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like a little fish

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it's loud in the park as they cut through it, little kids running around and adults chattering leisurely, a constant buzz between the trees and through the walkway that feels warm. when they reach the end of the block, taehyung hugs seokjin and namjoon goodbye, watching them trot off through the pedestrian crosswalk with their hands interlinked.

as he turns back to pass over one of the lawns, he hears, "hey, you got a crush?" and he turns, wide-eyed, to find a guy with blond hair pointing at him comically as he beams from behind reflective sunglasses. next to him on a soft blue blanket spread over the grass sits another guy with silver hair who sighs, resigned.

taehyung points over his shoulder to where his brother and brother-in-law had just been. "on - them?"

blond guy waves him over, still smiling. "anyone."

instantly, jungkook's face floods taehyung's mind, the way he always looks lately in the little screen of his phone when they facetime. he fiddles with the bandana wrapped around his forehead, wondering if he's being pranked. "sure."

"wanna call them on camera," blond guy pats the tripod next to him on the blanket, "and confess?"

"jimin," the other guy mumbles, "i don't need recruits -"

"this is yoongi," jimin cuts him off, ruffling yoongi's hair tenderly, "he filmed himself confessing to me, and now it's his video project."

taehyung walks closer. bright green blades of grass crunch under his high tops until he stops at the edge of the cyan quilt. on it are a tripod with a bulky camera that looks a lot like the one jungkook owns, a laptop, an on-camera mic. yoongi's pouting a little, probably petulant that he's wrapped around jimin's finger, and based solely on that, taehyung shrugs. "okay."

jimin hops up instantly, vacating his spot on the coverlet, patting it in welcome. "see how good i am?" he asks yoongi, cheeks pink and plump. "i'm so good!"

yoongi squints up at him half-kneeling there, eager for praise, and grabs jimin's collar to jerk him down for a quick tongue in his mouth. "very good."

"well, sit down and have fun," jimin tells taehyung, flustered, red spreading over his neck as he backs away further up the lawn. "i'll be back with more victims!"

as taehyung settles into a lotus pose and hides his bewilderment, yoongi fiddles with the laptop, adjusting the camera so that it points straight at him. "what's your name?" he grunts distractedly.

"taehyung."

"first-gen?"

"uh," taehyung digs his phone out of the pocket of his jacket, setting it in his lap, "yeah, moved from daegu when i was four."

"excellent," yoongi hisses, inexplicably, but he turns a lot nicer after that. the camera flickers on, little green light flashing. yoongi squints at the frame and turns to face him. "so who is it?"

a little restless suddenly, taehyung scratches at the end of his eyebrow. "uh, my best friend. he came here for a year on exchange at my film program. he's really into, like, directing and producing, but he mostly wanted to establish himself back home in korea, so ... he flew back, like, a few months ago."

"you guys keep in touch?"

"yeah, yeah, for sure. we do regular video calls 'cause he shows me a lot of his reels so that i can give him feedback, and i test a lot of my scenes on him, and - yeah, plus we're both into video games and i think, like, a lot of things changed for him after he came here? like his taste in food and art and style ... he feels a little more connected to new york now and a lot less connected to seoul, i guess. and i'm just trying to be there for him through that."

"did you always have romantic feelings for him?"

taehyung's eyes flicker to the camera lens, to the flashing green light. it feels final now, on record and out loud, and it's scary. he's never given concrete shape to this before. "i think i did?" he croaks weakly, laughing self-consciously while yoongi merely watches him. "i mean, i never really, uh, conceptualized," he gestures with his hands aimlessly, "i just sort of thought we were really close friends. like, i've never liked guys before, so it didn't even occur to me that it's what was happening?" he glances at the camera again and laughs, burying his face in his hands.

"do you want me to turn the camera off?"

sitting up again, taehyung blinks past his panic and shakes his head, "no, it's fine. i'm not, like, scared of anything, my family's accepting, my brother's gay ... i guess i'm just nervous because i've never said it out loud. this is really real."

