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2:56:14 PM | THE SHITTIEST APARTMENT ON CAMPUS

 

'All right, get up, it's three in the fucking afternoon. I'm counting down from ten. Ten...nine...eight...'

So Taehyung sleeps twelve hours after his last final. He doesn't mean to say it in that present-perfect way to imply that he always sleeps twelve hours after his last final, as if it's some kind of ritual or habit or way of life or something. But the truth is, it kind of is. Taehyung sleeps twelve hours after his last final, and this time, too, Taehyung sleeps twelve hours. After his last final.

He'd make it to thirteen, too, if Byun Baekhyun could shut the fuck up.

'Five...four and a half...four point two five, four, three point one four one five nine—'

'Do not,' Taehyung growls into his pillow, 'attempt to wake me up using the pi number.'

'Chop chop,' Baekhyun says, and he sounds every bit as obnoxiously cheerful as his stupid face is going to look once Taehyung manages to open his eyes. 'Sun is shining, birds are singing, I'm hauling you out of bed if you're not up in three— two—'

'All right, all right.' Taehyung takes in a deep breath, and cringes at the prospect of the sun actually shining. That's not the reason he slept into what he sincerely hopes is actually three in the afternoon. (If not, he's definitely throwing Baekhyun out the window. No best friend privileges include that kind of sacrilege.) 'I'm up. No, I'm not. Get out. I'm—'

'Freshly twenty years old,' Baekhyun cuts in. 'It's your birthday, Taehyung.'

'My birthday was yesterday—'

'It's your birthday,' the jerkface continues as if Taehyung hasn't spoken at all, and there is really no reason he should be putting up with any of this right now. He just got done with finals, god damn it. 'We are going to have you a bitching birthday party.'

'A bitching birthday party,' Taehyung repeats tonelessly. He still hasn't opened his eyes, because experience says that keeping them closed and ignoring his problems usually makes the problems disappear.

Unless, of course, the problem is Baekhyun. That's a whole other thing.

'A bitching birthday party,' Baekhyun says. 'It's pregaming time. Shower, put on some clothes, and understand that you're not coming back to your home this year.'

Taehyung lifts his head off the pillow and turns to glare blearily at his best friend. Baekhyun is, as expected, at a safe enough distance from the bed that Taehyung couldn't possibly hope to hit him with a pillow (not with his aim, at least), with a shit-eating grin on his face that suggests that Baekhyun knows it too.

'Chop chop,' Baekhyun says again, and Taehyung lets his head drop with a loud groan.

 

3:29:48 PM | OUTSIDE THE SHITTIEST APARTMENT ON CAMPUS

 

He doesn't know whether he's the unfortunate one or the rest of the world are the unfortunate ones when it comes to the fact that there isn't a single person in his friend group who actually listens to him. Not only that, but they all have different and unique ways of not listening to him. Baekhyun, for example, outright refuses with an ear-to-ear smile that says nope, and most of the time promptly does the exact opposite of what Taehyung asked him to do, just to spite him. Then there's Seokjin, who, to be fair, has never really not listened to Taehyung. It's just that Seokjin exudes the kind of aura where Taehyung doesn't even attempt to say anything to him.

Then there's Yoongi.

'Don't give me that look,' Taehyung says for the fourth time.

Yoongi continues giving him that look. That's just how Yoongi does the not-listening-to-Taehyung thing. There's no real rebellion to it, or unquestioned silent authority, or anything fancy like that. It works like this: Taehyung says something, and Yoongi ignores him.

'You said I could sleep in,' Yoongi says in a dead voice. 'You said I could come directly to the party.'

'I know, but— okay, stop giving me that look.'

'It's like eight in the morning,' Yoongi says. 'Do you know what time my mycology final ended last night?'

'Hey, you're not the only one with a difficult major. I—'

'Nine,' Yoongi says. 'My exam ended eleven hours ago.'

'Yoongi, it's three in the afternoon,' Seokjin says, finally looking up from his phone. At least when Seokjin's around, Taehyung doesn't feel as ridiculously overdressed as he usually does around Baekhyun and Yoongi, who both wear sport jackets and jeans on the regular. Seokjin's scarf is bigger than Taehyung's, which is an achievement even for December, but at least it's bigger than Taehyung's.

'Exactly,' Yoongi replies. 'Eight in the morning. That's what I said.'

'Look,' Taehyung says as he sees the horrendous blue of Baekhyun's car pull around the corner of the apartment block. 'If I had to wake up, so do you. I'm not doing my birthday without you guys.'

'We'd have met up at Joonmyun's anyway,' Yoongi sighs, but Taehyung knows he's won the emotional blackmail battle. With Yoongi it's always a couple of choice phrases; he melts easier than it seems. 'I'm getting an Irish, first thing.'

One of the only advantages of having Baekhyun for a best friend is that Taehyung scores invites to Kim Joonmyun's parties on the regular. Considering the size of the parties Joonmyun throws it's not really amazing to end up crashing one somehow anyway, but being invited means there's always the added fun of actually setting the whole thing up. Taehyung lives on the shittiest apartment on campus (no, seriously; his posters never stay up on the walls and one of the taps has a permanent leak) so Joonmyun's manga-like repurposed boarding house is the stuff of dreams.

('He's throwing the most spectacular New Year's Eve party that this campus has ever seen,' Baekhyun had said about a week ago. 'We'll do your birthday a day late, so what?'

'I really don't know, Baekhyunnie. I might actually be dead after the mechanics final.'

'Let me put it this way. Jongdae's back from Osa—'

'Okay, what time.')

 

5:09:02 PM | WE'VE GOT CHEMISTRY, THE BAR

 

Call him a kid. One of the best parts of being the kind of person he is is that excitement creeps in pretty quick, regardless of how tired he is or how much he's resolved to sulk about something or the other. Maybe it'd have taken longer if the sun was actually shining too bright for his comfort, but the last day of the year is still wintery enough that darkness starts to fall right after four. The lights are already on, dusty and golden on their hung up coats, Baekhyun's unapologetic hair-of-the-week a brilliant red under them.

The bar is on the ground floor of the chemistry faculty, the only one on campus that's licensed to serve alcohol and consequently the one everyone flocks to in the evenings. It probably doesn't have anything to do with the fact that their university is best reputed for chemistry, but that doesn't stop Baekhyun from crowing about it twice a day anyway. Something about the might of organics, and all that; Taehyung zones out when they're not talking about his difficult academic life.

'Yeah, Soojung said she'd bring the rest,' Baekhyun is saying into his phone as Taehyung stares aimlessly at Seokjin. Seokjin's on his phone too, which isn't anything new, but there's a smile on his face which definitely is.

Yoongi's on his third Irish, and while Taehyung expected his face to meet the wood of the counter any moment after the second one, he's holding up impressively. So is Baekhyun, even though he's already downed a beer and two shots. (It’s not about being drunk, it’s about finals just having ended. Everyone’s ready to fall asleep at the slightest provocation.)

Taehyung, himself, is only nursing an iced tea. Virgin, because he's excited but not that excited.

'I cannot believe how much of a downer you are,' Baekhyun says on cue, finally putting his phone away. 'This is pregaming for your post-birthday, son.'

'Okay,' Taehyung says, straightening up a little and smiling coldly. 'Are you actually aware of how bad mechanics was? Someone uploaded a Der Untergang parody like three hours after the paper.'

'Yes, but now it's over. And it's your post-birthday. And we're leaving for Joonmyun's. And we got you something.'

'Look, just— wait, what?' He actually sits up this time, and all right, fuck it. So he's a kid. Presents are great, any time of the year, and especially if they're for birthdays because then it's a guarantee that it's personalised. (He's still traumatised from the harsh, harsh mint of the fancy Etsy shaving kit that Seokjin's brother got him for Christmas.) 'You got me something?'

'Later,' Baekhyun grins. 'Promise. Will you have a goddamn drink now?'

Taehyung's still lagging, to be honest, but now his grin is coming easier. After all, the sun is going down already, and Joonmyun's house is huge, and when Baekhyun bounds forward to throw his arms around Taehyung, his weight is the same as always. On this side of heavy and enough to make Taehyung laugh no matter how many mechanics finals he's had.

It's then, looking over Baekhyun's shoulder at Yoongi's eyeroll and Seokjin's smile, that the day kicks in. And Taehyung laughs and thumps Baekhyun's back, thinks about what drink he wants. The door opens with a swing and a rush of cold air, and the bartender finally puts some music on, and in under a minute his lazy day turns into an anything could happen first beer of a sunset.

 

6:12:54 PM | JOONMYUN’S MANGA-LIKE REPURPOSED BOARDING HOUSE

 

Like Taehyung said, Joonmyun’s house is basically the best location near campus and not even for his amazing parties. Or well, not only for his parties. (Taehyung might have a major that polite people oooh at and Yoongi describes as out there, literally, but he just has to say that he can only buy that Joonmyun does something as wild as genetic engineering when he sees the parties. The parties, man.) No, it’s actually a nice house by itself and no one slacks on the upkeep (though that might have more to do with Joonmyun’s tyrant of a boyfriend than the guy himself). Garden, backyard, a stretch of woods, the works. A little like those American fraternity houses in the movies, except that it is still very much a boarding house with sliding doors and the occasional stoned guy swearing on the head of his mother and tomb of his father that he saw a ghost on the second floor balcony.

‘Two years,’ Taehyung says when Seokjin kills the ignition. ‘It’s been two years and you still can’t parallel park.’

‘Be quiet,’ Seokjin replies cheerfully. ‘And I’ve been driving for five, by the way.’

‘Oh, that makes it so much better, thanks.’

In the end, Taehyung had a beer and a half (he says half because the other half went right into the footwell when Seokjin backed out of the parking lot. There’s no way Taehyung’s cleaning that up) so he can’t say he’s on his way to three sheets to the wind, but a little past six doesn’t sound like the time to be trashed already. As long as Yoongi’s coffees haven’t put him to sleep and they have a designated driver, it’s all good. It’s not like he expects to make it back out of Joonmyun’s place alive, anyway.

