pour up (drank)
taehyung/jeongguk, various ≫ nc-17 ≫ 41,770 words ≫ sex under the influence of drugs/alcohol, recreational drug use/binge drinking, mentions of hazing
if you can read this, take another shot.
taehyung/jeongguk, various ≫ nc-17 ≫ 41,770 words ≫ sex under the influence of drugs/alcohol, recreational drug use/binge drinking, mentions of hazing
if you can read this, take another shot.
|author’s note: frat!au. this is a comprehensive list of mentioned organizations/terms, this is the ost. setting: la/ktown, warning: frat boys|
The biggest perk of Halloween is that it ages well, like fine wine.
(While Christmas is more like beer, which gets worse and worse as more time passes, until it eventually spoils in the backyard because you ordered five cases of Heineken on Amazon Prime Pantry when you were drunk. You forgot you hate beer, unless it’s in soju bombs. You also forgot that shit can actually go bad, and are reminded of it the hard way.)
But after people get over the obligatory phase in their lives where they decry the childish tradition to dress up as someone they’re not and ask for candy, Halloween becomes exponentially more fun. Maybe there’s the excuse of alcohol—well, there’s definitely the excuse of alcohol—and the fact that college is basically preschool wherein you have no idea what’s happening in class and you miss your mom a lot. Still, there’s nothing quite like becoming someone else in both mind and attire.
In the end, there is something strangely liberating about a holiday where no one will judge you, and in fact expect you to wear something as gaudy and outlandish as you can come up with. Taehyung tries not to remember the year he let Jimin convince him to be the fork to his spoon and he’d gone out to party wearing nothing but duct tape and an Alice band of aluminum foil-wrapped chopsticks for tines on his head. Freshman year of college was and always will be a dark time in his life. Jimin looks back on it fondly.
“I’ll go to any other party but a Halloween party. Fifteen dollars says a freshie is going to throw up on my shoes again.”
“I’m not saying you have to dress up this year, but it’ll be fun,” Jimin said a week to the day. He was at least half a month behind in his lit readings but looked ready to threaten Taehyung with a Powerpoint presentation of why it would be a good idea to go out on Halloween. Which it won’t, but it is wasn’t like Taehyung believed only in good ideas. “Come on, you can’t even use the excuse that the streets are going to be crawling with drunk freshmen because we’re all just going to be in the Lambdas house anyway.”
Ah, yes, the Lambdas party. Lambda Phi Epsilon has never held back for Halloween in the history of Halloweens. It would be Taehyung’s third with them after joining the frat two years ago. Maybe this year he’ll make it out of Halloween being able to recall more than half his weekend.
“It’s true because I’m right, obviously. Besides, Junhong wants to go and you can’t leave your little out in the cold like that. What kind of a big would you be?”
And Jimin must have really thought out his argument, because Taehyung hadn’t had anything to counter him with. Besides, it is true that Taehyung has a responsibility to take his little to a party—Junhong might be a lanky six feet two inches worth of gangly college boy but he’s needed a lot of help getting his toes wet.
So this is how Taehyung currently has his ass parked on the couch in the living room at the Lambdas house on an unusually chilly Friday night in autumn, wearing a red beanie, glasses, and a red-and-white striped sweater. Maybe he’s a little overdressed as but at least he’s warm. Then again, he’s overdressed in relativity to Jimin, who, well.
“Where’s Magic Mike?”
The couch bounces when weight collapses into the cushion beside Taehyung and he holds his drink out of the way to keep it from sloshing over the rim. Hoseok has somehow miraculously detached himself from his boyfriend and is sitting down with Taehyung alone now, taking Junhong’s spot after he’d been roped into a game of king’s cup.
“What the hell are you supposed to be?”
Hoseok looks offended behind his sunglasses before taking them off. “Are you kidding?”
“I’m Zion.T, dumbass,” Hoseok says. “And Hunchul is Crush. I told you this weeks ago. And the fuck are you supposed to be? A gay candy cane?”
“From Where’s Waldo.”
“Well, you’re not doing a very good job of being Waldo, considering I found you in the time it takes Namjoon to break a plate in a china shop, but okay,” Hoseok says. He flicks his head towards the kitchen, where the bar is crowded with a mess of open, half-finished handles and fluorescent neon disposable shotglasses. “Take a shot with me! I haven’t had a chance to drink with you in ages.”
“Yeah, not after you picked up a boyfriend,” Taehyung says, but it’s a good-natured jab. Hoseok and Hunchul fit together in a way none of them could have predicted, as grating and intimidating as Hunchul is—especially beside Hoseok. “And uh, I don’t know where Jimin went actually. He said he wanted to go check out another party with Jongup and Junghak.”
“That gawkish kid? His little?”
“That one. I’m not sure if he actually did, though, I swear I saw him just a couple of minutes ago.” Taehyung holds up a handle of Patrón. “Yeah?”
“Hand me the Jaegermeister, actually.”
“Patrón is eighty proof, I’m not looking to black out tonight,” Hoseok says, sloshing a few drops over the rim of his shotglass as he pours. Color sits high in his cheeks, so Taehyung reasons that he shouldn’t be letting him drink anything stronger than Jaegermeister anyway. “Cheers.”
Plastic clicks against glass when they touch glasses, and Taehyung’s throat sears with heat when he throws the drink back. He’s been nursing soju for most of the night, so the sudden sting of Patrón is strong and unforgiving in his nose.
“How many drinks have you had?” Hoseok asks.
“Not that many. I played some rage cage so...beer, some makgeolli, some soju.”
“Oh, dude.” Hoseok wrinkles his nose. “That’s going to be a bitch of a hangover.”
“I know, I know. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.”
“Well, whatever, at least it’s Saturday tomorrow.” There’s a girl with the standard cat ears and black tights curled up against the cabinets on the kitchen floor, sobbing into a cup clutched to her chest. She’s surrounded by two other girls dressed up as Playboy bunnies, chittering around her like birds. Hoseok sighs, checking his phone with the slightest fumble of fingers. “You want to head over to the KASA house with me? Hunchul says he’s bartending and they just got more drinks.”
“KASA?” Taehyung says. “You literally just said you’re not looking to black out tonight.”
“Well,” Hoseok smiles, “I guess I changed my mind!”
“So is that a yes or a no?”
“It’s a let me ask Jimin and Junhong if they want to come,” Taehyung says. Hoseok brightens. “Can they?”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re with me.” Hoseok pours himself a shot of chase, milking the last drops of Sprite from the gallon bottle. “And I’m with Hunchul.”
Junhong is nowhere to be found. Upon further inquisition Taehyung finds him in the bathroom, patting his pbro’s shoulder awkwardly as his head lolls on Junhong’s shoulder.
“You want to come to KASA with me and Hoseok?”
“Uhm.” He hesitates. “I think I’m good.”
Junhong nods. Taehyung makes him promise to call if he needs anything.
Jimin is easier to find—on the couch that Taehyung had recently vacated, with his arm around Junghak’s shoulders as he sobs about something that Taehyung can’t hear over the music. Trust Jimin to be paired with a teary drunk of a little. He looks up and cranes his head when Taehyung leans down to shout into his ear.
“I’m heading over to KASA.”
“No, I’m going with Hoseok hyung.”
“Oh, good,” Jimin says. He squeezes his hand on Junghak’s shoulder reassuringly at a particularly violent hiccup. “If you’re going to go home with anyone else, text me, okay?”
“I love myself too much to hook up with someone from KASA, but duly noted,” Taehyung says.
“Look, you disappeared for thirty-six straight hours last spring rush and did the walk of no shame at 5 PM. I had to witness Hoseok essentially give himself hemorrhoids and had talk him down from calling campus police. I think I’m allowed to be worried.”
“Oops?” Taehyung shrugs. “But you’ll you get back home okay, right?”
“Yeah, I’m taking him home first, I think he’s done for today,” Jimin says, rubbing soothing circles into Junghak’s back now. “But Sungjae said I should swing by their place so I might head over after I drop this one off.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later!”
The cool air feels good on Taehyung’s face when he gets outside, even if it’s permeated with the smell of weed and cigarettes. It’s been awhile since frat row has been this alive since fall rush, and he throws his arms out and breathes it in.
“And Jimin told me you didn’t want to come out tonight.”
“Park Jimin. Big heart, big ass, big mouth.”
“Why not? The Lambdas Halloween party is always good.”
“If I’m coming out for Halloween, you know I’m not going home without blacking out,” Taehyung says. “And while that’s all in good fun, after all’s said and done you know the kind of hangovers I get.”
“Yeah, only too well.”
“Oops,” Taehyung repeats. “Lucky me I have a roommate who always puts out a gallon of water and ibuprofen for me.”
“You have no sense of self-preservation.”
“A selective lack of self-preservation, thank you,” Taehyung corrects. “I, unlike Jimin, actually realize that cars exist in college towns and don’t just board into oncoming traffic.”
The KASA house is a stone’s throw down from the Lambdas house, but toeing the line between tipsy and thoroughly buzzed, it feels much longer. Of course, they hear it earlier than they see it, the blaring house music and the raucous din of shouting from the second floor patio where KASA always holds their parties.
The girl who opens the door is cute, tiny; she comes up to Taehyung’s chin in a pair of heels. “Who do you know here?” she asks, words, just barely audible over the music, bass turned up so loud that Taehyung thinks he can hear the glass rattling in the window panes.
“They’re mine,” Hunchul says, appearing behind her, and ruffles a hand through her hair. “Took you guys forever, what the fuck. Come on.”
Hoseok lets Hunchul sweep him into his side as Taehyung closes the door behind them, and he makes a limp effort of wiping his shoes on the doormat before following them—the kitchen is the only real source of light in the entire house, just enough illumination for Taehyung to see the glinting eyes of girls still sober enough to register fresh meat.
“Taehyung, what do you want?”
“Hmm.” There’s a fucking zoo’s worth of alcohol spread out over the kitchen counter. “Surprise me.”
“Ooh, you really don’t want to be letting him do that,” Hoseok says. “When I let him surprise me I woke up naked on his couch with a sock over my dick.”
“You take off your clothes when you’re asleep, how the fuck is that my problem,” Hunchul says, as Taehyung guffaws. “And Donghyuk threw up on the only other blanket I had. College hacks.”
“Thanks for looking out for me, hyung.”
“So do you want that surprise, Taehyung?”
“Yeah, go ahead.” He shrugs. “It’s Halloween, I’m at the KASA house. Go hard or go home.”
“I like the way you think.” Hunchul swills the cup before handing it to Taehyung with a self-satisfied smile. “It’s got a lot of things in it, like Hypontiq and shit. I know you like that stuff. The Sprite’ll cover it up.”
An honest surprise. It’s sweet, a mouthful of Jolly Rancher and rash decisions, and Taehyung nods. “It’s good.”
Up until the moment they get to the patio, the music had been muffled, but when Hunchul opens the door at the end of a flight of stairs, it smacks Taehyung in the face. He is way too drunk to be trying to navigate such an advanced minefield. Just by the door, a girl grinds back into the crotch of a guy who’s holding his drink with one hand with his other under her shirt, and Taehyung would be lying if he said he didn’t almost trip over one of their feet.
“You want to play?” Hoseok asks suddenly, and Taehyung looks to him. “BP. Be my partner!”
“I’m not that good, though.”
“It’s fine, Hunchul’s side is winning, anyway. We’ll play on his.”
“What,” Taehyung says inarticulately. “There are sides?”
“What the fuck?”
“You should see when they play Snappa,” Hoseok says. “There was an actual fight.”
“Fine,” Taehyung says. “Don’t blame me if we lose, though.”
“In what world do I blame you for anything,” Hoseok says, rolling his eyes. “Come on, we’re up.”
Their opponents are intimidating. Taehyung doesn’t play much beer pong to begin with, preferring games like rage cage or king’s cup, and after that drink of Hypnotiq and whatever the fuck Hunchul mixed in, the world has turned into gentle tide beneath his feet. Their opponents are intimidating, and the one in the police costume is hot and intimidating, and the girl is hot and intimidating and tall. Their opponents are intimidating, and Taehyung has to grip the edge of the table to steady himself. Intimidating.
“Hey, you okay?” Hoseok asks. “You want to sit this one out?”
The honest answer is yes, but the guy on the other end of the table—the officer—is giving Taehyung this scrutinizing once over, as if sizing him up. Doubting him, probably. Taehyung will take that shit from girls, sure, but fuck this guy. Taehyung isn’t a drinker and doesn’t look like much of one, either. He knows. The expression on his face is bland for the most part, but that has to be a sneer on his mouth what with the way he’s looking down the bridge of his nose. The girl beside him is smiling, and she’s still way too tall, and her lips look like a smear of blood on her face in the dim sodium lamplight.
“No, I’ll play.”
“I got this, hyung.”
“All right.” The ping pong ball that Hoseok drops into his palm is sticky and damp. “Any house rules you guys play by?”
“Bitch cup, death cup, rollback, on fire, and one celeb shot,” the boy says. “Everything else is standard.”
Taehyung doesn’t remember much of the process of the game—it’s blurred, a dreamy fuzz of music and shadows under the streetlights, but he does remember getting out. He and Hoseok are only down to seven, maybe six cups, and their opponents have what looks like only three or four. Taehyung didn’t come to university count numbers, especially not when he’s drunk. The girl got one of their cups out, and Taehyung had it in his hand to drink from, firmly, so he wouldn’t drop it. Just as he was bringing it to his lips to finish off the last few mouthfuls, the guy aims his hand up unnaturally high, orange ping pong ball poised like a grenade in his fingers.
Then he tosses, and Taehyung feels a gentle splash spatter up into his face.
“Shit!” Hoseok shouts, just as the people gathered around the BP table erupt into hysterics—some groaning, some cheering drunkenly. Taehyung can barely understand what’s happened, bringing the cup away from his lips only to see the ball bobbing at the surface of the beer, sticky with foam.
“Death cup, dude,” the guy shouts. “Automatic defeat.”
That is what actually happens on Halloween.
Taehyung’s memory, as it seems, shorts out just before BP, and he wakes up with only an inkling of recollection as to what events transpired after he threw back Hunchul’s House Surprise. He also wakes up with cotton mouth and a headache that makes his skull feel like it’s made of steel shrapnel, but all in all, he would say it was a successful night. He’s in his own bed, he’s got his pajamas on (good job, Past Drunk Taehyung), and the spotless carpet means he didn’t throw up in the middle of the night over the edge of his bed. Impressive for a Halloween.
Jimin is still asleep in his own bed, facing away from Taehyung on his stomach. He hadn’t gotten back by the time Taehyung had, and he does recall vaguely hoping Jimin would be okay if he did go to Sungjae’s, and that he’d text him in the morning if he hadn’t returned.
Which reminds Taehyung he should probably get the fuck up, locate his phone, and delete whatever he might have posted to his Snapchat story from last night, before the rest of his contacts wake up from a night of partying to see what kind of shame everyone else engaged in. Sitting up and standing means immediate throbbing in his temples, but it becomes obvious that the hangover is the least of Taehyung’s troubles.
As a rule, Taehyung never goes to bed without charging his phone—no matter how drunk or faded he is. Sometimes there’s a valiant attempt of it. Once Taehyung tried to charge an actual apple fruit and wondered why his phone was fit so comfortably in his hand that day as he tried to ram the USB cable into it and decided it was a lost cause until the morning.
Now, though, his phone isn’t anywhere to be found. It’s not even in the general vicinity of where he usually leaves it, amidst the granola bar wrappers, empty water bottles, and other miscellaneous paraphernalia making up half-foot deep layer of mulch covering the entire surface of his desk.
In his achy, hungover haze, Taehyung spots Jimin’s phone where it lies facedown by the dark pool of his pants, like he’d dropped it there last night without even noticing. If Taehyung is lucky, and if he recalls correctly, his ringtone should be on. All he needs to do is open up emergency dial and figure out whether or not his phone is even in the room.
The floor is already warming where a patch of sun tiptoes over the carpet, and Taehyung sits down with a crunch of notebook paper as he dials his own number. He holds Jimin’s phone to his ear and waits. The ring of the call tone grates against his temples as he listens, hoping someone will pick up.
And, across town, the cheery lilting melody of Marimba at full volume crashes down upon the roof of Jeongguk’s dreams.
The sound comes from the floor. Jeongguk wakes up feeling like a pizza crust that’s been forgotten and left in the box overnight on top of the microwave, body tight and grungy after having fallen asleep in his costume. The ringtone is not one he recognizes. Suwoong’s phone is a cute little tinkle, Juhyeon has something that sounds like crickets, which makes it absolutely fucking hilarious when it goes off in moments of silence, and Junhwe, obviously, has a ringtone that blares “OH SHIT (oh shit oh shit),” making it no less funny when it rings in the middle of class—but none of them have this default iPhone ringtone that’s interrupting Jeongguk’s hangover coma that shouldn’t even be broken until early evening.
“I’m trying,” he slurs. It comes out sounding more like a grunt that mold would make if mold could talk, and Jeongguk essentially slumps facedown onto the floor in an effort to find the offending device. It’s a futile attempt, really, considering the amount of shit on the floor post-Halloween turnup, but through sheer force of will, Jeongguk’s hand encloses around a vibrating piece of metal just as it shuts the fuck up and falls silent. He groans, dropping his head facedown to the hardwood floor—he hopes it’s tacky from spilt alcohol and not, ugh, vomit—and lies where he’s fallen.
Then serene calm falls back over the house, for all of ten seconds at best, until the phone starts ringing again.
“Turn it off!”
Ther chorus of dissent is joined by several other voices now, all cranky, and Jeongguk pries his sleep-sealed eyes open this time to thumb at the volume switch on the side of the phone. His chin thunks on the floor where he rests it, squinting in the crisp light of the autumn morning. Jiminie says the contact name.
“Jimin,” he mutters. He has to know at least at least three, to varying degrees; Park Jimin, the girl in APhiO that Namjoon had mentioned, who never seems to not be smiling. Shin Jimin, his grand-grand...grand-big, a lineage stemming down from Jimin, to Hunchul, to Jeonyul, and finally Jeon Jeongguk. Jeongguk’s only met her a few times, and he has a feeling he was drunk for most, if not all of those times. And that other Park Jimin that Jeongguk has heard of, perhaps once or twice, from Lambdas. Or Pineapples, one or the other.
“Hey. You all right?”
This is the first kind voice Jeongguk’s heard all morning. Granted, his morning started about five minutes ago, but at least it’s not someone barking at him to turn off a phone that’s not even his. He groans low in his throat.
“Yeah, uh-huh,” it continues, softness gone out of it now, and Jeongguk grunts when a hand comes down to pat him—smack him, more like—in the small of his back in what he guesses is supposed to be encouragement, but it really makes his stomach lurch something horrible. Halla has no mercy after she confirms he’s not going to throw up, at least not immediately. Sometimes he wishes he picked a softer best friend but he somehow, the idea of finding someone that has the nerve to give him the shit Halla does is a far-fetched one. It’s a trade-off he doesn’t mind living with, anyway. “You want an Advil? You need water. And you need to shower, dude.” Fabric rustles over Jeongguk’s face as she leans over to pluck the phone from his hand. “Whose is this?”
“Don’t know,” Jeongguk says, turning his head so he faces her. “Started ringing so I turned it off.”
“Missed call, Jiminie, puppy emoji,” she reads aloud. “Mi. ‘You up, come over, I’m wet, winking with tongue emoji, water drops emoji—”
“Oh my God, shut up,” Jeongguk says. “I don’t need you to read someone else’s Netflix and chill texts out loud to me.”
“Do we know any Jimins? Jimin unnie, I guess.”
“I’ll just put it up on Free & For Sale for someone to tag,” Jeongguk says, heaving himself off the floor and sitting with his back against the couch. Halla, like him, is still in her costume, albeit wearing a cardigan over her phenomenally short crop top and high waisted shorts. She even still has her platform heels on, and looks like she just got ready to go out moreso than she just got up from a night of partying. “What happened last night?”
“Up to when do you remember,” she asks, not even looking at him as she takes cute selfies to add to this complete stranger’s camera roll.
“I remember getting here,” Jeongguk supplies helpfully.
“God. It’s like that time when we were at Yonsei for the summer session, and all you remember of the first weekend was going to Club Octagon, and then waking up.”
“For fuck’s sake. Give me back the Beats Junhwe and I got for your birthday, I’m going to go buy you a body cam instead for nights like this. Or a GoPro.”
“No, I like the Beats!”
“Aw, really? I fucking told Junhwe you’d like the red ones better, I told him, he’s so stupid—”
“But seriously,” Jeongguk says, reaching for a stray water bottle on the floor. “What happened? Okay, okay, I remember up until—first few rounds of BP, I guess. I don’t really remember after Hunchul gave me those soju bombs.”
“Hmm. You played a lot of BP with Yura, you guys made out a lot in front of everyone, which I guess was okay, since we were all drunk enough to not care at that point. Not that I was there to see.” She lowers the phone, thinking. “Some of Hunchul’s boyfriend’s friends showed up, then some freshmen. They played a couple rounds against you. You really need to stop playing with your food, Jeongguk.”
“Letting the opposing side think they’re winning, then death cupping them?” She shakes her head. “Cold.”
“Damn, really? Death cup?” Jeongguk laughs. “I’m impressed by myself. Good job, me.”
“Then you and Yura left after you guys wiped the floor with the freshmen, and then I didn’t see you guys for the rest of the night.” She shrugs. “I don’t know if you got laid or not.”
“Nah, I’ve got all my clothes on,” Jeongguk says, tipping his head back to empty the bottle.
“Oh right, no. I remember. She threw up, Seolhyun was with in the bathroom with her when I needed to go pee. She took her home afterwards.”
“That’s good,” Jeongguk says, running a hand through his hair and yawning. His hair is stiff with gel and hairspray. “God, I have to shower.”
“Go home and shower,” she says. “Bathroom’s nasty as fuck. Come back and clean later.”
“Okay,” Halla says, getting to her feet and handing the rogue phone back to him.
There’s nothing quite like doing the walk of no shame home with your best friend on November first, when the rest of the town is doing the same thing. It’s quite nice, in fact, to actually appreciate some costumes in daylight, borderline sober, because Jeongguk really has to hand it to the girls who will brave the cold to look hot.
It isn’t until mid-afternoon that Jeongguk finally gets his life together. KASA house parties sap energy out of everyone in attendance, and Jeongguk is hardly an exception, after he and Halla are showered, she just lies in Suwoong’s bed texting Jaein as Jeongguk tries to get a good picture of the phone for a Free & For Sale Post.
“Should I take a picture with the lockscreen notifications?”
“Easier to identify that way,” Halla says.
“But the Netflix and chill texts, though.”
“I mean,” Halla says, looking at Jeongguk upside-down. Suwoong’s A$AP Rocky poster is permanently wrinkled where she props her feet every time she comes and hangs out in Jeongguk’s room, and she keeps promising him she’ll get him a new one, but that’s been a year-long project with no new developments. “At least make the missed call from the Jimin visible. Someone who has an emoji next to their name, who makes actual calls, probably already knows the owner of the phone doesn’t have their phone anymore.”
“Hmm.” Jeongguk taps the screen of his own phone to focus the camera, and snaps the photo. “You’re right.”
“Mhmm,” Halla says, going back to texting.
party too hard at the kasa house last night? missing your phone? pm me if it’s yours!
p.s. sorry you missed out on a hookup
Jeongguk attaches the photo and hits post, watching the little loading bar. The post drops down into the feed, and he closes his laptop.
“It is done,” he says, falling back into his own pillows. “Fuck. I really don’t want to go back and clean.”
“Makes two of us,” Halla says. “Hey, maybe if we pay Suwoong and Jaein, they’ll do our share.”
“Well, Suwoong might,” Halla laughs. “Maybe we should just hang out here until someone calls out our asses and we have no choice.”
The afternoon passes by quietly like that; unproductive, sleepy, with the ghosts of responsibility breathing down their backs with the onslaught of midterms on the horizon. The next time Jeongguk is aware of his surroundings, it’s nearly evening, and he’s alone.
The ping of his phone had woken him.
Jeongguk sits up, opening his Facebook app. First he sees the comments on his post in the forum:
and then he shoots back to Taehyung,
Jeongguk enters it in, and sure enough, the phone unlocks. Not that he didn’t believe this Taehyung, but he just wants to mess with him a little. The wallpaper is cute, one of what Jeongguk assumes is a Lambdas pledge class.
Jeongguk laughs, pressing the home button on Taehyung’s phone again and swiping up until the camera loads. Okay, maybe the message about the nudes had been a dirty move (but seriously, Jeongguk only did see a couple of harmless selfies and a whole slew of textbook pictures, so his conscience is clear, technically), but this is just for laughs.
come the message soon after, as Jeongguk is just starting to wonder if Taehyung got lost. He decides to pull a tank top on at the last minute. It may be sweltering still, a sticky purple evening bookended with the sound of crickets, but meeting strangers shirtless is a bit much even for him.
“Thanks,” says Taehyung when Jeongguk finally opens the front door, holding his phone out to him. “I woke up and panicked this morning, I’m so glad you found it.”
“No problem,” Jeongguk says, even though it was yes problem, he got drunkenly yelled at to turn it off. Taehyung has a warm face with a mouth that looks like it’s smiling even when it’s not, and he’s tall—not that his profile picture on Facebook could have given that away. It’s one of him smiling at the camera in some kind of stage makeup with a girl that Jeongguk can only now guess must be a lot taller than most he’s known. “That Jimin really gave me a rude wake up call this morning.”
“Oh, shit. Sorry, that was me. I was calling from his phone to see if it was in our room.”
“Really? Whatever, it’s chill.”
