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Forever and Always

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*

Perhaps one day, we can start to understand that pain isn't a gift of torture, but rather a lesson in appreciation.

*

Jeongguk wakes up to an empty room, the cold unsettling his bones. It's in the middle of the night, or morning, based on the large numbers 4:46 A.M. glaring angrily at him from his nightstand. Amidst his sleepy daze, Jeongguk feels his heart sink as he realizes how huge the space of his bed is.

Why is he alone?

He fumbles with the sheets before he all but rushes out into the living room, his shirt and pants be damned, the cold biting the soles of his feet when he swings the door open harshly, his breathing anything but quiet.

Still empty.

He's almost gasping for air in panic as he immediately turns back into the hallway to slam open all the doors available. The guest room is empty, the bathroom is eerily silent, the room with all his beloved paintings is also frighteningly vacant. So is the corner where their favorite piano stands proudly beside the window at the corner of the room.

"No..." Jeongguk hears himself whisper, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. No, no, no, this isn't supposed to be happening.

Hastily, he makes his way back to the room and shrugs on some warm clothes, grabs his keys and mobile phone, before sprinting out of the apartment complex that isn't supposed to be occupied by only one person.

*

Perhaps one day, we can understand that it takes too much of ourselves to withstand a war inside our own heads every day.

*

"God damn it, please just fucking answer your phone at least." Jeongguk all but desperately screams as he is being sent to voicemail once again.

It is raining, the pelting droplets feeling like shards of icicles as they pierce through his thin layer of protection. But it doesn't hinder Jeongguk, as he continues his brisk pace down the streets that are devoid of people.

The numbers at the corner of his device tell him that he has been going around the neighborhood for at least an hour now, digital numbers proudly boasting a 5:57 A.M. He's shivering at this point, but the thought that he's out here, somewhere, under the same harsh cold weather, keeps Jeongguk's determination from wavering. 

"Please," he whimpers, rounding a corner where the end of the street leads to a familiar park he remembers frequenting because it was where they first met. Remembers how he would complain about the sun because oh I hate tans. Remembers how they would giggle silly all the time there because of their shared inner jokes as they watch the people around them. Remembers the warmth spreading to the tips of his fingers as he watches the blonde squeal in delight at the sight of children and puppies.

Remembers all the time spent falling deeper in love with each other, with both flaws and perfections bared naked and vulnerable to each other. Happiness, laughter, love. Tears, anger, insecurities. The park was their sanctuary of comfort, is their sanctuary of safety.

He's praying now, as the park comes into his view. He prays because Lord please don't take him away from me too. I don't know a life without him and I don't want to remember. Please, please, please, everything else in my possession can gladly be yours, just don't take him away-

But just like everywhere else he had tried visiting, there is no blonde-haired male with a lanky frame and beautiful brown eyes that steal the air out of his lungs.

*

He's trudging down the streets along the shop lots now, the heavy downpour calming down to a gentle drizzle.

The time says 6:23 A.M., but it feels like a millennium had already passed.

He attempts to call the number once more, the one that is labeled under the name babe <3.

He goes straight to voicemail, and he tries not to cry.

*

At 8:45 A.M., Jeongguk heads back home.

He almost causes an accident, was close to getting into one, with the slumped state he is in as he crosses the streets, the strings of curses and insults spat at him unheard to his deaf ears as he continues to walk home.

After all, what is home without Kim Taehyung?

Nothing.

*

 

He's sitting down at the café two streets down from the apartment complex he lives in, a neat dress shirt tucked into his slim slacks as he sips the cup of hot Americano in his hands.

At the back of his mind, he hears a familiar voice say, "I bet it's as bitter and as black as your soul, that's the only reason I can think of to understand why you like it so much. But leave it to me to sweeten you up to a point where you can call yourself a caramel macchiato lover!"

He has approximately ten minutes if he wants to make it to his workplace on time.

But the untouched iced caramel macchiato, with two extra pumps of syrup, standing in front of him at the table had him sitting down there and unmoving until the skies turn dark.

He leaves only when he feels a hand pat his shoulder, where he finds a petite little girl telling him that it was time for the café to close.

He doesn't touch the plastic cup with the sweet liquid that is overflowing from the melted ice as he exits the vicinity.

*

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 9:20 A.M.

babe, please come to the café we always go to. ill wait until you come, k

love you

[Unread]

*

Perhaps one day, we can understand that some demons in our heads can't be drowned out because they know how to swim and throw you back inside instead.

*

Three days pass by like this. Jeongguk paces around the neighborhood at night after being kicked out from the café until God knows what time, heads back home at perhaps 5 A.M. or later, sleeps for less than two hours, and sits back at the café until closing time. And the cycle continues.

He gets a call at around 10 P.M. while he is staring at the window from his seat in the café, and he answers it immediately before even glancing at the caller ID.

"Babe, oh my God-"

But his heart plummets back into the depths of his misery when he hears a voice that isn't the one with a low baritone and warmth that melts the ice around his heart.

"Jeon Jeongguk. Do you want to get fired?"

He outright winces. Seokjin only ever uses his full name when he's utterly and unceremoniously pissed. He closes his eyes and sighs. Seokjin takes the wrong hint, Jeongguk knows he does when he hears the underlying anger in the other's voice.

"As much as I am aware of how close we are, it doesn't give you the right to not show up at work with absolutely no explanation--"

"I'm sorry, hyung." Jeongguk cuts him off quickly. "I just, something happened at home and I lost track of time and--"

"What happened?" Seokjin asks, voice gentle with concern and Jeongguk feels his defensiveness fade away.

He takes a deep breath.

"It's--" he's gone, and I'm at a loss of what to do. I want to kick and scream, I want to run around the entire province just to see his stupidly handsome face again, but I'm so lost and tired and hurt, I don't know how much longer I can last like this. It hurts so much. "It's nothing, hyung."

Save me.

God knows why Jeongguk even attempts to lie through his teeth when Seokjin has been growing up with him ever since they were toddlers.

There is the sound of static buzzing humming into his ear when Seokjin breathes through the tense silence, and as guilty as Jeongguk feels, he can't bring himself to break it.

He doesn't need to.

"Guk-ah," Jeongguk really, really tries not to cry at the affectionate name and concern lacing Seokjin's voice, but a sniffle escapes and a tear rolls down his cheek before he manages. "Where are you right now?"

*

And that's how Jeongguk ends up in his bedroom before the café's closing time, snuggling comfortably under his sheets with Seokjin sitting at the side of the bed and carding his fingers gently through Jeongguk's brown locks. He missed the comfort of company. The air at home is suffocating when he's alone, and it reminds Jeongguk of the reason why Seokjin is here in the first place.

"Did he leave any form of message for you?"

Jeongguk can only give a weak shake of his head, chest constricted and heart numb.

"Perhaps he just went to visit a friend, or his family in Daegu because he misses them?" Seokjin knows he's not really helping, maybe even making things worse, but he doesn't know what else to say to not let Jeongguk make such quick assumptions.

Like being left for good without an explanation, for example.

Jeongguk snorts at this, but it's humorless and dry. Another tear rolls down and Jeongguk turns his face into his pillow before the other notices. "This isn't the first time, hyung."

Seokjin's brows rise up, heart hammering in his chest. "What--"

"This isn't the first time he just magically disappeared into thin air, no warning or message, not even a note or a clue to at least reassure me that he's doing something that isn't--" Jeongguk chokes on his words. He hasn't told anyone about this side of Taehyung before, and he feels his heart seize at the thought that it's real, it's really happening again.

He buries his face deeper into the pillow, as he curls closer to the warmth radiating off Seokjin. "I miss him so fucking much, hyung. I thought he-- we were fine, after the proposal."

He doesn't know about Taehyung.

As if on cue, Jeongguk lifts his head to stare at the silver band glistening in the light around his ring finger. It only serves to make him sob harder, and Seokjin brings his broken little almost-brother into his arms.

"Oh, Guk-ah," Seokjin can only whisper softly, hands rubbing soothing circles in the curve of his back. He doesn't press the younger to finish his incomplete sentence from before. "He's going to be alright. Even if this isn't the first time, he always came back to you, and this time, it won't be any different, okay?"

Jeongguk is unable to respond, the crippling anxiety crawling down into his throat and sitting at the base of his stomach, leaving him feeling cold and frightened and sick all at once. So he stays quiet and pretends to sleep; that his thoughts aren't eating into his soul.

If he's still alive, then he might.

*

At 4:06 A.M., in the absence of Kim Seokjin who had left after ensuring that the younger was very much asleep, Jeongguk is sitting up on his bed and staring out into his window, before he reaches over to his nightstand to grab his phone and quickly punches in a familiar set of numbers.

He brings the device to his ears, heart pounding madly against his ribcage.

Sorry, the number you dialed is currently unavailable--

Jeongguk ends the call with a click and places the device back on the nightstand, before crawling back into the warmth of his sheets that doesn't quite reach his heart.

*

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 5:47 A.M.

babe i miss you so much

please come back

ill be waiting, just like i always have, and always will

[Unread]

*

Jeongguk shows up at work about two weeks later.

Seokjin doesn't ask how he's been, doesn't speak about their meeting in the café or at his house. But the older does offer him a gentle, encouraging smile that he can't help but respond to with one of his own.

It doesn't apply to his other coworkers, though. Say, for example, the curious raven-haired male who resembles a fluffy marshmallow and is supposed to be his hyung, that's staring at him with wide and concerned eyes.

"Are you really okay to be working so soon, Guk-ah?" came Jimin's careful question.

But Jeongguk doesn't let his priorities waver. He has to know how to still keep his life in order, and that means being professional when the time calls for it because his bills won't pay for themselves. So he nods, and smiles, albeit it being too thin and too small to be considered genuine, but Jimin doesn't pester him and instead gives his shoulder a pat.

Jeongguk thinks he might be fine if his other hyungs are here to support him.

Everything's going to be alright, he tells himself.

*

Perhaps one day, we can understand that the demons in our heads aren't scary because they hurt us, but they're scary because they tempt us to self-destruction.

*

Several months later, Jeongguk's birthday passes by in a blur. He doesn't quite remember what happened on that day, but he's sure it involved a lot of alcohol, truth or dare with his hyungs, movies, and perhaps much more alcohol.

He thanks God for having Seokjin as his boss and giving him a day off because he knows how Jeongguk will get shit-faced drunk on his 25th birthday. He didn't even need to ask for the leave when he received the text from the older.

[Received]

From: Jin Eomma
At: 8:44 A.M.

Don't come to work. I don't need a hungover and gloomy idiot in my strictly-professionals-only workspace.

But at the same time, I don't think you're going to wake up on time for it today.

So let me rephrase it, don't even bother worrying about showing up today. And try not to die with that hangover.

[Read at 1:36 P.M.]

A headache that threatens to burst his skull open has Jeongguk reeling as he wobbles to the bathroom that is surprisingly still in pristine condition. A dull throb blurs his line of vision as he bends over to empty the contents of his stomach into the pitiful bowl.

Huh, he thinks as he leans against the side of the bowl that is untouched by his now watery and inedible dinner, it's so odd to not get a weird gift from Taehyung this year.

It doesn't really help that he's barely in his right mind yet, but his shrill giggles that turn into a full-blown laughter, as tears form at the edges of his eyes, before simmering down to quiet sobs and then upgrading to loud, desperate wails that make him claw at the porcelain tiles as he slumps down onto the floor in defeat, allows Jeongguk finally be honest with himself after a long while.

Everything's not alright.

*

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 2:28 P.M.

i miss you

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 2:44 P.M.

i miss your stupid box smile

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 3:07 P.M.

i miss your loud laughter, even if it hurts my ears sometimes 

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 4:05 P.M.

i miss your lame jokes and coffee puns

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 5:01 P.M.

i miss how youd cling to me so tightly in bed that i always have a hard time breathing, and how youd giggle about it before apologizing to me with a kiss

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 5:55 P.M.

i miss how you just randomly show up in work as you please to drag me out of the office for dates

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 7:48 P.M.

i just really fucking miss you, kim taehyung

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 7:50 P.M.

please just tell me whats wrong. dont disappear like this so frequently. you know id still be here for you no matter what. let me help you, ffs

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 10:36 P.M.

tae i dont know how much longer i can take this

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 11:40 P.M.

its so lonely here without you

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 1:38 A.M.

dont go

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 3:13 A.M.

i love you tae

[Unread]

-

[Sent, not received]

To: babe <3
At: 5:27 A.M.

i love you so fucking much

so please come home soon

[Unread]

*

It's hard to see, but Jeongguk does gradually get used to coming home to be greeted by silence and loneliness.

Although it doesn't mean it hurts any less.

His hyungs tenfold their effort in ensuring that the younger doesn't have the time to ruin himself with his thoughts because they can see how Taehyung's disappearance is taking its toll on Jeongguk's well-being. He's quieter now, he barely smiles, barely eats, barely shows any emotion other than the occasional small curl of his mouth when they try to make him laugh in any way possible.

So when he starts coming around, with more frequent smiles and less troubled eyes, they thought he was fine. Assumed he was better.

And that's when all hell breaks loose.

Admittedly, it's partially their fault that they don't see the silent plea beneath his eyes, or the desperate longing in the curve of his lips when they did curl up slightly at their awful jokes.