"take your time, there's no rush."

taehyung tugs on the ends of his bandana before tossing them over his shoulder. his pants are snug around his bent legs, and he feels a little sweaty from the nerves, but the faint breeze rustling the leaves overhead lulls him. he swallows and nods. "i just figured this was my best friend, so everything was just a part of that, right? 'cause i'd never really had a best friend before. i was always a little outcast growing up, i lived in a really tiny town on the bible belt, and my brother and i were the only ones in the school with faces like ours. anyway, so i just sort of ... didn't even think about it. and he's a really proper korean boy, you know, he would always talk about a future wife and kids and a career that let him spend time with his family rather than slaving away in an office, and i always kind of ... accepted that as a general goal for both of us, i guess? me on camera, him behind the camera, hustling until we get big and have the time to settle down in our separate little families. i don't even know ..." he huffs, glancing off into the distance at the two little toddler boys playing with a hoola hoop at the edge of the clearing. "i have no idea how he'd even feel about ... two guys together. i hope i know him well enough to guess, but this is really weird stuff, right?" he glances past the camera to where yoongi nods curtly. "you never know if it'll be the end of everything."

"what made you sure that you do have feelings for him?"

taehyung blows out a breath that unsettles his bangs a little, then leans back on his hands and gazes up at the treetops. "every little thing i can think of makes me sure. but there was this ... the night before he flew back in june, we went on this big bar hop with everyone in the film program, because all eleven of the exchange students were leaving and we'd all become good friends over the year. and he got really drunk, he was all pink-cheeked and giggly and falling all over himself, and he kept clinging to me the whole night, never really going off with the others. and i don't love the taste of most alcohol, so i didn't partake much in the festivities, and i remember everything. i walked him back to his place after, because his plane was at, like, five, and he leaned on his door and gave me this weird look. it felt heavy, like he knew, maybe. then he grabbed my shirt and dragged me in and kissed me, for a really long time. i went home and cried, like out of happiness, because it confirmed a lot for me about myself. and in the morning, he still left. and he didn't remember a thing."

--

shaking his head, yoongi whistles lowly. "that's rough. you asked him?"

taehyung emits a startled laugh. "fuck, no, never. i could never. i can barely even talk to him about that night outside of everything - like, about the guys we were out with, or the bars we went to. and he, uh, skirts around a lot of stuff closer to the end of the night. he started taking lessons in the dance school during the second semester and he got close to the instructor, hobi, and -"

"wait, jung hoseok?" yoongi asks, head tilting out from behind the camera.

taehyung squints. "you know him?"

"that's my roommate. he's the one who started this whole thing," yoongi gestures to the camera vaguely. "okay, i'll cut all of this out, obviously, but, yeah, well, jimin and i hated each other for most of our lives. and then, during senior year of high school, something clicked, and i couldn't not be friends with him, and then we went to college together, and then by the time graduation rolled around, i couldn't breathe when i thought about him ... anyway, it was bad, i stayed in my room and canceled all our plans and didn't explain anything, and eventually i felt so guilty and horrible that i got wasted and started filming some dumb video about how if i die without confessing, then i want jimin to know, et cetera, and then hobi got home and saw me belly-up limp on the couch, staring at the ceiling with the camera still rolling, except later i found out that it was recording complete silence for two hours."

taehyung chuckles, feeling the knot in his chest unfurl just a bit. "and hobi?"

"he called jimin and put me on the line and the rest was easy."

taehyung nods, lost in thought. "easy."

"that's kind of why i do this: i feel like people need to be put in a high pressure situation and just left to their own devices. and something about me and a camera and the outdoors makes them feel comfortable enough to dial the number, which is the hardest part."

"how many other people've done it?"

"you're number forty-two."

"is it ... usually a happy ending?"

yoongi glances up at the sky as a bird swoops low and glides between the two oaks that cast them in shadow. "usually not."

"oh."

"the thing i feel good about is getting people out of that lonely corner between being too scared to make a move and being too hopeful to just step away. whether it ends well or not isn't the point - we all just kind of want it to end."

taehyung nods, fiddling with the volume buttons on his phone. the boys with the hoola hoop start squealing, jumping around on the small patch of grass where their parents can see them from the benches, hugging each other as they topple sideways.

yoongi watches taehyung watch them for a while and then prompts, "do you think you'll have a happy ending?"

"i ... i don't know."

"what's the worst ending you could have?"

taehyung scoffs, scratching at the hem of his jeans as he considers his biggest fear. "probably if he became disgusted and stopped wanting to be my friend. he's so important to me, losing ... i mean, we text every day and we facetime multiple times a week and he's just a huge fucking part of me, and ... yeah, that would suck. i don't have anyone who's even close to the level of important that he is for me."

