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if you love me (say it)

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Intro

 

Seokjin huddles further into his large coat, snowflakes catching on his eyelashes as another gust of winter wind sends him into a full-body shiver. He wonders if it’s worth it to check his phone for the time, because it feels like half an eternity has passed since he’s arrived at the corner cafe, 15 minutes earlier than the agreed meet-up because Seokjin is an overachiever and also a dumbass.

It’s early December, winter chills starting to pick up, and awfully quickly, at that. Christmas is fast on its way, hurrying along bitter winds and snowstorms for another cold winter in Seoul, though Seokjin can’t say that he’s exactly excited for the holidays. For one, he had convinced himself that for once, this year, he wouldn’t spend Christmas Eve in his small apartment, drinking wine (alone) and watching old movies (alone) over a plate of cold leftovers. Even Jeon fucking Jeongguk has plans during the holidays, and Seokjin has to be less antisocial than his roommate who spends most of his time cooped up playing Mario Kart and watching 5 minute crafts videos.

Seokjin’s legs have started to feel numb by the time he spots a lanky figure weaving through the crowd, limbs flailing wildly, and yes, that has to be him.

 

Kim Taehyung is exactly how Seokjin remembers him. Well, not exactly-exactly, because Taehyung’s hair is now an aggressive shade of firetruck red rather than the blonde mess it used to be, but it’s not at all surprising considering Taehyung is, well, Taehyung. He’s wearing a brown trench coat and a matching beret, coat fluttering open enough that Seokjin can also see the cream sweater and black slacks underneath. It’s impractical, sure, what with everyone else wearing heavy winter coats, but Kim Taehyung is really quite ‘aesthetics over pragmatism’ and equally ‘I do what I want’. Seokjin can only shake his head in almost fondness as Taehyung shudders against the cold, nose scrunching as another rush of wind gusts across the sidewalk.

When Taehyung finally spots Seokjin, it’s after a good three minutes of him taking photos like a goddamn tourist despite the fact that this coffee shop is an easy ten minute walk from his apartment. If Taehyung had 100 won for every time he’s been here, he could probably afford to buy a coffee without leeching off of his barista friends—not that he would. He really hasn’t changed at all, Seokjin thinks, when Taehyung recognizes him, smile spreading quickly across his face and hand already raised to wave energetically, not a bit. It makes him feel a little sadder than it should.

“Hyung!” Taehyung stops in front of him, still grinning, “it’s nice to see you! Been waiting long?”

A shrug, “Not really,” Seokjin’s nose is red and his lips are chapped and his legs feel like fucking icicles. Taehyung takes this all in and laughs, “So 20 minutes?”

“15,” Seokjin corrects, somewhat indignantly.

“Aha,” Taehyung smiles. “well, let’s just head inside, then, shall we?”

The cafe is warm and well-lit, the smell of pastries and coffee wafting about the small space. Admittedly, it smells a lot like all-nighters during finals week, but the place is homey enough that Seokjin finds himself relaxing as cold thaws from his skin.

They choose a corner booth, tucked away from prying eyes and curious gazes that linger just a second too long. Taehyung doesn’t seem to notice all the stares they’re getting, or at least he doesn’t mind as he leans in and not-so-inconspicuously declares, “So, you’re down to date me, right?”

Seokjin blinks, “what.” If his heartbeat quickens exponentially in this very second, no one will ever be the wiser.

“Sorry, I mean, not actually date, ‘cause we’re over that already,” Taehyung continues, entirely unabashed, “but like, fake-date. Y’know?”

Seokjin just gives him a blank stare that reads this is not what your texts said and Taehyung gives him a smile back that responds with I know but I also know that you’d agree anyway and then after a few seconds of staring and smiling Seokjin lets out a long suffering sigh and rubs his at his forehead, “Why?” he asks, and Taehyung grins—he knows he’s already won.

“Christmas is coming up, right? And my parents, they uh, sort of think that we’re still… together?” Taehyung at least has the decency to look mildly sheepish, “and unless I bring a guy home, they’re gonna try to convince me I’m into girls again, so,” he exhales, “please help me, hyung.”

The chatter of the cafe continues around them, but it’s muted as Seokjin falls into his thoughts. This can’t be good for him, he knows that much. Taehyung has never really been good for him, but he knew that too, when they started dating—the first time. The real time.

But Taehyung has always been good at asking for the things that he wants and Seokjin has always been bad at saying no to him. It’s a dangerous place to stand, Seokjin knows this too, hovering between being in love and pretending not to be. Then—pretending to be in love and not having to pretend—a thousand times more difficult and yet—

“Okay,” Seokjin acquiesces, and tries not to think about how it’ll end.

 

—-

 

1. Jeongguk

Taehyung is sprawled out on the floor of Seokjin’s dorm room, playing on his phone as Seokjin stares off into space, brow creased with the beginnings of a scowl. He holds his phone limply in one hand as he draws absentminded circles into the bedsheets with his finger, completely spaced out.

“What?” Taehyung asks, jolting Seokjin out of his stupor.

“What what?”