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, something spurring him to speak up just as Taehyung is taking the steps back down to the sidewalk from the porch. He looks back over his shoulder, a humid breeze picking his bangs up with a flutter. “Did I meet you last night, or anything?”
“Did you?” Taehyung says. “Maybe. I don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember either,” Jeongguk says, laughing sheepishly. “What were you dressed up as?”
“That’s the one,” Taehyung says. “What about you?”
“I was a police officer. I was at the BP table for a while.”
“Then maybe we did meet,” Taehyung says, a quirk coloring the corner of his lips. “Anyway, thanks again!”
And he doesn’t see Jeongguk sober, not for a while. A while long enough to convince him that their encounter with each other was nothing more than a happy accident, or a moment in time.
The next time he sees Jeongguk at all, however, is the very next week at KASA. Sungjae invited them to his place after the soccer game against their biggest rival school (which they won four to three, so naturally, turnup was in order)—and after having pre-gamed that, Taehyung is sufficiently fucked up by the time they make their rounds from the APhiO house, to the Lambdas house, even making a pitstop at aKDPhi, and eventually to KASA. In their defense, KASA never seems to run out of alcohol.
It’s quieter today, if that’s even a sound level achievable by the KASA house. The second floor patio is less crowded than usual; the BP game isn’t nearly as wild as it was last weekend. The living room, instead, is crammed with what Taehyung swears is probably the entirety of the club.
“Who do you know here?” asks the boy who opens the door. His hair is a metallic shade of white platinum, styled out of his face and Taehyung fights down the urge to pet it. “All of you?” He gives their group a once over. “You have any girls with you?”
“I know Hunchul,” Taehyung says. “And Hoseok, tell them Taehyung’s here.”
“They didn’t come tonight.”
“What?” Taehyung frowns. “Well, I know them.”
“Everyone knows Hunchul and Hoseok.” Oh, my God. Why is this bastard being so difficult, Taehyung thinks drunkenly. He’s still about two bad decisions away from petting his hair; also, the guy’s pretty hot, but flattery definitely won’t get them inside.
The boy pauses, looking like he’d just been about to close the door in their faces. “You know Jeongguk?” he says skeptically.
“Oh yeah, I know, he’s,” Taehyung points at himself, and into the darkness inside the house. “He’s my friend.”
“Dude, you’re really drunk. Go home.”
“Call him out here,” Taehyung says. “You don’t believe me, right? Tell Jeongguk to get his ass out here, he’ll say he knows me.”
Somewhere in the back of Taehyung’s head, a voice of reason is hitting the panic button and screaming about what a bad idea this is. The voice of alcohol, however, is telling the voice of reason to relax and kindly STFU. The chances Jeongguk will recognize him at all are slim to none, especially considering Taehyung technically owes him instead of the other way around.
“Hey, Halla! Tell Jeongguk to get over here,” the boy says to a girl that barely comes up to his shoulder, as he pushes the door back wider so that he can lean back to keep it open.
“Someone says he knows him.”
She vanishes back into the darkness, and within a few minutes Jeongguk appears in the doorway. He’s dressed down today, and his outfit straight up gives Taehyung a headache—tight jeans, turquoise Diamond Supply Co. tank top. It hangs loose around his frame, but he’s big enough that it fills out; his arms are thickly toned, one of them looped around the shoulders of the girl that had gone off to extract him from the dregs of the party. The other day Taehyung had been so focused on retrieving his lost phone, so relieved to simply get it back, he hadn’t really taken a good look at him.
He’s hot, unfairly so, and Taehyung goes from wanting to pet the blond guy’s hair to wanting to run a hand down Jeongguk’s arm. Make that one bad decision away from doing it.
“What is this,” Jeongguk asks. “And where have you been all evening, Junhwe?”
“I just got here. This Taehyung says he knows you.”
Jeongguk looks from Junhwe to Taehyung. His eyes are bloodshot. For several heartbeats, his face is expressionless, and Taehyung prepares himself for the ultimate letdown.
“Yeah, I know him. Don’t be a bully, Junhwe.”
Taehyung tries to communicate some sort of thanks through his eyes when they’re let inside, but as soon as the door closes, Jeongguk yanks him into the kitchen and turns around with a frown on his face.
“Dude, don’t do that again,” Jeongguk says. “I wasn’t about to say I didn’t know you in front of all those people—but I’m sorry, I have no fucking idea who you are.”
“We met before!” Taehyung says. “Remember? You gave me my phone back last weekend after Halloween.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. Then, “Oh!” and he drags out the syllable this time, like the first had just been a noise of reply without understanding. “Shit. Really? Sorry, it was dark, I couldn’t see your face. What’s your name again?”
“Right, right. Shit, sorry. Nice to see you again, Taehyung.” Jeongguk holds out his hand, and Taehyung shakes it. It’s warm. “Sorry, I’m like, really fucking high right now. So I apologize for. You know,” he waves his hand vaguely, as if trying to snatch the right word out of the air. “Yeah.”
“Yeah, no, of course,” Taehyung replies. “Same.” High, drunk. Close enough.
“You want to come take a hit?”
So Taehyung finds himself sitting down on the couch beside Jeongguk, a tight fit beside the girl who had gone to fetch him. Halla, Junhwe had called her. She’s texting someone, face lit with the illumination from her phone.
“Here.” The mouthpiece is polished, ribbed wood tipped with lipstick-stained silver. Taehyung takes it from Jeongguk’s hands, running his fingers over it to wipe it away. It must be from the girl that sits on Jeongguk’s other side, the one he has an arm around now. Vaguely does Taehyung remember her—a pale face with the spot of deep red of her lips. She’s whispering in Jeongguk’s ear now, and Jeongguk chuckles at something Taehyung can’t hear.
Whatever KASA is smoking tonight is sweet and pungent, a mix of vanilla and watermelon that punches Taehyung in the throat. He can’t quite figure out which flavor overpowers the other; perhaps one is only the remnants of the last session, but Jeongguk looks at him expectantly when he coughs and hands it off.
“How is it?”
“Good,” Taehyung says, coughing again. The sugary sweetness of hookah is strange in his mouth when he’s more accustomed to the smell of weed. “I like it.”
“Nice, I’m glad,” Jeongguk says, smiling. “Glad you got to try it tonight.”
Taehyung doesn’t stick around for too long. After a while, the girl that Taehyung assumes is Jeongguk’s Girlfriend© stands up, tugging at his hand until he follows. It doesn’t make sense for Taehyung to stay here on this couch now without Sungjae, who had thrown himself into a game of rage cage the second after they were let in.
“You’re the one whose phone woke up the entire KASA house last weekend, right?”
Taehyung doesn’t understand where the words come from right away, until Halla looks away from her phone. “Kim Taehyung?”
“Oh. Yeah, that’s me.”
“Don’t lose it again,” she says. “Because he’s probably going to get laid tonight and I don’t think the rest of our house is as nice as he is.”
Rewinding this story takes him a couple steps back to this morning. Thanks to Sunday Funday, Jeongguk wakes up with a headache, tells himself he needs to get his life together as he does every Monday morning like clockwork, and brushes his teeth while trying to piece together last night using only Snapstories.
“Halla, what the fuck,” he yells through a mouth of foam when he actually chances a look at their campus Snapstory. “Did you take this?”
She looks over his shoulder at the short-lived but very real ten second video of Jeongguk tilting his face towards Yura’s as she leans in, blowing a thick stream of smoke into his mouth from the hookah pipe. Jeongguk at least remembers this part—he had smiled, sat back, and exhaled it in a cloud afterwards. This is immediately followed by a picture of a dog captioned tfw hungover and you’ve got a midterm on monday and that is followed with a white dude with shades, making a fingergun at the camera. ayy girl in the hookah shotgun vid says the typed caption, hmu says the sloppy handwritten red text below. The saga ends with a group selfie of at least five APhi girls fingergunning the camera too, GUY IN THE HOOKAH VID THOUGH
“Oopsie?” she says, sounding unrepentant.
All of which makes Jeongguk late. Jeongguk cannot afford to be late to Intro to CS II. Every single week is a quiz in lecture. One quiz is five questions. There are ten quizzes worth 5% each. One question off means an entire percent knocked off his final grade.
Jeongguk cannot afford to be late to Intro to CS II, and yet the curious thing about the world is that it always decides in the time that you are in a rush to work against you. It’s unsafe, he knows, to be weaving in and out of high pedestrian traffic now because Jeongguk had left their house late, but he decides that Sector 9 did not design their longboards for safety.
The engineering department is on the opposite side of campus, and to get to it, Jeongguk has to pass social sciences, chemistry, art, theater. He almost makes it, too, until the last moment when he speeds his ride up in an attempt to beat an enormous throng of parents and high school students being led through the walkway by a tour guide.
That is when he hears Taehyung sing.
It comes from up high, in an almost terrible cliche of the chorus of singing angels—but Jeongguk looks up to see Taehyung on the second-floor balcony walkway of the performing arts center, leaving one of the theaters with a girl. They must have just finished practice of some sort, for something, because she’s still singing to herself. When Taehyung sees the ready-made, impromptu audience, he picks up where she trails off.
Everyone stops to stare, Jeongguk included. He never would have imagined that Taehyung’s voice could do what it’s doing right now—sure, Taehyung’s voice is a lot deeper than he had expected from that face, but this? The acoustics of open space are poor to nonexistent at best, yet it rings out enough for the tour group below to hear, but not so loudly that it smothers the voice of his partner. It has the quality and confidence of someone who has been practicing his singing for years now, and the image of Taehyung framed in the chilly November sun, singing with a smile, is so surreal that Jeongguk can’t tear his eyes away.
Well, the catch here is that Jeongguk stares, but he never actually comes to a stop. Moving board, late to Intro to CS II, quiz that the future of his life and well-being depends on, he hadn’t thought to stop his board. One of the front wheels catches on the uneven sidewalk tile that Jeongguk usually takes care to swerve away from. In one moment he’s still upright, and in the next, his face is smacking cement.
“Hey, are you all right?”
Someone is helping Jeongguk up before he can even begin catching the breath that was knocked from his lungs, and he wheezes as he gets to his feet. It’s totally attractive and not at all embarrassing. The girl who hands his rogue board back to him is at least so tall that Jeongguk at first looks right into her boobs; she’s a volleyball player, understandably, already wearing kneepads with her blond hair tied neatly into braids.
“Yeah, thanks,” he mutters, not meeting her eyes.
“You got a little blood on your lip there, homie.”
Jeongguk could have literally lost an arm in that fall just now and he would not give a shit. He’s so mortified that the only thing on his mind is to get the fuck out of here. “Okay, thanks again,” he manages, takes off at a jog, and hops back onto his board when he drops it onto the cement. He risks one more accident to look over his shoulder, and Taehyung finally finishes his number to wild applause from the tour group below. Jeongguk would clap, until he looks down and realizes that his palms are bruised.
They say that falling in love is hard on the knees, but never did they say anything about taking a computer science quiz with aching hands.
Yura texts at midnight.
Jeongguk expects it. She’s been complaining about her East Asian Globalization midterm for weeks now, mostly complaining for the sake of complaining, but a class with a grade weight of fifty-fifty between the midterm and the final is unkind enough in its own right, and Jeongguk picks up the text with a wry smile.
“Booty call?” Suwoong asks. His studying, on the other hand, is going well, if one would call watching a YouTube video of how to make chicken-shaped dinner rolls well.
“I guess,” Jeongguk says, replying to Yura’s
“It’s cold as fuck outside. It might make your dick shrink.”
“Shut up,” Jeongguk snorts.
“I can’t believe you’re asking me that question. You basically have someone to hit up anytime you want for anything you want and you’re asking me if you should go.”
“Whoa, wrong though,” Jeongguk says. “We do not hit each other up for anything except,” Jeongguk pauses to ferociously slam his right index finger into the circle of his left palm.
“Seriously,” Jeongguk says. “I’m pretty sure she’s gonna drop me soon anyway.”
“What?” This actually makes Suwoong look up from the chicken bread rolls. “What are you talking about?”
“I told Halla this,” Jeongguk says.
“Oooh, that’s cold,” Suwoong says. “Talking like what?”
“Talking like she actually likes him,” Jeongguk says. “I’m happy for her, I guess.”
“I know, but I guess because she’s so averse to the idea of actually liking someone that I don’t think she’ll ever speak up about it,” Jeongguk says. “Anyway, see you later.”
“See you later.”
If Jeongguk is lucky, he’ll be back before two AM. Yura opens the door and she’s already in only a too-big jacket and boyshort undies, and it looks like the schedule will be an early one tonight.
“Hey, you,” he says, when she pulls him in to kiss. It’s weird to taste Yura’s mouth without the lipstick. “Whose jacket did you steal this time?”
“It’s some asshole’s from Zetas,” she says, reaching up to her throat and pulling the zipper down as Jeongguk thumbs the band of her boyshorts. “Mmm. He sucked.”
“Yeah?” The apartment is quiet, and Jeongguk assumes that Yura stripping down in the living room means her housemates aren’t home. “How so?”
“I don’t understand what it is with guys,” she says, helping him pull his tshirt over his head. “Clits aren’t fucking buttons. You can’t smash it with your thumb and expect anything to happen.”
Jeongguk laughs in the back of his throat when she climbs over him in her bed, which is more laundry than bed. “Jonghyun does you right, then?”
“So right,” she says, palming his cock through his boxers. “But you’re not too bad.”
Yura doesn’t talk much about hooking up with her other hot boytoy tonight. Jeongguk can feel it in the way she kisses him that there’s something about Jonghyun that sits in her belly like a stone. She doesn’t touch him like she used to, not all of her is there, and when she looks at him she sees right through him. It makes Jeongguk sad, not because he wants her to see him. It makes him sad to know that she won’t speak up for something she wants so much, and he knows she’ll shut him down the second he tries to convince her to reach out.
Jeongguk moves first, afterwards. Yura has her back to him as she texts someone, nails clicking against the screen of her phone rhythmically.
“Leaving?” she says, not moving when she hears the clink of Jeongguk’s belt fastening.
“Yeah. I have studying to do.”
“Alright. See you.”
Jeongguk can quite literally sense her entire body tensing, and she’s lying on the opposite side of her bed. “What,” she says tightly.
“I know we’re just FWB,” he says, sticking his arms through his shirt sleeves, then hooking the shirt over his head. “But I don’t...think you should do this to yourself.”
“Okay,” is all she says. To be fair, Jeongguk isn’t too hot in this department either, but if he gets any more specific she might just close the door in his face completely.
He sees himself out, throwing a “see you later,” over his shoulder. The wave Yura gives him is half-hearted, bored, almost, and Jeongguk ponders upon the utmost tragedy of falling for someone you have sworn not to.
Lambdas has to stock up its alcohol stash for the crossing next month. December is still some weeks away, but the senior brothers have been around long enough to know that the idea of rationing out their current inventory until then is both laughable and impossible, so Taehyung finds himself at Alcohol You Later on the corner on a Wednesday night at nine.
“Party this weekend?” the cashier asks out of duty rather than in interest as Taehyung unloads an entire cartful of handles onto the conveyor belt. The Smirnoffs run into the UVs with a clang, and Taehyung laughs.
“Nah, it’s just for a frat.”
“Big event, huh,” says the girl, rolling the bottles over the scanner. “A guy just earlier today rolled out with half the soda in stock for chase, I assumed.”
“Crossing events are soon for plenty of houses, though,” Taehyung says, watching as the price skyrockets in the register screen. Hoseok better reimburse him for this. “So it could have been someone else.”
“Have fun,” she says, handing him his receipt. It curls down to Taehyung’s knees and he takes care to fold it up neatly before shoving it into his pocket and grimaces at the prospect of lugging all of his across the street to where his car is parked. This is three basketfuls of handles and Taehyung’s upper body strength is noodly at best, and he promptly runs into someone wearing a dark sweater standing directly outside the entrance.
“Hey.” Jeongguk’s eyebrows disappear into his hair at the sight of Taehyung’s burden. “Loaded weekend, huh?”
“Frat stuff,” Taehyung says. He puts down the baskets, arms sore already. “What are you doing standing here?”
“Deciding what I want to get for our weekend.”
“I still have to shoulder tap people,” Jeongguk says. “Sophomore.”
“Oh.” It’s Taehyung’s turn to raise his eyebrows. Jeongguk looks like he’s Taehyung’s age, at least, perhaps pushing senior even. It’s hard to say when there are freshmen like Seungkwan, who look like they recently just graduated from the fifth grade. He glances into the windows, filled with stacks upon stacks of handles and racks to the ceiling. “You want me to get something for you?”
Jeongguk slants his gaze from the windows to Taehyung’s face. “What?” he asks, as if not comprehending Taehyung’s question.
“Handles. Which ones do you want? I accept cash or Venmo.”
“I don’t have Venmo or cash,” Jeongguk says, baffled. “Wait, you don’t have to, though. There are plenty of people I can shoulder tap, just not at the moment.”
“Just an offer,” Taehyung shrugs. He reaches down for his baskets, only to be beaten by Jeongguk’s hands closing around the handlebars.
“I’ll help you carry these, and you can count that as repayment?” says Jeongguk hopefully. Taehyung gives him this look that’s equal parts bitch are you fucking kidding and you tried until Jeongguk backpedals.
“Okay, I’m pretty broke. But after my grant money goes into effect at the end of the month, I can pay you back in increments. How much is two handles of Captain Morgan? Forty-ish, okay. So I’ll help you carry these to wherever you’re going, and. Forty dollars, that’s ten Starbucks. Uhh, like eight bobas? I’ll buy you eight bobas for two handles of CMo. Or one CMo, one Fireball.”
“You really want that alcohol right now, don’t you.”
Jeongguk shrugs, grinning sheepishly, and suddenly his face looks a lot younger. “KASA,” he says, and this is the fairest, most concise explanation Taehyung needs.
Eight bobas is honestly not a bad deal. Taehyung considers this barter for moment before he says, “Done.”
“Really?” Jeongguk smiles wider. “So you’re down?”
“How are you going to get them to me?” Taehyung says.
“Well,” Jeongguk says. “If I’m in the area of Half and Half, I’ll hit you up?”
It’s a fair trade. Expecting delivery is a bit much between two broke college students, even though the chances of Jeongguk actually remembering and following through with this deal don’t look particularly good. He supposes he also owes Jeongguk a little for returning his phone. “Okay,” Taehyung agrees. “You owe me eight bobas for this.”
If Jeongguk struggles with the weight of the handles, he doesn’t show it. He picks up the other two baskets, one with the largest bottle of Seagram, and still walks with a bounce in his step beside Taehyung as he leads them to the parking lot across the street as if he’s carrying down pillows and not three trips to the emergency room in the form of bottled liquid.
“This is me.” Taehyung’s car beeps as it unlocks. “Thank you.”
“Yep,” Jeongguk says.
“What do you study?” Taehyung asks after he slams the trunk closed.
“And you still have time to party and go to the gym?” Taehyung doesn’t mean to sound so shocked, but still.
“I haven’t slept for five days.”
Taehyung chuckles, but his laughter trails off when Jeongguk doesn’t smile.
“Please don’t tell me you’re serious.”
“I’m kidding,” Jeongguk says. “Kind of.”
“I admire anyone in STEM,” Taehyung says. “I could not fuck with that workload.”
“You were in STEM once?”
“Who wasn’t?” The bell and mistletoe hanging from the closer on the liquor store door jingles when Jeongguk pushes it open. “It’s a rite of passage for practically every entering freshman to have been in STEM at some point before switching out.”
“So do you enjoy music now?”
“Yeah, I—” Taehyung frowns, and Jeongguk doesn’t seem to realize his own slip-up until he looks towards Taehyung and sees his expression.
“Oh, I,” Jeongguk fumbles with his words, “saw you.”
“You saw me?”
“The other day, when you were singing on the balcony with that girl. I passed by at the time.”
“Oh!” Taehyung smiles. “You were there?”
“I was passing through.”
“You weren’t that guy that ate shit on his board behind the tour group, were you,” Taehyung says, and it’s a throwaway jibe—but Jeongguk actually reddens. “Wait, you’re fucking with me. You were?”
“I mean, you’re good,” Jeongguk says. “Obviously I was distracted by singing from a balcony, and then I recognized you, so.”
“Nice,” Taehyung says, as Jeongguk reaches up to pluck a handle of Fireball from its perch, handing it to Taehyung. He tucks it under his arm. “If you want to actually see me sing you should come to the production in December.”
“Yeah? What’s it called?”
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” Taehyung says, unable to keep the ring of pride out of his voice. He’d suggested (pushed for, more like) this one specifically, and his professor and theater director had given it a green light. “The theater department puts on shows every three months or so, we have rotating casts.”
“Oh, so you weren’t in the last one.”
“No, not in Guys and Dolls,” Taehyung says. “But I was in Chicago last spring.”
“Maybe I’ll come by,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung takes the handle of spiced rum from him, making his way towards the register. “What day is on?”
“December second. Friday night matinee is half off!” Taehyung singsongs.
“I’m going to work on paying off your boba first.”
“Sounds good to me,” Taehyung says. “Also, I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to be walking around with handles if you’re underage.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, stopping short when Taehyung doesn’t hand them over. “Shit. You’re right.”
Taehyung sighs. “Get in my car.”
“Get in my car. I’ll just drive you back.”
“Dude, it’s fine. I’ll just ask my housemate to come—”
“Oh my God. Don’t make this complicated, just get in my car.”
Jeongguk shuts up, and Taehyung drops his armful into Jeongguk’s lap before starting the engine. “Park Grove, right?”
“Nope. You’re going to have to tell me where to turn.”
“Do I owe you nine bobas now for this free ride?”
“Hmm,” Taehyung says, making a show of thinking. “Yeah.”
“Saw you outside AYL last night,” Jimin says. The words take several seconds longer than usual to process in Taehyung’s brain after having gotten his ass kicked by his midterm this morning, and he squints in Jimin’s direction until they do.
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah.”
“Who was that guy you were talking to?” Jimin, who has no class until the afternoon today, is still in bed on his phone. “He looked sketch. Not a new dealer or anything, is he?”
“No, oh my God,” Taehyung says, slouching into his chair. What he wouldn’t give to go back to sleep now, but he’s got work to finish before rehearsal later. “Some guy from KASA shoulder tapped me.”
“Who the fuck do you know from KASA that’s not Hunchul hyung or Hoseokie hyung?”
“Met him on Halloween, then a couple more times at parties,” Taehyung says. “He’s chill.”
“What’s his name?”
“Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung says. “I don’t know if you know him.”
“I’ve heard of his name at best,” Jimin says. “Time to look him up.”
Jimin doesn’t speak again until Taehyung’s gotten out his laptop and opened it up to the school portal. “Jesus Christ,” he says. “Yeah, he’s KASA, alright.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just look at this shit.”
The laundry list of Typical Frat Bro looks goes on forever with this picture. On top of the red Solo cup in Jeongguk’s hand and the half-baked, hooded look to his eyes, his chokehold jeans, Obey tank top, and arm looped around the shoulders of a girl who barely comes up to his stretched earlobe is as good as having the word KTOWN tattooed across his forehead.
“Jesus Christ,” he echoes.
“Right?” Jimin takes his phone back, scrolling. “I guess it’s not like we can really talk, though.”
“No, probably not.”
“Where’d you meet him? KASA house?”
“Yeah.” Taehyung yawns hugely. “He owes me nine bobas.”
“What the hell for?”
“Payback for the shoulder tap.”
“He couldn’t just Venmo you?”
“Said he didn’t have cash or the app, and I’m not about to turn down boba,” Taehyung says.
“Dude, you’re never going to get your money back,” Jimin says. “Like, look at this guy. I don’t fucking see him buying you nine bobas. He probably wouldn’t even remember to buy his girlfriend nine bobas.”
“I know,” Taehyung sighs. “But it’s not like I could have done anything else about it.”
The noise of exasperation that leaves Jimin’s lips is mostly fond. “You’re too nice, Taehyung.”
“Hey, we were underclassmen once, too,” Taehyung says. “We know the struggle.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t shoulder tap strangers and then end up owing them nine bobas, like what the hell?” Jimin looks over the side of his phone. “But I mean, you do you, man.”
“He’s not really a stranger.”
“Acquaintance, whatever. You wouldn’t see me trying to shoulder tap Bambam, in the hypothetical universe where he’s older than us.”
Jeongguk doesn’t feel like a stranger. Acquaintance, yes, but Taehyung has this funny feeling about Jeongguk that he knows him from somewhere, even though they’ve never met each other before Halloween.
“Are you going to be home late tonight?” Jimin asks, and Taehyung is nudged away from his sleepy thoughts.
“Why, is your boyfriend coming over?”
“No, I invited Junghak over to play Brawl as big-little bonding,” Jimin says. “Didn’t want to bother you if you’ve got anything to study for, though.”
“I’m coming home late,” Taehyung says. “Brawl to your heart’s content.”
“Ticket sales are next week, right?” Jimin says, scratching the bags under his eyes. He’s been up all night for the past week or so, studying for his physics and electrochemistry midterms, so Taehyung honestly wouldn’t give him any shit if he did invite his boyfriend over. “When does it start again?”
“Depends. Are you coming to matinee?”
“That’s Friday night, right? Seven PM?” Jimin says. “Yeah, sure.”
“Matinee starts selling this week so you can just pay now and I’ll get you a ticket,” Taehyung says. “I’m buying one for Junhong already, anyway.”
“Great.” Jimin tucks his blankets more firmly under his chin. The likelihood that he’ll be getting up anytime soon is slim. “Are you lead this time?”
“Ya boy is lead.”
“Awesome. I’m not interested in watching you heart eyes at a girl who doesn’t give a shit about you for another entire musical.”