Consequently, the walk up to the front porch is every bit as delightfully nervous as these things always are. Every step is a heightening, the thorough idea that he’s going to make a whole lot of bad decisions tonight and that he won’t mind a single one of them come morning, because that’s what these things are that nervous for. He’s counting out his pockets in his head; keys in the inner zip, cards on the opposite side, phone on hundred percent, hands curling into fists because good times are addictive before he even gets started on them. (Bag on his shoulder, a spare shirt and toothbrush, painkillers. It’s going to be the longest night, and the best one.)

When they step inside, he tunes out Yoongi and Seokjin’s background argument, ready to take the room in. It’s one of his favourite parts of any outing— looking first at all the lights; then listening to whatever’s going on, whether it’s music or chatter or even the drag of chair stacks across the floor; then, thirdly, focusing on the people one by one, seeing who’s there, who isn’t, yet.

It’s one of his favourite parts of any outing, and one that he savours fully. So it takes him a little by surprise when he accidentally skips steps one and two and comes to a skid-stumble halt right on three.

The boy is lifting a table. Taehyung sees it first in the strain of his arms, muscles cut almost unnaturally where he can see them before his rolled-up sleeves take over from the elbow. He’s almost entirely turned away from them, just enough of him visible for Taehyung to know that he doesn’t know the boy. A shock of messy dark hair, black ripped jeans, too-large Timberlands.

The table isn’t small, but it doesn’t look like he’s having any trouble— until he starts moving with it. He’s trying to get it through the door, probably to the living room, but it is a big table and he’s got it tilted up to make the job easier. Can’t see the doorway, probably.

Before Taehyung knows it, he’s dropping his bag to the floor (on Baekhyun’s foot, if the cursing is anything to go by) and hurrying over to the boy, on the other end of the table.

‘Here, let me—’

He doesn’t know if the guy’s eyes are that large or he’s just startled, but whichever it is, the first look Taehyung gets at his face is one that he already knows he won’t forget. Bangs just as messy as the rest of his hair, a piercing in one ear, lips pink and parted, eyes shining in the lights of the living room behind Taehyung. He might’ve been staring at material resistance notes for the past ten days straight, but even that bias doesn’t hold a candle to how— very— cute

Taehyung grabs his end of the table and lowers it a little, walks backwards through the doorway and gets it through.

‘Here you go,’ he says, and grins at the boy too wide because he’s Taehyung and that’s what he does.

‘Thanks,’ the boy replies, still a little startled (but no, his eyes are that big, dark and alert). ‘Uh, right. Thank you.’

‘It’s nothing,’ Taehyung says, just as Baekhyun emerges from behind the boy with the deadliest scowl on his face.

‘Yah, Kim Taehyung,’ he says. ‘Did you pack a fucking anvil in here? You broke my foot. How am I going to dance with Taeyeon if you broke my foot?’

Taehyung looks away from the boy and glares right back at Baekhyun, comes up with some last-minute reply and grabs his bag, but by the time he turns around the boy is already gone.

 

6:46:19 PM | JOONMYUN’S FANTASTIC BACKYARD

 

Considering that Taehyung called him a tyrant a while ago, Kyungsoo is actually quite generous at heart. In the sense that when Joonmyun wants to invite roughly half the campus for barbecue and beer, Kyungsoo never says no. The flip side of it is that even though he’s usually the shortest person in the room, he manages to command the attention of all of the fifty percent population that Joonmyun has invited. Mainly to say things like if you throw up on my carpet, they’re going to find you rolled up in it tomorrow morning and other pleasantries that perfect the party atmosphere.

Steps one and two, that he skipped a while ago, are coming back to him now. Or rather, they came back to him within three minutes of the boy’s cuteness vanishing from his sight (strictly that). The sun is taking the longest time to set, or maybe that’s just him and his twelve hours of post-finals beauty sleep. He can’t complain, though; the rich orange of it coming in through the open doors to Joonmyun’s backyard and resting in flat blocks on the whitewashed walls is like gearing up in monochrome. The shadows are long and reaching everywhere; half the bottles in blue-grey dark, the other half shining into his eyes from capped tip to inverted bottom.

There’s the typical sounds of a bunch of twenty-somethings yelling instructions at each other, ranging from there isn’t enough vodka in this to and hide the cheddar spray, you know what Yixing did last time; the actual scraping of stacks of chairs now that he’s listening for it; faint percussion coming from the laptops, Youtube videos getting switched before they play fully because everyone in the room thinks they’ve got the best damn taste in music. He can hear it all even as he settles down on one of the steps leading to the mostly-dry garden. It’s too early for everyone to be here yet; it’s just the ones that Joonmyun fondly refers to as the nearest and dearest, which usually means the ones who are willing to put up with Kyungsoo’s military drill instructions and climbing on tables to fix the loose contact on one of the speakers. That sort of thing.

Taehyung isn’t required physically when they’ve got kids like Minseok and Amber; he’s more of a moodmaker. Always the first one to call for shots, the one who usually bounds up and claps his hands, yelling for someone to put some real music on. He isn’t oblivious of his nature; God forbid, how would he enjoy it to the fullest if he was? The only thing better than loving the buzz of social interaction is knowing that he loves that buzz, loves talking to everyone, loves making friends.

In retrospect, the boy— at first glance— didn’t really look like the type who’d say hey anyway, so Taehyung isn’t surprised when he’s joined on the back step silently. It’s cold enough that the boy’s put on a jacket too; bright red, Puma logo small and white on the left.

Taehyung doesn’t notice the beers until the boy’s placed one quietly beside him. It’s already opened, foam rising halfway up the long neck, visible through the rich blue glass. He grins and takes it, winces at how cold it feels between his fingers.

‘Hi,’ he says, since the boy won’t. Looks over to his side again.

‘Hi,’ the boy says, and smiles, just a little. Taehyung feels a half-second delay in the beating in his chest, but it’s pretty secondary.

The same orange light falls on him, too, in a spiralled cityscape of rectangles. He’s fairer than Taehyung and his hair is darker, and it’s such a good sight for the sunset. He isn’t looking at Taehyung; his gaze is trained on the ground a few feet away from them, until it slowly moves over to the bare trees and their occasional unlit paper lanterns. Taehyung’s pleasantly surprised; he wouldn’t think solid, practical Kyungsoo to be the type to dress up the flora, but maybe that’s another one of Joonmyun’s romanticisms. He just hopes someone’s sober enough to actually light those up later without burning the place down.

The boy’s holding his beer between both hands, which is honestly more courage than Taehyung has in this weather. He maintains his own two-fingered grip gingerly, looks back at the boy’s face.

‘By the way,’ he says, ‘the name’s Taehyung.’

The thing is, Taehyung loves all this. Loves making friends, talking to people, seeing what it takes to make them laugh. It’s how he befriended Yoongi and Seokjin, how he and Baekhyun decided to simultaneously crash into each other’s lives, yelling and laughing, piss drunk and best friends from the first moment.

It could be called an addiction, maybe. These moments are addictive; there’s something about the atmosphere. The orange on the boy’s face cooling down degree by degree along with the temperature, the kind of hum that is in the air right before a celebration gets started. Taehyung’s twenty now, shit, and he doesn’t have to think about stress for weeks and weeks. The boy isn’t the type to say hey but he isn’t the type to ignore Taehyung either, and it’s something past six; they have a long way to go.

‘Jeongguk,’ the boy replies, and Taehyung smiles.

‘Jeongguk,’ he repeats, trying out the name, and he loves the sound of it.

‘Jeongguk,’ Jeongguk says again.

Taehyung lifts his beer, then, reaches across and tips it towards Jeongguk. He finally looks up and locks eyes with Taehyung again, and even though the last time was just an hour ago, the last time was an hour ago. Trouble has never come so fast, not even though Taehyung’s the type to call it in with open arms. (It’s a flip side. He loves flip sides.)

‘Cheers?’ Taehyung asks, and Jeongguk smiles again. It goes all the way up to his eyes, and Taehyung can’t look away even when their bottles meet, the clink so sharp in the crisp winter air. He opens his mouth, to add what, he doesn’t know—

‘Guys,’ he hears, and turns to the back door immediately. He doesn’t miss Jeongguk’s expression faltering, but then Amber is waving them inside, running her other hand through her cropped blonde cut. ‘Shots! We’re getting started, let’s go.’

Taehyung’s the moodmaker; always the first one to ask for drinks and music and friendship. He hauls himself up and looks down at Jeongguk, holds out a hand.

Jeongguk blinks at it for a second, then takes it, pulls on it, stands up. He’s the same height but slender; looks just a little bit unfairly taller. Taehyung holds onto his hand for decidedly longer than needed, and grins at him.

Then he’s pulling away and skipping inside, already hooting at his friends and picking spirits in his head. He doesn’t look back. Joonmyun’s house is big, but not that big.

 

7:29:40 PM | LIVING ROOM

 

Parties, from Taehyung’s experience, go like this. There’s the pregaming, starting at six in the evening or two in the afternoon depending on how emotionally close to Byun Baekhyun you are. (He definitely got the short end of the stick there; once they walked into We’ve Got Chemistry after a noon lecture to have one beer, which turned into them stumbling out of it at one in the morning, missing a good chunk of their wallets and dignity both.)

Then there’s the shots. As a general rule, anything and everything leading up to the spirits is counted as water or juice (or in Yoongi’s case, breakfast). Pregaming is called that because it’s before. It doesn’t count; no amount of beers or cocktails can be used as excuses if you’re tipsy after the second round of shots. In a way, Taehyung thinks only the best of friends can be that ruthless.

