniform

the baseball tee?
either way i thought about you last time i came
i thought about stripping it off of you in my room
i thought about all the things you wanted me to do to you

The grey bubble doesn’t stop appearing, and Taehyung feels the world tilt under him. Thank God Jimin isn’t home, he thinks, making his way to their room and shutting the door, locking it. Not that Taehyung hasn’t walked in on things he could have gone to the grave without seeing, but still.

i wanted you to
touch me
everywhere, put your hand down my pants and make me beg

Taehyung’s fingers are shaking. He doesn’t know what he’s doing but Jeongguk thinks that he does a good job, holding his hand through it, his texts getting dirtier and dirtier as they fire back at each other. He rolls over onto his stomach at one point, and keens out loud at the friction against the hard heat between his legs. The contact makes him realize how much he wants, needs physical touch. In a stroke of ridiculous, bold bravery he texts,

can i come over
can i come over now

and Jeongguk pauses on the other end.

(really?)

Taehyung licks his lips.

(i want to.)

The grey bubble buffers for ages. Taehyung is going out of his mind when the reply finally comes through.

(come over then)

Jeongguk doesn’t live that far away, but it feels like a lifetime before Taehyung gets to his apartment. He tugs his shirt down desperately over his pants as he takes the stairs two at a time up to Jeongguk’s floor, knuckles loud on the door when he knocks. It opens right away, like Jeongguk has been waiting.

“Are you sure about this,” he says, gaze dark. He’s wearing Adidas soccer pants and a tank top like he’d been about to go to the rec center with Jimin. “You know—you know it’s not, I don’t do—“

“You just do FWBs and hookups, right?” Taehyung steps over the threshold, the sweaty baseball tee clinging to his skin. “No romance or love, right?”

Right?

“I—“ Jeongguk’s Adam’s apple bobs when he swallows. “I guess.”

“So it’s okay, this isn’t any different, right?” Taehyung asks. “We’re just friends, pranking everyone else, with some casual sex on the side, right?”

Jeongguk doesn’t answer him, reaching out and Taehyung gives, and they’re crashing together. With some expert coordination they make it into Jeongguk’s room—it’s nice, he has a single to himself, though it’s the size of a closet there are more clothes than floor, but that’s okay. It pads the fall when Jeongguk’s foot hooks behind Taehyung’s ankle and they trip over each other.

In the end, Jeongguk does take Taehyung up against the wall, the one his bed is pushed up against. He’s a lot softer than Taehyung expects him to be, even if he thrusts him from behind; he keeps reaching out to turn Taehyung’s face so he can kiss the corner of Taehyung’s mouth. When they come he doesn’t move to wipe it off of Taehyung’s skin but neither does he tell Taehyung to get out of his bed. He doesn’t even, in fact, say anything when Taehyung curls up on the very side of his twin mattress—after tossing the condom out, Jeongguk just climbs right back into bed with him. He doesn’t touch him, but he does face Taehyung, face emotionless, eyes falling shut slowly until his breathing deepens and Taehyung lets the rhythm of it lull him to sleep, too.

He dreams of a world where they have no audience and there is no prank, where no one is watching and Jeongguk kisses him without needing a reason. Taehyung dreams of that faraway place where the only date they need to worry about is their anniversary and not their breakup party, and he wakes up feeling sore in places that he’s never been sore before after sex. Jeongguk is still asleep, on his back now, and Taehyung sits up with a grimace. He stares at Jeongguk for a long time, propped up on one hand, and leans down.

Jeongguk won’t wake up, he’s sure. He’s a deep sleeper. Taehyung knew that from day one, pressing his mouth softly to Jeongguk’s. What he should have known, he thinks as he steps back into his pants, pulls his clothes back on, is that it’d be just like him to go and fall in love with someone like Jeongguk. Someone as hopeless and fleeting as dreams.

 


Taehyung ascends ranks to new FWB status, as if the both of them are reaping the benefits of this fake dating act in the last few weeks together. He becomes a regular fixture in Jeongguk’s apartment, Hoseok and Namjoon hardly blinking anymore when he shows up and Jeongguk throws him into his room without even a greeting.

These days, they don’t talk much, restricting it mostly to sexting, and actual sex. Easier to go without each other after the breakup party, Taehyung reasons as Jeongguk watches him ride his cock with hard intensity in his eyes, hands holding Taehyung’s hips with bruising force. Taehyung always makes sure not to accidentally sleep the whole night, waking up more than once curled against Jeongguk’s side. He always leaves before the sun rises, conveniently for the both of them, kissing Jeongguk before he goes. As summer starts rolling in he finds he has to wake up earlier and earlier to gather his things. At one point he just begins fighting the sleep until Jeongguk is properly out, before slipping into the night like a shadow.

“Are you okay?”

Jimin asks the question two weeks before the date, and Taehyung looks up from the eggs he’s frying for lunch, the base of his spine still throbbing. He looks up, and Jimin is behind the counter, face filled with concern.

“I’m fine.”

“You look sick,” Jimin says. “Are you sure? You’ve been coming back really late at night sometimes.”

“Oh, yeah, I know,” Taehyung says, flipping his eggs over and cursing under his breath when every single one of the yolks bursts and runs into the skillet. “Heavy semester.”

“Is that it? Academics?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, tilting the pan. “Psych is harder than it looks, you know.”

“I’m just worried about you,” Jimin says, dropping his backpack in a chair and opening up the fridge. “You’ve been talking a lot more in your sleep than usual lately.”

Taehyung freezes. “Like what?”

“Nothing of importance,” Jimin says, rummaging. “Sometimes Jeongguk’s name comes up, sometimes you’re just shouting and making noise. You just tend to do it more often around finals week rather than the middle of the semester.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Jimin straightens, armed with a frozen chicken bake. “Just talk to me if you want, okay? We’ve been best friends for a while now.”

“Thanks, Jimin.”

And for a moment, Taehyung feels bad about this prank.

 


One week before D-Day, Taehyung gets a text from Jeongguk that, for the first time in a month, doesn’t start with, you want to know what i’m wearing? and instead says, can you bring me some of your extra strength tylenol

yeah of course!
are you sick D:

yeah
i’m sorry but we’re all out of medicine
and i want to see your dumb face

Taehyung raises his eyebrows at that last message. It’s hardly necessary for Taehyung to be persuaded to go over to his apartment, but maybe Jeongguk with a fever is more truthful than Jeongguk without. He lets himself into their place, finding Jeongguk swaddled up in blankets on the armchair on the balcony, sniffling like his life depends on it.

