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Speed Demon

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00:00:52

There are sixty seconds to a minute, but the timer always counts down from fifty-two.

From the hotel to the parking garage, there’s a thirty-five second sprint to the door of the car. Backing out of the space in a Bugatti, Jeongguk has already used up forty with one foot pumping the gas, revving the engine just for the satisfaction of sound. Twelve more seconds and he’s running through a mental checklist, swiftly glancing around the dimly lit saffron interior.

The rule here is that the faster you move, the more dough you make, the more tips you juice.

You shut off the radio to avert the customer’s attention towards you and your customer service, your slick ability to leave them weak in the knees where it matters. Because people with money love status if it means praise so good it’ll fill the hollow of continuity like whiskey on thick ice. You make sure the seat’s position is exactly as it was when it arrived if you needed to adjust it. If it’s cold without a jumper outside, you crank the heaters on low and make sure it’s cozy by the time you arrive. You don’t steal the ecstasy and you definitely don’t steal the weed unless you know it won’t make a visible difference. There’s a hemp bra on the floor, leftover cocaine on the dash, condoms in the cup holder—you don’t touch any of it. When it’s that obvious, it’s a booby trap with guaranteed conviction.

What you do do is check below the seats for loose cash when you finally pull up at the fifty-two second mark before stepping out, a few feet tall of manners but never taller than your guests. Because lost cash is out of sight and out of mind until needed for that psychedelic moment your insides feel fucked enough to snort some lines off the glove compartment. Given the current mess on the dashboard, no one’s thinking about loose change beyond this point tonight, not with condoms already prepped in the cup holder to save a trip down to the convenience store. Party gifts compared to other lavish luxuries when you’re that blitzed with shit up your nose and the pungent scent of saffron leather chasing it.

So what do you do with the last eight seconds to the minute?

“Sir, Ma’am—I hope you had a fantastic dinner,” Jeongguk reaches out to accept his tip and off goes the gold tie bar clipped on the man’s Kiton suit. Jeongguk furtively slips it onto his own tie without notice. He says, “Thank you.”

Then he smiles so charming even his mother would be ashamed.

Because the more they like you, the more you get, the more dough you make.

Because this is how it is as a valet.

“Seven, eight, nine—boom, three-hundred," Yoongi’s rifling through his bills when Jeongguk hops up to the curb, counting his tips from tonight’s shift as if he isn’t risking being caught on the job for something so uncultivated. But that’s Yoongi on the better days, less dead and spiked with all that brazen greed. Humbly shameless with fingertips that never smelled of anything but fresh cash. Pockets always swollen, you couldn’t find one fuck he could give.

“Real subtle,” Jeongguk says, tossing the used valet ticket in the bin behind the podium. “If you tried to be more subtle, you couldn’t.”

He adjusts the collar of his button down, damp around the lining that brushes against his nape, absorbing moisture of condensed body heat trapped all in their suits. Their work uniforms aren’t even work friendly, having to sprint lap after lap in layers that make summer heat one of disdain. So yeah, call him bitter, but Jeongguk sweats like there's no tomorrow. It’s a miracle they only really have to deal with the full set of blazer and slacks twice a week.

“Fuck off,” Yoongi clips between numbers, shuffling through the bills like he’s melting right into them. With movements that agile, Jeongguk has never needed to ask to understand Yoongi’s career history, his usual line of work. He asks, “Cop anything worthwhile?”

“A tie bar,” Jeongguk mutters down at his now much snazzier and garish tie. “Just a personal steal.”

“So no.”

“It's gold.”

“Ooh, pompous, too,” Yoongi slaps the stack flat against his palm with a solid clap. “Swear you could pass as married and Christian.”

“He was married, definitely not Christian,” Jeongguk’s brows raise up wittingly. “Not a good one at least.”

He's referring to his previous guest, his date’s dainty, ringless finger, the one he’d scanned for anything potential to take. Most likely a new coworker fresh out of college that he’d picked up on the lower floors of his polished company building, red lipstick so vibrant she roused up all his office-fuck, under-the-table blowjob fantasies.

“Married for too long, I guess. You start losing faith in more than just your wife’s loose hole,” Yoongi says apathetically, thumbing at the corners of the bills. “Anything else?”

“A stack of Cartier bracelets around the joystick, but I left ‘em.”

“Setup,” Yoongi carefully folds the wad of cash in half before stuffing it into his back pocket. “Hey, listen—I’m changing shifts starting tomorrow. Might even go part-time depending on my schedule.”

“What, why?” Jeongguk looks up from his pocket notebook, names and locations of cars scratched carelessly on the sheaves. Nothing actually legible when you have a limited window of time and the shit handwriting of a toddler, but decent enough for him to match customers to rides, assholes to prick mobiles. Most of them are doodles that could get him fired, but only Yoongi needs to know that.

“I’m taking some audio and theory courses up at the university for a semester or two,” Yoongi explains. “An associate's if I’m feeling human enough.”

“What for? You make enough here.”

“Because ‘thief’ is such a shit title to die by, let alone live by,” Yoongi shrugs, indifferent and self-deprecatingly sarcastic. He winks one eye shut and looks at Jeongguk through the rectangle his fingers form. “Get this: thief-slash-musician. Eclectic as fuck. It'll look better on my resume, too.”

“Work’s gonna be ass now,” Jeongguk slides a hand into his pocket and leans his hip against the podium. “And Seokjin’s always assier when you’re not here.”

“You’ll manage. Lighten up.”

“You taught me everything I know.”

“Nah, I fucked your life up, just haven't realized,” says Yoongi, reclining against the other side of the podium. “Let that sink in for a sec.”

“I fucked my own life up,” Jeongguk scoffs. “It's the one thing I'll take responsibility for.”

“You were such a good boy back then, too,” Yoongi chuckles then heaves a reminiscent sigh that wafts into the aftermath of this day's sweltering afternoon. “You had manners then. Like fuck, now you’re just a piece of shit like me.”

“Aw.”

“But listen—the guy I’m switching shifts with? Just as bad, if not worse,” Yoongi lowers his voice. “Cashes in way more than you. Shameless, you know?”

“There’s always more room in hell,” Jeongguk says unceremoniously. The flames of the lanterns lining the walkway to the restaurant flicker behind Yoongi’s head. Jeongguk can feel their balmy warmth at his cheeks and the crown of his head. “Did he fuck someone in one of the valeted cars and leave come on the seat like the other guy? Something?”

“Hell if I know,” Yoongi says. “Thought that guy quit.”

“Dunno, just heard about it. No real facts or anything,” Jeongguk remembers the buzz of the gossip, never really the type to put his nose into things and get involved in idle chatter. “I think you’re thinking about someone else.”

“Probably. Bobby? Shit customer service, good pickpocketer?”

“Yeah, not him,” Jeongguk recalls a face with eyebrow piercings. “Wait, Bobby? Thought he got booted.”

“Well we’re thinkin’ a lot of things. A lot of bullshit, apparently.”

“Why though? Religion?”

“Kidney stones,” Yoongi says, a hint of grimace underlying the meek raise of his brows. He looks softer under this white balance, the sappy ambiance reflecting gold on the ghostly skin of his face. “But this guy,” he continues, back on topic. “Our guy. This guy’s conscience is as dry of a wasteland as your social life.”

“By choice,” Jeongguk defends. “Last I checked, your social life ain’t poppin’ with pussy either.”

“Did I mention the other guy’s a lot cuter, too?” Yoongi says, in that caustic, wary way that he gets. “See? Can’t handle anymore of this. Friends or whatever you call it.”

“Coworkers.”

“You’re why I’ve got wrinkles out the ass.”

Jeongguk barks laughter. “Yeah, that’s why.”

He thumbs at the quarter sitting at the corner of the podium, an ironic thing at a place like this. Coins, we call them—a near foreign concept to people that are making six figures because the only people that really complain about these scraps of loose metal are the people that don’t make enough. The people Jeongguk valets for, they don’t buy candy from vending machines, they don’t let their kids ride those flimsy thirty-second carousel horses that are chipping paint with poor people germs. They don’t make wishes at the water fountains in the park and they don’t try to win toys at the arcade claw machines with the shitty disco tunes.

Because the rich don’t need change. It’s the ones around them that do.

“Think he’ll get into trouble?” Jeongguk wonders out loud. “You know, going overboard like that.”

Skin lukewarm from the late evening degree, Jeongguk Isn't uncomfortable. The air at this time of night is kind enough not to leave a dripping sheen of cloudy sweat on his body in-between runs, cooling down with each hour. It’s helpful when his clothes get soggy enough on his back to become transparent, feeling like filthy wet sponge. Coins and sweat always make Jeongguk feel a lot less classy, a lot more dirty.

“Think of it as overtime. You work more, you get paid more,” Yoongi says, headlight beams scattering across his face when a car turns in. “But who’s to say. We’re not playing the role of God here.”

“So what are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying if you got the time, dig for gold.”

Because people born into money live in a different world from the rest of us, Jeongguk remembers Yoongi saying. Because we’re just pretend-rich.

Greed is a powerful thing that runs one hell of a show behind closed curtains. You get too much of it, you start to taste the blood on your tongue after biting down too hard, you start forgetting who you really are. They say the more you practice, the more you gain—that goes for the good and the bad. But what people don’t realize is that you can practice an instrument to get better, run a mile everyday to run ten, but you can steal a pen at the age of five, steal a candy bar three years later, and steal someone’s wallet on the day of your high school graduation. It’s all in good practice just like a habit is hard to break.

Jeongguk squints at the approaching car swerving in. A Ferrari, matte silver with windows tinted ten-percent to look that much more significant.

“Last turn on the shift,” Jeongguk announces. "Burn 'em."

Stepping off the curb with a pen and ticket in hand, Yoongi pats his back pocket, a habit when you’re always carrying that much money on your body. He scribbles down the car model.

“Think I can bring back a pair of wedding rings?”

“You're just bullshittin’ if you don't.”

Retreating with the ticket waving in the air, Yoongi sighs, “Tough crowd, tough crowd.”

 

$

 

Jump to: age seven.

Jeongguk can barely tie his own shoelaces when he steals his first candy bar. That’s what he remembers most, being more fixated on getting away with the deed than he was for the taste. Because children are fiends for sugar especially when it’s chocolate, but the second Jeongguk slipped that toffee bar right past the yellow button of his jacket pocket, all that was on his mind was that swelling curiosity and not one ounce of crave. Only getting bigger, greater.

“You some kind of adrenaline junkie?” Yoongi had asked once, back when Jeongguk was still trying to figure out his last name. Min, was it?

Baking in all that sticky, honeymoon undercurrent of the midsummer heat, Jeongguk had said, “I’m just making a living.”

Because survival isn’t an equation. Because there’s never one method to madness.

At the seasoned age of seven, all there is to know is that your parents are perfect, love means happiness, and good things are sweet. At this age, the entirety of Jeongguk’s inner-working was supposed to believe in ideal exaggerations and stale lies. You hide all those crayons you break from coloring the sky too hard at the very back of your desk, afraid that you’ll get scolded in front of the others during nap time. You make fun of the fat kid in class because everyone else does, because he looks a little different and you don’t even know why because you're so tethered to society that the seemingly right is also seemingly believable.

What comes after this youthful vulnerability is that you grow up and realize how fucked up you were as a child, shaped by a fucked up society with standards you only half agree with yet still go through the motions. Some mature commitment that doesn't feel quite right. Or, you stay that same dickbag you were at age seven and can’t understand why every significant other walks out on you with the same ambiguous reason you never quite understood when you picked fun at Junho, the kid in class who wore shirts one size bigger, just a kid like the rest of you without anything preceding it. That, right there, is when you really know if you’ve got a functioning conscience that comes with the snazzy lifetime warranty and insurance or one that gets the recall.

But when you’re Jeon Jeongguk at the age of seven, all there is to know is cutting close to danger feels better than opening presents on Christmas day. That your uncle on your mother’s side who’s shunned from all the holiday parties is your role model. That Junho was fucking rad and could probably hide ten more candy bars in his pants than Jeongguk ever could and that maybe you should become blood brothers to make up for your own lack of sensibility.

They say kids don’t know any better, but what the kids know at seven never really goes away.

“Don’t act like you don’t own a fucking loft in the heart of the city,” Yoongi laughs, shoulders bouncing from the force of it. He’s got one of those gummy smiles that makes everything feel so much funnier than they actually are, and Jeongguk thinks that sometimes, he’s a little gay for Yoongi’s laughter. “People like us don’t deserve to sound humble. Not when we’ve already sold our souls to the devil.”

Jeongguk shrugs, waving a hand aimlessly through the air. “Religion is business, business is religion.”

Yoongi stares at him for a second that feels infinite before turning away with a secret little grin on his face, reserved for his own amusement.

“Cut that out,” he's saying. “I hate it when you sound smarter than me.”

How he got into this strange, fucked up high for stealing from the wealthy, Jeongguk stopped trying to pinpoint once it got exhilarating to higher financial heights. He’s learned how to trample down his mouthy conscience when it gets too loud at the ears, trained the thing to behave on command when righteousness starts to burn up his throat like bitter acid. His brother used to tell him guilt was the perfect antidote for the destruction of self-preservation. Because the more guilt you feel, the more you destroy yourself, the more you corrupt your values. The less whole you become.

But Jeongguk’s got two feet for stomping, one for the conscience and one for the guilt. It makes cashing in his customer’s gold wedding band a lot easier if he doesn’t have to think about the face of the woman that placed it there, the fancy dinner that followed with the toast of a lifetime from a room full of the people you love.

“If you’re real lucky, you’ll get a paycheck’s worth of tips from one shift,” Yoongi explained when he first started working. “But all of us here know the rich are shit at tipping compared to the middle class, so prioritize.”

“That’s hard to believe.”

“Give it a month, and you will,” Yoongi said. “When you’re shitting money, giving big tips ain’t gonna prove anything.”

If you’re not living in prosperity, you’re living in poverty. The difference is the will to become wealthy or die poor. The difference between you and the others is the same as the antelope outrunning the members of its herd when a lion comes to feast, not the lion itself. The difference is a dangerous line that separates greed and security that propels the balance of mankind’s evils. The difference, here, is playing the money game to win or playing to not lose.

“This isn’t like snagging cellphones from strangers on the subway to cash in for cheap checks anymore,” Yoongi said. “This is something. Make this worth it, and you’ll understand why food tastes better on a silver platter.”

Taking the first bite into the candy bar that one night in spring, Jeongguk realized he hated toffee.

 

$

 

The difference between Yoongi and the rest of them is that Yoongi is a professional at pickpocketing—if such a term were to ever exist. In his words, that also means he gives the best fingerfucks, too, the kinds that will get them squirting in seconds and dripping down to the knuckles.

Jump to: eight months ago.

At a musky bar in downtown, Jeongguk sets his ego on the back-burner and asks Yoongi for advice.

“You’re getting yourself into some shady business,” Yoongi rasps after downing a shot, speech slurred to no real differentiation from the sober, less enthusiastic version of himself, the one that contemplates existence in spacetime. That lame, twenty-first century hippie shit that Jeongguk still isn’t keen on considering. “And when I say shady, we both know that means it involves cops if you fuck it up. You sure you wanna go down that rabbit hole?”

“Balls deep.”

“You’re sure though?”

My karma, Yoongi.”

This club smells of something foul and a night of wrong decisions. Asking his coworker-turned-friend on tips for quick thieving, Jeongguk isn’t any better.

Opening his microwave that morning, he found the ramen heated up last week molding right on the tray and gagged. Peeking past the lid of his washer, he’d forgotten to put his clothes in the dryer. When you’re a bad multitasker like Jeongguk, you’re only really conscious of one thing at a time. And when you’re that bad at multitasking, you’re also a bottomless hole in which the consequences spill right through, unnoticed, but probably intentional.

“Alright,” Yoongi caves, gives him a look that says, you asked for it. “But listen close ‘cause I don't repeat.”

That’s nothing new. Yoongi never does, wouldn’t even give Kanye West the time of day for a repeat. There’s just not enough time in the world to be saying the same things twice.

For a few short contemplative seconds, Yoongi seems to be considering whether he should take his shot before or after this discussion. Maybe both, he’s thinking, maybe never. Instead, he settles for a long swig of his beer then sets the glass down with an audible thud, over that post-impressionism coaster spewing local indie slang that soaks up all the excess condensation.

Swiveling on the stool to face Jeongguk, he says, “Rule one. Be invisible, be distracting, but never in-between. By virtue of humanity, we are concrete and therefore are aware of concrete, tangible things. And the less tangible we become—”

“The more we get away with.”

Jump to: now.

“Hope you two had a fine evening,” Jeongguk greets when he steps out of the car with stray cash in his pocket—found right beneath the e-brake where a pair of lace panties lay forgotten—and jogs to the other side on light feet. He opens the door for the date and gestures inside where the man, Seunghoon, has already taken to blasting the bass like some oddly overdone aphrodisiac approach. He says, “Ma’am.”

“Thanks,” she says and gives him a coy once-over, a sultry drag of her false eyelashes as she carefully steps off the curb in her black stilettos. Jeongguk flashes her a charming, lopsided grin that feels tight at the corners, extends a hand for her to hold as she lowers herself into the car with every intention of displaying those long, waxed legs. And sure, Jeongguk takes a self-indulgent look, reciprocates by taking an obvious glance to entertain her. She's got the kind of thighs that guys would fuck, tight enough to feel nice and wild, and Jeongguk looks and looks and pictures just that.

Lure them in and catch the bait, or pretend you don’t exist, he recites in his head.

Lure, catch, pretend. Never in-between.

Flicking his gaze back up at that beautiful bronze-lipped smile, Jeongguk knows he’s got her tied up all pretty, right in his skillfully woven trap. He gently squeezes her hand and feels the faint pulsing from her wrist against the knuckle of his pinky.

“Rule two,” Yoongi’s voice says. “Don’t ever limit yourself to the car. Limitations are just a greater evil that boxes up our potentials—fuck that. The world is your playground, and you’re the king of your court.”

Lingering, Jeongguk slips his finely lotioned hand away without breaking eye contact, smoothly slides the ring on her thumb off, and shuts the door, careful not to leave fingerprints in the luster of the handle. All he can see is the reflection of his own superficial smile through the tinted window, that look right before he's snatched something good and saving the regrets for later.

He’s thinking, who the fuck is this guy?

He's thinking, whoever it is, he's up to no good.

“Rule three,” Yoongi’s voice says. “Anyone asks, anyone looks, anyone so much as breathes, you’ve got nothing in your pockets. You’re as innocent as your victims but never smarter than your prey.”

The car zooms away, and Jeongguk tucks the shiny thing in his pocket before jogging back to the valet post. He doesn’t inspect the jewelry, he doesn't even think about it. Because being a valet means holding all the secrets for the later hours when even the stars have forgotten who you are.

“Rule four. Don’t get caught. Simple as that.”

Diamond poking his thigh, that's when a dissatisfied groan breaks through the churning rush in Jeongguk’s head.

“This coffee,” it says. “Fuckin’ tastes like Armani. Overpriced and diluted.”

Where Yoongi’s petite stature used to stand is now five feet ten of coral blonde hair and an unsated grimace, blue glasses hanging from the back of his head and one of the restaurant's bulky, porcelain mugs in hand. He’s half eyelashes, half legs in that golden proportion kind of way, the kind that virtually never faces the trouble of reaching the top shelves in kitchens for the extra box of tea. He knows one Kim Namjoon with those similar golden proportions, and Jeongguk has tasted jealousy in the form of height more sips than he’d like to remember. This is only partially unfamiliar, but nostalgically repugnant.

“New baristas,” Jeongguk comments, reaching down to toss the valet ticket. As an afterthought, he says, “Heard those guys’ll t-bag your drink if you get on their bitch list.”

Because you deal with rich people all day, you also learn to adapt.

Jeongguk’s never had their coffee even after nearly a year of working there, more of a hole-in-the-wall, coffee shop kind of guy, but the way the leftovers glisten at the corners of this guy’s mouth like dew makes him curious. Two large hands cupping the mug around the body, Jeongguk watches the brim touch those pink lips for a redeeming taste only to get the same distasteful rejection as the first. Jeongguk bets that feels like sandpaper, the sting of his burnt tongue that was never worth a potential sip of someone’s dipped balls.

“I don’t blame them. Working here makes me want to get my gonads torched by coffee sometimes, too,” the guy sets the mug down and smacks his lips, smearing moisture like lipgloss. Somehow in this snug evening, they glitter. “That’s a rental.”

“What?”

“The Porsche you just parked.”

Jeongguk peers down the street. “How do you know?”

“How? ‘Cause no one with enough money to be driving a fucking 911 drives it with a stick up his ass. My man checked the bumper more than his girl,” the guy says, like it’s obvious that these people function by the manual, habits and mannerisms done verbatim save for the occasional family affair and honest politician. “But with legs like that, an average Joe’s gotta play it up. Gotta.”

“Huh, didn’t notice.”

“The legs or the rental?”

“The rental,” Jeongguk says, thinking about how he’d definitely noticed the former, fucking her thighs and such, save for the fact that he didn’t need a rental to get a second look. He nods at the coffee. “How’d you get Seokjin to give you the okay for coffee? On the job, too.”

“Sucked a dick or two and made sure to swallow,” Taehyung clinks the mug with his nails. “Gotta cradle the balls to solidify any compromise, you get me?”

“Is that supposed to be friendly advice?”

“Yeah, if you wanna know how to make the guy feel appreciated.” A smile cracks through the trembling line of his suppressed lips as he stares in stunned fashion of pure disbelief. “Shit, I’m kidding,” the guy chortles. “Really? Your face. I’m offended by how quick you bought that.”

Jeongguk, palms up, says, “Hey, first time meeting you—”

“Kim Taehyung.”

“—trying this new cleanse where I don't judge a book by its cover.”

“Mama raised you well.”

“Jeon Jeongguk.”

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung tests, name committed to memory. “Anyway Seokjin doesn’t know, but he’ll find out, and I’ll deal with that later. Maybe even tell him how crap the coffee tastes. It isn’t even dinner rush.”

“You sound just like Yoongi,” Jeongguk pictures deft fingers flipping through cash during shifts. Misses it, almost, him.

“Surprised?”

“Not since ‘Armani’,” Jeongguk admits. “Don’t worry, Yoongi already warned me about you.”

“What am I, president of the Americas?”

“No, just actually good at what you do,” Jeongguk reaches out and lifts Taehyung’s mug to his nose to take a whiff. “Or bad, depending on how you look at it.”

“I’ll take that,” Taehyung says with an air of wistful conceit. “Not everyday you get compliments from that bastard.”

“Did he say anything about me?” Jeongguk asks, casual. He sets the mug back down and feigns nonchalance, chin tilted forward with all this phony intimidation that never really works no matter how hard he flexes under his shirt. Trying to be this cool is more embarrassing than the question itself.

“He sure did.”

“And?”

Taehyung reaches over the podium to tear off a ticket. Tapping his two front teeth with the sharpie, he says, “Bunny teeth and bitch face.”

The dirty fucker.

“And he’s not wrong,” Taehyung adds.

Jeongguk scrunches up the side of his face, mirthless. “That’s not a compliment.”

“Well, it’s something.”

“I just look like this, no hard feelings.”

“And doing a good job at it, too.”

Jeongguk can’t really tell if that’s compliment, some backwards way of saying yes, you look like a bitch, or hey, you’re doing a good job with how you’re looking. He settles with brushing it off because if he has to question the logistics of a fucking compliment, it probably isn’t worth the effort.

Hopping off the curb as the next car approaches, Taehyung quickly jots down the model and any damages, cap caught between his teeth just barely grazing the saliva of his tongue. His handwriting isn’t great, either, the faint conditioning of working years in restaurants evident in the carefree flicks of his wrist. Jeongguk can see that from where he stands, but the curl of his long fingers around the length of the marker is captivating in a way that makes it all eloquent.

“Oh, by the way.” Stopping mid-step to look over his shoulder, Taehyung slips his hand into his pocket and retrieves something that gleams impressively under the moonlight, something small and brilliant that twinkles naturally through artificial light fixtures—a ring. Watching him inspect it in the palm of his hand, Jeongguk jumps from realization and pats the spot over his pocket in a frenzy only to find it empty. No ring, nothing.

Tongue heavy in his mouth, Jeongguk gulps so thick it hurts the ridges of his esophagus like prickly needles. He breaks out in a cold sweat.

“This? Worth well around ninety-thousand retail,” Taehyung continues, spinning the ring around the tip of his finger. He reaches forward and casually drops it into the front pocket of Jeongguk’s polo. Pats it once, twice. He says, “Not bad. I have a feeling we’re gonna get along just fine.”

Biting the inside of his cheek, Jeongguk stuffs his hands in his pockets.

Rule five: never let your guard down.

 

$

 

Leaving Namjoon in charge of all this manual labor is a close equivalent to assisted murder. Silly joke or just some nonsensical round of rock, paper, scissors, it’s still a safety hazard assigning him the job of printing and precision-cutting the white borders off their event posters and flyers.

Here at the counters of the nearest twenty-four hour print shop, Jeongguk is doing him a solid.

“Do you think tabloid is big enough?” Namjoon asks, inspecting one of the posters for their upcoming hip hop gig, still warm and fresh from the printer before going cold in his palms. “Should we size up?”

Perched beside the packaging materials is a stack of tabloid-sized posters, free of charge, some gracious, honored sort of super-discount because Namjoon is a man of connections, friends with a guy who's friends with the girl that works this hour. Sitting at the other end of the store with chillstep humming through the pc, she’s a closing shift away from regressing into moral extinction. But throw in some flirtatious one-liners, and this all becomes familiar past the point of routine. Namjoon's dimples are more convincing than Jeongguk could ever be.

Not that it's anything big, per se, just a free stack of print-paper posters, but in Namjoon's case, saving a few bucks means better snacks during those breaks from recording. Free is good, and free is a handsome cerulean oasis in this money soiled wasteland. The only downside is that this is the location that had gotten their big cutters stolen by some half-assed employee, a crack artist so pumped on Guadalupan caffeine and shrooms during a shift that he’d forgiven the night of sins and loaded the only electric paper cutter within a ten mile radius into his truck and drove away in one enormous bout of collective insanity. Now they’re stuck with these janky manual paper trimmers, the kinds with the blunt butcher blade only sharp enough to cut through three sheets of paper at a time and only halfway through a finger.

“Tabloid’s okay,” Jeongguk says and retracts the blade of the boxcutter knife, in and out of its sheath with its click, click, clicking against the plastic ridges. “These look like shit anyway. What tacky amateur did you get to make these?”

“Yoongi’s friend,” Namjoon smooths a palm over the poster, eyes dulling in pained reluctance. “Should’ve heard his elevator pitch. Some big advocate on progressivism through typography, ‘parently. The ‘Futura looks bright’ and some other phony bullshit.”

“This looks like Fast and Furious Eighteen.”

“More like,” Namjoon looks up. “Slow and Subpar.”

“Swear you’re never getting married,” says Jeongguk, a goofy grin stretching across his face.

“Probably,” Namjoon laughs in agreement. “But it’s good, y’know? If I ever get married, I’ll be medium-hard for the rest of my life.”

“Yoongi did bet a hundred on you being the first to get someone preggers.”

“Yoongi’s just dead inside,” Namjoon scoffs. “I’m, like, the pull-out king.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk snorts.

“Okay is right,” Namjoon singsongs and divides the stack in two. “Here, you trim this half.”

Jeongguk hops down from the counter and steps around to the opposite side where a second paper trimmer sits like an outdated pile of scrap metal. It’s flimsy, screws loose and body worn from age and use, a blade that squeaks in protest when the handle is pulled down. Jeongguk separates a fourth of his stack and lines the pile along the scratched up guidelines.

“Shit,” Namjoon squawks, yanking back his sleeve. “Almost chopped my shirt in half. These things catch clothes. Careful.”

“Why are you even wearing a long sleeve?” Jeongguk asks, inspecting his outfit. He lifts the blade out of the way. “The weather’s like, burning asshole right now.”

“Aesthetics don’t yield to mother nature,” reasons Namjoon, pushing scrap paper out of the gutter. “Plus, it’s nighttime. Temperature drops.”

“Like five degrees,” Jeongguk throws back. Setting some posters aside, he leans forward on the counter. “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“You guys actually plan on making a career out of this? You know, music? Producing?”

“I mean, yeah,” Namjoon says. “We’re all in our twenties. There’s like, no fuckin’ time for experimenting or hobbies.”

“But do you like it?”

“'Course,” Namjoon answers easily. “Can’t imagine doing something I don’t enjoy for the rest of my life. That ain’t living, that’s just surviving, man. Like, gross.”

“I feel you.”

“Why?”

“This valet thing,” Jeongguk begins, going back to work. “I don’t know if I want it to be a permanent thing.”

And now that he’s thinking, all spiraled up into these deep, intrinsic thoughts, it wasn't until recently that Jeongguk realized that he’d never really considered the longevity of his job, the ten years to the fifty and where he'd like to be. He blames that on his decision to skip out on college, the way it shoved him into that mindset of finality, dissolved all motivations given whatever job he got. Because that was the motivation, and that skip in the growing process had always felt so nauseatingly reoccurring. Jumping right past that vital stage of aspiring towards a career field. None of that when I grow up mentality.

He never quite understood the validation that formal education was supposed to give until his ass was catapulted into adulthood and stripped of any real chances of naive exploration. 

'Figuring things out', I guess you could call it, a time where you've answered most of your curiosities and learned from your greater mistakes. That mature sense of commitment that churns you out to be a more experienced adult and maybe even a better one, on some linear progressions—Jeongguk calls that growing up without life's broadcast interruptions.

You spend five years in elementary school, you prepare yourself for an increased sense of the self. What looks too girly and too boyish on your body and oh, what's that? Lipstick? Hair gel? Why not both? This is the phase where cooties with crushes turns to crushes with warm hands to hold. You spend four years in middle school, you prepare to suffer through the puberty—not the ending of it, but actually living through it. That awkward phase where you're trying to grow your hair back out and yet it never quite looks good because it's in-between and not there, just a budding flower waiting to bloom. You spend four years in high school trying to figure out just who the fuck you are, dragging through confusion and the either-or's and only really getting answers to a few of them. Then there's the two to four years, all give or take, that you spend in college that's supposed to prepare you for the shitty adulting that Jeongguk had jumped right into.

In a sense, a good two to four years Jeongguk had lost of his own fleeting youth.

“So like a side job?” Namjoon asks. "The valet thing."

Namjoon knows about it, how this valet thing was never just a 'valet thing' in Yoongi and Jeongguk's books. But opting to mostly stay out of it, more out of disinterest and not some poor judgment of moral character, Jeongguk never really gets into it past the surface. Not with Namjoon, and not much with Hoseok either. That isn't to say that they don't all come from more selective backgrounds that dabble in the underground and the obscure legals and illegals. It's why judgment doesn't persist within their group of friends.

“Kind of, yeah. Just for the money,” Jeongguk explains. “I want to do something about it. Feel like my aspirations are rotting inside me.”

“Do what makes you happy,” Namjoon nods in approval, straightening out the posters and sliding it to the side in a neat pile. “What got you thinking?”

“Yoongi,” Jeongguk says, joining his stack of posters with Namjoon’s. “Going back to school.”

“Right. Music theory,” Namjoon says, trashing the trimmings. “So what do you wanna do? Short term, long term?”

“Not sure about short term.”

“Long term?”

“Art,” Jeongguk replies. “Something in illustration, maybe. Or film.”

“Sounds like you.”

“Taehyung’s studying art,” Jeongguk comments offhandedly. “Fine Art.”

“Who’s Taehyung?”

“Just a guy. Works with Yoongi and I.”

Namjoon grabs the sticky note pad from the basket sitting off to the side and peels off a tiny square. “Why’d you ever drop out, then? College.”

“Got caught up in this job,” Jeongguk says ambiguously. What he means is getting caught up in faster ways to obtain money. What he means is living life in the fast lanes and dodging all the traffic tickets, too. “You know how it is. I’m shit at multitasking.”

“You are,” Namjoon nods at the scraps littering Jeongguk’s station. “Throw your trash away, dude.”

“See,” Jeongguk scoffs at himself, pushing the scraps into the bin along the side of the station.

“At least you’re good at what you’re doing,” Namjoon remarks. “You pick things up mad quick.”

“Nah, I halfass everything,” Jeongguk glances towards the front where two guys, clearly high past self-identifying, are stumbling in, the smell of weed wafting through the air system and expanding. They walk up to the counter with a shabby neon green flash drive. “That’s why I’ve made it all the way to the middle and not higher.”

Sometimes he tells himself he's like a baby shark, species that right after birth, learn to fend for themselves. Already hardened by survival of the fittest in the womb, eating one's siblings before they've even touched the cool waters of life outside. All metaphorical qualities he sees in himself, playing the game dirty but always coming out on top. Because being a human under those same circumstances makes him somewhat of an asshole, but being symbolic makes you look smarter, too.

“You call that halfassing?” Namjoon says, eyes widening comically down at the posters. He follows Jeongguk’s gaze and shrugs it off. “I’d like to see you full-ass something, then. You’re like a machine.”

