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schrödinger’s cat

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Pulling his hood farther over his head, Taehyung steps out into the cold. He almost feels guilty when he materializes a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket; he promised his mother that he would quit smoking, but he figures what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, so he shrugs and flicks the lighter to life anyway.

Maybe Taehyung isn’t so great at the whole promise thing, but he thinks that maybe there isn’t enough data. He isn’t a person that makes many promises—mostly small things that he knows can definitely be accomplished. Like giving Jimin a ride home from work or reading that book that Namjoon has been pestering him about.

The most important promise he makes is to a boy with fire in his eyes. He doesn’t use words when he makes it, and he doesn’t know if it’s his fault or not, but he still can’t keep it.

Taehyung tries to find something like that again, he really does—something that ignites his heart into a flame that burns his lungs and licks at the bones around them. His heart thudding erratically to outlive the inferno. Not the kind that, looking back, he sort of wishes it was—the kind that swallows everything in its path and spits it back out into ash with an eerie quietness. Instead it’s the kind that swirls deep inside of the stomach and roars upwards into words he can’t finish without accidentally doubling his syllables, fumbling over the tongue he’s used to smoothly form words up until that point.

He imagines tiny woodpeckers pressed up in the small space between his lungs and his heart, digging their beaks into it over and over again. This is how the heart beats, he pretends. At least his does, maybe others wouldn’t quite like his theory. People like Scientists or Doctors.

“Sorry to cut your cigarette short,” Yoongi’s voice cuts through the crisp air of the morning. He hadn’t noticed his presence or the sound of the back door creaking open, “but we’re opening up soon,”

“I’ll be there in a second,” Taehyung rasps, voice still heavy and rough from sleep. It’s only been about an hour since he pulled himself out of bed, and he hasn’t bothered to use his voice yet.

The door cries as Yoongi lets it fall closed.

He takes one more drag, before stubbing out his cigarette against the brick wall of the alley. Rings of smoke crawl out of his mouth in circles and he tries not to remember where he learned the trick from as a chill slinks down his fingers and into his bones when he pulls open the door. The metal leaves an icy trail over his skin even long after he enters the building.

The first influx of customers sweeps Taehyung up into a whirlwind of coffee and sugar. Students on their way to school ask for exhausting and complex combinations (something that he wouldn’t find as infuriating to make if the recipe didn’t only make one drink at a time).

Being the only one working alongside Yoongi this morning, Taehyung starts feeling stressed out. Within only an hour of opening, he manages not only to spray whipped cream across the wall, but to also quirt chocolate sauce over the front of his work apron, and he almost wishes he had called in sick or something. Wiping furiously at the nauseating shade of yellow fabric, a topic he would like to casually slip into conversation with Yoongi later, he begrudgingly wonders how actual human beings could ingest something with such high sugar content this early in the morning.

A typhoon of empty cups, straw wrappers, and napkins blows through the café, leaving a trail of the offending recyclables in its wake. Taehyung has come to learn that in the early hours of the day, Yoongi’s personality projects somewhere in the middle between Pissed Off and Indifferent to Everything—both of these emotions have a very similar effect; Taehyung has trouble figuring out which he is feeling as he watches him toss a half-eaten bagel into a large plastic bag.

The bell over the top of the front door dings quietly and Yoongi asks quietly from behind the counter if Taehyung could take the customer while he runs the garbage outside. He wants to say no, but he knows better than to defy Yoongi after what he likes to call The Great Crowd of Monday Morning, so he simply sighs in defeat and shuffles toward the register.

He’s about to clear his throat and put on his fakest I’m happy to be working this early in the morning voice and ask what can I get you, or something like that, when: “Hey, Taehyung,”

And there it is. His veins throb underneath his skin and his muscles clench. Taehyung doesn’t need to look up to recognize the face that the voice matches, but he shifts his head up anyway, just to be sure.

“Yeah,” a lump suddenly squeezes into the opening of his throat. He tries to swallow it down but it clings like wool, “Hi, Jeongguk. Black coffee?”

Jeongguk nods his head, and already has the money ready in his hands, exact change and all.

“Why do you keep coming in for just a plain coffee? It’d be a lot cheaper if you just made it at home,” Taehyung wouldn’t normally say something like this to a customer that could possibly deter business, but he’s on friendly enough terms with Jeongguk.

“I do make it at home, but I get halfway to work and by the time I realize I’d forgotten it, it’s usually too late to turn back,”

“How is it you can remember anything and everything, except for your coffee,”

Jeongguk simply grins and huffs out a short laugh, and the woodpeckers in Taehyung’s chest pause for a moment.

The mild small talk is comfortable for Taehyung, but also unbearable. The words slip through his lips easily; he knows exactly what to say and how to say it. But his stomach quivers, his hands shake as he pulls together the simplest drink he has made all morning.

“Here you go,” he slides the drink across the counter, focusing on the just barely visible steam rising from the hole in the lid, “Have a good day, Jeongguk,”

Jeongguk throws a casual ‘you too,’ over his shoulder as he pushes the door of the café open and disappears into the streets.

Taehyung’s hands tremble for the rest of his shift.

 

 

 

“Guess who showed up at the café today,” Taehyung mumbles over the plastic straw pressed against his lips, contorting them slightly out of their usual shape.

“Who?” The older boy blinks up at Taehyung, speaking around a large bite of honey glazed donut. Taehyung snorts, because Hoseok should definitely know the answer to this.

“Just think. You’ll get it, probably,”

Taehyung waits a moment, sipping at his drink. He watches Hoseok chew with a thoughtful look etched onto the features of his face until—

“Nooo waaaay!” Hoseok all but yells, tone laced heavily in sarcasm, turning several heads within the vicinity of the coffee shop—a different one, not Yoongi’s. “Don’t tell me you mean Jeongguk? Again? He’s been showing his face a lot over the past few months,” Taehyung licks his lips and nods.

“And there’s the magic light bulb floating over your head,” he reaches out to mock-slap away the invisible object. He imagines it flickering momentarily, before dulling into lifelessness, “That’s what I said,”

“You didn’t tell me anything,”

Taehyung rolls his eyes as if Hoseok was somehow wrong. “Anyway, I’d really like to know why he’s suddenly started coming around all the time. It’s starting to make me uncomfortable,”

Hoseok ponders on it for a moment. “Maybe he… like… realized his undying love for you… o-or something…” Even though he doesn’t really see it as a joking matter, and knows that Hoseok is being serious, Taehyung laughs out loud at this.

“Soooo…” Hoseok starts slowly before his entire being shifts into something a little less human and perhaps more machine, firing out questions at an incredible pace. Taehyung bobs his head at the end of every question, though ignoring all of them and fiddling with a straw wrapper.

“Pick one question at a time,” Taehyung drawls. He’s used to this line of questioning, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still make his skin itch.

Hoseok takes a moment to ponder which answer he would like first, instead of rapid-fire questioning until he’s red in the face. “What happened?”

“He came in,” Taehyung slouches in his seat, pushing down the urge to flop his feet onto the table and lean all the way back with his arms supporting his head, “he ordered a coffee, and he left,”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,”

He counts about eight different expressions that cross Hoseok’s face before it settles into one of mild distress. Opening and closing his mouth slightly, Hoseok wants to say something, but doesn’t, and Taehyung is grateful because he doesn’t know if he wants to hear what he has to say. He guesses it would be something about talking about his icky feelings, or not to let it trouble him—but Hoseok knows him better than this; Taehyung is vexed, and he will scrutinize every detail until he’s either been driven mad or exhausted himself.

“So… the same as always, huh?”

“Yeah. Same old, same old,”

There’s a silence before Hoseok finally opens his mouth again. It’s the kind of silence that can deafen a person even through the evening scramble of a café, “And, um, are you okay?”

“No,” Taehyung answers honestly through a tightlipped smile. He and Hoseok have been friends for so long that he can practically read his mind, lying isn’t even worth the effort, “But I’ll live,”

Hoseok nods slowly, in some sort of understanding, or trying to understand, visibly chewing on the inside of his mouth to ease the awkwardness that Taehyung knows he has instilled inside of him. Taehyung glances around the room for a moment before spotting two people holding hands. Maybe a couple, maybe not, it’s hard to tell between how close friends these days can be, but it reminds him of something to break the pause in conversation.

“Anyway,” he says quickly, feeling rushed to talk again, “what’s going on with you and Namjoon?”

“Ah, things are going well. I think he’s working up the courage to ask me to be his boyfriend,” He grins, all wide and happy and hopeful, and Taehyung wonders how much love can be put into such an offhanded smile. Hoseok always smiles like that, even if there really isn’t anything to love enough to smile at so greatly.