“Hey,” Taehyung says, pushing the sliding door open. “Why are you out here?”

“My room feels like a Petri dish of misery,” Jeongguk says, as Taehyung hands him a water bottle and unscrews the cap on his Tylenol. “And air out here feels better.”

“Count on you to get sick in the middle of spring,” Taehyung says, shaking his head.

“It’s the rhinitis,” Jeongguk complains. “Do you think pollen agrees with that?”

Taehyung just laughs, shaking his head. “Do you want me to go get you more blankets or anything?”

“No,” Jeongguk says. “Just sit here with me.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk just leans into him with a sigh. He doesn’t know where to put his arms at first. Then he lets his hand settle in Jeongguk’s hair, stroking his fingers through it. It’s sweaty from fever, and Jeongguk is shivering hard, but after the medicine kicks in he begins to smooth out. “You’re helpless when you’re sick, aren’t you?”

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says, hardly threatening with his stuffy nose.

Taehyung laughs. As nightfall begins rolling in, the sounds of the city amplify. By the time the sun has slipped beneath the skyline, Jeongguk’s sniffling has cleared up and Taehyung’s arm is falling asleep.

“Feeling better?”

“Better,” Jeongguk says. “I feel a little more alive now.”

“Good. I like my humans nice and alive.”

Jeongguk chuckles weakly. “You are fucking weird.”

“I think you like your humans nice and weird, considering the company you hang out with.”

“I guess I can’t argue against that, huh?”

Silence settles around them again. Then, out of the blue, Taehyung has to ask. He has to at least get a concrete answer.

“Hey, Jeongguk?”

“Mmm?”

“What are we?”

Taehyung regrets the words as soon as he says them. They fall like stones between them, and the shift in the mood is tangible, nearly audible. Taehyung’s fingers still in Jeongguk’s hair and suddenly, all too suddenly, the roar of distant traffic is loud and threatening, thundering through Taehyung’s ears in time with his heartbeat.

“What do you mean,” Jeongguk says, not pulling away, but Taehyung can feel his muscles stiffening against him. “We’re just—two people that got thrown together, right?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, wanting to sit up on his own, but too afraid to move away. Too afraid that this will be the last time they sit like this. “But, you know, are we. Are we anything else?”

Jeongguk is the one to sit up, jostling Taehyung enough for him to get the message and move away. “We’re friends,” Jeongguk says, eyes dark and unreadable. “Friends, playing a prank on the rest of our friends. Right? What else did you mean?”

Right?

The word echoes around them, Jeongguk saying it as if he’s unsure whether he’s reminding Taehyung or himself.

Taehyung’s body seems to move outside his own control, even though he does what he’s wanted to do for a long time now; Jeongguk holds still when he reaches forward, running a hand up the side of Jeongguk’s neck until he’s cupping Jeongguk’s cheek. This much seems to startle Jeongguk at least a little, and he slants his gaze down to look at Taehyung’s hand on his face, then back into Taehyung’s eyes.

“What are you—“ he whispers, but the rest of his sentence is lost, muffled when Taehyung leans in and kisses him. Kissing someone who doesn’t respond, yet doesn’t push him away, is disheartening. Kissing someone who has kissed him back with fervor and unrestrained desperation, who comes around and turns to ice in moments like this, is the worst. Taehyung crushes his lips harder to Jeongguk’s mouth, waiting, wishing for something, but after a few moments, he sits back. His heart is pounding in his ears and he is the only one who feels it.

“Nothing, huh,” he murmurs, letting his hand fall from Jeongguk’s face. “Really nothing?”

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk says, reaching for his hand. “Taehyung, we said from the very beginning that this,” Jeongguk gestures to the empty space around them, to the fake little bubble they’ve been living in, “isn’t real. It’s a joke. A prank, remember? We’re gonna get everyone back good. That was the plan.”

“Right,” Taehyung says, pulling his wrist out of Jeongguk’s fingers. “Right, I fucked up. Just. Pretend this didn’t happen.”

“Taehyung, wait—“

“No, it’s fine. Let’s go back, you’re going to get sicker.”

“Will you wait and listen!” Jeongguk snaps, and Taehyung stops making to stand up. “I didn’t know you—I thought you—“

“That’s the thing, Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, voice cold. “You didn’t know. You thought. You assumed. But did you ever once think to tell me, remind me, hey, Taehyung. I don’t like you, I don’t see you that way, this is just an elaborate scheme to piss off our friends? Did you really think that, when you tumbled in through my window at 4 am, when you taught me how to sext and didn’t stop, when one night stands turned into two, three, four night stands, when you asked me to come see you tonight because you were sick and wanted someone next you, not Jimin or Namjoon or anyone else but me, me, when we did all those things away from the eyes of the world—wouldn’t make me believe that you, somehow, thought more of me than just a partner in crime?” Taehyung’s breath is coming out in heavy pants now, chest full of anger bubbling over the rim now.

Jeongguk is impossibly quiet. “It was our agreement,” he says so emotionlessly that Taehyung wants to seize him by the shoulders, shake him hard just to see if he would hear Jeongguk’s soul rattling around inside him. “What this is isn’t real. I’m sorry that you feel I led you on.”

Taehyung feels the fight leaving his body, more exhausted by the second. “No, you never owed me an explanation,” he says. “I’m sorry too, that I had to go and fall for someone so terrified of his own emotions.”

Fury hot as magma flares in Jeongguk’s face. “You knew that from the very first day,” he spits. “You knew, and that, at least, I reminded you of over and over, and you were okay with it. You never said anything. You never asked for more, and you seemed okay with it.”

“I never said anything because all I could do was tell myself that what I wanted was just a dream,” Taehyung shoots back. “How the hell could I have said anything? You said it yourself, you reminded me over and over. How the hell then, Jeon Jeongguk, could I have asked you for more when all you did was tell me that you’re self-proclaimed single until your late twenties?”

“I couldn’t—“ Jeongguk’s words get caught on a hacking cough, and his body is wracked with them. Taehyung steels himself, wanting nothing more than to rub his hand over Jeongguk’s back but he can’t bring himself to. In the last moment, though, he gives in, reaching out, but Jeongguk swats him away.

“Don’t,” he wheezes. “Don’t. Go home. You’re just going to be angrier the longer you see my face, just go home.”

