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in a tidal wave of mystery (you'd still be standing next to me)

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It’s been the four of them for as long as Jeongguk can remember. Even when Yoongi had moved away from the sleepy town of Daegu to pursue bigger dreams, it had still been the four of them.

It was odd, really, the way Taehyung’s brother- eight years older with a raspy drawl and a penchant for afternoon naps in the sweltering summer months- fell into place so comfortably alongside three rowdy younger boys. Jeongguk still remembers the way Yoongi would feign resignation whenever he had to pay for their Melona on days where the sun and sweat seemed to cling to their skins, wrappers crackling loudly in the musty, cramped space of the small neighbourhood convenience store while their lips and tongues were stained green with sweet relief. The older boy never did realise Jeongguk hadn’t missed the way he had smiled fondly watching them attack their popsicles with vigour, wallet pocket heavy with change enough for a few days of treats.

He had been everything to Jeongguk— a role model, a confidante, someone to look up to. Jeongguk had spent a majority of his childhood somewhat idolizing Yoongi, so enamoured with the Hyung who could shoot three pointers with so much ease, who seemed to hold so much wisdom in his lazy speech and mannerisms. He recalls the way he had flushed deeply when Taehyung had accused him of having a crush  the summer he turned thirteen. He’d stuttered so embarrassingly, voice cracking like the pre-pubescent he was, and he’d expected Yoongi to laugh, maybe even tease him with that smirk he so often wore. But Yoongi had just ruffled his hair kindly, smiling fondly while saying, “Kookie likes everyone, right?”

Thirteen-year-old Jeongguk hadn’t understood the way his gut had roiled when he thought, “Not the way I like you, hyung.”

Many summers later, as Jeongguk grew into his limbs--scrawny arms filling out and shoulders broadening-- he’d tried to bury his feelings for Yoongi, seeing less and less of the man each passing year. Yoongi would come back for Seollal and Chuseok, a reprieve from his job as a producer at a mid-tier entertainment company, and Jeongguk would swallow hard as he pressed into Yoongi’s arms, now almost a head taller than the older man but still feeling so small and safe. As Yoongi would whisper a hushed “I missed you”, breath ghosting over Jeongguk’s ear, he would try to suppress a shudder, and think Not as much as I did you .

As much as he had tried to keep it to himself, Jeongguk knew from Jimin and Taehyung’s lingering gazes that they had known. Nonetheless, no one had said anything to anyone, so Jeongguk had tried pretending everything was fine.

(It wasn’t.)

He returns to the university applications spread out before him then, drowning out Jimin and Taehyung’s bickering from across him as he hovers his pen over the small, white box labelled “First Choice”. He thinks of the late nights in the dance studio spent practicing choreographies that wouldn’t see daylight, the unfinished tracks on his computer labelled ambiguously as “#1” and “#2” and so on. He also thinks of the certificates belonging to his dad and Jeonghyun displayed proudly on the living room shelf, his father’s expectant gaze, and their matching honours in Business Administration from SNU.

“You’ll grow up to be a fine young man with a respectable job,” his father had said the summer he was seventeen, condensation from his sweating beer bottle falling to the porch floor in intermittent drips. His father had spoken with such reverence and expectation that Jeongguk hadn’t had it in him to say anything else, only nodded in what he thought could pass off as agreement.

Luxury of choice, he thinks bitterly, something he didn’t quite possess. He scratches out his first choice rather haphazardly, and the rest is history.

First Choice: Seoul National University (College of Business Administration)

 

**

 

“Honey,” comes his mother’s voice one blistering afternoon as he’s packing away most of his childhood into three cardboard boxes to bring to Seoul.

He looks at the photo frame of the four of them in his hands, and places it gently on top of the box labelled “FRAGILE”. It’s a little like his heart, he thinks wryly, smile more like a grimace than anything.

It had been sweltering that day, like all summers in Daegu were, and Yoongi- fresh out of university with his new driver’s ID and a secondhand Ford gifted by his parents- had driven them down to the beach for a day with the waves. He can still feel the sun biting on his skin pleasantly, the salty sea breeze wispy and the soft sand caressing his toes. They’d posed for a photo at the end of the day, disposable camera in some kind stranger’s hands, Jeongguk pressed next to Yoongi. The pale arm wound around his waist had been warmer than the sun could ever be. They’re smiling brightly for the camera, Yoongi’s grin showing off his gums. Jeongguk had put up the developed photo in his favourite frame, brushing his fingers over the curve of Yoongi’s cheek with a small wistful smile on his face.

He dusts off his jeans and heads downstairs, entering the kitchen to the sight of his mother stirring a pot of stew for dinner.

“You called?” He says, opening the fridge in search of a chilled drink.