“I’m like, so shitty. At commitment,” Jeongguk watches Namjoon scribble onto the note, thumb smoothing the adhesive lining onto the topmost poster. “Something. I don’t know what I want.”

“But you know what you don’t want.”

“A lifelong job in customer service.”

“Please—it’s all customer service one way or another,” Namjoon says, sliding the stack of posters off the counter and cradling it over his arm. “Circle of life. You’ll figure it out.”

 

$

 

In the midst of negotiation, all Jeongguk can think about is jumping in the shower to rinse smoke from his hair. Tugging the collar of his shirt to his nose, he takes a whiff and grimaces at the stench that fills his lungs, makes his stomach twist with nausea. The smell of grilled maekjeok has sunken deep into the fabric of his clothes, burnt and musky with a hint of garlic that makes him want to drown in a pool of lavender-scented detergent. Maybe use that bath bomb Yoongi got him two weeks ago. What was it? Ickle Baby Bot?

Yeah, fuck Yoongi, too.

“The diamond on this necklace has mad value in the market right now. Super rare. Color, cut, and clarity—all good,” Jeongguk says, trying to wrap things up. He takes a swig of his beer and sloshes the liquid against his gums to get the bits of pork between his teeth. “The rock’s whole, too. Not even broken down one fragment. That said, other buyers will offer more.”

“Fine, fine. What’s your price point?” Jungsan asks, forks for burnt scraps of meat off the grill. It goes down his throat like cancer, no doubt tasting bitter like greasy ash. He says, “Go easy.”

“Eighty-five hundred,” Jeongguk doesn’t hesitate, past the point of negotiating. Experience in this sort of business means being able to differentiate the ones who want from the ones who need. Either way, he’s getting his money, so what it all really boils down to is knowing exactly when you can push those boundaries. If you're not doing the intimidating, you're getting intimidated, and if you're getting intimidated, you're losing money.

“Seven thousand,” Jungsan leans back in his seat, hand on his scruffy chin, mouth glossy with oil, soaking up into that close shave. Hygiene, hygiene— “Seven thousand, c’mon.”

Everything smells like grilled pork and burnt garlic and Jungsan’s tacky hair gel. His fingers smell like soju, underarms sweaty from the thick heat of the grill, and that, too, must smell like liquified maekjeok seeping from his pores. He feels greasy all over, like he’s got a film of grime covering his body from head to toe and everywhere in-between. Jeongguk takes another swig of beer and tries to ignore the blotchy fingerprints on the glass.

“Eight thousand,” he pinches the front of his shirt and fans it against his chest, blowing all that rancid smoke up his nostrils and sticking. “That’s final.”

Jungsan looks at him, always with that amused leer that looks both sly and so weirdly aroused, eyes just barely squinted as if scrutinizing his very being down to the core. He fails to look intimidating when all he’s doing is taking up time. When you’re as wired to the seconds as Jeongguk is, constantly running on a fifty-two second counter, you’re hardened by the belief that time means money, money, money.

“How old are you again?” Jungsan asks. “Eighteen? Nineteen?”

Neither. All so unnecessary, Jeongguk wants to ditch this.

“Can’t tell you that.”

“You workin’ for someone? Jiyong? Kwon Jiyong?”

“Can’t tell you that either.” Leaning back in his own chair, Jeongguk fetches his wallet and pulls out one of his customer’s business cards. Kim Seonghwa, marketing manager. Using the corner of the white cardstock, Jeongguk picks between his front teeth. “Personal shit aside, we have a deal?”

This isn’t the first time someone’s asked with intentions of recruiting, but Jeongguk doesn’t work for anyone but himself. He’s already got one manager up his ass for the details, arriving with unkempt hair and the ghost of Chaeyoung’s hands still lingering heavy on his scalp from their bathroom counter quickie.

“If you’re gonna show up after a quick fuck, bring a comb,” Seokjin had sighed, already sounding so tired yet motherly in that comical way. “Goddamn, dude. It's called decency.”

But Seokjin and his tough-love approach, Seokjin is bearable, one of the better managers he’s ever had the pleasure of working for who values his workers and all that they stand for. Having been on both ends of the spectrum, he knows that this side of business, with its intimidation games and close-shave, squalid fellows like Jungsan, fairs poorly in comparison, nothing but a cesspool of manipulation drenched in bias.

Jeongguk’s got his reasons for working alone.

Without another word, Jungsan straightens up in his seat, slipping a hand towards the grey shoulder bag at his side and shuffling around discreetly through its conceal contents. Glancing around with little movement, he stops shuffling when the waiter comes to check in on them, eyes crinkling at the sides from his tight-lipped, phosphorescent smile, that impatient, almost robotic nod of his head that follows.

“You know—you should try to be more likeable when doing business with your buyers. Likeable, you listening?” Jungsan’s saying now, always saying something, peering down at his lap and recounting the sheaves of money to the exact amount. His hands dip further beneath the table. Jeongguk, on cue, meets him halfway and drops the cash in the sack sitting between his feet. “Might get into some trouble with that face of yours.”

Again with the face. Jeongguk isn’t here to make friends.

“I hold my own, but thanks for the warning,” Jeongguk folds the business card and tosses it on his plate. This time, it’s his turn to reach under the table. He drops the tiny velvet pouch in Jungsan’s palm, the weight of the diamond necklace light in comparison.

“You know,” Jungsan lights a cigarette, stretching a lanky arm over the chair beside him. That fake intimidation back in full force, Jeongguk unfazed. “If it weren’t for the shit you offer, I’d tell you to watch your back.”

“Lucky me.”

“Sure you aren’t interested in working for someone? Someone else?” Jungsan offers again, cigarette dangling loosely from between his bony fingers. “Could probably make twice what you do now. At least.”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk stands, stretching across the table to pluck the cigarette away before he can take the first drag with those shiny, oily lips. Inhaling long and tapping the ashes in the empty beer can, he hands it back with a cloudy exhale and says, “Just need enough to make a living.”

 

$

 

“Six.”

“—five.”

Five?”

“Five.”

“Sounds comfy,” Taehyung’s impressed in the way that usually follows low expectations. Naturally, Jeongguk’s finding every way possible to fall into a bout of insecurity and under-appreciation. “Then again, I can’t see you as a big orgy kind of guy,” Taehyung continues. “More along the lines of, like, small orgies. No more than two people, invite only, slightly sober.”

“That’s just plain fucking.”

“Not including you, though.”

“Starts feeling like exhibitionism once you get past three,” says Jeongguk in a matter of opinion. “Just people fucking next to each other then switching sticky holes. And the random guy no one knows that jerks off in the corner while watching.”

“The guy at the orgy that no one wants to touch.”

“And always super jacked on the pills.”

Jeongguk flicks the valet ticket poised between his middle finger and thumb and watches it spin with a bogus sort of fascination, an attempt to mask the fact that he still can’t look at Taehyung straight in these peculiar vibes without faltering. It might even be indicative of his own disintegrating mess of a properly composed human whenever Taehyung is close.

Leaning his face against the cool, black plastic of the umbrella post hovering over the podium, Taehyung’s cheek gets smushed all funny, glowing bright red from the last sprint. Dinner hour on a weekend like this means more work, longer runs, shorter time frame, further parking slots. In some aspects, Taehyung may be the better pocketer, agile hands that prove to be a higher advantage, but Jeongguk prides himself on having the better stamina, barely ever winded even after the rush and standing strong on two feet with heavy tips in his pockets.  

Taehyung’s lip twitches against the umbrella pole, rosy and pink and something dubious in the delicate droop of his butterfly eyes. He’s asking, “What was your first blowjob like?”

Recalling his teenage years is like unlocking a door Jeongguk had forgotten. He bends down to rest an elbow on the podium.

“Teeth and saliva,” he says, pushing up his long sleeves so it bunches at the elbow. “Like a Sloppy Joe, only—sexual. And like, my cock.”

There’s this tiny glint in Taehyung’s eyes that Jeongguk catches before they close with weird satisfaction. Taehyung says, “Go on.”

Jeongguk watches the line of his sharp brows smooth into docile curiosity, like he’s imagining all this in that pretty little head of his. Taehyung, imaging Jeongguk’s first blowjob like simple guided meditation, waiting to be met with his fated spirit animal. Only the spirit animal is his dick, and Taehyung is most likely picturing a tonguing far more sexy and impressive than the awkward taste-test he’d actually received, the timid licks and feeble sucks it took to make him come. Thinking back on it makes him cringe in most shameful chills.

“Felt bad ‘cause the poor girl could barely take more than the tip before getting all teary-eyed and gaggy,” Jeongguk discards the valet ticket off to the side and twists the watch around his wrist so it faces down, a habit he’d developed because the thing never fit quite right. “I don’t think blowjobs are supposed to feel guilty.”

“Sometimes.”

“She let me give her facial, though.”

“Did it feel good?” Taehyung swipes his tongue languidly over his pearly front teeth and opens his eyes into crescents, grips the umbrella post a little tighter, a little more deliberate and white around the edges. Jeongguk’s brain is slowing down to incoherent glitching between his sixteen year old self and the blushed tip of Taehyung’s tongue. He isn't sure what's going on in this stuffy, mildly aroused abstraction from reality, but it burns pleasant and warm in his belly.

“The blowjob?” Jeongguk asks.

“Coming on her face.”

“Sure. I mean, an orgasm is an orgasm," Jeongguk says. "Hormones were talkin’.”

“How long did you last?”

“Not long.”

“Amateur.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

Jeongguk shifts his weight to the other foot and feels the beginnings of a cramp already working its way down his side. He rests his weight fuller on the elbow holding his torso up.

“Bet cute amateur Jeonggukie lasted thirty seconds,” Taehyung teases and casually hooks a long finger into one of Jeongguk's belt loops.

The gesture is just one dramatic emphasis on a joke between two people standing in air that comes in fluctuating waves of breezy and too hot. Jeongguk knows that, the way Taehyung tugs with that shit eating grin of his, enough to jostle Jeongguk’s hips forward, both by initiation and all that want that Jeongguk’s actually suppressing. But there’s something there he can’t ignore, an undertone of challenge and a midtone of heat that Jeongguk sees as one shade of flustered.

“Flattering, but I barely lasted fifteen,” Jeongguk notes shamefully and pretends to be chill about this, cool as a cucumber, wonders even more how misplaced this must all look to everyone beyond this daze they’ve both got themselves stuck in. And with their levels plainly different, Jeongguk leaning on the podium, Taehyung standing an inch or two taller on straight legs and better posture, he blurts, “This is weird.”

“Feels fine to me,” Taehyung says, innocent.

“Nothing?”

“Nada.”

“Well, what about you?” Jeongguk decides to ask and grips Taehyung’s wrist when he gives another tug. Not so much a warning as it is a plea to go easy. “What was your first like?”

“Fuck?”

“Blowjob.”

A car turns in just then, breaking that invisible thread that connected them through the hazy mirage. Taehyung pulls his hand away to grab the sharpie from the plastic cup and tears off a ticket. Professional in the face of outsiders.

“Deepthroat,” Taehyung hurriedly answers as an Audi swerves up to the curb in front of them. “From my friend’s aunt at a Thanksgiving party—lots to be thankful for.” He hands the valet ticket to the driver. “How are you doing, sir?”

When Taehyung returns from his run, tucking the miniature, moleskine notebook in his backpocket, Jeongguk asks, “Does your friend know about that?”

“Doesn't have a clue,” Taehyung clarifies, and the look from before is gone, instead replaced by a more tame regard in his brown eyes. “The guy was a dipshit, anyway. Think I wanna save the confession for his wedding.”

“Gonna crash it?”

“That's the plan," Taehyung says. "Imagine, 'a toast, to the newlywed couple, your aunt swallowed my come one thanksgiving'.”

“So you’re an avenger. An Avenger.”

“Some people deserve it. Too many fuckasses out there. Swear.”

Jeongguk gestures at his coral hair. “You’re like, the discount version of Black Widow.”

“Fuckasses like you.”

Taehyung jostles his head back to fling his damp bangs out of his face. The way it exposes the long column of his neck, Jeongguk’s wondering if it’d feel just as sensual under the flat of his tongue as it looks, the mild tinge of saltiness from the sheen of sweat cradled on the skin that would soak into his tastebuds like a fine delicacy.

“‘M glad it was his relative that gave me my first suck,” Taehyung says, slightly grim. “Blood related. Makes it a little more personal.”

“So serious,” Jeongguk snorts. “Gotta get me drunk if you want to get this sentimental.”

Taehyung pouts. “Think I’ll pass.”

Leaning back against the podium, Jeongguk shoots a glance towards their restaurant, at the flickering of all those tiny table candles reflecting off rose gold and Tiffany. It reminds him that he’s got a bracelet from three weeks ago worth good money at home that he still needs to sell off to his buyer. That is, if he can get off his lazy, sorry ass by Sunday and not spend the entire weekend in, watching retro Japanese pornos of the pixelated kind, getting off to high pitched mewling with sweat trickling down his temple. So sleazy, he needs to break his streak, because most of the time, he’s just a horny excuse for a better person.

“So,” Jeongguk starts, twisting his Rolex back in place. Not stolen, but bought from stolen money. Realistically, it’s all the same talk in all the same circles, but he likes to skip over the demoralizing parts.

“So?”

“So deepthroat.”

“And haven't had a better one since.”

Jeongguk grits his teeth forlornly. “That’s what happens in hell, probably.”

“What?”

“Never getting your cock sucked as good as the first.”

Taehyung sniggers. “It’s pathetic, let’s be real.”

“You said it, not me.”

“But hell’s gotta be better than this, come on.”

“You think?” Jeongguk raises a brow.

“Think about it—where we are right now, living, being human and shit,” Taehyung nods around them. “Like, life sucks, dude. Sucks us dry all the time and it doesn’t even feel good. We’re already living in hell by that logic.”

“Could be worse. We’re men.”

“But listen—I’ve had good blowjobs, nice foreplay and that, just not,” Taehyung pulls the side of his face up.

“Great?” Jeongguk finishes. “I feel you. Nothing wrong with expectation.”

“Standards, my guy, not expectations.”

Lights flashing across their faces almost too bright, Jeongguk shakes out a stiff leg, half-asleep from holding up most of his weight. His leather cap toe sneakers are scuffed around the edges, even more worn at the soles, and it’s enough for his lower back to start aching by the end of each shift. Already beginning to mess with his form and posture. The leather still shines like a good pair does, his favorite for work, but running in them for two months straight, they skirt the line of underdressed that Seokjin will sniff out from a mile away. If he doesn’t get a new pair soon, Seokjin will have his ass grilled and minced for looking sloppy on the job—the usual.

“Look at you,” Jeongguk hums when the car pulls up. A white Bentley, red spinners, 2015 make. This one, he’s seen, that returning geezer from last week with a new date to woo off her feet. “Getting me heart-deep without alcohol in my system.”

“What can I say,” Taehyung’s bangs fall to the side when he tilts his head to smile. “I’m intoxicating.”

“Like a wine cooler, maybe. Two-percent alcohol. Fizzy.

“Shut up, you’re so ugly,” Taehyung laughs then swiftly reaches out to fix a misplaced strand of hair on Jeongguk’s head before pulling away just as fast, maintaining that level of professionalism like a puppet tied up to society’s fingers. Some farfetched rule about working at a high-end restaurant that entails no human substance beyond customer service unless directed at the guests. Because people with too much money don’t like seeing workers having more fun than them. Because the sign of bad customer service is the second you act like you’re equal.

But Jeongguk likes it better that way, the quiet kind of power he holds when status and money get in the way, giving those with so much materialistic privilege and entitlement something to lose. So prestigious, they are.

  

$

 

It isn’t unusual. Hoseok does this, gets stressed beyond mental capacity and overthinks the minute until he’s frayed along the edges. Overthinks till it hurts.

“How’d that sound?” Hoseok asks. “It needs to sound dirty-sexy.”

“On a scale of one to ten, how honest do you want me to be?”

“Like, a soft negative two,” Hoseok sobs at the implication of the question and collapses back on his thrown of pillows, jostling the laptop balanced on his thighs. He yanks his headphones off his neck. “Fuck, dude.”

“Well, what are you trying to go for?” Jeongguk drops onto his side, spinning his phone up in the air and catching it against his hard chest with a hollow thud. “How sexy is sexy supposed to sound?”

So maybe Jeongguk likes to poke fun at his wavering sanity through the process of each mixtape, a recurring theme in the weeks ticking down to each release until Hoseok’s relenting and kicking his thigh with the top of his bony foot. They leave these rough, nasty bruises come morning that he’ll swear Jeongguk deserved, that Jeongguk will argue he didn’t.

But it’s always just a little more serious than a playful jab, a little more sensitive than light teasing, the pressure and insecurity that Hoseok holds on his shoulders alone that makes him so easy to crumble under certain weights. Jeongguk’s just here to remind him that he’s great.

“Dunno, like—ten orgasms. Happening simultaneously in a twilight zone,” Hoseok stretches his arms overhead until his lower back pops with satisfying succession straight down his spine, tense from being hunched over for five hours trying to settle on a melody that didn’t sound like knock-off trap beats from SoundCloud. “Choke me daddy sexy.”

“Sounds a bit like you've got a thumb up your ass, but keep working,” Jeongguk admits without much thought, picking at the crust on the corner of his phone case with his blunt fingernails. Dried tomato sauce from pizza last week, probably, where his phone had slipped out of his shirt pocket right onto Yoongi’s plate after reaching for the pack of Cass. Jeongguk glances up at the silence and catches Hoseok’s afflicted expression. “No, I mean—I’m just being honest.”

“Your honesty scale is fuckin’ rigged,” Hoseok accuses. “Yoongi’s gonna honor kill me if I don’t have this recorded and done by the weekend. You know how he gets when we’re preparing a mixtape.”

“Unabatingly high strung?”

“Now picture that unloading on your face.”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk kicks his feet under Hoseok’s pillows, ankle hitting the tiny glass bottle of eucalyptus that stains fabric so nicely.

Hoseok’s sheets are of the most pleasant euphoria, smelling of clean shampoo and laundry mixed in with all that refreshing eucalyptus, something nostalgic that makes Jeongguk’s senses sing each time he stuffs his nose into the duvet and inhales until his chest shivers. A smell that would be paradise to jack one off in. Jeongguk’s into all of that, a nice fuck wrapped in flowery scents and soft duvets. At this point, he doesn't even care that his friend's sheets turn him on, some platonic arousal that he finds comfort in. A compliment, if anything.

“Joon’s always talking big, talking democracy, but literally we’re all sucking Yoongi’s dick one way or another,” Hoseok pushes back up, salty, and opens a new window on Chrome. He types in ‘best sex scenes of all time’, black loading screen darkening his face and hollowing his cheeks before the screen goes white. “There’s like, no fuckin’ democracy in our team. We’re all just one big Yoongi-centric circle jerk.”

“Fuck, okay,” Jeongguk snorts a little, face pressed against the comforter. “Go off.”

Beside the bed is an oversized Bearbrick that Namjoon had gotten Hoseok for his birthday, one arm robotically extended to the ceiling, the other down at its side. Jeongguk remembers it, going to the store in Sinsa-dong with Namjoon to help pick one out, the hot worker behind the counter that wrote her number in Jeongguk’s palm after he’d awkwardly smiled at her once. Jeongguk toes at the head of the toy.

“Oh, forgot to mention,” Hoseok butts into the memory. Jeongguk had gotten a nice fuck out of that that Namjoon still whines about. “Taehyung and Jimin are gonna be here in fifteen.”

Jeongguk staggers. “You invited Taehyung?”

“There a problem?”

“Thought it was gonna be just us,” Jeongguk says. “Didn't even know you knew the guy.”

“Cute. But sorry to stomp on any romantic dinner plans—I invited them,” Hoseok changes his search to ‘Tinashe’. “I met them recently.”

“When?”

“The other week, I think? Was supposed to chill with Jimin last week anyway, but I flaked,” says Hoseok, sheepish. “How does the saying go again? The one about hitting two fuckers with a rock or something.”

“Two birds, one stone,” Jeongguk rolls himself tighter into the duvet, melting right into the mattress. “Who’s Jimin?”

“Taehyung introduced him to Yoongi, introduced him to Joon and I. Owns that high-end club we’re performing at for the gig,” Hoseok explains, fingers tapping rhythmically across the keys. “He’s hooking us up for free. Super chill guys, he and Tae.”

“Damn,” Jeongguk says, feeling his ego diminish. “We’re turds in comparison.”

You’re a turd in comparison. Don’t lump me into your nasty turd wagon.”

“He’s friends with Taehyung?”

“Yeah, soulmates or whatever.”

“Uh huh.”

“Real talk, they braid each other's pubes, paint each other's toes, fondle each other's balls—the sort. Soulmates,” Hoseok flutters his fingers through the air. “If you know Taehyung, you know Jimin.”

“Park Jimin,” Jeongguk repeats.

“Park Jimin,” says Hoseok. “Nice kid, nicer ass. You’ll like him.”

 

 

Jimin is cool, and usually that’s harder to admit because Jeongguk rarely finds anything cool to the point of actual declaration. Not that he’d actually admit out loud without a good fight and some revelational inner struggling with his former, more wimpy self. But Jimin is classy cool with hair that falls over his head perfectly whichever way it’s pushed, effortless enough to be rare.

Tonight sees Jeongguk ogling his biceps, all that lowkey sizing-up that he hopes Hoseok doesn't notice, except he does, just doesn't say anything. Because Hoseok’s feeling soft today, toasty in the head and even more in the chest from the first round of shots and lets Jeongguk off to do that muscle insecurity shit that lean macho guys like them do. The better part of the night, though, is spent with Jeongguk kicking ass in their own sad version of beer pong on Hoseok’s perfectly sanitized coffee table, leftover alcohol and party cups from New Year’s celebration now scattered across the surface.

If you ask Jeongguk, they’re just a group of dirty guys having fun.

“Man, Channing Tatum is so good,” Taehyung mutters, sounding bitter despite the praise and chucks an empty solo cup at the screen of the laptop. Balanced precariously on a dozing Jimin’s chest, there's a terribly drawn mustache cutout taped to the right of the screen for them to take a shot each time someone's face lines up with it. “He looks like God’s erect dick if it was sweaty. 22 Jump Me, please.”

No one’s really drunk anymore, not to the point of maudlin crying or an influx in the need for physical contact. Hoseok’s measly stash of alcohol only really supplied a nice buzz, most of which had been emptied into Jimin’s system, anyway, hence the already limp body on the living room floor to call anything competitive.

Images whirring in this dark room in what Jeongguk assumes must be like time travel, he wants to throw up all over the front of his hoodie, too unmotivated to crawl to the nearest trash bin to be respectable. He tears his eyes away from the flashing screen and squints at the more subdued, dancing colors on the ceiling instead, reminding him of the diamond necklace he snagged last weekend, refracting all those lights like an explosion of star matter. Hoseok’s foot shifts in his peripheral.

“Your toes are so ugly,” Jeongguk turns to squint at Hoseok’s foot in the low lighting, feet propped up on the lime green beanbag sitting off to the side, the seams stretched and overdue to burst. “Bony and long. Pale as hell.”

“Just get plastic surgery,” Taehyung mumbles. “They do that stuff, you know.”

Taehyung’s on the other side of the couch, head resting on an empty champagne bottle shoved against the armrest. His lips pout from the angle of his tilted head, just a small purse that makes his voice cute and slurred when he speaks. Jeongguk smiles quietly to the side, stares again at Hoseok’s ugly toes, a good distraction, good to rid him of his gushy thoughts.

“Don’t come at me with stupid shit,” Hoseok sighs, staring at his phone, the backlight casting a ghostly porcelain over his face. He’s probably texting his study group for a copy of the homework and lecture notes from all of last week that he’d slept through. “Toes are already weird, and the sky is blue.”

“Whatever. Yours look like fingers, what the fuck,” Jeongguk drops his head back on the leather cushion and zones back out at the flickering ceiling. Everything feels like it’s swirling and his body feels indigo. “Hey, those cookies—were those edibles?” Jeongguk scratches his nails lightly up and down his abs. “Mad hungry right now. Just me?”

“Nah, me too,” Taehyung sluggishly slings a leg over the back of the couch, shorts falling to his upper thigh, the way it dips towards the inner—Jeongguk forces his eyes away.

“Got them from Yoongi,” Hoseoks says. “So they’re probably poisoned, too.”

“Time does the grocery store close?” Taehyung asks.

Nursing a bottle of water against his cheek, Hoseok says, “It’s three in the morning.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“How should I know?”

“Well, fuckin’ Google the nearest twenty-four hour mart then,” Taehyung slaps his arm around in a mediocre attempt to search for his phone. “Jeongguk, Google it. Someone.”

“There’s one four miles out,” Jeongguk says, already on it. There seems to be a lull in tonight’s productivity that weighs heavy on muscles. He thumbs through the locations. “There’s a closer one, but—nevermind, it opens at five, the fuck.”

“Let’s go,” Taehyung throws himself into sitting position and pushes to his feet with a huge stretch that lifts his green hoodie all the way to his ribcage. He’s not wearing a shirt underneath, he never does, and Jeongguk follows the line of his spine down to the curve of his arched lower back. “I’m craving those frozen curly fries right about now. Three bags of ‘em.”

Jeongguk wants to say he's craving for a taste of Taehyung’s skin, that spot just below the dimples of his back that dip lower. He wants to know if Taehyung’s craving for him, too, just a taste on his tongue, the back of his throat. All this thirsty curiosity that’s got him wrapped up in sticky fantasy.

He resorts to, “Curly fries are good.”

And Taehyung, perking up at the agreement, goes, “Yeah?”

In the backseat of Hoseok's car for the first time in awhile not being driver, feet shoved against empty shoe boxes behind the seat, Taehyung borrows his shoulder and lightly dozes off while Jeongguk bathes in a sea of his own self-indulgence. It gets him high enough past shame that he entertains Taehyung to a dumb little waltz to the entrance of the market until his head is reduced to a throbbing wreckage up against his skull. But self-indulgence is a one way street, and Taehyung doesn't notice the way Jeongguk latches onto him until he’s pulling away to grab a basket.

“What is that. Put that back,” Hoseok says, pointing at the Wheat Thins in the basket, always so no-nonsense about these things. “That shit tastes like stale butthole. Out of the cart, go.”

“Such bullshit—when’s the last time you rimmed someone? The fuckin’ Renaissance?” Taehyung grumbles but returns it to the shelves, not really in the mood for compromise. “Wheat Thins are good. You’re missin’ out.”

“They are mad dry, though,” Jeongguk admits. “Like bite-sized cardboard.”

“They’re also typical food industry marketing scum. Apparently they’re loaded with BHT in the packaging, too,” Hoseok adds. “They’re just riding the wave of health trends.”

“There’s spam in the cart. Ride my ass.”

“Okay but fake-healthy.”

“Don’t try to convert me into actual-healthy,” Taehyung slaps one of the sale tags with his sweater paw in passing, plastic swaying violently on its hinges and threatening to fall off. “I’m young. The only things I care about in this world are money, steak, and beef.”

“You're a grown ass man,” Jeongguk reminds.

“Whatever, snack chemistry is a thing. Ours? Fucked,” Taehyung declares, cutting his hand horizontally through the air as if calling quits. “Counseling won’t fix this.”

“If you’re gonna eat trash anyway, just fuckin’ do it,” Jeongguk rolls his eyes. “Like, just do it. Go hard or go home.”

Just go home!” Hoseok shouts, at the end of the aisle after dodging a cuff from Taehyung.

“It’s not trash, you are,” Taehyung kicks Jeongguk’s thigh instead and stumbles forward a little on the waxed tile. Jeongguk reaches out to steady him. “I need a friend refund. Cancel my membership immediately.”

“Don't go crying into every fucking sunset now,” Jeongguk snorts, slides his palm up to the back of Taehyung’s hair and ruffles a bit. Just for the hell of it.

“Hey, real quick,” Hoseok interjects, holding up a box of tampons and shaking the contents a little. “Why do guys always feel so damn pressed buying their SO’s pads or tampons at the store? Like, humans gotta human.”

“Can’t be as bad as buying a plunger,” Taehyung says, fluffing up his hair in the messy parts. “At that point, everyone’s just picturing your massive shit stuck in the toilet at home. Like fuckin’ imagine that. The entire line, mulling over the idea of your stuck shit.”

“That’s why there’s self checkout,” Jeongguk says. “Shy guys.”

Taehyung picks up a box of cereal. “Mr. Five-Man-Orgy over here doesn’t qualify as a shy g—”

“Woah, hold up—five man orgy?” Hoseok baffles at this and twirls around, rubber soles squeaking in protest. “Five? Man orgy? What are we talkin’ here, literally? Politically incorrectly?”

“What is this, twenty questions?” Jeongguk frowns and flings corn-flavored Pepero at the graphic on his chest. “Why are you so interested in the details?”

“Why not?” Hoseok shields himself, box smacking his arm and tumbling back into the basket. “Get me in on this orgy talk. What’s the four-for-one special. I’m all ears and soul.”

Jeongguk groans and pretends to be fascinated in the tubs of gochujang, scrutinizing the gaudy, golden labels. They’ve always reminded him of baby wipes, their hefty, plastic containers. There’s an employee with a funky, asymmetrical haircut shelving snack bags down the aisle that Jeongguk just knows is listening, courtesy of Hoseok and Taehyung. Talking sexual lives and private matters in not so private, public areas seems to go past them. The way Hoseok won’t stop nudging him is so annoyingly persistent that Jeongguk thinks he might be physically disintegrating. All this public orgy talk, getting so loud, so noisy mixing in with the air particles and traveling up and over their aisle into further corners of this dingy mart.

At this rate, he’d be well off whispering down the neck of the employee down the aisle, hey, I once touched dicks with a straight guy but it wasn’t so bad because I was fucking a model that dommed me so good I almost cried. Sure. Might as well.

“It wasn’t just dudes,” Jeongguk grumbles. “And that’s all I’m fuckin’ saying.”

“All I needed to know,” Hoseok chuckles and continues walking, spinning the cereal box on one finger like he’s just heard the juiciest gossip of the century.

“Sorry,” Taehyung apologizes, sheepish, looking so damn smug with that glow in his eyes so full of hysterical mirth, the slight upturn of his lips that says otherwise. Taehyung is a terrible liar, and Jeongguk knows this. He tears open a bag of Twizzlers with his teeth.

“No you’re not,” Jeongguk denies and smacks his soft belly with the back of his hand.

Oof—fine, I'm not,” Taehyung loops a Twizzler over each of his ears. He shoves one between Jeongguk’s teeth, leans forward into his personal space and bites down into the stretchy licorice, yanking. So intrusive, but Jeongguk welcomes it with a flutter, stomach flipping.

“Get your own damn Twizzler.”

“What if I want yours?

“Too bad, that’s what you get,” Jeongguk says. “Big fuckin’ mouth.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Taehyung laughs, sounding more genuine now. He tackles Jeongguk from behind, colliding chest to back and wraps those thin arms around his shoulders. Leaning in, his breath smells like artificial cherry tickling along his cheekbones. A sweetness just dripping with sugar from his tongue that Jeongguk can almost taste. He says, “Just between you and me, I would’ve been down to join.”

Jeongguk hopes Taehyung doesn’t notice the shiver that trickles down his spine.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jeongguk turns to look at him.

“What?”

What?"

Hoseok, just a few feet ahead, whistles and grabs a box of condoms at the register.

 

$

 

Face mask in place, Jeongguk rattles the spray paint can at his side, residue drying at the fingertips of his black latex gloves.

“Dunno, he's hard to pinpoint,” Jeongguk says. The tungsten street lamp overhead flickers with each clean line he sprays across the white brick wall. He kicks a stray cap to the side and lowers his can, plastic cracking under the sole. “Can't tell if he's just fucking with me half the time.”

“That guy can be cryptic as fuck,” Yoongi’s muffled voice says from behind his mask. He sprays ‘y’ before the can airs out and chucks it to the side, bending down to grab another. “Goes off about bunnies on the moon, but he's always got prime blackmail material. A genius in disguise, really.”

Dangerous, really.” Jeongguk outlines the rest of the letter in fat strokes, watches some of the paint fuzz then dry.

In the weeks leading up to gig night, preparations become vital in spreading word about the Cyper, their little underground gang of rappers working to get their voices heard. And by doing so means running the town with a dozen cans of spray paint to bomb the walls with their name. Jeongguk’s participation is a given each time, his unequivocal enthusiasm for all things art that tingles through his hands any chance that he can get.

“Sounds like he’s already growing on you,” Yoongi says, rattles his can some and tilts off to one side to get the angle in perspective. “Just let it happen, man. Don’t fight it.”

“Let what happen?”

“I dunno—him. Taehyung. Let the circumstance happen.”

Where most people have ingrained instincts into their very bones, Jeongguk has internalized an image that appears whenever there’s an imbalance messing with his head, stuck at a forked road with only half a map to lead the way. The image is his own isolated self, swinging back and forth on a rickety metal swing in a boundless black room. Infinite, with no absolute end, he swings, sometimes for things that might end in regret, sometimes just contemplation on leveled ground—his own benevolent inner demon that he both fears and depends on. Something along those obscure lines, he doesn’t really get it, but Jeongguk swings when he is lost.