So Taehyung does. Turning his back on Jeongguk like his physically hurts. His insides, where they had felt like hot, writhing snakes just moments ago, now feel like bricks and lead. He drags his feet as he walks and fights the urge to look back, even when Jeongguk stops coughing, and for all Taehyung knows, he could be completely alone.

let’s do it a week early. the breakup party.

that’s tomorrow...

i know.
are you okay with that?

yeah.

 


Taehyung ends up splitting about fifteen dollars worth of food costs with Jeongguk, and Paypals him the money without even giving him a heads up. Jeongguk is sharp. He’ll figure it out.

The thing about his anger is that he has no idea who to direct it at. Deep down, he knows it’s his own fault. But admitting that this is his own fault is too hard. They’d signed a business contract and now Taehyung wanted more than what was outlined, and he had no one to blame but himself.

“Hey, Jeongguk is inviting us over for dinner tonight,” Taehyung says as Jimin walks in with Seokjin, or rather, Seokjin walks in with Jimin on his back. “You guys should come!”

“I don’t feel like cooking,” Seokjin says, and Jimin hops down. “Seven mouths is a lot feed on this short a notice.”

“No, it’s okay, we got food,” Taehyung says, staring at the planner on his computer screen, filling it up with tours in the next few weeks so that he’s busy from dawn still dusk. “You guys just have to come. We can go together.”

“You guys got food?” Jimin asks. “What’s happening?”

Taehyung quirks the side of his mouth. It feels forced and Jimin seems to be able to tell. “You’ll see,” he says mysteriously. “It’s a surprise!”

Namjoon, Hoseok, and Yoongi are already eating when they arrive, Jimin’s eyes lighting up at the sight of a takeout box full of roast duck. Jeongguk is picking at a piece with his chopsticks, greasy plate in hand. Taehyung toes his shoes off. Sure, he might not ever be coming back here, but it’s not like he can’t be at least polite till the end.

“Hey,” he says, grabbing a clean plate from the corner of the table. “You picked good food. At least it’s not all spicy as hell.”

Jeongguk slides his gaze up to Taehyung’s face. “Oh,” he says. “Yeah. I hope you like it.”

Taehyung doesn’t look away, and Jeongguk very deliberately raises a bite of food to his mouth before he does, too, turning his back on Taehyung to talk to Yoongi. Jimin fills in the space where he’s been standing, chattering about how he is going to polish off all this fucking duck, no one can stop him, who run the world? That’s right, it duck.

The food is good, Taehyung didn’t say that as some throwaway compliment, or small talk to fill the silence between him and Jeongguk, but he can’t eat much of it. There’s a sick feeling in his stomach, like he’d swallowed rocks. He could eat a lot more, he’s eaten way more than this without trouble, but Taehyung sets down his utensils after a few mouthfuls and can’t force down anymore. Hoseok sweeps him up in a conversation about algal blooms and honestly, is so passionate about it that Taehyung finds himself being genuinely interested in something he otherwise would not give a shit about. As the hours wear on, he catches Jeongguk watching him from across the room, sitting between Jimin and Namjoon, and Taehyung abandons his own spot where he’s perched on the armrest of a battered old loveseat.

“Yo, guys,” Taehyung says, shouting over the chatter. The low rumble dies down only slightly, so he grabs a glass off the table, a spoon, and clangs the metal against the glass. “Hey! There’s something we want to tell you.”

“Oh?” Namjoon says. “We?” He looks at Jeongguk beside him. “As in you and Jeongguk?”

“As in me and Jeongguk.”

“Oh, God,” Jimin says, settling against Seokjin’s chest with Seokjin’s fingers interlaced over his stomach. “You guys aren’t getting married, are you?”

“What the hell, Jimin, no,” Jeongguk says. “Quite the opposite, in fact.” He looks around, at Namjoon’s brow furrowing, at the confusion on Hoseok’s face. “Actually, we—“

“We were never together in the first place!” Taehyung bursts out. “Ha! We got you good, didn’t we? You all thought your prank on us was so funny, but we got you back a thousand times better.”

“Taehyung—“

“Right?” he says, smiling over his shoulder at Jeongguk, whose face is shadowed and dark. “We got them good, right?”

Right?

“Wait, wait,” Jimin says. “You’re saying you guys weren’t actually dating? All that stuff you guys did in front of us was all for show? All an act?”

“Yep,” Taehyung says. “I told you I could have majored in theater, Jimin. I’m not that bad an actor, you know.”

“I know you aren’t,” Jimin says, bewilderment filling his voice, “but Jeongguk is a terrible actor.”

“Hey,” Jeongguk snaps.

Internally, Taehyung agrees with Jimin. Jeongguk is a terrible actor, but he is good at one thing—hiding his heart from the world, under a sheet of ice so that no one can tell truly what he’s thinking. He’s doing it now, when he steps up beside Taehyung and picks up where Taehyung had left off.

“Well, it’s true,” he says. “We thought it would be funny, since you all thought it would be hilarious to blind date us. I don’t think any of us expected it to last so long but it’d be hard to keep it up over the summer break.” He glances at Taehyung. “So, here we are. It’s our breakup party. We planned it from the very first day.”

“I am so sad,” Hoseok declares after a moment of silence. “You guys not being real is the reason I will never believe in true love again.”

“Easy there, Hoseok,” Namjoon says.

“All those times you went over to Jeongguk’s place,” Jimin says slowly. “That time he broke into ours. All that PDA, all that not so PD of A. It was all an act?”

Well, not all of it, at least not for Taehyung. Some of it, sure. If he didn’t know better he’d say that it wasn’t all an act for Jeongguk, either, but he does know better now.

“All an act,” Jeongguk says, voice uncharacteristically soft.

“Well,” Jimin says. “You owe me one, or two, or twenty, for all that fake sexiling, Jeon Jeongguk.” Jimin laughs, and the air loosens, forgiveness given. Taehyung smiles but he doesn’t feel it in his heart, and even though this is the end he feels no closure, like a story with a conclusion so unsatisfying that he wants to read it again, do it over, just to see if he missed something.

But he didn’t. This is it, the story is over, and nothing is going to change even if he rereads from the beginning.

“You guys should kiss one more time,” Seokjin suggests, amusement in his eyes, “for old times’ sake. One last prank for the road.”

“You guys,” Hoseok protests. “I am upset enough already.”

“No, do it!” Jimin encourages, pulling his phone out. “I need to add to my blackmail stash.”