“Finally, I thought you two would be stuck in that awkward almost-dating-but-not phase for forever,”

Hoseok drops his head shyly with a smile and bites his lip, “I was thinking about asking him first, but… I don’t know. I guess I’m still a bit unsure if he likes me back,”

Taehyung makes a noise in disbelief, somewhere between a scoff and a snort, “Are you kidding? Of course he likes you. You’re Jung fucking Hoseok, sunshine of this earth; you make flowers grow at record speeds. Besides, he gets all gooey around you, and he breaks twice the amount of things than usual whenever you two are in the same room together,”

“I know, I know, but still. It’s one of those things that no matter how sure you are, you still can’t trust it,” He sighs, raking a hand through his hair and shaking his head. “Also, he’s broken at least two of my glasses within the past month,” Hoseok laughs fondly, and for a moment while Taehyung laughs along with him, he remembers what it was like to be able to feel so fond of something or someone.

“Invest in reusable plastic cups. You won’t regret it,”

 

 

 

He watches from the side, pretending to clear the counter as Jeongguk orders a caramel macchiato with his head down, sifting through the bills in his wallet. Caramel macchiato: the drink Jeongguk orders when he’s had a bad day, or an especially good one. The same as always (Jeongguk never changes).

“Good day I hope?” Taehyung asks with a grin and watches as Jeongguk’s head snaps up at the familiarity of Taehyung’s voice. He licks his lips once before the corners upturn into a subtle smile, and Taehyung’s insides go haywire. His mind shoots towards the finish line in a race with his heart and Taehyung isn’t sure which will win, but he gets the trophy either way. For a moment, he’s forgetting what reality is; he’s got tunnel vision and Jeongguk is the only thing at the center of it.

This is it, Taehyung thinks; he smiled at him, and that has to mean something. Please, please, please. He hasn’t smiled at him in what seems like forever. Maybe there’s a fire somewhere, and it’s blazing, and he hopes Jeongguk feels it too.

Jeongguk shakes his head, and even after so long it still sends a pang to Taehyung’s heart. He wants to make it better.

“Oh. Sorry,” is all he knows to say. Combing a set of fingers through his hair, his lips stutter for a moment; he wants to ask, but he doesn’t.

Jeongguk leaves the café without another word, not even a glance in his direction, and that makes Taehyung comes back to his senses. There’s no wildfire, the spark is all close to Taehyung and too far from Jeongguk. Taehyung should know better than to get his hopes up from the simplest thing by now.

He remembers, Jeongguk doesn’t toss and turn and writhe in bed at night. It’s just Taehyung.

Taehyung suddenly wants to cry, but instead he blinks through the sting behind his eyelids and takes to furiously wiping down the counter. Every movement burns his muscles and he tries to stop the pain by scrubbing harder, like scouring the marble will cleanse the ache as well.

“So, what’s the deal with you and that guy?” Namjoon leans over the register with wide eyes, the question tumbling out of his mouth with a certain hesitation, like he didn’t really mean to ask out loud. Yoongi keeps his eyes on the floor as he sweeps, but Taehyung knows he’s faking it—he’s the type to move about as he cleans, but right now his feet are planted firmly to the tile flooring. Plastic cups tumble to the floor and Jimin scrambles to collect them quietly, shifting his body towards the conversation.

“It’s nothing,” Taehyung says curtly.

“Come on, it’s been like, what, three months of watching you two awkwardly dance around each other. Give us something,” Jimin pipes up from the floor, and when Taehyung squints at him, he drops his head and goes back to cleaning his mess.

He presses the side of his face against the cool surface of the counter and watches as cars pass outside. The headlights burn his eyes, but somehow he can’t help but to look directly into them.

“He’s just someone,” he sighs, “first love, soulmate, love of my life. Something like that,”

Yoongi snorts, and Taehyung resists the urge to stand straight and throw his cleaning rag to the floor in a childish fit. But he doesn’t have the energy to be offended; he just stares out of the window as hard as he can. He tries to count the seconds in between stoplights, but he never ends with the same number.

“Something like that,” Yoongi speaks for the first time in hours, shuffling towards Taehyung and resting the broom against the marble top. He sits to the side of Taehyung and leans his face against the counter so they are eye to eye. “Doesn’t seem like it,”

His stomach churns, “I’m not his,” The bile is rising up, “I used to be, maybe. Once upon a time,” He swallows the nausea.

The room grows silent, cold. Namjoon fiddles with the register, straightens the napkins; anything to busy himself. Jimin goes back to stacking cups. Something has changed, a thick layer of tension builds up in the room. It’s almost as if Taehyung said something of real value, something to weigh on all of their chests, but he didn’t. The only person who can’t breathe is Taehyung.

There’s always something about lost love that can fill a room with ghosts.

Yoongi pries the cloth from Taehyung’s fingers and tells him to go home. It’s the last place he wants to go, but also the only he’d rather be, so he leaves anyway.

And as he walks, he hopes the wind will blow away the ashes left in his chest. He wonders how they could be so heavy.

 

 

 

The next time he meets Jeongguk, Taehyung thinks he is going to hell. Or he’s already there. Maybe, at the very least, he feels like hell.

Jeongguk spots him from across the bar and Taehyung tries to pretend that he hadn’t just seen him too. There aren’t many people that night, and never in his life has he ever had to go stealth, but maybe he should learn because next thing he knows, Jeongguk is standing right in front of him, asking to sit down. It takes a moment for the words to register, repeating them over and over inside his head until they start to make sense.

Maybe, somewhere, there’s a universe where he and Jeongguk can sit down for casual conversation, but Taehyung doesn’t think that this is the one.

He tries to avoid it, make excuses, but Jeongguk is so insistent, and there’s still a part of Taehyung that is so pliant in his hands. He is not a liquid; he will never slip through his fingers unwarranted. For a second, he thinks maybe that’s what is wrong with him: he is too human. He is flesh and bone and everything in between.

Their conversation is slow, almost painfully so. Taehyung isn’t sure what to say, what to do with his hands. He tries tapping the side of his glass, gliding his fingertips over the rim; anything to keep from sighing. There’s a wet spot on the floor near where they sit. He focuses on it, tries to imagine how it got there, scenarios where a girl throws her drink in a man’s face, where a group of friends get too rowdy and something spills, a waiter trips over his own feet.

It’s so subtle, the change, that he almost doesn’t notice. He can’t pinpoint the exact moment. The one where Jeongguk’s gaze grows dark, his eyes rake over the exposed skin where his shirt is a little big. Where his eyes drag down the length of his body and back up to his face, like he’d never done it in the first place. Taehyung doesn’t understand it at first, or at least he doesn’t think he does, because the behavior is so strange, so foreign to him.

And then it’s like a fuse had gone off inside of him, something ticking, a bomb, a switch. And he can’t feel his hands when they inch across the small space separating their bodies. He can’t tell the difference between the ringing in his ears getting louder or quieter because Jeongguk is right there where Taehyung can almost touch him if his fingers stop shaking.

“You shouldn’t look at me like that,” Taehyung says, leaning over the counter as far as possible without the material of his sweater sliding and throwing him off. He bats his eyelashes and turns on the charm, because the more he thinks about it, the more he wants this. It isn’t really necessary, because Jeongguk is already falling towards him.

And then they’re stumbling through the door of Jeongguk’s apartment in a hurried mess of hands and a blur of emotions that Taehyung isn’t quite sure he knows the identity of.

For a moment a thought slips through, something that maybe he should take into consideration—this is going to hurt later—but instead he decides to ignore it when Jeongguk drags his tongue along the side of Taehyung’s jaw and Taehyung’s mouth goes dry, his throat closes up. Every nerve in his body is on fire and they are sending flames straight through his bloodstream. He is swept up in a whirlwind of Jeongguk. He is swept up in an explosion, caught in the blast, but he doesn’t feel the burning.

Taehyung doesn’t feel 21—he feels 19 again.

And as the backs of Jeongguk’s knees collide with the side of the bed, falling onto the sheets, Taehyung thinks that he should have just stayed and just kept drinking, because alcohol poisoning is a better idea than this. Every strand of his DNA is screaming that This Is a Really Bad Idea, but he just can’t stop himself. He doesn’t have the heart to stop himself. Jeongguk is close, pressed up against him, so fucking close.

He can feel the contours of his body, every curve, every muscle that is more defined than he remembers them being. His breath is hot against his skin, and he almost wants to tell him to stop, because his body is already going up in flames. And, somehow, Jeongguk still knows every crook just like the last time they had done this, like it had only been days ago. Taehyung is clumsy, trying to remember where to dip his fingers, how to make Jeongguk squirm.

And, God, he’s missed this, and Taehyung will be damned if he let go of Jeongguk tonight.

The next morning is a disarray of scattered clothes, and Taehyung’s heart feels like it’s bleeding as he picks through them to find his own. He pretends that they don’t look like they belong there.

Taehyung leaves Jeongguk’s apartment smelling of sex and stale alcohol. He tries not to look back.

 

 

 

“I slept with him,” Taehyung says, nonchalantly, like he hadn’t just pulled the topic out of thin air. Jimin sputters for a moment, taken aback.

“Who?”

“Take a wild guess,” he whispers. Looking at Jimin with half lidded eyes, he leans against the outside wall of the dance studio and lights a cigarette. The brick is rough against the back of his head, and he knows he’s going to have a headache later, but right now he thinks that maybe he deserves it.

