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“If you asked me now who I am, the only answer I could give with any certainty would be my name. For the rest: my loves, my hates, down even to my deepest desires, I can no longer say whether these emotions are my own, or stolen from those I once so desperately wished to be.”

― Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

~ 

He’s not sure when it becomes a thing, or when said thing becomes something the other boys catch onto. Really, it could almost be nothing if you took into consideration the schedule they’d been up against for almost five years now. The much-anticipated three-month break was expected to bring them all crashing down in some way.

Taehyung just never expected it to bring him crashing down so hard.

It’s just that one week, he’s contorting the muscles in his face to keep up with his ever-widening boxed smile, and the next he’s wearing five-day-old clothes and forgetting to wash, forgetting to eat. The basic requirements he needs in order to keep himself afloat like a normal, functioning adult in a regressive society. 

Nevertheless, nobody says anything—too scared to walk on delicate ground; too scared to dance around the idea of something that may not even be a something. After all, the break was a time for them to rejuvenate and seek out the missed opportunities they collected in deep pockets thanks to their less-than-normal lives.  

⋆⋆⋆ 

It’s been a week now and Taehyung hasn’t so much as flirted with the idea of smiling when he’s under no obligation to; when the camera lenses are out of focus and he has no façade to rebuild with finesse. 

Is it worth the secrets I hide behind to keep my truth from hurting you? he writes in the margins of the battered up copy of James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’ he picked up in a tattered used bookstore in Daegu last winter. 

He’s been writing lyrics in margins, trying to brush them off as passing thoughts instead of writing them down in the leather bound journal he keeps aside for all his songwriting ideas. He’s scared to commit such words to paper outside of the old books he reads; he’s scared they’ll become more real, more attached to his person if he writes them down with ink to lined paper.

He reads the same page over and over again—reads between each line and each word, trying to shake off the heaviness that glues him down to the same rickety wooden chair he’s been sat on for four hours now. He puts the pen back down next to an array of colourful highlighters and refocuses his attention on the words in front of him, trying to ignore the way they resonate deeper than he had wanted them to.

He uncaps an orange highlighter and tugs on his bottom lip, his eyes lingering on one particular sentence.

Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore.

Jeongguk enters the room, having just returned from a long session at the gym to make up for the week he spent slouched on the couch playing video games. 

“What you got there?” he asks cautiously, dancing his fingers along Taehyung’s exposed shoulder.

The small gesture lost the comfort and reassurance it once held somewhere during the break thus far. Now, it feels more like a threat.

Taehyung stills from where he had been highlighting the words littered on the yellowed page. If Jeongguk notices the way he tenses at his touch, he doesn’t let it faze him or stop him from drawing circles on the surface of his now slightly lacklustre skin. A stark contrast from his usual honeyed complexion.

It’s like a million tiny prickles and Taehyung screws his eyes shut—watches the millions of tiny speckles of white flash and swirl in perfect unison with the prickling sensation of having Jeongguk’s light fingertips on him.

“It’s nothing,” he huffs, opening his eyes and looking up to find a furrowed brow and eyes like lasers piercing through him. “It’s just some random book I found in a store.” He shrugs and watches the way Jeongguk’s face relaxes, as if he’s admitting defeat for the day because he knows his persistence will push Taehyung further away.

Jeongguk nods furiously, feigning acceptance. “Well,” he starts, withdrawing his hand from Taehyung’s shoulder. “Don’t let me get in the way of you and a good book.”

If Taehyung weren’t so caught up in himself, he’d notice the way Jeongguk’s eyes flash with worry—a worry that’s even starting to tug downwards at his own smiles.

⋆⋆⋆

The summertime, in Taehyung’s feeble admittance, is the worst time of the year to traipse through the Hellish path depression forces you on. All he wants is to pull the dark blanketed sky over his head and block out the light that seeps through the cracks in the blackout curtains he bought last week at three in the morning when the rest of the boys were either fast asleep in the rooms next to his, or halfway across the state staying with family to make up for the time they had off.

It had been one of his many irrational purchases over the last week or two to further indulge the state in which he found himself. A collection of classical literature could be found piled high on the floor despite his near-empty bookshelf, some already read and others put to the side for his braver days—if they were to ever come. They all carried the same themes throughout their yellowed and torn pages. Taehyung was yet to allow himself to understand what that meant for him. He dog-eared the pages of his books out of spite. He had always hated it but felt it gave him some measly control during a time when all he felt was a lack of it, what with the way his heart constantly fought against what he convinced himself to be his truth.

Now, he wasn’t sure what his truth was.

He decorated his room in cheap flowers and plants – a smattering of greens, yellows, oranges and reds thrown into a sad excuse for a vase. He had sat in the same rickety wooden chair he had grown so fond of, watching the flowers and waiting for them to die out from the lack of sunlight. At the time, he wondered if he too would simply die from the lack of sun he was getting. On the fourth day, the flower heads started turning downwards, wilting as their petals descended in what felt like slow motion as he sat there watching in twisted enjoyment. In that moment, he had envied the way they still held onto their beauty – albeit precariously – even in death. He failed to push away the words that tugged and nagged at him.

I wish it were me and not the flowers.

⋆⋆⋆

Most days he finds himself splayed out across his bed sideways, like a starfish basking in the heat of the summer sun. Conversely, he finds that all he has to bask in is his depleting understanding of himself or who he is outside of the persona he’s so carefully crafted around what everyone else expects him to be.

Some days he spends his time alone in the apartment he shares with the boys, unable to find reason to move from the sunken in mattress. On those days, he forgets to eat. Other days, he can feel the other boys hot on his heels, so he potters around more, not wanting to arouse further suspicion. He eats (thanks to Seokjin but much to his own dismay) and forces himself to converse with the others, albeit with strain and disinterest. The words rarely process in his mind. 

He watches the door open and close on the days he’s not holed up in his room. By now he’s mastered the art of being able to distinctly tell who’s coming or going from how long it takes them to jiggle the keys around or how hard they slam the door shut.

⋆⋆⋆

His eyes are screwed shut when he hears the keys jiggling in the lock one late Friday evening. He had spent the day alone, somehow venturing into the main living area despite his body’s protests to sink further into his mattress.

He was supposed to be alone for the weekend while the other boys travelled outside of Seoul to visit their families some more. Jeongguk, Jimin and Yoongi had all left earlier in the morning, long before Taehyung was awake to say his farewells. Not that he would have bothered to, anyway. The night before, Jimin had mentioned that Namjoon would be back within the next couple of days. It had felt more like a warning than a passing comment. 

So far, he was the only one of the boys to have not returned home – the only one to have avoided any sort of contact with family. Not one of them had ignored that fact but they all thought it best not to bring it up.

He wonders whom the jiggling belongs to, listens to the clinks of the keys and keyrings as they make contact. That’s when he figures out who it is.

The door opens and Taehyung can feel the humidity of the night seep through before it’s quickly closed over, softly, as if the dark edges of the room lead the shadow to assume he’s walking into a sleeping household.

Taehyung clears his throat, causing the large shadow to leap and bounce against the walls of the front room.

“You’re back early.” It’s curt and unlike Taehyung. He hates how cold he had become recently.

Jeongguk doesn’t seem to care. “Fuck—” he starts, trying to compose himself, “—you scared me. I thought you were sleeping.”

The shadow moves around furiously, fumbling. The flick of a switch. A brassy light floods every hidden corner of the room, the shadow now a tall, agonising figure in front of him. Taehyung winces and screws his eyes shut before slowly opening them, adjusting to the light before him.

It hurts to be seen in such harsh lighting. It was too much but he couldn’t possibly tell Jeongguk that.

It hurts to look at him.

“Couldn’t sleep,” he states, his eyes roaming the room for shadows—a sense of comfort or something, anything.

“Any reason why?” 

He shakes his head, allowing himself a quick indulgent glance at Jeongguk as he draws closer to where he’s sat, hopping on one leg while he frees himself of his shoe. “Nope.” 

There’s always a reason. There’s always an explanation behind him sleeping too little or too much. He shakes it off for the time being, though. Refuses to acknowledge it right now.

“You mind if I sit?” Jeongguk points to the space next to Taehyung on the couch.

He wants to stretch his legs out wide; wants to make it impossible for anyone but him to sit. 

Instead, he waves his right hand in the direction of the empty spot. “Yeah—no, it’s fine. Sit,” he feigns nonchalance. He drops his hand to his side, watching as it shakes involuntary. “Or whatever.”

Jeongguk sits as close to the other armrest as he can, leaving plenty of space in between. Taehyung’s grateful for the small gesture. He almost understands why he chooses to sit so far away but—

He fights the urge to make the gap smaller. He fights the dull ache spreading in the pit of his stomach. (He fights his heart’s incessant begging to be closer to Jeongguk.)