Shots are usually when people actually start trickling in. A good enough number of them sitting around the low tables for a few to be drinking out of cups instead of actual shot glasses, not that anyone minds. (Kyungsoo’s the impossible type to have espresso cups anyway; it’s the same thing.) Everything is fair game, especially on big nights like this one where endings and beginnings all come together into a brilliant mess of excitement. These parties, the ones that have invites through word of mouth embellished with you have to come, you’re not allowed to skip, are the ones where anything goes; where no one says no to even the wildest of suggestions, every idea met with I’ll do it if you will and all right, fuck it.

Whenever Taehyung has his say, they usually start with tequila. And luckily, this is one of those evenings.

Soojung is expertly slicing at her handful of lemons while her boyfriend passes around the salt. When it reaches Taehyung, he makes a show of licking the jut of his thumb the way he always does, and laughs loudly as Yoongi protests in disgust the way he always does. Tradition and inside jokes are an overlapping delight, and his laugh is still on his lips when he shakes the salt over the damp trail on his skin.

There’s a good enough number of people now. Too many familiar faces for Taehyung to focus on each one, when he knows he can just grin and grin at all of them; it’s as easy as that. And he does, even at the ones he doesn’t know; too forward, maybe, but they’ve all got units in their hands and now’s not the time for all of that. Especially not when he looks up and knows that he doesn’t have to focus to know Jeongguk’s looking at him.

He’ll be damned, but he hadn’t expected to have this sort of distraction on such a big night. The last night of the year, under five hours to go before the date changes forever, and here he is, biting his lip to keep his smile in check for none of those reasons.

‘Let’s go, you slow fuckers,’ he says loudly to have something to say, and to the soundtrack of the amused laughter that he always pulls from a crowd, Soojung passes around the slices.

Parties go like this. Someone yells at someone else to put on the music, and if Taehyung has his say, they start with tequila. The shot is bitter down his throat, and the biggest come on, come on. Sometimes there’s something even better at waking him up than the citrus of the lime; like the fleeting, flitting regard of someone across the room.

 

8:00:21 PM | KITCHEN

 

The flip side, of the flip side, of having an event manager like Do Kyungsoo for most of their gatherings is that if things don't go his way, it's immediately visible. Taehyung supposes, then, that it's really good that things almost always go Kyungsoo's way. Drinks where they're supposed to be, volume as high as it's supposed to be and not a notch lower, water and cushions in every crevice of all the different rooms that everyone usually ends up dispersing and stumbling into.

It's also pretty good that the only point where someone seems to have faltered in following instructions is working out perfectly in his advantage. He knows for a hundred percent that all this glorious food was supposed to be brought out to the living room along with the chips and candies at some point, but Chanyeol probably forgot. (When in doubt, blame Chanyeol.) While the end result means no one's going to know about the food until the munchies hit and everyone makes a beeline for the fridge, it also means that Taehyung has all of it to himself.

'Oh.'

Well, maybe not all to himself, he thinks a little ruefully as he turns around to face the doorway, but he's immediately mollified when he sees who it is. Taehyung doesn't mean to be dramatic, but he's pretty sure he'd give up the makeshift sandwich he was just constructing to spend even five minutes of time with this company.

'Hi again,' he says, waves the hand that isn't holding a cheese-covered butter knife because he still has that much dignity intact.

Jeongguk blinks at him for a second, and then smiles, wider than last time. 'Hi again,' he says, lightly. 'Hungry?'

'As much as you,' Taehyung replies, waves him over. The kitchen is more brightly lit than the living room, for obvious reasons. It's probably going to be one of the cleanest spots in the house in a little while from now, too. Simple marble counters and tiled floors, but bright yellow-white lights and an island with what would look like insufficient amounts of food if Taehyung didn't already know for a fact that the fridge is completely loaded. In the bright light with the dim walls of the hallway behind him, Jeongguk looks a little pale, but when he smiles again and makes his way over to the other side of the island, the shadows shift and he looks like he did when Taehyung first saw him a couple of hours ago. Just a kid. (A cute kid.) 'Sandwich?'

'I'll just take some chips, thanks,' Jeongguk says. Reaches out for a pack of Doritos, opens it carefully and reaches inside. Taehyung zones out for just a moment and follows the movement of his hands without thinking; delicate wrists, a few callouses here and there.

'There were chips outside,' he says absently. 'Unless Jongin finished them already.'

'He didn't,' Jeongguk says with a laugh. It's short and shy but immediately sweet, so much like the rest of this boy, Taehyung thinks. 'I just...I mean, it's kind of loud out there.'

Ah, one of those people, then. It might be too wishful and probably a little inappropriate, but Taehyung's first thought is that now he knows where to go looking for Jeongguk at parties. The kitchen, the backyard, the balcony, even the bathroom if all the other spots are taken. The thing is, by now Taehyung recognises those who don't want to come to parties in the first place, and those who really, really do, but get overwhelmed sometimes anyway. And as someone who personally can't get enough of the very noise and laughter and interactions that sometimes make others shut down, Taehyung considers it one of his duties, almost, to make sure that everyone is at ease. That's why he loves seeing what it takes to make someone laugh.

'What makes you think I'm not loud enough to make up for the kids outside?' he says, and Jeongguk looks up, a couple of chips between his fingers, eyes wide and surprised. He stalls for a moment, then laughs again, louder.

Shyness, 0. Taehyung, 1.

'I don't think you can be louder than the guy at the karaoke machine right now,' Jeongguk says after a moment, and Taehyung grins before even registering his sentence because Jeongguk is trying. His eyes are back on the counter and the smile on his face is hesitant, like he doesn't know how to make small talk at all, and it makes Taehyung smile even wider.

'What guy?'

'Oh, there's a grad student? He's kind of...tiny, but pretty lo—'

'Jongdae,' Taehyung says, straightening up and dropping his knife. 'Oh my God, Jongdae's here already?'

In all honesty, it is the promise of Jongdae that convinced Taehyung to put away post-mechanics mortal crises to show up at the party in the first place. With a campus as close-knit as theirs (all science majors with a special vendetta against the med students and a soft spot for the engineering freshmen) rumours cement into urban myths, and certain people become legends. Kim Jongdae is definitely one of them, with his kitten mouth and soaring voice, and even a bird tattoo on his back that only a select few mortals have seen. If Taehyung's the moodmaker, people like Jongdae— and Jonghyun and Minho, when they finally show up— are the very life of it. The ones who plunge right into the action and take it all in their hands, throwing it around like confetti and straw wrappers.

Sure enough, when Taehyung drops his knife and rushes to the doorway to crane his neck towards the living room, Jongdae is in front of the mounted LCD, close enough to the back door that Taehyung fears for his tank-top wearing (fantastic) ass. He's singing something in the way he always does, eyes screwed shut, heaving forward as he belts out let's fly, and the reason he's a legend is because there's no one else that could make an entire room of people feel like rocketeers in five seconds flat.

Parties go like this. There are moodmakers like Taehyung who get things going, then there are fireworks like Jongdae who keep them going. There are hesitant, stumbling, shy people like Jeongguk who want so much to be a part of it all but who need a hand to hold, sometimes.

'So, how do you know Joonmyun?' Taehyung asks once he returns to his sandwich, picking the knife up again, pulling the cheese spread close. 'It's the first time I'm seeing you here.'

'I'm a freshman,' Jeongguk replies. He's still picking out chips only two at a time, polite even in that. (A hand to hold can also mean a couple of shots, so Taehyung's already preparing to acquire some for Jeongguk.) 'I actually have an elective with Jongin and...Jimin, if you know him?'

Taehyung's definitely heard of a Jimin, although he can't bring a face to mind immediately. He's sure he'll cross the guy at some point tonight, so he's not too worried. 'Ah, right. What's your major, then?'

'Computer tech. You?'

'You won't believe me,' Taehyung says. He leans forward and waggles his eyebrows for added obnoxiousness, and breaks into his umpteenth grin of the hour when Jeongguk laughs again, delighted. 'Guess.'

'I don't know, pathology?'

'Try again.'

Jeongguk narrows his eyes a little, and his smile changes. For Taehyung it's the biggest green signal that he could get at this particular point; and sure enough, Jeongguk clears some space on the island and hops onto it, legs swinging a little, still holding onto the orange pack. He looks at Taehyung carefully for a second, then straightens up.

'Organic chemistry,' he says.

Taehyung shakes his head, and laughs when Jeongguk scowls. 'Give up?'

'Never. Don't tell me geology.'

'Nope. Two tries left.'

Outside, there's a sudden surge in the number of people shouting, so Taehyung can only assume that Soojung and Jongin took to the dance floor or someone opened a new bottle of Smirnoff. Already he's itching to get back out there, restless in the relative quiet over here, but he's not alone and he'll make an exception for Jeongguk. It's no fun eating chips alone in a kitchen.

'Physics?' Jeongguk tries.

'Warming up.'

'Thermodynamics.'

Taehyung hops up onto his own counter and takes a large bite of his sandwich, chews it deliberately slow so that Jeongguk knows he's messing with him. The indignation on his face is the so quickly endearing that Taehyung is actually a little alarmed. Hitting it off at a party isn't uncommon; it's the least uncommon thing of all. But it doesn't happen often to him. He's not being conceited, isn't being an ass: the truth is that a lot of people, when they come across someone as talkative as him, take a genuine liking to him quicker than he would warm up to them on his own. It results in a lot of him giving out his number, and somewhere along the way he gave up on trying to find someone whose number he wanted to get, first.

He wouldn't mind getting this number, though, and that's the most pleasant of surprises. He could have a 2 against shyness, then.

'Wrong,' he says, after swallowing. 'Wanna know?'

'Yeah.' Jeongguk has his entire hand inside the pack now, just on this side of childish.

'Rocket science,' Taehyung whispers, and bursts into laughter as Jeongguk makes a funny sound and leans back. 'Told you you wouldn't believe it.'

'Rocket science,' Jeongguk repeats. 'Are you serious? No offence, but you don't—'

'I know,' Taehyung grins. 'It's my favourite part. You know the guy I was with? Bleached hair, face like he's only here because he was tricked into it?'

