The thing about working in a fast food restaurant is that it's not fast—especially when said fast food restaurant serves shitty Korean-American fusion food for too much money and loses most of its customers to the Chipotle next door. But Taehyung can't complain. Having too few customers is better than having too many and running around all day like a chicken with its head cut off. (Ironically, "chicken with its head cut off" is what Taehyung sees every shift when he opens the meat freezer.) It's especially slow on rainy days like this one when most customers tend to stay home and order food from places that actually offer a delivery service. The only reason he's not worried about job security is because they somehow maintain a steady stream of regulars who, for whatever reason, prefer their food quick and greasy.
It's only a six hour shift but Taehyung has already mopped the floor three times, rearranged the freezer, and stacked the drink cups into a pyramid. It's not that he's a particularly diligent worker—in fact, he's almost positive that Namjoon only keeps him around because he flirts with the customers and brings in good tips—it's just that there's literally nothing else to do except clean. Normally he would just go on his phone, but Namjoon had already lectured him that week about "maintaining a thin veneer of professionalism in the workplace" so unfortunately now he can only do that in the security cameras' blind spots.
There are only five minutes left of his shift but if Taehyung has to watch the clock tick by any longer his brain is going to seep out of his ears.
"Hyung, can't we just close early?" He yells to the back. "It's pouring and there's literally nobody outside."
He can hear Namjoon sigh all the way from the other end of the store. "Taehyung, you know we can't. What if we lock it early and a customer tries to get in? That would reflect badly on our store."
"I think this place manages that well enough on its own." Taehyung mutters.
"What did you say?"
"I said I respect your authority as my boss and I'll get back to doing my job."
"That's what I thought."
Taehyung rolls his eyes and stares back out the window. Heavy rainfall had picked up and water was hitting the windows in loud waves. He glances down at his shoes, which are definitely not suited for water. It would be a wet walk to the bus stop. Across the street the closest lamp flickers on and off unsteadily, casting an eerie glow onto the puddles on the sidewalk. He wants to go home.
When he glances at the register again, the clock finally reads 11 p.m. and his exhaustion gives in to tired elation. "Fuckin' finally."
Taehyung locks the door and begins the tedious process of closing up. He's stacking the chairs onto the tables when a flash of lightning illuminates the sky. For a second, something moves in the corner of his vision. In the sudden light he could have sworn he saw a silhouette outside of the window. The hairs on his neck stand up.
"It was probably nothing," He assures himself. "Just a trick of the light. Stop being a paranoid baby and get back to work."
He's about to start stacking the chairs again when another flash of lightning illuminates the street. And this time, he's sure of what he sees: two pale hands are pressed flush against the glass door bracketing the pale face in-between them. Two soulless, black eyes set above deep-set purple smudges pierce into his unblinkingly. Below them, the dark red mouth is moving like it's chanting something—a curse, maybe. Taehyung drops a chair on his foot.
"Holy shit!" He trips over his feet backpedalling and dives behind the counter to safety, placing a hand over his heart to make sure it's still beating. "Oh my god! Hyung! Hyung!"
Namjoon peeks his head around the corner. "Jesus Christ, Taehyung. What are you screaming about? And why are you on the floor?"
"G-Ghost. Hyung, there's a ghost at the door."
"What?" Namjoon rushes out of his office and past the register. "Oh, shit."
Taehyung isn't sure he wants to look at that horrific sight again, so he stays crouched behind the counter and raises himself up just enough so that he can see what's going on. When he does, he realizes his mistake. What he'd originally mistaken for a ghost was actually just a boy about his age. An angry one, definitely, and wearing all black, but still. Just a normal boy. From a distance he can only hear part of the conversation taking place.
"—five minutes after closing—promise—need to sleep—"
"—so sorry—happen again—irresponsible employee—"
Taehyung pouts. He's always being blamed for whatever goes wrong, and he's only ever responsible for 80% of it. Well, maybe 90%. 95% tops. But there was no way he could've done anything to upset Ghost Boy when he hadn't even seen him before. After a minute of talking, Namjoon thanks him and closes the door.
Taehyung slowly stands up, still cautious from his earlier scare. "What was that all about? Don't think I didn't hear you blame it on me."
Namjoon scoffs. "That's because it is your fault. That was the neighbor upstairs. Remember what I said at the afternoon meeting today about turning the music off as soon as we close?"
Actually that did sound sort of familiar, but Taehyung had been so close to beating his high score on Piano Tiles that he'd tuned out most of what Namjoon had been saying.
"Yeah," he lies.
"No you don't. You were on your phone the whole time."
Well, then it was Namjoon's fault for not telling him to put it away. Taehyung bats his eyelashes innocently, going for a cute, confused look. That always worked on his boss.
"As I was saying earlier," Namjoon glares pointedly. "We share the walls upstairs with an apartment complex. The kid that lives in the room right there says he can hear the music all day, so we promised him we'd shut it off as soon as we close so he can sleep."
"We close at eleven," Taehyung points out. "Who goes to sleep at eleven?"
"People who don't stay up all night playing MapleStory," Namjoon shrugs. "Or maybe he just wants peace and quiet so he can study."
Namjoon rolls his eyes and walks away. "Just let me know when you're done so we can count the drawer."
When Taehyung leaves the shop later that night, he glances at the apartment complex above to see if he can catch a glimpse of Ghost Boy again. The light is on in the room behind the restaurant, but there's no sign of a silhouette. He tears his gaze away and focuses on avoiding the puddles below him as he sprints for the bus stop.
Hoseok cracks up when he tells him. It's a good thing there aren't any customers around because his cackle is obnoxiously loud, as always. "You thought you saw a ghost? Oh my god."
"Don't act like you wouldn't be just as scared as me. Do I need to bring up how bad you were the night we watched The Haunting?"
"Hey, those movies are designed to make you feel that way! I'm not the idiot who thinks ghosts exist in real life."
Taehyung frowns. "It was dark and he looked scary as shit, and he was so mad I thought he was going to make Namjoon-hyung cry. Anyway, I have a bruise the size of the moon on my foot because of him so it's kind of a sore topic right now."