“You spoke to your parents?”

“Yep.” It’s a lie.

Jeongguk pushes further. Taehyung thinks he’s brave – possibly from the alcohol he can now smell lingering in the air – to be asking such questions when he knows he has been skirting the issue of family for weeks. “And are they coming? To see you, I mean.” 

“They’re busy with work.” Another lie. 

“Huh,” is all he gets in reply.

“I had a video chat with them today.” He’s overcompensating now. The lies keep piling up and—

Well, he may as well paint a pretty and convincing picture while he’s at it. Anything to get Jeongguk off his back. 

Jeongguk’s hand creeps its way over the safe space kept between them. “That’s great, Tae.” He covers Taehyung’s shaking hand with his own and squeezes, reassuringly. Or at least that’s what Taehyung thinks he’s going for. Either way, it doesn’t work.

He feels his cheeks flame red from the touch. The heat from Jeongguk’s hand radiates and it’s suffocating—dizzying.

“Why are you here?” he splutters, instantly regretting his abrasive tone. Fuck, why can’t he just feign happiness for once? He managed to do so with expertise every time the cameras flashed too brightly. That was then and this was now, though. Things had changed. “I mean, why aren’t you at home? You’re supposed to be in Busan.”

Jeongguk hums in reply. “Guess I decided not to go.”

“Huh. Why’s that?” It was a dangerous question to ask, but he didn’t realise that until it was too late.

“Wanted to be here with you—for you. Miss you, I guess.” His voice was small, soft in contrast to the harshness of the light and the thick, suffocating air around them.

He sighs, resolutely ignoring the way Jeongguk’s hand tightens over his own at the confession. “I’m fine, Guk.” I miss you terribly.

“I know,” he huffs out a light, airy laugh. “But I just want to be sure, hyung.”

They’re quiet for a few minutes. Taehyung tugs on his bottom lip too hard and shakes his hand free of Jeongguk’s. He allows himself to meet Jeongguk’s eyes, which in itself is a dangerous thing to do under most circumstances; Taehyung was able to conclude many months ago. There’s something glassy behind them that he refuses to acknowledge or translate.

He hates to think what Jeongguk sees when he’s given permission to look in his eyes.

“I’m going to—” he points in the direction of his room. “—go. I’m going to go to sleep.”

“Oh. Yeah, good idea. It’s almost two so that’s probably for the best.”

Taehyung doesn’t ask what Jeongguk was doing coming home at two in the morning or what he was doing all day to make up for not being sat on a train on his way to Busan. He doesn’t ask why he continuously prioritises him over his own family.

Instead, he pushes through the heavy sinking feeling anchoring him down and drags himself to his room, letting a small “Good night, Guk” fall from his mouth before his bedroom door shuts behind him, leaving Jeongguk with too many questions and no answers.

⋆⋆⋆

He starts seeing a psychiatrist three weeks into the break. Her name is Hyeri and Taehyung almost never meets her eyes despite her never pushing him to talk when he doesn’t want to. She’s a fifty-something-year-old woman with an affinity for fountain pens. She smokes a pack of twenty a day, but he finds he doesn’t mind—is almost grateful for the smoke that filters out. He wonders if she too is looking for a slow, almost subconscious release.

He had no interest in taking up smoking but recently he enjoyed the idea of having something slowly rot his insides. Sadly, it was a cliché he was above.

“This Jeongguk of yours,” she starts one afternoon at the beginning of July when the sun’s hung high in the sky, too hot. Taehyung had asked her to shut the blinds and she obliged, much to his relief.

“He’s not mine,” he interjects.

“Yes, well. Have you spoken to him about any of this?” It’s a simple question, really. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would suffice, but the topic of Jeongguk feels too personal.

“I think he knows something’s going on.” It’s not a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ but it’s all he has right now. It’s all he’s sure of, if Jeongguk’s constant lingering gaze means anything at all.

“So why don’t you use that as your gateway to discuss how you’re feeling about everything? It seems like if there’s anyone you should be seeking comfort and solace in, it’s him.”

He focuses his attention on the reddened crescents scattered along his hands and arms from digging in too deep throughout the day’s session. A distraction of sorts. A slight pain he can deal with.

“Maybe,” he shrugs, getting to his feet as he watches the clock’s hands strike three in the afternoon. 

He doesn’t tell any of the boys about his twice a week visits to his psychiatrist. Luckily, he doesn’t need to when they all hide their excitement as he lies about going out for a walk or for lunch with a friend. It’s safer this way. They smile and he shoots back exaggerated, boxy smiles that stretch too wide and leave him exercising his mouth to ease the pain away. 

He seemed to have everyone fooled bar one.

⋆⋆⋆

His hair grows longer, thicker, sprouting out in all directions.

He wakes up one morning to someone carding long, ring-adorned fingers through his matted hair. He hasn’t washed it in over a week but the owner of the hand doesn’t seem to mind. He pretends to be asleep when the smell of Jeongguk’s salty, sea breeze scent sweeps in, invading his senses.

Jeongguk stays perched on the edge of the bed, playing with his messy mop of hair for over an hour, too enamoured with the way Taehyung’s nose scrunches up like it has a tickle whenever he reaches the hair at the nape of his neck.

He pretends he isn’t aware of the minor detail that is Taehyung being awake the entire time, for the way he’s able to be close to him for the first time in months without him rejecting contact, leaves a dizzying effect on him.

⋆⋆⋆

It’s the middle of July and they’re all teetering on the edge of being drunk, Taehyung included. The others had managed to find time where they were all free of family obligations, thus leading to all seven of them piling up on the two couches. Taehyung found himself sandwiched between the armrest and an already-drunk Jeongguk.

Taehyung would be lying if he said he too wasn’t already feeling the effects of the alcohol. He had just recently been prescribed antidepressants and was warned off alcohol by his psychiatrist. He fought with the idea of not drinking, but he thought better of it (or worse, depending how you look at it), choosing to blend in with the others instead of worsening the already-prying eyes.

Well, maybe this could be my little death, he thinks in passing as he downs the murky concoction handed to him with swaying hands by Jeongguk.

“Mm,” he hums, leaning back into the plush couch, and thus onto Jeongguk’s shoulder.

“You alright there, peaches?” Jeongguk giggles, followed by, “you’re such a lightweight this evening.” His use of the endearment stirs something in the pit of his stomach. It’s something light and feathery for once. The heaviness from the past few months dissipating and making way for the thrill of something easy and warm. It’s a sweet nostalgia – a feeling he hasn’t been allowed to indulge in since he was fresh-faced and bright-eyed about everything. He welcomes the feeling; wants it to settle in and find somewhere comfortable to stay for some time.

And that’s the thing: he wasn’t a lightweight. Far from it. He was very capable of holding his liquor but the drugs messed with his tolerance, had him feeling loose-limbed and numb to the touch after just the one shot from earlier in the evening. 

Taehyung mimics his giggles. “M’great. Like a feather,” he gestures with his free hand, letting it dance and swoosh as if it’s caught in a light breeze. “Light and happy, swishing and swooshing my way through life.”

Jeongguk’s a soft whisper in his ear, his breath too hot on his neck. There’s a lilt to his voice and it doesn’t get past Taehyung for once. “Happy, you say?”

He finds his hand winding around Jeongguk, the pads of his fingers dipping into the younger’s clothed slight waist. The material of his shirt is thin, not leaving much to the imagination. He’s softer now, Taehyung thinks. Still carved perfectly with taut muscles, but with a softer edge. The tips of his fingers burn with the feeling but it could just be the result of the liquor, he muses.

“In this very moment, yeah.”

⋆⋆⋆

Jeongguk hands Taehyung a CD with smudged felt-tip decorating the front a week later. For Sleepless Nights.

“Here, I made you something.”

Taehyung looks at him incredulously. “You made me a mixtape?”

“It’s nothing,” he shrugs, as if he hadn’t spent all of yesterday curating it. “Just a few tracks that make me think—” He shakes his head, shakes away the words sitting on the tip of his tongue.

Taehyung swallows and tightens his grip on the CD, watches the way the other boy balances his weight from one foot to the other with hands shoved deep into his pockets.

He takes a deep breath in and says, “I also covered a song for y—for the mixtape. It’s not my best but I stayed up all night in the studio trying to make it work, so…” before trailing off.

Taehyung shies away; looking down at the smudged writing that is so Jeongguk with smiley faces, wonky stars and crescent moons further decorating the disk. He nods, eyes still zoned in on the scribbles. “I’ll listen to it tonight before bed.” 

Jeongguk backs away in the direction of the door, his hand scratching nervously at the nape of his neck. “I-I better go for my jog now but I hope you like it.”