They never did try to find out what Jeongguk was up to when they weren't looking.

Turns out, Jeongguk still roams around the neighborhood, especially after his breakdown, and occasionally he walks until he is so tired to a point where he drops down on the streets, or grass if he's lucky, before he promptly lets his conscience be snatched away from him for a good few hours. 

Seokjin always assumed it's just his alarm not waking him up properly, although he does slightly get a hunch that something is off, with the alarming scars on Jeongguk's face and the darkening bags under his eyes, but he never addresses the matter and brushes it off with Jeongguk being careless at home.

Jeongguk never does tell anyone about his sudden breakdown, moreover his attempts in finding his long-lost lover. That's why his hyungs didn't feel the need to worry too much about him.

But this time, he does get caught red-handed.

*

December, the month that promises a well-spent Christmas, tons of presents and laughter, a fulfilling time spent getting together with old friends and loving family members, perhaps some home-cooked turkey if you're lucky, and a fresh coat of snow every day.

In Jeongguk's case, it's just an entire month of missing the boy whose birthday is coming around in less than four weeks.

December is a time whereby Jeongguk gets the month off because Seokjin decided it'd be a good idea to let his hardworking crew get an entire month off after God knows how long. Jeongguk's five hyungs have all planned or already returned back to their hometowns, with a promise of bringing the youngest tons and tons of presents when they return back in Seoul.

Jeongguk, on the other hand, refuses to return home. But no one needs to know that.

"Sorry, Ma, can't make it for this year," Jeongguk mumbles into his phone. "I've got too much work to catch up with. I'll come back next year, I promise."

He has half a heart to at least feel bad that he's lying when he hears his mother's disappointment seeping through her voice, but he doesn't think he can handle leaving Seoul at the moment.

"All right then. Promise me you'll take care of yourself, okay?" He hears her say. "Love you, Gukkie."

"You too. Love you, Ma. Advanced Merry Christmas." 

In case, I don't make it until then.

*

He's wearing Taehyung's favorite black turtleneck, with a long brown coat draped across his shoulders (which is a gift from the older, on their anniversary at that), along with a white scarf wrapped snugly around his neck (yes, another gift).

His heart clenches at the sight of snow gently falling, painting the floor a coat of white.

It's Taehyung's favorite season.

It has been a while, a good few months, if he may add, since the last time he attempted to show up in places that would greatly remind him of the older. It's hard enough as it is when he returns home to an empty house, but seeing the rare empty Seoul streets with snow glistening in the low light on a Thursday night, Jeongguk can't help but walk down memory lane.

The good thing about Seoul is that it's a huge city with many, many places to explore. The downside of it is, Taehyung and he himself, being curious chaps, had imprinted memories of each other in every corner of the city, no matter how large it is.

That's why Jeongguk can't walk around Seoul without being reminded of the boy, regardless where he went. There is always a memory to be played again in every little corner of the city.

It provides him a twisted sense of comfort and satisfaction, even though it is mixed with bittersweet feelings and an uncomfortable clenching of his heart.

This street, for example, was the first time Taehyung had asked him out. Because it was close to their high school, and they lived near the same buildings in one of the less modernized areas (which is where Jeongguk is currently at). It was only sensible that they'd walk each other home every day after school, thus, it gives them more time spent together than how normal people, or normal friends in this case, usually do.

"Guk-ah," Taehyung calls out, tone careful and hesitant. It piques Jeongguk's interest because the Kim Taehyung is never one for nervous confessions or any of that sort.

"Yeah?"

It's cute, Jeongguk thinks when he watches the usually carefree and confident Taehyung cower into a state of supposed shyness, nibbling his lips and turning his eyes away. It's almost as if he and Jeongguk had swapped bodies.

But after taking a few deep breaths, something lights up in his eyes, and he turns to stare right at Jeongguk with a newly found sense of determination burning brightly in his brown irises.

"Are you free tomorrow?" He asks, tone confident, but Jeongguk's initial lack of response has him backtracking immediately, "I mean, I understand if you're uh, busy, with your studies and other stuff, because I totally know how strict your mom is with your academics--"

"Taehyung," Jeongguk cuts in, his lips dangerously close to letting a large grin split his face into half from listening to the older running his mouth. "Are you asking me out?"

The pink that dusts Taehyung's cheeks, with his eyes immediately darting sideways, has Jeongguk biting the inside of his own cheek to keep from smiling too hard.

"Umm..." Taehyung begins before he starts fiddling with his fingers and the ends of the sleeves of his red uniform, "Perhaps? Maybe? I don't quite know?"

He offers a bashful smile to Jeongguk, and the younger feels his heart flutter in his chest. Warm, loving, welcome. He finally lets his own smile grace his lips.

"You're going to have to be direct if you want a clear answer from me," Jeongguk says cheekily.

This sends Taehyung throwing his head back and roaring with laughter.

"Okay, Jeongguk." The older takes a deep breath before he cracks his eyelids opens and smiles widely, the box-shaped grin that Jeongguk loves so, so much. "Will you go out with me?"

Jeongguk's grin is equally as large, as it stretches from ear to ear. His cheeks hurt from how hard he's smiling at the other.

"Yeah, I will. Even if you ask me a million years later, I probably still will."

This is the current Jeongguk whispering to himself, as his feet crunch down onto the crystal white snow, nearing the end of the street.

The only difference between the memory and the now is that the Jeongguk from now is in tears, and he can't seem to stop.

*

December 15th, perhaps one of the worst days for everybody, especially Jeon Jeongguk.

For the two weeks or more spent on the streets wandering around aimlessly, constantly checking on his phone and Taehyung's Facebook, skirting around places he thinks Taehyung might be, Jeongguk becomes less and less aware of his own health and well-being.

Instead, he becomes more and more desperate to find Taehyung.

Today, however, he decides to take a stroll in the old neighborhood where they both grew up together since middle school. The decision is probably made because he is feeling nostalgic, or Jeongguk is at his wits end and he's losing his mind.

The sight of their houses; walls were worn down and cracked, the paint chipped and fading, standing proudly side by side surrounded by a field of brown withering grass coated in white, has Jeongguk's eyes brimming with tears and a sense of hollowness filling his chest.

Perhaps it's because he's been walking and walking for days without stopping, barely ever pausing to get food or a sip of water, moreover any rest because sleep doesn't come to him as easily now, but he slumps down in front of the gates of their almost-joined houses before he stops moving entirely.

Snow gradually heaves down on his lap and all over him as he just sits there and stares into a distance, his mind anywhere but the present, longing and heartache doing nothing more than hurting him even further. His mind projects nothing else but Taehyung: Taehyung's grin, Taehyung's pout, Taehyung's laughter, Taehyung's smiles, Taehyung's tears.

Everything that Jeongguk ever loved and still loves, so close yet so far from his grasp.

It's cold, freezing even. Jeongguk should probably get up and dust the snow off him and start walking to a warmer place before the cold starts getting to him and making him seriously ill.

Perhaps even dead.

But, as it has been established earlier, Jeongguk has probably lost his mind, because even those thoughts don't scare him anymore, and he doesn't budge while he remains sitting underneath the snowfall that only seems to get heavier by the minute.

He only breathes and continues to stare at nothing when he feels his eyes droop, his fingers shivering violently and his teeth chattering. He still refuses to move even when he feels the cold eating at him from inside out, a haze of blue of despair and fear washing over his head.

Jeongguk doesn't make a move to stand up, even as the hours pass by and his shivering only grows to become more violent.

Until he blacks out.

*

Yoongi is heading back to Daegu. He probably never admitted this, and he swears he never will even in the near future with a knife at his throat, but Taehyung's absence does leave a large hole in his heart.

The silence that embraces him throughout his journey in the train is enough to make him realize just how much he misses the younger.

He hasn't left Seoul that long ago. He left only on the 15th because there were some unfinished drafts for their next meeting that he wanted to get off his back as quickly as possible. That, and maybe he is a bit of a workaholic. After all, a week in Daegu is all he really needs to feel fully rested.

At least, that's what he thought he'd get.

His loud and shrill ringtone blasting into the emptiness of the train almost makes him jump out of his skin, and he hastily answers the call after he fishes the device out of his pocket.

"Hello?" he asks tentatively.

"Is this Min Yoongi-sshi?" 

Yoongi frowns. He doesn't recall giving any females his number. Hell, he doesn't even give his number to anyone other than his colleagues slash friends and family members. But he can figure out how the chick got his number afterward.

"Speaking. Who is this?" He replies, voice gruff and uninterested. I swear if this is a prank call set up by one of them--

As the voice speaks, Yoongi feels his eyes widen in shock and his heart rate picking up erratically. A few more words and he stands up immediately to sprint to the control room.

Of course, pardon my rudeness. My name is Halla and I'm calling from Seoul Hospital. This is regarding Jeon Jeongguk...

*

Hypothermia, they said.

Yoongi curses at how careless he has been.

*

The remaining four of the six head back to Seoul immediately upon Yoongi's update of Jeongguk.

He feels a little guilty because they look worn out, tired, with perhaps too much concern flashing in their eyes.

"How did it happen?" Namjoon is the first to break the tense silence, as they sit outside the room Jeongguk is bedridden in, except for Jimin who is sitting inside and trying not to bawl his eyes out at the sight of the youngest.

"They say he was found leaning against the wall between two houses in Myeongdong," Yoongi replies, frowning. "I'm betting it was the old house, the one beside Taehyung's."

"Fuck," Hoseok swears, running a frustrated hand through his hair. He rarely curses but this time, it doesn't surprise anyone. "How could we have been so careless?"

"I should've called out on him," Seokjin whispers softly, almost wistfully. "I should've known that those scars were hinting something."

"It's not your fault, hyung," Namjoon rushes to say, placing a comforting over the older's shaking one. "If anything, it's ours for not paying enough attention to him."

Seokjin cries now, silent tears cascading down his cheeks, and when he hiccups it's enough to snap the other three out of it, their figures slowly surrounding the oldest and bringing their arms out to embrace each other.

"I miss Taehyung," Hoseok admits suddenly, after standing in silence for a long moment that is only disrupted by Seokjin's occasional sniffles.

They just hold each other tighter.

*

Perhaps one day, we can understand nothing ever lasts forever, and that we can only learn to move on from them.

*

Jeongguk meets Taehyung for the first time at the ripe age of 15.

Seoul had always been his home, regardless the countless times his mother had reminded him with a reprimanding tone that no, Gukkie, we're from Busan and it will always be our hometown. It's not that Jeongguk hates Busan, not really. In fact, he really loves it there, with the breathtaking sea and whatnot.

It's just that Busan doesn't have that one person with the brightest eye-smile and the most heart-warming laughter that Jeongguk loves more than anything else.

Jeongguk grew up in Seoul all his life even though he was born in Busan. His mother had moved back to Busan after his father had died due to an accident because she needed a calmer yet familiar surrounding that doesn't remind me too much of him. And Busan provided her just that- peace, quiet and a sense of tranquility to mourn in and move on.

So Jeongguk moved in with his childhood friend, Seokjin. The Kims were more than happy to accept Jeongguk into their happy little family.

His reason for staying in Seoul isn't anything special. He has friends who he can't bear to leave (he's talking about Seokjin), he loves his school, his teachers, and everything about Seoul. It was a little heartbreaking to know that he wouldn't be living with his lovely mother who takes care of him better than anyone else (Seokjin included), but Jeongguk got over it as time passed.

And that's mostly because he found a new reason to stay.

15-year-old Jeongguk is a small and thin boy with a lanky frame, large doe eyes with plump lips that make him look like he's pouting 24/7. He frequents the park near his house regardless having friends or not, because either way Seokjin will be tagging along with him as the good older almost-brother he is.

Therefore, it's a really rare sight to see him sitting all alone in the swing, rocking back and forth as he mulls over how much he misses his mom.

15-year-old Jeongguk isn't very good at expressing himself. The only way he ever really knew how to truly express his feelings is by dancing. But right then, with no music to make him sway to the beat and just go with the flow, dance all the pent up sadness and frustration out, Jeongguk feels like he's facing a lifetime crisis trying not to let his longing break into him.

He's trying really hard not to cry.

But he's also failing really hard at doing so.

Jeongguk curls his arms around himself as he gets off the swing and plops down onto the sand below, hugging himself tightly and burying his head into his arms. Soft whimpers escape his lips as his jeans get soaked in his tears, his shoulders shaking from how hard the sobs wrack out of him. 

After all, Jeongguk is but a 15-year-old who is too shy to make friends and is lonely without both his parents around to constantly remind him that he's not alone.

Imagine his surprise when he feels a gentle hand on his shoulder.

Jeongguk whips his head up, cheeks stained with tears and snot dribbling from his nose, only to be met with a boy who is looking at him with too much concern a stranger should have.

"Are you alright?" the deep voice surprises Jeongguk even further.

Jeongguk stares a little, still quite dazed by the fact that such a young looking face can possibly be paired up with such a low voice before he nods quickly and attempts to wipe away his tears with the back of his hand.

He feels the boy pat his back, and half expects the boy to leave, but instead he feels warmth beside him as the boy sits down.

"I'm not really having the best time of my life too," the boy says, the accent lacing his voice a little foreign, and Jeongguk can only stay silent. "But I think that I know a way that can cheer you up."