He really does. His shoes rub the bruise painfully, too, so every step is a physical reminder of what happened.
"You literally have one dumb bruise on your body at any point in time," Hoseok says. "You probably would have dropped a chair on your foot with or without Ghost Boy."
"I told you this so that you could feel sorry for me and pity me. Can we get to that part? Moon-sized bruise, remember? Not to mention the deep, psychological scarring."
Hoseok ignores him. "You said he lives in the apartment complex above here, right? I know a few people that live there. What does he look like?"
"Let's see…" Taehyung scrunches up his face in thought. "He has a pale face and dark soulless eyes. Always has an angry look on his face, hasn't smiled in his life, probably complains about loud music all the time, definitely doesn't have friends—"
Hoseok cuts him off. "Disregarding the part where you didn't describe any physical features, that doesn't sound like anybody I know."
"I said he was pale," Taehyung points out.
"You also thought he was a ghost so I think it's safe to assume you didn't get a proper look at him."
"Taehyung!" Namjoon yells from the back. "Stop socializing and get back to work!"
Taehyung sighs. "Sorry, hyung. Looks like I need to attend to all my customers."
He gestures around to the empty room. Cue the tumbleweed, Taehyung thinks.
Hoseok shoulders his backpack. "Then I should get going. Wouldn't want to keep you from your ghost friends any longer."
"Hey!" He yells at Hoseok's retreating back. "Stop joking about it! Deep psychological scarring, remember?"
Hoseok just laughs again and walks out the door. Taehyung looks around. There really aren't any customers, and he'd just finished wiping down the tables before Hoseok walked in, so the only thing he can do is—
"Hey, hyung, can you pass me the mop?" He asks Yoongi, who Taehyung suspects is actually asleep in the corner.
He hands the mop over anyway. Taehyung thinks he may still be asleep as he does it. Though, Taehyung supposes, if there's anybody who could figure out how to sleep and work simultaneously it would be Yoongi. He's only slightly jealous.
"Taehyung!" Namjoon yells.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm on it." Taehyung grumbles under his breath.
Despite the throbbing pain from his moon foot bruise and Ghost Boy haunting his thoughts the entire shift, Taehyung somehow forgets to turn off the music again that night. In his defense, he'd honestly been planning on turning it off but lost track of time when he and Yoongi started playing napkin-to-trashcan basketball.
He's just about to make a killer three-pointer to secure his lead when he catches a glimpse of the figure glaring at him from the other side of the door. His napkin goes backwards.
"Wow," Yoongi drawls. "I know I'm beating you but you didn't have to forfeit."
"Shut up! I got distracted by him!"
Taehyung gestures at the door and scrambles over to where the laptop is stored behind the counter. Ghost Boy glares at him until he finally pauses the music, and then he walks away without a word.
"Geez, what's his deal," Yoongi mutters. Taehyung couldn't agree more.
"Didn't you listen to what Namjoon-hyung was talking about in the afternoon meeting?"
A man after Taehyung's own heart. That's the reason he likes working with Yoongi. It's nice to have somebody around who hates his job as much as he does. Although, Taehyung hasn't worn a sleep mask to a morning meeting before so maybe he's not quite at Yoongi's level yet.
After he clocks out Taehyung tries to catch another glimpse of Ghost Boy. And just like last time, the light in his apartment is on but there's nobody in sight. Taehyung supposes it's for the best. After all, it would only be a good thing if he never saw Ghost Boy again.
Taehyung does see Ghost Boy again. He sees him a lot.
He doesn't forget to turn the music off every shift, but every time he does the boy stands outside the front of the store and glares at him until he pauses the playlist. Namjoon had resorted to sticking a post-it note on the register with "TURN OFF THE MUSIC TAEHYUNG" written in black sharpie. Taehyung would be offended if it wasn't so effective. And necessary. But really, he is getting better at remembering. The only times he messes up lately are when he and Yoongi are competing in their Fast Food Olympics, and could he really be blamed for that?
On one memorable occasion Ghost Boy actually comes down in his pajamas, angry expression a hilarious contrast to his bed-head and the way his pajama pants and sleeves are cuffed at the bottom. Taehyung's having a hard time reconciling his horrible disposition with somebody who voluntarily wears Line Friends pajamas.
(Taehyung's started to suspect that the boy has his schedule memorized and comes down early when he works, but he's promised Namjoon that he'd only commit himself to one conspiracy theory at a time—the lizard people still have his attention.)
Ghost Boy's been the least of his worries at work lately, anyway. Namjoon agreed to cater for some big sorority event, so Taehyung has been forced to pick up extra shifts on top of working almost full-time. He's collapsed onto his bed after his shifts recently, sometimes not even remembering to wash his face or set an alarm. Tomorrow will be his first day off in six days.
kookie save me, he texts Jungkook from his hiding spot in the bathroom. i need somebody 2 watch movies and eat ice cream with me tonight so i never have to think abt work ever again!!!!
sry, Jungkook sends back. cant. dance team is having a party tonite and i already missed the last one. hobi-hyung will kill me if i dont show up. he says ur invited tho if u wanna come
Taehyung contemplates this. While ice cream is definitely his number one vice when he's having a bad day and needs to relax, alcohol comes in a close second. The only problem is whether or not he can stay awake long enough to make it to the party.
tell hobi-hyung that ill show up if i dont fall into a coma before i get there. also tell him not to break out the tequila until i arrive and im there to babysit him
LOL. Jungkook sends. he says fuck you and to let u know that hes drinking it and using all the limes before you come. also he says pregame at 10 party at 11 so we'll probably make it there at fifteen after
Taehyung sends back a confirmation and pockets his phone. He's probably been hiding out in the bathroom too long, anyway, and pretty soon Namjoon will start to suspect something is up. He spends the rest of the shift juggling wayward customers and filling up takeaway containers with food for the event the next day. He's so frazzled that he doesn't end up turning the music off until five minutes after they close, but Ghost Boy doesn't come down at all. Taehyung takes it as a sign of good luck and clocks out with a little more energy than he could be expected to have on any other day. If he catches the first bus back to shower and change, he'll probably make it to the party at 11:30.
alright im coming!!!!! He sends Jungkook. leaving my apt in 15 so ill see ya soon!!!!