Finally, Taehyung drags his eyes up, meeting the worry tugging at Jeongguk’s knitted brows. “I already love it,” he beams, much to his own surprise, and to Jeongguk’s if his raised eyebrows and big round eyes are anything to go by. “Thank you, Guk.”

Later that night, when the moon tugs at the edges of the velvet night sky, Taehyung finds an old Walkman CD player tucked in a box of his old stuff from home.

He gets comfortable in bed with his fox blanket snug under his arms for extra security. When he presses play on the CD player, he’s met with soft piano instrumentals and he finds himself humming, both pleased and relaxed. It’s not something he recognises but he already knows he’ll be asking for the name of the song tomorrow so he can download the entire album. 

He finds that he’s also unfamiliar with every other song so far – all of them presumably from American artists and bands although he can’t be totally sure. Either way, he’s relieved with how far along he’s come with his English from all the books he’s been reading, for it allows him the luxury of paying special attention to the lyrics as they lull him into something comfortable and familiar.

One song fades out, making way for another. Soft, almost-whimsy instrumentals trickle in and Taehyung sinks further into the bed, enjoying the way the instrumentals, when melting into each other, make him feel weightless—euphoric and transcendent. The instrumentals fade after a minute or so, quieting down and Taehyung pouts, wondering how something so good can come to such an abrupt ending, before the song makes way for something else – a voice. A voice he could decipher with ease every time. The sound of Jeongguk’s breathy singing voice seeps through the headphones cushioning his ears and his breathing comes to a momentary halt.

May these words be the first to find your ears
The world is brighter than the sun now that you’re here
Though your eyes will need some time to adjust
To the overwhelming light surrounding us

He lets go, steadies his breathing and temporarily stills his mind as it works on overdrive. Listens closely, bottom lip chewed red between the clutches of his teeth. He shuts his eyes and forces himself to see stars with the heels of his hands digging in. The words settle in the hollows of his bones, anchoring him.

I’ll give you everything I have
I’ll teach you everything I know
I promise I’ll do better
I will always hold you close
But I will learn to let you go
I promise I’ll do better
I will soften every edge
I’ll hold the world to its best
And I’ll do better
With every heartbeat I have left
I will defend your every breath
And I’ll do better

His voice is unlike anything he’s ever heard. It’s his signature breathy vocals in all the right places. It’s controlled but not too perfected or polished for it to leave a disconnect between the lyrics and the obvious weight behind them. He’s never heard the original song but he doesn’t have to in order to know that he would choose Jeongguk’s version every time. Would choose Jeongguk every time.

‘Cause you are loved
You are loved more than you know
I hereby pledge all of my days
To prove it so
Though your heart is far too young to realise
The unimaginable light you hold inside

There’s a sense of vulnerability behind his voice as he sings the bridge—a vulnerability otherwise lost in the rest of the song. He doesn’t let his mind drift off into questions of why, instead focusing on the last chorus before the song fizzles out.

He doesn’t get a chance to hear the rest of the mixtape when he’s falling asleep by the end of the next song – another instrumental.

He dreams of a place where the light doesn’t blind him. He dreams of the sea sighing as it meets with the sky one last time, the horizon stilling in front of his eyes. He dreams of two front teeth jutting out, making way for a goofy but honest smile that tugs at his heart. He dreams of strong arms being draped across his body like a heady mix of heavy armour and fine, delicate silk. The juxtaposition causes him to toss and turn in his sleep.

⋆⋆⋆

Taehyung buys more books and continues to dog-ear the pages. The stack gets higher and the recent addition of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde doesn’t go unnoticed by Namjoon – his familiarity with the classics something Taehyung is not grateful for at the time. One afternoon, Namjoon raises an eyebrow in question at Taehyung when he notices the title of the book sprawled out in fancy lettering, loud and hard to miss. Taehyung pretends to be too enveloped in the book to notice.

Later on that evening, he locks his bedroom door and begins lashing at the stack of books across the room. He hauls them in the direction of the plastered walls, lamps, and any clutter he can use as a target. He rips out pages of the books he built secret relationships with and watches the words disappear into his balled up fists. His eyes screw shut as he sinks down, his knees folding, wilting; his body surrounded by aged paper that strewed the ground. His truth in the mouths’ of others, all scattered around him chaotically like a terrible, suffocating reminder. 

Nails dig blunt crescent moons into the surface of his skin. It’s not enough. Blood pierces through and he lets himself enjoy the wicked sensation. He allows himself to sob, an unbroken stream of tears blurring his vision and causing him to hiccup a little breathlessly.

It’s the first time he’s given himself permission to cry over this. It’s the first time he’s acknowledged it as something tangible, real. He notes that, even without this truth, the numbing that continues to brew would still painfully exist. The dark, hollow depths of his melancholy are not a by-product of his truth and he isn’t sure if he’s relieved or terrified at such an admission.

He falls asleep on the floor that night, his limbs neatly tucked in. He appears smaller than usual. Vulnerability splayed out with the words of men no stronger or weaker than him haphazardly spread out around his sleeping body.

⋆⋆⋆

The last week of July brings in a heat wave. Taehyung spends most of it ignoring concerned voicemails and texts from his mother, sitting in lukewarm showers and writing messages on the steamed up glass with his index finger.

On the last day of the month, he stares at the fogged up glass as he lets the stream of water bounce off the soft edges of his body. He eyes the sprawling of the two words he spelled out on the glass with his fingers minutes ago.

I’m gay.

For the first time that week, he doesn’t wipe away at the two words with fury. He doesn’t wipe them away at all. 

⋆⋆⋆

He doesn’t plan to buy a rainbow notebook but he does, with shaking hands as he pays for it in the little stationary shop just down the street from the boys’ apartment. It was an impulse buy – much like all the others had been recently – but it still felt monumental in a small way. He had walked in, looking for new inky pens with fine tips for the sudden inspiration that had almost caused him to topple over that morning, words bouncing around in his head, stringing together to create something that almost felt right. It was then that he had spotted the notebook dotted with rainbows and smiley-faced clouds. He didn’t think twice before picking it up.

When he arrives back at the apartment, he jots down the words that had been waiting patiently at the tips of his fingers all morning. He hums contently as he notes the possible significance of writing such words in a notebook other than his leather bound. A new chapter of sorts; a place for words that aren’t doomed or struck with an inevitable and seemingly never-ending sadness. 

A little victory.

⋆⋆⋆

That’s what the next week becomes: a string of little victories to tuck away into the corners of his mind. He notes the way the tightness in his bones loosens ever so slightly, even if it’s still not enough to call off the search party for his happier self.

Still, he comes to accept that he’ll never be in the same place, mentally or emotionally, as he was when he first started out in Bangtan. He had constantly held onto the hope that he’d fall back into a place of safety, but he was older now. He carried more scars, more worries. He had experienced different shades of loss – be it the loss of a person or a thing he once possessed within himself. Every day, he carried the worries of six other boys on his shoulders and that’s something a younger, more refined Taehyung wouldn’t have ever been capable of doing. He’d had experiences – both good and bad – that would mould him and help him learn and grow as he continues to find his footing in the dark.

It’s a realisation that doesn’t come with ease, but each little victory helps push him closer to the slight chance of catching a glimpse of dawn.

⋆⋆⋆

He takes up painting one day. It’s impulsive and he can’t quite pinpoint why it’s a good idea, but nonetheless, it is and he shrugs off the sniggering every time the boys catch him in the middle of one of his pieces – each one more extravagant in colour than the last. It doesn’t make sense. None of what he paints makes sense. If anything, they’re just markings on paper—lashings of colours he creates on his palette; paint strokes all gloopy and thick once on paper. He thinks it adds texture, definition. Jeongguk agrees while the other boys continue sniggering. He ignores them. It’s exciting and it gives him an outlet, a sense of freedom.

He lets Jeongguk name one of his paintings after days of protests. (“But Taehyung, part of what makes a painting is the name it is given! Please, hyung. Let me name one of them.”) It’s thick in dark reds, violent purples and a black that covers more than 60% of the paper. Jeongguk had picked it out earlier in the day, explaining his reasoning for wanting to name that particular one. (“It’s brooding and full of character. Give me like half an hour and I’ll have a name for it. Promise.”)

Taehyung couldn’t deny him this, not when his face beamed every few minutes as he scribbled down what he assumed to be another possible name.

That’s how the painting, ‘Make This Chaos Count’, ends up hanging up on Jeongguk’s wall later that evening, chicken scratches on the back meant just for him.

For you, Jeongguk.
All my love, a million times over,
Peaches.

⋆⋆⋆

There are two weeks left of summer, which in turn means two weeks of break left. It feels much longer than three months, Taehyung notes during the back end of his afternoon session with his psychiatrist.

“It hasn’t gone by fast for you?” she enquires; a cigarette perched between her painted red lips.

