Chapter 1: who waits for love?
Taehyung can tell that Jungkook is done. Everyone’s done, really. It’s been a long day even for Taehyung, and he isn’t part of the dance line practice that Hoseok is running in the evenings. They all had demanding voice lessons before that—Taehyung managed to get snapped at for goofing off too much, and then again for being purposely low energy afterward. At lunch, Jungkook is already just a machine, not even joining the conversation when a stylist noona tells them that the managers had an hour meeting—an hour—about whether or not Jimin can dye his hair in the middle of promotions, and decided that no, he can’t. Taehyung wants to go back to the dorms—to shower and lose a few rounds of Overwatch—but instead he sits huddled in a corner of the dance floor during Hoseok’s practice. He messes with his phone for a while and then just kind of spaces out and watches when he realizes that he doesn’t even have it in him to find the internet interesting. Jimin seems pissed and jittery about the hair thing, and he throws it into his dancing, executing the new choreo with a loose, stunning artistry and then getting immediately huffy when Hoseok takes issue with anything. Jungkook is still just a machine, everything spot on but his face impassive. Hoseok has that quiet intensity he gets when they’re coming up against a performance and he thinks no one is quite there yet, but even so he barely prods Jungkook, doesn’t poke fun at his mistakes, just briefly tells him what to fix.
When they finish, Jimin impulsively starts a Vlive, “to check in with ARMY and send and receive love,” he tells his phone, and Jungkook vanishes immediately while Hoseok clowns for the camera. Taehyung flashes a peace sign from the floor before grabbing his stuff to follow Jungkook—he sees him halfway down the hallway and then hears footsteps pounding behind him.
“Kookie!” Jimin calls. “Kookie-yah! They want to say hi!” Taehyung stills for the inevitable train wreck—Jimin channeling everything into a buzzy social energy, Jungkook impassive and resentful. Jungkook turns slowly, pulls his bucket hat lower, and then switches visibly into fan rendezvous mode. Jimin comes around behind him to capture them both in the shot, and Jungkook tilts his head back and offers a few platitudes that seem to cost him more effort than the entire evening’s practice. “We’re working hard on something special, aren’t we Kookie?” Jimin prompts. Jungkook just looks lost.
Taehyung watches, and then does the only thing that makes sense—he summons up the shreds of his remaining energy and takes off running toward them. He sees them look up in surprise a moment before he crashes into Jungkook. “We love you ARMY!” he shouts, face as close to the camera as possible, and then he grabs Jungkook by the torso and drags him down the hall. Jungkook seems to catch on, and they both take off running, Taehyung relieved to hear Jimin laughing behind them.
They bust through the double doors, and then they still to a respectful walk by the offices, and Taehyung feels light on his feet for the first time that day. He doesn’t expect anything from Jungkook, knows that he’s practically a dead man walking right now, and he’s right—he barely looks around as they head back to the dorm, blearily rubbing his eyes while they wait for the elevator. When the elevator doors close, though, Jungkook sags onto him from behind, his forehead on his shoulder, arms around his waist, and Taehyung knows it’s kind of like a thanks. And for some reason he wishes there were ten more floors.
Jungkook showers, and then instead of going through his whole skincare routine he just wanders over to Namjoon’s room and flops onto his bed. Namjoon barely says hi, which is good, and then goes back to working on lyrics, which is even better. It’s kind of like a magical circle of protection from group activity fuckery, to be in Namjoon’s room while he’s working seriously on something. Even Jin rarely disturbs him when he’s like this. Jungkook stares at Namjoon’s feet—he tends to bounce his right foot in frustration or excitement when he’s close to an idea—and savors the silence, the not moving, the not demanding. He thinks for a bit about Namjoon’s dedication, wonders if this kind of productive energy is something you can catch if it’s floating in the air around you. And then he purposely tries not to think about that. He feels a familiar dread about how he’s made no progress on his own mixtape, guilt for how he’d postponed that meeting about it—supposedly because their schedule was too packed, but actually because he had nothing to say. It’s such a rare chance, something he’s been working toward for years, but suddenly he doesn’t have any concepts or ideas; he just feels empty. These days he’s sleepwalking through practice and training, lapsing on hobbies he’d just picked up and that fans are sure to ask about, doing the bare minimum. Coasting by on old goodwill, the memory of hard work. He rolls onto his back and looks up at the ceiling.
Namjoon’s muttering to himself, and then he turns toward Jungkook in his computer chair, asks him to look at something and tell him what he thinks. Jungkook drags himself out of bed and leans over his hyung’s shoulder to look at the screen.
“Did you get my pillows all wet?” Namjoon asks, like it just occurred to him. Jungkook is busy trying to wrap his brain around the verse.
“I like how it seems like you’re there,” he says finally. “Like you’re seeing it happen, instead of it just being a metaphor.” Namjoon nods. “I think that word,” he points, “is too similar to that one.” Namjoon makes a noise of disagreement.
“It’s supposed to be.”
“This line,” he points again, “is my favorite. It feels really specific.” Namjoon nods again. He says it aloud—“But I’m even thirstier than before”—and then feels like maybe he shouldn’t have.
“You’re good at this, you know,” Namjoon says with a sudden emphasis, looking up at him. “If you kept pushing, they’d probably let you write more.” Jungkook doesn’t know how to answer, just feels stupid.
“JK mixtape. Hwaiting,” he says weakly.
“Yeah. What’s happening with that?” Jungkook curses himself for bringing it up at all, suddenly feels like Namjoon’s room while he’s working is actually the worst place to be. At least in the living room with Jimin watching a loud drama no one would be asking him about progress. He straightens up, shakes his wet hair—Namjoon launches forward to wipe water droplets off of his notebook.
“Sorry,” he mutters. He gives his token excuse about their schedule, tries his best not to look like someone with nothing to offer the world. Namjoon pats him absentmindedly on the shoulder, his mind already back on his work.
“You’ll get there. You always do.” Jungkook thanks him automatically. “Let me know though,” he adds, fiddling with his computer, “if they’re dragging their feet. I’ll talk to them for you.” Jungkook nods, feeling even guiltier than before. He flops back on the bed, wonders how long you can bank on other people’s confidence in you before there’s nothing left to pull from.
Jungkook vows the next day to turn things around. He wakes up late, which is dumb, but then he mentally sets aside a short block of time after lunch for brainstorming and even emails to see if they’ll schedule a meeting about his mixtape next month. He really likes the direction their new singles are going, and his recording session that afternoon starts out well. They get through the up-tempo song quite well, and everyone likes Jungkook’s ad libs—they return to a few to refine them. He hasn’t heard the new vocals on the other track yet, and the producer plays him the whole song to see if they want to add any harmony before they focus on Jungkook’s lines. He nods along at Jimin’s part, really likes the way he curves up to the high notes, is impressed as usual with how he always sounds so effortlessly sincere. They have Namjoon filling in some harmonies—he actually sounds decent—and then it’s Taehyung’s lines, and for some reason Jungkook isn’t ready.
Taehyung’s voice is just an everyday facet of his life. Jungkook has been singing with him since he was fifteen, imitating him on variety shows, critiquing him mercilessly from the sink while he belts in the shower. It’s just another part of his odd, lucky life; it shouldn’t be special. But that afternoon his hyung’s voice catches him by surprise, deep and close and seductive in his headphones, and suddenly he feels cold, his throat tight. The lyrics are about loss, pleading with someone who’s already gone, and Taehyung wraps around each phrase—Jungkook briefly imagines him recording next to him in the dark, licking his lips before the take. He shivers. Then it’s Jimin again, and Jungkook exhales. There’s an unfinished section where Jungkook is supposed to be trying his lines, but he just stands there, looking at the floor. The last line is Taehyung’s, of course—he’s high and plaintive, his voice catching expressively. And then the track ends with a click.
“Any thoughts?” the producer asks him through his headphones, and Jungkook shakes his head emphatically. The old demon is back.
When Jungkook was a lot younger, and didn’t know how to wall himself off, or that his body was this inexplicable thing liable to betray him, Hoseok used to joke that Jungkook had a huge crush on Taehyung. Jokes, especially jokes at each other’s expense, were usually something that they traded around, recycled until it was unclear who originated them, but for some reason this joke was only Hoseok’s. He teased Jungkook for his crestfallen looks when Taehyung chose another team, when he wouldn’t come watch Jungkook play video games, when he got the chance to leave practice early and actually did. “Give the poor kid a break,” Yoongi broke in at one point. “He won’t always get one.” For some reason Yoongi’s comment stuck with him. He wishes he didn’t, but he understands it now, thinks of it every time staff edits him and Taehyung out of a video or reminds them to “behave like men.” Jungkook is older now, much more experienced at self-censorship. Sometimes he even just exists for long stretches of time, doesn’t consciously acknowledge how he’s always, always trying not to think too much about it. And then there are times like today in the recording booth, when he’s weak beneath it again.
Jungkook spends the rest of the day self-censoring, and also trying to subtly avoid Taehyung. He notices, of course—he’s worse than Jimin about feeling neglected—and that night when he invites Jungkook on an unauthorized convenience store run, and Jungkook shakes his head no, he sees him visibly pout.
“Come on,” Jimin wheedles beside him. Lowers his voice. “They can take my hair color but they can’t take my cheap snacks.”
“I’m staying too,” Taehyung says, plopping heavily next to Jungkook on the couch. “I respect rules.” Jin snorts.
“Fine,” Jungkook says, panicking a bit. “I’ll go.” He ignores Taehyung’s look of betrayal and stands up. It’s just for a little bit, he tells himself. Just until he gets back to normal.
“I don’t care who goes,” Jin stage whispers, rattling the keys, “but we’re leaving now.”
Taehyung really does stay behind, and Jungkook at first feels relieved and then spends the whole trip stewing about it. He remembers how Taehyung rescued him yesterday from Jimin’s Vlive, how he’s gotten so good at supporting him without pushing too hard at his boundaries, how he doesn’t deserve any of this. He spaces out in the snack aisle and ends up just buying an assortment of Taehyung’s favorites—maybe he can chuck the bags at him one by one from across the room when they get back. And then hide.
Jimin seems to notice something is off, because he serenades him with the entirety of Press Your Number from the other side of the backseat—Jungkook finds it embarrassing and funny and feels really, really bad that Taehyung is missing it. They get back to the dorm, and Jungkook tenses up again, but Taehyung’s nowhere in sight as they all drop their contraband snacks on the kitchen counter.
“What’s this?” Yoongi asks, pulling Jungkook’s grocery bag toward him and looking inside. “You don’t even like these.”
“Can you give them to Tae?” He’s already at the edge of the kitchen.
“Don’t say it’s from me.” He flees to his room.
Taehyung practically busts open his door later that night, and Jungkook jumps so hard he drops his phone on his face.
“Why are you being a brat and then buying me snacks?” Taehyung asks in the doorway, his voice accusatory. Jungkook rubs his nose, wincing, and sits up in bed.
“Huh?” Taehyung holds up a lime-colored candy bag, shakes it menacingly.
“Yoongi-hyung just dropped like seven bags of candy on my head and said they were from you.”
“God Yoongi,” Jungkook groans.
“Well?” Jungkook only has his bedside lamp on, so he can see his stance, but he can’t quite see his face.
“Who says I was being a brat?”
“I do. I should know. I’m a brat.” He’s impassive, hair shadowing his eyes.
“Maybe I was trying to make it up to you,” he mumbles, looking away.
“Think you can buy hyung’s forgiveness?”
“Yes?” Jungkook tries. Taehyung waits a beat, then lets the door close behind him and walks over to sit on the bed. He pulls a bright green candy out of the bag and holds it out to him. “I already brushed my teeth,” Jungkook protests. Taehyung raises his eyebrows, his mouth a line. Jungkook exhales and lets him feed him, sugary melon flavor hitting his tongue.
“It’s good, right?” Taehyung says, getting the rest of the way on the bed and leaning against the headboard. Jungkook makes a face.
“Goes a little weird with toothpaste.” Taehyung shakes his head.
“And now I have to think about sugar all night,” Jungkook adds, unrepentant. “Eating away at my teeth.” Taehyung rolls his eyes, pops another one in his mouth. He shouldn’t look good this way—no makeup, gaudy Gucci button-down, his hair fluffy without styling. But he does.
“What’s with you lately? You’re like a mean zombie.” Jungkook shrugs. “Buying me a pile of snacks is a cry for help if I ever saw one.” Jungkook opens his mouth, closes it. Taehyung just grabs a pillow for the small of his back and settles back against the headboard again, rooting nonchalantly through the bag. There’s a silence, and Jungkook tries to think through what’s with him. He realizes that the odd benefit of having a whole catalog of things to worry about is that he can just pick one, even if it isn’t the problem most relevant to the man currently stretched out on his bed.
“I’m kind of a failure,” he volunteers. Taehyung looks at him, eyes a little wide, and then snorts in disbelief. “I’m just coasting with everything,” he pushes. “I’m not working hard anymore. I have nothing to show for myself.”
“You put in like a ten-hour day yesterday.”
“That doesn’t count,” Jungkook protests swiftly. “That’s just stuff I have to do, that other people arranged. It’s not really a work ethic.” Taehyung tilts his head back.
“That’s not a healthy attitude,” he says finally. He holds another candy out, and Jungkook takes it carefully into his mouth.
“Just because we’re successful doesn’t mean we’ve made it,” Jungkook says through the burst of sugar. “Now there’s a higher standard.”
“I know,” Taehyung says defensively. Jungkook realizes that now it’s kind of like he’s criticizing Taehyung too, and he falls silent. “Can I stay tonight?” Taehyung asks evenly. Jungkook feels his throat clench. “I asked Jimin, but he said I was too clingy.” He doesn’t make eye contact. This is the exact, precise thing that Jungkook does not need right now. He needs a sort of blank, detoxifying space, a way to reset his body and brain, to start over tomorrow without the thought of Taehyung gnawing at his gut.
“Sure,” he says.
Taehyung disappears to get ready for bed, and Jungkook brushes his teeth again for good measure. He can take the thought of sugar rotting his teeth off his list of worries, at least. One problem solved.
Jungkook plays Overwatch for a while, Taehyung messing around on his phone and giving him weird challenges the whole time—get play of the game as Ana, push someone off the map as Lucio, kill Widow so many times that she switches. Jungkook fails most of them, but it’s fun anyway, and he feels a weird surge of pride when he boops Orisa into a well and Taehyung cheers behind him.
“It’s really an easy move,” he admits. “Happens all the time on this map.”
“No one asked for your input, wonderboy.” Taehyung cuffs him lightly on the shoulder. “You’re too hard on yourself.”
Jimin drifts in wearing a facemask, sabotages a whole game by poking Jungkook in his side every time he’s about to finish a kill, then drifts back out. Finally, Hoseok sticks his head in to suggest they go to bed, and they both complain at his hover-parenting, but Jungkook logs off anyway. Jungkook kind of thinks that Taehyung will leave then, that there’s really no point in him staying when they already hung out and his room is literally down the hall, but he just pulls his sweater off and curls up in the bed. He thumps his palm on the empty part of the mattress, his nose scrunching up in an absurdly cute yawn, and Jungkook feels his face burn as he turns off the light.
“Tell me about your mixtape,” Taehyung says in the darkness. Jungkook freezes halfway through getting in bed. “Like your concepts.” Jungkook doesn’t answer, just slowly pulls up the covers. “That’s what you’re worried about, right?” Taehyung is usually pretty oblivious to things that don’t directly affect him, on his own wavelength—why would he know this? Jungkook thinks about how he’s the most boring, least creative person in the world, how Taehyung is here next to him in the dark, asking for his thoughts, and he has nothing.
“I don’t have any ideas,” he says lamely. He imagines how someone else, some other man, would be able to come up with something on the spot, would sweep Taehyung away with his words. Woman, he thinks fervently. Some other woman. Then his brain kind of stutters to a stop.
“You always have ideas,” Taehyung says. “Sometimes they’re just a little buried.” Jungkook turns his head toward him—his eyes are adjusted and he can see his profile now.
“I heard your vocals on the new track,” he says impulsively. “They’re good.”
“Yeah?” He can barely see him, but he can tell that Taehyung lights up.
“Yeah. They’re like…” He wants to explain how sinuous they are, how Taehyung extracts everything he can from each phrase but still imbues them with meaning. “They’re really good,” he says instead. Taehyung scoots toward him, hooks a leg over Jungkook’s.
“Wanna hear my song concepts?” Jungkook adjusts his leg the tiniest bit to feel the pressure there, feels something flutter in his throat.
“Yeah,” he says earnestly.
Taehyung talks his way around and through, like he always can, his dark voice rumbling next to Jungkook’s ear. He starts with a few viable ideas and then swiftly verges into detailed nonsense—a long narrative about a rabbit that lost its home, a star that isn’t sure whether or not it wants to be human, a whole concept album about different animals—Jungkook listens to every odd story, rapt, until he starts to drift off.
Taehyung stills, maybe in the middle of something, and Jungkook is almost too far gone to notice him turning toward him. Something touches his forehead; he thinks he hears a “Goodnight, Kookie,” but it’s so soft it’s only consonants. And then he realizes how close Taehyung is, and his heartbeat jumpstarts. It’s hard to breathe, with Taehyung exhaling softly across his mouth, but he’ll never, ever move; he’ll asphyxiate here if he has to. He wonders if it’s an accident, if Taehyung is just too sleepy to care. And then he feels Taehyung hitch closer to him, and then, so light he could almost be imagining it, he feels his lips. It’s all he can do to keep himself from flinching, from opening his eyes; Taehyung’s mouth doesn’t move—it’s more like a touch than a kiss—but it doesn’t go away either. You’re asleep, Jungkook tells himself. You’re asleep. This isn’t real—don’t move, don’t move, don’t move. His palms are tingling—Taehyung nudges him with his nose, and his heart beats even faster; he’s closer now, his head tilted, but it’s still not a kiss.
Jungkook has settled on a foolproof plan, which is to not move, to never move, to become a living statue and pray that whatever’s happening keeps happening forever. But then, because his body is a traitor, he takes Taehyung’s lower lip into his mouth, grazing it gently with his teeth. Taehyung inhales sharply, and then his hand is on Jungkook’s hip, turning him toward him. He feels goosebumps down his back as Taehyung deliberately presses his whole length into him, and he pushes back as hard as he dares, finding the spot where Taehyung’s shirt rides up. He can’t handle it, feels like he’s going to lose it and kick a hole through the wall or pin Taehyung to the bed and kiss his face off. He pulls back, drapes a heavy leg over him and presses his face into his neck, whines as quietly as he can. Taehyung’s hand finds the back of his neck; he runs his long fingers up and down. Jungkook feels like he can push as hard as he wants here, and he does. He resolutely doesn’t kiss him, but he lets himself drag his lips across his skin, senses his erratic breathing right there below his mouth.
“God, Kookie.” Jungkook feels himself go hot, takes his skin into his mouth and then releases it slowly, feels more than hears the noise in the back of Taehyung’s throat. “What am I going to do with you, wonderboy?” Anything, Jungkook wants to answer. Everything. But he can’t actually acknowledge it. Talking will make it real, will turn it into something conscious that they both have to deal with. He lets out a long, frustrated sigh into Taehyung’s neck and then nuzzles himself into a more comfortable position. You’re asleep, he tells himself again. Go to sleep.