Jeongguk scoffs. Taehyung looks to him, Jeongguk’s face fading from spiteful humor into something quieter, and he holds his hand out. Taehyung reaches across the yawning distance between them, like stepping over a ravine, and takes it, letting Jeongguk pull him in, arm latching around his middle. Jeongguk’s eyes are hard and blazing, and Taehyung runs one of his hands up Jeongguk’s chest to his face, holding his cheek in his palm.

He isn’t sure who leans in first. It might be Taehyung, knowing that this is the last time, truly, and he has to savor it. It might be Jeongguk, whom Taehyung thinks, at first, wants to just get it over with, but the moment their mouths meet the rest of the world falls away. Vaguely he hears Jimin wolf whistle, but that dies in the background when Jeongguk opens his mouth to Taehyung, lets Taehyung slip his tongue into his mouth, when Jeongguk pulls Taehyung closer and closer, Taehyung raking his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair, when Jeongguk drowns in his heat and pulls back only to tilt his head and cover Taehyung’s mouth with his own again. Neither of them notice Jimin lowering his phone, or Seokjin’s hold around Jimin’s middle loosening, or Namjoon’s confused glance at Hoseok and Yoongi. No one moves until they finally break apart, gasping against each other’s lips. Jeongguk rests his forehead against Taehyung’s, eyes shut, and under Taehyung’s palm his heart is thundering against his ribs. Taehyung can feel it in time with his own.

“So, uh,” Seokjin says, breaking the thick silence blanketing the atmosphere, “are you guys sure you’re, er, breaking up?”

 


Yeah, they’re sure. They break up, and they go their own ways as promised.

Taehyung wakes up every morning, puts his clothes on, goes to class, makes lunch, dons his school hoodie and gives tours. Jimin says nothing about the way Taehyung does his homework the second he gets home and goes to sleep the second it’s done, curling up into a tight ball and not moving until sunrise the next morning, wash and repeat. His highlighters run out of ink and he goes all the way to the school marketplace rather than going to the University Center, ten minutes and one bus ride closer, and even then Jimin says nothing. He looks like he wants to, a sad puppy with helpless paws.

No, it is not Jimin who says anything. It is not Hoseok, or Namjoon, or even Yoongi.

“Taehyung,” Seokjin says sharply after he gets in from a later afternoon tour, stripping his hoodie off the moment he steps into the cool, air conditioned admissions office. He hasn’t laundered any of his tees. Sweat runs down his temples and over the curves of his back, making the thin fabric of his tank top stick to his skin. “Come into my office, I need to talk to you.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says, wiping at his face, the tone of Seokjin’s voice scaring him. He follows Seokjin into his workspace, sitting down in one of the chairs across his desk as Seokjin sinks into his. He pushes a file folder over the wood at Taehyung.

“These are your tour guide evals from the last week,” he says. “Take a look at them.”

He does. The first thing Taehyung sees is a circled 2 beside the question Did your tour guide seem knowledgeable about the campus? and for the first time in days he feels something jolt in his stomach. The rest of the ratings don’t get much better down the sheet, or on the other surveys. 3, 4, 6, 6, 5, 4. Taehyung has never seen numbers so low in his career.

“I don’t think I need to ask you what went wrong this week,” Seokjin sighs as Taehyung stares in horror. “But as such, Taehyung, I’ve seen you clean up your act for the job, if only for that hour. I know you’re hungover during some tours, no one should be sweating that much during the winter. But you always do a glowing job, so I’ve never needed to intervene.”

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung mumbles.

“Do not be sorry to me,” Seokjin says. “Be sorry to those students who don’t know if they’ll want to attend our school anymore. Be sorry to the university.”

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung repeats. “I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry and I’ll work harder.”

Seokjin sits back in his chair. “As your boss,” Seokjin says, “I’m obligated to give you a chance to get your act together before doing anything major. As your friend,” and Taehyung looks up at this, “I’m obligated to tell you that you’re an idiot.”

“Hyung—“

“Jeongguk pulled an all-nighter writing his final term paper this week,” Seokjin says, “and almost missed his econometrics final because he fell asleep while it was printing at six AM. If you know anything about him, you know that’s not how he rolls.”

No, it’s not. Taehyung does know. Jeongguk is far too careful and hardworking to leave a paper unfinished until the night before, never mind nearly miss one of his biggest exams. Knowing this shakes him, and Taehyung feels his insides warm.

“So I’m saying you guys need to do something about this,” Seokjin says, waving a hand and letting it drop to his desk with a thud, like he’s tired of dealing with teenage drama. “Both of you. It’s distracting you from work and him from school, and if I have to listen to another story about Jeongguk not doing the dishes when it’s his turn, I’m going to sew his hand to your car until you talk.” He pauses. “Understood?”

“Understood,” Taehyung whispers.

“Good,” Seokjin says, smiling. “Now go home. I know you have more finals to study for.”

Taehyung’s feet drag when he lets himself out of the admissions department. The sun dances over his shoulder but he can’t bring himself to walk with the same bounce in his step like he always does, and even though it’s the few minutes between class time right now when the main path is crowded with students, Taehyung feels so alone.

He looks up when he hears skateboard wheels on the cement, though, and dodges a girl whizzing past him just in time. “Sorry!” she throws over her shoulder, and he raises a hand in acknowledgement. But just as he turns back, he sees Jeongguk in the crowd, just as alone as him. He’s staring at Taehyung even as people brush roughly past him, expression like he’s seen a ghost.

His mouth moves once, like he’s saying the only word Taehyung is thinking.

“Oh.”

Taehyung takes a step forward. Jeongguk takes one back, stumbles, and then turns on his heels and runs, not even bothering to drop his longboard and use that. Taehyung watches him go, and people glance at him as he stands there until he feels a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey,” Jimin says, voice soft like he’s seen the whole thing. “Hey, Taehyungie.”

Taehyung turns mechanically. Since when did he need to look down at Jimin? “Hey.”

“Let’s go get Slurpees. You love Slurpees.”

He does. But the wild cherry ice tastes like ash on his tongue and he throws half of it away when they get home. Jimin doesn’t say anything about the red stains in their kitchen sink.

 


jiminie?

Taehyung holds his phone to his chest as the text goes through, listening as Jimin’s phone chimes across the room besides his pillow. The sheets rustle as he rolls over in bed. Taehyung hopes he understands and doesn’t bark at him, why is he texting him, he’s right there.

But Jimin has known Taehyung for a long time. They are not best friends for nothing.

yeah?

i fucked up
i fucked up bad.

