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finger cuffs

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"boy or a girl?"

startled by confusion, taehyung looks up from his strawberry/banana/chocolate hybrid milkshake. "come again?"

jeongguk rolls his eyes not looking up from his phone. the way his thumbs are moving rapidly, taehyung knows he must be playing fucking bejweled again. ever since he got the highest score on the diamond mine two weeks ago, he's been greatly overcompensating by playing nearly every moment. taehyung doesn't know how seokjin can stand it. 

"your latest hard on," jeongguk enunciates hard on, taehyung is convinced, to make the other customers turn a judgmental eye toward them. "you've been smiling all the time. and it's not just 'my name is taehyung and i'm perpetually elated' smile. it's the 'i have someone in my life smile'. so, boy or a girl?"

this time taehyung rolls his eyes. "it's actually the 'someone in my life is really cute and i'm having perpetual daydreams' smile but whatever, same gist. boy."

jeongguk smirks and scoffs at the same time before setting his phone down on the table looking more smug than mariah carey. he reaches for his own milkshake and takes a sip. "name?"

"i don't know," taehyung admits bashfully, that familiar giddy, hopeful smile rising on his face again. "he's a dancer, i think. i always see him leaving the dance hall."

"what's he look like? i might know him."

this awakens taehyung's interest but he'd be hard pressed to admit that his ears legitimately perk up. but then he remembers the person sitting across from him is a conniving little shit who only managed to spend time with the object of his affection with manipulation. "if i tell you, will you actually help me or will you just use it to blackmail me into doing ridiculous things?"

taehyung could envision it now: jeongguk threatening to tell the ethereal dancer about taehyung being borderline obsessed with him in order to get their shared dorm to himself for the night. not that he could get anywhere with his crush past brotherly hair ruffling. 

jeonnguk rolls his eyes again. taehyung wished he would roll them out of his head. "i've got better things to do than impede on boner source. besides we both know you can ruin your chances better than i can...c'mon, what's he look like?"

embarrassingly, taehyung can feel a blush creep up on his cheeks as he thinks of the dancer. every time he saw him or daydreamed about him (and he did daydream about him a lot), he heard elton john's tiny dancer because the first time taehyung laid eyes on him, he was wearing faded blue jeans ("blue jean baby"). and he was pretty eyed and, from what taehyung could tell at observer distance, he was short but immaculate. incredibly handsome tiny dancer.

jeongguk snaps his fingers right in taehyung's face. "back to reality."

"oh," taehyung chuckled, eyes down and smile small. "he's perfect."

jeongguk waits for a few beats, an expecting silence filling the conversation. upon realizing, that is taehyung's only description, he frowns. "yeah, that's not gonna help me."

taehyung shrugs. "i dunno, he's short, fit, he's got dark hair that he either has pushed back which, oh god, gets me every time. or sometimes he wears a hat and, as good as it looks, i like the days when he isn't wearing one. depending on the weather, he can either look pale or tanned but always gorgeous. his got this eyes that," taehyung stops to moan, throwing his head back. "they're like black pearls. i bet they shine even more when he's smiling but i've never seen him smile. he's so--"

"finger cuffs?"

"what?"

"have you ever seen this guy with anyone?" jeonnguk presses, his eyes own eyes having taken on this deep concern. "around any friends? or...?"

"he's usually alone," taehyung answers quickly, disappointment filling him up. "why? does he have someone? oh my god, the hours i've invested imaging our life together. in my dreams, he's a cuddler."

"tae...you can't," jeonnguk stops to look away for a moment, biting his lip in contemplation. "he's bad news. don't bother with him, alright?i'd prefer you go back to having a crush on seokjin than like finger cuffs."

"is that his name? finger cuffs?"

"no," jeongguk shakes his head and sighs. he looks frustrated like he's having trouble explaining something to a child. "it's...never mind, what his name is. just stay away from him. i promise you he's no good."

"is he an ex-con? holy shit, he looks so sweet."

"listen--"

"i didn't say anything when you, like, fell in love with seokjin after i told you i liked him," taehyung isn't at all bitter about what happened their freshman year at university. he used to be for a long time shortly after the fact, his infatuation with the eldest graduate student ended. but it still bothered him sometimes that jeongguk allowed his feelings to get the best of him despite taehyung's confession. but, he supposes, it's impossible to not fall for seokjin to some degree. "now i've completely moved on and you're telling me not to?"

jeongguk scratches the side of his neck. "i'm telling you he's no good."

"tell me his name and let me decide for myself."

at that jeongguk frowned but raised his own challenge. "i'll tell you his name and you restrict the research to social media. at least do that before you make a fool out of yourself."

"you let me wear a ronald mcdonald costume to masquerade ball, since when do you care about me making a fool out of myself?"

"i just don't want you to get hurt, okay? promise, just social media for now?"

taehyung promises without promising and jeongguk gives the name.