And somehow, miraculously, he does, Taehyung’s fingers tangled in his hair.
He wakes up sweaty, Taehyung cuddling him from behind. He stays perfectly still, waiting it out, and mercifully, before he works himself up into a panic, Taehyung stirs, pats him on the shoulder, and gets up. They meet again at breakfast. Jungkook tries to control his face, knows he looks like a wreck anyway, but Taehyung just shuffles over and serenely puts his chin on Jungkook’s head while he tries to chew his gyeran-mari. It quickly becomes clear that Taehyung isn’t going to acknowledge it but isn’t going to be weird either. Jungkook thinks this is the absolute best, the ideal policy. He spends the rest of the morning pretending like it didn’t happen but also feeling like he’s wrapped up in some sort of fuzzy blanket of bliss.
They have a photoshoot that day, so they get makeup and styling and then pile into black SUVs. Everyone else seems sleepy, but Jin is already in fine form, grousing loudly about his frumpy clothes until the driver is shooting looks at his increasingly absurd and insistent complaints.
“Why can’t I just have angel wings again? ARMY loves me in angel wings. ‘He’s so handsome he can fly away,’ they say. Today they’ll just say, ‘He’s like a precious trashman.’”
“It’s a cozy-style shoot,” Namjoon argues from the front seat. “We’re casual oppas.” Jin pulls angrily at his brown cardigan.
“This isn’t casual oppa! It’s casual grandpa!”
“Think of it as pre-angel,” Namjoon reasons, his dimples coming out. “You’re grandpa Jin-hyung, and then you die and blossom into angel Jin-hyung.” Hoseok’s in the middle row, directly in front of Jungkook.
“We really haven’t explored aging enough in our songs,” he says.
“It could work,” Jungkook suggests from the backseat. “Like: I’m looking back on my life, and all I remember is you.”
“Told you you’re good at this,” Namjoon says smugly.
“I want to make ARMY lose their hearts, not their eyes,” Jin grouches. “Why do I have to dress like I spend all day in a recliner?”
Jungkook assumes Yoongi is asleep in the backseat across from him, his head back, eyes closed, but then he distinctly says: “Grandpa in Luv.” They all lose it, Jin especially, and Hoseok wheezes out, “Grandpa Meets Evil.”
“Youths are getting disrespectful these days, aren’t they?” their driver says, and they shut up, Namjoon politely apologizing. The car is silent for a while, and Jungkook tries to keep it in, but eventually he can’t take it, and he leans toward Hoseok and whispers: “Grandpaz with Fun.” Hoseok stifles his laughter with his fist, shakes his head when Jin gives him a questioning look and texts the joke to the rest of the car, and by the time they get there they’re all losing it under their facemasks.
The shoot really does seem like it’ll be casual, the director and photographer establishing a chill vibe right away, with a quiet soundtrack of barely-there beats and a nice spread of healthy food in the room adjoining the set. The rest of the group shows up, Jimin complaining about how Taehyung just slept on him for the whole ride even through they’d made a big deal about how the ’95 car was going to be the fun car. Taehyung wanders in after him, predictably unrepentant, and when Jungkook gets a good look at him he can’t help but think shit.
It would be a nice, relaxing afternoon for Jungkook of zoning out while someone tells him to tilt his head in different ways if it weren’t for the fact that Taehyung is a soft force of nature. The set is all soothing warm colors and domestic details, and they’re supposed to be laying around on couches and rugs looking handsome and impassive, but Taehyung has on these grey clingy slacks and a silky button-down, his hair styled to fall gently in his eyes, and Jungkook keeps getting distracted when the director tells Taehyung to put up a leg or strike more of a pose. Jungkook schools his eyeline and facial expressions as rigidly as he can, thinking that the last thing he needs is literal photo evidence of his obsession. He’s doing pretty well, and then the director rearranges them and has Taehyung stretched out on the floor, head on his arm, and Jungkook can’t stop glancing over at the exact part of his neck that he had his mouth on last night. Yoongi actually has to grab him by the collar and direct him toward the camera, and Jungkook feels his cheeks burn. He ends up closer to Taehyung the next time they all change positions, and it’s almost easier this way, feeling him leaning languidly against him instead of having to witness it. It’s easier, at least, until Taehyung puts a hand on the small of his back, moving his fingers infinitesimally as the camera clicks, and then Jungkook wonders if the photographer knows he’s documenting his life falling apart in real time.
He really, absolutely shouldn’t, but he stays to watch Taehyung’s solo shoot, hiding in a dark corner behind the softboxes and pretending to look at his phone. Taehyung always has it in him to be a handful, but today he’s focused and responsive, his poses shifting on command from fond to sleepy to sultry. There’s a lot of emphasis on his hands, touching his neck, cradling his chin, doing his signature V by his eye, and Jungkook keeps remembering them pressing into his hip, tangled in his hair. It’s an exquisite kind of torture, and he thinks he really should leave, but then all at once they say they have what they want and it’s over. Taehyung grabs a bottle of water, and Jungkook expects him to walk out to the others, but instead he comes over to Jungkook’s corner and rests an arm on his shoulder.
“You’re next, wonderboy,” he says, offering him a drink. Jungkook takes the bottle, eyes wide, passes it back when he’s done. “I’ll try to be a little less distracting than you were.” A staff member pulls Jungkook to the center of the room, touches up his makeup, and he’s already trying to obey the director’s injunctions to look innocent and untouchable before he can even start to process how he possibly could’ve been a distraction, how Taehyung even noticed him there in the darkness.
Jungkook doesn’t realize how much he expected Taehyung to come hang out with him again that night until he doesn’t. It’s not even that late when Taehyung leans into his room, tosses him a handful of candy in a sort of cluster bomb that Jungkook couldn’t possibly catch, and then laughingly wishes him goodnight while he’s still trying to fish pieces out of his computer keyboard. He feels disappointed and lame, and he ends up eating all the candy while reading a bunch of weird Wikipedia articles about Abraxas, even though he didn’t particularly want any. Eventually, he wanders out to the main room to watch TV with Jimin.
“How do we get Hobi-hyung to forget we have extra practice again tomorrow?” Jimin whispers during a commercial, curled up next to him on the couch. “He said we would, but it’s not on the schedule.” Jungkook considers it, drums a rhythm on Jimin’s knee.
“Don’t bring it up at all,” he whispers back finally. “We just skip it, somewhere he won’t find us, and then when he’s mad just say”—he pitches his voice up—“hyung, it wasn’t on the schedule.” Jimin snorts with laughter into his shoulder. “How could we know?”
“What a brat,” he says, eyes dancing as he pulls a bag of contraband shrimp crackers out from under his blanket. “Where do we go during practice?” Jungkook shrugs, not sure he really wants to make Hoseok mad.
“Everywhere I can think of is lamer than actually just going to practice.”
“Yeah,” Jimin admits. The show starts again, and they half-watch it for a while. “Someday,” Jimin says, when they’re supposed to be wondering if the lead will finally work up the courage to confess, “I’m going to do whatever I want, every single dumb thing I can think of.” He crunches menacingly on a cracker.
Chapter 2: i know you always win at this particular game
Jungkook hasn’t journaled in years. It used to be one of those hobbies that he felt like defined him as person, marked him out as thoughtful and special. Of course, there was always the dissonance of his old journals reading like boring, pseudo-deep clichés. But he still always had a vague conviction that things were different now. Now he was grown, now he was deep, now he was a completely different person from the boy who had scrawled pages and pages about feeling alone or being above the petty concerns of his school friends. But at some point that hubris faded, and he realized that everything he ever wrote to prove his own specialness was actually just more clichés to cringe at later, and he started journaling more cryptically, more obliquely, and then he stopped journaling at all.
But Namjoon suggests it that morning, eyes earnest over his steaming coffee, his hair a rumpled mess. Jungkook keeps expecting him to forget about the whole JK mixtape thing, doesn’t know why he’s suddenly prioritizing it, out of all the things they should be preparing for right now, but he keeps dropping him little kernels of advice about it. It’s good timing, because Jungkook got an email back surprisingly fast about the producers being willing to set up another meeting about the project next month.
“You can just journal about whatever, about totally unrelated stuff, or even writing really fast, like total nonsense, but then eventually you’ll start to get more ideas.” He takes a pull from his coffee. “Like with mine, sometimes I’m just writing my way through stuff, but it still helps me brainstorm lyrics.” Jungkook nods, considering. Namjoon stands, grabs his coffee. “If you try to find my journal and read it,” he adds casually, “I’ll murder you.”
So now Jungkook is sitting in an empty practice room with a blank book his brother got him for his birthday. The book feels way too nice to actually write in, the cover patterned like wood grain, the insides marbled with dark purples and light yellows. He works up his courage, flips to a random page and writes Jeon Jungkook. He thinks about what he would say if he could whisper into a black hole where no one else could ever hear, and he flips the page and writes I am attracted to men. It’s stark, unavoidable there on the page, and he resists the urge to look up at where the security cameras are hidden. Then he crosses out men and writes man. He taps his pen nervously. I am a healthy adult who is not creepy, he writes under it. He wonders if those two sentences cancel each other out. Then he tears the page out carefully and rips it to shreds, shoves the pieces in his pocket, and starts over.
I am a failure, he writes at the top of a page. He looks at the sentence, tries to decide if it’s true, if it fits. He thinks about how after their idol days are over, he’s going to be the one who doesn’t do anything, who seemed like he had a lot of potential but goes nowhere. They’re all so blatantly talented, so individual—they can be writers, rappers, producers; Jin the charisma king can go into the restaurant business, variety shows; Taehyung can do anything, can be a fucking model and make everyone else question their sexuality. Jungkook will end up being the one who banks on his likeability to open a sleazy nightclub. Come to my nightclub, he’ll say in the ads. We have overpriced shots and nothing else to offer the world. Then he’ll wink at the camera and there’ll be a cheesy sound effect. His only remaining skill: aegyo. Jimin and Hoseok will come by to dance when they’re not busy, just to support him, before going back to their lives of artistic merit. It’s great!, they’ll say, but they’ll secretly think: This is it? This is all you’ve created, golden maknae?
He tears that page out too, crumpling it and adding it to his pocket, silently asking his brother’s forgiveness for messing up the beautiful book. He thinks about Taehyung’s song concepts, and in the time he has left on his break he just writes a story about a boy who’s afraid of the moon. It’s silly, and it doesn’t really mean anything, but he doesn’t tear it out.
They have to film a few Run BTS! episodes that day, and it’s actually pretty fun. It’s a farm theme, so they’re all wearing dorky overalls, and Taehyung complains that they should’ve gone to a real farm instead of making the studio look tacky with old-timey farm equipment props and baskets of rice. They’re playing a game where each team has someone who represents a customs official, and the other team members shove these big plastic crops into a burlap bag and then declare what they have in their bag and wait for permission to pass. The goal is to get as many crops through as they can for their team, and they get extra points if they’re able to successfully sneak across more crops than they’ve declared, but if the customs official thinks they’re lying, they can search their bag and turn them back. Jungkook gets picked as the official for his team, and he stalks around in his overalls waving a giant foam pitchfork that staff says he can hit the other team with if he catches them lying. It’s absurd and fun and no one quite has a handle on all the rules, and Jungkook revels in the petty power of his role, questioning all his hyungs as they wait to cross and trying to catch them in a lie: how many ears of corn did you say you had again? Why so many pieces of pork?
He's the most despotic of the customs officials, of course; Hoseok gets tricked and flustered and lets bags through that look obviously way too full. Jungkook knows his team is going to win, can see Taehyung and Jimin whispering frantically in what he assumes is last-minute strategizing. He busts Jin easily for trying to sneak an extra loaf of bread, watches smugly as he has to go and put it back. And then Taehyung approaches him with a bulging bag and a look, and instead of just reciting his bag inventory like he did before, he taps under Jungkook’s chin, puts a hand flat on his chest, pouts a bit and pitches his voice up just so. Jungkook feels his eyes widen as Taehyung catalogs his bag contents, lacing his words with honorifics, his voice in borderline Pingu territory, and he’s wearing his round glasses and a shirt with wide red stripes under his overalls, and he’s just so fucking cute. He lets his hand fall as he finishes, his fingers brushing against the inside of Jungkook’s elbow, and Jungkook tries to remember what it was he had said was in his bag, to think through whether it seems plausible, but his brain just kind of sputters while Taehyung tilts his head and gives him a giant, boxy smile. He realizes that everyone is looking at them, and for the lack of anything rational to do, Jungkook slowly raises his giant foam pitchfork, watches Taehyung’s eyes widen a bit, and then hits himself dully on the head. Jimin collapses with laughter, and Taehyung seems to take this as a signal that he’s ok to go through.
“Are you kidding me?!” Namjoon calls. “He’s carrying a whole farm in that bag.” Jungkook looks over his shoulder and watches Taehyung empty an obscene amount of crops into his team’s pile.
“These are unfair tactics,” Yoongi complains, his words rapid. “You shouldn’t be allowed to seduce the customs official—what’s the poor kid supposed to do? It’s foul play.” He looks around at the staff, but the director just shrugs.
“Sucks to suck,” Jimin says, still laughing maniacally, and Taehyung returns to his side, a smile tugging at his lips while staff tabulates the goldmine of points he just earned.
“This is a dangerous precedent for corruption in the customs system,” Namjoon opines. Then he adds, “Suga-hyung, do a sexy dance for Hobi.” Everyone cracks up and then springs into action, going faster than before now that team Kim Seokjin actually has a chance at winning. Jungkook is still embarrassed and unsteady, and he starts just calling Taehyung a liar every single time he tries to cross, and it hilariously works almost every time, Taehyung repeatedly surprised that he isn’t getting away with it again. They’re still neck-in-neck, and there’s a last-minute scramble, and when they count everything at the end Jungkook’s team wins after all. Jungkook is caught between feeling triumphant and powerful and really, really dumb. In the downtime before filming the last game, Yoongi sidles up to him.
“They’ll probably edit it out,” he mumbles, pretending to look elsewhere, and hands him a juice bottle. They always do, don’t they, Jungkook thinks, but he doesn’t answer, and Yoongi drifts away like he hadn’t said anything at all.
“Do you ever think we’re so sex-starved that it kind of…comes out in weird ways?” Jungkook finds himself asking Yoongi later, when they’re both working in his studio. He regrets it instantly, but Yoongi just swivels around in his computer chair, gives him a narrow look, and then swivels back.
“I’m not having this conversation with you,” he says flatly. Jungkook feels a wash of shame. But he also knows that it’s sort of ok, coming from Yoongi, who is somehow both the most and least judgmental of his friends. Jungkook is stretched out with his laptop on Yoongi’s couch, and he tries to get back to work instead of feeling embarrassed, listlessly rereading his attempts at brainstorming album concepts. What with the Taehyung thing, this is exactly the wrong time for him to let his mind wander, and yet here he is, supposed to trust himself and explore freely, or whatever Namjoon had said, until he finds a concept he really wants to pursue. Or, more likely, until he dredges up his inner horror.
“Look,” Yoongi says suddenly, swiveling back, crooking his facemask down. “I’m only going to say this once. Don’t you think there’s a difference between…between something misdirected, and something that’s always directed at the same person?” Jungkook swallows hard, tries to process it. He kind of wants to act like he doesn’t understand, but he also really, really doesn’t want Yoongi to get more specific. “Something to think about. When you’re busy never having this conversation with me ever again.” He swivels back decisively. A concept, Jungkook types. I hide forever and no one ever finds me.
Eventually Jimin shows up, but instead of coming into Yoongi’s studio he keeps walking by and then shoving his whole body up against the opaque door in ridiculous poses. Jungkook cracks up every time, and after a while even Yoongi huffs out a little laugh and shakes his head, looking fond.
“Get in here, kid,” he barks the next time he does it, and Jimin comes in immediately, his eyes wide and innocent.
“You wanted me, Yoongi-hyung?” Jungkook giggles, and he sees the corners of Jimin’s lips quiver.
“Just come hang out if you’re going to keep doing the Moscow ballet out there.”
“Sorry, hyung, was that distracting?” Somehow Jimin keeps his face angelic while Jungkook giggles into the couch.
“Everything about you is distracting,” Yoongi says, his voice still perfectly flat—his eyes flicker to Jungkook, and he spins his chair back around. “Why don’t you stay and hang out with Kookie instead of Swan Lake-ing through every office in Big Hit?” Jimin sits on Jungkook’s feet, his composure cracking when they make eye contact. Jungkook puts his arms up, doing his best impression of one of Jimin’s poses at the door, and they giggle quietly while Yoongi frowns at his computer screen.
Jungkook works for a while longer, Jimin leaning companionably against his knees and laughing occasionally at his phone, and then he nudges Jimin and packs up to go. He turns back at the door when Jimin doesn’t follow.
“Coming?” he asks. Jimin shakes his head, lays back on the couch.
“Nah. I’ll just stay here for a while.” He pushes his hair out of his eyes, still looking at his phone.
“Oh. Ok. See you.” Jimin flaps a hand vaguely behind him, and Jungkook leaves. He feels like he’s missing something, but he has no idea what.
Later that night, when Jungkook’s in his dorm aimlessly browsing SoundCloud, Taehyung creaks open his door and to say goodnight again. Yesterday it had been a total surprise when Taehyung threw that candy at him, but tonight Jungkook’s alert to the possibility of foul play, and he tenses when he sees both of Taehyung’s hands come into view, full to bursting. Jungkook shakes his head no, but Taehyung gives him a giant grin and throws everything up. An assortment of pre-wrapped candy and snacks rains down, hitting Jungkook on the head and thumping into his laptop. A moment later he’s on his feet, candy sliding off his shoulders—Taehyung gives a small screech and takes off. Jungkook is immediately hot on his trail, pounding down the hallway after him; Taehyung throws a few more bags behind him like he’s been holding them in reserve, but it barely slows Jungkook down, and then he’s on him. He scoops Taehyung up without thinking, marching him back down the hall while he squirms and laughs breathlessly into his neck, until they get back to his room and Jungkook dumps him unceremoniously onto his bed.
“You can’t do that,” Jungkook says intensely. “You can’t just throw things at me and run away.” Taehyung looks up at him, still giggling, and then raises his eyebrows, gives him a look.
“Why do I feel like this isn’t about candy?”
“It is,” Jungkook says stubbornly. “I feel very strongly about candy.” Taehyung giggles, hooks his foot behind Jungkook’s knee and yanks inward—Jungkook loses his balance and whumps face-first onto the bed. For a moment he doesn’t move, feels the blood pounding in his ears. “You’re paying for that one,” he says into the comforter. Taehyung rolls toward him.
“What was that, dongsaeng?” he asks, voice dripping with mock-concern.
“I said”—Jungkook sits up, flips Taehyung over and pins him down by his wrists while he shrieks—“you’re paying for that one.” Taehyung dissolves into giggles again, and Jungkook doesn’t have a plan, just has adrenaline in his blood, Taehyung squirming beneath him, and a fierce desire to get his attention.
“Children,” Namjoon calls from the doorway, his voice flat and annoyed. Jungkook looks up, cheeks burning. “Can we not do this at 11 at night?” Taehyung takes the opportunity to wrap his legs around him and twist, and Jungkook is so surprised and embarrassed that he flops over without a fight. Taehyung sits up, Jungkook still trapped between his thighs.