'Uh, Yoongi, I think?'

'That's right. Now, that man is a botany major. Does he look the type?'

'Holy shit,' Jeongguk breathes, and Taehyung laughs again. 'I mean, I'm sure he sincerely loves plants, but...'

Taehyung laughs harder at that, a case of the giggles he shouldn't be getting after only three sporadic shots and a beer. But he's no stranger to the giddiness in the air, the kind of slightly-hysterical speed with which people gravitate towards each other sometimes, so curious to find out more, and more of everything except the big facts. It's over sandwiches and Doritos that your favourite dog breed comes out before the number of siblings you have; Tarantino yay's or nay's before your hometown. A twenty-first century approximation of intimacy, and the kind of exchange that sends Taehyung spiralling into smiles and laughs every single time, with the music in the background and the thrum of friends.

He takes another bite of his sandwich and chews quicker this time, sees Jeongguk floundering around for something to ask. When he tips over from hesitant to nervous, Taehyung takes the lead again.

'Do you maybe—'

The kitchen door slides open ungracefully, making him wince for its thin wood, before he winces for the back of whoever was just slammed up against its side frame. On second glance it's a guy in a sweater, so at least no one has to worry about splinters. The girl kissing him— he thinks it's Sunyoung but he can't really tell— is only in a tank top, so he hopes they're careful.

Then he looks at the time and lets out a theatrical groan.

'At eight? Already?' he sighs, and Jeongguk laughs even mid-scramble to get off the counter. Taehyung's about to step up to him but his knife falls to the floor. He bends down to recover it, and by the time he straightens up Jeongguk's left the room already.

Taehyung, 1. Shyness, 1. He shakes his head and huffs out a laugh, and makes his way back into the crowd.

 

9:22:01 PM | LIVING ROOM (AGAIN)

 

Parties go like this. There's always a moment of now we're talking.

Taehyung's now we're talking comes in two parts at Joonmyun's phenomenal New Year's Eve party. The first part is when he takes that one shot that sends him over the edge from the impatient annoyance of being only buzzed, to that one wide smile that comes after thunking a shot glass down on the table and looking around. Tipsy. Rocket science isn't an easy major, and even though he uses every spare breath to inform everyone about it and then be affronted when someone says well, why don't you do something else then, the truth is that it's still not enough. Drinks and parties are needed, and in the past two years he's had his fair share of them— and yet this feeling never gets old.

It's almost scientific wonder, in a way. He knows the chemistry of it and it still delights him how swallowing different coloured, different tasting liquids with certain compounds in them can make people go from sober to drunk, make them laugh more or cry more or dance either like they don't care that everyone's eyes could be on them, or like they love that everyone's eyes could be on them. Addiction is too strong a word to describe it; it's not the same way in which he angles for new people to talk to. No, this is just plain old enjoyment.

The first part of now we're talking is him knocking back the perfectly balanced shot of blueberry soju that gives him the kick of the night, and the second part is Jeongguk.

Through the little works of chance that run through the the thump of the percussion in their chests in places like these, when he spins around after taking the shot with Minseok, he comes almost nose-to-nose with Jeongguk and his own alcohol-bright eyes.

'Hi,' he says breathlessly, and Jeongguk grins at him, grins. Teeth and all, eyes so bright, so close. He's sweating, bangs damp with it and swept off impatiently to the side, sweatshirt discarded and a near-translucent white T-shirt clinging to his skin. Taehyung already wants to reach forward and feel it for himself, but he contents himself with looking at Jeongguk's lips instead. 'We meet again.'

'We meet again,' Jeongguk says. His voice is looser, lower, only half as breathless as Taehyung's even though he's the one who's clearly just come in from the dance floor. 'Mister rocket science, right?'

'Right,' Taehyung says. 'Finished your chips?'

'Finished them,' Jeongguk says, then turns briefly when someone else shoulders their way into Taehyung's vision. About their height, broad shoulders, sweating just like Jeongguk and still subconsciously rolling with the music. He hasn't had his now we're talking yet, not like Jeongguk, but it doesn't seem to matter. 'Right, this is—'

'Jimin?' Taehyung guesses.

'His boyfriend, actually,' the boy says with a wide, easy smile. Taehyung takes to him immediately, the unapologetic snapback on his head, his amused eyes, deep voice. 'Hoseok, nice to meet you.'

Hoseok and Jeongguk, as it turns out, were actually on the lookout for Jimin. But after Taehyung convinces them to have a shot each, Hoseok leaves them to continue the search on his own. At this point, it doesn't really matter whether it's deliberate or not, because Taehyung doesn't waste a moment in taking Jeongguk's wrist and leading him back to the dance floor. Just because Joonmyun's house isn't that big doesn't mean that he's going to give up something that lands right in his lap. Chance changes roles on nights like these; a boy in a snapback now, a whispering of dry leaves in the backyard after. The heavy sky with its promise of snow, and the rhythm of the music.

Taehyung, too, has long since shed his coat and scarf. Jeongguk's still-tentative hands on his waist inch past the hem of his shirt and press briefly against the bare skin above the denim edge of his jeans, and it makes Taehyung laugh and tug Jeongguk a little bit closer. Jeongguk comes easily, slides his hands a little lower, thumbs digging into the last ridges of his spine while Taehyung's hook in Jeongguk's belt loops.

'Just a warning,' Taehyung says, but he's too soft (a feat); Jeongguk has to lean all into his space and cock his ear, lips parted in silent question. He smells of the remains of his cologne mixed with the bitter tang of tequila, the possibilities of the night solidified in Taehyung's arms. 'Just a warning, I can move my legs around a little but that's it.'

'Doesn't matter,' Jeongguk replies loudly, just as the track changes. 'You talk, I dance, fair deal.'

You talk, I dance is Jeongguk guiding Taehyung's waist and hands and moving them into the centre of the room and the crowd, where the sound surrounds them from all sides and yet the cold doesn't reach them. It's just as perfect as it's supposed to be; their little pocket of the dance floor where everyone thinks it's just them. Time and consumption has loosened their tongues; Jeongguk has an older brother in the military, he's never been on a rollercoaster, he loves the warm lilac of Taehyung's hair. Shyness, -4. He keeps looking over Jeongguk’s shoulder at everyone else, too. Jongdae on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in his lap, Baekhyun actually having managed to score a dance with Taeyeon and making full use of it to be the greasy fuck he is. Amber supervising an arm-wrestling match with accented commentary.

It's so loud that Taehyung has to constantly keep his lips next to Jeongguk's ear to make his replies. And that temptation is so strong that it's a physical struggle to keep his hands to himself. They're close enough that Taehyung could just put his arms around Jeongguk fully, pull him in until they're chest to chest and can feel each other's voices instead of hearing them. His lips graze against one of Jeongguk's piercings once, and that's a magnet of a moment that nothing else could top.

'Oh my God,' Jeongguk laughs, and Taehyung just needs one more shot to tell him to his face that it's the best laugh he's ever heard. 'Hoseok found Jimin, look.'

And before Taehyung can react, Jeongguk is turning him around and pressing close, back to chest, raising Taehyung's hand for him and pointing to where Hoseok is indeed dancing with another boy. Tank top and a chain, low-slung jeans, untied shoes. Taehyung would focus on them more if Jeongguk wasn't still moving him, rolling his hips up against Taehyung, one hand still on his waist. At least Hoseok and Jimin are outright kissing; blending into the music and lights around them.

Taehyung doesn't know if he wants to pull Jeongguk's arm around his stomach or turn back around, but before he can do either, there's another hand around his wrist.

'Taetae,' Seokjin says, a laugh in his voice that's too high-pitched to be sober. 'Come on, you gotta see this. Yoongi's having a rap battle in the kitchen with that genius from music tech.'

'Namjoon,' Jeongguk says from behind Taehyung, and for a moment Taehyung is torn between the two hands on him. But then Jeongguk is laughing and pushing him gently. 'Go, he's really a genius.'

Jeongguk doesn't follow; stays rooted to the spot, looking at Taehyung with a wide, open smile, chest rising and falling too quick.

 

10:03:45 PM | TOP SECRET FIREPLACE ROOM

 

'Oh my God,' Taehyung says. 'Oh my God, it's a real fireplace.'

'That it is,' Jeongguk says. 'And I would really appreciate if you'd help me get it going.'

('You're unsanitary,' Kyungsoo had said, for the third time because Taehyung was having obvious problems with comprehension. 'And drunk. I said, get a room.'

'I'm not drunk,' Taehyung had replied once he caught onto what Kyungsoo was actually saying. 'And I'm alone and appropriate. What do you want me to get a room for?'

'You've been staring at Jongin's little classmate for the better half of ten minutes,' Kyungsoo said. 'The only time you're not staring is when he's staring at you. I'd rather you made out than do that, honestly.'

'We— uh. Getting a room is...kind of...' Taehyung, 3. Shyness, 4. 'I mean—'

'Oh, don't bother. I'm talking about the fireplace room.')

The fireplace room is another urban myth in their friend group. It's natural that a possibly-haunted repurposed boarding house also comes with Do Not Enter Unless You Wish To Face Joonmyun's Holy Wrath zones. One of those, and possibly the most important one apart from the basement that supposedly houses a mother of a Prince of Tennis shrine, has always been the fireplace room. Forbidden to the point of everyone doubting its existence, tucked away at the end of the ground floor corridor. Taehyung's first response to Kyungsoo handing him the keys was to refuse and say what if Joonmyun finds out.

'I am Joonmyun's more efficient half,' Kyungsoo had said in response. 'You have my I don't give a fuck blanket permission. Please go.'

'Taehyung,' Jeongguk says, now, jolting Taehyung back to the present. 'At least pass me the newspapers.'

'I can't believe it's a real fireplace,' Taehyung says as he reaches for the rolled-up newspapers next to him to send some Jeongguk's way. He thinks he already said it before, the thing about him not believing it's a real fireplace, but he can't be sure so he says it again. 'It's a real fireplace.'

