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Seven thirty in the morning finds Taehyung deconstructing his caramel banana waffles.

There's strawberry juice sticking to the edges of his mouth, a crumpled napkin on his lap, and a very much lethargic Jungkook sitting across him, poking at his breakfast with his mind elsewhere.

"I think it could work out pretty well," Taehyung says, a mouthful of waffles threatening to spew onto his chin. Jungkook moves on to his coffee, black with two sugars, and finds that if he stirs with his teaspoon fast enough, the coffee would inevitably spill and he'd actually be completely awake in time for what Taehyung has to tell him.

Taehyung wipes his stained hands on his sweatpants, vibrant red against woolen gray, and it makes Jungkook squirm in his place.

They're in Taehyung's favorite coffee shop in Myeongdong, a fair ten-minute ride from Jungkook's high-rise apartment. It's Jungkook's day-off, and as much as he wanted to spend it sleeping in to recover from successive jet-lags, Taehyung had barged into his room at seven in the morning with a crooked hairpin wedged in his doorknob.

Jungkook glares at Taehyung from across the table, the latter moving around his seat like an uncultured two year-old. "What."

Taehyung grins back at him. "You're a pilot, right? And I'm a photographer. I've been out of ideas since March and I had such a brilliant epiphany in the midst of watching Anthony Bourdain's culinary pursuits."

"I've been aware of the first two statements for two years now," Jungkook says, carefully picking his waffles apart so they wouldn't have the same fate as Taehyung's. "The third one, I've known since March because you haven't stopped bemoaning your photographer's block for the past three months. The fourth one, I don't know. When did you become so invested in Anthony Bourdain and big words?"

The remains of Taehyung's waffles sit idly on his unkempt plate, forgotten as Taehyung orders another batch of desserts. "Hey, don't be mean to your hyung," he nudges Jungkook with a fork, receiving a short-lived scowl in return.

Jungkook wonders how one person can inhale so much sugar at a time. "It's just. I thought it'd be convenient if I went with you on your flights."

"It's stressful enough being on the plane and having to maneuver through the Pacific," says Jungkook. "Do you really think having you on-board would make me feel better?"

"You're digressing, Jungkookie." Taehyung clasps and unclasps his hands on the table, a fairly overt sign that he's eager for Jungkook's approval. Taehyung had always been a transparent person, and Jungkook's learned in their high school years that it's through his hands that he reveals the most. This time, Taehyung is tapping on the table, fingers drumming a familiar beat, and he beams. "Traveling the world with you will be fun and we'll finally get to have our post-college bonding time. Plus, we'll split the expenses, so it's a win-win situation!"

"Go with someone else," Jungkook replies, strained. He swirls his teaspoon in his half-full cup mindlessly, only pausing when his coffee is dangerously close to spilling. He's too awake now, anyway. "With my schedule, I don't think I'll be able to go sightseeing with you."

Taehyung cocks his head to the side, lips slightly pursed. "But it'll be just a few snapshots. It's not going to take us too long."

"Can't I just decline your offer without having to explaining myself?"

"Jungkookie."

"Ugh," Jungkook mutters, looking for table napkins when he's played too much with his drink. Taehyung readily hands him some and voluntarily takes care of the coffee on Jungkook's palms, tracing its lines with careful, nimble fingers. The coffee goes on to drip onto Jungkook's pants, and frankly, it is way too early for him to deal with additional laundry.

Taehyung crumples the stained napkins, sighing. "Do you really hate it that much? Globe-trotting with me, I mean."

Great, now he's using those eyes - the ones that make people succumb to whatever penchant he has, and exactly the ones that can steer Jungkook in the direction that has him regurgitating his breakfast. He's mastered the art of using that fact to be a formidable menace, second best only to Jimin. Jungkook wished the best for Seokjin's sanity and well-being on Jimin's last birthday in loss of witty things to say, but there had been an ounce of truth in it, too.

"It's not that," Jungkook finally says, his hands still in Taehyung's. They're warmer than his mug, and he has to admit that it feels nice, just letting Taehyung fiddle with his fingers like this. In another life, Taehyung should've been a masseur. Or maybe someone who's always holding Jungkook's hands. "You know I'm...I'm not the best companion on trips. I'm sure somebody else will be as enthusiastic as you are."

"Why do you think I asked you, of all people?" Taehyung's eyes crinkle. There are still strawberry chunks stuck in his teeth, and it's such an impeccable picture of Taehyung's normalcy that Jungkook no longer finds it ridiculous.

Feigning hesitation, Jungkook offers, "Because you have no friends?"

Taehyung laughs, leaning back on his seat as he pats his stomach. "That's not nice, Jungkook-ah. What will our hyungs say?"

"Frankly, they'd probably agree with me. Me being the youngest and all."

"You are so cheeky."

"Only one of my many charms, hyung."

Taehyung shakes his head, raising his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright. Well, give it a thought, okay? You're the only person I know who can navigate places without wi-fi, and you know how I am with maps."

"Terrible," Jungkook concedes, and he smiles into his mug.

 

 

 

 

photographs with sepia-toned loving

 

 

 

The last Fridays of the month are noraebang nights, the tradition having been established by a very much harrowed Seokjin, who was then in music college and had just undergone his first tests.

"They made me sing octaves I couldn't reach yet," he'd lamented into his bowl of naengmyeon, with Namjoon sympathetically patting his back. "I didn't switch from acting to singing just to be presented with a music sheet, some lyrics, and no accompaniment at all."

"I'm sure it went better than you thought it would," Jimin assured him. They hadn't been together yet, back then, but Jungkook easily discerned the delicacy in the way Jimin brushed Seokjin's hair away from his eyes. Taehyung had lodged himself between Namjoon and Seokjin and buried his face into the back of Seokjin's neck with arms snaking around his waist.

In an effort to cheer Seokjin up, Namjoon had offered to sing Daeng Daeng Daeng. Halfway into the song, Yoongi sat Namjoon down and told him to take pity on the microphone, and Seokjin, much to Namjoon's chagrin, had found solace in the fact that he couldn't possibly be as bad as the latter.

Hoseok has ditched them for the past few weeks due to a budding relationship with a co-instructor in a relatively small dance academy. Jungkook figures that it's okay, since he isn't fond of bearing witness to Seokjin's chicken dances either, and everyone's silently glad that Hoseok has been happier than he's been in the previous year. Besides, Hoseok always Skypes them on the weekends and keeps them up-to-date about his recent involvements.

"I miss Hobi-hyung so much," Taehyung says, a mouthful of ddeokbokki chips beginning to spew out of his lips. He turns to Yoongi, who has earplugs on hand in case Namjoon hogs the not so well-deserved mic again. "I wish he could spend some time with us, too. We rarely ever get to see him nowadays."

"You only miss him because he cleans your apartment whenever he visits," chides Jimin, who has allied himself with Jungkook with a customary fist bump. It turns out to be a disappointment when Taehyung forges on with his musings, seemingly oblivious to the fact that nobody likes moping on a noraebang night.

It's one in the morning when Yoongi divulges the news of a potential promotion, as told by his chief. With Jungkook rubbing the drowsiness from his eyes, Yoongi says, "Come on, this calls for a beer or two on me. I know all of you parasites aren't going to pass up on free drinks."

"Sorry, I don't drink," a lethargic Taehyung murmurs from his self-appointed spot on the couch. "Bad for the liver. I want to keep taking pictures until I'm ninety six. You know, longevity issues."

"Wow, I never thought I'd see Taehyungie plan his whole life out," Seokjin says. It's characteristic of him to widen his eyes in situations like these, lips parting to exude shock, and Jungkook has the urge to tell Jimin to wipe that dopey look off of Seokjin's face.

Taehyung chuckles softly, curling into his backpack. "Write it down, hyung, or else I'd forget all about it when I fall asleep."

"Wait, Taehyung-ah, don't sleep on us yet. I've heard from the people at your studio that you're taking on a new project," Namjoon presses his thumb to the arch of Taehyung's left foot, causing the boy in question to jolt from his position and whine. "Something you're not telling us?"

"Ask Jungkookie," he says, head falling back on the armrest of the couch. "He's coming with me, so he knows all about it."

"Oh." There's a collective exhale, and Jungkook puts his bottle down when everybody's eyes on him seem to stimulate a tremor shooting down his spine. It's Seokjin, as always, who speaks up, ever so curious about his younger friends. "Jungkook, really?"

"He only gave me a heads-up this week, hyung," Jungkook says, bringing the bottle back to his lips and closing his eyes to the rapid burn. "It's not like Taehyung has ever let me refuse. He has an exhibit in mind, featuring international colors or something like that."

"Ah," Yoongi snorts, "That has to be the most original concept I've ever heard of. Really."

"Heard that," Taehyung mumbles into the crook of his arm. He stretches his leg over the couch and accidentally kicks Namjoon off. Namjoon looks scandalized on the floor. "The exhibit's going to be awesome, promise. Since it's still in the stages of my inner artist's vision I doubt it'd make much sense to you guys."

Jimin coughs his beer out, wheezing. He's grinning with froth on his lips and it doesn't help that under the low light of the karaoke room, his eyes have completely retreated behind mere crescents of his lids. It's Jimin's smile that makes Jungkook laugh this time, but the moment is cut short when he notices Seokjin's gaze trained on him, observant.

"Well, do you have an itinerary?" Seokjin asks softly, still blinking almost skeptically at Jungkook. The latter wants to tell him that if it weren't for his amazing vocals, he should've auditioned to be in horror films instead.

"I didn't say I wanted to go," Jungkook says.

Taehyung interjects, "Not yet." He yawns - tries to, anyway, the way his breaths fan out like he's managed to munch on a pepper by some gruesome fate he's been subjected to. Eventually, Taehyung gives up, reaching for his collar to wipe the dampness in his eyes.

"Not ever," is Jungkook's terse reply.

"I'm personally offended that you didn't even consider me, Taehyung," Namjoon says solemnly, closing his eyes to the palm on his chest. He's found a friend on the floor beneath him, not having moved since he had taken the brunt of Taehyung's foot.

"Trust me, hyung, Jungkookie needs the vacation."

"Shut up, he's always on vacation." Jimin fits himself into Seokjin's arm leisurely sprawled over the couch. He takes one last swig before Seokjin snatches the bottle from him, eyebrows crossed. "You're right, you really don't make any sense when you're in the midst of a project. Maybe it's best for you to go home and talk to your washing machine. Last time I crashed at your place you said monodramas with your laundry were therapeutic."

"That's not nice, Jiminnie," Seokjin tells him. He puts the beer away and uses his free hand to thread through Jimin's rustled hair, flattening out the strands that stick out haphazardly.

It's odd, Jungkook thinks, that not that much has changed when Jimin asked Seokjin out. They've been doing this for years, danced around each other with touches that linger too long.

Seokjin smiles at Jungkook, strained. His beam doesn't quite reach his ears. "Have fun on your trip, alright?"

 

 

* * *

 

 

For some reason, Jimin's waiting in his car outside Jungkook's apartment at five in the morning, hair still mussed from sleep. He's wearing a shirt printed with a Pokeball graphic, obviously a Christmas gift from Namjoon, and a pair of sunglasses to conceal his still partially shut eyes.

Jungkook stops in the driveway, a small piece of luggage behind him, and he stares through the tinted window, speculating. Fortunately, Jimin rolls the window down and languidly gestures for Jungkook to keep his mouth shut and tuck himself in.

Finally settling into the passenger seat, Jungkook cautiously tugs on the seat belt. He says, "Hyung."

Jimin focuses on the road, stifling his yawn. He's turning at the intersection, down the familiar path of a convenience store. "I need some energy drinks, and we can grab Taehyung a bottle or two of Yakult. It is way too early for Jimin's friendship cab service, I tell you."

"Seokjin-hyung told you to bring me to the airport?" Jungkook asks, vaguely aware of Jimin's head lolling to every jerk of the car. Seokjin has been giving him peculiar looks since last week.

"Yeah," Jimin says. "It saves some time, with you taking the subway and Taehyung forgetting to gas up. Jin-hyung always predicts these things, I wonder how he hasn't gotten migraines from worrying about you two so much."

Jungkook straightens his uniform, wincing at a spot he missed while ironing. "I can handle myself. It's Taehyung he has to watch out for. I swear, he has to be younger than me. They probably just messed his birth certificate up."

The parking lot is still empty at this time, save for the beat-up vehicle of one very unlucky employee who's working at this hour. Jimin laughs, braking smoothly. "Point for Jungkookie, right there."

They end up purchasing more than what they planned for - a toothbrush kit, a small bottle of Listerine, some packs of Beef Jerky - as a fallback for the hypothetical situation in which Taehyung hasn't prepared for the trip. It's Jungkook who mostly proposes the idea, and Jimin's attempts to dismiss him are futile when Jungkook slides the items towards the cashier.

"He's been looking forward to this trip, you have no idea," Jimin says, twisting the cap of a Red Bull open. "Actually, you might have, but just an inkling. He gave me a spare key to his apartment so I could watch over Soonshim. Without pay. Do you understand how much of my career I'll be giving up for his artistic endeavors?"

"It's your weekend off, hyung," Jungkook replies wryly. "Besides, I'm sure Seokjin-hyung will consider it as bonding time."

Jimin pauses. "True. Man, when'd you grow up so fast?"

"You've been looking up to me since I was in high school."

"You little shit."

"Correction. Tall shit, but I don't think you really like the idea of me cussing," Jungkook says. He smiles, patting the top of Jimin's head out of affection, and Jimin threatens to turn his knuckles into soup if he pushes his luck any further.

Taehyung's own apartment is a manageable distance from Jungkook's, a fairly short walk from the Metropolitan Library. In the peak of summer, Taehyung is fond of visiting the library with his laptop in tow. He only spends a minuscule fraction of his afternoons browsing over prized gems of the photography world. Jungkook's seen far too many screen-caps of manhwas in a very conspicuous desktop folder to believe otherwise.

The brass plate on Taehyung's door is falling off, Jungkook realizes. Clearly, Taehyung has to have someone tell him about the idea of maintenance.

"Soonshimee, I'll be back in a few days!" Taehyung pipes animatedly, ruffling Soonshim's white mane and smoothing it back into place. He must have missed out on the click of Jimin opening his door, because he continues to peck at and nose through Soonshim's fur, passport and documents discarded on the hardwood floor.

"Uh," Jungkook says, tapping his foot insistently, "if you don't want to be late for your flight, you better hurry up."

Startled, Taehyung stands up abruptly, stepping on some of his papers. "Oh, you're already here."

Jimin tosses him the bottle of Yakult and points to the clock. It reads 5:37. "I have been awake for the past hour and there is something to be said about not taking too much advantage of the fact that I'm being really nice here."

"Sorry, sorry," Taehyung scratches the back of his head, mouth open in an awkwardly rectangular shape. He picks his things up, slinging his carry-on over his shoulder, and crouches back down to nuzzle his dog one last time before he walks out the door. "Take care, Soonshimee! Jiminnie will be back for you later!"

Jimin makes a face at the back of Taehyung's head, but he drops the act instantaneously, turning to wave amiably at Soonshim. By the time they reach the elevator, Taehyung has adjusted the straps of his baggage far too many times that he sighs in resignation and resorts to carrying his bag by its handles.

"TaeTae must be anticipating his flight so much he can't even speak," Jimin says to dissipate the silence settling in the small expanse of the elevator. It's one of the reasons why Jungkook appreciates Jimin, never mind the fact that most of the time he doesn't voice it out.

"Yeah." Taehyung pushes the sleeves of his mustard sweater up his arm, thoughtlessly fiddling with the loose threads. "You're right. It's the first time I'm going out of the country and I strangely feel as though my bones are going to jump out of my clothes any moment now."

Jimin and Jungkook wrinkle their noses in unison. In particular, Jungkook steps away from Taehyung, mildly disturbed. "Relax, hyung. You'll be fine, there's no need to be graphic here."

The laughter that streams out of Taehyung's lips is shaky at best, so Jimin elbows Taehyung gently and pulls the back of Jungkook's collar. Jungkook finds himself in Jimin's headlock, and he attempts to shove Jimin away with a half-assed nudge to his stomach. "You've got this kid with you. Jungkookie's not a pilot for nothing, you know."

"I'm twenty two," Jungkook spits out, finally wrestling his way out of Jimin's arms. "I think I'm long past the age when you can address me as a kid."

"You'll always be our baby Jungkookie," coos Jimin.

Taehyung genuinely laughs, this time, when Jungkook pretends to gag on empty air and instead chokes on the dust that enters his airways.

On some days, Jimin is a wonderful person, a poster boy for toothpaste ads when he smiles until his cheeks hide his eyes. It's just Jungkook's luck that Jimin's chosen to be an incredible asshole today, pounding blows on Jungkook's back with a supposedly soothing hand to help him cough.

Thirty minutes later, they're on the road to the airport with Jimin humming to the morning radio. Jungkook's nursing his throat with the bottled water that Taehyung gave him, and he's glaring at the horizon intently, the top of his uniform unbuttoned to let him breathe.

"Hey, confession time," Jimin says, still amused from the earlier happenings. "Before I drop you guys off at the airport."

"If it's going to give Jungkookie a heart attack then I won't hear it," Taehyung declares from the back, reaching out to wipe the sheen of sweat on Jungkook's forehead. Jungkook weakly swats Taehyung's hands away but lets him be when he wouldn't budge. He might even fall asleep, like this.

"No dramatic deaths, pinky swear," Jimin says. The outline of the sun is beginning to emerge from the flurry of clouds straight ahead. "When I first met Jungkookie, I honestly thought he was cool."

Jungkook remembers it. Taehyung was the network, the mutual friend, and he and Jungkook were hanging out at a local music store when Jimin hopped into his till and casually manned the register. Jimin was so affable that it was difficult not to be interested in getting to know him better. It didn't help that Taehyung talked about Jungkook a lot, the enthusiasm in his irises so palpable that it made Jungkook withdraw a bit from embarrassment.

"It's been almost six years ago," recalls Taehyung. He pulls his hands back gingerly. Jungkook somewhat regrets the loss of warmth.

Nodding, Jimin shifts in his seat. He looks at Jungkook, now. "You were so reserved, looked so sure of yourself. Like you owned the world. You kind of still do but that's beside the point, we don't need any more filling to blow your head up."

"I was enjoying it," Jungkook jokes.

"See? You're much more shameless now," Jimin snickers. Taehyung makes a noise at the back of his throat. "But I like that. Anyway, confession - I thought you were awesome, someone who fit everybody's ideal type. But now I'm not so certain. You just performed some serious slapstick comedy back there, and I'm starting to think that you're in the wrong profession."

Taehyung hits Jimin in the back of his neck, in spite of the fact that he can't stifle a giggle or two. Jungkook continues to burn holes on Jimin's windshield using his eyes.

"Jiminnie," Taehyung says a little later, when the Incheon Airport is in sight. From the backseat, he reaches out to pinch Jimin's cheeks, going as far as squeezing his chin. It's a good thing Jimin has shaved this morning; otherwise, Taehyung would have complained about the stubble and gone on to deplore about their impending mid-life crises.

Years of dealing with Taehyung merits some kind of expertise. Jungkook simply watches as Jimin single-handedly steers them into the driveway without crashing and shakes his head fervently to try to pry Taehyung's hands off. They pull up at the route designated for private cars. Even at six in the morning, there are hordes of travelers in organized queues, all of them most likely wanting to get out of Korea the soonest they can.

Jimin doesn't opt for the short-term parking since it'd take a long time to survey the area and find a decent spot. He looks at Jungkook, who has straightened his uniform, and Taehyung, who's absent-mindedly nibbling on his nails. "Hey, stop that. You're twenty four, not three."

"Jiminnie," Taehyung echoes, again, his eyes pleading. He has his backpack on and the extra baggage by his side. Jungkook turns to him, cocking his head to the side in curiosity.

Jungkook says, "What are you so afraid of, hyung?"

There's an audible swallow before Taehyung can blurt out, "Have you ever seen those movies -"

"Ohmygod," Jimin says, exasperated. "Have a little faith in Jungkookie. He'll take care of everyone, you included. You'll have fun."

"Okay," Taehyung breathes. He says it mostly to himself. "Okay."

Jimin smiles, flashing Taehyung two reassuring thumbs up. He rests his arm on top of his seat, his chin nesting in the empty space he can get. "So, where is our Captain Jeon Jungkook taking passenger Kim Taehyung today?"

"Wait, I need to check if I printed my ticket and reservation out," Taehyung exclaims in late realization, flinging his luggage to his lap and scrabbling for the zippers. Jungkook doesn't mind how Taehyung's fingers quiver when he fishes out his folder of papers.

"It's a surprise," Jungkook says. He grins lopsidedly. "You'll see when Taehyung brags about his photos."

"I was asking nicely," spits Jimin, who wrinkles his nose in distaste. "TaeTae is still your hyung, you brat."

"Taehyung-hyung, then."

"You're a much more desirable man when you remember your manners, Jungkookie."

"Found it!" Taehyung says, waving the sheet of paper heartily. Either he hasn't caught up with Jimin and Jungkook's usual banter, or he's dismissing it entirely so as not to let it dampen his spirits. He nods at Jungkook. "You'll find out where we're headed to when we get there, Jiminnie, I'll be on Twitter!"

"I feel sorry for your mobile data bill," Jimin tells him, crossing his eyebrows in mock sympathy. He makes shooing noises soon after, gesturing for the doors. "Hurry up and scamper, little ones, I don't have all the time in the world."

Just as Taehyung says his see you's and I'll miss you's, Jungkook mutters something about Jimin's height and earns a slipper thrown to his head when he's about to close the door. He shouts, annoyed, "Thanks for the ride!", as he hurls the slipper back, and he can sense his blood pressure close to skyrocketing when Jimin gracefully catches his battered sandal and sticks his tongue out.

They wave Jimin off, Taehyung earning surmising glances from passers-by with arms above his head in some semblance of a heart. It's Jungkook who leads the way, having memorized the way through the airport like the back of his hand, and he tries to play oblivious to Taehyung's exclaims of, "Wow, what's that? Jungkookie, let's take a look over there, it seems interesting!"

Taehyung whips his unopened bottle of Yakult out. "Here, Jungkookie, have this. It's not chilled anymore but you have to drink up, you must be parched."

