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Winter X Games 2016: Aspen

“Who the fuck is Jeon?”

Atmospheric turbulence is persistent and probably the source of shitty wifi on this bumpy plane ride, but Taehyung has never really understood the concept of wireless internet when suspended thirty thousand feet in the air anyway. Maybe he’ll pull a crash course on wifi connectivity out of Namjoon later if he isn’t intellectual mush by then.

Taehyung brings the phone closer to his face until he can make sense of the partially loaded webpage. The list of athletes for this year’s winter games finally displays after a long, static session of refreshing, wifi courtesy of Namjoon and the dismal plastic of his credit card. He calls it Namjoon’s Taehyung-shaped soft spot, real and primary where it resides like a fat weight in his heart, right beside philosophy and nineties-era hip hop. But against prevailing misinterpretation from the common eye, this was fair, the way they went about deciding who paid what within the group: a democratic system of justification for the tabs. Of the people, by the people, for the people. Gettysburg blunder that seems adequate enough to shove one of them under the bus during times of need. They’ve all had their turns paying up on more occasions than one, some more than others, and airplane wifi was a goddamn joke compared to the time Hoseok had paid for sushi in Beverly Hills, the fastest way to chip away at someone’s dignity one dirty swipe at a time.

So naturally, Taehyung doesn’t feel an ounce of guilt for swiping Namjoon’s card for a little something extra, Pitch Perfect 2 and a readymade chicken salad sandwich to last him through the flight without mucking himself up over nausea. Not that Namjoon ever checked his transaction history anyway, the shopping fiend he was. He'd been elected for payment bait after failing to chip in to the shared Burger King Feast Bonanza back at the airport’s food court in favor of wasting their precious fries to stuff up his nose. Granted, they had an entire tray dedicated to salty, high blood pressure fries and runny ketchup puddles, but two fries went a long way in a group of five starving boys with black-hole appetites. Taehyung and Jimin still ended up fighting over the last few crunchy scraps of fries. That’s the problem.

Jimin is a warm and cozy weight against his side, peering over Taehyung’s shoulder at the screen of his phone with headphones dangling around his neck. 2Chainz filters out from the speakers as funneled sound waves, the kind of muffled jibberish that grates on middle-aged men in North Face and elementary school teachers sharing their narrow row. But Jimin is nothing if not hot-tempered when he’s in high altitudes and cramped leg space—Taehyung reasons this is due to his tiny stature where anger sets in faster—and cranks up the volume in time with each dirty glare he receives from pairs of thin-framed spectacles. A little louder, and Taehyung will reach over to unplug his headphones entirely, would snip the wire with scissors, had it been applicable. He's not that much of an asshole if he can't be.

“Who?” Jimin says, cocking his head forward to squint at the list. Taehyung’s screen brightness is so low that he sees the glow of their reflections more than he does sans-serif type. His battery must already be running low on juice even after spending a half hour plugged into the wall, right beside the public men’s restroom. Highly unsanitary and shamelessly millennial of him, technology driven and all, but priorities were priorities no matter how incongruous.

“Exactly,” Taehyung says, leering, too, at the name in bolded black. “Jeon Jeongguk? He’s competing in the snowboarding event and representing the American team.”

“Huh, never heard of him,” Jimin leans back, lifts his snapback to run fingers through red hair, freshly dyed as of one week ago. “He’s probably one of those rookies who wears DC shoes and fifty shades of neon green. I wouldn’t worry too much, especially since you’re a defending medal champion.”

“You can never tell with these newbies, though. At least not until they’re shreddin’ the course with yolo flips like they don’t have fractures to rib.”

“Ribs to fracture.”

“Same difference,” Taehyung grumbles, flicking his thumb and scrolling further down the list. He’s running on approximately one hour of sleep, including the fifteen minutes he’d spent snoozefeeding through twitter, a real inconvenience but a bad habit he’ll admit to. It’s hardly enough rest to consider it anything more than a cat nap, and it’s definitely not enough to keep the sting from burning at his eyes.

“Remember that Jooheon guy last year that almost beat my ass into fourth? And I don’t mean that in the literal sense, as much as I’d like to mean it.” The flight attendant throws Taehyung a steely glance that he brushes off like dust as she makes her rounds down the small aisle, significantly unfazed by indirect callouts of indecency. They’re all adults here with the nearest child six rows back, and he can’t find himself giving a shit about censoring when they’re mostly surrounded by baby boomers—Taehyung mostly blames the discomfort of his bluntness on generational gap, anyway. The way her hair sits atop her head in that stiff, wound-up bun stresses him out, and he wonders if her scalp is starved of oxygen.

“Hey, but he didn’t, right? Take your medal, that is, not your ass. Fucking TMI, dude,” Jimin says and sits back. Taehyung refuses to take him seriously with Jason Derulo crooning through his headphones like a pained sex operator. The acappella trumpeting will get stuck in his head for the rest of this flight, and he will end up terminating the earworm with even more acappella from the Barden Bellas until he forgets the rhythm entirely. Fight sickness with sickness, they say. “I guess we’ll just have to see who he is for ourselves. You never know until you know, you feel?”

“I feel. I definitely feel,” Taehyung says and Jimin easily picks up on the Jumpstreet reference. He catches the name one last time like a foreshadowed warning before his phone dies. “Jeon Jeongguk, huh?”

 

 

Post-flights are the best recipe for a bitchin’ headache. Taehyung knows this like he’s first class in the subject of bitchin’ headaches.

By the time their plane lands, it’s impossible to make out land through the inky black of the tiny airplane windows, nothing but the freckle of stars and airport lights marking their arrival. Taehyung stops trying to distinguish ambiguous shapes in the distance and pushes down the cover, yanking his backpack from under the seat to set in his lap. The sound of rustling picks up to a dull rumble that stirs Jimin from his sleep at Taehyung’s side, head loosely propped on the shoulder of the stranger to his left. He gargles a bit of nonsense from his dry mouth and straightens up to sluggishly pat the man’s shoulder before attempting to stretch his arms overhead with a groan. Even after years of knowing each other, Taehyung still sniggers at how his short arms barely reach the upper compartments.

Denver’s air is paper thin and does not allow much oxygen into his lung tank when they come to a stop, head stuffed with so much pressure that he can feel it at the backs of his eyes. It is nostalgic on his senses but easier to familiarize than the last time he was here, ears plugged to a dizzying inflation that lasted a majority of the stay. Like water submersion, only thrice times more dehydrated and inescapable. But the quiet vacancy that DIA offers is something to appreciate, and Taehyung takes free reign in inhaling deeply without worries of breathing something foul. It’s fresh compared to LAX’s musky populace from overcrowded halls, consistently reeking aromas of the artificial world that Taehyung finds hard to swallow; cleaning solutions, McDonald’s, and nothing quite like this.

The ring of people already lining the luggage carousel looks just as restless and blanched as he is when they trudge to the corresponding baggage claim, most of this crowd diagnosed with bad kinks in stiff necks from the luxury that cattle class did not offer. They are a body of zombies waiting to be replenished with proper sleep come morning, and Taehyung conforms to join them with his already failing muscle retention. It’s nearing one a.m. in this frigid time zone, and he is ready, so ready, for memory foam and a dozen pillows to stretch his weeping limbs on.

Taehyung collapses onto the speckled grey carpet and kicks his legs out with just enough drag to ease the tension in his joints. He is again plugged into a wall, charger wrapped around his hand like the filthy heathen he is with an impression for technology addiction. In his best intentions, it is promise fulfillment to text his parents an update on his whereabouts, that he’d landed safe and somewhat sound—the role he plays as a filial son that will readily confirm his parents as his closest friends with nurtured love in his eyes.

Soaking in the extravagant comfort of unobstructed space and crisp air, Taehyung is fully immersed in thoroughly chilling to a slow simmer when someone clutters by unexpectedly and slams the toe of his goddamn Vans against his ankle, where the bone juts out and right where it hurts. Some fucking klutz.  

Ow —what the fuck?” Taehyung says offhandedly with mild irritation skirting his tone. It is long past bedtime on his watch with airplane seats doing a number on his ass, and he hardly has the patience for feigned manners or introverted oblivion. “Dude.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” the guy offers behind a mask that covers half his face. He rubs an eye with the ball of his palm, other hand waving vaguely through the air as though emphasizing his point. Trying to, at least. Taehyung does not want to use his head right now. “Tired. Buttfuck late. Airports. You know.”

He realizes in this lull that it’s as doable of a response as he’s going to get. Taehyung easily accepts the half-assed apology because he gets it. He isn’t in his right mind either. He flicks his eyes up from his throbbing ankle at the guy—nothing but a pair of doe eyes and sharp eyebrows peeking over the soft, elastic fabric of his black mask. His hair is pulled under a beanie and tugged low over gauged ears to border on suspicious with the high coverage, but Taehyung can’t be bothered that he can’t place face to voice, can’t blame him either when Denver is cold and groggy at this hour in January. They’d gotten lucky this time around not to have cameras stuffed in their faces, and Taehyung shivers at the memory that was last year’s shit show with a plane full of gold medalists and an airport full of thirsty interviewers.

“No, you’re good,” Taehyung says, arm tangled up in charger wire when he reaches down to massage his ankle. It’ll leave a bruise come morning that he’ll remember gingerly when he stuffs his feet into snowboarding boots. “I wouldn’t see me either.”

Gauges adjusts the falling backpack straps on his shoulders, unfastened too loosely to even hold properly on his broad frame. He’s kind of a mess, and Taehyung wants to tease him for it. “Alright. Sorry again.”

He moves to face the carousel belt, intentionally standing clear of the zombie apocalypse that Taehyung figures he also has no desire of squeezing into—the stale, musky scent surrounding the belt that came from being hours on a stuffy airplane. Right, cattle class. Unsettling, really, coming from fellow human odor. He’s sure he’s got that exact musk stained like smoke into his own skin and feels his body tingle at the thought of a hot shower to cleanse his dying skin cells.

Taehyung settles his eyes back on his phone and finishes off the text with a blast of hearts and kisses, adds in an eggplant just for the sake of it. His parents won’t see it till morning, but he knows himself well enough to predict that he’ll forget to text them altogether if he holds this off for later. He is as irresponsible of an adult as any other yuppie with the inability to do anything in a timely manner without some form of excuse to save himself. Taehyung wants to hate his society and its pervasive politically correct environment, but he is far too fond of the ever increasing #literaryswag trend to be aggressive about it. He’ll take responsibility at his own leisurely pace so long as it doesn’t fuck him over to hell and back.

Gauges has his earphones plugged in when Taehyung looks away from the blue and grey text bubbles littering his phone, a slew of backtracked messages from his parents about why they won’t be able to make it to this season’s games. It’s okay, he thinks. They’ll be able see him from the luxury of eighty inches high definition anyway, more crisp and impressive than Jimin and the others will experience from their place at the sidelines with snot freezing halfway down their faces like icicles. Watching in-person does not come with slow-mo’s and flattering commentary from seasoned professionals, no. It comes with the smell of weed and commercial breaks in negative degree weather.

Without thinking, Taehyung extends his leg to nudge his foot against the back of the guy’s Vans. Sitting here and pondering in his own thoughts makes him chill to the point of glazing over, and he’s eager to occupy this stagnant wait with a distraction. The others had rushed to the restroom earlier from the airplane the second the doors unlatched like a herd of cows, leaving Taehyung wandering to the luggage carousel alone with his empty bladder. He’s hoping they’ll return soon, at least before the bags start piling out, lest he retrieve all five by himself with a body built more on food cravings than muscle. Yet ten minutes in, and there is still no sign of approaching commotion.

Taehyung nudges the guy’s foot again, and a pair of questioning eyes falls on him.

“Where you flying in from?” Taehyung asks, reading through the orange list of cities on display above the carousel. Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte. This is his minimal attempt at small talk to stay awake, but really, where the fuck were their luggages? Or his friends, for that matter.

“New York,” Gauges says, plucking an earbud out. “You?”

“Complete opposite—West coast, Smog Angeles. City of flowers and sunshine,” Taehyung says majestically, fluttering his fingers in the shape of a rainbow and untangling his arm as he sets his phone to the side. “Whatever the fuck they call us. Which part of New York?”

“I’m reppin’ Queens.”

“And how’s that going for you?”

“It’s kind of a dump? But I love the shit out of it.”

“Yeah, I hear you on that.”

It’s fitting, New York is. Taehyung associates the laid-back attitude and champion resting bitch face to the city’s typical populace. He’s only been there once, but the guy is the essence of New York condensed down to flesh and bones. No-nonsense, real. Taehyung likes that, coming from a place known for its superficiality and synthetic plasticity. He has lived in LA for as long as he can remember, and he is still unaccustomed to the fake stench of interaction.

“Are you here for X?” the guy asks, wrapping the length of his earphones around the middle of his phone. “Or winter break…?”

“X,” Taehyung answers. It’s a standard question. Expected, even, with consideration to the time and devotion that being an X Games athlete entailed, what with high demands for intensive dedication that left no room for college level studies. It’s been years since he last answered with the latter. “What sport are you competing?”

“Snowboarding.”

“Snowbo, huh,” Taehyung says, and leaves out me too. “Good luck.”

“Won’t need it yet,” says Gauges, one side of his face lifting in what Taehyung assumes is a slight grin. He tucks his phone away. “Not for two more weeks.”

Taehyung is about to ask for a name to put to his indistinguishable face, question just barely out in the air, but the roar of the belt humming to life snaggles his words along the first luggage that slides out with a clatter, disturbing the thick sludge that permeates this end of the airport. Gauges waves a hand down at him.

“Hey, I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, see you,” Taehyung smiles and yanks out his charger.

With perfect timing down to the second, Jimin decides just then to saunter up beside him, snapback replaced with his hood to temper down matted hat hair, strands awkwardly slanted and wayward. Taehyung spots Seokjin, Hoseok, and Namjoon near the carousel and feels relief wash through his sap-like reflexes. Thank god for responsible adults.  

“Who’s that?” Jimin asks and leans against the wall, hands tugging at the strings of his hood. “He has a nice ass.”

Taehyung scoffs and squints at the guy’s back. Stussy—probably sponsored. He only briefly wonders about competition and ignores his instincts.

“Don’t know,” Taehyung says and hangs the charger around his neck to stand on stiff legs. “I didn’t catch his name.”

 

 

Aspen is a beautiful town with just enough tungsten filaments to make the streets a twinkling winter wonderland at night. Taehyung doesn’t feel as dead as he probably looks and basks in the quaint nightlife that had warmly welcomed them, a nice change of atmosphere from the rush of city life. The air soothes the back of his throat when he breathes in deep, filtered and clean of smog, and Taehyung wishes he could capture this in a mason jar to bring back home. He is cute and indie when pollution levels get too high, even for him.

“I’ll fetch you tomorrow morning at seven for practice. Too bright and too early,” says Jiho, his trusted coach of four years. Jiho hands him one of the two room cards, Seokjin the other, and directs him a stern gaze. “But real quick—”

Taehyung sighs.

“Hey, you know I gotta say it sooner or later,” Jiho shrugs. “And I’d rather do it now, not while saving you from drowning in the toilet.”

“I wasn’t drowning—”

Anyway you’ve got a little over two weeks before X, so we need to lay down some ground rules. One, no beer before practice, which means your ass better be sober by sunrise. Two, fuck around all you want as long as you bring your A game everyday. And three, you guys—” Jiho points at the rest of them. “—for the love of based god, try not to draw sharpie dicks anywhere visible. We all know how the media works during games season, so please, let’s not depend on makeup to cover that shit up like last year.”

Taehyung thinks back to his second year, when he’d passed out one night, drunk, after karaoke at one of the pubs in town. He’d woken up with a throbbing hangover, sore throat, and doodles drawn all over his face that soap could only partially remove in the short amount of time he had before the press conference began. A newfound respect for hotel soap had wallowed its way into his heart, along with his newfound sort-of-disrespect for his asshole bunch of friends. Not the best idea, leaving himself in the hands of four other drunk boys, but Taehyung has sworn since then to get his revenge. Plans were already in the works.

“Got it, Coach,” Taehyung salutes and clicks his tongue twice, opening the door to the room. “I wouldn’t be an X athlete if I wasn’t a hard worker!”

“I believe it,” Jiho says and slaps him on the back before steering away. “See you in a few hours.”

Taehyung thinks he dies a little on the inside and pushes into the blast of warm air that the hotel room greets him with.

“Did you guys see that downstairs?” Namjoon says, crashing back on one of the two beds with a huff. “The receptionist was checking me out on the way here. She definitely wants me.”

Taehyung doesn’t understand why they still insist on booking two hotel rooms when they always end up sharing one. But it’s good, he thinks, convenient and compromisable—they’ve long since declared the spare room for hook up purposes as a means to avoid being sexiled, and it’s come in handy on multiple occasions. So maybe two rooms isn’t as useless as he’d thought, but it’s also terribly first-worldly of them.

Hoseok scoffs and tosses his backpack at the foot of the bed, eyeing Namjoon’s pants with laughter in his eyes. “Nah, she wants her mom’s jeans back, fool.”

“Moded,” Jimin whistles and barely dodges a pillow attack to the face from Namjoon. “He does not lie.”

“Whatever, don’t fuck with my fashion chi. Freedom of expression and shit. What happened to inner beauty and exploration?”

“You did,” Seokjin teases, and Namjoon, for a freckled moment, actually looks offended. “Joking.”

“Take your nineties fashion debate elsewhere, I need to get some sleep,” Taehyung whines, nudging at Jimin’s thigh. He yanks off his jeans with squirmish legs and slides under the covers, reaching over to shut off the lamp on the nightstand. “I have two hours before practice kicks my ass into the fourth dimension.”

“Wouldn’t want to be you.” Jimin stretches to shut off the other lamp.

“You’re gonna be,” Taehyung reminds, snuggling his face into the pillow and feels a wave of jitters wash over him. He thanks Whoever for the invention of feather-stuffed fabric and finds himself sinking into the springs of the mattress. “In a few months, actually. Right when summer in LA is a scorching, blazing motherfucker.”

“Jimin, come over here so we can all watch shitty horror flicks on Netflix,” Seokjin interrupts from the other bed, opening his laptop and pulling up Chrome.

Hoseok clicks off the rest of the lamps on his way over. The only source of light glimmers faintly from the open bathroom door and the moonlight streaming through the curtains of the windows on the opposite wall. Just enough light to ensure that no one stubbed their toes in the middle of the night on their way to the bathroom. A real pain in the ass to deal with when it does happen, and Taehyung still believes in the childhood myth of his toe falling the fuck off should he stub it exactly fifty times.

“Shitty or not, Hoseok is guaranteed to piss himself,” Namjoon chides. “No matter how plastic the amputation. I mean, they could use a dildo in place of someone’s dick getting chopped, and he’d still believe it.”

“Fuck you, Joon. You’re lucky I’m not in the mood to deny it this time,” Hoseok pouts, collapsing in the ottoman beside the bed and kicking his feet up to rest on the mattress. He ignores the way Jimin mumbles, that’s because it’s true. But Hoseok has long since stopped trying to get out of these things, knowing all too well that there was no use in defying. “Too bad we don’t have alcohol to play drinking games.”

“What, like, ‘take a shot everytime someone gets murdered while fucking’?” Seokjin says. “Because I don’t know if I’m ready to get that smashed.”

“Ugh, you’re right,” Hoseok frowns. “Like hell I’d be able to stomach any liquids while watching someone get stabbed to death anyway.”

“Hyung, don’t you have practice too?” Jimin asks, shuffling over.

“Not until after tomorrow,” Seokjin responds over the sound of tapping keypads. Taehyung finds it soothing, like pattering raindrops on a window. “My coach doesn’t fly in until evening. Jiho is just absurdly punctual to everything.”

Taehyung has already drifted halfway into a hazy dream full of powder white snow and pine trees, the gentle sound of voices fading into background noise as sleep overcomes him like the blanket that embraces him in his cocoon of dilapidated consciousness. He pulls the blankets tighter around his body.

“If you guys end up watching Bad Girls Club again,” Taehyung grumbles into the pillow, just before sleep sweeps him off his feet. “Kindly get the fuck out and relocate to the other room.”

 

 

Taehyung has not properly shredded ice in a month.

Three weeks should have made him rusty around the edges and slightly bent out of shape from holiday grubbing—instead it does just the opposite and kicks him right back into motion. Nonstop practices leading up to the break had preserved his motivation enough to last through the break, enough for him to actually feel good about throwing this double crippler he's been perfecting for X. It’ll be the first time practicing it on the snow instead of using the inflatable stunt bag, and he’s confident, achingly ready with excitement coursing through his skin that sings of anticipation and will. The month spent away from the mountains had done a good job in making him long to get back on the ice and relearn the satisfaction of nailing a new trick, and now that the holidays were over, he’s got his eyes on nothing but the prize.

Morning had begun fair enough, a tangle of sheets between his legs and around his ankles when he'd fallen off the bed to the shrill of his alarm, disturbing a sleeping Jimin who had spent the better part of the night trying to warm his cold feet against Taehyung’s calves. In this incoherent, caramel state, he almost stomps on Namjoon’s face on his way to the bathroom, who has somehow ended up halfway under the bed with all the pillows, snoring away like he’s got rocks in his nose canal. Taehyung sidesteps the mess on the floor and stumbles past the threshold to wash sleep from his face.

Jiho is already waiting in the lobby when Taehyung clambers downstairs in a floppy beanie that presses down his unkempt hair, only one shoe fully tied on when he reaches the bottom of the stairs to pull on the second. Not like it mattered anyways. His feet were going to be stuffed into boots soon, and he’d much rather look like a hurried frenzy of a human than be late on Jiho’s watch. The guests lounging around the couches near the fireplace are irritatingly chipper in that morning compliant kind of way, the type of people who considered ten a.m. “sleeping in” and naturally woke up at seven. How the fuck.

Taehyung scans the room. By assumption, he figures they’re all either athletes or the family of athletes, faces old and new as his eyes flitter from one person to the next before Jiho tosses him a ripe apple to effectively yank him out of nearly judging his surroundings to ashes.

“Let’s go shred the gnar,” Jiho claps.

Warming up on the smaller half pipes is easier than he’d ever expected, being away from the game for so long. Granted, doing this as long as he has, it’s easier to get back into the flow of boarding from muscle memory alone. He goes through a few runs to ease his muscles into the momentum and relax the tension built up in his joints from last month’s vacation, until his body loosens up enough to throw basic tricks without instinctually worrying about the fall—the worst symptom that could possibly plague him after being away.

"You feeling the twenty-two yet?" Jiho asks after a few more runs. It’s rhetorical, of course. Jiho already knows he’s ready by the ease of his movements and glides, but there was no point in forcing an athlete into anything if he wasn’t mentally prepared. It’s the mind that throws the tricks, not the body.  

"I’m practically Taylor Swift,” Taehyung nods confidently with a thumbs up, coming to a stop in front of Jiho’s yellow jacket. “I’m feeling the twenty-two.”

"Remember, you've got two more weeks to perfect those doubles on the snow," Jiho reminds, pulling his Supreme beanie down over his reddening ears. Taehyung is glad he had snagged a coach that was just as good a mentor as he was a hip stud with great taste in music. An older brother of sorts, but Jiho would never admit to it, being as anally professional as he was even when he was vibing to Travis Scott with Namjoon. “But we can still set up the stunt bag whenever and if ever you need it.”

“Two weeks should be enough time,” Taehyung says, lifting his goggles to examine the white surroundings, a kind of soft serenity washing over him and frosting his cheekbones. “I have a good feeling this time around.”

The last year following his first winter games had left him in an idle slump, the kind that drained him of any real motivation and left him boarding along trails more so than practicing dynamic tricks. Fear had struck a part of his mind like insomnia and discouraged him from throwing tricks on the ice, forcing him to depend on the stunt bag lest he pull back at the last minute on all his attempts. He calls it the Void, a state of being where his mind and body were not in accordance, body ready to throw tricks but his mind holding him back from the execution, and vice versa. It’s different this time, though, free-flowing even, where his board meets the snow. There’s something about the Highlands Mountain air that gives him a rush far less pressuring as Mammoth, one that feels more encouraging than it is nerve-wracking and coaxes him into brilliance and dexterity.

He’ll admit, it does take more than a few rounds to get used to the twenty-two foot superpipe when he’s finally riding it, but he eventually lands all of his corks and ten-eighties after the first hour with adrenaline rush masking the dense soreness stretching through his thighs like elastic. Jimin catches the end of his practice three hours in with a paper plate of muffins in hand, pajamas tucked into snow boots and beanie flopping lazily off his head. His face is still swollen with sleep in the way that reminds Taehyung of tteokbokki.

“Where are the others?” Taehyung asks, coming to a halt at the top of the pipe and pulling his goggles to the top of his helmet.

“Complimentary breakfast,” Jimin says groggily through his sleep induced sheen. “Pretty sure that’s the only reason they’re awake right now. Pretty sure that’s the only reason I’m awake right now.”

“Probably,” Taehyung pushes his helmet up and undoes the bindings on his boots to sit down. Jimin shifts to sit on the tail end of the board. “Those guys would battle through Saint Hangover’s Day for free breakfast.”

“Shit, we would too,” Jimin mumbles around a mouthful of muffin. He picks at a blueberry then hands the rest over to Taehyung. “Actually, we always do. Remember San Fran at the hotel?”

“Let’s not,” Taehyung groans, snatching the cooling pastry from Jimin’s outstretched hand. “Whoever said tater tots and pancakes were hangover foods is seriously misguided.”

“That was Namjoon.”

“Well fuck him,” Taehyung frowns. “Why does this muffin taste so citrusy?”

“Oh, I spilled orange juice on it. Sorry.”

Taehyung shrugs and munches on the crispy outside, glancing at a blur of black that catches his attention on the far end of the pipe. It’s the boarder that had arrived halfway through Taehyung’s practice, the one that he’d only absently taken notice of, too swept up in his own concentration to really care. He watches as the guy lands his frontside cork easily, reaching behind his helmet to straighten the grey hoodie layered underneath his black t-shirt, hood rumpled from the momentum of the trick. Taehyung is wondering how his ass doesn’t have frostbite. He’s sure a blizzard had blown through only a few days prior, and the days following a snowstorm were always the coldest. But if anything, it’s a surefire sign that this guy knows what he’s doing. Definitely an X athlete with experience under his belt.

“Hey, Coach, who’s that?” Taehyung calls towards Jiho, who’s mingling with his PR agent with a muffin in his mouth. He nods towards the boarder. “He’s got mad steez.”

“Jeon Jeongguk, twenty from New York,” Jiho says without missing a beat. “He’s one of the rookies for this year’s winter games. Definitely a tough cookie. I’ve been hearing everywhere that he isn’t one to underestimate.”

“Damn, so that’s Jeon, huh?” Jimin squints when Jeongguk lands at the top of the wall, joining his coach and another blonde-headed boy for a round of high fives. “Smells like fresh meat.”

“Smells like competition,” Taehyung says. “He’s good.”

Jeongguk shimmies his board into the snow to station himself in place before pushing his goggles atop his helmet. A dash of dark hair falls from under the helmet, and Taehyung squints his eyes and chokes on muffin crumbs that stick to the columns of his wind pipe. Those goddamn eyebrows, sharper than Hoseok’s wit. There’s no doubt this was the same guy he had mingled with at the airport, face naturally falling into something more intense than he intends to let off.

Scrutinizing him from afar, Taehyung watches as Jeongguk steers in the opposite direction to gauge the length of the superpipe, sunlight filtering past the curve of his nose in the morning silhouette.

“Shit, I talked to him before,” Taehyung wheezes once he’s cleared his throat, not really informing as he is trying to make sense of this small, small world. Jimin pats his back. “At the airport last night.”

“The one by the luggages?”

“That’s the one.”

“Wow,” Jimin huffs. “He’s hot.”

“He’s also—”

“Hey, Tae, we brought you some tots and hotcakes,” Namjoon’s voice bellows from behind, cutting them off with his mirthful voice. Taehyung already hates the sound of it and shifts his body to direct an icy glare their way. “You know, just in case you missed the memory.”

“You’re a sack of dicks,” Taehyung frowns, leaning away when Namjoon pushes the plate in his face. “This is me refusing to accept your flawed idea of a friendship.”

Namjoon shrugs, stuffs one of those disgustingly greasy balls of potato into his mouth with a traitorous grin that is nowhere near guilty and is every bit merciless. It’s a little too much to hope he chokes on potato bits, but Taehyung does just that. “Too late. You already ate my ass.”

Taehyung splutters. “I did not—

“Something we should know?” Jimin gestures between them.

“What? No, he just made that up, I swear!”

Namjoon grins. “Oops, sorry, I meant ‘kiss my ass’.”

“Fucking excuse you. I don’t kiss anyone’s ass,” Taehyung grabs a handful of fluffy snow and launches it at Namjoon’s legs, who dodges it with hearty, annoying laughter. “I live a life of regrets with four guys. Call it a melodramatic sitcom.”

“Or a steamy soap opera,” Jimin sneers. Taehyung is too busy shoveling snow at Namjoon’s feet to care.

“Hey, wait, guys. Isn’t that Yoongi ?” says Seokjin, voice tinged with surprise. He points to the blonde standing next to Jeongguk.

“Oh, damn, it is, ” Hoseok says and flails his arms just in time for the blonde to notice. Three heads turn their way, and Taehyung gapes. Small world indeed. Disney had prepared him for this long before he’d ever really known.

“What are you guys doing here?” The Yoongi person says as he approaches with Jeongguk in tow, voice chilled and easy in a way that reminds Taehyung of smooth liquor. “Aren’t you all mostly summer fairies?”

“We’re just here to support Taehyung and Seokjin,” Hoseok says and ruffles the crown of Taehyung’s hair. “What about you?”

This kid decided to pick up another focus besides skateboarding and joined snowboarding on a whim. I came to support him too,” Yoongi explains, nodding towards Jeongguk. “Jeon Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk half waves, half smiles. “‘Sup.”

They blast through introductions before Jimin cuts in.

“How do you guys know each other?” he asks quizzically, motioning between Seokjin and Yoongi.

“We hung out with him in the lounge at last year’s games while watching the BMX vert qualifying rounds,” Seokjin recalls. “Which explains why you weren’t with us, Jimin, since you were getting ready to compete.”

“Wait, where was I?” Taehyung asks.

“I think you were at the clubhouse with BamBam,” Hoseok says.

“What are you guys competing?” Yoongi is the one that asks. Taehyung squints up at them, sunshine at their backs, and moves a hand to shield his eyes. Jeongguk pulls his helmet off entirely.

“Slopestyle,” Seokjin says.

“Superpipe,” Taehyung nods pointedly at their surroundings and directs his question at Jeongguk. “You?”

“Same,” Jeongguk says, also nodding at their surroundings. “Superpipe.”

“Awkward,” Jimin drawls, and Seokjin shoves him from behind. “Kidding. I’m kidding. It’s just the X Games, right? No big deal or anything...”

“Nah, let’s just have fun?” Jeongguk shrugs, aloof.

“Of course,” Taehyung says playfully. “But try not to get lost in my dust, yeah?”

“As if,” Jeongguk scoffs but grins at the teasing remark. “Try saying that with a faceful of powder.”

A moment passes before Jeongguk’s intimidating facade melts right off his face into something softer, warmer, like rabbit fur. He reaches out a balled fist. Taehyung extends his arm to bump their knuckles and easily decides that Jeon Jeongguk is nowhere near as bad as he’d pegged him out to be, all those hours ago with a dying phone in his hands.

 

 

Really, it all boils down to kinetic adrenaline rush and dizzying highs from conviviality. Aspen’s night life is serene, but downtown Denver’s is fun—that holds the weight of difference.

It is exactly the reason why it only takes a week for Jimin’s attention span to shatter into tiny, restless shards with suggestions that they commute to Denver for the rest of their humdrum evening. Some of the foreign skiers from their hotel had invited Taehyung along for a late night outing along the edges of the Highlands with a crate of liquor, enough to knock him out cold before he could make it back to the room on his own two feet. Surely the view of a clear night sky would be mesmerizing this high up in the mountains, but Taehyung was more than a little disinterested in freezing his face off with Jack Daniel’s on his tongue, guarantees of soaking the front of his shirt from numb, immobile lips. He’d gladly declined, but not without first asking if they had any alcohol to spare, entirely nonsensical because there was no such thing as too much alcohol, only not enough. It was worth a try nonetheless.

Taehyung, albeit quietly hesitant about Jimin’s plans with a seven a.m. practice awaiting him come morning, eventually but very thoroughly succumbs to joining them on the road, sealed with a pinky promise that they’d be back in Aspen before two at the latest. He was ever aware of the long and insufferable commute that the drive would entail, his attempt at being a responsible adult.

Without further ado, Hoseok snatches him at the end of an afternoon practice when Taehyung is already sore from amplitude conditioning to usher him to the van.

“The earlier, the better,” he muses, watching Taehyung unfasten his foot bindings.

“What’s earlier and why is it better,” Jiho asks suspiciously. “Where are you guys going for the evening?”

“Somewhere,” Hoseok lamely supplies. Very suspicious, and very unnecessary.

“I don’t want to have to find out,” Jiho sighs with warning underlying his tone. “As long as you’re—”

“Here for practice tomorrow,” Taehyung finishes, straightening up with his snowboard. “I got it, the Golden Rule and shit.”

“Good,” Jiho claps him on the shoulder. “Don’t overdo anything, but don’t underdo anything either. Oh, and nice job at practice today.”

“Fun has no boundaries, hyung!” Taehyung shouts before trailing after Hoseok.

He’s in the middle of strapping his board to the top of their van when he spots a familiar head of black near the doors of the lobby, accompanied by a blonde that reaches just below his ear. Namjoon and Seokjin are already mingling with Jeongguk and Yoongi by the time Taehyung hops down from the van after securing his board to the roof rack, hands patting weather from his palms against the fabric of his pants. Jeongguk glances at him shortly.

Over the past week, Taehyung had seen enough of Yoongi to call it routine, and on the rare occasion that he ran into Jeongguk when they weren’t caught up in practices, they’d stumble into each other at evening get-togethers at the bars with their fellow athletes. The last time he hit up The Red Onion had been coincidental at best, running into Jeongguk just outside the restrooms amongst other places, slightly tipsy with a rosy tint high in his cheeks but fully aware of that jawline and head of hair, tucked under the hood of a cyan Stussy sweater.  

“Oh,” Jeongguk had said, backtracking just as they passed each other, him heading out and Taehyung heading in for a much needed piss. “Oh, hey. Taehyung, right?”

“Hey. And yeah, Taehyung,” Taehyung says. “What’s up? How’s the restroom?”

“Smells like frozen shit, but it’s good,” Jeongguk says, thumbs-up. “You here with the others?”

“Yeah, the gang’s all here. Namjoon nearly stabbed someone’s eye out at darts, but we’re here.”

“Fuck,” Jeongguk laughs. “Well hey, I gotta get back before my friends dine and dash me with the bill.”

“Aren’t you a year too young to be here right now?”

“Hence the other reason I gotta scram,” Jeongguk says, chucking a thumb over his shoulder. “Illegal shenanigans.”

“Sure, I gotta piss anyway,” Taehyung blurts and retreats backwards. “Nature’s calling.”

“Then you better pick up,” Jeongguk grins and disappears into the crowd.

