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___

 

 

 

 

 

“Taehyung.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You mean Kim Taehyung?”

 

“Um. Yes?”

 

Kim Taehyung?”

 

“...”

 

“Kim Taehyung?”

 

Yugyeom is doing the face. Jeongguk knows the face . Sometimes, he thinks he and the face are better friends than he and Yugyeom are. Wide eyes and his mouth getting all squished like he’s this wise all knowing being hiding the biggest secret to the biggest universe. Which. Yugyeom isn’t. He’s as much of a baby faced first year as Jeongguk is. Yugyeom barely knows the secret to get their student housing building’s water heater to work.

Bh

Another student walks by, boots clipping against wood. It echoes in the quiet library. She stares at Yugyeom’s ridiculous face, mild disgust on her face. Jeongguk doesn’t blame her.

 

Yugyeom is undeterred. The face stays the face .

 

Jeongguk sighs.

 

“Yes.”

 

The face somehow becomes more the face , but in the end, as always, Yugyeom doesn’t disappoint.

 

Or well. He does.

 

“Oh. Yeah. Him.” With an almost physical woosh, Yugyeom deflates. He shrugs, pushes Jeongguk’s phone that he’d ripped out of his hand a minute ago back across the table. “Never heard of him.”

 

Jeongguk represses another sigh. At least Yugyeom isn’t doing the face anymore.    

 

His phone buzzes.

 

Yugyeom asks, “Is that the guy from the party? Not-Economics guy? What’s he- a sculptor?”

 

Nose buried in his phone, the question barely registers but it’s funny how he’s subconsciously followed his older brother’s pre-university advice to make friends with people he had things in common with, with people he had nothing in common with, but more than anything to make some friends, any friends, Jeonggukie-ah . Jeongguk studies painting, Yugyeom wants to be a filmmaker slash business mogul. Yugyeom thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to think Hunter x Hunter is the best anime series ever when Cowboy Bebop exists. They both like the extra spicy ramen. They both like staying fit. They both suck at working water heaters.  

 

Jeongguk thinks about how his brother would point out that as his roommate, Yugyeom doesn’t count because only psychos aren’t friends with their roommate but his brother has had the same friend group since he was five so fuck his brother.   

 

He doesn’t think on it at all, really. His tummy is too busy doing that thing it’s been doing whenever his phone pings lately, this hot-cold warmth bleeding into a clench, like his stomach is about to bottom out but never does, a pavlovian response to vibration. Signal receiving signal. Fluttery static. Electricity.

 

It’s a picture of a mountain shaped grey blob. Jeongguk frowns. He brightens his screen, tilts his phone. Second floor library study room light spills over the table and it brings the picture in contrast. It’s a studio. Various potter wheels in the foreground, pieces of tarp, assorted slabs of clay. A clay drenched hand is in the shot, middle finger up. Presumably at the aforementioned mountainous blob.

 

Jeongguk bites his lower lip, the hot-cold fuzzy feeling whooshing through him, a physical thing he thinks he could touch if he pressed his palm to his belly right now. He swipes down to read the accompanying text and there’s no reason for it, exactly zero, but the whooshing thing grows.

 

taehyung

advice you didn’t ask for from a semi jaded 3 year

don’t take the pottery class

they’ll tell you it’s relaxing but it’s all lies

 

Jeongguk laughs. He can’t help it though he’s pretty sure impeccably dressed girl from earlier complained to the library staff about the freshman swearing in the study room.  

 

  

you

i’m sure you tried your best

it looks like something my cousin made in advanced ceramics

 

taehyung

what year is your cousin in?

 

you

the year of being alive for 5 years

she’s very gifted

 

taehyung

:(

my mom really was right

 

you

????

 

taehyung

how beautiful boys break your heart

the most beautiful ones are really witty about it too apparently

 

“He’s a photographer, actually, bu- what?”

 

Yugyeom is doing the face . The other face. It makes less of an appearance but Jeongguk knows it just as well. In the quieter moments. Buying enough ramen for two when one goes to the canteen. Yugyeom holding his hair back the first time Jeongguk drunkenly face planted in a toilet even if there wasn’t much to hold. Every time Jeongguk agrees to help Yugyeom film and Yugyeom agrees to be a life still model. It doesn’t say much, the face, but in its silence it says that Yugyeom’s friendship might matter more than anyone’s.  

 

“You like him. Not like those econ douches. For real.”

 

“I do,” Jeongguk admits because the only ridiculous thing is that the swooping electric woosh feeling is even real, that a person can actually make another feel that way, that Jeongguk doesn’t know if it’s normal for boys to talk about this sort of thing because the few friends he had in secondary school never did. “Or I think I do. I don’t know him that well.”

 

“Since when is knowing someone a requirement for liking them?”

 

taehyung

i’m looking out for you and advising because i care about future you

and now you

especially now you

but future you will thank me someday

 

Jeongguk’s ridiculous gut wooshes so tightly he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a spark at the center of it, hot and electric in the pit of his stomach in the same shape of Taehyung’s kisses. His hands.

 

you

i’m sure he will

 

taehyung

i accept all showings of gratitude

esp effusive ones

 

you

don’t you have to go back to your bad imitation of michelangelo?

 

taehyung

fuck

 

you

what?

 

taehyung

just remembered that michelangelo is the love of your life

am i less impressive now that i don’t stand up to your man?

 

you

only a little

 

A pencil rolls off a desk. Pages rustle. A contraband soda can is opened, metal snapping and pressure escaping. Jeongguk wouldn’t tell. He hunches over his unstudied study materials, shielding his phone as much as he can.

 

His screen stays stagnant and he wonders what’s the line between witty and rude. Snarky? No one’s ever called Jeongguk that before. No one has ever called him witty either. Is there a line and is it less impressive if Jeongguk doesn’t know where it is yet?

 

The speech bubble appears. Jeongguk jolts.  

 

Yugyeom, also not caring about library rules and swiping at his own phone, snorts.

 

Jeongguk hisses at him to shut up , bites on a hangnail.

taehyung

guess i’m going to have to work harder

 

Followed by,

 

taehyung

what are you doing right now?

 

Jeongguk glances at his laptop, cursor blinking. His art history text book is on the same page it has been for three days. Taehyung is a convincing distraction but studying has never been Jeongguk’s strength. Easily distracted, his teachers used to say. Jeongguk thinks that he’s really just about the practical over the metaphysical. Making something over thinking about it. Sit him in front of an easel and he’s home. Drown him in the theory about why he paints the way he does, everything that’s ever happened to art that’s led him to paint the way he does, and his brain taps out. University is supposed to change that and it has. He’s diligent, present, does what he needs to do more than he ever has, but a part of Jeongguk thinks that it’ll just make him more sure. Hands over thought. Hands over everything.

 

you

nothing

 

“Why don’t you just ask him- Oh,” Yugyeom says, voice pitched. “There’s Mingyu. Eh! Yo! Mingyu!”

 

“You’re going to get us kicked out.”

 

“We weren’t studying anyway. Eh, Gyu?”

 

“Yo, Gyeo,” Mingyu greets back. He takes the seat next to Jeongguk, a flurry of papers and pens spilling from his bag, laptop skidding across the table. He tosses a packet of sticky honey candy at Jeongguk. Yugyeom’s bag of dried seaweed hits him in the chest, bounces and lands on his spiral notebook. “What up?”

 

Black stuck to his front teeth, Yugyeom chews, foil crinkling obnoxiously.

 

“Jeongguk is being chill for once so you know what that means.”

 

Mingyu nods like he does. He unearths a glittery and obscenely purple pen from his bag and smacks his computer awake. “Why the chill?”

 

Jeongguk opens his mouth but Yugyeom says, “He’s distracted.”

 

Mingyu arches his brows. It’s easy to imagine how his ears would shoot up if they could. Mingyu isn’t hard to excite. “Oh?”

 

“Yep. He’s obsessing over a g-”

 

Face hot, Jeongguk interjects, “Am no-”

 

“Oh! We should ask Mingyu,” Yugyeom cuts him off. Like there’s a we in all of this. Like Yugyeom is being subjected to the ridiculously ridiculous, ridiculously real, swooping woosh feeling too. “Eh, Gyu?”

 

“Yo, Gyeo?”

 

Jeongguk sighs.

 

“You know a third year named Kim Taehyung? Sculpting major?”

 

“Photography,” Jeongguk corrects, forlorn. He isn’t forlorn because of Taehyung or anything, but because this is happening. This being this conversation. But if it’s going to happen he might as well participate and keep their facts straight.  

 

“Ohhhh.”

 

Mingyu doesn’t have a face but he does have as much of pechanence for drama as Yugyeom does.   

 

Jeongguk squares up for the unavoidable disappointment, and what is there even to get disappointed about, when Mingyu says,

 

“Sure. Who doesn’t?”

 

When all he’s met with is twin gaping faces, Mingyu’s brows touch his bangs, unruly and too long in that way only college aged boys seem to pull off with style. Which is no style. “Serious?”

 

Jeongguk peels a sticky candy apart, soft honey melting on his tongue. Shrugs.

 

Yugyeom adds a shake of his head.

 

Mingyu sighs. He grabs his phone, thumbs flying as he says, “He’s like a freaky prodigy. Freaky because he’s so good and known and stuff. I’m not even in the art department and I know this.”

 

“Film isn’t art.”

 

“Tell that to Park Chanwook.”

 

“It’s not in the art schoo-”

 

Mingyu holds a hand up, dismissive. “There’s all these rumors he’s rich. An heir or a socialite or something but it’s all talk.” Mingyu shrugs. He lays his phone on the table. “Who cares where he’s from when he does stuff like this. This is him, right?”

 

An Instagram page. That fact alone doesn’t mean anything. Everyone has one, both a portfolio and proof of a person’s marketability whether they know it or not. The follower count makes Jeongguk’s eyes widen, Yugyeom letting out a soft fuck , but it isn’t what makes Jeongguk pause. It isn’t what makes him stop Yugyeom’s scrolling, the countless wide lensed landscape shots of city and mountain alike, the explosion of night lights in the brightest colors, the strange almost surreal quality to some of the pictures like they’re both completely fabricated and so real he could reach out and touch them.

 

It’s a black and white portrait of a man in his 30’s. A tattoo spans his neck, intricately detailed vines crawling up his throat and curling around his jaw. The background is out of focus, industrial style walls of a studio. It looks like someone dipped the frame in water, the contrast focused on the man’s face. The vines. His eyes.

 

Jeongguk drags his index finger up the screen. Lands on another portrait. Black and white. Knees hugged to his chest, chin resting on his shoulder, the shot is at an angle. Background all sun, his eyes at the focus. His eyes all dark. The same kind of electric as his hands.

 

Jeongguk says, “That’s him.”

 

“Yah,” Yugyeom says, impressed dripping from his tone. “Our Jeonggukie knows how to pick them!”

 

“Oh. This is him ? The guy ?”

 

Jeongguk almost wants to argue that there is no him . There is no guy . But he already admitted it to Yugyeom, Mingyu already knows.

 

taehyung

can i call you?

 

you

ok

 

His phone starts ringing.

 

“Is that him?”

 

“Oh. That’s him!”

 

His heart is an electric woosh. Jeongguk answers, voice almost inaudible. “Hi- sorry, um. Can you hold on?”

 

There’s a pause. “Sure. Yeah. ‘Course-”

 

And Jeongguk ignores what actually hearing Taehyung’s voice does to his belly and puts him on actual hold and power walks out of the study room, goes down the wrap around hallway and out through the doors to the second level balcony, his friends tittering behind him. He hopes they do get kicked out, just to spite them.

 

The balcony is empty. Jeongguk catches his breath. He wonders if it’s normal for his heart to still be going so fast despite his normally hard to break stamina. Maybe it’s just another one of those things that don’t seem like they should be real but are.

 

His phone screen catches sun glare. He stares at it dumbly for a few seconds, tries to remember what he’s supposed to be doing with it. The screen counts the seconds ticking by and oh. Oh .  

 

“Hi. Um. Hi?”

 

“Hi,” Taehyung says and it’s weird to realize that the deep timber of his voice isn’t the product of late nights and alcohol and smoke. This is just how his voice is, and who said anything about Jeongguk’s life being fair? He can tell Taehyung is smiling. He wonders if him being able to is weird too. “Why are you whispering?”

 

“I’m in the library. Why are you whispering?”

 

“Because you are.”

 

Jeongguk laughs.

 

Taehyung says, “If I caught you at a bad time-”

 

“No! It’s okay. Um.” His face still feels a little red, from earlier, from how not chill he sounds. “It’s okay. I’m outside on the balcony overlooking the- um. It’s okay. I can talk. It’s just me.”

 

“Good. Okay.” Then, “So, I’ve decided I have to save you from yourself.”

 

Jeongguk frowns. He leans on the banister, metal warm. “Oh?”

 

“Yeah. I just can’t have you walking around with Michelangelo as the man of your dreams. I can’t. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

 

“Really?” Jeongguk asks, the unamusement sharp in his voice and unwilling to hide it.

