Actions

Work Header

My Harbour Full of Ships

Chapter Text

“Well,” a happy voice from above calls. "Hello, Officer."

Seokjin’s eyes dart up to the boy in the tree to the angry store owner on the ground and back again. “Get down here, Taehyung.”

Taehyung doesn’t hesitate to follow his orders because the boy really has no reason not to. He's already gotten what he wants; Seokjin’s here.

When down on the ground, Taehyung bounces towards him, hands held out in front of him. “Aren’t you going to cuff me?” 

“I think we’re good.”

Taehyung grins his signature rectangle smile. “But I like it.”

“All the more reason not to.” Seokjin points a thumb over his shoulder. “Get in the car.”

Taehyung excitedly scurries to the police vehicle. “Shotgun!”

“Backseat or I’ll put you in lockup for two nights!” To Seokjin’s surprise, Taehyung actually follows his instructions. He’s usually not that impressed with Seokjin’s threats.

The store owner watches the scene unfold with a judgemental shake of the head. After a moment’s hesitation, Seokjin asks him about the stolen merchandise. Just two popsicles; Taehyung’s crimes get less intimidating by the day. Seokjin knows he shouldn’t but he pays for them anyway, fixing the problem in a way that in reality solves nothing at all.

Bidding his goodbye to the mollified store owner, Seokjin gets behind the wheel and drives off. In his rear-view mirror he can see Taehyung lean forward with glee, nose pressed up against the mesh separating the front and backseats.

“You’re so pretty, hyung.”

“That’s Officer Kim Seokjin for you.”

Taehyung whistles, eyes sparkling. “That’s so hot, hyung. I like a man in uniform.”

Seokjin’s lips narrow into a thin line. “Zip it, Taehyung. You’re just a kid.”

“I’m almost eighteen!” Taehyung sulks but it’s only briefly. The pout on his face soon transforms into sunny smile. “Want to hear what I did last week?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Seokjin doesn’t. Taehyung’s mouth opens to give way to a waterfall of words. He talks about Jimin and how they got send to detention. He talks about Jeongguk, a recent transfer-student, and how they went to Karaoke. In short, he picks up right where he left off the last time Seokjin arrested him. That time Taehyung had been spray-painting graffiti on a building scheduled for demolition. Or was that the time before that?

Seokjin can’t believe Taehyung had been so quiet the first time Seokjin had ever slapped cuffs on him. The crime had been throwing rocks through the windows of an abandoned house and it had taken Seokjin ages to get the small kid to open up to him. Now he can merely look back on that with nostalgia. These days, Taehyung’s mouth never stops in Seokjin’s company.

But then, all Taehyung really needs is a listening ear, all the grown-ups in his life excelling in their emotional absence, and Seokjin could only wish all his cases were that easy. To be honest, Taehyung’s petty (non-)crimes are an almost welcome respite in the boredom that comes with working in a small town. Seokjin had told Taehyung a hundred times he could just drop by if he wanted to chat but Taehyung preferred the thrill of an arrest because, ‘the handcuffs are so sexy, hyung.’

Seokjin glances at Taehyung through the rear-view mirror again. The boy’s mouth is still moving a mile a minute, hands animatedly waving through the air to underline the important parts of his story. The boy is too adorable for his own good. Too mischievous. He’s going to break a lot of hearts when he’s older and probably cause a world of trouble every time. Seokjin suspects the biggest victim of his behaviour would be Taehyung himself. It always is.

But that’s of a later concern. For now Seokjin just listens.

 

Chapter Text

“I have a great idea!” the teacher announces, enthusiastically clapping her hands together, the hundreds of bracelets around her wrist chiming with the motion. “Why don’t we warm up with a few love confessions?”

Jeongguk grabs the sides of his seat in blind panic, his knuckles turning white with the force he’s exerting. That sounds like an absolutely horrible idea. Who put that woman in charge of this acting class? He looks around the room with all the students sitting in a circle, wondering why nobody is staging a coup yet, and encounters only excited faces. What is wrong with these people? 

Jeongguk doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t even want to be here. There’s not a single fibre in his body that aspires to become an actor. He’s only here because his mother thought it would maybe help with his chronic shyness. Well, the joke’s on her because he’ll probably be left emotionally scarred for life after this class. He’s never leaving the safety of his bedroom ever again. Never.

The teacher moves across the room in a flurry of richly died fabrics and exotic prints, jewellery rattling with every move, randomly pairing up students to her left and right. She comes to a stop in front of him. Like many times before, Jeongguk so desires he could turn invisible.

“And our newest addition to the class.” She turns to look about the room, pursing her lips in thought. Then she smiles. “Why don’t you pair up with Taehyung?”

Jeongguk follows her line of sight and finds the most blinding rectangle smile at the end of it. Turning begging eyes back on the teacher, he slowly shakes his head in meek protest. She can’t do this to him. Not only is she making him pair up with another boy instead of a girl, she’s making him pair up with that one. Jeongguk knows him. Well, not knows him, but he’s seen him act out Shakespearean dialogues in the lobby of his building with socks on his hands. He’s not confessing his love for the very first time, real or not, to a guy who talks with socks. He probably lives on another floor, what if Jeongguk ever runs into him again in one of the elevators?

“It will be fun, you’ll see,” she informs him. The woman is clearly a sadist. How could his mother ever think that leaving her precious youngest son in that person’s care would be a good idea? The teacher drags him up off his chair without mercy. “Why don’t you two go first?”

Jeongguk wants to say no, he wants to go against his nature and scream the word, but Taehyung is already happily bouncing his way over. This is really happening.

Once again, Jeongguk finds himself on the receiving end of that paralyzing smile. It’s like looking at the sun; beautiful but slightly painful as well. Taehyung grabs his hands, long and elegant fingers squeezing reassuringly, like he’s silently trying to tell him everything will be okay. Jeongguk is too stupefied to pull back, letting Taehyung take the lead. Wait, does that make Jeongguk the girl in this scenario? He’s not okay with that. He’s not okay with any of this.

But then the class falls silent and Taehyung’s smile transforms into something more serious. The way he looks at Jeongguk makes it hard to swallow. No one has ever looked at him like that before.

“Gukkie,” Taehyung breathes in an unexpectedly low voice, the tones vibrating with an intimacy that makes Jeongguk’s cheeks flush an immediate scarlet red. How does he even know Jeongguk’s name? When did handsome strangers start calling him pet names with so much affection it feels like it belongs in a bedroom and not a class full of people?

Taehyung’s thumbs rub soothing circles on the top of Jeongguk’s hands as he steps even closer. Too close and he’s so handsome this close. Why is he so handsome?

“I’ve never felt like this before,” Taehyung declares in a soft voice.

Jeongguk nods weakly because he can relate to that feeling. His heart is beating so fast it feels like it is trying to escape his chest. He’s probably having a heart attack. Or a panic attack. Either way, he’s dying.

“Whenever I see you smile, I want to smile with you,” Taehyung says. He sounds so sincere. “I want to be the reason that you’re smiling.”

Jeongguk’s eyes flicker to Taehyung’s lips. They’re so pretty and when Taehyung smiles, it’s beautiful. Jeongguk knows it is because he’s just seen it twice already in the span of merely two minutes. His eyes travel up across the planes of Taehyung’s face until they find warm, brown eyes. Everything Jeongguk’s gaze encountered on the way is pretty, Taehyung’s straight nose with the off centre beauty spot, Taehyung’s long lashes which are so nearby that Jeongguk can almost count all the individual strands. Are boys even supposed to be this pretty?

“Whenever I hear you singing in the staircase of our building, I want to sing with you,” Taehyung tells him, hands warm as they hold him. Jeongguk can feel his eyes grow wide like saucers, until he looks like what his friends often describe as a scared bunny, because Jeongguk actually does that. He sings in the staircase on his way down because he thinks no one will hear him.

“Whenever I see you dancing in the parking lot, I want to dance with you.” Taehyung’s voice is so deep and warm and fond. Jeongguk’s heart skips a beat at the thought of Taehyung watching him as he dances. When he dances in the far off corner where he thinks no one can see.

“I want to do all those thing with you,” Taehyung confesses, his voice wavering a little as he continues after a brief pause, “because I think I like you.” His pleading eyes burn into Jeongguk’s, making it hard to breathe. “Will you let me?”

The following silence is so all-encompassing that Jeongguk is capable of hearing the blood rush in his ears. He’s lost until Taehyung gently tightens his grip and Jeongguk belatedly realizes this is his cue. Taehyung had done most of the work for him, now he just had to respond.

To his own surprise, he nods feebly, barely managing to croak out an embarrassingly high-pitched, “Yeah.”

It seems to be enough for Taehyung, whose face lights up in that smile again, knocking all of the wind out of Jeongguk’s already battered body. It seems to be enough for the class as well, everyone clapping in appreciation, the teacher the loudest of all.

Jeongguk looks around in a slight stupor, until Taehyung releases his hands to affectionately tousle his hair. “Good job, Gukkie. You did well.”

“Yes,” the teacher vehemently agrees, still clapping. “You both did very well. No ‘I love you’ but very well indeed. The emotion felt real.”

The word ‘real’ bounces around in Jeongguk’s head as he drops back onto his chair. Was that supposed to be acting? Because he was quite sure it hadn’t been on his part. He had just been along for the ride.

The rest of the class passes in a slight daze with Jeongguk managing to avoid acting out any more embarrassing role plays front and centre. He does a few minor exercises with the girl on his left but it’s different. She doesn’t make his throat run dry like Taehyung does every time he catches Jeongguk staring and sends a sunny smile his way.

Jeongguk is the last to leave the performing arts building when they’re finished, having to first dunk his face under the cold water tap in the men’s bathroom for ten minutes. Taehyung is waiting for him outside and all the heat immediately floods back to his cheeks.

“Hey,” Taehyung greets him with an unsure wave.

“Hey.” Jeongguk really wishes his voice would stop sounding so shaky.

“I just wanted to say—” Taehyung bites his lip, letting the words trail off, eventually looking back up from his shuffling feet. “I just wanted to say I meant what I said in there. About—about wanting to spend time with you.”

Jeongguk needs a minute for the words to sink in, wide-eyed and frozen, before blurting out, “Me too.”

The smile comes back in full force, trying to knock him off his feet. If Taehyung keeps doing that, Jeongguk fears he might go into cardiac arrest. Taehyung stretches out his hand, long and slender fingers reaching out for Jeongguk. “Want to walk home together?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk admits as he slowly entwines their fingers, smiling tentatively in return.

Jeongguk thinks he’s probably coming back again to this class next week. But it wouldn’t be for the acting, that's for sure.

 

Chapter Text

“Another one!”

Chanyeol feebly tries to cover up his glass with his hand but Jongdae easily smacks it aside, topping his soju back up. 

“Last one,” Chanyeol mutters, kind of overlooking the fact that he’s been saying that for five drinks now.

Chanyeol looks around the table, reaffirming that they sure do make a sad sight; Kyungsoo brooding in the corner, Junmyeon already half-way passed out because he’s Junmyeon and he can’t hold his liquor, and then there’s of course Jongdae. Jongdae who is currently trying to kill them all by alcohol poisoning. 

This is the heart of the IT department at EXO Inc., drinking away their sorrows after an absolutely hellish week at work. The entire company had switched to a new electronic filing system over the previous weekend and, like all computer things, the change had been accompanied by a hundred unforeseen glitches and anomalies. They had been at the receiving end of a lot of scorn. It’s always the IT guy’s fault, even when other people are just too stupid to properly reboot their computers.

Chanyeol catches sight again of the small man at the bar. He can only see his back from here but he’s totally Chanyeol’s type because Chanyeol is drunk, and the guy’s back looks cute, and Chanyeol is drunk, and he hasn’t had sex in like a hundred years, and Chanyeol is drunk.

“You should go talk to him,” Jongdae instructs when he spots Chanyeol creeping.

“Can’t.” Chanyeol shakes his head and immediately regrets it. He’s really not capable of such dizzying head motions right now. “I’m drunk.”

“Pfffff.” Jongdae flails his hand about, almost knocking over five empty soju bottles. “You’re not drunk, you’re tipsy. Everyone’s tipsy. We’re at a bar.”

“Can’t.” Chanyeol squints his eyes, trying to come up with a more well-articulated reason as to why he shouldn’t go over.

Jongdae flings himself halfway across the table, half-empty soju bottle in his hand poised dangerously at Chanyeol’s face, forcing Chanyeol to get up from his booth. “Go. Talk. To. Him.”

