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my church offers no absolutes

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“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho

 

Jungkook is fifteen, when his parents bring him to the pastor’s housewarming party.

He sees the front door, heavy oak, its coat of varnish still evident and fresh over the wood, a thin crucifix attached right above the doorway, the dull metal that it has been crafted out of glinting faintly in the porch light.

The pastor has a warm smile and hands that feel familiar in Jungkook's own. It feels like home, his hand clasped with this righteous man of God’s, the promise of heaven bright and tingling at the back of his tongue, mingling with his shy “hello”.

“Thank you very much for joining us tonight,” Pastor Kim says, and Jungkook dips his head in a second greeting, stepping aside and hopefully out of sight to allow his parents to take over the responsibility of socializing on his behalf.

When he glances around, he recognizes several members of the church that he’s been attending ever since he’s five, and there’s an unexplainable urge to lower his head, prevent anyone from noticing him.

Jungkook’s earliest memory is Pastor Kim holding him down under the surface of a small pool. He remembers it; it’s a depression in the ground, cleverly hidden beneath the wooden plank that serves as a walkway in the middle of the church’s children’s playground. A disguised evil.

Everyone around him had been smiling, and Jungkook had felt cold, warm only under his skin when Pastor Kim was murmuring a prayer in a low voice. He had been confused, lips parting to only bubbles when the man he’d been taught to trust had tried to drown him. Lungs burning, eyes red and prickling with hot tears once he’d finally stopped coughing.

Baptism, they’d called it. You’re now bound to God, Jungkook. You are now saved.

 

(Jungkook's been trying to define the meaning of salvation ever since.)

 

He helps himself to a glass of orange juice, pressing against a wall away from the soft buzz of adults’ chatter.

“You look like you’ve committed a huge sin.”

Jungkook startles, the glass of half-finished orange juice slipping through his fingers and stopping only when he calms down enough to grip the almost-disaster around the rim.

The boy has a strange, rectangular shaped smile, and it would have been proven unnerving if not for the soft crinkles around his eyes that put Jungkook's nerves back at ease. Harmless, the boy’s aura seems to emanate.

“Well,” Jungkook finally replies, his voice scratchy and hoarse from disuse the entire night. “I haven’t done anything like that.”

“No reason to be hiding beside the kitchen then, is there now?” He’s got a low, soothing voice, lilting just enough to pass off as teasing, but it’s friendly, and Jungkook warms up to him naturally.

“I’m not too fond of crowds.”

“Ah.”

They stay that way, the boy leaning against the wall opposite Jungkook, as Jungkook takes slow, unhurried sips of his orange juice, the low humming of conversation thrumming in the living room beside them.

“Do you want to get away?”

Jungkook looks up at that, a spark of curiosity and relief in his own smile, and the boy beckons him along with three consecutive crooks of his index finger, turning his back to Jungkook wordlessly. Jungkook follows.

There’s a yard, when they steal out the backdoor, a decent stretch of freshly trimmed grass, and Jungkook watches as the boy throws himself right in the middle, on his back, spread eagled, motioning for Jungkook to join him.

“Look,” the boy’s eyes are glassed over, as if he’s suddenly far away, and Jungkook's gaze follows the point of his finger, sweeping across the expanse of stars that are spilled across the ink of the night. “Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Impressive,” Jungkook murmurs in agreement, arm raising unknowingly to trace the lines between the spaces of every blinking star.

It may have been an hour, maybe more, but it only feels like a minute.

The backdoor swings open and Pastor Kim is standing at the entrance, his silhouette blocking out the soft orange light that fills the kitchen behind him, and Jungkook lifts his head from where he’s sprawled on the grass, his cheeks tinting a faint pink in embarrassment.

“Oh, Jungkook,” Pastor Kim says it as if he’s surprised to find him there. “What are the two of you doing out here?”

The boy has sat up, one hand running through his hair, combing out the leaves, and a little bit of Jungkook wishes that he would let them stay tangled in it, because it makes him look good (ethereal, otherworldly), but he doesn’t say that. “I was showing him the stars.”

Pastor Kim just sighs and tells the both of them to come back inside, because it’s a cold night, and it wouldn’t do well for either of you to fall sick.

Jungkook lets the boy rake his fingers through his hair, holding still from the faint graze of his fingertips against Jungkook's scalp when he’s trying to pluck out every leaf.

“All right, let’s go in.” There’s that smile again, and Jungkook follows the quirk of his lips back into the crowd.

As the night progresses, Jungkook learns that the boy’s name is Taehyung. Kim Taehyung, he is seventeen (“Call me Taehyung.”), and he is the pastor’s son. Pastor Kim doesn’t elaborate much, so Jungkook takes it upon himself to play a game of twenty questions with Taehyung, the both of them tucked into a corner of the house, cross legged opposite each other.

“Favourite book,” Jungkook's eyes are searching, amused as he watches the older boy fumble with his reply.

“I can’t answer that.”

“You don’t read?”

“No,” and Taehyung looks absolutely aghast that Jungkook could even say that. “Of course I read. I just can’t name a favourite, there are too many good books out there.”

A silence, and Jungkook nods. “Fair enough.” Then, “are you not on good terms with your father?”

The regret pricks at him the moment the words leave his lips, and Taehyung's laugh withers slightly, chasing down into a faint smile. “Didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Jungkook's sitting closer now, hearing the secret even before it’s spoken.

“I was born sick,” Taehyung's voice is soft, sad even, and Jungkook likens it to forcing together two jigsaw pieces that clearly do not fit. “I heard my father say that to my mother, once.”

Later, when Jungkook's slipping his feet into his sneakers and turning to follow his parents to their car, he reaches over and squeezes Taehyung's hand reassuringly, watching the older boy’s eyes widen slightly in surprise.

“I think you seem all right to me,” Jungkook says, and Taehyung lets out a soft laugh.

“Thanks,” Taehyung drops his hand from their clasp and gives Jungkook a soft smile (Jungkook catches himself wanting to hold on for a little longer), “that’s what I think, too.”

 

The light is tinted ice blue, bright fragments like shattered glass over the floor of the sanctuary where the sun falls through the stained windows behind the pedestal where Pastor Kim is talking about spiritual growth and the journey of finding yourself.

Jungkook is fully aware of how familiar and warm the weight of Taehyung's head on his shoulder is, a habit that the older boy has cultivated over the past three years, especially during sermons. “Hey,” Jungkook whispers, albeit playfully, “God has eyes everywhere.”

“Then he’ll see my heart.” Taehyung's voice is a half asleep slur, but still sarcastic nonetheless, and Jungkook lets out a soft chuckle, which abruptly stops when the other suddenly grabs his arm. “I also have something to show you, it’s a better sight than—” Taehyung gestures vaguely at the rest of the pews and the day’s attendance, “—this.”

There has never been a time where Jungkook regrets going along with whatever plan that Taehyung has, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.

The kittens are creamy white and flecked with chestnut brown down the left side of their heads and ears.

Jungkook blinks in pleasant surprise as Taehyung drops to a squat and picks one up into his arms, holding the mewling feline out at the younger. “Oh,” Jungkook says, confused, but takes the kitten into his own arms, letting it paw at his cheek. “How long have they been here?”

“I found them this morning,” Taehyung's got the other one treading on his chest, the boy himself sprawled out on his back in the middle of the churchyard, and Jungkook shudders at the implications. “Charming, aren’t they?”

A hum, and Jungkook makes his agreement known by taking his spot beside Taehyung, letting the kittens curl up between them as they turn to face the other, soil and grass in their hair.

 

(“Do you want to get away?”)

 

“What are your plans after high school?” Taehyung's eyes are dark, curious. Intense, and Jungkook feels as if it’s prickling beneath his skin, Taehyung's words scrawling themselves along his veins.