Jungkook stares at him, taken aback. He thrusts the bottle back into Taehyung's hands. "It's okay, hyung. It's yours. We'll grab some breakfast later, anyway."

Taehyung walks past the security checkpoint twice when he forgets to take his belt off. When he finally succeeds in the check-in counter, Jungkook drags him to Food Capital Concourse in the duty-free area. They both opt for Paldo Noodle, Jungkook taking the initiative to order since he's explained to Taehyung that they'll miss ramyeon once they board the plane.

"Ah, I'm so hungry," Taehyung says, setting his warm bowl on the table. Some of the soup spills on his tray, neglected as soon as he starts talking. "How much time do you have for your layover, by the way?"

"A day and a half," says Jungkook, uncapping a new water bottle. Taehyung offers him the Yakult, giving him a pointed look, and he accepts it with a sigh. "For something that's viewed as impossible in this industry, I'm more than lucky. Usually I'll just have a couple of hours in between until I have to go again."

Taehyung takes a sip of the Yakult, too. "Hm, how about you take a nap first before I look around and take some pictures? I promise I won't take too long."

"It's fine," Jungkook tells him thoughtfully. He folds his hands under his chin as he watches Taehyung slurp the noodles in silence. Much to Jungkook's annoyance, there's a small piece of cabbage caked to the bottom of Taehyung's lip. Jungkook reaches out to wipe it off with a napkin, fingers quite shaky, and Taehyung smiles at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling.

"We can just jump right into it after some paperwork and post-flight stuff. I'd prefer having a solid block of sleep over short naps." Jungkook swiftly retracts his hand, almost wishing he hadn’t been so careless.

"Whatever you say," Taehyung says. He seems content with his noodles, so Jungkook picks his chopsticks up, mindful of his uniform.

Before they part ways, a colleague of Jungkook's spots them near Taehyung's designated gate. She's clad in a pilot's attire, long dark locks tucked into a ponytail. She waves at them, luggage in tow, and Jungkook nods back at her.

When she's approaching, Taehyung blinks. "Whoa, she's really pretty."

"Hey, Jungkook-oppa," she says, and Jungkook silently agrees with Taehyung when he's reminded of how admirable this woman's stature is. She smiles warmly. "Oh, I'm sorry for intruding. I'm Han La, and though I work for another airline, I regularly see oppa here, so we chat sometimes."

Taehyung's too mesmerized to shake her hand properly, so Jungkook cuts in. "This is Taehyung-hyung. Hyung, this is Han La, but she rather likes being called Halla."

Again, Halla offers a grin, and when Jungkook tries to focus on her, he's not so certain if Halla's expression directed at him means something else entirely. "Ah, it's nice to meet you, Taehyung-ssi. Halla sounds better, don't you think?"

"I, ah, yeah," Taehyung says sheepishly, scratching the back of his head.

"So," Halla starts, elbowing Jungkook harder than she meant to. The glint in her eyes doesn't disappear, so Jungkook shrugs it off. "Is Taehyung-ssi here a special friend of yours, oppa?"

It takes Jungkook twice as long as Taehyung does to figure out the implication, which is utterly unexpected, given that Jungkook's always proclaimed himself to be adept at catching onto things.

Taehyung laughs heartily, slapping Jungkook's back. "Ah, no, it's nothing like that. Jungkookie's like my little brother."

"Halla, what are you even talking about," Jungkook groans. He shifts to his other foot, almost as if he's restless. He replays the words in his head.

Halla snorts at him. She stuffs her hands into her pockets, gaze often falling onto Taehyung, who's doing his best at maintaining the magnitude of his smile. It's difficult from Jungkook's perspective. He wonders how much Taehyung's cheeks hurt right now. "Geez, it's early in the morning, oppa. Don't be such a sour grape."

She turns to Taehyung, squinting in curiosity. "So, Taehyung-ssi."

"Please, just call me Taehyung," Taehyung says, now tinkering with the straps of his bag. After having dealt enough with the noise of Velcro and zippers, Jungkook tugs at Taehyung's wrist, holding it firmly to the side.

Jungkook scoffs. "Just so you know, this hyung is no good at formalities."

"Ah, alright," Halla says. Her face brightens even more with what seems like a surge of realization. "Taehyung-oppa, where are you off to today?"

"It's a secret," replies Taehyung, whose interest has shot up the roof. His wrist discreetly slips away from Jungkook's grasp. "I have an exhibit coming up in a few months, so I figured I'd go with Jungkookie today in hopes of finding the right scenery. Something different from Seoul, you know?"

Halla snaps her fingers in recognition. "You're the photographer Jungkook-oppa always talks about," she blurts, pleased with herself for remembering. "Kim Taehyung-oppa. I've been to one exhibit of yours before, just because Jungkook-oppa keeps bringing you up in our conversations and I needed to find out what was it about you that made him more voluble than he usually is."

The embarrassment pools in Jungkook's cheeks just as Taehyung quietly nudges him with, "You've been talking about me? I'm so touched, Jungkook-ah."

"Your photos are really good," Halla says, clapping her hands in enthusiasm. Still flushed to the tips of his ears, Jungkook notes that Halla and Taehyung may get along well, considering the fact that it's easy for them to become immersed in something that makes them happy. It doesn't help that their brain-to-mouth filters are eerily alike in that they aren't really functional. "Really, really good. There's this one picture that had me wishing I had a handkerchief with me."

"Really?" Taehyung says, opening his mouth in shock.

"Really," Halla affirms, hands moving haphazardly to express herself. "You're really talented, oppa. Not a lot of people have the ability to move others even when they haven't met them."

Sometimes, Jungkook studies Halla, a bit envious of how she's given herself so much liberty to be able to articulate like this to almost-strangers without having to construct barricades. Halla bows when Taehyung stutters his words of gratitude out, a hand on the handle of her luggage. "Don't thank me, Taehyung-oppa. Well, I'll run off now, since you still have a flight to catch."

"Sorry for holding you back, Halla," Jungkook mumbles. He affords a small smile, this time.

Halla waves him off. "No, no, don't apologize. The three of us should grab coffee when you're free. I still have your number, oppa, so I'll call you sometime soon!"

When Halla's gone and disappeared in the airport crowd, Taehyung breathes out, "Wow. Just, wow. How come you've never told me about your friends at work, Jungkookie?"

Jungkook shrugs. "You never asked."

"She's kind," Taehyung says out loud, deep in thought. "She seems like someone who's good at taking care of others. It's easy conversing with her, and I've known her for a grand total of five minutes."

"Six," Jungkook counters, even though he actually doesn't know for sure. It's nothing important, anyway. He swallows something vile rising in his throat.

"Hey, Jungkookie," says Taehyung a few heartbeats later. He's fixated on Jungkook's eyes, assessing. It makes Jungkook squirm in his place. "Haven't you ever thought about getting a girlfriend?"

Jungkook chokes on his own spit. "Whatever you're thinking of, hyung," he manages to mutter despite his incredulity, "you're horribly wrong."

 

 

* * *

 

 

začít

 

czech; v. begin

 

 

 

 

It's almost nine-twenty in the evening when Jungkook checks into the nearest Holiday Inn he and Taehyung have made a reservation for. Jungkook mumbles some go-to phrases in English, possibly getting the pronunciation incorrectly, but he lets it pass when the front desk clerk responds in his own accent, having seemed to understand even if it were just marginally.

Jungkook fiddles with the key card - black and sleek under the LED lighting of the elevator - and hums unconsciously to the music, which he comprehends until the beat at best. The elevator's made out of glass, so he can see the streets of Prague from overhead.

Back in Seoul, it would've taken no effort to find the heavy traffic under city lights. It's different here.

The elevator doors open at the fourth floor, and Jungkook recoils at the onslaught of the scent of air freshener. When he's gathered enough of his bearings, he walks down the hallway until he spots room 431.

There's a faint click when he swipes the keycard, and upon his arrival, Taehyung's garbled voice resonates from the bathroom. "Whoosh theh?"

"Your favorite dongsaeng," Jungkook yawns, wincing when the wheel of his luggage gets stuck in the doorway. "Well, your only dongsaeng in the group."

Taehyung makes a spitting sound and pokes his head out of the bathroom, toothpaste still dripping from his mouth. He rinses quickly and hops out to hug Jungkook even though Jungkook stinks from the eleven-hour flight and the two-hour paperwork spree.

God, how he hates paperwork. "Jungkookie, you're finally here!"

"Yeah, sorry for taking so long," says Jungkook, who pats Taehyung lightly on the small of his back. He flinches when Taehyung winds his arms tighter around Jungkook's waist. "Uh, hyung. I need, um. Personal space?"

Taehyung steps back. "Right, you're twenty two and you need to stop being a life-sized teddy bear. Who could ever resist the charms of Jeon Jungkook?"

"Now it's my fault," Jungkook narrows his eyes, and Taehyung just laughs. When Jungkook turns to the rest of the room, he sees that Taehyung has occupied the bed nearest the air conditioner. Perhaps it's because he knows that he's not directly in the line of cooling. Taehyung has never been that good at regulating his body heat, thus his predilection towards snuggling. It explains a lot of things. Jungkook hopes that it does.

On Taehyung's bed are his wrinkled covers and his camera, a Nikon he'd purchased seven months into his part time job at the local grocery store beside their high school. Back then, he'd buy a ridiculous amount of lens cleaner cloths and hold a grudge for whomever touched his camera without his permission.

"You should rest," Taehyung says, performing a series of small, calmative chops on Jungkook's shoulders.

"I'm going with you. You told me that the deal was you'd come with me, hyung. Plus, it's a known fact that the only way you can get your directions is either through the internet or through the locals, and I'm not sure if there's city-wide wifi and nice strangers this time of the night."

"Well, yeah," Taehyung scrunches his nose. "It's also to my knowledge that you've been working for the past thirteen hours, and even you can't avoid being brain-dead after that long of a shift."

Jungkook grabs a sweatshirt and a pair of drawstring pants. It will have to do. "I've had worse. Haven't we gone over this when we were on the other side of the world, hyung?"

Prague in July is wet from the incessant rainfall. Heavy footsteps fall with the pitter-patter on slick cobblestone, and Taehyung nearly slips when he rushes out into the open. Fortunately, Jungkook has his wrist around Taehyung's forearm before he falls.

It's a relatively short walk to the famous Old Town Square, illuminated churches and buildings in stark contrast with the backdrop of a never-ending evening sky. Taehyung, open-mouthed, gets lost in the haze of all that is old and still standing.

Jungkook is subject to the history permeating the atmosphere, too. "You'd think that for someone who hops from one place to another, I would've stopped to look at places like this."

Taehyung fails to hear what he says because in a moment he's setting his equipment up. It's when his irises dilate, brown specks becoming more vibrant under what little light they have, that Jungkook knows that Taehyung's in his own world, chasing the right photograph before his eyes.

A couple of shots in and Taehyung shakes his head, blinking back at Jungkook. "Uh, sorry for getting distracted."

"It's your job," Jungkook replies. He trains his gaze fleetingly on the lights, the people, the streets. It's somewhat difficult to stand in the midst of everything when the only companion he has is preoccupied with something else.

"I just," Taehyung says, "it's - everything's so beautiful. And for some reason, I don't think I deserve to see something that takes my breath away."

Jungkook switches gears and purses his lips. His hands find warmth in his pockets. "You're here, aren't you?"

They explore for a little while, Taehyung exclaiming over the smallest of things. Once they tread through the crowd and walk toward less congested spaces, Taehyung tugs at Jungkook, ushering him to the bottom of a tower.

"I read on a travel blog that this tower," Taehyung points to the top, specifically the built-in astronomical clock on one side of the venerable structure, "closes at ten. I thought that the view up there would be nice."

It's been a while since Jungkook had some time for uphill jogging, which is why he pants as they proceed along the staircase inside the tower. He's still scrunching his eyebrows at Taehyung after the latter paid for both of their entrance fees.

"Come on, Jungkookie," Taehyung tells him. He holds his hand out, clothes rustling in the darkness. Jungkook, reluctant as he is, still reaches out, gasping when Taehyung pulls him as he runs.

Jungkook's grasp slips every time there's an uneven step along the way, but Taehyung catches his fingers almost too persistently for them to bruise.

Jungkook swallows, ultimately withdrawing his hand.

Old Town seen from above falls far beyond Jungkook's expectations. It's quiet save for the wind rapping against stone, and Jungkook exhales.

The clock tolls a few minutes later, gears whirring beside each other in some semblance of a discordant rhythm. To Jungkook's surprise, he doesn't hear any shutter sound.

"Hyung," Jungkook says, barely a whisper over the noise in the tower. He sees that the myriad of tourists flocking around the churches and stalls earlier has begun to dissipate. The lights seem so distant from where he is.

"Take a picture, it'll last longer," quotes Jungkook. It's a start, easing the silence between him and Taehyung, and even he knows that Taehyung won't pass up on an opportunity to rebut with a line from one of his favorite films.

Taehyung smiles, half of his face barely visible. "Beautiful things don't ask for attention, Jungkook-ah."

Taehyung, Jungkook muses, is predictable most of the time, even when everybody else claims that he's a bit too odd and spontaneous for their liking. "Ah, is it from that movie we watched years ago? When Yoongi-hyung dozed off and knocked the popcorn tub over to the couple making out next to him?"

"The secret life of Walter something, yeah," Taehyung says. He sighs, resting his back on the intricately carved window.

Jungkook snaps his fingers. "Wait, I got it. Walter Mitty, was it? Can't leave something hanging, or else I wouldn't be able to sleep it off."

"Maybe." Taehyung was never one to remember things to the finest details. The wind is stubborn, sifting through Taehyung's hair until some strands fall on his eyes.

Jungkook clenches his fists at his sides. Eventually, Taehyung's irked enough that he brushes his bangs away from his forehead.

They lean out of the window, contemplating, until the caretaker of the tower comes up and mumbles something in garbled English, motioning for them to come down. Jungkook would've slept like this, night breeze dancing on his cheeks and the lights of old Prague under his fingertips, but he's never been one to rebel.

He knows that Taehyung feels the same. Behind him, Taehyung trails, breath heavy on the back of Jungkook's neck.

"Hey, Jungkookie," Taehyung says, bag and tripod on hand, "Let's go see the Charles Bridge next, if you're still up for it."

"Sure," says Jungkook. He halts his steps, looking back at Taehyung. "You really did a lot of research, huh?"

Under the streetlights, Taehyung's teeth reflect back as orange. Kind of like his dyed hair in high school, and even much after. During Jungkook's senior year, Taehyung visited him on the weekends with keys hanging from university lanyards. Orange wasn't supposed to be a good color on him, Jungkook once said.

"It's my first time out of the country," Taehyung tells him, now beginning to walk beside him. "There's liberation in not planning ahead, but, well. You don't really want your work schedule to be compromised, do you?"

"Guess so," Jungkook says. He freezes as soon as a drop of water pelts his head. "Wait."

Taehyung, concerned, says, "What?"

A split second later and there's a light drizzle; a few more minutes in and there's a full-fledged downpour, rain hitting the pavements as hard as it does Jungkook.

Taehyung tells him to run and find some cover, unmistakably laughing at the hilarity of it all. It's up to Jungkook to curse Prague's seasons. He makes a futile attempt to shield himself from the onslaught of rain with his arms.

They're soaked to the bone, Jungkook blurting something about very damp boxers, and Taehyung keeps his apparatus close to his chest. He unwinds the sleeves of his jacket from his waist, blurting, "Here, take this!"

Jungkook yells back, "It's wet, what good would that be?"

Taehyung erupts into chuckles again. His jacket slides down to his thighs, and he pulls it up, fingers grazing his back pocket.

He frowns. "Just a sec." He fumbles with his jacket, and Jungkook has no inkling of what's wrong with him until Taehyung looks him dead in the eye and says, "Shit. I left my wallet back there."

"Holy shit," Jungkook says, the thrumming in his arteries getting to his head, "are you kidding?"

"Hold these for a moment," Taehyung shoves his equipment into Jungkook's hands, patting his pockets. As a precautionary measure, he goes as far as poking at every inch of his jeans to make sure that his wallet is somewhere in his clothes. Jungkook turns away when he inspects the crotch area.

Taehyung bites his lip. "I'm so utterly screwed."

"Hyung," Jungkook groans, spitting out the saltwater that's managed to get into his mouth. "I don't have enough in my checking account to pay for our lodging and your breakfast."

"See, here's the thing," Taehyung whispers. There's genuine fear clouding his eyes when he leans and exhales right into Jungkook's ear. Coupled with the rumble of thunder from overhead, Taehyung's noisy breathing just serves to worsen Jungkook's night.

Apart from that, Taehyung is close, excessively so, and as much as Jungkook wants to step away, Taehyung has his hand on Jungkook's shoulder. "Jungkook-ah."

Jungkook looks at Taehyung's sideburns instead of his face. "Yeah?"

"The truth is," Taehyung mumbles, exhales heavy on Jungkook's cheek. It's warm, with Taehyung merely centimeters away, and Jungkook can't let his breath hitch. "I only have about a hundred won in my wallet. My credit card's tucked safely into my underwear."

Jungkook nearly drops Taehyung's tripod. "What the hell."

Taehyung bursts into peals of laughter, boisterous and non-withholding. He falls on his backside, clutching his stomach in an effort to make the pain recede. "Oh my god. Should've," he stops, snickering once more, "should've caught this on camera, your face was absolutely priceless."

"Not funny," shouts Jungkook. He knows he's reddening, heat coursing through his cheeks like rapid fire. "Not funny, hyung."

Taehyung doesn't mind him, literally laughing his ass off, and Jungkook lets out an 'argh' before saying, "God, you're so gross. I don't want to think about how much bacteria there are on your card."

"Fun fact, there are always going to be more bacteria on our bodies," Taehyung informs him. When he recovers from his episode of finding happiness in Jungkook's misery, he stands up from the cobblestone road, legs wobbly. "You won't believe how diverse your bacterial flora is."

"You actually listened to your intro to microbiology class in college," Jungkook deadpans.

"I appreciate all areas of study," Taehyung responds earnestly. The rain hasn't subsided yet; if anything, it looks as though a storm is about to settle in for days, but Jungkook's lost all energy to care.

Jungkook swipes his thumb over Taehyung's camera bag. "When we get back to Seoul, I'm tossing this into the Han River. Oh, wait. Didn't you want to head to a bridge? Isn't there a river under it?"

The color drains from Taehyung's face, leaving behind a very much conspicuous pallor. "Jeon Jungkook, don't you dare."

It's to be expected that Jungkook breaks into a run, straps of the camera bag lagging behind him, and Taehyung chases him into the night. Jungkook doesn't really know where he's going, but there are neon green signs that point to the left and he's pretty certain, from years of experience, that they'll direct him to where he wants to go.

"You don't even know what the Charles Bridge looks like!" Taehyung bellows from behind him. Jungkook is quite surprised, to say the least, that Taehyung hasn't caught up yet. Perhaps Jungkook's stamina never really left him in all the years he hadn't had time to visit the gym.

Jungkook yells back, "I know how to read the signs! Sort of!"

It turns out to be a stroke of luck when a bridge, barely distinguishable from the dark, looms into Jungkook's view, and Taehyung screams, hoarse inhuman screeching tearing through the serenity of Prague.

Taehyung dashes toward Jungkook, channeling the energy in his now-digested dinner toward one last sprint, and he manages to pull the back of Jungkook's collar before Jungkook can do so much as be poised to let Taehyung's camera bag drift to the rushing waters below.

This time, it's Jungkook who hiccups from amusement, eyes crinkling when his grin nearly splits his face in half. "Hyung, I didn't know you were a voice actor for the velociraptors in Jurassic Park."

Taehyung elbows him in the ribs before taking his waterproof bag and tripod back. Soon enough, he's smiling, too, the wet tips of his mane sticking to the space between his eyebrows. "You're the devil incarnate, I swear to god."

"No, we're just acting like kids," Jungkook says. He wipes the tears from the edges of his eyelids after laughing too much, but he remembers that he's still stuck under the torrentious rain that's not going to pass anytime soon. "Shit, you're going to be thirty in, like, six years."

"No, no," Taehyung laments, "don't go all nostalgic on me, Jungkookie. As long as you don't dwell on your age then you're eternally seventeen."

Jungkook doesn't listen, already well past the threshold of being horrified at the prospect. "I'm going to be thirty in less than a decade. Fuck. I can feel my backbone deteriorating."

"Mind over matter, mind over matter," Taehyung repeats, as if he's reciting a mantra.

It does nothing to relieve Jungkook. It's funny, he thinks, how swiftly he's lapsed into a pity party for three decade-rs. "How on earth are you going to inception the shit out of osteoporosis and arthritis?"

"You don't," Taehyung says, partly entertained by Jungkook's worries but mostly nodding along, especially since he's older and nearer the brink of having the huge slogan of three-zero over his head.

Trying to steer the conversation away from the inevitable dread of growing up, Taehyung tries, "Hey, hey. You were running like some big shot a while ago, yeah?"

"Have you heard of relativity, hyung?" Jungkook asks him, now slumped in the middle of the bridge. Taehyung's probably going to get a cold like this, but Jungkook has nothing to be fazed by, given the copious amount of vitamins he takes every day.

"Physics?"

Jungkook resumes, "I appear to be quick to my feet to you because you're my hyung and you're now experiencing signs of aging. Meaning you might as well belong to the Gastropod species. Meaning you're really just a snail in the grand scheme of things."

"Okay, ouch, you didn't really have to put it like that," Taehyung places a palm over his chest in mock hurt. "But to be honest, you don't have to sweat over it. You still have a lot of things to experience, what about some more decades is stopping you from doing just that?"

"Besides," adds Taehyung, a glint of smugness in his eyes and tugging at the corners of his lips, "in Einstein speak, technically you should be slower from my perspective since we're heading in the same direction, and I still have non-zero velocity no matter how minuscule it is."

Jungkook squints, eyes fluttering amidst the deluge. "I'm just testing you."

"Really." It's more of a statement out of disbelief, coming from Taehyung. "At least I took physics seriously even when I didn't need the class. You slept through the first quarter of the semester."

"And aced the tests," Jungkook hums. "Fluid dynamics was my jam. The height at which Tarzan must swing from to rescue Jane, who's so and so below him, with a given mass and speed - that much I can leave to the engineers at Disney."

