Actions

Work Header

and fortune's still smiling down on me (aren't we lucky?)

Work Text:

Kim Taehyung sort of finds it funny, in this ironic and completely unentertaining way similar to sitcoms with forced laugh tracks decades old, that someone like him lives in Seoul’s noisiest and liveliest sector. Jung-gu is right in the center of the city, not quite the heart but more of something like a navel. Taehyung imagines it to be the small puzzle piece that you put in last, starting off from the corners and the sides, to fit the overhead view of South Korea’s capital. Of course, having grown up in the city, Taehyung’s never needed to see it charted out in a map. He could get pushed and pulled by the crowd and conned into sketchy back-alleys, maybe even get dropped off by wannabe kidnappers into all the wrong streets, and Taehyung would still be able to find his way through.

Nestled in all corners by the creative streets of Western Seoul and the high-rise markets of Dongdaemun, and the classic traditional landmarks of Gwanghwamun right across of the ever-famous Itaewon, Jung-gu feels like the point where all crossroads meet. Cut out by the off-branches of the Han, Jung-gu is like a wild college party that just wouldn’t end – with the necessary guidelines, of course. Perpetual noise and the crowd hustling and bustling, check. Lights going on and off and everything changing in the span of five minutes, check. The main difference, as Taehyung likes to think, is that there’s no concrete party playlist and all the speakers try to drown each other out. Jung-gu is home to markets famous in Seoul’s bursting retail world, full of shoppers and hagglers and people who want to blow their money smartly, cheaply.

So, Taehyung sort of finds it funny – of course, again, in this ironic and completely unentertaining way – that someone like him lives in Jung-gu. Its districts live off its retail and its selling industries, and someone like him who’s too lucky to be true definitely gets unrealistically good things out of it. Park Jimin, his accidental best friend, says it’s because he’s close to the dictionary definition of handsome and he could charm Namdaemun storeowners way too easily, which isn’t something Taehyung has ever thought of before. He could attempt to name fifty people off the top of his head whom he finds handsome, and only get the third name out of his mouth before Jimin starts shooting him down.

Taehyung’s lucky. It’s not lucky as in guessing heads or tails after a coin flip five times out of six. It’s lucky like he has a pocketful of freshly plucked four-leaf clovers all day long. It’s lucky like going for the lottery win for the kicks, and ending up winning. He doesn’t really know how far and how much his luck would stretch, and unlike what apparently scientific people like Kim Namjoon think, Taehyung wouldn’t ever try putting himself as a research subject to his own case study. No, Namjoon-hyung, he’s had to say more than once, I’m not going to try and jump off N Seoul Tower and see if some miraculous skydiver out of nowhere comes crashing against me.

He’s lucky, that’s all. He’s not going to push anything that would be too far-fetched. In Myeong-dong’s classy, brick-paved streets, stores always mark down prices on huge sales coincidentally whenever Taehyung needs something. Every now and then he plays a guessing game with storeowners from Namdaemun, shoving his book bag in front of him and putting on the extra Kim Taehyung charm into his boxy smile. He says, ahjussi, I’ll try to get the price for this in one try and if I get it right, give me a discount, okay? and Jimin says it works because he always looks like a kid with effective puppy eyes but Taehyung knows that every now and then it’s just luck. Pure, unfiltered luck.

(He ends up getting it in one try, and an additional ten percent discount. Always.)

Of course, in a heavy street market industry like Namdaemun, people call him names. Sometimes he’s a swindler, sometimes a scamming telepath, but mostly Taehyung is just Taehyung. He’s like a friendly neighborhood kid that every storeowner ends up giving small souvenirs to whenever he swings by. Taehyung likes being lucky, but he doesn’t push it. He has a good moral compass, like most non-sociopaths in society. His Friday nights are spent doing what locals do in this part of the city – finding deals and haggling for a lower price.

On this line of street shops, the tall buildings reaching for the sky and blocking out the horizon to make way for neon lights and overhead electric lines, Taehyung never runs out of luck. He grew up making deals over shop counters, waltzing into store workers putting up sales posters, and by now it’s also tradition. Myeong-dong’s pricey stores are reserved for birthdays every other year, but Namdaemun’s famous market has been his go-to for all of the important events in his life, the ones he marks with red markers on his desk calendar. All of his graduations have little memorabilia patiently haggled for from the street shops. Back in elementary, he had gotten a complete set of plant pots small enough to hold in his hands, the white clay painted with different patterns. A set of five with different cartoon renditions of zoo animals drawn onto the surface in different colors; Taehyung had decided he liked the ones with the lions the most and almost superglued it onto his window ledge so nobody would be able to knock it off.

Middle school was more of a hassle on settling for a gift for himself. Taehyung had above fifty different interests from old school comic books to new literary anthologies to different console games. He’d settled for getting a polaroid camera (lucking in at a fifty-percent off sale because of a broken shutter that he gets fixed three streets away), and Taehyung had ended up blowing his money in buying film, but it had been nice. The entirety of high school filled up three photo albums and took way more out of his wallet for a more professional camera, and eventually Taehyung settled into writing out film for his career form.

Tonight’s a celebratory tradition. Taehyung’s packed his stuff in these cardboard boxes too heavy for him to carry for five minutes straight, and in two days he’s moving to Seoul’s famous, melting hotpot of university students in the West. Taehyung is ecstatic and impatient and he’s planning to spend the early evening listing down prices and using basic math to compare which store’s selling things cheaper. That’s how things are supposed to go – and the honest truth is, Taehyung lucks out in the best way for once and it is completely not how things go.

He’s supposed to be taking rational guesses and playing The Price is Right with storeowners. He was going to buy a Nikon, finally crossing off Canon and Fuji from his list, but instead he’s stuck inside a coffee shop with a macchiato for take-out in his hand, his jaw slack and his mouth wide open, face pressed against the glass window as the heaviest downpour of the month jabs at the glass.

It is, fairly speaking, unlucky. Taehyung has never been unlucky before. He’s waltzed out before on an eighty percent chance of rain without an umbrella and the sun beamed down on him for seven hours straight. When he fell off a tree in third grade and ended up breaking his arm, he got to have a cool cast with all those outer space stickers plastered on the surface and unlimited ice cream from the convenience store two blocks from their house. Point of the matter is, Taehyung has never had to chase luck before. The one time he relied on luck and his phone’s weather app forecasting a five percent chance of rain just because Jimin tore his umbrella, he gets the universe working against him.

It’s not that Taehyung’s running late to anything. The photography store’s sale is running until the end of the month, and Myeong-dong’s streets are alive at night – it’s just that Taehyung has always had everything go his way. It’s strange having to put back a subconscious schedule because something changed, and Taehyung slurps at his macchiato and ends up googling whether the planets are tilted wrong at the hour, if it’s a blue moon, if there’s a once-in-a-century comet passing by. Maybe all those rumored stuff from Area 51 broke loose and Taehyung could finally get the chance to see unidentified flying objects all over the sky.

The honest truth: Taehyung spends fifteen minutes seated near the café door, a pop track playing over the speakers and the hole in the wall space getting filled with people trying to save face from the downpour. He admits he finds himself eyeing the umbrella rack two times a minute, weighing in whether stealing an umbrella and stranding someone else in this rustic café is going to be a good choice. There’s a bubble umbrella with clear proofing, one with a curved handle and a small keychain attached to the end, and Taehyung looks up at the ninth consecutive person coming in from the street all beaten and bruised from rain.

The first thing he notices is the umbrella’s a bright red and automatic, the canopy folding in and the water dripping to the café’s tiled floors. Taehyung’s eyes run up a longline duster coat, a white buttondown and a stiff collar, and Taehyung’s nose scrunches because even for the flair and the high-rise of Myeong-dong, people don’t go around walking in designer clothes in broad day(night)light with the sky pouring buckets over the streets for spring cleaning. Gangnam isn’t so far off; Taehyung thinks oh, that’s a chaebol, right? – all broad shoulders and prim and proper hair, a duffel bag that’s definitely more than his family’s and his ancestors’ monthly income combined.

Taehyung picks up on the last few notes of the pop track fading out, skipping over to mellow indie, and rich boy turns, giving Taehyung a moment to map his face out. He looks confused and just a bit anxious, fingers running through his dark hair as he strides over towards the counter and ends up flustering the girl taking his order. It’s a quick to-go in medium, like he’s throwing money just to get something else, and Taehyung concludes he’s not from Myeong-dong at all – maybe not even Jung-gu.

The downpour’s petering out, but no one else is budging but the man at the counter who’s currently getting something written down on notebook paper. It’s stupid and Taehyung’s never hitched under some stranger’s umbrella, but it’s early evening with an open department store two streets away and Taehyung’s decided he wants to catch the replays marathon of his childhood films streaming in four hours. Rich boy pivots away from the counter, and Taehyung makes for the door, blocking his way with a boxy grin.

Jimin says he does weird things outside of the box. Taehyung says there isn’t a box, and the world’s a free world. Taehyung says, “You’re lost, aren’t you?” and he gets an easy smile in response. Rich boy reaches beside him, latching onto the handle of his umbrella and moving to shake off some of the water from it. “Let me guess,” he says, “You’re a Myeong-dong tour guide who’s willing to point me in the right direction if I let you under my umbrella?”

Taehyung grins, toothy, “Bingo.”

 

-

 

It’s a short walk, supposedly about five to seven minutes on brick streets if Taehyung was alone and it was a good day. The streets are empty from the downpour pushing everybody indoors, and Taehyung holds onto the umbrella and tilts it over rich boy – Seokjin, he had said, as Taehyung carefully placed the empty cup of his macchiato into the plastics bin outside of the café – because that’s common courtesy and he can deal with having a drenched sleeve. Seokjin, however, looks like he’s dressed for the runway, with shoulders rolled back and steps measured, and Taehyung matches his pace.

“So, hyung, where are you supposed to be at?” Taehyung sidesteps a growing puddles, his bookbag tucked behind him. “Are you from Gangnam – nah, you kind of look like Itaewon. But you seem young, too; maybe Hongdae?”

Seokjin’s nose scrunches. “I’m pretty late running to SeMA. I’m from down south so I haven’t really gone anywhere in Jung-gu before.”

Taehyung snorts, “What? But SeMA has this website, right, and they have those printable maps and stuff?” Seokjin flushes, and Taehyung almost laughs because Seokjin has the face of a Korean drama’s lead actor, too beautiful to be real and supposedly always inside of a television screen, but the moment he speaks it all gets thrown out of the window and throttled by a renegade car. It’s somewhat comforting.

“I was supposed to meet my friend here,” Seokjin squeaks. It’s a normal pitch that manages to make Taehyung laugh out of the blue, earning a light swat at his arm which makes him step into a puddle and splatter rainwater on a foot-radius. “Don’t laugh, Taehyung-ssi!”

“Please don’t call me Taehyung-ssi; that makes me feel strange when you already told me to call you hyung!” Taehyung whines. He digs his free hand into his pocket, fishing out his phone and unlocking the screen. “Alright, here’s my end of the bargain. You’re pretty far from the subway – fifteen, twenty minutes, give or take. It’s five streets down, straight, right across this mall that’s sort of fancy and gaudy at the same time.”

Seokjin pauses, and Taehyung waits for him to nod. “Okay, so you’re transferring from Line 4 to Line 1. Get off City Hall and out of Exit 1. What’s your number, hyung?”

Taehyung puts his phone forward, the screen showing his message draft of instructions to get to Seoul Museum of Art. He’s went on an impromptu trip with Jimin and Namjoon before to see an exhibit starirng Stanley Kubrick and his works, and he’s always updated for new exhibits because it’s good inspiration – and he’s a local through and through. Not even Namjoon texting him badly messed-up directions, tripping him through subway lines and setting him on a wild goose chase, could make him lose his way through Jung-gu.

Seokjin breathes out a laugh. “You’re really responsible for a high school senior,” he points out, typing his number in and returning it to Taehyung, who blinks up at him before grinning. He’s sheepish, for a moment. “Oh. My bookbag still has my ID tag, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to be in university in a few months though, hyung!” Taehyung beams. Seokjin raises an eyebrow, his nicely trimmed fringe ghosting over his eyes as he tilts his head and smiles at Taehyung, sort of like a child and sort of like not a child. “Yeah? Which one?”

“Yonsei. I’m majoring in film,” Taehyung says, proud. The department store’s one, three meters forward, and Taehyung feels cheated that he knows the travel time and distance and how short it is. Seokjin smiles, his shoulders loosening like it’s a completely comfortable career choice with a high pay-off in the end, while most would look at him weird. His high school counselor had pulled up statistics on him, told him he was stellar at science and had creativity that’s good for business instead. Taehyung had scowled the afternoon through and told him, yeah, well, my creativity’s good for film, too and that was the end of the discussion.

Taehyung decides he likes Seokjin for smiling at him and not going for the rational judgment from the get-go. Taehyung decides he likes Seokjin more when he looks away and in the drama-worthy lighting, the dull backdrop of concrete and glass and bleak skies, says, “Then maybe we’ll work together one day, Taehyung-ah?”

“Woah,” Taehyung starts. He almost slips forward, the soles of his sneakers sliding against the wet pavement, and Seokjin holds onto his arm tightly and hoists him upright. “Wait, hyung, you’re in film, too?”