Jeongguk continues to stare, unsure of what to feel when the boy starts fumbling with his knapsack.

And promptly laughs when the boy stops searching, turns around and gapes at Jeongguk with the most ridiculous looking face he's ever seen in his life.

I forgot my tub of ice cream! And my manga! What have I done so wrong in my previous life to deserve this?

Jeongguk finds his reason to stay in Seoul when a familiar boy, with a head of bright orange hair and beautiful brown eyes that crinkle up into half-moons when he smiles widely, enters the school grounds Jeongguk had always been walking on as a transfer student. And became his classmate.

At that particular moment, Jeongguk is grateful for how smart he is, considering how he had skipped grades to be sharing the same class as the transfer student.

"Hello, my name is Kim Taehyung!" The familiar orange-haired boy is grinning from ear to ear, a box-shaped smile that leaves Jeongguk feeling blinded by how bright it is. "I've transferred here from the States, so my accent might be a little off because it's been years since I was last in Korea. But I hope that it won't hinder all of us from becoming great friends soon!"

It's odd, Jeongguk notes, how his breath gets caught in his throat when Taehyung directly locks eyes with him and smiles, the familiarity in his eyes doing wonders to Jeongguk's poor soul. How he feels his heart flutter when the teacher announces that Taehyung would be his deskmate. How he stutters when Taehyung asks, "Are you the one who I found crying in the park yesterday?" How his cheeks burn a crimson red when Taehyung offhandedly notes how cute he is.

It gets even better when they find out later that the house Taehyung had just moved into was directly beside the house Jeongguk shared with the Kims.

"Jeongguk-ah!" The orange-haired male squeals, although it comes out strange and gruff because of his deep voice. And Jeongguk can't help but giggle. The other just playfully slaps his arm, before wrapping his arms around the younger's neck, and Jeongguk stops breathing. "I'm so glad! We're neighbors and deskmates! How cool is that!"

Jeongguk just smiles, before he remembers that Taehyung literally can't see him considering how the older was smashing his cheek into Jeongguk's neck and humming in content (for reasons he didn't know, yet), so the younger nods. "Really c-cool. I'm glad too, T-Taehyung."

The large grin that blinds him yet again makes Jeongguk think that, yes, this is really cool.

Unknowingly, Jeongguk had already given his heart to the boy whose smiles were too wide and laughter too loud 10 years ago.

*

Days spent with Taehyung turns into weeks, and weeks turn into months.

All too soon, Taehyung and Jeongguk are comfortable with each other to the extent where they can call each other best friends.

They had a routine of sorts, one meant for just the both of them when school becomes too stressful or when time never allows them to meet up as often. Taehyung, being two years older than Jeongguk, always seem to have tenfold the amount of work Jeongguk has. That and Jeongguk sometimes gets too caught up with dance practices because of course Jeon Jeongguk is the dancing prodigy of the entire school.

It always ends up with one of the two being at the other's house until their respective guardians show up with an amused grin on their faces.

It's Wednesday, which means they will end up crashing Taehyung's house, so Jeongguk waits for Taehyung in their classroom as he finishes up the last of his Math homework, although he's nothing short of terrible at it. 

Jeongguk diligently finishes up the last of the equations that he has to solve (why are Algebras so complicated?), and when he's done, he makes a show of slamming his exercise book down and shoving it into his bag with much less grace. As if on cue, the door slides open, and Jeongguk whips his head around.

Orange hair peeks through the gap.

"Are you done unleashing your anger at the poor dead trees who have been nothing but useful to you, by providing you the oxygen you breathe daily?" Jeongguk rolls his eyes when he hears the other snicker, but smiles nevertheless.

"False, Taehyung. Did you know that oxygen is actually concluded to be poisonous? It slowly kills you, through a long-term process of aging." Jeongguk replies, slinging the bag over his shoulder and pacing to the door before widening the gap. He's greeted with a wide grin, an amused glint twinkling in chestnut brown eyes. "How was practice?"

As if the grin wasn't wide enough, it stretches even further. "Really great, would've been better with you there, though."

And Jeongguk really needs Taehyung to stop saying such things, because his heart is doing cartwheels profusely inside his ribcage.

"Yeah, yeah," Jeongguk says dismissively, ignoring his heart that's starting to make him feel light-headed as he exits the classroom and closes the door. He starts walking. "My voice is only meant for you when we're alone, I thought we've established that."

Taehyung hums in agreement, a soothing and warm sound that fills Jeongguk's chest, before the younger feels the familiar curl of the other's arm looping through his own as they walk side by side down the now empty hallways. "That, we did. You better remember that for the rest of your life, Guk-ah."

"I couldn't forget even if I tried," Jeongguk says teasingly, the giggle that leaves Taehyung's mouth making his heart do a full backflip and God that hurts.

"So, karaoke tonight?" Taehyung asks with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows. Jeongguk rolls his eyes. 

"Always one to show off your singing skills," the other flashes him the trademark box grin, and Jeongguk shakes his head in amusement. "Aren't your parents gonna be super annoyed by how loud we'll surely be?"

Taehyung's smile falters ever so slightly, and Jeongguk mentally curses at his little slip-up.

But Jeongguk would be lying if he said that he isn't curious as to why he has never seen Taehyung's parents around the house, no matter how often he visits and how late he stays there. Even when Taehyung stays at Jeongguk's house until really late hours, it's still Seokjin who tells Taehyung that you don't want to see an angry eomma now, would you, Kim Taehyung?

"Nah," The smile comes back in full force, making Jeongguk briefly wonder if it had been a trick of the lighting after all. "They'll probably be out working till' the next Sun rises up. But that means more bro time for us, right?" He ends his suggestion with a wink.

And Jeongguk fake retches.

Taehyung laughs, loud and bright, causing the tension to dissipate as quickly as it came.

(They do end up singing so loud that it's the other neighbors who get annoyed at them. Especially when Big Bang plays in the speakers.)

(Seokjin and the rest of the family are used to it at this point.)

*

Two years down the road, Taehyung decides it's now or never.

So 19-year-old Kim Taehyung asks 17-year-old Jeon Jeongguk out when he suddenly spurs the determination to do so in the middle of one of their usual walks home before he chickens out and it becomes too late.

Of course, Jeongguk says yes.

*

They meet up at a quaint and quiet little café.

Jeongguk, 17, already allowing the roots of puberty to get to him, orders a hot Americano as he continues to finish up his school homework while waiting for Taehyung to arrive from his singing practice.

It would be a lie to say that Jeongguk isn't feeling like he wants to just melt into a puddle and get swallowed up by the earth from how nervous he is.

It's just Taehyung, he reminds himself, the boy who you've always been hanging out with, always eating ice-cream with as you both cry while watching movies, always dancing together, always singing together, always wanting to kiss since the very first time--

Jeongguk cancels out his train of thought.

He really didn't know what to do. He still can't believe Taehyung actually asked him out.

On a date.

He doesn't get much time to ponder about it, though, as a jingle of bells notifies the arrival of a new customer, and when Jeongguk looks up, he sees a head of orange in a red school uniform that he himself is wearing walking through the glass door.

It's odd, but, Jeongguk finds himself relaxing when he notes how Taehyung looks just as nervous when the boy turns his head to look around, only to have his gaze land directly on Jeongguk, and the boy visibly gulps before he grins widely.

"Guk-ah!" he greets with a small wave as he makes his way towards the other. And perhaps it's the trick of the light, but Jeongguk supposes that even Taehyung can't mask his nervousness very well, from how wobbly his stance is when he approaches.

"Tae," he greets back, pink already dusting his cheeks because oh God this is really happening. Get a hold of yourself Jeon Jeongguk. He sits up a little straighter when Taehyung plops his bag down on the seat opposite Jeongguk.

"Um," Taehyung starts, bringing a hand up to scratch the back of his head before he gives Jeongguk a lopsided grin. "I'm gonna," he points to the counter with his thumb, "Go order something so, do you want anything?"

Jeongguk pauses for a bit before he chuckles, bringing up his cup of Americano in front of Taehyung's face, to which the other's response is slapping his palm across his face as he laughs. "Oh, God, I'm sorry. I-I didn't notice."

Did Kim Taehyung just stutter?

"You should go get yourself a drink," Jeongguk says with a hearty chuckle, his earlier nervousness dissipating because watching Taehyung being so shy and nervous is making his heart melt every passing second.

Taehyung opens his mouth before he closes it, making him resemble a fish for a split second. He then smiles with a sigh. "Yeah." Pauses, then laughs while shaking his head in disbelief. "Yeah, I'll do just that."

He sends Jeongguk one last boxy-grin, although nervousness is painted across it in clear bold letters, then promptly turns around and makes his way to the counter. 

Jeongguk, on the other hand, just stares at the older's retreating back until he catches himself and blushes before hurrying to keep all his homework.

When Taehyung comes back, with an iced caramel macchiato in his hand, they sit in silence for a long moment, sitting face-to-face but looking at anywhere other than each other. To conclude it simply, it's awkward and tense as hell.

This leads to Jeongguk, in a sea of nervousness and unsureness because he rarely has to deal with a quiet Taehyung, hastily gulping down the entire mug of hot Americano in an attempt to distract himself...

And chokes as the scalding hot liquid immediately burns his tongue and throat upon contact, which sends him into a fit of violent coughing and a worried Taehyung patting his back sympathetically as well as handing him tissues.

After the entire ordeal is cleaned up with a new cup of hot Americano in Jeongguk's hands (courtesy of Taehyung) and another moment of long silence, the orange-haired male suddenly leans his head back against the cushiony chair and laughs.

"I know I asked you out but," he looks up to smile fondly at Jeongguk, and the younger feels his heart leap into his throat at the sight of Taehyung blushing. "I really didn't expect things to become this awkward."

Jeongguk looks away, the tips of his ears burning. "M'sorry," he mumbles.

"No, no, Guk-ah--" Jeongguk whips his head up in surprise when he feels Taehyung grabs hold of his hand, and stares at Taehyung's shocked expression as though the other really didn't intend to do that.

"Shit- I, um--" Taehyung tries to peel his hand away, but Jeongguk just laces their fingers together and holds on tighter.

Taehyung doesn't move. His mouth is left agape.

"Um," Jeongguk mutters, clearly embarrassed but gives their interlinked fingers a tentative squeeze. "Th-this is fine."

It takes a while for the statement to sink in, but when it does, Taehyung offers the younger the brightest and the biggest smile he has ever seen in his life.

"Okay," Taehyung whispers, more to himself. "Okay."

*

Also Jeongguk, what in God's name are you drinking?

An Americano. Why?

...Is there any sugar inside?

No. It's a plain Americano.

Oh my God. I bet it's as bitter and as black as your soul...

*

For all that Taehyung is portrayed as in the eyes of others: handsome, friendly, funny, confident, happy and perfect, only Jeongguk can describe him perfectly.

Broken, anguished, terrified of the world.

Suicidal.

It's true, Taehyung is often seen laughing, and if he's not laughing then he's smiling. There is no in-between, and there is no emotion other than happiness shown in his face. People always assume that he's probably the happiest person to ever exist in the entire universe.

For one period of time, Jeongguk was also one of those people.

Because albeit Jeongguk doesn't see how most of Taehyung's goofy grins and huge smiles that take up a large part of his face were forced, they're still infectious nevertheless. They still make his own lips twitch upwards and smile fondly at the other.

They seemed so genuine that Jeongguk believed what everyone else saw in Taehyung: perfection.

And that view, the one saw through rose-tinted glass, shatters and collapses the moment Jeongguk gets a call at 3:48 A.M. one Friday night. 

"Hello?" He asks softly, voice laced heavily with sleep. 

"Where the fuck are you hiding him?" 

This makes Jeongguk's eyes fly open, all trace of sleep gone from his expression. He sits up on his bed. 

"Excuse me?" 

"Jeon Jeongguk, I will not repeat myself another time." The badly concealed anger seeping through the man's voice makes Jeongguk shiver. It sounds strangely familiar, though. "Where are you hiding my son?" 

Jeongguk lifts his phone away from his ear, presses the button at the side and the screen unlocks. 

Mr. Kim (Tae's Dad) 

*

"You know Guk, I'm really thankful for you."

"Please stop saying cheesy things like that, it makes me feel weird and uncomfortable."

Taehyung laughs, a clear and loud sound that Jeongguk loves to hear, as he swings his legs back and forth from the bench he's sitting on. They're at the park today because it's Friday, and that means Taehyung won't be home until Monday. Jeongguk has yet to find out why the older is never home during the weekends but never tries to pry because family is a very sensitive topic when it comes to Taehyung.

But it's enough. Having Taehyung for the 5 days out of the 7 is enough for Jeongguk.

"Hey, give me your phone."

Jeongguk hands the device to Taehyung.

"I'm going to give you this," Taehyung says as he types on Jeongguk's phone, "because I have a feeling that you're going to need it soon."

When Jeongguk receives the device back from Taehyung's hands, he feels his heart stop.

"Your dad's number?" he asks, voice quiet and unsure. 

"I know you've never met him, and I know I've never spoken to you about my parents before," Taehyung blows out a large puff of air, which forms mists in the cold biting weather. "But they know about you, Guk. I've told them about you and they have your number. So it's a fair trade."