Drunk and overworked Jongdae sure is scary.

Chanyeol obeys, tripping his way across the dance floor with his glass still in hand, legs a little like jelly, but he only bumps into half a dozen people. Maybe Jongdae’s right; Chanyeol isn’t drunk, he’s just tipsy.

When he gets to the bar, he taps on the man’s back. Okay, that’s a little creepy, but Chanyeol is totally going to make up for it with his awesome pick-up line.

“Hey, is your name Google because you’ve got everything I’m searching for.” 

Chanyeol wants to pat himself on the back, that’s how motherfucking pleased he is with himself right now. That line is gold, pure gold.

The small man on the stool turns around to face him and Chanyeol swaggers a little on his feet at the sight. He looks so familiar. Eyeliner guy, a voice in the back of his consciousness, far behind the haze of alcohol, offers up helpfully. That’s right, he looks just like eyeliner guy.

Eyeliner guy works on the fifth floor in administration but Chanyeol has always thought he was way too hot to be pushing papers around. At least once every two weeks, Chanyeol sits at the short man’s desk when eyeliner guy has gotten another virus on his computer from illegally downloading movies, a hundred different social media tabs open in the background, as eyeliner guy himself eats snacks in the kitchen while singing and dancing along with the newest girl group songs. Chanyeol should really report that kind of behaviour to HR but he hadn’t because of—because of reasons, all right?

The look-alike eyeliner guy widens his eyes in surprise. “Park Chanyeol? IT?”

Wow, that’s funny, he sounds just like the eyeliner guy too. It takes a few more seconds before the horrifying realization that the real eyeliner guy and the look-alike eyeliner guy are actually the same person sinks in. Chanyeol lets out a squeak that sounds a little like someone just stepped on a mouse. Eyeliner guy furrows his brow in either confusion or concern. Maybe a bit of both.

“Whoops,” Chanyeol declares rather theatrically, drink sloshing in his glass as he raises his hands towards the heavens. “I think my search results are a little off. Must have accidentally been using Bing. Off I go again.”

A small hand on his arm stops him before Chanyeol can stumble off back to his friends in his unsexy drunken gait and drink enough soju to ensure he won’t be able to remember this disaster in the morning. In his current estimation, it might take him only minus two glasses.

The fingers on his bicep tighten a little and Chanyeol wants to melt into the touch. Better yet, he wants to liquefy himself into a puddle all over the shorter man’s lap and drown in his puppy eyes. God, eyeliner guy is so hot. Chanyeol sees the man’s eyes scrunch up in amusement and groans.

“I just said that out loud, didn’t I?”

The man cocks his head a little to the left, a teasing smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “I’m afraid your speakers were indeed on.”

Chanyeol is going to order another bottle of soju after this. Just to make sure he really, really won’t remember this come morning.

Gracefully slipping off his bar stool, eyeliner guy grabs his blazer and finishes the rest of his drink in one gulp. Great, Chanyeol had managed to send him running for the hills. But he doesn’t run, though, fixing Chanyeol with a smouldering stare. “How about we try this again next week? Same time, same place, just with you being a little less drunk.”

Chanyeol blinks rather stupidly in his direction. That kind of sounds like eyeliner guy wants to see him again. Surely there’s a bug in Chanyeol’s system right now because there’s no way he just heard that correctly. “Again?”  

“Yeah.” Eyeliner guy gives him a smile that makes Chanyeol’s insides burn just like soju does. “Who knows, if you’re lucky, we might have our own little software-hardware conversion at my place afterwards. The name you should be moaning in that possible future scenario is Byun Baekhyun, by the way. Not eyeliner guy.”

Chanyeol’s brain synapses are firing, he’s thinking, he knows he is, but the signals don’t travel like they should in all the alcohol he’s been drinking. He’s been short-circuited. The small man sends him a wink before disappearing into the crowd in the direction of the exit.

Chanyeol lets himself fall down on the bar stool that eyeliner guy was sitting on mere moments ago, nearly missing it and sending his ass to the floor, clumsily excavates his phone out of his pocket and pulls up his Google calendar. There’s no fucking way he’s forgetting this in the morning.

 

Chapter Text

Jeongguk narrowly manages to avoid the book flying at high speed towards his head. It crashes against the wall behind him and falls limply to the floor. Jeongguk winces. That might require another coat of paint, or another picture frame, to cover up the damage.

Jeongguk bends over to pick the book up off the floor, feeling pretty sure Taehyung doesn’t even know he was standing there. Probably best not to tell him, it won’t do his boyfriend’s fragile state any favours.

Jeongguk brushes a finger over the letters on the cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and sighs, rather glad that it seems like the saga has finally come to an end. Taehyung reading Harry Potter has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. For both of them.

Jeongguk tentatively makes his way further into their living room, discovering a visibly upset Taehyung with red-rimmed eyes sitting forlornly on their couch.

Taehyung lets out a little choke when he spots Jeongguk, burying his face in his hands. “She killed off Dobby, Gukkie. Dobby! Who even does that?”

Ah, Dobby, Jeongguk had already suspected that the house elf’s death would hit Taehyung hard. Seems like he hadn’t been far off in his estimation.

Jeongguk has to admit he may have gotten suspiciously misty-eyed during some parts of the books but he did okay overall. But Taehyung, Taehyung tends to feel things a little deeper than Jeongguk does. A lot deeper, like holding memorial services with alcohol and sad speeches in honour of a character’s death kind of deeper. Like sending grief-stricken letters asking, ‘Why? Just Why?’, to the evil authors who broke his heart kind of deeper.

Jeongguk makes his way over and gingerly sits down beside him, questioningly brushing a hand over Taehyung’s back. He’s not great with emotions, especially ones induced by literature. But Taehyung immediately pivots his body, head dropping on Jeongguk’s lap, body draped over the couch like he’s on a chaise lounge at the psychiatrist’s office, ready to pour his heart out.

“And Fred.” Taehyung throws a hand over his forehead in despair. “Oh my God, Gukkie, she killed Fred. How is George supposed to keep on living? They’re like two halves of one man.”

“Well,” Jeongguk drawls a little insecurely. “The Weasleys are a big and tight-knit family. I’m sure they’ll take care of him.”

Taehyung just groans like he’s in pain. “And she killed both Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks. How could she kill both? Now poor Edward — no, poor Teddy! — is going to be an orphan.”

Orphans. Taehyung isn’t good with orphans. Jeongguk had already discovered that fact during the first book. “I mean, Harry took him under his wing, though,” Jeongguk tries valiantly. “Being his godfather and all.”

Taehyung lifts his hand off his eyes to give Jeongguk a look like he’s really off the mark by not understanding the gravity of the situation. “His parents are dead, Gukkie.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees weakly as he pats Taehyung’s shoulder awkwardly. “You’re right. J.K. Rowling is a horrible, horrible person.”

“No,” Taehyung whines dramatically, trashing his legs a little. “I’m the horrible person. I thought Snape was evil but he wasn’t. He was one of the good guys all along and I hated him. I can’t believe I hated him because after everything that happened he still loved Lily. He loved her, Gukkie.”

Jeongguk makes a little grunt of sympathy, carding a hand through Taehyung’s hair. He knows a little about love and the stupid things it makes you do. Right now he’s on a couch consoling his boyfriend who is left emotionally bereft after the dead of fictional wizards and witches. He knows a little about love, all right.

Maybe Jeongguk should put Taehyung on a reading time-out after this. Or monitor Taehyung’s book browsing to ensure a high fluff/low mortality rate content.

Taehyung sighs wistfully. “You know this feeling when you finish a book and your entire world just falls apart and everybody is just living their lives like they don’t even realize you’re dying on the inside?”

No, Jeongguk doesn’t to be honest, but nothing is to be gained by telling Taehyung that, so he just releases an uncommitted murmur as he keeps stroking Taehyung’s hair.

It seems to be enough for Taehyung, who turns to nudge a little deeper into Jeongguk’s body, visibly relaxing under Jeongguk’s touch. Jeongguk breathes a small sigh of relief. Maybe they’re finally ready to close the Harry Potter chapter of their life. He’d like that.

“You know,” Taehyung mutters with his eyes closed, lovingly wrapping an arm around Jeongguk’s knees. “Now that I’ve finally finished the books, we can go watch the movies together.”

Jeongguk can feel all the colour drain from his face. Harry Potter is going to be the death of him.

 

Chapter Text

Bright. Too bright. Far, far too bright. Once again, Namjoon hasn’t closed the curtains properly and now the sunlight is greeting Seokjin a lot sooner than he’d like. Seokjin squints his eyes and turns to get away from the offending illumination, hoping to maybe catch some more sleep, but it’s too late. With a little sigh he sits up, frowning at the curtain culprit lying next to him. Namjoon is still asleep, mouth agape, the sounds of a chainsaw escaping past his full lips. An old and broken chainsaw at that.

Seokjin smiles. He smiles because he likes it. He likes it because the situation lets him know he’s still in love. No one can possibly find that sight adorable unless their brain is drowning in hormones and they see the world through rose-coloured glasses. Seokjin’s in love.

His smile falters when he spots the time on the little Super Mario clock on the bedside dresser. He draws his lips together in a tight line, strategizing. This kind of situation requires a lot of delicate care or Seokjin’s precious belongings will suffer the consequences.

Seokjin moves to straddle Namjoon’s hips and claps his hands around Namjoon’s wrists, pinning him to the bed. Suddenly he’s hit with flashbacks of the night before but he knows it’s far from the same. Last night was good. So, so good. This is going to be bad; a deep low to follow last night’s high.

“Joonie,” he coos in his best soothing voice. “Joonie, you need to wake up.”

The figure below him stirs, or tries to within the confines of Seokjin’s hands and thighs, muttering something under his breath that sounds like a mixture of Korean, English, and maybe still some snoring. One bleary eye opens, taking in Seokjin and the sunlight. Seokjin can almost see the gears in Namjoon’s brain shifting, he’s always been quick on the uptake. Namjoon’s body spasms in panic, a string of curses falling from his lips, and Seokjin’s glad he’s made the executive decision to physically restrain him.

“You overslept,” Seokjin confirms for him. “It’s going to be okay. Just go—”

“Fuck, Jin. Get off of—“ Seokjin cuts him off by tightening his grip on Namjoon’s wrist and pinning them back on the mattress with force.  

“Just go take a shower and I’ll lay out your clothes for you and fix you some breakfast and some coffee for on the way to work. Don’t panic and break down our house in the process.” Seokjin raises one eyebrow to show Namjoon he means business. “Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Namjoon mutters agitatedly, still squirming beneath him. “Get off, get off.”

Seokjin finally releases Namjoon, who immediately stumbles to the ground and into the direction of the bathroom, stubbing his toe on the way out, more expletives defiling the sanctity of their bedroom. With a sigh, Seokjin gets up as well to fulfil his promise and put together Namjoon’s outfit. That went rather well in light of current circumstances. Seokjin’s Super Mario clock will live to see another day.

When Seokjin’s finished, he heads to the kitchen to get started on breakfast. Namjoon’s damn lucky there’s leftover rice and vegetables in the fridge. As Soekjin putters around with the coffee machine and ingredients for his fried rice, the apartment is filled with Namjoon’s panicked sounds. But there’s no banging, ripping, or screaming, so that’s definitely a good sign.

Seokjin fills a thermos with coffee and dumps the fried rice in a Tupperware container, slipping both items in Namjoon’s bag. Just when he thinks they’ve made it, there’s a loud crashing noise coming from their bedroom. Seokin winces, half concerned for Namjoon and half concerned for his furniture. Well, maybe a bit more for the furniture because they don’t share Namjoon’s self-healing properties.

Namjoon staggers into the living room, face flushed and looking a little dishevelled. “I’ll fix that when I get back, I swear.”

Seokjin lets out a little discontented hum but doesn’t ask. He’d rather not know.

Grabbing the bag Seokjin hands him, Namjoon heads to their front door in large strides, Seokjin right behind him. A coat is snatched of the rack, the stand almost tumbling to the floor, and Namjoon’s soon to be gone.

“Wait,” Seokjin instructs.

Namjoon furrows his brow, hand frozen on the doorknob. “Jin, I’m late. I’ve got to go.”

“Just wait,” Seokjin commands without mercy. Last night, he might have been the bottom but everyone knows he’s the top when it comes to everything else.

“You’re only one hour late,” Seokjin says, “so try not to knock people over like you’re a human bowling ball on the way to the station.”

