Chapter 1: eternal return
“A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.”
― Milan Kundera , The Unbearable Lightness of Being
This is officially the smallest plane seat Jeongguk’s ever had to squeeze himself into. It’s too warm. The flight’s not long enough for a free meal. There’s a crying baby around three rows down. He hasn’t gotten a wink of sleep because his layover was barely three hours and that’s not enough to shower properly. If his legs wobbled a little bit on the way to the gate, no one around him had noticed. Or cared.
By the time he’d managed to squeeze past the tiny blonde woman yelling at her much taller husband about how he’d incorrectly stowed away their carry on luggage, Jeongguk feels just about ready to melt into the ground. That is, until he sits down and his knees hit the seat in front of him. He wonders if the window is sturdy enough for him to smash his head in.
Eventually Jeongguk settles for just leaning his temple against the glass, the sunlight pricking at his eyelids. Why do they even have to stay open during liftoff?
Jeongguk hears the seatbelt light turn on, and the flight attendants shuffle along the aisles. Someone settles in the seat next to him, their seatbelt clinking loudly as they shut it. At least they seem to understand the concept of personal space. Jeongguk hears the click of the last overhead compartments closing, and soon the entire cabin goes mostly silent (save for the kid) as the attendants go through the safety instructions in heavily accented English. Jeongguk could never understand the French. American English was hard enough.
How would he fare in Prague?
Jeongguk squirms in his tiny ass seat as the person next to him shifts a little, the person’s elbow getting in his space. He hadn’t expected to have someone else directly next to him — weren’t flights to the less popular European cities this time of year typically underbooked anyway? — but Jeongguk’s not gonna complain. He’s going to take a nap, and he’s going to wake up having arrived safely in Prague, with or without a crying baby threatening to blow the eardrums of everyone in the vicinity.
One hour and forty minutes, according to the first officer’s disembodied voice over the speakers. Jeongguk’s stomach growls loudly in protest.
Maybe he’ll dream of spicy kimbap or his mom’s naengmyeon. Jeongguk’s head lolls on its socket, and he tries to lean backwards into his upright seat. First order of business when he lands at the airport is getting a full meal.
The first thing Jeongguk notices when he drifts back into the land of the living is that his eyes are glued shut. How much sand can a single pair of human eyes produce in an hour? Jeongguk groans a little, bringing his hand up to rub some off. He must look like a mess.
The plane rumbles through some turbulence, and Jeongguk’s head bounces against the shoulder he’s leaning against.
Jeongguk straightens up at the speed of light, nearly hitting his head against the window. Thankfully he doesn’t scream. When Jeongguk’s vision focuses, the stranger’s turned to him, blinking slowly, like he’d been asleep too.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” The boy says, brown bangs falling into his eyes. The deep timbre of his voice doesn’t match how young he looks, just about Jeongguk’s age, give or take a few years. He stares back at Jeongguk’s wide eyes, lips quirked up in an amused smile.
Fuck, he’s gorgeous .
“H-hi,” Jeongguk squeaks, eyes trailing down the slope of the boy’s flawless nose, the jut of his jaw, the way his smooth golden skin disappears under past the collar of his shirt, the top three buttons open. The seats are close enough that Jeongguk can see the hint of chest, and his mouth goes a little dry.
“Did you have a good nap?” The beautiful man asks. His English is lightly accented, and Jeongguk realizes this guy is just as Korean as he is. Jeongguk has to force himself to focus on his breathing. Sure, there are oxygen masks available, but he’d rather he hyperventilated due to the cabin’s shift in pressure than the fact that the sweat dripping down the hot guy’s exposed chest makes him want to pass out.
“Yeah, I—“ Jeongguk swallows, bringing a hand up to stroke his hair, “I did. I’m sorry...Um, I didn’t realize I was — “
The attractive stranger waves him off, “It’s no bother. Your hair smelled nice. Strawberries?”
Jeongguk nearly screams. It was the cheapest shampoo he could find at the airport.
Just as he’s about to say something dumb, and thus embarrassing himself further, the plane touches the ground. For some goddamn reason, the entire plane claps, like they’d just witnessed something out of the ordinary. Jeongguk rolls his eyes. The stranger looks away from Jeongguk and laughs, joining in on the applause. It doesn’t look as stupid when he’s doing it.
“I’m Taehyung, by the way. Kim Taehyung. Nice to meet you.” The guy says suddenly, making Jeongguk jump once again. He really needs to wake the fuck up. It takes two seconds for him to realize he spoke in Korean.
“Ah, hello, Taehyung-ssi” Jeongguk replies formally, “I’m Jeon Jeongguk.” The guy — Kim Taehyung — laughs again, and Jeongguk swears it’s the most beautiful thing he’s seen in this continent so far.
“Oh, drop it. No need to be so formal,” Taehyung says. Jeongguk opens his mouth, maybe to be a brat, when Taehyung stands up, and is momentarily lost in the flurry of people grabbing their suitcases and shuffling out the plane. Jeongguk stays glued in his seat, having formed a habit of letting the crowd go ahead, and Taehyung looks at him once he’s in the aisle, ready to go.
“I’ll see you around, Jeon Jeongguk,” Taehyung yells as he’s carried away by the flow, waving as he goes. Jeongguk manages a weak wave back. Soon, Taehyung’s disappeared from view, and out of the plane
“You’re so stupid. You’re so stupid,” Jeongguk mutters under his breath, his backpack slung over his shoulder and his feet slamming unnecessarily hard onto the carpeted floor. This airport isn’t as nice as Charles de Gaulle — or Incheon for the matter — but it’s not horrible. Jeongguk’s seen worse. It’s not Manila.
He hopes he never has to see that guy ever again. Prague is a big city. He’ll be fine. What are the chances?
By the time he’s taken his sweet time in the bathroom, the crowd around the baggage claim isn’t so bad. His suitcase is bright red anyway. It’ll be easy to spot. Jeongguk stands a few feet away, and scrolls through his playlist, reminding himself to buy some sort of tourist SIM so he’ll have data while he’s there.
“Cute bag,” Someone says, fiddling with the metal keychains Jeongguk has on his zipper, and Jeongguk spins around so fast he nearly loses his footing. It’s Taehyung.
“Easy, tiger. It’s just me,” Taehyung says, smiling. Jeongguk wonders how a guy he’s known for a total of five minutes feels like he’s entitled to calling himself “just me.”
“Oh. Um, hi,” Jeongguk says, taking a small step back. Taehyung’s even worse standing up. His shoulder are broad, tapering down to a pretty waist, shirt tucked into some black slacks that look gorgeous on his legs. Jeongguk swallows, and feels sweat drip down the nape of his neck.
“You staying here long?” Taehyung asks, turning towards the conveyor belt. Jeongguk mirrors him on instinct, and suddenly his shoulder is merely inches from the other boy’s. It make him fidgety. He tugs on the ends of his hair. Jeongguk makes a note to himself to get a haircut soon.
Wait, he realizes Taehyung asked him a question.
“Um, well, I dunno yet.”
Jeongguk looks at Taehyung from the corner of his eyes, and the other boy’s eyebrows are raised, lower lip jutting out. It’s pretty and full. Jeongguk wretches his eyes away and stares straight at the conveyor belt.
“You don’t know? Interesting.” Taehyung tilts his head to the side, and then looks at Jeongguk, eyes curious. Jeongguk’s forced to look back, and he still refuses to believe someone with a smile like that lives in this plane of existence. After a second, Taehyung looks away, and it leaves Jeongguk with his heart in his throat.
The suitcases are passing by at a snail’s pace, making Jeongguk tap his fingers impatiently on his arm. It’s not fair, seeing Taehyung immediately afterwards. He should’ve spent more time in the bathroom. Or waited until the plane was empty before getting off.
There a minute of awkward silence, their bags still refusing to show up. But then Taehyung chuckles. It startles Jeongguk, who’d ended up staring into space.
“I don’t know either,” Taehyung shrugs, his own voice sounding a tiny bit shy, “How long I’m staying, I mean. I haven’t decided.”
Jeongguk blinks at him a couple of times, a million thoughts racing through his head, the panic of possibly having to embarrass himself in front of this cute boy for the next few weeks making him sweat.
“Really?” Jeongguk wants to punch himself. His voice is soft, nearly choked, but Taehyung just nods.
Before Jeongguk can think of anything else to say, a massive purple suitcase makes the turn, and Taehyung grabs it quickly. He picks it up like it’s nothing, but from the way it hits the ground it’s clear he must’ve paid for extra baggage allowance. Jeongguk eyes Taehyung’s arms, hidden in the long sleeves of his shirt, and wants to die at the thought.
Taehyung looks at him, eyes wide and sparkling under the gaudy airport lights, and Jeongguk swears he’s never seen a pair of eyes that beautiful in all his years of living.
His suitcase rolls loudly as Taehyung starts walking away.
“Maybe we will see each other soon,” He calls out, and Jeongguk nods. Once Taehyung’s out of sight, and he groans, staring up at the ceiling like God personally cursed him.
“You. Are. So . Stupid.” Jeongguk says slowly, really tasting each word. He slides his palm down his face, scrubbing at his eyes, and then looks back at the conveyor belt.
His giant bright red suitcase is one of the only ones left.
Jeongguk grabs it before it gets too far, and sets it down with far too much force. Thankfully he’s packed everything well. Or at least he hopes so. It’s been a while since he departed from Incheon, and sleeping on planes is usually a horrible experience for him. Usually.
Jeongguk tries not to commit Taehyung’s face to memory. He breezes past the customs counter, and walks out of the glass doors. The cool spring air hits him right in the face, and he takes a deep breathe.
Welcome to Prague, Jeon Jeongguk , he thinks to himself, try not to fuck yourself up.
The hotel isn’t too far from the airport, so Jeongguk splurges a little on an overpriced airport taxi. It’s peaceful, considering it’s the early hours of the morning, and he’s grateful for the lack of traffic. The trams are running, blocking the way a couple of times, but it’s bearable. Jeongguk gets to the hotel after a little over half an hour, and the cabbie is nice enough that Jeongguk spares him a bit of a tip.
Once he’s inside, it feels just as homey as the website described. There’s a small hallway leading to a small front desk, with a cozy looking library nearby, and steps going up and down. Everything feels very European, Jeongguk notices, with smooth wooden finishes and painting that are what he remembers might be Baroque. There’s a tall dark haired man with a sharp nose at the desk, and he grins at Jeongguk.
“Good morning! Here to check in?”
Jeongguk nods, and he’s ready to be bombarded with over-the-top friendliness, rehearsed explanations of how the place works, exaggerated gestures for where everything is. It’s all the same, no matter what country you go to. The accents just differ.
And that’s what he gets. Soon enough he’s checked in (second floor, room 2) and he’s been shown where the breakfast room, restaurant, bar, and been given a rundown of all the wonderful services the hotel has to offer. The usual.
“Oh! And you’ve come at a very exciting time,” The man — whose name tag says David — says suddenly, making Jeongguk quirk an eyebrow. The man pulls out a small stuffed rabbit from underneath the front desk; it’s white, with a red tracksuit and a holding some sort of stick. He places it next to the little bell.
“It’s hockey season!” He explains, pulling out another stuffed rabbit of the same kind, only a little bigger. “In case you didn’t know, the Czech Republic takes it hockey very seriously. You might see many fans walking along the streets during game days. And make sure to join in on the drinking should we win! Czech beer is the best beer in the world.”
Jeongguk smiles at him. Beer. That he can get behind.
The room isn’t small at all. There’s a small room right when you end, with a table, chair, and a few cupboards. A mini-fridge and a microwave. There’s a bathtub, so at least Jeongguk knows he’ll have a way to unwind. He’ll have to check if this country has a LUSH. Jeongguk parks his suitcase by the closet, and strides over to the window.
Each room looks likes it goes the long way across the hotel, so that everyone can get a window, which Jeongguk is grateful for. He can’t imagine having to stay here for longer than a week if he was just closed in. The dark salmon wallpaper leaves something to be desired, but Jeongguk figures he can live with it.
Jeongguk’s barely been connected to the Wifi for five seconds when a Kakaotalk call comes through, and he knows there’s no point in ignoring it. He plops himself down on the bed — which is just soft enough, he notes — and answers it.
“How are you, Jeongguk-ah? All settled in?”
Namjoon needs to get out of there fast, because the way he’s picking up a slight British accent in his English sounds absolutely ridiculous.
“Yeah, I just got into my hotel,” Jeongguk stares at the ceiling. It’s pretty clean. “I think I’m gonna chill at the hotel for today.” There’s some shuffling at the end of the line, like Namjoon’s just lying in bed. It’s been a while since Jeongguk checked his schedule. Did he not have a book signing today?
“At least drink at the bar,” Namjoon says, “Don’t wanna look like a fucking loser who drinks alone in their hotel room on your first day.” Jeongguk snorts.
“Like you’re probably doing right now?”
Jeongguk hears a glass clink against a hard surface. He laughs, hard, and rolls around in bed as Namjoon grumbles about brats who have no right .
“Sure, hyung, I’m the only loser here.”
“Listen, I’ve just come for a very tiring day and I needed to unwind. I’m not about to deal with a crowded hotel bar. Besides, it’s not my first night here so— “
“Fine, fine, hyung,” Jeongguk sits up, ruffling his hair with his hand, “I’ll drink at the bar tonight.”
“That’s the spirit. Make some friends or something. No use visiting another country if all you’re going to be looking at are historical landmarks.” Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. Namjoon’s one to talk.
“I do talk to humans sometimes, hyung.”
“Out of necessity,” Namjoon points out, “I know for a fact that if those weird statues that city is known for could talk, they would be the only things you speak to.”
“I didn’t answer the phone to be slandered like this.”
“I’ll call you again tomorrow, kid.” Namjoon laughs, and it’s full of affection, “And your English is better than it used to be. You’ve come a long way.”
Jeongguk remembers how awkward he was when he first met Namjoon in high school, the older was all gangly limbs and hands overflowing with papers, and him just that awkward freshman who didn’t know a lick of English. He’s glad his mother forced him to get lessons. Namjoon’s the best tutor he’s ever had.
“Thanks, hyung. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Even though he’d spent most of the call just bickering with him, the room feels colder without Namjoon’s voice in his ear. Jeongguk locks his phone and tosses it down onto the bed next to him. Maybe some fresh air.
The Spring air is cool enough that he doesn’t feel the need to turn on the air conditioner. The window looks like the kind he sees in all those European movies — large, with a white frame, and it opens all the way. Jeongguk nearly slams it against the hotel when he swings it open. There’s even a little plant box. He wonders if housekeeping waters it. The flowers are in bloom.
He looks out into the street, the sidewalk mostly empty save for the occasional passerby, and he commends himself on choosing a hotel in such a nice location. It’s right by the Vltava river, so walking across the city shouldn’t be a problem. There’s a park nearby too, so even keeping up his fitness routine should be easy.
Just when he’s about to step back from the window, a taxi pulls up right in front of the hotel, and the door swings open . It takes a second for the person to register in Jeongguk’s mind, back going cold from shock, but it’s him.
Taehyung steps out of the passenger side door, slinging his backpack over his shoulders. The taxi man rushes out the door, pulling his suitcase out of the trunk. It lands on the pavement with a thunk, and the taxi man laughs nervously, wiping sweat off his brow.
“Thank you so much, sir! Sorry it’s so heavy, I’m a bit of an overpacker.” Taehyung chuckles as he pulls out a few bills and hands them to the man. He starts to reach into his pockets when Taehyung pats his shoulder, “Oh, no, no, keep the change. It’s fine. Thank you again!”
He still sounds absolutely gorgeous, cheerful, outgoing, charming. Everything Jeongguk was not. He would fit right into the mold of every single guy Jeongguk had a crush on in college but never bothered to ask out. And maybe even half the guys he’d casually slept with. It was horrifying, how well he knew this was going to play out. Just how much he’s going to blush or want to beat himself up at every encounter.
Taehyung turns, and heads into the hotel.
Jesus Christ . Jeongguk presses his forehead against the window frame and takes a deep breath. This is not happening to him. Out of all the chances, Jeongguk managed to embarrass himself to the one attractive Korean guy on that plane. And then saw him again at baggage claim. And then ended up in the same fucking hotel. The same goddamn hotel in this entire city.
Someone up there is conspiring against him, determined to make his life a living hell, trying to use up his quota of embarrassing moments for the month so he’ll have no choice but to hit up Antarctica for his next visit.
He’s definitely going to need a drink tonight.
The thing Jeongguk misses the most when he’s away is definitely the food. Nothing abroad ever seem to be spicy enough. Even their spicy dishes are mild to him, and that’s just not fair. He would never even be able to calculate the amount of hot sauce he’s consumed over the last few years. It’s depressing. And the rice . There’s never enough rice. How is he supposed to fill up without rice ?
He’s never tried a risotto before, and even though something in the back of his mind is telling him it might be rice, he’s not taking his chances. There’s a perfectly harmless pasta on the menu. That’ll probably fill him up better than just meat. And an onion soup for good measure.
The table he chose was the farthest from the door, up a small staircase on the second landing. What kind of tiny restaurant has two levels? This one, apparently. Quaint is how Jeongguk would describe it. Very European. More polished wood, straight elaborate clocks on the walls, paintings of farmers and various landscapes. The works.
What matters is if Taehyung were to come eat here tonight, he won’t see Jeongguk unless he decides to be that dick that hides in the corner. He doesn’t seem like the type. He’d probably sit close to the bar and charm both the waiter and the bartender. Probably.
Jeongguk twiddles his thumbs while he orders, refreshing his boring Facebook news feed. It’s usually nothing but politics nowadays, courtesy of his friends from the States, but sometimes he watches the recipe videos his mom shares. The video editing is cute.
The waiter comes with a water, and the most surprising thing is he’s Korean too. Jeongguk swears he is. When he places the glass down, Jeongguk thanks him in Korean, and the waiter just nods and smiles. He’s not sure if that means he understood or not.
When his food arrives, Jeongguk asks for tissue in Korean again, and the waiter gets them for him without a second thought. Jeongguk swears he sees him chuckles a little as he turned away. The smile on him when he comes back is blinding.
“What’s your name?” Jeongguk blurts out when he’s handed the tissues. The waiter smiles wider, if possible.
“My Korean name or my English name?”
Jeongguk exhales, and smiles back. “Korean.”
“Jung Hoseok. Nice to meet you…?” He extends his hand, and Jeongguk shakes it. It’s a good handshake. Firm.
“How long are you staying?” Hoseok asks, and Jeongguk wonders how many times he’s going to have to repeat his answer. He should come up with a stock reply, in case any store clerks or tour guides want to make conversation.
“For as long as Prague will have me,” Jeongguk tries to say with a straight face, but then he breaks halfway through, laughing a little. Hoseok just smiles.
“She’s a good city,” Hoseok jerks his head, to gesture to the world outside, “You’ll never want to leave.” It’s a sweet sentiment, but Jeongguk wonders if that answer’s a little too romantic for him.
“Not sure if immigration will allow that.”
“Fair point,” Hoseok laughs, and it’s a nice one. Loud, boyish. Sounds like he’d be a good guy to have a drink with. Just then, the bell to the door rings, and Hoseok looks at him apologetically.
“Enjoy your meal, Jeongguk.”
“Will do, Hoseok.”
Hoseok goes to serve whoever just entered. Jeongguk makes a mental note to ask how old he is. The hotel is rather small, so the likelihood of there being more waiters aside from him isn’t very high. Maybe he can call him hyung. He seems older.
Jeongguk eats his meal in relative silence. The people who had come in were an American couple, and they talked loudly amongst themselves. A few other guests arrived, but they were mostly Europeans, no one too boisterous. By the time Jeongguk finishes eating, the place has cleared out. (He took his time, mostly because he knew if he rushed it he’d get a stomachache. Not the best way to spend your first night in a foreign country.)
When Hoseok comes back to clear his plates, he gives him another warm smile. Jeongguk wonders if he ever runs out of them.
“How about a beer, sir?”
Jeongguk stands up and makes a show of dusting himself off, “I’ll relocate to the bar.”
The bar is really just right there in the restaurant, by the entrance. There are bar stools, and colorful bottles of liquor and beer taps. The bartender is another Korean guy — probably Hoseok’s friend — with black hair and who looks bored out of his mind. At least, that was the impression Jeongguk got when he entered.
Jeongguk’s barely three steps down when he feels like someone’s punched him in the stomach. Right there, sitting on one of the bar stools and sipping on a massive mug of beer, is Taehyung.
Just his luck. Maybe if he makes a run for it, Taehyung won’t notice him. He could pass by right behind him, and hide in his room for the rest of the ni—
“One beer for this one!” Hoseok calls out, in Korean , and both Taehyung and the bartender turn to look up at them. Taehyung’s eyes go wide, like plates, and Jeongguk swears he feels himself shatter into a million pieces and then melt into the ground.
“Oh my gosh,” Taehyung says, voice a little breathy, “I can’t believe this.” He straight up giggles into his beer, pressing his nose into the glass. It’s fucking adorable, but Jeongguk can’t let that thought show. He’s not here to meet boys. He’s tired of boys. Boys are awful. Especially pretty boys like Taehyung. Repeat it ad infinitum, or at least until you believe it. That’s the bullshit phrase Namjoon says a lot right?
“Can’t believe what?” The bartender drawls, placing a coaster on the bartop and then a pint glass. The beer gushes out of the tap, but he pours a full pint like an expert. He places the glass on the counter, right next to Taehyung. Jeongguk wants to scream.
“This guy,” Taehyung says, pointing to Jeongguk with his lips, “I sat next to him on the plane.” The bartender raises his eyebrows, and it’s the first sign of genuine interest from him.
There’s no way around it. Jeongguk goes to sit down at the bar by Taehyung — one seat in between them, because Jeongguk’s not gonna cross that line — and curls his fingers around his beer.
“Really?” Hoseok asks, going behind the counter and sitting next to bartender, “What are the chances, huh, Yoongi hyung? I don’t think I’ve seen this many unrelated Koreans in here since that group of college kids from a year ago.” Yoongi. That’s probably the bartender’s name. Jeongguk takes a sip of his beer and tries to pretend Taehyung’s not there.
“You both from Korea?” Yoongi asks, sitting down himself, leaning forward so he’s shoulder to shoulder with Hoseok.
“I am. Kim Taehyung, at your service.” Taehyung tries to bow, doing what he can with the little space he has. It’s cute. “Just here for a while. I’d always liked this city. I’ve read about it in books.”
Books. Jeongguk has to resist breaking out into a grin. He hates how easily endeared he becomes with people, hates how little it takes to get him interested. Even with him being more awkward that a crab in a ballpit, he always somehow manages to interact with the more adorable of people. It’s stressful.
Yoongi does that stereotypical bartender thing where he wipes a perfectly clear glass with a washcloth over and over. Jeongguk figures it’s so his hands stay busy. He asks Jeongguk next.
“Um, yeah. I’m Jeon Jeongguk.” Jeongguk gives them all a small smile, and he has to look away when he sees how fixated Taehyung’s eyes are on him. “Haven’t spent a lot of time there in the past few years. Was in California for a whole year. London. Tokyo. Hong Kong. I travel a lot.”
Yoongi snorts, “Are you one of those rich kids or do you do it for work or something?”
“Are you a government spy?” Hoseok asks, and Jeongguk can’t tell if he’s mocking him, “Do you gather intelligence?”
“Uh…” Jeongguk scratches the back of his neck. What does he say to that? Then Taehyung puts a hand on his back, and all the words fly out of his head.
“Come now, no need to grill him. Besides,” Taehyung removes his hand, and place it on his shoulder, squeezing lightly, “If he was a spy, he wouldn’t tell us.” Jeongguk has to remember how to breathe.
“I just — ” Jeongguk chews on the inside of his cheek. “I want to travel while I’m young, you know?”
“So you’re a rich kid.” Yoongi gets a smack from Hoseok, but Jeongguk just laughs.
“You could say that.”
Yoongi looks satisfied at the fact that he’s right. Jeongguk likes him already. Yoongi cocks his head to the side, a teasing smirk on his lips, “Bet daddy runs one of those big investment companies or something.”
“Actually, he works in tech.”
“One of those big cellphone companies then?” Hoseok asks, “Samsung?”
“Ah, no. More Internet.”
“I’m hanging out with the big leagues here,” Taehyung elbows his lightly, “I’m just a boring liberal arts student.”
The conversation flows naturally from there, like the four of them had always meant to be friends. Jeongguk feels like this is the first time he’s been able to shift so easily between English and Korean in years, without the worry of confusing anyone in the group. Him and Taehyung get a few beers in them before Hoseok and Yoongi give in, only sharing one between them, because they’re technically still on the clock.
Jeongguk learns that they’re Jung Hosoek and Min Yoongi. They’d met randomly after both having lived in Europe since they were teenagers. Similar situations: parents divorced, remarried to foreigners, moved their families halfway across the world. They were lucky to have found each other, Hoseok says, nudging Yoongi’s shoulder lightly, and Yoongi just mumbles in agreement. Jeongguk doesn’t miss the way his cheeks tinge pink.
Taehyung doesn’t take his eyes off Jeongguk the entire evening. At least, that’s what it feels like. Jeongguk wants to melt into the ground, because each time he chances a glance at the other boy, Taehyung’s staring at him like he’s the most important thing in the room, which is, frankly, rude as hell to Hoseok and Yoongi.
Apparently, though, Taehyung studies in Ireland. When he’s talking about himself, he thankfully has the courtesy to look at the other people in their conversation. And if Jeongguk’s mostly grateful because he doesn’t trust himself to control his facial expressions when he learns more and more about Taehyung, well, that’s another story.
“Why Ireland?” Hoseok asks.
“Why not?” Taehyung says, shrugging, “They have one of the best literature programs over there. In Dublin. It’s a great city.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “We’re better.”
“Are you joking?” Taehyung laughs, leaning forward to get into Yoongi’s face, “The beer here has yet to meet my Irish standards.” He sloshes the remaining beer left in his glass for emphasis. Yoongi sticks his tongue out at him. An adult.
“Czech beer is the best beer in the world.” Yoongi says, and Jeongguk’s not sure if he’s being serious or just mocking the overused phrase. He can’t imagine the amount of times the staff of this hotel have had to say that.
Jeongguk looks down at his empty glass. It was his third. He’s still not as drunk as he’d like to me.
“Isn’t better than Soju.” Jeongguk mumbles, more to himself really, but Hoseok pets his head.
“Kid’s got a point.”
Jeongguk pushes his hand off, and pouts. “I’m not a kid.”
“Sure, you’re not,” Yoongi says, and his small smile is surprisingly affectionate.
Hoseok and Yoongi usher them out a little bit before midnight, insisting that the bar has to close and Hoseok hasn’t even done the dishes yet. Hoseok whines when Yoongi says this, but Yoongi just smacks him upside the head as Taehyung and Jeongguk go up the stairs. They’re cute, Jeongguk decides, and he makes a note to figure out what’s going on between them before he leaves.
“Hey,” Taehyung says, once they’ve reached the second floor, “Your room’s right next to mine.” He taps Jeongguk on the arm, and the points at their rooms. Even the small bit of contact makes him want to die.
Maybe it’s the beer in him making him dramatic, but Taehyung’s close enough that Jeongguk can smell him — something wooden and nutty, maybe hazelnut — and it makes Jeongguk want to bury his face into his neck. It’s a pretty neck too, nice and long and smooth. Jeongguk wonders what it might feel under his fingertips. He almost reaches out, but that might be a little too forward. Jeongguk doesn’t do forward. This Brand New Jeongguk doesn’t act on his impulses. Nope. Not today.
“Jeongguk?” Taehyung asks, waving a hand in front of Jeongguk’s face. Jeongguk snaps out of it, and realizes maybe he had been staring at Taehyung. His cheeks start to feel hot — totally unrelated to the alcohol — and he sputters out an excuse.
“I think I’ll just…I’ll go — “
“Wait.” Taehyung grabs Jeongguk’s hand, fingers curling around his palm. Every braincell in Jeongguk’s head decides to drop dead just then, leaving him helpless as Taehyung looks at him with hopeful eyes.
“Do you want to spend tomorrow together?” Taehyung says, enthusiastically at first, but then maybe he gets a little thrown off by how Jeongguk probably looks like a deer in headlights, because he backtracks a little, nearly letting go of Jeongguk’s hand, “I mean, if you don’t have anything else to do. I didn’t really want to do anything, just walk around the city and maybe something. Since neither of us know how long we’re gonna stay, there’s no rush to see a lot. Just, you know, chill. It’s fine if you don’t —”
“Okay.” Jeongguk blurts out. Taehyung stops. He looks up at Jeongguk for a second, and then grins so wide that all the panic and anxiety drains right out of Jeongguk. Worth it.