“People aren’t made for pinpointing, Jeon,” Yoongi says, pushing his mask down to his chin, as if these are the words Jeongguk needs to hear. “By the time you think you’ve got it all figured out, they’ve already changed, and all your sorry ass is left with is disappointment.”

In retrospect, everything started when he was seven and curious, staring at that candy bar and wondering whether or not he should take it. Running his fingers over the smooth wrapper, his mind had flitted to that internal image, lulling him into some soporific daze that clouded out reality. As if saying, do you really want to do this? As if saying, what if? But sometimes, that swing is in flames, and most often, it’s when he’s run out of options or is too late.

Jeongguk stretches his arm up to strike out the ascender of ‘h’. “Pinpointing, understanding—all the same talk.”

“But that’s the thing. The thing is that we aren’t books to pick up and read. People don’t work like that. People don't even fuckin’ read,” Yoongi slips a hand into his hoodie pocket and summons his zippo. He slips the cigarette tucked behind his ear between his teeth and lights the end with a blue spark. “People are intrinsically complicated. They’re there for discovering. Embrace the fuckin’ discovery, man.”

“Discovering is fifty-percent disappointment,” Jeongguk gestures for a cigarette and holds the stick on his bottom lip when Yoongi hands him one. “Light.”

“Which also means fifty-percent satisfaction,” Yoongi leans in and strikes the wheel. “Chances, Jeongguk, take them.”

That recurring image, Jeongguk thinks, is the creation of his own self-dependency and firm belief in the contingency between individuals being the first step towards their inevitable downfall. That dependency means vulnerability, which makes him more susceptible to getting hurt. And maybe it’s odd, this method of interaction, but Jeongguk distances himself enough to dodge the grimy transition into emotional recovery. He’s never had a dog till its death, gave them up for adoption after only a few years in fears of having to deal with the pain of the loss. He’s given up friendships the second they went to shit to avoid collateral damage.

Because he believes in an end, and by artificially constructing that ending, he is establishing a finite solution to the unknown future. He calls this self-preservation.

“What’s the deal, anyway?” Yoongi switches the can for a red one and rattles the body. “Scared he’s trying to outdo you?”

“Something like that,” Jeongguk slides down against the wall, taking a break. Cigarette dangling lazily from his teeth, he rests his cheek in his palm.

“So this is about competition.”

“Not like that.”

It’s about Taehyung worming his way into Jeongguk’s chest, blindsided but entirely, and Jeongguk not being able to do anything about it.

“Well, he ain’t trying to rat you out, that’s for sure,” Yoongi finishes off the last letter of cypher and lowers the stick from his mouth, exhaling a cloud of pearly white smoke.

“I know,” Jeongguk says and tilts his head back against the wall. It probably gets his hair dirty, but he’s already indecent and covered in layers of filth after climbing rusty ladders to get to higher walls and kneeling in greasy alleyways with thickest backwash of city water. Touching the rough skin of his knees through the conveniently picked torn jeans.

Trust him a little, Jeongguk repeats the words in his head.

That, right there, is what he’s scared of. A little trust, a little too much. Jeongguk won’t even ask for help if he can help it, will move an entire wardrobe by himself even if there’s a helping hand in the next room over. This idea of mutuality, it’s terrifying and it’s uncomfortable and it’s dependent and so emotional. And with emotions comes exhaustion because emotions are never simple.

But Jeongguk does this thing, kind of shitty, this thing, but he’s always been a kind-of-shitty person, anyway. That thing, where he gets fixated on the mere ideas of people and nothing ever more, or so he’s been convincing himself since day one. A fixation that may as well be code for ‘the easy way out’ that helps him narrow out the people he keeps within his little circle of trust. Maybe that’s it, this fixation on just the idea of Taehyung that’s wedged its way into his chest and deeper into the rest of him. Taehyung and his bright eyes and his warm body. Taehyung and the way he quietly observes Jeongguk when he’s writing something down. Taehyung and his pretty voice and prettier lips.

“Think one more throw-up is enough?” Yoongi’s saying into his thoughts, stepping back to examine their work. “We guerilla marketed the shit out of this place.”

“One more’s enough,” Jeongguk straightens up off the floor, stomping out the cigarette butt with the heel of his shoe. “I could use a meal right about now. Something nasty with calories.”

“Same,” Yoongi caps the can and drops it in the duffle. “Let’s do the bridge and call it a night.”

Considering it, maybe Yoongi is right, that he should embrace the discovery. This abstruse Taehyung-idea, bulky and unrefined, might be an actual thing manifesting into something emotional. Might be something more that makes him yearn for the unknown ending over the fabrication, making him feel so alive.

He should brace the fucking discovery.

 

$

 

Today Jeongguk’s supposed to put on his best smile and pretend like he doesn't have a conscience. Tomorrow Jeongguk’s supposed to do that again, just with a little more heart. It’s all dependent on how much he pockets the day before, how much motivation he’s got to ignore that compassionate persistence that jabs at his soul all dense because he’s supposed to do it again next week, again next month, again the month after that.

Again, again, again.

So maybe one of these days his conscience will finally pack its bags and leave him behind.

The way Jeongguk sees it, the cycle is a nasty, never ending battle for survival—him versus them. A constant that accounts for stability, a benefit that ensures luxury. But being that selfish is an effort when you know you're a piece of shit even if the sayings preach every man for himself, down to the very core behind all of his beliefs. Something like baseless arguing when both sides know they’re wrong just for the sake of having the last word.

Jeongguk doesn’t trust so easy, does things his way because they work best for him, yet in comes Taehyung, waltzing into his life and rearranging his carefully placed pieces. He takes apart his perfect, safe wall one by one and builds a new one around them like deconstruction is his forte. But Jeongguk lives for these contradictions, and Taehyung is unchartered territory that pushes him right up to the edge. Makes him feel the tiniest bit invigorated and strung wildly on that high he’s been denying since he was seven.

Taehyung goes, “Let’s team up.”

And Jeongguk says, “Okay.”

Doesn't even hesitate. Doesn't even regret.

Because Jeongguk doesn't trust so easy, but Taehyung makes him less of a piece of shit if he’s not holding all of the weight on his own, makes it easier to harbor a conscience that functions just right, easier to do the things that they do. He could always use a new set of couch pillows, maybe even a new favorite mug that has a handle to fit four fingers, not three, to keep from lifting his pinky in the air like the highbrow pricks of society. All very easy, very obtainable things given their esoteric line of work and their more than stable income. And the only way to get that is to lose all the shame, to confide in something that reciprocates, someone like Taehyung that makes the bad feel okay.

Jump to: now.

Watching Taehyung expertly swerve up to the curb in a white Mercedes Benz, Jeongguk waits for the signal.

When you deal with rich people all day, scenarios become limited by the same cliches. You get a car worth over two-million, you get a glove compartment loaded with drugs and weed-stuffed condoms, you get a driver who carries cash in a money clip and a wallet in the opposite pocket. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a black gun under the seat and a wedding ring in the coin slot.

Because humans like what’s familiar—consistent, if you will, and the rich run by routine. An equation, of sorts, that makes it easy for Jeongguk and Taehyung to create their own language based on a list of cues that signal the next move. Green for go, red for stop, yellow for slow down—same difference, same end result in this elaborate system of going by unnoticed.

“Plus we need something that won’t get picked up through security cameras,” Taehyung had reminded in the staff changing room one night after their shift, loosening his tie and sliding his button-up off thin shoulders. “You seen Ocean’s Eleven? No? Just think action movie with a semi-hot cast and replace that with two average looking Korean dudes.”

“Minus the action,” Jeongguk had said, tugging his undershirt over his head.

“Speak for yourself. I get plenty of action.”

“From your right hand?”

“From both, actually. You wish you were this talented, Jeon.”

The way this goes is that rubbing your chin means go, the universal green light. Running a hand through your hair means you’ve got a nice snag from the car, maybe let up on trying to cop anything else unless it’s convenient. A scratch on the nose means everything in the car is off-limits but doesn’t include objects outside of the car. A rub to the nape is a clear abort, everything off-limits and nothing open for the taking. In other words, a missed chance to work harder the next round. All money, money, money, until someone tells them no.

Taehyung steps out of the car with dollar signs in his eyes and scratches the side of his nose. Jeongguk reads it as cash. He reads it as a new television for his bedroom. He reads it as buffet dinner.

And it's there, somewhere between all that green vision, that Jeongguk starts seeing something else, something more tender.

 

$

 

Taehyung dresses like a Miami Vice reject both on and off the job, and it makes their regular dealings feel risibly legit. The outfits, down to the very details, make up in a way no gold plated zippos and cigars could, those vintage tracksuits paired with greasy, slick pompadours and slicker ink on skin.

Between retro and Gucci, he doesn’t fair much in-between.

The tassels on Taehyung’s tan, suede leather jacket brush against Jeongguk’s arms. His jacket looks so absurdly misplaced against the bright red oriental fixtures of this Chinese restaurant, culture clashing everything they pass while navigating the crowded layout to the back room. Jeongguk almost scoffs at the blue glasses hanging from the back of his head, trademark Taehyung get-up with his Thom Browne dress shoes that make any ridiculously retro top seem posh at best. Cancels out the tacky.

Really, they all look like muggy Miami Vice rejects, if he’s past the point of tasteful conceit and dignity. Considering, they’ve all got too many gaudy Hawaiian patterned shirts to consider it humble, the way Yoongi willingly stalks around in that orange, palm tree silhouette tee like some doozy Ace Ventura knockoff. But Jeongguk’s got on camo this time, the jacket Taehyung won’t stop accusing him of trying to camouflage into society like a pansy ass bitch, we can still see you, dude. And yet somehow, that’s true.

But something about looking the part feels like they’re acting the part, too, and it makes for a decent headspace going into these shady affairs, sloppy games of disillusioned pride that never let off so easy. Gripping his buckle, Jeongguk tucks the slackened fabric of his shirt in, the cool metal of his glock pressed snugly against his lower back, Taehyung pressed against his side, Taehyung’s gun pressed against his lower back. Little sources of comfort for the unease that will follow, steady reminders of safety.

Standard protocol says to carry a gun with your goods because shoot ups are never predictable till someone’s putting a bullet through your buddy’s head. Why? Because it's never just about the toys or the money. You deal with diamond buyers, you deal with gold buyers, you deal with anyone who deals underground, you're dealing with danger. It’s all in the same illegal grey circles as drugs, the black market, gambling, filthy things that rarely see the light of day.

You carry a glock in the band of your jeans and make sure it’s concealed before advancing. But the bigger the dealer, the bigger the bodyguards, the bigger the chances are of getting it confiscated. What you do is make sure there’s a pocket knife stashed somewhere both accessible and unnoticeable. In the pockets of your shoes, behind the smooth leather of your belt, in the hollow of your sole. You always come prepared for the worst.

“I’ll give you ten thousand,” Jiho’s offering, peeking through the tiny eyehole of the loupe magnifier, one cat eye slanted shut. The fluorescent tubes lining this dark nest fall in heavy pigmented waves of neon green and pink, color blocking his face with the starkest shadows. “Ten thousand flat.”

“Ten thousand?” Jeongguk repeats in a way that barely masks the disappointment his tone lilts into. Being a couple hundred short of the minimum expectation is a tricky place to be, the risk involved in trying to bargain up while maintaining maximum ego. He grins playfully, mostly for consolation. He says, “We’ve all got bills.”

Where he’d been assertive in his dealings with Jungsan, he treads on thin water with Jiho, a benevolent character that keeps his clients fed and his enemies starved. A mastermind, of sorts, who knows more about his craft than the craft itself. One wrong move, and Jeongguk will surely have his own ass handed to him.

Bills, huh. Haven’t heard that in awhile,” Jiho snickers, sees right through him. He knows Jeongguk enough by now to know financial struggles are first-world trivialities in his book, another means to an end. Jiho is his biggest employer after all, Seokjin his second. “Missed me with the struggle card. I’ve been paying you for how long now?”

“Long enough.”

“That's right.”

Jeongguk scratches his blunt fingernails over the black tablecloth, cocks his chin towards the diamond in Jiho’s rough hands. “That’s a ten carat, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” Jiho slots the diamond on the tray with metal tweezers. Beside it is a tall wine glass, filled halfway with Evian water. Jeongguk thinks, lightweight. “But the style’s a few years outdated. You know that, too.”

“Only a few.”

“Minor scratch on the bottom.”

“But the rock’s huge and the color’s natural,” Jeongguk continues, wagering. “I know you don’t get a lot of pink in these parts, not tens. We both know how rare that makes it.”

Jiho clinks his chopsticks against his bowl in rhythmic succession, meticulously contemplating the offer. His latex-gloved hand idly turns the ring around in his palm, catching neon and refracting. The two guys sitting with them, Jiho’s guys, not quite friends—they don’t offer input. These guys, real thug looking dudes holding trained gazes, so much silver on their hands. Just looking, you could tell they’ve done some shit.

Sucking in the smoky grease air through his nose, Jiho says, “Ten thousand, five hundred. Take it or leave it.”

Jeongguk presses his tongue over his front teeth, this baton-passing ritual of underground compromise.

To decrease any chances of suspicion, they never sell two weeks in a row, limiting business to once a month, sometimes twice if they get something with the guaranteed value. Pawners, on one hand, are no-go’s—without proper certification on diamonds, all you’re really getting is lost money and time. But in it long enough, and you'll find a buyer who will keep you coming back. Your metaphorical drug supply. Get too little, and you'll do whatever to get more. Get too greedy, and you'll end up in a ditch with your perceptions too fucked up to tell right from wrong.

Glancing over to Taehyung, quietly observant till now, the slight quirk of his brow is confirmation enough, some enticed interest there.

Their backup had been Taehyung’s guy, a gold buyer with exceptions for diamonds given high enough value. This batch, not so much.

“My guy won’t offer higher than eight thousand. Usually stays within the lower digits if he can,” Taehyung had predicted in the car, loading the magazine of his glock with a full round of bullets. He tugs the slide back, gun loaded. “Stingy, picky, more pleasure than business—you know the type.”

“Jiho buys diamonds. Been selling to him since ever,” Jeongguk takes a sharp left turn and speeds up to sixty. They’ve got a lot to sell, more buyers to visit before night becomes morning. Time is money, time is money. “We’ll go to him first for the ice before going to your guy for the gold.”

Falling into this automatic routine on their days off, Jeongguk has never trusted quite this much, suspended in the foreign.

“Alright,” Jeongguk slaps the table with an air of finality. “Deal.”

“That all of it?” Jiho asks, waving his chopsticks around the various assortment of jewelry littering the tray, ironic in its placement next to drying lo mein. “Dean, what total are we lookin’ at for all the jewels?”

The guy to his left nimbly punches in the last value on the calculator with the butt of his pen, leans in to present the total. Hair combed back into a tight pony, he's got this ribbed turtleneck sweater that covers nearly half his face.

Jeongguk sifts through their black bag, checks the corners for smaller, more dainty jewels that might be hidden there. “That’s all of it.”

Then there’s the other guy who’s handing Jiho the notepad, the one usually rocking that lowkey greaser hair, looking wet in that post-shower kind of way. Jiho quickly fills out some half-assed carbon paper invoice, tears it from the pad and misses the corner. Watching that happen makes Jeongguk itch when Jiho hands it to him.

“Hey, so, just wondering,” Taehyung asks slowly, reaching for the stray cheese wonton flat center of the table, mostly likely waiting this entire sit down for an open opportunity to have at it. Gauging Jiho’s reaction nervously, Jeongguk is amused to see that he looks completely unfazed, something like keen fascination in those cattish eyes. A soft spot, probably. “Do you know anyone looking to buy some gold? We have someone, but.”

“But not enough? Crush, money,” Another beckon, and Jiho retrieves the sack that’s offered, a fucking Supreme-branded duffle like the vain hypebeast he is. He pulls out ten fat stacks and another for individual bills, splaying them neatly on the table.

“V, right? I know one,” Jiho answers, pauses to count out the bills in front of them. Searching for his napkin, he scribbles some lines of text and avoids the blotchy soy sauce stains that feather into the fibers. “But he doesn’t do business until after midnight, usually around two.”

“Higher offers than Jiyong’s crew?”

“Hard to tell, really,” Jiho says, setting the napkin on the stack of money and sliding it across the table. “Jiyong’s selective with his toys. Knows what he’s looking for. This guy, Jihoon, his group’s into some weird shit, but they'll pay good money to get what they want. You’ll have to find out for yourselves.”

“We'll pay him a visit,” Jeongguk confirms, tossing their profit into the sack, Taehyung pocketing the napkin. His chair makes an eerie squeak across the floors when he stands, and he leans forward for a handshake. Taehyung, beside him, does the same.

“Tell him I sent you,” Jiho says with a firm shake before tugging off his glove with a rubbery snap, the black thing retracting flimsily without a mold to fill it. “Always nice doing business with you, Nochu. Stay out of trouble, you two.”

Stepping outside, the air feels less like sludge entering his lungs, free from grease-absorbent carpet that seeped the most rancid. Inhaling deep through his nose until he’s inflated, Taehyung lets out the scoff he’s been holding.

“Okay, Tokyo Drift—where’s the real one?” Taehyung nods at his car. “Can’t fool me with this phony ricer bullshit. You just had to go for the Honda Integra? Some spiritual calling from your inner fuckboy?”

“Why, does it look like a fuckboy mobile?”

Does it? This, here, is chief.”

“Good,” Jeongguk lifts the bag in his right hand. “Gotta blend in with the goonies if we’re gonna be doing this.”

“With a huge exhaust that serves no actual purpose but sound?” Taehyung looks unconvinced, expression bland. “Good try.”

“Whatever, it’s cool,” Jeongguk defends. “And getting your crusty ass around tonight.”

Cool. Bet you also claim it’s JDM as fuck,” Taehyung scuffs the toe of his shoe against the rim of the tire. “Also your spoiler looks like fuckin’ Star Trek, but okay.”

“It looks like a spoiler.”

“You get good wifi with it?”

“Fuck off,” Jeongguk laughs. “Fine. What do you drive, hotshot?”

“Hyundai.”

“Yeah?” huffs Jeongguk, thoroughly unsurprised. “Swear you Hyundai drivers are such smartasses. Big talk, big circles. Think you know everything about cars because you watched some MotorTrend video on Youtube.”

“Hey, I do know my shit. But it doesn’t take a smartass to know that this—” Taehyung jabs an accusing finger at his car. “This means overcompensating, probably.”

“You wouldn’t know,” Jeongguk shoos at him and pops the trunk. Lifting up the floor mat and trunk liner, he drops the bag in the hollow impression of the spare tire. “Gonna teach me how to drive while you’re at it?"

“I would, but I don’t know how to drift.”

“God, shut up,” Jeongguk jabs him in the side playfully. “It’s low profile. And driving a luxury car in this sort of business is just begging to be nailed by narcs.”

“Exactly. This isn’t your actual car,” Taehyung reminds, grabbing his wrist and dodging with a tiny yelp. Bringing his point full circle, he releases Jeongguk's hand and waits for him to fix up the trunk. “Because the real one is like, the mistress you save when you’re trying to get some ass.”

“Dunno what you’re talking about,” Jeongguk feigns innocence, shutting the trunk and walking around the car. “What mistress?”

Your mistress,” Taehyung grins at Jeongguk from across the hood. “You’re not the only one with that lifestyle.”

“Sleazy?”

“Joke all you want, I’m listening,” Taehyung tauntingly rests his chin on the cool metal and fucking winks. “But I know this isn’t your main bitch.”

“So which is it, the mistress or the main bitch?”

You tell me.”

This end of the district always smells of damp newspaper and fresh odeng, distant laughter from drunken old men that have forgotten their own names. Clouds of steam everywhere, almost putrid mixtures of cooking aroma and thick sewage in the backways of these strips. If they don’t get out of here soon, his face might deteriorate right off.

Drumming on the hood of the car in thought, Jeongguk relents.

“Jaguar,” is all he offers before ducking his head down and collapsing into the modified leather of the driver’s seat. “You’ll see when you see.”

 

 

“Let me ask you something,” Taehyung gargles around an entire mouthful of sticky boba, tapioca balls packed into either of his cheeks as he speaks. “Have you ever had a partner?”

“Jesus,” Jeongguk makes a disgusted face and presses a napkin to his mouth. “Chew then talk.”

“But have you?” Taehyung repeats, wiping his lips. Kind of lousy and not really paying attention, but the brown goo of tapioca is gone, at least.

“Like relationships?”

“Like business.”

“No,” Jeongguk answers. “Never really cared for one. Well, not until—” He gestures towards Taehyung.

Gathering the tiny plastic scraps from Taehyung’s cup into a neat pile at the center, Jeongguk falls victim to this pet peeve he can’t shake. Not that it’s a flawed quality, just painfully persistent—he likes his area clean and tidy when he’s ingesting. Taehyung seems to be wired otherwise, tearing off entire seals on his cup whenever they go on these boba runs instead of poking his straw straight through. He prefers to have his with multiple options, a spoon and a straw, something about tapioca balls clumping easily and another thing about near death experiences via choking, lots of things that get too complicated for Jeongguk to absorb. But whichever thing it was, Taehyung’s never sucked hard on a straw since.

“You’re shitting me.”

“I don’t shit.”

Taehyung leans forward, surprised. “So I’m the first?”

“Don’t gotta make it sound all gay.”

Waggling his eyebrows dramatically, Jeongguk already knows something stupid is about to come out of his mouth. Taehyung kicks him lightly beneath the table. “Its ‘cause I’m cute, isn’t it?”

His mind flings itself to the gutter, yes, you have no idea—

So stupid. He knew it.

“You’re a fuckin’ turd,” Jeongguk says as cover up. “Thick ass eyebrows.”

“Thick ass nose,” Taehyung shoots a tapioca ball from his straw, spurting slushy milk tea in splattered droplets, hits him square on the cheek. It rolls off Jeongguk’s arm and bounces on the table, leaving a trail of diluted, sugary residue on his sleeve, already absorbing into the threads. Taehyung stifles laughter. “My brows look better than your hairline, try again.”

“And an asshole, too,” Jeongguk says, wiping his face. But he’s cheesing hard, something so light about this exchange. “Every time you speak, I want to throw up.”

Taehyung launches another tapioca ball, this time hitting his clavicle, getting his skin all sticky and gross. And another, and another, and Jeongguk can feel the eyes of onlookers staring their way from this current war zone of giggles and tapioca their table has transposed into.

“Fuck, okay—” Jeongguk reaches out to snag the straw from Taehyung’s mouth and latches onto Taehyung’s lips, clamping them shut between his pointer finger and thumb. He says, “Okay, chill. You good?”

Taehyung smiles, not that it’s visible, but Jeongguk can feel the quirk of his lips against the pads of his fingers. They’re soft, impossibly so, cold and a bit moist from the milk tea. Loosening the pinch, Jeongguk lingers, thumb tracing across his bottom lip, pressing into the corner. Too distracted, he doesn’t notice the way Taehyung’s eyes never leave him, glinting in waves so fond.

“Are you always this messy?” Jeongguk asks, pretending to wipe the corner of Taehyung’s lip before settling back into his chair. It’s such an obvious excuse, he knows Taehyung knows it, too, but the strange, electric synergy that passed between them just now goes by unsaid. He dabs the front of his shirt with a napkin, the base of his neck, collecting the scattered explosions of milk tea on his near sopping imitation of a person.

Taehyung drops his spoon in the cup and twirls it with his finger. “You still didn’t answer my question.”

“Hm?”

“Why me of all people? You know, first time partner and all.”

Thinking about it, he’s got an answer, a good one, too, that’s sure to stir the waters. Of course he does, because complication makes everything less boring the more complicated it gets. But that’s not how it works, and his hesitation is more of a result of whether or not he’s got the guts to actually admit it out loud or keep it hostage inside the tunnels of his chest for all of time. What he's certain of is that it's the bitch way out, because he can’t just up and say, I trust you more than I trust myself, and fuck, I think that means I love you.

No, that’s off the table.

“You’re good at what you do,” Jeongguk says quietly. It’s not a lie, not the entire truth, either, but it’s his measly placeholder for when he’s ready, if ever. “We look out for each other, and that feels safe, I guess.”

Safe. Jeongguk’s secret little euphemism for trust. A concept he struggles so hard to share with anyone but himself. Selfish, but a feasible defense mechanism developed throughout the years to prolong the inevitable downfall. A keepsake, of sorts, from his former self.

“Me too,” Taehyung says, and that might just be validation in his eyes saying—

I trust you, too.

And maybe he’s being hopeful on a cinematic level of cliches, reading all these signs wrong with an optimistic heart full of what if's. But maybe it’s something more, and that validation is one of truth. Jeongguk’s trying not to get too hung up on the details, but the way Taehyung looks right now in all this sepia-toned cafe ambiance and mellow, acoustic romance makes him want to lean in, shift closer, do something, fuck. But it’s such a bad idea that he bites the inside of his frosty cheek raw to numb the nagging itch that grows each time their eyes meet.

Taehyung folds his arms on the table. “I can’t bel—”

“I love your voice,” Jeongguk's suddenly blurting instead, skilled in poor timing, and falls into regret. He doesn’t think he meant to sound that way, so gentle. He says, “Fuck, sorry.”

“What?” Taehyung laughs, caught off guard, mouth looming over his straw. "What'd you say?"

“Nothing. It’s nothing.”

“You like my voice?”

The way Taehyung asks this, you’d think he’s never heard a compliment in his life, humbled like he doesn’t believe. It’s got him wondering, does Taehyung know how nice his voice is to the ears? The smooth rumble like wind in the trees? A pair of skates gliding across fresh ice? God, that’s a nice sound. It’s got him wondering if Taehyung has even the slightest idea of what it does to him. It brings out his honesty.

“Yeah?” Jeongguk answers, scrunches his nose up all embarrassed. He says, “Yeah, I do.”

It’s the first time Jeongguk’s ever really seen Taehyung blush.

They always seem to do this, getting caught up in these weird little moments that neither of them realize they’re transfixed in until something acts as the interrupting barrier. Taehyung’s phone vibrating on the table startles them out of it.

It’s Jimin.

“We should head out now,” Jeongguk says a little awkwardly, lifting his cup for a huge sip till only a third of it remains. “It’s almost two.”

“Yeah, sure. Let me get this,” Taehyung says at his phone before answering the call, standing up and taking his drink with him. ”If this is bad news, I’m gonna eat your ass.”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, a soft smile on his face. Following after Taehyung, he gathers the flimsy shreds of trash on their table into his empty plastic cup and tosses it on the way out.

“No, I’m with Jeongguk right now. Yes, that guy. Hot stud Jeon Jeongguk.”

On the other line, Jeongguk can hear Jimin say, it’s almost two in the morning, what are you—

He licks his lips, tongue a numb weight in his mouth from the slush. Again, feeling so light, the casual vibe after and before going into another deal, almost floating. The muffled humming of pop nightlife singing from nearby clubs, spicy tteokbokki swimming through city air from local street vendors. And here, feeling exactly where he should be—

“Excuse me! You left your wallet!”

Jeongguk glances over his shoulder. Jogging towards them is the waitress from the cafe, wildly shaking something square and black that is neither his nor Taehyung’s, who’d left his wallet in the cup holder earlier in his car. Jeongguk’s is in his backpocket, pressed snug against his ass. He confirms this by passing a hand over his pants to make sure.

“No, it’s nothing. Just forgot something,” Taehyung says to Jimin over the phone.

This situation presents them with a number options, but Jeongguk’s got his mind set on one: finders keepers. Sneaking a look at Taehyung, he’s met with that same sly and humored grin that keeps the conscience at bay. Dirty, dirty, dirty, Taehyung rubs his chin before resuming chatter with Jimin. Jeongguk naturally recognizes it as his cue.

Jump to: the rare occasion that Jeongguk puts his acting face on.

“I’m so forgetful,” Jeongguk sighs dramatically, clutching his chest. “Thanks.”

“It’s no problem, have a good night!”

He takes the wallet and doesn’t look back.

“So, Mr. Choi,” Taehyung reads, examining the driver’s license in the wallet. Choi Dowon, 42. Spinning on his heels to walk backwards on unsteady feet, he pulls out a shiny gold credit card. “We’ve got about an hour with this, give or take, before it gets cancelled. Care to spoil your sugar baby for the night?”

“I guess I could,” Jeongguk jokes, slips his hands into his pockets. “But we gotta hurry. Daddy’s got business to do.”

Taehyung tosses him the wallet. “So we’ll make it quick.”

A grin breaks across Jeongguk’s face, bright and happy. Simply, in this boy’s presence

 

$

 

Waiting for the alarm to go off at any second, Jeongguk realizes he hasn't been to a library since high school, hasn’t even thought about one since then. But this doesn’t quite count, not when it happens to fall under their growing list of illegal extracurricular activities that seem to preoccupy the hours when they're together.

“Jeon, quit moving the fucking flashlight, yeah?” Taehyung scolds, crouched down on one knee, inserts the pick to the top of the lock. He turns the lever in the barrel for more torque, grabs the flashlight stuffed under his arm, and shoves it between his teeth.

Concentration. It’s a good look on Taehyung. Jeongguk’s light trails off again watching his profile like this, the focused line of Taehyung’s brows as he works, and only realizes he’s staring, again, when Taehyung warily pauses to glare at him.

“I’m not trying to break into my shoes,” Taehyung grunts. “Light. Up here.”

“Sorry,” Jeongguk whispers back, sitting legs crossed on the floor to ease the tension in his knees. “Why are we breaking into the library of all places?”

“Hwy wuhent ee uh aw pwathes?”

“What?”

Taehyung removes the flashlight. “Why wouldn’t we break into the library of all places?”

“It’s open during the day.”

“And?”

“And it’s also free.”

“Joke’s on you—tuition isn’t.”

Then he’s back to work with a determined gleam in the jut of his jaw, teeth clasped around the butt of the flashlight like some bigtime burglar and not some guy trying to break into his own university’s library. Jeongguk tries not to stare at the stretch of Taehyung’s lips too long, but he’s doing it anyway, pretending like he isn’t, always pretending and convincing himself out of what is. At this point, Taehyung’s already deemed him as extra baggage, serving no real purpose but wasting the batteries in his flashlight.

“You know what time this library opens?” Taehyung asks after jiggling the pick. He’s only gotten past the first few pins. “Nevermind. Doesn’t matter because it’s open a whole fuckin’ lot, which raises the chances of me walking into the stacks with someone already sitting where I need to be, reading manga or some weeb shit with no intention of moving his weeb ass.” Taehyung sighs and drops his arms, turns to shine the flashlight in Jeongguk’s face.

“Fuck, that’s bright—

“I’m basically the king of these parts if there’s no one but us that needs to be kicked out,” Taehyung continues, circling the light around his face a few times. “You get it?”

“Sure, yeah. Now quit—” Jeongguk swats Taehyung’s hand away. “Shining that in my face.”

Jeongguk blinks his eyes to get rid of the glare in his vision, the tiny speckle that leaves a single cigarette burn on everything he squints at. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the mark until it fades. When he opens them, Taehyung is unmoving, staring at the door as if trying to figure out his next move.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Jeongguk asks, resting the flashlight over his shoulder.

“Yes,” Taehyung scratches his temple. “No. Sort of? Better with unlocking cars, though.”

“Two different processes, man.”

“Yeah, I figured that much. Do you know how to pick a lock?”

“You’re asking me?”

Taehyung looks around. “What do you think?”

“Haven’t done it in awhile, but,” Jeongguk lifts up onto his knees and grabs the hairpins from Taehyung. “Scoot.”

It’s a struggle at first, relearning the motions of picking a lock, but Jeongguk slowly gets the hang of it, the familiar feel of the pins against the pick each time he rakes it back and forth. This time, it’s Jeongguk who’s got his flashlight between his teeth, trying to get the last seized pin in the lock to align with the barrel. Eventually the fifth pin relents, and Jeongguk applies pressure to the lever before twisting the knob open with a victorious click.

“First try,” Jeongguk announces smugly, knees popping when he stands.

“You just got lucky,” Taehyung excuses and follows him in. “Lucky, lucky.”

Somehow it always feels so damn heisty whenever he’s with Taehyung, doing things that shouldn’t be right but feel exactly in place, some undercover mafia business that makes Taehyung’s retro vice city aesthetic work every single time. When he’s entertaining Taehyung in all his ideas, Jeongguk’s the sore thumb on a set of familiar hands.

Taehyung ushers him to follow and makes a beeline through the tables. Shining the flashlight past the study cubicles towards the stacks, his light falls on the labels plastered at the side of each shelf: Biography, Literature, Arts, History. It all feels so nostalgic, flickering at parts of his memory that used to be acquainted. He always loved the smell of the library, the light scent of old books and paper scratched with ink, the faded pine of the study tables. He glides his fingertips over the polished surfaces, following Taehyung to the very back, feeling like such a student—not that he misses it.

With a whole wall of windows, pearly moonlight filters in and gives the place a natural milky glow that feels placidly ethereal, almost haunting if not for Taehyung's warm company. Taehyung lowers his flashlight and clicks it off, shoving it into his back pocket, the rest of his tools in the black bag.