Jungkook replies with a video of Hoseok doing a shot and flicking the camera off. Above the music, he can hear Jungkook laughing in the background. Assholes.
The party is at Hakyeon's apartment which is located, conveniently, in the center of campus. Taehyung had been there exactly one time during his freshman year of school and had gotten fairly (completely) wasted, as freshmen do. Fortunately, Hakyeon was also pretty far gone that night and hadn't realized that it was Taehyung who had thrown up in his potted plant. At least, he thinks he doesn't know. Now as he knocks on Hakyeon's door is probably not the best time to start remembering that.
"Taehyung!" Hakyeon screeches when he opens the door. He sounds happy and not at all accusatory. Taehyung is probably in the clear. "You have cover?"
"Uh," Taehyung freezes, searching for his wallet in his jeans. Jungkook hadn't said anything about there being a cover fee. He left his tip money at home and is honestly not sure if he even has a dollar on him at that moment.
"Just kidding," Hakyeon grins. "The alcohol is all paid for by ticket sales from our last showcase. I've been telling everybody that just to see the look on their faces. Come in! I haven't seen you in forever!"
Within the first five minutes of walking in, Taehyung is forced to take two shots, has a cup of atrocious jungle juice thrust in his hand, and gets roped into playing beer pong with an over-enthusiastic and definitely tequila-drunk Hoseok.
"Is this somebody's door?" He asks, staring at the knob in the middle of the table.
"Yup," Hoseok confirms and makes a wobbly shot. Misses. "You should've been here earlier. They ripped it right off the hinges."
"Dance team parties hard, huh?"
"You don't even know the half of it."
They win the first game, but lose the second. As punishment he and Hoseok have to link elbows and take a couple shot. In his peripherals he sees Jungkook take a picture. As he sets the shot glass down, he realizes that somewhere over the course of the two games the other shots and the jungle juice had finally hit. He braces himself against the counter, suddenly aware that he's not as steady on his feet.
And that's when he sees him—Ghost Boy.
Taehyung almost doesn't recognize him at first because there is a real, honest-to-god smile on his face. In fact, the smile practically takes over his face with the way his eyes scrunch up and his cheeks glow with a happy flush. Taehyung stares in awe, realizing that he's probably being incredibly obvious about what he's doing. But, still. He can't help it because Ghost Boy is smiling. It's weird and out of place, like seeing a monkey wearing human clothes. A very happy, very cute monkey. Taehyung realizes he may be more drunk than he'd previously thought.
In fact, he's most definitely more drunk than he thought because he actually walks up to where the boy is talking with his friends and places a hand on his shoulder.
"Ghost Boy," he says, out loud by accident.
Ghost Boy turns to him, not looking so gloriously happy anymore, and stares down at where Taehyung is touching him on his shoulder. He glances back up. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Uh," Taehyung starts again, grateful for a second chance. "You're the boy who always comes by the door during my shift at work."
"Oh. You work at Heart and Seoul," he says, like he finally recognizes Taehyung. Then, he narrows his eyes. "You're the one who always forgets to turn the music off."
"Um," Taehyung says, intelligently. "Yeah, I guess, but most people just call me Taehyung."
This wasn't how Taehyung was hoping this conversation would go. Actually, he hadn't been planning this conversation at all and he probably should have expected it to turn out like this. It's predictable, really. Just like any other mistake in Taehyung's miserable life.
"Jimin, we're gonna go play a round of beer pong," One of Ghost Boy's friends says. Not Ghost Boy—Jimin. He waves them off without turning away from Taehyung.
"Ok then, Taehyung," Jimin crosses his arms. "Since you're so full of fun answers. Do you know how annoying it is to have to come down all the time and remind you to turn the music off?"
"Yeah, well, have you ever thought about investing in earplugs?" Drunk mouth strikes again. He wilts under Jimin's glare. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry. I'm just a little distractible and forgetful sometimes but I'll work harder on trying to remember."
"Thanks," Jimin says, but he still doesn't look satisfied. Taehyung feels a little bad for being the one to stop him from smiling and enjoying his night.
Taehyung studies his profile and starts to feel legitimately guilty. Even in low lighting it's easy to make out the dark circles under his eyes. He looks like he hasn't gotten a decent night's sleep in a while.
"I really am sorry," Taehyung says, trying his best to sound genuine.
"Ok. Thanks." It's sarcastic.
"No, I'm serious! I'll even make it up to you."
Jimin stares at him suspiciously, but considering. "How?"
"How about you come to the shop during one of my shifts when it's still open," He suggests. "And I'll make you something to eat, free of charge."
"Tempting…" Jimin taps his chin thoughtfully. "But only one free something? Or do I get something free for each time I've had to remind you about the music?"
"Um," Taehyung looks at him nervously. "Remind me how many times that was, again?"
Taehyung winces. "Oh. Yikes."
"You remember them all, huh?" Taehyung tries joking.
"Yes," Jimin glares. "Funny how the memory of being woken up by loud music twice a week sticks with you."
Taehyung laughs shakily. "That is funny…"
Eight is a lot, and probably—definitely—overstepping the grounds of his employee discount, but Taehyung owes him that much. Especially since Jimin was having a good time before he walked over and made him lose his smile. And, well, despite Namjoon's many attempts it's not as if Taehyung's ever been the poster child for following work rules.
"Okay, deal," Taehyung agrees. "Eight free meals courtesy of me."
He holds out his hand for a handshake and Jimin accepts it with a smile. Taehyung stares, captivated again, before he realizes that he's probably been holding Jimin's hand for too long. He drops it a little too late, awkwardly.
"So," Jimin says, suddenly looking shy for the first time in their conversation. "How will I know when you're working?"
"Oh yeah. Well, I usually work Monday through Friday from five to eleven, and sometimes I pick up random shifts."
"Okay," Jimin raises his eyebrows. "Wow. That's a lot of hours. How do you balance school and all that?"