“My lost flame, star-crossed lover, whatever you’d like to call him,”

“You should say his name, sometime,” Jimin mumbles, curling up against Taehyung’s side. “Anyway, it’s not star-crossed unless some outside force broke you up. That’s not what happened, right?”

“No,”

The air is cool, it doesn’t quite nip at his skin, but it’s just enough to make him wish he’d worn a thicker jacket. He isn’t really sure why they are still outside when they could drive a short distance to be inside the warmth of Jimin’s apartment, but maybe there’s something a little more intimate about situations like these, Taehyung thinks. He can’t explain why they feel that way, they just do. By instinct, he knows that if they weren’t like this, they wouldn’t be having this particular conversation.

He contemplates it for a moment, saying his name. A word he hasn’t said out loud to another human being for the past year since they’ve been broken up (his train of thought pauses there for a moment, because holy shit, it’s already been a whole year). There isn’t any harm in saying it, the world isn’t going to implode, but that’s how it feels. Like if he built up the courage to say it then maybe another spark will go off and burn his heart, or the breath from his words will blow out the flame. He isn’t really sure which would be worse.

“Jeongguk. His name is Jeongguk,” he exhales, and he tries to focus more on the condensation from his breath rather than the way the words echo in his ears.

“So, this Jeongguk, he’s the devil and you’ve slept with him,”

“He’s not the devil,” Taehyung dismisses, voice lethargic.

“Which part of me is supposed to believe that he’s not the devil, when my best friend is like this?” Jimin scoffs, “He’s fucked you up,”

“You didn’t know me before him. Maybe I’ve always been fucked up,” Taehyung chuckles despondently.

“No you haven’t. I can tell,”

“How can you know that?”

“Because you’re not fucked up when you’re not talking about him,” Jimin’s eyes meet his, and he gives a small, tight lipped smile. Taehyung can’t find the meaning behind it, though it reminds him a little of reassurance, but it’s too sad. Seeing it makes him feel sad. Jimin plucks the cigarette from Taehyung’s fingers and takes a long drag. “I should take up smoking,”

“You do smoke,”

“Yeah, but, like, not regularly. I don’t even have a pack of my own,”

“You probably shouldn’t. You’re a dancer,” Taehyung mumbles and swipes his cigarette back from Jimin. Their fingers brush for a moment, and he feels how cold they are. It reminds him of a night on the beach, cool fingertips dancing over his skin, the water against his skin, Jeongguk’s mouth against his skin. He shakes his head, like maybe the thought will fall out. Go away.

“Probably, but I’ve only got one life, right?” Jimin says with a chuckle.

“Exactly. That’s why you shouldn’t,”

“Then what’s your excuse?”

Taehyung ponders on it for a moment. He doesn’t know how to answer the question. What is his reason? It seems a bit contradictory, telling Jimin he shouldn’t smoke, when Taehyung is sitting right next to him breathing the same air. Maybe he doesn’t feel like he deserves to live anymore.

That’s a funny thought, though. Smoking is a hesitant way to kill yourself.

Sometimes he feels like something inside of him is asymmetrical, like something went wrong in his creation and the other half was lost, or forgotten somewhere. Or that it’s been chipped off, left behind in the dust along with the parts he can’t stop giving away. Whatever it is, there are cracks in him, in his skin.

“I’m fractured,” he says it sharply. The words cut clearly through the silence for the first time tonight, and he wonders where he found the voice to say them.

Jimin sighs and throws an arm around Taehyung’s shoulder. “Aren’t we all?” he says, and Taehyung knows that he means well when he says it, but it doesn’t feel that way.

“Maybe.”

 

 

 

Taehyung lies in his own bed for the first time in days. Recently, he spends most nights on the couch, or on the floor near the couch, drowsy but mind running laps through his apartment. He leaves the TV on but does not watch, volume low, like maybe if he can drown out the silence just slightly, it will put him at ease.

He wonders if he can ever be at ease again. He thinks no, not with the memory of Jeongguk lingering somewhere. Not when he can find pieces of him lying around his apartment (an apartment that he has never even stepped inside of. But Taehyung can find Jeongguk anywhere).

Not when he remembers that night.

It goes something like this: his car slows to a stop down the block from Jeongguk’s house sometime shortly after Midnight. Jeongguk is sneaking out again, so he has to park far away enough so that the car door shutting won’t wake his parents.

Taehyung sends a text, confirming his arrival, and leans back into the seat. His eyes slide shut for a few moments—it’s late, but he isn’t tired. Rather, his entire body is itching to go do something.

 

A rhythmic knocking against the windshield forces his eyes open, but it doesn’t startle him. Jeongguk grins through the glass and pulls open the passenger side door, falling into the seat and automatically reaching to fiddle with the stereo as if it were his own car. The drive is mostly silent, but comfortable as Taehyung focuses on remembering directions and Jeongguk gazes at the lights lining the streets.

 

He pulls into the parking lot near a beach, and they both break into a sprint towards the water, stripping and littering clothes in the distance between. Jeongguk’s voice rings in his ears as he screams against the bite of how cold the water is.

 

Jeongguk tackles him into the sand, trailing his lips over his face and neck, down to his collarbones. Taehyung’s breath hitches in his throat when Jeongguk leans down to press soft kisses against the expanse of his stomach, the tips of his fingers teasing at the waistband of his shorts.

 

His lungs still stutter long after Jeongguk rolls off of him and back into the sand at his side.

 

They smoke in the car on the way home. Wisps of grey and white touch gingerly at their skin, bite at their throats and their tongues, their lungs, circling around their heads and following a path out the open windows. Their fingertips graze lightly, like the smoke, never truly grasping, but never straying too far. Jeongguk teaches him how to blow smoke rings, and after a long time of trial and error, he finally does it.

 

The same CD plays over and over the same way they have had it the past four times they’ve been together; it’s full of the nostalgic type of love songs that somehow fill you up, warms your chest even if the lyrics being shouted out the window are ones of lost and still beating hearts.

 

By the end of the third time around, they are already parked near Jeongguk’s house—they don’t stop making out until the start of the fifth.

 

They have this thing, their thing. It’s like a kiss, but not really a kiss, just the moment before a kiss. Forehead to forehead, they just stay like that. Neither of them have the words to explain it, but it feels a lot deeper than anything else they can possibly do.

 

Jeongguk is close, so close, and Taehyung’s chest swells and his stomach bubbles—he could spend the rest of his life in the back seat with Jeongguk. They could do anything, or absolutely nothing at all; he doesn’t need to feel Jeongguk’s skin against his own or to trail butterfly kisses along his jaw. He just needs to hear his voice as he hums notes along to the sixth, seventh, eighth time around.

 

Taehyung imagines that they are still by the sea. Splashing in the water, sand sticking uncomfortably to their skin and in their hair; he imagines Jeongguk’s lips dancing over his own, ocean salt on his tongue and making him cringe, but still darting out desperately for more. He swallows a sigh, and another one, and then another one, and he hopes he never has to stop breathing in Jeongguk. He wants to keep him in his lungs along with the sea.

 

And as Jeongguk presses his teeth against the corners of sore lips, Taehyung thinks about the fingers working their way down his ribcage hoping they leave sand trails in their wake.

That night was the last one they spent together.

He still knows that feeling if he thinks about it hard enough. He can still feel his chest swell up, airy and light yet a crushing weight at the same time. It’s the type of feeling that maybe he should want to get rid of, something he should hate, because this is not nostalgia, this is not melancholy—this is worse. It is a tribulation, but somehow he wants to keep it locked in that spot between his lungs for forever.

Taehyung thinks that tribulation is not something the human body should be able to withstand. This kind of sorrow, one imbedded so far inside of him that he can feel it coursing throughout his entire body, like a throbbing wound. Flesh and bone should not be able to feel this deeply.

He scrubs his palms over his face and through his hair and hopes that something will change—anything at all—even if it is bad, just let it be different. Taehyung can handle fresh sorrow.

Everything inside of him feels messy, and this is a mess that he does not know how to clean up. He does not know how to fix things without first making an even bigger mess, and maybe that is the mistake he made with Jeongguk.

Jimin once told him that love is bloody. Taehyung did not believe it until he started scrubbing at the walls. Not until he started washing the sheets again. Now, everything is stained red and Taehyung has run out of bleach; he has tried buying new furniture, replacing the silverware, looking for new apartments. But he leaves crimson fingerprints on everything he touches.

He tries to stay out of the bedroom, but he does not know how to close doors with love behind them. He does not know how to let go of the pieces of himself that love someone.

Taehyung can move out of this apartment, he can buy new things, but he cannot move out of his body.

 

 

 

Taehyung thinks about how absolutely, unequivocally fucked he is as he grinds Jeongguk into the wall for the hundredth time. He is extremely fucked, because Jeongguk is looking up at him with those eyes, panting out his name and grasping at any surface he can. Taehyung is beyond fucked.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Jeongguk whispers, breathing into Taehyung’s ears, eyes glazed and hair tousled—a perfect image of totally fucked out, and they haven’t even gotten to the sex part yet.