"is it a likely ending?" taehyung considers jungkook's bright, sweet smiles and the curiosity he'd shown at the pride parade passing through the city the previous year and the final night's kiss, and shakes his head.

"i don't know."

"tell me about your first meeting."

this part's easy. "the arts department of my university makes all the different little schools do crossover events, so the fine arts school has to attend an opera, the dance school has to watch a student film, stuff like that. and first week of classes last year we were at the moma right when they had a big exhibition to honor vincent van gogh. and i was standing there, staring at one of the paintings and trying to copy it into my notebook, and he walked up to me and started complimenting my art in korean. and we - we hit it off instantly, i guess. he seemed a little bit starstruck, it was funny, like he thought i was some big hotshot artist trying to blend in with everyone else. and he asked me about van gogh, since he's never really been into painting, so i told him everything i knew, kind of tried to explain why he was such an important part of the post-impressionist movement, and why i like him." he sighs and considers their intertwined past. "that's been a huge part of our friendship, actually. it set the tone for everything. he always kind of acts like i'm teaching him stuff, like he's got to soak up everything i say. and i guess that made me more relaxed, too, made it easier for me to fall in without even noticing that i'd tripped."

"school-wise, too?"

"uh, a bit. a bit. i'm in acting, and he's in directing, so we didn't overlap there, but when his english was still awkward or he didn't understand what certain academic processes were like, i explained. eventually, it grew to where i became his muse, i guess." yoongi quirks a suspicious brow, making taehyung laugh. "he used me in some of his films. the first assignment was called, like, 'a study of quietude' that had me completely still or moving very slowly in scenes, and that was his favorite for some reason. after that, he only filmed me."

"oh, boy," the interviewer snorts.

"no, he's - he's different," taehyung explains, defensive, cheeks heating. "he doesn't think that way about things, because it's not like that where he grew up. he was touchy, too, but it never meant anything, you know that," he glares at yoongi pointedly. "or are you fifth-gen?"

unbothered, the other rolls his eyes. "ready to call him yet?"

taehyung hisses a breath in through his teeth and leans back, eyes darting to the canopy. it's a nice spring day, warm and still, and he's about to ruin it. with one week of classes left, he's almost free of the weight of papers and exams, almost graduated, almost, almost. but jungkook's in seoul whether it's now or a week later, and taehyung's put his life on hold for over half a year, living minute-to-minute as he prays for a text or a gaming invite or a clip of jungkook's work to watch.  "he won't pick up," he blurts finally, sitting up and looking straight at the camera. "he never picks up calls if they're not scheduled ahead of time."

yoongi closes his eyes. "are you wasting my time, then?"

"no!" taehyung laughs, "i wanna do it! i'll leave a voicemail, maybe? do i have to decide now?"

yoongi points to the little flickering green light on the camera and makes a stern face, and taehyung's hands start sweating.

"he won't pick up, so my message has to ... it all has to be perfect."

yoongi tuts. "it won't be. nothing is perfect. feelings aren't perfect. most importantly, though, he also isn't perfect."

swallowing down the urge to prove him wrong just with the passion of his feelings for jungkook alone, taehyung brushes a hand through his hair and nervously lifts his phone, heart thundering in his ribcage when he sees three texts from jungkook.

--

"fuck," he rasps, throwing the phone onto the blanket in front of him. instantly, his eyes fly up to the camera lens watching him, the little green light, half-wondering if he's been cursing the whole time. "sorry."

yoongi observes him blankly.

"he texted me," taehyung explains, absently staring at his phone case. "is this a sign?"

yoongi shrugs. "if you want it to be."

jungkook never texts him more than once at a time, condensing his thoughts into a single message before pressing send. taehyung's the one who triple-, septuple-texts him with every little idea in his head. but sitting here wondering if it's a good omen or a bad omen isn't going to change the three messages already in his phone, and taehyung's agreed to be part of this video, so he takes a deep breath and looks up. "i just wish he remembered. it would be so much easier if there were context, you know? like, here are my feelings and this is why i feel them and this is the stuff that's happened that makes me think we could be good together. but he - all he seems to remember is getting this long, drawn-out hug from hobi that night, complete with some sort of big pep talk, like, follow your dreams, get rich, take me to the hamptons with your famous director money, that kind of thing, i guess. but after that he suddenly wanted to go home, and he doesn't remember that. and i basically half-carried him back to his place - he couldn't walk, he was basically wrapped around me to stay standing. just ... why that part, you know? why forget that part?"