“These past few months have felt excruciating in comparison to the non-stop schedule we face in Bangtan,” he counters. “It’s crazy – I’ve felt suspended in time since the moment the break started. Can it even be considered a break when all I’ve done is wallow in the dark and hate myself?”

“What do you think?”

“I think all of it is bullshit. Groundhog day level bullshit, that’s what.”

She hums in acknowledgement, taking a drag of her cigarette. “And how do you plan to spend the last couple of weeks? Do you think you’ll be up to everything that’s expected of you?”

“I spent the last year managing. I think I’ll do just fine.”

“And the last couple of weeks?” she encourages, coaxing an answer out of him.

“I need to fix some things. Talk to my family, to my hyungs.” It’s something he had tried to ignore for months, but with the break drawing to an end, it was something he had to acknowledge. “I need to talk to him.”

⋆⋆⋆

His psychiatrist's office is situated opposite a large public park and that’s how he found himself bumping into a sweaty, panting Jeongguk who had just finished a ten mile jog around the park’s winding paths. He considered it to be the worst timing possible, falling straight into the strong arms of his now and seemingly eternal downfall.

“I—” he had started, all other words dying in his throat.

Jeongguk had looked at him, then up to the sign above the door – Nim & Won Private Health – and then back down to him.

“Come on, let’s get you home first.”

⋆⋆⋆

Taehyung fiddles with the rings adorning his fingers, feigning interest in anything that means not having to look at Jeongguk.

“So, I know you’ve been going to see someone.”

“What do you mean?” Taehyung asks, ignoring the way his heart thumps against his chest. He plays with the ring Jeongguk had gifted him last year.

“Don’t play dumb, Tae. We’ve all caught on over time. Maybe me more than others, though.”

He laughs incredulously. “Why you more than the others?” 

“Such details are minor and don’t need to be discussed further right now,” he sighs, nudging at Taehyung’s shoulder with his own. “I’m more concerned with what’s going on with you.”

“Nothing’s going on with me,” he lies.

Jeongguk swirls patterns with his index finger into the material separating him from the thin skin of Taehyung’s knee. Taehyung pretends not to notice the pang in his stomach at the touch. It’s then that he realises he can no longer lie to Jeongguk—can no longer lie to any of the people in his life. But with Jeongguk, each lie makes him feel dirty, like he could spend hours scrubbing away for it to make no difference. It hurts to know he’s potentially hurting him when for so long he was the one who would hold him through the nightmares. 

“What do you know about being alone?” I feel so alone right now. It’s not how he wanted to start this; it’s not what he had planned to say but it’s a start, a question—a question he’s not sure there’s a correct answer to. He just hopes Jeongguk is able to understand.

Jeongguk hums, as if mulling it over. “I know it’s a type of loneliness that doesn’t rely on there being a lack of people around you.”

He blinks, snorting despite himself—despite the tone of the conversation. “Huh. That’s certainly an answer.”

“Tae?” he asks, hesitance laced in his tone. Approach with caution. “I need you to look at me when we’re talking.” 

It’s petulant. He feels like a petulant child receiving a scolding.

It’s then that he lifts his gaze, dragging his eyes up to meet with unfamiliarity. He looks small and uncertain – the sight a far cry from the Jeongguk he’s used to seeing. “I don’t want to see the look in your eyes or the expression on your face when—” He cuts himself short. The words don’t flow as well as they do on paper. Not when he has big, round eyes weighing him down with something akin to bright red fear.

Jeongguk pushes him further, still careful not to scare him into shutting down. “When what, Taehyung?”

“—when I tell you how much I wish I could just—” he blurts out, trying to steady his breathing. His hands are shaking, the ring from Jeongguk wedged in the sweaty confines of his balled up fist. He can almost feel the engraving burning through the gentle skin of his palm.

“Just what?” And he’s pushing again. Knows the answer is just on the tip of his tongue. He’s on the brink of some truth for once. 

“Die.”

Jeongguk visibly swallows down a lump. “D-die?”

“I don’t know,” the older boy sighs. His eyes flicker from Jeongguk to the sunflowers placed haphazardly in a glass vase behind him. Jeongguk. The sunflowers. Jeongguk. The sunflowers. The lines blur. His voice shakes when he finally stills, his gaze settling on the pair of eyes that won’t leave him. The yellow of the sunflower momentarily replaces the brown of his eyes. “Sometimes, I guess. Other times I just want the noise to stop.”

“The noise?” he questions, confusion painting his face.

Taehyung feels tight. Can feel his muscles tensing, his jaw threatening to clamp shut. “The noise,” he confirms. “I can’t make you understand what I mean by ‘noise’. It’s just—it’s there and I can’t make it stop. It festers and I let it because I sometimes wonder if maybe this is the punishment I deserve.” He then throws his arms around wildly. Jeongguk’s eyes widen. “All of this madness and sadness. All of the crippling thoughts and the self-hatred I never saw myself becoming a victim of. It’s always sort of been there, lurking in the back of my mind, but I guess I suppressed it enough or ignored its echoes.” There’s a sense of madness in his voice – a chaos that flares up at the flick of the switch. He’s not mad but it feels like madness—insanity.

“You don’t deserve any of this, hyung.” He can feel the thick, heavy layer of sadness in his voice and that’s when all Hell breaks loose.

“Then w-why me? Why does this h-have to happen to m-me when all I’ve ever wanted,” he stutters, trailing off so he can catch what little breath he can hold onto. Jeongguk inches closer, pulling at the long sleeve of his t-shirt and reaching out to wipe it gently across Taehyung’s face, collecting at the well of tears. He brushes the side of his face with the cotton of his sleeve and Taehyung’s eyes flutter at the touch, his eyelashes thick and darkened by the tears. He doesn’t notice the way Jeongguk’s breath gets lodged in his throat at the sight. He does however note the way his sleeved arm wraps around him, his hand taking up temporary residence in the nape of his neck.

“Hey,” his voice is soft and Taehyung can feel the little puffs of air against his neck with how close he is now. Affection floods his eyes and the older boy wishes he could look away. “Take your time, okay? Steady your breathing. The rest of the boys are out for the day so we have time. Don’t force your words if you’re not ready.” He strokes the nape of Taehyung’s neck with his index finger; the sensation heady and addictive – something he could chase for the rest of his life. The thought alone of wanting something so much terrifies him.

“Cry some more if you need to. I’ll wipe away each and every tear and wait until you feel ready to continue talking. Lean on me. Let me be the one.”

“Do you think—is it possible for us to l-lie in bed for a little while?” His voice teeters on the edge of being too quiet, the question hanging heavy in the air. “I just need to feel s-safe just now.”

The other boy nods, getting to his feet and reaching out a hand out for Taehyung to hold onto.

It’s horrible, daunting, yet somewhat liberating, Taehyung thinks. The act of letting yourself be vulnerable. It’s near-seductive with the way it undresses you and takes you to your knees.

Taehyung’s never been one for vulnerability, especially not with Jeongguk. Although he trusted him more than anyone else, he reserved all of his warmth for him. He was constantly struck with an intense need to accommodate Jeongguk’s smile and the immature side he never let slide despite his bloom into adulthood, and that meant being the best version of himself. He never wanted to be anything less for him. So, more often than not, he would let the storms brew in the pit of his stomach and he’d resolutely ignore them in favour of making Jeongguk laugh hideously or gawk at something ridiculous he’d do because the humiliation was always worth the attention he’d receive from the younger boy.

⋆⋆⋆

They’d been tucked under Taehyung’s fox blanket for half an hour already, having exchanged very few words. Jeongguk spent the better half of it inching closer and closer until he eventually hooked a leg over Taehyung’s, his chest pressing into the expanse of the older boy’s back. Taehyung had held onto his breath when he felt an arm wrap around his middle. He had let go when he felt Jeongguk nuzzle into the heat of his neck.

It wasn’t anything new. They were no strangers to cuddling in bed after a long day of performances and fansigns. More often than not, Jeongguk would creep into the older boy’s bed when everyone else was fast asleep. He’d curl himself into the heat of Taehyung and wait for him to be roused from his sleep, telling him to get out, go back to his own bed. He never did tell him to leave. Not now, not ever. He told himself it was because Jeongguk was younger. He had almost convinced himself that he did it purely for the younger boy because he knew he’d be missing his home in Busan. What he didn’t know was that Jeongguk had found home in something—someone else. 

Eventually, it became routine for them. Neither of them spoke about it and that was fine. Taehyung ignored the way his heart stuttered with every shift of a leg or every inhale of Jeongguk’s heady scent on the nights he was too tired to shower. Jeongguk held him closely during the nightmares and never once asked questions. Taehyung was grateful every time.