Namjoon grunts a little in bitter acknowledgement of Seokjin’s words as Seokjin’s straightens his tie.

“You’re the smartest person at that entire godforsaken law firm,” Seokjin continues, “so it’s not like they are going to fire you anyway.”

Namjoon nods like he’s merely going through the motions, only letting Seokjin fuss over him because he knows protesting is useless, counting the seconds until he can leave.

“Come by the restaurant when you’re done,” Seokjin says, hand affectionately carding through Namjoon’s hair to sort out the stray strands. “I’ll cook you something nice.”

Namjoon hums in response, eyes on the door, mind already at the office.

That simply won’t do.

Seokjin cradles his jaw in his hands and presses their lips together for a desperate kiss. He kisses Namjoon like he kissed him last night, full of hunger and passion and lewd promises. Until their tongues are dancing with need and a fire hotter than any kitchen Seokjin has ever worked in. He makes it good for both of them, so whatever broken disaster Namjoon left behind in the bedroom will be easier to bear.

When Seokjin pulls away, Namjoon’s cheeks carry the prettiest pink blush. He brushes a finger over their heat. “Have a good day at work, Joonie.”

Namjoon nods again but this time his eyes are dazed and focused on Seokjin, his mind completely in the moment.

After their goodbyes and a promise Namjoon will leave work at a decent hour to stop by the restaurant, Seokjin finds himself alone in the apartment. He decides to have breakfast in his pyjamas, avoiding the bedroom for as long as possible, because no one should be forced to eat on an upset stomach.

 

Chapter Text

When Taehyung enters the room, he’s greeted by the hurried sounds of papers fluttering on top of each other as Jeongguk closes his sketchbook. Jeongguk’s hasty and secretive movements in response to his arrival already seem painfully familiar, yet it’s less than a week ago when Taehyung was still allowed unfettered access to all that Jeongguk created. Finished or not.

“How is your latest masterpiece coming along?” The words have a bitter taste and Taehyung wishes he was better at hiding it.

“Okay, I guess.”

Jeongguk meticulously stores away his pencils and art supplies. Every other part of the apartment Jeongguk shares with his roommate Namjoon may be in a constant state of chaos but in the area where Jeongguk draws, where he creates, exists a lone sanctuary of cleanliness and peace.

Taehyung steps closer, watching Jeongguk organize his belongings, but all that he can really see is the sketchbook lying at the heart of it all. It’s a forbidden fruit and the more Jeongguk shields it from Taehyung, the more he hungers for it. Taehyung can’t remember if there’s ever been a time when he’d been more eager to get his hands on an inanimate object.

But it isn’t an inanimate. Not really. Because Jeongguk’s art is in it and Jeongguk’s art is a piece of himself, a glimpse into Jeongguk’s soul and thoughts. A way for Taehyung to get close to the boy he loves, a boy who can’t express himself very well in words but can capture entire worlds in a single sketch.

It’s priceless to Taehyung.

Jeongguk captures Taehyung’s hand in his own, the touch warm and full of affection. “When it’s finished, you’ll be the first person I’ll show it to.” The slow brush of a calloused thumb followed by a reassuring squeeze. “I promise.”

“I know,” Taehyung says, the words directed at himself just as much as they are at Jeongguk. “Let’s go outside and get something to eat.”

Everyone who sees them together on the street would think Taehyung is the artist. They’d think he’s creative one with the way he’s bundled up in his homemade cut-up sweater and oversized scarf, thick rimmed glasses perched on his nose. Not Jeongguk with his beanies and basic t-shirts, feet clad in the Timberlands that he’ll probably take with him to his grave.

But they would be so wrong.

Jeongguk can capture what he sees with just a pen and a piece of paper but he can also do so much more than that. He can create an image and show you the promise its subject holds, the unfulfilled potential, the visions of the future. He can sketch the subject at its most bare, taking away the masks, revealing all the lies and deceit beneath.

Taehyung used to be so envious of Jeongguk’s gift at times. Now he’s merely envious of his past self; a person who was allowed to flip through the pages containing Jeongguk’s dreams.

When they wander across the streets and laugh, eating street food and listening to musicians playing on busy corners, Taehyung tells himself everything is still okay. When they fall in bed together at the end of the evening and Jeongguk touches him with the same passionate brushes of his fingers, kisses him with the same unbridled desire as all their previous times together, Taehyung tells himself nothing has changed.

But Taehyung can’t sleep. It used to be so easy to lie in Jeongguk’s arms and drift away into a deep slumber but not anymore. It’s not the same, no matter how hard Taehyung tries.

So like a thief in the night, Taehyung gets up out of bed and steals a look at Jeongguk’s heart. He thumbs through the pages and finally sees the sketches Jeongguk has been working on, the sight leaving him breathless.

Loving someone is changing them permanently, destroying what was once there and creating something new. It’s your colour bleeding into theirs, forming a new palette that can never be returned to its original state. Even when you’re gone, your colour stays behind, maybe fading and painted over by the brush strokes of someone new but never really leaving. Never truly disappearing. It’s not until Taehyung sees Jeongguk’s drawings that he realizes how much his warm tones have mingled with Jeongguk’s, how much of his colours have bled into Jeongguk’s art. Into his life.

There are a dozen sketches of Taehyung on the pages. Orientation drawings to let Jeongguk prepare a composition for a bigger piece, all full of tentative lines showing Jeongguk trying to get his bearings. For the first time, Taehyung sees himself through Jeongguk’s eyes. He sees all the promises and potential, the dreams Jeongguk has for them. The love in smooth curves making up his lips and eyes.

And all the colours bleed together, seeping in to each other until Taehyung can no longer tell how much of the image is Jeongguk and how much of it is himself.

The sketches aren’t inanimate. Not really. Because Jeongguk’s heart is in it and Jeongguk’s heart is a piece of himself, a glimpse into Jeongguk’s soul and thoughts.

 

Chapter Text

Hyung,” Jeongguk calls out for him with a pitiful whine and Jimin can feel his shoulders tense up in an involuntary response to ward Jeongguk off. Jimin should have just gone straight home after practice. Like always, Jeongguk is undeterred by the apprehensive look on Jimin’s face and lets himself fall against the mirror with a thud before sinking down alongside the smooth surface until he’s sitting at Jimin’s side. More like squishing Jimin uncomfortably in the corner with all his relatively new and obnoxious muscles. Jeongguk had definitely entered adulthood with a bang.

“He’s just so gorgeous, hyung,” Jeongguk laments without bothering to supply context, followed by a now too familiar yearning sigh. “He’s so out of my league.”

Jimin barely suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. Then he decides there’s really no need to and rolls his eyes towards the heavens anyway.

Just a few weeks ago, when Jeongguk joined the dance team and relieved Jimin of his position as the eternal maknae, Jimin had been so determined to prove this little brat that he could be the best hyung in the whole wide world. After all, Jimin may have the pinchable cheeks of a new-born baby and is a few centimetres behind on Jeongguk in height, but he’s still eaten 2130 more bowls of rice. He did the math, okay. In an unprecedented flash of stupidity, Jimin had even gone as far as telling Jeongguk to look up his best friend and roommate Taehyung in the convenience store because he’d thought they’d hit it off.

Out of all the stupid ideas Jimin has ever had that one was undoubtedly the worst.

“And his voice, hyung. It’s so deep I can feel it vibrate all the way into my soul,” Jeongguk admits forlornly as he fiddles with the cap of his water bottle.

That’s what you think now. Wait until you hear him singing along with the latest trot song. A dying Pterodactyl is more like it. Nothing soul shaking about that. 

That’s what Jimin wants to say but he hums a little dejectedly instead.

“And when he smiles, it’s so cute and beautiful, hyung. Like staring at the sun.”

That’s also how he smiles if he’s eaten all your food in the fridge and has forgotten to replace it. Not so cute and beautiful then, trust me.

“And his eyes are so pretty, hyung. Warm and brown like chocolate. I wanna drown in them.”

Sometimes they look so blank; it makes you wonder if there’s even anyone home.

But Jimin says none of that, staying quiet and hoping in vain that it might cause Jeongguk to drop the subject.

“Gum?” Jeongguk asks when he seems to notice Jimin’s attention is drifting. Jimin nods in response. Anything to make the younger boy stop talking about Taehyung for a second.

Jeongguk fidgets with the zipper on his bag, muttering a little under his breath when it won’t give. The mechanism finally caves at a particularly vicious tug of Jeongguk’s hand, his arm overextending at the sudden give, causing Jeongguk’s elbow to plant itself squarely in Jimin’s stomach as over a dozen gum packages tumble from the now open front pocket and scatter all over the floor.

Jimin doubles over at the sharp stinging pain, clutching at his stomach and wheezing, while Jeongguk squeaks in panic.

“Oh my God, hyung! I’m sorry! That stupid bag wouldn’t open. Are you okay?”

Jimin immediately nods, holding one hand up in a deflecting pose lest Jeongguk may think it a good idea to pat his back. That boy really doesn’t know the strength that accompanies those newfound muscles.

“I’m fine. I’m fine,” Jimin coughs as he rubs his other hand across the bruised spot on his abdomen. His eyes take in the candy explosion on the floor. “I’m fine. Jeez. Why on earth do you even have so many packages of gum?”

Jeongguk’s cheeks immediately tinge pink and Jimin would think it was adorably cute if he didn’t kind of hated Jeongguk at the moment.

The younger boy shyly mutters a few unintelligible syllables, sweeping the gum packages towards himself with his arms and dumping them unceremoniously in his backpack.

“What?” Jimin says as he tries to ignore the painful throbbing beneath his hand.

“I said that they’re one of the cheapest items in the convenience store,” Jeongguk repeats in embarrassed whispers, eyes still cast towards the floor, face a pretty shade of red by now. Jimin kind of wants to pinch his cheeks but he still feels too sorry for his own suffering to truly pity Jeongguk as well.

Jimin groans like he’s in pain instead because he is. Both literally and figuratively. He’s in severe emotional distress with all the woeful pining Jeongguk is forcing him to endure. He can’t listen to one more word about Taehyung’s good looks, or his voice, or the off-centre beauty spot on his nose. Seriously.

“I swear, Jeongguk. I told you a hundred times already that Taehyung is totally into you.”

That wasn’t a lie. His best friend had told Jimin in no uncertain terms that he wants to ‘climb the hot gum stranger like a tree’. Jimin honestly doesn’t want to know what Taehyung means by that exactly although he already has a terrifying inkling.

“I know. It’s just that every time I try to talk to him my mind just goes blank,” Jeongguk admits sheepishly. “Why would he ever be interested in me?”

Jimin really wishes Jeongguk wasn’t so cute. He’d almost let Jeongguk off the hook. Almost. But it’s been more than two weeks of this already.

“If you don’t finally introduce yourself to him tonight,” Jimin threatens despite Jeongguk’s round and innocent eyes pulling on his heart strings, “I’m going to do it for you and tell him I know exactly who you are.”

“Hyung, no!” Jeongguk exclaims, face contorted in a mask of horror at just the idea of Jimin stepping in and taking matters into his own hands. Because this is the year that Jeongguk turned into a man. Or so he claims. And apparently real men don’t need Jimin’s help to ask other men out on a date. Or so he also claims.

“I’m serious, Jeongguk.” Jimin drags himself up off the floor, flinching a little at the soreness in his stomach. What does mother Jeon feed that kid? Jimin tries to give Jeongguk a stern look, which isn’t exactly his strong suit, but he thinks he’s managing just fine if the scared bunny look on Jeongguk’s face is anything to go by. “Don’t you dare come to practice on Thursday with yet another package of gum.”

With that threat looming over Jeongguk’s head, Jimin heads home for the evening. When he gets to the apartment he shares with Taehyung, he settles on the couch in front of the TV with a bag of frozen peas on his abdomen, counting down the minutes until Taehyung’s shift at the convenience store ends and his roommate will be getting home. Jimin keeps his phone nearby, watching it with eagle eyes. Taehyung has a habit of informing him about all the major and decidedly not so major events in his life with an unstoppable cascade of emoticons.

When Taehyung doesn’t text him, he begins to fear the worst.

That fear is confirmed when Taehyung enters the apartment and greets him with a dramatic sigh. That’s not the I just got asked on a date kind of dramatic sigh. It’s the I’m going to bore you to death with my stories about the hot gum stranger kind of dramatic sigh.

Jimin is going to kill Jeongguk.

“ChimChim.” Taehyung plops down on the other side of the couch, intertwining their legs. “Why are you canoodling on the couch with the only vegetables we own?”