 

And Taehyung can hear it, of course he can, but his smile must be blinding, all over his face. Jeongguk wonders if Taehyung is just oblivious or if he’s just so unashamed, so himself. “Yeah. I mean look what he did to David’s dick.”

 

Um. What.

 

“Um. What.”

 

“Proportions wise. The statue is big to contrast how small David was to Goliath yet he won anyway, right? It’s symbolic. I get it. The head and the hands are larger than the rest of the body. David’s smarts, his cunning, blah blah. I get that too. But the dick. Small scale is generous. Ignoring the obvious inspiration of the dicks of the younger men Michelangelo was in love with. Even then. No way their actual dicks were that small. That dick is a low blow to any guy’s ego And his dick.”

 

Jeongguk blinks. He wants to blame the sun for his reddened cheeks. He doesn’t think anyone has ever said the work dick at him this much. Or at all. Not even the boys whose dicks he’s actually touched.

 

“It’s the greco-roman influence.”   

 

“Oh?” Taehyung asks. His voice lilts, curious.

 

“Y- Um. They glorified young male bodies. As gross as it is that’s, like, how it was to them. Big genitalia, you know, um, dicks, were considered sex crazy. Like, the size of them were the reason men were. It made them unwise. Dumb and stuff,” he finishes. He wonders how ashamed his Introduction to Art History professor would be but, hey, at least some of this college theory thinking about art is sticking to Jeongguk’s brain.       

 

“Hmm.”

 

“Small dicks were, like, dignified. A show of reason and logic. So the reason David won against Goliath was, symbolically, his dick.”

 

A lengthy pause passes.

 

“That’s-” Taehyung’s voice sounds off. Muted. “Yeah. I’m glad David’s ego wouldn’t have been offended then.” Then he goes quiet once more.

 

Jeongguk bites his lip.

 

“Did you call me to talk about Michelangelo and dicks?”

 

“No,” Taehyung says, smile back in his voice. “I mean, yes. But I also wanted to ask you what you’re doing this Friday.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“So...what are you doing this Friday?”

 

Probably going to a party. Out to drink. A show at some tiny club because Mingyu is getting into the underground scene. A late night study group. Some version of all of the above.

 

“Nothing,” Jeongguk says, because of course he does, because the heat in his face has little to do with the sun, because the swooping buzz he’s feeling is very real.

 

“Good. That’s. Uh. Good.”

 

Then, nothing.

 

Jeongguk says, “I-”

 

“Not that it’s good for you to have nothing to do! I meant good for me. Not good for me, I don’t want you to have nothing to do. Not that you don’t have anything to do. I’m sure you do, but like, good for-”

 

And Jeongguk’s belly is all electric, his hands buzz with it but he’s never felt this calm, this not-nervous about something that should make him everything but. He smiles softly. “Taehyung-hyung?”

 

“I- yes?”

 

“Are you trying to ask me to hang out?”

    

“I. No,” Taehyung says and Jeongguk freezes. All the hot gone just cold, and all that stuff about being calm and chill and not-nervous were lies. Not real.

 

His hands feel clammy, his heart does too, and the embarrassment is almost enough for his brain to tap out and why did he ever think all guys like Taehyung aren’t the same?

 

Taehyung takes an audible breath. Says,

 

“I’m trying to ask you if you’ll let me take you out.”

 

And.

 

Oh.

 

Oh .”

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, voice smooth. The roles have been switched again, Jeongguk shaky nervous, Taehyung decidedly not. Jeongguk thinks it’s okay if they alternate between putting the other at ease and jittery fluttery hearted. “I know that’s not how it’s really done. Like, guys- Or just you’re supposed to hang out until whoops , you’re dating-” and wow , nope Jeongguk doesn’t get more jittery-woosh-nervous at that- “But. I don’t know. Blame me still being on American Chicago time. I didn’t want to do that with you. I wanted to ask you.”

 

Every single one of his nerves fluttery-jittery, Jeongguk says, “So ask me.”

 

Taehyung’s voice is all soft buzz, the kind of electricity that’s just light, something good, no hurt, when he asks, “Will let me take you out? This Friday? I mean,” and he laughs a little, and Jeongguk’s belly really goes to town on that, the same floaty frothy feeling from the night Taehyung laughed like that into Jeongguk’s mouth. “Will you go out with me?”

“Okay.”

 

Taehyung doesn’t comment on the immediate response. Seems to smile harder. “Okay. That’s good. Great. Yeah. Okay. Okay .”

 

There isn’t much to say now. Jeongguk talks anyway, tiny smile on his face, Taehyung talking back. But Jeongguk does have to study and then he has studio time, and Taehyung probably does have to get back to his terrible imitation of Michelangelo and his grey clay blob.

 

“I’ll text you where. Unless. I could pick you up?”

 

“No,” Jeongguk says, just as quick because Taehyung anywhere near his bed means not much going out . “I’ll meet you.” Then they say their goodbyes, something lingering about Taehyung’s voice. Jeongguk hangs up first.

 

The whooshing feeling doesn’t stop but he feels lighter than he has all day. Weeks.

 

He turns. Represses a sigh.

 

Yugyeom and Mingyu have moved down the table. They’re up against the window, faces pressed to the glass, similar expressions of anticipation.    

 

Jeongguk shrugs.

 

Mingyu breaks first. He throws his arms up in the air, mouth open. Yugyeom follows soon after with thumbs up, smile bunching up his face.

 

Jeongguk laughs. Their mess is at the other end of the table and there’s no way they’re not getting kicked out but Yugyeom left him some seaweed and Mingyu brought the charcoal pencils Jeongguk forgot at his apartment, one floor above Jeongguk’s, and they count no matter what his brother says. He’s pretty sure about it. Almost as sure about Taehyung too.





___________






The summer Jeongguk was four, his parents painted the house.

 

The summer Jeongguk was four, Jeongguk, also, painted the house.

 

He doesn’t remember why he tipped the paint cans over. Eighteen year old Jeongguk doesn’t remember four year old Jeongguk’s mental processes. The paint looked shiny, pretty. He was left unattended, and Jeongguk wasn’t a particularly difficult child, but he loved attention. He loved being wanted. He loved being loved. Jeongguk loved love and the paint was pretty and maybe he wanted the paint, the colors inside them, to love him.

 

So, he tipped the paint cans over. But this was only after shoving his hands inside of them.

 

“What did your parents do when they came back?”

 

The room is warm.  Candle lights flicker. Everywhere. Like really everywhere. It might be a fire hazard but Jeongguk feels too fuzzy to mind, good kind of light.

 

The glow touches Taehyung’s jaw, the look in his eyes, paints him golden.

“Surprised. Mom was about to start yelling but she says she was too impressed I’d not only managed to knock the paint over but to swirl patterns with it. It looked like the ocean, they said. The beach had an algae infestation that summer.”   

 

Taehyung smiles, the one that makes his mouth look like a square. Jeongguk thinks about the dimensions of it, the shading that would bring out the curve of it. He fidgets, studies the flame dancing in the center of their table, face warm.

 

“I think dad was expecting I’d be some math genius- patterns, you know? But I suck at math.”

 

“Hence the lack of business major.”

 

He nods. “That. But not really. I,” He stops. Wonders if he’s talking too much. Taehyung doesn’t seem to think so, expression attentive and patient and almost too much. Jeongguk sucks in a breath, says, “I really love to paint. I think I loved it since then.” He laughs, neck warm. “That’s silly, huh?”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. “No. It’s not silly. I don’t remember why I wanted to be a photographer. I just picked up a camera because it felt like the thing to do. But like. Why are any of us the things we are?”

 

“Is that how you think of yourself? One of the things you are, I mean. A photographer.”

 

“Sure. You’re a painter.”

 

“I- I don’t think of myself like that.”

 

“Why?”

 

Why ?”

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, easy as anything. He leans forward and the table is tiny so he’s already close but now he’s close , the warmth from all the baby fires everywhere finding Jeongguk’s insides. “You paint. You’re a painter. Even just the way you talk about it, you are. So why?”

 

“I’m too young. I don’t know enough yet. I haven’t been doing it long enough.”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Taehyung states, so matter of fact a part of it infuriates Jeongguk, quick and angry in his belly. In the light, Taehyung’s eyes are almost too dark, intense, and it infuriates Jeongguk in another way, how it doesn’t infuriate him at all. “Look, I haven’t seen your artwork so what do I know, yeah? But it’s like...a singer. A singer doesn’t become one after twenty years and getting a PAK or reaching first voice or whatever at a Roman opera house. He’s a singer because he sings. It’s what he does. He creates with his voice. Singer.” Taehyung drags the last word out. He studies Jeongguk’s face. He sits up. Points. “‘You create with your hands. Painter. Singer of colors, if you will.”

 

Their food arrives. Taehyung gives his thanks, Jeongguk mumbles his. It’s hot and it’s good and just as spicy as he likes it.

 

Jeongguk chews, overcompensates by being too delicate about it. He says, “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

Taehyung shugs. So unconscious about it, the slope of his shoulder rising elegantly, and he’s so attractive and Jeongguk is so easy for it.

 

“Just one way to think about it.”

 

Jeongguk tucks his chin, touches the chopsticks balanced on his ceramic plate. The cloth covered tables give away how bougie the place is but it’s in that way where it hides it, exposed beamed ceiling and brick walls to offset the wallet bleeding sake and the double digit offerings on the menu. Like something from an American movie. Like somewhere Taehyung would have gone during his trip to Chicago.

  

“Are you a socialite?”

 

Taehyung chokes.

 

Jeongguk’s already warm face gets about a thousand degrees hotter, like melted candle wax, like cast iron mail armour circa 300 BC.

 

“Am I a what ?”

 

“Sorry! I didn’t- You got to go to Chicago and this restaurant is really nice, too nice, like, I don’t think I can afford my meal. I’m sorry, but you seemed so excited about it, and-”

 

And Taehyung is touching his hand.

 

It’s a light contact, just his fingers on the back of Jeongguk’s hand, pinky on his knuckle. A calming thing. It works except it doesn’t because Taehyung’s thumb is on his pulse point, the fluttering pitter patter of it. The warmth of Taehyung’s hand makes it worse, a jackhammer, nothing like the careful carving it would take to work marble, to chip away at it until from the rubble the only thing left is a beautiful boy.

 

Taehyung smiles, amused but sweet about it, and beautiful has never seemed like such a flimsy, paper-thin word. “I’m not a socialite.”

 

Jeongguk winces. His hand is so warm. “Sorry. My friends said- dumb stuff. I have really dumb friends. I’m pretty dumb too and I really do suck at math-”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. He runs his thumb in a little circle, makes Jeongguk’s pulse stutter and kick. Makes Jeongguk’s next breath frothy and light. Their hands are close in size but Taehyung’s palm seems to swallow his, fingers soft, and maybe it’s the size of it that generates the kind of gut kicking heat it does.

 

“My parents paid for some of my expenses first semester, but I got a job and take care of it now. School is mostly paid for with scholarships and grants. Had to take out a loan and it’s small but that’s expected now a days, yeah? I got to go to Chicago because I won a fellowship. That’s not me showing off, it’s how I got to go.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I grew up okay but we struggled like most people. My parents are goat farmers back in Daegu.”

 

Jeongguk smiles. “Goats?”

 

Taehyung nods. “Remind me to show you pictures. They’re really cute goats.”

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk says. He wants to see the goats. Whatever Taehyung wants to show him.  

 

“No offense to your friends, but gossip is baseless. Like a sport. Besides, do I look like a socialite?” Taehyung plucks at his button down, dark blue, visibly worn but nice. Stil, Jeongguk thinks yes because Taehyung has that kind of face. Renaissance greats would have killed to paint him. The kind Realists wouldn’t have known what to do with, too busy rejecting every traditional conviction and the unnatural. In their quest for the real, Taehyung’s face is supernatural. The kind of face the only kind of angel it could ever belong to is a fallen one.

 

Jeongguk thinks no too though. Taehyung is too at ease, doesn’t seem to care if his smile is too wide or silly, if his clothes are weak at the seams, if his hair is on the edge of shaggy.         

Cheeks hot, Jeongguk says, “You look like you could make Park Shinhye fall in love with you. With your face. And your money.”

 

“What?”

 

“You know. The drama?”

 

“With Lee Minho?”

 

“Is that who it is? My cousin was obsessed with him.”

 

“But not you?”

 

“Um? No?”

 

“Is that your ideal, then? A rich heir? Lee Minho?”

 

“No. Lee Minho isn’t my type.”

 

“Fuck Lee Minho, then.”

 

Jeongguk laughs. The waiter refilling their glasses doesn’t share the sentiment. He gives Taehyung the stink-eye, mumbling about Lee Minho and all he’s done for the nation before heading to another table.

 

Taehyung stares after him. “Who knew Lee Minho had such loyal fans?”

 

“Anyone with a tv set?”

 

“Ah. That’s the problem. I don’t own a tv.”

 

“That’s pretty anti-capitalist of you. Right?”

 

“Not really. I mean, yeah. But the reason is my roommate knocked it over rearranging the living room for a shoot I was doing. I mean fuck capitalism but we’re really just cheap.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Mhhm. We’re all capitalists anyhow. You and me and everyone we know.”