“Looking at you like how?” he leans away for a moment to look at his face as he asks the question.

“You know how, or you wouldn’t be looking at me like that. The things you think translate onto your face. You’ve always been like that,” Jeongguk leans down to press a short, sweet kiss to Taehyung’s collar, and it makes his insides swirl. He doesn’t know if it’s from butterflies or bile; they both feel the same these days.

But he’s right. Taehyung’s chest is swollen. He doesn’t know how to respond, so he does the only thing he can; he tells Jeongguk to shut up, grunts something dirty against the love bites blooming over the side of his neck, and hikes him up onto the kitchen counter to guide his legs around his waist.

He remembers being told that salt boils water quicker and Taehyung wonders how quick sex brews love or if it just dissolves.

And Taehyung wants to say I love you as he pulls a sheet around them, but instead says it’s cold. He wants to ask please kiss me again. He wants to scream, but he can’t pull enough air into his lungs, so he just sighs into the skin of Jeongguk’s shoulder, and maybe he thinks that Taehyung is tired. Maybe he thinks he wants to sleep, but Taehyung wants so much more than that, and no amount of sleep could make him any less exhausted.

He lies still with his arm draped over Jeongguk’s chest like it’s the only thing he knows how to do in this world. He only feels like half of a person now, like this; which is to say, upon reflection, a strange thing. Because the only time Taehyung has ever really felt whole is when he’s with Jeongguk.

God, he is so fucked.

When he gets home, he turns on the shower, but he doesn’t wash. He sits with the water running down his back; he sits until red blotches over his shoulders and down his spine. The water is so hot that it numbs his skin, but somewhere closer to his bones he still feels like burning up.

Jeongguk is all fire, raging and wild, swallowing him up and spitting him back out into ash. He doesn’t know if there is any part of him left intact, but God, he hopes so, because what he does know is that there is no way to mold ash back together. Taehyung thinks that maybe a year is too long a time to let his skin singe.

Taehyung’s let his heart lead him when it should have been his head. But they were probably heading in the same direction anyway.

 

 

 

Yoongi is sitting on the couch of Taehyung’s apartment; for some reason Taehyung is sitting on the floor in front of him instead of the space next to him. Maybe he feels small tonight, and maybe next to Yoongi he feels even smaller in comparison, because this kind of small doesn’t have anything to do with tallness.

There are empty bottles scattered along the coffee table that send an annoying itch over Taehyung’s skin, but he doesn’t make a move to clean them up. He’s tired, so tired, exhausted. He can’t remember the last time he’s slept a full night, he can’t remember not waking up every few hours with the pinprick of tears welling up his eyes. He thinks that maybe someday if he gets a good night’s sleep he would still feel weighed down.

“Tell me the story,” Yoongi drawls, downing the last of the beer in his bottle.

“What story?”

“The story. The one with that guy,” He sets down the bottle and falls back into the couch. “I want to hear it,”

Taehyung frowns, and leans down to rest his head in Yoongi’s lap. “Beginning to end?” He asks, and Yoongi only hums in response.

Yoongi threads his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, combing the strands and lightly massaging his scalp. The sensation is comforting, even if only for a moment long enough for him to gather his thoughts together.

“We met in high school. It wasn’t love at first sight or anything—nothing like that. It took me an entire year and a half to fall in love with him, but it felt fast most of the time. It was like… how can I explain it?” Taehyung splays an arm over Yoongi’s legs for him to prop his head on a little higher, but to still lie down. “Like when you’re having a good time and then you stop for a moment to realize that, yeah, this is fun. It’s that momentary pause that makes you slow down for a second. I realized it then, in one of those moments,”

Taehyung licks his lips and falls silent. He wants Yoongi to say something, anything to shut him up, but he doesn’t, and Taehyung almost resents him for it. He wants to end it there, say there’s your story, thanks for listening, but Yoongi isn’t the type of person to have any of that.

“Do you know what Schrödinger’s Cat is?”

“Vaguely. Schrödinger puts a cat into a box with a poison that has a fifty percent chance of killing the cat. While it’s in there nobody has any idea whether it’s dead or alive, so, in theory, before you open it, it’s both,”

“That’s the idea,”

“What’s quantum theory have to do with all of this?”

“I’m getting there, just hold on,” he sighs, before going quiet again. Yoongi doesn’t say anything, doesn’t urge him on. Just lets him think for a moment.

Taehyung’s never told this story before. He doesn’t know how to tell it, doesn’t know what to say. How could he describe a love this gorgeous? Someone like him doesn’t know how to bring beauty in explosions.

“You don’t know what that’s like, suddenly becoming aware of a love like what I had for Jeongguk—”

Yoongi cuts him off for a moment. “So that’s his name,” he says it as a statement, rather than a question.

“Yeah. That’s his name…” Taehyung swallows hard, “It’s a good name, right? Jeongguk,”

“Yeah, it’s a nice name. I bet it suits him well,” he can’t find the meaning behind the tone of Yoongi’s voice. Maybe something in earnest, or maybe pensiveness—Taehyung can’t seem to tell the difference these days.

“Anyway, I suddenly realized just how in love with him I was. It knocks your breath away, that kind of thing. I still remember the exact moment when happened: we were sitting in the grass near his house and he was telling me about Schrödinger’s Cat. I already knew all about it, but I just let him talk and I just kept listening,”

He tries to focus on Yoongi’s hands in his hair, keep himself grounded. Right now he feels scared, something’s wrong, something inside of him is messy.

“And I remember thinking, love is a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat, don’t you think?” he fiddles with the buttons on his shirt, because the words are harder to say than he had thought. People have always told him that talking about things would release some of the anxiety pent up inside his chest, but he just feels closer and closer to bursting each second his lips keep moving. His stomach churns with each word.

“Sometimes you don’t know what’s in the box until you open it,” Yoongi mumbles hesitantly, like he’s still trying to understand, but thinks he’s starting to.

“Right. And that box, that... that’s this thing inside of me, it’s that cat and its claws are sharp and it won’t ever let me go. It was like a time bomb, Yoongi, and whether or not I opened that box, that cat is still in there,” Taehyung starts to panic, something is bubbling up through his abdomen and the higher it travels the more it starts to resemble fear. He starts speaking faster, everything spilling out of him and he can’t stop but he wants to; his hands and voice are trembling.

Taehyung’s breaths are shaky. His lungs are stuttering and heavy, but it isn’t from the talking. He can’t breathe, he feels like something is clawing its way out of his chest, and for a second he thinks that it’s the cat. It’s the cat, it’s alive, and it’s trying to come out.

Yoongi shushes him, leans down to cradle his head between his lap and chest, strokes his hair and down his back. He tells him its okay, I’m here, and take deep breaths, but Taehyung wants to scream. It’s not okay. The floor is falling from beneath him, the walls are closing in. He wants to run away from his own body.

They stay like that for a long time, while Taehyung hyperventilates and grasps at anything tangible. There are wet spots staining the fabric of Yoongi’s pants, ones he hadn’t realized he was crying.

“Jeongguk is… he’s my Schrödinger’s Cat,” he mumbles, and Yoongi hushes him again, asks him not to talk anymore. I’ve heard enough he says. I don’t want to watch you cry again he whispers against the skin of his forehead, still leaning down, still hunched over and cradling him as best he can.

But even though Taehyung doesn’t feel like talking anymore, limbs heavy and insides feeling like mush, he still talks. “But like I said, cats have claws,” Taehyung sighs into Yoongi’s knee, “Cats are fickle creatures. They scratch you up, and sometimes they run away,”

“Is that what happened? Did he stick his claws in you and run away?” Taehyung knows he doesn’t really want to ask by the tentativeness in Yoongi’s voice.

“Yeah, something like that,”

 

With an exhale that signifies something of finality, he sits up straight and reaches for a bottle. He tips it back and drinks as much as he can in one breath.

He remembers always being told that alcohol doesn’t freeze and Taehyung wonders why he feels so cold.

 

 

 

Taehyung sees Jeongguk through the window from his spot at the register. For the first time in a long time of being torn between wanting to see him and not wanting to see him, he chooses not to.

Jimin watches him drop to the floor behind the counter, and just as he opens his mouth to ask, Jeongguk strolls through the door. He almost looks startled for a moment as the realization sets in.

“Where’s Taehyung?” Jeongguk asks, and Taehyung’s heart drops into his stomach. “Is he sick? He’s usually here on Wednesdays,”

“Yeah, something like that,” Jimin mumbles with a forced laugh, maybe in an attempt to diffuse the tension that only he can feel.

Taehyung knows Jeongguk well enough to know that when he doesn’t hear a reply before asking for a coffee, that he had just simply nodded his head. He plays with a string on his sleeve as he silently watches Jimin pull Jeongguk’s drink together. It takes not even a few minutes until he hears Jimin sliding the cup over the counter, footsteps drifting away, and the front door opening and closing.

He feels a tap on his shoulder and Jimin tells him that the coast is clear, but he doesn’t make any move to get up. He only sighs in relief and relaxes his body.