“Okay?” He sounds so excited. The way his eyes curve when he smiles makes Jeongguk’s heart stutter in his chest. He’s never drinking around Taehyung ever again.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk replies, his defenses coming down, grinning back, “Yeah. Sure. Meet me for breakfast?”
“Okay.” Taehyung lets go of his hand, and pulls out his phone “Add me on Kakao?”
Breakfast is served until 10am. That fact is something Jeongguk is sure he remembers, vaguely, in the back of his head, because it was in the middle of David the front desk dude rattling off about the hotel’s facilities and Jeongguk’s always figured hotels weren’t very different from each other.
What Jeongguk doesn’t expect is a Kakaotalk call blasting from his phone at eight in the morning. It jolts him awake immediately, because he’d been stupid enough to leave his phone by his ear before he went to sleep. ‘Taetae’ his screen says.
“H-hello?” Jeongguk says, voice gravelly from sleep, eyes not even fully opened. Just as he picks up, three knocks resound from the other side of the door.
“Good morning, sunshine. Just wanted to make sure you get up.” Taehyung sounds way too cheerful for someone who had just woken up. How long has he been awake?
“I’m not much of a morning person,” Jeongguk says, forcing himself up. He manages to get into a sitting position, the light coming in through the window a little too blinding for him. Jeongguk gets up and stretches, trying not to groan right into his phone.
“I know. You told me as much last night.”
Jeongguk pauses on his way to stand up, and ends up flopping back down onto bed. A door closes in the background. Sounds like Taehyung’s gone back into his room.
“I d-did?” Jeongguk forces himself up and realizes he hasn’t even bothered to open his suitcase. Fuck his lazy, procrastinating ass.
“Yeah, don’t you remember? Did you drink that much?” Taehyung laughs, and it sounds like he’s going through clothes. Maybe Jeongguk should focus on trying to wrestle his suitcase open. He doesn’t even know what he’s gonna wear.
“No!” Jeongguk says, pouting. “It must’ve slipped my mind.”
“Sure.” Taehyung sounds amused, and Jeongguk tries not to pout, even though Taehyung can’t even see him. It sounds like Taehyung bumps into something, “ Ow . Stupid closet. Anyway, I’ve got to get dressed. I’ll see you in fifteen?”
Jeongguk doesn’t even suppress the groan this time.
“I’ll hold you to that. See you!”
Why does Jeongguk have so much black? Did he pack this suitcase when he was fifteen? He’s nearly unpacked his suitcase completely before he finds something suitable, which makes no sense, considering it’s literally his first day. Maybe he should get Namjoon to buy him some clothes while he’s in London.
Eventually he settles on a boring red shirt and a leather jacket, because nothing screams spring like black leather. Would Taehyung give him shit for wearing Timbs? He was wearing his Timbs yesterday. He should be fine. He vaguely remembers Yoongi asking who the fuck wears Timbs to the airport, but Jeongguk didn’t bother defending himself.
Taehyung checks the time when Jeongguk reaches the dining room, and pats him on the head when he sits down.
“Eighteen minutes,” Taehyung says, “I should give you a medal.”
Jeongguk grumbles, pushing Taehyung’s hand away.
“Don’t expect it every day.” He says, and he wishes he didn’t sound like a whiny brat. Mornings are awful. They should be banned.
Taehyung laughs, pinching the younger boy’s cheek. “It’s okay. I get it. I’m not much of a morning person either,” — Jeongguk snorts at that — “But I was excited for today. Sue me.”
Jeongguk tries not to dwell on that, but he can’t help it; Taehyung was excited. To spend the day with him. He’d thought he’d grown out of the dumb teenage lovestruck phase but every single crush is always the same. His heart thuds in his chest. Maybe he shouldn’t drink coffee today.
Because he’s a gentleman and a good hyung, Taehyung lets Jeongguk get his breakfast first, despite Jeongguk’s protests. Breakfast is just a simple buffet with eggs, cereal, fruits, breads, meats, and cheeses. Typical of any European hotel. The room is cozy, though. It’s barely bigger than a regular living room. Jeongguk misses the five star places he’d go to with his parents that sometimes served Korean or Japanese food for breakfast, but this isn’t bad either.
Soon they’re both seated with at least four plates between them. It looks ridiculous, with Jeongguk’s plate piled high with toast, butters, jams, and meats, and Taehyung’s with fruits and a bowl of cereal. They look like they’re ready to feed ten people.
“That’s a lot of food.” Jeongguk stays, blinking. He’s still not fully awake. Maybe that coffee is a good idea.
“Speak for yourself, piggy.” Taehyung says around a mouthful of cereal. He looks about five years younger today than he did yesterday; his is hair a little mussed up, and he looks smaller in a comfortable sweater that’s loose around his shoulders. The collar is wide, and Jeongguk can see his collarbones peaking out from underneath. He swallows his bread before he can choke.
They’re both starving, apparently, because they go through everything in a matter of minutes. There’s no shame in the way Taehyung stuffs the fruits into his mouth, and Jeongguk would find it offputting if Taehyung wasn’t so goddamn attractive. What should look sloppy is just endearing on him, particularly the way he groans around a strawberry, biting it in half first. The sigh that leaves his lips is downright erotic, and Jeongguk hopes no one hears them.
“My grandma owns a strawberry farm,” Taehyung wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, “That’s why I love them so much. Normally I get nervous on flights, but your hair smelled just like them yesterday. It was comfortable.”
Jeongguk must have gone redder than a goddamn strawberry right then. He’d really hoped Taehyung would forget about that.
“Oh, um, you remember — “
“It was literally yesterday, Jeongguk.” Taehyung laughs, and Jeongguk swears if he wasn’t all the way across the table he’d have gone to pinch his cheek. Just how young does he think Jeongguk is? He’s not a baby.
Soon the food is completely gone, and they leave the hotel together. It’s a little cold that day, for some reason, but not unbearable. Jeongguk’s jacket is enough. The streets are a lot like the streets around most older cities in Europe; it’s lined with cobblestones, even the roads, and it feels like Jeongguk’s gone back in time. The buildings aren’t as uniform as in Paris, nor is it as crowded as London. It’s feel peaceful, like the city exists outside of the world.
“What do you want to do today?” Taehyung asks, standing close to Jeongguk’s side. Jeongguk shrugs.
“I dunno. Maybe just walk around. I really wanted to see the bridge, maybe. Charles Bridge?” Jeongguk purses his lips. “The big one, with the statues. I like statues.”
“Isn’t this city known for its weird statues?” Taehyung sounds mildly amused at Jeongguk, but he tries not to dwell on it. He can’t just lose his mind every time Taehyung finds him cute. It’ll drive him bonkers.
“Yeah, I read about them before choosing to come here. I want to see all of them.”
Taehyung grins at him.
“We can do that.”
The ‘we’ echoes in Jeongguk’s head like a gong. This isn’t happening. Jeongguk can’t just let some stranger he met on a plane drag into several impromptu dates in the indistinct future. (Are they dates? What would Taehyung consider a date? Does Taehyung even like guys? Maybe he’s just really friendly.)
“Let’s walk,” Jeongguk says, “To the bridge, I mean. Whichever way that is.”
“I got it.” Taehyung already has his phone out an Google Maps open. He taps in what they’re looking for quickly, and then makes a show of turning in circles to figure out which way the little arrow is pointing.
When he finally settles on the right direction, Taehyung nods, and then smiles. The corners of his lips form such a peculiar shape when he smiles wide, Jeongguk notices; it comes a sort of rectangle, and it’s endearing. When he smiles, he looks a lot less intimidatingly hot, which Jeongguk can handle. Jeongguk can handle this. He’s not five years old.
The area their hotel is in is peaceful. There’s not much attraction-wise aside from a park on a steep hill nearby, but even that seems much farther away than it actually is. The birds chirp and the locals walk right past them. Soon they’re headed down a street lined with small shops and places to eat, the city coming alive as time passes. Something down the street catches Taehyung’s eyes, and Jeongguk shakes his head.
“Ice cream?” Jeongguk asks, not slowing his pace, “Right after breakfast? We just ate?” Taehyung stops in front of the window, peeking inside past the decals of cherries and cones on the glass. He licks his lips slowly, and Jeongguk tries not to follow the movement with his eyes. He fails.
“Well, I was also going to suggest that fancy chocolatier we passed by,” Taehyung smirks for a moment. “But I figured that’d be more suited for a romantic evening.”
Jeongguk nearly chokes.
“I didn’t even noti —”
The rest of the sentence never leaves his mouth. Taehyung grabs him by the elbow and drags him inside. Before Jeongguk can even blink, they’re in line. Taehyung’s hooks his arm with Jeongguk’s, presumably to keep him from escaping. The contact feels warm, though, like Taehyung’s skin is burning him through the fabric.
“What flavor do you want?” Taehyung asks, nudging Jeongguk’s shoulder with his.
“Mint chocolate chip?” Jeongguk offers, looking at the menu to avoid Taehyung’s eyes. “That’s my favorite.”
“Mine too.” Taehyung says, and there’s a grin in his voice. “Aside from strawberry, but that’s a given. They’re both up there.”
“Wanna split one?”
Despite Jeongguk’s protests, Taehyung does all the ordering. The lady behind the counter probably thinks he’s cute, because she smiles extra wide at him and hands him the bowl herself instead of letting her coworkers do it like all the other orders. Taehyung doesn’t pay her any mind, though. Instead, he asks Jeongguk where he’d like to sit, and they settle on a table outside, under an awning.
It takes about five seconds before Taehyung realizes how perfect the spot is for people watching. It’s something Jeongguk’s used to doing, as an artist, so his eyes light up at the mention of it.
Jeongguk can’t help but laugh when Taehyung switches to rapid Korean, commenting immediately on how that girl across the street probably has a crush on the guy she’s walking with. He scoops ice cream into his mouth as he talks, noting how her arm is hovering by her side, the back of her hand bumping lightly with his every other step. She wants him to hold her hand, Taehyung says, and Jeongguk just snorts, saying she could do better. He’s not even that cute.
The two of them find their rhythm, throwing guesses about people’s lives back and forth. That old lady who buys a giant sundae for her grandkid is babysitting because it’s their first time visiting her in Prague. Maybe the dad is German.
The young woman next to them is taking her first day off in weeks, and she’s breaking her diet for this. Taehyung has a story for every person that passes by, and soon Jeongguk’s gone and ordered another bowl for them to share, and it’s been an hour since they sat down.
With each story that passes out of his lips, the more Jeongguk understands how much Taehyung loves words, narratives, characters. He heard him talk a little bit about his major last night — details of which he only vaguely remembers — but here, in that moment, Jeongguk can’t stop staring at him. There’s something beautiful about watching someone talk about what they love.
Every now and then Taehyung slips into Satoori without realizing it too, and it’s an effort for Jeongguk not to get too jealous. He lost his Busan a long time ago, pressured to fit in when he moved to Seoul.
Once they’re halfway through their second bowl, they stop, exhausting themselves. Taehyung really digs the spoon into the ice cream, pulling up a big bite. He looks at it for a second before turning it around towards Jeongguk, reaching over to try and feed him.
“Ah?” Taehyung says in the most annoying way possible.
“Shut the fuck up.” Jeongguk tries to say it with a straight face, wrinkling his nose and grabbing the spoon from Taehyung, but a laugh bubbles out of him regardless. Taehyung laughs too. Jeongguk hopes he doesn’t blush too hard. The blood vessels in his cheeks must be overworked by now, with him being constantly around Taehyung.
Soon they’re back on the streets, ready to finish their goal for the day. Jeongguk is tired of using the word, but the city feels very European. It’s difficult for him to describe them in any other way — the people, the architecture, the way their signs are drawn; the streets are paved with cobblestones, but most of it is smoothed over from years of wear and tear from the cars that pass through the streets.
The ice cream shop’s not too far from the bright, and they find their way with ease. There’s a general flow of the people, many of them obviously tourists with their tacky clothing and big cameras. There’s something about vacationing in a foreign country that makes people paranoid, making them itch to prepare for any possible nightmare scenarios. Jeongguk stopped caring after the third country. If it happens, it happens.
The worst thing about Taehyung is that he isn't unprecedented. Jeongguk looks over to the boy walking next to him, enamored by the way his eyes are so fixated, observing the sights around them, and he sees all the boys he's met before, how enchanted he'd been, how easily it was to get swept up.
It’s starting to irritate Jeongguk, how easy it is to talk to Taehyung, how quickly he let the boy push past his walls. Not that his walls were carefully crafted, considering they’d been up for a total of six months, two weeks, and maybe a day, but it was a valiant effort. Jeongguk needs to stop crushing on the next available person.
He’s not sure if Taehyung’s any better than that yet. There’s still a chance he could end up a serial killer. Not that the possibility’s gonna stop Jeongguk from flirting back.
"I think we're close," Taehyung says, standing on his tiptoes to see above the crowd. Jeongguk shakes his head, amused. That might've worked in Korea, but they're at a height disadvantage in this continent.
They're in a side street now, free of cars. There's a man with a circle of string in the middle, creating large soap bubbles with the wind. Children play around him, giggling and screaming. Part of Taehyung looks like he wants to join them, but instead he grabs Jeongguk by the wrist and pulls him towards the bridge, tugging him lightly through through the crowds. When they both look up, Jeongguk has to pause to stare.
The bridge's tower is massive, cutting through the clear blue sky, the bricks discoloring over time. It’s bigger than he’d imagined, grandiose, and it’s as if the city’s culture converges here, in it’s center. The entire bridge feels the same, with large statues lining the edges; saints and ancient people, all withstanding time’s desire to crumble them into the dust. Taehyung stares up with him for a moment, before pulling Jeongguk out of his daze.
“Come on, Gukkie.” Taehyung’s hand slip down lower, fingers grabbing at Jeongguk’s, and Jeongguk has to remind himself to breath. They walk onto the bridge together.
Taehyung twirls a hand painted fridge magnet in his hands. It’s a cartoon cityscape of Prague, with cats all over the rooftops. The colors are bold and bright — oranges and deep blues with yellows — and Jeongguk almost wants to buy a few for the sake of it.
“Do you like cats?” Taehyung asks, putting it back.
“Yeah.” Jeongguk had several pets as a kid. “I’m more of a dog person, though.”
Taehyung’s smile grows then, reaching his eyes, “You and I will get along then.”
“We’ve been getting along for two days, Taehyung,” Jeongguk points out, nudging him so they move onto the next stalls, “A little too late to be making predictions like that.”
“Hah.” Taehyung looks at Jeongguk then, eyes focused, and then declares, “You’re more of a bunny, anyway.”
“A bunny?” Jeongguk knits his brows together. “Why?”
“Your nose. It’s adorable.” Taehyung taps it with his finger, and Jeongguk’s heart jumps. “You wiggle it when you’re confused too.”
Jeongguk frowns. “When have you ever seen me confused?”
“Oh, you did it just no, my dear Jeonggukie. You don’t notice you do it.”
Taehyung walks into the crowd, brown hair and golden skin shining in the afternoon sun. Jeongguk hates how much that boy looks like a dream, impossibly gorgeous, overwhelmingly interesting. My dear Jeonggukie , he’d said. It makes his chest and his head ache, and yet, he follows him all the same.
They take photos with the statues, making funny faces in their shared selfies. Eventually Taehyung asks Jeongguk to take decent photos of him, claiming his family will demand some off his eventually. Jeongguk tries not to smile to much as Taehyung makes the most basic of poses, holding up a peace sign like everyone expects Koreans to do. Somehow he still manages to look cute as a button.
Later, Taehyung sees a group of Asian women climb up onto a statue’s base to take a photo, and he turns into an absolute five year old, determined to get up. Jeongguk watches as he scales the ledge, and manages to be four feet above the ground in a manner of seconds.
Another peace sign is thrown up, and Jeongguk snaps several photos, for good measure.
“Do you want your photo taken up here, Jeonggukie?” Taehyung calls out, and Jeongguk nods. Why not? He thinks, stuffing his phone back in his pocket and trying to hoist himself up with Taehyung’s help.
It happens in slow motion. Jeongguk pushing himself up, attempting to stand, and his foot slipping against the curved stone, smoothed over time. Panic surges through his body, making his ears ring a little. There’s a crowd of fellow tourists below them, and Jeongguk swear this is how he dies.
“Careful — “ Without a shred of hesitation, Taehyung’s arm circles around Jeongguk’s waist, pulling him up towards him. Jeongguk’s hands end up curled into the front of Taehyung’s sweater, fear making him grab onto the nearest available object he could get to.
Jeongguk’s breath shudders out of him. Taehyung’s laugh is hot in his ear as Jeongguk shifts his weight into the other boy, his face nearly pressed against Taehyung’s neck.
“You okay?” Taehyung asks, a little breathless. His nose is in Jeongguk’s hair, and it takes Jeongguk all of ten seconds before he realizes he should be letting go.
“I’m fine!” Jeongguk nearly shouts, hand detaching from Taehyung’s sweater. He almost, almost falls back over the edge, but he manages to steady himself on the statue, feet planted firmly on the ledge now.
“Alright then,” Taehyung says, grinning from ear to ear. He jumps down with all the gracefulness of a baby giraffe, wobbling as little when he lands. It’s adorable, but Jeongguk tries not to think about it, or about how red he must look right now, focusing on posing by the statue so he can get his photo taken and return to solid ground.
Jeongguk can still feel the press of Taehyung’s fingers on his waist an hour later, can still feel the way his breath ruffled his hair, the tip of his nose pressing against his scalp. It’s been so long since he’s properly hugged someone, been properly snuggled, and he wonders if Taehyung’s the type. Wonders if —
Jeongguk sees Taehyung ushering him over, and he jumps back onto the bridge. He sticks the landing, not needing any help whatsoever, and pushes all thoughts of cuddling away. Jeongguk will entertain them later. Or never. Whichever works.
There’s so much art. Paintings of the river, detailed ink illustrations of the cityscape, photographs of the sights; all of it packaged neatly into tourist friendly postcards, in carry on suitcase sized frames, on fridge magnets. Jeongguk takes his time checking each one, asking the stall owners about them, turning over the handmade things in his fingers. Taehyung’s probably off somewhere, maybe looking at the other stalls himself.
Instead, Jeongguk finds him watching an artist as he as sketches an American woman. His strokes as fast and precise, borne only out of years of practice. Jeongguk goes to stand next to him, and they stay like that for a few minutes, until the woman leaves satisfied.
“Do you want one of you done?” Taehyung asks, smiling softly at how pleased the woman looks. Jeongguk shakes his head.
“Maybe some other day, but eventually.”
The next customer takes a seat — a burly looking European man in his 30s — and the artist dives straight back into work. Jeongguk’s mesmerized by his concentration, the way his pencil scratches against the paper. He’d never be able to work like that, with so little room for mistakes, and so little time.
“I’ve never gotten a portrait done.” Taehyung says then, casually.
“I could paint you sometime.” Jeongguk blurts out, and he almost regrets it. Almost, until he turns to look at Taehyung. There’s a look of wonder in his eyes, mixed with a bit of shock.
“You’re an artist? Really?”
“Uh, yeah. It’s part of why I’m here,” Which is the truth, really. Jeongguk thinks back to his suitcase, half filled with paints and sketchbooks, and takes stock of what colors would mix well into Taehyung’s hair. He scratches the back of his neck, wondering when he’ll be able to start drawing Prague. “I’ll probably duck out some days to, you know, just draw. Sit somewhere and sketch. Paint. Might be that cliche that sets up an easel in the park, honestly.”
Taehyung seems endeared by this, or asmued. Jeongguk’s not sure. Either way, it’s not like he’s embarrassed by his art. It’s cute when people stop to watch, but with Taehyung he feels bashful about his craft all of a sudden.
“I’d love to watch,” Taehyung says, tugging him towards the railing. They look out into the river. A bevy of swans idles in the very middle, bright white against the blue.
“Most people get bored.” Jeongguk shrugs, and then gnaws on the inside of his cheek. Taehyung just loops his arm with Jeongguk’s again.
“I’m not like most people.”
“That is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever said.” Jeongguk says, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I can think of worse.”
Taehyung grins at him. Truthfully, he’s lost count of the amount of times he’s been blessed with that smile, but each time still feels like a gift from every god known to man. His eyes glint in the sunlight, and Jeongguk decides then that there’s hope for him yet.
There’s a restaurant by the bridge. It’s quaint and simple, with a water wheel that churns slowly as they eat. Jeongguk gets some sort of beef stew — which is supposedly Prague’s specialty — and Taehyung takes spoonfuls of it when it’s clear Jeongguk will let him.
A candle flickers in the middle of the small table. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung feels this is a little too intimate, wonders if his heart is thudding in his chest. It’s been two days. Jeongguk wishes he didn’t let himself get carried away, but the more he hears about the other boy the easier it is to slip down.
Taehyung talks, about everything and anything under the sun. Jeongguk never has to worry about an awkward silence or a pause; Taehyung fills in every lull, voices every stray throught, and Jeongguk does what he can to keep up.
Over the course of the meal, he learns Taehyung’s the oldest. He has younger siblings he misses more than the world, a dog he cherishes, a strawberry farm back home in Daegu. He learns that despite somehow finding a way to drift to him, Taehyung has a home. And that makes something akin to longing bloom in Jeongguk’s gut, nestles itself there.
Taehyung feels solid against the haze of Jeongguk’s life. It makes him want to get up and leave. But then Taehyung says something that makes him laugh, nearly choke on his drink. For the moment, Jeongguk accepts himself planted where he is — smiling with a boy he’s known for nigh forty-eight hours, drinking wine by a river halfway across the world.
They watch the sunset together on the bridge. It’s the most cliche thing Jeongguk’s ever done in the twenty two years he’s been alive, but he’s not complaining. The sun was warm and soothing in the cooling evening air, and he marvels at the way the colors swirl in the sky. Taehyung makes Jeongguk promise to paint it for him one day.
Taehyung buys another ice cream to go on their way back. It’s strawberry this time. It drips down his fingers even though it’s roughly three degrees Celsius.
Jeongguk’s hands are stuffed in his coat pockets for a reason. He worries that if he lets them loose, he’ll do something stupid like touch Taehyung.
“You said you study literature, right?” Jeongguk asks, to fill the air.
“Mhmm.” Taehyung continues to lap at his mostly finished ice cream. It’s adorable, but Jeongguk would never say that out loud.
“What’s your favorite book?”
Taehyung doesn’t even stop to think. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” He swallows the thin cone nearly whole, the crunch loud and obnoxious. “By Milan Kundera.”
“I haven’t read it.” Jeongguk hasn’t even heard of it, really. “What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy named Tomas,” Taehyung starts, and without his ice cream he’s ready to speak with his hands, moving them in conjunction with his words, “And he’s torn between his wife Teresa whom he loves, who is sad and insecure and pure and depressing and jealous . And his mistress, who is a free-spirited rebellious sexual deviant who represents temptation and our visceral desires as men.”
Jeongguk didn’t expect such a long explanation. Maybe something like “It’s about a firefighter” or “It’s about the effect of Western Imperialism.” He wrinkles his nose.
“So he’s basically cheating on his wife because she’s not kinky enough or something?”
Taehyung shrugs. “Pretty much.”
“Sounds like a dick.”
“Ah, innocent Jeonggukie.” Taehyung says, going to loop his arm around Jeongguk’s elbow again, “Most men are.”
Jeongguk snorts. “I know.”
Taehyung frowns at him, fiddling with the hem of his sleeve, “Bad experience?”
Taehyung pauses, and for a second or so all they both hear is the sound of their footsteps against the pavement and the wind blowing through their hair. Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, and then opens them again. Deep breaths.
“Sorry to hear that.” Taehyung says then, and there’s no pity in his voice, but Jeongguk doesn’t want it all the same. He tugs his arm away.
“You don’t have to feel sorry for me.”
“Ah, Guk, that’s not it— “ Taehyung huffs, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets, “I think you deserve good love, is all.”
Jeongguk’s heart seizes in his chest.
“You barely know me.” Jeongguk says, simple. A fact.
“I’ll have you know I’m an excellent judge of character,” Taehyung says, smiling, “It comes with reading a lot of books.”
Jeongguk swallows, trying to still the warm in his stomach, halting all thoughts. If he lets go, he’ll never be able to stop himself. Taehyung doesn’t seem to want to let him.
“I thought people who spent all their time reading were supposed to be shut in recluses who have no social skills.” The moment’s broken. Jeongguk forces his stomach right side up, letting the feelings settle in his bones. He won’t touch them. Taehyung laughs again, and the sound echoes in Jeongguk’s head.
“Speak for yourself, Van Gogh.”
The rest of the walk is peaceful, night settling over Prague in light blues. The street lamps turn on as they approach the hotel. Something in Jeongguk tells him the city won’t sleep for a while, that it’s only their part that goes quiet. He’ll have to find out eventually.
For now, Jeongguk’s hand reaches for the hotel door. Taehyung’s reaches for his wrist, stopping him before it’s opened.
“I was actually going to meet someone for dinner,” Taehyung says, glancing at his watch, “I just wanted to walk you back to the hotel.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk won’t let it affect him. “Thank you.”
“No problem, Jeonggukie.” The wind picks up, sweeping through Taehyung’s hair. He goes to pat it down. “I’ll see you tomorrow? Breakfast again?”
There’s no malice. No expectation. It’s a question, and Taehyung’s voice is hopeful. It reminds him of high school and crushes who were too shy to assert themselves, of elementary school Valentine’s Days, and of the way Jeongguk can never seem to effectively flirt with a man. It’s innocent. It makes Jeongguk want to trust him.
Jeongguk nods, and then watches Taehyung walk back the way they came.
The next few days happen the same way. Jeongguk meets Taehyung for breakfast at around nine in the morning, both of them a little bleary eyed before their coffee, and they take their time going through the meal.
Taehyung makes a point to go through everything the buffet has to offer. Afterwards, Taehyung asks Jeongguk what he wants to do. If Jeongguk has nothing, Taehyung lists down some options, things he's researched the night before, and lets Jeongguk choose. It's always thoughtful, taking into account both of their interests, and Jeongguk is never disappointed.
Prague has so many things to offer, Jeongguk learns. Each day is new, exciting, and filled with Taehyung's kindness, humor, and brightness.
Because Taehyung's always been a sucker for the Metamorphosis, they visit the Kafka museum. Jeongguk watches as Taehyung reads every single placard to him, takes the time to read every aging letter on display. Jeongguk hears fun facts about different writers, the kind of style that Kafka had tried to emulate, the atmosphere of the country at the time, the different ways his teachers preferred to approach the text.
At the gift shop, Taehyung gets Jeongguk a copy of the book, and an illustrated one for himself. The statue outside the museum was funny -- something involving penises sticking out -- and Taehyung asks Jeongguk to take his picture.
Every time they pass street performers, Jeongguk notices Taehyung slips them a coin or two. Doesn't even hesitate, just does it, regardless of what kind of music it is. Next time they pass by Charles Bridge, there's a group of elderly men playing jazz, and Taehyung makes them stand and watch for a bit. Jeongguk learns Taehyung loves jazz. It reminds him of his father, who’d play records and let the music float through their home on lazy summer afternoons. It reminds Jeongguk of the buskers at Hongdae, and the way crowds would gather around them.
Taehyung takes him to the Prague astronomical clock, which is apparently what the city is known for, right in the middle of Old Town Square. The artist in Jeongguk is awed by it -- the components moving beautifully together, the way the sun and moon mirror each other, the complexity of the pieces forming a whole.
They watch it strike the new hour together, and Jeongguk grins so wide he’s scared he might split his face in half. Maybe one day he'll make something as lovely, something as remembered. Taehyung makes them take a picture at it together, asking one of the locals in flawless English.
Later, they get tube-like pastries from a stall at the edge of the Square. Taehyung pays for them, arriving with them before Jeongguk can object. He says the lady called them Trdelník, though he’s certain he’s butchered the pronunciation.
They sit on the sidewalk, so close that their shoulders touch, and eat them together.
There's something about tourist cities that really gets to Jeongguk; the children always play a little louder, the people are a little more excited, happy, lively, ready to appreciate every little thing about the new place they're in. Jeongguk's seen it in every corner of the globe, and he wishes he'd never stop experiencing it.