Taehyung should have seen that coming. He hates explaining this to people and that uncomfortable look of misplaced pity that follows.
"Actually, I'm not in school, so I don't have to worry about that."
Jimin expression immediately turns guilty. Taehyung thinks he hates it more than he hates the angry look. "Oh, sorry. I thought—you just looked like you were around my age and this is a college town so—"
"No, it's fine," Taehyung cuts him off. "I probably am, I'm just—not in school right now. Uh, anyway, here. Give me your phone."
He looks confused but digs it out of his pocket anyway. "For what?"
Taehyung presses in his information and passes it back to him. "I'm giving you my number so you can text me and make sure I'm there whenever you're planning on stopping by."
"Oh. Thanks." Jimin glances at his phone. "You saved yourself as Obnoxious Heart and Seoul Employee."
Taehyung grins shamelessly. "Well, I wouldn't want you to forget who I am in the morning."
Jimin rolls his eyes, but there's a small smile on his lips. "I don't think I could even if I tried."
Later in the night, as Taehyung sips on another vile concoction and watches Jimin dance to some EDM hit in the center of a crowd, he wonders how he could have ever mistaken him for a ghost. There's definitely something inhuman about the way he looks through the haze of inebriation under the dim lights in the apartment, but it isn't frightening. It's like one of those indie movie moments where everything becomes fuzzy in slow-motion. He can't think of what it's called.
"What's the word for how you feel when you see a monkey in human clothes?" Taehyung asks Jungkook as he lays his head on his shoulder, still watching the crowd dancing in the center of the room.
Jungkook eyes him warily. "Drunk. Yeah, I think that's the word for it. Come on, hyung. I'll walk you home."
"It has come to my attention," Namjoon says, arms crossed as he stares at the group in front of him. "That some of you are sick of my playlist."
"That's an understatement," Yoongi mumbles under his breath.
Taehyung inches closer to the edge of his seat. Even Yoongi, who usually falls asleep during meetings, is uncharacteristically alert this morning. They've all been waiting for this particular meeting for weeks. Months, even. Taehyung suspects the only reason Namjoon finally called for it is because during the last shift Yoongi threatened to quit if he heard another Drake song.
"I used to be a fan before I worked here," he'd confessed to Taehyung. "And now I just want to tear out my eardrums whenever Hotline Bling comes on the radio."
Sadly, it's a universal feeling. Taehyung had even removed all the Drake songs from his Late Night Crying Session playlist on Spotify, his Early Morning Crying Session playlist, and even his Crying In The Bathroom At Work playlist.
"As your boss, I care deeply about each and every one of you," Namjoon continues, not bothering to show any emotion that might indicate that was true. "And in light of that, I'll be listening to any specific complaints that you may have about my playlist."
Seokjin raises his hand immediately. "I've heard customers complaining about the overall depressing tone of the playlist."
"It's true," Taehyung says. "I've seen somebody crying into their burger while Frank Ocean was playing."
"Taehyung, that was you," Namjoon points out. "Anything else?"
Namjoon sighs. "Fine. And also, because I'm a good boss, I'm going give you a say on what goes on the new playlist. But there are some ground rules, got it?"
They all nod.
"Good. No Taylor Swift, no Young Thug, no anime songs," he says, looking directly at Taehyung. "And please keep the profanity to a minimum. Children eat here. I've already had one complaint about Nicki Minaj lyrics—I'm sure you can guess which ones. I'm putting a box and some slips of paper on the counter here. If you think of something now, or later during your shift, put it in the box and I'll look them over later. Alright you're all dismissed."
"Who even has Taylor Swift and Young Thug on the same playlist, anyway?" Yoongi complains.
Taehyung shrugs. "It's a mood. Don't knock it until you've tried it."
"I absolutely will knock it. And I'll knock you out if you even think about ruining this for us," Yoongi threatens. "Don't make any dumb suggestions."
Taehyung smiles innocently. "I wouldn't dare, hyung."
So obviously, Taehyung spends the first hour of his shift trying to think of obnoxious songs to put on the playlist. Sadly his coworkers are not amused.
"We have to listen to this playlist, Tae," Seokjin whines and takes his slips out of the box. "Stop writing down all the emo songs you used to make Naruto AMV's to. And nobody wants to listen to Pick Me while they eat. Or in any other context, really."
"Then I'll mark down the coordinates of this restaurant in your honor," Taehyung yells at his retreating back. "To commemorate the place where fun died!"
In the end, they stop letting him put suggestions in the box entirely. Taehyung sulks and spends most of his shift in the back taking apart boxes instead of manning the register like he usually does. He's just about to bring the boxes out to recycling when he overhears Namjoon talking to somebody up front.
"—really sorry about all the trouble we've caused, but I really can't let you pursue legal action against us."
The second voice is flustered and vaguely familiar. "No, no, no, that's not why I'm here—uh, I know I threatened to do that before but I wasn't actually serious about it or anything, I promise." As Taehyung peeks around the corner, he realizes that it's Jimin Namjoon is talking to. "I'm just looking for—Taehyung!"
Jimin shouts out his name as he spots him, clearly grateful for having an excuse to stop talking to Namjoon. Taehyung could relate.
"Hey," he greets, finally stepping out from behind the wall where he was eavesdropping. "I didn't realize you were coming. I thought you would text me."
Jimin shrugs. "You said you usually work at this time so I thought I'd stop by. I didn't realize it would be so, um, dramatic. I guess I probably should've texted you beforehand."
"No, it's good that you don't encourage him. He's already on his phone enough at work as it is," Namjoon pats his shoulder and leans in as he walks by. "Befriending the enemy, huh? Good job. I should've thought of that sooner."
"I'm expecting a raise," Taehyung whispers back. Namjoon laughs all the way back into his office. Taehyung really needs to find another job.
When Namjoon is finally out of sight, Taehyung grabs an old receipt from the pile on the counter and a pen. Jimin watches him quietly as he draws a series of words and circles.
"Uh…what are you doing?"
"Just one sec." Taehyung holds up a finger. "One…and…voila!"
