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a little mystery to figure out

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On a Saturday, it begins.

Taehyung is lying on his bed, chatting over the phone to his mum. Seokjin is perched beside him, carefully weaving a bracelet around Taehyung’s wrist. Not too tight. Adjustable. Just the way Taehyung likes it. With pink threads intertwined with the others, because it’s Seokjin. It’s one of their rare days off and Taehyung feels inexplicably cute, like something nice and sweet and normal is actually happening to him.

“Hey, can I tell you something?” he says to his mum. Seokjin looks at him inquisitively.

“Of course, sweetie. What’s up?”

“Well...” Taehyung pauses. Clears his throat. Just goes for it. “I’m dating someone.” He pauses again. “I’m dating a guy.”

He can almost hear her smiling through the phone. “Well, that’s lovely. I’m so happy for you. What’s his name?”

Taehyung smiles at Seokjin, feeling like pure gold sunshine. Seokjin smiles right back. “His name is Kim Seokjin.”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line. When his mum talks, she sounds sceptical. “Kim Seokjin, your group member? Kinda tall? Big cute eyes, pouty lips? Always sends those sweet birthday notes?”

“Yes, mother. The one and only.”

His mum bursts into raucous laughter.

Taehyung is absolutely scandalised.

“Mum!” She lets out one very offensive sniffle. Taehyung cannot believe this. “Are you crying with laughter?”

“Oh,” she sighs gleefully, “my funny little bunny. That’s a good prank. I need to tell your father, hang on a sec.” Taehyung grumbles as she runs off to tell his dad about the ‘prank’. When she gets back, she sounds out of breath. “Your father says he loves you. And he says get in line.”

Taehyung huffs. “Mum! Why do you think I’m joking? I really am dating Jin! And he’s dating me back. Talk to him if you don’t believe me.” Taehyung thrusts his phone unhappily in Seokjin’s direction.

Seokjin, who has been listening to the whole thing with a confused little smile, accepts the phone. When he talks to Taehyung’s mother he’s all perfect politeness (that Taehyung’s not sure she deserves right now).

“Hello, Mrs. Kim... Yes, we’re in the dorms right now. Yes... Oh, no, he hasn’t got a fever.” Seokjin puts his hand on Taehyung’s forehead, probably out of reflex. “No, he’s fine... Oh, yes! We are dating.” He frowns. “Really! I really like him.” Seokjin trails his fingers through Taehyung’s hair while Taehyung preens. “I’m not joking... No, it’s not an acting project... Yes, I agree. He’s very good... Okay. Well, okay. Bye, Mrs. Kim. We love you too.”

Seokjin hangs up and hands the phone back to Taehyung. He blinks, dazed. “She doesn’t believe us. Neither one of your parents believes us.”

Taehyung props himself up on his elbows. “And you just let them get away with that?”

Seokjin snorts. “They’re your parents. I want them to like me.”

Taehyung pokes Seokjin’s chin. “Jin. You could sit in their front lawn wearing only a loincloth proclaiming about how Mars is the one true god of war and they’d still like you.”

Seokjin leans down, kissing Taehyung’s nose. “What goes through your mind?”

Taehyung twitches his nose, considering. “Well, you, mostly. Naked you. Sometimes work stuff. Sometimes life stuff. Sometimes weird stuff. But yeah, a lot of it’s just you.”

Seokjin smiles in that caught-off-guard way that he does when he’s swept up in emotions. He blinks and his eyes are shining. “That’s so sweet, Tae.”

Taehyung laughs and pulls him down for a hug. “Don’t get all sentimental. I’ll have to tell the boys.”

-

Telling the boys does not go well.

“Jimin,” Taehyung says one day in the kitchen. “I’m dating Seokjin.”

Jimin throws his head back in laughter, smacks his own butt and says, “And I’m sleeping with Namjoon in Yoongi’s studio. There are bodily fluids in the synthesiser. Don’t tell.”

Taehyung’s shoulders shoot upwards. “I’m serious! Why don’t you believe me?”

Jimin grabs a pear from the fruit bowl and smiles indulgently at him. “You and Jin? I just don’t see it.”

“Why not?”