Jeongguk still has no idea why they’re here, why they’re really here. But lying on top of these library tables after helping Taehyung push one against the furthest wall of windows, surrounded by towering bookshelves under a sky full of stars, Jeongguk isn’t so much searching for the why’s as he is for the how’s. How to stall this moment out as long as he can without blowing his cover, how to keep Taehyung tucked into his side for the rest of this night, how to keep his poor heart still, how to stop time—

“College is just organized common sense,” Taehyung says, flipping through the glossy pages of the book hovering over them. “But it’s good, y’know. Puts me in my place when I need to get my ass kicked by someone I can’t bitch at.” Taehyung bends back the spine to see the page better, book crackling under the force. “But the things you learn? The only concepts that stick are an added sense of personal value. All the other shit goes out the other ear.”

“That’s ‘cause your goofy ass isn’t retaining any knowledge,” Jeongguk shifts his head on the backpack, a sad excuse for a pillow but an excuse nonetheless, head knocking against Taehyung's. “People actually get smarter when they go to school. Dunno if you know that.”

“Shut up, listen,” Taehyung rests the book on his chest for a moment, thoughtful, finger placemarking the page. “I feel like this is the only place that makes me feel good.”

“Content?”

“No, like, good. Not bad. Righteous,” Taehyung imitates the hang loose gesture with his fist. So dumb, but Jeongguk still huffs laughter.

“Closer to heaven," Jeongguk throws in.

“Yeah, that," Taehyung points. "I need that balance.”

“And college is that balance,” Jeongguk says flatly.

“Y’know, doing things people our age are supposed to do.”

Jeongguk’s snort is genuine this time. “Bullshit. You broke us into this place.”

“Technically, you were the one that broke us in. But like, I can’t—” Taehyung opens the book again, mindlessly skimming tiny body text. “Handle full days sometimes, you get me? Maybe just a solid ten minutes, then I’m maxed out of all the goodness.”

Jeongguk zones out past the decorative text, eyes trained on the grainy plaster of the ceiling. Tawhyung’s words are unfamiliar to his ears, the daunting feeling that he could be relating to him but doesn’t weighing heavy like sleep on his skull.

What Jeongguk perceives as a full day, what Taehyung perceives as a full day—no one really knows but themselves. The relativity to this situation makes him a stranger on new ground, makes him yearn to understand, reach right into Taehyung’s chest and understand what makes him tick, what brings him down, what brings him up. Makes him want to understand all the goodness he feels and give it right back until there’s nothing but.

“Can’t relate,” Jeongguk says after stewing in the still silence. “I’m a college dropout with an unhealthy addiction to aesthetic porn and milk tea. That is my balance.”

“Think I don’t know that already?” Taehyung turns to side eye him, so surreal and beautiful with moonlight kissing him. The bridge of his nose, the highs of his cheekbones, the curve of his heart-shaped lips, Jeongguk is envious. “I can’t keep going on milk tea runs with you, Busan Jeon. Addiction is bad. Have you seen two-thousand-seven Lindsay Lohan?”

“You love going on milk tea runs with me.”

“Only because you always end up paying.”

“Fucked up,” Jeongguk pouts but can’t even argue because it’s true.

Focusing the flashlight over the images of the cookbook, some random thing they’d picked out from the shelving carts, Jeongguk’s in the middle of scanning the recipe for some brie and sundried tomato mushroom caps when Taehyung thumbs the corner and turns the page.

“Wait—” Jeongguk grabs his hand mid-turn and stops him, realizes a second too late that Taehyung’s hand is an enticing heat he’s latching hungrily onto that makes Jeongguk want to hold on forever. Doing this awkward hand holding business mid-air like this, just holding for the sake of holding, Jeongguk’s being sappy and thinking about how their hands look good together.

“Party snacks?” Taehyung says, reading over the page. He is either unfazed or unbothered by the way Jeongguk still hasn’t pulled away. “Didn’t peg you as a party food, party host kind of guy.”

“I’m not,” Jeongguk denies and releases Taehyung’s hand, skin burning like a brandished handprint where they’d touched. “It just looked good.”

“They sell this stuff at our restaurant. The entire appetizer menu looks like this.”

“But our restaurant’s too—” Jeongguk wracks his head for the word, snapping his fingers vaguely in thought.

“Too?”

“What’s the word,” Jeongguk rambles. “Starts with a ‘p’ or something.”

“Public?” Taehyung tosses in. “Don’t get out much, do you.”

“‘Cause I’m always with you,” Jeongguk’s only pretending to complain, seems to do that a lot when he’s masking those tender thoughts. The reality is that Jeongguk doesn’t mind it one bit. The reality is that it’s never enough. “Our restaurant’s too... formal. Or whatever.”

“Can you imagine working inside the restaurant? The hotel?” Taehyung sets the book on his chest again. “They’d probably have us running around doing the craziest shit. Like making sure their wine glasses were cleaned with python piss or something.”

“Do pythons piss?”

“Gotta. They’ve got kidneys,” Taehyung reasons, shifting his head, too, on their shared ‘pillow’. “Doesn’t matter if they do or not. Our customers would make us make it possible anyway.”

“True. But they get better tips in there,” Jeongguk shrugs, the movement stiff from his position. “More customers.”

“We pocket better, though.”

“And going to hell for it, too,” Jeongguk reminds, covering up for the term thieves which always tastes bitter in his mouth, like an unripe grapefruit. “Speaking objectively—”

Objectiveness. Right.”

“—our job’s loads more shit than those guys. Less benefits, wack paycheck, no air conditioning.”

“It’s not all bad,” Taehyung nudges his shoulder, turns to grin at him. So close, Jeongguk can make out the dot of his nose freckle better than the stars overhead. “We found each other, didn’t we?”

“We didn’t find shit,” Jeongguk snorts. “Yoongi decided to bitch out and get educated, that's why.”

“We make one hell of a combo, though. Can’t deny. You know all the rave about that Mexican, Korean food fusion bullshit going around these days?” Taehyung’s foot hits his ankle when he shifts his leg, heel of his boot squeaking against the polished tabletop. “Fuckin’ bulgogi kimchi tacos, were they? We’re better than those.”

“Mm. Better than sundried tomato mushrooms?”

“Let’s make it sometime and find out,” Taehyung says, tugging his phone out of his front pocket. “When we’re feeling terminally suburban enough.”

Taehyung snaps a photo of the recipe then shuts the book, sets the bulky thing off to the side. Something about this feels oddly domestic, laying side by side, sharing a pillow and a book, food talks and income. Being married to Taehyung probably wouldn’t be any different, and Jeongguk is running that through his head like assembly line process.

Mulling over the suggestion, he says, “Sure, but you’re cooking.”

“It won’t be cooking, trust me.”

There’s a certain charm to being in abandoned places that are meant to be occupied. For one thing, the absence of people that he’s so accustomed to acknowledging, the way it molds him to fit right in. There’s also that gap, almost always filled with noises of everyday life, paper shuffling, sniffling, chairs creaking, that are now replaced with loud and vast silence. But mostly, the charm is in the construction of a personalized paradise, a place that belongs to you and only you and the company you choose. The king of these parts if there’s no one else around to rule it, Jeongguk gets it now.

“Funny, isn’t it?” Jeongguk says, feeling far, far away. Taehyung leans up on an elbow and looks down at him, pulls him back down to this surreal reality. “Stealing for a living, living to steal. What we’re gunning for.”

“It’s not stealing, it’s taking,” Taehyung traces one of the rings on the table, left recklessly from someone’s leaking coffee cup. “It’s different.”

“Semantics,” Jeongguk waves his hand aimlessly through the air.

“Wrong. Stealing implies that we’re taking against their will. There’s no harm when they don’t even notice,” Taehyung rolls onto his stomach. “We’re just cutting the unnecessary shit out of their lives for them. No one actually needs a nineteen carat ring.”

“And no one needs a fancy car,” Jeongguk says then chuckles at some fleeting sentiment. “We’re just cheaters, fuckin’ admit.”

“Gonna hit me with that cheaters never prosper bullshit? ‘Cause we’re prospering, prospering just fine.”

Jeongguk stops himself from rolling his eyes. “Exceptions not cheaters?”

And we take shortcuts,” Taehyung adds, shifting to fold his arms over Jeongguk’s chest and resting his chin on them. “Google maps can’t even find you those.”

“Lies. Google maps could find Yoongi’s heart,” Jeongguk’s trying to chill his rapid pulse to moderate droning lest he get caught being mushy, blushing from the heart and some such.

“But the shortcuts, Jeongguk. You gotta find those on your own, man,” Taehyung pokes him in the chest. “In here.”

“Goddamn hippie filth,” Jeongguk playfully swats his hand away. “I know my shortcuts.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Taehyung presses his smile into his forearm. So grossly tender, Jeongguk’s chest must be glowing scarlet. “We make a good team, you and I.”

Team. Jeongguk’s never really known the word beyond the literal definition.

 

team (n.) : a number of persons associated together in work or activity such as

» a group on one side (as in football or a debate)

» crew, gang

 

The definition, no matter how concrete, poses the biggest question of all: what are they? That’s not to imply the complications or the implications or even the justifications of certain hidden feelings—none of the sort. This is to imply the mere surface of where they stand, where two roads meet and conjoin into one. All things considered, it’s jarring that Jeongguk can’t seem to place Taehyung under any of these four definitions Merriam-Webster provides him with. Jarring, because it all boils down to the fact that Taehyung means something more. Because Taehyung’s never really been just his team, his partner, his coworker, and that realization is the start of a revolution of all he’s ever known.

 

self-reliance (n.) : reliance on one’s own efforts and abilities

 

Sure, gang might be applicable in the unlawful, antisocial, anti-society sense, but it’s still somewhat off and feels clunky rolling around on his tongue. So maybe fuck the dictionary. So maybe they all have their own definitions. So maybe it’s all about relativity in the grand scheme of things and the dictionary isn’t as objective as it seems.

Objectiveness. Right.  

 

Kim Taehyung (n.) : 1. I was stuck in solitude before I met you, and you are so beautiful it hurts; it just does 2. The sound of your unsteady laugh when you’re nervous 3. Do you think of me as much as I think of you? 4. I’m scared that our trust is just lust but my heart says otherwise 5. Trust (the only correct use in this definition but true nonetheless) 6. God you are beautiful

 

“Team,” Jeongguk finally says when he’s trudged enough miles through his ransacked brain, muddling hard over things that might just be trivial, put into context. “I guess you can call it that.”

“What else would you call it?” Taehyung raises a brow, face so close. Another freckle spotted on his waterline, he always seems to discover something new.

Jeongguk wants to touch him, but he doesn’t.

For now, he’s okay with watching the moonlight do it for him.

“You and me,” he says. “Just call it you and me.”

Hopping into bed later that night, Jeongguk’s phone pings with an incoming text. 

 

Taehyung

pretentious  

 

That’s it. Jeongguk laughs softly to himself and crashes back into his pillows with a sigh, falls asleep to sleepy revelations.

 

$

 

Taehyung apparently feels terminally suburban enough into the following week for it to manifest into a Real Thing, a nostalgic symptom of becoming dregs of city life that also comes with no actual ability to cook.

“Perf—“

“Preheat.”

“Pret—“ Words stumbling over each other, Taehyung is struggling with reading the recipe from his phone, tongue caught in a funk that it just won’t ditch. “Fuck. Preheat the fucking oven—"

“Reading is hard,” Jeongguk says, patiently leaning against the counter.

“Shut up. Preheat the oven to three-fifty.”

Texting him in premature hours of the night, Taehyung had nearly kicked down his door unannounced, prepared to cook when Jeongguk was not, thoroughly glossed in the simplicities of loafing.

 

Taehyung

comin over

we're gonna make that recipe

sundried tomato mushroom

so get mu shroms out white wine a.nd like

knives

30min

 

It's nothing new, Taehyung coming over, yet Jeongguk still found himself tidying up the place of its already mostly decent vacancy, swiping for the remote to retract all the motorized blinds from the wall of windows, allowing generous city light to flood the living room in cascading bokeh across the grey oak floors. Kicking a stray t-shirt up off the floor with his toe and catching it, he’d sprinted to the fridge in last minute realization to check for mushrooms and other foodstuffs to relay to Taehyung.

 

Jeongguk

are you at the market

 

Taehyung

yeah what do you need

hurry i’m boutta bounce

ppl here are weird asf ??idk

 

Jeongguk

are you at the Lotte near my place

dont go there

everyone’s on some shit

 

Taehyung

ya too late cool thanks

what do you need

 

Jeongguk

get me a carton of strawberries

and milk

whole

pls

 

Taehyung

let me guess

protein milkshakes

fuckinnn

 

Jeongguk

fuck outta here

what’s wrong with my protein milkshakes

they bring all the boys to the yard

 

Taehyung

WH

what.stfu so ugly

youre too like

gonna get too BIG

then all our buyers are gonna fuck us up

bc youre gonna get all beefy and shit and look so fuckin fugazi

shit

 

Jeongguk

dude i’m not

 

Taehyung

your body’s like

so fucking dense

youll sink in water

 

Jeongguk

whatever i’m strong on land

 

Taehyung

wait delet all that a

blackmail material also cops are wiretapped evrywhere

fuck delete it

did you delete it

 

Jeongguk

lol nope

<3

 

It’s not that Jeongguk’s never been to Taehyung’s condo, he’s been there enough to keep a duffle bag of necessities in the walk-in coatroom. This, here, is that Jeongguk is a fierce homebody with a penchant for staying in to binge watch anime and partake in most competitive gaming on his mounted TV set—that works out, in a way, because Taehyung doesn’t mind driving down despite being twenty minutes away, needing the constance of company on days his head gets beat with so much despondent junk. He can only stand dwelling in one habitat alone for so long until even his own thinking voice sounds cynical. It helps that Jeongguk doesn’t mind sharing his four-thousand square feet, not when it’s Taehyung he’s filling spaces with.

But without the initiation from work matters to bring them together, sorting profits fifty-fifty, reviewing items from the week’s pickings, Jeongguk treats time with near reverence that has everything to do with such lowkey cherishing and balmy basking. And now, this chill bonding that he isn’t so used to with Taehyung fixed in his kitchen, watching him handle most of the cooking while spouting off nonsense about the next topic over, pretending like he’s smiling from Taehyung’s rambling and not the mere vibe alone. Just listening yet feeling so remarkably giddy, cheeks aching.

Jeongguk relishes in the warmth Taehyung brings into his home that morning sunlight couldn’t do.

“Now we gotta wait thirty minutes till the timer goes off,” Taehyung reads from the recipe, image pinched large to discern blurry text from his poor photograph job.

“These are gonna taste like shit,” Jeongguk semi-warns, wiping down the marble countertop with a damp paper towel. “We eyeballed the whole recipe.”

“Probably. But I'm still gonna eat them,” Taehyung says from the side of the island, blinding cityscape backlighting his rosy face but never outshining. “Gonna pretend like they’re fuckin’ great, too.” He gathers the extra mushrooms into a bowl alongside other leftover ingredients that didn’t make it, the high domestics of it all that make Jeongguk float.

“Basically what we do when we go to Seokjin’s company parties.”

“I mean, his food is good, it just always tastes like it’s almost there, you get me?”

“Truth,” Jeongguk, at the sink, glances over his shoulder towards Taehyung, who’s drifting into the open living room and cranking the music up higher on the sound system situated on the console table, hooked up via bluetooth on his phone. Muting out the humming oven with lousy hype, Jeongguk feels white noise risers wound his soul. “Hey, play something else. This playlist is shit.”

“Like what?” Taehyung says, browsing through lists.

“Put on The Internet.”

“Yeah, but like, what from the internet?”

“No, that's what they're called—the Internet,” Jeongguk shuts off the sink and flicks water droplets off his hands, dries them on the hand towel hanging to the side. “Just play their most recent album.”

“Ego Death?”

“Yeah.”

Only a few minutes in, and the oven is already exhausting sapid aroma that makes his saliva glands water.

“You in the mood for some drinks?” Jeongguk offers, nabbing a shaker and two glasses.

“Maybe just a drink,” Taehyung returns to the island and leans forward on his elbows, still contemplating potential morning headaches while watching Jeongguk search the alcohol selection in the glass cupboard. He says, “What do you have in mind, bartender?”

“What do you want?” Jeongguk pulls out a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's.

Taehyung, setting the glass cups side by side, says, “Surprise me. I’m going easy tonight.”

Jump to: a few drinks later.

Jeongguk's a drunk that teeters past comprehension, not even sure whether or not Taehyung’s as drunk as him, head dull and numb and making Taehyung so pretty, swaying to the music like that with his glass in one hand, glock in the other, dramatically gritting his teeth with a hiss each sip he takes. Feet moving on their own accord, Jeongguk sidles up to him from behind and sways, too, till his vision smudges. He laughs when their feet stumble together gracelessly on the ivory fur rug, Taehyung falling back against his chest and barely sloshing whiskey over the brim.

“Shit,” Taehyung giggles. “Didn't even know you were behind me.”

“I'm stealthy like that,” Jeongguk says, confidence so particular that he musters up the courage to loosely grip Taehyung’s waist without even thinking about it, made easier from his loopy state. “I'm like Liam Neeson.”

“Nah, you're like,” Taehyung pauses and sips his drink, keeps hissing through his teeth. “What was it again? You're like a jaguar. Yeah, like the car you drive. Remember?”

“Dance like one, too,” Jeongguk says nonsensically, swaying and swaying. “Got moves like jaguar.”

“It’s jagger, you dumbass,” Taehyung snorts, burrowing back closer into Jeongguk’s chest, nearly relying half his weight on him before he’s pushing away completely. “But okay Mick Jaguar, show me what you got.”

There’s another batch of mushrooms cooking in the oven. Admittedly, they weren’t as terrible as Jeongguk was expecting, and now the whole place smells like it, brie and white wine rising, sun dried tomato seeds lingering vibrant on his tongue. Scents seeping into the couches and rugs and clinging, he’ll take this over the cheap smell of fast food he’d invited in last week after work with Burger King.

Taehyung treads to the large charcoal sectional and sets his drink and gun down on the way. Plucking the familiar sack of cash off the floor, he hops up onto the cushions with bare feet, spins around with a wavering bounce to his steps. Pulling out a random stack of thousands, he starts wafting new bills sheet by sheet through the air like falling leaves, sprinkling cash all over the couch and floor, over the sable coffee table where his Rolex watch sits.

“Gonna earn these tips?” Taehyung snickers, fanning out two more stacks, getting so messy and littered with all this green. He grins at Jeongguk's slow approach, tosses the rest up in the air. Bills fluttering around them like an offbeat little heaven of sage butterflies, arms spread, head tilted back. He looks beautiful through the confetti.

“Can't earn tips that are already mine,” Jeongguk says but surprises Taehyung by gripping his ankles, yanking him down onto the oversized cushions with a thud and startled yelp. While he's busy with dazed giggling, Jeongguk places his hands on either side of Taehyung’s head, lifts his body in the air and slowly drops down on him, scorpion style, rolling as he goes with their hips stacked all snugly over each other.

“Jesus,” Taehyung huffs, short of breath when Jeongguk’s thicker body presses him into the couch. “Party trick?”

“No,” Jeongguk drawls, sounding so stale. “Just drunk.”

“And ripped,” Taehyung playfully growls, turns to bite the bulge of his bicep. “Love your arms.”

“Yeah?” Jeongguk flicks Taehyung’s upper arm. “Cute twigs.”

“I’m not a gym rat like some people,” Taehyung accuses and meets his eyes, their chests pressing close. “What happens if you don’t hit the gym for a week? Do you turn into a pile of fat?”

“Fuck off my back. The gym is good for you.”

“I’m not complaining,” Taehyung asserts and admires his arms for added effect, giving them a squeeze. “Once upon time, little ol’ me almost hooked up with a gym junkie. You know their arms are legit when they skip leg day.”

“Most of those guys are total assholes.”

“You’re one of ‘em.”

“Yeah, but I’m likeable.”

“Totally. Jeon Jeongguk, the likeable asshole valet attendant. That’s what you’re trending as.”

“I’ll take that,” Jeongguk shifts when Taehyung’s ribs rake uncomfortably against his own, dropping partially to the side in the couch’s gutter and only half on top of Taehyung. Mismatched thighs slotting between each other, fitting angles together better and making this position work very well. Jeongguk props himself up on an elbow, looks down at Taehyung still idly stroking up and down his arm. “So why the almost hook up?”

“‘Cause it didn't really happen,” Taehyung explains, getting into the logistics of the term. He plays with the hem of Jeongguk’s sleeve, near self-reproachful going through the backstory. “He tried fingering me this one time, real desperate, then my boner fucking vanished.”

“Shit, that bad?”

“And listen, I fuckin’ suck at fingering myself—yeah, I’ll admit. But that dude,” Taehyung emphasizes almost traumatically, face flashing through the memories and fluctuating. “Worse. Just didn’t feel right, and I’m not talking, like, spiritual connection or any of that chemistry bull.”

Jeongguk squints. “How do you suck at fingering yourself?”

“Dunno, I just do. Sometimes, y’know, it just doesn't feel—” Taehyung holds his hand up to his face to examine. “Y’know.”

“I don’t believe you. You were born to finger,” Jeongguk reaches to lightly trace Taehyung’s pointer finger, pressing their palms together to measure size difference and pretending he doesn’t notice how easy their hands move together. Taehyung’s got such big fucking hands. “Look at these.”

“Aw,” says Taehyung but snorts at himself, turning their hands over so Jeongguk’s is on top. “Well, how do you do it? Pointers, share some.”

“Secret.”

“Give me at least a preview, then.”

“Do I look like I’d give out fingering advice?”

“You look like you know how to finger,” Taehyung says, stretching out the word, not that it’s any more convincing. Some flipped compliment that Jeongguk doesn’t know how to take.

“Google-dot-com, I hear that's a thing now.”

“Come on, it’s just me.”

“No.”

“Shy?” Taehyung prods, oozing buckets of dirty mischief. He’s persistent now, trying to scratch the underside of Jeongguk’s chin, but Jeongguk dodges him every time, tilting his head every which way given the limited space. Space, so much of it in this loft except here, between them. “Please? Help a guy out.”

“Fuck, this is ridiculous. You’re ridiculous,” comes his eventual reply as Jeongguk groans, shoving Taehyung’s hand away. “I dunno—are you using enough lube?”

“Loads.”

“Then can you not find your prostate or something?” Jeongguk asks, voice a little bewildered. “Here, just—make a circle with your fingers. Just do it.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

And Taehyung laughs at that because he does know why, just loves pressing all his buttons and knowing exactly which ones to press. Jeongguk blinks up at the ceiling a few times, going through entire body contemplation, wondering if he’s really doing this, demonstrating such shit to the guy he might just be in love with. How to finger himself.

“You gotta slide your fingers about two to three inches in,” Jeongguk pushes two of his fingers past the circle of Taehyung’s hand and twists them around, awkward as all get out. He's too drunk for this, not drunk enough, too sober. “Just really get in there.”

“Mhm.”

“And then,” Jeongguk curls his fingers and beckons, moves them in that back and forth gesture. “Keep doing this motion towards the front until you find it. Feels like a bulb of tissue. And like, play with that until you come.”

“Uh huh.”

Jeongguk nods. “Fingering 101.”

The room feels degrees warmer, summer heat all in his pores, some very apparent, very misplaced arousal in it. Jeongguk tears his eyes away from the nasty things their hands are doing, braves a hard glance down at Taehyung still trapped beneath his body. Just as warm and only getting warmer in places that melt against Jeongguk where separation becomes one. He’s got his bottom lip tucked between his teeth, cheeks flushed all sweet like his silky tongue.

“You know,” Taehyung whispers after Jeongguk’s stared at his mouth for too long. “I was kidding about not knowing how to finger myself.”

Jeongguk groans and covers his face with his hand. “I hate you. Why do I always hate you.”

“But hey,” Taehyung tugs at his wrist and pulls his hand away. “Hey, I’m honored—”

“Stop talking.”

“—that you fingered me.”

“Your hand, Kim. I fingered your hand.”

Not that it sounds any better, if not nastier, always getting him to do some fucked up shit he calls friend stuff. But Taehyung looks so fragile beneath him, head tilted slightly to one side that pushes his bangs out of the way. Despite that teasing confidence, Taehyung’s body is still hot, and maybe it’s the alcohol, the whiskey and the vodka and that, but the way he holds Jeongguk’s gaze tells him otherwise, that electric intensity shooting right through his wired body like static. Their ribs jutting against each other still too angular, the alignment of their arms clumsy, but Jeongguk can only really focus on the way Taehyung’s skin feels against his own even with all this synthetic material between them, itching to remove. Cotton and polyester almost repellent.

He's thinking, what am I doing?

Careful not to break this delicate undercurrent, Jeongguk reaches over that indiscernible barrier and grips Taehyung’s chin in his hand, watching as the tip of his thumb disappears past those lips. Just barely grazing tongue as Taehyung makes a show of pulling off slowly with a tiny nip, cheeks hollowed and lips pursed around skin. Transfixed, he reverently peels back Taehyung’s bottom lip with his slick thumb, getting his mouth to fall open so slight, the plump thing springing back wetly when it's released. It sends a wild chill through him that sucks all the air out. Fuck, Jeongguk wants to eat him.

His mind thick with steam, he can hear the unsteady echo of his heart pounding in his ears, Taehyung’s pink lips so close, right there. If he leans in just slightly, tilts his head just right, he could maybe—

Beep. Beep. Beep.

There goes the oven. Right, he’d forgotten about it.

Jeongguk tries to mask his sigh, that dawdling roughness in his throat as he says, “We should get that.”

The oven beeping persistently in the background sounds a lot like—

You sure about this?

About what? Jeongguk thinks, and that inherently makes him not sure about anything.

“Yeah, go,” Taehyung laughs, doesn’t remove the hand gripping his wrist. In fact, he doesn’t move at all. “Come on, up.”

But Jeongguk can’t find it in him to escape this, to step free of this wave he wants crashing right into him. The feeling of Taehyung buzzing against him, skin almost scalding where they meet. It’s been so long since he’s felt a touch this warm, and for the first time since seven, since ever, he feels that high from a body other than his own.

“Let’s go,” he hums and drops his head on Taehyung’s chest, closes his eyes to the pounding behind the ribcage, the low rumble of his breathy laugh that shakes right through. Winding arms around Taehyung’s middle, Jeongguk holds him close.

The oven stops beeping and so does the badgering.

“After you,” says Taehyung and combs his fingers through Jeongguk’s soft hair.

 

$

 

Jeongguk

something’s wrong with me

I haven’t slept in 2 days but I can also sleep for forever

have taehyung’s hands always been so nice tf

 

Yoongi

idfk ???

self diagnose

stupidity probably

 

Jeongguk

stfu this is real

think I’m dying

 

Yoongi

wanna know what I think

 

Jeongguk

diagnose me

 

Yoongi

think you’re just falling

like /in love/ I mean, the gross stuff

nasty sickness, spreads everywhere

chest aches, hard to breathe, dizziness

how nasty are you

 

Jeongguk

call 911

 

$

 

Here stands a long stretch of road and two cars that don’t belong to them. Because valeting at a restaurant that belongs to a five-star hotel has its pros, one being tending to guests with nice cars who check into the hotel and leave the keys in the valet’s hands overnight. Joy rides are one of these many perks.

“It's a straight shot. No one will notice,” Taehyung encourages. “No dirt, no dust, just concrete.”

“Dude, the tires—

“It’s just one race, the tires will be fine. Just don’t drive like you’re fifteen and leave skid marks everywhere,” Taehyung reassures with a slight eye roll. “No one’s gonna notice. Trust.”

Leaning against the car across from Taehyung who mirrors his stance, Jeongguk is still skeptical.

Taehyung groans. “Come on, not chickening out on me, are you?”

“Just don’t wanna end up in jail, maybe?”

“It’s just one race.”

“Tae—”

“One race!”

“Fine!” Jeongguk grunts. “Fuck.”

They're not too far from the hotel, they never are, maybe a seven mile drive out. The surrounding area is desolate, nothing but overhanging trees and dingy streetlights lining the road. This isn’t a regular thing, joy rides, just a rarity when they have the time, even more rare when there’s two cars involved instead of one. Granted, joyrides are risky, but when you know your way around as an attendant like they do, they're also a breeze.

“Where to?” Jeongguk asks.

“Towards the end of this stretch, there’s a broken down car at the side of the road. Been there for a few months,” Taehyung explains. “First one there, wins.”

“And the prize?”

“Seventy-five percent of the next month’s earnings instead of the usual fifty.”

“So you’ve thought of this already.”

“You got me," Taehyung says sarcastically. "This is all one elaborate scheme I’ve been planning so I can take only fifteen-percent when I could’ve easily stolen the whole hundred.”

Easily my ass,” Jeongguk straightens up off the car and swings the keys around his finger. “If it weren’t for my help the other night, you would’ve missed your chance on a good steal.”

“And if I hadn’t been nice enough to give you back that ring when we first met,” Taehyung reminds, opening the door to the Porsche. “You would’ve lost the seven thousand you got for it, so who’s talkin’ now.”

Jeongguk levels him with a challenging grin and hops into the McLaren. “We’ll let the cars do the talking.”

Somewhere in Seoul, there is the loud roar of two cars revving their engines at an isolated red light, waiting to take off with bated breath and egos on the line. Two cars zipping through the night on green on a straight-shot path, Jeongguk does not turn out to be winner.

“What was that?” Taehyung says now, snarky and smugly thriving on bubbling victory. “Like a two car difference? Cute.”

Jeongguk wants to blame it on car selection, the predictability of the outcome to this race an obvious one, that of course the Porsche beat out the McLaren, but now he sounds like a butthurt bitch with an ugly ego coming up with shitty excuses just to salvage the blow. Taehyung kicked his ass, simple as that.

“Shut up,” Jeongguk pouts and chucks the peppermint in his pocket at Taehyung. “Didn’t want to put wear on the tires.”

Couldn’t put wear on the tires if you tried,” Taehyung laughs and does a little dance that quite frankly pisses him off. Picking the peppermint off the floor and unwrapping the plastic, Taehyung pops the striped thing in his mouth. “That was fun, though. Let me beat you again sometime.”

“Don’t get so cocky.”

“Don’t be so sore,” Taehyung taps the toes of their shoes together. “My reward?”

“Chill. I won't forget.”

“How about a little something upfront?”

“So needy, you know that?” Jeongguk lightly pokes him in the stomach. “I don't carry fifteen percent of our earnings in my wallet.”

“Oh, you mean this thing?” Taehyung feigns innocence, holds up the black leather of Jeongguk’s wallet. “Wonder what your driver’s license picture looks like.”

“You don’t—" Jeongguk reaches forward, snatching his wallet back. “Wanna know.”

“Now that’s a panty dropper,” Taehyung whistles with a single driver’s license in hand, and Jeongguk looks down at his wallet, at the one empty card slot. Taehyung had still managed to take it from him, the sly fuck. “This right here, man. I’d sit on that face.”

“Bet yours isn't any better,” Jeongguk snorts, opening Taehyung’s wallet.

“What—when’d you take that?”

“Don’t let your guard down, Kim,” Jeongguk slips out a plum colored card. “Wait, is this your high school ID?”

“Don’t look at that,” Taehyung lurches forward and tries to snatch it back.

But it’s not that easy. Jeongguk extends his arm back so the card is far out of his reach, leaning back against the hood, tugging Taehyung’s wrist a little too hard when he makes another attempt. That sends Taehyung stumbling against him, between his thighs, palms bracing against his solid chest.

And there goes the swinging in his head.

“Woah there, jaguar,” Taehyung breathes and Jeongguk feels it on his face. Taehyung retrieves his ID from Jeongguk’s slackened hand.

“Sorry.”

“You’re good,” Taehyung says, a mere whisper between them. That familiar haze is back, the one that never seems to disappear, only getting more tense with time. It hands heavier in the air between, thick and palpable, almost enough to cut right through. Jeongguk is distracted by the hand on his chest when Taehyung speaks again. “But hey, y’know, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Hm?” Jeongguk hums, hands itching to smooth down the sides of Taehyung’s thighs between his own. He shifts on the hood, sits up a little straighter. “What is it?”

“Can you just, not say anything? For a bit? Not like, in a rude way or anything.”

“Why?”

“Just. Don't freak out.”

And then Taehyung slowly leans down to kiss him.

The swinging in his head gets lethargic, pushes to the back of his mind, subdued, but never quite goes away. It feels like he’s been waiting for this moment all his life, like he’d been missing this without ever knowing, and now that it's finally here in full force, Jeongguk feels like he is fizzing out. Taehyung’s soft lips molding against his, testing, at first, as if Jeongguk could ever pull away, his will but a stamped piece of chewed up gum stuck to the bottom of desire's shoe. Jeongguk presses close and tilts his chin to deepen the kiss, sends a shiver right down his throat, jittering throughout his skeleton.

Taehyung pries his lips apart and licks his way in, slips the peppermint onto his tongue and kisses him sloppy, as if he's unsure of wanting to cherish the moment or if he's scared to lose it. His tongue tastes sweet and feels like silk against his own, that slippery wet intoxication that drills its way through his senses, Jeongguk slides his palms down the backs of Taehyung’s thighs, squeezes them tight before smoothing up over the swell of his ass to grip his waist.

Back and forth goes the swing in his head, but Jeongguk's already forgotten it over his racing pulse.