Jeongguk wants to ask, but a single look on Taehyung's expression tells him that the older doesn't want to elaborate any further.

So, Jeongguk, as usual, never questions anything; just receives, accepts and takes.

"Oh, alright then."

*

He is summoned to the Kims's residence a little over half an hour later, courtesy of Mr. Kim requesting (or ordering) Taehyung's personal driver to bring him, much to Seokjin's displeasure.

"This is insane," Seokjin almost yells, when the situation is explained to him. "The kid's only 17! What can he even do to Taehyung?! And they're best friends!" Although the side glances he keeps sending the younger indicates that he knows what's really going between the both of them.

Jeongguk rolls his eyes.

"I'm sorry," the driver, who Jeongguk recognizes as Jiwon because he often saw the older when he went over to Taehyung's house, bows down as he apologizes. It's a rare sight, considering how Jeongguk thought Jiwon was Taehyung's older brother or some sort. "The master will never take no for an answer. I am to reach the mansion at least an hour from now."

"Master? Mansion?" Jeongguk's eyes widen. He turns to Seokjin, "What mansion?"

Seokjin looks just as shocked.

Jiwon bows again, "I will explain on our way there, young master Jeongguk." 

If they were expecting Jeongguk to feel utterly pleased with being treated to such an extent, Jeongguk defies their logic with the dread curling in his stomach. 

Only then did Jeongguk realize just how bad the condition of Taehyung's family is.

"Jiwon-hyung," Jeongguk calls out. The raven-haired man hums in response as he guides the teen towards the sleek black Limousine parked outside the house. "What's happening?"

Jeongguk is ushered into the car before the door closes in his face and Jiwon enters the driver's seat. The engine roars to life and the vehicle swiftly exits the neighborhood. 

"Young master Taehyung is the heir to Kim's Cooperation." Jiwon starts after a long moment of tense silence. 

Jeongguk blinks.

"You're telling me Tae is actually a billionaire?" Jeongguk lets out a small laugh. "Are you trying to play with me, hyung? Because if that's the case then you're not doing a very good job at loosening me up-" 

"I am very much serious, young master Jeongguk--"

"And please stop calling me that, it makes me uncomfortable," Jeongguk runs a frustrated hand through his hair. "Like, ew."

This makes Jiwon laugh. Jeongguk smiles to himself despite his nervousness.

"Sorry, Guk." Jiwon sighs. "I know it's hard to digest all this information at once, but if I don't break it to you, young master Taehyung probably never will."

"That he's an heir to the company that owns 5-star hotels in every part of the world? Yeah, tell me about it." He mutters under his breath. 

Jeongguk feels Jiwon's eyes on him from the rearview mirror but decides to avoid it as he slowly takes in the information. 

"Okay, go on," Jeongguk says at last, eyes still trained on the window. 

A deep breath. "He hates his family. That's why he's here, living beside you, in a house that's too big for just one person." Jeongguk hears something akin to sympathy in the man's voice and looks in the rearview mirror.

Jiwon's crying.

"He requested to be out from the States because people there were becoming unbearable in his terms. He was being used for the money, the fame, and more often than not, he was being bullied. That much was very clear in his time at school. So he searched for a place that doesn't really know of his existence just yet.

"It's ironic, really. Korea knows Kim's Cooperation, knows the owner has a son but doesn't know who the son is. And yet Kim's Cooperation was created right here, in Seoul. The master refused to listen to his demands, much to his frustration. His refusal to help might be also because of his unacceptance towards the young master's sexuality."

Jeongguk's eyes do not leave the rearview mirror, as he watches the tears stain the man's cheeks while he drives. 

"So whenever the young master has problems, the master only throws money at him and asks him to solve it himself, eager to get rid of him," Jiwon smiles at this, bitter and sad. "The young master was so lonely and scared. He cries himself to sleep nearly every night when he thinks that I'm not around to see or hear him."

Jeongguk feels his heart sink with every new information piling up. 

But then Jiwon takes in a large intake of breath and, "His request to be sent here was granted only when he was raped."

"What?" Jeongguk almost screeches, his heart frantically hammering against his ribcage as he feels the wave of anger crashing down on him unforgivingly. "What the fu-"

"The young master once told me he was grateful for it." Jiwon utters the word with the same amount of disgust that Jeongguk shares. "Imagine the hell he's been through that something like rape can be thanked for."

"That's sick." Jeongguk feels like pulling all his hair out, but relents with a sigh of defeat. "...Why didn't he tell me any of these?" He asks quietly.

Why did he choose to suffer alone?

"He's always been the type of boy who hates burdening others," Jiwon says softly. "Even though his father treats him like this,  even with the huge sum of money the young master is given, he doesn't throw them at things that can possibly call for attention. He just obediently follows orders: to graduate, to strive, to excel. He tries his best to please his father no matter how large the hell he's being put in."

There's nothing for Jeongguk to say, so he remains silent, the frown ever remaining between his brows.

"But you know, Guk," Jeongguk lifts his head up at his name. "You're the first person I've seen the young master so happy with."

The tips of his ears turn pink. "Stop complimenting me. Oh God, it's so weird to hear that coming out from your mouth."

Jiwon chuckles. "No, Guk, you don't understand." He smiles at Jeongguk through the rearview mirror. "I'm thankful that you're the one he opened his heart to. I don't see him hanging out with his friends in the States as much as he does with you, and that says a lot."

Jeongguk snorts. "Yeah, neither did I spend this much time with anyone else other than him. That says even more."

Laughter erupts and Jiwon tries hard to focus on the road, before a comfortable silence blankets itself around the both of them, the only sound being the soft humming of the engine as the roads slowly fade to the darkness of the forests.

The younger can't help but think back about Taehyung. How Taehyung's laughter always came so easily, how he smiled so often whenever they spent time together. It's no wonder why Taehyung always tries to stay later in his presence no matter how many times Seokjin reprimands him for it, saying how you boys need enough rest for school tomorrow! I can't have teacher's calling up and telling me you both are always sleeping in class; how Taehyung seeks so much comfort in touches and cuddles, always reminding Jeongguk how grateful he is to have the younger, how Taehyung clung to Jeongguk so easily since the very first (or second?) time they met.

Jeongguk is brought out from his thoughts when he hears something akin to a soft murmur in front of him.

"Huh?" Jeongguk asks, his attention to the window drawn back to the driver's seat. "Sorry, didn't catch that."

Jiwon just smiles. 

"It's nothing."

*

"When was the last time you saw Taehyung?"

Jeongguk makes a show of unlocking his phone screen. "About, 10 hours ago. Probably."

It's not that Jeongguk enjoys treating others with such disrespect, but the realization that this man, with black hair graying at the edges and permanent wrinkles adorning his old and battered skin, sitting in a suit that matches his hair color and possibly trying to look intimidating with the way he holds himself, is the one who has caused Taehyung so much pain, makes his blood boil.

He sure as hell isn't going to cower in fear at the sight of him, no matter how powerful he is.

"What were you guys doing?" If the man is angered by the way Jeongguk is treating him, he doesn't show it. Just patiently draws out all the answers he wants to hear.

"At the park. Talking, spending time. Then he said he had to go because he had some other place to be in." Jeongguk stares at the man straight in the eyes, glaring. "I'm gonna assume he was supposed to be here, and, now that he isn't, you're blaming me for it."

"Do you know who you're speaking to, boy?" Anger flashes dangerously in the man's eyes. "I couldn't give a rat's ass if you're Taehyung's boyfriend," he spits out the term like it disgusts him to no end, "I can destroy your life if you so much as disrespect me."

"But you wouldn't be able to find him then," Jeongguk challenges, anger simmering in his blood. "Because only I can possibly know where Taehyung is."

The man sits up straighter at this, mouth opened to possibly retort or threaten Jeongguk, only to be interrupted when a female voice suddenly cuts in, "Stop it."

Jeongguk watches from the comfortable leather seat as a woman clad in a blue nightgown casually enters the living room, the lace dancing ever so slightly around the heels of her feet with every step she takes. She had brown hair with curls at the edges and brown eyes that are so, so familiar

The woman sighs. "You should go back to bed, Honey, you're too cranky at this time of the day." She cranes her neck to look at the diamond clock hanging on the wall on top of the mantelpiece full of photo frames. 5:07 A.M. "I'll deal with this."

And the man does go, but not without sending Jeongguk one last glare that only serves to anger the younger further. He glares right back.

The man closes his eyes and walks to the lift at the far corner.

When they hear the sharp click of the metal doors closing, the woman sits down.

She nods at Jeongguk. "I suppose you know who I am."

Jeongguk nods back, albeit slowly. "Mrs. Kim. It's a pleasure to meet you."

The woman smiles, and Jeongguk's heart clenches because oh, that's where he got the box-shaped smile from.

Then promptly sighs. "I'm sorry about my husband. He's not usually like that." But Jeongguk doubts it with the way she turns away to look sadly into a distance. 

Her eyes flit back to Jeongguk. "So you think you know where Taehyung might be?"

Jeongguk pauses for a moment before he shakes his head. "No, ma'am. But I can try." Because I probably know him best.

She smiles sadly in return. "That would be a great help, thank you. We've called the police forces and filed reports because Taehyung going missing isn't a matter that should be taken lightly. I'm sure you know why."

Jeongguk just nods numbly.

"You seem like a good kid," Mrs. Kim continues, "So I'll trust you on this, Jeongguk-sshi. Please head upstairs and enter Taehyung's room. It's late and you should rest. It's the second one on your left on the third floor."

When Jeongguk stares at her in silence, she adds a wink.

He doesn't need to be told twice.

"Thank you, Mrs. Kim," and hurries to the lift.

*

Jeongguk doesn't know what he expects when he opens the mahogany door that leads to Taehyung's room.

Perhaps a large room sparkling with gold, considering how enormous the place is with diamond chandeliers and velvet red carpeting. Maybe a big king-sized bed with pillars at the four corners and sheets made of silk. A walk-in closet perhaps, and a bathroom that's size is equivalent to the living room of his house.

He doesn't expect something so simple yet so Taehyung.

Creamy white walls with pictures on every empty spot, ones of a younger Taehyung smiling widely with different people in each shot, but mostly animals, shelves of manga and figurines and movies taking up almost the entire room, a TV screen attached to the wall with a karaoke set at the side, a wardrobe beside a surprisingly moderate-sized bathroom. There is a piano at the far end of the room. At least Jeongguk guessed the king-sized bed correctly.

After staring at the pictures and shelves for a good amount of time, Jeongguk dismisses his clothes easily to enter the bathroom and shower. When he's out, he heads to the closet and rummaged through it to find a huge baggy white T-shirt that he recognizes to be his own, and throws on some boxers that he found to fit. 

He dives into the bed and gets a little teary at the sudden wave of Taehyung that enters his nose.

It smells so much like him.

Jeongguk doesn't know how anyone expects him to get even a wink of sleep, considering how Taehyung is missing. He sits up after deciding that he's had enough of acting like a pervert and gets off the bed, padding to the table with a desktop sitting at the corner of the room because he's not quite sure what else he can do.

There is no password needed to log in, so Jeongguk easily accesses the computer and clicks the browser open. He searches through Taehyung's Facebook for awhile, hoping to get a clue or anything at all about the boy. When it doesn't work, he checks everything else- Twitter, Tumblr, his e-mails, his gaming account. He even searches through all the messenger apps in his phone once more. Yet, there is nothing.

Jeongguk sighs.

The digital numbers 6:29 A.M. at the corner makes Jeongguk decide that he should probably clear up his browser because Taehyung might not like it if he sees that someone else had been snooping through his things. So he clicks the browser history and scrolls down as he slowly checks off the links he had been surfing on.

And that's when Jeongguk sees it.

He runs out of the room immediately, taking the stairs three at a time because fuck the lift.

"Jiwon-hyung!"

*

[Sunday]

[5:47 P.M.] mapo bridge - Google Search www.google.com

*

Hey Jeongguk, do you know of the bridge spanning the Han River?

Jeongguk is shaking when he flings the door open and all but leaps out of the Limousine. He ignores the calls of his name as he breaks into a run, heading straight towards the bridge that is thankfully empty at this hour of the day.

Which bridge, hyung?

He feels himself running out of breath with the way he keeps pushing himself forward, refusing to give into fatigue and tiredness. He can't stop. He doesn't think he can handle the guilt that eats him up if he doesn't hurry.

The one that connects Mapo and Yeongdeungpo.

It doesn't really help that the air is chilly due to it being the time of the year where winter is just around the corner. Jeongguk's breath comes out in small puffs of mists in the frosty air with every large intake of oxygen. He really shouldn't have disregarded the thought of putting on warmer clothes.

The Mapo bridge?

Jeongguk feels like he can hurl at how hard he's breathing but doesn't stop. Even when he stumbles and falls, he pushes himself up and continues to run.

Yeah, the Mapo bridge.

The world slows down when Jeongguk spots a familiar figure at the other side of the railing, head hung low and hands barely grasping the metal behind him.

Isn't that the bridge where people often commit suicide?

Jeongguk starts crying as he recognizes the orange hair and the lanky frame.

That's the one, Guk.

