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i don't want you to go (but i want you so)

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“ you will ask me for the first time, with your fingers pressing mine mine mine into the freckles on my back, whether i think love is really an illness. hypothetically, of course. i’ll say no and you’ll say ‘i see’. 

you will ask me again with your heart hammering against my skin as morse code: i love you’s, i need you’s, please don’t leave me’s, if i would want to be cured. hypothetically, of course. i’ll say no and you’ll say ‘i understand’. 

(are you sure? i'm sure.)

sometimes i think if you’d asked with a smile, i’d have swallowed your ‘hypothetically’s’ down my throat like a shot, a pill, a bullet, without a single thought. and maybe if you’d exhaled the words accidentally in your sleep, i’d go under anaesthetic just to hear everything you don’t say in the space between ‘goodnight’ and the empty bed sheets i wake up to.

see, i was never really afraid of anything. not until i asked you if you thought love was an illness. not until i asked if you’d want to be cured. maybe it’s because every time i’ll say ‘i’m sure’, but every time you’ll say ‘i’m not’.

i know you live in the world of hypothetically - every situation, every moment down to chance. but in that split second, ‘what if’ feels far too much like reality to be just another possibility. i can admit that i’m scared of your ‘i’m not sure’, but you? you’re terrified of my ‘i am’.

and with that i've decided that you and i are every contradiction, since i've always been a little too ‘definitely’ for your ‘maybe’. to every ‘we’ll see’, i am the catalyst that says ‘let’s see it now’ and ‘why wait’. i’m the one that pushes you into conclusions you didn’t want to reach. 

you will ask me for the last time, with your fingers scratching mine mine mine into the bruises on my back, whether i think love is really an illness. hypothetically, of course. i’ll say no. you’ll say i see. "

 

------

 

It was a short news segment, a crammed mention between the weather forecast and the daily economic summary, that’s as morbid an affair as it’s neighbours - gone so fast that Taehyung only manages to catch the ending sentences before the stock exchange nudges it off the screen. 

A young man’s death, his body found alone in the early hours in his own home after neighbours reported what sounded like screams of pain coming from his apartment. There are no murder weapons, no signs of intrusion or protest; just a man, curled up on top of his duvet, arms dead weight at his sides and whites of his eyes staring up at the ceiling.

The victim’s face flashes onto the screen for a second. Average looks with dark hair and bruises under his eyes to match. You can almost hear the sighs of absentminded pity ricochet around the country as families just like his scramble in the Monday morning rush to get the kids to school without confrontation.

At that time, the tinny voice of the news presenter is background noise to the device in Taehyung’s hand and the toast between his teeth, so he shows the TV little attention, old enough to feel guilt that he’s become numb to horrific events such as this, but tired enough to brush it aside for now. 

The host's eventually come back to the story, their mouths barely moving due to the faux sympathy cementing the muscles in their face into shape as they say that it was such a shame, so much potential thrown away, more needs to be done to prevent This from happening. At first, they don’t specify what This is, though apparently there’s a rising epidemic of things like it - young men and women spontaneously dying in the dead of night, in the late morning, mid afternoon, anytime really despite not seeming to have any glaring health issues.

Piecing together the information that manages to bypass Taehyung’s filter of text notifications and information he’d crammed into his brain for the history test that afternoon, it eventually becomes clear the problem for this man - the reason that he was dead - was that he fell in love.

In this world, every time you love someone, whether platonic or romantic, a small black mark will appear anywhere on your skin, acting as a confirmation that the feelings are genuine; a physical representation providing an exclusive look into someone’s affections. Theres no limit to the number of these 'soulmarks' one person can obtain. Possibly a circle on the back for your mother, a circle on your thigh for your father, a circle on your wrist for your best friend. Really, theres no localisation.The only disparity between marks is the introduction of the gold soulmark. Usually starting black and fading to a copper like gold, you only get this mark once, to signify that you'd found your soulmate. Whether they consented to it or not, these ‘soulmarks’ as they’re referred to are not optional. 

The old lady working at the cash register in the off license says it’s a lovely concept to have all your lovers laid out across skin. It's almost like some sort of record of all the times you’ve loved, maybe to act as a reminder that you once felt like that and you can do it again. The lawyer who’s cheating on his wife says it’s a nuisance and completely unnecessary. But really he’s a piece of shit and no one asked him. 

Looking down at the brand new black mark on the back of his ankle with a frown, Taehyung doesn’t understand how such a small thing could possibly cause so much pain. He doesn’t know how love could ever be seen as a bad thing if he gets to feel the way he does right now all the time. A face floats in his mind, and without permission, a smile creeps its way onto Taehyung’s face. That same face is grinning at him, saying he loves him, saying he always will. If love is synonymous with content, Taehyung knows all about it. 

(Maybe if Taehyung knew that every time he looked away, he misses the flicker of uncertainty and panic staring back at him, he’d understand. Maybe if he knew that every 'I love you' is spit out like something unwanted on his tongue, he’d understand. If only he’d known that, to some people, ’always’ has an expiration date.)

In truth, he doesn’t know what love is (you don’t know love until you watch it walk away from you clutching everything you are in the palm of its hand) but he will soon. One day. 

It turns out the issue with the man on the news, a lost name amongst the facts being thrown at the viewers, was that the person he fell in love with wasn’t his soul mate.

There are rules to things like this; Things like loving people and being loved. 

Taehyung had always been taught that there was no limit to the amount of love one person can possess, but that the amount that you give out must vary depending on who it is. Think of it as an overflow bank of affection, some of which needs to be reserved, only given to one person and one person only; your Soulmate. ‘It’s like how your Mom loves the china dinner set that your Aunt got her last Christmas, but loves the chipped plate with the handprint on it that you made in kindergarten just that little more’ is how they’d explained it back then to seven-year-old Taehyung, who was struggling to understand why he couldn’t just love everyone with everything he has. 

They'd ruffled his hair and told him he can love whoever he wants, but it’s when you give all the love you have to the wrong person that things go wrong and hearts get broken and all the china plates end up smashed on the floor.

Love whoever you want, but not too much. 

It wasn’t the fact that the guy on the screen who died loved someone that caused his tragic end. No, loving them that was never the problem. The issue was that he’d loved them as he should love his soulmate. After all, not everyone can be your soulmate, so the premise of loving anyone but them isn't the issue. It's when the love you're supposed to have reserved for them is concentrated somewhere else. 