Taehyung sucking on his tongue, an incoming text pings on Jeongguk’s phone. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Yoongi’s name flash across the screen and reluctantly breaks the kiss, pecks him again for good measure.

 

Yoongi

emergncy

get ur asses bcak NOW

guests for the porsche are in the lobby rn

hurry the fuck up

 

“Fuck—we gotta get back now,” Jeongguk jumps, patting Taehyung’s thigh to usher him out from between his legs. “Go, go, go.”

“Which car is the priority?” Taehyung says, out of breath after sucking face, a sense of panic in his voice. His lips are swollen red and silly, but he understands this situation without needing to be told because when you dabble in the risk of joyrides, you are always alert.

“Porsche.”

“Here, take it,” Taehyung tosses the keys. “You’re faster under pressure, I’ll clear the way. Friday night on the main streets—shit, we’re fucked.”

“Wait, you're better at manual,” Jeongguk tosses the keys back. “You lead, I’ll clear the way.”

Wasting no time and hopping into their respective cars, Taehyung zooms off first with a screech that Jeongguk hopes won’t be visible on the tires. He promptly shifts into gear and follows after, swerving out onto the main road on Taehyung’s tail followed by a series of honks when they cut straight into traffic. They get a good three blocks in before hitting standard city jam, trapped in the middle lane going thirty miles per hour.

Jeongguk doesn't have the slightest idea where everyone seems to be going at this time of night, long past rush hour and too early for loud nightlife. Glancing in the side mirror, he cuts sharply into the furthest lane, right in front of a bus, which earns him a harsh succession of honks and screeching brakes from the massive vehicle. Holding up the bus in the third lane to clear it, Taehyung quickly takes the chance to swiftly swerve in front of Jeongguk and speeds off.

Jump to: Yoongi.

“Sir, Ma’am—how has your night been?” Yoongi stiffly asks, a little out of breath after having sprinted up to the guests in the lobby to stall for time.

“It’s been lovely, thanks for asking,” the man turns to smile at his wife, hand reaching out to rest against her back. “We just got done at the spa, now we're looking to head out for dinner.”

“Glad to hear that,” Yoongi nods. “Would you care for some recommendations?”

“Well, actually,” the couple takes a step forward, shiny shoes gliding across the dark granite floors. “We were thinking of trying Soigné in Banpo.”

Yoongi gulps.

“Oh, you know,” Yoongi leans in and lowers his voice. “One of our guests got food poisoning just last week from that place. Rushed back to the hotel sick." He pretends to shiver. “The guy was up all night. Looked pale as a sheet, not to mention projectile vomi—”

“Oh, jeez. How awful,” the wife grimaces at her husband, apprehensive. “You sure about this place, honey?”

“I read such great reviews,” the man frowns regrettably, lines of his face notable. “A coworker of mine recommended it, too.”

“Restaurants these days’ll pay good money to get bad reviews taken down,” Yoongi warns, pretending to be nonchalant. It’s not even true. Yelp doesn’t even allow for bad reviews to be taken down, and he’s going out on a limb, here. “Rather than French, there's a place called Jungsik Dang for more traditional cuisine over in Cheongdam. Highly renowned, and the food is exquisite.”

“Hm. We'll probably need the car to get there,” the woman notes. “Instead of taking one of the hotel's taxis, like we planned.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi laughs. He’s fucking sweating. “A car would be handy.”

Another four blocks and the light turns red. Jeongguk accelerates past the car in front of him, coasts right into the intersection, and slows down deliberately to block the oncoming cars for Taehyung to zip by without stops. He speeds back up and follows Taehyung into a sharp left turn, rips the handbrake as he goes and puts pressure on the gas pedal. Cars nearly side by side, Jeongguk swerves in rhythmic interwoven patterns around the other cars alongside Taehyung, dodging the ones parked along the sides of the street.

“Fuck, move, move, move,” Jeongguk rushes out, honking his horn frantically at the pedestrians ahead. They scream and scatter off to the sides, gasping as they pass, Jeongguk in the lambent yellow car, Taehyung in glossy silver. Such ostentatious attractions flying through this carbon night being so noisy above urban discord.

Jump to: Yoongi’s sweaty palms.

“Sure, we'll take the car,” the man agrees, patting the pockets of his slacks. “Oh, right. I valeted it last night.”

“Right,” Yoongi already knew that. He remembers all of his guest’s faces “I'll lead you there and get someone to fetch your car for you straight away. Give me just one quick second.”

He runs off and turns the corner, wipes his forehead with the back his hand. Collapsing against the marble with an exasperated sigh, he checks his phone.

 

Jeongguk

on our way

stall some time

 

“Stall time,” Yoongi says to no one in particular, getting delirious. “No fuckin’ shit, Sherlock.”

Yoongi pockets his phone.

“Okay!” Yoongi claps once he’s returned to his guests. “Follow me this way, and we'll get your car ready for you.”

Feet dragging through unseeable molasses, walking so deliberate, Yoongi checks over his shoulder every so often at the chattering couple, careful not to strike impatience. When they arrive at the valet area, he rigidly smiles at Jooheon. Sweat droplet trickling down his temple, palms all clammy.

He says, “Jooheon, go fetch the—”

With perfect timing, the Porsche rolls up in front of them, right on the dot, and Taehyung steps out and jogs around to the open the passenger door. Charming smile in place as if nothing at all had happened, just another attendant looking to impress.

Because when you’re a valet, you’re wired down to the very seconds—fifty-two, to be precise.

Because when you’ve been doing this as long as they have, you’re always on time.

“How did you—?” the man trails off, just as stunned by the timing as Yoongi is.

“Oh, I—called someone to get the car ready when I stepped away earlier. Y’know, so you wouldn't have to wait,” Yoongi lies, another bead of sweat rolling off his chin. “It's pretty chilly out. Wouldn't want the misses to get cold.”

“That’s sweet of you,” she squeezes his arm thankfully. Taehyung takes her hand and helps her into the car.

Examining his face for a few stagnant seconds, the man claps him on the back and sends him stumbling forward from the force.

“Good,” he says and retrieves the wallet from his back pocket, passes him a generous tip while firmly grasping his hand to shake. “Good. I like you, boy.”

“You're too kind,” Yoongi bows, and the man walks around the car to the driver’s side. “Have a marvelous evening, you two, alright?”

Watching them drive off, Yoongi crumbles to the floor in a defeated crouch and wails.

“Fuck me in the ass.”

Jeongguk steps out from behind once the Porsche is out of sight after having driven off to park the McLaren. “That was close.”

“You think?” Yoongi flicks a shriveled valet ticket at his cheek. “We were two seconds away from getting busted. Two seconds.”

“Hey, but we didn’t, and we had a good time doing it, too,” Taehyung shoves Jeongguk, giddy, ears still ringing with white noise. The way he looks at him, that shy hesitance in his eyes and the timid fix of his lips, Jeongguk knows he's thinking about their kiss, too.“That’s the fun of it.”

“Aw,” Yoongi teases, looking between the two. “Why don’t you guys touch dicks and get married while you’re at it?”

“Who flew you in from Saltville?” Jeongguk snorts, used to this.

“You did,” Yoongi lifts a bony finger at him. “On the Virgin Airlines with that new haircut.”

“Such a dick,” Jeongguk recoils. “Such.”

“Anyway, I don’t need your sass, I need you to cover my shifts Monday and Tuesday after the stunt you just pulled,” Yoongi stretches his neck side to side with a satisfying pop. “You fuckers owe me.”

“Sure, sure. More for us, right?” Taehyung complies easily. “I’ll cover Monday. Jeongguk can do Tuesday.”

Jeongguk reaches past Yoongi’s knobby knees to hang the keys in the storage beneath the podium. “Why can’t you work Monday and Tuesday?”

“Recording stuff. With Jimin.”

Jimin?” Taehyung baffles. “For two days? When did you two get friendly?”

“We kept in touch since the time you introduced us,” Yoongi explains. “Kid’s got a nice voice. Doesn’t make me want to rip my pubes out like you two.”

“His voice isn’t the only thing that’s nice,” Taehyung raises his brows. “His ass, dude. His ass is a ten.

“Why are you two still here?” Yoongi interrupts. “Your guys’ shift ended like ten hours ago.”

“One hour ago,” Jeongguk yawns.

“And still gave me trouble, so what's the difference?”

“Hey, I saved your ass once, so consider us debt free.”

Once,” Yoongi sneers. “Once, he says. My motherfuckin’ hero.”

“Always,” Jeongguk flips him off.

Coming down from the panicked rush, Jeongguk's lips still burn from the outline of Taehyung's against his own, mint on his tongue having dissolved into a tiny shard but reminding him of that soft tongue licking against his own. Memorizing, familiarizing, just gliding breathlessly in the spunk of desperate, sensual unison. He wets his drying lips and swallows back remnants of Taehyung's kiss almost warily, already craving in the deepest parts of him that feel harsh enough to sting.

“Hey—jajangmyeon place open till midnight,” Taehyung butts in, rifling through a small stack of cash. “Jeon, you hungry?”

“I’m down,” Jeongguk stretches his arms overhead with a huge groan, pushing it to the back of his head. Staring at the bills in Taehyung’s hands, something dawns on him. “Wait, where’d you get that? We left all our stuff in the lockers.”

“Jajangmyeon’s on Yoongi tonight,” Taehyung winks and saunters off to the hotel’s employee room, suspiciously fast on his feet. “Thanks!”

Jeongguk shrugs and jogs off after him, leaving Yoongi to squint ahead, confused, before his hands fly to his now empty pockets.

“That was my tip, you asshole!”

 

$

 

Jeongguk takes three shots on gig night before he’s even showed up at the venue, already buzzed and a little empty. His fingers are itching for something that will satiate his mucked apathy, not having felt so confused in a long time, stuck in this cascading shit storm of gross feelings and grosser emotions.

“You good, though?" Yoongi asks over the funneled music backstage when Jeongguk arrives and collapses on the mangled leather couch, ceiling lights tinkering. “If Namjoon falls off his ass and breaks his legs, you’re our backup. Don't forget.”

“He’s only half kidding,” Hoseok mentions off to the side, fidgeting in front of the mirrors. Shaking his hands out to diminish rising nerves, these backstage rituals never surface onstage. “The backup part, I mean. Joon’s a fuckin’ mess.”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk mutters, shooting a reassuring thumbs-up and slings an arm over his eyes. The light in the corner won’t stop messing with him. “Pre-game at my place, took a few shots before coming. I’m good.”

“Good,” Yoongi says, adjusts his hair under the backwards snapback and stretches down to squeeze Jeongguk’s nose. “Now get out. Only performers are allowed backstage.”

“What happened to being backup?” Jeongguk dodges his hand, sulking, but pushes up onto his feet anyway. He gets a slap on the ass on the way out from Hoseok, that commonplace interaction between his guys that Jeongguk relishes in sometimes. He finds himself laughing for the first time all day.

Slinking out onto the main floor of the club, Jeongguk scans the dark room, musk in the air sticking to his skin like stale humidity. There’s a faint breeze wheezing from the overhead air vents, just barely caressing him in teasing bursts across the face. He maneuvers through the wet mass, palm sliding along slim waists and lower backs as he goes, feeling belts and body jewelry all the same. Tilting his chin up to survey above the crowd, he spots Jimin near the bar.

“Ayy, Jeon Jeongguk!” Jimin greets when he gets closer. He looks good, expensive. Just looking at him, you could tell his person was worth a million. None of that tasteless catalogue shit these guys put on for a one night lay, bland charm speaking from the very angst of their hormones, looking to stick all that pent up aggression somewhere. Sticky holes, on most occasions. Really, the suits are just an excuse, and Jeongguk knows the type.

But Jimin. Jimin’s straight shoulders and genuine smile among all this sex, the eloquent way he holds his person—one look and you could tell he was important.

“Man, you look dead inside,” Jimin’s voice is gravelly after having just downed a shot. “The night’s still young—virgin. Don't fail on me.”

I won’t, but my liver might,” Jeongguk says and nods at the place. “Still can’t believe you’re the owner of this place. ‘Specially after seeing how fast you blacked out the other night.”

“Yeah, that was—yeah. We all got our low moments,” Jimin laughs, leaning back against the bar and gestures aimlessly around them. Being the owner of this club, he plays his part like a natural. “Been what, three years now? Give or take.”

“You just seem young.”

“I’m the same age as Taehyung.”

“I mean, like, college-type young. Unemployed, unsuccessful, the sort,” Jeongguk scoffs. “Makes the rest of us look like shit.”

“Yeah, college, I did that. For two whole years,” Jimin glowers at nothing in particular, staring out to the sea of moving silhouettes, his sea. “Unemployed for a bit, too, ‘cause no one takes anyone in their early twenties seriously.”

Jeongguk motions around them again. “But you’re here now.”

“That, I am,” Jimin grins proudly and twists around to face the bar, holds up two fingers in the air at the bartender. Alcohol sloshing over the brim when she fills their glasses, Jimin pushes one into his hand and clinks their glasses together. He says, “And so are you.”

Jeongguk knocks back the shot and relapses back into the heat.

The lights overhead flicker white to signal the start of the show, crowd cheering wildly whether for the gig or just jazzed inebriation, cheering all the same. Hoseok must be fizzing with jitters, pacing restlessly in the back with an empty, coasting mind. But the roar makes Jeongguk anxious, too, teeth tingling from the energy that erupts in this venue.

“Where’s Taehyung?” he asks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Jimin nods at Jeongguk's side.

“This place,” Taehyung says, coming up behind him, appearing right out from grinding bodies. “There’s infidelity all over this place. You could blink and someone would be sucking your dick. Haven't seen something so raunchy since National Geographic.”

“Let me guess—zebras?” Jimin quirks a brow.

“Mating season is pretty NC-17,” Taehyung squeezes between them and rests against the counter, bar lights reflecting off the single heart-shaped earring dangling from one ear. “Animals go hard, man. Beasts of fucking nature, nature of fucking. Check it out, free on YouTube.”

“Mm,” Jeongguk hums and flicks the metal heart so it spins. "I'll pass."

“Missin’ out, Jeon," Taehyung swats his hand away.

Overhead LED catch across Taehyung’s face every other second, illuminating him in flashy, neon pigments, much like the headlights of a car that Jeongguk is so accustomed to seeing at work. Sneaking all these furtive glances at him, Jeongguk drags his gaze down past Taehyung’s face, half pink one second, blue in the next, fluctuating and difficult to keep up with when he's lulling. The silk choker Taehyung’s sporting, hugging his neck in some gaudy flower pattern complements that of his blazer and matching suit pants. Straight out of the seventies, but what else is new.

To top it off, he’s even got this hippie, gold-speckled sweater vest inside, tucked into his pants and naked underneath, more of a demand for comfort than it was intentional. Jeongguk is used to this, the retro and the gaudy and that unique taste he still gets through. But Taehyung looks sexy with all that lowkey, coaxing allure with his patterns and choker and swaying earring, and Jeongguk can’t fucking stop staring at his ass, looking perky in the material of these pants.

He wills his mind out of the dumpster and glares darts out at the dance floor where a couple of bros have taken to a serious battle of shitty footwork, suddenly looking very broody.

“Let’s go to the VIP area and sit,” Jimin speaks up, interrupting what Jeongguk hopes was subtle gawking. “Show’s about to start.”

“And it’s gonna be nasty, too. I can feel it,” Taehyung says, shuffling into the round table and settling back into the leather cushion. “Namjoon, Yoongi, and Hoseok, producing their own songs and that. They’re like, real artists makin’ real music. It’s all so real.”

“So everyone else is fake?” Jeongguk slides in next to him with Jimin on his other side.

“Everyone else is everyone else, but we know these guys are losers,” Taehyung leans forward on the table, hand resting elegantly against his nape. So beautiful, Jeongguk can't stop thinking about wrecking him. “They’re all bear fuckers, too. Kumamon, Ryan, Bearbrick? But give ‘em five minutes, and this whole crowd’s gonna be wet.”

“Bet,” Jimin agrees and waves over the bartender, orders a round of kamikaze shots.

“Namjoon’s mad genius,” Jeongguk leans in to speak, folding his arms over the table. “Mad everything except coordinated. Just mad.”

“Coordinated enough,” Taehyung says. “Their whole mixtape’s so good to vibe and fuck to.”

“You done that already?” Jimin asks, amused, combing a hand through his hair and shuffling his bangs up.

“Not yet, but I will. Make them scream cypher when they come—imagine.”

“Dude, mellow it out,” Jeongguk presses a hand to Taehyung’s bouncing knee. "I can feel you buzzing beside me."

“Here, let’s take a shot. Loosen up,” Jimin scoots forward, raises his shot glass. Jeongguk and Taehyung lift theirs, too, and clink goes their tiny shot glasses. “To the Cypher!”

“To the Cypher!” Taehyung shouts and tosses back the vodka.

“To the Cypher,” Jeongguk nods curtly and knocks back the shot.

And so the night begins with the heavy bass drop of Baepsae.

It doesn’t take much before Taehyung’s already a giggling mess, rapping his heart out to each performance like a member himself, close seconds away from crawling right on this table, that heightened thirst to join the stage only swelling with each song. Jeongguk pinches the end of his blazer to keep him in his seat and watches Taehyung’s giddy face through the club’s misty ventilation and colorful refractions. His heart won’t stop exploding. These kamikaze shots are too fucking’ ironic.

Halfway through the setlist, Jimin lights a cigarette and leans over to shout something in Taehyung’s ear that Jeongguk isn't really paying attention to, too tipsy and lost in the motions to care, peering over his head to see the stage better as Yoongi splashes entire bottles of water at the crowd. Taehyung was right about the audience getting wet. He snorts at his own tacky joke.

“This is the song he showed me,” Jimin's saying, dangling the cigarette to the side as he speaks.

“Mo’ money, mo’ problem shit?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Tony Montana,” Jimin grins at the stage with some indulgent admiration neither he nor Taehyung understand, beer bottle pressed lazily to his cheek. “Sounds so good live.”

“Into it, huh?” Taehyung teases. He gestures at the cigarette. “Share.”

Jeongguk’s never seen Taehyung with a cigarette, but he imagines it’d be pretty, how they would look poised between two of his long, delicate fingers. At least that's what he thinks until Jimin leans in and beckons for Taehyung to come closer. Taking a drag, he blows smoggy smoke into Taehyung’s open mouth when they’re close enough, shotgunning past Taehyung’s compliant lips. Jimin looks so smug, Jeongguk can’t tell if he’s joking or simply admiring, but the thought scurries out the window, one after another, when the next thing he knows is that they're kissing and he’s sandwiched in between and wondering what the fuck is going on.

Jimin reaches out to tilt Taehyung’s chin up, pink lights flickering across his cheekbones. Jeongguk catches a glimpse of tongue passing back and forth between their mouths, the way Jimin leans away mere centimeters every so often to tease, how Taehyung follows his lips every time. Jeongguk shifts awkwardly on the leather, wonders if they've just completely forgotten about him and left him to suffer through what seems to be the worst third-wheel yet. That is, until Taehyung pulls away to smooth a hand up Jeongguk’s arm to the back of his neck. He does the same to Jimin, and then there’s force behind the touch as he lightly pushes their faces together with a sly grin that can’t mask the intention in his eyes.

Jeongguk resists, glancing at Taehyung as if to say, what the fuck are you doing, then looks at Jimin, what the fuck are we doing. He can’t tell in this obscure lighting, but Jimin is so weirdly chill in a way that Jeongguk gets the impression that he’s probably kissed more faces than he can recognize and used to it, too.

Before he knows it, Taehyung’s used those confused few seconds to press them together the rest of the distance with insistent hands, until Jeongguk is hesitantly kissing Jimin’s plump lips. Taehyung’s fingers playing with the hair at his nape, Jeongguk’s got his mind in a warp.

Everything tastes like ashes and lime juice when Jimin’s tongue brushes his. It's when Taehyung decides to join them that Jeongguk feels his entire body threaten to melt, heat straight to the toes. Taehyung leans in to lick at the seam where their lips meet, kisses the corner of Jimin’s mouth before molding into Jeongguk’s, almost deja vu from the other night, the memory still vivid in his mind. Taehyung’s got his arms wrapped around their shoulders, holding them together in this sloppy mesh of tongue that sometimes gets hard to discern whose it whose. Tucking closer, Jeongguk's hand comes out to rest on Taehyung’s inner thigh and squeezes the taut flesh.

“Yeah?” Taehyung chuckles against Jimin, mouth busy with his after he’d separated from Jeongguk’s with a filthy string of saliva. Nipping along Taehyung’s sharp jawline, he earns a breathy gasp that feeds into Jimin’s mouth and revels in the shiver that rakes down Taehyung’s spine, basks in the pride of eliciting such a response, loving that particular reaction. Jeongguk flattens his tongue against the pulse, nearly pounding the same rhythm to Cypher Pt. 4.

It's in-between songs when Jeongguk realizes Jimin’s absence, having slipped away to tend to his club and leaving Jeongguk all alone with Taehyung flustered and restless at his side, so lost in the undiscovered textures of his mouth. Until the taste of alcohol has dissipated into that distinct sweetness of Taehyung’s stimulated puffs of breath.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung sighs and turns to nuzzle into his temple, waits for him to meet his eager lips.

In the narrow gap of honest comprehension that temporarily frees up in his mind, Jeongguk leans in close to Taehyung’s ear and says, “Tomorrow's gonna be awkward.”

“Who gives a fuck,” Taehyung says back. Humming against his teeth, Taehyung licks away his worries, tilts his head to nose along Jeongguk’s strong jawline. “Do you—?”

“Yeah,” comes Jeongguk's jerky nod. He says, "Do you want to?"

"Can we?"

"Of course," Jeongguk rushes, pushing at Taehyung’s hips. “Car.”

From the VIP area to the exit, it’s an easy thirty second walk, should be, but Taehyung gets distracted easily, Jeongguk a bad multitasker, enough to turn thirty seconds into a ten minute deviation. Taehyung grinding back against his hips on the dance floor to the grating music, Jeongguk against the hot skin of his nape, holding his waist tight as to establish some kind of feral possession from any predators looking to steal him away.

This is mine, his eyes say, pretty, ain’t he?

Pressed into the curve of Taehyung’s back, Jeongguk’s shirt sticks to his sweaty skin, and he’s wondering in some coherent part of his mushed up brain just how he made it this far with so many layers of fabric separating them. Stumbling the rest of the way to the exit, made confusing by strobe lights that make everything feel like quicksand, they step out into crisp air that makes his lungs feel less polluted.

Jeongguk tugs Taehyung to the car with a hand clasped around his wrist. The only thing that matters right now is the erratic beating of Taehyung’s pulse against his thumb.

“A black Jaguar,” Taehyung finally confirms when Jeongguk unlocks the car doors, headlights flickering. “Sexy for a mid-life crisis kind of car.”

“F-Type S. It’s classy,” Jeongguk says, opening the door and leaning over the hood from the driver’s side. He pats the top. “Step up from my Honda?”

“Little.”

“Shut up, Hyundai. No sense of style,” Jeongguk ducks his head down and lowers himself inside. He says, “Coming?”

“Eventually,” Taehyung winks and follows him in from the same side, climbs right into his lap with knees on either side of Jeongguk’s thicker thighs and shuts the door.

There’s not a lot of time. One of the others will call soon and wonder why they aren’t celebrating with them, getting trashed and wasted in their shared presence, wonder where the fuck they are even though Jimin was just with them. That limited time frame looms cautiously over their heads, and Taehyung is quick to work their pants open after entertaining in some heated rutting in Jeongguk’s lap. Windows already misty with fog from the heady gasps escaping those swollen lips, Jeongguk leans in to lick them.

“Are these stars and moons?” Comes Taehyung’s breathy laugh, smoothing his palms down Jeongguk’s front and studying the patterned polyester of his button up.

“Don't judge,” Jeongguk hums against the skin of his collarbones. “You’re wearing a sweater vest.”

Pulling them both out of their boxers, Taehyung presses their cocks together, whimpering brokenly from the satiation of his pent up longing, suppressing this all night. Spitting into his palm, he lines up their hard cocks and strokes with both his hands, tries to make due by leaning back in the cramped space of the car. But the angle is awkward, and he startles when his elbow hits the honk on the steering wheel, body stilling as to not draw attention by any potential bystanders, as if that would work.

“Fuck—here, let me,” Jeongguk swats his hands away and shucks Taehyung’s sweater vest up so it bunches around his armpits, revealing the tan stretch of his smooth chest, his perfect pink nipples that Jeongguk craves to suck. And sure, Taehyung’s hand is undoubtedly larger and wraps around their lengths with much more ease, but Jeongguk’s position allows for him to jack their dicks better, all firmly rubbed up against each other and getting wetter with each drag.

Taehyung’s cock is drooling with precome, painfully turned on, his entire body shuddering being pressed up against Jeongguk like this. Jaw going slack, a breathy whine knocks out of his lungs when Jeongguk pushes his thumb into the flushed tip, collecting the dripping precome and smearing the sticky fluid around the head before sliding his fist back down. Skin glistening from the faint lighting that the dark street provides.

“So fuckin’ loud,” Jeongguk grunts between strokes, ushering all these throaty moans out of Taehyung. Even with his bottom lip caught between his teeth to muffle himself, the sounds bounce noisily off the windows beyond the confines of his car, right into Jeongguk’s ears and making him shiver despite the raunchiness of it all. “There’s still people walking around outside.”

“Ung, yeah, fuck ‘em.”

“But people.”

“I said fuck ‘em. Just—turn on the radio or something,” Taehyung groans impatiently against the crown of Jeongguk’s hair, blindly reaching behind him in search of the radio. By sheer luck, his thumb hits the button, and he cranks the dial of the volume up loud before bracing his hands back on Jeongguk’s shoulders. “Better?”

“Hardly,” Jeongguk says but squeezes his fist down and shivers at the squelch. He loves the sound of slapping skin each time his hand meets the base and pulls back up to swipe over the head, the way Taehyung moans right into his ear about how badly he wants to come. His phone vibrates from his jacket pocket. “Shit, we gotta—gotta hurry up.”

“You’ve got both our dicks in your hand,” Taehyung reminds, hips rolling into Jeongguk’s with each stroke, thrusting into his fist. He presses closer, Jeongguk’s nose nudging the choker around his neck when he slides his cock against the wet palm, slick with their moisture, so filthy and good. “Ah, faster, c’mon.”

Jeongguk nearly comes right then and there, the way Taehyung grinds against him, swiveling his hips in these little restless circles, almost in time with the jarring music spewing throughout the interior. Jeongguk flicks his wrist frantically and quickens the pace, easy to comply. He tilts his chin up and scratches his teeth along the underside of Taehyung’s jaw, nips down the column of his salty neck past his choker and finally, ducks down to pull one of his nipples into his mouth. Holding his sweater vest out of the way, Taehyung’s writhes sensitively when Jeongguk licks the perky flesh into the hot heat, sucks till it hardens and moves to the next. Swirling his tongue in slow circles, flicking some, Taehyung's vision swims deliriously, and Jeongguk is overcome with the need to shower him with these reactions till he comes.

Jeongguk,” Taehyung cries under his breath, fingers pushing through his thick hair and tugging. Fucking up into Jeongguk’s fist, he says, “God, that feels so good.”

Jeongguk likes his name on Taehyung’s tongue, reveres the way it lilts when he touches him just right. Jeongguk likes reducing Taehyung to near tears from how good he feels. Jeongguk likes Taehyung’s dick dripping all wet and sticky for him, because of him, from his hand alone. Jeongguk really likes Taehyung. Jeongguk loves—

“Tae,” he grunts, releasing the perky nipple with a wet sound. Their dripping cocks so vulgar and moist, it’s audible over the hum of music through the car speakers, over the pounding bass that can only barely conceal the dirty rhythm of their bodies. And fuck, that’s nice, Jeongguk thinks, mind going into overdrive at the filthy sounds condensed in the fog of his car.

“Hey—kiss me,” Taehyung commands, voice raw and husky and sexy, tilting Jeongguk’s chin up and leaning down to latch their lips together in a sloppy but passable kiss. Jeongguk swallows back all of his whimpers, so greedy, the sobs that wrack his lithe body with each pump of Jeongguk's fist that brings them teetering off the edge.

“Close,” Taehyung whines against his tongue, brows twisted together and eyes screwed shut. Mouth slack against his own, Taehyung tugs at Jeongguk’s bottom lip with his teeth. “I’m close, I’m—”

“Me too,” Jeongguk grunts, sitting up straight in his reclined seat, forcing Taehyung to lean back against the steering wheel. He says, “Fuck, me too.”

“Yeah?” Taehyung nearly whispers, all throaty, sweat gliding off his sharp chin and absorbing in the fabric of his choker. “Nng—come for me, Jeongguk.”

Palm flattened firmly against Taehyung’s lower back to pull him closer, heavy over his tailbone, Jeongguk dips it lower, lower, until the tip of his middle finger teases around his puckered hole and presses just slightly.

“Oh, f—fuck,” Taehyung sobs and braces himself around Jeongguk's shoulders, trembling violently into him. He reaches down to cover Jeongguk’s hand with his own and strokes them faster. With one final twist, his entire body locks up, and he's coming all over Jeongguk’s fist in white, all over his stomach with a strangled moan. Hand tightening over his from the force of the orgasm, Jeongguk is quick to follow and shoots his release over their knuckles in a tangle of thick fluid.

“Jesus,” Jeongguk huffs and collapses against the leather seat, catching his breath. He swipes the sweat at his temple with the back of his hand.

“Yeah,” Taehyung reciprocates, reaching to shut off the radio, careful not to get his blazer mixed in with his come. “Shit.”

“We gotta head back,” Jeongguk rasps, patting Taehyung’s thighs on either side of his waist. “Yoongi called.”

“Shit,” Taehyung groans but shifts in his lap. “Yeah, come on.”

Cleaning up the mess between them with a tissue from the glove compartment, Taehyung helps fix his hair back into place before situating his own clothes. When he reaches for the handle of the door, though, Jeongguk says, “Wait.”

The word gets him by surprise, even more so by how clunky it sounds in this delicate space. Because opening that door means facing reality, except that Jeongguk's got no fucking idea what he’s going to do from this point on. So instead, he heedfully leans in and kisses Taehyung, a mouthful of questions that he hopes Taehyung can’t taste, swallows down like he does the sigh that brushes his cooling skin. Just basks in that saccharine simplicity that he's grasping so dearly onto until his knuckles are white.

“Okay,” he says, pulling away after a few stalled seconds without meeting Taehyung’s eyes. He says, “Okay, let’s go.”

The thing about being business partners and friends is the careful line that separates business from acquaintanceship from friendship from relationships, a definite border that Jeongguk’s mind tells him to be careful not to cross. Just in case, it says. You trust him, but this isn’t about trust. This is about—

It’s about Taehyung, and well, it’s never really just been about the money. Not for Jeongguk. What’s beyond this wall that he’s built around himself throughout all these years is terrifying, an infinite abyss that he’s taken his first few steps into. All one cascading shit storm that just won't chill.

 

$

 

They're at a wedding they weren't invited to but a wedding they’re attending all the same.

The rule here is that you pretend to know a friend of a friend on the groom's side if someone asks. That you’re kids of some uncle of some deceased relative, the one with the contagious laugh and wide-hipped Martens. You pack all the fancy finger foods and truffle cake into your assorted plastic containers and stuff the boxes in the large tote you brought along, great leftovers for the morning after and the hangover that will follow. If there's champagne and wine lying around instead of a cash bar, you take the unopened bottles until your bag gets too obvious.

This isn’t because you don’t have the money to afford better. No, this is convenience while scouting for what really matters—a room of big kahunas and bigger belongings.

Because with a guest list this big, it won’t make a difference.

Because this is how it is to crash a wedding.

“It's so nice to see you again,” says a lady in bonny yellow. It's a lie, obviously. They've never actually met this woman before this moment, but nothing is worse than forgetting a face that remembers yours, Jeongguk gets that. “Both of you are such good kids.”

Good kids, the absurdity is fitting. He struggles to find the compliment in any of that, almost laughs because this is all so fucking phony, down to his straitlaced outfit and tie bar.

Being in their best suits makes going into these things feel a bit more upgraded, a lot less delinquent when you’re all treading on similar status, out of that stench of customer service and ass kissing. Pressed dapper and smelling of cologne, Taehyung’s in his signature Gucci and Jeongguk in Versace.

Not that anyone even knows, but Taehyung looks fuckable in his done-up tie and form fitting suit; Jeongguk’s trying not to rely on the observation alone to get him through so much tight-lipped mingling. The good thing about having Taehyung around is that he’s his better half in dealing with condescending chatter than Jeongguk’s patience could ever handle, makes this evening more bearable if he doesn’t have to do much of the talking.

“You always been this constipated at mingling?” Taehyung’s asking, reaching out to straighten Jeongguk’s tie.

“Just being normal,” Jeongguk says, watching Taehyung’s nimble fingers work, hand smoothing down the front of his tie before pulling away. He tries not to dwell on the way Taehyung’s fingers might have felt up his chest just now, gliding down the solid curves of his torso with intent.

“Your perception of normal is a little skewed.”

“You just have repartee with everybody,” Jeongguk defends. “Not me.”