“Hey, you have to admit, I was the best lovesick dumbass you’d ever seen, though,” Taehyung says, and Jimin rolls his eyes before rolling over in bed.
“Good night, Taetae.”
“Don’t you have class at two?”
“I’ll worry about that at one fifty-nine.”
Then Jimin is out like a light, and Taehyung sighs. He’s left to work in silence, meaning he procrastinates on r/wtfgifs for an entire hour before he does one last sweep of social media in preparation to lock down for work.
He has Facebook messages from three different threads. One of them is Junhong, another is the group chat for the team that organized the Gamma Omicron class retreat, and the third—
Taehyung sits up, blood rushing back into his arm after he picks his chin up off of it. It’s Jeongguk, his name flashing insistently at the bottom of the screen, and Taehyung wonders if this is just an old, unchecked message from their phone exchange.
He sent it nearly an hour ago. “What the hell is he going to do at a boba shop for five hours?” Taehyung mutters under his breath.
✓ Seen 9:49am appears under Taehyung’s message and he considers sitting here for another hour to lie to himself that he’s going to do work. Past evidence shows that this is unlikely, however, and even more unlikely on an empty stomach—and at least Lollicup will have food to eat, so Taehyung swallows his pride and packs his backpack back up.
Jeongguk is sitting in a corner by himself, headphones stuffed into his ears with his hood up so that Taehyung doesn’t recognize him from outside the window. His head bobs along to his music, and Taehyung doesn’t catch his attention until he’s already sitting down in the chair across him.
“Whoa,” Jeongguk says, reaching up to tug one earbud out. “When you said ‘some point’ I didn’t think you meant immediately. Do you even respond to your booty calls this fast?”
“Shut up,” Taehyung says, but Jeongguk is already laughing, and there it is, the sudden de-aging of Jeongguk’s features when he does. “I was hungry. What are you doing here until three, though?”
“Selling winter retreat tickets,” Jeongguk says, patting the manila envelope on the table beside his laptop. “You want one?”
“What, and go on retreat? With KASA?”
“What’s wrong with that?”
The slight downturn to Jeongguk’s lips is genuine, and Taehyung realizes too late the tone of disdain that he had spoken with. He isn’t too accustomed to being around anyone from KASA, and even in frat life people can talk some real shit about KASA.
“No, it’s just, I don’t really know anyone besides Hunchul, and he’s technically not even in KASA anymore.”
“You know me.”
Taehyung raises an eyebrow. “Just last week you were asking me who the fuck I was in the kitchen.”
“Give me a break! I was baked and you know it.” He takes both his earbuds out now, reaching around in his pockets for his wallet. “Anyway, God. What do you want?”
“Black sesame milk tea with boba, pudding, and rainbow jelly,” Taehyung rattles off without a moment’s hesitation and Jeongguk stares. “What? I know what what boba I like.”
“Three add-ons?” Jeongguk asks. “That combination doesn’t even sound appetizing anymore.”
“I didn’t judge you for your alcohol selection, don’t judge me for my boba choices.”
“What was wrong with my alcohol selection?”
Taehyung does not deign to answer, and Jeongguk’s out of earshot as he’s getting in line already. It’s a busy day for Lollicup, especially with only a few weeks left before winter break and the crunch of projects and papers are starting to hit hard. Out of curiosity, Taehyung leans over to peek at what’s on Jeongguk’s computer screen—and he doesn’t know what he expected, or why he’s so surprised. Jeongguk had made it fairly clear he’s a CS major, but something in Taehyung didn’t believe him until now, looking at a box full of code in a MatLab window.
“Doing my homework for me?” Jeongguk asks, setting down a full cup of boba, complete with a straw, before him.
The skin of the boba lid breaks with a sharp snap as Taehyung pierces the straw through it. “It looks like an alien language.”
“It’s programming language.” He looks up when the table rattles to see Taehyung unloading his bag onto it, pen clattering to the floor as it makes a desperate break for freedom. “What are you doing?”
“Work,” Taehyung says, setting down his laptop with more care than the rest of his things. “That okay with you?”
And so they pass the morning and lunch hour like this, sitting in bemused silence as Taehyung chips at the work for his mechanics class and Jeongguk types steadily away. He pauses every so often to frown at his math textbook, which has no numbers in it besides the page numbers, and it isn’t until early afternoon—long after Taehyung’s finished his boba, and ticket sales have done well—that Jeongguk rips his earbuds out and stretches, tshirt lifting up to peekaboo a thin sliver of his skin.
“Get anything done?” he asks, voice out of shape after being quiet for so long.
Taehyung tilts his hand back and forth and makes a vexed noise in the back of his throat. “Could have been worse,” he says. “Definitely could’ve been better.”
“What class is it?”
“Physics? Aren’t you in theater?”
“It’s for my sciences requirement,” Taehyung says. “Against all better judgment, I took physics.”
“Yeah, that really.” Jeongguk shakes his head and laughs. “That class kicked my ass. You want me to help?”
“You’ve taken it?”
“I was double-E before I was CS. I failed 1C twice and decided to switch out before I had to suffer through more of it.” Jeongguk moves aside his mess of notebooks and his jacket, balled up beside him, and pats the empty space in the booth beside him. “Let me take a look at it.”
“I don’t know how much I remember, but yeah, sure.”
Sitting so close to Jeongguk in a non-party, sober situation isn’t a picture Taehyung would have imagined himself in, but here he is, scooting close so Jeongguk can study his mess of notes. He smells like the shop, of popcorn chicken and milk tea, and his cologne is sharp mixed with whatever product is in his hair.
“Oh, okay, angular momentum,” Jeongguk says. “This is easy enough. What are you stuck on?”
They work like that, bent over one notebook. Taehyung tries to keep up as Jeongguk fills up a whole page with only one problem, but by the time someone pulls their attention away, Taehyung thinks he understands this a little more.
“Hey, how’d sales go?”
It’s Halla, and it takes Taehyung several seconds to recognize her with her hair in a braid. “Pretty good,” Jeongguk says, shaking the manila envelope so the money rustles. “I’d say better than last year.”
“You’re the one that was at KASA last weekend, right?” Halla holds her hand out. “Taehyung. I’m Halla, we haven’t actually properly met, have we.”
“No, it’s okay—yeah, Taehyung.”
“You guys hang out now?” Halla takes a sip of her milk tea. “Anyway, Jeongguk, Junhwe wanted to know if you were down to go out for dinner tonight.”
“He has an eight AM tomorrow,” Jeongguk says, tracing the edge of one of the arrows he’d drawn in Taehyung’s notes. “If he wants to go out, it means Suwoong’s going to go out, which means they’re going to get Chamisul.”
Halla shrugs her shoulders. “You want to come with us?” she asks Taehyung.
“What, to dinner?”
“Yeah, at BCD.”
“Uh,” Taehyung says. He’s already pushing it by staying here so long, thinking of the trek in the cold back to the theater. “I’m okay. I have rehearsal tonight.”
“Ooh, for what?”
“He’s in theater,” Jeongguk says. “He’s in the play next month.”
“Wait,” Halla says. “Taehyung, Kim Taehyung. Weren’t you that guy in Chicago last year?”
“Yes!” Taehyung exclaims. “Yeah, I was! Did you come watch?”
“My friend was the lead,” Halla says. “Jeon Minju.”
“Shit, yeah, she was Roxie.” Taehyung sits back. “Damn. Funny how the world works.”
“Weird, right? Anyway,” she says around a mouthful of boba, “Junhwe asked.”
“Ugh,” Jeongguk says. “It’s not like I have anything else to eat tonight, so it’s a yes.”
“Awesome, I’ll text him,” Halla says. “You sure you don’t want to come along, Taehyung?”
“I’ll take a rain check.”
“Next time, then.”
“I have to bounce, too,” Jeongguk says just as she’s about to leave. “Class soon.”
“Oh, okay. Hey, thank you so much for your help, though, I would’ve been stuck on this until tonight.”
“Is that when it’s due,” Jeongguk asks wryly, shrugging on his jacket. It’s a satiny black letterman with the Stussy logo embroidered over the zipper, and Taehyung makes it a mental note one day to ask if Jeongguk ever doesn’t suck brand name dicks. Maybe this is a question to ask when they’re sufficiently drunk.
“Knew it.” He closes his laptop and flashes Taehyung a thumbs up. “No problem though, glad I could help. Hated that shit. I don’t wish it on anyone.”
“See you,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk turns around in time just to give him double fingerguns.
“One down, eight to go,” he says, and runs outside with a jingle of the storefront bells to catch up. Taehyung watches him fall into step with Halla, their figures growing smaller and smaller until they round the corner and disappear.
A nice one, at least, but a frat boy nonetheless. As it were, Halla knows a Pineapple girl, who happens to also know Jaein and Yuna and Yujin, so getting Jeongguk and Junhwe into the party isn’t too difficult. With a golden ratio of one part guy to two parts girls, they’re let in without a fuss.
The red Solo cup in Taehyung’s hand is nearly full to the brim with some fuchsia concoction, and rank smell of weed hits the back of Jeongguk’s throat.
“Hey,” he says, as Taehyung drinks. “You’re here too?”
“I know people here,” Taehyung says simply. He leans in closer towards Jeongguk, without looking at him, and points into the throng of bodies. “You see that guy over there with the dusky red hair?”
Jeongguk looks, and he does; it’s a boy tall and thin who wears a smirk on his too-slick lips, like he’s been making out for the better part of the night.
“I might’ve made out with him once.”
“Wow,” Jeongguk says. “That’s gay, dude.”
“Really gay,” Taehyung agrees. “Might have sucked his dick, can’t be sure. He kept trying to call me daddy. I could be blacked out and I still had to leave.”
“Fuck,” Jeongguk laughs. “So, what, you got in by saying you sucked one of the Pineapple brother’s dicks?”
“Hey, it works,” Taehyung says, raising his eyebrows as he takes a sip. “Who’re you here with? Halla?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, and she’s already disappeared with Jaein, probably to grab drinks. Maybe if he’s lucky or Halla’s feeling generous tonight, she’ll get him one. “She knows one of the Pineapple girls.”
“Is she your,” Taehyung makes several vague hand gestures and does some eyebrow acting, and Jeongguk cottons on after a few moments.
“No, she’s just my best friend,” Jeongguk says. “Seriously.”
“You guys haven’t even hooked up before?”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “Nah. It’s weird to imagine banging your best friend.”
Taehyung sticks his tongue out in disgust. “God, I don’t need to. I try not to remember.”
“What?” Jeongguk is incredulous and now he definitely isn’t drunk enough for this conversation.
“We’re in Lambdas,” Taehyung says, like this is supposed to explain everything. To some extent, it does, if Jeongguk thinks about it—but he really only ever hears stories that have turned into legends about hazing.
“You’re a Lambda?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, though?” Jeongguk asks.
“Well,” Taehyung says. “Okay. You see that kid over there with the snapback, and the other one who looks like a walking tree?”
“They’re this semester’s pledges, and they’re not supposed to be drinking where actives can see them,” Taehyung explains.
They’re definitely drinking. The taller one, built square-jawed and heavy in his shoulders, is laughing at something the slighter one clearly thought wasn’t that funny, but is laughing along to nervously anyway. He seems to be the more sober of the two, and Jeongguk has a feeling that he knows Taehyung is here.
“And what happens if you see them?”
Taehyung winks and cranes his head over the crowd. “Hey! Junghak, Yugyeom! Get over here!”
Jeongguk watches as the smile slides off Yugyeom’s face like wet soap when he hears Taehyung’s voice. It would be funny if Jeongguk didn’t dread what Taehyung was going to do to them, and they come to a stop in front of him like children who were caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
“Go get my friend a drink,” Taehyung says, tipping back the last of his jungle juice. “And refill this for me.”
“Is that it?” Junghak asks, and Yugyeom glares at him murderously.
“Well, if you insist,” Taehyung says, “both of you take an extra shot. Mix the Jim Beam with the Smirnoff, chase it with Monster.”
“Dude,” Jeongguk says, as they practically skip off. “That’s brutal.”
“Nah, they’ve seen some shit,” Taehyung says. “I remember last time some of the pledges got caught, they’re not very careful about this, one of the other actives nearly sent them all to the hospital.”
“What the fuck?”
“Lambdas,” Taehyung repeats. “But I go easy on them.”
“Mixing darks and lights and chasing with Monster is easy?”
“They did that once before. I had to clean up after Junghak after he threw up in my house,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “He’s my roommate’s little. They were both fucked up because they were doing just that and trying to go shot for shot, but Jimin’s gotten better at holding his alcohol. It’s the freshmen that can’t hang.”
Jeongguk recalls his own freshman year in regards to turnups, and it is unfortunately all too true. “Thank you,” he says when Yugyeom hands him his drink, wobbling a little. “So are you the nice brother?”
“I guess,” Taehyung says. “Jimin and I go easy on the pledges, probably because the actives went easy on our class when we pledged. What goes around comes around, you know.”
“Damn.” The Jungle juice is good, if not a bit strong on the orange juice. KASA is tame in comparison. “You really have seen some shit.”
“Jimin and I don’t talk about Lambdas that much outside of parties, and outside of Lambdas itself,” Taehyung says. “You know that divide between frat boys who are in frats, and frat boys who you know are in a frat because they introduce their frat before their names?”
“You’re in the former group.”
“You wouldn’t have guessed I’m a Lambda, right?” Taehyung says.
“Hmm, maybe I would have guessed you’re in Greek, but not Lambdas.” The alcohol kicks Jeongguk deep in his stomach now, a focused burn in the base of his abdomen. It’s been awhile since he’s had Jungle juice, and he’s forgotten that each cup is a silent killer. “Would you have guessed I’m in KASA?”
“Maybe when you’re wearing that Stussy letterman,” Taehyung says, laughing, and against his own will, Jeongguk snorts. When Taehyung tips back his head Jeongguk sees the soft flush to his cheekbones and finds Taehyung’s glow almost endearing.
“But do I lie?”
“Unfortunately not,” Jeongguk says. “Are you looking to get crossed tonight?”
“No, I’m taking it easy today. Why, you want to?”
The go-to answer is yes, of course. But Jeongguk finds that he’s comfortable here, standing beside Taehyung next to the open door and feeling the cool night air on his face. Talking about shit that matters too much and doesn’t matter at all at the same time, and he shakes his head.
“I was actually going to head out and grab some food,” Taehyung says. “You want to come with?”
“You were going to go alone?”
“I’d hit up my FWB, but you’re here already and I like you,” Taehyung says plainly.
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “Thanks.”
“So is that a yes or a no?”
Well, Jeongguk isn’t nearly as drunk as he’d like to be, but he’s decently buzzed. In some way he’s coming to terms with the fact that being as drunk as he’d like to be probably isn’t healthy physically or mentally anyway, so this doesn’t sound like too shabby an idea.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care, you pick.”
“Really?” Jeongguk asks. “Anywhere?”
“Why, where do you have in mind?”
“I used to work there,” Jeongguk says. “Excellent drunchie food.”
“You used to be an IOTA waiter.”
It’s not a question. Business is full tonight. Girls in short dresses—seriously, how the fuck do they brave this weather wearing something that covers 30% of their body?—accompanied with guys in snapbacks brush past them inside to be seated.
“Look, there are things I have done in my life that I am both proud and not proud of,” Jeongguk says as they’re handed their menus by an insufferably attractive server. “Two ice waters, please. And I am definitely not not proud of being an IOTA waiter.”
“How did you go from stupid, hot IOTA waiter,” Taehyung says, “to a CS major?”
“Look, I didn’t say I was a good coder,” Jeongguk says, reading his menu with minute concentration. “I mean, sometimes I will be.”
“Do you to go all those hack events at the universities?”
“Yeah, I went to LA Hacks last year.” He turns a page. “Where the fuck were those animal fries?”
“LA Hacks, huh?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jeongguk says. “Yeah. I designed a chrome extension in twenty-three hours on four Rockstars.”
Taehyung physically recoils. “That’s so bad for you.”
“I’m a CS major in KASA,” Jeongguk says, looking at Taehyung over the top of his menu. “My entire diet basically consists of Rockstar and pussy.”
They order the animal fries, which have been renamed to bomb fries since Jeongguk’s time here. According to their waiter, it has also cycled through such names as kimchi fries, atomic fries, and Hella Fries™, which apparently was not well-liked by anyone except Northern Californian visitors.
“What are you doing after this,” Taehyung says, fork-fighting for a particularly crispy fry later, and Jeongguk’s alcohol-dulled reflexes are too slow to beat him.
“Going home, probably. Maybe I’ll go over to my friend’s place, I don’t know.”
“That Junhwe Halla mentioned last time?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, getting sauce all over the corner of his lips.
“How did you guys all meet?”
“Suwoong was my freshman roommate, somehow in the first week we fell into step with Junhwe,” Jeongguk explains. “I met Halla on move-in day when we both got lost trying to find our rooms, and she ended up coming over later to invite me to dinner.”
“Cute,” Taehyung says.
“What about you,” Jeongguk says, wiping his mouth now. The napkin comes away orange-red and he scrubs at his mouth more thoroughly because he isn’t trying to look like a goddamn clown in front of Taehyung, not that he’s sure why he’s so concerned with his appearance. Taehyung is drunker than he is. “You know everything about me already.”
“Really now,” Taehyung says. “Is that all there is to know about you?”
“I mean, I don’t even know who your roommate is!” Jeongguk says. “And mine’s already invited you to dinner with us.”
“Fine, fair, fair,” Taehyung says. “Park Jimin, he’s my best friend. And my roommate. I met him at Lambdas rush in our freshman year.”
Taehyung is such an animated speaker. His hands and his eyes tell their own stories as he talks, and Jeongguk finds that he hangs onto Taehyung’s words as he fondly recounts his first and wildest days in college.
“You want your boba right now?” Jeongguk asks suddenly in Taehyung’s sordidly detailed story of the first time Jimin blacked out.
“What, like, now?”
“Yeah, why not? We’re out here already and Half and Half’s not that far away.”
“Sure, yeah,” Taehyung says, reaching for his wallet. “I need to drink more fluids or I’ll have a hangover.”
“But you didn’t even drink that much.”
“Not when you were around,” Taehyung says. “Okay, let’s go!”
For the record, Halla isn’t pleased, and by association, Junhwe isn’t pleased, and Suwoong is more like a tired, disappointed mother than anything else when Jeongguk wakes up the next morning to pour himself water in subzero (it’s fifty-one degrees) temperatures.
“Where the fuck did you go last night?” Halla demands. “You just disappeared at the Pineapple house and I texted you a million times! Why didn’t you answer?”
“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, trying to sound repentant. “I’m really sorry. I went out with Taehyung and then we went to his place and got really high.” He pauses, surprised that he remembers all of it for once. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“You got high at his place?” Jaein asks. She’s sitting cross-legged at the dining table, wearing a giant tshirt as a dress. “Dude. Remember that time you hotboxed in Junhwe’s bathroom so long that the fire alarm went off? Don’t subject people to that again.”
Ah, yes, Jeongguk remembers. The fire alarm had been set off with a screech, Junhwe had stumbled and fallen, Halla had screamed, and all Jeongguk had done was glare at the white disc in the ceiling and shout “Which fucking Ariana Grande song is this?,” a line so iconic that it’s been adopted as their universal complaint for police sirens, car alarms, and any general loud noise wherever it’s unwanted.
“It was chill,” Jeongguk says. “But I’m sorry, Halla. Sorry, I was going to tell you, I forgot.”
She sighs. “It’s okay,” she says. “I was worried. Don’t do that again.”
“Yeah, we were worried,” Junhwe echoes. Jeongguk pauses with his glass to his lips, then lowers it to frown at him over the brim.
“What are you doing here,” he asks, and Junhwe sputters.
“I’m your friend!”
“Yeah, but it’s nine AM and you don’t live here,” Jaein points out unhelpfully, and Junhwe gives her a look like why do you have to do me wrong like this.
“He brought me back after I started drunk-crying last night,” Halla explains.
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, and now feels doubly bad for not being there. It’s usually his shoulder she cries on. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” She shrugs. “Did you have fun, at least? You sound like you did.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, finishing his water and reaching for the Brita again. “Yeah, Taehyung is fun.” I want to see him again.
Or so Taehyung hears. He can’t see anyone beyond the shadowy faces of the first row at best, even standing at the edge of the stage, and he’s far more focused on putting on the best opening show he can manage. This is his first time playing lead, after all. The haphazard deal he’s struck with the theater director that he can suggest more productions in the future rests on how successful this one is, and Taehyung’s heart sings every time the audience laughs.
The last scene takes place after curtain call, and it is only after Taehyung finishes and the lights go dark does he finally relax. The auditorium echoes with resounding applause, and when Taehyung takes his costar’s hand for their final bow he swears half the noise is from Lambdas themselves.
“Hey!” Jimin says, much later after Taehyung finally leaves the theater. Most everyone has left, and only a small circle of Taehyung’s friends remain, hunched over in the cold. “You did such a great job, you really—damn, no wonder you’ve been coming home so late recently. That was fucking amazing.”
“Thanks,” Taehyung says, and Jimin laughs when Taehyung grabs him in a playful chokehold. “What are you guys all doing here, still? I thought the plan was kickback at Hoseok’s place after this.”
“Pledge class wanted to have one last party before dead week,” Jimin says. “One last party before they cross. So we’re headed to the house later.”
“Jesus, we’re raising a pack of animals,” Taehyung says. “I’m still in full makeup.”
“Who cares? It’ll be dark in the house, no one will be able to see you anyway!”
Christ. Taehyung doesn’t even know if he’ll have energy for this, a show tomorrow night, plus the crossing event for the Gamma Omicron pledge class to become actives like the rest of them. The boom of music from the Lambdas house as they arrive nearly gives him a headache on the spot.
“I’m not going to drink a lot tonight,” Taehyung says.
“So they all say.” Jimin aims a soft punch at his shoulder. “But it’s up to you. You feeling okay? If you’re really not down, we can go home.”
“No, no, I’ll stick around for a drink.”
The house whoops when he goes in, and everyone takes a shot in Taehyung’s honor. A cup of coke and rum finds its way into his hand, and Taehyung elects to settle into the couch to chill out with his phone.
Taehyung smiles, pinning his cup between his legs to reply.
Taehyung looks up. Across the room, Junhong is laughing in a game of 7-11 Doubles, and Taehyung really should be over there being a good big—but the consecutive late night rehearsals compounded by the adrenaline low following the matinee has Taehyung wanting nothing more than to just shower and climb into bed.
“What are you doing all holed up here yourself?”
Hoseok’s voice breaks pierces the bubble of Taehyung’s thoughts, and he taps his cup against Taehyung’s before drinking. “Is that all you’re having?”
“Yeah. I’m tired tonight.”
“You did great out there,” Hoseok says, throwing an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders, “and you don’t want to celebrate it? Leading man, Taehyung. It’s not many people who can say that.”
“Sure I want to, but I can’t look like death for tomorrow night’s show and crossing.”
“Such a responsible little,” Hoseok coos, grabbing Taehyung’s chin in his thumb and forefinger and jerking Taehyung’s face back and forth. “You can’t bail on me for your birthday, though. Your twenty-first, too!”
“Okay, okay hyung,” Taehyung says. “I’m down for that, we’ll be on break by then.”
“God,” Hoseok stretches luxuriously. “This is my last Christmas break of my school career, don’t talk about it. I’ll start tearing up.”
Taehyung changes the topic, because knowing Hoseok, he really will begin crying on him unwarned. “How’s Hunchul?”
“He’s good,” Hoseok says. “Oh, actually! He said Yoongi started working at Bud Namu a few weeks ago, so we’re going to go during Christmas. You down?”
“No way,” Taehyung laughs, remembering that Yoongi had once drunkenly declared it was his dream to not only drop a mixtape that would set the San Fernando valley aflame but also work at a KBBQ restaurant. “Seriously? Of course I’m down.”
“Awesome, yeah, would you believe it? I think he’s trying to work some small jobs right now.”
“He has a degree in accounting.”
“He doesn’t like accounting,” Hoseok says. Yoongi was once that student that attended maybe two lectures a semester, showed up for the final, and somehow still decently passed his classes. In economics, no less, so Taehyung had made a point not to fuck with him the moment he’d met him. “You should bring Junhong along or something.”
“Junhong’s going home for Christmas,” Taehyung says. “He lives in San Diego.”
“Aww. Shame. I like my grandlittle.”
“I think you scare him.”
“But I’m so nice!”
“And loud, hyung.”
“Well, Jimin’s obviously coming, so I don’t know. Bring a girl or something.”
Taehyung’s mind conjures up the image of Jeongguk’s laughing face. “Can I bring a friend?”
“Friend, or like, friend? The answer is yes, but how dare you withhold such hot goss from your big.”
Hoseok is joking, but Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Friend, hyung. I’m not going to bring Mina to KBBQ.”
“All right, all right, I’ll let you live,” Hoseok chuckles. “I’ll let you know the details later.”
Somewhat quieter music (if you count longer periods between the bass rattling the floor of the house quieter, which Taehyung does) plays now. It’s getting to that time of night where freshmen Taehyung doesn’t recognize start attempting to gain entry and he kicks back with his phone once again.
The message was sent a while ago.
Taehyung laughs aloud.
Well, maybe tipsy.
Jeongguk doesn’t reply to this, although the ✓ Seen message appears right under it. It isn’t until later, when Junghak taps Taehyung on the shoulder does he understand.
“Do you know a Jeon Jeongguk?”
“What the fuck?” Taehyung says, standing up, and Junghak nearly cowers. “No, no, not you. Thanks for telling me. Is he at the door?”
“Let him in.”