It wasn’t until he’d gotten a little older, jump from seven years old to eleven years old, that Taehyung learns that it’s a taboo subject to talk about the people who loved the wrong person too much. A distant auntie that the family doesn't talk to anymore, an awkward silence at the dinner table at any mention of her name. The way it disrupts the natural order of things, as really no one should ever feel that strongly for anyone other than the person they’re destined to be with, makes people uncomfortable. So Taehyung learns to not talk about it until eventually Taehyung is conditioned not to care about it. 

It still happens though, even more so these days. This is the third report of its nature in the past week, and slowly the murmurs start to grow. 

It turns out for the victim who had done just that, it had started as what felt like a never ending fever making him constantly burn all over, until it became obvious that his body was tearing him apart each day as it protested the choices he made and the person he made them for. No, it says, you can’t love them like that. It had reached the point that seemingly even going outside became an unachievable feat, as the neighbours reported that before the incident they hadn’t seen him come and go for at least a month, food delivered to the house so he didn’t have to leave at any point. 

Reportedly the previous night he’d reached the point where his body just gave up - ‘as if he’d been set on fire from the inside out’ is what they’d said - and then he was gone. 

As he was lying there writhing in pain and completely alone, Taehyung wonders what he would have been thinking. He wants to ask whether they were worth it? Was any of it worth it? He can’t imagine feeling so strongly about someone that he’d face that sort of pain or even death, just so he didn’t have to live a life of not loving them. But Taehyung is only sixteen so he supposes he wouldn’t know just yet. Maybe the person behind the mark on his ankle can show him. 

The news has moved on - some celebrity confrontation at an award show - but there’s a rolling caption crawling across the bottom of the screen related to the incident. ‘If you or anyone you know could be suffering anything similar to the story mentioned, please go to the doctors straight away. Donations can be sent to the following number - Together we will find a cure.’

Suffering because love hurts, even kills, if you go too far for the wrong person. Donations because the government refuse to admit that there’s a problem and won’t provide funding. A cure because love is a disease if you don’t do it right. 

------


Hoseok has what appears to be three pieces of macaroni lodged up his nose and Taehyung is so tired. 

At twenty years old, Taehyung would like to believe that his life amounts to something more than a long list of regrets and mistakes. Afterall, you don’t graduate top of your class in high school, get into college and still manage to maintain at least a fraction of your mental stability without having at least a shred of sense in your body. However, the current choices he has made up to this point have led to him genuinely wanting to stick his left arm inside an industrial sized blender, so suddenly he’s not so sure.

This is all he can think as he leans against the countertop in front of him, apron tied around his waist and knotted hurriedly at the base of his spine, and glances up as the minute hand of the clock crawls reluctantly around the dial. It gives him ample time to consider the more recent terrible decisions he’s made. 

He recalls once during a dance practice, he’d fallen spectacularly after attempting a running somersault without the use of safety mats, too impatient and too overenthusiastic to wait for the equipment to be set up properly before testing out his acrobatic skills. The fact that these acrobatic skills were virtually non existent did nothing to dampen his spirits. Taehyung really wasn’t a dancer - he still isn’t - so it would have been in his best interests to not attempt the complicated move that he’d watched other members struggle to master over the last few weeks. 

This tragedy had occurred midway through the beginning stage of ambiguity that always occurs after first entering into undergraduate education - somewhere after learning the exact quantity of styrofoam take out food boxes that could fit into one rubbish bin before there is a serious overflow problem and prior to the moment when college life effectively treads down any spirit and passion you once had. The wary discouragements of ‘maybe you should just wait for five minutes until Hoseok gets here’ from the majority of the group and the petulant whine of ‘if you break your neck your mum is going to kill me’ from one Park Jimin had been reduced to nothing more than white noise as he’d rubbed his hands together in an attempt to remove the sweat that had accumulated on his palms after gripping the rubber handles of his bike a little too tightly on the ride from his dorm to the studio.

Unfortunately, it was these same sweaty palms that had then slid haphazardly across the laminate floor and given way to a horrifically swollen ankle, blotched with bruises of blue and purple, transcending across both his skin and his pride.The smirks and taunting words of ‘I told you so’  had followed him unrelentingly as he limped around campus for weeks,  every teasing remark from his friends proving more and more that his moment of stupidity was in no way justified. They had dubbed it The Freshman Year Freestyle Fiasco. Being reckless and injuring himself? Taehyung regretted that. 

Then, more recently, he remembers when he’d not slept properly for a solid week, too caught up in a perpetual Greys Anatomy marathon and engraving the shape of his body in the couch cushions to do anything but keep his eyes latched on the screen. This consequently resulted in him blurry eyed and interpreting his literature end of year coursework focus question completely wrong. His dramatically presented, heart-wrenching ballad about breakfast food, as opposed to a sonnet, focused on how society acts a barrier to love all came down to his over investment in fictional characters. 

(’How was I to know the subject focus was supposed to be romance?’ 
‘Taehyung, the course is literally called ‘Exploring Love Within Classic Literature: Romance and Relationships’) 

Going on to argue that his poem was actually a metaphor for humankind and that the lack of acceptance for cereal-sapian relationships was, in fact, a reflection of the constraints of society on modern day coupleship had also been a mistake. He’s still bitter he only got a B in that module. 

However, none of those things felt equivalent to the pure pain that he was currently feeling after agreeing to take over the night to early morning shift at the diner he had worked in for the last year. Something about low staff and no one wanting to endure the horrors that were the hungover Saturday morning troupers, or more the perpetual lull before and after. At least when customers arrive there’s something to concentrate on that isn’t the insides of your eyelids. 

Despite enduring college with back to back lectures that day and his chronic case of sleep deprivation - which meant the maximum hours he slept a night rarely surpassed four hours - he had reluctantly agreed to take over the shift, promising himself that the additional pay was worth feeling like death for the next six hours or so. He could’ve refused the job. He knows that. Maybe he could have lied, said something came up which couldn’t be rearranged (that something being a desperately needed 12 hours of sleep). 

The only problem is that his manager is way too smart for his own good; a mastermind at creating a foolproof blueprint of sad faces and begs that seep desperation from every pore, to pull at Taehyung's heart strings and makes him completely weak to other people’s suffering. There’s also the fact that, in the long run, he knows he’s lucky to have Namjoon as such a lenient and reasonable boss, so doing him a favour just this once is probably owed. 