When Taehyung finishes his pastry, he asks Jeongguk if he can go do something. Jeongguk tilts his head to the side, but lets him go anyway. Jeongguk watches as Taehyung gets up and heads out to one of the men they'd seen that first day -- with sticks, rope, and soapy water -- and joins the children as they play with the large bubbles formed in the middle of the Square. The smile on Taehyung's face is incomparable, his deep laughter erupting out of his each time a large bubble pops, sprinkling them with soap. The children laugh with him, and he drops a few coins in the man's tin.
Jeongguk feels his heart go warm. Who is this man? He wonders, who plays with children who might not even speak his language, does everything he can to brighten another person's day, and would take a lonely stranger under his wing, showing him around a city neither of them know.
They visit more museums, go on those tacky tours on the brochures Taehyung found at the hotel, eat every kind of street food. Jeongguk nearly falls off a Segway after Taehyung makes a joke during the dumb tour. Taehyung nearly passes out when they go on a night tour to the old underground buildings in the city, where there are what the tour guide calls "old Halloween decorations" but Taehyung insists are dead bodies.
They make a pilgrimage to every weird statue in the city, Taehyung having even picked up a map at the front desk and marked the locations of each one. Whenever they find one, Taehyung is more excited than Jeongguk, pointing at it, grinning, making comments.
He asks Jeongguk for his opinion, is more than happy to listen as he rattled off about composition, about materials, and techniques, about what it could mean, about the shit he's read on the Internet. It makes him swell with pride, every time he says something that makes Taehyung hum in wonder.
In turn, Jeongguk asks him about books. They visit a lot of bookstores. Taehyung's marked those on the map too, and he stops by at every one they pass by. Even though Taehyung's been a bit of a firecracker the entire time Jeongguk's known him, he's truly most alive in a bookstore.
Whenever Taehyung pulls a book off a shelf, Jeongguk knows it's because he recognizes the author, and by god, does Taehyung know a lot. Even though Korea's bookstores are really nice, Taehyung had said, there's nothing like a bookstore in Europe. There are so many obscure titles, so many less popular works from the popular prolific authors, and he doesn't have to pay for any absurd shipping fees.
Jeongguk has to stop him before he goes too far into Western Imperialism and how that's stunted the spread of Non-Western Literature, and how he feels guilty for buying into the notion that Western works of art are more interesting than the things from back home. But Jeongguk knows better than anyone, there's nothing more attractive than watching someone talk about something they love.
One time, Taehyung buys so many books that Jeongguk has to offer to carry them. When they get back to the hotel, Taehyung comments on how strong Jeongguk is, and squeezes his bicep for effect. Taehyung nearly jumps back when he realizes Jeongguk's muscle is kind of rock hard, and Jeongguk has to hide his blush.
The flirting doesn't stop. Not for a second. This doesn't bother Jeongguk, no, not at all. He doesn't want to die every single time Taehyung's hand brushes against his, doesn't want to shrivel up whenever Taehyung calls him cute, or adorable, or handsome, or pinches his cheeks, or boops his nose. Every touch definitely doesn't go all the way to his toes, and each time Taehyung hugs him doesn't leave him warm and pleased.
Jeongguk has this under control, and he's not letting himself get affected.
And still, he flirts back, lets himself go back and forth with Taehyung, their jokes a push and pull against each other, each time tiptoeing the line a little closer than the last. Jeongguk has it under control, he swears, even as he finds himself touching Taehyung unconsciously, when he catches himself leaning into his warmth.
It's difficult. It's so difficult. Everything about Taehyung is endearing, makes Jeongguk more drawn to him. It's like God himself plucked out a list of attractive traits from Jeongguk's head and checked them off one by one when he created Taehyung, doing everything to make sure Jeongguk would like him.
Every time something caught Taehyung's eye, he'd grab Jeongguk by the wrist and drag him over to inspect. Jeongguk lets him. Jeongguk loves it, the way Taehyung's eyes light up. He wishes he knew more people like that.
Taehyung is adorable, but Jeongguk asbsolutely despises how he’s also really fucking hot. It's like he has a switch somewhere, which he can flip on and off at ease. One second he'll be pouting like a puppy, trying to convince Jeongguk to go to another cafe, and the next moment Taehyung's eyes will be molten lava, purposeful, and Jeongguk has to swallow thickly and look away.
It drove him nuts, and Jeongguk would be lying if he said he hadn't jacked off the image of Taehyung at least once, in that shower, muffling his voice against his palm in case the walls were thin.
Before Jeongguk knows it, a week has passed, and then another. He still hasn't spent a single day painting, hasn't had a breather. Usually this would exhaust Jeongguk; milking a vacation for every second, going on tours every day, exploring the city's every corner, would drain him so fast he'd have to leave in three days, but not with Taehyung. Something about Taehyung makes him come alive, energetic, and ready to go out and use up every second.
Jeongguk has probably spent more time with Taehyung in the last two weeks than Namjoon in the past year. And that's his best friend. (His very very busy and very successful best friend, but that's besides the point.)
And almost every night, they part in the hallway, disappear into their respective rooms. Room 2 for Jeongguk, and Room 1 for Taehyung. Sometimes Taehyung will message Jeongguk after they've gone, sometimes Taehyung goes to have dinner with whoever that other person is. But the days are for Jeongguk, and Taehyung never expects anything of him.
Every night, Taehyung asks. "Tomorrow again?"
And every time, Jeongguk responds, "Sure."
Jeongguk doesn't know when it'll stop, for how long they'll go on. They're both in the city indefinitely, and Jeongguk's not sure what Taehyung's thinking. If the thing that's sizzling between them, just under the surface, will ever develop into something.
Jeongguk's not sure if he wants it to turn into anything. And yet he keeps poking the belly of the beast, keeping the coals alive. Because no matter how much he lies to himself, Jeongguk knows he'll always be the same young naive boy who just wants to fall in love. And maybe this time, it'll be different.
Chapter 2: lightness
“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“Where’s your boyfriend?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Jeongguk doesn’t miss a beat, and he almost cringes at himself. It takes everything in him not to down the entire glass of whiskey right then and there, because 1) that’d be way too obvious and, 2) good whiskey is expensive. He’s not dumb. If he wanted to get wasted quickly he’d have ordered some tequila. Which he’s not going to do. Obviously.
“No need to get so hostile,” Yoongi says, lips quirking up, “It was just a question.”
“We literally met —”
“Like two? Three weeks ago?”
“Time is fake.” Jeongguk really does cringe at himself this time. He starts speaking like Namjoon sometimes, when he misses him. A bad way to cope. He’s so embarrassing.
Yoongi just laughs at him, and goes back to doing that dumb bartender thing where he wipes down a perfectly clean glass. Does he really have to insist on embodying the stereotype at all times or is he just a dick?
“You’ve hung out with him every day since you got here.” Hoseok points when he passes by. He’s a bit busy, waiting on tables and whatnot, considering several of the guests all decided to dine in, but for some reason he keeps finding ways to squeeze into their conversation.
Jeongguk huffs. “So? He’s alone too.”
“No, he’s not.” Yoongi says, and his eyebrow goes up in question. Jeongguk hates it when he does that. It’s so smug. It’s got a piercing too. What kind of asshole gets an eyebrow piercing?
“What do you mean?” Jeongguk wrinkles his nose, but then he realizes that’s exactly why Taehyung’s not having dinner with him that night. The other friend. The one Jeongguk hasn’t met.
“Jimin.” Yoongi puts his glass down to serve a beer to someone three tables over.
“Jimin?” Jeongguk weighs it on his tongue. Another Korean. “Is that his name?”
“Yeah. Pink hair. Yay high?” Yoongi walks back and holds up his hand just below his shoulders. Hoseok laughs as he passes by to pick up the beer.
“He’s your height, hyung.”
Yoongi’s ears twinge red.
“Okay, yeah, I know.” Yoongi pouts, sitting down across from Jeongguk. He leans his cheek on his palm, “He’s so sensitive about it, though.”
Jeongguk tries to imagine what he could look like, if he’d ever seen any other Korean while they were out and about, but he comes up with nothing. Why hadn’t Taehyung introduced him to Jimin? What was he hiding? It’s not like Jeongguk’s busy when they hang out. Why wouldn’t Taehyung just invite him? Since it’s clear Jeongguk has no problems meeting strangers, unless Taehyung would want to be alone with —
“Wait.” Jeongguk doesn’t realize he’s finished his glass until he’s got nothing to drink. Yoongi looks at him, and Jeongguk asks, “Why do you know him? Has he —”
“Taehyung takes him here to eat sometimes,” Yoongi says, “And drink. They’re good friends, I think. Known each other since high school. The ride or die kind of thing. It’s cute, actually.”
There’s a little fire in the pit of Jeongguk’s stomach that he wishes would go away, but he’s never been good at hiding his emotions, especially not after whiskey. Jeongguk pouts, and taps his glass. Yoongi plinks some new ice cubes in it, and pours him more whiskey.
“But somehow I’m the boyfriend.” Jeongguk whines after a few sips, letting whatever it is in him stew. Yoongi reaches out to pat his head, which makes him glare at the older boy.
“Yes.” Yoongi grins at him, “Yes, you are.” It’s wide and obnoxious, and he’d be more curious if he wasn’t already so exhausted. Jeongguk just blinks, and then sighs, looking down at his glass. It’s dripping down onto the polished wood, the paper coaster picked at and falling apart.
“We’re not, you know.” Jeongguk tries not to sound too defeated, but probably fails. “Nothing’s happened.”
“Ah, you dumb kids.” Hoseok says, passing by for only a second. He reaches over to ruffle Yoongi’s hair— the older boy leaning into the touch — before disappearing into the kitchen. Jeongguk’s about to yell something at him, but then he sees Yoongi from the corner of his eye. He’s looking at the closing door like it’s the most important thing in his life. Jeongguk’s blood rushes in his ears, and his eyes go wide.
“Hyung, are you —”
Yoongi holds up a finger, gritting his teeth. “Not a word out of you.”
Suddenly it all makes sense. Jeongguk hasn’t spent a lot of time with either of them, limited to the times he and Taehyung ate dinner in the hotel and sometimes had a beer or two afterwards. And of course the night when Jeongguk was alone. There’d always been something stiff about Yoongi that Jeongguk could never pinpoint. Like if Hoseok touched him enough he’d burst into flames.
Jeongguk eyes him. His ears are red again. He actually might.
“I’ll make a move if you do.” Jeongguk doesn’t mean it. He’d never.
Yoongi actually laughs — so loud that a few customers turn their heads, and he at least has the decency to look apologetic — before looking at Jeongguk with the most disbelieving face he’s ever seen in his life.
“We both know damn well it’s not gonna be you who makes a move first.” Yoongi says, and Jeongguk wishes he could ignore how fucking right he was. Just then, Hoseok emerges from the kitchen, three plates in his arms, and perfectly executing the balancing act all the way to the table. Yoongi’s eyes follow him the entire time. When Hoseok sets down the plates, there’s the world’s brightest smile on his face. And Jeongguk, honest to god, swears he hears Yoongi sigh.
Hoseok goes back into the kitchen. There’s a beat of silence, before Yoongi exhales loudly from his nose. “Besides, I’m fine.”
Jeongguk frowns from his behind his glass. That was depressing to watch.
“If you say so.”
"Hey," Jeongguk says the next day, "I have a suggestion."
They've taken to meeting outside of their rooms now, and walking down to breakfast together. It’s incredibly domestic — the mere fact that they have a system to meet — but Jeongguk tries not to think too much about it. Taehyung hooks his arm with Jeongguk's as they descent the stairs.
"What is it?"
"Can we get shitfaced tonight?" Jeongguk shrugs. "Been a while. I think I need it."
"Getting stressed spending all this time with me? I'm impressed. Usually it takes my friends three days before hanging out with me makes them want to get wasted." Taehyung grins at him, and Jeongguk flushes a little.
"That's not what I --"
"I know, Gukkie. I'm just playing with you." Taehyung pats his cheek lightly, "Besides, I am a delight."
"Hah." Jeongguk snorts a little, tries not to think about Taehyung's hand, "Of course."
It's been two weeks. Two stupid weeks, and each touch still makes Jeongguk's skin burn. This needs to stop eventually, he begs to no god in particular, or he's going to go insane.
“What do you want to do today?” Taehyung asks over the multitude of breads he’s about to stuff himself with. Jeongguk shrugs.
“Well, we’re kind of up early. Did you want to go to that place —”
“Oh, yeah, Prague Castle?” Taehyung’s cheeks are a little puffed up, words garbled around food, and it’d be disgusting if Jeongguk wasn’t so enamored by him. He’s got it bad. Maybe he should admit it.
Jeongguk sucks his head to hide his smile.
“Alright then. Let’s go.”
The city’s rather small, and they’re both perfectly able bodied men, so they’ve never really done anything besides walk. The tram system isn’t very difficult; after a Google search or two they’ve managed to figure out how to exactly to take it, and there’s a stop not far off from their hotel.
Once they’re both in the tram, Taehyung manages to find a spot for them immediately, though it’s a little crowded. Jeongguk ends up right in front of him, both of them holding onto the same pole for support. The amount of people squeezed into the tiny space is making Jeongguk a little claustrophobic, but he can deal.
The real issue here is that unlike a train, trams run on the roads. On tracks and shit, but it’s still the roads. The same bumpy cobblestone roads that the cars go through, which means it’s bumpy, rough, and jerky more than half the time. Jeongguk does what he can to sustain a conversation, but every other word he’s thrown off his kilter, his feet scrambling for purchase in the small amount of space he has.
“Is there’s a cafe up there? I kinda want a cof— “ The tram stops at an intersection and jerks forward, sending Jeongguk backward towards the front of the tram.
Taehyung’s reflexes are faster. His arm shoots out and curls around Jeongguk’s waist, pulling him close until they’re chest to chest. Jeongguk’s head is practically level with him, and their noses bump from the force.
“Whoa,” Taehyung says, once the tram’s running steady again, “You okay?” He’s pulled back a little so at least Jeongguk can’t feel his breath on his face anymore, but Taehyung’s arm is still around him, his fingers curled gently around his waist.
Jeongguk nods, terrified, praying that Taehyung can’t feel the rapid thud of his heart from where their chests are pressed together. This is the second goddamned time this has happened.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Jeongguk chokes out, trying to speak around the lump in his throat.
“Did you say you wanted coffee?” Taehyung says, tilting his head to the side, “I think I saw something about a Starbucks right by the Castle. That okay with you?”
It’s absolutely baffling how Taehyung can manage to make an attempt at casual conversation while they’re squished together like this. Jeongguk is certain his ears have been permanently painted red and he’s flushed five ways to Sunday, but still, he replies, and they talk, and Taehyung’s hand doesn’t leave his waist until they have to get off.
“One caramel macchiato, and one iced Americano for… Taehyung?”
Taehyung perks up at the sound of his name. He gets up from the table — Jeongguk following suit — and grins wide at the lady when she hands him their drinks.
“You’re one of the few baristas in this continent who can get my name right.”
“Oh, thank you?” She blushes a little, pink dusting the apples of her cheeks, “This is really embarrassing, but it’s cause I really like K-pop.”
Jeongguk wants to laugh. It’s the first time someone’s mentioned K-pop to them in this city. It must be some sort of record — two weeks — but she sounds so genuinely shy that Jeongguk’s endeared. Taehyung just keeps smiling at her.
“Hey, me too!” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk knows damn well he means it. His phone is full of Big Bang. “Have a good day!”
She gives him a little wave. “You too!”
They leave the Starbucks and look out at the view. The Prague Castle on situated very high up, almost on a mountain, and from here the two of them have a bird’s eye view of the entire city. It’s absolutely breathtaking — the clear blue sky stretches out endlessly above them, the colors of Prague stark in the sunlight.
Jeongguk wonders if he’ll ever see anything this beautiful again. He turns to look at Taehyung, eyes wide and sparkling, and his heart leaps in his chest.
“Here’s your coffee, princess.” Taehyung says then, handing him his cup. Jeongguk pouts at it.
“Don’t call me that.”
Taehyung hums, lightly shoving Jeongguk with his shoulder, “Well, what do you want me to call you?” Jeongguk takes a sip of his coffee, and then pouts some more.
When Taehyung’s hand reaches out to pinch Jeongguk’s cheek, he’s smart enough to lean away. They laugh together, and it’s stupid, and it’s small, but it makes warmth settle in Jeongguk’s stomach.
This is bad.
“She thought you were cute, probably.” Jeongguk points out, in an awful attempt at deflection. He’s not making this any easier for himself.
“I mean? I am.” Taehyung sounds the most serious he’s ever been in his life. It’s Jeongguk’s turn to shove him.
“Oh my god, shut up .”
Taehyung cackles, and it’s such an ugly sound, but Jeongguk laughs with him all the same.
“You agree!” Taehyung says, “But... she was looking at you the entire time.”
A faint blush creeps up Jeongguk’s cheeks, settles in his ears, “No, she wasn’t .”
“She was! I swear.” Taehyung takes a large gulp of his coffee, and Jeongguk’s certain he’s just about dropped the subject when he speaks up again. This time his voice is soft, and sincere, eyes far away, “Jeonggukie, you’re way more handsome than you give yourself credit for.”
It’s awful, the way Jeongguk’s mind goes absolutely blank, how he can’t even muster up the courage to reply, to make it into a joke. Instead he shuts up, and drinks his coffee, sucks on the straw until there’s nothing but ice left. Taehyung follows suit.
Soon their cups are in the trash, and they’re heading in.
If Jeongguk thought what they’d been doing for the past two weeks was sickeningly sweet, nothing could prepare him for the Castle. It was something straight out of a fairy tale — tall spires and high ceilings, gorgeous paintings, and architecture that was to die for — that is, if a fairy tale squeezed you into a small closed in walking space with fifteen other tourists at a time.
That’s why Taehyung stuck to his side the entire day. Through every attraction, every building, every crowd, Taehyung made sure Jeongguk was able to cut through, kept him close, made sure he was alright.
Even though Jeongguk knew how to take care of his damn self, it was still kind of reassuring knowing there was someone watching your back. Throughout all of Jeongguk travels, no one he’s has come close to being as angelic as Taehyung.
At every placard, every sign, every painting, he waited for Jeongguk to finish. He never went ahead, left made Jeongguk move faster. They moved together, making silly jokes, listening to each other’s fun facts, reading out the history together.
Much like they’d already been doing, they talk. Jeongguk learns Taehyung’s sister loves little trinkets, and suddenly all the tiny bits and pieces he’s been buying make sense. His younger brother likes books too, so Taehyung’s been sending him what he can find. His English gets better every time they talk, Taehyung says, and there’s a fondness in his eyes Jeongguk wants to drown in.
Somehow the Castle is bigger than they expected. It’ll take more than a day, and the two of them resign to looking around in the gift shops.
There are several situated around the Castle, which Taehyung expected. He almost goes on a tangent about capitalism and marketing and how all this culture is only useful and maintained because of how much money it can make the government, but Jeongguk reels him in before it gets too bad. He thinks maybe Taehyung would get along well with Namjoon, and Jeongguk shoves the thought away.
“This one’s cute.” Taehyung holds up a small metal cat attached to a cord, a matching metal ball of yarn on the other end. It might be a bookmark. “It reminds me of you.”
Jeongguk takes it from him, and Taehyung doesn’t let go. Their fingers brush.
“I thought I was a rabbit.” Jeongguk looks at it, turns it over in his fingers, and scrunches his nose. Taehyung laughs, and boops his nose with a finger.
“You are!” Taehyung grins, pushing the metal cat into Jeongguk’s cheeks. “I’m the kitty. I could chase you around all day.”
Jeongguk pushes him away lightly, rubbing his skin. It was cold, but he doesn’t mind. The amount of things he’s starting not to mind has grown alarmingly fast since he’s met Taehyung. He doesn’t know who he is anymore.
“Don’t you already do that?” Jeongguk smiles back, nudging him. Taehyung boops his nose again.
If Taehyung boops his nose one more time it’s going to fall off, Jeongguk swears.
They browse a little more — Taehyung’s moreso, really taking the time to run his fingers over the spines on the bookshelf, taking some out, reading summaries — and eventually he settles on a few titles. There’s an illustrated book on Czech fairy tales that Taehyung gets for his brother. Jeongguk wants to kiss him then, but instead he clenches his fist in his pocket.
“And this one!” Taehyung adds the little cat to the pile, and Jeongguk pouts. He heads back to the shelf with the bookmarks, and picks one up that he’d been eyeing.
“This one’s for you.”
Jeongguk holds it up. It’s the same kind of bookmark, except on one end is a metal book — propped open, with small etched lines for words — and on the other are a pair of glasses, complete with small plastic lenses through the circles.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous.” Taehyung murmurs. He looks like he wants to touch Jeongguk’s hand — and Jeongguk wants him to — but he pulls back, lets Taehyung pay for his stuff. And then buys it for him.
When he hands it to him outside the store, Taehyung’s smile is small. It’s warm, gentle. He makes it look like it’s the only gift he’s ever been given in his entire life.
“Bet you’d look cute in glasses.” Jeongguk says. Taehyung looks proud of himself, holding his chin up high.
“I actually do, thanks. They’re in my room.”
The mere thought of that makes Jeongguk want to melt. It would — honest to god — be the cutest thing in the entire world.
“Show me sometime.” Jeongguk links his arm with Taehyung’s, leaning his head on his shoulder, hoping he notices the cute expression on his face.
Taehyung nuzzles the top of his head.
The stairs back down from the upper courtyard are long and low, each step going on for two whole strides. There’s a tall wall on either side, closing them in, with only the blue, blue sky above them. Taehyung grabs Jeongguk’s hand, their palms facing each other, and they walk down together.
Halfway down, there’s a middle-aged man sitting by the wall, guitar in hand, a familiar tune drifting up towards them.
Justin Bieber. Jeongguk knows this song like the back of his hand. He lets go of Taehyung’s hand, and slows to a stop once they’re near the man. After one or two beats, Jeongguk finds his spot, and starts singing.
“ What do you mean? ” Jeongguk sings along to the funky guitar, letting his voice echo along the steps. The guitar is masterful, the man’s finger’s moving quickly over the fretboard, and Jeongguk grins as he sings. He tries not to think about the small crowd of people forming around them, even less about Taehyung standing somewhere among them.
Jeongguk hasn’t sang in a long time. Except maybe in the shower. It was a dream he gave up a long time ago, considering even the thought of singing in public used to make him flush red.
He feels brave now, though, so he sings until the end. When he finishes, the man with the guitar is smiling so wide Jeongguk fears his face might split in half. He stands up and shakes Jeongguk’s hand, saying things in Czech he doesn’t understand.
Taehyung gives the man a hundred crown bill, and he almost doesn’t accept it. They both insist, and he thanks them profusely, his English limited but his gratitude genuine. Soon they’re walking back down the stairs, and Jeongguk feels a hundred pounds lighter.
“You never told me you could sing.” Taehyung says on the tram home. He’s got his arm around Jeongguk’s waist again, his breath tickling his cheek.
Jeongguk shrugs, turning away from him and staring out the window. “You never asked, I guess.”
Taehyung hums, and Jeongguk doesn’t have to look at him to know there’s a cheeky grin there, “You should sing for me sometimes.” Jeongguk leans back until he feels his the back of his head hit Taehyung’s cheek.
“Maybe one day.”
Once they’re back in their area of the city, they’re back on foot, wandering the streets for a bite to eat. Taehyung makes a show of pretending he has a checklist in his hand, saying the next thing on the agenda is the hockey game tonight. Jeongguk didn’t realize Taehyung followed sports, and Taehyung says he doesn’t.
“Who do we even cheer for?” Jeongguk asks.
“Well, Team Czech Republic isn’t in the finals, so I don’t know.” Taehyung shrugs, looking at the menu laid out in front of the bar to check it, “This place look good?”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, and then gives him an unsure smile. “Let’s just cheer for whoever the bar’s cheering for.”
Taehyung laughs, his smile big and beautiful. “That’s the spirit.”
When they enter, there’s only one other group in the bar, but they’re insane. Swedish flags draped over their shoulders, faces painted, shirts with slogans that would probably be witty or catchy if Jeongguk could understand Swedish. Even the bright blue of their eyes and the blonde of their hair make up the colors of the flag. It’s a sight, and Taehyung is beaming as they pick a table nearby.
“Sweden’s playing?” Taehyung asks the waitress when she takes their order. She nods with enthusiasm.
“Yes! Against Russia. There is a really good team this year. If we can win this game, we go into the finals against Canada.”
“Russia any good?” Taehyung asks, and the waitress nearly rolls her eyes.
“They’re trash. Not so difficult. Sweden can do it,” She scoffs, and then grins at the next table over, “Right, lads?”
They raise their beers to her, their cheers boisterous and most of them already clearly intoxicated. It’s an infectious energy. None of them look unpleasant, or too loud. They just look like they’re there to enjoy each other’s company and have a great time watching a sport.
It’s fifteen minutes in when Jeongguk realizes just how much Taehyung’s willing to commit.
He wants to be embarrassed, truly, but he’s much too endeared by how adorable the other boy is that he’s just left with a weird tugging in his chest. By the time their food’s arrived, Taehyung is screaming with vigor, throwing his fist in the air when someone from Sweden steals the puck, yells encouragement at the screen. Jeongguk buries his face in his hands — a reflex — but Taehyung reaches out, pulling them away. And he doesn’t let go.
Jeongguk tries to pretend it doesn’t affect him, eating his pasta like his heart isn’t about to beat out his chest, but he thinks he fails. Because Taehyung grins at him, and then slips his fingers into the spaces between Jeongguk’s. It’s soft, and tender, and makes Jeongguk want to run out the door.
It’s hard to eat with one hand. That’s it. That’s the problem.
There’s a sale on the beer. Unlimited for cheap, or something, Jeongguk doesn’t pay attention. Taehyung orders, makes them chug their glass each time “their” team scores. Shortly after they realize the scores in hockey don’t go very high, so Taehyung starts making Jeongguk chug whenever the other group of guys cheers. Which is often.
Soon the familiar heat in his stomach spreads to the rest of his body. Jeongguk’s head feels lighter, like he’s a different person. They’d drank together before — at the hotel, with Yoongi making casual conversation — but it was never this much.
Years of experience with alcohol and a severe lack of self control has taught Jeongguk one thing: he gets touchy when he’s drunk, and when he’s drunk with someone he’s attracted to, Jeongguk absolutely cannot keep his hands off him. This should set off some sirens in his head, his conscience should be furiously waving red flags in his face, but instead he leans his forehead onto Taehyung’s shoulder as he laughs, letting his fingers press into the other boy’s thigh, whispering in his ear when the rest of the world becomes a little too loud.
Jeongguk knows somewhere in his mind he should be reeling himself in, but Taehyung is touching him back. Petting his hair. Caressing his neck. Holding his hand. Laughing into his cheek.
It’s addicting, the way they start leaning into one another when the alcohol settles in their systems. Once the game’s over — Sweden wins, to the joy of the entire, not very crowded bar — the other group of men leave, off to celebrate on the streets, their Swedish flags raised high.
“Shots!” Taehyung calls out, and the waitress smiles at him, “Tequila please?”
"Is that a good idea?” Jeongguk’s voice says, but inside he knows he’s never been one to back out of challenge. Taehyung grins when they’re brought over — three for him, and three for Jeongguk. She lays down a small plate with lime slices and coarse salt.
“Who cares?” Taehyung takes one, and holds it up, “Cheers, Jeonggukie.”
“I’m paying,” Taehyung grins, ordering one more round of shots, “So you should drink more.”
“That makes no sense!” Jeongguk says, unaware of how loud he is. Frankly he doesn’t care. The waitress looks mostly amused. They’re the only ones there.
“You’re so cute though.” Taehyung reaches over and runs his thumbs over Jeongguk’s face, making him blush ever harder. “Your cheeks go all red.”
“So do yours!” Jeongguk whines, his bottom lip jutting out. Taehyung has no right to tease him. They both probably look like ripe tomatoes.
Before Jeongguk can really process what’s happening, Taehyung drags his finger in the salt, and the draws a line right on Jeongguk’s pouty bottom lip.
He leans forward, hot breath puffing over Jeongguk’s mouth, and licks right across it, so quickly Jeongguk can’t even react. He grabs the shot and downs it immediately after, biting on the lime, face scrunching up.
Jeongguk blinks. Once, twice, three times. And Taehyung shakes his head as the liquor goes through him.
“Man, that’s some good tequila.” Taehyung says, grinning at Jeongguk. “Aren’t you going to have yours?” He nudges the last filled shot glass towards Jeongguk, who’s still sitting in stunned silence. His lip tingles, the damp wake of Taehyung’s tongue leaving it cold.
“Y-yeah, okay.” Jeongguk does it in the most boring fashion, downing it as fast as he can. Once the tequila is burning down his throat, he comes back alive.