Jimin grimaces. “I was in a little accident at dance practice. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” He really doesn’t want to ask, yet he does so anyway, just to be sure, “How was work?”

He was there,” Taehyung says as he makes an uncoordinated flapping motion with both hands like that should sufficiently illustrate who he’s talking about. Taehyung releases a rather explicit moan, never one to feel he should censor himself around Jimin. “Oh my god, ChimChim. He's just so thick I want to cry.”

“Please don’t.”

“And those shoulders,” Taehyung continues undeterred. “He just looks so sexy and mature. He’d never be in to someone like me.”

Mature? Who are you calling mature? I think his mother didn’t even stop bottle feeding him until maybe one year ago.

“I think he’s a hyung to me.”

Jimin rolls his eyes again. He’s been doing it so often; he sometimes fears they’ll get stuck in the back of his head that way.

He’s two years younger than us, you idiot!

Taehyung doesn’t even notice Jimin’s annoyance, far too lost in his little hot gum stranger with the broad shoulders fantasy. “I bet he could fuck me six ways till Sunday.”

Jimin can feel his face scrunch up in disgust because he could do without that mental picture, thank you very much. Then he scoffs a little in contempt.

Considering Jeongguk is too scared to even say hello, I don’t think he’d even manage to hold your hand without fainting, let alone put his dick anywhere near you.

“I want to sit on his face,” Taehyung finishes with a flourish.

Jimin shoots up in horror, the muscles where Jeongguk elbowed him protesting vigorously. “God, Tae! No! Please stop!”

Taehyung isn’t the least bit impressed with Jimin’s complaining. The peculiar mix of pornographic lust and agonized pining on Taehyung’s face is something no one should ever be subjected to. Least of all Jimin.

Jimin lets out a long and tortured groan. He can’t take this anymore. Thursday is Taehyung’s evening off and Jimin decides there and then that he’s going to drag Taehyung to dance practice and get him and Jeongguk together even if it kills him. Because he’s the world’s best hyung and an even better best friend but even he has his limits and Taehyung blazed past those limits like six days ago.

And Jimin does. He drags his best friend along, despite Taehyung's sulky protesting about how he was planning to stay in and watch anime, and when Taehyung and Jeongguk spot each other it’s so horrendously toe-curlingly awkward that Jimin wants to turn on his heels and pretend he knows neither of them. It’s awkward right up until the moment it’s no longer awkward but sizzling and crackling with a sexual tension so loudly that Jimin has to remind them repeatedly that they’re in a dance studio filled with other people.

In the following days Jimin learns he sorely underestimated Jeongguk. The younger boy seems to be in no shape or form afraid to put his dick near Taehyung. Not even the teeniest bit.

In the subsequent dance practices, Jimin is made to listen to extensive accounts of how Jeongguk is mapping out all the beauty spots on Taehyung’s body and the funny animals his best friend is capable of imitating with them. The only thing worse is Taehyung describing in excruciating detail just how well Jeongguk is capable of translating his hip thrusting moves on the dance floor to the bedroom. Jimin longs for the days when his two friends were still stuck in unrequited pining for each other with a fiery passion. Introducing them will forever be Jimin’s biggest regret.

Honestly, he feels someone should give him a medal. He deserves it.

 

Chapter Text

Jeongguk has the best job in the world. Being a veterinarian is, honest to God, hands down, the best job ever. There’s just so much fluff. So much fluff and hair and feathers and the occasional scales but Jeongguk loves it all. Big animals, small animals, they all pull at Jeongguk’s heartstrings. He might not be the biggest fan of bunnies these days but that’s just because his housemate Jimin keeps insisting he looks like one on steroids and no, he does not.

Jeongguk swipes his tongue over the top row of his teeth, those teeth that he will go to the grave denying look even the slightest bit of bunny-like. Digging into his locker, he pulls a clean shirt over his head, inky hair still damp from the shower, happy to be clean and fresh again.

Jeongguk loves animals, always has, but ever since he started his very first job at Jung Hoseok’s Veterinarian Clinic three months ago, he hasn’t gotten through one day unscathed. It was thoughtful really, how most animals seemed to wait until he was holding them before they started to pee. Or how animals rumoured to have the sweetest of tempers (‘Princess would never bite anyone, I swear, she’s an angel’) would turn feral upon spotting him in his signature white coat. The coat that’s now sitting in the laundry basket like it never left in the first place, once snowy white fabric covered in the wreckage that was Jeongguk’s day.

Jeongguk slips on his old university hoodie, swings his bag over his shoulder, and heads towards the exit, flicking out the lights as he goes. He’s once again the last one to leave for the day, first having to clean up his examination room and do a last check-up of the animals staying overnight, before fixing himself up in the shower.

The flowers on the front desk of the receptionist’s station make him pause in his tracks.

For the longest of times, Jeongguk thought his bad luck with the animals he got assigned was due to his inexperience. His mentor and owner of the clinic, Hoseok, rarely has troubles when he works his shifts. No biters, no chronic defecators, no hysterical pet owners in his examination room. Jeongguk used to think it was because Hoseok’s blindingly sunny demeanour mollified the animals just as much as the people bringing them in, but what if it has more to do with the gifts that appear on that front desk like clockwork?

Hoseok had taken over the Veterinarian Clinic two years ago, restoring it to former glory and making it so popular that he required another set of hands. Cue Jeongguk’s recent hire. But three months into his first job, Jeongguk is starting to have the nagging suspicion that the epicentre of all the power in the clinic doesn’t lie with its respective owner at all, but is actually located in the secretary’s seat, where it’s wielded by the almighty and at times merciless Kim Seokjin.

Every week, Hoseok takes a small gift with him to work to show his appreciation for his secretary. At first, Jeongguk believed he was the horrified spectator of rather inappropriate office flirtations but countless pictures of a man with dimples the size of craters (Namjoon, Jeongguk had later learned) on Seokjin’s desktop proved the receptionist was in a committed and by all accounts happy relationship. Also, Jeongguk had seen a certain Min Yoongi leave Hoseok’s examination room four times in the past month alone and last time he didn’t even bring Kumamon the bulldog with him as an excuse. Jeongguk will admit he can be a bit dense at times when it comes to the finer subtleties of emotions and social interactions but he isn’t that dense.

No, Hoseok doesn’t appear to be interested in Seokjin like that. Maybe he’s more interested in the electronic appointment book that Seokjin manages with an iron fist instead and maybe Hoseok’s gifts aren’t so much gifts but bribes.

Jeongguk tilts his head and purses his lips in thought. Maybe it’s time for him to start buying Kim Seokjin flowers too. Releasing a groan, Jeongguk suddenly wishes his flower knowledge extended beyond roses, roses, or roses.

Jeongguk is still in the midst of fantasizing about a pee-free work day when a hard knock on the clinic’s front door brusquely pulls him out of his day dreaming. A quick glance at the clock shows they’ve been officially closed for over half an hour now but sometimes people still try. Especially those with an injured pet could get desperate but Jeongguk hadn’t received any emergency calls and he was the one on standby this evening and the coming weekend.

One knock quickly turns into many and Jeongguk hurries to unlock and open the door, revealing a glassy-eyed man cradling what appears to be a fish bowl in the slender fingers of one hand, the other still up in mid-knock.

“Thank god!” the man exclaims, voice thick with tears, as he barges in past Jeongguk, “someone’s here. I need a doctor.” He holds up the glass bowl like that should explain it all and Jeongguk swears he can see a tear roll down his cheek. “An animal doctor. It’s an emergency.”

Jeongguk breaks his gaze away from the man’s tear stricken face to cast a glance at the fish bowl, the sight blocked by a hand and some underwater foliage, before moving his stare back up over tan and even features. Beautiful features. Jeongguk is temporarily dazed by the light dancing on the man’s face before he realises the shimmering wetness that he’s admiring are tears and he pulls himself together again.

Barely.

“I’m an animal doctor,” Jeongguk says rather lamely, somehow not coherent enough to remember the term veterinarian. He sees the man’s eyes flicker down to the hoodie of his alma mater, so he quickly adds, “Graduated this summer.”

The young man nods at that, seemingly reassured, and gives him an expectant look through wet eyelashes. Those are without a doubt the biggest and most expressive brown eyes Jeongguk has ever seen. And that’s saying something because Jeongguk has seen a lot of puppies. It’s several seconds till Jeongguk collects himself again and realizes the man is waiting for him to take action.

“Uhmm, the examination room is just through that door,” Jeongguk stammers, pointing a finger, and the man instantly vanishes in that direction.

Jeongguk trails behind him, watching the man place the fish bowl on the examination table like it’s unbelievably precious and delicate and he’s scared it might break. The man takes a seat in front of the bowl, elegant fingers caressing the glass the same way as Jeongguk had seen countless of pet owners stroke the hair of their injured cats or dogs.

It’s not like Jeongguk had never seen a sight like this before, the heart broken pet owner in agony over what might be ailing their loyal companion. That is something Jeongguk is completely familiar with. It’s just that Jeongguk had never seen someone get so emotional over a… goldfish?

Jeongguk takes the seat opposite from the man, fishbowl between them, and observes the animal’s fawnlike fins graciously sway through the water as it finally emerges from between the underwater plant life, almost like it’s trying to mimic its owner’s dramatic timing and grand entrance on a smaller scale. Jeongguk squints his eyes. The fish is not belly up in the water, so that’s definitely a good sign. In fact, Jeongguk is having trouble identifying any kind of problem, expect from the motion sickness the fish might be suffering from being hauled all the way to the clinic. That is, if fish can even get motion sickness. Jeongguk might want to check the internet for that one.

The man on the other side of the fish bowl also doesn’t offer up any kind of useful information, staring at his fish with keen eyes, fingertips still resting gently on the glass. Face angled downwards, the light is dancing on the man’s hair instead of his cheeks, making it look soft and golden and Jeongguk has to clench his hand to make sure he won’t reach out and pet it. Despite the man’s incomprehensible fluffiness combined with Jeongguk’s racing heart and his brain that is somehow no longer fully functional, Jeongguk is quite sure he’s only allowed to pet the animals and not their owners.

Right?

Jeongguk clears his throat rather awkwardly. “So,” he drawls, vaguely gesturing towards the bowl, “what seems to be the problem?”

Those big brown puppy eyes lock with Jeongguk again and for a moment he’s so mesmerized that he almost doesn’t hear the man’s explanation that follows, “I think she’s depressed. She keeps hiding in the ferns.”

 “What?” The word just falls from Jeongguk’s lips, who’s woefully unprepared for a tale of an anguished goldfish. Talk about bad bedside manners. Or examination room manners. Whatever, some kind of I’m a veterinarian and I need to maintain a bit of professionalism and not make my clients feel stupid kind of manners. Hoseok wouldn’t be pleased.

Jeongguk can see the prettiest of blushes creep its way up the man’s cheek and the colour is too captivating to look away from. Then, the young man across from him bites his bottom lip like he’s nervous and the accompanying cuteness is like a punch to Jeongguk’s gut.

The man casts a worried look at the fish before turning those wide almond eyes on Jeongguk again. Puppy eyes. “It’s just that Sushi hasn’t been the same lately.”

“What?” Jeongguk repeats, even more dumbly than before and he quickly snaps his mouth shut to prevent even more unhelpful vowels and consonants from leaving his mouth. Manners!

The man’s cheeks turn an even deeper shade of red before shrugging a bit awkwardly and mumbling, “I let my four-year-old cousin name her.”

It’s Jeongguk’s turn to talk but the man is all golden tan dusted with hypnotic shades of red and pink on his cheeks and ears. It’s all shiny and mysteriously fluffy and his eyes are wide like a puppy’s and Jeongguk is trying so hard not to pet him, because he’s had a few extra seconds to mull it over and Jeongguk is now even more sure than earlier that he’s only allowed to pet animals and not strange men.

But then the man’s eyes, those wide puppy eyes, take on an insecure glint, and Jeongguk finally manages to utter, “It’s a cute name,” because he’s feeling inexplicably scared of hurting the unknown man’s feelings.

The man smiles wanly in response, lips pulling back a little to form a rectangle shape. It’s a ghost of a smile, laced with worries, but it still makes Jeongguk’s heart skip a beat. Jeongguk is not sure if he could handle that smile at full strength, because facing the onslaught of seeing the man blush was hard enough, and he finds himself still staring even after its appearance has already faded away from the man’s face.