“I’m majoring in acting. Konkuk, though – I don’t have enough free time for Yonsei’s strict schedule, as my manager tells me.” Seokjin cracks a smile and uncurls his fingers from Taehyung’s arm. It’s an information overload on Taehyung’s part, who sputters. “You’re an actor? You have a manager? That means you’re a big deal, right? Autograph, hyung, please give me your autograph – wait, who are you? How come I’ve never seen you before? What’s up with – ”

Seokjin huffs. “Your stop, Taehyung,” he says, prying the umbrella handle from Taehyung as the department store sign blinks and burns bright in front of them. “Now get off, brat. How could you not know my handsome face anywhere, brat. Brat, brat – ”

Hyung!” Taehyung whines, scandalized. Seokjin laughs at him, the growl mellowing out of his face and his childish frown breaking out into a grin.

“Hey. You have my personal number and that’s infinitely better than any signature. Call me if you need a good actor with a really handsome face – or if there’s free food, okay? More on the free food.” Seokjin tips the umbrella over Taehyung, whose sneakers make soppy sounds on the paved front of the department store, the glass doors sliding open to a drying mat and clean floors.

“I can call you?” Taehyung asks, mouth open. “I mean – yeah, of course I can call you. I did become your five-minute tour guide and saved you from the death of your social life at SeMA, after all.”

Seokjin rolls his eyes, and Taehyung thinks he’s going to get whacked at the knees with the million-won designer duffel that he’s toting around, maybe get a soft kick to the shins, too. Seokjin seems like the type who jabs people at the side when he wants to joke and the type to hold onto someone’s arm when he ends up finding something way too funny. None of it happens, though. Seokjin smiles at him, his cheeks filling in, says thank you and see you around, and leaves.

Taehyung slips past the glass doors, wiping the muddy tracks of his sneakers on the sprawling welcome mat, and opens up his phone to search for Seokjin’s name. The first search comes up with all kinds of stuff, and Taehyung stomps his way upstairs and towards the umbrellas section as he attaches all sorts of adjectives he can to the name. He opens up the first link, which is an entertainment site article that labels Kim Seokjin as a rookie actor with lots of potential, listing his filmography and his current projects.

He has an upcoming afternoon drama listed on top, in sans serif that’s a bit unpleasing on the eyes, airing in ten months. Taehyung’s never seen him before because he’s mainly worked in independent films, apparently, which isn’t as easy to get updates on like mainstream or foreign media. Taehyung pulls up his messages, Seokjin’s number still up on top, and sends one off to Jimin.

V (6:03 PM): HEY JIMINIE

JIMINIEJAMS (6:04 PM): what’s up

V (6:04 PM): you know how you always say I’m super lucky

JIMINIEJAMS (6:04 PM): yeah because you really are??

V (6:04 PM): ya well turns out you were completely right

JIMINIEJAMS (6:04 PM): at one hand i always am but also

JIMINIEJAMS (6:05 PM): fuck let me guess you went supervillain on us and won the lottery with your ridiculous luck

V (6:05 PM): nah bro i met this really good-looking actor and became sort-of friends with him

JIMINIEJAMS (6:05 PM): i’m not even doubting you

JIMINIEJAMS (6:05 PM): at this point i'm not even questioning the world at how unfair it is but seriously

JIMINIEJAMS (6:05 PM): NOT FUCKING FAIR YOU PUNK

 

-

 

Taehyung ends up walking home with a brand-new Nikon tucked safely in his bookbag, filling in what was mostly empty space beforehand. The downpour had let out right before Taehyung took a cautious step into the street, almost wetting the canopy of his new umbrella (which was really amazing – ridiculous, in Jimin’s opinion, as Taehyung sent off a selca while twirling it around inside the store – but amazing in Taehyung’s, a space print in cartoonish art style with the whole solar system illustrated, and aliens, of course; Taehyung thinks it’s the best thing, really), but the rainwater still sloshed around the pavement and Taehyung’s sneakers left sopping footmarks through the camera aisles.

Dinner is donkkaseu wrapped in the fridge, reheated to soft sogginess. It’s rare for his parents scheduling in overtime at work on the same day, but it does happen – and Taehyung loves taking care of the kids so it’s always nice. His siblings are talkative, Eunjin positively beaming about her soccer team’s summer championship and Jonggyu chattering about the new horror game that he found a few video plays of online and is currently saving up for. Taehyung thinks kids are the cutest things in the world, though his siblings are growing up and growing out of it – but they’ll always sort of be kids to Taehyung. Not even university and the apparent responsibilities of adulthood can change that.

They have this routine shifts of cleaning up; tonight, Taehyung clears the table, Jonggyu washes the dishes, and Eunjin dries them and puts them back on the cabinet. He crashes on the couch, potatoes himself on it until he can monopolize the television remote while his siblings retire for Wi-Fi and a semi-early night, and starts his childhood films marathon punctuated with commercial breaks every two minutes. He ends up looking for good local spots in Western Seoul, close to the apartment he’s going to be sharing with Jimin, and having thirty-seven different tabs open on his web browser, five of them all talking about the same thing but being written by different people with different experiences and tips. His phone vibrates halfway through the third movie and on the start of a commercial break, blocking out the browser header with a preview.

KIM SEOKJIN (11:57 PM): Hey, this is Taehyung, right? Just wanted to say thanks – you were really helpful. If you need a tour around Gwangjin-gu, I’m here.

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:57 PM): so i'm guessing you got there on time, hyung! it’s cool, i promise i'll call when i have free food or when i'm around

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:57 PM): also when i watch your stuff – afternoon dramas are great and apparently my friend has a girlfriend who’s like a complete sucker for you so

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:58 PM): plus, plus: no need to be so formal hyung! please don’t text me like i'm your current boss – director? – because nah, not yet

KIM SEOKJIN (11:58 PM): OK, I always text like this though?

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:58 PM): hyung pls

 

-

 

Namjoon’s sister has a pick-up truck Jimin and Taehyung end up borrowing for the move to Seodaemun-gu, the back filled with cardboard boxes with the flaps sealed in varying types of tape. It’s a humid afternoon, the AC turned up way too high inside and the rest of the world a tropic hothouse. Namjoon is – was – someone Jimin had accidentally ended up adding on KakaoTalk during their first year of high school, with Namjoon on his senior year. For someone who moved up a whole year and ended up topping the university exams and weighing in at the top single percentage nationally, Namjoon was pretty carefree and – Taehyung always says so – cool. He was, like Jimin said back when Namjoon was still just an online friend in Ilsan, before he came around two nights after his graduation and treated them to a cool pizza parlor with the best cheese choice in Seoul: stellar student by day and underground rapper by night.

He has sick beats and even sicker lyrics, and even though Taehyung and Jimin’s never quite gotten around to attending any of his gigs due to age restrictions and Jimin’s perpetual ability to never be able to get away with lying, they know. They do have limited edition copies of his mixtape – all with rough drafts and a cut where Namjoon, the famous Rap Monster on the hiphop scene after he moved on from the Runch Randa moniker, ended up laughing through a particularly dirty line.

It’s a short travel time, roughly three quarters of an hour through buildings and landmarks trading in and out of view with Namjoon rambling about an open house party of this Journalism major a few months back who opened access all around. There was Yonsei, in its roots, and then there was Seoul National, a few from Korea University, and a whole handful from Hongik and Sogang. Even the usually exclusive students from Ewha had representatives, but the life of the party had been liberal arts students from Konkuk – one of them a dance major that Namjoon had been pretty enthusiastic about.

“If he were in Yonsei,” Namjoon says, shifting gears and Jimin looking over from the backseat because every area’s accident prone with Namjoon, “He’d probably be the first person I’d introduce to you guys. He’s cool and he probably throws the wildest parties in Seoul.”

Jimin’s eyes slide towards the side of Namjoon’s face, who checks left and right once, thrice, seven times before driving across the intersection even though the traffic light’s in working condition. “Probably?” he parrots, elbowing Taehyung at the side, who quickly picks up on the shift in the atmosphere. “Hyung, you’re saying you’re going to marry the guy without having ever been to any of his parties?”

Namjoon brakes on the empty road too fast and too hard, cutting off their laughter; Taehyung’s head spins, and he vaguely wonders if the tires burned on the concrete and left skid marks. “What the fuck, assholes,” Namjoon shoots, glaring vaguely at Jimin through the rearview mirror. “Hobi has a girlfriend,” he announces, and Jimin coos, hand curling over his shoulder sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, hyung. Want to make out at one of his parties so he realizes life isn’t complete without you, whisks you away from my arms, and proposes to you on the spot?”

Namjoon slams his foot on the gas, and Jimin’s head almost slams against the headrest had he not braced his arms on either side of Namjoon’s seat. Taehyung’s legs are folded in, his sneakers pressed to the back of the passenger seat and seatbelt woven tight over his torso because Namjoon could brake way too much of every adjective again and promptly send him flying through the windshield. Whoever Hobi is, his love life and romantic interests are off-limits for conversation. Jimin apparently takes this hint and shoves his seatbelt over his body as soon as Namjoon puts them under the speed limit again.

Taehyung asks, “So – probably?”

“Konkuk’s best parties are way exclusive. They have this list, this whole plus one only thing,” Namjoon says. “I’ve never met anyone from Konkuk who invited outside of their university. Every other party’s either a cheap shot at that. Definitely not worth the travel nor the time.”

It’s quiet for a while, the AC humming loud and clear, until Jimin supplies, “You know you might get invited if you got into his pants, hyung?”

Namjoon pulls over, unbuckles his seatbelt, and leans back to whack Jimin in the head himself.

 

-

 

The apartment has two cramped bedrooms flanking a corner of the common room, Jimin sticking with the room on the left and Taehyung calling the one on the right because it has two windows, sticking to the corner of the apartment building. The floors all clean tiles, the walls painted in a cheap shade of white. The common room’s split, a small counter running in between to make way for the kitchen space; standard cupboards above a counter with a stainless sink pressed against the wall, right next to the door which also stands across the small bathroom space.

It’s well-lit, with wide windows and lots of open space that gets filled with cardboard boxes and furniture by early afternoon. Jimin’s little brother drops by around lunchtime, a stack of subway cards shoved into the pockets of his baseball jacket and a homemade meal in a market bag hanging from his hands. “Dad said Namjoon-hyung might blow his allowance buying you pizza,” Jihyun says, sort of sheepish as he half-hides and half-shows himself from behind the open door.

“Well, kid, that’s true,” Namjoon says from Taehyung’s bedroom, currently struggling with getting cardboard boxes out of the way as he finds an empty spot for Taehyung’s collection of hardbound photobooks among his stuff labeled with absolutely fragile; don’t stack anything on top or else in capital letters and faded Sharpie. Jihyun laughs and calls for lunchtime, unstacking the Tupperwares filled with cooling rice and samgyeopsal, with a healthy serving of tangsuyuk from the corner of the street. Jihyun leaves two hours later, the plastic containers in his market bag emptied out by four people and the paper bowls from the Chinese take-out restaurant stuffed in their tall garbage bag by the side of the door. Namjoon leaves a half-hour after, having promised to cover for a friend’s shift in the coffee shop on the university outskirts.

By the early evening, the apartment’s half-dressed and oriented. Rough, heavy curtains in colorful and pop prints are draped over the windows, their respective rooms just half-made beds and study desks shoved to the corners and surrounded by an assortment of cardboard boxes. The common room’s focal point is the isabelline couch in the center – a generous donation from Jackson Wang, Namjoon’s friend majoring in Yonsei’s famous Journalism department with a loud chatterbox of a mouth – and albeit a bit aged and dulled, with the seats sagging and sporting a rip on the back the size of Taehyung’s hand where the stuffing juts out, it’s well-loved and well-appreciated.

Jimin puts on a vinyl record – a set of classic music from the seventies pop on a turntable that Taehyung and Jimin had haggled all afternoon through for on Namdaemun – while Taehyung orders for pizza over the phone. They end up dancing to a sappy jazz song near midnight, one hand holding onto each other and the other one holding onto a slice of pizza. There’s the underlying anxiety of starting over, of being a whole forty-five minutes away from his hometown and his parents and the whole life he knew in Jung-gu, but Taehyung looks at Jimin – bright Busan boy who kept flitting from place to place, who stuck his hand out on high school orientation and introduced himself with still-thick satoori – and remembers Namjoon, the ever-famous Ilsan prodigy who listened to them whine and let them get away with crude jokes but always had one cruder in response – and then, for some reason, Kim Seokjin, who he promised to call whenever he had free food, who told him he’d help.

And Taehyung thinks life’s sort of terrific.

 

-

 

Taehyung’s first film project comes after three months, landing splat right in front of him two weeks into the semester. His professor for his first subject into his majors is a thin, lanky woman who speaks like she’s always sort of up in the clouds, but Taehyung’s always all ears because he likes her insights and her unwavering belief and support to the cause of making art for art’s sake. The syllabus had highlighted all of the short projects as a total of sixty percent of the final grade, and Taehyung’s driven not just to turn in a stellar short film but also something that would make a lasting impression.

It’s more of an explanatory self-introduction, centered on the theme of what happens in a particular day of their everyday lives. Taehyung loves art films and doesn’t believe on changing his style because a professor has specific preferences, so he goes headfirst into it, drafts up a storyboard and a script that he goes a bit overboard for.

The only problem is Taehyung is sort of, pretty much, completely and hopelessly someone who hates being filmed for those sort of things. It’s a catastrophe, Taehyung’s number one fire alarm sending off shrill rings into his ear and making him whine to one of his classmates in his Calculus elective on their free periods right before lunch. Acting out his own script would make it infinitely more personal, completing that intrusive feel that he’s going for with the theme, but Taehyung doesn’t have the acting chops for it. Not enough softness, not enough creativity, as he told Namjoon while he shoved a script onto the Psychology major’s face and told him to try out for his impromptu audition. Jimin tells him he should do it at the risk of having someone else film him, while Choi Seungcheol, Political Science major with a sideline business of babying five of his high school friends, tells him he should hire someone else and stick to being out of the frame.