His mother turns away from the stove, wrinkled fingers worn from years of housework turning the heat down to low and placing the lid on the pot. She pulls out a seat at the kitchen table, and Jeongguk follows suit, sitting down on the chair across from her.

She gently takes one of his hands, small fingers wrapping around Jeongguk’s own. “About your accommodation in university-“

“What about it?” he replies, resisting the urge to cross his arms defensively.

“I really would feel safer if you were staying with someone we knew-“

“Mom,” he cuts her off, huffing, “haven’t we already talked about this? A dorm room is perfectly fine.”

She sighs, a soft exhale of breath, and smooths down her hair; streaks of grey threading itself through the black. “You know how I feel about you being on your own. I don’t know how you’ll be able to cope- You can’t even do your own laundry!”

Jeongguk chuckles bitterly.

That’s because you never let me, Mom.

“Jeongguk, I gave Yoongi a call yesterday…”

He tenses visibly at this, and if his mother sees it, she doesn’t comment on it. He hasn’t seen Yoongi in close to a year, give or take. He’d avoided going over to Taehyung’s house during Chuseok, afraid that somehow, he’d let something slip between the cracks of his beating heart, and all his secrets would come tumbling out. Yoongi couldn’t know. He couldn’t.

Even on the two rare occasions Yoongi had returned to Daegu, Jeongguk had declined Jimin and Taehyung’s offers to hang out as four again. He’d cited being busy with university preparations, but in reality, he’d spent the day staring at his phone, idly going through forums and willing himself not to cry. He wouldn’t cry. He’s held this to his heart for so long, he should be desensitized to it all, really, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Jeongguk thinks he sees and feels it in the two hundred and thirty-seven kilometres between Daegu and Seoul.

Not seeing Yoongi was the easy part. Reading Yoongi’s occasional texts and seeing his small curled smile playing on his lips on the other hand, was not. His feelings were a tidal wave, and Jeongguk himself was a half-drowned man.

“Why did you call him?” Jeongguk asks, clenching his fists under the kitchen table in a bid to keep his voice steady.

He ignores the strange look his mother gives him, choosing instead to look down at the table surface, wood worn and scratched through the years.

“Yoongi’s apartment is a ten-minute bus ride from SNU, Jeongguk. You’d-“

“No,” he says, cutting her off, breathing hard through his nose.

“I’ve already asked him, Jeongguk. He’s perfectly fine with you living in his spare bedroom. You’ll be so much more comfortable there, and I’d feel safer knowing you’re staying with someone we know,  instead in a dorm with so many other boys your age. Who knows what you’ll pick up there?”

He looks up then, and the pleading look in his mother’s eyes makes him feel ten times worse.

“You two were so close when you were younger,” she continues, “You’d follow him around like a puppy. It was adorable, really.” She laughs then, fond.

Jeongguk averts his eyes again, palms clammy. Living with Yoongi would be disastrous on so many levels. Seeing him everyday- living and breathing in the same space with him, when he’d been trying resolutely to distance himself from the older man. Jeongguk wasn’t sure he would be able to keep his feelings in check. Not when Yoongi would treat him like a little brother- just like he did with Jimin and Taehyung, when Jeongguk really only wanted to be so much more.

He thinks of his mother, then. His mother who only wanted the best for him. Who would feel better and worry less if he was living with someone trusted, away from crazy university parties and all their vices. His mother- who was so, so clueless, along with everyone else. His mother- who’d seen him look up to Yoongi as an elder brother, who hadn’t seen him slowly fall for Yoongi over and over again through the ebb and flow of seven years.

“Alright,” he says resignedly, tone heavy. “I’ll live with Yoongi-hyung.”

His mother lights up, and her smile is worth more than the emotional turmoil he’ll no doubt face.

(Almost.)

 

**

 

Yoongi picks him up two weeks later in a brand new BMW, despite his protests not to. He pulls up outside Jeongguk’s house, stepping out the car with the air and poise of a professional, looking every bit dashing in a white collared shirt and black slacks, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows showing his thin, pale forearms. He rings the doorbell politely, and Jeongguk thinks of all those times Yoongi and Taehyung would barge into his house through the back door, noisy and boisterous with absolutely no sense of manners.

Seoulite Yoongi is worlds away from his past self. His hair shines stiff with product, coiffed to perfection, and an expensive looking watch sits nicely on his wrist, cold and gleaming. His manners are impeccable, taking off his shoes at the doorway and greeting Jeongguk’s mother with a low bow and a kiss on the cheek.

“Jeonggukkie,” he says with a soft smile, opening his arms in invitation for a hug.

Jeongguk wills his face to remain impassive, despite almost bursting with the knowledge that Yoongi’s here.