The gray typing bubble pops up, disappears, pops up, disappears. Taehyung wonders what Jimin has such a hard time saying.

no...you didn’t
i did
i shouldn’t have pulled a prank like that on you guys...
hoseokie hyung and i feel responsible...and we’re really sorry

Taehyung blows a breath through his nose. Jimin, Jimin, Jimin. Sweet Jimin who always finds a way to blame himself in any situation.

you guys didn’t do anything wrong, you were just having fun
honestly, it was my idea
the dating prank
so i did fuck up...
i mean i know i fucked up he told me from the first day he didn’t do romance
and he didn’t do anything wrong but i’m still mad at him...i’m being too selfish huh

Jimin sighs too, and Taehyung hides his face in his pillow. He fires back a quick succession of replies.

i mean i guess. you can’t say he didn’t make that clear
but he definitely...didn’t act to follow his own rules or act according to his words either
i’ve known him two years now
he’s a terrible liar and a terrible actor
fake affection that level of disgusting is like
just not something jeon jeongguk is physically capable of

ehhhh...

no i’m serious
remember that time you fell asleep on the couch and he left before you woke up?
and i was actually at home
i saw him gather up his things i saw him lean down and kiss you on the cheek
i saw him put his jacket over you and tuck it under your chin i saw everything
i think that was the day that i finally believed you two were together
because he had no audience he didn’t know i was there
how could i still think it was all for show?

Taehyung’s vision is blurring. God, he promised himself he wouldn’t cry about this, but it’s so hard when Jimin is laying it out like this now.

hey are you crying
don’t make me come over there
>:(

i’m not crying. stay in your bed.

could’ve fooled me

Taehyung chuckles weakly, wiping at his eyes.

i don’t know what to do now jiminie
everything is messed up
we’re not together anymore
i mean we never really were
but it just hurts

you know what i think?
you should date someone that ruins your underwear and not your makeup

what the hell omg
i don’t wear makeup
and even if i did he ruins both
ruined*

tmi
but let me ask you this
do you love him?

Taehyung stares at the tiny words on his phone screen, the brightness making him squint in the darkness. His fingers hover over the keyboard. He’s never admitted this to anyone, not even himself.

so much.

Jimin doesn’t even retch like Taehyung expects him to.

enough to ask him
to be yours?
because i’m under the impression you never actually did

Taehyung props himself up on both elbows.

he doesn’t date jimin
doesn’t do romance
you know this
he told me that the first day
why the hell would i ask him

did he instill this in you
or did you repeat that to yourself so many times
that now you won’t even believe that he can fall in love?

Taehyung stares at the question. Indeed, who had he been trying to convince?

my advice is when finals are over
talk to him
you have to talk to him
and if you still feel like he’s worth it ask him to be yours
properly this time
and after all that, if he still says no
then he’s not worth it and i’m not sitting around to watch you cry
over someone that doesn’t deserve you

This time the words really do make tears well up and spill over in Taehyung’s eyes. He buries his face in his pillow, but even that doesn’t do much to muffle the sobs that shake their way out of his throat. Jimin’s body is warm when he slides into bed beside Taehyung, phone still in hand, and he lets Taehyung cuddle into his side until the tears stop.

Taehyung falls asleep with his cheek on Jimin’s chest and it’s not the same, but it’s comforting. Jimin stays up for a very, very long time for someone who has a final tomorrow afternoon, still texting even when Taehyung groggily wakes up in the darkest hour before dawn.

 


Finals wrap up after a nightmarish week of midnight coffee runs, Monster and Rockstar concoctions (Taehyung thinks his piss was more blood than piss that one morning, he’s never going to try that again), and a lot of sleeping on the couch because Jimin swears by destressing through sex. Taehyung didn’t mind too much. Sleeping on the couch bed was nice because it’s huge and he could fall asleep with his books surrounding him in a Pagan ritual to diffuse as much information into his body as he could before the final.

“I’ll see you,” Taehyung says, hugging Sungjae hard. “You’re going to be back for the next school year?”

“If I don’t decide to stay in France longer,” Sungjae says, stepping back. “In which case I will see you again in the winter.”

“Ugh,” Taehyung says, mock groaning. “We’re going to have to find another roommate if we want to keep rent down. Thanks for nothing, dude.”

Sungjae laughs. “I’ll see you later, Taehyung. Don’t mess with my stuff!”

“I’m taking your PS4. Sorry.”

“I’ll fuck you up.”

Taehyung winks. “Nice try. Go home, you have a flight to catch tomorrow morning.”

“Take care,” Sungjae says, climbing into the car. “Don’t work too hard. It’s summer. You should go home sometime, too.”

“I will.” Taehyung slams the door and Sungjae rolls the window down. “Keep me posted?”

“Will do,” Sungjae says, saluting, and Taehyung salutes back, patting the roof of the car and watching as it drives out of sight. He doesn’t move until the car disappears around the corner, and he bends down to collect the box of Sungjae’s odds and ends that he had deemed useless enough to throw out. When he straightens, Jeongguk is there, standing in their front yard like a sore thumb, and Taehyung nearly drops the box.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, and he really does look as tired as Seokjin made him sound, eyebags a dusky purple, cheeks ashen. “Are you moving out?”

“No,” Taehyung replies, looking at the crack in the sidewalk. “Just my housemate throwing some stuff out.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says eloquently. “Are you leaving soon?”

“I’ve got a week more of tours to give,” Taehyung says, hefting the box higher in his arms. “I kind of slacked in the last few—during finals week. And I promised I would go to Namjoon and Hoseokie hyungs’ graduation.” He grasps for words. Taehyung is good at small talk, but he’s failing spectacularly right now. “How about you?”

“I’m staying for summer session,” Jeongguk says. “So I can graduate earlier.”

“Ah.”

They look everywhere but each other for a moment, then, “Can we talk?”

Taehyung raises his gaze to Jeongguk’s face. “You want to talk now?” he asks, trying but unable to keep the bitterness and derision out of his voice. He knows he has to, at some point, like Jimin had told him.

Irritation doesn’t spark in Jeongguk’s face like Taehyung expects it to. “Yes, now,” he says. “But I can come back when you’re not busy.”