It’s in the way Namjoon lets Taehyung sit up at the counter to work on his college assignments when the number of people dwindles in the quieter hours, often glancing over the younger's shoulder and making a hum of acknowledgement when he see’s him analysing the work of Chaucer or Keats. Despite not being a poetry major himself, Namjoon somehow always has something insightful to say about his work - a fact which Taehyung appreciates when he starts to think his essays are going nowhere and he’s in desperate need for encouragement.  

He barely bats an eye anymore when Taehyung starts to mutter strings of nonsensical quotations and extracts under his breath while journeying to and from tables, accidentally greeting customers with borrowed declarations of love from Shakespeare himself, as opposed to the standard ’Hello, my name is Taehyung and i’ll be your waiter for today’. Afterall, the regular customers - clusters of ladies in cardigans and the midday onslaught of elderly couples - find it charming because ‘you don’t find a young man who can recite shakespeare very often these days’. 

So, Taehyung would like to think that the only reason he took the shift is to be the good friend that he prides himself in being, and to repay Namjoon for having a Taehyung shaped weakness that allows him to get away with almost anything. But truthfully, he knows that if he has refused and lied about being busy he wouldn’t have gotten away with it. 

The downside of sharing a friendship group with his boss is that said boss can easily question his employees via their Facebook group chat. It was supposed to be strictly used to share screenshots and edits of Yoongi with cartoon shades photoshopped onto his face, but Taehyung knows Namjoon is low enough to publicly call him out on his bullshit should the need arise. He also doesn’t doubt that Jimin would rat him out in the end anyway, almost as weak to other people’s requests as Taehyung is. 

So, that’s how he finds himself on a 10pm to 4am shift on four hours of sleep at the most. 

In his exhausted state, he somehow remembers to inform Jimin on his way to work that he wouldn’t be coming home to their shared apartment that night, knowing his best friend would be rolling his eyes that he’d given in so easily to the boss’ demands. Jimin also worked at the diner, in the kitchens as opposed to as a waiter, after the two had reached a mutual agreement that they had to get jobs if they were to afford living in their own, off campus apartment and still have the income to eat at least one proper meal a day. 

When Taehyung had first enrolled to the college, he had made the mistake of choosing to stay on campus in student accommodation, despite the rumours of faulty electrics, temperamental washing machines and a possible murder having taken place in the room at the end of the hall. 

At the time, skimping on luxurious commodities such as heating, showers that actually worked and basic sanitation had been, what he believed to be, an economically beneficial decision. After all, not only was the proximity to class a distance which would likely not make him out of breath should he walk it, it also meant there was more money to spare for the necessities of pot noodles and enough carbonated drinks that he could effectively drown himself. Though that sentiment was quick to die out. 

It had soon reached the point where he'd become sick of seeing puffs of air filtering out of his mouth and into the space in front of him every evening when the season had sharply turned without warning into winter. One too many showers cut short by the harsh torrents of freezing water scraping against his shoulder blades was just one of many things that resulted in him being less than satisfied with the location he had set up as base for the entirety of his first year of college. 

Escaping as soon as a new semester began and moving in with his best friend had been the equivalent to upgrading from a shed to a penthouse apartment for Taehyung, even with the addition of non-dysfunctional bathroom appliances alone. 

Luckily, Jimin and Taehyung had fit perfectly into the team of the small, family owned restaurant, both initially working in the kitchens with Taehyung eventually being relocated to the front line due to the fact that he was what their boss called  ‘a people person’ and ‘the customers can hear you enough of the time, they may as well see you too’. Taehyung feels like it’s more an attempt to separate the two best friends and stop them from having their weekly Bubble Attack No Timeouts Extreme Rendezvous which had become a sort of bonding experience for all the staff. Named ‘B.A.N.T.E.R’ for short, the game involved fighting one another with the washing up bubbles from the sink, but was eventually banned as last time Jimin had slipped on the moisture and almost cracked his head open. 

The diner is a little crappy, the coffee tastes a lot like dishwater and four out of six of the light fixtures no longer illuminate, but overall it’s not a bad job at all. That is when he’s working a normal shift and doesn’t feel like a zombie. He’d never understood the purpose of the place being open 24 hours a day, what with the wages paid to the workers taking the shift likely exceeding the revenue they receive from customers during the graveyard shift. Despite this, he’d learnt the hard way to stop bad mouthing the family owned restaurant when he’d been blocked from the group chat and had become the victim of many shady subtweets from the owners son due to his opinions. 

Although Namjoon had eventually apologised for calling him a snake in front of all 36 of his followers, Taehyung tried to keep his complaints to a minimum, being granted the rights to only one snarky comment per working day in exchange for a cease fire. 

Due to sharing a workplace, Jimin knew all too well the struggle of the early morning shift, relying on stealing espresso shots from the coffee machine behind the counter that tasted a little like hell, but at least kept his eyes open as the night crawled on. 

The only difference was that Jimin was a biology major and also knew that working on 4 hours of sleep, after classes, would cause his body to slowly but surely internally collapse. Therefore, he would never allow himself to be put in this situation. Taehyung was not so fortunate. 

taehyung
covering the late night shift tonight 
so dnt expect me back unless it’s in a body bag after i inevitably die
pls play exos lucky one at my funeral 

jimin
thats horrific rip
i’ll play wolf

taehyung 
i thought we were friends :/
u kno what as long as the sound of byun baekhyuns voice is playing when i ascend to heaven idrc

jimin
that’s cute that u think you’re getting to heaven 
our walls are thin tae, i hear the sins you commit 

taehyung
jimin !!!!

All he gets in response is a string of laugh crying emojis and by that point he’d made it to work, obligated to leave the text conversation behind for washing down counter tops and serving drinks to businessmen with weird hours and even weirder coffee preferences. 

It’s now nearing 2 am and at this point, Taehyung is 90% sure that Hoseok, working in the kitchen, has fallen asleep in the pasta that he was organising by shape and colour when trying to fend off his boredom about two hours into their shift. He only suspects this because eventually Hobi’s ear shattering screams for Taehyung to check out the piece of macaroni that was shaped like a dick had been replaced by an occasional snore. 