“You were staring,” A dry smile plays at the corners of Taehyung’s lips. He clicks his phone off, placing it on the floor as he sits up, hair messy from being splayed out around him. Seokjin hadn’t noticed that he’d been staring, but his eyes drift when he’s in thought and this time he’s just unfortunate.

“Sorry,” Seokjin manages. His throat is dry.

Taehyung hums, “what were you thinking about?”

“Who said I was thinking about something?”

Taehyung huffs and Seokjin has to laugh, too, amused at the defensive, almost hostile, tone in his voice. It’s habit, he suspects. Conversation with Taehyung had always been like this—all sharp retorts and biting remarks, a witty riposte every now and then—but it was fun, having drunk debates over monkeys and chickens (cats and dogs are so boring, hyung), or petty fights over Sunday breakfast (okay, that’s too much syrup… no, you do what you want until I say so… those are the rules because I said so, you see how it works?)

You two sound like an old married couple, Yoongi would always say, to which Taehyung would respond, that’s the aesthetic we’re going for, thanks.

Because that’s just how they were.

“Okay,” Seokjin acquiesces, “I just thought that maybe, before we try to fool your parents, we should, y’know, practice.”

“Practice?” Taehyung tilts his head, “we’re good actors, though, aren’t we? We know how to pretend we’re in love.”

Seokjin’s stomach drops like a stone, but maybe Taehyung is right and he is a good actor, because it certainly doesn’t show when he scoffs in response, “Well, your call, but if your parents find out, you know you’re gonna get your ass beat. And I’m not taking any responsibility if either of us screw up.”

Taehyung lets out a long-suffering sigh, but he doesn’t object. Tapping his fingers against Seokjin’s wood-panelled floor, he raises his head to look at him, “Okay, let’s practice on Jeongguk.”

Seokjin blinks, “Jeongguk? My roommate Jeongguk? Video game addict lowkey-emo-antisocial dork-Jeongguk?”

Taehyung winces, “Yikes. Little harsh, aren’t you? But yeah, that’s the one.”

“Jeongguk wouldn’t know love if it kicked him in the balls,” Seokjin deadpans, “he’ll either believe us too easily or go his entire life thinking I rented you off of Craigslist.”

The front door slams, and they listen as footsteps echo down the hall, then make a right to the kitchen. Jeongguk—Seokjin fucking hates irony.

“Okay,” Taehyung agrees, “so he’s really dense and probably going to die single, but he’s just down the hall and besides,” he shrugs, “maybe this’ll be kinda fun.”

 

Spoiler: it’s not fun

“So you two… you two are,” Jeongguk leans on the counter, brow creased, “back… together.”

“Yup!” Taehyung chirps, grabbing onto Seokjin’s hand and folding their fingers together. Seokjin does not blush. Absolutely not.

Jeongguk stares at them for a long moment. Beneath his impassive expression, Seokjin can see some traces of thoughtfulness—well, that can’t be good. Jeongguk is fairly easygoing—never questions things for too long, trusts instinct to guide him right—and if his gut is protesting against the lies Taehyung’s feeding him, then maybe this won’t be as easy as they had thought.

(because yes, Jeon Jeongguk is as dense as a brick and maybe a little bit too trusting, but he’s by no means stupid).

“And how did this happen?” he asks, turning around to grab a glass of water. Behind his back, Seokjin gestures, panicky, at Taehyung, who looks nowhere near as alarmed.

“I never really got over him,” Taehyung says smoothly. With his free hand, though, he fiddles with a handful of pocket-change, and Seokjin knows he’s nervous, “it was just a matter of time, I guess.”

He’s a good liar.

“Hmm,” Jeongguk says, eyebrows lifting over the rim of his glass. Still, he downs the rest of his drink without another word. Seokjin waits for him to say something, eyes flitting around to the room, looking anywhere but at Taehyung. He wonders if Jeongguk notices.

Jeongguk moves to rinse his glass, hand pausing midair. He swivels to look at them, “you guys don’t have anything better to do than watch me drink… water?”

Seokjin almost exhales in relief. They made it, “Nah,” he issues dryly, “we’ll see you later.”

Jeongguk nods, “See you.”

When they’re out of sight, Taehyung drops his hand. “Told you it’d be easy,” he crows, strutting down the length of the hallway, “fuckin’ piece of cake.”

Seokjin laughs. His stomach feels cold, “keep it down, shithead,” he smiles, turns away so that Taehyung can’t see the blandness in the curl of his lips, “you’ll give it away.”

 

—-

 

2. Namjoon

Sometimes Seokjin wonders if he was only born so that life could screw with him.

It’s Friday night, and as usual, Seokjin has nothing to do but mope around his apartment. Sure, he has assignments due soon, and the stack of dishes in the sink have probably nearly reached the ceiling but Seokjin wants to do something. Wants to live a little.

As if timed, Jeongguk knocks on his door. “I’m going out,” he says, when Seokjin opens it, “you wanna come?”

You’re going out?” Jeongguk scowls at the disbelief that bleeds into Seokjin’s tone, “sorry, I meant—where?”