He looks to be about the same age as Jeongguk, mid-twenties, and he seems a genuine animal lover like Jeongguk too. And cute. Somehow, all the pink flushes combined with soft hair and wide eyes is painstakingly cute to Jeongguk. Even with red-rimmed eyes and anxiety etched in his face, the man makes Jeongguk’s chest clench. The way the young man frets over his goldfish makes Jeongguk’s knees so wobbly that he’s relieved to be sitting down already.

The man captures his gawking gaze with questioning eyes and Jeongguk feels his own face heat up with embarrassment, a little ashamed at being caught staring.

“Why?” Jeongguk hammers, shifting uncomfortably on his seat, trying to muster up a little air of professionality. He misses his white coat, pee-stained or otherwise. “Why do you think she might be depressed?”

It’s a stupid question, really. Jeongguk doesn’t even know if fish can get depressed but he could never tell that to the man in front of him. You don’t say that to someone with fluffy hair and wide brown puppy eyes who’s wearing an equally fluffy sweater that seems to swallow him up in a sea of soft wool. Jeongguk is five seconds away from sitting on his hands so that they won’t reach out and touch things they’re not supposed to touch.

“There used to be two,” the man explains, deep voice tainted with sadness. Those long, slender fingers trail across the glass in a manner Jeongguk can only describe as fond. “But Sashimi passed away recently.”

Jeongguk tries so, so hard not to blur out another ‘what?’ this time and actually succeeds but the man’s blush still deepens.

“I thought I might as well just stick to the food theme,” the young man explains sheepishly, and Jeongguk thinks he might be spotting the faint lines of an embarrassed smile tug at the man’s lips. It’s boxy and blinding and Jeongguk thinks it goes perfectly with wide almond eyes that slightly crinkle along with the expression and fluffy hair.

Jeongguk clasps his hands securely over the side of the examination bench to keep them in a proper place before hastily nodding his head in understanding a little too fervently, like one of those puppy bobble heads people keep in the back of their car. “It is cute. Funny too.”

The man’s shy smile grows until his eyes fully transform into crescents and Jeongguk returns it in kind, exposing his bunny teeth and all. He imagines they make quite the sight, two grown man blushing at each other like high school kids with a depressed goldfish as the only thing separating them.

The distant yipping of one of the veterinarian clinic’s overnight guests acutely cuts through the moment and Jeongguk finally manages to tear his gaze away. He stumbles up from his chair, peeling his fingers of the stainless surface of the examination bench, deciding it’s time to do something animal doctors are meant to do and heal this fish.

If that would happen to severely impress the goldfish’s owner with the fluffy hair and soft woollen sweater in the process then that is just an added bonus. Just a bonus.

Jeongguk scratches his neck as he looks through the meagre supply of resources the clinic stocks for aquatic patients. He’s happy there doesn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong with the fish, besides a tendency of hiding in the ferns, because he knows there’s not much one can do for a sick fish but chucking some medicine in the water and hoping for the best. In all honesty, fish owners are often not as invested as those who have cats and dogs or other fuzzier creatures, with the puppy-eyed man behind him being the obvious exception.

Jeongguk finally heads back to the bench with some medicine and fish food, chucking a tiny bit of both in the bowl. The goldfish responds immediately, twirling upwards and nibbling on the treats as it’s fins curve and turn through the water.

The man observes keenly after which he turns his attention back to Jeongguk, a hopeful glimmer hiding between his lashes.

“She still seems to be eating and swimming well,” Jeongguk answers his unspoken question, “so I think she’ll be okay.”

“Are you sure?” the man questions in a deep but soft voice, brown eyes wide and even more hopeful, more puppy-like, than before.

“Yeah.” Jeongguk nods. “I’m sure.”

The man smiles. A proper smile this time and like Jeongguk had expected it’s worse than the blushing, the sunniness almost more than he can bare, and Jeongguk can feel his heart starting to beat in excited flutters that match the butterflies in his stomach.

Jeongguk is almost relieved when the man directs his happy expression towards his fish instead and Jeongguk receives a brief moment of respite. But then the man looks at him again, smile taking on a self-conscious edge. “So her hiding in the ferns, that was nothing?” The man glances down again and gently taps his fingertips against the glass. “You must think I’m silly.”

“Of course not!” Jeongguk immediately burst out, arms flailing through the air momentarily before Jeongguk abruptly lies his palms flat on the stainless steel surface of the bench. Because the man’s hair is gold and fluffy looking, and his sweater seems so soft, and his blush looks hot to the touch, and Jeongguk still doesn’t trust his hands. “Maybe,” Jeongguk continues, lowering his voice to a more normal volume that hopefully makes him sound a little less crazy and a bit more like he knows what he’s talking about, “maybe Sushi gets a bit lonely when you’re not around. Perhaps she’d appreciate the company of a new fish friend.”

The man stares back with a slightly stunned expression.

“You know,” Jeongguk adds hastily, “if you don’t think it’s too soon.”

“Maybe,” the man responds, not sounding completely convinced.

“And I really don’t think you’re silly,” Jeongguk says, although he thinks he might have found it silly with someone else. But not with this man because he has wide caring eyes, fluffy golden hair, a soft sweater that he almost disappears in, and long slender fingers that stroke cool glass so lovingly that it hurts to look at because Jeongguk longs, aches to experience the touch on his own skin. “We always encourage people to stop by if they think there might be something wrong with their pet. We have false alarms all the time.”

This seems to both please and interest the man, making Jeongguk’s chest swell a little with pride. The man digs his hands in the long sleeves of that soft looking sweater and Jeongguk dies a little on the inside. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk confirms, not sure why he’s trying so hard because the clinic is officially closed and Sushi the goldfish has been taking care of and he should be heading home. Yet Jeongguk is still here. He just doesn’t want to stop talking to this man who’s mysteriously more endearing, more fluffy looking than all the kittens Jeongguk has ever laid eyes on. And that’s a lot of kittens. Part of Jeongguk wants to take the man to the back where they keep the overnight animals and stuff his arms full of furry creatures but he isn’t sure if his heart could take it. It already seems to be working overtime.

“We see tons of false alarms,” Jeongguk confirms again. “And cats with family trees that date back further than my own. Arranged dog marriages. Prize winning guinea pigs.” Jeongguk grins. “The fish equivalent of Romeo and Juliet fits right in.”

The man glances at the fish now swimming lazy circles in its bowl. “Maybe they weren’t Romeo and Juliet. Maybe they were more like really great platonic friends.” He bites his bottom lip like he’s giving it serious thought. “They never did expand their fish family.”

“There could be other reasons,” Jeongguk says slowly, wondering just how appropriate flirting in the office is (despite Hoseok’s frequent appointments with Min Yoongi), and how one does it sitting across from each other with a (depressed?) goldfish separating them, and if Shakespearean fish are good metaphors to use when trying to discern someone’s sexual preferences. “Maybe they weren’t Romeo and Juliet but Romeo and Romeo. Juliet and Juliet maybe.”

The man seems to freeze for a second and Jeongguk suddenly worries if he’s overstepped his boundaries, if he left all his good sense of judgement behind with his white coat in the laundry basket. But then the man looks at Jeongguk with a short pensive gaze until something seems to click with the gears in his head and his mouth curves into a grin.

“Maybe,” the man answers coyly, but it’s a different kind of coy. It’s a playful kind of coy, a teasing kind of coy. His hair is still golden and fluffy, his sweater is still soft, and Jeongguk is sure he still has the cutest blush that makes Jeongguk’s stomach flutter, but now there’s an undercurrent of something else. Those wide puppy eyes now carry a knowing look.

It’s a knowing look that doesn’t disappear when the man picks up his fishbowl and follows Jeongguk to the front door. It’s a knowing look that grows while they bypass the register, Jeongguk babbling something about ‘first consultations being free of charge’ and ‘I only took a quick look’ as he simultaneously tries not to ponder how Hoseok would feel about his sudden pro bono work. The man pauses, one hand on the door handle and the other securely clutching the fishbowl to his chest. “Thanks for your help…” He lets the sentence trail of in a meaningful open-ended question.

“Jeon Jeongguk,” Jeongguk helpfully supplies.

“Thanks for your help, Jeon Jeongguk.” Hearing his name roll of the man’s tongue sends a thousand fuzzy kittens tumbling in Jeongguk’s abdomen. “I’m Kim Taehyung.”

“It was nice meeting you, Kim Taehyung.” Jeongguk can’t help but hope that saying Taehyung’s name has the same effect on the man as hearing his own name had on him.

“Nice to meet you too.” Taehyung gives him another coy look that isn’t completely coy. “And I think I’ll take you up on your suggestion. Maybe I’ll drop by the pet shop tomorrow and get another fish friend for Sushi.”

“You could call it Surimi,” Jeongguk replies with a grin, extraordinarily pleased by his sudden flash of eloquence and wittiness. He doesn’t have those very often when facing cute and fluffy looking men. “Stick with the food theme.”

“Maybe I will,” Taehyung says. He grins too, and it makes Jeongguk feel as soft and fuzzy as Taehyung looks. “Do you make house calls, Jeon Jeongguk?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk manages to say. “Of course, if the animal really needs it. You can find the clinic’s number online.”

Taehyung nods, hair still fluffy, sweater still soft, fingers still slender and gentle as he cups the cool glass in one hand, eyes still wide but also knowing. So knowing. “See you around, doctor,” he says as a goodbye greeting, disappearing through the front door.

“See you around,” Jeongguk confirms, blood rushing in his ears, knees weak. “You know where I work.”

Jeongguk has the best job in the world. Being a veterinarian is, honest to God, hands down, the best job ever.

 

Chapter Text

Yoongi stuffs his hands a little deeper in the pockets of his thickly padded winter coat. Grudgingly. He then buries his nose deeper into his scarf. Grudgingly. Everything he does right now, he does grudgingly. This entire morning coffee trip is something he does grudgingly. For weeks now, to be exact. He feels it’s important to get that message across, not that his housemate ever seems to care.

Yoongi glances at the long-limbed boy at his side. Hoseok seems unusually chipper despite the cold (as he always is) and his cheeks have taken on a charming wind kissed blush. He’s younger than Yoongi but (like quite a few people) an inch or two taller as well. Yoongi groans resentfully. What a dick.

A careless bump to his shoulder pushes him closer into Hoseok’s vicinity. Much closer than Yoongi is comfortable with. Another love-struck couple too busy staring dreamily into each other’s eyes than to watch where they’re actually going. It takes all of Yoongi willpower to tamper down the urge to tell them to take their disgustingly mushy puppy love and stick it somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.

An arm is casually swung around his shoulders and Yoongi’s entire body is jolted by a sudden flash of electricity. This is exactly the reason Yoongi always tries to maintain a careful distance between them; Hoseok is far too clingy. “Don’t act so grumpy, hyung,” Hoseok chastises him teasingly, a blindingly large grin on his face. As always, Yoongi is tempted to squint his eyes in defence against its radiance. Another of his housemate’s annoying habits; Hoseok smiles too much. “It’s Valentine’s day.”

“Commercialistic ploy designed to feed into mindless consumerism,” Yoongi mutters grouchily, rehashing something he’d heard Namjoon say one week ago in one of his alcohol-fuelled speeches.

Hoseok just cackles, briefly tightening his grip on Yoongi’s frame. “Don’t be silly, hyung. You love shopping.”

Yoongi huffs a little in protest, although he knows he can’t flat out deny it without spitting out lies, and settles on a grumpy, “Brat.”

That just makes Hoseok cackle even louder. Probably Hoseok’s most aggravating habit is how generally unimpressed he is by Yoongi’s moody nature and at times prickly temper. It doesn’t seem to deter Hoseok in the slightest. Since the first day he moved into Yoongi’s small apartment, Hoseok has been disrupting Yoongi’s peaceful hermit existence with seemingly everything he does.

'He’ll be good for you', Jin had said about four months back, supported by Namjoon dutifully nodding his head in the background. 'He’s good at getting people out of their heads. And you really need somebody to share the rent now that your ex moved out.'

Yoongi hates his friends. He quite likes the inside of his head, even if it often has him spinning in endless circles of self-torment and self-doubt.

They finally stumble into their regular coffee shop, the heat inside greeting Yoongi like the warm cozy blanket he so wishes was still cocooning him like it had earlier this morning but that he was forced to leave behind by his horribly cruel housemate. Jin had been wrong; Hoseok isn’t good for him. Like how Hoseok always insists on taking Yoongi on this dreadful morning coffee run because he has this stupid notion about it not being healthy for Yoongi to lie in bed all day and work all night. Or how Hoseok will sometimes come back from the dance studio or a workout with sweat still glistening to his skin, distracting Yoongi from his composing because he’s too captivated by how the light bounces of Hoseok’s many angles. Hoseok isn’t good for him at all.