Taehyung just did that , and Jeongguk feels like his entire body’s on fire.
Maybe the tequila was a bad idea.
The waitress eventually ushers them out. True to his word, Taehyung pays, and Jeongguk pretends he doesn’t pretty much pop a boner from the way he slams down his credit card.
They manage to somehow walk back to the hotel. Jeongguk doesn’t remember how they did it, but they were glued to each other’s sides the whole time, stumbling through the streets, giggling into each other’s necks. It’s a miracle they didn’t get mugged.
Taehyung is an absolute fucking gentleman, making sure Jeongguk’s walking alright, not puking up on public property, that he’s breathing. Each time their eyes meet Jeongguk gets the urge to kiss him, right then and there, but he stamps it down. That much he can control.
Now, though, they’re standing just outside the hotel, and Jeongguk doesn’t want to go in.
“You smell really nice.” Jeongguk says, stepping right into Taehyung’s space. Taehyung doesn’t seem to mind, lets him.
Taehyung laughs. The sound feels warm in Jeongguk’s chest. “Oh yeah?”
“Mhm,” Jeongguk buries his nose into Taehyung’s hair, nuzzling in deep. “Yeah, nice.” He inhales like it’s the only chance he’s gonna get, and it might as well be. His feet stumble a little when he leans forward, but Taehyung catches him. Jeongguk’s mouth drops open when he realizes Taehyung’s large hands are gripping his hips, holding him steady. It’s hot.
“You get really cuddly when you’re drunk.”
“Hm?” Jeongguk blinks slowly. “I’m drunk?” He tries to focus on Taehyung’s features, because he’s really pretty up close, and Jeongguk wants to see the cute little mole on the tip of his nose. Wants to kiss it.
Taehyung smiles, and it’s not wide. It’s small. Tender. He pets Jeongguk’s hair and it feels really nice.
Jeongguk, drunk? Nah. He’s fine. Jeongguk raises his arms and wraps them around Taehyung’s neck. The night air is cold and Taehyung is warm, and it’s only logical, really, to hug him close. Only seems fair that Jeongguk keeps his arms there, pulls him in until Taehyung’s breath warms his lips. Only fair. Feels right.
“Mm, maybe. Maybe I’m drunk.” Jeongguk leans his forehead against Taehyung’s chin. “You’re warm.”
Taehyung’s giggle goes all the way to Jeongguk’s toes. It’s the cutest thing he’s ever heard in his life. His head spins — completely unrelated to the alcohol — and he realizes somewhere in the foggy recesses of his mind Jeongguk thinks he’d be alright staying in Taehyung’s arms for the rest of his life.
“Do you remember things the next day, when you drink?” Taehyung’s voice is distant, an echo in his head.
“Joonie hyung says I don’t,” Jeongguk slurs a little, missing his friend for a moment, “And Joonie hyung’s always right.”
Jeongguk runs his nose against Taehyung’s cheek. His skin is so smooth, and it feels nice to touch. Warm. So warm. Taehyung’s hands move up, arms circling around Jeongguk’s waist, tugging him close until they’re touching from their cheeks all the way to their toes.
It’s making Jeongguk’s blood run hot, rush in his ears. He ignores the pain at the pit of his gut, all inhibitions gone. All that matters is Taehyung’s here, now, and he’s warm, and his lips are brushing against Jeongguk’s temple in a way that makes him want to give up his whole life. Just for a boy. Just for this boy.
They stand there for a while, just holding each other. The last few shots of tequila Jeongguk had are taking hold, making him lose more of his senses, but he swears he’s never felt more alive. Jeongguk tucks his head underneath Taehyung’s chin, leans in until he’s snuggled up in the crook of his neck. It’s stupid, it’s stupid, he thinks to himself, but then Taehyung’s lips move to say something against his hair and he thinks maybe it isn’t.
“What?” Jeongguk murmurs against the skin of Taehyung’s neck, and he feels Taehyung’s throaty chuckle more than hears it.
“Nothing.” Taehyung breathes out, “Let’s get you inside.” He pulls away then, and Jeongguk doesn’t want to let go — doesn’t ever want to let go — but Taehyung takes his hand, and leads him into the hotel.
Jeongguk’s vision is a haze, the edges blurred and blackened like he’s looking through a dirty pair of glasses. He’s certain the stairs are somewhere to his left, so he grasps blinding in that general direction, only to find the soft fabric of a shirt and another person’s arms around him.
“Easy there, tiger.” It’s Taehyung, but he sounds so far away. “I think you’ve had a little too much.” Jeongguk doesn’t where he is; Taehyung is everywhere and nowhere at once, and he moves his head in a general direction. Jeongguk’s cheek hits Taehyung’s chest, and for some reason it stays there as he’s half-carried up the stairs.
The last thing he hears is a key turning in a lock, and a door opening.
Jeongguk wakes up on something harder than a pillow. Which is weird, considering this hotel’s pillows are unusually soft. Jeongguk usually goes for the firmer pillows, which is what he has back home, since he sleeps better on them, but that’s not what this hotel has, so why is his head on —
It’s moving. Breathing.
Every one of Jeongguk’s senses jolts awake. Or at least, tries to, because suddenly there’s a sharp pain in his head that’s absolutely unbearable, and he subconsciously buries his face deeper into Taehyung’s chest, blocking away the sunlight streaming in through the drawn curtains.
It’s Taehyung’s chest. This is definitely Taehyung’s chest, Jeongguk concludes, breathing in. It smells like him — a little musky, a little bit fruity, and not making his hangover easier in the slightest — and it makes Jeongguk want to drown. In the tub, maybe. Or the river.
Taehyung’s still asleep. Jeongguk’s pressed into his side, face in his chest, their legs tangled in a weird way that is definitely not comfortable now that Jeongguk isn’t sleeping like a rock.
This isn’t his room, either. It’s Taehyung’s room. There are clothes everywhere. Clothes that aren’t black. Jeongguk stops looking around, just focuses on the way his nose is pressed up against Taehyung’s sweater, wrinkling from how far he’s snuggled in. He really doesn’t want to move. The headache is too bad, and his limbs feel like lead, and it’s not because Taehyung’s comfortable and Jeongguk can feel his little snores against his hair.
Nice things don’t last, Jeongguk realizes, because eventually Taehyung stirs. Jeongguk uses the moment to look at how gorgeous Taehyung is, glowing in the sunlight. His eyelashes flutter as he wakes up, and it’s the most beautiful thing Jeongguk’s ever seen in his life.
When Taehyung turns to him, eyes lidded and droopy, and cracks a small smile, Jeongguk swears his heart drops to the ground.
“Good morning, princess.” Taehyung’s voice is low and husky and gravelly from sleep, and Jeongguk want to die. “How’s the hangover?”
Jeongguk groans, throwing all restraint out the window. Fuck it. He wraps his arm around Taehyung’s middle and squeezes, “Bad.”
“Poor baby.” Taehyung cards his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair, and Jeongguk wishes it wasn’t as soothing as it was, but it is, and his headache is a bitch, and he kind of wants to die right then and there.
“What do you want to do today?”
“I mean, that can arranged.” Taehyung raises his arms over his head and stretches, hard. Jeongguk feels the other boy’s body go tense beneath him, legs straightening, muscles stretching. Jeongguk is hyper aware of each movement, willing himself not to freak out when Taehyung curls back into him, burying his face in Jeongguk’s hair.
It does feel like Taehyung goes back to sleep, his arms wrapped loosely around Jeongguk’s shoulders. Taehyung’s ankles are hooked on the backs of Jeongguk’s, one of Jeongguk’s thighs pressed between Taehyung’s legs, and it’s ridiculously warm. Jeongguk tries not to thinking too much about it; maybe Taehyung’s just a cuddler, maybe Jeongguk’s better than a pillow, maybe Taehyung hates his guts and wants to torture him until he jumps out the window. One of the few.
Jeongguk’s heart is on overdrive, his entire body burning from how much he’s about to lose his mind. If he were being partially honest with himself, he’d say it was because being so close to Taehyung made his dick want to jump alive and poke the other boy awake. If he was being completely honest, he’d say something about how the boner in his chest was getting out of hand.
Jeongguk settles for the lies. His hangover’s getting worse.
He stirs a little, grumbling to himself, which makes Taehyung wiggle. Remind Jeongguk to never be around a sleepy Taehyung ever again, because he keeps groaning and moaning in the hottest fucking ways, and Jeongguk’s certain he can’t take any more of this.
“Can’t sleep?” Taehyung mumbles, right by Jeongguk’s ear, and he swears goosebumps prick up his arms.
“No.” Jeongguk practically whines , and it’s so embarrassing, but who cares, honestly.
Taehyung laughs at him, and it’s deep and throaty and Jeongguk can feel the way his chest shakes against his cheek.
“You need water.” Taehyung stares untangling himself, and Jeongguk’s not sure how to react, “Maybe an advil. I’ll see if I have any.”
They lay in bed for as long as they can. And Taehyung takes care of him. The entire goddamn day. Jeongguk can’t imagine the mere thought of walking outside in the cold when he feels like he’d pass out after two steps. Taehyung makes sure Jeongguk is hydrated and well fed — the room service is easy, and thank god Hoseok doesn’t fucking ask when he delivers two dishes to Taehyung’s room — and that he’s comfortable. He gives Jeongguk one of his own hoodies to wear even though his own room and his own clothes are literally ten feet away.
Taehyung shows Jeongguk his glasses. They’re thin and gold and look like they were made for a grandfather. He looks absolutely adorable in them.
It feels domestic, and much too tender, every minute Jeongguk feels the urge to pull away, to run. It’s temporary, fleeting, ephemeral, transitory, all of this words that Taehyung probably loves.
Jeongguk’s never felt the urge to seriously run this early. He’d let himself get embarrassed, get shy, play hard to get, but he’d always fall in headfirst, let his heart get broken when it was too late.
This is the first time his heart’s breaking before it’s even been touched, his chest already aching at the mere sight of Taehyung in his shorts, hair mussed, eyes droopy. There have been no kisses, no sex, and yet Jeongguk feels closer to Taehyung than the last three lovers combined.
It’s starting to scare him.
But instead of leaving, Jeongguk merely turns, and his face meets Taehyung’s shoulder as he laughs at a joke the other boy makes, his hands finding Taehyung’s fingers under the sheets, holding but never intertwining. The room feels surreal, like a dream, and Jeongguk wishes he never had to wake up.
"So how's Prague?"
Namjoon's in Amsterdam now, and he swears he hasn't had a single hit of weed. Jeongguk calls bullshit, saying there's no way it wasn't the first thing he asked from his assistant the moment he stepped off the plane. Namjoon ignores him.
"It's fine," Jeongguk says, "The people are nice." It's eight in the morning, when he's meant to be getting ready, but he figured it was only fair to give Namjoon a call. The older doesn't usually take the initiative to check on him, knowing how flighty Jeongguk is.
After eating dinner in Taehyung’s room, Jeongguk had said goodbye. Something about needing a shower and feeling gross. Taehyung ruffled his hair and pinched his cheeks on the way out, and it killed the boner Jeongguk had been harboring the entire day. So he took a shower and went to sleep, ignoring Taehyung’s Kakao messages asking what time they’d be meeting up the next day.
"The people?" And Jeongguk hates how he can practically hear Namjoon's eyebrow quirk. "Have you gotten a nice Czech boy to fall in love with you?"
Jeongguk pauses. Namjoon groans, the sound crackling a little.
"God, you have!" Jeongguk winces at how exasperated he sounds. "You promised me you wouldn't, Jeongguk."
"He's Korean actually." Jeongguk says, a bit sheepish. This is where Namjoon would roll his eyes.
"How in the fresh hell did you find a Korean boy in the middle of the Czech Republic?" Namjoon sounds incredulous now, like part of him wants to scold Jeongguk and another part is impressed. Jeongguk's heard this tone of voice a lot over the past few years, but it'll never stop making him laugh.
"I found three, actually," Jeongguk says, just to be an ass, "Two of them work at the hotel."
"You got THREE boys to fall in love with you?" Namjoon's nearly yelling, and Jeongguk hopes to the good Lord above that he's alone in that hotel room.
"No one's in love with me, hyung, I swear to god." Jeongguk says, voice going a little softer, worried about the thinness of the walls. "He's just a friend. He's here alone too, so we're, I dunno, hanging out."
"Hanging out." That's a deadpan now, Jeongguk notes, "Are you sure?"
Jeongguk exhales. There it is. He'd been waiting for it; the caution, the worry, the sympathy. Namjoon's known Jeongguk long enough to know how this goes, how easily he gives himself away. It's not something he can help, which Namjoon understands. They're both hopeless romantics, but Namjoon's just lucky enough to have found someone for him.
"I'm sure, hyung." Jeongguk says, making sure to sound confident, "You don't have to worry about me."
"I'm gonna worry regardless." A muffled woman's voice speaks somewhere in the background, something about appointments, and Namjoon sighs. "I gotta go. Take care, kid."
Jeongguk smiles softly. He'd wanted to talk a little bit longer -- he'd never admit it to his face, but Jeongguk misses his hyung -- but Namjoon can't help being in demand; Jeongguk's used to it.
"You too, hyung. Bye."
“Can I paint today?”
Taehyung looks up from his cereal, “Paint?”
Jeongguk feels awful, neglecting his art for the sake of spending every waking moment with Taehyung. Even when he’d dated Seokmin back in Hong Kong, he’d taken the time to at least make one or two full pieces by the time they’d hit the two week mark. Now, he has nothing to show of Prague. Namjoon would be disappointed.
“Yeah, it’s just —” He stabs his eggs around the plate, “I haven’t painted anything yet? And this city is gorgeous. I feel kindof bad for putting it off.”
“Sure!” Taehyung doesn’t seem to mind at all, but Jeongguk still feels bad asking an entire day for himself.
Would Taehyung even want to hang out with him while he’s sitting in silence? Wouldn’t that be boring? Jeongguk’s incredibly boring when he paints. He doesn’t talk at all. Maybe a time lapse of him painting would be a bit interesting, but nothing about him in real time would hold Taehyung’s hyperactive attention span.
“What do you want to paint?” Taehyung asks, grinning at him, mouth doing that adorable thing where it goes square, and Jeongguk’s heart short circuits.
You , Jeongguk thinks vaguely, but he can’t say that out loud.
“Maybe the river. I like doing landscapes.”
“So you can set up at the bridge?” Taehyung zooms through his food, the way he does when he’s excited for the day. “That’d look so good. Let’s go.”
“Y-you wanna come?” Jeongguk blinks at him.
“Of course! Why not?” Taehyung shrugs, but he looks even more enthusiastic than Jeongguk ever dreamed he’d be, “You’ll need someone to herd all the adoring fans you’ll accumulate over the day. Can’t have them distracting the superstar.”
Jeongguk flushes all the way down to his toes, staring at his eggs.
“Ah, no, that’s not —“
“Trust me, pretty boy. People will stare. I would.” Taehyung’s voice is teasing, but there’s a hint of genuine underneath it that Jeongguk latches onto. “Let’s go get your stuff?”
There’s no way in hell Jeongguk’s going to let Taehyung into his room, so he pushes Taehyung away, makes him plant his feet in the hallway, while he ran around his room, gathering up his supplies. An easel, a couple of blank canvasses, all small in side, and his case of paints. Maybe he should bring a jug of water, but maybe he could ask Taehyung to do water runs for him. If he’s willing. He should be willing, right?
It’s a bit of a challenge, getting everything ready to carry to the bridge. Once it’s all in the hallway, Taehyung’s ready to help, and between the two of them it’s manageable. Barely. But Taehyung’s smiling the whole way, not complaining even once, making jokes and conversation the entire way, and Jeongguk figures that’s a blessing in itself.
They reach the bridge right when the run’s starting to beat down mercilessly. It’s a clear cloudless sky today, with only one or two puffs of white, and Jeongguk figures that’s good enough. He has enough blue to make it perfect.
“Can you stand the whole day?” Taehyung asks, watching Jeongguk set up, “I mean, I could probably find you a stool somewhere. Somehow.”
“It’s fine, Tae,” Jeongguk says, smearing a blue onto his palette, “I’ve done this a lot. A little standing’s not gonna kill me.”
“I can always give you a massage later.” Taehyung leans back onto the bridge’s ledge, elbows behind him, looking like the tastiest thing Jeongguk’s seen this entire trip. “I’ve been told I give really good leg massage. You’ll feel back in tip top shape in no time.”
“Oh, really?” Jeongguk’s eyes go wide and he hides behind his canvas, hoping Taehyung can’t see how red he’s getting, just thinking about the implications. “I’ll t-take you up on that.”
“You better!” Taehyung turns away from his then, looking out into the river, making faces at the swans twenty feet below them. Jeongguk readies his paints in silence, each stroke of his brush just another reminder not to let himself fall completely.
Jeongguk paints. When he does, he really disappears off the face of the planet for a while, his eyes darting back and forth across the scene he’s working on. It’s a lot more complicated than sketching, which he does mainly in greyscale. The colors have to blend perfectly. One color out of place can ruin a whole picture, Jeongguk’s learned, and he likes doing everything right the first time.
It’s not a good quality to have as an artist, but Jeongguk’s full of bad habits.
The blue of the sky’s been perfected, small clouds made of textured white blobs matched what it looked like earlier, exactly. Taehyung even snapped a photo of the clouds for proof. Now Jeongguk’s moved on to the actual city, the buildings a soft sandy brown, with dusty reds for roofs and spires. Touches of teal here and there. The city has such wonderful colors, Jeongguk muses.
Taehyung has been nothing short of a dream. Whenever Jeongguk needs water, or a second opinion, or if a small tourist child gets a little too close to him, he’s there, he’s ready to help. Jeongguk feels kind of awful, with him just running around, at his beck and call, but sometimes when he breaks out of his focus, he notices Taehyung chatting with a pair of tourists from India, or from America, or crouched down and speaking with a child. It’s as if he thrives off learning about strangers, asking them their stories, and Jeongguk wonders what he did to be able to hold this boy’s attention for slong. Wonders if he really is worth all that trouble.
By the time Jeongguk finishes his first painting, Taehyung’s coming back from somewhere off the bridge, two sandwiches in his hands. They leave Jeongguk’s finished painting facing the crowd and sit down with their backs to the ledge. Their knees touch, and Taehyung leans in whenever he talks to Jeongguk, even though there’s not much of a crowd to speak over.
When Jeongguk bites into his sandwich, there’s just enough hot sauce. And it’s chicken, which he prefers, and there’s mustard too. He wonders when Taehyung had learned these things about him, wonders if Taehyung remembers these things about every person he meets, or his Jeongguk’s the exception.
Jeongguk swears the next painting should be a person, but when he suggests Taehyung the other boy turns white as a sheet and backs away.
“No, just cause I’m here doesn’t mean you have to —”
“I want to.” Jeongguk blurts out, and he has to stop himself from slapping his hand over his mouth. He should stop letting things slip. Eventually he’s just going to straight up tell Taehyung he wants his dick in his mouth and that wouldn’t be be a pleasant conversation for him.
Taehyung blinks at that though, slowly, like he’s processing the thought.
“Please?” Jeongguk adds, against his better judgement. He pouts a little too, for good measure.
Taehyung tries to resist — makes a big show of it, covering Jeongguk’s face with his hands, calling his pout the work of the devil himself — but eventually he sighs, and gives in.
“How do you want me, monsieur artist?” Taehyung stretches his arms out, grinning.
“First of all, your French is awful.” Jeongguk laughs, tapping his brush against the easel. “Second, just...stand there, I guess?” He goes over to set Taehyung on the ledge, leaning his back against his, the sunlight framing his face nicely. Jeongguk grabs Taehyung’s chin and tilts his head the slightest way. And he swears he sees Taehyung’s expression flinch, but only for a second.
“Keep your face straight.” Jeongguk’s lip quirks up. “You’re pretty like that.”
You think he’s pretty all the time, Jeongguk tells himself, but Taehyung doesn’t need to know that.
When Taehyung’s not looking, he snaps a picture for good measure, because holy shit , Taehyung’s side profile is gorgeous. Skin glowing in the light, the slope of his nose perfect, his eyes half lidded, eyelashes splayed out. His cheekbones are gorgeous too, defined jaw, a neck worth dying for.
Jeongguk doesn’t even know why he asked to paint Taehyung, because now he’ll have to stare at every single detail of the other boy’s face for an extended period of time, and he can’t promise himself he won’t pop a boner from staring.
Jeongguk doesn’t make it clean. He paints, and paints, and keeps going without pausing to breathe. It’s rough, but it’s real. Every single emotion he’s been keeping pent up inside him for these two weeks bursting out in splashes of browns and golds against his skin. Taehyung is an vision, truly, dressed down and casual, and Jeongguk realizes halfway through that he might be in too deep to back out. Maybe.
When he finishes, Taehyung yawns a bit, and it’s adorable. Like a cat stretching after taking a nap. Jeongguk feels a little bashful as Taehyung walks over to look at the finished product, but he stands his ground. No turning back now.
“You are.” Jeongguk blurts out, and it takes him a second to realize, takes Taehyung looking at him with a faint blush on his tan skin to notice. Jeongguk flushes immediately after, ducking his head. “I mean —”
“Thank you.” Taehyung says. He reaches over and grabs Jeongguk’s hand, and he gives it a light squeeze, then it falls away. “So are you.”
Jeongguk stares at him. The air’s thick suddenly, and he’s finding it hard to breath. There’s a softness in Taehyung’s eyes that Jeongguk doesn’t want to acknowledge, wants to will away. It shouldn’t be there. He doesn’t deserve it. But Taehyung’s lips are turned up in a small, genuine smile, and it takes Jeongguk’s nerves tingle.
He’s the first to break it, of course. Jeongguk ducks his head again, and says something about taking a break. And Taehyung laughs, says it’s only right. Says he’d worked hard. And when Taehyung sits on the dusty ground by the ledge, he wipes off the spot next to him, and makes Jeongguk sit there.
An hour ticks by with them sitting in relative silence. Jeongguk sketches passerby, never really completely a drawing, just letting his hand fly across the sketchpad. Taehyung leans his head on Jeongguk’s left shoulder, watches him work.
It feels strangely intimate, letting Taehyung see him like this. Normally even the thought of someone looking over his shoulder would make Jeongguk cringe, but now he feels comfortable with Taehyung there, warm by his side, fingers playing with the loose threads on the hole in his jeans.
They feel suspended in time, and Jeongguk wishes the moment could last forever.
Of course, it doesn’t. Eventually Taehyung gets off him, and stretches his legs out. He groans a little, letting his bones crack, and then checks the time on his phone. Jeongguk didn’t mean to see, but there were several unread Kakao messages.
“I gotta go meet Jimin for dinner.”
Jeongguk pretends his heart doesn’t sink to his stomach.
“Oh, that’s fine.” Jeongguk shrugs, and swallows, and tries to will his hands not to fidget too much, “I want to paint the sunset.”
“Are you good here?” Taehyung says, brushing his bangs off his forehead. The wind blows them back down. He looks beautiful. “Do you want me to get you a sandwich before I go?”
Jeongguk’s not really hungry, but the idea of Taehyung going out of his way to make sure he’s doing alright makes his heart sing. So he nods. Taehyung comes back a few minutes later, and then they say their goodbyes.
The sunset feels a little less vibrant without Taehyung there, but Jeongguk will have to make do.
Taehyung leads Jeongguk to one of the parks nearby. They’d been meaning to go up there, for the sake of it, because it was a little unfair if they’d spent an entire month passing by a park without at least bothering to look through it.
The flowers are pretty and in bloom. Pinks and purples, in the trees and in the bushes. A beautiful spring day, Jeongguk thinks. Taehyung picks out and sticks it behind Jeongguk’s ear, and Jeongguk keeps it there the entire way up.
The beaten path takes a while to climb up, but Jeongguk and Taehyung manage. They talk, chasing each other through through its zig zags. They get a few weird stares from a white couple taking a morning job, but Jeongguk just sticks his tongue out at them, which earns him a burst of laughter from Taehyung, and they clutch onto each other as they giggle some more.
The hill is way higher than expected. Halfway up, there’s a bench that overlooks the city. It’s gorgeous, the sun reflecting off the rooftops and the river, making the world sort of glisten. They sit down for a little bit. Take a breather.
Jeongguk decides there’s way too much space between them, and scoots in close. Taehyung’s arm immediately goes around Jeongguk’s shoulders as he tucks his head under Taehyung’s chin. It’s barely even noon.
“There’s a Renaissance fair today.” Taehyung says, almost out of nowhere. Jeongguk lifts his head a little, knitting his eyebrows together.
“A what ?”
“You’ve never been to one?” Taehyung says, “They’re so cool. We should go.” He’s doing that Taehyung thing where he doesn’t really answer the question, either because he can’t be bothered to explain or because he knows Jeongguk won’t like the answer. But that doesn’t sound like the latter. Jeongguk knows enough about the Renaissance from his art history classes.
Jeongguk pouts at him.
“Well, it’s kind of like getting sent back in time? People dress up as people from the middle ages, in tents, have tournaments where they fight with swords and shields. It’s really cool. I’ve been to one in Ireland. I wonder if it’s any different here.”
That sounds exhausting. Jeongguk can’t imagine going anywhere dressed up like he’s from the middle ages; each day he thanks the good lord in heaven that he was born in the era of comfortable hoodies and ripped skinny jeans. He snuggles back into Taehyung’s shoulder.
“What do we do?”
“We watch.” Taehyung shrugs — one shoulder, so not to jostle Jeongguk — and then gestures to the top of the hill. “There’s also a tower there that I want us a climb. Didn’t you want to go there? The Petrin Mini Eiffel Tower.”
“Isn’t that like, an absolute bitch to climb?”
“What, can’t handle it?” Taehyung teases, and Jeongguk pouts up at him. “Did you not climb the Eiffel Tower while you were in Paris?”
“I took the goddamn elevator like a rational human being, thanks.” Jeongguk crosses his arms over his chest, not even caring that he’s coming off like a brat. They already climbed this massive hill. The thought of more climbing is just making Jeongguk want to whine. But he’s gonna do it anyway, because now he has to prove Taehyung wrong.
The fair’s a little ways off from the park, and there’s apparently a small arena set up, with wooden stands filled to the brim with people in and out of costumes. There are peasants and jesters and noblemen, knights and ladies, regularly dressed locals, and American tourists all mixed in together, making for quite a sight. Jeongguk wishes he had his camera with him, but he settles for snapping a few pictures with his phone, raising his arms up high to capture the crowd.
Taehyung slips his hand into Jeongguk’s, gripping him tight, and Jeongguk rationalizes that it’s to keep them from losing each other in the crowd.
The Petrin Tower isn’t anywhere near as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Jeongguk puffs his chest out. He can totally take this; he’s probably done more at the step machine in the gym.
“Let’s do this. We’re going up there.”
“You sure? Big baby like you can handle all those steps?” Taehyung laughs, leading them to the ticket queue. He uses the grip he has on Jeongguk’s hand to sling it over his shoulders, and Taehyung snuggles into the crook of Jeongguk’s neck as they wait. It’s bordering on fucking PDA, and Jeongguk would want to die if he wasn’t so determined to make Taehyung eat his words.
Once they’re let into the staircase, Jeongguk and Taehyung lock eyes. Without sparing him a second, Taehyung mouths at him.
Jeongguk’s stamina is pretty good. Despite not having been able to go to the gym since he got to Prague, he’s still in top condition. He runs. The tower feels taller than he’d thought — so tall that there are benches inlain every thirty steps, and he passes by several pairs of people resting, catching their breath.
Taehyung’s behind him. That much Jeongguk knows. His muscles ache pleasantly when he reaches the top ; he only had to pause twice.
“Hah,” Jeongguk says, when a panting Taehyung reaches the top, “Beat you.”
Taehyung is practically wheezing, and he slumps forward into Jeongguk before he can reply. Jeongguk catches him in his arms, smiling down as Taehyung’s heavy breathing is so strong he feels it through his shirt.
“N-never…” Taehyung inhales loudly, and does his best to get back on his own two feet, “Never d-doubted you for a second, Jeonggukie.” He’s gripping onto Jeongguk’s shoulders, still leaning most of his weight on him, but it’s fine. It’s warm. Jeongguk pets his hair,and then hoists him up until he’s standing on his own.
“Don’t be such a big baby,” Jeongguk says, straightening Taehyung’s sweater, “It’s just some stairs.”
Taehyung sticks his tongue out at him. Jeongguk wants to kiss it.
A man cheers somewhere inside the tower and a few people follow. Taehyung looks up over people’s heads, and then the biggest grin grows on his face.