 

park jimin.

knowing his name adds an entire level to the fantasy world he's been living in. he imagines the cuddling but this time, he can pretend to be resistant and say "jimin, not now". it's ridiculous but it makes him smile. knowing his name makes seeing him leave the dance hall all the more difficult because he has physically restrain himself -- pressing his hand against his mouth -- from calling out his name. 

every day he sees him either enter or leave the dance hall alone. some days he wears shorts and a hoodie, some days he wears a loose tank and joggers, all days he looks dazzling.

it's not that taehyung is actively following jimin or that he knows his schedule because he doesn't. it's just that the fashion hall is directly across from the dance hall and taehyung is, more often than not, the go to model for majority of the fashion designers. every day after class, some days before work, he goes to the fashion hall to model for the students. some of the modeling is just standing in the middle of a classroom while he's roughly sketched out and some of it is actually trying on students' clothing and modeling it off for their presentations. 

it's a thankless job that he got courtesy of min yoongi who photographed him for his portfolio and put one of the better pictures on his instagram. which has over 7,000 followers even though he only follows like 10 accounts (and only likes the pictures from seokjin's account). 

initially taehyung complained about all his time being used but being across from the dance hall and getting to see park jimin shut him up very quickly. it became the highlight of his day. 

"what are you doing?"

taehyung whips around, pulling a complete 180 until he finds the source of the gruff voice and meets the perpetually stoic expression of min yoongi. "oh, hey."

"don't tell me you've taken to stalking people again," yoongi frowns...or maybe he doesn't. it's hard to tell for taehyung because it honestly looks as if yoongi is constantly frowning. 

"shouldn't matter to you since it's not jin hyung anymore."

"true but you managed to replace your spot as his number one stalker with that detestable roommate of yours."

the jin effect, as taehyung liked to refer to it, took many victims and spun out different complications depending on who fell under his spell. currently -- well for the past three years -- its victims have been, in chronological order, yoongi, taehyung then jeongguk the copycat. 

it would take him ages to explain the situation to anyone outside his circle of friends so the rough version is: yoongi like seokjin. taehyung like seokjin. taehyung tell roommate jeongguk. jeongguk like seokjin. taehyung like mystery dancer. yoongi hate jeongguk. jeongguk hate yoongi. 

it's romance for cavemen. 

"what can i say?" his mouth is fixed for a snarky remark but nothing comes out because there he is. 

in all of his sweaty, slicked back hair glory. today he does have a snapback but he's holding it in one hand while he uses his other to dig through his duffel bag. as always, he looks preoccupied, unsmiling but not necessarily upset. taehyung notices his earphones and starts to daydream about what kind of music the angel listens to. would he like older music like bob dylan? does he listen to tchaikovsky? would he prefer the rap skills of kendrick lamar or drake? would he like rap?

"no," yoongi groans. "no, no, you can't be serious."

"what?"

"that," yoongi points out an obvious finger that taehyung is quick to push down. "is the one you're crushing on?"

"if you could not announce it to everyone--"

"i knew you had questionable taste but jesus christ."

taehyung's eyes follow jimin until he's out of sight and only then does he turn to yoongi. "did he kill a man? a woman?" taehyung gasps and covers his mouth. "a puppy?"

"i'm guessing you heard you should be staying away from him."

taehyung nods and begins his walk to the library. he doesn't need to get anything from there, he's just avoiding the return to his dorm room. "haven't been given a reason yet but yeah."

to his surprise, yoongi doesn't push the matter like jeongguk did. he instead silently falls into step, playing with his camera like he's actually doing something instead of avoiding awkward conversation. but taehyung wishes he would just put down the camera and talk. 

"can you give me one?"

"a reason?" yoongi hums shortly. "you're sensitive. you fall for anyone in a matter of seconds. and he throws people away like used tampons. there's three."

taehyung knew for a fact that two out of those three things were true but, in his defense, him being sensitive is just a result of him being a great empathizer. but there's no excuse for how easy it is for him to fall in love. he was ready to propose to seokjin after the older let him borrow a pencil. "but it's different this time."

"oh, it took you ten minutes to fall in love instead of two?"

"besides what do you know," taehyung continues, completely ignoring yoongi's jab. "maybe he doesn't throw people away, maybe he just doesn't keep poisonous people in his life. what do you know about his relationships?"

with all the smugness a single human can muster up and then some, yoongi shakes his head. "more than you."

and that was that. 

his friends may have been frustrating at times, conniving most of the time, and all around headaches but he trusted them. besides yoongi was right. if he just gave it a day, maybe two, he'd be having new daydreams about someone else. like the new hire at the smoothie shop. so, he leaves it there, the infatuation and the questions, on that day in early september to stay.

 

then fucking october came and jimin walked into his job. it was during the afternoon rush when the college students were looking for a cheap alternative to a nutritious lunch and the meat heads needed some sustenance after a long work out so the line was long. despite the fact that he was taking a large order from a group of five -- a group of demanding, demeaning muscle-heads at that -- he was all too aware that jimin walked in. 

for some reason, even though the door had been opening and closing rapidly throughout the frenzy, when it opened for jimin, taehyung's head snapped in that direction. he was disappointed when his heart skipped a beat but also oddly excited about the possibility of interaction. 

his eyes flit toward the register next to his where jackson is, as always, cheerfully taking the order of a girl in yoga pants that hugs all the right places. he looks back at the line and calculates how fast or slowly he would have to move with the current transaction to get jimin at his register. 

so he proceeds to breeze through the order of the meatheads with flourish, passing off the cups quicker than he ever has. as the group passes off along with jackson's customer, taehyung glances again to see jimin three customers away. he slows down with the latest customer to their disappointment, waiting out for jackson to cater to the remaining two. and when jimin is the next person in line, he finishes the transaction at full speed.

and then he's there. 

standing right in front of taehyung's register, jimin stands staring up at the menu behind the counter. hair pushed back, snapback to the back wearing round wire rimmed glasses, he looks better than anything taehyung could have dreamt up. and just like that he's back to reciting a marriage proposal in his mind.