It's a while, currents of water colliding against the brick foundation of the bridge, before Taehyung can retort with something that's even the least bit coherent. "We're freezing our asses off under a thunderstorm in what's supposed to be a spectacular tourist attraction and we're talking about science. How on earth does that make sense?"

"Dunno," Jungkook spits out the saltwater still lapping at his mouth. When he signed up for Taehyung's whimsical adventures around the world, he didn't expect to get drunk on rainfall. Only in Prague, he muses. "Wish we could never grow up so we'll stop questioning things that we want to do."

Taehyung shakes his head. Wet strands stick to his forehead, and Jungkook briefly considers pointing out what a brilliant mop of a hair Taehyung has.

Taehyung looks at him thoughtfully, pursing his lips. He opens his mouth to say something but takes it back at the last second when Jungkook grumbles along with another crackle of thunder from the sky.

They walk back to the hotel in silence, barely catching a glimpse of the front desk clerk's frown before he's picking up a phone call. The water goes on to drip on the elevator floor, a puddle steadily forming. Jungkook prays with all his will that the elevator doesn't malfunction.

"I'll make you a hot bath," Taehyung declares when they're in their room, but not before patting his camera bag dry with a towel. He holds his Nikon under a lampshade and exclaims, "Aha, and so it survives."

Jungkook, too worn out to contest, tugs his sweatshirt up and discards it on the floor. He earns a dirty look from Taehyung. The sweatshirt finds itself hung in the bathroom, while Taehyung is on his knees, hands wading in the water of the tub.

"Hyung, I told you that you didn't have to," Jungkook mumbles. He sighs when Taehyung pours a whole bottle of the complimentary milk bath, intent on making as many bubbles as possible.

When Jungkook's stripped of all his damp garments, save for his boxers, he sits down in the tub and shudders to the cozy warmth. He thinks he hears Taehyung murmur an 'I told you so'.

"Hey, don't fall asleep on me," coaxes Taehyung, who's rubbing circles on his back now. Jungkook might just lean closer to his palms if he lost the shred of decency he still had. "You're going to drown if you doze off here. I have my fingerprints on you, you ass, and I've never dreamt of being sentenced to a life in prison."

Jungkook settles for the next best thing to a reply. "Mm."

He's too absent-minded to note that Taehyung's washing his hair, fingers threaded through Jungkook's thin mane. The light, dancing pressure on his scalp is welcome to the senses.

"Jiminnie's right, you're always going to be our baby brother."

"Yeah, right," Jungkook manages to say this time. He heaves at the words, not entirely sure why it's so different coming from Taehyung.

(He knows, but he won’t admit it - not when he’s pretended for so long.)

It's a whirlwind from then on, Jungkook registering only bits and pieces of the time when Taehyung's ushering him out of the bathroom and into clean pajamas, all crisp from his suitcase. Taehyung's voice is distant when all the lights are turned off, Jungkook's cheek nestled on the pillow and a comforter over his shoulders.

It's nice, Jungkook will subconsciously make a memo in his sleep. It's nice, being taken care of like this.

 

 

(He feels soft warmth on his forehead, the memory nebulous and brief, and he figures that he might've just been imagining things.)

 

 

 

Jungkook's flight is scheduled at two in the afternoon, and he wakes up barely a few hours before, staggering out of the hotel with his belt loose around his waist and the zipper on his suitcase broken due to haste.

He's grateful that Taehyung set his alarm during the previous evening, and that he'd had the miraculous ability to wake Jungkook up. Normally, Jungkook sleeps like a log, but Taehyung informs him that a single flick to his forehead had him springing out of his bed and onto the floor.

 

 

 

His cabinmates don't question him about the bruise on his cheek. When he catches a glimpse of Taehyung boarding the plane, he smiles, but frowns just a heartbeat later.

 

Pausing in the middle of the walkway, Taehyung sneezes into a handkerchief. 

 

 

 * * *

 

 

 

"So," Hoseok starts, dabbing at his forehead. "How was Prague?"

Years ago, when Jungkook was in university and in need of something to do besides his Philosophy paper, Hoseok managed to convince him to partake in his dance class, something that he had organized as part of his graduation requirements. It wasn't that big of a gimmick, just a little workshop on Friday evenings. Jungkook leaped at the opportunity when Hoseok brought it up.

Jungkook still goes to Hoseok's classes whenever he can. It's a form of de-stressing, the adrenaline coursing through his veins exhibiting some sort of therapeutic effect. Sometimes he goes with Jimin when the latter isn't too busy with his own performances, and Taehyung only seldomly tags along only to make up for lost chatting time with Hoseok.

Yoongi could try, if he could get off his couch for at least a day. Jungkook's sworn that if Namjoon and Seokjin attend he'd do their laundry for a year.

After some practice with contemporary dance, Jungkook's pressed against the mirror, empty bottle of water to the side. "Wet. Don't go there mid-year, hyung."

Hoseok smiles, sitting cross-legged beside Jungkook. Jungkook is pretty sure that he's sore from the workout but Hoseok seems to have invincible facial muscles.

"Duly noted," says Hoseok, bracing himself against the floor with his palms. He tilts his chin and closes his eyes to the sight of the ceiling. "Did you have fun? I heard that Taehyung got sick. Jimin's been criticizing the cobwebs in his medicine cabinet."

"Yeah." Jungkook hunches over to reach the tips of his toes. The slight burn relieves the cramp in his lower back. Fight fire with fire - he's learned from the best. "Yeah, I did. It was mostly just fooling around, but you know us, hyung. Do you know if Taehyung-hyung's alright now?"

Hoseok squints in recollection. "I actually haven't seen him lately. You know what I think we should do?"

"...Videocall him?"

"Wow, you are such a good friend," Hoseok laughs, shoving Jungkook in mirth. "I know this joint that he really likes for their japchae. We should get him some, then throw in a bunch of cartoon-themed Kleenex boxes, anime dvd's, and the most disgustingly adorable stuffed toy you could win at the arcade. I give him a day before he's up and about again."

"I didn't realize that his friendship requires a lot of commitment," Jungkook says, sardonic. When he thinks about it, though, Hoseok may be right. Taehyung just needs a little bit of sunshine to wish his sicknesses away. He's surprised that Hoseok's figured him out first when Jungkook's known Taehyung far longer.

Hoseok seems to notice the crease between Jungkook's eyebrows. "It takes a special kind of attention to suit your friends' needs, Jungkookie. Trust me, it's all about heedfulness. You want the things you do to mean something."

At that, Jungkook reels back, astonished at the solemnity behind Hoseok's words. "Hyung, I never thought I'd see the day that I'd receive a lecture from you. Did you hit your head this morning?"

Something flickers in Hoseok's eyes, almost as if he realizes he's made a mistake, and he blinks until he manages to say, "Ah, no. It's just."

Hoseok sighs when he can't chase the words threatening to spill from his mouth. "Come on, let's just buy that japchae and help the poor fella get better. Taehyungie's so taciturn when he's ill that it's almost scary."

Some misunderstandings with the arcade manager and a whole lot of boisterous and heavy traffic later, Hoseok's hands are occupied with bags of takeout and plush toys. Hoseok ended up paying for everything, and in an effort to make himself useful, Jungkook gave his very best to snag the lone Pororo in the claw machine. It took three attempts, with Hoseok forging on with the complaint that the machine was rigged.

Taehyung's door plate is still hanging limply when Hoseok knocks using his elbows. He tries twice and turns to Jungkook with a satisfied smile when the door opens to them.

It's Jimin who lets them in, sweating profusely in baggy gym clothes. He must've just finished practicing for an upcoming showcase.

"Is the air conditioning down or something?" asks Jungkook, who wrinkles his nose as soon as he steps into Taehyung's apartment. It reeks of Seokjin's home-made soup and full-blast humidity, and he blinks back the momentary dizziness.

Jimin scoffs, closing the door behind the newcomers. "He's shivering like crazy, what did you expect for us to do?"

About to retort, Jungkook gets cut off when Seokjin pops his head out of the cramped kitchen, a ladle in his hand. "Oh, hey, Hobi. Got that japchae that Taehyung's been craving for?"

"I'm the man," Hoseok says, parading around the living room with the takeout. He holds it up proudly. "Is our Taehyungie awake yet?"

"Hm, I don't think so," informs Seokjin, whose gaze softens with a tinge of worry. A few minutes pass, and he turns off the stove and takes his apron off. 

The Pororo plush toy is pressed firmly to Jungkook's side, a bare thread sticking out of the orange glasses. In the midst of everything, Jungkook regards the bustle of his friends, all involved in some to-be clamor about what to feed Taehyung first and whether or not they should wake him up for supper. 

"How are you guys all here?" Jungkook blurts.

He wishes he could take it back moments later when they look at him with sheer intensity. The scrutiny gets to him as pinpricks on his skin. When Jungkook's held his breath for too long, he augments, "I mean. We've all got jobs, and I'm pretty sure you're all busy with yours."

"Easy, we find time," it's Hoseok who speaks up first. He shakes his head, seeming to chuckle to himself. "I told you, Jungkookie. That's what friends are for."

Jimin exhales, crossing his arms. Jimin scarcely dons a stern expression, but whenever he does, Jungkook just chooses not to meddle any further. "Listen. Tae's been my best friend for more than a decade, and as cheesy as that might sound, I am very much certain that he doesn't know how to take care of himself on his own. Once, when we were in high school, he'd been down with the flu and I left him to his own devices. Turns out he's been taking meds for allergies instead so he got knocked out for a week."

"In short, we have to look out for him because he's an idiot," Jimin sighs pensively. "Remember when he worked at the grocery store? He passed out from over-exertion, just because he wanted his camera so badly. He's too eager, sometimes, that he doesn't think of himself even when he's already giving too much."

Seokjin clears his throat, holding a styrofoam plate up.

"Um," he offers with a small smile. "How about you bring the japchae to him, Jungkookie? It's not healthy to skip meals, so I'd rather go to sleep knowing that he's at least eaten a mouthful of it."

 

 

 

Taehyung with a cold and a fever is nothing much more than the filling in a blanket burrito. When Jungkook enters his room, cautiously knocking beforehand, he almost darts out to alert the others of Taehyung's absence but then he sees feet poking out of the comforter. It's almost a funny picture, something that he'd capture on his phone and set as his lock screen, but he decides against it when he looks down and sees the plate of glass noodles in his hands.

"Hey, hyung," Jungkook whispers, breath fanning out in warm puffs. He sets the plate down on Taehyung's bedside table and burrows in the space of Taehyung's bed.

Jungkook, armed with the Pororo toy, taps on what seems to be Taehyung's head, if he's discerning his outline right. "Hyung, it's me, Jungkook. I've got your favorite japchae with me, you gotta wake up so you can take your medicine, too."

It's alarming how Taehyung doesn't budge. Jungkook hears a sniffle or two, and he recoils a bit, because Taehyung never passes on any opportunity regarding food. Good ones, for that matter.

He's got a flight in the early hours of the morning, one that's directed to the West again, and he's not about to waste his time just mumbling around. Bent on accomplishing Seokjin's task for him, Jungkook carefully takes the covers off, all while holding the stuffed toy to his chest.

Taehyung breathes through his mouth. His cheeks have reddened from the warmth of his comforter, but in a split second he's turning to quiver on his side, hands tucked under his chin.

"Come on, hyung," Jungkook pats his shoulder. He's not too sure of what he's supposed to do, so he mimics what little he can remember of the massage that Namjoon taught him in the past. He squeezes Taehyung's arms mildly, careful not to bruise. Taehyung makes a small noise and sneezes again.

Taehyung's nose is running, now, and Jungkook scrambles for a box of tissues so he can wipe the mucus off. Maybe it's a tad too intimate of a gesture, but Jungkook's not about to witness Taehyung drinking his own snot, so he figures that something has to give.

It's when Jungkook cups Taehyung's cheeks that Taehyung's eyelids flutter open, still weighed down by sleep.

"Water," he trails off - cold, cold hands grasping Jungkook's wrist. Pity begins to bubble at the surface of Jungkook's conscience once he sees just how miserable Taehyung looks. He marvels at the fact that he's perfectly fine after staying under a thunderstorm for too long. He thanks his parents' genes for his efficient immune system, discreetly clasping his hands.

Jungkook puts the glass of lukewarm water to Taehyung's lips, wrists still caged by Taehyung's hands. Just a slight movement from Taehyung would guarantee a spill, so Jungkook plants himself immobile on Taehyung's bed. Taehyung gulps readily, eyes closed, and when he's finished his glass he tucks himself into the comforter and leans against the headboard.

"I didn't think you'd come," Taehyung's voice is ragged and nose-y as he slowly speaks. "Thanks, Jungkookie."

"Uh," mutters Jungkook. A stutter rises in his throat as he presents the Pororo toy and touches its beak to Taehyung's nose. "Jin-hyung urged me to. Plus, Hobi-hyung's and Jimin's maternal instincts were kind of acting up, so."

"Still," Taehyung insists through a sneeze, and Jungkook instinctively holds a tissue to his nose, allowing him to blow on it. 

"The japchae's getting cold, hyung." Jungkook crumples the tissue and tosses it into the nearby bin. "I'll feed you, okay? And I'm not leaving until you finish your meal, take your meds, brush your teeth, and go to sleep."

"You're such a helicopter parent, Jungkookie," the tender overlay on Taehyung's features slowly morphs into amusement, and he makes a futile pursuit of stifling his chuckles. "When did you start hovering around so much?

"I'm trying," Jungkook almost snaps, but he knows that Taehyung won't take it personally. In his hands, the plate of japchae remains idle, so he decides to nudge Taehyung's mouth open with his chopsticks. 

Taehyung, all glassy eyes and rosy cheeks, smiles at him, trademark pearly whites framed by thick lips. He has a tissue stuck in one nostril, and his hair might as well be a makeshift nest. Jungkook can't help but look away. "I appreciate it, though. Besides, I eat refrigerated food most of the time anyway, and as far as I know -"

He's intercepted by a series of sternutations, Jungkook patting his shoulder to help him through it with at least a little bit of consolation. Taehyung whimpers.

It takes about an hour to consume the entire serving of noodles, partly because Taehyung's famished from not having eaten all day - "Hyung, how did you get blessed with so much stupidity?" - but mostly because Taehyung's indignant with his plea that they split the japchae. It takes even less time for Jungkook to drag Taehyung out of his cot to take his tablets and brush his teeth, during which Taehyung christens an unused toothbrush in his bathroom as Jungkook's new own.

The fan whirs noisily in the almost desolate apartment, faint sounds of Seoul traffic resonating through the window. Seokjin has left sticky-notes on the refrigerator regarding the left-over soup and the extra Nyquil on the table courtesy of Jimin. 

Taehyung has the Pororo toy nestled under his chin, fingers deftly playing with its flippers. The view outside his apartment is stunning, a violent backdrop of oranges and purples against silhouettes of skyscrapers. It's strangely comforting to look at the buildings at eye-level. At least, this way, Jungkook doesn't feel suffocated, doesn't feel too small for the world out there.

Jungkook's feet are hanging limply over the floor, swinging occasionally. The draperies swish with the mild breeze.

"Hey," Taehyung says, muffled against Pororo's head.

With wide eyes, Jungkook turns to him.

"Thanks for staying." This time, it's Taehyung who can't meet his eyes. He looks up, arm slung over his forehead, and he seems to be examining the ceiling. "Really, Jungkookie. You being here means a lot to me."

The city lights blur in the distance. Jungkook swallows, the lull of the room ringing in his ears.

He finally manages to break the quiet with a half-assed laugh. Perhaps it'll be convincing enough. "You're so gross, hyung."

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

mandarin; v. hide

 

 

 

 

Jungkook's surprised when he learns of Halla's transfer to the airlines he works for. On her first flight for her new company, she's assigned to be Jungkook's co-pilot, and Halla shares the news over some sandwiches and fries.

"I was hoping that Taehyung-oppa could join us," she starts off, gingerly tearing off the corner of a ketchup packet with her teeth.

Jungkook airily shrugs and pokes the tomatoes and lettuce out with his fork. Maybe Halla and Taehyung will be good friends, if they ever have the opportunity to get to know each other better. "I'm not sure what he's up to right now. He'll be on our flight, though."

Halla's eyes brighten. "Oh, that's great, then! Are you planning to go on a tour with him?"

"Tour," Jungkook repeats, slicing his sandwich into halves. He'll take one piece home later; tuna doesn't sound so appetizing at the moment. "Hyung's married to his camera and desolation in times of official business. So, no, we're not joining the crowds."

"He's with you, though," comments Halla, smiling mid-bite. "Did you somehow sign up to be his subject?"

"What, no." A frown manifests in the slight furrow of Jungkook's brows as he scarfs his sandwich down. It's not bad, but Seokjin's cooking might be what he needs to satisfy his palate. "It's all for convenience's sake. We split the bills, that's it, and you know how my friends are when it comes to souvenirs."

"I hear you there, oppa," Halla says, "Minjoo-unni treasures refrigerator magnets so much and one time, when I couldn't find any decent ones in LA, I bought a cheap keychain, some superglue, and a magnet from the dollar store. She says the makeshift Hollywood magnet is her favorite."

Jungkook laughs, wiping his hands on a napkin before he's reaching from across the table to return Halla's high five. "Ingenious."

Halla shakes her head, tresses falling onto her shoulders and over her ears. It reminds Jungkook of Prague, of the breeze combing through Taehyung's bangs, letting them cascade on his forehead. He should tell Taehyung to cut his hair already. His eyes are more vibrant when they're not hiding behind haphazard brown strands.

"Oppa?" Halla's voice startles him from his reverie, and Jungkook's face inflames when he finds that he has his hand extended as if to tuck Halla's hair behind her ear. When he's busy collecting himself, Halla grins toothily. Jungkook hopes that she doesn't misunderstand, and that the tinge of red on her cheeks signifies nothing important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They arrive at Hangzhou a little before dawn. Halla is, as expected, an amazing co-pilot, and it feels as though there is not a single turbulence that wracks through the plane in the duration of their short trip.

To Jungkook's surprise, Taehyung leaves the hotel to set out for his shoot before Jungkook can ask to tag along. He drops his bags near the built-in closet and is quite disappointed to see the only remnants of Taehyung's presence - his coat, a set of mismatched pajamas sprawled over his bed, an opened bag of toiletries, an unfinished serving of complimentary salad.

It's not like Taehyung to go without a word or two. Jungkook trudges toward the coffee table in hopes that Taehyung had the decency to at least write him a note, and he huffs out in relief when he reads, won't be gone for too long, meet me at the West Lake at 6:30. i'll have happy pairs by then!! ^o^

Jungkook has no idea what happy pairs are, but he trusts Taehyung for the time being with the faith that they're not related to anything dangerous. It's difficult to tell because it's Taehyung - in all the years that Jungkook has been friends with him, there are still some quirks that he couldn't quite understand, though he mostly has him all figured out.

It's 4:47 when he glances at his watch, the metal rim glinting under the low light with a few small scratches. There's plenty of time to take a nap.

He dives headfirst into the bed, nose hitting the pillow with his uniform on, and he's too far gone to notice that he hadn't set any alarms.

 

 

 

 

It's a miracle that Jimin changed Jungkook's ringtone a week ago to a violent Metallica song. 

It turns out to be a necessary evil when his phone bellows in the quiet space of the cramped hotel room, and Jungkook springs out of the covers in record time the moment he hears a scream over a barrage of amplified strums on an electric guitar. He'll murder Jimin when he gets back and takes note of the magnitude of inflicted damage. He'll have to find something that'll also make Jimin's ears bleed.

Jungkook blinks blearily and swipes over his phone. "Hello?"

"Never mind the fact that overseas calls are expensive - it's 7am and it's never been more wonderful to hear you awake, Jungkookie," Taehyung's voice chides from the other end of the line, the huskiness slightly muted by the rasping of the wind.

"Oh shit," Jungkook blurts, turning his phone away from him to check the international clock on his home screen. 7:02 am. "Oh shit, hyung, I'm so sorry, I -"

"Nah, it's okay," Taehyung laughs, but in a heartbeat he clears his throat and solemnly declares, "just - it's not my fault if our breakfast's cold. I don't exactly have a microwave here."

Jungkook kicks off the comforter and slides his feet into his shoes, not without forgetting that he removed his socks earlier. He's out of the hotel in a few minutes, uniform wrinkled and his keycard nearly falling out of his pocket. "You should've gone ahead and eaten first, there are lots of convenience stores around the area and I could just get some noodles -"

Taehyung cuts him off with, "Shut up for a second, you get too rambly when you're sleepy. I got happy pairs because I looked them up and they're one of the specialty snacks here. We're not going to eat noodles, we have enough of that in Korea."

"The point is, you still shouldn't have waited for me," Jungkook argues. He pauses when his frantic waving finally earns him an approaching bus.

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm very well-mannered," says Taehyung, and Jungkook only scoffs, paying no heed to the stares of the passengers when he boards the bus and picks the seat right behind the driver. "Plus I'd look too lonely eating these by myself. So, while you're on the way, you'll have to keep me company, okay?"

"Yeah, of course." Jungkook pats his pockets for some spare change. He scrambles more for what he can say than for what he can come up with for his fare. "How is Hangzhou?"

There's tasteless static for a while before Taehyung finally says, "It's lovely, Jungkook-ah." An audible exhale falls from his lips and Jungkook mistakes it for a reverent sigh. "The serenity...everything will make you breathless. It'll make you sad if you don't have somebody with you."

"I'll be there, won't I?" It feels odd, coming out of Jungkook's mouth, but the words have already spilled long before he can think about them too hard. The universe seems to work in Jungkook's favor today when he spots a bus route map left dirtied but still readable under his seat. 

"Well, you're not wrong," Taehyung muses. 

Jungkook holds the phone between his cheek and his shoulder. "Where did you say we were going to meet again?"

"West Lake," Taehyung says softly, "just ask the driver in English, he'll know."

The trip doesn't take too long, and when Jungkook hops off of the red bus he's met with an overcast sky, fog touching the waters and dipping to caress the pavilion and the moon bridge. He jogs across the road, creased city map in hand, and he readily spots Taehyung's silhouette on the zigzag bridge, encased by the sullen gray. The surrounding willow trees are ablaze with a dull shade of yellow.

He's about to leap and scare the hell out of Taehyung but the latter turns around just in time for Jungkook to open his mouth.