This is no joke. Jeongguk seriously steps over the threshold, his longboard in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, presumably filled with food. His face lights up when he sees Taehyung on the couch.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Feeding your ass, what does it look like,” Jeongguk says, leaning his board against the wall and sitting down. Taehyung bounces when the couch sinks under Jeongguk’s added weight. “I don’t actually know what food you like except for the boba, so I got you calamari rings.”
“I love calamari rings,” Taehyung says. He reaches for the takeout box, and smiles into Jeongguk’s face. “Thanks. Were you out in the area or something?”
“You could say that.”
“Oooh,” Taehyung drawls. “Booty call?”
“Shh,” Jeongguk hushes with a sly smile as he picks up one of the bamboo skewers wrapped up in the napkins.
“That girl that’s always around you at KASA?”
“She’s the one who’s always wearing red lipstick,” Jeongguk says. “Kim Yura.”
“Oh, she’s pretty,” Taehyung says around a mouthful of calamari. “You didn’t want to stick around?”
“We hit it and quit it,” Jeongguk says. “And she hates pillow talk even more than usual recently, so I leave her alone.”
“So you came to play with me?”
“You’re fun,” Jeongguk says easily, leaning in to poke at another calamari ring with his bamboo skewer. It’s so simple and comfortable the way he says it, like Taehyung’s company is the obvious choice here, and Taehyung turns his head to look at Jeongguk where he sits beside him at the moment he’s closest.
Jeongguk doesn’t notice right away, until he feels Taehyung’s gaze on him and meets his eyes.
“You remembered my boba order.”
Taehyung moves out of the space clumsily, cuffing Jeongguk on the arm when he picks up the order of boba. The ribbed sides of it are slick with condensation. “You remembered all my add-ons.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk sits back now, too, confusion spreading like blush across his cheekbones at that strangely electric moment just now. “Yeah, of course. It’s what you like, right?”
“It’s no big deal.”
“You came all this way just to bring me food, that’s a pretty big deal.”
“I’m sure any of your brothers would do that for you.”
“They’re my brothers,” Taehyung says. “Of course they would, but you just—”
“Hey, hey,” Jeongguk says, putting his hand beneath Taehyung’s and pushing it up so that his half-eaten squid gets closer to his mouth. “You’re rambling. Eat.”
So Taehyung bites into his food again, and Jeongguk smiles.
They were not the full, dry anal pounding he was expecting, but they’re still pretty brutal. He’s glad for Christmas break to come, to be back home with his dog, and his brother, even his parents. For over three weeks he has the privilege of not having to scrounge up his own dinner in the evening.
Well, at least for the first week or so, Jeongguk eats at home. After Christmas comes and goes, though, he starts getting bored—with Halla in Korea for the holidays and Suwoong busy with work, it’s just Junhwe and Jeongguk, and Junhwe is all the way in San Bernardino. It’s pretty dismal, what with having to share the car with his hyung.
At least, until Taehyung hits him up on the eve of New Year’s Eve with
Jeongguk sits up so fast in bed he gets vertigo, but KBBQ is a big deal.
Well, Taehyung does have a point. Jeongguk’s stomach snarls in his belly, and Gureumie raises his head from the foot of his bed to cast him as reproachful a look as a tiny white dog can manage.
“Yeah, me too, buddy,” Jeongguk says.
Ugh, it’s far. Not terribly so, but far enough for Jeongguk to groan as he’s pulling on his jacket and shoes.
There’s traffic, predictably, on the 210. The light drizzle doesn’t help, dusting everything damp in a fuzzy layer of moisture, and a fucking Lexus tailgates Jeongguk for a better part of a mile before it passes him. It’s easy to fall asleep in this weather, and Jeongguk turns his stereo up loud.
Bud Namu’s front lobby is crowded when Jeongguk finally makes his way inside after handing off his keys and car to valet parking. Parties of as small as three and as big as ten or more eye him when he comes in alone, and he reaches for his phone.
“I’m here with Min Yoongi?”
“Ah, okay. Come with me.”
Jeongguk is led upstairs, and there’s a roar of laughter from one table where he recognizes Taehyung, and who he assumes is Jimin, yelling over them as he pours Taehyung another shot of Cheoeum Cheoreom.
It’s Namjoon, and Jeongguk is nothing short of shell-shocked to see him. Everyone seated at the table turns around to look, and Taehyung’s face breaks out into a delighted, soju-loosened smile.
“Hey, you’re here!”
“Yeah,” he says, as someone he doesn’t recognize pulls out the last empty chair beside him. He’s handsome, and huge when he stands up. Taehyung wasn’t lying about his hot friends.
“Seokjin,” he says, extending a hand.
“Jeongguk, are you a senior?”
“I’m alum,” Seokjin says. “But I still hang out with these punks.”
“Oh, guys! This is Jeongguk, he’s the friend I met outside AYL,” Taehyung says. “Jeongguk, this is Jimin, I mentioned him—and Seokjin, he was Hoseok’s big! And this is Hoseok. Yoongi hyung, and—”
“We know each other, actually,” Namjoon says.
“What, for real? Oh, wait,” Taehyung says, realization dawning on him. “You both were in KASA, huh.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. Okay, he feels a little better now, and seeing Namjoon again unexpectedly has joy flaring in his chest—they weren’t the closest of friends, but he still remembers those nights as a freshman where he was failing his CS classes in his first semester and Namjoon would coach him through his panic.
“Dude, it’s been too long!” Namjoon says across the table. “How is your friend? Shit, I forget their name—”
“No, the one that threw up in your lap.”
“Oh, Junhwe,” Jeongguk says flatly, as both Hoseok and Taehyung crack up. “Yeah, he’s great.”
But Taehyung was right. Lambda brothers aside, they seem genuinely happy to have him as if he were in the frat right along with them. Seokjin keeps serving him meat—the status quo is that he and Yoongi grill, and Namjoon has been ordered to stay far away from the flame after The Napkin Incident, which involved some rogue tongs and a contained fire at their table two years back.
“He set fire to a stack of them,” Yoongi says, turning the pieces of brisket around as they brown.
“Yeah, we make him sit at the end of the table, farthest from the grill now,” Seokjin explains as he dips his samgyupsal into sesame oil. “He’s a walking disaster.”
“Wait, Jeongguk, you should come sit over here,” Jimin says, rising from his seat with a slight totter that Seokjin steadies with a hand around his waist. He hiccups, and he glows even more than Taehyung does. “You should be pouring Taehyung’s shots.”
“Because you’re the maknae here, obviously!”
There’s a flurry of dish exchange as Jeongguk settles into the chair beside Taehyung, and he takes up Taehyung’s third bottle of Cheoeum Cheoreom in hand. “More?”
“Pour up,” Taehyung says, pushing his shotglass towards Jeongguk.
Jeongguk tips the bottle. “You don’t even look old enough to be drinking.”
“I know,” Taehyung says proudly, raising his glass in cheers. “Today’s my twenty-first.”
Jeongguk stares at him dumbly as Taehyung throws the drink back, wincing at the burn. “Yeah, dude, you didn’t know? I don’t ever drink this much at KBBQ, but Hoseok insisted.”
“Why didn’t you tell me!”
“I would’ve gotten you something, I don’t know.”
“You came,” Taehyung says, patting Jeongguk’s hand—smacking it, more like, and his words are starting to trip over each other. “And you’re here, in the present. You’re the present. See?”
No, not really, but Jeongguk simply laughs when Taehyung does, eyes sparkling with the glassy sheen of alcohol.
Dinner lasts for a long time, and as they start pushing their two hour time limit Taehyung excuses himself to the bathroom as Yoongi starts collecting cards and money for their monstrosity of a joint check. Jimin is picking at the last bits of bean sprouts in the side dish, Namjoon is bent over his phone now, and Jeongguk sits there silently. He feels out of place, without Taehyung here, but Hoseok gives him a gentle smile when they meet eyes by accident.
“Taehyung’s taking a long time,” Jimin says as Yoongi leaves for downstairs. As Jeongguk has deduced at the end of this evening, he works here. “Is he all right?”
“I can go check on him,” Jeongguk volunteers, because Jimin does not look like he should be walking right now.
Taehyung is at the sink, washing his hands, when Jeongguk lets himself in.
“Hey, are they finishing up out there?”
“Yeah. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, I took really—”
Taehyung turns his face then, and in the mirror Jeongguk sees droplets of water clinging to his face. His skin is pale, so unlike the sun-baked warmth it usually is.
“You threw up, didn’t you.”
“Well,” Taehyung says haltingly, as he reaches for the paper towel dispenser. Jeongguk slaps his hand over the handle of it, and Taehyung startles.
“What did I tell you about not drinking on an empty stomach?”
“Hey, I’ve been doing this longer than you have,” Taehyung says, bewildered at Jeongguk’s reaction. “I feel fine now, way better.”
Jeongguk belatedly realizes how weird this looks, barging into the bathroom to lecture Taehyung of something he’s perfectly also guilty of, then not letting him dry his damn hands. Shit.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “Jesus. You worry me.”
“It’s okay,” Taehyung says. “You wouldn’t be the first person I worried.”
“I wanted to say thank you, too,” Jeongguk says, feeling small all of a sudden as Taehyung wipes his hands slowly. “For, you know. Inviting me out for your birthday dinner.”
“I’m glad you could even make it out. I assumed you’d probably be busy with your own crew during break.”
“They’re all busy, and, well. I don’t have as many friends, not like you. I’ve got a few really close ones, but nothing like your big family.”
“You can be my family too.”
The paper towel rustles when Taehyung aims it at the trash can.
“You’re my friend, aren’t you?” Taehyung says, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. “And friends are the family you choose.”
1) A dining table. Unlikely, as this is too comfortable.
2) The floor of a car. Possible, but this means he has to worry about whether or not this is a kidnapping.
3) The bathroom mat. Gross and cold, but preferable over the potential kidnapping.
4) Jimin. Fairly comfortable, 8/10 would recommend, knocking off two points for the fact that Jimin gets gets raging morning wood every day. That’s always a little awkward, but there’s nothing like some good ol’ hungover bromosexual dicktouching to bring them closer.
“Sorry about him,” Taehyung hears, and sleepily senses the presence of bodies nearby—quite a few of them, in fact. “Are you sure your parents know and everything?”
And then the surface under Taehyung speaks, and he nearly jumps out of his skin.
“Yeah, it’s New Year’s Eve. They get it, and they know where I am.”
It’s Jeongguk. Taehyung is asleep on top of Jeongguk. He wildly begins racking his brains to try to remember what the fuck went down for them to end up like this, but the rise and fall of Jeongguk’s chest beneath his cheek is so soothing it’s hard not to fall right back asleep.
“He’s not going to be up for a while.” It’s Jimin’s voice. “After he drinks that much I’d say he’ll start moving around, hmm, in maybe twenty minutes or so. But don’t expect him to actually be functional until noon, he’s going to crash again after he takes an ibuprofen and eats something.”
“Sorry, dude.” Hoseok, now. Where they fuck are they, and why is everyone here? “If I could’ve helped it I would make him sleep on me instead, but—”
“No, it’s fine,” Jeongguk says, and his body shakes a little as he waves his hand. “Really, it’s okay. I’m sure we’ve all seen worse, and honestly, it was pretty funny. No complaints.”
“Well, Hunchul’s coming over later, and he makes this amazing hangover soup if you guys want to stick around for some,” Hoseok says. Okay, so this is Hoseok’s house. Inklings of memory start bleeding back—leaving Bud Namu, climbing into Jeongguk’s car, heading back to Pasadena where Hoseok’s place is. Wait, noraebang might have been in there somewhere. Then more drinks—lots more.
“I’m down.” Seokjin sounds the least rough out of all of them. “I know a recipe for hangovers too.”
“I’m with Seokjin, since I’m staying at his place this week.”
“And I think Namjoon and Yoongi went out for a walk,” Hoseok says. “I’ll tell them when they get back.”
“They went for a walk? It’s seven in the morning.”
“To quote Yoongi,” Hoseok says with a sigh, “‘I don’t give a shit, I don’t give a fuck.’”
Taehyung lets the rhythmic puff of Jeongguk’s breath on his head lull him back into a fitful doze, but Jimin was right; the headache in his temples starts to grow more and more unbearable with each passing minute, getting bad enough that Taehyung is forced to rouse himself against his own will. Jeongguk is so warm and comfortable that he’s loath to move out of this position, knowing he’ll be left alone to curl up on the couch later if he gets up now.
He waits until the last possible moment, until his head is fit to burst, to turn his face where his cheek is pillowed over Jeongguk’s heart, missing the steady lub-dup of it as soon as he does.
“Oh, he lives,” Jeongguk murmurs. The tiny smile that crosses his mouth when he looks down into Taehyung’s face is so tender. It’s disconcerting, but it unsettles Taehyung more how much he likes it, how much he wants to catch it in his hands to hold to his chest. But then he blinks, and it’s a moment lost—the soft look in Jeongguk’s eyes is gone. “How’re you feeling?”
Taehyung hums and rests his chin on Jeongguk’s sternum. Jeongguk has one arm behind his own head, and when Taehyung squirms, he feels the other wrapped loosely around his waist. “Could be better,” he says, voice hoarse. “Could be a lot worse. Do I want to know what happened?”
“You want to know now or you want water?”
Truthfully, Taehyung wants water. There’s a thin fleece blanket covering him and Jeongguk on this couch, though, and he finds himself looking for an excuse to stay for a while longer. “I want to know now.”
“Hmm,” Jeongguk says, tipping his head back onto the armrest. “Well, we went to noraebang, and Yoongi hyung and Namjoon hyung wiped the floor with our asses in rap, but you, Jimin, Seokjin hyung, and I wiped the streets with their asses in vocals.”
“I knew it. That must’ve been a sight to see.”
“It really was,” Jeongguk agrees. “Then we came back here and Hoseok opened like, three or four handles, and we drank some more and played really drunk video games. Towards the later end of the night, Hoseok got really emotional and started crying, Yoongi was comforting him. Uh, not sure what Namjoon was doing. Jimin just climbed into Seokjin’s lap and started making out with him.”
“God. They still do that.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, laughter shaking in his chest. “Well, that happened.”
“So how did we…” Taehyung gestures weakly. “End up here.”
Jeongguk takes an unnecessary second to look pensive. “You’re a very huggy drunk,” he says.
“I’m aware, and?”
“You were telling everyone how much you love them,” Jeongguk goes on, more reluctantly now as if uncomfortable. “Hugging us and stuff. Uh, you gave Jimin and Hoseok kisses? And called them the best Lambdas brothers you could ask for.”
“Did I kiss you,” Taehyung deadpans.
“Fuck,” Taehyung groans into Jeongguk’s chest, as if this extremely intimate and compromising position weren’t embarrassing enough already. “Then I climbed all over you, said some nonsense about how I love you so much, and knocked out. Right?”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Like I said earlier to the others, it was pretty funny,” Jeongguk says. “You really don’t have to worry about it.”
“I knock off one whole boba payment for this.”
“Can you chill out,” and this time Jeongguk sounds serious. “I’m okay with this. I have no qualms about cute people falling asleep on me.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says, caught off guard, and the way Jeongguk’s face changes, it doesn’t look like he planned to say that either. “Thanks.”
They stare at each other for a heartbeat longer, and then Taehyung scrambles upright.
“Yeah, you should—”
“Bathroom, or drink water, or—”
“Water, right. Go get—get your water.”
Jeongguk leaves soon afterwards, after Taehyung downs two Advil Liquigels and gets some food into his body. He says he wants to beat the traffic, but Arcadia is only fifteen minutes away, and even though some visceral part of him wants to, Taehyung doesn’t ask him to stay.
This message come no sooner and no later after Halla’s gone on a liking spree on his Instagram. She flew back from Busan last night, and her message comes at three in the morning when Jeongguk assumes the jetlag has nudged her awake. Jeongguk rolls his eyes.
Jeongguk stills. In hindsight, this should have been an immediate red flag, but he’s not much of one to look too far into the future, or think about the possible ramifications of his actions.
Count on Junhwe to ask to meet up the second Halla comes back. Jeongguk doesn’t know if he’s just stupid or really has no idea how badly his crush is showing, because it’s a good hour on the road from where Junhwe lives to West Covina, where Halla is, and Jeongguk doesn’t see him getting behind the wheel for just anybody.
There really is no delicate way to explain to your friend that you’re politely declining because Junhwe’s idea of “hanging out” without Halla has exactly zero Jeongguks in the picture. Still, though, now Jeongguk is curious about the promise of presents.
Jeongguk loves shabu shabu, and he’s been waiting for an excuse to go get some. Still, he cringes at the idea of being around Halla when Junhwe is the only other one present, and it’s almost like Taehyung hears his plea to be saved from this situation—that he agreed to, but really, food is hard to turn down.
It’s like Taehyung hears him, and inadvertently, Jeongguk finds himself answering.
Jeongguk grunts noncommittally. “Long story.”
Taehyung leans forward, propping his chin on his interlaced fingers. “I’m very fond of those.”
“I know you are,” Jeongguk says, with that peculiar half-upturn of just one side of his mouth as he speaks. “You’re pretty good at telling them yourself.”
This is first time Taehyung’s seen him after his birthday, which admittedly was only just last week or so—but Jeongguk hadn’t hesitated for a moment when he hit him up, asking if he wanted to get ice cream two days to the start of the winter semester. He doesn’t act weird about it, either, looking comfortable and at home to be standing in this ice cream parlor with Taehyung, studying the menu behind the counter.
“Nothing happened, right?”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “Not exactly.”
“One of my friends has had a crush on her since practically the day we all met,” Jeongguk says. “Crush is kind of an understatement. And she’s my best friend, so while I’m chill with that guy, I don’t like hanging out with her when it’s just me, her, and—okay, Junhwe. Because he reads so much into everything I do and say and he’s constantly asking me if I have a problem with him liking her, which I don’t. He doesn’t seem convinced, though.’
“Oh,” Taehyung says. He processes this. “That’s not that complicated.”
“No?” Jeongguk sighs. “It’s a goddamn chore sometimes.”
“I mean, the problem itself isn’t hard to understand. But it does sound exhausting.” Taehyung leans into his field of vision to get his attention, and Jeongguk finally stops undressing the menu with his eyes and turns to look at him. “It still doesn’t have to be complicated if you know, you tell her.”
“Thought of that,” Jeongguk says. “Of course. But if I tell her I run the risk of antagonizing Junhwe if he finds out, and he will, because Halla’s not fantastic with secrets. Not that she’d tell him but she’s a shit actor, you know? And Junhwe looks like a total hardass but he’s a goddamn baby about this shit. I live with her, so if anything happens it’d be a goddamn nightmare, and if the other people in my friend group knew about it, like. Fuck, I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.”
“I didn’t know,” Taehyung says. This is the first time Jeongguk has actually opened up about his own life beyond what Taehyung could have figured out for himself, and it’s sobering to see this side of him. Sobering, new, but nice. It fills Taehyung’s chest with something honey-warm. “See, there’s plenty of stuff about you that I don’t know about.”
“Not exactly stuff I like talking about.”
“Stuff you probably need to talk about, though.”
“Stuff you don’t need to hear.”
“Stuff I’d be happy to listen to if it means it gets it off your chest,” Taehyung corrects.
Jeongguk doesn’t seem to want to talk about it further, true to form, and Taehyung doesn’t push it. He is though, unprepared for the topic change when they sit down with their ice creams, snagging a table just as a group of high schoolers leave.
“Did you get home okay after I left?”
Taehyung chokes on his spoon. It’s not graceful, and he would think that the blowjobs have prepared him for sudden tests of his gag reflex—but nope.
“I got home fine,” Taehyung says, eyes watering as Jeongguk gingerly hands him napkins.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried about a seasoned Lambda, right?”
“Maybe just a little,” Taehyung admits. “It’s nice to be worried about sometimes.”
Jeongguk laughs. “I’m sure plenty of people do, Taehyung.”
“I know, I know. They do. I guess it’s like, it’s nice to be around someone who’s not a brother.” Taehyung shrugs, trying to fill up this loss for words with his body. “I mean, I love them, but time to time I have to—”
“Take a step back?”
“No kidding.” Jeongguk scrapes up the melt around the edges of his cup, chasing some runaway caramel sauce. “I get it. Sometimes I just need to be away from KASA, sometimes I wish people didn’t see me as the sum of my organization.”
“Hard not to,” Taehyung says. “Humans are lazy, we classify, saves us a load of time trying to care about every person we meet.”
“Well,” Jeongguk says, “I’m glad you don’t fit into the classification I would assign Lambdas.”
“And you’re not the typical KASA. Simple concept, totally surprising in context.”
“You think an awful lot about how people work.”
“I have to,” Taehyung says. “It’s essential for theater. If I’m going to become a believable other, I have to think like them, speak like them, work like them. Be them, essentially, to the best of my ability. And in that process I understand how people think, even if I don’t always agree.”
“I like listening you talk.”
Taehyung looks up from where he’s been trying to scoop up a mini gummy bear. “Really?”
“You see things differently,” Jeongguk says. “Make bad things sound better than they actually are, make the simplest things sound like miracles.” He stares down at his ice cream, swirling the tip of his spoon against the bottom of the cup.
“And that’s a good thing?”
Jeongguk looks up now, and there’s a smile in his eyes. He seems to be about to say something when Taehyung hears,
Taehyung sees the shock of blond hair first before he sees Halla. She has a scarf around her neck and anger on her face, and the way Jeongguk tightens up confirms the suspicion that he isn’t supposed to be here—isn’t supposed to be seen here.
“Halla!” he says. “I thought you guys were going to Jazz Cat.”
“We finished,” she says, tugging her scarf down to hook beneath her chin. Jeongguk fidgets in his seat for a moment longer before she looks to Taehyung.
“You’ve been holding out on us,” she chides him. “You’re only hanging out with Jeongguk!”
“Sorry,” Taehyung says. “It seemed a little out of the blue to ask Jeongguk to come eat with me already, I didn’t know if it’d be weird to ask you guys too.”
“We’re always, always down for food,” Halla says. “Anyway, Jeongguk, I’ll see you back on campus on Sunday.”
“What was that about,” Taehyung hisses, leaning forward across the table. Jeongguk turns back to him, guilt lining every curve of his body.
“Uh,” he says. “She asked me to go to dinner today earlier this week.”
“And you bailed on her.”
“Look, it’s not—”
“Why didn’t you just tell her the truth?” Taehyung frowns.
“What, because it’s my place at all to tell her my friend likes her? I just told her something came up and couldn’t make it, I wasn’t about to be like, ‘oh, Junhwe is asking you to chill because he only wants your company, and being around you two is insufferable—’”
“I mean, it’s not that hard to soften those words.”
“Have you ever actually been in that situation?”
Jeongguk wins this time. Taehyung glances down. “Well, I guess not.”
“I shouldn’t have asked you to come get ice cream with me, huh?”
“No, it’s okay!” Jeongguk says. “I’m happy to be here.”
And, as selfish as they are, quiet words hang between them. I’m happy you’re here.
But by and by,
and it’s the single most terrifying notification message that Jeongguk could get, aside from 5 Missed Calls: Mom. It’s Friday night and he’d been getting ready to go out to the KASA house with her when she sends him the message from her room, instead of just yelling across the hallway as she always does.
When Jeongguk peers in, she’s lying in bed in her pajamas, scrolling mindlessly through her phone. “Hey,” he says. “What’s up?”
“Are you going out?”
“Yeah, Suwoong and I.”
“Oh.” She sits up. “Right, I wanted to talk about something.”
Jeongguk is nervous as fuck, stepping farther into the girls’ room now. Jaein is sitting in the living room, watching Netflix, so Jeongguk takes her chair by her desk. “What’s up?”
“Okay, well,” Halla says, hugging her knees. “It’s. Well, it’s something you did. Or rather, what you didn’t do.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk swallows—here it is. “What’s that?”
Halla laughs humorlessly. “Like, see, you don’t even know what you did. I don’t know, I just told myself that I might be overreacting or being a little bitch, but seriously, I haven’t seen you around in forever.”
“But winter retreat—”
“Yeah, and that was the last time we hung out for more than a few hours at time, and not because we live with each other,” she says. “Jeongguk, it’s like—like, we’re best friends, right?”
“Yeah, of course—”
“And I’m not trying to be an asshole, that’s really not what I’m trying to be here, but you’re so distant. It just started with that night when you disappeared from at the Pineapple party. Then I saw you at Creamistry with Taehyung, right after you told me something came up with your family! I thought something bad had happened—why’d you bail on me without telling the truth? I thought we were close and real enough with each other that you’d know I wouldn’t mind if you told me, ‘hey, I want to go see someone else, is that okay?’ and not have to—I don’t know, lie to my face. And then at the winter retreat, you hardly seemed to be there at all.”
“What is that even supposed to mean?”
“The whole time,” Halla says, throwing all her weight and rising anger into the words, “the whole time, you were texting someone else. I get it, when you like someone, they become the center of your attention. And still I told myself, hey, give him a chance to run around with other people, you know? We always get dinner together, like from the beginning of freshman year, we always get dinner together—and now you don’t even tell me you’re not going to eat with me. Do you know how long I waited on Wednesday for you?”
Her phone lights up by her side, nestled in her blankets.
read the notifications, and Jeongguk’s gaze slides from the screen back up to her face. Belatedly does she realize he’s seen, and snatches her phone into her hands.
“I don’t seem to be the only person that’s not saying everything,” and his voice is cruel as frost.
“You literally said to me on Monday night,” she retorts, “that you’re not going to make it for dinner, and I fucking see you sitting in BCD with Taehyung when we always eat. Are you kidding? What kind of—what kind of—?”