“This new club opened,” Jeongguk shows Seokjin his phone, “‘m gonna go check it out.”

It’s no different than any other nightclub one would see in the Gangnam District. From the photos, at least, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly remarkable about it, and Jeongguk’s never been a nightclub sort of person, which, Seokjin thinks, is at least mildly suspicious.

“Since when have you been into drinking yourself stupid?”

Jeongguk shrugs, which is not an answer. “You coming or not?”—which is also not an answer, but he’s starting to look impatient, so Seokjin throws a ‘just a minute’ over his shoulder, and rushes to get changed.

 

The nightclub is loud and obnoxious and Seokjin almost wishes he stayed in to tackle his outrageous number of piled-up assignments—which is a big almost, he realizes.

Jeongguk stays glued to Seokjin’s side for all of five minutes before he jolts at the sight of some face in the crowd and promptly disappears. Which is Great, Seokjin thinks to himself, taking a seat at the bar, just Absolutely Wonderful, fuck his roommate.

He orders the cheapest, shittiest beer on the menu, just to keep his seat, and observes the neon-drenched dance floor. Jeongguk has officially disappeared into thin air, lost among the waves of drunken bodies that Seokjin does not want to wander back into, no thank you sir.

 

His head has started to fuzz, just slightly, blurred at the edges like an old videotape. The feeling is familiar, memories unfolding like a dusty flipbook of a photo album—because Seokjin is not much of a party person. Seokjin is not about neon lights and drinking himself into forgetfulness, but he always came, didn’t he? When Taehyung asked, he always gave, didn’t he?

It was never the alcohol that made him feel warm. It was this—moving under quick-sweeping lights, knowing furtiveness under illumination and exposure beneath darkness. It was this—moving together like they could be, growing closer like they could be, falling more in love, like they could be.

So maybe this was when he knew. When darkness started to feel like darkness again.

They feel like an old videotape.

 

“Hyung?”

Taehyung—red hair damp on his forehead, kohl smudged dark around his eyes. He’s wearing ripped jeans and a black blouse, first three buttons undone and cutting a deep v of a neckline.

“Seokjin-hyung?” tugs at his choker, “what are you doing here?”

“Um,” straightens up, “Jeongguk invited me.”

“Did he?” Taehyung’s breath smells vaguely of alcohol and something sweet. He laughs, “I saw him a few minutes ago. He’s with Namjoon.”

“Namjoon?” Seokjin squints, “wait. I think I’ve heard Jeongguk talk about him before.”

“Yeah, man. Jeongguk’s so whipped for him—you couldn’t tell?”

Seokjin shrugs. Takes another sip of his beer and feels it burn on the way down.

“Hey,” Taehyung eyes look darker, somehow. More daring—the buzz must be kicking in, “you wanna practise on him?”

He blinks. “On Namjoon?”

“Yeah,” shrugs, “you wanna?”

It hangs like that, a gaping mouth of an invitation, stagnant in this watered-down bar where everything happens too fast, too quick. Time rushes past them, songs on the stereo, lights across the floor, spilt drinks—tip back, swallow.

So Seokjin braves the bitterness. Still holding his cheap beer, still steady-handed, he says, “okay.”

Okay.

 

They find Jeongguk and Namjoon in a more secluded corner of the club—if such a thing could exist. They’re standing close, nursing their respective drinks and chatting, seemingly unfazed by the ear-splitting music that ricochets across the walls. Seokjin observes the way Jeongguk’s looking at Namjoon and thinks wow, he really is fucking gone.

“Oh, hyung,” Jeongguk says, when he catches sight of them, “there you are, lost you for a minute there.”

Seokjin just gives him a dry stare, to which Jeongguk responds with panicked eye signals, and Seokjin sighs. He’s too nice, really, “Yeah, sorry. Saw Taehyung in the crowd, and—y’know. Duty calls.”

Jeongguk swivels to Namjoon, “I told you about them, right? My roommate Seokjin? And his boyfriend Taehyung?”

Namjoon nods, “knew Taehyung before, though,” Taehyung grins at him, “we met a few months ago through my roommate.” The end of his sentence hangs awkwardly, a door swung halfway shut, a sentence thought and left unsaid.

“Yeah, we, um, just got back together recently,” Seokjin says, even thought Namjoon didn’t ask—mostly out of sheer politeness, he suspects.

Because if Namjoon’s learned anything about Taehyung in the few months they’d known each other, Seokjin would put his money on this—that Taehyung is a free spirit. Something unable to be tied down. And Seokjin—the only person able to do that for a long time, hold the hand of a passing breeze and make it stay—Namjoon must have heard of him.

“Oh, really?” Namjoon smiles, and in the dim lighting, Seokjin can’t tell if it’s genuine or not, “well, I’m happy if you are.”

Happy?

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, words elongated a little, slow in his mouth, “happy. Plenty happy.”

 

“Hey,” Taehyung says, once they’ve all finished their drinks and are significantly drunker, “guys, we should dance.”

In the half-second after the last words leave his mouth, Jeongguk and Namjoon flush down to their toes.