"what can i get for you today?"

the way he stutters and loudly gulps after posing the question is bad enough to put him to shame for an eternity. he can feel his face redden when jimin looks away from the menu and at him. "can i try the, uh, matcha kale and peach?"

taehyung hums and starts writing the code down on the cup. normally, he'd just leave it at that but he'd hate for jimin to leave so soon. "any...um, accommodations?"

"sorry?"

"preferences," taehyung corrects quickly. "you know like extra kale or protein powder?"

jimin shakes his head solemnly while looking down and ransacking his pockets, doesn't even crack a small smile to lighten the awkward tension. "no, i'm good."

as jimin shuffles through his belongings, taehyung realizes he's still holding onto the cup. he swallows hard as he considers and quickly abandons the thought of writing his phone number on the side. instead, he hits the discount button on the p.o.s. and puts in his employee numbers just as jimin hands over his debit card. 

taehyung shakes his head once the transaction is complete and the total price reads $0.00. "on the house today."

usually the reaction taehyung gets when he pays for someone's drink is a pleased, surprised smile, a delighted laugh, a cute pout and a soft "thank you so much". usually the customers are happy to have saved some money, to have a financial guardian angel. and it usually makes taehyung hate his job a little less. but jimin looks at him like taehyung just shot his dog and wore the fur to work. 

"can i please just pay for it?" he tries to hand over his card once more.

taehyung opens his mouth. then shuts it. then opens it again. no one has ever turned down this kind gesture of his, no has ever asked him to take it back. besides he's pretty sure once a transaction has been put in, it can't be taken back without calling the manager or shift supervisor. and taehyung really doesn't want to bother namjoon. "i...i'm sorry, i already put the discount in. i can't take it back."

jimin sighs. "can you get a manager?"

"um," taehyung swallows hard once more and turns to look at jackson who's looking at him with a raised eyebrow. need any help? an expression that all retail and restaurant employees know well. "please don't make me get my manager. i'm really sorry, i just thought...you looked like you were having a bad day--"

"okay," jimin spins his credit card and puts it back in his pocket. "it's fine. thanks."

"you're welcome," taehyung chokes out, looking down at the computer screen. jimin starts to walk away and taehyung does something really stupid. "jim--i mean, can i get your name?"

the save is too late. jimin heard the beginning of his name, he heard the familiarity in taehyung's voice and the fraudulence in his question. and to taehyung's shock, jimin's face reddens as he looks around the store before looking back to him. 

"write whatever you want," he says, defeated.

later jackson will ask him what the whole thing was about and taehyung would shrug, sadly explaining what happened. then jackson would shake his head, scoff, and mutter "fuckin' finger cuffs". 

 

according to the articles written by bitter old people with nothing better today, the internet and social media take up about eighty percent of a young adult's life. but apparently, if taehyung's stalking results are anything to go by, jimin is among the tenuous population of young people who don't.

taehyung hums when facebook and weibo don't yield any results. well, they yield plenty but none of the results are the angel he's ready to propose to. "why do you have to have the john smith of korean names?"

he'd searched every result on facebook for any possible match but, even though there was a myriad of park jimins, he couldn't find his park jimin. without a facebook or weibo account to base it on, finding him on instagram, snapchat, or anything other media platform was impossible. he frowned and shoved his computer off his lap before pausing his music. his mouth is fixed to ask jeongguk a question when--

"ignore him," he hears jeongguk say from his side of the room. "he's talking to himself again."

taehyung turns his head to see jeongguk lying on his back, feet up against the wall, head hanging off the bed with his phone pressed to his ear. he's probably talking to seokjin yet again believing he has the slightest inkling of a chance. 

"oh yeah," jeongguk perks up. "i got the perfect score on that exam."

taehyung rolls his eyes and starts up his music again. 

jeongguk is convinced that by acting like a pest of a little brother, seokjin will eventually come out of his stupor and express his undying love for him. that is, he thinks, if he can get yoongi out of the way. which he won't. because yoongi is as stubborn as he is misanthropic. 

in between songs, taehyung hears bits of jeongguk's end of the conversation which include subtle doting, not so subtle bragging, the occasional suggestion ("oh those crepes are so great, we should grab some sometime. maybe catch a movie.") and, lastly, the inevitable disappointment.

"oh," he sees jeongguk suddenly sit up abruptly but dejectedly. like his spirits have just been crushed. "yeah, i understand. . . okay, good night."

"yoongi's back?" taehyung shakes his headphones off just as jeonnguk hangs up the phone. 

"yep," he tosses his phone on his bed. "i don't get why he has to suck up hyung's time. always there...sucking from his blood...like some kind of parasite."