“Look, I don’t tell you some things because it’s not my place to tell you,” Jeongguk says, anger crackling behind his eyes now. “I was going to apologize for what I’ve done, but. I mean, it’s pretty obvious you’re not interested in hearing it since you’d rather tell Junhwe about it first instead of calling me out. Yeah, what happened to keeping it real, Halla? I thought that was our thing from day one, we’re not here for bullshit.”
Halla is glaring at him now with tears in her eyes, and Jeongguk’s risen out of his seat. “I guess the idea of what you think bullshit is changes over time, huh?” she says bitterly. “Whatever. Get out of my room.”
“Get out of my room, for fuck’s sake!”
Jeongguk hightails it out of there. Jaein has taken her headphones off now and stares at him wide-eyed as he stalks around the living room gathering up his jacket, his shoes, his phone. His hands are shaking, and he doesn’t even know with what—anger, yes, but something quieter, and colder. She doesn’t say anything, headphones clutched in her hands uncertainly, as he zips up his coat.
“No,” and it sounds tight even to Jeongguk’s own ears. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever.”
“Whatever! Fucking whatever!”
Maybe it was what Junhwe had said—knowing that someone Jeongguk called a friend, someone Jeongguk called part of his squad, thinking so low of him to say what he said to Halla. To say what he said to Halla, Jeongguk’s best friend, and to know that Halla wouldn’t have told him any of it. It hits him in the heart and he has no one but himself to blame, but it still hurts. It still hurts.
The wind as he boards down the street smarts against Jeongguk’s heated cheeks, and it feels good. The original plan had been, of course, to go to the KASA house, but Jeongguk isn’t sure if he’s in the mood to party now—even though getting drunk and forgetting this all happened sounds nothing but appealing.
One shot, warm. Jeongguk’s anger will melt away.
Two shots, hot. It burns his throat and goes down to sit like a flame in his belly.
Three shots, tipsy. Maybe he will smile now, and forget falling out with his best friend.
Four shots, buzzed. Kissing Yura in public isn’t as weird now.
Five shots, dizzy. Getting crossed sounds like a good idea right around now.
Six shots, drunk. This is where he starts thinking about Taehyung.
Seven shots, fucked up. It’s not so fun anymore but at least he can’t feel anymore, either.
Eight shots, brownout. Wouldn’t it be nice to choose what to forget?
Nine shots, throw up. Jeongguk doesn’t recognize this bathroom.
Ten shots, blackout. What a sick way to wipe his memory.
The buzz of his phone in his back pocket is nearly welcome. It’s Taehyung, and Jeongguk immediately feels better, thinking to ask if he can come see him right now. It wasn’t in his itinerary tonight to become one of those people that Taehyung shakes his head at, the ones on longboards who skate in the streets without looking where they’re going, but he isn’t paying attention to his surroundings. It’s dark, and the streetlamps along this street are dim at best, and he drops a foot down to accelerate just as the front wheels of his board meet the edge of the curb and flies out from under him.
He hears his own body hit the road with a thud, face smacking on the asphalt. A car’s headlights seem to be rushing up towards him, and he panics in place until they come to a stop and someone hops out to rush to his side.
“Shit, are you okay?”
God, he can’t believe he’s eaten shit twice now this year alone.
Jeongguk grits his teeth as they grab him around his elbow, helping him sit up. His left hand stings where it skidded across the street trying to break his fall, and his phone is shattered spectacularly in his right, the delicate glass cobweb splitting Taehyung’s message into a million tiny shards.
Jeongguk looks up hazily into the person’s face. She’s a stranger, tall with dark hair and dark eyes.
“Dude, you ate some serious shit. Talk to me.”
“I’m okay,” he says, coughing. The wind had been knocked clean out of him. “I didn’t look where I was going, I’m fine.”
“You’re a little messed up here,” she says, tapping a finger against her own cheek. “Can you stand up?”
“Yeah—I’m fine, yeah—”
She helps him up anyway, and brings his runaway board back to him. It’s unscathed, thankfully. “Don’t look at your phone when you’re boarding,” she admonishes as she climbs back into her car. “Be safe out there, all right?”
“Thanks!” he calls as she drives away. He winces as he gets himself back onto the sidewalk—there’s a dark ooze in the tear in the knees of his pants, and when he reaches up to flutter fingers over the aching in his cheek, his hand comes away dotted with blood. His whole body protests when he moves, and Jeongguk thinks about going home until he remembers why he was so distracted to begin with. No, home is not the sanctuary he’s looking for now, but
still flashes across the broken screen of his phone.
This time, strangely, Taehyung doesn’t see the message right away. Jeongguk eases himself onto the edge of the curb to sit, stretching his leg out so that the skin around his knee doesn’t stretch. He waits and waits for an answer that does come, until his desperation finally makes him call Taehyung through the Facebook Messenger. It rings forever, until the line clicks and he hears, “Hello?”
“Jeongguk, what’s up? Why’re you calling me?”
“Can I come over?”
“Uh,” Taehyung says. “Right now?”
“You asked me if I wanted to.”
“Yeah, two hours ago,” Taehyung says. There’s rustling from his end of the line. “But yeah, sure.”
“Yeah, I—hey, is everything alright? You sound weird.” Now murmurs filter through, and Jeongguk balks.
“I’m fine, it’s—you have someone over, don’t you? If you’re busy you really don’t have to let me—”
“Hey,” Taehyung says over him. “You don’t sound okay at all. Yes, come over. It’s fine. I want you to come over. Please do. Here’s my address…”
Jeongguk listens as Taehyung recites it to him, then repeats it twice more so Jeongguk will remember. It hurts even more now, as the adrenaline drains out of his bloodstream, to stand up and get on his board, but he somehow makes his way to Taehyung’s apartment with minimal staring. There is one person, though, who jumps at what he assumes is the ghastly sight of his face when he passes under the bright LED lights at the Chase ATM.
“Oh my God,” Taehyung says when he opens the door. “Come in. What the fuck happened?”
Their apartment is less of a complete disaster than Jeongguk’s, by what he assumes can only be contributed to the fact that fewer people live in this space—there’s a Wii console balanced precariously on the top shelf of a shoe rack, the thousand dollar TV stand is literally built out of textbooks and readers, Jeongguk is pretty sure that’s a fucking half-eaten sandwich on a plate on the floor, and more paper everywhere than there is visible carpet.
Okay, it’s pretty bad, but at least it smells nice in here.
Taehyung sits him down on the couch, which is what Jeongguk deduces is actually a futon.
“I ate shit.”
Taehyung purses his lips. “You weren’t getting into fights, were you?”
“Oh my God—look!” Jeongguk exclaims, gesturing at his knee. “Does this look like a brawl injury?”
“I’m just messing, I’m just messing. Let me find the first aid.”
The apartment is small and cozy. Taehyung opens a bunch of cabinets in the hallway, rummaging noisily through them. “You want to tell me how you fell?”
“I wasn’t looking where I was boarding.”
“Jeongguk, what the fuck. We literally just talked about this.”
“I know!” Jeongguk says. “Which is why I feel extra stupid.”
“I can’t believe you eat shit on the same day you agreed that people who use their phones while boarding are asking for it,” Taehyung says. “Ah, here we are. It’s almost like God heard you and put you in your place.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” Taehyung settles down onto the futon beside him, placing the first aid kit haphazardly on the tower of books on the coffee table. “Alright, take your pants off.”
“Bitch, does it look like I can treat your knee if you keep them on? And your jeans are too tight to pull the pant legs up.”
“I can do it myself!”
Taehyung just sighs and sits waiting with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in one hand and an alcohol swab in the other. Jeongguk sits there, getting red in the face, until he gives in for the sake of health. Yes, for the sake of sanitizing his wounds, he’s going to strip his pants off.
“Thank you,” Taehyung says as he gets up, not taking his eyes off Taehyung’s face as he unbuckles his belt with unnecessary force. He shoves them down the length of his thighs until he gets to his knees, crying out softly when the fabric chafes against his broken skin.
“Careful,” Taehyung murmurs, and Jeongguk kicks his jeans all the way off. Now that he’s here, he might as go all the way. “Okay, hold still.”
It burns, expectedly, when Taehyung drips the hydrogen peroxide over the scrape and dabs away the blood before swabbing. The searing pain of the alcohol finally makes Jeongguk growl in the back of his throat, teeth clenched, digging his fingernails into his palms.
“Sorry, sorry,” Taehyung says, uncapping the tube of Neosporin with swift fingers. “Just bear with me.”
The ointment mutes the sting right away, and Taehyung moves onto Jeongguk’s hand afterwards, working methodically.
“You’re good at this.”
“I have very young siblings,” Taehyung says, not looking up from his work. “Each more prone to accidents than the next.”
“Yeah. Jongkyu stopped letting me bandage him up after he decided he was too cool to be babied by his hyung any longer,” Taehyung says, a smile flickering over his face. “Eunjin on the other hand, she used to act like she was hurt even when she wasn’t until I put a Band-Aid on her. She liked the ones with the superhero designs on them.”
“Aw,” Jeongguk says, heart swelling to be told such a personal detail of Taehyung’s life. “That’s cute.”
“What about you? Any siblings?”
“One hyung,” Jeongguk says, wincing when Taehyung draws the alcohol swab over his palm. “He’s in the army right now, though.”
“He has dual citizenship,” Jeongguk says. “He was born in Korea. Then we moved here, and along came me.”
“I see,” Taehyung says. “Are you a little brat to him?”
“Seokjin is to his hyung!” Taehyung says. “And Jimin’s dongsaeng is a sweetheart but he can also be a little monster, sometimes.”
“I guess,” Jeongguk says. “He taught me what it means to be funny.”
“I’m glad for him, then,” Taehyung says, and a real smile comes over his face now. It’s warm on this cold winter evening. “Do you mind?”
He reaches for Jeongguk’s face, and Jeongguk shakes his head, allowing Taehyung to scoot into his space to tidy up his cheek.
“Where’s Jimin?” he asks, then sucks in air between his teeth when the movement of talking makes Taehyung poke his wound by accident.
“Shh, shh.” Taehyung rips open an alcohol packet. “He’s out at Lambdas. I had someone over, like you guessed, but we were just about done, so.”
“Ooh,” Jeongguk says. “FWB? Hookup?”
“Kind of in between an FWB and a hookup,” Taehyung says. “I said stay still.”
Jeongguk falls silent.
“But I think she’s sad about somebody,” Taehyung continues, quieter now. “She doesn’t tell me—not that she needs to, of course. But I think I can feel it.” He shakes his head. “Sad how we will sleep around with people we like to forget about the people we love.”
“Do I what?” Taehyung says, ripping open a Band-Aid.
“Do you love someone?”
Taehyung takes his time to answer, smoothing his fingers over the the adhesive. His hands are so warm on Jeongguk’s cheeks, still icy from the cold.
“No,” he says finally, sitting back. They sit in a silence that’s suspended, and for a moment Jeongguk feels like he could drown in Taehyung’s gaze. Taehyung had left his hand lingering at Jeongguk’s cheek, and he suddenly pulls it away when he realizes how close they’re sitting.
But Jeongguk catches it and leans in, tugging Taehyung forward.
When they kiss it feels like something breaks between them—even though it’s gentle and hardly lasts more than a heartbeat. The only thing about it that makes it seem real is the sensation of Taehyung’s mouth that lingers on Jeongguk’s lips and the soft sound it makes when they separate. The pound of Jeongguk’s heart has muted into a dull ache in his chest.
“Sorry,” he mutters, pulling away. “Sorry, I’m not sober—”
It’s a lie, an easy one to tell and get away with. Taehyung will never see the world through his eyes or the filter that alcohol will make him see it through, and he won’t know if Jeongguk is sober or three shots in. It doesn’t matter. His hand finds its way back to Jeongguk’s face, on the side where his cheek isn’t bruised, and turns it to face Taehyung again.
Jeongguk shivers when Taehyung presses close, and swears he feels a sigh against his mouth when Taehyung kisses him. This time the kisses are insistent, desperate, Taehyung whimpering as he gets up on his knees and wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s neck. This angle has Jeongguk tipping his head back to keep their mouths connected, and he curls his arms around Taehyung’s waist.
“Sorry,” Taehyung breathes, “I am.”
The door rattles, and they jump apart like two same-end poles of magnets. Taehyung reaches for the first aid in an attempt to clean it up, and Jeongguk reaches for his torn pants. Getting it together in time is a joke but there is a valiant attempt.
“So of course I said—whoa, uh.”
“We’re good!” Taehyung shouts from under the coffee table, where he’s collecting used swab packets. He tries straightening up, only to smack the back of his head and shoulders on the underside of the table, and Jeongguk winces. “Ow, fuck. Yeah! We’re good!”
Jimin, with his lips still parted in mild surprise, slides his gaze to Jeongguk. Buckling his belt has never been so difficult, with mortification coursing through his veins and a bandaged hand that throbs with pain when Jeongguk yanks his belt tight around his waist.
“Anyway,” Jimin continues to the boy who follows him, leading him down the dark hallway. “So of course I said, ‘don’t tell me that shit is gay when you had my cock in your mouth an hour ago.’”
The sound of Junghak’s disbelieving laughter trails off as they disappear. “Are you leaving?” Taehyung asks, and Jeongguk startles like a leaf in the wind. He has two handfuls of bandage wrappers, hugging the kit to his chest, and Jeongguk swallows around the lump in his throat. “Sorry, I didn’t know he was coming back so soon—”
“No, it’s okay,” Jeongguk says. “Yeah, I should get going.”
“Are you sure?” Taehyung takes a step forward and Jeongguk finds that he isn’t gripped with the urge to take one back. “You sounded really upset over the phone, was there something you wanted to tell me?”
“Maybe another time,” Jeongguk says.
“Dude, what the fuck! You didn’t tell me you were hooking up with the KASA guy!”
“I’m not hooking up with the KASA guy,” Taehyung says, hunting through his closet for a pair of clean boxers, to no avail. Looks like it’s time for laundry whether he likes it or not.
“Then would you like to explain to me why you were kissing him and his pants were off? I don’t know, man, that seems pretty hard to explain away.”
“He fell off his board!”
“So I was helping patch him up.”
“Why, were you there when he fell or something?”
Taehyung straightens up with a pair of basketball shorts in hand, realizing how strange it sounds now that he’s recounting it to his own ears. “Well, he called me when I had Mina over,” he says. “And asked if he could come, so obviously I said yes. He sounded really weird, like he needed company.”
“And he thought of you,” Jimin says. “Not, I don’t know, his housemates or something.”
“Look, I wasn’t going to pry,” Taehyung says, throwing his hands up before turning back to the bottomless ravine of his closet. He has a feeling he’s going to unearth shit he’d tossed in here in the beginning of sophomore year at this point. “If he wanted to talk, I’d be game. But I had to treat his injuries, like what was I supposed to do? Let him bleed on our futon?”
“You made him take off his pants,” Jimin says, seemingly unable to get over this detail. “That is so gay.”
“Jimin, you have a boyfriend.”
“I know, but like. It’s so gay.”
“Okay,” Taehyung says, “O Great Heterosexual. Explain to me the straightest way I could have helped him, then. Should I have looked at him and been like, ‘Oh, would you like me to treat your injuries? And then what, winky face?’”
“No, I meant like—”
“What did you mean, O Great Het—”
“Shut up! I meant, you’re so,” Jimin shakes his head, dropping the hand that holds his phone into his comforter. “You’re so gentle and caring on people. It hurts my heart.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says. “Really?”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t there to see it all,” Jimin says. “But the way you looked at him, it was—like, all we did was walk in on you two scrambling around and even then it just felt like I shouldn’t have been looking.”
Taehyung stands there, the material of his shorts in his hand, hanging loosely at his side. Jimin’s gaze is fixed on the ceiling now. “I’ve never seen you look at Mina like that, or even, you didn’t look at Kibum like that, either.”
“Shut up, Jimin,” Taehyung mumbles.
“So you know.”
“You know how you look at him,” Jimin says.
“And what’s that like?”
“I’m not the poet between us, Taehyung—”
“What’s it like?” Taehyung insists.
“It’s like,” Jimin struggles for words. “You look at him like one forever isn’t quite long enough.”
It’s not often that Jimin will speak so seriously with him, so the fact of the matter is that Taehyung has to acknowledge a reality that he wasn’t even aware of until it’s right in his face.
See, the problem with budding romance in university is that it’s practically equivalent to adding a whole extra class to one’s schedule, and with Jeongguk as a CS major and Taehyung as an upper division applied theater major, the mere suggestion of adding another class would make either of their blood pressures skyrocket. Add that onto Taehyung’s Lambdas responsibilities (better, now, that the pledges have crossed) and Jeongguk’s KASA responsibilities (no rest for the exec board), falling in love seems more inconvenient than fun.
But who is to dictate how love works?
The next time Taehyung sees Jeongguk, it is nothing out of the ordinary. Jeongguk calls him out for boba—this is maybe the fifth, sixth payment now?—and they sit together in Lollicup as Jeongguk slogs his way through his Digital Systems homework. Gone is the pressure of having to pass physics for Taehyung, and it’s his turn now to sit by Jeongguk and proofread his Historical Japanese Lit paper.
“You’re really not built for writing, are you,” he says, marking up the third run-on on one page of this essay.
“I was built for all sorts of arts, but not the literary kind,” Jeongguk says, leaning over to read the corrections. “Oh, what the fuck? This bad?”
“I didn’t say you have to make all these changes, but at least those are things that stood out to me as wrong or odd,” says Taehyung. “What art are you good at?”
“I’m not too bad at sketch drawings,” Jeongguk says, scrolling slowly through the document. “And I think I can sing.”
“You think you can?”
“I don’t usually,” Jeongguk says. “And no, I will not show you.”
It isn’t until Jeongguk asks Taehyung over on a particularly freezing Saturday night, too rainy and wet for him and Jimin to commit to going to the Lambdas house.
“Where are you going?” Jimin asks.
“Should I expect you back tonight?”
“Oh my God, Jimin.”
“It’s an honest question! What the hell!”
“Yes,” Taehyung says. “See you later.”
It’s fairly quiet for a Saturday night. Midterms are currently in full swing, and Taehyung is lucky that most of his classes either have term papers instead. Now that he thinks about it, it’s a wonder that Jeongguk even has time to be bored enough for a movie.
“Hurry up, don’t let the cold air in,” Jeongguk says when he opens the door, shivering. He’s wearing sweatpants, but nothing else except for a loose tank top. “Sorry for the mess.”
“It’s better than I expected,” Taehyung says, casting his eyes over the room. There’s a flood of shoes by the door, a santa hat perched on the corner of the TV even though it’s February, and a stack of drying dishes in the microwave. “How’s your knee? Your hand?”
“They’re good,” Jeongguk says, stretching out his palm. It’s smooth and unblemished. “My cheek is going to scar, I think.”
“Oh, right here?” Taehyung asks. A dark, fading line sits upon Jeongguk’s cheekbone.
“Yeah. Fuck my life.”
“I think face scars give people character,” Taehyung says firmly.
“Definitely. Are all your housemates out?”
“They’re at Beyond Wonderland,” Jeongguk says, sitting back down on the recently vacated couch.
“You didn’t go with them?”
“I was going to,” Jeongguk says. “But there was a change of plans.”
“I was at EDC two years ago,” Taehyung says, remembering the experience fondly. He sits down beside Jeongguk, feeling the air rush out of the cushion beneath him. “Then I was at Escape last year.”
“Did you go to Hard Summer, ever?”
“Oh yeah, that too,” Taehyung says. “I don’t know, I haven’t been to any raves recently.”
“You should have said so,” Jeongguk says, searching up Zoolander on Netflix. “We could have gone together.”
“What, us two?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Well, it’s too late now, right,” Taehyung says, as Jeongguk switches the TV on and connects his laptop to Airplay.
“There’s still Hardwell,” Jeongguk says. “There are plenty of chances.”
Yes, there are. Taehyung curls up into himself as the movie begins rolling, and lets himself be immersed in this ridiculous, larger-than-life tale of two top male supermodels. The standard twenty minutes comes and goes and he laughs at himself for thinking that Jeongguk was serious about the chilling part of Netflix and chill—he stays on his end of the couch, watching in silence with his hands folded behind his head.
It’s technically Taehyung’s fault. He’s leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and when one of the most stressful scenes of the movie passes, he turns to glance at Jeongguk, who blinks slowly and meets Taehyung’s eyes. His are half-hooded, like he’s sleepy, and he stays very still when Taehyung sits up and leans over to kiss him.
Jeongguk smiles against Taehyung’s mouth as he pulls back, eyes still opening and closing lazily like a cat basking in a pool of sunlight. “Well, I wasn’t serious about the chill part,” Jeongguk whispers, words barely audible over the dialogue of the movie behind them, “but I’m down if you are.”
Jeongguk straightens up now, kissing Taehyung briefly before standing up. “Come on.”
Taehyung’s first thought is that he’s definitely too sober to be doing this. Jeongguk starts shedding his clothes before they’ve even gotten to his room, the muscles in his shoulders rippling when he pulls his tank top over his head. The light that flicks on is sudden, and Taehyung is met with Jeongguk’s room.
“Excuse me,” Jeongguk says easily, and Taehyung jumps out of the way as he reaches around him, fitting a sock to the doorknob. Then the door falls shut with a click of the lock, and Taehyung surges forward to kiss Jeongguk again when he turns to look at him.
“How do you want to do this?” Taehyung says, climbing over Jeongguk’s lap as he backs them into his bed.
“However you want,” Jeongguk says, breath hitching when Taehyung palms the front of his pants, feeling Jeongguk half hard through the fleecy cotton of his sweatpants. “Shit, Taehyung.”
“Let me blow you first?”
Taehyung isn’t sure why he expected anything else, but it plays out as it should—the perfect, spotless hookup. Impromptu, fast, hit and quit. Except it isn’t, it isn’t, and Taehyung doesn’t know if he’s the only one that feels it. Jeongguk kisses him too tenderly, Taehyung touches him too much. When Jeongguk finally gets Taehyung’s pants off, he shoves his face into the wet spot that’s forming at the front of Taehyung’s boxers and tongues at him through the thin fabric before he takes them off.
“How long has it been since you’ve been in bed with a guy?”
Jeongguk looks up from where he lubes himself up, sitting in between Taehyung’s bent legs with a furrowed brow. The condom is a bright, electric blue and he strokes himself absently with shaking hands. It’s all Taehyung can do not to reach down to his own cock, sticky with Jeongguk’s spit and pre-come, or down to his entrance where it’s slick and open where Jeongguk had fingered him.
“A while,” Jeongguk offers, shifting closer, holding his cock steady with one hand as he spreads Taehyung wider with the other. He pushes the head of his cock into Taehyung, holding Taehyung’s legs apart as he shakes and moans under him. “You okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Keep going,” Taehyung says in panting breaths, so Jeongguk moves.
It’s a perfect, spotless hookup, except it isn’t, it isn’t, and even the snap of Jeongguk’s hips seem to know. Jeongguk presses kisses to Taehyung’s mouth when he cries out particularly loud, muffling the noise. The sound of Taehyung’s moans muted in Jeongguk’s lips makes him ache between his legs even more, and Jeongguk doesn’t stop him now when he reaches down to relieve it. When Taehyung pants, “Jeongguk,” he answers,
and it would be the perfect, spotless hookup if only Taehyung weren’t in love.
Jeongguk kisses him through his orgasm, when Taehyung’s legs tighten around his waist hard enough to bruise. It’s enough to get Jeongguk to come too, and it’s Taehyung’s turn to catch the moans that Jeongguk drips into his mouth from above him.
“Fuck,” Taehyung says breathlessly afterwards, after Jeongguk has handed him the box of Kleenex on his way to throwing out the condom. “For someone who says he hasn’t fucked any guys for a while, that was good.”
“Thank you,” Jeongguk says, laughing softly as he climbs back into bed. His breathing evens out, and he doesn’t seem to mind Taehyung still in his bed, so Taehyung pushes his luck against his better judgment and curls up just beside Jeongguk. Close enough to feel the warmth of his skin but just far away enough that he can’t call it his own.
After a while, Jeongguk says, “My housemates and I fell out.”
“What? What happened?”
“A buildup of things,” Jeongguk says, turning his head to face Taehyung. He always seems to have one hand pinned behind it when he’s lying down. “We were going to go to Beyond together, but then we fell out, and I’m not really interested in going with a bunch of people who hate me right now.”
“Did you do something?”
“I did something, they did something, and there were misunderstandings,” Jeongguk says. “And as much as I pretend not to care, it’s a little sad.”
Taehyung shimmies closer, pillowing his head on his hands. Jeongguk laughs, one of those little rushing breaths out of his nose and a sad quirk of his lips as he looks back at the ceiling. “I’m sorry,” Taehyung whispers.
“Are we good?”
“We’re good, right?”
Taehyung doesn’t quite understand the question, but he thinks he hears what Jeongguk means. Did we misunderstand anything here?
“Yeah,” Taehyung says, and tries not to feel empty.
In nearly immediate denial on Jeongguk’s part that they are good, Taehyung gets a call in the middle of a post-midterm party over Facebook Messenger again, plugging one ear shut as he answers.
“Hello?” There’s no answer. “Hello?”
“Taehyung,” says Jeongguk, and he sounds messed up as fuck. “Where are you?”
“Where am—I’m at the Lambdas house, where are you? What’s up?”
“I got you your drink,” Jeongguk says. “Why didn’t you come? Do you hate me now, too?”
“Wait, what?” Taehyung grips his Solo cup tighter in his hand and pushes his way outside to the parking lot in front of the frathouse. “Wait, Jeongguk. I don’t hate you, of course not, what are you talking about?”
“I got you your drink!” Jeongguk repeats. “But you never came!”