"KIM TAEHYUNG!" He shouts as he nears the figure before his knees give out as they hit the ground, and Jeongguk is sent toppling onto the ground from the impact.  A whimper escapes his throat. The road scrapes his arms and face, but he couldn't care less. He lifts himself up, locking eyes with Taehyung's wide and unbelieving ones.

"Jeongguk--"

"You can't just leave me like that, without an explanation, without telling me anything about your family, without telling me about your past, about being hurt, about being lonely. You can't just disappear without a trace without giving me a chance to try, Taehyung, to try and help you." Jeongguk says with a rush, already hurrying to stand up despite his wobbly and unsteady knees. 

Taehyung looks like he's about to protest, with the tears swimming in his eyes and the strained furrow of his brows. "Guk--"

"Stop, listen to me. I know who you are. I know why you're here." Jeongguk sniffles, tears cascading down his cheeks as he limps closer to the Taehyung.

Taehyung doesn't make a move, just stares at the other as his own tears start pooling down.

"Taehyung, the world might have done you wrong in so, so many ways," Taehyung's loud whimper causes Jeongguk's chest to tighten painfully, "And I have too. I'm sorry, Tae, no-- babe. I'm sorry for not seeing how hurt you really are; for not seeing your pain when you kept clinging to me." He's close now, so close to Taehyung that he can see the hollowness in his eyes and the tears glistening in the first signs of the day.

Jeongguk tentatively holds out a hand to Taehyung, and Taehyung just sobs harder.

"Babe, I'm not good at expressing myself," he lets out a short laugh, "You of all people would know that. But I'm going to try, for your sake, okay, baby?" Jeongguk reaches out, his heart warming when Taehyung doesn't flinch away from his touch. He wipes away the tears with his thumb. "I want you to know that I'm glad that you're here. I've always been thankful to have you around. I've never been more thankful to have met you, babe, broken or not."

He pads closer until his hips hit the metal railing and brings his other hand up to gently cup Taehyung's face. The tears fall onto his skin. "I'll always love you, Taehyung. I always have since I first met you, with your very unique way of bringing along a tub of ice-cream with you wherever you go and your favorite manga. Your weird quirks that always make me laugh."

Gently, he pulls Taehyung's face close to him to rest their foreheads together. Taehyung hiccups. "Even after today, even after knowing who you really are, broken and tattered and so afraid of the world, even in the near future with the world trying to break us apart-- I'll still love you, and you'll always have me, through the good and the bad and the ugly."

He presses a long, lingering kiss to Taehyung's forehead. 

"Whether happy, or sad, or whatever, I'll still want you, Kim Taehyung. I want you to remember that." 

It surprises Jeongguk when he's suddenly being wrapped by a pair of arms into a tight embrace, the older boy burying his face into his shirt and soaking it with his tears. But it makes Jeongguk's heart clench, as he hugs the older boy back just as fiercely, though not without planting another kiss into the orange hair he loves so, so much.

"Promise?" Taehyung's voice cracks at the end of the word, and it's uttered so softly that Jeongguk wonders if it is just the wind before he notices that the boy is looking up at him expectantly.

So Jeongguk smiles down at him, gingerly kissing his temple. "Forever and always, babe."

*

Jeongguk.

Mm?

Could you carry me over the railing..?

*

The other time that Taehyung disappears is when Jeongguk is 19.

He disappeared one night after the Jeongguk had moved in with him, deeming it necessary considering how the university they entered is closer to Taehyung's (newly bought) apartment. 

University life is a little different because people become acutely aware of Taehyung being the heir to Kim's Corp. Perhaps it's because Taehyung chose finance and the people in that field are much more aware of the powers and titles that own almost half of the economy of Korea. 

But either way, Jeongguk never thought how it would affect the other.

At first, Jeongguk thought that Taehyung just forgot to leave a message regarding where he went to, but as midnight approaches and no attempt of contact from the other, he became restless. 

He cleans the apartment in an attempt to distract his thoughts and attention, telling himself I'm reading too much into things. I should calm down, only to find out later that night that there was a box of used razors and penknives hidden beneath the bed, with bloody bandages stuffed unceremoniously beneath the stash.

His blood runs cold.

Of course, Jeongguk does all he can in trying to track him down, because after the first incident, Taehyung's parents had entrusted Jeongguk with their son's life, much to the father's displeasure. But he isn't so successful this time.

Although he didn't need to because Taehyung returns home two weeks later, looking broken yet fixed at the same time.

I'm alright, babe. I just needed some time to think, that's all.

And Jeongguk doesn't question further, doesn't ask about the stash in their room and why Taehyung was always wearing long-sleeved oversized sweaters; instead, he just collects his lover into his arms and showers him in kisses and words of comfort.

At that point, though, Jeongguk isn't quite sure who he's trying to console.

*

Taehyung's parents die in a car crash when Jeongguk is 24.

They were on a trip to the airport for a business meeting in France and were running a little late for their flight, so they pressed the driver to step harder and drive faster, causing the vehicle to swerve off the cliff from where their mansion is built as the car slams into the flimsy metal fencing, coming face-first into the rocky sides of the mountain as the vehicle rolls and rolls until it crashes to the ground below. It was a rather tragic death.

Being the owner of Kim Corp, it's no wonder the media frequently mentions the death of Taehyung's parents. The radio, the internet, the news on TV...

It worries Jeongguk to no end.

Because what happened after it got to the news is Taehyung locking himself up in the complex and entirely refusing to step foot outside or meet anyone. Taehyung, who is supposed to be taking hold of his father's position in the company when both his parents returned home from France, isn't in any place to be dealing with people moreover an entire company with branches spread all over the world.

Insistent phone calls and a never-ending chain of notifications regarding new e-mails from his colleagues and co-workers left Jeongguk no choice but to shut Taehyung's device down for the time being.

The younger tries the damnedest best that he can: taking care of Taehyung, making sure the older isn't neglecting his food, ensuring that there's nothing close to the older that can be used to hurt himself, distracting the older by talking to him on a frequent basis. Jeongguk even calls Seokjin to inform him of his much-needed sick leave for a period of time. Then he changed it to a holiday for a return visit to his hometown. Thankfully, Seokjin doesn't ask any questions.

It went on like that for an entire month.

With the food supply in their apartment running low, Jeongguk had no other option but to leave Taehyung to his own devices for an entire hour (because ordering take-outs is too risky to give away their address.) He feels utterly anxious and nervous but decides that it's been years since Taehyung last attempted to disappear into thin air, so he should trust the older a little bit more.

He hurries to the nearby supermarket and stuffs in as many items as he can. Unfortunately for him, it is the time of the year where all the stores and markets are having huge sales and discounts, and it leaves little to no space for him to maneuver his way through the shelves, therefore it slows him down. To make matters worse, there are lines and lines of people queuing for the poor cashiers who are having a hard time not making mistakes as they scan the items.

Jeongguk tries not to panic as he impatiently waits for his turn. At the counter, he doesn't even look at the price before swiping the card across because he knows he doesn't need to. Not anymore. Instead, he quickly shoves everything into the bag he is provided with and thanks the cashier before he hastily makes his way back to the apartment complex, panic already rising in his system at the thought of leaving the older for more than two hours now.

When Jeongguk slams the door to the apartment open, he feels his heart stop.

"Oh," Taehyung mutters, eyes wide and mouth hanging open before he regains his composure and turns around, "Um, this isn't going as planned--"

Jeongguk drops all the groceries onto the floor as he swiftly maneuvers his way through the red scattered across the floor, the sound of his footsteps making Taehyung whip his head around again from his spot on the ground, and Jeongguk lets his tears flow when he notices the glint of silver in Taehyung's hand.

"I--"

Jeongguk crouches down to wrap his arms around the other, bringing the other close as he moves forward, slotting their lips together and tilting his head slightly to deepen the kiss that makes Taehyung whimper in pleasant surprise.

When they break apart with their noses still touching, Jeongguk is left panting as he stares at Taehyung, warmth engulfing his chest when he sees the fondness and the love swimming in the brown irises of the other. Taehyung then closes his eyes before rubbing their foreheads together.

"Idiot. You ruined my surprise--"

"Yes."

Taehyung's eyes shoot open at this, wide and disbelieving. "I didn't even--"

"You don't even need to ask, Tae." Jeongguk sits down, leaving the petals around him flitting in the air from the sudden movement. "Since the beginning of time, I've always belonged to you."

Taehyung doesn't move for a moment before the corners of his lips turn up to form a blinding smile that Jeongguk didn't know he missed. A hand reaches forward to flick the younger in the forehead, causing him to yelp. "Doesn't matter. Let me finish what I started."

Taehyung brings his other hand up, the one that holds a silver band with a single small clear-colored diamond adorning its surface. His eyes nervously shift from Jeongguk to the ring he holds in his palm, hands a little shaky, before he draws a deep breath and puffs his chest out a little, making the younger laugh as the tears continue to spill down his cheeks.

"So, um," Taehyung clears his throat. "This was supposed to be a lot more romantic, I swear, with candles and wine and all." He throws a dirty look at the younger when Jeongguk chuckles before his eyes soften and a fond smile graces his lips. "But yeah, I've been thinking about this and I think it's time."

Jeongguk can hear his loud heartbeat pulsing in his ears as the blood rushes to his face. I'm probably going mad. Taehyung coughs when he shyly presents the silver band in his palm to Jeongguk.

"So.. Jeon Jeongguk. Will you marry me and be legally chained to this old man--"

Jeongguk all but throws himself at the other before the sentence can be finished.

Everything's going to be okay. We're okay.

*

That was all a year ago, though.

Jeongguk blearily opens his eyes to the darkness that embraces him in the sterile-smelling room, the only sound that he can hear being the beeping of the machine that matches his heartbeat. He shifts in the hospital bed, legs entangling uncomfortably in the sheets when he tries to sit up.

People would tell him that he ought to be thankful that he's awake and healthy, but Jeongguk would've preferred being unconscious if it meant that the hollowness in his chest would stop haunting him.

*

Christmas is spent in the hospital as his hyungs merrily make their way into his room, with party hats full of glitter and thankfully not hospital food, along with a handful of party poppers and some horse-shaped balloons, courtesy of Hoseok. Of course, his hyungs kept their promise in bringing the youngest tons and tons of presents. 

"But I didn't manage to get anything for you guys," Jeongguk says sulkily when Jimin thrusts his third brightly-wrapped gift into his hands, a sense of guilt worming its way into his chest. 

Jimin just shakes his head and smiles. 

"You being alive, awake and thankfully healthy, is the greatest gift you can possibly give me, or all of us, Guk." 

Christmas starts with Jeongguk laughing till he's wheezing and choking, as Namjoon trips and knocks over everything on the side table while attempting to avoid the machine beside his bed, leaving Seokjin huffing in annoyance and looking so done with everything until the former has to leave a chaste kiss on his cheek to make up for his clumsiness.

Christmas is spending time with his hyungs who share about what they've been doing for the past two weeks when the younger is bedridden and barely alive.

Christmas goes on with Jeongguk constantly squeaking in pleasant surprise when it is time for presents opening, his hyungs standing at the sides of his bed and watching him with a look of fondness in their eyes as he carefully unwraps his gifts.

And Christmas ends as the one day Jeongguk is distracted enough to fall into a peaceful slumber for the first time in forever. 

His next few days are filled with insistent hyungs who know better than to leave him alone in a hospital room with no one he's relatively close to. Although Jeongguk doesn't entirely enjoy the constant coddling and care he's being showered in, he can't say he hates it as well. 

On the 28th of December, Jeongguk is finally announced to be fit enough to be discharged.

Seokjin casually walks into the room when Jeongguk has just changed out of his hospital gown, a familiar nurse following after the elder as the door closes behind her. He's smiling, wide and relieved, as he strides over towards the bed where Jeongguk is sitting on, fiddling with the bag  of clothes that Yoongi had given to him when the pale man visited him when he first awoke. 

"So, is my cute little brother up and ready to go home now?" Seokjin asks brightly, eyes full of mirth. 

Jeongguk returns the grin, although on a much lower scale. "As ready as I'll ever be, hyung."

The drive to Jeongguk's apartment is sat through in a relatively comfortable silence, although the younger notices how Seokjin is trying to be subtle about the worried glances being sent his way. Jeongguk doesn't read much into it, his eyes watching the scenery blur past them through the window. 

It doesn't take a lot for Seokjin to cave. 

"Are you really sure you want to go back there? I can take you to my place--"

"I'm fine, hyung. Really." Jeongguk turns to look at him, a small smile on his face whereas Seokjin is frowning unapprovingly at him. So he adds, "Positive."

Seokjin looks like he wants to argue, with his mouth opened wide and eyebrows knitted uncomfortably together. Various emotions flash across his eyes, until they settle with confusion flickering across them, almost as though he's trying to say why would you want to hurt yourself so much like this? 

Jeongguk remains passive in his expression because he himself doesn't think he has an answer to that question.

Perhaps one day, we can understand that some endings don't turn out the way we want them to.

*

It takes a lot of reassurance and countless promises to have Seokjin reluctantly leaving the younger to his own devices upon their arrival at the apartment complex. At the door, Seokjin side eyes the younger with a look that translates to don't you dare try anything stupid because I've got eyes behind my head okay, to which Jeongguk offers a disbelieving laugh and a dismissing "Just go already, hyung."