Really, Hobi has the right idea. There’s only one customer at the moment - a pretty girl that looks to be around his age, with blonde hair, a tanned complexion and eyes that seem to be trained even more intently on the clock than Taehyung’s own, dividing their time between the time and the phone in her hand. Or at least that’s what he thinks he sees. His vision had started to become blurry as the urge to collapse from exhaustion presses further into his skull, so he’s not entirely convinced that she isn’t just a hallucination. 

If it wasn’t 1 am and the diner wasn’t just the right mix of welcoming and shitty, he’d suspect she was waiting for someone to turn up, perhaps a friend or a date of some sort. But it is 1 am and the diner is Truly Horrific, so surely no one would arrange any sort of romantic meeting here, unless they’re in the committed part of the relationship where it’s okay to go on shit dates and eat cereal with your bare hands in front of the other person and kick them in the ribs when they steal all the blankets at night. 

If she is waiting for someone she at least doesn’t seem too worried, more frustrated, he deduces as he watches her flick through the apps on her phone and pause every so often to type something, long nails clicking against the screen each time. As she tilts the phone away from her to pick up the coffee that he had informed her was only half as horrid tasting as the other beverages, he swears he sees the telling light blue of the twitter app loading but glances away when a particularly loud snore reverberates from beyond the closed kitchen door behind him. 

Hoseok was definitely asleep and having a far better time than he was. 

He’s just about to go over to the girl, who’d said her name was Yujin when he had talked to her earlier, to ask if she wants anything else - whether that’s a mug of dirt to rival the soil like taste of the coffee or a free follow from one of his 21 saved accounts on Twitter (he likes to save usernames, okay) - using it as an excuse to stretch his legs, but before he can move the entrance door opens with a chime of the bell hanging from it.

After getting over the shock that the evening had provided him with not one, but two customers, he takes a moment to observe the person who had just walked through the door. 

To put it lightly, the male is what Taehyung would call a strong 11/10, with extra points awarded due to thighs that look strong enough to break Taehyungs neck should they be placed anyway near his face (he wishes, he really wishes) and the veins on his arms peeking out from underneath a three-quarter length, striped blue t-shirt. He’s never really been a fan of blue, but suddenly he can see it becoming his favourite colour. 

If he squints a little, he thinks he can see piercings adorning the man’s ears and for a brief moment considers asking if he can touch them, but the stranger is still many paces away across the room. Plus, there’s most likely some sort of unwritten rule about feeling up someone’s earlobes in the customer well-being contract and wow does that sound really fucking creepy, even for Taehyung. 

It’s just unfortunate that such a pretty face is frowning so aggressively right now, looking like someone who would rather be anywhere but standing there and ruining the facade of looking even somewhat approachable. He doesn’t exactly look intimidating, his face a little young and eyes a little too wide to look anything more than just angry at the world, but something about the way he holds himself with his back straight and shoulders broad makes Taehyung want to take a step backwards. 

People are people, not numbers, and Taehyung feels like a bit of an asshole while using his mental score chart, but he can’t help that he has to subtract at least 2 points for the agitated expression on Blue Boy’s™ face (‘what was he, a smurf?’ says Jimin, hours later when Taehyung recounts the events of the evening). 

9/10. Still not bad. 

The subject flits his eyes around the room and briefly lets his gaze rest on Taehyung behind the counter as if shocked that someone was working at this time of night. The hand pushing back his dark hair stops momentarily and he looks at the waiter, who had become frozen at having the glare painted across the stranger’s face aimed towards him. 

Taehyung isn’t sure what to do, whether to welcome him to the restaurant and take his order like his job description tells him to, or continue using the counter as a safe base until the murderous expression was no longer penetrating through him. Undecided, he doesn’t get a chance to do anything really, seemingly becoming mute for what feels like the eternity that he is scrutinised before the choice is made for him. 

‘You’re late.’ A voice breaks through the bubble that he didn’t realise was there until it popped in his face and Taehyung is thrown off for a second before remembering that there are three (four if you count the incapacitated Hoseok) people in the restaurant. 

Blue Boy is still frowning, but his back is no longer so rigid when he finally breaks his gaze with Taehyung, making the latter slump slightly in relief, and turns to look at the girl still sat down, who had addressed him and now looks decisively unimpressed. 

Unlike the usual calibre of guests at this time, this one doesn’t look drunk at all, the customary haze that tends to pass over intoxicated eyes and the dragging limbs absent as he walks over to the only occupied booth in the vicinity and slides in opposite. 

It’s then that Taehyung remembered what time it was. At any point between the hours of 1 am and 5 am he wouldn’t particularly blame anyone for not being particularly cheery, and seeing as neither of the people he’s serving seem to be here to ease their drunk cravings, it’s likely this was an organised affair and both had either been already out, possibly working, or had dragged themselves out of bed for this. Looking college age, he wonders what the relationship is between the two if they had sacrificed the much needed sleep that all students learnt to grasp with both hands when it arose. 

‘Sorry, babe.’ The boy says, emphasising the last word, sounding every bit as petulant as a toddler being forced to apologise for drawing on the walls. 

Ah. Babe. 

Taehyung tries to pretend that the small stab of disappointment he feels at hearing that the two are in fact together doesn’t have any importance. He feels a twinge of heated pain in his chest, but pretty boys come and go he supposes. He resolves to stop listening to their conversation in favour of organising the cutlery tray, though admittedly it’s hard considering the scarcity of people and lack of noise, limited to two low voices and the clinks of knives and forks that he sifts through. 

If Taehyung wasn’t too busy trying to see his reflection in a spoon he’s polishing, he may have noticed Yujin rolling her eyes in response to the pet name and pretending to gag, as the stranger laughs at her dramatic reaction. 

Looking up and seeing the two seemingly more relaxed, Taehyung sees this as his opportunity to quickly go over and offer his assistance, before leaving them alone to talk about whatever was going on with them. Grabbing his order book and mustering up any energy he had left, he makes his way over, making sure to meet Yujins smile when she recognises him from before. 

'Hello, my name is Taehyung - is there anything I can get for you today?’ 

Really, it could have gone so well. That is, if Taehyung made an active effort to ignore the hint of a scowl that’s still plastered across the boy's face and focus instead on the pretty looking hands that are tapping lightly on the counter top. He’d take the order, maybe bang a few pots and pans in Hobi’s ear if it was anything particularly complex - though he had initially worked in the kitchens so he’s sure he could manage pretty much anything with relative ease - and then deliver it before returning to the counter top where he could try to pass some time by sifting through the notes that he had haphazardly splayed out before any customers had arrived.  

