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if not, winter

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Jeongguk plucks one of the flower sprigs out of the vase on the café table and brings it to his nose.  Honeysuckle.  It's calming, but underneath the sweet he can still smell the stale of the air and the cigarette smoke of the city and the lingering unpleasantness of the day.  Jeongguk inhales deep, presses his nose close.  The flower smells like summer.  He wants it to be summer.  Or to be winter but not the way winter is here, the way winter was at home. 

In the city, winter is mostly grime.  It’s shades of grey and brown and air filled with grit, snow you can’t smell, slush that’s dirty, ice that’s hidden, bitterness right down into your bones.

Winter at home is blankets.  Pure white.  Smoke painted like clouds on the sky and clouds painted like cotton.  His mother’s cooking and mugs of steaming tea. 

Winter at home is warmth. 

Winter at home is warm and winter here just feels cold, a spiteful cold, the kind that bites and tears at you with its teeth.  

Jeongguk is tired of winter and being cold and he is behind on his classes and overwhelmed with his extracurriculars and sick of bitterness, keeps trying to offset the bitter chill of the wind and the bitter pit of his stomach with sweet sweet sweet that doesn’t seem to stick. 

He puts the honeysuckle on the table next to his textbook and cradles his mug instead, but the porcelain is lukewarm and almost clammy.  If feels like holding hands with someone who is very ill.  The coffee he drank to try and stay awake coils in his stomach unpleasantly, he tastes it at the back of his throat.  He releases the mug, lays his head down on his books, and breathes.  Memorizes the lines of the flower petals because he doesn’t want to close his eyes. 

While he waits for Yoongi to arrive he pretends that he’s warm.  Pretends that it’s summer.  Pretends that its winter at home.  Pretends anything.  Everything. 

“Yep, see you then.”  Yoongi voice reverberates, talking to someone that’s not Jeongguk. 

Jeongguk lifts his head to smile at Yoongi and gets a tired smile in return.  One that is genuine but reaches Yoongi’s eyes only barely, gets stuck on the way there, trapped under his cheekbones, right in the apples of his cheeks. There are circles under Yoongi’s eyes, dark skin that make Jeongguk wants to lift up, tuck himself around Yoongi, let Yoongi rest against him.  They make Jeongguk want to kiss the corner of Yoongi’s eyes, kiss the corner of his mouth, rest their foreheads together so they can both breathe.      

He doesn’t.

“Everything okay?” Jeongguk asks as Yoongi hangs up, tosses his phone onto the table, settles onto the couch beside Jeongguk, unbuttoning his coat with a yawn, tugging his hat off and ruffling out his hair.

“Yeah, it was Hoseok.”  Yoongi rubs his eyes and then presses his cheeks with his fingers like he’s trying to force something back inside him.  Jeongguk watches Yoongi’s skin go pale from the pressure and then flush pink as the blood rushes back in.  “I’m going to meet him later.”  Yoongi says, cracking his neck.  “I sent him some tracks I’ve been working on and he wants to go over them with me.”  He unwinds his scarf from his neck with a tug.  It falls between them.  Jeongguk runs his fingers over the rough wool. 

“He didn’t like them?”  Jeongguk asks, unsure. 

“We’re both not sure we like them.”  Yoongi says, then drops his head into his hands with a sigh.

Jeongguk’s mouth tastes like hazelnut coffee and, underneath that, ash. 

He thinks about the casual way Yoongi calls himself and Hoseok we, the way they look together, always seeming to find each other, to stand side-by-side.  He thinks about the way they look leaning in to speak to each other, Hoseok’s black hair mixing pleasantly with the dark chestnut of Yoongi’s, their voices easily intimate, their smiles toward each other always genuine.  Jeongguk thinks of the way Yoongi ducks his head with embarrassed joy whenever Hoseok compliments him.  The way when Hoseok turns away sometimes Yoongi lets his gaze linger, face flushed pale sorbet pink, bottom lip trapped between his teeth, features soft like he thinks Hoseok hung the moon, hung it real careful and maybe just for Yoongi.  

Jeongguk’s never caught Yoongi looking at him quite like that.