It’s been awhile since gig night, the first and last time in days that Jeongguk has touched Taehyung till it burned. That following morning, neither of them had explicitly mentioned the past night’s car events, the unspoken excuse of alcohol serving as the placeholder of the fact that they’ve officially touched dicks yet avoided any discussion altogether. A very big, lucid thing to avoid. After all, it’s never so easy to forget when you’ve already tasted the desire, giving into the crave when you’ve wanted it for that long.

The tension that built between them since then only sparked some need in him that had Jeongguk waking up in the later, nebulous hours, sweaty and painfully hard between his legs, wondering if Taehyung did the same—hoping, in most ways, that Taehyung did the same, touching himself to the thought of their bodies melting tightly together like wax. That cautiously constructed dam crashing down into tiny fragmented pieces and flooding him with memories of Taehyung’s thighs against his own.

Something between them had shattered that night, that delicate something that separated whatever they were before to the blur that they were now, a pair of lost, horny souls with minimal satiation for curiosity. ‘Business partners’ doesn’t fit the criteria anymore, and tarnishing that familiar distinction makes everything feel a little more shaky.

But it’s not all bad, that painful obscurity that had been lightened in the car ride there, Taehyung catching his gaze across the dash and putting ease on his straining mind in a way he didn’t know he needed after spending every following day convincing himself he didn’t need the comfort. Taehyung leaning back against the headrest with his quiet smile—

Are we good?

Jeongguk had surmised his own weird-like quirk of lip and yet still passable.

Yeah, we’re good.

It’s good, he thinks. They’re good.

After packing away all the boxed food in their bag and stuffing it safely behind one of the tables, Taehyung ushers him over from the opposite side, champagne flute in hand and a guest on the other. The DJ crams pop tunes down his throat the entire way through the dance floor, obnoxiously unfit falling upon all these sophisticated ears. No one on the guest list even knows how to bust a decent move to this.

“Hey, I want you to meet someone,” Taehyung gestures at the guy next to him, taller than Jeongguk with this face that epitomizes the perfect dude-figure with a perfect dude-vibe. It kind of ticks Jeongguk off, all that perfection in one body. Taehyung leans in to whisper in his ear. “I actually know this guy, so play it cool.”

“Minho,” the guy introduces with an outstretched hand that Jeongguk shakes. Hands big and arm veinier than Jeongguk’s, he’s doing that macho guy thing he always does, comparing or some such shit. “Jeongguk, yeah? Taehyung was just telling me about you.”

“Yeah, Jeongguk,” he confirms, noticing the straight row of teeth. “How do you guys know each other?”

“Used to work together as cosplayers at this theme park. Korean culture and history,” Minho grins fondly at the memory, a softness to his round eyes that combat the sharp twist to his lips. “It was fun despite how shitty it was. And Taehyung always looked so adorable in his costume.” Minho reaches out and tickles the underside of Taehyung’s chin.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And we always helped each other in and out of our costu—”

“Good times, good times. But remember those wigs? Mad itchy,” Taehyung butts in and laughs, side eyeing Jeongguk. “Lots of it was shit, to be honest.”

“Not all.”

“Well,” Taehyung shrugs. “So what are you doing here?”

“My sister’s good friends with the bride,” Minho says, always smiling like he’s trying to seduce everyone within a ten mile radius. So smiley, Jeongguk gets the urge to slap it off. “What about you guys?

“Oh, um. Our friend is friends with the groom,” Taehyung lies. “Free food, man. Can't deny that.”

“Sure, sure,” Minho chuckles. “Who’s your friend? Maybe I know him.”

“It's—” Taehyung swiftly glances around for someone, anyone, who doesn’t look like some boring-dick golfer with a group of surgeons as friends, ruling out the girls should he accidentally point out Minho’s sister.

“That guy,” Jeongguk jumps in, points to someone near the projector screen who’s already untucked his shirt and is currently stalking around the three tier cake, so obviously trying to swipe a finger through the icing for a taste. Amateur, Jeongguk had already boxed a third of the bottom-most tier without anyone noticing.

“Don't recognize him,” Minho squints from afar, uselessly lifting onto his tiptoes just for effect, the tall fucker. “I'm glad I recognized you, though. Can't forget such a face.” Minho reaches out again and strokes Taehyung’s cheek.

“Did you come here with anyone?” Jeongguk asks and subtly slides a palm to the curve of Taehyung’s lower back, marvels in the surprised arch it gives.

“Just me,” Minho shrugs, and if he notices Jeongguk’s hand on Taehyung’s back, he doesn’t acknowledge it. “Well, technically, I'm here with my sister. But we came separately.”

“Where is she?” Taehyung asks, scanning.

“Drunk off her ass on the dance floor, there,” Minho points and grimaces. “She’s looking to get laid tonight.”

Taehyung lifts his champagne flute. “Aren't we all.”

“True that.”

Minho looks dazed, just staring at Taehyung like Jeongguk is a trophy accessory just there for the sake of presence. Jeongguk can’t even blame him, really, just presses closer while pretending to examine the crowd.

“But hey, let me give you my number so we can catch up.”

“Go for it,” Taehyung says, setting the drink down.

“Give me your phone,” Minho gestures, grabbing the phone Taehyung offers and punches in his number before handing it back. “We should get lunch soon.”

“Should,” Taehyung tucks his phone away.

“Or even brunch? If you're into that.”

“I'm into food," Taehyung clarifies. "Get me a good burger, and you’ve got me aroused.”

Jeongguk knows that, Taehyung’s habit of hitting up Burger King in the later hours of the night to feed his black hole of a stomach, his body alarm that screams for greasy filth past midnight. Jeongguk's always there with him.

“I'll keep that in mind,” Minho smirks.

“You do that—we’re gonna go to the restroom,” Jeongguk cuts in. Half his size, Taehyung knows he’s got twice the temper and grips his elbow through the fine material of his suit.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” Taehyung says, stuck in this offbeat tension. “I’ll see you around?”

“Of course,” Minho pats his head. “You have my number. I’m one call away.”

“Who cares—

“Enjoy the reception,” Taehyung says over Jeongguk’s voice and yanks him out to the hall where shitty techno is but muffled vibrations pounding through the walls. “The fuck was that?”

“Bad flirting,” Jeongguk deadpans.

“You’re such a brat, you know that?” Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Gotta grow some.”

“His eyes," Jeongguk says, brushing off Taehyung's comment. "Swear they were poking me in the face the whole time.”

“Says you. You’re the most bug-eyed bastard I know.”

“Shut your mouth before I fuck it,” Jeongguk says, back to that lighthearted banter.

 “Threatening me with a good time?”

“Threatening to make you choke.”

“So yes,” Taehyung waves it off ambiguously. “I worked with him once, so what.”

“Just saying, he's got mad feels for you,” Jeongguk straightens up a little, hooking a finger past his collar and loosening it a bit. “Way past the dick-itch. Romantic, even.”

“European, you think?”

“Like, bullshit.”

“Let him. I'm flattered.”

“Yeah? Then I hope you don't mind me borrowing—” Jeongguk opens his clutched palm where a clump of bills lays and casually counts through the stack, having pickpocketed the guy at the last second. “A hundred and twenty dollars from him.”

“Fucking asshole,” Taehyung laughs incredulously and glances past his head down the hall. “Anyway, whatever. Since we're already here, let's go look around.”

Slinking around the venue, Jeongguk follows Taehyung down the wide, blanched halls, so extensively winding it gets confusing after only a few turns. It’s all purposeful, this act of walking on unsteady feet and crashing into walls in fits of giggles, acting the role of drunken party goers should any of the workers find them snooping beyond the accessible parts of this property. Getting so silly, Jeongguk catches Taehyung by the waist when he actually stumbles over himself and scolds him for earnest method acting.

Managing to brush up on his lock picking skills in the time since their library heist, Taehyung gets one of the offices open with deft hands in a matter of seconds. A frosted double door entrance that epitomizes dignitary.

“Any cameras?” Jeongguk asks, glancing around the perimeter of the office’s ceiling. The place is massive for an office space, unnecessarily so, likely to be the same expanse as one of the suites with its similarly blanched walls and glossy floor to ceiling windows, crisp and implicitly washed out. Making him feel so shabby and threadbare in its center.

“Don't see any,” Taehyung whispers, taking the moment to stare out over the city, obscure urban reflections dappled on his serene face that Jeongguk is so accustomed to fondly watching. Taehyung does this a lot. “That’s a nice view.”

“We've got one, too,” Jeongguk scoffs, shuffling through drawers. “Respectively.”

“And it gets me every time,” says Taehyung, stepping away to check the burnished surfaces for valuables.

Lifting the photo frame at the corner of the broad desk, Jeongguk angles the image towards the cityscape for better lighting. A wife and three daughters, the typical family photo at what looks like the Han River. Pretty and secure and only mostly authentic.

“Cute family,” Jeongguk notes and flips the frame around, loosening the metal brackets to peel off the easel backer. There’s a tiny slip of paper behind the picture, scribbled with usernames and numbers and information to accounts that are of no immediate use—they’re not here on personal motive, no hitlist on tonight’s agenda.

“So tell me,” Taehyung says at the other side, laughter alight in his voice. “What do you think this is for?”

Setting the frame back down in its place, Jeongguk looks up at Taehyung, at the shiny silver butt plug he lifts in the air with a tissue.

“I’m hoping that’s for himself,” Jeongguk sighs disdainfully. “He’s got three kids, dude.”

“Doubt it,” Taehyung drops it back into the hidden compartment beneath the drawer, hinting at an affair. “Guy’s probably never touched his asshole.”

“Never know,” Jeongguk crouches down onto one knee and taps his knuckles along the side of the desk for any hollow gaps within the dark oak. “Bigwigs are the kinkiest fucks.”

A few inches from the bottom comes a void thump. Tapping again, Jeongguk crawls to the underside of the desk and flashes his phone’s backlight over the inner panel, the almost seamless outline of a small square hatch. He smooths his finger over the cool surface, pushes his thumb along the outline and comes in contact with a hidden latch that conceals the lock.

“Is there a key in there?” Jeongguk asks.

Taehyung shuffles through the compartment, fingers flicking metal at the very back. “Got it.”

Lifting the thin sheet of plywood, Taehyung loops his finger through the keychain holding the single key and tosses it to Jeongguk, who twists open the lock and pulls open the hatchet.

“It’s just a handgun,” Jeongguk says, pulling the gun off the hinges and holding the firm, metal weight in his palm.

“Don’t need it,” Taehyung says. “Do you?”

“Nah,” Jeongguk returns the gun and locks the hatchet before tossing the keys back to Taehyung.

“Hey, you know that one chick that went up to you back there?” Taehyung asks, shuffling the papers back over the hidden compartment and shutting the drawer. He leans against the desk.

“Which one?” Jeongguk racks his mind.

“Long hair, nice tits, real smart about the animals and trees?” Taehyung lists off. “Type to buy nineteen-dollar kale toast?”

“Yeah, what about?”

“Swear I’ve seen her before,” Taehyung taps his fingers on the table. “Like took from her before, I mean.”

“Probably,” Jeongguk straightens up. “You take from everyone.”

“So do you,” Taehyung kicks his legs up on the spinny chair. “It’s kinda weird seeing—”

The abrupt coincidence of this moment is a case of very bad timing and luck as a voice comes from behind the closed door.

“Oh, here. This room’s unlocked.”

Exchanging looks, Jeongguk doesn’t hesitate before sprinting across the room, grabbing Taehyung’s wrist along the way. Squeezing behind the silk velvet curtains pooling inches on the floor, Jeongguk cages Taehyung against the window and holds still.

“What is this, Scooby Doo?” Taehyung struggles in panic. “This isn’t gonna work.”

“Just shut up,” Jeongguk huffs against his face and swallows hard.

The sound of the door clicking open is followed by a series of stumbles and clatters that gravitate closer towards the windows. With stilted breath, Jeongguk stares wide eyed at Taehyung, palms sweaty against the glass on either side of his head and nearly squeaking at the nervous twitch. The couple thuds against the wall beside them, and Jeongguk shuts his eyes, chest thundering.

“Couch,” comes a female voice and other wet noises—kissing. “Over there, go.”

There's more clamoring, and the sounds retreat further to the other side of the room, buckle clinking open unsheathed, zippers sliding down, clothes shuffling about, trivial clangs of hushed fucking. Jeongguk sighs in relief, exhaling slowly against Taehyung’s chin and opens his eyes, his tense shoulders slouching and chest expanding.

“Fuck,” Taehyung mouths with an eye roll and drops his head back against the window, Gucci choker glistening moonlight against all its white gold karats, hands squished between them and resting on Jeongguk’s sternum.

“Of all places,” Jeongguk mouths back.

“Fuckin’ ridiculous,” Taehyung silently laughs.

Muffled moans and grunts fill the clear air of this spacious room, and one incredulous look at Taehyung makes them both break out into goofy full-faced grins. He stifles laughter against Taehyung’s shoulder. But shifting against his body, Jeongguk steps closer to lift his feet off the curtain and draws out some breathy exhale near his ear from Taehyung that makes him quirk a questioning brow. Taehyung stares back, deer in the headlights sort of expression, almost beckoning with his shadowed eyes, fingers digging into his hard chest but timid in his approach.

“Too loud,” the man groans. “Someone will catch us, and I’ll—fuck, get fired.”

“You fuckin’ work here?” gasps the female voice.

“Yeah. Couldn’t tell?”

Taehyung’s slow swallow is nothing short of flustered, eyelids fluttering and finding it difficult to focus on one thing, vision so full of Jeongguk. Noticing it, Jeongguk experimentally presses closer, closer, closer, pressing Taehyung firmly against the window under all his thick, muscled weight. He grabs Taehyung’s hands squeezed between their chests, maneuvers them carefully around his middle and out of the way, needing to feel Taehyung’s thundering pulse snug against his own.

The slapping sounds of thrusting are frantic by now, but Jeongguk’s long since muted them out, to the extent that one could mute out sex noises, concentrated only on the way Taehyung’s mouth quivers open just slightly in a silent gasp. His hands sliding up to Jeongguk’s shoulder blades, holding tighter to feel the deltoids rippling under taut skin. In muted appreciation, Taehyung runs flat palms down his back, relishing in each hardened muscle that his hands pass, shudders when he reaches the dimpled lower back. Something about his own toned physique, there’s something that makes Taehyung’s mind spin—Jeongguk knows it, wants to push all his buttons and see where it takes them.

Then the lights come on, and fuck, does that ruin the moment. They don’t move, so still and tense it’s painful, only breathing from the pits of their stomachs in shallow little puffs of air. These moments always going interrupted in strangest of ways, this perpetual cycle they keep getting caught up in.

“Gotta get out of here,” says the man, zipping up his pants. “Just fucked in my boss’ office.”

“Shit.” The leather couch squeaks. “Hey, fix your tie.”

“Stop by the restroom before heading back. Freshen up, yeah?”

“Yeah, you too. Hair’s a mess.” The lights flicker off.

A chuckle. “And who’s to blame for that—

Then the door clicks shut and envelopes them in that subdued stillness that they started with.

“Fuck,” Jeongguk’s huffing this time, sighing heavily and pulling the curtain aside for them to stumble out. His skin burns from the heat of Taehyung’s body, ears still tingling from the softest gasps he’d aroused from Taehyung.

“Can’t believe your stupid hideout idea worked,” Taehyung says, cheeks flushed and cute, smiling off to the side to hide that rush that hangs heavy between them. Palms soggy, Jeongguk finds his mouth parched of that similar moisture.

“Not stupid if it worked,” Jeongguk argues and reaches out to fix Taehyung’s tie, lopsided now and pushed off to one side. His fingers dance up to Taehyung’s collar, smoothing down the wrinkles and turned up edges, near imprints of Jeongguk’s torso that had molded against him.

Taehyung shoves at his chest, embarrassed, but that, right there, lingers. The subtle smile is apparent, and Jeongguk returns it with the same vigor, dazed and breathless in a nice way. Something there so hard to ignore, unraveling piece by piece and scratching up the back of his throat.

“Let’s get out of here,” Taehyung says and makes Jeongguk’s heart so loud.

 

 

Out on the pavement, someone decides to recognize them.

“Oh my God—Jinwoo?” says the girl, clacking towards them in tall stilettos. “Lee Jinwoo and Park Junho?”

Jeongguk stops in his tracks and turns around with Taehyung. Hands in his pockets, he’s got their gigantic tote of wedding food and champagne hanging off one shoulder with Taehyung on the other.

“That's us,” Jeongguk pretends to laugh and shrugs up his shoulders unceremoniously.

This isn’t a matter of pretending to be someone else, stealing roles that aren’t theirs and escaping true realities. This is a matter of camouflage, and Jeongguk’s always been able to adapt.

“It’s so good to see you guys again,” she coos, face softening from genuine happiness. Her lipstick is smudged from course of the night, nothing but residue outlining her mouth in pale crimson. “How’s Harang doing? Is he good?”

“Top of the world,” Taehyung answers vaguely, just rambling at this point. “He—moved recently, I think.”

“You think?” she asks sadly, corners of her stained mouth drooping. “Poor thing, he was such a good dog. Did you give him away to a new owner?”

“Right, our dog,” Taehyung chuckles but masks it with an empathetic pout. Watching it all unfold, Jeongguk nearly scoffs at Taehyung’s valiant attempt to save his—their asses. Taehyung eyes him knowingly. “He really was a good boy, but we couldn't afford to keep him anymore. Personal situations came up and really, y’know, fucked us over.”

“Yeah, shit, I feel you,” she sighs. More understanding in this fake scenario than Jeongguk is himself. "I wouldn't be able to give up my dog like that."

"Lots of guilt diarrhea," Taehyung sighs. "But hey—bet he's in better hands."

"Hoping," she huffs and eyes the tote on Jeongguk's shoulder. “You two leaving so soon?”

“Early start tomorrow,” Jeongguk frowns apologetically.

“Aw. Well keep in touch, yeah? Haven’t seen you guys in years,” she leans forward enthusiastically to hug Jeongguk. “Tell Yoona I said hi.”

“Sure thing,” Taehyung smiles, leaning down for a hug, too, and holding on a little longer than to be considered casual. It’s getting a little weird for all of them, and Jeongguk almost nudges his side until Taehyung’s hand slides up to her nape, swiftly unfastening the necklace around her neck with nimble movements. It slips off unnoticed when Taehyung straightens back up.

“Have a good night, yeah?” Taehyung says, hand tucked behind his back. “And don't drink too hard. Wouldn't want to repeat that one time.”

“What time?” she asks, bewildered by the false implication. Taehyung’s being such an ass with his mind games, inputting thoughts where thoughts never belonged in the first place, having fun even in a situation like this.

“Nothing, nothing,” Taehyung grins, retreating and pulling Jeongguk with him. “See you around.”

Striding down the path from the venue, Jeongguk holds off until they’re alone before stopping them in their track.

“How much?” he asks in a low voice.

“At least fifteen carat,” Taehyung says and lifts the necklace in shadowed view between them. “This came out like, four months ago, can you believe? The bitch is rolling.”

“Jiho’s looking for recent makes,” Jeongguk inspects the necklace dangling from Taehyung’s palm. “He'll pay real good money for something like this.”

“Call him.”

“Like now?”

“It's not that late,” Taehyung squints at his watch. “What kind of underground dealer closes shop at eleven.”

“True,” Jeongguk agrees and slips his phone out from the silk lining of his inner jacket pocket. Raising it to his ear, he reaches out to pluck the speck of fuzz clinging onto the ends of Taehyung’s bangs, leftovers from their little curtain fiasco. “Hey, Jiho—you free right now? We have something you might like.” Jeongguk glances around, gauging their immediate surroundings. “Yeah. We're in Myeongdong right now. Okay, same place? Alright, see you in a bit.”

Hanging up, Taehyung swings the necklace around his finger, diamonds catching all that blue moonlight in fifteen carat, almost blinding and giving the stars a run for their money. Retreating backwards, he says, “Time to cash in.”

 "Swear. We better get a good offer," Jeongguk follows and slips one strap of the tote off his shoulder, fetching a container at random. Popping open the lid, he offers one to Taehyung and says, "Kimbap?"

 

 

Coming home that night to Jeongguk's condo, Taehyung yanks his gun out of his waistband and flops face first onto his couch.

“This is almost half of we got all last month,” Jeongguk announces from the kitchen, dropping their bag on the counter and sorting through the boxed food and champagne bottles. He sets his gun beside the sack of cash. “Just one piece, too. Almost.”

“You’re welcome,” Taehyung chides, sliding his own gun onto the coffee table.

“I’ll give it to you this time,” Jeongguk admits and stacks the containers in his arms, toes the fridge open. “Seventy-five percent of these earnings are going to you anyway, since we barely cashed in last month.”

“Just give me all of tonight’s earnings and some,” Taehyung stretches across the couch with a content hum, shifting back into the plush cushions. “Could use it to take my boy Minho out.”

“Fuck that guy,” Jeongguk scoffs, placing the champagne bottles near the sink. “Such a venus thirst trap.”

“But no, listen,” Taehyung sits up, looking at Jeongguk from the living room, suddenly very serious. “He’s like, so athletic. Could kick a soccer ball through the wall if he wanted.”

“I bet I could take him.”

“He’s got height,” Taehyung emphasizes, watching Jeongguk grab the sack of cash off the counter, walking over. “What does your short ass have?”

“Size.” Taehyung opens his mouth to speak, but Jeongguk cuts him off. He carefully says, “You know it, too.”

“I mean, you’re okay—

“Shut up,” Jeongguk laughs, reaching into the bag to grab a stack of cash of ten-thousand and jokingly smacks Taehyung’s cheek, light enough to not inflict any pain but hard enough to be audible. “I’m—”

Mmh.

It catches him off-guard, this happening for the second time that night. That faint moan that slips right past Taehyung’s lips at the contact, barely catching himself before it spills from his lips. A breathy exhale that he tries to cover up by biting down on his bottom lip. Staring up at him with surprised eyes, Taehyung is short of words.

“What was that?” Jeongguk asks, looming over Taehyung on the couch.

“Nothing.”

“That wasn’t ‘nothing.’”

Jeongguk gurgles down the lump in his throat, thumb running over the texture of the cash in his hand, back and forth. Sitting here under the half-lit ceiling lights drapes long shadows over Taehyung’s face, dusted red across the cheeks. Whether from embarrassment or arousal, Jeongguk wants to reach out, see if it’s as warm as it looks, the skin he never really stops yearning to touch.

“So,” he begins, sounding so loud in own ears. “You like that?”

“Don’t make it weird.”

“Do you?”

Gently grabbing Taehyung’s chin, Jeongguk tilts his head back to look at him properly. Taehyung’s exhale is shaky, and the only way Jeongguk knows is because he can feel it against his hand, up across his forearm, can feel Taehyung’s lower lip trembling so slight. The kitchen lights strike along the side of his face and illuminate the flush creeping up his neck.

“Yeah,” Taehyung answers. The way his tongue comes out to wet his lips, he doesn’t even realize how good that looks, the way it sparks a fire in Jeongguk’s stomach like a matchbox.

“Yeah what?” Jeongguk asks, steps closer and feels his throat close in when Taehyung’s head tilts back further from the angle, looking at him through thick eyelashes.

“Yeah, I—like it,” Taehyung rasps, hands coming up to wrap around Jeongguk’s forearm, pressing in with little control.

It’s been too long since he last tasted Taehyung’s mouth against his own, wet and heady and tasting so nice. Staring at his lips now, pink and so needy, God, is he beautiful. Jeongguk leans down and nudges his nose against Taehyung’s flushed cheekbones.

“Do it,” Taehyung sighs into his neck, more assertive, a sharp, demanding edge alongside the want that shakes his tone. “Do it again.”

Jeongguk falters like the unintelligent mush he is, says, “What?”

“Hit me.”

“Are you sure?” Jeongguk says, voice slow.

“Yeah, swear,” Taehyung mutters and wets his lips again. “Just. Do it again.”

“Wait,” Jeongguk stumbles out awkwardly. “What’s—”

“My safe? Jesus,” Taehyung laughs fondly at this. “Fire.”

“Fire.”

“Whatever, Jeongguk,” Taehyung’s nearly whining. “Just do it—”

Smack.

The force that the stack of bills inflicts on his cheek makes Taehyung’s thighs squeeze tightly together at the shock that sings through him in one enormous shiver. The buzz that rings high in his head at the contact floods his ears with static white noise, blood rushing south and making him dizzy. Jeongguk soothes his palm against the bright skin.

“Fuck,” Taehyung whimpers, catching his breath, knees clamped together and quivering. He says, “Again.”

Cheek getting more and more red, Taehyung’s hands grip Jeongguk’s forearm till the fingertips lose feeling, numbing from the uneven blood circulation.

Then Taehyung’s asking for more, again, he says, please. But Jeongguk has something else in mind, somewhere else in mind. He pushes Taehyung against the back of the couch roughly, hand lifting back up to grip his chin. Leaning over his body with one knee shoved up between Taehyung’s legs to hold himself up, Taehyung is already half-hard from only those few slaps to the cheek. Rocking so slight against Jeongguk's thigh, seeking friction, he fidgets restlessly.

Jeongguk brings their lips together, tastes the dissolving champagne stained along his teeth, the roof of his mouth, soaked into the smooth tastebuds. Sliding the stack of ten thousand into his back pocket, he hooks his hands behind each of Taehyung’s thighs and hoists him up off the couch with a surprised gasp, hands clambering around broad shoulders. Taehyung circles his legs around Jeongguk's slim waist and clings.

“You’re so,” Taehyung growls against his jaw, spine hitting the bookshelf in passing as Jeongguk maneuvers the stairs to the open-spaced bedroom of his loft. His hands rake across Jeongguk’s muscled shoulder blades, carding through the soft hair and tugging. Blunt nails raking all along the tight skin that hugs his body, Taehyung is quietly worshipping and wanting so badly to rut against Jeongguk's stomach, pressed to the front of his tightening slacks. “Fuck, you're like a brick wall.”

“Yeah?” Jeongguk snorts and lowers him on the bed. There’s still cash littered across the dark grey sheets from the night Taehyung decided jumping on the mattress after sorting out money was a good idea. Jeongguk hadn’t bothered to clean it since, shoving the bills out of the way each night and grabbing a few on his way out each morning. A routine of his pathetically lazy carcass of a human refusing to clean it all up. But looking at it now with Taehyung beautifully strewn across green, he’s glad he never did.

“Take off your clothes,” Jeongguk mutters against his Adam’s apple.

“What—”

“Just do it, yeah?” he reassures and reluctantly pulls away to watch, kneeling back on the balls of his feet.

Taehyung pushes up straight and loosens the tie around his neck. Tossing it off to the side, he unbuttons the pristine evening shirt, slides it off his shoulders with the suit jacket in one swift move, tugging it out of his slacks where it’s been neatly tucked. He makes a show of undoing his belt, the leather glides out of the buckle as Taehyung moves to the button of his pants with his long fingers, popping open the material and sliding down the zipper. Pushing them down past his smooth, taut thighs, Taehyung kicks them off to the side and leans back, lifting his hips off the mattress. Before he can slip off his briefs, though, Jeongguk grabs his wrists to stop him.

“Not yet,” he stops, voice tight, fingers itching to touch and feather across anything he can reach. “Gotta earn that.”

“Fuck,” Taehyung groans impatiently, collapsing back into the mattress. “Fuck, don’t tease—

“So impatient,” Jeongguk's throaty laughter sounds more breathy than he intends as he coaxes Taehyung’s legs apart. “Just wait.”

Smoothing his palms from Taehyung’s knees down the expanse of his inner thighs, he stops at the hem of Taehyung’s boxers before smoothing back up. Repeats that until Taehyung’s writhing beneath him, scratching blunt nails along the sensitive skin. Sliding his suit jacket off, Jeongguk reaches into his back pocket to retrieve the stack of ten-thousand and lightly glides it up and down Taehyung’s thighs. Jeongguk still partially in his suit with Taehyung half-naked beneath him, he feels arousal shoot hot up his spine.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung gasps, toes curling. "C'mon."

Shoving his knees further apart and scooting between them, Jeongguk bends down to mark his thighs, sucking red hickeys along the insides. Straightening back up with one last kiss to his knee, Jeongguk brings the hand holding the stack of cash down and smacks the fleshy inner thigh with a loud clap. He shivers at the way Taehyung’s hips buck forward into nothing, seeking the slow release he’s denied. Jeongguk massages the reddened area with a palm and smacks the other thigh, the wet spot at the front of his briefs growing.

Ung. Oh, God,” Taehyung whimpers, reaching overhead to bunch his hand in the sheets, fingers grappling the stray bills as he does.

Jeongguk does it again to the other thigh, back and forth until the skin there is blotchy and blushed, the front of Taehyung’s underwear getting so moist with precome, so wet and writhing wantonly. His thighs quiver sensitively, ankles pressed firmly against either side of Jeongguk’s thighs and tightening inwards with each slap. Even more sensitive from all the smacking, Jeongguk wants to wreck him.

“You look,” Jeongguk rasps, trailing the cash up his thigh, along the underside and raising goosebumps. “You look so pretty.”

“Please,” Taehyung chokes out at the praise. “I want you, I want—fuck, come here.”

Finally relenting, Jeongguk lets Taehyung pull him forward hungrily and collapses against his lean form. Taehyung yanks off his tie impatiently and shoves his dress shirt and blazer roughly past his shoulders, needing to rid him of his clothes. He leans up to nip at the expanse of his protruding collarbones, leaving a wet trail on the skin and a rush of tingles along Jeongguk’s body in his wake.

“Help me out,” Taehyung commands, struggling with Jeongguk’s belt buckle, fingers too shaky to really do anything properly.

“Okay. Jesus,” Jeongguk exhales, pushes his pants past his hips and shucks it off the bed. He dips his thumbs into Taehyung waistband, hesitates before finally sliding them off. “God, you’re so wet.”

“No shit. All the teasing,” Taehyung huffs then reaches out to grip Jeongguk around the ribcage. “You too.”

It feels something like raptured relief when they’re both naked and shivering under the minimal lighting filtering through the glass walls of the bedroom from downstairs, natural city reflections streaming in from the floor to ceiling windows. Open like this with zero restrictions, the vulnerability makes his hips twitch when Taehyung shifts to pull him out of his pants, staring at each other like it’s almost unbelievable, that this is happening.

Jeongguk leans to slot his lips over Taehyung’s, hand sliding to the back of his neck and lifting to deepen it. He licks along the seam to coax them apart. Molding right into curves of his mouth, his tongue comes up behind his teeth and slides across Taehyung’s slippery one, licking and basking in the high-strung humidity of it all, gasping into each other like this. He pulls away to reach over to the nightstand, pulling open the drawer and fetching the bottle of lube and a condom packet.

Glancing down between their bodies, past the sculpted lines of Jeongguk's abs, Taehyung reaches to trail his fingers up Jeongguk’s thick, swollen length, hips jerking instinctively.

Voice deep and rough around the edges, Taehyung whispers, “Can I blow you?”

“Do what you want,” Jeongguk grits out, Taehyung sounding so ruptured with need. He’s pushed back until he’s sitting on his ass, Taehyung's hands smoothing all along his muscled torso, fingers running across his chest and the divots there. Just appreciating, like he does.

“Fuck, look,” Taehyung moans, kissing down his stomach. “You’re so ripped. Love your body.”

Sucking a hickey on one of his hipbones in vibrant red, just marveling at the work of Jeongguk’s taut thickness, Taehyung wraps his long fingers around the base of his cock. He licks a long stripe up to the flushed tip, circles around the sensitive head with his tongue and lathers up all the precome dribbling there. Jeongguk’s hips instinctively thrust forward into the wet heat, hand tightening at the back of Taehyung’s hair when he takes him in slowly before pulling off again, mouthing down the side, already out of breath. He tongues at the stretchy skin, panting.

“Mm,” comes Taehyung’s breath in hot stutters against his dick. Jeongguk watches with a clouded mind, turned on by the redness of his lips stretched nicely around the head, can’t help the way his hips cant into the tight ring of Taehyung’s mouth a second time. Taking him deeper and reaching down to fondle his balls, Jeongguk is far gone.

“Fuck,” Jeongguk groans, guttural, faltering with each bob on his hard cock. The most obscene sounds squelching from Taehyung’s mouth as he swallows more of his girth, wet and sticky and filthy in the way that he loves. He tosses his head back when Taehyung gets him further, throat expanding and tightening those muscles around his length. “Shit, Taehyung—like that.”

“You like that?” Taehyung rasps, voice sore and wrecked. Jeongguk’s cock twitches against his bottom lip before he’s swallowing him back down the flattened tongue, humming all around the shaft with these vibrations that knock a moan straight from Jeongguk’s chest. Hand mussing up the back of his hair, Jeongguk can’t help the shallow thrust of his hips.

“Ungh, yeah,” Jeongguk sits up a little straighter, hand smoothing down Taehyung’s long back before flying back up to his nape, stroking the skin there. “God, baby—let me fuck your mouth.”

He’s a little embarrassed at the bluntness of it all, falling from his own mouth, but the look Taehyung gives him is eager, dripping like he wants nothing but that, Jeongguk filling his mouth, and fuck, that mutual need makes him crazy.