'You said that already,' Jeongguk says, and it's half exasperation, half fondness. Taehyung likes it. Taehyung likes Jeongguk.

'It's a real fireplace.'

'Now you're just doing that.'

'And if I am?'

'Carry on.' Jeongguk manages to get the kindling stacked, then turns to Taehyung with a smile. 'I don't mind.'

The newspapers spark; light breathes into life. Taehyung leans against the front of the couch and extends his legs over the thick carpet, curls a hand around a beer from the six-pack he managed to snuggle in at the last moment. Leans his head on the edge of the couch cushion, looks around lazily at the room.

It's a wooden floor save for the carpet, a couple of windows looking out into the backyard even though all he can see from this angle is the moonlit press of tree branches. A couch and armchairs, more cushions than the two of them will need, a low glass table. The fireplace isn't fancy at all; functional glass and iron, no works.

Crouched in front of it, Jeongguk is bathed in the low gold of the wall lights and the orange sparks of the starting fire. He's a few feet away from Taehyung, concentrating on something that isn't Taehyung, and the sight fills him with this halfway-urgent ache that it definitely shouldn't, not when he's only known Jeongguk for so long.

He's only known Jeongguk for so long; computer tech, Timberlands, a laugh that sends Taehyung's heart scrambling out of his chest. It's not enough. It's not enough.

'Hey,' he says. His voice sounds hoarse even to himself. 'Get over here.'

Jeongguk hums but takes a minute more, and Taehyung empties half his bottle to have something to do. He's opening a new one by the time Jeongguk joins him, sitting cross-legged on the carpet and reaching forward to play with the ends of the scarf Taehyung miraculously recovered from an armrest. The bones of his wrists nudge Taehyung's thigh at points, but Jeongguk continues.

'Hi,' Jeongguk says, this time. His voice even lower than before, or maybe that's just the booze talking. In that one hi that sounds so quiet and removed from what little they can still hear of the party outside, Taehyung feels blanketed, isolated. And in the best of ways; surrounded by people in case they get too lonely, but just removed enough from them that he can reach forward and stroke his thumb over the back of Jeongguk's hand without it being lost to the noise. 'Drunk?'

'Not yet,' Taehyung says. 'Hey, you're beautiful.'

'Not yet, you said,' Jeongguk laughs, but his cheeks are colouring in and it's the best thing Taehyung's ever seen. Jeongguk bats his hand away when he tries to touch, but he's biting his lip to avoid a smile, and hang on, that's the best thing Taehyung's ever seen. 'Still got your watch? How long until the fireworks?'

Taehyung shakes off his shirt sleeve and raises his arm, squints to make sense of all the lines on the dial. 'Uh, two hours. Two hours to go.'

'Any New Year's resolutions?'

'Read up on coding,' Taehyung says immediately, tilts his head and laughs when Jeongguk laughs. 'All right, I don't know. Drink more water? Try a new flavour of ice cream every week.'

'That sounds good,' Jeongguk says. 'I want to start hitting the gym with Jimin.'

'You mean this—' He drops Jeongguk's hand and clasps his arm, tightening his hold and grinning— '—is without the gym? You make me fear for my life, man.'

'I mean, I do get some physical activity in,' Jeongguk says, then squawks indignantly when Taehyung raises his eyebrows. 'Ugh, get your mind out of the gutter, mister rocket science.'

'Okay, but tell me, really,' Taehyung says once their laughter has died down. 'What's the wildest thing you've done?'

Jeongguk finally picks up his beer, takes a swig that looks too slow to Taehyung until he realises that Jeongguk is mimicking what he did in the kitchen earlier. What a little shit, a delightful one. When he puts it down, the twinkle in his eyes as he glances at Taehyung betrays him, but Taehyung is honestly too drunk— and smitten— to care.

'Okay,' Jeongguk says. 'Promise not to laugh.’

‘Promise.’

‘So this summer I went to Lotte World and...'

Parties go like this. Chance changes hands like uncapped bottles; knocks on walls and pulses through subwoofers. Taehyung holds onto what he likes, light and easy. And then sometimes— or just this once— something lands into his lap that has him holding his breath instead.

Jeongguk doesn't stop playing with his scarf while they talk, and at one point when the room gets warm enough, Taehyung unwraps it and lets it drop into Jeongguk's hands. The ache is back; he wants to shift, straddle Jeongguk, smile down at him and press their foreheads together. The room is warm, the fire blazing, and for all that Taehyung is the moodmaker and plays people like string puppets, he wants them to be all by their lonesome until every last stroke to midnight. He doesn't mind, this once.

'You're staring,' Jeongguk says, but out of the two of them he's the drunker one here; too-bright eyes and every exhale a giggle, his hand leaving the scarf and coming to push Taehyung's hair back. 'Hey, tell me more.'

'About what?'

'I don't know. Tell me more.'

So Taehyung does. He talks about the pretty parts of rocket science, he talks about the flip side of rocket science. Yoongi's agenda against mint chocolate chip, Seokjin's culinary excellence, that one time Baekhyun got his foot stuck in a sewer vent because he insisted on wearing his new boots to a concert. Jeongguk laughs and laughs, screwing his eyes shut and scrunching his nose up, tongue poking from between his teeth sometimes.

And Taehyung takes a breath when Jeongguk's voice breaks on an exclamation, takes one last drink of his beer and leans forward, reaches to put a hand on Jeongguk's and ask him without asking.

The moment he curls his fingers around Jeongguk's, the door comes open harshly enough that Taehyung thinks it's really broken this time and Joonmyun is going to murder him. But small mercies; it just rattles uncomfortably for a second before his attention is diverted to who opened it.

'LISTEN,' Baekhyun says, hanging off the doorframe and more drunk than Taehyung has seen him since end of midterms. 'Get your asses out, Jjong and Minho are here, they're playing spin the bottle. Spin the bottle. Jjong and Minho are playing.'

'Aren't you supposed to be hitting on Taeyeon?' Taehyung asks as he brings his hand back to himself, the slightest disappointment curling in the bottom of his throat before it's washed down by amusement. 'Heterosexually?'

Baekhyun stares at him, uncomprehending.

'It's New Year's Eve,' he says, as if that explains everything. 'And it's Jjong and Minho.' That does explain everything.

'Concede,' Taehyung sighs, and wills himself to get up in one go, looks down at Jeongguk, who's still staring at his hands. 'Coming?'

'Yeah,' Jeongguk says softly. 'Let's go.'

 

10:30:17 PM | FIRST FLOOR GUEST BEDROOM

 

If Jongdae is a legend, Kim Jonghyun and Choi Minho are gods. Even more elusive than Jongdae and all the more special for it, they take life of the party to a whole new level that people of Taehyung's age and experience can only dream of reaching someday.

Lore has it that they've been together since their own high school days, which would give them a good ten years of the open relationship they currently have. (Lore also has it that if the power couple takes a liking to you, scoring a threesome isn't all that difficult.) They're frighteningly intelligent and hardworking; if they show up to a party they're essentially here to play with the kids. After all, if sophomore year in rocket science is killing Taehyung's vibe two hundred days of the year, he can't imagine what doing a doctoral degree must be like.

The real beauty of Joonmyun's parties only comes together at around this time. In a way it feels like it's closer to the end than the beginning, but Taehyung knows the truth of it; in a way, the party's only getting started. Put into a timeline of colours, the blues and pinks of the evening are only a third of it; the real magic is in the inky dark blue of it all, lit up by fairy lights and the neon displays of watches and stereos, and even the lanterns that someone actually managed to light up in the backyard. That's the heart of it, the snow starting to come down heavily enough that they’ll be a foot deep in an hour or two.

Joonmyun's parties only come together at around this time. Those who weren't planning to stay have long since left for the other parties they're going to hit. (Taehyung is more of a loyalist when it comes to special occasions; clubs come in multiples but a house party is a singular event from start to finish.) The ones that have stayed will stay to the end, past the point from tipsy to drunk to blackout, past even the point of no return and back to sobriety. It's really those things that bring his kind of youth together, he thinks: all this music blasting from the speakers positioned in the room and reaching even outside, onto the streets so that anyone who passes knows exactly how much they're enjoying themselves (not that they need to show it to others for it to be real); the drinks still going around even though people spill them more and more; the plates of food that someone finally brought out from the kitchen.

There's something about it, a group of friends and not-friends and absolute strangers sitting together in the same place, someone complaining about the heat and someone else snapping at them to take their damn sweater off, then; there is a kind of unquestioned acceptance; a belonging. When everyone is at ease so that Taehyung doesn't have to do anything anymore, when everyone laughs loudly and follows the flow and dances no matter how unfamiliar the song on the speakers is.

Even though he calls it coming together, it isn't, not physically at least. It's a little complicated. There is a pull of instinct that makes the crowd understand when to gather for something special; those things are usually an actual birthday celebration, or the final minutes of a football match, or (for tonight) fireworks. Apart from that, a large house like this only invites everyone to split up, more and more rooms opening, the life leaking into every corner of the place. Spin the bottle or rap battles are fantastic, but not big enough to attract everyone. He can hear people talking and dancing and laughing and kissing everywhere around them even as he wedges into the circle sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Jeongguk could easily have taken the spot opposite him for maximum helpfulness, so Taehyung smiles extra-wide when he doesn't. Chance is a green beer bottle for the moment, but Taehyung has always liked life to be a compromise between timing and his own terms; if they've had so many misses already, he'd rather just wait for midnight and close the distance himself.

'Rules,' Chanyeol says, clapping his hands. 'No tongue, no backing out, and no seconds.'

'Also, I'm allergic to peanuts,' Minho adds. Taehyung smiles at that, watches as Minho shrugs and shakes his hair out of its ponytail before retying it. Beside him, Jonghyun is mouthing he's lying, bursting into laughter when Minho elbows him. 'Seriously, y'all will kill me.'