His stomach churns disagreeably, and he feels upset with himself, hates himself just a little for feeling something so close to jealousy pressed up  under the surface of his skin. 

Hoseok is Yoongi’s closest friend, one of his oldest friends, and he's always been kind to Jeongguk.  He’d accepted Jeongguk into friendship easily and with no reservations, not even a hitch in his step.  Hoseok is kind and Jeongguk likes him.  Loves him.  Hoseok has never made Jeongguk feel anything less than welcome and accepted and loved.  Hoseok laughs like wind chimes caught in a storm and hugs like warm late-night summer breezes.  Hoseok is important to him and important to Yoongi and a good person, from the crown of his head down to the tips of his toes. 

Jeongguk bites down hard on his tongue as some sort of penance and then nudges Yoongi’s shoulder with his own.  

Yoongi rocks on the couch and makes a soft sound of surprise, turns his head without lifting it from his hands.  When he meets Jeongguk’s eyes he pillows both his hands under one cheek, squashing it up toward his eye.  

“Hi, Jeongguk-ah.”  Yoongi says and smiles a crooked little grin.

“Hi, hyung.”  Jeongguk says back.

Yoongi tilts toward him, nudges him back with a gentle bump of his shoulder, settles pressed against Jeongguk’s side.

“So,” Yoongi says,

“So,” Jeongguk says,

I love you, Jeongguk doesn’t say.  

Those words he keeps inside him, just for a bit longer.  He wants to keep them safe because those words— those words took time to arrive at.  To understand.  Jeongguk wasn’t sure what words he wanted when he first met Yoongi.  He wasn’t sure why his veins felt too small for all his blood and his pulse thudded clumsily under his jaw.  When he understood it wasn't a sudden flash of clarity, a lightning strike, it was a slow sinking. He keeps the words just there, lets them live under his tongue, behind his teeth.  There’s a raw spot where they are, one he worries instead of leaving it be and letting it heal, but he doesn’t mind it so much. 

You get used to things like that, after a while. 

“I know you have to go soon, but not right now, right?”  Jeongguk asks.  “You don’t have to go right now, do you?”

“No, not right now.”  Yoongi says with a gentle look, a smile that curves around the edges of his lips and rests on his cupid’s bow.  “We have plans, right now I’m with you, Guk-ah.”

right now, right now, right now with you

“Right.” Jeongguk whispers, bites down on the smile on his lips. 

It’s too sad.  He can feel the smile would be too sad and Yoongi would know. 

Yoongi sort of knows anyway— his eyes are scanning Jeongguk’s face quick and dark, reading in between the lines. 

“You okay?”  He asks, before Jeongguk can get there, can speak and push the worry away. 

“Yeah,” Jeongguk nods, shakes his head, stretches big, a flurry of actions while he arranges his face, “sorry, just tired and busy, you know.”  He shrugs as he settles a little and adds, “I’m with you right now— so dramatic, hyung.” Jeongguk lets his face relax into his toothiest grin, falls easily into his teasing voice.    

There’s a flicker of uncertainty, hesitation, but Jeongguk tilts his head and scrunches his nose and Yoongi’s eyes change from vaguely questioning to soft amusement.

Jeongguk relaxes. 

It’s nice, to be able to see the different emotions reflected in Yoongi’s eyes, to be able to pick them out careful.  Jeongguk takes a strange pride in it.  He can’t do it every time— Yoongi, like most people, is a whole language unto himself and Jeongguk still sometimes stumbles over words or misses tense switches, but he’s getting better.  

“Okay, okay.”  Yoongi says, concern still in the undercurrent of his voice but fading out, a receding tide.  “You said you wanted to show me something?” Yoongi asks after a moment, a gentle pause where Jeongguk knows he should have spoken but couldn’t come up with the words. 

Jeongguk nods and turns, digs through his bag to take out his notebook, flips until he finds what he wants.  He holds it close to his chest for a second.  It’s Yoongi, and Jeongguk trusts Yoongi, but—  

Jeongguk doesn’t like to show people these things.  These half-finished things, these I’m not sure about this things, these exposed bits of him that shiver in the open air.  