“College.”

“Elaborate?”

Taehyung has always had a laugh that draws Jungkook in. Deep, thoughtful, and a hint of temptation, as if he’s inviting Jungkook to join in, lose himself in the sounds. Jungkook's never been one to resist temptation. If anything, he understands why temptation exists, and why it can be misunderstood as salvation sometimes.

“I think I want to study the universe.” Jungkook turns, eyes lifting skywards where the blue is deep and endless, and the vibration from the kittens’ purring is grounding him back to where they’re lying down amidst the stone graves of the churchyard. Morbid, nostalgic. “Astrophysics and astronomy. I want to know why everything is made the way it is.”

“The universe,” Taehyung echoes, and he sounds far away. “Will you be moving into dorms?”

“Nah, I think I’ll go to college around here.”

“Mm.”

They remain that way, until Taehyung speaks again (Jungkook had been drifting in and out of sleep, startling himself awake). “Hey, Jungkook?”

“Yeah?”

“Where do you think all these souls go, after someone dies?”

There’s a pause, and then Jungkook says, “your father’s the pastor, how would I know? Doesn’t he say that they go to purgatory?”

“That’s what they say,” and there it is, the fire in Taehyung's eyes. It burns, it’s desperate, almost, and he’s closer now, breath fanning out against Jungkook's cheek. “But, is it true?”

“If it isn’t, then their entire life would have been a lie.”

A stutter of a heartbeat, no one can be sure whose pulse it had been. Might have been Taehyung's, might have been Jungkook's.

(Might have been both.)

“You see, that’s the thing.” Taehyung sits up, cradling the sleeping kitten in his lap, fingers trailing tenderly down the small, fragile body. “We’ll never know, because the only ones who do, will never have a chance to tell us.”

“Taehyung.”

“Do you want to know why he said I was born sick?” Taehyung's face is an inch from his, and Jungkook doesn’t realize that he’s holding his breath until his lips part to inhale, sharp and deep. “Why I’m not normal, why I’m not like everyone else, why I’m born a sinner?”

Jungkook whispers, “why?”

Time drains like sand down an hourglass, clogging at the neck. Taehyung's lips are warm and soft against Jungkook's, and they’ve got their eyes half open, both curious and flushed with the novelty of it all.

Taehyung is the first to pull away, and he’s chewing on his lip, head lowered as if ashamed, petting the kitten so furiously that it stirs, letting out a plaintive whine. His lips part, presumably to apologize—

(In this moment, Jungkook decides that he’s never going to let Taehyung apologize for something that shouldn’t be thought of as wrong. He’s never, ever going to let Taehyung apologize for showing him that there’s so much more in this world.)

Jungkook says, “I think you’re all right,” leans in again to cup Taehyung's cheeks in his palms, hesitating just a split second before pressing their lips together again. Scared, nervous, but sure. Jungkook's never been so sure about something before.

Taehyung steals the sun, shows it off in his smile. “That’s what I think, too.”

 

(“Hey, Jungkook?”

“Yeah?”

“Why do you think there are certain types of love that’s classified as sin?”

“I’ve never thought that way.”

“But you must wonder why? Why some types of love are unholy, unrighteous. Why some types of love are looked down upon, sneered at. Called wrong.”

“No love should be wrong, love is love. Everyone can love, everyone can love anyone.”

“Anyone they want?”

“Anyone they want.”

“But anyone can fall sick.”)

 

Fingertips like black-tipped feathers, warm breath that burns like ashes on pale skin. Jungkook is aflame, drunk on Taehyung's lips, hellfire simmering low and loud at the bottom of his stomach, serpents coiling.

And Taehyung.

Taehyung kisses like he’s the devil, warm, wet, promising. Bittersweet, and he’s so vulnerable, so trusting and so open, that Jungkook has only learnt how to take.

Ask and it will be given to you, Jungkook remembers seeing it in the bible, barely glancing at the highlighted verses as the pastor mentioned it, and he remembers that he had been biting down on his lip, because Taehyung's head had been tucked between his knees, smirking against his throbbing skin. A majestic verse, He is all powerful. Jungkook whispers, “part your legs for me,” and Taehyung whimpers, letting his thighs fall open. Easy, so easy.

Jungkook presses his fingers in, wet and cold from the lube, and drinks in every moan that Taehyung offers from the sanctuary of his parted lips. Seek and you will find. His fingers are incoherent, trembling, and Jungkook is still trying to figure out what clasped hands mean, his own gripped tight in Taehyung's, curled into almost-fists, knuckles white like bone.

When he looks up, just barely, the room is a blur of Zen, white and black, the sheets crumpling beneath them as he surges forward with so much force that Taehyung's back slides up along the mattress.

They only ever get to love here; in the safety of Taehyung's apartment, hidden from disapproving eyes and judging tongues. Jungkook would press Taehyung against the front door as the latter fumbles with the key and twists it in the lock, stumbling with their lips fitting like they’re made for each other.

(It’s something they’ve decided when Jungkook first started college, and now, two years in, it doesn’t change. They were made for each other. They still are.)

Jungkook remembers it, vivid and hurting, a lightning alert at the base of his skull whenever he thinks about his father telling him to stay away from Taehyung.

“He’s the pastor’s son, I know,” and he had raised a hand despite Jungkook's protests. “But he’s different. He’s not like us, and it’s better if the both of you don’t be around each other so much.”

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” Jungkook had bitten out, flinching in slight despair, eighteen and pressed down beneath the ground with the weight of parental oppression. “That’s what we learnt. Isn’t it?”

“He’s a bad influence.”

By now, everyone knows that when you’re young, you don’t really have a say of your own.

“People are easily influenced, Jungkook. We’re very susceptible to temptation and sin. We shouldn’t put ourselves directly to the test.”

 

(“I think you’re all right.”)

 

Taehyung's nails leave white, faded crescents into Jungkook's arms, and Jungkook has his lips nestled into the crook of his neck, nipping bruises into the pale skin, every new mark earning him a muffled moan, an arch of Taehyung's back.

“Jungkook,” Taehyung gasps, and Jungkook swallows the word right off the tip of Taehyung’s tongue as he slams his hips up, swallows it like it’s a prayer that he never wants god to hear. “Please.”

Taehyung offers up his body, and Jungkook accepts it, sees the universe implode in on itself, scattering stars behind his eyes.

It reminds Jungkook of when he was eight and he’d watched the marble swirl beads of his mother’s rosary hitting the ground, one by one, short sharp knocks against the parquet flooring of their house.

Taehyung is unravelling beneath him, lower lip tucked behind his teeth as he bites down, and Jungkook coaxes his mouth open with his own, drinking in every broken syllable, every “god, please” that escapes Taehyung's lips.

Jungkook's not an atheist, and his religion may very well lie in the way Taehyung has made his name a prayer.

He says, “I love you.”

Taehyung says it right back.

 

(“That’s what I think, too.”)

 

A pair of arms encircle Jungkook's waist while he's trying to slot his notes into his backpack, and he startles, almost hitting his shoulder against the door of the lecture theatre.

There is a laugh, low and muffled against Jungkook's back, and he lets out a sigh, two parts embarrassed and one part exasperated. “Taehyung.”

“Hello,” Taehyung's got his smile on when Jungkook turns around to draw him into a hug, pressing his chin over the younger's shoulder. “Tired? Want to go on a coffee date?”

Jungkook's heart swells (just a little, he's not that far gone) when Taehyung pulls back and blinks, lashes long and brushing against his cheekbones. He catches a short mumble of “fags” from some asshole walking past, and his fists clench into the back of Taehyung's shirt, feeling the older boy flinch.