"what do you expect?" taehyung stands up and goes straight for the mini fridge, rifling between expired yogurt and juice boxes to find something that gets rid of cupid arrows. "you're not the only person who wants to get in his pants."

taehyung whoops quietly when he finds a leftover snickers bar in the freezer. he's biting into it when he realizes jeongguk has gone dead silent. 

"you don't think...?"

"you have to finish your question for me to give you an answer."

jeongguk blinks. "you don't think they're--er, they've done it?"

taehyung takes another full bite of his chocolate bar and shakes his head, looking down at the carpet. "nah," he lies. "not a chance."

relief flushes jeongguk's expression and he sighs a sigh of relief. taehyung feels a pinch of guilt but in his defense, it isn't a complete lie. yoongi and seokjin slept together before. a lot. but they weren't dating and broke it off because the whole fuck buddy thing is so 90s. so sure they did it for what seemed like a constant eternity but they weren't actively doing it now. not a lie, right?

"so," taehyung looks up, plopping down on his bed. "do you, uh, happen to follow jimin on...anything?"

"not this again!"

"come on," taehyung pouts and kicks his feet against the floor like the four year old he is not. "if i hadn't introduced you to seokjin, you wouldn't be able to stalk him now."

"first of all, i don't stalk him, alright?" jeongguk sits up and starts waving his hands like people often do when they're getting overly defensive. "i call him and have deep conversations about the world. and sometimes i wait for him outside of his class to walk--"

"stalk," taehyung corrects.

"--him to his job or wherever he needs to go. we have a perfectly healthy relationship."

"sure."

"and second of all, me and seokjin--"

"seokjin and i," taehyung corrects.

"shut the fuck up," jeongguk throws his pillow right at taehyung's face. "me and seokjin are two totally different people from you and finger cuffs. yours is a relationship that doesn't even exist. and it's with an awful person that you should be ashamed to have a crush on."

"you're a dick."

"a dick who at least talks to the person he's suiting, thank you very much."

taehyung slouches and sighs. "please answer the question. do you follow him or not?"

"finger cuffs doesn't have any social media," jeongguk picks up his phone again and, for a second, taehyung thinks he's gonna check but then he hears the familiar bejeweled theme. "he deleted them a while ago."

"so you used to follow him?"

"not exactly."

"i hate playing this game with you," taehyung picks up his laptop again and furiously types in the login to jeongguk's facebook. "you're being a pain in the ass. acting like giving me his number or giving me something to help me in my dangerous pursuit is going to ruin your life."

"it's not a game, i'm just protecting you."

"that's bullshit," taehyung answers immediately as he goes to settings and proceeds to change jeongguk's profile picture to a way more unflattering one that he took a week ago when the younger passed out at a party. 

 

taehyung does try to get rid of every single thought exclusive to jimin but it doesn't work at all. it depressingly goes as far as dreaming about being late for class because jimin wanted him to stay up the entire night and watch battlestar galactica. jimin lives in his mind like a plague. he's still in the process of trying to decode what it could mean three days later as he's getting dressed in some fashion student's poor idea of a winter collection. 

"hyung," his voice echoes throughout the bathroom as he shrugs on the outfit in the too small stall. "do you think sexual frustration can be embedded in your psyche in the form of romantic nightmares?"

seokjin busts out laughing from the neighboring stall and taehyung imagines it ricochets throughout the entire hall. "what the fuck?"

"i'm serious," taehyung grunts at his stubborn zipper. "in your experience, does it ever happen?"

"well, a lot of things can be reflected in dreams. sexual frustration, social anxiety...intentions of first degree murder."

"i can't go to jail if it's just a dream, right?"

"no," he hears seokjin pull up the last zipper and exit his stall. "but if you act on it, it qualifies as premeditated murder."

"shit," taehyung exits his own stall and comes face to face with his reflection in the dirty mirror. "in that case, my weekend is completely free."

"kookie piss you off again?"

"i honestly don't see how you deal with him," taehyung leans closer to the mirror until he can see his pores and then even closer so he can have a fit about it. "he's pretentious. he's ostentatious. and he's the only person i know who can be overzealous and under-zealous at the same fucking time."

"give it another 24 hours," seokjin suggests, adjusting his collar even though he has the kind of face that makes him look perfect in anything. to give an example, he once dressed up as a character from the hills have eyes and he still looked delicious. "you two will be best friends in no time."

"of course we will, that's the problem," taehyung pushes the door open for the two of them. "i always forgive him even when he fucks me over."

seokjin feigns a pout and pinches his cheek. "he's keeping you from getting laid again, isn't he?"

"yes," taehyung continues to grumble even as they step into the expecting classroom and go behind the makeshift walls of that create the runway illusion. "maybe even from falling in love. i'm telling you this guy has my heart in his tiny, nimble hands and i can't even tell him."

"if you can't tell him, how exactly is kookie's refusal to give you the dirty details on his whereabouts keeping you from proposing?"

as they step into the makeshift dressing room of the makeshift backstage of the makeshift runway, the music gets louder. as if to better taehyung's mood, the song currently playing is beyonce and he finds he can't be too upset. not when queen bey is lifting his spirits. 

the lights get dimmer and taehyung is more than willing to admit that the orange glow of the dimmed fluorescents look magnificent against seokjin's profile. 