He steps into Yoongi’s arms, their roles now reversed with Jeongguk towering over the older man, and strong arms find purchase around his waist as he breathes in the scent of Yoongi’s shampoo and cologne, resting his cheek on the other man’s head carefully. Yoongi’s front is warm through his threadbare T-shirt, and he prays and prays the thudding of his heart isn’t as loud as it feels.

Jeongguk shuts his eyes.

The knowledge that Yoongi would never look at him the same way made the hug feel more like a punch to the gut than anything else.

 

**

 

“How have you been?” Yoongi asks in the car, turning on the engine with the press of a button, all of Jeongguk’s possessions loaded up securely in the trunk. The car lurches forward, each revolution of its wheels bringing Jeongguk closer to Seoul and his bigger and brighter future, or so he’s been told.

Yoongi glances at Jeongguk briefly before returning his eyes to the road.

“Fine,” Jeongguk replies, stiff. His hands are clasped in his lap, and he stares out the window blankly. Daegu rushes past in a blur, quaint houses fading into new shopping complexes as they head out to the main road, Yoongi navigating the car with skill towards the Gyeongbu Expressway. Jeongguk fights the urge to chew on his lip, a bad habit he’s had since a kid. He wrings his hands instead, refusing to even look in the remote direction of the driver’s seat.

Yoongi hums in response, a low sound that sends pleasant shivers down Jeongguk’s spine. Jeongguk chances a look at Yoongi then, and his handsome side profile -the structured slope of his nose, his pale pale skin and his strong jaw- makes Jeongguk blush, looking away quickly and suddenly feeling so so silly.

“I missed you,” Yoongi says then, voice too loud in the quiet of the car.

“M-Me too,” Jeongguk replies, and something lodges in his throat, unforgiving and unyielding.

(Not the way I did you, Hyung.)

 

**

“So..this is us,” Yoongi says, fishing keys out of his pocket and unlocking the door, and Jeongguk’s heart stutters at the way “us” falls from Yoongi’s lips so easily, like water slipping over rock, sand through an hourglass.

“It’s not much, but it’s home,” he says, putting on house slippers and gesturing for Jeongguk to do the same, putting the keys into a small bowl on the kitchen island.

The apartment is moderately sized, minimalistic decor bordering on bare, and the living room is lacking any sort of paraphernalia except for the photo frames on the bookshelf. Jeongguk pads closer and spies frames delicately placed on a shelf comfortable enough for eye level, and he finds himself brushing his fingers unconsciously over the exact same photograph of the four of them at the beach.

“It’s my favourite photo of us,” Yoongi says softly, voice much too close, and Jeongguk veers around abruptly, catching the older man off guard. They’re less than a foot apart, and Jeongguk blushes furiously at how close they are, stumbling to apologize. Yoongi only laughs, his chuckle bouncing off the walls of the apartment, music to Jeongguk’s ears. He brushes his dark hair back from this forehead, and Jeongguk follows the motion closely, eyes travelling, and he swallows deeply. He hopes Yoongi doesn’t notice.

“You’re still so cute, Kook-ah,” Yoongi says offhandedly, crow’s feet adorning the corners of his eyes, and Jeongguk’s struck by just how mature Yoongi looks, controlled confidence and comfortable in his limbs. It is then that he registers what the other man has just said, and unknowingly, his expression shutters, drawing a brief look of confusion from Yoongi. His small smile fades away, eyes distant and unfocused.

“I think I’ll go unpack,” he says abruptly, backing away from Yoongi and picking up one of the boxes they’ve left on the living room floor. He tries his best to avoid looking like he’s escaping, but he turns around and disappears down the hallway so fast, he doesn’t see Yoongi’s expression fall, doesn’t hear the whisper that slips through his lips, meant only for one.

“What happened to us, Jeongguk?”

 

**

Jeongguk’s first term at SNU flies past swiftly, a blur of freshmen activities and adjustments to university culture. He builds some sort of a routine, waking up early and making breakfast for two, leaving the second wrapped in plastic on the kitchen island for Yoongi, before heading out to class. He spends almost his entire day at the university before heading back to the apartment, Yoongi always ready with take out of some kind so they can have dinner in front of the television together. As silly as it is, Jeongguk feels them returning to how they once were, jokes and teasing coming easily now. They sit pressed against each other on the couch, watching re-runs of those variety shows Yoongi likes so much, or one of those new idol dramas they don’t really pay attention to but don’t mind watching when Jeongguk isn’t busy with schoolwork, and Yoongi with producing.

Things seem to fall into place for both of them, and for a second, Jeongguk thinks about how ironic it is that his feelings for his hyung seem to fade away the closer they are.

But alas, he must have been foolish to think so.

“Hey, you got a girlfriend I don’t know about, or something?” He looks up, startled, eyes leaving the illuminated screen of his phone, and meets the twinkling eyes of one of his seniors from the dance club at the university.