Strangely enough, though, running into Jeongguk was starkly uncommon compared to how much Taehyung saw Yoongi within a day’s time. He was an ambiguous enigma of a person with a presence as subtle as air, but Taehyung finds himself easily warming up to his rough personality, even more so to his gentle voice that quite frankly gave Taehyung an audible boner. When Yoongi wasn’t with Jeongguk, he was with them, and Taehyung wonders how he’d never known of a Yoongi before this, only recently aware of how close he was with Namjoon, Hoseok, and Seokjin.

“You guys wanna join?” Namjoon offers now, nodding at the van. Jeongguk still has his snowboard, helmet, and goggles in hand, presumably having just finished up his afternoon practice with a nose flushed red from the cold. “We’re heading to Denver.”

“We’ll be back before two a.m. though. Taehyung and I have practice,” Seokjin says, gesturing towards Taehyung who stuffs his backpack in the trunk. “You probably do too.”

“I’m down,” Jeongguk glances over at Yoongi, who looks his usual indifferent self.

“Sure. Not gonna lie, I’m already missing the city,” Yoongi voices. “Well, as ‘city’ as Denver can get.”

“Can any of you guys drive?” Seokjin asks, retreating towards the van with a twirl of the keys.

Yoongi cocks a brow. “Yeah, both of us. Why?”

“Just in case the driver gets sleepy and we have to pull over to switch shifts. The drive back up is gonna be icy and dark and just all around dangerous if the driver is nodding off,” Seokjin says forebodingly. “Safety precautions and what not.”

“Shit, yeah,” Jeongguk says, remembering the narrow, unfenced roads on their way up from the airport with nothing but headlights illuminating the way. A cliff drop away from shitting himself into hell. “Whoever’s driving better be hammered with red bull.”

“We’ve done this before, though, so don’t worry,” Seokjin reassures and waves the subject off. “You can throw your snowboard on the rack up there, Jeongguk. The rest can go in the trunk.”

“Here, I’ll take those for you,” Taehyung offers from the behind the truck, snatching his helmet and goggles. Jeongguk’s fingers are warm when their hands brush, a polar contrast from Taehyung’s icy skin, and he shortly wonders if Jeongguk’s body is just as much of a furnace. “Just push my board to the side and fasten down the knobs.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says, stepping up onto the van and lifting his board overhead. He tilts his head to observe the design painting Taehyung’s board and grins at the bear illustration that decorates its length, a splash of vibrant colors accenting the background. “Damn, sick deck.”

Taehyung shuts the trunk and leans his weight against the side of the van, head tilted up to watch Jeongguk maneuver his board onto the rack.

“Jimin got it for me for my first games,” Taehyung says, catching sight of Jeongguk’s board just before he slots it into the rack—a simple onyx surface design with “Burton” spelled across the entire black expanse of the back in a gold, handlettered font that cuts off at the edges. “Long story short, I had this bear mask that I wore at a practice last year after I came down with a cold. Jimin thought it was cute and got me a matching board. I guess people started identifying me by it ever since.”

“Your own reputation, huh? It suits you,“ Jeongguk says and jumps down from the van’s ledge, backpack jostling on his back. “Has character, I like it.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung pushes off the door. “I could say the same for yours.”

“Guys, hurry up and get in, we can’t waste any time!” Seokjin calls from the driver’s seat.

“—what, boring? Simple?” Jeongguk bemuses, motioning for Taehyung to get in first. “Are you calling me a basic bitch, Kim?”

“Maybe I am,” Taehyung jokes and slides into the backseat, just behind the middle row where Hoseok, Jimin, and Yoongi are already lounging comfortably. “No, real talk though, it’s simple but has its charm, its own je ne sais quoi.” Taehyung slides his backpack off his shoulders and wedges it on the floor.

“That’s ‘swag’ in french, right.”

“That’s a blowjay from girls who like snowboarders with a nice aesthetic.”

Jeongguk scoffs. “What a mouthful for just four words.”

It’s not even that funny, kind of lame, if anything, but laughter bubbles up his throat like scratchy persistence, and he finds himself chuckling at the play on words. Jimin turns around to flick Dorito flakes at him when Taehyung slaps the headrest, and he ignores the crumbs that get stuck in his bangs.

“Damn, you’re smooth,” Taehyung says with a lingering smile. "I like you."

“I try,” Jeongguk cocks his chin towards the back of Yoongi’s head. “Stonehenge up there is hard to crack.”

“That’s because you say some really dumb shit,” Yoongi says casually even through the bite of his words. Out of the corner of his eye, Taehyung spots Jimin press the back of his hand to his mouth to muffle laughter, as if that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a crush. He saves the thought for later.

“Taehyung’s probably just as bad,” Hoseok throws in. “If not worse.”

“Is this seating arrangement some kind of status hierarchy bullshit?” Taehyung frowns.

“I have zero qualms about that,” Namjoon says from the very front, scrolling through his phone for tunes. The cocky bastard. Taehyung would bet twenty dollars that he’ll start this drive with Rihanna. “Pretty accurate if you ask me.”

“No one's asking,” Hoseok laughs and exchanges looks with Jimin.

Jeongguk leans forward to quickly ruffle the flakes of nacho flavored chips from his bangs and catches him entirely off guard, enough that Taehyung visibly pauses in his thoughts of sharing said bet with Jimin. He almost leans into the warmth of the palm from temperatural instincts but holds back to smile thankfully instead. Jeongguk retracts his hand, taking the heat with him, and Taehyung takes this chance to run his hand through his hair for good measure of any stray bits.

“If that’s the case,” Taehyung says. “Then Jeon and I are definitely at the top of the triangle.”

Jimin scoffs. “You mean at the top of the pyramid.”

“I mean shut the fuck up.”

 

 

The three hour drive finds Namjoon blasting Rihanna’s new album followed predictably by Kanye West’s new album, too loud and too on-repeat. Not that anyone minded, to a degree. Not yet at least.

They’re at a red light just fifteen minutes out from downtown, streets barren where they’ve just exited into the city from the freeway. The outskirts are quiet in a way that most sleeping neighborhoods sounded past eight, and Taehyung figures they must be near a residential area, seeing as he can gauge the whole of downtown Denver’s cityscape when he opens an eye to take in the surroundings. The red light holds longer than average, and Seokjin barely releases the brakes to roll the car forward a few feet.

It’s all Kanye West for another few seconds until something messes with the sound and timing of the audio, clashing with all the beats in a cacophony of tremors. It grates on his head like a well worn headache, and when he opens both of his eyes, he realizes the cause is external and booming from the car that pulls up in the lane next to them.

The Jersey Shore of a guy rolls down the tinted window of his black Benz, already leering at them with his ugly commitment to narcissism. A blast of edm trash spills like water from the containment, drowning out their speakers, and Taehyung is wondering just how much testosterone someone’s gotta possess to feel the need to challenge a bunch of twenty year olds in a goddamn travel van to a music throwdown.

“What the fuck?” Namjoon says from the front, pausing the music from his phone. “Who brought EDC?”

“Really? That’s what he’s gonna blast to assert himself?” Yoongi grumbles, annoyed. “Who is he, Pitbull?”

“Fuck, Jeongguk, flip him off,” Taehyung groans, lifting his head from where he'd been trying to doze back off on Seokjin’s spare hoodie, wedged comfortably between him and the window.

“Don’t gotta tell me twice,” Jeongguk says and rolls down his window. A few more seconds, and Jeongguk waits until the left turn light flashes green before reaching out to project his middle finger in time with the sharp left turn, van loud with hoots and laughter as they speed away like victors. Ridiculous, really, that they had to resort to something like this. Glancing back, Taehyung catches glimpse of the guy from the back window, pitifully stuck at the red light alone and blasting his EDM at an obnoxious volume to successfully wake the neighbor’s dogs. Bravo for steroids and shitty subwoofers. Taehyung deems their thirst for revenge fully quenched and shakes his head.

“What a self-righteous asshole,” Yoongi shakes his head later at their first stop of the night for pizza. He balls the wrapper of the straw between his fingers.

“Jeongguk flipping him off was worth it, though, you gotta admit,” Namjoon grins, stretching his legs out across the expanse of two chairs.

“We probably looked like dumbasses hightailing it out of there in a fucking travel van,” Hoseok laughs. “Then again, who pulls shit like that anyway?

Yoongi nods. “Yeah, for all he knew, we could’ve been a retirement home on a field trip.”

“A retirement group blasting Yeezy?” Namjoon raises a brow.

“Sure, why the fuck not. You’re retired.”

Cosmos, surprisingly, is fairly empty at this time, save for the few waiting on to-go. It had been a unanimous decision amongst seven after arriving in downtown to ditch club hopping for the night in favor of getting something solid in their stomachs, a more casual environment that didn’t involve getting hammered to skull-rattling music volumes. Not that they were ever really opposed to the idea of a good nightly turn-up, it just wasn’t the right vibe for tonight’s mellow energy. And Cosmos Pizza had been the first to pique their interest after passing the threshold into the icy city. You can never go wrong with pizza and some bomb ass ranch, Jimin had said, followed by hums of agreement to satisfy any lingering second thoughts. No one had been particularly ambitious enough to lug an hour away on Yelp searching for the “in” restaurant of the month anyway, not even Hoseok who was already browsing away on his phone doing who knows what. Enough hunger, and concerns for quality becomes a thing of the past.

Ordering had been nothing short of chaotic what with six boys shouting orders in unison, too many voices and not enough ears to be conversational. They’d only really accomplished overwhelming the worker into a scribbling mess until Seokjin demanded that they all shut the fuck up and finished the job by ordering two boxes of pizza, both of which will probably have more toppings than breading to hold properly. They’re paying more for the add-ons than the pizza itself, like manipulative marketing and they’re the victims, but giving free reign for pizza toppings made even the best the most greedy, and it is something that cannot be denied in a group this hungry and this large. Jokes on everyone.

Taehyung hops onto the counter with a cup of orange soda and tosses back some ice, the cubes cool on his tongue in a way that raises goosebumps all along his skin. He slides over to make room when Jeongguk joins him, shoulders bumping while they watch in mild interest, medium disgust as Hoseok and Jimin cackle laughter near the soda machine, ducking their heads under flavors to waterfall drinks directly from the nozzle. He rolls his eyes.

“Sorry about them,” Taehyung grimaces when Jimin gets a faceful of Pibb. “They’re, yeah. They’re like that.”

“It’s good. I’d join them if I didn’t already have a drink.”

“Is that what you say at parties?”

“Not since high school,” Jeongguk says like he’s just remembered a far off memory. “Maybe next time. I’m all Coked out for now.”

“Are you?”

“On soda, Taehyung. Soda.”

“I don’t know. That nose looks like it can take a gram or two,” Taehyung gestures vaguely around his face. “Size and all.”

Jeongguk feigns offense. “My boarding goggles stay on solid during my runs, and I will take what I can get.”

“I’m kidding,” Taehyung elbows him. “You’ve got a handsome nose.”

Jeongguk munches on ice and gives Taehyung a long look, the fragments rolling around his tongue sounding like marbles. “Uh huh.”

“Touchy subject?” Taehyung mocks.

“And if it was, you’re awfully shameless,” Jeongguk laughs, fastening the plastic lid back on the cup. “No lie though, I’ve actually gotten shit about my nose. Skaters can be the biggest assholes or the coolest guys. Depends on how you take it.”

“Worse? How so?”

“Shit used to go around that I broke my nose trying to land a seven-twenty.”

“Wow, that’s fucked up.”

“Yeah, but that died down after I scored silver last year with the same move. Obviously would’ve been better if it was gold, but I’m not complaining.”

Taehyung huffs air through his nose. “I bet you make the girls moist with your tricks.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “You know what they say about guys with big tricks.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Taehyung laughs over the brim of his cup.

Behind the counter, a worker opens the door of the oven and slots two pizzas into their boxes, powdering parmesan generously over the surface before packing them with small containers of house ranch and a fat stack of napkins. He folds the box closed with deft hands and slides them down the countertop.

“Hey guys, pizzas are ready,” he says, wrapped up in red flannel and thick framed statement glasses, the kinds that are supposed to look fake because fake glasses were fashion, not necessities. It’s the kind of twisted psychology that does weird shit to Taehyung’s brain. An impressive handlebar mustache spouts beneath his nose like an anchor, wispy at the edges and delightfully whimsical. This must be the Nouveau Hipster trend that Namjoon called all the alternative kids these days, that hypocritical clean-slate of a persona of his, tell them you got your flannel at a thrift store for five dollars when you really got it at Urban Outfitters for ninety and bam, you’re a fucking hipster.

“Awesome, thanks,” Jeongguk slips off the counter and grabs the two boxes to balance on one hand.

“Ay, thanks for coming in,” says the man. So un-mainstream. The guy probably worships Arcade Fire and uses vinyls as plates. “Oh, and good luck at the X Games.”

But even with two boxes of pizza hotboxing the van in savory blasts of fragrance, Seokjin, being the driver, insists that they stop by Voodoo to try the infamous Cock-N-Balls donuts, not exactly subtle, but unequivocal and in-your-face seemed to be the trend these days anyway. Really, they all know that Seokjin’s just in it for those flashy pink boxes, cardboard and so very paper, and Jimin pokes fun at his pride from behind his seat until Seokjin threatens to pull over and throw his ungrateful ass out by the ear. Taehyung, from the back, seconds this notion.

“No one asked for a fucking jury,” Jimin had barked, chucking his neck pillow at Taehyung’s face.

The donuts look exactly as they sound, which would be a surprise if they weren’t so strategically blatant. The child in Taehyung can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of food trends and the readiness of people to buy male organ shaped delicacies just to preserve on social media, call it an experience worth boasting about, and rarely ever for the taste. The two boxes of pizza in Jeongguk’s lap quickly escalates to three, and Taehyung lends a helping hand when they jostle over a particularly deep pothole, snatching the donuts at the top of the stack to hold in his own lap. The box is warm where it comes in contact with his thighs and helps battle the cold from outside. And now, as Yoongi clambers back into the van from their third stop of the night, he adds a pack of Coors Light to complete the Holy Trinity—pizza, donuts, and beer.

“Dude at the register said there’s a skate park a few blocks from here,” Yoongi says, shucking the winter night air from his body and setting the pack on the floor at his feet. “Straight down Nineteenth street. We should kick it there.”

It takes more than a handful of u-turns before they finally spot the park and pile out of the van, still clad in their winter gear. They set out all the food along the nearest ledge of the course, buffet style, and waste no time in digging in, first box of pizza already reduced down to scraps of black olives and burnt cheese. Somewhere off to the side is Seokjin, chasing after Namjoon for stealing the mushrooms off his slice and wielding a rolled up stack of napkins in the most threatening way Taehyung will ever witness. He chuckles at the sight of Namjoon slipping on black ice, watching him nearly topple over on uncoordinated feet but catching himself at the last second, klutzy but never entirely so. Beside him, Jeongguk is grinning, and they walk to the bowl of the skating arena with pizzas in hand to take a seat along the ledge, legs dangling off the side and a few feet off the ground.

This scene is no place for a picnic, yet here they are, nearly iced over to preservation with frosted white breath like it's another day in summer.

“So, Jeongguk,” Taehyung starts, plucking green onions off the cooling cheese to shovel into his mouth. He watches Jeongguk fold his pizza in half and take a bite. So classically New York. “What’s your story?

“A children’s picture book probably," Jeongguk scoffs diffidently.

“Oh, come on, those are the best ones. Especially when you’re smashed,” Taehyung sucks the tip of his thumb into his mouth to clean off grease. “I peg you as a Where The Wild Things Are type of guy.”

“God, I loved that book,” Jeongguk says and contemplates Taehyung’s face for a few exaggerated seconds, chewing put on pause for full affect. “You're definitely The Rainbow Fish. Maybe Chicka Chicka Boom Boom on a good day.”

“That’s probably the best compliment I’ve ever received,” Taehyung says, flicking crumbs off his thigh with his middle finger. “Right after, ‘You’re too pretty to go to hell’.”

Jeongguk’s laugh is breathy and rings loosely in the air like their visible exhales, the kind of infectious laughter that puts a smile on Taehyung’s face without even realizing. Jeongguk is quiet for a few seconds, and Taehyung can see on his face that he seems to be running something through his head.

“I don’t know, just. ‘A twenty year old extreme sports athlete with a knack for skateboarding and snowboarding’?” Jeongguk wipes tomato sauce from the corner of his mouth with the bunched up napkin in hand, smearing dashes of scarlet on the white fibers. “Really, nothing special. I dropped out of high school to pursue this then moved to the big city and found Yoongi at some underground club in Manhattan. Been rooming with him since.”

“Where are your parents?”

“They moved all the way back to Busan after making sure I was financially stable and that Yoongi wasn’t some sort of drug lord,” Jeongguk snaps open the beer sitting between them with one hand and takes a swig. Taehyung silently acknowledges the skill. “They visit all the time, though, so they’ll be here for X.”

“Mine are gonna be in Thailand, partying it up with the city without me,” Taehyung says around a mouthful, kicking one leg under the other. “Seats for the winter games are kind of shit, though, so I don’t mind them watching from a tv.”

“This is my first winter games, so my parents insisted,” Jeongguk stuffs the rest of the crust into his mouth. “Anyway, what about you? How’d you meet the others?”

“I’ve known Jimin for years now and met the others through him at the summer games of ‘13. We all live around Los Angeles, so it worked out pretty well,” Taehyung grabs their shared can of beer and takes a swig.

“You guys are a fun gang.”

“We’re a bunch of delinquents,” Taehyung laughs, shaking his head. “But I can’t imagine it being any other way. They’ve saved my ass more times than I can count.”

“Hey, the delinquents are the funnest,” Jeongguk tugs his hood around his head to shield his frosting ears from the cold. “Having friends you can be stupid around… that isn’t something everyone has.”

“I guess I got lucky,” Taehyung shrugs, tearing his pizza crust in half. “It’s nice to have things to get your mind off competitions every now and then.”

“Distractions?”

“More like good company,” Taehyung says. “Because distraction means I'm trying to avoid something.”

Jeongguk leans back on the balls of his hands. “I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I need those distractions sometimes.”

“Otherwise you’d never stop.”

“Exactly.”

“I know what that’s like,” Taehyung says. “Being driven without the brakes.”

“I guess the good thing is that I haven’t crashed yet.”

“Well, if you put it like that.” Taehyung finishes off his pizza and cocks his head towards the pink box of donuts. “You up for some Cock-n-balls? No homo.”

“I got you,” says Jimin, who suddenly appears with said fallacy, kneeling down and squeezing between them with crossed legs. Taehyung reaches over to tear off a piece between his pointer finger and thumb. Jimin sighs wistfully in a puff of winter. “Man, I should’ve brought my bike. The park is way clearer than I imagined.”

“They have those self-serve, rental bike stations back there.” From behind them, Hoseok points. “I think it’s nine bucks for the whole day.”

“Dude, those have baskets. I’m gonna crack a rib before I even land anything,” Jimin grimaces, examining the row of red, safety-guaranteed bikes at the B-Cycle Station. He hands the rest of the donut to Taehyung. “I’d like to see you try, though.”

“Why, to see if I eat shit?” Hoseok frowns with pizza crust in his mouth. “Fine, twenty bucks says I can land a double peg on the fence with one of those bikes.”

“Thirty says I can do a three-sixty fence ride.”

“No fucking way,” Jeongguk snickers, lips crooked. “Not with a bike like that. Unless you’re looking to break your face.”

“You know bike lingo?” Jimin asks, impressed.

“Just the basics. I spent a summer with some of the qualifying guys and learned a thing or two.”

“What don’t you do,” Namjoon says off to the side.

“Motocross,” Jeongguk says at Hoseok, impressed. “Mad respect to you, hyung. I can’t stomach the thought of even trying to attempt it.”

“It’s risky but so worth it,” Hoseok shrugs proudly. “But hey, it’s all relative no matter how you look at it. I can do motocross, but I can’t ride a rollercoaster to save my life.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. Like Liam Neeson seriously.”

Taken or Taken 3?”

“3, for sure. Overdone-serious.”

“Hey, come on,” Jimin interrupts, nodding towards the rental bikes. “Let’s do this. Anyone got some quarters?”

“Don’t even think about it, Park Jimothy,” Seokjin warns, shouting at them from the bench, mouth stuffed with donut. “You guys do realize you have summer games to compete, right? None of you have room to risk injuries at this point before practice starts up.”

“Well, hey. We may not have bikes,” Taehyung says, turning to look at Jeongguk who returns the mischievous glint. “But we do have snowboards and more than enough snow.”

Hoseok hoots excitedly. “Looks like we’ve got a snowboard throw down tonight!”

“Count me out of this one,” Seokjin says, wiping his mouth. “‘Cause I gotta drive us back up to Aspen tonight in seven pieces.”

Jeongguk lifts the can of beer. “First to land a backside two-seventy on the railing of the stairs wins. Loser shotguns two cans of beer.”

Taehyung jumps to his feet. “You’re fucking on.”

But in the domineering game of betting, someone always walks away a loser. Five runs and half a box of donuts later has the night in Denver ending with Taehyung shotgunning two cans of Coors Light with a sore tailbone and passing out on Jeongguk’s shoulder the entire ride back. For a competitive athlete like himself, losing never felt so warm.

 

 

The thing about X is that self-preservation is but a grain of salt in the mix of competition, and this year’s games is spiked with enough confidence to put competition to shame. But Taehyung has practiced his tricks on a constant, enough to commit them to muscle memory like blood flow. His confidence is only mildly threatening this early in tonight’s event schedule. Safe, but no less charged to dwindle his chances at success. Perfection distilled from failure makes it hard for athletes to leave room for doubt, anyway. It's the best way to kick an athlete into gear.

The previous weeks had been a brutal ass kicking, mostly mental than it was physical, what with being forced to throw trick after trick even on days where his body cooperated to a measly bare minimum. Mornings were spent at rehearsals with brief lunch breaks in-between before he'd have to head back out to the pipe and lock in his moves with performance-like accuracy. On the occasion that spending lunch alone became only partially unsociable, he’d eat at the side of the pipe, perched on his snowboard beside Jeongguk with a sub before heading back to practice. Taehyung loves snowboarding, enough to have made it a career, but he’s learned that the weeks leading up to D-Day were always the hardest and the most mentally testing. A twilight zone, if you will, but come game time, and energy becomes a whole new tank of refinement and makes what they do worth it, down to every droplet of sweat that is shed on that course.

The crowd is loud tonight, the kind of boisterous cheers that he feels more than hears in the torpid minutes leading up to the event. Taehyung lands himself a solid fourth place in the qualifying rounds and secures a spot in the finals, lower than expectations but enough to satisfy temporary objective. But when Jeongguk places third with control under his sleeve, warning signs flash red in Taehyung’s head, and he takes it as his cue to step it the fuck up if he wants to medal tonight. With slopestyle coming to a close, he finds solace in not being first up on the queue list—Jeongguk, on the other hand, is.

“Hey, breathe,” Seokjin reminds him, cheeks speckled red from having just finished the slopestyle event with a brilliant silver, a medal nonetheless if not first. Not that a third place equated to failure, just not enough to satiate full potential. Years of experience teaches them to accept anything less than gold as a lesson: always evolve, keep progressing, but never plateau. Never, ever stagnate.

“You’ll do great, Tae,” Jimin encourages and pulls him into a headlock. He smells pleasantly of hot chocolate steam and something minty. “Just give it your best.”

“We’ll be cheering from the sidelines, too,” Hoseok says with a double thumbs up.

Namjoon joins in and ruffles his hair playfully. “Do it just like you practiced, yeah?”

“Taehyung, game time,” Jiho calls with approaching footsteps, peeking into the tent, and more prepared than Taehyung will ever feel in these crucial moments. “Event’s starting.”

“Yeah, I’m coming,” Taehyung says, exhaling heavily to push out the jitters. “See you guys at the other side.”

Jeongguk lands hard on his first run, two-thirds of the way through the pipe and enough to get the crowd groaning in harmonic unison but not enough to inflict any real injuries beyond soreness and bruising. He’d only barely managed to pull through with a double crippler before touching the snow on his hind side, losing the momentum in his run and tarnishing the rest of the run. Taehyung is there with emotional support the second Jeongguk rides back up on the snowmobile, an unspoken mark of good sportsmanship that he never forgets to provide.

But he sympathizes completely—everyone does—Jeongguk’s shoulders slumped low when he trudges to the athlete tent, discouraged and lightened with frustration of having failed a run so early. Not enough to salvage those last few points to bump him into top five. His wrist is held stiffly at his side, board balanced under an arm looking anything but comfortable. He’s pretty damn shaken from the fall, disappointment splattered all over his beaten expression, and Taehyung claps him on the back to cheer him up.

“Fuck, I ate shit so hard,” Jeongguk huffs dejectedly, lifting the goggles off his face. The crowd roars from behind, so restless in this frozen altitude. “One run wasted.”

“Hey, you still have two more. Just make sure to lock your edges in,” Taehyung motivates and watches Jeongguk gingerly brace a hand around the stiff wrist, circling his hand to test the socket. “Is your wrist okay?”

“Could be better,” Jeongguk says, scrunching his nose up. “I landed on my palms back there.”

“Here,” Taehyung bends down to scoop a handful of snow into the palm of his hand and gently tugs Jeongguk’s forearm closer. He stuffs the snow into the glove, just around the cuff, and packs it solid around the wrist. “Ice it before your next run, or that’s gonna hurt like a bitch soon.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says and wriggles his fingers. Jiho, from the side, calls Taehyung’s name.

“Gotta go,” Taehyung grabs his board from where it’s leaning against the tent. He hates the way trepidation runs through him like an electric current.  

“Good luck,” Jeongguk offers and Taehyung swallows hard with a forced a smile before jogging off.

Here goes nothing. Gotta put his tricks down like he owns it. He can feel the inspiration like a boiling fire just waiting to set the world ablaze.

The first run goes smooth at best, but Taehyung knows it isn’t enough to breach him into top three. Not clean enough, not tight enough, not like he knows he can do. He’d bobbed a couple times going into his run from the lack of amplitude he’d gained from the start, but his solid landing towards the end is what saves his ass with a seventy-point-six. It’s his second run that rakes in the big points, hard hitting right off the top with a perfectly executed double cork as he lands the rest of his tricks consistently throughout. It’s never as good as practice, but the adrenaline is nothing to compare, and Taehyung eases into his racing heartbeat to numb the pressure.

Before he knows it, he’s waiting for his third and final run on the bench, camera filming him as he fastens his bindings and shimmies into position. His best score had landed him in second place, so close to first if it hadn’t been for Jeongguk who had scored three points better on his third run, securing himself in the top with an excited hoot. The pressure was a dense weight on his chest as he watched Jeongguk throw his snowboard down with an enormous fist pump of victory. It’s times like these where mentality is the single most driving factor to avoid fucking up.

“Remember, land on your heel-edge and lock it in. No heel to toes, otherwise you’ll stumble forward again,” Jiho reminds him in the last few seconds before his final run of the night. Taehyung leans over to strap his boots in. “And don’t forget to bend at the waist and commit.”

“How were all my doubles?” Taehyung asks, pulling down his goggles. He stares with determination down the length of the superpipe, white and entirely majestic. Intimidating, more so. But this is his territory, and he's going to lay this one down big or go home trying. 

“Perfect. You buttered those in and laid them down smooth,” Jiho says and reaches out to massage his shoulders. “Be careful on your amplitude though. Oh, and make sure to pop off your heels. The judges are gonna be looking for style this time around if you want those extra points.”

“After Jeongguk’s run, I’m gonna need all the style I can get,” Taehyung says slightly apathetic and straightens up to get comfortable in his boots. “His switch method was killer.”

“Hey, you did great, too. Don’t put yourself down,” Jiho says and squeezes his shoulders one last time. Through the cacophony of cluttered sound, the coordinator gives Taehyung the okay. Jiho slaps the side of his helmet and grins at him through the plastic of his goggles. “Show those judges what’s yours.”

And he does, because where Jeongguk has style and confidence in improvising runs without the risk of messing up, Taehyung has technique to up the ante. His last run pulses wildfire adrenaline through his veins and explodes down his chest with every landing. Each trick is just as powerful as the one before, flowing into each other like a continuous stream of flips, and he’s sure he’s averaging on sixteen feet of amplitude. When he lands his last trick at the end of the pipe, just barely before the wall ends, it doesn’t matter anymore if he doesn’t trump his last score with more points. He gave this his all without any regrets, and that feels fucking infinite.

The anticipation sizzles blanks into his mind when he’s trying to answer questions from the interviewer while waiting for the results, and he tries his best to act calm, professional, casual for the cameras. But when the announcer’s voice roars through the stadium with his final score of ninety-three, he nearly cheers his voice hoarse in the moment he places another gold in his career. He can’t feel his face, his eyes are puffy from the cold, and his thighs are sore from burning out all his energy on that last run, but the only thing that really registers is the accomplishment, and he basks in the high of elation when he’s engulfed in a group hug and warmed down to his toes.

This is him living a dream, eyes wide open and numb from reality.

 

 

It’s too cold to play pretend, but camping outside in the snow isn’t the worst idea they’ve had.

A few hours later finds them under the stars with three bottles of vodka, seven fold up chairs, and shitty sound system from Namjoon’s phone as it hums music in the background. Not that anyone’s here to bathe in the African chillout ambience after sprinting the distance back inside to grab snacks, no one but Taehyung here. Jeongguk, too, who’s equipped with an open bottle of Smirnoff and a smile of invitation as he collapses in the chair beside him. But it’s edging on twenty minutes now, and Taehyung figures it’s a regular occurrence for his friends to disappear and leave him alone with Jeongguk. Whatever they’re up to, Taehyung is fucking salty about it, but Jeongguk has a nice laugh and clear eyes, so it isn’t all bad.

“You only beat me with pretty points,” Jeongguk says jokingly, fingers thrumming on the bottle of vodka.

“Even if that were true, I guess I beat you out in more ways than one, huh?” Taehyung grins and tries to wink but fails, diminishing his cool factor in one blow.

“Ouch,” Jeongguk passes the bottle. “Okay, but my silver-medal winning self definitely had a better winning speech than yours. What exactly does ‘do healthy’ actually mean?”

“I meant be healthy—

“I mean, how does one even ‘do healthy’? What is even the infinitive of that verb—to healthy?”

Taehyung pouts. “Dude, I really hate you right now.”

“I’m just fucking with you,” Jeongguk teases and slouches in the fold up chair, tipsy. “Honestly, I underestimated you. Or overestimated myself?”

“So you’re shit at estimating is what you’re telling me,” Taehyung takes a long swig as the liquid burns down his throat. “But really, I gotta admit. You sure put up a damn good fight.”

“Hell yeah I did,” Jeongguk quirks a brow and takes the bottle by the neck, balancing it on his thigh. “Didn’t think I’d let your ass win so easy, did you?”

Maybe it’s the alcohol and the way it fogs the edges of his mind into murky slush, maybe it isn’t the alcohol at all, but Taehyung finds himself easing into Jeongguk’s voice, searing hot from liquor and an intensity that never quite leaves him. The absence of alcohol can’t take away the intoxication that lends help to the flow of this effortless conversation, and Taehyung shoves Jeongguk by the shoulder, snatches the bottle, and slides down in his chair, too, all manners aside.

The smile never quite leaves his face even as he says, “Fuck you, Jeon—”

 

 

Fuck, oh my god, Jeon—”

Even with alcohol flooding his system, Taehyung is every ounce aware of how much he likes this, Jeongguk rutting against the swell of his ass from behind and pressing him face-first into the wall of the small hallway of the hotel room. He likes it even more that Jeongguk has an arm snaked around his waist to trap him in place, hand cupping firmly at the bulge in his jeans and palming him through the fabric.

“Your ass feels so good,” Jeongguk slurs into his ear with sloppy kisses, hot breath wafting against his cheek with the pungent smell of alcohol. Taehyung groans against the wall, and Jeongguk presses his hand harder to massage at the warmth between his legs, nearly lifting him on his tiptoes. The strength alone makes his mind spin. “You like it when I grind you into the wall, huh?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung grinds out. This is Jeongguk fucking second place out of his system, and Taehyung loves every bit of it. He drowns himself in heady desperation for release and reaches down to cover Jeongguk’s hand with his own, hips trembling from one particularly rough press of palm. “Like it even more with your hand between my legs.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Jeongguk tucks his hand past the waistband to wrap around Taehyung’s length, thumbing at the slit to smear wetness. An act of trickling lust for evoking such an intimate response, and hell is he turned on when Taehyung keens into the touch, back arching with shivers of raw arousal. Taehyung rolls back against him in retaliation, right against the straining bulge in his own pants, and Jeongguk presses them harder into the wall, precome smudging all along his palm from the shift. He noses at the soft skin of Taehyung’s nape and sighs. “You smell so good.”

Ah—what, shitty hotel shampoo?” Taehyung’s breath stutters. He twists his head to connect their lips. “Hardly extravagant.”

“No, like, just you. Your skin and hair,” Jeongguk groans against his bottom lip and speeds up his rutting, tries to do it in time with the fist wrapped around Taehyung’s cock, but he’s a little too buzzed for rhythmic cadence. “You just smell nice.”

“Is this—” Taehyung whimpers when Jeongguk flicks his wrist just right. “—is this some kind of kink I should know about?”

“Ah, God,” Jeongguk breathes, when Taehyung rubs back against his cock. “Shut up, it’s a compliment.”

“I know,” Taehyung sighs throatily, reaches fumbling hands behind him to grip at Jeongguk’s hips and tug him closer. Jeongguk’s hardness is right there against the cleft of his ass when he grinds back, and the friction is enough to make him weak at the knees. “Shit, I’m gonna come.”

“Me too,” Jeongguk braces a palm beside Taehyung’s head to keep himself upright, heat coiling tightly in the pit of his stomach. “Fuck—”

Jeongguk comes first with a strangled groan that he feeds against Taehyung’s shoulder with an open mouthed kiss, staining the front of his pants with a damp patch as he shakes through his release. The hand that tightens around Taehyung’s leaking cock is enough to pull him through his orgasm, too, and he follows soon after with trembling legs, the fingers wrapped around Jeongguk’s wrist nearly bruising smooth skin from the force. Jeongguk slackens his hand, and Taehyung collapses against the wall as Jeongguk leans against his back, muscles soft in this post-orgasm.

“At least you placed first in something tonight,” Taehyung laughs, nods down at the front of Jeongguk’s pants.

Jeongguk snorts. “Yeah, and what’s my prize?”

“For jizzing first? Hm,” Taehyung drawls lazily, so loose from the gleam of sex aftermath. “Room service. Not gonna lie, sex makes me hungry.”

Jeongguk contemplates it, sliding his hand out of Taehyung’s soiled pants and stalls time to tuck against the curve of Taehyung’s body because his drunken mind tells him it’s a Cinderella of a fit. Perfect and snug, even in upright positions. Eyes closed and limbs sated, he hooks his chin over Taehyung’s shoulder to look him in the face. As if free food was ever a topic of contemplation.

He says, “I’ll take it,” and kisses Taehyung with alcohol simmering on his tongue like ashes.

Jeongguk’s sleeping face in the morning glow is the last time Taehyung sees him before his flight back to Los Angeles. He doesn’t kiss him goodbye.