“You seem tense today, what’s eating at you?” Jimin asks quietly, taking a seat next to him on the floor. The café isn’t all that busy today, so they can slack off a bit. Anyway, Namjoon and Yoongi are around to take care of what little needs to be done.

“Just… things,” he shrugs and clears his throat. He debates leaving it at that, but Jimin is the type to keep prodding, so he continues. “I’m tired. This whole thing with Jeongguk is exhausting,”

Jimin only shakes his head as a signal that he’s listening. He bites at his lips, pulls his sleeves over his hands and curls into himself as he scrapes his mind for something to say. For once, Taehyung doesn’t continue speaking without verbal warrant; he just waits in the silence while Jimin fidgets. And maybe he enjoys it, not being the only one searching for his words, to not be the one who feels like they have to say something.

But eventually, Jimin finds his voice.

“Why didn’t you two work out?” He asks quietly. The question causes a knee-jerk reaction inside of Taehyung—his stomach churns and his fingers clench, but he doesn’t look up from the floor.

“Why does it matter?” he scoffs. He knows that Jimin doesn’t have any ill intent, he doesn’t mean to send a pang through his chest, but that doesn’t stop his voice from coming out laced with exasperation.

“I guess it doesn’t… Not for me anyway,” Taehyung can hear him swallow hard, “I’m just curious is all,”

“Of course you’re curious. Everyone is. Why else would you always be asking questions?” Taehyung sighs and adjusts his seating position, “About me, about my life,”

“Sorry,” Jimin huffs a bit. Taehyung almost feels a little bad, making Jimin feel like he’s being invasive. On one hand, he is, but on the other, they’re friends. Friends tell each other things and help each other with their problems. Jimin may be curious, but he’s curious because he cares.

“It’s just… you keep this stuff all bottled up until someone asks. So I’m asking,”

Taehyung chuckles a bit at that, because, where is the lie? He doesn’t remember the last time he told someone anything personal without first being questioned about it. He doesn’t remember elaborating unless asked to elaborate. Maybe the last time was with Jeongguk.

He thinks that would be a bit ironic. The last person he ever willingly shared something with is someone, something, a story he doesn’t want to share with anyone else.

If he had the chance, he thinks that he would forget. He would forget the sand. He would forget those songs. He would forget leaning in for a kiss but not kissing. If he could wake up in the morning without bloodshot eyes, go to work without a ghost following him inside and buying a coffee, without bruises blooming over the skin of his collar, maybe he would choose to forget.

Kim Taehyung wants to forget Jeon Jeongguk.

He sighs hard before locking eyes with Jimin. “I don’t know why we didn’t work out,”

“How don’t you know? Shouldn’t you know?” Jimin questions, eyes wide and eyebrows scrunched in confusion.

“I don’t know, Jimin, I don’t know. We just… ended. The last time I saw him—I mean, the last time we were… together—he… he kissed me hard, like I really meant something to him,” Taehyung leans his head into his hands, slouched forward until his elbows touch the ground. “Everything was good… everything was really, really great,”

Jimin reaches out to touch him, run his hand over his back in some form of comfort; he jerks back slightly when Taehyung’s voice cracks in a sob that he didn’t intend to make, but then circles his arm around him even further. He feels grateful towards Jimin, even if it isn’t much, it’s all he knows how to do and it’s the best he can do; Taehyung wants to thank him but right now he doesn’t trust himself to speak without screaming.

The thought makes Taehyung’s hands tremble, but he wonders if it would do any good to forget Jeongguk, or if he will always find his way back to him.

He can’t seem to get his mind off of that thing he said. The last time I saw him. He doesn’t know what that means, but it gnaws at his chest. It starts ripping a hole right through him, because it doesn’t make any sense.

The last time I saw him. Taehyung thinks back to all of the times he’s seen Jeongguk since they broke up and upon reflection, maybe it has something to do with feeling close to him.

One thing is evident.

Taehyung is bad with pain.

 

 

 

Meeting Jeongguk doesn’t get any easier for Taehyung.

He slides into the booth at the back of a bar. Somewhere secluded that Taehyung thinks he can be lost; there is Jeongguk, always finding him when he doesn’t want to be found anymore.

His eyes meet Jeongguk’s and his heart clenches. This time, Jeongguk sits down, and starts talking to him and he hears the words but they aren’t going through. They aren’t connecting with the part of his brain that is meant to listen, the strands of his heart that were made to hang on to every fiber that makes up Jeongguk.

“You know those dreams,” Taehyung starts, blurting halfway through Jeongguk’s sentence, “the ones that you don’t remember when you wake up,”

“I guess,” the younger boy across the table mumbles, brows furrowed like he’s surprised even after knowing Taehyung for so many years.

“And then there are the ones you try to forget the morning after,” he licks his lips and cards a hand through is hair before reaching for the glass in front of him. He presses it to his lips and he can’t tell whether the sting in the taste is stronger than he remembers or if he’s paying more attention to it to distract from the one in his chest, but it’s so strong that his fingers tighten and his scalp begins to burn.

Jeongguk doesn’t reply. People always do that to him, stay silent, like they somehow know he has more to say. It pisses him off, because even though they’re right, it’s usually things that he doesn’t really know if he wants to say.

“I wanted you to be like that,”

“Which one?”

“Either. I don’t know. You decide,”

Taehyung thinks he must be crazy, something’s wrong with him, there’s got to be, because nobody can feel this deeply and survive it—not even him. He feels like a ghost of a whisper, something passing over your skin when you think you’re alone at night. The late night drip of the faucet.

“I gotta… there’s something I gotta say to you,” he pauses, swallows hard, opens his mouth to speak, and: “shit, I’m not drunk enough for this,”

“I think you’re plenty drunk, hyung,”

“I’ll never be drunk enough,”

Jeongguk falters at that, and it deafens Taehyung. The clank of glasses and the low rumble of conversation are piercing to his ears, and it makes him want to punch someone. He wants to get angry and scream and throw things and he also kind of wants to blame it all on Jeongguk.

“What’s it like?” Jeongguk asks after a while, “I mean this thing that’s… whatever it is that you can’t exactly tell me. Give me a hint, what’s it doing to you?”

“It’s like burning the bagels when you swear you’ve only just put them in the toaster,”

Jeongguk cringes, because it doesn’t make any sense—Taehyung recognizes that face, he recognizes all of them—but to Taehyung, it makes perfect sense and he can’t quite grasp why it wouldn’t to anybody else. Especially Jeongguk, because Jeongguk is supposed to be the one who understands him.

Two drinks later and he’s telling Jeongguk everything that he wishes he wasn’t drunk enough to say. The words just keep coming out and suddenly he’s going on and on about cats and the quantum theory of superposition and how a physicist made him fall in love. It sounds so complicated but it’s so much simpler than that but Taehyung doesn’t know how to make this simple. He’s not really sure if Jeongguk will understand but he just really, really needs to keep talking. Everything spilling out of him is all words but it feels like vomit and he isn’t sure if he would rather be doing that or just keep talking.

The next thing Taehyung knows he’s being pulled through the streets with Jeongguk’s arms holding him steady, and he thanks God because he couldn’t stand on his own if he tried; he also thinks he could make it home if only Jeongguk would just get away from him, because his scent is making Taehyung dizzy and the feel of his skin against his own makes his stomach quiver. He asks where they’re going and Jeongguk says Home, and Taehyung doesn’t really know what that means but he doesn’t really want to ask—he just wants to get there.

“Why does your house have so many stairs?” he slurs.

“This isn’t my house, hyung. This is an apartment building, which has many small houses in it,” Jeongguk laughs quietly. “You’ve been here hundreds of times,”

“Well I don’t like it. You should get an elevator,” Taehyung also really wants to say don’t fucking remind me.

“We do have an elevator, but I promise that if I put you in it, you’d puke,”

“Great,”

As Jeongguk fumbles with his keys, before he can stop himself, Taehyung latches onto him, mouthing along his jaw. He doesn’t know why he does it, maybe something out of habit, or desperation, or affirmation that he hasn’t just fucked up the worst thing to ever happen to him.

“Not tonight, Taehyung,” Jeongguk mumbles. Taehyung can feel the bob of his adam’s apple against his lips as he swallows hard, the vibrations as he speaks.

It takes a moment for the rejection to register, but he pulls away without a word, before stumbling into an apartment more familiar than it should be. If he wasn’t drunk, Taehyung thinks, he would feel a punch to the chest maybe. But he is drunk and he’s numb.

Right now, tonight, for the first time Taehyung doesn’t feel like he’s catching fire as he falls into a bed that isn’t his. He isn’t afraid that he’s going to ignite the building, he isn’t afraid that the whiskey in his veins is going to burn him up. Taehyung is just tired.

The last thing that he registers is a dip of the mattress next to him and the feeling of cool fingertips through the fabric of his shirt lying to rest on his waist.

And in that moment, just before floating away, Taehyung decides that if Jeongguk is a nightmare, then he wanted to go to sleep.