his interviewer's got a faraway look on his face, gazing at the center of taehyung's forehead. he seems like he's barely listening, but that makes it easier for taehyung to continue his monologue, sad and restless. his phone seems to glow in its discarded spot by his shoe, begging for his attention.

so he keeps talking. "i'm not going to open the texts. whatever's in there will make me overthink and freak me out, and i'm just gonna -" he unlocks his phone, hands trembling, and stares at the home screen. it's a screenshot of one of their facetimes, taehyung's laughing face in the corner while jungkook's is plastered across the entire screen, cross-eyed. "here he is," taehyung says, lifting the phone up to the camera, then to yoongi's eyes.

the latter squints at the photo with a weird look on his face. after a moment, he nods. "you want that to stay in the footage?"

"oh." taehyung glances at the green light. "no, cut it out, please. that was dumb. i just love his face, i got excited."

the other turns to his laptop, navigating with the trackpad silently and pressing a few keys. "understandable."

"he does this thing a lot, he gets super-close to the screen and stares at it, and i almost get mad because it feels like he's reading something or distracted by other stuff when i'm talking, but he always hears everything i say and responds, so - i dunno. he always does it, and he always looks like a little fish."

yoongi's frowning at his computer now, head tilted with puzzlement, and taehyung lets himself relax for a beat, taking deep breaths as his thumb hovers over the call button on jungkook's contact. he doesn't even remember opening it, but he stares at the contact photo: a shot of them from a year ago, tipsy and leaning on each other over a table of lamb skewers, jungkook's nose pressed to taehyung's cheek as he whispered something. he's a bit sad that he's released jungkook's face into the world now, via this confession, a bit mad at himself. it was something private and safe, before, since he's hasn't yet said his name or let him be a real person, but now the camera has seen him, and so has yoongi, and it feels a little bit like whatever happens after this will be either more terrible or more amazing than it could have been if jungkook had stayed a secret, something half-imagined.

"is this video some kind of school project, or - ?" when he looks up at yoongi, he finds him smirking, laptop forgotten as he watches taehyung.

"no, it's a youtube series. i've done three videos so far, each with a million-and-some views."

taehyung's stomach drops. "oh, shit."

"yeah. but," yoongi drawls, leaning back and scratching his belly, "you know, i don't include everyone. sometimes there's a fluke."

squinting at him, taehyung asks, "what constitutes a fluke?"

"chickened out, or something about the call was off, or they retroactively asked not to be aired. like i said, it's usually not a happy ending."

taehyung shuts his eyes. "you're really not making me want to go through with this."

yoongi chuckles. "i think you're worrying over nothing. from the sounds of it, he loves you too much to let this ruin what you have, even if he doesn't understand."

"easy for you to say," taehyung grumbles. "you were drunk out of your mind when you did it."

yoongi sighs, voice turning softer. "you really don't have to. i've had people who called off-camera and came back to talk about it. i've had people just say they're too scared and be done with it. if you're not ready to jump the cliff, then you're not, there's no shame in that. but he kissed you." he pauses to make a face. "so it's got to be in there somewhere, right?"

exhaling a sharp breath, taehyung starts the call, thumbnail between his teeth. a small child screams at the edge of the park, adding to his latent anxiety, and he grimaces, turning his attention to the two hoola-hoop boys who are now seated in the grass and tickling each other.

"put it on speakerphone," yoongi murmurs, watching him serenely, eyes droopy.

the dial tones are long and dreadful, making taehyung's heart rate skyrocket with the anticipation that each one will be the last before he hears the click of the receiver and jungkook's sleepy voice.

"it's, like, seven in the morning there right now," he whispers, looking at jungkook's contact photo on his screen and tracing it with the pad of his finger gently. "he wouldn't pick up anyway, but especially not that early. he sleeps till noon at least, when he's deep in a project. he doesn't even go to bed until dawn."

yoongi hums in response. eventually the dial tone ends, and the automated voice message system starts, and taehyung shuts his phone off, tossing it aside like it's burned him.

"i thought you were going to leave a voicemail?" asks yoongi, voice far too mirthful for the impassiveness of his face.