Bewildered, Taehyung brings his phone away from his face to check his notifications, heart sinking when he sees a full thread of them from Jeongguk. They’re barely intelligible, riddled with typos.
“Hey, hey, I’m coming,” Taehyung says, setting down his drink on the hood of someone’s car. “Don’t move.”
Taehyung hangs up and grabs his jacket. He’s drunk himself, wobbling a little when Junhong hands it to him.
“Are you sure you should be going anywhere alone, hyung?” he asks. Taehyung nods.
“I’m fine, my friend wants to see me and he’s not doing so hot,” he says. “Let Jimin know where I am if he asks, okay?”
“I got you.”
Being drunk makes the trip to Lollicup feel a lot longer than it actually is. Jeongguk is visible from the window this time, slumped over on a table with an order of boba by his face. He doesn’t glow much, from what Taehyung has learned, but tonight there is a flush high in his cheeks.
“Hey, Jeongguk,” he says. People are staring, and people must have been staring, and Taehyung feels like shit for having let him stay here so long himself. “Jeongguk, hey. Let’s go home.”
“I don’t want to go home,” Jeongguk says groggily, struggling to sit up. “I don’t want to see Halla, she hates me. I don’t want to see Junhwe, he hates me, Taehyung, where have you—”
“We’re not going to your home, okay,” Taehyung says, picking up the drink and the straw Jeongguk had balanced atop the lid. “I won’t let you see them if you don’t want to.”
“Taehyung, I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says as Taehyung pulls him out of his seat. He stands fine, but his walking is a mess, so Taehyung loops his arm through Jeongguk’s.
“Shh,” Taehyung says. “Be quiet and act sober until we get back.”
It’s clear that Jeongguk has had way too much to drink. He can’t shut up. No one really looks in their direction once they’re on the streets, there are stranger things to pay attention to on a weekend night in LA, but Jeongguk can’t stop saying nonsensical things that Taehyung can’t understand. He picks up Halla’s name, Yura, something about class, and then when they’re waiting on a crosswalk, Jeongguk leans over and tries to kiss him.
“Whoa, whoa, keep it together, Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, leaning away so that Jeongguk’s mouth lands on the corner of his jaw. “Not now.”
“You’re not going to want to kiss me later,” Taehyung says, as Jeongguk rights himself. The light turns into the white walking man. Jeongguk’s steps are uneven and bumpy but he keeps up with Taehyung’s brisk pace. “But sure, whatever you want.”
“I want you. I want you.”
“Okay, Jeongguk. Careful of the fire hydrant.”
Jeongguk runs into it anyway, and it’s somehow the funniest thing ever to him.
“You wanna, you wanna know about the first guy I ever got in bed with?”
No, not really. “Yeah, tell me about him,” Taehyung says. “What was he like?”
“I remember the whole thing,” Jeongguk says, leaning into Taehyung’s side at the last block before Taehyung’s apartment. “Except who he was. I don’t know why or how. It was in the KASA house. In the bathroom, in my freshman year. I think it was Halloween, too. I met him in the bathroom and we hooked up upstairs.”
“Oh yeah?” Taehyung says. They’re getting close to the apartment complex, and he tries to recall where he’d been on Halloween of last year. “Was he good?”
“He was so good,” Jeongguk slurs. “He was great. I never saw him again. I woke up alone the next morning.”
“Wait,” Taehyung says. This story sounds familiar. KASA house, Halloween of last year. His second Halloween party, after the spoon and fork fiasco in his first year. He was in the bathroom with someone. He’d been buzzed. The guy was hot and Taehyung let him kiss him and lift him onto the countertop.
This is why Jeongguk was familiar to him. Even from the beginning, when Taehyung had just met him. The feeling that he knew Jeongguk, somewhere, somehow, hadn’t been wrong. He hooked up with Jeon Jeongguk towards the beginning of his second year in the KASA house and, more than a year later, in Jeongguk’s own bed.
“Yeah?” Jeongguk asks. “I’m waiting.”
“Nothing, nothing. This is us,” Taehyung says, unlocking the front door. “Don’t trip.”
Taehyung sets Jeongguk down on the futon in the living room, and it feels a little like deja vu. This time, though, Jeongguk tips sideways into the bed. The condensation along the sides of the boba cup are nearly all gone now, and Taehyung sets it on a stack of old theater scripts.
“Jesus,” he says, shakes his head, and sits down in the curve of Jeongguk’s body. He remembers waking up in Jeongguk’s bed in the morning a few weeks ago, after their first hookup, feeling all too warm and comfortable. Jeongguk’s roommate was in his bed, curled into the wall, and Jeongguk was on his stomach facing away from Taehyung. He left him alone again, but this time it felt as though Taehyung left bits of himself behind, too.
When he makes to stand up, Jeongguk grabs his hand.
“No, no, don’t,” he begs. “Stay here and hold my hand.”
“I’m going to get you a blanket and some water.” And a trash can, just in case, Taehyung adds to himself.
“Just hold my hand,” Jeongguk says. “It grounds me, I’m scared I’m going to throw up.”
Taehyung pulls his hand out of where it’s clutched in both of Jeongguk’s and reaches up to brush his bangs away from his forehead. “I’ll come back fast. I don’t want you getting cold, okay?”
“Okay,” Jeongguk says, letting him go reluctantly. “Okay.”
Taehyung makes quick work of grabbing the top blanket off his bed (better sleep under five blankets than spend any money on heating) and collecting a water bottle and the wastepaper basket. He dumps out all the recycling onto the floor and hopes that Jimin won’t chew him out for emptying his old notes everywhere.
Jeongguk opens his eyes when Taehyung sits back down, reaching for his hand and clinging tight. With his free hand, Taehyung pulls the blanket over Jeongguk’s shoulders, tucking it under his chin. He contemplates reaching down to pull Jeongguk’s shoes off, but the grip Jeongguk has on his fingers is vise-like and Taehyung doubts he’ll let him go now. The plastic bag that lines the trash can rustles when Taehyung sets it down beside Jeongguk’s head, over the edge of the futon.
“Just hold my hand until I fall asleep,” Jeongguk says. “Promise you won’t go anywhere.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
But Jeongguk is already asleep.
“Ah, you’re awake?”
Jeongguk is only vaguely familiar with this voice, but as it were, it sounds kind and non-threatening, so he offers a grunt in response.
“Taehyung had to go to rehearsal early this morning, so he told me I had to stick around until you woke up.” Jimin, right. Jimin, that was Taehyung’s roommate’s name, and best friend. “He also told me to tell you,” there’s a sound of paper being unfolded, “‘don’t worry about last night. You were blau...blacked, blacked out. If you remember anything it’s no big deal. I promise I didn’t take anything the wrong way if you didn’t want me to. If you need anything, Jimin is house-trained, and—’ Wow, what the fuck?”
“Cute,” Jeongguk says hoarsely. “No, keep going.”
“You don’t want to know what you did last night?”
Jeongguk’s eyes fly open. “What did I do?” he asks, panic surging into his blood.
“I don’t know,” Jimin says unhelpfully, tossing the note aside where he sits at the dining table, going back to type away at his laptop. “But his note sure made it sound like you did.”
Jeongguk grabs his temples and groans into the futon again. There’s a blanket draped over him, gently, as if someone had taken care to rearrange it around him before they left.
“I mean, I did come home to see Taehyung asleep with you on that futon there,” Jimin says. “He had feet hanging off the edge like he’s just eased into a lying position where he was sitting, and you were hugging him real tight. He woke up later to tell me you’d blacked out and called him, so he took you back here.”
Jeongguk frowns. “Why didn’t he take me to own house?”
A shrug. “I don’t know, he didn’t tell me everything. Just asked if I was okay with you being here and I said, of course, he’s blacked out. And told me not to leave you until you woke up. That’s all.”
“Did we hook up?”
Ugh, Jeongguk kicks himself. The alcohol is still talking, hours later. Jimin only laughs and shakes his head.
“No, Taehyung doesn’t do blackout hookups.” He looks over the top of his computer. “How many drinks did you have?”
“Ten or so.”
“Rounding up or down?”
Jeongguk thinks. “Down.”
“Christ,” Jimin whistles. “No wonder you blacked out.”
“Did I…” Jeongguk says, “did I say anything when you were here?”
Jimin doesn’t answer this right away, and it confirms Jeongguk’s worst fears. He said something stupid. He said something stupid that he can’t take back.
“You just asked where he was when he got up for the bathroom when I came back,” Jimin says carefully. “Uh, yeah.”
“Is that it?”
“As in, there was more.”
“You just seemed very upset,” Jimin says. “Uhm, distressed. When you woke up and found that Taehyung wasn’t by your side. You only went back to sleep when he came back.”
Jimin purses his lips and peers over the top of his computer now more fully to get a better view of where Jeongguk is still prostrate on the futon. “Are you guys…?” he asks, trailing off.
“Are we what.”
“Like...is there something going on, should I—”
“Nothing is going on,” Jeongguk says thickly. Nothing, except for the fact he fears his heart already belongs to someone he didn’t want to give it to.
Whatever happened that night doesn’t deter Taehyung from texting Jeongguk now to hit him up for—well, not boba anymore. Not going out to eat anymore.
It’s weird getting texts to come over that aren’t from Yura—though, to be honest, they’re welcome. Having sex with someone that isn’t Yura isn’t exactly out of the ordinary, but Jeongguk is lazy. He’s not much of one to attempt expanding his hookup repertoire unless the chance is presented to him. Which was not until recently, when Yura stopped looking at him in bed. Not until recently, when Taehyung had pummeled soft a space in Jeongguk to fit into, one that feels empty if it’s not Taehyung filling it. And Taehyung fills it, thankfully, the warmth of his presence glossing over the gaping hole Jeongguk feels so acutely every time he catches Halla avoiding his gaze at home.
Taehyung’s on the futon when Jeongguk knocks, opening the door when he hears an “it’s open!” come from the other side. And the most Yura’s ever done in terms of surprises is open her front door wearing nothing but a bra and her panties, but Jeongguk is gobsmacked when he lets himself in to see Taehyung stretched out on his futon with a hand down his pants already.
“God, you take forever,” he pants, and Jeongguk goes lightheaded at the sight of Taehyung lifting his hand to his lips, licking away the stickiness of pre-come. “I told you I was going to start without you.”
Jeongguk doesn’t waste time explaining that he was changing out of his pajamas, because it’s undeniably sexier stripping off jeans and a sweater as opposed to a ratty XL white tee from his senior year of high school and a pair of basketball shorts. Taehyung is taking his hand, leading him down that same dark hallway Jeongguk had watched him rummage through for the first aid a few months ago, the first time he’d kissed Taehyung.
There’ve been a lot of hookups, and thus, lots of kisses, since then. Jeongguk is never quite sure what he’s supposed to classify them as, but all he knows is that Taehyung makes that happy feeling in his chest glow warm and soft, and he endeavors to feel it as long as he can.
“Want to get on your hands and knees for me today?” Jeongguk breathes, the beginning of his question muffled where he speaks into Taehyung’s mouth, only pulling away far enough to articulate clearly.
“Yes,” Taehyung says, giving Jeongguk one more kiss, rubbing his thigh in between Jeongguk’s and grinning when Jeongguk’s hips jerk.
“Don’t be cheeky,” Jeongguk says, reaching for the lube. Taehyung laughs, sitting on his heels and reaching back with one arm to hook around Jeongguk’s neck, pulling him back in to kiss again. The bottle of lube is caught between Taehyung’s spine and Jeongguk’s chest, and he feels Taehyung shiver when the cold dollop of lube is smeared down the length of his body, Jeongguk running his down Taehyung’s side to grip the jut of his pelvis. Taehyung is a fierce kisser, at least during the heat of sex, and sucks and licks at Jeongguk’s tongue. Jeongguk pays the favor back in full, trapping Taehyung’s lower lip in his teeth, pulling and releasing so that it springs back with a soft, wet noise.
Taehyung is so eager, opening up for Jeongguk, spreading his legs, taunting him when Jeongguk has to hold down his orgasm well enough to put the condom on and actually get inside him. The arch of his back is so beautiful when Jeongguk finally does slide into him, and he fucks back on Jeongguk’s cock before Jeongguk can even ask if he’s okay.
“Fuck,” Jeongguk pants when they finish, and Taehyung can only laugh where he collapses in bed. He’d come so hard Jeongguk had to stop thrusting, the heat too tight to even move. “Hold on, I can’t even get up.”
“No rush,” Taehyung says, guiding Jeongguk onto his back and climbing over him. Normally, Jeongguk would make a face, but he doesn’t mind when Taehyung smears his own come on Jeongguk’s belly, lying between his legs like this. “Oops, sorry—”
Jeongguk watches hazily as Taehyung pulls away, sitting up between his thighs. The afterglow is making all his muscles soft, but his hips jump when Taehyung pulls the condom off for him and licks at the head of his cock to catch the few drops of come that escape the condom.
“Mm,” Taehyung hums, climbing out of bed to toss the condom in the trash. Jeongguk laughs this time when Taehyung makes a show of wiping the come off, tossing him the same towel when he finishes.
“Oof,” Jeongguk grunts, when Taehyung dive-bombs back onto his bed, half landing on Jeongguk’s stomach. “How do you have so much energy after sex?”
“I have a lot of energy, period,” Taehyung says as Jeongguk reaches for his phone, squinting at the bright screen in the darkness. He hesitates, like he has more to say, but then Taehyung moves in until he can pillow his head on Jeongguk’s shoulder.
Neither of them move, for a moment, assessing this. Then, slowly, Jeongguk drapes his arm over Taehyung’s shoulders, and they relax.
“I’ll say,” Jeongguk says. A yawn bubbles up his throat just as he fumbles with his phone, and it lands on his face. “Fuck, ow—”
“Oh, are you okay?” Taehyung says, giggling. He reaches up before Jeongguk can, plucking the phone off his face. “Love when that happens.”
There’s no urge to snatch his phone back, and Jeongguk simply watches sleepily as Taehyung scrolls through Jeongguk’s pages of apps until he gets to the last one. He doesn’t tap on anything, and doesn’t understand what Taehyung is looking at initially.
“Was this you in your first year?” he asks, tilting his head up to look at Jeongguk.
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “No, it was the beginning of this year.”
It’s a picture of a Polaroid that Halla had taken outside the KASA house, in the first week back at school. It had been sweltering that night, and she stands center, wearing a black halter crop top with Jaein beside her. She has her arm around Jeongguk’s neck where he’s bending down low enough for her to reach, and Junhwe has his arm slung over Jaein’s shoulders. Jaein’s smile, served over crossed arms, is in stark contrast to Halla and Jeongguk who are mugging at the camera.
“Who are these guys?”
Taehyung taps the faces of the two guys who are crouched in front of them, in snapbacks and tank tops.
“The guy on the right’s Suwoong, he’s my roommate,” Jeongguk says. “The other guy’s Juhyeon, he’s Junhwe’s roommate. We don’t see him as often now after he rushed Zetas.”
Jeongguk smiles at the memory. The picture is labeled, #SQUADUP #yeezustour with black Sharpie in Halla’s neat handwriting, signed off with a heart and the date. They’d all hopped in Suwoong’s SUV and driven down to the Staples Center to see Kanye that August, and it had been one of the greatest concerts Jeongguk’s ever been to.
“You guys are so cute,” Taehyung murmurs.
“Yeah, we were.”
The phone sleeps with a click when Taehyung thumbs at the button, and they are suddenly bathed in darkness. He drops it onto the bedside table that’s sandwiched between his and Jimin’s beds, and pulls the covers around himself.
“Do you want to stay over?” he asks, cheek resting on Jeongguk’s shoulder again.
“Do you mind if I do?”
Taehyung shakes his head.
“Then I’ll stay.”
And Jeongguk doesn’t expect to actually get any good sleep when he’s sharing a bed—considering how small this one is, it’s a damn feat. But he’s no good at sleeping in hookups’ beds, either; he makes a point not to share one with Yura because it’s akin to sleeping with a stranger.
Instead, he finds himself waking up in the morning before Taehyung, who has one arm thrown loosely over Jeongguk’s waist, his head still resting on Jeongguk’s chest, and he finds he doesn’t hate it. He waits until he can’t lie in this position any longer to start scratching gently at the small of Taehyung’s back and in between his shoulder blades, smiling against his will when Taehyung whines and tries burrowing closer.
“You win,” he says softly, and Taehyung looks up, blinking away the sticky film of sleep from his eyes.
“You sleep harder than I do,” Jeongguk says, when Taehyung chuckles sleepily. “Defeat accepted.”
Still, Jeongguk’s known Yura for a while.
“I haven’t seen you at the KASA house lately,” she says, on a rare night where she does condone pillow talk. Jeongguk looks away at the list of Snapchat stories he’s going through, not really seeing any of them, watching them only to get them out of his notifications.
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Class got you down?”
Jeongguk glances at her out of the corner of his eyes. “You sure are talkative today.”
“Just making an observation.”
“Why, you miss me?”
Yura gets a serving of dubious raised eyebrow this time, and she relents. “Maybe your dick game.”
“I see. Thanks?”
“It’s just weird when you’re not there,” Yura says. “And every time Halla gets drunk now she starts crying on Junhwe, and he has no idea how to make her stop like you do.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, heart sinking. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Yura rolls onto her stomach to prop herself up on her elbows. “You remember how people used to say shit like you’d move onto Halla after we were done?”
“I try pretty hard not to.”
“It’s funny that they even think that’s a concern,” Yura says.
Jeongguk looks away from his phone now. “Yeah?” He snorts. “Well, I’ve been saying that since last year.”
“We all knew, but people like to make drama where there isn’t any,” Yura says. Her gaze softens now as she picks at her split ends. “Why do we not tell the people we like what we feel, do you think?”
At this, Jeongguk lowers his phone to his chest. She doesn’t meet his eyes, and she has her ankles crossed in the air as her feet rock back and forth. “Why has the question become ‘how long are they gonna fuck before they date’ when it used to be ‘how long are they gonna date before they fuck’?”
The words hit deep. When Jeongguk doesn’t shoot back something sharp and witty, Yura rests her chin on one hand and looks him in the face.
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. “Sometimes I wonder, too.”
Yura sighs. “What, because you know what it feels like?”
“I think so.”
She pauses, the silence filling with horror for a moment, and says, “Wait, it’s not me, right?”
“Jesus, no,” Jeongguk says. “It’s someone else.” He bites his lip, and decides he has nothing to lose. “A guy.”
“Oh.” Yura goes back to examining her split ends. “You like him?”
“I feel that.”
“I think it’s fear of losing what you have,” Jeongguk says. He stretches, folding his hands behind his head. “If they’re your friend, someone you call a good friend or even a best friend—what happens if you guys break up? You don’t lose only a boyfriend, or a girlfriend. You lose that best friend. You lose so much more than just a lover.”
“You sound like you’ve thought about this for a while.”
“Maybe I’ve been scared about it for a while,” Jeongguk admits. “And I know for a fact you have been, too.”
He expect her to clam up and turn away, but she laughs. “Being scared of telling someone you like them doesn’t simply stop at a fear of maybe losing them one day,” she says. “You could lose them now. Things will change between you and that person. If they don’t feel that way about you, the first thing they’ll do is pull away because they don’t want you to hurt, knowing you’ll never have them that way. It’s the kindest and most painful they can do. Then you hate yourself for having to force them to make that choice. Because they, too, once called you their best friend, and now they have to cut those ties so you’ll stop hurting. It hurts you, but it also hurts them. And you hate yourself for the feelings that make them just as sad as you.”
The silence that settles now is heavy and sad. Jeongguk rolls onto his side and pushes himself up on one elbow. “Are you okay?” It’s a good sign when Yura doesn’t flinch away from his touch, and he runs his hand down the length of her back. “What happened with Jonghyun?”
“Nothing, nothing, it’s nothing,” she says, and turns away to swipe at her eyes furiously. “Never mind. I didn’t say anything. You have your own shit to worry about.”
“If I’m honest,” Jeongguk says, “it’s nice to hear that someone understands how I feel.”
But he’s lost her, and Yura has snapped closed like a disturbed oyster. “Yeah,” she says shortly. “I guess.”
Jeongguk searches her face for a heartbeat longer, but that too has frozen over, ice lining the arches of her eyebrows and the hollows of her cheeks. He sighs and leans in, brushing his lips over her cheek before climbing out of bed, pulling his clothes on. By the time he makes it to the door, she still hasn’t moved, ripping apart her split ends where she lies.
It’s just as well—Lambdas party on Thursday nights as it is, but this is full-scale and pushes the noise ordinance to its limits. This year is Hoseok’s first and last acting as pledgemaster for the Gamma Omicron class, who all prepare their own joint present—as do Taehyung and Jimin’s class, Gamma Nu, and Hoseok’s own pledge brothers of Gamma Iota. Gamma Kappa, pulling off some serious planning acrobatics, bring it all together in one giant Facebook chat that blows up Taehyung’s phone for a straight week.
“I honestly believe this is enough alcohol to last us from now until May,” Jimin says solemnly as he empties a cart’s worth of handles into the trunk of Taehyung’s car. The cashier at Alcohol You Later had simply looked at their letters, started up the conveyor belt, and rang up their purchase that ended up being over five hundred dollars without a word. “Aren’t Gamma Iota buying a shitton of handles, too? Dude, that girl at the register was judging us so fucking hard—”
“She looked at your Lambdas tank for all of three seconds and understood,” Taehyung says, securing several handles between books so they won’t roll when he makes turns.
“I know, but who buys fifteen bottles of Amsterdam in one go?”
“It’s Hoseok’s favorite, duh.”
“I suppose.” Jimin nudges him. “Hey, are you inviting your—”
“Jimin, I told you he’s not my boyfr—”
“Jeongguk to the party?”
Taehyung straightens up, one hand on the trunk door. “‘My Jeongguk’?” he asks.
“Oh, please. Let’s not pretend he’s at the Lambdas house all the damn time for anything or anyone else.”
This is undeniable. Every time Taehyung is at the Lambdas house, Jeongguk comes by—if only just to sit with him on the couch with a cup of Jungle Juice the entire evening, until Taehyung takes his hands and asks if he wants to go someplace else. Or Jeongguk will ask first, they’re not picky. He no longer asks to get crossed, not even taking the joint when it’s passed to him. He does take the hookah pipe once, though, and all his kisses that night had tasted of vanilla and fruit punch.
“Yo,” Jimin says, and Taehyung starts. “Are we going to go home?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Taehyung says, slamming the trunk shut.
“You were thinking gay shit again, weren’t you,” Jimin accuses when he climbs into his seat. “You always get this dreamy look whenever I mention his name and when you snap out of it you always say you have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Taehyung repeats, this time under his breath, as he buckles up.
“Are you sure you want to be falling for an FWB? I mean,” Jimin says quickly, when Taehyung only stares at him, “if that’s what you guys are about, then feel free, but I’m just worried about you.”
“Does it seem that way?”
“That I like him?”
“Well,” Jimin says, “maybe it’s just that I know you really well. But two weeks ago or so when Jeongguk was at the Lambdas house with you, and you got really drunk, you climbed into his lap and fell asleep.”
Taehyung blinks. “I’ve already done that.”
“No, as in, this time Jeongguk wasn’t just conveniently sitting beside you like he was last time,” Jimin says. “He was getting a drink, I forget, I just remember you looking for him everywhere until you found him, and then you made him sit down on the couch so you could go to sleep on him.”
“He took you back to our place, and he was still there when I got home, just holding you in bed. It was your turn to insist he not leave,” Jimin continues blandly. “So he stayed with you all night.”
“Okay!” Taehyung says, starting the car. “Okay, I get it.”
“I’m just saying,” Jimin says with a shrug. He props his chin on his fist and stares out the window the entire drive back home.
No one is surprised. In fact, Taehyung has a box of Kleenex at the ready when Hoseok walks into the Lambda house unaware of the party waiting for him. So, technically, first Hoseok screams his ass off in fear (still, no one is surprised).
Someone finally manages to get the the video to play, one that the whole frat that put together for him. What’s your favorite thing about Jung Hoseok and what impact has he made on your life? was the prompt. It takes less than twenty seconds of the first clip of Junhong’s answer, his face screwed up as he squints against the sun, for Hoseok to begin weeping.
“When did you guys even film this?” Hoseok wails as Taehyung dabs at his ruddy cheeks. “What the hell! I’m always around you guys, how did you—?”
“We’re not that shitty at stealth, hyung,” Jimin laughs as some of Hoseok’s pbros grab him in a rough but affectionate group hug. “And you’re not the most observant guy, either.”
“Happy birthday, big,” Taehyung says when Hoseok is finally freed from his hug, and he spreads his arms out. “Thanks for the best years of my life.”
“Stop it, you,” Hoseok says, blubbering in Taehyung’s ear when he hugs him. Taehyung remembers rushing Lambdas as a freshman and being eye-to-eye with his big, but Hoseok now has to crane his head to hook his chin over Taehyung’s shoulder. “I can’t believe I watched you turn from a scrawny eighteen year old child into a twenty one year old man—”
“Okay, you’re my big, not my dad,” Taehyung laughs, and Hoseok chuckles despite himself. But Taehyung thinks he understands, even just a little—watching your little turn grow up under your tutelage is rewarding in a way that Taehyung hasn’t yet figured out how to put into words.
“Cake!” Joshua bellows from the kitchen. It’s a messy affair that involves smashing a little one in Hoseok’s face—Lambdas don’t fuck around with the caking—and then a nice, proper cake that’s half the size of the BP table. Hoseok has more whip cream than face when they take photos, but his smile is so big that it doesn’t even matter.
It’s not until later, when the music is loud enough to rival the decibel level of a plane taking off, does Jeongguk show up.