“Sure,” Jungkook's voice is low, tight and sprung with tension, but he knows he can't punch someone into the ground and risk having their parents find out about them. “Let's go on a coffee date.”

Taehyung's smile is the moon, but today, Jungkook thinks that it's waning; small, thin, a barely-there crescent.

The paper cup is warm in Jungkook's hands, but Taehyung's fingers look cold, nails absentmindedly scraping at the surface of their table, the both of them tucked into a corner of the café.

“Hey,” Jungkook murmurs, reaching out to slot their fingers together, holding Taehyung's hand in a tight grip. “What are you thinking about?

Taehyung startles, gaze lifting, but he presses his lips into a thin line, the sides of his eyes crinkling into a smile that doesn't quite reach the heart. “Nothing. There isn’t anything that interesting.”

Jungkook wants to say more, but he nods, says “I see”.

“What are your plans for the future?” Taehyung's head remains lowered, staring blankly at the surface of the table as he slides his half empty cup of mocha from one open palm to the other, muffled scrape of paper against the surface. “Are you going to spend the rest of your life like this with me, always on the run, lying to your family?”

There’s a part of Jungkook that wants to reach out and cup Taehyung's face in his hands, but the part of him that’s afraid is vast, a weight on his chest that solders his palms to the edge of the table, skin melting fast into the wood because no, someone will see us and it’ll be the end. “I—”

“God’s not blind,” Taehyung says, and when he finally looks up, his eyes are sad. His smile is sad, he looks so tired that it physically aches Jungkook to just look at him. “I probably have no future, I was born without it. But you,” Taehyung's hand reaches out, clasps Jungkook's in his own, and it’s cold. “You have everything. It’s not too late for you, Jungkook. You don’t have to damn yourself with me.”

The silence is oppressive, stirring in the space between them.

And then Jungkook's stretching his body across the table, lips pressing firmly against Taehyung's despite the hushed silence that immediately locks in every part of the café and the soft yelp that manages to slip from Taehyung's lips before he just stops breathing.

Jungkook pulls back, calls him an idiot, then they’re grabbing their things and scramming the fuck out of that café and every judging pair of eyes, hoping against all odds that none of the patrons are regular attendees at their church.

Later, when they’re standing outside the door of Taehyung's apartment, Jungkook cages him against the wall beside it and kisses him again. Slow, sweet, painful. Says, “I love you, Taehyung. Family be damned, friends be damned, god be damned.” His breathing is heavy, and he knows that he probably looks scared. “Everything be damned,” Jungkook's lips graze Taehyung's own trembling ones, “if they won’t let us be happy.”

Taehyung just whispers, “the walls have ears.”

They stand there, steeping in the silence, breathing in each other and everything else that they have in the moment, then Taehyung lowers his head and mumbles, “can you stay the night?”

Jungkook says yes because he always says yes.

Taehyung's in bed when Jungkook's on the phone with his mother, telling her that he’s going to stay the night at a friend’s to complete a group project. He gets through with no problems, and Taehyung lets himself be tucked into Jungkook's arms when the younger slips back under the sheets with him, head in the cradle of Jungkook's neck, cheek pressed against warm, familiar skin, smelling faintly of mint soap.

They fall asleep like that, wrapped up in each other in their own little world, and then the sun breaks through the gaps between the curtains, burns fierce (almost angrily) beneath Jungkook's eyelids until he stirs and revels in the contemplation of eternal damnation.

 

(“Where do you think all these souls go, after someone dies?”

“Your father’s the pastor, how would I know? Doesn’t he say that they go to purgatory?”

“That’s what they say. But, is it true?”

“If it isn’t, then their entire life would have been a lie.”

“You see, that’s the thing. We’ll never know, because the only ones who do, will never have a chance to tell us.”)

 

The choir is only just starting on the first hymn when Jungkook rushes up the stairwell to the sanctuary. When he glances up, he sees that the usher has just shut the door, and there’s a part of him that’s panicky, something that’s been ingrained into him growing up.

A hand wraps around his wrist, and Taehyung's peering out from the wall, pulling Jungkook back down the stairs, a mischievous glint in his eyes, matching Jungkook's own questioning ones, though the younger’s got his brows lifted in curiosity. Amusement, perhaps. Taehyung's always had strange quirks.

Taehyung's bringing them to the parking lots, Jungkook realizes. They’re heading towards his car.

“Somewhere to go?” Jungkook keeps his voice levelled and as neutral as he can, though the short laugh of disbelief manages to steal out from behind his lips. “Somewhere urgent?”

“Definitely.” Taehyung's tugging the door open and clambering into the backseat (Jungkook's pulse starts to spike because it’s a blatant invitation and he’s not going to deny by saying that he would prefer to return to service and listen to a sermon that chips away at everything that he wants to live for), eyes shadowed by his bangs and lips quirking up into a faint smile.

Jungkook swallows, because what are you doing, Taehyung?

A crinkle of the eyes, and Taehyung's curling his fingers into the front of Jungkook's shirt, pulling him into the backseat with him, and Jungkook goes with it, numb, heartbeat pounding in his ears. There’s a whisper, Taehyung's whispering, lips grazing the shell of his ear before taking the lobe between his teeth. He says, “worship in the bedroom.”

“This is hardly a bedroom,” but Jungkook's growling and pulling away so he can stare down at Taehyung and Jesus fucking Christ, Taehyung is the embodiment of perfection with his cheeks flushed and eyes half lidded, unfocused. He is beautiful, and Jungkook's absolutely fucking sure that no angel could have fallen as sweet.

It’s a struggle, Jungkook's car is a small, silver Volvo, paint peeling near the bumpers and random scratches along the sides with probably his own keys or jeans buttons (because Taehyung enjoys making out on the hood), but they make do.

They’ve learnt to take everything that they’ve been given, making the best out of them for any current situation, like now when Taehyung's leg is slung over Jungkook's shoulder, his shirt rucked up to his chest as his lips part in small, breathless moans while Jungkook's mouth is on his left nipple, tracing around the sensitive nub with the tip of his tongue.

“God,” Taehyung gasps out, and Jungkook moves up to steal any subsequent syllable right from the back of his throat.

When he pulls back, Jungkook's smirking, clumsily tearing open a packet of lube that he’s (predictably) found in Taehyung's back pocket. “I’d appreciate if you called the right name.”

Taehyung takes two fingers right away, keening against Jungkook's shoulder as the younger presses the pads of his digits around, teasingly scraping with his nail, half drunk on the abrupt, uncontrolled mewls that Taehyung's desperately trying to subdue.

And with the pleasure, Jungkook's aware of just how sacrilegious what they’re doing is. The metal crucifix that’s fixed on the sloped roof of the church building casts a shadow over the car, ominous, as if in warning.

 

(“Have you ever thought that maybe we should stop?”)

 

“Jungkook,” Taehyung whines, and then Jungkook doesn’t care anymore, barely registering the gentle movements of the car that moves along with every rock of his hips into Taehyung's.

It’s slow. It’s so slow, and so careful. Jungkook takes his time, watching the way Taehyung unravels beneath him, back arching whenever Jungkook presses back in, deep and hard. He says “please, please, please” like he’s begging for salvation, and Jungkook isn’t about to deny him, pitching them both off the edge of an unknown, not knowing where they’d end up.

Taehyung's quiet after that, as Jungkook balls tissues up and uses them to clean up. Jungkook presses his lips to Taehyung’s, and they kiss slow, warm and wet, only pulling away when the clock tower chimes for noon.

“Why,” Jungkook breathes, “why is this a sin?”

Silence dusts over them, and Taehyung doesn’t meet Jungkook's eyes for a whole few minutes.