Propping himself up on his elbows, Taehyung wets his swollen lips, slackens his jaw, and says, “Go ahead, baby.”

It’s almost enough to drive Jeongguk completely off the edge, the way his pink tongue dips out past his bottom lip, just waiting with the most kittenish anticipation. Putting pressure at the back of his head, Jeongguk tugs Taehyung down onto his cock and thrusts up into the heat, feeling him loosen his throat and take each thrust earnestly. He moans when the tip brushes the back.

It’s sloppy, saliva and precome pooling at the base of his dick, sliding filthy along Taehyung’s chin, pooling on the sheets below, all that saliva. Jeongguk feels like he might not make it further, flushed high in his cheeks. If this keeps up, he might just come straight down Taehyung's throat.

Through the dense, slick haze of his mind and the deep thrusts as he fucks into Taehyung’s hot mouth, Jeongguk barely notices Taehyung pumping his own weeping cock, beads of precome dripping onto his sheets. Lower abdomen tensing, he slowly eases Taehyung off his cock, harsh, ragged breaths gasping from his reddened lips. Jeongguk leans down to kiss his swollen lips and wipes the mess at his chin with the pad of his thumb.

“C’mere,” he gestures, patting his lap and reaching for the lube bottle, smirking. “Come sit your ass on this throne.”

Taehyung snorts at that, moving to straddle Jeongguk’s lap, tip of his pretty flushed cock pulsing and leaking so much that Jeongguk almost feels sorry for holding off this long, almost.

“Wanna ride this throne," Taehyung says and leans down to tug on Jeongguk’s bottom lip, rocking his hips down and arches desperately against him. Cupping his face, he kisses him until Jeongguk nearly forgets what he's supposed to do, drunk off Taehyung's lips and the way he touches him like it's never enough. 

“Wanna fuck you so bad," Jeongguk grunts at the friction of their hard lengths brushing, uncapping the bottle with flimsy movements and warming the fluid in his palm. He coats his fingers generously.

“Yeah?” Taehyung gasps, pressing their sweaty foreheads together, swiveling his hips in tantalizing, impatient circles, cocks sliding just right but not satiating what he really wants, what he needs. He needs Jeongguk inside of him. “Want you to fuck me, Jeongguk. Fuck me hard, baby, can you do that?”

“Unh, yeah,” Jeongguk whispers into his neck, nuzzling. Reaching between Taehyung’s legs, he circles the tip of his finger around the puckered rim. “Ready?”

“Ah, go,” Taehyung stutters, breath hitching, his entire body so wound up with that need to be filled. “Come on.”

Jeongguk slips the first finger in, feeling Taehyung’s body tense up and thighs quake, struggling to hold himself up. He waits for him to adjust before sliding his finger further, to the knuckle, and braces a hand under the meat of his shaky thigh. A sort of support as Taehyung rocks down onto his finger.

“Fingering 101,” Taehyung laughs all breathless, wrapping his arms around Jeongguk’s shoulders, finding purchase in the broad expanse. “Applied teaching from the maestro himself.”

“Lucky you,” Jeongguk rolls his eyes but chuckles anyway. "You could learn something."

"Mm. That good?"

"Mhm," Jeongguk crooks that finger deep inside, and Taehyung's body jolts. "Then you can show me how good you got, finger yourself for me later."

“Tell me,” Taehyung whispers into his hair, shuddering when Jeongguk slowly pushes the second finger past his stretched rim, thumb soothing into the supple flesh of his thigh. “Tell me how you do it.”

Thrusting two fingers deep, Jeongguk twists his wrist and pulls back out, shoves in and out of the tight rim and eliciting the most sound reactions from Taehyung above him.

“Gotta get your fingers in deep," Jeongguk says into his sweaty neck.

“Oh—fuck.”

“And when you find your prostate—” Jeongguk pushes his fingers further and curls them, grazing over the sensitive tissue inside and rubbing, thumb pressing against his perineum in time with the added finger.

“J—Jeongguk, shit,” Taehyung whimpers against his sweaty temple. He reaches his hand down to wrap fingers around Jeongguk's wrist and rides his fingers, knees spreading further apart over the sheets. “Mmf, yeah, just like that.”

“Play with it till you come,” Jeongguk whispers into his ear, tongue coming out to flick against the metal earring at his lobe and sucking. Taehyung fucks down onto his fingers, gets them deep inside his slippery heat, muscles clenching down and making Jeongguk wish that were around his pulsing cock now. He feels a bead of precome dribble from the tip of his cock when Taehyung hugs his fingers and rocks down to the knuckles. Reaching between them, Jeongguk fists his hand around Taehyung’s neglected shaft.

“N—no, don’t,” Taehyung sobs, hips stuttering from oversensitivity. “Don’t. I’ll come, swear I will. Fuck.”

“Don’t you wanna come?” Jeongguk sucks roughly at the underside of his chin, rubs his fingertips over Taehyung’s insides.

“So bad,” Taehyung whimpers. “But I want you to fuck me. Want you to fuck me hard till I come, Jeongguk—” Jeongguk rubs over that spot again, and Taehyung's thighs give out. He falls forward against him. “Fuck, want you in me.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk chokes and slowly slips his fingers out. “Where’s the condom?”

Taehyung sits back on wobbly legs and grabs the foil packet off the the side, tearing it open with unsteady fingers. He rolls it onto Jeongguk’s pulsing hard cock, chuckles softly when his hips cant forward into the touch when Taehyung lathers him with lube.

“Unh, easy,” Jeongguk gasps, cock aching for release. He scrapes his palms along the underside of Taehyung’s perky ass and lifts him up, gives his cheek a harsh spank that makes Taehyung yelp.

“Shit,” Taehyung laughs, leans down to lick Jeongguk’s lips, ass cheek burning so nice.

“Ride me, baby,” Jeongguk ushers into his mouth, a little whiney, wants this so much it hurts. “Come on.”

“Getting there,” Taehyung grunts, lines Jeongguk up at his puffy hole. He steadily lowers himself down, shuddering hard at the burning stretch that shoots up his spine, fingers digging into the firm flank of Jeongguk’s shoulder blades. “Oh, you're so—so big, fuck, what the fuck.”

“Take it easy,” Jeongguk strains, voice strangled and caught in his throat. His fingers grip Taehyung’s slim waist, hard enough to bruise, white at the edges. The tightness that engulfs him makes his mind fog up, eyes fluttering shut and sparking behind the lids with each inch Taehyung takes.  Jeongguk drops his forehead against his chest, willing himself to keep his hips painfully still, to keep from thrusting up. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just—God,” Taehyung manages and buries his nose in the crown of his hair, sinking lower. “Give me a sec.”

Smoothing his palm in comforting circles against Taehyung’s tailbone, drops of sweat glide down his temple. He feels like he might just die here, three-quarters of the way in Taehyung’s ass and already so delirious past the point of logic, all instinct. Taehyung finally bottoms out and seats himself fully in his lap, adjusting to the thick girth. Jeongguk tilts his head up for a kiss, easing the furrowed line of Taehyung’s brows until they’re threading together blissfully.

Rocking deliberately on his cock, so deep and gradual, Jeongguk rakes his palms up and down Taehyung’s sides, burning in this slowly building heat that swallows him whole. Taehyung lifts his ass and drops down with a slap that punches a pretty moan out of his wrecked lips.

It picks up from there, almost frantically so, Taehyung bouncing in his lap and giving him the ride of his life, Jeongguk meeting each roll with a thrust of his own. Taehyung drops his damp forehead against his own again, eyes shut and whimpering without restraint as Jeongguk’s thick cock disappears in and out of his body. Breathing the same humid air and tasting of salt, Taehyung spreads his knees further and sobs at the eased angle.

“S—so deep,” Taehyung moans against his lips, tongue flicking out to lick before kissing him, hand coming up to cradle his face. “Jeongguk, don’t stop, don’t stop—”

“So tight, know that?” Jeongguk grunts, thrusting faster. “Hnh, fuck.”

Jeongguk passes his rough palm up Taehyung’s front, fingers twisting the sensitive nipples and loving how Taehyung’s entire body trembles, thumb pads rubbing circles into the pink skin until they’re hard. He slides his palms from the shoulder blades down the sharp curve of Taehyung soft back, dipping into the arch before gripping his round cheeks, gives one of them another loud spank that makes Taehyung jolt. He squeezes and spreads him apart, relentlessly thrusting up into that clenching heat.

“Tell me how good I’m doing,” Taehyung suddenly begs, opening his hooded eyes and looking straight into Jeongguk’s. “Tell me how good I feel.”

“Feels so good, Tae. So tight,” Jeongguk praises, rocking Taehyung’s hips back and forth on his dick before he lifts up and drops back down. “So good bouncing on my dick like this. Gonna make me come, fuck.”

Taehyung’s cheeks rosy and flushed from this high, he whispers, “Tell me I'm a good boy.”

"Mm, shit," Jeongguk grunts at the request, Taehyung's apparent hunger for praise that Jeongguk is more than happy to feed. “You're such a good boy, Tae. So good, baby.”

Nothing but the moist sounds of slapping skin filling the room, Jeongguk is close. Pushing Taehyung back into the sheets and knocking the air from his lungs, he grips Taehyung’s thighs and spreads the apart, maneuvering his long legs out of the way. The new angle has Taehyung muffling his moans with the back of his hand, enjoying this to the point of near tears, head dropping back. But Jeongguk wants to hear him, without restraint, wants to see him all his raw glory while Jeongguk fucks him into the mattress. He grabs Taehyung's wrist and traps it above him.

“Wanna hear you moan,” Jeongguk breathes against his cheekbone, swooping down to kiss him. “Be a good boy and moan my name.”

“J—Jeongguk,” Taehyung sobs, head lolling to the side when Jeongguk ducks lower and nibbles the skin of his neck. Jeongguk’s entire body pressing him firmly into the mattress, thick weight caging him in, it leaves little movement for him to shift about. Sends Taehyung reeling over the edge like whiplash. “Jeongguk, fuck, right there, right—”

“There you go,” Jeongguk grits through his teeth, thighs slapping backs of thighs. He reaches between them and pumps Taehyung’s leaking cock in time with his thrusts. “Be a good boy and come for me.”

“Gonna—gonna come, fuck, I’m coming, I’m—” Taehyung's whimper fills the open bedroom, and that’s all it takes for him to squeeze around Jeongguk one last time, body spasming and thighs quivering violently at Jeongguk’s sides as he comes. His cock twitches, spurting white all over their stomachs, fingernails leaving angry red marks down the strong back and barely registering the way Jeongguk says, I got you.

“Ugh, shit,” Jeongguk gasps, strained from the force of Taehyung’s orgasm tightening excruciatingly around his pulsating shaft. He's about to come, but before Jeongguk's fuzzed mind can catch up, Taehyung’s shoving at his hips, getting Jeongguk to oblige and slowly slip out. “What—?”

“I want you to come on my face,” Taehyung rasps, rolling flat on his stomach in front of Jeongguk’s hips. He moves to peel off the condom from his sensitive dick, discarding it to the side.

“Wait.”

“Do it,” Taehyung ushers tenderly, drops his jaw. “Fuck my mouth till you come.”

“Tae—” Jeongguk groans when Taehyung swallows him back into that familiar, moist heat. “Ungh, too good to me.”

Looking up at him through his bangs to encourage him, Taehyung watches him fuck deeper into his mouth, breathing harshly through his nose and eager to accept each inch he offers. He wraps his fingers around the base of Jeongguk’s throbbing dick, twists his wrist as he slides down his throat. Just watching as Jeongguk watches him, taking him so good.

“Ah, fuck. Coming,” Jeongguk warns, brushing Taehyung’s damp bangs from his eyes at the last second.

A few more sloppy thrusts with Taehyung's cheeks hollowing around him, Jeongguk quickly pulls out and pumps his cock with his fist until his hips stutter. He comes so hard there's sparks at the backs of his eyes, white streaks of his seed spurting all over Taehyung’s face, over the bridge of his nose, across his lips. Another thick string along his eye and dripping off his chin.

“Jesus,” Jeongguk pants, completely spent, exhaustion weighing down so thick. He grips Taehyung’s chin. “Jesus, dude.”

“Mm,” Taehyung hums, eye winked shut from the clump of come in his eyelashes. He swipes his tongue across his bottom lip, lapping up the salty stickiness and grins, content. “Wanted that for so long.”

“What?” Jeongguk sighs, swiping his thumb across Taehyung’s eyelids to wipe away the come.

“You coming on my face,” Taehyung says, blinking his eye open. Jeongguk grabs his shirt near the pillows and wipes the rest of his face, the come off their stomachs. He leans in for a kiss, just for the sake of kissing him.

“Nasty shit,” Jeongguk teases, tossing the shirt to the floor. He ties the condom and trashes it at the side of the nightstand before switching off the lights, flopping back onto the bed with another sigh, jostling Taehyung's lighter body. So tired, his muscles feel like warming jello.

“You loved it,” Taehyung retorts, pulling up the covers and collapsing next to him, against the fluffy pillows and stray cash.

“Fuck. Yeah, I did,” Jeongguk admits, voice sluggish as he rolls over to snuggle into Taehyung’s back, wraps his arms loosely around his middle. He presses his sated grin into Taehyung’s nape. “Look good with my come in your eyelashes. Always lookin' good.”

“Glad you didn't get any in my hair,” Taehyung mumbles, chest shaking with breathy laughter. “Shit gets so crusty if you don't wash it right away.”

“Wouldn't know,” Jeongguk hums, lifting up onto an elbow and stroking the reddened skin of Taehyung’s cheek with the back of his hand. “You okay?”

“Mhm,” Taehyung nods, kissing his knuckles.

“I knew you liked money,” Jeongguk cuddles back into him, sex always making him so touchy and clingy in the sappiest of manners. "But not that much."

“That was hot,” Taehyung murmurs, eyes already closed, pressing back into the warmth of Jeongguk’s chest. “So hot. Really, though, thanks. For not being weird about it.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk hums against his shoulder, feeling Taehyung drift off in his arms.

Then that swinging is going off in his head again, having been there this whole time, just clouded over with lust. He pushes it to the very back and presses his lips to Taehyung's skin, just tracing back and forth, feeling so fond in this lucid, fucked-out moment. The question that looms over their heads, of where to go from here, the murky beyond that Jeongguk has been brooding over for very long. All repercussions that he’ll deal with eventually—later.

Taehyung twists around to kiss his forehead, plopping back down against the pillow, entire body relaxing and evening out. His hair tickling his nose, Jeongguk sighs against his neck and falls asleep to the sound of his own taunting heartbeat.

For now, he is but floating matter in the warm afterglow and allows himself to be so.

 

 

When the morning comes, Jeongguk leaves.

Waking up that morning with sunlight glaring in his eyes and Taehyung warm on his chest, he’d carefully slipped out beneath his weight, throwing on joggers and a fresh t-shirt from the drawers of his walk-in closet, but not after dropping a kiss on Taehyung’s temple. Fondly nuzzling his nose along the soft cheekbone, he’d pulled away, legs heavy as lead, and paced the room in search of Taehyung’s discarded clothing—boxer briefs crumpled near the vibrant green plant at the corner, tie curled up on the plush, taupe rug. He folded them into a neat pile with another set of clean clothes and laid them at the foot of the bed for Taehyung to find.

Padding down the cool, white wood of the stairs now, Jeongguk tells himself he is not running away, not really. He is taking the time he needs, for himself, by himself. He feels like a car crash, shattered glass, splintered metal scraps, and all. So maybe he’s running away, probably.

While half of his brain reminds him, Bitch you slept with your crime partner last night.

The other half says, Bitch you slept with the person you love.

Jeongguk says, “You bitch.”

Weighing out those options, he looks in the mirror, at the purple hickeys splotching across his neck and collarbones. He trails his thumb across the mark under his jaw, shaped a little like Japan, remembers Taehyung’s teeth harshly tugging at the skin.

They can’t go back. That business relationship they’ve crafted throughout the months, it goes even further past the realm of friendship they’ve developed and the simplicities that followed. Losing this means losing more than a partner in business and crime. It means losing a friend, losing someone Jeongguk trusted enough to deal money and trade. It means losing a connection so deeply wired within his bones that once gone, will take a part of him away that he cannot replace. Because this is someone his self-reliant ass actually depended on and didn’t ponder the inevitable end with.

This is Taehyung.

“Fuck,” Jeongguk mutters and presses his fingertips against the bags underneath his eyes.

Setting Taehyung’s keys in clear view on the island, Jeongguk grabs his own and leaves.

 

$

 

Taehyung

where were you this morning

??

 

Jeongguk

hey sorry

I had to do something

Read 4:27 PM

 

$

 

But they see each other again.

Squinting down at the keys in his hand, Jeongguk’s vision swims.

“Is there a spare?” Taehyung asks. Perched on the edge of the sink, the dingy restroom mirror squeaks from the sharpie as he doodles like there are rats in the walls.

“Dunno,” Jeongguk squints harder. He’s regretting that last shot Hoseok forced down his throat.

A harsh pounding comes from the door of this single stall restroom that feels cruel on his skull, followed by some cigarette burnt, alcohol tinged voice yelling out nonsense.

“Hurry the fuck up in there!”

“Takin’ a shit, fuck off!” Taehyung shouts back, pauses to raise a brow at Jeongguk. The tip of the marker bleeds ink where Taehyung keeps it pressed to the glass. “You're holding the keys.”

“I’m aware.”

“The key we’re looking for is the only gold key—”

“I know, I can't—fuckin’,” Jeongguk matches up two keys side by side. “Yeah, there's a spare.”

“What I thought,” staring at the doodle that covers his reflection, Taehyung smiles from ear to ear, makeshift wings matching up near his temples, lopsided.

At a bar in Gangnam, Jeongguk hasn’t properly seen Taehyung over the course of two days—not long, out of context, but long enough to avoid someone and feel the palpable strain. In celebration of their mixtape’s success, Hoseok had gotten the group together for a more formal round of drinks, an otherwise harmless plan given alternative circumstances, but Jeongguk swears he could feel the elephant in the room nearly double in size when he arrived, Taehyung having arrived ten minutes earlier. And Taehyung, well, Taehyung hasn’t acknowledged him for the better part of this night.

“You sure the ring’s in the lost and found?” Taehyung asks without meeting his eyes.

Jeongguk nods. “Saw the bartender stash it in some metal box beneath the counter.”

Out on the rooftop overlooking the city, Taehyung had quietly slipped away from their table after spotting someone with what seemed like a hefty rock on her finger, glittering amply against the sensual lounge ambiance and city glares. Jeongguk had followed after because regardless of personal conflict, Taehyung was still his partner, and he’d be there to back him up.

But what should have been a simple pickpocket ended in failure: Taehyung retracting his hand after slipping the ring off and getting rammed by some geezer reeking of tequila, knocking the ring right out of his fingers and sending it flying across the floors near the bar counter. Working swiftly to recover the situation, Taehyung distracted the woman by reaching to touch her shoulder, asked if she was okay—college kids, he rolled his eyes and laughed.

In a hasty move to retrieve it, Jeongguk had barely taken two petty steps before someone was already picking the thing up and handing it to the bartender for safe keeping, all one big consequence of good karma.

“Gotta keep an eye out when the bar gets busier,” Taehyung says now, not really there. Not like he usually is. Shifting to sit more comfortably on the porcelain, a roll of money drops out of his jacket pocket.

“What’s that?”

“My buyer called earlier today,” Taehyung answers, sliding off to pick the rubber band bank off the floor. He scoots back onto the edge of the sink, stuffs it back into his pocket. “Said someone was looking to buy, so I sold him that eight carat we got the other day. We got a shit ton for it.”

Jeongguk frowns. “What the fuck—you sold to someone and didn’t tell me?”

“Chill, it was earlier today. I was gonna tell you eventually, like, tonight,” Taehyung says, gesturing with his hand. “Hasn’t been that long. Besides, this is the first time I’m seeing you since—whatever.”

“Why didn’t you ask me to come along?” Jeongguk furrows his brows, voice rising, feeling that bitter speck of betrayal at the back of his tongue, just the tiniest bit. Taehyung told Jeongguk everything. “We're partners. If you're gonna go off and do shit on your own, ‘least let me know.”

“Oh, is that what we are? Maybe I didn't ask you ‘cause fuck if I know why you’ve been acting so shitty,” Taehyung bites back. “Also, forgot to mention—thanks for flaking the other day. Very classy of you.”

“I told you, I had—”

To do something,” Taehyung scoffs. “Yeah, fuck you—I know your schedule, Jeongguk. Partners, remember? Protocol.”

"Trust.”

“Nice to have some, isn't it?”

Jeongguk swallows the lump in his throat. “It's not like that.”

Another pounding at the door.

“Hurry the fuck up!” The voice shouts again. “Some of us gotta piss, come on!”

Staring tensely at each other in the thick silence that engulfs them, the uneasy waves billowing in-between and stretching, Taehyung hops off the counter and rips the ring of keys out of his hands.

“You know what, fuck the ring,” Taehyung spits. “I’m going home.”

Yanking open the door, Taehyung crashes into the drunkard at the other side with a shoddy imitation of an apology. Walking near the bar, he tosses the keys behind the counter for the bartender to find and stalks away. Jeongguk follows him out, feeling like the most toxic of shit so sudden and deserves it, too.

Going home that night to an empty bed finally cleaned of stray cash, Jeongguk can still smell Taehyung in the pillows.

 

$

 

Jeongguk

I want

to disappear

 

Yoongi

what did u do this.time

 

Jeongguk

what I always do

ran away from my problems

but the problem wasnt something to be left behind

that makes me a shit person

 

Namjoon

gotta stop running my dude

it’s never that bad like eVER

swear

 

Hoseok

give a bouquet of flowers to your problems

take them to see the sunrise at 5am

 

Yoongi

ok earth angel b mine @ hoseok

jk fuck u non problem solver

what ass advice

 

Hoseok

jus sayin

might be nice

 

Namjoon

sounds a little nice

 

Yoongi

guess: the problem is taehyung

 

Jeongguk

maybe ??

taehyung

 

Yoongi

so what now

 

Jeongguk

idk what to do

 

Namjoon

yeah

***love

what else is new

 

$

 

His phone is ringing. It's two in the morning and somewhere, his phone is ringing.

Shuffling around, groggy eyed and bleary, Jeongguk finds it at the other end of his bed, doesn't even bother opening his eyes when he answers.

“Yeah?”

“Jeongguk,” It's Yoongi. “Listen."

At the alarming tone of his voice, Jeongguk sits up straight, covers pooling around his naked waist.

“Fuck, listen—”

“Hey, calm down. What is it?”

“Shit, it's just,” Yoongi pauses on the other line. “The fuckin’ idiot, Taehyung. Dragged his ass to my door after getting it beat.”

Jeongguk bristles. “What?”

“Nearly got all his nose blood on my Kennedee sofa—” Yoongi’s sigh is heavy, rustling over the line in harsh static. “Tae, c’mon. We’re getting you to the bathroom.”

“Wait, what the fuck happened? Is he okay? Hey—”

“He's okay. He will be,” Yoongi reassures, grunting a little, stumbling to the bathroom with Taehyung’s weight on his shoulders. “Said something about selling to some asshole earlier today—you hear about that? The fucker got his gang of fucktwats to track Taehyung down on his way home from the bar, stole all the money back and ninety thousand dollars worth of jewelry.”

“What the fuck—

And he kept the eight carat.”

“God, is he—”

“It's a good thing they didn't break anything. A good fuckin’ thing,” Yoongi mutters indignantly. Something clatters in the background, a sound that echoes. “No fractures, breaks, concussions, nothing. Just a few gnarly gashes.”

“Jesus,” Jeongguk drops his forehead in his palm. His stomach feels sick.

“And get this, the prick he sold to? YG.”

YG? The one from your shift?”

“Has an entourage of pricks, got that pseudo-mafia intimidation thing going, all bullshit?” Yoongi sneers. “Yeah, him.”

“Shit,” Jeongguk pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “Dude, shit.”

“Tell me about it,” Yoongi grunts. Jeongguk can practically feel the livid shake of his head. Off to the side, Yoongi says, “Could’ve gotten real hurt out there, kid.”

Jeongguk screws his eyes shut, tries to ease his worried mind but to no avail. He doesn’t give a shit about the money or the stolen goods. “He's okay though right? He's okay?”

“Yes, yeah. I'm cleaning him up right now,” There's shuffling and the sound of running water. “Dude, your face is bleeding off the sink. Come on, up, up.”

“Fuck, he's okay right? Fuck.”

“Yes. Quit asking the same damn question. Circling, man,” Yoongi huffs through the line, more static. “He's alive and shitty. The usual.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk sighs. “Okay, fuck.”

“Stay with me,” Yoongi says to the side again. “Taehyung.”

“Hey, I'll be over in five,” Jeongguk says quickly, already pulling on a t-shirt. “Make sure he’s okay.”

“Yeah, see you in a bit.”

 

 

Taehyung is laying on his side in Yoongi’s bed when Jeongguk arrives. He's got a fat, square bandage taped over his cheek, the beginnings of a nasty maroon bruise blooming over his cheekbone, a busted lip that glistens all glossy with ointment. The gash across his nose still glows red and fresh, standing stark against his pale complexion alongside the cut at his eyebrow. None of them look deep enough to scar, but painful enough to numb. Dry blood splattered in the collar of his white t-shirt, he looks like a broken doll.

Standing in the doorway watching him, Jeongguk feels his eyes sting with guilt and clutches at his chest, feeling like a bag of bricks has just been disposed there.

“Taehyung,” he says softly, shutting the door behind him.

Taehyung refuses to meet his eyes and presses the side of his face gingerly into the towel covering the pillow, doesn’t acknowledge him even when Jeongguk sits at his side, even when the mattress dips under his weight.

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk says again.

Still, no response.

“Hey, talk to me—”

“Where were you?” It’s barely above a whisper.

“I'm sorry I couldn't be there to help—”

“Where the fuck were you that morning?” Taehyung elaborates, and oh, the other night. Another nasty wave of guilt crashes upon him that he wouldn't mind washing away with. “I wanted you to be there when I woke up. And not even in that sticky, romance bullshit kind of way—” He says, “Where were you?”

Jeongguk digs his fingers into the comforter.

“Convenient, isn't it, leaving the weight on others,” Taehyung continues, glaring darts into the black sheets. “Help you sleep at night?”

“That’s not—”

“You don’t even trust me, do you?” Taehyung finally looks up at him and shoves at his arm with weak hands, trying to get him off the bed in a feeble attempt that aches in Jeongguk’s chest. “Just go, Jeongguk, please—”

“Taehyung, wait.”

“Get out—"

Listen,” Jeongguk grabs his wrists and pins him down gently with enough force to hold him still yet careful not to hurt. “Listen. Please.”

After a few seconds of struggling, Taehyung turns his head off to the side to avoid the look Jeongguk bears down on him.

“Hear me out,” Jeongguk pleads, leaning in close to whisper against his ear, nosing just barely into the skin. “Then you can kick me out all you want.”

The faint sound of honking echoes beyond the windows of Yoongi's condo, just background noise to the way something in Jeongguk's chest cracks when Taehyung does.

“Fuck, dude,” Taehyung chokes wetly, voice trembling with the first tears that glide across his face, soaking into the towel beneath him. “I got my ass busted out there ‘cause of this, because you—”

“Yeah, fuck, I wigged out,” Jeongguk sighs, releasing Taehyung’s wrists to cup his face. He nudges their foreheads together. Tears having always been a contagious human reaction to Jeongguk, he shuts his eyes and wills himself strong. “I was scared—am scared, out of my mind. You have no idea.”

Taehyung reaches up to wrap his fingers around his forearms, part struggle, part relent, but squeezes tight with shaky hands all the same. His knuckles peeled and bright with residue blood and broken skin.

“I’m so scared of losing you,” Jeongguk whispers. “As my partner, my friend.”

Eyes still winked shut, Jeongguk brushes his thumbs back and forth across the skin of Taehyung’s wet cheekbone, the one absent of marred bruises. Gentle, to ease the tension beginning to unwind.

“I’m scared because I trust you more than I trust myself. Coming from me,” Jeongguk scoffs lightly, exhale bellowing across Taehyung’s chin. “A selfish, self-reliant prick—yeah, that scares the shit out of me.”

Taehyung’s sniffle comes out stuttered, eyelashes dewy with thick tears when Jeongguk blinks opens his eyes. He looks like the morning after a spring shower under those cuts and bruises, and the guilt in his stomach simmers over until Jeongguk feels the stinging in his eyes manifest into moisture, feeling so bad seeing this beautiful boy tarnished in pain.

Pressed to Taehyung and sharing this salty wetness, all Jeongguk really knows is this: he would say fuck all to the world for Taehyung.

“I’m an idiot sometimes,” Jeongguk stutters out laughter. “So please be patient with me.”

Taehyung slides his hands up to cover Jeongguk’s. “You’re an asshole—

“I know.”

“Swear I thought I was gonna die,” Taehyung sobs quietly. “Thought I was gonna die right there on the pavement. Bleed out, smelling like piss—”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t leave me like that again—”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods. “I love you.”

The hitched breath that follows makes Jeongguk feel warm all over, slow smile creeping up to his tear-stained mouth.

“Shut up,” Taehyung holds his hands tighter, more affectionate, as if scared to let go.

“Okay.”

“Just,” he opens his pretty, bright eyes and looks at Jeongguk so delicate. “Just shut up.”

“Is that it?” Jeongguk hums, nuzzling the side of his face.

“No,” Taehyung sighs and tilts his chin up to kiss him lightly. “No, I love you.”

“Go easy on me, baby,” Jeongguk whispers into his mouth, kisses slow and gentle, just touching to feel. “I’m not perfect, but I will love you most.”

Wrapping arms around his neck, Taehyung says, “Jeongguk.”

And that, right there, is the validation he never knew he needed—someone to say his name with the affection of a million words. Taehyung touches his shadows and lightens every corner of his shrouded mind, smiles at him like the only thing he wants in return is his smile, too, never asking for more unless Jeongguk is willing. He is patient and he is gentle and he is sweet in ways that Jeongguk is not—he is the half that makes the bad feel okay, and Jeongguk has needed that since that day back in spring, stealing his first candy bar at seven.

Shifting from his seated position and kicking his legs up, Jeongguk sprawls on his side to face Taehyung and pulls him in close with an arm around his middle.

“Ouch, dude,” Taehyung winces, gritting his teeth. “Careful.”

“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, removing his arm and resting his hand in the crook of Taehyung’s neck instead. “Does it still hurt?”

“Like a bitch,” Taehyung groans.

“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says, carding his fingers through Taehyung’s hair. “Got me so worried.”

“Shit sucks,” Taehyung murmurs. “But I’ll heal. It’s just a scratch.”

“Nasty fuckin’ scratch,” Jeongguk frowns, touching the corner of Taehyung’s swollen lip. “Jesus, baby.”

“I gotta leave town for a bit,” Taehyung groans warily, leaning into all of Jeongguk’s soft little touches. “You know how it is. It’s dangerous right now.”

“I’m coming with you,” says Jeongguk without hesitating. “Can’t get rid of me now.”

“Not gonna try,” Taehyung smiles, mouthing lazily at Jeongguk’s bottom lip. “All mine.”

“Mm. Yours.”

Smoothing his hand over the bandaid on Taehyung’s cheek, Jeongguk feels his heart pang uneasily at the injuries that litter his face, lifts Taehyung’s hand to kiss over the broken skin of his knuckles, another kiss to the bruised palm, red and plum and yellow. His heart still heavy picturing Taehyung beat to the ground, helpless and outnumbered until blood was shed, that weight in his chest twists into something thornier, more bitter and unforgiving.

“Before we go,” Jeongguk says slowly, voice lowering. “You in on one last heist?”

In the world of underground business, corruption infiltrates the platitudes of networks that tie everyone together. Sometimes you run across a buyer who’s already set out a plan before you’ve even made your offer, the common underground lore to trust no soul. But when you’re already involved in shady business, there’s no such things as legalities, no such thing as unfair dealings—nothing is legal, and nothing is illegal.

Jeongguk knows what he’s gotten himself into since the day he asked Yoongi for advice, but it’s because of this fact that striking back stays as far under the radar as any other fucked-up mishap. In the end, someone is always getting fucked over or fucked up.

Because that’s the circle of life that all culminates to one grand moment—this, is theirs.

Grinning with his busted lip, Taehyung says, “Always.”

 

$

 

Tonight’s air feels like it’s spinning neon—with adrenaline, with nerves, it buzzes in electric waves through his pulsing bloodstream.

Tugging on his black gloves, Jeongguk nods at Taehyung. “You ready?”

Jump to: four days ago.

“We’re leaving town for a bit,” Jeongguk says, slouching over the bar in Yoongi’s kitchen after having left Taehyung to rest, passed out cold from painkillers. “Gotta take a break from everything and lay low.”

“So what are you gonna do?” Yoongi asks, setting a cold bottle of beer in front of him, cloud of condensation fizzing out the mouth.

“Dunno,” Jeongguk shrugs and wraps fingers around the glass neck. “Get my ass back to school. Taehyung’s gonna take a semester or two off. Something, dunno.”

“But what are you gonna do?” Yoongi asks again, pointedly, smirk in place.