Taehyung gives him a quizzical look. He chuckles, and he remembers to hold up a paper bag. "Happy pairs," Taehyung announces proudly.

"Is it from McDonald's or something?" Bewildered, Jungkook takes the bag, sniffing inside. It smells like pastry. "Did they rename Happy Meals and I just so happened to miss the news?"

"Why would I get you American fast food in China?" Taehyung says, eyebrows crossed. "No, but they really are called happy pairs, after this old legend about butterfly lovers or something. Two people who couldn't be together were only joined in death and transformed into a pair of butterflies, I think."

"Ah," Jungkook holds a bun up and is surprised to see that another bun comes along with it. "Happy pairs. How romantic."

"Jeon Jungkook finds bread romantic? That's a new development," exclaims Taehyung. He looks a lot younger than he really is whenever he beams. 

Swiveling his head toward the lake, Jungkook finds that he does like it very much when Taehyung laughs, so he leaves it at that. He'll let Taehyung think whatever he wants to. "Anyway, what you said about being lonely when you're visiting this place by yourself...I see that now. This is way too depressing of an atmosphere for the exhibit you're preparing for."

Taehyung takes a happy pair and stuffs both of the buns into his mouth. As if he wasn't preoccupied enough, he proceeds to reply, "I never told you the entirety of my idea, though. You'll have to see."

"What the heck," Jungkook bursts out when a piece of partially ground bread lands on his cheek. "What the heck, you are so disgusting. Well-mannered my ass."

Taehyung closes his mouth cheekily. He brings his fingertips to his lips, and Jungkook walks past him to escape the display of a lack of proper hygiene.

Taehyung trails behind Jungkook, who walks aimlessly for an hour before he gives up and scours the area for a bus stop. Jungkook's about to ask Taehyung why he has his camera out even though there's nothing remotely picturesque about the morose view of the West Lake in the early morning - but Taehyung's already taken off towards the rental bikes, yelling for Jungkook to hurry up.

"I got Smart Cards for us; it was the first thing that I had on my to-do list as soon as the plane landed," Taehyung explains, slinging a leg over the brilliant red bike. He tucks his camera into his bag, pulling at the strap until the bag is resting on his lower back. The electric locker blinks green when he puts his card on it. "Hop on, the first hour is free."

"I should never underestimate your planning skills," mumbles Jungkook as he drops the bag of leftover buns into the front basket of his bicycle.

Taehyung maneuvers the bike away from the locker, and before he starts pedaling, he looks over his shoulder to cast Jungkook a grin. "Race you to the hotel?"

It takes several tries for Jungkook before the locker finally reads his card. He pulls his bike away, his heel on the pedal, and he cocks his head to the side, smiling back.

"Bring it on, hyung."

 

 

 

 

 

"Believe it or not, I was ahead by two centimeters," Taehyung informs him a little later, when they've parked their bikes at a nearby station. 

Jungkook narrows his eyes, tucking the paper bag in the crook of his arm. "Hyung, you failed a science lab practical in high school because you read the ruler wrong. I'm not sure if you have the right to guesstimate, and besides, I clearly beat you back there."

Taehyung shoots him a scalding look. The corners of his mouth twist, and Jungkook just laughs, because Taehyung will never be able to get properly mad at him. "You never let me win. Ugh, I'm scandalized. Give me the happy pairs."

He snatches the paper bag and fishes inside, coming up with one last pair of buns. Before he can pop the bread into his mouth, Jungkook breaks the snack into two and keeps the other half for himself. 

"You're such a ruthless person, now you've separated the butterfly lovers," protests Taehyung, who halts his steps in the middle of the road.

Jungkook has no choice but to pause, too, and he licks the flour paste on his fingertips. "It's just bread, why are we even having an argument about this?"

"Hey, they've done everything they could to be together. Give the thousand year-old couple a break."

"Whatever, hyung. At least I saved one of them from the wrath of your digestive tract."

Once they reach the hotel room, Jungkook toes his shoes off, dismissing the grimace that crosses Taehyung's face upon the wafture of his feet's smell. They simultaneously collapse on their beds, one headboard resounding from the collision against Taehyung's head, and Jungkook only manages a weak chuckle in the midst of the pillows and the sheets that lull him to sleep.

"Mm," Taehyung buries his face into a body pillow he specifically requested for the short duration of their stay. He rolls on his back, a breathless grunt spilling over his lips. "I'm kinda jealous of your line of work, Jungkookie. I've always wondered how it is to be a pilot. To be capable of flying."

Jungkook's eyes are closed but he listens to every word. "It's a lot of trouble, because you're carrying other lives. They pull you down, sometimes, and make it harder to go up."

He turns on his side, and when he blinks open he sees that Taehyung is staring at him, cheek pressed against his pillow and bedspread. Jungkook returns the scrutiny, the weight of Taehyung's gaze sending phantoms running down his spine. They tingle, a bit. He hopes that it doesn't show as a squirm, so he doesn't break the contact, the brown of Taehyung's irises almost suffocating.

Taehyung exhales, shifting so the bristles of his bangs sweep past his forehead. "Must be so nice, being able to run away all the time."

The air goes still and so does Jungkook - what else can he say to that? Jungkook's throat constricts, and it's just a matter of time before some memories resurface, that time when he was sixteen and the lockers, cool against his back as they dig into his spine, were painted with a horrible shade of green -

Before Jungkook can coax a reply out of his own chords, Taehyung stretches his arms and yawns, lashes fluttering gradually until Jungkook can no longer see the haunting brown.

It is eight thirty in the morning and Jungkook will not be able to sleep in this hour and the next. He calms himself, willing his ribcage to do what it ought to do, and shuts his eyes in hopes that he won't remember what he desperately tried to forget during the past six years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the interim of Jungkook blow-drying his hair and Taehyung reviewing his photos, a knock disturbs the tense quiet of the room, and it's Jungkook who springs up immediately to answer the door. He forgets to turn the blow-dryer off, leaving it whirring on the carpet, but he turns around as soon as he went and mentally hits himself.

He looks through the peephole, surprised to be met with equally wide eyes. He nudges the door open and says, "Hey, Halla."

Halla waves at him, an occupied cardboard coffee tray supported by one hand. "Hey, oppa. I got you a caramel macchiato, I hope that it's close to what you normally drink."

The cup is cold in his hand, condensation sticking to his coarse palm. Taehyung would've ordered black for him, with two packets of his favorite brand of sugar. He'll have to learn how to stomach the extra dairy. "Yeah, thanks. I appreciate it a lot."

Jungkook steps to the side to allow Halla in. It's a good thing he and Taehyung have packed their clothes beforehand. Halla could've stumbled on dirty underwear - Jungkook knows that she's not one to particularly care too much, but it might be something she could hold against him later on.

"Halla, right?" Taehyung turns his camera off and sets it aside to greet Halla. He receives a strawberry frappe, his favorite. Taehyung looks at the drink in his hand and back at Halla, stupefied. Halla only smiles, eyes bright and cheeks high.

Jungkook swallows. 

In the meantime, Halla invites herself to sit on Jungkook's bed, sheets already tucked in and pillows flush against the headboard. "Taehyung-oppa, how's your photoshoot going?"

"Ah, you know." Taehyung mindlessly swirls the straw in his beverage. His gaze flits to Jungkook, and as soon as Jungkook catches him, his eyes dart away again. "Sometimes, even when you try to chase it, the inspiration escapes you. But I think I have a solid concept by now, I'll just have to come through."

"That's great," says Halla, sipping on her own coffee. Her feet drape over the edge of the bed. "I don't think you want to divulge whatever it is you have in your head, so I'll have to wait for your exhibit, then."

"Jungkookie will have to bring you there," Taehyung smiles, and it takes all of Jungkook's self-restraint not to stride over and elbow him in the side. He doesn't seem to get a hint, because Halla erupts into her distinctive laughter and Taehyung off-handedly flashes Jungkook a thumbs up.

The picture playing out resonates of wrongness - Taehyung's grinning at him, strawberry on his lips and an assumption dangling on his tongue. Halla is in no better shape; she's giggling, but it's in the way that Jungkook knows is a misunderstanding on her part. He's had to laugh that way for a long time, too.

Jungkook puts his cup of coffee down and grabs his jacket from the coat rack. "I'll just, outside, I. I need to breathe."

He doesn't miss the way Taehyung's mouth contorts but he's out the door in a heartbeat. When he gets to the elevator, he presses insistently on the button. It stops at a different floor, so he sucks in a sharp breath and decides to go the other way to run down multiple flights of stairs.

The Hangzhou breeze is crisp against his skin, the cold making him want to bleed. He walks until he finds and sits on a bench. Jungkook pants as he throws his head back.

It's taken six years and a mere visit for the bottled sentiments to spill. Jungkook thinks it's unfair, how easy it is to let his reservations go, and for time immemorial he had thought that he'd be able to lie.

Not this time.

"Hey," Taehyung's voice is loud and clear, cutting through the stillness. There's so much that Jungkook would be willing to do to make himself disappear at the moment, but Taehyung slides next to him and tosses his head back, too, until both of them are staring at the same sky. "Did I go too far back there?"

The first thing that Jungkook registers is the fact that Taehyung still doesn't know. He grants himself a sigh. "No, I - I think I'm just tired, I don't know what happened, either."

Taehyung's adamant on finding out Jungkook's reasons, the worry in his expression very much vivid and conspicuous. It's just too unfortunate that Jungkook can't tell him. "Are you sure? You seemed uncomfortable."

"Uh," Jungkook stutters out, "it's nothing. I'm, I'm fine. Just tired."

"Hm." Taehyung sits up, palms flat on the bench.

Taehyung's presence does nothing to relieve the embarrassment – Jungkook knows why he acted the way he did, and the only thing he does not understand is the answer to why now.

He supposes that he could blame Taehyung, for the time being. He’s tried so, so hard, and still –

“Come on, let’s go back,” Taehyung says in finality. He stands up, pocketing his hands when a shudder runs through him. It is getting much chillier outside. “Halla’s waiting back there, and I’m pretty sure she’s weirded out by us bailing on her like that.”

Taehyung's footsteps are harsh against the pavement as he retraces his way to the hotel. He doesn't look back - doesn't need to, anyway, because Jungkook lets his weary feet take him away, and he finds that he can't find the heart not to follow Taehyung.

 

 

 

 * * *

 

 

 

It's been a long time since Jungkook's birthday has landed on a weekend. He's had the misfortune spending his years to study for exams and be stranded at the airport until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the pathetic mess that he is with a chocolate cupcake and a lone candle. 

Sometimes he does pity himself. In the midst of signing company flightplans and pre-flight inspections, Jungkook looks around for someone who might've noticed his phone ringing with a scheduled reminder of the date, for someone who cares enough to do so much as greet him.

No one is there. If ever there's a colleague of his hovering around, it's because they're all expecting him to look over authorization forms without missing a beat.

Jungkook's birthday is on a Saturday this year. He doesn't quite remember, anymore - he comes home to his apartment at eleven in the evening of Friday, shoes lined along the doormat and coat on the rack. A rerun of the drama his mother used to zealously marathon is on the television once Jungkook tumbles into his sofa. He flips the channels until he arrives at an old movie. The scene is of romance and a first kiss, a boy and a girl's, and it makes Jungkook's stomach turn.

Jungkook promptly turns the tv off.

He leans back on the arm of his couch, knees tucked into his chest. Perhaps a red velvet cupcake will do for this year.

He thinks he falls asleep, just barely, until a familiar voice screams next to his ear and he jerks awake and falls on the floor without his usual grace. Jungkook blinks back the dancing dots in his eyelids, all of the lights turned on and his friends crowded around him.

"Happy birthday, Jungkookie!" they chorus. Jungkook opens his mouth because he doesn't understand, he was supposed to be alone -

Taehyung's holding up a megaphone and another crooked hairpin, instantly meriting a glare from Jungkook, but he and the others are wearing glittered party hats. Jimin's no exception, although he's probably taking a nap behind those absurd cartoon glasses from the thrift store. 

Jungkook inhales sharply when Seokjin holds the cream cake in front of him. The candles are stuck on odd places and some of the frosting has been smeared off.

But that's alright. It's more than okay.

Before the rest of them can sing to him, Jungkook brings his forearms to his face. He's not supposed to sob, and he's promised himself that he wouldn't, but it's been a while since he'd heard someone besides himself say the words, happy birthday, dear Jungkookie and Jungkook's not sure if he deserves to listen.

Arms envelop his waist from the back. It's Taehyung, he guesses, from the way Taehyung's cheek presses against his. Taehyung's hands ghost over Jungkook's ribs and Jungkook can't help but grasp his fingers when Taehyung hums behind him. This is the closest he can get to what he wants, and he hopes that the color on the tips of his ears doesn't show through his hair.

"Aw, why is our lil bro crying?" Hoseok slaps him on the shoulder. At this point, Jungkook just sniffles into a tissue that Jimin has handed him.

Taehyung withdraws to stand beside him, and Jungkook can't find the words to make him come back.

When Jungkook finally has the opportunity to wipe his eyes, he notices that Yoongi isn't present - at least not physically. Namjoon holds his tablet up and Yoongi shouts from the other end of the line.

"I have no idea what's happening because the video quality is shit," Yoongi drawls, voice slightly drowned by his hustling subordinates in the fire department, "but I think that white blotch in the middle is the cake. Namjoon, get out of the way, I'm not talking to you."

Namjoon sheepishly shrugs, dimples especially conspicuous when he purses his lips. He angles the tablet towards Jungkook. 

Yoongi doesn't show it well, but he does brighten when he gets a better view. "Hey, Jungkookie. Happy birthday. You're still a little shit."

"Thanks, hyung," says Jungkook. His voice breaks and he gets engulfed by laughter.

"I'm sorry I couldn't come tonight," Yoongi continues. The only things that are discernible in the screen are the yellow stripes on Yoongi's uniform. "I'll make it up to you, yeah? "

"Make me some ddaro gukbap when you visit." Jungkook's never been to Daegu but he's heard of the specialties, mostly from Taehyung. High school lunch breaks were so long ago but Jungkook still feels them with his fingertips. Taehyung had always been fond of telling childhood stories on the school rooftop.

Yoongi snorts. The video buffers, so Yoongi's nose is scrunched and his mouth stationary even as the call proceeds. Jimin takes the opportunity to screencap the freeze frame.

"I'll give you a couple thousand won and you can get us some takeout, how about that."

Jimin grabs the corner of the tablet and squeezes into the available space, chin on Jungkook's shoulder. "Such a thoughtless cheapskate, Yoongi-hyung."

"At least I actually have a gift. Between us, who's the one who showed up with only a birthday hat?"

"It's the thought that counts," says Hoseok from the sideline. Seokjin is rummaging through Jungkook's kitchen cabinets for plates and utensils, and as per usual, Taehyung is plucking the assorted fruits off of the cake. There's some whipped cream on his bottom lip and Jungkook has to turn away to completely ignore it.

By the time Seokjin hands Jungkook the knife, the cursive writing on the cake has been smudged and the culprit's too preoccupied with the frosting on his fingers. 

"You never got to make a wish," Jimin chides, elbowing Jungkook in the rib. He sits back to be nestled comfortably between Seokjin's legs, and Jungkook should be annoyed by the space they take on the floor of his living room but he figures he can let it go this time.

Among the twenty two candles, only two remain lit. "Well, the flame's almost out."

"Then make two wishes," suggests Taehyung. He kneels on the carpet, cake in his hands, and he holds it out with a smile.

Jungkook swallows and closes his eyes.

One, he counts, the warmth of the fire mildly radiating on his skin, please let me keep this family. His knuckles are white on his lap but he means it so, so much - he blinks to reassure himself that all of his friends are here, and Jungkook shuts his eyes again when he sees five grins and a lagging video before him.

Two.

Jungkook shudders. Taehyung's breath fans out over his cheeks and Jungkook leans forward to blow on the candles.

I wish I can move on.

 

 

 

 

 

He was fifteen, then.

Jungkook was fifteen, eyes a kaleidoscope of the new world and heart on his sleeves. His first day in high school wasn't as momentous as everybody made it seem to be. Jungkook remembers tedious math homework. He sat in the very back of the classroom, where the seats were vandalized and peppered with gum. 

The mindless drone of his homeroom teacher's voice barely registered, so he turned to the large windows. The view wasn't spectacular, either; someone had recently decided to cut the tree right by the window, so all he saw were adjacent classrooms and -

And a flash of orange. Dismissal wasn't going to take place anytime soon, so Jungkook reeled back a bit. There was a boy running across the school concourse, bag lagging behind him . He didn't exactly look like he was in haste. Even when he disappeared from Jungkook's periphery, Jungkook watched the remnants of his dust. Perhaps he'd have the audacity to cut class at least once, too.

"Jeon Jungkook," somebody breathed on his ear. He could've broken his neck from the way his head shifted so quickly, and he found himself looking directly at his teacher's nose.

 

 

It was difficult to make friends in a place where all students had a general consensus on acceptance: one had to be exceptionally attractive or exceptionally intelligent to be noticed, and Jungkook always knew that he was neither of the two. Jungkook heard of his classmates begging their parents for plastic surgeries. There were some that didn't beg at all, that didn't say anything. They took their woes to the infamous four-storey building where they found it easier to jump than talk.

Jungkook visited the rooftop for an entirely different reason. He knew he wasn't enough, but he willed himself not to care too much. Weeks of eating boxed lunches in the restroom finally earned him a janitor's suspicious stare, so he found someplace else to be alone.

The off-limits sign on the door gave him some warped sense of thrill. Jungkook picked at the lock, lunch box in tow, and stepped out to be greeted by the haze of Seoul.

 

 

The third time he ate his lunch on the rooftop, the orange-haired boy stumbled out of the door.

Jungkook dropped his chopsticks.

The boy stared at him before he ducked to the side and put a finger on his lips.

Jungkook remained frozen and jolted when the door opened again, colliding against the wall with a resounding noise. There were a few other boys - Jungkook doesn't remember the exact number anymore - panting and looking around. Someone mumbled, Shit, I thought he headed this way, before the group retreated with a collective grunt.

Once the echo of their footsteps down the staircase subsided, Jungkook blinked at the boy who'd been running. It was the first time that he'd had a good look on him - from his place, the boy didn't look as brash as Jungkook thought he was. The boy exhaled and stood up, dusting off the dirt on his pants.

He crouched in front of Jungkook, face breaking into a cheshire grin.

(Jungkook had always thought that he had a nice smile. There was a slight crinkle in his eyes, and he'd never have guessed that his demeanor would be the opposite of what he assumed before.)

"Thanks for saving me," the boy said, deep baritone startling Jungkook. He was genuine surprise, personified.

"I didn't do anything," Jungkook managed to stammer out. His lunch lay cold and forgotten on the floor.

The boy laughed and took Jungkook's hand before the latter could protest. "I'm Kim Taehyung. It's nice to meet you!"

"I," Jungkook tried the words, "I'm Jungkook. Jeon Jungkook."

 

 

 

 

"What are you thinking about?" the Taehyung of now asks, the dim light of the city outside framing half of his face. Their friends have crashed in Jungkook's apartment after some drinks and two heated rounds of Monopoly. Namjoon is kicked out of the couch and onto the floor for being the smartass that he is. There's really no argument there, Jungkook muses, because only Namjoon would be cunning enough to stay in Jail rather than toss the dice and pay rent.

Jungkook traces the slope of Taehyung's nose with his gaze, voice caught in his throat. "Nothing much."

"Hm." Taehyung embraces the pillow, fingers deftly fiddling with the zipper of the pillowcase. "If you say so."

 

 

(Jungkook doesn't tell him that he's thinking about that moment seven years ago, when he hadn't known what feelings were and assumed that he didn't have the luxury to afford them.

Back then, with Jungkook's hand in his, Taehyung tilted his head and beamed at Jungkook.

"You have beautiful eyes," he said.)

 

 

It wasn't until he was sixteen that he'd figured out why Taehyung's words meant so much to him.

Sometimes, Jungkook wishes that he never understood at all.

 

 

 * * *

 

 

Надрыв

 

 

russian; n. break, may be used in the context of someone who is about to break

 

 

 

 

 

Jungkook is the only one who hasn't gone back home during Christmas season. It's the twenty fifth morning of December, and although it's technically not Christmas Day in Moscow, Jungkook visits a quaint souvenir shop to look around for small presents.

It's easy to figure out what most of his friends like. He remembers to steal some of the complimentary mint tea bags from his hotel, knowing very well that Seokjin's never tasted the flavor before. Jungkook isn't that much of a fan, but perhaps Seokjin would be intrigued by the specialty tea. It's good for his voice, too.

Hoseok likes remix cd's, and it just so happens that Jungkook's fond of creating some when he has time to lose. There's plenty of Jungkook's files in his laptop for him to burn in a disc as soon as he gets back to Seoul.

Jimin - Jungkook finds it ridiculous how, after all these years, he still collects New Era snapbacks, the walk-in closet of his and Seokjin's shared apartment decked with throwback caps. Jungkook has gotten him a new one every year and Jimin hasn't complained since. 

Buying gifts for Yoongi requires the least hassle. All Jungkook has to do is wrap a velvet ribbon around a hanwoo package and satisfaction writes itself on Yoongi's face.

Namjoon, on the other hand, is a different story. As soon as he arrived in the airport, Jungkook had busied himself in the one-stop souvenir store to look for the most bizarre novel he could find, never mind the fact that only a select few of the available books had been translated to English. It had taken two hours to decide, and Jungkook's still not certain if he understands the summary. He'll have to ask Namjoon.

Jungkook holds up a snowglobe of the Spasskaya tower in the Kremlin, flakes steadily cascading inside the glass sphere. He winds his scarf around his neck tighter, burying his chin in the material, and strides to the counter to pay for the snowglobe. When he's checked out, he looks at the snowglobe again, shaking it a little to watch the white particles swirl in the water.

He hopes that Taehyung will appreciate it.

Taehyung is back in Daegu to spend Christmas with his father. Before he boarded the bus, he stopped by Jungkook's apartment to hand him a box wrapped in brown package paper. He didn't have much time, then, but he'd smiled at Jungkook and mumbled, "Stay warm, alright?"

Jungkook rolls the frayed ends of the yarn of his scarf between his fingertips. The stitching isn't perfect and the choice of colors isn't exactly adherent to the standard palettes, but the scarf smells faintly of Taehyung's shampoo and Jungkook would take what he gets.