"yeah, well, i lied. i'm fucking chickenshit. imagine him waking up on a friday afternoon and listening to that bullshit, having to come up with a nice way to say, 'thanks but no thanks.' i have to have him on the line so that i know, right then and there, that he's uncomfortable." someone in the distance laughs joyously, and taehyung rubs his palms over his eyes, groaning. "well, then."

"your phone's ringing."

taehyung jerks up, heart screeching. "huh?"

yoongi nods to the device lying between them, lit up with a call from jungkook. "remember, speakerphone."

taehyung flips him off, picking up the vibrating rectangle with a quivering hand. on the other end, a very soft, unsure voice greets, "hyung?"

--

instantly, taehyung shoves his face into his free hand, silently having a meltdown. he's sure yoongi will edit the footage into something cutesy and lighthearted, surrounded by greenery as they are and with the occasional sounds of humans living their lives around them. in a way, he wants to see that story, the one where he's just one of a bunch of other strangers off the streets of new york, casual and uninvested, brave enough to just call up someone who's got two hands inside his ribcage and around his heart - just to see what happens. but as it feels right now, this video will be a horror movie, a psychological thriller to serve as an example of what never to do. he struggles not to emit a strangled scream when jungkook switches to english easily, faintly accented. "hullo?"

"yeah," he mumbles, bringing the bottom end of his phone closer to his mouth, fingers rubbing at his eyes roughly, "kookie, hey."

again, the voice that answers him is soft, young-sounding, shy. "hi, hyung."

"did i wake you up?"

"uh," jungkook says, voice abrupt, "n-no?" there's some static then, and when taehyung brings his phone closer to his ear he hears a lot of overlapping noise, echoing faintly, like jungkook is outdoors or in some public space.

he tilts his phone away and frowns at it. "where are you? am i distracting you from something? sorry, this was kind of spur of the moment -"

"hyung," jungkook interjects before moving away from the phone and saying something muffled to someone else, voice inflecting at the end like he's asking a question. taehyung's eyes dart up to the flashing green light, then to yoongi's curious expression. his heart is hammering against his ribs, his throat feels like it's closing against the sure promise of vomit, his hands are sweating. but the camera will only see him blink rapidly at the cyan quilt and fiddle with the phone's buttons, and it's crazy - it's crazy. a whole disaster is storming through him and no one can see it, no one knows. just like it felt that night, when jungkook gave him that dark look before practically mauling him up against his apartment door, hands dug deep under taehyung's shirt, lips desperate. and then he was gone. what was inside his head, then? what's inside it now? jungkook finally returns to the line, clearing his throat. "no, hyung, um - did you read my texts?"

"no," taehyung says, stumbling all over himself, "no, sorry, i saw them but i - i'll read them when i hang up, i promise. just. do you have a second to talk, i need to ask you something."

"oh," jungkook says, voice wavering. "oh, yeah, hold on, lemme -" there's the sound of white noise for a while, then total silence, like he's put taehyung on mute, and taehyung stares at the screen as he watches the seconds of their call tick by, like sand falling, wasting itself and running out. "okay, i'm all on you," jungkook says, returning along with the faint noises. a car horn blares through the speakers then, and jungkook curses a little. taehyung scratches at the skin of his temple, antsy. "sorry - i'm listening, i swear."

he nods, though jungkook can't see him, and focuses his gaze on a point just beyond the lens of the camera, where the emerald foliage of two trees overlaps and flickers under the light of the setting sun. as he lets his eyes grow unfocused, his vision turns into a panorama of various blotchy shades of green, twitching in the breeze. "uh, right, so ... wow, this is weird. we never do just voice calls like this," he laughs weakly, trying to lighten the mood that feels like it's grown tense.

jungkook must sense his seriousness, responding delicately to it as always, sensitive and affected.

"did - do you wanna facetime instead, like -?"

"no," jungkook answers instantly, which is unlike him. his voice sounds urgent, frail. "no, this is fine."

taehyung chews on his thumbnail a bit more and nods, still staring at the fluttering leaves. yoongi has faded into insignificance in this scene, a bystander with nothing to lose. taehyung's center-stage, screech of tires, pounding music. funny to think that thirty minutes ago he'd merely been taking a relaxing afternoon walk with his two hyungs. "oh, sorry, right - i won't keep you too long -"

"no, hyung," jungkook cuts him off, honey voice reassuring. "this is fine. i have time. i've got a lot of time," he laughs oddly. "all the time you need. what's up?"

taehyung frowns, parsing through jungkook's tone and coming up short. "are you all right?"

the younger yawns audibly, then giggles. taehyung's lips twitch outside of his control. "yeah, just - just tired. long day."