 

“So then why bother staying alive?”

 

Taehyung furrows his brows, golden light falling in the little divots between. “What do you mean?”

 

“That thing you said. At the party? About capitalism making everyone helpless? And that’s why everyone was so coked out. But fighting to stay alive was the point?” When Taehyung just stares, Jeongguk adds, “You know. Ah-ah-ah-ah stayin’ alive ?”

 

More unblinking staring and Jeongguk kind of wants to die, but then Taehyung smiles. “You remember that?”

 

And Jeongguk almost says something very dumb and young like I remember everything you say .

 

Jeongguk shrugs.

 

Taehyung says, “Sorry. I don’t remember much of that party.”

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk says and now he really wants to kind of die. Feels embarrassed and silly for paying such close attention. He goes to pull his hand away and it makes him realize they’ve been touching this whole time, that he’s barely touched his perfectly spicy meal he definitely can’t afford.

 

“Sorry,” Taehyung repeats, voice light. He curls his fingers around Jeongguk’s but lightly, in case he really does want to pull away. “I have a hard time remembering all the dumb shit I said when all I can think about is the fact that you let me kiss you.”

 

Jeongguk stops. His hand sort of flops on the table, like the muscles have given out, like it has a mind of its own. Taehyung touches the inside of his wrist, the fleshy part of his palm, and Jeongguk swears he feels his skin buzz, and oh , that’s why he hasn’t thought of the swooping woosh feeling in his belly. It’s been doing it all night.

 

He grabs his chopsticks with his other hand. “I didn’t let you kiss me. I kissed you because I wanted to.”

 

“Even though I’m another jerk art major?”

 

“I never said art majors are jerks. That’d mean I’m calling myself a jerk.”

 

Older art majors. Know-it-all’s. Jaded. We’re just mad the world doesn’t give a shit about what we do. S’why we overcompensate.”

 

Jeongguk pokes his lower lip, swallows his noodles. Taehyung is working at his meal slowly, temples damp.

 

Taehyung’s mouth tugs and his voice goes low like he’s sharing a secret. “You have to know whatever they said- whatever, they say to you, is all talk. Bullshit. Just them trying to impress you.”

 

Jeongguk thinks about the things other art majors have told him since he’s been here. Their eyes on Jeongguk’s lips, his straining biceps, the thick of his thighs, the shape of his waist. The books he should read and movements he should look into, the way he could think about art. And it was nice and it was exciting and Jeongguk appreciated it. Until he didn’t. It wasn’t the should or the could , it was the implicit obviousness in it. That one day Jeongguk would get it. How to be a real artist. The thing that disappointed him, the disillusion in older beautiful guys wasn’t being faced with how little Jeongguk knows, how little of an artist he is, but the idea of there only being one way to be one. A real artist. “How do you know?”

 

Taehyung shrugs. He stuffs a child’s sized portion of meat into his mouth. “Because I know those guys. I’ve been that guy. I’m being that guy right now. Jaded but still willing to do anything to impress you. Like it’s the one thing keeping them from being fully jaded.”

 

Jeongguk chews on his noodles, chews on the idea of being the one thing keeping someone from being jaded. The weight of that. Of being put on someone’s pseudo pedestal. A pedestal that’s really just a reflection, younger, inexperienced, eager to know, eager to be. Someone. Someone’s someone.

 

“And I may or may not have insider knowledge.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“For one,” Taehyung says. He leans over his food like he’s done with it, like he wants the excuse to come closer. He thumbs at Jeongguk’s pulse, the delicate skin over his wrist, inconspicuous and hidden from the rest of the diners. “To reiterate, I am that guy. And for two. One of my friends tried to hook up with you.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Taehyung siezes up quickly, too much air, too much spice. “Not that I knew when we- uh. Yeah. That’s not- It really was because you were beautiful and funny and not afraid to tell me off. And hot. I said that. At the party, yeah? Hot isn’t even the word. You’re like that painting Venus. But if Botticelli had painted Apollo. But painted him the way he painted Venus. None of that overly precious masculinity crap. I mean, masculine, yes, but still beautiful. Because there’s no way Apollo wasn’t. So masculine and beautiful. Not despite it.”

 

Jeongguk asks, “How did you realize?”

 

Taehyung relaxes. Looks at their hands. Looks a little amazed by them, still there. Still together. “He recognized you at the party. He’s a tall guy. Older older. Looks like a socialite himself. Actually kind of is one.”

 

Jeongguk tries to remember. The dim slow-beat hallway. Taehyung’s friends, loud and slurring. Someone tall. Taehyung’s hands on Jeongguk’s waist. Taehyung’s hands. Taehyung. “What’s his name?”

 

Taehyung grins. “Minho.”

 

Jeongguk, laughs. “Please don’t tell me it’s Lee Minho.”

 

“Close. Choi,” Taehyung says even though it isn't. He laughs a little. “Still not your type?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head, smiling. He glances at the spice rack against the far side of the table. “He’s not the one I’m sitting across from right now, am I?”

 

Taehyung’s grins widens, this hot little smug thing and on anyone else it would be off putting, the kind of thing that makes attractive faces unattractive, but Taehyung makes it work. Makes it work for Jeongguk. “Good. Minho’s too old. And gross.”

 

Jeongguk tries not to laugh. Fails. “Hyung! That’s your friend!”

 

Taehyung’s smile loses its smugness, less hot more sweet. “Oh, Minho knows. Trust me.”

 

“It’s not weird? Because of.” He gestures between them, tries to say what he means without sounding like a dick. “I wouldn’t want that.”

 

“Minho-hyung’s not like that,” Taehyung says. “He did say you rejected him pretty cleanely. Ruthless, really.”

 

Something like shame drops in Jeongguk’s stomach. “Sorry. I didnt-”

 

Taehyung smiles strangely. “Sorry? For what?”

 

Jeongguk doesn’t even know what he was going to say. He barely remember Minho. The vague outline of him. Too pretty. Too tall. Not old in a real way, but the type of age that makes Jeongguk feel the dangerous type of too young, inexperienced, easy for someone to carve him out, paint his insides, chew him up and spit him back out before he realizes what happened.   

 

He shrugs. Reaches for the spice rack even if it means he and Taehyung are no longer touching. Tells himself its silly to miss it. To feel anything at all about it this early. This now. He pours some sauce on the edge of his bowl. It hits his tongue sweet.

 

Taehyung says, “Knowing Minho? He deserved it. In his defense, he thought you were older. And besides. It made me like you more than I already do.”

 

And Jeongguk is young. He’s inexperienced where it counts. Not in body but in mind. In the easy confident way you tell someone I like you . In the way you say it without touching their mouth. The other kind of I like you . I like you enough to hold your hand.

 

He pushes the sweet sauce across the table until bumps against Taehyung’s bowl. “I don’t think you’re as jaded as you say you are. And I have a hard time believing you say the sort of things your friend probably said to me. And I don’t know. It seems like a lot of people care about the stuff you do.”

 

Taehyung looks at him. At the sweet sauce. Back.

 

Jeongguk lifts a shoulder. Twirls his noodles. “The fellowship and all that. And I stalked your Instagram. Hopefully that’s more flattering and cute than creepy.”

 

Taehyung looks for another few seconds. Half his mouth curls up, all candle light, supernatural. “Let’s be real. Even if you were being creepy I’d still find you cute. And I stalked your Insta too.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Brows arched, Taehyung says, “Hopefully that’s flattering and cute too?”

 

Jeongguk hums.   

 

Taehyung’s eyebrows arch further.

 

“Cute. Obviously cute, hyung.”

 

Taehyung grins and Jeongguk grins back and maybe Jeongguk is too young, too naive, too ahead of himself. Taehyung’s smile grows wider, a last warm touch to Jeongguk’s hand before he reaches for the sauce. But maybe. Maybe despite the fact that he’s two years older, that he’s one of those guys, has been one, still is one sometimes, maybe Taehyung is all those things Jeongguk is too.

 

“So, the other thing about Michelangel-”





_____________

 





“You didn’t have to pay for me.”

 

“I did.”

 

“Really, thank you, but Taehyung-hyung-”

 

“Well, for one-”

 

“Do you always enumerate your points before you make them?”

 

Taehyung shoots him a look. He doesn’t let go of Jeongguk’s hand. It happened a little ways after leaving the restaurant, their hands knocking up against each other, knuckles bumping as they walked, pinkies questioning. It made sense to hold on, Jeongguk guesses. It makes sense, the fit of Taehyung’s hand against his.

 

“For one,” Taehyung repeats, enunciates exaggeratedly. “As you just pointed out, I’m the hyung. So yes I did.”

 

Jeongguk makes a face. “And for two?”

 

Taehyung smiles. He tugs Jeongguk closer as they cross the walkway, is almost too smooth about it. Jeongguk isn’t the type of boy who swoons but if he were he thinks this is where he’d do it.

 

“I wanted to. I asked you out. And I had to make it up to you.”

 

“Make what up to me?”

 

“Ah. Two things.”

 

Jeongguk groans loudly. The streets are quiet. It’s calm for a Friday night. Their long shadows cross others only every so often. It’s a nice part of Seoul, the nicest since Jeongguk made the trip up from Busan.

 

“Hush,” Taehyung admonishes, voice light. He elbows Jeongguk’s side, jostles their hands together. Jeongguk hopes his hand isn’t sweaty. He hopes he’s holding Taehyung’s hand right.

 

“So.” Taehyung stops walking. Looks at Jeongguk so suddenly seriously he has to try not to laugh at how cute he is. “I’m sorry it took me three weeks to call you.”

 

Jeongguk frowns. Missteps. Taehyung’s hold keeps him standing even if Jeongguk is strong enough to overbalance them both. “What? You don’t have to apologize. It’s fi-”

 

“No, but see, the thing is.” He takes a breath. Not exactly frustrated, but like his tongue isn’t working properly, stuck to the roof of his mouth. It unnerves Jeongguk, not seeing Taehyung this way, but the things it makes Jeongguk want to do. With his hands. Sweet things with his mouth. He settles for squeezing Taehyung’s hand. Taehyung sighs, soft. “I tend to get set in my ways. Like, I see something and I know it can be a certain way so it should be? After Chicago, money was tight. Not tight tight, but just, not where I like it to be. They don’t tell you they only pay for accommodation ahead of time and food in Chicago is expensive. And delicious. But mostly expensive. So I’ve been working a lot and then the semester got crazy, and I know I could have just asked you to hang out without making it this thing, but. I don’t know. That felt too casual. And this… doesn’t feel casual. I mean, it does, but it doesn’t? And- Am I freaking you out? I probably am. And I probably sound way less impressive now, huh. And. Shit.”

 

“It doesn’t.”

 

“And I- what?”

 

Jeongguk smiles. His small one, too much front teeth, his eyes so wrinkled his brother used to call him Jeon-pei. “This doesn’t feel casual. But it does too.

 

Taehyung blinks. “You’re still holding my hand.”

 

“Do you want me to stop?”

 

More blinking. Neck ruddy, Taehyung says, “No. It’s just you’re holding it after all that bullshit I said.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs, can’t seem to stop smiling. To want to stop. His heart is hot. Body warm. He presses their hands to his lower sternum, the bottom center of his ribs. “Was it true? What you said?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then it’s not bullshit. And I like you more now that you said it.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It makes you more impressive that you’re honest about it. I don’t know if I’d be.”

 

Jeongguk’s doesn’t. If he’d tell Taehyung that he waited. That he went to parties looking for him. That Taehyung didn’t really promise him anything but it felt like he did. If he’d ever say this doesn’t feel casual if Taehyung hadn’t said it first.

 

“And,” he says, resolute about it because, “The phone works both ways. Asking works both ways.”

 

Taehyung frowns, face going hard, angry almost. Jeongguk wonders if he’s aware he’s doing it. “Yeah, but I’m the one who promised I’d call.”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” Jeongguk says. Maybe it does. Maybe Jeongguk just doesn’t want it to. “You can keep apologizing but we’re here now. You called. We were talking this whole time anyway. I like that it happened like this. I liked tonight. I wouldn’t change it.”

 

Taehyung’s face goes soft like well handled clay. Putty. “You’re way more easy going than you seem like you’d be.”

 

“That’s because you don’t know me that well yet. Ask my parents. I was a perfect little brat as a kid. I almost drowned the house in paint once.”

 

Taehyung laughs. “Point taken,” he concedes. Then, wistful, “I want to though.”

 

And the soft thud of Jeongguk’s insides goes woosh . Goes electric.

 

He asks, “What’s the other thing?”

 

Taehyung hums. Looks skyward in thought. His smile comes, an easy easy thing. “The other thing is that I might get you in trouble now. But I’m gonna ask you to trust me anyway.”

 

It’s possible that Jeongguk is too young. Eighteen and freshly on his own, in a big city different than his big city, too many things he wants to splash in color, landscapes and people and the unreal his mind’s eye sees without the knowledge to make them real. Make them his. Make them love him.

 

But Taehyung makes him feel too young too. Like the supernatural is real. Is already his if he reaches out, takes it.