“Oh—” says Namjoon.

“Well—” says Jeongguk.

“Um—” says Seokjin.

“Oh my god,” says Taehyung.

He pulls on Seokjin’s arm, and they stumble, clumsy on their feet. The empty can of beer clatters when Seokjin kicks it over, rolling over to stop at Jeongguk’s feet.

“Let’s dance,” Taehyung repeats, words coming a little more breathlessly, “c’mon.”

Jeongguk and Namjoon both look hesitant, taking tentative steps as Taehyung weaves them back into the crowd. What absolutely shy gay disasters they are, even drunk.

It’s easy to get lost. In the way that hands slip from hands and faces disappear into darkness. In the way that music finds its way into him, pinballs between the gaps of his ribcage like some foreign heartbeat—listen.

In the way that he smiles.

In the way that Taehyung smiles. Liquid-braved, intoxicated. I won’t remember this in the morning. Gone.

In the way that Seokjin feels. Heart burst between silver fingers, electric thirst to be touched. I’m in love and I’m not supposed to be. Gone.

They dance close, because fear of distance is something you leave along with sobriety when you pick up that first shot. They dance close because they get lost, in everything that there is to get lost in, adrenaline for a heartbeat.

They dance close. Because they have something to hide. Because they have something to prove. Because they’re not in love.

Taehyung moves closer, piercings catching the light. They’d gotten their first ones together, Seokjin remembers, and then Taehyung had gone back for more because he liked how they made him feel pretty.

Wonders how many people have been here, where Seokjin is—was. How many people have leaned in close to Taehyung, touched him, kissed his lips swollen. Looked at him, even, and thought, pretty, pretty, pretty.

Taehyung’s lips are plum-bruised. His hair is a mess and Seokjin wonders, how many people tonight, when we’re supposed to be in love?

“Hyung,” Taehyung says, “you’re thinking too much.”

He’s not drunk enough. Murmurs, “yeah?”

“Yeah. Just. Live a little.”

He means: lose yourself. To this. To now. To us. To me.

So Seokjin. Seokjin, he loses himself. To pretty smiles and glassy eyes, to this.

To this.

Gone.

 

—-

 

3. Hoseok

The third practice ends up being more out of boredom than anything else.

It starts with a text, which startles Seokjin the in the half-asleep of his apartment, come get ramen w me?

From Taehyung. Seokjin blinks at the screen a second before he grabs it, already fixing his hair where it sticks up on one side.

Seokjin

now?

that’s not good for your skin taehyungie

Taehyung

but

i’m hungry TT

and

i just really want ramennnn

Seokjin

oh fine

where are we going?

 

So this is where they end up. A cul-de-sac of a ramen place—fluorescent-drowned, midnight drenched. It’s snowing again today, dusting the already existing snowbanks lining salted sidewalks, and today, tonight, it’s Taehyung that waits for Seokjin.

“Hey,” Seokjin says, hands dug deep in his pockets. He brushes across an old gum wrapper, “you should’ve waited inside.”

Taehyung shrugs. “It’s too quiet in there,” he says.

“Warmer, too.”

“It’s not too bad out here.” his nose is red, “let’s go in now, though. I’m starving.”

Taehyung was right—it is too quiet inside. The restaurant is empty, not that Seokjin had expected any different, at an hour where everyone is either asleep or drunk off their asses.

They seat themselves—next to the heater, whose low hum does little to diffuse the silence. Seokjin drums his fingers on the table while Taehyung rocks in his uneven chair—waiting.

Just as Seokjin’s about to suggest leaving, because this is getting lowkey eerie, someone bursts out of the back room. They both turn and—wait, Seokjin knows him.

“Hoseok?” blinks, “what are you doing here?”

Hoseok is dressed in all black, and he looks tired—finals-week tired. He looks somewhat like he’s dressed for a funeral, which is the most un-Jung-Hoseok thing Seokjin has ever thought about him. When the surprise registers, though, Hoseok grins and it’s like the sky after a rain, sunshine between storm clouds.

“Oh, Jinnie-hyung! I work here, dude, it’s shady as fuck but the pay isn’t bad,” his eyes flick over to Taehyung’s side of the table, “and Tae! How are you guys?”

“Hungry,” Taehyung remarks half-petulantly, “what took you so long back there?”

“Oh, Jimin called. He went and got himself drunk while Yoongi was out and I had to coax his clingy ass into fucking alcohol aftercare.” he pulls a pen from his pocket, uncapping it with his teeth, “y’ready to order?”

Taehyung squints at the menus displayed at the front of the shop, “I’ll just have the number 5.”

“Yeah, same. Whatever that is.”

“Alright,” Hoseok winks, “be back with your food soon.”

“Thanks, Seok-hyung!”

 

It’s not awkward, per se. They keep the silence filled, for fear that it’ll suffocate them left unattended, but nothing is really meaningful. They don’t talk like they used to and Seokjin supposes that he should have known.

Hoseok comes back with their ramen, and he sits down with them for a while and they talk. The silence eases easier with him around, even though they all know there are still questions to be asked and answered.