The realization hits him unforgivingly that cold, lonely silence still doesn't sit well with him when the door closes after Seokjin.

He drops the bags on the floor, languidly pacing around the desolate complex as he takes in all the pictures littering the mantelpiece in the living room: the one where he and Taehyung had ice-cream smeared all over their faces at their second date at the theme park; Taehyung and him at the ocean because Taehyung insisted that summer absolutely cannot be spent sitting at home with work and stress and unhappiness wafting in the house; the first time Taehyung attempted to try his Americano and ended up spluttering and basically creating chaos when Jeongguk tried to take a photo with their newly bought camera.

A small, empty smile plays on the curve of his lips, as the memories continue to flood in him in loud and crashing waves. He isn't quite sure how long he stands there, staring at the silver mantelpiece with a large array of his memories that are framed up until he turns away to walk out of the living room.

Jeongguk has a moment to briefly wander around the house after a long period of time of being bedridden in the hospital before his ringtone slices into the stillness of his home.

Eyes still glued to a wooden frame hanging on the pale grey wall, Jeongguk inwardly braces himself for the onslaught of questions that are bound to roll of the older's tongue when he swipes his thumb across the screen, bringing the phone to his ear as he exasperatedly huffs out, "Hyung, I'm fine, Jesus--"

"Jeongguk?"

A loud clatter echoes in the dark hallway when the phone slips out of Jeongguk's loose grasp.

The picture he had been staring at is a fuzzy quality picture of them, courtesy of Taehyung's well-known blurry selca aesthetics, with interlinked fingers proudly showing off their matching rings with equally matching smiles adorning their faces.

He blinks, before scrambling down to pick the phone back up to press it against the shell of his ear.

"T-Tae?" he squeaks out, heart thumping wildly against his ribcage. Please tell me I'm not hallucinating, please tell me this is the real thing--

There is the sound of static resounding in his ears as the person on the other end of the call takes a long, shuddering breath. 

"Yeah babe, it's me."

Jeongguk lets out a quiet exhale, relief flooding into his veins and diffusing into his blood, as he hurries to say, "Taehyung--"

"Sorry, Gukkie, I'd love to catch up with you too," Jeongguk closes his mouth, listening intently as the familiar voice soothes his entire being, "but I've gotta go. So I need to make this real quick. Can you do something for me?"

Jeongguk doesn't waste even a second. "Of course."

His heart warms at the sound of Taehyung huffing out a laugh, almost disbelieving, "Okay, then meet me at the café tomorrow night at 8, alright? I'm sure you know which one."

"Yeah," His chest tightens. "Yeah, I'll definitely be there."

Jeongguk hears the smile more than he sees it, really. "It's a date then. I'll see you soon, babe."

Even as the line goes dead, even with the annoying beep filling into his ears, Jeongguk remains standing there with his phone pressed against his ear and eyes staring at the photo. The only difference from before and now is that he's smiling ever so brightly at that moment.

He's coming home. That's all that matters.

*

Jeongguk is nervous.

Annoyed glances and warning looks have been thrown at him on more than one occasion at this point, with the way his fingers drum uncontrollably against the polished wood of the table, and how his feet continues to tap unstoppably beneath it. He tries to stop, he really did try, but his limbs have minds of their own so it's honestly not his fault.

He wraps his fingers around the steaming hot cup, the warmth seeping into his fingers doing little to calm his still-racing heart. Tentatively, he takes a sip before shooting yet another glance at the watch strapped to his wrist, the numbers glaring up into his eyes.

11:02 P.M.

Taehyung is running late.

Jeongguk tramples down the doubt threatening to burst at the seams as the hours tick by later and later than their promised arrangement. He'd surely call, Jeongguk assures himself. So he leans further into the chair, taking yet another sip from his almost-empty cup of Americano as he decides to wait a little longer. 

Although It doesn't take too long before he's scrambling out of his seat and wandering to the counter.

"No, I haven't seen anyone like that..." The cashier says apologetically when Jeongguk describes Taehyung's features, sympathy swimming in her eyes as she bows before turning to resume working.

Jeongguk tries to ask the new arrivals of the shop, only to met with the same answer: no one had seen Taehyung.

So he sits back down and wills his heart to stop its erratic pace, as well as his heavy breathing to calm down. His fingers unknowingly tighten their grip on his phone when he closes his eyes in an attempt to soothe himself.

He looks back to the window, noting the empty driveway until his phone suddenly vibrates in his hand. Jeongguk quickly swipes a finger across the screen with his heart in his throat, only to have it lurching at the unfamiliar set of numbers displayed.

But he answers the call anyway, "Hello?"

"Jeon Jeongguk?" The urgency in the caller's voice is making his head reel. 

"That would be me. May I know who's calling?"

"Jeongguk-sshi, my apologies but something has happened to Kim Taehyung and I think you should come to the hospital right away--"

*

Jeongguk's mind goes back to December, on the day Taehyung had proposed.

Coincidentally, it was snowing outside so they decided to stay in, and both Taehyung and Jeongguk had agreed that it was a good time for the older to finally take a step back into the reality of their world in baby steps, like contacting their friends and dropping the bomb of their engagement unceremoniously at the last second of the call, leaving the two a laughing mess as they end the calls with their hyungs shrieking on the other side.

When Taehyung asks if he should turn his phone back on, worry etched deeply into the furrow of his brows as he thinks about the workload and apology that he owes to his colleagues and co-workers of his late father's office, Jeongguk shakes his head with a small smile.

"Today it should be just you and me," Jeongguk replies simply when Taehyung asks why.

Mirth twinkles in Taehyung's eyes as he leans forward to nuzzle into the side of Jeongguk's face, "It's always been us against the world, twenty-four seven, seven days a week, thirty days a month, and three hundred and sixty-five days a year, babe."

Jeongguk playfully whacks his arm with a deep chuckle, "Stop being so cheesy. It's gross."

The side of Taehyung's mouth quirks up into a challenging smirk before he dives in yet again, only to shower Jeongguk's face in raspberries and light kisses, causing the younger to laugh and (weakly) push the older away. Jeongguk ducks whenever Taehyung dives, leaving Jeongguk breathless with laughter and Taehyung annoyed to the core, until the back of Jeongguk's feet knocks against the bottom of the couch, and tumbles down with Taehyung going along with him as they land on top of the wide range of pillows cushioning their fall.

With their feet entangled uncomfortably together, Jeongguk wheezes with the last of his laughter as he feels the dead weight of Taehyung lift itself of him. He stops when he feels warmth fanning the skin above his lips, then wearily opens his eyes to feel his breath stop at the sight of Taehyung caging him in and staring at him. It leaves him a little breathless and giddy, with the way Taehyung looks at him as though he's looking at the moon, skin tingling everywhere Taehyung's eyes travel to.

Jeongguk's heart stutters when Taehyung leans in, lips curved up into a smile, soft and gentle. "But you love me that way, don't you?" he whispers as Jeongguk feels fingers gingerly caressing his cheek.

He reciprocates the action with his own lazy grin, whispering back a "Forever and always, babe," before he's leaning in to capture Taehyung's chapped yet soft lips, hoping that his actions would speak louder than his words, whimpering when Taehyung's fingers curl at the back of his neck where the skin meets his hair.

Kim Taehyung, there's no one else in this world that I will want more than you.

*

Jeongguk pulls up at the entrance of Seoul hospital, the irony of having to return to this place after a single sleepless night making dread sit uncomfortably in his stomach before he pushes it to the back of his mind. He quickly shoves his phone and keys into his pocket before locking the door of the car behind him, his Audi, making his way towards the glass doors and then to the front desk. 

His mind is a messy scrawl of too many emotions threatening to drown out his conscience, leaving his voice barely above a whisper when the nurse looks up at him expectantly as he mutters, "Kim Taehyung."

They lead Jeongguk down to the part of the hospital he's unfamiliar with, hallways that branch out further into a disastrous maze that seems to be never ending, as they speak to him in quick yet hushed voices while trying to talk about what happened on the road in Myeongdong, but Jeongguk can barely hear them. He can't.

The only words his brain can register is 'black Rover' and 'slammed directly'.

And 'might not wake up'.

A million questions that demand answers scream at his conscience, how, who, when, why Taehyung?, but Jeongguk tries to keep a straight face as they stop at a door with the number '0613', his accomplices standing behind him when he pushes the door open hastily and walks inside.

It's deafening, the constant pounding of his heart in his eardrums when he sees a familiar figure lying on the hospital bed.

Jeongguk makes his way to the white bed, the white-washed walls hurting his eyes as he turns away from them to glance at the white machine beside the figure covered in white sheets, the staining red a stark contrast to the white, white bandages wrapped beneath blonde locks, just above the long eyelashes that are fluttered shut. Perhaps it's the sterile smell wafting in the room that he is all too familiar with suddenly invading his nose that makes his eyes water, or perhaps it's the amount of red seeping through the white hospital gown that causes the dampness of his cheeks when his hip knocks the side of the bed. 

"Taehyung," His voice trembles with anxiety, quivering in sadness.

Each resounding beep from the machine that matches Taehyung's heartbeat drags Jeongguk closer to closure. Jeongguk hears the beating of his own heart as it pounds against its cage of bones and cartilage. The dread that had been hiding at the back of his head is sitting heavily on his shoulders and only Jeongguk can hear the sound of its blades being sharpened.  Jeongguk tenses, then the tremor in his hands begin when he reaches out for Taehyung's that sits deathly pale on the bed.

He feels the air being squeezed out of his lungs at the sight of the ring wrapping itself snugly around Taehyung's finger.

"Hey, babe," he tries again after a moment, thumb tracing soothing circles on the back of Taehyung's cold hand.

The doctors and nurses leave at this, shutting the door quietly behind them while knowing better than to usher Jeongguk out of the room with tears cascading down his cheeks like a waterfall, shoulders quaking from carrying the weight of reality on them; and the only thing that's keeping Jeongguk rooted to his sanity is the steady beeping of the machine.

Jeongguk stands up to move the plastic chair closer to the head of the bed, hand still clutching tightly onto Taehyung's, and reaches out to the switch behind the bed to switch off the blinding fluorescent lights hanging over their heads, darkness engulfing the room with the only light source being the lamp that casts a mellow orange hue.

His eyes wander to the curve of Taehyung's nose, the mole still ever so obvious on the tip of it before they wander down to his now patched cheeks, little cuts and scars littering the previously smooth skin. Jeongguk notes how Taehyung had tanned a little more, sun-kissed melanin skin doing wonders in enhancing Taehyung's charms. In fact, Jeongguk notices everything; from the soft orange glow that dances off his closed eyelids, to the pale shine on his pouty chapped lips beneath the plasters and gauzes, and the peaceful tranquility his expression shows off while slumber steals away his consciousness.

Jeongguk isn't quite sure what's coming over him when the words leave his mouth, "Do you remember, Taehyung, about how you would always remind me that the first thing we're going to do after we get married is to adopt five kids at the nearby orphanage?"

Tears continue to trickle down onto his chin when the only response he gets is the incessant beeping of the machine, Taehyung's weak but even breathing comforting him. He manages a small smile as he drags his eyes to stare at their now interlaced fingers. "I'd always chastise you saying that we're both probably going to be too busy with work to take care of the kids, but you would always tell me that you'd put away-- resign from your job just to take care of them with all your heart." A soft chuckle. "When I called you crazy, all you did was just smile goofily at me and tell me that you'll take care of all of us, and we'll live happily ever after together as a big family."

Jeongguk rubs his eyes with the back of his other hand, tears staining his black coat, then rests his head on top of the bed before bringing Taehyung's hand up to place it on his hair. His tears are now soaking the white sheets below as the smile remains on his lips; weak, but genuine. His eyes shine at the memory. "Oh! And the house on the hillside, the one we've always been aiming for ever since we saw that magazine at the convenience store."

Slowly, he closes his eyes as he lets the fragments of his past drown him on the inside. 

We're going to stay there, Jeonggukie! Grow old together, till' we become wrinkled old men with our five kids working successful jobs in the city. Then we'd have each other, just the both of us, through everything together; the happy, the sad, the ugly, whatever. We'd love each other to our death beds, right?

He buries his face into the now wet bedsheets, Taehyung's freezing hand still sitting atop his mop of dark hair, as he sobs loudly.

"But we're not going to have that anymore, are we?" It hurts. "Why did it have to be you that the stupid car hits? Why is it always you who suffers the worst fate when it comes to everyone in this God damn world?" He tightens his grip on Taehyung's hand. Don't go. "Fucking hell, Taehyung, why can't we have our happily ever after?" How long more do we have to suffer like this?  "I want you to wake up, Tae. This is the first time I get to see you in more than a year and I hate this. Just wake up and tell me it's going to be fucking okay.

It's not fair.

Jeongguk lets it all out that night, clutching Taehyung's unmoving hand to his face as he whimpers and wails and weeps into the sheets. His mind drowns in the many promises Taehyung had made with him: visiting Paris because they're both suckers for romantic stuff; travelling to LA perhaps, just to get that familiar thrill of living the 'hustle life'; flying all over the world to imprint memories of each other everywhere; leaving for Japan to watch their favorite anime turn into a live action movie so they can scream and hoot about it together like kids.