He holds out the receipt for Jimin to take. It's a sloppy replica of the punch cards that restaurants use for a rewards system, with eight circles at the bottom to mark the meals he owes Jimin. He's not the best artist but hopefully Jimin could appreciate the thought.
"It's so you can keep track of all your free meals. I already crossed of the first one," Taehyung points at the x on the receipt. "So, what do you want?"
Jimin looks up from the paper, expression a little dazed. "Uh, I really don't know. To be honest I haven't eaten fast food in a really long time. Dace major, you know? I have to eat healthy to stay in shape."
"No kidding? Hobi-hyung mooches off me all the time. Sometimes I think he's just friends with me for my discount."
"Oh," Jimin says, scratching his head and avoiding eye contact. "Well, Hoseok-hyung is naturally thin and I'm not, so…"
"Really?" Taehyung looks him up and down. If anything, he feels scrawny in comparison to Jimin's build. "You look perfectly fine to me."
"Thanks," Jimin mumbles. Taehyung catches the flush spread across his cheeks before Jimin can duck his head fast enough. He's shy, Taehyung realizes. Cute.
He's also a lot more subdued than he was the night they'd talked at the party. Taehyung's met people like that before. The ones who are deceptively withdrawn until they have a drink in them or until you wear them down. Jungkook was like that at first, too. Taehyung had thought he was shy and quiet, maybe a little cold, until he caught him tearing up over a Taeyang fancam on his phone and realized what a huge dork he was.
"Um, I can't choose. Is there anything you'd recommend?"
"Honestly, I stopped eating the food here about a week into this job," Taehyung admits. "But if you're looking for something a little healthier, Jin-hyung usually makes this off-the-menu bibimbap thing with rice and veggies topped with a fried egg."
Jimin's face lights up at the word 'veggies'. "Yeah, that sounds good. Perfect, actually."
"Alright!" Taehyung grins. "Just so you know, you're getting special treatment. I almost never hop on the line. Are you eating this here or should I make it to go?"
"To go would be great. I stopped by on my way to the library."
"You got it, boss."
Despite rarely doing it, Taehyung enjoys cooking. There's something satisfying about watching the egg cook in front of him and seeing the ingredients mix together. Sometimes, it makes him wish he'd listened more to his mom when he was younger and she begged him to help in the kitchen.
When he looks up from scooping out the rice, he catches Jimin subtly slipping a single into the tip jar.
"You don't have to do that."
Jimin's head whips up like he was caught stealing out of it instead. "Oh no, I was just—I feel bad. I thought you were just going to give me a pre-made burger or something. I didn't know you were going to actually cook something."
"It's not a big deal. I like cooking, anyway," Taehyung slides the egg into the bowl and tops it with a generous dollop of gochujang. "I hope you like it spicy."
"I do, thanks."
Taehyung presses the lid on top and draws a smiley face on it as an afterthought. He writes sorry about the music!!! below before tying a plastic bag around it and handing it off to Jimin.
"Here you are. One Jimin Special to go!"
Jimin grins. "Thanks. I'll eat it well."
Taehyung returns the smile. "Let me know how you like it next time you stop in."
"I will, thanks again!" Jimin leaves with a wave.
Later, as Taehyung is killing time refilling the napkin dispensers, he receives a text from an unknown number. hey this is Jimin ^^ thanks for the food!! it was delicious. my study group was jealous lol. they asked me where i got it and i said it was a special meal~
tell them if they come to heart and seoul and tip the cute guy on register really well he'll make it for them too
"Taehyung, get off your phone." Namjoon scolds. As usual he's in the exact right place to catch Taehyung slacking off.
"I can't, hyung. This text is an important business transaction essential for keeping the good name of this establishment alive."
Namjoon glances at the conversation over his shoulder. "Aren't you just flirting?"
"Flirting for the sake of our business," Taehyung corrects as he saves Jimin's number under Ghost Boy. "Besides, you hired me to be the face of Heart and Seoul. Flirting is basically in my job description."
"I actually hired you to do your job, believe it or not."
"If I'm not the face of Heart and Seoul, then why am I always working the register?"
"Because you fuck up all the orders when you're on the line."
Taehyung can't even dispute that, so he pockets his phone and goes back to stacking the napkins. He chances another look at it when Namjoon finally leaves him alone.
Jimin had sent another text. actually i kinda like the idea of it being only for me ^^; but i did tell them where i got it from so u cant say i didnt help u out
Taehyung almost doesn't turn off the music that night. Not because he forgets, but because the thought of seeing Jimin smile again that night is maybe a little tempting.
hey when do u get off work today? 4 or 11?
Hosoek sends Taehyung a similar text about once every week. Sometimes it means he's planning on taking Taehyung somewhere fun, but most of the time it means he wants Taehyung to bring him food after his shift.
morning shift today so im off at 4. whats up??
oh thank god Hoseok texts back. dance practice has been so exhausting. come bring kookie and i some food after work and ill drive u to ur apartment? we love you~ <3 <3
Taehyung rolls his eyes. If he didn't use Hoseok as his personal chauffeur he would probably be more offended. Their friendship is built on lovingly, affectionately, and unapologetically taking advantage of each other's resources. And isn't that what true friendship is about?
u only love me when i give u food but sure, burdensome freeloader. Taehyung always pretends that it's a pain, but he actually likes when he gets to catch the end of their rehearsals. He can't dance very well himself so it's always fun to watch—oh, Taehyung remembers. hey is jimin there at practice today?
Namjoon looks pointedly at his phone as he walks through the door, but Taehyung is on his break so there's nothing he can do about it. He resists the urge to stick his tongue out. Partly because he's not that childish, but mostly because there is a truly gross amount of food in his mouth.
jimin? as in park jimin? the jimin who's kinda short and overcompensating w muscles??
ya Taehyung types with one hand as he shoves even more food in his mouth. can u ask him if he wants me to bring him anything?
whoa didnt even know u guys knew each other lol. hold on lemme ask Hoseok sends. ok he said to bring his special? wtf?? why does he have a special when i dont even have one???
ok good talk <3 ill see u after work~ bye hyung~
One hour, two angry customers, and thirteen dollars in tips later, Taehyung is balancing three takeout containers in his hands and attempting to open the dance studio's door slowly with his foot. Most of the club members know him, or are at least familiar enough with him to be used to his random appearances, but he still likes to draw the least amount of attention to himself as possible. It's pretty much the only situation in which that's the case.