Hoseok has never been one to dance around these things, and so, during a lull in conversation, he asks. Quite amicably, which Seokjin has to give him credit for, “I’m glad you two are friends again.”

Not a question, exactly, but phrased like one. Seokjin gives Taehyung a look—tell him.

“About that,” Taehyung clears his throat, “we’re kind of back together. Maybe.”

Hoseok crooks an eyebrow, “maybe?”

“I mean. Yes. Obviously.” Taehyung puts his chopsticks down. Picks them back up. Puts them down again.

Seokjin takes another bite, mostly just so that he doesn’t have to say anything. Just to himself, he thinks, what is it with you today? Unsure, like this is real? Like we were real?

Why can’t you lie?

“Well, you two always were a nice couple,” Hoseok says, even though he doesn’t sound completely, entirely fooled.

“Oh, really?” Seokjin laughs, if only a bit awkwardly.

Hoseok hums an affirmation, “You two… you two just fit together. Whole on your own, but even more so together. You guys, you were everything a relationship should’ve been. And more. So thanks for making my then-single ass feel like shit.”

Taehyung laughs, “good thing you got Jimin and Yoongi now, or you’d be seeing a lot more of us.”

He asks Hoseok how his boyfriends are doing, and the conversation launches back away from them and their not-quite relationship. It’s easy, listening to Hoseok talk, and not having to do much himself, but then Seokjin has the space to think, and in places where conversation dips to quiet, he does too much of just that.

Whole on your own, bites his tongue, even more so together. Even more so together—what does that even mean? Hearing his relationship described through the eyes of a spectateur, an outside voice—were they ever this beautiful?

Was it his fault? Finding flaw in a relationship and forgetting that that was normal?

What were you so afraid of?

Taehyung tugs on his sleeve and Seokjin snaps out of it. Remembers, ramen shop, 1:30, not real.

“Hyung?” he’s not drunk, but the words still sound slow, long, shaped in his mouth and Seokjin wonders if he’s always talked like that. Taehyung talks fast when he’s angry, “you’re thinking too much again.”

Neon lights. Spilt alcohol, skin-sticky. Faces thrown under shadow—light.

“Am I?”

“Little bit,” the chair squeaks when Taehyung pushes it back, stands up, “just be here.”

 

(If this had been real. Then this, alternatively: stay).

 

—-

 

4. Jimin

“No way.”

“Hyungie—”

“Haven’t we had enough practice by now?”

“But Jiminie really wants to meet you!”

“He’s already met me! We used to hang out! We still do!”

Taehyung huffs. They’re sitting at Seokjin’s kitchen counter, the remains of their takeout still strewn across the marble. Seokjin will clean it up. Later.

“But now we’re dating again, so it’s different.” he forgets to do the air quotes around dating, “and if you still hang out with him, then you know how he is.”

Seokjin groans, but he gets it. Jimin is a very particular individual—petty, if Seokjin dares to say—and this is exactly the kind of shit he does.

“C’mon,” Taehyung prods, unrelenting, “we’re gonna get boba. I’ll treat you. Boyfriend things, y’know.”

Seokjin huffs into his sweater, but he doesn’t retort, and it’s probably as much of an agreement as Taehyung is going to get.

 

Jimin has been Taehyung’s best friend since high school. There was a period of time after the breakup that Seokjin stayed away from him, couldn’t turn eyes in his direction because every time he did, there would Taehyung, just the same.

But after the initial pain had passed and Seokjin stopped drunk-crying himself to sleep at 3 am, he reached out again. Jimin was not Taehyung, but he didn’t need to be. The breakup, oddly, hadn’t stretched the rift between them too much, and it was easy to fall back into the friendship they had built.

Seokjin’s not sure if that’s normal, but he doesn’t think pretending to date your ex after breaking up with them is any better and he agreed to that, didn’t he?

“Where is he?”

“Jimin’s always late, hyung. He’ll be here soon, though, ‘cause I told him to meet twenty minutes early,” Taehyung checks his phone, “five minutes, tops.”

The line slinks forward, “anyways, hyung, what do you want? Your usual order?”

Seokjin blinks at him, “you remember it?”

“Sure. Milk tea, no sugar, pudding, lychee jelly, tapioca,” Taehyung makes a face, “a bit of a headache, I think.”

“Is not,” Seokjin says dumbly.

“Mmhm.” they reach the front of the line.

It’s not until they’re already seated with their drinks that Jimin shows up, bundled up thickly in a heavy-looking winter coat and a houndstooth scarf. He waves at them as he goes to order, and returns a few minutes later, cradling a large drink that he most definitely cannot finish by himself.

“Jimin,” Seokjin deadpans, blinking at his boba, “what the fuck is that.”

He slides into the booth, next to Taehyung, “My drink, silly. Black sesame milk tea—”

“Why is it so big?”

“Is it?” Jimin pokes his straw in, “looks fine to me.”

“You’re a monster,” Taehyung says through a mouthful of tapioca pearls, “and also late. Not that I expected anything less, but like. Half an hour, really?”