He steps outside, the streets of Moscow blanketed by snow and footsteps. When Jungkook exhales, his puff of breath turns into a cloud of smoke, and he raises his scarf even more to cover his cold nose.

Taehyung's scent lingers and it somewhat hurts to know that this is the closest he'll ever be to him.

 

 

 * * *

 

 

 

Jungkook's last-ditch effort to leave his emotions behind comes in the form of a coffee break and Halla's concentrated stare.

"I - I'm sorry for acting really strangely in China," Jungkook says, unable to look Halla in the eye. His hands are trembling as he pinches the stirrer and lets it wade across his drink. The aroma of Halla's favorite egg bread drifts across the table. It's a good thing Jungkook took heed of what she usually orders.

Halla sighs, the sound very much welcome to Jungkook's ears. "It's okay, oppa. For a moment, there, you were really serious. I wondered if I did something wrong."

"No," replies Jungkook, "no, it wasn't you. I just." He looks up, gaze connecting with Halla's, and the resemblance to Taehyung is uncanny. Halla's eyes are brilliant, brown specks discernible under the sunlight, and she cocks her head to the side. Like Taehyung always does.

Jungkook stops stirring his beverage and clasps his hands together. "I've got something important to tell you."

This is it, he thinks, heart wild in his chest and knees wobbly under the table. It feels awfully daunting to breathe.

He recounts the facts in his head. Halla is Daegu's Lee Han La, a year younger than Jungkook and she's already too much for him - she smiles so wide that maybe the sensation in her cheeks borders on painful; she talks like there's no harm in trying and that's where her charm lies, because she's so comfortable in her skin and she's easy to love. Halla is loud and eccentric. Namjoon will probably adore her for her random bouts of impersonating Pokemon.

And Taehyung - Kim Taehyung is almost a spitting image of Lee Han La, except Taehyung is someone whom Jungkook isn't allowed to fall for.

 

(Jungkook just wants to forget.)

 

"I kind of like you," Jungkook finally says.

There's a lapse filled with silence before Halla can reply with an, "Oh."

He can't tell if it's a good oh, if it's the sort of 'oh' that comes with realization and eventual happiness and arms thrown around his shoulders in an embrace that mimics Taehyung's. There's a part of Jungkook that's thrashing around with an apology and some kind of hope that what he thinks about Halla is untrue; that Halla's reddening is due to the warmth of the coffee, that the way her mouth opens tentatively is an indication that she is going to reject him.

"I like you too, oppa," Halla laughs, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

(Even the part of Jungkook that expected this dies a little.)

Jungkook just laughs along, masking the hollowness in his chest and the pounding in his ears with bitter coffee rushing down his throat. He gets to hold Halla's hand that day, the spaces between his fingers still quite empty. Halla's palm is cold and Jungkook shivers when a snowflake lands on the exposed part of his neck.

He tries not to think about Taehyung's scarf, or Taehyung's hands, or Taehyung at all. It kind of works.

 

 

 * * *

 

 

The thirtieth of December rolls around with exorbitant amounts of snowfall, uncharacteristic of a winter in Seoul. Jungkook curses when he slips on the marble stairs located in the entrance of his skyrise apartment. He doesn't like the numbing bleakness of it all. Putting on so many layers is a chore he'd rather not attend to, and there's only so many winter coats he can clothe himself with before he falls over from the extra weight.

He meets Halla at the train station, one hand full of gift bags. It's only been days since his stunt but he has to admit that it's not so bad. Halla is a breath of fresh air from all the things Jungkook busies himself with. It's nice to have so many things in common with her, and it's always a plus when they get to reminisce about airport bloopers and mishaps over hot chocolate.

Halla's teeth are chattering and Jungkook chuckles, taking her hands in his and rubbing them between his palms. He blows across her inflamed nose. "Did you wait for too long?"

"Are you always this mean?" Halla says, pinching the inside of his wrist. Jungkook yelps. "It wasn't that much of a wait but it's freaking cold."

"I figured," Jungkook shoots back wittily. They walk alongside each other to the platform, and when the train doors open, he pulls Halla back to the space behind the yellow lane. 

Jungkook ends up standing with Halla seated right in front of him. Her cheeks are tinted from the chill. She sticks her tongue out at him, and Jungkook reciprocates it, not minding the jostle of the train on the tracks or the stares of the other passengers.

The dread settles once they reach their destination, and Jungkook's reminded of why they had to go out.

The thirtieth of December is when he and his friends celebrate the coming of the New Year. Everybody's too busy to actually gather on the first day of the lunar new year, and it was Seokjin who suggested a tradition on a specific date. Namjoon only factored the convenience in. It's not Namjoon's fault if he thinks that celebrating Taehyung's birthday at the same time is a reasonable idea.

"Hey, are you nervous, oppa?" Halla looks at him thoroughly. Some of Jungkook's worries ebb with Halla's concern.

Jungkook swallows, taking Halla's hand and warming it in his pocket. He manages a smile. "What do I have to be nervous about?"

"Oh, I dunno," Halla says, fingers shifting in tandem with Jungkook's. "Maybe the fact that the dongsaeng in your group is dating someone. I'm nervous, myself. You mentioned before that Seokjin-oppa is like your mother."

"Touché."

Halla helps him with some of the presents, and it just so happens that she takes Taehyung's present, handles of the bag hanging on her forearm. The walk to Seokjin and Jimin's apartment doesn't take too long. Halla giggles when Jungkook slips on a strip of icy road and he retaliates by throwing some snow at her. It rapidly turns into a snowball fight, and by the time they get to the elevator, they're picking the snow out of each other's hair.

There's a thrumming in his chest that Jungkook tries his damnedest to will away. He presses on the doorbell of apartment 915.

Halla loops her arm around his just in time for someone to answer the door. It's Jimin, eyes hiding behind those familiar crescents again as he's grinning back at someone behind him, and when he turns around he stops. He looks between Jungkook and Halla.

"Happy New Year?" Jungkook offers.

Jimin coughs and nudges his door to open wider. He steps back. Only Jungkook catches Jimin's raised eyebrow, a question on the tip of his tongue.

Instead of asking, Jimin smiles, gesturing to the living room. "Hey, come on in! I haven't zeroed in on what's happening but you better explain later."

Halla bows out of courtesy. She steps in before Jungkook does, stooping low so she can unzip her boot. Jungkook helps her with the other one and puts her shoes away, near the queue of footwear in the doorway. When he rises to toe his own shoes off, Jimin is looking at him with the kind of bewilderment that Jungkook has never seen him don before.

"Jungkook, we were just -" Seokjin starts, expression brightening, but he's cut off when he notices Halla beside Jungkook. "Oh."

Eventually, everyone in the living room turns toward them - including Taehyung. Jungkook turns away before he can decipher the astonishment on their faces. "Um. This is -"

"Halla?" a female voice asks, and when Jungkook blinks to see who it is, he sees Hoseok's co-instructor in the dance academy, the one Hoseok has been dating for the past few months. Jungkook has only ever seen her in pictures, so meeting her in person catches him off-guard. She gets up from the floor, her red socks stark against the carpet, and Jungkook has no idea why she's gaping at Halla.

Halla's eyes widen. "Ohmygod, Minjoo-unni?"

"Wait," Jungkook interjects, "Minjoo, as in -"

"Ohmygod," Minjoo bursts into laughter, running toward Halla to hug her. Hoseok trails behind and gives Jungkook a pointed look. "Ohmygod, Halla. So when you were talking about going out with Jeon Jungkook, you meant Hoseok's friend pilot."

"I had no idea," says Halla, breathless. 

Hoseok clears his throat, hand on Minjoo's hip. "Jungkookie, did I hear something about going out?"

It takes Jungkook some time to escape from the whirlwind of events before he's faced with the inevitable moment. He inhales sharply. Halla seems to notice, because she takes Jungkook's hand and intertwines their fingers together. Jungkook is somehow relieved. 

"I, yeah," Jungkook begins. The syllables fall out of his lips and leave his mouth dry. "This is Halla. My girlfriend."

"My best friend," adds Minjoo, whose lips have stretched out in a smile. She and Hoseok are similar in ways that Jungkook can perceive now. "What a coincidence."

Before Jungkook can say anything else, he finds himself swarmed by people and countless questions - about their first meeting, about his confession and the day he decided that looking from afar wasn't going to work anymore. He wants to tell them that he's still looking, but Halla's laughter is seemingly enough for Hoseok, Yoongi, and Namjoon to stop pestering Jungkook.

Taehyung comes up to him. He grins toothily. "Congrats, Jungkookie."

"Happy birthday," is what Jungkook answers him. Halla catches on, and she's the one who gives Taehyung his present. 

Taehyung looks at the bag in his hands, and he looks up again. "Thanks," he continues to smile, " and I told you so, I knew I was calling it for you guys. It's about time."

"Yeah." Small tremors run along Jungkook's hands and he wishes he could take it all back. When Jungkook trains his gaze on his face, he doesn't think about how his features are akin to Halla's. 

Taehyung is a constant and Jungkook doesn't know if there will come a time when he's not going to be.

"I'm happy for you," says Taehyung, and it's with a mumble so atypically gentle that Jungkook has to grasp Halla's hand tighter to keep himself grounded. "I really am. I'm happy that you're happy."

Thankfully, Halla intervenes and tells him, "Ah, it means a lot, oppa."

 

 

 

Jungkook is in the kitchen, boiling some water for the mint tea, when Seokjin pads quietly and corners him.

 

"Jungkook-ah."

The sudden intrusion makes Jungkook flinch and graze the side of the teapot. He mutters, "Shit," before he opens the faucet and holds his fingers under the cold tapwater. Seokjin hands him a paper towel, concerned, and Jungkook simply takes it without looking at him.

Seokjin sighs. "Jungkookie, look at me." He persists until Jungkook eventually lifts his head. "I just want to talk."

"Was it too much of a surprise, hyung?" Jungkook's voice is small. It's Seokjin he's dealing with, the elder brother he's always longed to have, the one who sees through everything and tries to comprehend, no matter how much something doesn't make sense to him. Jungkook can't count the number of times that one of them has approached Seokjin with a heavy heart and left much freer than before.

Seokjin is kind enough to shake his head. He turns the stove off. "There are some things you have to keep to yourself, and we understand that. I just thought..."

The burn on Jungkook's fingertips is nothing compared to the prickling on his eyes. "You thought what?"

Minutes pass and Seokjin waves him off, choosing to open the cupboard to bring down the china. "Ah, never mind. It's nothing, I'm just at a loss."

Jungkook purses his lips. Just as he predicted, Namjoon's too amused at Halla's talent of imitating Pikachu noises and his applause reverberates all the way to where Jungkook is. All of the people in the living room laugh in unison.

"It's a nice change," Seokjin reassures him. It doesn't sound as convincing as he intends it to be.

It's okay, Jungkook wants to tell him - he's not the only one who's trying so hard.

 

 

 

 

 

Jungkook lies awake until midnight. He tosses and turns until his feet have grown weary of shifting under the covers and he decides to shove his blankets onto the floor. Even with the heater turned on, the cold digs into his kneecaps and he's left to shudder in wake of any warmth. He counts the marks on the ceiling, then the blurred dots of light through the window, then the number of times he breathes within a minute, until his phone vibrates on the table and he scrambles for it. 

As far as he knows, everyone but people who work graveyard shifts should have dozed off by now, tucked into their beds and possibly curled into somebody else as well.

He opens the new text message.

Nothing will change, right?

It's Taehyung. It's Taehyung with proper capitalization and punctuation for once. Jungkook sits up and bores holes into his phone screen with his intent gaze.

Of course, he types, then chooses to backspace and wait for a few seconds. He'll appear to be too eager if he responds so soon. Finally, when the clock ticks past the same spot it did a minute ago, Jungkook writes, hyung, wth, why aren't you asleep yet

He drums his fingers on his lap until his phone goes off again. He reads, I'm enjoying my birthday down to the last hour. Don't judge!!

I'm not judging, Jungkook wants to assure him. It's nice to know that you're awake, too. Maybe I can be a little less miserable.

Instead, he keys in, whyd you have to text me, disturb jimin instead

I don't know, Taehyung replies, But nothing will change, right? I mean, I still get to go on your flights until I'm done with my project?

Such a silly question to ask, Jungkook thinks, and when Taehyung talks this way, Jungkook has to bite his tongue and remind himself not to allow himself to feel anything. It's a battle he wants to lose, and it's a miracle that he doesn't call Taehyung on impulse and repeatedly say, Yes, yes, yes - I don't want anything to change.

He tosses his phone to the side and leans back on the bedframe. Later, he will pick his phone up to type quickly, and the urge to smash it against the wall will become so overwhelming that Jungkook's phone finds a home under the bed.

yeah, sure, is the only thing Jungkook ever gets to say before he buries his face into the pillow.

 

 

 * * *

 

 

cala

 

 

fijian; v. to err, to miss

 

 

 

 

Four miles away from the cramped terminal in Nadi is a tourist attraction Taehyung had convinced Jungkook to see with him. It's something along the lines of the garden of the sleeping giant - Jungkook's not that certain - and once he changes out of his uniform and into some loose clothing and slippers he joins Taehyung and hails a cab.

The ride isn't particularly unpleasant, but the air is thick and Jungkook chooses to look out the window instead. 

Taehyung's right, again. When they step out into the clearing, Jungkook walks toward the end of the canopy-covered boardwalk, soles of his slippers rough against the decorative gravel. He listens to Taehyung walk behind him, the rhythmic swing of his camera bag against his waist some sort of security blanket for Jungkook. That way, he knows that he's not alone.

"I've heard that they mostly tend orchids here," Taehyung reads aloud, eyes sweeping over the brochure in his hands. 

Jungkook pockets his hands. "Hm."

The onset of greens and purples is soothing for quite awhile before it dawns on Jungkook that all he really has is stillness at the moment - it's not the kind of quiet that he could bask in for too long without looking back at Taehyung and searching for something to say.

Taehyung saves him the struggle and says, "Hey, Jungkookie."

Jungkook stops in his tracks. He turns to Taehyung and blinks. "What?"

"I," Taehyung starts, folding the brochure and tucking it into one of the slots on his bag, "I want to thank you. You didn't have to be here but I appreciate it so much, I understand if I'm taking too much of your time and -"

"Hyung, we're friends, aren't we?" Jungkook resumes walking, tossing the words Hoseok had fed him months ago. It's easier to talk when he's not looking into Taehyung's eyes. "Of course I'll make time. You're important to me."

"That's nice to know," murmurs Taehyung. Jungkook listens to the shutter go off every now and then, and when the minuscule discord recedes, the wind picks up and brushes against Jungkook's skin under his thin cotton shirt. He closes his eyes to the humid breeze.

Taehyung jogs to catch up with him. He momentarily keeps his camera away and places his hands on Jungkook's shoulder, steadying him.

The patches of Jungkook's skin under Taehyung's palms are smoldered.

"Everything alright?" Taehyung's gaze roams over Jungkook's features, and Jungkook could've brushed it off, like the old times. He could've - should've - retorted with a remark that's guaranteed to make Taehyung laugh and made a good-natured jab at his ribs.

Nothing's ever really the same after Halla. 

Jungkook shrugs Taehyung's hands off. He's succeeded for five months already and he can't afford to let it all go to waste, now. "I'm fine. Let's just, let's just take a look around before we go back to the hotel. You said that we'll be passing through a rainforest, didn't you?"

The light in Taehyung's eyes fractures, and he lets his hands fall on his sides limply. He clamps his mouth shut. 

It's not your fault, Jungkook wants to say, among an infinite number of things. It's not your fault that I'm like this. 

"Yeah," says Taehyung. He studies his sandals, shifting from one foot to another.

There's nothing Jungkook can do about it - he thinks of Halla with her smile and her laugh and the way Jungkook hopes that he can love her as much as he loves Taehyung, because when the time comes for him to go back to Busan he doesn't want his mother to cry or his father to throw him out of the house.

But perhaps he can spare himself this:

"Hyung," Jungkook contends with maybe's and never's and settles for pulling his voice out of the gutter. "Race you to the end?"

Taehyung recoils in surprise. 

Without waiting for an answer, Jungkook bursts into a run and doesn't look back.

 

 

 

                                         

 

 

Jungkook only makes it past the lily pond before he collapses on the wooden course, panting harshly over the cacophony of croaking frogs. He rubs the toe he's stubbed a few times on the way, wincing at the soreness, and moments later Taehyung arrives and falls apart next to him. He's completely on his back, perspiration coating his forehead with a mild sheen.

"I win," proclaims Jungkook, nudging Taehyung with his foot. Taehyung doesn't budge.

A rough breath and Taehyung turns on his stomach with a glare. "We're not finished yet."

"I'm pretty sure that I'm in a much better shape than you are, hyung." Jungkook allows himself a smile as he sits up, legs crossed as he rocks back and forth. He notices the camera bag and hauls it over by the straps, until Taehyung grasps his wrist in panic.

When Jungkook frowns, Taehyung explains, "Sorry. I just don't like anybody seeing my photos before they're developed."

"Is this an innate trait of all artists or is it just you?"

"There were way more protective photographers in college, so good news for you - I'm not the only one," Taehyung cheekily responds. He heaves himself up until he's seated on the timbered path. Now that Jungkook has mustered the courage to truly look at him, he sees that Taehyung has trimmed his hair and swept his bangs to the side. It's a nice style on him, but it's not a novel opinion. Everything looks good on Taehyung, anyway.

Jungkook stands up first, and he doesn't miss the way Taehyung beams at him when he holds his hand out. 

(He hopes he's just imagining it. Better not build himself back up when he's attempting to strip his old self bare.)

"Um," mumbles Taehyung as his palm slides over Jungkook's, the contact brief but enough for Jungkook to keep while it lasts. It's the little things that Jungkook can't let go.

A frown paints itself on Taehyung's twisted mouth. He says, "Uh. Jungkookie, I might have lost a slipper somewhere along the way."

Jungkook's stare instantaneously flits over Taehyung's feet, one of them naked and muddied. 

"So you mean to say that all along," Jungkook tells him slowly, "you were running barefoot."

"Half-barefoot," Taehyung corrects him.

Jungkook sighs audibly and strokes the back of his neck in contemplation. The trickling of the water from the fountains is soothing from the distance. "Come on, hyung, hop on."

"What?"

"Hop on." At this point Jungkook kills his mind; he's made so many mistakes that another one won't make much of a difference. Such a fucking hypocrite, he muses.

Jungkook crouches. "It's no big deal, I promise."

He can't see Taehyung from this angle but he figures that Taehyung might be skeptical. He is. "Wow, are you really Jeon Jungkook? Did you come from another planet, the one where kids treat their elders better and actually offer to piggyback them in times of need?"

"Hey, I'm trying to be nice."

"I like it." Taehyung coughs and appends, "I mean, I like this, when you're nice to me. Makes me feel special. Or something."

Jungkook's cheeks inflame but he won't admit it, not in a million years. Maybe even beyond that. "Hyung, geez, let's just get this over with so we can go home earlier."

The first thing Jungkook realizes when Taehyung gets on his back is the way Taehyung's bones dig into his shoulders, and how, even if Taehyung's draped over him even with the camera bag, it feels too light. Taehyung is paper-thin and it doesn't seem as though he's there.

Taehyung breathes right next to Jungkook's ear. Jungkook crosses his eyebrows. "Hyung, have you been eating at all?"

It's a tick too long before Taehyung replies, "What are you even saying, of course I am." 

"No, really." Jungkook heaves Taehyung up - his grasp is slipping on Taehyung's drawstring pants. "Are you eating full meals?"

Taehyung shuffles behind him as Jungkook walks toward the heart of the rainforest. They leave the spilled sunshine as soon as they step under the foliage. 

"You know how it is, there'll always be starving artists out there." Taehyung's exhale is warm on Jungkook's neck. "Something has to give. There are things you have to sacrifice for your dreams."

"I believe in this, though," Taehyung continues. "I really think that this exhibit is something I'll be proud of."

Jungkook says, "If you need anything -"

"Trust me, Jungkookie," Taehyung laughs, and the sound is so beautiful and all that Jungkook has ever wanted, but can't have. "I can take care of myself. It might not seem like it, but I've been doing that for a long time."

"Your company is the best thing you can give me." In a trice Jungkook notices something warm stream down his collar but the sensation is instantly replaced by the pressure of Taehyung's forehead against the back of his neck. "That's all I'll ever ask for, okay?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halla's waving frantically from the arrival gate when Jungkook completes all clearances and heads home. Taehyung is walking beside him, the zippers of his travel backpack clinking against each other, and it eases Jungkook when Halla runs up to him and wraps her arms around his waist. He lets his lips linger on the top of her head, noting the scent of her new shampoo. 

"How was the flight?" Halla asks, taking Jungkook's bag and slinging it over her shoulder.

Jungkook smiles at her. He gestures toward Taehyung. "Ask hyung for the first-hand experience."

"It was horrible, I couldn't sleep," Taehyung says readily and traces his undereyes. He shakes his head. "Maybe you could teach him a thing or two, Halla."

Halla bursts into laughter. "Duly noted, Taehyung-oppa."

Much later, once Taehyung isn't with them to grab a pizza and a movie, Halla stays over at Jungkook's apartment. She reasons that her everyday clothes are straight out of the pajama section in the ladies department anyway. Jungkook drops by a 7-eleven to buy a toothbrush and a box of pancake mix in case he's run out of cereal. It's not as if his pantry is stocked with healthy choices and appetizing breakfast items. There's a reason why Seokjin's the most welcome visitor in his home.

They brush their teeth together and some of the toothpaste drips down Jungkook's mouth and onto Halla's hair. Halla stares at Jungkook, scandalized, and chucks the water in her glass toward his face.

Halla tucks herself under Jungkook's chin when they're settled under the covers. Jungkook hasn't slept curled into someone for such a long time that the warmth feels so foreign now, but he thinks that it's better than nights spent hogging the blankets and zoning out at the glare of the city lights until he falls asleep.

"Night, oppa," murmurs Halla against his collarbones. She rubs circles on his arm and Jungkook is beyond grateful. He tells himself that he loves her a little more for it.

That evening, Jungkook doesn't get to regret anything about Taehyung at all. It's a start.

 

 

 * * *

 

 

 

It doesn't dawn on Jungkook just how many noraebang nights he's missed until Taehyung bails on him for the first time.