“You can see the joust from here!” Taehyung says, leading Jeongguk to the right side of the tower. It’s a bit crowded, considering everyone has the same idea, but they find a spot together, almost right by the window.
“Can you see?” Taehyung comes up behind Jeongguk and wraps an arm around his middle.
Taehyung hooks his chin on Jeongguk’s shoulder. Jeongguk doesn’t fight it anymore — not internally, not physically — and just lets himself be pressed flush against Taehyung’s chest. He leans his head on Taehyung’s for good measure.
Somewhere in the back of his head, a voice is yelling. That he should stop indulging in Taehyung’s affections, stop leaning into him, stop letting his hold your hand, stop letting him smell your hair. It’s stupid and it’s only going to hurt. The more you let it happen, the more gut wrenching it’ll be, it reasons.
But then Taehyung hums a little tune in his head, makes over-the-top swooshing sounds as the fake knights down below swing their swords, and tickles Jeongguk’s neck with his nose, and every single warning Jeongguk’s ever issued to himself flies out the window and splatters onto the pavement sixty-four meters below them.
Chapter 3: weight
“Once her love had been publicized, it would gain weight, become a burden.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Taehyung claims it’s not fair that Jeongguk’s seen his absolute disaster of a hotel room, while Taehyung hasn’t seen his. Taehyung whines the entire way back to the hotel, tugging and squeezing at Jeongguk’s fingers, making pouty faces, the works. Jeongguk resists, turns his head again, pretends he’s not enjoying every second.
It’s not that Jeongguk doesn’t want him to, or that he’s hiding something. Taehyung’s just cute when he begs, but he’d never tell him that.
Despite all the theatrics, it’s uneventful. Taehyung asks Jeongguk why he owns so much black clothing, and then proceeds to treat the bed like it’s his. Jeongguk gets about a third of the space to lounge, while Taehyung just openly sprawls. Probably rubbing his disgusting and not at all gorgeous citrusy scent all over the sheets. Jeongguk should call the cops.
They talk over room service meals, sitting on the floor together. It feels way too domestic — trying not to get food on the carpet, sitting there in just their socks, Taehyung’s comfortable basketball shorts riding up just high enough to drive Jeongguk mad — and Jeongguk tries not to think about how comfortable he feels.
They sort through their photos, looking at each other’s screen, swiping through their camera rolls side by side. They have about two week’s worth to go through, because for some reason neither of them had thought to send them to each other beforehand. There had always been an underlying promise of tomorrow. The realization made Jeongguk’s chest ache; he did his best to ignore it.
“Oh, send me that one.”
“Wasn’t this for your mom?”
“Look at your face !”
Jeongguk swears he could listen to Taehyung laugh forever, could watch his smile grow until his eyes were shut, could stare at the way his mouth stretched into that rectangle grin for the rest of his life. More often than not, Taehyung leans into him when he laughs, touching him lightly, grabbing his arm. Everything.
What he doesn’t notice is how he’s gone far enough back his camera roll that the next few swipes are from right before the trip, and Taehyung catches a glimpse before Jeongguk can scramble to lock his phone.
There’s a shuffling behind him, and suddenly Taehyung’s legs are on either side of Jeongguk, his back pressed flush against his chest. Taehyung leans forward and hooks his chin over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and he can feel each exhale against his exposed collarbones.
For a second, Jeongguk freezes, fingers hovering over his phone, but once Taehyung’s arms snake around his waist, he relaxes, leaning back into the other boy’s warmth. The window’s ajar, letting in the cold night air. It feels nice. Safe.
The phone nearly falls out of Jeongguk’s grip, but Taehyung’s hand comes up to cover Jeongguk’s, fingers curling over his, keeping the phone in place. On the screen is a selfie clearly taken in the mirror of a gym, Jeongguk’s shirt lifted, his abs exposed, and a face every fuckboy within a hundred mile radius would be proud of.
“Oh my god,” Taehyung says, muffling a laugh against Jeongguk’s shoulder. He zooms right into Jeongguk’s goods, laughs so hard his entire body shakes. Jeongguk wants to die right then and there — more so than any other times he’s wanted to die in Taehyung’s presence — and swear he flushes all the way down to his belly button.
After a minute of so of laughing, Jeongguk’s screen goes dim, and Taehyung taps it to wake it up. The embarrassing picture’s still there, staring right up at Jeongguk, making him regret every single decision he’s made in his sad twenty two year old life.
Taehyung stills then, breathing going back to normal. Jeongguk’s about to swipe away to hide his shame when Taehyung speaks, right by his ear.
“Mmm, I like it though,” Taehyung says, “Send it to me?” His voice is low, nearly a whisper. The hand around Jeongguk’s waist creeps underneath the hem of his sweater, fingers dancing along the muscles on his stomach. A shiver rattles through Jeongguk, and he feels his cheeks heat up even more.
“O-okay…” Jeongguk’s fingers shake as he taps on his phone, Taehyung’s hands exploring further. The moment the photo’s been sent to their Kakao chat box, Taehyung takes the phone from Jeongguk’s hands and places it down on the bedside table.
“You should take more photos like that,” Taehyung says, pressing a kiss to the shell of Jeongguk’s ear. He exhales softly before taking Jeongguk’s stud between his teeth, tugging lightly at his lobe, “Show all this off.” Taehyung’s finger brushes over a nipple and Jeongguk throws his head back onto his shoulder, gasping.
It’s been so long since Jeongguk’s been touched like this. The half year he spent buried in his studies after his last excursion in Hong Kong, the last man who’d broken his heart. He was doing so well, taking this trip as a break, as a reward. But Taehyung’s moved to leaving searing kisses all over his neck, and Jeongguk allows himself to tilt his head to the side, offering himself up to this new man in this new city.
Both of Taehyung’s hands under his sweater move upward in an attempt to tug it off, and he lets it fall to the floor. The window is open and the air is cold, but Taehyung’s fingers are warm on his skin and his breath is hot as he kisses down Jeongguk’s back, pressing his lips to every knob on his spine. It makes his entire body come alight, feels the buzz all the way down to his toes, enthralled by how gentle Taehyung is being, how much tenderness fills every touch.
Soon, Jeongguk’s back is pressed against Taehyung’s chest again, and Taehyung’s fingers go to cradle his jaw, turning his head to face him. Only when Taehyung’s lips are a breath away from his does Jeongguk jolt awake, eyes springing open.
“I —” Jeongguk’s breathing goes ragged, and he moves away from Taehyung so quickly that he ends up with his ass on the floor. Suddenly the room’s too hot, too cold all at once, and it makes Jeongguk’s throat want to close up, makes him want to dissolve into the ground.
“Jeongguk, are you oka —”
Taehyung looks so concerned . It makes Jeongguk’s stomach twist into knots.
“I c-can’t — I —“ Jeongguk scrambles to get up, grabbing his sweater and attempting to slip it back on in one swift motion, but it gets caught on his ear and his nose, and he feels like an idiot pulling it down. It’s inside out vaguely registers in his head.
Taehyung’s stood up now, hands held out, like he wants to touch Jeongguk but can’t figure out if he can. Jeongguk swallows the lump in his throat and goes to push Taehyung out the door.
“You have to go,” Jeongguk says, and there’s desperation lining his voice, “ Please . I’m s-sorry, but —” He keeps mumbling incoherent apologies until the door’s closed, locked, and Taehyung’s gone.
Jeongguk’s fine. He’s okay. Jeongguk’s back hits the door a little too forcefully, and he slides down, face buried in his hands. The tears slip out with little warning, dripping down his cheeks, staining his inside-out sweater. He can’t cry. He won’t cry. This is stupid. He’s stupid.
“Guk? Can you tell me what’s wrong?” Taehyung calls out, desperate, worried, like he cares. Jeongguk ignores him.
“I’m sorry, Jeongguk.” Taehyung says from the other side of the door, and Jeongguk can feel the footsteps as he walks away. The door to his room opens and shuts, a little too carefully, and Jeongguk feels his heart ache even more.
His hands shake as he tries to wipe the tears away, palms burning hot from the pain. Even after all these years, all Jeongguk knows how to do is fuck things up. Maybe he wasn’t meant to fall in love, maybe he wasn’t meant to stay in love. Maybe he’s destined to go in circles his entire life, his sadness trapped inside, naive, lonely, the only thing he’ll ever know.
A new city, a new country. A new man. Each time, sweeping Jeongguk off his feet, reaching out, grabbing his heart out of his chest like it’s always been his to keep. Jeongguk just lets them. He wants to love, has love to give. But they always leave. Jeongguk always has to leave. And they never try to find a way to stay.
Why did he think Taehyung would be different?
Jeongguk needs to book a plane. He needs to go back home.
Nip it at the bud, Jeongguk thinks. Don’t kiss him. Don’t let him kiss you. Forget that he’s there, on the other side of this wall, and pretend he doesn’t want it to happen.
The sun is shining the next day. Jeongguk wants it to burn him into nothing.
There’s little else Jeongguk wants to do than stay in his hotel room. No matter how many times he tossed and turned in his sleep, the bed still smelled like Taehyung. Even in his dreams, he saw Taehyung’s smile, could feel the phantom touch of his hands on his skin, and it made Jeongguk wake up in a cold sweat. He never should’ve let Taehyung take him to his room that night, never should’ve slept next to him.
So he leaves at around eight in the morning, sketchbook in his bag. Skips out on the hotel breakfast, not even bothering to risk running into Taehyung. Heads away from the roads they’ve explored together, wanders the city like he would have done had he not met up with Taehyung the first goddamn day.
Eventually Jeongguk settles in a cafe. It’s in a closed off area, with a glass door covered in posters. He takes a seat deep inside, far away from the windows, out of view, and orders a cappuccino.
When the coffee arrives, he sketches it. He sketches the tables and the chairs. The cafe itself. He lets his mind drain itself, focuses on the mindlessness of sketching things right in front of you, not bothering to be clean. Before Jeongguk knows it, it’s lunch, and he orders a salad with some pasta. He sketches those too, before eating them slowly.
For the whole day, Jeongguk moves as if he’s wading through water, limbs heavy and breathing slow and the air thick. Guilt blooms in his chest every once in a while, making his fingers tingle until he picks up his pencil and focuses on drawing again.
The day passes by like that. Barely five words have left Jeongguk’s lips the whole day, and he leaves the cafe no better than he was when he entered. There used to be days like this back when he was in high school; Saturdays when he did nothing but sit somewhere and draw, avoiding the world, even Namjoon, and they never worked. He doesn’t know why he thinks doing it a thousand miles away from home would do it any better.
When Jeongguk reaches the bridge, the crowds have thinned out, and the sky is streaked pink and gold. It’s beautiful. And Jeongguk can imagine which colors in his palette that would look good on white paper. The pale browns of the city fading out into the water, the ripples of the sky’s reflection. The unfinished watercolor sitting in his room was for Taehyung. Jeongguk wonders if he’ll ever finish it.
It’s dark when Jeongguk heads back. His head feels heavy, like his brain is sloshing around, and like his limbs are made of stone. The walk back to the hotel exhausts him. By the time he reaches the stairs, he wants nothing more than to sink back down into bed, and sleep. Hopefully not dream.
But when he reaches the second landing, the only thing he sees is Taehyung, sitting on the floor. Right outside of his room.
Was he waiting?
“Jeongguk,” Taehyung says, standing up as soon as he sees him, “Hi.”
Jeongguk swallows, taking out his room key.
Taehyung is quiet as Jeongguk tries to open the door. His hands keep shaking, and it takes him a couple of tries to get the key in. It seems like Taehyung wants to help at one point, hand reaching for it, but he retracts it. Lets Jeongguk do it himself. Once the door’s open, Jeongguk looks at Taehyung, and bites his lip.
“Did you want to —”
“Can we talk?” Taehyung blurts out, and there’s a nervous energy in the way he moves that Jeongguk’s never seen before.
“Sure.” Jeongguk croaks out, and they both go into his room. Jeongguk puts his key and his bag down, and then turns to look at the other boy.
The entire time he’s known him, Taehyung’s been confident, shameless, secure in who he is and what he wanted. This Taehyung was different. His shoulders are curled forward, hands wringing, bangs falling over his eyes.
Jeongguk swallows, and lets his arms fall limp to his sides.
“What is it?”
Taehyung’s bottom lip trembles, and then he takes a deep breath. When he speaks, it’s rushed and panicked, like he’d rehearsed but can’t seem to remember his lines, and each word stabs Jeongguk’s heart, makes him want to disappear.
“I’m really sorry. I — did I read the situation wrong? I know I’ve been flirting since the beginning, but that was mostly because you blushed all cute whenever I did.” Taehyung laughs a little, weak, “But then, I… Um, well, I started to flirt because I wanted to, and you flirted back? Pretty sure. We cuddled for a whole day, for god’s sake. We...we basically acted like... so I thought — And last night, you were okay when I touched you at first, so I thought I was okay — I’m sorry if I overstepped any —”
“God, shut up .”
It takes Jeongguk two steps to get to Taehyung, and he crashes their lips together, his arms wrapping around Taehyung’s waist, pulling him in. The other boy freezes in his arms. He doesn’t respond, and Jeongguk pulls away, resting his forehead against Taehyung’s.
There’s genuine confusion in his eyes. And Jeongguk understands, knows why Taehyung hesitates, but he closes his eyes and exhales, tries to tell Taehyung it’s okay.
Taehyung’s thumb comes up to Jeongguk’s bottom lip, dragging it down, soft, careful. Jeongguk nods.
When their lips meet again, it’s rough, harsh, Taehyung’s mouth opening for him right away, their tongues sliding together. Taehyung kisses like he wants to steal Jeongguk’s breath away, his hands cradling his jaw, and his entire body curving forward, pressing flush against him.
Fuck it , Jeongguk thinks, sliding his hands down to cup Taehyung’s ass, kneading the flesh through his jeans. Their clothed cocks rub against each other with the movement, and Taehyung gasps against his lips, arm going around to grab at his shoulders.
“B-bed?” Taehyung breathes out, before going back in to kiss Jeongguk again, hands grabbing at every part of him, like he’ll never get enough. Jeongguk nods furiously, and Taehyung doesn’t waste a second.
Taehyung pushes him back by his shoulders. When the back of Jeongguk knees hit the edge, Taehyung shoves him until he falls backward, bouncing a little against the mattress.
“You have no idea —” Taehyung crawls towards Jeongguk, caging him in with both arms on either side of his head. “How long I’ve wanted to do this.” Taehyung kisses along the underside of Jeongguk’s jaw, drawing out a low groan, each touch hot and purposeful.
“Enlighten me.” Jeongguk chokes out, grabbing at the hem of Taehyung’s shirt and pulling it over his head. Taehyung giggles against his skin.
“From the second I saw you.” Taehyung’s voice is low all of a sudden, and it makes a shudder run down Jeongguk’s spine. “At the gate, before we boarded. I’d never really fantasized about joining the Mile High Club before, but looking at you —”
“I looked like a mess then, though,” Jeongguk pouts a little, remembering how fucked up he’d been after the flight from Seoul to Paris. Taehyung just laughs.
“A hot mess.”
“Just kiss me, will you?” Jeongguk grabs his jaw and pulls him in, and he can feel Taehyung’s smile against his lips. It makes both his actual dick and his heart twitch.
Taehyung slips his hands under Jeongguk’s sweater, fingertips only grazing his skin, leaving a trail of fire up his chest. Once they’re both shirtless, Taehyung pushes him down against the mattress, and the feeling of skin on skin is almost overwhelming. All of Jeongguk’s nerves are tingling, all of his pent up frustration exploding out of him.
Nearly a month’s worth of dicklust. Jeongguk’s surprised he didn’t bust a nut the moment their lips touched.
Taehyung’s nips across his collarbones, all over his chest, frantic and thorough all at once. Breath hot against his skin, sucking bruises where he can, tongue laving at the marks. Jeongguk hooks his legs around Taehyung’s hips, and drags him down on top of him.
“Easy there, tiger.” Taehyung says, coming back up to kiss him again.
“Can’t help it,” Jeongguk mumbles, taking Taehyung’s bottom lip between his teeth and tugging, “Impatient.”
“Mhm.” Taehyung’s hands slide down the sides of torso, thumbing at his abs. “Impatient for what?” He pushes Jeongguk’s pants past his hipbones, and runs his fingers over the small bit of hair it exposes. Jeongguk damn near whines, hips wriggling against Taehyung’s.
Taehyung grins into Jeongguk’s collarbone. “What about me?” He kisses softly across it, and then all the way down between Jeongguk’s pecs. “I’m right here.”
Jeongguk pouts, draping his arms around Taehyung’s shoulders.
“You know what I — ah !”
Jeongguk nearly cries out when Taehyung’s lips reach his nipple, tugging lightly. His hands go down to fist the sheets, arching up to meet him halfway.
“Sensitive.” Taehyung comments, lips still wrapped out the nub.
“Just get on with it.”
“You still haven’t answered me, Jeonggukie.” Taehyung moves further down, gripping Jeongguk’s hips. “Get on with what?” His licks around Jeongguk’s navel, nuzzling the hard muscle there, and Jeongguk whimpers.
What a goddamn tease. Jeongguk should’ve known. Jeongguk’s hands move down to try and get his belt off, but Taehyung swats him away. He does it himself, agonizingly slow, and then tugs Jeongguk’s zipper down with his teeth. Jeongguk swears he feels his dick jump.
Taehyung sucks on Jeongguk’s hipbone, right above the hem of his boxes, and sweat dots Jeongguk’s brow. He reaches to grab Taehyung’s head, lead him down, but Taehyung catches his wrist, and sucks on the tip of his index finger.
“What is it you want, Jeonggukie?” Taehyung exhales hot, right over his clothed dick, hand tight around his wrist, and Jeongguk bites back a scream.
“P- Please , Tae —”
With one swift motion, Taehyung slips Jeongguk’s boxer briefs down. It springs free, falling on Jeongguk’s stomach, head already red and leaking. Jeongguk almost swears he’s usually not this sensitive, but then Taehyung’s large hands wrap around it and all coherent thoughts fly out the window.
“ Fuck. ” Jeongguk breathes out, hand reaching out to tug at Taehyung’s hair.
Taehyung kisses the tip, tonguing at the slit, and then lets his mouth rub lightly against the head. Slow and careful, smearing the precome, slipping it slowly past his lips and then pulling it back out.
Jeongguk lifts his head, propping himself up on his elbow to get a better look, and the sight nearly knocks the air out of his lungs. Taehyung’s eyelashes splayed out, a pretty flush on his cheeks, lips kiss swollen and bright red around the tip of his cock.
“You taste so good, Gukkie,” Taehyung mumbles, and then sinks down slowly, taking Jeongguk in inch by inch into the heat of his mouth. Jeongguk groans low, pleasure licking up his gut, falling back down onto the bed.
Taehyung slips his arms underneath Jeongguk’s thighs, hooking them over his shoulders. And then he takes all of Jeongguk, nose hitting the bit of hair at the base of his dick.
The feeling of his dick hitting the back of Taehyung’s throat is too much. It makes Jeongguk struggle to crane his head up. With a shaky hand, he brushes back Taehyung’s hair, staring down at him as Taehyung swallows around him a few times.
When he starts bobbing his head, Jeongguk’s managed to hold himself up again, grabbing at Taehyung’s hair and pushing him down. The room is dead silent save from their heavy breathing, and the sound of Taehyung choking makes Jeongguk lightheaded.
“C-Can I —” Jeongguk’s hips buck forward lightly, and Taehyung nods, slipping off. He places a gentle kiss on the tip before grabbing Jeongguk’s thighs and pulling him towards the edge of the bed.
Taehyung’s knees hitting the carpet, and he takes Jeongguk in his mouth again, bobbing up and down a few times before unlocking his jaw. Taehyung looks up at Jeongguk with the most intoxicating eyes — wide and dark, blown black, like he’d do anything he asked — and it makes a new wave of want surge through him.
Jeongguk braces himself on the bed behind him, and then thrusts forward, fucking into him. Taehyung’s nails are dig into his thighs, and the pain eggs him on. Once he’s sure Taehyung’s adjusted, he fucks him harder, watching as Taehyung’s eyes water at the force. It’s nearly overwhelming, and Jeongguk has to squeeze his eyes shut as he jerks his hips messily into the heat of Taehyung’s mouth.
When he feels the pleasure build up, Jeongguk stops, grabbing Taehyung by the hair and pulling him back up for an open-mouthed kiss. Taehyung licks greedily into him, tracing the back of his teeth with his tongue, and Jeongguk pulls him back on top of him, scooting back onto the center of the bed.
Jeongguk swears he could just spend hours making out with Taehyung with no complaints, because every kiss is making him dizzy with want, making his head fog up in the most delicious way. The way their lips slide against each other and the tang of his own sweat on Taehyung’s tongue leaves him near delirious, desperate for more, yet in no rush.
“D’you have lube?” Taehyung mumbles against his lips, unbuckling his own pants and then kicking them onto the floor.
Jeongguk nods, “Um, y-yeah, in my backpack pocket. There.” Taehyung detaches to glance where he’s pointing, and then runs his hands down along Jeongguk’s torso, pauses to squeeze his ass.
“Mmm, good.” Taehyung kisses Jeongguk again, deep but innocent, and then leans his forehead against his, eyes burning. “I wanna ride you.”
Taehyung gets up from the bed, leaving Jeongguk cold and still processing the words. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t fantasized about this a couple of times, hadn’t imagined the feeling of Taehyung’s thighs as he took his dick, the way his eyes would look as they rolled back in his head.
The bottle and the condom are tossed onto the mattress next to Jeongguk. Taehyung climbs back on top of him and sucks on his bottom lip, eases him towards the top of the bed until Jeongguk’s leaning against the headboard.
“I’ll do it for you, babe.” Taehyung whispers into Jeongguk’s ear, biting at his stud. “Just watch.”
The other side of the bed suddenly feels miles away. Taehyung spreads his legs, and Jeongguk takes the time to marvel at how gorgeous he is. The way his smooth tan skin glows in the light, and the lean muscle of his thighs, leading up to his ass. His dick is hard and pretty against his soft stomach, hanging to the side. Jeongguk swears if he ever meets god, he’ll have to personally thank him for creating Kim Taehyung.
Taehyung rubs the lube between his fingers, and then caresses the inside of his thigh. Jeongguk wants so badly to reach over and touch, to drag his tongue across the expanse of his legs, bites hard at the flesh there, but he resists. Keeps his back against the headboard, and watches.
The tip of Taehyung’s index finger circles his hole, and he winces as the first finger enters, taking it slow. His mouth falls open, adam’s apple bobbing. It’s so incredibly hot. Jeongguk’s eyes bulge in his head, the sight of the finger disappearing into Taehyung making his dick ache.
It feels absolutely surreal, watching Taehyung prep himself up for Jeongguk’s cock. The way his thighs quiver at the feeling of his own fingers, the way his chest rises and falls as he pants. Seeing his body spread out so pretty, his to take, to have. Jeongguk never realized how much he wanted it until he had to sit there, not allowed to touch.
Taehyung pumps in and out a couple of times before slipping in a second, and the way he throws his head back is mesmerizing, throat exposed. Soon, two fingers are knuckle deep inside of him. When the third finger’s in, Taehyung starts scissoring, and he’s letting out these little breathy gasps that go straight to Jeongguk’s dick. Each sound is making it more and more difficult for Jeongguk to stay still.
“Fucking — come here.” Jeongguk says, reaching out to Taehyung. Thee other boy slips his fingers out, whining at the loss, and then crawls over.
Still sitting up, Jeongguk grabs Taehyung’s hips. Jeongguk nearly cums then and there when Taehyung rips the condom open with his teeth and rolls it onto Jeongguk. He squeezes more lube onto his hand, warming it up. Jeongguk has to keep from hissing when Taehyung slicks him up, his fingers pretty and long, wrapped completely around him. Jeongguk kisses Taehyung, craning his head up to meet him, groaning when Taehyung tugs at the roots of his hair.
“Ready, babe?” Jeongguk asks, lining him up, and Taehyung nods.
Jeongguk suppresses a groan against Taehyung’s shoulder as he sinks down slowly, bracing himself on Jeongguk’s shoulders. Jeongguk’s head goes absolutely blank, nothing except the feeling of Taehyung squeezing around him. Taehyung sucks in Jeongguk’s dick so well, the tight heat swallowing him up completely. Once Taehyung’s fully seated, they stay there for a little bit, letting him adjust, panting into each other’s mouths.
After a minute, Taehyung starts moving, raising himself up and sinking back down. Jeongguk has to keep himself from crying out, pleasure coursing through him in thick waves. It’s slow at first, sensual, Taehyung just breathing into Jeongguk’s neck, whimpering incoherencies that sound a lot like his name as he takes him. Jeongguk does him best to guide his with a tight grip on his hips, hands spreading his cheeks further apart.
“God, Jeongguk,” Taehyung breathes out, “You feel so good .” Jeongguk’s heart jumps to his throat, breath rushing out of him, but he doesn’t get to respond.
Taehyung speeds up, clutching tighter at Jeongguk’s shoulders as he starts bouncing fervently, speeding up until each rise and fall jerks Jeongguk towards the edge further. The sound of skin slapping against skin is deafening, and Taehyung’s flushed cock brushes against Jeongguk’s abs with each bounce.
“Let me —” Jeongguk eases himself down against the pillows, fingers still tight on Taehyung’s hips. He plants his feet down onto the mattress, and then he thrusts upward, so hard that Taehyung’s entire body jolts.
“God, yes,” Taehyung cries out as Jeongguk thrusts up again, and again, finding a rhythm that has both of them hazy with pleasure. Taehyung’s mouth goes slack, not bothering to keep quiet, moaning shamelessly each time Jeongguk thrusts up, burying his dick deep inside him.
After a bit, Taehyung forces him still, bending forward, palms flat against Jeongguk’s pecs. That’s when Taehyung starts to really ride him, hips circling, Jeongguk’s dick sliding in and out deliciously with each movement. It has Jeongguk’s eyes rolling back in his head, the very sight of Taehyung’s thighs quivering from exertion leaving him breathless.
Taehyung rides dick like he was born for it, enthusiastic and like it’s the only thing in the world that matters, the only thought Jeongguk can manage to form is Taehyung’s name, over and over again.
“Jeonggukie, I’m g-gonna —” Taehyung’s nails scratch down Jeongguk’s chest, his movements getting more frantic, shifting to rocking his hips back and forth. The slide of his cock is incredible, the feeling of Taehyung clenching around him incomparable to anything else he’s felt in ages. Jeongguk looks up at him, thumbs digging harshly into his hips.
“C-can you —”
“Can I —” Taehyung grunts as he sinks down deep, and eases himself up, “Can I what, Jeonggukie?”
Jeongguk moans low as Taehyung squeezes around him. “My face — On my face— “
“ Fuck. ” Taehyung’s rhythm falters for a second. “Okay.” With a few last shallow bounces, Taehyung pulls him out, and on shaky legs comes forward a little. Jeongguk sits up, cranes his head down so it’s just underneath Taehyung’s dick, and opens his mouth wide, tongue sticking out.
It only takes two or three tugs from Taehyung before he’s spilling all of Jeongguk, strings of come splattering across his face. Jeongguk’s tongue darts out to lick it up, really making a show of it. He wipes some off his cheek with a finger, and then sucks it into his mouth.
Taehyung’s eyes are foggy and sated, but Jeongguk can see that he’s following every moment. Panting, Taehyung wipes some off Jeongguk’s face, and Jeongguk sucks on his thumb as well, swirling his tongue around the digit.
“M-my turn.” Taehyung says, sliding down the bed until he’s face to face with Jeongguk’s dick. Taehyung slips off the condom and tosses it aside, before taking the whole thing into his mouth, flattening his tongue on the underside, and swallowing.
Jeongguk’s cries out, throwing his head back. It doesn’t take much for him to cum, and Taehyung doesn’t pull off, swallowing every last bit of it, sucking with vigor.
He milks Jeongguk until he’s gone soft and sensitive, groaning from overstimulation. Taehyung releases him with a pop, and then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. The grin on his face is devilish but content at the same time, and it makes Jeongguk want to kiss him again.
Taehyung plops down next to Jeongguk, curling an arm around his middle. They catch their breaths, their heavy panting echoing around the room, and come down from their highs.
Eventually Taehyung shifts to rest his head on Jeongguk’s shoulder, snuggling in close. His face and some of his chest are still covered in cum, and they’re both covered in sweat, but somehow Taehyung still wants to cuddle, rubbing his cheek into Jeongguk’s warm skin. The heat is almost stifling, but Jeongguk’s finding it hard to complain.