Swiping his thumb along the droplets of water gliding off the sides of the bottle, Jeongguk says, “How much do you know about YG?”

“A bit, enough,” Yoongi waves his hand, plopping down on the stool across from him and leaning over the onyx countertop. “Comes in every Monday at exactly seven p.m., remembers all the valets on that shift. Fluent in three languages, and carries around a separate phone just for his schedule—probably other confidential shit he can’t leave hanging around his main phone.”

Processing this, Jeongguk taps his fingers rhythmically over the branded logo. “Is it possible for you to get that information to me? Schedule, potential security codes?”

“Nothing’s impossible,” Yoongi hints. “The question is how risky of a job this’ll be.”

“Risky,” Jeongguk bites the inside of his cheek. “But not impossible.”

“I can get that information to you, but you gotta promise you won’t fuck this up,” Yoongi warns, pressing the cold bottle to his cheek and slouching a little. “This is your life we’re talking about here.”

“I know,” Jeongguk takes a swig and sets the beer bottle down on the dark marble countertop. “Jail, maybe, but no one's gonna die. Don’t worry.”

“‘M gonna,” Yoongi throws back genuinely. “I can get Jimin to help. He said the guy comes around the club often.”

“He knows how to pickpocket?”

“Knows a bit. If he has to.”

Jeongguk takes his first swig of the beer, icy liquid sliding down his throat, chills bursting through his skin. Thinking about it a bit in the pregnant pause, he says, “So you guys dating or what?”

“It’s just a thing,” Yoongi shakes his frozen hand out, palm white.

“Like a serious thing?”

“Something,” Yoongi comments vaguely, that grin back in its place that tells Jeongguk he isn’t going to say more. “That all of it?”

“One last thing,” Jeongguk lowers his voice. “How fast can you get us ten pounds of cocaine?”

“Askin’ me, kid,” Yoongi snorts and leans back. “I can get that to you tomorrow.”

Jump to: now.

Watching his garage door roll up, Jeongguk is vibrating nicely in this chill night they’re lapsing into. Only the beginning.

“Been saving this bad boy for the perfect time,” Jeongguk says, taking a few steps forward and smoothing his hand over the tarp, this bulky object parked in the garage beside his Jaguar but taking up little space. He peels away the rough material in one swift move, and there, under the pale moonlight, is the polished finish of his black Ducati motorcycle.

“Sure you know how to drive this thing?” Taehyung says skeptically, dancing his fingers across the throttle, along the subframe and leather seat. The license plate has already been blacked out, electrical tape covering the aluminum in neat, straight lines, surface recently cleaned and waxed.

“I have a motorcycle license,” Jeongguk slings his leg over the body and stands the bike off the kickstand. He pulls his helmet on and flips up the visor, jerking his head to the side to gesture at Taehyung. “Come on.”

Taehyung adjusts the backpack on his shoulder and straddles the seat. Hugging close, he says, “Shit, dude.”

“I got you, don’t worry,” Jeongguk hands him his helmet and switches on the bike, engine roaring to life and crackling off blanched drywall.

“If we die,” Taehyung says over the engine, pushing his sweater hood off and pulling on the helmet. “Make sure it’s after the job.”

“Do you trust me?”

“I trust you.”

“Then we’ll be fine,” Jeongguk reassures, revving the engine with the clutch. “You good?”

Clacking their helmets together, Taehyung says, “Let’s get this motherfucker.”

 

 

According to schedule, Yang Hyunsuk is expected at a charity event with his wife at the Marriott, eight p.m. on the dot. The plan of attack is to obtain his car keys when he arrives to valet, stash ten pounds worth of cocaine in the trunk, and get security to bust him for illegal possession of narcotics. The goal is to walk away clean.

Jeongguk parks exactly two blocks away from the Marriott in a shadowed garage and shuts off the engine, helping to lift Taehyung off the bike. Using the backdoor to get in, they briskly slip into the building of the hotel, faces half concealed by black face masks and laying low from security cameras. Slipping into the restroom and taking cover in the biggest stall, Jeongguk works fast to peel off his outer layers, stuffing it into the polyester backpack, already geared up in duplicate outfits as that of the Marriott valets. Having done the research beforehand, the uniform was an easy imitation—white button down long-sleeve, silk black tie, black slacks, and black dress shoes. Nothing unusual of standard valet work attire.

“Time check?” Jeongguk asks, clipping on his makeshift name tag before helping Taehyung with his black wig, pulling on his own dark purple one.

“Seven forty-five,” Taehyung says, breath rushed, glancing at his watch. He tucks the stray strands of Jeongguk’s hair under the wig, hands shaking with nerves. “Okay, come on.”

“Hey, look at me,” Jeongguk reassures, holding his face. “We’re good, we do this all the time. This isn’t any different, okay?”

“Okay,” Taehyung nods, gulps down the anxious butterflies fluttering wildly in his stomach. “Yeah, we’re good.”

“We’ll be fine,” Jeongguk consoles and tugs him close to kiss his forehead. “Let’s go.”

In the glittering lobby of the hotel, Jeongguk reaches down to squeeze Taehyung’s hand briefly under the chandelier before they split in opposite directions, lingering as to say—

Good luck.

At 7:50 p.m., Taehyung is supposed to wait near the lobby entrance for Valet One on shift to take his next customer. Adjusting the folds of his Gucci blazer while he waits in the meantime near the side doors, paired Gucci watch fastened on his wrist, frameless glass spectacles tucked over his nose, Taehyung evens out his breathing. It’s all intentional to look expensive because he’s got to be pretentious to be convincing. Standing here over the beige marble tiles, glistening with hourly wax care, his dress shoes shine nicely against them.

Outside through the towering glass walls of the hotel, Valet One zooms off in the customer’s car, out of sight past the hedges lining the sides of the building. Using that window of time, Taehyung jumps in and catches that same customer from the side before he can walk away. The man is by himself, dashing in gabardine, and that makes his job easier if he's only convincing one.

“Excuse me,” Taehyung says, straightening up his posture. He nudges his glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose. “That valet that just took your car? No idea how to drive a Tesla. Nearly wrecked my Porsche just now until I stopped him.”

“Shit, really? Thanks for the heads up,” the man frowns, turning on polished heels and jogging back to the valet stand, right back where he came from.

You implant someone with even the smallest of skepticism in your valet, and he won’t stop thinking about the wellbeing of his car the entirety of the night. Because these types of men have their wives and their children and then their cars. Not much else can skirt into the same boundaries as those without giving good enough reason for the sacrifice. But handing over your car takes some level of baseless trust that the slightest of worries can tarnish, which makes such a thing as this a simple task. Taehyung knows this because it takes one to know one.

When the valet returns from his run, jogging back up to stand, Taehyung lingers near the doorway and overhears the conversation from inside.

“Is my car okay?” the man asks, apprehensive.

“Yes, of course, sir,” the valet reassures, sensing some sort of troubled unease. “It’s parked safe and sound in our garage.”

“Could you show me where it is? I’d like to check on it.”

“Sure, right this way.”

Taehyung huffs a breath of relief as he watches the valet stalk away with the man in tow, down the pathway to the six story garage, locking the key storage beneath the podium before he goes. Promptly in his place, Jeongguk steps up just as Valet Two on the same shift tends to another customer with a Benz, a family of three that walks right past him smelling petally and waxy like flowers. Most of tonight's traffic is the guests for tonight’s charity event at the hotel, and if it weren't for revenge on their agenda, he reckons they'd make an easy few hundred thousand's worth of jewelry off those guests alone.

Taehyung quickly sprints out the side door after the Valet Two, keeping focused eyes on where he parks to catch up to him. It'll most likely be on the first two levels given the value of the car and the demands of the driver to keep it close. Distraction is stage two of Taehyung's part of the job, time frame being a five minute minimum that he acts upon like a flashing timer over his head, the importance of every single second that could make or break this plan. Trailing after the valet, Taehyung approaches him with distracting conversation one-liners already planned out in his head.

At 7:55 p.m., Jeongguk is supposed to wait in the now vacant valet area. He places his backpack beside the podium in plain view where he can see it and looks down at his Rolex, the glass face reflecting the lights of the plaster awning. Shifting anxiously on the balls of his feet, he watches the driveway with staggering certainty, for that familiar face from the picture Yoongi had sent him. Speckled grey newsboy cap, black Aston Martin Vantage—2016 make, convertible.

Glancing rigidly in the opposite direction for any approaching workers, Jeongguk shakes out his hands at his side, fidgety, and checks his watch again. His five minute window as Taehyung distracts the other valet in the parking garage is steadily running up, and he needs to hightail it out of there before Valet One returns with his customer.

“Fuck,” he says under his breath, palms clammy beneath his gloved hands, rocking on the balls of his feet.

He’s in the middle of doubting their plan when a pair of headlights flash blindingly across his face, black Aston Martin pulling up in front of him like some kind of miracle.

8:00 p.m.

“Hi there, sir, ma’am,” Jeongguk greets politely, sweat trickling off his temple. He opens the door of the passenger side, offering a practiced hand and helping the wife out of the car, sparkly ivory dress scratchy against his wrist when she brushes past. “How’s your evening?”

“Good, thanks,” Hyunsuk says curtly. He takes the ticket Jeongguk hands him and stalks off through the glass entrance with his wife in tow. Palm pressed to her slim lower back, against the open-back evening gown, he doesn’t notice the hand that passes his pocket as Jeongguk glides past.

Jeongguk plucks his backpack off the floor and hurriedly steps into the car when Hyunsuk disappears around the corner, driving off past the decorative lobby, too high profile to pull anything off. He parks out along the street in a concealed area just between the hotel and the garage, not within eyeshot and shadowed enough beyond the hotel's security cameras. He pulls out his phone from his pocket to dial Taehyung and hastily hops back out of the car, snagging his backpack from the passenger seat.

“I got it,” Jeongguk rushes over the phone. “Wait near the entrance of the garage. When you see me, go.”

“Okay.”

Jeongguk hangs up and lifts the trunk. Unzipping the black backpack, he stashes the four packages of cocaine under the crumpled leather jacket there, haphazardly placing everything to look artless in its approach. He shuts the lid and jumps back into the car, shifting into gear and driving towards the first level of the garage. Taehyung jogs past his window then, and Jeongguk speeds up to the second level before expertly swerving into an empty space and dashes out. Yanking on his black thermal jacket to conceal the uniform on the way back to the entrance, Valet Two jogs past him but doesn't spare him a glance.

Jeongguk's down the path of the lobby now, and Taehyung takes that as his cue to step up for another round of distraction, Valet One at the podium. He approaches with some vague question that Jeongguk can't hear from where he stands, keeps the valet's eyes anywhere but the key box as Jeongguk sneaks up behind them. Hanging the Aston Martin keys on one of the hook's in the storage, he slips away on quiet feet, head bowed down and feigning nonchalance.

“Oh, shit, I just remembered I left something up in my room,” Taehyung suddenly interrupts, abruptly ending the conversation. He retreats into the hotel after Jeongguk. “Nice talking to you, and thanks for the help.”

Entering back into the hotel, lobby littered with stray minglers, guests checking in, guests checking out, guests asking for the whereabouts of the charity event, Taehyung fiddles with his tie as he crosses past the regal orchid centerpiece, spotting Jeongguk near the elevators.

“Second level, B20,” Jeongguk whispers in passing, and Taehyung nods, follows his path up to the security on duty near the front desk, the oriental, wooden back panel that covers the entire side of this wall. The receptionists at the counter don't pay him any notice, either too busy taking phone calls or dealing with guests. 

“Excuse me,” Taehyung says, smiling graciously. He quickly scans the man's belt and locates the radio near the back. “Do you know where the restrooms are?”

“Right down this hall,” the man directs, arm straightening outwards precisely. Taehyung listens closely to his voice, the tones and fluctuations in the few words, the placements of highs and lows and the slight gruffness around the edges. “Restroom should be at the right.”

“Alright, thanks.”

Pacing behind him, Taehyung reaches out and swiftly snatches the two-way radio hanging off the man’s belt and continues walking. Making a sharp turn at the hall without glancing behind, he disappears past the golden door of the restroom and presses back against it.

“Okay,” Taehyung huffs, resting his head against the door and wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Tan foundation stains his skin when he pulls it back, and he glances in the mirror to make sure his cuts from the other night don’t show through, the red line that still stretches over the bridge of his nose and across his brow. The fluorescent bulbs lining the mirror radiate off the layer of makeup caked on his face and make him ghostly, but there are no signs of any wounds or bruises.

Inhaling sharply through his nose, he strides past the tall stalls, ducking his head down to check beneath the doors for any pooled slacks at the feet, past the empty urinals. It’s completely vacant, soothing, almost, with its classical music humming from the ceiling speakers. Most of tonight’s guests having already seated themselves at the restaurant for the event that started a half hour ago leaves this restroom empty for the bulk of the night. Taehyung paces back to the door and leans his back against it, holding it shut should anyone walk in on him. He tilts his neck side to side with a solid pop and clears his throat—recalling the man’s voice and running those vibrations through his head, he presses the dial on the radio to speak.

“I need a vehicle check—black Aston Martin on level two of the garage, spot B20, for suspicious possession of narcotics,” Taehyung drones into the radio, voice deep and husky, imitating the man’s voice as best as he can. It doesn’t need to be exact, it needs to be persuasive. “That’s level two, spot B20. Driver is Yang Hyun Suk. That’s Yang Hyun Suk.”

The radio beeps, then, “Roger that. We’ll send someone over to check it out.”

He doesn’t waste any more time before stepping out of the dimly lit restroom, swiftly glancing around him and down the hall. Passing behind the security, Taehyung sets the radio on the front desk counters unnoticed and stalks off to the opposite end of the lobby with one last glance towards the entrance.

When he steps out the back door that they'd entered through, Jeongguk is already there on his bike. He hands him the helmet as Taehyung clambers on and drives off into the night.

 

 

Jump to: the hotel.

“Sir, would you please come with me?” says the waitress, earrings dangling long against her shoulders, leaning down to whisper in Hyunsuk’s ear. His wife looks at him curiously. “You’re needed at the front.”

“Is this important?” he says, slightly irate for the interruption, glancing at the round dinner table. The speaker at the front is bidding off surrealism art starting at fifty thousand, and already there are three takers.

“Yes,” she says quietly, nodding at security waiting near the entrance of the hotel’s restaurant.

Hyunsuk frowns and excuses himself, leaning down to whisper in his wife’s ear before following after the waitress and her clicking, short heels.

"So what's this about?" Hyunsuk asks, once he's crossed through the entrance of the restaurant, standing in the main part of the hotel now.

“Sir, we’ve just received word of suspicious possession in your vehicle,” explains one of the guards. “Could you lead us to your car?”

Suspicious?" Hyunsuk huffs, furrowing his brows disbelievingly, the deep lines of his face stretching with his growing aggravation. “There's nothing in my car.”

"Let's make this easy for the both of us and just lead us to your car," the other guard says, unfazed.

“This is bullshit. Waste of my time,” Hyunsuk bristles but follows them towards the entrance of the hotel. “I valeted the car.”

“That’s fine. We know where it’s parked,” the female guard says calmly, gesturing at the valet. “We just need you to get the keys.”

At the valet podium, Hyunsuk hands over the pale green ticket, throwing a glance over his shoulder. Scanning through the day's events, he knows there isn't anything in his trunk. Going to such a public event, he wouldn't risk loading it with goods or bulks of cash because he's not that dumb, if it all, and he's got workers for a reason to guard his money.

“Keys to the Aston Martin," he tells the valet.

“Yes, sir,” the valet on duty bends down, searches through the storage. Plucking out the keys, he hands them over. “Is this the one?”

“How do you not know?”

“I’m sorry, the other attendant on this shift must have valeted your car.”

Hyunsuk presses his lips into a thin line and snatches the keys out of his hand, waving it off. He just wants to get this over with and head back to the event, more out of reputation than for the charity.

Leading him to the second level of the garage, the guards stop in front of the black car parked in B20.

“Please put your hands palms-down on the trunk, facing the car," the man instructs.

“There’s nothing on my body,” Hyunsuk says again, exasperated, reaching up to adjust his cap.

“Please cooperate and put your hands on the car.”

Hyunsuk complies, shaking his head, hoping no passersby witnesses this, him getting a pat down against his Aston Martin. He places his palms flat against the metal of his car and stares straight ahead at the parking identifiers.

“Spread your legs,” the man commands, tapping the back of his thigh. His palms pass quickly up his legs one at a time, up past his waist, ruffling his suit blazer as he goes.

“There, nothing,” Hyunsuk says gruffly over his shoulder. “Are we done here?”

Patting over his suit pockets, the man smooths his hand over the tiny lump there and slides his fingers into the shallow pocket, withdrawing a small, plastic baggie filled halfway with white powder—cocaine.

Dangling the bag in front of him, the man asks, "Can you tell me what this is?"

“What the fuck—” Hyunsuk’s mouth falls open. “That’s—that’s not mine. I swear, that’s not mine! I don't even—”

"Sir, could you pop your trunk?" the man asks, stepping back as the woman comes up behind Hyunsuk to grip his elbow.

"But that isn't m—"

"Please pop your trunk," the guard demands.

Hyunsuk warily unlocks the car and lifts the trunk before the woman is dragging him out of the way, off to the side. He watches nervously, throat dry, already frantically running through a mental list of dealers and buyers that could have set him up. Sanghyun, Jiyong, Seunghyun, Jihoon—

Scanning the dark interior with his flashlight, the guard reaches forward to probe at the leather coat with the butt of the metallic light. At the mounds of cocaine stacked beneath it, he quickly step back to assess the scene. The female guard pulls out her radio.

“I’m gonna have to ask you to lay face down on the ground, hands out in front of you where we can see them,” the man takes a step back, hand reaching behind him under the grey uniform of his suit jacket.

“That isn’t fucking mine!” Hyunsuk panics.

“Sir, I won't ask you again—get down on the ground.

Kneeling on shaky knees, Hyunsuk lays flat on his stomach, over the oil-stained cement of the garage streaked with leftover tire marks. He splays his hands out on the floor. “Someone set me up—”

“Mr. Yang,” the guard tugs at Hyunsuk’s wrists and cages them behind his back. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you—”

Somewhere in the glittering Seoul nightlife, there is a street that sounds with the roar of a motorcycle and the laughter of two blushing boys high off adrenaline.

 

$

 

Standing in front of Hyunsuk’s three-story estate, Jeongguk grins at the orange Lamborghini parked in the massive garage, keys in hand. He twirls them around his finger and whistles.

“Now that’s a reward.”

Breaking and entering into this sleek-walled manor is a straight shot task compared to the elaborate others, inputting codes into dial pads to ensure that none of the alarms went off. There had been locks to pick along the way, cameras to avoid, rooms to search. Eventually they’d found the car keys hanging along the side wall near the walk-in closet and slipped out into the garage, not before taking the Bearbrick from the living room for Hoseok. Early birthday presents to save a trip to the mall.

“Would you like to do the honors?” Jeongguk offers, voice muffled behind the white plastic of his bunny mask, precautionary measures to conceal their identities in the case of any home security cameras scaling the house’s perimeters. He dangles the keys in front of Taehyung.

“I sure as hell can’t ride the Ducati home,” says Taehyung, his own fox mask gleaming dully under the dismal garage lights. He takes the keys.

“But you can ride me at home,” Jeongguk grins.

That, I can.”

Holding down the button on the keys, the driver’s door lifts in one smooth, upswept motion. Jeongguk watches Taehyung lower himself into the seat, palms smoothing over the tight leather of the steering wheel and gripping. Jeongguk leans against the frame, peeking inside the beige, hand-finished interior smelling of pungent foam lamination and plastic. Taehyung twists the keys in the ignition, and the engine roars to life, headlights flickering out onto the pavement ahead.

“I’ve only ever valeted one of these things,” Taehyung says, gaze flitting around, across the LCD display, over the center console and dash. “Still like my Benz SLS more, but I gotta admit—this is pretty nice.”

“Have fun driving it,” Jeongguk says behind his mask, patting the hood and straightening up. He closes the door and leans back in through the window. “Ready to head out?”

“Always ready to head out in a lambo.”

“True,” Jeongguk nods, straightening up and retreating backwards towards his bike. “Follow me, okay?”

“Where to?” Taehyung asks, sticking his head out of the window.

Jeongguk straddles his motorcycle and glances up at the dark sky, slivers of warmth already starting to streak across lavender clouds in their transition into dawn. The night thus far feels unending in a dream-like way, like morning may never come, stuck in this continual cycle of feel-good highs and sweet revenge. Hours dragging on so fleetingly but torpid all the same, he gets the urge to see where this day ends and bleeds into the next. That seamless point where night and morning become one if only in that instant.

Over the sound of his engine, Jeongguk shouts, “You'll see.”

 

 

The most polluted cities are supposed to have the most beautiful sunrises, and at the heart of Seoul, Jeongguk finds that sunrises look best with company.

In this pink, chemical glow, Jeongguk sips from the straw of their shake and hands it over to Taehyung, masks pushed atop their heads from their seats on the edge of the rooftop. Twelve stories high and feet dangling, Jeongguk knocks his ankle against Taehyung’s and imagines champagne clouds beneath his soles.

He says, “So where do we go from here?”

Biting down on the straw, Taehyung squints into the gradient sky. “Anywhere is fine as long—”

“‘As I'm with you’? Stop right there.”

“Just trying to be romantic,” Taehyung nudges his side with a sly smile. “Not like I actually mean any of it.”

“Such an asshole,” Jeongguk laughs off to the side, shaking his head.

“Says you,” Taehyung slips his hand into his to thread their fingers, kisses his shoulder through the fabric of his hoodie. “But you love me.”

“So much.”

A few serene seconds pass in which Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung’s hands are this warm and soft even in the winter, not as hot as Jeongguk's but warm in a way that never gets uncomfortable no matter the surrounding temperature. A perfect kind of moderate. All that trapped heat where their palms collide, Jeongguk basks in the tingling burn.

“Y’know,” Taehyung drops his head on his shoulder and tucks close, mouthing around the red straw. “I've always wanted to go to Japan.”

“Yeah?” Jeongguk hums, watches the sunrise bleed over the dilapidated cityscape. The sounds of morning singing through the air, it's a soothing lull that Jeongguk bakes in. “Guess I'd fit right in with my Honda.”

“Guess you would,” Taehyung raises their joined hands and presses his nose against his palm just because, coral clouds dusting warm across the apples of his cheeks, the tip of his nose, all reflections of his head of hair. “I can see us there.”

“Hm?”

“Imagine us. Pushing through population, like ants,” Taehyung rambles honestly. “Living in that loud, busy human life but not being busy. Like, marinating in the culture, soaking it in. Just coasting, all temporary.”

“There's a lot to do in Japan,” Jeongguk agrees, brushing his thumb back and forth against Taehyung's hand. “Lots of good temporary shit to do.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, turning his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder to look straight at him. “‘Cause Seoul’s always gonna be my second home—”

“Because I’m your first?” Jeongguk finishes again with a scoff, smile so big, and shakes his head. “Remind me to never take you to see the sunrise ever again. Makes your soul too good.”

“You're the one who took me to see the sunrise on a rooftop,” Taehyung emphasizes, dangling the cup in front of him. “With a shake from Burger King, my favorite. Quit trying to be lowkey, you're romantic as fuck. Admit.”

“I'm adventurous,” Jeongguk corrects and sounds so unconvincing while his mind says, you're fuckin’ whipped.

Leaning forward when Taehyung offers him the shake, Jeongguk wraps his lips around the gnawed plastic and sips thick cream consistency from the straw, feels his tongue lose feeling from the cold. He briefly questions what Taehyung’s tongue feels like before realizing that he can find out and kisses him, a particular flavor that Jeongguk latches onto.

“Japan doesn’t sound too bad,” Jeongguk mumbles against the corner of Taehyung’s sugary lips, presses a kiss into the crown of his hair. “Staying lowkey in a busy city. Sounds nice.”

“We could make it work.”

“We could,” Jeongguk nods, something so surreal but real about this moment. This budding escapism. “Anything for you.”

“For us,” Taehyung corrects and ducks his head back down onto Jeongguk’s shoulder.

Staring out at the salmon sky, the swing in his head is empty.

"Yeah," he says. “For us.”

On the safe confines of Jeongguk’s mattress, new slivers of sunlight filter through his blinds across Taehyung’s naked chest as he rocks down on him with a breathy gasp. Straddling his hips, Jeongguk can’t help the choked groan that trickles past his lips, watching Taehyung’s back arch with a harsh shudder. White button down pushed past his shoulders and pooling at his waist, briefs still slung around one ankle, he'd been too eager to shuck them all the way off. But riding so slow, Jeongguk wouldn’t want this any other way.

“Jeongguk,” Taehyung whimpers, bracing flat palms against Jeongguk’s hard chest, shoving him further back into the sheets. He says, “Baby, look at me.”

And he does, looking straight into those hooded eyes that flutter down at him. Jeongguk reaches out to grip his bruised hips, silk beneath his palms, slides a little deeper, a little more desperate. Feeling so warm in this vivid intimacy that makes his chest so full, he almost can’t believe it, this beautiful boy with his gentle voice and his gigantic heart, stuttering his name and licking affection down his throat—this boy is his.

“Taehyung,” Jeongguk grunts, reaching back to pull his hips down. He gasps, “Fuck.”

Rocking down on him at this deliberate pace, soaking up the way Jeongguk fills him so full, Taehyung doesn’t speed up even when Jeongguk chokes out his impending orgasm. Jeongguk smooths his rough palm down Taehyung’s soft belly, smearing the tips of his finger in the precome there, and wraps his fingers around his weeping cock, drags his fist just as slow. Heart blooming in so many hues of red at the broken little whimpers he elicits from Taehyung’s mouth, Jeongguk is only barely hanging on.

Back in that library so many weeks ago, under the stars that winked for them, Taehyung had been right: in a world shadowed by so much darkness, they’d found light in each other. And maybe that’s fate, some universal work of destiny, bringing two lonely, depraved souls together and showing them how to love in some fucked up, immoral way of trust. Maybe that’s natural instinct of humanity to coexist and co-depend, bonds that branch off into multitudes of association. But to Jeongguk, he calls that a saving grace.

“Come for me?” Taehyung exhales, bangs falling to the side when he lifts up with one particularly deep drop of his hips, clenching until heat sparks behind Jeongguk’s eyelids, wild and dizzying.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk’s nod is jerky, pushing up onto his hands into seated position. “You too.”

He nuzzles into Taehyung’s sweaty neck, inhales the scent of fading cologne and musk, loving it so much, that sweet scent of sex that drips from Taehyung’s skin. An intoxicating flavor Jeongguk’s tastebuds cannot get enough of, that Taehyung-taste, lingering on his lips like blanketed comfort. He wants it to last forever.

Taehyung loses his voice when he comes, a silent, full-body shiver that squeezes so tight, Jeongguk following soon after from the force of it. Folding against him, chest heaving in breathless pants, Taehyung trembles all around. He is sun-kissed and he is fragile, and Jeongguk holds him past each sensitive quiver, kisses him until his lungs threaten to burst of the most lovely kind.

“You gotta be at least five,” Taehyung chuckles once they’ve cleaned up, Jeongguk collapsing against him on the bed, so content. “Always doing this shit.”

“Fuck off,” Jeongguk grumbles into his hair. “Just snuggling.”

“But you're huge,” Taehyung says beneath his weight, slapping his back in a meager attempt to get him to move. “Crushes my ribs every time, you realize?”

“Nah. You're just,” Jeongguk reaches down to jab a finger at his stomach. “Just too squishy.”

“And suffocating,” Taehyung whines, trying to wiggle out beneath him.

But now he’s just teasing, and Jeongguk eventually slides off and lies beside him, soaking in the aftermath of his washed out muscles, the drying sweat on his skin. Taehyung rolls onto his stomach, shoulder bumping Jeongguk’s chest when he shifts, this jellyfish lull they’ve spiraled into.

“Talk to me,” Taehyung suddenly hums, sliding his arms under the pillow and resting his cheek over them. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“You want me to talk?” Jeongguk murmurs sleepily. “Words and all?”

“Mhm.”

Jeongguk’s grin is lazy, leaning forward for a peck. “That’s what kisses are for.”

“Come on,” Taehyung urges, smirking. “Just wanna hear your voice before I fall asleep.”

“Who’s the romantic now?” Jeongguk fondly brushes his knuckles up and down Taehyung’s spine, following the elegant curve of his lower back before gliding back up over his protruding shoulder blades, almost possessively where the sunlight touches him. It raises goosebumps on the skin.

“Still you,” Taehyung mutters.

“Only for you,” Jeongguk whispers, watches Taehyung’s eyes flutter shut, the lines of his face softening with the first telltale signs of slumber. He says, “Love you.”

“Me too,” Taehyung rambles through the exhaustion, voice funny and sluggish. “I love you—you and your stupid lopsided mouth when you’re speaking, the way you look pissed when you’re asleep, your stupid nose.”

“Cheesy,” Jeongguk chuckles in the tender space between them. “So cheesy.”

He tucks in close, chin hooking over Taehyung’s shoulder, and presses his palm over the beating heart through his lean back, yearns to cradle the muscle and learn all the patterns of its beating, out of excitement, out of fear, out of sadness. This heart is his home, now, and Jeongguk will protect it like his own.

“Meet me in my dreams, will you,” he whispers against Taehyung’s lips on the cusp of sleep.

Because reality just isn’t enough for this transcendent moment, he’d travel through the subconscious to meet Taehyung in every universe possible.

“I’ll see you there,” Taehyung whispers back and takes his hand.

Here, at the start of a journey, in the rising sun of early morning, Jeongguk loves his all.

 

 

00:00:45

There are sixty seconds to a minute, but the timer always counts down from forty-five.

Yet here, in Tokyo, Japan, Jeongguk is late to the job with his phone buzzing incessantly in the back pocket of his work slacks.

Answering the phone in his haste and nearly dropping it on the pavement in his attempt to retrieve it, Jeongguk says, “‘Sup.”

“How you doin’ kid?” comes Yoongi’s familiar lethargy over the line.

“Doin’ good,” Jeongguk tilts his head and balances his phone against his shoulder, quickly does up his tie. “Just got out of class.”

“Education treating you alright?”

“Like shit,” Jeongguk scoffs, tilting his head back up and gripping the phone. “But I’m just bitching.”

“Art’s a walk in the park next to music theory.”

“Bullshit,” Jeongguk denies, pacing a little faster and slinging his backpack over his shoulder. “Music theory has answers.

“So does art,” Yoongi deadpans. “It’s called acid.”

“Partial truth.”

“All truth. Anyway, shit—how long’s it been since I last saw your face?” Yoongi says, shuffling around on the other end. “Like a year?”

“Almost. Like eight months,” Jeongguk switches his phone to the other hand and slides his round spectacles on over his blue contacts—new disguises, new job, new country. He smooths a palm down the front of his button down to flatten the wrinkles. “Could always visit us.”

In front of the restaurant now, a Bentley zooms by, blasting something Jeongguk can’t make out over the bass. Yoongi, on the other line, perks up.

“The fuck was that?”

“Nothing,” Jeongguk snips.

“What are you doing?”

“I gotta go. I’ll call you back later.”

“Wait a goddamn second, I thought you left town because—”

“Tell the others I said hi—”

Jeon Jeongguk—

“Bye!”

Jogging to the valet stand, Taehyung is already there, blonde and beautiful with his own blue contacts. They’ve got to look a bit different despite being in new territory because working at a five star restaurant always means international guests, and being involved in underground business always means laying low.

“You’re late, loser,” Taehyung teasingly scolds, tossing him his name plate.

“Sorry, class got out a bit late,” Jeongguk catches it and stuffs his shirt in past the waistband of his slacks, throwing his backpack under the podium. He clips on his name tag. “Who’s turn?”

“Yours,” Taehyung says, leaning forward on the podium, handing him a clean valet ticket and sharpie. “Bring back something good.”

“Oh, you mean something like this?” Jeongguk dangles Taehyung’s newest snatch between them, a nine carat ring, radiating beautifully under the sea of fairy string lights overhead. “Not bad.”

Headlights flash across their faces as a car turns in, and Jeongguk glances down the path.

“Payback for that one time?” Taehyung scrunches up his nose cutely. “Thoughtful of you.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “I’m a thoughtful kind of guy.”

“You’re just overpriced and diluted,” Taehyung jokes nostalgically, images of their first meeting flashing through Jeongguk’s floating mind. He says, "Fuckin' Armani bullshit."

“Well, Kim Taehyung,” Jeongguk hops off the curb with a smile, flicking the ring back to him. “I’m glad we get along just fine.”

Being in love with your crime partner, you show up to the job everyday knowing that the hollow in your chest will be filled back up until you’re overflowing at the seams. You touch him in every chance that you can get because he satiates that empty harbor with a vessel that makes you feel sheltered when you’ve felt lost at sea the entirety of your life. You watch him under the moonlight because he glows brighter than the cosmos and lights you like fire in a dark room. You are a set of open arms that only he can fit, because he’s knows it all, and he knows it best. You act as each other’s backbones because that’s what it means to be partners, to be friends, to be lovers.

So what do you do with the last fifteen seconds to the minute?

You kiss him when no one is looking and count down the seconds on his tongue.

Because that’s just how it is.