“I’m high maintenance, what can I say? You think I just wake up looking like this?”

Taehyung snorts, “Jesus, Chim. No matter you and Seokjin-hyung get along so well.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” They exclaim at once, and it makes Taehyung laugh so hard he spits out a tapioca pearl.

“Oh, c’mon, that’s gross,” Seokjin says, but he’s laughing.

Taehyung laughs, too, and when he turns to look at him, Seokjin’s heart skips a beat. Like this—cheeks flushed pretty, eyes glittering, this is before. Before—wasn’t that what Seokjin’s been craving all this time, living in the after and wishing he could go back.

Remembers this, dumb fights over trivial things, laughing about it, loving over it.

Remember this, dumb fights over trivial things, yelling about it—

Maybe this is the sad part. Is that Seokjin never learned to hate Taehyung. How do you hate someone when you’ve loved? How do you hate someone you still love? How do you hate this?

And so maybe Seokjin’s imagining it, but Taehyung’s looking back. Not turning away, the way he’s gotten used to, but he’s looking back, eyes locked on eyes, intimate. For the act, Seokjin thinks, somewhere in the back of his mind, but maybe he’s imagining it.

(because it looks real).

“I’m, uh, going to the bathroom,” Seokjin stumbles to his feet, the last sip of his drink leaving a dizzying aftertaste, “be back soon.”

He feels a few confused stares on him as he speed-walks down the length of the store, nope, nothing to see here folks, just another college having a mental breakdown about his ex-not-ex.

 

Jimin watches Seokjin disappear behind the swinging bathroom doors, “Always running away at the strangest times, that hyung.”

“Mmm.” Taehyung says. Takes a sip of his drink.

The silence hangs for a minute as Taehyung stares down at his boba. When he looks up again, Jimin’s looking a him, a bit of a funny expression on his face.

“What?”

“You just,” Jimin shrugs, “I dunno. I’ve never—nevermind.”

“What?”

Jimin grins.

“What,” Taehyung laughs, a noise half-strangled, confused, “dude, just tell me!”

The buzz of the shop continues around them, alive in its own right. Jimin takes a sip of his drink, chews, swallows. Toying with the condensation left on the table, he shrugs again.

“Not for me to say. Just—this time. Be careful.”

And he’s talking in puzzles, words half-baked, shapes open-ended. For Taehyung to fill them in, maybe. To piece the picture together, colour in the thoughts left black and white.

So—

“Yeah,” this time, what you have, “I will.”

 

—-

 

5. Yoongi

 

“Last time hyung, I promise.”

“Oh my god Taehyung, what happened this time.” Phone tucked in the crook of his shoulder, Seokjin maneuvers around his bedroom, searching for a clean pair of pants.

“Jimin invited us over for dinner,” his voice comes staticky over the line, “I think Namjoon and Jeongguk are coming too. But mostly—Yoongi-hyung will be there. So last time, c’mon.”

“Why can’t you just tell him that we’re faking it?” Seokjin huffs, only half aware of what he’s saying, “it’s easier. We’re gonna have to tell him anyway. Eventually. We’ll have to tell all of them.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Seokjin waits, eyes flitting over his room. Lands on the calendar, 5 days til Christmas. 5 days til showtime.

“It’s just fun,” Taehyung says, voice a little quieter, “I dunno, it’s—it’s whatever. We can just tell them if you want—you’re right, we have enough practice already.”

Seokjin thinks about it. Thinks about the headaches it would save him, all the time spent overthinking. Thinks about an end, within reach, within grasp. Thinks about all of this back and forth, real, unreal, all these gritty feelings—thinks about this, that he wants to confront them.

“No,” and maybe this isn’t the best way, and Seokjin’s hands are trembling, but, but, “I’ll do it. Last time, right—last practice, I mean. Let’s do it.”

 

Yoongi doesn’t believe them. Seokjin can tell.

Maybe because it should be obvious, like two truths and a lie. Two real couples and one fake—spot the difference.

But maybe it’s because Yoongi is just the way he is—quiet, observant, a little cynical—moreover, anything but gullible. But when Seokjin tells him they’re back together again, he sees the expression on his face, sees in it a flicker of suspicion.

So while the other five are eating and chatting, laughing over some stupid thing Jeongguk did to get Namjoon’s attention, Seokjin pulls Taehyung out of the room.

“I think there’s a problem.”

“You noticed too?”

“Hard not to. Yoongi looks so fucking suspicious that I don’t think he’ll believe a word out of my mouth for the rest of night.”

Taehyung sighs, folding his arms across his chest. He’s wearing a silk blouse today, untucked and loose on his frame. “Well. I guess we just have to play it up then?”

Seokjin laughs. He doesn’t know why they’re trying so hard. Maybe this whole mess means a lot more to both of them than they’re willing to admit.

“Fine by me. You ready to go back in there?”

Taehyung’s lips twitch, “M’kay. But hold my hand. For the act, okay?”

So Seokjin offers his palm, face up, and Taehyung slides his hand into it. His palm is a little sweaty, fingers a little calloused, but every flaw is a little more grounding, a little closer to reality, to real.