Taehyung internally sighs in relief when the aggravated look seems to melt off the customer's face when he turns his head towards the waiter, and he begins to anticipate a far more pleasant conversation than he had initially expected. It’s when the stranger make the unfortunate decision to open his mouth, that both any hope and any credit Taehyung had previously given for attractiveness are completely cancelled out by the words that escape the boy’s lips.

‘Is there anything you can get me?’ and Taehyung nods, a friendly smile on his face, ’How about your number?’ and the smile slips, falls, clatters on the floor with a bang. 

Oh, wait no, that’s his notepad that he’d just dropped on the floor. The notepad that the boy who’d just unabashedly tried to flirt with him picks up and doesn’t immediately give back, brushing his finger against the spine and staring expectantly up at him, a smirk settled on his face. 

Letting out an awkward laugh, Taehyung glances over in panic at Yujin, who he’ll emphasise clearly had some sort of involvement with the guy, to see whether she looks like she was going to slap him for that fact that her boyfriend is seemingly flirting with him right in front of her. All he’s met with is a quirk of an eyebrow and yet another roll of her eyes, as she turns back to her phone like she’d done while she was waiting earlier. 

‘Ah, I’m sorry - I don’t think that’s on the menu.’ Taehyung finally says, seeing that neither of the people in front of him was going to interject with anything else, ‘Can I get you anything else?’ 

Really Taehyung deserves a medal for customer service with the next words that he hears.

‘Are you on the menu?’ A voice like velvet and faux innocent expression looking up at him, Taehyung’s jaw clenches, a flash of irritation passing over him. He is way too tired to deal with a customer that won’t let up, especially in front of who he assumes is his girlfriend, no matter how good looking he was. Taehyung knew there was a reason he hated the colour blue, he should have seen the warning signs as soon as the menace had walked through the doors. 

His mind is almost silent, bar his cursing thoughts and the hushed clicking of his internal timer, the clock hand stuttering and struggling on its compass to reach the next second, the next hour, the next day. Sometimes, he thinks maybe it’s counting down to something. Anything. This time it's probably acting as a stopwatch for how long Taehyung can keep his shit together before screaming. 

‘Sorry but people aren’t for sale,’ he says, his voice a little harder than it was before,  ‘Anything else?’ A mouth opens, another string of pickup lines probably ready to go. 

‘Anything that isn’t remotely to do with me.’ Taehyung tacks on the end, holding up a hand before anyone can talk and adding a sickly sweet smile at the end. It makes the other lean back and appraise him for a second before his smirk grows.

‘A coffee, then?’ Finally a proper answer. 

Taehyung nods relieved that the exchange was finally over, after checking Yujin didn’t want another drink, and he's about to leave when he remembers the notebook he’d dropped in shock earlier. 

Realistically, he doesn’t need to write down the order in the notepad currently between the guy's fingertips, since remembering a simple coffee isn’t exactly rocket science, but the way he’s absentmindedly flicking through the pages makes Taehyung want to snatch it out of his hands as soon as possible.

Not even looking up, a hand moves the pad out of the range of Taehyung hand when he tries to reach for it, and a glance at the perpetrators face shows just how amused he is at how frustrated he’s managed to make Taehyung. How anyone can be this alert at this time of night is almost impressive, but when the notepad is moved yet again, all Taehyung feels towards the other is annoyance.

The ticking melts until his temper is that of a metronome, keeping his pulse in time with his thoughts and stopping his heart thundering too hard in anger, though he can feel it building with every additional interaction. 

‘Kim Taehyung.’ The stranger drawls, an observation not a question, his eyes flicking down to the name tag adorning Taehyung’s chest. Each syllable that leaves his mouth makes Taehyung bristle, hating the way the consonants sound and hating himself for imaging the other saying his name in other contexts. Teasing, shouting, screaming - really Taehyung isn’t picky. 

‘Jeongguk.’ and then BlueBoy hisses, moving his hand to rub at his shin and shoots a glare towards Yujin. It’s at his point that Taehyung regains his sense and takes advantage of the moment of distraction to pluck the book out of the loosened hand, before sending Yujin a salute as he makes his way back to the counter. He can hear her laugh under her breath and silently thanks her for allowing him to escape from the game of cat and mouse that he’d never asked to be involved in. 

It’s all too soon that he’s finished making the drink and he has to leave the steaming machine in front of him in aid of delivering it to what might possibly be the most irritating customer he’s ever had. 

Okay, he admits that’s a lie. After all, being flirted with isn’t a rare occurrence to Taehyung, and at least this time no one had complimented him on his glabella or asked for the number of his dermatologist so that he ‘could be thanked for his important contribution towards society’. He knows this ‘Jeongguk’ is teasing him to annoy him but for some reason the assumedly younger man makes his blood boil. It probably doesn’t help that Taehyung is practically a dead man walking, eyelids half closed as he shuffles, more navigating by muscle memory than sight. In any other situation, he’s sure he could put up with the customer with relative ease, but his usually tepid temperament always simmers a little more when he’s tired. 

‘What do you think?’ Taehyung asks when he places the cup on the table and watches Jeongguk take a gulp of it immediately, standing with his arms crossed by the table as if daring the stranger to make a comment. 

‘You look like you haven’t slept in about a week and your apron is kind of stupid, but you’re one of the hottest people I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’ Jeongguk answers after a brief contemplative pause to let the drink settle on his taste buds.

Taehyung’s right eye begins to twitch. The ticking clock and the swinging metronome in his head blends into a haphazard chorus of noise and confusion until the only sound is the pulsation of a bomb ready to detonate. Taehyung is the weapon, his fuse wearing thin and his dynamite crackling with electricity and energy. 

‘I meant what do you think of the coffee.’ He grits out, repeating ‘the customer's always right’ in his head, less as a reminder and more as a coping technique to stop himself from leaping at the younger boy. How odd that the sentiment would have been meant in an entirely different way when Taehyung had first seen him. Pretty boys are always too good to be true, he muses bitterly to himself. 