 

Jeongguk says, “Promise to be my cellmate?”

 

Taehyung grins. Says, “Always.” Then he pulls Jeongguk along.





____________






Love is blue.

 

“I’m surprised you wanted to stop in here.”

 

“Why?”

 

“You said you didn’t really like abstract art.”

 

“Did I?” He asks. Whispers. His eyes have finally adjusted to the dim lights. The exhibit room is quiet, erie. Their voices sound hollow. “You’re sure your friend won’t get in trouble?”

 

“Sure as I can be.”

 

Jeongguk looks at him, the soft sharpness of his jaw in the inky bright.

 

Taehyung smiles. “He’s been the night guard here for a while now. He owed my a favor, anyway.”

 

The canvas is a study in blue. Different shades, clashing tones, pigments swirling together. Love is blue printed in thick lettering on a stock card next to it, the year 1997 beneath. “Do you do this a lot? Sneak into museums at night?”

 

Taehyung hums. Jeongguk can hear him shrug more than see him, can feel his gaze on the side of his face. “Is it sneaking in if you have an in with an employee? And sometimes. Usually I’m alone.”

 

“You’ve never brought someone here?”

 

“No. Tried to bring Namjoon once. My roommate. He couldn’t get over the fact that he was breaking the law so we ended up getting ice cream and beer instead.”

 

Jeongguk smiles at the image. “Why?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why do you usually do it alone?” Jeongguk asks. Roommate notwithstanding, Taehyung doesn’t seem the type to have friends too scared for a little thrill, a little recklessness.

 

“I don’t know,” Taehyung answers, voice falling soft and slow. “Never anyone I wanted to share it with I guess.”

 

Jeongguk blinks at the blue. At love. Says, “Sometimes I think I don’t like art.”

 

Taehyung is quiet. Manages to not to be erie about it, the measured whoosh of his breath lulling.

 

“I like art. I like the art I make. I like the art I like. And I love to paint. Doing it. Taking something from my head and making it real.”

 

The upper right corner of the painting is raised, like the canvas got bunched up. It makes a fist, rivulets of blue tightly coiled as if the paint were about to punch right out at him. Love smack in his belly.

 

“But I’ve never cared about the history or the movements or to be knowledgeable about it. Or why people say art is important. I’m learning all about it now and it’s. Fine. I like some of it but. I just.”

 

Jeongguk stares at the words. Love is blue . He’s never thought of love having a color. Being a color. He wonders if you pressed two hearts together if they’d melt into the same shade. Bring out all the different ones in the other.

 

Taehyung stands next to him not looking at love. He looks at Jeongguk. Breathes.

 

Jeongguk should feel too young. Naked. All he feels is blue. “I want to make it. I don’t want to care if it’s going to matter in ten years or a hundred. I want it to matter now. I just want it to be real now.”

 

They stand there for a long moment. Timed silence. Jeongguk wonders how long they have. How much time before jokes about cell mates starts to feel less like joking. He should probably care more than he does, but again, Jeongguk is too young, naively so.

 

Taehyung asks, “Can I show you something?”

 

Jeongguk stares at love for another second. He looks at Taehyung. Breathes.

 

“Okay.”

 

 



_____________






In the darkness, everything is illuminated.

 

“This is usually the part where the unsuspecting boy gets murdered.”

 

Taehyung’s teeth are a shock of white.

 

“Promise not to try to murder you. Who’d be my cellmate then?”

 

There’s a quick retort on Jeongguk’s tongue, but all of a sudden. The dark gets impossibly darker. Then, light. Color. From above, it bathes Jeongguk. Like a stage light. It reminds him of that old movie, the one where the girl was a witch and a bucket of blood gets dumped over her head at a school dance. Maybe blood because it was red. Maybe because red is the opposite of love.

 

Jeongguk holds still in the center of the room. Bathed in blue.

 

Taehyung is more than a vague shape now, the impression of someone else in the room. He comes into focus in the light. In the color.

 

The light source moves, Jeongguk’s feet rooted to the floor where Taehyung had him stand earlier. It rolls off his body and spills across the floor, crawls up the walls, spreads like an ocean. Then comes the yellow. Green. Purple. Pink and silver and orange. Red. All of it spilling from above Jeongguk’s head in light, sprawling in flashes and swirls, a rainbow made a monsoon, drowning the room in paint that isn’t real, chasing the darkness out with light. Time tilts. Or maybe Jeongguk does. The floor and walls melt together, the ceiling loses its shape, all of it awash in the colors. In the light.  

 

He takes it all in, eyes wide, mouth sticky, awe palpable. A thing someone could touch.

 

He finds Taehyung’s gaze in the light, in the colors, and he looks just as awed as Jeongguk feels which shouldn’t make sense. Taehyung has been here before. Maybe dozens of times. And maybe this is just the kind of art you never stop being awed by. The way Starry Night never fails to make some people cry. The way the frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel make Jeongguk seethe in jealousy even if he never wants to paint anything like it, makes Jeongguk want to believe in something holy even if sometimes he isn’t sure he believes in anything.   

 

Except Taehyung isn’t looking at the flooded walls, the color swathed ceiling. He’s looking at the blue on Jeongguk’s face. Hands at his sides, this gutted expression on his face. He looks like something scratched out in graphite. Carved out long ago. Something so supernatural he has to be real.

 

He’s looking at the blue. Looking like he rather be doing something with his hands. Everything.

 

Jeongguk smiles, the electric woosh in his belly, his insides lit up, buzzing with it.

 

Everything is illuminated.

 

Taehyung smiles back.





______________







Every kiss is different.

 

Lips are different. The way someone angles their nose just so. Some hands like to bury themselves in his hair, like to pull, don’t like to dig their nails into the hard muscles of his shoulder blades the way others do. Some kisses are too wet. Some kisses are too everything.

 

Taehyung nips at Jeongguk’s lower lip, quick bite of teeth. He presses a shaky exhale to Jeongguk’s mouth. Kisses him open and slow, like candy floss drenched in vodka. Like something that feels airy and light one minute, heady and mind numbing the next. It’s a messy kiss, the way good kisses, the best kisses are, messy in the way Jeongguk is a shuddery shaky limbed thing in Taehyung’s arms, hands in his hair, tongue in Taehyung’s mouth. Jeongguk yanks, makes Taehyung’s hair a mess, the same kind of mess Taehyung makes of his mouth.

 

Sober Taehyung kisses with a singular focus. Singular in its intent to kiss Jeongguk what feels like everywhere, jaw, cheeks, neck, the little dip between his collarbones, mouth mouth mouth . Touch him everywhere, back, shoulders, chest, the curve of his waist, the tingly patch of skin next to his hip bones, and oh he might not remember much from the party but he remembers that that’s the spot that turns Jeongguk’s knees to jelly, gets his hips kicking, gets him arching away from the wall into Taehyung’s chest. And Jeongguk knows he remembers from the way Taehyung smiles into his mouth, the slow stroke of his thumb along the line of Jeongguk’s sharp v-line, the hot grip of his fingers on the swell of his hip, hands hands hands .

 

Jeongguk yanks again and Taehyung hisses, laughs about it the next second, shoves Jeongguk harder into the wall the second after that, careful of the bookshelf, careful to cradle Jeongguk’s head so he doesn’t hurt. And that liquefies the jelly feeling, melts his kneecaps into mush, doesn’t think he’d still be standing if it weren’t for the press of Taehyung’s body, the jut of his chest, the soft feel of his belly, the strong width of his hands. Fingers knotted in the hair at Taehyung’s nape, Jeongguk angles their mouths, tries to get Taehyung to kiss him- he doesn’t even know. Better is impossible. More isn’t the word. His heart feels shaky. Unsteady. His heart feels like a fuse, ready to go off if Taehyung presses too close. If he kisses Jeongguk the way he wants more than he already is. His heart feels blue.

 

Jeongguk pulls Taehyung closer, tries to be careful too despite the desperate shaky thing he is, and he has half a mind to be embarrassed he’s this worked up already, this naked about it with all his clothes on, but Taehyung moans into the kiss, low and gravely, like someone is tugging the sound from him, and Jeongguk wants it. Wants that sound in his mouth, between his thighs, pressed to the nape of his neck, to the dimples in his lower back. And Taehyung kisses him just as desperate, just as naked.

 

Something bangs against something hard and, oops, did they knock the bookshelf over? He tries to gather the will to check, to want to, but Taehyung doesn’t let him, kisses him deeper, sticky mess of a kiss, and well, Jeongguk thinks as he shoves a hand up the back of Taehyung’s nice dress shirt, if Taehyung doesn’t care he won’t either. It’s not Jeongguk’s bookshelf.

 

“Ah, fuck, Jiminie-ah. Why’d you bring me to a live porno? Again .”

 

“That’s not a porno, hyung. That’s Taetae.”

 

“OHHHHHH.”

 

“Shit. That’s Taetae .”  

  

Jeongguk startles, makes a squawking noise and almost bites Taehyung’s tongue off. Taehyung makes this cute little hurt noise, puts some distance between them, still not turning around. Jeongguk’s heart kicks against his ribcage. He’d feel bad about it and a part of him does. It’s a really nice tongue and Jeongguk likes it very much, feels particularly attached to it already, but, for one, Taehyung is the one who put it in his mouth in the first place, and like, for two, there are two guys in Taehyung’s apartment talking about live pornos so if he loses his tongue it’s his fault.

 

The echo of their lips separating is disgusting. The look of Taehyung’s mouth is too, red and wet, messy. Messy from Jeongguk’s mouth. His own feels swollen, like an electric shock, the friction of ice against heat. Jeongguk resists the urge to kiss him again, just once, just to feel it and know.

 

He doesn’t have to. Taehyung does it for him, thumb on the corner of his mouth, soft and sweet, a barely there thing, casually not casual.

 

Jeongguk sighs, breathy, nothing casual about it at all.

 

“Oh, damn. That was tonight? Is that why Namjoon wouldn’t come home with us?”

 

“Yes. But mostly it was because Jeonghan finally agreed to suck his dick. And I wouldn’t stop bleeding all over him.”

 

Taehyung sighs, nothing sexy about it. Still kind of sexy. He hangs his head, shakes it. Says, “I’m apologizing ahead of time. So. Sorry. Don’t judge me too hard.”

 

“Wha-”

 

“Oh, shit it is tonight. Fuck. He’s sexy. Minho was right.”

 

Cheeks burning, Jeongguk ducks his own head.

 

“Shut up, hyung. You’re embarrassing Taetae. But, yeah, totally.”

 

Grinning, Jeongguk mouths Taetae . Taehyung sighs again. Squeezes his shoulder. Turns.

 

“What are you guys- Shit. What did you do your head, Jimin?” Taehyung asks, then takes in the other half of the break in duo, and tilts his head like a puppy. A very shaggy haired puppy. A very cute one. “Hyung. Why are you humping my coat rack?”

 

The hyung in question, and it really does look like he’s humping the coat rack, huffs. He strains on tip toe, knee raised, hands shoved inside a winter coat. “Not humping shit. Just. Fuck. Wait- Yes!” He howls triumphant, fingers wrapped around something as he stands straight, smiling. “Ginseng candy. Knew I left it in here.”

 

He takes a step. The he falls flat on his face.

 

The other guy, Jimin?, winces.

 

Taehyung does too.

 

He points. Asks, “How much did he have to drink?”

 

“He was fine until Seokjin-hyung decided to do soju bombs. With Jagermeister.”    

 

Jeongguk sympathy winces too. He’s stood close to the wall, the previously seemingly precarious bookshelf by his hip. The coat rack is a little tilted from the earlier roughhousing. Jeongguk feels tilted too, yanked from the anchor of Taehyung’s body, the warmth from his mouth. He crosses his arms in front of his chest, wonders if the room really is that much colder now.

 

“And your head?”

 

Jimin touches the thin gash on his forehead. It doesn’t look like it’s still bleeding, just red. “Jeongyeon decided to show up,” he says like that’s an explanation.

 

Taehyung just nods so apparently it is.

 

“Sorry,” Taehyung says to Jeongguk. His hair is raised in tuffs at the back of his head, a souvenir from Jeongguk’s hands. He looks absurdly adorable. He looks like Jeongguk should still be kissing him, not absurdly. “Guys, um. This is Jeongguk. Jeongguk, the hot mess on his face  is Hoseok-hyung. The other hot mess with his head busted open is Jimin.”

 

Face down, Hoseok flips Taehyung the bird and says, “Fuck you.” He rolls onto his side, waves at Jeongguk. “Hi, Jeongguk-ah! Please tell us how Taehyung convinced you to date him! He’s not that ugly but he’s a loser and you’re way too hot for him!”

 

Taehyung does that thing where his neck gets all pink, flush working up his throat. “Seriously, hyu-”

 

Jimin rolls his eyes. “Seriously shut up, hyung.” He stabs his foot in Hoseok’s gut.

 

Hoseok yelps.

 

Taehyung sighs, concerned eyes flickering from Hoseok’s grumpy face to the slice in Jimin’s forehead.