Taehyung’s in the bathroom, washing his hands, feeling a little buzzed from the couple shots he’d taken already with Hoseok—the obligatory Amsterdam, something luridly blue which Taehyung assumed was Hypnotiq, and Greygoose, because “the only fifty shades of grey that I want are goose,” Hoseok had declared. Maybe he should hit up Jeongguk now. He wants to see him.
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, when Taehyung opens the door. “Hey, I was looking for you.”
“Hey, you,” Taehyung says. “Did you just come here in hopes that I would be here, too?”
“I caught wind that Lambdas was going to be popping tonight.” Jeongguk smiles crookedly. “How drunk are you already?”
“Not that drunk, promise,” Taehyung says. “You?”
“I was handed a goddamn monster of a soju bomb the second I walked in, courtesy of your little,” Jeongguk says. “So I’m okay. You want to go get drinks?”
Taehyung catches Jeongguk’s wrist as he begins turning away for the stairs, and Jeongguk looks back, first at Taehyung’s hand, then at his face. “You don’t want to?” he asks, stepping close again.
“Not yet,” Taehyung says, pulling Jeongguk closer, closer. The wall is firm against Taehyung’s back when he stumbles into it, wrapping his arms around Jeongguk’s neck to pull him in.
Jeongguk’s mouth opens for him, warm and wet, and he tastes of that soju bomb. Taehyung kisses him until he’s lightheaded, which doesn’t take long what with how tipsy he is, but Jeongguk just trails his lips down to Taehyung’s neck when he pulls on Jeongguk’s hair.
“Fuck,” he breathes, and only now becomes aware of both his legs hitched up around Jeongguk’s waist. “Not here, not here.”
The plan was to get back to Taehyung’s house. They only make it as far as his car, parked in the Lambdas’ garage, and even then Taehyung is too distracted by kissing. Maybe it’s something in the alcohol that makes him so interested in just pressing his mouth to Jeongguk’s over and over, to taste his lips and his tongue and something that’s inexplicably Jeongguk.
Maybe it’s, well.
“Don’t you want to…?” Jeongguk asks, sliding his hand down Taehyung’s abdomen until his hand cups the heat between Taehyung’s legs. Neither of them have moved to take any clothes off. The most Jeongguk has done is run hands up Taehyung’s back under his sweater.
“I just want,” Taehyung says, kissing Jeongguk’s jaw, and relishing in the shiver that courses down Jeongguk’s spine. “To do this.” This being making out with Jeongguk in the backseat of his car. It should unsettle Taehyung more, how content he is just to kiss Jeongguk, but the alcohol makes the worry melt away.
“Okay,” Jeongguk murmurs. In the darkness, with only the light of naked bulb that hangs from the ceiling, it’s impossible to see his expression. But Taehyung doesn’t need to, because in the next moment, Jeongguk turns his face until their lips can meet again. It’s no less intense, this kiss, but this time it is so unbearably gentle.
Yet here he is, hoping that it will.
“Chaucer is usually credited for the origin of the phrase, ‘all good things must come to an end,’ in his tragic tale of Troilus and Criseyde, which was the inspiration of—”
“Do you have to be doing that? You’re just reading your notes to me now.”
“I told you,” Taehyung says, shuffling through his work to unearth another beat-up notebook, dog-eared in every corner. “The theater needs someone last minute to add to ensemble because someone dropped out last minute, and I was the first person they called. I don’t even have a script yet but they told me to start warming my voice up for it.”
“But it’s just ensemble.”
Taehyung raises his eyebrows. “If you miss one greater than sign when you’re coding, what happens?”
“The entire code is bugged.”
“Likewise, if one person fucks up in ensemble, that can affect the entire production. Same idea.”
“I want to come watch, what’s the production this time?”
“Jesus Christ Superstar. If you like rock music, you have to come out.”
“I like anything but country,” Jeongguk says.
“Can’t argue with that,” Taehyung says, scratching the bridge of his nose with his pen.
They work steadily. It’s nearly spring break, and Jeongguk has yet another paper to finish for Japanese Lit before he’s free, and Taehyung, cruelly, has one more midterm on Friday. Jimin had already blissfully peaced out, picked up on Wednesday by Seokjin in his dark blue Audi. “Don’t fuck on my bed,” is the only goodbye he offered, according to Taehyung, to which Jeongguk had replied “please don’t talk about your roommate when I have my cock in you.”
Well, Taehyung works steadily. He promises he swore off Adderall in the beginning of his second year, but Jeongguk doesn’t understand why he needed it at all when Taehyung has a superhuman ability to ignore all distractions when he studies. It’s Jeongguk, however, who can’t focus—especially about a class he doesn’t really give a shit about, one that he’s taking because he has to. The sound of Taehyung’s breath snags on the corners of his attention and more than once Jeongguk catches himself staring at the profile of Taehyung’s face when he should be staring at The Tale of Genji or this article about the Meiji Restoration.
He acts surprised—or maybe he really is, Jeongguk can’t be sure—when Jeongguk leans over and plucks the pen clean out of Taehyung’s fingers. When he turns to protest, Jeongguk is already there, kissing him.
“And here I was wondering,” Taehyung says, when Jeongguk pulls away, “how long you were going to take to touch me.”
“Definitely too long.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Jeongguk says. The pen clatters to the coffee table and makes a muted noise when it rolls and falls to the carpet.
Taehyung moans in response when Jeongguk kisses him harder, stretching out over the futon so Jeongguk will follow, climbing over him to cage him in between his arms.
“Not here,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk wonders if he’s really so particular about where they get down and dirty. He’ll hold off relief long enough every time to take Jeongguk to the bedroom. Jeongguk finds that he likes it.
“Jeongguk, wait, wait—”
Taehyung’s hands are insistent and tight on Jeongguk’s skin, one at the back of his neck, another up Jeongguk’s shirt, hiked up his chest so much it might as well be off. “Yeah,” he says, pulling away. “Yeah. You want to stop?”
“No,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk shivers where Taehyung bends his knee so it hitches up around Jeongguk’s waist. “No, no. I want—I want to.”
“You want to?” Jeongguk prompts, still supporting himself on his elbows on either side of Taehyung’s head. The sensation of Taehyung’s erection pressing eagerly against his own is making him dizzy, and Jeongguk has to force himself to use twice the concentration to focus on Taehyung’s words. “What?”
“I want to,” Taehyung runs his hand down the length of Jeongguk’s torso, fingers lingering over the soft center dip in Jeongguk’s abdomen. Jeongguk searches his face, but Taehyung has his eyes downcast, and he slips his fingertips maddeningly slow into the waistband of Jeongguk’s pants and boxers. “Have sex with you…”
“Of course,” Jeongguk says, puzzled. “Yeah, of course.”
“Without a condom.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. Taehyung smirks when Jeongguk’s hips jump a little of their own accord, and his heart is beating so hard Jeongguk nearly feels short of breath. “Really, you want to?”
“Yeah if—you’re clean.”
“Yeah, I am. Believe it or not, I actually got checked.”
“Are you really going to make me talk about this right now?”
“Uh, yeah. If I’m going to let you put your cock in me without a condom on, yeah I am.”
“You asked for it!” Jeongguk exclaims, as Taehyung laughs. “God, anyway. End of the summer, before this school year, because I slept with this girl and the condom broke. Oh, and once when Yura and I did it drunk, we. Forgot, haha.”
“Oh my fucking God.”
“I know,” Jeongguk says, dropping his head to the bed beside Taehyung’s. “But apparently before I met her that shit happened all the time? I don’t know, holy shit. She has a whole cache of ella morning-afters so she told me to relax. We went to Planned Parenthood to get tested anyway, though. She came out clean, I was a fucking virgin at the time, so I came out clean. Then I got tested after a summer fling, and she was a virgin at the time.” Jeongguk holds his hands up in surrender. “I’m clean. Got the papers and everything if you want to go as far as that.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says. “Okay.”
“I guess I should ask you that question too,” Jeongguk says, mock serious. “Should I be worried about you?”
“I’ve never had sex without a condom,” Taehyung says, without missing a beat. “You’ll be the first one.”
“Oh.” It’s Jeongguk’s turn to sound surprised. “Why me?”
“Because,” Taehyung says, looking away again. “I want to.”
Taehyung looks up right as Jeongguk leans in to kiss again, so he lets his eyes flutter closed. He drags Jeongguk along as he scoots backwards in bed, his arms wrapped around Jeongguk’s neck, kissing him hard enough to bruise. Something’s changed about the way Taehyung puts his mouth over his, so slight that Jeongguk thinks must just be the arousal magnifying every sensation between them.
They’re familiar with the buckles of each other’s belts by now. Jeongguk, for one, likes undressing Taehyung. His clothes are loose, sweaters bordering on baggy sometimes, and it’s easy to slip them off and get hands on skin. He shudders when Jeongguk manages to peel his shirt away—the last of his clothing—and runs his hands down Taehyung’s sides. Maybe it’s too intimate. Maybe it feels too right.
Taehyung’s fingers are deft in their work, and he flips them so Jeongguk is on his back, faced with the sight of Taehyung yanking his pants down and off his body. He doesn’t blow Jeongguk this time, opting to curl his hand around the shaft of Jeongguk’s cock where it lies thick and hard against his belly.
“Fuck, don’t tease me,” Jeongguk says as Taehyung rubs his thumb against the head. Precome smears over Taehyung’s fingers.
“You teased me last time,” Taehyung says, smile kittenish.
Jeongguk sits up, until Taehyung has to sit back; his hair is mussed in the way Jeongguk likes best, which is when he messes it up. There is still that cheeky glint in his eye and Jeongguk—well, he was going to do something that wasn’t kissing it away, but that’s exactly what he does. Leans forward, curling his fingers into the hair at the nape of Taehyung’s neck until Taehyung turns and pulls Jeongguk back on top of him. Jeongguk only pulls back when Taehyung’s hand wanders to his shoulder blade with something caught between Jeongguk’s skin and his fingers, and Taehyung drops the lube into his palm.
“Hurry up,” Taehyung says, breathless. “I want to.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk says, dropping one last peck on Taehyung’s mouth before uncapping it. The whimper Taehyung makes at the sound of the cap opening is so heady that Jeongguk struggles not to spill lube all over the bed, rubbing it between his fingers before pulling Taehyung close and propping his thighs in his lap.
Jeongguk shouldn’t be so shocked that Taehyung is so reactive today. He is too, if he’s honest with himself. When he gives him a finger Taehyung gasps, arching slightly. He isn’t watching Jeongguk anymore, eyelashes fluttering as he turns his face away. “Are you with me?” Jeongguk asks.
“Yes, yes,” Taehyung says. “More.”
So Jeongguk gives him two, then three fingers; Taehyung cries out when Jeongguk adds the last, when Jeongguk drizzles more lube where his fingers sink into him. Taehyung’s body quivers all over, and his eyes are glassy when he finally reaches down and grabs Jeongguk’s wrist to still his movements.
“Stop, you’re going to make me come.”
“You want it now?” Jeongguk asks, easing his fingers out and reaching for the lube again.
“I want you.”
Taehyung props himself up on his elbows to watch as Jeongguk rears back to pull his shirt off, finally, and pours lube into the palm of his hand. The touch of his own hand comes as relief, and Taehyung’s laugh is breathless when Jeongguk’s hips jerk into the curl of his own fingers.
“Relax.” Jeongguk shifts closer until he can line his cock up with Taehyung’s entrance. Taehyung’s breaths come hard and unsteady as he pushes in, his hand tight on Jeongguk’s bicep. He drops his head back into the pillow until Jeongguk has pressed into the hilt, and he finally releases Taehyung’s knees to bend over him. “Okay?”
“Yes,” Taehyung says.
So Jeongguk moves, slowly, and wills himself not to come. Without the separation of the condom between them Taehyung feels new, impossibly hot and tight around him, and every place their skin touches is hotter than Jeongguk remembers—and Taehyung can’t stop touching him, scratching lines under Jeongguk’s shoulder blades, hiking his legs higher around Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk curls his hand under and over Taehyung’s shoulders and uses it as leverage to pull Taehyung down on him as he rolls his hips up, fingers slipping where sweat forms in a sheen over Taehyung’s skin.
At some point, “fucking” became “having sex.” These are dangerous waters in which Jeongguk makes a point not to swim. Already this sex is slower, gentler. Taehyung is looking at him. He never looks at him directly. Usually his eyes are fluttering closed, blinking open just enough. Not like this, with something soft and searching in his eyes, and Jeongguk thinks he sees yearning in his face. He thinks, because Jeongguk is very good at seeing things he wants to see.
Taehyung’s hand curls into the hair at the back of Jeongguk’s head when he comes, shaking apart when Jeongguk reaches down to jerk him off. It’s a gasp into Jeongguk’s throat where he presses his face, and he whispers, “Come, come for me.”
And Jeongguk does, finally, with a broken moan as Taehyung lies back. He doesn’t let go of him until Jeongguk starts pulling out, and the feeling of it makes come paint Taehyung’s thighs as Jeongguk’s breath stutters.
“Did you come again?” Taehyung says, surprise coloring the sated glow in his words. His hand shakes when he reaches between his legs, dragging his fingertips through the milky wetness streaked across his skin. The sight of his makes Jeongguk’s head spin even more than it already has, this picture of Taehyung lifting his stained fingers to his face before dropping his hand onto the bed with a laugh. “Wow.”
Jeongguk stretches out in the sheets beside him, limbs soft and tired. He doesn’t remember the last time he came so hard, and Taehyung is pensively quiet as he dabs at the mess on his legs and belly with tissues.
“Thank you,” Jeongguk murmurs, head pillowed on his hands, one sandwiched over the other. Taehyung flicks his gaze up at him. A flush still dusts his cheeks red, one that Jeongguk thinks will take a while to die away.
“Of course,” Taehyung says. “Thank you, too.”
Jeongguk is glad Taehyung didn’t ask him, what for?, glad for Taehyung to be the friend that Jeongguk doesn’t need to say every single word to for him to understand. Yet, curiously, for once, he wants to hear something concrete—something tangible to be held in his hand, words to sew into the underside of his tongue. It’s a desire Jeongguk isn’t accustomed to feeling.
Just as always, they carefully climb their ways under the blankets together, and as confused as Jeongguk is, he feels sleep come to him quickly. The morning arrives uninvited and unkind, one that Jeongguk starts with that soft backscratch he knows Taehyung likes.
“Good morning,” Taehyung says with a sleepy smile. It is the only taste of I love you that Jeongguk will know.
And, as if Yura had forecasted it perfectly, something changes between them after that.
Jeongguk wishes she hadn’t been right. Neither of them even said anything, but that something, whatever it had been—carefully constructed, delicate, like glass—had cracked. It’s a time where Jeongguk wants, more than anything, to talk to Halla, but they haven’t spoken beyond necessary questions for months now. Are you using the shower, did you see any packages for me, did Suwoong borrow my house keys because he lost them yet again?
How is Jeongguk supposed to ask her for help regarding the same reason his entire house isn’t talking to him anymore?
The thing is, there isn’t much to say. Jeongguk knows exactly where his issue lies, he doesn’t need someone to lay out his the choices he can make. He knows what his choices are, and he doesn’t like any of them.
And so he lets the problem be, until the that delicate something between them shatters as completely as his phone screen, the first night he’d kissed Taehyung on his futon.
Jeongguk pauses too long this night to begin with. When he takes Taehyung’s pants off, he sees a mess of hickeys along the insides of Taehyung’s thighs, ones he didn’t leave behind—ones that are imprinted red and angry directly over the fading ones Jeongguk had tattooed into Taehyung’s skin only a few nights previous. He hates the jealousy that burns like bile in the back of his throat. He hates how he wants to ask where Taehyung got them, when Taehyung has never once commented on the marks Yura has left behind. And he hates, most of all, how Yura was right.
If they don’t feel that way about you, the first thing they’ll do is pull away because they don’t want you to hurt, knowing you’ll never have them that way. It’s the kindest and most painful they can do.
“What’s wrong?” Taehyung asks, voice strained with arousal. “Why’d you stop?”
Because the way Taehyung sees it, why on Earth should Jeongguk have any reason to be jealous at all, when he has Yura at his beck and call, whether or not she’s thinking of Jonghyun when she’s under him; why should Jeongguk have any reason to be jealous at all, when he’s worked so hard to make it look like he doesn’t care?
Oh, but he does. He’s cared since that first night he brought food for Taehyung to the Lambda house, and both of them are lying to themselves if they think there’s nothing more than easy sex and close friendship between them.
“Nothing,” Jeongguk says, kissing the crest of Taehyung’s hip.
There’s an edge to this sex—a desperate one, one that Jeongguk allows to go unchecked. Taehyung reciprocates with just as much heat and passion, raking lines like broken wings under the juts of Jeongguk’s shoulder blades, tongueing at the piercings in Jeongguk’s earlobe. When he comes it’s so hard that Jeongguk has to stop moving, letting Taehyung ride out the aftershocks before he urges Jeongguk to follow.
Taehyung buries his face in Jeongguk’s cheek when he pulls out and slumps over into bed beside him. His breath still comes in hot, shuddering pants and Jeongguk reaches down to where Taehyung has an arm slung over him to lace their fingers together. The touch grounds him.
When the heat in Jeongguk’s belly finally cools, he says what he knows is coming eventually.
“Hmm?” He hums, soft and low. “What?”
“Let’s—let’s stop hooking up.”
Taehyung opens his eyes at this, slowly, and the ghost of the smile that had been playing along his lips is gone. He doesn’t say anything, nor does his expression change, and Jeongguk is shaken by the lack of reaction.
“No more sleeping together, you mean?” he reiterates unnecessarily.
“If you don’t want to anymore,” Taehyung says, and now he’s now he’s no longer looking at Jeongguk, “then we’ll stop.”
“You’re still my best friend,” Jeongguk says hurriedly, but Taehyung hasn’t moved to get out of his bed. Quite the contrary, in fact, and Taehyung looks more exhausted than he had been before Jeongguk opened his stupid mouth. “I still want you to be my friend.”
“Of course,” Taehyung says, “but why?”
“Why do you want to stop?”
Jeongguk opens his mouth, and the most hurtful words spring to his lips first.
“I like someone.”
It’s not a lie. In fact, it’s the truth, one that Jeongguk hasn’t let himself think about in words aloud. Now they hang like a sword on a thread between them, and Taehyung flicks his gaze back up to Jeongguk’s face.
“You do?” he asks, and there’s an unreadable glimmer in his eyes. Sadness, anger, regret. A vain hope, perhaps. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I could have wingman’d for you!” he exclaims, and the words are too loud and clunky now, hitting Jeongguk’s ears like drunken punches. “You should have told me so I could have helped you? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t want to,” Jeongguk says. And this latent fear bubbles up in his throat again, choking out all the words still clogged in his lungs. I’m scared. I’m scared. If I tell you we might lose what we have and I don’t want to. I’ll take regret. I’ll take regret.
“Why not?” Taehyung demands, propping himself up on his elbows, trying to talk to Jeongguk about his mysterious crush as if it’s not the person half-lying on top of him still naked. “You need to tell someone when you like them! What if you lose them?”
“Do you do that, then?”
“Do you tell someone you like them without thinking about the consequences of what might happen if your love for them turns sour?”
Taehyung misses a beat here. One of his hands is still spread loosely where it braces him against Jeongguk’s chest, another arm supporting himself by Jeongguk’s head, and Jeongguk closes his eyes so he can imagine them like this, already dating.
“Is it Halla?”
Jeongguk blinks his eyes open, startled. “What?”
“She’s your best friend, too, right?” Taehyung says. “You like her.”
“I—well, sure, yeah.”
“You should have told me,” Taehyung says, softer this time. “You should have told me.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk says, not even sure what this apology is for. Taehyung shakes his head, misunderstanding, and Jeongguk for once takes that leap and stamps it out before it can fester. “No, it’s not Halla. Not like that.”
“No. I fell out with her, yeah, but it’s not because I like her.” And here Jeongguk is, teetering on the edge of fallout with Taehyung, for the reason that Taehyung thinks he and Halla don’t talk anymore.
“Okay, so,” Taehyung says. “I’m not following.” He frowns a little. “If it’s just that you want to stop sleeping together, you can say it, you know. After all we—we’re just FWB, so. It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says woodenly. “But it’s not you.”
“‘It’s me’?” Taehyung finishes with a wry smile. “Relax, it’s okay. I’m glad you were honest with me, and that you told me now, before anything happened.”
“Nothing,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “So, I shouldn’t hit you up at night anymore, right?”
“No, hit me up!” Jeongguk hates himself for the desperation in his voice. “We used to go out and eat past midnight, before all of this, right? I still want to do that.”
“Okay,” Taehyung says. “You still owe that last boba, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, and he feels so hollow. “Of course.”
“I guess I should text Mina again,” Taehyung says. “Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you,” Jeongguk begins to say, but it’s muffled when Taehyung suddenly leans down and kisses him softly right on the mouth, and Jeongguk freezes up. Taehyung doesn’t jump away when he feels the tense of Jeongguk’s body, and his mouth lingers on Jeongguk’s lips before he blinks his eyes open and pulls away.
“Sorry,” he says, and sits up. “Force of habit.”
Jeongguk waves when Taehyung sees himself out the door, then rolls over in bed and shoves his face into his pillow. He tells himself that, this way, Taehyung can always be his friend. But his thoughts are louder, and all they are telling him to do is think instead is how fleeting their last kiss was.
Jeongguk’s favorite solution to anything he can’t solve or debug right away, like a tried and true member of KASA, is to get drunk.
Though, to be fair, he gets drunk at Zetas with the excuse of knowing Juhyeon—who’s delighted to see him and clearly unaware of the shit that had gone down between Jeongguk and his own roommate. One of his pbros lets Jeongguk in, after Juhyeon gives him the greenlight.
“I haven’t seen you since Yeezus, dude,” says Juhyeon, handing him a drink. “Fucking ridiculous. You need to come hang out more often! How’ve you been? Dude, you have to meet my Zsis, she’s great, you’ll love her—”
Juhyeon’s Zetasis is pretty, Taiwanese, and goes by Tzuyu. Jeongguk feels like he recognizes her from somewhere, and she says, “I used to be in TASA if you ever came to our events.”
“Yeah?” Jeongguk asks. He’s hung out with his fair share of TASA members. “That must be why.”
“How come I never see Junhwe hanging around you anymore?” Juhyeon asks, pouring more Coke into his rum. “He’s always with Halla these days.”
Jeongguk grimaces, half due to the alcohol that sears his throat when it goes down—this is too many parts vodka to not enough chase—half due to the distaste of having to explain why in a place Jeongguk had escaped to specifically to avoid his friends.
“Some shit happened.”
“Oh, shit,” Juhyeon says. “Like what?”
“We have some beef,” Jeongguk says, reaching for the open bottle of Coke that Juhyeon had barely screwed the cap onto. “Not a big deal.”
“Beef is always a big deal, dude. The fuck happened?”
“Halla got mad at me, Junhwe followed, and the rest of the house wasn’t interested in trying to bridge the rift between us. So they stopped talking to me, too. It’s easy to take the side of the majority.” Jeongguk shrugs, and drinks. “Didn’t want to tell you.”
“But I’m glad you did,” Juhyeon says. “I was planning to ask you guys to hang out soon, imagine how fucking awkward that would’ve been for you all.”
“Making amends out of the question?”
Jeongguk thinks on it. Not completely out of the question, but he’s still angry enough not to care for it just yet.
“No, not really,” he says. “I’m just not interested in being the first one to do so when I’m not in the wrong.”
Thankfully, Juhyeon doesn’t push it further, in part because Tzuyu comes by with hard ciders for the three of them. Jeongguk takes his bottle thankfully, enjoying the ease of drinking something that’s made to taste good and not made to get him wasted.
He hesitates. Without a doubt, Junhwe and Halla will be there. Most likely Jaein and Suwoong, too. Going there means he’ll have to see them, and he makes a point of not seeing them except the times when he absolutely has to, living in the same house and all.
But a hookup should be quick enough and private enough that he won’t meet them.
“What, you’re leaving?” Juhyeon says, sounding genuinely upset when Jeongguk starts shrugging on his letterman jacket. “Already?”
“I got an appointment,” Jeongguk says, wiggling his phone with a sly grin before pocketing it.
“Nice,” Juhyeon says. “You and Yura still going strong?”
“Bro, we’re not dating.”
“Uh-huh,” Juhyeon says, sounding convinced. Dear God. It’s one thing to think Jeongguk likes Halla, but maybe Juhyeon’s just been that out of the loop—which he has, Jeongguk supposes, so he cuts him some slack. “Come back soon, dude. We’ve got to hang out more now that I’m finally an active.”
“I will. You better answer the door for me next time!”
Yura opens the KASA door when he texts her
Jeongguk had no reason to be jealous, he tells himself, when Yura sighs under him, no reason at all. Not when he finds himself in this position, too, hovering over a girl who loves someone else. Not when he sleeps around to stave off the edge of this impossible emptiness, to fill in the sinkhole in his chest that he didn’t even know was there until he fell headfirst down, down, down into it.
“Yeah,” Yura grinds out, and Jeongguk pushes into her harder.
That’s just it, isn’t it? This game of hooking up until you find someone that fills more than just your desires, but your thoughts, too, taking up the lonely space in your head when you’re awake and alone in the deepest times of the night. Yet Jeongguk has found that person, after all this time, he forgets what the rules are once you do. What he does know is that all he can think of is Taehyung, of how he wants to tell him things that Jeongguk has ever only held in his heart. I want to hold your hand in public I want to kiss you in front of our friends I want to give you hickeys and have sex with you and be so loud that everyone knows you’re mine—
Why do you have to lie to my face?
Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut. He’s goddamn lying to his own, too.