“We should probably clean up.” Jeongguk croaks out later, and Taehyung hums.
“Probably.” He stretches his legs and arms out, like a cat, getting all up in Jeongguk’s space, and then curls back into a fetal position and latches to Jeongguk’s side. “I wanna stay here, though.”
“You’re gonna feel gross eventually.” Jeongguk bends his arm to card his fingers through Taehyung’s sweaty hair, and the other boy leans into the touch.
“Eventually.” Taehyung hums, “But for now, we snuggle.”
Jeongguk sighs, and closes his eyes.
When Jeongguk wakes up, the first thing he realizes is he’s been cleaned. There’s no cum caked on his face, the sheets have been changed, and the blanket that was kicked off the bed in the middle of the last night is wrapped around his crotch.
The other side of the bed is warm. And Taehyung’s phone is on top of his by the bedside table.
Jeongguk falls back onto the bed, and has to bite back a scream. That really happened. He really fucked Taehyung. All his talk (well, thinking) about how he wouldn’t let himself give in, about how he was going to keep his distance. All gone. Out the window. The floodgates have been unlocked, and now Jeongguk’s not sure if he’s going to be able to stop himself from touching Taehyung ever again.
Taehyung had stayed there, with him. And had cleaned him up too, made sure he was comfortable. That in itself made Jeongguk’s heart hang heavy in his chest. Instead of giving him any answers, Jeongguk’s more confused than ever.
The toilet flushes. Jeongguk settles back into the pillows, and closes his eyes.
The bed dips as Taehyung climbs back on, and he immediately settles into Jeongguk’s side. A content hum slips past his lips as he snakes his arms around Jeongguk’s waist and hooks his leg around his hips.
“You’re such a deep sleeper, Gukkie,” Taehyung mumbles softly, breath fanning over Jeongguk’s throat, “It’s a wonder you manage to get up to see me every morning.”
Jeongguk exhales, and gives in. He already tossed everything else out the window last night. Might as well go all the way, while he can.
Jeongguk turns to face Taehyung, tangling their legs and hugging him close. As close as he can. Taehyung freezes. Jeongguk tucks Taehyung’s head underneath his chin, wrapping his arms gently around Taehyung’s shoulders, and then holds his breath.
After a second, Taehyung relaxes against him, and hugs him back.
Jeongguk inhales deep. He tries not to think about the ache in his chest, stamps it down until it’s a nothing but dull throb, and falls back asleep.
Yoongi shakes ash onto the pavement. It blows away in the breeze.
There’s not much Jeongguk wants to do aside from lounge around all day. Taehyung promised to take Jimin to one of the museums they’d already went to, so Jeongguk decided to sit this one out. There wasn’t anything that should change between them. Sex didn’t have to mean anything. There wasn’t time this morning to talk. Jeongguk didn’t want to talk about it.
They didn’t have to be anything. Taehyung didn’t kiss him goodbye when he left; he didn’t ask to meet Jimin. At least now Jeongguk knows they’re not dating. Probably.
The alleyway next to the hotel isn’t the most ideal place to hang out, but it’s better than rotting alone in his hotel room. Despite the fresh sheets, Jeongguk swears his bed still smells like Taehyung. Hallucinating isn’t something he fucks with, so it’s better not to stay there.
“Congrats, by the way.” Yoongi breaks the silence, mumbling around his cigarette. Jeongguk furrows his brow at him.
Yoongi rolls his eyes.
“Finally getting your dick wet, moron.”
Jeongguk swears he turns white as a sheet. Yoongi’s lip quirks up at his expression, and Jeongguk wants to die. It’s been less than day, and he hasn’t even told anyone else.
“I didn’t —”
“No use lying, kid.” Yoongi chuckles, shaking his head. “We change your damn sheets.”
Right. Jeongguk pouts, crossing his arms over his chest. It was already impossible to live around here, with Yoongi constantly on his ass to tell Taehyung how he feels. The last thing he needed was Yoongi knowing they’d fucked.
“Fucker.” Jeongguk grumbles. There’s no use arguing. Might as well be a little shit about it. “You’ll have to start changing them more often.”
“Just part of my job.” Yoongi tosses the cigarette on the ground and twists his under shoe to put it out. “Still, congrats. That took way too fucking long.”
They’re quiet for a little bit. Yoongi lights up a second cigarette, the click of the lighter echoing in the small alleyway. Jeongguk stares at the ground, at the sky, anywhere but Yoongi. When he finally looks back at him, he’s finished the stick. Jeongguk lets out a long breath.
Yoongi looks up at him.
Jeongguk swallows, and shrugs one shoulder. Might as well ask.
“Are you going to?”
The scowl on his face proves he knows exactly what Jeongguk means, but Yoongi’s never seemed like an easy person to convince. Despite having known him for only a few weeks, Jeongguk figures maybe a push from even the likes of him could help.
“To what, kid?”
Yoongi’s already shoved his pack and his lighter back into his pockets, turned towards the door. It worried Jeongguk, just how quickly he’s ready to exit the conversation, just from the mere mention of doing something to change his circumstance. At the thought of taking a risk.
Jeongguk sighs, kicks a loose stone into the gutter.
“Make a move.”
Yoongi hesitates at the threshold, and then exhales. It’s shaky, and Jeongguk can see the way his knuckles are taut against his skin as he grips the door.
“None of your business.”
With that, he goes inside, and the door shuts behind him.
Despite Jeongguk’s desperate pleas to the good lord in heaven, everything does change after that.
The dates continue, through they’ve decided to space out the tours for a bit. There are only so many tourist traps in this city, and frankly they’re exhausted. Jeongguk in particular was absolutely drained, so he’s taken to sleeping in a little more, skipping breakfast for brunch. All still with Taehyung.
Their next mission becomes to try every single restaurant in the city. Moreso Taehyung’s mission, but Jeongguk’s fine coming along. He’d always loved food, but he had a boring habit of rotating through the same three places whenever he traveled. He liked the routine.
Taehyung’s his routine now. Every place feels familiar and safe as long as he’s sitting across from Jeongguk, he’d said one night, and Jeongguk would’ve blushed if he wasn’t already red-faced from the alcohol.
It takes a few days before one of them initiates it again.
Despite the weight lifted off Jeongguk’s chest, it still feels like they’re tiptoeing around each other. The tension in the air seemed electric. Deadly even, like when you know a rope’s one tug away from snapping, when one more weight will make the ceiling give way. Like one spark could ignite them both, but neither of them were willing to jump back into whatever dangerous waters they’ve found themselves in. Dumb metaphors Jeongguk’s probably only using because of the fucking Literature major he’s spending all his goddamn time with.
Like most things, the second time is more intense than the first; Jeongguk had been antsy all day, touching Taehyung whenever he had the chance, letting his hand linger, whispers into his ear every chance he gets. There’s a sick kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing he’s riling up Taehyung. It’s stupid, how he’s too shy to invite Taehyung back into his room but he’s bold enough to make Taehyung blush cherry red in public.
Clearly two days had been two long. When Jeongguk hesitates at the door of his room, all it takes is a look before Taehyung’s rushing him in. Jeongguk lets himself be grabbed, smirking wildly at Taehyung’s eyes, already blown black, kissing him like it’s the last thing he’ll ever taste.
Taehyung slams Jeongguk’s back against the door, and fucks him standing up like that. The prep is rushed, frantic. Taehyung wastes no time, and yet Jeongguk’s never felt more alive.
His nerve endings are alight as Taehyung slams into him, his shirt only ridden up, head thrown back against the wood. The sheer strength Taehyung uses to hold him up is so fucking hot in itself, Jeongguk’s not sure how he’s still alive.
The third time, it’s in Taehyung’s room. It’s after they’ve had a few drinks — enough to loosen them a little, but not enough that they’re drunk — and Taehyung spends so long kissing Jeongguk all over, rubbing his hands across his skin, paying attention to every curve and divot of his body. Absolutely worships him. It’s overwhelming, the feeling of his lips on every inch of his body.
The fourth time, they’re too tired to really move, so Jeongguk sucks Taehyung off lazily as they lay in bed, mind hazy and content from exhaustion. Taehyung returns the favor with a slow handjob, their lips never leaving each other as Jeongguk rides out his orgasm, coming all over Taehyung’s fingers.
Soon Jeongguk loses count. Jeongguk would be lying if he said Taehyung in the bedroom was anything short of a dream; he was somehow a master at picking up on even the smallest of cues, reading the way Jeongguk responded to him as easily as a book, mapping his way across Jeongguk’s body as if he’d done it thousands of times before. Everything that makes him tick, the spots of him that are sensitive; it’s unbelievable how easily Taehyung can just pluck them out of him, Jeongguk’s entire being spread open before him every night.
No matter how many things they try, how many questions about kinks and turn ons and preference Taehyung asks and Jeongguk answers, what’s constant is how much care Taehyung puts into every night. Jeongguk does what he can to return the favor, but Taehyung’s always insisting he do the clean up, that he pet Jeongguk’s hair till he falls asleep, that he gets the last kiss. It’s incredibly sweet, but it does nothing to soothe the worry in Jeongguk’s heart.
Jeongguk knows that it’s all probably borne out of experience, that it’s because Taehyung’s fucked so many men before that allows him to be able to unravel Jeongguk so easily. But every night, Taehyung looks at Jeongguk like he’s the only thing in the world that matters, and Jeongguk’s scared it’s just another one of his skills. That Taehyung doesn’t mean it. And he doesn’t.
It’s addicting, everything Taehyung does. Jeongguk’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to stop.
Soon he’ll be on a plane home, and Taehyung’s not coming with him. Surely Taehyung knows that, and the idea that this is nothing more than practice to him leaves a bitter taste in Jeongguk’s mouth.
The watercolor of the sunset is finished at some point, and Taehyung holds it gingerly to his chest when Jeongguk gives it to him. Throughout the month he’s known him, it’s the softest, most genuine smile he’s ever received, and it makes him feel warm all the way down to his toes.
Jeongguk tosses the word around a few times. Allows it a space in his head, in the late hours of the night, when Taehyung’s fast asleep and curled up by his side. Out of all the people in the world, Jeongguk manages to end up with someone who cuddles in his sleep. Even his dreams aren’t a welcome respite from the confusion, the pain.
It’s the sixth week when Jeongguk decides maybe he’ll let himself love Taehyung. Maybe this time it’ll be different.
Taehyung hasn’t seen Jimin in a while, that much Jeongguk knows. Since most of their nights are occupied, there hasn’t been much room for the usual dinners the two have, and Jeongguk’s sure Taehyung’s starting to miss his friend.
The first time Taehyung mentioned him by name was when he’d given up any shroud of secrecy around Jimin. It was like Taehyung couldn’t physically stop himself from telling Jeongguk about him: The Best Friend. He’s from Busan too, apparently, here on vacation, and can only find time for Taehyung once every week. Jeongguk hadn’t noticed, but their dinners were usually on Thursdays.
“Can I meet him?” Jeongguk blurts out one day over afternoon coffee. Taehyung looks up from pouring another packet of sugar into his cup.
“Jimin?” Taehyung blinks at him, smiles, and then shrugs, in that order. “Yeah, sure.”
Jeongguk’s eyes widen just a bit, his bottom lip jutting out.
“Yeah, I just — “ Taehyung shrugs ago, stirring his drink. The small metal spoon clinks loudly against the mug. “I dunno why I haven’t introduced you, actually. You guys would get along well.”
Jeongguk knows only bits and pieces of Jimin — about how he’s short but doesn’t like being reminded of it, how he has the temperament of a chihuahua, how he prefers Taeyang over G-Dragon, how he loves to dance — but Jeongguk still finds it hard to conjure up a full person in his head. Let alone a person he’d get along with.
Taehyung’s shrugging way too much. It’s unusual, but Jeongguk lets it slide.
“I guess I just assumed you wouldn’t want to meet him.”
Taehyung was right. Jeongguk doesn’t. It’s petty irrational jealousy, and putting a face to it might make things worse. Jeongguk just wishes he could just forget about it, be satisfied that he has Taehyung when he does, but he can’t. The anxiety’s getting to him.
The idea that he and Taehyung were nothing official combined with the fact that he had someone who was this special to him right here in the city was driving him mad. Despite the clear, obvious, glaring fact that Taehyung wasn’t his. It wasn’t a healthy feeling, but it was there all the same, rearing its ugly head in the least convenient of times.
“Well, I do.”
Taehyung leans back in his chair, and then pulls out his phone. One of Jeongguk’s favorite things about Taehyung is he never uses his phone at the table, whether they were having breakfast, lunch, dinner, or just coffee like now. Jeongguk always had Taehyung’s undivided attention; it was something he took pride in.
He taps it a couple of times, and then waits, and then it pings loudly as a response comes out.
“Jimin says he’s free tonight. Let’s go?”
“Hi! You must be Jeongguk.”
Jimin is cute. Adorable. The most squishable human being in the world. He has eyes that disappear into cute little crescents when he smiles and he smiles the most around Taehyung. His cheeks go round and they’re red against the cool night air and Jeongguk swears it’s not fair. It’s not fair. How do two people who end up this gorgeous in adulthood meet in fucking preschool ?
“You know me?” Jeongguk asks, and Jimin smiles at him. It’s the warmest, kindest, nicest smile he’s seen in his life. It’s really not fair. His front tooth’s even a little bit crooked, but that just makes him even cuter.
“Taehyung never shuts up about you.” Jimin says, and Taehyung chokes on his water. “Honestly, you’d think you were the 8th Wonder of the World or something, with the way his eyes sparkled whenever you came up. And he brings you up all the goddamn time. It’s like I know you already.”
“Okaaay, Jimin, that’s enough. Let’s —” Taehyung tries to reach over and cover Jimin’s mouth but Jimin’s stronger; he catches Taehyung’s wrist and holds it down under the table. He raises his brow, and then the corner of his lip goes up in a smirk as he gives Jeongguk a once over.
“I just gotta say, you are as hot as he says —”
Taehyung kicks the table, making the silverware rattle. Jimin and Jeongguk both startle into silence. The grin on Taehyung’s face is hilarious, but Jeongguk doesn’t dare laugh.
“So how about some BEEF!”
The dinner goes well. Jeongguk had decided to try not to talk about himself too much, but Jimin’s the curious type. He interrogates Jeongguk about every aspect of his life, from his family to his hobbies to his music taste. Most of his questions have cues from something Taehyung’s mentioned before, little snippets, like how Jeongguk liked IU, or how he painted, or how he has an older brother.
Jeongguk learns they’re both from Busan, both now live in Seoul, both love Justin Bieber, and that they’re both dancers. Taehyung acts scandalized at how similar they are, particularly the last bit.
“You never told me you dancer, Jeongguk.” Taehyung pouts.
“You never asked!”
“That’s vital information! Especially considering —”
“Anyway,” Jeongguk says, cutting Taehyung off before he says anything a little too intimate about Jeongguk’s dick riding skills in front of Jimin. “Do you still dance? Like, for a living? I just do it in school, but I haven’t in a while.”
“I do! I could probably drop by to give you a few lessons, if you want. You’re probably rusty.”
Jimin’s a bit of a brat, Jeongguk’s realized, despite being two whole years older than him. In a good way. Had they been in the same university, he’d be the kind of friend Jeongguk would love to have. Someone who’d constantly push him to be better. Sucks that the only person who can really do that to him now is touring Europe.
“Hah, as if.” Jeongguk laughs. “I could probably dance circles around you.”
“Big words from someone who hasn’t seen me move.”
Throughout the entire dinner, Taehyung seemed equal parts endeared and fidgety. It’s obvious he’d been nervous to see Jeongguk and Jimin interact, even though he’d said otherwise. And Jeongguk can’t really see why. Jeongguk’s brattiness matched up with Jimin’s perfectly. Taehyung was right.
Once their meal winds down, Taehyung orders them a few beers.
Jeongguk swears to the good lord in heaven that he’ll stop drinking once he gets back home. Despite not really binge drinking, the amount of casual beers he’d had would disappoint his mother. So tonight Jeongguk promises himself he won’t have too many.
But then Jimin dares him to chug, grinning wide and challenging, and with how they’d gotten along, Jeongguk can’t say no.
“Excuse me, boys, I gotta —” Taehyung gestures to the bathroom, and Jimin laughs as he waves him off.
“Go ahead, Tae.”
The way he waddles off is fucking adorable. Jeongguk doesn’t mean to stare, but he watches as he disappears into the bathroom door, and for a few seconds longer than necessary. When he looks back at Jimin, he’s smiling softly.
Jeongguk flushes, scrambling for a subject. He didn’t think he’d end up alone with Jimin.
“Do you like it here, then?”
Jimin just nurses his beer, doesn’t seem to care that this stranger he just met was making literal heart eyes at his best friend.
“Yeah, I got here before Tae did, actually. It’s been so nice. I dunno if Tae told you, but I’m here on my Honeymoon —”
Jeongguk’s heart stops.
Jimin doesn’t notice the shock on Jeongguk’s face. Either that or he straight up ignores it, because the relief running through Jeongguk must show somehow. The gears in his head are churning so fast it’s a miracle he doesn’t pass out then and there.
“Yeah, I got married a month or so ago. Taehyung suggested Prague, since my wife Seulgi is a sucker for museums and those cheesy tours. She’s having the time of her life, really.” He sounds genuinely endeared by his wife; Jimin’s eyes glaze over a little as he looks out the window.
“I — um — “ Jeongguk struggles to find the words. Right then, Taehyung comes back, and sits back down. Jimin’s looking at Jeongguk like he’s waiting for him to speak, so he stutters out, “Shame she couldn’t join us tonight.”
“She’s kind of bad with strangers.” Jimin looks apologetic enough. “Sorry. That’s probably why Taehyung hasn’t invited you to meet us before you asked. It took her two weeks to even start making eye contact with me in high school.”
“She’d absolutely love you, though.” Taehyung puts his hand over Jeongguk’s on the table, taps it twice, and then retracts it. “Jeonggukie’s quite the charmer.”
“He better be, considering how easily he’s got you wrapped around his finger.” Jimin elbows Taehyung in the ribs. He goes completely red, hiding behind his beer. “You’re not usually that easy to wrangle, Taetae.”
Jeongguk laughs, tries not to think of the implications. It’s just refreshing to not be the one blushing all the time. Taehyung seems so well put together, so confident, that the idea of there being a best friend who could embarrass him to the ends of the earth made Jeongguk feel a little more at ease.
Taehyung’s best friend thinks Jeongguk has him wrapped around his finger. The thought stews in Jeongguk’s head, sloshes around with the beer in his stomach. Maybe. Maybe.
The three of them converse until late into the night. Jeongguk doesn’t even notice time passing, only catching a glimpse at his phone’s clock in the middle of a story about how Jimin and Taehyung nearly got eaten by a neighbor’s dog for stealing from their garden.
“Oh! Sorry I keep leaving you. I just — bathroom —”
Taehyung doesn’t even bother to wait for them to respond. He practically jumps out of his seat and runs. Jimin’s laugh is cute; he snorts a little in the middle.
“He drinks a lot when he’s nervous.” Jimin explains, but Jeongguk just wrinkles his nose.
“Why is he nervous?”
Jimin doesn’t answer. There’s only a tiny bit of beer left in his glass, and he plays with it a little. The silence feels contemplative, like Jimin’s trying to form thoughts and string them together. What he could be thinking of, Jeongguk doesn’t know, but he doesn’t try and make conversation.
Eventually, Jimin speaks up, but his voice is soft. Gentle.
“Take care of him, yeah?”
It takes a few seconds for the words to register in Jeongguk’s head.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do. He’s —” Jimin sighs, putting his glass down. The paper coaster’s soaked through, and Jimin picks at it a little. “I know it might not seem like it, but Taehyung doesn’t usually go this hard with people he’s known for such a short time. He really likes you. I don’t know how much. Bastard won’t tell me, but he does.”
Jeongguk nods. This is a little too much for him to process, especially when Taehyung can come walking back any second. He stares at his lap, wrings his hands, swallows the lump in his throat, wonders if Jimin means what he’s saying.
“Stay in touch with him? After you go back?” Jimin ducks his head to catch Jeongguk’s eye. “Tae’s a good guy. You seem like one too.”
I’m not. Jeongguk wants to say, but the words get stuck on their way up.
“I will,” He says instead, and he hopes Jimin doesn’t catch on the lie.
Thankfully, he doesn’t. Taehyung comes back, and the conversation shifts back to what it was before he left. Taehyung’s touches suddenly feel a little warmer, like they linger a little longer. In the fog of Jeongguk’s brain, he realizes he wants to kiss him, right then and there. He doesn’t.
Jeongguk wishes Jimin hadn’t told him.
“Did you like him?” Taehyung’s arms are draped over Jeongguk’s shoulders. They’re back in Jeongguk’s room, bellies full and cheeks flushed from the beer. Jimin had parted ways with them at the restaurant, saying something about the Missus wringing his neck if he came home too late. It was a little bit past midnight.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk’s tightens his grip on Taehyung’s hips, noses along his cheek, “I do. He probably thought I was a little shit, though.”
Taehyung giggles into Jeongguk’s neck, nips at the sensitive skin a little. Presses his tongue into the bruises he’d left behind the night before.
“But you are, aren’t you?” Taehyung whispers low and hot into Jeongguk’s ear. “You’re such a brat. Deserve to be punished.” Taehyung licks at the shell of his ear, tugs at his lobe. A moan bubbles out of Jeongguk’s throat.
“Do your worst, babe.”
The sex that night is different. Jeongguk’s not sure if Taehyung notices, but it feels like something’s snapped inside of Jeongguk. Like he give himself completely to Taehyung now, because fuck it, really.
Jeongguk lets Taehyung ride him again, but it’s slower than before, like they have all the time in the world. Taehyung rolls his hips slow and sensual, his ass sucking up Jeongguk’s dick beautifully, like that was all it was made to do. Later, Taehyung ends up on his back, Jeongguk thrusting into him, their foreheads pressed together. When they come, they’re kissing, hard, tongues sliding against each other as they ride it out.
It’s the closest Jeongguk’s ever felt to another person. Life feels worlds lighter now that Jeongguk doesn’t feel like he has to guard himself.
Consequences be damned. Maybe Taehyung likes him more than he lets on. Maybe Taehyung’s willing to stay. Maybe it’ll be worth staying with Taehyung. Who knows? He doesn’t want to leave Prague, doesn’t want the trip to end.
Somewhere in between laughs and sex, Taehyung mentions that his semester is starting up again soon. September, or something. Jeongguk ignores it, pushing it to the back of his mind. Wills the deadline away like a leaf in the wind.
It’s been a month and a week. This is longest Jeongguk’s stayed in a foreign city, though not the longest he’s tried to keep a boy his. As the days go on, the more Jeongguk wants to whisk Taehyung away somewhere else, suggest maybe Madrid. Or Vienna. Or Munich. A new city to explore, new tourist traps to fall into.
Jeongguk realizes he’s fucked when he stops thinking about escape from and starting longing to escaping with .
Taehyung doesn’t notice Jeongguk’s internal struggle. At least, he doesn’t make it clear that he does. Jeongguk makes sure it’s hidden, deep deep inside of him. Even when they’re cuddled up at night, sleeping in each other’s arms, Jeongguk does what he can to regulate his heartbeat, keep his thoughts from devolving into a fear that could leave him in tears. Taehyung would notice if he cried. So he doesn’t.
Fear has always been a lonely emotion.
Taehyung’s the one who finds the little watch store. It’s barely four feet wide, wedged in between two residential buildings on a side street, and neither of them would’ve noticed it had they been just a tiny bit more invested in their conversation.
“Prague’s known for it’s clocks.” Taehyung says, to no one in particular. Maybe to himself. He grabs Jeongguk’s hands, laces their fingers together, and pulls him in.
The bell chimes when they enter, and the shopkeeper is an old man with round spectacles. Jeongguk knows Taehyung’s always wanted a pair just like them.
Inside is a lot bigger than it seems. There are clocks lining every inch of the wall, filling the glass display shelves by the window and the counter, hanging from coat racks. Somewhere in the mass is a wooden sign, the calligraphy pretty and floral: handmade.
The ticking is almost unbearable — out of sync and deafening — but Taehyung has the widest smile on his face, so Jeongguk’s can’t find it in him to complain.
Taehyung converses with the old man while Jeongguk glances around. They learn it’s all made by him and his three sons, who are just as passionate about watches as he is. Some of them are made from scratch, while others are mere refurbished from watches they find in second hand stores and markets. They breathe new life into them, the man says, etching new designs into fresh metal.
“I’ll get you one.” Taehyung says, tugging Jeongguk’s hand up and lining a watch with a brown leather strap to his wrist.
"A watch?" Jeongguk blinks a couple of times, watching as Taehyung tests out more watches against his skin.
"You said you always wanted time to stop." Taehyung says, letting go of his hand to fasten the leather. "This is your reminder that it won't. Not for anyone, not for you."
Jeongguk doesn’t remember ever telling him this. Maybe it had been a passing comment, said in between jokes, sometime in the weeks they’ve known each other. And Taehyung had remembered. If only he know how much Jeongguk really wanted it, how much his life revolved around trying to reach the stillness he’d always wanted.
He blinks away the sadness, pushes it away. Taehyung can’t know.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"It's supposed to teach you that it's okay. There's no rush." Taehyung’s words are soft. Meant to be comforting. All they do is make Jeongguk feel heavy. "No one's chasing you, Jeon Jeongguk. No need to be so scared."
Taehyung picks a pretty silver one for him, with a face made of exposed gears. It’s fully handmade, the man says, each component placed with love and care. Taehyung had grinned, said Jeongguk deserved nothing less.
That night, Jeongguk twirls the watch in between his hands, spends minutes watching it tick away. Taehyung’s right. Jeongguk can’t run away, just begging for the world to stop turning every time he goes to a new city, a new continent.
Vacations feel like you’re suspended in time. Jeongguk knows that. That’s why he takes so many of them.
With each passing second, Jeongguk feels braver. Like maybe it’s time to figure himself out, to stop disappearing into the world that’s all too willing to eat him up. No one’s been around to knock sense into him. And he never listened to Namjoon. He’d been feeding the fear inside of him for so long, giving into his impulses, his urges.
Taehyung told him he didn’t need to be scared.
His fingers close around the small watch, feeling the tick synchronize with his heart.
Jeongguk’s never felt more terrified in his life.
“Taehyung? That’s his name?”
Namjoon’s on speaker. It’s a drastic measure, because Namjoon’s never liked the bath echoey nature of doing them, nor does he like the idea that anyone else could be listening at any time, but Jeongguk’s favorite sweater is missing , and he needs to find it before he meets with Taehyung.
“Yeah, hyung. He’s from Daegu. Studying in Dublin.” Jeongguk kicks through his laundry, tosses jeans and shorts and boxers into the corner. Nothing.
Namjoon doesn’t even notice how frantic Jeongguk sounds. He doesn’t ask. He knows how much of a disorganized mess Jeongguk can be.
“You can tell me all about him when you’re back in Seoul.” Namjoon sounds almost bored. Maybe he’s had a bit to drink. “Have you broken his heart yet?”
“What?” Jeongguk freezes in his tracks, stares at the phone in disgust as if Namjoon could see him. “Of course not. Why would I —”
“I love you, kid, but you have to admit…” Namjoon’s voice gets soft, maybe even a little apologetic. He has a point. Jeongguk huffs, tosses another used shirt into his open suitcase.
“You don’t usually scolds me about this. You never cared about all the other guys.”
“I’m sorry. I had a bad day. And it’s just — “ Namjoon sighs, long and drawn out, and then sounds a little pained when he continues. “Seokmin called? Yesterday. He said he still misses you. Asked how you were. You really gonna never talk to him again?”
Now that’s a name Jeongguk hasn’t heard in a while. He balls up some use underwear to shove in his hamper bag, taking his sweet time to answer Namjoon.
“I left him in Hong Kong.”
“Exactly. You left him.” Namjoon says, “The internet exists, you know.”
Jeongguk doesn’t need this. That guilt was something he’s dealt with. Maybe even made peace with, during his little break back home. It wasn’t a wound Namjoon needed to reopen like this. How dare Seokmin call Namjoon.
“I don’t care.”
Namjoon’s quiet for a bit. Jeongguk’s somehow managed to clear out half of the mess on the floor of his room. Maybe the damned sweater did him a favor by disappearing.
“Guess I should count myself lucky that he’s the only international ex with my number then, huh?”
There’s no fight in his voice. He’s not scolding him anymore. As cliche as it sounds, Namjoon sounds disappointed, not angry, like he’s tired of watching Jeongguk hurt. He probably is.