Jeongguk looks at Yoongi’s gentle hands resting easily by his scarf, the long taper of his fingers.  He thinks of the way those hands feel on his wrist, feel brushing his hair back from his forehead.  He thinks of the way they look holding onto mugs and pens and hands and hearts and he knows that Yoongi will be gentle with what Jeongguk gives him.  He knows this. 

He knew this. Yoongi doesn’t hold out his hands, never does.  He waits for Jeongguk to hold out the pages and then takes them only when Jeongguk is sure he wants to offer them. 

Jeongguk lifts his eyes and Yoongi smiles soft at him.

“Only if you want,” he says, “you know that, right, Guk-ah?”

Jeongguk feels himself still, all the way down to his marrow. 

He gives Yoongi pages filled with potential lyrics, fragments of melodies, things he can't say and can only sing.  All his secrets.  It makes him feel a little dizzy, a little like he’s cracked open his ribcage so that Yoongi can peer into his chest and tug out his heart. 

Yoongi leans forward, hums as he looks over Jeongguk’s heart, peeks into the veins, rubs the blood between his fingers like he’s testing the consistency, like he’s checking to see if it’s ripe for picking.  

He puts it back in Jeongguk’s chest carefully, gentle fingers tucking it into place.  

“This is a really good start.”  Yoongi says, tapping the melody Jeongguk has scrawled across the page, little musical notes that look like they’re dancing. “I like it.” Yoongi says, trailing his bitten finger down to a line, half-scrawled words not about Yoongi.  Maybe about Yoongi.  About this strange full feeling in Jeongguk’s chest, like all his organs are too big, made of flowers full-blooming. “This part in particular, these lines, Guk-ah, this is really good.”  Yoongi smiles, gummy and honest and wide and—

Jeongguk feels like he’s swallowed a shooting star, feels like falling petals, feels like melted honey, feels like summer, like winter in Busan.

Feels warm.

 

 

 

Soon comes later but sooner than Jeongguk would like, Yoongi stretching and sighing and pushing himself to his feet with a grimace, a hand tousling Jeongguk’s hair, a soft little crinkled smile that he reserves for late nights and early mornings, sweet and heart-breaking as a kiss.

“You sure you don’t want to walk with me?” He  asks again but Jeongguk gestures at his books, his notes, his now-cold half-drunk coffee.  “Right,” Yoongi murmurs, “good luck with work but make sure you get some sleep, Gukkie.  I’ll see you Thursday for dinner, yeah?”

“Yeah.  Bye hyung.”  Jeongguk whispers.

Jeongguk sits for a minute after Yoongi leaves and then shoves everything into his bag, not caring much if things are organized, if things get smashed, if his pages of notes and lyrics gets wrinkled.  He feels wrinkled.  He feels half-torn. 

He feels silly for feeling that way.  

When he steps outside the air is so cold it smacks against his face like someone’s hand.  It’s a good kind of cold, not because it hurts but because everything smells clean.  Bare. He burrows his chin into his scarf and pulls his fingers to his mouth to warm them as he waits to cross the street.  His hands smell like Yoongi— the air after a storm and bright fresh citrus.  Jeongguk presses his fingers closer to his mouth, his nose, breathes warm on them, tries to shake it off, convince himself he’s making it up— there’s no reason for his skin to smell like Yoongi. But it does. 

Every inhale, it's there.  Yoongi's there.

Jeongguk shoves his hands into his pockets and jogs the rest of the way home, face tucked into the folds of his scarf.

When he’s home, after he’s waved hello to Jimin and Taehyung and danced around their questions, explained the wind had made his eyes water, laughed at their stories of their respective days, promised them that he’s just busy-busy-busy but he’ll get good sleep tonight— if they let him go work, that is— he drops his bag on the floor and runs his hands through his hair, frustrated with himself and the words he can’t say and the fact that he knows it’s not that he can’t say them but that he doesn’t.  He doesn’t because they would change everything and he doesn’t want things to change.  He doesn’t want Yoongi to be careful with him, consideration so kind it would feel like pity.