There are still five minutes of practice when he settles down against the back wall. They're working on a piece that Hoseok choreographed, which Taehyung knows because he'd only mentioned it a thousand times already. A sultry hip-hop song is playing, and hips are gyrating, and Taehyung is in absolute heaven following the movement of a pair of grey sweatpants before he realizes who they belong to. He's not sure how many free meals it would take for Jimin to be comfortable with laser-focused ass staring, but he's almost positive they're not at that level yet.
They end up finishing two minutes early, which means two fewer minutes that Taehyung has to pretend he's not burning a hole into Jimin's back. It's a relief when Hoseok and Jungkook drag their bags and sweaty bodies over to him.
"My hero," Jungkook collapses against the wooden floor. "Have I ever mentioned that you're my favorite hyung?"
"You can't say that when I'm around!" Hoseok whines, collapsing a little more gracefully. "After all I've done for you?"
"Mfghf," Jungkook mouths around a big bite of his burger. It's a fair point.
Taehyung beams as Hoseok continues to protest beside him. Jimin is hovering a few feet away, packing his things away slowly like he's maybe waiting for an invitation to come over. Taehyung had baselessly assumed that he was close with Hoseok and Jungkook because they were in the same club, but apparently that wasn't the case.
"Hey Jimin," he calls out. Jimin looks over. "Do you have time to eat with us?"
After a brief pause, Jimin shakes his head. "I don't wanna intrude or anything. They're probably locking the room up soon anyway, so I should head back to my apartment. Thanks, though."
"It's fine," Hoseok waves a hand in dismissal. "I have the key so we can stay as long as we want."
"Yeah, plus your food will get cold if you wait too long to eat it," Taehyung insists.
Jimin draws his bag away from his shoulder. "I guess I could stay for a bit…"
Taehyung grins and hands him the food container. "Nice! I walked extra carefully on the way over here to make sure the yolk didn't break."
"Yolk?" Hoseok leans over and stares unabashedly at Jimin's meal. "Holy shit. Taehyung, why'd you bring me a burger? What is that?"
"It's the Jimin Special and you can't have it. It's only for Jimin."
Jungkook finally takes a breath to stop eating and stares enviously. "Why not? I'd take anything over this shitty burger."
"You were literally making an o-face over it like five seconds ago!"
"It's because he owes me," Jimin pipes up. "I live above his work and he always forgets to turn off the music."
"Wait, you live above Heart and Seoul? That's you? Oh my god," Hoseok starts laughing, leaving Jimin and Jungkook looking confused and Taehyung slowly turning a deep shade of pink.
"You're Ghost Boy. Jimin is Ghost Boy."
"Ghost Boy?" Jimin chokes on his food.
"Okay," Taehyung starts. "It sounds bad, but honestly it's not that big of a deal. When I first saw you, I may or may not have thought you were an ugly and terrifying ghost—"
"You said he looked like he'd never smiled in his life. Park Jimin, never smiling in his life," Hoseok says through his laughter, and then goes on like it's the funniest joke he's ever heard in his life.
"In my defense, you really did look like you'd never known happiness," Taehyung says, because the last thing he wants is for Jimin to get offended. "Like, you were giving off some serious teenager in a Lifetime original movie vibes."
"When he told me the story he called you an extra from The Shining."
Jimin is still frozen with a forkful of rice halfway to his mouth. "Is that why you dropped something on your foot and tripped a bunch? Because you thought I was a ghost? I just thought you were an idiot!"
"He is," Jungkook says.
"Hey! And saying I tripped a bunch is a little…" Taehyung trails off, embarrassed. "Anyway, back then you were a lot more pale and your dark circles were a little, um. Severe."
"Because I couldn't sleep! Because you didn't turn off the music!"
"This is probably a bad time," Jungkook interrupts, pointing to Jimin's food still not reaching his mouth. "But are you going to eat all of that?"
"Yes!" Jimin takes an exaggeratedly large bite in response. "Fuck off!"
He pushes Jungkook jokingly as he says it, and in the process the burger Jungkook is holding smears a thick line of ketchup onto his shirt. Jimin looks like he wants to shrivel up and die on the spot. Hoseok starts cackling again.
"Oh my god," Jimin picks up a napkin and aggressively dabs at Jungkook's shirt, face beet red. "Oh shit, I'm so, so sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Hoseok says, wiping a tear from his eye. "He has, like, seventeen of the exact same white t-shirts back at his apartment. If anything you're helping us in our quest to destroy them all."
Jungkook pouts. "That's not fair, hyung. I only have eight. And if you destroy them all, I'll have nothing to wear."
"Right. That's the point."
Jimin hunches over his bowl against the wall and begins eating a little more quietly as he watches Hoseok and Jungkook continue to bicker. He still looks embarrassed it's pitifully adorable, like watching Seokjin or Namjoon try to dance.
"It's really fine," Taehyung says. "Jungkook's a chill person, and he really does own eight of the same shirt. He doesn't actually care at all."
Jimin shrugs. "I'm not worried or anything, just embarrassed. Hoseok-hyung is the captain and he's gonna think I'm an idiot."
"I promise that I'm a bigger loser than you are, and he's friends with me," Tae smiles reassuringly. "If it makes you feel any better, there was one time at work that I sat in a puddle of ketchup and didn't realize it. I had a huge red stain on my ass for the entire shift."
Jimin smiles and his eyes scrunch up. "Really?"
"Yeah," Taehyung grins. "My coworkers gave me so much shit for it. Kept asking if I needed tampons and stuff."
Jimin seems a little more comfortable over that, and Taehyung watches contently as he and Hoseok bond over some dance troupe on YouTube that he's never heard of before. Jimin is more talkative once he's on a topic that he's familiar with. Idly, Taehyung imagines him fitting into their friend group once he gets over his shyness and hero-worship over Hoseok. That is, if he doesn't completely drop Taehyung once he gets his free meals.