Hoseok waggles his eyebrows comically, and Jeongguk huffs, heat creeping up his neck. He glances down at his screen, a silly selca of Yoongi the newest message in their KKT chat.

“Nah, just the hyung I’m living with,” he says belatedly, realising Hoseok’s still waiting for an answer.

“The hyung you’re living with, and dating…?” Hoseok presses, expression too exaggerrated to be anything but jesting, but Jeongguk feels the blood in his veins freeze over for a moment, and the choked gasp he lets out isn’t on purpose at all .

“I-“ he tries to articulate, but the panicked expression in his eyes must say everything, for Hoseok is quick to drop the teasing, holding his hands out in surrender.

“Hey, hey, kid- I didn’t mean it that way-“

“He’ll never look at me that way, anyway,” Jeongguk says, voice small, and sweat creeps down his hairline, shirt sticking even more uncomfortably to his back now. He feels cold all of a sudden. Voicing it out just makes things that more set in stone, and he feels ashamed all of a sudden. All these months, and nothing had changed.

“Kid…” Hoseok’s voice is cautious, and Jeongguk’s eyes sting as he looks up to see the gentle expression on his senior’s face.

“It doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk tries to say, unsure who he’s trying to convince at this point, and tries for a smile, but it comes out as an awkward grimace instead.

Hoseok draws arms around him slowly, and he sags in his embrace. It should be comforting, really, but all he feels is his heart beating fast against his chest.

And yet, it feels as though there’s nothing there.

**

Yoongi is as delicate and adorable as a five month old kitten when he’s sleepy, Jeongguk realises one fateful night. It’s two AM in the morning when Yoongi’s bedroom door creaks open, its inhabitant stumbling out sleepily, hair ruffled and eyes half closed.

“Jeonggukkie?” comes Yoongi’s sleep-riddled voice, low, rough and lilting at the end. Jeongguk looks up from the glowing screen of his laptop, blinking confusedly.

Yoongi’s dressed in a ratty oversized t-shirt that hangs off his shoulder, exposing pale milky skin, and Jeongguk looks away awkwardly, especially when Yoongi’s shirt rides up as he reaches to scratch at the back of his neck.

“What’re you doing awake?” Yoongi says, taking a seat opposite him at the tiny kitchen table, scattered with Jeongguk’s Intro to Business notes. He rubs at his eye with a closed fist, and Jeongguk resists the urge to coo.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he replies, fingers resuming their typing. He doesn’t care to elaborate, doesn’t think he should elaborate, with the way his mind had raced a mile a minute as he thought about where he stood with Yoongi, lying in the darkness of his bedroom.

Yoongi hums sleepily and gets up, and for a moment Jeongguk thinks he’s going back to bed, conflicted between longing and feeling bad because Yoongi has work tomorrow morning.

But Yoongi just bustles about in the kitchen, heating up something on the stove with a small pot. When he stirs, the teaspoon makes tiny tinkling noises against the edge of the ceramic, and Jeongguk continues typing away, ears peeled nonetheless.

A cup is set in front of him then, and he looks up to meet Yoongi’s gentle smile, eyebrow raised confusedly.

“Warm milk with a spoonful of honey,” Yoongi says then, sitting down again, “It always used to help you sleep when you were younger.”

Jeongguk’s heart stutters then, and suddenly the two feet in between them across the kitchen table seems so much smaller. He breathes through his nose, in out, in out.

“Thanks, hyung,” Jeongguk replies after a while, and the beam Yoongi sends his way lights up the kitchen in the dead of the night.

 

**

 

jeon jeongguk: you guys there?

taehyungie-hyung: what’s up jeonggukie!!!

jimin-hyung: yo it’s been a while

jeon jeongguk: ah…sorry for being MIA and everything…university’s been kicking my butt

taehyungie-hyung: DITTO?? who knew u could write so many essays on post modern art lmfao

taehyungie-hyung: (crying)

jimin-hyung: did you need anything, kook-ah?

jeon jeongguk: i-

jeon jeongguk: just

jeon jeongguk: do you know the feeling of really wanting to say something to someone, even though you know it’ll ruin everything you have with them?

taehyungie-hyung: yah

taehyungie-hyung: are you in love or sOMETHING

taehyungie-hyung: YAH it hasn’t even been 7 months at uni and u’ve found urself a gf???? i’m wounded what about us what about all that we’ve been through

jimin-hyung: shut up, taehyung

jimin-hyung: i think, if you really love them, and care for them, and they the same for you, they would accept you for who you are, regardless of what it is you’re afraid of saying

jimin-hyung: and if you ever…want to say anything to us, you know we’re here for you, right?

taehyungie-hyung: (thumbs up)

taehyungie-hyung: we got your back, jeonggukie

jeon jeongguk: i don’t know what to say— thank you

jimin-hyung: that’s what friends are for, right?