 

 

Summer X Games 2016: Los Angeles

The culmination of summer heat in Los Angeles is its catalyst in thorough energy dehydration, yet here is where he finds himself in June, hunting down the fattest delicacy he can feed his starving palette.

He’s been doing this for awhile, attending the games, but even preparation and experience cannot forgive the sweltering heat that always accompanied the Summer X Games, the Tony Hawk of all weather. But he’s not complaining, not yet, because he wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s learned to cope with exhaustive heat by sleeping in his refrigerator on nights in a row, learned to use frozen vegetables for cooling packs and never for cooking. Up until he and Jimin moved into their new place with sufficient air conditioning, Taehyung had integrated coping methods for heat so strictly into his lifestyle that he’d forgotten what it was like to sleep with the covers to his chin and a shirt on his back. And now, with sweat trickling in his eye and moisture thick on his skin—this is everything that the Summer X Games should be.

The months following the Winter Games had been filled with enough media-related schedules to familiarize the constant of camera-to-face until it was expected. Jiho had sent him off with good health and wished him a happy time off before practice for snowboarding season started back up, and he'd dove right into the X Games aftermath ready to work. If he wasn’t doing an interview for Burton, he was doing an endorsement for Capita, but he reaps the benefits of air conditioned studios like a stray seeking shelter. The photoshooting location for Burton had prepared so many portable fans to fend off the heat from outside, plethoras of wires tangling along white floors and lining the space like some kind of downscale runway, that Taehyung had felt the artificial chill even beneath layers of sponsored snowboarding gear for the shoot.

Post-games was always money making season and his chance to gain endorsements to get a solid foot through the door of the industry, beyond just the competitions. Not that his manager had to do much seeking as he did accepting, phone alight with offers on the daily, because gold was a big fucking deal for any X athlete in any category, and the media was predictably hungry to snatch a few words from an amateur who’d just raked in another consecutive medal. Because when it happens at X, everyone knows about it, it goes everywhere, and people are aware. Companies had been hot on his tail to book him for interviews and meetings, separated by the occasional photoshoots in-between, and Taehyung had immersed himself in the wave of hype before it calmed just in time for the Summer X Games.

Taehyung’s stomach grumbles uneasily when he steps into festival territory, spotting the array of food trucks parked for service and steaming with clouds of smoke that adds to shimmering heat waves when he looks up. Greasy foods of the large event kind. Five dollars for a water bottle and two for a straw, probably. Taehyung considers it a blessing to be able to inhale the unhealthiest of foods without gaining an ounce of the consequences, and Namjoon swears he’d been a monk in his past life with the intermittent warning from Seokjin to cut down on the hamburgers if he wanted to live longer. But fuck that. No one’s here to witness his poor health choices, anyway, and Seokjin had, surprisingly, declined his offer for chili cheese dogs in favor of staying behind to watch the Big Air event with the others. He would be offended if it weren’t for how hungry he was.

“Can I get a side of ranch? For my fries,” Taehyung says, peering at the orange spectacle of a food truck, decorated with the most absurdly high quality decal of a hot dog he’s ever seen. Macro never looked so good. He can see the bun’s pores from where he’s standing and peels his eyes away to retrieve his card, slotting it back into his wallet. “Thanks.”

Making to leave, Taehyung slips his wallet back into his pocket and gathers his order in his arms, mouth fastened around his straw to refresh the sweat-sodden imitation of himself with his already melting beverage. Gaze trained on the Vert arena ahead, the flash of deep purple he sees in his peripheral is only narrow warning before he collides face-first into firm warmth, something that feels a lot like a cushioned brick wall.

Taehyung stumbles backwards, drink sloshing noisily in his cup and almost up his nose. “Sorry—”

“Excuse m—”

Jeongguk?” Taehyung squawks when he orients himself enough to see straight. “Jeon Jeongguk. What the fuck.”

“What—oh, hey!” Jeongguk says, eyebrows shooting to his (purple) hairline. “Damn, long time no stand.”

Can you even consider it a one night stand if we followed up with room service?, Taehyung wonders but keeps to himself. Like hell he was going to bring up such an uncouth discussion in this unconventional setting, surrounded by teenagers surely to be listening in at the slightest mention of sex. What a trip down recent memory lane that was, one that he is guilty of traversing on more occasions than platonic entailed. At least the room service had been fucking stellar.

All awkward run-ins aside, it’s admittedly been months since Taehyung’s last seen Jeongguk let alone spoken to him beyond their drunken night in Aspen. He wouldn’t call it a falling out per se, but zero contact was neither an act of effort nor attempt. They hadn’t contacted each other once in all this time leading up to the summer games after returning to their respective cities, and Taehyung never found enough reason to stay in touch all the way from Los Angeles, if being guilty of sneaking out that given morning was any indication.

On the other end of this spectrum is Jeongguk, who hadn’t been bothered to hit him up either, establishing an ambiguous form of mutual agreement to leave awkward shit in the past—whatever happens at X, stays at X. The Las Vegas of competition. But without the excuse of miles in-between, the unspoken one night stand catches up to them like cottonmouth, and it’s obvious that the both of them are making a valiant effort to not hint at it beyond Jeongguk’s subtle remark. Taehyung’s wishing he’d waited to say goodbye those few months ago instead of playing hook-up hooky.

“I seriously did not expect running into you,” Taehyung says, matching his surprise.

Jeongguk tilts his head to eyeball him humorously. “Run into people often?”

“Just you,” he steps out of the way, and Jeongguk waltzes up to order. “Did you just finish up an event?”

“Not yet. I just got out of an interview actually.”

Looking at Jeongguk here in the summer blaze already feels different from January. Beyond the plum colored hair, Taehyung notices the way Jeongguk seems to fill his t-shirt more than he remembers, better even, but that’s not to say that he wasn’t already physically packed once upon a time. Granted, winter weather called for winter attire, and Taehyung is only now realizing that he’d only ever seen Jeongguk in hoodies and jackets two sizes too big, paired with puffy boarding pants to thoroughly swallow him up. This snug fitting is a nice change on his body, and in the drunken haze of their hook up, Taehyung had failed to appreciate the swell of his nicely toned biceps from beneath his sleeves. Seeing him like this is a lot like looking at all those Stussy advertisements in the magazines, the ones laid out in messy stacks at every photoshoot booking he’d been to. Coincidental, maybe, if this story didn’t already have a history.

“Oh, fun,” Taehyung uncaps the ranch. “How’d that go?”

“It... went,” Jeongguk supplies with vapid interest.

“Gotcha,” Taehyung says and understands without explanation. “Who for?”

“Thrasher. Super chill guys. They didn’t seem to mind the lack of sugarcoating,” Jeongguk flicks his eyes over the menu. “Not as much as I was willing to fake otherwise.”

“That’s always good,” Taehyung says and sympathizes completely—Jeongguk was one of those guys with a dichotomy of a face, harshly intimidating without the smile and brows hard with indifference. But without the need for video footage, anything went. “Magazine interviews are way more tolerant for face fuck-ups.”

“Forgiving, too,” Jeongguk agrees. He chucks a thumb at the tray in Taehyung’s hand when the worker peeks down through the opening to grab his order. “Hey. Can I order what he got?”

“Chili cheese dog and a medium Pibb?”

“That’s the one.”

“Thirteen dollars,” the man says. “I’ll have that right up for you in a second.”

“Nice, thanks,” Jeongguk says and tucks his wallet away. “So where are the others?”

“Watching the Big Air finals,” Taehyung says around a cheesy mouthful. “Hoseok knows someone competing, so they’re playing Moral Support Brigade.”

“Not you?”

“Not me.”

“I saw a bit on the way here,” Jeongguk says, squeezing ketchup over his fries before gathering his order. “Those guys are eating shit hard this year.”

“Yeah, I noticed," Taehyung marvels. "Two skaters got wiped out of the competition from injuries when I was watching. And that was only the beginning of the qualifying round.”

“I think the organizers picked up a handful of rookies this year. Heard they were running low on contestants, so they lowered the standards,” Jeongguk bites into his hotdog. “Bad move on their part.”

“Aren’t you a rookie too?” Taehyung teases.

“I’m two years old, though,” Jeongguk defends. “There’s a difference.”

“Can’t argue with that. Two years does make a huge difference, even if that’s only two games,” Taehyung says and recalls the memory of his second year at X, the ease and comfort it had brought from having experienced everything before. “You’re also a defending medalist, aren’t you?”

“There’s that too, I guess,” Jeongguk says, but the curve of his slanted lips is playful. “Are you going back to watch?”

“Maybe. I was gonna chill here for a bit and catch part of DJ Snake’s set before heading back.”

“Well hey, listen. Street League starts in an hour, so I was thinking about heading there now to practice. Come watch,” Jeongguk offers, words muffled over food. “Better than DJ Snake.”

“You’re competing in Street?” Taehyung asks. He’d promised to head back after getting some food, but he figures a quick text to Jimin will suffice, might even convince Jimin to join them since he doesn't know anyone in Big Air either.

“Street’s my focus,” Jeongguk responds, walking backwards in the direction of the stadium, the hand holding half a hot dog pointing at Taehyung in question. “So yes?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung nods and follows, almost trips over his own footing. “Where’s Yoongi?”

“He’s competing in Park this year, so he’s probably off practicing too.” Jeongguk glances around to see if the Park stadium is within eyeshot of the vicinity. “It’s the last event for today, so we can head over afterwards.”

“I can dig it. Hoseok and Jimin don’t compete until day three anyway.”

“Motocross and BMX right?”

“That’s right,” Taehyung bins his tray in passing. “I’m actually impressed at how they haven’t started flipping their shit with nerves yet.”

“I haven’t either,” Jeongguk says forebodingly. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Taehyung knocks his elbow against Jeongguk’s side and wiggles his brows. “You gonna get that medal?”

But for someone who exudes confidence and pride like winning is his nature, Jeongguk sells himself short every time. Whether it’s all for show or genuinely humble, it bores the stigma of perpetual apprehension, and Taehyung gets his first glimmer of insight into Jeongguk’s competitive weakness.

“Guess we’ll find out.”

 

 

Rule number one at X: talk is cheap.

Rule number two: no one is as hot shit as media plays them up to be until they can stick their tricks on the course.

This is how Taehyung finally witnesses Jeongguk’s finely crafted art, seeing for himself why the industry praises Jeongguk as Goldie. He was born with this, the ability to leave awe in his wake with zealous determination coursing through his veins. Giving judges what they want and competitors a run for their money, Jeongguk does not disappoint.

“How’s he doing so far?” Jimin says, stepping over the row to climb into the empty seat beside Taehyung with a towel over his shoulder. Coping mechanisms. The guy next to them directs an annoyed side-eye when their shoulders bump, and Jimin flips him off graciously. “Hello to you too.”

“He’s leading by a point,” Taehyung says, like it’s no surprise that Jeongguk is first place. And it isn’t, not with athletes oozing grandeur in driving force alone like Jeongguk. Taehyung is still so completely blown off his feet. “They’re on the last run, too.”

“Which one’s the second place?”

“Donghyuk, guy with the white snapback and grey sweater,” Taehyung says, nodding his head towards the contestant on standby. “Apparently he beasts his third runs, performs better under pressure or something. Fucking godsent.”

“Fucking wizard,” Jimin grumbles and kicks his feet up on the chair in front of him. “That’s just unfair. People like that shouldn’t even exist.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Taehyung scoffs. “But Jeongguk gets better with each run, so there’s still a lot of room for confidence. And I mean ‘one whole point better’ kind of runs.”

“Fucking hell, they’re both wizards.”

The buzzer sounds to cue the next contestant, and Donghyuk wastes no time before diving down the ramp to start the run, striking from the get go and easily putting anyone below him to shame with the gap in points he’s pushing. Taehyung spots Jeongguk step into the queue zone, bending over to rest his hands on his knees with sweat soaking the neckline of his shirt damp. He runs a forearm across his brow to collect moisture there.

“Where’s everyone else?” Taehyung asks distractedly, watching Donghyuk land one trick after the next with an effortless ease that feels freeform, clear of shaky stumbles and bobs and very unlike his first two runs. The refinement in this final round is uncanny.

“Went to fetch some grub first,” Jimin says, folding his hands over his stomach and cocking his chin up for better view. “They should be on their way soon, though.”

Donghyuk’s run comes to an end with an impressive full cab front board that pulls the crowd on their feet, and it feels nothing short of nerve wracking. Taehyung sits forward in his seat and waits in the anxious silence of his own anticipation for the announcers. In one moment, he’s watching Jeongguk chew his lip nervously, staring blankly at the cement, and in the next, he’s watching Donghyuk punch the air with pride when he slides up to the first place position with a ninety-two, knocking Jeongguk down to second.

“Wow, that was huge—Kim Donghyuk with a ninety-two! This puts him in the lead for first place, upping his score on the leaderboard!” Shouts the announcers.

“Fuck, he’s good,” Taehyung breathes, sitting back with a collapsed exhale. He almost misses the subtle change in Jeongguk’s expression, from anxious concern to rugged conviction in the blink of an eye, the inner struggle that seems to be transpiring in his skull. But there’s no denying that the shift in focus had been there even in such a pressuring situation as this. The mark of a true extreme sport’s athlete. Get up and do it again. Push the limits, kid, you’re not done yet.

The buzzer sounds, and Jeongguk’s off.

“Come on, Jeongguk,” Jimin mutters under his breath.

There isn’t one sign that says Jeongguk isn't giving this his all, exerting the last of his momentum to leave fire on this course as he rifles through moves with speed and precision. Jeongguk is a natural, that much is obvious, an athlete that comes into the world with raw talent and an endless well of growth. Someone with that never-ending need to be better than the person he knows himself to be. Insecurity, in a way, but mostly just prodigious, and Taehyung will admit that he feels the tiniest bloom of inspiration watching Jeongguk put everything on the line without worries of the crash and burn. Being driven without the breaks just for the appeasement of payoff. Jeongguk is the incarnation of unparalleled will, burning out passion just to make room for more.

Jeongguk ends the run with an impressive switch tre flip off the stairs that fills the stadium with a roar of anticipation, buzzer shrieking to signal the end to the final round of the night. He skates up the quarter pipe to join the other contestants and collapses to the floor on wobbly legs. Taehyung holds his breath and counts down from ten.

Nine, eight, seven… too fucking slow.

But the announcer’s voice cuts him short on six, and Jimin shakes him from the side.

“A ninety-three point three-three for Jeon Jeongguk! And there you have this year’s Street League gold medalist!”

 

In-N-Out is crowded with the aftermath rush of X Games Day One, yet here they are battling through war for animal style burgers like they’ve been starved days. Hunger seeps through him like an uneasy pulse and messes his insides up, but his needs fall short of Jeongguk and Yoongi’s, who have just finished their events for the day and look downright beaten from exertion and heat.

Somewhere along the way, they’d stopped into Vons for large packs of ice to lay over their laps and ease the soreness, nearly getting kicked out by an employee half their age when Taehyung almost wheeled a shopping cart full of Jeongguk into an intricate Hostess pyramid. It boggles him that someone had gotten paid to build it, and Taehyung doesn’t know if he wants to laugh his stomach sore or commend the creator with a slow round of applause.

(“How many twinkies do you think you need to eat until you die?” Taehyung had asked, steering the shopping cart as Yoongi leapt off his heels and tossed a box of Captain Crunch on Jeongguk’s stomach with perfect precision, then, “Kobe!”

“You’ve gotta have some fucked up perception of self-preservation to consider a death by twinkies,” Namjoon said, munching on an open bag of Cheetos with a Hulk mask he’d found in one of the aisles at the side of his head. Jimin latches onto the end of the shopping cart and nearly topples it over from the added weight.

“You know,” Seokjin said, tossing dishwashing gloves on Jeongguk’s lap with a contemplative hum. “That doesn’t sound half bad.”)

And now, cozy in the trunk of Seokjin’s terminator of a truck with music playing from inside, Jeongguk has one leg slung carelessly over the bag of ice and two fries in his mouth. Taehyung gathers moisture off the condensation clinging to the bag and wipes his hands of the stickiness from ketchup residue, cleaning off the moisture with a napkin. He leans back against cool metal.

“Gold suits you,” Taehyung says and nods down at the medal dangling loosely around Jeongguk’s neck.

“Gold suits anyone at X,” Jeongguk says matter of factly. “I’m just glad it suits me this year.”

Their group is scattered across the parking lot, overpopulation limiting seating choice and forcing them to eat outside in the humid, slightly dank air. Not that any of them minded, but the atmosphere is starting to taste like potent gas and pollution from the line of cars extending down the block for drive-thru. Somewhere off to the side is the sound of Hoseok barking vigorous laughter on the curb where he, Jimin, and Yoongi are sitting, a silver medal balancing precariously on Yoongi’s knobby knee.

“Congrats, though,” Taehyung says, sitting forward to lift the medal around Jeongguk’s neck with his clean hand. It reflects the street lamp overhead and paints a flaxen, shimmery glow along his jawline. “That last run was seriously something. I can’t think of any other way to describe it other than Gold.”

“Thanks,” Jeongguk says, a little repudiated, like he can’t quite believe it himself. The weight of this milestone hasn’t settled in just yet. “I really didn’t think I’d gain that extra point. All I was thinking about was how it was my last run and I still had energy left in me.”

“That’s an impressive mindset to have,” Taehyung says, leaning back and kicking his leg over the ice pack, too. He takes another monster sized munch from his burger. “Not a lot of athletes have that. Really, I’m jealous. You’re fucking gifted, man. Hashtag blessed.”

“You say it like you haven’t already won gold yourself,” Jeongguk snorts, dumping the last of the fries into his mouth. “You're hashtag blessed too.”

Taehyung shakes his head. “The way you approached your win was different, though.”

“We still had the same outcome, so that hardly matters.”

“No, but it does matter, seriously. Listen—the mindset is the most important part of all this, the driving factor of how long us athletes will aim for that gold in the long run,” Taehyung brushes his fingers along the black of his denim to wipe away bread crumbs and salt. “The difference is that your drive will last longer than most athletes in this competition. You were able to rack in that win at the last second because of it.”

That blank expression runs its way across Jeongguk’s face again, and Taehyung is wondering if he understands the weight of his own talent. Not so much humble, just unaware in that unembellished way.

“Quit hyping me up so much,” Jeongguk eventually laughs. “I’m not the only great one here.”

“He’s right,” Jimin says suddenly, appearing at the side of the truck over Taehyung’s shoulder. “I’m great, too.”

“Yeah, at leaving your shit all over my floor,” Taehyung frowns.

“I do not.”

“Then explain why your bike shit was on the floor in front of my room this morning. I nearly lost my leg tripping over it,” Taehyung says, pointing at his left shin. “Why am I still rooming with you when we can easily afford our own places?”

“Because you’ll whine about being lonely otherwise? Plus, our loft is nice and way too big to live in it alone,” Jimin says, hanging his arms over the side of the truck. “Sacrifices, buddy, sacrifices.”

“Wait, where do you guys live? Yoongi and I made moves to West LA last month, kind of near Venice beach.”

“You guys live here now?” Taehyung baffles. “Why the sudden change to leave New York?”

“We wanted to get closer to the skateboarding scene here,” Jeongguk says, bending one of his legs at the knee. His jeans are already starting to distress there, result of all the falling that skateboarding involved.

“But isn’t the skating scene in New York pretty big too?” Taehyung asks.

“Yeah, but nothing compared to LA. I mean, we love New York and this definitely isn’t the end, but. More exposure I guess,” Jeongguk says, reaching for the shared soda between them and catching the straw with his tongue. “We’re thinking of moving to West Hollywood once our lease is up.”

By now, the parking lot has calmed down to the few midnight stragglers nursing moderate cases of the munchies, nothing but a few cars littering the area for dine in. Quieter, cleaner, and much less of a scenario that borders on repugnant. Taehyung can hear Namjoon and Seokjin’s murmured voices from inside the car, gentle over the boosted bass that escapes through the open doors and the tiny window on the rear dash.

“Tae and I live in Santa Monica right now, to answer your question,” Jimin backtracks. “You live, like, fifteen minutes from us actually.”

“I swear I was just beating your ass at the winter games yesterday,” says Taehyung, still caught up on this fact. “And now you live here. As in, you’re gonna be one of those boarders that nearly bulldozes people over at the beach.”

“Have some faith, will you,” Jeongguk pouts. “Anyway we still have some shit to move down from storage in New York until we can say we officially ‘live’ here. But I think Yoongi wants to do that in August or something.”

“Let us know if you guys ever need help moving stuff,” Taehyung offers. “None of us have to get back to training until the later part of this year.”

“That’d be super helpful.”

“Trust me, you’ll be seeing our faces a lot,” Jimin says and wiggles his brows theatrically. “Now that you’re a part of our squad.”

In the time spent throwing their trash away from Seokjin’s trunk and figuring out rides, Hoseok had managed to drag Jimin into yet another challenge after leisure biking around the lot to soak in the summer night air, chucking an empty soda cup at Jimin’s back to get his attention only to sprint away with hysterical laughter when he finds out that the cup had still been a quarter full. In the midst of all the uproar and chasing, Taehyung can’t deny that he’s hungry for another burger. One for the road never gets old. Somehow Hoseok climbs to the roof of Seokjin’s truck, too scared to jump down after getting so high to escape violent retaliation, and Jimin’s mocking laugh is as thorough as digestion. Yoongi, beside Namjoon with his medal dangling backwards around his neck, sighs like Death himself takes him right there.

“Okay, ten bucks says I can land a backwards crooked grind off the railing,” Hoseok had challenged after Jimin finally caved and helped him down, stuffing the now empty cup in the bin.

The groan that escapes Seokjin’s mouth takes a part of his sanity with it. “Guys, you’re competing in two days—

“Fine, twenty says I can land a three-sixty over the stairs,” Jimin had challenged right back, reaching down to pull his bike upright by the handle.

Taehyung can hear the sound of bike pegs scraping along the metal railing from inside the restroom, slapping water over his face to wash the clammy humidity away. To any other resident at this hour, they’re a pack of noisy kids high off good food and good vibes. To them, the night is still young, a playground waiting for seven boys to run the world on blistered feet. Judging by the ongoing match transpiring between Hoseok and Jimin outside, none of them have won either of their bets, and the unified hooting that rings through the stale milieu tells him someone is close. But fifteen minutes in, after Taehyung had ran back out to join them, and the door from the entrance had swung open, a disgruntled worker peeping his head out with a towel in hand ready to wield as a weapon should anyone act defiant.

“Sorry, but you guys can’t loiter around here,” he’d drawled wearily, all the fight in him having left the second the X Games wave crashed through and fucked up all emotional support lending help up till that point. “I’m gonna have to ask you guys to leave for the night. We’re closing soon anyway.”

“Oh, yeah, of course. Sorry for any disturbances,” Seokjins apologized on behalf of the rest of them, knowing full well that there wasn’t one soul here that gave two shits about loitering, the shameless assholes that his friends were sometimes. He wouldn’t put it past any of them to camp out right here and call it a sleepover.  “We’ll be out of your hair.”

“I’m gonna go order another burger right quick,” Taehyung had said, chucking a thumb over his shoulder. “You guys don’t have to wait for me. I’ll just take an Uber back.”

“You sure?” Seokjin asked, swinging his keys.

“Yeah, I’ve got a free ride anyway I think. Or twenty off or something.”

“Here, I’ll wait with you,” Jeongguk had offered. “Since apparently we live nearby anyway.”

“Alright, see you guys later then,” Seokjin said, reaching out to ruffle Taehyung’s hair.

“Hey, I’m gonna get Seokjin hyung to drop me off,” Jimin cocks his head towards the truck. “Big day tomorrow and the day after. Get home safe okay?”

Taehyung slaps his arm. “Go get some rest, Jiminnie.”

Back inside the restaurant, Taehyung waits for his order with Jeongguk at his side, typing away on his phone. He doesn’t mean to eavesdrop when his eyes flick over the screen, but he swears the guy is sexting in the middle of an In-N-Out, straw between his teeth and idly chewing on the plastic. Really, he doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but the words pussy and hard all in one message are enough evidence, and Taehyung almost snorts. He couldn’t imagine sexting his regular hook up in this place even if he hadn’t gotten dick in three weeks. But Taehyung is no eavesdropper. He peels his eyes away to focus on the purple of Jeongguk’s hair, glimmering in the white gloss of lights with sufficient saturation in this balance and absorbing a different quality into the pigmented strands. It looks soft, silky, and his fingers itch to run through it.

Taehyung's order slides across the counter, and he moves forward to check that everything’s there.

“This is so good,” he moans, stuffing his nose into the opening of the paper bag and inhaling. “I’m gonna cream myself.”

“No shade or anything, but Shake Shack in New York puts this to shame,” Jeongguk says and slides his phone into his front pocket completely composed. If he thinks about it, Taehyung can’t fathom the idea of going through the hassle of meeting up with someone right now for a late night bootycall only to drive himself all the way back home. Kudos to Jeongguk if he actually pulls it off because Taehyung is as horny as an unripe avocado at this hour.

“Dude, your taste buds must be seriously defected,” Taehyung frowns.

“You haven’t even tried Shake Shack!” Jeongguk says. “Your opinion is biased as fuck.”

“Actually, I have. Once. And I was not impressed,” Taehyung defends, cradling the bag against his chest with one arm and reaching into his pocket to retrieve his phone. “Shit was cold as ice, and I was as salty as a winter road.”

“Which one did you go to?”

“The one near Times Square.”

Jeongguk does not easily accept this. “You probably went on a bad day.”

“Nope, no excuses,” Taehyung refutes. “My customer experience is jaded until proven otherwise.”

“Shake Shack is restaurant quality compared to this fast food,” Jeongguk argues. He turns to throw Taehyung an assertive look but stops in his tracks to scrutinize him with a double-take.

“What?” Taehyung asks, pausing in his steps and all too suddenly self-conscious. “Something on my face?”

“Yeah, actually,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung stills when Jeongguk reaches out to swipe the pad of his thumb against the corner of his lip. “You had some ketchup.”

“Oh, thanks,” Taehyung says, pushing backwards against the door and shivering at the balmy air that gushes through. “Anyway, I’m just saying. In-N-Out is victorious until you take me to New York for a second round of Shake Shack.”

Jeongguk smiles at this, a kind of delicate excitement that makes his lip curve up at one corner. He watches Taehyung open the Uber app and says, “Deal.”

 

 

Day three of X comes in a wave of stilted nerves and anxiety that overshadows the usual atmosphere with something akin to moderate doom and gloom. It is the feeling of needing to achieve self-fulfillment that every X Game’s athlete feels on competition day. For most, it translates to first place.

With another two months until Namjoon’s wakeboarding event for the X Games Watersports Throwdown, Namjoon steers clear of his own impending mess of nerves and offers the added level of support during those moments throughout the day when Jimin and Hoseok can’t quite chill the fuck out to a stable consistency. Taehyung knows the feeling like the back of his hand, a common trait amongst all athletes, and sticks to avoiding everyone’s coping methods as to not tilt the fragile balance off kilter, lending help where needed, if needed. He can sense the tremors within ten feet of Hoseok, even more so with Jimin who has taken to dealing with the nerves in his own time, the type to grow silent in lieu of his upbeat nature.

Jimin had left bright and early that morning, when Taehyung was a jumble of incoherent sleepiness under his covers. He'd loaded his bike into the trunk of the car before snagging their entire bag of granola off the counter for early morning traffic misery where he will surely find someone along the way who still has their paper dealer plates on and thinks they're too good for gridlock. The absence of granola to accompany his daily cup of yogurt is blandly upsetting, but Taehyung is glad Jimin will have some kind of sustenance in his stomach, the sad idiot that he was for skipping meals before big events as such. But this year seems to be a year of improvements, an upgrade from the last time Taehyung was forced to stuff chicken tenders in his face because Jimin wouldn’t do it himself.

It’s strange, today is, a little nostalgic in the higher degrees with its whirlwind of arduous practices that had all amounted to a few intoxicating minutes of chance victory. It is the last day of the Summer Games, but to them, it is only the beginning of today’s adventure.

BMX street is the first event on the line up, and Taehyung spends most of the time attached to Jimin’s side, watching his practice as a stationary emotional supporter alongside Seokjin before the big hour arrived. Yoongi, Jeongguk, and Namjoon had split up from them earlier, following after Hoseok to watch his practice for the motocross event. Being the biggest anticipation of the night, it left a brutal weight of pressure on his shoulders to deliver and succeed, and with motocross being a do or fail sport, you either hit it hard and land your tricks, or you hit it hard and eat it harder. Hoseok had practiced his tricks meticulously for a handful of months with high hopes of perfecting them for the landing, but without the stunt bags to ensure a safe execution, he’s left with using the raw course for warming up only to get a feel for the height and momentum and never for the certainty of the landing. That is where competition dictates the earned esteem of each player.

Taehyung tugs out his phone to shoot Jeongguk a text.

 

Taehyung

How’s Hoseok doing? :(

 

Jeongguk’s response is quick.

 

Jeongguk

Real nervous :(

We’re worried bc he’s starting to doubt himself

 

Taehyung frowns.

 

Taehyung

Noooo

Beat some confidence into him

Doubt before the competition is so dangerous

 

Jeongguk

We will don’t worry

Moral Support Brigade here

How’s Jimin?

 

Taehyung searches the course for Jimin’s vibrant red head of hair and spots him at the far end of the ramp, bent over one knee to tie his shoelaces. He straightens up and inhales deeply through his nose to moderate the nerves tickling at his stomach, tries to shake off the tingles with a few bounces on his heels. Taehyung wants to reach out and smack the jitters away. But combat it with the nerves and pre-game adrenaline rush easily becomes a powerful tool for every athlete, necessary for some as a gateway to amplify performance in the first few moments of competition when the natural high numbs out everything else. That excitement alone is enough to mask the staunch feeling of doubt, if only for a few fleeting minutes.

 

Taehyung

He’s good

I can tell he just wants to start already

 

Jeongguk

I know that feeling

As of like

2 days ago? Lol

 

Taehyung

Same tho

But as of five months ago LOL

The event starts in half an hour so you guys should head over soon

 

Jeongguk

Yeah we will

I’ll let Yoongi know

 

Taehyung

Ok see you guys soon

 

Taehyung fires off a quick text of encouragement for Hoseok before sliding his phone back into his pocket. Thirty-minutes till the event starts, and here he is feeling just as anxious as a competitor himself. Taehyung isn’t religious, but in these moments ticking down to competition, he prays that they’ll end this without any regrets, all or nothing right here on the course with one chance to shine.

Qualifying into the final rounds of the competition is easy enough. Of course it is. Jimin didn’t practice years of grueling refinement or fracture his wrist twice only to get knocked out of round one. But with two competitors neck and neck with his leading score of sixty-nine and battling for the gold, things get tricky as the margins grow smaller. Jimin, after his next run, looks beaten down by exhaustion and heat, legs fatigued into sensitive awareness as he kneels down at the sidelines to catch his breath.

Taehyung cheers loud and proud from the audience with the others, hooting his name without an ounce of care or shame when he steps up on his chair with Namjoon during Jimin’s run. “Fuck ‘em up!”

Two minutes on the clock and three runs left with the leading competitors, and Jimin ends it with a massive five-forty barspin wallride that sends a wave of hype across the boards. A total score of eighty-five, and Jimin wins his first gold of X, sprinting across the arena to join his friends in congratulatory glee where they proudly tackle him. He restrains his tears until the weight of gold is heavy on his neck and stares unbelievingly at the droplets trailing down the length of his medal. A milestone in the palm of his hands.

Following immediately after is the Moto X Freestyle event, which cuts down the time for Jimin’s celebration in their haste to get to the motocross arena. They spot Hoseok at the sideline with his coach and jog down to give him shouts of encouragements, Seokjin yanking him into a headlock and ruffling his hair fondly before making their way to their seats. Taehyung chews the inside of his cheek restlessly and watches the competitors gear up for action, the roar of revving engines echoing through the stadium with gasoline staining the air thick amongst all the chatter. Hoseok pulls his black and yellow helmet over his head while waiting on his bike, the strap of his Supreme goggles making it easy to distinguish him in the mix.

The tension is strung high like barbed wire amongst the competitors, the kind of taut density that barely allows for talk between athletes and only polite nods of acknowledgement. Hoseok slaps the sides of his helmet to snap out of his iffy limbo, tells himself there’s no room for doubt, only confidence and only too much of it. Focus, focus, focus. All eyes on the prize. Having already qualified for finals some months prior, Hoseok had seen the abilities of every single competitor here, knows this is the cultivation of polished motocross talent, and he is but a fraction of its worth trying to make his way to the top. One amongst many that share his same skill, and any mistake could put him out of medaling before he can even taste victory on his tongue.

Hoseok doesn’t land his first run and crash-falls the landing of his frontside three-sixty. Taehyung, from his seat, feels his heart plummet to his stomach at the sight of Hoseok lurching forward and propelling off his bike. Even after watching motocross for years, he will never find comfort in the extremity of this sport, the high-risk stunts that easily put an athlete’s career on the line. The crowd oh’s in unison when Hoseok teeters off balance, back wheel snagging awkwardly on the dirt mound with a solid thump that cracks through the arena. Hoseok yanks his goggles off dissatisfied, stumbling up onto unsteady feet. There’s a slight limp there, a little wobbling to readjust to his motorcycle boots, but he straightens up after a few paces and waves to the audience to signal he’s okay. Smile bright on his face from the cheers he receives, Hoseok wheels his bike off the course and only then does he let that smile fall.

Taehyung exhales the breath he’d kept stuffed in the pit of his diaphragm and loosens his grip on Jeongguk’s hand, the one he’d unknowingly reached for in steep panic to ground himself from shock, palm warm and clammy from the tightness of his hold.

“Sorry,” he says, embarrassed, and covers it up with a sigh. “That scared the shit out of me.”

“No, you’re good,” Jeongguk reassures, scanning the arena. “This sport isn’t exactly safety guaranteed.”

“Not at all,” Taehyung says, slouching a little in his chair as the next rider queues up. “It’s rad as hell when someone lands their trick, but fuck, someone just messed up their knee.”

“Because he pulled back from his trick too late, yeah. Did you see how dialed in Hoseok was during his run?” Jeongguk knocks their knees together. “He’ll get the next one.”

“He will,” Taehyung’s nod is hard, rigid, a means to convince himself into optimism. “He’s got this.”

And Hoseok does. Impressive, really, how he manages to absorb the exact fault of a mistake and tweak it to make the execution immaculate, granting just enough time to ease into his landing like butter. The wheels of his bike smack the ground at a near perfect angle, and Hoseok scrambles off to climb the dirt mound, fist pumping the air with flourished pride.

The run rakes in a whopping score of ninety, just one point short of Japan that puts him in the second place position for silver. But this is no let down, far from it, because that one-point difference feeds his ever dwindling certainty of aptitude, gives proof that he is capable of gold after the shattering disappointment of last year’s seventh place that left him in a grey slump. Hoseok reaches down to lift silver to his lips, kisses his distorted reflection, and says, “Here’s to hope and perseverance.”

This is how the Summer X Games of 2016 finally comes to a wistful end of fading applause.

