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The Romance of Old Clothes

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Taehyung is talking to Jungkook on FaceTime when he first spots Kim Seokjin rooting around in the sparkly thong bin.

Usually Taehyung would pop up from behind the counter, all sunshine and clamor, launching into his Welcome to Vintage Minnie spiel and pointing out all the new stuff they’ve got. There’s a whole rack of 70s Gucci and Moschini that Seokjin might particularly be interested in. He’s one of their big media clients, always costuming some actor or model in big name shows and dramas, but Taehyung resists.

He’s not talking to Seokjin today.

“Hullo?” Seokjin calls, dropping a vintage Victoria’s Secret thong back into the bin. “Jimin? Tae?”

Seokjin is wearing a magenta suit and a distinctly flustered expression. Taehyung spies on him from beneath the counter and knows that the frown isn’t because of the fake rhinestones on the lacy lingerie he’s now holding up. Seokjin may look polished and bright, his face a transcendent paen to beauty, but Taehyung’s worked long enough in fashion to sniff out the purgatorial aura of corporate frazzle.

Something’s wrong at work—again.

When Seokjin spots the top of Taehyung’s head—this month a pale, faded purple—he begins to wave frantically.

“Taehyung!” he calls, madly cheerful. “Fancy meeting you here.”

The boutique literally belongs to Taehyung and Jimin, so either Seokjin is going through some sort of incredible neurological crisis, or he’s fucking desperate. Either way— Taehyung tells himself—he doesn’t care.

Seokjin’s not his problem.

“Don’t ignore me, Taetae. I said I was sorry.”

Taehyung scowls a little and squeezes Yeontan tighter. The puppy nips at his finger in annoyance. “Ow. Thanks, dude.”

“Are you talking to Yeontan again?” Jungkook asks, then squints like he’s trying to peer around the phone. “Is that Jin hyung I saw for a moment there?”

“Nope.”

“Hi, Jin hyung!”

Seokjin sighs resignedly. “Hi Jungkook.”

“Hyung, you should go talk to Jin hyung.”

“Nope.”

“He looks like he needs help.”

“I don’t care.”

“He can literally hear us right now.”

Taehyung blinks innocently. “Who do you mean? Is there someone in here?”

Yeontan barks unhelpfully, friendly and excited as he tries to see around Taehyung for Seokjin.

Jungkook rolls his eyes. “Oh my god, are you still moping about last Wednesday?”

“Jimin said it’s okay if I ignore customers as long as they’re not asking questions or buying something. We believe in non-assisted choice making.”

Jungkook smirks. “Jin hyung looks like he’s buying something.”

“Not unless it’s an 80s pineapple-print silk thong, he isn’t,” Taehyung says, crossing his arms. “You’re so useless, Jungkook-ah. Weren’t you supposed to be reading my cards?”

“I am, I am. I have a good feeling about you talking to Jin hyung today,” Jungkook says, shifting a bit so that a ring of sparkling fairy lights suddenly flutter atop his head. He looks like he’s in a badly positioned Snapchat filter. “A very good feeling.”

“You just don’t want to lose the standing invitation to dinner at his house on Fridays.”

“No, no,” Jungkook’s eyes begin to glaze over. “I see…change.”

For a moment he looks like some of the elder witches Taehyung has run across during coffee-meets in Seoul—wise and gifted with foresight and actually magic, not Tumblr-taught like he, Jimin and Jungkook were. Taehyung holds Yeontan a little tighter, eyes wide, wondering if this is a Moment somehow, like that one time he and Jungkook were fucking around with crystals and a curtain randomly caught on fire. Or the other time when he and Jimin messed around with a purported love potion, spilled it in the elevator, and had all of Taehyung’s apartment falling in love with his shoes.

But then Jungkook swallows, visibly, and Taehyung deflates. “You probably just see Jimin walking around pants-less right now, don’t you?”

“What? Uh—right. Yeah. It’s distracting. Never mind that! As your conscience, confidante and singular coven-bro, I really foresee change for you, hyung. Good change.”

Jungkook ducks out of the screen for a second. Taehyung distinctly hears a gentle smack and a loud giggle.

“I’ve got to go. Talk to Seokjin hyung!”

“I don’t want to—”

“Non-negotiable. Bye! Also, Yeontan is eating your Death card.”

“Shit. Yeontan, no.”

It’s too late. Taehyung wrestles madly for what’s left of the tarot card with the angry ball of fur determined to swallow it. He’s in a full-blown yipping competition with his dog by the time Seokjin starts ringing the giant golden bell on the counter.

“Come on, Tae. You can’t ignore me forever.”

Yeontan lets go of the card. The glossy midnight-blue stock is a mess of drool and the skeleton on the face-side has lost his skull. Taehyung drops his head resignedly onto a pile of yellowing wedding dresses. They whisper lightly to him about heartbreaks and divorces.

It’s only eleven in the morning. All he wants is peace and love and for Yeontan to learn to stop eating everything.

Seokjin rings the bell again. He’s holding up the pineapple thong. “Now you have to come ring me up, Taehyung,” he says, smug. “I’m a customer.”

“Fine.

Taehyung gets slowly to his feet and walks towards where Seokjin’s waiting. He checks himself in the ceiling mirror. With his hair under a snapback the Resting Bitch Face he’s got on is impressive, but the effect is slightly ruined by the wriggling dog in his arms.

“Is this really from the 70s?” Seokjin asks, when Taehyung wordlessly rings him up. He checks the elastic a couple of times and looks unduly pleased. Then he reaches to pet Yeontan and the traitor lets him.

Taehyung glowers. The thong is bright and gossipy, whispering loud about something in Bahamas. He stuffs it in a bag.

 “This puppy’s grown so big,” Seokjin croons. “He was so small just a month ago!”

When Taehyung doesn’t respond, Seokjin takes an exaggerated bite off what looks like a churro from that upscale bakery down the street Taehyung can’t afford. And then he holds up another greasy bag, like a ringmaster enticing a lion with a particularly delectable cut of meat.

“Come on. I got your favorites. I said I was sorry, Taehyungie—what more do you want?”

Taehyung narrows his eyes. “What do you want?”

“Eat first,” Seokjin says, and pinches his cheek. “Every time I see you it’s like you’ve become skinnier.”

Taehyung glares but takes the bag of bakery goods. There’s something in there that’s definitely strawberry flavored. Expensively strawberry flavored—Taehyung can tell the difference.

Taehyung smells a bribe.

“Not amused,” he says, stuffing his face with a pastry, and Seokjin just laughs.

For a few minutes it’s just him and Seokjin quietly eating beneath the canopy of feathers and fairy-lights Jimin’s strung together. Taehyung sits on an overturned carton suspiciously looking over Seokjin while the older man inspects a mannequin. Yeontan curls around Taehyung’s feet, uncharacteristically quiet.

 “Yah, Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin ventures, his eagle-eye picking out the moment Taehyung bites into the strawberry cake. Seokjin may look harmless, but Taehyung knows very well that he’s a gentle shark, fishing for vulnerability. “About last Wednesday…”

“You abandoned me, hyung.”

“I was literally one room away.”

“He called the boutique an over-hyped rag store.”

“I know—”

“He called me an artless, snobbish, air-headed scam-artist.”

“I know—”

Taehyung’s voice cracks and he hates himself. “He said I’m a spoiled, sheltered rich boy who wouldn’t know the real world if it bit me on my ass.”

Seokjin’s eyebrows furrow. “Since when do you care what other people say about you?”

Taehyung fiddles with his embellished belt. He’s wearing clothes he fixed up himself today: 70s white Gucci cargo pants that he painstakingly removed rust-stains from, a shiny belt he saved from a bin of rejects, a  Versace shirt with silver heart-shaped buttons that’s at least three decades old. He’s got a long, silver earring on one ear to match, gold disco platform shoes, and he knows he looks unorthodox. He doesn’t usually care. Taehyung’s been unorthodox all his life. His accent is odd. His interests, his quirks, his fashion—everything about him is odd. The fact that he talks to clothes and they talk back is odd. He’s learned to ignore being stared at.

But there are lines he draws.

“I’m not stupid,” he says. “I don’t care about the other shit. I don’t like being called stupid.”

“You’re gorgeous and smart and very enterprising,” Seokjin crows, patting Taehyung’s thigh. He sounds like he means it. Taehyung sniffles a little and looks away. “And Yoongi knows that. You know he knows that. He was just having a bad day. And then you started with the—uh, the magic—”

Taehyung sighs. Min Yoongi is Seokjin’s best production designer—perhaps the best in the industry. When Seokjin first asked Taehyung to meet him to discuss a project, he and Jimin had nearly vibrated out of their bodies in excitement. Most people in the industry knows him and Jimin as the cool, eccentric BFFs with a great head for the vintage market. But in private, Taehyung and Jimin are incorrigible fanboys of a huge number of things—starting with fashion, detouring through anime, and tangled up all the way in Internet witchcraft.

Min Yoongi and his brilliant, evocative production work brings out the latter in them. They coo over the sheer visual artistry of all his advertising and drama work. Taehyung has a huge poster of a make-up brand campaign Yoongi’s worked on— all shimmer on dark skin, a summer-in-Eden palette of a gorgeous autumn harvest—framed and hanging on his bedroom wall.

But then last Wednesday happened.

“He had a rack of Dior knock-offs,” Taehyung pouts now, rubbing the top of Yeontan’s head. “I told him they were knock-offs. He didn’t want to believe me.”

“You told him these clothes aren’t really speaking to me.”

“Because they weren’t!” Taehyung protests. “They had no history. They were knock-offs.”

Seokjin sighs. “You told him I can’t hear their stories.”

“Hyung, you know I—”

I know,” Seokjin says, firmly, finding Taehyung’s hand to give it a little squeeze. He runs his gaze once around the store like he expects the clothes to start speaking to him as well. “He thought you were being flaky and weird on purpose. That you were bullshitting him with your artsy hipster stuff.”

“I’m not an artsy hipster.”

“You run a high-fashion vintage boutique, buy green coffee and artisanal honey, and fuck around with herbs and crystals. You’re weird people. Own it.”

Taehyung frowns, rubbing gently at his temples, trying to think past the fort of defensiveness he’s constructed in his head. He supposes he can come off flaky and weird—sure.

It still doesn’t warrant all the other shit Yoongi yelled about.

“He didn’t have to be so rude.”

“His department paid a lot of money for those,” Seokjin says. “He thought you were making fun of him.”

“Serves him right to buy a whole rack of mass-manufactured fakes without consulting someone who knows their shit first.”

“That’s exactly why we called you,” Seokjin sighs. “You know there’s crazy money in this project. Yoongi is a perfectionist—if the set demands vintage, he wants vintage and he wants it fast. You guys are the best wardrobe consultants in this field. Please just talk to him.”

“I don’t want to talk to him.”

“Taehyung,” Seokjin wails. “We’re already so delayed! Netflix might pick it up if the pilot works, Namjoon is freaking out over production already, we need—”

“Take Jimin. I’m not meeting Min Yoongi again. He hates me.”

“He doesn’t hate you, he just thought you were being waspish and new-agey and—”

“Stupid,” Taehyung whines, and swallows the rest of his cake. “Hyung, he thought I was a stupid, vapid moron who says LOL out loud just because I told him his stupid clothes are fake.”

“You do say LOL out loud.”

Taehyung wishes Yeontan would try to eat Seokjin instead of that hatbox he’s presently nibbling.

“Do this for hyung,” Seokjin wheedles. “I’ll buy you noodles. I’ll make you my special japchae. I’ll take you out for kebabs at that place you like.”

“No food can sway me, hyung. Ask Jimin.”

Seokjin sighs. “You know Jimin won’t go without you.”

Taehyung hesitates. This is true. Jimin is the best at finding the good stuff—he’ll jet it all over the world for a rare 20s Chanel dress or a Schiaparelli hat—but when it comes to dealing with costume designers and art directors, Jimin just loses interest. You have thicker skin, he tells Taehyung, you deal with them. This is true, in a way: Jimin is too nice and considerate, often lets people walk over him. Taehyung most usually doesn’t give a fuck.

Unless, apparently, when it comes to Min Yoongi.

Taehyung is still a fanboy. He’s a fanboy who likes art and color and the clean, clear visual aesthetics of every single thing Yoongi’s worked on. He thinks Min Yoongi can make an ad for toilet paper belong in the Museum of Modern Art.

Maybe he gives a fuck.

Maybe it hurts that of all people, it’s Min Yoongi who thinks he’s a fluff-headed vapid fashionista with nothing to him but an over-blown sense of importance.

“Taehyung-ah,” Seokjin says, wily and soft, “You’re not scared of meeting Yoongi, are you?”

Taehyung knows this is bait. Seokjin knows this is bait. Even Yeontan, running circles around Taehyung now, knows this is bait. His angry brows are very expressive, and right now they’re saying don’t take the bait, don’t be a stupid fish.

Maybe, when it comes to Min Yoongi, Taehyung’s kind of just a stupid fish.

“Fine,” he says, through gritted teeth, trying not to focus on Seokjin’s smug look as he reels Taehyung in, hook, line and sinker. “Fine. But tell him to get the stick out of his ass, first.”

Seokjin kisses his cheek. “I love you so much,” he says, and bolts upright. “I love you so, so much. I’ll really make you that japchae, Taehyungie, I promise!”

Yeontan stops running and sniffing to look at him, deeply judgmental.

“Don’t you start, too.”

Taehyung wishes he could disappear into the earth—it’s preferable over meeting Yoongi again. But this is also his pride at question here, that single most annoying thing of not being taken seriously when he’s built a life around something.

Taehyung wants to prove himself.

He hates it, knows it’s dumb and stupid, but that’s what he wants. He’s never been very good at ignoring his own impulses.

He grabs onto Seokjin’s pants when he tries to leave.

“At least buy your stupid pineapple thong, hyung.”

***

“Your profile says you’re into hobby witchcraft. What even is that?”

“It’s an alternative to getting drunk out of my mind and dying at twenty seven,” Taehyung says, sunnily. “Your profile says you’re Min Yoongi’s personal secretary.”

“I’m also his best friend and mood translator,” Jung Hoseok says, smiling wide at Taehyung. “It means that when he’s fucking shit up by being in one of his ridiculous moods, I make sure the boat doesn’t rock too much.”

“Jeez. Where were you last Wednesday?”

Hoseok grins happily. “Right here. You handled that quite well.”

Taehyung blinks. “I stormed out.”

He doesn’t add while nearly bawling my eyes out, but Hoseok seems entirely comfortable in dealing with people who’s found themselves caught up in a Yoongi thunderstorm. Taehyung thinks he already gets it.  That knowing look definitely speaks volumes.

All Hoseok says is, “But you didn’t throw your coffee at him, Taehyung-ssi.”

Taehyung wishes he had known this was a regular occurrence.

“Should I have?”

“I don’t know. Do you make enough money to support your expensive Starbucks habit?”

Taehyung frowns at the venti cup in his hand. It’s chai latte, he wants to say, which is sweeter, stickier, and therefore a better substance overall to throw at somebody. He thinks Hoseok will get a laugh out of it. But then he thinks of actually throwing it at Min Yoongi and his stomach does a horrible swoop again.

Hoseok turns to type something up on a computer. “Weren’t there two of you?”

“My partner’s in Japan, picking up some stock.”

“Ah, Park Jimin. He’s the procurer? The Minnie to your Mickey?”

“It’s kind of the other way around. We’re Vintage Minnie.”

“Cute.” Hoseok croons. He’s looking at a grainy magazine picture of them on the Internet, zooming in to see their faces. Jimin has his arms locked tightly around Taehyung in the picture, Taehyung’s cheek smushed up against the top of his head. They’re both grinning goofily at the camera. “D’you two date?”

“No, he’s more like my soulmate.”

“Okay—but there’s no way you haven’t fucked. So friends with benefits?”

Taehyung’s used to forward, but Hoseok is something else. “Sometimes? He has a boyfriend.”

Hoseok looks curious. “But what, it’s an open relationship?”

“Yeah, I guess. We don’t really define it. Does it matter?”

Hoseok winks. “It pays to be informed. Just wait right here. We’re doing some work with set design today. I’ll call when we’re ready for you.”

Jung Hoseok writes Taehyung’s name on a card, slips it into the most bafflingly ugly pouch Taehyung’s ever seen, and breezes through a giant glass door into the depths of the concrete giant that serves as Yoongi’s office.

Taehyung waits. He walks around the reception, hands in pockets, looking at the art prints on the wall and the tasteful, modern chandelier spilling light from the recesses of long, onyx columns.

The last time he met Yoongi, it had been in the studio Seokjin’s media house owned. The personal office is more Yoongi, has a bit of his touch, even if the biggest vibe Taehyung is getting from it is that of Yoongi saying he doesn’t care for appearances.

Why show-off  something with superficial assets when you’ve got the real talent?

The sofa looks old and worn and expensive—and whispers gently about sordid affairs that had taken place on it— but clashes with the carpet and the color scheme of the reception. A large decanter holds lemon water and is stood on a small, round table with stout legs. There’s an art print of a dying gazelle—which is weird—but artful and aesthetically pleasing still.

Everything matches, but nothing does. Everything is tasteful, but in a dark way, like Edward Gorey or David Lynch.

Taehyung’s a bit terrified. There’s something…sardonic about it.

An inside joke. A gentle savagery.

“Get a grip,” he mumbles to himself. “Get a fucking grip, Kim Taehyung.”

But it’s pointless.

If Yoongi’s office is throwing him out of his depth, then he doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he meets the man. Their first meeting is a blur of color and memory and a burn of unwanted tears. Taehyung’s determined to keep his calm this time.

He’s even wearing his favorite beige silk jacket.

The fabric whispers to him.

The jacket is a bespoke creation that had been made for some actor to wear on a red carpet nearly forty years ago. He’d won an award that night, screwed some lovely starlet, and fallen in love with another lovely starlet who he later married. There’s only good stuff associated with this.

“You’ve got this,” Taehyung mutters, pacing the carpet, touching the dead gazelle on the painting once for good luck. “You’ve got this. It’s clothes. You know clothes. No one knows clothes as well as—”

“Taehyung-ssi?” Hoseok is beaming at him. “Come on in.”

Taehyung dies a little in his head. His phone buzzes in his hand, and he looks down, sees a message from Jimin: give him hell, TaeTae.

Right. Sure.

Give him hell.

Taehyung can do that.

He thinks even the gazelle looks at him a bit pityingly. Considering it’s dead, that’s saying something.

 

***

Min Yoongi’s personal office is a mess of vision boards and white set mock-ups, props and fabric, wallpaper swatches and trophy cabinets. Taehyung’s immediately rattled. He spots awards for campaigns he knows, spies a Cannes Lion somewhere in there, and licks his lips in nervousness.

His stomach churns. He clenches the little jade charm Jungkook had made him in his fist. Why did Taehyung agree to this? No noodles in the world is worth the butterflies in his stomach.

He stands still in the middle of the room and forces himself to think of Yeontan chewing on a toy. The angry faces he’d make. Or Jungkook when he’s trying to fire up his Inner Eye—that concentrated, constipated look he gets is the best thing about their fun attempts at witchery so far.

Yoongi’s voice is a gentle whisper emanating from somewhere within a large leather couch.

“I know you two are practically married by now, but that’s a really ugly pouch, Hoseok-ah. Please get rid of it.”

Hoseok’s smile gets brighter. “This pouch is the reason your meetings happen on time and you’re not dying under the weight of a thousand deadlines, hyung. Be thankful for it. Also, Seokjin hyung’s vintage expert is here. Don’t eat him up, he’s a cute cupcake.”

“Cupcakes are supposed to be eaten, Hoseok-ah,” Yoongi says. He sounds nothing at all like the angry, crazy person Taehyung had met last Wednesday. “Cupcakes are to be devoured.”

“Well, this one’s called Kim Taehyung.”

Yoongi is quiet for a beat. Then he sounds a little confused when he asks, “Kim Taehyung—why’s this name familiar?”

Taehyung speaks up. “You sort of yelled at me last Wednesday.”

Yoongi stands up. Taehyung knows the man is hot—this is an objective observation he’s already made, long ago, having watched Yoongi’s interviews on industry web-zines and award shows. It’s not a conventional handsomeness. It’s intense, somehow both soft and sharp, his dark, slender gaze piercing through the screen and acute enough to flay Taehyung alive. It’s no different in real life—Yoongi looks at him, head to toe, and Taehyung feels giddy and pared down to bare bones when he’s done.

“Did I?”

 Yoongi’s dressed in what looks like really snuggly sweatpants and has soft hair falling in fucked-up layers across his forehead. His white sweater looks weirdly fluffy, too, enormous on his light frame, and suddenly Taehyung feels dreadfully overdressed. Here he is, in business formals and dress shoes, and Yoongi’s just throwing him off with his casual sleepwear style.

He doesn’t like this sudden ballast of wardrobe insecurity lapping at his heels.

Whatever. Min Yoongi can suck it. Taehyung knows he looks great in these clothes. He’s going to own it.

Taehyung slides his glasses up his nose and squares his shoulders. “Seokjin hyung sent me to assist you with the vintage looks you need.”

Yoongi frowns. “Wait—what was that about last Wednesday?”

“I came to meet you in the Big Hit studio. You yelled at me.”

“What for?”

“You don’t even remember?”

Yoongi shrugs. It’s an easy, rolling motion of his shoulders, soft and dangerous. “I meet a lot of people. Most of them annoying.”

Taehyung splutters. He walked in here with a bucketful of irritation and righteous anger, and now he just feels doused with cold water. He’s nursed this annoyance with Yoongi in his heart the whole week, and he didn’t even register enough to Min Yoongi to bother remembering. It’s irritating. He feels small, and for the longest time in his life, Taehyung has hated being made to feel small.

Small is the lost Kim Taehyung who uprooted himself from the farms in Daegu to make it big in Seoul. Small is the Kim Taehyung who got laughed at in high school. Small is the Kim Taehyung who kept his head down through most of college because everyone was cooler and richer and more fashionable than him.

He’s not small anymore.

Not in front of the world, and definitely not in front of Min Yoongi.

“Yeah,” he says. “You had a bunch of shitty clothes someone fooled you into thinking were authentic vintage high fashion. I told you they weren’t. You blew up.”

“Ah!” Yoongi says, low, like a light’s gone on somewhere in his head. “I remember now.”

“You do?”

“Fairy boy. Yeah. I remember you.”

What even.

“Wow,” Taehyung whispers, shocked speechless. “Wow.”

“Jin hyung said you were coming today,” Yoongi continues, oblivious to the silent storm raging through Taehyung’s head. He’s closer now, and in the bright lights of the office his skin is flawless and pale, like porcelain china Taehyung would very much like to smash. “Do you want Hoseok to take you through the project’s details?”

“No.” Taehyung grits out. Be professional. “I saw the dockets already.”

“Great,” Yoongi drawls. “So you know the subject. Scandal, high fashion, love motels, blah blah. You can take a look at the vision boards if you want. We’re still early on so the mock ups of the sets haven’t been made, but there are some designs and reference images for that, too. Does your schedule allow you to come see a few locations with me?”

“Yes.”

“I do it at night. Less traffic equals more work done. You’ll need to stay up later than normal.”

“I sleep late anyway.”

“Great. Hoseok will mail you the storyboards for the scenes you’ll be helping me with. Have a good day, Taehyung.”

“Wait—that’s it?”

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Taehyung bites his lip. “You’re just going to insult me, then talk all over it and be all business? How does that work?”

Yoongi at least bothers to look a bit surprised—whether at Taehyung calling him out or because he doesn’t remember is left up to mystery. “Did I?”

“Did you what?”

“Insult you?”

“You literally called me Fairy Boy not five minutes ago.”

Yoongi waves a hand dismissively. “That’s because you were wearing an odd sparkly thing the last time we met. I’ve worked on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was almost exactly how I costumed Puck.”

Taehyung’s been called Puckish before, and not nicely. It just gets him even more emotional. “I have a name,” he says, clipped and quiet. “You called me a scam-artist the last time we met.”

“You said some weird shit, then,” Yoongi says, a tad defensively. “But Seokjin hyung said to let it go, that you were very young, in the art scene and probably had a habit of psychoactives—

Fucking hell. What? Taehyung’s going to have to come up with an innovative way to murder Seokjin.

“You think I was stoned when I met you?”

Yoongi’s stare is steady. “Weren’t you?”

“No! Of course not.”

Yoongi’s lip curls in a hard smirk. “You were having a dialog with the clothes. I swear, and I quote, you said ‘this one says it’s from a sweatshop in China’. And then you picked out a dress and went this one has nothing to say at all.

Hoseok nods violently next to Taehyung, but sends him a quick look of apology. “True story.”

“That’s because it—that’s because I —”

He’s spluttering. He’s never been actually able to explain the clothes-whispering to anyone besides Jimin and Jungkook. They’re the only ones who heard him out and then embarked on this quest of Tumblr spells and aesthetic moodboards. No one’s ever believed him who he’s told except the two of them. The nicer people think it’s a quirk—Kim Taehyung who touches clothes and learns their histories—and the not-so-nice people think…well. What Yoongi thinks. That Taehyung’s either out of his mind, or on some weird acid trip.

“I don’t know if you know this,” Yoongi says, coolly,  “But I have a really low tolerance for this artsy bohemian stuff.”

Hoseok clears his throat, like he wants to mediate, but Yoongi just continues talking over him. There’s an itch in Taehyung’s throat, suddenly, a burn in his chest.

“This is work,” Yoongi goes on. His gaze is dark and heavy, withering. “Shit loads of work. It needs doing. So if you can do it like Jin hyung claims you can—great. If not, we’re going to need to find a different arrangement.”

Taehyung looks at him, a thousand responses spinning through his mind. Even in sweatpants and with his hair all mussed up, Yoongi looks perfect and unreachable, a Titan-esque larger-than-life creature with a dazzling mind Taehyung can’t hold a candle against. Taehyung’s been idolizing him for what feels like forever: ogling at the elaborate sets he makes for k-pop videos, marveling at the aesthetics in his commercials, dreaming of working in costuming under him.

Now he’s here and he can’t even find his words, and Min Yoongi’s looking at him like a thousand people before him have looked at Taehyung. Eyes narrowed and cat-like, eyebrows arched and heavy with judgment.

Like Taehyung’s an idiot.

An insignificant, fleeting curiosity.

Like he has no integrity, no sense of responsibility, no working mind to build anything respectable out of himself.

And just like every time this has happened before, Taehyung chokes up. The walls go up and he can’t breathe, so he just rolls his eyes in some show of irreverence, spins around on his heel, and leaves. He thinks Hoseok comes after him, even hears him call his name, but there’s a ringing in Taehyung’s ears that’s entirely too loud.

It’s like the ceiling’s coming crashing down on him. And when he’s out, it’s like the sky is crashing down on him, the wide blue of it smothering him from all sides. He thinks his heart is about to break out of his chest with how hard it’s going, and a litany of all the words he could have said to change things—turn the situation around, make him look better than a whiny, sensitive idiot—rises up in him till Taehyung thinks he’s going to suffocate.

It only really stops when he’s back in the shop.

Jungkook’s already there when he gets there, with a cup of tea on the counter even. He looks up wide-eyed from the comic book he’s reading when Taehyung rushes in.

“I spied with my little psychic eye that that didn’t go well?” he says, gentle and Bambi-eyed, and that’s when Taehyung—stupid, stupid Taehyung—bursts into tears.

 

***

 

“It’s worse because it’s him,” Jimin mumbles, one hand carding through Taehyung’s hair, the other flipping switches on the remote controller mindlessly. Taehyung’s not sure when he got back home— just that he has. He’s glad because having Jimin around automatically means 100% more cuddles, which is just what his inner doctor always prescribes for anxiety. “He loves Yoongi. I like his stuff too, but Taetae’s always idolized him, hasn’t he? He got into costuming because of him.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung mumbles, hoarsely, a pathetic creature confined within the void of a heavy blanket. Somehow, on top of fucking things up on the work front with Yoongi, he’s also managed to catch a miserable cold. He wonders vaguely if he should tell Jimin to save himself from it, leave Taehyung alone to his misery, but then remembers that they’ve both given each other worse. Their friendship can withstand a cold. “I’m a grade A dumbass.”

Jimin rubs circles on the top of his head. “No you’re not. Stop that. He was an asshole, you nearly had a panic attack— that’s all this is. Do you want to go eat chicken? Cake?”

“Yes.”

“No,” Jungkook says, from where he’s bent over a table photographing their latest witch aesthetic for their thriving Tumblr blog. “He’s sick. Feed him soup.”

“We’ve eaten fried squid when dying from 103 degree fevers in college, Jungkookie,” Jimin says, sagely. “We survived.”

Jungkook snorts. “O, Sir Jimin, Wise and Noble. If he throws up you’re in charge of cleaning up.”

“Oh shit,” Jimin looks down at Taehyung, eyes wide and worried. “Are you gonna throw up, Tae?”

Taehyung head-butts Jimin lightly in the stomach. “I’ve cleaned up after you, you ingratiate.”

Once.”

“Fuck you, Park Jimin. Was it my corpse that got you through hangover hell after every party in college ever?”

Jimin squeezes him. “Only because you’d walk into our apartment completely debauched at ten in the morning the next day. Our hangovers ran different circadian cycles.”

Jungkook frowns at them, but the corner of his mouth twitches in amusement. “You said you survived a roller-coaster while drunk, a marathon gaming session while stoned, and a viva exam on a six-pack of Redbull. What the fuck were you guys doing in college, running for first place in the Idiot Olympics?”

“It’s called living,” Jimin says, primly. “Right, Tae?”

Taehyung feels like dying right now. He groans and presses his face into his pillow, and Jimin rubs his back consolingly. Jungkook, sat at the other edge of the couch with Taehyung’s feet on his lap, reaches out to pat his knee.

“I can make the soup,” Seokjin pipes up, from where he’s been collapsed into Jimin’s bean bag doing some work on his shiny Mac. Yeontan naps on a dog bed next to him. “In fact, fuck it. I’ll make some tea too.”

Taehyung scowls at the ceiling. “Make sure you don’t put any LSD  in it.”

Jimin flicks his forehead. “Stop being lame, Taehyungie. Jin hyung swears he didn’t even actually say that.”

“Jin hyung’s smart,” Taehyung mumbles, suspiciously. “He only looks sweet. He’ll say anything. Today he’ll feed you chicken soup. Tomorrow he’ll sell you to the devil.”

Seokjin just laughs, loud and squeaky. “Glad my evil genius is finally being appreciated,” he says, and Taehyung hears him move towards the kitchen. “But honestly, this is all such a weird misunderstanding. You and Yoongi are both the nicest people I know. It’s a clear case of clashing personalities. You just need some time to settle into each other.”

Taehyung shudders and picks up his phone. “I never want to see him again.”

“It’s just the pilot, Tae. You saw the storyboard—it’s barely any scenes. Period dramas are so rare these days. Who knows when this opportunity’s going to come again?” Seokjin sounds sincere. Sincerity and Seokjin can both go drown themselves in a well as far as Taehyung is concerned. “It’s a great angle for your marketing as well.”

“Uh huh.”

“Jimin hyung, can you come help me string these lavender bunches together?”

Jimin goes to help Jungkook. Seokjin tries to peer over their shoulders. “Does any of this shit actually work?”

“Some of it, yeah. You won’t believe how many freakishly real spells actually float about on Tumblr. Mostly it just looks pretty and I can sell some of our stuff for easy money,” Jungkook says, shrugging.

"That's a very chaotic neutral position to take."

"I'm aware," Jungkook grins, big eyes wide. “This is sex magic. Wanna try?”

“Does it work?”

“Oh yeah,” Jimin smirks, cat-like, leaning into Jungkook. “We did a lot of trials.”

Seokjin hits him over the head with a spatula.

Taehyung forgets about his cold and TV pilots and witchcraft for a while, engrossed in texting until Jungkook climbs over him to look into his phone. “Who are you texting?”

“Jung Hoseok. He’s Yoongi’s best friend.”

“Wow. Why?”

“He’s funny. He likes puppies. We’re yelling about Yoongi together.”

“…okay.”

Taehyung shrugs. “He texted because he felt sorry about the way things went down. He’s buying me bubble tea when I’m better.”

They just look at him. They don't even seem surprised when this happens anymore - just amused.

“Says he’s my hyung now,” Taehyung continues, beaming. “I’m not complaining.”

“You’ll make friends with a pole if we let you,” Seokjin says, chuckling. “It’s not going to be any different with Min Yoongi. Just give it some time.”

“ I don’t care. Jimin can meet him.He makes me feel like shit. You’ll meet him, won’t you, Jiminie?”

Jimin sighs and pretends to choke Taehyung. “Fine, Mr. Dramatic. I’ll do it.”

Taehyung pumps his fist weakly. “Yay.”

And that’s that, Taehyung thinks. From where he’s lying with his face half smushed against Jimin’s thigh, he can see the giant framed poster of that dazzling campaign visual Yoongi had worked on. It’s upside down, all the yellow pooling together into a beehive pattern, each shape, color and pattern dripping with meaning, value and symbolism. It’s so simple to look at—like a mathematical equation, clear and exact. The solution to it unravels in Taehyung’s mind in the precise form of the product Yoongi’s trying to sell.

It’s sort of exactly like magic.

Min Yoongi—he still thinks—is a fucking genius.

Too bad it’s been canonically proved that most geniuses are also assholes.

 

***

 

Taehyung’s  buried himself in an enormous woolen coat, armed himself with two giant flasks of tea, and is curled up in a chair behind the counter of the shop when someone walks in. He smooths his hair down a bit and sits up a little straight, but doesn’t move out of the chair. His head still feels like something small has crawled in there and is hammering away at his frontal lobe. His mouth tastes like cough syrup. There’s probably a giant splotch on his cheek from where he’s been resting it against the marble counter-top while he fell in and out of light naps.

It’s rather late in the night and they usually close at seven. But Jimin had mentioned a celebrity walking in for some last minute shopping before an overseas red carpet, and he’s back in there somewhere trying to pull up a rack of options for them. Taehyung can hear him if he tries hard enough, humming and busying about, occasionally mumbling to himself.  It’s very quiet in here, just the soft whine of Jimin’s fairy lights and the whispering of the clothes, layers of history tumbling over each other in the language of silk and tulle and leather.

—a fever dream, Taehyung hears, a set like the world of Kublai Khan come alive, and we twirled and twirled all night—

she wore red and hooked her fingers through these belt loops, skin against soft leather—

Usually Taehyung finds it comforting. The whispering is gentle, sweetly cadenced, sweeping through him in calm, measured waves. Even the coat he’s wearing is contributing, soft and gruff, something about hills and winters and sex.

What is it about fashion and sex that they’re so inextricably interlinked? It’s a passing thought, light and quick as butterflies. He follows it up with watery eyes and a yawn.

The origami butterflies hanging from the ceiling flutter as the person wanders through the store, past half-clothed mannequins and some of their more fanciful displays involving Victorian lace or 20s sequined confections. The light from the street outside filters through their half-drawn blinds and paints the person in a chevron of dark and white. Taehyung yawns, presses his hand to his mouth, and curls tighter into himself. Maybe, once Jimin is back in here, he can go upstairs and drink some more tea and sleep on the shop’s couch until it’s time to go back home.

The music in the shop shifts to Bach. There’s a tap on the counter.

Taehyung tries to stand up, tangles his feet on the throw blanket Jimin had thrown on him at some point in the last hour, and nearly falls. It’s disorienting, and for a moment he sways heavily. A hand reaches out to grab his elbow and steady him.

“Whoa, there.”

“Thanks, sorry—” Taehyung starts, raises his head, and looks right into Min Yoongi’s dark, dark eyes. “Oh.”

His heart stills. In the uneven light, Yoongi’s jaw looks sharp enough to carve through diamond, and the shadow his spiky lashes throw across his cheeks is vaguely spider-like. His hair is slightly damp from the light snow outside, and there’s a dusting of it across his shoulders as well. He’s wearing round, gold-framed glasses, which makes him look older and gentler, even as his mouth curves into a dark smirk of distaste when he spots Taehyung.

“Well, look at that,” he says, in that gravelly voice. “It’s you.”

Taehyung wraps his coat tighter around himself. “Welcome to Vintage Minnie,” he says, flatly, in the most unenthusiastic voice he’s ever said those specific words in. “Are you looking for something in particular?”

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. He has a bit of color in his cheeks, soft and spreading, and Taehyung smells the slight scorch of bourbon.

Fun night, then.

“Ah,” Yoongi says, in a quiet exhale. “You see, I’m in a bit of a situation.”

There’s something playful and predatory about the way he says it. Taehyung swallows despite himself and the waves of annoyance rising to surface within him. Yoongi’s wearing snug leather now, taut across his shoulders, and silver glitters on his ears. His fingers are still hot against Taehyung’s elbow, tight and branding, almost like he doesn’t realize he’s holding on. Taehyung shakes him off and he withdraws his hand, still smirking, reaching up to brush a wing of dark hair off his forehead.

Taehyung forces his voice steady. “What sort of situation?”

“I need to pick some wallpapers for my set.”

“We’re not Sassy Spoon Home Decor. That’s next door, if you’re wondering.”

“I can’t pick a wallpaper unless I have wardrobe.”

“I’m sure you’ve found a pleasing arrangement that doesn’t involve us.”

“Unluckily, no,” Yoongi wanders towards a mannequin to inspect the Balmain sweater it’s wearing. He picks up a hat. “This a Borsalino?”

“Yes,” Taehyung squeaks, and then changes his voice to a lower timbre. “Yes.”

Yoongi just looks at him, eyes dark and soft and a little terrifying.

Taehyung tries a bit of telepathy. This involves squeezing his eyes shut and fervently wishing for Jimin to appear, like a tiny djinn or something. It works sometimes. But apparently, Yoongi is Taehyung’s mental equivalent of a signal jammer, and he can’t get past the weird panic of having him here.

Yoongi stops in front of a flowy blouse. “And this is—?”

“Biba.”

“How much is this?”

Taehyung clears his throat. “Uh. Your—your character wouldn’t wear that.”

Yoongi’s stare is dagger-sharp. “No?”

“She’s experimental, but she wouldn’t wear auntie colors. She’s a fashionable ex-pat New Yorker married to a man in show business,” Taehyung mutters, walking towards the shelves at the farther end of the store. He’s already given this too much thought, knows exactly what he wants and where it is. They didn’t even have these things when Seokjin first told them about the pilot: Taehyung and Jimin had scoured a few stores in Gwangjang market, put in some requests with a couple of procurers they knew in Taipei and Tokyo, got these shipped in.

Yoongi doesn’t follow Taehyung but stops to inspect some platform shoes, eyebrows furrowed. Taehyung is a bit glad. He stops in front of the shelf he needs and looks back, a little shudder running up his spine.

Why is Yoongi here now, today, out of the blue?  Taehyung curses Seokjin fervently in his mind, watching furtively out the corner of his vision as he picks up Bergdorf, Yves Saint Laurent, all the stuff that he thinks Yoongi should be putting on on his scandalous, high-maintenance character. Yoongi’s just standing there, frowning at a silver shoe like it’s personally done something to offend him. Even motionless he exudes power.  Taehyung doesn’t know how someone so small and soft and cute can be this intimidating, every look and word like an arrow finding a deep mark.

This is all new to Taehyung: he’s always been one to walk away from things that aren’t right for him. He’s always asked for and worked for and reached out for what he wanted. He’s a happy person because he chooses to be; because he’s decided long ago that he doesn’t need to spend time worrying about what he can’t control.

But Min Yoongi gets under his skin.

Does Taehyung have to go back? He wishes the shelf would just swallow him whole right now. But Yoongi’s already looking at him, impatient and expectant, and Taehyung goes back.