The girl behind the counter greets them enthusiastically, a smile on her face that seems to rival Hoseok’s, and Yoongi desires even more that he was still back in bed. Although the glorious scent of freshly brewed coffee is starting to massage his brain, maybe mellowing out his sleep deprived state. Marginally so. The girl tilts her head, heart shaped earrings tinkling cheerfully. “Same as always?”

“You got it,” Hoseok chirps as Yoongi simultaneously grunts in agreement.

“Awesome,” the girl responds and Yoongi kind of wants to erase that word from existence. Whatever happened to eloquence? “And would you like a strawberry or chocolate muffin with that?”

They stare at her, Yoongi with his normal unimpressed face, Hoseok’s expressive features twisted in incomprehension.

The girl points at the sign to her side. Surrounded by too many hearts, a message is scrawled in pink cutesy letters: Valentine discount: 2 coffees + muffin of choice to share. She twists her mouth in an insecure pout, big eyes wide with teenage mortification. “I’m sorry. Are you not a couple? I just thought because you two come here every day and I didn’t want to like… exclude you? Just because you’re two men and all that. I just…” She opens and closes her mouth several times without any sounds escaping past her lips, followed by an: “I’m so sorry.”

Yoongi can feel hotness blossoming on his cheeks, whether it’s first-hand or second-hand embarrassment, he’s not sure. But before he has the chance to say anything, Hoseok’s arm slips lower, one hand settling on Yoongi’s hip with a distinctive flair of familiarity, making Yoongi’s heart stammer loudly in his chest. All the air is subsequently squeezed out of his lungs when Hoseok pulls him closer, gluing their sides together.

“We’ll have the strawberry one.” Hoseok looks at him and Yoongi doesn’t know how to respond. He’s never seen Hoseok’s smile that up-close before. “Right, suga?” Hoseok drawls in his Gwangju accent, dropping the final letter of this brand-new term of endearment.

Yoongi is now even more stunned. He’s not quite sure what to protest first. The fact Hoseok had the nerve to call him suga instead of hyung, that the idiot now made the entire coffee shop think they’re a couple, the fact Hoseok called him suga, that people now think they’re dating, or just.. SUGA!

Hoseok has them seated at their regular table before Yoongi has the time to organize his thoughts, pushing his coffee and its accompanying heavenly aroma under Yoongi’s nose. Yoongi takes it, grudgingly, not because it’s Hoseok but because it’s coffee and he needs it as the entire coffee shop is now under the impression they’re dating and Hoseok seems to think it’s okay to call him suga.

“You want a piece of our free muffin, hyung?” Hoseok asks, eyes scrunching up sweetly. Shrewdly. Hoseok pushes half of it in Yoongi’s direction and Yoongi takes it, grudgingly, not because it’s Hoseok but because it’s his favourite kind of muffin and he needs it as the entire coffee shop is now under the impression they’re dating and Hoseok seems to think it’s okay to call him suga.

“Don’t you ever call me suga again.”

Hoseok shrugs his shoulders, smile widening even further if possible, and leans back in his chair contently. Yoongi isn’t quite sure if that’s an acknowledgement of his command and that worries him. Lots of things about Hoseok worry him. When Hoseok walks back home alone late at night after a particularly gruelling dance practice and Yoongi can’t breathe easily until he hears the tell-tale sounds of a key unlocking their front door. When he nags and badgers Yoongi until he finally caves and pets Hoseok’s hair while watching a sentimental feel-good movie because Hoseok doesn’t like scary movies. Hoseok worries him. How Yoongi acts and feels around Hoseok worries him.

Dragging his gaze away from the countless lovesick couples outside, Hoseok focuses his attention back on Yoongi. The impish glitter in Hoseok’s eyes worries him as Yoongi listens, grudgingly, to what his housemate says next: “You want to see what other free stuff we can score, suga hyung?”

 

Chapter Text

As Jeongguk stares in Taeguk’s dark eyes —Taehyung’s eyes—, he realizes he hasn’t tried this hard to impress a girl since before he realized he was gay. And even back then he never seemed to sweat this much.

“Hey Jeongguk.” Taehyung sounds tired. He hikes Taeguk a little higher on his hip, her little body listlessly rolling along with the motion before she buries her head back in Taehyung’s chest, one hooded eye still peering in Jeongguk’s direction.

Taehyung tilts his chin to the side when Jeongguk takes too long to respond, probably wondering what Jeongguk is doing awkwardly standing in front of his apartment door but too polite to excuse himself and go inside despite the fatigue etched in both his and his daughter’s face.

He’s obviously exhausted, standing under the harsh fluorescent lighting of their building’s hallway that doesn’t do anyone any favours, and Jeongguk still thinks he’s the best thing he’s seen all day.

It scares Jeongguk. It scares him because the feeling to get closer to Taehyung didn’t disappear when he found out Taeguk isn’t Taehyung’s younger sister, or cousin, or the girl he perhaps babysits twice a week. Taehyung has a daughter. An actual child who he is responsible for 24/7, all days of the year, at least 18 years in total, but it’s probably more of a life sentence if he takes his mother’s word for it. And anyone Taehyung would date would come second, would in the best-case scenario be convicted to life in parenthood as well. And Jeongguk would be lying if he says that doesn’t scare him shitless.

But somehow, he ended up on the Kim's doorstep anyway. Being a nuisance if Taeguk’s darkening expression is anything to go by.

“You said you guys had to go for vaccinations today.” At that remark Taeguk’s face grows completely dim before she resolutely turns it the other way. Jeongguk winces. Rejection never stung so bad.

“That’s right.” Taehyung is kind enough to send him a weak smile, but the crease between his eyebrows makes Jeongguk think it had been far from a pleasant experience and neither of them likes to be reminded of it. “We did, didn’t we, Gukkie? Got our body ready for our next adventures.”

Taeguk doesn’t dignify her father with a response, doesn’t do anything but curl closer to Taehyung.

“Vaccinations suck,” Jeongguk blurts, ears growing red when Taehyung lifts an eyebrow at him. Language. Jeongguk keeps forgetting. “But I’m sure,” Jeongguk stammers on, scared he’ll lose courage and give up if he stops now, “you were very brave.”

Taeguk remains impassive but Taehyung smiles at that. A real smile without any of the lines between his eyes that were present before. “That’s right,” Taehyung agrees warmly, pressing a comforting kiss to the crown of his daughter’s hair. “Very brave.”

“And when I used to be brave,’ Jeongguk says, pulling his hands from behind his back, “I got to have another friend.”

Jeongguk awkwardly pushes the stuffed toy in Taeguk’s direction, desperately hoping his sweaty palms didn’t leave any strange stains.

One eye peeks curiously at the gift before Taeguk’s body, which had been limp in her father’s arm during the entire conversation, straightens up abruptly with interest. Her hand makes an aborted grabbing motion before she seems to think the better of it. Taeguk shoots a questioning look up at her father.

“I think that’s for you,” Taehyung tells her, “so what do we say to Jeongguk?”

“What’s her name?”

Jeongguk watches Taehyung bite the inside of his cheek in an obvious attempt not to laugh. “Before that, Gukkie.” Taehyung gently jostles her body to get her attention away from the toy and on her manners. “What do we say before that.”

“Thank you,” Taeguk says, almost tripping over the words as she leans forward to accept the animal, followed by a, ‘is her name Mister Rabbit?”

Jeongguk glances down at the toy, soft cotton stretched tight over the obvious shape of a bear. Then he looks back at Taehyung whose face is suspiciously blank.

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees weakly. “Or Miss Rabbit.”

Taeguk purses her lip, studying the stuffed bear with keen attention. Then she nods her little head like Jeongguk’s suggestion has merit. “Uncle Yoongi has a cat. She’s called dog. She’s very fluffy.”

Jeongguk breathes a small sigh of relief, happy he avoided the mistake of going into a rabbit versus bear discussion with a four-year-old. Happy that Taehyung, although still exhausted, now looks a little bit happier too.

Taehyung hums, skilfully unlocking the door despite holding a child and a stuffed toy half the child’s size. “Very fluffy. Fluffy enough to wear as a scarf in winter.”

“Noooo,” Taeguk protest with a giggle. “Cats don’t like that.”

“What?” Taehyungs gasps, turning wide eyes on both Taeguk and Jeongguk. “But why did Yoongi get such a fluffy cat if he can’t wear her as a scarf?”

“I don’t know, Daddy.”

“That’s so silly,” Taehyung mutters as he toes out of his shoes while standing in the doorway.

“Daddy’s silly,” Taeguk counters while Taehyung slips her sparkly ballet shoes off and puts them on the rack beside the door.

Taehyung kisses her nose. “Silly for you.”

There’s an ease to the way Taehyung interacts with this tiny human, this little person that looks so much like himself, that baffles Jeongguk. He wonders if it come with fatherhood or if it’s something distinctly Taehyung. Wonders if he’ll ever get the chance to find out.

“I’m going to put Taeguk and Miss Rabbit to bed,” Taehyung says, front door still pushed open with his back.

Jeongguk nods, starting to shuffle backwards on his feet. “Yeah, of course, I’ll just—”

“Would you like to come in? Have a cup of coffee?”

There are so many things that flit through Jeongguk’s mind when he thinks of Taehyung. How strong he looks tirelessly holding his daughter up in his arms. How scary it must be to be a parent this young. If Taehyung would even be interested in relationships when he has a child and work to juggle. How likely the chance is that he’d be interested in men when the presence of a child clearly suggests otherwise.

But somehow, he ends up stepping across the Kim’s threshold anyway. Not being entirely unwelcome, if Taeguk’s curious gaze is anything to go by.

 

Chapter Text

“Soo.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t look up from his book. Or away from his laptop playing a movie on mute to his left. The one earbud hooked up to Kyungsoo’s phone remains firmly plugged in his ear. “No.”

Soo,” Baekhyun repeats, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Kyungsoo flips a page.

The bed is only three steps from his spot in Kyungsoo’s bedroom doorway. The wooden bedframe groans in protest as Baekhyun lets himself collapse onto the mattress, air pushed out of his lungs in a loud sigh.

Kyungsoo looks up from his book, black owlish eyes slightly squinted as he observes Baekhyun plastering himself all over his personal space. Baekhyun stretches out his arms, Kyungsoo puts the book down. Baekhyun spreads his legs until he occupies as much space on Kyungsoo’s bed as he can manage, Kyungsoo pulls on the cord of his earbuds and drops them on his desk.

It takes a lot of effort to keep his gaze focused on the cracks of Kyungsoo’s ceiling, to fight down the smile tugging at the corners of his lips. But even without looking Baekhyun can perfectly envision Kyungsoo sitting cross-legged on his desk chair, arms probably folded, all his feathers ruffled.

Baekhyun wriggles his body a little deeper into Kyungsoo’s sheets.

Kyungsoo bites out a: “yes, Baekhyun.”

Baekhyun turns his head towards Kyungsoo, boxy grin widening when he takes in the way Kyungsoo’s arms are crossed, his brows furrowed together, every line and curve of his body positioned exactly the way Baekhyun knew it would be. Baekhyun briefly toys with the idea of replying with a coyly muttered nothing. Then he remembers he came to Kyungsoo for something else than bestowing him with his signature brand of teasing affection.

“I’m meeting Tae for coffee.”

For a second, Baekhyun thinks Kyungsoo is reaching out for his book again, but he pushes his laptop close instead.

“Why do you keep hanging out with him?”

“He’s my friend,” Baekhyun is quick to respond. Too quick.

“He’s your ex-boyfriend.”

“I know.” Baekhyun breaks away from the intensity of Kyungsoo’s stare. His friend’s eyes sometimes say and read too much. “But we were friends first. We—we can still be friends. It’s not like we had a bad breakup. I was the one who broke up with him.”

It’s a list of arguments Baekhyun runs through in his head over and over again whenever he thinks of Taehyung. It’s a well-rehearsed list.

Kyungsoo turns it all into a moot point. “He’s bad for you.”

Instant fire in Baekhyun’s belly. “Tae’s a good kid.”

“I’m not saying that. I’m saying he’s bad for you.” Kyungsoo’s voice is deep and steady. Calm. “Whenever you meet up with him, you come home sad.”