His hands still smell like Yoongi.  He swears it. 

He goes to take a shower, a long one, so that he smells like soap and nothing.  So that his skin is his again.  Empty space.  

He bundles into his warmest pajamas and opens his computer, pulls up an assignment for art history that he should have started last week but hasn’t even looked at yet.

Using the course readings and other appropriate sources please write a five to seven page paper discussing the concepts and intersections of: love, sexuality, and eroticism in Klimt and Schiele’s works.

Jeongguk thinks of gold leaf, bright colors and strong shapes, delicately closed eyes, heavy lidded open ones, expanses of skin that’s toffee cream colored usually but turned pale with the damp winter sun.  He thinks of stark veins, the delicate bones of wrists, the way Yoongi’s tongue flicks out to wet the center of his lips while he’s thinking.

Jeongguk rubs his eyes, tries again.

Using the course readings and other appropriate sources, discuss the concepts of love, sexuality, and eroticism

He thinks of the female form, the male form, the form of Yoongi’s body— his broad shoulders, his surprisingly small waist, his study but thin legs, his almost fragile ankles, the lines of his bones jutting through his skin.  He thinks of the curve of Yoongi’s jaw, how it moves when he speaks.  He thinks of Yoongi pulling off his shirt to get ready for bed, the lines of his ribcage, the dips and dents on the small of his back, the way he tilts his head as he turns back and continues to talk to Jeongguk, you spending the night, right gguk-ah? or you want me to call you an uber or something?  Yoongi’s big bed warm, his sheets soft, Yoongi so close and so far away all at once, mouth pursed as he sleeps, eyelids fluttering with thoughts Jeongguk is not privy to.

Using the course readings and other appropriate sources,

He thinks of the way Yoongi laughs from somewhere low in his chest and high in his throat all at the same time.  He thinks of the way he feels pride tingle down his spine when he makes Yoongi laugh.  He thinks of Yoongi’s voice, the way it feels like drinking ice cold water on a too hot summer day, the way it churns something low in Jeongguk’s belly.

Using other appropriate sources—

He thinks of the lingering heat of Yoongi’s touch, of Yoongi’s fingers, the feeling like after being burned but before running your skin under cool water.  He thinks of the feel of Yoongi’s skin under his fingers, his lips, the joking kisses Jeongguk’s pressed to Yoongi’s cheeks to see how bad he can hurt himself before he caves. 

—discuss the concept of love.

He thinks of the way Hoseok pulls Yoongi into hugs, like touching Yoongi is the most natural thing in the world. He thinks of how easy Yoongi goes, how Yoongi’s shoulders relax under Hoseok’s hands, how Yoongi throws himself onto Hoseok’s lap like he belongs there, sinks back against Hoseok’s chest.  He thinks of the curve of Hoseok’s arms around Yoongi’s waist, the way Hoseok holds him loose but close. 

Discuss—

He thinks of the special smile that Yoongi has for Hoseok, reserves for Hoseok, just for Hoseok. 

(He thinks of the one Hoseok has just for Yoongi.)  

—love.

No, Jeongguk thinks curling up on his desk chair, no, I don’t want to. 

He goes on Instagram for a distraction but Hoseok has posted a picture of him and Yoongi in the studio.  Hoseok’s chin is hooked over Yoongi’s shoulder.  It’s probably Jeongguk’s imagination, but Yoongi’s eyes don’t seem so tired.  They're smiling.   Yoongi smiles so big when he’s with Hoseok that it’s a little dizzying.

Discuss—

They’re holding hands, Hoseok’s arm around Yoongi, their intertwined fingers resting gently above Yoongi’s heart.

—love.

Jeongguk feels a strange sort of unmooring, a gentle rocking in his veins and something deep in his belly twists, making him feel almost a little nauseous. The caption for the picture has no words, just a heart.  He turns off his phone and puts it down harder than he means to, misjudging the distance to his desk. 

It's silly.  He's being silly. 