So, so many things that they wanted to do together. Plans that have been made since they were kids. Goals they made under their tent as they watch the stars in the night sky on their first camping trip alone together.

Memories waiting to be experienced.

Yet, they're slipping away from his grasp like sand flowing between the gaps of his fingers.

It takes a lot for Jeongguk to accept that he's been fighting a losing match all along because life never planned to go easy on him.

And he's exhausted at this point.

Tiredly, he cracks his eye open to stare at their interlinked fingers, matching silver bands glistening under the dim orange light, then watches the seconds tick by unforgivingly on his watch.

11:57 P.M.

"This is probably the worst birthday ever huh, Tae." He mumbles, bringing Taehyung's hand to his lips to press a soft, lingering kiss there. "You're turning 27 really soon, but you're not even awake for the celebration." He stares at Taehyung's sleeping face. "But I guess that's okay. You're here, so everything has to be okay."

He spends the next minute getting up from his position, reaching his hand out to trace the lines of the bandages wrapped around his forehead, gradually moving downwards to graze the curve of his nose, the scars on his cheeks, down, down and down to the shape of his soft lips, his chin, and back up to his large ears that he remembers constantly teasing the older for, then finally dropping his hand to Taehyung's chest, the barely felt rise and fall comforting Jeongguk in more ways than he'd like to admit.

He glances at the watch once more. 12:01 A.M.

So once again, he brings Taehyung's hand up, the one that wears their ring, to his lips and to kiss each and finger softly, before lacing their fingers together and holding Taehyung's hand against his chest, right above his heart, as he whispers, "Happy birthday, baby." Gently, he sweeps away Taehyung's golden locks from his forehead to kiss the bandages, the red stains on its stark white still making Jeongguk's heart wobble at the sight. His lips linger there. "I know it's not my birthday, so I'm not obliged to get a wish, but I'd really wish for you to open your eyes for me, Tae."

Sitting back down while smiling at his stupidity when disappointment seeps into the cracks of his heart because of course a wish won't be granted so easily, right? He curls back to his previous position with his head on the bed and their hands clasped together in a firm grip against his beating heart, then closes his eyes as exhaustion starts pulling at his own consciousness. "I've missed you, you know. Like, way more than you can imagine."

Jeongguk allows the constant and steady beeping of the machine to lull him into sleep, every soft sound matching his own heart.

Until he feels the sudden touch on the back of his hand, and jolts awake the moment he hears a low, familiar voice say, "So have I, idiot."

Jeongguk's fly open and his neck hurt from how quickly he snaps up into attention, mouth hanging open to the sight of Taehyung, with swollen eyes that are clearly open, along with a large, bright smile that should be impossible for a victim of such a horrendous car accident to pull off, plastered onto his lips.

"Tae--"

"No, shh," Taehyung presses a weak but firm finger onto Jeongguk's lips to shush him, as he closes his eyes. "Yes, I'm a sick old man who should be resting right now, but I want to talk. So you will--" The blonde applies pressure on his finger, making the younger frown worriedly at the other. "--let me talk. With absolutely no interruption. Zero, nothing, nada."

Jeongguk, who is left feeling dumbfounded by how the older can still talk this much and act like he didn't just get knocked on the road to be flung onto a side, just nods.

The blonde takes a deep breath, "So, yeah, it was pretty shitty of me to just disappear like that, and sorry doesn't cut it, shush Guk--" He presses Jeongguk's lips together when the younger attempts to speak, making Jeongguk huff. "--as I said, even if it doesn't make up for it, I'm still sorry. Okay, like really fucking sorry. I screwed up big time, Guk. One year of absence with absolutely no form of contact should not be easily forgiven, okay?"

When the younger doesn't show any response, Taehyung sighs. "I-I owe you an explanation. And I can't fucking sleep if I don't get this off my chest, so don't go all eomma-Jin-mode on me right now because you deserve it, Guk, you deserve this shitty excuse of an explanation I have prepared before making my appearance here."

Taehyung's eyes flit up to stare at the ceiling. "I wanted to commit suicide, Guk. Like, try to finish off the business I started when I was 19, you know?" He pinches Jeongguk's lips roughly together when the younger yet again tries to speak, this time out of desperation to provide consolation and comfort, but Taehyung gives a weak shake of his head and Jeongguk stops. Then he continues. "But before that, I went to the places I promised to take you to, probably because I wanted to seek for some sort of twisted solace before committing the biggest crime of my life. I mean, I couldn't even stop thinking about you no matter where I went."

"When I arrived in Paris, I was really dead set on ending my life there. How could I not, really?" He lets out a laugh, one that is dry and humorless. "It was really beautiful to a point where I wanted to stain it you know? So I walked to a bridge, perfectly deserted with no one passing by for a good few hours, and I was standing at the edge of the railing and staring at my reflection in the water and closing my eyes, all prepared for that final leap, but then--"

Taehyung's sentence is cut short when Jeongguk swipes a thumb across his cheek, wiping tears he didn't know were rolling down, and Taehyung quickly (as quickly as an injured man can, really) reaches out to grab Jeongguk's hand to hold it to his face, which Jeongguk takes as his cue to cradle the older's face. Taehyung then offers him a small, fond smile, one that Jeongguk recognizes to be the one that is reserved only for him.

"I thought of you, and decided that I just couldn't do it."

It is the smile that expresses all of Taehyung's feelings towards him; love.

"That was a few months ago, really. Like way, way before. I wanted to come home after that, you know, to stop you from worrying and everything," Jeongguk cracks a grin at this, because Taehyung is giving him a look that roughly translates to of course you would, even though it comes out more as a grimace because Taehyung's face probably hurts all over, "But I wanted to come home as someone who is much more worthy of you, so I continued to travel and give myself time to really, like, really think about how I can become better for you. And, yeah, it came to this."

"You mean calling two days before your birthday after a good year of absolutely no news about you? Yeah, that sounds a lot like you," Jeongguk says, disbelief lacing his tone as he arches a brow.

Taehyung, with guilt lodging up in his throat, splutters. "I mean! It was supposed to take a lot longer, but I simply couldn't bear the thought of not spending my birthday with you, okay?" He huffs a sigh when he sees the amusement in Jeongguk's eyes. Even in the low lighting, Jeongguk can make out the pink dusting his marred skin. "Call me romantic, crazy, cheesy, whatever. But I just can't, okay, Guk, I can't. So I called the moment I had access to a phone that actually works."

"Aren't you supposed to be dying?" Jeongguk says with a laugh, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. Ah, I should really stop crying so much. "How can such a terribly injured person like you talk as though you just came home from work and dumping all your complaints at me? And what even happened to your phone?"

The side of Taehyung's patched lips quirks up to a small smirk. "It's gonna take a lot more than just a big chunk of metal to kill the almighty Kim Taehyung, Guk."

"And your phone?"

"Dropped it in the river. Which part of 'I was planning on committing suicide' did you not get?"

Jeongguk laughs at this, relief washing away the dread and anxiety that had been building up in his system to be sealed and locked away forever. He takes a moment to gather his courage, wiping away a few stray tears, when he timidly asks, "So, no more disappearances?"

The blonde looks up from their clasped hands at this, eyes sad and guilty. "I swear on Soonshimie's future babies, you will never have to go through this sort of hell again."

So Jeongguk allows the smile to burst through, bright and wide and full of teeth. "Then that's more than enough for me."

Taehyung mirrors the action, grin stretching widely from ear to ear before it suddenly drops to a frown, then he unlatches his fingers from Jeongguk's to fiddle with them. Confused, Jeongguk furrows his brows at the drastic shift in the atmosphere. "Tae?"

"Are you sure?"

Jeongguk is taken aback by how defeated the older sounds, frowning deeper than before. "What are you getting at?"

"I mean--" There it is again, the dull sparkle of something glistening in the brown irises that Jeongguk had been caught staring at on more than one occasion. Jeongguk knows he isn't going to like what's to come when he notes the slight slump in Taehyung's posture and the frown on his face. "I just suddenly disappeared out of nowhere, and I never called, when I could've e-mailed you or even texted you. Hell, I could've even written a letter for God's sake. I already memorized our address. I'm sure you were worried sick about me and all I did was just continue on without--"

"Tae."

"--even attempting to contact you and honestly, Guk I really don't think I deserve--"

"Tae, stop running your mouth and get to the point."

Taehyung clamps his mouth shut at this, and Jeongguk has at least half a heart to feel guilty for being so mean to the older. He's about to apologize when Taehyung beats him to it.

"What I'm saying is," he pauses to glance at Jeongguk, "Are you really sure you want to marry me?"

Maybe it's the way that Taehyung looks, so helpless and vulnerable and desperate; or maybe it's just twelve years worth of feelings being sucked out dry from his heart to be spilled and laid out to for Taehyung to see, but Jeongguk remains silent before standing up to crawl up onto the hospital bed, the rules and regulations of visitors be damned, slamming both his palms down beside Taehyung's head and caging him in, before he stares directly into Taehyung's eyes with a newly found sense of determination burning inside him.

"I'll keep reminding you, time and time again, just so it'll be engraved into your heart and etched into your soul whenever you even attempt to forget," Taehyung visibly gulps at this, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in his throat, "But Kim Taehyung, you're the only person I loved, love, and will love no matter how old and wrinkled and ugly you get as we age. I've said this before, Tae, that you're wonderful just the way you are, broken or not, and perfect in every aspect possible."

Jeongguk leans in, closer, and closer until their noses are touching; until Jeongguk can feel Taehyung's weak yet warm breath caress his skin, "So don't doubt. Don't harbor any doubt in you, in me, in us. I promised you an eternity, Tae, and I trust myself to keep my word for it."

Stunned to a momentary silence, Taehyung takes a while before his eyes light up, curving into half-moons with a grin so wide Jeongguk hopes it doesn't hurt his cheek muscles. "And you said I'm the cheesy one, hmm? I'm thinking that you're stealing that title away from me." He whispers, voice soft and gentle.

Chuckling, Jeongguk leans in yet again, this time stopping right before their lips meet. He sees the desire swimming in Taehyung's now honey-colored eyes, leaving Jeongguk feeling slightly light-headed. 

Taehyung takes the chance, "Promise?"

And Jeongguk just laughs, whispering the phrase that has now become a promise between the both of them before capturing Taehyung's lips to a sweet, chaste kiss.

"Forever and always, babe."

*

Also, Tae?

Mm? Yeah?

Happy birthday.

I heard you when you said it the first time, you dork.

*

Jeongguk is nervous.

Annoyed glances and warning looks have been thrown at him on more than one occasion at this point, with the way his fingers drum uncontrollably against the polished wood of the table, and how his feet continues to tap unstoppably beneath it. He tries to stop, he really did try, but his limbs have minds of their own so it's honestly not his fault.

The scenario feels familiar, leaving Jeongguk with a sense of deja vu, but there's one very stark difference...

Jeongguk isn't in the cafe two streets down the road from their apartment complex.

He's in a room, sitting in front of a mirror beside his very proud-looking mother, adorning a crisp white suit with his hair gelled up to a side.

Did he mention that he's shaking in nervousness?

"Would you stop fidgeting, Jesus Christ, Guk," Seokjin mutters frustratedly under his breath as he tries to finish styling Jeongguk's now dark brown hair, running his fingers through the chocolate locks. "Amen."

His mother, who surprisingly manages to look youthful and elegant in her midnight blue gown with her prominent curls flowing down gracefully to her shoulders, side eyes Jeongguk with a knowing look on her face, to which the youngest's response is a scowl.

"Someone's rather nervous, aye?" She says in a singsong voice, the Busan accent rolling off her tongue making Jeongguk feel both comforted and annoyed. "Our little Jeonggukie's nervous!"

"Would. You. Stop." Jeongguk mutters, his voice barely expressing any real bite, as his now giddy fingers resume to drumming on the makeup table in front of him, which Seokjin shoots yet another disapproving look at, and Jeongguk stops. He sinks into the chair, the movement causing Seokjin to yelp before glaring down at the younger, which Jeongguk doesn't bother apologizing for considering the jumble of feelings messing in his head. "Ugh, I think I'm gonna get a heart attack in the middle of the ceremony."

This earns him a slap to the forehead. Seokjin sighs in exasperation. "Do not jinx it, oh my God."

"Someone's rather holy today," a voice says from behind them. Jeongguk looks up into the mirror to see Namjoon walking into the room, his dimples on full display with his trademark smile on his face. He adorns a pink suit that matches Seokjin's. Cute, Jeongguk can't help but think. "So how's the little fetus doing on his big day?"

"Terrible," Seokjin answers for him instead, giving his hair yet another spritz of hairspray. "He's been moving non-stop to a point that I can't perfect this hairstyle--"

"He looks good enough, though."

Seokjin turns to glare at his lover. "Do you really expect me to put my faith in your sense of fashion, Joonie? "

Jeongguk whistles lowly at this, whispering a soft "savage", which earns him another whack on his head. He yelps before scowling at the elder. 

Namjoon, on the other hand, looks like someone had just kicked his puppy.

"Okay, okay, okay! Is our beloved Jeonggukie ready yet?" Hoseok's voice cuts in suddenly, his head of brown emerging from the gap of the door. He's smiling so wide that Jeongguk briefly wonders how his face is still intact. "He's gotta be out in like, right now."