“No,” he says immediately to the red Michael Kors. “She’s never going to fit in this.”

Taehyung gives a pained smile. It’s the most he can manage without giving in to his sudden urge for running out the door.

“This sort of thing was luxury fashion then,” he says, instead, presenting a fur coat to Yoongi. It whispers smoothly of whiskey and music festivals in winter, but Taehyung doesn’t mention that.  “Yoko Ono apparently had like a hundred of these.”

Yoongi’s gaze snags on a moody gold tulle and lame gown.

“Halston, 1967, for Bergdorf Goodman couture,” Taehyung informs him. “This is second-hand. This one made it into a Vogue editorial back in the day.”

Yoongi looks unimpressed. “Did people from the 70s not have hips?”

 “Probably the drugs,” Taehyung shrugs, fiddling with a rack to hang the clothes. “Your team can probably silk-screen print this in the size required—might end up close enough to the real thing.”

“No. The real thing has a gravity to it. I’ll want originals, as far as possible.”

“Demanding, are we?”

Yoongi slides his gaze up to meet Taehyung’s. His lips part, slightly, and Taehyung’s stomach does a little flip. “Yes, Taehyung. Were you not aware of that?”

Taehyung is aware. The reputation follows Yoongi around perhaps not as publicly as some of the others in the industry, but Taehyung’s heard stories. Angry directors cowing in front of his steadfast determination to do things exactly the right way. Set designers melting down over getting the machinery to work just right so as to complement the lighting team’s effort in creating negative space.

And now Min Yoongi’s judging the hell out of Taehyung’s authentic, gorgeous Halston that whispers of gold and eyeliner and quick fucks in wardrobe closets, and all Taehyung wants is to fix it up somehow, give Yoongi something worth his while.

It’s a bit pathetic. He’s a bit pathetic.

“I—uh, I have more. I can put up a selection for you, if you want.”

You shouldn’t, the bitter part of his brain goes. Give him hell.

But he’s already said it now, and Yoongi’s watching him with a shrewd, calculative gaze. It’s heated and heavy, drags over his body.

Taehyung swallows thickly.

“How fast can you do it?”

“How fast—how fast do you need it?”

“There’s an ice-cream store at the end of the street. A trip there and back would be…twenty minutes?”

Twenty minutes. Taehyung thinks he’s going to hyperventilate right out of this plane of existence. “What,” he whispers, and Yoongi just looks at him in this dark, devouring way, like Taehyung really is just a fucking cupcake he can crush in one fist.

If Min Yoongi was an Aztec God, he’d probably be the type that demanded, like, six thousand human sacrifices for one measly downpour of rain. If  Min Yoongi was in the Greek Pantheon, he’d be some wrathful old Titan, asking eagles to go eat a dude’s liver every single day for all eternity.

But Min Yoongi is here, and somehow, Taehyung is prey.

Taehyung does not like being prey.

Yoongi picks lazily at his cuticles, pouting soft, peering up through dark bangs. Almost coy. “Did you say anything, Taehyung-ssi?”

“No,” Taehyung says. “Twenty minutes. Cool. Got it.”

He steps backwards and trips over the silver shoe. Yoongi grabs his elbow to steady him again.

“Careful,” he says, chuckling. “That’s probably expensive.”

 Taehyung scowls darkly and reaches down to pick up the shoe. When he straightens, Yoongi’s already at the door, picking up an umbrella from a bunch in their stand.

“Looks like it might rain,” he says. “Twenty-five minutes. Alright, Taehyung-ssi?”

Taehyung huffs. Throws him an irreverent, smirking mock salute.

“Sir, yes, sir.”

For a second Yoongi’s expression flickers a bit, as if he’s genuinely surprised that Taehyung is giving him lip. Then he grins that slow, venomous grin and walks out of the door.

There’s a bit of a clatter from behind him. “Taetae?”

Taehyung turns around to see Jimin, standing by the counter, wide-eyed and holding a giant feathery skirt. “Was that…Min Yoongi?”

“Yep.”

“Did it go…okay?”

“Not in the slightest,” Taehyung mutters, and puts the Halston away. “I have twenty minutes to come up with a selection for him.”

Jimin’s brows pull together. “Do you—do you want me to do it? You can go upstairs if you want. I’ll deal with him.”

“No.”

“No?”

“You know that thing they say? That if you’re going to get wet, you might as well swim?”

Jimin nods, eyes still huge and confused.

Taehyung picks up his glasses. “I’m going to give Min Yoongi what he fucking wants.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Taehyung’s known Jimin since they both were in high school and had idol dreams. That then took a staggeringly sharp U-turn in university into interning at design boutiques and then into the beginnings of Vintage Minnie. Taehyung’s always liked clothes; his grandmother had a carved chest in which she kept old fabrics—pieces of hanboks, all sorts of pos, even a cheongsam—and he liked to touch them, let them breathe their rough, turbulent stories into him. He likes newer clothes too: the whispering sighs and quiet of them, the way they feel like a blank slate.

But this store, with its constant sussurus of old, beautiful garments from far, far places is quite possibly his favorite place in the world.

It’s Jimin’s favorite, too. And it’s Vintage Minnie because it’s Jimin who saw the worth of investing in the vintage market. Jimin’s smart like that, and he has an ace in Taehyung. No one can sell them fakes.

Over the years, they’ve developed a working dynamic. Jimin has a great eye for what sells and is aggressive at getting those things; Taehyung deals with clients and makes the sort of industry relationships that keep them going. They work well together—have, since this store was nothing more than a quiet idea they kept hidden inside an unused closet of a Uniqlo they worked at.

“Literally a closet,” Jimin’s saying now, smiling at Taehyung as he pats down a Dior dress still in its garment bag. “Everyone thought we were banging in there, but we were buying old Vogue and Elle magazines on eBay and cutting out pictures to tape on its walls. It’s probably still there.”

Jungkook bounces gently on his heels. “They wanna do this thing where when they get really famous and, like, Lady Gaga is wearing their stuff, to bring that whole closet here. Like a display.”

“It’ll be our shrine,” Jimin says, giggling. “So they can worship us.”

It’s been ten minutes since they’ve been introduced and Hoseok looks like he wants to worship Jimin already. “Wow,” he says, sounding awed. “I’m so glad you came out of that closet.”

Jungkook makes gross heart-eyes. “Me too.”

Seokjin watches the whole thing with interest, sipping at a box of coconut water, one eyebrow arched as he leans against the banister of the stairs. He’s in a ratty t-shirt and drawstring pants, but judging by the amount of double-takes Hoseok’s taken since meeting him, Taehyung guesses the formidable power of his beauty is in no way tarnished by something as blase as clothes.

“It’s like we’re waiting for the dragon,” Seokjin says. He slurps through his straw. “Sharing a last drink, telling war stories...”

“Preparing to offer Taehyung as the sacrifice,” Jimin’s gaze lands on Taehyung, and his eyebrows furrow. “Hey, sacrifice. Where’d your ceremonial robe go?”

“I sneezed on it.”

“You’re wearing Pokemon pajamas,” Jungkook observes. “Is that appropriate?”

“It’s pajama hour,” Taehyung defends moodily, picking a small piece of lint off his shirt. “If Yoongi wanted to see me in my full Gucci glory, he should’ve picked a better time.”

Jimin consults his watch. “It’s been almost twenty-five minutes. He should be here any moment.”

Taehyung can’t help the small noise that escapes his throat.

“Unless he got the chocolate waffle cone,” Jungkook says, with a glance of worry in his direction. “The chocolate waffle cone takes fifteen minutes to make, but it’s the best and ice-cream noona always upsells it. So if Yoongi got that, then you have a window of ten more minutes, hyung.”

Jimin looks at him adoringly. “Why do you say you’re bad at math, again?”

Taehyung tries not to let his itching fingers re-arrange the clothes on the rack for the fiftieth time.He fails and pulls the Valentino skirt out again. It’s just thematically ill-fitting, he thinks, even though the construction is very 70s and and there are those sequins and—

“Or the cheesecake fantasy,” Seokjin adds, walking up to pat Taehyung’s head like he’s some sort of small, drenched wildlife. “That one takes around fifteen minutes too. Those ice-cream rolls might take ten, and patbingsu will be definitely longer—”

“I’m okay!” Taehyung says. “Seriously. Hoseok hyung said there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Hyung doesn’t like sugar,” Hoseok whispers. “Probably just got water.”

Jungkook inhales sharply, eyes huge as he stares at Hoseok. “What kind of monster…”

Taehyung had made the pull for Yoongi while Jimin sent Jungkook an SOS. And then Jungkook had picked up Seokjin on his way, and Hoseok turned out to live not ten whole minutes away from the store. Most of them are going to be utterly useless for this meeting, but maybe Taehyung feels a little less like death is imminent with them hovering.

He puts the Valentino back on the rack.

Seokjin looks to Jimin for guidance. “So do we hide now? Is hiding the plan?”

“Oh, oh!” Hoseok jumps up. “He’s almost here.”

“It’s really weird that you can track him.”

“He’s old. He doesn’t know how to turn off the GPS.”

Sure enough, in less than a minute, Yoongi’s pushing open the door, holding a cup of coffee. He looks flushed, pink in his cheeks from the wind outside, and he’s frowning at his phone. He places the umbrella back in the stand and walks up to Taehyung, squinting lightly at his pajamas as he holds out the cup.

“Is that Charmander on your pocket?”

“Charizard.”

“That’s the angry one then?”

“You seem to know your Pokemon.”

“I know a lot of things,” Yoongi shrugs an airy shoulder. “Got you coffee; thought I heard you sniffling earlier.”

Taehyung doesn’t drink coffee. But Yoongi’s looking at him expectantly, jerking his hand a little to signal to Taehyung to just fucking take it, and that gaze is ripping the metaphorical skin off Taehyung’s body…

So maybe Taehyung will drink this coffee.

“Um. Thanks.”

It’s as bitter as regret. Taehyung burns his tongue on the first sip and nearly spits it out. Yoongi just smirks.

“So let’s see it, then.”

Taehyung sort of shrugs his way towards the selection. He’s possessed with this ridiculous idea to blurt out that this isn’t much. That the sexy little Jax numbers and the Bill Blass dresses Jimin picked up from auction for nearly 1 million won each isn’t anything special. That Yoongi shouldn’t place his expectations too high on Taehyung or the clothes because they’re both just disappointing, superficial dross.

There’s a flush rising up Taehyung’s chest and a feverish heat prickling at the back of his neck. Yoongi’s famously discerning eye is surely seeing right through him.

It’s a monumental effort to shut himself up. He stands back and lets Yoongi go through the rack. Watches him pull out a blouse, a minidress, and a gauzy Oscar de la Renta gown that catches the lights above and gleams.

“The rest of it is too bland,” Yoongi mutters. “Vibrant set, dramatic story. Can’t have bland.”

Taehyung moves closer, enough that their hands brush when they both reach up to the rack at once. “You think the mini mod dress is bland?”

That dress is all-sequin and magenta. It’s what you might expect unicorn puke to look like - weird and blingy and otherworldly— but it’s definitely not bland.

Yoongi’s face remains carefully blank, just a twist of his mouth as he points towards that dress. “You think this is what our heroine should wear?”

There’s no condescension in his tone. Just flat, clinical disinterest.

Taehyung feels a stir of something hot and angry in his chest.

Fuck that disinterest. Taehyung loves these clothes.

“It’s not about what I think,” he says, and has to pinch himself so he doesn’t swivel his hands about like an idiot with how prickly he’s feeling. “It’s the era. It’s the fact that Choi Hae-won, your heroine, is fun and vivacious and rich, about to get caught in a scandal—”

“Hmm. Doesn’t inspire.”

“ You said you wanted original,Taehyung says, snappish. “Here’s original.”

There’s an impasse, during which Taehyung swears he can almost hear Seokjin withering away to dust somewhere in the back where he and the others are listening in. I just don’t get why you two can’t get along.

This is why—Taehyung thinks. Because Yoongi’s far too comfortable with whatever he thinks Taehyung is to find out what he’s actually like.

Yoongi taps the gold cross pattern on the Jax minidress. “This is too flashy.”

Does he want flashy or bland? Is he just trying to rile Taehyung up? If so, he thinks, it’s working quite well in Yoongi’s favor. Taehyung already wants to scream.

“The Swinging 60s,” Taehyung scoffs, and barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. “The Hippie 70s. Flashy—really? That dress is practically screaming individuality, and that’s Choi Hae-won. She’s lace and tights and pussy bows, in that 60s dolly girl, boho Lolita style. Very open, very flirty—” Taehyung’s aware his babbling but he can’t stop. He can’t stop, not with Yoongi looking at him like that. “—summertime and expensive cars and cherry cocktails. Or a Bloody Mary. Can’t really tell. Could be a margarita too— shaken not stirred. But it’s sex, sex, sex—it’s not flashy, it’s—”

“Sexy,” Yoongi looks faintly amused. “Cool. I got it.”

“—you did? Okay.”

Yoongi points to the gown. “Alright. What’s this one’s story?”

Taehyung wipes a bit of sweat off his brow. It’s like he’s both hot and cold at the same time. His hair is sticking up, and his heart is still in his mouth. He hates it.

“Um. Plunging neckline, no bra, very unrestrictive. It’s high fashion but it’s got grunge to it, street cred. Like maybe you’d wear it for a gala but then you’d also hit up a seedy motel with a nameless stranger so he can eat you out—”

Yoongi’s eyes go wide. Taehyung claps a hand to his mouth, suddenly horrified. It’s like a stone has dropped into his stomach, cold and heavy, and looks at the gown in utter betrayal.

Stupid thing. Stupid thing, worn by some stupid starlet, who had a great time in it until it was nearly ripped off her. Everything this stupid dress is whispering is straight up porn, and Taehyung’s filters had somehow stopped working around Yoongi without him having realized it.

Yoongi gives a dark chuckle. “This isn’t a joke to you, is it?”

“No,” Taehyung waves his hands. “No, I swear—”

“Cool. If that’s all you’ve got for me…”

“Maybe if you gave me more than twenty-five minutes—”

“I guessed you might be good enough to turn it around in twenty-five minutes. Did I guess wrong, Taehyung-ssi?”

Taehyung grits his teeth. He’d known this would happen. He’d known that whatever he picked, Yoongi would react this way. Because Yoongi thought he was spoiled and rich and hoity-toity about fashion. Just a snobbish socialite with airs. It’s why Taehyung got himself the cavalry. It’s why he got himself more than the cavalry: ammunition.

And it’s as he tries to blubber his way around Yoongi’s (very, very unfair) question that his ammunition comes walking through the door.

“Taehyung?”

Taehyung forces himself to smile wide even as his earlier frustration laps through him in waves. “Namjoon hyung! Hi.”

Namjoon spots Yoongi and brightens like the summer sun. “Yoongi hyung! Well, hullo! Wow, two of my favorite people in one room—this is a nice surprise.”

Yoongi flashes him a slightly sour smile. “Hullo, Namjoon-ah. What are you—uh—”

“Oh. Jin hyung called, asked if I could give him a lift if I was still in the studio. Luckily, I was: tech and casting are having all sorts of trouble navigating the international network waters,” Namjoon yawns, scratching the top of his head. He looks warm and sleepy, half lost in the enormous coat he’s wearing, and Taehyung feels a bit bad for pulling him into this. Only a bit, though. He knows Seokjin’s insistence on him working with Yoongi is at least partly motivated by Namjoon’s interest. “This directorial stuff is hard. Anyway, Jin hyung said his car broke down. Did he—where’d he go, Taehyung?”

“Slept on the upstairs couch. I’ll get him in a few. I was just showing Yoongi-ssi some options for the pilot, hyung, do you want to see?”

“Oooh. Of course. Isn’t this due tomorrow?”Namjoon narrows his eyes playfully. “Not skipping deadlines, are we?”

Taehyung shakes his head frantically. “If you’re okay with the clothes, hyung, I can bring them around for wardrobe first thing in the morning.”

“Great!” Namjoon smiles guilelessly at him and Yoongi. “I’d love to look at them, but Yoongi hyung needs to give the green. I’m sure he’s happy—you’re terrific at this stuff, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung beams as Namjoon pats his shoulder. Yoongi’s gaze skits over them both, and his eyes narrow. It seems to take him a few minutes to figure out that Namjoon is waiting for him to say something.

“This shop really is something.” Yoongi’s tone is flat, and his eyes snag on the bunches of dried herbs and crystals placed at different corners of the room. ”Taehyung, too.”

Namjoon grins adoringly at Taehyung. “He really knows his stuff—Taehyung does. I’ve basically adopted him, you know? My favorite dongsaeng. He’s the best, isn’t he, hyung?”

Yoongi sounds slightly choked when he responds. “Yep, he sure is.”

“What do you think, hyung?” Namjoon asks, pointing to the sequined magenta dress. “Isn’t this absolutely perfect for the Love Motel scene? I’m so excited you two are working together on this project. Anything vintage is instant PR—there’s tons of focus and nostalgia on these fashions. And with your name attached to it, hyung, and with Tae’s industry clout—all the art blogs and fashion magazines will fall right at our feet. It’s just another reason to get picked up by a great network!”

“That’s great, Namjoon-ah.”

Namjoon looks happily from Taehyung to Yoongi. “And then you two can work on the episodes!”

Taehyung thinks that Yoongi would rather dig himself into his own grave than work with Taehyung for a full season of this dumb show. Taehyung’s unsure of how to describe his own feelings as well. Just a week ago, he would have squealed at this opportunity, died several times, made ten thousand social media posts and talked Jimin into a stupor about how much he loves Min Yoongi’s work. Now he just feels like a bloated, belly-up goldfish: wide-eyed and dead of emotion.

He can barely look at Yoongi. He thinks Yoongi’s unconsciously doing a bit of the laser-eyed hot smolder he does sometimes in interviews where he thinks everyone on the panel is stupid. It’s a look that’s seared into his mind, and he and Jimin have fanboyed over it and over how unapologetically frank Yoongi is—but now he thinks it probably has the power of lava.

He doesn’t want to look.

When he does take a peek, Yoongi’s looking at him through hooded eyes, searching and heavy. It’s kind of exactly like how the jungle cats in those documentaries behave when they spot something tasty and fun to play with.

Fine, Taehyung thinks. Two can play at that game.

Before he can get his own smolder on, though, the breath is knocked out of him as he’s squeezed very hard by Namjoon who’s now cooing over the minidress. “Taehyung-ah, I still love that jacket you gave me for my birthday. You have a great eye. This is so Choi Hae-won. The rebellion. The independence. The sex!”

Out the corner of his eye, he sees Yoongi winces a bit. Taehyung tells himself that he’s only human: the satisfied glee that spreads through his body cannot be helped.

He bites his lip to hide a smile.

Namjoon crows, “These are perfect. Yoongi hyung, don’t you agree? Perfect.”

Needs a bit of work in terms of layering,” Yoongi says, with a thin smile. “But yes. Sure. Perfect.”

Will I see you both at the studio tomorrow? Yes, yes? I’ve to go now, so much legal waters to wade through. Can you get Jin hyung, Tae?”

At which point, exactly as it’s been scripted, Jimin pops up at the bottom of the stairs.

“Joonie hyung!”

“Park Jimin! I missed you! Get in here!”

And then there’s round two of ooh, Namjoon hyung, don’t you think this dress is gorgeous and yes, it’s perfect, you two have such great pieces always. There’s Jimin, sashaying the Jax, going this one is by a brand that inspired Marilyn Monroe, Taehyungie thought it captured your heroine well and Namjoon—who understands fashion better than most directors in the industry—getting starry eyed: “Marilyn Monroe, how interesting. Wow, Yoongi hyung, isn’t this an amazing piece?”

“It has a great story, too,” Yoongi says, drily. “Sex, sex, sex. Right, Taehyung?”

Taehyung meets his gaze head on; licks his lips slow. “Exactly.”

“Yeah, well. Sex sells,” Namjoon winks. “So—wardrobe, first thing tomorrow?”

“Ah, hyung,” Jimin says, with a bit of a suppressed giggle that comes out like a cough. “We’ll need confirmation. The Oscar de la Renta piece over here—we have an interested customer online already. So. If you two can confirm you want these—”

“We’re taking the whole rack, right, hyung?”

Yoongi doesn’t skip a beat. “Right. It’s quite…adequate.”

“Brilliant!” Namjoon says, and hugs Yoongi. Yoongi returns it stiffly. “So we’ll get someone to write you an itemized list and you can put down costs—”

Yoongi picks out a notepad and pen from his pocket. “I can do that myself right now, Namjoon-ah, no need for anyone else.”

“Oh, great. Jimin-ah, will you get Jin hyung please? Gotta run.”

Jimin grabs his arm and starts dragging him towards the staircase.“Let’s go wake him up, hyung. It’ll be fun.”

And then they’re gone, and it’s just Taehyung and Yoongi, staring at each other. Yoongi picks up the magenta dress very slowly, and writes the code of it from the Vintage Minnie tag onto the notepad.

“Cost?” he asks, with a stiff chuckle.

“Uh—seven hundred thousand.”

They take stock of all items on the rack, and then Yoongi eliminates a few—the Valentino skirt, a Dior blouse, a non-label trouser and blouse combo. At least this time it’s fair. Taehyung wasn’t sure if he wanted Yoongi to pick those anyway.

And then they’re done, and Yoongi hands the receipt over to him. His expression is indecipherable in that blank, serial murderer way. Taehyung gulps.

“Nicely played,” Yoongi says, and there’s a bit of amusement in his tone. “Who told you about Namjoon? Was it Hoseok?”

There’s a small yelp that distinctly sounds like Hoseok from somewhere directly above them on the second floor. Yoongi’s gaze flicks upward lazily. Taehyung pushes his hands into the pockets of his pajamas and pretends not to notice. There’s a very incriminating message on his phone from Jung Hoseok that does say Yoongi indulges Kim Namjoon.

Yoongi doesn’t need to know that.

“This is appropriate enough,” Yoongi says, pointing to the rack. “I’ll be in touch to discuss modifications once the sets are up.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Let me know if you have any more sex gowns.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Tell Namjoon I had to leave.”

Taehyung nods. His legs are slowly devolving into jelly, now that the danger has almost passed, and all he wants to do is get back to his apartment and cuddle Yeontan and sleep.

Yoongi pauses on his way out to pick a cloche hat off a hat-stand. “This goes well with the magenta mini, don’t you think? The era fits. Very Twiggy.”

“…yes. That’s—exactly. Yes.”

“Write this down, too, then.” Yoongi says, quietly. “Goodnight, Taehyung-ssi.”

“Goodnight.”

Yoongi’s gaze lingers on the shop and Taehyung for a few more seconds. Then he raises a hand, grins a sardonic little smile, and leaves.

***

It’s the weekend.

Taehyung’s cold gets worse, so he curls up in bed and sends Jimin to wardrobe at the studios instead. Jimin comes back with the news that Min Yoongi is perfectly civil—at least to him. Very detached and impersonal and professional. Taehyung frowns and watches Yeontan’s fluffy tail until Jimin brings him soup.

What the fuck had he done that all the wrath of the Titan is upon him?

Jimin bounces excitedly and plays with one of Yeontan’s toys while Taehyung wallows. “Hoseok hyung got me talking to this guy who has boxes of signed Miriam Haskell jewelry sitting in his Singapore home. Some socialite.Think we can probably get a first dibs viewing.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

“Yep. I’m talking to this dude on the phone, and he’s just going, oh, I’ve got some trinkets and stuff. And then he sends a picture and it’s this whole mess of Haskell and I swear my heart just—” he makes an exploding noise that turns into a coo as he leans down to swoop Yeontan into his arms. “Guy’s only in Singapore for the next week or so, I’ve got to set up a date within that time frame. But then we also have to go to Harajuku, for that big fashion school auction. Do you think you can do that alone, Tae?”

“Sure. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’ll be on the phone the whole time so you don’t cave in and buy every little thing.”

“Your lack of faith in me surprises me at times.”

“The world is a dark, dark place, Taehyungie. You’re just sweet and gullible,” Jimin says, patting the top of Taehyung’s bed-head. “Yoongi asked how you’re doing.”

Taehyung takes a sip of the soup and grumbles, “Why does he care?”

“Probably just surprised to see me. Asked me where Fairy Boy was. What’s that about?”

Taehyung makes a mournful sound and nuzzles into Jimin’s shoulder. “He thinks I dress like a fairy.”

“Like…Puck fairy, or gay fairy?” When Taehyung only shrugs, Jimin clutches Yeontan closer and tries to guess. “One half is offensive and homophobic. Now Yoongi can’t be homophobic because he’s out and proud, so he just thinks you’re a mischievous little trickster spirit. Which you are.”

Taehyung grabs his heart-shaped pillow and pouts into it. “But Puck is also irresponsible, irritating, and exists mostly for comic relief.”

“And you’re not any of those things,” Jimin says, bracingly, throwing one arm around Taehyung’s neck. “But you don’t need Yoongi to validate that, do you? Hey. I know something that’ll make you feel better.”

Taehyung squints. “Your boyfriend is grossly in love with you and I have a cold.”

Jimin smacks his back. “I’m not sleeping with you, Tae, holy shit! It’s a full moon tomorrow night and Jungkook thinks maybe we should try a luck spell.”

“Oh, good. Can we cast it on Tannie? Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll stop trying to eat everything including your earmuffs.”

Jimin gives a low cry. “Yeontan, no. These are my favorites.”

Taehyung reaches for a toy to distract the dog with and nearly spills all the soup.

“Hoseok hyung wanted to come see,” Jimin ventures, peeking at Taehyung out the corner of his eye. “The spell thing, I mean. He’s very curious, you know, about your clothes voodoo and the witch blog and stuff.”

“Hmm.”

Jimin plays with the hem of his shirt. “Jungkook is okay with him coming along. Are you?”

“Witchblr is more your thing,” Taehyung shrugs, waving the toy and yelping as Yeontan jumps for it. “If you want him to come—”

“We do! He’s so sweet, Tae, like an even friendlier version of you. Which I didn’t think was possible but he’s literal sunshine, and Jungkook thinks that’s probably good for the spell. You know. Energy wise.”

Jimin follows that up with wiggling eyebrows and a huge shit-eating grin. Taehyung pauses in his soup consumption, Yeontan tucked under one arm, and pulls a face at his best friend.

“Is Jungkook talking spiritual energy or big dick energy?” Taehyung muses, and Jimin kicks his ankle rather viciously. “Because oh boy, Hoseok hyung radiates both.”

Jimin’s eyes sparkle in delight and he pokes gently at Taehyung’s cheek. “Jungkook was making some elemental jars to sell on the blog today and he invited Hoseok hyung over. You know! Because he’s so curious. Kookie says we vibe well.”

Taehyung throws him a suspicious glance. “I swear, if this spell thing devolves into a threesome—”

“We’ll throw you an invite,” Jimin says, and laughs. “More the merrier.”

“Oh, great,” Taehyung deadpans. “You know I hate being left out of your saturnalias.”

 “Don’t be bitter. We’d never leave you out,” Jimin crows, smooches Taehyung grossly on his cheek. He grabs his sodden earmuffs and spends a whole five minutes sternly instructing Taehyung to finish his soup. Then he pauses at the door, just for a second, and half-turns, not meeting Taehyung’s gaze. “Oh. Forgot to tell you. Yoongi might come too.”

Taehyung spits out his mouthful of soup. “What?Jiminie!”

“Sorry, it was an impossible situation!”

“Park Jimin, you get back here.”

“Might! I said might!” Jimin yells as he disappears down the hallway, moving way too fast for Taehyung in his cold addled state to catch up. “Bye! I love you, Taetae! See you tomorrow night!”

Taehyung collapses back into the bed, head swimming. He wonders if he’s done some cleansing shit wrong. (Jungkook is very particular about all that good energy and hates microwaves for that reason.) Taehyung has to have pissed off the universe somehow. There’s no other reason he’s saddled here, in bed on a weekend, with a horrid cold and a midnight spell-magic session with three likely-to-bang assholes and a dude who hates his guts.

He thrashes around the bed a bit. Yeontan ruffs angrily at his toy, chasing it over and across Taehyung’s stomach. Then he just sits there, little body vibrating, and Taehyung gives him a significant look.

You won’t betray me. Will you?”

Yeontan tries to bite his nipple.

***

“Wow. You guys are such weird people.”

Taehyung’s sitting on the love-seat beneath the window of Jimin and Jungkook’s attic when Hoseok lets himself in, armed with giant bags of takeout and wearing what can only be described as a Google search result for pagan fashion.

“Hi, hyung. Jimin and Jungkook went to get some drinks for later.”

Hoseok nods, mouth hanging open as he shuffles inside. Taehyung watches Hoseok take in the space and follows his gaze, trying to see everything from a newbie’s perspective.

The sloping windows are large and let in great natural sunlight in the mornings, but right now it’s just the smoky dark blue of Seoul’s late night. It’s all smudged, desaturated, edges lost to color like in analog photos. The kind of night that settles Taehyung’s heart.

There’s a deceptively normal pile of Jungkook’s university textbooks close to where Taehyung’s sprawled, but there’s also an inherited Medieval Scapini Swiss tarot deck on top of the pile. The rest of the room is full of plants—plants sitting on windowsills, plants hanging from pots on the ceiling, plants sitting in planters on the floor. The walls are papered with Jungkook’s sketches and charts, half of which even Taehyung can’t read. There’s an old vacuum tube radio in one corner, a makeshift travel altar in a large trunk, and assorted candles, crystals and other typical witch paraphernalia everywhere. Little lights twinkle like fireflies from hidden nooks and corners.

“How did you guys even get into this?” Hoseok asks, dropping the takeout on a table and sitting on the floor beneath a large poster of a spiral galaxy.

“I got my clothes thing from my grandmother,” Taehyung says. “Then I met Jungkook through his psychic cousin who wanted to talk to me about it. This is her place. She moved back to Busan recently, so he lives here now.”

“So it’s a family thing?”

“Kind of. It also puts him through school. He sells votives, crystals, spell jars, potpourri—all sorts of shit. Jungkook’s good at reading cards, so he does that too. Jimin’s just the most interested person among all three of us. He genuinely likes learning about this stuff.”

Hoseok picks up a book about purifying herbs. “Has any of your spells actually worked?”

“Oh yeah,” Taehyung grins. “You wouldn’t believe it. We’ve seen some weird things! Once we got invited to this seance, you know. Local interest group we found on Tumblr. They had a medium who called on a ghost that broke every single window in the house. It was spooky as hell.”

“Wires and buttons,” a familiar voice says from the room’s threshold, cool and disparaging. “They’ve been using parlor tricks right from the Victorian era and people still fall for it. Idiots.”

Hyung,” Hoseok whines, making a face.

Yoongi slips in through the door. “Yes, Hoseok-ah.”

He’s wearing a leather jacket that swamps his slight frame, tight jeans and tall boots. His hair, dyed silver-gray, falls slightly damp around his face. There’s the unexpected shine of some soft pink balm on his lips, and the low light washes him in a gentle blue that reminds Taehyung of old film.

He’s pretty. Those pants are real huggy. Taehyung stares until he remembers Yoongi hates him.

Hoseok clears his throat. “What did we talk about, hyung?”

 “That I’d keep my mouth shut so you can have your night of idiocy among twee plants and shiny stones,” Yoongi says, yawning. “Hoseok-ah, look at this place, this is crazy.”

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” Taehyung mutters, while Yoongi stares at the room with mild interest. “Why are you even here if you just think we’re idiots?”

Yoongi’s grin is slow and shark-like. “I was bored.”

“We’re not the Travel and Living Channel. Find your entertainment elsewhere.”

“I don’t know,” Yoongi says, “Your friend invited me. Would be rude to decline, wouldn’t it?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes and scowls out into the night.

“I met a witch once for a production we were doing on psychics,” Yoongi mutters. “She said something about my aura being really negative.”

“Wow, big surprise.”

“Do you guys sell these altars?” Hoseok asks, placating as he checks out a little box with incense sticks and candles and cat charms from Japan.

“Yep. We take custom orders.”

Yoongi hums. “Profits must be high, right? Conformity is out, chaos magic is in.”

“That’s what Jungkook says.”

“Jungkook has a good head for business, then.”

“He studies business,” Taehyung says. Yoongi pauses in his exploration of a beaded headdress to look around at Taehyung in surprise. “Um. So did I? So did Jimin?”

“I thought you lot have done something artsier.”

Hoseok smiles brightly. “I told you they were little geniuses, hyung.”

Yoongi ignores this in lieu of picking up a decorated sugar skull.

“Careful,” says Taehyung. “That’s where we keep Mimi’s ashes.”

Yoongi puts it back down like he’s been scalded. “Who the fuck is Mimi?”’

“Beloved attic rat,” Taehyung says, mournfully. “Jimin’s cat murdered her. She’s our resident altar spirit.”

Yoongi exhales heavily through his nose, still looking at the skull like it might clamp its jaws around his wrist. “You people are insane.”

Taehyung grins into his palm just as the door opens and Jimin and Jungkook nearly fall inside. They have large bags with them, too, and look pink from either the cold or some pre-drinking. They both brighten up when their eyes land on Hoseok.

“Hyung!” Jimin squeals, happily. “You found the place okay! Ooh, did you bring jjangmeyeon?”

They already look a little tipsy.

It’s weird. Taehyung’s always held the assumption that he knows these two well. It’s him who introduced Jimin to Jungkook after all. He’s watched as their relationship bloomed from its awkwardly touchy fetus state to the full-grown, confident-gay adorableness it is today. He hangs out with them a lot, reads blogs and catalogs online when they’re sucking face, which means his reading time has drastically increased in the last few months. He’s used to their grossness, and he’s proud to be the staunchest supporter of hashtag JiKook.

But tonight is something else.

The eye-fucking starts during dinner, even before they begin the cleansing. Taehyung eats quickly, downs several glasses of soju, terrified somehow that the heavy dose of lust in the air will kill his appetite for noodles. He’s almost tipsy by the time he’s done, and his only partner in true suffering—Yoongi—doesn’t seem much better off. His eyes keep flicking to where Jungkook and Jimin are somehow managing to easily include Hoseok in the proceedings.

Yoongi looks like he’s seconds from asking for eye-bleach.

When Jimin’s eyeballs aren’t occupied with pouring large drinks or performing heavy flirting, Taehyung catches his gaze and rolls his eyes. Jimin just grins, unabashed.

As usual, it’s Jungkook who lays out the circle and the rules. Jimin and Taehyung help with the candles and the crystals. Hoseok watches curiously and asks a hundred questions. When Taehyung goes to place the candle in the North cardinal, Yoongi’s gaze on him is grumpy and suspicious. Taehyung goes right around him with the salt and the taper, places the candle and says the words.

“Okay,” Jungkook says when they’re done. “This is something I got from my cousin. It’s for luck and concentration, which is great, because I have exams coming up.”

“…or you could just study,” Yoongi mutters.

“Witchcraft is not a substitute for magic,” Taehyung hisses back. “He’s still going to have to study.”

“What’s the point, then.”

“Guidance. Energy. Unlocking potential.”

There’s an unimpressed dip in Yoongi’s voice. “Now you sound like a start-up convention.”

Jungkook clears his throat. “Anyway, he says. “I’ll draw the sigil. Jimin hyung, we need sunflower seeds, sea salt, tourmaline and driftwood.”

It goes easily from there. They layer the ingredients in a glass jar, and then Jungkook places five votives around it with ribbons tied to it.

“Hold it and meditate on your deity.”

“Deity?” Yoongi looks skeptical. “What deity?”

“Pick one you like. Hellenic, Druidic, Norse, elf, fae—who cares. Whoever floats your boat.”

Yoongi thinks for a moment. “Does Legolas work?”

Taehyung frowns. “He’s fictional.”

“You said elf. Legolas is an elf.”

Hoseok looks at Yoongi with abject disappointment. “You could have picked Galadriel and you picked Legolas?”

“I’m fucking gay, you dumbass.”

“Gandalf, then.”

“I’m fucking gay, you dumbass.”

“Legolas works,” Taehyung says, evenly. “Mine is Aphrodite.”

Yoongi’s gaze lingers on him for a charged few seconds. It takes an interesting trajectory, too, a slow slide from Taehyung’s eyes to his mouth, and then catching there. His eyes are speckled with candlelight. “Hmm, Aphrodite. Of course it is.”

Taehyung goes into a coughing fit.

There follows what needs to be fifteen minutes or more of silent meditation. Taehyung tries this part, he always really does, but standing still and focusing has never been his forte. It’s why he cracks open one eye halfway through the second minute and finds Jungkook making eyes at Hoseok. He closes his eyes. When he opens it again, somewhere between the fourth and the fifth minute, it’s Jimin—one eye closed and the other open, one hand on his ribbon and the other squeezing Hoseok’s bicep. Taehyung really doesn’t want to see this, so he sort of imagines Aphrodite as a nameless, faceless woman in an Ellie Saab crystal-speckled dress, closing his eyes again. She prances gently in his vision in what looks like the runway for the Milan Fashion Week.

In the sixth minute Jikook is up to it again, sexting with their brains. Jimin does some weird little wriggle. Jungkook giggles, and then stuffs his fist halfway down his throat trying to contain it. Hoseok has abandoned all pretense of meditation now and cheerfully on-boarded the heavy flirt train.

Yoongi stares in unadulterated disgust. “I thought this was supposed to be a concentration spell.”

Jimin grins. “We sure are concentrating on something.”

“Ssshh,” Jungkook says, giggles again, and squeezes his eyes shut. “Be quiet.”

In the next two minutes, Taehyung keeps his eyes open and focused on Yoongi. His fringe is overlong and nearly falls into his eyes, and the pout of his mouth is soft and pretty when he isn’t using it to spit harsh words at Taehyung. He quickly looks away when Yoongi cracks open one eye.

It’s torture. No one wants to end it because half the circle is having too much fun, and Taehyung and Yoongi are both just looking to elongate the other’s torment. Taehyung twists the ribbon’s frayed edges between his fingers. He watches the candles flicker. He ignores the slight tussle that breaks out between Jimin and Hoseok—a slight pinch that becomes an ass-grab that becomes a butt slap.

It’s fucking unbearable.

Don’t break, he thinks, meeting Yoongi’s challenging stare dead-on. Don’t break, don’t break, don’t break

“Okay, jeez! By the power of Legolas, I compel you to stop this,” Yoongi chokes out, throwing his arms up as he drops his ribbon. “God, I need a fucking drink.”

Taehyung lets out a sigh of relief. “Me too.”

Jimin instantly hooks his fingers through Hoseok’s belt loops to pull him into a kiss. It’s hot-mouthed and hungry, the tangle of their tongues in clear view for the rest of them, Jimin’s eyes only half-closed and his gaze intent on Hoseok’s face.

Jungkook looks like Christmas came real early.

“I need to get out of here.”

Taehyung grabs Yoongi’s wrist, unthinking. “Don’t break the circle! Wait.”

Yoongi’s stare drops from Taehyung’s face to their linked hands. Taehyung drops it. He mumbles, “It’s unlucky,” and Yoongi says nothing, just purses his lips to a thin line, sharp gaze landing everywhere except for on Taehyung.

Taehyung blows out the candles the right way. By the time he’s done and rummaging in the drinks cabinet for vodka, Yoongi’s bouncing in terror behind him, clearly antsing to get out before the maniacs really get into their bacchanalia.

“Glasses!” he barks. “No, Taehyung, not the tiny wine glasses. Big fucking glasses. The biggest fucking glasses you’ve got! Have you got any weed?”

“LOL. Yes.”

“You did not just fucking say LOL, you crazy hipster. Oh my God.”

“Stop freaking out.”

“That’s hyung to you.