“I don’t —” Jeongguk swallows. His mouth feels dry. “Namjoon hyung.”
Another sigh, and Namjoon sounds like he does when he’s rubbing the bridge of his nose, too tired to argue, too tired to try and get through to Jeongguk.
“Fine. Sorry. I’ll tell him you’re good?”
Jeongguk sits down on the bed, feels the mattress dip from his weight, and wonders if Seokmin’s doing okay with his life. The last time they’d spoken, he was changing his major. Terrified. Like Jeongguk is now, but for different reasons.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Namjoon shuffles a little, like he’s lying down. Jeongguk stands up again, and resumes the search for the sweater. Namjoon sounds like he’s tapping on his phone, or mumbling under his breath. Jeongguk can’t hear him, so he doesn’t answer.
“Guk?” Namjoon calls out. Jeongguk pulls back the bedside table. There it is. The sweater. It’s lodged somewhere in deep, so he has to bend down and even lift the bed a little to get it loose.
Jeongguk manages to get it out, and pulls it free. It’s a little dusty. Okay, a lot dusty. Maybe he’ll wear something else. He walks back to the desk, picks up his phone just as Namjoon replies.
“Do you know when you’re coming back? I’ll be heading back in a week.”
Taehyung should be at breakfast by now. Jeongguk picks through his pile, and finds another sweater. It’s a little less black than the other one, but it’ll do. He puts the phone back down.
“I dunno yet, hyung.” Jeongguk’s head pops out of the sweater, and he smooths it down. “I’ll let you know.”
“Alright. Keep in touch, Gukkie.”
Taehyung’s not at breakfast.
Jeongguk waits until the very last person leaves the room. When Hoseok comes in to say they gotta close up to tidy, Jeongguk just nods, and sits in the lobby for what feels like half an hour. It takes him a while to figure out if he should just go or wait for Taehyung in his room. He’s not answering on Kakao. Not even opening Jeongguk’s messages.
They’d agreed to meet the night before. Taehyung just said he needed to tidy up a little bit, so he slept in his own room that night. Jeongguk didn’t think he’d get ditched.
Jeongguk is patient. He swears he is, but Taehyung had said there was a vegetarian place he wanted to try, had already mapped out their route. Taehyung said Jeongguk could try their cupcakes, that it probably isn’t as bad as he imagines. They’d agreed. This wasn’t fair.
After another half hour of just sitting in the lobby and staring at his phone, Jeongguk goes back to his room. If Taehyung won’t answer him, then fine. He can be that way. Jeongguk can spend the day by himself.
His sketchbook is only half filled. That’s almost downright depressing, considering he’s filled two in shorter periods of time, especially in a city this gorgeous and artsy. Jeongguk should be overflowing with inspiration.
Instead, he’s nearly fuming as he sits under this goddamn tree in this goddamn park, wondering why Taehyung’s acting like he doesn’t exist. Was it something he did? Did Jimin tell him Jeongguk was no good?
Jeongguk has to pause every five minutes to check his phone. And still, Taehyung’s flat out ignoring him. Every time he checks just leaves him angrier, but he can’t stop doing, can’t stop his ears from growing hot, can’t stop himself from clenching his fist around the pencil.
The charcoal tree looks angry, almost as if he was drawing one that’d been struck by lightning. Jeongguk leans his head back, hitting the bark of the tree with a little thunk. So much for parks being peaceful. Jeongguk’s just antsy, worried, anxious. His nerves leaving his fingers shaky and unable to form proper lines.
The sun sets without Taehyung looking at Jeongguk’s messages.
Jeongguk has dinner by himself, somewhere they’d never eaten before. It’s a simple place, Italian, and Jeongguk doesn’t bother spending a lot of time there. He eats and he goes. The hotel isn’t too far, and he walks with his hands in his jacket pockets and the streetlights buzzing in the night.
Just as Jeongguk reaches their floor, he catches a glimpse of Taehyung disappear into his room. Adrenaline surges through him, and he grabs the handle just before it closes, Taehyung’s right eye angry in the tiny crack of space left.
Taehyung sounds furious.
“What the fuck, Tae? Why did you —” If anyone has the right to be angry, it’s Jeongguk. It’s not Taehyung who’d been left waiting the entire day.
Jeongguk tugs on the door, and manages to force it a bit more open. When he pulls one more time, Taehyung lets go, sending him staggering backward. Jeongguk frowns.
“We need to talk.”
Taehyung rolls his eyes, and then steps out.
“Fine. In your room.”
Whatever, Jeongguk thinks. Once they’re in his room, Taehyung doesn’t waste a second, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling at Jeongguk.
“Does this happen often, then?”
Jeongguk runs a hand through his hair, frustrated.
“What do you mean?”
“You go to a new place, meet a new city,” Taehyung gestures around the room, out the window. To himself. “Fuck around with a new man.”
Jeongguk’s heart drops to the floor, splatters into the carpet. Where did Taehyung get that? He reaches out, hand extended, but Taehyung flinches backward.
“Is that not it? I remember you saying, that first night. Los Angeles. London. Tokyo. Hong Kong. Paris. New York. Jakarta. Dubai. How many men? Am I just another tick in your checklist?”
Taehyung looks angry. Genuinely angry. And hurt, and betrayed, his face contorting into something that makes Jeongguk want to sink into the ground. The anger he’d felt earlier is replaced with dread, panic and sadness coursing through his veins as his mind scrambles for a way to get through to the man in front of him.
“Taehyung, it’s not like tha —”
“And therein lies the whole of man's plight,” Taehyung says, and Jeongguk knows he’s quoting some book, some author. Taehyung’s said he does it when he’s run out of words of his own. “Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.”
Jeongguk doesn’t have the attention span for riddles and games right now. He presses his palms into his eyes, swiping away at the wetness. Taehyung looks right at him, a cold stillness in his eyes. As if saying, how dare you cry? You have no right to feel pain. This is all mine.
“What does that mean , Taehyung?”
“It means you’ll never be happy running in circles.” Taehyung goes around the room, picking up things he’s left behind. An earring, a sock, a shirt. Bits and pieces of him he’d left in Jeongguk’s room. Little by little, it starts to look emptier.
Taehyung shrugs on his jacket. “Plant your goddamn feet in the ground, Jeongguk. Grow some roots.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“Don’t even try to deflect on this, you absolute dumbass. I’m in this continent to study. You’re looking to get your heart broken in every country, or break other boys hearts. Like some sick bucket list. It’s not good for you.”
Jeongguk feels his blood go hot.
“You can’t just talk like you’re not the one who’s breaking it.”
Taehyung snorts, his face distorting into something ugly. “Newsflash, Jeon Jeongguk: I’ve got a heart too, and I’ll be damned if it’s whole right now.” Taehyung turns away from him, hand stretched out to open the door. He hesitates, and then curls his fingers softly around the knob.
“I meant what I said, that first day.” His voice sounds watery, like he’s a second away from cracking. “You deserve good love. Maybe figure out what that means.”
When the door clicks shut behind him, Jeongguk’s doesn’t bother to hold it in. He drags his feet over to his bed, and lies down. The sheets still smell like Taehyung.
For the first time in a long time, Jeongguk lets himself cry.
Jeongguk is dramatic. He has always been dramatic. Namjoon has been giving him shit for being literally the most dramatic person on the face of the earth ever since the day they met. This wasn’t Jeongguk being dramatic.
This is the worst pain he’s ever felt in his life. All this time, he’d thought he knew what having his heart broken felt like, knew what it meant. He was naive. Jeongguk had never been the lay in bed and wallow type. He went out clubbing, had fun, drank his heart out, and met new boys. He healed himself by distraction, finding a way to forget. This is the first time he’s allowed himself to sit in his room and let the sadness stew inside of him. Until it was boiling hot and spilling.
Jeongguk swears this is the most he’s ever cried in his life.
An entire day passes before Jeongguk can pick himself up to shower. And it takes another restless night for him to want to speak to anyone. He dials the only person he can.
“Hyung, can you do me a favor?” Jeongguk doesn’t hide the crack in his voice. He wishes he couldn’t hear himself, that he didn’t sound so weak. That he didn’t sound like a scared little boy begging for his mother.
He’d spent that first night lying awake in bed, trying to find a way to fix things. Jeongguk couldn’t for the life of him figure out how Taehyung had found all that out, what happened to make him turn on Jeongguk so suddenly. Namjoon’s all he has left.
It’s early. Barely eight in the morning. Jeongguk thanks all the gods in heaven his hyung’s awake.
“Sure, Jeonggukie.” Namjoon says, and he catches on immediately, knows what Jeongguk sounds like when he’s lost, when he’s terrified. “What is it?”
“Everything you’ve ever wanted to tell me. About the boys.” Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut, feels a tear drip down. “Don’t worry about hurting me. I need to hear it.”
“I know you’ve always held back. I can feel it.” Jeongguk laughs, maybe sounds a little bitter, a little defeated. “Lay it on me, hyung.” Namjoon probably doesn’t want to deal with this right now, is probably busy today, but Jeongguk needs it. Needs to hear it, however little Namjoon has to give him.
“Okay then, but no hard feelings, okay?” Even now, Namjoon can’t help but be gentle. It’s the only thing Jeongguk wishes was different about him. Maybe if he’d been a little harsher, Jeongguk would’ve gotten the wake up call he needed a long time ago.
Jeongguk nods, even though Namjoon can’t see him.
“I think you push people away before they get too close. You say you’re in love, and they say they’re in love, but you never actually really get together with them? It’s like you put expiration dates on the relationship. Once six months pass, you run away. Or you make them run away. You want to fall in love, but you never actually...let yourself. ”
The thing is, Jeongguk knows all that. He’s just never cared; he could go through the entire break up cycle within a week, force himself back up on his feet, be ready to start all over again as quickly as it happened. No one’s planted himself in his heart as deeply as Taehyung has. No one’s even come close.
Taehyung makes him care. That scares him.
“So what do I do?”
“Find someone who’s worth the risk.” Namjoon says, firm, like he’s never been more sure of anything in his life. “Someone you’re still willing to fight for, even if you’re terrified out of your wits.”
Taehyung, his lips spread in a rectangular smile, his wide cupid’s bow, the slope of his nose, the brightness in his eyes. The sound of his laughter as they walk through the streets of Prague at midnight, clutching onto each other’s sleeves, a little too drunk to be called anything but happy.
Jeongguk misses him.
“Stop running, Jeonggukie. Aren’t you tired?”
The watch is laying on top of the book on his desk, the bookmark wedged in between the pages. Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut. Joonie hyung is always right.
The shopkeeper says he recognizes Jeongguk. It’s enough to shock him out of his daze, considering he’d never been in there before. Besides that offhand comment from Taehyung on their first day, neither of them had even looked at this chocolate shop since.
She says they pass by every day, and she thinks they’re very cute together. Jeongguk’s heart squeezes in his chest. He can’t lie to her. Jeongguk finds his voice, and he tells her the chocolates are for Taehyung. Says he likes strawberries and sweet things. Her grin is so earnest that Jeongguk’s can’t help but smile back.
Jeongguk leaves the shop with a bag full of strawberry creme filled chocolates in a pretty paper bag. When he gets back to the hotel, he writes a short note for Taehyung, asking if they can talk.
“What if he doesn’t see it?” Jeongguk asks Hoseok and Yoongi later that night. They’ve commandeered the hotel’s balcony, which closes to guests at 10pm. At some point, the rules stopped applying to Jeongguk.
They’re just sitting on the benches there — Jeongguk across from the two of them — drinking away the hotel’s beer supply, and trying not to freeze to death. The sky is clear, with stars shining faintly above them. It’d be beautiful if Jeongguk didn’t feel like absolute shit.
“Didn’t realize he was partially blind.” Yoongi takes a long drag of his cigarette, and then puffs it out into the air above them. Hoseok sighs, gives Yoongi a look. Something about now not being the time, maybe, Jeongguk thinks.
“I can leave it in his room.” Hoseok says, shrugging. Yoongi looks absolutely scandalized, but Hoseok shoves at his cheek lightly. “Listen, I know it’s against protocol and shit, but you and I both want to see this fixed, alright?”
“Fine.” Yoongi throws his arms up, and ash blows in the wind, “But if the boss finds out, it was your damned idea, Jung.”
Jeongguk mumbles a thank you, staring at his beer. It was a long shot, considering Jeongguk wasn’t even sure for how long Taehyung was planning on staying, especially now that he wasn’t talking to Jeongguk. What if he leaves tomorrow? What if Jeongguk never sees him again? The beer’s leaving him warm inside, and even more worried than normal.
Yoongi groans loudly — sighs really — which makes Jeongguk look up at them both. They’re both looking at him, eyes soft.
“He loves you, you know.” Yoongi says, tapping the edge of Jeongguk’s glass with a spoon. Jeongguk looks away, stares at the chipped patches of paint on the hotel’s outer wall, wonders if Taehyung’s in his room.
Jeongguk swallows, but the hard lump in his throat won’t go away. He twists the watch around his wrist, feels the cold metal against his fingertips.
“You’re a dumbass if you don’t see it. That boy is crazy about you.” Hoseok says, and Jeongguk sees Yoongi’s hand close into a fist by his side.
“Y-yeah,” Yoongi says, “Anyone with two eyes can see it. Might even only take one eye.” Jeongguk sees him inch away from Hoseok, ever so slightly, and his heart squeezes in his chest.
The knowing anger is gone from Yoongi’s voice, replaced with a bitter melancholy, because he knows how it feels — to doubt, to be terrified. Jeongguk wonders if he’ll have to leave Prague without ever seeing his new friend happy.
Taehyung doesn’t stop ignoring him. It’s been too long. Jeongguk’s starting to panic, wondering constantly if Taehyung’s booked his plane home, if he’ll just wake up to a Facebook message from Yoongi saying he’s checked out, if he’ll get to say goodbye.
Jeongguk’s not sure if he’ll be able to handle not saying goodbye.
Hoseok says he did leave the chocolates on the desk in Taehyung’s room. After a day, he also said they’d been touched. A couple of them eaten. The note’s still there, removed from where it was stuck on the bag, slipped underneath a book. At least Jeongguk knows he’s read it.
When Jeongguk start to lose hope, he takes the tram up to Prague Castle again. Even though he's completely capable of standing up, he sits down somewhere, in the back, and presses his forehead against the cool glass of the window. The steps up the castle are crowded, but they feel empty, like all the colors drained out of the world. Jeongguk sits on the Starbucks' balcony (the barista is different), and looks over the city. The sky feels closer than the ground when he's this high up, and it's the same brilliant shade of blue.
Jeongguk tries to paint it. He gets about halfway through before his hand starts shaking so hard he can't dip it in the watercolor well enough. So he stops. It's infuriating, and he very nearly throws the brush off the cliff in frustration. He can only fill his sketchbook with so many messy drawings of coffee cups and trees before he realizes how depressing he is, how much he actually needs Taehyung to talk to him. But Jeongguk can’t force himself onto him, can’t make Taehyung do something he clearly doesn’t want to.
Jeongguk’s not that kind of asshole. If Taehyung doesn’t care about him anymore, he’ll have to deal with it. Maybe that’ll teach him to never break a heart ever again.
It’s the late afternoon when Jeongguk sees it. The back of Taehyung’s head as he disappears into his room, the door closing just as Jeongguk reaches the landing. Something like panic jolts him awake, forces his feet to walk until he’s standing right outside of Taehyung’s door.
It’s not fair. Jeongguk was going to keep waiting — would be willing to wait, for however long Taehyung wanted — but knowing he’s there makes his heart race, his palms itch. Before Jeongguk knows it, he’s been standing there for five minutes, staring at the polished wood.
A deep breath. One, two, three.
No one answers. There’s some shuffling inside, boots against the carpet. Jeongguk sighs, and knocks again. Once. Twice. Still, nothing.
“I’m sorry, Tae.” Jeongguk calls out, loud enough to hear in case Taehyung’s on the other side of the room. “You’re right. I’m sorry if it felt like I used you, or something. I didn’t mean it like that. I just —”
The words tangle on the way out, catching in his throat. His last chance, and Jeongguk’s fucking blowing it. Just great.
“It — we — happened so fast. I couldn’t… I couldn’t not f-fall in — “
No. Jeongguk can’t say it. Not like this. He knocks one more time, his vision blurring, blood running hot. From the corner of his eye, a single tear drips down his cheek.
“Tell me you’re there. I need to know you’re there.”
Jeongguk sees the shadows move underneath the door, feels the thunk of something bumping into the wood on the other side. He takes a shaky breath, and blinks his tears away.
“I went on this trip and promised myself I wouldn’t be stupid. That I — I wouldn’t let some boy steal my heart, wouldn’t let him break it, because they always leave. I always leave. Neither of us ever beg the other to stay. It’s exhausting. I — I didn’t want to let my heart get broken again.”
Jeongguk’s not innocent. Jeongguk has to fix himself, needs to learn how to let someone stay for longer than a few months. Jeongguk needs to stop relying on the fact that people are temporary. Because they don’t have to be.
“But you’re right. I do run away. I get scared that it’ll just happen again — ever since that first boy — and I guess I self sabotage. Try to go before it gets too painful, but it’s always painful. It’s — It doesn’t work.”
His palms are tingling, the pain slowing reaching unbearable. Jeongguk takes a shaky breath, the tears falling freely onto the carpet. If Taehyung won’t open the door, he can’t do it anymore. He’s tired. He’s so tired.
“I’m done wandering. I’m going home. I’m sorry, if that means I’m leaving you. It sounds shitty, but I — I don’t want to. I have to. For me.”
Taehyung will find him. Maybe. If he wants to. Jeongguk will let himself be found this time. Jeongguk can wait forever. This is his last chance.
“I love you.”
The silence is deafening. Jeongguk’s ears are ringing, knees wobbling, and his entire body feels like it’s floating. It’s a miracle he’s still standing. He laughs — bitter, hollow — like nothing will ever be funny again.
“I’ve never said that to anyone before.” There’s still no answer. Jeongguk throws his head back, grins at the ceiling, closes his eyes.
“I love you, Taehyung.”
The door doesn’t open. Jeongguk waits one, two seconds, forehead against the cool wood. There’s no sound, no movement, nothing. Like Taehyung’s not even there.
The airport is cold. The seat next to Jeongguk is empty.
Soon, Jeongguk lands in Seoul. Incheon is lonelier than he remembers. He feels a little heavier. A little bit older. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not. When he goes through the motions of alighting the plane, he thinks of strawberries, and how that empty shampoo bottle is sitting in a trash heap halfway across the world.
He doesn’t think of that boy. He doesn’t let himself wonder.
The train feels empty. The commercials are in Korean. The people are quiet. The river is peaceful as they rush over it. The sky is a clear dull grey. Jeongguk wonders if the sun will ever come out.
When the door to his apartment closes behind him, Jeongguk’s knees buckle.
And he cries.
“There is no perfection, only life”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The semester doesn’t actually start for another month of so. This is the first time Jeongguk’s spent it by himself, alone in his empty, expensively furnished apartment. His mom had handled most of the interior decorating, saying something about how she wasn’t going to let her baby live in completely squalor. Squalor meaning anything that didn’t have a million Won couch.
It feels just as unfamiliar as a hotel room would. Maybe that’s why Jeongguk’s never felt off about constantly leaving. Maybe he’s never had a home in the first place.
When Jeongguk’s spent a good amount of time sleeping, he calls Namjoon. It’s embarrassing, answering Seoul when he asks where Jeongguk is, but he doesn’t ask further. Says he’ll find out eventually.
Coffee at Seokjin’s, Jeongguk promises, once he’s settled in. He says it like he hasn’t been settled in for two days, but Namjoon doesn’t need to know that Jeongguk’s done nothing but lie on his couch and eat through his pantry.
Yoongi messages and gives updates Jeongguk doesn’t ask for. Taehyung checks out a week after Jeongguk. He doesn’t say much to any of the staff before he leaves, but he does thank Yoongi and Hoseok for being good friends to him while he was there.
When Yoongi tells him Taehyung’s plane’s taken off, Jeongguk asks him to never mention him again. Even through Facebook messenger, Jeongguk can imagine him rolling his eyes. Still, Yoongi agrees, and goes back to complaining about the Canadian who somehow spilled syrup onto the carpet of his room, saying he thought the syrup thing was a stereotype.
Every once in a while, Jeongguk will ask Yoongi about Hoseok. Yoongi always says he’s working on it, that he’ll pluck up the courage in time. When Jeongguk asks Hoseok about Yoongi, he says he’s doing fine, why do you ask? It’s another layer of heartbreak on top of his. And Jeongguk’s just as helpless.
After a while Jeongguk tries to scroll through his camera roll, weighs the idea of deleting everything on his mind. It would be easier, but he's a sentimental fucker. Every single photo of his exes still exists somewhere on his computer. No matter how much pain he's in, he'd rather not look back in ten years only to realize he doesn't remember what Taehyung looks like. The thought makes him want to puke.
Jeongguk registers for his classes, takes a another class on painting, and one on knitting, just for the hell of it. If there’s one thing Jeongguk’s good at, it’s at the very least doing well in his classes. The delicate balancing act of going out every weekend while still maintaining a top average for his art courses takes all of his time. It’s no wonder he never dates in Seoul.
His cursor hovers over a basic English Literature course, and Jeongguk registers before he starts to think too much about it. It’ll be good for him. Probably.
Once Jeongguk runs out of junk food to stuff his face with, he decides it’s time to actually start getting his life together.
“Hey Jeonggukie.” Seokjin greets him as he enters, a warm smile on his face.
Nothing about their relationship has deteriorated or faded since they got married two years ago; they’re still disgustingly cheesy, flirting back and forth across the counter, and they’ve been bickering like a married couple ever since they were teenagers anyway.
Maybe Jeongguk should start actually listen to Namjoon and Seokjin’s advice. They’re pretty much the only proof Jeongguk has that true love actually exists.
“Hey, hyung.” Jeongguk does his best to smile, not even trying to be dramatic, but he guesses it just comes naturally to him. Seokjin reaches over and taps his nose.
“Cheer up, kid.” Seokjin says, sounding sympathetic for once, “Lemme fix you up an Americano. On the house.”
Jeongguk gives him a small smile. “It’s not like you’d have let me pay any other day.”
“That much is true,” Seokjin starts up the espresso machine, practiced hands working without needing to look, “But now you know what this particular one’s for.”
Through everything, Jeongguk’s glad he has least has this to come back to. Namjoon and Seokjin are really the only real friends has; the only ones he’s needed, really. Maybe that’s part of the problem, but at the very least, Jeongguk is grateful for them.
Seokjin’s smile has always been comforting; it’s something he and Namjoon have in common. He puts the iced coffee down on the counter, and pushes it towards Jeongguk.
“You need it.” Seokjin pats his cheek gently. “Welcome home, Gukkie.”
“Is there a guy name Jeon Jeongguk here?”
Jeongguk’s head shoots up. He recognizes that voice. He’s dressed differently from when he was in Prague; it’s a lot more casual, a crisp white button down and black skinny jeans hugging his thighs, and Jeongguk swears he could pass off as an idol.
Seokjin’s eyes are as wide as plate, and Jeongguk can tell it’s taking all his willpower not to flit his gaze over to him right now. He stands his ground as this tiny man gets all up in his face, staring him down like Seokjin will snap in half if he looks hard enough. For a second, Jeongguk’s scared he might.
Jeongguk hides behind his menu, and hopes to god that Jimin doesn’t recognize the top of his hea—
“There you are!” Jimin grabs the menu and slams it down on the table. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Excuse me, s-sir, but you can’t —” A waiter tries to say, but Jimin raises a finger, shoos him away.
“I didn’t peg you for a moron.” Jimin starts off, crossing his arms over his chest and sitting down across from Jeongguk. “I mean, I did, but not this big of a moron.” There’s a bright red tinge to his cheeks, and Jeongguk swears he can see the veins in his neck. Jimin is furious, and Jeongguk shrinks under the fire of his gaze.
“What are you —” Jeongguk flushes, panicking, “What did I do?”
“What didn’t you do?” Jimin whines, and for a second Jeongguk just looks back at him. Anger bubbles under his skin, but he doesn’t let it show. What didn’t Jeongguk do? He didn’t give up. What does Jimin know?
“What did Taehyung even tell you?” Jeongguk says, hand curling into a fist, “Did he say I ran off, without saying goodbye? Is that it?”
Jimin just shakes his head, keeps the annoyed expression on his face. This isn’t happening. Jeongguk lets out an exasperated sigh, buries his face in his hands.
“I told him I fucking loved him, Jimin.” Jeongguk says, letting the anger subside. He won’t let it get to him; he won’t. “Taehyung ignored it. I don’t know what more you want from me.”
When Jeongguk drags his hands down his face and looks back at Jimin. His jaw’s dropped, and he’s staring at Jeongguk in disbelief. Jeongguk has to keep himself from snorting. Hilarious. Taehyung didn’t tell him.
“Did you really —”
“I did.” Jeongguk says, and then he lowers his gaze, feels the pain creep up his chest. “I still do.” The words sting on his tongue, but he’s never been more sure of anything else in his life.
“Fucking —” Jimin takes out his phone, taps angrily into it for a little bit. “Fucking Taehyung. Why is he so stupid? You’re both stupid.” That’s probably aimed at Jeongguk, but he’s still tapping angrily, and what sounds like a Kakao notification comes through every other sentence. Is he...is he talking to Tae?
“I still don’t understand why you felt the need to come all the way over here just to yell at me when you don’t eve know —”
“Calm down, Iron Man. It took me like, half an hour to get here. Anyway,” Jimin sends another few messages and then locks his phone loudly. Puts it down on the table and then rests his chin in his palm. “Talk. What happened.”
Jeongguk really doesn’t want to go through it again. He hasn’t told anyone — not even Namjoon — the full extent of the trainwreck that is Jeongguk’s life, and he feels like if he puts everything into words it’ll feel more real. More final. Taehyung used to say that’s why he enjoyed writing. It made solid the abstract. Or something.
But he supposes it might help, even if it’ll take a while. Jeongguk goes to the counter to order them two coffees, but ends up with Seokjin giving the cashier to Mark and sitting down with the two of them. Says it’s his job as the man who basically raised Jeongguk to hear about it.
It’s a bit awkward, sitting there as Jimin and Seokjin (now properly acquainted) are across from him, just waiting for him to spill his guts onto the table. It’s now or never, he supposes, and he’ll have to tell them both eventually.
After a deep breath, Jeongguk starts from the beginning. The plane, the hotel, the bridge, the dinners, the way they’d fallen into a routine, fallen into each other’s lives like they’d always meant to be there. Jimin nods along, while Seokjin reacts to things, interjecting his own dumb comments, squishing Jeongguk’s cheeks when he deems necessary. It’s all very stressful, and it takes ages, and soon they realize their coffees are empty and the sun is setting.
“And then I —”
“I can’t believe you gave him fancy ass chocolates and he still didn’t forgive you.” Seokjin says, snacking on a brownie, “Either those chocolates were awful or he’s got horrible taste. What kind of man can say no to that?”
Jeongguk should be used to Seokjin treating his life like a bad drama; this happens after every briefing. He’s usually more sympathetic and mature afterwards, giving sound advice, as opposed to Namjoon whose advice was more dubious than not, joking half the time.
Jimin, on the other hand, was taking this thing damn seriously. Any more seriously and he’d have a notepad out to take down notes. He listens to Jeongguk so intently, absorbing every bit of information and processing it as he goes.
“What did you do?” Jimin asks when he notices Jeongguk’s gone silent, “After he didn't, you know, do anything with the chocolates.”
The scene plays back in Jeongguk’s head. He can still smell the wood, hear the buzz of the light, see the shadows underneath the door. If he closes his eyes, he can imagine Taehyung on the other side, listening and refusing to hear.
“I caught a glimpse him just as the door to his room closed. So I said sorry, through the door. He didn’t —” Jeongguk gets choked up a little, but he refuses to cry in public. “He didn’t answer. So I told him I loved him.”
Seokjin, who was biting his fist the entire time, slowly takes it out. He looks solemn all of a sudden, all humor draining out of him. He knows how significant that is to Jeongguk; that’s when Seokjin should know it’s real. Different.
“You told him you loved him.” Seokjin repeats, slowly. Jeongguk nods.
Seokjin slumps back in his chair, and runs a hand through his hair. Jimin looks at them both a little confused, because he’d already heard this earlier probably, so the shock’s passed.
“Do you?” Seokjin asks quietly, leaning forward again. He’s staring right into Jeongguk’s eyes, like he’s trying to dig the truth out of him. “Do you really?”