Jeongguk leans forward towards the waiter, gesturing for him to come closer and, against his better judgement, Taehyung does just that, shuffling a little closer towards the booth if only to make the conversation end more swiftly. 

’Imagine the best cup of coffee in the world,’ Jeongguk says lowly, looking around as if staking out the area, ignoring the lack of people in the vicinity and the way Yujin is massaging her forehead in frustration at the theatrics. He meets Taehyung eyes directly and leans in slightly to make sure that he’s being listened to properly.

‘Are you picturing it?’ He grabs Taehyung shoulders, who quickly nods if only for the exchange to be over so he can find something to focus on that isn’t the small scar on Jeongguks left cheek or the way the man's hand feels though Taehyung’s shirt. 

‘Well the coffee you just gave me,’ He pauses, moving even closer into Taehyung’s personal space, forcing him to practically crouch down next to the booth, ‘Is the exact opposite.’ Taehyung doesn’t seem to register what he’d said until a second later, frozen and almost holding his breath.

‘Kim, it literally tastes like a mix of charcoal and death.’ he murmurs sadly and Taehyung thinks the others glance dips down to his lips before Taehyung finally snaps out of it, the use of his last name making him huff under his breath. He doesn't wear a name tag to be treated like this. He roughly shakes the hands off his shoulders, almost growling in anger as he stands up again, gaze murderous as he takes in the way Jeongguk’s shoulders are shaking in laughter. 

Taehyung is fuming. Taehyung doesn’t know why he’s fuming. 

Maybe it’s the way Jeongguk is way too much of a brat to deal with at this time in the evening (morning?) and Taehyung no longer knows the definition of patience. Or maybe it's the fact that Jeongguks face stresses Taehyung out way too much to feel anything but intensity towards him, regardless of whether it's positive or negative. After all, no one said passion was restricted to the realms of good. 

His inner monologue is cursing, arguing, shouting. How dare Jeongguk say that about the beverage that he had slaved over (pressed a button to produce) as if he could do a better job.Yes, it was true that the diner is truly terrible, but the only one who’s allowed to insult it is him, not some stranger who wouldn't know quality coffee if it was thrown in his face. Actually, that sounds like a great idea, but Taehyung manages to restrain himself enough to not give another person third-degree burns, no matter how satisfying it would be to see that beautiful face completely drowned in coffee. 

He probably shouldn’t have done it. He probably should have walked away and not looked back. But he hasn’t left his position by the table and he's saying it before he can control himself. 

‘What do you mean my apron is stupid?’ And the way he says it, with every ounce of accumulated hatred he’d ever possessed, contrasts perfectly with the way Taehyung is pouting and looking down at the cartoon smiley face sun in sunglasses drawn on his chest. 

There’s no noise for a minute, just the ticking and the snoring as it had been before this entire thing had occurred. When Jeongguk does eventually speak, Taehyung kind of wishes that he hadn’t bothered. 

‘The sun is hot right? Wouldn’t it just melt the sunglasses?’

The customer’s always right, the customer’s always right, the customer’s always right.

Taehyung honestly can’t tell if Jeongguk is being serious, staring back at him with the same expression that someone would direct towards a piece of chewing gum that they’d found on the bottom of their shoe. He takes a deep breath to calm himself down.

'The sun is a 92.96 million mile away, floating ball of fire that will one day implode and destroy us all, and you’re deciding to question the logistic of it wearing sunglasses?’ He deadpans in disbelief.

‘That’s exactly what I’m doing.’

Bang. Explosion. Numerous Casualties. It’s then that Taehyung decides that he’s Done. Completely and utterly Done. 

Taking a deep breath and holding up a finger, he's politely asking to be excused for a moment and bowing to the two customers, before he walks away from the table, past the counter and into the kitchens industrial sized freezer. It’s here that he proceeds to scream for a solid ten minutes, recalling every Shakespearean insult that he can remember from his last lecture and hurling it at the vacuum packed bread buns that sit on the shelves as he paces in anger. He only emerges when he risks one of his fingers snapping off due to frostbite. 

‘I’m really sorry about him, he has the social skills of a plastic fork.’ Yujin says later after he’d returned and the pair were half way out the door, having placed the payment on the table. She gives him a pat on the shoulder and presses some change in his hand as a tip, before following Jeongguk, who is walking backwards out the door. 

Don’t look him in the eye, Taehyung says to himself, glaring at Jeongguk as he takes him time leaving the diner. He only just manages to stop himself from sneering, his character the only obstacle in him stooping so low. The latter grins at the attention, waving cheerily as if Taehyung isn’t looking at him with a look of murder, choosing instead to give him a wink before he throws an offhand 'Thanks, Kim' into the air, as he disappears to the car park outside. 

And Taehyung is alone again. 

Or at least he thought he was alone until a choking sound from behind makes him turn to see Hobi hacking up what looks to be a piece of pasta that had somehow managed to make its way into his oesophagus. Staring in fascination at his friend's almost flawless impression of a cat coughing up a fur ball, Taehyung waits for it to die down before saying 'Good morning, Hobi’ and face planting the counter with a groan.

Longest night ever. 

------

 

When he comes around again it’s past midday and he thinks if he had stayed in bed any longer mould may have begun to grow around his immobile body. That being said, he doesn’t actually climb out of bed for at least an hour after he first wakes up, opting to let the group chat know that he’s still alive, after seeing a flurry of activity and notifications on his phone when he’d first arisen. At a glance he see’s a notification for some Facebook event from someone he doesn’t really know, a DM asking when the latest assignment was in for from a member of his poetry class who he also doesn’t really know and a thread of messages from Hobi spamming the group chat with zoomed in pictures of Namjoon’s face. Unfortunately that person, he knows. 

It’s then that he remembers the conflict that he had faced the night before and, feeling the spark of anger fizzle in his chest when he thinks about it, he sets about letting them all know what had happened, suspecting they’d be thankful that he was giving them a topic of conversation that wasn’t the blurry pixels of someone’s nostrils. 

He decides he’s not going to be dramatic about the situation.

taehyung 
i genuinely think i’m going to die 

Perfect. 