“You’re kind of in the wrong profession if you don’t want to be filmed, though,” Seungcheol says around a mouthful of fries the first time Taehyung brings it up. Taehyung, in response, pulls back his offering of fries and hisses. “I wanted to be a director so I could be all behind the scenes, like Fincher and Tarantino and all of those people,” he says, pointedly ignoring Seungcheol’s list of directors who’ve also acted, like Favreau and Coppola and the ever-famous Charlie Chaplin.

Taehyung loves his luck, but at the same time he’s spent three days putting up flyers on bulletin boards and discussion threads on online forums with no response. Unlike Konkuk or Seoul National, they don’t have a lot of liberal arts students majoring in acting or theatrical performances – so Taehyung’s pretty much forced to sludge out of the university. There’s a few in theater, of course; he’s met Kim Seoulhyun two floors below their apartment, who majors in theater, but their department’s always buzzing with fifteen different projects in the span of two months. He’s running out of options, swiping through his messages to see if any of his high school friends were up to act until he finally ends up sipping at a sweating cup of iced mocha on the walk home, typing away almost timidly to the chatroom.

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:53 PM): hyung pls help

JIN (3:54 PM): ?

JIN (3:54 PM): Are you alright, Tae? What’s wrong?

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:54 PM): are you busy??

JIN (3:54 PM): I’m on the way home from filming. Are you around? Are you lost?

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:55 PM): HYUNG CAN I CALL A FAVOR

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:55 PM): PLEASE PLEAS E PLEASE

JIN (3:55 PM): Is that why you changed your name . . . (๑・`▱´・๑)



JIN (3:55 PM): I’m not getting won over by a selca, Tae.

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:55 PM): thAT’S NOT ALL I HAVE



JIN (3:56 PM): . . . . . . . .

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:56 PM): the food is getting cold hyung

JIN (3:58 PM): I’m coming over in twenty minutes, what’s your address. We’re going to eat before you talk to me. No buts!

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S ONE AND ONLY FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (3:58 PM): YES I AM YOUR FAVORITE DONGSA ENG AREN’T I

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S ONE AND ONLY FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (4:07 PM): RIIIIIGHHHTTT

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S ONE AND ONLY FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (4:13 PM): DON’T DENY IT HYUNG

V ❤ JIN-HYUNG’S ONE AND ONLY FAVORITE DONGSAENG ❤ (4:13 PM): ヾ(๑❛ ▿ ◠๑ )

JIN (4:17 PM): No

 

-

 

The first time Jimin meets Seokjin outside of a screen and an entertainment site article, Seokjin’s hair is still damp from a fresh shower and he’s dressed in a wool overcoat that makes him look like he’s just walked out of a fashion catalogue. Jimin promptly shuts the door on his face, Seokjin’s lips pursed into a bewildered smile with one hand raised to press on the doorbell, and Jimin says, “Taehyung, there’s a super handsome guy outside and it’s freaking me out.”

Taehyung throws a couch pillow at his head, which Jimin easily blocks with an arm as he opens the door again, his personality making a fair ninety-degree shift. “Sorry about that,” he starts, and Taehyung snorts at how meek Jimin sounds, “I’m Taehyung’s roommate.”

There is, of course, a specific type that Jimin finds aesthetically pleasing. Tall, long-limbed, broad-shouldered – check. Seokjin sticks his hand out and smiles in this way that makes him look a whole lot softer, introduces himself and also forces a pun in between his words – handsome, but affectionately dorky and well-mannered, check. Kind of looks like he’s waltzed out of a Disney film where he was casted as the prince, check. In other words – Jimin’s floored and starts speaking in this high pitched tone, his eye smile turned up by a few notches.

Taehyung telepathically communicates: Jimin, your social life is self-destructing because of this self-deprecating behavior, please stop. Jimin, around a mouthful of tongdakgui, legs crossed as they eat on the floor and their food served on the low coffee table, telepathically communicates back: For fuck’s sake, Tae. You think I wanted this – I mean, I admit it’s nice. Okay, I may have wanted this.

Like all introductory talks happen in university, Jimin asks, “Hyung, why’d you get into acting?” There’s the droning of the evening news broadcast in the background, the clinking of chopsticks as they push the food around their plates, and Taehyung knows Jimin doesn’t notice it but there’s the offbeat. Seokjin shifts, and Taehyung thinks it’s a nanosecond off – like Seokjin was improvising a script about why, just because he doesn’t really have a reason for it.

Or: he’s inventing things. He’s been watching way too many Fincher films before bed, and now he’s giving every look and every pause too much weight. It’s possible; Taehyung knows it’s not wrong.

“It was my childhood dream,” Seokjin says, “And yours is corporate management? That’s an awfully mature childhood dream.”

Jimin flushes, laughing right on cue with the mass-produced laugh track of the news show. “I like dancing,” Jimin says. “I took classical ballet when I was in elementary.”

Seokjin’s eyes flash towards Taehyung, asking if Jimin wasn’t uncomfortable with the topic. Taehyung shrugs and shoves a piece of chicken into his mouth as the actor continues, “Huh. What happened to dancing?”

“It’s my minor right now,” Jimin says, and that’s the end of it. He stands up after a while, excusing himself and saying he needs to be up early tomorrow and not to worry, Taehyung promised to do the dishes, and shuffles from bedroom to bathroom and back again. It’s quiet for a while, Seokjin eating and making pleased noises about the food until he stops to ask, “Did I offend Jimin-ssi?”

“Jimin’s fine,” Taehyung says. “He’s good with management. His grades are super great and his professor even said he’s born to major in it.”

Seokjin’s nose scrunches. Taehyung finds it adorable, but doesn’t comment so out loud. “Just because he’s good at it doesn’t mean he likes it.”

Taehyung pauses at this and rolls back everything he remembers: Jimin assuring him he loves to dance, but always unsure about pursuing it. Jimin beaming when he comes home with takeout, telling Taehyung he was complimented for his straightforward thinking and his way of getting around certain discussions in class. Jimin taking up a dance class on the summer before senior year of high school, getting a certificate for participating, putting it in a plastic sheet and tucking it inside a storage box full of memorabilia.

“I read this book once,” Taehyung says, lowering the volume of the television, “There was this small town, and there was this boy who loved art – and he would sketch anything and everything, and people would tell him he should go to art school. He was gifted with a talent, etcetera, etcetera; you know the gist. So, the boy goes to the city and enrolls into this art school to learn to do what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.”

“He was good at it, for a while, but then there were all these things that added up to it. Framework and structure, composition and proportion.” Taehyung makes an act of rolling his eyes comically. “At some point, he started seeing every subject as a group of shapes, and when he drew them he didn’t worry about sketching out the feel of the subject. He worried about proportion, and frameworks, and whether or not the composition was satisfactory.”

Seokjin smiles at him. “Oh, Tae,” he says softly, and Taehyung shakes his head, smiles back.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think Jiminie’s afraid of that. I mean, I sort of am, about film – but Jimin’s rational. He has back-up plans and ten other options for everything. He loves his major, I’m happy for him; it’s a win-win situation.”

The television sound gets hiked up back to usual – two notches above the necessary volume – and Taehyung picks up the previous conversation like he was butting in to give his own two cents. Taehyung says he went from wanting to be a cashier registrar, to a firefighter to a policeman, to a kindergarten teacher, a fashion designer, a saxophone player, and even a daycare owner, until finally settling down into film. “The apparent love of my life,” he says. “Which I won’t be able to pursue if I flunk this project, hyung! Please, please, please help.”

Seokjin stuffs his mouth with another chunk of chicken in lieu of a verbal response.

“I’ll buy you dinner?” Taehyung asks; Seokjin chews. “I’ll buy you lunch and dinner!” Taehyung begs; Seokjin swallows. The acting major’s reaching for another piece of chicken, completely uninterested, and Taehyung goes for the last resort – “All three meals with complementary snacks?”

Seokjin laughs, squeaky and high-pitched, almost letting go of his chopsticks as his shoulders shake. This is only the fifth time he’s seen Seokjin in the flesh for the almost four months they’ve known each other, and no amount of laughing kaomojis or shaky videos will ever quite sum up to seeing Seokjin laugh in real life. “Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says, “How do you even want me to help?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung shrieks, starts and stop for a while and rambles forward. “Do you have – are you – like, do you know anyone who’s willing to – ”

Seokjin blinks at him. He says, “Oh, Tae,” and this time around it’s less sympathetic and understanding, and more of a half-laugh that almost gets stuck in his throat. “How many minutes is it?”

“Two, up to five.”

“How long are you filming?”

“A whole day, tops?”

Seokjin hums, leaning forward. “Are you any good?” he asks over the loud noise of the commercial break flashing colors on the screen, and Taehyung snorts. “Am I any good, hyung – I can at least do better than the cheap tropes and the overly tragic plot of Cloud Nine.”

There’s a responsive huff, like Seokjin wants to laugh but also takes offense from Taehyung’s trash talking of his first independent film, like it had its good parts and Taehyung hadn’t wanted to look at them. Taehyung digs onto the contents of his book bag, bringing out a few pages stapled together at the top, stuck with a post-it on front labeled with Director’s Copy. “I wanted to make an art film,” Taehyung says as Seokjin flips through, eyes scanning through the script and the little notes Taehyung’s added on the margins in glitter pen.

“This doesn’t even have a storybook plot.”

“It’s a self-introduction!” Taehyung says, and Seokjin rolls his eyes.

“An expository art film or an open interpretation about your complexity?”

Taehyung pauses, starts and stops, and ends up flushing red. “I don’t think it’s bad,” he murmurs, stubborn but deflated, and the laughter leaves Seokjin’s face. He reaches for Taehyung, fingers splaying over his arm and ghosting over Taehyung’s skin from his cut-up sleeves, and all of a sudden Taehyung feels like he’s barging in on a private moment with the way Seokjin’s face softens.

(Too soft. Almost manufactured and factory-produced. Cinematic, almost.)

“I didn’t mean it that way,” he says. “I’m sorry. I think it’s good that you know what you want to do, Taehyung-ah.”

There’s this funny, affectionate quirk to Seokjin that somewhat draws him in: a collective of layers and facades and costumes that always seems like a truth. He has a malleable face, an elastic expression that stretches into different directions to show a scene. He’s like a television personality, only existing behind a screen and coming with scripted lines, and Taehyung thinks it’s fascinating. There’s something that feels perfect about Seokjin, who knows what to say and what to do and how to act it out, like this thing of dreams.

It’s like this – Seokjin leaning close, holding him apologetically, the hum of the AC and the television show all white noise in the background – and Taehyung can’t figure out if any of it is true. If Seokjin is apologetic, if he had his own anxieties, if he wasn’t as judgmental about his decisions as he made himself out to be; Taehyung doesn’t know if any of it is Seokjin, or this whole, multifaceted personality that stemmed off reading scripts and scripts of manic pixie dream boys.

He imagines undressing all of Seokjin’s characters, unwrapping all of the tinman facades, peeling back all of those layers and seeing Seokjin as Seokjin, no cast credits rolling in and no directors on the set and none of the fancy rose-colored lenses he always seems to come as a set with. All of a sudden, all Taehyung wonders about is knowing how to pick out what’s honest and what’s directed, and the thought sort of scares him because that’s not what he’s supposed to feel when Seokjin is apologizing to him in the middle of his living room.

“Okay,” he jolts. “’I mean, it’s – it wasn’t what you were going for, yeah. I know, hyung, it’s no problem.” Taehyung smiles, wide and boxy and as cheerful as ever, and Seokjin pulls back. The conversation picks itself up, even though Seokjin ends up subconsciously not meeting his eyes for the rest of the evening, and leaves with this rushed dialogue of promising to find someone who’s free, and just give me a schedule, don’t worry about it.

 

-

 

All films – or, most films, because Taehyung’s gone through a whole collective of films for a world record – have this near-pause, slow motion scene where things shift. In plotlines, it’s the climax. In Taehyung’s life, it’s a rollercoaster high that slopes up and down and leaves him hanging everywhere with adrenaline in and out of him. In Taehyung’s life, it’s Seokjin sitting cross-legged on his living room, the shabby carpet they bought on impulse itchy underneath them, and knowing just what to say and how to say it.

It starts off as a character study: little habits that Seokjin does, his most used emojis (and his favorite category of kaomojis) and how he reacts to Taehyung whining at him, what angle he likes to take pictures at. And then it blows onto knowing he doesn’t like certain foods, he raises his eyebrows almost compulsively when he wants to make a point, he whines better than anyone Taehyung’s known – and Taehyung knows Jimin, knows how he gets when he doesn’t get what he wants, knows exactly how bad Jimin would throw a tantrum over it. When Seokjin apologizes to him, he does this little tongue-in-cheek look with the smallest smile on his face; like he wanted to laugh about it, but he had to pull back and apologize because that was the bigger thing to do.

Taehyung realizes it’s the look Seokjin always has when he lies about something. Oh, Taehyung thinks, the wonders. He washes the dishes, scrubbing away at the food stains and letting the little tiny bits of food get stuck on the drain cover; then he goes through the usual evening schedule of cleaning up and taking out the trash.