No one ends up leaving the venue until ten that night, too caught up in the bustle of interaction with fellow competitors and friends over free food, an assortment of food trucks that the event organizers had rented out, buffet style and on the house, as thanks to all the competitors. Taehyung catches up with friends he hasn’t seen since last year, refamiliarizing faces and acknowledging old ones with Jimin at his side. After sharing a BBQ sandwich with Jeongguk at the back of one of the equipment trucks, cool, sleek metal soothing in this dewy heat, Jeongguk had scurried off to get a drink with the Street League skateboarding crew, two of which he’d introduced as friends by the name of Hanbin and Bobby.

Taehyung stretches tired arms overhead, the feeling of heat exhaustion setting in thick now that he’s soaking in his own laze. He lays back with his feet kicking off the edge, until staff will find his idle body and shove him out to start loading the equipment.

It's funny, lounging here and mirthfully thinking how the time separating the winter games and the summer games had brought him and Jeongguk back together. If he backtracks this weekend beneath all the excitement of competition, Jeongguk seems to fill every recollection of his mind. a constant at his side in-between events with pleasant laughter and conversation. And maybe it’s a little hard to forget the convenient little fact that Jeongguk had dry humped him against a wall once before and that Taehyung enjoyed it, a counterfeit defense because he’d really fucking enjoyed it, albeit drunk and stupidly emotional. But with Jeongguk, it’s easy to move past their brief history in Aspen, not in a way that they’ve swept it under the carpet to forget in the long run, but a silent agreement to accept and move on. They aren’t awkward, it doesn’t need to be awkward, so fuck one night stand etiquette and all that it governs.

The drive back to Hoseok’s studio apartment had been sluggish and full of easy silence once everyone finally left the venue with bittersweet goodbyes. Dragging their lifeless bodies out of their cars was an exhaustive stupor that he’d barely even consciously registered—one point he’s in the car, and the next, he’s in the living room with no recollection of everything in-between. Losing his pants seems to have transpired somewhere in that fuzz. But the humble comfort of a place Taehyung also considers home is gratifying in a way that makes him feel vast with Deadpool flashing red and black on the flatscreen after putting Namjoon’s knack for torrenting movies to good use. Just seven boys sprawled out around the living room, half-dead and a lot delirious, too tired to really be watching. But what the city has taught them was to grow dependent on falling asleep to irregular sonance of urban decay and never the peaceful silence of a quaint mountain town.

Taehyung is buried in cotton and floral musk from scented colognes when Hoseok’s voice rings over the low volume of cinematic cliche. It doesn’t even sound real where it slips through this part of his subsistence, in the dormant state that Taehyung is burrowing into. He’s out like a light before the slow words can sink in.

“Goodbye X Games 2016,” Hoseok yawns from his place on his mattress, tucked minimalistically into the corner of the living room. It lies pressed against a wall built entirely of glass, one large window presenting a city’s constellation that twinkles against the ceiling. ”It’s been real.”

Namjoon, from the other side, chucks up the deuces before sleep overpowers this episode. “Until next games.”

And so is the boundless cycle of their lives.

 

Taehyung is no morning bird, but he is awake before eleven for the first time in months.

Buttered popcorn from last night’s movie wafts against his nose like stale oxygen and makes him unsettled, a momentary need for a breath of regular air, so he rolls his head in the opposite direction to inhale deep through his nose. His eyes, still foggy from sleep, blink open to absorb some sense of stability. He could do without all that fucking sunlight cascading lines across his face, and Namjoon’s foot seems to be lodged in his side from their place on the floor, but it is overall a doable morning on the low end of standards. One that is full of harrowing self-evidence that his face is disgusting and severely lacking toothpaste, last night’s food truck festival catching up and making him feel sodden with grease. And it’s a little unfortunate that his body refuses to fall back asleep after waking up, but Taehyung’s muscles have grown stiff from the carpeted floor that they have molded into like cardboard overnight.

He doesn’t have a clue what to do with himself just yet.

Naturally the first thing Taehyung thinks is to seek out Jimin in this genetic pool of testosterone, rouse him to some form of reasonable consciousness, and drag him along to breakfast or coffee. Yawning to tears, he drags his gaze through the immediate surroundings of the living room, spots Jimin right above his head where he’s lounged on the connecting couch and nestled comfortably in Yoongi’s lap. How they got there, Taehyung will save to question later when they are both reduced to awkward fumbling after waking up and realizing the state that they are in. He scratches Jimin’s impending decadence of a human off his list of demise.

The line of the black leather couch directs his eyes to the loveseat on the far end, gaze falling on Jeongguk’s sleeping figure with his legs hanging off the arm of the couch, most likely a last resort attempt to make the too small space comfortable. Without thinking much of it, Taehyung slips away from Namjoon’s light snoring and crawls across the living room on his knees, weaving past a lump of pink that he can only assume is Seokjin.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung whispers, nudging his shoulder lightly. If it weren’t for the short puffs of air against the back of his hand, Taehyung would mistake Jeongguk as dead carcass. “Hey, Jeongguk. Wake up.”

Jeongguk stirs ever so slightly with the softest groan rumbling in his throat, eyes peeling open like drying wax. The biggest sign of his anti-morning excuse of a person that Taehyung understands on a spiritual level. He can pinpoint the exact moment the gears start shifting in that sleepy skull, and Jeongguk lifts his head off the couch in his dull haze to glance around. “Huh?”

“Wake up, buttercup.”

“No.”

“Come on.”

“Time is it?” Jeongguk grunts, one eye closed as he yawns enormously, bending one of his overhanging legs at the knee. “Feels early as shit.”

“It’s nine,” Taehyung says, sitting back on his palms and watching this process of waking up with mild fascination.

“Yeah, early,” Jeongguk confirms, flopping back onto the arm of the couch and reaching a hand down to scratch at the exposed skin of his belly. “What’s up?”

“I was just wondering if you wanted to grab some coffee,” Taehyung asks, stretching his legs out with a pop. “I was gonna ask Jimin, but he’s—busy.” Taehyung glances back at his friend, draped over Yoongi like ketchup and mustard. “He’s probably exhausted from yesterday anyway.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk drawls like he’s lost, propping himself up on an elbow, and definitely still asleep in multiple parts of his brain. Taehyung almost expects him to say no. “Yeah, sure, I can do coffee. Am I driving?”

“Could you? Seokjin parked behind my car, so I’m stuck in the driveway.”

Jeongguk runs a hand through his matted hair and nods. “Give me like five minutes to wake up, then we’ll go.”

The Refinery is only half full with the usual cafe-goers on their laptops when they arrive, dressed down to maximum comfort and a little ugly. Prime parking had been an added bonus to the usual pain that was street parking, and Taehyung is grateful that Jeongguk had been the driver, lest they be stuck trying to parallel park for the next twenty minutes and going. But.

“I can’t parallel park for shit,” Jeongguk had still complained, twisting his body around to look out the back windows. He’d stretched his arm out to rest behind the passenger seat, maneuvering the car into the tight space.

“You lived in New York,” Taehyung said. “Shouldn’t you be able to parallel park a semi with your eyes closed or something?”

“Exactly why I can't park. FYI, New Yorkers don’t actually know how to park or drive. Like, at all.”

Yet against all arguments, Jeongguk had perfectly parallel parked the car in one try.

The smell of coffee hits his face, and it is pleasant in a way that melts him into goo and coaxes by the chin. It’s been forever and a day since he last ventured on a coffee run at some suitable, logical time, and Taehyung finds himself soaking delightfully in the feeling of hot liquid between his palms under the pearly glow of morning, a calming shiver that swallows him into something cliche. Jeongguk, beside him, still fails to look alive and suffers from early grog, but conversation and caffeine go hand in hand and eventually wakes him enough to loosen his mouth. Until time is impartial to this place.

“Can I try that?” Taehyung asks, pointing to the clear plastic in Jeongguk's grasp.

“Go for it,” Jeongguk says, extending his drink for Taehyung to lean forward and sip. “It's just straight black.”

“I know. I just want to see if it's as disgusting as it looks,” Taehyung says and regretfully takes more than he can handle, enough to coat the entire surface of his tongue and the roof of his mouth with bitter roast. His face scrunches up, tongue hanging out of his mouth scandalized from the sharp taste of the dense black liquid swirling in Jeongguk's cup. “Fuck, oh my God. That's awful.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Jeongguk laughs and rolls the drink around in his palm to examine the logo. “I like it though. It’s addicting.”

“Your coffee preference is my music preference, I guess,” Taehyung says, swallowing down macchiato to drown out the lingering taste. “Or so I’ve been told.”

“Try me,” Jeongguk challenges.

“Selena Gomez.”

“Okay, that’s—pretty bad.”

Taehyung chuckles. “I know, but. There’s just something so catchy about her music that gets me going, even if the content is as generic as mustard on the beat.”

“Well, music is music right?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Also I worship DJ Mustard, so we’re even here.”

“Hey, no shade. I do too.”

“What about—” Jeongguk grabs a table napkin to wipe the ring of condensation circling his cup. “What about pop punk of the early 2000’s?”

“Oh my God, do you even need to ask? That’s the shit I’m gonna play at my funeral,” Taehyung says, setting his cup down emphatically and sloshing a bit of coffee over the white lid. “I can’t believe people consider those oldies these days.”

“People consider Iggy Azalea an oldie these days,” Jeongguk scoffs, jostling the ice cubes in his cup. “Your car has a CD player right?”

“Hell yeah,” Taehyung wipes the mouth of his lid with his thumb. “I think my car has a cassette player.”

Jeongguk stares at him, sets his drink down slowly. “You’re an X Games athlete with two golds.”

“So?”

“So why not use your money to buy a newer car?”

Taehyung pouts. “Who says my car isn’t new!”

“Anyone with eyeballs in their face? They got rid of pre-installed tape decks in 2010, and I know you didn’t get your car that same year.”

“You would know something like that.”

“You don’t even have a right side mirror.”

“Okay, fine. I’m kind of a lazy fuck if you haven’t noticed, so I haven’t gotten around to getting a new one since high school. But my car works fantastic, so leave me alone,” Taehyung whines. “Anyway why’d you ask? About the CD player.”

“‘Cause I’m gonna burn you the best 2000’s mixtape CD you’ve ever had. Sharpie art and everything.”

“You draw?”

“I draw,” Jeongguk nods. “For fun, though. I’m a sucker for art. Get ready for CD cover of the century.”

“That takes me back,” Taehyung breathes nostalgically, already excited. “If it’s good enough, maybe I’ll hand it out as party favors. At my funeral.”

“Should I be worried about why you have your funeral so elaborately thought out?” Jeongguk lifts a brow.

“All I’m saying is that I want to leave this place with a bang,” Taehyung says with one hand poised as a gun. “What better way to mourn a life than with a throwback?”

“Mourning a life to the Kid’s Bop version of a throwback.”

“Fuck,” Taehyung cringes. “A funeral is sad as is, Jeongguk, let’s not make it worse.”

“Something to consider,” Jeongguk shrugs and twirls his straw.

“What about you? Any special requests?” Taehyung turns to face him on the stool. “Edible arrangements? Ice sculptures? Confetti?”

“Just one,” Jeongguk says, extending his pointer finger. “And that’s if I can’t be buried in Dior, then I’d rather be cremated.”

“Expensive taste, huh?” Taehyung scoffs. “Good luck to your future spouse and family. Whoever gives your eulogy is gonna call you a narcissistic dick.”

“Hey, you want to leave with a bang, and I want to leave looking fly as fuck. Sue me.”

“Who’s gonna sue a dead man.”

“You, probably.”

“I’ll be the one calling you a narcissistic dick, actually,” Taehyung laughs. “My funeral’s gonna be lit.”

“Now I just gotta remember to actually make that mixtape.”

Taehyung frowns. “Wow, get my hopes up and everything.”

And Jeongguk’s grin is wry. “I’m only kidding. I’ll make it.”

Just then, Taehyung’s phone vibrates on the high table, picture of him and Jimin at last year’s games illuminating the screen. Taehyung sets his cup down and slides to answer.

“What’s up?” Taehyung greets. Jeongguk inhales the rest of his coffee and uncaps the lid. “Right now? What time is i—holy shit, it’s already one? Yeah, sure, we’ll meet you guys there. Yeah, yeah. See you soon, bye.” Pause. “Shut up, we were not! You were the one cuddling with Yoongi this morni—I’m hanging up.”

“What was that all about?” Jeongguk asks when Taehyung ends the call.

“They want us to meet them at the skatepark,” Taehyung says and leaves out the part about fondling each other’s balls. “I can’t believe it’s already noon. We’ve been here for three hours.”

“Shit, really?” Jeongguk says, tugging his phone out of his pocket. “Feels like we got our drinks ten minutes ago.”

“Right? I completely lost track of time,” Taehyung says, crumpling up the napkin and stuffing it in the empty cup. “Think we can get there in ten?”

“Depends,” Jeongguk says.

“On what?”

“On how much you care about obeying traffic laws.”

“So fuck the police, basically,” Taehyung grins, shrugging a shoulder innocently. He snatches Jeongguk’s cup, tosses it in the trash bin, and says, “Let’s get out of here, my partner in crime.”

What Taehyung hadn’t formulated is that Jeongguk does not joke about disobeying traffic laws. In the short drive down to Venice Beach, Taehyung finds himself bracing against the seat more often than not when Jeongguk speeds through the inside roads at sixty miles per hour. He also discovers that Jeongguk listens to his music at blaring volumes, the bass from the speakers rattling his chest and pulsing loud enough for people to stare. Jeongguk blasts DJ Mustard the entire ride there and raps along at obnoxious volumes that is surprisingly impressive and skilled in a way that only partly passes off as joking now, vibes along to music humorously just for the sake of fucking around, and Taehyung maybe falls a little (more) in love with him. He shakes his head with the wind in his hair and joins in.

Later, when they’ve managed to arrive without getting pulled over, Taehyung is faced with a rude awakening when he discovers that he may not be as coordinated as he’d thought, realizes that he shouldn’t have underestimated skateboarding as much as he did. He falls on his ass the first time he tries it, expectations for his own ability far too ambitious to pull off with any decent level of efficiency, and it comes as a surprise to him what with years of experience in snowboarding. Apparently, his theory is shit.

And it’s not that Jeongguk had insisted he try it or anything. Taehyung had confidently asked Jeongguk out of curiosity if he could borrow his board, teach him a few of the basics because it can’t be that hard. A part of him wanted to gauge just how gifted Jeongguk was to be skilled in multiple sports, put the quality of his talent into perspective if he could experience it for himself. Instead, his pride gets slashed in the process of trial and error, and gravity easily wins this round against him. Snow is so much more forgiving.

“Meet your worst fucking nightmare,” Jeongguk had said above him with a sly grin the first time he’d fallen, board slipping out right beneath his feet. “Concrete.”

“I expected this to be so much easier,” Taehyung admits, crestfallen from the floor and a little red in the face. He’s pushing some serious effort into this. “This doesn’t feel anything like snowboarding. Snowboarding doesn’t rip my left asscheek off.”

“The only thing that really translates between snowboarding and skateboarding is the edge control,” Jeongguk says, extending a hand and pulling Taehyung to his feet. “It took me half a year to get used to having my feet attached to my board instead of free movement.”

“Skateboarding isn’t as easy as it looks. Makes you feel like a little bitch when you don’t succeed,” Yoongi says from beside Jimin, kicking his board up vertically and grabbing the nose. “You get way more immediate injuries than snowboarding, too. And I’m talking about those raspberry turf burns that sting like the fury pits of motherfucking hell.”

“Shit.”

“Tae, weren’t you the one that wanted to try it?” Jimin says, hunched forward on his bike, another bike left astray on the ground beside him.

Hoseok and Seokjin, in their rare motivation to walk around in ninety degree weather by foot, had run off in search of the nearest market to snag a box of popsicles to help them survive this heat. He can already imagine Seokjin shoving his face into the nearest refrigerator box and admiring assortments of ice cream flavors all at once. Hitting two birds with one stone. Taehyung will most likely use those popsicles to ice his bruised palms and sore ass. He kind of hates concrete right now.

“I just wanted to see if it was similar to snowboarding,” Taehyung says, jostling Jeongguk’s board by its tail with his foot. “Clearly, it is not.”

“I don’t blame you for thinking that,” Namjoon says, his own foot resting on his skateboard and tilting it with his weight. He, too, has two sports under his belt, but Namjoon does this for fun and not professionally. “I thought they would have the exact same approach, but I’m sure wakeboarding has more of a connection with snowboarding than skateboarding does. Although, not gonna lie, skateboarding was way easier for me to learn with my wakeboarding background.”

“Shit’s so complicated,” Jimin says, sunshine on his lava hair. “I’m gonna go ahead and stick with two wheels.”

Afternoons always rake in crowds of skateboarders that makes it difficult to throw big tricks without endangering someone’s face. Two hours in finds Yoongi, Namjoon, and Jeongguk battling it off with an ollie height challenge, Jimin joining the battle on his bike five boards later as they wait for the main portion of the park to clear up. They get up to a wall of eight stacked skateboards before Yoongi taps out on the third try, nearly face planting the blacktop, with Namjoon following soon after on his second. Meanwhile, Jeongguk has no difficulties with hurdling past the height and easily glides over the wall of skateboards, maxing out on nine boards when his legs are too shaky to attempt any more from stumped his momentum.

After enough watching and filming with the GoPro while simultaneously getting his groove on to Fetty Wap with Hoseok and Seokjin, Taehyung tries to convince Jeongguk to teach him some fundamental tricks for the second time that day, determined to nail something before they all head out to dinner. He can’t settle with walking away a failure, and it is against every instilled value of his to give up simply without succeeding once. Jeongguk, albeit jokingly, rejects the first time he asks, amused laughter giving his smug response away, I’m not teaching you shit after you butchered that song with your dancing. But Taehyung is as persistent as he is ambitious and jumps up onto Jeongguk’s back, legs wrapping around slim waist like a leech, and refuses to let go until he consents. Hardly a threat, given Jeongguk seems entirely unfazed by the added weight, but he finally succumbs only because his back is damp from the close contact, shirt sticking uncomfortably to his skin under the harsh rays.

So he manages an ollie. Basic, in all its simple, fundamental regard, but hell does it feel pretty damn good to nail it. The proud smile that spreads across Jeongguk’s face when he finally masters it without stumbling maybe makes him proud, too, just a little more pathetic because he is his harshest critic, but he’ll recognize his improvement nonetheless. Jeongguk eventually steps away to give autographs to a group of stoked boarders that approach him, Sharpie cap in-between teeth as he signs the decks with practiced ease when Taehyung starts to get more daring, applies height to the trick.

There had been a small audience watching them practice this entire time, probably the same group now asking Jeongguk and the others for pictures and signatures, but they’ve learned to get used to things as such. Not that any of them will ever mind. They are kids that grew up with big dreams and small backyards, not superficial celebrities that are up in the clouds.

Practice goes well and suddenly it does not. Just as he successfully ollies onto one of the low railings, Taehyung angles the board right down the center with his feet on either side and snaps the board right in fucking half like a flimsy toothpick, the halves flying in two directions with a solid crack. Taehyung briefly registers the ooh’s that sound from their surroundings and hopes the ground beneath his feet swallows him whole, right into the depths of hell. He needs to not be here right now because how embarrassing, really.

“Shit,” he breathes, stumbling forward to the ground. He glances behind him at what used to be a skateboard and is now two pieces of sad wood. “Shit, Jeongguk, I think I just broke your board.”

“You think?” Jeongguk scoffs, picking up the two splintered halves and examining them side by side. “I’d say that’s pretty damn broken.”

This is how Taehyung decides to stick with what he knows best: snowboarding.

 

(“All black or all gold?” Jeongguk asks a week later at the Supreme store. Fairfax, like any other day, is bare with the occasional skateboarder in tie-dye and five panel passing through. The smell of weed is in the polluted air, and Taehyung is sure he’d spotted a car at the other end of the street hotboxing in the middle of day.

“Hm,” Taehyung hums, perusing the decks at the back wall of the store. He makes a mental note to get his current snowboard renewed, design fading and long overdue. He is perpetually lazy and anti-responsible if he isn’t on a time crunch. “All gold everything. It suits you, remember?”

“I just don’t want to be Flashy Becky is all,” Jeongguk contemplates.

“It’s flashy in that humble way, though,” Taehyung says over his shoulder and reaches out to run his fingers along floral design. “A lot like you, actually. I think you should cop it.”

Jeongguk knocks his knuckles against the wood surface. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung replies and walks back over. “Plus if you don't like it, I still owe you a board. You know, the one you aren't letting me pay you back for.”

“Stop that,” Jeongguk waves him off. “I'm a grown ass man. I can pay for myself.”

“Twenty is hardly ‘grown ass’.”

“More ass than you,” Jeongguk teases.

“You fucker,” Taehyung frowns. “‘Cause you’re so into those big booty bitches, right?”

“Is it so wrong of me to like the booty?” Jeongguk asks and looks at him seriously. “Also, what’s a grown ass adult to your standards then?”

“You're not grown ass unless you've cried about the bills at least once in your life and got your tears all over them,” Taehyung elaborates eloquently. “Or you find marriage jokes absolutely fucking hilarious.”

“Cried over bills, yes. Marriage jokes, not so much.”

“Exactly. Throw in a passive political debate and something about non-profit organizations and you’re a functioning adult in America,” Taehyung snaps his pointer finger and thumb. He nods at the deck. “Now go buy your damn board, boy.”

“You make adulthood sound like dick,” Jeongguk says and glances over the deck one more time “So this one for sure?”

“That, or the one over there with the tits.”

“This one it is.”)

 

 

Taehyung can’t sleep.

It’s another one of those placid nights where stress hits him when he’d least expected it, somewhere past midnight, and he is still tossing around in bed with too warm sheets, too cold room, and the jarring feeling of pressure from expectation that hits him like a goddamn brick to the face. The inevitable symptoms he suffers as an athlete who only knows to keep pushing limitations. It feels a lot like regret, sometimes guilt if he takes it too straight to the heart, the way he can’t help but run over all his failures and shortcomings like a highlight reel flashing technicolor through the projector of his mind. It has been a full hour of this disappointment, and Taehyung doesn’t think he can handle anymore until sanity becomes insecurity.

Without thinking, he calls the first person that comes up when he opens his phone.

Three rings and the sound is too loud in the motionless twilight. The ringing is replaced by two pauses, and the crackle of rustling on the other end disturbs the line. One, two, three, then, “Hello?”

Taehyung immediately regrets this. What the fuck is he doing.

“Jeongguk? Hey,” Taehyung says. Why he had called Jeongguk of all people when Jimin was right next door, Taehyung does not know, but guilt sets in like a broken dam after hearing Jeongguk’s voice like this, thick and heavy with sleep as though his ringtone had quite literally yanked him right out of his REM cycle.

“Hello?” He hears again. In this self-berating mess of a conscience, Jeongguk’s voice steers him back on track.

“I—sorry for waking you up so late,” Taehyung shuts his eyes and presses his palm against his forehead, as if surrendering to his own putrid impulsiveness. Everything sounds utterly disposable materialized into the air. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Is everything alright?” There’s more rustling, like plastic candy wrapper, only softer, and Taehyung imagines Jeongguk shifting onto his side.

“Everything’s fine,” Taehyung replies, turning on his side, too. He sighs and tries not to make it dismal. “My thoughts are just really loud right now, and I can’t go back to sleep.” Pause. “I’m sorry, this is stupid. You can hang up if you want—”

“Taehyung.”

“What?”

“Stop apologizing.”

“...Sorry.”

“It’s cool, seriously,” Jeongguk says, voice sluggish and drowsy but strikingly tender in the rawness of the tone alone. No facial recognition needed to match this tranquil voice.

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Jeongguk says through a yawn. “I’ll stay on the phone with you until you fall asleep.”  

Taehyung presses his cheek into the pillow. “Thank you,”

“Mmm,” Jeongguk breathes. “What were you thinking about that got your panties in a bunch?”

“Just. X Games, snowboarding, competition stuff,” Taehyung says quietly. “This happens all the time, and I can never shake it off. Is it normal to wake up in the middle of the night feeling like something’s not enough?”

“Like you aren’t doing enough?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course that’s normal,” Jeongguk says. “All the pressure on our shoulders as competitors... that really messes with your head.”

“All I want to do right now is pick up my snowboard and glide down the tallest mountain I can find,” Taehyung exhales through his nose and pictures white powder. “I just hate this feeling, like I’m either wasting my time or not putting in enough effort.”

“Which is it?”

Taehyung hesitates. “None of the above.”

“Sounds exactly like what you said then. It’s just a feeling,” Jeongguk’s lazy voice is soothing where it drags itself through the tendrils of his throat like molasses. Taehyung closes his eyes to listen. “Keep it that way. Don’t start believing your own doubts if you know it isn’t real.”

“I probably would if I didn’t call you.” Taehyung pulls the covers up to his chin. “I was halfway into digging my own grave.”

“I’m glad you called, then. Even if it’s—” Jeongguk pauses. “Two in the a.m.”

“I’m sorr—”

“Stop, stop. I’m just fucking with you,” Jeongguk interrupts. “I know what it’s like to lose sleep over stress. It sucks being alone in your own head.”

“It really does. Thanks for doing this.”

“Bros before hoes.”

“What—dude, what the hell. That makes no sense in this context,” Taehyung furrows his brows even if Jeongguk can’t see it. “You must be delirious.”

“Must be.”

Another yawn and Taehyung finds himself yawning, too.

“How romantic of us, sleeping over the phone,” Jeongguk says. “Well, trying to at least.”

“You would know all about romantics, wouldn’t you,” Taehyung teases. He stuffs a hand under his pillow to relish in the cold underside.

“Not at all,” Jeongguk admits. “I’m as romantic as dried squid. Not really the type for romantics or dating.”

Taehyung doesn’t really understand why he feels a tinge of disappointment at this, but he brushes it off. “Not in the dating market, huh?”

“I’ve got my hands full with X.”

“That’s your career though. Aren’t your medals enough evidence that you’re doing fine?” Taehyung says. “Don’t tell me you’re some kind of obsessive workaholic that doesn’t make room for his personal life.”

“No, I do,” Jeongguk corrects. “Oh my God, fuck that. I need my share of gaming marathons. Oh, and you guys, I guess.”

“Amen to that,” Taehyung says and lifts his head, phone overheating against his ear. “Hang on, let me plug in earphones.” He reaches over towards the nightstand and snatches the white tangle of wires at the ledge, plugging them into the headphone jack. “Marco?”

“Polo.”

Taehyung straightens the earphones out. “This is so much easier.”

“I would do the same, but my headphones are in the living room.”

“Damn, bummer.”

“Anyway what about you? Any hook up rosters? Or are you in the market.”

“Roster? Like a list of fuck buddies? Dude, that sounds so exhausting,” Taehyung grimaces. “I’m kind of just freeballing it right now.”

“Commando?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Taehyung pipes. “Like I don’t want anything serious containing me, but I’m not exactly opposed to the idea.”

“And dating would be your metaphorical underwear.”

“Dating would be my metaphorical underwear.”

“That’s deep,” Jeongguk says, impressed. “Like balls-deep.”  

“I’m a pretty balls-deep type of guy.”

The sound of Jeongguk’s breathy chuckle nearly tickles it’s way down Taehyung’s nape like the shiver it sends down his spine. He enjoys the sound nearly as much as he does in person.

“Maybe later,” Jeongguk suddenly says. “Dating and all, I mean. I’m just not looking for anything serious at the moment.”

“How come?”

“It’s just—impractical to be in a relationship right now and expect it to last, I guess. Relationships are tedious.”

Taehyung nods like he agrees but finds that he doesn’t really mean it, the reoccurring ‘why’ that seems to plague him tonight. He’s glad Jeongguk can’t see the question on his face. “Well it’s a good thing I don’t date skateboarders then.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean!”

“Don’t worry about it,” Taehyung says teasingly. “Why don’t we talk about the girl you were sexting at In-N-Out that one time?”

“What—oh my God, we’re not doing this.”

“Does she have hand game—”

“I hooked up with her once.”

And just like that, the moment is gone, dissipating into their usual offbeat banter like it was never there to begin with. This seems to steer the conversation in the direction Taehyung had intended, and they spend the next hour talking about nothing that feels like everything until Taehyung finally feels sleep prickle along the edges of his scattering mind like white matter. Jeongguk’s voice bleeds out into gentle breathing, and he, too, falls asleep minutes after Taehyung with a tiny smile on his face.

Just before sunrise paints the day orange, Taehyung wakes with his phone wedged behind his shoulder and earphones tangled around his neck. He searches around mindlessly and grabs his phone to check the screen with an elastic yawn, nearly forgetting that he’d called Jeongguk on the phone only a few hours prior and almost passing the fragmented recollection off as a chromatic dream until he clicks into his messages.

 

Jeongguk

Hey sorry, I woke up and the line was dead /;

I think you fell asleep tho which is good

call me back if you wake up again and i’ll try to pick up

Night!

 

Taehyung reads the message twice, once more for good measure, and feels something all too pleasant flutter across his chest and fill the spaces of his ribcage. He stuffs his face into the pillow and refuses to wake up until the afternoon.

 

 

In the eyes of the commonfolk, this is illegal. Trespassing on print, a slap on the wrist from authorities, and a bad name for their reputations. But in the eyes of seven boys at this hour near midnight, this is fun.

“This backyard could fit the White House,” Namjoon says once they’ve jumped the metal fence bordering the house’s back property. It’s located smack-dab in the middle of a construction site for new homes, an incoming neighborhood project that will be littered with million dollar cookie cutter houses. Taehyung wouldn’t mind living here when he’s old and dusty with two children. Or cats. Either way he’ll be rolling with enough money to book a jet via Uber. As Yoongi would joke, “You folded your own laundry, so wear it, peasant.”

“Guys, come look at this,” Hoseok’s voice cuts through the empty surroundings as he breaches into the main opening of the backyard. “This swimming pool is bigger than the skatepark we just came from.”

Taehyung almost trips and falls over a stray PVC pipe scattered across the floor but catches himself against Jimin’s arm. There’s scraps of building material littering the ground, and one bad move could easily lend someone a nasty infection and a trip to the ER. The air is powdery in a way that barely clings to his lung concavity with plaster, drywall, and damp wood filling his airways as they walk deeper into the work site. He kicks an empty Sprite can and watches it fall into the empty swimming pool.

“Damn,” Yoongi whistles. “Can I just rent the pool? I would not mind practicing here everyday.”

“Me neither. This is the perfect bowl to skate,” Jeongguk says, kneeling down to inspect the size. “This end has got to be at least ten feet deep.”

“Dude, this reminds me of the time we went to Staten Island on break and tried draining that tiny private pool at night just so we could skate it,” Yoongi chuckles. “That was the highlight of the trip.”

“Oh, you mean the time you bailed on me then left me stranded in the supply shed?” Jeongguk frowns. “Good times.”

“I had nowhere to hide! What else was I supposed to do?” Yoongi defends. “Shit, it couldn’t have been that bad.”

“I had to hide in the center of five stacked floating tubes and nearly suffocated.”

“Well if I didn’t scram, we would’ve both gotten arrested,” Yoongi says. “So quit being so salty about that. At least I came back for your ungrateful ass.”

Jeongguk grumbles but argues no more.

“Hey, I think they left their flood lights here,” Taehyung stalks over to the opposite side towards a tall pile of bagged cement mix, shoes kicking pieces of roofing and wood splinters with each drag in his step. The light’s cord doesn’t extend too far, no more than two yards, and he drags the length over to the orange, coiled extension wedged off to the side—safety precautions, probably, to ensure that no one tripped—and connects the plugs. The light stands a good foot above his height and forces him to lift onto his tip toes when he reaches to flip the switch on, a beam of white fluorescent lighting up the unfinished backyard in a blueish glow. “Voila, it works. Guess they didn’t switch off the power unit before leaving.”

“Oh, there’s one over here too,” Jimin says from the other side, reaching down to plug the power adapter into the extension cord and switching it on. “You know this calls for some kind of competition right?”

Seokjin rolls his eyes but doesn’t tell them no. Responsibility aside, he doesn’t mind a little trouble.

“Boards versus bikes,” Jeongguk says.

“Our little winter fairies will have to sit out on this one then,” Hoseok says, nodding towards Seokjin and Taehyung.

“I’m fine with watching,” Seokjin shrugs and stares pointedly at Namjoon. “Just in case one of you breaks your ass.”

“Losers buy breakfast tomorrow morning,” Jimin declares confidently. “And that bill includes Taehyung and Seokjin even if they won’t be doing jack shit.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” Taehyung pipes, scaling along the edge of the pool and coming to a stop beside Seokjin.

Yoongi slides the straps of his backpack off his shoulders and drops it on a mildly clear patch of cement with a scoff. “No one’s gonna be awake for breakfast.”

“Then just plain breakfast food whenever we’re craving,” Hoseok says, mimicking Yoongi and tossing his bag to the floor. “Even if you’re in the middle of a hook up at four in the morning—we call, you show.”

“I can fuck with that,” Namjoon nods. “So what’s the proposition?”

There’s a moment’s pause as they scan their course, eyes running along the various surfaces and levels that this setting offers. Hoseok makes a noise at the back of his throat as an idea crosses his mind, bends down to nab a stray can of spray paint and descends the small flight of stairs two steps at a time down into the empty pool. He kneels onto one knee, rattles the can, and draws a streak of yellow on the unpolished floor.

“Off the second floor patio roof, down that ladder, onto the scaffolding tower, and into the pool,” Hoseok straightens up and caps the can. “The first to make it past this line and throw a trick without falling wins. Seokjin and Taehyung will call us out if the difficulty level of the trick is too basic.”

“That’s it?” Jeongguk says smugly, kicks the tail of his board into his hand with an air of confidence and glances at Yoongi over his shoulder. “Guess we’re going first then.”

 

"That’s it" had been a terrible understatement.

No one gets it in one try, not even two to redeem shattered dignity. On the first round, Jeongguk slips trying to skate the curve of the pool, failing to get a stable grasp on the surface before his board flies out from beneath his feet and he slides down the rest of the wall on his padded knees with a sheepish groan. Yoongi and Namjoon, similarly, lose footing on their landings, just barely enough to gain momentum for their tricks but not enough amplitude to actually execute them. From his place beside Seokjin on this threadbare couch, tattered and retro to give The Beatles a run for their money, Taehyung is seemingly caught off guard by the slow pace this outcome inherits.

“Jimin, watch out on the scaffold landing. It’s a lot narrower than it looks.”

Taehyung hoots loudly for Jimin’s turn, watches him easily glide down the ladder, throw a trick, and land into the pool, but the last obstacle seems to stump him, too, because he stumbles off his bike on uncoordinated feet. But no one’s really worried about the eventual execution, just eager and buzzing to finally nail it. They are professionals in their sports for a reason, and judging by the determination that swells magnitudes each time one of them fails, it’s easy to predict that someone will succeed soon.

The seventh round turns up in sweat and refinement, and Seokjin moves from the couch to sit along the edge of the pool, filming the stunts on his phone at a better angle as the anticipation grows tenfold, precision and accuracy cultivated to this impending climax. Taehyung is betting on bikes, but from the looks of this steadily improving pattern, boards are catching up with agile feet, absorbing their mistakes with finely tuned retention and polishing them with each attempt. Taehyung can practically see the ample amounts of progress.