Taehyung only has to wait a minute or so after sending his message to receive a reply, using the pause to compile together a will in his head; his sunglasses to Jimin, his plushies to Jin and his student debt to Yoongi. 

namjoon
deaths are kind of bad for business can you not ?

seokjin
firstly
shut the fuck up joonie

Taehyung suppresses a laugh. As the oldest member of the group, Jin had always had some sort of authority over them all, despite his love for Nintendo memorabilia letting him down in terms of respect given, and he was pretty much the only person that could get Namjoon to pipe down when he got too bossy, shh’d him when he got too annoying or drags him away when he bends down in the middle of the road to stare at an empty can of lager that he claimed was the perfect metaphor for the universe. That was an odd night. 

seokjin 
secondly
what happened tae ???

taehyung
so yesterday i had the customer from hell 

hoseok
we had customers yesterday ?

taehyung
not many but yeah 
this was when you fell asleep n almost choked on that piece of ravioli

namjoon
he did what now ?? 

hoseok 
have i ever told you how much i respect and value you as an employer x 

taehyung 
anyway 
he was so rude n arrogant and he was saying all sort of shit about t diner 
he said the coffee tasted like charcoal 
CHARCOAL  !!!
and he had the nerve to call my apron /stupid/
how can an apron even be stupid i jsut 
I have neve r bene mor angry in my entire lif e !!!!!

jimin

hoseok
…….

seokjin
…………...

namjoon 
YOU DO THAT ALL THE TIM E 

taehyung 
that is a complete lie !!!

namjoon
just last week you said the ice cream we serve tastes like if roadkill and a bucket of sand reproduced together 

taehyung
okay maybe it happened just the once 

namjoon
that same day i overheard you tell a customer that the menu probably has more nutritional value and flavour than the mash potato

jimin
he’s probs not wrong tho

namjoon
hey lets play a new play game i just made up, it’s called ‘who wants to be unemployed?’ 

taehyung
okay i get it 
But. 
It’s cute when i do it
He was just a Dick 

jimin
tlking of dicks

seokjin
here we go 

jimin
what would you give him out of 10

taehyung
he was ,,, a solid,,,,,9

jimin
DUDEEEE

seokjin
jimin, can you please not be a fuckboy for 0.05 seconds

jimin
Hey !!!

namjoon
listen he’s growing up now
it makes sense that he’s starting to think with his dick 

jimin
HEY !!!

It’s clear that Taehyung is unlikely to receive any sympathy from his friends, leaving the chat when Jin starts talking about the birds and the bees which, in retrospect has no relevance at all, hearing Jimin spluttering from the living room as he exits the app. He seriously needs to get a new friendship group. 

 

------

Soulmate marks are remarkably ambiguous.  

The thing is, it’s hard to tell whether there are multiple hearts resting in the palm of their hand, warm and alive. In reality, it’s foolishly optimistic to assume that this is always the case. To assume that they didn’t rip their own heart out and, with shaking hands, give it to someone else. Placed it, pressed it, forced it into hands that wouldn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t hold it. 

There was the time you gave it to someone who was just that little bit too nonchalant; who didn’t care enough to hold it tight. They tripped on a bump in the road and let it slip between their fingers with nothing more than a disgruntled sigh of exasperation, before shrugging and leaving the broken pieces scattered behind them. 

Then you gave it to someone who dropped it, kicked it, cut and sliced the arteries like rose stems, relishing the blood that dripped slowly down their hands and trickled through the crevices nested between knuckles. The power nestled between their thumbs drives them far past the point of care and you are the sole victim. If all is fair and love and war, then why are you the only one left with battle wounds?

But then there’s the one who was so careful to leave the scars and bandages adorning your heart untouched, palms delicate and soft and caring. They kept it locked and sealed between the cages of their fists, desperate to keep a secure grip, no matter what.

But the rain screams in protest (making their fingers slick with nerves) and the wind fights viciously around their heads, whispering words of paranoia (you’ve got it wrong, it’s not them, move along) until suddenly all anyone can hear is words; distracting, enticing, tempting  - oh there it goes. Broken.The stitches are torn out once again, one by one. You let yourself fall apart a little more every time. 

Of course, it’s never going to kill you to love so many people, but it’s enough to leave permanent wounds in the form of black marks, scattered like birthmarks across the plains of your skin. At least your heart will heal, of course, it will. It’s just a shame that this fact does nothing to numb the dull ache that curls in your stomach every time you look down and all you can see is an endless list of tragedies painted across your wrists, shoulders, chest. 

When passing someone in the street and catching a glance at skin, peeking out from behind their shirt collar and littered with marks you have to make a split second decision between the smile of congratulations or the hum of condolences. Or maybe it’s not a decision, it’s more of an instinct. 

Taehyung see’s him when he’s making the trek across campus, from the haven of his apartment to the horrors of double literature, with a professor that was endearingly, and appropriately, nicknamed ‘the demon’ by past graduates.

There’s a man that he spies in his peripheral - a lecturer, judging by the canvas bag slung over his shoulder and the staple black cardigan that every prestigious professor seems to possess -  milling through the students criss crossing through the space. His head is facing pointedly in the direction he’s travelling, his jaw line soft and hairline seemingly poised to begin it’s receding progress. Looking more on the older side, he sticks out like a sore thumb among the throng of young and eager students darting to class and buzzing with anticipation, read: sleep deprived and bodies more drugged up on artificial, caffeinated drinks than half of the adult population combined. 

Though it’s not his age that Taehyung notices first. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about his face, but what does make him stand out is the fact that he’s completely covered in dashes and dots. They wind their way around each arm and up his neck, and Taehyung imagines a covered back, skin splattered with brandishing of muted monochrome. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many eyes on the guy, some curious like Taehyung, but more that are steely and ice cold, attached to a sneer and a condescending look. Hey, who's that? Who cares, did you see his skin? There must be something wrong with him if he loves people so easily, right? 

Taehyung feels a flash of pity in the pit of his stomach at the prying eye following him, guilty that he too is one of them, entranced by someone’s life being so explicitly etched onto a person’s skin, like tattoos with a story, except you don’t get to choose whether to share it or not. 

He thinks, that if he looks hard enough, maybe angles his face to a 45 degree angle and squints his eyes until the people in front of him have become dancing blurs, he could easily find some sort of deep metaphor for the toxicity of society, in the way they all watch and whisper, making assumptions and judgements about a stranger. 

He could, but he won’t. Partially because that morning he had eaten a particularly disappointing bagel and he can only take so much emotional trauma for one day, and partially due to the current calibre of students in his immediate surroundings. He doubts they would be the most effective life preservers should he choose this moment to submerge himself into a sea of existentialism. 