“How could this,” Jungkook reaches over, clasping his hands with Taehyung's, and he can feel just how hard the other is trembling, he can see it now, the small, weak shake of Taehyung's shoulders and the tightness of his lips sealed in a line, as if he’s afraid of what he should say. “How could love be a sin?”

“Jungkook—”

“I love you. I fucking love you.”

Taehyung starts to cry, and Jungkook gathers him into his arms, breathing in the scent of Taehyung's skin until they’ve both calmed down, their exhales like static in the confinement of Jungkook's car.

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung finally whispers, and it borders on a sob. “I’m sorry for tainting your halo.”

(It’s only a few hours later when Jungkook's having dinner with his parents that he realizes Taehyung never said “I love you” back.)

 

(“Stop what?”

“This. Us.”

“Never. Have you?”

“Every single time.”

“Oh.”

“You shouldn’t have met me. I’m going to destroy you. You’re perfect, so perfect, and I love you so fucking much, but I’m not worth losing your wings for.”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

“I’m going to drag you down to hell, with me.”

“I’d go anywhere with you. You know that. Nothing is worth it without you there.”

“You can have the sky, the stars. The sun. You can have the world.”

“Maybe I can, now. But I wouldn’t have them if you hadn’t shown them to me.”

“There is no way out of hell. You know that, right?”

“I know. Your father reminds us every week.”)

 

It is said that the worst things arrive, like delayed cargo at a harbour, when you’re least guarded. Sneak up on you, cold fingers that circle around the ankles and pull at you with so much force that you lose your centre of gravity. The calm before a storm. They come unasked, unannounced, and whatever built them has designed them to destroy.

Jungkook's only just stepped out of the shower, towel around his waist and hair still damp, when it happens.

His father stands at the foot of his bed, Jungkook's phone in his hand, the screen still lit up with a new text. He lifts his head, and Jungkook sees the storm brewing in his eyes, sees the calm slowly stretching into cracks from just fissures in bulletproof stained glass.

“What have you done?”

It’s not a question, because Jungkook knows that his father only ever asks “what have you done?” as something rhetorical, when he already knows what the exact crime is. He knows this, and he can still feel the split of bamboo on his thigh from when he was eight years old and he had skipped school to play soccer with his friends.

Silence is safe. Silence is good, because it gives his father nothing to hold against him, nothing to bite back on and nothing to counter. So, Jungkook is silent.

“Do you even know what you’re doing?”

The screen is facing Jungkook now, and his blank stare drops to focus on his own lock screen. It’s Taehyung kissing him on his cheek as Jungkook half turns to look at him, the sides of his eyes crinkling with a gaze so full of adoration that the blind can tell just how much they’re in love with each other.

His father’s gaze plummets down from Jungkook's face, and Jungkook feels the prickle on his bare collarbones, realizing with a jolt and delayed panic that they’re not as bare as he’d thought them to be. The marks that Taehyung had left just that morning feel as if they’re burning into his skin, white hot, angry red, dirty black, like coal on white cloth.

“We told you not to be around him. We told you he’s not like others, that it’s risky for you.”

“I—”

“Why won’t you listen? Will you ever start to think rationally and consider the consequences of your own actions? All we wanted was the best for you!” His father has stepped closer now, and Jungkook suddenly feels so small, so vulnerable. “Look at you,” and it sounds more of a sneer than anger now. “So easily influenced by sin. It’s not too late if you stop and beg God for forgiveness now.”

Then, Jungkook says, “I love him.”

His father lifts a hand and there’s a sting against his cheek, on the same cheek that Taehyung had kissed him on, in his lock screen.

“Get out,” his father’s voice is low, tightly controlled. “Get out of this house, and don’t you dare come back.”

When Jungkook's closing the front door, his fingers trembling, he hears it. He hears it loud and clear despite the hushed angry tone of his father speaking to his mother.

“He was born sick.”

Taehyung must have been hurting so much, growing up with that.

 

“Jungkook?”

Taehyung peers around the doorway, his hair slightly mussed up, wearing a pair of rectangular, black framed glasses and a hoodie so oversized it slips off one shoulder. He looks confused, as if he’d been doing something (probably his senior year thesis) and is still in the process of resurfacing into reality.

When Jungkook offers no response, he blinks and stands a little straighter, reaching for the younger’s hand. “What’s wrong?”

Jungkook's grateful that Taehyung's the way he is. He never presses for answers, and if Jungkook reaches for a hug, Taehyung would oblige. Wordlessly, protectively. Taehyung could make Jungkook feel small in his arms, and he could make Jungkook feel like he has an entire world within his chest.

They stay that way, Jungkook's face against the crook of Taehyung's neck, until he speaks, quietly. “My father found out about us. He told me to get the fuck out of the house.”

And this is when Taehyung tenses up. He says, “oh.”

A long, careful breath.

“So I’ve decided to move out,” Jungkook pulls back, hands lifting to cup Taehyung's face, and the older boy flinches a little, lips slowly paling. “To be with you. Let’s just be the two of us, Taehyung. Together, always.”

“Jungkook…”

“No one is going to tell us no. We can love with no boundaries, no fear. Taehyung,” Jungkook tightens his arms around him, but Taehyung pushes at his shoulders.

“Jungkook,” Taehyung says, and Jungkook drops his hands, because he can hear it in his voice, hear Taehyung telling him to keep a distance. “You know that’s not possible. Things don’t go the way we want them to, and life is unfair.”

It’s cold, when Jungkook tries to reach for Taehyung's hand, because his fingers close around nothing. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” and Taehyung takes a deep breath, a wry smile on his lips, (and Jungkook swallows his pleas of “please don’t”, the words tasting bitter on the back of his tongue) “that we should stop now.”

Even as he’s asking stop what? What are you going on about? Taehyung, Jungkook knows. He knows exactly what’s going on.

“Us. We should stop seeing each other. We were never meant to be, anyway.”

“We—”

“We’re not right, Jungkook,” Taehyung's voice is thick now, low, and Jungkook catches a hint of anger in it. Anger at the world, anger at Jungkook. “We’re not even supposed to be in love.”

“You know that’s not true.” Jungkook's fingers have curled into his palms, clenching into fists with so much force that his arms visibly tremble, knuckles going white. “We’ve talked about this. We’re all right. You’re all right.”

“I am not,” Taehyung bites out, “Jungkook.”

“God, please. Don’t do this right now, Taehyung.”

“Let’s just stop,” Taehyung turns away, running a hand through his hair, exasperation spelt out in the cinch of his brows. “It was never going to be a permanent thing, anyway. We’ve had enough fun, I’ve had enough fun. Let’s move on to better things.”

Taehyung.”

Taehyung doesn’t reply, just steps back into his apartment and starts to close to door. He stops when it’s two inches from shutting, and Jungkook is looking at him through the sliver of space between the frame and the door.

“I love you,” Jungkook says, his throat closes up and his nose is burning, he can’t even see clearly because he’s fucking tearing up. He’s fucking crying. “I love you, Taehyung. Please, stop, we’ll work this out.”

“Go home,” Taehyung finally whispers. “Forget about us. Repent, God will forgive you, Jungkook.”

It is when he’s facing a closed door that Jungkook starts to believe, for the first time, that perhaps everything in the universe is already predestined, and it doesn’t matter how much he fights against it, because everything will be directed to the same outcome, no matter which route he takes.

 

(“I told you, I was born sick.”)

 

A few years later, Jungkook will theorize that people either make orbits, or join existing ones, depending on their gravitational force. Jungkook will accept that if he doesn’t have enough strength to pull Taehyung into his orbit, then Taehyung should, of course, be free to gravitate towards greater attractions.

 

“Going home?”

Jungkook looks up from his laptop, the screen cluttered with numerous tabs—visual studios, command prompt windows, Google Chrome and an open word document alongside PDF files of past research projects that he has dragged all over the place, fitting them into whichever space he can so that he can refer to them while writing his own research paper (something about measuring time according to the movements of the solar system).