"What do you mean you can't go," Jungkook says, phone wedged between his cheek and his shoulder. He blinks at Halla and mouths for her not to forget their picnic basket and the beverage cooler. Halla nods in affirmation. "Halla was so excited about inviting you, and you've always wanted to go to the Grand Park. You've insisted to go for years, hyung."

The dissonance of traffic and boisterous passers-by drown Taehyung's voice until Jungkook catches, "I'd rather not take your and Halla's alone time away, Jungkookie. I've had to third-wheel for Jiminnie and Jin-hyung before, and I think I have the right to say that it just sucks to be invisible."

"No one said you were going to be left out," replies Jungkook, a bit preoccupied with his shoelaces. There's rustling in his kitchen, cupboard doors closing and utensils clanging against each other, before Halla comes back with their lunch. She takes a seat beside Jungkook, calf thrown over Jungkook's thigh, and out of habit Jungkook finds himself tickling the soles of her feet.

"Well," Taehyung mumbles, and it doesn't register because Halla giggles and pinches Jungkook's stomach. Jungkook scowls at her as she darts her tongue out.

Jungkook amends, "Come on, hyung."

Taehyung seems to ponder on it before he says, "Today's the last Friday of June."

"So what if it's a Friday? There'll be a larger crowd but I'm sure that -"

"Jungkook." Taehyung pauses on the other end of the line, the bustling of vehicles seeming more thunderous than it should be. His voice reeks of tire and disappointment and Jungkook has to flinch slightly. Taehyung has never called him that way, not even when they first met.

Jungkook sits up and begs the nonchalance to show on his face, for Halla's sake.

"Jin-hyung and Jiminnie got engaged in the beginning of this month." The rhythmic throbbing in Jungkook's head forges on and his eyes widen. "Hobi-hyung's been recruited to go to America; he's part of a traveling workshop in the West Coast. Namjoon-hyung has quit his job, says he's probably going to get into the underground scene again."

"There...There was an arson," Taehyung continues. His teeth chatter and Jungkook doesn't want to hear the rest. "Just a little over a week ago. Things went bad. Yoongi-hyung was admitted to the hospital and. He, he suffered from a few second-degree -"

"Why," Jungkook's mouth sours, the image of Yoongi in bandages flitting across his periphery, "why didn't you tell me all of this?"

Taehyung exhales. "I tried. You wouldn't pick up."

Jungkook holds the phone away from his ear and sees his call log, a column of red icons greeting him. There are ten missed calls from each of his friends, save for Taehyung. Taehyung called forty seven times in the span of a month only to arrive at the drawn-out monotone of Jungkook's voicemail prompt.

Jungkook knows that the calls aren't missed by accident; they're made exactly on his days off because all of Jungkook's friends know his login credentials on the online scheduling system. 

It's mere coincidence, Jungkook believes, that he's always out with Halla. It takes his mind off of things, and Halla - enthusiastic, whimsical Halla - is always great company.

(An exceptional distraction, too.)

"I have to go," Taehyung says softly over the receiver. "Have fun on your date, Jungkookie."

"Wait, hyung -"

"Just so you know, you can always bring Halla to noraebang night if you want to. Not that we're forcing you or anything."

"Hyung," Jungkook frantically says, "let me -"

The line goes dead.

Jungkook is left gaping at Taehyung's contact photo, a blurry image of the both of them in their high school uniforms. There's more of Jungkook's face in the picture than Taehyung's, their cheeks pressed against each other with Taehyung's palm flat on the top of his head.

"I'm assuming that it's just the two of us," Halla says, pulling her legs back until her feet caress the floor.

"I...yeah." Jungkook tosses his phone into the picnic basket. Six months with Halla meant six months of missing out on his friends' birthdays and he's already apologized profusely for those but - god, Jungkook runs his fingers through his hair, Yoongi's probably gone home by now but to think that Jungkook hasn't visited him at least once, he can't even begin to process how two of his friends are fiancés -

He senses a hand cover his own, the metal face of Halla's wristwatch brushing over his skin. It is cold. "Are you okay, oppa?"

Jungkook swallows. I'm not.

"Yeah, I'm alright," he tries, and he forces a smile on his lips, crooked and perfunctory but it's still better than nothing. "Are we set to go?"

 

 

 * * *

 

 

 

It's six in the morning when Jungkook returns from a jog along the Cheonggyecheon River, earphones tangled in his pockets as he fishes for his keys. 

He looks up, and his steps falter.

Taehyung's hunched over his doorknob, attempting to break his way in with his stupid hairpin, and Jungkook knows it's not going to work this time because the manager of the apartment told his tenants that he'd change their locks a few weeks ago. It was inconvenient, watching the carpenters come and install a new knob while he and Halla were majestically failing at following Seokjin's recipe for seaweed soup.

Jungkook clears his throat. "Hyung."

Startled, Taehyung drops his hairpin, and he draws back. "Oh," he says flatly. "You're here."

"Yeah," Jungkook says, walking past him. His palms are clammy with sweat when he opens his door and he steps aside to let Taehyung through.

"You finally found a way to get rid of me, huh." Taehyung shrugs and he nearly loses his footing when he removes his shoes, but Jungkook is quick to hold him up by the arm. The contact doesn't burn as much. "I'll figure it out sooner or later, don't worry. I'll be coming around."

"It's not that," says Jungkook. He heads to the refrigerator to retrieve a cold tumbler of water. Once he's taken a good swig, he eyes Taehyung. By this time, he thinks that there's nothing different about him anymore - he's Jungkook's friend, possibly the best, and he's his travel companion. Taehyung flops down on his couch and throws his legs over the pillows, like Halla does when she's preoccupied with a bowl of shrimp snacks.

It's strange, Jungkook thinks, how Taehyung's mannerisms remind him of Halla now. What Taehyung does isn't exclusive to himself any longer.

To be fair, Halla's taken so much space in Jungkook's life that he sees her wherever he looks.

"What's up?" Jungkook casually asks, choosing to sit down on a kitchen stool so the perspiration on his clothes doesn't stick to the material of his sofa. 

Taehyung throws his head back. He closes his eyes. "The wedding's next year. Jin-hyung hasn't made the invitations yet, but the event's supposed to be small - just a couple of friends, no family. You know how they are."

He's not wrong - Jungkook does know, and he knows it very well. He's seen the disappointment in his parents' eyes when his brother ran away with his best friend, and his father had sat him down and put a hand on his shoulder, expecting no repeat of screaming in the house, because his brother was abnormal, he was only going through a phase and Jungkook should be his family's saving grace - 

"I'm the best man," Taehyung continues, and Jungkook only realizes that he's held his breath for a minute before he sputters under his palm. "Namjoon-hyung was an option, 'cause he's eloquent and all, but he'll probably wax poetic during his speech and we'll all die before we get to the buffet."

"Good for you, then," says Jungkook.

"Jiminnie was so worried about you." Taehyung gets off the couch and stretches his arms over his head. "He said something about visiting you sometime soon, but he's afraid of...you know, interrupting you and Halla."

Jungkook gnaws on his bottom lip. "And you're not?"

Taehyung turns around and stares at him pensively. "Old habits die hard, Jungkookie. I'll be here, unless you think that I'm intruding too much and I should go."

"Yeah, like you said - nothing will change, right?" 

"Yeah." A smile graces Taehyung's lips, tender around the edges but ruthless all the same. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Jungkook has finished showering, Taehyung drags him to Caffé Bene, as part of the long-held tradition of morning get-togethers squeezed into their erratic schedules. The city smoke sticks to Jungkook's partially damp hair when they're crossing streets; he hasn't had the chance to towel his hair dry because Taehyung had urged him to get ready in less than five minutes, his clothes already picked and strewn across his bed.

Jungkook appreciates the fact that Taehyung knows what he likes to wear. He's grateful enough that he's willing to overlook the chaos in his wardrobe, shirts littered on the floor and some of his underwear dangling from the corner of his drawer.

They're a little tardy this time, arriving half an hour later than the usual. The coffee shop is well and awake by the time Jungkook reaches the counter to order breakfast and there's minimal elbow room from where he's standing. It seems that this branch has gotten more renowned, after all.

Taehyung happens to pick the most far-flung table in the vicinity. He's surveying the crowd with his hands tucked under his thighs, gaze falling on strangers and mind possibly spinning stories about them. It's part of what he does - he writes novels from gestures and takes all of the words away.

Jungkook returns with a receipt. He hands a card to Taehyung. "I used mine, and before you speak - it's okay. Let me pay this time."

Sighing, Taehyung accepts his credit card back and slides it into his waistband. He hasn't changed. "I don't want any pity parties."

"I'm not pitying you," Jungkook says. He takes his place on the couch and clasps his hands under his chin. "It's just coffee, hyung. It's the least I can get for you. Besides, you've never ordered something that actually has caffeine, and that's just weird."

"Every time I attempt to, Namjoon-hyung tells me that the coffee makes me even more jumpy."

"I don't think you can get any more hyper than you generally are." The server arrives with a tray and deposits two cups of espresso macchiato and four variants of bagels. Jungkook thanks him and blows across the surface of his drink.

Taehyung instinctively reaches for the cinnamon bagel and takes a small, precursory bite. He nibbles thoughtfully and says, "Hm, this one is good. Try it."

Without thinking too much of it, Jungkook leans from the other side of the table to wrap a hand around Taehyung's wrist and guide the bread into his mouth. He withdraws as soon as he swallows the piece. 

"Not bad," Jungkook comments, only recognizing the magnitude of what he's done when he sinks back into his seat and sees Taehyung, open-mouthed. The recklessness in him pleads to be let go but he decides that he's drowned every reason to forget how to breathe when he's with Taehyung. Six years is a long time to stumble after somebody who's not looking back.

It had taken Halla six months to remind Jungkook of that.

Jungkook quickly adds, "I think I like the blueberry flavor more, though."

"Hm. Alright, I'll take your word for it." Taehyung has finished devouring his first bagel and is onto the next, and it relieves Jungkook to know that Taehyung is not sitting across him on an empty stomach. Taehyung licks the remnants of the topping off of his fingers. Before he can sample the blueberry variant, he peers at Jungkook, irises murky with contemplation.

"Hey, Jungkookie," he finally tells him. Jungkook is silently sipping on his macchiato, the foam art already non-existent when he brings the cup down and darts his tongue out to wet his lips.

"What, hyung?"

"I just," Taehyung trails off, looking down at his own serving of coffee. It lies untouched. "Would it be terribly awful if I tell you that I like guys?"

Jungkook only stares at him. There's a tingling in his ears that's gradually becoming deafening.

Opposite of him, Taehyung ducks his head further.

"It wouldn't be so weird, would it? I mean, I - I thought that you'd be alright with it, since you're okay with Jiminnie and Jin-hyung, and I just. I never had the chance, not that it matters so much, but I never said anything -"

"Hyung," Jungkook's voice is raspy when he speaks. "How -" A stagger and it hurts to even swallow when his words trip on themselves - "How long?"

Taehyung lifts his gaze, opening his mouth tentatively and closing it again. He hesitates. "I don't know. But it - it's too long. It could've started even before we met, but I don't know for sure. I'm never so sure about things anymore."

Jungkook's fingers are trembling so much on the handle of his cup that his espresso ends up streaming down his hands. It's no longer warm but Jungkook's palms are scalded when Taehyung takes it upon himself to wipe the coffee off of Jungkook with a napkin, knuckles brushing quivering ones. Just like old times.

"I'm sorry," whispers Taehyung, still gingerly drying Jungkook's hands. "I shouldn't have sprung it up on you like this. It's not that important, anyway, but I was just guilty because you...you're one of my best friends, and I've been keeping things from you."

Maybe I could've had a chance, Jungkook thinks, prying Taehyung's fingers from his so he can allow himself to breathe. The aftertaste of espresso is bitter on his tongue, granulated particles sticking to the roof of his mouth. Maybe I could've had a chance if I waited just a little more. If I had been much more resolute, if I weren't afraid of  -

Taehyung lets his empty hands rest on the table. When Jungkook finds the audacity to look at him - properly look at him, into the vacuity of his large brown eyes - Taehyung appears to be exhausted, shoulders depressed and jaw taut. He's biting his lip even as it starts to bleed.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung repeats, wincing a little at the tang of rust. 

"Why," Jungkook heaves, "Why are you telling me now?"

"I told my dad when I visited for Christmas." The clamor in the coffeehouse is forgotten as white noise, a dull fixture in the background, as still as it can get because the only motion that Jungkook registers is the thrumming in his chest. He wants it all to stop but Taehyung - Taehyung is blinking at him under his lashes and every minuscule movement is counted by the second. Taehyung blinks a hundred times in the interval and Jungkook can tell he's fighting the dampness in his eyes.

Taehyung lets a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "He cried, Jungkookie. Told me that he loved me and that it was okay, I could like whomever made me happy."

"I'm telling you because you're the only one who doesn't know," he continues, "and I'm sorry for that. I've been meaning to say it but I only had the guts to come out last year, and. Well. You were busy. It doesn't really matter, does it?"

Jungkook shakes his head. "Of course it matters." He pauses and hopes that he doesn't slip up, so he lets his sentiments collapse until they're no longer there. He's gotten better at it. "I wish I could be as brave as you are, hyung."

"Believe me," Taehyung says, voice so small yet so lovely, "I sometimes wish that I wasn't."

 

 

 * * *

 

 

eia au, eia 'oe

 

 

hawaiian; here I am, here you are

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing Jimin does when Jungkook finally shows up at their doorstep with a pot of kimchi jjigae is stare until he has half the mind to take the pot from Jungkook's hands and set it on the nearby console table.

The second - he punches Jungkook lightly in the shoulder before he's enveloping him with his arms. Jimin is on his tiptoes but he'll never admit to it.

"You asshole," Jimin exhales against Jungkook's ear. He pulls away, eyebrows furrowed. "You've been MIA for the past couple of months, Jeon Jungkook."

Jungkook coughs and steps inside. He's surprised to note that Seokjin isn't there, even if he is aware of the fact that Seokjin has recently been spending more time at the studio.

The whole apartment has been reconfigured, shelves and seats placed where they aren't supposed to be. There's an array of bonsai on the windowsill, a striking new addition to the ornaments in Jimin and Seokjin's abode.

Or maybe not. Maybe they've been sitting there for quite a while now, and Jungkook doesn't know because he hasn't stopped by for such a long time.

"I'm sorry," Jungkook says, very well knowing that he has no excuses. Jimin blanches.

They stand in the door stiffly until Jimin's sigh resonates and he drags Jungkook along, dropping his weight on the sofa. The cushions are scented with a hint of soap. Must be recently laundered, then. "So. Anything going on?"

Jungkook leans further back, constantly eyeing his kimchi jjigae. It's nowhere near as delectable as Seokjin's is, but he hopes that Jimin appreciates it nonetheless. No one could beat Seokjin in the kitchen, anyway. "Maybe."

A pointed look from Jimin and Jungkook adds begrudgingly, "I don't know, hyung. I don't know what I want anymore."

"It must've been tough on you since you're willingly calling me that," Jimin says, carding his fingers through his hair. "Calling me hyung, I mean. You know that you can tell me anything, right?"

"Right." Jungkook's fingers dance cautiously on his lap. "I just...I can't, not right now." An exhale, and then: "Congratulations on your engagement, by the way. I never got to call."

Jimin is silent, examining him through hooded eyes, until he says, "Jungkook-ah, I'm sure you didn't come here for just that."

Jungkook is brimming with years' worth of things he'd been keeping, and it's all a storm, so turbulent and unforgiving that he doesn't know where to begin. It's comfortable being with Jimin because he understands; he's had to defy his own plagues, but Jungkook is too caught up to give himself a chance, and there's Halla -

Halla, with her beautiful smile and the way she drapes a blanket over Jungkook when she stays the night. Her hand has been perfectly molded to his since December. Halla is gentle yet bursting at the seams, and Jungkook loves her too much to put the fire out. She's been nothing but languid fingers tracing meaningless patterns on Jungkook's arm, lips barely grazing the side of Jungkook's mouth. Jungkook's parents would adore her.

But Taehyung comes in and destroys what Jungkook has tried so hard to build around himself. He always does.

Jungkook ultimately surrenders.

"I'm so lost, Jimin-hyung," he mumbles, voice caged so stringently in his throat until it breaks.

Jimin, arrested of his breath, doesn't say anything for a while. His lips thin into a straight line, and Jungkook flinches when he feels a hand on his back. "Oh, Jungkookie."

The words pour even before Jungkook can think thoroughly, because he's so tired and a what-if is too humongous for one person to bear alone. 

"What...what do you do when you've been running after someone since you met them, and you know that you can't help but notice them in the little things because they're so easy to fall for even when you're not supposed - you're not allowed to, and you force yourself to love somebody else who's like a replica - close to, at the least - because it's just...right, but it's never the same? What do you do if you do love the other person, but not as much as the one whom you've been looking at for the longest time, and you want to take a chance but you're afraid of hurting somebody else besides yourself?"

"You're wounding Halla even more if you keep on pretending," says Jimin, incessantly rubbing circles on Jungkook's skin. It's difficult to even listen to the name - it carries all of the apologies Jungkook never said aloud. "It's wrong to substitute people for people."

"But I'm scared, hyung." Jungkook shudders through it all. 

Jimin's voice is gentle as he asks, "What are you so afraid of, then?"

 

 

 * * *

 

 

(Jungkook is sixteen.

He ought to feel invincible, because everyone else is - at least, that's what they say. Everybody proclaims that they're the rulers of the world, that they're so sure of everything they're doing because they're sixteen and wild and free to do anything. They think they know their way through cram schools and relentless examinations, graded papers a fragile lifeline. They think they know adoration, kisses behind bookshelves and mistakes in the library when dusk paints the skies gray.

The only thing Jungkook knows is the hum of the city under his fingertips as he stands on the rooftop. Orange hair peeks out of an unfinished One Piece manga, and when Taehyung stirs, Jungkook says, "It's getting late, hyung."

Taehyung is groggy when he sits up, rubbing the drowsiness from his eyes. "Is it?"

Jungkook gestures to the expanse that surrounds them. "Well, what do you think?"

"Oh," Taehyung opens his mouth - for far too long, it seems, because he chokes when a fly swoops in. Jungkook nearly falls over laughing. It takes Taehyung a few minutes to spit out and eventually he gives up. "Insects are good for your health, anyway."

He stands up, dusting the grime off of his uniform. A grin splits his face in half. "Come on - I'll walk you home, Jungkookie.")

 

 

(Jungkook is sixteen and he decides that maybe it's not too bad, tagging along with Taehyung on bicycle rides that inevitably culminate with a scraped knee or two. Taehyung talks about his father all the time, about the mountains in Daegu, and it's with such fervor that Jungkook can't believe that this much of the life in the universe has been hiding in an eighteen-year old boy.

Jungkook is sixteen and he hates the carved imperfections on his skin. Where there should be plain white is a canvas of black moles but Taehyung pinches the spaces between them and tells him, "It's an elephant, see? I have one, too." Jungkook forgives himself a little after that.

Jungkook is sixteen and he finds his voice. He discovers that he can be loud, that he can smile. Taehyung, again, is the teacher between the two of them. It comes off as a surprise, knowing that Taehyung can actually fit a lot of things in that head of his.

Jungkook is sixteen and he can't help but look at Taehyung's lips. They're just there, stretching and curving up Taehyung's cheeks when he beams, and it troubles Jungkook when he wonders what it might be like to kiss him.

All at once it's not just his lips, anymore - it's Kim Taehyung, hand on his wrist as he pulls him into a run; Taehyung, who massages his feet after physical education class even though they're sweaty and abominably gross; Taehyung, who comes over on the weekends and brings leftover, low-grade convenience store pizza from work while they take turns in front of the air conditioner, because summers in Seoul are relentlessly sweltering.

Jungkook is sixteen and he decides that maybe he's in love with Taehyung, then.)

 

 

(He comes home to Busan, to his mother's tears and packed bags at the door. Jungkook removes his shoes, sets them aside - lined perfectly on the foyer - and when he pads along the entrance quietly, his brother brushes past him. He catches a glimpse of his swollen eyes and a bruise on his cheek.

The door slams behind him, and his father rushes out, condensed rage seeping out of the cracks. Jungkook stands immobile, his impeccable grades heavy in his backpack.

It's well into the night when his father returns, and he's exhausted but he manages to call Jungkook and tell him that his brother has left.

Jungkook doesn't get to ask why because he hears so much - your brother is a monster, he brings his best friend home - the boy who used to play with you, remember - and tells me that he likes him, that they're dating, and it's not right. Boys can't like boys, Jungkook. He's just confused.

You mustn't be like him, alright? )

 

 

(The lockers are cold against his back, even through the thick material of his blazer.

"You're a fag, aren't you?" someone presses Jungkook even further, and Jungkook's neck strains from how long he's been craning it to see a way out. It's impossible with five of his schoolmates snickering at him. He remembers some of them from his first encounter with Taehyung.

"I don't know what you're saying," Jungkook says, biting the inside of his cheek. He hopes that the iron in his expression can make up for the furious beating of his heart. 

He doesn't see the fist when it comes and he retches when it finally hits him, in a spot below his ribs. 

The world spins and his breaths escape as shallow pants.

"Fucking disgusting," another one tells him, harsh against his ear. Jungkook can't discern anything, anymore, because the wind is knocked out of him. His head collides repeatedly against the metal and he wants it to stop, he never asked for this - never asked to bust his lip, never asked to lie alone in the corridor in the evening when the lights have been turned off and the gates have been shut close, never asked to bleed for something that he didn't think was remotely wrong.

He picks himself up and staggers back to his dormitory room - locks himself in and doesn't bother to flick the light switch on, stained clothes pooled on the floor with his phone ringing on the bedside table.

The water drips red when Jungkook steps into the shower, purples dispersed across his abdomen like asters on a barren field.

Taehyung's face flashes across his mind and he oddly feels like throwing up.)

 

 

(Jungkook is sixteen and he ought to feel invincible.

 

He realizes that he's not.)

 

 

(And he's sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and beyond that -

He's twenty two, and he still tastes the blood on his tongue.)

 

 

"What are you so afraid of, then?"

Jimin looks at him, expectant. Perhaps a little sorry, too.