“You still awake there, peaches?” Jeongguk asks, dragging a finger lazily down Taehyung’s clothed chest, finally stopping at the sliver of exposed skin. He pokes and pinches at it, forever enchanted by the slight weight he still carries on his hips. Not much, but enough for Jeongguk to hold onto reassuringly.

He hums in response, letting his eyes flutter at the familiarity of having Jeongguk so close. “Thank you for this,” he sighs into the ghost of Jeongguk’s lips against his exposed neck. It’s a lot – almost too much, he thinks, but nonetheless he chases it, enjoying the way his face burns crimson with it. “Thank you for not pushing me.”

“Always, Tae.” There’s something more behind the words but he shrugs it off, tucks the thought away for another day.

They fall back into silence and eventually Taehyung can feel the younger boy’s breathing evening out against his skin, his arm tightening around Taehyung as he’s dragged into slumber.

It’s close to evening but Taehyung supposes a nap would be beneficial for the both of them. His eyes become heavy with sleep, the heady scent of lingering sweat from a ten-mile jog tickling at his nose. He shuffles back, further into Jeongguk until he’s too impossibly close – every inch of his body gasping, dizzied at the feeling of complete contact.

“Please be patient with me,” he whispers, his words barely above a breath. 

⋆⋆⋆

They don’t talk about it for the next few days, too caught up in making the most of what was left of the break. The other boys come and go – some staying with family while the others visit friends in less crowded cities. Jeongguk never leaves, always in another room or coming back early from the gym with food for both himself and Taehyung.

Every smile a translation of ‘thank you’; every small touch of the hand a translation of ‘don’t lose patience with me’. Jeongguk understands every time and Taehyung finds himself falling further, and begrudgingly so.

He purposely gives Taehyung space despite his instinct to crowd around him whenever he’s given the chance. Taehyung both loves and hates him for it.

Taehyung continues to paint. He indulges Jeongguk every time by letting him title each finished piece. The names given make less sense each time but Taehyung finds that he doesn’t mind when the younger boy insists on keeping every piece Taehyung isn’t pleased with. Those ones are always his favourite. He doesn’t get any better but Jeongguk still tells him he’s the best in his eyes, gasping in unadulterated amazement every time he watches the way Taehyung’s delicate wrists flick with each stroke of the paint brush. In Jeongguk’s eyes, the true art can be found in the way Taehyung furrows his brow in concentration. It’s found in the way he holds his paint brush all wrong with no finesse.

One day, he paints a rainbow with too much yellow and not enough red. Jeongguk coos with delight as he watches the watercolours melt into each other to create new ones that definitely don’t belong in a rainbow.

Taehyung’s chest tightens with affection when the younger boy hooks his chin over his shoulder, a sing-song barely above a whisper. “Somewhere over the rainbow,” he sings as he watches the colours run down the paper attentively. “Skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true.”

He names the painting ‘this, too, shall pass’ and Taehyung hopes he’s right.

⋆⋆⋆


“Come on, we’re going out.”

“What? No!” Taehyung shouts from the other side of the room, clad in mismatched socks, three-day-old sweatpants that bag a little too much, and a holey t-shirt that scoops below his collarbone. He huffs dejectedly, “I’m—I don’t want to go out. I can’t.” He’s hesitant but he knows there’s no getting out of it. Jeongguk’s been too persistent recently and Taehyung can’t figure out why.

Jeongguk sighs, rolling his eyes. He hops around the front room looking for his left shoe. “Ah! Found it,” he squeals. “And tough because you’re coming!”

They had just over a week left until their three months were up and Jeongguk wasn’t about to let Taehyung spend them wallowing.

“Why do you keep doing this to me?” Taehyung whines half an hour later, his nose scrunched up in disapproval, a pair of big round sunglasses shielding his face from the sun.

“Because,” he shrugs and pouts, linking their arms as they continue walking in circles around the park. “This I can do. Today, tomorrow, the next day. However long it takes. One day you’ll come outside on your own terms without having to be dragged or coaxed out. I will keep doing this until that day comes.”

He does it again the next day and Taehyung puts up less of a fight. Now he understands the ‘why’ behind it all.

⋆⋆⋆

“How do you do it?” he asks a couple of days later with the sun setting in their eyes.

They’re sat on the rooftop of their building. Taehyung’s almost certain they don’t have permission to be up there but Jeongguk had said ‘fuck it’ and dragged him up the flight of stairs without a second thought when he caught sight of the sun slowly making its descent. 

The orange flickers amber in Jeongguk’s eyes and he’s never seen anything like it before. He swallows, looking to Jeongguk for an answer.

“Do what?”

“How do you make me forget?”

Jeongguk turns his attention away from the sky. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I feel so happy right now.” And he is, or at least he’s sure that’s what it is he’s feeling. 

“I’m glad,” he mumbles, his face nuzzling Taehyung’s hair, shy.

“Oh, come on. Don’t play coy now. I’m serious.”

Jeongguk chokes out a laugh, pulls back and watches Taehyung instead of the sunset. “I don’t want you to just feel happy. I want you to be happy.”

“Is there a difference?” he quips. And really, is there a difference? Taehyung wonders if happiness can really be a state of mind or if it’s what you only feel in passing and as something short-lived.

The younger boy shrugs and a hand curls around his own. “I don’t want you to forget about your pain.”

Taehyung stares blankly. “You don’t?”

“I—” he falters. “That’s not what I mean. I don’t want you to forget about your pain because I want it to be gone for good, is what I mean. It shouldn’t have to be something you push to the side for a few hours every day. I don’t want to be a distraction from something that’s hurting you, Tae. You get that, right?” he quizzes, eyes searching for a nod. And there it is. “I want you to tackle this. I know you can tackle this. It shouldn’t ever have to be about forgetting. You know I’ll always be here, but the last thing I want is to numb your pain when you should be feeling it and kicking its head in.”

He teases, making light of the situation and Jeongguk would scowl him for it if he didn’t love him so deeply. “My pain has a head now? A body even?”

He receives an exaggerated eye roll in reply. "You're insufferable, peaches."

Taehyung giggles into his neck, lacing their fingers. “Thank you,” he whispers softly. “I promise to keep trying.” 

They focus their attention back to the view in front of them – the harsh edges of the skyline ignited in oranges, pinks and purples. The sky bathes in it, refusing to let go and Taehyung imagines they’re suspended in time, watching the sunset without an end in sight. He imagines the death of a great artist to result in the light-handed sweeps of a paint brush across the sky; the artist granted permission to paint it up in bright strokes of watercolour.

He wonders if he’ll ever get the chance to paint the sky when he’s gone and—

It’s too heavy a thought for how he feels tonight but it doesn’t stop him from asking what he does.

“Do you think I’m weak for feeling this way?”

“Weak?” Jeongguk asks incredulously. He looks up to find Taehyung worrying on his bottom lip. He sighs wistfully. “I remember when we first started out and I was so young, clueless, and you were—well, you. God,” he laughs in disbelief.

“I remember the strange looks you got from everyone and how you’d shrug them off like they were nothing. I always remember thinking, ‘Wow, this guy is brave’ and being envious because of it. You didn’t let anyone kick you down with his or her comments about how weird you were or how you had to ‘tone it down’ if you wanted to become successful and well liked. At the time, all I wanted was to be liked – to be accepted and to feel normal. You told me I didn’t need either of those things.”

He can feel his heart threatening to burst from its confines with the way his affection for Jeongguk soars higher than anything else. They’re on the rooftop of one of the highest buildings in sight, the sun is setting in front of them in what feels like slow motion, and all he can see is Jeongguk. All he knows in that moment is Jeongguk and how the corners of his mouth quirk in reminiscence. It’s absolute torture. 

Torture is watching the sky cast warm orange light onto the high points of your best friend’s face. It’s having the privilege to watch the way the shadows shift from the side of his nose to the pout of his bottom lip. Torture is falling in love with your best friend as the sunset tries to fight for dominance even though it knows it doesn’t come close to comparing.

“You helped me hold onto my quirks – whether it be the quirks pertaining to my personality or my looks. Sure, I could have made it this far without you, but I don’t think I’d be happy with who I am if not for your fearlessness and how you made me feel it too.”

“Plus,” he adds, tone now playful. “I think without you I’d probably have a smaller, less rounded nose, smaller front teeth and maybe a few less meme-worthy faces in me. Don’t you think?”

Taehyung is almost rendered speechless, save for the few words he whispers softly in between breathy giggles. “I love your quirks; your nose and your bunny teeth. I love it all.” I love you.

Jeongguk smiles, scrunches his nose and visibly shudders when Taehyung shifts closer, their fingers still laced.

“My quirks aside,” he starts with a smirk, before shifting to fully face the other boy, his expression now turned serious. “I’ve always believed that if there’s anything you can do, it’s fight off whatever life throws at you. There’s nothing wrong with weakness, Tae. As cheesy as it sounds, weakness is not the absence of strength. And honestly, without it, you wouldn’t be human.”