Jeongguk gives him a small smile, eyes watery. “I do.”
“Shit.” Seokjin breathes out. After another moment to recollect himself, he stands up, grabbing onto Jeongguk’s sleeve. “The fuck are you still doing here? You have to go find him, dumbass.”
“ Hyung .” Jeongguk tugs his sleeve out of Seokjin’s grip. “I can’t? He doesn’t want me to. Why else would he ignore me?”
Jimin’s silent during this entire exchange, watching them bicker like siblings. Seokjin shoves his shoulder a little, pointing at Jeongguk.
“Talk some sense into him. He should go after Taehyung.”
Jimin opens his mouth to answer, and then closes it again. For a second Jeongguk and Seokjin just stare at him, and if you listened closely enough you could probably hear the gears churning in his head. Every second that passes makes the ache in Jeongguk’s chest grow, each beat of his heart making it throb.
The last few days, Jeongguk had forced himself to get used to the fact that Taehyung was gone. It’s not fair, for Jimin to just come barging in like this, reminding him that he’d gotten rejected, that he’d fucked up. Jeongguk was just about ready to start healing.
Jimin grabs Jeongguk’s hand, and slips his phone into it.
“Can I add you on Kakaotalk?”
Jimin messages him once, just so they have a chat history, and then doesn’t do it again. It’s kind of infuriating, because now Jeongguk’s added another chat to stare at blindly in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep. At least he knows Taehyung will ignore him. Jimin, on the other hand, told him to wait.
What was he supposed to be waiting for?
Whatever, Jeongguk thinks. He paints, he goes around Seoul and sketches, and he spends time with Seokjin. No matter how much the older will deny it, Jeongguk knows he missed his presence at the cafe. If Jeongguk was pressed for cash, he’d probably work there. Spend every waking moment with Seokjin if he could. It’s not like he has any other close friends.
Namjoon arrives, having finally settled his affairs and started his well earned vacation. When he walks into the cafe, straight from the airport and with his suitcase still in tow, Seokjin nearly drops the cake he’s holding.
It’s sickeningly sweet, watching Seokjin run into his husband’s arms. Makes longing stew in Jeongguk’s stomach. Maybe one day.
Jeongguk settles back into his old routine. Him and Namjoon spends their days together with Seokjin, sometimes helping him out with the cafe’s finances, reading through bank statements and bills, calculating profits. Well, mostly Namjoon does. Jeongguk sketches on the corner of the table.
It’s familiar, it’s safe, and it’s the closest to home Jeongguk has.
Today’s different thought. Today is one of those days when Jeongguk doesn’t want to exist.
The backroom of Seokjin’s cafe isn’t the most comfortable place in the world to hang out, but it’s better than having to be surrounded by strangers. Jeongguk’s not in the mood. If given the choice, he wouldn’t even be out. Unfortunately, Namjoon just had to physically drag his ass out of his apartment. The same old routine. Jeongguk never should’ve given Namjoon the key.
Guess he mistook it for one of Jeongguk’s off days. Some days Jeongguk likes to get away, so he drags Namjoon with him to the back. It’s days like that when they like to hide away together and just read or draw. The best thing about Namjoon is Jeongguk didn’t have to actually talk to him for either of them to get what they mean. It’s just become second nature. But today he’d rather be alone. Asleep. Dead, maybe. But Namjoon exists.
Jeongguk’s going through the illustrated copy of the Metamorphosis. The watch is back, heavy on his wrist. It’s actually kind of depressing, how much he put off reading it, but it’s actually really interesting. He’d checked a nearby bookstore for Kundera too.
Maybe he shouldn’t be reading Taehyung’s favorite books, but they’re good ones.
“I thought you’d go around Europe a bit more before coming back, Jeongguk-ah.” Namjoon says, mentioning it for the first time since he’d gotten back. Jeongguk shrugs. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
“Ah, well, I missed Seoul.”
“You? Homesick?” Namjoon smiles. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
Jeongguk doesn’t feel like answering. Namjoon’s always had a knack for drawing the truth out of him eventually. Namjoon seems satisfied enough with his vague explanations. Seokjin’s probably told Namjoon everything already anyway.
The afternoon’s dragging on peacefully and uneventfully when a voice drifts in from the front of the store. Jeongguk freezes. He knows that voice.
“Is Jeongguk here?”
Jeongguk chokes on air.
“ Fuck. ” Jeongguk whispers — whisper-yells, really — and ducks his head, going to pull his hood up. “I’m not here, hyung, I swear to god.”
“I know he’s there, that’s what he sounds like when he’s choking!”
Namjoon’s eyes go wide. “How does he know what you —”
Jeongguk groans. May the good lord in heaven take him this fucking instance.
“Go right ahead. He’s in the back.”
Kim Seokjin. The fucking traitor.
“ Hyung! ”
Taehyung’s voice is so sure, so determined, it makes Jeongguk’s heart race a little. He’s real. This can’t be happening. Jeongguk was so close to fucking accepting the fact that he was never going to see him again, that he might never find anyone who could ever come close. Taehyung can’t just show up here and demand to see him when he was the one who refused to talk to Jeongguk before he left.
Seokjin’s head pokes through the door. “Namjoon, honey, please give the kids a moment alone.” Jeongguk scowls at him, and then pouts at Namjoon.
“Joon hyung, please, you can’t just—”
Namjoon looks at Jeongguk, and then at Seokjin. His husband’s tapping the door with his fingers, a smile on his face. Namjoon just grins at him. Another traitor.
“Sorry! Good luck.”
“ Hyung !” Jeongguk whines.
The door shuts for a split second before opening again, and Taehyung slips in. Jeongguk freezes halfway out of his seat, and Taehyung smiles at him.
All the air rushes out of Jeongguk’s lungs, just the sight of Taehyung leaving him a little dizzy, a little nauseous. Is there a trash can nearby? There better be, because Jeongguk’s about to puke.
He looks the same. Absolutely the same. His gorgeous brown hair is mussed up by the wind, a sweater loose on his shoulders, pants with holes at the knees. Maybe his cheeks are a little flushed, maybe his eyes are a little glassy. Wherever he is, Taehyung is still beautiful.
“What are you doing here?” Jeongguk forces out, gripping the edge of the table to keep himself standing. “How did you—”
His knees wobble as he stands up, and Taehyung reaches out on instinct, grabbing Jeongguk’s bicep to keep him afloat. The contact burns, and Jeongguk shakes him off. This is too much.
Taehyung steps back, gives Jeongguk his space.
“Um,” Taehyung scratches the nape of his neck. “Jimin?”
“Well, yeah,” Jeongguk can stand on his own now, feet planted on the ground. He’s going to do this. He’s going to be fine. After all this time, he can’t let himself drown. He steadies his voice. “But how did Jimin find me?”
“I added Yoongi hyung and Hoseokie hyung on Facebook.” Taehyung explains, “They’re friends with you too. Besides, I thought it was about time to visit my family.”
“Your family lives in Daegu, not here.” Jeongguk points out. Just to be a dick.
Taehyung opens and closes his mouth like a goldfish, eyebrows knitting together in frustration. Jeongguk hates how cute he is. Even now.
“Shut up for a second. Please .” Taehyung looks so genuine it makes Jeongguk’s heart ache. So he does. Taehyung reaches over, and takes Jeongguk’s hands in his. His touch is so gentle, like one wrong move could shatter them both. And it might.
A deep inhale, and then, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Jeongguk blurts out, letting the hurt seep into his voice. “You were right.”
“ I know . You said as much.” Taehyung sounds a little panicked, grips his hands tighter, but he deflates in a second, lets go. When his hands slip back to his sides, Jeongguk almost follow them, takes them back. He resists.
A few more breaths, and Taehyung continues. “I’m still sorry. I overheard you, when you were on the phone. I thought I was just...I dunno, just another notch on your headboard, y'know? The door was open, I thought — It sort of hit me how temporary we were, and I figure I should just...leave you, before you left me."
Jeongguk's heart sinks to the ground. He was so busy trying to ignore what Namjoon was saying and searching for his sweater that he must've missed the door opening. When he tries to replay the conversation in his head, there are only bits and pieces, but he remembers himself saying he'd left others behind, Namjoon pointing out he'd left a lot of people. Jeongguk's stomach twists with guilt.
Taehyung shakes his head.
"But I was stupid. I should’ve opened that door. I should’ve talked to you. It was shitty of me to ignore you for that long. You tried so hard, reached out every single day, and I was — I was hurt, and I didn’t want to — I should’ve gone to you. I should’ve hugged you, something — ”
Every word makes Jeongguk’s ears ring, sends tendrils of pain through his bones.
He swallows, and croaks out, “It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not. It’s not fine.” Taehyung says, voice cracking in the middle, and Jeongguk realizes he’s crying. “I told you that you ran away, but I— I was the one who ran. I didn’t let you come back, and I — I’m so sorry. I never got to answer.”
Every ounce of fear Jeongguk’s ever felt is reflected back to him in Taehyung’s eyes, and he realizes maybe they’d both been stupid. Taehyung grabs Jeongguk’s hands again, thumbs brushing over his knuckles. He’s holding on so tight, like he’s a lifeline, like if he ever lets go, he’ll never get another chance.
“I love you too, Jeon Jeongguk.” Taehyung says. “I’m yours, if you’ll take me.”
Honest to god, Jeongguk laughs. It’s loud and unabashed and Taehyung’s probably looking at him like he’s gone mad, but he doesn’t care. He brings Taehyung’s hands up, and rests them on either side of his face. When he looks back at Taehyung, the other boy’s mouth is agape, confused.
Jeongguk grins, leans into Taehyung’s hand.
“Say it again.” When he giggles, the tears spilling over his cheeks, drip down onto his shirt. Taehyung’s face breaks into the widest grin in the world, looks like it might split his face in half, and Jeongguk swears it’s the only thing he ever wants to remember.
Taehyung laughs with him, arms wrapping around Jeongguk’s neck and pulling him close. Suddenly the world feels a little brighter, the colors are more vibrant, the air tastes sweeter as he breaths in the other boy’s scent. He missed him, missed this.
Taehyung buries his nose into Jeongguk’s shirt, and mumbles loud enough to hear.
“I love you, Jeon Jeongguk.”
When Jeongguk pulls away to look at Taehyung, leans their foreheads together, it feels like the entire world shifts back into place. After everything, Taehyung’s still beautiful, warm, the closest thing Jeongguk has to a chance. It’s a risk he’s willing to take, for the first time in his life.
Jeongguk kisses him, chaste and sweet. Their lips slot together like two halfs of a whole, and for the first time Jeongguk doesn’t want to run away, because right here is where he belongs, in the dingy backroom of Seokjin’s coffeeshop, in the arms of the man he loves.
“I love you too, Kim Taehyung.” Jeongguk says, heart full to bursting. “More than anything else in this world.”
“When are you going to Daegu?” Jeongguk asks, Taehyung’s hair tickling his nose.
Taehyung doesn’t answer, just continues tracing patterns onto Jeongguk’s chest with the tip of his finger. It’s colder in Seoul than it is in Prague, for some reason, and the fancy Gangnam apartment Jeongguk lives in has much better heating than the place Taehyung booked. Obviously the only logical course of action was to have him check out.
The best heater will always be Taehyung curled into his side, Jeongguk decides, head tucked into the crook of his neck. He fits perfectly there. Jeongguk jostles Taehyung a little with the arm that’s around his shoulders, reminding him that he asked a question.
“Oh, I lied.” Taehyung cranes his neck to smile up at him, and he at least has the decency to look sheepish. “My parents are in Seoul for the week.”
Jeongguk smacks his chest lightly, laughing. “So you don’t have to go anywhere?”
Taehyung nods, turning so his face is completely pressed against Jeongguk’s side, lips puckered out so they’re brushing against his heated skin.
“Mmm, I’m all yours, babe.” Taehyung grins, blowing a raspberry into Jeongguk’s side, making them both giggle. “Unless you want to meet them. I’m having dinner with them tomorrow.”
Jeongguk nearly chokes, stuttering a little as he replies, “Y-your parents?” Not once in his life has he ever met a significant other’s parents. He has no experience in this. He might literally die from panic.
“They’d love you.” Taehyung says, not a hint of mocking in his voice.
“Would they, really?” Jeongguk asks, jutting out his lower up for maximum cuteness. Taehyung shoves at his face.
“Of course.” Taehyung looks pleased with himself, tightens his arms around Jeongguk’s middle. “I have great taste.”
Jeongguk smirks back. “Mine’s better.”
Neither them know how long this will last, and for the first time in his life he doesn’t care. Soon Taehyung will have to go back to school, and so will Jeongguk, and maybe they’ll struggle with the time difference, their classes, their grades, graduation. But for now they’re together, snuggled up in Jeongguk’s bed, in a city they feel they could both belong in, and rooted in each other.
Time need not stop, because every second that passes becomes another second with Taehyung, until Taehyung, and Jeongguk can deal with that.
Across continents, countries, time, and circumstances, Jeongguk is willing to fight for this boy, for the chance to be with him forever.
this was supposed to be 15k~20k but i have no concept of self control. this is my love letter to a cityi i miss. maybe i'll go back to prague one day.
i hope you all enjoyed this! <3 comments really appreciated.
Chapter 5: epilogue #1
yoongi and hoseok, prague. 2 days later.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“A man is responsible for his ignorance.”
― Milan Kundera, Laughable Loves
“Are they naked?” Hoseok says, keeping the phone at arm’s length. Taehyung had foregone the usage of words in announcing his and Jeongguk’s brand new official relationship, opting instead of just send their friends a cute couple selfie of themselves. In bed.
“Shirtless, at least.” Yoongi squints at the screen. It’s a little bit blurry, with the two of them wearing equally blissed out expressions, lazy smiles, their hair mussed up in a way that could say either they’d just woken up or just finished a morning slow fuck. Knowing them, it could be either. Yoongi doesn’t need to know.
“God, I'm so glad they're together.” Hoseok types out a bunch of green faced puking emojis and sends it. He tosses his phone onto the couch opposite from them. “It was so stressful watching them pine for each other like that.”
“Hoseok...” Yoongi’s never felt smaller, his voice barely above a whisper. Hoseok doesn’t hear him.
“Honestly,” Hoseok cracks open a can of Coke, and the sizzle echoes in Yoongi’s ears. “Who'd be that blind?”
There’s a loud thud in his head from how his heart drops to his stomach, twisting angrily and shooting tendrils of pain all the way to his toes. This is too much, Yoongi swears, the tears pricking at his eyes a sign of weakness he refuses to show.
Yoongi glances away, staring at the ugly carpet. "You would, you ass."
Hoseok turns his head to look at Yoongi, “Me? What did I —”
Yoongi snorts, “Forget it.” Before Hoseok can react, Yoongi’s grabbing his coat and slipping it on, braving the cold of the alley more inviting than getting his heart broken over and over and over again. He’s tired.
Yoongi’s already turned away when he hears the can slam onto the table, the door swinging open as he passes through.
“Wait, Yoongi —” Hoseok grabs his arm just as he walks out, pulling hard enough to turn him back around. The confusion on his face is just another stab in Yoongi’s chest. “What ? Are you saying what I think you're saying?”
Yoongi swallows around the lump in his throat, words coming out choked. Depressing.
“If you haven't realized it by now you're beyond help.”
For the first time in a long time, Yoongi lets himself stare into Hoseok’s eyes. They’re wide in wonder, fear, slow realization rippling into waves. Yoongi’s eyebrows knit in anger, helplessness. It’s no use. He might as well look while he can, memorize the curve of his lids, every eyelash, the tip of his nose, the mole on his upper lip. Before he can no longer look at his best friend. The love of his life.
Yoongi sees the words form on Hoseok’s mouth more than hears them. Hoseok’s hand is still circled around his bicep, squeezing lightly.
Without a shred of hesitation, Yoongi answers, loud and clear.
“As long as I can remember.”
Hoseok smiles. He goddamn fucking smiles. It’s soft and genuine and makes his eyes shine in that delicious way Yoongi could drown in for the rest of his goddamn life, but that doesn’t make the pain in his chest ebb away. If anything, it throbs stronger. Yoongi narrows his eyes at him.
“Shut up.” Hoseok whispers, no venom in his voice, “That was so dramatic.”
“No, really. I—I've just been…” Yoongi stumbles over his words as Hoseok’s hand slides down his arm and grabs onto his fingers. His heart stutters in his chest. “— too scared you'd, I dunno. Be grossed out or something.
“Why would I be?” Hoseok’s smile hasn’t faltered. Yoongi swears this is the most terrified he’s ever felt in his life.
“I'm me?” Yoongi offers weakly, and Hoseok chuckles.
“And you call me blind?”
“You are, though.” Yoongi insists, tugging his hand out of Hoseok’s hold. The way Hoseok’s hand stays in place before it falls limp to his side makes Yoongi want to run far, far away.
“God , I... I thought you just.” Hoseok runs his fingers through his hair, frustration seeping into his voice. Yoongi doesn’t want to have to figure out what it means. “Didn't date. Thought you weren't the love type.”
Yoongi honest to god almost laughs out loud — a real guffaw that could level the city to the ground — but he holds it in, wants to understand what Hoseok’s been thinking all this time. It might be the only chance he gets.
“What made you think that?” Yoongi gets through the sentence without fucking it up. There’s that, at least.
There’s a sheepish look on Hoseok’s features, almost downright ashamed. Like everything Yoongi’s ever done is only just now catching up with him. Absolutely unbelievable.
“You never mentioned ever, I dunno.” Hoseok shrugs, hands tugging at the hem of his sweater, running down his own arm, rubbing the nape of his neck. Everywhere but Yoongi. “Crushing on anyone, sex with anyone, even. Never. You never talked about boys, or girls, or anyone, really. I thought you’d tell me what you wanted to tell me. And I'm your best friend, so I didn't wanna prod.”
“Why the fuck not?” Yoongi comes across a little harsher than he wanted, cringes at himself. “You're so goddamn nosy about everything else.”
“Yeah,” Hoseok takes it in stride, looks like he wants to nudge Yoongi but hesitates. “But you're you.”
“What about me, then?”
“You’re Yoongi.” Hoseok looks at him like he’s everything in the world, but Yoongi refuses to believe it. “If there was ever anyone, I figured you’d tell me.”
Hoseok’s smile is still there, bright and constant, a little sad in the edges, like he’s dangling what Yoongi can never have right in his face. It’s infuriating. Yoongi crosses his arms over his chest, takes a half-step back.
“It’s always been you, asshole.” Yoongi spits, “It’s only ever been you.”
And it has. Ever since they’d met when they were teenagers Yoongi’s heart’s been occupied. Hoseok was so bold and loud compared to his reserved nature that he naturally just filled up all the space in Yoongi’s life, his joy pouring into the cracks where Yoongi felt like he lacked. Hoseok had helped bring out the cheekiness in his teenage self, an energy Yoongi never knew he had. He wouldn’t be the same without him.
It wasn’t like Yoongi was desperate. He was fine being single. He was fine being alone. But he’d always thought he could handle loving from the shadows for the rest of his life. Hoseok’s friendship was enough. It would always be enough.
What Yoongi didn’t expect was the pain, leaving him full to bursting, leaking at the mouth until he wants nothing more than to drown. Maybe one day he’ll be strong enough.
That day is not today.
“Yoongi I —” Hoseok exhales, finally letting the goddamn smile drop, “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to lie to me.” Yoongi wants to sound angry, but he deflates, lets the defeat make his shoulders sag and his frown etch deep into his face, “Just tell me you don’t like me and get it over with.”
“Yoongi, god ,” Hoseok doesn’t hesitate now, reaching over to ease Yoongi’s arms off his chest, grabs both of his hands in his own. There’s a frantic joy in his eyes, darting back and forth across Yoongi’s face. Yoongi doesn’t understand until he speaks. “I do like you. Oh my god, I love you, you dickhead.”
Yoongi’s entire body melts to the ground. This isn’t happening.
“What?” Yoongi’s heart is beating in his ears, entire body going rigid. “N-no you don’t. Don’t be stupid.”
Hoseok laughs, and it’s happy and raw, throat scratching in that way it does when he’s overwhelmed. He brings his hands up to cup Yoongi’s face, thumbs brushing across his cheeks. When did Yoongi start crying?
“I’m not, Yoongi, I swear.” Hoseok looks almost hysterical, grin threatening to rip his face in half, cheeks round and shining. Somewhere in the back of Yoongi’s panicking mind he thinks he’s beautiful. “I mean it. I really mean it.”
“You always acted so disinterested!” Yoongi pushes past his disbelief and into annoyance, wondering how much time he must’ve wasted being a complete and utter coward. This was unreal. “Like I wasn’t even an option. You even had that one girlfriend a year ago! You really liked her!”
She was pretty and blonde and sweet and kind and she danced like a dream. Everything Hoseok could ever need in a partner, and Yoongi had never felt more defeated than during the duration of that relationship. When they’d unceremoniously broken up, Yoongi tried not to throw a party. Bought himself a beer and drank it alone instead. Pathetic.
“I did, but I still liked you more.” Hoseok says, hands going down to rest on Yoongi’s neck, the contact burning lava into his veins. “We’re both idiots.”
“And fucking hypocrites.” Yoongi snaps, really trying not to pout, but he does anyway. He doesn’t miss the way Hoseok’s eyes dart down for a split second. “I can’t believe those two assholes who’d known each other for upwards of three months confessed sooner than we did.”
“We have some catching up to do then.” Hoseok steps closer, arms winding around Yoongi’s neck. Something erupts in Yoongi’s stomach and makes every nerve in his body catch fire, his hands instinctively coming up to rest on Hoseok’s hips.
This wasn’t happening. This can’t be happening. Hoseok’s breath puffs warm on Yoongi’s lips for a second, waiting.
Yoongi shuts his eyes, and nods.
Their lips are a little chapped from the cold, a little desperate from the tension, and there’s just enough fear that it’s chaste and sweet, a simple press of lips, and yet still it’s everything Yoongi’s always dreamed of. Hoseok’s hands wander into his hair, one arm around his shoulders, and Yoongi curves into him.
The tilt of his head is just enough to deepen the kiss, tongue slipping into Hoseok’s mouth. When he wraps his arms completely around Hoseok’s middle and he falls into chest, it feels a lot like falling in love all over again.
When they pull away, they’re both panting, tangled up in each other, and the world feels a little less blurred along the edges. Like Yoongi had spent this entire time running around blind. Hoseok is the clearest thing he’s ever seen in his life.
It feels like the weight of the universe has been lifted off Yoongi’s shoulders. He pushes his face into Hoseok’s shoulder and lets the tears soak through his sweater. Lets Hoseok rub his back and shush him, lets himself feel small in the arms of the man he loves.
After all that, at the very least, he deserves to cry.
one more epilogue after this :P
Chapter 6: epilogue #2
taehyung and jeongguk, a little bit later.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Metaphors are dangerous, Metaphors are not to be trifled with.
A single metaphor can give birth to love.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
“Congratulations, babe. I know you could do it.” Jeongguk’s voice probably sounds crackly over the bad connection Taehyung has in the courtyard of his university, which is choppy at worst and slow at best. Still, Taehyung’s grin is unmatched, wide and bright, despite being pixelated.
He’s just been dismissed from his graduation ceremony. Jeongguk would’ve flown out to watch, but he’d been swamped with his own final projects that he could barely find the time to eat, let alone fly to Ireland for a weekend. Pretty sure there’s still speckles of paint all over his face, but he couldn’t wait to Facetime with Taehyung.
Long distance is hard. Jeongguk does nothing but miss him.
“You were teasing me about failing just three weeks ago,” Taehyung points out, pushing the blurry tassel out of his face, “Who’s laughing now, ass?”
“Me, because I get to see you in a week.” Jeongguk smiles softly, trying to decipher the details of his boyfriend through the mess on the screen. It was fine and all, talking to him like this, but there was nothing compared to actually being there, breathing his air.
“A week.” Taehyung repeats, letting out a long exhale. “That’s too long.”
“It’ll pass by in no time,” Jeongguk says, tilting his head to the side, “Have you even started packing?”
Taehyung’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.
Jeongguk watches the mess of pixels blur into a mass of blacks and blues as Taehyung stands up and presumably runs back to his dorm. There’s the stomp of his boots as he goes up the staircase of his building, the toga swishing above the camera as Taehyung swings his arms. Jeongguk’s laugh bubbles out of him, the fondness in his chest blooming warm and sure. Taehyung must still have his headphones in, because he laughs along with him until he’s panting and breathless, just outside his dorm room.
“Congratulations, you two.”
Namjoon peeks at the screen from behind Jeongguk’s head, the top of his head just visible by Jeongguk’s ear. Taehyung grins from the floor of his room, clothes strewn across the floor. Most of his belongings had been shipped back home in big boxes the week before, but now it was on him to make sure none of his things were lost to Ireland.
After so long, Taehyung’s finally leaving, Jeongguk thinks. Coming home.
“Why me too?” Jeongguk asks. Taehyung tosses a shirt at his camera, barely missing by an inch.
“You’re graduating too, dummy.”
“Oh, right.” Jeongguk plops down on his stomach, bouncing a little on the couch’s springs. “Sometimes I forget about that.”
The last few weeks felt like a blur of coffee, energy drinks, paint, and instant ramen. Even Seokjin couldn’t convince Jeongguk to eat his proper three meals a day, because Seokjin could never find him. Jeongguk spent most of his time in the studio, sometimes on Facetime with Taehyung as he painted and the other typed, the two of them saying nothing, just clinging onto each other’s digital presence.
It helped him deal with it, to say the least. Jeongguk just wishes Taehyung were really there.
“How was your exhibition?” Taehyung asks in the middle of an attempt to fold one of his slacks. “Sorry I couldn’t go see it.”
“That’s fine. All the displays are in my living room anyway. We can sit on the couch and pretend we’re a bunch of pretentious art snobs. I can even make us a cheese plate.” Jeongguk swings his legs, and he probably looks like a disgusting lovesick teenager right now. He kind of doesn’t care.
Taehyung grins at the camera, “What kind of man would say no to cheese plate?”
“Isn’t your ass lactose intolerant?” Namjoon calls out from the kitchenette, “Gas. Incredibly sexy.”
“The sexiest!” Taehyung giggles, and it’s music to Jeongguk’s ears. Taehyung’s grin is full and boxy, his eyes curving into nothing. Jeongguk just stares, longing aches in his gut.
“One more week.” Jeongguk murmurs, but he knows Taehyung catches it. Had seen the words form on his lips.
Taehyung grins at him, forming his hands into a heart.
“One more week, babe.”
Incheon is cold. It’s not so much spring anymore, and the beginning of summers in Seoul are not so much sizzling as they are smoldering. The air conditioning is turned up to compensate. Jeongguk has a doughnut from Krispy Kreme and a seat near a fountain. Taehyung will find him. They both must know this airport from top to bottom by now.
Jeongguk licks his fingers and tosses the wrapper, trying to hide the way his fingers are shaking. He only hasn’t seen his boyfriend in six months. No big deal.
There’s a crowd by the door. Holding signs up with hotels, names, messages of sweet nothings all in homemade cardboard and marker. Jeongguk watches from his spot at the barrier as families are reunited. As confusion melts into relief on foreigners’ faces as they find their escorts. Jeongguk had always been on the other side, pushing past these people. The novelty of arrival had worn off. Maybe he should start looking again.
Soon the crowd thins out. Jeongguk nerves are fried, each second that passes just adding more and more to his worries. For a second he stares at his hands, wills them to stay steady, and just then the doors open and a rush of cold air hits his skin.
Jeongguk looks up, and his heart stops in his chest.
His feet move before his mind does, eyes never leaving Taehyung. Soon they’re face to face, standing merely two feet away from each other.
Taehyung’s just as beautiful as he is the day he met him, hair a little messy and skin a little flushed. His eyes are tired from the flight, shining, but still his smile is bright and beautiful. And real.
There’s no crackle of the speakers, no blur of faulty connections, and the screen doesn’t cut him off past his neck. No longer limited by his phone’s resolution, by time zones, by distance. Air rushes into Jeongguk’s lungs like it’s the first real breath he’s taken in ages.
“Hello, Tae.” Jeongguk chokes out, tears pricking in his eyes. “Welcome home.”
The kiss feels like waking up from a dream. They fall into each other’s arms. A fire in Jeongguk’s belly sparks to life, the warmth pouring over him, smiling so wide his cheeks might burst. The wind blows across Incheon’s arrivals area like the promise of tomorrows to come, two people in love who have all the time in the world in front of them.
A new beginning, wrapped in the tail end of spring, finally together. Home.