"you -" he jerks his phone down to glance at the screen, blinking in confusion. "wh - it's seven-thirty in the morning, did you stay up all night again?"

jungkook hums. "something like that. but - enough about - you never just call like this, are y - are you okay?" another car horn now, louder. something settles over taehyung like trepidation.

"okay," he sighs, squeezing his eyes shut. "all right. do you - i'm sorry that i never asked this directly, and i know that i've had every opportunity. but do you remember anything from the night before you left? like, after we said goodbye to everyone at the bar."

there's a short silence on the other end. "a little bit, yeah. uh, bits and pieces. why - do you not?" the question's sharp, cutting. taehyung swallows.

"no, i do. i remember everything."

another, longer silence, and then jungkook mumbles, "is that all you wanted to ask me?"

"well, i ... i have a lot i want to ask you. but the reason i called is that ... i wanted to tell you that -"

"hyung -"

"wait, kookie, please let me -"

"sorry, yes - i'll stop -"

"i've had feelings for you for a long time. ro-mantic? feelings. yeah. i -"

"what? since when?"

"kookie," taehyung groans, rubbing his forehead and tugging at his bandana. "listen."

"sorry, hyung."

"since, like, we met probably? and i didn't - i mean, it's new for me, too - i didn't know at the time. and i just feel like being honest at this point can't hurt, since you're - you're so far and i miss you so much and it's - it doesn't really have to change anything, right? i mean, like, i love you a lot, regardless of the - without any of the other stuff. and i don't want anything from you that you can't give. but some things happened that night, before you left, that kind of give me hope? and," he pauses to swallow thickly, staring at the blinking light, "i just want you to know. that i have a lot of love to give you, so much, kookie. i love you so much. is - is that okay?"

for a moment, the line seems dead, utterly silent, before the faint street noise filters in as jungkook clears his throat. "hyung, you're my best friend. and this is ... can i - this is, like, super weird timing and i can't - i don't wanna have this conversation like this. c - can we put a pause on this? can - you're my best fucking friend."

taehyung's eyes heat. "sure, kookie."

"thank you," the younger breathes. "please read my texts."

the call ends.

--

quiet lingers, long enough to feel like it fills whole minutes of taehyung staring down at the phone in his hand, screen dim, speaker silent. after enough time passes, yoongi prompts him quietly, "how do you feel?"

taehyung looks up and his vision is blurry and his eyes feel hot. he touches each one gently to dab the saltwater away, rubbing it between the pads of his fingers. "um," he starts, voice foreign even to himself, "not great, not terrible, i guess?" he blows out a heavy breath and squints at the green light again. "rejection's always - well, i guess it's not rejection, per se? he called me his best friend, doesn't want that to change - he, like, reinforced that role in his life for me. so maybe rejection's not the right word? just a different - um, a different kind of acceptance."

yoongi hums.

"it's not his fault that he doesn't feel the same. and i'd rather he tell me that, than pretend in any way. i just ..." he seeks out the hoola hoop boys on the grass in the distance, but he doesn't find them. his eyes search frantically over the clearing until they land on the three adults far away on the paved path to the back gates of the park, the boys toddling between them each with one arm around the other. taehyung squeezes his eyes shut and exhales. "i was just so sure ... but that was dumb. i had no reason to build any expectations." yoongi makes a face, shrugging, like he dissents, but taehyung shakes his head. "no, that was dumb. i'm dumb, i shouldn't have -"

the interviewer reaches up with a hand and grasps the pan-handle of the tripod, turning the camera away from taehyung slowly, to the side. taehyung frowns, confused, and then follows the direction of the lens to a spot behind him to find jungkook standing pigeon-toed in the grass with a suitcase in each hand and a humongous backpack on his shoulders, dark circles under his eyes, clothing rumpled, the best thing taehyung's ever seen. but his brain can't compute, so he ducks his head down with his hands over his ears, squeaking, before turning to yoongi with rage. "you knew about - ?"

"not at fucking all," he snorts, "but i sure wish i had some popcorn."

taehyung pants, feeling hot all over, before turning back to where jungkook most certainly cannot be, where he was just imagined, where it'll hurt to see an empty space again. but he's there. and he takes a tentative step forward, as if unsure of whether taehyung will shove him back.