There’s several way Baekhyun can respond to his friend’s observation. He can laugh it off. He can make one of his silly jokes, cackle a little too loudly, a little bit fake, and maybe throw a pillow at Kyungsoo’s head. He can be the mood maker. He can pretend that feeling of sadness Kyungsoo speaks of doesn’t exist. There are options.

“It’s not his fault, you know,” Baekhyun says, hugging his arms to his chest. “He’s just happy. He found someone who makes him happy.” Baekhyun thinks of the marks always littering the tan skin of Taehyung’s neck. Once even the curve of his jaw. His ex-boyfriend’s failed but well-meant attempts at obscuring them from Baekhyun’s eyes with progressively uglier scarfs. “Someone who watched one too many vampire movies if you ask me. You should see those hickeys. Like he got himself a rabid dog instead of a new boyfriend.”

Baekhyun huffs out an empty laugh when Kyungsoo remains silent. Kyungsoo’s silence is a tricky thing. It makes Baekhyun want to fill it up with words.

“I just wish he would stop feeling bad for me, you know, because he’s got something I don’t have—Yet, something I don’t have yet. I just—I wish he would stop feeling guilty.” A brief pause. “Maybe that way I would stop feeling bad too.”

Kyungsoo’s silence has pulled enough secrets past his mouth from somewhere deep in his chest. Baekhyun bites his bottom lip to prevent more from tumbling out.

“How do you think you could do that?”

“What?”

“Make him stop feeling bad for you. Make him stop feeling guilty.”

Baekhyun sits up on Kyungsoo’s bed, half-heartedly brushing away some of the wrinkles he put in Kyungsoo’s sheets. “Find a way to show him I moved on. Get some hickeys of my own.” The lines around Kyungsoo’s eyes tighten almost imperceptibly. “Tae’s a visual learner.”

Weariness settles more firmly in Kyungsoo’s features. “And who’s going to give you those?”

“Strangers,” Baekhyun suggests. He tilts his head cutely and raises a questioning eyebrow. “Friends?”

Kyungsoo gives him the look. Then he grabs his book off his desk, flipping it open on the page he earmarked before.

“Soo.”

“No.”

Soo,” Baekhyun repeats, swinging his legs of the bed.

Kyungsoo flips a page. Baekhyun is convinced he can’t read that quickly.

It takes another three steps to get from the bed to Kyungsoo’s desk. It thuds against the wall when Baekhyun leans his weight into it. “Soo.”

“I said no.”

Baekhyun takes in a deep breath, sees Kyungsoo burning holes into his book with his eyes, jaw clenched, and all the air suddenly escapes him. “Never mind. This is—stupid, it’s all stupid. Forget I said anything.”

If Baekhyun was someone else, he would probably leave Kyungsoo’s room. He might pretend none of this happened and go prepare for a coffee date with his ex-boyfriend. But he is Baekhyun and he prefers to be in awkward silence with Kyungsoo instead, hands fiddling with the various items on Kyungsoo’s desk.

Small fingers clasp around his wrist. Baekhyun stills.

“Do you think this will make it stop?” Kyungsoo asks. “You coming home sad?”

“I…” Baekhyun swallows down the crack in his voice. “I don’t know.”

Kyungsoo nods. The vice around his wrist pulls Baekhyun down in his lap.

“Soo?”

Kyungsoo’s lips feel just the way Baekhyun had always thought they would. Soft. It’s the electricity that’s unexpected. The buzz that burns down his nerves from where Kyungsoo nips at his skin. The gasp that escapes Baekhyun unchecked as Kyungsoo’s tongue swipes across the fresh mark to soothe the sting. The need for Baekhyun to wind fingers in the hairs on the back of Kyungsoo’s head for support as he feels a heart shaped kiss being pressed into the skin above his frantic pulse.

Kyungsoo pulls back first. His eyes are wide and Baekhyun thinks it’s unfair they can be so expressive and give so little away at the same time. “More?”

Baekhyun nods, heat flaring out across his cheekbones, letting his body fall against Kyungsoo. “More.”

Taehyung can wait.

 

Chapter Text

“You know those things they always say about travelling? About expanding your horizons.”

They’re sitting close together, chairs angled towards each other, Jeongguk’s legs on Taehyung’s lap. They always sit close. Especially when they have to share a joint and Jeongguk’s getting a little high on Taehyung’s presence.

Jeongguk groans a little. The metal chair is uncomfortable beneath his travel-battered ass but it’s getting to the point where he can no longer feel it. At least it’s cooler now, at night, the small balcony outside their dorm room turning pleasant as they sit in the shadows cast by the little lightning pouring out from between the balcony doors. Small countryside towns like the one they’re in turn very dark at night. “All the emotional growth and shit?”

“Yeah, those. The justifications,” Taehyung says, taking another drag of the joint he painstakingly rolled half an hour before. He’s shit at rolling and getting the right paper is hard in these areas. They might have to resort to the banana leaves stuffed somewhere at the bottom of someone’s backpack soon. The tip lights up bright in the night as he hollows his cheeks, features thrown in sharp contrast, red painting his skin. “The fairytale we spin for the folks at home.”

“Fairytales, huh?” Jeongguk lifts an expectant hand. “What’s the—You gonna pass that thing on or what?” Taehyung huffs a loud laugh and leans forward enough to deposit the cigarette between Jeongguk’s lips himself, making his next words come out mumbled: “what’s the real story then?”

“Backpackers are fake.” Jeongguk snorts. Weed gets Taehyung in those moods. “Just a bunch of rich kids going to poor countries and being pretentious about it.”

“You don’t even own a penny to scratch your ass with, Kim.”

“I know.” Taehyung leans back further into his chair, the weed slowly mellowing out the aches from driving a motorbike all day. “So I’m slumming it in dorm rooms and night buses. The more cockroaches the better.”

“Crashing at internet cafes and sleeping in cars.”

“Yeah. Living the shit life just to make yourself look cool. Rocking poverty like it’s an aesthetic.” Taehyung reproachfully taps the hand from which Jeongguk’s limply dangling their joint, letting it burn through lost fumes. Jeongguk always gets so wasteful at the end. “Pretending you’re above materialism but having everything waiting for you back home.” Taehyung snatches the cigarette back, putting it to use. “Backpackers are the fakest fucks I know.”

“So you’re not giving back to the community then?” Jeongguk chips away at the weathered paint of their once white table with a nail. Both the table and chairs look like they once belonged in a Parisian bistro, matching the French colonial architecture of their building and others in the area, a garish clash with the lush Vietnamese landscape. “What about the volunteer stuff you did? The teaching—that godawful sugar cane reaping. The good deeds plastered all over your social media feed.”

“Fake altruism,” Taehyung declares without missing a beat. “When it comes down to it, you’re just feeding you’re your own inflated ego. Making yourself feel important.”

Jeongguk’s thirsty. He wants a beer to wash down the taste, to complete the image they make. Cheap beer to compliment worn down clothes and ungroomed hair. They sell some downstairs but Jeongguk is too lazy to get it, limbs glued in place. “Your ego is big enough as it is. Should stop doing volunteer work.”

“’S’not even real volunteering. They feed you, they house you. Basically a job.”

 “Some pretty shit pay for working under the burning sun all day.” Jeongguk plucks the joint from between Taehyung’s hand, fingers still surprisingly light and nimbly.

“You get paid in Facebook likes.”

Jeongguk giggles. Weed makes him giggly. “You’re right, Kim. You’re a fake fuck. No contest from me.”

The grin on Taehyung’s face is sluggish, his finger teasing as it pokes at Jeongguk’s calve. “You’re a fake fuck too, y’know.”

“Hmmm,” Jeongguk agrees, letting his head fall back. “The fakest.” Smoke curls around his words as they puff past his lips. Jeongguk closes his eyes and feels the floaty haziness settle. Taehyung’s hand is still on his bare leg and Jeongguk feels his touch coil all the way up his spine.

“So now that we’ve stablished you’re a fake fuck,” Jeongguk says, propping his head back up and killing what’s left of the joint at the bottom of a broken ash tray. “You gonna drop the pretense?”

Taehyung huffs. “So I can be a fake fuck back home?” He turns his face into the light and smiles, eyes glassy and bloodshot, but teeth gleaming conspiratorially. “Never.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s only six when Jeongguk stumbles through the front door but it feels like eight, maybe even nine in the evening. The time dilation effects of winter: snowy commutes, shorter days, grating conversations with college advisors as his exam results trickle in. It’s throbbing at the back of Jeongguk’s head, the greyness of the season trying to sink under his skin.

It makes him slow and stupid, shoes adding more scuff marks to the wall as he kicks them off without grace. Doesn’t matter. Taehyung doesn’t care about clean walls either.

They’re similar that way, Jeongguk and Taehyung. A little thoughtless and a lot of messy. Like Taehyung’s crap strewn all over their tiny kitchen table, piles of papers and stickers and multi-coloured pens. Taehyung isn’t a child of winter either.

“How’re the tests going?” Jeongguk asks, shuffling his way to the couch. An ugly old thing with stains and burn marks and permanent indentations in the shape of their asses.  

“Going.” Debatable, Jeongguk thinks, since Taehyung’s in the corner of their ugly couch and his stuff is on their cramped kitchen table. He’s in sweats and a hoody, sock-clad feet on the crate doubling as a coffee table, and eyes on the TV hooked up to their game console. A first-person-shooter but the way he’s killing people is lacklustre at best. “Still can’t believe they’re making me grade four-year-olds, man. ‘S just wild.”

“Hmm,” Jeongguk murmurs, dropping down onto the couch beside him. “‘S crazy.”

“Half of them are gonna cry again. Still in the single digits and already heading for a burnout.”

“That’s messed up.” Jeongguk shifts minutely, ass settling into its personal dent, until Taehyung’s body is a comfortable warm line against his side. “The little humans got it rough. I feel their plight.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. He turns without looking, placing a kiss on the side of Jeongguk’s head that lands more on his eyebrow than his temple. “Super rough.” He has set his character up on a rooftop somewhere, picking off enemy soldiers as they wander by, not advancing the game. Mindless and stupid. Jeongguk’s tempted to join him.

“Order in?” Taehyung asks after Jeongguk watched the fifth body drop, head slumped to the side on Taehyung’s shoulder.

“What about that stuff your mum sent over?”

“Nah. Ate it for lunch.”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, digging his nose into Taehyung’s hoody. He smells like laundry detergent and strawberry shampoo. “The Thai food?”

Taehyung grimaces. “Threw it out. Looked alive or something. We should, like, clean out our fridge sometimes.”

“Probably,” Jeongguk concedes. He turns his head to glance over the back of the couch. There a lot of gaudy magnets on the fridge, most of them Taehyung’s and some of them holding up pictures. The centre image is of them in a chapel with Elvis. Jeongguk can’t really remember what happened. He was beyond drunk so that’s his excuse, but alcohol isn’t Taehyung’s drug of choice and they try not to indulge in that abroad. Maybe it was just Elvis and Taehyung’s desire for a good laugh.

They didn’t get it annulled. Because of love and all that other mushy shit, Jeongguk supposes.  

Next to the fridge is a sink full of dirty dishes. Jeongguk cooks in the weekends when they got the time. Mainly breakfast. It’s Thursday now.

“Jesus,” Jeongguk sighs, spotting five socks on the floor and an unpacked box in the corner from three months ago. “We’re such losers.”

Taehyung huffs. “Fuck off. Got a job and everything.”

Jeongguk sighs again. Taehyung’s in his first year of teaching while he’s still collecting half-finished art majors like it’s a hobby. Excelling at all the artistry and incapable of memorizing any of the theory. Tests fuck him over every time.

“We had to ask Namjoon to do our taxes last year,” Jeongguk says. He rearranges himself so that his head is on Taehyung’s lap and his legs are dangling off the other side of the couch. “Couldn’t even ask our parents.”

Taehyung bites his lip and tilts his head in contemplation, letting the bullshit simmer till it’s at optimal consistency. “Just didn’t wanna rub their face into the obvious faults and shortcomings of their parenting. Seemed rude, ‘s all.”

Jeongguk snorts. “Right.”

“The dude gets off on numbers. And who knows how to do taxes anyway?” Taehyung’s completely given up on the game now, flicking through his weapon inventory and decking out his character in various armours. Jeongguk doesn’t think purple makes for great camouflage. “Bet Jimin doesn’t do his own taxes.”

“Jimin sucks Joon’s dick on the regular. If he ain’t doing his taxes that’s grounds for divorce.”

“They ain’t married.”

“Whatever. Y’know what I mean. Probably manages to turn half of the clothes Jimin buys into a deductible.”

“That’s hot.”