'Wouldn't dream of it,' Baekhyun says, and Taehyung isn't sober enough to hide his laugh, and thankfully nor is anyone else. Amber even gets in a nice try and a pat on Baekhyun's back, and Taehyung honestly wonders if he'd rather be playing or taking videos.

In the moment is always better, though. There'll be other times.

Parties go like this. Everyone loves everyone, and even if they never meet after this, they always will.

Chanyeol and Amber bump noses thrice before managing to kiss, laughing throughout and shaking their heads. Taeyeon giggles and pecks Baekhyun's forehead, and Baekhyun loses ninety percent of his composure. The remaining ten percent goes down the drain the next time the bottle spins on her; another girl is sitting across this time, and Taeyeon wastes no time in going for the kill with her. The look on Baekhyun’s face then really makes Taehyung reconsider not taking videos. There are always those moments that end up on Snapchat stories; a ten-second montage of Minho kissing Jinri chastely, and someone throwing a screaming Joonmyun into the air, and Jongin and Soojung working the dance floor like the golden couple they are.  

Jonghyun breaks rule one and grabs Jongdae by the back of the neck, angling his head theatrically; Jongdae breaks rule number three and leans back to kiss Jonghyun again. There's both protest and cheer, and Yoongi mockingly wipes at a fake tear— and then the next spin of the bottle lands him as the target with Taehyung on the other end.

'Oh, come on,' Yoongi says, barely masking his horror. 'You guys, he's like my freeloading son. I dye his hair for him.'

'No backing out,' Taehyung says gleefully, but he confirms with his eyes that Yoongi doesn't actually mind before getting up on his knees and leaning forward. Yoongi's glaring at him, but there's a smile on the corners of his mouth anyway, just the beginnings of that unbelievably adorable toothy thing he does once he's down for the count. The tips of his blond hair darkened to brown with sweat, shirt buttons opened a little lower than usual. Taehyung loves seeing this, too, the gradual unraveling of every person in the room. He doesn't have anything to do anymore. 'Let's go, let's go.'

From right beside Yoongi, Jeongguk is staring at him intently. He doesn't look bothered at all; in fact, there's almost a playful kind of curiosity on his face; his smile full of interest. He wants to watch, and Taehyung has never felt so well-liked and popular and in the heart of the moment as much as he feels it right now. All eyes on him, laughs ringing in the air, and the confidence that he's never messed up with people. Moodmaker, the easy love of it all making him break out into the brightest grin of the night, eyes almost closing with the mirth of it. He's drunk. He's drunk, he loves Yoongi, he loves this party, he loves everything. Life is this room, Jeongguk's stare nothing but happy.

It’s not rocket science— rocket science, it’s always so funny when he can crack that joke— to figure out that Jeongguk’s wondering what it would be like to kiss Taehyung. He isn’t wistful about it because he knows it’ll happen, just like Taehyung knows it’ll happen. So Jeongguk stares happily, and Taehyung winks at him before turning back to Yoongi and raising an eyebrow. ‘No backing out.’

Yoongi shakes his head and huffs, but then he's rising too, and the press of his lips to Taehyung's is as quick as he can make it while still having it count. Taehyung laughs and pretends to drag him back for another one, then settles back down and spins the bottle again.

He doesn't pay much attention to who it lands on, because just then there's a hand on Jeongguk's shoulder, and Hoseok is pulling him up, yelling something about dancing. And Taehyung, well, he's well past the point of pretending that he won't follow Jeongguk wherever he goes. So he goes.

 

11:14:54 PM | LIVING ROOM (ONCE MORE)

 

All right, so when Jeongguk said he shared an elective with Jongin, Taehyung had no idea that the elective that Jeongguk was referring to was dance.

He should probably be a little offended, he thinks as he stares blankly at the effortless way in which Jeongguk is moving his hips. If the guy dances like this and Taehyung didn't get the slightest inkling when they were on this floor earlier, it's clear that Jeongguk scaled down his skill to accommodate Taehyung's. Which actually takes him 180 degrees away from being offended to being even more endeared than he thought was physically possible with Jeongguk.

It's choreographed; he's moving in perfect sync with Hoseok and who Taehyung finally recognises as Jimin. Hoseok's in the center, Jeongguk and Jimin on either side of him, and then Jongin and another lanky kid at the end of the formation. An Oh Sehun, he thinks, but he can't be sure. He's drunk and Jeongguk's hot, god damn it. He'd have prepared better if someone would've told him that the black ripped jeans were going to be couple with these moves at some point in the evening, holy shit.

Jeongguk's dancing like he's realised how shy he was being the whole evening— what even happened to Taehyung's tally?— and wants to make up for it all at once. The smirk on his face, the way his eyes narrow, the quirk of his brows when he catches Taehyung's eye; and here Taehyung thought that he couldn't be more gone in five hours. All of it is almost overwhelming— yes, even for him, even for him— the way Jeongguk's T-shirt is completely plastered to his body now, wet creases of fabric across his chest; his unruly hair an absolute riot with how he keeps combing his hands through it; the arch of his back when he does his rolls and moves. The unconscious snap of his fingers, his tongue licking his lips, his—

'Subtlety,' he hears from beside him, and he isn't even startled. 'Subtlety, Taehyung.'

'Please, like I didn't see you making eyes at that rapper.' Taehyung doesn't look away from Jeongguk even as Seokjin snorts and protests; he can't miss a single damn second of this and he hopes that he'll remember it come tomorrow morning, or he'll just have to find out what time of the week this goddamn elective is scheduled at. 'Holy shit. Look at him, Jin. Look at him move.'

'What does he even do? Is he a freshman?'

'Computer tech.' Taehyung takes the glass Seokjin is nudging his arm with, downs whatever the hell is in it. Flat Red Bull and some kind of vodka, that's perfect, perfect. 'Oh my God, I don't know what to do.'

'You could start with not being so obvious.'

'Why?' He turns to Seokjin, then, and catches the look of open confusion on his face. Taehyung's question still stands, though. 'Why?'

What's the point of hiding it when he can feel it so clearly? How often does it happen that a kind of connection thrills through two people that lasts longer than a night's worth of kissing? And Taehyung loves those nights of kissing, he does; every bit of being a part of someone's life is valuable, no matter how close to anonymous, how brief. It's not about that— it's about him, him, Taehyung who smiles and laughs and flirts with everyone, finding someone on whom his breath is stuck like a gasp in his throat.

'He should know, shouldn't he? I wouldn't want him not to know. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine not telling someone you like that you like them? That's terrifying, Jin.'

'Calm down, Romeo,' Seokjin laughs, but he reaches out to ruffle Taehyung's hair. 'Gosh, you're drunk.'

'Tell him, Jin,' Taehyung says. 'What's his name? Heejoon?'

'Namjoon,' he says, quietly now. 'He doesn't know me.'

'Then go say hi.' Taehyung puts the empty glass away without breaking his stare. 'For God's sake, Jin. Say hi.'

Parties go like this. There's a roar from the audience, and they both turn away. Taehyung laughs in delight almost immediately; Jimin's taken his tank top off, all abs and sweat, smirking and thrusting into the air. From somewhere in the crowd he hears a loud hoot that is unmistakably Jonghyun's, and laughs harder, wondering how many people are on the prospective list for tonight's three-way adventures. But then the routine comes to an end and everyone's clapping, and Taehyung doesn't know about Seokjin, but he's on his way.

'Hi,' he says, when he manages to stumble across to where Jeongguk is standing. 'Hey. You have a lot of explaining to do.'

Jeongguk laughs and shrugs, raises his eyebrows innocently. People are filling in around them again; Sunyoung here, Baekhyun there, jostling Taehyung a little and leaning against him. Taehyung automatically secures an arm around Baekhyun's waist; he's definitely drunk beyond hope to have missed what Taehyung and Jeongguk were doing.

'I just wanted to dance with you? Your dancing is cute?' Jeongguk offers.

'Oh, please. But no, really,' Taehyung says, and now he's not afraid to put his free on Jeongguk's shoulder, even wrap it around a little. 'That was amazing. I mean, sometimes I trip over my own feet getting out of bed!'

'All the time,' Baekhyun supplies, and Taehyung pinches his waist gently. 'Ow, you shit. Let me go, I need water.'

'Maybe you could come around sometime,' Jeongguk says as they watch Baekhyun stagger his path to the tables. 'Uh, I mean. Not to watch me code. For dance, I mean. Not to watch me code. That's boring. Coding's boring.'

'I'd watch you code,' Taehyung says. 'Punch those codes right in. Some hacker shit.'

'Some hacker shit,' Jeongguk says, shakes his head, snorts. Taehyung loops his arms around his neck fully, then, and Jeongguk smiles. His own go around Taehyung's waist and they're swaying again, and it's so soon. The fireworks are so soon, his watch so hard and easy to read at the same time now. The music doesn't make much sense anymore, and he's either forgotten the names of all his best friends or there isn't a single stranger left in this room. Or maybe it feels like he's had his fill of making friends for the night because of who he's dancing with.

'I love your laugh,' Jeongguk whispers, and Taehyung shouldn't laugh at that but he does. 'Sorry I'm...sorry I'm kind of—'

'Hey.' He's too drunk to actually make Jeongguk stop moving, so they keep dancing even though he's trying to be serious. 'There's so many kinds of people in the world. We don't all have to be jumping at the chance to talk to strangers. It's okay.'

'It's not only strangers. Sometimes it's...'

Taehyung thinks back to Yoongi griping about you said I could come directly to the party, thinks to Seokjin's quiet he doesn't know me. Yeah, he's a moodmaker; he'll never know the feeling of having a minus score against shyness. It doesn't mean he can't understand.

'And?' he says, and maybe it's too soft in the music, but Jeongguk hears him anyway. 'They're friends, aren't they? They understand.'

Jeongguk relaxes; Taehyung sees it in his eyes. 'Only friends understand? You're awful understanding.'