“Stop freaking out, hyung.”

Yoongi draws a shaky breath, his whole face flushed. He looks towards where Hoseok is now happily making out with Jungkook and gives a full-bodied shudder. “He’s like my little brother. Please get me out of here.”

“Where do we go?” Taehyung asks. “This is a studio apartment.”

“Rooftop? Rooftop,” Yoongi gasps, already half out of the door, a jug of water and ice-cubes in his arms. “Meet me there. Hurry up, Kim Taehyung!”

***

It’s nice up on the rooftop. Cold, with the winter chill, but this is a nicer apartment in this area and there’s a sort of gazebo-type thing with a table and chairs and a small radiator. Yoongi’s standing by the railing when Taehyung gets up there, staring out at the Seoul skyline with an electronic cigarette at his lips. The moonlight and the dusty city sky conspires to wash him a pale blue. This is Min Yoongi the way he’s been oft captured in film magazines—calm, collected, cold.

Taehyung hides a little smile.

Min Yoongi is still terrifying—the sharp raise of his eyebrows now sets Taehyung immediately to mixing their drinks—but Taehyung has tiny little claws that can reach through chinks in armor. Now that he’s seen Yoongi flustered, in a moment of weakness, he feels a little more human to Taehyung. A little less God-like. A lot more warmer and real.

Taehyung likes that, he thinks. He really likes that.

Yoongi turns to him, skewering Taehyung with his gaze. “What’s taking you so long?”

“I’m an air-head, hyung. My brain only works so fast.”

“Ha ha,” Yoongi says, flatly. “Don’t be petty.”

Taehyung laughs and pours the vodka. It’s warm going down, and they both lean against the railing as they drink, watching the slow fade of the city’s lamps as the night deepens. The overground trains are tiny glittering snakes of light from this high up, and the Han River shines like a thick black ribbon, reflecting the yellowy moon. Taehyung turns the collar of his coat up against the biting wind, watching as Yoongi zips up his jacket too, little shivers working their way down his spine.

“I wasn’t lying when I said I have no tolerance for this sort of crap,” Yoongi grumbles, taking a sip of his drink. “What even was that?”

Taehyung shrugs. “It’s usually a lot more structured than that. I guess Jungkook was too distracted.”

Structured,Yoongi scoffs, a jittery edge to his voice. “It’s a bunch of arbitrary mumbo-jumbo made up by idiots with nothing better to do. It doesn’t even work.”

All team sports rules are also arbitrary, hyung,” Taehyung says, softly. He’s familiar with people laughing at their eccentricities; doesn’t mean he won’t defend them. “Doesn’t stop people from playing basketball.”

Yoongi doesn’t say anything, but he shifts his stance a bit, drawing his shoulders closer and looking even more like a defensive, puffed-up bird than he had a few minutes ago. He looks indignant and exasperated, as he always does around Taehyung, but there’s at least a hint of a give to him now, the gentlest surrender. Like maybe he wants to listen.

“Come on, Taehyung,” he says, finally. “That’s not the same thing.”

It really is. One’s just more generally acceptable. Cool, if you want to use that word.”

“Really. Think of a bloody deity,Yoongi’s voice is pitched higher for that last part, in a harsh imitation of Jungkook. He rolls his eyes hard, picks the bottle from Taehyung’s slack grasp to pour more into his glass. “There’s no…greater power, supreme being, whatever you want to call it. There’s cold, hard science: birth, life, death. Everything else—fate, chance, magic—is uncontrollable, a series of circumstances and coincidences.”

Taehyung gives him a firm look. “My grandmother always said there’s power in faith. Whether you put it on gods or other people.”

“Faith is a crutch for idiots, Taehyung,” Yoongi says, the frown audible in his voice, his face impassive even as his fists clench against the railing. “It’s a cold, shit world where you can’t trust no one. You’re born alone and you die alone. The sooner you understand that, the better your life gets.”

Maybe it’s the smallness of Yoongi’s voice, suddenly, or maybe Taehyung’s tipsy, sleepy state is making him braver, but he reaches out and tugs at Yoongi’s sleeve to make him look at Taehyung.

“It’s not true that you can’t trust anyone,” Taehyung says. “It’s not true, hyung. Sometimes you just need to have some faith.”

Yoongi’s mouth falls into a grimace as he downs his drink. “You put your hundred percent to something, you get a returns of eighty percent. Add another person to that mix, and it goes down to sixty. People fuck things up. I don’t need them.”

He meets Taehyung’s gaze then, face hard and jaw set in defiance, crossing his arms against the cold. It’s like he’s waiting for Taehyung to disagree again so he can pounce on him, chew him out.

Taehyung pouts at him, trying to put words to the thoughts running through his head, mind all tangled and sleepy. He doesn’t agree, he wants to say. Taehyung doesn’t agree that success comes from going about life in such an inflexible, unemotional way. Taehyung doesn’t agree that it’s silly to put faith in someone else. Sure, there are bad people in the world, but there are good people too, aren’t there? More good people than bad, even. He’s always had Jimin. He’s always had his friends. That’s how he’s gotten by: with a little help, and a lot of hugs.

Taehyung doesn’t know if he’d have loved his work if he didn’t have Jimin and Jungkook and Seokjin and Namjoon. Doesn’t know if he’d even have been in Seoul.

But here’s Yoongi—this amazing, incredible, award-winning man who Taehyung has adored for years—telling him he’s doing it wrong. That he can’t trust anyone. That he has to live his life—how? Afraid, burying himself, looking out from beneath a wall? Taehyung’s not sure what to say, but it twists through him: this weird, helpless feeling of being small and needing help. He hates it. Wasn’t it Jimin who got him to stop worrying about it? We all need help sometimes, Taetae. Everybody needs help, don’t they?

Yoongi squirms, then jolts as he leans his elbow against the ice-cold railing. “Stop staring.”

“I’m not staring.”

“You are. It’s fucking annoying.”

“I’m not staring.”

“You’re looking then. Look somewhere else.”

“I want my head facing this way.”

“Tough luck.”

Taehyung huffs, but then Yoongi won’t stop glaring so he’s forced to look away. What’s he supposed to do? The man is scary.

Over the river, somewhere far from them, there are fireworks shooting into the sky. Taehyung gasps, eyes widening at the explosion of colors, thinks of pointing it out to Yoongi, and then decides that he’s probably going to be lectured on how fireworks make people happy and hence are wasteful, terrible things. He keeps quiet. He really wanted Coke, he thinks, frowning at his glass. Hoseok had only brought Sprite.

“Yah, I hate Hoseok,” Yoongi mumbles from behind him. “Always with the fucking Sprite.”

“We can drink it neat.”

“Are you an idiot? That’s a horrible idea. Tomorrow’s Monday,”  Yoongi grumbles, but then taps Taehyung’s shoulder. “Pour some.”

Taehyung spills a little, already sort of tipsy from the accumulated worth of soju and vodka he’s been drinking since dinner, and Yoongi rolls his eyes and steadies Taehyung’s hands. His fingers are ice cold, and Taehyung knows he himself always runs very warm. It’s still surprising when Yoongi wraps his fingers around both his wrists.

“So warm,” he says, pinching Taehyung’s skin lightly. “You’re like a little space heater.”

So, okay, maybe Yoongi’s been drinking a bit more than Taehyung has.

That light flush that Taehyung mistook for the cold is definitely not just the cold. And for a guy who just recently spent a few seconds telling Taehyung off for staring in his general direction, Yoongi’s doing a lot of it himself now, cheek squished against the collar of his coat as he watches Taehyung moodily. Doesn’t let go of his hands.

Even in the slushy haze-scape of Taehyung’s sleepy brain, this sets off a few alarms.

Taehyung tries to suppress a hysterical giggle. He fails. At the sound of it, Yoongi seems to come out of whatever weird trance he was in, shoving Taehyung away with all the strength of an angry kitten.

And then he drinks all of his vodka neat in one terrifying gulp.

“Hyung,” Taehyung gasps, wide-eyed, blinking like an owl. “Fuck.”

Yoongi smirks, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “Bet you won’t do that.”

Taehyung sighs, softly. Looks from Yoongi’s empty cup to his face, the arch of his eyebrows, the glossy dark of his eyes.

The way a smile’s begun to curl up the corner of his mouth.

There’s challenge, bright in Yoongi’s gaze. And Taehyung’s going to fucking regret this, but he’s never dealt well with being challenged.

“Gimme some of that.”

Taehyung knocks back the vodka, no problem. Then he thinks he’s probably burned right through his intestines. He coughs, sputters oh fucking hell, and catches Yoongi’s grin as he pats his back. And then Yoongi has to upstage him, so the stakes get upped and Taehyung pours again. 

Yoongi holds his wrist to steady him.

“Drink,” Yoongi says. He sounds a little slurred now. “You’re the one with the wild hipster life. Drink.”

Taehyung scoffs at him and drinks.

“Good boy,” Yoongi mutters, laughing as Taehyung coughs through the burn.

Then Taehyung’s got watery eyes, and he’s blinking against it, gasping a bit and giggling against the railing. Yoongi lets go of his wrist to splay his hand soft against Taehyung’s back, like he’s making sure that Taehyung doesn’t trip over the railing or something.

Taehyung looks for the fireworks and grins happily when it explodes, all purple and gold. They stay like that for a while, quiet and passing drinks, until Yoongi swears that the bottle’s nearly over. There’s probably more down below, but neither of them want to walk into a porno. Taehyung thinks his legs won’t work anyway. Jellyfish, he tells Yoongi, and Yoongi just blinks back at him. Taehyung doesn’t know how to explain it.

“Kid, are you a lightweight?”

“No? Yes?” Taehyung ventures, and then breaks into giggles again. It’s been creeping up on him like a cat looking for prey—slowly and then all of a sudden—the lulling, heavy pull of intoxication. He peers at Yoongi and imagines that he’s in a submarine, looking through thick glass at Yoongi bobbing somewhere out in a vast ocean. “I was—my legs are jelly. Get it? Jellyfish.”

“Sure.”

“Hyung,” Taehyung says, through another fit of giggles, “Hyung, can  I tell you something?”

Yoongi looks suspicious. “What?”

Taehyung leans in to whisper. “I don’t even like alcohol. Okay? It tastes horrible, and I always just want strawberry juice, but—wow. Pretty fireworks.”

Yoongi sighs. “Just sit down before you fall over.”

Sitting down is weird because it feels like the whole plane of the sky comes along with him. Taehyung’s very unsure of this. The moon, especially, seems to have suddenly changed angles, swooping down alongside Taehyung to occupy a quarter directly to his left. Taehyung sulks. Only he’s sitting down, what the fuck is the sky getting into it for? He wants to talk to  Yoongi about it, but he thinks Yoongi will just say some crap like life isn’t fair and look at Taehyung like he’s dumb, and Taehyung doesn’t want that.

 He really wants Yoongi to stop thinking he’s dumb.

“Hyung,” he mutters. “Why do you hate me?”

Yoongi frowns down at him. “I knew this was a bad idea.”

Hyung,”  Taehyung whines, and tugs gently at Yoongi’s pants. “Really. What did I do?”

“You didn’t—fuck, I don’t hate you, okay? We’re just…very different people with very different— Taehyung. Taehyung, stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what, hyung?”

“Like a—I don’t know, like a wounded puppy or something. Stop it. Stop.

“’Kay,”  Taehyung mumbles, and looks behind him instead. Through the rails, all the lights of Seoul down below looks like washed out, watery strokes of luminescence and color, just like in The Starry Night. He tilts his head to see better. The lights are pretty, he thinks. The lights, the fireworks, the glittering snake-like trains,  the river and the people. Everything is nice and soft, gentle.

Life in this moment is sweet and soft, winter-laced, gentle.

It gets him a little emotional.

He’s turning around before he knows it, tugging at Yoongi’s coat to get him to pay attention. “Hyung.”

What?

He pats a spot next to him, and continues patting it until Yoongi gives up and sits down. Yoongi pulls his legs towards him and wraps his arms around them, resting his chin on his knee, suddenly looking small and snuggly. Taehyung has the very irrational, extremely suicidal urge to hug him.

“What you s-said,” he says instead, very clearly now, this is very important, “About trusting no one. Taking no help.”

Yoongi freezes. “Yeah?”

Taehyung looks at him earnestly, trying to put the truth of what he’s saying behind his gaze. “It’s not true.”

“You’re fucking drunk, Taehyung.”

“Not that drunk. Really! I promise on my dog,” Taehyung slurs, and then loses the thread for a bit in the depths of his sloshy brain. Why is he thinking of Yeontan now? Does Yeontan miss him? Taehyung is abjectly sad that his dog is alone. He’s also abjectly sad that Yoongi doesn’t think he can trust anyone. That sucks, right? That should suck. Almost as much as being a dog and being alone. “Uh—I mean. Sometimes it’s okay to need h-help.”

Yoongi grits his teeth. “I didn’t get where I was with help.”

“I did. And I’m not—I’m not some rich, spoiled chaebol kid like you think I am, okay, hyung? My parents are farmers. My grandparents are farmers. My great-grandparents—”

“Are farmers!” Yoongi splutters. “I got it. I got it, Taehyung, jeez.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says, happily. He’s glad Yoongi’s following along. Listening. Listening to people is also important; that’s what his grandmother always told him. Yoongi’s probably a good listener. “What was I saying?”

“Nothing important.”

“Sad dogs,” Taehyung mutters, trying to get back to the point. Sad dogs, sad dogs—“Oh—yes! Help. I always had Jiminie, and I had Jungkookie, and then Jin hyung and Namjoon hyung came along…I mean. What I’m trying to say—to say is—hyung, listen.”

“I am fucking listening.”

“No, look at me,” Taehyung says, and grabs hold of Yoongi’s face with both his hands because this is important. “I couldn’t have done anything alone. Okay? I just…right people. You know? Friends. I trust them. They help.”

“Let go of me, Taehyung.”

“No.” Taehyung says, and squishes Yoongi’s cheeks a little harder. “Did you hear me?

“I heard you. You have a lot of friends. They help.”

Yoongi’s quiet for a minute.  Taehyung thinks he’ll let it go, is a bit anxious that Yoongi didn’t take him seriously enough, but then Yoongi takes hold of his hands. He pulls them gently away from his face but doesn’t let Taehyung have them back, instead holding his wrists captive in his lap. 

“And then they’ll expect it back from you,” he says, grave and angry, eyes like burning coal and face shuttered. “And suddenly you’re beholden to other people, and it’s them controlling your life. You’ll change yourself so they’ll like you, make it so they’ll approve of you. It’s such a waste of time. A bloody waste of potential.”

Taehyung gapes like a fish, shocked and confused. Where is this coming from?

“Hyung. Real friends would never do that.”

Real friends,” Yoongi laughs, and even through the sparkly haze Taehyung’s in, he knows this is a bitter sound. “No human being does anything without expecting something in turn. That’s just how we are.”

“That’s not true,” Taehyung says. “You can’t live walled up like that, hyung. Not letting anyone in. What about Namjoon hyung? Or—or Hoseok hyung—”

“I ask nothing from them. I don’t want them to worry for me, or think that they owe me anything—”

“They’re not like that. They’d never hurt you. That’s not right—”

Yoongi whirls on him. “ You pretend like you’re so happy in life, so precious, not a care in the world—it’s all a fucking lie. You want things, just like everyone else, and all of this pure, innocent facade is a lie. That’s what I can’t fucking stand. The lying.”

Taehyung sits up, suddenly much sober. “I am happy, hyung. I just want to work with clothes, in my shop, with my best friend—”

“Then you’re a fucking idiot. The world is a shitty place. It just takes and it takes. Your friends will want things from you, and they’ll ask more and more,” Yoongi’s tone is angry now, his fingers punishingly hard on Taehyung’s wrists. Taehyung, for the first time since he’s met Yoongi, is genuinely scared. But not of him, he thinks. For him. “They’ll ask until you have nothing to give and then they’ll keep asking. So if you’re leaning on any of them, Kim Taehyung, you’re making a big fucking mistake. It’s you against the world.”

There’s a ringing silence.

Taehyung stays, slumped against the railing, for an indeterminate amount of time. Snow accumulates on his lap, soft and pretty, dampening his coat. Yoongi continues to hold his hands, like maybe he’s free-falling, and Taehyung’s a lifeline. Taehyung’s too rattled and too drunk to make any sort of sense of it. He thinks his heart is beating very fast, and there’s a nasty, twisted-up feeling inside him—like sadness.

How did they get here?

“Hyung—”

Yoongi sighs. Then he stands up, slowly, seeming to shake himself out of a long stupor, the lazy drawl back in his voice when he says, “Do you ever just shut up?”

Taehyung sniffles. His throat is tight and his eyes burn, and his voice comes out in a funny little squeak. “I—I just—”

“Come on, I’ll take you home.”

“I don’t wanna—”

“Not an option. Stop making that face. Get up. Get—shit, you’re fucking heavy.”

“You’re just small,” Taehyung mutters, listing sideways as he tries to get his balance. “Tiny hyung.”

Yoongi makes an exasperated sound. “Oh god. That’s not—why the hell are you crying?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, don’t. Stop crying. Stop—do you need Jimin?”

“No.”

Yoongi swears. “Fine. I’m just gonna take you home. You shut up, okay?”

“I don’t—”

“Ssshh. Not one word.”

It’s said with a glare, so Taehyung just nods, frantically. He doesn’t think he can defend himself if Yoongi decides he doesn’t need a limb or two.

Taehyung’s honestly unsure how he ends up in a cab with Yoongi, and completely clueless how he manages to type in the proper address to his apartment in the GPS. Everything blurs outside his window, the world still clad in that delicate blue, and Taehyung thinks his heart hurts. He presses his forehead against the cool window, watching contrails flicker and streetlights pass them in long-tailed blurs, the Doppler whoosh of late-night traffic rushing through his ears like wind in a tunnel. 

Yoongi’s quiet the entire way home.

When they get to the apartment, Taehyung stands with his head pressed to the doorfame until Yoongi figures out the complicated key and electronic combo lock.

“We k-keep the more expensive jewelry at home,” Taehyung murmurs, to Yoongi’s repeated muttering of what the fuck and why the fuck. “Shop’s heavily secured, of course. But d-diamonds…some gold… one original Christian Dior that the man himself has touched...”

“Is that on the mannequin?”

Taehyung blinks, very slowly, trying to think. “…yes?”

“For your sake, Taehyung-ah, I hope that thing isn’t sitting somewhere in the living room where my eyes might land on it.”

The door finally opens. Taehyung hears Yeontan yip loudly from somewhere within the apartment, probably his playpen. He stumbles and Yoongi grabs his elbow again.

“You keep doing that.”

“You keep being gravitationally challenged,” Yoongi grumbles. “Where are the lights?”

Taehyung tries to point in the direction of the switchboard and realizes that he has no idea how directions work.

“Never mind. Where’s the bedroom?”

Taehyung points. Yoongi drags him along, deposits him unceremoniously on the bed, and then stands back to wipe a hand against his brow.

“I’ll bring you water,” he grunts. “And a bucket, for when you wake up tomorrow with a hangover.”

Taehyung just lies there, on his back, staring at his childish ceiling full of childish glowing stars. There are still nine planets because he didn’t want Pluto to feel left out. Yeontan barks again, slightly plaintive.

He frowns and throws a leg over his pillow. Why is Yoongi so difficult? He wonders. Why mistrust everyone, close yourself off like that? It can’t be healthy. He can’t be happy.

In all of the interviews and projects and campaigns of his that Taehyung has followed, marveling at Yoongi’s clear passion and clever mind, never once had he guessed that Yoongi isn’t even happy doing this.

Taehyung can’t imagine. Happiness is his one true north. Sure he has his moments of self-hate, like everyone else, but he’s fought to get to a place that he loves, with people he love.

He can’t imagine.

Yoongi comes back to find Taehyung sitting up, playing with the hem of his shirt. The skylight lets in a scrim of brightness that catches on Yoongi’s cheek like a crescent moon. He reaches for Taehyung’s blanket and throws it at him.

Taehyung swallows convulsively.“Hyung,” he starts, burying his face into the soft fabric of the blanket, blinking to bring the world to proper focus.

“Don’t.”

“I just want to talk.”

“You’re no one to talk about this,” Yoongi says, bluntly. “You’re just a business acquaintance.”

Taehyung winces. “I know. But—”

“Look, Taehyung. I think you’re bizarre and ridiculous. I think Namjoon is some sort of an idiot for buying into your fancy posturing. That hasn’t changed. All that’s changed in the last hour is that I know at least you can hold your liquor,” Yoongi shakes his head, sighing as he gives Taehyung a once-over. “Somewhat.”

“No, listen—”

“I don’t have to listen to you,” Yoongi says, exasperated. “God, Taehyung, that’s the whole point of everything I said. I don’t have to listen to anyone. I don’t want to. Least of all you.”

It doesn’t even really hurt. Why should it? It’s just like Yoongi said: Taehyung’s no one to him. He’s an acquaintance; one that Yoongi doesn’t even particularly like. But Taehyung’s the kind of person that elicits midnight confessions and drunken declarations. Taehyung’s the kind of person that adopts friends for life and then clings on like some particularly bull-headed sea-anemone. Taehyung’s the kind of person who will sit in the dark, barely thinking through a drunken stupor, feeling his heart swell painfully for someone who can’t even look at his face.

Yoongi pushes the water bottle at him, not making eye-contact. “Drink,” he mutters. “Please. I don’t want you complaining of a hangover tomorrow for the dress trials.”

Taehyung takes the water bottle.

“Do you want me to go let your dog out?” Yoongi asks. “He sounds indignant.”

“No, I’ll do it myself.”

“And die falling on the stairs? Fuck that. I need wardrobe consult tomorrow.”

Taehyung grins. “I’ll be there bright and early!”

“It’ll probably go on for half the day.”

“I’ll bring some donuts too!”

Yoongi looks at him with something bordering on abject distrust. “Why are you smiling?” he asks, tone flat, glaring daggers at Taehyung. “Stop it, you look demented.”

Taehyung tosses him a smirk. “For someone who hates people so much, you’re pretty good at taking care of them, hyung.”

“Fuck off,” Yoongi says, with no real heat. “Just—be there at ten. For my sanity’s sake.”

Taehyung throws him a double thumbs-up. Yoongi rolls his eyes so hard they nearly disappear, but he stays there for a minute longer, waiting for Taehyung to get settled with his pillow and water and blanket. Then he leaves without ceremony, but Taehyung hears him stumbling around, trying to locate Yeontan’s playpen. And then the low rumble of his voice as he tries to make friends.

It laves over him, layered quietly over the hum of the refrigerator and the clicking of the AC, warm and lulling and domestic.

He’s got this, he thinks, just as sleep descends over him with the weight of a metric tonne of bricks. He’s not sure what he’s got, but he’s got it. This—this Yoongi thing.

Taehyung ’s got this.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I might believe you’re a witch,” is the first thing Yoongi says, the next day when Taehyung arrives for dress trials. Taehyung pauses, squinting through his headache, wondering if hallucinations are part of hangovers.

Did Yoongi just call him a witch?

“Uh huh,” is all Taehyung says. He’d been (badly) woken by a very excited Park Jimin wanting to dish the dirt on his (possibly spectacular—Taehyung didn’t really catch most of it) threesome. And then he’d jolted out of bed because the large digital clock behind Jimin’s head had been spelling out 9:00 AM.

It’s 9:58 now, which means Taehyung isn’t technically late. His hair is a mess, though, and his face is puffy like bread. He’s still sniffling, voice rough from the cold. He’s also wearing an old Gucci jacket he’s pretty sure is on backwards, but he’s hoping he can pass that off as high fashion. He’s worn stranger things.

Yoongi is wearing a black t-shirt over black jeans and retro framed glasses. It gives him a hot librarian look, which is a definite classic in Taehyung’s opinion. And with the dark, squinty way  Yoongi’s looking at him ,Taehyung would give this effort a solid 10/10. He doesn’t think even Rihanna’s recent Met Gala gown merited that much.

“A witch,” Yoongi says, just the tiniest hint of awe in his voice. “You have to be.”

“Why’s that, hyung?”

“I tried to replace you.”

It’s a tiny little arrow to the heart. Taehyung can’t hide that it hurts—he feels his face fall, and knows that Yoongi sees it, too. But Taehyung’s had worse, so he soldiers on, merely pausing to take a sip of his matcha latte. “And?”

“I had Hoseok ring up every single vintage costumer and procurer.”

“This early?”

Yoongi shrugs. Taehyung’s not too surprised—when you’re Min Yoongi, you get to wake up anyone in the fashion industry at even the most unearthly hour.

“Guess how it went.”

Taehyung perches on top of a pile of steel boxes. There’s massive industry all around them: men and women working on constructing a retro bar around them as they speak, talking into earphones, moving around with fabrics and drills and glue guns. He spots Seokjin out the corner of his eye, talking to the swing gang crew of set decorators .

He tries to keep his voice light even as his stomach churns a bit. Tries not to sound betrayed. “Hyung. Why did you try to replace me?”

“I find it hard to work with you. You’re annoying,” Yoongi’s tone is airy, dismissive, pitched to hurt. Taehyung’s almost ashamed to admit that it does still hurt. He’s never had drunk conversations with anyone who hasn’t become his good friend by the next day. “Never mind that. Guess what happened.”

“I don’t know.”

“We called up everyone we could. Bogum, Hyungsik, Choi Minho. What do you think they said?”

“…No?”

No,Yoongi mutters, darkly. “Indeed. Why’s that, Taehyung?”

Taehyung wonders if he could ask Yoongi to make this a multiple choice question. “They’re my…friends?”

Yoongi plays with his phone, spinning it around and around between his fingers, studying Taehyung thoughtfully through his bangs. “They’re your friends.”

“Is that…bad?”

“It’s mind-boggling!” Yoongi exclaims, running a hand through his silver hair. “How many friends do you have in this industry?”

“A lot,” Taehyung huffs a laugh, abruptly unable to get the pleased smirk off his face. Yoongi just looks so astonished, even through his veneer of nonchalance. “I have a lot of friends.”

“Yes, you do,” Yoongi says, still in that feathery, light tone that suggests both irritation and amusement. “They said no the moment they heard it’s you they’re replacing. It was fucking awful.”

Awful isn’t the word Taehyung would use. He probably needs to send them all bouquets. Or donuts. Or some nice champagne. “Maybe that luck spell worked, after all,” he says, shrugging, biting his lip to ward off a sneeze. “You know, hyung, sex is a great way to charge up a magic sigil.”

Yoongi bites gently on his lower lip, almost in a mirror of Taehyung. “Of course it is.”

“Sex is a great way to what?” Hoseok asks, innocently, joining them.

“Get glowing skin like yours!” Taehyung coos, jumping up to pet Hoseok’s cheeks. Hoseok lets him, blushing a little, slinging one arm around Taehyung’s shoulder. Yoongi watches them irritably, gives a sigh, and mutters something about needing to check the gaffer’s lighting plans again as he wanders off.

“I’m sorry, Taehyung-ah,” Hoseok says, grabbing Taehyung’s hand when he’s sure Yoongi’s out of ear-shot. “But he woke me up in the morning demanding we find you a replacement. Wouldn’t even give me a reason. What the hell happened yesterday?”

“We got drunk,” Taehyung says unhappily, shrugging as he sits cross-legged on his boxes. “We talked. He said he hates people and needs no one.”

Hoseok follows Yoongi’s disappearing back with his eyes, a worried crease appearing between his eyebrows. “Hyung’s always been like that. Thinks people are leeches, doesn’t let anyone close. Sometimes I think he only keeps me around because I don’t push him to say anything.”

“Well. It’s fucking stupid.”

“Says you,” Hoseok slaps his shoulder, delight crinkling his eyes. “ Yah, Taehyungie, how many friends do you have? I swear I made like twenty calls. Yoongi hyung nearly blew up. He only gave up after I threatened to call up Namjoon and tell him about his unreasonable vendetta towards you.”

 Taehyung shoots Hoseok an aggressive little wink. “You’re stuck with me, hyung.”

“I didn’t want it any other way,” Hoseok declares. Then he seems to think of something worrisome and scuffs his shoes against the ground. He’s quiet for nearly a minute, and a quiet Hoseok strangely looks very sad, Taehyung thinks. “Hey—did, uh, Jimin talk to you today?”

“He just babbled on about what a good time he had—why?”

Hoseok colors a bit. “No reason,” he says, hastily, smiling wide at Taehyung. “Uh, do you wanna go get the clothes ready?”

Not suspicious at all, Taehyung thinks, but follows Hoseok as he weaves through a crowd of artists and decorators and set dressers. Pre-production is on full force, and usually Taehyung would go babble at the production crew before he met the costume department. Today he feels preoccupied, head full of sharp-toothed thoughts on why Yoongi would try so hard to replace him.

One answer is that Yoongi’s still not convinced of Taehyung’s ability—that he still thinks Taehyung is terrible at his job, or irresponsible, or incapable of following instructions. The other, more easily obvious answer is in all they’d spoken of last night.

That maybe Yoongi feels like he told Taehyung too much. That maybe he thinks Taehyung would try to fix him.

Truth be told, Taehyung has no such intentions. He’s admired Yoongi from afar, fallen in love with his work, dreamed of working alongside him one day. This is that day. He likes to think that he can be professional. If Yoongi doesn’t want to bring personal shit into their working relationship, Taehyung can pretend that the conversation never happened.

(Even if it niggles at him. Even if it tries to weather down his own happiness. Even if he—)

No. Taehyung is a businessperson. Professionalism is his buzzword. He and Jimin have been in situations like this a hundred times before: men confessing drunken secrets to them, women admitting to adultery and then tearfully pressing them into silence, yet others making passes at and propositioning them for sexual favors.

It’s just part of the job. Part of the industry. It’s about as common as getting a sour bagel at odd times on the sets—which is a lot more fucking common than anyone would think.

Be professional, he thinks, as he catches sight of Yoongi now. Yoongi pauses between inspecting a bunch of fabric swatches to meet Taehyung’s gaze, and there’s a spark there, hot and dangerous.

A challenge.

Min Yoongi, Taehyung thinks, is like a lit firework. Beautiful, yet dangerous to hold. Ephemeral and bright, but toxic if you get too close. The kind of person Jimin warns Taehyung away from. The sort of heart-breaker that leaves scars. Yoongi’s said it himself—he has no time for anyone, spares no thought for friendships, has no need for relationships. Taehyung would be stupid to try to change any of that. It would be as impossible as unwinding a dog’s curly tail, or getting Jimin to stop clinging to people. Futile. Painful. Unnecessary.

Anyway. It’s not his place. It’s not his problem.

Yoongi’s not his problem.

Be professional, he thinks, in the voice in his head that sounds distinctly like Jimin. He swallows when Yoongi smirks at him from right next to the rack of Taehyung’s clothes, sport clear in his eyes. His expression is stretched thin, a vague purple beneath his eyes from the ghosts of last night’s drinks, and he stands with his chin ducked, shoulders hunched, clearly defensive. There is something about it—something hectic and unsettled—that sets a frisson of nerves tangling in Taehyung’s chest.

Don’t try to be his friend. He tried to replace you. All you said was maybe he should get through his trust issues and stop being an asshole. Be professional.

“I’ll warn you now,” Hoseok says. “It gets a bit crazy in here. Just—don’t take it personally, okay, Taehyung-ah? He’s just doing his job.”

“Sure,” Taehyung says, trying to inject enthusiasm into his voice, failing when he meets Yoongi’s gaze. “I can be professional, hyung. Don’t worry.”

“I’m here, okay? The craken is unleashed, but you call me if you want a paddle boat. Or a lifesaver. Or just a big hug.”

“I’ll take one now,” Taehyung says, gloomily, and Hoseok envelops him in a warm hug instantly.

“You’ll be okay,” he says into Taehyung’s hair. “He respects your work, if nothing else.”

Taehyung perks up. “How do you know that?”

“Remembers your name, now, doesn’t he?” Hoseok’s smirk is like a cat’s. “You’re not just Fairy Boy anymore. Isn’t that a great upgrade?”

Taehyung shoves Hoseok lightly in the chest. “Go think of your life, hyung. Think hard about your choices. Reflect on how you got stuck here, in this terrible, loveless place.”

Hoseok just grins and flashes him a thumbs-up. “Good luck!” he says, syrupy sweet, his eyes twinkling. “You’ll need it, Taehyungie.”

***

Hoseok is right.

Taehyung needs all the luck he can get.

That first day he comes back home with a head swimming with alterations, modifications, replacements. The magenta dress has to be broken down for additional shots post the love-motel scene—he needs standbys for that, and the breakdown artists need to be taught how to work with vintage. The actress playing Choi Hae-won freaks out if something obstructs her neck; he needs to modify the minidress to fit her instructions. Yoongi thinks they need to find something else for one of the outdoor shots—it has to be polished and in-character, but not too flashy, nor too bland, nor too easily recognizable from one of the time period’s fashion catalogs. Yet it must be label; preferably a New York label. Searchable, nostalgic, and very period-y, because that’s nearly the opening shot, and they can’t fuck it up.

Don ’t fuck it up, Taehyung.

It’s too-big buttons and errant stitches, garters that pinch and sleeves that are too long, bustles that don’t fit and under-dresses that are too visible in the light. It’s colors that don’t pop under indoors lighting. It’s wallpapers that blend with the costume too much. It’s the actress screaming that a dress calls too much attention to her “problem areas”. It’s clashing hair-color, clashing backgrounds, clashing props. It’s imperfections of the minutest variety, crawling up to torment him, recorded in Yoongi’s notebook and meticulously itemized.

Make it perfect, Taehyung.

Perfect, perfect, perfect. He works with the cutters through the day, overseeing work for not just his pieces but the ones that will complement it. He works with extras’ costumes, the details on them, the styling required to make even a plain white shirt appear as if it belongs to a time period.  He runs around like a maniac, arms full of fabric, trying to set things in place. Yoongi hovers, making suggestions, writing things down in an ever-lengthening task-tracker. The longer it gets, the more he seems to thrive, like some weird sort of desert succulent living on scorching winds and cursed earth.

At the end of it all, Taehyung’s ready to crash and sleep for two hundred years. His feet are killing him, and his head throbs. He sneezes what feels like every two minutes. There is a distinctly unattractive puffiness to his face that isn’t helped by the giant strawberry pastry he shovels into his mouth for dinner.

“You sure you’ll make it to the auction?” Jimin asks, hovering at his apartment door in the early hours of morning. “Taetae, I can cancel the Haskell viewing, but we need this auction.”

Taehyung clutches Yeontan and sways on his feet. “I’ll catch that plane. I will, Jiminie. You go get us some bling.”

“If you’re sure,” Jimin says, reaching out his arms to hugTaehyung and dog and the giant blanket around his shoulders and all. “Kookie’s coming to get your stuff packed, so don’t worry about that. He’ll let himself in. Just don’t think he’s an intruder and try to murder him.”

“Hey, that was once.”

“You attacked him with a waffle iron. Naked.”

“There were no lasting damages.”

“To his psyche there was,” Jimin grins, and Taehyung scoffs at him. Jungkook’s made of sterner stuff than that, he knows for a fact. No waffle-iron or accidental dick-spotting is likely to rattle him. “Also, that outdoor costume thing—I pulled a rack for you, so just go see that in the morning first before you turn the shop upside down. There’s some good stuff there. I thought, maybe Pucci, some velvet, maybe Rabanne?”

Taehyung heaves a sigh of relief. “You’re the best, Jimin.”

“I know,” Jimin simpers. “Should I tell Hoseok hyung to remind you to leave for the airport on time?”

“No, I’ll manage. You should go. You’ll miss your flight.”

Jimin gives him a searching look. “Don’t let Yoongi hyung give you shit, okay? Remember, you’re bulletproof.”

“Bulletproof,” Taehyung grins, and shoots a finger gun. “Got it.”

“Love you. Don’t die from overwork. I need you to reach the top shelves.”

“Ha fucking ha.”

Taehyung wakes up a few hours later with no memory of how he got to the couch, curled up around a pillow and drooling, Jungkook’s face inches from his as he tries to click a photo.

“Ssshh,” he says, full bratty grin on display. “Go back to sleep, hyung. This is a great shot.”

Taehyung blearily swats at the front of Jungkook’s hoodie. It’s still early enough that the light filtering through the blinds is a moody lilac, and all he wants to do is burrow into his blanket and never wake up. “Kookie. S’early. What you doin’?”

Jungkook plops gracelessly onto the couch by Taehyung’s head. “Dropped by on my way to the gym to pack your shit. Hoseok hyung is here, too. We’re making you some food for later. Go back to sleep.”

“What time’s it?” Taehyung tries to move and winces as pain shoots up his ankles. “Ow.

Jungkook looks at him pityingly. “Do you even know what leg days are?”

“Fuck off,” Taehyung moans, clutching his pillow tighter. “I don’t wanna work today.”

“Do you have to?” Jungkook asks, and then frowns lightly when Taehyung nods. “That sucks. We’ll put Yoongi hyung on our kill list, okay?”

“You guys have a kill list?” Hoseok whispers, from somewhere behind Taehyung. “That is fucking dark. Who’s on it?”

“Not you,” Jungkook grins. “Because you make the best pancakes. Can I have one?”

“They’re for Taehyungie.”

“Now you’re on the kill list.”

They bicker for a while more, back and forth, something about pancakes and maple syrup and the dick size of a Canadian moose, and Taehyung’s just beginning to take interest in the topic when drowsiness claims him again.

He wakes up to his alarm and an excited Yeontan scratching industriously at the couch right next to his head. The apartment’s empty, and bright light is pouring in through the window, but there’s a packed suitcase in the hall and some stew and pancakes in the kitchen. There’s also a bottle of cold medicine in a pink glass bottle with a post-it that says DRINK IN MODERATION.

Taehyung thanks his stars for his friends.

“This is what you get if you don’t lock yourself and your feelings away in a tower,” he tells Yeontan, who’s busy sniffing at the kitchen cabinet for no specific reason. “But apparently I’m the stupid one.”

There’s a prickling in his nose. He stoops to inspect some funny charm Jungkook’s left him with a little note to carry in his pocket, and then reels back with a sudden, powerful sneeze.

This stupid cold is going to be the death of him.

***

“Misery, thy name is Kim Taehyung,” Hoseok says at lunch-time, dropping by with an enormous pile of feathers that the costume department is supposed to stick onto some shitty showgirl costume. Taehyung takes one look at it and sneezes so loud the entire department turns to stare. Irene, his breakdown artist, almost jumps into the pile of flamingo-colored dresses she’s been meticulously ripping for a dream sequence. “You look awful. Just saying.”

“Gah,” Taehyung says, stabbing himself with the needle for the sixth time in the last hour. He’s taking out a few stitches from an under-dress but suddenly everything in this room is making him sneeze, from glue to feathers to the ticklish lace of the extras’ costumes. “Yoongi hyung only called me slow like five times today, so better than yesterday I guess. Did he get that stupid set to rotate the way he wanted?”

“Yep.”

“Did anyone fall in the machinery and die yet?”

Hoseok blinks. “…not that I know of, you morbid child. Why?”

“I told him it’s bad luck to say the name of the Scottish play,” Taehyung says, squinting through an eyelet at a particularly odd darn. “Y’know. Making conversation, and all. He just started chanting it.”

“What, Macbeth?”

Taehyung claps his free hand over Hoseok’s mouth. “No, don’t say it. It’s witchy. You’ll curse the set.”

There’s a rustle from behind him, and then a dark whisper: “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth.

Taehyung nearly leaps up in surprise and stabs himself again. “Hyung,he whines, and Yoongi just cackles behind him like Hecate come to earth herself. The all-black he’s wearing today definitely doesn’t help matters. “It’s true. Some things are just cursed.”