"it may not be exactly barring me from confessing," taehyung discloses, raising his voice to be heard over the glaring music. "but it certainly isn't helping. if i could have his number or some kind of contact information, don't you think it would be easier?"

"how?"

"i could text him," taehyung shrugs. "that's romantic, right? an anonymous text from an unknown number. 'you're as beautiful as the sun rising under the morning mist', i dunno."

"you have to know whether they'd like a thing like that. who is it anyway?"

"park jimin."

"jamie?"

"no. he's a dancer. short, dark hair, magnificent eyes."

it may be almost completely dark by this point but the disappointment in seokjin's eyes is damn near blinding. "oh."

"ok, why do people keep doing that when i say his name?"

seokjin, at the very least, is about to answer his question or it seems that way which taehyung is exceedingly grateful for. but then, by the written word, his answer is taken away by a pushy, wannabe production assistant shoving seokjin onto the stage. 

 

taehyung doesn't have any classes with the angel of dance and expensive snapbacks because his life is simply not that great. so the only times he ever gets to see him are when he's either standing outside of the fashion hall to stare right into the eye of the dance hall or...well, that's it. because, until now, jimin has only walked into the smoothie shop once. but today...

today taehyung's life is great. 

even if jimin does look slightly disappointed at having to go to his register again, taehyung considers his life, at this nanosecond, to be great. "what can i get you today? matcha kale and peach?"

jimin frowns and taehyung groans inwardly. as if he wasn't already unintentionally following every step in the stalker handbook, he had to remember the drink jimin ordered over three weeks ago. the angel shakes his head and taehyung notices the beanie there and has to pinch himself so he doesn't squeal. he has a bad tendency to squeal at all things adorable.

"no," jimin looks back up at the menu and gnaws at his bottom lip until it turns white, until taehyung is pretty obviously staring at it with an open mouth. "i'll try the blueberry mint."

taehyung writes the code down dutifully before looking back up nervously. "do you want kale instead of spinach?"

jimin stares evenly, blankly. despite the obvious steel in his eyes, taehyung stares with his mouth hanging open because he's been describing those eyes terribly. black pearls weren't it. but beautiful dark brown diamonds hits the mark a little closer. "i'll take it as is."

"sorry," taehyung looks back down at the p.o.s. and, partly because he never learns from mistakes and partly because he wants to be nice, he punches in the discount again until the price reads $0.00. 

jimin continues to rifle his backpack for his money when taehyung sends his cup down the line. he stretches his arm out to hand him the money -- cash this time -- but is once again waved off.

and taehyung gets the same reaction that he did last time. "i wanna pay for it."

"it's on the house," taehyung tries to smile politely but it withers and fades once he realizes jimin has no intention of returning it. he gets, instead, another hard stare that he tries to break. "i wanted to--"

jimin rolls his eyes, throws his cash in the tip jar, and walks away without a word. he takes a spot on the other end of the bar and awaits his drink. he puts one earphone in, leaving the other free so he can hear his order. it's an act of courtesy that most customers aren't kind enough to do. 

taehyung peeks into the tip jar and sees a ten dollar bill and feels his stomach plunge out of guilt. unless jimin was the heir to a million dollar fortune and handed everything on a silver platter -- and he doesn't seem the type -- ten dollars was a lot of money for a college student to be throwing away. he was on the brink of handing the money to jackson, who was manning the bar and handing jimin his drink, when he sees jimin's uneasy expression. 

he's holding onto his drink and so is jackson, like they're frozen mid pass off. jackson's saying something that taehyung can't pick up and jimin's face is fading into deeper shades of red. then jimin pulls his drink away and delivers a quiet but impactful "fuck off" before storming out. 

 

 

every tuesday around three o'clock, namjoon gathers all the tips from the previous week and splits it up between each employee. taehyung has always been painfully honest about the amount of his tips, whether they were ridiculously high or nonexistent. but this time, when the clock strikes 2:30 and he knows he should be preparing to drop his tips, he does the first dishonest thing he's done at work. he takes jimin's bill out and shoves it in his pocket as non discretely as he can.

he hears jackson click his tongue and turns his head to see him shaking his in disappointment. "that's all you brought in today?"

"what can i say? customers hate me."

"i told you, right?" jackson throws an arm over his shoulder and gets uncomfortably close to his face. "how many times must i tell you? to get the tips, you show the tits."

taehyung hums, pretending to actually consider the ludicrous idea. "dunno if that's gonna work for me, i recently got breast reduction surgery. back problems, you know."

"right, right," jackson takes the tip jar and counts at the cash before transferring it to the till bag. "at the very least, just charm them. if you start thinking with the goal of having every customer leave with a genuine smile on their face, you'll see your profits spike."

jackson is, by taehyung's definiton, what happens when potential meets pride and results in unparalleled ego. though jackson is funny and can be down to earth, he knows he looks good and he knows he's good at everything and it shows in every aspect of his character.

"good to know," another voice chimes in behind them and jackson pretty much jumps from his side, continuing to count out the bills with fake focus. "you guys don't want to make me look bad, right? what if taecyeon comes in and sees that i'm letting you guys do whatever you want in front of the customers?"