 

 

 

Taehyung wakes up with a searing pain in his head but a weight over his chest stops him from squirming out of discomfort. He peeks open an eye just in time to see Jeongguk doing the same with a grimace (just as he always did. Jeongguk never changes). A lopsided grin slides over his lips, the one almost wide enough to show teeth, but not quite. He shuffles his body forward just far enough to push his nose into the crook of Taehyung’s neck.

When Taehyung wakes up, his stomach lurches but it’s not from the hangover.

He lays there for a long time, trying to decide what to do. Jeongguk speaks before he can fully weigh his options.

“I know you probably don’t remember anything, but… you told me a lot of things last night,” Taehyung does remember, if only fragments, and he wants to say something spiteful. Something along the lines of I could have lied, but he can’t find his voice. But Jeongguk, like always so aware of Taehyung, continues, “you were always an unnecessarily honest drunk,”

Jeongguk pulls backwards slightly, just enough to look Taehyung straight in the eyes as he runs his fingertips over the collarbone that his shirt has failed to cover, and his skin immediately ignites on fire.

That’s when Taehyung realizes that he has to go, now, because he knows where this is going to lead and can’t play this game sober.

“I have to… I have to go,” he jolts out of the bed, ignoring the swirling sensation in his stomach and the way he goes lightheaded as he stands up. Jeongguk stands up just as quickly, and follows him out of the bedroom towards the front door. His fingers grasp at the sleeves of Taehyung’s shirt, desperate to keep him in place. Even as he tugs on his shoes, Jeongguk still clutches at the older.

“Taehyung, please—wait,”

“No, really, I have to leave. I remembered, I have a thing today,”

And as he shuts the door, with a hammering in his chest, pressing his back against the wall and sliding to the carpet, Taehyung tries to close the remnants of Jeongguk out of himself too.

He remembers being told that when choking, raise your arms, but what nobody told him is that nine times out of ten the only thing that’s caught is your heart.

 

 

 

“I should just give up on him,” Hoseok mumbles, leaning his head on one hand and mouthing at the straw of his iced coffee.

“No,”

“Why?” Taehyung rolls his eyes as Hoseok sighs for the nth time that day, though it sounds more like a grunt this time. “He obviously isn’t interested,”

Taehyung slaps him lightly on the cheek. “Stop that. If I have to hear you sigh one more time, you’re going to be sighing yourself home in the snow. I don’t have to drive you,”

Hoseok slaps him back before slouching into his seat. “It’s just… I’m tired. I hate feeling down like this all the time and I hate pining over someone who won’t give me the time of day,”

“So there’s been a bit of miscommunication,” Taehyung shrugs his shoulders and grimaces. He wants to grimace and say something like, welcome to the club, or, now you know how it feels, but he doesn’t. He tries to remember that Hoseok doesn’t say it with any malice, he isn’t trying to scrape against old wounds. “That’s what the problem is. Communication. You two have been dancing around your feelings since forever,”

“Okay, fine, we weren’t communicating. But what do you expect me to do about it now? It’s clear that Namjoon’s moved on, Tae,”

“You’re giving up too fast,” Taehyung swallows hard, and tries to make it seem like he didn’t. He tries to make it seem like he’s not thinking about Jeongguk, like he’s not thinking too hard about the concept of giving up on someone, or maybe the concept of being given up on. “You two are wildly, madly in love,”

Hoseok goes quiet for a moment, downcast eyes and playing with a napkin on the table before starting again, “But…”

“No, I know what you’re about to say and, no, no buts,” Taehyung rolls his eyes. He is starting to get a bit fed up with Hoseok’s constant denial and disbelief. Can’t he just trust him on this one? (Then again, Taehyung isn’t really the best person to ask about the romance department. But he’s pretty sure he knows a bug eyed love struck drooling-because-you’re-so-beautiful face when he sees one.)

“Seriously, have you seen the way the guy looks at you? I reckon it’s a bit like the way I look at—”

Taehyung cuts himself off there; curling is fingers into a fist and forcing his eyes anywhere but in Hoseok’s direction.

“Yeah, okay, I… I get it,”

Like usual, after bringing up the subject of Jeongguk, or almost bringing up the subject of Jeongguk, the conversation stills. For some reason, this time feels more uncomfortable than other times. If Taehyung thinks about it, maybe it’s because every time the topic comes up, he only talks about how much Jeongguk has hurt him. He tries not to put into words exactly why it hurts, even if everyone already knows.

But there he goes, almost putting it all out there on the table. Into words. Taehyung doesn’t like words—they make things seem more real, and Taehyung wants his feelings for him to be anything but real.

“Anyway… the point is, you and Namjoon have something special,” He blinks hard and swallows through the choking sensation in his throat, “You only get something like that once. Fight for it,”

Hoseok looks up at him, directly into the eyes, accusingly, but with a small knowing smile cast over his lips. “Maybe you should be taking your own advice,”

“Yeah, because there’s anything left to fight for,” Taehyung grunts sarcastically with a scoff, “Jeongguk has everything he needs from me,”

He reaches out a hand and places it on Taehyung’s wrist, rubbing a thumb over the side of his hand as a form of comfort, or reassurance. Hoseok is always like that, a reassuring and solace.

“You are desperately in love with him. I think that’s worth something,”

The words make Taehyung stop for a moment. He wonders if there’s really any merit in loving someone, if there’s really any nobility in suffering, or if they are all just placebos. This doesn’t feel noble. This doesn’t feel preeminent. He just feels tired.

 

Taehyung doesn't know if the world owes him anything, and he doesn't know if he deserves more than he has, but he thinks that there has to be something better than this. Something better than the distance of skin, or between skin, something more organ and a little less flesh. An opposite of what he has with Jeongguk right now.

 

“Are you telling me to go for it? Try and get him back or something? That’s a fucking insane idea, Hoseok,”

“We’ve known each other for eight years. I know that if anyone is insane enough to try it, it’s you,” Hoseok takes a sip of his coffee, “And if anyone is insane enough to actually pull it off, it’s most definitely you,”

Hoseok smiles wide, like he really means what he says, and maybe this time Taehyung just might have to believe him.

 

 

 

Jeongguk is all hands and no words. Taehyung wonders if that is all he will ever be.

They sit there in silence, wrapped up in the sheets and Taehyung wonders if it drives Jeongguk as crazy as it does him. He wants to know what goes on inside of his head.

Taehyung wants to take Hoseok’s words to heart and use them. They spin through his mind like a broken record. You are desperately in love with him. I think that’s worth something. He thinks that he and Jeongguk are also broken records, going around and around. This is an endless cycle and he decides that if it is already broken, why not take the risk of shattering it by trying to put it back together.

“I’m hungry,” he drawls quietly, yet loud enough to catch Jeongguk’s attention.

“Then get food,” Jeongguk mumbles from the other side of the bed, face turned away from Taehyung.

“I want breakfast,” Taehyung prods a finger at Jeongguk’s back, “let’s go to the diner down the street,”

Jeongguk rolls over onto his stomach and props himself up on his elbows with a scoff. “What makes you think I want to eat something too?”

He winces a bit at the cold shoulder he is being given, but grins anyway and stretches his arms to relive some of the tension building up inside of him. It doesn’t work, but he tells himself that it does. “You always used to get hungry this late at night,”

There is a pause in conversation (if it can really be called that), and Jeongguk just stares at Taehyung, wide eyed and mouth gaping slightly, like he’s thinking hard about something. It takes a moment, but the frown is replaced with a small, almost shy, close lipped smile. He hangs his head to hide it.

“Okay, fine, you’ve got me,”

Taehyung’s heart flutters in his chest as he pulls on his clothes; for the first time he is getting dressed to leave, but not leaving alone. This is the first time Taehyung will leave Jeongguk’s apartment without feeling like another part of himself has been chipped off.

When they get there, maybe Jeongguk doesn’t realize it, but they walk side by side towards the same table; closest to the back as possible, like they always used to. Taehyung hopes that somehow, they are still in sync with each other. He tries to guess what Jeongguk will ask for when the waitress comes to take their order, and is pleasantly surprised when he guesses right. Blueberry pancakes with a side of overdone bacon.

For a moment he wonders if he is trying too hard to make things like they used to be; if he’s stuck in his teenage years with Jeongguk. All this time and he hasn’t once thought about what their future together could be like. And for a second he catches himself wondering if he is really in love with Jeongguk at all, or if he only loves what they used to be. Jeongguk is the only person he can think of posing this question to, but he doesn’t.

Jeongguk stays quiet for the most part, eating in silence and nodding as Taehyung talks his ears off, until something sparks his interest.

“See those kids over there?” he whispers, pointing his fork in the general direction of two teenagers, no older than sixteen and seventeen, sitting at the table opposite of them. “They remind me of us,”

Taehyung discreetly looks over, and after a moment of observing, he smiles. It’s around four in the morning now, and they both look exhausted, yet happy. When the younger looking one mentions being cold, the older tosses a jacket over the table towards them. It’s sweet at first, but then a mischievous side comes out and they blow the wrapper off their straw and straight into younger’s face. Taehyung can hear a huff and a scolding, but he knows they aren’t really mad by the hint of a grin that falls over their lips.