 

A nervous laugh curls up in Jeongguk’s belly. He’s pretty sure he’s blushing too. Has it worse because Jeongguk does it everywhere but especially his face, pink and bright. He tugs on Taehyung’s sleeve gently, keeps his other arm curled around himself, tucked around his ribs. “Hey. Sorry. Um. Should I go?” he asks.

 

He doesn’t want to. But the moment feels titled. It feels like he should. He’s not really sure what the etiquette is in situations like these, when the guy you like who likes you back’s apartment gets invaded by his friends, in dire need of help in the form of a place to sleep off an impending hangover, some painkillers and maybe some medical attention.  

 

“Oh. Uh-”

 

“Hoseok-hyung, don’t!”

 

The don’t in question is getting up, but really it’s getting up using Jimin as a support beam.

 

It doesn’t end well.

 

For Jimin.

 

Hoseok stands up just fine.

 

“I hate you,” Jimin mutters from where he’s toppled over the arm of the couch, face smushed into the cushions.

 

“Love you too, Jiminie-ah,” Hoseok says back. Then, his face sours. “Oh, no. Getting up was a bad idea.”

 

Taehyung gets to him first, but Jeongguk moves after a second, helps Taehyung prop Hoseok up between them.

 

Hoseok sighs wistfully, doesn’t seem too preoccupied with keeping himself upright, forcing almost all his weight on Taehyung, chin bumping his shoulder. “I’m so sleepy, Taehyungie. So so so sleepy. Why am I so sleepy?”

 

“‘Cause you’re drunk, hyung,” Taehyung says softly. He curls an arm around Hoseok’s waist,  careful not to jostle him too much. “You can sleep in Namjoon’s bed.” He looks at Jeongguk over Hoseok’s head, mouths, ‘ Sorry .’

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. Wants to tell Taehyung there’s nothing to be sorry for, but Hoseok whacks him in the stomach when Taehyung starts to move them forward, cuts off the air travel into Jeongguk’s windpipe for a few seconds.

 

Hoseok slurs, “Sorry, cutie.”

 

Jeongguk’s ears burn.

 

Getting Hoseok into bed is surprisingly easy. He goes down on the mattress with a thump, stretches out on it like he’s done it plenty of times. Maybe just a byproduct of being drunk.

 

Taehyung tosses the blanket over him, squats so they’re eye level. “You gonna be okay while I go back out there for Jimin?”

 

Fists tucked into the blanket held up to his chin, Hoseok nods.

 

“You sure? You don’t have to barf? Don’t vomit in Namjoon’s bed. This will be very embarrassing for you tomorrow if you vomit in Namjoon’s bed. Especially if you do it in front of Jeongguk.”

 

Again, Hoseok nods.     

 

Taehyung nods back. He stands. Touches Jeongguk’s side faintly, mumbles something Jeongguk doesn’t catch as he exits the room.

 

Jeongguk stands there for a moment. Then he finds a wastebasket. Puts it next to the bed. Hands Hoseok an extra pillow from the stack in the corner when he asks for one. Water is the next thing because that’s the fist thing Jeongguk wants during a hangover. He heads out to the kitchen, finds Taehyung coaxing a fussing Jimin off the couch, holding his head and muttering something about fucking Min Yoongi and fucking blue footed prawns, man.

 

Taehyung almost drops Jimin when Jeongguk appears, bangs his head against the side table.

 

Jimin says, “Ow.”

 

“Shit. Sorry, Jiminie,” Taehyung apologizes, yanks him back up. Jimin looks deceptively light but he’s all stocky muscle, and the ease Taehyung moves him with licks at the electric thing still humming in Jeongguk’s belly in the background. He looks at Jeongguk, something a little wild in his eyes. “Are you-”

 

“Um. Kitchen?”

 

Taehyung widens his eyes. He points.

 

Jeongguk goes. Finds a glass after rummaging for a few minutes. The faucet leaks. After a second thought, he fills a second glass. When he reenters the room, Hoseok has formed a pillow fort around himself in bed while Jimin is sitting on the floor, cussing in swear words Jeongguk didn’t even know existed as Taehyung tries to clean his wound, peroxide and gauze littered around them.

 

Taehyung looks up. Gives a small smile in thanks when he sees Jeongguk’s hands.

 

Jeongguk’s face warms, soft kind of color on his cheeks. He sets the glasses on the bedside table. Checks that Hoseok isn’t secretly vomiting in his pillow fort.  

 

“Motherfucking fucker- Wait, I didn’t mean i- Holy fucking shit! Fuck all your great-grandmothers- Ohh! I didn’t mean that either. I’m sure your they were lovely wom- Fuck you dickfucker, goat fucker!”

 

“Jesus, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says but he’s trying not to laugh, mouth wobbling, eyes dancing with it. He dabs carefully with a drenched gauze, grimaces when Jimin whines through his teeth.

 

“I’m sorry. It hur- fuck your goats!”

 

Jeongguk approaches slowly. He settles on his knees next to Taehyung. Is maybe too careful about it when he says, “Sorry. Do you mind- want me to try- it’s just-”

 

“You don’t have to-”

 

“I don’t mind. It just looks like it hurts. He might need stitches.”

 

Jimin’s face brightens in alarm. He lashes out for Taehyung’s arm, nails sharp on his wrist. “You didn’t say anything about stitches, Taehyung.”

 

Taehyung grunts. “ I didn’t know. Thought you had to be bleeding like crazy for that.”

 

“Mostly,” Jeongguk interjects, unwrapping a gauze. “But sometimes the wound stays open even if there isn’t much bleed thro-”

 

Jimin reaches out again, lands on Jeongguk’s wrist. He has ridiculously strong fingers for such a small hand. “You can do stitches?”

 

Jeongguk blinks. Eyes the vice grip on his wrist. “Um. No? You’d have to go to the hospital?”

 

Jimin makes a strangled noise. Cuts off the circulation in Jeongguk’s wrist.

 

“Um-”

 

He must be cutting off his own too, but Taehyung just says, “Jimin, knock it off. Let him go.”

 

Jimin groans. Does as he’s told.

 

Taehyung’s shoulder brushes Jeongguk’s side. His eyes are soft when he says, “You seriously don’t have to.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs. Maybe he doesn’t, but Jeongguk doesn’t mind. Wants to. His night isn’t the only one that’s turning out different than he expected. Wanted it to.

 

He has Taehyung tilt Jimin’s face towards the light, holds up the gauze, and leans close.

 

Jimin’s breath hitches. “Mother fu- oh. Oh . You have magic hands,” he tells Jeongguk, eyes wide. He looks at Taehyung, giddy, and he’s way drunker than he’s been letting on all night. “He has magic hands. Hoseokie-hyung! Cutie has magic hands!”

 

The pillow fort rustles.

 

Jeongguk bites down on a smile, lets it go when he feels the touch of Taehyung’s gaze on his cheekbone.

 

Jimin is a suspiciously good patient, hissing quietly and scratching at Taehyung’s hand only a lot instead of the entire time. The wound isn’t very deep and Jimin won’t need stitches after all, Jeongguk double confirms it after a quick call to his hyung, lots of too close up shots of Jimin’s busted forehead in their text thread, just a lot of painkillers and proper wound care.

 

In the quiet, Taehyung asks, “How do you know so much about this?”

 

Jeongguk wouldn’t call it so much. He’s just mindful or bruises. Of what wounds look like. The right kind of color. He shrugs, pushes the ends of Jimin’s hair back so the tape on the bandage doesn’t stick. Taehyung sits up from where he’s been slouching, reaches out. He lays Jimin’s hair flat. Their fingers brush. Jeongguk sucks in a breath, meets his eyes. “My dad was always patching us up growing up. Hyung and I got a lot of bruises. Hyung’s pre-med now. You pick stuff up.”   

 

“I think you were born with it picked up,” says Jimin, eyes drooping. He’s no longer scratching Taehyung’s wrist. Occasional squeezes. Taehyung squeezes back. “Magic hands.”

 

Hands still touching in Jimin’s hair, Taehyung smiles at Jeongguk, small but there.

 

Jeongguk smiles back, just as small, just as there.

 

He checks the bandage a final time and pulls back. It’s staticky, almost, how tender Jeongguk’s hand feels. Lit up with it. The lack of touch. “You might want to get it checked at the clinic tomorrow, but you should be good for tonight.”

 

“Oh, nice. I won’t die in my sleep, right?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I don’t think so?”

 

That seems to be good enough for Jimin. He clambers to his feet, uses Taehyung’s shoulder for support. “Good. Wouldn’t wanna die in Namjoon’s bed. He’d be pretty bummed.” He pats Taehyung’s head before crawling onto the bed, Hoseok’s pillow fort shaking. “Grab a towel in case I bleed out on hyung’s pillow, anyway?”

 

It takes another minute to get them settled, the folded up towel under Jimin’s head, Hoseok reaching for Taehyung’s hand with Sorry for kinda calling you ugly. You are but hyung loves you anyway. I’m so happy he said yes, which gets Jimin going with Love you too, Taehyungie! and Thanks for fixing me up, Jeongguk-ssi! Taetae sure knows how to pick ‘em , and the pillow fort gets rearranged and Jeongguk watches from the door frame, the leftover first aid supplies heavy in his hands, his heart a heavier blue tinted thing in his chest, Taehyung’s sweetley patient exasperated face warming something up in Jeongguk’s belly, in the absence of his hands against Jeongguk’s skin, bluer still when Taehyung looks up halfway through tucking the blankets up to Hoseok’s chin again and finds Jeongguk still standing there, the way his face goes almost blank but Jeongguk still sees it, feels it, the way he looks at Jeongguk like he’s touching him, wherever his hands go leaving a trail of blue blue blue.

 

 



_____________






The door clicks shut and they lose it.

 

Jeongguk laughs so hard he doubles over, holds his middle as Taehyung supports himself with the door knob, shoulders pressed to the wall.

 

“That,” Taehyung says, coming down from his laughter. “That was not how I hoping this night to go.”

 

Jeongguk looks at him. The wry grin on his mouth. Eyes lidded. Chin tilted toward the ceiling. “What were you hoping?”

 

“A lot less of my drunk messy friends. A lot more of kissing you. Kissing you naked. Hopefully.”

 

There isn’t a question about it. The red fusing Jeongguk’s cheeks. Even if it is silly. Even if other boys, Jeongguk himself, have talked dirtier, things meant to make him hotter, harder, wetter. It’s innocent in comparison. To want to kiss someone. To want to feel their body, naked. Kiss you naked. It’s silly, maybe, the electric heat growing in his belly, flickering in his veins, but Taehyung makes him feel silly, in a way that isn’t silly at all.  

 

Taehyung opens his eyes, pretty lashes too long and inky gold in the half lit living room. “Scratch that. No drunk messy friends. Just you. Don’t even care if you’re naked as long as you were kissing me.”

 

Jeongguk cocks a brow. Knows it makes him look kind of douchey. Does it anyway. “I was going to fuck you at the party-”

 

“Whoa. At the party?”

 

“-to bring you up to my dorm even though my roommate was home-”

 

“He was? Not that I’m not into voyeuristic stuff, but I’m not. Might be for you. Unless you meant for us to have a threesome with your roommate which- Not to be a possessive douchebag, and I’m sure your roommate is hot, but I can’t have a threesome with you. Not that I think I have a right to be possessive about you or would want to, but. I just can’t.”

 

Jeongguk ignores that. The red on his face. The electric woosh in his gut. “-don’t have to butter me up now-”

 

Shit . Choice of words, Jeongguk. Jesus-”

 

The look in Taehyung’s eyes is semi dazed look, like he’s thinking about it. Jeongguk naked. Kissing him naked. Jeongguk forges on. “Don’t be like those guys.”

 

The daze clears. Taehyung asks, “What guys?”

 

“The guys who say dumb sweet shit they don’t mean when they just want me to fuck them so I’ll fuck them. Because they think I’m easy for dumb sweet shit. Because they think they can tell I am.”

 

He means it to come out forcefully. Confidently. But Jeongguk hears his it like a plea, a quiet wish from his blueish heart.

 

Jeongguk can feel it. The heaviness of the next beat. The pause.

 

Taehyung stares. He stands straight. Dim light touches his jaw.  

 

He says, “Thanks for before. Helping out. Taking care of Jimin’s head. You didn’t have to.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs. Licks his dry lips. Lip balm only lasts so long, even the semi-expensive cherry tinted kind he painstakingly applied earlier. He shifts his weight on his hips, looks down. His feet are doing that thing they do, turned inward, a small-feeling habit he hasn’t grown out of yet. “I didn’t mind. You don’t need to thank me. I’m glad I could help.”

 

“Still. Sorry you had to deal with them.”

 

“It’s okay. It was- was nice.”

 

Taehyung squints, lips tugging disbelieved. “Nice?”

 

“I mean. I don’t- Not that they were drunk or hurt but. You and them. Having friendship like that. It’s nice.” He almost says he hopes he has friends like that someday. He thinks of Mingyu’s encouraging overzealous smiles, Yugyeom’s faces he’s getting good at reading. Feels like it’s okay to hope he does, know he will.