Jimin is small, but Jungkook's never met anyone with a smile so big that it’s impossible not to return (he does, really, but the memory in question wears a strange rectangular grin, and is more infectious in areas apart from his smile).

“Yeah.” Leaning back in his swivel chair, Jungkook glances around the lab and sees that the other interns have all left, and that his workspace is the only area bathed in the white, fluorescent glow of his table lamp. “I should go soon.”

“I’m meeting Yoongi for dinner, want to come with?” Jimin helps gather up the messy scatter of documents all over Jungkook's desk, and Jungkook rubs at his nape sheepishly, nodding. “We thought we’d go have black bean noodles, then to a bar.”

“A bar?” Jungkook's brows raise in amusement as he saves all his current work and types “shutdown /l” into the command prompt of his laptop, a circle of dots spinning in slow seconds before the screen promptly goes black. “Is it really such a good idea to turn up for work with a hangover?”

Jimin gives him a long look, almost exasperatedly, then he shoves Jungkook's jacket into his arms. “Since you seem to be forgetting, it’s a Friday.”

Jungkook just dips his head, “ah.”

“So, what’s the verdict?”

“If you guys don’t mind me third wheeling, I’m game.”

“Great! I’ve already gotten Yoongi to order three portions, actually. Would be a terrible waste if you’d rejected us.”

If anything else, Jimin is also one of the most impulsive people that Jungkook has met.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is Jimin's boyfriend (though recently turned fiancé), Yoongi, who looks as if he’s given up on injecting enthusiasm into anything he does (unless it involves a certain Park Jimin) because he’s seen all the terrible things this world has to offer and he’s made it his life’s dream to return the negativity tenfold, hundredfold, whatever.

Jimin waves when they’re nearing the shop, and Yoongi lifts a hand in acknowledgement from the table he’s at, standing up with his arms open almost as if it’s a habit (and it is, it really is), letting Jimin tuck himself against his chest.

Jungkook can’t help the small sting in his chest, between his ribs, when Yoongi presses a small kiss to Jimin's temple, returning the younger’s adoring gaze with a fond smile of his own. They look so content and comfortable in each other’s presence, and there’s no denying that they’re perfect for each other. Jungkook's happy for them, so happy for them, but he’s also envious (because once upon a time, long ago, he’d been so sure that he’s found his own happiness, too).

 

(“Why do you think there are certain types of love that’s classified as sin?”)

 

He eats his noodles in between nods and muted hums to Jimin's idle chatter, listening to his colleague and also best friend tell his fiancé about his own research project, what he’d found, what sucked, and what he’s so close to finding. Yoongi just smiles distractedly, and they all know he’s bored, but he doesn’t tell Jimin to shut up, just listens.

It’s Jimin who’d picked him up when Jungkook had fallen, at the possibly lowest point of his existence. Second year of college, when Jungkook had to start learning how to breathe again, without Taehyung beside him. They’d been only acquaintances in the dance crew, then. Jimin had found Jungkook when he’d returned to get his water bottle, curled up into himself in the corner of the studio, quietly choking on his sobs.

Jimin showed Jungkook that times are changing; love’s boundaries have been stretched. He’s free to love whomever he wants. He never says empty words, he proves it. He understands, tells Jungkook that people only refuse to accept differences because they’re afraid of uncertainties. They’re afraid of change. Change is new, change is not safe, because change has no guarantee.

“Fuck everyone who tells you that different is bad,” Jimin had said, once. “You’re you, you are whatever you want yourself to be.”

Jungkook completed his degree, that way. Jimin took two years off to work fulltime, and then they’d enrolled into their Masters together, shaking hands on collaborating in the R&D sector in the future, because nothing exhilarates them more than the universe and everything that it has (and yet) to offer.

Jungkook was there when Jimin told his parents that he’s in love, when he’s on his knees and in tears because he’s in love with a boy, and he’s scared. So scared. Jungkook was there when Jimin's parents pulled their son into an embrace so tight and powerful that Jungkook had stepped away. He was there when Jimin's parents told Jimin that it doesn’t matter who he’s in love with, because he will always be their son. Jungkook was there, when Yoongi proposed, and Jimin cried in his arms for an entire hour.

He tries not to think about Taehyung, but there are things about him that haunt Jungkook, no matter how hard he tries to forget. Jungkook's picked up little habits from him; leaving the toothbrush in the glass, toothpaste tube facing down. Hanging his towel only on the right side of the rack, or always leaving the door of the shower cubicle open when not in use. Things that Jungkook has to do every day, fragments of Taehyung cling to everything, as if desperate not to let go.

It gets better, though, as the years pass. Like overwritten data, Jungkook tries to make new habits, he does different things. He moves out, finally, when he’d finished his undergraduate degree. He makes new habits in a new environment, and everything is well.

He stopped going to church, because Jungkook doesn’t want to see the very faces who are the cause of his torment, doesn’t want to listen to spear-pointed words that degrade his entire existence or beg a god who has probably forgotten his name. Jungkook only believes in “forgive, but don’t forget”.

God never forgets, and Jungkook has yet to ask for forgiveness of something that he doesn’t regret.

So Jungkook is always curious, because why should something be predetermined? Everything is subjected to change, any action or thought can influence the future.

Jungkook watches Yoongi dab at the corners of Jimin's lips with a napkin, his brows cinching as he complains about how Jimin should start learning how to eat like decent person because you’re twenty six, for god’s sake, do I have to wipe your mouth forever?

“Of course,” Jimin chirps, taking initiative by swiping his tongue across his lower lip. “That’s why you proposed to me, right?”

“Why are you such a brat?”

“You love this brat.”

They maintain their friendly banter even as they paid for their food and made their way across to the next street where the bar is, only stopping for peace when they’re searching for seats. Jungkook eventually finds a single stool at the counter, turning around to voice it when he realizes that both Yoongi and Jimin are no longer behind him.

“I have great friends,” Jungkook says, though mostly to himself, settles into his seat and orders a bourbon (neat, because it’s a Friday and Jungkook thinks he can afford to not give a fuck on Fridays).

He’s on his third drink when he hears him.

Jungkook's got a rather decent level of alcohol tolerance, so he’s sure he’s not even close to getting drunk, not yet. But there’s no mistake, because when he turns (snaps his head around so fast that he gets a crick in his neck), there’s Taehyung, speaking into his phone in a hushed tone, fingers wrapped around a drink that looks like a margarita.

His hair is a shock of loud orange, bangs falling over his eyes; Taehyung is everything that Jungkook remembers him as. Expressive eyes that crinkle at the sides when he smiles, and Taehyung is smiling now, laughing quietly at whatever the person on the other side of the line is saying, and Jungkook catches the familiar rectangular grin.

Jungkook doesn’t realize how tightly he’s gripping on his glass until the bartender asks if he’s okay, and Taehyung turns, catching his stare.

“Jungkook?”

 

(“I want to study the universe.”

“You want to study the universe?”

“I want to know why God created the world the way he did, why he made things the way they are. Why some things are right, and why some things are wrong.”

“You can’t change anything, though.”

“Oh, but I will.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to change things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Love. I’m going to make love right.”

“It has never been wrong.”

“I’m going to make us right.”)

 

“Taehyung.”

 

(“Have you ever thought that maybe we should stop?”

“Stop what?”

“This. Us.”)

 

Taehyung stares at him, lips parted in what Jungkook wryly notes must be disbelief. It’s understandable, though. They haven’t seen each other in almost six years, haven’t spoken a single word. Seoul is a small city, but it’s big enough for two people who have no intention of meeting, to not brush shoulders at all.