 

“Oh, you’re back.” Jimin grins at them, face red, soju-flushed. Seokjin wonders how much he drank—Jimin has unbelieveably high fucking tolerance, “c’mon, drink up!”

Seokjin has a few drinks. Not too much—he swears—but he’s still well-tipsy by the end of the night. Taehyung, at one point, falls against him, and does not bother to get up. Seokjin, in turn, does not bother to push him off.

“So,” Yoongi says. It’s likely past midnight and his words come out jumbled, half out of drunkness, half out of fatigue, “when did this,” gestures at them, “this—happen?”

“What.” Seokjin blinks, “Oh. Us? I dunno. A month ago? A month. I think.” Looks down at Taehyung for an affirmation.

“Uh huh.”

“And how?”

“How what.”

“This thing. How.”

“Yoongiiiii,” Hoseok latches onto his arm, “don’t grill them about their… their thing. We’re just here to have fun. Lotsa, lotsa, fun, yeah.”

“No, actually, keep it up,” Jimin falls over his opposite shoulder, “sexy interrogator is a good look on you.”

Yoongi immediately flushes down to his toes, and in the back of his mind, Seokjin thinks, down for the count.

Taehyung gives him a victory nudge, even though, yeah, it doesn’t completely count, but. Details.

Seokjin doesn’t know why he does it. Maybe because Jeongguk and Namjoon are feeding each other like the gross couple they are. Maybe because Jimin, Hoseok, and Yoongi are cuddling like the grosser threesome they are.

Maybe. Just because.

“I love you.” he says.

It slips out and Seokjin only half-means for it to. It’s true, though, he thinks, isn’t it?

It doesn’t stop the feelings of liquid courage from seeping out of him at once.

He sees the look on Taehyung’s face. Shock, first, then realization. Realization—an act, this is all just an act—realization—a lie, our lie—realization. Hesitation, then, and Seokjin feels it again, that clenching in his gut—will he say it back?

(it doesn’t matter. He knows it doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t. Still wants to hear it).

Taehyung bites his lip. Looks away. Looks back. People are watching. Waiting.

“I love you.” he replies.

Cold.

The kitchen is all too loud and quiet all at once.

Then—

“I love you,” Jeongguk says to Namjoon.

And because their entire friend group is absolutely in love and disgusting, the response gets washed out by a wave of ‘I love yous’ and ‘I love you toos’ and ‘oh my god this is so fucking cheesy I won’t say its’.

(Yoongi ends up saying it).

And in the midst of it all, Taehyung sits up, stiff as a board. He puts his head on the table and does not look at Seokjin for a very long time.

 

Seokjin drives him home and still Taehyung doesn’t say anything until they’re parked in front of his apartment.

“What was that,” he mumbles, “back there. At the party.”

Seokjin stares down at his lap. Plays with his keys, “you said to play it up.” he says dumbly.

Taehyung sighs, leaning back in his seat. His face is tired where the light catches it. He says, “you can’t say that if you don’t mean it.”

Says, “you can’t say ‘I love you’ if you don’t mean it.”

And then he’s opening the door, thanks for the drive, disappears into the night.

Seokjin sits there a while longer, car quiet, cooling with the keys pulled from ignition. The light from the streetlamps pools in his lap, where his hands are folded, still.

In the quiet, this thick, cooling silence—

Did you want me to mean it?

Thinks—

(and more so than that—what if I did?)

 

—-

 

+1

 

“Ready?”

Seokjin breathes in. Out. Watches as it clouds in the cold air, white smoke.

“Ready enough,” He feels Taehyung’s gaze on him, and they both know he’s lying, that neither of them are ready, but Taehyung still reaches for the doorbell.

A ring resounds mutedly inside the house, and Seokjin hears a dog barking. Shapes move behind the frosted glass, and then the door swings open.

“Taehyung! And Seokjin, is it? Come in!”

Taehyung’s mother is a short, thin woman, friendly-eyed and smiley. She’s wearing a bright pink apron, ties coming loose as she herds their dog, Yeontan, out of reach from the doorway.

“I missed you,” she tiptoes up to hug her son, sauce-stained chopsticks waving in her right hand, “you should visit more.”

“Wish I had the time,” Taehyung steps back, huffs, “school’s been rough lately,” he examines her expression, “no need to worry, though. ‘M doing fine.”

She laughs, “well, alright. Anyways, our guest—introduce me?”

“Oh. Yeah. This is Seokjin hyung, he’s my boyfriend.”

Taehyung’s mom smiles warmly at him, “Ah, it’s nice to meet you at last. You two have been together for, what, ten months now?”

“Something like that,” Seokjin replies vaguely. His chest hurts.

 

Taehyung’s mom shows him around the house a bit, points out the little details in things—the wall where Taehyung got his height measured, the cabinet where they locked away his toys, the bulletin board filled with old drawings they never bothered to take down. It all feels a little too personal, having them trust him with all this when Seokjin’s nothing but a stand-in, a placeholder. A liar.