 

**

 

Jeongguk’s curled up on the couch on a friday night, television volume turned down, a mindless soap playing on the screen. The clock above the TV ticks loudly, his arm falling asleep from how long he’s been seated in the same position. On the kitchen table, Yoongi’s portion of the night’s dinner sits wrapped in plastic wrap, no longer warm and condensation long formed.

It’s nearly 12.30AM in the morning, and Yoongi isn’t home.

Clutched in Jeongguk’s hand is his phone, his and Yoongi’s Kakao chat open, with four unanswered, unread messages dated as early as 8PM at night.

 

jeon jeongguk: hyung, will you be coming home for dinner tonight?

jeon jeongguk: where are you?

jeon jeongguk: hyung, are you okay? it’s really late

jeon jeongguk: please come home soon.

 

He feels stupid, and how domestic his messages sound makes his skin crawl. They weren’t together— and would never be. And yet, he couldn’t help but worry, knowing Yoongi would always inform him beforehand if he had plans. And Yoongi hardly had plans. Not since he began staying with him, that is. Jeongguk feels his stomach churn then. He feels so silly curled up on the couch, clutching his phone like a lifeline, just hoping the older man would reply, would say he was okay.

Just as he’s about to give Yoongi a call, the apartment door unlocks, the sound of the bell on Yoongi’s kumamon keychain calming Jeongguk’s turbulent heart.

“Hyung-“

His next words die in his throat, as he hears the sound of giggles, the smell of alcohol permeating the room swiftly.

The first thing he notices is that Yoongi isn’t alone. There’s a man draped over him, hands wandering. Their cheeks are flushed, movements slow and ungainly, clearly drunk. The second thing he notices is how good looking Yoongi’s companion is. His hair is dyed an even platinum blonde, soft-looking under the light of their entrance hallway. Strong eyebrows frame a heart shaped face, high nose bridge and plush, red lips.

Lips that look like they’ve been kissed over and over.

His gut churns, and his feet are rooted to the ground. He doesn’t even realise his fingers are clenched tightly around his phone, white knuckled and clammy.

“Oh, who’s this?” The man says, his voice soft and lilting.

It’s then that Yoongi looks up from where he’s toeing off his shoes, his dress shirt rumpled with the first few buttons popped open. He hadn’t noticed Jeongguk at all since they’d first stepped into the apartment, and something in Jeongguk’s heart sinks at this.

“Jeonggukkie?” Yoongi says, syllables slurred.

“H-Hey, Hyung,” Jeongguk replies, wincing at how awkward and dumb he sounds.

“Ah,” Yoongi says then, as if suddenly remembering Jeongguk’s existence. He scratches the back of his neck awkwardly, as if at a loss at what to do. He doesn’t dare meet Jeongguk’s gaze, and at this, something in Jeongguk splinters, cracks.

“Hey, we can always go to mine if it’s inconvenient here,” The nameless stranger says, the hand on Yoongi’s shoulder much too comfortable, much too natural. As if he’s done it a million times before.

Inconvenient.

That was what he was. An inconvenience, a burden. He’s never felt so small, never wanted the floor to open up and swallow him so badly. Against his will, he feels tears well up in his eyes, his vision blurring. It was clear what Yoongi and the stranger had intended to do, coming back to the apartment. And the only thing in between them was him. Him, someone Yoongi would ever only consider a younger brother. A hindrance, someone he had to take care of under Jeongguk’s mother’s request. On account of the long standing friendship between their families.

He vaguely registers Yoongi’s eyes widening at his unshed tears, and he thinks he must be imagining the muttered curse the stranger says under his breath, sounding so odd in his melodic voice.

“I-It’s okay, I’ll just go over to Hoseok-hyung’s. You know Hoseok-hyung, right? I’ll be fine. I don’t want to be a bother,” Jeongguk says, stumbling over the words that taste like poison on his tongue. He numbly grabs his wallet and hastily puts on his ratty sneakers, wiping away the tears that have finally, finally fallen. In his haste, he trips over the shoes littered at the entryway and stumbles. He hears the sound of someone moving behind him and for a moment, it sounds almost as if they’d wanted to catch him before he hell.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Jeongguk-“

“I’ll be okay, hyung,” Jeongguk says, daring to look at Yoongi’s expression. The turmoil he sees on the older man’s face confuses him, but in his mess of emotions, he thinks nothing of it. He tries for a smile, but it just crumbles into a grimace. He tears open the apartment door, nearly bolting out of their shared space of six-over months like a frightened animal.

He shakily dials Hoseok’s number, the cold midnight air seeping through his thin sleeping t-shirt.

“Hello?” Hoseok’s voice is groggy, and Jeongguk nearly cries again in sheer relief.