“Sorry, hyung,” he says cheekily to Namjoon. Jungkook groans, tries to extricate himself.
“What is all this?” Namjoon asks flatly, gesturing at the snacks peppered across the desk and floor. “Where did it even come from?”
“Fan mail,” Taehyung lies sweetly.
“You guys can’t eat like this in the middle of promotions.” Taehyung makes a face, his eyes wide, mouth a cartoonish line, and shrugs. “I’m serious.” Jungkook assesses his options, and then just dives at Taehyung’s torso—they roll backward and then straight off the bed. Jungkook lands on his back, breath gone, Taehyung on top of him, and then they’re both cracking up.
“Do I need to call a group meeting to address this?” Namjoon says from the door, utterly done. Jungkook is laughing so hard he feels tears on his cheeks; Taehyung rolls off him and into a little ball, shaking and wiping his eyes. Jungkook peers up over the edge of the bed at the tall, frustrated man in his doorway.
“Sorry, hyung. I think we resolved it though,” he volunteers. Namjoon pinches the bridge of his nose, sighs.
“Seriously, don’t eat this crap.” He gestures to the food. “Management will kill me.”
“Of course not,” Jungkook says cheerily. “Promotions! Bangtan! Hwaiting!” Taehyung pops up beside him and pumps his fist.
“Hwaiting!” he yells. Namjoon closes his eyes in annoyance.
“Please. Just shut up and go to bed.” Jungkook salutes him, and Taehyung follows suit. “I swear, if you keep running and screaming I’m calling a group meeting. And you’ll be the ones to wake up Yoongi for it.” He leaves, muttering to himself, and they both collapse again on the floor behind the bed, loopy and relieved. They end up just laying next to each other on their backs until they calm down.
“I want to eat it all now,” Taehyung says seriously, and Jungkook snorts.
“You know what I think?” Jungkook turns to look at him, still giddy. “I think throwing that much food at me is a cry for help if I ever saw one.” Taehyung scrunches up his face, pushes at Jungkook’s bicep with both hands.
“Are you trying to move me?” Jungkook asks, amused.
Taehyung’s in full-on rebellion mood now, wanting to sneak out or prank Namjoon or start a very uncalled for Vlive. They clamber back onto the bed, and Jungkook settles into Taehyung’s shoulder while he scrolls through Twitter and tries to decide what they should do. He wants to stay up with him, but he falls asleep right there, barely waking up when Taehyung reorients him and tucks him in.
“What am I going to do with you, maknae?” he thinks he hears Taehyung whisper. “What am I going to do?” And then the light flicks off, and Taehyung nestles in beside him, and Jungkook makes a small happy noise and drifts off again.
Chapter 3: i'm smiling with low expectations
A few days later, they pack up and leave. They fly out for a major awards show performance, and it’s nonstop after that—Jungkook realizes how many slices of freedom there actually were in their schedule back at the dorms. It’s the kind of work that pulls him back, though, gives him focus and clarity—last-minute choreography, dress rehearsals and blocking, and then the buildup that day, the waiting somehow both boring and antsy—until they’re on stage, and everything bursts into color and noise and sweat. Jungkook thrums with energy when the music hits, hours and hours of practice kicking in.
It’s multiple demanding performances in a row, everyone pushing harder and dancing sharper than he’s seen in practice: rap line dependable and steady, Jimin and Jin somehow adding new aegyo to a routine where every move is accounted for, Taehyung getting that fierce look of concentration, executing every hit like he wants them to beg for mercy. At a certain point of exhaustion and adrenaline, everything becomes a wash—Jungkook tries to grip onto the performance as it passes, adding whatever he can in the moment, but all at once it’s over, and all he can hear is heavy breathing in his in-ear monitor and deafening screams. He tries to look satisfied and cute and thankful for all the love, but he’s still hungry, still wants the performance to be harder, the bar to be higher.
After a demanding stage, they usually separate out into two unspoken contingents: those who want to talk everything through, the highs and lows and problems and opportunities, and those who want to just exist for a while. Jungkook’s usually part of the former, observant and critical, but this time he drifts over to the quiet group while Hoseok and Jimin rival each other in funny imitations of a move Jimin purports to have messed up. He sinks into the couch between Yoongi and Taehyung, and Taehyung gives him a kind of bleary thumbs up and rests his calves on Jungkook’s lap. Jungkook leans his head back, his body still buzzing, and he thinks that they’ve just done something concrete, made something good.
They take home most of the awards they were nominated for, and everyone cries backstage, even Yoongi, and they’re dead tired from the broadcast and the press but most of them still call their families on the way back to the hotel. Jungkook’s parents ask about the awards they missed (“Social media, can you believe it?”), and they complain about the selection committee and imply that if Bangtan works harder next time, maybe they can do better. Jungkook’s older brother steals the phone at that point, congratulating him with more gusto than usual, and Jungkook’s sleepy and thankful for him in the backseat.
They fly back early the next day, and they’re supposed to rest up because promotions aren’t nearly over, but Jin insists they should have a party at the dorms that night, and he’s so confident and inexorable about it that Namjoon gives up and lets it happen. Jin has a stash of soju in his room, because of course he does, and he puts it out on the kitchen island late that afternoon, telling Jungkook in confidence that it’s a lure. Jungkook doesn’t get what he means until he sees other bottles start appearing as the day wanes, all dropped off anonymously (though Jimin tells Jungkook that the whiskey is definitely Yoongi’s). Jungkook’s contribution is to gather up the snacks Taehyung’s scattered through his room and dump them on the table. Namjoon gives him a death glare when he sees it, but he doesn’t say anything.
After dinner Namjoon rigs up multiple portable speakers to play a hip-hop/EDM mix that he’s curated, and he’s really casual about it but Jungkook can tell that he’s anxious for them to like the playlist. So Jungkook starts the dancing, doing a bunch of stupid moves and cracking them up while Jin pours out glasses. He and Hoseok and Jimin take turns doing their most ridiculous impressions of other idols, everyone else on the couch laughing and guessing who everyone is, until Jin gets up to do his legendary Blackpink impression and everything goes to chaos. They all pace themselves pretty well on drinking except for Jimin and Jin, who end up giggling on the floor with surprising rapidity.
At some point Hoseok insists on everyone doing toasts, and Jungkook rolls his eyes but secretly thinks it’s kind of a nice idea. Namjoon turns down the music and everyone calms down a bit, and right when Namjoon starts the first toast Taehyung drifts over nonchalantly and sits directly in Jungkook’s lap. Jungkook peeks around him at his drink, surprised to see that it’s still pretty full. Taehyung gives him a look, and Jungkook clears his throat and adjusts him to a more comfortable position. Taehyung leans back so their heads are next to each other on the couch.
“That’s my Kookie,” he whispers, settling into him, and Jungkook pretends to be extremely interested in Namjoon’s ramblings about how far they’ve come.
They play some drinking games together afterward, Jimin blatantly cheating and acting shocked every time they catch him. Eventually Hoseok finds the giant foam pitchfork Jungkook’s team won from that episode of Run BTS! and starts hitting Jimin with it whenever he breaks a rule. Later, Namjoon breaks out Go-Stop, and a small group of them get super competitive at it on the living room floor. Jungkook joins in for a while, but he loses too much for it to be fun, and eventually he just grabs another drink and settles into the loveseat to watch Taehyung play.
Jimin and Yoongi are over on the couch having some kind of intense conversation—it would be weird except for the fact that everything Jimin does when he’s drunk is intense—and Jungkook swears that they keep shooting him looks. He wonders if maybe him just staring at Taehyung is a little too blatant, but he gets distracted when Taehyung finally gets a good card and yells in delight.
Jungkook’s on his way back from the bathroom later when he hears sharp voices coming from Jimin’s room. He realizes that it’s Jimin and Yoongi arguing, which is odd, and he knows he should just go back to the party, that they’re all already too much in each other’s business, but then he hears his name. He pauses by a crack in the door, promising himself that it’s just for a minute, just to figure out what’s going on.
“I already told you I’m not helping,” he hears Yoongi say.
“What’s the point, even? Why intervene in other people’s lives?” Yoongi has that purposefully flat voice he gets when he wants a conversation to be over. “They’ll figure it out eventually, or they won’t, and if they don’t, so much the better for them.”
“Yoongi-hyung, I’m bored. It’s been years of this.”
“Watch a drama if you want more excitement in your life.”
“Also they’re made for each other—don’t be such a cynic. Did you know Tae’s pushing Rapmon-hyung all the time to help him with his mixtape, because he knows he’s worried about it?”
“Jiminie, you don’t have to tell me things over and over. I remember the first time you say them.”
“And apparently he told PDogg-nim not to worry so much about the solo track he wants to do. So he can give priority to Kookie.” There’s a pause.
“You didn’t tell me that. He shouldn’t be undercutting himself like that. There’s enough resources for all of us, and if there isn’t, that’s something Bang PD-nim has to fix.”
“The point is that they’re obnoxious and oblivious and we have to help them.”
“We really don’t.”
“You’re serious. You’re not going to help.”
“You think the whole idea is stupid and they’re better off not knowing.”
“I don’t get you sometimes. At all.”
“This isn’t a game, Jiminie. Scandals about this kind of thing end careers.” Another pause.
“About this kind of thing?”
“You know what I mean.” An even longer silence.
“You know you’re a hypocritical coward, right?”
Jungkook is frozen in the hallway, unable to process anything, and then Jimin bursts through the door. Jimin stops when he sees him, and Jungkook’s first impulse is that he’s screwed, but then he sees that Jimin is actually full-on crying, and before he can even ask what’s wrong his friend is sobbing into his shirt. He pats the back of his head awkwardly, wondering what on earth is going on.
“Are you ok? Do you want to go back to the party?” Jimin shakes his head emphatically. “I’m gonna text Tae, ok?” He thinks he gets a nod; he’s not sure because Jimin’s actually shaking, hands gripping the fabric of his shirt. He pulls out his phone and texts with one hand, the other securely holding the back of Jimin’s neck. He realizes after he sends it that it’s kind of a cryptic, uncompelling text, and he wonders if Taehyung will even notice it before morning. He waits, getting nervous about whether Yoongi’s going to come out, what he’ll say if he does—and then he looks up and sees Taehyung padding down the hall, his eyes widening when he sees them.
“Jiminie-yah, don’t cry. Jiminie, it’s ok.” He puts a hand on Jimin’s head, his voice soothing, and then makes eye contact with Jungkook. “Why isn’t he in his room?” he asks, frustrated. Jungkook doesn’t know how to explain that they can’t go there; he shakes his head urgently, and Jimin gasps a “no” between sobs. “My room, then.” He looks to Jungkook for approval, and he nods. “He’s tipsy—don’t let him go.”
They end up all three on Taehyung’s bed, Taehyung laying down next to Jimin rubbing his back while he cries, his eyes big and concerned, and Jungkook sitting cross-legged next to them, his hand tightening on Jimin’s shoulder when he gets worse. Eventually Jimin calms down, curling up around a pillow, and Taehyung talks him through it, tells him it’s going to be ok, that they’re going to fix it, whatever it is, asks him what happened. Jungkook rubs the back of his neck, feeling tired and confused, thinking that probably Jimin doesn’t want to talk about it. But he does, and Jungkook realizes that, of course, Jimin always wants to talk. He gives them a confusing litany of complaints about Yoongi—that he’s a jerk, and a coward, and he doesn’t even like Jimin, and he’s too smart and full of himself, and he ruined all of Jimin’s plans and he doesn’t even care, and he’s a hypocrite and Jimin fucking hates him. Taehyung’s forehead furrows; he shoots a look at Jungkook, as if trying to see if he knows what’s going on, and Jungkook just stares back helplessly.
“Everyone likes me,” Jimin says brokenly. “Why doesn’t he like me?” Taehyung hugs him with his whole body, and Jungkook thinks that he kind of hates alcohol, and mysteries, and watching his friends suffer.
Jimin gets sleepy, and Taehyung curls up next to him and dozes. Jungkook feels upset and claustrophobic, and he whispers that he’s going to go check on the hyungs. Jimin nods bleakly.
Jin, Hoseok, and Namjoon are still out in the living room. There are the remnants of what Jungkook assumes was some sort of very competitive Go-Stop drinking game, but now they’re all three sprawled out philosophizing. He shuffles past empty cups and red cards to sit heavily on the couch next to Jin, who puts an affectionate hand around his shoulder. Namjoon is rhapsodizing on the floor about how hip-hop is the universal language, and it’s oddly comforting. Jungkook gets sleepy and introspective. When Namjoon finally pauses, Jungkook asks no one in particular:
“Is it bad if I feel like…like I’m a burned-out cold star?”
“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?” Namjoon says in English.
“Drifting through the wind?” he continues. “Wanting to start again?”
“You always make fun of that song,” Hoseok complains, his feet on the couch and the rest of him on the floor. “I think it’s deep.” Namjoon starts his spiel about mixed metaphors, and Hoseok interrupts to sing in a tinny falsetto, switching to Korean when he forgets the words:
“Jungkook you’re a fiiiiiiirework; Jungkook let your cooooolors burst.” Namjoon joins in:
“Make ‘em go Jungkookjungkook; as you shoot across the Jungkookjungkook.”
“You guys are embarrassing,” Jungkook mutters.
“Boom boom boom,” Jin croons next to him. “Something something Jungkook moon moon moon.”
“This is not supportive. It’s just embarrassing,” Jungkook says loudly.
Namjoon switches abruptly to Power Up, and they all join in. Eventually Yoongi stumbles in, looking very worse for the wear, and Jungkook expects him to tell them to shut up, but instead he just sits on Hoseok’s feet and yells “Go, go airplane!” and they all start up again. Jungkook thinks, as Jin messes up the words for the millionth time and wheezes with laughter, that even if he’s a burned-out husk of a person, at least he’s home.
Jimin still seems fragile and disconnected the next day, and Taehyung is extra affectionate with him, making sure he gets breakfast and telling him that his hair color suits him and holding his hand when he gets talked over in their morning meeting. Jungkook can’t tell if Yoongi is being extra cagey or just normal cagey. At one point during their meeting he starts to correct Jimin on something and then stops, but he doesn’t look at him. Jungkook really just wants to talk to Taehyung about everything, but he realizes that’s selfish of him. So he’s surprised when Taehyung pulls him aside before lunch.
“You wanna take food somewhere?” he asks. His voice is casual, but there’s tension in his stance. Jungkook agrees, feeling unaccountably nervous.
They grab sodas and large plastic containers of bibimbap and wander through the offices until they find an empty rooftop balcony. There’s a shady spot by a planter, and they settle there on the concrete, Taehyung laying out all the sauces he’s snagged for them to choose from. He cracks the lid off his food and stirs while Jungkook pulls out the extra napkins Taehyung always needs and anchors them under his soda. They eat companionably, the road noise a constant hum, Taehyung trading out pieces of bulgogi from Jungkook’s bowl for crispy bits of egg.
“Do you know what happened with Jimin?” Taehyung asks eventually. “He’s being all vague about it now, which is weird for him.” There’s sauce on his nose, and Jungkook reaches out and wipes it off automatically, and a smile ghosts across Taehyung’s features. Jungkook looks down quickly, tugs a napkin out from under Taehyung’s soda. He focuses on a crack in the concrete and tells him what he can, stumbling a bit over the actual substance of Jimin and Yoongi’s argument. It had been so fast, and none of it really made sense—Jungkook might have heard them wrong. Taehyung listens, squinting up at the hazy sky.
“Do you think…” Jungkook finds himself asking, “do you think Jimin and Yoongi-hyung…” He shakes his head. “Never mind.”
“I mean, maybe,” Taehyung says readily. “They would be crazy to do anything about it.” Jungkook looks at him, questioning. “It would be a dating scandal times ten. Times a hundred.” Jungkook spins his soda bottle slowly in his hands.
“Maybe they could hide it,” he says, his throat tight. Taehyung looks up again, his hair catching the sunlight.
“You can’t just go your whole life hoping no one will ever find out.” The plastic of Jungkook’s soda makes a buckling noise, and he realizes he’s holding it too tight.
“Yeah,” he says hollowly.
“I dunno. It would be too complicated, right? It would affect all of us.” Taehyung takes the drink from his hand, even though he has plenty left of his own. Jungkook feels like the whole conversation is happening at a slant. Then Taehyung shakes his head, his nose crinkling. “That’s too much, though. It can’t be that. Jimin’s probably just mad that Yoongi-hyung made fun of his selcas again.” Jungkook tries to look amused, his stomach twisting.
Taehyung picks up his chopsticks again to get at the rice at the bottom of his bowl. Jungkook moves a cucumber around but can’t bring himself to finish his food, which is a rare and frustrating experience for him. Finally Taehyung pushes the extra sauces aside and takes a nap with his head in Jungkook’s lap for the few minutes they have left. Jungkook sits perfectly still, his hands on the concrete instead of in Taehyung’s hair, somehow feeling both exposed and unseen at the same time.
Jungkook and Jimin hang out a lot over the next few weeks. Jungkook knows he isn’t good at being comforting like Taehyung is, but he’s at least good at being around. Their energy meshes well, now that Jungkook feels shitty and confused about his conversation with Taehyung, and they spend a lot of time vegging under giant blankets: the depressive duo. The bonus of having Jimin as a depression partner is that he’s usually successful at getting other people to do things for them, like bringing them food or resetting the router when their show isn’t streaming right. Plus he’s very disciplined about skincare, which means they often have a readymade ‘in the middle of a facemask’ excuse not to do anything.
When Jungkook is alone, he writes on random pages of his fancy journal. Somehow going in order, starting from the beginning, would make it seem like he’s trying to sum himself up, to explain everything so someone else could understand. He’s much better off if no one does. Instead he’s purposely unproductive, just writing out weird stories and ideas. He wants to tell Taehyung about some of them, because he likes weird stories, and because he has this knack for adding things in the retelling that make them better, but he doesn’t.
One night Jungkook hears a commotion in the dorms, and he’s trying to ignore it when he distinctly hears Jimin yell: “I’m doing it! You can’t stop me!” Jungkook rips his headphones out and hurries toward the voices, sliding around corners. They’re in the bathroom—he pushes the door too hard, and it bangs against the wall—Jimin, Namjoon, and Taehyung all look up. None of them appear to be mortally wounded, which is good. It takes Jungkook a few breaths to take in the scene. Jimin has a towel over his shoulders, his hair slicked with black sludge, and Taehyung’s sitting on the counter next to a messy bowl and a few small boxes. Jungkook realizes the problem: Jimin’s dying his hair again.
“Shit, Jiminie-hyung,” he exhales. “I thought you were gonna stab someone.” Namjoon and Jimin abruptly start arguing again, but Taehyung gives him a faint, secret smile. Things are escalating again when Yoongi wanders by. He steps in and leans on the doorframe, makes wry eye contact with Jungkook. Then he interrupts.
“It’s his hair. Who cares?” he asks coolly. Namjoon turns on him, indignant.
“I care. I’m gonna have my ass handed to me. We already had a whole damn meeting about this—he knows better.” Jimin’s looking at Yoongi, his face unreadable. “We can’t all just do whatever we want; that’s not how it works.” Yoongi shrugs easily.