He’s supposed to go back to his room and get started on a video mock-up from footage he already has. There’s his calculus assignment untouched on his desk, slowly but steadily gathering dust, and he should catch up on his webtoons. This is what Taehyung does instead: turns on the television and sets the volume back to low, sits down on the floor on the exact same spot, and rebuilds the same scene from an hour back. He imagines Seokjin’s half-lying to his face, his fingers on his arm, how he let his other hand fall limply at his side just because he didn’t know what to do.

He’s not hurt, not at all. He likes the truth of his complexity – he’s proud of it, even – and it hadn’t offended him when Seokjin prodded at it. He hadn’t expected it, that’s all. He likes the way the emotion shapes Seokjin’s features, pushing up his eyebrows and crinkling the corners of his eyes, tucking his lips and just slightly scrunching his nose. It’s like taking an unconscious inventory of the faces people make at you, except this time it means something you never thought it would mean.

Oh, Taehyung thinks. When the epiphany settles, he’s flying to Jimin’s room, barging in without permission and letting the door slam back into the wall, and he’s shrieking: “Jimin, I’m fucked.”

And Jimin, halfway into falling asleep and burrowed under the covers, supplies grumpily and unhelpfully, “Well isn’t that nice, Tae.”

 

-

 

Seokjin texts him two days later, right as Taehyung’s professors gets into the second segment of The South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs. Taehyung usually keeps his phone on silent and out of sight during classes, but being on the rush from a long-winding conversation with Namjoon during his shift on the coffee shop had made him shove it under his textbook and laptop bag instead.

Before Taehyung can even swipe at the message preview (unread and incomprehensible from under his textbook) to open up his phone’s screen, Seokjin’s already sent him a file over the chat. It’s quickly followed with Focus on your classes OK, a kaomoji, and his phone screen falling back to sleep. Taehyung tries to angle his laptop to cover him, typing out a few notes about the first Korean blockbuster Shiri directed by Kang Jegyu during the year 1999 and how it fell short of satisfying the criteria of a Hollywood blockbuster in its terms.

JIN (1:47 PM): I’m sending you my class and filming schedule and maybe then we can work around when you’ll film?

Taehyung almost shrieks in the middle of the class, taking a quick glance at his professor who’s currently grilling the class favorite with laser beam eyes, and promptly lets his thumbs jab at his phone screen in response.

V (1:53 PM): fngndjng023r09 nfonajnowieroko4343r3rp mxkzcnfmsn5q345r32 fkndkjdnfoaijenqlekop iokzxc kzx304ke

V (1:54 PM): you’RE ACTNIG??

V (1:54 PM): FOR M E,, YUOR LWOLY DON G SEA NG??!!

JIN (1:55 PM): I can’t understand what you’re saying



V (1:56 PM): HO W WUOLD I EVER REPSY YOU HYUNG

JIN (1:57 PM): Maybe don’t take selcas during class and be a good student?

Like the universe agrees with Seokjin, Taehyung’s professor catches him fidgeting on his seat like he’s on a sugar rush. There’s the sharp reprimand, and Taehyung flushing and trying to make up a lie about how his laptop’s lagging on him so he couldn’t type down all of the notes, and he’s not a good actor at all so of course the lie doesn’t hold up well. Taehyung vaguely registers ah, shit – there goes my five percent for class behavior before typing up another message.

V (1:59 PM): i got caught hyung ㅠㅠ





Taehyung lets out a garbled sound that’s half of a whine and half of a whimper, like he got punched in the throat, because oh god. He gets a few snickers behind him when the professor shoots him a solid glare, and somehow he finds that the five percent isn’t as important as he made it out to be anyway.

Well, compared to getting a really good selca (and from a different angle from the usual, even with the unnecessary filter Seokjin always goes for, Taehyung is swooning, damn it, doesn’t the world understand this is a special moment?) – maybe no sort of percentage for class behavior would ever be worth as much.

 

 

/

 

 

Seokjin stares up into the sky, his neck a graceful curve and his overcoat blowing in the wind. He’s like this moving painting – the stars on Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, stuck still as the world moves and the clouds roll in and out of the frame. Seokjin’s patient in the middle of the riverbank. He has his hands shoved into his pockets, his mouth slightly open like he’s waiting for something, and then Taehyung yells – “Cut, hyung! It’s done.”

It’s an early Saturday afternoon; the city is all hustle and bustle, plowing through the day, and Seokjin asks out, “That’s it for the morning?”

“Yeah, let’s get lunch!” Taehyung calls, disassembling his tripod and packing his camera back to its bag. Seokjin’s a professional, and Taehyung finds it disappointingly easy and convenient that his first project has him working with someone who’s too good at adapting to directions and whims and working out a scene the way it’s supposed to be done so. Taehyung has a vision and Seokjin the ability to act it out; it feels fulfilling, but Taehyung’s an amateur who isn’t getting a lot of the gritty experience of actually being a director.

Read: there’s no arguing. Seokjin’s arrived at seven in the morning, on the dot and prim and proper with his script well-studied. Taehyung gets questioned about interpretations right off the bat – if Seokjin should show this or something else? – and there’s no frustration about unsatisfactory acting or diva fits. Probably the only problem he has is financial, having promised he’s responsible for all meals when Seokjin could eat two weeks’ worth of meat in one go.

Like Jimin says – it’s sort of worth it. Seokjin’s all uncoordinated limbs that move awkwardly off-screen, and he does this stuttering dance and gives a round of applause for himself when the food’s really good. Taehyung promises he’ll love Namjoon forever for recommending Ha Jun Min and its twenty-four hour buffet service on a cheap price for two, maybe even look the restaurant up in Yelp and leave a good review. He wants to say my friend loved your choice cuts of beef to the point of dancing around in celebration about it, thank you for letting me see that and top it off with a score of a hundred over five stars.

“The filming for the drama’s actually eased out,” Seokjin says across the table. “A few retakes every now and then, really. Watch hyung, okay?”

Taehyung feels like he’s on a sugar rush. He goes for an appraising sound around a mouthful of meat, not bothering to chew and swallow before he responds with an overenthusiastic, “Well, yeah, of course. What’s it about, anyway? The promos aren’t super detailed yet.”

“Spoilers or no spoilers?”

“No spoilers,” Taehyung requests, raising his hand to mimic a grade-schooler reciting in class.

Seokjin laughs (adorably, squeakily, breathlessly). “Okay, I’m the second male lead who’s too perfect to be true.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says. He puts in the extra effort to make it sound as flat as possible. “You don’t get the girl in the end, do you?”

Seokjin jabs at his direction with his special chopsticks – plastic, toted around in a clear Ziploc that Seokjin carries in his bag, and apparently scentless and flavorless unlike the wooden ones – and smiles cheekily. “Spoilers or no spoilers?” he asks.

“It’s cliché!” Taehyung snorts. “It’s like, if it were me and I had someone way too perfect to be true in my life, I would go for them. Totally, completely, ten over ten. I would drop everything.”

“That’s just delusional,” Seokjin laughs.

“Rational, hyung,” Taehyung says, all matter-of-fact. “Rational, I’m telling you.”

“It’s – .” Seokjin pauses, squeaking indignantly. “It’s not real at all. Have you ever met someone – ”

Taehyung loves being this greenhouse of emotions. He loves growing and cultivating and housing all of the things he can pick apart and all the things he can’t, giving everything a name like love (probably something flowering, a succulent that overgrows quick) and anger (prickling with spines on its leaf margins) and loneliness (small and covered with wispy trichomes and an affection for thigmotropism). Taehyung likes pining (a curling vine that reaches around its plot but never moves out of it), but he also likes honesty (nothing special and no sentimentality behind, just something that presents itself the way it is), so it’s not some Freudian slip when he blurts out: “Yeah, well. You.”

Seokjin pauses. There’s the offbeat that stretches into a moment, and a second, and a whole silent overture. If Taehyung was anyone else, he’d push back the confession into the half-time of the film just because the silence stumped him into submission and an embarrassing life of awkwardness, but Taehyung is Taehyung. The offbeat doesn’t matter. Just because it was silence doesn’t mean it was awkward.

“I mean,” he starts softly. “You’re not perfect. You have a weird laugh and I don’t think anyone would ever be able to put their arm around your shoulders and you use questionable photo filters. Sometimes you get carried away by things that would only fascinate grade-schoolers, and you get stubborn and whine in a super effective voice and every now and then it gets frustrating when you don’t talk about what you feel.”

Taehyung breathes in, breathes out. “But, I’m saying I like all of that about you? And you’re imperfect, really, but I’d drop a lot of things for you.”

The thing is, Taehyung thinks it’s now or never. What he gets in response is Seokjin laughing, his body curling forwards as he tries to catch something with his chopsticks but ends up letting it slip. His ears are red and he’s reaching up to cover his face with the menu. “If there’s a script for all of this,” he says, “you’re rushing. You’re throttling everything, Taehyung-ah. Give it time.”

Taehyung leans back. He grins at Seokjin, boxy and wide and overenthusiastic, even though Seokjin’s rejected him in the softest way possible. “I’m giving it a lot of time.”

And Seokjin smiles at him.

 

 

/

 

 

Taehyung gets praised for his first short film, and a critique that states simple and riveting, but strangely, almost offensively intrusive in its portrayal. There is, of course, the fact that it’s an art film shot in the most amateurish way possible, built for a narrow crawlspace of a niche, which lands him at an imperfect A-minus, but Taehyung revels in it. He takes a screenshot of his professor’s e-mail with his grades attached at the bottom and promptly sends it off to Seokjin with a whole chain of celebrating selcas. There were two or three lines complimenting the splendid acting from Taehyung’s professor – who apparently knows Seokjin, has asked Taehyung if he spent an unnecessary amount of money to afford a rising rookie actor star in an amateur project – and doesn’t wait for Seokjin to respond (filming, his chat status says) before he’s barreling to Jimin’s room.

He’s bouncing all over the place, whooping out more exclamations than necessary, and he feels like he could do anything. He could fly. He could blast off to space. He could rule the world. Taehyung, in short, feels like his luck is at a controversial peak.

“Jiminie,” he shouts, interrupting Jimin who’s curled up in his beanbag by the door and reaching out with a leg to try and shove the door close on his face.

“Ji – ” Taehyung pushes back, huffing in response as the door closes in on him even with all of his weight leaning against the frame. “What did I say about knocking – what the fuck, Tae,” he hears Jimin call out, and Taehyung takes a step back. He counts up to five, knocks, and promptly bursts in without Jimin getting a breather. “Jiminie, do you want to get lucky?” he says, cranking up the television show host voice up even as Jimin looks up from his laptop with an expression flatter than a two-dimensional topography.

“Tae, I literally have a fifteen-page philosophical paper to pass in – ” Jimin looks at his phone. “Like, two hours.”

“But Jimin,” Taehyung whines. “Namjoon-hyung’s free today. We could go to Slobbie and catch a new film at the movie house or meet – ”

Jimin doesn’t look impressed, so Taehyung goes for it; he promptly throws himself over Jimin, promises he’ll call over Namjoon to help, and gets a flat smack against his arm for almost crushing his best friend to death on a beanbag with a MacBook Air almost getting caught in between them. “That’s not a very productive way to learn,” Jimin says under him, struggling to get free even as Taehyung latches onto him like a leech.

“Oh, Jiminie – you hardworking, sophisticated ray of sunshine. Jiminie, my little bubblegum poptart, my sweet, goody two shoes cherub with a choir boy’s vocal pitch,” Taehyung coos. “Let’s get a discount on BIGBANG’s new album, yeah?”

Jimin’s silent for a moment, weighing in music store sales with a recently released album with Taehyung’s impossible luck, and in the end Taehyung wins. Namjoon does end up filling in Jimin’s last quarter of the discourse with a meta-analysis of moral systems highlighted in popular media and its correlation to nationwide politics from the 1950s to modern day, and they end up getting a lunch set from Slobbie. Really, he could do it. He could parkour off the top of their apartment building. He could dive out of the train and walk away unscathed like an action film figure. He could –

“Hey, so Jimin said you got a boyfriend?” Namjoon says, his thick-framed glasses almost slipping down his nose as he looks up from his bibimbap, bursting the yolk of the sunny side-up with a hard press of his chopsticks.

Taehyung scoffs, making a face at Jimin before he leans back on his plastic chair, the back legs creaking under his weight. “Not true at all.”

“Tae’s lying,” Jimin says. “He’s a rookie actor from Konkuk, about as tall as him but looks like – well. Like a million, billion times better.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Taehyung says, side-eyeing Jimin as Namjoon guffaws at his expense. “But seriously. We’re not together.”

Jimin snorts, almost spitting out a mouthful of water as Namjoon scrambles for tissues. “Okay, hyung,” Jimin says as soon as the water’s down and the disaster’s avoided, “Let me rephrase. Taehyung wants to be his boyfriend, but they aren’t at that stage yet.”

Taehyung groans, “Jimin, I thought you had my back and you were the Black Widow to my Captain America – you know, since you could probably kill someone with your thighs – ”

“What – ”

“ – and if some global corrupt organization tortured you for information, you wouldn’t spill at all. I trusted you, Jimin.”

Jimin reaches across the table, an open hand over Taehyung’s curled fingers with a thumb running over his knuckles. Taehyung looks to Jimin’s sincere face, his jawline softening as he smiles and his eyes doing that narrowing into crescents thing, and it comes to mind that maybe Jimin would apologize for being such a blabbermouth about Taehyung’s love life.

“The woes,” he mocks instead, and Taehyung smacks his hand away.