“Hoseok-hyung?” He whispers, in the stairwell of their apartment building. His voice wavers, and he hears rustling on the other side.

“Jeongguk? You okay?”

At this, the tears come back, and Jeongguk feels so weak, crying over something so small, something he doesn’t deserve to cry over.

“Hey, hey, you okay?”

“Hoseok-hyung, can you pick me up?” Jeongguk says, voice small and too loud in the empty stairwell.

“I’m on my way, kid, hang in there.”

Hoseok doesn’t ask questions when he sees Jeongguk sitting on the steps in front of his apartment, dressed only in a t-shirt and sweats. He only wraps his jacket around Jeongguk’s shoulders and presses in close as they walk to his secondhand car. He doesn’t stare at the dried tear tracks on Jeongguk’s face, only hands him a tissue wordlessly on the way to his place.

Settled under two layers of blankets on Hoseok’s couch, Jeongguk still feels so, so cold.

 

**

He awakes to a stiff neck and the sound of Hoseok’s humming.

“You’re awake,” Hoseok says softly from where he’s spooning cereal into his mouth at the kitchen island, feet crossed under him and hair a messy nest on top of his head.

“What time is it,” Jeongguk says, and grimaces at how cottony his mouth feels.

“Twelve PM?” Hoseok says, his gaze questioning and curious.

Jeongguk looks down at his phone then, and balks at the number of missed calls and messages he has from Yoongi.

18 missed calls and 7 unread messages.

Everything from last night comes rushing back, and his heart gives a twist.

Stupid.

“Thank you…hyung.” Jeongguk whispers fiercely, fingers clenched into a fist around the soft duvet.

“It’s alright,” Hoseok says with a tentative smile. “I just wanna know if you’re okay, man. You sounded pretty shaken up last night. Everything okay?” His voice is so gentle, so kind, and Jeongguk feels bad for waking him up in the dead of the night, when he knows Hoseok has a part time job at the cafe near the university on fridays that ends at 9pm.

“Things aren’t okay,” he says, voice so soft it’s almost a whisper of a breath, and his eyes sting at the revelation, at the things he’s kept buried for a good part of his life.

“Kid..” the older man trails off, clearly at a loss.

“I don’t know what to do, Hyung,” his voice rising, panicked and stricken. “I feel so stupid for crying over something so insignificant, something that probably doesn’t mean anything to him. Why does he make me so sad, yet so happy? Why is it that I still love him, have loved him for so long, when I know he’ll never look at me the same way? I’m so scared that one day, he’ll look at me and see the feelings I have for him written all over my face plain as day, and yet, somehow the only thing I want to do everytime I see him smile is tell him I love you, so much.

He wipes the tears that have fallen almost angrily, the back of his hand rough against his cheek.

Hoseok is quiet for a moment, the only sound in the apartment the whirring of the ceiling fan.

“Sometimes, it’s the same people we love so fiercely who make us hurt the most,” he says, and for a moment, Jeongguk sees a flicker of emotion in Hoseok’s eyes, clouding over as if remembering something from long ago. But it disappears as fast as it comes, and the older man gives him a wry smile instead.

He looks down at his phone then, the screen lit up and illuminating his lockscreen, a picture of Yoongi and him from that one time they had gotten ice cream on a particularly hot day. They’re both smiling at the camera, eyes crinkled and hands curled around crisp waffle cones.

And he thinks, of course.

Like crumbling brick, something in his heart gives quietly, as if it had been teetering, but never falling, for a long, long time.

 

**

 

The click of the apartment door’s lock is much too loud on a saturday afternoon, and Jeongguk feels like a thief creeping onto private property, despite the fact that he’s called this place home for the past 5 months or so. He toes his shoes off quietly, noting the lack of any shoes he doesn’t recognise numbly.

Stop it. It’s none of your business anyway, a traitorous voice whispers maliciously in his head.

He makes it as far the kitchen before a voice stops him in his tracks.

“You’re home,” comes Yoongi’s raspy voice, and Jeongguk stills, turning around slowly.

Yoongi’s appearance is disheveled, exhaustion cloaking his expression. He’s changed into more comfortable clothes, an old collegiate sweater and boxers, Jeongguk notices.

He always notices, always.

Yoongi was a star, and Jeongguk a lonely meteor in its orbit. Always circling, the centre of its universe. So close, and yet so far.

The older man looks tired, and his hair is messy, almost as if he’d tossed and turned, unable to sleep.

“You never came home last night,” Yoongi continues, and clutched in his right hand is his phone. Jeongguk thinks back to the countless missed calls, and feels his heart sink.

“I didn’t want to bother you and your friend, ” he says, and his lips curl around the word ‘friend’ like it’s acid, bitter on his tongue.