"you'll probably get a raise," taehyung muses because it's true. namjoon is clumsy and, despite his high iq, he can be an idiot but he has certain merits that make him undeniable to any and all authority figures. "like when you didn't show up to class a single day your senior year and graduated with honors."

namjoon pushes his head. "shut up. remember who hired you when no one else would."

"hey, the ice cream shop was on the verge of offering me a deal i couldn't refuse."

they weren't. that's precisely why taehyung had to cry to his mother so she could ask around and get him a job under the supervision of his least favorite cousin. well, his favorite cousin that he won't admit is his favorite cousin because said favorite cousin is already overspilling with himself. 

"sure," namjoon turns to jackson. "while we have time, go pull some of the bistro boxes. gotta get ready for the second wave."

as jackson trots off like the dog that he is, namjoon looks as taehyung like he's trying to peer into his soul. or like he's trying to analyze his skeletal system to see if it would do him any good to donate it to science.

"something on my face?"

"trust me there doesn't need to be anything on your face for people to feel compelled to stare at it."

"just that handsome, huh?"

"just that much of an eyesore," namjoon corrects. "so, i didn't want to ask you in front of captain underpants but why are withholding tips?"

taehyung sinks. "you saw me?"

"well, you were kind of obvious," he pushes at his shoulder. "come on, fork it over."

"can you keep it in the back please? not with the tips?"

"of course i'll do something as ridiculous as that, remind me why i would though."

out of fear of his privacy being compromised, because there are already enough people who know about his latest infatuation, taehyung checks to see if jackson is returning. "is it rude of me to offer free drinks to customers?"

"rude? no. a little against company policy? you bet."

"i offered this guy a free drink today," taehyung looks off into space, replaying jimin's disappointed expression. "and he didn't want it. which is weird, right? it's weird to not want a free drink?"

"raises an eyebrow but not two."

"right. so instead of being thrilled and all cutely grateful, he got mad and threw the money he was gonna pay with in the tip jar. and it was ten dollars and...i just want to return it to him."

namjoon blinks, crosses his arms, then ruffles his hair. "he willingly put money in the tip jar? not against his will, correct?"

"correct."

"and you want to return it because...why?"

"please," taehyung groans. "just...i wanna return it to him."

namjoon gets a look in his eyes like he's just solved a really complicated quantum physics equation. he smiles. "you like him, that's why."

"no, i don't."

"yes you do," namjoon reaches into taehyung's pocket and takes the bill out before walking away. "but it's cool, it's cool."

"i don't," taehyung calls after him.

"yes you do," namjoon turns around and starts walking backwards which never ends well. "this is gonna be in my locker. thank me when, you know--"

taehyung nods and shortly thereafter he hears the all too familiar crash of namjoon falling into something. he doesn't feel bad for laughing. 

 

"let me borrow five hundred dollars."

taehyung chews on the tapioca balls with a languish that would make hoseok, currently tightly wound, envious. "even if i had that kind of money, i would never lend it to you."

"to think i used to pine after you," hoseok points still not looking up from his phone. he zooms into the product he's got pulled up on ebay to see every detail. "look at this, it's an actual replica of john lennon. i need this figure more than i need a college education. if i could take back all the money i've thrown into this place, i would do it."

"shut him up," jeongguk blurts out exasperated. "i can't hear myself think."

"you can't hear anything because you're brain dead, moron."

jeongguk offers a shitty response and incites a storm of sharp words that taehyung has trained himself to tune out. he was supposed to be walking to class alone in the first place but because he can never deny his insatiable craving for boba, he ended up stopping to get a cup. and, of course, hoseok was already there practically humping wheein's leg for a free drink and a kiss.

and from there, jeongguk joined in (which no one asked him to do) and now all three of them are walking the campus green in their own worlds. taehyung isn't thinking about jimin, he's proud to say. in fact, all he's thinking about is the reminder not to think about jimin at all.

when taehyung looks up from his own phone, he notices jeongguk is walking away from them.

"who won?"

"no one," hoseok nods to the direction where jeongguk is walking and points out seokjin on the other side of the clearing.

movement catches taehyung's attention from the corner of his eye and he sees yoongi on the opposite side. "this is about to get interesting."

jeongguk stills at the same time that yoongi notices him and they both stand for a short moment. both their eyes flick to seokjin's direction once more before jeongguk is using his four years of cross country during high school to sprint across the green.

hoseok and taehyung turn to yoongi and laugh because it's quite obvious that the guy has no intention of running. instead he rolls his shoulders back and continues walking at a steady pace.

"how long are they gonna do this?"

taehyung shrugs as jeongguk catches up to seokjin and pulls him into a hug. "i would be pleased if they did it for the rest of my life. free entertainment."

"don't they know how stupid they look?"

"they don't," jeongguk tries and fails to steer seokjin away from yoongi who's approaching them quickly. seokjin has already noticed and called him forward. "even if they did, it wouldn't matter. because jin hyung is absolutely clueless. he means well though."

hoseok laughs when jeongguk glares. "i never looked that desperate to you, did i?"

"nah," taehyung waves a hand. "you were cute. like a needy puppy. with wheein, however, you look desperate. and ugly."

they continue on their path while the other three disappear in the film hall i.e.: seokjin's hall. taehyung continues the recitation of his current rule.