“Hey,” Jeongguk exhales, collapsing on the couch beside Taehyung in a hot heap. Hoseok climbs the stairs of the scaffolding tower to the second floor and gears up for another attempt.

“Sup. You’re getting your ass kicked out there,” Taehyung laughs. “All of you are. How has no one nailed this yet?”

“The curve on this pool is really steep,” Jeongguk says and imitates the angle with his hand, palm tilted at nearly ninety degrees. “It’s almost completely vertical.”

“Even more than the superpipe?”

“Way more than the su— oh, shit,” Jeongguk grimaces, watching Hoseok fall sideways off his bike with embarrassed laughter and, “This is fucking impossible!”

“You guys have been going at this for an hour now,” Taehyung says, dazzled at the dedication. But he’d do the same if he were in the same boat.

“What kind of X Games athletes would we be if we didn’t obsess over tricks we can’t nail?”

“Pretty shitty ones probably,” Taehyung grins. “You’ve gotta be an obsessive perfectionist to some degree if you want to be an X athlete.”

”Gotta have a few loose screws, too.”

“Incomplete!” Jimin calls at Namjoon when he stumbles on his landing, kicking his pedals straight and stamping a foot on the square platform.

“Are we seriously going into round eight,” Yoongi sighs, kneeling down on his skateboard and lifting his snapback to ruffle dented hat hair. “Jimin, you’re up.”

Jeongguk’s hair is a mussed catastrophe, bangs damp with sweat and glossy in this white sheen where light bounces off the angles of his face. Jeongguk turns his head and catches him staring, and Taehyung looks away. Smooth.

“Hey,” Jeongguk starts, patting the tattered arm of the couch curiously. “How many people do you think have fucked on this?”

“Too many to count,” Taehyung says, scrunches his nose up. Rudely unhygienic, and he is not keen on partaking in the raunchy indirectness that sitting here implies. “Too many to care, but I’m vying for at least fifty.”

“Fifty persons or fifty couples?”

“Persons for sure,” Taehyung says after some thought. “Couples excludes the threesomes. There were definitely threesomes. I mean, look at this,” Taehyung motions vaguely at the fabric. “This is a drug rug of bad decision and regret. It even reeks of pot and, I don’t know, whipped cream.”

Jeongguk is silent as he considers this, lets it really sink into his the wires of contemplation.

“We should move over near Seokjin—”

“Yeah, let’s move—”

In the end, Jeongguk is the first to finally land the trick in all his victorious glory, competition drawn out so long that the unfolding of wiry perseverance is strung out to more relief than grandeur. They’re in the middle of bickering over brunch plans, Hoseok’s phone opened to Yelp and reading through reviews, when the sound of a booming voice slices through the dome of their voices, the blades of a shimmering flashlight flickering over dark silhouettes as they abruptly fall into panicked silence.

“Police! Who’s there!” The voice comes from beyond the tall mounds of construction dirt, just behind the metal gates surrounding the perimeter. “This area is off limits—”

Shit, go, go, go!” Seokjin hisses, gesturing frantically in the opposite direction for them to run.

“Hyung, come on!” Jimin whisper-yells, motioning for Seokjin to climb onto the back of his bike.

Yoongi and Namjoon have already made a mad dashed towards the main street on their boards, securing a safe enough distance away from being caught. Taehyung glances around for Hoseok and spots him several feet away near a lone standing piece of drywall, motioning for him to hurry the fuck over and hop on his bike. It’s when Taehyung starts swiftly advancing towards him that a white glare shines across his face as the policeman makes his way through the entrance of the gate, having opened the door with a key. Taehyung curses quietly and sprints away to duck behind a tower of floorboards, the plastic tarp wrapped around the rectangular planks rustling slightly when he presses his back against it, panting. Before he can think to peek back around and gesture for Hoseok to go on without him like the brave soldier he is, Jeongguk appears beside him out of thin air, breathless and crouched low.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Taehyung hisses, glancing through the excess of clear tarp towards the policeman inspecting the pool.

“I left my skateboard at the opposite end of the pool because I was talking to you,” Jeongguk hisses back, straightening up to glance over the floorboards, locating his skateboard near the floodlight. “I couldn’t grab it in time before he raided our asses.”

“Shit, we’re both going by foot?”

“What else are we gonna do—”

“Fuck, he’s coming!” Taehyung startles and grabs Jeongguk’s wrist to maneuver them through the site, careful not to trip over any stray equipment or materials obstructing the path. Another flicker of light from the opposite direction and Taehyung gets a glimpse of a second officer trudging to meet the first one, both heading their way. Fucking hell. He glances around in a frenzy of thoughts, pacing forward quickly with Jeongguk in tow and thinks, there . Without hesitating, he drops to his knees and crawls into the triangular nook beside the construction dumpster that’s pressed against the side of the unfinished house, two large wooden planks leaning against the massive metal bin to create what is soon to be their hideaway. He moves briskly, orients himself so that his back presses firmly against the wall and pulls in close to make as much room as he can.

“What the hell are you doing, get in here!” he whispers urgently at Jeongguk, who’s still standing in the open staring at him like he’s crazy but mere seconds away from getting caught.

“There’s no fucking room, I’m not gonna fit!” The footsteps are approaching faster, louder, and Jeongguk glances off to the side where the sounds are coming.

Fuck, they don’t have time for this. Taehyung reaches forward and snags the collar of Jeongguk’s shirt to yank him in. “Yes you fucking will—

Jeongguk stumbles into the tight space, impossibly cramped for two grown boys, and ends up kneeling with one knee between Taehyung’s legs. He braces his upper body against the wooden wall with an arm caged over Taehyung’s head, the other near his ear to steady himself upright, careful as to not crush the smaller frame under his weight. With Jeongguk conveniently crouched over him like this and nose nudging the crown of his hair, Taehyung gets a facefull of his cologne, musked from sweat and only getting muggier from the limited air supply. A scattering of lights cascades a few feet in front of them, and Taehyung holds his breath. A few more minutes of circling, and the footsteps grow distant, but not enough to call it safe.

Taehyung gulps down moist oxygen and inhales shakily. Jeongguk, completely still above him, cages him in with wide shoulders like a fucking wall, enough for this to be skirting along claustrophobia, but Taehyung knows he’s trying his best not to shift wrongly and give away their hiding spot. One little slip, and they’re done for. But a little movement forward, and Taehyung can easily nuzzle his nose into the crook of Jeongguk’s neck. He feels a droplet of moisture hit his collarbone and glances up at the sweat gliding down Jeongguk’s temple.

“Why the fuck do you sweat so much?” Taehyung whispers.

“I sweat easily, fuck off,” Jeongguk whispers back.

Another gap of silence. The sound of footsteps and hushed speaking lingers in the distance, and a flash of light whirs past the fence. Fuck it’s getting hot, and Taehyung is having a hard time breathing with Jeongguk’s build blocking the entrance and all oxygen from getting to him. Taehyung exhales and can feel Jeongguk’s entire body shiver as his breath hits the sharp line of a sticky collarbone. He can’t help it—it’s hard to direct his breath in such a tight space with someone trapping him against a wall, even harder that he can’t deny how turned on he is by it.

And fuck is it such terrible timing, so absurdly unorthodox and every bit unsuitable to act upon pent up urges now, because when the footsteps of the first officer come to a stop right outside their little hideout, Taehyung swallows thickly and tilts his head up. He hesitates, of course he hesitates, wonders what the hell he’s even doing and why he’s doing. But he suppresses the obscurity to the back of his muggy mind enough to lean in and press a feather-soft kiss to the expanse of Jeongguk’s neck. That seems to break something restrained because when he pulls back to look up, Jeongguk glances down with hooded eyes, a peculiar glaze in those round hues. Dark, like want, or maybe just unmitigated surprise. His body tenses, and Taehyung can feel every bit of it. The way their eyes lock makes him forget about the wood chips digging into his ass, and all Taehyung can focus on is the way another droplet of sweat drips onto his collarbone and glides down his chest.

Jeongguk’s hot breath tickles all across his cheekbones, rustles in his eyelashes like humidity, and Taehyung reaches up, quietly, to brush his fingertips along the strong jawline. The officer’s legs are in view now, shuffling about in the heavy darkness and briefing the situation to his partner, and here Taehyung is, leaning up, so slowly, to press their lips together with every desire to taste risk at the back of his tongue. The officers shuffle away from the dumpster, and Jeongguk presses down closer to mold like liquid into the kiss. He should pull away, shouldn’t close his eyes, should keep his lips shut when Jeongguk’s tongue slips past, but he doesn’t. He drowns, deeper, deeper, until his mind is ocean water and Jeongguk his wave.

Taehyung doesn’t know how long they stay like this, with Jeongguk lazily mouthing at his lips and Taehyung reveling in the sticky heat where they meet. Jeongguk’s hand finds it’s way along Taehyung’s chin to tilt his head upwards, angling him closer to meet him halfway. Breathing is damp and Jeongguk’s mouth even damper, and Taehyung pulls back to nibble at the plush bottom lip to fill his lungs before pressing back in to swallow down an intoxicating exhale. He's got his tongue pressed against Jeongguk’s like silk and palm against his firm chest when his front pocket vibrates incessantly and shatters the moment. The kiss breaks wetly, abruptly, and Taehyung moves to snatch his phone out of his pocket. Jeongguk turns his head away, the side of his face brushing against Taehyung’s temple.

“Hello?” he answers, glancing past Jeongguk’s shoulder towards the opening, voice raspy and breathless.

“Where the fuck are you and Jeongguk? Cops should be long gone.” Jimin’s voice rings through the quiet space, and suddenly they're way too close for comfort. Jeongguk stiffly backs out of the small opening and reaches out a hand to help Taehyung on his feet.

“Why the hell would you call my phone?” Taehyung frowns, runs his eyes over Jeongguk’s kiss-swollen lips. The shiver that runs through him is chill against this night air. “What if the police were still here.”

“Well I thought you both got out of there by now. You’re still there?” Jimin asks, shocked. “Jeon’s with you right?

“Yeah, he is. We had to hide in a fucking hole because he left his board near the pool and couldn’t leave fast enough,” Taehyung says. “Two cops were on our tail.”

“Shit, sorry we all bailed on you,” Jimin says apologetically. “I thought you got a ride with Hoseok, but he said you ran off.”

“No, it’s fine. Shit happens,” Taehyung says, dusting off his pants.

There’s sweat clinging to Jeongguk’s damp bangs and gliding off his jaw, and the hand he swipes against his temple does nothing but smear the moisture. Taehyung reaches into his pocket to fetch sheets of Taco Bell napkins, courtesy of yesterday’s lunch, and dabs them along Jeongguk’s forehead, swatting the hand away that he reaches up to take over. Jeongguk mouths thanks.

“We’re okay now. Gonna go fetch his board, and then we’ll meet back up with you guys,” Taehyung says. “Where are you?”

“We’re waiting at the McDonald’s down the street,” Jimin replies. “Be careful, though. The cops turned off all the lights. They might still be lurking around.”

“Be there soon,” Taehyung says, smoothing the napkin slowly down the side of Jeongguk’s face and along the curve of his neck to collect salty moisture. Jeongguk holds his gaze the entire way, sweat easily soaking the napkin a dark, dark brown, and Taehyung feels his tongue tingle. “We’ll make it quick.”

“Okay, see you guys soon,” Jimin’s voice rings.

“See you,” Taehyung says, drops his phone and ends the call. Jeongguk reaches up to wrap fingers around Taehyung’s wrist and pulls his hand away.

“I’m gonna go grab my board real quick,” Jeongguk exhales and lets go. “Meet you at the end of the block?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says and watches Jeongguk lick his lips before retreating backwards. “Jimin says to be careful. Cops might still be around.”

“Alright,” Jeongguk nods. “Wait for me.”

“I will,” Taehyung says and wads the napkin into a tight ball.

Jeongguk extends his fist. “Partners in crime?”

Taehyung can’t help the grin that etches its way onto his silhouetted face when he nods and bumps their knuckles together. “Partners in crime.”

In their separation, there is nothing but an underlying curiosity that stains what should have been a simple kiss.

 

△▼

 

The term “love is in the air” is really just a load of bullshit.

The only thing in the air that Jeongguk can discern are the tangled fragments of matter that don’t make any more sense the harder he stares at Taehyung in the coral light of this gas station when he thinks he isn’t looking, focused intently on choosing flavors of Hostess treats. He looks so ready to have his body invaded with junk and no-good calories that taste like inevitable regret, and Jeongguk doesn’t understand. All just a load of bullshit. Really.

“You’re thinking way too into this,” Jeongguk says dryly.

“Strawberry or coconut Snoballs?” Taehyung ignores, crouched in front of the shelf. He doesn’t give Jeongguk time to answer before he snatches strawberry. “Nevermind.”

It’s safe to say that something had reawakened within Jeongguk that he’d buried deep within his sternum, something that he might have been unknowingly suppressing all this time, the same something that he avoids like caution tape when he does not understand. It’s what he does understand and wishes he hadn’t that leaves a gaping hole the size of his fist in that same spot he used to hide in. With the dots connected and staring him right in his face when he’d least expected, he is at a loss on how to fill the absence.

It is the reason that he goes to bed wondering what Taehyung looks like when he falls asleep at night, the way he perpetually yearns for more out of what used to be a budding friendship and is now dosed with blurry implications. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot keep it out of sight or out of mind. But he’s been trained all his life to move forward, run faster, do better, and now that he’s hit a wall, he doesn’t know how to slow down—driven without the breaks, pushing till he collapses, so unequivocally dangerous that he’s scared to teeter off balance.

All his injuries and errors in skateboarding cannot amount to how hard he’s fallen this time.

At the slurpee station now, Jeongguk is perched on the counter beside the fountain cross-legged, watching Taehyung funnel cherry flavored slush into the paper cup. They’ve been here for nearly ten minutes because Taehyung is an admitted slurpee addict who won’t stop drinking from his cup only to refill it with more. Drink, refill, repeat. Stealing, if they really look into it, but no one’s really keeping track.

“You’re gonna get a motherfucker of a stomach ache,” Jeongguk says and lifts his cup. “Cheers to Pepto Bismol.”

“I probably will,” Taehyung hums, pressing for another flavor that comes out electric neon blue before clicking their paper cups together. “Cheers.”

“What did Seokjin say we needed to grab again?” Jeongguk asks, adjusting his Stussy beanie. His hair is lighter now, purple dye having washed out to a dirty blonde.

“Um.” Taehyungs sets his cup on the fountain and opens their group chat. “Twelve pack of beer, two liters of Coke, snacks, and a bar of soap. Good thing I brought my ID.”

“Isn’t it just the seven of us?” Jeongguk says, scooping white slush onto the tiny shovel of his straw. “Why does it sound like they plan on getting wasted tonight.”

“Didn’t Namjoon want to watch Good Burger tonight too?”

“What—what the fuck are they up to?”

“I don’t know, but we’re gonna be in on it,” Taehyung laughs, reaching across Jeongguk’s hip to grab a lid. Jeongguk ignores the way his body tingles at the slightest contact. “Okay, last round.”

“That’s you tenth last round,” Jeongguk says, swinging one leg off the counter and over the other.

“No, really, this is my final round. Promise,” Taehyung says, capping the lid onto the cup and filling it with blue raspberry. He sets the drink down on the counter to tear the plastic off his straw and catches glimpse of Jeongguk’s shoe. “So how much does it take for you to decide you need a new pair of shoes?”

Jeongguk follows Taehyung’s line of sight to his Vans, right where the thread separates into a stringy quarter-sized hole at the side of his toe. He wriggles his foot. “Until I can’t skate in them anymore.”

“You’re worse than Namjoon,” Taehyung says, prodding at Jeongguk’s foot. “Isn’t it uncomfortable? How do you even deal when it rains.”

“Nah, you get used to it,” Jeongguk says and quirks a brow. “Also it doesn’t ever rain in LA. You should know that better than I do. We’re in a drought as we speak.”

“You’re right, I should,” Taehyung says, sheepish. “I’ve got duct tape in the car if you need.”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk says. “But no, you’re right. I’ve been meaning to get a new pair soon. You can help me choose.”

Taehyung tugs at a loose thread, shoves his straw into his slurpee. “Aw, rad. Except I don’t know if you want to trust my judgement.”

“Why not? I have before. And you can’t go that wrong with skate shoes,” Jeongguk says, tilting his cup and throwing back sugary syrup. “They’re just gonna be Vans.”

“Gold Vans.”

“Not gold Vans,” Jeongguk pauses. “Maybe you shouldn’t help me choose.”

“Too late, you can’t take retract your offer,” Taehyung shrugs, flicking the end of his red straw against the tip of Jeongguk’s nose before retreating backwards and opening one of the fridge doors to grab the liters of Coke. “Can’t go too wrong with skate shoes, right? You said it yourself, Flashy Becky.”

“Good thing I go through shoes like gum then.” Jeongguk frowns and hops off the counter to fetch the beer pack. He pulls on his backpack and adjusts the skateboard hanging at his side, wheels hooked over the backpack strap. They’d walked the short distance to the gas station, Jeongguk too lazy to run back inside and fetch his keys after finding out that someone had, yet again, parked behind Taehyung in the driveway, Namjoon this time. Jeongguk stalks up to the counter, pack of beer hooked over two fingers, and lifts the cans onto the counter with several clanks.

“How much did Yoongi give us to spend?” Taehyung asks from the second aisle.

Jeongguk lifts the card in the air and leans back against the counter. “He gave us his card.”

“He trusts us that much?”

“I don’t think he trusts us,” Jeongguk corrects. “He just doesn’t give a shit.”

Taehyung disappears from his line of sight, ducking down behind a shelf. “So you’re telling me he wouldn’t mind if I bought this keychain vibrator?”

“They sell those here?” Jeongguk asks, feels a tiny bit sorry for the man at the register who has to witness this unfiltered exchange.

“Indeed they do.”

“Well, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him is what I’m saying.”

“Dude, this isn’t even battery operated,” Taehyung says from somewhere. “There’s a fucking charger. How bougie.”

“Where’d you even find that?”

“Next to some Julio Iglesias CD’s,” Taehyung stands up with the album in hand and flips it over in his palm to scan the tracklist. “They even sell the Air Bud movies here.”

“Sounds like a really lonely Valentine’s Day,” Jeongguk says.

“That’s exactly what this is. Marketing strategy, I guess,” Taehyung drop the CD back on the shelf, tosses him the Hostess Snoball and a bag of Cheetos over the aisles. “I’m highkey disturbed that there’s only two of those vibrators left though. Don’t wanna know.”

“Convenience,” Jeongguk catches the snacks and sets them on the counter. “You judging?”

“Kind of, yeah? Something about buying sex toys at a gas station sounds really sketch,” Taehyung grimaces, tosses over two bags of pork rinds, Skittles, and Irish Spring. “Like sticking a toy gun up your ass or something. Hella plastic. ‘One out of ten would not recommend’ type of deal.”

“Maybe people like that.”

“Do you? Maybe you can add it to your keychain collection,” Taehyung pipes. “Cute accessory.”

“I like toy guns, just nowhere near my ass,” Jeongguk stacks the items neatly. “Or my keys. That’s gotta be mad unsanitary.”

“I reckon,” Taehyung says and walks around the aisle to the counter, setting the liters of Coke down. He runs to grab his Slurpee cup. “I don’t trust anyone with an ass that tastes like car keys and Nerf.”

“That makes two of us,” Jeongguk says, handing over Yoongi’s credit card for payment. Taehyung pulls out his ID for the beer.

“Then again, with something like that, you can only find out until you’ve gone too far,” Taehyung says grimly and slips his ID back into his wallet.

“TNB,” Jeongguk takes the bags and his slurpee. “Trust No Bitch.”

“Well,” Taehyung shrugs and smiles something secret. “I trust you, bitch.”

 

Here in Seokjin’s driveway on the hood of Jeongguk’s car, Taehyung’s mouth is a sloppy rendition of July fourth, pigmented syrup bleeding on the skin of his tongue into something purple. Pork rinds are not the best combination with slurpee, but it isn't bad, either, and the hard crunch of crispy texture is a constant in this night thrill.

“You ever think about what we'd be doing if we weren't in X?” Taehyung asks during a comfortable lull in conversation.

Against the warm air, cold slush makes their skin chilled to a soothing temperature and their tongues numb. Somewhere inside are four boys slurping noodles while sprawled around the living room with Good Burger playing in the background, a pot of kimchi ramen on the coffee table. Taehyung had insisted on finishing their slurpees before heading in—something about Seokjin scolding them for having a fuck ton of sweets before eating any real kind of substance, and Jeongguk could not say no.

“College,” Jeongguk replies, downing the rest of his slurpee, mostly melted sugar that crawls down his throat. His tongue feels heavy, and maybe his body temperature has dropped a few degrees, but Taehyung is a constant warmth at his side. “I’d be at NYU studying something shitty, and you’d be at UCLA doing the same. Studying something, probably, but really just partying.”

“It sounds fun, not gonna lie,” Taehyung says, finishing off his drink, too. He grabs a handful of pork rinds and offers half to Jeongguk. “Being a college student and doing college things. Different, you know? Than being professional athletes.”

“You could still go to school, though,” Jeongguk says. “If you really wanted to. There’s tons of athletes still doing schooling.”

“I know, but. I don’t think I really want to is the thing,” Taehyung says. “Not right now, at least.”

“Then when?”

“When I’m ready to commit to almost four years of education knowing I don’t need it?” Taehyung laughs. “I don’t know. It’s not the schooling that gets me, just the experience.”

Jeongguk hums. “Yeah, I get you.”

“How so?”

“I have that same kind of longing when I think about becoming a musician.”

“Music, huh? Gonna sing me something?” Taehyung smiles. “Preferably not DJ Mustard.”

“Sure,” Jeongguk grins back. “Not acappella though. You’ll have to stop by me and Yoongi’s place sometime so I can cover something properly with my guitar.”

“You play guitar.”

Jeongguk rubs his palms together to clean off the crumbs. “Guitar and piano. I grew up loving music just as much as I loved skating.”

“You’re just full of talents, aren’t you?” Taehyung says, leaning forward with an elbow on his knee and looking at Jeongguk with fascination, like he can’t quite believe what he sees.

Jeongguk shrugs. “Just full of ambitions.”

There’s that small smile on Taehyung’s face, subtle but there. It feels heavier than what Taehyung lets off, and Jeongguk feels the weight at the back of his head like sugar rush. Perhaps he just enjoys looking at Taehyung. Perhaps it is as simple as that.

“You’re really something special, Jeon Jeongguk.”

“I’m not the only one,” Jeongguk says, really says because he means it.

Taehyung smiles at him, slightly caught up, but shakes his head as if to break from some kind of daze he’d fallen into and averts his gaze to the sky. His eyes glaze over with reflections of the moon, and Jeongguk takes this chance to run his own eyes along the lines of Taehyung’s face, the little curve of his lips and the arch of his nose. He stares, stares some more, hopes that somehow he’ll be able to deal with the ambiguity that sits between them like murky water. Taehyung turns to look at him, and Jeongguk glances away like he’s been caught.

“Snoball?” He reaches between them and clears his throat.

“I’m gonna puke if I have any more sweets,” Taehyung huffs, watching Jeongguk break open the plastic wrapper. “Well, maybe one. Can we share it?”

“Fuck, definitely. I wasn’t going to eat an entire Snoball by myself, not after all the shit we just ate,” Jeongguk says, crumpling the plastic and stuffing it in the bag. “They’re yours anyway.”

“We can give the second one to Jimin,” Taehyung suggests as Jeongguk rips the marshmallow treat down the center with elastic consistency, handing him one of the halves. “Or Seokjin, if we need something to save our asses when he finds out we ate junk before his food.”

“Good point,” Jeongguk says, mouth sticky from artificial flavoring and corn starch. Cream filling sticks to the roof of his mouth, chocolate down his throat, and he’s wondering why Taehyung ever thought to buy these because they taste like Play-Doh.

“Hey, Jeongguk?” Taehyung says when he’s contemplating texture. “Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

Taehyung pauses, and then, “If you could do anything right now, without getting into trouble, without consequences, without worries—go to college, play a gig at some bar maybe. Anything. What would you do?”

The words flow easy between them, always with an underlying depth that Jeongguk cannot discern. Taehyung doesn’t look at him, stares straight up and considers the question for himself in the cloudless atmosphere and flickering airplane lights. His lips glisten with dissolved sugar crystals, something only close proximity can distinguish, and Jeongguk remembers all too well how soft they really are, not nearly as sweet as Hostess, but just as plush biting into. For the second time that night, Taehyung turns to meet his gaze. This time, there is intention glinting in his eyes. This time, Jeongguk doesn’t look away. No point, really, when he’s already been caught.

“This,” Jeongguk answers and inches forward with his mind in that cloudless ambience.

The kiss, in essence, is sweet. Just like the one at the construction site, only with sugar replacing salt particles but still mixed in with the humidity that lingers in California’s air. It’s gentle but no less charged, desperation in the breaths they inhale through their noses to drag out this sanctuary as long as they can. Taehyung’s chin is cocked forward slightly to press in closer, hand coming up to grasp Jeongguk’s neck, thumb just barely grazing along his jawline. His palm is warm in that electrifying way, everything is electrifying, and Jeongguk reaches up to cover Taehyung’s hand with his own.

It’s barely there, but the noise that Taehyung makes at the back of his throat urges him on, pulling back slightly to slant their lips back together at an angle that feels congruent. Taehyung kisses him deeper until Jeongguk has to lean back a little to accommodate the simmering heat of his lips, hand tugging at Taehyung’s hip to keep himself upright.

At this hour, Seokjin’s neighborhood is a quiet haven underneath the brilliant moonlight, and Taehyung’s heartbeat is the hammering against the kick drum of his chest. Or maybe that’s his own heart, pounding against his breast bone like a warning to stop, stop now and keep it safe, but Jeongguk has already stopped listening.

Somewhere inside, the sound of glass shattering disturbs their silence, and Taehyung pulls back startled and breathless with just as much confliction as Jeongguk.

“We should probably go inside,” he rasps, hand coming up to wipe his mouth against the back of his hand. “They’re waiting for the beer.”

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s go,” Jeongguk says and slides off the hood, snatching the twenty-four pack along the way. Taehyung is close behind with the Coke and another bag.

“Hey, Jeongguk,” he says when they’re ascending the stairs, pausing and turning to face him with porch light angling his cheekbones.

“Yeah?”

When Jeongguk glances up, the look on Taehyung’s face is strangely expectant. He blinks, and it’s gone.

Taehyung sticks his tongue out to mask the brief slip in his facade. “Is my mouth purple?”

“Very,” Jeongguk laughs and climbs the rest of the steps beside Taehyung, shoulders brushing where they pause in front of the door. “Let’s go get our asses whooped together.”

 

 

The impression of beaches in California is their aptitude to convince visitors that everyone is having a good fucking time. The only thing is that he is not.

Taehyung is currently a grumpy first world problem, a case of butterfingers turning him bitter after having dropped his phone on the way over and shattering his screen. He knows it’s his fault for not grasping it tighter while riding on the back of Jimin’s bike over to Venice beach, and now he’s paying the consequences in full for his own incompetence.

“It’s okay, Tae,” Hoseok reassures from across the table. Simzy’s is exhaustingly crowded at this hour, beach bums looking for burgers and beers to satiate their pre-hunger before heading to the beach. They are no exception. “We’ll stop by Verizon later to see if they’ll replace your phone.”

“I know, it just sucks is all,” Taehyung huffs, irritated at the possibility that this could have been easily avoided. The solution: pockets. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll stop moping.”

“Didn’t you just get a new phone too?” Jimin does not helpfully supply.

“That’s why I’m bummed,” Taehyung pouts and swipes his thumb over the fragmented glass. “Sorry baby.”

“Hey, it could be worse,” Hoseok says, shielding his eyes from the blaring sun. It had been Jimin’s idea to sit outside, and Taehyung is sure he’ll walk away from here at least five shades darker. “Have you seen Jeongguk’s screen? Looks like someone shot it with a gun. Then ran it over with a tank.”

“It’s pretty bad,” Jimin agrees, sitting back when their waiter comes by to drop off their plates before walking away. “What do you think about our waiter?”

“Seven out of ten,” Hoseok says easily, sprinkling salt over his fries.

“Five out of ten,” Taehyung offers. “Not my type.”

“Jeongguk is your type,” Jimin deadpans, lifting a brow and squirting ketchup on his plate.

“You. Stop talking, more eating,” Taehyung says, stuffing a fry into Jimin’s mouth to shut him up.

“But you can’t deny,” Jimin shrugs. “I could slice a piece of cake out of the sexual tension between you two.”

“It’s not like that!” Taehyung says, baffled. “We just enjoy each other’s company.”

“That could mean anything though,” Hoseok says, sprinkling salt and pepper over his fries. “Just saying, you could enjoy someone’s company and still be sucking each other’s dicks.”

“Jesus,” Taehyung says exasperatedly, pulling the toothpick out of his burger. “I told you, it’s not like that.”

Hoseok smears his burger in a goop of ketchup. “Then what’s it like?”

“It’s nothing, seriously.”

“But you want it to be something, don’t you?”

“I don’t know, hyung,” Taehyung snatches a wad of napkins. “Really, we’re just friends. I don’t want to complicate it.”

“I don’t even know if you can call it ‘just friends’. Jeongguk doesn’t look at us like he looks at you,” Jimin says. “He looks at us like he wants to eat us.”

“Yo, talk to us,” Hoseok insists, and Taehyung caves.

“Okay, here,” Taehyung claps his hands together over the table. “Say, figuratively, that person A has mentioned before that he doesn’t do relationships, made it very clear that he doesn’t do dating. Emotionally unavailable as a fucking rock. But person B doesn’t know what to do because person A does things that says otherwise.”

“Is person A George Clooney?” Jimin scoffs, and Taehyung frowns. “Kidding. Have person A and B ever hooked up?”

“Once?” Taehyung answers hesitantly. Jimin and Hoseok look at him agape—maybe he should have mentioned this sooner. “But it was a long time ago on a very, very drunken night in Aspen!”

“Holy shit, Tae, really? And you never told us?” Jimin frowns. “I knew there was something going on between you two. Or I mean, between A and B.” Taehyung’s glare is entirely unamused. “Whatever, sorry. Fuck.”

“My thoughts? Person B needs to be careful that this isn’t a one-sided thing,” Hoseok says with slight warning in his tone. “Person A sounds really emotionally unstable? Hence why he’s the type that does hook ups because he doesn’t want to settle. He did say after all that he doesn’t do relationships or anything serious and probably meant it. But I don’t know.”

Taehyung grows quiet, lets the words run laps through his thought process on heavy, lethargic feet. For all he knows, this could be good natured fun, no hard feelings involved and only physical urges, spur of the moments, spontaneity in the heated rush of things. He likes Jeongguk, sure, just not enough for it to hurt. But what Jimin and Hoseok don’t know is that he’s already in too deep.

“Just be careful, okay?” Hoseok concludes, reaching forward to ruffle his hair.

“You know we’re always looking out for you,” Jimin reassures. He wraps an affectionate arm around his shoulders and gives it a tug. “I’m always looking out for number one.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung smiles gratefully and hugs Jimin around the middle before separating.

Jimin veers the conversation on different path and nods back towards the waiter. “Since when did you guys have such high standards?”

“Since never? I’m just not into bearded men,” Hoseok says with an animated cringe. “He also looks like he wipes his ass with kale and snorts protein.”

“He looks married as fuck,” Jimin drawls languidly, words lilting at the end after belatedly noticing the ring.

“Aren’t you thirsting after Yoongi anyway?” Taehyung muses. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’re barely home when you aren’t busy with endorsement schedules.”

A dust of red colors Jimin’s cheeks. “So what if I am?”

“Nothing of it. Yoongi’s cool,” Taehyung says nonchalantly and shrugs. “Bitched someone out for me who cut in line the other day at Starbucks. Respect.”

“Seriously? Who?”

Taehyung waves his hand in the air. “Some eight year old. But that doesn’t matter.”

Jimin chokes a little on his water. “That’s a child—

But commotion from the sidewalk cuts Jimin off with the sound of wheels scraping along concrete and startled gasps as someone bulldozes through a group of women passing by.

“Oops, sorry. Excuse me,” they hear amongst the crowd. Taehyung could recognize that voice from across the world or in a sea of thousands anywhere. “Sorry about your, um, thing. Have a nice day.”

It’s a blur of white and red as Jeongguk whirs by on his skateboard, right past their table without even noticing. Evidently, he’s in some kind of a hurry that he doesn’t bother to look around, and when Taehyung checks the time on his shattered phone, he figures the rush is because he is, in fact, late and breaching on half an hour overdue. They’d given him so much shit the last time he showed up late to lunch at Fritto Misto that it seems to have scarred him ever since, war flashbacks imprinting every instance of poor promptness. Not that anyone actually cared, to his paranoid dismay.

The way his hair sticks up at the back tells Taehyung he probably just rolled out of bed before heading over. So generically standard and perspicuous of him, but at least he shows up every time.

Hoseok grins hard and says, “Looks like person A is here.”

Hyung.”

 

Post-beach swimming somehow makes his muscles feel like jelly. With ocean water drying quick on his skin in this direct sunlight, he is of an obnoxiously soft consistency. Taehyung sloshes up to shore and flops flat on his stomach over Jimin’s red towel, closes his eyes and lets the sun soothe his back. He’s got that proverbial fatigue dragging his eyelids down like lead, and it isn’t long until he slips into a light cat nap with the side of his face nestled against the soft texture of the towel.

Earlier after finishing their meal at Simzy’s with four takeout burgers in hand, Taehyung had ridden on the back of Jimin’s bike down to the beachfront to meet up with the others. Namjoon and Seokjin were already waist deep in the water when they made their way to the shoreline, squawking idiotically with flailing arms as cold waves crashed mercilessly against their backs. On the other hand, there was Yoongi and Jeongguk, who were busy dousing themselves in SPF forty-five sunscreen, skin milky from lotion residue and glistening from chemicals.

“You coming or what?” Taehyung had grinned, pulling his shirt overhead and tossing it beside Jeongguk on the sand. He’d felt eyes burn at the dip of his back, a shiver tickle at his nape, but when he turned to look over his shoulder, Jeongguk was busy squeezing a dollop of lotion into his palm.

“Didn’t you just eat?” Jeongguk asked, nodding towards the brown takeout bags lined neatly beside a stack of towels and clean clothes.

“Yeah, so?”

“Dude, you’re gonna get major stomach cramps.”

“Then don’t tell my mom I jumped in without waiting thirty minutes!”

“You fucking renegade.” But Taehyung was already jogging away towards the water, and Jeongguk had followed.

But it’s easy to lose time napping on a beach, the luxury of such a pass time. The sun feels hotter on his back as it rises high overhead, beginnings of a sunburn smearing his shoulders and gradually spreading its way down as he dozes to the chime of children’s laughter and crashing waves in the breeze—probably midday, probably more crowded. When Taehyung squints his eyes open next, it’s to water droplets trickling down his back as Jeongguk hovers his salty, wet hand over Taehyung’s shoulder blade, watching the drops glide down tan skin.

“Sleepy?” Jeongguk says. He’s laying on his side, head propped up in one hand and sand stuck to his wet neck, forearm, and along the hills of his ribcage. Taehyung resists the urge to dust it off the damp skin and nods his response instead. Jeongguk shakes more water onto his back. “Should’ve put sunscreen on. Your shoulders are burned.”