“You seem well,” Taehyung finally says, his voice small, gaze dropping onto the bar top.

“I’m well.” Jungkook is aware of how painful the silence is this time, a vacuum that exists only in the space between him and Taehyung, and all the noise outside will not reverberate in place of their lack of speech.

Taehyung lifts his drink and takes a sip, touching his tongue to the salt that rims his glass. He’s thinking so hard, and Jungkook can almost see the gears clicking in his head. “I’m glad you’re doing all right.”

“Thank you.”

Jungkook buys a fourth drink, holds it between his palms until it warms and tastes strange on his tongue.

He likes to think of himself as an organized individual. Jungkook keeps all his notes and books tabbed, specific colours for specific things, puts all his things into folders and keeps the number of rows of icons on his desktop to a maximum of three. He has everything planned out, and he knows exactly what he wants to happen.

Taehyung throws him off in ways that he cannot comprehend, leaves him breathless as if he’d tripped and fallen and he doesn’t know where he’s supposed to be headed anymore. Taehyung has always had this effect on him (and Jungkook learns that he still does).

“I missed you,” and Jungkook realizes his mistake only five seconds too late when Taehyung stands up and dips his head, curt and polite, distanced.

He says, “nice meeting you, Jungkook.”

“You’re just going to go?” Jungkook knows he sounds desperate, but he’s angry, maybe just a little bit in denial, because he’s tried. He tried six years to get over Kim Taehyung only to have him reappear in his life and pretend that they’re strangers. He’s not having it.

“I have a deadline,” Taehyung mumbles, tucking his lower lip behind his teeth, and Jungkook recognizes it as a habit of his, Taehyung's nervous. “I have to send it in by tomorrow afternoon.”

Jungkook takes a deep breath, thinks about what an idiot he is, and says, “I’ll drive you.”

There’s a short blank of time, then Taehyung lowers his head and sighs. “Yeah, all right. Thank you.”

The drive back to Taehyung's apartment is quiet, save for Jungkook asking for his address and Taehyung's short, fractured reply, as if hesitating to let him know where he lives. It brings Jungkook back to when Taehyung would insist on holding Jungkook's hand while the younger is driving, playing with his fingers and talking his ear off about random things.

He misses it. He misses Taehyung, and he wants everything back.

Then they’re in front of Taehyung's apartment building and Taehyung's scrabbling at the door like he can’t survive being in the same confined space as Jungkook. He slips his hands into his coat pockets and lifts his head, watching when Jungkook walks around to his side of the car.

“Thanks for the—”

Jungkook kisses him. Cages him against the side of the car and steals the words right from the tip of his tongue, and Taehyung's gasp dissipates into a startled moan, his hands curling into the front of Jungkook's jacket, gripping tightly.

“I missed you,” Jungkook whispers against Taehyung's lips, and Taehyung shivers, eyes fluttering half shut. “I missed you so much.” His hands find Taehyung's cheeks, cupping his face as he presses soft kisses to his jaw, mouthing at his neck. So maybe he’s a little drunk, but he’s sober enough to know what he’s doing, and hurling himself back into Taehyung's storm is a bad idea. He knows.

“Stop,” Taehyung's hands push at his shoulders, and Jungkook staggers back, eyes drawn to Taehyung's lips, flushed and still wet. Little wisps of white curl up from them as Taehyung pants, leaning back against the car, as far from Jungkook as possible. “Please,” he says again, breathless, torn. “Don’t.”

They stand there, lost and perhaps almost found, and Jungkook ducks his head, feeling his chest tighten from the cold or from the rejection, he’s not too sure. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs, glancing up to catch Taehyung's gaze again before he dips his head, turning to go back to the driver’s seat.

“I'm sorry.” Taehyung reaches out, snagging at the sleeve of his jacket, and Jungkook stops.“Do you want to… come up?”

Jungkook turns, watches him with a shadowed expression.

Taehyung's biting on his lip, running a hand through his hair. “For a drink?”

The words weigh in the air, and Jungkook lets them sink into him before he takes in a deep breath and nods, a faint, wary smile on his lips. “All right. Wait here? I’ll go park the car.”

When Taehyung nods, Jungkook swears that he sees relief in his smile.

Taehyung's apartment looks almost exactly the same as the one he had back in college. Void of colour with the exception of black and white, maybe the occasional splash of furniture or decoration that doesn’t come in Zen. A cactus here, a painting there.

The only object in the entire living area that catches Jungkook's attention is Taehyung's bookshelf. It is tall, made of white painted wood, propped against the wall beside the grey couch. It is lined with books and magazines from bottom to top, save for the top shelf that is at least a head above Taehyung, where Taehyung displays a few plaques.

“You still read,” Jungkook murmurs, more of fondness than surprise, and Taehyung responds with a faint smile that ghosts his lips and a small dip of his head.

“Of course.”

The third shelf is packed with thin spines of a familiar magazine title, and Jungkook’s pulse throbs just slightly, reaching up to pull one of the issues down, thumbing through the pages. “I read this, too.” He glances up, and finds Taehyung watching him with an expression akin to curiosity. “My collection isn’t as impressive as yours, though.”

“I’m a loyal follower,” Taehyung obliges as reply, the sides of his eyes pulling up into crescents, and Jungkook finds himself thrown back into nostalgia all over again. “Not many people read this magazine, though? It’s rather obscure and controversial, after all.”

“I’m aware.”

Jungkook leafs through the issue in silence, then Taehyung speaks again, his voice soft. “Which is your favourite column?”

“Everything is interesting,” there’s the sound of paper, and Jungkook places the magazine into Taehyung's hands, tapping a fingertip on the current page. “But I probably like V’s articles the most.”

V?” Taehyung's voice is tinged with mirth as he drops his gaze down to trace through the lines of the article. “Why is that? “

“I don’t know.” Jungkook lets out a quiet, hollow laugh. “They write in a way that feels so familiar.”

“Familiar?”

“Yeah,” Jungkook meets Taehyung's levelled stare. “Don’t you think so? Their take on taboo subjects are derived from points of view of involved parties,” he pauses, tone dipping lower. “Like sexuality. Religion.”

Taehyung flinches, then, and Jungkook doesn’t miss it. “Yeah, they probably are.” He slots the magazine back into place, then pads over to sit on the couch, leaving Jungkook standing by the shelf until he lifts his head and tells him to sit down, why are you making me feel like a terrible host?

“So,” Jungkook says, after a stretch of staring at Taehyung's coffee table. “What have you been up to?”

“Just, around,” Taehyung makes a vague hand gesture, flashing Jungkook a wry smile. “Freelancing here and there, a few project-based contracts. You?”

“I’m good.” Jungkook lets out a soft hum, almost laughs out loud at how distinctly awkward the atmosphere between them is in comparison to six years ago. “I’m doing my internship for my Masters now. I’ll graduate in a few months if everything goes well.”

“Still trying to study the universe on a protonic level?” Taehyung's teasing him, but it sounds forced, and it physically hurts Jungkook.

“Always,” he says, turning to lock his gaze with Taehyung's.

Taehyung seems to hold his breath, then he looks away and Jungkook knows that he’s overstayed his welcome.

“I should go,” He stands, and Taehyung trails after him uncertainly, “so you won’t end up missing your deadline.”

“My deadline,” Taehyung echoes, “yeah.”

Jungkook gives Taehyung a long look, then puts his hand out. “Phone.”

“What?”

“Could we at least be friends again?”

“Jungkook,” Taehyung closes his eyes, rubbing lightly at the bridge of his nose, as if exasperated. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You dropped me on a whim.” Jungkook says, and he knows he shouldn’t be dragging it back up now, but he’s desperate. He doesn’t know how to stop. “You owe me that, at least.”