“Come on, Joonie-ssi. If Jiminie wants to live his, uh—” he grabs one of the boxes, reads, “ultra-deep burgundy dreams, who are we to stop him?” Jungkook whistles to himself. A color that dark means a whole extra bleaching session if they make him fix it. Namjoon starts up again, but Yoongi cuts in: “Plus, I have some stuff to play for you in the studio.” He tilts his head back. “Official story is you weren’t even here—you couldn’t’ve stopped him.” Namjoon rubs the back of his neck, his expression pained, but he nods.
“You’re going to be promoting with this color,” he tells Jimin hotly, “so don’t mess it up.” Jimin still looks taken aback as the hyungs leave, Yoongi nonchalantly slipping out and Namjoon striding after him.
“How long until we wash it out?” he asks finally, his voice small. Taehyung checks his phone.
“Twenty more minutes.” Jimin nods.
“You ok?” Jungkook asks.
“Yeah,” he mumbles, tilting his head one way and then the other to look at himself in the mirror. “Or at least I will be when my hair looks killer.”
“This is simultaneously the least and most hardcore rebellion I’ve ever witnessed,” Taehyung says reverently.
Namjoon ends up taking the fall for Jimin anyway, even though he said he wouldn’t. Jimin orders kalguksu for him that night and waits in the kitchen until he gets back from his studio, wanting to present it to him. Jungkook is editing a video on his laptop in the living room, and he sees the tired slump in Namjoon’s shoulders when he gets back, but then he hears him from the kitchen making a big deal about the food, even though it’s just takeout. Jungkook can almost sense Jimin being busy and happy again, fussing around and microwaving the soup when they realize it’s gone cold. Yoongi troops back in from his own studio and stalls in the kitchen, complaining that Jimin didn’t get him anything, and Jungkook hears Jimin ask him for a compliment on his hair. Their voices overlap cozily while Yoongi makes his own dinner, and Jungkook gives up editing and falls asleep alone on the couch.
Chapter 4: i'll keep on running if you call my name
They fly out for another awards show, but this one is a smaller venue, and the stage they have planned is easier. They’re just doing a hit medley with their latest single at the end, and they’ve even already filmed the intro, so all they really have to worry about when they get there is sound and blocking. Some part of Jungkook is always craving the effort and reach of a really difficult stage, but he ends up having fun doing medleys anyway—they get to bounce off of each other more, improv and mess around. He really likes the way they can be relaxed and loose for most of a song, ranging around the stage and working the crowd, and then snap into formation when they need to, tight and precise.
They’re doing most of DNA right before the performance shifts into a Namjoon solo and then the entire new single, and Jungkook doesn’t really think until dress rehearsals about how DNA had become kind of him and Taehyung’s song, back when they were touring with it. He doesn’t remember how it started, just that they always found ways to sing some of their lines to each other, even when the choreography didn’t seem to allow for it. It was part of the game to find a way, sometimes subtle, sometimes (in Taehyung’s case) not, to make eye contact across the stage or edge the choreo just so until they were close enough to serenade each other. Jungkook hasn’t thought about it for a while, and in the dress rehearsal they both follow the official choreography closely—all of them are trying to get used to the stage layout, to make sure they’re hitting their cues and not blocking each other from the cameras. Jungkook figures that’s how it’ll be for the performance too.
And, at first, he’s right. The crowd is loud and responsive that night, and they all play it up during the looser sections, Hoseok teasing and clowning, Jin blowing kisses, Jimin in full-on sweetheart mode, but they stick to the plan for every dance break and coordinated move to a new part of the stage. As they’re working the crowd at the end of No More Dream, though, Jimin hitting that high note that they all make fun of him for, Jungkook notices Taehyung striding across the stage. When the whistle opening of DNA starts, Taehyung’s right next to him; he tilts his head charmingly when Jungkook looks over, eyes crinkling, and sings his first few lines like they’re just for him. Jungkook looks down, flustered, and Taehyung spins away to sing to a camera, crouching at the edge of the stage. Jungkook recovers, runs over to hype Hoseok’s rap, and everything’s back on track. They all fly back together for the chorus, launching into the choreography, and he keeps a steady eye on the camera, smoldering a bit when he hits the beats.
He jumps around when they spread out again, just for the fun of it, and tries to give some attention to parts of the crowd he hasn’t seen the others focusing on. It isn’t until after the second chorus that it happens. Jungkook is spinning—he should have plenty of space in the formation, but he runs face-first into someone—Taehyung. His heart kickstarts because Taehyung is grinning, unsurprised; his arm is around Jungkook’s waist now, and he’s finishing the spin with him. He doesn’t let him go, starts the bridge, his voice dark and breathy:
“Don’t look back, because we’re the two who found our destiny.” Jungkook can hear dully that people are screaming at a new pitch, and he knows he should do something—pull back or play into it, make it clear that they’re joking around—but he can’t get his bearings. Jin picks up the melody, and Taehyung’s still smiling at Jungkook like he’s everything—he touches their foreheads together, just for a moment, and then pushes him over to where he should be in the lineup. Jungkook falls back into the choreo immediately, executes everything smoothly, sings his lines without thinking at all. And then the song’s ending and they’re all slipping offstage through different openings, leaving Namjoon to do his rap intro before the final song.
Jungkook finds himself ducking around metal crossbeams. He shrugs off his coat and lets the stylist noonas pull a flashy red and orange jacket over his arms and fix his hair, and for some reason he feels confused and upset and claustrophobic. Someone’s handing him water, reminding him of a minor change to the blocking, and he takes a sip, nods even though he’s not listening. He catches sight of Taehyung, equally surrounded, over by a massive coiled wire, and Taehyung notices him and winks, and for some reason everything—everything is too much, too close. They’re taking the water out of his hand now, rushing him over, and he finds his mark next to Jin. He lets himself think, just for a moment: I wanted him to mean it. And then the beat changes and the stagehands are counting down for them, and Jungkook settles into his pose, his confidence building automatically. He thinks he senses Taehyung’s eyes on him, but the hydraulics are already kicking into action, lifting them back up to the stage.
They’ve planned a little surprise celebration for the staff after the concert, to thank them and tell them to rest up before the world tour begins. Everyone’s all gathered in a big dressing room, and then Namjoon beckons and a few of them sneak away to a nearby kitchenette where they’re storing the cake and gifts. Namjoon grabs the plastic plates and utensils, hands Hoseok a few boxes, and tells Taehyung and Jungkook to handle the flowers—a thick, bright pile of bouquets in the corner. Taehyung makes a big deal about how pretty they are as he piles them in Jungkook’s arms, and there’s so many bouquets to deal with that they’re the last ones left in the kitchenette. Taehyung’s still in his post-concert high, and he giggles while he loads Jungkook’s arms higher and higher.
“You going to carry any?” Jungkook asks, lifting the flowers up to his face to show just how many there are. Taehyung bites his lip.
“I’m good.” He grabs a few stray daisies and laces them deftly into Jungkook’s dark hair.
“I’m gonna look ridiculous in the Bangtan Bomb,” Jungkook complains. Taehyung adds another flower behind his ear.
“Jungkook, baby, you look the opposite of ridiculous.” Jungkook’s stomach swoops at the endearment, and Taehyung turns quickly to grab the cake from the kitchenette counter. “If there’s any stylists you’re crushing on, I think tonight’s the night,” he adds, his back to him. Jungkook blinks.
“Watch out, ladies,” Taehyung adds disconnectedly. He gestures for them to head back, not making eye contact. Jungkook follows him with all the stupid heavy flowers, realizing just how much of an idiot he is.
They all end up in Yoongi’s hotel room that night, drinking and goofing off before the inevitable crunch of the world tour schedule. At some point Yoongi crawls into his bed, complaining loudly that he’s trying to sleep and they should’ve picked someone else’s room, and Hoseok sits on him and smiles charmingly until he shuts up. Jungkook turns down alcohol because he knows his mood, knows it would only take about one drink for him to spend the rest of the night running through his familiar mental ruts. Taehyung stays over by Yoongi and Hoseok, laughing at everything but not at all his normal clingy self, and that makes it much easier. Jungkook and Jimin end up starting cheesy impromptu karaoke with some tracks they find on Jimin’s phone, and Namjoon brings down the house with his impassioned rendition of Flame of Love.
Eventually some of them get hungry again, and it seems too late to bug room service, so they all shove won at the maknae and tell him to find a vending machine. Jungkook stuffs it dutifully in his pocket, fine with the excuse to wander around and get some quiet. He’s halfway down the hall before he hears someone jog up behind him—Taehyung.
“Hey,” he says, slightly out of breath. “I’m coming with you.” Jungkook looks at him wordlessly, trying to read beyond the nonchalant expression he gets when he’s hiding something. Then they just walk side by side, hands in their pockets, wandering aimlessly through hallways of repetitive, modern wallpaper without even really checking the signs on the walls for direction. They don’t see anyone else. Finally they hear a noise that might be from a refrigerator, and they follow it to an alcove with an icebox and four tall vending machines. Jungkook leans back against the humming Coke machine, planning out what to get for everyone. Taehyung’s pacing a bit for some reason, and Jungkook tries very hard not to worry about it, not to think about him putting flowers in his hair, or about his body under him in his dorm room bed. He knows Sprite for Hoseok, that one’s easy, and probably fruit snacks for Jimin.
“What do you want?” he asks Taehyung absentmindedly. Taehyung spins toward him, looking surprised. Jungkook gestures to the snack machine.
“Oh.” There’s a pause. “Um, I don’t care. Get me whatever.” Jungkook tilts his head. That’s a first.
“You ok?” Taehyung still looks startled.
“Yeah.” He’s pitching his voice low, like he does when he wants to seem cool and calm. Jungkook pushes off the Coke machine and punches a few numbers into the snack machine. “Actually.” Jungkook freezes. “I feel like, I dunno. Like maybe I owe you an apology. For being kind of creepy lately.” Jungkook’s stomach drops, and he understands in a flash, sees the whole conversation and where it’ll go: Taehyung can tell that Jungkook’s this pathetic, lovesick kid, and he’s trying to apologize for leading him on. He’ll blame everything on himself, to spare Jungkook’s feelings, so that he doesn’t actually have to address Jungkook stepping over the line. You’re like a little brother to me, he’ll say. We can still be best friends, right? Jungkook really, really doesn’t want to have this conversation.
“Creepy,” he says hollowly, staring at a bag of Cheetos. He’d been doing so well lately, was going to move on, to just be his friend without anyone ever finding out about his weirdness.
“I dunno. Sometimes I feel like I’m this creepy old guy misreading you. Taking advantage of the maknae.”
“You’re two years older than me,” Jungkook says dully. He decides he wants a Snickers, punches in a new code.
“Can you look at me?” Taehyung asks, annoyed. Jungkook deliberately feeds money to the machine, watches the spiral curl until the candy bar falls, reaches into the machine and grabs it. Then he turns toward him. “What’s your deal?” Taehyung looks anxious and pissed, pushing his hair out of his face. Jungkook closes his eyes for a moment, annoyed that he can’t leave because it’ll look dumb if he comes back to the room without everyone’s snacks.
“You really don’t have to let me down easy.” Jungkook hates that he has to say it out loud. “I get it. You don’t like me that way. It’s weird as hell that I like you that way.” Taehyung’s taken aback.
“I’m gonna do a lap around the hallway,” Jungkook says, putting the Snickers in his jacket pocket. “And then I’m gonna come back and buy the stupid snacks, and I’ll get over it and we don’t have to talk about it ever again.” And then, because he’s insane, he takes off in an actual jog down the hall. Taehyung calls after him once, but that’s it. It feels really good, like he’s stretching his muscles, clearing his mind, like he never has to go back.
Taehyung’s gone when he gets back to the alcove, and Jungkook knows how hypocritical it is that he’s disappointed. He decides he’s over it, that it’s over. He buys everyone more drinks and snacks than they asked for to make up for the fact that he can’t think straight enough to get the right ones and trudges back to the room loaded with them.
Everyone cheers when he gets back, even Yoongi from his bed, and it takes Jungkook an embarrassingly short amount of time to discern that Taehyung’s not one of them. They all tear into the food, Namjoon too drunk to remind them about their diets, Hoseok flipping out over his Sprite.
“Where’s Taehyungie?” Jimin asks, popping an orange fruit candy in his mouth. Jungkook shrugs, and Jimin turns back to his phone.
Jungkook wants to stay up and have fun, to be cool and young and definitely not spiraling toward crisis, but he ends up leaving early anyway, walking heavily back to his room. He goes to the sink when he gets inside and takes out his color contacts, blinking at himself in the mirror. Then he grabs his toiletries bag and double cleanses his face, watching the soft browns and greys around his eyes blur and run. He realizes with a little shock that there’s still a small daisy in the back of his hair, and he sets it carefully on the counter, wanting to throw it away but not quite able to.
He gets a text from Taehyung right before he goes to bed: Jimin says you’re doing the zombie thing again. do you wanna talk about it? Jungkook stuffs his phone under a pillow and goes to sleep.
Jungkook wakes up feeling supremely shitty. It takes him a bit to realize that he’s not even hungover, just exhausted and angry. He unlocks his phone, reads Taehyung’s text again, and answers inadequately: Sorry. Fell asleep. Then staff knocks on his door, and the grind starts up again.
They have an interview that day before they fly back, and then just a short break before the world tour starts. The whole day is carefully planned, and it’s easy to go with the flow—accepting coffee when it’s handed to him, nodding along blankly while management explains the interview format, settling back in a chair and letting the stylist noonas work. When he and Taehyung accidentally make eye contact across the room in their makeup chairs, Jungkook just nods and Taehyung gives him a thumbs up and a flat smile. Easy.
They head to the interview, and management arranges their chairs beforehand, settling Jungkook and Taehyung at opposite ends. Jungkook almost wants to laugh, to tell them: Don’t worry about it anymore. I’m done. He lets the hyungs take over when the interview starts, toying with his rings and staring off into space.
“Do you have any goals for this year?” the interviewer asks at one point, and Jungkook can already feel stress in the pit of his stomach before Namjoon turns and claps him on the back, brags about how their maknae is working on a mixtape. I’m not, Jungkook wants to say. I’m a fraud. But instead he nods, gives a double thumbs up. “Any hints as to what it’ll be about?” the interviewer asks excitedly, clearly trying to pull something better out of Jungkook. There’s a right answer and he knows it already—everything’s scripted. But he says:
“Unrequited love.” There’s a chorus of oh’s all around him, and he looks down at his hands.
He journals through lunch, writing obliquely about everything that he’s pissed about. By some miracle, everyone leaves him alone. He gets red sauce on the fancy journal, but it makes him feel a little better about writing in it, about loading it with all his cliché thoughts. He’s annoyed when lunch ends because he’s working on something that could actually be a decent verse, and he worries that whatever it could’ve been will be lost forever.
They have about twenty minutes of downtime in the dressing room before they have to gather their stuff and head to the airport. Jungkook stretches out with his head on his bag, and Jimin comes over to lay next to him. He asks him a bunch of mundane questions, and Jungkook gives him short answers, annoyed to be bothered. Eventually he gets around to what’s clearly his goal, asking what was going on last night. Jungkook shrugs.
“I can’t tell if something really bad happened, or if you’re just being an asshole,” Jimin says finally. Jungkook looks at him, surprised, but he already has his head pillowed on his arm, looking away. Jungkook pulls his hood up.
“Why not both?” he mutters to himself. He doesn’t realize until Taehyung moves away that he was close enough to hear.
That night, when they make it back to the dorms, Jungkook realizes with a flutter that #JKmixtape is trending on twitter. He searches the tag immediately on his phone, scrolling through tweets in a variety of languages. It quickly becomes clear that while some fans are excited for new music, most everyone is just talking about the interview. Specifically, Taehyung’s face when Jungkook says “unrequited love.” They only have a long shot to work with, and most of the retweets are a blurry, zoomed version, but Taehyung is clearly taken aback when Jungkook says it, eyes widening, before he shakes his head just slightly and joins everyone in teasing him. Everyone keeps saying “evidence,” “receipts,” and Jungkook remembers how very precarious their careers really are. He feels his anger build up. He wants to tell everyone that it’s not that deep, that Taehyung is clearly just a little surprised at the off-script answer. That he’s the only one in hell, while Taehyung is living his best life and encouraging him out of pity to hit on stylists.
He's still sitting in bed scrolling when Taehyung appears at his door, and Jungkook drops his phone in embarrassment, like he can see what he’s reading.
“Karaoke tomorrow,” Taehyung says, boxing the air to show his excitement.
“Yeah,” Jungkook says, smiling despite himself.
“I wanna talk about stuff. Can I stay tonight?” It’s odd that it’s even a question he still asks, since Jungkook always, always says yes. Jungkook throws himself back on the bed, his stomach lead.
“I’m really tired from the trip, actually,” he forces out. “I’m probably just going to sleep.” He waits for Taehyung to push back on it, to give him any excuse to give in. But he doesn’t.
“Right. Well. Night, Jungkookie.” And he’s gone.
Chapter 5: you've got a face like thunder
They’ve all been looking forward to karaoke night for ages. It’s their big celebration before they have to buckle down and start rehearsing again for the tour in earnest, and it’s a minor miracle that management reserved them a room and agreed to let them do something that could potentially hurt their voices. They all chatter about it that morning, and Jungkook feels stupid and overlooked when he doesn’t join in and no one seems to notice. He has the rescheduled meeting about his mixtape tomorrow, and despite his adlib in the interview he still feels a persistent dread at how little he’ll have to offer. He really just wants to be on tour again: grinding through performance after performance, each one a verifiable, concrete accomplishment; dropping into bed early every night, too exhausted to overthink everything. Right now, though, he’s trapped in the limbo of bonding time, and he doesn’t really want to relax with everyone when he’s still in the process of cutting out a part of himself. It’s been far, far too long with this same cycle of hope and denial and embarrassment and self-loathing. He’s making a clean break of it. And he doesn’t want to do karaoke.
He doesn’t volunteer the information early, waits until it’s absolutely necessary to say it. They’re deciding who’ll be in what car when he just says blankly that he’s not going, that he needs to prepare for his meeting tomorrow. It’s a sign of how pathetic he is that he expects more resistance than he gets. Normally Jimin and Taehyung would make a big deal of it, would bother him until he changed his mind, but they’re both aloof. Namjoon looks like he doesn’t know how to handle this development, asks him if he’s sure. Jungkook insists he is and then seals his own doom by leaving to go work out before they even start gathering their stuff. No one calls his bluff.
He just does a short workout, since it’s been a while—he can build back up to normal in the time before the tour—and it actually feels really good, and he gets back to the dorm afterward with a clearer head. He always gets ideas when he’s sleeping or working out or showering—he should trust himself more. He figures he can spend the rest of the evening putting together something concrete, if not creative and impressive, to say during the meeting tomorrow. The worst thing, he knows, is for them to go forward with it without any real direction from him, because then you end up spending months promoting random singles that you don’t really feel anything about.
He must have been completely distracted, headphones in and lost in thought, when he goes to shower, because it isn’t until he’s clean and changed and rummaging through the fridge for dinner that he senses movement. He almost drops the container of leftovers when he looks up and sees Taehyung—legs crossed, back straight—in the living room armchair. He’s dressed to kill: thin black slacks, a lacy white shirt that reaches up to a high collar, a long silver earring. Jungkook blinks, asks him what he’s doing here, and Taehyung stands threateningly.