Jimin shrugs. “I don’t know. You know how you can just look at some people and recognise that they’d look right as a couple? I don’t see that with you two.”

Taehyung’s actually a little hurt by that. He steps back. “Wow. Okay.”

Jimin sighs. “Tae, I don’t mean anything by it, I just –”

“Forget it.” Taehyung walks out. “It’s fine.”

-

“You don’t do any PDA stuff,” says Hoseok when they tell him.

-

“You guys are always pulling shit like this,” is Yoongi’s admittedly fair point.

-

“In music there is always tension and release,” is what Namjoon says. “You two, as a couple, don’t have much of either. You’re blank, like an empty manuscript. Soundless. You’re the void.” (Seokjin actually storms out in the middle of a group meeting because of that one.)

-

“I thought you were both straight,” says Jungkook. “You’re just like straight bros. You spray deodorant on each other and check out girls together. You bang your heads together sometimes. It’s not very romantic.”

-

“You guys are in the friendzone,” their manager tells them very matter-of-factly. “Don’t worry. It’s a good thing.”

-

“Oh, my goodness,” Seokjin eventually says, sounding mortified as he and Taehyung crash on his bed for the night. “How did we let this happen?”

Taehyung groans. “They think we’re bros.”

Seokjin stares at the ceiling. “They think we’re bros but we’re actually hoes. This is the opposite of the problem I thought I’d be having in my twenties.”

Taehyung snorts. “Pardon?”

“I’ve never been friendzoned in my life before. Even though I’m A+ friend material. Because of my looks, people always just assume that I’m a ho. It makes them want me. I have a natural ho-zone layer.”

Taehyung giggles at that. “Not anymore, I guess.”

Seokjin’s eyes widen. “This is what climate change has done to me.”

Taehyung lets Seokjin mope for five more minutes, and then he tugs his sleeve. “Okay. That’s enough. What are we going to do?”

Seokjin sits up. His hair is messy. His eyes are a warm, warm brown. “I really like you.”

Taehyung decides right then and there that he doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. “I really like you, too.”

-

While Seokjin is holding Taehyung late at night, he murmurs against Taehyung’s neck and Taehyung feels warm all over. “We’re going to have to up the ante.”

Taehyung watches the first yellow patches of dawn peek through the window and he smiles. He’s always liked putting on a show.

-

Public Displays of Affection come naturally to Taehyung, but he learns quickly that they don’t come quite so naturally to Seokjin. It’s odd. Seokjin has done so many photo-shoots and videos with things like this. And he’s fine with being touchy-feely in a (Taehyung is hating the word now) bro kind of way. But when it’s genuinely romantic he gets awkward and shy.

They’re in the dorm living room watching a movie with the boys. Seokjin is lying with his head on Taehyung’s lap, while Taehyung traces little circles on his skin. But Seokjin’s shoulders are stiff and he keeps shifting restlessly. “Jin,” Taehyung whispers. “Relax.”

Seokjin pouts up at him. “I can’t. I feel really weird.”

Taehyung studies the tension in Seokjin’s shoulders and the apprehension in his eyes. “Hey,” he says gently. “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Seokjin smiles gratefully and sits up, opting to lean against Taehyung’s side and rest his head on his shoulder instead. It’s still technically PDA, but it’s territory that they’ve explored already.

Eventually Jimin gets pouty. “Jin and Tae are having a cuddle without us,” he says pointedly to Jungkook.

Jungkook snickers. “Should we join in?”

“I think we should join in. Hands up for joining in, everyone?”

Several hands go up in the air (including Yoongi’s, and Yoongi is half-asleep).

Seokjin straightens up. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He crawls onto Taehyung’s lap, cups his face in both hands and kisses him giddy.

There’s a long silence. Taehyung feels like he’s floating away. “Wow,” he says breathily, feeling warm and tingly all over.

Jimin stares. “What.”

Seokjin smiles. “We told you,” he says in that prim, matter-of-fact tone that he uses when he’s telling them that there is, in fact, coriander in the soup and they can either deal with it or learn to cook for themselves. “Tae and I are dating.”

“Date me again,” Taehyung murmurs and he’s melting, going viscous as honey. “Kiss. I mean. Uh. Jin. Again?”