They do remind Taehyung of Jeongguk and himself when they were that age.

“It’s the same,” Taehyung laughs.

Taehyung wants to ask; remember leaning in real close, a long moment of an almost kiss but not really ever kissing? He wants that again, to feel like that, like they are the only two people in the entire world, feeling so young and so lost but so where they are supposed to be. Even if not with Jeongguk, maybe with Just Someone Else somewhere.

Sometimes there are moments where Taehyung thinks that he sees that look in Jeongguk’s eyes. The one that he used to give him. He doesn’t know if it’s just a look formed from habit, or if maybe he’s just imagining it, or if he really does see it. He doesn’t know and it is starting to drive him crazy.

An hour later they’re paying for their food and making their way outside, but Taehyung doesn’t want this to end. Most of the conversation had been awkward but it was conversation, and he sees that as a step forward, so he scours his mind for something, anything to keep him for even another hour. He wants Jeon Jeongguk more than anything he has ever wanted in his life—he’s tired of sitting back and hoping and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t start grasping for him.

“Wanna go to the park for a bit?” Taehyung tries tentatively, an uncomfortable twist forming in his stomach. He expects Jeongguk to decline with a cold shoulder, but is shocked to find that he says yes with only slight reluctance.

As they walk, Taehyung resists the itch in his fingers to reach for Jeongguk’s hand. It’s a pattern that he thinks maybe he should have grown out of after such a long time, but habits die hard. It takes a few minutes, but eventually the silence surrounding them becomes comfortable, at least to Taehyung it feels that way. By the time they sit down at a bench near a lamppost, he doesn’t feel much like talking anymore.

Jeongguk pats around his jeans for a moment before sighing. “You have a cigarette?”

Taehyung nods and reaches into a pocket for his pack. There’s only two left (Jimin really needs to start buying his own cigarettes), and for a second he contemplates saving the last one before remembering that he has an almost full carton waiting for him at home, so he pokes one between his lips while tilting the small box toward Jeongguk. He sifts through his pocket again for a lighter and flicks it to life, holding it up to Jeongguk’s cigarette first before lighting his own.

Under the streetlight, smoking a cigarette, Jeongguk looks so goddamn beautiful like this. Fucking ethereal. The way he brings the cigarette up to his lips and drags makes Taehyung think that if he was still 14 years old with clean lungs, he would want to pick up the habit just because of how good Jeongguk looks doing it. He’s got this pensive look on his face that makes Taehyung want to just reach out and trace his features with his fingertips, but also grab him by the nape of the neck and slam his lips against his.

Jeongguk’s eyes flick towards him and Taehyung worries that he’s been caught staring, but he looks away again without a word, not even a signal somewhere on his face, just the same brooding expression he’s had for the past few minutes. He swallows hard and can’t decide if he hopes he noticed or not.

“What are we doing?” Jeongguk says quietly, but the way it cuts through the silence makes it seem loud. He flicks the spent end of his cigarette somewhere into the grass. “This entire time, what the fuck have we been doing?”

Immediately, Taehyung wants him to stop talking, terrified by all of the possible ways that this conversation could go. He tries to make some sort of excuse to end the conversation, but before he can even open his mouth Jeongguk continues:

“Actually, no, what the fuck am I doing? You’re in love with me,”

And Taehyung’s heart stops cold. His hands fist into the fabric of his shirt and his stomach starts churning violently; he almost hopes that he vomits because maybe it will make Jeongguk shut up. He tries to say something, anything, but when he opens his mouth nothing comes out because his throat feels so tight that he’s suffocating. His eyes start to prickle almost painfully and no matter how many times he blinks it doesn’t feel any more comfortable.

Taehyung didn’t know that a reaction this strong can come on so fast and he realizes it’s another thing about heartache Jeongguk taught him that he didn’t want to learn.

“Please stop,” he finally chokes out softly.

Jeongguk has his head cradled in his hands, elbows resting on his knees and it makes Taehyung nervous that he can’t see his face. “Just a few nights ago you were spewing some nonsense about Schrödinger’s cat and burning bagels, and I don’t know how I figured it out from that, but I realized that you’re still in fucking love with me,”

“Please, please just stop talking,” he tries again, “It doesn’t matter, forget it,”

“You’re impossible to forget, Kim Taehyung,”

The next thing Taehyung knows, Jeongguk has him by the shoulders and is pulling him in, and he’s not sure if his entire world stops entirely or moves in fast forward. He moves so quickly that when their lips meet Taehyung almost expects it to hurt from the momentum. And he wonders if he imagines it when Jeongguk leans close enough for their lips to nearly touch. If he imagines that pause, if he imagines an intensity between them or if it is just uncertainty.

Before he lets the thought gnaw at him too much, he decides that he doesn’t care, because Jeongguk is here and kissing him and it’s more innocent than anything they have shared since he came back into his life. Taehyung cradles his face in his hands and he thinks this feels more intimate than fucking him over the kitchen counter.

They’ve kissed hundreds of times, but this one is shy. It has him not wanting to touch Jeongguk too much, like he isn’t sure of what he’s allowed to do, as if Taehyung hasn’t already had his hands everywhere they could go. Like a first kiss, like Senior year in high school with a history book in his lap and knocking out the pencil that Jeongguk forgot was tucked behind his ear.

Suddenly every emotion he had has made a total 180 degree turn from under only a minute ago. It feels as if his lungs have burst and all of the air in them has entered his chest—that’s the only way he can describe the bubbly feeling behind his sternum (he thinks about it and he knows that if he said this to Jeongguk, he would roll his eyes, smile, and tell him that’s not how a punctured lung really works; Taehyung has to stop himself from laughing in the middle of the kiss).

Taehyung wants to scream, because this means something. It has to, it just has to. Jeongguk has a hand in his hair and other resting on is thigh; he keeps moving slightly as if to pull away but he doesn’t and goes straight back in to keep kissing him.

When he does pull away, he just looks at him. The kind of deep look into the eyes that says something has changed.

This time it means something.

 

 

 

“So,” Taehyung starts, turning toward Namjoon and leaning against the counter, “You gonna ask Hoseok out, or what?” He even asks right there in front of everyone (everyone meaning Yoongi and Jimin). Normally he would be more discreet, pull him into a corner or something to ask quietly, but if there’s one thing Taehyung has learned about Namjoon and Hoseok, it’s that discreetness hasn’t gotten them anywhere.

“I, uh, I-I’m sorry?” he stutters, nearly dropping the stack of napkins he is trying to put into the dispenser. Taehyung has to bite back a smile and a laugh, because it’s just so cute, but he’s got to be serious right now. This is starting to get silly—no, it’s been silly—so he’s decided to take it into his own hands if neither of them are willing to.

“Look, Hoseok is starting to think you don’t like him. Actually, he was never sure that you did in the first place because he doesn’t trust his instincts enough,”

Namjoon is so red in the face that Taehyung wishes it was acceptable to bring out his phone and take a photo. “So he… he likes me?”

“Oh my God. I didn’t think anyone could get thicker than Hoseok, but here you stand. You two deserve each other. Yes, he likes you,” With an exasperated sigh Taehyung rolls his eyes so hard that it actually pains him. This is the most ridiculous thing in the world. “And recently he’s been sulking all over the place. It’s getting annoying,”

And really, that’s literally all it takes for Namjoon to sift through his bag to retrieve his phone, throw a quick and maybe slightly panicked thanks over his shoulder, and jog into the back room to call Hoseok.

It was that fucking simple, Taehyung can’t believe it.

From his left he hears Jimin laughing, and when Taehyung looks over he sees that he is doubled over. “That was it?”

“Apparently,” Taehyung grins, bringing his arms up as he shrugs and letting them fall with a slap against the sides of his thighs, “if I knew it was going to be that simple I would have done it a hell of a long time ago,”

Taehyung works through the day with a smile and Jimin takes notice to this immediately.

“Soooooo, somebody is cheerful today,” He slides into a seat on the other side of the countertop, resting his chin into a hand. Taehyung only hums in response as he does the same. “You gonna spill the beans, or what? No way you’re this happy all because of Namjoon and Hoseok,”

Whether because he’s always been this way, or if he’s this way because they are best friends, there’s a reason they are best friends and it’s because Jimin is perceptive of what is going on inside Taehyung’s head.

“Something happened. A thing,” he combs a set of fingers through his hair and bites back what would have definitely been an embarrassing squeal. “Jeongguk kissed me. Like, really, actually kissed me. It meant something this time, Jimin. It fucking meant something,”

And Jimin nearly falls out of his chair, jaw slack but lips tugged up into a grin. “You’re shitting me. Taehyung!” He reaches out a hand to roughly muss Taehyung’s hair. “Tell me,”

“After the usual routine, I took a leap of faith, asked him to go out for food, and then we went to the park. Then he started saying some pretty worrying stuff about our situation, but it was totally fine because right after that… boom, we were mashing mouths,” Taehyung speaks in a hurry, excited to tell the story and somehow Jimin seems even more thrilled than he does. He is absolutely beaming for Taehyung.