Jungkook is too used to the lies - I have a black-eye because I accidentally ran into a door, I'm not going to class because I have a cold and it's okay, I can deal with it on my own, I'm dating Halla because she's perfect and all I ever wanted - but he allows himself some semblance of honesty. He hopes that he deserves it. 

"Myself," he says, and stares at his feet. 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

"This is the last time, isn't it?"

 

The sea speaks in lullabies and keeps its secrets in troves, words drowned until they are insipid versions of their former selves.

Taehyung takes his slippers off and lets his heels sink into the coarse sand, the remnants of daylight leaving his face faster than Jungkook can tell himself that it's okay, that even after this there'll be Halla to come home to. The waters of Oahu swish around their ankles, and Jungkook feels so small and insignificant next to the vastness of the ocean.

It's July, a year after their first trip in Prague. So much has changed since then.

They walk along the shoreline and Jungkook looks back to watch two sets of footsteps slowly meld into nothingness as the waves swallow them.

"Yeah," Jungkook says quietly.

Taehyung picks up a tangled ball of seaweed and tosses it to the side. He stops in his tracks, turning to breathe the heavy air. The exhale that he lets out is wistful. "I'll miss this, all of this. Organizing the exhibit is underway but...for some reason, I don't want to come through with it anymore."

"What?" Jungkook stills. He frowns, tugging at the knot of his jersey shorts. "But this is the last part of your photoshoot, hyung. You can't just back out like that."

"I know I can't," Taehyung says, shirt caught in the breeze. The straps of his camera waver on his shoulder, too.

He turns to Jungkook, eyes molten under the ever-changing colors of the sunset sky. "There's a lot of things I can't do, nowadays."

Jungkook starts, reluctant at first, "Like what?"

Taehyung purses his lips and turns on his heel to continue where he left off. The wind is picking up, sifting through Taehyung's hair. It has grown out, the tips ticking the shell of his ears, and it becomes even more haphazard than before.

He's striding and Jungkook is left to chase him but he can't, not with burdened feet and a mind that tells him that distance is always a good thing.

"Hyung, wait up," Jungkook manages to say, "wait."

Jungkook heaves himself up, slaps of his soles against the currents resounding like collisions on concrete. He does eventually catch up, fingers barely grazing Taehyung's shoulder, but Taehyung halts so abruptly that Jungkook drops his hand and holds it firmly on his side.

"Like this," says Taehyung, and he faces Jungkook to take his wrist and thread his fingers through his. It's faultless; the way Taehyung brushes his thumb over Jungkook's knuckles, the way it all fits together like this is where they should've been, for the longest time. Taehyung's bangs fall on his eyes, reminiscent of Prague and the colossal fall Jungkook took again because it's hard not to love Taehyung for who he is.

Jungkook sees the glistening in his eyes and he knows. God, he finally knows.

Taehyung's looking at him in the same way, too.

"Like this," Taehyung continues, lips brushing against Jungkook's ear as he engulfs him, arms tight around Jungkook's waist as he tucks his chin on the dip between Jungkook's neck and shoulder. Taehyung has always been warm. It's the comfortable type of warmth, the one that's rounded on the edges and so gentle, so tickling, so finely muted that Jungkook realizes that he's never been without it.

Now it's the type of warmth that makes a cry rise in Jungkook's throat, because it's so unfair.

Taehyung draws back, Jungkook's hand still in his.

Jungkook holds his breath when Taehyung presses his forehead against his and places a hand on his neck - he knows what's coming; he isn't stupid and he and Halla have done this so many times that it's more of an artless choreography than skin on skin, subtly saying hello. 

It's not so much of a surprise but it still arrests Jungkook of any other thought when he learns that Taehyung kisses so ferociously.

His lips quiver. Jungkook does not shove Taehyung off of him.

(It would've been perfect, could've been, if only the here and the now were entirely different.)

It's Taehyung who breaks it off first, hands slowly drifting away, and Jungkook looks down, at the waves that gather around his ankles. His mouth tingles.

"I...I'm sorry, hyung - you know I can't," Jungkook murmurs, "I can't, we can't be that way."

Taehyung is silent before he laughs hollowly and the sound grinds against Jungkook's ears, because this is not his Taehyung. This is the Taehyung who has come out to be mangled and broken, and it's all because of him.

"I was hoping that it'd hurt less to actually hear it," Taehyung says, sunlight framing his face, and he's never been lovelier before. "Turns out that I was wrong."

"I'm sorry." Jungkook is shaking, now. "I'm sorry. Halla - I, I'm in love with her and I'm happy. We're happy."

(Jungkook hates himself so, so much.

They are - he is not happy. He's still stuck in sophomore year with a bloodied face and his father's words put in his mouth. They taste like ashes, and they are Jungkook's reasons.

This is all Jeon Jungkook is - a fucking coward.)

"I'm sorry," Jungkook repeats, a dull ache throbbing in his head.

"It's okay." Taehyung smiles at him, and it's not the same. He's not the least bit okay - Jungkook understands now - but he tries to hide his eyes with a tense grin. "It's okay. I wanted so much and I couldn't help but think that maybe there'd be a chance. It's not your fault that you're all I ever wanted, Jungkookie. You shouldn't have to apologize for what you feel."

Tremors graze Jungkook's bones and Jungkook shivers so terribly with all the could-have's and should-have's and would-have's on the precipice of his mouth. "Since when?"

Taehyung stares at him. 

"Since the day we met," Taehyung says fondly, features softening even though the strain still lies in the sharpness of his jaw. "I wasn't lying when I told you that your eyes were beautiful. They still are."

Jungkook's world stops.

They could've been so much more, and yet -

(And yet.)

"I should've pushed you away," utters Jungkook breathlessly. 

"You didn't kiss me back." Taehyung steps away from him, lashes fluttering under the twilight. "That was enough for me."

The ocean does not calm. If anything, it's cruel in the way it rages against the coastline, giving and spilling and taking too much away. 

Taehyung pockets his hands. He opens his mouth and all Jungkook catches is - "I'm going to miss you."

"Hyung," Jungkook's voice is ragged as he chokes up, "I'm not going anywhere, we - we'll still be friends, right? It'll just be like - like before."

"That's the problem," Taehyung says softly. "I've loved you for so long that I forgot what came before. And I thought I could pretend but...everything's not as simple as I thought it'd be."

"Maybe we shouldn't see each other for a while," he continues. Taehyung closes his eyes and it takes much of Jungkook's restraint to hold himself back. "I'm selfish - asking you to come with me so I can keep you to myself, and now, I need to do the opposite. Maybe then it wouldn't be so complicated and I don't get to ruin whatever we have."

"But -"

"Jungkookie," Taehyung exhales, "I'll try, alright? I'll try. I'll figure it out."

There's only so much Jungkook can do before Taehyung throws his head back and dons a slapdash smile, for the both of them. It's getting dark and they still have a flight to catch early in the morning.

"Race you to the end?"

For once, Jungkook doesn't remember to kickstart his feet and do what he does best - he doesn't run away.

It's Taehyung who does.

Taehyung's silhouette becomes smaller and fainter by the minute, water still lapping at Jungkook's calves, grounding him.

 

Jungkook realizes that it's the very first time he has let Taehyung win.

 

(It's also the first time he lets him go.)

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Everything slips away from how tightly Jungkook is pulling himself together. Brittle objects woven out of depthless effort will inevitably crumble to dust if wrung too stiffly, bruises blooming from fingers that press too hard, too desperate.

Jungkook falls into a steady, tasteless routine of waking up at exactly five o'clock to chase empty air along the Cheonggyecheon River, the fog of dawn helping his mind get rid of its previous unclarities. He stops by the convenience store for cheap coffee, numbing his tongue with sought-after warmth, and crumples the paper cup. He tosses it to the garbage bin on the way outside and misses.

He wears his uniform, snug against his shoulders with his hair combed to the side. Jungkook stares at the mirror. He looks fine. Perhaps the bags under his eyes won't give him away as much as he thinks they would.

Again, Jungkook withdraws and pretends that the drone of his phone's ringtone is something imagined. Jimin must be disappointed in him.

Halla doesn't stay over as much, anymore, following the conflict of their schedules. Jungkook picks up more shifts than what the normal pilot can handle.

(But then again, he's never been normal, not really. The punch to his gut has left something permanent and maybe it'll always be that way.)

When they do get to see each other, Halla's the one who rents movies - superhero-themed ones, Jungkook's favorite - but Jungkook is so exhausted that he heads straight to his room and buries his face into his pillow. Much later, when Jungkook's breaths even out, Halla slides next to him on the bed and laces their fingers together. Jungkook barely wakes up and he feels his voice catch in his throat.

Jungkook doesn't squeeze her hand back. Halla turns on her back and leaves early in the morning, but not without cooking Jungkook some seaweed soup and leaving a note on the refrigerator.

Jungkook knows that he doesn't deserve her.

They lapse into a reticent habit of passing by and brushing lips as if it's a chore. Halla cuts her hair, silky ends barely caressing her shoulder, and Jungkook doesn't notice until two weeks later.

It's only when Halla's in his bathroom and staring at an extra toothbrush, unused for nearly a year now, that Jungkook sees that the shine in her irises has been extinguished by the wetness pooling in the corners of her eyes.

She looks up at him. "I can't do this anymore."

Jungkook opens his mouth but he has nothing to say.

"You," Halla's voice trembles, "You...It's somebody else, isn't it? It's always been somebody else."

"I'm sorry," Jungkook says. He means it. The words are stale on his lips.

Halla wipes furiously at her eyes. "I thought that maybe I was wrong, oppa. That maybe this, all of this, was genuine and that I wasn't the only one making things work."

"I tried." Jungkook steps away and lets Halla barge out of the bathroom and collect her things - the wool blanket draped over the arm of the couch, the cd's on the coffee table, a photograph taken at a booth in the amusement park, on Halla's twenty second birthday. It's browning on the edges, a little creased from Halla's hands, and she throws it into the trash can while keeping the frame tucked in the crook of her arm.

Her cheeks are tinted from how furiously she's attempting not to give out. 

"I do love you," Jungkook mumbles, too ashamed to look at her properly.

Halla pauses. She places her belongings on the kitchen table, already tucked into a box. 

Jungkook will find himself leaning in when Halla trudges toward him and rests her hand on his cheek. "I know you do. Just not in the way that I love you."

Halla pulls away and takes everything that's ever gone right in the past few days away, her footsteps subsiding when she finally steps out the door. Jungkook doesn't need to follow her to the elevator nor press his ear against the warm wood of the door to hear her crying.

The next day, Minjoo visits with a crease on her eyebrows. "You're an asshole."

"I know," echoes Jungkook, and he lets her hit the side of his mouth with stubborn knuckles. Nothing hurts, anymore. Pain has already been a part of who Jungkook is since a long time ago.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Jungkook gets back from Las Vegas and comes home to a mess.

It's Yoongi who picks him up at the airport, and the cold breeze from the air conditioner gnaws at Jungkook's skin when he steps into Yoongi's Hyundai.

Yoongi keeps his eyes ahead, posture too stiff. The distinct sound of his jaw clenching resonates inside the car. Jungkook's gaze trails along his arms, marred by scars and once-blackened skin. Jungkook only learned of the arson through the papers and dropped by the fire station to ask Yoongi to some bulgogi. He's never been really good at understanding what it'd take to fully apologize.

Yoongi seemed alright, back then.

It's not the case now.

Yoongi beats Jungkook to whatever he has in mind to ask about. His foot lies heavy on the accelerator, and Jungkook's head hits the backrest out of inertia.

"I don't know if you're aware," Yoongi starts, drawl cutting through quiet, "but Taehyung has been horribly wasted in the last few weeks courtesy of feelings, and the poor kid has never had a hangover before."

Jungkook recoils. He rolls his window down, suffocating.

Yoongi shoots him a dirty look and gestures at the vent. "Hoseok was kind enough to cancel his Friday dates, open his doors, and let Taehyung decorate his carpet with beer," he says, the corners of his mouth twisting. "There's something worse, though."

"He's missing," Yoongi continues without missing a beat, hand firm on the wheel as he steers the car around a sharp turn.

Jungkook straightens, the seatbelt digging into his shoulder. 

"What?"

A cab honks from behind them and Yoongi hisses under his breath. When he's regained his composure, he snaps, "We don't know where he is." The car swerves a little at the jerk of Yoongi's arm. "Shit, sorry about that. It's just, we've tried contacting him for days and he hasn't responded. Turns out he's cancelled his mobile plan. The coordinator for his exhibit has no idea where he's gone to. Even his dad has no clue about his whereabouts."

Jungkook's knuckles have gone so pale against the black seat cover. "Do you," he hesitates, "do you think he's okay, hyung?"

(Such a meaningless question when he already knows he's not.)

Yoongi exhales, eyes fixated on the road. He squeezes his lungs out like he's drained, but beside him, Jungkook's fighting to keep the air. The panic bubbles in the pit of his stomach and he can't help but see vignettes of Taehyung flash before his eyes, because what if - what if - 

"I hope so," Yoongi grits his teeth. "I fucking hope so, Jungkookie."

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Taehyung did discontinue his mobile plan. Yoongi tersely announced it before but Jungkook has had to call Taehyung's number a hundred times to cement the fact that he's gone, that the invariable prompt of, I'm sorry, but the number you are calling is currently not available isn't something that Jungkook can hallucinate on his own. The dial tone is harsh against his ear for the hundredth time and he finally decides to put his phone away when the clock ticks to midnight.

He sits up against the headboard.

It's always like this, with him alone in the end. It's always like this with the drawn out gripe of Seoul at night, streetlights flickering until everything becomes nothing, the stream of laughter from the neighboring apartment ringing in Jungkook's ears. He folds himself in half, tucking his knees under his chin, and Jungkook contemplates on staying like this.

He jolts when he hears the doorbell resonate through the thick walls.

It can't be, his mind races, but his heart takes him across the floor and his bedraggled shirt hangs off of his torso as he turns the knob.

Jungkook is relieved that it's Jimin and Seokjin who greet him, but also a little disappointed.

"What are you guys doing here?" Jungkook says roughly. He rubs at his throat.

Jimin cuts his way past him and steps inside, grunting to himself as Seokjin follows with an apologetic frown. They're carrying a handful of groceries and Jungkook swallows when Seokjin rummages through his pantry and refrigerator, expired food items flung out and onto the floor. Seokjin wordlessly empties the bowl of seaweed soup that Halla cooked a few weeks ago into the sink.

"You are such an idiot, Jeon Jungkook," Jimin fumes. "You still don't call. Like you're pretending that we don't exist."

Seokjin pauses and leaves the bowl half-filled with tapwater. He wipes his hands on a kitchen cloth. "Jiminnie, calm down."

"Hyung," Jungkook tries to say, but Jimin doesn't spare him a glance as he takes a seat on the sofa.

"Aren't you sick of lying to yourself?" Jimin breathes harshly, now, but the anger in his tone melts into something that's determined to slowly crush Jungkook. It's terrifying to see Jimin in distress, shifting over and over again in his position. There's no reason he shouldn't be. 

Seokjin sits beside him and wraps an arm around his waist, pressing them together until they both fit into each other's spaces. 

"We're just worried about you," says Seokjin, who has always had the miraculous ability to multi-task the consolation of multiple people. His voice is soothing, as is the hand rubbing circles on Jimin's clothed skin. "We're always worried about you, Jungkookie. You don't look so well, and you don't even have enough food in the fridge. We've heard about the break-up -"

"Stop," Jungkook pleads, "please stop."

He shuts his eyes firmly and heaves. Jungkook listens to Seokjin make a little noise in the back of his throat but the hurricane in him begs to be put out. "I know I'm a goddamn disaster. I don't need anyone to remind me of that, that's why I don't come around. I don't deserve to be patted on the back because all I do is wreck people. I don't - I'm not okay -" Taehyung smiles at him distantly and the remembrance vanishes as soon as it came - "and I keep getting left behind. I'm not okay. I'm not."

"It's alright to not be okay," Seokjin tells him gently, rising from the couch so he can take Jungkook in his arms. His engagement ring scrapes against Jungkook's arm. 

Jungkook shudders into Seokjin's collarbones.

When Seokjin pulls away, he places his hands on Jungkook's shoulders. "Jiminnie and I aren't here to criticize you."

The kitchen clock continues to tick in the background. The digital one glares red from Jungkook's bedroom.

Too much time and Jungkook still feels as though he doesn't have enough.

"I'm sorry," Jimin finally says, shoulders rolled back so he can inhale. He is just as worn out as Jungkook is. "It's just that. TaeTae is...I'm the last person he saw before he left. He's very important to me, you know that. Now I don't know where he is. I don't even know if he's alive."

"He gave me this." A snowglobe reflects the dim light from one of the lamps, white particles cascading around the miniature Spasskaya Tower.

Jungkook freezes.

Jimin tilts it up so he can see the bottom and - oh, Jungkook faintly remembers, there are some hastily scribbled words on the base. "You gave it to him, didn't you? Tae said that he needed to find himself. So he couldn't bring anything with him - people, memories, anything that reminds him of you."

"As much as I want to break your face for hurting my best friend," Jimin continues, "you're not the only one at fault. It's not like either one of you has been honest for years."

He stands up and traipses toward Jungkook, footsteps light on the carpet, and deposits the snowglobe on Jungkook's palms.

Long after, when Seokjin and Jimin have gone home, ascertained that Jungkook has pledged into visiting them more frequently, and bid him good night, Jungkook holds the snowglobe at eye-level, letting the illumination of the ceiling lights refract in the water. He shakes it in his hands and turns it upside down.

He will remember Jimin fixing him with a hard stare:

"All of us have fears," Jimin says, patting Jungkook's head even if he does have to extend his hand more. He purses his lips then resumes, "but eventually you'll have to face them, Jungkookie. I wouldn't understand because you...you've never told us about everything, but that's fine. I'm just saying that you shouldn't have to do this alone, and that it's alright to be terrified, sometimes. Just don't live in that place for too long. Don't let the ghosts haunt you when you can move on from them."

 

Jungkook smooths a thumb over the writing on the snowglobe.

 

Happy birthday, hyung

Wishing you all the happiness in life,

I hope you don't forget about me even though you're growing older!!

Thank you for being born

- Jeon Jungkook Jungkookie

 

 

* * *

 

 

It's December and Jungkook promises himself that he'll shop for Christmas presents in the afternoon. It's well into the day when he wakes up, nose conveniently burrowed in the scrunched up corner of his comforter. The heater is acting up again. He'll have to contact management about the issue.

Jungkook plods to the pantry and retrieves a box of hot chocolate packets, two blankets wrapped around him securely. He reads e-mails in the company of a steaming cup and responds to Hoseok's texts. Hoseok sends him unnecessary animated stickers and Jungkook figures that they're passable, since Hoseok is helping him with their other friends' wishlist.

He's about to type in some smartass comment about Hoseok's newfound love for selcas of him biting his lip when his phone vibrates with the alert of an incoming call.

An unknown caller. Jungkook frowns.

Maybe it's just a public service announcement or a mistake. Jungkook swipes at the screen and says, "Hello?"

There's static for a while and then shuffling sounds - some horns are honking and there's definitely some chatter he can't make out. Wrong number, then.

"Hello?" he repeats, leisurely taking a sip of his Swiss Miss.

"Hey, Jungkookie."

Jungkook stops, mug halfway to his lips.

He'd know that voice anywhere.

"Taehyung-hyung," he breathes into his phone, setting his cup down entirely. It's the same baritone, the one he's made a song out of for six years and tucked away for safekeeping, the one he's lost for the past four months. It's been four months, and he staggers in his seat - Taehyung is alright and someplace far away, out of Jungkook's reach. All that matters is that he's alright.

Jungkook laughs incredulously, tears threatening to spill. "Hyung, you're alive."

"Of course I am," Taehyung chuckles on the other end of the line. "I'm sorry for making you worry. I had to...fix things. And forget them."

But Jungkook doesn't want him to forget. In a moment Jungkook is overwhelmed by all that has transpired in the past year, and he remembers that it's not so simple anymore. 

"I miss you," he blurts, and he wants to take it back but there's nothing he can do.

Taehyung pauses. An unintelligible dialect drifts from the speaker until Taehyung speaks again. "I miss you too. So much. And I...it's been hard, getting over you. You never make anything easy for me, do you?"

Please don't get over me, is what Jungkook wants to say, but what comes out is, "Please come home, hyung."

There's only so much Jungkook can hope for, and even less that are actually realized. He braces himself on the counter, loose, pale fingers against the dark granite. 

"Sorry, Jungkookie." Taehyung's voice is garbled over the phone, static and an unwarranted hitch in his breath threatening to overcome what little Jungkook has of Taehyung right now. "I'm still trying to figure out where home is."

(Jungkook has hoped for too much.

Again.)

Taehyung coughs. There is a roar of a motor reverberating beside him. "Give me time," he says, "just a little more time."

It's the best Jungkook can get, so he ignores the constriction in his chest and replies, "Alright. Alright, hyung. If you take much longer I'll come find you and haul your ass back to Seoul; it's not the same without a Kim Taehyung in it."

"You got it," Taehyung laughs, hearty and full and very Taehyung-like. Jungkook hasn't heard him laugh like that in ages and it's overwhelming how much a single person can make him feel at a discrete time. 

 

 

* * *

 

 

(Jungkook has five conversations on that day - actual conversations where he uses his voice to divulge his emotions and not mere symbols on his keyboard that are close to nothing in the grand scheme of things.)

 

(The first is the one with Taehyung, of course. The first lasts for barely five minutes but it's more than enough. Jungkook still senses the jitters run down his spine when Taehyung disconnects, I miss you's resonating in the expanse of his meager apartment. Someday, soon, it'll be more than five minutes. Maybe it'll be more than I miss you's by then, too.

Taehyung is a miracle in that he's made Jungkook such a dreamer and Jungkook decides that he doesn't only want to meet him in his sleep.

Jungkook wants so much that it hurts.)

 

 

(The second is about Taehyung. It's with his friends, Jungkook stumbling into Hoseok's studio to let him know that Taehyung's safe. Hoseok collapses against the full-length mirror and sighs in relief, obviously burdened by Taehyung's absence, too. Hoseok promptly arranges a conference call on Skype, and Jimin can't hold himself back from pressing his forehead against the monitor of his laptop.