“We need to have a private conversation,” he says, his voice low and steely. He walks decisively to the kitchen, and Jungkook backs up despite himself. “Because if you don’t explain whatever this is—” he gestures between them—“before world tour, I’m going to lose my mind.”
“Shit—um—what?” Jungkook retreats weakly to the kitchen bar. Taehyung leans against the fridge, his face impassive. It’s really, really disconcerting how good he looks.
“You’re like a mean grim reaper. I want to know why.” Jungkook sits on a bar stool, pushes a hand through his hair.
“I’m not…trying to be mean. I’m just trying to get over stuff.”
“To get over what? I never even figured out what we were fighting about.” Jungkook’s stomach clenches.
“I think I was pretty clear.” Taehyung steps forward.
“You, Jeon Jungkook, think you were clear,” he says menacingly.
“I mean…yes? I said more than enough? And it’s not even something you should be worrying about.”
“How are you like sixty-five kilos of pure talent and zero of common sense?”
“Jungkook, you have to grow up and actually talk to me. You’re too important for me to just assume shit.” Jungkook blows out his cheeks in frustration, realizes that he’s really going to have to spell everything out.
“I was dealing with it on my own,” he grumbles.
“No, you were begging for attention,” Taehyung says mercilessly. Jungkook puts his face directly onto the kitchen bar.
“You want me to say all this stupid stuff aloud. Everything you already know,” he says, his nose smooshed.
“I don’t already know it, but—sure.”
“Fine.” Jungkook pushes his head harder into the counter. “It’s just—I’m getting over this longtime thing where…where I’m too into you,” he grinds out.
“Too into me how?” Jungkook’s in hell.
“Like…you’re perfect. Like I want your body. I want to touch you literally all the time.” He exhales. “I know it’s gross, so I’m trying to get past it.” He lifts his head to look at Taehyung balefully. “That clear?” Taehyung’s biting his lip.
“Is it possible you’re just, like, responding to what you think I want?”
“God—no. And seriously, stop trying to take the blame. It makes me feel like…like you don’t think I’m capable of wanting something. Like I’m this dumb kid.” He’s suddenly blinking back tears. In some other universe he would say: I want you. What do you want? But not in this one.
Taehyung’s going through the fridge for some reason—he pulls out an aloe drink, unscrews it, and takes a long sip. Then he holds it out toward Jungkook. Jungkook furrows his brow, confused, and shakes his head. Taehyung offers it again. And because it’s Taehyung, and he’s offering it like that, Jungkook slides off the stool and goes to him. He takes the bottle from his hand, his eyes questioning, and drinks some. When he hands it back, Taehyung’s looking at him intently, and Jungkook doesn’t know why. Then Taehyung sets the bottle down, takes him deliberately by the shirtfront, and pulls him toward him.
“Can I kiss you?” Taehyung asks, inches from him, his voice dark. Jungkook’s heart is in his throat. He nods.
And then Taehyung drifts in and kisses him, soft but intent. Jungkook’s so shocked that he barely kisses him back, can’t process it, and Taehyung pulls back, half worried.
“Ok?” he asks, sweeping Jungkook’s hair out of his eyes with the lightest touch.
“Why?” Jungkook asks inarticulately. Taehyung shakes his head, holds back a smile.
“I want you, Kookie,” he says, tugging on his collar.
“I can’t—why?” Jungkook realizes he’s stupidly, stupidly about to cry again.
And then Taehyung’s kissing him again, hands cupping his cheeks, patient and intent, and Jungkook finally responds, kisses him back and tries not to cry. It feels unreal. Taehyung turns his head, kisses along his cheek to his ear. Jungkook knows that talking has the potential to ruin this, that more talking correlates directly with less kissing, but he can’t help but ask:
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Come on, Kookie—I think you can get there.” But he talks around it anyway, like he’s always so good at when Jungkook can’t say anything at all, kisses him between every phrase—on his ear, his neck, his lips again, his nose. “Confusion. Self-doubt. Thought I might be projecting onto you. The scandal thing. Didn’t want to take advantage of the maknae.” He pauses, looks him in the eyes. “Also. I dunno if you know this, but you’re completely impossible to talk to sometimes. For example, one time you avoided me so hard that I had to miss karaoke night to ambush you.” Jungkook feels a potent mixture of pleasure and pain. Taehyung wipes a thumb across his cheek. “You’re lucky you’re extremely cute when you’re confused. And also, just in general.”
“Is it ok if I kiss you harder?” he asks unsteadily. Taehyung looks at him, half exasperated and half fond, tugs on his collar again, and Jungkook pulls him in by the hips, kisses him the way he wants—deep and insistent and demanding. Taehyung drags a hand down through the back of his hair, and Jungkook feels his tongue. He opens his mouth to let him in, his stomach swooping, a trail of goosebumps along his skin. Taehyung makes a noise in his mouth, and before he can think about it Jungkook has him by the thighs, sets him on the low counter, and Taehyung pulls him in with his legs, his tongue dragging across Jungkook’s lip. It’s driving Jungkook insane, everything he never thought he could do—for the second time in his life he takes Taehyung’s gorgeously, stupidly kissable lower lip for his own, pulling as hard as he dares before he lets go.
“Shit,” Taehyung exhales into his mouth. “Where’d you learn this shit, dongsaeng?” Jungkook nudges his chin up, runs his lips along Taehyung’s neck, just above his collar, and chooses a spot to focus on, to pull at. Taehyung whines in the back of his throat, and Jungkook wants to give him everything. “We’ve gotta talk,” Taehyung says shakily. “We’ve gotta talk about this.”
“You started it,” Jungkook grumbles. Taehyung takes his face in his hands, slightly above him from his spot on the counter. He touches Jungkook’s forehead with his own.
“I can’t even think. I want you so, so bad.” Jungkook takes an unsteady breath, hearing it. Taehyung tugs gently at his earlobe. “We have to figure out—how to do this. If it’s fair to everyone.” Jungkook glowers spectacularly, and Taehyung runs a thumb along his brow as if to smooth it. “We’ll figure it out, ok?” Taehyung’s hand slides down his cheek, and Jungkook tilts his head into the touch.
“Sorry I made you miss karaoke,” he murmurs, feeling like a jerk. “You were so excited about karaoke.” He feels Taehyung’s hand move across his cheek to toy with his earring.
“It’s ok. You just missed my big plan.”
“Your what?” Taehyung leans back on his hands, looks arch.
“There was gonna be this guy there. This guy who I’m super, crazy into.” Jungkook’s stomach swoops. “And I was going to finally confess to him, but no one else was going to know, because I was going to find the exact right song and sing it very pointedly. And then we were gonna make out in the bathroom.” Jungkook looks at him, his heart in his throat.
“Wait—the guy was me, right?” Taehyung laughs, swings his leg softly into Jungkook’s calf.
“Yes.” Taehyung slides off the counter, down along Jungkook’s body, and Jungkook kisses him instead of giving him room, feels his skin through the lacy top, lightheaded and nervous and euphoric. Taehyung’s warm and responsive under his hands.
“We could probably still go to karaoke,” Jungkook says eventually, despite himself, knowing it’ll make him happy. Taehyung immediately gets excited and cute.
“Assuming you’re gonna let me kiss you again later. If not, I’m sorry but the kitchen is our new home and we’re never leaving it.” Taehyung snorts.
“You can kiss me literally wherever. You can kiss me in the middle of Anpanman in the Olympic Stadium.”
“Thank god. I always want to kiss you in the middle of Anpanman.” Jungkook kisses him right then, for good measure.
“Karaoke?” Jungkook shakes his head, laughs at himself.
“Yeah. Let’s do it.”
Jungkook goes to change while Taehyung texts for a driver. They pointedly sit on opposite sides of the backseat on the way there so they don’t do something dumb, and the whole ride is Taehyung giving him looks while the city lights cast him in beautiful hues of pink and blue, Jungkook flushing and trying to respond with any kind of logic to the driver’s occasional small talk.
Everyone cheers deafeningly when they come in, and Jimin bounces over and tackles them even though he’s in the middle of a song. Jungkook tries not to look as pleased as he feels, smooshing himself in the booth between Yoongi and Hoseok so he doesn’t make a fool of himself. They put in a bunch of food and drink orders, and Yoongi updates him on the embarrassing stuff he missed, including Jin and Namjoon singing a weird duet of SOLO while holding hands.
“I can’t believe you got him here,” Jin says across the table at Taehyung. “He was so grumpy—you’re like the maknae whisperer.” Taehyung gives him a self-satisfied smile.
“He’s a brand-new happy boy!” Hoseok gushes, grabbing Jungkook and messing up his hair until Jungkook is punching him in the gut, trying to get away. Yoongi makes a disgusted face and calls for Jimin come sit by him so he doesn’t have to deal with them. Jimin leans dramatically over the table, knocking drinks aside, to insist that he won’t until Yoongi does Ringa Linga. Yoongi shrugs like it’s no big deal and then actually does it, rapping fluently from the floor and then holding the mic up in the air for them all to do the vocals.
Pretty soon Jungkook is demolishing a beer and a plate of spicy chicken while Jimin and Taehyung do a completely sincere Really Bad Boy, Jimin executing the high-pitched squeals so well that Namjoon grabs the mic afterward and insists that they all remember to save their voices. Jin boos him loudly and then tries to do a Drake song that he doesn’t know half the words to. Jungkook and Jimin make exasperated eye contact but refuse to help him. Everyone is drunk and rowdy and Namjoon keeps spilling things, and Jungkook is overwhelmed by how much he cares for them all.
He knows it makes him that guy who takes karaoke too seriously, but Jungkook sings Taeyeon’s Blue anyway. He has to jump the octave a lot, but it still comes out mostly the way he wants—he loves the way the melody twists forward, never quite resolving. Because his friends, when push comes to shove, are nothing but supportive and indulgent, they get really into it, and Hoseok keeps turning to Jin with that earnest surprised face he gets and saying “he’s really good, right?” The song ends, and Jungkook starts to feel a little embarrassed for putting so much into it, when Jimin actually yells:
“Taetae’s crying!” Jungkook looks up, startled, to see Taehyung misty-eyed, waving angrily at Jimin to shut up. Jungkook hands the mic to Namjoon and goes over to him, wedging himself into the booth and hugging him from behind, his cheek on his back. They all erupt into teasing, but then Namjoon starts an extremely enthusiastic version of Rainism and Jimin jumps up to do an interpretive dance with a lot of drops because he can’t really remember the choreography. Taehyung bounces his shoulders until Jungkook lets go, then leans back in the booth to look at him.
“Don’t go thinking I was crying at your angel voice,” he says, his voice low. “I’m just glad you’re not mad at me anymore.” He takes Jungkook’s wrist and rubs his thumb along it. He’s beautiful there, his eyes big despite his flat affect, and Jungkook can tell he’s lying.
“Me too,” Jungkook says quietly. Taehyung bites inside of his cheek, then gestures abruptly.
“Go do the Rainism dance.” Jungkook snorts, and Taehyung raises his eyebrows. “I’m not kidding, dongsaeng. You owe me.”
And because it’s Taehyung, and because Jungkook apparently has no dignity left in his body, he gets up and joins in for the second chorus, muscle memory taking over. Hoseok jumps up immediately to back him up, and everyone’s yelling, and Jungkook gets into it, tossing his head and working the room with his facial expressions, because it’s freaking fun, and because Taehyung’s laughing uncontrollably and actually blushing, his hand by his mouth.
He and Taehyung really do make out later in the bathroom, and it’s stupid and messy and glorious. They stay up late in Jungkook’s bed, and Jungkook knows he needs to rest when Taehyung finally falls asleep, but he can’t stop thinking of things. He grabs his laptop, turning down the brightness, and types it all up, hunched in the bed.
“What are you doing?” Taehyung mumbles at one point, rubbing his eyes.
“Song ideas,” Jungkook says shortly. Taehyung rolls over.
“That’s my Kookie.”
Jungkook oversleeps, of course, and he has to frantically pull on jeans and a hoodie while Taehyung nestles further under the covers. He jogs to the offices, laptop bouncing under his arm, worried about whether he should’ve brought the charger, wondering if anything he wrote last night actually makes sense. Everyone’s already there when he gets there, and he slips through the door as politely as he can, bowing deeply and trying not to sound out of breath.
Thankfully, when he has a chance to open his laptop and glance through his notes again, he can actually make sense of most of them. After the necessary polite exchanges and promises to work hard and earn their approval, Jungkook takes the room through the major concepts he wants to focus on, hoping he doesn’t sound too juvenile. Everyone has a poker face, but occasionally he’ll get a slow nod, and PDogg actually starts taking notes at one point, which seems like a good sign. Then the seniors throw out producer names, suggest tracks they’ve heard floating around, and now Jungkook’s taking careful notes because he wants to have an informed opinion on this, too. They get to timelines and schedules, and Jungkook’s still a little distracted by whether he’s done a good enough job, whether he seems like a real artist or just a clueless kid that they’re going to throw a few mostly finished tracks at. He gets a few compliments and claps on the back, at least, when the meeting finishes.
He stays for a few minutes afterward to finish typing everything he wants to remember. When he steps out, laptop tucked back under his arm, he feels his heart skip because Taehyung’s waiting outside, sitting by the opposite wall. He bounces up when he sees him, and Jungkook can feel himself grinning like an idiot; he wants to hug him but instead he just grabs his shoulder.
“How’d it go, JK PD?” Jungkook laughs, and then he’s telling him everything while they make their way back through the offices. They stop by the cafeteria, and Taehyung grabs some food to take back with them, and Jungkook knows he’s talking too much but Taehyung keeps asking him questions every time he pauses. It isn’t until they get to the elevator that he realizes Taehyung’s keeping a kind of odd distance from him, and he’s suddenly seized with the possibility of Taehyung pretending last night didn’t happen, being totally normal and friendly but never touching him again. He falters, mixes up the dates when he tries to explain the schedule.
“These aren’t, like, security monitored, are they?” Taehyung asks breezily as they step into the empty elevator. Jungkook glances around for a camera, confused.
The doors slide closed, and then Taehyung’s on him, kissing him hungrily, plastic containers shoved up against Jungkook’s back. Jungkook almost drops his laptop, his hands flying to grab his waist.
“You’re so fucking cute,” Taehyung whispers into his mouth, and Jungkook’s chest tightens. He pulls him in harder, feels Taehyung’s hand on his neck, his tongue in his mouth—the elevator dings, and Taehyung jumps about a foot away as the doors slide open.
Jungkook just looks at him wide-eyed. Taehyung’s grinning fiercely; his neck is flushed red, but he doesn’t look even the slightest bit embarrassed. It takes Jungkook too long to remember how to be normal, and Taehyung has to put an arm out to stop the doors from closing again. He shifts the food containers over and grabs Jungkook’s hand, and they walk back to the dorms in a kind of blissed-out silence.
“I’m having a good day,” Jungkook says right before they go inside, and Taehyung laughs at him.
Namjoon’s in the living room, and Jungkook is surprised and thankful when he realizes that he’s actually waiting for him, that he remembered the meeting. He sits across from him on the couch, and they talk everything out while Taehyung lays with his feet in Jungkook’s lap. Namjoon has all kinds of questions and ideas that Jungkook hasn’t even thought of, and he pulls out his laptop again to add to his notes, perching it gingerly on the couch arm so that Taehyung doesn’t think he has to move. Eventually Yoongi comes by, asks about potential producers, and the hyungs talk Jungkook animatedly through the possibilities, Yoongi stealing his laptop to play him beats.
Jimin floats by with one of the food containers they brought back from the cafeteria, and Taehyung reaches out for him, so he comes and nudges him over, sits with his back against Taehyung’s hips. Jungkook’s hand tightens possessively on Taehyung’s foot, despite himself, and he hears Taehyung laugh softly.
“Are you doing any collabs?” Jimin asks between bites. Jungkook furrows his brow, steals a carrot.
“I didn’t even ask about that. I don’t want to be dumb and ask for more than I deserve. Or more than we have resources for.” Jimin shrugs and passes him the chopsticks.
“Just, like, DM Troye Sivan. Like: ‘Hey you wanna see a magic trick? Because our voices together would be true enchantment.’ And then go to the next meeting wearing sunglasses, because you’re your own agent now.” Jungkook snorts, and he and Jimin share a look while Namjoon tells him, slightly panicky, not to DM Troye Sivan. “I’m proud of you, dongsaeng,” Jimin adds affectionately.
“I haven’t even done anything yet,” Jungkook protests through a mouthful of bibimbap.
“Too bad. Sometimes love is unearned.”
Chapter 6: we can just dance to this
The grind of preparing for world tour starts, and there’s a steady rhythm of practices to build their endurance and complicated sequences of new choreography, which is inconvenient because all Jungkook can think about is kissing Kim Taehyung. It prickles at the back of his mind while he works doggedly to absorb the new steps, tugs his thoughts wayward as he’s trying to get his vocals where he wants them to be, is absolutely untenable when they’re all grouped together and Taehyung is looking furious with concentration, licking his lips before they run through the bridge for the millionth time.
“Da da DA, right?” Hoseok asks one of the choreographers during a break, trying to get a handle on a part they’re struggling with, and Jungkook sprawls out on the floor and wills himself to pay attention so they can all get through this faster. And then he gives up that dream entirely, because he realizes that Taehyung is leaning against the other wall, head back against the mirror, biting his lip and just looking at him. Jin comes to sit next to Jungkook’s feet, breathing heavily, and Jungkook pulls his hat down over his eyes and tries not to think about biting that lip for him.
Later they’re grabbing water, waiting behind Yoongi at a breakroom fridge, and Taehyung presses his lips silently against the back of Jungkook’s neck and runs his fingertips from his wrist up to the inside of his elbow, and Jungkook makes a noise that he has to quickly turn into a cough. Yoongi shoots him a look, and Jungkook thinks that, between Taehyung and twelve arena shows, the latter might be the easier onslaught to survive.
It’s imperative—like, imperative—that they keep it a secret; they haven’t even really talked about what they’re doing yet, or if it’s worth the risk, and they desperately need to think it through. So naturally they’re incorrigible and borderline sloppy, Jungkook pressing Taehyung up against his bedroom wall before the door even closes, Taehyung making eyes at him from across the room at the absolute worst times. Jungkook really does love this work; he’s good at it, and he knows the harder he pushes, the more he practices, the closer he’ll get to being able to focus on the emotional core of the songs, to turn everything into just one more expression of the concept, but some days all he’s working for is the next moment when he can get his hands on him.
Their saving grace is that everyone else is so exhausted and also so used to them being touchy that when they slip up, like when Taehyung bites him on the palm of his hand and makes him yelp in the middle of one of Namjoon’s pep talks, no one really bats an eye. They purposely don’t spend the night in each other’s rooms anymore, and it’s driving Jungkook insane even though he knows it’s the right call. The best part of every day is the evening, when they can practically lay on each other in the living room and no one cares because they’re all running on empty and Jimin’s already snoring on Jin’s feet. They try to talk things through when they’re able to steal time alone, but there’s a kind of unspoken pressure that mounts whenever they get to the subject of: what the heck are they doing. And the thing is, Jungkook has been wanting Taehyung for the better part of six years, and when Taehyung does that pouty thing with his lip or fluffs Jungkook’s hair for a beat too long, it’s a foregone conclusion that Jungkook is going to kiss him in the middle of a sentence. So they don’t really know, if it’s fair to the other members, if they should try to slow down or wait; it’s just Taehyung’s tongue in his mouth and Jungkook tugging him closer, his hand under his knee.