 

-

 

Jimin’s temporary preference of action films win out against Taehyung’s independent film showing two stops away and Namjoon’s insisting on a foreign psychological thriller. The movie house is packed, Taehyung’s used ticket crumpled in his back pocket without an assigned seat, and they end up getting seated right in the front row only because it’s the only one not full. It’s literally five meters in front of the sloped screen, the back of the upholstered seats not inclined enough for comfortable watching so they slowly, surely grow a stiff neck.

There’s also this motion blur that makes Taehyung’s eyes hurt whenever something moves faster than Taehyung does on a Sunday morning (read: almost everything), and Namjoon’s cross-eyed for more than a good half of the film and ends up having to go to the bathroom because the screen had been all over him. Because Taehyung thinks everything’s a learning experience, he writes off a film review in his head while Jimin makes comments every now and then. The cinematography’s pretty standard for an action film, so nothing new for the table there; the script is super predictable, but it does have its tried-and-tested, practically foolproof techniques to rile up the audience.

Taehyung is sometimes gullible, so of course it works on him. It’s exactly the type to put up enough hype at the first watch and make you call it a cinematic masterpiece as you’re leaving the theater, but there’s no replay factor. It’s one-use, one-watch, and then every following replay just doesn’t live up. Basically, he and Jimin rave about it on the way out, fetching Namjoon who’s physically as limp as a noodle from the toilet.

“I thought you were lucky,” Namjoon groans, leaning against the lobby wall next to a cheap potted plant. “Why didn’t you get us good seats? I have to call NASA if some comet’s passing by or something, is your luck wearing off?”

“My luck is not wearing off,” Taehyung shrieks. “Jiminie, tell him! No – show him!”

They end up playing twenty-three rounds of kai bai bo in the middle of the lobby, at least seventeen passersby for witnesses and one of them definitely alerting security that there had been three people doing suspicious activities before Taehyung proves he’s as lucky as ever.

Jimin’s saying something about this hurting his pride, but Taehyung’s getting called out with a familiar voice and he’s turning around to see Seokjin (beautiful, handsome, noble Seokjin with the broadest shoulders Taehyung’s ever slung an arm around, his mind supplies) and then he’s calling with a wave, “Seokjin-hyung! Wow, it must be a lucky day – ”

Namjoon growls at him in the background.

 

-

 

Seokjin’s chat status of filming is gone – Taehyung checks, to be sure, and there had been a reply that didn’t show up in his notifications where Seokjin congratulates him with a spam of celebratory kaomojis – and Seokjin’s out of Gwangjin-gu and Hongdae (his current filming location, apparently), and in real life flesh. There’s someone tagging along beside him, shaking a half-empty cup of soda in his hands and looking up to stare uninterestedly at Taehyung as he follows Seokjin to move forward.

Hyung, you were here?” Taehyung says, peeking over his shoulder to look at Seokjin’s friend; he debates with himself whether or not that’s his manager, this thin little thing that’s as tall as Jimin who looks like he’d get blown away with enough wind, topped with a baseball cap over bottle-dyed hair. “What were you guys up to? How was filming? Oh, this is – ”

“Slow down, Tae,” Seokjin laughs. His attention shifts to a mellowed-out Jimin, as gullible as someone drunk in front of his dream type (Jimin squeaks out a greeting in the same high-pitched voice), and a slumped Namjoon who’s just put out a whole Slobbie lunch set up his throat. “Hi, Jimin – and?”

“Namjoon,” Jimin fills in.

“Kim Namjoon,” Namjoon groans. “You must be Taehyung’s b – ” (Cue Jimin accidentally elbowing him, air quotes placed.) “ – friend?”

“Yeah,” Seokjin says, grinning. He’s about to put his hand out but Jimin pushes it back, whispering about how Namjoon’s just held onto a public toilet while wringing out his stomach’s contents. He may or may not have washed his hands after; it is still unsure. “Taehyung says you’re the God of Destruction? Is that a stage name?”

The person beside Seokjin promptly laughs, almost spitting out his soda. “Hyung, no. I know this guy,” he drawls, and if Taehyung could feel voices like they were tangible things, his would be sandpaper and rough cardboard scratched at the surface.

Namjoon grimaces. He shifts, polished oxfords drawing a line on the shabby carpeted floor. Namjoon holds onto his stomach like he’d have to fling himself over to the toilet once again. “Suga-hyung,” he says. “I didn’t know you were friends with handsome actors.”

Suga pauses, looking at Seokjin and vaguely registering his profile for two seconds before flatly stating that Seokjin was not as handsome as Namjoon had made him out to be, and Taehyung almost loses his mind at the utter disrespect. “Yoongi,” Seokjin says instead. “This is Min Yoongi. He’s sometimes more known as the underground rapper Suga, but he’s the bitterest roommate I’ve ever had.”

Taehyung vaguely registers that this is why Namjoon knew him – from gigs and events they’ve never been able to go to before.

“I’m his only roommate,” Yoongi says, scowling, and it’s subtle, something that seems normal even though it’s the early afternoon and they’re standing in the middle of an emptying movie house lobby, but Taehyung picks it up. Seokjin does this thing where he reaches up, palm flat like he was going to smack the back of Yoongi’s head, but instead he only ghosts his fingers over it and drops it back down again.

It’s not slow motion in Taehyung’s eyes. It’s neither forcibly soft nor lethargic. It’s like Seokjin’s not thinking, like there was some movie house, upholstered seat standard lint stuck to Yoongi’s baseball cap and it would have been common courtesy to pick out. It’s sweet, something out of a movie, and Taehyung looks away.

Somehow, this seems to melt out Yoongi’s harshness and he steps forward. He’s not smiling, but he talks a little lighter and his shoulders aren’t strung as tight. “You’re Jimin and Taehyung? Namjoon’s little brats?”

“Namjoon-hyung is our brat, not the other way around,” Jimin says in response, and Namjoon makes a face which, Seokjin would report to him later on (months, years, after all of this), is still the funniest thing he’s ever, and probably ever will have, seen. Taehyung will laugh along, and maybe it would be perfect, or fine, at least. Maybe it would be enough.

His film critique had said: simple and riveting, but strangely, almost offensively intrusive in its portrayal. Taehyung wishes he couldn’t understand how it felt.

 

-

 

They could always just be friends. This is what the world – and Jimin’s curious eyes – tell him on the walk to one of Hongdae’s numerous music stores. A coincidental direction that they both end up taking, because apparently Yoongi’s also dropping by to get an album off the shelves. Up ahead, Yoongi and Namjoon are the definition of friendly, talking in hushed but enthusiastic tones about Yoongi’s custom-made Midi Fighter 64 that just came in the mail.

This is what he finds out: Yoongi’s under Konkuk’s flexible music production curriculum, having lived with Seokjin for three years in an apartment that’s less in the university belt and more of in the city itself. He’s Daegu through and through, breaking into satoori whenever he pulls up a string of curses that makes even Namjoon flush, and he has that way of speaking set into a default of a sleepy drawl.

This is what Seokjin tells him: he’s never been to any of Yoongi’s gigs. Yoongi’s not popular with dogs, so Jjanggu always barks at him like he’s a burglar and ends up biting away at his favorite sneakers when Yoongi’s not looking. Yoongi looks as brash as someone who’ll mug you down the back alleys of Itaewon, but he’s a big softie who lets Seokjin latch onto him during a horror movie.

Yoongi says they’re roommates, and Seokjin says they’re friends. Three years counting, and a whole lot more – “My one and only roommate in the world,” Seokjin coos at his back – and Taehyung’s whole mood flunks.

“So, hyung has a gig here later? Since he’s pretty far from your place?” Jimin asks, purely because Taehyung’s been out of it for a few minutes and going all self-conscious model with Seokjin. The lack of conversation the three of them have would stand out in the street if Jimin lets it go quiet, and Namjoon would ask about it in that unashamedly honest tone as Yoongi looks at them with raised eyebrows. Jimin doesn’t want to say it’s nothing, see; Taehyung’s just being a jealous little brat because Seokjin-hyung and Yoongi-hyung have this possible romance novel relationship down to pat. Taehyung’s pretty sure of that, but everything just feels strange. His mind’s floating up and away and his tongue feels like cotton and useless.

Twenty minutes ago, Namjoon could have dared him off to jump from the top of N Seoul Tower and Taehyung, high on the enthusiasm and his trust on his luck, would have actually tried. Taehyung, twenty minutes into now, feels like he can’t even have the energy to stay awake. He can’t walk without dragging his feet. What’s a BIGBANG? NASA could e-mail him about a chance to go to outer space and he’d mark it as spam.

“No, not at all?” Seokjin says. “He’s busy with his mixtape. He told me he went here to buy something, but so far he hasn’t bought anything at all – he probably only wanted to eat out since it was his turn to do the dishes? That bum.” Jimin’s eyes catch Taehyung’s, and the fact that Jimin has this constipated smile on his face like he wanted to take a huge dump on Taehyung’s bed for revenge because this situation was the most awkward one he’s ever been in is like a sucker punch.

Remember those anime shows you and I watched with Seungcheol two weeks back, Jimin is screeching at him with his eyes. The one with that that protagonist? Hey, remember, Taehyung! He was tsundere as fuck. Yoongi-hyung is also tsundere as fuck. Did you not just hear Seokjin-hyung prove he went out here just to pick him up? Are you not going to fight back? Fuck this. You owe me at least a fifty percent discount.

Jimin works his best to salvage the situation, even though Seokjin looks like he thinks the conversation could have been done and over with. “Well, Yoongi-hyung sounds like he’s a good roommate,” Jimin says, and Taehyung’s face sours with well fuck you, too, Jimin.

Jimin starts sweating. I’m doing my best, you little shit. If we weren’t friends you’d die alone in the apartment after Namjoon-hyung convinces you to microwave a shelled egg.

“Hm?” Seokjin says. “No. Yoongi’s the worst roommate in the world. You should watch how he flails around if you told him I told you he wears Kumamon pajamas.”

Jimin blinks, snorts. Taehyung can’t see Seokjin’s face, but Jimin looks at him and somehow the conversation ends just like that. The thing is, Taehyung doesn’t want to be that guy. He doesn’t want to be that stranger crashing into someone’s life on a rainy day, full of hope and sunshine and this promise to be as light as possible, and end up getting jealous. He doesn’t want to ruin this and he doesn’t want to chase away Seokjin with how selfish he’d make himself out to be, so Taehyung does what all those shoujo mangas told him to do best (fuck the films, Taehyung thinks).

Taehyung sulks. Taehyung overthinks, like there’s something behind every look Yoongi sends Seokjin and every word has this depth to it. He plays fortunetelling on a music store – for fuck’s sake – shifting through vinyl records and CDs and cardboard-packed albums with photobooks. He gets this: an album with a title track that’s all bubblegum pop, a single about bad weather and breaking up, and a remix compilation album with heavy bass and stuttering rap. Taehyung doesn’t know what it means at all, but whatever. He believes this may mean something, even though Namjoon says astrology is crap and Jimin is mouthing that it’s with tarot cards, not music albums.

Yoongi’s currently flipping through a sample lyric book of an independent music band, Namjoon wearing noise-cancelling headphones and playing a new release on the station right across the room, and Jimin’s BIGBANG album is already in his hands. Seokjin leans over Yoongi’s shoulder to read whatever his roommate’s just pointed at, and Taehyung practically combusts.

“Jiminie,” he shrieks quietly into his Jimin’s ear, who would have recoiled had Taehyung not kept his shoulder under a vice grip. “Jiminie, what do you think they are?”

“Taehyung, I need my ears. Stop shrieking,” Jimin says. “They’re friends. They’re just, also roommates. This doesn’t have to be so difficult.”

Taehyung reminds himself to not be that guy for the twenty-third time that hour. His high school had dubbed him as part of this so-called Sunshine Line, which Taehyung makes out to be a prestigious group who’s talented at socializing and developing the atmosphere. People who get jealous over the person they like talking to their friend, no matter how domestic and young adult romance novel and perfect the relationship is, are creepy. People like that aren’t voted into being a part of the Sunshine Line. People like that irritate Taehyung and, up on the big screen and in a poor script, make him change films and leave bad movie reviews up online.

Taehyung knows it doesn’t have to be so difficult, but Yoongi’s smiling all gummy and Seokjin’s laughing without covering his mouth, and Taehyung feels like he’s not enough. It’s not a competition and Seokjin is not a prize, but it makes Taehyung want to say ouch. It makes him wish he was a bit older, with a few different decisions in life, so he could have been the one Seokjin met on Konkuk’s freshman orientation and they could have had their own three – going four, now – years. Maybe that would change something.

Jimin looks at him, smiling. “You’re worrying about this way too much,” he says. “I think if it’s meant to be, you and Seokjin-hyung, then it will be.”

“Wow, Jimin, that’s an awfully escapist approach to reality.”

Jimin’s mouth stretches into the same constipated smile. “Take it or ask hyung what they are. Whatever helps you sleep at night and make you stop barging into my room at three in the morning.”

Taehyung ends up getting conned into Jimin’s escapist beliefs. He ends up with a new vinyl record, two copies of the latest BIGBANG album (he doesn’t know why; he lives with Jimin so they could jam to it together but it’s eh) and an indie extended play that Namjoon throws in for a discount, and contrary to whatever Yoongi said about having to buy something, he ends up leaving the music store empty-handed. Taehyung thinks oh, okay and all of a sudden Taehyung wants to shove himself against the wall because Jimin’s probably right, and he wasted a whole afternoon with Seokjin sulking away instead of catching up, and so what if Seokjin’s with Yoongi in a more-than-roommates, not-quite-platonic way? Seokjin deserves someone who, for all his complains about being awake, would come all the way from Gwangjin-gu on a weekend just to walk back home with him. Someone who’d come all the way just so Seokjin could talk to someone over lunch, and Taehyung knows how much chatty Seokjin gets during lunch.