 

After a moment, Taehyung nods. Says, “Yeah. It’s nice. I’m really lucky. Usually it’s them cleaning up my sorry ass.”

 

And Jeongguk can’t really picture that, Taehyung as a sorry ass, messy in a different way than the one Jeongguk knows him, wants to know him, and that pause is still hanging in the air, has been dangling between them since their lips came apart, a sputtering fuse, just needs the right kind of current to get it going again. He thinks about just asking Taehyung back to his student housing because Yugyeom cleared out for tonight just in case, and he’s thinking about just going back alone because maybe leaving his friends wouldn’t seem right to Taehyung, doesn’t seem right to Jeongguk. Because maybe what Jeongguk needs is to be alone right now. With the blue. Because maybe Taehyung makes him feel silly in a not good way too. Eager. Too open. Young-young. Too willing to let Taehyung put his hands all over him. All over the blue edged thing in Jeongguk’s chest.

 

He clears his throat. “Uh-”

 

“Do you- Sorry, go ah-”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head, the bangs he’d carefully styled away from his face falling in his eyes. “You go.”

 

Taehyung huffs a laugh. Shakes his head like they’re being silly and maybe they are. Maybe Jeongguk isn’t the only one who feels silly. “Yeah, so you should spend the night.”

 

Jeongguk’s heart flutters. His breath follows soon after, tight in his chest, hot in his gut. “I should?”

 

“Yeah. You should. If you really want to go home, I’ll take you but. I want you to. Not to do anything with tweedle drunk and tweedle concussion in there. To sleep. Talk. That’s not sweet dumb shit. You know I want you. But it’s late. So you should stay.”

 

“...tweedle concussion?”

 

“Yeah, if it turns out he does have a concussion, I’ll cry.”

 

Jeongguk laughs lightly, looks around the apartment. The wooden bookshelf he thought they’d tipped over, the paisley printed couch. A tower of cd’s in their jeweled cases line a corner of the living room. Old looking framed posters hang from the walls, blown up pictures, replicas of paintings. It’s a worn space, lived in, well loved. Like his clothes, like the way he cares for his friends, it fits Taehyung. Seems like it’s who he is. Like he loves well.

 

He doesn’t think of the implications of that. How that would or wouldn’t extend to the people Taehyung fucks. The ones he takes out because the alternative doesn’t feel right. The ones he wants.

 

He just smiles. Says, “Okay.”

 

Taehyung’s body seems to go woosh , the tight set of his shoulders falling against the door. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. Okay.”

 

“Okay,” says Taehyung. He crosses the living room towards Jeongguk, and under the orange filter over the hanging light, his smile looks blue.

 

And Jeongguk the electric thing sputters, sparks everywhere. Goes woosh .     






______________






“I should ask you not to judge me again, but I set myself up for this one.”

 

Confusion knits Jeongguk’s brows. The door swings open and his breath stutters because there on the wall- “ Oh .”

 

He wants to laugh. Or a part of him should want to. But all he can think is to ask,

 

“Why blue?”

 

“It’s the only paint I had at the time. I’ve always meant to add more color but...” Taehyung trails off, shrugs.

 

Jeongguk hums. Thinks of all the things he’s meant to. Means to. He wonders if eighteen is too young to have so many. “They let you paint?”

 

“No. It’s canvas on plywood. See the edges where it’s hooked up?” Taehyung waits for Jeongguk to nod. Says, “Not really the reaction I was expecting. You and your Pollock hating ways.”

 

A funny smile makes its way onto Jeongguk’s mouth. It feels funny. Like he rather be doing something else with his mouth. “Don’t hate him. I just don’t get him. Like, his thing.”

 

“The abstract is too abstract.”

 

“What?”

 

Hands in his pockets, Taehyung leans on his door frame, sems content standing here and watching Jeongguk gawk at his paint splattered wall. “You said. The night of the party. Not in those words but you said you like what’s real. Art that’s real. Looks like it is. It’s why you like De Kooning, yeah? And I get that. And I get why people think Pollock and his type are consumerist elite art bullshit but, I don’t know. I’ve always seen it as he was painting what he saw. In his mind or the state his head was in. The mind stuff. That’s real too.” Taehyung tilts his head towards the wall, ocean of blue fragmented in white made by his own hands. “Or maybe I’m just projecting. I was pretty angry when I made that.”

 

The hot feeling from earlier fills Jeongguk’s heart but it’s different now. Fuller. Like the vessels are about to burst. Too big for his body. He wants to ask. Why Taehyung was angry. Why he’s even telling Jeongguk this. “You said you didn’t paint.”

 

“Pretty sure I said I wasn’t good at it. And I don’t know if I’d call that painting. Especially not around you.”

 

Taehyung’s tone is light, playful, face soft and smiling, but something itches at Jeongguk’s shoulders, makes him cross his arms, fists shoved against his armpits. “Well. I really like it. It reminds me of the ocean. So maybe I should give Pollock more credit.”

 

“You don’t have to be that guy, you know.”

 

“What guy?”

 

“The one who acts like he likes my stuff when he doesn’t because he likes me. I’m not saying you are but.”

 

There’s too much Jeongguk could pick at, that could pick at him. Taehyung using his words against him. The easy way he says it. The lack of heat and the gentle smile on his face. Like it doesn’t really matter if Jeongguk likes the art Taehyung makes, who Taehyung is , if he lies about it. The even easier way he acknowledges that Jeongguk likes him. Because he does. Because it’s obvious. Because it isn’t built on much but it feels like, in this tiny moment in Taehyung’s hallway, it feels like it could build everything else.

 

“In case you are. You don’t have to be. I like you anyway.”

 

Jeongguk should be embarrassed. Offended. Something. But he feels tiny in an ugly way. That some asshole could pretend to like Taehyung’s art, because whatever- it’s paint splatters on a canvas covered plywood board, but it’s the way Taehyung felt, I was pretty angry , the physical representation of who he was in that moment, angry , the wreckage after a war he fought only with himself and instead of forgetting it the way most people would, Taehyung poured it out of himself and put it up on his wall so he wouldn't forget. So that some asshole could pretend to like it. That Jeongguk could be that asshole. It makes him feel tiny, infinitely young and silly and the kind of boy who falls on his knees for the dumb sweet things older boys tell him.

 

Voice quieted, he looks at Taehyung. Says, “I’m not.”

 

Taehyung holds his eyes for a moment. He smiles. “Okay.” He shoulders the door further open. “After you.”      

 

The rest of the room is subdued. More muted prints in frames like the ones out in the living room. There’s a wall full of negatives, tiny worlds of black and white frozen forever. A small desk is overcrowded with rolls and rolls of film, a stack of books on photography as high as Jeongguk’s chest, Taehyung’s camera in the center with its black body and almost intimidatingly professional looking lens next to it.

 

Jeongguk ghosts his fingers over the shutter button. “Nice camera.”

 

From behind him, Taehyung, says, “Thanks. There’s an old Polaroid in the drawer. You can fuck around with it if you want.”

 

Curious, Jeongguk pulls the drawer open. Old is an understatement. It’s nothing like the trendy instant cameras some of the kids at his secondary school had. The flash unit takes up a third of the camera, the series number printed above a rainbow stripe of colors running vertically down the body of the rest of the camera. He runs his thumb over the buttons on top and the shutter goes off, flash blinding. The exit slot spits out the shot.

 

“Don’t shake it. I know movies say you should or it looks cool, but shaking it doesn’t do anything. Might spread the frames out. Make it blobby.”

 

Jeongguk blinks, white circles blurry in his vision. He watches the film slowly fill with color, work its way across the edges inward, his blank face staring back at him. “Blobby?”

 

“Yeah. Shaking it warps the film. It creates waves as it interacts with light. The up and down motion. So you can get an uneven development overall. Some parts under and other parts over developed. Like blobs of color. Or, well, frames. So... blobby.”

 

Jeongguk stares at his evenly developed eyes. He thinks about taking a second picture. Capturing the silly smile he has on his face right now.

 

He sets the camera down. Wanders over to a door between the desk and the bed, ignores how he’s been purposefully ignoring Taehyung’s bed. “Is this your bathroom?” he asks, reaching for the handle.

 

There’s a shuffle of what sounds like a drawer, then there’s Taehyung saying wait! and a hand on Jeongguk’s arm, a gentle pull.

 

“Sorry,” Taehyung says, sheepish. He’s got his back pressed to the door. He rubs Jeongguk’s arm where he held him back, palm warm and careful along the vein in Jeongguk’s bicep. Jeongguk represses a shiver, the urge to push into Taehyung’s touch. “Sorry. It’s a closet. Was. It’s a dark room now.”

 

Jeongguk gapes. Looks down at Taehyung’s hand. “You turned your closet into a dark room?”

 

Taehyung nods. There’s this sweet earnestness in his eyes, this too careful edge to his touch. Like he could have actually hurt Jeongguk even though the thought is its own brand of silly, his pull barely that, his arms thinner than Jeongguk’s sculpted ones. “That’s why- sorry I grabbed you like that. It’s a shitty dark room so I have to turn off the light in the room first. Don’t know why I thought it was a good idea. It wasn’t. Did I hurt you?”

 

And he didn’t and Jeongguk should say so but he doesn’t want Taehyung to have an excuse to stop touching him. Taehyung thumbs over the inside of his arm and Jeongguk’s stomach flips like there’s a line heat from the place Taehyung is touching him to the electric thing in his belly, the sticky ache in his gut. He blinks up at Taehyung. Asks, “Turn off the light?”

 

Taehyung’s hand stops. He swallows, throat clicking. “You want to see my shitty dark room?”

 

Jeongguk nods.

 

“It’s really shitty.”

 

“I don’t care.” Then, “If it makes you uncomfortable, you don’t ha-”

 

“No. It’s- Yeah, no. Sure. Uh, just-”

 

The light goes out. Taehyung gives his arm a quick squeeze. His touch falls away. It should embarrass Jeongguk how much he misses it. How it soothed his body to have it on him, even in such a small way.

 

It’s like the museum all over again. One moment the dark is darker. With a sudeness, a burst of color, everything touching the room, red.

 

“You turned your closet into a dark room,” Jeongguk says, the awe sweet in his voice.

 

The closet is as much as Jeongguk originally expected. A minimal set up of the dark rooms Jeongguk has seen in movies. A small enlarger. Baths stacked up in what probably used to be drawers. A clothes line is strung from one wall to the next, drying prints carefully hung.

 

Taehyung shrugs and their shoulders brush. “I had help. Honestly, the pictures I get are shit compared to the university’s photo labs but I like the process.”

 

Their breathing is loud. Jeongguk tries to hold his next one, the chemical smell tickling at his nose. He wonders how Taehyung keeps it from permeating his room. The rest of the apartment.

 

“Some nights,” Taehyung says. His voice carries, quiet and hushed. “I can’t sleep and, you know, university labs aren’t open twenty-four hours a day. So I come in here. See what comes up. Makes for some interesting experiments. A way to kill time.”

 

In the red light, Taehyung’s face is all angles. A saturated frame. Some kind of neon 80’s dreamboat heartthrob. Too pretty to be real, to be yours, so he ends up breaking your heart. Some kind of neon 80’s villain. Not that anyone would ever blame him. Jeongguk wouldn’t.

 

“Sometimes I paint in the dark when I can’t sleep.”

 

Taehyung looks at him. “Yeah?”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Not in the dark dark. There’s street light and it’s not really painting but just doodling with pastels. I started when I was little after my parents would send me to bed. I always wake up with dirty hands and my sketchbook all messed up.”

 

Taehyung grins and his teeth are heart colored.

 

Jeongguk grins back. Wonders if his teeth are the same shade as his favorite pastel stick. He yawns right after, half into his shoulder. Taehyung’s.

 

Taehyung laughs, bumps their sides together. “Come on. Let’s get you to bed,” he says, voice so sweet, just as gentle as his touch, and Jeongguk wonders how he could ever, for a second, think Taehyung could make a convincing villain, touched in red, his guiding hand on the curve of Jeongguk’s back an almost laughing contrast to the idea of him being rough with anything, to be so careless to break anyone’s anything, especially their heart.

 

Back in the bright room, Taehyung grabs a stack of clothes and offers it to Jeongguk. “I figured you wouldn’t want to sleep in your jeans. Trade you?”

 

Jeongguk blinks. Then he follows Taehyung’s pointing finger to his hand and oh , right. Hesitant, he hands the polaroid over. “Thanks,” he says, holding the soft fabric against his chest. Pine hits his nose, clean and sharp.  

 

Taehyung studies the picture for a long moment, little squiggle between his brows like it’s more than a quickly taken polaroid. Like it warrants the kind of concentration a Bosch does, that a Warhol does for a completely different reason. The kind Jeongguk hopes his art never does.

 

Taehyung smiles. That slow spread and oh Jeongguk wonders if he’ll ever get used to that. The way delight just conquers Taehyung’s face.