World tour starts, and at first it’s straightforward to keep their boundaries up. Almost every hour is accounted for—traveling, filming interviews, dozing in their makeup chairs, exploring new arenas and working out problems that cropped up in the last city, performing, performing, performing—and most nights Jungkook barely has the energy to shower. He’s worried, too, about the increased surveillance when they’re on tour, about press and telephoto lenses and the habit some of the older staff have of barging in to wake them up if they don’t show up to breakfast on time. Falling asleep in Taehyung’s hotel room seems like it might be a death sentence. One night he comes by Jungkook’s room while he’s still showering, and when Jungkook gets out he’s already so deeply asleep, curled up around a pillow, that he has to carry him back to his room. Hoseok sees them in the hall, but this is apparently so par for the course for them that he just waves sleepily and keeps walking.
They get breaks, of course, and the performing gets a little less tiring as their endurance increases. There’s a night in Bangkok when everyone heads to their rooms right when they get back to the hotel, but Jungkook is still wired, bouncing in front of the mirror as he pulls confetti out of his hair. He knows he should shower and change before he gets too tired, but instead he texts Taehyung to come over. He taps over to his music app, putting an earbud in, and hops around some more before he thinks better of it, and when he texts him again to tell him to go to bed, he immediately gets back: lol open your door.
He does, and Taehyung’s there holding his phone and looking impossibly cozy in a soft grey hoodie. He steps into Jungkook and grabs the other earbud dangling on his chest, nodding when he recognizes the song, his eyes crinkling. Jungkook closes the door and they kind of bop around like that, dancing but also tethered by the headphones, and it’s silly and awkward and Jungkook melts at Taehyung’s smile and the way he’s willing to be dumb with him like this. Taehyung’s fingers are lacing through his, pulling Jungkook’s hand into the pocket of his hoodie, and he knocks their foreheads together. Jungkook touches his jaw and kisses him, his whole body tingling because it’s been forever and he sees him every day but misses him so, so much.
Taehyung’s smiling into his mouth, and then he pulls back slightly and presses a thumb on Jungkook’s lower lip. He kisses across Jungkook’s face, and Jungkook complains when he tugs the earbud out but shuts up immediately when he replaces it with his tongue. He makes his way down to his earring, then further to suck at his neck, and Jungkook is helpless, prays the music is loud enough that Taehyung can’t hear him whine. He feels Taehyung’s teeth and gets a little panicky at how his body is responding. He looks down involuntarily, and it’s the worst move he possibly could’ve made because Taehyung pulls back and glances down too, and then he’s jumping, shaking his head rapidly.
“Oh my god, Jungkook.” He yanks his earbud out and hurls himself face-first into the bed, buries his head in a pillow, shaking with laughter. Jungkook feels himself go absolutely crimson. The thing is that he left his jacket and accessories back with the stylists at the venue, but otherwise he’s still wearing his clothes from the performance. When he looks down gingerly again, he can see that his tight, faux-leather pants are hugging the curves of his thighs, his calves, and also his very prominent dick. Jungkook sputters an apology, walks stiffly to his suitcase to throw down his phone and headphones and grab some sweatpants.
“I’ll take care of—I’ll be right back,” he says, mortified. Taehyung rolls over on the bed, still giggling.
“You gonna go masturbate in the closet?”
“No,” Jungkook says, blushing furiously. “I mean I’ll go calm down. Meditate about seagulls or something.” Taehyung pouts.
“I made it happen. Why can’t I take care of it?” Jungkook stops. Taehyung’s looking at him more seriously now, and Jungkook tilts his head, considers.
“Ok. Weird flex, but ok.” Taehyung snorts, sits up and holds out his hands. Jungkook steps carefully closer, until Taehyung grabs him by the belt loops and pulls him down, bumps their foreheads together.
“That’s ok, right? You’re not, like, saving yourself for Taeyeon?” Jungkook rolls his eyes.
“You know I’ve had a crush on you for like six years, right?” Taehyung makes a high-pitched noise. “It’s definitely ok.” Taehyung cups his face in his hands.
“You have to tell me. If you don’t like something, or if you want to stop.”
“No matter what we’re doing. Even if we’re, like, in the middle. Because, I mean, I can be kind of a handful.”
“I know.” For some ungodly reason Jungkook feels his tight pants situation get even worse, and Taehyung’s eyes flicker down and he definitely notices too, and suddenly Jungkook feels like he’s sixteen again, roughhousing in the pool with Taehyung and then having to hide his boner from an actual film crew. “Sorry I’m gross,” he mumbles.
“Ugh, Kookie.” Taehyung pulls him off balance, and Jungkook flops down on his side, looks up in confusion. “I didn’t mean it was gross. I meant, like, I can’t handle it and, like, look at my hot idol boyfriend.” Jungkook raises his eyebrows.
“Your what?” Taehyung’s default attitude is confident, shameless, so it’s a thing of wonder to watch him blush all the way down his neck. He grabs a pillow and smooshes it onto his face. Jungkook laughs, tries to push it aside.
“Being around you like this really ruins my brain-to-mouth filter,” Taehyung mutters into the pillow. Jungkook scooches closer.
“I like it when you say stuff.” Taehyung makes a series of indistinct noises, and Jungkook plants a knee between his legs, hovering just above him. “Like when you called me baby. Can you do that again?” Taehyung actually squeaks into the pillow, like he’s a cartoon character, and then shoves it aside, looks up at him.
“I can call you baby a million times, every day,” he says earnestly. “I can rent out all the billboards in Seoul and just make them say baby.” Jungkook laughs.
“Or whatever you want to call me, really. I don’t really care what.”
“I’ll write baby on my forehead so it’s the first thing you see when you look at me.”
“Don’t do that to your forehead.” Jungkook slides up, kisses him there.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re probably the hottest person alive?” Jungkook snorts, and then they’re kissing again. It’s fast and earnest, Jungkook pushing Taehyung’s head back into the mattress. Taehyung’s hands find his chest, trail down to push his shirt away from his stomach, and Jungkook lays his tongue across his ear, nips at the spot next to his earring and feels him shudder beneath him. Taehyung moves to catch his mouth again, presses in with his tongue, and it’s unbelievably, sinfully good, to have Taehyung’s tongue in his mouth and his hands sliding up his back. Jungkook lowers his hips, closing the space between them; he lets himself grind sinuously, pulls back when Taehyung curses.
“Shit, Kookie. Shit.” Taehyung tugs at him until they’re touching again, grinds against him and kisses just under his jawline, his mouth open and messy. Jungkook feels his hips buck in response, his stomach clenching with desire. “How are you a superstar at everything? What am I supposed to do?” Jungkook huffs into his ear.
“I’m really not.” Taehyung pushes him back roughly, sits up like he’s mad.
“You—I can’t—I can’t even deal with you.”
“Kookie. Baby. You’re a supernova. You tear everything to shreds with your stupid talent and stupid eyes and stupid voice and stupid cute-ass smile and stupid fucking perfect body. And I’m over here missing all my high notes because I can’t even fucking concentrate.” Taehyung’s voice is thick, his eyes serious. Jungkook takes a moment to look at him, his hair a mess, his lips full because he, Jeon Jungkook, had kissed them pink.
“One time I was touching myself,” Jungkook confesses, “but I wasn’t really trying to get anywhere. And then I remembered you plucking that white flower out of the air in Singularity, and I came right there in the shower.” There’s a moment, and then Jungkook sputters a bit, and Taehyung can’t repress his huge smile, and then they both lose it, Taehyung full on belly laughing into his ear.
“That can’t be true,” Taehyung gasps, both of them collapsing back onto the bed.
“Oh my god.”
“So shut up about not being good enough.”
“You shut up about it. You’re the one who’s all,” he cradles his own face with his hands, bats his eyes, pitches his voice absurdly high, “I’m Jeon Jungkook and I’m not working hard enough or achieving my dreams even though I’m Korea’s greatest idol.” Jungkook blushes, tells himself firmly that he does not have a thing for Taehyung doing aegyo. Then he admits:
“If you don’t get these stupid tight pants off me in like five seconds I’m gonna to lose it.”
“Oh thank god because same.”
“You look like gay Catwoman over there—I’m losing my mind.”
Peeling them off is surprisingly tricky, and it unfortunately gives Jungkook the chance to think, and before he can stop himself, he asks:
“Am I really your boyfriend?” He instantly realizes how dumb he sounds. “Since, you know, we’re not seeing anyone else,” he adds lamely. Taehyung scoffs in the back of his throat.
“Who else even exists?”
And then his tongue is on Jungkook’s abs, and he moves lower, pressing into the hollow of his hip. His hands are on Jungkook’s ass, pulling him up, and Jungkook raises his hips for him, lets him tug off his briefs. Jungkook looks down, his cheeks hot, but before he can worry properly about Taehyung seeing him like this his mouth is on his dick. It’s wet and hot and Taehyung isn’t shy about it at all, only coming off to wipe his lips and then take him in deeper, and Jungkook tangles his fingers helplessly in his hair. For a while it feels like he’s orienting himself, figuring out what he likes, and then he’s teasing him purposely, and Jungkook groans in annoyance.
“So demanding,” Taehyung tuts, stroking up his thigh. Jungkook wants to say that he’s not, that he doesn’t have to be, that Taehyung doesn’t have to do this, but then he’s kissing messily along his hips again, finding a spot that makes Jungkook moan. He takes him in again, deeper, and Jungkook feels his hips buck, uses all of his remaining self-control to not fuck up into his throat. Taehyung’s moving up and down him in earnest now, and Jungkook knows he’s unraveling. He gets stressed, doesn’t want to be selfish, is terrified of making Taehyung gag on him.
“Tae,” he pleads. He’s using his tongue now, and Jungkook feels like he’s going to lose it. “Tae.” He pulls his hips back and Taehyung stops, worried. “Tae, come here.” Jungkook tugs at him until he crawls up; he’s a gorgeous mess, and Jungkook kisses the spit off the corner of his mouth.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, his eyes big.
“I dunno. You shouldn’t have to do that for me.”
“Jungkook, I like it.”
“What if my stuff gets down your throat and you have to digest it? That can’t be healthy.”
“Oh my god.”
“I want to see you,” Jungkook says stubbornly. Taehyung looks at him, puts a thumb across his lips again. And then he’s shimmying out of his hoodie, out of his pants, and Jungkook watches, frozen.
He’s definitely seen Taehyung naked before. Mostly in parts—they’re all familiar with the sight of each other’s bodies in disconnected bits. To be honest, he’s probably seen them all completely naked—Jimin most often, which is funny because Jimin is the only one who’s overdramatic about it. But those times didn’t end up burned into Jungkook’s needy adolescent brain like the few times he’s seen Taehyung. When he was younger, he’d both obsessed over it and tried to bury it, and at this point he hasn’t dredged up those memories in ages. But he remembers now all at once, and it hits him forcefully that Taehyung is stripping for him, because he asked to see him, because he wants to be touched.
Taehyung finishes kicking off his socks and curls up on his side, toys meaningfully with the buttons on Jungkook’s shirt, and Jungkook sits up to pull it off. He lets it slide down his arms, gathering at his wrists while he looks at him. Taehyung’s excessively gorgeous, his skin tan against the sheets, his eyes vulnerable as looks up at him, tugging his shirt off his hands. Jungkook puts a heavy hand on his hip, lays back down and runs it across his back, then down, tighter, grabbing his ass. For the second time that night, Taehyung squeaks into a pillow. Jungkook laughs a little, and Taehyung huffs at him, and Jungkook pulls him in tight, his whole body screaming at him for having him this close and not doing anything about it.
Taehyung kisses him on the nose, but it’s like he’s waiting on him, waiting to see what he wants, and Jungkook has absolutely no idea, besides everything. He squeezes his ass again and then lets his hand move to stroke his dick, to feel it, and Taehyung makes a noise in the back of his throat that should be illegal. Jungkook knows he should be working him up, wants to explore everything about him, but he’s aching with need, and he scoots closer, takes both of their dicks into his hand and moves.
Taehyung responds immediately, rubbing against him, and it’s like stars are exploding in Jungkook’s brain. He holds them together firmly, his hips moving faster, dragging against him, and Taehyung slows as he builds up, his breathing ragged. Jungkook puts his free hand on his chest, works his nipple with his thumb, and Taehyung gets louder, needier. Jungkook knows he’s going to lose it too soon, tries to slow down, but then Taehyung’s fucking into his hand, and it’s too much to bear and he’s coming onto their stomachs, moaning into Taehyung’s hair. He makes sure to keep his hand moving, desperate for Taehyung to feel it too, whispers every dumb thing he can think of about how sexy he is, how long he’s wanted him, how fucking good he looks naked, and his eyes get desperate. Jungkook doesn’t know how else to help, wishes he could give him more, moves his other hand back down to grab his ass again, licks him under the jaw, and he finally comes onto him, unabashedly loud, gripping Jungkook’s waist.
Jungkook uses the sheet to wipe them off, and Taehyung tangles into him before he finishes, kisses him roughly, knocks their teeth together. Then he scoots down, nestles into Jungkook’s neck, and Jungkook traces patterns on his back, feels them both calm down.
“Well, fuck,” Taehyung whispers eventually.
“Fuck,” Jungkook agrees.
It’s difficult as hell to get Taehyung to go back to his own room that night, and they stay up way too late debating it—or using the debate as an excuse to stay—and it’s even more difficult than usual in the morning not to knock the breakfast table over and kiss him. Jungkook would never take it back, not under any circumstance, but he understands now why they shouldn’t have done it. It makes everything else more painful, makes hiding and waiting harder. And it seems to make talking about their situation, considering whether they should even be doing this, nearly impossible. Jungkook’s body is a bundle of need. He’s not an idol; he’s a bunch of hormones in a trench coat, and for all that the stage is its own world, away from everything else, it’s hard not to get flustered sometimes when Taehyung darts his tongue out and smiles darkly for the camera. He assumes it’s just him, and then there’s a night when Taehyung has to cover his eyes to get through his lines while Jungkook’s thrusting up from the floor, even though it’s choreography they’ve done a million, million times, and Jungkook can’t hide his smile when he rolls back to standing.
Some nights they both just collapse in their separate rooms, and Jungkook hates it even though they desperately need the rest, but most nights they visit each other, one of them making the heart-pounding journey back to their own room in the early hours of the morning. One night Jungkook runs into Yoongi in the hallway right outside Taehyung’s room, and he thinks he’s busted, but Yoongi just smirks and claps him on the shoulder as he passes. There’s something incongruous, and it takes Jungkook a minute to realize that his hyung looks sleepy and rumpled, but he’s still in jeans and a Love Yourself shirt. A lot like Jungkook. He looks back, but Yoongi’s already around the corner.
There’s one disastrous night when they both fall asleep with the lights on, and of course, of course, they oversleep and wake up to a loud knocking on the door. Jungkook panics and actually rolls off the side of the bed to hide, but thankfully it’s just Namjoon, and he talks to Taehyung through a crack in the door instead of coming in. Taehyung says that he’ll come down soon, and when Namjoon leaves he peers over the edge of the bed giggling. Jungkook knows he’s a sight, naked and bewildered on the floor, and he just groans until it hits them both that Namjoon is going to be wondering where Jungkook is too. He flies up to get dressed, pounds down to breakfast still wearing yesterday’s eyeliner, and tries to look innocent when Namjoon finds him there and looks confused. He gets a lecture about the importance of double cleansing at night, but nothing more dire.
It’s a warning sign, though, and they both know it. They make endless, empty promises to talk about it, to figure it out, but when Jungkook gets Taehyung’s body under him he knows he would do anything to keep it there. Deep down he thinks that really considering what they’re doing, making a responsible decision, is only going to tear them apart.
Chapter 7: name a game to play and i'll roll the dice
They have an extra day in Hong Kong, and that evening they go to an industry party in the top two floors of a tower overlooking Kowloon Bay. They don’t acknowledge it openly, but Jungkook knows that making time in the schedule for it is mostly a practical thing—there are rumors going around again that they’re overworked, and management wants them photographed looking dapper and relaxed. It’s a kind of mixed public and private event—most of the spaces are exclusively for guests, but select press are allowed to photograph them in the main room. The seven of them file out of the elevator in their modern hanboks, wait while their staff confers with security, and then they’re being led into a buzzing room with floor-to-ceiling views of the city. There’s a flurry of interest from the photographers, and Namjoon leads them immediately over to pose as a group, to give them what they want. The room is spacious and high-ceilinged, but it’s crowded with tables and guests, and Jungkook gets that red carpet feeling where everything is just indistinct light and noise—camera flashes and tall white walls and sharp laughs. Namjoon eventually signals that they’re done with pictures, and they all disperse a bit even though the cameras don’t stop. Jungkook reorients himself enough to recognize a few other idols, and Jimin and Taehyung keep waving at people. Hoseok and Jin split off to be social, and it makes Jungkook uncomfortable even though he knows it’s fine.
At some point Namjoon indicates that they’ve put in enough time in the press area, if they want to move on, and Jimin suggests that they grab drinks and find the dance floor. They’re waiting at the bar when Jungkook notices Yoongi put a hand on Jimin’s shoulder from behind.
“He’s trouble,” he hears Yoongi say. “The tall one.” Jungkook follows his gaze to a handsome, well-built idol who’s talking to a group of women with a sort of suave animation. Jungkook hears Jimin ask what he means. “Just—trust me. Avoid him.” Jungkook looks back—sees Jimin nod, like he gets it, and then Yoongi drifts away again.
Jungkook doesn’t feel his shoulders drop until they’re finally out of the banquet room and exploring, wandering around with Jimin and Taehyung and their fancy drinks. There seems to be room after room basically set up as lounges, and a lot of guests are so clearly taking the networking opportunities seriously that Jungkook starts to feel like the three of them are frivolous and out of place, roaming around in a loud, chaotic bundle. They take a spiral staircase and find a game room with a darker atmosphere and a group smoking in the corner, plus a whole couch area with an NES Classic set up. Jungkook gets really into Donkey Kong before Taehyung drags him over to the billiards table. They all try to look suave playing pool even though they don’t really remember the rules, until Jimin misses so badly that he scratches the felt, and they anxiously try to rub it out and then just rush out of the room, Jimin pushing them from behind and giggling uncontrollably.
They get more drinks and bounce from room to room. It only takes two for Jungkook to become hyperaware of Taehyung’s proximity, the way he absentmindedly touches his waist to get him to look at something, or crowds into him from behind, his breath on the back of his neck, when they’re waiting on Jimin. He keeps expecting Taehyung to disappear, to run into old friends and kick into social butterfly mode, but he doesn’t. At one point they’re at one of the various wet bars, and Jimin’s involved in complex negotiations with the bartender about a mixed drink he can’t quite remember but is sure he loves, and Taehyung starts teasing Jungkook in earnest, rifling through a centerpiece to pull out a small white flower. At first he just toys with it, rolling it around with his long fingers, and Jungkook pretends not to notice, pulling out his phone to check the group chat.