Seokjin obliges, finding confidence in the way Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter and the way his breath feels warm on his neck. The other guys just sit there, awkward and shocked for a moment.

Eventually Hoseok throws a cushion at them. “Guys!” he screeches. “Get a room.”

-

On a Wednesday evening, Taehyung really, really tries.

They’re on a primetime TV show, live on the air. It’s light, it’s funny and it’s one of those promotional things that Taehyung genuinely enjoys. There’s this atmosphere of apprehension and confusion among the group, because for the past few weeks he and Seokjin have really committed to making their relationship known. They even went out to a well-known restaurant a few nights ago, knowing that paparazzi were tailing them. It was a huge step, like, much huger than Taehyung would even have even considered making in the past, but he and Seokjin are getting reckless with the thrill of it. He can feel his heart thrumming with something like electricity even now. Because the upside of nobody believing that you’re actually dating your friend and co-worker is that you can flaunt it. They think it’s a joke. You can do whatever you want.

Taehyung would still like people to believe them, though.

At one point in the night the show host brings up a picture on screen and Taehyung realises that it’s a pap shot of him and Seokjin, leaving the restaurant after their public date. Seokjin has his hand slung around Taehyung’s waist and Taehyung is squeezing Seokjin’s butt. It’s not subtle in the slightest.

Seokjin meets Taehyung’s gaze and they communicate wordlessly for a moment. Then the host says, “You guys have a great bromance going on, huh?”

Taehyung almost groans. He’s pretty sure Seokjin actually whimpers a little bit, folding his arms across his chest. Namjoon jumps in for them. “We all have really strong friendships, yeah.”

The host nods. “Yes, yes. But V, tell me a bit more about your relationship with Jin. Are you particularly close with your eldest hyung?”

Seokjin perks up. He looks at Taehyung, eyes so trusting, and Taehyung is just so tired of toeing the line. He knows Seokjin feels the same, because they’ve talked about this so many times, sometimes for hours on end. In a way, Taehyung knows that he and Seokjin are both guarded people. But he doesn’t think he wants to guard this. So he blurts out, “I love his butt.”

The audience laughs. Seokjin looks pleased. But Taehyung’s heart is in his throat all of a sudden and his mind is screaming at him, reckless, reckless, reckless.

“Don’t we all?” the host returns easily, and the entire group breathes a sigh of relief. Well, all except Seokjin, whose eyes are alight with something wild.

“I love you, Taehyung,” Seokjin declares, and everyone lets out an aww. But Taehyung is frozen. He knows what Seokjin means.

-

“I love you, too. Of course I do,” Taehyung says on the walk back to the dorms. The night air is fresh around them and Seokjin is walking on the low almost-suburban walls that run alongside the sidewalk. The other members drove straight back to the dorms after the show, but Taehyung and Seokjin decided to walk home.

“Good,” Seokjin says, looking at his phone as he wobbles along the wall. “Oh, there’s an article – BTS members are at it again with their homoerotic subtext.” He huffs. “Homoerotic subtext? You said you loved my butt! How much more blunt can you get?”

Taehyung laughs, but his shoulders feel tense with fright. He almost just outed them on live TV, and maybe it’s lucky that people thought they were just messing around, because fuck. They nearly just risked everything.

And Seokjin – Seokjin is vibrating with it, almost like he’s drunk. This is the part of Jin that surprises people; the part that’s making Taehyung nervous right now. He acts and looks like a proper idol, always well-behaved and kind. But there’s this fiercely defiant side inside of him, buried so deeply that most people never get a glimpse of it. He can mould himself to anything but he refuses to conform.

As much as Taehyung knows that he’s the ‘quirky’ one, he’s sensitive and easily affected by the judgements of others. But Seokjin – Seokjin might be strong enough to take on the world.

And now Taehyung’s afraid that he’s set something into motion; afraid that it’s too late to change it now.

Seokjin whoops as he jumps down from the wall. He slips his arms around Taehyung’s shoulders and hangs off him as they walk. “You’re being quiet.”

Taehyung shrugs. “I think I’ve already nearly said too much tonight.”

Seokjin laughs. “Don’t worry, TaeTae. No matter what happens, I’ll take care of us.”