Yoongi’s expression falls, and his shoulders slump a little.

“Jeongguk-“

“I’m sorry, for overreacting. This is your house after all,” Jeongguk continues, and his voice sounds foreign and so, so cold, out-of-body almost.

He turns away in the direction of his room, but Yoongi speaks up.

“What’s wrong, Jeongguk?” And he sounds so genuinely confused and at a loss, so unaware that Jeongguk feels something flare up in him. Something ugly, something like anger.

What’s wrong? What’s wrong is how you looked at me in your drunken stupor, so lost, as if you’d forgotten about my existence for a moment. What’s wrong is how you hadn’t answered any of my messages, how you’d gone out to drink and have fun, how you had come home with someone, and all the things you’d intended to do, and reacted as if i was a hindrance, a burden you regretted taking on, something who was nothing but an inconvenience to you. But most of all, what’s wrong is knowing you’d never, ever, look at me the way you did that man. But then again, you’d never know about this too, right?

“It’s nothing,” he says instead, eyes stinging, turning away with his teeth gritted. He heads to his room, to the duffle bag he knows is sitting at his bottom of his closet. His movements are stilted, awkward.

He doesn’t see the way Yoongi’s face crumples, looking all for the world like he’d just something that he loved dearly.  




**

 

yoongi-hyung: jeongguk, where are you?

READ: 8.42PM, SATURDAY

yoongi-hyung: are you coming home? where are you?

READ: 10.36PM, SATURDAY

yoongi-hyung: you never came home last night.

yoongi-hyung: …are we okay?

READ: 9.57AM, SUNDAY

yoongi-hyung: i hope you’re eating well.

READ: 6.55PM, MONDAY

yoongi-hyung: i miss you. please come home.

READ: 11.24PM, WEDNESDAY

 

**

 

Staying at Hoseok’s is foreign, odd. He finds himself reaching for Yoongi’s sandalwood scented body soap at the edge of the toiletries rack, only to realise that this isn’t the bathroom back at the apartment. His back aches from sleeping on the couch, waking up with a stiff neck most mornings. He tosses and turns at night, unable to sleep, and remembers the way Yoongi would coax him to his room when he fell asleep in the middle of a late night soap. His hand curled around Jeongguk’s elbow, guiding him to his bed, pulling the duvet up to his neck with fingers that were so gentle.

“Jeongguk,” Hoseok says on maybe the tenth day ( who’s counting? ), concerned. His eyes are conflicted, and he wipes his palms against his jeans, a nervous tic Jeongguk has come to learn.

“Huh?” Jeongguk says groggily, hand automatically coming up to rub at his neck to work out the kinks. It’s late in the afternoon on a Monday, and Jeongguk’s sprawled out on the couch, notes resting on the coffee table, forgotten, having fallen asleep halfway through his reading.

“I’m worried, Jeongguk. You’ve been skipping meals, and your body obviously isn’t used to sleeping on a lumpy couch. I’d offer you my bed, but it’s a single and we’re two fully grown men who obviously won’t fit. Jeongguk, have you seen yourself?”

Hoseok puts a hand on his shoulder, and Jeongguk’s stomach drops at what he thinks is coming. “Please, Jeongguk. It’s not that I don’t want you here, it’s just that I can see how much you’re suffering. Anyone can, hell, even people from the dance club have asked me if you’re okay. Please, Jeongguk, go home. I’ll drive you. Get some proper rest.”

Jeongguk opens his mouth to retort, to plead with Hoseok, but he sees the older man’s creased forehead, the genuinely concerned look in his eyes. He spots his reflection in the mirror beside the television, and almost balks at how exhausted he looks, dark circles ringing his eyes and skin pallid. He sighs, and Hoseok squeezes his shoulder.

“You’ll be okay, Jeongguk.”

Things aren’t okay.

 

**

 

He packs his clothes back into the duffle, squeezes Hoseok tight before he goes up the apartment.

He prays Yoongi isn’t home.

 

**

 

He’d expected a quiet apartment, a messy apartment. Maybe takeout boxes all over the coffee table, or unwashed dishes in the sink.

He doesn’t expect Yoongi to be seated on the couch, startled when Jeongguk steps through the door, like he’d been in the same position for quite a while.

Like he had been waiting for Jeongguk to come home.

“Why aren’t you at work?” is the first thing Jeongguk says, voice flat, and he thinks he must be imagining the way Yoongi flinches, the way his expression changes from relieved and hopeful to hurt, sad, even.

“I was waiting for you,” Yoongi says, moving to walk towards Jeongguk. Jeongguk takes a step back, reflexively, and this time, he doesn’t imagine the way Yoongi recoils as if he’s been stung.

“Where were you?” the older man asks, voice soft. The distance between them has never been so far.