“Pretty decorations, huh,” Taehyung remarks, tilting his head to lay the small white flower along his cheek.
“Who even is that?” Jungkook asks, holding his phone out to show Taehyung the selca Hoseok posted with someone Jungkook doesn’t recognize. Taehyung pouts.
“These flowers are really unique. Singular.”
“Hmm.” Jungkook looks at the selca again, refusing to acknowledge him. It’s the exact wrong move, of course, because Taehyung hates being ignored. He sidles over to Jungkook’s spot against the wall, puts a hand in his pocket, and extends his other arm meaningfully, holding the flower in the air. Jungkook looks up, shaking his head, but Taehyung’s already doing a deliberate, contained version of the dance.
“Hyung,” Jungkook protests, flushing, and he sees Taehyung bite back a smile, but he doesn’t stop. It’s just the bare bones of the thing, small and restrained there in the corner of the room, but it’s Taehyung framing his neck, touching his shoulders, covering his eyes, focused and graceful, and it’s driving Jungkook crazy. He looks over in mild panic to make sure Jimin’s still busy. Someone else at the bar stands out to him for some reason, and Jungkook realizes it’s the idol Yoongi had pointed out earlier. He looks at him for just a moment too long, accidentally catches his eye. His second mistake. Taehyung gets Jungkook’s attention again, taking his wrist and putting it on his neck, spidering his other hand down Jungkook’s arm. Jungkook inhales sharply.
“Tae,” he breathes, stepping closer, “we’re being watched.” Taehyung understands immediately, lets Jungkook’s hand drop, has the presence of mind not to look around. Jungkook glances over just enough to see that the idol is looking directly at them. “We should get out of here.”
“Dance floor,” Taehyung says decisively. They go to collect Jimin from the bar, dragging him away from his half-finished mystery drink despite his protests, and finally find a room crowded with people dancing, pulsing with a bass-heavy live mix. Jimin is immediately reconciled to the situation, recognizing a group of guys Jungkook doesn’t know and joining their circle.
“Who was it?” Taehyung asks in Jungkook’s ear as they move half-heartedly to the music. Jungkook knows he doesn’t have much reason to feel anxious, but there’s an odd dread in his stomach. He tells Taehyung as much as he can over the music, and he catches Jungkook’s mood, doesn’t laugh it off. “We’ll watch out—we’ll be careful, ok?” Jungkook nods.
Namjoon, Hoseok, and Jin show up, and Hoseok joins Jimin dancing while the other hyungs check out the room, Namjoon complaining about the beats. Jungkook and Taehyung decide to follow them when they leave because it seems like the best way to avoid trouble. They float from lounge to lounge, Namjoon pausing to have short, polite conversations with people who seem important. It feels a bit like trailing after him at an English-speaking event, trying to look interested. Except, of course, that Jin keeps popping up with plates of shrimp and wontons and fish balls and demanding that they try them. Taehyung starts imitating Namjoon’s forced laugh when they’re in a networking conversation for too long, and Jungkook struggles to keep a straight face, steps on his foot until he stops.
One of the rooms opens up onto a balcony, and the four of them go to check it out, expecting it to just be a small area. They’re surprised to see that it actually stretches out into a long rooftop porch that wraps around the tower. It’s darker and a little windy, the only light from the windows and the glow of the city itself, and there are large-leaved plants in pots and planters that give the illusion of more space. They wander around, the hyungs exclaiming at how impressive it is, wondering why no one else is out here. Jungkook takes Taehyung’s hand in the dark, and they drift unaccountably over to a corner shadowed by a large fern, hearing Jin’s lively teasing fade.
“We should follow them,” Taehyung says, his voice dark.
“Yeah,” Jungkook agrees. But instead he kisses him. His third mistake.
It’s only a minute, there in the quiet, Jungkook unravelling at how surreal it is that he can touch him like this. But then Jungkook gets this sense, like they need to go find the hyungs right away. He pulls back, and Taehyung looks worried at his expression, but before they can do anything they hear a faint greeting from close by, a clicking of steps. Somehow Taehyung catches his mood, his panic, and when Jungkook gestures for him to go he does immediately, disappearing into the greenery.
“Fancy meeting you here.” Jungkook spins around to see the tall idol standing there smiling at him, his hands in his pockets. He feels his throat tighten in anxiety. He knows he’s shit at playing it cool, so he doesn’t.
“I haven’t met you,” he says, his tone a challenge. The idol puts a hand on his breast pocket, like he’s overwhelmed by his own rudeness. He introduces himself, making it clear he already knows who Jungkook is. Jungkook hates it when people do that. “It’s a nice night for it,” the idol adds, tilting his head up a bit like he’s posing. Jungkook doesn’t ask what it’s a nice night for. “Where’d your friend go, by the way?”
“We’re all seven here,” Jungkook says shortly.
“No, your friend. That pink-haired flower of a boy. V.” Jungkook shrugs, feeling himself go hot and protective and pissed. “I get it, you know. You don’t have to hide it from me.” He turns, looks Jungkook in the eyes. “It’s the industry. We’re all a little gay until we get out of the system. We can have a family afterward but,” he shrugs, “for now we can have a little fun.” Jungkook looks at him, his jaw clenched. “No panicked denial?” Jungkook doesn’t react. The idol smiles, scuffs a toe. “Bold.” He waits, like he wants Jungkook to fill the silence, but Jungkook doesn’t volunteer anything. “You’re making me feel a little sentimental, dongsaeng. Compassionate. There’s a group chat I can hook you up with, if you introduce me to your friend. Highly exclusive. Great pictures and videos, if you catch my drift.”
“I’m not introducing you,” Jungkook says harshly. Something dark flashes across the idol’s face, and then there’s a rustle and Taehyung appears behind them. “Tae—” Jungkook says in warning, but he just steps up and drapes himself over Jungkook from behind.
“Sounds like an interesting conversation,” Taehyung says, his voice cool. The idol introduces himself smoothly, his smile perfect. Jungkook doesn’t understand what Taehyung’s doing, feels his stomach clench with stress. They trade small talk while Jungkook just stands there, Taehyung still pressed up against him from behind, and then Taehyung lowers his voice about an octave. “Going to give me your number, then?” Jungkook flinches, and Taehyung grabs his wrist tightly, holds it behind Jungkook’s back. The idol quirks a brow, interested.
“You don’t need to bother with that if you come with me to the afterparty.” Jungkook feels Taehyung shrug behind him.
“Don’t feel like it now. But I might later.” Jungkook feels the blood pounding in his head—Taehyung’s still holding his wrist tight, tight, like he’s trying to tell him something.
“You going to be worth the trouble?” His tone is disaffected, but his eyes are all over Taehyung.
“What do you think?” There’s a pause, and then the idol reaches an arm out.
“Your phone.” Taehyung uses his visible hand to toy with Jungkook’s earring.
“Didn’t bring it to the party.” Jungkook can hear the slight pout in his voice, knows he’s lying about his phone. The idol stares at them for a moment, then pulls out a business card, scribbles on the back for a minute and then holds it in the air between them. Taehyung keeps ahold of Jungkook’s wrist, reaches in front of them with his other hand and takes it.
“See you around, then,” Taehyung says, his voice still low and cool.
“Better be soon.” The idol’s eyes flick to Jungkook, and he looks amused. “Your face right now.” Jungkook feels a flash of anger, and Taehyung grabs his hand urgently, pulling him away.
Taehyung drags him along quickly, back to the party, through the hallway and down the stairs, right into the main area with cameras. He builds him a plate of random fruit and cheese and sits him down at a little table.
“Eat. Try not to glower,” he says through his teeth. He smiles, like they’re having a great time, and Jungkook sees a camera flash. “We should be photographed looking normal. It’ll contradict his timeline.” Jungkook tries to relax his face, gives up and starts stress-eating grapes instead. “You get it, right? You get what I did?” Jungkook goes hot again.
“I don’t get anything,” he grinds out. Taehyung takes a cheese cube from his plate and holds it, blocking his mouth from view.
“I needed him to proposition me,” he says quietly, urgently. “I needed proof. He won’t talk to the press now he knows I have that.” Taehyung eats the cheese and gives another brilliant fake smile, cameras clicking away. “Or he shouldn’t, at least, if he’s knows what’s good for him.” Jungkook nods slowly, still upset.
“I hate it,” he says inarticulately.
“I know, baby. I’m sorry.”
“I want to like…punch through a wall.” Taehyung obscures his mouth again.
“I want to watch you do that, and then I want to give you the best blow job of your life.” Jungkook actually chokes out a laugh. Taehyung pulls the card from his pocket. “Hopefully he wrote something damning on here. Let’s see if we’re lucky.” He puts the card on the table—it’s the idol’s official business card. He flips it. The back has his number, plus:
“For a good time call,” Jungkook reads aloud in disbelief. They make eye contact, and then Taehyung’s lip quivers and they lose it, cracking up alone at their little table.
“He’s so basic,” Taehyung wheezes out, wiping his eyes. “I wanna frame it.” Jungkook can hear the clicks, knows that the press is loving this. He keeps a careful distance from Taehyung. “If you finish your plate, I think we’ll be safe enough to find Jimin on the dance floor and do, like, every American dance we can think of.” Jungkook puts a grape in his mouth.
“I’m going to twerk my ass off,” he says darkly.
Jimin is indeed still on the dance floor, really getting into it with the group of guys, and when Taehyung sees him he starts shimmying over and yells “Choo choo!” so loudly that people look up. Jungkook runs to get there faster and starts krumping apropos of nothing. Jimin looks shocked for a moment and then folds with laughter; Taehyung arrives and hits him on the ass and launches into a kind of sexier chicken dance. Jimin keeps trying to straighten up and then sees them and loses it again. Eventually he calms down enough to join them, and they collectively scare everyone away from their corner of the dance floor, Hoseok stopping by at one point to execute a breathtakingly good robot before moving on.
“I’m so tired! Let’s go get more drinks,” Jimin says loudly over the music. Taehyung’s doing the running man like his life depends on it.
“NEVER,” he shouts while Jungkook does a drop.
“Are you guys ok? You have, like, a lot of energy.”
“WE JUST LOVE HOTLINE BLING.”
“We literally have a concert a day from tomorrow.”
“TELL THAT TO MY BUTT,” Jungkook yells, twerking into him, and Jimin covers his face laughing.
They’re able to ignore their stress at the party, but Jungkook feels it creeping back up on the way back to the hotel. They text from opposite sides of the car, trade fears and speculate, decide that Taehyung should do his best to sound out Yoongi when they get back.
“It’s hard when I couldn’t actually talk about what happened,” Taehyung tells Jungkook later, cross-legged on his hotel bed. “Basically the guy has a reputation, but no one has enough proof to do anything about it, and there are these rumors that some of the seniors at his company are in with the government.”
“A reputation for what?”
“I don’t know. That group chat sounded sketchy as hell, though.” Jungkook nods, sitting at the headboard with his knees pulled in. “I got the sense that Yoongi-hyung thinks Jimin in particular is, like, this guy’s type.”
“He’s wrong,” Jungkook says dully. “You are.”
“On a scale from pretty into Jimin to like, really into Jimin, I’m starting to think that Yoongi-hyung is really into Jimin,” Taehyung speculates.
“This is bad, right?” Jungkook asks, heavy with dread. “We don’t even know what we’re doing yet, and someone who’s in with the government has dirt on us.” He rests his forehead on his knees. “I have no idea what to do if he tells someone.”
“Allegedly in with the government. And we have dirt on him too,” Taehyung says reassuringly. “And actual physical evidence, unlike him. He’s not going to go to the press.” Jungkook tries to believe him.
“I hate that…that it would affect everyone,” he says quietly. “It’s like we’re taking everyone to the edge of a cliff, and they don’t even know it.” There’s a silence.
“We have to talk about it, for real,” Taehyung says, pained. “To figure out what we’re doing.”
“We keep saying that,” Jungkook says hollowly. Taehyung puts a hand on Jungkook’s forehead, pushes his head up gently so he can look him in the eyes.
“As soon as tour’s over, ok?” Jungkook nods, feeling both better and worse. They’re quiet for a while, Taehyung coming closer to play with his hair. “Were you still planning on punching a wall?” he asks eventually. “Because I had a follow-up plan that I would like to execute.” Jungkook smiles faintly.
“I think I feel too shitty.” Taehyung nods, looking worried. “There’s one thing, though, that might help.” Jungkook tries to look innocent. “There’s a song called Singularity, that I’m pretty sure you know the dance to.” Taehyung’s jaw drops.
“You manipulative brat.”
“I’m just asking for, um, the entire dance.”
“The disrespect,” Taehyung says reverently.
“Hyung,” Jungkook pouts. “I literally had to watch you hit on a stranger.” Taehyung puts a hand on his mouth, casts his eyes up.
“What does it say about me? That this is absolutely going to work on me?”
Jungkook feels vulnerable and nervous until they leave Hong Kong, keeps imagining scenarios in which the handsome idol shows up and tells everyone, including his parents and brother, that Jungkook isn’t a real man, that he’s betrayed them all. The old fears are back: of discovery, of his own desire. He wishes it were something he could confess to, could accept punishment and forgiveness for, but it’s infinitely more complicated than that, and Taehyung keeps saying that they’re good, they’re ok, they’ll figure it out, and Jungkook feels sometimes like he’s shouldering the shame for the both of them.
One day they’re all on a private airplane, most of them chatting quietly or sacked out. Jungkook’s sitting alone, looking out the window listening to music, and he doesn’t notice Taehyung sit down next to him until he pulls his headphones out. Jungkook startles a bit, and Taehyung puts his chin on his shoulder, and whispers that he has an idea. Jungkook’s eyebrows are already shooting up, but Taehyung just hands him his phone, shows him a text conversation with his parents. Jungkook reads. Apparently they’re going to Hawaii for a wedding, leaving the farm in Daegu for a few days, and Taehyung offers to housesit, since it’s right after tour ends. His parents protest that it’s a waste of his time, that they can hire someone, that they’re already boarding the dogs, but he insists it’ll be a short vacation.
“Come home with me,” Taehyung whispers, his voice low, and Jungkook feels the words tug painfully at him.
“Wouldn’t it be too obvious?” Jungkook murmurs, worrying about whether Yoongi is actually asleep in the seat in front of them. Taehyung shrugs, his chin still on his shoulder.
“Say you’re flying to Busan. Actually fly to Busan, and just book another flight from there to Daegu.” Jungkook turns his head toward him, thinking, and Taehyung steals a small kiss. Jungkook blushes, nods. It could work. “We’d have time to talk about everything,” Taehyung adds. “To figure it out.” Jungkook feels his heart sink despite himself. He leans his head against the window, and Taehyung straightens up.
“It’s a good idea,” Jungkook whispers. “We need to do that.” Taehyung takes his hand, rubs his thumb along the inside of his wrist.
“It’ll help. We’ll figure it out.” Jungkook grips his hand tightly, tries to believe him.
Later, he formally requests the mini vacation over email, and it’s accepted. The company books the tickets for him, like he expects, so he buys his own roundtrip from Busan to Daegu, and Taehyung reserves a rental car that they can leave at the Daegu airport on their way back. It’s unimaginable, unreal, that he’ll be spending almost two days alone with Taehyung, but he can’t shake a deeper feeling of dread. It should be exciting, but Jungkook can’t help but feel like they’ve actually agreed to an expiration date.
Chapter 8: if one last night is all that we've been given
Staff manages his whole trip to Busan, escorts him to the airplane in case there’s press, and Jungkook worries about catching the next flight alone, undetected. It goes smoothly, though, and no one seems particularly interested in seeing past his bucket hat and facemask. Taehyung’s only a few minutes late picking him up at the terminal, and Jungkook grins uncontrollably as he gets into the rental car with his duffle bag, feeling like they’ve executed a whole undercover mission instead of a trip that normal people make all the time. Taehyung’s wearing his glasses and an oversized sweater, looking casual and cute as hell.
“Hey,” he says through a boxy smile. He takes off Jungkook’s hat, fluffs his hair. “Ready to come home with me, baby?” Jungkook pulls his facemask back up to hide his expression. A car honks behind them, and they both immediately get flustered.
“Driving is a nightmare,” Jungkook mutters as Taehyung pulls into the next lane.
“It really is. I almost got into like seven accidents coming out of the parking garage.” Taehyung shoves his phone into his hand, the directions to his parents’ house already pulled up, and Jungkook focuses on keeping them both alive.
Eventually they get out into the countryside, driving past rice fields for what seems like forever before they get to the Kims’ house. It’s the way Jungkook remembers it—a modest size and gently dilapidated, with a long porch that wraps around. Taehyung points out the new greenhouse off to the left and the screened-in pool they’ve built out back, and they both look around instinctively for the dogs before Taehyung remembers that his parents had them boarded for their trip. They park and tramp around the land for a while. Taehyung wants to check on everything—the hydroponics, the strawberries, the rope swing—and Jungkook trails after him, mostly just feeling the alien sensations of space and quiet. Most of the animals Jungkook remembers are gone, but they still have the chickens at least, and he tries to get their attention through the wire mesh. Taehyung’s already unlatching the swinging door into the sunny enclosure. The chickens scatter as he goes to peer inside the aging wooden coop to make sure they have enough food, and when a hen struts close enough he picks her up and coos at her like she was asking for attention. Jungkook laughs at him, standing outside in his black jeans like the awkward city boy he is, and tries not to fall too much harder in love.
Everything feels closer, smaller inside. They have to jangle the keys just so to budge the sticky lock, and they take off their shoes and bump into each other with their duffle bags in the hallway. It’s warm and cluttered, and Jungkook remembers what it’s like for a place to be made to live in, instead of to be wiped clean and disinfected as soon as they leave. Taehyung messes around in the kitchen, and Jungkook pads over to the guest bedroom. He drops off his bag by the bed, and he’s hit with the memory of having to sleep there with Jimin’s feet in his face, and then the hazier sense of being fifteen and wanting so badly to be noticed. Lying in wait on the wall behind him is the inevitable heart attack of family photos. He stills when he sees them—Taehyung petting a cow, sitting in his grandmother’s lap, posing with his parents in front of the shed, running away from the camera in a field; he’s gangly and fierce and his smile is exactly the same. He hears a footfall and then Taehyung appears beside him, working his mouth around a purple popsicle.
“You gonna sleep chastely here in the guest room?” he asks, straight-faced. Jungkook raises his eyebrows.
“You want me to sleep unchastely in your childhood bed?” Taehyung bites the end of the popsicle off, hisses at the cold.
“I don’t even know. All this sexy Jungkook energy in my parents’ house is really confusing.” Jungkook laughs, not sure how to broach the subject of sexy Taehyung energy. Taehyung bounces, antsy. “You wanna go swimming?”
Taehyung produces swim trunks from somewhere, and they find goggles and some other pool supplies in a bench outside. The water is just on the other side of chilly, and Jungkook swims a few lazy laps, feeling his muscles relax. Taehyung disappears beneath the surface, doing handstands and flips and pushing from wall to wall, rarely coming up for air. It feels strange having unstructured time like this, away from the other members. Jungkook wonders incessantly when they’re going to talk about everything, what they’re going to decide. Whether Taehyung brought him here to let him down easy.