This easy back-and-forth camaraderie is something that Taehyung misses about school clubs. There's nothing he can join now that he's not in school, and he tries not to be too jealous of the way that Jimin's eyes light up when he's talking about his favorite routine. Taehyung doesn't realize he's spacing out until there's a hand waving an inch from his face.
"Hey," Hoseok leans down over him. "We're all finished and getting ready to leave. You still want a ride?"
"Huh? Oh. Yeah." Taehyung pushes himself up.
"Jimin, do you need a ride anywhere?"
Jimin looks like he wants to take Hoseok up on the offer but shakes his head. "I'm just going to the library. It would probably take longer to drive there, honestly. Thanks though."
"Of course. Any time!"
They part ways at the exit to the building. As they walk to the car, Taehyung watches Jimin over his shoulder as he bounces on his heels, waiting for the light to change.
"Jimin's a good kid," Hoseok says suddenly.
"Sure," Taehyung agrees, not really understanding what he's getting at by saying that.
"I'm glad you two are getting along."
Taehyung nods, still not sure what he's supposed to say. He's good with people so the fact that he and Jimin are getting along shouldn't be much of a surprise. Maybe Hoseok's just being a decent dance captain and looking out for his club members, or maybe he's hinting to Taehyung that he needs more friends. Either way, Hoseok drives him back to his apartment without bringing it up again and Taehyung doesn't think on it anymore.
"It's sad that this is even necessary," Yoongi mutters as Taehyung tapes a 'Pokemon are for paying customers only' sign onto the door.
"Don't you think it's funny that people keep catching Snorlax in here?"
"Ironic, sure. Funny, no."
"You're just bitter because you haven't evolved your Meowth yet."
"Whatever," Yoongi says, but doesn't deny anything.
The sudden influx of people playing Pokemon Go was funny at first—and, if he's being honest, Taehyung still finds it funny—but after a few too many students walked in, half-heartedly pretending to look at the menu while they messed with their phones and walked out without buying anything, Namjoon declared a war on Pokemon. In fact, the words "I'm declaring a war on Pokemon" actually came out of his mouth. Taehyung wishes he were joking.
"Don't you think it's funny," Namjoon had said at their afternoon meeting. "That people are suddenly choosing to walk outside looking for signs of life behind their phone screens, when life has been there all along?"
"Absolutely," Taehyung had agreed, because he's been angling for a raise lately.
"That would sound a lot more convincing if you weren't literally playing Pokemon right now, Taehyung."
"Noted," Taehyung reluctantly pocketed his phone.
So in the end, instead of a raise, Taehyung was given the honor of creating and hanging up the war-on-Pokemon sign. It was probably supposed to be a punishment but Taehyung took it in stride, as he always tries to do, and made a decent-looking sign, clip art and all.
"It's cute, right?" he asks Yoongi, who shrugs.
"I think Namjoon probably didn't intend for you to spend an hour on the clock making it, but it looks nice."
It's not the whole-hearted praise he's looking for—and rightfully deserves—but he'll take what he can get.
"I think we're gonna lose customers because of the sign anyway," Yoongi says. "You know how Polaroid got shit for saying Hey Ya was wrong and that people actually shouldn't shake their pictures? People will think we're uncool. We're gonna lose our rep."
"We don't have a very good rep," Taehyung points out. "In fact, I'm pretty sure losing our rep would actually be a positive outcome."
"Okay, that's valid."
Taehyung grins. Yoongi is fun to work with not only because they share the same disdain for food service but because he's also not in school. He graduated the year before and is taking a year off to work until he can afford to pay for his masters in music composition. If he's in a good mood, he'll let Taehyung listen to the tracks he's working on. If he's in a bad mood, he'll badmouth the droves of university students with Taehyung. Today is apparently a bad day.
"Look at them all," Yoongi complains, peering out through the door at the students wandering in groups. "Sitting comfortably on their cushy data plans and tuition money. I'd kill for that luxury."
Usually Taehyung would be talking shit with him, but there's something so idyllically youthful, so perfectly symbolic of the Typical College Student in the image of students walking around with backpacks on and phones out that he feels the gutting stab of jealousy more strongly than contempt.
Even after they stop people-watching and start working the image sticks with him all day.
It doesn't help that the number of groups that come in to eat that day seems higher than normal, as if everybody on campus is conspiring to make his day worse. Taehyung can't even find it in himself to flirt with his cute regular. His mood makes itself known in the tip jar, which remains abnormally empty the whole day.
Even Yoongi takes pity on him.
"You can leave early if you want."
Taehyung shakes his head. "There's only an hour left before we close. I can wait it out."
"There's three of us here to close tonight. Seokjin-hyung and I will probably even finish early without you here to distract us the whole time."
As if on cue, a group of students comes through the door, laughing loudly. Yoongi raises his eyebrows in some sort of nonverbal ultimatum.
"Actually I think I will leave," Taehyung gives in. "I'm really sorry, hyung."
"Don't worry about it, kid. You look like you could use some sleep."
He clocks out before the students have a chance to order. Yoongi ruffles his hair on the way out and Seokjin makes a joke about stealing his tips while he's gone. They're good coworkers and great people and Taehyung feels the guilt heighten.
The noise from the street dims with the slam of the door behind him. All he wants is to curl up into a ball on his bed and fall asleep, but he’s in no state to walk to the bus stop—he’s aware that he’s an ugly crier. He’ll probably have to hide out behind the building until he can pull himself together, except there’s nothing to sit on besides the dumpster. It would be ironic, Taehyung thinks dramatically. Trash sitting on trash.
The metaphor isn't comfortable against his thighs. It'll have to do, anyway.
It hits him every so often, the realization that he's no longer in school. Hard not to when he lives in a college campus.
I think I should take some time off to work a little is what he’d told his parents, but what he’d really wanted to say was I just need some time to think. He didn’t know how to tell them the truth—that somewhere along the way Taehyung had turned from a kid with too many dreams to an adult with none.