"wh-" taehyung sobs, crawling up onto his hands and knees, "what?"

"hi, hyung," jungkook greets weakly. "surprise."

from behind him, taehyung hears a deadpan, "he definitely still hasn't read your texts."

jungkook's eyes are still on taehyung as he nods, but then he seems to process yoongi's presence, and his eyes grow wide. "hey, i know you."

taehyung drops back onto his ass on the blanket, feeling weak.

the younger finally sets his luggage down, a few feet away, and massages his neck wearily.

"yeah, recognized the story. still got your video saved here," yoongi drawls, and then there's an audible tap on what must be his laptop. "you two suck."

"wait," taehyung slurs, pressing his palms to his eyes. "what's happening right now."

"lover boy tried to confess to you a few months back," the interviewer scoffs, and taehyung peeks through his fingers at jungkook, who turns bashful, arms wrapped around himself. "except he chickened out. identical story, it's incredible. 'i live three dorms away from him but we facetime constantly and all i ever do is lean in and stare at my phone screen while he talks because he's so beautiful and i know he's gonna realize it soon because i'm so obvious' - you two are a piece of work. you told me in july that you'd confess by august," yoongi spits, indignant.

jungkook blushes. "hobi-hyung couldn't even convince me in august," he says to taehyung, shouldering off his bag to drop it beside the others. "he told me to go for it before my plane that night, but all i managed to do was kiss you thoroughly and then scamper into my apartment to hyperventilate for an hour."

taehyung leans forward into the grass, letting the sharp little blades pinprick at the skin of his forehead. "you remember."

jungkook breathes out on a laugh. "of course i do."

with no strength to sit up again, he only nods into the dirt and inhales. he can hear birdsong somewhere, and it lulls him. he's floating, this isn't real. any moment now, he'll wake up.

"hyung?" jungkook's voice calls, all soft and unsure again. "should i not have - ? on the phone, at first, i was sure you were going to tell me to fuck off, but then ... but you don't look too happy to see me now, either - i - ?"

so taehyung struggles up, and his eyes are wet again, cheeks streaked with tears, and he barely feels the burn when his sleeves roughly wipe them away. "no, fuck, i'm - come here," he rasps, lifting his arms.

instantly, jungkook leans down to pull him into a hug. it's warm. he smells like he always did. his little chin digs into taehyung's shoulder as it always did. it's going to suck if he does wake up from this.

"why would - why wouldn't you say this on t-the fucking call?" he whispers.

jungkook clutches him more tightly when he feels taehyung's body wrack with silent sobs. "i - i thought you were going to tell me to get on the next plane back! i was - i texted you asking if you were home, and if you were free, and you didn't answer but you called and i thought - i just stood in the middle of the street, so sure you'd figured it out and didn't want me here, and i had just been dropped off by jin- and joon-hyungs on the corner by the subway, and they said you were supposed to be home already, and i thought you didn't even want to see me - but then you said all those things and the whole reason i even - " he pulls away then, holding taehyung by the shoulders, shaking him gently. he's smiling through his exhaustion, beautiful even when he's still blurred by taehyung's tears. "- i even came here was to try to say them to you and ... i was a fucking block away. i couldn't let us do it like that. you're my best friend."

taehyung closes his eyes. "just that?"

there's no answer, and he's right about to lose his mind when soft lips press tentatively to his own, probing. he inhales shakily against a warm cheek and wraps his arms around jungkook's chest, tugging until they're pressed together from shoulders to knees. eventually, the younger pulls back and brushes a careful finger over taehyung's bandana. "you look just like i imagined," he says in korean.

taehyung snorts. "you've seen me before."

"i still imagine you, though, sometimes." the younger's eyes jump excitedly over taehyung's face. "you're art."

"blegh," yoongi groans from behind them, packing up his tech. "this is the worst kind of ending. happy for you, whatever, but get out of my face already. and off my blanket."

"thank you, yoongi," taehyung laughs at him, giddy. "and jimin. and hobi-hyung. jin- and joon-hyung. i guess it does take a village." yoongi grumbles some more, and taehyung beams, safe in the hoop of jungkook's arms. "i can't believe we just gave this guy a viral video." indignant, yoongi starts to protest again, but taehyung can't take his eyes off the sleepy boy in front of him, and cuts him off.

"and you lied, you lied to me. he is perfect."