“Say the name, Taehyung,” Yoongi says, gravely. “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Taehyung squints up at him from where he’s sat on the floor, in the midst of a mountain of fabric and tissues and he's rapidly depleting cold medicine syrup bottle. “Was that a Harry Potter reference, hyung?”

Yoongi just shrugs, looking entirely bored.

“Could it be that that was a…joke?”

 Yoongi shucks his hands in his pockets. His expression remains carefully disinterested, completely devoid of mirth or amusement. “Was it?”

“What?”

“A joke?”

“It wasn’t?”

Yoongi thinks a bit. “Could it be?”

Hyung,” Taehyung groans. “Did you need something, or can I go back to torturing myself with this needle?”

“You’ve stabbed yourself eight times now,” Yoongi informs him, lightly, flicking through his task notebook. “Is it just that you’re completely klutzy today or is there some Fifty Shades of Grey sort of shit happening that I should know about?”

“I don’t know, hyung,” Taehyung says, dropping his voice to its sultriest cadence. “You were watching. Counting, even. Do you, maybe, want to prick me? Is that the sort of thing that interests you?”

Yoongi gives an indignant snort, but his sneer mutates slowly to hesitant fear when his gaze lands on Hoseok. Taehyung wouldn’t blame him: Hoseok’s grin could rival the Cheshire cat’s in its pure girth and promise of giddy mischief. He stuffs his face with a kimbap roll when Yoongi glares stormily at him, but when his eyes flicker to Taehyung he looks pleased.

Y’know,” he drawls, all filthy smirk, dusting a bunch of feathers in one straight line from Taehyung’s shoulder to Yoongi’s legs. “Y’all should hate bang. 10/10 would watch.”

Yoongi’s face distorts in an odd way and he flushes. “Why the fuck would we let you watch?”

“Because I’d pay, hyung,” Hoseok looks gleeful. “You don’t say no to money. Ever.

“Why are you like this, Hoseok-ah?”

“Coping mechanisms,” Hoseok says, simply. “For all the trauma you put me through.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes, color still ruddy in his cheeks. “Is the PVC rolls here yet? Didn’t we need that by two pm?” He looks at his watch, a slow and theatrical glance, eyes narrowing cat-like when he looks up again. “Wow—look at the time. Two pm, Hoseok-ah. What a coincidence! Right?”

Hoseok pales and dumps all the feathers in Taehyung’s lap. “Oh shit.”

Taehyung sneezes. By the time he’s done and blearily grabbing for his box of tissues, Hoseok’s disappeared, only the half-eaten kimbap roll serving any hint as to him having ever been here. That, and the feathers.

“How long will you take for the under-dress?” Yoongi asks. “We only have one more slot with the actress at four.”

“Considerably less if you stop watching me prick myself for your weird gratification,” Taehyung sniffs, viciously pulling at a stitch. “This is delicate work.”

“You said you have hands made for delicate work.”

“I meant that in a completely different context.”

Taehyung means restoration—he swears he does. He’s fucking awesome at restoration. But restoration is sure as hell not what Yoongi’s thinking of when he gapes at him, just for a few stricken seconds before he schools his face into nonchalance. “All talk, aren’t you?”

“And s-sneezes,” Taehyung says, overloud as he grabs his tissues to sneeze into again. “So, hyung, can I please get back to my already snail-like pace so I can give you this dress by three thirty?”

Yoongi leaves him alone after that. Taehyung’s done with the dress by three-fifteen and responds to a volley of texts from Jimin, stating that things are on track, that he’ll be at the airport by ten-thirty for his twelve-thirty am flight to Tokyo. He’s a bit sneezy, still a little feverish, but everything is in place and a tiny cold could never stand in his way anyway.

And then things start going haywire at four.

It’s the actress, first, refusing to wear a corset. She knows she did before, she says, but not anymore.  Yoongi just looks at Taehyung, eyebrows furrowed, hands on his hips as he stares at the Dior gown that was to be the costume for the main photo shoot tomorrow.

“Can you take apart the under-dress again? Leave it without the corset?”

“Maybe?”

“An answer, Taehyung,” Yoongi says, quietly. “ Can you, or can you not?”

Taehyung shrinks a bit into his own skin. “I can.”

And then there’s the outdoors gown, the yellow Emilio Pucci that Jimin had pulled the night before, which needs to be shortened. Taking scissors to vintage is always painful, but this at least is a quick job for the tailors, and Taehyung only has to supervise. But by then the lead actor’s glittery 70s trot-jacket’s caught a snag and a layer of sequins have come undone. Taehyung will need to restore, and he knows those sequins are little motherfucking bastards. To top it off, the feathers have gotten somehow into an open pot of glue, and one of the sticky things have somehow managed to get adhered to the front of a minidress Irene had been working on. There’s a glue stain and everything.

Taehyung feels his heart sink, a slow and gentle slide to the dreary morass of his melancholy inner swamp.

 He sits with the minidress (it whispers gently of waves and sand and other nice things and Taehyung grits his teeth) while Yoongi placates the actress, a confused Namjoon, and a beady-eyed Seokjin who’s managing his own enormous pink notepad of lists.

“The US cameraman for the photo shoot is only here tomorrow, so there really is no wriggle room,” Seokjin’s saying, rubbing lightly at his temples. “Also, Sun-woo has another shoot at seven, you need to let her leave at least by six-thirty—”

“I said six-fifteen, hyung,” Yoongi says. “That generally means six-fifteen.”

“I know, I know, I’m just reminding—”

“Got it written down. Right here. Sun-woo, six-fifteen.”

Seokjin looks unflapped by Yoongi’s less-than-warm responses, completely distracted as he flips through bright pink notes. “Okay, fine, that’s great—Namjoon, d’you—?”

Namjoon asks, “When can we see the final sets?”

Yoongi blinks. “Well. Right now, if you come this way…”

Then they’re gone and Taehyung’s left to figure out the glue-stain on his precious, precious dress. He works his magic gently, pausing every so often to sneeze, and by the time he’s done the dress is good as new but his throat hurts. He yawns and starts work on the Dior, taking apart the stitches again…

It’s rushed and manic because the actress has to leave soon, and Taehyung hates rushed and manic. He bears with it, though, because he wouldn’t trust someone else with this fabric—not in this room at least—and because Yoongi will have his hide if he doesn’t turn this around. He nips and tucks and pulls and separates. He runs to find buttons and silk thread. He builds in support that isn’t corset-like. He sneezes a lot, but the cold medicine is helping somewhat, even if his mouth feels sticky and tastes like chemical-stuffed strawberries.

The world fades around him except for the continuous whispering of the gown (wine, headiness, a gaudy gala of glitter and high, high heels) and he loses himself in the work for a while. Hoseok brings him tea that sits there, untouched, until it goes cool. Then Hoseok heats it up and brings it again, hovering until Taehyung takes a break to burn his tongue on it. It still feels really good with his sore throat.

“I put some ginger in that.”

“Thanks, hyung,” he mumbles, already reaching for his sewing kit again, not even pausing when he notices Yoongi watching. “I told some people the Scottish play is witchy. Look what’s happening now. No one ever believes me.”

Yoongi rubs slowly at his eyes. He goes over to Irene to discuss something, the both of them talking in conspiratorial whispers. He plucks an errant feather out of Taehyung’s hair as he walks back.

Macbeth,” he whispers, grinning savagely. Taehyung nearly pricks him.

 It’s six by the time he finishes. There’s a horrid window of ten minutes within which Yoongi calls Sun-woo back, and they help her get into the dress. Taehyung sits in one corner, holding his breath, clutching his metaphorical pearls and freaking out that fitting won’t be perfect. He barely even looks. What if he has to take it apart again? He might just curl up and die, pathetic as a salted snail.

But then Seokjin is making an excited whoop-whoop sound, and Namjoon is sighing in relief even as he starts barking orders to get Sun-woo’s people to quickly get her out of here. Even Yoongi sounds subdued and soft when he discusses hair and make-up with her personal stylist. Everybody’s talking over everybody else but nobody sounds terrified or freaked out or mad at him, so he peeks—one eye closed, looking out the corner of the other—and it’s perfect.

The fitting’s perfect.

“Oh, holy goddess, thank you,” Taehyung mumbles, sneezes a bit more, rolls over, and promptly falls asleep.

***

“—hey. Taehyung, hey.”

“Wha—?”

“It’s eight. You have to—Taehyungie, wake up.”

“Nnngh, noooo…”

“—Tokyo. You have a flight. The auction, Jimin said—”

Taehyung jerks and tries to sit up. Hoseok nearly falls backwards onto his ass. “A-auction?”

“It’s eight. You gotta go, you have a flight. You have to pick up your stuff from home, remember?”

Taehyung rubs at his eyes. Everything feels slow like molasses, and he thinks he has a headache. “Um. My dog?”

“I’m taking care of him. We discussed this last night. Don’t you remember?”

“No?”

“Wow, jeez. It was right after the moose-dick discussion.”

“Uh huh. Don’t recall.”

“ You really looked awake,” Hoseok marvels. “Your eyes were open and everything.”

Taehyung nods, wisely, and closes his eyes again. “Good story, hyung.”

“No, no, don’t go back to sleep—” Hoseok is tugging at his shirt, now, and Taehyung blinks blearily at him. “Up. Come on!”

It’s probably all the cold medication he’s been taking, and the sneezing, and all these feathers. He feels weird and warm and heavy, like he’s sinking into a pot of honey. This corner is nice and smotheringly warm; someone’s even dumped a large jacket on top of him like a blanket. He just wants to curl into it and sleep.

“Hyung,” he blubbers, grabbing a fistful of Hoseok’s shirt. “Can I go tomorrow—there’s a big flight—much bigger—”

“You’re not making any sense. Wait, let me call Jimin.”

“No! Don’t call Jimin.”

“Are you getting up, then?”

Taehyung considers. “…No.”

Hoseok sighs. Taehyung rearranges his limbs so that he can hug the jacket, which is thick and buttery soft and smells faintly like mint and hyssop. He thinks he dozes a bit more, and then Hoseok tries to wake him up again by almost jumping on top of him. He wonders faintly if Jimin told him to do that. But that’s Taehyung on a good day, and Taehyung on a bad day—like this one—can sleep through an earthquake.

So he sleeps.

Taehyung had been dreaming of tigers. Tigers in a clump of grass, something about a moon, and fuck he’s getting some sad, cold vibes from this jacket. He just wants to coddle it. Make it better. He’s in the process of doing just that (Jimin says he really does give the best hugs) when the jacket is yanked out of his grasp abruptly.

“Your friends are too busy to pick up their phones and Hoseok has shit to do here,” Yoongi says, looming over him. “Get up. I’m taking you to your apartment, and then to the airport.”

Taehyung thinks vaguely of protesting—his limbs are still heavy as lead and his sleep-fuzzed mind thinks flipping Yoongi off is a great idea—but then Yoongi presses an ice-cold toe into the warm skin of his back where his shirt is riding up and he jolts upright, moaning. A shiver passes down his spine. He pulls the jacket from Yoongi’s arms to wrap his hands around it, not caring if he comes across as a soft, pathetic creature.

Nothing in his brain is working.

“Gimme that,” Yoongi deprives him of the jacket again. “Why’re you even going if you’re sick?”

 “I’m not sick.”

“You drank nearly a bottle of syrup and made your way through an entire tissue box. Not sick, my ass.”

“Important auction,” Taehyung grumbles. “Can’t miss.”

“Come on, then.”

He’s still half-asleep and slumped against a wall when Yoongi brings around a large black car, and then still half-asleep and slumped against the window of the passenger seat for most of the drive. His head throbs, skin feels hot; he hopes it’s not a fever. He spends most of the distance to his apartment thinking long, involved thoughts about cloud-shapes and light-smears and the shape of Yoongi’s jawline. Nearer to his area, something important breaks through the murky peat bog of his thoughts and he giggles.

 Yoongi turns sharply to look at him. “What?”

Taehyung waves an arm, half caught up in a sneeze. “There you go again.”

“That’s the vaguest shit you’ve ever said, and considering it’s you that’s saying something.”

Taehyung pats Yoongi’s shoulder. “Taking care of people. You didn’t have to drive me, hyung.”

Yoongi’s expression turns stormy. “It’s not my fault you’re completely incapable of self-care, Taehyung. Do you know people can take advantage of that? Are you honestly that fucking gullible?”

Taehyung blinks in confusion. “But I’m with you?”

“That doesn’t even—what do you mean?”

“I know you’re a good person, hyung. You’re mean to me, but you’re a good human,” Taehyung’s still patting his shoulder. That’s probably a bad idea, but right now he doesn’t care. “I only adopt good humans.”

“You’re not a fucking puppy, Tae. Jeez!”

Taehyung’s mouth feels split wide with his grin. He tugs gently at Yoongi’s sleeve. “Tae?”

Yoongi’s knuckles go tight on the steering wheel and his eyes are widen slightly. “Out of everything I said in the last five minutes, this is what registered?”

“Tae. Tae. I like it.”

“Oh god, fuck off,” Yoongi groans, just as they pull into Taehyung’s street. “Come on. Let’s get your stuff.”

This turns out to be easier than expected. Jungkook’s packed everything and an empty suitcase for the clothes that will come home with them. Taehyung’s passport is lying on the coffee table, his letters of invitation to the auction is printed in Japanese and placed in an envelope, and the hotel’s address is on a Post-It note. There’s even a little cat charm and a thick card, placed front down on the table.

Foul weather warning,” Taehyung reads, frowning. “Oh, that can’t be good.”

Yoongi’s looking at him in utter disinterest because Yoongi is Yoongi. “If you’re done getting your horoscope can we please go?”

“It says foul weather.

“I’m a good driver.”

“That’s not what,” starts Taehyung, and then cringes as he spots  Yoongi’s murderous glare,”—uh. Yep. Let’s go.”

He still makes Yoongi wait a bit. There's a funny little stain on his jacket that he isn't sure of the origin of, and Taehyung's not going to the airport without changing. Yoongi stomps around the living room while he finds a sweater and chucks off his work shoes in favor of sandals. 

When he reemerges, Yoongi's looking through his collection of figurines. "You have way too much anime merchandise for a grown man working in fashion."

"I don't believe in stereotypes, hyung," Taehyung says, carefully extricating a very expensive Hinata figurine from Yoongi's lax grip. "Besides, Hoseok hyung told me about your Kumamon thing."

Yoongi colors a bit at that, then tries to look unfazed, and ends up looking slightly constipated. "Hoseok's the biggest gossip."

"He also makes the best pancakes."

Yoongi looks affronted. "He's never made me pancakes."

"Oh, Taehyung, you idiot," Taehyung sings, in a grumpy drawl he thinks imitates Yoongi pretty well. "It's so stupid to accept love and affection from your friends. So stupid to trust them. All relationships are transactions. Right, hyung?"

"That's not what I said."

"That's precisely what you said. Sounds stupid when I say it, doesn't it?"

"Everything sounds stupid when you say it," Yoongi counters, hunched defensively over an Ichigo figurine. "It's a critical issue with you."

He's not even looking at Taehyung, but Taehyung thinks his face is set and cold, a hard leer replacing a momentary flicker of prior hurt.

Taehyung hovers, unsure of what to do. He hadn't meant to push- he really hadn't - but his head is swimming and he doesn't even regret it and really, he just wants to yell at Yoongi about how he's a stupid ass with all his walls up. He has to tell himelf that is a terrible idea. He has to tell himself in Jimin's voice that it's a terrible idea.

Yoongi clears his throat and puts down Ichigo. "We'll be late," he says, devoid of inflection, and starts moving to the door. "Move your fucking ass to the car, already. I'm not waiting around."

 ***

Taehyung tries valiantly to stay awake through the drive to the airport. He tries to engage Yoongi in conversation, but learns quickly that he’s not going to get anything but grunts in reply to his (very valid) concerns about emperor penguins. Then he takes to playing with the radio dial, and Yoongi slaps his hand away.

“Cut it out.”

“I want the pop station.”

“Not your car, Tae. Cut it out.”

“Hyung, you’re listening to white noise.”

“I like white noise. It’s relaxing,” Yoongi’s tone is astoundingly flat. “And don’t say that’s weird. You have 10 hours of Nyan Cat downloaded on your phone; Hoseok saw and told me.”

“Nyan cat is a rainbow cat,” Taehyung says, distractedly, focusing his attention on drawing faces in the condensation. “Hyung, look, I drew one that looks like you.”

Yoongi sighs. “Can you sit still? Go back to sleep.”

He asked.

Taehyung tells himself that’s why he finds it difficult to wake up even when they reach the airport, even when they park, even when Yoongi walks out of the car and then comes back to tell him his flight is canceled.

“—did you even hear me? Taehyung.”

“Whaa-aaat?”

“What do you want to do? Your flight’s canceled. Foul weather.”

“Oh.” He frowns, raising his head a bit, and immediately presses it back down against the glass. The glass is nice and cool. His head feels hot. He’s way too drowsy. “When’s the next one? I have to go to Tokyo. Promised Jimin.”

Yoongi sighs. “Just how much syrup did you drink, Tae?”

“A lot,” Taehyung mumbles.“It was sweet. Strawberries.”

He thinks Yoongi asks something about rescheduling, something about four hours, and there’s a small window of time for which he’s semi-awake and there’s airport security and some giant, glassy lounge with a lot of plants that he’s never seen before. There’s a big round sofa as well, and he imagines this is what heaven’s like, curling up on that nice sofa with his hands wrapped around a cushion that Yoongi throws at him.

Taehyung comes to—willfully, properly—what feels like hours later, in that expensive looking airport lounge with a dry mouth and the sight of Yoongi curled into a very tiny ball on a very tiny looking armchair.

It takes a while for this to register. Taehyung sits up and fiddles with the hem of his jacket for a while, eyebrows knit and frowning as he tries to figure out what’s going on here. Yoongi should be home by now, possibly cussing Taehyung out as he works on his next award-winning campaign or whatever, not sleeping in an uncomfortable airport lounge chair with his cheek smushed up against the upholstery and hands curled into fists. He even looks kind of adorable, but Taehyung’s world-weary enough to know that this adorableness is in the way of those weird mantis shrimp.

Bright and beautiful and creatively murderous.

What’s he doing here? Taehyung clambers slowly over the sofa to hang off the edge and poke Yoongi experimentally with his toe. It’s probably the safest position to attempt this from. Survival rates look way better than, say, if he goes next to the armchair to shake Yoongi awake.

“Hyung.”

Yoongi flicks opens one eye immediately, in a move that looks calibrated precisely for horror movies. Taehyung’s so startled he nearly falls off the sofa.

“Holy fuck! I thought you were asleep.”

“I was.”

Taehyung clambers up to the point of optimum safety again. “Hyung. What are you doing here?”

Yoongi yawns, sitting up and wincing as he rubs at the back of his neck. “What does it look like I’m doing, Taehyung?”

Taehyung’s nonplussed. What it looks like is that Yoongi dragged a half-awake, hazy Taehyung through security, then bought him a replacement ticket to Tokyo, and then dragged him into this lounge. And now he’s waiting around because….Taehyung’s an idiot and would probably miss his flight?

Fuck.

Taehyung leans to grab a water-bottle, trying not to show his mortification. He’s not usually this pathetic, he wants to tell Yoongi. It’s just that Yoongi seems to have an uncanny knack for throwing him off his usual patterns and then hanging around to see that he doesn’t fall.

“You can leave now, hyung. I’m awake.”

Yoongi snorts. For a minute he says nothing, just watches Taehyung sleepily, fractionally hostile and eyes dark as pitch. Then he leans forward, bridging the gap between them, and it’s terrifying just for a moment, has Taehyung gulping and nearly somersaulting away. But then Yoongi just flicks his forehead and presses his palm to it, halfway rolling his eyes in exasperation.

“You’re an idiot,” Yoongi says, grumpily, and he may as well have been speaking the gospel with the amount of nodding Taehyung does in agreement. “And you’re sick. And if I were going to leave, Taehyung, I don’t think they’d let me in the lounge. You need tickets for that.”

This doesn’t compute. His head still feels thick and hot, but Yoongi isn’t saying what Taehyung thinks he said, is he? Because that would be ridiculous. Nobody did that. Least of all a purported misanthrope like Yoongi claims he is.

 “Hyung, I—”

“I’m coming with you,” Yoongi says, simply, and plucks his hand away from Taehyung’s forehead to curl into his armchair again. “You’re still burning up. Can’t have you dying in a foreign country alone—Namjoon would never forgive me.”

Taehyung sits up properly now, heart clenching a bit, because fuck. This is nonsense. He’s no one: Yoongi’s made that clear. Just a business acquaintance with a knack for getting into trouble. His stomach twists at the thought of being an inconvenience. And shit, how out of it had he been that Yoongi thought this was necessary? 

Yoongi’s looking at him lazily, careless and with something close to fond disdain. “What?”

Taehyung hopes he doesn’t sound like he feels: like he’s trying to scrape up whatever dignity he has left off the fucking floor. He’s mortified. It’s probably not a good look on him: he wouldn’t really know. Taehyung’s never usually mortified. “You don’t have to do this, hyung. I’ll manage.”

Yoongi raises one eyebrow. “Oh?” he scoffs. “The track record hasn’t been great for you, Taehyung-ah.”

“I know,” Taehyung tries, fingers creeping involuntarily towards the cushion he’d been hugging and—no. No, he doesn’t deserve to hide. Not after what he pulled. “I know. But you don’t have to come to Tokyo with me, I’ll take care of it. Please, just—just go.”

“Possibly too late for that,” Yoongi says, checking his watch. “We have maybe an hour until boarding.”

“But you have work tomorrow—”

“Nothing Hoseok can’t take care of.” Yoongi smirks a little, dropping his head back onto the armchair as Taehyung gives up and wraps himself around the cushion. “Speaking of—Hoseok would kill me if I let his favorite new curiosity get hurt.”

“Hyung, really, you don’t have to babysit me.”

Yoongi yawns again and picks lightly at his fingernails. “Whatever happened to I only adopt good humans?”

Taehyung groans and slams his face into the cushion. “I’m a disaster.”

When he looks up again, Yoongi looks almost amused. There’s a definite curl to his lips that isn’t a Pitying Sneer as much as it is an Entertained Smirk. It comes with a heavy side dosage of slow, stirring delight that he tries to quickly disguise in a grumpy pout.

Taehyung can tell, though. He can always tell the various ways in which Let’s Laugh at the Idiot manifests in people, and usually it sort of crawls cold up his spine, but Yoongi’s not being malicious—Taehyung doesn’t think.   

He just seems genuinely both exasperated and entertained.

“I don’t know,” Yoongi says now, in a placatory tone that does nothing to quell Taehyung’s growing anxiety at the whole situation. “I haven’t taken a break in a while.”

“You don’t want to take a break at an auction, hyung,” Taehyung tries, desperately. “It’s always a bloodbath.”

“Haven’t seen a bloodbath in a while, either.”

Taehyung pouts into his cushion again. “I thought you said I was annoying and hard to work with.”

“You are,” Yoongi says, dismissively. “It’s just the snob appeal of the whole situation. A fucking vintage auction in Harajuku—will there be expensive wines? Cheeses and truffles and amuse bouches?”

“…Yes.”

“Well it’s wasted on you with this cold, isn’t it?”

Taehyung frowns, picking at a thread on the  cushion, casting his thoughts out in an effort to figure out what he’s going to do. There’s always his favorite mental exercise—WWPJD (What Would Park Jimin Do)—but he doesn’t want to listen to the answer this time, because what Park Jimin would 100% do is throw up his hands and embrace the fact that he now has a willing if terrifying travel partner. (Park Jimin would also add the descriptor hot to those previous adjectives, but Taehyung is not going there.)

Anyway, the variables that WWPJD has taken into account are not the only variables in this equation. There’s the fact that Yoongi’s looking at him now like a cat catching sight of something to play with. There’s the fact that Yoongi’s spent most of the last day tormenting him with the name of that accursed play, just because it riles Taehyung up. There’s the fact that it might be hard to concentrate on the auction with Min Yoongi—inspiration but also infuriation—looming over his shoulder.

There’s also the fact that Yoongi’s doing this for him.

It’s sweet and kind and Taehyung’s trying not to associate those words with him, because everyone and Min Yoongi himself has told him that it doesn’t fit. That way only lies heartache. But even now, he feels like Yoongi’s gruff protestations are just that: a mask, a front of defense.

And maybe Taehyung’s familiar with that—with how it feels to obsessively construct your own self-image to protect what’s inside—but now there’s a muddled knot in his chest when he thinks of Min Yoongi, and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

All he can do now probably is just embrace the fuck out of it.

He looks at Yoongi and sighs. “I really want to kick myself right now.”

Yoongi hitches an eyebrow. “Be my guest.”

Taehyung stands up, and very carefully, very delicately, kicks up at his own thigh.

“Yay,” Yoongi says, punching the air with the laziest fist ever, his tone a dead, flat thing that sounds like it came out of a murderbot. “Vacation time.”

Chapter Text

 

“What do you mean you’ve never been to Akihabara? Or Harajuku? Or anywhere else remotely touristy?”

Taehyung’s being loud. He knows he’s being loud because the cashier at the airport Seven Eleven they’re currently in is giving them crazy looks, but he doesn’t care. They’ve been in Tokyo all of thirty minutes and Yoongi’s already driving him insane.

“I don’t know,” Yoongi says, frowning as he jams in his PIN into the ATM machine. “I just come here, go do whatever is necessary in whichever concrete jungle, and go back.”

“Okay. Name one Tokyo neighborhood you’ve been in.”

Yoongi grabs the wad of cash the machine spits out. “Um…Kuramae?”

Hyung.”

“That was the name of the train station I could see from my hotel.”

Taehyung’s horrified. “And how many times have you been in Tokyo?”

“Nine. Counting this entirely unnecessary and terribly vexing joke of a trip— ten.”

“Wow. You’re the worst, truly. It boggles the mind. It befuddles the brain. Wow.”

He’s still muttering about Yoongi’s icy disinterest in what is possibly Taehyung’s second favorite city in the world when they walk out of the terminal and towards the airport limo pick-up point. It’s unseasonably cold in Tokyo, and Taehyung’s huddled up in a rather useless jacket. The air turns his nose pink and runny in minutes, and his bones still ache from the fever. He feels like shit, but there’s also an edge of excitement stirring in him now, both at the prospect of the auction and at…well.

“Hyung,” he says, determinedly. “I’m showing you Tokyo.”

Yoongi gawps like a fish. Then he steps a little away from Taehyung like he might be carrying something contagious. “You’re doing no such thing.”

“I am. I’m showing you the Tokyo Skytree, and Akihabara, and Harajuku of course—”

“We’re here for literally three days.”

“You called this a vacation,” Taehyung accuses, beady eyed. “Also, I’m very efficient with the metro system. You’ll see.”

Yoongi looks vaguely afraid.

It takes forever to get to where they want, which turns out to be a large glassy hotel close enough to crowded Takeshita street that Taehyung drags Yoongi to press his face against the glass while the receptionist figures out their bookings.

Look,” he says, and Yoongi does so with heavy reluctance, but then Taehyung hears him draw a little gasp of surprise. Of course the street is crowded as hell: it always is. But it’s also a riot of color, and that’s visible even through the tinted bubble of the hotel’s windows. The fancy gate is all but occluded by swarms of tourists but Taehyung still spots a guy carrying around a giant cotton candy in a hundred different colors, a bunch of sweet lolitas posing with another bunch of goth lolitas, and a very giant Hello Kitty balloon (sponsored by ICOCA!) bobbing above all these proceedings.

“So many…people,” is what Yoongi says, though, sounding faintly terror-struck. Taehyung peels him away from the glass, suddenly afraid that the sheer volume of humanity Yoongi can spot through the glass might render him comatose for the rest of this trip. “What are those girls wearing? Why is one of them wearing a rubber duckie? And that one’s wearing plastic—”

“That’s just Harajuku fashion. Did you not know about this, hyung?”

Yoongi looks a bit wide-eyed. “Knowing and experiencing are two different things, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung smirks. “You can wear a skirt and a parasol if you want, hyung. No one judges here.”

It’s probably only the hotel clerk’s appearance that saves Taehyung from decapitation.

The clerk is apologetic. The auction is happening in the basement and the ballroom, and the hotel’s all booked out, which leaves them with exactly one room among the two of them. Taehyung thinks Yoongi’s going to dig in his heels and pout about this, demand that they find some way to accommodate, and is surprised when Yoongi just shrugs.

“It’s only going to be weird if you make it weird, Taehyung.”

Which—Taehyung thinks, with a hard swallow—fine. He can be cool about this.

He’s very cool about this.

It’s still awkward as fuck when they’re finally in the room, and Taehyung’s trying to rummage in his suitcase while Yoongi flicks lazily through channels on the television. There’s this silence that feels heavy and awkward, and usually Taehyung is really good at filling it up. It’s how he collects friends the way someone else might collect magnets. Taehyung’s made friends out of strangers in hospitals, in bathrooms, at the back-stages of fashion shows, and once in an alligator’s enclosure in a zoo. But then that muddled little knot that has settled in his stomach since Yoongi decided to accompany him to Tokyo threatens to surge up and choke his throat. So Taehyung stays silent, and he’s admittedly terrible at it.

There are questions—sticky, tricky ones—that swill around his mouth looking for an escape. Does Yoongi still dislike him, but has learned how to tolerate him? Taehyung doesn’t want to be tolerated. It feels weird and heavy and diminishing—that word—like he’s a helpless, misbehaving child that nevertheless has to be accommodated. But if that isn’t it, then what is? Why are they doing this—this vacation, this thing—together here in a foreign city?

Why the hell really is Min Yoongi asking him if he wants something from room service while sprawled on the (stupidly large) single king-sized bed in Taehyung’s hotel room? What does he even want?

He surreptitiously sends Jimin a quick text while Yoongi’s pre-occupied with ordering food.

Me: In Tokyo, Yoongi hyung is with me.

He sneaks a picture of Yoongi moodily looking through the fully Japanese menu to go with it. It takes a while to go through, and then longer to get a read receipt. But then Jimin responds immediately.

Jiminie: …EXCUSE ME???

Jiminie: why u sharing rooms???

Jiminie: what ’s he doing there???

 Me: r ight now? ordering room service

Jiminie: wait WTF

Jiminie: let me call you

Me: not now!!!

Me: nowhere to escape

Jiminie: hide in the bathroom moron

Jiminie: Japanese bathrooms have music buttons

Jiminie: play the fucking birdsong its the loudest

Turns out, there are three music options on this particular bathroom’s commode, and Jimin is right in that the birdsong is loudest.

Okay,Jimin yells, when the call finally goes through. “Tell me EVERYTHING.

Taehyung takes a deep breath. You’re going to get so mad at me.”

“Oh, God. Did you two hate bang?”

“What? Of course we didn’t—wait. Why the hell do you sound so delighted?”

“Oh.” Jimin gasps, and Taehyung can picture him now, wide-eyed and biting his lip, trying not to laugh. “Never mind. But what’s he doing with you in Tokyo?”

So Taehyung tells him the whole story. To Jimin’s credit and his unassailable position as Taehyung’s soul-mate, he doesn’t even really get mad at Taehyung being an idiot and nearly botching this trip. Instead, he asks, “But are you two getting along now? Last I heard from Jungkook, Yoongi hyung was officially on your kill list.”

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says, pressing another button to change the music to some weird shakuhachi flute melody. “He still thinks I’m annoying. I think.”

“But he’s willingly staying with you?”

“Looks like it.”

Taetae, are you comfortable with that?

Taehyung plucks a bottle of hand-cream from the counter to play with. “I don’t know. I guess so? I mean. It’s just Yoongi hyung.”

Jimin sounds incredulous. “It’s just Yoongi hyung? Not one day ago you were convinced the man was the devil himself.

Taehyung catches sight of his reflection on the mirror. He looks freshly churned out of hell, what with his fever-blotched face and messy hair, eyes huge against the soft purple of dark circles from interrupted sleep. “Yeah. I mean, he’s a good person. Nice. When he wants to be.”

Jimin snorts, and his voice comes airy through the phone. “Is this part of your I see no evil bullshit or is he ACTUALLY being nice to you? Which is it, Tae?

Taehyung frowns. Honestly, Yoongi snaps and brushes him off, is brusque and commanding at work in the most annoying way, and sometimes acts like a dense asshole. But he’s also the kind of dude who’ll buy last minute tickets to accompany a sick business acquaintance on an overseas trip. He’s also the kind of dude who’ll make sure a drunk business acquaintance is safe at home, and then proceed to try and make friends with said business acquaintance’s fluffy-yet-often-very-angry dog. Taehyung’s understandably thrown a bit. And also softly pleased.

“I don’t know,” he says into the bottle of hand-cream. “I have whiplash.”

“Are you okay, though?”

And there goes Jimin, worrying again. Taehyung’s always worrying him with this shit. He leans against the counter and chews on his lip. “I’m fine. I can handle it.”

“You always just say that.

“No, really. Please don’t worry.”

“Well. Don’t let him get to you, okay? Focus on the auction. Get better. We’ll figure Yoongi out later.”

 Okay.”

“Okay. Love you.”

He still sounds worried. Taehyung hates that he sounds worried. “Hey, Jimin,” he says, loudly. “The third option for music on this toilet sounds like the intro to a noir mafia film. So weird.”

Jimin giggles. “You’re so weird.”

When Taehyung emerges, phone in hand, Yoongi’s landed on some Japanese variety show where a bunch of people are trying really hard to climb up a slippery, gooey surface.

And of all things Taehyung thought Yoongi might be entertained by, this is not it.

He stands there by the bathroom door, completely nonplussed, watching as Yoongi throws his head back and laughs at whatever’s happening on TV. There’s this green chute and a bunch of pink plastic flamingos and what looks like orange sludge rolling down the chute like Cheeto-flavored lava. Yoongi’s grin is gummy and bright, shoulders shaking with mirth at the people trying to go up the chute, and he’s half curled around one of the giant hotel pillows with his bare feet poking out from under it in a somewhat adorable manner.

Taehyung’s really confused.

Both at the sudden way in which that muddled knot in his chest dissolves into slow warmth, and because of Yoongi himself.

He opens his mouth to make a wise-crack—something about Yoongi being tiny and adorable and super cute when he laughs—but then thinks the better of it. This is probably the happiest Taehyung’s ever witnessed him. Anything Taehyung says now would just shrivel Yoongi up, bring down the walls, cause him to curl into himself. Taehyung will only ruin this, can only ruin this, and fuck it, he likes seeing Yoongi happy.

So he sits on the floor by his open suitcase, in the pretense of figuring out his outfit for the pre-viewing later in the afternoon. He makes sure to make himself as invisible as he can, as quiet as he can, because he doesn’t want to interrupt. The floor is stupid cold and Taehyung already knows exactly what he’s wearing but—he thinks, solemnly—he can let Yoongi have this.

This singular moment of realness. Unmaskedness. Whatever.

Taehyung can let him have it.

***

Later in the afternoon, they make their way down to the pre-viewing.

Taehyung’s wearing a printed vintage Paul Smith shirt and slacks, and his prescription glasses. Yoongi, because he seems to enjoy torturing Taehyung, is wearing the hot librarian outfit again. For whatever weird reason, he’s also wearing weirdly spiky leather boots, and the overall effect is Goth-fantasy orc-slaying hot librarian—which is a bit much, Taehyung thinks, for any purpose other than a sex-dungeon photoshoot.

He tells himself the distinct fluster and the hot, acrobatic leaps his stomach is doing is purely courtesy of an abating fever. It’s not like he actually likes Min Yoongi. Firstly, the man’s arrogant and walled-up and completely unlike Taehyung’s genuinely nice, fun, open self. Secondly, Taehyung’s never thought of Yoongi that way himself, despite Hoseok and Jimin and Jungkook et al alluding to some sort of tension of the sexual variety between the two of them. He’s never given it any weight—their relationship—because there isn’t any to begin with.

Taehyung’s only a business acquaintance, after all, isn’t he?

But there’s that old, dumb adage: trying not to think of something is precisely the thing that brings a thought to the forefront.

And so, in convincing himself that he’s never even given it a passing thought, Taehyung finds himself passing thoughts.

It’s experimental. Purely scientific curiosity. What ifs, so soft and subtle that if he and Yoongi were a Tumblr ship, they’d be nothing more than a wee little paper boat. What if the brush of Yoongi’s fingers against his as they waited for the elevator turns into holding hands. What if Yoongi’s gaze, right this moment snagged questioningly on Taehyung’s face, slips down to his mouth. What if they were to kiss, soft and chaste, a little peck on the lips the way Jimin kisses him sometimes when he’s feeling very affectionate. What if they were to kiss rough, wild and reckless, hands on hot skin and tangled in hair, lips and tongue and teeth—

“You’re being really fucking weird,” Yoongi says, his voice low. “Stop staring.”

“I’m not staring.”

Yoongi’s gaze narrows. “You are. You’re still staring. You’re staring right at my face. Stop it.”

 Taehyung shrugs and looks away. What if he were to throw Yoongi off the top of this building…

He steps out of the elevator at the basement first, and is swarmed immediately by people he knows in the business. There are a few who are from Korea, but there’s also a couple of proprietors he knows from Taiwan, a socialite’s estate agent from Los Angeles, a few museum curators from Europe and some fashion enthusiasts from Japan. There’s wine and amuse bouches, just like Yoongi guessed, and it’s not long before Taehyung loses him in the small crowd of hobnobbers. They’re all set on asking him questions about their business and fashion trends and how Jimin’s doing, inquiring about the TV pilot, hugging and patting his back and sighing charmed at his broken, half-nonsensical English. It takes Taehyung a while to emerge from it because he genuinely tries to answer and ask questions, shakes hands, kisses cheeks. These things are important, he’s learned—perhaps more important than the clothes at this auction. He has three new business cards and several contacts stored on his phone (including one of an LA vintage proprietor who dresses the biggest stars) by the time he finds Yoongi sampling a platter of cheese, a delicate flute of champagne held in one hand.

“Ha,” he says, when he spots Taehyung. “I saved you one of those avocado and hung curd things. Thought it’s the kind of hipster food you’d like.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Hyung, fried chicken and jjajangmyeon are my religion. You saw me at the dinner that spell-casting night.”

“You’re popular,” Yoongi observes, ignoring this. “I didn’t know you spoke English.”

“Namjoon hyung taught me a bit. I’m not very good. I read it a lot better.”

Taehyung goes to pick up a paper and pencil. Yoongi follows him, casting his gaze about at the mannequins and the racks full of clothes, looking completely out of his element.

“So…what happens now?”

“Now we look around, find out what we might be interested in, and write down the Lot numbers. Then, tomorrow, we bid for it.”

Yoongi pokes thoughtfully at a mannequin wearing a giant, pouffy falcon hat. “How do you know what you might be interested in?”

“Label, rarity, quality, immortality,” Taehyung recites, pausing in front of a bohemian Giorgio di Sant' Angelo dress. It’s patchwork and silk, gold-trimmed, a riot of color. He thinks he might genuinely have heart-eyes, the way Yoongi’s staring at him. “Wow. Like, this one? This designer studied with Picasso. He had editorials that basically defined Vogue in the 60s, and he’s styled 60s fashion icons like Veruschka. And just—wow, hyung, look at this— the fabric, the color. It’s been half a century since this was made but this is still top runway fashion. Evergreen. It’s going to go for insane prices.”

Yoongi’s looking at him a bit strangely, as if Taehyung’s suddenly grown two talking heads. Taehyung glances at him quizzically, but he says nothing, just walks ahead to a mannequin wearing a pleated gold lamé ensemble, all ruffles and high collar, crystals catching chandelier light in its folds like a hundred stars sewn into the material. There’s a gentle curiosity in the way he reaches up to feel the fabric.