Yoongi's just so gentle.  Smart.  Fierce.  Always treats Jeongguk with such kindness.  He never never showed that sort of interest in Jeongguk, not the sort of interest Jeongguk has in him— Jeongguk just let himself read into things when he wanted to, because he wanted to, but Yoongi never— 

Jeongguk knows this.  Knew this.  Knew there wasn't anything there, not on Yoongi's end at least.  

He knew that.

He did.

Just.

Jeongguk wanted— 

Wants— 

He pulls his hood up and tugs the strings a little, sits in the quiet for a moment before he decided he doesn’t want to be alone. 

Taehyung and Jimin are on the couch, Your Name on the TV.  They don’t say anything in particular and neither does he, but they shift to make space for him, let him lean against them the same way they always do, Taehyung tucking the blanket around Jeongguk’s feet, Jimin rubbing his shoulder gently.

When Mitsuha tumbles down a hill, opens her hand slowly, Jeongguk blurts out—

“I think Yoongi-hyung and Hoseokie-hyung started dating.”

“What,” Taehyung says with a start, “wait, what?”

Jimin fumbles for the remote, hits pause, the words on Mitsuha’s hand frozen on the screen.  Jeongguk stares at the letters hard.  He timed that a little too well.  He doesn’t want to look at this.  He reaches for the remote, hits play.

“On Instagram they posted—” He says, at Taehyung and Jimin’s insistent stares, tracking the movie on the screen behind them, not sure he wants to meet their eyes, not sure he can without crying and that’s silly, there’s no need to cry.  “They— I think they’re—”

“They post pictures together a lot.” Taehyung offers, cuddling in closer as Jimin scrolls on his phone, eyes intent.  “They—”

Jimin sort of stills, enough to cut Taehyung off, and hands the phone to Taehyung over Jeongguk, screen facing down, out, like he doesn’t want Jeongguk to see.  It sort of makes Jeongguk want to laugh.  It sort of makes him want to cry.

Jeongguk leans into Taehyung so that he can see too and they look together, Jimin tilting over as well after a moment, resting his head on Jeongguk’s shoulder. 

They look at Hoseok and Yoongi and their interlaced hands and the little heart and Yoongi’s bright smile, Hoseok’s gentle happy one. 

“Oh Jeongguk-ah.” Jimin says, pressing his hand to Jeongguk’s hair, which is sort of what it takes for Jeongguk’s heart to finish cracking, just a little, just a little tiny bit, just a chip, but it hurts so bad that he wants to open his ribcage to take it out.  Put it down on the table.  Get it away from him.

“Sorry.”  Jeongguk gets out, eyes brimming over.  “Sorry, m’sorry.”

Taehyung puts the phone down, cuddles into Jeongguk’s side.

“Sorry.”  Jeongguk says again, “sorry, this is so—I’m sorry.”

“No.”  Taehyung says. 

“If it helps,” Jimin says, “we hate him.”

“Hate him.”  Taehyung confirms.  “Vehemently.” 

“You don’t hate Yoongi-hyung.”  Jeongguk gasps, feeling gross and runny, tears making his face sticky and flushed.

“Yes, we do.”  Taehyung answers instantly.  “Of course we do— he’s the worst.”

“Absolutely the worst.”  Jimin confirms, brushing Jeongguk’s hair out of his eyes with tender fingers.  “Horrible.”

“Why?”  Jeongguk sniffles.  “Because he made me sad on accident?”

“I mean, for starters, yeah.”  Jimin says shifting, throwing his legs of Jeongguk’s lap and squeezing his thigh comfortingly.  “He’d probably even agree that makes him the worst.”

Jeongguk laughs wetly, presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and tries to breath.

“Once, for a secret santa,” Taehyung says, “he gave me a life-size poster of him from one of his underground shows back in the day, like, before he had style?  It was terrible, and he thought it was so funny.  He laughed for like three solid months and I was in the dorms and my roommate was like emotionally scarred.”

“I was Taehyung’s roommate and I confirm the emotional scarring.  I woke up to go to the bathroom once and thought someone had broken in and screamed and they evacuated our hall and it was really embarrassing.”

“Why did you hang the poster up?” Jeongguk chokes out, curling into their warmth, sinking low on the couch so that Jimin can scratch the crown of his head, run fingers through his hair; so that Taehyung can press his nose into Jeongguk’s neck, his cheek, his shoulder.