'I'm special,' Taehyung grins. 'Tonight's special. Anything goes.'

'Anything goes,' Jeongguk repeats. (Softly, but Taehyung hears him anyway.) 'Well, mister understanding, could I take a couple of minutes off to get myself some water?'

'Sure you can.'

A part of him doesn't seem to have registered that they would actually have to separate physically for this to happen, and so he's almost disappointed when Jeongguk pulls away. But then Jeongguk smiles and says five minutes, and Taehyung can't help but believe him even though he knows how these things are. He stays where he is and watches Jeongguk go, and wants to call out and say come back fast, but he relents and bites his tongue.

 

11:45:09 PM | SOMEWHERE

 

He knew it. He knows how these things are, he's always known how these things are, and he still told himself that Jeongguk would be back in five minutes, that neither of them were too drunk to forget in a second, that both of them had their object permanence intact. That Jeongguk wouldn't get lost somewhere on the way to the kitchen, that Taehyung himself wouldn't get distracted by the music and Baekhyun and Yoongi and Seokjin and Soojung and Amber and even Namjoon, that five minutes would be five minutes and most importantly, they'd be together for—

'All right, you useless, lazy wannabe scientists,' Joonmyun hollers over the noise, loud enough for Taehyung to hear even from whatever corner of the hallway he's currently whirling around in, 'get your asses outside! It's almost midnight!'

That— that's exactly what Taehyung didn't want to hear. He's— really, no, if he wishes for it hard enough time is going to be on hold for a while; if— he checks his watch, what are those numbers doing— if fifteen minutes aren't enough to find Jeongguk then there'll be a snooze button on this thing, because he promised Jeongguk two hours ago that the fireworks would be in two hours and now it's been an hour and forty five minutes and the fireworks are in fifteen minutes and Jeongguk said God knows how long ago that he'd be back in five minutes and Taehyung didn't tell him come back fast, and now this giant fucking house has swallowed him up somewhere—

'If you're passed out on the couches and miss the fireworks, it's not my fault, okay?! MOVE!'

Taehyung uses his hand against the wall to push himself off again, curses loudly, pulls out his phone. They could've exchanged numbers, at some point, they have so far to go. He curses again, trips over something, and sets out to look for Jeongguk once more.

 

11:53:23 PM | EVERYWHERE

 

It's not about the fireworks. Well, it is about the fireworks. It's definitely about the fireworks but it's also about the changing date and the fact that Taehyung's birthday was yesterday and he had to write a final instead, and how Jeongguk's laugh sounds after one shot, four shots, five changing songs on the karaoke machine. It's about how Taehyung's afraid they forgot his scarf by the fireplace and someone is going to find it in the morning and laugh at them, it's about how very drunk Taehyung is and how he has never been happier to be who he is, where he is, how he is; it's not about the fireworks, it's about the fireworks, about finding Jeongguk wherever he is because chance smiles in corners like the shy kid at a party and yells from windows like Kim Taehyung on New Year's Eve.

'Jeongguk!'

There's no answer, his voice dying quicker in the flake-filled winter air than he'd expect it to, and he slumps against the cold sill for a second before straightening up, gathering himself. He's got to find him, he's got to find Jeongguk. They managed to stumble into each other every single time when he wasn't even looking; who's going to stop them if he looks?

 

11:58:30 PM | NO IDEA

 

New Year's Eve.

'Taehyung, where the fuck are you?' Baekhyun slurs on the line, and Taehyung doesn't know how to answer that, so he drops his phone back in his pocket.

Stairs are an enemy even on any regular, sober day. Piss drunk, he's afraid for his life. But he has to do it, he has to find— he has to find, he has to find Jeongguk. First floor cleared, no one but those who don't care about the fireworks and the new year, no white shirt, ripped jeans, Timberland, brightest smile Taehyung's ever seen.

Second floor, empty, some vague memory of someone saying something about a ghost on the balcony. Goddamn ghosts, moving quicker through houses than he can, able to see everything.

How did he even get here? How did he even get here in eight hours, just eight hours, eight hours ago— eight hours ago he was asleep in his bed and didn't know anyone by the name of Jeongguk, and here he is now, his head spinning with all the running he's been doing, his breath so cold in his lungs he can't even inhale again, the— where is he— balcony. Balcony, he has to find Jeongguk, because with the fireworks they have to—

He's so high up right now. Second floor balcony, he can see everyone gathering in the backyard with champagne and gloves, and phones ready to call family. All the snow that has gathered, putting them at least ankle-deep if not more, all that white. He can see everyone, but only just. It's catching up to him, the alcohol and exhaustion and the quickly-rising fear. Parties don't go like this, parties don't—

Red.

Maybe it's only because he saw it once before, but he knows he'd recognise the bright red of that jacket anywhere after this. Even on the street, even on strangers' shoulders. Bright red, small white Puma logo on the left, his heart in his throat, ripped jeans, ears ringing, Timberlands, fists clenching, lips parting, messy black hair.

Jeongguk, even from all the way up here, looks like he's looking for Taehyung.

 

11:59:20 PM | DOESN'T MATTER

 

Taehyung barrels right into him, not stopping his momentum even down the steps to the backyard. He runs into Jeongguk so hard that it knocks Jeongguk right back into the snow with a muffled flump of a sound, and all those cold melting crystals are going to seep right into his jeans and Taehyung's trousers and Taehyung can't figure out if he's wearing his coat or not, but it doesn't matter because thank God, Jeongguk was wearing his.

Jeongguk caught him before they fell. Taehyung can feel the strong grip around his elbows, moving quickly over his back as Jeongguk gasps, 'Where were you?!'

'Where were you,' Taehyung says, swallowing to get his throat to work, panting so hard he doesn't think he'll ever be able to breathe properly again. He's still lying over Jeongguk, and they haven't moved to straighten up even though he can hear someone yell almost there, you guys, and he looks down at Jeongguk, at his half-lit face from the lights of the fucking lanterns and whatever is coming from the windows and doors. Oh, God, has Taehyung told him how beautiful he is? He can't remember.

'Where were you?' he says again to Jeongguk. 'I almost wouldn't have made it in time to kiss you!'

'And whose fault is that?' Jeongguk says, and he sounds almost as relieved as Taehyung feels, and Taehyung has never fallen so fast or at all. 'I was right here from the start, I was waiting for you, I—'

Ten. Nine. Eight. He can't tell apart the voices anymore, looks back briefly at the crowd before turning to face Jeongguk again.

'I was looking everywhere,' he says indignantly. 'New Year's Eve, we have to kiss!'

Five. Four. 'I know we do, I don't need to major in rocket science to tell! But you—'

Three. Two. One.

'But I what,' Taehyung says as the distant booms and sparkles start. 'But I was looking for you.'

Jeongguk isn't paying attention to him anymore, though, focusing, concentrated on something that isn't Taehyung. His eyes are pointed to the sky, and his mouth is open, every exhale in mist, and Taehyung wants nothing more than to—

'The fireworks,' Jeongguk says. 'Look what you've done now! The fireworks! The fireworks are—'

Oh, shit.

Taehyung turns as best he can in their position, and damn it, those booms were the fireworks, their fireworks, and now they've gone and, they've gone and ignored chance’s first act of the year.

Except they haven't.

'It's still the first few seconds,' Taehyung says, turns back to Jeongguk quickly, catches the frown of his brows. 'It's still the first minute, it still counts. Just— just—'

 

00:00:00 AM | HERE

 

Parties go like this.

When Taehyung kisses Jeongguk, Jeongguk lets his head fall back into the snow, and Taehyung inhales his gasp of surprise at the cold. Then they're kissing, fully, properly, in time with the calendar and the fireworks and their little chases. Jeongguk tastes like so many things all at once that there isn't anything distinct at all, and Taehyung's too numb to be able to tell anyway. When his eyes close after a moment as he relaxes into the action, Jeongguk's arms feel tighter around him than ever.

The fireworks are still going when Taehyung finds it in himself to pull back. He leans his forehead against Jeongguk's, takes one last peck at his upper lip.

'Hi,' he says, and Jeongguk makes a sound between a sigh and a whimper that Taehyung already knows he'll never make when sober, and cranes his neck up and kisses Taehyung again.

'Hi,' he whispers. 'Again.'

'Again,' Taehyung says. 'I—'

There's a wolf-whistle to end every wolf-whistle Taehyung has ever heard in his life (and he's heard his fair share; Jongdae isn't known as loud for nothing) and he closes his eyes slowly, already trying to make that last stretch to reasonable sobriety (as if) just so that he can personally kill Baekhyun with his bare hands.

'You sure you still need that present?' Baekhyun says. Taehyung doesn't want to open his eyes, so he hopes he's flipping the bird in the right direction. The loud cackle he hears proves him right.

'He left,' Jeongguk says. 'You were saying?'

What was he saying? Sense is leaving him again, clearly only with him for those five minutes he needed to be lucid enough to locate Jeongguk. It's one of those moments of clarity that he knows he won't remember the next morning, those little points in time when you turn around to whoever's sitting beside you and say, without slurring your words or breaking your gaze, everything from I think everyone who looks for love will end up finding it to sometimes I wonder if hedgehogs dream.

He hopes he won't forget this moment of clarity tomorrow, though, even as the daze rushes back quicker than the breaths leaving Jeongguk's beautiful lips.

'I don't know, I'm drunk,' Taehyung says, and kisses him again.

 

2:40:11 AM | JOONMYUN AND KYUNGSOO'S BEDROOM

 

Taehyung is pretty sure that it was noted in his karmic account that he actually took enough of a break from kissing Jeongguk silly to say we really shouldn't be here before resuming, so he doesn't feel the slightest bit of guilt in continuing to kiss Jeongguk silly.