“And this one?”

“Zandra Rhodes?” Taehyung guesses, half in a squeak, striding forward. “She’s really unconventional, really cool! Wow, I didn’t expect this here.”

He touches a hand to the gown, hissing soft when it whispers about cold nights and red wine, disappointment, speeding cars and the breaking of an empty dawn.

Yoongi’s watching him carefully. “What?”

Taehyung shakes his head. The last thing he wants now is for Yoongi to start scoffing at his little quirk. “Nothing.”

“It’s something, Taehyung-ah. You look like you saw a ghost.”

“Nah,” Taehyung winks. “Just a gorgeous dress.”

Taehyung finds his first prize discovery in a bunch of late 60s Givenchy evening dresses. He’s copying that down when Yoongi steers him to a (surprisingly very intact) 1883 floral gown. And then to a Chanel dress with silk netting and glass beads. And then to a gorgeous purple Missoni—

He can’t help but grin as Yoongi squints through his glasses at the Missoni dress.

“Is this more fun than you expected from a bunch of musty old clothes, hyung?”

Yoongi shrugs. “It’s art. I like art. Art is my job. Where did all these clothes come from?”

“These ones specifically? From an heiress’s estate. Sometimes auction clothes come from closing fashion schools or museums that no longer have space for them, but most often it’s from personal collections or estates.”

“People have a shit ton of clothes lying around.” Yoongi mumbles. “This heiress had something from the 1880s, what the fuck. That’s ancient.”

“It’s awesome,Taehyung mumbles, happily. “And the fact that it was kept so intact, so well-cared for…”

“You fucking weirdo. Don’t go lusting over a dead woman’s clothes preservation techniques,” Yoongi snickers, and then grimaces as he spots something else. “Still don’t understand how people before the 80s did not have hips.”

He’s frowning at a 20s rose-gold flapper dress. It’s beautiful, all shiny fabric and soft beading, a somewhat unique chainmail-style fringe. Yoongi’s right in that the cut is so straight, any woman with even a hint of curves is never going to fit in it. A tall, skinny dude, though…

Taehyung gets closer, uses his note paper to hide his smirk as he says, “Bet I could pull this sexy thing off.”

It’s pitched to irritate Yoongi. He’s honestly expecting a snort and a roll of the eyes. Or a stinging, derogatory remark. What Taehyung is definitely not prepared for is for Yoongi to look at him, dissectingly, eyes traveling Taehyung’s body up and down like he’s mentally trying to validate his claim. A whole bunch of what ifs birth in Taehyung’s mind like spider eggs—quick and flurrying. He busies himself with a bunch of vintage kimono swatches and 70s trot costumes, trying to hide his flaming face.

He thinks he hears Yoongi chuckle, slow and dark, his voice sticky as syrup when he speaks again. “Yeah,” he says, gently brushing his fingers along the glittery fabric of the flapper dress. “Yeah, Tae. I bet you could.”

Oh.

Taehyung tells himself that the sudden palpitation in his chest is purely because he’s spotted what could probably be a Galanos orient-inspired little black dress. The jump in his breath is definitely a reaction to the black satin and rhinestone flowers. The mandarin collar. The flared sleeves with the cuffs at the wrists. The wide sash.

Not Min Yoongi. Not, not, not Min Yoongi.

Focus.

Taehyung drifts away, drowns himself in inspecting the racks, in jotting down numbers, in taking photos of pieces he is less unsure of so he can run them by Jimin. He lets the clothes whisper to him—is pretty certain a particular 70s “Ceil Chapman” gown definitely came out of a Moroccan sweatshop last year—and is inspecting jewelry and hats when Yoongi taps his shoulder.

“Hey. They say the pre-viewing is closing in another forty minutes.”

“Oh,” Taehyung says, picking up an evening glove. “All ri—”

It hits him like a jolt. Not a gentle whisper but a screaming; not a flowing cadence of images but a deluge. There’s blood—he thinks—some place with a high ceiling and men with bayonets and blood. There’s opulence and glitter and gunshots. There’s running and running through snow and slush, fire in the horizon, screaming in the distance.

 A trickle— a stream— a river of blood—

He tastes it in his mouth. Feels it on his skin, sticky and warm.

(It’s not real, though. This has happened before. Taehyung knows. This has happened before with a singed military jacket that had somehow fallen into Jimin’s possession. A similar thing—Taehyung had unpacked a suitcase, took out a dress, touched his hand to the jacket beneath, and been lost—)

Taehyung gasps for air.

(—and again, that one dress that a starlet had been shot in, that had come to them through an online auction. He’d held it in his hands and smelled the tang of sweat and fear, tasted the acrid terror of death, heard the whisper of the gunshot and the blood. And before, even before the shop, there had been—)

Taehyung feels his knees give.

There’s a truck, and more soldiers on it. A hiss and a slam of the butt of a gun against someone’s forehead. More blood—

(The trick is knowing that it isn’t real. It isn’t real. It’s just like the whisperings, soft history, woven into fabric. More potent, of course, because of violence. The trick is knowing it isn’t real, isn’t real, isn’t real—)

“Tae! Taehyung. What the fuck—”

 He blinks the blood dream away, and the room comes to focus for a minute before it dissolves again into snow and guns and fractured light. The ceiling’s above him. He thinks he’s fallen. Can’t be sure, though, because the chandeliers look weird, switching between modern odelisks and opulent crystal.

He can’t be sure of anything.

 Where the fuck is he?

There’s a rustling around him; a bunch of voices. Yoongi’s sounds the sharpest. He sounds…scared, positively terrified, and more than anything, that’s what cuts through the murk in Taehyung’s mind.

Because a scared Yoongi just sounds wrong.

“Hyung,” Taehyung grits out, putting an arm out blindly in search of Yoongi. “Can we go?”

He feels Yoongi’s long fingers twine through his. He keeps his eyes closed and breathing controlled, taking faint sips of air because any more might trigger the nausea churning his gut. Yoongi’s arm is around his shoulder and the weight is nice, solid: in stark contrast to the violent, airy war-thrum of the vision.

Taehyung shivers, feeling ill and sick, suddenly out of his depth, like he’s spinning out of control. He doesn’t open his eyes until they’re in the elevator, and even then, it’s just to stare listlessly at the floor with his heart beating loud in his ears. He shakes. There’s wild panic still, racing through his veins, and it’s not even really his. It’s ghost panic, stored in a piece of clothing that belongs to the archives of history. Whoever felt this, whoever ran through the snow and the blood, they’re all long dead. Taehyung’s just a witness, a conduit.

His mouth tastes like the phantom aftertaste of rust and copper coins. His throat is thick with tears for a ghost.

He thrums, high with anxiety, presses his forehead heavily against the elevator’s wall, feels his knees go weak.

“Hyung,” he mumbles, one hand curling into Yoongi’s shirt, afraid to let go.

Yoongi’s hand slips from his shoulder to rest on the small of his back. “I’ve got you,” is all Yoongi says.

***

“Jimin said it’s happened before?”

It’s much later. The sun’s down already, and Taehyung’s not sure how long he dozed and Yoongi paced, but if he’s been keeping at it at this pace for even fifteen minutes, Taehyung’s sure he’s worn the carpet out.

“You called Jimin? What did you ask?”

Yoongi’s face is unreadable. “Answer the question, Tae. Has it happened before?”

“Yeah,” he croaks, voice muffled by a pillow. “Couple of times.”

“And…what, it’s a panic attack?”

Taehyung squirms and tugs his arms around himself. “Is that what he told you?”

 “He said you’d space out sometimes. Get overwhelmed,Yoongi’s tone is gruff but the rising alarm stands out clear. “But that’s not what happened at all. You just—you collapsed. You couldn’t breathe for a minute there.”

“Eh. That’s happened before too.”

Yoongi blinks at him like he’s crazy. “Why the fuck are you so calm about it?”

Taehyung sits up, yawning, pressing a hand to his cheek as he settles cross-legged on the bed. “Because it’s not a big deal, hyung. I’m not sick or anything. I just got unlucky.”

Yoongi pauses by the mini-bar to grab a can of beer. His mouth is curled in a sneer when he turns again to Taehyung. “Yeah. Seems to be a theme with you.”

He looks oddly disheveled, as if he’s spent these past hours running his hands through his hair and generally freaking out. Taehyung clutches his pillow and tries not to feel too guilty. Why is he so pathetic around Yoongi? It’s as if the only things he’s capable of around Yoongi is getting drunk, getting sick, or passing out.

Maybe it’s a curse, he muses, tugging viciously at a loose thread on the pillow cover. When he’d first met Jimin, they used to run into each other at a laundromat at all times of the day. Jimin would walk in through the door and do a double-take every time he saw Taehyung. Taehyung already had the reputation as the weird kid and didn’t like alarming Jimin like that, so he’d try to pick odd times—two in the afternoon, three in the morning, six thirty-three AM on the dot. It didn’t matter. Jimin would always walk in on him—drunk or sober or on his way home or to the dance studio. Jimin kept walking in on him again and again until they exchanged numbers and started co-ordinating laundry time. It led to conversations, hanging out, a widening circle of common friends. They were the best of friends and utterly inseparable in less than a month.

Taehyung has always considered that magic. The universe, waving a friendly hand. Inexplicable and uncontrollable, just like Taehyung’s clothes thing.

If that is what is happening with Yoongi, though…

Taehyung sighs. Is there a spell, maybe, to counteract it? If there is, Taehyung thinks he’ll do it even if it requires him to stand in a pool of eels in moonlight or something. Because Yoongi really doesn’t want to care. Taehyung and the universe is literally forcing him to. It feels fucked up and unfair, a distortion of balances. (Or maybe it isn’t a cosmic conspiracy; just Taehyung being Taehyung. Doesn’t matter: either way, he doesn’t like the guilt nagging at his stomach.)

“I told you, hyung,” Taehyung mutters, in a small voice. “ You shouldn’t have come here with me.”

Yoongi whips around. “Are you kidding me?” he snarls. “You’d have hit your head on the table if I hadn’t caught you.”

“I’ve managed it before by myself.”

“Jimin didn’t mention that.”

Taehyung runs a hand through his hair and sighs, soft and exasperated. “Jimin doesn’t know.”

Yoongi stills abruptly in his pacing. “…What?”

Taehyung shrugs again. He wishes Yoongi would just let this go. It’s not important, and it’s nothing that’s going to bother Taehyung until he gets unlucky again. Gods know when and if that would be. He’s not worried about it, not in the least bit. He’s confused and a bit rattled and a lot hungry. If he really thinks about it, all he wants is a cheap sushi-belt restaurant; maybe some curry udon. But Yoongi’s looking at him with such utter disbelief that Taehyung thinks he should at least try to explain.

He keeps his gaze on his fists, clenched into the blanket. “Um. So Jimin doesn’t know about the bad part because he’ll freak out. He thinks—well, the witch stuff is fun to him? It’s just experimenting and channeling and dabbling in this cool alternative scene. It’s really fun for me too, don’t get me wrong, and we learn a lot of cool stuff we wouldn’t otherwise, but I feel—uh. It’s hard to explain. It’s just—This isn’t a side-effect he needs to know about. It’ll just scare him, and that’s not fun.”

“Didn’t look fun,” Yoongi snaps. “What even happened back there?”

Taehyung smiles, sheepish. “Ah. It’s nothing, hyung. Really.”

“It was very clearly something, Taehyung.”

They run into an impasse. Taehyung stares at the ceiling, desperately awkward and wanting to escape into the madness of Tokyo’s streets outside. Or review the photos he’d taken. He really should probably do that—he needs to figure out what he’s bidding on, and he and Jimin need to FaceTime about it. If only Yoongi would just let this go…

But Yoongi has no intention of letting it go. He seems to come to some sort of decision, a flicker of some stoic determination crossing his face as he strides over to sit on the bed. Taehyung squirms at the sudden weight of him dipping the mattress, but Yoongi scoots up until they’re sitting a hand’s distance away, with nothing in between them but a pillow too small to hide behind. Taehyung still squeaks a little idiotically when Yoongi puts out his hand.

“My grandmother taught me this thing,” he says, gently, taking Taehyung’s hand in his and holding tight. “If I’m holding your hand, you can tell me anything. But we’ll both agree that it has to be the truth and nothing but the truth.”

“I don’t like this game,” Taehyung whispers, trying to pull away and failing. “Why’re you so strong? It’s not fair.”

That gets him a reluctant grin and a snort from Yoongi. “Don’t be a fucking baby.”

Taehyung groans. “Why can’t you just let it go, hyung?”

“Because you’re the annoying one who thinks sharing is important. Didn’t you say you can’t live all walled up? What happened to trust your friends?”

“I trust my friends.”

Yoongi’s expression is blank. “Apparently not enough. Now, come on.”

“You won’t believe me,” Taehyung says, accusatory. “You’ll just call me a scam artist again.”

“I’m holding hands with you,” Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “I’ll believe anything you say. It’s a promise.”

Taehyung considers. He reaches with his free hand for the bottle of water, takes a mouthful and swills it around his mouth. Yoongi watches him patiently, his grip on Taehyung’s fingers tight, eyes soft and fixed on Taehyung’s face like he’s willing to wait for as long as it takes. The low light of the desk lamp makes spidery shadows of his eyelashes.

Something inside Taehyung twists painfully.

“The clothes speak to me,” he murmurs, dropping his gaze to the lattice of his tanned fingers through Yoongi’s pale ones. Their hands are almost the same size, which is surprising, but somehow endearing. “Usually it’s just fragments, glimpses, like a whispering. Where they’ve been. What they’ve touched. That sort of thing. I can tell if they’re original because I can touch them and learn their stories.”

Yoongi takes a slow, rattling breath. His grasp tightens again. “Okay,” he says, tone carefully neutral. “And…today?”

“Uh…what happened today…it’s rare, but it’s happened before. You know, how they say places where something violent happened starts to feel different afterwards? Like something remains. An invisible stain. It’s like that with clothes, as well. And the glove I picked up, there was something attached to it. It was loud and overwhelming. It smothered me.”

Yoongi shifts a little on the bed and then pulls Taehyung’s free hand to the cuff of his shirt sleeve. “Tell me what you feel.”

“From your shirt?”

“Yes.”

“It’s Urban Outfitters,” Taehyung says, morosely. “Someone gifted this to you. Then you put it in the bottom of a suitcase and forgot about it until recently. You wore it once to…Spain?”

Yoongi inhales. “That’s creepy.”

“It’s just a thing I have,” Taehyung says, and pulls his legs defensively towards his chest. “My grandmother had it too. Usually it’s just a useful little quirk. The bad episodes—the first time it happened, it was w-with a ribbon. It belonged to my mother’s sister? She—uh, she died when they were kids, some accident. But that ribbon…”

Yoongi is quiet for a while. Taehyung bites his lip, waiting, still unwilling to look up at Yoongi’s face. Is he going to believe him, then? Or is Yoongi going to brush this off as more nonsense, throw up his hands, call Taehyung a fake psychotic hipster or something? He isn’t letting go of Taehyung’s hand at the very least. His grip is so tight it’s almost painful, but his fingers bleed comforting warmth. Taehyung shudders a little.

“But why did you never tell Jimin?” Yoongi demands. “Or anyone else? Truthfully.”

It takes a few minutes for the answer to come, but when it does, it spills out in a rush of worry. “He worries a lot. Right now he thinks the clothes quirk is just that—a fun magic trick, useful and harmless. And that’s what it is, most of the time. But if he knows the bad side, he’ll worry. He’ll look at me different. Before him and Jungkook came along, everyone just told me I was just weird and hyperactive and over-imaginative. I was…too much, you know. Too loud, too crazy, too much. They’re the ones who taught me it was okay. It’s okay to just be me. And it’s just…I don’t want to lose all of that, hyung. I don’t want to lose him. He’s my best friend.”

Yoongi meets his gaze and holds steady. “You won’t lose him and you know it, Taehyung-ah.”

“I know. Objectively, yeah, I know. Jimin is—he’s my person,” Taehyung huffs a breath and then shrugs, smiling sheepishly at Yoongi. “It’s still scary.”

“Being vulnerable like that?” Yoongi’s voice is soft. “Yeah. I know. Everyone has their own ghosts.”

“Can I ask you something? You’re not allowed to lie, either.”

Yoongi goes silent and stares at him. It takes a while, and Taehyung thinks he’ll pull away, so he shuffles a little closer and wraps his free hand around Yoongi’s as well.

“Fine. What?”

“What’s your problem with me?”

Yoongi sighs. For the longest minute Taehyung thinks he’s not going to answer at all, that he’s going to pass the question or throw it back sharply at Taehyung. And Taehyung’s okay, even with that. He’s okay with unkind words, as long as they’re true. He just wants to know.

“I don’t even really know,” Yoongi says, finally, his gaze fixed elsewhere, resolutely not looking at Taehyung. “When I met you, I just thought you were so…sheltered. With your weird little business and the witch stuff and the way you were so odd and loud and curious. It’s like you were living in a different world, Taehyung-ah. This other, softer, desaturated version of the world where you don’t need to worry about a thing, and everything is handed to you on a platter. That’s not a world I know. That’s not a world that would ever have me.”

“But we’ve had to fight too,” Taehyung says, sitting up straighter. “Jimin and I, we’ve had to fight too. I told you, hyung, I don’t come from money. My parents—”

“Are farmers, yes. I know,” Yoongi’s lips twitch in a slow smile. “And you very clearly love your work and value it. It was just…easy, I guess. To brush you off as…too much.”

“I try not to be like that. I try to be calm, and professional—”

Yoongi interrupts him. “You’re not.”

“….What?”

“You’re not too much. You’re…weird and confusing, sometimes. But it’s…sweet. You make people happy. So don’t go changing that. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a stupid fucker, okay?”

Taehyung blinks. He thinks his heart hurts a little but he’s used to sweeping that under the rug, used to not thinking about it, so that’s what he does now. Yoongi’s probably the last person he wants to open up that messy, tangled knot inside of him.

Taehyung smiles instead, cheerily. “Okay,” he says. “Thanks, hyung.”

Yoongi looks a little confused, but he nods. “I meant that.”

“I know! I got you.”

A sharp raise of the eyebrows. “Sure you did.”

“Hyung. Can I ask you one more question?”

Yoongi groans. “What is it, Taehyung?”

“You know you make people happy too, right?”

When Yoongi does nothing more than scoff and glance away, Taehyung scoots closer until the proximity forces Yoongi to look at him.

“You do, hyung. Your work, you don’t know how much it speaks to us. To me and Jimin. And countless others. I got into styling for film because I admired you. There’s heart in your art, and sometimes it’s a little sad, but it always means something. And when people see that, it makes them happy.”

Yoongi’s quiet for a moment. Then he asks, hesitantly, “You don’t think it’s a house of cards?”

“What do you mean?”

“This,” Yoongi waves a hand around the room. “Recognition. Stability. Fame. You’re not scared it’s all going to collapse any moment?”

“So what if it does?”

“What’s the point of anything we do if it does? Nothing lasts, Tae. It’s why I like my job. A new set, a project, a new group of faces every time. Lesser risk of collapse. I don’t know how you do it, tying yourself down to one place, one set of people. Depending on them. It scares me.”

Taehyung frowns. “It’s not a big deal. If it falls apart, you just start over again. I’ll have help. Jimin and Jungkook and Namjoon hyung and Seokjin hyung. All these people I know in the industry. They’ll pick me back up.”

“Not everyone stands by you in foul-weather.”

“Not everyone leaves, either. Nothing lasts forever if you don’t want it to, hyung. You have to work at people the way you work at everything else. ‘S worth it, though. Look at Joonie hyung and Jin hyung, they built that huge media house up from scratch. Doesn’t mean they don’t fight all the time. Jin hyung crashes all the time at the shop’s couch. Sometimes you just have to trust in someone else to have your back.”

Yoongi snorts. “Like you trust Jimin with your bad episodes.”

Taehyung worries his lower lip with his teeth, thinking. Then he reaches for his phone. “I’m gonna tell him.”

“What, now?”

“Yeah, why not? You were right, hyung. Should have told him long back.”

“Tae, he sounded tired when I called. He probably had a long day.”

“It’s okay,” Taehyung smiles, pulling up FaceTime. “It’s just Jiminie.”

“Taehyung-ah, I get your point,” Yoongi says, a bit of fond exasperation in his voice. “You don’t have to do this now.”

“No, no, I really want to—”

Yoongi reaches out to gently pinch Taehyung’s wrist. “Didn’t you want to show me Tokyo? Let’s go see Tokyo.”

“Really?”

Yoongi looks out the window and grimaces. “Sea of people. Suuuure. Looks fucking great. Let’s go.”

Taehyung jumps up. “But I’ll wear my special Harajuku outfit I brought,” he warns. “I really want to.”

“Go wild,” Yoongi mumbles, rolling his eyes, but he doesn’t look pissed. “As long as it’s not a rubber duckie.”

***

It’s not a rubber duckie.

It’s a genuinely awesome Commes des Garcons tiger-print bomber jacket, a green ruffled shirt, and vintage slacks from Yohji Yamamoto. Yoongi only raises his eyebrow at the necktie Taehyung manages to shape into a bow-tie, and even allows him to (reluctantly) tie a red bandanna around his own arm for a splash of color.

“All you really need is those boots, hyung.”

“I’m glad,” Yoongi says, dryly, inspecting the spiky boots. “I always think they look a bit much.”

“I agree. You look like a hot fantasy librarian.”

“A librarian?Yoongi scoffs. “How the fuck is this giving you librarian vibes?”

Hot librarian,” Taehyung clarifies, and then elaborates shyly at Yoongi’s pointed look: “Maybe it’s the glasses.”

“Give me those, then,” Yoongi says, pointing to the red and white cat-eye sunglasses Taehyung had been trying on. “Let’s get the librarian in me murdered.”

Taehyung has to admit that Yoongi looks good in those stupid glasses. Definitely not librarian. Maybe 70s chic bad biker boy. He tells Yoongi as much and is met with another pointed smirk.

“Why do you always think of me in terms of porn cliches, Taehyung-ah?”

They don’t do much out on the crowded Takeshita street. Taehyung insists on dragging Yoongi down to a large basement full of Purikura photo-booths where they’re promptly lost among tons of giggling schoolgirls. For someone who’s so reluctant at showing emotions, Yoongi is surprisingly dorky once he gives up and lets loose a little. Taehyung is delighted. They make dumb faces into the booth until Taehyung runs out of change and his stomach growls. They collect the photos (”I will murder you if you post these on social media. Slowly and painfully. Am I clear, Taehyung?”) and then go back up to the street to get crepes. It’s way too sweet for Yoongi, but Taehyung is content in eating all of it himself, and they wander.

It’s nice out. Taehyung drags Yoongi to all his favorite little stores for clothes and accessories and candy. Taehyung buys some kawaii headbands for himself and Jimin, and slams a kitten-ears one on Yoongi. He doesn’t even protest, just rolls his eyes irritably and makes Taehyung wear the puppy ones. They go look at dumb souvenirs and cheap shit in the 100-yen Daiso store, and then come across a large store selling even spikier boots than Yoongi’s.

“Definite sex dungeon vibes,” Taehyung whispers, wide-eyed, slightly startled by the proprietor dressed all in black with more piercings than skin. “Do you want to try it on?”

“Why not?” Yoongi drawls, and Taehyung gulps. Inside, the store is all leather and chains, metalhead T-shirts and vinyls, goth drag-queen outfits and an array of silver jewelry from knuckle rings to spiked collars and rings. Yoongi puts some rings on and throws him a few gang signs. It looks both extremely terrifying and adorably cat-like with the stupid headband he still hasn’t taken off. Taehyung’s brain is confused, he thinks, following Yoongi around as he tries on something with so many studs and spikes and metal toes that it could come of use as a murder weapon.

How is one person both spiky metal boot and kawaii cat-ears?

 Taehyung’s not even the only flustered one. Even the shop’s proprietor—the same massive dude who looks like he’ll set off every security scanner in a mile’s radius with all the metal on his skin—looks vaguely upset by Yoongi.

“Hyung. That thing looks crazy.”

“Go big or go home, Taehyung-ah.”

“That thing looks like it belongs in a torture museum exhibit. Or in a sex dungeon.”

“Life’s too short to not have a good pair of boots,” Yoongi mutters, turning his leg this way and that to get a good look at the mirror. “You’re right though. This thing looks like I should be asking you if I want to step on you.”

Hyung.

Yoongi turns to the proprietor. “What do you think?” he asks, modeling the boot for the dude to see. “Does it work?”

The proprietor looks from Yoongi to Taehyung, pierced eyebrows knitting in concentration. “Yeah, man,” he says, enthusiastically. “You can step all over him.”

Taehyung groans and slams his head into the nearest pole. “I’m really regretting bringing you here.”

Yoongi just laughs at him.

Taehyung sneaks a glance at him, his heart clenching. Making Yoongi laugh feels charged, a strange and glossy achievement, like reversing the earth’s polarity or sending missions to Mars. Taehyung can’t get the sticky, dopey grin off his own face as they leave the death-metal shop behind (spiky boots purchased and all).

Yoongi seems to be in a good mood, anyway, asking questions and pointing out things as Taehyung takes him through the quieter, more avant-garde portions of the area, where the vintage shops are. “We have lots of favorites here,” he says, stopping in front of one that exclusively sells vintage sunglasses. “This one’s only eyewear. There’s another one up the street that only deals with lingerie. That’s hard, you know? Vintage lingerie? We carry very few pieces because it’s harder to sell.”

Yoongi comes to stand next to him, staring at the window display. “Did you get into vintage because of your clothes magic, Tae?”

“Partly, yeah. I like the stories. Every dress feels like a piece of history,” Taehyung says, skipping ahead to another store that sells second-hand clothes owned by local celebrities. “My grandmother had this giant chest at our place. She kept really old clothes in it, and she had the same clothing voodoo as I do. It was great. I’d touch an old hanbok’s pieces and get this weird old world vibe. We had one that belonged to a priest—most peaceful peace of clothing ever. Even touching it was like stepping into calm, still water.”

Yoongi’s gazes have gotten longer over the past day. They stay on Taehyung, prickling light at his skin, something about it seeming to calibrate and probe and lay out Taehyung like an open book. Taehyung’s not complaining: he finds that he likes the attention. Yoongi, when he listens, listens like no one else in the world. He gives his everything. And this—these glances, longer and longer—seem to be trying to learn Taehyung’s very soul.

Taehyung swallows and says, hastily, “Anyway. This job—the old clothes, and finding them in odd places and all—sort of reminds me of her. That’s the other reason I got into it. Why?”

“Nothing.”

“Did you think I was in it for the—ah, what was that, hyung—snob appeal?”

Yoongi winces. “Yes. Maybe.”

Taehyung grins. “That’s okay, hyung. I really like the canapes and cheese too. Jimin’s the one who likes the wine, though.”

They end up eating tonkatsu ramen at a little hole in the wall izakaya. It’s cold outside, and Taehyung is still shaky from the afternoon, and so they accompany it with warm sake. They’ve walked far enough away that they take the metro back to the station near the hotel, stuck like sardines amongst hundreds of businesspeople and students crowding for space in one of the last few trains for the day.

Yoongi is grinning when they reach the room, pink from the wind and the alcohol. Taehyung yawns and starts stripping off his clothes until all he’s left is with his boxers, and shrugs when Yoongi gives him a quizzical look. “You said it, hyung. It’s only weird if we make it weird.”

He chuckles a bit at Yoongi’s expression, then pulls his silk pajama top on and plops on the bed, too tired for anything else. Auction’s not until eleven in the morning; that still gives him a few hours to go over the pieces with Jimin. He’s just about to doze off when Yoongi climbs into bed on the other side, wearing something that whispers a lot of wandering hands and warm skin.

He jerks in surprise and halfway turns towards Yoongi.

Yoongi turns his head. “What?”

“Hyung,” Taehyung starts, and thinks he sounds oddly strained. “Your t-shirt is being…loud.”

 Yoongi looks at him in puzzlement for a few minutes before it slowly dawns on him. “Oh,” he says, craning his neck to look down at what exactly he’s wearing. Something seems to click. “Oh.”

He makes no move to get up, though. Doesn’t seem to want to try at all to take it off, to spare Taehyung the mental torture of so many more what ifs rapidly growing in his brain. He just half-shrugs a shoulder and stares up at the ceiling.

 Taehyung bites his lip and settles onto his side. There’s no ignoring the whispering. It’s low and soft and all its sussurations are about smooth, pale skin. Strong, long fingers. Distant, ghostly echoes of pleasure.

He’s so fucked.

A shiver runs up Taehyung’s spine. What if, he thinks, he were to roll over and eliminate the space between them. What if he were to touch his fingers to Yoongi’s loud, loud shirt, bunch it up in his fist, figure out what it really wants to say. What if he were to reach out and touch his fingers to that sharp jaw, the sun-kissed tan of his own skin a stark contrast to how pale Yoongi is…

“Are you all right there, Taehyung-ah?” Yoongi asks, and Taehyung’s not imagining that he sounds distinctly smug, is he?

“I’m great.”

“Yeah? Because you sound a little out of breath.”

 “That’s coz your sex shirt is not letting me sleep, hyung.”

“Ah, this shirt,” Yoongi says. “Funny story, really, Taehyung-ah, but have you come across that study that talks about kinks? It was in the newspaper recently. Did you know that a whopping 48% of respondents found clothed sex hotter than naked sex?”

Taehyung makes a sad noise. “All my clothes are too expensive to get fucked in.”

“Damn. We need to fix that.”

At this rate, Taehyung’s heart might probably win the Olympic gold medal for gymnastics. “We?”

For a minute there’s nothing. Only the murmurs of the most villainous piece of clothing in existence. Anyone else, Taehyung thinks, would have been embarrassed by the sex shirt. Anyone else, anyone decent, would have spared him the torture.

Yoongi just sort of chuckles and rolls over. Taehyung freezes up when he feels him, close enough that Yoongi’s breath is a hot tickle at his ear.

 “Hey, Tae,” he whispers. “It’s really only weird if we make it weird. Do you want to make it weird?”

It’s posed as a genuine question. Taehyung wonders, with a shiver, what exactly will happen if he says he does want to make it weird. He’s considering it. Taehyung thinks it’s maybe the influence of the sake. (Sake isn’t even that alcoholic, the Jimin voice in his head says, but the Jimin voice can go to hell.) Still, drunken consent might lead to regret. And he’s honestly not sure if Yoongi’s even serious. He’s probably not. Taehyung’s heart is a fucking traitor but his brain knows better, and his brain is telling him that Yoongi’s probably just having a laugh at him.

Isn’t that all this is, some fun flirting? It’s not like Yoongi really wants him. It’s only Taehyung and his weird brain, throwing wild what if scenarios his way.

He squirms uncomfortably and smushes his face into his pillow.

Yoongi laughs, confirming his suspicion. “Asked you a question.”

“Oh, God. Fuck you.”

“Not precisely the dynamic the metal-shop guy thought we had, but fine, if that’s what you’re into.”

Taehyung’s not even going to pretend that his dick has started a what if series on its own. “Hyung,” he groans in exasperation. “Seriously—”

Yoongi pats the top of his head in a mockery of kindness. “There, there,” he says, soft and slick, utterly evil. “You should get to sleep. Tomorrow’s a big day.”

Taehyung grits his teeth.

He should just jerk off. Repay rudeness with rudeness. Anyone who knows Taehyung would never in their wildest dreams call him mean-spirited. He isn’t. It’s just what Yoongi deserves in this situation.

But Taehyung’s been raised right. Every time he thinks of doing mean shit to people he thinks of his grandparents, quietly explaining to him why revenge and vendettas are bad, negative things. Not for their Taehyungie. And, goddamn, he loved his grandparents, but could they not mentally show up in these sort of situations?

Yoongi mutters, “How are you doing?”

“Great. Thinking of my grandparents.”

“That should help.”

“It’s helping.”

“Doesn’t quite look like it.”

Taehyung shuts his eyes tight. “Are you hovering over me to stare at my—you are. You fucking are, aren’t you.”

Yoongi’s voice comes from somewhere above. “I’m a curious person,” he says, a little laugh escaping him. Taehyung hears him plop back down on the other side. “You’re more impressive than I thought.”

“If that’s a compliment on my fucking personality, I’ll eat my Borsalino hat.”

“Keep your hat, I meant your dick.”

It takes a great effort not to bash Yoongi over the head with the bedside lamp. (Thanks, grandma.) Instead, Taehyung smashes his face into his pillow again and thinks sobering thoughts of tacky, indistinguishable, mass-produced clothes. Racks and racks of the same V-neck black sweater. Skinny camo pants with fake pockets and five-thousand identical copies.

Fuckin’ instant boner killer, guaranteed.

Yoongi sighs a little and Taehyung isn’t sure if it’s disappointment or relief. “Goodnight, Taehyung-ah.”

“Goodnight, hyung.”

In the quiet, though, he still thinks of that dumb question. Do you want to make it weird?

They’d joked about it, and bickered about it, and Taehyung had passed it off as a crazy idea, but what if he’d said yes? What if it hadn’t been just a joke?

Yoongi would probably kick you out of bed, his brain suggests helpfully. And then bully reception until they gave him a new suite.

Of course. Of course it was just a joke. Had to be. Taehyung sighs and hugs his pillow.

***

In retrospect, it might really have been better if Taehyung had said FUCK YEAH I WANNA MAKE IT WEIRD.

 Because the morning has somehow become a morning after without even the satisfaction of sex.

“Hi,” Yoongi says, blearily, in the middle of Taehyung’s efforts to use spotty hotel Wi-Fi to send Jimin pictures. Then he doesn’t say anything for the longest fucking time, just watches Taehyung sit there with his bed-head and loose pajama top. It’s weird. It’s probably the longest Yoongi’s gone without either a) teasing, or b) insulting him in some way, and Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with this. Stripped off the night, Taehyung feels oddly vulnerable. Like he both wants to cuddle closer to Yoongi and run far, far away.

“Hi,” he says back, after the long, sticky silence, which only makes everything weirder.

 Yoongi groans as he turns over, trying to find warmth. He seems half-asleep still. “Your hair looks so soft always. It’s so unfair.”

For some reason, Taehyung finds Yoongi tremendously endearing at this moment. Maybe it’s the soft, rumpled shape of him, so different from his wakeful self. Maybe it’s the way he looks at Taehyung, eyes wide and mouth in a pout, like maybe Taehyung’s genuinely offended him by having pretty hair. Whatever it is, Taehyung wants more of this.

“Hyung…”

“Pretty,”  Yoongi mutters, curls into a ball under their shared blanket, and goes back to sleep.

When he finally wakes up at nine, he acts like he doesn’t remember. Taehyung decides to remind him by twirling in front of Yoongi, fully dressed and groomed in his blue tweed jacket and dress pants, shaking his head a little to set the long silver earring in one ear swinging. “Is this pretty, hyung?” he asks, and feels smugly satisfied at the slow horror dawning on Yoongi’s face.

He doesn’t expect any answer, busying himself instead with polishing his shoes. But then Yoongi says, “Yeah. Pretty,” in this gruff, weirdly honest voice that does something to Taehyung’s insides.

Well, he thinks. Well.

But this well has no water. From there on it’s like they both dry up when they think of conversing. Taehyung moves around the room, texting Jimin while Yoongi tries to get ready. The silence feels slightly smothering. In a way, this has never been a problem between them. There had always been grievances to air, comebacks to think of, clarifications to be made. They don’t know how to do quiet. It hadn’t been weird to tease with the lights off and the slight buzz of alcohol in their system but now it’s morning and they have to wear their business faces and it’s…off. Like there’s something stuck between them, unresolved. (Taehyung wonders if Jimin and Hoseok have some sort of bet going on the hate-bang thing. Had it been that obvious?)

“Um,” Taehyung says, the third time Yoongi asks him if business casual is okay for an auction. “I think I’ll go wait at the restaurant. Eat breakfast. Do some work.”

Yoongi nods violently. “Yeah. Yeah, sounds cool. I’ll just—shower.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Taehyung feels like some dense idiot in a teen novel. “Okay.”

The day proceeds like this: awkwardly.

Yoongi barely finds time to grab a breakfast croissant before they have to be in the ballroom for the auction. Taehyung's set up the laptop and got Jimin on call by then, and he has callsheets and appraisal bids for his favorite lots spread all over the desk.

“So, we need evening dresses and accessories the most, and a lot of the in-house bidders aren't looking for those," Taehyung's telling Jimin, when Yoongi drops to the seat next to him. "But the proxies and the online bidders might want those, so I don't know...Also there's a crazy lot of burlesque stuff we could possibly sell online?"

Yoongi picks the bid paddle off Taehyung's lap to play with. "Cool, you're lucky number 13."

Jimin makes a little cooing noise on the phone. "Is that Yoongi hyung? How're you two doing?"

"Focus," Taehyung says, because he's never really been able to lie to Jimin. Lying by omission, sure. But if Jimin asks him about what he and Yoongi have been doing, he's just going to have to bring up the ridiculous blue-balling. "Do we want the sexy burlesque or not?"

"We always want the sexy burlesque," Jimin says, and Taehyung can hear Jungkook in the background, snickering. "Wait. I just reached the airport. Hoseok hyung wants to talk."

"Did he pick you up?" Taehyung prods. "Are you guys all boyfriends now?"

Taehyung can hear Jungkook just giggling somewhere in the back like an idiot.

Hoseok comes on. "Hi, Taehyungie. How's hyung treating you?"

Taehyung looks at Yoongi and is met with a hitched eyebrow. It’s clear the voice-bleed is loud enough that he can hear; but he offers no response, seeming to be content to watch Taehyung handle it.

"Um. We're fine."

Hoseok chuckles affectionately. Taehyung hears Jimin tell Jungkook, in a loud whisper that carries right through the phone: "He's being evasive."

"I'm not!" Taehyung protests. "We're... you know. The same."

"Really?" Hoseok purrs, "Because you put in your work email on those funny photo booth machines."

Jimin's snickering is loud. Taehyung slaps a palm to his face. Next to him, Yoongi stiffens a bit.

"Don't worry, Hoseok continues, happily. “The idiots wanted to post it on your Insta, but hyung's got your back. Tell Yoongi he’s taking cute pictures with me next time, though. He owes me."

There’s a scuffle on the other end then, Jimin loudly going, “Ask him if they’re at third base yet,” and Jungkook whining something about being hungry.

“Tell Yoongi hyung he looks cute with anime eyes!” Hoseok giggles, at which all three of them seem to become completely dysfunctional. Taehyung hears Yoongi inhale sharply next to him. He groans and hangs up.

“You,” Yoongi says, mildly, “are such a fucking idiot.”

And then he barely says anything through the first half of the auction. His eyes bug out when the numbers go crazy high for the patchwork Sant' Angelo, a brocade 1800s coat, and the 1883 floral gown. Taehyung bids for and wins the Givenchy lot, and then concedes the Missoni dress to the Taiwanese couple. It’s a bloodbath, just like he’d told Yoongi: bids rise to mountainous prices, a single custom-made Parisian court-gown going for as much as one-hundred thousand dollars.

“This is insane,” Yoongi says, just as the auctioneer announces a Gucci lot. His voice is theatrically shocked. “Who’s got such deep pockets?”

Taehyung smiles, slow. “Watch me be a lunatic now.”

“What do you—”

The starting price is six hundred dollars. Taehyung competes against an in-house bidder and an on-line bidder until it goes to three-thousand, and then it’s just him and the on-line guy.

“Four-thousand!” the auctioneer says. “Do I have four thousand—”

“How badly do you want this thing?” Yoongi whispers, as Taehyung raises the paddle again for four-thousand.