“I’m busy from now until I leave,” Taehyung says. “But if you collected the guts to walk right onto our property then you must really want to talk, so yeah, sure, let’s talk. Can we go somewhere else, though? Jimin shouldn’t have to deal with us in his space again.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says so easily that Taehyung feels bad for being petulant. He waits for Taehyung to set his things down, close the door, and they walk to Jeongguk’s car, visible in the distance like a fucking firework. Taehyung lifts himself into the passenger seat, buckling in. “Is my place okay?”

“Are Namjoon and Hoseok not home?”

“They’re at graduation practice.”

“Oh. Yeah, sure. It’s fine.” Taehyung would rather be in a more public space, where he has to force himself to tamp down his emotions, but if he can’t, he’s not too hot about the idea of displaying his tears in Starbucks.

The drive is quiet. At one point Taehyung glances over and notices that Jeongguk still drives with one hand at twelve o’clock and one at six, the position well-worn and weathered. He looks out the window before Jeongguk catches him staring.

When he pulls into the parking space outside their apartment, Jeongguk kills the engine and sits back. Taehyung doesn’t move to get out, so neither does Jeongguk, yet neither of them speak. The silence thickens until Taehyung feels like he’s suffocating, and then Jeongguk says, “I know you probably don’t want to hear what I have to say, but I have to know I said it.” He shifts in his seat, the leather squeaking. “Is that okay?”

“It’s okay.” Taehyung bites the inside of his cheek. “I have stuff to say too. Civilly.”

“What you don’t know about me,” Jeongguk says, “messed this up. What you don’t know is that, before you, before FWBs, before university, I’ve been with people. It doesn’t matter who they were now, but what does matter is that too often I walked out of relationships with pieces of someone else’s broken heart on my hands. It wasn’t always all my fault, but I was never faultless, either. I knew it, but I couldn’t admit it, either. So I closed up, closed off, climbed up the steepest mountain alone and stayed up there so I’d never have to deal with my emotions, or hurt other people.”

Jeongguk fidgets with his keys in his fingers. “And life was easy alone,” he continues. “I have friends, I have Jimin, my hyungs, the dance team, and it was enough. Everyone that tried to come sit with me on Lonely Mountain I shoved down the slopes and they knew never to come bother the monster at the top of the mountain again. Most of them, anyway.

“So when you came and sat down next to me I didn’t know what to make of it. You never asked for anything more than to just be by my side and when you left I realized that after you get used to being around someone, it’s hard to be alone again. You were right, you know? When you said you liked me, and said I’m terrified of my own feelings. The truth is, I’m scared of falling in love. Okay? But after climbing up to a place where no one can touch you, that’s an awful long ways to fall, and it’s just,” Jeongguk takes a deep breath. “Shitty metaphors aside, I’m sorry. I know it’s kind of late for that, but I’m sorry. And I want—I want you to be—I don’t want you to leave my side.”

There’s a deep red mark in Jeongguk’s palm from how hard he’s digging the car keys into his skin, not looking into Taehyung’s face.

“I never said I liked you.”

Jeongguk does look up at this. “Oh,” he breathes. “I guess you didn’t. I just thought that—“

“I love you.”

Jeongguk stares at him like he hardly dares to breathe. “Oh,” he repeats, sounding suffocated.

“Yeah, I don’t know for how long. It took me maybe up until the last few days to bring myself to admit that, but unknowingly, probably for ages.”

“For me,” Jeongguk says, “it stopped being an act the first night you came over for dinner. When we were in your room together.” He coughs. “I wanted to do that, kiss you from behind. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to face you, so I kicked my phone under your bed so I wouldn’t have to see your expression when I did.” He laughs ruefully at the memory. “I’m really such an idiot, aren’t I? I don’t know anything about dating or love.”

Taehyung sighs. “Here’s one thing you should learn right now,” he says. “It makes you do stupid shit. It makes you do stupid shit and to you, in the moment, it doesn’t seem stupid.”

Jeongguk drops his keys onto his seat, holding out his hand like he had that night at the breakup party. Taehyung stares at it, at the imprints of key teeth in his skin, and reaches out, sliding his fingers into Jeongguk’s. Jeongguk curls his hand around Taehyung’s, then pulls him forward and drops Taehyung’s arm over his shoulder, until Taehyung is stretched over the console.

“Is this stupid?” he asks, breath fanning out over Taehyung’s face as his arm drops to Taehyung’s ribs.

“Yes,” Taehyung says.

Jeongguk leans in, whimpering when Taehyung opens his mouth eagerly for him. Even in a car as big as the Hummer, kissing in the two front seats requires a flexibility that neither of them have, and when Jeongguk tries pulling Taehyung closer to him, the car screeches in protest when Jeongguk’s knee accidentally digs into the panic button on his car remote. Taehyung nearly hits the roof from how hard he startles, and Jeongguk can’t help the laugh when he presses it again to quiet it.

It’s not that Namjoon or Hoseok would actually find it weird for Jeongguk to be sleeping with anyone, especially after finals, but Taehyung is still thankful that they’re not home when they tumble into the apartment. They lose half their clothes right in the living room, not that either of them have much on in heat like this—and Jeongguk’s room is a little too warm and stuffy for either of their likings, but at least Taehyung can see Jeongguk clearly like this, falling back on his elbows and watching Jeongguk stretch up the length of his body, the face of the dragon on his arm as heated and intense as his kisses.

The sex isn’t all that different—well, it’s a little different. Jeongguk takes Taehyung from the side, his own back pressed against the wall, Taehyung’s leg slung over his hip so he can thrust deeper and harder. “Come on, come for me,” Jeongguk whispers, but it’s less commanding now and more soft encouragement, and Taehyung nods, choking when Jeongguk nips down the back of his neck. He reaches down to touch himself, stroke himself off, and Jeongguk’s grip tightens around Taehyung’s ribs when he comes, streaking the sheets.

Jeongguk reaches for Taehyung’s cock with his own hand to stroke him through the aftershocks as he follows suit quickly, chest shuddering hard against Taehyung’s back as he pants into Taehyung’s ear. The overstimulation makes Taehyung’s hips jump, and he reaches down to swat weakly at Jeongguk’s hand with a soft cry when Jeongguk rubs at the head of his cock.

“Okay, okay,” Jeongguk says, laughter in his voice as he pulls out. “Hold still.”

He reaches over Taehyung’s head for something, his body rolling with Jeongguk’s as he leans into him. Taehyung’s eyes fly open when he feels something soft on his stomach, wiping up the come, and he reaches down and stops Jeongguk’s hand.

“What?” Jeongguk asks, sounding concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just remembering this feeling before I fall asleep,” Taehyung mumbles. “Oh, and Jeongguk?”