“Can’t feel it yet,” Taehyung mumbles, focuses on the cool moisture sliding down his spine and dipping in his lower back. The way Jeongguk’s eyes follow each droplet makes his cheeks timidly warm, and Taehyung, under the weight of his gaze, self-consciously shrugs his shoulder and feels the tightness of the burn hugging his upper back. Fuck, he definitely should’ve put on sunscreen. “Ouch.”

“Told you,” Jeongguk says, flattening his palm against his wet chest then reaching out to smear the moisture along Taehyung’s irritated skin to soothe the sting. His palms are rough, calloused around the edges with use, but the touch is carefully gentle and only ever towards Taehyung. Jeongguk shakes his head. “You’re gonna learn today.”

“Whatever, fuck off,” Taehyung groans into the towel, watches the strands of Jeongguk’s partially blonde hair fall against his forehead with the tiniest smile on his lips. “What’s done is done.”

Taehyung feels fingertips lightly glide down each knob of his spine, down to his tailbone and back up, raising goosebumps in their wake. Before he has time to fully bask in the sweet feeling, the touch is gone as Jeongguk snatches a spare towel to wipe his hair dry, lays flat on his back, and turns to look into Taehyung’s sleepy face.

“Fine, your skin,” Jeongguk shrugs, feigning nonchalance and pinning an arm behind his head with closed eyes. The little scar on his cheek stands clear against his skin with the sun glistening down on him. It’s vague, but Taehyung barely remembers Jeongguk telling him the story behind the scar, the slack in their discussion about injuries too hazy now from all the wine that night. In the empty Safeway parking lot, a shared bottle between seven others had been emptied, everyone too tipsy to care about backwash. All he really remembers is Seokjin doing donuts around the street light, Jimin hanging half out the window, and Jeongguk skateboarding in their tracks with the wine bottle dangling by the neck in his hand.

“See something you like?” Jeongguk says, peeking open an eye before rolling his head sideways to stare back properly. Front on, eyes squinted, and eyebrows furrowed from harsh light.

“No,” Taehyung says and stares on.

It is here in this sandy paradise that Taehyung is plagued with bright flashbacks of their sugary slurpee kiss. His eyes drop to Jeongguk’s mouth before he even realizes that he’s doing it, how the act alone fuels the urge to lean in and kiss him silly, burns lustrous where it sits just below his chest and in his fingertips. Jeongguk’s face is soft in a way that Taehyung has never seen, smooth and melting lines right off his face like putty. It’s when he blinks that Taehyung coughs and tears his eyes away before the moment becomes A Moment.

“Seriously, put some sunscreen on,” Jeongguk says to ease the tension that simmers low between them now, tosses him the tube of lotion as distraction. It lands in the sand beside Taehyung’s arm and creates a crater where the cap drops in the tiny grains. “Don’t be a lazy ass.”

“I am a lazy ass.”

“You’re really not going to put any on?”

“I’ll jump in the water in a bit.”

Jeongguk pushes himself up into a seated position. “In a bit, huh.”

But before Taehyung can crawl back into his briny cat nap, Jeongguk is pushing him onto his back and slipping toned arms under his weight to lift him effortlessly in the air. He jostles Taehyung to get a better grip around his shoulders and under his knees.

“What—”

And if it weren’t for the added bonus of Jeongguk’s careful and controlled movements, Taehyung would have whiplash from the abrupt suddenness of it all, being carried bridal style and heading straight for the water like fucking Baywatch on steroids. Taehyung wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s neck to keep himself from slipping, yet a part of him knows that Jeongguk would never let him fall.

“Let me down, you beast!” he shouts when they’re already splashing knee-deep into the water.

But Jeongguk is a piece of shit, smiles like he’d planned this all along, and throws him.

It’s only after Taehyung has battled an oncoming wave that he leaps onto Jeongguk’s back from behind and pulls him underwater, too. He never quite forgets the look in Jeongguk’s eyes from earlier, clear as the sun beating down against them.

 

 

Taehyung is unpredictable, and Jeongguk maybe likes that.

But befriending someone so freeform entails a kind of spontaneity that consistency cannot foresee, and Jeongguk knows this like Yoongi knows his bathbombs. He knows that Taehyung doesn’t always wake him up in the dead of the night with his phone calls but does make up for it with horrendous slews of song recommendations whenever Jeongguk is at lunch with Yoongi. It is commonplace in a day’s time, the way he has grown accustomed to the expectancy like force of habit, and now is one of those simpler times where Taehyung is bleeding into the delicate harbor of his thoughts. Everything reminds him of Taehyung and nothing is safe.

Jeongguk just really needs to get his shit together.

In his haste to shuck on pants after a long, muscle-thawing shower, his phone chimes on the wrinkles of his sheets with an incoming message from Taehyung flashing bright across the screen. It fades black, and Jeongguk wipes moisture from his brow with the back of his arm before grabbing it. Speak of the fucking Devil.

 

Taehyung

Come over and watch porn with me

 

Jeongguk snorts and types his reply. Things like this don’t faze him anymore.

 

Jeongguk

I hope that’s code for Lion King… LOL

But sure, right now?

I was gonna do dinner with Yoongs but I think he’s gotta meet with his coach

 

Taehyung’s reply is quick and pings when Jeongguk is halfway inside a shirt, neckline nearly tugging one of his ear plug tunnels out. He reaches down to buckle his belt and rummages through the drawers for a pair of clean socks.

 

Taehyung

I’m stealing you then

Uhh right now or whenever

I’m too lazy to go out and too bored to sit here alone D;

 

In that time, Jeongguk had grabbed his hoodie from the end of the couch in the living room and his keys from the kitchen counter, snagging the last Clif Bar in the pantry on his way out the door.

 

Jeongguk

Steal away, partner

I gotta run to the store for a few things first

See you in thirty

 

Taehyung hadn’t been kidding about being “too lazy”, here twenty minutes in with bedridden hair like he’d never left the bed once today, and Jeongguk wouldn’t doubt it. Chilling on the floor in front of Taehyung’s bed with anime streaming on tv from his laptop, Jeongguk accompanies him in the standstill of sloth—hanging out with someone doesn’t make you not lazy, just lazy together. Not that he ever has any resistance to Taehyung’s offers either. His insides are soft, his resolve softer, and in this nightly hangout, he is on the brink of whipped damnation, tells himself to man the fuck up and say no every now and then. Grow some righteous balls and not be such an easy loser. Later, he’ll remind himself.

“You’re going back to New York soon?” Taehyung asks, peeling back the milk carton and taking a swig from the mouth. He passes it to Jeongguk, faint outline of white lining his upper lip. “Visiting family or something?”

Jeongguk takes the carton and digs his heels into the plush ivory carpet, stretching out his legs. “I’m going with Yoongi in a few weeks to pick up the rest of our shit, remember? We still have stuff in storage.”

“Flying or driving?”

“Definitely flying,” Jeongguk says. “It’s like a two day drive from here to New York. We’re not trying to journey along the fucking Oregon Trail or anything.”

“Dude,” Taehyung says, chuckling. He is more impressed by Jeongguk than the anime technicolor showdown transpiring on tv. “That’s actually such an accurate comparison. The Oregon Trail was almost the same distance? Like two thousand miles or something, almost three thousand.”

Jeongguk furrows his brows and shoots Taehyung a look because what the fuck, and. “Why do you know that?”

Taehyung shakes his head like he’s remembering something he’d rather not. “You learn a lot of shit when you have game night with the white folk,” he says, nearly grim. Jeongguk stares. “It was with my ex’s family on Thanksgiving, okay? What else would you expect.”

“Speak no more,” Jeongguk says, closing the mouth of the carton and licking calcium from his upper lip. He tilts his head back against the foamy mattress behind them and steers his attention back to the words flashing across the bottom of the screen, too fast for his comatose brain to keep up with. Taehyung’s insistence, We’re going subtitles tonight!, he’d declared dogmatically, something about how watching dubbed versions of anime made him at least ten different levels shitty and a much lesser person.

“I’m gonna be honest and tell you now that I'm not even paying attention to this.” Jeongguk nods at the screen.

“Yeah, I figured. You kind of have to pay attention from the first episode to follow the storyline anyway,” Taehyung says and crawls across the floor to pillow the laptop in his lap. “We can watch something else if you want.”

“I’m just not in the right mindset for a legit storyline,” Jeongguk says, shaking his head side to side to ruffle his bangs. “Or any storyline really.”

“So porn, basically,” Taehyung sniggers. “This is happening.”

Jeongguk silently waits for the punchline only to realize there is none because Taehyung actually brings up PornHub in a new tab like he’s checking the weather. The familiar orange and black of the interface fills the television, mirroring the screen of the laptop as Taehyung hunches over it. It is his first time seeing porn in thirty-two inches of high definition.

“Wait, you were being serious about watching porn?” Jeongguk straightens up, a little bewildered.

Taehyung snorts. “You thought I was joking?”

“Yeah? Who the hell watches porn for fun that isn’t a tool?”

“Jimin and I do it all the time,” Taehyung says nonchalantly, perusing through the homepage. “Nothing wrong with watching hot people get it in. Why, you scared you’re gonna get a boner?” Taehyung teases, scrolls, fucking browses like he’s going through pictures of puppies. “Any requests? Kinks? Settings?”

Jeongguk stares for a long, hard moment, still not really believing because Taehyung was a sly shit that would easily manipulate this situation into a bout of mockery if Jeongguk so easily agreed. But Taehyung’s face holds no humor where the screen illuminates it, and Jeongguk relents to opposition.

“Fine,” he says to his own inner conflict because Taehyung had been onboard with this since the very beginning. “You choose the first the one.”

Taehyung is so painfully amused by all of this, tugging his bottom lip between teeth excitedly to tamper down the grin. He doesn’t need to be told twice and types into the search bar with suspicious ease that lacks any semblance of hesitancy.

“Car sex it is.”

But Jeongguk doesn’t ever really settle comfortably, not all the way to consider it chilling. An entire carton of milk later and Jeongguk had been mostly successful in tempering down his stirring arousal, watching two guys fuck on a leather couch, when Taehyung sighs beside him, so slight that it’s easy to miss. It’s the kind of exhale that’s forceful enough to hide the quivers in his voice but breathy enough to sound like a gasp, and something about that tiny, almost imperceptible breath of air comes out so sensual and fueled with a calm hunger that Jeongguk pretends he’d never heard it at all, one leg bent at the knee and balancing his phone atop the torn denim there.

It’s silly, loosely sitting here with their backs against the end of Taehyung’s bed, watching someone get fucked from behind. And yet here they are, two dudes sitting with their backs against the end of Taehyung’s bed, watching porn together as if they can’t easily get the real thing from new faces in the lucid funk of downtown. The actors change positions, and Jeongguk uses this chance to steal a glance at Taehyung, lip tugged just barely between his teeth and eyelids droopy. His head is lulled slightly to one side, resting back against the bed like Jeongguk’s own to gaze up at the television. The way his bangs fall over one eye reveals a sliver of forehead that Jeongguk rarely sees in a day, and his fingers itch to push the strands back.

By now, he’s tuned out the increasing bellowing of moans until Taehyung unknowingly shifts under his gaze, and Jeongguk tears his eyes away to train them forward again. Now’s not the time to be ogling his friend and how turned on he looks while watching porn. And maybe Taehyung is just drowsy, falling asleep to the image of people going at it like rabbits. Maybe he’s exhausted by mere observation of all this extensive sex position variety and dramatized moaning. If it weren’t for the light flush in his cheeks, Jeongguk could convince himself otherwise, but the thought is short circuits when Taehyung shifts again, and that tiny sigh is back.

“Mm,” Taehyung hums, so quietly, like he’s talking to himself. Except Jeongguk is but a few inches away from him and listening. But Taehyung is unpredictable, a ball of spontaneity in Jeongguk’s premeditated life, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Taehyung, of all people, would provide offhanded commentary during porn. “God. That looks so deep.”

Taehyung’s voice is a delicate hum between the stillness of the room and the vigorous grunts on the television, a fine medium to balance the dichotomies. His words spark straight down into the bubbling heat of his stomach and sits heavy like a bag of marbles. Jeongguk isn’t even sure he heard that right, but this is Taehyung. Blunt, straightforward Taehyung, “beating around the bushes is for pussies” Taehyung, and now, Taehyung who looks so wound up with arousal that he shivers.

Jeongguk can’t think straight.

“What?”

“That angle,” Taehyung elaborates, as if Jeongguk wasn't already thrown off by the first remark. His voice, still so delicate and vulnerable, like it was only ever meant for Jeongguk’s ears alone. “Looks like it feels good.”

Jeongguk wets his lips. “I guess. If you’re into—”

“I am.”

The room feels twenty degrees hotter. Jeongguk is suddenly so hyperaware of the warmth emitting from Taehyung’s body, waves of body heat seeping deep into his side that Jeongguk drinks in greedily because these telltale signs of Taehyung’s kindling libido is driving him crazy. His senses acutely zone in on details, the wet sound that Taehyung’s mouth makes when he parts his lips just slightly, the way he shifts to sit a little straighter, thighs pressed a little tighter, even the sound of the air conditioning rumbling to life. It takes everything in him to finally turn his head and look Taehyung straight in the eye, a daring feat because he knows the second their eyes meet, there’s no turning back. The tension is too thick for that.

Jeongguk wets his lips again and tries to make light of the hunger that crawls up his chest. “Looks like I’m not the one who got the boner.”

“Shut up,” Taehyung breathes with a feeble laugh that tickles Jeongguk’s chin when he leans forward finally, fucking finally, to nose along his jawline. His inhale is shaky and fingertips shakier. Jeongguk only knows because the sound is in his ear, the touch around his forearm, and there’s shivers all down his spine. “Just shut up.”

Jeongguk turns to chase Taehyung’s eyes, until he’s forced to pull back and look into Jeongguk’s face. A silent question, one breath.

“Taehyung?”

His answer. “Jeongguk.”

And that’s all it really takes, desire taking full reign before they’re closing that traitorous distance. The desperate little gasp that Taehyung feeds into Jeongguk’s mouth when they kiss is needy in a way that Jeongguk easily retaliates, swallowing down those little noises with salacity. Taehyung kisses like he’s been waiting, reflections of their slurpee kiss burning behind his eyelids with the urge to be revisited.

Jeongguk smooths the flat of his palm down Taehyung’s inner thigh when their tongues glide, gives it a little nudge to spread his legs apart teasingly where they’re pressed tightly together. But Taehyung is so sensitive in this low lighting with his fingers strung tight around Jeongguk’s forearm, and he moans against Jeongguk’s bottom lip with quaking thighs as Jeongguk slips his hand along the underside to massage the supple flesh there. Jeongguk smooths his palm back up to hook a hand around the back of his knee, easily tugging the leg over his hips and lifting the weight until Taehyung is straddling him. Their bodies mold like wax against each other to amplify this electrifying heat, and Taehyung eagerly cradles his face to kiss him dizzy.

Yet for something that feels so right, this tastes a lot like sin. Jeongguk ignores the nagging at the back of his mind that tells him to stop and plummets further into the abyss with eyes screwed shut, every bit aware in his lustful daze of how their friendship tinkers by a thread with each moan Taehyung spills into his mouth.

With Taehyung hot and rolling down into his hips like this, Jeongguk can’t stop himself from touching, touching everywhere on all the skin he can find and pushing his palms along Taehyung’s sides to drag up the fabric of his shirt, until Taehyung pulls back to yank it off. He makes quick work to remove Jeongguk’s shirt, too, before diving back in and prying swollen lips open to lick his way in, making sure to admire the swell of Jeongguk’s biceps and wide shoulders as he scrapes blunt nails lightly down his torso. Jeongguk shoves his hips up to meet each of Taehyung’s grinds, moan hitched in his throat from the delicious friction that sends spikes of fire all the way down to his toes. All he’s thinking about is how one drunken night in Aspen had been wasted if he couldn’t remember it like this.

The sounds from the television have long since drowned out into white noise, video probably having ended by now, but Jeongguk’s not paying attention to anything else. The way Taehyung shivers against him each time their clothed arousals press against each other is too much, too thick in his head, too moist in his mouth. It takes a few sloppy tries for Jeongguk to get Taehyung’s sweats and briefs off in one go, hands dipping down the slope of his arched back to slip past the waistband. He gropes his ass with commanding hands to urge Taehyung to grind harder, knocking out a whimper from his throat.

Jeongguk ducks forward to drop kisses along his collarbones, tugging impatiently, now, at his sweats. Taehyung gains enough temporary resistance to climb off and kick his sweats off his ankles, using this chance to disappear around the bed and return with lube and a condom. He tosses them on the floor beside Jeongguk and drops back down on his knees to unfasten Jeongguk’s belt with carnal desire.

“What is this,” Taehyung grumbles.”Why do you need a belt to hang out here?”

“Habit,” Jeongguk says in-between kisses. He reaches down and slaps Taehyung’s hands away. “Here, let me do it.”

Taehyung yanks his jeans and briefs down in one go, shuffling between his legs to kiss down his chest and mapping out his torso with the hot press of his moist tongue. He flexes his stomach when Taehyung nibbles at his abs, his naval, sighing wantonly at the sight of Taehyung getting cozy between his legs. Just like that. Taehyung sprawls out on his stomach, mouth just inches from his cock, and nuzzles his nose along the swollen length fondly.

“Can I?” he asks, and Jeongguk’s mind stops.

“God, of course,” he threads his fingers gently through Taehyung’s soft hair. “Of course.”

Taehyung is no beginner at this. Jeongguk has to strain himself from bucking up into the heat of Taehyung’s mouth when he goes down on him, hand wrapped around the base for what he can’t take in just yet. The way Taehyung inhales deep through his nose each time to swallow more of the length, pulling off then sucking right back down, makes his body flush with a wave of tense heat.

“Fuck, Tae,” he exhales, closing his eyes for just a second.

“Good?” Taehyung rasps in-between bobs.

“Very good,” Jeongguk grits, carding his fingers through Taehyung’s bangs. Too tender and full of affection in a way he hopes Taehyung doesn’t notice.

Jeongguk watches the light of the television dance off Taehyung’s cheekbones and glimmer in his eyes when he looks up to watch Jeongguk through his bangs—so fucking beautiful like this. His cock slides deeper with each swallow, and Taehyung lets the tip brush the back of his throat, the tiny gag out of reflex when he takes in more than he can handle making the walls of his wet mouth close tight around Jeongguk. It isn’t long until Jeongguk’s pushing at Taehyung’s shoulder to stop him.

“You’re gonna make me come,” he exhales, sighing when Taehyung pulls off with a string of saliva and licks the tip to gather pre-come on his tongue. He reaches for him. “Fuck, get over here.”

Taehyung moves to straddle Jeongguk’s hips, cock sticky and smearing moisture along their bellies when Jeongguk wraps his arms tight around his waist to tug him close, lets Jeongguk bite down on his lip and stroke his tongue along to soothe it. Never with intentions to hurt him in the slightest, and Taehyung leans forward to kiss the fluttering in his chest away.

“How do you want it?” Jeongguk whispers against Taehyung’s neck.

It takes everything in Taehyung to not grind his orgasm out right here against Jeongguk’s taut, muscular stomach, the way it would offer the nicest friction against his hard cock. Just a little closer, and he could press right against the divots of his abs. Fuck is he ripped.

“Can I ride you?” Taehyung asks, tilting his head to the side when Jeongguk sucks at his neck.

Somehow through his foggy mess of a head, Jeongguk manages to grab for the lube at his side and slicks up his fingers with a generous amount. He sits back enough to reach down in-between Taehyung’s legs, lift up for me, before circling a digit around Taehyung’s sensitive entrance. The first finger slides in easy, and Taehyung presses his fingers into Jeongguk’s shoulders when he fingers him open, lube dripping onto Jeongguk’s thighs and gliding into the white carpet. The squelching of his fingers disappearing inside Taehyung’s body makes the most obscene noises mixed with Taehyung’s breathy whimpers, and Jeongguk picks up the pace to relish in the sounds.

“Gonna ride my fingers?” Jeongguk says into his cheek, and Taehyung nods against him. It isn’t long until he’s taking three and meeting the upward thrusts with his downward ones, sitting back onto the digits and moaning with each brush of those fingertips deep inside.

“Yeah,” Taehyung moans out, then. “Jeongguk, please.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says and nibbles along his chin, slowly sliding his fingers out. The emptiness Taehyung clenches around makes him whimper softly.

Taehyung kneels back on Jeongguk’s thighs to help him roll on the condom with shaky hands, slicking him up with lube until Jeongguk grabs his wrist to stop him, the edging making him sensitive all over. When Taehyung finally sinks down, it’s excruciatingly slow as he revels in the slow burn where their skin meets like fire. He works up a steady pace in Jeongguk’s lap, hands coming forward to brace against the edges of his mattress with each hard thrust. Jeongguk, in turn, presses fingers into the sharp divots of Taehyung’s hips and drags him down roughly, bucking up into the tight heat and knocking a throaty whimper from Taehyung’s throat from the added leverage. The sounds of slapping skin fills the room with erratic breathing, and Taehyung’s hands slip from where they’re perched when Jeongguk thrusts up just right, mouth falling open silently as he collapses against Jeongguk’s forehead in heated bliss.

“Hey, stay with me,” Jeongguk coos against Taehyung’s cheek, reaching down to squeeze his ass firmly. He spreads Taehyung wider, pulls him down harder, fucks him deeper. Everything feels so sensual, intimate in a way that makes his chest feel so full, and he hates that he falls more, more, more each time Taehyung kisses him.

As if more was possible.

Taehyung’s body is a sensitive mess under Jeongguk’s hands, trembling when his fingers barely brush over his nipples. The friction of his cock rubbing against Jeongguk’s stomach is enough to get him off, and Taehyung slants their lips together when the familiar rush of searing heat courses through him in gradually increasing waves. He bounces sloppily in Jeongguk’s lap as he gets closer.

“I'm gonna—”

“I know,” Jeongguk pants against his chin. “I know. I can feel it, I can feel you.”

“Jeongguk, fuck,” Taehyung cries. Jeongguk shifts forward until Taehyung’s back is flush against the carpet and thrusts into him relentlessly. It’s too much, and Taehyung is a sobbing mess beneath him, legs spread wide as he finds purchase against Jeongguk’s biceps at either side of his head, fingers digging into the skin. “Oh my God, I'm coming—

Taehyung’s hips stutter with release as his body comes undone in streaks of white. Jeongguk leans down to bury his face in Taehyung’s hair, reaching between them to press Taehyung’s leaking cock against his belly and rubs him off with his palm. The way Taehyung tightens impossibly around him makes the heat nearly unbearable, and Jeongguk’s entire body locks up when he comes, so hard that his mind blanks for a few seconds. He pumps Taehyung through the aftershocks until he’s twitching from overstimulation and leans down to kiss him.

Later, when they finally catch their breaths, exhaustion wears like sandbags on Jeongguk’s eyes, and he presses his face into one of the pillows on Taehyung’s bed, condom having already been discarded on their way under the covers from the floor. At his side, Taehyung props himself on an elbow and runs his foot down the length of his calf.

“I never saw these before,” Taehyung says, eyeing the tattoos on each of his calves. On his left calf, an illustration of the sun covers up a large portion of the skin, wispy around its edges with the words ‘unyielding passion’ inked through the center. On his right calf is a crescent moon, similar in fashion with rounded edges as if ready to embrace the sun right against the gulf of its body, the words ‘blooming ambition’ also through the center. “They’re lovely. Too bad your jeans are always covering them.”

“Oh, thanks,” Jeongguk mumbles drowsily, turning to  look into Taehyung’s face. “Got them for my first games.”

“What’s the meaning behind them?”

“They represent my personal manifesto,” Jeongguk explains, closing his eyes. Taehyung shifts to rest his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder and watches him speak. “I just really liked the meanings behind the sun and the moon, how they’re so compatible, yet mean two different things. Like yin and yang. The sun symbolizes power and strength, hence ‘unyielding passion’, and the waxing crescent moon represents dreams and growth for ‘blooming ambition’.”

“Damn, I love that,” Taehyung says and reaches out to press a finger just below his nape at the perfectly inked black circle there, thin lines breaking the shape into fragments. “What about this one?”

“Constellation for Virgo. My zodiac sign,” Jeongguk says, words lilting with a breath of laughter. “I’m not even huge on the cosmos or anything, but all my tattoos seem to say otherwise.”

“Your artist did an amazing job.”

“She did. Gave me the hook up, too. On prices.”

“Nice.”

Jeongguk is ready to accept the comfortable silence that follows as an invitation to creep into sleep, let his mind sink into a puddle of exhaustion and bask in his soft muscles when he remembers—he has no reason to stay. No, not really, not in the grand context of a hook up between close friends. Because friends that have sex don’t cuddle naked for the sake of cuddling. Because friends that have sex don’t kiss each other for the sake of kissing. Because friends that have sex don’t need romantics.

Because Jeongguk loves Taehyung, and that makes this just a little harder.

“Hey, Tae?” Jeongguk asks, turning to glance down at Taehyung’s head on his shoulder. “This was just—a casual thing right?” The words sound awkward on his tongue, bulky in the spaces between and not quite fitting. Like they want an answer that he knows he's not going to get.

Taehyung doesn't meet his eyes, and Jeongguk thinks he feels his cheek press closer into the skin of his shoulder blade. “Yeah, of course.” Of course?  “Weren't you just telling me about your hot hook up with blondie the other night at Bobby’s party?”

“Just asking,” Jeongguk says and right, they still hook up with other people. Still, because why not? He remembers Taehyung telling him something similar. “I only brought that up because you started talking about that one guy from the club! You know, when you went with Jimin to ‘quench your thirst’.” Jeongguk snorts. “Literally your words.”

“I didn’t even know what I was saying,” Taehyung laughs. “I was already drunk then.”

Jeongguk closes his eyes and stamps down the lumbering weight in his chest, heavy like lead but thin as glass. Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter against his skin when he blinks, and Jeongguk hates that he notices something so subtle.

“Hey, partner. What do you say about finding something to grub on?” Taehyung suggests, hooking his chin over Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk tries not to think about how it feels like an aversion. “I’m starving.”

“What, like, right now?” Jeongguk asks, turning to look at Taehyung. Always the hungry fiend after sex. Jeongguk remembers this all the way back in Aspen. “It’s one a.m.”

“So?” Taehyung raises a brow. “Do you actually give a shit about time when you’re hungry?”

Jeongguk allows himself to stare like he’s contemplating, really just for self indulgence, as if he doesn’t already know the answer. It’s automatic by now.

“Fine, but you’re paying this time,” he says and pretends like he doesn’t notice it when Taehyung holds him close a little longer before pulling away completely.

 

 

Jeongguk is no tattoo addict. There’s just something about the gentle buzz of a needle and the smell of stale cigarettes makes him calm to a state of indulgence. It makes his skin itch to be scratched with ink even if he doesn’t actually want it. Just the excitement of it all and the mellow vibe they’ve got going that laxes just right.

Yoongi, from his place on the bed table, hisses through his teeth when the needle grazes over sensitive skin twice, just below the pit of his inner elbow. It’s his last session before completing his second arm, and Jeongguk, with a clear agenda having finished a Stussy photoshoot earlier that day, had accompanied Yoongi to get his own calf tattoos touched up.

“Should I get white tunnels?” Jeongguk asks, browsing through the selection of piercings showcased in glass and fiddling with his earlobe. “Or should I stay with black.”

“Stay with black,” Yoongi suggests, lifting his eyes from rapid needle movement. “But it’s up to you if you want to change it up. New month, new me right?”

“I might get silver hoops and save it for later then,” Jeongguk says, tapping on the glass casing with the pad of his pointer finger. He squats down at eye level.

“Ready for you, Jeongguk,” Chaerin’s scratchy voice calls from beside Yoongi’s bed table, spinning in her chair. She pats the seat with a radiant smile at the sight of him, cat-like eyes turning into crescents. “Damn, what’s up kid? Thanks for visiting me, by the way. It’s only been, what, three years?”

“You weren’t here when I came in last summer!” Jeongguk defends, sliding onto the table belly-down. “And anyway, Yoongi and I moved to LA earlier this year. Now you can get sick of me all you want.”

“Oh, no shit? Congrats on moving to the land of delusion,” she scoffs, snapping on the black elastic of her gloves and grabbing a towelette to spritz disinfectant spray on. Jeongguk feels a small surge of tingles when she wipes it along the skin of his calves, the moist napkin already cold from air exposure. “You liking it so far?”

Jeongguk’s mind wanders to Taehyung and the others, to their late night weekends at the skatepark or sunrise at Seokjin’s playing video games to Pandora. California is sunny enough to be cancerous with the constant of sticky ocean water on his skin, lingering thinly in the air. Nothing is really within walking distance and calls for more driving than Jeongguk is used to, so it’s a lot shitty on days when all he wants is to walk down the block to the deli for a bagel and soda. Then there’s the surf bros in their 4WD vehicles lacking doors and blasting Sublime or some other mediocre reggae that Jeongguk has to deal with on his way home from work schedules and interviews in that awful LA deadlock. No real escape from all that beach gear.

But when it comes down to things, it’s not all bad—Jeongguk is just a complicated fuck that likes to have things in his order. Because really, it is precisely all these differences from New York that makes Jeongguk fall for this city’s flaws like it’s his second home, already worn in like a pair of ratty sneakers, and all his comfort and joy residing in the form of six friends and one boxy smile.

He couldn’t regret a thing even if he wanted.

“Yeah, we’re loving it here. Traffic’s a bitch and everyone is rich as fuck, but it’s compromisable,” Jeongguk says, lifting up onto his forearms as Chaerin dips the needle into black ink, blonde hair tucked behind an ear decked with piercings. “Good company helps a lot.”

“You’re telling me,” Chaerin says, and the sound of the tattoo gun buzzing to life rings over her voice. The first prickle of needles into his skin burns like a hot scratch, but he adapts to the pain easily, having done this once before. “I remember moving here just from San Francisco and knowing no one. It was so damn miserable until I met Jiyong over there.” She cocks her head towards the man working on Yoongi’s tattoo, who grins back at them and waves, one of those androgynous beauties with captivating smiles and faces. He’s cool, unfairly so, and Jeongguk gives him a good, thorough once-over to take in all that he offers. “Sometimes good company is all you really need to make it better.”

“Amen to that,” Jeongguk hums in agreement and glances down at the smeared, black ink outlining the crescent moon on his right calf as Chaerin moves to wipe at the residue before pressing the needle back down.

“Have you found your reason to stay yet?” She asks after a few moments of concentration, working carefully on the type in the center with trained precision. “It’s a little hard to believe you guys just up and moved from New York and are making the commitment to stay. No one does that here, not if they’re from New York.”

Jeongguk rests his head in his palm, flicking his gaze over at Yoongi who has taken to closing his eyes. “Maybe.”

“Someone or something?”

“Someone.”

Chaerin stills the needle over his skin to look up with a knowing grin.

“Well if that’s the case,” she says, focus back on his calf. The gentle hum of the needle is a soothing lull as she works on him. “I hope you stay in Los Angeles.”

It doesn’t take long for Chaerin to finish up his right leg, skin at the back of his calf mildly burning but nothing he can’t handle, not when he’s felt pain far worse than this, one being the tattoo just below his nape. It’s nostalgic, the way he remembers three years ago like it was yesterday, in this same tattoo parlor with Yoongi and indecisively making arrangements for his first tattoo. He was nervous back then, young and amateur too, with ugly scratches all over his shins and sloppily placed bandaids to cover the cuts. Not that he’s any better now, no. Just a little more confident.

“Okay, stay here for a bit,” Chaerin says, pulling her gloves off and tossing it aside on the trolley. “Gotta go pierce someone’s nipples, then I’ll get started on your other leg.”

When she disappears around to the front of the store, Yoongi uses this chance to bring up The Topic like he’s been waiting all this time. Probably has been, and probably only to rag on him like teenage girls with crushes. This bitch honestly.

“So,” Yoongi’s low voice drawls, and the smirk that creeps its way across his face makes Jeongguk want to smack it right off, maybe stuff it in a paper bag and flush it down the toilet until it is nothing but a soggy excuse for teasing. “Someone, huh.”

Jeongguk does not deign to humor him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, but I do. It’s about five foot, eight inches, finds metaphysics and roller derbys fucking hilarious, looks like a cinnamon roll and is actually a cinnamon roll—does this ring a bell?” Yoongi goes on. “Smiles like a bar of soap. Name starts with Tae, ends with Hyung—”

“Okay, fuck, I get it,” Jeongguk frowns, stopping Yoongi before he can continue. “We’re still not talking about this.”

“Why not? You talked to Chaerin about it just now,” Yoongi says. Jiyong gets up to fetch some ink, and Jeongguk is a little less mortified that he doesn’t has to listen in on them. “Don’t be a hardass. Are y—”

“We’re not,” Jeongguk says automatically, picking up on the implication miles before Yoongi drops the question and leaving out the single word that he's been trying to avoid. Dating. Because if he admits it now, even to Yoongi, there’s no going back. Something that used to be so pure now tarnished because the simple truth is that it’s hard to be in love with a best friend turned FWB. They don’t last in the long run without someone walking away different than when they walked in, and Jeongguk knows this. He’s not ready to stain what they have or what they’ve built, ground up, because his stupid man feelings got in the way.

“Your face right now is the universal sign that you guys are fucking.”

Jeongguk has nothing to say with his conscience so sore in his throat.

“Nailed it,” Yoongi swings his fist down as if wielding a hammer. “Is it an exclusive thing?

“No,” Jeongguk says reluctantly. “We hook up with other people when we want without it being weird.”

“But do you want it to be exclusive?”

“I,” Jeongguk shuts his mouth then opens it again. “I want to keep our friendship.”

“But you also want to date him.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” Yoongi says, shifting his arm to circulate blood flow. “You want to date him. I know that look. The ‘I want to bone him with my heart and not just my dick’ look. I don’t know what’s stopping you.”

Too much on the line that he isn’t willing to risk over something that might not even last.

Jeongguk rests his forehead on his folded arms. “It’s not that easy,”

“But it’s not impossible,” Yoongi says, tilting his head back on the leather headrest.

“Yeah, but the thing is—” Jeongguk starts, wants to say, doesn’t know how.

No matter how much he pushes the thought away, the reason he’s strayed from relationships all this time is from fear of loving in the midst of his career, the hole of the unknown future that always burdened its way into every scenario, but really, from fear of ruining a friendship he’d only ever fully opened up to and testing it beyond what started as a drunken hook up one night in winter. Jeongguk doesn’t like dealing with heartbreak, the greatest pain of pains, and Taehyung means too much to him to become a potential face he used to know, someone that used to light up his sky with stars and might become another name on his list—who’s to know. But FWB’s turned significant others never ends well, this he is sure. Jeongguk may be an extreme sports athlete, but this is one risk he is too afraid to take.

Yoongi is expectant. “The thing is?”

But Jeongguk shakes his head and says, “I’ll figure it out.”

 

 

Yet against all harbored conflict in Jeongguk’s chest, he does not heed the warning. It’s hard to resist temptation when he’s already gotten a taste, and Taehyung is the sweetest honey on his tongue.