“I know someone that’ll buy it from me for twelve. It’s Gucci.”

“Six-thousand!” the auctioneer calls out. “Do I see six-thousand? Six five-hundred. Six five-hundred—Seven thousand! Seven thousand, going once. Seven thousand, going twice. Sold at seven thousand to number 13!”

“Serious money,” Yoongi says, sounding a little awed as Taehyung happily puts his paddle down. “It’s oddly sexy, watching you throw away money.”

“Yeah?”

He says it lightly, grinning a bit, treating it as a little joke. Yoongi’s gaze on him, though, is serious. “Yeah.”

When the auction ends—way past lunchtime and hedging towards evening—they go around to the back to meet the auctioneer. Lucas is from Hong Kong and recognizes both Taehyung and Yoongi. They grab quick sandwiches with him, talking business, and by the time they go back up to change to comfortable clothes and head out, night has already fallen.

This time Taehyung drags them to the Sensoji temple in Asakusa. They don’t go to the temple complex, hanging out instead at the shops and food stalls surrounding it, eating meat skewers and tempura. The lanterns strung above cast a red glow, and the liveliness of the atmosphere thaws the ice again. Yoongi tells him a story about a set they’d once built, for some action movie, involving a temple they’d constructed in a giant warehouse and an earthquake that rips it apart, drawing a little model for Taehyung on the edge of a greasy napkin.

“And then one of the actors—we’ve got him all harnessed and stuff—just slips right through a crack. It’s crazy. So Hoseok—who’s just standing on the side watching—does this insane little somersault and grabs him by the collar. You had to see it to believe it. I didn’t really take him seriously about his flexibility until that day.”

“Hoseok hyung is awesome,” Taehyung says, dipping his prawn tempura in dark sauce. “He’s so nice.”

“He’s a really good guy.”

“You should tell him that,” Taehyung says, taking a sip of Yoongi’s beer and wincing at the bitterness. “He thinks you only keep him around because he doesn’t ask too many questions.”

“Maybe I do.”

“Ha ha. Keep fooling yourself, hyung. You’re so soft for him.”

Everything winds down early around these parts. 9 30 is last orders, and Taehyung is telling Yoongi the laundromat story by then, smiling as he reminisces how confused he and Jimin had been. Yoongi has been quiet for the most part, glancing up at Taehyung through his bangs every once in a while, humming attentively as he listens. Taehyung thinks he’s distracted, but not in a way that suggests disinterest. It’s hard to describe, but somehow this hour, this night—with the soft, warm lights, the murmur of the quieting crowd above the hiss of grilling meat—Yoongi feels warmer than he usually does, walls down and foregoing his usual acid sarcasm, his gaze soft and open.

Somehow, it doesn’t make Taehyung braver as much as it does to make him more vulnerable.

“I might have been in love with him,” Taehyung mumbles. “I haven’t even thought about this in a long while, but I might have been.”

“Jin hyung said he got that vibe too,” Yoongi says, eyes flickering up to Taehyung’s face before he looks back down at his rice bowl. “I asked if you two were…He said you weren’t, but he thought it was a could have been. You know?”

Taehyung shrugs one shoulder. “Eh. I didn’t let it grow into anything big enough that it could hurt me.”

“Meaning you didn’t try,” Yoongi probes, his gaze piercing. “Because you thought you might get rejected.”

Taehyung squirms and looks away. There’s something hot and sour surging in his chest, and he wants to laugh at Yoongi, make a joke out of this, shake his head and smile and say that Yoongi is just being crazy. It wasn’t even a big thing, he wants to say, but now that he’s brought it back up from the swamp he’d pushed it into, he realizes it was big.

Big as his whole heart.

His throat feels tight. This is stupid.

“I didn’t—I knew he doesn’t like me like that,” he mumbles instead, dredging up a grin. “Would have been a disaster. Maybe it’s lucky that we met Jungkook when we did.”

Yoongi scoffs. “Lucky.”

“Everything works out for the best in the end.”

Yoongi shoots him a look. “God, what are you, a fortune cookie?”

“Don’t sound so bitter,” Taehyung says, with a cheery laugh. “We’d have been fine, you know. Even if I fell in love with Jimin and got my heart broken—our friendship would’ve been fine. It’s just that everyone’s happier this way. Have you seen them? They’re disgustingly cute, those two.”

“You don’t feel bitter?”

“At Jungkook?” Taehyung snorts. “I think I have better chances being bitter towards my dog, and I missed him so much today afternoon that I texted Hoseok hyung to send me videos of him chewing a rubber bone.”

“Better not to fall in love anyway. It’s like dousing yourself in gasoline and handing someone else a lit match,” Yoongi mutters, pushing his hair off his forehead. His cheeks are dusted light with pink from the beer and the cold, but his eyes burn with some old hurt. “Why are people so stupid? At the end of the day everyone just fucks everyone else over.”

“Sure,” Taehyung shrugs. “Or they find their perfect person, and get their happily ever after.”

“You really believe that.”

“I’m magic. The universe gave me Jimin, didn’t it? I’ll trust it to give me my HEA.”

Yoongi stays quiet for a few minutes. Then he says, so soft that Taehyung nearly misses him, “The universe gave you Jimin and then you didn’t even try with him. And you can laugh it off and call it luck or choice or whatever you want, but which one of us has really got the walls up around here, Taehyung-ah?”

I just chose happiness, Taehyung wants to say. I just took the easy way out.

He downs his beer and decides that he doesn’t like this feeling. Doesn’t like that Yoongi keeps reminding him that maybe they aren’t so different after all. That while Yoongi uses authority and coldness to keep people out of what really matters, Taehyung just uses his cheerful, optimistic front to hide beneath.

Two means to the same end.

Not true, a part of Taehyung still protests. The cheery, happy part of him that just wants to pretend like everything is always fine. The part of him that only gives as much of himself as is necessary; the part of him that still whispers how he’s an inconvenience when his friends try to help him.

I’m not like you, Taehyung wants to say, but it sticks in his throat.

(I’m just like you.)

They walk in silence to the temple after, the complex deserted at this time of the night, all the shop-fronts having closed and most of the lights off. The elaborate gateway with the three large lanterns are lit up, though, and the five-storied pagoda lends a sort of storied red-and-gold light to the empty courtyards. Taehyung likes it like this, quiet and desolate, the normally thrumming crowds far off in Roppongi or Shibuya partying. He likes this quiet, and he likes the way everyone walking through the complex falls automatically into murmuring, as though in tacit acknowledgment of some sort of otherworldly presence. They check out the main temple and he teaches Yoongi how to ring the bells and pray, and there’s a little incense dispenser from which they buy incense to light.

“I thought you were a witch,” Yoongi says, one eye open and glancing at Taehyung as he pretends to pray.

“That’s precisely why I pray here,” Taehyung says, sticking his incense in a holder. Yoongi looks at him quizzically. “Hyung, think about it. If hundreds of thousands of people all come here to focus their energies on this one place, every day, that’s a lot of good energy flowing here.”

“How does it work?” Yoongi asks. “Do you power up?”

“Ha ha.”

“Maybe you need some, yeah?” Yoongi’s voice is soft. “You really scared me last afternoon, Taehyung-ah. I’m so used to you being larger than life. To see you quiet like that…”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Just. Stay happy, Tae. It suits you best.”

Taehyung’s body is a riot of gentle shivers.

“This place is lucky,” he says, after a while, a lump in his throat. “You should probably make a wish, hyung.”

Yoongi’s stare is like a steadying hand in the dark.  The pretty light bleeds red into his skin, turns his eyes darker and envelops him in lovely warmth. He closes his eyes, as if to genuinely makes a wish, and instead of doing the same, Taehyung just stands there, looking at him. At his smooth cheekbones and the slight annoyance in the furrow of his eyebrows, his beautiful fingers, everything accentuated in the weird light.

He wonders how they got here. Why it is that every conversation with Yoongi is an ice-pick chipping away at his heart. How it is that they started from a place of misunderstanding and reached here, somehow uniquely poised to see through each other’s bullshit. What even is this?

Min Yoongi is the only person Taehyung hasn’t been able to dazzle. The only person who he seems to pay no heed to the sparkle and the layers and the expensive tags he’s layered atop himself, cutting through the clutter and straight to his weedy, earth-hidden heart.

It hurts. It had hurt since the very beginning. And now that Yoongi does not look at him with hate but understanding and curiosity, it hurts more.

Knowing that it’s never going to be more than this—some gentle teasing in the dark, the wink-and-smile game of soft flirting—hurts too. How can it be any more than this? This is Yoongi and Taehyung—two wildly opposite sides of the same emotionally sequestered coin. Neither of them will reach. Neither of them will take. There’s nothing to it but disaster.

He wishes, though.

There ’s my heart, doused in gasoline. Here’s a lit match. Wanna try holding it a while, hyung?

Yoongi peeks at him. “Did you make a wish, Taehyung-ah?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d you wish for?”

Taehyung pulls up a grin. “Ice-cream,” he lies. “I know a place that stays open all night. It’s right next to the Skytree. Wanna go?”

***

The biting wind is turning Taehyung’s nose pink but he doesn’t care.

It’s their last night in Tokyo, and somehow, during the short metro ride to the Skytree, he starts feeling bright and dreamy and imaginary again. Might be all the lights, flashing through the windows and constellating in spots on Yoongi’s face, gone before Taehyung deludes himself into trying to wipe them off.  Might be the little omikuji fortune Yoongi got from the box at the temple in the last minute, that read something like a joke: in the matters of the heart, be brave, hold tight. A ship tossed at stormy sea only requires one able captain.

“That makes no sense,” he says, laughing over the rumble of the train and the cheery murmuring of ads on the screen above the doors. “At least it’s poetic. Mine just says be careful of empty vessels. I feel like this scroll is meant for Namjoon hyung.”

Yoongi seems to not have heard him. He looks at the omikuji like it holds some answer, eyebrows knit and the tips of his ears a bright red. There seems to be some silent storm within him, and Taehyung understands those well, so he presses his lips together and looks out instead.

“I want a selfie!” he crows, when they’re out of the train and in front of the lit up Skytree. “Hyung, come on!”

A loose smile curls Yoongi’s mouth. He acquiesces, gentle enough, crowding close as Taehyung clicks, blurry but alive, the two of them throwing up peace signs and smiling wide into the camera.

Taehyung looks at it and abruptly wants to cry.

The roads are nearly empty and so he leaves Yoongi a little behind and runs, both because he feels alive and because of some soft terror pooling in his heart. It’s a weird feeling—frightful and incendiary, like his control over his body has slipped, and now Taehyung’s afraid he’s going to kiss Yoongi.

This is not like the fun, chaotic possibility of the what ifs. This is something else. This is a what if without the performance, a raw, frightening thing. This is a what if that requires him to put his heart on the line, and Taehyung’s never, ever put his heart on the line—not really. This is a what if that feels sharp as razor-wire, and he thinks it works a lot like a landslide—slowly, and then all at once.

It goes like this: What if he fell in love.

It’s not a solid thing, not fully-formed yet. Just a bite of possibility. A little shock to the system. A baby what if.

What if.

 And he knows. Knows it cannot end well.

(Better not to fall in love anyway, Yoongi had said. Better not to. Why are people so stupid? Better not to fall in love.)

“Taehyung!” Yoongi calls, from a little distance away. “Taehyung-ah, what are you doing?”

“Nothing,” he laughs, and skips backward. “I’m just happy, hyung.”

Yoongi shakes his head. “You crazy kid.”

Taehyung comes to an abrupt stop. “Ah—here’s the ice-cream shop!”

He doesn’t really want ice-cream. He needs  the cold comfort of the bathroom tiles though, when he excuses himself to go in there and lean his forehead against the wall for a minute. Yoongi’s still out there contemplating cotton candy vs mint in terms of ice-cream flavors. He says he’s had both hair colors, and imagining that makes Taehyung feel soft and angsty enough that he thinks he might cry into his very berry strawberry scoop. He needs to stand here, locked up in this tiny bathroom without even the option of musical commodes, and take control of his own self. Make sure of his mental barricades, think happy thoughts. He needs the ice-cold water he splashes on his face, the inhale-exhale routine of calm, the fist he clenches against his side and against that fucking landslide of sudden feelings.

And then he opens the bathroom door and there’s Yoongi. Waiting.

“Ah,” Yoongi says, expression complicated, voice quiet and broken-in as he looks up at a bewildered Taehyung. “I’m sorry, Taehyung-ah, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing…”

The door closes again behind him. Taehyung’s head is full of white, fuzzy light. He presses himself back against the tiles. There’s very little space here, nowhere to go, and the way Yoongi is looking at him, lashes low over his eyes, is dangerous.

 “Hyung—” he starts, throat tight, but then Yoongi is kissing him.

His lips are cold but his mouth is warm, the slide of his tongue a gentle plunder. Taehyung gasps and tries to surge forward, thinks he might want to ask Yoongi if he’s sure, if this is just a joke. But judging by the hand Yoongi splays to his chest to hold him back, this kiss is everything but that.

This kiss is hard and rushed and ungentle.This kiss is starved and seeking, sweet and rough, Yoongi’s mouth on his again and again, stealing his breath. This kiss is having to stop, but only for seconds, and even then only to rush back into it twice as hard.

This kiss is Taehyung’s hips slamming into the sink; his ribs under the cold tips of Yoongi’s fingers; his fingers tangling in Yoongi’s hair.

This kiss is the rush of wind through an open car window, the hiss of water on a newly torn scrape, the hard relief of first rain after a hard summer.

Taehyung’s afraid of this kiss. He’s afraid of his wandering fingers, the jagged flashes of emotion he catches on Yoongi’s face every time they pull apart, the sharp pressure of Yoongi’s thumbs where they’re somehow jammed up under Taehyung’s collarbones. He’s afraid of this image of Yoongi, searing permanent into his memory: his burning eyes and kiss-slick lips, color in his cheeks like helpless anger. He fits his palm to the line of Taehyung’s jaw and opens his mouth against his, and Taehyung follows his lead, tipping sideways to press in closer. He tastes like ice-cream and snow and Taehyung wants more.

More than the hot hand splayed against the bare skin of his stomach. More than the thick-lidded gaze that Yoongi gives him when they pendulum again only to crash back, lips and tongue and teeth. More than the way Yoongi says his name then, like a dirty fucking curse, the heat of it making Taehyung jolt with surprise.

He wants so, so much more.

(He’s so, so afraid.)

“Hyung,” he gets out, finally, a desperate whine in his voice. “W-what are we doing?”

 That breaks the spell, sort of.

Yoongi pulls away from him and blinks, breathing heavy. “Weird,” he says, swiping a hand at his lips, watching Taehyung with something bordering suspicion. “Why’d I do that?”

 He clings to that for a while, looking desperate, a scowl on his mouth like he wants to think up something cruel. It slides under Taehyung’s skin, scrapes raw against soft places.

“If you kiss me again,” Taehyung says, his voice all jammed up, “you fucking better mean it, hyung.”

Yoongi’s fingers tap against his sides like nervous spiders. A strange, tight expression takes up residence on his face. For a moment there’s silence, the drip-drip loop of a leaky tap the only soundtrack to their inner maelstroms.

Then Yoongi steps forward again, and his fingers come up to pat at Taehyung’s cheek, nervously. “You’re, uh. You’re okay with this.”

“Yeah.”

Yoongi presses a kiss to the tip of his nose. “With this,” he says, and Taehyung nods again, heart going wildly fast. Yoongi nods too, and sucks a little kiss on his jaw. “With this.”

His palm snags hard in Taehyung’s hair. His hips press down hard against Taehyung, a slow grind that makes him go shivery, a dull, wanting ache in the pit of his stomach.

“What else are you okay with?” Yoongi asks, his mouth searing against a spot just under Taehyung’s jaw.

In answer, Taehyung arches into him, a soft, stuttering gasp escaping his throat, long fingers unworking the fly of Yoongi’s jeans to slide his hand inside.  Yoongi nips at his neck absently, just a quick scrape of teeth, and then bites him hard when Taehyung gets his hand working on him, tight and fast.

“Shit. You demonic little thing, you,” he says, tipping his head back, a moan catching in his throat, “So fucking beautiful,he leans forward again to fuse their mouths together, then draws back and says, almost angry, “drove me nuts from the first time I saw you.”

Taehyung’s having a bit of trouble remembering things. Like words, for example. “T-thought I was annoying.”

“Your face isn’t.” Yoongi says, and Taehyung bears down on his cock through his boxers, hard enough to make him hiss again, “Fucking—Do that again.”

Taehyung does. And it’s in the middle of him attempting to see  if he can coax another moan out of Yoongi when someone raps at the door.

They freeze, but just for an instant. Taehyung suppresses the hysterical urge to giggle. They pull away, and for a moment Yoongi is far from him, at the other end of the tiny box of this bathroom trying to catch his breath. For a moment he feels far and unreachable again, and Taehyung feels wildly distraught, deer in some fucking headlights, like some heavy, terrible weight is barreling towards him and he’s unable to stop it.

But then Yoongi comes back, to lace the fingers of one hand with Taehyung’s, and kiss the corner of his mouth. “Look what you did, now,” he says, soft and gruff, fire kindling in his gaze.

Taehyung smiles. Yoongi’s face is angled down, but he flicks his eyes up, catches that smile, and gives a slow grin in return.

Then he unlocks the door. Taehyung only catches a glimpse of a shocked, pale face before Yoongi drags him out of there, fingers locked tight around his own.

***

Taehyung’s fingers are legato on the sheets, finding nothing to grab. Stupid fucking hotel sheets, tucked in so tight that his nails only scrabble for purchase. He gasps and reaches up to grab the edges of his pillow instead, back arching, a line of goosebumps rising along the trail that Yoongi’s lips leave.

The dumb pattern on this ceiling—he’s pretty sure— is going to be forever seared into his memory.  The edges feel blurred and he forces himself to breathe; is cut off shallow when Yoongi mouths slow along his hipbone. It’s slow and torturous—the gentle motion of his lips working the flushed skin of Taehyung’s thighs, the softest slide of a finger along the underside of his cock, the press of hot palms against his hips holding him down.

Taehyung buries his face half into his pillow, squirming and trembling; feels the soft rumble of Yoongi’s laughter as he crawls up his body to kiss his mouth. Now these kisses are salt-tinged with sweat, and it only makes Taehyung want to drag him in closer, one hand rising to wrap around the back of Yoongi’s neck as their hips move together.

“Want to go again?” Yoongi asks, his breath hot against the shell of Taehyung’s ear. “So soon?”

It is too soon.

The first time was almost too fast, both of them way too worked up for anything more than quick, graceless fucking. Taehyung had thought, coming down from his orgasm high, that that would be that: the Tokyo equivalent of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But Yoongi seems to have other ideas.

Taehyung’s breath stutters in his chest as Yoongi works two fingers into him, thrusting shallow, nowhere near enough pressure considering he’d been fucked open once already tonight. It’s torment, is what it is, and he thinks Yoongi knows it from the way he chuckles, but it’s still just right enough that he feels himself hardening again.  Taehyung cants his hips up, weakly seeking for more, and Yoongi bites down on his smile, sucking the gasp out of Taehyung’s mouth as he toys gently with the head of Taehyung’s cock.

“You haven’t said a word,” Yoongi murmurs, his voice teasing. “I didn’t take you for the quiet type, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung shakes his head into the pillow. He’s digging his teeth a little into his lip, mind a little hazy with the over-stimulation, and he’s sure there’s pleasure in this somewhere, but it feels frustratingly out of reach.

“You have to tell me,” Yoongi says, his expression completely unshuttered and fond. “Tae. You have to tell me what you want.”

What he wants. He licks his lips, looking up at Yoongi, and shrugs. What does he want? He’s always just gone along with whatever his partner liked. It’s worked out well enough for him.

“Whatever you want, hyung.”

 “That’s not an answer,” Yoongi sighs, and nuzzles idly at his collarbone. Taehyung remains quiet, only uttering a stifled gasp as Yoongi’s wandering fingers tighten around his dick, an electric coil of black pleasure coursing through his body. “Okay. How about this? Tell me one thing. Just one.”

“I really don’t know,” Taehyung whispers, trying to jerk away because now Yoongi’s stopped playing, his fingers unerringly circling Taehyung’s prostate, pressing hard. The intensity is awful, wonderful, every movement of his fingers adding to an arousal so heavy it hurts.

At Taehyung’s non-answer, though, Yoongi sits up, one eyebrow raising as he ceases all movement. Taehyung grits his teeth. “Hyung.”

“What? Since you don’t know, we’re going to chill a bit. Think about this.”

“No, no, I have no chill. Stop teasing, hyung. Please don’t put me on sexual timeout.”

Yoongi snickers and presses down again, fingers crooked just right enough to send desperate pleasure singing through Taehyung’s blood. Taehyung closes his eyes, shaking, head spinning as his body tightens in anticipation.

And then Yoongi stills again.

“You keep doing that and I’m going to cry.”

Yoongi keeps his gaze steady and focused, sharp like an arrow. “Is that what you like?”

“No! I mean. I don’t know. I could try it, maybe,” he squints open one eye and feels vaguely undone by the way Yoongi’s looking at him. “Can you stop looking at me?”

“No. This is really surprising. Why are you hiding?”

“I don’t—” Taehyung starts, and then splutters breathlessly as Yoongi’s hand slides wetly back onto his dick. “N-not hiding.”

“No?” Yoongi asks. “Is it too much?”

It is too much, but not in the way of sex itself. He’s pretty sure that much is obvious, with the way he’s gasping and fucking up into Yoongi’s hand. It’s just that his mind keeps rolling back to that singular, dizzying what if, over and over, and he can’t stand the way it feels like his skin is searing wherever Yoongi’s gaze lands.

He feels raw, scraped hollow, every nerve-ending lit on fire and his soul laid bare.

“Tae?”

And now Yoongi sounds genuinely concerned.

Taehyung shakes his head and surges up to kiss him, hard. “Just—ah—just this feels good. What you’re doing. I’m good, ‘s long as someone fucks me. Please just fuck me. Or—or, I don’t know, I could—I could ride you?”

It comes out weirdly shy and Taehyung wants to go duck his head under sand again. Maybe, he thinks, it’ll give some semblance of control over whatever the hell is happening in his brain. He hears Yoongi’s breath catch at that, though, and the next kiss he presses to his lips is hungrier.

“Okay,” is all he says, and his voice is dizzying. Taehyung sort of just wants to die from how turned on and turned around he feels. “If that’s what you want.”

It's what he wants.

The stretch has him gasping, moving his hips in small, tight circles, a steady push and pull as he sinks down. Yoongi’s hands are smooth on his hips, steadying him, and the warmth makes him forget about his feelings for a while. Right now he feels wanted, with the way Yoongi thrusts up into him, palms flattening on Taehyung’s back as he pulls him down closer for a kiss. Right now he feels loved, grinding his hips down in a way that has Yoongi arching beneath him, the pale column of his throat shining with sweat and his jaw clenching around a moan. It's hot and sticky and so very good, rough in all the right ways, gasps breaking in his chest and heat pooling rapidly in his gut. 

He grins, looping his arms around Yoongi’s neck, a shudder of pleasure circuiting through him as the movement drives Yoongi in deeper. He keeps his pace steady, rolling down hard, and Yoongi’s hands fall to press hard against Taehyung’s thighs, fingertips leaving soft half-moon bruises where he grips too tight. At this angle, every little movement squeezes Taehyung’s gut tight with pleasure, and Yoongi is not helping, thrusting up into him just as desperately. 

Taehyung thinks he looks staggeringly beautiful. His hair trails into his eyes, flattened with perspiration. His breath comes ragged, gaze dazed and dark as pitch when he meets Taehyung’s. He looks gorgeous and sweet and deadly, all at the same time, and Taehyung presses his lips to Yoongi’s collarbone, afraid of letting himself speak, his vision slightly teary.

Then he hisses as Yoongi flips them over, sudden and without warning, the breath punched out of his chest as Yoongi pounds in harder, grabbing Taehyung’s wrists to hold him down. It’s good, the fullness making him writhe, thighs burning, spine arching straight off the bed when Yoongi adds his hand to the mix, stroking a wet hand up the length of Taehyung’s cock.

He sobs, biting at his lip until he tastes copper because he’s close, so goddamn close, and now everything was just bordering on a welcome sort of pain, and please—

“Sshh,” Yoongi says, breathlessly, longer, harder strokes making Taehyung’s hips jump, “I’ve got you. You’re so beautiful, Tae, holy shit—”

Taehyung cries out when it hits him, the wave of pleasure and sensitivity so intense for a few seconds that it completely whites out everything else. Yoongi tries haphazardly to pull out, seemingly to spare Taehyung the oversensitivity, but Taehyung frees his arm to grab for him and hold on, seeking for a kiss even as Yoongi jerks and stills, his lips grazing Taehyung’s jaw as he rides out his orgasm. Through the aching, breathless aftershocks of it, he just presses their foreheads together, carefully still, then more careful still as he pulls out. 

Taehyung grunts and curls up with his face in his pillow, abruptly unable to look. Yoongi brushes his hair off his forehead to press a kiss to his cheek.

“Are you okay? Hold on. I’ll get some water and tissues.”

Taehyung feels the weight of him disappear off the mattress. It’s cold, all of a sudden, his skin sticky with cooling sweat and the chill of the room getting to him. He shivers and thinks of love again—slowly, and all at once.

Like a landslide, or an avalanche, or a heart-attack that never stops.

Taehyung loves and believes in old things. Wine, whiskey, vintage clothing: there’s patience in these things, resistance to weathering, an imperviousness to the passage of time. Why aren’t feelings like that? Why must  he want for everything now, now?

Is he just stupid? He’s just stupid. He’s being too much again—too attached, too clingy, too wanting to be in love.

He’s so stupid.

He sips on water and then melts against the sheets while Yoongi helps him clean up. He looks at Yoongi questioningly until Yoongi looks away, suddenly thoughtful as well. He keeps a tight grip on Yoongi’s wrist.

“Don’t leave me,” he says, head heavy and spinning, sleep gnawing at the edges of his consciousness. “Not right now, hyung. Please.”

There’s something frayed and awful in Yoongi’s gaze. Like a switch being flicked on within him. He nods, laying close and pulling the blanket around them. Taehyung keeps his gaze on Yoongi until he can’t keep his eyes open.

Yoongi doesn’t try to kiss him again.

***

In the morning, Taehyung wakes up alone, still curled under the blankets. The other side of the bed is long gone cold, no sign of anyone having been here at all, most of the room pristine except for where his own suitcase sits, spilling clothes.

He’s not even a little surprised.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Monday after Taehyung returns from Japan is the last day of pre-production work for the pilot. It only takes him five hours at the studios, poring over last minute changes and making hand-overs to the production team and the lead stylist on set.

“Taehyung-ah,” Hoseok says, at lunchtime when he and Irene are explaining vintage storage to the stylist . “We’re doing lunch together. Namjoon and Jin hyung and me. Do you want to come?”

Taehyung nodded, turning to offer him a smile.  “Of course! Just give me a minute, hyung.”

Hoseok lingers, eyebrows scrunched. “Uh…Yoongi hyung is coming, too.”

“Great,” Taehyung says, trying to keep his voice disaffected. “I had to show him some stuff Seulgi will need for production, anyway.”

He sees Hoseok wavering at the periphery of his vision, lips pulled down in a frown, arms crossed as he thinks. Taehyung busies himself with the age-stain patterns Irene is showing him, but his mind buzzes. How much does Hoseok know? How much had  Yoongi told him? Had he spilled all the details—from their night in Harajuku to the auction to them sleeping together? Or had it been pick and choose, to justify why he fled, reinforcing whatever excuses Yoongi had given himself?

Not that it matters. Not that Taehyung cares.

Yoongi has always been perfectly clear where he stands with respect to emotions and relationships. There’s nothing of surprise here, nothing extraordinary that it ought to affect Taehyung so. It’s Taehyung who went and caught feelings, and he’s going to deal with it. Step one is to let things fall back into something resembling normalcy. And normalcy is grabbing lunch with his hyungs.

They end up at a small but fancy little place serving various sorts of dumplings. It’s only supposed to be a working lunch—Namjoon discussing long lists of things that are still supposed to be done and Seokjin heckling him and Taehyung riling them both up with increasingly pointed old married couple jokes—but then they start drinking and it quickly spirals into disaster.

Somewhere between laughing at Hoseok’s bright-red face and Seokjin’s increasingly desperate dad jokes, Taehyung notices that Yoongi has barely said a word. He’s quiet in a corner, hands folded and sipping lightly from his bottle, paler than usual. He startles a bit when Taehyung looks at him, and then averts his gaze. His jaw is clenched, eyes hard, and Taehyung thinks he’s right in assuming that Yoongi had been watching him.

“Listen,” Taehyung says, reaching across the table for a drink. “Do you guys want to know about these fucking boots Yoongi hyung bought in Japan?”

There’s a bit of silence at this from Seokjin and Hoseok— who seem to be clued in to what transpired in Tokyo—and a lot of enthusiasm from Namjoon who seems utterly clueless about things outside of the project as usual. Hoseok’s mouth makes this funny, worried shape. Seokjin, sitting next to Taehyung, only rubs a hand up his back, a gentle sort of admonishment.

So Taehyung tells the story. He keeps his gaze on Yoongi the entire time, even when Hoseok gives in and starts chuckling at the thought of the poor store proprietor. Yoongi offers nothing at all, gone completely stiff and stone-like, but when Taehyung finishes his story and excuses himself to the bathroom, he follows.

There’s an unhappy curl to his mouth. “What are you doing?”

Taehyung leans over the sink, splashing water on his face. “What do you mean? I just thought it was a funny story.”

“I’m not talking about the story.”

Taehyung draws back, looking at his reflection in the mirror. He looks a little off, even to himself; a colder, harder version of him with his hair under a snapback and brows tight.

 “I really was just trying to involve you in the conversation, hyung.”

“Forget that shit,” Yoongi snaps, waving his arm like he’s trying to swat an annoying fly. “What are you doing?

Taehyung blinks. Having lunch with my co-workers? Hoping to finish up by five so I can go help Jimin at the store? Which part do you mean, hyung?”

Yoongi scuffs the edges of his shoes on the floor. They’re boots again, today, silver-buckled and sleek. He looks uncomfortable. It’s worse than him looking angry. This feels more volatile, dangerous.

It takes him several minutes to speak. “The part where you’re ignoring the elephant in the room.” Yoongi’s gaze is accusing, but he curls his body in, pulls his arms together. Like he wants and expects Taehyung to get angry, to lash out. “You’re acting as if everything’s fine.”

“Aren’t we?” Taehyung asks, reaching out for a bunch of tissues. “Fine?”

Yoongi gives a stiff chuckle and stomps lightly down on the ground again. He looks angry now, lips thin and eyes wild, but it doesn’t seem to be directed at Taehyung. There’s something inward about it, something incendiary.

It’s not Taehyung’s to kindle.

“It’s alright, hyung,” he says, quietly. “I get why you left.”

Yoongi worries at his lip, his face stormy. “And—and what?” he asks, in  croak. “You’ve just decided that it wasn’t a shit move on my part?”

“It was just sex,” Taehyung says. He keeps his smile in place. “Happens. It’s only weird if we make it weird, right, hyung?”

A frown appears between Yoongi’s eyebrows. He looks at Taehyung for a while, trying to figure out if Taehyung’s being sarcastic, eyes narrowed and face slightly pink. It’s an oddly charged moment, possibilities forking like lightning, and just for a second Taehyung considers impossible things.

Touching him again. Kissing him.

But there’s a klaxon in his head now, screaming every time he thinks of Yoongi, and it hurts too much. He won’t think about it, it hurts too much. It’s easier to let things go, ignore the elephant in the room, hope that his work ending on the pilot will also end whatever this is between them.

Taehyung moves to push past him. “We should get back. I have to show you some stuff the stylist will require during production.”

Yoongi grabs his hand. “Taehyung-ah…” he starts, and then peters off. Taehyung looks down at where Yoongi’s pale fingers encircle his wrist, and memory surges through him, unbidden. An entire train journey, like this, with their hands entwined until they were at the hotel room. Then the faltering, fumbling heat of Yoongi’s fingers tugging at his clothes, growing surer on his bare skin.

He thinks of falling asleep with loose hope held in his chest like a crushed little bird.

He thinks of waking up alone.

It’s his fault. His fault for not being able to talk about this, his fault for wanting more and more. His fault for falling for Yoongi in the first place.

What did he think would happen? There’s no room for heartbreak when Taehyung had gotten exactly what he had expected.

“Hyung,” he says, pulling his hand out of Yoongi’s grip. “It’s okay. You don’t have to apologize.”

Yoongi looks slightly stricken. He opens his mouth, as if to argue, and Taehyung doesn’t wait for him. He can deal with this. He can put this behind him, as long as he doesn’t have to confront it.

He doesn’t think he can deal with Yoongi saying he regrets it.

Regrets him.

“I want dessert,” he says, pushing out of the door. “Come on, hyung.”

***

This winter season on the runway is eye-gloss shimmer and modern sixties flower power. Fetish ponytails that swish to the floor. Rose-quartz hair-color and supreme cheekbone glitter.

And vintage.

Cocoon, trapeze and mod styles are in. Opaque robe coats a la 70s rule the runway. There’s a massive vintage embroidery surge for ready-made clothing, so winter becomes all about sourcing design-swatches. They keep busy, him and Jimin, herding bright-eyed fashion students and established designers through boxes full of inspirational swatches. It’s also awards season, everywhere, and their own internal network of procurers is buzzing with requests. An LA store wants a frock coat, preferably pre-20s. A London designer wants the sort of stuff that look like it came out of a vintage Parisienne. Winter months are always busy, but this year, Vintage Minnie has also found page-spreads in media and fashion mags this year—thanks to the TV pilot. That means more and more tourists, fashion students, celebrities. It’s not hectic but it’s nice, buzzy, the frigid outdoors of Seoul mid-winter merely an afterthought with all the time they’re spending in the store.

It’s good, the buzz. Keeps Taehyung occupied.

Jimin had come back from Singapore with boxes full of jewelry and an idea for a little show. It’ll be small, cozy, intimate: they’ve done some before, themed or seasonal, and they know how to go about it. He and Jimin spend a Friday sitting amidst towers of clothes they have, trying to take seasonal inventory and draw up some plans. Jungkook wanders in and out asking if everything is okay. Of the three of them, he’s always been the most empathetic. Taehyung tells him everything is fine, because everything is—isn’t it? He and Yoongi are on speaking terms. The pilot’s pre-production is done and wrapped, and production is in its last stages. All that’s really left is a couple more scenes to shoot and then the sets can be struck for now and they can celebrate.  A nice, fun evening to sum up the whirlwind weirdness this whole project has been.

Taehyung’s looking forward to that.

Jungkook is less sure. “You feel like you’re really trying hard to convince yourself that you’re happy, hyung.”

“It’s the cold, Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung says, blearily. “The weather is so annoying—”

Jungkook rolls his eyes so hard Taehyung thinks he might hurt himself. “You’re blaming the fucking weather? That’s a new low. You love winter.”

“No, I don’t!”

“You were born in frozen winter, Elsa, shut up,” Jungkook says. “What is this really about? Is this about Yoongi hyung?”

“Jungkookie, please. Let it be.”

Jungkook turns to Jimin, his teeth grit. “You talk some sense into hyung. He feels like he’s going to explode. It’s like an angst-drama inside his head, and I can’t concentrate. All my crystals are turning out weird.”

Taehyung chuckles half-heartedly. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It does!” Jungkook waves a bunch of smoke quartz in Taehyung’s face. “They’re all occluded. They’re soaking up all your weird negativity. You’re killing the crystals.”

“I’m not killing the—”

Jungkook whirls on him, his eyes bright and unhappy. “Can you just hurry up and deal with your shit, already? Why can’t you just talk to us about whatever’s bothering you? Don’t we matter enough for you to trust us?”

Taehyung gapes at him in utter confusion. Jungkook stares down at him, mouth twisted in a scowl, breathing hard. Then he throws up his hands and takes a step back. “I’m sorry, hyung,” he snaps, and Taehyung’s sure he doesn’t mean it. “I shouldn’t have spoken that way to you.”

Taehyung sighs and flops into a pile of clothing. Yeontan immediately tries to climb on his face. Jungkook reaches to swoop the dog into his arms, mumbling something that sounds like at least you’re happy as he barrels out of the room.

Jimin is more subtle. He waits until Jungkook is banging around upstairs to tug Taehyung back into a sitting position. “Ignore that. He’s just worried.”

“He doesn’t have to be,” Taehyung sniffs, picking up his scissors. “I’m fine.”

Jimin shrugs.  “If you say so.  You’ll tell me when you want to tell me, and I’ll be here then,” he says. “You’re hard to get stuff out of, anyway.”

That gets through to him. Taehyung looks up from where he’s bent over a magazine, cutting a snippet for a mood-board. “What? You think I’m keeping secrets, too?”

Jimin looks at him carefully. “You’ve always been so closed off about shit, Taehyungie.”

Taehyung scoffs. “I literally whine to you every day that my life sucks.”

“Shit that matters,” Jimin clarifies, a little frown tugging at his mouth. “You just say you’re bad at words and laugh it off. You’ll tell me all the good things, but the moment it’s something bad, something that’s hurting you, you’re gone. I can’t reach you when you’re like that.”

“What even do you—” Taehyung laughs, and it feels forced, sticking again in his throat, like something slimy and rotten. “I tell you everything, Jiminie.”

“You didn’t tell me about the bad episodes.”

There’s a tiny bit of hurt in his tone and Taehyung bites his lip, a surge of unfairness curdling his stomach. “Who told you, then? Was it Yoongi hyung? Because I didn’t want him to—”

 “No one told me, Tae,” Jimin cuts across, quietly. “I have no idea why you didn’t tell me, but you’re my best friend. I figured it out.”

“You knew the whole time?”

Jimin sighs. “Why do you think I didn’t freak out when Yoongi hyung called me from Tokyo? I knew you’d be fine.”

Their Christmas decorations this year are white-gold streamers and bouquets of silver and white. Taehyung keeps his eyes on a swirling piece of streamer, a lead-block lodged somewhere between his throat and his mouth, stalling all his words. He doesn’t like this. It feels raw and painful to be seen like this, beyond the surface. To be weak like this. If this is why Yoongi runs away, then Taehyung understands. It’s easier to get hurt this way—so much more easier—and all he wants is to go back to a time before he had to think about all this.

Jimin’s watching him, eyes narrowed, his fingers stilling on the scissors he’d been using to cut out shapes. “Whatever’s happened between you two—none of what you feel is wrong, you know? You liked him. He gave you weird mixed signals and then ditched you. It’s okay to be angry about it, Taetae. At him or at yourself. But you’re only one person. I can’t solve your problems for you but I can make you hot chocolate and I can cuddle the shit out of you and we can complain about it together. Isn’t that better than carrying it all around inside your head?”

Taehyung fiddles with the edge of a cutout. His face is hot and his throat feels so, so tight. There’s a pause so heavy and yawning that it proves to be an easy out: he can just go back to work, force his fingers steady, crack a joke and let this conversation die a natural death. It’s what he would normally do; most likely what Jimin expects him to do.

But ever since he’d woken up alone in Tokyo there’s been a gulf between him and the rest of the world. He wonders if he’s always felt like that, or if something had jarred within him in those couple of days. If Yoongi has jarred something in him.

Everyone fucks everyone over. When it comes down to it, we ’re all on our own.

That’s what Yoongi believes. That’s what he says Taehyung believes too—with the careful distance he builds, the bridges he doesn’t cross. They’ve both been living so scared, for so long.