 

“Yeah. This one’s going up on the wall. You mind?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. He watches Taehyung pin it up, in between another polaroid of what looks like Jimin’s beaming face covered in birthday cake and a half developed shot of Hoseok with his arms wrapped around a shorter guy, face twisted in a scowl but a bursting laugh clear in his eyes. There’s dozens and dozens of them, a collage of the people in Taehyung’s life in every stage of emotion, parties and night lights and mountain sides as the backdrop, all of them doused in a hazy filter, like the kind of pictures Jeongguk’s mother keeps in her closet, the weight of time on each glossy frame.

 

He changes while Taehyung steps out to check that Jimin hasn’t actually bled out all over Namjoon’s bed. He tries to not think about it as he strips and stands naked in Taehyung’s room. He tries but it’s hard not to when the shirt Taehyung gave him is almost perfectly oversized and the sweats hang off him like he picked them out himself, equally as soft. It’s hard not to because he’s standing in this guy’s room, this guy he wants to put his hands all over, wants his hands all over him, and he’s putting on his clothes instead. How usually people give you their clothes after they fuck you. How Jeongguk has been fucked plenty- plenty to him -but no one has ever given him their clothes.           

 

It’s a silly little blue-struck thought but it makes Jeongguk smile anyway, small and into the collar of Taehyung’s pine scented t-shirt.

 

He sits on the bed. Looks at the painting, the splattered and dripped down sea. He leans over until he’s lying on his front, gets close until he’s a few centimeters distance. He just wants to figure out what paint Taehyung used, if he can see if Taehyung picked all the colors individually or mixed his own. He just wants to wonder what Taehyung was so angry about. How he should have painted something dark, ugly. He just wants to know how Taehyung made something so beautiful instead.

 

“It’s actually Sobel.”   

 

Jeongguk doesn’t jump but it’s a near thing.

 

Taehyung is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. He’s changed too, his casual dressy outfit exchanged for baggy boxers and a baggier shirt.

 

Jeongguk only stares at the dip of his collarbone for a second. A long second. “What?”

 

“The painting. That style. Drip painting. Janet Sobel. She’s considered the pioneer. Pollock admitted he was influenced by her at some point but she never got the recognition she should’ve. Nobody remembers her. She didn’t have the backing he had. Plus. You know. The 40’s. She was a woman. I signed it with her name. I guess so I wouldn’t forget. So someone would remember.”

 

Jeongguk finds it at eye level, above the pillows. He wonders how he missed it.

 

He sits up, pillows giving under his weight. “Do you worry about that? Being forgotten?”

 

Jeongguk hasn’t gotten around to that. He needs to make some art worth remembering first.

 

“I’m a photographer in the Insta era. Some nights?” Taehyung grins, eyebrow cocked sharply, his face stark in its handsomeness, and it’s the fact that he can smile like that that makes him look like a convincing villain, a heartbreaker. “It’s the only thing I worry about.”

 

“Pretty sure everyone who uses Instagram does.”

 

Taehyung laughs. He closes the door, kicks his slippers off. Dims the lights. “What side of the bed do you sleep on?”

 

“Oh. Um. The right?” Jeongguk says even though his single doesn’t have a side and his twin bed back home didn’t either. He’s on the left now. He starts to scoot over.

 

“Yours or mine?”

 

Jeongguk thinks. “Mine?”

 

Taehyung’s smile is so gentle Jeongguk doesn’t know if anyone could ever carve it, be able to bring that sort of softness out of marble, the impenetrable. “I really want to take your picture right now.”

 

Oh .”

 

“I wouldn’t. It’s just. You’re in my bed and you’re wearing my clothes and you- You look the way you do-”

 

“How do I look?”

 

Taehyung looks as surprised as Jeongguk feels. His voice comes out quiet, shy. Somehow firm in that shyness, knowing he is, that he can be. But he doesn’t regret asking. He wants to know what he looks like. Always, but to Taehyung especially.  

 

“Like someone I want to remember,” Taehyung says. He lets out a laugh, jaw the tiniest bit flushed. “Sorry. That didn’t sound as cheesy in my head.”

 

“I’d let you.”

 

“You would?” Taehyung’s face goes shocked, maybe a little dramatic about it, but it fits Taehyung, his jaw really working towards red, mouth dropped open. It’s still plush from their earlier kisses and, huh , were they really kissing just a little while ago? Was that really Taehyung with his hands? Was that Jeongguk with his mouth? And huh the electric-woosh feeling comes back, hums at Jeongguk’s insides.

 

“Not- not tonight. But. Someday. If you wanted to, I’d. Yes.”

 

“Cool,” Taehyung says, that same too-fragile smile on his face. “Didn’t mean to stop you. You can.” He gestures to how Jeongguk is half scooting over, knees bent and half raised.

 

So Jeongguk says, “Cool,” finishes his scoot and busies himself with lifting the blankets when Taehyung climbs onto the bed, the mattress squeaking loudly under their combined weight.

 

“I’m apologizing in advance for what this mattress might do to your back. Should’ve bought one at Ikea months ago but fuck Ikea.”

 

Jeongguk laughs. He lies back, wiggles his body into the soft bits of the mattress, the hard parts, tries to find the give. He shrugs. “Feels okay to me.”

 

Taehyung is sort of sitting, sort of crouching, fisting the blankets on his side as he watches Jeongguk, his body, his face, his eyes, his mouth. He stays on Jeongguk’s mouth for a long beat. His throat clicks. His eyes look darker at this angle, lashes impossibly long, Jeongguk on his back staring up at him, the bedroom light like a gaudy Renaissance halo around his head. He swallows, the warmth in his heart touching his belly.

 

And of course he won’t remember how it happens.

 

If he skimmed his fingers up Taehyung’s forearm first. If Taehyung leaned down second. If it was the exhale Taehyung forced out or the little inhale from his own lungs. He won’t remember, and he doesn’t remember, because it’s been a long night made even longer and he’s been thinking about this all night, and there’s nothing to remember because they’re kissing and Jeongguk can’t think anyway.

 

And of course it’s these too fast neverending kisses. It’s their mouths again and again and again. It’s too much teeth and just enough tongue, the bulk of Taehyung’s body above his and the way they shift until it’s Taehyung between his legs, the same familiarity from the first time they kissed in a hallway, at a party, in a house of a someone Jeongguk doesn’t remember. The way Taehyung’s body moved as if to say here , you , mine . It’s in the way he kisses Jeongguk all over. His jaw and his chin, his cheeks, the scar in his right one. Silly places no one ever thinks to kiss like his the curve of his shoulder over his t-shirt and his temple. His ears and his neck, places everyone else has. And of course it’s Jeongguk’s hands sweeping up Taehyung’s back. The tiny helpless noises he can’t help but make. And of course Taehyung swallows every one. And of course it’s Taehyung’s hands everywhere. Everywhere. And of course every inch of Jeongguk’s body is abuzz, alight, the ends of his fingertips are sparks. If Taehyung dragged his kisses down over his chest, to where his breaths are banging and unsteady, he’s sure the blue of his heart would catch fire under Taehyung’s mouth, stain his lips in the colors of the ocean.    

 

“Tell me,” Jeongguk asks into the next kiss. The next one and the next one. His voice is breathy, a stupid gaspy thing he refuses to care about. “Tell me dumb sweet things.”

 

Taehyung laughs. Their teeth knock together with a click. Taehyung just keeps laughing, sounds all breathless about it too, lips humming as they drag down his chin to Jeongguk’s pulse point. “My shitty bed’s not the only thing I’ll have to make up for.”

 

“Oh?” He gets his mouth on Taehyung’s earlobe, sucks gently, gets a little careless about it, moves to his jaw, his cheek, teeth scraping. Taehyung’s spine goes ridgid, his chest feels like a hard balloon against Jeongguk’s. Their hips knock together and he deflates, kisses Jeongguk’s neck a little harder.

 

“Yeah. The whole sides of the bed thing was bullshit. When I told you about the spooning thing- oh ,” and Jeongguk must do something else with his mouth because Taehyung’s voice dips, like his vocal chords went woosh , swooped to the deepest thing can get, and here Jeongguk’s body responds to it like he is that easy, because he is that easy, like Taehyung reached between his legs, under his soft sweatpants, hot and with intent, mine mine mine . “Yeah, fuck. I’m like a sleepwalker. But with spooning. It doesn’t matter if there are sides of the bed. To my body, I mean. If there’s another body there it wants it. To hold. Just to hold. When I sleep. Me. My body. But I can behave. I can- respect you. Your, like, boundaries. I can. I do. Want to. Wanna respect the shit out of you.”

 

A laugh bubbles out of Jeongguk’s mouth. It feels like it starts at the bottom of his spine. The pit of his stomach. It feels like it’s everywhere. It feels like if he painted it, it’d be the lightest shade of blue.

 

He touches Taehyung’s jaw, runs his fingers over the too long strands flopping over his ear. “None of that was dumb. It was just sweet.”

 

Taehyung’s mouth quirks. His eyes are so warm and Jeongguk wonders how carefully he’d have to choose his pigments, how many hues he’d have to mix to get the shade of his eyes right. He knows Taehyung’s eyes are dark but they have this way of looking anything but. “I really want to take your picture like this. Just your face. Some day. Maybe, yeah? And only if you’re comfortable, but, someday.”

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk agrees for a second time though he isn’t sure why Taehyung would want to. Maybe for the same reasons Jeongguk is trying to remember the flush in Taehyung’s cheek, his messy hair, the wet of his mouth, the way the light plays tricks and make his eyes look almost golden. “Would you let me paint you? Like this?”

 

Taehyung settles his elbows on either side of Jeongguk’s head, careful to keep their knees from jostling. The bed groans as he moves and maybe it is time for that trip to Ikea. Someday, maybe Jeongguk could go with him so Taehyung wouldn’t have to pay for delivery. Jeongguk can carry an Ikea bed easy.

 

There’s a lot Jeongguk can do easy. Paint until his hands hurt. Get pretty boys to fuck him. Get beautiful guys to want him. Heal superficial wounds.

 

Taehyung thumbs at Jeongguk’s lower lip, swollen with Taehyung’s kiss. “Would let you do anything you wanted to me.”

 

This one’s a little harder for him. Not looking like a dumb-struck teenager when the right guy says the right sweet dumb stuff to him. Not wanting to kiss him until their mouths are nothing but electric, until they look like that painting, the one with the couple and the flowers and the kiss, until he can’t tell where Taehyung ends and he begins.  

 

And this part he’ll remember.

 

That he’s the one who starts up the kisses again. Fingers in Taehyung’s overgrown hair. His grip hard, demanding, because he wants Taehyung’s mouth where he wants it, wants to give Taehyung his mouth back. That it’s sweet spark filled kisses, wet like the ocean, he could drink the whole thing up and always be dying of thirst. Taehyung brings their hips together but Jeongguk is the one who digs his heels into the mattress, pelvis tilted up, the line of his cock against Taehyung’s, hot and hard, the heat blooming like a current from between his legs and spreading everywhere, lighting up everything, his mouth, his hands, Taehyung’s hands, Taehyung’s mouth, Taehyung , a Pre-Raphaelites’ nightmare, an Impressionist's dream.

 

Taehyung pulls back for a second, stays close. He breathes. Drags the tip of his nose across Jeongguk’s cheekbone. Jeongguk shudders, makes a noise that’s too loud for how late it is, for the tiny space between their mouths. Then Taehyung rolls their hips together, rocks himself into the cradle of Jeongguk’s thighs, and Jeongguk makes the noise again, higher, makes the next noise into Taehyung’s mouth, over the sound of the bed creaking, the shove of the mattress knocking into the canvas headboard. He holds Taehyung between his legs, there where it’s good, where the electric thing feels like it’ll burst, and it doesn’t matter who started it or how much he’ll remember. All that matters is that Taehyung keeps kissing him like Jeongguk is the ocean too, keeps touching him like he’s drowning, keeps his hands where they are. Everywhere.  

 

Trying to be quiet, he gasps against Taehyung’s lips. “Oh. Fuck.”

 

Tring a little less, “ Oh fuck!”

 

Then,

 

“OH FUCK!”

 

Jeongguk tenses, Taehyung’s bottom lip between his teeth.

 

Through the wall,

 

“Jimin. Jiminie. Fuck. Wake up! JIMIN!”

 

“-e fuck is it? I’m trying to sle-”

 

“There’s an earthquake! We’re under attack!”

 

“What. No. It’s Taetae having sex.”

 

Silence.

 

Jeongguk holds his breath, Taehyung’s chest heavy and heaving against his.

 

“Really?”

 

“It’s the headboard, hyung. Shut up and go back to sleep.”

 

“Oh. Good. Okay, then.”

 

After a long few seconds of silence, Taehyung mumbles, “Okay, then.”

 

Jeongguk bites him, but only because he still has Taehyung’s lip in the crossfire of his teeth.

 

Taehyung doesn’t seem to mind. He giggles and hangs his head. Gives Jeongguk’s waist a squeeze. Carefully lifts himself off of Jeongguk before rolling to the side.

 

Jeongguk sighs, breaths coming easier without the weight of him. He feels floaty, anchorless.

 

“Figured that might happen.”

 

Head turned on the pillow, Jeongguk looks at him. “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

 

Taehyung smiles. He reaches out, pushes some of Jeongguk’s hair off his forehead, touches his cheek. “Don’t be. Couldn’t either. I want you.”