Here on the leather couch, Jeongguk is realizing just how much he hates them, but he has no qualms with Taehyung stripped naked against the cushions. His knees stick to the fabric where he’s perched between Taehyung’s legs, leather squeaking in protest whenever he shifts to get comfortable. There’s a growing wet spot on the couch where’s he’s fingering Taehyung, lube and precome smearing messily on the black sheen, and Jeongguk presses in deeper until a whimper falls from Taehyung’s pretty, kiss-swollen mouth. Jeongguk bends over to swallow it down.

“I’m gonna finger you till you come,” he whispers headily against Taehyung’s ears. The shiver that runs throughout Taehyung’s body is response enough, and Jeongguk’s cock strains uncomfortably against his shorts, so painfully aroused at the sight of Taehyung writhing beneath him. He curls his fingers, and Taehyung’s entire body shakes with a guttural moan.

“Fuck,” Taehyung breathes, fingers tightening at the back of Jeongguk’s hair when his fingertips coax against that spot. “Do that again.”

In all their hook up experiences, Jeongguk learns that Taehyung is a scratcher. He also learns that he quite likes this, like now, thrusting his digits knuckles-deep with another hand stroking the length of Taehyung’s cock with Taehyung’s responsive hands clawing lines down the expanse of Jeongguk’s back as he nears his orgasm. But Jeongguk doesn’t let him come so easily, not when he looks this perfect beneath him, and the edging has Taehyung so sensitive, body quivering from the smallest of touches and waiting desperately for release. He noses into the crown of Taehyung's hair, inhales the scent of refreshing shampoo and a subtle cologne that makes him pleasantly hum.

"You smell good," Jeongguk says into his ear, raspy and a lot turned on. "You always do."

Taehyung arches into him at this, the few words of compliment bubbling weak moans up his throat as he vaguely recalls Aspen. "Totally a kink."

"Maybe." Jeongguk grabs at the back of Taehyung’s thigh to push the bent knee to his chest and spreads him wide, relentlessly fingering into his body to savor his broken moans. Jeongguk leans down to circle a tongue around Taehyung’s nipple, buries his fingers deeper, reaches down to jerk him off faster, and Taehyung’s body stills for a split second before it quakes with shivers as he comes with a choked sob.

“Your turn,” Taehyung says when he catches his breath. He shoves Jeongguk back against the armrest, eagerly tugging off his shorts and making quick work to go down on him, mouth hot and needy to taste Jeongguk at the back of his throat.

Jeongguk’s fingers card through his soft hair, tugging lightly at the strands and enticing a moan out of Taehyung. His mouth falls open with a shaky sigh at the vibrations that engulf his cock, and he relaxes into the couch—not much room for complaints about the black fabric sticking to his back because Taehyung is here, between his legs, doing the best things with his mouth.

After enough bobbing to loosen his throat, Taehyung removes the hand pressed against Jeongguk’s lower belly to let him shallowly fuck into the tight heat of his mouth. He opens up so nicely to take in Jeongguk’s cock with each thrust, nose brushing against the soft skin of his navel when he swallows down more of the swollen length. More, and Jeongguk’s mind doesn’t work so well anymore, but it does conjure up the image of Taehyung’s lips wrapped around someone that isn’t him, and he suppresses the jealous burn that courses through him like wildfire. He brushes Taehyung’s bangs away from his eyes, thrusts a little deeper to drown everything out as the heat in his belly coils impossibly tighter like the warmth in his chest.

Taehyung flicks his eyes up to watch Jeongguk’s lidded expression, punch drunk from arousal and groaning low. He looks so good, and the sight alone is enough to make Taehyung hard again. Would be, if this wasn’t already their second round after a busy day on both their parts. A few more deep-throated thrusts, and Jeongguk shoots his release right down Taehyung’s throat with threaded brows and reaches down to grip his shoulder through the orgasm. Jeongguk pulls him up and kisses mine off the tip of his tongue.

“Hang on,” Jeongguk says later when there’s come drying on his stomach and hops off the couch to disappear down the hall, tugging on his shorts along the way. He emerges with nail clippers and crawls back between Taehyung’s knees, cross-legged, to sit down, patting the soft tummy. “Hands.”

“You're trimming my nails for me?” Taehyung says, surprised, and extends his arm. Jeongguk grasps his palm and aligns the metal blades over the pointer finger to clip down.

“I am,” Jeongguk says casually, resting their hands on the flat of Taehyung’s stomach and clipping away. Taehyung circles his legs languidly around the slim waist. “I don't mind you scratching the shit out of my back during sex, but this actually hurt like a bitch.” He nods down at his torso.

Taehyung slides his eyes down the frenzy of hickies lining Jeongguk’s neck to the red lines streaking his chest and arms, angry and fresh. He reaches out and traces them with his free hand. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

“No, you're good. I like it,” Jeongguk says, grabbing his other hand, careful not to jostle the pile of nail clippings on Taehyung’s middle. “Shows I can make you feel good. Ayyy haha.”

“Can't deny. We didn't even get it in today either.”

Jeongguk clicks his tongue. “Horny motherfuckers.”

It becomes a regular routine, sex with Jeongguk, sex with Taehyung. And even though the lines start to blur on boundaries they probably shouldn’t be crossing, Taehyung sweeps it to the very back of his mind and ignores the complications like the mature adult he is not. It’s not that what they were doing changed anything about them on an immediate level—he still hooked up with other people just as Jeongguk did, to keep things neutral, harmless. Because what they’re doing is casual, something they could easily call quits on and go back to friendship. Right. Right?

But it’s convenient, the way Taehyung leaves out the part where he’s in love.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jeongguk says when he finishes trimming his nails, stretching out and resting his chin over folded arms on Taehyung’s stomach. Taehyung’s thighs are on either side of him, blotchy red with bite marks all along the inner expanse.

“What is it?”

“I—” Jeongguk exhales through his nose to gather his thoughts. It sweeps across Taehyung’s chest and raises goosebumps in its wake. “I don’t know if I’m gonna compete in the upcoming Winter X Games.”

Taehyung sits up on his elbows. “What? Why?”

“I want to take a year off to get better before competing again,” Jeongguk explains, like he’s thought about this for a long, long time. “There’s so much I still have to learn, but I ended up rushing it all the last winter games just so I could make it in time to compete. I’m gonna use this time to get better.” And to make light of the situation, “This way, by the time I get back, I’ll be able to beat your ass.”

“You fucking wish.” Taehyung reaches out to smooth down Jeongguk’s sideburn, mussed up from where his hands had grabbed. “If you think it’s the right choice, the right move—you know what’s best for you.”

“Sometimes I really don’t,” Jeongguk says and looks at Taehyung, expression so unreadable that it catches Taehyung off-guard. Eyes glossy and serious, Taehyung’s hand stills in his hair as he falls short of proper words to say.

“Don’t know what’s best for you?” Taehyung confirms.

“Something like that,” Jeongguk says and averts his gaze. “Have you ever wanted something so bad, but you were too scared to do anything about it?”

A thick silence follows. Taehyung swallows, and Jeongguk can feel it against the undersides of his forearms.

“I have,” Taehyung says but doesn’t explain. “For a long time now, actually. But—it’s a little complicated.”

“Yeah, I get you,” Jeongguk says, and Taehyung’s hand idly threads to the back of his hair. He closes his eyes. “Taehyung?”

“Yeah?”

It seems like an eternity passes before Jeongguk responds, taking his time to find his voice, and yet eternity lies in the ambiguous spaces between them when Jeongguk tucks truth behind the door, like he’s afraid of scaring Taehyung away.

He’s never felt such density in the weight of one word as he says, “Nevermind.”

Taehyung does not question him further. Nevermind is just enough.

 

 

Taehyung has no idea who’s house party this is, but he is too deep into the aroma of youth to care otherwise. But that’s the thing about house parties—you get the invitation, and does the rest really matter? What matters is who’s bringing the booze. What should matter is the booze and getting fucked up, but Taehyung finds that it doesn’t matter at all.

The Mastercraft Throwdown for Wakeboarding had come and gone in a flurry of waves, and Namjoon had conquered the gold like he’d never intended otherwise and rakes in his second consecutive medal of his career. Taehyung can practically see his impending success right beneath his nose.

“Some of the girls over there are inviting us to some party near UCLA later tonight,” Namjoon had said when he’d finally caught up with the rest of them after the competition, hair soggy and damp with river water. He looks happy, and Taehyung, in turn, feels happy too. “You guys down?”

“Hey, today’s your day,” Hoseok had said with pride in his voice, throwing an arm around Namjoon’s shoulders. “We follow you, man.”

And true to Hoseok’s word, they carpool to the address the girls had texted Namjoon, already thickly bustling with party goers when they arrive to a mess of college students sparsely dawdling in front of the house and in the street. Bodies painted with UV ink and glowing with neon bracelets and necklaces as the headlights of the car flash through the dimly illuminated street when they park. Someone in a full-body Teletubbies costume walks by with a red solo cup, and it is entirely normal.

But two drinks in and Taehyung is actually starting to enjoy the music even if it beats against his skull. It sounds a lot like the hip hop shit that Jeongguk blasts in his car, always too loud and too shameless, and Taehyung lets the heavy bass tremble like an earthquake through his bones. The pungent smell of weed and booze wafts like a lingering stench the deeper he walks into the house until he’s found his way into the living room, plastic shot glasses glowing neon, too, and stacked like pyramids on the tables.

This isn’t the first black light themed party he’s been to, but it is the first one he’s showed up to sober enough to make out human bodies through the splash of vibrant colors reflecting off their clothing, enough to give his head spin if he stares long enough. And sometimes he finds that he does, stares long enough to be dizzy if it means blocking out his thoughts for the night, find solace in the heat of another body, more plush and soft than the firm hardness he has become so used to. The feathers on the floor from someone’s angel wings gets stuck on his shoe, but no blacklight party was ever complete without at least one, and he almost rolls his eyes.

Before he forgets, he shoots Jeongguk a text.

 

Taehyung

Blacklight party

Wear white

 

Jeongguk

Do I have any other shirts? LOL.

 

True. Given the amount of white t-shirts in Jeongguk’s closet, he would have showed up in one anyway, memo or not.

Taehyung is moving past the crowd playing Quarters when Jimin appears at his side and drags him by the wrist into the sweating mass of bodies to dance, hands moving to grip his waist.

“Where were you?” Jimin leans in, breath reeking of gin and orange juice, maybe even some of the jungle juice he has in hand. Quite frankly, he smells like college just took a shit in his mouth. “Hoseok went to look for you near the pool.”

“Sorry, I was in the kitchen with Minjae and Bogum,” Taehyung says, throwing his arms over Jimin’s shoulders and pressing their foreheads together on unsteady feet. “They were trying to make some food with the stove, but there’s an almost-threesome happening on the counter. Fucking mess.”

“Jesus,” Jimin grimaces. “Wait, Minjae? As in the silver medalist for Big Air? I didn’t know you were friends with the skaters.”

Taehyung shrugs. “It kind of just happened.”

“When was this?”

“In the restroom after the last day of the summer games.” Jimin gives him a look. “Not like that. Don’t ask.”

“How do you even make friends with your dicks half out?”

“You don’t look down,” Taehyung says curtly and lets Jimin turn them. He spots Namjoon near the DJ table, easy to spot from his glowing white sweatband and passionate vibing, likely to have sloshed half his drink on himself by now. But he’s tonight’s victor, deserves to let loose without any judgement after having harbored all his nerves up until today unlike the rest of them.

Taehyung dances with Jimin until they’re both too dehydrated to swallow moisture properly, air getting thicker as the night goes on and more bodies gravitate towards the living room. Taehyung had finished his drink three songs ago, cup kicked to a dark corner and most likely accompanying someone’s forgotten wallet and keys, and now he’s got two more shots of tequila to chase down all those fluids, plastic shot glasses pushed into his hands as Hoseok gathers them to take congratulatory shots for Namjoon’s win.

When Yoongi and Jeongguk show up later, having ran back home after the wakeboarding competition, Taehyung easily spots Jeongguk’s oversized white shirt through the crowd, glowing under the blacklights, and waves him over. Yoongi leans in to say something before disappearing left to find Namjoon.

“Let’s grab you a drink,” Taehyung says and guides them to the kitchen, weaving past the couple grinding against the wall, skirt hiked halfway up the girl’s thighs. “Gotta get you caught up with the rest of us.”

“Yoongi and I had a shot at our place before we left,” Jeongguk says and leans against the counter, watching as Taehyung snatches one of the many bottles of liquor laid out across the counter. “Shit, they’re loaded here.”

“UCLA parties don’t mess around, apparently,” Taehyung says and hands Jeongguk the cup, capping Bacardi. “They were making some weird ass mixes back here awhile ago.”

“Marshmallow vodka?”

“Beer and milk,” Taehyung cringes. “If anyone tries handing you something that looks like horse jizz, don’t take it.”

“Mixology gone wrong,” Jeongguk says with a laugh, teeth glowing blue from the lighting. He takes a sip from the solo cup and grits his teeth. “Dude, this tastes like straight rum.”

“Hey, I put some coke in there,” Taehyung says, showing off the empty can pointedly before tossing it in the sink.

“What, like one part coke, three parts rum?”

“No one’s allowed to wake up without some kind of hangover tomorrow,” Taehyung shrugs, clinking their plastic cups together. “We celebrate big, Jeon, so you better drink up.”

“Who’s playing DD?”

“Seokjin, who else? We’re crashing at his place after this,” Taehyung says and stands against the sink, across from Jeongguk. “Better hope Yoongi isn’t looking to get wasted tonight, or someone’s gonna have to come back and fetch his car tomorrow morning.”

“Good thing he’s not much of a drinker,” Jeongguk says. “He’ll probably spend the night smoking mad hookah anyway.”

“Then you have no excuse.”

“I’ll probably take it easy tonight,” Jeongguk says, takes a diligent sip anyway. “Just in case he nods off on the way home.”

“Look at the glass half-empty or half-full all you want,” Taehyung says, lifting his cup. “All I’m saying is—are you gonna finish it.”

The fluorescent neon of Jeongguk’s white t-shirt brings out the sharp edges of his face, and Taehyung likes the white glow of his smile over the brim of his cup when he laughs, likes the sound of it even more as it rings clear through the pulsing bass when Jeongguk leans in to speak, the faint smell of cologne wafting off his skin that Taehyung appreciates in this murky wallow of unpleasant smells. He doesn’t get much longer to admire him before an elbow nudges his side.

“Still here?” Minjae says, appearing from the crowd mingling near the fridge to reach for the Fireball.

“With a friend,” Taehyung clarifies, nodding towards Jeongguk.

“Jeongguk, yeah? Minjae,” he introduces and extends a friendly hand. “Huge respect for you, man. Your technique is neat as fuck.”

“Yeah, Jeongguk. And thanks,” Jeongguk says, shaking his hand. “You competed in Big Air right?”

“That’s me. Scored silver, but hey, it’s better than last year’s run,” Minjae says, pulling back with a shrug. He sloshes liquor into his cup before turning to Taehyung. “Anyway hey, Bogum left me for some poolside chick. Care to join me on the dance floor?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says, glancing at Jeongguk. The obvious answer here is no, doesn’t even need to think about it twice. “I don’t want to leave Jeongguk alo—”

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says, waving his drink vaguely through the air. “Go ahead. Don’t let me hold you back.”

“You sure?” Taehyung says, stalling time. All he’s hoping is for Jeongguk to hold him back, tell him no, he’s with me right now.

Instead, Jeongguk says, “Yeah, go, I’ll be fine. I’m gonna look for the others and say hi.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says slowly and hides the disappointment in his eyes when Minjae drags him out of the kitchen. So much for wishful thinking.

It feels a lot like deja vu, dancing here with Minjae like he'd done with Jimin only hours before. The only difference is the way Minjae grips his hips and presses against him from behind in time with the thumping music like all the other dancing bodies around them, the way he tucks his nose into the crown of Taehyung’s hair, nudges at the back of his ear, against his nape. But Taehyung is too tipsy to really register the sexual tension that radiates off his skin, too lost in pounding bass to do anything about it and not enough to shove him away. Minjae is hot against his back and hotter against his neck, yet all Taehyung can think about is how it doesn't feel like Jeongguk.

It’s a mild anticipation, the way he knows that any second, Minjae will lean forward and ask to go somewhere quiet, somewhere more private, and maybe Taehyung will say yes. His skin itches from the feeling of someone watching him, has been for nearly ten minutes now, but when Taehyung finally opens his eyes, all he can really see is Jeongguk across the room with someone mouthing at his neck, a pretty brunette with red, red lips that reminds Taehyung of cherries. She pulls back a little, and Jeongguk leans down to catch her ruby mouth, a harsh reminder that this is all they ever were.

Minjae, from behind, leans down to whisper against his ear, fingers tightening in the curve of his hips. “Hey, you wanna go somewhere—”

“Yes,” Taehyung says brusquely and tears his eyes away. “Yeah, let’s go.”

Minjae wraps a firm arm around his shoulders and hugs him close, leads them up the stairs and out of the mess of heated sweat and hormones. Taehyung ignores the shiver of eyes on his back the entire way up.

Because the thing about falling for a best friend turned FWB is that it makes hooking up with other people impossible without feeling that something is wrong. Taehyung gets as far as crawling into Minjae’s lap on the mattress, makes out with those plush lips for a solid twenty minutes with his shirt shucked to the side and Minjae kissing hickies into his neck, before Taehyung is pushing him away.

“Wha—?”

“Sorry. Shit, sorry, I can't do this right now,” Taehyung sighs, climbing off. “My head hurts like a bitch. Think I had too much to drink.”

“Oh. Yeah, sure,” Minjae says easily, albeit a little confused. “You okay?”

“I'm fine. Just feels like my hangover came early,” Taehyung says and looks at him apologetically. “Sorry for leaving you hanging like this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Minjae laughs, tugging on his shirt and climbing off the bed. “It happens. I’ll go grab you a water bottle.”

“Thank you.”

Taehyung collapses on his side into the comforter and presses into the pillows, eyes closed and mentally berating himself for not even being able to get through with a hook up. Partially drunk, too. God, is he fucked. The sound of the door opening to a blast of music never reaches his ears, and Taehyung opens his eyes to see Minjae pausing before the doorway.

“Hey, we good?” he asks, just in case, because they, too, are friends. The only difference is that this can’t begin to compare to the complication Taehyung knows, can’t even come close because Taehyung is already in love with someone.

“We're good,” Taehyung reassures with a thumbs up and appreciates the gesture. He makes a mental note to keep Minjae close.

“Alright, awesome. I’ll be back in a few,” Minjae says and shuts the door behind him.

Taehyung closes his eyes again and runs a hand through his hair to tame the ruffled strands. His head doesn’t even hurt, just a silly excuse because he couldn’t commit to fucking someone tonight, and that thought wanders off to Jeongguk, who may very well be in bed with someone else right now. The pretty girl with the red lips, probably, with a body that makes anyone who turns her down foolish. He screws his eyes shut and trashes that thought process.

Really, Taehyung just wants to be alone in someone else’s bed without the company of someone else. Maybe he’ll fall asleep and wait for someone to come find him, wake him up so he can drag his sorry self to Seokjin’s car and head home before sunrise. Crawl into bed and sleep against Jimin tonight, sink in that mundane warmth he knows he doesn’t have to question. Taehyung skin prickles with a slight chill, and he throws his legs over the side of the bed to snatch his forgotten t-shirt off the floor, tugs it over his head before laying back down to try and drown into the comforter.

He definitely does not want to think about Jeongguk tonight, and yet.

“I just saw Minjae walk out completely intact.” When Taehyung opens his eyes, Jeongguk is standing beside the bed, setting his solo cup on the nightstand with a water bottle in the other hand. “Told him I’d bring this to you for him. You okay?”

Taehyung swallows the lump in his throat. “Could be better.” Could be a lot better.

“Do you want me to grab Jimin—”

“No,” Taehyung says tersely. “No, it’s good. I’m good.”

“Okay.”

Jeongguk kicks off his shoes and climbs onto the bed, slides down until he’s laying across from Taehyung. It comes so easy to him that Taehyung’s heart shutters and rattles his delicate ribcage. All he can see is Jeongguk’s face now, in this plain lighting that softens the hard lines for the first time all night. It sheathes him in a calm surrender and a dense pang of confliction all the same, and he has never hated juxtaposition so much.

Jeongguk presses the cool water against the side of his face. “Failed hook up?”

“I guess you can say that,” Taehyung says. “What about you? Anyone tonight?”

“Don’t know yet,” Jeongguk shrugs, water inside the bottle jostling lightly from the movement. “Guess I’ll find out later.”

The plastic of the water bottle sends a shiver down his spine, grooves of the bottle chilled from condensation, but the warmth radiating off Jeongguk’s body always soothes him, the dull throbbing in his chest that he mistakes for the  back of his skull. He’s not so much tipsy anymore as he is love drunk, but the daunting fact that he’d fallen for someone who has declared relationships too tedious catches up to him like the last shot of tequila he’d taken with Jimin. He really doesn’t want to believe anymore.

Jeongguk hasn’t looked away once, not once this entire time, and it is exactly why Taehyung is here, wrapped up in confusion. Wondering just what it is that Jeongguk intends to make of this, of them. If he’s honest with himself, he’s exhausted from this disoriented obscurity. It never helps that Jeongguk looks at him with tender eyes, like he’s looking at the stars.

Jeongguk slides the bottle away, drops it in the space between their bodies and reaches out to curl his fingers around Taehyung’s slender neck, thumb brushing along what Taehyung knows is the hickey Minjae had left behind, red and blotchy from where it’d been made only minutes ago. Something flashes across Jeongguk’s face, anger flaring into regret into defeat, but mostly just pain. He flattens his palm across the skin, and the expression is gone.

“Jeongguk?” Taehyung asks, voice quiet in the empty air between him.

He knows he’s teetering off the edge now, knows that once these words have left his mouth, what’s done is done, leaving it up for them to decide whether they’ll grow from this or end it here. But he’s tired of not knowing, the ambiguous “us” that seems to plague them every time Jeongguk kisses him like his lips are an addiction. There is always an excuse for it, nothing more than a benefit of their friendship to hide the simple fact that Jeongguk might want more but is too scared to do anything about it. He’s tired of waiting around for something that might never happen, tired of dancing around the subject that Jeongguk pretends to ignore, and if there’s one thing he has learned about life as an athlete, it’s to keep moving on.

“Yeah?” Jeongguk asks, and if he registers the sudden change in Taehyung’s tone, he doesn’t show it.

And just like that, the words are falling off Taehyung’s tongue like liquor, the perfect walls built around their friendship finally, finally cracking in the distance.

“What am I to you?”

Something about the slow surprise that etches across Jeongguk’s face tells Taehyung I beat you to it , and the few seconds he misses doesn’t go by unnoticed. Taehyung can feel the way his arm goes stiff, but his eyes remain expressionless.

“We’re—you’re my partner in crime, remember?” Jeongguk tries, words generic, and ignores how it doesn’t even convince himself. “We’re best friends.”

There it is, the answer he wished he didn’t hear. Clarity in its rawest form.

“That's it?” Taehyung asks.

“Taehyung, you know I—”

But Taehyung shakes his head, pulls away and sits up with a sigh. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “You don’t do dating or whatever.”

“No, listen—”

“Sorry I asked. I—think I’m drunk,” Taehyung says and forces a smile. He wants to reach out and tug Jeongguk into a kiss, but Jeongguk was never his to love. “You’re right, though. Partners in crime, yeah?”

“Taehyung, I,” Jeongguk sits up on the bed and wants nothing more than to salvage this fragile moment, the way it hangs off the edge just waiting to hit rock bottom. Maybe he's just waiting to go down with it. “I don’t want to lose you as my best friend.”

Taehyung takes his time and stares at the hands in his lap, feels the weight of the words more on his chest than he hears in his ears. He looks at Jeongguk, that sad smile hidden at the corners of his mouth that doesn't reach his eyes in this dim lighting.

“Friendship doesn’t need to be sacrificed," is all he says. Jeongguk’s face is blank when Taehyung reaches to the side to grab his phone. There’s one missed call from Jimin, nothing really to worry about, and he clicks the screen off. “Anyway I’m gonna call it a night and find Jimin.”

“Do you—do you need any help?” Jeongguk asks, tone bearing a scintillating fragment of hope, like maybe they’ll snap out of some fabricated reality that they've spiraled into and laugh about once they've found their way out. Like everything will go back to normal, as if he isn’t already running the words over and over in his head like a broken record of bitter contrition.

“Not that drunk,” Taehyung laughs and grows quiet because he wishes he was. He wouldn’t have remembered this otherwise, and he thinks that might be a good thing.

One last glance at Jeongguk, and Taehyung finally feels the tiny crack in his heart, all this time he spent protecting it from confrontation only for it to come down to this. Hesitantly, as if afraid to shatter their walls, Taehyung leans forward and presses a feather-soft kiss against Jeongguk’s cheekbone, right over the small scar, and lets his lips linger through the tension.

“Don’t do anything stupid tonight,” he mutters before sliding off the mattress. But it’s too late for warning because Jeongguk has already done more things that he’ll spend the rest of this night regretting.

“I’ll see you soon?” Jeongguk says after Taehyung, watching him reach for the doorknob.

“Yeah, see you,” Taehyung puts on that smile that feels too fabricated and walks out.

Jeongguk never stops by Seokjin’s with Yoongi, but Taehyung never expected it anyway.

 

 

Jeongguk and Yoongi leave for New York the following weekend, and Taehyung pretends that the hole in his heart doesn’t double its diameter.

On the morning of their flight, Taehyung had woken to the sound of banging at their front door, knuckles clunky against the wood as he shuffled barefooted across the living room to fetch it. The last person he’d expected to see was Yoongi, properly dressed and posed casually in the doorway.

“Hey,” Taehyung had said, furrowing his brows and stepping to the side to let Yoongi in. “Jimin isn’t home.”

“Neither is anyone else but you apparently,” Yoongi says unceremoniously, facing him. “What the fuck is everyone even doing this early on a Sunday?”

“I think Jimin ran to the bike shop to get his brakes checked,” Taehyung shuts the door with a yawn, scratching at his belly. “He’ll be back in half an hour if you want to wait.”

“Nah, gotta catch our flight soon. Thanks though.”

“Flight?”

“Yeah. Didn’t Jeongguk tell you? We’re flying back to New York to get the rest of our things in storage.”

Oh, right.

“He did,” Taehyung says, belatedly remembering their conversation, the shared milk carton and anime amongst other things that happened that night. He would’ve known of their flight times had they been on speaking terms. “How long?”

“A little over one week. Ten days to be exact,” Yoongi says. “Anyway I just stopped by to give someone the keys to our apartment.” Yoongi tosses him the spare, and Taehyung catches it in the palm of both hands. “Could you get it to Hoseok or Seokjin for me? I just need one of them to make sure our place isn’t on fire while we’re gone.”

“That’d be helpful.” Taehyung sets the keys on the counter. “Not Jimin and I?”

Yoongi snorts. “Definitely don’t trust you two. Oh, also,” Yoongi hands him something square, plastic, a CD case. “Jeongguk wanted me to give this to you. Something about your funeral.”

Taehyung takes the CD, examines the cover art that shows through the clear case. The words ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’ are handlettered in extravagant type across the top and bottom with a tiny coffin and a few other intricate illustrations doodled in the center—Jeongguk wasn't lying about being able to draw. He snaps it open to peak inside and scans over the tracklist.

“Tell him I said thanks,” Taehyung had said, ignoring the question that stifled the air between them.

Why can’t you tell him yourself?

But finding your daily routine after having less of something that used to be so regular is hard to get used to so soon—Taehyung is holding up even if he feels like shit, though, and that’s something. It helps that Jeongguk is miles away in the big city of New York, avoiding him all the same, and Taehyung is glad for the miles of separation that makes it easy for them to tiptoe around each other without getting caught.

These are the consequences of avoiding someone to get over someone, dodging group calls on Skype with Yoongi and Jeongguk and instead pretending not to be home upon invitation via group chat on Kakao. He swears he isn’t jealous when Jeongguk texts Jimin a picture of him at Shake Shack, crooked smile in place and pretending to bite into a burger. He laughs forcefully when Jimin turns the phone to show him and mentally pats himself on the back for managing even that, tries not to stop Jimin mid-text when he types, Taehyung and I are laughing at you over In-N-Out.

It’s a fucking effort trying to get over someone, but Taehyung just needs time to get back on his feet.

Sand grains are warm where they fill the gaps between his toes as he shovels his heels into the tiny granules. Taehyung isn’t even fond of evenings at the beach, but here with Jimin after an early dinner at the pier, it’s never so bad with salty wind dusting his hair.

“Fucking seafood, dude,” Jimin groans, collapsing on his back in the sand, shirt ruffling with the wind. “Why does it always make you feel so full. Is this what it feels like to be pregnant?”

“I don’t know, but being pregnant sounds like ass,” Taehyung grimaces, clutching his stomach. He’s full, but it’s a comfortable tightness in his belly that doesn’t feel brutishly gorged. He’s always been able to eat more than Jimin anyway. “Shout out to women. They’re the real MVP’s here.”

“Respect,” Jimin says, pumping the air with a balled fist before propping himself up on his elbows. “Hey, by the way, what time did you get back last night?”

“Like three, I think,” Taehyung digs his fingers into the sand and watches it sink into beige. “The party wasn’t even fun.”

“Sucks.”

“Someone even offered to suck my dick, and I said no,” Taehyung says, looking a little blank. “I don’t know why.”

“Sounds to me like the party wasn’t the issue,”

“It was,” Taehyung reasons exasperatedly. “They had cheap vodka and a shitty bathroom.”

“Since when was cheap vodka a concern of ours?”

“Since standards existed?” Taehyung turns to look down at Jimin and laughs. “Dude, you’re such a cheap ass.”

“Whatever,” Jimin grins and wafts a lapful of sand onto Taehyung’s shorts. “And what do you mean you don’t know why you denied that BJ? It’s so fucking obvious.”

“It is not ‘fucking obvious’.”

“It’s a goddamn arrow, Tae,” Jimin quirks a brow. “It’s also pretty obvious that you haven’t been ‘fucking fine’ either.”

“What makes you say that?” Taehyung defends, feigning oblivion. He hates hearing it like this, but maybe he needs the reality check right in the face in the form of an uncouth recollection, something to spiral him back to his senses and force him to realize that moping wasn’t the solution to anything.

“Besides the fact that you were sitting on the kitchen floor the other night drinking milk from the carton by yourself? Look, I’m just gonna be straight up with you,” Jimin sits up and slides his knees to his chest. “I don’t know what happened between you and Jeongguk, but you both look like you need to get laid. Preferably by each other. Take the day off, rent a room at Motel Six and bring a bag of lube, I don’t know—”

“He rejected me,” Taehyung says flatly.

Jimin clamps his mouth shut.

“I kind of asked him what we were, that night after Namjoon’s competition? And he friend zoned me.”

“Damn, Tae,” Jimin says, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “I’m sorry.”

“He told me he didn’t do relationships, remember that?” Taehyung says grimly, leaning into Jimin’s side. “And I still had to go and catch feelings. Why do we even do FWB’s, Jimin? We all know that shit doesn’t work.”

Jimin squeezes his shoulders. “All I know is that you did it because you love him, and people do fucked up shit when they’re in love.”

“I do love him,” Taehyung sighs and tilts his head onto Jimin’s shoulder. “And that was the problem.”

“Hey, you take all the time you fucking need, babe,” Jimin shifts to look him in the face properly. “More for me, right?”

Taehyung laughs at this and shakes his head. “Who said we’re friends? You’re boring as fuck.”

“You’re a goddamn turd, you know that?” Jimin pouts.

The sound of crashing waves is a sonance in the orange distance. The breeze wafting his hair is subtly frigid enough to raise bumps on his arms, but he is a snug pressure against Jimin’s side, sheltered from the world beyond this. They used to do this all the time, hang out at the beach when they were still amateurs in their sports with bigger ambitions and outstretched arms. At the very beginning, love wasn’t a complication or a constant morning wake up call to remind him that he’s a little more than lost, replaced instead by the search for success and the desire to rake in wins from local competitions to gain the recognition they needed. One guileless step at a time because that’s how they knew it.

Jimin’s cheek presses into the crown of his hair. “Hey, Taehyung.”

“Yeah.”

“Listen—love’s a bitch, but we can’t avoid that,” Jimin says, hand rubbing soothing circles against Taehyung’s back. “So don’t be too hard on yourself, alright?”

Taehyung nods because he knows, and he’ll try. But the optimistic truth can’t soothe the ache in his chest, and it is in the setting sun that he wishes for simpler times and a simpler heart.

 

 

“It’s six p.m. and your ass is still sleeping.”

Jeongguk feels something soft hit his nose and reaches up to peel a pair of boxers off his face. Yoongi looks unimpressed in the doorway where the sun hits him through the window, but the warm glow is ruined the second he flicks on the lights and leans against the doorframe with half-eaten popsicle in hand.

“And you haven’t even finished packing,” Yoongi chides, dropping the box of pizza on the mattress. “You do realize our flight back to LA leaves tomorrow.”

“Sorry. Passed out,” Jeongguk groans illogically, stretching his arms overhead. Judging by the phone clasped in his palm, he’d fallen asleep staring at the screen again. “We’re flying straight into LAX right?”

“We might have a connecting flight, but I’ll check later,” Yoongi nudges one of the Stussy sweaters scattered across the floor with his toe and paces across the room to plop down in the office chair. “Remind me to drop by Seokjin’s after we land to get the spare key.”

“Oh, if you pass by Jimin’s, could you drop this off for Taehyung?” Jeongguk sits up and points to the box near the foot of the bed. “Did a custom order online a few weeks ago back in Cali. Tell him it’s a souvenir from New York.”

“And why can’t you give it to him yourself?”

“Convenience?”

“Convenience my ass,” Yoongi deadpans. “We’re only a fifteen minute drive away from their place, and we all know you don’t speed limits.”

“Fine, damn. If you don’t want to take it to him, then you don’t have to. I was just asking.”

“You know this isn’t about the commute,” Yoongi says and gives him a hard look.

“Then what’s it about?” Jeongguk huffs, leaning back against the pillows and throwing an arm over his eyes.

“It’s about why you’ve been moping around and avoiding Taehyung since Namjoon’s wakeboarding competition,” Yoongi finishes off the popsicle and points the stick at him, lips red from artificial flavoring. “Don’t think I don’t notice that guilty look you keep getting on your face lately. I’ve known you for years, Jeongguk. I can tell when you’re beating yourself up over something.”

Jeongguk pushes out a sigh from deep within his chest. “What if I said I fucked up big time?”

“I would believe it,” Yoongi says, so casually that Jeongguk is tempted to suffocate him with his blanket. “But knowing you, you’ve probably convinced yourself that it’s the end of the world.”

“I’m getting there,” Jeongguk mumbles and tries to disappear into the cushion of his mattress.

The bed dips as Yoongi climbs in next to him, back pressed against the mountain of pillows,. He pulls Jeongguk into a firm headlock. “Talk to me, kid.”

“I just,” Jeongguk drops his arm and rolls his head back against Yoongi’s arm. “I think I fucked it up with Taehyung.”

“Kind of saw that coming,” Yoongi says. “How so?”