With his free hand, Taehyung clutches his chest, ever the dramatic. “So you do think I’m weak?” he jokes.

Jeongguk jabs his side with the index finger of his free hand and watches fondly as Taehyung squirms under the touch. He then attempts to throw a stern look in the older boy’s direction but soon finds himself breaking out of character, snickering and shaking his head in amusement because this is the Taehyung he knows. “I think you need to stop being so strong and start accepting that you’re only human.”

⋆⋆⋆

Jeongguk walks with him to his psychiatrist’s office the next day after an hour of incessant begging.

“Tell me again, why do you insist on walking me here?” he mumbles.

Jeongguk shoves him and grins. “Because,” he huffs. “I can go for a jog in the park while you’re in there, and then after, we can go to that new place down the road for some Korean barbecue.”

“And that’s the only reason you insist on walking me to my appointment?” Taehyung eyes him suspiciously before adding, “Hand in hand, might I point out.”

If Jeongguk holds onto his hand tighter at that, Taehyung feigns ignorance while his insides flutter without his permission.

⋆⋆⋆

Later that day, Taehyung takes down his blackout curtains and replaces them with the voile ones he had bought on the way back from lunch. They dance in time with the light breeze and he watches as the late afternoon sun filters through hazily, bouncing off the walls of his room.

As well as the curtains, Jeongguk excitedly helped pick out some smaller plants he wouldn’t have to worry about killing. They had ambled back to the apartment with potted succulents and bamboo Taehyung wasn’t sure what to do with.

As of now, they sit scattered on his windowsill and bookcase, and Taehyung doesn’t hate them as much as he thought he would. He simply rolls his eyes when Jeongguk comes waltzing in half an hour later, notepad in hand, rattling off potential names for his new green friends.

⋆⋆⋆ 

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Taehyung sings, his eyes wild with excitement. “This is crazy. Isn’t it crazy?”

“And what exactly is it you’re doing again?” the younger boy quizzes him, still confused as to why they were standing on the rooftop clad in only their pyjamas. He doesn’t try to hide the amusement or fondness that sits heavy in his eyes and in the lilt to his voice. Taehyung squeals, spinning around with his leather bound journal clutched to his chest and Jeongguk just watches in amazement. 

“You’ll see.” His tone is menacing and the wiggle of his brow doesn’t help at all – not when Taehyung starts ripping pages from his journal to throw over the very edge of the building.

“Wha—”

Taehyung squeals as the torn out pages of paper jotted with words he no longer recognises as his own, descend to the ground. He watches with his mouth agape until they turn into specks of nothing.

Taehyung spins around and walks back to safer grounds to face a bewildered Jeongguk. He doesn’t give him time to question his actions, quickly grabbing him by both hands and spinning him in circles, jumping up and down while the younger boy just spins in confusion.

“This!” he sings wildly and with newfound vigor. “This is my catharsis, Jeongguk!” It comes out a little laboured, both boys unable to catch their breath when Taehyung shows no signs of cutting the spinning short.

Jeongguk shouts back, “I-I don’t even know what cath—whatever that is—means!”

Taehyung stops the spinning, grabbing onto Jeongguk’s shoulders for stability. He pants and laughs breathlessly as he tries to steady his breathing. “My catharsis. It’s—” 

“You’ve been reading too many of those English books again, huh?” the younger boy teases, manoeuvring and rearranging limbs until they’re both spread out like starfish on the ground, still searching for breath.

“I finally found my freedom, my ‘release’ as it were. S’all I mean, you illiterate child.”

There’s lightness in Taehyung’s chest as he lets it all sink in. He hasn’t won. He isn’t better. He’s still healing, or at least finding ways to enjoy the moments of healing. There’s still too much uncertainty—too many things he’s unsure or scared of. He has too many questions and only some of the answers, but he knows he’ll be able to pick himself up tomorrow and find new or lost but recently found titbits of happiness to tide him over until he isn’t as haunted or paralysed by it all.

Jeongguk guffaws at the insult. “Idiot. Can’t believe you ripped up an entire journal of songs. You’re batshit, you know that?”

“Yeah,” he says smugly. “Felt amazing, though.”

⋆⋆⋆ 

At some point during the night, Jeongguk crawls into Taehyung’s bed and curls into the heat radiating from the older boy. He lost his shirt somewhere between leaving his own bed and entering Taehyung’s and suddenly he regrets it. His skin burns against the naked expanse of Taehyung’s back.

“You up?” he whispers into the dead of the night.

“What were you expecting to happen if I wasn’t?” he says in response, groggily. And of course he’s awake. He turns to face the other boy, the outlines of the source of all his affections barely alit. “Like, how am I, while asleep, supposed to answer that question?”

“Heeey,” Jeongguk says, mock offense colouring his quiet voice. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet.” He’s pouting and it’s too dark for Taehyung to make out clearly, his eyes only now steadily adjust to the darkness of the room. 

He can feel the younger boy’s heartbeat thumping, familiar and constant, as he tucks his head into his chest, his muscles tightening under the touch. 

“M’just teasing you,” he sighs sleepily, his hand falling lazily onto Jeongguk’s abdomen. 

“How come you’re awake so late?” he asks, voice muffled as he brings his lips to press gently against the top of Taehyung’s forehead.

“Mm,” he hums in reply, enjoying the blush that tickles his cheeks and the tips of his ears. “Just thinking too much.”

“Wondering what it would be like if things were different,” he adds, thoughtful.

“Different in what way?” he asks, fingers tangling in the ends of Taehyung’s now-too-long hair. He voices this and Taehyung scowls.

“S’not too long. It’ll be cut and coloured soon enough anyway,” he sighs into the gentle scrape of Jeongguk’s fingernails against his scalp. “And different in the sense that—,” he begins, searching for the right words in the late night. “Sometimes I wonder if people would still like me if I wasn’t ‘V’ of Bangtan.”

“That’s silly. Of course people would still like you. You’re you,’ he tuts in feigned annoyance.

“That’s it, though, isn’t it? They don’t like me because I’m me. People like me because of what I represent.”

“Maybe,” Jeongguk muses. “But those are the fans who only see you as V. There are so many other fans that see you as Taehyung – the boy who just loves to be coddled and listened to. The boy who reads too many pretentious books but is so low-key about it. The boy overly critical of himself when there’s no reason for him to be.”

Taehyung listens to every word. He knows what he’s saying is true, but too often, he finds himself doubting everything because it’s easier to further play into a persona and have people see you as only that. Eventually, you fall victim to this idea that all you are is what’s crafted and perfected on the surface. You lose sight of your true identity in the midst of it all – in the midst of constantly having other people tell you who you are. And you nod though it’s not true. 

“The fans are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for. They know we’re all multifaceted creatures with personas we have to keep to for the sake of business,” he argues.

He nuzzles further into the younger boy’s chest, finding purchase when his hand grips his side to keep him afloat. The room goes quiet for a few minutes; the words previously said still replaying in his mind.

“Do you think we would have found each other,” he whispers into his skin. “Without all of this, I mean. If neither of us were in Bangtan, do you think there’s a possibility that we still could have met?” Because I don’t think I could stand to not know you.

“I think,” he mumbles, clearing his throat. “I think in every universe, I’d find you. Whether it took a day or fifty years, I would find you eventually.”

“With the help of the stars to guide you, right?”

He nods, chuckling softly. “Exactly. Every path leads to you, after all.”

“And you’d like me? Even in another universe?” he asks, looking for reassurance. Always looking for reassurance from the other boy.

“I’d love you in this lifetime and every other lifetime,” he confirms, voice soft with affection and unyielding promise.

His voice breaks when he next speaks, his heart lodged somewhere in his throat. “I hope you’re right.”

“Aren’t I always, peaches?”

He twists the younger boy’s nipple, eliciting a small yelp. “Shut up and hold me.”

⋆⋆⋆ 

He receives a doctor’s note from his psychiatrist the next day, writing him off for the next month. He had tried to argue it but when he carefully informed the other boys that morning about his recent visits to a psychiatrist, they had all insisted that he take a further month off.

None of them were surprised at the admission, seemingly already aware that something wasn’t right. He didn’t go into great detail about the whys, but the boys knew better than to pry, and they sensed that Taehyung would come to them when he was ready.

Luckily for Taehyung, they weren’t set for a comeback until Christmastime, and so he was able to take that month off without too much worry. He would miss out on some of the writing process but it was a sacrifice they all begged for him to make.

⋆⋆⋆

Two weeks into his extended time off, he decides it’s time to tell the boys. He had spent the better part of a week mulling it over, weighing out the pros and cons of it all. He simply concluded that hiding such an integral part of who he is was an injustice to him and to the other boys. They deserved the truth and he deserved peace of mind.