“Hoseok-hyung’s,” Jeongguk answers curtly, eyes focused on a scratch on the parquet, refusing to meet Yoongi’s eyes.

“Hoseok-hyung,” Yoongi repeats, voice brittle. “Is he your boyfriend?”

Jeongguk looks up at this, the question so startling and out of the blue.

“What?”

“Hoseok. A-Are you guys dating?”

Min Yoongi was many things. Confident, kind, maybe a little aloof sometimes. But he was never unsure, and Jeongguk had never heard him stutter before, ever.

“What- No, we’re not. What does it matter to you?” Jeongguk says, and his voice is loud and unsteady in the quiet of the apartment.

“I care about you, Jeongguk. You’re-You’re almost like a little brother to me, and i don’t want you to be hurt, you know?”

Everything feels wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s almost as if the last domino falls, and Jeongguk can’t hold back. Not anymore.

“That’s funny, hyung. You don’t want me to be hurt, but really, the only one who’s hurting me is you.” His vision clouds over and he doesn’t care that he’s crying again, the tears making their way down his cheeks hot and fast.

“Jeongguk, what-“

“No,” he cries, and Yoongi stops and stares, his mouth open dumbly, unsure of what to do. “You don’t get to ask me what’s wrong. You don’t get to try to comfort me like you would a kid brother, because that’s the last thing i would ever want to be in your eyes.”

“You don’t know how much you hurt me when you came home with that man. You don’t know how much it pains me when you tell me you miss me so easily, when it means so much more to me than it ever will to you. You don’t get to protect me from people you think will hurt me, because the only thing that’s hurting me is how much I love you.

His breath comes in harsh pants, the tears dripping down his chin. He’s afraid to look up, afraid to see the confusion, maybe disgust on Yoongi’s face. He expects Yoongi to walk out, maybe leave him be. He expects many things, but not a palm on his cheek, gentle and warm, wiping away the tears.

“Jeonggukkie,” Yoongi whispers, quiet and a little broken, and the younger looks up to see Yoongi with tears of his own, an expression he’s seen one too many times in the mirror looking right back at him.

“I’m sorry, Jeongguk.” Yoongi says, thumb stroking across his cheekbone softly.

“I knew, somehow, that you liked me, deep down inside. That’s why I brought Seokjin home. I knew you’d be waiting and hoped you would get the message, that you would move on and maybe find a girl or boy your age you’d like, maybe even love. You were supposed to find someone your age, not someone eight years older than you. Not your best friend’s brother. I watched you grow up, Jeongguk. Hell, you’re Taehyung’s best friend, and I held him in my arms the day he was born.”

Jeongguk lets out a sharp gasp at the revelation, and he makes to pull away, but Yoongi wraps a hand around his arm.

“You were supposed to fall in love with someone else, Jeongguk. Not a man eight years older than you who’d watch the boy he fell in love with be with someone that wasn’t him, as long as that boy was happy.”

Yoongi laughs softly after he’s done, but nothing about the sound is happy.

He lets Jeongguk go, arms stiff at his sides. Jeongguk is mum, and time seems to stand still in the apartment. Somewhere behind him, the wall clock continues ticking.

“You don’t get to decide who I get to love,” He says finally. “You treat me like I’m a child, like someone to be mollycoddled. But- Hyung, why can’t you see that I can make my own decisions? Why can’t you see that the only person I will ever love is you?”

Yoongi opens his mouth, eyes shining and so, so sad, but Jeongguk cuts him off.

“Do you love me?” He whispers, and something about these words sound final, as if he were giving himself one last chance at something he could never have.

“Jeongguk, please-"

"Do you love me? ” He repeats, voice tight.

A myriad of emotions fly across Yoongi’s face. Hurt, conflict, sadness, and something else he cannot identify. Maybe something he foolishly hopes is what he’s looking for.

It’s seems like forever before Yoongi replies, but it’s enough.

“Yes,” the older man murmurs.  

And it’s enough.

Yoongi’s lips are rough on his, peeling and cracked, but Jeongguk has never tasted anything closer to love. His lips move softly, almost tentatively, but they’re filled with want spanning so many years. They taste like sadness, regret, and everything in between.

He pulls the older man closer with an arm around his waist, swallowing the gasp that leaves Yoongi’s mouth and pressing his lips closer as his heart sings at the way the older man responds with as much fervor. It’s sweet, warm, and Yoongi lets out a muffled groan at the way Jeongguk sucks on his bottom lip gently, as if saying, hello. They pull apart, panting, and Jeongguk leaves one last chaste kiss on Yoongi’s lips before retreating, as if unable to stop himself. Yoongi’s cheeks are flushed, and his eyes are half lidded, almost shy.

“I love you,” Yoongi says, and Jeongguk smiles like he has everything he could possibly want in the world in his arms.

He does.