They sit down to eat with Taehyung’s dad—a slower, quieter presence when held in contrast to his mother, all bubbly, vivacious energy. Seokjin finds that he sees a little bit of Taehyung in each of them.

Taehyung’s mom asks him about school. About home. About whatever lies in between, little things and big, and Seokjin finds that the answers come with ease. Comfortable—it’s comfortable. Because this house and its people are comfortable, warm, smooth presences, and every other sip of wine, Seokjin can forget that this isn’t real.

(because it feels real. It feels so, so real, and Seokjin wonders if it would be cheating to close his eyes and say it was).

Taehyung doesn’t talk much, though. At least to him. Seokjin almost nudges him, play it up, and decides against it. Things have been awkward beyond awkward between them since the dinner a few days ago, and Seokjin doesn’t want to worsen things.

“You will be staying the night, won’t you?” Taehyung’s mom asks as she clears the dishes, “you can stay in Taehyung’s room—I laid out an extra futon on the floor, just in case.”

“Oh,” Seokjin blinks, “I—yeah. That’s very kind of you, thank you.”

Refusal sits at the tip of his tongue, but Seokjin swallows it down—the last time, right?

He can do this. One more night without fucking it up and embarassing himself again.

 

Seokjin can’t fall asleep.

All his senses seem to have heightened immensely—the clock is too loud, the futon is too itchy, the room smells too strongly of laundry detergent. The room is too dark if he closes his eyes and too bright if he keeps them open. A part of Seokjin has always been scared of the dark, and so he stares up at the ceiling, watches the fan turn in slow circles.

It feels like an eternity and a half has passed when Seokjin hears the bed creak—relieved of weight. Footsteps shuffle across the bare wooden panels. The sound of a light switching on, a door closing.

Seokjin counts to ten before he sits up, wincing at the moonlight that streams through the window. The bathroom door is shut, and the bed is empty. Faintly, Seokjin wonders if Taehyung couldn’t sleep either.

Seokjin walks to the window. Blinds rolled up, he has a fine view of Taehyung’s neighbourhood—all decked out for Christmas. Funny, Seokjin hadn’t thought much about the holidays this year. Christmas had turned to a deadline, an ending predetermined, and now, squinting down the expanse of colourful lights, strung tight around porches and draped loose around windows—maybe he was missing something.

Maybe this is just how it’s supposed to be. Another year spent like this. Alone.

“Hyung?”

Seokjin turns around. He didn’t even hear the door open, but there he is. Taehyung, awash in moonlight, something of a dream. Breeze-fleeting, cloud over the sun, alka-seltzer in an ocean glass—for how long will you stay?

“You’re still up?”

Seokjin’s mouth is dry, “couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh,” Taehyung hesitates—step forward, step back, “why not?”

“I don’t know.”

A lie. Laid bare, plain in the light. Taehyung doesn’t buy it for a second.

“You really do think too much,” he says. Steps forward, climbs onto the bed. He pats the mattress. An invitation. Laid bare.

The bed is cushy, thicker than the futon, and less itchy. It also smells a lot more like Taehyung.

“Then right now, let me do the thinking.”

Seokjin turns to look at him. Taehyung is sat up against the headboard, watching the fan whirr.

“I’ve actually been thinking a lot. These past few days,” he laughs, softly, “it’s hard work, hyung. The more you think about things, the more you realize how fucked up your life is. Or, well, that’s just me. Probably.”

He shakes his head, “No, that’s not what I was trying to get at. So, um, after the dinner, that’s when I really started to look at things differently. I felt off. So the next day, I called my mom and I asked her—how did she know she was in love?”

Seokjin holds his breath.

“She was very unhelpful,” Taehyung deadpans, then, “she said that I’d just—know? That’s a big thing to know, I think. She made it sound like it came out of nowhere. Like it would just smack me on the head like a fucking train. But—but I don’t think that that was how it worked. At least for me.”

He swallows, and his voice is thin when he speaks next, “Hyung, I was just scared. I was just scared of admitting it. I was scared of you saying it, and I was scared of me saying it, ‘cause I thought being love would change me, somehow. I thought it would tie me down, drag me down, the ‘fall’ in ‘fall in love’.”

“I think that’s why I didn’t know at first. ‘Cause falling in love with you was more like floating.”

Taehyung swallows again, and Seokjin wonders if he has more to say, but he just lets the silence hang. An invitation on its own.

“Oh,” Seokjin says, when his mouth works again. Then, stupidly, “Is this a confession?”

Taehyung thumbs at a wrinkle in the sheets, “It’s whatever you want it to be,” he mumbles.

So Seokjin leans over the bed and kisses him.

Their breathing is ragged by the time Seokjin pulls away. Taehyung’s face is flushed pretty, pink-ivory in the moonlight. He is still a dream. Just one Seokjin can feel under his fingertips. Just one he can ask to stay.

Just in case—

“Is this real?”

 

And Taehyung laughs.

Seokjin closes his eyes to the sound of it—real, alive, in it, a heartbeat—and smiles.

 

Be here.

Maybe—live a little.

Maybe—have this moment.

Alternatively—

Stay.