Fuck that, Taehyung thinks. What a waste, really, to live scared.

“Jimin-ah,” he says, and it feels painful to speak. “Did you ever realize it? When I was in love with you?”

Jimin says nothing for the longest time. The scissors float across the magazine’s glossy paper, snip-snip, Jimin’s small hand making quick work of the runway style cutout he’s working on. Taehyung thinks he’s going to let that go, too, is perhaps shocked by the admission, but then—so softly that Taehyung nearly misses it—he nods.

“I’m not anymore,” Taehyung says, quickly, with a watery smile. “Don’t get me wrong. I— I got over it, I just—”

“I’m sorry,” Jimin whispers. His eyes are round, face twisted in worry, and suddenly Taehyung wants the stupid floor to swallow him up or something.

This is why, he thinks. This is exactly why he doesn’t get into talking about this shit.  Why did he say it? Now he’s just made it weird. That’s what he does, whether he wants to or not—make everything weird. “No, no,” Taehyung sputters, horrified, “Don’t be, I’m not—I don’t blame you! I’m just—I’m the idiot. Always falling in love with unavailable people.”

He means it as a joke—really. Means it to be a pithy little remark, something to chuckle at, because that’s what it is.

Taehyung, going around falling in love with exactly the people who he cannot have.

How fucking funny.

Only, Jimin drops his scissors. He climbs over a stack of coats to reach Taehyung, and nearly knocks him into another mountain of robes with the force of his hug. Taehyung returns it shakily, confused now, but then Jimin pets his hair, his cheeks.

“Taehyungie,” he says, quietly, “Do you like him?”

And Taehyung knows—even as he tries to laugh it off—that it’s over.

It’s like his heart is splintering. He feels like Yoongi’s exposed some raw nerve in him. Some buried thing now unburied, now surfaced. He doesn’t know how to make it disappear again. Doesn’t even really know how to breathe around it.

Now that the gulf is crossed, now that there are no more secrets, it’s like all of Taehyung’s defense mechanisms just fail. There’s shame. He barely knows Yoongi but it had felt somehow like there was an eternity between them, and now he feels like he’s brain is a fucking cheater to make him think that. Why had he been so stupid? There’s hurt. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff he can’t name—fear, most of all—but there’s also Jimin’s weight, like an anchor, and Taehyung clutches on and gasps like he’s drowning.

It’s not fair, he thinks, that Yoongi’s words are always so sharp but his touch always so gentle. It’s not fair that Yoongi says he hates everyone and then proceeds to be so, so kind. It’s not fair that he thinks he doesn’t understand people, most of all Taehyung, and then seems to get Taehyung in a way most people don’t.

It’s not fair.

Not fair that he will never stop running. Not fair that he will always weigh love against safety and pick safety. Not fair that Taehyung will never matter to him enough to pull down the insulation he’s built against the world—and—and—

“Oh, Tae.”

Jimin holds him, rocks him gently. Taehyung’s breath catches in his throat in gasps and his body shakes and he can’t stop the sobs. He’s vaguely aware that Jungkook comes back, feels him at the periphery of his awareness and then closer—right on top of him—his face worried and eyes big and Bambi-like, and somehow that sets Taehyung off, too, and Jungkook tries to scurry off, alarmed.

“No, no,” Jimin murmurs, reaching out to drag him back. “He wants you. Don’t you, Tae?”

Taehyung makes a vague motion with his hand, because that’s literally all he feels capable of.  It looks like it’s enough for Jungkook, though, because he crawls over to join the cuddle party, petting frantically at the top of Taehyung’s head.

“I’m sorry for yelling,” he whispers, and swipes uselessly at Taehyung’s cheeks. “Can we put Yoongi hyung back on the kill list now?”

Jimin slaps the back of his head. Jungkook mumbles a soft ow, and throws a heavy arm over Taehyung’s chest. It feels nice. Calming. Taehyung breathes against Jimin’s shoulder, slowly starting to feel less like a dying fish out of water.

“I don’t feel murderous yet, but he can’t just do what he did to you and get away with it,” Jimin says, reaching for his phone. “I’m telling Hoseok hyung.”

Taehyung grabs his arm. “D-don’t. I already spoke to Yoongi about it.”

“You did? And?”

Taehyung sniffles and rubs at his eyes. “I told him it was okay. He didn’t have to apologize.”

“Um—fuck yeah he does?” Jungkook says, sitting up suddenly. “What kind of dick move was that? Who the hell does that after—”

“After what?” Taehyung asks. “After he came with me to Tokyo because I was sick? After he hung around at an auction that was my job making sure I was okay? He was entitled to leave any time.”

Jimin squeezes his hand. “After he slept with you, Tae.”

“Isn’t that what you do, though?” Taehyung asks, quietly. “You do one-night stands. You move on. That’s how it works, isn’t it, when it’s no strings attached?”

Jimin sighs and smooths Taehyung’s hair off his face. “But it’s never no strings attached with you, is it?”

 “It doesn’t matter. Hoseok hyung said—said Yoongi hyung doesn’t do dates. He doesn’t—I mean. This is probably exactly what he wanted, and I’m just being an ass about it. Right?”

Jimin pouts. “He left you in a shared hotel room in fucking Japan.”

“He shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Jungkook snorts. “You’re so fucking stubborn, hyung.”

“Well, they have that in common if nothing else.” Jimin tries to sit up, finds that all their legs are tangled up inextricably, and lies back down, half on top of Taehyung’s chest. “Taetae, what are you going to do?”

Taehyung thinks awhile. “Nothing,” he says, finally, annoyed that he can’t keep the defeated note out of his voice. “I’m going to put this behind me, focus on our show, and see him at the celebratory dinner. Then I’m going to let him go wherever he wants to go, live his life, whatever—”

Jimin clicks his tongue. “Tae, you—”

 “No—it’s going to be fine. I knew this was where it would go, even before I slept with him. I expected no surprises. I’ll be fine,” he reaches to flick gently at Jimin’s chin, dredges up a smile, squeezes Jungkook with the other arm. “Really. It’ll be fine.”

***

It’s not fine.

The celebratory dinner is in one of the warehouses that holds the sets. There are several the studio has rented out, some housing recreations of period-accurate streets, some that look like individual rooms, one that is just a huge tank for them to shoot an underwater scene. Someone’s hung some fairy lights from the tall ceiling and there’s some peppy music going, but most of the people in the room are strangers to Taehyung. He hangs around Namjoon and Seokjin, being introduced to film industry folks whose names he can’t remember, letting Seokjin unconsciously feed him every starter plate that comes their way.

“Taehyung-ah, try this,” Seokjin keeps saying, and Taehyung wonders if he’s nervous too. They’re young, after all, entrepreneurs still working their way up the system, and this is their first big television project. Everyone that shows up at this gathering outside of the ones whose names will be on the credits are industry big-wigs, and they’re all sizing them up.

Namjoon is close-lipped about the status of the pilot and how the whole thing is coming together, but Taehyung thinks he looks positive. He shows this by dropping everything he holds at some point and talking very fast. When Seokjin leaves to chat with one of their producers, Namjoon grabs hold of Taehyung’s arm.

“Don’t leave me here alone,” he says, eyes scanning the crowd. “That American guy who’s attached to the big networks is looking around. I don’t want to talk to him right now. He’s too scary. What if he hates everything? What if he hates me?

“How can he? You worked so hard on this project, hyung.”

We did,” Namjoon says, waving an arm. He looks at Taehyung and a fond smile spreads on his face. “You did great, Taehyungie, everything looks perfect.”

“That’s more Yoongi hyung than me. Do you know how many times he made Irene and I work on aging the clothes to fit the mood of the set? I thought I’d go insane at one point.”

“But he’s amazing, isn’t he? Have you seen that rotating set? I thought we were going to need CGI for that part, was all set to pay a visual effects team, and then hyung just said, Namjoon-ah, we’ll build it. I nearly lost my shit,” Namjoon shakes his head, marveling. “And then it turned out so much better than any CGI. That man has an eye.”

Taehyung hums. “It’s like poetry.”

He doesn’t tell Namjoon what else about Yoongi he thinks is poetic. The gruff chivalry that surfaces in him on occasion. The soft smile he gets when he’s watching Hoseok, sometimes. The wide, gummy grin variety shows put on his face.

And the way he kisses.

Namjoon’s watching him, that distant, perceptive look on his face. “Yes! You admired him before, Taehyungie. Did you learn well?”

There’s a little pang in Taehyung’s chest, but his smile is sincere when he turns to Namjoon. “I did, hyung. It’s because of you. Thank you for pulling me in.”

Namjoon ruffles his hair. “I’m glad,” he says. “Oh! There’s Yoongi hyung now. We should go talk.”

“Gimme a minute,” Taehyung says, ducking out from beneath the arm that Namjoon tries to drape around his shoulder. “I’m just going to go grab a drink.”

He isn’t. He wanders through the crowd instead, oddly listless, hiding in a group when he spots Hoseok, evading Seokjin. Yoongi is wearing what looks like a black silk suit, and his hair color seems re-touched: it’s bright again, silver, brings out the delicateness in his features. Opposite his suave coolness, so in vogue with this crowd, the Versace prints that Taehyung is wearing feels loud, childish. Chalk and cheese. He watches Yoongi speak gravely and quietly to some expensive looking people in equally expensive looking suits, a flute of champagne held between his fingers, gaze intense as he discusses whatever it is that smart, adult businessmen in this industry discuss. Taehyung wouldn’t know what to say to them. He feels like a child in a playground again, clueless and small and alone, watching and wanting to be someone else.

All the people here look hungry to him somehow, words measured and smiles pointed, and he’s relieved when he spots Jimin and Jungkook, newly arrived and looking just as lost as he does.

“What even is this drama about?” Jungkook asks, wide-eyed as he stares at the tank.

“It’s this whole historical thing about the war, western troops in Korea, and trot,” Taehyung says, joining them. “So some parts are going to be filmed in America if this gets picked up. Looks pretty cool, right?”

“Yeah. Have you seen Hoseok hyung?”

“Saw him way over at the other side,” Taehyung says. He purposely avoids looking at Yoongi. “Talking to Namjoon hyung.”

Jimin grabs Taehyung’s arm and starts pulling him along. “Why are we here then? Let’s go talk to them!”

Taehyung sighs, deeply. “Do we have to?”

Jimin shakes his head. “What do you—oh, come on, Tae.”

Taehyung doesn’t want to go. Everything that side feels oddly sharp to him—the people milling around his hyungs too perfect, the conversations too polite, the hobnobbing too poised. Taehyung has met a lot of rich people, through auctions and otherwise, but this feels different. Or maybe it’s just him, lost in a crowd0 full of unknown faces, feeling small again. Maybe it’s just him, drawn again and again to the one face he’d promised himself he wouldn’t go back to. While Jimin and Jungkook speak to Hoseok, Taehyung and Yoongi meet gazes without ever locking. They’re always quick to look away—Taehyung with a nervous flush, Yoongi with what looks like icy disinterest. There’s always places to look away, people to look to. Lots and lots of people.

A whole room of people, and it’s still like Taehyung is caught on the edge of a yo-yo string. It’s still impossible not to be drawn back to Min Yoongi.

Yoongi, too, seems just as equally caught in the game, his gaze snapping like a rubber-band between Taehyung and everyone else.

Taehyung’s stomach feels weird. There’s this odd pressure in his chest, like something squeezing. Yoongi meets his gaze and then grimaces, presses his lips into a thin line, and Taehyung bows his head in the hope that the tightness in his throat would resolve itself.

He’d hoped, maybe. Hoped that he could look at Yoongi tonight and not feel like this. Like he’s walking on eggshells, or something sharper.

“—a sort of thematic show,” Jimin’s saying, elbowing Taehyung gently to get him to participate. “It’s the pilot that gave me the idea. Iconic Korean fashions through the ages.  There’s so much there. Trot and the Kim Sisters. Norah Noh and Kim Lee Cinu. Seo Taiji and the Boys. There’s a museum willing to lend us some selections of original hanboks as well. We thought—you know, why not ride the buzz train while it lasts?”

“That’s a great idea,” Namjoon says. “We’ll put out word about it too.”

Seokjin slaps Taehyung lightly on the back. “Yah, I better get VIP invites. I worked so hard to get you on board for this, you ungrateful little shits.”

“Oh, yes, that worked out great,” Taehyung mutters, unenthusiastically. He sees Jimin, Jungkook and Yoongi go tense out of the corner of his eye, and even Namjoon raises his eyebrow a little.

“Um,” Jimin says, into the suddenly very suffocating silence that falls in the group. “So. What do you guys say to a set tour after this party? Hosek hyung and Taetae have both been talking about it, and we thought it might be fun.”

Seokjin’s gaze is like a vulture, zooming intently on Taehyung. “Uh…sure,” he says, one hand coming to rest on Taehyung’s shoulders. “Sounds good. What do you say, Yoongi?”

And now everyone’s looking at Yoongi. He goes stiff and cringes at the attention. “Fine,” he says, after a pregnant, awkward pause in which he looks everywhere but at Taehyung. “Don’t see why not.”

His tone is disturbingly flat, and Taehyung feels heat flood his face and ears. He doesn’t want to go on set tour, he thinks. He doesn’t want to go anywhere that’s in any way more than what is required of him. He just wants to get through this dinner thing and then head home, and put this whole Yoongi episode behind him. Come to think of it, he isn’t even hungry. This place feels claustrophobic, the cloying sweetness of freshener in the air suffocating. His mouth tastes metallic.

Taehyung fidgets with the collar of his shirt. “I’m going home,” he says. “You guys carry on.”

This plunges the group into another thick silence. Jimin sighs and clicks his tongue. “It’ll be fun…” he starts, obviously trying to diffuse the situation, but then Yoongi clears his throat, cutting him off.

“You don’t have to leave on account of me.”

His voice is cold. Taehyung feels it in his chest, like an ice-pick, jamming the blood in his veins. “It’s not—not you,” Taehyung lies, through gritted teeth. “ I just don’t feel like it.”

Hoseok’s head bobs comically from him to Yoongi. Jungkook is quieter, arms folded and gaze distant, uncomfortable always when it comes to confrontations. Yoongi’s breath steams a little in the cold of the warehouse as he pins Taehyung with a hard sneer. “Look,” he snaps. “Let’s get this conversation over with. Namjoon very clearly expects us to work together again, and I can’t work with this between us.”

Taehyung looks sullenly at the ground. “It’s f—”

Don’t say it’s fine when it clearly isn’t,” Yoongi growls. “You’re avoiding me. Don’t even try to fucking deny it, Tae, you can’t even look me in the eye right now. You said it’s just sex, that it doesn’t matter. You said we were fine, and that I shouldn’t apologize. And now you’re the one who has a problem with me. What the hell do you want me to do?”

It’s an uncharacteristic outburst. Taehyung steps back in confusion, heart beating hard, his throat dry. He clenches his fist as the blood rushes in his head, the breath catching in his chest. Why were they doing this in front of everyone? Why did Yoongi have to bring this up now, with Namjoon and Hoseok looking on in alarm and Jungkook cringing into himself? Taehyung pulls his shoulders inward and watches Jimin’s mouth twist into an indignant pout. Feels Seokjin’s hand squeeze tighter around his shoulder.

He just wants to escape.

But Yoongi doesn’t look like he wants to give Taehyung that out. Yoongi is watching him tensely, brows knit and mouth set in a scowl, arms folded across his chest defensively. And that—the classic victim position—is what ignites Taehyung’s frustration.

“It’s not fine,” Taehyung says, voice cracking. “It’s not fine, but it doesn’t matter, does it? I don’t fucking matter. Why do you even care what I do?”

“Because you look at me like I fucking broke your heart or something,” Yoongi sneers. “It’s that whole kicked puppy shit you’re pulling.”

Taehyung registers, even through the hurt in his chest, that Yoongi doesn’t really meet his gaze. He looks away, distant. His voice wavers. It’s stupidly obvious that he isn’t saying what he really wants to say. How many times does Yoongi fall back on the same crutches, the same veneer of fake-coldness?

Taehyung grits his teeth. “I don’t know why this is a big deal to you,hyung. I don’t know if you still dislike me, or if you think I’m a little footnote in your life that doesn’t even bear thinking about. I don’t know if you even believe everything you say or if you’re just saying it to push me away. I don’t know how to be around you—”

Seokjin squeezes his arm. “Taehyung-ah—”

Yoongi puts up a hand. “Let him finish,” he says, coldly. “I want to know. What did you expect, Tae?”

“Maybe you two need to discuss this in a calmer setting,” Namjoon suggests. “Whatever happened is obviously hurting you, Tae, and maybe you need to clarify why, hyung—”

Yoongi snorts. “Clarify? Wasn’t I clear, from the beginning, on how I felt about relationships? Didn’t you spend enough time unsuccessfully trying to get me to change my mind? How did you ever conclude that one night of letting me fuck you is going to change any of that?”

Taehyung sees Jimin wince at that, and Jungkook takes one step protectively in his direction. He shakes his head. He doesn’t need them, right now. Doesn’t need a crutch. Because Jimin is right, and the greatest similarity between him and Yoongi is the stubborn refusal to lean on someone else.

“I didn’t, though,” Taehyung says, with a wavering smile. “I don’t know a lot of things, hyung, but I knew you’d run away. That much I knew. I knew you’d leave me there like a coward,” he ignores Namjoon’s rough inhale of breath at this, ignores the blush of anger spreading almost prettily across Yoongi’s face. “That’s what you are. A fucking coward.”

I’m a coward?” Yoongi asks, with a sneer. “Bit rich, coming from you.”

“I’m not the one who ran away in the night, though,” Taehyung says, syrupy sweet. “You keep telling me I keep people at an arm’s distance, but you—you’d never even reach out to try. That’s how scared you are.”

Yoongi opens his mouth but nothing comes out. And Taehyung, with the searing rush of anger burning through him, finds this hilarious. He grins, stepping forward, eliminating the distance between them, and looks right at Yoongi when he speaks again. “But you know what’s tragic? I see right through you, hyung. All this indifference, all this coldness—it’s all just a mask, isn’t it? You’re just scared. Just afraid to let anyone close. It’s sad, is what it is. I don’t know who hurt you—”

“Shut up,” Yoongi says, eyes narrowing as he leans towards Taehyung. “You better shut up right now, Taehyung—”

“Oh. Sure. Of course,” Taehyung says, shrugging as he turns away. His heart hurts so much he feels lightheaded from it, but the words come out anyway. “Why not? That’s what you’re great at. Sweeping things under the rug, and deciding to push everyone away.”

Yoongi’s gaze goes hard and steely. “You don’t know a fucking thing, Kim Taehyung,” he snaps, and takes a step toward Taehyung as if to shove him. There’s something unsettled and ferocious in his expression. Seokjin quickly gets in between them. “You don’t know a thing. So fuck you!”

And now, as if by alchemy, all of his anger is rapidly turning into a hot prickling at his eyes, and Taehyung needs to get away. A wave of misery crashes through him and he doesn’t trust himself to speak anymore. He swallows and swallows, heart hammering in his chest, and he watches the hard line of Yoongi’s mouth falter a little like he might break. Taehyung breathes out harshly, balls his fists to his side, and strides forward. Don’t fucking cry, he thinks, venomously. Don’t you dare cry, Taehyung.

“Enjoy your set tour,” he mumbles, hating that his voice comes out quiet and broken. Then he walks away.

***

Taehyung’s not surprised when he doesn’t see Yoongi again for weeks. Why should he be? They’re not working together anymore, and he’s never been one to hold out hope for a lost cause. If anything, their heated words at the dinner had served as the last nail on the coffin that was their relationship to begin with.

At least, that’s what he tells himself.

It doesn’t help that he feels a clench in his chest every time he sees that stupid campaign poster of Yoongi’s that he’s hung up. Or the dumb Purikura booth selfies that tease him from an envelope at the bottom of his bag. Or every single piece of auction clothing he’d bought from Japan.

It’s like some sort of psychological Stockholm Syndrome: Taehyung trapped in a sort of hate-love, empathy-betrayal cycle with the idea of Yoongi. He’d be doing something stupid—letting Jungkook practice tarot-reading on him, or helping Jimin with inventory—and his mind would invariably circle back to Yoongi. To the singular, fragile moment before he’d kissed Taehyung in that bathroom. To the few instances when the mask had slipped from Yoongi’s face to let his vulnerability show.

Taehyung can’t help but cycle through these moments, can’t let them go, and he’s tired of Jimin looking at him like he’s a wounded puppy. So he throws himself into distracting himself as much as he can. Their upcoming show proves to be the greatest contribution in this case: Taehyung spends every bit of his free time obsessing over guest lists, decorations, checklists and fittings for their models. He fiddles with the dress-forms that are to adorn the more fragile pieces of their exhibition until the darts and the draping is as perfect as he can make it. He goes over seating arrangements and helps a carpenter build a makeshift sort of stage in the middle of the store. He helps Jungkook design posters and put together videos, spreads the word on vintage blogs, talks a university into sponsoring them.

When Jimin asks him if it’s okay for him to invite Yoongi along with Hoseok, Taehyung is sprawled over a budgeting chart with a pencil in his mouth.

“What?” he asks, sitting up so fast his glasses slide off his face.

Jimin sighs and looks down at his clipboard. “It…feels weird not to invite him, Taetae. I mean…”

Taehyung deflates a bit and forces himself to shrug. “Do whatever you want.”

“Taehyungie,” Jimin says, frowning, “If you really don’t want to, I won’t invite him. But you have to tell me that yourself.”

Taehyung plops back down onto his stomach. “No, no. Call him. This shit is—it’s my fault, honestly.”

Jimin leans down to look at his face. “Hey,” he says, “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, okay? Things just spiraled. You two are…you just deal with things in very different ways. And then it sort of blew up in your faces. Maybe, when you both calm down a little over this, you should talk, okay? Do you think you’d like to talk to him?”

Taehyung sighs and tugs lightly at his hair. “I don’t know,” he mumbles. “Yes. I guess—yes. Is that stupid, Jiminie? He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“You don’t know that,” Jimin says, sternly. “Just give yourself time.”

So that’s what Taehyung does. Gives himself time. Hopes that the painful white noise in his head every time he thinks of Yoongi gets muted with every hour that passes.

But then, backstage on the night of the show, walking through a cloud of hair-spray and perfume and the rustling whispering of clothes, Taehyung starts to feel antsy. He brushes gently at the front of his fitted tweed jacket, smooths down non-existent stray hairs, spends too much time worrying over a rent in a Nora Noh dress. He worries at his lip and pretends it’s nerves, but he knows it for what it is. Why is he so stupid? Whatever he feels for Yoongi is the mental equivalent of a seagull getting caught in a fishing net.

Every glimpse of fresh blue sky a new attempt at self-strangulation.

Jimin finds him there even after their first guests have trickled in, distractedly working on one of the dresses from the rebel fashion of Korea’s conservative 80s. Rebel, Taehyung’s thinking, while he looks over the model frowning at herself in the mirror in her leather skirt. That’s what he wants to do. Rebel against his fucking heart. Take all the stupid what ifs taking permanent residence in his brain and shove them down the hatch of not ever. Why is he a stupid sap? Yoongi’s probably not even going to show.

Lost in thoughts, he doesn’t even realize when Jimin taps his shoulder.

“Taetae. Taehyungie,Jimin snaps his fingers in Taehyung’s face, startling him. Pay attention to me.”

“W-what?”

“I need you to go talk to the guests,” Jimin says, desperately. “I’m freaking out and Jungkook is clueless—I’ve caught him trying to make conversation about Overwatch thrice now—”

“Oh. Fuck. Sorry—”

“I’ll figure this out. You go be the social butterfly you are. Please.”

Taehyung takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Okay. Sorry, Jiminie.”

Jimin flashes a smile and a thumbs-up at him. Taehyung nods and steps around the screens separating the back of the store to the decorated front, plastering a wide grin on his face as he strides towards their guests. The whole store is decorated in shades of gray and rose, and the lighting is retro. Taehyung’s record player is scratchily crooning swing tunes. They’ve made a sort of runway between the tables, lined with mannequins wearing the museum pieces, and the whole place spills over with soft conversation and bubbling light and the scents of expensive perfumes. Taehyung feels his smile grow more substantial. Caught in his worries, he’d forgotten how much he loves this shit. This soft champagne-colored shop and the racks pushed to the corners. The gentle sway of the clothes whispering. Hands reaching out for him and big smiles. Catching up with industry friends, their discussions on 60s revival trends and opinions on denim-on-denim.

There are actor friends who sound very excited about the pilot he’s worked on. There are designer friends raving over the show itself. Taehyung grins and falls into familiar patterns: gentle ribbing, lots of hugs, hoping to show them that he genuinely loves having them here. Because he does, and that’s what no one can take away. He’s maybe a hypocrite because he keeps his secrets close to his chest, but these people he meet, he’s never tried to be non-genuine. He’s not a pretender, unlike what Yoongi had spat at him once. He’s not miserable under his mask. Taehyung does have an agenda, but that’s all wrapped up in his actual interest for vintage and fashion and these friendly faces.

Tonight—he decides—he feels buoyant.

“You look happy,” Seokjin comments, smiling when Taehyung meets him at the table for hors d'oeuvres. “That’s a fucking relief. You have no idea how worried I was.”

Taehyung sneaks a little sushi roll and mumbles through it, “I’m sorry for worrying you, hyung.”

“It’s just that—well. I’m the one that insisted on you working with him. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m not,” Taehyung reassures him. “You really don’t have to worry.”

“Worry about what?” Hoseok asks, popping up beside the table. “Hi, Taehyungie. This place looks so pretty!”

“Worry about Yoongi,” Seokjin answers, popping a seaweed chip in his mouth. “Where is he?”

Hoseok shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m here by myself, to support—uh. You. And Jimin. And…well, Kookie, not that he needs it tonight.”

Seokjin’s eyes narrow. “Are you children all tangled up in some hipster free-love polyamory? Because that’s definitely a vibe I’m catching.”

“Not me,” Taehyung says, wriggling his eyebrow. “Can’t speak for anyone else, though.”

Jimin chooses that moment to enthusiastically jump onto Hoseok’s back and stick his tongue to his ear. “Hyung! You caaaaame.

Seokjin clears his throat. “He sure did.”

Jimin tugs at Taehyung’s necktie. “We need to go to the stage. We can get started now.”

It isn’t until he’s on the stage that Taehyung spots him. Yoongi, with his bleached hair, a sleepy sort of tiredness on his face. He’s not wearing a suit—far from it, in fact. He’s wearing his leather jacket and tight jeans, and he has those crazy Harajuku boots on. The buckles and spurs catch the light and sparkle, and Taehyung has a wild urge to laugh. Yoongi’s hair is messy and he has a backpack on his shoulder, and for all Taehyung knows he came right from a motorcycle rally or something. He definitely doesn’t look appropriately dressed for a night of tasteful vintage fashion and wine.  Still. It’s been weeks since Taehyung’s seen him, and his breath still stutters in his chest.

He turns his face away, annoyed. On top of everything else, why does Yoongi have to be so hot?

Jimin grabs his elbow. “Oh, don’t look, but Yoongi hyung is here, and he’s sort of looking at you like he wants to eat you up.”

Taehyung mumbles, “Well, he’s not getting near this cupcake,” and Jimin snorts, suddenly looking very amused.

The show blurs by, years of Korean fashion evolution flickering by under pretty lights, here and gone again in seconds, like flickering moths. Taehyung likes how it feels like time stands still, like they’re all both immersed in it and outside of it, watching history pass. He looks at Jimin at some point and thinks Jimin looks pleased and proud, a happy grin on his face. Taehyung feels a hot surge of affection tighten up his chest. Jimin’s nearly always fretting over his work not being good enough, over how far and how long they still have to go to get to the place of their dreams. Taehyung thinks it’s as much about the journey as it is the end result, and he thinks Jimin tries to believe in that too, but to see him now, looking genuinely proud of himself, of everything this place has come to be, is the warmest feeling. Jimin meets his gaze and smiles dopey, then slides closer to hug Taehyung around the waist.

“We did it,” he says, eyes twinkling in the light. “I’m so glad you’re here. There’s really no one else I’d rather do this with, Taehyungie.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“We should go get all the business cards and return invites,” Jimin tells him. “And then grab our friends, close this place up, and get drunk. What do you say?”

“I want an ice-cream soda.”

Jimin giggles and kisses his cheek. “Of course you do,” he says, and then draws back to scrutinize Taehyung’s face. “We’re—we’re okay, right?”

Taehyung nods, grinning. “Always.”

It takes another hour before Taehyung is ushering the last of the guests out, smiling and bowing as he accepts compliments. Jimin, Hoseok and Jungkook are already out the door. They make a raucous bunch, Namjoon and Seokjin only adding to it, all their well-tailored suits and smoothly done hair at sharp contrast to the giggling and ribbing that’s going on. Namjoon’s telling some crazy story about crabs and Taehyung is half-listening as he locks up the door.

It’s starting to drizzle. Taehyung picks up an umbrella from the stand, flinching as the first few drops of cold rain land on the back of his neck.

When he turns around, Yoongi’s right there.

“Oh.”

Taehyung freezes for a few seconds, umbrella forgotten. It’s clear Yoongi has been waiting for him: he still has the backpack and the leather boots, and his hair sticks up a bit like he’s been running his hands through it. Taehyung’s noticed he does that when he’s nervous. Yoongi looks at him, running the tip of his tongue over his teeth, swallowing hard. He looks like he’s going to apologize or something, and Taehyung’s throat is suddenly burning. He feels a little lightheaded. It’s stupid, but he knows suddenly that he really doesn’t want Yoongi to start this conversation being sorry. Doesn’t like the look on his face like he’s just pushed himself into stoic acceptance that he’d fucked up.

He thinks maybe Yoongi does that a lot.

It begins raining in earnest, and Yoongi steps closer, carefully edging the lip of his umbrella to cover Taehyung as well.

Taehyung asks, softly, “Did you like the show?”

“Huh? Y-yes, it—” Yoongi starts, and then shakes his head. “Taehyung-ah, listen, I just—”

“Don’t apologize,” Taehyung interrupts, looking very carefully at the potted plant right next to their door. “Please, hyung. I said some shit too. I said—You were, uh, you were right, it shouldn’t have mattered, it’s just—”

Taehyung trails away. What’s he going to say? It’s just, I like you. It’s just, I like you, and that’s why it hurt when you pushed me away. He shakes his head helplessly at Yoongi instead, and rubs at his eyes.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Yoongi says. “I know I fucked up.”

Taehyung realizes that the rain and Yoongi’s soft voice is all that he can hear. The others are all quiet.

“And, uh, I’ve got some traveling to do,” Yoongi continues, still in that quiet voice, “F-for work, I mean. A new set in—um. Spain. So. I’m leaving, and I didn’t want to leave things this way with you. I wasn’t fair, Taehyung-ah, I realize that. You were only ever really—really nice, to me. Seeing Tokyo with you was…it was good. Really good.  I meant what I said that day. You—you make people happy. I’m sorry I said what I said.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Taehyung murmurs, but his head is still that horrid white noise, and he wants to run away. He doesn’t want to ask, but he does anyway: “So. Uh—S-Spain?”

“Yeah.”

“How long?”

“Don’t know. Maybe a few months.”

Taehyung nods, blinks rapidly. “When do you go?”

“Morning.”

“Oh.”

Now Yoongi is steadfastly not looking at him. They just stand there, awkwardly, until Seokjin clears his throat from somewhere behind them.

“Hey! Idiots! Ice-cream sodas,” he calls. “Are you guys in?”

It’s a question, but Seokjin’s tone seems to brook no argument. Taehyung and Yoongi are getting those fucking sodas, whether they want to or not.

Yoongi swallows and shakes his head. “I don’t—”

“I’m in!” Taehyung says, loudly. He dredges up a smile, shrugging as he looks at Yoongi. “You have time for an ice-cream soda, right, hyung?”

Yoongi’s mouth is still in an unhappy line, but his lips twitch a little at Taehyung’s enthusiasm. “I guess.”

“Great,” Taehyung says, airily, keeping his face as fucking calm as he can because fucking Spain. His stomach flips and flips. He thinks he might be sick. “Great! Let’s. Um. Go.”

And if  Yoongi sees right through the wide grin Taehyung plasters on his face, well. Taehyung’s bullshitted his way through worse.

***

“This was bound to happen.”

Yoongi’s breath steams in the cold. “I wonder if Jin hyung chose this place because of the proximity of the ice-cream place to the soju place.”

“I wonder if Jimin picked it.”

They’re standing outside in the frigid street while their friends all get shit-faced in the bar behind them. Taehyung plays with the buttons on his suit, worrying his lip with his teeth. He’s an idiot—every single thought of his now has something to do with colorful buildings and giant bulls, which are the first two things that popped up on his search for Spain in the ice-cream place’s bathroom. He’s not sure what to do with the information.

“So, uh. International work, is it?”

Yoongi stiffens a bit. “Yes. The director—he’s a friend of mine. I’ll go, um, see locations a bit. Get some inspiration. Work on some visual boards and stuff.”

“That’s so cool, hyung.”

“What will you do?” Yoongi asks, his eyes steadfastly on the street-lamp across them. “The show’s done, what’s next?”

Taehyung shrugs. “Don’t know. There’s always work to be done at the store. Jungkook is doing some market sizing for an essential oils line. We might help with that.”

“Oh. Jungkook seems enterprising.”

“He is. He can do anything,” Taehyung pulls his arms tighter around himself. The light from the yellow lamp turns the air around Yoongi fuzzy, blurs all his edges. He takes a deep, uncertain breath. “Are you—were you planning on heading to the airport soon, or do you have to go home?”

Yoongi casts his gaze skyward. “All my stuff is in the car,” he says, and then clenches his fists like he no longer knows what to say to Taehyung.

“Ah.”

“I have the whole night to kill.”

“What will you do? Hyung, please tell me you weren’t planning on sitting in the airport the whole time. There is this comic book cafe nearby that stays open all night, and it has food and games and manga. Video games too! I go there sometimes to play,” Taehyung swallows, realizes he’s rambling. “I mean, if you like comics. Do you like comics? I like comics.”

Yoongi says nothing for a few long moments, just scuffs his boots against the pavement and peeks up experimentally at Taehyung. “Um. I was wondering—you never got that set tour, did you?”

Taehyung says nothing. There’s the weirdest feeling in him, like he’s barely holding onto something that will slip away from his reach any moment. Like with the bulls and the bright cities of Spain, he’s not sure what to do with this feeling. He swallows and thinks of how his mouth still tastes like ice-cream.

“Do you—do you maybe want to come?” Yoongi asks, and the soft hint of hope in his voice twists Taehyung’s stomach. “On the set tour? It would make me feel better about all this shit.”

His head is telling him no. His heart is all fire. “Yeah,” he squeaks. “Yeah, cool.”

“Okay?”

Taehyung nods. “Okay,” he smiles, falteringly. “Okay, hyung.”

Yoongi’s car is familiar, of course. The last time Taehyung sat in it, he’d played with the radio dial, put his legs up on the dash, basically drooled on the window in his sleep. The rain-drenched streets and contrails of light outside the windows are familiar. Even the way the light glints like stars in Yoongi’s eyes as he drives, looking straight ahead, is familiar.

Taehyung sits still this time. His mouth feels dry. He closes his eyes and feels the brightness of the streets wash over his face. Thinks he can almost taste the neon, sharp and gleaming and over-sweet, like gently rotting fruit.

“It’s strange when you’re quiet,” Yoongi says. He sounds broken in, a bit, and Taehyung’s stomach flips again.

He looks at Yoongi surreptitiously, stealing glances out the corner of his eyes, and  feels one-thousand years old. What are they doing? Is this still an apology? If it is, Taehyung doesn’t want it. But if he doesn’t want apologies, what does he want? It’s not like Yoongi’s going to stay around that Taehyung’s silence or chatter will matter. It’s not like he isn’t probably doing this only so he can get on that airplane with the bitter chord of Taehyung possibly exterminated from his life.

Fucking. Spain.

“You’re still really mad, aren’t you?”

Taehyung bites his lip. He’s not, he thinks. He’s not mad. He’s confused, maybe. And upset. And he still doesn’t know what he’s doing in Yoongi’s car, just the two of them, heading to the studios for a nonsense set-tour that doesn’t even really make sense.

 “How does it matter, hyung?”

“It matters because I want you to know that I don’t hate you,” Yoongi says. “That it was never about you, Tae.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Yoongi says, on the back of a sharp exhale, “I didn’t really have great examples of relationships growing up. My parents fought a lot. My dad screwed around with other women, and it broke my mom’s heart. Not that she wasn’t a bitter asshole who trusted no one. Stole her own sister’s husband, and then her house. That was a fucking great house,” Yoongi chuckles, darkly, shaking his head. “Her sister got her back, though. Exposed her ex for embezzlement. My uncle, I mean. Or step-dad. I don’t know, it got confusing after a while. Anyway, my mom always said that trust is best placed on yourself and your money. Everyone and everything else fucks you over. I thought that was pretty wise.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. Worked for mom. She’d already talked my uncle into leaving her the awesome house when he got arrested.”

There’s a twinge of pain in Taehyung’s chest at how breezily Yoongi says all this, because he knows for sure that the actual experience was anything but. For once, he wishes Yoongi would just say things as is. His own heart pitches with guilt at what he’d said the night of the dinner.

“Wow. That sounds fucking terrible.”

“Oh, yeah. It was. And then I came out to her when I was nineteen and she disowned me, so I found a loophole in the property documents and took that house for myself.”

“Must be some house.”

“Yeah, it has a pool and everything. Black money is amazing,” Yoongi glances out of the corner of his eye, winking at Taehyung’s bemused expression. “Point is, that’s how I know to live. Stomp on people to climb up, and keep going until you reach the summit. I’ve done that at work, too. Ask Hoseok—he knows how much people hate me in this industry,” he sighs, shaking his head a bit, a small smile creeping onto his lips. “But you—it hit me, back then in Tokyo, that you’re not like that, Taehyung-ah. You’re not from that sort of world. Your heart’s not hard enough. When you said that my work makes you happy…I couldn’t do you like that. And I felt like—I felt like it might only be a matter of time before I said or did something that would really hurt you, you know?”

Taehyung doesn’t trust himself to speak. He closes his eyes again, shuts himself out to everything except the barcode pattern of light and dark filtering through his thin eyelids.

Yoongi continues. “And out of all the crap I’ve pulled—with mom, with my past boyfriends, with friends, even—I thought that might hurt me. Seeing you…hurt. I thought that at least, if I just left right then, you’d only just hate me. I thought I can—I can live with that. You hating me, I mean. Not you hurt.”

Taehyung fiddles his thumbs. There’s a strange, dark weight in his chest somewhere, warm and alive and vibrant. He grips his knees tight with his hands.

“Maybe that’s your first clue that you’re not as much of a cold, cynical bastard like you want to pretend you are, hyung.”

Yoongi’s voice is a whisper. “Maybe,” he says. And then, “I’m sorry, Tae.”

“Don’t be.” Taehyung presses his lips together. “I’m sorry all that horrible shit happened to you.”

“Don’t be. Lots of people have it way worse.”

“Suffering is not a competition,” Taehyung says, with a smile. “And hyung—I don’t hate you. Probably couldn’t if I tried.”

“Okay.”

Yoongi’s throat moves convulsively, but he keeps his gaze on the road. His nose is bright red from the lights. Taehyung finds it wildly endearing.

“I like you,” he says, quietly, head spinning and heart loud. “I really like you, hyung. A lot.”

Yoongi goes completely silent.

Taehyung feels like any movement now, any word, would be like shattering glass.