He picks a day when Jeongguk’s still holed up in the studio working on a solo cover of All I Want for Christmas Is You – albeit a little early – as a gift for the fans, choosing to tell Jeongguk separately. 

As of now, the five remaining boys and Taehyung were gathered in the front room – Taehyung kneeling with his elbows resting on the coffee table that sat in front of the two couches. He was vibrating with nerves even though he knew that, realistically, he had nothing to worry about. He knew that each of them would be accepting. He knew they wouldn’t judge him or think any less of him as a person. He didn’t have to worry about rejection because it wasn’t like this was the first time any of them had done something like this. Last year, Yoongi had let it slip that he was pansexual and no one batted an eyelash at the time. He was hoping for the same kind of reaction.

Truthfully, most of his worries pertained to telling Jeongguk because he feared the confession would either a) result in him losing that closeness they had built up over the years or b) cause him to let another confession slip from the confines of his mouth. He had the rest of the day to worry about that, though. For now, he just had to concentrate on telling the five boys sat in front of him with curiosity.

“So, as you know, I wanted to tell you something,” he starts, fidgeting with the wick of a candle placed in the centre of the coffee table. “I need you all to know that this is really hard for me and I don’t want any of you coming away from this with a different opinion of me. I understand if you need some time to adjust because I know it’s a lot to take in but I’m tired of lying and I—”

“Taehyung, we know you’re gay,” says Yoongi softly. The rest of the boys hum in unison.

He splutters a, “You—I, uh—what?” in response and the boys all tut, getting to their feet and circling the table to gather around him but this time in closer proximity.

“I’m sorry, did Yoongi here take away your moment?” Jimin laughs into the younger boy’s neck before bringing him in for a hug. The other four boys crowd around, enveloping him further until all he can smell is a cocktail of scents.

“How did you guys know?”

“Because we listen to what you don’t say,” Namjoon informs. “We’re your family. It was only a matter of time before we figured it out for ourselves. We just wanted to wait for you to come to us but clearly Yoongi had other plans,” he says pointedly. 

Twenty minutes later, they’re reminiscing and laughing over shared stories of how they all came to suspect their friend was gay.

(“You really didn’t make it that obvious,” Seokjin had said.

At that, Hoseok had rolled his eyes and gawked in disagreement. “What, are you kidding me? He was dropping hints before he even knew that he was dropping hints.”)

They soon settle down and something in the atmosphere shifts. “Taehyung,” Yoongi begins quietly. “I don’t want to make assumptions here but am I right in thinking you deliberately didn’t wait to tell us this later on because you didn’t want Jeongguk here?”

Taehyung stiffens at the enquiry, looking down into his own lap at the ring adorning his finger. “I—I’m going to tell him tonight. Alone. I wanted to tell him privately so I could gauge his reaction in case—”

“In case he feels the same way about you as you do him?”

Taehyung huffs out a laugh and looks up to answer but instead finds himself nodding before he can even think about it. “That too, I guess.”

“It’s not my place to say anything,” Yoongi adds. “But I think it’s important that you tell him how you feel.”

⋆⋆⋆ 

Four hours and two glasses of wine later, he finds himself knocking on the door to Jeongguk’s shared room with Yoongi. The remaining boys, despite Taehyung’s protests, had gone out for the evening to give Taehyung space in order to tell Jeongguk. As grateful as he was, being alone in the apartment with him made it that more daunting. He had no one he could fall back onto if it all somehow turned upside down. There was no going back or making up excuses to tell him another day. He had to get this over and done with so he could move on and hopefully keep his best friend in the process.

Jeongguk opens the door, wide-eyed and smiling. He’s panting a little, swaying his hips from side to side to the music blaring through his laptop’s speakers. “Why are you knocking? Come in! Dance with me!" 

Upon entering the room, Taehyung becomes aware of two things. The first thing being that it seems he’s not the only one who has had a glass or two. And the second and last thing being that he’s completely out of his depth. Jeongguk’s hair is swept back; his round clear glasses perched on his round nose. It’s both intoxicating and nauseating. 

“How much have you had to drink?” he enquires, before being dragged to the centre of the room by Jeongguk. 

“As much as you,” the younger boy quips back. He spins Taehyung around and then bumps their chests together, giggling.

“So two glasses?” he breathes out.

“Give or take, yeah.” Perfect. “Just kidding. I’m just jacked up on the red bull from earlier. No alcohol for me.”

Taehyung exhales deeply. As scared of his confession as he was, the thought of telling a drunken Jeongguk was not an appealing one. He wanted—needed Jeongguk to be fully aware of everything the next day. He didn’t want to wake up the following morning to find out his best friend either forgot all about the confession or was too drunk the previous night to react truthfully.

He diverts his attention to the music playing through Jeongguk’s laptop. “What’s the theme of the playlist this week then?”

“I’ll tell you if you dance with me,” he says almost menacingly.

“Jeongguk, we dance every day. Can we just… not?”

“Yes, but we don’t slow dance,” he points out.

“Jeongguk, I am not slow dancing with you," he snorts. Moving along to choreographed dances, he could do. Slow dancing, however, wasn’t something he was familiar with.

He pouts and it’s dangerous the way it makes Taehyung’s stomach swarm with affection. “What? But you have to! I can’t slow dance by myself.”

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to learn,” he quips in a playful tone. 

“Slow dancing involves two people. We are two people so therefore you are dancing with me.” Taehyung has always had a hard time saying no to Jeongguk, but he doesn’t know the first thing about slow dancing or what it entails. All he knows from the movies he’s seen is that it almost always ends in kissing but this was real life and not a movie.

“Ugh, Taehyung! Please,” he continues, sulking.

He replies with a curt, “Find yourself another dance partner because no,” which results in Jeongguk pouting rather pathetically. 

“But I only want to dance with you, fool.”

That’s about the second Taehyung realises he’s once again unable to deny Jeongguk of anything he wants. 

“Fine! But if at any point you step on my toes—” He’s cut off by the feeling of Jeongguk’s other hand resting on the small of his back. “W-what are you doing?” His voice shakes with want, a feverish need to press further into the younger boy.

“I’m showing you how to slow dance,” he whispers, his breath warm on the shell of his ear. Jeongguk pulls him closer until they’re pressed flush against each other.

“Put your hand on my shoulder, please?”

Taehyung obeys, resting his free, shaking hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder. He leans in, catching the same heady scent as always, and rests his head in the curve of the younger boy’s neck.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he laughs bashfully. 

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk whispers, his voice soothing. “Me neither. Just sway with me and shuffle your feet a little.”

They stay like that while the song filters out, Taehyung revelling in the heat of Jeongguk’s skin flushed against his own. It’s gentle, the motions of it. They sway back and forth, fumbling a little out of sheer lack of understanding of how it works. It’s new and holds a sense of innocence.

“The playlist,” Jeongguk starts, leaning further into the brush of Taehyung’s hair, “—is for you.”

“Another one?” His heart swells at the admission. He cushions his cheek against the broad expanse of the younger boy’s shoulder, sighing at the feeling of the thin cotton brushed up against his skin.

“Yeah, except this one’s more…” he trails off, picking out his words with care. “It speaks more than the last one.”

A song Taehyung finally recognises fills the room with the familiar and infamous sound of a guiro. “Oh my god,” he breathes out. “I love this song. I haven’t heard it in so long.”

Jeongguk hums in agreement, softly singing along as the words trickle in. “When the night has come and the land is dark,” he sing-songs with his mouth a ghost’s whisper against Taehyung’s ear. “And the moon is the only light we’ll see.” 

He continues humming along, letting the words of the song speak for him. His fingers trail up Taehyung’s broad back, stroking at the nape of his neck as the famous chorus seeps in.

“So darling, darling,” he whispers softly, ghostly. His voice falters and Taehyung holds his breath as their swaying slowly turns into the two of them just embracing each other with background noise. “Stand by me. Oh, stand by me…” 

Taehyung realises that it’s now or never. The younger boy has softened since before, no longer hyped up on red bull. His hand remains tucked in the nape of his neck as Ben E. King’s voice fades into nothing, and then all there is left is the sound of Taehyung’s heavy heart thumping through the confines of his chest. He’s too caught up in the rapid pace of his own heart to feel the way Jeongguk’s stammers in quick succession. 

Taehyung’s the one to break away and the first to speak up. He remains holding onto Jeongguk’s hand, their fingers having found comfort in how well they lace together. “Jeongguk, I need to tell you something.”

Jeongguk’s eyes fill with what Taehyung thinks is wonder, curiosity. “Oh,” he says on an exhale of breath. “I need to tell you something, too, hyung.”

“Oh. Do you want to—?

“No!” he blurts, his eyes softening the gaze he has on Taehyung. “You go first. I can wait a little while longer.”