“Before all this happened,” Jeongguk waves his hand, indicating the wreck that now sits between Taehyung and him as of late. “He kind of asked what we were, that night after we celebrated Namjoon’s win. I fucking choked and pulled the friend card on him.”

“So then you do like him,” Yoongi clarifies.

“I love him.”

“I always figured there was something different between you two,” Yoongi says, recalling the exact moment he’d predicted this outcome. “Should’ve listened to me back when we were getting our tats done.”

“We had a friendship before this. A real one,” Jeongguk mutters solemnly. “But I was so scared of losing what we had that I ended up pushing him away.”

“How are you so sure that you’ll lose your friendship?” Yoongi frowns.

“FWB’s don’t work like that. You catch feelings, you bail, and you bail because an experimental relationship isn’t worth fucking up a good friendship over.”

“But Taehyung is way more than just experimental,” Yoongi says. “And what the fuck, ‘experimental relationship’? That’s called dating, you asshat. Except in your case, you already know you love Taehyung, and you know you don’t want to lose him. That’s what a relationship is.”

“How is that any different from staying best friends? There’s no risk in that.”

“Because you both aren’t satisfied with the limitations of being best friends, and there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s mutual.”

“And what if we don’t want the same things?”

“Then you find out,” Yoongi retorts easily. “Because either way, your friendship isn’t the same anymore, not since you started hooking up. And now you’re on the verge of losing him completely if you don’t do anything about it. Your options are limited here.”

Jeongguk closes his eyes because Yoongi is right. There’s no going back to what they used to be, not ever, and he and Taehyung had never really been “just friends” anyway. Not since Aspen.

Yoongi scoots higher against the pillows. “I mean, are you really okay with spending the rest of your life watching him fall in love with the wrong people until he finds the right one without thinking ‘that could be me’?”

The answer is maybe, if it meant salvaging what he had, has?, with Taehyung. He can’t stomach the idea of losing someone that occupies such an important part of his life, can hardly stomach the idea of losing a friend, and sure, maybe he’d be willing to commit to sacrifices if it meant contributing to the greater happiness.

Jeongguk presses his palm against his eyes. “I really don’t want to lose him over something that might not even last, hyung...”

“Look, Jeongguk,” Yoongi sighs. “Relationships aren’t for everyone, I know that. But you can’t just keep running from your own feelings when they scare you. You’re allowed to be selfish every now and then.”

“I want to shit on my own feelings right now,” Jeongguk squeezes his phone. “God, love sucks.”

“Hey, it sucks less when it’s worth it.”

And Taehyung is. He’s worth it. Because Jeonguk has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“I’m gonna be real fucking cheesy here, but,” Yoongi sighs heavily. “Love can be just as much an extreme sport as any other. It hurts like a bitch when you don’t do it right, but it feels fucking amazing when you do. Relationships are a lot like sports or the X Games—they’re something you work at. No one wants to date someone who only sees failure, Jeongguk.” Yoongi throws his head back against the pillows. “Taehyung is your fucking gold, dude. It’s normal to want to win his heart every single day.”

“That’s—fuck, that’s deep,” Jeongguk huffs through his nose but finally lets himself laugh, to ease into this moment and look forward to the next without fearing the unknown future. Living in the fast lanes never had to be a commitment. “You really think we have a shot?”

Yoongi scoffs, short puff of air escaping through his nose. “Shit, I mean, falling in love with your best friend? I can’t picture anything better.”

 

 

Jeongguk texts at midnight when Taehyung is hanging on the fringes of sleep.

 

Jeongguk

Just flew into LA

Are you awake?

 

Taehyung rubs the blurry dots from his eyes and squints at the bright screen through the dark. He has no idea why Jeongguk is texting him at this time, no idea why Jeongguk would even be texting him, and he briefly wonders if it’s an emergency, given that the last text had been sent a few weeks ago, it was a real motherfucker of a condom and she was fucking clawing me . Taehyung recalls the conversation—right, sex with other people. How fitting. He’d even gone to bed at a decent time tonight only to be disturbed by the cause of the dull in his chest. He scrolls back down and types his response.

 

Taehyung

No

 

Taehyung yawns into his pillow and groans, partly out of exhaustion and partly out of complication. He’s a little pathetic in this muted setting, the way his heart jumps to his throat from Jeongguk’s texts alone, and even though things are severely shitty, Jeongguk still finds a way to keep him up in the middle of the night in the midst of it all. His phone dings.

 

Jeongguk

I’m calling

 

Jeongguk gives him no time to type a reply before his phone is vibrating and startling him fully awake, Jeongguk’s goofy caller ID photo flashing across the screen. It’s been awhile since he’s last seen it, not like before where he’d frequent the picture almost daily, and the image is freshly nostalgic. Taehyung hesitates but slides to answer after the third ring.

“Hello?” he asks, voice groggy. He coughs to the side and clears his throat of the sleep.

“Hello?” Jeongguk mimics. He sounds tired in that restless way, air mileage only a part of that exhaustion. “Taehyung.”

“Hey. Everything okay?” Taehyung asks because if not for some kind of favor, he can’t think of any other reason why Jeongguk would call. He closes his puffy eyes.  

“Yeah, everything's good. Our plane landed an hour ago,” Jeongguk says then laughs softly, more breath than sound. “You wouldn't believe where I am right now.”

“Party?”

“You'd believe that.”

“True.”

There’s a bout of shuffling on the other end until the line goes stable.  

“I'm at In-N-Out,” Jeongguk says. “I actually craved this garbage. Guess it isn’t so bad after all.”

“Right after New York?” Taehyung says and opens his eyes to stare at the high ceiling, so easy to drown in and one of the perks of living in a highrise loft. “Is that really all you called me for?”

There’s a pause, and then, “I called because I miss your voice.” It’s soft, so soft, and Taehyung almost misses it, almost asks him to repeat those words, But the words are there, in the static overflow of electricity. “I know the timing’s a little gross, but could you meet me here? I’ve got something for you.”

“And it can’t wait till tomorrow?”

“Last I checked, animal style burgers aren’t nearly as good when they’re a day old.”

Taehyung’s stomach responds to this. “Are you seriously bribing me out of bed right now.”

“But it’s working, isn’t it?”

“Burgers-at-midnight just so happens to be my middle name.”

“So you’re coming?”

Taehyung glances at the wall clock perched over his television. He’s really got no excuse right now, quite literally stripped down to his most vulnerable, but he can’t avoid the issue any more than he already has. As bittersweet as it may be, it’s now or never, and he craves closure just as full.

“I’ll see you in ten.”

 

 

Sitting in the middle of an empty fast food restaurant parking lot isn’t the most ideal way to spend the rest of his night, but Taehyung is here beside Jeongguk in the balmy summer heat.

Jeongguk had been sitting in his car with the door open, browsing on his phone, when Taehyung pulled into the lot, nerves tingling in his throat as he stepped out to greet him. The first thing he said was, “Your hair is black,” and Jeongguk glanced up into his bangs, “It is.” Somehow this had been the perfect icebreaker, and Jeongguk feels the weight of how much he’d missed Taehyung like an anchor on his chest when they fall back together like they’d never been apart.

“This is pretty sketch,” Taehyung says now, glancing around as Jeongguk shovels through the paper bag for his food—he’d already eaten his own share while waiting. Taehyung grabs the offered burger. “Thanks.”

“Whatever, we’re right next to a main street,” Jeongguk says, tossing napkins in his lap.

“That dictates shit, but okay,” Taehyung peels back the wrapper. “How was New York?”

“Nostalgic, even if it’s only been a few months. I miss it there,” Jeongguk says. “You forget how different these cities are from home when you’ve stayed in one place too long.”

“Wouldn’t know. I’ve been in Cali for as long as I can remember.”

The asphalt is warm beneath them and seeps through the denim of his jeans, and all Jeongguk can focus on is the sound of Taehyung’s chewing. It’s only been a few weeks since he last saw Taehyung like this, but already he’s stunned. His bangs are a little longer, sweeping into his eyes and tousled with sleep, and there’s the slightest imprint of bed sheets against his cheek. He is thankful that Taehyung agreed to come out and meet him, and before he’s even processing it, his mouth runs off without thinking.

“—gold,” Jeongguk suddenly mutters, entirely incomprehensible, and Taehyung glances at him questionably.

“What was that?”

“The other night,” Jeongguk starts, rolling the corner of a napkin and distressing the fibers with his fingertips. “You asked what you meant to me.”

Taehyung pauses mid-chew, food stuffed in the hollows of his cheeks and grease on his tongue, before swallowing the rest of the bite and setting his food down.

“I meant it when I said you were my best friend, that I didn’t want to lose our friendship,” Jeongguk explains, not nearly as on autopilot as he’d like to be.

Taehyung sighs. “Look, Jeongguk, I understood the first ti—”

“But I want you to be mine, too.”

“Oh.”

“Because I may be an idiot who didn’t admit to this from the beginning, but I fell in love with my best friend, and that isn’t so bad.”

Taehyung stares at the tray of fries sitting between them. He’s got a million expressions running across his face, but Jeongguk can’t pick up on one. The laugh that escapes Taehyung’s mouth is unbelievable in a way that Jeongguk hopes he isn’t doubting.

“Then why—?”

“Because I was scared we’d lose ‘us’ over a more temporary ‘us’,“ Jeongguk says. Finally. “But that’s bullshit because the truth is that I’ve never loved anyone so much, and it scares me. I was so focused on salvaging our friendship after we became FWB and at the same time trying to protect myself from potentially getting hurt, but. I just can’t picture a future where you aren’t mine, and I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that.”

A bicyclist passes by with churning wheels that reminds Jeongguk of a ticking time bomb. He’s not really counting down the seconds as much as he’s counting down his breaths, though, to make sure he’s breathing like a proper human.

"You know why I picked up two sports?" Jeongguk continues. "I was so lost and scared of slowing down that I filled that emptiness with another focus." He shakes his head and turns to Taehyung. "It's been a long time since I knew what I wanted."

“You’re an idiot, you know that?” Taehyung finally says and looks up from the gravel. His voice sounds something like acceptance. “And yet all I want is to be yours because I love you, too.” Taehyung shakes his head. “Guess that means we’re both idiots in love.”

Engines accelerating hum like crickets in the air around them and dissipate into the outskirts of the city. They probably smell like fast food and car oil, burnt rubber from tires on hot summer days. Beach bodies after an entire day of splashing and melted ice cream dripping off chilled hands. But they are young, and this is what their youth smells like.

A cheeky grin spreads across Jeongguk’s face to follow the delightful buzz that shakes like tremors all through him, and nothing can ruin this moment.

“Fuck X,” Jeongguk says into the night then turns to Taehyung with something quieter, courtesy of Yoongi. “Babe, you’re my gold.”

Taehyung stares at him. “Really? That’s so gay—

“I’m gonna kiss you now.”

And he leans forward to seal the summer he fell in love between them.

 

 

Sunsets are breathtaking painted all over Jeongguk’s sweaty skin and gives worth to six a.m. But Taehyung figures love makes even the worst of times a sight for sore eyes.

Only two hours before this, Taehyung would have never imagined they’d be civilly patient enough to drive all the way back to his place, hands clasped tightly where they rested on Jeongguk’s thigh over the dash, yet they’d defied all self expectations and made the couch their first checkpoint to get their clothes on the floor. Granted, Taehyung had pressed Jeongguk onto the couch for a hand job with a spit-slicked palm until Jeongguk was pushing him off with a strained groan minutes later to hoist him up by the waist and carry him to the bedroom—checkpoint two.

It’s exactly the same but entirely different, the way they press together in this air conditioned room. Jeongguk still takes extra time in leaving vibrant hickies from his jawline to his inner thighs, still touches him like his palms yearn to mold every inch of his skin into memory, and kisses him like time is a forgotten concept. The difference is that Taehyung can’t help the way his body reacts so acutely knowing that Jeongguk’s love had been there all along, intentions so tender Taehyung blushes high in his cheeks and whimpers, so desperate, when Jeongguk runs a warm hand slowly up his inner thigh while he’s mouthing at the supple flesh of his neck.

“Baby,” Jeongguk has to say when he pushes in slow, voice raspy with Taehyung clenching around his length in a pleaful need to have more. “Baby, relax. I’ll make you feel real good, I promise.”

Jeongguk’s body feels like a hot summer night pinning him to the mattress, and Taehyung has never loved heat so much, the sweat dripping off Jeongguk’s chin that glides down Taehyung’s chest in scattered streaks of cloudy moisture. Taehyung’s moans bounce off the walls in increasing volume when Jeongguk presses in just right, right there, and he’s thankful Jimin isn’t home tonight to suffer through the noise. When Jeongguk’s thrusts get sharper and nearly drives Taehyung up the wall that his bed is pressed against, Taehyung reaches out to stop him after a few snaps of his hips, head falling back against the wall with a thud.

“Stop, stop, stop,” Taehyung urges, licking his bottom lip between his teeth to hold back his impending orgasm. The edging makes his cock twitch sensitively, bead of precome leaking against Jeongguk’s stomach. “I don’t want to come yet.”

Jeongguk obliges and slides out when Taehyung’s fingers nudge at his hips. “Why n—”

But before he can finish the question, Taehyung yanks him up to maneuver them until Jeongguk’s back is against the headboard. He swings a leg over to straddle his waist, leaning forward to press a wet kiss against those swollen lips.

“Just sit back and watch, baby,” Taehyung says, exhaling cool air against the plush bottom lip before guiding Jeongguk’s cock to his entrance and sinking down until he’s fully seated. His mouth falls open in a shattered moan when Jeongguk fills him up tight. “Fuck.”

And Jeongguk watches, watches so closely that Taehyung might feel insecure if it weren’t for how much he enjoys rousing Jeongguk up with a show of his own. Jeongguk pins his arm behind his head as Taehyung ride him slow, deep, hands coming out to brace his upper body against Jeongguk’s torso with flattened palms. The way Jeongguk runs his free hand up and down his side to admire his deliberate grinds makes Taehyung’s head spin wildly, and he reaches out to grab Jeongguk’s wrist to suck two digits into his mouth.

“Fuck, you’re so—” Jeongguk’s eyelids flutter shut for a few seconds before he opens them to watch with intimate eyes, dark and feral, the kind of gaze that makes Taehyung embarrassingly wet between their stomachs and his knees tremble. “God, baby. You’re gonna make me come.”

It’s when Jeongguk gets enough leverage to thrust up into him that Taehyung feels his entire body tense up with a coiled heat, and he wraps his entire body around Jeongguk to meet his hips. The sound of the backs of his thighs slapping against Jeongguk’s thicker ones fills the room in a rush of panting and erratic breathing, and Taehyung finally comes with blacked out vision when Jeongguk reaches down to jerk him off.

Oh my God—” Taehyung’s whimpers into Jeongguk’s mouth, shaking apart against his firm torso and arching impossibly into every touch. Jeongguk follows suit soon after, hips stuttering with release as Taehyung rides him through the aftershocks. He buries his face in the crook of Taehyung’s neck and exhales a strangled groan.

But three rounds later finds Taehyung lying on top of Jeongguk and admiring the soft sunrise glow all across his skin. Taehyung’s heart gets so full that he can’t quite look away, can’t stop him from reaching out and trailing his knuckles along the sharp jawline.

“What’s with the goofy smile?” Jeongguk mumbles tiredly, hand stroking aimless patterns against his back.

“Nothing,” Taehyung says. He’s fully aware that he’s still smiling. “I just really love you is all.”

“I love you too. So much,” Jeongguk says and runs the pad of his thumb across Taehyung’s cheekbone with lidded eyes, turns to kiss the palm against his cheek. “Oh, by the way, I still have to give you that present.”

Taehyung props himself up. “What present?”

“Remember? When I called, I told you I had something for you,” Jeongguk backtracks. “It’s still in my trunk.”

“Just give it to me later,” Taehyung whines lazily when Jeongguk makes to get up. “You’re warm and cozy.”

“I wanna give it to you now, though, and I can’t wait that long,” Jeongguk argues with those big innocent eyes. “Babe, it’ll be like, thirty seconds. Then we can cuddle all day if you want since we’ll be sleeping anyway.” He nods towards the large windows where a rising sun can be seen kissing the horizon.

At this, Taehyung succumbs and rolls off Jeongguk’s chest to watch him pull on a pair of boxers and jog out of the room. He shamelessly ogles his body the entire way out, admire the dip of his defined back into the curve of lower dimples, the line that divides his broad back down the center. Taehyung buries his face into the pillow and hates how sappy he feels, hates that he’s actually thinking things like, I’m so lucky to have someone with such a hot body as my boyfriend or I’m having sex with this God. Even things like Jeon Jeongguk is actually mine, and his brain conjures up Jimin’s laughing face at how ridiculously cheesy he’s thinking. But fuck, he can’t help it.

When Jeongguk clambers back into the room, there’s a white, rectangular box in his hands, much larger than Taehyung had been expecting. He sits up when Jeongguk hops onto the bed, pushing the box into his lap with wriggling brows.

“Souvenir from New York,” Jeongguk says, watching Taehyung pick at the tape that holds the openings down. “I hope you like it.”

Taehyung tears it open with curious hands and pulls the present out. It’s a skateboard, already prepped with the wheels and trucks, deck decorated with a beautiful splash of colors that shape the two illustrations poised in the center: a vectorized image of a bear, reminiscent of the one on his own snowboard, and a white bunny with enormous eyes and big teeth. The characters look whacked out and silly, and Taehyung smiles widely and runs his fingers appreciatively over the words “partners in crime” that adorns the bottom of the illustration in a simple font.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes, shaking his head side to side. “God, I love this, I love it so much. Thank you.” He leans forward to kiss him. “This is perfect. You’re perfect.”

Jeongguk laughs and kisses him again. “I’m glad you like it. Figured you should learn how to skateboard at some point. You know, so you can catch up with me.”

“Whatever, fuck you,” Taehyung grins, taking one more look at the skateboard before setting it aside with the box. He wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s shoulders and pulls him in close, until their foreheads are touching. “Looks like you’ll have to teach me.”

“Fine,” Jeongguk says, content, and leans in to kiss Taehyung on the cheek. “As long as you don’t get better than me.”

 

 

Jeongguk’s twenty-first birthday is lowkey.

There is no wild party, no ear-splitting music or heated bodies on a dance floor. He doesn’t have sexy strippers in bunny outfits popping out of his cake with arms like Vanna White to congratulate him, only a beautiful boy with a goofy smile pulling out an Iron Man shaped cake from the fridge to light his candles. And half of that cake ends up on his face and in his hair, courtesy of Taehyung, and revenge is paid back in full when the other half ends up on Taehyung, too, when Jeongguk pulls him in for a kiss that leaves him gasping for air.

But there is alcohol, and there is lots of it, laid out along the counters for their own indulgence. Maybe it’s a bit lame that they’re spending Thursday night in, drinking out of mismatched mugs from Seokjin’s cupboard while watching Marvel films when they could be bar hopping, but who the fuck cares. They are a group of seven satisfied boys circled around the coffee table, clinking glasses together to commemorate his special day, and that is enough.

Eventually the hunger for ice cream and easier liquids augments through the slight buzz that glows high in their cheeks, and Jeongguk accompanies Taehyung along the short trip to the store, cool breeze soothing against his forehead and easing his mind from feeble intoxication. Jeongguk learns that Taehyung is a zealous hand holder, the type that latches on without knowing and holds tight when he does. But Taehyung becomes fully aware of this habit on the walk back to Seokjin’s, and Jeongguk can’t help the way his heart lurches in his chest every time Taehyung lifts their tangled hands to press kisses against his thumb.

With two months left until practice season takes its toll on Taehyung’s regular schedule and the countdown for the next Winter X Games starts ticking, Jeongguk uses these quieter moments to cherish what’s his, leaning in to kiss Taehyung’s cheek when Seokjin’s house comes into view. Like this, he spends as much time as he can with Taehyung before November can catch up to them like season’s change, because more practice meant less Taehyung. So sure, he’ll admit it. It’s going to be difficult when Taehyung has to fly up to Oregon to practice new runs in Timberline for two weeks, reducing them to late night Skype calls and falling asleep to only digitized duplications of reality, but the future of their merging lives makes him excited in a way he’s never experienced. It helps that neither of them are opposed to webcam sex what with the regular occurrence of phone sex rising up on their priority list whenever they weren’t together. Shameless and hormonal, but boy does he get turned on by Taehyung’s breathy moans and needy voice so close to his ears through the quality of his earphones.

“So, birthday boy,” Taehyung says, folding his hands behind Jeongguk’s neck and leaning into his body. Jeongguk sits back against the hood of his car and circles tight arms around his waist. “How does it feel being twenty-one?”

“Other than the fact that I can finally publicly drink alcohol? Older,” Jeongguk supplies lamely. “I’m stoked to get my driver’s license renewed though. Fuck you vertical identification—I’m going horizontal!”

That’s what you’re excited for? Paying thirty dollars in cash to renew your license? You do realize the DMV is the epitome of shitty government bureaucracy.”

“Probably, but you’re coming with me.” Jeongguk says like it’s a given. “We’re gonna park our asses there for ten hours just so I can whine about how embarrassing my photo turns out.”

“Who says I’ll be tagging along?”

“You wouldn’t make me suffer through that alone.”

“Oh, but I would.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Jeongguk presses his face into Taehyung’s soft stomach, inhales the scent of fresh laundry and fading cologne.

Taehyung does not deny, playing with the hair at Jeongguk's nape. “You’re lucky I love your stupid ass.”

“I am.” From inside the house, Hoseok’s scream can be heard, filtering through the open windows and disturbing the still street. Jeongguk figures they’re watching a scary movie, but even with the aid of alcohol, Hoseok is still scared shitless from things of this sort. He pulls back to look up at Taehyung. “By the way, did you ever listen to that mixtape I made you?”

“Not all of it,” Taehyung says sheepishly. “Not that I didn’t appreciate it, just. Bad timing? You gave it to me when we weren’t speaking, and I couldn’t bring myself to listen to all of it. I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re good. Listen to it,” Jeongguk urges. “All of it. There’s something in there for you. I mean, I gave it to you during that time for a reason.”

Taehyung snorts. “I thought you didn’t do romantics.”

“I don’t,” Jeongguk denies. “But you like romantic shit, so I’m gonna spoil the fuck out of you.”

“You are so—” Taehyung bites down on his bottom lip to contain his smile.

“So...?”

“Perfect.”

Jeongguk looks up at Taehyung with a gentle smile, palms flattening at the base of his stomach. “Date me.”

“I thought I already was.”

“No, I mean. Let’s go on a real date,” Jeongguk suggests. “I’ve never taken anyone on an actual date before. Not properly.”

“What the fuck, seriously? I’m the one that’s gonna break your dating virginity?”

“Yeah, and be flattered,” Jeongguk says, a little embarrassed. “I wasn’t lying before when I said I don’t do dating or relationships. Why else do you think it took me so long to admit that I love you?”

“I don’t know. I guess I just never believed someone like you would be so emotionally insecure.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “When you think you’re in love and they turn out to be the wrong one, you trust yourself less.” He hooks his pointer fingers through the loops of Taehyung’s pants. “Bad experience.”

“Babe…” Taehyung mutters sadly and cradles Jeongguk’s cheek. “Do you trust me?”

Jeongguk nods and kisses the wrist of Taehyung’s hand. “I trust me to trust you, baby.”

“Good. Because I’m gonna date the fuck out of you, Jeon Jeongguk. Just don’t go complaining when you get sick of taking me to rad places.”

“Never,” Jeongguk laughs, and Taehyung leans down to kiss him.

There is something about making out against the car in the middle of the night that makes this platitude invigorating, and Taehyung is a sucker for the quaint simplicity of kissing his boyfriend that this cliche offers. Jeongguk kisses him like a lazy morning, tilting his head up at this angle to mouth at Taehyung lips when he presses in closer to breath down his throat. The best part is the way he can feel Jeongguk smiling into the kiss, no particular reason except that he’s just happy to be here, and Taehyung smiles back in full until there’s more teeth knocking than actual kissing, but they’ve always been sloppy from the start anyway.

They pretend not to hear Seokjin’s bellowing voice from inside the house and kiss some more. Five more minutes, Jeongguk is mumbling and doesn’t let him go.

“Jeongguk, Taehyung—I swear to fucking fucking God, quit making out and get your asses in here before the ice cream melts!”

 

Later, when Taehyung slips out of Jeongguk’s arms and drags himself out of bed to sit in his car, he grabs Jeongguk’s mixtape tucked in the glove compartment under some napkins, slides the disc into the stereo, and skips past the tracks he’d already heard. His finger is poised over the forward button and ready to click when Jeongguk’s familiar voice vibrates through the speakers.

“Hey Tae,” Jeongguk’s voice says. “I told you I’d sing you something one day, and I guess one day is now—whenever you decide to listen this far. Who knows, maybe you’re in the car stuck in LA’s shitty traffic, munching on that melted bag of trail mix that you’ve had in there for ten months, which, by the way, you should really throw that out. It’s starting to look like Grandma’s fruit cake.”

Taehyung chuckles at this and idly nibbles at the tip of his thumb, elbow resting against the ledge of the window. The pause that follows is long, and Taehyung almost reaches to skip to the next track when the audio continues.

“Anyway, think about me when you listen to this. Even when I fuck up or make you mad. When I make you sad...” Another pause. Taehyung’s chest is warm from the implied apology that lies behind these words with a somber undertone. “Oh, and, for funeral purposes—in loving memory of Kim Taehyung. He’s not dead yet, I just like remembering him. Nineteen ninety-five to infinity and beyond.”

The audio track counts down to zero as the title “Justin Bieber - Nothing Like Us (Cover)” flashes across the screen of his stereo. There’s nothing but Taehyung’s labored breathing in the small, contained space until Jeongguk’s raspy voice fills the air like a fragile lullaby, beautiful, so beautiful. It’s intimately tender in every spoken syllable that Taehyung is nearly shy, all by himself, even weeks later when Jeongguk is already his with all conflict aside. Rather undeserving, yet this is for him.

Here is where Taehyung finds tears glittering down his cheeks like a trail of fine salt, heart so full of love that piano melody matches the inconsistent flow of his pulse. Being this happy all at once hurts his cheeks, his mouth tastes full of ocean water, and oxygen is running low in this stuffy car, but Jeongguk’s voice had always been his sanctuary and Jeongguk his haven of bliss. Really, there’s nothing like this.

The song fades to an end, and Taehyung reaches to replay it.

 

Jeongguk’s body is a warm furnace when Taehyung finally crawls back into bed to tuck into his hard chest. He presses a kiss to his sleepy face once, twice, and whispers, “Thank you.”

At this, Jeongguk stirs, drowsy eyes blinking open slowly but never fully opening. He grunts and nuzzles his nose against the pillow.

“Hey you,” he mumbles, so groggy.

“Hey,” Taehyung mumbles back, bites back his smile at the sight and kisses him again.

“Thinking too loud?” Jeongguk says, breath tickling across Taehyung’s cheekbones. He reaches his arm up from under the covers and brushes the rough pad of his thumb over the hickey on Taehyung’s neck, a few hours fresh. Instinctive in his sluggish state, the way he admires such marks of possession. The splotches spark pride in Jeongguk’s chest, and they both know he intentionally leaves them just above the collarbones and necklines of t-shirts so the world can see.

“Bathroom break,” Taehyung says, scooting in to press their foreheads together. “Go back to sleep.”

“Mmm,” Jeongguk hums, eyes already closed. His hair is tousled messily, mussed up in random places and scattered across the pillow. The arm he throws over Taehyung’s middle is heavy and worn with exhaustion, but for once, through the jumbled chaos that used to be a mucky sea of endless questioning, he allows himself to relax into this without the worries in tow. Because this, he doesn’t need to question anymore. Because this is his answer.

Jeongguk leans in to kiss his forehead. “Fall asleep with me.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says and almost laughs at Jeongguk’s unbridled affection that this sleep induced haze brings. His hand flies to the soft skin of Jeongguk’s shoulder blades. “Goodnight.”

The abounding exhale that escapes through Jeongguk's nose deflates his chest from the escaped pressure. He is but a lost daze swimming in this nighttide and kisses Taehyung through the brume of sleep. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Taehyung breathes and watches the lines of his face smoothen out into something serene, lips just barely parted. All he’s thinking is, mine, and it never felt more right trickling off his tongue. “Jeongguk?”

But Jeongguk has already slipped back into sleep, no real distinction between dreams and reality because they’re here, they’re together, and it is all he has ever wanted. Living a beautiful dream with his eyes wide open in the arms of the one he loves.

Taehyung brushes the hair out of his face, feeling so pleasant, and says, “Happy birthday, baby.”

 

 

So maybe they’re a lot wreckless, but the delinquents are the funnest.

Against one slim encounter with the law, they return to the housing construction site to continue a new round of battles, the face of a good challenge squashing all concern with getting into trouble. Fuck the police. They are athletes with competition in their blood and pride on their backs, and nothing could stop them from taking on new obstacles. After all, they’ve been doing it all their lives.

Yoongi points an accusatory finger at Jimin. “Fuck you, babe, you didn’t land shit!”

Yoongi is a little tipsy, which accurately explains his fierce admonishments, the way he grabs a tiny, stray piece of drywall and chucks it at Jimin when he tries to convince everyone that he had, in fact, finally landed the trick first, even if he did stumble a little at the end. Taehyung doesn’t know how any of them thought this would be a good idea to include alcohol in the mix of intense physical performance when they’re intoxicated, but with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s being passed around, everything sounds like a good idea.

“The judges at X would count that as complete!” Jimin defends with a pout, cowering under Yoongi’s glare. Taehyung, from his place along the edge of the empty swimming pool, watches the argument unfold. He tosses his pizza crust in the box at the other side of Seokjin and sighs.

“They’d dock you points because you didn’t land that solid,” Yoongi quibbles. At this point, he has no idea why he’s ardently defending this matter. He doesn’t even care that much. Alcohol is a piece of shit. “Just because you’re cute doesn’t mean I’m letting you get away with that.”

“Fine,” Jimin huffs in defeat, but his cheeks are pink from the backwards compliment.

Yoongi reaches forward to teasingly pinch his cheek. “Sorry.”

“Namjoon, you’re up!” Hoseok yells from the other side of the pool.

“Dude, go before me. My fucking shoe ripped on that last run,” Namjoon says with said shoe in hand, inspecting the massive hole along the side of the toe. “Hey, Seokjin hyung, can you throw me that roll of duct tape on the couch?”

“That’s painter’s tape.”

“Throw it, anyway.”

Hoseok climbs the steps of the scaffolding tower to gear up for a run, bike grasped around the middle as he ascends to the top of the second floor. Taehyung would join in on the competition if it weren’t for his less than mediocre skateboarding skills, not having learned enough in his practice sessions with Jeongguk. But he’ll admit, he’s getting better, and he’ll take what he can get. Yoongi and Namjoon still snicker at him when he lands hard on his ass, and Jimin still laughs hysterically from the sidelines like the asshole friend he is, but he’s learning, goddamnit, and when he finally nails that first complicated trick, he vows to do it on Jimin’s face. Bless Hoseok and Seokjin for being the only encouraging friends he has.

Hoseok is fastening his helmet when arms snake around Taehyung’s shoulders from behind. He looks up to see the underside of Jeongguk’s jaw.

“Yoongi and Jimin are gross.”

“So are we,” Taehyung scoffs, reaching up to hold onto Jeongguk’s forearms and leaning into the embrace. “You know, I never pegged Yoongi as the type to be into ‘cute’ and ‘squishy’.”

“Don’t let looks deceive you—he’s a softy behind all that bite,” Jeongguk says. “Jimin’s good for him. He literally needs that daily dose of sunshine.”

“Oh, gross.”

“I’m just saying.”

Yoongi squats beside Jimin and throws an arm around his shoulders, expression gentle and exclusively caring as he mumbles something that makes Jimin smile. It definitely gives Taehyung the shivers, but they’re so damn endearing that he can’t even hate them for it. He hasn’t seen Jimin smile so fondly around anyone before, and he smiles at the quiet exchange.

“I’m gonna miss this summer,” Taehyung says wistfully, glancing up at Jeongguk. “I wish it lasted forever. Hell, I wish we stayed young forever.”

“Fuck that. We will be young forever, riding until the end of time,” Jeongguk laughs, resting his chin on Taehyung’s head. “But hey, beautiful memories last forever, so hold onto those.”

“When did you get so wise?” Taehyung grins. “I like it. It’s kind of hot.”

“Yeah? Been hanging out with Dad too much,” Jeongguk cocks his head towards Namjoon. “He’s our generation’s Gandalf.”

Just then, Hoseok rides up the wall beside Taehyung, air from the speed of his trick tousling his hair as Hoseok swings his bike by the handles and expertly straddles it back into position. It’s nearly perfect, just as all of their tricks had been, until Hoseok stumbles on the way down and loses his shoe along the way. It flings in the opposite direction and almost smacks Seokjin in the face.

“Jeongguk, go,” Namjoon says, still wrapping his shoe with tape on the ratty couch.

“Tear it up, boo,” Taehyung reaches up to lightly ruffle Jeongguk’s hair and squeezes the arm around his neck. Jeongguk presses a quick peck to his temple before jogging off to grab his skateboard, tugging the knee pads hanging idly around his ankles up.

Skating the path down into the empty swimming pool and landing the jump is effortless after all the trial and errors they’ve made up until this point, especially after their first battle. Jeongguk smoothly nails the first half of the stunt, skateboard colliding solidly on the smooth cement in his landing. He gains momentum in the short distance leading up to the sharply angled walls of the pool and rides up with a burst of speed. It’s the moment right after he lands his trick without any mistakes that silence seems to overpower them, and Jeongguk hops off his skateboard to glance around, stunned agape.

Again?” Jimin cries, bewildered, and this time it does hurt his pride. Just a little. “I can’t believe this.”

Namjoon jumps to his feet, clad in only one shoe, and hoots excitedly. Yoongi joins him, cheers loudly and hops down into the pool to grab Jeongguk in a tight headlock. He ruffles his hair until Jeongguk is sure he’ll go bald.

“You fucking overachiever!” Yoongi says excitedly.

Taehyung sits back on his palms, gravel digging into his skin, and shares a humorous look with Seokjin, who’s clapping at the not-so-grand victory.

“Guess who gets free breakfast?” Namjoon mocks with an awful victory dance that looks like a squid’s mating call. He points at Hoseok and Jimin. “Not the biker squad!”

“How boring,” Jimin groans sadly. “This is like the blue balls of all battles. Leaves you excited until you find out there’s no climax.”

“Anti-climatic as fuck, but least we finished up faster than last time,” Hoseok scoffs and slaps Jeongguk’s back good naturedly. “Of course it was Goldie over here.”

But this celebration doesn’t last long because.

“Police! Who’s there!”

“Fucking hell,” Yoongi groans and sprints off with Jimin.

“Everyone meet at IHOP!” Seokjin whisper shouts and jogs off with Namjoon and Hoseok, head ducked low.

Taehyung snatches up his skateboard and glances around swiftly, but Jeongguk is already there, grabbing his hand with that crooked smile on his face and gleaming brighter than the moon. Taehyung smiles back and feels the familiar tingle of adrenaline rush through his veins, the same high he gets right before competitions, and it feels a lot like gold. He squeezes the hand wrapped in his and holds on tight.

“Let’s go, partner,” Jeongguk says and runs.