He freezes, and Yura is staring up at him. Her cheeks are wet and at first he thinks she’s crying, and panics, pulling away—until he feels the pool of tears in his eyes when he blinks. Hot, salty teardrops worm down his cheeks, and Yura sits up slowly.
“What’s going on?” she asks. Jeongguk can hardly feel his face, and he’s shaking all over. It’s not until Yura takes his face in both her hands does his vision slide back into focus. “Hey, hey, deep breaths. You want to stop? Are you tripping?”
Fuck. Jeongguk had started crying in the middle of hooking up, thinking about Taehyung. This is truly a new low. Advanced Patheticness, even.
“No, I didn’t take anything,” Jeongguk says. “I—I just—”
“You want to stop?”
“Okay,” Yura says softly. She’s sitting crosslegged now, facing him, and reaches behind him for her bra. “We’ll stop.”
“Don’t be,” Yura says, and she means it. “Don’t be sorry. I know.”
She does. Jeongguk can see it in her face, that understanding of where those unexpected tears had come from. They pour silently down his face as she gets dressed, and when she finally shimmies her jeans on, she tosses the blankets on the bed over his bare shoulders.
“I’ll tell Mino you’re in his bed because you blacked out, so get some sleep,” she says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Are you going to be okay?”
Jeongguk nods wordlessly.
“Okay,” she says, rubbing his shoulder through the blankets. “You take care, Jeongguk.”
They’ve always said, see you later,. But this feels final, the press of Yura’s lips to the crown of his head, the way she doesn’t turn to wave at the door. This isn’t see you later anymore. This is I hope the next time I see you, you’re happy.
“Take care, Yura.”
The edge of the world sinks under Jeongguk’s weight, and the darkness ends in a jolt and a sudden brightness behind his eyelids.
It’s Halla’s voice. He hasn’t heard it so gentle in so long that he thinks he might still be dreaming, until she shifts her weight on the edge of the bed—ah, so this is what woke him—and says his name again.
“Go away, I’m fuckass naked,” he grumbles weakly through the haze of sleep, trying to pull the blankets up to his chin. She’s sitting on them, enough that he can’t, and opts to toss in bed until his back faces her. Her company feels like an old, soft sweater on his shoulders, and he really doesn’t want her to go away.
“I’ve seen you fuckass naked. This isn’t new.”
Jeongguk stays silent, curled up in this bed that isn’t his.
“Yura told me what happened.”
“Fuck,” he hisses into the pillows. “No. Why?”
“Because she was worried about you, obviously,” Halla says. “But she said she’s not equipped to handle you beyond your dick, so.”
“I can appreciate that honesty.”
Jeongguk gathers more of the sheets to his chest. “If you’re here to lecture me, I don’t want to hear it. Let me talk first,” he says. “I fucked up. I know I fucked up, I’m sorry. I fucked things up with you and with Taehyung. You’re my best friend and I treated you like shit.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“I’m sorry, I just—” Jeongguk sighs. He’s really not that hungover but he wishes, for once, he had that as an excuse. “I’m sorry. I miss you. I still want to live with you next year.”
“Hey,” Halla says, and the mattress creaks as she crosses her legs. “Look, fallouts with friends aren’t the work of one person, you know. I was mad, too. You stopped texting me about everything like we always would, but I didn’t give you any room to explain yourself or fix your mistake because I was just so mad at you. I cut you off without explanation because I thought you’d get it if you knew how I felt. But then you got angry at me too, and along with still being mad and thinking you didn’t have a place to be mad at me, I was too scared to try talking to you.”
“You, the great Lee Halla,” Jeongguk says. “Scared of me?”
“I’m not scared of Junhwe,” Halla says, and her laugh is between tired and forced. “But you can be kind of scary when you’re mad. I mean, at least to me. You’re always laughing and making jokes and shit, so when you’re genuinely angry, it’s…”
“Like, ‘oh, shit, then I must’ve done something to really piss him off’?”
“Yeah,” Halla mumbles.
“You had a good reason to,” Jeongguk says. “Maybe you messed up too, but I fucked up first.”
“Apology accepted.” She sighs. “I missed my best friend too, you know.”
The silence is a little more comfortable now, if not still a bit awkward. Jeongguk rubs the fabric of the duvet in his fingers. The clock ticks; someone murmurs downstairs.
“Why did you start crying last night?” Halla finally asks, the question as heavy as a loaded gun. She asks it in that way people do when they already know the answer, but can’t be sure of it until they hear it repeated back in confirmation.
“You know that’s not a question I can answer.”
“If I say it out loud, then the problem is real,” Jeongguk says. “If someone other than me knows, that problem gains sentience of its own. It’s not like this just affects me, it’ll—”
“And so what if it affects me too, or Junhwe, or Suwoong,” Halla says. “What, are we as friends just decoration? We’re not just here to drink with you, but obviously we are if that’s what you want. If there’s something that bothers you, why won’t you tell me?”
So Jeongguk does. Finally, it comes tumbling out of his mouth, raw and broken.
“If I date my best—one of my best friends, and break up with him, then what we have will be lost,” he says. “If I keep my mouth shut and never breathe of a word of it at least we can be together always, right?”
He can virtually hear Halla’s frown.
“What makes you think you can hide something like that?”
“I’m not that bad at—”
“No, you are. Anyone is. It’s one thing to pretend you like someone, anyone can do that. It’s another thing entirely to act like you don’t.”
“Also, what makes you so sure you’re going to break up with him? Man, I would not want to date someone who literally enters a relationship worrying about the day we’ll break up. What kind of pessimism—no, don’t give me that realism shit. Yeah, it’s more likely than not you’re going to break up. But that’s the thing about dating, Jeongguk. You either break up with or marry the person you’re dating. But if you’re going to honestly date someone, or many someones, you have to take all of their hands, every time, assuming that they’re going to be the person you’re going to marry. You can’t have a relationship with someone and simultaneously not believe in it with all your goddamn heart.”
“But what if—”
“And furthermore,” Halla says, voice soft now, like she’s trying to gentle the blow of her words, “what makes you think you can’t lose a best friend?”
Jeongguk is quiet, now, staring into the floor-length mirror that leans on the opposite wall. He can see Halla in it, where she’s looking at the back of his head. “If he dates someone else, if he loves someone else, if he finds someone else to spend his life with, would you say you didn’t lose him? Would you rather live on the fringes of his mind, become just another friend, and say you guys will be, in some way, together always?”
“Because if your answer is yes, then I’ll stop talking,” Halla says. “But even though you stopped hanging out with me, I saw the way Kim Taehyung makes you feel.”
“What if I tell him,” Jeongguk says, “and he doesn’t feel the same way? Things with change between us, it’ll never be the same.”
“Wrong again, Jeongguk,” says Halla. “How can you be so sure he doesn’t?”
She sighs. “Look, Jeongguk, I’m going to ask you a simple question. What do you want?”
What does Jeongguk want? Maybe when he was eighteen, the answers were all clear: major in CS, get job in IT, at a startup if he has to; drink, party, hook up, live out loud. Now, two years into his university career and watching the second hurtle towards a close, he isn’t sure he knows what he wants anymore. To pass his Digital Systems class, he guesses. Have fun. Be happy. He wants Taehyung. He wants Taehyung to only look at him, and kiss him, and love him.
It’s too much to ask.
“It’s too much to ask,” Jeongguk says, and Halla didn’t seem to expect any other answer.
“Have you wondered why it’s so taboo to catch feelings for your FWB?”
This question throws Jeongguk off. “What?”
“Why do you think people drop their FWBs like hot potatoes the second they start catching feelings?”
“Uhm,” Jeongguk says. “Easy. One of them doesn’t want a relationship. Nip the feelings in the bud before they can grow any bigger.”
“So since it’s obvious you failed to do that, you might as well ask for that something you say is too much to ask for,” Halla says. “Look. In every single scenario there is, you lose that friend. You don’t tell him, you will lose him in the end. You tell him now, you lose him now. In every single world you’ve imagined, you’ve only let yourself see that glass half-empty. Why won’t you let yourself believe for one moment in the existence of a world where that glass is half-full?”
Why won’t you let yourself believe, for one moment, in the existence of a world where you and Taehyung have a happy ending?
Because romances borne between a KASA boy and a frat boy don’t have happy endings, but maybe, just maybe, this one will.
The server’s expression is pitying when she takes Jeongguk’s orders, where he sits at a two-person table alone. He places his order, closing his menu and handing it off to her, and checks his phone again.
Taehyung never replies. He lets ten minutes pass before he sighs to himself, thinking that it was worth a try. If Taehyung doesn’t come now, he finds it unlikely that he’ll ever tell—
“Bit lonely to be waiting for me like this, don’t you think?”
Jeongguk lifts his head up to see Taehyung settling into the seat across him, snagging a menu from the table next to theirs. His hair is wind-ruffled, and he’s breathing hard, like he ran here. It wouldn’t make sense. His car keys—a keyring with more charms than actual keys—sit right under his palm.
“What?” Taehyung asks, when Jeongguk can only stare at him. “Did Jimin draw a dick on my face again? I’ll fucking kick his—”
“No, no, your face is—your face is great.”
“Okay, good,” Taehyung says. “Your face isn’t too bad, either.”
“What were you up to last night?”
“Studying, getting high, then studying high,” Taehyung says, laying down the menu and raising his hand for a waitress. “You?”
“Coding and getting laid?”
“Ixnay on the coding.”
“Wow, just getting laid,” Taehyung says. “Nice.” He places his order before he folds his hands over each other on the table, smiling. “How’s it feel, knowing today is your last reimbursement for those whiskeys from months ago?”
Sad is the truthful answer. “I’m a debt-free man, ma!” he says, and Taehyung laughs. “Jesus, it’s been a while, huh? Beginning of the year, and now it’s—well, almost the end of it.”
“No kidding,” Taehyung says, smile fading to a nostalgic one. “I remember it like yesterday. Your face, when I ran into you outside AYL.”
“And what was that face?”
“I don’t know exactly, but it was stupid and cute.” Taehyung winks. “And also stupid cute.”
Their food comes. Jeongguk can hardly focus on eating, but Taehyung digs right in. He eats ravenously, like he hasn’t done so properly for a while, and Jeongguk rolls the sausage link around his plate before cutting into it slowly.
“Don’t you like your food?” Taehyung asks after a few moments, picking up on it right away. “I thought you loved brunch food.”
“Yeah, I do.” Jeongguk laughs half-heartedly. “I guess it was my cravings that called you up, instead of me.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says. There’s the tiniest fall in his expression. “Well, if you’re not interested, I’ll eat your share.”
Jeongguk pushes his tray towards him wordlessly, and Taehyung spears the sausage on his fork and shakes until it drops onto his plate. “Are you sure?” he asks. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Jeongguk says. “I actually—I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says. He puts his silverware down and wipes his mouth at the tone of Jeongguk’s voice. He reaches for his juice as if he think he’s going to need it for the discussion that’s going to go down. “What is it?”
“I uhm…” Jeongguk flips his knife over and over where it lies on his napkin, the edge catching the light of the sun as it turns. “The thing is.”
“I think I’m in love with you.”
In any other instance, Taehyung’s reaction would make Jeongguk crack up. He has a mouthful pulpy orange juice traveling down his throat when he chokes, coughing, and nearly slops half his glass down his front. Jeongguk scrambles for a napkin as Taehyung hacks up bits of orange pulp into his hand, and he spread it over his face before coughing in earnest.
“Sorry, sorry,” Jeongguk says, pulling away. “I’m sorry.”
“You what,” Taehyung manages hoarsely, wiping his sticky fingers clean. “What did you say?”
“I said I,” Jeongguk takes a deep breath. “I think I’m in love with you.” His voice goes impossibly soft now. He might as well tell the truth, now that he’s here. “No, I know I’m in love with you.”
Jeongguk glances up. His gaze has fallen into the hands in his lap. Suddenly the chill of the air conditioner is no longer pleasant and raises goosebumps on the skin of his bare arms, and Jeongguk hates himself for wearing a tank top. “I’m in love with you.”
He grimaces. “Now you’re just making me repeat it.”
“I know, I.” The stained napkin is still crumpled in Taehyung’s fingers, and he looks away from Jeongguk’s face and laughs, staring out the window of this small diner. He laughs, and it’s full of relief, heartbreak, sadness, joy, and exhaustion all rolled up into a strained laugh that finally sounds like he’s cutting it loose. On the last exhale of breath, that laugh turns into a sob, and Jeongguk looks back up in alarm when Taehyung face crumbles.
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, bringing the juice-stained napkin to his eyes, stemming the flow of tears with almost an anger. “I’m sorry, I just told myself to never—never let you know what I was thinking, was too afraid I’d scare you away. I’ve read enough stories, Jeongguk, I do this for a grade, and studied enough characters to know that kind of thing, that love isn’t just something you can hide, but I wanted to do it anyway because I—I didn’t want to lose you, someone that I clicked with in a way I never knew was even possible, and hearing you say that is like I can finally—finally let myself—”
Taehyung hiccups when Jeongguk pulls his face into his shoulder. He gets up, walks around the table, and slides into the booth beside him until he can reach Taehyung like this. It’s foreign, doing this to someone who’s not Halla, who used to cry over her ex boyfriend from high school—but it feels good, to finally hold Taehyung like this.
“Me too,” Jeongguk says. “I. Me too.”
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung says. His voice is shaky. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this in the same goddamn diner where I kissed someone else drunk last weekend, trying to forget you. Jeongguk, I love you. I love you so much.”
It means he can wake up to Jeongguk’s face, soft and serene. No longer does he need to get out of bed, smothering whatever it is that makes his chest so tight. Now it blooms without restraint, spilling its petals over onto Jeongguk’s skin where he and Jeongguk touch.
Jeongguk protests with a hoarse whine in the back of his throat when Taehyung wakes him, softening the harsh reality of “You have class at ten, baby,” with kisses on Jeongguk’s eyelids and cheeks, one on the thin, shallow scar left behind from the longboard accident.
“I’m asserting my dominance today,” Jeongguk mumbles.
“And what does that mean?”
“I’m telling my professor class is canceled,” Jeongguk says, pulling Taehyung closer into his chest. “It’s a sin to leave this.”
“Jeongguk, they’re reviewing stuff that’s going to be on your Digital Systems final.”
“Go to class.”
“I needed the world to pause what it’s doing for a week,” Jeongguk says, cracking his eyes open, “so I can just lie in bed with you.”
Taehyung laughs at the sleep that has Jeongguk so honest. “Makes two of us,” he says, kissing down the bridge of Jeongguk’s nose to his mouth. “Okay, if you’re not getting up, I am, I’ve got rehearsal.”
“Performance this weekend,” Taehyung says. “It’s now or never.”
Jeongguk finally does get up when Taehyung breaks into song (because this is the last time to make it right, this is the last chance to make it our night, we gotta show what we’re all about, work together), rising from the ashes to shout ”TAAAAEEEEE” at the top of his lungs, voice still swollen with sleep.
Instead of following with the next line of lyrics like he’s supposed to, Taehyung chokes on the water he’s washing his face with, the intake of breath when he laughs ending in a cough. It’s the first time he’s ever heard Jeongguk sing, and Jeongguk seems to realize that too, standing in the doorway of the bathroom.
“Right now I can hardly breathe,” he continues, crowding Taehyung against the counter from behind, and hooks his chin over Taehyung’s shoulder. “Oh, you can do it, just know tha—”
“You’re not going serenade me with High School Musical while I brush my teeth.”
“I see how it is,” Jeongguk says, pouting.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard you sing,” Taehyung says, turning his face a little, and Jeongguk drops a peck on his freshly cleansed cheek.
“Well, you’re my boyfriend now, so I’ll sing whenever you want,” Jeongguk says pragmatically, as if this is a no-brainer. He’s only wearing his boxers, which he strips off, and runs the shower. “Any requests?”
“Dude, you have to stop using Jimin’s body wash. Seokjin gave it to him and he keeps getting on my case for using it because he says I’m lying when I told him it’s you.”
“Aw, but it smells good.” Jeongguk holds his hand out. “Join me?”
“I really need to get to rehearsal.”
Jeongguk pouts harder, sticking his lower lip out as he climbs into the tub. “Fine,” he says petulantly. “No song requests for you.”
“Nope,” Jeongguk says, pulling the shower curtain closed. “Nope.”
Taehyung sighs, glancing at the time. Maybe they can make it quick.
(They don’t. The theater director lets him off, just this once.)
Okay, so a relationship between a frat boy and a KASA boy takes a few tries to get right, but they get it right eventually. The adjustment is harder than both of them expected, if not just for the part where they constantly forget that there’s someone to call their own now.
The production of Jesus Christ Superstar comes and goes. The last performance of it, and the ensuing party at the KASA house on this last weekend before dead week, marks the first time he and Jeongguk get drunk together as boyfriends.
“Kind of like a rite of passage in a relationship born from this lifestyle, you know,” Jeongguk says, pouring Taehyung a generous shot of peach Amsterdam—it’s one of the leftover bottles that they’d bought for Hoseok that he’d brought over. “Cheers, babe. To love.”
“To love,” Taehyung says.
“Being in love is so fucking lit,” Jeongguk declares aloud after they chase the shots. “I love being in love.”
“Okay, that’s enough shots for this hour,” Taehyung says, feeling it in his cheeks, too. Jeongguk’s laugh is loose and carefree when Taehyung takes his hand and pulls him out of the kitchen so they can kiss somewhere that’s not in front of the entire organization. There’s a girl on the couch that Taehyung vaguely recognizes when they pass by, and he matches name to face after a moment—Yura, Jeongguk’s old FWB. She’s laughing with another man now, this one with sharp features that soften whenever he he looks at her.
“I love you,” Jeongguk repeats when they deem this corner of the hallway dark enough. “I love you a lot.”
“I do too,” Taehyung says. “I love you the most.”
When Taehyung tells the story of the morning after now, it’s a wild ride from start to finish even to his own ears.
It begins when morning comes, and when Taehyung comes to, he realizes the gravity of what he thinks he’s done.
What he remembers is this: going to the party, partying, then hooking up with someone. At the time it had felt right, good, even, but the dawning realization is hitting him even harder than the hangover that’s beating its drums in his temples. The alcohol hasn’t burned off just yet, and when Taehyung opens his eyes to see Jeongguk’s gentle sleeping face in front of his own, he bursts into noisy tears.
Jeongguk startles awake so violently that Taehyung would have laughed if he didn’t feel as upset as he does, cuddling close into Jeongguk’s chest in this bed he doesn’t recognize.
“Jeongguk,” he says, the word barely intelligible.
“Yeah, I’m here,” Jeongguk says, words high and alarmed in that way when someone is frightened awake. He settles a warm hand over Taehyung’s cheek, wiping at the tears with his thumb. “What happened? I’m here. What’s wrong?”
“Just be quiet and let me hug you one last time,” Taehyung says, barely managing to choke the words out before a fresh wave of tears makes his throat close up. Jeongguk is so warm, securing an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders. He can feel the confusion waking Jeongguk up, his muscles tensing underneath Taehyung’s touch as he wraps his arms around Jeongguk’s waist.
“Last—wait, what? What the hell is going on, what are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says. “You have to break up with me.”
“Why the fuck would I do that? After I finally can call you mine?”
“No! You don’t understand.”
Jeongguk frowns deeply, when he pulls Taehyung back to look him in the face. “What don’t I understand?”
“You don’t understand,” Taehyung repeats, looking away from Jeongguk’s gaze now. He doesn’t want to watch it break when he shatters it, this fleeting dream that they had. “Look, I. I slept with someone last night.”
“And? Babe, it—”
“I slept with someone and I don’t remember who it was! I was drunk, I didn’t—didn’t realize. I was so used to this routine of sleeping around with other people to punch the feeling of you out of my chest that I forgot I don’t need to now. But that’s no excuse, I still fucked up, and you shouldn’t—”
“Don’t call me that, I—I cheated—”
“Babe, you slept with me.”
Taehyung balks mid-protest, mouth still half-open. “Wait, what?”
“You had sex with me, Taehyung.”
Time to comb through last night’s highlight reel. Taehyung racks his brains, thinking back to walking into the KASA party, drinking with Jeongguk. His memory begins to sputter, but it still comes in soft hazy images—sensations, actually. Laughing at something Jeongguk said. Kissing Jeongguk in the hallway, moaning Jeongguk’s name, feeling Jeongguk’s warmth all around him.
“You remember now?”
“I…” Taehyung clears his throat, sniffling. “Wait.”
“We made out for ages and then I asked you if you wanted to go upstairs,” Jeongguk says. “And you said yes, so we did.”
“And then we had a lot of sex,” Taehyung mutters, feeling stupid now. “Right.”
“Did you seriously think you slept with someone else?” Jeongguk asks, incredulous. It’s obvious, now, as reality pieces back together. Jeongguk is just as naked as Taehyung, and the blotchy hickeys that Taehyung left himself sits beneath Jeongguk’s jaw and along the side of his neck like clawmarks across treebark. “But you said my name so much. Even when I was just kissing you. Everytime when you came.”
Taehyung flushes. “I would say your name regardless of who I sleep with,” he says softly, “because I only want you.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, breath catching. He’s caught off guard by this. “Yeah, I love you too.”
“Well, that’s what you meant, right?”
Jeongguk’s face is open and bewildered and still colored with sleep. Taehyung leans in, exhausted with relief and so in love with the stroke of Jeongguk’s hand up and down his back. Their kiss is wet and tastes of his tears.
“Yes,” Taehyung says, chest shaking with the last tendrils of his panic. He drops another kiss on Jeongguk’s mouth, and this one is all gentle warmth. “Yes, I love you.”
He’s the last one to, after Jaein and Suwoong, who were never really angry with Jeongguk in the first place, but Jeongguk has a feeling that Halla told him to be nice to her best friend or else—and since Junhwe is whipped as fuck for her, Jeongguk finds a grudgingly written apology note on his desk in the middle of dead week, sitting innocuously among his sea of notes.
“Did you put this here for him,” Jeongguk asks. Trust Junhwe to apologize through a note.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Suwoong says vaguely, and Jeongguk snorts. No big deal. A long overdue squad dinner at BCD after finals will clear any lingering sour feelings up. It’s just as well that Taehyung won’t be there, considering their latest trip to Bud Namu involved making out in valet parking to Yoongi's immense displeasure.
Jeongguk is surprised to get a text from Yura, after all is said and done. It is a simple one, one that’s no longer signed off with a question mark.
The way she says it, Jeongguk thinks she already knows the answer.
Yes, he did. Jeongguk found that happiness. It lies sprawled on his chest now, drifting off to sleep in his arms.
“Mm?” Jeongguk rubs his thumb in the dip of Taehyung’s spine, tilting his head down. He sets his phone down on the nightstand. “I thought you were sleeping.”
“You want to know something funny?”
“Hell yeah I want to know something funny.”
Taehyung laughs sleepily. “When you were drunk,” he begins.
“Before we started dating, that night you blacked out—”
“That’s a lot of separate occasions.”
“The first night I brought you home,” Taehyung murmurs. He squirms, lifting a hand out of the blankets to rub at his eye. “You bought me boba and asked me where I was, so I came to get you, and you were talking a lot.”
“What’d I say?”
“You remember the first guy you hooked up with? In the KASA bathroom, your freshman year?”
“Fuck, I forgot about him. I brought him up? What did I even say?”
“You told me he was good, and that you wished you remembered who he was,” Taehyung says. He spreads his hand over Jeongguk’s heart, resting his chin on his knuckles. “You want to know who it was?”
“What? You know—?”
“It was me,” Taehyung says, laughing. “The first guy you hooked up with was me.”
Jeongguk stares down at Taehyung’s face. “What?”
“You said you remember everything about it except who it was,” Taehyung says, mischief glittering in his eyes. “And I knew that exact same story. It explained why it felt like I knew you already when I met you the last Halloween. Even then we still don’t remember that night, huh?”
“Holy shit,” Jeongguk says, dropping his head into his pillows. “Holy shit. That’s what we call modern day soulmates. Fate had me sucking your dick two years before we even started dating.” The sound of Taehyung’s laugh, in earnest this time, makes Jeongguk laugh too, if only in disbelief.
“Crazy, right?” Taehyung says, pressing a kiss to the side of Jeongguk’s neck.
“Funny how the world works.”
“You know it.”
“What even were you last year?” Jeongguk asks, pinning an arm behind his head. “For Halloween?”
“Waldo? Like Where’s Waldo, Waldo?” Jeongguk says.
“Yep. We had this conversation already, don’t you remember? The day I came to get my phone from you.”
“Oh yeah,” Jeongguk says. It feels like a different lifetime. “Well, did anyone find you?”
“Yeah,” Taehyung says, snuggling in close. “You did.”
(Jeongguk’s phone screams at the top of its robotic lungs until he wakes, at the asscrack of dawn, and he feels Taehyung startle against his body before groaning and tossing until his face is buried in Jeongguk’s chest. It’s Halla, and she never calls him unless she has a good reason to, so Jeongguk forces himself to pick up.
“Jeongguk,” she says urgently. “What do you do if you like someone?”
“Answer the question!”
“Oh my God,” Jeongguk groans. “I’ll fucking answer your question if you tell me who this person is first so I can deduce whether or not to fucking hang up on you.”
“You’re going to get so mad at me.”
“Hoe, I’m already mad at you! It’s six AM!”
“Okay, okay, listen up, motherfucker,” she says, and takes a deep breath. “Hoo, okay. Okay. It’s Jun—”)
author’s note: written as part of nano 2015
some of these things are 9000% real and yet some of them are furthest and most ridiculous things from the truth, i have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this tomfoolery
actually the point of this story was the bud namu scene