Taehyung knocks back the hideous monstrosity of an emotion inside of him. Jealousy isn’t something he’s unfamiliar with, but it’s also something he’s never experienced as strongly as now. It’s like letting a bunch of weeds grow all over a new plant, or a pest that just won’t go away completely – except this time Taehyung knows and feels he’s just being fussy. He’s just picking at non-existent scabs and worrying over things that he has no control over.

When Seokjin and Yoongi’s gone, Namjoon’s branched off to drop by a bookstore, and they’re the only two left, it’s normal. It’s not quiet, it’s calm, and they talk about a bunch of things that are complete question marks to everyone else. There’s a high school friend in Hongik who shifted to a different course program from what her parents had wanted her to pursue, a typical mom’s friend’s son who ended up making it big in the indie pop scene, and then all of a sudden Taehyung’s crying.

“I feel like such a kid, Jimin,” is all he says, and Jimin holds his hand as they walk through a half-crowded street. “You’re always like a kid,” Jimin sasses, but there’s no bite. There’s no curling tone that makes it sound like a jab at Taehyung’s character, and it’s comforting because Jimin knows what to do even though Taehyung’s sobbing in the middle of the street on a Saturday night.

“Hey,” Jimin says. “Hey, Tae. It’s alright, you know? It’s fine to feel like that every now and then. You don’t need to beat yourself up for it.” He doesn’t pretend it’s Taehyung’s own problem and Taehyung should fix it himself, but Taehyung doesn’t get babied either. Jimin is just there, quietly holding onto his hand, and Taehyung’s putting himself on some emotional inception and almost wants to sob at the fact that he’s crying, too.

“This is so shitty,” Taehyung says, wiping at his face with his sleeve. He’s all tears and snot and definitely the most childish he could look, but Jimin assures him, “Nah. Not that shitty at all.”

 

-

 

Taehyung ends up spending the night curled up on the couch, his favorite films on marathon. “For inspiration?” Seungcheol had asked when he swung by around dinnertime, armed with tteokboki and his group paper with Jimin. Jimin waves his hand, “For healing. He thinks the current love of his life is something more with his roommate.”

Seungcheol had raised his eyebrows in wonder, but grinned back at Taehyung before mussing his hair into complete knots. “I was going to say I understand,” he starts, “but aren’t you two… together?”

“What,” Taehyung deadpans over his hoard of used and crumpled, snotty tissues. Jimin looks at him with the disappointment of a whole parents association when they find out the school principal’s putting up a weekly snack lunch to fulfill those sweet tooth cravings and give children their necessary sugar rushes. Seungcheol whistles, puts his hands up in the air and says, “Woah, I’m glad that’s cleared out of the way. No more misconceptions.”

He grins at Taehyung before smacking him in the shoulder with the full force of a baseball pass, which makes Taehyung almost choke on a tteokboki because Seungcheol’s the basketball varsity ace and that had felt like getting kneed in the back. “You’re overreacting,” he says, even though Jimin looks at him disapprovingly because Jimin is Taehyung’s friend first and everything else second, and he always has Taehyung’s back, “You should ask them, so you’re sure? God, do you know how many people I’ve introduced you guys to followed by ‘oh yeah, they’re together, I think’? It’s fucking embarrassing.”

Seungcheol positively guffaws about it throughout the entire time he crashes on the couch, laptop precariously bouncing on his lap as he sugar rushes his way through their paper. There’s this ever-present fact about the Political Science major: he pulls his way through things and always ends up being right about it.

So, okay, alright. Taehyung admits he’s getting carried away by it. It’s fifteen minutes to midnight, Seungcheol having left early because he promised to go to dinner with his parents and Jimin falling asleep earlier than usual, but keeping his door wide open just in case Taehyung wanted to talk, and Taehyung fumbles with his phone when it beeps.

KIM SEOKJIN (11:46 PM): Are you up??

Taehyung blinks. He tries to smile at the screen, even though his mouth is all trembling at the corners and it just won’t set straight, and he pauses his film.

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:48 PM): yeah

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:48 PM): why are you

KIM TAEHYUNG (11:48 PM): ?

KIM SEOKJIN (11:49 PM): Can I call?

If either Seungcheol or Jimin were with him, they would have told him not to take it. Taehyung’s a mess, he sounds like he’s coming down with a cold from all of that crying, and Taehyung shouldn’t take it. But he sends off a quick sure, and in two seconds after the read status appears, Seokjin’s face is flashing on his screen.

You didn’t seem well back then, Seokjin says. Are you coming down with something? Do you have meds? Should I –

Hyung,” Taehyung says soothingly, almost breaking into a laugh. “Calm down. It’s nothing serious, I was just… out of it?”

You sound sick, honestly, Seokjin says.

“I – I may have cried a bit on the way home.”

Why? Did something happen?

Taehyung wants to laugh. It sounds stupid, but he’s honest. “No, um. I was being childish. I thought…” He pauses. “I was crying over you and Yoongi-hyung.”

What – Yoongi and I – we’re not – we aren’t. Did Yoongi say something weird about me.

“No. I don’t think you’re that weird, anyway.” Taehyung’s fingers catch on a loose stitch on his blankets, unfolded and stolen from his bed, and he starts picking on it as Seokjin starts something about how he got knocked out with a non-alcoholic cocktail during his freshman year, and how the host had to cut the party early because he was flailing around all over.

“I don’t believe you. That’s so dorky and you’re all – ”

Seokjin laughs. In the background, Taehyung picks up the sound of a door opening and closing, and outdoor, open space acoustics filling in the white noise. “I’m all?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says. The sudden bout of honesty even knocks the wind out of him. “Classy. Really, really cool. Like you could do something super embarrassing and get away with it – okay. That’s you.”

It’s quiet for a while, and Taehyung almost thinks he should end the call now because Seokjin’s not saying anything. He strains to hear if Seokjin’s still on the line, trying to muffle everything else out even though it sounds like a blaring horn in the silence of the night, and Taehyung realizes that listening someone’s breathing over the phone is a pretty creepy thing to do.

Taehyung, Seokjin starts. Would it be creepy if someone calls you in the middle of the night just to hear your voice?

“Uh, it depends? Is the person good-looking?”

Okay, Seokjin says lightly, the beginnings of a windshield-wiping laugh crawling through the line. Am I good-looking enough?

Hyung, I thought you were self-proclaimed the most handsome man in the universe.”

Yeah, but what do you think? Aren’t you self-proclaimed out of this world? Handsome enough?

Taehyung’s fingers loosen out the stitching, bunching up the fabric in one spot as Taehyung pulls. “I’d be alright with anything if it were you.”

Seokjin’s breathing evens out, and then Taehyung could almost picture him curled up right outside the apartment door, phone pressed to his ear and a smile on his face. That’s nice, he says. He pauses, takes a deep breath, and says, I really wanted to hear your voice.

There’s the sucker punch, Taehyung reeling back and curling into himself with the world’s worst case of lovesickness. He wants to hold onto Seokjin’s hand and maybe say a few choice words about how much Seokjin’s throwing him off axis, pulling him onto a different planetary tilt and short-circuiting everything he is. He wants to cry and whine and throw a complete tantrum about how unfair it is for Seokjin to get to hold all of this over him while Taehyung’s not even completely sure of where he stands. He wants to say what the fuck and this is a whole lot to take in and I love you, I’m pretty sure of that now all at once, and it feels like he’s drowning in a hothouse. Like Seokjin’s just plastered a whole box of hot packs all over his face, his neck.

“Do you want me to talk?” he whimpers, and if he could make out images over phone lines then he wishes he’s right about Seokjin smiling.

“Yeah,” Seokjin says. “Do you want me to listen?”

The adrenaline rush is in and out of him. Two lines back, he’s flailing around on the couch and trying to be silent because Jimin’s left the door to his room open. Now, he’s back to picking at the loose thread and slowly, slowly unraveling it. Taehyung breathes in, and out, and admits, “You’re really weird, hyung. Of course you’re supposed to listen.”

So Taehyung talks. He says he wanted to be an astronaut one time: In the story, he quotes, you fall in love with a girl on another planet. She’s been dead for years, but through your telescope you watch her laugh, laughing too. You wave back when she, remembering her smallness, remembers the stars. He says the conspiracy theory is that aliens are considered some sort of hazard, because what if they were friendly? What if they were soft and cloud-like; what if they were magic? Taehyung highlights his dreams, and falling from the monkey bars on his kindergarten playground and getting a stomachache from a Halloween back in elementary.

He talks about finding film, and falling in love with his first one, and falling in love with his own first film, and Taehyung could put it out like a movie dialogue. He could continue about falling in love with his own first actor, too, and there’s that hitch in breathing like Seokjin’s waiting for it and it’s bad news all over, so Taehyung backpedals. Taehyung talks about his first pet, a dog back in Myeong-dong that he’s named Soonshim, and if Seokjin would ever bring Jjanggu from Anyang then they should schedule a playdate. Taehyung talks about how getting through university was tougher than he thought it would be, but he’s glad he’s here and he’s glad he’s met Seokjin and then Taehyung couldn’t stop himself.

It’s nearing one in the morning, and it’s Taehyung’s nightly sentimental hour with the city wild awake but lethargic, and he asks, “What are we, hyung?”

It’s a flat line of silence. Taehyung runs his fingers through his hair, rubs at his drying eyes and bites at his nails. He doesn’t want to take it back.

Oh god, Taehyung really doesn’t want to take it back. Fuck the silence, and the awkward drop of conversation, and the slight sounds of static over the line that sticks out like a sore thumb. If Seokjin says I don’t know, what do you want us to be? Taehyung swears he’ll punch the living daylights out of him. He’s ready, his hands fists and his knuckles going white, his nails digging crooked crescents into his palm.

“Have you ever been terrified about the thought that maybe someone’s only in love with the idea of you?”

Taehyung bites his lip. Pause, silence, play.

“I don’t know,” Seokjin says. “Yoongi’s not anything, you know. We’re not… anything. We’re something, but we’re not anything like that. We’re just - . We just are. Yoongi knows me. Do you know me, Taehyung?”

Seokjin’s voice is not accusatory. He’s not on trial and he’s not getting prosecuted. It’s not do you even know me, it’s do you know me. It’s honest and curious and it feels like he’s getting punched in the throat.

“I could,” Taehyung says. It’s not the best answer, and it’s not the only answer, but it’s the most Taehyung can give.

“And if I don’t turn out to be your manic pixie dream boy or your knight in designer brand armor?”

“I didn’t want you to be any of that.”

“Then what do you want me to be?”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung exclaims. “I really don’t know. Happy. Honest. You.”

Seokjin laughs. “And if I have to love other people on-screen, Taehyung? If you don’t like it and you want to leave and I’m not going to put you first?”

“I’m trying here,” Taehyung breathes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you think I wanted you to put me before anything else, because I’ve never wanted anyone to do that kind of thing – it’s just, it’s always going to be me first anyways. I love – ”

Pause. Stop. Taehyung rubs at his eyes but his fingers come away dry.

“I love you, okay? But if we don’t work out or anything, then we aren’t supposed to beat ourselves up over it.”

Seokjin’s side is quiet, and Taehyung hears this stuttering breath and for the first time, how Seokjin sounds when he’s about to cry. “Okay.”

 

-

 

Two days later and out of his Saturday and half-Sunday blues, Taehyung promptly sits down on a corner table in Namjoon’s coffee shop workplace to Jimin slandering him. “And then they did the dirty talk, hyung,” Jimin says, pointing a finger at Taehyung’s face accusingly.

“You douchebag,” Taehyung says, and Jimin talks even louder over him. “I swear, I had my door wide open because I was so kind to Taehyung and his heartache but then lo and behold, little Taetae was talking super hushed to his phone at one in the morning. You know what happens at one in the morning?”

“It’s not – ”

“It’s totally sexual!” Jimin’s fists drum against the plastic tabletop, pushing out the chair and making faint scratch marks against the hardwood floors. “That’s the only thing that happens late at night. Seokjin-hyung was pressured into proving that Yoongi-hyung was nothing but an NPC in his life, and Taehyung, the perpetual lecher, forced him to – ”

Namjoon puts up one hand, finally pulling his mouth away from his iced cappuccino. “Alright, that’s a whole different level of nine, nine and a half? Something happened.”

Jimin deflates, but Taehyung practically falls forward with shoulders slumped and chin resting on the tabletop. “Taehyung was super crying, he couldn’t even walk,” Jimin babbles, and Taehyung rolls his eyes.

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“No, it was like really bad. He would have peed on the carpet if he didn’t cry every drop of water out. That kind of bad.”

Taehyung pinches the inside of Jimin’s arm, which earns him a pained yelp and around three seconds to talk while Jimin glares at him. He makes a waving motion that turns into him flipping Jimin off, and he says, “It was progress.”

“Good or bad?”

“Uh,” Taehyung stutters. “Doesn’t matter. It was progress.”

“It matters a whole lot, Taehyung. Checklist: do you still talk? Does he reply within an hour? Are his choice of words completely not default? Does he seem interested?”

Taehyung grouches, pushing himself up by his elbows and tapping his fingers against the tabletop loud enough for Jimin to kick him in the shin for. “Yes. Doesn’t matter; he’s filming. I don’t even know what you mean for the last two, what the hell?”