-

“I think we should go back to keeping this private,” Taehyung says.

At the same time, Seokjin says, “I want to come out.”

They stare at each other for a moment until Seokjin frowns and says, “What?” He’s holding on to the bedside table like the room is tipping, and Taehyung feels almost the same. “You want us to go back to being a secret?”

Taehyung grimaces. He hates the hard conversations. “Yeah. I realised I’m not ready for... a public relationship. And I’m not ready for people to talk about my orientation.”

“Our fans speculate about that kind of thing already.”

“The tabloids would be completely different.” Taehyung widens his eyes and bites his lip. He doesn’t want to pull the age card, but, “Please, hyung. I’m not ready.”

Seokjin studies him for a moment. Then he sighs. “Okay. I would never want to push anything like that on you. And I’m sorry that we jumped into this convincing-everyone-that-we’re-together thing so rashly. I guess I didn’t really think the consequences through. At least, not all the way.”

Taehyung smiles. Seokjin gives him a hug. When they pull back, Seokjin says, “I do want to come out, though.” At Taehyung’s expression, he adds, “On my own. Don’t worry.”

Taehyung frowns. “Come out as what? You don’t like putting labels on yourself. You’ve said before that you’re not sure how you fit into all of that stuff.”

Seokjin shrugs. “Does it matter? I’ll just say that I’m not exclusively into girls.”

“Don’t you think that people are going to work out that you’re seeing somebody?” Taehyung protests. “Don’t you think they’re going to speculate about who it is? They’ll know it’s me. I’ve already told you I’m not ready for that.”

Seokjin huffs. “Then I’ll make something up; pretend to the press that I’m a single guy living it up. It’s doesn’t have to come back to you.”

Taehyung runs a hand through his hair. “But it will!” He presses his palms to his eyes, trying to calm down. “Why do you even care about this all of a sudden, anyway? You’ve never given a shit about filling people in on your life before. You’re literally the most private person I know.”

Seokjin bites his lip. “It’s just –” he rocks back, taking a breath. “How do I put this? People try to fit us into these roles, right, in everyday society but even more so in this industry. And I just – no one would expect me to do this, just like no one expected us to date and they still don’t believe it. No one would expect me to pull a stunt like this –”

Taehyung withdraws, feeling his throat tighten. “A stunt? Is that all I am to you?”

Seokjin’s eyes widen. “No, shit, Tae, that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what do you mean?” Taehyung can feel the tears creeping into his voice now and for once he doesn’t know how to stop it.

Seokjin is tense like a deer caught in headlights. “I don’t – I don’t know.”

Taehyung stands. “Then I think you need to figure it out.” He walks out and makes a beeline to the front door, ignoring the concerned calls of his friends in the living room.

“Tae?” Yoongi says. “Shit, are you crying?”

Taehyung laughs mirthlessly. “Can’t be crying over a guy I’m not really dating, right?” he sneers, slamming the front door on his way out.

-

Taehyung wipes his eyes as he walks. Seokjin’s words, I don’t know, bounce around in his head.

The worst thing is that Taehyung feels like he doesn’t know either.

He’s used to being able to read people well. He’s used to understanding people. But as he walks aimlessly through the streets, he considers that maybe he’s been wrong. Because he’d thought he had Seokjin all figured out. He thought he knew their relationship in every way, its warm familiarity making sense when nothing else did. But now he’s not sure if he really knows Seokjin at all.

-

Taehyung is reeling in the tide of his thoughts as he crosses the road. He’s gasping for air in his mind when brakes screech and someone yells, “Look out!”

He hears, more than feels, the impact of steel on skin. He hears the screams but he barely feels the fall, his senses going numb and his vision going dim for a moment. He hears a car door slam and then someone is crouching over him, shaking his shoulder. “For fuck’s sake,” he murmurs before he passes out.

-

Seokjin is fussing around in the kitchen, cooking because he doesn’t know what else to do. He’s not entirely sure what happened but he knows it’s his fault. He slices the mushrooms finely, as if he can make up for poor life decisions by being meticulous. He rolls his eyes at himself and wipes away a tear. The boys are in the living room and he knows they can hear him crying, just like he knows they’re probably drawing straws to decide who should come and talk to him.