The room starts to become too hot. He feels self-conscious of how he looks in the moment, scared that Jeongguk can read every word he’s left unsaid for months, years even. He wonders if Jeongguk already knows what’s coming. It would certainly soften the blow if he had any inkling of what’s to come.

“Before I say anything, I just need you to know how much I value you as my best friend.”

Jeongguk eyes him suspiciously before a shit-eating grin washes over his face. “You want me to get rid of a dead body for you, don’t you?”

“Guk, please. I’m being serious right now,” he sighs. It would be so easy for him to make something up on the spot. He could easily take the conversation in a different, safer direction, but if there’s anything these past few months have taught him, it’s that he has to face the truths he’s held in for so long. He has to face them head-on and worry about the consequences later.

Jeongguk nods and reaches forward to stroke the hair out of Taehyung’s face. He trails his index and middle fingers down his cheek, his neck, his chest—and then he brings Taehyung’s other hand into his before gently guiding it up to meet with his mouth. His lips part slightly as they press against the delicate skin of Taehyung’s hand. It’s fleeting – the sensation gone before Taehyung has time to process the way his hand shakes in Jeongguk’s tight hold.

“I—” he stutters, the words lodging in his throat.

Jeongguk lowers his gaze, focusing on the way their hands dangerously shake. “Please put me out of my misery so I can figure out a way to move on, hyung.”

“What?” Taehyung’s eyes widen in surprise. “What do you mean by that?”

Jeongguk, with much force, drags his gaze back up to find Taehyung all doe-eyed. “Tae, I like you as more than just my best friend.”

“Y-you do?” he hiccups, eyes impossibly large. Something unrecognisable twists at Taehyung’s insides. He tosses the words around in his mind, analysing them. Of all the scenarios he had played on loop in his mind, this was the one he never allowed himself to indulge in. It was something so out of reach that even the thought of it was one he never allowed himself until now.

“I love you—have loved you for quite some time now. I’m so sorry, hyung. I promise I’ll leave you alone if that’s what you ne—”

Taehyung crashing their lips together with little finesse cuts him off. Jeongguk’s lips are gentle against his own at first, still slightly parted after being cut mid-sentence. Taehyung giggles into it, ignoring the heat pooling at the pit of his stomach. A hand cups his jaw, pulling him closer. A hot flick of Jeongguk’s tongue at the seam of his lips cuts off his soft giggles; his mouth opening and letting go of a breathy moan as Jeongguk bites sharply on his pillowy lower lip. He pulls away to catch his breath and steady his footing. His legs feel like they could give way at any moment with his knees wilting.

The younger boy steadies him by the waist; his eyes glued on the way Taeyung’s bottom lip glistens, obscene and pink.

He hasn’t kissed many people in his lifetime, what with how little free time he has. The feeling of Jeongguk’s lips against his own is something new and exciting – something he’s not sure he could ever grow tired of. The thought scares him; it terrifies him the way he wants so much of Jeongguk. Has always wanted so much, too much.

“Don’t ever leave me alone or I swear to God I’ll—”

Jeongguk raises a brow menacingly. “You’ll what?” he says, his tongue poking out in an obscene manner.

“I’ll fall in love with you.” 

“Aren’t you already totally in love with me?” Jeongguk clutches his chest dramatically in spite of the way his heart stutters at Taehyung’s comment. “Or did I imagine that kiss just then?”

“Yes,” he blurts out. Fuck. “I love you.”

Jeongguk’s eyes light up and if Taehyung didn’t know any better, he’d think Christmas came early this year with the way his eyes mimic the Christmas lights that decorate the city every year. “And I love you.” 

“So what now?” Taehyung asks a little awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other. “What do we do now?”

“We could continue dancing,” the other boy offers, only a hint of humour colouring his voice.

Jeongguk shuffles over to the laptop situated on his bed, scrolling through until he finds what he’s looking for. Music trickles in and Taehyung rolls his eyes to conceal how fond he is of the boy in front of him. “Oh my god, why?” he groans.

Jeongguk turns to look at him, his face contorted into something ridiculously menacing and telling as his hips sway and shake to the rhythm of the music. The chorus starts up and Jeongguk inches forward, the odd thrust thrown in for good measure as the movements in his hips and the bend of his knees show no sign of stopping. He stretches his arms out, his fingers pointing with the sway of his hips. It can only be described as a ‘finger pointing dance’ with the way he flails his arms about, his index fingers jabbing Taehyung in the chest as he sings along.

“We’ve got a groovy thing goin’, baby. We’ve got a groovy thing.”

⋆⋆⋆ 

“So when did 60s music become your forte?”

“Probably around the same time English literature became yours,” he retorts. “Plus, this song’s from ‘54 anyway.” 

After the confession, not much happened in the way of jumping into bed or taking advantage of the free apartment. The thought was neither on Taehyung’s nor Jeongguk’s mind at the time – both too focused on mulling over the night’s events and sprawling out sideways on the bed to listen to the playlist Jeongguk had made for the older boy while they figured out what all of this means for them. 

(“So, how do we make this work?” Taehyung had asked nervously.

“I hadn’t really thought about it. I mostly saw myself pining for the rest of my life and learning to deal with it,” the younger boy had shrugged, chuckling in spite of himself. “I didn’t think of what would happen if it turned out you felt the same way.”

“I-I know that with the way things are right now, there’s not much we can do and that it would be stupid and naïve for us to think we could just be together—”

“So stupid,” Jeongguk cuts in with agreement.

“—but I don’t plan to suppress my feelings, and although there’s no quick or easy solution to any of this, I would like to have you in any way I possibly can,” he announces before quickly adding, “If you would let me have you and vice versa, I mean.”

“I’m yours for however long you want me, peaches.”)

“Ugh, shut up,” Taehyung scoffs, embarrassed. “Just sing to me. I like this song—whatever it is.”

Jeongguk stares too long, too fondly. “As you wish,” he giggles.

Taehyung nuzzles further into his chest, enjoying the comfort of Jeongguk’s heart beating more rapidly and in stutters because of him. He allows his eyes to slowly flutter shut, the stress of the day finally catching up with him. 

He hums in satisfaction as Jeongguk’s singing voice lulls him into sleep, much like it had for the past few weeks now. This time, the song was different and his voice softer. “Earth angel, earth angel, will you be mine? My darling dear, love you all the time.” His voice was a quiet sing-song ghosting along the sleeping boy’s skin. “I’m just a fool, a fool in love with you.”

⋆⋆⋆

There’s no storybook ending involving the pop of a foot as two people kiss. There’s no promise of tomorrow welcoming the return of his youth and the contentment that came with it. He doesn’t wake up one morning expecting to understand what his life means or where it’s heading. He still has his scars and the memories to match. Some days are easier than others but he’s got a support system others could only ever dream of having. He has a Someone who listens to his late night ramblings about his fears and the insecurities that will never really fade with time. He has his truths and the spur of creativity that comes with them.

However, what does happens is he continues to drag himself out of bed every morning, and perhaps it’s not much, but it’s worth it on the days he’s smiling that ever-widening boxed smile again.

⋆⋆⋆ 

January 18th:

“So, how have things been?” she asks, no cigarette between her lips this time.

“Better. I’m holding up, I think.”

A sharp pencilled in eyebrow is raised. “You think?” 

“I wake up, I brush my teeth. I take a shower and I wash my hair. I eat and wear clean clothes. I smile and laugh without it being or feeling forced. I’ve accepted that I can’t change some things and I feel somewhat secure in what I have.” 

She hums in response. “And what about you? Have you found who you are? I know that was a big thing for you.”

“I’m learning that I don’t need to know everything.”

“But it’s important to know yourself, no?” she challenges.

“Of course,” he agrees. “But the thing is: who I am today isn’t necessarily a reflection of who I’ll be tomorrow. There’s always the possibility of change – even more so in this line of work because you’re always put in situations that are out of the norm. You’re thrown into things that aren’t always going to be what you want but you adjust and you give yourself time to make it work for you. It’s all situational and I can’t promise that how I feel today will remain come morning time. I can only hope that negative change helps me learn and grow as much as positive change does. I’m forever growing and challenging my perspective, and I’ve accepted that I just have to roll with the punches sometimes. I’m never going to have a firm hold on who I am but I think that’s what makes it so exciting.” There’s a slight pause, the exhale of a breath previously held in. “There’s always going to be something new for me to learn about myself and that's as good a reason as any to wake up every morning.”

She smiles at that. It’s the first time he’s seen her smile since they started these sessions. “How did your parents react when you told them?”

“Lots of crying but surprisingly the good kind. They just want me to be happy.”

“And what about your Jeongguk? Is he well?”

“My Jeongguk,” he echoes. The words sound good on the tip of his tongue. “He’s as brilliant as ever.”