Namjoon huffs. He crosses his arms over his wool sweater, standard university professor look-alike attire, and puts on his best this is the face of a psych major and you can’t lie to it. “Do you still even like him, Taehyung?”

“Of course I like him,” Taehyung says. “Just because we talked at one in the morning and I ended up bawling doesn’t mean I don’t like him anymore.”

Jimin points out, “So we finally hear from Taehyung himself about how bad it was.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Taehyung snaps. “Hyung’s free today and he’s coming over with a friend – Hobi-hyung? I don’t know – in like – .” He motions to the door, fishing his phone out of his pocket and looking at the unopened message preview. Seokjin’s told him a few minutes back that Hobi ended up getting sidetracked, so they might run a little late and he’s sorry for that.

“He says his friend was starving,” Taehyung explains, “ended up eating a bunch of dog treats, and doing a solid number two. But that was also twenty minutes ago, so they’ll be here in a few?”

“This is a train wreck,” Jimin says, putting his hands up. “I’m going to run. Seungcheol and I have this class report – seriously, how many group projects does Choi want to slap us in the face with? – so I’ll see you. Put your emergency numbers on speed dial because Taehyung’s going to embarrass us to death.”

He leans over to mess up Taehyung’s hair, shrugging on his book bag and pulling away from the table with an uncomfortable screech of the chair. “You’re disowned, Jimin!” Taehyung calls out as Jimin flips him off over his shoulder. “Don’t come back home, you don’t live with me anymore.”

“Asshole, I own half of the lease!”

Taehyung sticks his tongue out.

Jimin gives a slight wave and a wide, punch-worthy grin as he passes the window, phone already pressed to his ear and mouthing you’re a world-class lovesick idiot to Taehyung as Seungcheol probably grills their professor over the line. Sometimes Taehyung wonders why Jimin doesn’t have his own childish romance problems so Taehyung could do the same to him, as in toting him around like he’s a commodity on top-tier, high score of stupidity and pining left and right. Seungcheol’s their age and he’s a freaking varsity ace and he looks practically illegal in grey contacts, and he just broke up with his boyfriend two months back. Jimin could definitely like him and he’s on the market, so hey – why not, right?

There’s also Namjoon, who has really good proportions and a big softie of a heart, even though Taehyung admits that his runway model fashion is occasionally not a good choice. But then Taehyung remembers that Namjoon also has an occasional focus on the sort-of, presumably wild party animal of a dance major from Konkuk. Namjoon almost killed them off before university, going red in the face when Jung Hoseok was ever brought up in casual conversation, like how he looks right now –

Taehyung turns. There’s Seokjin with freshly-dyed hair the shade of – Taehyung doesn’t know, brass and copper and bronze, a freaking smoky quartz or some other awfully inept and unsatisfactory adjective that just won’t put into words how it makes him as flustered as he is, but Taehyung’s confused. Namjoon’s never given Seokjin even as much as a five-second glance, totally focused on everything else and starting up a formal discourse about popular film media tropes and their effects on societal issues, and now Namjoon was an exploding tomato?

Someone exclaims a greeting from behind Seokjin, infectiously giddy and cheerful, and then Taehyung’s getting poked all over. “You’re Kim Taehyung!” the person says, lean and overenthusiastic, rocking back and forth on his feet. His Clubmasters are almost slipping off of his nose, a bit too big of a size for him but fitting for the angularity of everything he is. He’s all sharp lines and high cheekbones, a cutting jawline and a pair of elbows that somehow manages to hit Taehyung twice in the diaphragm as he makes a huge fuss over him.

(He literally leaves Taehyung breathless.)

“You know hyung’s been talking a whole lot about you? No, like, a whole lot. The most lot. Does that make sense?” Hobi says. “I’m Hoseok. Jung Hoseok, or J-Hope, every now and then Hobi. You can call me Hobi-hyung, too! Any dongsaeng of my hyung is also mine. You’re so cute – ,” Hobi pauses to pinch at Taehyung’s cheeks with equally pointy fingers, “But listen. If you even as much as corrupt Jinnie-hyung, his roommate-slash-grandfather and I are coming for you.”

Jung Hoseok. Oh, god, Taehyung thinks. Jung Hoseok, Namjoon’s unrequited and full-fledged object of pining and waxed poetries, Jung “I’m the life of the party” Hoseok is Hobi. Full-fledged major in dance, occasional nosher of dog treats, Namjoon’s softest, most domestic wet dream Jung Hoseok and full-stop.

Help me, Taehyung mouths over Hoseok’s shoulder, sending his most powerful set of puppy eyes to Seokjin. It turns out to be super effective, as Seokjin points: “Hobi, this is Kim Namjoon. You know, the underground rapper that Yoongi’s mentioned? Tall, dark, and – ?”

Hoseok apparently has a pretty short attention span when dealing with a canine treats rush. His hands are up and away from Taehyung’s face, leaving a pinched blotch of red staining over his cheeks and the starts of a sting. “Cute,” Hoseok swoons. “Oh, wait. I know you. You were in Jaebum’s friend’s party – that guy mixing cocktail drinks at the kitchen island!”

Namjoon’s still speechless and red in the face, although somehow he’s all tomato down to his neck and arms now. Kim Namjoon, top percentage-ranking in the nationwide university entrance exams and a genius-classified IQ, a tomato for love. Amazing, Taehyung thinks, and Hoseok positively thinks so too, pulling away from Taehyung to check on Namjoon (still landing a hit against Taehyung’s ribs, somehow; on purpose or not, Taehyung needs to ask if Hoseok’s always like that – just in case he and Namjoon settle down and he’d have to deal with it for the rest of his life, see).

Hoseok starts up the same bubbly introduction, “I’m your hope, I’m your angel,” and Namjoon squeaks. Namjoon squeaks. Namjoon, Taehyung repeats, a hundred and eighty-one centimeters tall with the dirtiest rap lyrics Taehyung’s ever heard of and a voice which literally had a Literature major spew sexual innuendos on the spot, squeaks.

Seokjin taps him on the arm, once, twice, shooting him a smile that’s almost as bright as looking into the sun during the afternoon high tide. “Let’s ditch them,” Seokjin says, and Taehyung wants to look away as soon as possible because brass-copper-bronze-or-smoky-quartz looks good on him. On the other hand, Taehyung also doesn’t want to look away anytime soon because brass-copper-bronze-or-smoky-quartz looks good on him. He’s pretty sure if Seokjin goes blond, he’ll combust on the spot.

No, scratch that. Taehyung can’t die early. He’s too young. A blond Seokjin is an illegal Seokjin – and the actor’s told him bright hair doesn’t suit him, so it’s probably never going to come around. Right?

“Yeah,” Taehyung laughs. “Sure. Okay, fine, alright.”

“Easy there, thesaurus.”

“Your thesaurus?”

Seokjin laughs squeakily, one hand wrapping around Taehyung’s arm on an almost-smack against his shoulder. “Cavities,” he says, scrunching his nose, and Taehyung apologizes even though Seokjin’s face lights up with a wide, wide grin.

 

-

 

Taehyung’s always been lucky, but it never hits home how lucky he’s really been when Seokjin holds his hand on the subway and laughs about something to his ear, breathing down his neck and making him feel giddy all over. Jimin’s right – Taehyung is so head over heels whipped, softening out for all those shoujo manga moments and going all punch drunk to the world just because Seokjin does something even remotely loving. He wants this filmed: the subway lights filtering in and out of the car windows, the world shaking at his feet as the train moves forward, and Seokjin’s arm pressed against his.

He’s warm all over, even through layers of a thick sweater and a flannel shirt, and it’s midyear. It’s wet season, the summers full of rain and the subway cool, and Taehyung rubs at his eyes and presses closer to Seokjin. “I saw you this morning,” he says. There’s the same boxy grin, and Seokjin still all-smiles. “They’re featuring you on an interview tonight, right? For your drama.”

“My face was swollen when they filmed,” Seokjin complains. “My eyes were all puffy.”

“You were fine,” Taehyung says over the intercom blaring to life and announcing a coming stop. Seokjin gets this unbelieving look where his eyebrows raise, an open curve, his mouth pulled into a tight smile and his nose slightly scrunching.

Taehyung wants to take a picture. He wants to print it out and put it on a photo album where he can point, this is how you look when you’re ecstatic over something, this one’s when you think somebody’s lying for comfort, this is when someone you’re with embarrasses you.

Somebody once said you see everything someone is when they cry. Taehyung calls bullshit, has cried and probably will cry a whole lot more in front of Seokjin, on the line and off the line, and there’s just this ache. There’s this longing for something lighter, this thing of dreams and sleeping in and dancing to tuned radios during the sunset, and Taehyung just wants to go for the happier ending all over again. He wants to be able to say this is how you look when you’re looking at somebody you love and you’re happy and you’re alright, and he wants those eyes on him, and Seokjin’s hands on his. He wants to be sappy all over. It’s alright.

Seokjin had told him, close to two in the morning and the city lights blinking in and out, I’ve been so many people, it feels weird being me. Seokjin had told him about Anyang, and his ten years there and his ten years out, how his grandparents and those afternoon dramas made him want to act. About moving to the city and then feeling so underwhelmed, his on and off roles, every cliché he’s ever had to play. How it was second nature, and how his parents weren’t ever invested in his life, and being perfect was always how people loved him so he tried.

“I think you’re super cool the way you are,” Taehyung murmurs. It means something else, for two days back and when Seokjin was just a voice over a phone call, but it’s still strangely fitting.

“’Flatterer.” Seokjin rolls his eyes, but Taehyung reaches his free hand to tug at the actor’s red ears. The train slows to a stop on one of the sixteen stations in between Sinchon and Jamsillaru, a total of a half hour in the metro, and Taehyung coos.

“Kim Seokjin,” he says, “shining visual, ulzzang male god of the pasta galaxy, most handsome man in the universe. You’re diagnosed with a bad case of red ears.”

When Seokjin laughs, pushing against Taehyung’s fingers, he picks out something in between: “It’s the wonder ears.”

“Oh my god, hyung,” Taehyung laughs, low. Lots. He pokes at Seokjin’s arm. “Don’t. No more puns. You’re bad, oh my god. This is so embarrassing.”

 

-

 

When Taehyung had asked what sort of place in Seoul he should go to for a one-stop perfect date, Seungcheol had told him of a nice ice cream place in Hongdae and Jimin had declared him boring before suggesting to go for one of those monthly film festivals they hold in Itaewon. Namjoon had sent him directions to a love hotel and suggested an adult toys shop for Taehyung before he placed Namjoon’s chat handle to his blocked users list. Jimin and Seungcheol had went at it, and Taehyung had to resort to texting Jihyun, who actually had romantic relationships under his name like an ex-girlfriend and a now-long distance boyfriend back in Busan who Jimin had told was a childhood friend.

KIM TAEHYUNG (10:46 AM): jihyuuuuuuuun help hyung out

PARK JIHYUN (10:46 PM): what’s up hyung? is big bro causing you trouble

KIM TAEHYUNG (10:46 AM): jiminie is useless. what’s the perfect place for a one-stop date that’s like. no hassle and no fuss at all

PARK JIHYUN (10:47 PM): idk. what’s the person like?

KIM TAEHYUNG (10:47 AM): super cool and super perfect

PARK JIHYUN (10:47 PM): well that’s hard

PARK JIHYUN (10:47 PM): are you sure he’s real and not something you caught in boyfriend go

KIM TAEHYUNG (10:48 AM): don’t sass me boy





KIM TAEHYUNG (11:52 AM): park jihyun i'm filing a restraining order right now

A half-hour later and only a promise not to take anyone to the movies because Taehyung would get into his mental film review, he settled down clicking through Naver because Jihyun had promised him it would be worth a whole lot more if Taehyung actually picked it out himself. There had been a few deals on all-you-can-eat places in Hongdae, a rainy season markdown in ticket prices on a water park off of Seoul, until Taehyung finally picks a group discount in Lotte World Aquarium.

And he’s glad, because Seokjin absolutely looks stunning with fish.

Scratch that; it’s hilariously not enough – Taehyung goes for the cinematic description: early afternoon’s a bit busier than late morning on a weekday, a forming crowd pushing forward to tap at the glass and marvel at all of the marine life stuck inside a twenty-five meter-wide inhabitation water tank. It’s all colors swimming in and out of the generated sea map, through the aquatic plants and the manmade fixtures of rock arches and pebbled sea floors.

Seokjin points at the variety of animals swimming around, arapaimas and electric eels and anemone fish, a whole school of colors mixing in with the artificial lights from above the tanks, and Taehyung thinks it’s a lucky choice. He doesn’t want to be that guy – the sappy, corny cliché love interest who never stares at anything else but the love of his life. He used to go all this guy’s missing out on everything, but then again it’s hard to focus on all the little tiny details of everything else when Seokjin’s right beside him, eyes soft and mouthing along the words to their audio guide and the tiny information cards about the species in the aquarium tanks.

He doesn’t want to be that guy, but he is. Seokjin’s looking at a lazy disorganized school of sunset fish that’s all pale pink and purple and orange – and mixed in with a bunch of grey eels? Taehyung’s not listening to the audio guide at all, really – and yes, it’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking, tiny dots of color in and out of a particularly bleary landscape, but he’s not looking at all. Seokjin does this awed sound like he’s out of an anime (this wide-eyed, applause-worthy uah drawled out), followed with, “Look, Tae-ah, one of them is all pink and purple. Pretty.”