Taehyung's gaze is dark, shadowed beneath his bangs. “There’s nothing interesting about me. Everything there is, you already know.”

“Ninety percent of the universe is still unfounded,” Jungkook takes a step closer, and Taehyung backs himself up against the doorframe, half dazed. “The same goes for you, and if it’s you, Taehyung,” a faint smirk ghosts Jungkook's lips as he drops his gaze, and Taehyung realizes (rather belatedly) that the younger already has Taehyung's phone in hand, giving himself a call. “I don’t mind learning something new every day.”

“What a sleaze,” Taehyung chokes out, but there’s no venom, just plain disbelief and slight amusement.

Jungkook returns him his phone and lets out a soft laugh, stepping back into his shoes and tipping Taehyung an imaginary hat farewell. “I’ll be taking my leave.”

He receives no response, but Jungkook can feel Taehyung's eyes on his back the entire time he’s walking down the corridor to the lift lobby.

 

 (“You go first.”

“All right. Name?”

“Kim Taehyung.”

“Kim?”

“Yeah. I’m the pastor’s son.”

“Right… age?”

“Seventeen.”

“So, you’re older.”

“Yeah. But, please. Call me Taehyung.”

“Taehyung. Favourite book?”

“I can’t answer that.”

“You don’t read?”

“No, of course I read. I just can’t name a favourite, there are too many good books out there.”

“Fair enough.”)

 

Over the course of the next month, Jungkook learns that Taehyung has stopped drinking mocha every other day, and prefers tea over coffee. He learns that Taehyung's smiles have become a rare occurrence, and that he should be blessed to be graced by even the briefest quirk of his lips.

He learns that Taehyung adores poetry, would spend hours reciting the stanzas of his favourite poem to anyone, even Jungkook, despite the slash in their history.

We have both known loss like the sharp edges of a knife,” Taehyung murmurs, and Jungkook learns how to fall in love with him all over again. “We have both lived with lips more scar tissue than skin.

“That’s a beautiful poem,” Jungkook glances up, after a while. Most of the patrons in the café have left, the wall clock behind Taehyung reads “22:48”, and Taehyung looks anything but tired. “What’s it called?”

Taehyung hums in thought, a hand around his mug of earl grey, a slight smile on his lips, and he doesn’t answer the question. He asks another, but by this time, Jungkook's already seen it coming. “Would you like to hear another part of it?”

Jungkook says, “sure,” because he’s a mess for Taehyung. Taehyung is wax burns and anchors, and Jungkook is a candle stump and shipwrecks combined.

This is how we heal.” Taehyung places both his elbows on the top of the table, meets Jungkook's gaze without looking away, and Jungkook swears that he sees fire burning in Taehyung's eyes. “I will kiss you like forgiveness. You will hold me like I’m hope.”

He doesn’t realize how near their faces are until Taehyung jerks back, lowering his eyes, flustered, and Jungkook clears his throat, heat in his cheeks at how close he had been to losing control. Again. “Continue,” his voice is hoarse, thick with embarrassment.

“That’s all,” Taehyung mumbles, lifting his mug to his lips, and Jungkook turns away to drain the rest of his Americano.

Jungkook drives Taehyung home, and they exchange quiet farewells. There’s always a look that lingers too long between them until one of them glances away. Like every time he’s dropped Taehyung off during the past month, Jungkook will get back into his car, and drive away without kissing Taehyung.

(And every time Jungkook's car turns out of the apartment building, Taehyung will curl his fingers into tight fists, his nails leaving white, crescent shaped marks over his palms.)

 

Jimin throws his arms around Jungkook's neck from the back the moment he skids into the lab, and Jungkook almost crashes face first into his laptop screen, a strangled yelp escaping his lips (not because he was startled, but because he was afraid for his work and laptops are expensive, bless technological advancements).

“Jesus shit,” Jungkook gasps, his hands lifting right off the keyboard and poising awkwardly mid-air as his muscles tense. “Jimin. For god’s sake, Jimin.”

“Sorry,” Jimin says unapologetically, and shoves a stack of printed papers into Jungkook's face. Jungkook catches a blur of graphs and plot points, some red circles here and there, and glances up at Jimin with a lifted brow. “But guess who’s found usable data!”

Yeah, all right, so he’s going to rub it all over Jungkook's face and gloat over his new findings while Jungkook still doesn’t fucking have a clue how to further dissect time dilation and Proper Time with regards to space-time continuum.

At least Jimin is so happy that he’s blatantly promising to buy Jungkook dinner (also because Yoongi's working overtime and Park Jimin does not, under any circumstances, eat alone).

“I’m going to leave early,” Jimin says, tucking his papers back into his file and throwing Jungkook a brief glance, “and take a shower or something. Are you going to stay?”

Jungkook makes a noncommittal noise in response, and Jimin takes the opportunity to muss up the younger’s hair, grabbing his jacket and hightailing out of the lab with a quip of “see you later, Jungkookie!”

It’s a little past seven in the evening when the screen of Jungkook's phone lights up, soft buzzing on the table that is loud for once, and Jungkook doesn’t ignore it the way he always does when the vibration sounds muted over and under stacks of papers.

Taehyung's voice bleeds soft yet clear over the receiver, and Jungkook stills, forgetting everything that he had been doing up until that very moment.

“Hey.”

“Are you busy?” And it’s very typical of Taehyung not to return a greeting.

“Not really. I’m about to leave the lab.”

Static crackles gently on the line, and Taehyung mumbles, “I’m outside the observatory.”

“What?”

Jungkook's never been one to go speechless. He usually has all his replies planned out, but Taehyung is the only exception. Has always been an exception.

“Is it a bad time? I just… thought I should drop by.”

“No, no,” Jungkook blurts, feeling ridiculous and disoriented and panicked all at once. “I’ll come down and bring you in.”

Taehyung's bundled up in his coat and scarf, leaning against the side of the building, and Jungkook finds him like this. He dares to reach out, though Taehyung startles when Jungkook's hand slips into his.

“Surprise?” Taehyung's cheeks are flushed (from the cold, or something else, Jungkook prefers the latter, but he will never know). “Want to grab dinner?”

“Sure,” Jungkook makes a mental note to cancel dinner with Jimin as he leads them into the lobby, ends up staring at Taehyung the entire time they’re waiting for the lift.

Taehyung mumbles, “what?”

“I wasn’t expecting a visit,” Jungkook laughs quietly, glancing down at Taehyung's hand, wanting to hold it so badly there’s an ache in his chest. “Did you want to see the observatory?”

“Yeah. It’s cool that you work in an observatory. You get to see the stars and touch telescopes all day.” There it is again, the soft quirk of Taehyung's lips that Jungkook's always looking out for (he’s been seeing it more often as of recent).

“That’s not what this whole job is about.” Jungkook presses the button for the planetarium and leans against the wall of the lift, arms crossed over his chest so he may (hopefully) have better control of his hands. “I’m doing a research project. I have to write reports, code, and all that. It’s not just telescopes and stargazing.”

“Still interesting.”

“You know,” Jungkook suddenly says, and Taehyung lifts his head to look at him. “You know that I ventured into astronomy because of you, right?”

Taehyung visibly stills, and Jungkook watches him wring his hands together, voice soft, unsteady. “Are you angry?”

“No,” Jungkook's voice rises, and he’s not angry, for god’s sake. He’s in disbelief. He’s confused. “Why the hell would I be?”

“I was the catalyst of an important life decision,” Taehyung flinches, the action is small but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It was the best decision of my life.”

The lift door parts, and Taehyung steps out without a word, faces the nearest wall and stays that way.

“Taehyung—”

He turns around, shows Jungkook a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He says, “hey, show me the planetarium. I want to see the constellations.”