"i guess desperation looks good on me then. because we had our third date last night."

"ew," taehyung twists his face up. "who the hell has a date on a weekday?"

"big talk for someone who has date on no days of the week."

either by mistake or design or due to the cliched screenwriting of rom-com aficionados, jimin appears at that very moment. he's wearing a thick red tommy hilfiger pullover that taehyung imagines slipping on post coitus. then he pinches himself for getting carried away with his imagination. 

"i'm working on it."

and then hoseok does something that surprises taehyung more than the twist ending of the crying game. he smiles at jimin.

"hey," he greets kindly as he passes. 

and then jimin does something that serves as the second biggest thing to surprise taehyung more than the twist ending of the crying game. he doesn't smile but he nods his head and returns the greeting quietly. 

when jimin has passed, taehyung waits for hoseok to mutter something rude and unintelligible under his breath but no. hoseok just returns to their conversation. "working on it, huh? who's the lucky lady? lad?"

"he just walked by you."

"oh shit," hoseok turns around and looks at jimin's retreating figure. "wow, really? that's cute. why didn't you say hi?"

"technically i'm not supposed to know him. haven't properly introduced myself, have no classes with him, i just see him leave the dance hall and try not to stare." 

"try and fail, right?"

"always."

hoseok nods. "of course. good luck then."

"that's it?" taehyung feels like jumping for joy because this is the first and only stamp of approval he's gotten. not that he needs it. but it'd be nice to be with someone that his friends didn't hate. "good luck?"

"yeah, you'll need it. jimin is...i mean, he's obviously cute. and he's sweet. he can be pretty funny, i think you would enjoy a lot of witty exchanges with him. but..."

taehyung, hanging on to every word and making a mental note, pushes hoseok gently. "come on, but what?"

hoseok smiles but it's not his signature smile. it's sad, reserved, and tame. a smile someone puts on for the sake of discomfort. "it won't be impossible. but it'll be really hard for you to see that side of him."

"why? he's shy? i can do shy, i'm perseverant."

"he just has a big wall up, you get me? if you're serious about him then get ready to be turned down a thousand times."

taehyung smiles so big his cheeks start to hurt and he pulls hoseok in for a hug, squeezing him tight, lifting him up, and spinning him around. "thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"do you have his phone number?" he asks after he sets the older down.

hoseok nods. "but i'm not giving it to you." 

 

the third time jimin comes into the store, taehyung almost misses him because he's taking his ten minute break. as he's snacking on one of the bistro boxes in the back, the one that will certainly come out of his paycheck, he replies to missed texts and catches up on the news. 

he's in the middle of explaining the importance of not touching his shit to jeongguk when jackson waltz into the backroom. "your ten over yet?"

"it just started," taehyung almost whines but he doesn't because he's a functioning adult. "i have seven minutes left."

"okay," jackson sighs. "because there's a customer out here who refuses to come up to my register."

that grabs taehyung's attention. each customer that goes to jackson's register have made it a habit to only go to his register because he was so fantastic. there were no customers who didn't enjoy his service.

"you're full of shit."

"okay, just thought i'd let you know."

he leaves it at that and taehyung continues catch up on important events in the world -- kitten videos -- until his break is up. when it is and he is stepping out of the backroom, he freezes as he catches an unclear glimpse of jimin waiting by his register. 

"fuck me," he mumbles before reaching into namjoon's locker and nabbing the ten dollar bill. he runs out of the backroom but stutters in his steps before turning around and running back to retrieve his apron. 

as he makes another run for it, he sees jimin take a step away and, because he was raised in a barn according to seokjin, he yells out his name.

jimin turns to him just as he steps in front of his register and signs in.

"hey," taehyung greets. "welcome back."

jimin doesn't say anything, he stares for a beat and then looks up at the menu again. "aloe vera and lemongrass, please."

"you got it," taehyung starts writing on the cup but he does so deliberately slow. almost like molasses. he's trying to decide how he can get jimin to stay longer when he remembers that he has his money. "oh. i was gonna return the gracious tip you left the other day. do you want me to just take it out of that or...can i give you the whole ten?"

"sure. take it out, thanks."

if he can't give him the drink for free, at the very least, taehyung figures, he can give him a discount. 

he wants to say something though. he wants to ask why jimin waited for him, wants to ask how he's been, wants to ask him out to dinner and a movie but he can't. because even though it’s chilly out, jimin is only wearing a zip up hoodie that hangs off his shoulder and reveals his biceps.

taehyung stills his processing the payment which his biggest mistake because the lack of movement doesn’t go unnoticed by jimin who shifts and covers his arm. taehyung looks up immediately. “i’m so sorry.”

“can you just give me my change please?” jimin is red in the face, eyes down as he zips up his jacket.

taehyung scrambles to get the cash together but takes his time counting out the change. he looks up again. “i’m sorry.”

“i heard you the first time.”

“no, really, i’m usually not that rude. by that, i mean i usually don’t get caught staring at, um…let’s face it, you’re like a modern day adonis and i’ve seen you around and…shit.”

taehyung slams the register shut with more force than necessary and gently slides the money over to jimin. jimin is still close mouthed and stoic and doesn’t look at all close to accepting the apology. he walks away, stuffing his money in his jogger pockets and just when taehyung is planning what to have his cousin say at his funeral (because there’s no way he’s not burying himself after this), jimin comes back.