Kyungsoo is a generous soul, there's no denying that. Putting up with all of Joonmyun's parties even though he doesn't drink and probably has an attack every time someone skids on tile. Handing Taehyung the keys to the top secret fireplace room just because he could so easily tell when two people were dying to talk. He's definitely a generous soul, that one, with his oversized sweaters and slacks and curly hair and glasses and a death glare to rival Yoongi's on any day.

But Kyungsoo is definitely not generous enough to endorse Taehyung and Jeongguk making out on his bed, because he has to sleep in it. Taehyung understands this logic thoroughly; that's why he locked the door before Jeongguk pressed him up against it.

He did put on a coat at some point. It's currently pooled on the floor by the bed along with Jeongguk's jacket, and Taehyung wants to make a mental note to ask where his sweatshirt went, but he knows he'll forget anyway so he leaves it alone. Anyway, there are better things to do.

Jeongguk's arms, now that he can feel them at leisure, are every bit as lean as they looked when Taehyung first saw them. And the memory of it makes him giggle into Jeongguk's mouth, enough that they have to pull apart for a second.

'What?' Jeongguk asks, and he sounds so indulgent; Taehyung has never been this plain lucky. 'What is it?'

'Your arms,' Taehyung says. 'That was the first thing I noticed. The table.'

'Oh, right.' Jeongguk laughs, too, then. 'Really, my arms? Are you only in it for these guns?'

'You caught me,' he replies. 'Strictly your physique. You're not really my type, you know.'

'You're not my type either, mister rocket science.'

'I'm going to be an aerospace engineer,' Taehyung says. 'I'm everyone's type, and you know it.'

'Not mine. I like...what's your friend's major? Botany? I like botanists.'

'Oh God, don't bring Yoongi into this,' Taehyung groans, head dropping to Jeongguk's shoulder as his hand curls into one of the soft pillows. 'I'm trying to make out with you here.'

'You zoned out and started talking about my arms.'

'And now I'm done talking about your arms.'

'Good,' Jeongguk says, and Taehyung only sees his grin for a second before he's being rolled over onto his back, Jeongguk above him, dead serious for a too-long moment. 'Then let's get back on topic.'

See, Taehyung said he loves those nights where you grab someone and kiss them and you're simultaneously best friends and decade-old lovers and utter strangers, and come the next morning it's a name in your mouth and a face in your mind, and if someone managed to remember, a number in your phone. A third of those numbers are lost to the air, another third scribbled on receipts and notepad apps, the last third the only one that makes it both ways and ends (starts) in a hi.

Those nights are amazing. There's all kinds of people in the world, ones who talk to strangers and ones who don't, and everyone who comes in between— someone who has to go stand outside every hour, someone who can't stand to be outside at all. Any amount of time he can spend with someone he's known for years or met five minutes ago— it's amazing. New laughs, old tears, all of it.

Moodmaker. Those nights are amazing, which is what makes this one even more amazing. The same pair of arms, the same pair of lips, and he hasn't known either for long enough to be able to tell what it is that makes them so much more than anything else he's ever touched; that's what makes them so much more. Jeongguk's cologne still strong in the most delicate spots of his neck because no one other than Taehyung has touched those yet; the climb of his fingers over the lines of Taehyung's ribs; his shock of hair stark against the sheets when Taehyung pushes him down again— chance is outside this locked room. This is all theirs to explore, two kids in a room, quiet and laughing.

Quiet and laughing and kissing. Jeongguk's dark hair, cold fingers, sweet scent: Taehyung presses his lips to all of them, and then his mouth, too. Kisses the words right out of it, tell me more, tell me more.

 

4:12:20 AM | STILL JOONMYUN AND KYUNGSOO'S BEDROOM

 

'I don't want to sleep with you,' Taehyung blurts.

Parties go like this. There's a point of no return where you're simultaneously too drunk to have any kind of filter between what you think sounds sensible in your head and what you actually end up saying out loud; and sober enough to register the horror of actually saying the stupid thing out loud.

They're lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling. It's warm in here, as warm as in front of the fireplace, even. Just enough light to make shadows on the walls, and enough darkness to leave them to breathe in peace.

Taehyung's little finger is twined around Jeongguk's, but he doesn't think Jeongguk even realises, which works just fine. Just a few moments before Taehyung's magical declaration, they were wondering out loud when Joonmyun would come and flay them for daring to enter his room and make use of his bed, and in the brief lull that followed, he tipped past the point of no return.

'Um,' Jeongguk says. 'I...'

'I mean, I do,' Taehyung says quickly, moving so that his entire hand is covering Jeongguk's. 'I really do, at some point. But not right now, not tonight.'

Jeongguk is silent, but he hasn't taken his hand away, and after a moment Taehyung hears him turning onto his side. And well, Taehyung has never had a minus score against shyness, so he turns too, locks gazes.

'I want you to come home with me,' he says. 'And we could talk, maybe, or we could get changed and sleep because I'm pretty sure your rapper friend spilled half a bottle of tequila on me at some point.'

'Namjoon,' Jeongguk exhales, shakes his head. 'He's a walking disaster.'

'We could get pancakes in the morning if we survive the hangover,' Taehyung says, then swallows, reaches out, curls his hand away just before it reaches Jeongguk's. 'We should be hungover together.'

'Are you literally asking me to be hungover with you?' Jeongguk's eyes are bright with amusement, he can tell even in the late night dark. 'That's romantic.'

'Look,' he says. 'Do you want to come home with me and not sleep together but like, sleep together, but not sleep together—' Oh, God, that's the point of no return right there, in every sense of the phrase.

'Shut up,' Jeongguk says, then. He reaches out and takes the hand Taehyung had drawn away seconds ago. Shyness, 0. Jeongguk, 1. 'Yes. Yes, I do.'

 

4:32:35 AM | ON THE WAY HOME

 

Four in the morning is one of those things— depending on where you are and what you're doing, it can be either four in the morning or still four in the night. Taehyung takes four thirty to be the point of compromise.

January still means winter, winter still means absolute darkness around them as they sneak out of the bedroom and into the mostly-silent living room. (There's still faint music coming from upstairs somewhere, the night owls or early birds waltzing now instead of jumping; exhaustion bringing the best kind of intimacy that their youth can afford.) Baekhyun is out cold on the couch, Taehyung's scarf wrapped clumsily around his neck and one hand trailing over the floor. Seokjin nods at them when they walk past the kitchen; he's packing away the leftovers, along with—

'That shit,' Taehyung breathes, then shakes his head when Jeongguk hums in question. 'Nothing, you'll know soon enough.'

Joonmyun and Kyungsoo are bundled up and trudging through the backyard, picking up stray cans and bottles, probably bickering about something while they're at it, too. The lanterns have gone out, all but one or two, but it looks even more beautiful than before.

It's definitely a big house, after all; and they're only kids. Soojung draping a blanket over Chanyeol's shoulders, Yoongi stretching and picking his way over to the kitchen. In the morning the sunlight will come through the back doors even though Taehyung won't be here to see it, and there'll be hangovers and horrified searches for student ID's and house keys, and Baekhyun will throw a fit when he finds out Yoongi took his car home again. Kyungsoo will roll his eyes if someone actually threw up on the carpet, but pull painkillers out of his pocket the way he always does.

Taehyung grabs his bag from the dining room on the way out, and waits for Jeongguk to relace his shoes before bounding outside right into the cold.

The road is quiet. Taehyung's glad for the perfect distance that his shitty apartment has from Joonmyun's fantastic house, because it's just the length his legs can take after all that dancing and running, and long enough for them to come back to themselves.

Put into a timeline of colours, what follows the gold-studded dark blue of the heart of the celebration is this: that same blue now coated by the morning fog, street lamps clouded by gentle grey, Jeongguk's hand so warm in his that Taehyung wonders for one more time where he was all along.

'Say,' Jeongguk says after a few minutes of them walking in silence. 'At midnight, your friend...'

'Baekhyun?'

'Yes, him. What present was he talking about? He said something about a present.'

'Oh, right,' Taehyung says. 'It was my birthday yesterday! Well, the day before.'

There's a catch and tug on his hand before Jeongguk drops it; he stops short in the middle of the road right in front of Taehyung, looking at him with such offence that Taehyung almost bursts out laughing on principle alone.

'Why didn't you tell me,' Jeongguk says, almost a little too loud, and Taehyung does laugh then.

'What would you have done anyway?' he says, raising his eyebrows.

'I don't know,' Jeongguk replies, frustrated. 'I would've— I would've figured out a way to meet you earlier. So that I could kiss you for your birthday.'

Shyness, -50.

'Get your shit together,' Taehyung says, even though his heart's not in the joke anymore because it's too busy thumping in his wrists; he wants to wrap his arms around Jeongguk in the middle of this road and never let go. 'We couldn't even kiss on time for new year's.'

'Shut up,' Jeongguk laughs. 'That was your fault.'

'Plus,' Taehyung carries on. 'What makes you think I'd accept a birthday kiss? I mean, I've only known you for ten hours.'

Jeongguk's smile freezes at that, and Taehyung panics for a moment. He just said it; he's only known Jeongguk for ten hours, doesn't know what's too much, what's not enough. If running his mouth the way he always does is going to cost him even a minute of laughter with this boy, he's going to—

Then Jeongguk is striding forward, smile slipping off completely. And then he's putting his hand on Taehyung's jaw and kissing him, so long and deliberate and earnest, like he really wants to turn back time as much as Taehyung doesn't want to.

'Yeah, ten hours,' Jeongguk murmurs against his lips. 'But twenty years overdue.'

Shyness, don't even try.

'Shut up,' Taehyung echoes, and his heart is definitely going to be out of commission soon; it can't be in his wrists and his throat and his chest and his eyes all at the same time, especially not if it wants to be in his words. 'Shit, don't tell me you're cheesy like that. Oh my God, I don't even know your last name. Shit. You play Counter Strike, don't you? What have I done.'

'Oh, babe,' Jeongguk grins, looking like fate across Taehyung’s chance, and the road behind him, stretching all the way to— well. 'You don't know the half of it.'