Jungkook takes a deep breath, then nods and gestures for Taehyung to follow him, pushing open the double doors into the dark auditorium, supposedly closed for the day. They walk down the side aisle, and Jungkook moves over to the control panel, flipping the power switches and the projector whirrs softly.

When he looks up, he sees Taehyung with his face tilted upwards, lips slightly parted in awe of the projections, stars slowly flickering all over the domed ceiling, animated to blink, and Jungkook doesn’t understand how someone who has seen the real deal can be so transfixed by all these mimicries.

“There’s Andromeda,” Taehyung murmurs, one arm stretched up as he traces his finger over imaginary lines as if playing “joining the dots”, “there’s Pisces.” He glances over at Jungkook for a moment, and Jungkook can see that his smile has finally reached his eyes. “Does the projection vary by month? It seems very tailored.”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says, his throat dry, because he’s not ready to be so thrown off balance by a smile that he’s been waiting to see for six years. It slams into him, leaves him breathless, and his chest tightens.

Then he’s got his arms around Taehyung and his face buried into the crook of the latter’s neck, because there’s only so much that he can take. He can only pretend for so long. Taehyung whispers, “Jungkook.”

“It was the best decision of my life,” Jungkook repeats against Taehyung's skin, arms tightening around his waist, and he feels the warmth of Taehyung's hands over his own, their fingers messily tangling. “Because now I’m doing it for me. There are so many things out there that we do not know, Taehyung. And the things that we know can and will be subjected to change.”

Taehyung brushes his thumb over the back of Jungkook's hand, and he sounds tired. Exhausted, defeated. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m trying to say, that it wasn’t wrong,” Jungkook places his hands on Taehyung's shoulders and turns him around, locking his arms back around his waist, his gaze searching, pleading. “It wasn’t wrong for us to love each other.”

“Jungkook—”

“It isn’t wrong,” Jungkook interrupts, a little louder, “for us to love each other.”

The illumination flickers above them, soft sound of the machinery and equipment punctuating the heavy air in the auditorium, echoes of Jungkook's confession still reverberating in the confines and off the walls.

Then Taehyung sighs and lifts his head. “You already know, there’s nothing wrong with the universe. It’s me. I was born sick.”

“No,” Jungkook breathes, then cups Taehyung's face in his palms. “I think you’re all right.”

Taehyung makes no move to pull away, just stands still, meeting Jungkook's gaze with his own, breath catching in his throat because Jungkook's lips are suddenly on his, desperate and familiar and foreign all at once. Jungkook has always kissed like he means it, and he still does, but it’s different. Taehyung tastes the edge on Jungkook's tongue, his determination and his promise, he tastes the reassurance.

They kiss quietly in the shadows of the planetarium, under the eyes of stars that will sooner or later burn out and collapse in on themselves. Everything is spiralling towards destruction, time is splintered and the only way to slow time down is to go faster.

Jungkook only pulls away when they’re both gasping for breath, and he drinks in the way Taehyung looks in the dark, his hair a mess, lips flushed and slightly parted in soft, little pants.

“I think you’re all right,” Jungkook says again, brushing Taehyung's bangs from his eyes and leaning in for more, lips brushing against Taehyung's.

It takes a moment, but Taehyung smiles, eyes fluttering half shut. Trusting, open, and finally convinced. “That’s what I think,” he lets out a soft laugh, “too.”

 

(“Are we right?”

“If we say we’re right, then we’re right, Taehyung. We’re the only ones who can define us.”

“But we’re the minority here.”

“We matter.”

“Not to them.”

“We matter to them. They’re all afraid, because we’re the only ones who are venturing out of this world’s sanctuaries to find other Gardens of Eden. They want to follow, but they’re scared of what they’ll find, or what they won’t find. But we’re not afraid. We’re not, right?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m not afraid. I have you; I know you’ll be here with me.”

“I will.”

“And we’re going to be fine.”

“We’re going to be fine.”)

 

(“I’m so sorry, Mom.”

“What are you talking about, Jungkook?”

“I lied. It wasn’t a phase. I was in love with him, and I still am.”)

 

The day Taehyung moves in, it is a full moon.

Jungkook slips his arms around Taehyung while he’s outside, on the balcony, his chin propped up on his hands.

“The world is a beautiful place,” Taehyung says quietly, leaning back against Jungkook as he reaches down to play with the younger’s fingers. “I want to believe that so badly. I wish everyone could let me.”

Jungkook lets out a soft hum and noses at Taehyung's temple, speaking lowly. “The world is whatever you want it to be. We get to make our own skies, Taehyung. We get to choose between eclipse and midnight sun. My world,” he pauses, and Taehyung turns around in his arms expectantly, eyes twinkling with a knowing look, “is you. You are my universe, don’t you ever let anything make you feel otherwise.”

Taehyung whispers, “I won’t,” and lets Jungkook steal the rest of his words from the tip of his tongue, lips parting for open-mouthed kisses and unspoken promises that he will read with only his fingertips over warm skin.

In another life, Jungkook will be a cartographer and dedicate years and eons to tracing the contours of Taehyung's back, the dip at the hollow of his throat. He will mark trails of red and purple over pale skin and follow them with a soothing tongue. He will do anything, if it means getting to keep Taehyung close.

Taehyung is unravelling, his whimpers low and throaty, hypersensitive from how long it’s been since he’s let anyone, anyone touch him the way Jungkook used to, and Jungkook takes pleasure in knowing that he’s the only one who will ever get to scratch scripture into the spaces between bruises.

“I love you,” Jungkook whispers this by Taehyung's ear, and he cries out, the impact of hips on hips like a collision of dimensions, moaning gospel into a bite of Jungkook's shoulders like a pilgrim who’s finally found his cause.

Jungkook presses Taehyung into the sheets, brings him to the gates of heaven, then back down again, dips both their feet into the beginnings of hell, but not quite close enough. He drives Taehyung insane, drives them both to where they break out of the spherical confines of the universe and off of a proper edge.

Later, when they’re both quiet and sated under the warmth of the blankets, Taehyung speaks. He says, “I love you.”

There’s a wicked smile on Jungkook's lips as if he’d been waiting for this. He shifts, inching closer until their faces are only a breath apart. “I know sometimes it’s still hard to let me see you in all your cracked perfection, but please know,” he pauses and he sees the recognition light up in Taehyung's eyes, “whether it’s the days you burn more brilliant than the sun or the nights you collapse into my lap, your body broken into a thousand questions, you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

If there’s one thing that Jungkook has to live without, he knows that it will never be Taehyung's smile. Because fuck, Taehyung's smile puts the sun to shame. His eyes have pulled up into twin crescents, and Jungkook traces the shape of his lips with his finger as Taehyung murmurs, “I will love you when you are a still day.

I will love you when you are a hurricane.”

Taehyung's first to lean in this time, has his turn taking Jungkook's breath away, and they know that it doesn’t matter if they have nothing, because they have each other, and even then, nothing can be everything, because everything is subjected to change.

 

(“I lied. It wasn’t a phase. I was in love with him, and I still am.”

“You’re still my son, don’t you forget that. You always have a home in me.”)

 

“…I’ve always written about how I’m always lost. The world is such a small place, but it’s so easy to lose yourself in it when no one is heading in the same direction as you are. My father is a pastor, and I was his sick child. I lived in the dark for years, and at some point, I found a light, but I let him go.

One month ago, the world decided that our story has yet to end, and pitched us back into each other’s orbits. He was someone who was very important to me. He still is. He tells me that I’m not sick, I’m just different, and different is good.

He says I’m all right, and I believe him.

— V.”

 

“The Universal Law of Cause and Effect states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every cause has an effect, and every effect has a cause. Be at cause for what you desire, and you will get the effect.”