"Almost!" Seokjin announces loudly, fussing over the last attempt to gel Jeongguk's hair properly to a side. Jeongguk manages to see the hint of a satisfied smile before he's being pulled up from his sitting position only to be shoved out of the room and into Hoseok's arms, "And off you go, Jeonggukie!"

The door then promptly shuts in Jeongguk's face.

"Well," Hoseok starts, laughing brightly as he gives Jeongguk's shoulders a reassuring squeeze. When Jeongguk looks up, Hoseok has never looked prouder of him than that moment. "I guess our little dongsaeng should get going now?"

Heart thumping wildly in his chest and fingers sweating from the sheer realization that this is really happening, Jeongguk nods. Hoseok then escorts him out of the rose-scented hallway, attempting small talk to keep Jeongguk looking less nervous.

Hoseok's in the middle of describing some fantastic dance club he went to the other day when they arrive at the venue. It's a garden with transparent canopies set up to hover above the large space, nothing too fancy yet nothing not to brag about. They planned a small event, one meant only for them and those close to them, along with some of Taehyung's colleagues who he became friends with over the years of working in Kim's Corp. 

Tiny glass chandeliers hang proudly on top of them, arranged in a straight line above the white carpeting that leads down all the way to the altar, with lines of confetti sprinkled on the ground and small bouquets of flowers tied to short wooden posts aligned on both sides of the carpet. Rows and rows of chairs covered in white satin take up the space on either side of the venue, most already occupied by people Jeongguk are familiar with. 

"Hyung," Jeongguk starts, as Hoseok had stopped talking upon their arrival, earning himself a hum of acknowledgment. "Thank you."

Hoseok turns. "What for?"

"For everything, hyung. I know that you were mostly in charge of the preparations, even though we could've easily gotten someone else to do it for us. It was hard for you," Jeonguk says, smiling at the elder. Hoseok looks like he wants to cry. "It's really beautiful, this place. So thank you."

Jeongguk laughs when the older flings his arms around him, hugging him so tightly that Jeongguk feels the air being squeezed out of him. He pats Hoseok's back.

The older retracts his arms to offer Jeongguk his trademark blinding smile, dimples on display for the world to see, then he's squeezing Jeongguk's arms again. "You're most welcome. I'm proud of you, Jeonggukie, for managing this far. This is a small thing compared to what you've been through." Before Jeongguk can deny, Hoseok is nodding his head in the direction of the guests. "You should be a big man and greet these people who came all the way to support you."

Jeongguk hesitates, obviously wanting to say more, but decides against it as Hoseok is looking at him fondly. He turns and starts walking, right before he hears Hoseok say, "I'm so happy for the both of you."

He tries not to smile.

As Jeongguk makes his way to the crowd of guests, he stumbles back when he suddenly collides with a figure dressed in sharp blue, who in turn falls onto the ground. Head reeling, Jeongguk quickly regains his composure and holds out a hand to the man who accepts it, before pulling the man up onto his feet then bowing profusely, "Oh God, I'm so sorry--"

Jeongguk cuts himself off mid-sentence when he recognizes the sly smile. It takes him a while to place a name on the face, and when it does, Jeongguk claps his hand together and his eyes widen. "Jiwon-hyung? "

"Hey to you too, kiddo," Jiwon returns in greeting, laughing as he dusts off his slacks. "Been awhile since I've last seen you. Congratulations by the way."

"Thank you," Jeongguk smiles, relieved that the person that he accidentally knocked down is a close friend. "Sorry for making you fall, though. My thoughts were a little preoccupied."

Jiwon dismisses it with a wave of his hand. "It's alright. How've you been, Guk? No wait-- don't answer that. Pretty sure you and Tae have been up to some really weird shit."

Jeongguk chuckles, noticing the use of names. "So he forced you to call him Tae at a daily basis now?"

He laughs harder at Jiwon's pained expression. "He threatens me when I don't."

"I can imagine that," Jeongguk says, laughter still trailing after his words. When he finally takes a good look at Jiwon's face, he notices that Jiwon had hardly changed since the last time he saw him, which is a long, long time ago. His thoughts suddenly drift back to ten years ago, and his smile softens. "Hey Jiwon-hyung, I never got to thank you."

"Huh?" Jiwon looks slightly taken aback. "For what?"

"For... Taking care of Taehyung. During all those times when I wasn't there for him."

Jiwon smiles. "Kid, you guys haven't even met at that time yet." He gives Jeongguk's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Besides, the one who should be giving thanks is me. Thank you, Guk, for making Tae as happy as he is today. For doing something that no one else managed to do."

Jeongguk squeaks when Jiwon brings him into a rough and tight embrace, before hugging the man back just as fiercely. Jiwon's voice resounding in his ears is a soothing element. "My statement still stands, though. I'm thankful that you're the one Tae opened his heart to. I was really worried him back in the States."

Jiwon then leaves Jeongguk alone, explaining that he wanted to see Taehyung one last time before I officially lose my job as his caretaker for life because I'll be entrusting that job to you. Although he might be left alone, he is left with a more tranquil sort of happiness and content, as he turns to continue his journey to mingle with the rest of the guests.

Upon receiving endless amounts of fussing and compliments, along with the mandatory congratulations from all of his guests, Jeongguk then (a little tiredly) shifts closer to the glass piano sitting beside the altar, where a man in a gray suit that matches his silver hair is perched on the stool in front of it. 

The man smiles at the younger when he approaches, tiny and soft, but it means a lot to Jeongguk.

"How does it feel?" Yoongi asks when Jeongguk takes a seat beside him. 

"Fucking surreal." Jeongguk breathes out, exhaling loudly through his nose.

Yoongi chuckles. "But it's all you've been waiting for since thirteen years ago, right?"

The younger is left a spluttering mess, face turning beet red even under the layer of foundation Seokjin had insisted on putting on him. "What--"

"Don't even try to lie to me, Jeon. Even at the age of 15 you already looked so whipped for him that I couldn't stand it." Yoongi smirks. "You were so in love that it hurt to watch."

"Shut up," Jeongguk mutters, shoving Yoongi lightly in the arm. The man laughs loudly.

At this, both Namjoon and Seokjin arrive. They walk down the white carpet hand in hand and side by side, almost as though they're the ones getting married before they go their separate ways, as Namjoon moves to his position at the center of the altar, a book in his hand when he winks at the younger. 

Seokjin takes Jeongguk's hand to help him get up, then brings him to stand beside the piano instead. "You shouldn't bother the pianist since he needs to start playing soon," he says with a smirk, glancing at Yoongi.

"Aye, aye, cap'n." Yoongi drawls sarcastically, eyes gleaming with mirth.

As Yoongi's slender fingers start to dance across the tiles of the glass piano, a soft, beautiful melody that anyone can recognize to be Taehyung's first composition, Hold Me Tight, begins to echo around the venue, causing the previously chatter-filled garden to be consumed in a sea of silence, as everyone tentatively listens into the lovely song. 

At Seokjin's nod of approval and Jeongguk's entranced expression, Yoongi rolls his eyes and shakes his head, a small smile on his face as he continues to play.

"He's coming," Seokjin whispers to the younger when they turn to look at the guests.

Jeongguk wants to slap himself on the face when he finds himself asking, "How does he look?"

Amusement paints itself clearly across Seokjin's face, laughter poorly concealed. "Good, like, really good. You're gonna be thankful that you're marrying him."

The younger twists the band on his finger, the action becoming more of a habit lately, especially when he's nervous. He slides it up and down, feeling the cool metal soothe his warm and tingly nerves that are threatening to explode inside his body.

"If it isn't him, there's no one else I'd want to marry." he whispers.

If Jeongguk had shifted his eyes away from his ring, he would've seen Seokjin's satisfied expression.

Their attentions are dragged to the glass door of his-- their home, a white villa sitting on the top of a hillside with a view that oversees lush greenery and more nature, when Jimin, in a black and white suit, makes a show of flinging the doors (gently) and screaming with his arms opened wide, "His highness has arrived!"

There's loud and bubbly laughter ringing in the air, as the guests clap and cheer while getting off their seats to stand, friends and family alike having their spirits lifted, while Jimin shies back into his usual, more timid self with a bashful smile. He points to the door with his thumb as he admits, "He wanted me to do it."

Then Jimin is walking back into the house, holding out a hand to someone who is hiding behind the wall, to which the hidden one takes tentatively before Jimin drags him out of the house.

And Jeongguk. Well, he's having a hard time breathing.

Because Taehyung, with his fading-blonde locks styled up in a manner similar to his own, wearing a matching white suit that hugs his frame in all the right places with a white corsage Jeongguk remembers choosing for him hanging proudly beside his silver tie, is staring right back at him when Jimin loops their arms together to lead him down the white carpet.

It's a little dreamy, the situation which they're in, as their guests clap and cheer, the ones sitting closest to the carpet sprinkling and flinging confetti into the air, raining Taehyung's walk towards Jeongguk with tiny, pink petals. The entire ordeal is enrapturing and enchanting, and yet, the two soon-to-be newlyweds can only stare at each other.

Taehyung's eyes say you look beautiful.

Jeongguk's eyes reply you are even more so.

A smile tugs at Taehyung's lips, the one that Jeongguk realizes is their smile, their shared little secret. It's as if Taehyung is telling him that they're in their own world, even though there are so many others with them at that moment. 

It's always been us against the world, Guk.

It takes a nudge to his side from Seokjin to remind the younger of the procedures he's supposed to carry out. Jeongguk approaches the two slowly, footing sure and confident, as he trudges down from the altar to meet them at the foot of the snow carpeting. 

Jimin shares a look with Jeongguk, before handing his best friend over to the younger, unlooping their arms with a large, proud smile on his lips as he watches the two interlink their fingers immediately upon contact. Jeongguk bows as his eyes whisper thank you, hyung.

The smile doesn't leave his face. In fact, it just gets brighter. With one final bow, Jimin is heading off to stand with Seokjin at the side of the piano, where Yoongi has switched songs without Jeongguk realizing.

The two of them have a moment, eyes locking with each other into a staring competition, so many various emotions swimming across their faces until Taehyung breaks the moment with a huge boxed-shaped smile that has his eyes curving up into half-moons. 

I'm so happy to be here with you, are the words that Taehyung doesn't say, but his eyes do.

Their walk back to the altar is done in comfortable silence, arms touching and fingers intertwined together, where Namjoon now stands proud and tall with glasses perched on his nose, smiling at the two with his signature dimple smile, and clears his throat when they stop right in front of him. Beside them, Yoongi stops playing, followed by the sound of the guests sitting back down.

Out of habit, Namjoon readjusts his glasses and stares at the page on the book in his hand before speaking. "It is written that the greatest of all things-- the most wonderful experience in the world-- is love. Jeon Jeongguk and Kim Taehyung, into your lives, have entered a deep and nurturing love, and we are all gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of the both of you.

"For Jeongguk and Taehyung, this ceremony means that they will count on one another, that they will treat one another with care, and that they will continue to share their lives with each other as partners, as friends, and to go on building their future together. This ceremony expresses the spiritual bond that they experience together. Their union is not but a time of static contentment with each other and the world around them, but an ongoing process of exploring the fullness of their individual persons and sharing their friendship and love with you, their friends and family."

Standing beneath him, Jeongguk and Taehyung share a look because of course Joonie hyung would want to get all philosophical on this day. Their eyes, now slightly watery from the speech, express their laughter and amusement before they turn back to face the older. Namjoon looks like he wants to continue, but he stops himself as he puts away the black-covered book upon clasping it shut.

"You know," Namjoon says as he removes the glasses from his face, "This is my first time doing this so I wanted to do it right, but this is kind of resembling a funeral, don't you think? With the long boring introductions." Everyone laughs, including Taehyung and Jeongguk who chuckle quietly. Jeongguk looks up when he feels his hand being squeezed, only to find Taehyung literally shaking from either excitement or nervousness, he may never know, but he gives a squeeze back regardless. "So let's do it our way, the way the seven of us had always lived our lives: simple, yet more than sufficient, and happy."

His eyes, now full of wonder, look to Jeongguk, "Therefore, Jeon Jeongguk, do you take Kim Taehyung to love and to cherish, to honor and to comfort, in sickness and in health, in sorrow or in joy, in hardship or in ease, to have and to hold from this day forth?"

The man in question turns to face his lover, but he doesn't see the present: what he sees is the years of time spent together, in every moment of tears, of joy, of anger, and of content. He sees himself growing up with Taehyung through all the pain and all the happiness until Taehyung's present self comes back into his view, in the low lighting of the chandeliers with a smile that is still ever so blinding no matter how many years Jeongguk has been witnessing it. 

"I do." Why question something that doesn't need to be?

Namjoon then turns to face Taehyung instead. "And, do you, Kim Taehyung, take Jeon Jeongguk to love and to cherish, to honor and to comfort, in sickness and in health, in sorrow or in joy, in hardship or in ease, to hold from this day forth?"

And Taehyung, with his blinding smile and large eyes crinkling at the edges with tears slipping down his cheeks, doesn't wait for a beat before he says, 

"Forever and always."

*

Because sometimes, endings have to take a drastic turn before dissolving into something so much better than what we anticipated.