Eventually Seokjin sets down the kitchen knife, pats his face dry and decides to just pluck up and call Taehyung. It’s not as if they’ve never fought before. They’ll work through it.

He heads into the living room, where his phone is sitting on the coffee table. But his phone rings before he can reach for it. Seokjin’s gaze skims the unknown number as he answers. “Hello? Yes. Yes, I’m his boyfriend. What?

Seokjin feels his face go cold, and then he’s racing to put on his shoes. “Okay, thank you for calling,” he says as he hops around, pulling on the shoes and then grabbing his car keys. “I’ll be right there.”

Seokjin hangs up and for a moment he can only see colours and shapes. Namjoon is walking over to him, reaching for him, bracing him as Seokjin trembles. Jimin, Yoongi, Jungkook and Hoseok stand as well, peppering him with questions when they take in his white face.

Seokjin doesn’t spare a second. “Taehyung’s in hospital,” he breathes out, racing out the door.

-

Taehyung is sipping juice through a straw when Seokjin bursts in. “Oh, my goodness. Thank fuck,” Seokjin gasps, dropping himself into the chair beside Taehyung’s hospital bed. Suddenly he’s sobbing and Taehyung has a lapful of sad boyfriend. “Taehyung, I’m so sorry,” Jin gushes. “Are you okay? They said you got hit by a car. Tae, I was just talking about stuff, like, throwing ideas around – I’d never – I never want to make you upset. God. I don’t care what I do or what we do; I’d do anything for you. I’d move to Hawaii and grow a moustache if you asked me to. You’re not a stunt to me. You’re everything to me. I mean it. Shit, what the fuck am I even saying? You’re in hospital. Where are you hurt? Tae?”

Taehyung shushes him gently. “Hey, hey, I’m fine. The car was going pretty slowly. I’ve got some bruising and a little fracture on my thigh bone. Speaking of which, get off my lap, by the way.”

Seokjin clamps his hands to his mouth and darts back immediately. “Sorry!”

“It’s fine. I’m pretty doped up on painkillers right now.”

Seokjin sniffles. “I’m sorry. I love you.”

Taehyung takes Seokjin’s hands in his own. “I’m sorry, too. I was over-thinking things, I think.” He giggles. “Think, think, think.” When Seokjin just traces his hand affectionately, Taehyung continues. “I don’t – I don’t want to keep you a secret or anything. I’m really proud of this, of us – I’m just not ready for the things that could come along with... coming out.” He shrugs sadly.

Seokjin squeezes. “That’s okay. That’s more than okay. To be honest I don’t think I’m ready either.” Taehyung giggles and Seokjin huffs. “Okay, I know I’m not ready. I just got caught up in the thrill of what we were doing and my mind was racing through all these hypothetical situations and – I guess I was over-thinking it too. Tae, I mean what I said about you meaning everything to me.”

Taehyung gives a small smile. “I can’t mean everything. We still need to have jobs and balanced lives.”

Seokjin nods approvingly. “Yep. Balanced lives. Health. Calling our parents. Regular sleep schedules.” He raises his voice a little. “You hear that, Yoongi?”

From just outside the hospital room they hear a muffled, “Fuck you!”

Taehyung laughs. “Are they all eavesdropping out there?”

Seokjin sighs. “Yep.”

“Do they believe that we’re really dating now?”

There’s a chorus of ‘Yep!’ along with Hoseok’s ‘get married!’

Seokjin flushes and Taehyung squirts orange juice onto his nose. He leans over and licks it off while the other members pile into the room, and Seokjin’s eyes crinkle as he giggles. It’s familiar. It’s real. The weird patch is over and despite the fact that he’s currently in a hospital bed Taehyung feels strong. Strong on his own and so unfathomably strong with Seokjin by his side.

Seokjin flips his head back, cackling at something Namjoon said. The golden afternoon light exposes his beauty in the sincerest way. And okay, maybe Taehyung doesn’t know everything about this boy. Seokjin doesn’t know everything about him either. And he’s sure there’ll be more surprises down the road, but he can depend on the fact that they’re in this together.

Taehyung lies back and lets his friends fill in the quietude, and in the hazy area between wakefulness and sleep, he knows they’re going to be okay.