He doesn’t let the silence fester. He flails about a bit instead, pretending to be very interested in the song that just came on, and starts telling Yoongi all about this dumb dancing challenge that he and Jungkook and Jimin all took turns trying out. He can feel his own pulse at his throat, thrumming hard. He memorizes Yoongi’s profile as he talks—the shape of his jaw and the soft blue tracery of veins in his neck, the lips that’s touched every inch of Taehyung’s skin, the gentle fall of his hair in his eyes.

Taehyung said it. If nothing—he thinks—he said it. And it still feels like a knife twisting through him, like everything he was afraid it would feel like, but he feels like this is character development or something. The Taehyung before Yoongi wouldn’t have said it. The Taehyung before Yoongi wouldn’t have put it out there, like a noose or a lifeline or both, for Yoongi to take it and do what he wants with it.

What Yoongi does is drive. In silence, gaze distant, fingers gripping the wheel so tight his knuckles show white.

Taehyung smiles to himself and watches the night blur a little through tears.

He said it. Now he can fucking live with it.

***

Even weeks into post-production, the sets are maintained pristinely at the studios. Taehyung’s enthusiastic about the retro bar and the alley between two warehouses that had been converted into an old-timey street. He smiles wide when Yoongi lets him push the buttons that makes the bar floor spin, sections of the floor rising and disappearing to bring forth a new, mirrored set hidden beneath.

“The marvels of engineering,” he says, running his fingers over one of the mirrored walls. In the reflection, Yoongi looks pale, the cast of his mouth thoughtful and terrified. “I wanted to make cool shit like this. I’m not very good at math, though.”

“I’m not, either,” Yoongi says. “I just draw the technical drawings and make scale models. Other people do all the hard work.”

“I hope this thing gets picked up,” Taehyung says, fervently, when they move to another location—a little cafe, this time, steeped in nostalgia. “Everyone’s worked so hard for it. If we get a series order, do you think you’d come back for it?”

Yoongi shrugs. “Depends.”

“On Spain?”

“On Spain.”

Taehyung nods. He walks through the cafe set and onto something else, a garishly lit, underwater-themed hotel set with a bed like a little oyster shell. The walls are blue and has recessed 80s style lighting, the mini-bar is dressed up in tackily stuck-together seashells, and the bedspread has a starfish pattern. There’s even what looks like a stripper pole in the middle of it.

Taehyung can’t help his laugh. “Did you visit many love motels before you came up with this theme?”

“Oh yes,” Yoongi’s tone is sardonic. “Have you ever seen a ramyun themed one?”

“No,” Taehyung says, trying to imagine fucking someone with giant noodle imagery all around him. He doesn’t get the appeal. “I’ve seen a glow-in-the-dark one.”

“I’ve seen some with cages and a mirrored ceiling,” Yoongi says, inspecting a lampshade with a mermaid base. “But we wanted something truly shady. Get that switch.”

  Taehyung flicks on the switch. Immediately, flashing blue lights flicker on above the bed, changing in color from turquoise all the way to ultramarine. The effect is gaudy and weird and so fucking funny that Taehyung giggles. “Hyung.”

“What? It’s supposed to be weird. Don’t you feel underwater?”

“Truly immersed, yes.”

Taehyung goes to sit on the bed and picks up a little starfish that sits on the bedside table. It appendages wiggle when he turns it on. It lights up pink. “What even is this?”

“The prop unit calls it Porn Star.”

Yoongi crosses the room to drop heavily next to Taehyung. They sit there for a while in the sea-tinged dark, Taehyung playing with Porn Star and making it jerkily walk about on the mattress. Yoongi picks it up and lets it crawl over his skin, holding his arm up as if Porn Star is a real, living starfish taking first steps on land. Taehyung watches him, Yoongi’s skin mermaid blue in the lights, his gaze intent on the toy as it wriggles. His tongue peeks out to wet his lips, quick and nervous, and Taehyung almost looks away. Yoongi puts Porn Star down, sighs quietly, and kisses Taehyung.

It’s a lot gentler than their first kiss.

Yoongi props a knee up on the mattress to lean into him, and Taehyung has to rest his weight on his elbows to hold them both up. Yoongi’s hand slips beneath the collar of Taehyung’s shirt to the smooth round bone of his bare shoulder, and Taehyung splays his hand to Yoongi’s breastbone in a warm parody of Porn Star’s general shape.  He grabs a fistful of soft T-shirt and bunches it up, free hand seeking warm skin, curious. Yoongi tastes and smells like soft rain, and he stops before the kiss can deepen to sit back and breathe in, breathe out; to look at Taehyung with a question in his eyes as if it isn’t the easiest thing to gauge from Taehyung’s face that the answer is always yes.

Taehyung’s mouth feels warm. He feels the next kiss on more than just his lips. He reaches out to braid their fingers together, and Yoongi looks at him questioningly.

“Can’t lie when we’re holding hands,” Taehyung says. “So tell me this time. Tell me this matters.”

“It always mattered,” Yoongi says, whisper-quiet in this cold, fairytale room, and Taehyung thinks it’s some sort of magic that he believes him. “I was just a stupid ass before. You matter. Please believe me.”

There’s a raw, electric feeling in Taehyung’s veins. Yoongi swipes his thumb across Taehyung’s cheekbones, holds his face gently as he kisses his mouth, the tip of his nose, his jaw.

“I’m so glad you came tonight,” Taehyung says, hoarsely, and  Yoongi  swallows and presses his lips to Taehyung’s again.

For a long while it’s just this, the two of them curled close together, merely breaking apart to breathe. Yoongi’s fingers twist in Taehyung’s hair and Taehyung responds with sucking hungrily at Yoongi’s lip, scraping his teeth soft along the gentle flesh, smiling as Yoongi gasps quietly into his mouth. For a while Taehyung’s hands are almost chaste on Yoongi’s shirt, his fingers splayed there, the lightly rain-spattered material bleeding heat through. For a while Yoongi just touches his hair and his face, as if his fingertips are mapping out the sweetest spots along Taehyung’s jaw and beneath his ear, unerringly circling back to the sensitive spot right above the nape of his neck that has Taehyung shimmying his hips closer.

For a while it’s just this, until it isn’t enough. Until Yoongi starts working quietly at the buttons of Taehyung’s shirt.

Taehyung lets him, and he thinks maybe that’s stupid—maybe it’s stupid knowing that this time Yoongi really does have to leave. There’s no conjecture this time, no thrill of possibility. There’s work and  money lassoing him from all the way over in Spain, and they have perhaps a couple stolen hours in this place that isn’t even a real place

What are they going to do? Fuck again and not talk about it? Disappear quietly from each others’ lives again? Taehyung knows himself enough to know that that’s heartache waiting to happen, to drag him down. Isn’t it better to hold off, think of things?

It’s just that all of that thinking of things is really hard with Yoongi ghosting kisses over his jaw, with Taehyung’s own roaming hands rapidly divesting Yoongi off his jacket.

Yoongi looks at him a little questioningly at this and Taehyung just shrugs. He keeps his hands running up and down Yoongi’s chest as they kiss, and feels Yoongi’s own palms still against his hipbones, fingers cold even through the material of Taehyung’s shirt.

Taehyung seems him kick off the crazy boots and wants to laugh at that, but doesn’t think his breathing is steady enough to risk it. He settles for palming Yoongi’s cock through his tight jeans instead, smiling smugly when Yoongi shudders and tries to push Taehyung’s legs apart.

Taehyung huffs out a breath as he lets himself fall backward onto the mattress, Yoongi crawling over to straddle him. He thinks he should say we should talk about this but then Yoongi’s knee presses softly into his crotch, and Yoongi’s hands are running up his sides and over his stomach, untucking Taehyung’s dress-shirt from his pants as he goes, and Taehyung likes it too much to get him to stop. Fuck talking, anyway. Maybe this is how they work. And that’s okay with Taehyung—more than okay—as long as Yoongi’s made it clear that he isn’t playing games.  Taehyung breathes out instead, shakily, and runs his own hands up Yoongi’s spine and then down again, squeezing his thigh, working gently at the button of his pants until it comes free.

And then Yoongi rolls him over to get his shirt off his shoulders, and Taehyung winces as he feels something hard and cold beneath him.

“Fuck, I think I just flattened Porn Star.”

Yoongi laughs quietly in his ear. Taehyung feels Porn Star moving softly somewhere beneath him, close to his belly, body cold and wriggly as it tries to climb up the mattress. Its funny pink light spreads vibrantly outward from somewhere in the near proximity of his nipples.

“Porn Star might be interestingly experimental as a sex toy,” he muses, watching the light, and Yoongi gives a little groan and bites lightly at the back of his neck. “Depending on if he can fit.”

“Do you want to try?” Yoongi asks, and Taehyung looks around at him in alarm. Yoongi smirks back at him and kisses his mouth again. “Thought not.”

Yoongi’s fingers are surprisingly, blissfully cold when he gets his hand down Taehyung’s pants. Taehyung drags his blunt nails gently down his back, whimpers at the finger lazily rubbing circles on the head of his cock. Taehyung closes his eyes and presses his face sideways against the mattress until he can’t take it,  his skin on fire and the breath leaving his chest harshly. He shoves his hips upward and is met with Yoongi rolling down on him and— oh, okay—this is a good idea.

A little moan tumbles out of Yoongi as he grinds down on Taehyung, his lips moving to suck a mark on Taehyung’s shoulder.  He pushes Taehyung’s pants and boxers down, and the logistics is unwieldy and weird and Taehyung starts being slightly concerned about the bed creaking too much under their weight as they struggle to manage. But then Yoongi’s denim-clothed crotch is rubbing hard down against Taehyung’s bare dick, and his back nearly arches off the bed in response.

Shit,” he gasps, eyes widening, and Yoongi pulls back up to stare at Taehyung, gaze dark and hungry.  Taehyung’s stomach does a backflip. He rolls down again, and Taehyung grabs wildly at the stupid starfish sheets for something to give his nails to do. Porn Star buzzes softly somewhere by his shoulder. Yoongi ruts quietly against him until Taehyung’s breathing goes wild and erratic, nothing more than clenched little whimpers as his head spins from the stimulation.

“Sit up,” Yoongi says, and uses the momentary lull to get rid of his own jeans. Then his thighs are warm against Taehyung’s own and he’s sort of got Taehyung pinned against the garish oyster headboard. A pleasant shiver runs through Taehyung’s body as Yoongi’s fingers—so cold, always, and maybe Hoseok’s hibernation jokes makes a little bit of sense now—press hard into his hipbones.

“No lube,” Yoongi says, tongue curling hot against Taehyung’s jaw, “’Coz this, of course, is not a real love motel.”

Taehyung swallows. “I’m sure we c-can make it w-work,” he stammers, trying to keep his voice steady as Yoongi’s hands flutter lightly over his inner thighs.

“Hmm,” Yoongi says, and wraps his hand tight around Taehyung’s cock. Taehyung breathes out slowly as his hand travels once up and down his length, pumping lightly, fingers growing slick on the downward stroke. “Sure we can.”

Taehyung throws his head back, gasping, and presses his skull hard into the foam of the oyster shell. He thinks vaguely of how weirdly sexual oysters really are, but then Yoongi circles his slit with a finger again, and whatever coherent thread that thought belonged to vanishes like smoke in the wind. He breathes instead, stuttered and shaky, a moan catching in his throat, pressing his lips together because fuck, this is a set, and the walls are all fake, and what if someone’s around?

Hyung,” he whines, even as he bucks his hips helplessly against the flick of Yoongi’s thumb at the head of his cock. “Is this—would you say—this place is p-public?”

“I don’t know,” Yoongi says, coolly, firming his grip around Taehyung and grinning at the unstoppable shudders that ripple through Taehyung’s body, “Do you want it to be?”

Taehyung vaguely remembers the last time, Yoongi asking him what he liked, a little grin in his voice like he wanted Taehyung to say something kinky.  “Maybe,” he whispers, biting his lip, thinking of the impermissibility of it, the quiet thrill of getting away with it.

Yoongi smiles and kisses him, the tip of one finger dipping lightly into his slit, and Taehyung thinks he fades out for a moment with how his body burns and his head spins. He thrusts up hard into Yoongi’s hand, clawing unconsciously at Yoongi’s thigh, mouth falling open as he tries to breathe. Yoongi licks into his mouth and Taehyung feels himself tighten up, the fiery cold of bright, white pleasure starting from his toes and whiting out everything, all nerves blaring and spine pulling taut.

“So pretty, Tae,” Yoongi purrs in his ear, and in his sand and velvet voice it’s just rough enough that Taehyung wants to scream. Instead he takes deep gulps of air, head pressed back so hard against the foam oyster that he thinks he might end up plowing through it and knocking the facade wall behind it to the ground. He doesn’t last for it, though, jerking hard and fucking up into Yoongi’s tight fist as he spills, a loud moan vibrating through him.  Yoongi shushes him, saying something about guards, but he laughs anyway and pumps Taehyung right through the waves of pleasure crashing through him, until everything is a blur of static and dizziness and Taehyung whines to try and get away.

Taehyung registers vaguely through the buzzing in his head and the boneless tingling in his limbs that Porn Star has stopped moving.

“He died,” Taehyung whispers, no context whatsoever, and thinks he’s lucky that Yoongi seems to understand what he means. “Killed by scandal.”

“Rest in peace, Porn Star,” Yoongi rumbles, shoulders shaking as he runs his fingers wetly over Taehyung’s stomach. “Sole witness to the set tour that wasn’t.”

“Yet,” Taehyung says, ominously, and Yoongi nods.

“Yet. I definitely think there are some guards around somewhere.”

Taehyung slowly peels himself off the foam oyster to tighten his hands in Yoongi’s hair, sucking a kiss into his collarbone as he rolls them around to climb on top. He holds Yoongi’s wrists to the bed until Yoongi seems to get the idea and folds his arms behind his head instead, leaving Taehyung free to press his lips to the skin of his chest, flick his tongue lightly at his nipple, his own hands running lightly up Yoongi’s sides as he licks a stripe down Yoongi’s stomach.

“Poor Porn Star,” Taehyung says, shimmying down to start kissing the insides of Yoongi’s thighs, “Missing half the show.”

“Yeah?” Yoongi says, quietly, and then groans rough as Taehyung sucks lightly at the underside of his cock. “P-Pity.

Taehyung hums in response, just as he wraps his lips around the tip, swirling his tongue playfully. Yoongi pushes his fingers into Taehyung’s hair but doesn’t tug, just lets the strands fall through his fingers as Taehyung swallows lightly around him. Yoongi’s breaths sound short, a choked groan escaping him as Taehyung sucks all of him into his mouth. His hand in Taehyung’s hair curls tight, and Taehyung looks up, watching him get worked up as he tries very hard not to thrust forward, thighs tense and panting a little.

“Oh, fuck,Tae, your mouth,” he mumbles, dark eyes hot on Taehyung’s face, and Taehyung hums again, pleased. He hollows out his cheeks and Yoongi tips back into the mattress with a low moan, delicate furrows appearing between his eyebrows when Taehyung pulls off to breathe. He pauses only to grin once at Yoongi, knowing he probably looks a state with his swollen mouth and wrecked hair. He catches Yoongi’s hungry gaze before he dips back to lick a thick, slow line up the shaft and take it back into his mouth again.

Yoongi moans a soft little curse and bucks his hips lightly up. Taehyung looks up at him, nodding, and the fist in his hair tightens again to hold him in place. The sting of it only reminds Taehyung to swallow harder around Yoongi’s girth, and the reaction he gets is instantaneous—shallow, staccato thrusts as Yoongi gasps for air raggedly. His forehead is all creased up, back arching so fucking pretty, and Taehyung swirls his tongue around the head again, barely gasping when Yoongi grabs at his hair to buck into his mouth again. He tries to spit out a garbled little warning to Taehyung when his thrusts gets more erratic, but Taehyung just grips his hips and keeps sucking, mouthing messily along the length as Yoongi’s face finally crumples with pleasure, teeth catching on his lower lip as he spills into Taehyung’s mouth.

F-fuck,” he says, wide-eyed as Taehyung swallows and keeps teasing, until he thrashes and kicks lightly at Taehyung’s ankle. The hand in Taehyung’s hair finally relaxes as Taehyung pulls off to rest his head against the top of Yoongi’s thigh. Yoongi’s chest rises and falls rapidly, his breath still hitching in his throat, but his fingers brush soft up Taehyung’s cheek, rubs warm circles on the top of his head.  And it’s just that for a while, the quiet, just their breathing and the sweat on Taehyung’s skin cooling as he tries to keep his eyes open.  Eventually,Yoongi reaches out to pull him close, rolls him over to kiss his forehead and keeps his lips there a long time.

Taehyung rubs a hand up his arm. “What now?”

“Hmm? God, I don’t know.”

Taehyung lies there with his face buried half in Yoongi’s neck, his mind a riot now that the post-sex buzz is beginning to fade. What are they going to do? He thinks talking is supposed to be on the menu, judging by the serious set of Yoongi’s eyebrows as he raises his head to look at Taehyung, but he only ends up smoothing a finger over Taehyung’s cheekbone without saying anything at all. It’s easy enough to be caught up in the lull of it, with the shared heat of their bodies and the pleasantly messy tangle of their legs and the starfish bedspread. Easy enough to believe that there isn’t a time limit to this; another looming deadline to flee into another fucking country.

“I’m sorry I have to go,” Yoongi says, and sounds like he means it. He kisses Taehyung hard enough to bruise, and Taehyung sighs. There’s a lot in Yoongi’s smile, a wry sort of sadness, hope, a bit of happiness tucked right at the corners.

Taehyung takes his chances. “Maybe stay for a bit longer?”

Yoongi looks terribly conflicted. His gaze is honest, fingers gentle as they brush against Taehyung’s lips. “I don’t know how to do this.”

This. This, their mouths perilously close to saying all the right words but pulling back, just a hint. This, Yoongi’s fingers brushing at Taehyung’s hair, gentle and curious. This, the idea of them, perhaps, meeting somewhere in the middle not with barbs and distrust but warmth, bright and brilliant and overflowing.

“I like you too, Tae,” Yoongi says, and Taehyung presses his fingers sharply into his wrist bone. “Like. An awful lot. And I don’t know how to do this.”

“It’s easier than you think.”

“What if I hurt you again?”

“Then we talk, like normal fucking people, and work through it. Or we fight like crazy. Or neither,” Taehyung says, shrugging. “We won’t know if we don’t try. Look,” he sits up, and Yoongi looks away with a loose smile that borders on melancholy. “All I’m saying is— you know how superhero franchises start?”

“What?”

Taehyung tugs impatiently at Yoongi’s hand to get him to properly look up at him. His soft face is blue and purple in the weird mermaid light. “Hyung. Superhero franchises, how do they start?”

“What the fuck, I don’t know. With someone’s parents dying.”

No. With an origin story.”

Yoongi’s mouth quirks. “I have no idea—”

“There’s always an origin story. Before all the big shit happens and the ultimate villain deletes half the people on the planet, there’s the origin story. And, like, seriously, that’s where we are, okay? We’ll deal with all the shit when it comes to it. Right now we just, um. We need to find our sea legs first.”

Yoongi ponders this for a second, eyebrows furrowing. “Are you seriously comparing us to…what? The day after Peter Parker got bit by a spider?”

“Those are the coolest parts of Spiderman movies,” Taehyung says, earnestly. He’s aware that his brain is tired and throwing shit at him, but he feels pretty warm and nice and this all makes sense, he swears. “But yes. Yes, we’re exactly at the point where confused teenage Spiderman tries to do tricks with his webs and eats concrete instead. Or we could be. If you want it to be.”

“Fucking metaphors,” Yoongi says, but then his face contorts in a laugh. Taehyung beams, feeling a strange surge of accomplishment now that Yoongi’s looking at him less like he wants to study all of Taehyung before he bolts. Now that Yoongi’s tentatively, gingerly calling them us. “Come here.”

Taehyung plops back down next to him, nuzzling quietly at his neck. “Can you screw Spain over?”

Yoongi sighs.”No.”

Then he hesitates for just a moment before his fingers come back to rest against Taehyung’s skin, the nape of his neck, his hair. His hand lingers in Taehyung’s hair for a long, silent while, and Taehyung lets his eyes close, warm and comfortable with Yoongi’s breath fanning hot over the top of his head. He doesn’t really want to sleep, thinks he might probably wake up alone again if he does, that Yoongi might probably judge it too hard on the both of them to drag Taehyung alone to the airport. But sleep crawls thick over him like a blanket anyway, and he wiggles around to look at Yoongi as long as possible, the lines of his face made softer without the heavy cloak of his grumpy pretense, younger somehow with the crooked smile still on his lips.

This is Yoongi, without performance, and it sets wild joy whispering in Taehyung’s heart.

“I hope those fucking guards find us,” he whispers. “Because otherwise I might think this is a dream.”

He thinks Yoongi says something in response to that, or just laughs, maybe. The sound of that laugh is a dark, rolling thing and Taehyung drinks it up like an anesthetic.

He closes his eyes.

***

This time, when Taehyung wakes up, it is to the dregs of fading warmth and vicious, cold longing stabbing right through his chest.

He gasps, sitting up, confused with his hair sticking to his face and his heart galloping, automatic tears pooling in his eyes as he tries to think through his disorientation.

Fact: he’s in the love motel set. Fact: he fell asleep here with Yoongi, and now Yoongi isn’t here. Fact: his jacket is, draped halfway over Taehyung like something of an apology.

Hypothesis: Yoongi lay awake battling a mess of conflicting thoughts before he decided on Spain.

Taehyung lands back on his back with a soft groan, stubbornly blinking back tears. He feels…abandoned. Distraught. He’s always felt this way, like every person he loves is just out of reach, like there’s a wired fence between him and them that he could never cross. He’s always felt that he was unlovable, unwanted by his parents who squabbled and tore at each other, unwanted by his relatives, too quiet and odd and angry to fit in easily anywhere he goes and—

Wait.

What?

Taehyung turns around, frowning as he presses his face into the pillow. This isn’t right. His mom is a sweetheart with the nicest smile, who dotes on him and sends him strawberry preserves every second month. His dad is just like Taehyung, excited about engineering and growing weirdly shaped cacti in his spare time, always starving for physical affection and adopting stray dogs. His relatives all call him Taetae and bring him presents every time he’s in Daegu, because he’s their bright, big-mouthed, scabby-kneed kid who lives all the way out in Seoul doing some business they don’t understand.

He doesn’t feel unwanted. He hasn’t felt like a misfit in a long time, not since he found Jimin and Jungkook and the niche of vintage that’s worked so well for him.

Taehyung scowls again and rolls back around, misery pooling in his gut. Why did he have to push away everything that was good? Why couldn’t he just make an effort? But he was scared, scared of getting used to this, scared of having and being able to hold only for the things he loved to be ripped away from him—

“No, no,” Taehyung mumbles, sitting up. The jacket falls off him, and he picks it up, curls his fingers into the material, not understanding.

Then it hits him.

The leather whispers.

Oh, how the leather whispers.

His head feels full of it—the cold, sharp zing of pain held tight to the chest like a jewel; of loneliness so deep and rooted that it would feed on nothing else. Of sarcasm wielded like a knife in self-defense, and empty anger that means nothing. Of love and hope, complete and uncomplicated, held at bay with walls so high and tight nothing could get through.

Taehyung chokes back a sob. He holds onto the soft material and crawls out of bed, nearly trips over himself in his hurry. He looks around for his clothes and spots them at the corner of the mattress, folded lovingly at a corner where his sleep-kicks can’t reach them, and feels a pang in his heart that’s all his own. He manages to pull on the boxers and pants, ditches the shirt for just the whispering jacket, and is using speed-dial to call Jimin even as he does the few silver buttons.

Jimin’s voice sounds sleepy. “Taehyungie? It’s like. Four thirty.”

N-need you to pick me up,” Taehyung gasps out, a little sniffle escaping him. He can hear Jimin inhale sharply on the other end. “P-please, I—”

Where are you?

“Studio.”

I’m coming. Hold on.

Taehyung’s bouncing from foot to foot and running his hands through his hair by the time Jimin’s car pulls up at the entrance of the studio. He throws himself into the shotgun seat before Jimin can even open the driver’s side door. Jimin just looks at him, pale and worried, one hand on the ignition, like he’d been thinking of turning it off.

“Go, go,” Taehyung says, gasping. “Airport. Please.”

“What in the—”

“I’ll explain. Jimin-ah, please.”

Jimin presses his lips into a thin line. “His flight is at six, so whatever you’re thinking of—”

Please, I have to try.”

Jimin sighs. Then he shakes his head and presses down on the gas, and Taehyung curls up in the seat with his fingers still clenched tight into the jacket. He tries Yoongi’s phone once, twice, but it goes straight to voice-mail. He settles for stubbornly staring at the road.

“You’re freaking me out,” Jimin says, in a voice just barely south of wobbling. “What happened? Why are you wearing his jacket?”

“I can’t let him run away again,” Taehyung says, gritting his teeth. All the heaviness and sadness that this piece of clothing carries around—has Yoongi been carrying all of the same in his head? Does he really believe that he’s unlovable? Taehyung can point to a whole lot of people who think otherwise, but he knows how brains work. It’s never that easy. Never that simple. These are the kind of thoughts that carve runnels down to the fundamental rock of your soul. They all have their demons, untrue and unwarranted, that they just cannot exorcise. Yoongi’s just feel a lot more potent. “I just can’t.”

Jimin glances at him, worry writ clear on his face. “Taetae, I think—”

“Jimin, I don’t think he wants to go,” Taehyung clarifies, croaking through the lump in his throat. “I know he doesn’t want to go.”

Jimin’s gaze travels from his face to where his fingers are gripping the jacket, and something seems to click. “Oh,” he says. “Okay. It’s not—not one of your bad episodes, though, is it?”

“No. I don’t—I just need to get there.”

He sits very still for most of the ride, mostly because his mind roils with turbulence. Taehyung doesn’t wait for Jimin to park before he’s flying out of the car and towards Departures. Everything feels awful and impossible and lovely and curious. The bright lights of the airport falls across sleek wet asphalt like searchlights looking for something evasive. The leather jacket around his shoulders feels like a piece of dream, a sliver of something bright and imaginary that Taehyung had been allowed to hold. His heart thuds against his chest. Part of it is the way the whispers crawl through him, guilty and soft and afraid to hope. He doesn’t think that’s the cloth alone. Has to be more than that; has to be him, too.

The other part of it is the list of flights that flicker by on the screen, only just slightly visible from the maze of cars and trolleys and disembarking passengers.

He’s looking for a Paris flight.

Out of the three that he can see, craning his head over the hustle and bustle,one is on Final Call, and the other one is already showing status as Departed. There’s a third that’s still boarding, but Taehyung feels his heart begin to sink anyway.

He steps back, scowling, thumbs pressed into the jacket, squaring his shoulders against the heavy weight thick in his ribs. Thoughts and images barrage him. Yoongi, eyebrows furrowed and thoughtful, telling him how Taehyung was stupid for placing his trust in other people. Yoongi, fingers twined with Taehyung’s, telling him he matters. Yoongi, blue-drenched in vague fairylight, asking him what if, what if he hurts Taehyung again, but Taehyung has weighed and dissected and learned a hundred different what-ifs, and he wishes he could tell Yoongi how this is not the one that matters.

His thoughts flicker like lightning, half his own and half propelled by the heaviness of the heart that this jacket carries around in its fibers. The rain cascades down. It’s just the twilight hour before dawn, the blue-warm light of a breaking morning, and Taehyung loves this time of the day usually, loves the way the clouds all silver-up and orange threads gently through the blue. He can’t focus on it today. He moves mechanically from one end of the Departures bay to the other, hoping against hoping for a familiar face, that he might catch hold of a sleeve and grab onto a hand and say stay.

Stay.

Because this is still the origin story, stay.

Taehyung bites his lip hard, trying to push away thoughts of a raging father. An indifferent mother. Hard, callous gazes that offer no warmth. Taehyung pushes away self-doubt and hate and wall after wall raised against person after person. He reminds himself that this is not real, but these whispers are not like the glove at the auction where everything felt like a violent virtual reality game taken too far. This is not real, not to Taehyung, but it is real to someone.

To someone he likes.

Someone he likes an awful lot.

His skin goes cold. He staggers to a bench and sits because he doesn’t trust his legs, and this time there’s no Yoongi to catch him if he falls. People bustle around him, with mounds of luggage and banter and the rustle of their clothes all amplified. He digs his fingers into the side of the bench and breathes.

Why did you have to go? He thinks, and the whispers give him the answer. Because I didn’t think I had any other choice.

The jacket tells him that the world was filthy and profane and messy and unfair. The jacket says survive. Taehyung lets it wash over him because is this not only a fraction, only an infinitesmally small piece of everything that pulls at Yoongi to make him leave again and again? Amplified—yes, true, that’s what his clothes trick does—but the idea that any of these thoughts have ever passed through Yoongi’s head itself is enough heartbreak.

“Taehyung-ah?”

There’s a grounding touch on his shoulder. Taehyung focuses on the locus of warmth that the hand provides and shivers when Jimin slides onto the bench next to him. Jimin’s arms come up around him, pulling him to his chest, and Taehyung gives up and just shudders against him, fighting the wild misery trying to contort his face, staring blankly at the little diamond cross-stitches on Jimin’s sweater.

 Jimin runs his hand up his back, warm and heavy.“You have to take it off,” he says. ‘Come on, Taetae. You have to take the jacket off.”

“No, not yet.”

Jimin sighs. “You’re cold as ice. You’re shaking. This whole trip is ridiculous. Let’s go home, okay? We’ll go home and we’ll try his phone again. Leave a message. This is not the end of anything, right?”

“How—how do you know that?”

“I don’t,” Jimin says, truthfully. “But then who does?”

“I don’t want to lose him,” Taehyung says, and the wind is so strong out here now that it nearly swallows up his words. “I don’t know how to explain it, I just—”

“Ssshh, you don’t have to.”

But he does. He does want to explain how it’s so many tiny moments stacked against each other that makes up the whole picture of them—him and Yoongi; how it’s conflicted and contradictory and paradoxical but here they are; how they bicker and badger each other and speak with weaponized words but still see through each other better than most. He wants to put it into words because only then would the picture come together; wants to talk about it because only then would it make sense why he’s here, in the wind and the cold, waiting around for someone who’s by all means on his way to a place halfway across the world where Taehyung can’t reach him.

He wants to explain how falling for Min Yoongi is like a fucking avalanche—stillness and nothing and then everything—and now Taehyung doesn’t know what to do.

Jimin runs a gentle hand through Taehyung’s hair. “We’re going home now,” he announces. “It’s almost morning. We’re going home, and then we’re going to get waffles for breakfast, and then we’re going to write Yoongi hyung a long email suggesting what an idiot he is, how fucking cute you are, and what he’s missing by running away every time. And we’re telling him to get us some good vintage flamenco shit because god knows ruffles are fucking in and I wanna make some cash off those.”

Taehyung both sniffles and snorts because he isn’t sure if Jimin is being serious. “Tiers,” he says, with a sniff.

“What?”

“Tiered skirts are in, too.”

“That’s my boy.”

It’s impossible to not keep looking back. Impossible to not hope, even as Jimin steers him through the crowd towards the car. Taehyung’s always been a bit of a drama enthusiast, always very quick for his mother to persuade to watch sappy romances with her. He remembers curling up with her to sniffle over dramatic airport reunions and then sigh at the subsequent happily ever afters. It’s not that he’d expected the happily ever after—they’re messy and complicated and they’re going to run against six thousand brick walls before they can even think of assembling any sort of an ever-after—but he wants at least the fucking dramatic reunion now.

He wants it.

He wants it now, so much.

“Come on,” Jimin says, tugging at his hand. Taehyung had barely realized he’d stopped, and now he’s at the very edge of the bay and the car is right here. “Tae—”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Don’t look back again, he thinks. Don’t.

He loses that fight. He’s still hopefully casting glances about as Jimin pulls the car off the temporary parking spot. Still looking for him as Jimin eases it out past the toll gates. Still hoping against heartbreak that he can at least talk to Yoongi once, before he disappears again; that he at least can explain that he understands. He understands—so maybe come back. Maybe not now, not today, not this month.

Taehyung just wants him to know that he can come back. That he won’t disappear like black-moneyed houses or opportunistic mothers. That he will be here, like the halfway quirky side character in every fucking origin story, armed with pompoms or giant Lego models of the Death Star or whatever.

“It’ll be okay,” Jimin says, and reaches to pat his knee.

Taehyung nods. Looks one last time, his gut clenching in pain, rapidly blinking against the stupid tears threatening to escape.

He knew those fucking dramas were lying about the statistical probability of successful airport reconciliations.

***

It’s with a defeated set of shoulders that Taehyung climbs out of the car when they reach Jimin’s place. The upstairs light is on, which means Jungkook or Hoseok or both are awake and waiting for Jimin to return. The light is still hazy outside and Taehyung doesn’t want to impose, not after waking Jimin up at this ungodly hour for a wild goose chase, so he triumphs over Jimin’s protests for him to stay and tells him he’ll meet him for waffles instead. The store is only a few blocks away, and there’s that perfectly awesome couch up there.

He takes the walk through the freezing drizzle, mind still hurtling in the calm light of the early dawn. Winding residential neighborhoods thrum with the first sounds of the morning—water running and pans sizzling, harried mothers hissing at sleeping children, the footsteps of joggers as they pass through the twisting routes. A convenience store clerk curses the weather as he brings out trash-bags. Taehyung pauses to grab a warmed can of milk coffee, folding his fingers around the heat as he approaches their area.

The jacket continues to whisper.

Taehyung sways a little. There’s nothing he would like more than sleep. Blessed, peaceful sleep, for a few hours at least, just so that his thoughts clear up. Maybe he won’t even miss Yoongi that much, once divested off this jacket (who’s he kidding.)

He’s yawning as he unlocks the door and then bolts it from within, sighing as the sea of whispering from the store washes over any specificities. He runs his fingers through his damp hair, shakes it out like a dog, and thinks of his dog. Maybe he’ll go get Yeontan before the waffles thing, and take him on a walk. That might help clear his head.

The bell rings when Taehyung’s on the first stair on his way to the couch.

Taehyung’s breath catches and his blood rushes hot and he’s a fucking idiot to hope.

Still, he clenches a fist into the front of the jacket as he trudges back toward the door.

“Oh,” he says, when it’s open, because it is him. Yoongi, with his backpack on his shoulder and wet hair and a soggy boarding pass still clutched in one hand.

His teeth chatters when he tries to talk. “K-knew you would be here.”

Taehyung nods, not trusting himself to speak.

“Did you—did you come to the airport?”

Taehyung nods again. Yoongi smiles at that, a gentle smile, lashes cast low and his fists clenched lightly against his sides, fingers falling slowly open.

“Saw you,” he says, so soft the wind tears through most of it.

“Why didn’t you—?”

Yoongi’s face twists up a little. “Couldn’t.”

“Okay.”

Light, from some unknown source somewhere to his left, reflects off  Yoongi’s cheekbone, rendering him stark and shadowed and lovely. Taehyung feels an unsettling inside him, a gentle riot, and tries to brush it away. Yoongi’s lashes flutter.

“I didn’t want to come back,” he confesses, reaching out to take Taehyung’s hand, hold it hostage against his chest. “I almost got on that plane.”

Taehyung croaks, “Why didn’t you?”

Yoongi’s smile is a quiet, dead thing, no mirth in it, and his eyes are bright. But his hand at least is warm, and so is the knee that knocks into Taehyung’s shin when he steps up, closer, into the store.

“Everyone fucks up in the origin story,” Yoongi says. “Everyone takes off the mantle of responsibility and throws it away for a while. Natural response, fight or flight. But everyone—everyone comes back, too. They always come back. Always, no matter how scared they are.”

Taehyung nods. “Because that’s what makes it the origin story, isn’t it? The first step into an unknown,” he pauses a moment, thinking, and then says, “I know it’s scary, hyung. I—I understand where you’re coming from. I’m only asking for one chance. One chance to show you that it’s worth it.”

 Yoongi’s hand comes up to touch gently at the leather of his jacket on Taehyung’s body.

“I should be the one asking for chances,” he says, with a wry smile. “Does, uh. Does it tell you things?”

“Yes,” Taehyung says, and presses his lips together. He sees Yoongi’s gaze glance off him and away, and is struck again with how perceptive Yoongi is. “Did you hope that it would?”

“On the contrary,” Yoongi says, and his voice is chaotic. “Hoped it wouldn’t. I just thought you might wake up cold. Starfish sheets only do so much.”

“Pretty chivalrous for someone who runs away so much.”

Yoongi’s face contorts. “Tae, you know I—”

“I know. You came back. That’s what matters.”

There’s something stretched thin in Yoongi’s expression, something painfully hopeful, and he stands with his chin ducked, gaze uncertain, shrugging his shoulders.

“I still want to run. I want to run and keep running. But I’m going to—to try. Like you said, put work into this. Into you. Do you think you’d be…would you be alright, with that?”

 “I’m good with that. You know I am.”

Yoongi touches his fingertips. It seems almost like a question, and Taehyung answers it by not pulling away. “Even if it’s a lot of work.”

“One day at a time,” Taehyung says, biting his lip to hide his smile. Vintage is work—he thinks. Sometimes the clothes that come to the shop are tattered, stained; years worth of yellowing ruining lace, runs in silk, tears in wool and tulle and taffeta. His fingers knows work, and his mind knows patience. It couldn’t be special if it didn’t need work. “One minute at a time. I’m good with that too.”

Yoongi nods. The relief is palpable in the set of his shoulders, in the soft flush creeping over his cheeks. He leans forward, one hand snaking around Taehyung’s back, the other pulling him close, hugging him gently. Taehyung closes his eyes against the first rays of sun, shining off a parking mirror across the street, hands curling against Yoongi’s chest, his own heart warm.

“You know,” Yoongi whispers, “You look like a badass in that jacket.”

“Not as much as you, hyung.”

“True that,” Yoongi shrugs and pulls back a bit. The curve of his mouth is savage and sweet. “You rock the vintage grandpa style the best, though.”

Taehyung stands at the threshold of his store—the slightly messy, miraculous, beautiful dream that he’s made into reality, with a lot of help and a lot of love. He stands there, in the light of the rising sun, looking at this man—messy, miraculous, and beautiful as a dream.

 “Are you crying?”

“What? Huh. Only a little.”

Yoongi holds his gaze, unflinching. “Why?”

“I don’t know, the light is pretty.”

“Weirdo,” Yoongi says, soft. “You know there’s also always a kiss in the origin movies?”

“Yup,” Taehyung says. “But then the love interest gets kidnapped by the bad guys.”

Yoongi groans. “Can you just—just go along with me, for once?”

Taehyung closes his eyes and leans forward, just a little, palms on Yoongi’s chest still and fiercely aware of the thump of his heart beneath his fingers. Yoongi chuckles a bit, and then his lips are warm on Taehyung’s, the slide of his tongue hot and wet against Taehyung’s mouth.

He feels bigger than his body. Warmer than the sunlight splayed across their skin. He recognizes the galloping happiness that comes from loving something, something strange and difficult and wonderful that also loves you back. The galloping happiness that feels so big, so all-encompassing, that it floods his whole body with the sheer, massive giddiness of it.

“Oh,” he squeaks, when Yoongi pulls away to look at him. “By the way, this origin story isn’t PG 13, okay?”

Yoongi grins, big and gummy and bright. “Nope. It sure isn’t.”

Then he smiles and kisses Taehyung again.

The whispers of the jacket quietens, fades to nothing in the rush of blood in Taehyung’s ears. He thinks, with luck and love, that they might really fade away, become nothing.

He thinks he would love that. He knows Yoongi would love that.

Taehyung could get used to this.