Jungkook also gets to listen to Namjoon's mixtape and he can't believe that Namjoon isn't sweeping the hiphop world off of its feet yet.

"You're all such dumbasses," Yoongi's voice is thick with drowsiness, "You and Taehyungie both."

Jungkook silently agrees.)

 

 

(Jungkook accidentally bumps into Minjoo when he leaves the premises. It's to be expected, really, and he tries to smile at her on the way out.

"It's not me whom you should apologize to," Minjoo says, and Jungkook nods at her.

"Thank you for knocking some sense into me, once," he replies.

She tells him where Halla is.)

 

 

(Halla has always been so beautiful, but she's especially lovely during the winter, when snowflakes kiss her skin and leave remnants of red in their wake.

There she is - coat slung over the arm of a chair, a heavy book lodged on her lap as she flips through the pages insistently. Halla has kept her short hair and she looks even younger, with how the layers frame her face so impeccably. Jungkook exhales and steps forward, letting his feet carry him until he sits right across Halla, as if nothing has changed.

Halla looks up.

"Hey," Jungkook offers, blinking in uncertainty.

He gets a glimpse of the contents of the hardbound book and, oh, it's all pictures of professional photographers. Taehyung has a copy somewhere in his apartment.

"Hey," Halla says. She's quite unsure, too, but she attempts a small smile and Jungkook is more than placated.

"How have you been?" Jungkook asks her - voice caught a little in his throat but he's trying, and he ought to leave himself some breathing room. "Picking up some new hobbies?"

Halla chuckles, closing the book gently. "You know me, oppa. I have to keep busy or I'll die."

"Photography, huh."

"Yeah," replies Halla wistfully. She tucks her hair behind her ear. It's a mannerism that Jungkook finds endearing. "I'm still waiting for Taehyung-oppa's exhibit and I don't know, I guess I just kind of got curious. My sister has a camera that she doesn't use so I might as well, right?"

Before Jungkook can tell her that he's certain that she'd be a fantastic photographer, Halla cuts him off with, "How are you and Taehyung-oppa, by the way?"

Jungkook stares at her, dumbfounded. "How did -"

"I'm not blind," Halla waves him off casually, "and it's okay, I've forgiven you. I know how it is - I mean, I don't know because I'm not in the same position, but it must've been such a struggle for you. I remember how you talked about him before we were - well, before there was an us. I kind of knew back then, but I still gave you a chance. It was cruel of me, too."

"I," Jungkook tests the word on his lips. "I, I really am sorry. I thought I could change my mind."

"It's not the mind you have to change, oppa," Halla says, placing a hand over Jungkook's own. "It's the heart. Both of us know that you can't do that."

Halla's touch lingers even when she pulls away to recline on her seat. "Jungkook-oppa - don't apologize anymore. As your ex I am very much aware of your tendency to completely disregard absolution and keep blaming yourself."

Jungkook sputters but Halla forges on, collectible photography book already forgotten. Halla's gaze softens and she asks, "So. Are you and Taehyung-oppa...?"

"He - we're not anything." Jungkook closes his eyes. "He's gone, and I don't know where he is. I screwed up, Halla."

"You're not a pilot for nothing," Halla says. She grins at him in reassurance- bright whites staring back at Jungkook and he accepts the fact that he treasures the girl more than ever. "You know the world, and you've done enough running away. How about chasing someone for once?"

That - Jungkook can say nothing to that, so he tugs at his scarf and buries his nose in the yarn. It still sparsely smells of Taehyung's shampoo from how long he's kept it hidden in the closet, but it does feel nice. He smiles into the frayed ends, the uneven stitching, the mismatched colors, and thinks that it's all for him. It always has been.)

 

 

(And the last conversation -

The last conversation is what keeps Jungkook pacing around his apartment and picking his phone up periodically before putting it down again to go over what he has to say.

In the end, Jungkook chooses to take the chance. It's been too long since he last felt dauntless and maybe he can try to be again.

He dials a familiar number, fingers trembling on the onscreen keypad, and Jungkook taps his foot anxiously as the phone continues to ring.

"Hello?"

Jungkook catches his breath, and he sighs into the phone, sobs clawing out from the inside but he'll force them down this time.

 

"Eomma," he says softly.)

 

 

* * *

 

 

The thirtieth comes around, and Jungkook thinks that it's the most brutal winter he's had the opportunity to witness. He has gotten at least four beginning frostbites and, if anything, he doesn't like the cold at all. His fingertips are numb by the time he comes back to his apartment with a bag of soju bottles and duk gook takeout. Some of the soup spills in the plastic bag and Jungkook just hopes that it doesn't freeze before he gets home.

This year, it's his place that his friends crash at for reasons he will not know until they're all partially tipsy on his couch, board games abandoned on the floor when they know that Namjoon is going to win, anyway.

Jungkook leans back into one of the accent pillows, scarf still wrapped snugly around his neck.

He glares when Seokjin plops down next to him, knocking his knees aside. The impact isn't all that severe but Jungkook grunts anyway.

Hoseok pats his shoulder and everyone else crowds around him with beams that manifest all the way to their eyes.

"For you," Jimin says, hitting the back of his head with a piece of paper stock. 

Jungkook only scowls briefly, seemingly uninformed that he was to be a life-sized piñata on their New Year's celebration, before he turns to see what it is. 

It's a postcard, creased edges and some parts of the photo streaked with the white that comes with careless hands and a postal service that's not the absolute greatest, but Jungkook can forgive the quality for once. He knows where the picture was taken; he's seen it too many times on airport brochures but he's never had the chance to visit.

He doesn't have to read the reverse side to realize that this - this is what he's missed for so long.

Seokjin holds up a passport - Jungkook's passport - and a ticket.

"Well, what are you waiting for?"

 

 

 

Jungkook finds himself in the airport one week later, heart hammering in his chest and shirt stuck to his back from how profusely he's sweating.

When Yoongi drops him off, his forehead hits the steering wheel. "Let this never happen again, ever. I have the grandest fortune of having wildly melodramatic friends who'd eat Namjoon's socks before they confess to anything."

 

It's mere coincidence when Halla's the captain for this flight - he doesn't miss the elbow he gets to his ribs before they board and he looks around to see wide eyes staring back at him.

"Fighting, oppa!" Halla smiles at him, and there's no reason why he couldn't smile back and take her into his arms - as an unspoken apology, a small act of gratitude, and a way to tell her that he loves her more than she can imagine.

 

 

 

He brings the postcard with him. It's safely tucked into the inner pocket of his coat and he turns it over and over so he can engrave Taehyung's words in his mind.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

ฉันพบคุณ

 

 

thai; I found you

 

 

 

 

 

Bangkok was Jungkook's first international flight, and he remembers it all too well - his rigid posture when he stepped into the cockpit and the distant chatter of the cabin crew as he settled on his seat. The engine droned on even as they crossed foreign airspace, and when he made the best landing he could've ever had, Jungkook nodded at his co-pilot and kept his smile all to himself.

It's different, now. It's entirely different because Jungkook keeps fiddling with his seatbelt and glancing at the clouds that come their way. The anxiety is legitimate; he can't sit still knowing that he's not in control of the plane, and there's only so much bottled water he can drink before he remembers what he's here for.

Halla's voice echoes from the speakers and Jungkook allows himself to close his eyes. He'll have a long day ahead.

 

 

 

 

(Taehyung isn't a man of a few words by any means but he does get practice with the way he sloppily writes on the postcard with a ballpoint pen that's nearly out of ink.

I found it, he says. A place to disappear.

He's never been one for cryptic messages. Jungkook thinks so.

They've all changed and Jungkook no longer has the right to say anything like that.

He asks for Namjoon's consultation; he's much more well-read than any of them are and the gears in his head are always whirring, precisely why he bemoans the most trivial things in life, such as the aglets on the tip of his shoelaces. But that's not something Jungkook is even remotely interested in. Namjoon could teach him about the ways of his life but all that rings in his ears is a name he finds in the spaces between his fingers, in the synthetic heat of his scarf, in the past that he's only acknowledging now to be an integral part of him.

"So," Jungkook says, examining Taehyung's scrawls, "what do you think, hyung?"

Namjoon purses his lips before he takes the postcard and zones out at the back. "I think I might've come across this somewhere. Probably something in an American magazine...")

 

 

 

Jungkook adjusts the straps of his backpack as soon as he sets foot on Khaosan Road.

It's an overwhelmingly young street with the transient company of travelers, all lost in the haze of the clamorous nightlife as the bar music comes alive and people grapple each other for exotic snacks and cheap deals. If Namjoon was right in assuming that this is the place, then Taehyung wasn't lying - Jungkook would have to sift through the crowd to look for him.

He walks around aimlessly for an hour, drunk strangers with unfathomable babble occasionally bumping into his shoulder. Jungkook shrugs them off, the only thing he has of Taehyung heavy in his pocket, until he eventually grows weary and stands solitary in the middle of the way. The signs above souvenir shops and travel agencies cast shadows of neon across Jungkook's face and Jungkook looks at the horizon, seeing everything but nothing, and -

And there he is. 

Taehyung seems as short-winded as Jungkook is, gaze flitting around him because he has nowhere else to go and no one beside him. He looks down at his map and Jungkook has the urge to laugh - it would be classic of Taehyung to hold the map upside down and not be able to distinguish one street from another. 

Jungkook only realizes that he's holding his breath when Taehyung finally sees him.

(He's all that matters, not even the slurred yell of a foreigner who darts past him, not even the fact that a small section of the road is already a microcosm of the world, and Jungkook and Taehyung are nothing in the broader picture.)

(But they're wrong. Kim Taehyung is everything to him.)

Jungkook studies the ends of Taehyung's hair sticking out erratically when he finally has the audacity to step forward. He notices that he's tanned and so, so lovely, eyes still bright even under the dark, blanketed sky of Bangkok. 

He reaches him, senses Taehyung's breath fan out over his cheeks.

"Hi," Taehyung begins. He reeks of mint gum and Jungkook wants to surge against him and kiss him stupid.

For now, Jungkook will have to be content with the lightness of Taehyung's exhale. "Hi." 

The commotions around them fade as Jungkook clears his throat and says, "So, hyung, did you find what you were looking for? Did you find where home is?"

"Yeah." Jungkook doesn't have to wait for too long because Taehyung takes a few more cautionary steps until he's only a few inches away, so close for Jungkook to take his hand and tell him all the things he didn't get to say before.

"Yeah, I did," says Taehyung. He blinks at him, eyes crinkling. Taehyung's teeth show when he smiles even wider. "It's right in front of me, Jungkookie. It's been there all along."

 

 

* * *

 

 

"I was thinking - maybe we could have a little do-over."

A stroll beside the Chao Praya in the evening is too reminiscent of Hangzhou, but it's much more humid in Bangkok and the damp heat prickles on Jungkook's skin. Taehyung is thoughtfully munching on a sweet snack that he discovered while roaming Thailand - something that goes by khanom buang - and he's never learned to close his mouth when it's full. Jungkook doesn't mind flicking off the crumbs on the side of his lips.

Taehyung now knows everything - about Halla, about Busan and his mother's strangled mumble of, You'll always be my son, no matter who you choose to become.

"Hm, what do you mean, hyung?"

Crumpling the napkin, Taehyung says, "Exactly that. A do-over. We spent six years being oblivious so I figured that we could do introductions again. Kind of like starting on a clean slate."

Jungkook wrinkles his nose. "Isn't a little too late for that?"

"Just." The waver in Taehyung's voice gets swallowed down. "Let's just pretend that we're meeting for the first time. We're on the rooftop - you've snuck out to eat lunch alone. You had bibimguksu, back then."

"How can you remember so much, hyung?" Jungkook asks, aghast. "I don't even remember what I ate this morning, just that it's the usual tasteless airplane food."

Taehyung laughs and pats his temples. "Told you there was something special in here."

"Anyway. We're teenagers, again, and I've been blamed for a prank I didn't really do," Taehyung says, and he shakes his head fervently when Jungkook doesn't look amused. "No, really, I just happened to be passing by the scene. I'm stumbling out the fire exit and there you are, looking so lost. I'm telling myself that you look so beautiful under the sun like that."

Jungkook chokes. "Oh. And then I nearly drop my lunchbox."

"Let's leave out the part with the other kids." Taehyung smiles. "Hello, I'm Kim Taehyung. What's your name?"

"Jeon Jungkook. Nice to meet you," Jungkook echoes, and he reels back, surprised, when he finds that Taehyung actually has his arm outstretched for a handshake. It's different from the first time because Jungkook's fingers are trembling.

"Ah, Jungkook-ssi," says Taehyung. He doesn't break his gaze. "A first year? I'm a junior, myself."

"Nice to meet you, hyung," Jungkook corrects himself. His mouth dries as he grips Taehyung's hand. 

"Nice to meet you too, Jungkookie." Taehyung's expression softens. "Please take care of me."

Jungkook doesn't know if it's the way Taehyung's hand seems to map out the rough creases on Jungkook's palms so precisely, if it's the way that the noises of Thailand dwindle around them like the lights belong in Taehyung's eyes and the crickets ought to halt whirring, or if it's the manner that Taehyung has taken too much away that Jungkook finds himself lost in him, trying to gather his shards but deciding that Taehyung can keep them for him - he doesn't know if it's all of those things that make him catch his breath.

"I love you," he says, and he looks down at his feet before he can see Taehyung part his lips. "I'm in love with you, hyung, and there's so much I regret not doing but I don't want to be afraid anymore."

When Jungkook lifts his head, there's a prickling on his eyes. Taehyung delicately interlaces their fingers and swipes his thumb over Jungkook's.

"I want to ask you this - if you're real," Taehyung says, his voice quivering. "If I'm not dreaming."

"You're not," Jungkook promises him, and it doesn't take longer than a heartbeat before he's pulled into Taehyung's arms. He buries his face into the crook of Taehyung's neck in the middle of a bustling marketplace in Bangkok, the rancid stench of waterways hovering near and the cacophony of a foreign dialect dulling his sense of hearing.

"I love you so, so much, Jungkookie," Taehyung mumbles, breath hitching beside Jungkook's ear. "And I don't care if that grilled pork skewer vendor on the other side of the road is giving us rotten looks."

Jungkook laughs into Taehyung's collarbones and winds his arms tighter around Taehyung. He doesn't have any intention of letting go.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The only thing that changes is the fact that Taehyung has recently uprooted his reservation of holding Jungkook's hand in public, knuckles bruising from how hard they pressed against each other. Other than that, they have been pretty much acting as a couple way before they became one and Namjoon is the one who officially christens them with matching shirts.

"I'm not allowing the both of you to come near my wedding preparations," Seokjin tells them solemnly when they're sat in Hoseok's studio after a swift workout. He's panting harshly, back flat on the hardwood floor, but Namjoon has decided to faceplant on the ground and pretend that he is a corpse.

"I'm excellent at clothes," protests Taehyung. Jungkook uncaps a water bottle for him. "You'd never survive with your taste in fashion. I don't want the crowd to come spruced up in rainbow colors, your ceremony isn't going to be a rally."

Jimin snorts at him. "So, what, you'll cut the lapels on their tuxedos?"

"What I meant to say is," Seokjin says, "you're both very...thick when it comes to emotional gatherings."

"You're both shit at feelings," Hoseok translates for them, and the water spills from Taehyung's mouth. Jungkook pats his back but he makes a mental note to get back at Hoseok later. He still has that wig from a reenactment of The Grudge in a college drama class. Jungkook was good at impersonations once, and perhaps he could get his muscle memory to work to his advantage.

"At least I have a date," he fires back, brave enough to be slinging an arm around Taehyung's shoulders. A collective Ooh resounds in the studio and Taehyung reddens a bit, using the excuse of exertion for the vibrant tinge on his cheeks. As if the retort wasn't enough, Jungkook gestures to Yoongi and says, "Unlike hyung here."

Yoongi shrugs. "I don't need a partner for life," he says in passing, stuffing a granola bar into his mouth. "I already have you guys."

"Ohmygod, hyung," Jimin blurts, hastily putting his water bottle down. He's curled up next to Seokjin but he shoots up, laughing. "Ohmygod. Did you just say that or am I supposed to go for an ear checkup?"

Yoongi chucks his soaked towel at him. "Shut up, see if I ever make you feel better about yourselves again."

When they fall into the usual banter and somebody unwittingly steps on Namjoon's back, Namjoon yelping as he comes back to the conscious world, Taehyung nudges Jungkook, sweat sticking to his forehead. "I'm going to swing by your apartment later, okay?"

"You're not going to use a hairpin to break in again, hyung," Jungkook mutters.

Taehyung huffs at him. "You underestimate me too much."

"I don't." Jungkook rolls over so he can reach his backpack and zip it open, hands wandering inside before his fingers graze cold metal and he tosses the object to Taehyung. Taehyung catches it and only begins to understand when he holds it up, marveling.

"It's your copy," Jungkook offhandedly says, the jingle of a key making Taehyung smile.

"You're so gross," Hoseok calls them out, nose scrunched up as he recoils. "So unbelievably, saccharinely, domestically gross."

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

"I'll swing by your apartment later", Jungkook realizes, is Taehyung speak for "I'll come barging into your apartment at midnight so your neighbors will find a reason to kick you out of the building and I won't be the only one drugged up with caffeine".

Jungkook has no idea what dictionary Taehyung uses but he'll have to find out as soon as possible.

He's been knocked out since nine in the evening, muscles sore from dance practice, but he wakes up to the floor right under his cheek, his face throbbing from shock.

"Sorry," Taehyung says from above him. He heaves him up into a sitting position and Jungkook only clicks his tongue, mildly registering his surroundings. "You weren't budging so I had to resort to a different method."

"Thanks for dropping me on the floor, hyung," Jungkook croaks, irked as he shoves Taehyung off in retaliation. "And here's more thanks for bailing on me."

Taehyung pinches his cheek. "Hey, cheer up, Jungkookie."

"You just woke me up in a completely uncivilized way in the middle of the night." Jungkook squints, dots still dancing behind his eyelids. His sentences are garbled when Taehyung continues the onslaught of pressing his face. "Of course I should cheer up, hyung. Of course."

"It had to be at this time," Taehyung says, tangling his fingers with Jungkook's so he can pull him up from the floor. Taehyung dusts off Jungkook's sleeves. "Come on, I have something to show you. Something really exclusive."

"What could you possibly have to show that can't wait until the morning?"

Taehyung rolls woolen socks onto Jungkook's feet. He must've rummaged through Jungkook's closet again. "You know how the exhibit's tomorrow? Well. I wanted you to be the first one to see."

Jungkook pauses as he rubs the sleep out of his eyes. "Oh."

"Yeah," says Taehyung, and he withdraws once he's done. He pockets his hands. "Come on, Jungkookie."

Before they rush out of the door, Jungkook exclaims, "Wait," and darts back into his room, patting the space under his pillow - relieved when he's met with the soft material of yarn. He winds his scarf tight around him, half of his face buried in the warmth, and he slips his hand into Taehyung's just as Taehyung quirks a brow at him.

"I didn't think you'd keep it," Taehyung says softly, bunching up the scarf until it touches Jungkook's earlobes.

He ruffles Jungkook's hair, fingers subtly applying pressure on his scalp, and Jungkook hums until he closes his eyes.

 

 

 

 

"Holy shit, is this even legal?" Jungkook stumbles on the ends of his pajamas, with Taehyung dragging him by the wrist through a deserted museum. Taehyung lodges his flashlight between his cheek and shoulder as he slides his key in. He steps inside the room first, flicking the lights on. Warm white floods Jungkook senses and he has to blink momentarily, raising his forearm to recollect himself.

"Go on," Taehyung tells him, hand on Jungkook's back as he ushers him in.

Jungkook pads toward the first photograph - it's entitled "lost", with the heavy hues of orange and black serving as the backdrop of Prague. He sees the side of his face waning into the shadows of the astronomical tower, hands tucked under his chin as the breeze combs through his hair.

Jungkook looks back at Taehyung, choking a little. Taehyung only smiles at him.

The next pieces on display are all of him - his back turned to the camera, the sullenness of the fog in West Lake weighing heavy on his shoulders; Jungkook with his chin toward the open sky, thunderstorm raging around him while the rain wets his lashes; Jungkook swiping his card over the electric locker as he returns his cherry red bike to the station near their hotel in Hangzhou; Jungkook blowing over his own share of happy pairs; Jungkook looking out his window in a Fijian taxi; Jungkook hunched over the pathway in front of a lily pond, shoelaces untied; Jungkook carrying his slippers as he leaves traces of himself on the shoreline -

"Hyung," Jungkook shudders, trudging to the last picture. The word 'found' is engraved on its bottom.

He laughs but his voice breaks mid-way.

"Hyung, what the hell - I can't believe they let you put a blurry selca in your exhibit-"

It's a photo of them in Thailand, as they're perched on a boulevard along the commercial river. Taehyung took it on his phone while doubling over from Jungkook's retrospection of their high school years.

Jungkook turns to Taehyung, hair sticking out and pajamas rumpled. His throat constricts. 

"It's always been you, from the beginning," Taehyung says, pulling at the threadbare ends of Jungkook's scarf so their noses can collide. "It's always been about you."

This is it - Jungkook thinks - he'll save the words for tonight, for the days ahead of them, but he plucks the courage to frame Taehyung's face with his hands, slanting their heads so he can brush his lips over Taehyung's, so he could deepen the kiss and have as much of Taehyung as he can, because it's been six years too long for them to have been skirting around each other. 

He pulls away, exhaling heavily, and Taehyung presses his lips briefly against his before placing another touch on the tip of Jungkook's nose.

"I can't believe that we could've done this way earlier," Taehyung chuckles, forehead against Jungkook's.

"We're so dumb." Jungkook allows himself to laugh, hands skating over Taehyung's sides and he can't get enough, flushed and terribly in need of a nap but he's got Taehyung. God, he finally has Taehyung with him, and it's all that matters. "We're so fucking dumb, Taehyung-hyung."

 

 

* * *

 

 

Two years pass and Jungkook nearly slumps over a plate of blueberry pancakes. Opposite him, Taehyung relishes in the wonders of espresso at seven in the morning and Namjoon has never been more right about his all-time natural high.

"So, what do you say?" Taehyung beams, sunshine streaming down his lips while Jungkook is freezing his ass off in his chair.

 

"How about we go around the world, one more time?"

 

 

 

 

다시 시작

 

korean; begin again