“Taehyung,” Jimin says a little after the enthusiasm dies down slightly, “I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but just… be careful, okay?”

“I know. Thank you, Jimin,”

 

 

 

He thinks back to what Jimin said about being careful and wonders if careful is enough, or if he is the right kind of careful.

Jeongguk has been in a strange mood all day, sighing left and right and sometimes grunting when Taehyung leans his head against his shoulder or takes his hand. He doesn’t know where it starts, the fight, but they’ve been yelling at each other for at least ten or fifteen minutes already.

“You’re smothering me!” Jeongguk raises his voice, gripping his own hair out of frustration. “We started… becoming closer a week ago and you’re already suffocating me,”

“Am I really that bad?” Taehyung scoffs.

“Yes! You act like we’ve been dating for months, or something,”

“Might I remind you that we’ve done this before, or have you forgotten all about the two years we were together? And sorry for liking you, I didn’t realize that wasn’t part of the deal, y’know, when we started acting like boyfriends again,”

“You don’t like me, Taehyung, you’re in fucking love with me,” Jeongguk huffs, chest heaving slightly from the stress of raising his voice. “I’m sorry that you haven’t noticed, but I’m not in love with you anymore. You’re coming off way too strong towards someone who isn’t in love with you.”

It seems like no matter what his status with Jeongguk is, their relationship is always a whirlwind. Taehyung doesn’t know up from down anymore, he doesn’t know how to take a step forward when he can’t tell if he’s taking a step back.

“I like you too, Taehyung, I do. It’s just that…”

Taehyung isn’t sure if he wants to hear the next part of that. It’s just that is kind of like a but. They mean the same thing and that means that something bad always follows.

“How is it you’re still in love with me? After a year, you’re here like nothing has even changed, smothering me like you always used to,” Jeongguk’s voice has lowered considerably, and by the end of the sentence he’s mumbling.

Something inside of Taehyung snaps when he says this. He can’t believe that Jeongguk is so daring, so insolent as to say something like that.

“You broke my fucking heart, and then you had the audacity to come into my workplace nearly every day and make me see you,” Taehyung yells, and Jeongguk looks taken aback, like he expects that speaking normally through sobbing is an easy thing to do.

For the first time in a long time, Jeongguk is the one who seems like he wants to say something, but doesn’t. It’s like he can’t close his mouth, gaping, words ready on the tip of his tongue but he can’t push them out.

And when everything goes silent, and Taehyung remembers how to catch his breath, he inhales deeply, and says with an eerie steadiness: “How could you have ever expected me to get over you like that?”

Jeongguk doesn’t seem to have any answers.

 

 

 

“That was the problem,” Taehyung mumbles, dropping his head onto Jimin’s coffee table, “I was smothering him. It’s my fault,”

Jimin sighs and scoots Taehyung’s teacup closer, urging him to drink, “Here. Tea always makes everything better,”

“Not this,”

“Maybe not. But it’ll make it feel better,” he grins before taking a sip of his own tea. He’s right, but Taehyung doesn’t really want to admit it. There’s a part of him that wants to still be miserable right now.

Taehyung’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he tries to ignore it. He thinks he knows who it is, but he doesn’t really want to confirm it.

“You two can work this out, you know,” Jimin says quietly, tapping the table with his fingertips. “But in order to do that, you’ve got to stop dancing around all of the problems at hand. Stop avoiding everything,”

The one thing Taehyung had never thought about, talking about their problems. This entire time has been spent holding his breath and trying to keep his hands from trembling when he should have just let them shake. He wonders if Jeongguk has been doing the same thing, keeping all of this bottled up.

“Thanks,” Taehyung says. He contemplates for a moment before sliding his phone from his pocket and unlocking it to check his texts. The first one he sees is from Jeongguk, reading: ‘Should we talk?’. He exhales deeply and types out a reply, ‘Probably.’

“He’s never going to go away,”

“Do you want him to?”

Taehyung licks his lips and sighs, “No.”

Jimin once told him that time heals all wounds, and Taehyung wonders if this is a wound or a disease.

 

 

 

“Why did you start coming into the café?” Taehyung mumbles, sleeves pulled over his hands as if it would mask his discomfort and leaning into Jeongguk’s couch. They are going to talk this out, he’s decided. This is the make or break moment, and Taehyung is fucking terrified but it has to be done. Everything is going out on the table. No more guessing, no more heartache and definitely no more chasing Jeongguk.

“Is it a crime to like coffee?”

“No more bullshitting, Jeongguk. You came back into my life for a reason, and with all of the shit that’s been going on the past few months, I want to know why,”

Jeongguk contemplates for a moment, his chin resting in his hand and his elbow pressed to his knee. He struggles, tries to find the right words before sighing in exasperation and sitting up straighter. “I missed you, alright? I fucking missed you and it sucked.”

Taehyung swallows hard, but doesn’t say anything. He just picks at the loose thread on the end of his sweater and waits to see if Jeongguk continues. He wants to be pleased with I missed you, but at this point that’s not enough. At this point, he needs more.

“And then one day, I happen to stroll into this café, and there you are, just as goddamn gorgeous as ever. I don’t know why I kept going. Everything just came rushing back,”

“And then after that, taking me home and fucking me, what happened there?” Taehyung wants to laugh as he says it, because that’s not a question he ever imagined himself asking.

Jeongguk, however, actually does laugh. Just slightly, like he can’t really believe it either. “I don’t think I can answer that question. It just happened. You can’t act like you never had anything to do with it too,”

“I’m not; I’m just wondering why you did it. We both know what was going through my head the entire time,”

“It’s like I said, y’know? Everything came rushing back. I liked you and I wanted to do it, and you seemed more than willing…”

Taehyung simply nods at that, he can’t really deny it at all. He played just as big a part in his own self destruction as Jeongguk did.

As Taehyung is scraping his brain for something else to say, more questions, anything to cut through the silence that has fallen over them, Jeongguk sighs. He starts rubbing his palms against his jeans, like he’s nervous and trying to prevent them from going clammy. “Look, I’ve been… I’ve been putting this off for a while, because I was scared of doing this with you all over again, but I’m going to say something and you have to believe me, even after all the bullshit I’ve put you through these past few months,”

He inhales shakily, and with his voice shaking just as much, he says: “I’m in love with you, Tae,”

And Taehyung wants to be excited, he wants to scream, but at this point he’s exhausted. The first thing that comes to mind is I’m sorry that you haven’t noticed, but I’m not in love with you anymore. “Just a few days ago you were telling me about how not in love with me you are. You said I was smothering you,”

“I know, I know,” Jeongguk says, panicking. He speaks quickly, like he’s on a time limit and he can’t speak fast enough before it runs out. “And you were. Well, kind of. I was… I was conflicted, and you being all over me made me feel worse about it and I freaked out. I’m not giving excuses, I swear I’m not, but it’s my reason,”

Taehyung thinks about what it means to be a coward and he thinks that maybe it has to do with the way you love someone. Jeongguk is a coward, and maybe Taehyung is too. The thing about being a coward, though, is that someday you have to be brave, because you can’t run away from things for forever. Things catch up to you and maybe Jeongguk and Taehyung have finally caught up to each other.

“If you’re in love with me, prove it,” Taehyung sighs, and he can see something in Jeongguk’s eyes change, but he can’t tell what it is exactly. He wonders if that’s a possible demand to fulfill, if a proof of love is a possible thing to show when asked for it.

He expects to be pulled into a rough kiss when Jeongguk hooks his fingers into the hair on the nape of his neck. He doesn’t expect to be pulled carefully close, just close enough for their breaths to mingle; he doesn’t expect his lips to hover just inches over his own. He almost mistakes it for hesitation, because not once for the whole time that they were doing whatever this thing they have been doing is, Jeongguk has never paused—not so obviously, anyway.

The gears in his head start to turn, and Jeongguk’s eyes just bore into his, desperate to convey some sort of message, a meaning deeper than what Taehyung can see on the surface.

It’s then that he realizes, God, it was deliberate. Jeongguk is one sly Son of a Bitch, Taehyung thinks.

To someone else, the action is simple. But for Taehyung and Jeongguk, between them, it means everything. It means I love you, please stay with me. It means don’t go home tonight, don’t go home ever, I never want to sleep in a bed without you ever again because they are all too cold. It means you are so goddamn beautiful, I want to kiss you but I also can’t stop staring at you.

It means I love you, I fucking love you and I mean it.

And Taehyung rips himself away from Jeongguk, covering his grin with his hands and scrubbing them through his hair. He doesn’t know what to do except maybe jump up and down, grab Jeongguk by the waist, and pull him back in for a real kiss. No pause this round, there’s no time for that because Taehyung is overwhelmed, everything is pouring out of him and he doesn’t have anywhere to put it except for Jeongguk’s mouth. He’d kiss Jeongguk nonstop into the next century if he could.

Jeongguk is the first to pull away, it isn’t far, and when he does he takes Taehyung’s face into his hands.

“Kim Taehyung, I am so sorry that I ever fell out of love with you,”