“Way hot,” Jeongguk agrees, scrolling through his phone, trying to decide on dinner. Nothing too spicy and no seafood. Taehyung’s palate is as developed as those of the kids he’s teaching.

“Are you getting food from that place?” Taehyung asks. “’Cause then I want that non-fishy fish stuff. The fish fingers without fish.” Jeongguk hums but maybe not loud enough. “Y’know,” Taehyung continues, “those orange—”

“Yeah, dude. I know,” Jeongguk says, patting Taehyung’s stomach with his free hand to shut him up. “Chill. I’m getting you your deep-fried non-fish meat sticks with questionable protein heritage.”

Taehyung relaxes back into the couch. “Cool.”

“Cool,” Jeongguk echoes, finishing up the order.

He turns to his side, facing away from the TV. It’s not all bad, Jeongguk think, being married. He’s had a shitty day, Taehyung’s had a shitty day, and now they’re sitting here in their somewhat shitty apartment with Taehyung playing a shitty game. But Taehyung’s ratty hoody is soft and warm. Grey but not winter grey.

“We gotta watch some Netflix,” Taehyung says, ditching the console and switching to a remote. “There’s five-hundred things in our queue.” He brushes the long fingers of one hand through Jeongguk’s hair. His pierced ears are usually next. “What ya wanna watch? ‘Blood and gore’ or ‘sex, blood and gore’?” Jeongguk watches the light of the TV screen flicker across Taehyung’s features as he jumps through their queue, his eyebrows pinched. “Anime?”

“Love you.”

Taehyung’s face goes soft, eyes losing their dull shine and the corners of his lips twitching. “That’s a bit gay, Guk.”

“Fuck off.”

“Hmm,” Taehyung hums and he’s grinning. A sharp little thing full of amusement. “Was gonna go with Narcos but since you’re being such a soft bitch maybe we should watch Totoro instead.”

“Jesus,” Jeongguk groans, rolling over to his other side with flushed cheeks. “You’re such an ass. Just tell me you love me.”

Taehyung chuckles, thumb brushing along the ridge of Jeongguk’s ear like predicted. “Love you tons.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Maybe I’ll go to Peru.”

Taehyung snorts into his glass of Bai Hoi. Cheapest beer in the world, Taehyung buys it at the street corners of every town they visit, vendors pouring out the freshly brewed beer from big plastic mugs. Being locally produced each night and distributed around the area the next morning, it tends to taste different between cities or even city districts – which is a nice way of saying it depends on how much the vendors water it down when no one is looking. Jeongguk knows Taehyung likes to compare flavours and fancy himself a connoisseur. “You’re so full of shit.”

“Jeez.” Jeongguk takes another swig of his can. 333 Export Premium. Still cheap but not as watery as most Vietnamese beers. Most importantly, the cans taste consistently the same instead of ranging from refreshing light beer to dishwater quality depending on geographical location. “What Peru ever do to you?”

“Not sayin’ something’s wrong with Peru. Just sayin’ that’s not how you gonna do it.” Taehyung takes a sip of his beer and winces. Jeongguk tries to hide his smirk behind his can. Dishwater quality. “That’s not how people do it. There’s a reason everyone takes the same fucking trip, every destination carefully highlighted in The Lonely Planet. Travel costs money and plane tickets cost the most.”

“You even read The Lonely Planet? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure you find it beneath you. Being a true traveler and everything.”

“Whatever,” Taehyung says, waving Jeongguk’s dig at his hipster travel aesthetic away with a large tanned hand. “That ain’t my point, Guk.” He leans forward in his plastic chair, some stupid leather necklace with wooden beads and foreign coins dangling between his collarbones. “My point is you’re paying by distance here. You wanna see more places in Asia, right? Thailand, Malaysia? Maybe Laos?”

Jeongguk shrugs. Of course he does. “Yeah.”

“Then you’ll go see those first, from closest to farthest away, don’t pretend you won’t.” Taehyung is doing that backpacker thing Jeongguk hates, lording his wisdom over those less-travelled like dipping his toes in several oceans somehow made him the expert. “If you ain’t dead ass broke by the end of it all, you might even make it to South America.”

“Wow. Thanks for your overwhelming faith in me.”

Taehyung lifts his cup in mock salute before knocking back another gulp of Bai Hoi. Still tasteless, judging by his expression. He leans back dangerously on the wobbly back legs of his chair. “No problem, bud. You know I’m rooting for you.”

Jeongguk clenches his jaw before draining his own beer at too high a speed, crushing the empty can between his hands in a pointless show of strength that has Taehyung snorting into his cup again. It would be easy to toss the banged-up metal on to the street to get lost among the dirt and other trash, leave it shimmering in all the neon lights till it’s dusted over by the bikes rushing by. The traffic is constant. If anything, it only feels louder at night in a larger city like this, people flooding every nook and square after nightfall.

Jeongguk sighs and sinks deeper into his chair. He regrets finishing his drink. “Jesus, fuck. Can’t believe I can’t even go to Peru. Freedom my ass. Travel is about money. Everything’s about money.”

Every interaction a barter and every man a haggler. Especially in Vietnam. Especially them and their ever-shrinking pockets.

“You can still go. Just saying it ain’t very cost-effective.” Taehyung shrugs. “But you can do however, dude. Prisoner of your own chains and all that.”

“Whatever.” Jeongguk knows Taehyung’s got him pegged and it stings. He lifts his eyes up to a starless sky and puts on his best sulk. “I’ll just sit here in the dirt and succumb to the crushing weight of capitalism like everyone else. Take a few pics for Instagram and pretend I’m having more fun than the people back home.”

Taehyung huffs a quiet laugh and teasingly pokes his feet against Jeongguk’s shin beneath the table. “You are having more fun.”

Jeongguk looks back at Taehyung, thinks of the dead-end job he would have back home, and feels the corners of his lips betray him. “Some days.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“This place feels like hell,” Taehyung says one afternoon, sitting on the left side of their raggedy couch. Like he’s said every afternoon for the past three days of this heatwave. Ass parked left. Not the right side but the right side. The correct side.

Jeongguk, slouched next to him, grunts.

“Sweat pouring down my ass crack like Niagra Falls or something,” Taehyung continues, spreading his legs even wider, right knee almost touching Jeongguk’s. He’s an overheated and miserable mess stripped down to just to his underwear, tan supple skin stretched over sharp collarbones. A golden colour that Jeongguk can’t now, can’t ever, live up to.

Jeongguk swallows. It’s been three days of this too.

Their apartment faces southwest, the temperature inside climbing all day long till it reaches this crescendo in the late afternoons when they get home. Taehyung first. Jeongguk half an hour to an hour later. Tonight, they’ll have to sleep naked again, shying away to opposite ends of the bed to avoid touching each other’s scalding skin.

“Fucking hate summers in the city.”

Jeongguk stays silent. Blinks slowly and watches Taehyung play a new game on his phone. It’s annoying how stupid he looks. Long hair stuck to his neck and forehead with sweat, eyes squinting at the screen, and tongue poking out between his lips as he tries to spark together his last 2 braincells not fried-out by the heat.

It’s annoying how sexy he makes stupid look.

Jeongguk twists his body slightly to the left, trying to obtain something resembling relief. Anything, really. Just a modicum of comfort or a short respite from how the leather sticks to his skin. He’s sitting on the right side of the couch, the wrong side of the couch, where the springs dig into the flesh of his thighs no matter how he positions himself and the breeze of their 10 year-old fan that Seokjin donated to them out of pity can’t reach.

The whirring of the fan follows Jeongguk everywhere he goes in the apartment. It’s with him in the living room as Taehyung plays his games and with him in the bedroom as they go to sleep. The whirring of the fan, the sweltering heat that coils itself tightly around everything in the apartment till it suffocates, and Taehyung’s presence. On the left side of the couch. The right side.

Three days.

Jeongguk lifts himself off the couch, leather peeling off his skin with a sound that haunts Jeongguk’s sweaty nightmares, and Taehyung barely tears his eyes away from his phone long enough to throw him a questioning glance. He should have looked a little longer.

There’s loud wheeze full of pain when Jeongguk drops his body into Taehyung’s lap like dead weight, phone clattering to the ground.

“Jesus, Jeongguk! Fuck!

Jeongguk has always liked how deep Taehyung’s voice goes when he’s angry. His words bleeding all the different shades of red.  

“You’re on my side of the couch,” Jeongguk says simply. Like it’s a real explanation.

What the-!” Taehyung’s hands connect with his back hard enough for some of the air to escape him. “Get the fuck off me, Guk! It’s fucking 400 degrees in here!”

Digging both feet into the carpet, Jeongguk pushes all his weight back onto Taehyung, calf muscles burning. He’s not going anywhere. There’s a sick satisfaction at spreading the pain and grief this heatwave has been giving him. And Jeongguk has wanted to share everything with Taehyung since the time Taehyung took him out for their first date, wallet forgotten at home, and the owner made Jeongguk leave his silver bracelet behind as collateral while they scrounged up the funds. Apparently, misery is no exception.

Taehyung’s hands tighten painfully around Jeongguk’s waist and, for a second, Jeongguk’s scared Taehyung will be shitty in the way Jeongguk’s being shitty. That Taehyung will be shitty in a way all boys can be shitty and wrestle Jeongguk off until they probably crash through the coffee table and someone ends up with an elbow to the eye socket.

But then Jeongguk feels Taehyung’s body go limp behind him and his chest expand in a heavy sigh. No real fight in him when he’s this worn down by the beating sun outside.

“You’re such a cunt, y’know that.”

Jeongguk smirks; Taehyung’s right. It is hotter than Satan’s asshole in their living room. Taehyung’s a wall of almost unbearable heat against his back and Jeongguk feels the tin fabric of his top growing damp and uncomfortable with their combined sweat. Even the way the naked skin of their legs rub together is aggravating. But Jeongguk hasn’t felt this pleased in three days.

“Wanna sit this side of the couch,” Jeongguk says. Like it’s reasonable. And Taehyung does nothing but grumble softly in response.

In his new spot Jeongguk is closer to the windows. Outside he sees the blinding glare reflected of all the steel and glass that makes up the inner city. Pretty. Brutal. A massive magnifying glass scorching it’s inhabitants like ants. He can’t wait for the end of the heatwave to come. For darkness and rain. Taehyung and Jeongguk sharing hotteok under their windblown umbrella while the neon reflects up at them from the pools of water around their feet instead of sleeping on opposite sides of the bed.

“Guk,” Taehyung whines from behind, legs gently jostling Jeongguk. “You’re gonna give me heatstroke. Get off.”

Jeongguk huffs. He’s not done yet. There’s something simmering under his skin. He feels agitated, pent up, too hot to be this close to Taehyung but too restless to be alone. “Suck it up.”

Two vicious jabs between Jeongguk ribs, exactly where he’s ticklish, precisely where Taehyung knows he’s weak, and then Jeongguk’s dumped sideways in one well-placed shove.

Jeongguk glares up at Taehyung from his newfound place on the couch, one leg still draped over Taehyung’s lap, the other foot on the floor, Jeongguk’s back resting on the sharp springs. Even from this angle Taehyung looks good. In a way no person should really be allowed to. His head is tilted, long hair brushing past his cheekbones, and his strong eyebrows are scrunched up in irritation above dark eyes. Such a pleasant view.

“Whaddaya want, Guk?”

What does he want?

For this heatwave to stop. For the burning in his belly to give. For Taehyung’s hands on him. For Taehyung to…

“Touch me.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, angrily mutters unbelievable under his breath, but he wraps one large hand around the thigh spread across his lap and Jeongguk feels something in him settle. “You get so moody when it’s hot.”

“You’re not exactly Mr. Sunshine either, shitbitch.”

“Cuz my boyfriend’s an asshole,” Taehyung counters, pinching the inside of Jeongguk’s thighs and making him jolt.

There are marks there. Old ones that, when Jeongguk pushes them in the shower, still throb. Marks that Taehyung left behind days ago before the city turned into an open-air oven and everything and everyone became too hot to the touch. Faded bruises peeking out from under the shorts that Taehyung is pushing higher up his leg till it’s bunched up at his groin.

“Better?” Taehyung asks. His grin is a little too sharp. A little vindictive. Jeongguk shudders.

“Y-yeah,” Jeongguk says, feeling Taehyung digging his fingertips deeper into old love bites. They burn. The air too hot in Jeongguk’s lungs and only getting hotter. Even this side of the couch. Not the right side but the right side. Taehyung’s side. “Better.”