“Yeah?” Jeongguk says, lips at Taehyung’s temple. “What is it?”

But Taehyung does fall asleep before he gets a chance to speak, and he makes a mental note to ask sometime in the future. It can wait, probably. It wouldn’t hurt.

 


Jeongguk’s hair is a mess.

Taehyung wakes up just as the sun starting to set over the horizon, lighting up everything in Jeongguk’s room orange-red, shadows long and dark along the walls. His arm is numb from being pinned under his stomach, but he doesn’t want to move just yet, head still pillowed on Jeongguk’s arm. When the prickling in his fingers gets to be too much, though, Taehyung sits up, propping his face against his shoulder, watching the evening light slide over Jeongguk’s skin.

His lips are parted in the way they always are when he’s asleep, a little chapped, and there’s a faint red crescent extending onto the skin below his lower lip where Taehyung had bitten down too roughly. He runs his thumb over the skin, then props his hands on either side of Jeongguk’s head, as usual, and leans down to press a kiss to his mouth, gentle enough so that it won’t wake Jeongguk up.

Just as Taehyung pulls back, Jeongguk moves, surprisingly quick for someone who takes a good strong two hours to wake up in the mornings. His arms wrap around Taehyung’s middle just as he tosses in bed onto his side, and Taehyung makes a strangled noise when he’s wrestled down onto the mattress. Jeongguk takes in a deep breath through his nose, the way people do when they’re woken in that dreamy stage of sleep where reality and fantasy walk side by side. His hand is hot on Taehyung’s back, and his breathing evens out again.

“Hey,” Taehyung whispers, watching the way Jeongguk’s nose wrinkles at being disturbed in his sleep. They’re lying face to face, nearly nose to nose. “Jeongguk.”

“Don’t leave me,” he mutters, snuggling into Taehyung’s body, one of his legs hitched over Taehyung’s waist and pulling him closer. “Not now. Not again, right?”

Right?

“What do you mean, not again?” Taehyung asks, marveling at the heat of Jeongguk’s arms. It feels like home. “You don’t mean to tell me you were awake all those times?”

The realization that Jeongguk has given himself away seems to jolt him awake, and he flutters his eyes blearily before grunting and burying his face in Taehyung’s neck. “The first time, I thought it was just a fading dream. But then you did it every time and it was all I could do not to tell you to come back. And I found myself not wanting to wake up alone.”

“Unbelievable,” Taehyung mutters. “You are unbelievable. We are unbelievable. I can’t believe we danced around each other for so long and neither of us said anything.”

Jeongguk chuckles, voice still hoarse from sleep. “Fools,” he agrees groggily. “Fools in love.”

He knocks out like that, body curled into Taehyung’s. Taehyung drifts off again with his cheek resting on the crown of Jeongguk’s head. The next time he wakes up, Jeongguk is mouthing at his hickey-littered collarbones and Taehyung is half-hard.

“Oh, shit,” he croaks, throat dry, and Jeongguk lifts his head. His hair is so messy that his part is entirely on the wrong side of his head, but it doesn’t matter when Taehyung pulls him up to kiss him, fingers running through it and taming the worst bits down.

Their bones are still soft and clumsy from sleep, but there’s nothing sleepy about the intensity in Jeongguk’s eyes when Taehyung sinks down onto his cock. He gasps out once when he’s settled, steadying himself by gripping Jeongguk’s bent knees hitched up on either side of him, laughing breathlessly when Jeongguk brings him close so they’re pressed together.

“I thought you didn’t believe in this,” Taehyung says, shaking a little, both from getting accustomed to Jeongguk inside him again and being so close to him, skin on skin. “This vanilla cheesecake unseasoned hardboiled eggs shit.”

Jeongguk thrusts up once, slowly, and Taehyung chokes. “I don’t believe in vanilla cheesecake unseasoned hardboiled eggs shit if it’s just a quick fuck,” he says. Taehyung moves away enough to see his face. “And for a long time I told myself that’s all you were, but I realized the fact I had to lie to myself at all made you a lot more than that.”

“Oh, God,” Taehyung groans. This is the closest he’ll get to a verbal declaration of love for a while, he knows; but for now, it’s enough. More than enough.

Jeongguk comes first, whimpering and grinding out, “ugh, fuck,” before reaching down and giving Taehyung one, two strokes to finish him too. Taehyung’s come streaks across their stomachs, and Taehyung has hardly a moment to catch his breath and come back down from cloud nine before Jeongguk is lifting him off and settling him onto the bed.

“You’re scaring me,” Taehyung says sleepily when Jeongguk dips his head and licks Taehyung’s belly clean, seemingly pleased by the aftershocks still thrumming through his muscles.

“How is that?” Jeongguk asks, dragging his nose through the divot between Taehyung’s pecs as he stretches back up.

Taehyung looks at him, at the smear of come on Jeongguk’s lower lip and all the kisses in the corners of his mouth that Taehyung left behind. “When things are too good, something bad is always on the horizon,” he murmurs, and Jeongguk scoffs.

“Yeah. We’re probably going to fight over something really stupid tomorrow, and you’re going to wonder why you ever wanted to date someone as useless as me, and I’m going to beat myself up for not being good enough for you,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung pouts. “Oh, it’s going to happen, and you know it. No use being scared of something you know is coming so better to face it head on.” He leans down and kisses Taehyung’s forehead. “The difference now is that I’ve admitted in advance that even if that does happen, I still—still. Like you a lot. And will want to touch your butt.”

“It’s a nice butt.”

“Hmm. Not as good as mine.”

“You want to fucking go?”

“Okay! Let’s fucking go.”

“On a date. A real date.”

Jeongguk meets Taehyung’s gaze, soft and quiet beside sunny and eager.

“Sure. Let’s fucking go on a real date.”

 


“You know, honestly,” Jimin says dryly as Jeongguk and Taehyung open the front door with a crash bang—crash because Jeongguk slams Taehyung into it, and a bang when the door ricochets off the wall when it opens, making the knob dent ever deeper, bits of stucco flaking off into the gathering pile on the floor—“I have no clue how you guys actually managed to convince me, and everyone else, that you guys were dating. I should have fucking known you guys actually dating would look a lot more like this.”

It’s true. One morning Taehyung had walked out of the shower only for Jimin so stare in horror at his bare body and ask, “Did you get into a bike accident? Why didn’t you tell me?” and only when Taehyung looked down did he realize most of the skin just under his collarbones is magenta and purple.