It’s instinct to let himself be cradled by that hand. To say, “Want you too.”

 

“But we probably should-”

 

“Shouldn’t yeah,” Jeongguk agrees, disappointment licking at his belly but it’s the right thing. He really doesn’t want to have sex while one of Taehyung’s drunk friends is forced into a panic attack thinking it’s an earthquake.

 

“Was gonna say we should wait until tomorrow.”

 

Jeongguk laughs quietly, belly thrumming in excitement. He pulls up the blankets the rest of the way up. Taehyung kills the lights. It should feel weirder than it does, to settle in a bed that isn’t his, and maybe it does a little, but he doesn’t feel restless. He doesn’t feel the beginning hum of a sleepless night.

 

Taehyung whispers, “I keep thinking about that thing you said.”

 

“What thing?”

 

“About not knowing if you like art.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Not in a bad way. I think about it too.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Kinda. I mean, I love photography and art, and I know why, but sometimes I think about all the other things I could be doing. Or should be doing. And it feels pointless sometimes. Everyone’s a photographer now. And it makes me wonder... am I essential? As an artist?”

 

Jeongguk stares up at the ceiling. There’s a glow from Taehyung’s dark room turning the dark a little less dark, shaded in silent neon. He blinks up at it, hangs on the pause of Taehyung’s words, the sound of his breathing, close. The electric thing kisses his heart, a gentle consolation for the heavy thing pressing onto Jeongguk’s chest, the weight of Taehyung’s words.

 

The bed creaks, softly. Taehyung’s elbow ghosts near his ear.

 

“And then. I don’t know. I realize it doesn’t matter. This is what I want to do. People don’t matter because they’re useful. Because what they make is essential. All the other stuff I could be doing, even if I do some of it when I’m old, they’re not real. Not now, anyway.”

 

Quietly, Jeongguk asks, “Like being a goat farmer?”

 

He feels more than hears Taehyung laugh. He feels almost giddy, getting those reactions out of him, already knowing how.

 

“Like being a fucking goat farmer. Hey.”

 

Motions slow, it takes him a little too much effort to look this time. He’s sleeperier than he thought.

 

Taehyung has his hands folded above his head, cheek on his bicep. It’s hard to see in the red-dark but he knows Taehyung is just as sleepy, weighted in his words. “I like talking to you. You make me think. In general but about stuff I wouldn’t think to say. In general.”

 

“No one’s ever said that to me before. I can be shy and stuff.”

 

“I’m lucky then.”

 

“Why?”

 

“You’re not shy with me.”

 

“Oh, I am.” Jeongguk yawns. Unselfconscious about it. About everything. “It’s jus’ different. Different kind of shy.” Then he says, “Like talking to you too. To your face. And your face.”

 

He thinks he hears Taehyung laugh again.

 

Taehyung says, “I like your face too. A lot.”

 

Then he says something else but Jeongguk won’t remember it because he falls into a red colored sleep.







____________






Just when the colors are about to drown him, Jeongguk blinks awake.

 

He breathes out. He relaxes inch by inch, stretches out across the mattress, watches Taehyung get back into bed.

 

Voice low, Taehyung asks, “Sorry, did I wake you?”

 

Jeongguk blinks rapidly, tries to see more than just the shape of him. “No. I was dreaming.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Taehyung settles, closer this time. A lot closer. Jeongguk rolls over onto his side, bumps their knees together, pokes his cold toe against Taehyung’s calf. Taehyung runs the flat of his palm along the dip in Jeongguk’s waist, a touch meant to sooth a nightmare. Jeongguk bites back a shiver. “What was it about?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Jeongguk says. He just remembers colors. Red but mostly blue. Something wet nipping at his heels. Someone holding his hand. “I don’t know. But it felt like it was about you.”

 

Taehyung’s hand pauses. It starts again slower, longer, back and forth across his waist, from the soft skin of his hard belly to the small of his back. “Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” He sighs. His shirt is rucked up from sleep and the next time Taehyung smooths his hand over his body, he touches skin. Jeongguk arches into it, a sleepy thing, his foot hooking over the back of Taehyung’s knee, their hips barely touching. Even in his half dreamy state, he hears Taehyung gulp. “But it was about my dog too.”

 

Taehyung laughs softly and it’s such a sweet sound, true and full. Like his body. Like the things he says. Like his hands.

 

“Hey, you should be honored. I love my dog.”

 

“Oh, believe me I am,” Taehyung says. His hand wanders now. Up to follow the rise and fall of Jeongguk’s chest, down to the tiny spot on his hip, the one that drives Jeongguk crazy, an electrical current zapped to the rest of him. He touches Jeongguk’s body like he’s trying to memorize it, the weight of it in his palm, fingers grasping and feeling him out like he’s going to carve Jeongguk in stone and he’s blind. As if his only way of sight are his hands, wide and hot and desperate for memories. “Jeongguk-”

 

His voice is a punch to Jeongguk’s gut. Guttural in its quiet. Shaky in the best way. It’s a spark and Jeongguk is the livewire.

 

It isn’t anything. Putting his mouth against Taehyung’s again. Wet and messy. Desperate but slow. It isn’t anything because it’s like he never left, like he never stopped. Taehyung kisses him back, and his hands don’t stop, both of them now, and Jeongguk touches him back because as much as he likes being touched, he likes it too, giving someone else his hands.

 

“Want it, want it, want-” he says into the kiss, the mess of it he leaves on Taehyung’s cheek, his jaw, his top lip, his nose because fuck it, it’s a cute nose, and Jeongguk is only half hard again while Taehyung is really getting there, but Jeongguk is still half asleep, dreamy with it, delirious for it, and he knows it won’t take him long. The dumb boy part of his brain tells him he’s just horny, early morning hours soaked with it but the other part, the part he’s probably too young for, tells him he wants Taehyung, and that right now, at 3-whatever-hour-it-is-a.m., all the reasons he shouldn’t aren’t real. “It’s tomorrow, right? Maybe? Def- nghh - definitely? And you said. We can be quiet. I can. The bed can. I prom- I just. Want you .”    

 

Taehyung doesn’t answer immediately. He’s too busy laughing quietly. Too busy kissing Jeongguk’s neck with his hands inside his borrowed sweats and oh. He pauses for a moment. Looks up. Then, he whispers, breathy and hot and close close close ,

 

“Yeah. Okay, yeah . C’mere.”

 

And it isn’t anything but they kiss until the front of Jeongguk’s sweats is wet, cock hard and flushed against his hip. Until Taehyung gets him on his back and pulls them off, his own baggy boxers around his knees. Taehyung pushes his shirt up above his pecs, kisses his ribs, his niples, Jeongguk warming his hands on the soft skin of Taehyung’s back. They kiss with their bodies lined up, Jeongguk’s leg pulled up to fit Taehyung against him, knee splayed against the bed. It’s one kiss and another and another. A drawer shuts quietly. Bottle of lube toppled over the pillow. Taehyung’s sticky hand between them, wet. Taehyung wraps his hand around both of them, lets Jeongguk fuck into his fist and fucks back, their skin sticky and hot between their thighs. Jeongguk feels flushed all over. His gut feels too hot for how slow they’re moving, a barely there rock, a neverending drag of hips, Taehyung’s hip bones digging into the v of Jeongguk’s hips, his abs wet and messy against their cocks. It isn’t anything but he’s got Taehyung’s tongue in his mouth and his own hands digging into Taehyung’s shoulders, his hair, his ass.

 

And it’s too much and not enough, the tip of everything he wants- he wants his mouth all over Taehyung’s cock, Taehyung’s tongue on his, wants him inside, wants Taehyung between his thighs in every way he can, any way, wants him to touch him the way he was earlier for as long as he wants, wants Taehyung to touch him like he’s carving himself a space made just for him, turn the marble of Jeongguk’s body into something malleable, the softest clay, fucking putty, he wants to be loud and move as much he wants, wants it until he’s truly delirious with it- and he wants. But the bed is being quiet for once, just the smallest sounds, and Jeongguk is a fucking livewire anyway, Taehyung’s touch crackling over his sweaty skin. He has everything he wants anyway.

 

It isn’t anything so it barely takes anything, Taehyung’s tongue a slow fuck into his mouth, his hand getting it just right after Jeongguk adjusts his grip around his cock, his own thumb flicking at Taehyung’s wet head. The electric thing zings in Jeongguk’s belly, builds and builds until he grunts, feels like his body is coming apart, hands scrabbling at Taehyung’s shoulders, feet kicking against his hips. He jerks in Taehyung’s hand, thighs trembling as he comes between them, a sharp inhale bleeding into a soft moan against Taehyung’s mouth. He gets Taehyung off like that, the slide slicker now, one of Taehyung’s hands buried in his hair to angle his head back as he kisses Jeongguk into the pillow, the other coming around his still shaking body, wrapping it around him as he fucks his cock against him as if he were inside of Jeongguk’s body, carving that place, stone made clay, his . Taehyung is even quieter when he comes, a grunt that’s all teeth, a small sound shoved into the back of his throat, noise that bleeds Jeongguk’s ears blue.

 

With one last grind of his hips, Taehyung goes still and sort of flops down on top of Jeongguk in that way boys do. Apparently, it’s a guy thing as well. It doesn’t surprise Jeongguk, a notorious flopper himself. Exhausted and up way later than he should be, all he does is lie there, draws his toe along Taehyung’s ankle, basks in the lush buzzing come down.

 

“Sorry,” Taehyung mumbles from where he has his face half buried in the pillow, half against Jeongguk’s shoulder. “I’ll move in a second, my brain isn’t a thing right now.”  

 

Jeongguk laughs quietly. He combs through Taehyung’s hair. He’s sticky and too hot and messy but he’s eighteen. He’s just a dumb blue feeling boy. He likes it sticky and too hot and messy.  

 

“Okay,” Taehyung says with gravity. He picks himself on his hands and knees, stops when he looks at Jeongguk. “Wait. Nope. Hold on.” He ducks his head, kisses Jeongguk once sweetly, still manages to make it sticky, Jeongguk’s heart too hot, his insides a happily scattered mess. He pulls away with a low hum, leaves Jeongguk grinning up at him. It feels dopey on his mouth but Jeongguk doesn’t care. In the room’s shadows he can make out Taehyung smiling just as dopey back.

 

Clean up is the easiest part, Taehyung sacrificing his shirt to wipe the come off Jeongguk’s body, the sweat off his own. Jeongguk waves him off when he makes noise about changing the sheets, content to move only far enough to pull his mildly dirty sweats back on.  

 

“Thanks for remembering to take my pants off,” he says when Taehyung is lying next to him, both of them rolled on their sides and touching but not, a knee there, an arm here, their knuckles brushing. Their heads are on the same pillow but it doesn’t feel strange, too close too fast. Feels the right amount of casually not-casual. Like it’s just where their heads naturally want to be.

 

Jeongguk’s eyelashes flutter. He wonders if he’ll dream again. “I wouldn’t have.”

 

Taehyung laughs, his breath warm on his face. He smells like stale toothpaste, a few hours of sleep in, the pine of his laundry detergent. Jeongguk wonders if he smells the same now. “Any time.”

 

Jeongguk yawns. Hopes so.

 

The mattress springs squeak. Jeongguk’s foot between two of Taehyung’s. Taehyung’s hand curled close to his hip.

 

Quietly, Taehyung whispers, “I really hope you let me take your picture someday.”

 

Jeongguk is already imagining it. The burnt orange from De Kooning’s Woman . The angel hair from The Creation of Adam . The dark hues from The Night’s Watch . The blue from Whanki Kim’s Tranquility . Every shade of color and gold from The Kiss , even the bits of red.

 

“I really hope you wake up spooning me,” Jeongguk says before he falls asleep, and he doesn’t need to be awake to know it made Taehyung laugh.






__________






The summer Jeongguk was four, the ocean in Busan was red.

 

It took his mother a millisecond to go from fretting over her ruined floors to fretting over her possibly poisoned son. Pulling Jeongguk’s mouth open revealed clean teeth, a pink tongue. She washed his hands and feet while his father scrubbed the floors, then joined him to finish in the living room while Jeongguk remained blissfully oblivious to the headache he’d caused, too busy building and knocking down towers with his favorite blocks by the sofa.

 

He won’t remember it. Why the colors. Why the ocean. Why blue, why red. All he’ll remember is the paint. The memory of the ocean in his head. Something he could touch. His. Something he loved. Something that could love him back. His .   






_____________






The next time Jeongguk blinks, the room is flooded with light. All he sees in front of him is the edge of a pillowcase, a series of black and white photographs, a wrinkled poster of a band he couldn’t tell anyone the name of if they paid him. All he feels is the warm blankets and across his waist, the weight of someone’s arm, soft snores sticky against his nape, a hand curled around his belly, fingers long and elegantly broad. Pianist’s hands. The hands of a sculptor if he put his mind to it.   

 

Jeongguk basks in the warmth, the electric thrum kissing him everywhere.

 

He buries his dopey smile against Taehyung’s pillow.






___