“Because we’re not rude Jeonggukie, and it was a present.”  Taehyung says, like that should be obvious.

“Oh!”  Jimin gasps, “oh and also, when Yoongi-hyung laughs he sounds like a dying, like, badger or something.  A choking badger.  A feral badger choking on badger food.”

“Earthworms.”  Taehyung nods.  “Also, he literally licked a bath bomb once, I was there, he was 14 he should have known better for sure.”

“He high on prescribed medicine tweeted that one time after he got his wisdom teeth out, all those pictures of Holly and that thing about tomatoes and he still claims those are perfectly normal tweets which is a lie and it’s detrimental to relationships, personal and professional.” Jimin adds. 

“Yeah.”  Taehyung agrees witheringly.

“He bought me ice cream when I was sad and taught me how to use the campus laundromat and takes me for lamb skewers and japchae and listens to me talk about music and photography and dance like it’s important to him too and he never tells me I’m too young or that I talk too much or too little and he texts me to make sure I get enough sleep and calls me gguk-ah and yesterday he tried to give me his scarf when I was cold even though he was colder and when he laughs his eyes crinkle up with glee and he has the weirdest sense of humor and never looks me in the eye when he buys me coffee and, when he found out I didn’t even like Americano because it was too bitter, he got mad that I hadn’t told him sooner and bought me white mocha lavender lattes for a month to try and make up for accidentally forcing me to drink something I didn’t like and—”

Jeongguk gives up, curls into himself.

“Jeongguk-ah.”  Jimin whispers, running fingers up and down his arm.

“Oh Jeonggukie.”  Taehyung says, and presses a kiss to the side of his head. 

Taehyung and Jimin curl around him like their warmth can make it hurt less.  It doesn’t really work.  It sort of works.

This is silly.  He feels silly and then feels worse for feeling silly.   

He’s only twenty-one and probably doesn’t know what love and there’s no reason to feel like this, over something that he knew was just a dream anyway and— Yoongi and Hoseok.  Yoongi and Hoseok, they were in orbit about to crash into each other since long before Jeongguk met them, it was obvious from the second he met them.  He knew, of course he did, anyone could see the way they looked at each other.  Jeongguk knew that from the start, I don’t stand a chance, but—

(he still thought maybe he did. could.)

(he just likes Yoongi so much.)

—it just hurts. 

 

 


When Jimin and Taehyung finally relent to Jeongguk’s insistence that he’s cried out, that he’s okay, that he just wants to be alone, that they all need to sleep— Jeongguk curls back up on his desk chair, tucks his toes inside the cuff of joggers, pulls his hood up and chews on the neckline of it.  He puts his phone down, tells himself not to look at it— there’s things he needs to do.

He has things he needs to do. 

He opens his computer and flicks through readings, paintings, lecture notes.  Looks at his blank word document and types the concept of love and deletes it and types love and deletes it and types,

im in love

and looks at it for a long time.

im in love and he is too

He reaches for his phone, thumbs it on, looks at the photo again. 

Takes it in with careful eyes.

Jeongguk knows that Yoongi loves him truly.  Thinks on him kindly.  Would drop the world to come to Jeongguk’s side.  If Jeongguk called right now and said he needed him, Yoongi would show up within the hour, maybe bring Hoseok, maybe find Namjoon and Seokjin and bring them as well, the whole crew assembled because jeonggukie needs us. 

And if Jeongguk said come alone, hyung, please, Yoongi would do that too. In a heartbeat.

But he recognizes the smile on Yoongi’s face.  It’s the same smile Jeongguk has when Yoongi is paying attention to him, captured in countless photographs by Taehyung, disarmingly genuine and hopelessly fond.  He gets it.  He got it before but he gets it now unavoidably.  It’s not that Yoongi doesn’t love him; it’s not that at all.

im in love and he is too. 

He sits with it, the soft sting, the slow ache.  Then he takes a small breath, half an inhale, hits the little heart below the picture and watches it turn red.

just not with me