“No,” he said blandly, shrugging a V-neck on and buttoning up his gingham. “I didn’t get into a bike accident.”

“Oh,” Jimin said, the concern slipping off his face like wet soap. “Oh, I could have gone the rest of my life without having seen that.”

Right now, Taehyung stops kissing Jeongguk for one second to look at Jimin, who squints in retaliation, and looks back to Jeongguk. “How about we go back to your place,” he suggests. “Jimin deserves a night of peace.”

“Like fuck I do!”

Jeongguk makes a face. “I haven’t done the laundry since last time you came over.”

“That’s fine. We can do it on the floor. I hear it’s good for your back.”

“Jesus did not die for this,” Jimin says, scandalized.

“Don’t act like you don’t like it on the floor,” Seokjin says, and Jimin fixes him with a wounded expression.

“Not you too,” he laments as Jeongguk and Taehyung trip out the door again, taking their hands off each other just long enough for Taehyung to pull his keys out of his pocket. “I didn’t date you for this.”

 


“This is the last stop on our tour,” Taehyung says, clapping his hands together. “Just behind you is the University Center and gift store, to your left for about a ten to twelve minute walk is the main parking structure, and to the right is a line of university eateries if you’d like to grab something for the road or to have something to munch on. Any questions?” He looks around, and when no one speaks up, he says, “All right, thank you so much, good luck and I hope to see you guys back here next year!”

“Uh, excuse me, I have a question?”

“Yeah, of course,” Taehyung says, smiling at a girl who comes up to him just as the group scatters, families going their separate ways. “What’s up?”

“I know you said that freshmen dorms build a great sense of community and helps make friends really well,” she says, not really looking right into Taehyung’s face. Her voice is very soft. “I’m not sure if I—I’m a little worried. I’ve never been great at connecting with people, I have good friends in high school, but not a lot, and I won’t know anyone here.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says. “Okay. You want to know a secret? Everyone is just as scared as you. Every first year is in the same boat. I was, too, and I thought I was fairly good at friend making in high school. But I met people that I honestly can picture myself being friends with for the rest of my life, and you will, too. You might think upon arriving and moving in, that everyone already knows everyone else, but in honesty, some people are just better at pretending they know what they’re doing than others. It takes some time. It’s always a work in progress.”

“What if I’m bad at pretending?”

“I would say, just be yourself,” Taehyung says. “But I know that sometimes, that’s hard for some people too. So what really matters is to be true to yourself. Seek out organizations that center around things you like. I promise you will find at least one, and everyone there will want to know your name. And don’t forget,” he looks up, then, just over her head when he sees a splash of flame in his periphery, and a boy with red framed Raybans that Taehyung knows all too well catches the front of his longboard in his hand before walking into the University Center. “A lot of people you will meet in the strangest of circumstances, and in time find yourself wondering what your life had been before they’d come barreling into it.”

 

 

A red Prius isn’t ideal, but, well, it could be worse. It could be a red Hummer H3.

Taehyung doesn’t pretend not to notice when Jeongguk pulls into the last parking spot on the curb outside the townhouse. He doesn’t have time for that, throwing the front door open and watching as Jeongguk pulls the key out of the ignition, undo his seatbelt, and step out of the car. It’s a little like deja vu, but the best kind.

“Hey,” Taehyung says as Jeongguk walks around the back of the car.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, unsmiling, but his eyes glitter with amusement.

“Sweet ride you got there.”

Jeongguk does laugh at this, a small, dry snort. He leans against the side of the door and runs his hand over the edge of the roof of the car. “A little bird landed in my window and told me that driving a Hummer makes me look like a quote unquote ‘shitty douchebag tool.’ So I traded it in for my lease and got a monthly payment deduction. Win win.”

“The little bird was right,” Taehyung sniffs, and Jeongguk rolls his eyes. It’s a warm, warm evening, the summer heat having made the asphalt of the street shimmer in the afternoon. Jeongguk has his arms crossed over one of his loose fitting black tank tops that Taehyung likes pulling over his head after every time they sleep together, the orange heat of the evening sun setting the dragon around his arm aflame. He has dark jeans on, far too tight for the weather, and his hair is teased up. Taehyung can smell the Gatsby from here.

“What are you looking at,” Jeongguk teases gently, hunching into himself. “Stop. Go change, you look like you just got out of bed.”

“That’s because I did,” Taehyung says, laughing.

“It’s five in the afternoon.”

“I know. Pretty early, if you ask me.”

When he’s properly cleaned up, hair combed, he locks the door behind him. Jeongguk holds his arms out and Taehyung walks into them, snaking his own around Jeongguk’s neck. There isn’t much of a difference in height between them, so Taehyung has to make do with pressing his face into the curve of Jeongguk’s neck until Jeongguk pulls him back and kisses him, kisses him until Taehyung is dizzy and Jeongguk is panting into his mouth, until Jeongguk’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he has to grit his teeth and pull away. He answers it and puts it on speaker.

“Hello?”

“STOP SUCKING FACE AND HURRY UP,” Jimin’s voice screeches over the line, and Jeongguk winces and holds the phone away at arm’s length. Taehyung laughs at the face he pulls. “Namjoon hyung and Hoseokie hyung refuse to let us eat until you guys get here and I’m going to keel over and die soon.”

“Good,” Jeongguk says flatly, and hangs up just as Jimin is making a noise of indignation. He looks to Taehyung. “We should go, I’m hungry too and Namjoon will never forgive us for being an hour late to their graduation party.”

Taehyung is impressed by the amount of leg room in the little Prius, strapping his seatbelt on and settling into his seat. Jeongguk starts up the car and holds his hand out over the console, but Taehyung just stares at his open fingers. When he doesn’t move to do anything, Jeongguk clears his throat awkwardly.

“Hurry up, this is embarrassing,” Jeongguk says, glaring straight ahead as the engine hums quietly.

“I don’t get it,” Taehyung says blankly.

“Oh my God,” Jeongguk mutters. “Hold my fucking hand, loser.” He glances at Taehyung out of the corner of his eyes. “You want to, right?”

Taehyung takes Jeongguk hand into his, interlacing their fingers and holding their hands up to his mouth so he can kiss the answer across Jeongguk’s knuckles, enjoying the way Jeongguk makes a funny noise in his throat. Enjoying that finally, finally, he can answer, loud and clear, sing it proud for the world to hear.

 


You love me, right?

Right.