Every time Taehyung skirts around the subject of when he’s planning on going back to school he can see the panic in their eyes. They never call him out on it, and in a way that just makes him feel worse. His parents are supportive of him, and for what? How long will they wait around for him while he’s stalling for time? Will they pretend to be proud when he makes them wait so long and still somehow ends up doing something he hates?
He used to be so comfortable with it—the idea of drifting through life, of figuring things out as they come—but sometimes it feels like everyone’s on the fast course to their dreams and he’s stuck choking on the dust they leave behind as they speed past. Sometimes it feels like there’s so much life out there that he’s wasting by hesitating, by being unsure. By second-guessing himself. There are nights when Taehyung gets anxious because he can picture himself in five years living in the same lonely apartment, cooking meals for one after another long shift at where he works in the same nowhere job—
The voice is quiet and hesitant, and at first Taehyung thinks he’s imagined it. But even through the blur of tears he recognizes Jimin’s silhouette. He’s just in athletic gear and sandals, but he looks infinitely more put-together than Taehyung does at that moment. Taehyung might as well sink into the dumpster where he belongs.
“Oh, hey Jimin.” He wipes at his eyes with his sleeve and hopes it comes off as casual. Maybe he can play it off as allergies. “Sorry. Just ignore me.”
He must look like a disaster, slouching on a grimy dumpster with tear tracks drawing light to his blotchy cheeks. He waits for Jimin to pass him or turn around, but Jimin just stands in place and shifts awkwardly from foot to foot. It’s then that Taehyung notices the full garbage bag in his hand. It makes sense, now, the way that Jimin isn’t saying anything but isn’t leaving. Taehyung wouldn’t know how to tell somebody who’s crying on a dumpster to fuck off so that he could throw out his trash, either.
“Shit, sorry. I’ll get off.” Taehyung tries to ease himself off the dumpster but his legs are unstable, like a rickety pair of stilts. He can feel his eyes starting to well up again at the reminder that nothing ever seems to go his way. “My legs aren’t working. Just give me a minute.”
Jimin must take pity on him because he drops his garbage bag at his feet and moves toward him. Jimin reaches a hand out and for a second Taehyung thinks he’s going to help him off, but instead Jimin hauls himself up onto the dumpster next to him. Taehyung wants to tell him to stop—that he doesn’t need to dirty his hands over him—but he can’t get any words past the lump in his throat.
“Bad day?” Jimin asks softly. Taehyung nods. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Taehyung shakes his head. The whole situation is so fucking surreal, but he’s still not about to unload his heavy existential crisis onto a near-stranger, even if the stranger is as nice as Jimin.
“If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been having a shitty day, too. I have an exam in a couple days and I still don’t understand a damn thing even though I’ve been studying for, like, a whole week—” Jimin cuts himself off and hangs his head. “Sorry, you probably don’t want to hear me drone on about school.”
It’s true that normally Taehyung doesn’t like hearing people talk in-depth about school, especially when he’s in a mood, but for whatever reason hearing Jimin talk about it isn’t so bad. There’s something calming about the light tone of his voice that makes Taehyung feel a little better. Something about Jimin must bleed good-intention pheromones into the air.
“It’s fine.” His voice comes out a little raw. “I don’t mind.”
Taehyung nods. “Yeah.”
Jimin doesn’t talk about school again anyway. Instead, they fall into a silence that's more comfortable than it should be given Taehyung was just caught crying on top of a dumpster by somebody he's not particularly close to.
But sometimes, it's not words that you need—just the quiet comfort of somebody who knows when not to push.
Taehyung wipes at his face. There's going to be no helping the swelling, but his cheeks are dry and the lump in his throat is finally gone.
"I think my legs are working now," Taehyung says, breaking the silence.
"You sure? Be careful," Jimin slides off the dumpster quickly. "I can help you off."
Taehyung grabs onto his outstretched hand and tugs himself down. It takes a few seconds to right himself.
"Um," He lets go of Jimin's hand after a long moment. "Thanks. And…sorry."
Jimin waves him off. "It's fine. We've all been there," And then, after a second of consideration. "Well maybe not there as in on top of the dumpster. Because, um, I actually haven't been there before. Personally, or physically, or whatever. But emotionally, you know?"
Taehyung smiles softly at his awkward stuttering. "Yeah, I know."
Jimin fidgets with his hands, like he's not sure what he should be doing. "You still have an hour left of work, right?"
"Usually, yeah. But today they let me out early to—um. Yeah," Taehyung trails off, staring at the ground. "Yoongi-hyung always remembers to shut off the music so you won't have to worry about that tonight."
"No, no that's not—I promise that wasn't even on my mind," Jimin shakes his head desperately. "Are you going to be okay getting home?"
Taehyung shrugs. "I'll be fine. I'm about to head to the bus stop."
"Oh. Do you want me to—?"
"No, no, I can walk myself. It's pretty close," Taehyung tries to smile reassuringly. "Thanks, though. For the offer and—everything."
"Yeah. No problem," Jimin smiles back and Taehyung starts to walk away, waving as he goes.
While he's waiting at the bus stop Taehyung's phone lights up with a notification. It's a text from Jimin with a picture attached.
something to cheer u up! it's my cousin's dog. i always look at him when im feeing down ^^ theres even a rly embarrassing pic of me with him when i was a kid
Taehyung understands that feeling. His own dog at home is always the one he goes to first when he needs comfort and cuddles and he hasn't seen a picture of her in a good while.
The picture is even better than he was expecting. Young Jimin has a leg halfway on the dog's back as if he's ready to ride on top of it. His cheeks are puffed out cutely in a pout, and the patchwork overalls that he's wearing are the cherry on top. Taehyung cracks a smile without realizing.
thx jimin :) he types with shaky fingers. It's not as heartfelt as Jimin deserves for such a nice gesture, but he's not in the mood to embarrass himself even more in one day by showing any more emotion.
Taehyung finds that the bus ride feels faster than normal that night. He falls asleep as soon as he burrows under his covers. And the last thing he sees before he closes his eyes that night is the glow of a new notification.