Oh god, Taehyung thinks. He isn’t supposed to do it, this cliché thing of romance novels and all, but they’re in this dark hallway full of lit aquarium tanks and nobody can even see how Seokjin holds onto his hand and how hard Taehyung’s staring. He breathes out, yeah, sure, it’s pretty and almost dies of embarrassment because he’s still staring at Seokjin – what the ultimate fuck, Namjoon’s infected him with something.

“At least look at the fish,” Seokjin says, turning to him, and Taehyung burrows his face to his shoulder. “I was being sweet,” he protests, and he can practically hear Seokjin’s eyes rolling.

“You’re being humiliating,” Seokjin retaliates. There’s not a lot he can see in this closed-off exhibit hall – Taehyung needs to strain to even make out what color the carpeted floor is even when they’re practically pressed against the lit tanks, and okay, it’s now or never. Right when Taehyung’s riding out his embarrassment and nothing he does will ever be as bad.

He fishes his phone out of his pockets, telling Seokjin to wait, hear me out on this, and reaching up to tug the audio guide off of Seokjin’s ears. Seokjin’s shoulders tense when Taehyung traces the outlines of his ear, one hand reaching up to try and uncurl his fingers with the beginnings of, “Hey, stop, that tickles – ” before Taehyung puts an earbud in and hits play.

There’s the light overture that would strike an upbeat note fifteen seconds in, and Taehyung starts. “I actually thought you were being a bit unfair,” he says. “Yoongi-hyung knew you for three more years than I did, but okay. So what? I want to know you in a way that he never will.” Taehyung says it slow and clear, dropping his voice even though they’re probably the only ones still in the exhibit hall after the last tour group went out. The lights are swimming, and Taehyung’s terrified of how Seokjin’s face would change – this is how you look when you don’t believe someone, this is when you want to laugh, this is when you hate them with all you have – so Taehyung looks at his hands.

One of them is still holding onto Seokjin’s, and he’s not pulling away. The mellow lyrics flood in, but Taehyung pulls the volume down until it’s nothing but background noise.

“I want to know you. I want to be able to sleep next to you and wake up to your face and maybe take you out to my favorite breakfast place in Myeong-dong. It’s a complete hole in the wall and the coffee is so bad it’s hilarious, but I can’t cook, so. I want to know what songs you listen to when you’re sad, because you always say I should listen to sadder songs during sad days and that’s just not something I’ve ever tried before. I want to do those sappy things I’ve always hated in films, and I always thought they were stupid but maybe I’m a whole lot more. I’m learning, at least. I’m understanding that there are people out there you want to do sappy stuff with, and that’s you. For me.”

Taehyung pauses, breathes. “And I’m not in love with the idea of you. I don’t know a lot of things but at least I know that, you know? I didn’t meet you on a television screen. I didn’t meet you in a film or a drama. I met you when I didn’t even know who you were and I just needed to hitch a ride under your umbrella. You told me you didn’t have anyone invested in you, but I think there’s at least Yoongi-hyung and Hobi-hyung, and – . And me.”

The chorus kicks in, and Taehyung’s terrified. He wants to stay stock-still, eyes to the floor and nothing else. He’s alright if Seokjin tells him off and lets him down hard. He’s not going to be alright if Seokjin tells him he wants to stop being friends. He’s going to burn down Lotte World for being one of the burial grounds of a friendship.

“You’re shaking,” Seokjin says. Taehyung brings his free hand up, his knuckles semi-bruised from Namjoon slamming the freezer door on him while he had been reaching for some comfort ice cream. There’s the tiny little jitters, his fingers stuttering left and right and all over, and Taehyung laughs to shake out the nerves. He’s all tiny little starbursts and it feels like he just got electrocuted, if that’s how it feels like. All tiny little jolts running through him.

In and out – the upbeats fade away, and then Seokjin’s untangling his fingers from Taehyung’s and reaching up, up, ghosting over his face.

“Oh my god,” Taehyung says. “What. Whatwhatwhat – ”

“You’re so loud, you dork,” Seokjin says, pulling at his ear. “Can I kiss you?”

Oh my god,” Taehyung parrots. “Holy shit. This is – did you drug me? Am I asleep? Is Park Jimin going to wake me up with his ridiculous bedhead and his limited edition BIGBANG boxer briefs?”

Seokjin laughs, his body curling forward and his head knocking against Taehyung’s. The pain makes him want to reel back, ringing inside his head and echoing back and forth, but Seokjin keeps him still. It’s the most cliché thing in Taehyung’s life: standing in front of a colorful aquarium, foreheads pressed together and Seokjin’s fingers on his jaw, his cheeks. If it really is a dream, and Jimin’s bounding to smack him in the head for setting an alarm in the godforsaken hours of the morning but sleeping through it, he’s going to move out of the apartment. He’s taking the next bus to Busan and stargazing from the shoreline until the high tide drowns him.

“Yeah. This is all a dream, Kim Taehyung.” Seokjin’s lips curve into a smile. Taehyung basks in the glory, and how Seokjin doesn’t even need to jab him in the diaphragm to render Taehyung breathless and light-headed. “So. Can I, Kim Seokjin, shining visual and ulzzang male god of the pasta galaxy, kiss you?”

Taehyung squeaks. “Yes, please.”

(His first kiss is a fucking cinematic masterpiece, no matter how much he’s fumbling.)

 

 

/

 

 

Kim Taehyung wishes he could say everything ends with a happy ever after right from the get-go. He gets the fairytale ending and it’s all good – but the reality is there’s always going to be this infinite number of moments that never make the final script. Happy ever after’s not enough closure, sometimes. The truth of the matter is, there’s also this whole collective of things that aren’t anything like the fairytale endings make it out to be.

There’s their first fight. Taehyung’s seven months into sophomore year, on a house party by the infamously famous Jung Hoseok – Namjoon’s not-quite-but-also-definite boyfriend for five months – and he’s on the end of this burning out thread of patience that’s gotten stepped over and twisted by project deadlines and a portfolio submission that Taehyung still hasn’t been able to finish. There’s a conversation in there, somewhere between six in the evening and two in the morning on this two-meter radius of Hoseok’s apartment and about something so trivial that they completely blow up. They don’t talk for two weeks.

(He’s stressed and Seokjin’s tired. He likes to say he went to apologize first, but Seokjin was already halfway to him.)

But there’s also the lethargic things in between: waking up in the morning tangled in Super Mario sheets, Taehyung’s hands having crawled up Seokjin’s shirt the night before because it had been cold and Seokjin had been a human furnace. Sleeping until noon on Sundays, and waking up to Seokjin absent-mindedly running his fingers through Taehyung’s fading-red hair while he tucks himself to his side of the bed, cross-legged and curled over a new script. Sometimes they fight over tiny little things. Sometimes Seokjin holds him as he almost doubles over laughing, over films and television shows and something happening around them. Sometimes they jack Jimin’s half-owned and half-borrowed turntable and end up improvising ballroom dance steps to old songs.

(“From the other end of Seoul,” Seokjin recites, a folded page of his script crumpling in his fingers and his breath stuttering. “I love you. Could have loved you.”)

Jimin says they’re boring, but Jimin’s never seen Seokjin freak when Taehyung burns the bacon and eggs or make the world’s worst puns, trademarked and copyrighted because no one makes the same bad puns and still manage to catch the affection of Kim Taehyung. Sometimes Taehyung helps him rehearse, dutifully reciting another character’s lines with Seokjin leaning against him. I think you should look a bit more scandalized, he says. Not too comical, something like – furrow your eyebrows a little, and then you should – yeah, something like that, and Taehyung traces piano fingers over Seokjin’s face, leans close and kisses him senseless.

(“That’s now how the scene goes, Tae,” Seokjin always says. Taehyung’s copy of the script is creased and folded at the corners, the binding falling apart from nitpicking when there’s nothing to do, and he always shoots back an easy “So what?”

Some days Taehyung recites back, “From the other end of Seoul, all these little thumbtacks and travel pins and the streets I found you first. I do love you.”

And every now and then, off-script, Taehyung presses the side of his face against Seokjin’s shoulder and asks, “Do you know I’m super lucky?”

Seokjin pulls at his ear and says, “Well. You’re lucky to have me.”

Taehyung kisses him, an open mouth and the laughter still in between them. “Yeah. I’m super lucky.”)

 

 

/

 

 

BONUS SCENE

 

They end up visiting this fish tank where they could dip their hands into the water and let the fish bump against their fingertips. Seokjin had loved it, laughing as they mouth at his knuckles while Taehyung found it a bit terrifying, because hyung, they’re eating away at me? even though the attendant assured them it’s normal and nothing to be afraid of. They’re all gold and white and orange little fishes, swimming past Seokjin’s fingers as he flicks tank water at Taehyung’s shirt.

When the two-hour tour is up, Taehyung has a total of seventy-three new selcas on his phone (all of them with Seokjin, a few blurry and focusing on the backdrop of bright fish swimming around, but Taehyung doesn’t delete any of them) and a cellphone keychain that dangles around on a flimsy black thread. Lotte World Aquarium has two character mascots – Taehyung gets the blue little penguin and Seokjin the beluga whale. It’s so sickeningly cute that it makes Taehyung giddy and Jimin send him a fuck off u don’t even deserve to get couple cellphone keychains with someone like hyung u ungrateful douche stop rubbing it in when Taehyung does his hourly update.

He crashes at Seokjin’s apartment. It’s Monday night, and his Tuesday morning classes start at seven on the dot and Jimin curses him for not bringing his Monday takeout of tangsuyuk, informing him that Namjoon’s passed out on their couch and he’s stuck with babysitting duty of all the lovesick idiots of the world. There’s coffee jelly pudding – premium edition, extra coffee jelly – in the fridge that Seokjin lets him take a go at, and they end up playing horror games up until late evening.

Seokjin and Yoongi’s apartment are a lot more spacious than Taehyung’s used to. It’s like a thing of bachelor dreams, taking up a quarter of the floor with wide, floor to ceiling windows and automatic blinds that Taehyung guesses stocks up on a whole pile of dust per week. There’s a full kitchen with an actual working oven, not just decorative like the one Taehyung and Jimin have back in Seodaemun. It’s somewhat Gangnam, after all. Seokjin must be sick of fast food and delivery, and food trucks in filming sites and cups of vending machine coffee and those strict diets. Taehyung had been in awe, asking if now-rookie actors get paid a whole lot from big-time productions like afternoon dramas, or if Yoongi had a dedicated, possibly-cult following with his collective of pop and indie albums produced or his hyped-up mixtape.

(Seokjin tells him Yoongi has a family that’s all money.

“Oh,” Taehyung had said, fingers stuck between his socked foot and his right shoe as he tries to tug them off by the doorway. “So his family’s super loaded? Yoongi-hyung’s filthy rich? A real sugar daddy – ”

Taehyung gets cut off with a laugh. “No, Tae,” Seokjin says. He looks at him from down the hallway, turning on the switches in the apartment’s circuit breaker. “They’re all money. That’s all.”)

They get pizza and popcorn. Seokjin lends him an oversized shirt when he gets out of the shower, the sleeves reaching down his elbows and the shoulders too broad, and Taehyung’s red in the face because it smells like Seokjin – like the same no tears children’s watermelon shampoo Taehyung’s gotten a whiff of in the supermarket, a hint of citrus and mint and muted fabric softener – but then Yoongi’s right outside of the bathroom when he steps out. He’s still stuck in something right out of a rap gig in Hongdae, dyed hair shoved under a baseball cap and a furrow right between his eyebrows.

“What the actual fuck,” Yoongi barks. The glare he’s sporting doesn’t let up in the slightest, and Taehyung knows he’s got a deep bass for a voice but Yoongi’s is a different kind of rough. He’s all fists and an all-out brawl; Taehyung has a few centimeters on him, but he doesn’t doubt Yoongi would hit where it hurts without a second thought.

Taehyung feels like half of the apartment wants him out. Half of the apartment is chewing at him with razor teeth and wants to spit him back out into the streets in a half hour to midnight.

“I think Yoongi-hyung doesn’t want me here,” he informs Seokjin as he pads to the living room with the lights dimmed and the television glaring. Yoongi’s brushed past him without another word, scowling at him all the while and quietly slinking to his room without explanation. He still has his bath towel wrapped around his head, his fingers damp with the aftermaths of a warm shower, and Seokjin pushes at his side with a foot from his spot in the couch. His boyfriend – Taehyung wants to explode, Seokjin is his boyfriend – is digging around a bag of chips and giving him the world’s most sarcastic eye roll ever.

“That’s nonsense.”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says. He tries to talk over the television so Seokjin could hear, but he also wants the television to talk over him so Yoongi won’t. “What if he’s angry because you brought me here, and he doesn’t – I don’t know, approve or something? If he doesn’t like you bringing other people over?”

Seokjin puts a handful of chips into his mouth, chews, and swallows. “Yoongi wasn’t like that when I brought Joohyun over, and she was even more… Daegu than he was.”

(Taehyung doesn’t know what Daegu even means for Seokjin.)

An hour later and Taehyung snuggled up in Seokjin’s Super Mario sheets, lying on his stomach with his weight on his elbows as he constructs the most dazed out, excited letter to Jimin about how he should mark this day down as the best one in history, Seokjin pops his head through the doorway. His fingers are curled around a toothbrush, a spot of toothpaste foam on the corner of his mouth.

“So I talked to Yoongi,” Seokjin says, grinning up at him. “He’s angry because I let you eat his premium edition coffee jelly pudding.”

“What the hell, hyung.”