No, he’ll save that for when he makes the valiant attempt to push the alcohol content in his bloodstream to outweigh his IQ, as intoxicated Friday nights somehow sink into regretful Monday mornings. 

Taehyung knows when you see those dark marks, painted on an upturned palm or chasing each other up an exposed neck, it can either be good or bad, and he’s not sure exactly what to conclude about the man standing in front of him. After all, you can never really tell from a first glance. 

Sometimes, on the rare occasions when you’re caught in the split second space between your eyelids fluttering to blink, it is almost possible to see the labels of ‘love’ or ‘lose’ floating above the person’s head and flashing like neon signs. 

It was in the way the man’s shoulders sloped downwards into a hunch, that tells Taehyung that the body may be a little old, but it’s really the soul that had grown wary. His vision clouds over with pictures of cold mornings and colder nights, hands slipping apart and watching a back moving further and further away before he shakes himself. 

It doesn’t happen often but, just this once, Taehyung silently hopes that his observations are wrong and that each of the marks on that man is just an extensive list of the platonic, or not so platonic, lovers that have become intertwined in the stranger's life. 

Five years old, the girl he doesn’t recognise pulls him over to the crafts table and ends up leaving acrylic on his clothes. Fifteen years old, the same girl grips onto his wrist loosely and ends up leaving marks on skin. There’s an older brother slung casually across his shoulders, a parent reassuring him behind his earlobe, a family dog nibbling at his ankle. Perhaps there’s even a gold smudge somewhere, the sun in this expansive solar system that Taehyung has imagined so vividly, hidden beneath the fabric cocooning his body or lying unassumingly in his clavicles, shielded from the rest of the universe. 

He’s still a cosmos either way, because, after all, love and lose are only a single character apart, not so uniformly split as people first believe. It’s probably considered odd for Taehyung to aspire for both. Looking at the flash of life in the older man’s eyes as he scans the crowd, so unconsciously unaware of the stare’s following his back, Taehyung can’t bring himself to chastise himself for it. Something tells him that maybe it’s not too bad to be both. 

Taehyung wants to stare longer, but his manners and the thud of an iron shoulder brushing aggressively past his immobile body tames the curiosity flickering behind his eyes.  Looking up and being met by someone’s back he mutters an affronted ‘oh that’s fine, you’re totally forgiven for bulldozing into me’ under his breath and chooses instead to force his head back to the pavement as he pushes forward on his journey, his body switching to autopilot as he weaves in and out of the motorway of teenagers. He follows the hoodie clad body that had unabashedly knocked him back into reality moments ago, before splitting off towards the direction of the English department. 

Somewhere between when he passes the, admittedly sub-par even compared to the diner, campus coffee shop and reaches that one lamp post that an intoxicated Jimin had once challenged to a fight because ‘did you not hear what he said about my mother, Taehyung?’, he’s almost managed to replace speckled skin with the mottled concrete beneath his feet.

It works until it doesn’t. 

It ends up that he’s distracted, even when he slides behind his desk and the lecture begins because really, all Taehyung can think of is a pale back similar to an inverted night sky. And all he can see is space, dusted with haphazard smudges, forming constellations and private galaxies of their own. 

It takes a text alarm to jolts him out of his thoughts, a glare aimed in his direction from the lecturer as he scrambles to put his phone on silent and spit out hurried apologies, resolving to focus on the rest of the lesson. 

He only gets a chance to check his phone at the end of the lecture, remaining in his seat while the rest of the class file out, a chaotic tsunami of tired students either going to their next class or if you were lucky like Taehyung, home. 

It’s a message to the group chat - a response to Taehyungs rant from before and he presumes the consequent aftermath, which had turned out to be all but two members either removing themselves or being blocked from the group. 

These two members had been Taehyung - who, after becoming sick of hearing of Jimin recounting the amount of bleach he would drink if he ever had to hear the ins and outs of Jin’s sex life again, had added him back to the group in a desperate attempt for the whining to become digital and thus easily muted - and Yoongi, who hadn’t contributed at all to the drama. 

Until now. 

Taehyung rolls his eyes, of course, Yoongi, always busy working on something or other, didn’t care to see the floods of irrelevant conversation that the six of them embarked in half the time. Though really if anything that proportion is incredibly generous considering one question about what time a shift starts really doesn’t stand a chance in outweighing the ever going debate on the pros and cons of yoghurt as a concept. 

yoongi
sorry i had this chat muted, you good ?

Having forgotten the altercation temporarily, Taehyung doesn’t deem it worth the glare he received from the alert going off mid class, and shoots off a quick ‘all good’ and ‘don’t fuckign text me during class bithc’, the last message left on ‘read 5:35’ for the foreseeable future until he sees Yoongi at his and Jimin’s apartment that evening and is promptly hit over the head upon arrival. 

-----

He is not good, he is not good at all. 

It’s three days later when he’s clasping his hands together in mock prayer, doing his best to appeal to the Taehyung shaped soft spot that he knows resides somewhere within his boss, as he begs for the other to take this table - ‘just this once, i’ll be your best friend I swear’. 

All he’s met with is a cry of protest from the kitchens, probably Jimin grumbling about the unlikely possibility of losing his honorary best friend status and a shrug from Namjoon, who pushes him forward slightly with the words ‘He requested you especially’. 

Taehyung does know this. When he’d heard that he’d been requested to serve a table, he’d been slightly confused but also a little honoured to have been chosen.That was before he was told that he was specifically referred to as ‘the boy with brown hair who called me a venomous lout’. He hadn't realised his Shakespearean insults had been heard from the freezer. In retrospect, his first instinct should have been to feel offended that it had just been assumed to be him, though he’d been preoccupied with the drop in this stomach at realising who he was about to face.

When Taehyung paces over to the booth that the menace from the other day was sitting in with the same girl from before, with his tray balanced on his arm and plastic smile across his mouth, he can feel Namjoon’s eyes digging into his back from behind. He momentarily prays that the customer in question had experienced some sort of miraculous personality shift within the last few days. 

Taehyung is sure that the sound of someone’s voice alone is not enough of a stimulus to make you almost vibrate with anger yet here is, almost shaking at one phrase, that's paired with a lazy grin and a raised eyebrow.

'Alright, Kim?'

Just peachy.