“i want to pay for my drinks,” he says.

taehyung tilts his head. “okay?”

“seriously,” jimin licks his lips and taehyung tries to ignore that flip in his stomach. “i want to pay for my drinks. i appreciate the gesture, it’s kind. or at least i think it might be. but i’d like to pay for my drinks.”

“okay,” taehyung nods. “i’ll…i’m sorry.”

“me too,” jimin says after a while. “if i was rude. which i was, i know. but i’d—“

“no more free drinks, i got it.”

jimin nods, taps his hand against the countertop. “see you.”

 

“i’m in love,” he sings when he lays down on his bed that night. “he walked in carrying hope with him in his duffel bag, his hat full of charm, and he blew a kiss with his smile—“ jimin didn’t smile but embellishments in memory are a hell of a thing “—and said ‘see you’.”

“is he okay?” seokjin asks jeongguk who shrugs.

“you’re not talking about—?”

“i am,” taehyung sits up confidently. “and you can suck it!”

 

when jimin starts to come in on a regular everyday basis, taehyung understands why he’d told him he would like to pay for his drinks. if taehyung knew he planned on becoming a regular, he would have bothered to fix his hair for the morning shifts.

everyday he ordered something different and everyday was every morning and every afternoon. so even when taehyung wasn’t working the morning shift, he’d get to see him. and on the days that he was working the morning shift, their exchanges were quiet and succinct. jimin’s morning face often blew his mind and without the benefit of being awake for long, taehyung often forgot not to stare.

"um," jimin, as always, takes a few moments to gaze up at the menu looming behind taehyung's head. "honeydew mint."

taehyung starts writing.

"could you add a bit of kale to that please?"

"a preference?" taehyung smiles wide. "of course."

note: jimin likes kale. 

jimin hands over his card and taehyung starts the process, taking more time than he actually needs to but jimin doesn't seem to mind. "knock knock."

it's a risk and taehyung knows it. in all the times that jimin has walked into the store, taehyung has never told a joke or had a bit of banter that jimin acknowledged in the least. it seems like the seconds tick by in slow motion but eventually jimin, most likely too tired to put up his wall, asks: "who's there?"

taehyung smiles wider, containing it is hard. "kale."

"kale who?"

"obviously i have time to kale," he laughs. jimin doesn't. his smile fades and he hangs his head. "i'm sorry. that wasn't funny, i found it in a kale book--"

at that, jimin sputters and soon a delightful smile breaks out onto his angelic, cherubic, perfect, ideal face. and the smile is better than anything taehyung's imagination could have served him. jimin's eyes disappear and yet it's easy to see them twinkle. taehyung feels like he's watching the sun rise. 

"you have a kale book?"

"when i was trying to eat healthier," taehyung nods, still in a daze. "i'm sorry if i'm out of line but you have the most beautiful smile."

and as if those are the magic words needed to crush all things beautiful, jimin's smile fades. "thanks."

another apology is creeping out of taehyung's mouth when jimin takes his card and walks away.

 

"shit shit shit shit shit," taehyung exhales heavily when he takes a seat in the backroom. namjoon and taecyeon look at him questioningly but neither of them say anything on account of it being him. "shit shit fuck fucking shit shit shit on a fucking--"

"is he having a seizure?" taecyeon asks namjoon who shakes his head.

"taecyeon hyung," taehyung reaches a hand out as he hyperventilates like death is near him. "i can't work anymore today. i'm suffering from heartache."

taecyeon brushes the hand from his shoulder and rolls his eyes. "stop being dramatic."

"he's in love," namjoon says to the cash he's counting in his hand. typical manager responsibilities. "with a customer."

this alerts taecyeon who swivels around in his chair and glares at taehyung. "no free drinks."

"he wants to pay for them anyway," taehyung moans. "i thought i was in love before but holy shit he smiled and i'm gonna blow my savings buying him a ring."

precisely because no one is talking to him, namjoon decides to throw in his over-analytical: "you know this is why your relationships never work out. you idealize everyone too much, you put everyone on a pedestal then your hopes are crushed when you realize they are, in fact, human." 

"but park jimin isn't human," taehyung sighs and caresses his chest. "he's an angel. he's a celestial being that's graced the human population with his presence. his smile is like the sun. hyung, i looked directly into it, i might go blind--"

"park jimin?"

oh. 

the disappointment is unmistakable. 

taehyung opens his eyes and looks up to see both taec and namjoon sporting identical expressions of confusion and disgust. "what?"

"why would you have a crush on him?"

"you know park jimin is a really common name," taehyung sits up from his position on the floor, leaning his back against the wall. "i'm starting to think that my park jimin and everyone else's park jimin are two different people. my angel has a demon evil twin and that's who you guys are thinking of."

"stop calling him yours," taecyeon scrunches his nose. "i bet you haven't even talked to him outside of the store script."

"hey! i tried to say hi one time."

"park jimin is a--"

"stop," taec instructs using the authoritative voice that he rarely ever employs. "he'll find out for himself. don't ruin his first love of the week."