They inevitably get into a splash fight with the little buckets they found in the bench, and Taehyung is merciless, pretending to give up and then hitting him full in the face with the water. Eventually Jungkook just throws him across the pool, and it devolves into a chase to the death. Jungkook knows that part of messing with Taehyung has always been about being able to touch him, about getting away with it, and he realizes that for once he doesn’t have to hide it. The next time he gets ahold of him he crowds him into the wall, arms caging him in—Taehyung’s shaking with laughter, hands on his face, and Jungkook leans over and nips him on the neck. He gives a little scream and plunges down, shoving off the wall and away under the water. Jungkook swims after him, catches him easily by the foot and drags him back. It’s a perfect opening to splash him when he comes up to the surface, but instead he picks him up by the thighs and pulls him into his chest. Taehyung’s surprised, breathing hard, but he settles into him, legs tight against Jungkook’s sides. Jungkook nuzzles along his cheek, gives him the lightest of kisses behind his ear. Taehyung turns abruptly and just barely catches his lips, but Jungkook’s already pulled back. Taehyung gives him a look, puts his hands on Jungkook’s neck like he wants to secure him, but Jungkook’s mouth quirks up, unrepentant, and he steals another kiss, just beneath his jawline. Taehyung misses him again, and Jungkook darts up to kiss his forehead. Taehyung huffs, pouts, and Jungkook wants to laugh at him, but instead he goes still and casts his eyes up innocently, giving him an opening.
Taehyung takes it, kissing him greedily. He rolls his hips to lean further forward, to kiss him harder, his mouth open and demanding—Jungkook feels a flutter in his throat, kisses him back messily, tastes Taehyung and grape popsicle. He stumbles back until he’s against the pool wall, tightens his hold on his thighs, so that Taehyung can push as hard as he wants, and Taehyung leans him back just a bit, drags his tongue against his teeth, like he wants him under him. Jungkook takes it all, offers him everything he can, until Taehyung stills, curses into his mouth. Jungkook nudges him gently with his nose.
“You good?” Taehyung buries his face in Jungkook’s shoulder, groans in response. Jungkook waits.
“The pool is so cold,” he says finally, muffled. “But you’re so, so fuckable. My dick has never been more confused.” Jungkook laughs, realizes that it’s gotten chilly, twilight creeping in.
“You too cold? Wanna get out?” Taehyung starts a sentence about what he wants to do, but the rest is lost in Jungkook’s neck. “What was that?” Taehyung shakes his head.
“Nothing.” He straightens up, settles back a bit, and Jungkook can feel the small adjusting movements his legs make across his stomach. He takes issue with Jungkook’s hair and starts to fix it, focused and quiet. Jungkook waits, like he always does, even when Taehyung is actually just trying to give him a fauxhawk right before a photoshoot. There’s a question Jungkook knows he should ask, that’s been hanging in his brain the whole time, and he forces himself to try.
“So I know we came here to talk,” he starts lamely. “But I was wondering if you wanted to, um—” He knows how to end this sentence. It’s so, so simple. All he has to do is say it, spit it out. Taehyung stops messing with his hair, looks at him. “I was wondering if we could—” With some sort of herculean effort Jungkook pushes himself through. “—have sex.” His voice goes weird, and he looks down. Taehyung makes a noise like he’s just seen a puppy. “We don’t have to. It’s just, um, an idea.”
“An idea, huh?”
“You can just say no,” Jungkook mumbles, blushing.
“Kookie,” Taehyung says firmly. “Why do you think I lured you out to the literal countryside?” Jungkook looks at him. “I would very much like to have sex with you. If you want.” Jungkook nods, his cheeks still burning. Taehyung pauses, bites the inside of his cheek. “I think…I think I want you to top.” He shivers. “Is that ok?” Jungkook doesn’t have the vocabulary to express how very ok that is. He nods again. “You know what I mean, right?” Jungkook rolls his eyes.
“I’m just checking!” He pauses, shivers again, but his smile creeps back. “I can’t believe you just asked me like that.” His voice goes cute. “My Jungkookie, asking for sex.” Jungkook sinks down against the wall until they’re both just above the water’s surface.
“Communicating is the worst. You are the worst.” He sinks a little further until his nose is underwater, blows bubbles in frustration.
“Hey, do you think anyone on this earth likes aegyo as much as you do?” He looks up, sputters.
“I—what? I don’t.” Taehyung raises his eyebrows meaningfully.
“Uh huh.” Jungkook adjusts his grip and stands again, walks to the middle of the pool with Taehyung still straddling him.
“I’m going to drop you in the deep end.”
Taehyung grabs some towels from the bench, and they dry off next to the pool. The sun is setting in earnest now, everything awash in red and purple. Jungkook realizes that he’s starving.
“Wait,” he says abruptly, eyes wide. Taehyung pauses, towel still on his head. “What…how…are we going to eat?” Taehyung snorts.
“Just figured out that there’s no room service?”
“There’s not even…” Jungkook’s eyes go wider. “Delivery.”
“I’m deeply upset that Jin-hyung is missing this.”
“Calm down, silver spoon boy. I have some meat marinating in the fridge—I thought you could cook it.” Jungkook puffs his cheeks.
“Oh.” He rubs his hair roughly with his towel. “I’m not silver spoon boy,” he grumbles to himself. Taehyung pulls on a loose t-shirt, opens the house door and casts a look over his shoulder.
“You’re helpless. You’d never survive the wilds outside Big Hit.” Jungkook grabs the door before it closes, pushes in after him.
“Are you kidding me? You’d be dead from starvation if it weren’t for Jin-hyung and vending machines.”
“I know how to milk a cow,” Taehyung says, his tone superior.
“Jimin said that when you had to cook pasta together all you did was stare at the water for like half an hour waiting for it to boil.”
“How else are you supposed to cook pasta?!”
“Jimin had to do everything. The whole sauce and the meat.”
“It was teamwork,” Taehyung insists, digging through the fridge. He pulls out a storage container, thrusts it toward Jungkook with imploring eyes. “Cook this?”
Jungkook does, sautéing the strips gingerly in a heavy pan. They find some sprouts and a giant container of kimchi and Taehyung relearns how to work the rice cooker—Jungkook is amazed at how packed the Kims’ fridge is, even when they’re gone. When they’re done it feels like a real meal, and they eat quietly, Taehyung stealing extra strips of meat from Jungkook’s plate when he’s finished his own. Then they shove the dishes in the sink for later and take turns showering, mostly just to warm up and also because they know staff will be annoyed if the pool chemicals mess with their hair dye. Jungkook finishes first, and he sprawls out longways on the giant living room couch, flicking mindlessly through news feeds on his phone. Taehyung emerges eventually, wrapped in a giant fluffy towel. Jungkook looks up at him from the couch, quickly comes to the conclusion that’s he’s wearing only the towel, and even more quickly vows not to acknowledge it. Taehyung pulls it up to his neck and tells Jungkook to move over, wedging himself between Jungkook and the back of the couch, rubbing his head into Jungkook’s hoodie until he finds a comfortable spot.
“Your hair is so wet,” Jungkook complains. Taehyung yawns beautifully, taps him under the chin. “You’re the least considerate person I know.” Taehyung nestles in further, rests a hand right where Jungkook’s hoodie rides up. His skin is impossibly warm.
They watch dumb videos on Jungkook’s phone, Jungkook scrolling and Taehyung tapping whenever he sees one that looks good. Jungkook is somehow deeply relaxed and deeply antsy at the same time. He kisses Taehyung on the head sometimes, when he’s laughing and he thinks he won’t notice. A video ends and Taehyung turns, props his chin on Jungkook’s chest.
“Are you nervous?” he asks. Jungkook nods. “Me too.” His mouth crooks up. “I can hear your heartbeat.” Jungkook tosses his phone.
“Come here,” he says firmly.
Taehyung obeys him immediately, crawling up until they’re eye-level, and Jungkook kisses him earnestly, sliding the towel down his back until he finds his ass. Taehyung whines, pushes at the bottom of his hoodie until Jungkook sits up and pulls it off. Taehyung settles back on top of him, kissing him again, skin on skin, and it’s different somehow from everything they’ve done before. Jungkook wants him so, so badly, but he also wants him to never move—his weight on top of him, erection pressing into his hip, fingers circling maddeningly on his chest while he drags Jungkook’s lower lip. Taehyung moves down to kiss his neck, his chest—Jungkook’s breath catches every time he uses his teeth. He makes his way down slowly while Jungkook tries not to grind against him. Then he tugs decisively at his pants waistline, and before Jungkook can quite process everything his mouth is on his dick, hot and insistent.
“Shit, Tae.” Taehyung takes him further in, and Jungkook grips his shoulder, tries not to moan. “Tae,” he says between his teeth, “I thought you said—” He comes off abruptly, and Jungkook’s hips sink back into the couch.
“Time to fuck me?” Taehyung asks brightly. Jungkook sputters his assent, breathes in and out, tries to think.
“I brought—stuff. In my bag. Will you get it?” Taehyung disappears wordlessly while Jungkook tries to calm himself down. A minute later he hears Taehyung set his black duffle bag heavily on the coffee table. Then Jungkook remembers that Taehyung will definitely, definitely make fun of him when he sees, and he braces himself at the sound of Taehyung unzipping the bag.
“Wha…Kookie.” There’s a pause. “Why do you have like ten boxes in here?” Jungkook feels himself blush, his elbow over his eyes.
“I didn’t want to get the wrong kind.”
“How did you even fit your clothes in here with all this?” Jungkook mutters indistinctly. “Imagine if your bag had been searched.”
“I did imagine that. A lot.” He hears Taehyung rummaging through boxes.
“I’m right—there’s literally ten. Ten.”
“I was being responsible.”
“What a perfect boy scout,” Taehyung says fondly.
“I hate you.” Taehyung picks two boxes, tearing at the packaging while Jungkook rolls over and buries his face in the couch.
“He seduces me in the pool—he asks me, ‘could we maybe have sex, hyung?’—all innocent, while literally packing fifty condoms.”
“I’m never going to have sex, actually,” Jungkook groans. “I’m just going to die.”
“If you die before having sex with me I’ll sue you,” Taehyung says coolly. Jungkook peeks out at him.
“How would that work?”
“I don’t know, but I promise I’ll take your family for everything they have.” Jungkook snorts. “You’ve gotta move really quick so I can put a blanket down,” he adds. “I don’t want to forever defile my parents’ couch.”
“You really know how to woo a guy,” he grumbles, rolling onto the floor. Jungkook hears the whoosh of a blanket in the air while he stares at the rug fibers. “Do you think this is how movie stars have sex?”
“Get up here, smartass.”
Jungkook self-consciously kicks his pants and underwear the rest of the way off and crawls back onto the couch. And then his heart jumpstarts, because Taehyung is a fucking vision, laying there vulnerable, waiting for him, his expression deeply nonchalant in the way Jungkook knows it gets when he’s actually anxious. Jungkook comes closer and runs his hand up the back of his thigh, lifts his knee—Taehyung obeys immediately, putting his foot on the couch. Jungkook grabs a small throw pillow and wedges it under the small of his back; then he crawls over him, lowers himself until he can feel him under him and kisses him tenderly on the neck. He lets his hand drift between Taehyung’s legs, strokes where he knows he’s the most sensitive, hears his breathing quicken.
“I can’t handle you, Kookie,” he says, his voice dark. Jungkook moves up to nudge his nose fondly.
“Just keep talking, ok? Keeping talking to me.” Taehyung nods, his eyes serious, and Jungkook moves to lean on his other elbow, crooks up Taehyung’s other knee. Then he lowers himself again, kissing him on the mouth to try to gauge how he’s doing, wanting him to feel safe. He moves over to his ear, takes his earlobe in his teeth. “I’m gonna make you feel good, ok?” Taehyung nods, his breathing rapid. Then Jungkook sits back, grabs the lube that Taehyung opened, his hands shaky.
“You know what to do?” Taehyung asks.
“I read a lot of Wikipedia articles,” Jungkook admits. Taehyung snorts, his knees knocking into Jungkook’s stomach.
“You precious boy.”
“What—did you want me to go to the library?” Jungkook asks, bewildered.
“You precious, precious boy.”
Jungkook finishes coating his fingers, puts one hand heavily by Taehyung’s side and presses the other into his ass. He pushes gently up and down until he feels less resistance, then presses in gently, working at it slowly but insistently. He looks up and sees that Taehyung has his eyes closed; he’s biting his lip, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Relax, Tae. I’ve got you.” On the second finger Taehyung starts squirming, his breath slower but coming in and out in shudders. He asks for more, and Jungkook’s dick actually hardens at his voice; he obeys and kisses him sloppily on the stomach—his favorite spot, where Taehyung’s tanned skin is soft. Taehyung reaches for him, hand grazing Jungkook’s cheek. Jungkook moves his fingers faster, wider, and Taehyung whines, pulls at the blanket, loosely grips his dick. Jungkook’s head is swimming, seeing and hearing him like this; he wants to be inside him so, so badly that his stomach clenches every time he makes a noise.
“Please,” Taehyung says, his voice desperate, and Jungkook slows, not knowing if he wants more or less. “Fuck me before I sue your family.” Jungkook huffs out a laugh, slides his fingers out and grabs a condom and the lube again. When he’s ready he lines himself up and pushes in carefully, carefully, trying to keep a firm hold on himself so he doesn’t hurt him. Taehyung’s eyes fly open as he enters, and they share a look.
“Shit, Kookie,” he breathes.
“Good.” Jungkook pushes in further, and it’s all he can do not to lose it at the way Taehyung is so warm and tight around him; he goes slower, wanting him to relax. Then he’s all the way in; Taehyung tells him to move, and he does. He’s so far gone that he starts faster than he should, but Taehyung’s already asking for more, pulling frantically at the blanket. Taehyung gets loud, like loud, and it’s fucking unbearable how sexy it is—the way he looks, his head tilted back, hair in his eyes—a gorgeous wreck.
Jungkook can tell immediately when he finds the right angle; something changes in Taehyung’s reaction, and they’re both desperate, Taehyung squirming, Jungkook fucking him harder than he ever thought he’d dare. He’s on the edge, Taehyung’s gasps ruining his resolve to slow down.
“Tae,” he moans, like he needs to warn him. And then it’s thrilling through him, and he comes inside of him. It’s impossibly, impossibly good, hitting him in waves; he pushes his forehead into Taehyung’s clavicle, his breath shuddering. “God, Tae,” he moans again. “Fuck.”
He feels himself getting sensitive and pulls out carefully, gets rid of the condom and pushes Taehyung’s knee down so he can lay on him. Taehyung pulls him closer, tangling his hands in his hair. “I’m sorry,” Jungkook whispers into his chest, eyes watering. “I’m sorry if I went too fast.” Taehyung puts a finger under his chin, forces him to look up at him.
“Kookie baby, you’re a fucking superstar,” he says, his voice low. “And it’s no rush or anything, but I need your hands on me before I actually die.” Jungkook’s eyes widen, and he reaches for his dick, pulling him off slowly until he demands more. He slips off of Taehyung’s chest, wedging himself into the back of the couch so he can move his hips, and Taehyung turns to thrust toward him, grabbing the back of Jungkook’s neck—Jungkook can’t stop looking at his face, flushed and gorgeous. He gets loud again, and Jungkook can’t quite process how much he loves that, and then finally he comes onto Jungkook’s stomach, his hand gripping desperately at the back of his neck. Jungkook kisses him reverently, all over his face, while he calms down.
Eventually Taehyung is just looking at him, eyes large and fond.
“You ruined me, Kookie,” he says quietly. “I’m completely ruined.”
“Is that good?” Jungkook breathes.
“Of course it is.”
“I don’t know how to tell you you’re beautiful,” Jungkook admits.
“I think that counts.” Jungkook scoots onto his chest so he can find his t-shirt on the floor. He yanks it out of his hoodie and uses it to clean them up. “Kookie,” Taehyung says, his voice breaking. “You’re like…everything.” Jungkook grabs the other end of the blanket and wraps it around them, pulls Taehyung in by the small of his back. He kisses him on the nose.
“Do we have to move to the bed? Can we just stay here for a while?”
“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Forever.”
Jungkook wakes up cold, and everything’s way too bright. It takes him a minute to piece together that he’s at the Kims’ house, alone on the couch. There’s an array of obnoxious noises from the kitchen, and then he feels more than sees Taehyung bounce over.
“He’s awake,” Taehyung says reverently, poking his nose.
“S’too bright in Daegu,” Jungkook groans, swatting his hand away. He rolls onto his face. “Where’s the blackout curtains?”
“That was your old life, silver spoon boy. Now you live with me on a farm. And you’re lucky as hell, because I didn’t burn the eggs.” His voice changes. “Or, at least, not yet. I’ll be back.”
Jungkook sits up grumpily, finds his sweatpants and pulls them on, tries to remember where the bathroom is. He ends up using Taehyung’s parents’ bathroom, which is definitely not the right choice—he has to walk through their room to do it, and there’s a giant stack of newspapers and magazines featuring BTS that he almost knocks over—and then he pads blearily out to the kitchen.
“Get ready for the best, uh, only slightly burned gyeran-mari of your life,” Taehyung says at the stove. Jungkook waits while he finishes rolling the omelet, rubbing sleepily at his hair. Taehyung glances over at him, and then looks again. “Shit,” he mutters to the pan.
“You ok?” Jungkook asks, worried he’s burned himself.
“Fine. You just look like teenager Tae’s greatest wet dream over there.”
“Too early to compliment me,” Jungkook grumbles, embarrassed, leaning back against the counter. “Compliments start at noon.” Taehyung shrugs.
“It’s just a fact, baby.” He transfers the omelet to a plate and cuts it into slices. “Grab some kimchi for us?” Jungkook roots obediently through the fridge, and then furrows his brow.
“How are there eggs? There weren’t eggs in here yesterday.” Taehyung actually chokes with laughter.
“We have chickens, wonderboy.”
Taehyung’s done a perfectly serviceable job, and they eat the gyeran-mari and kimchi right there off of the same plate. The only problem is that they’re still hungry afterwards.
“Cooking is kind of an endless treadmill, isn’t it?” Taehyung asks, frustrated. “Who knew.”
“Do you think sex makes you twice as hungry?” Jungkook speculates.
“I’m willing to find out.”
They end up showering and driving to a takeout place tacked onto a grocery store that Taehyung remembers. He keeps insisting that it’s close, but it takes at least twenty minutes, and Jungkook has no idea how he orients himself when there’s only fields and scattered ramshackle buildings to go by. When they get there Jungkook waits in the car, facemask on, so they don’t risk him being recognized. There’s no phone service, and his brain kicks swiftly into a worry spiral about what they’re going to talk about and what the outcome will be. He’s already imagined multiple detailed breakup scenarios when Taehyung comes back with a pile of containers that smell absurdly good.
“Man, I forgot how much they love me here,” Taehyung says, putting the boxes in Jungkook’s lap. “Next time Yoongi-hyung’s being a jerk I’ll quit and come to where I’m truly appreciated.
“I don’t want you to quit,” Jungkook says, too seriously. Taehyung pulls on his seatbelt, not quite meeting his eye.
“You can come too.” Jungkook thinks that he doesn’t want to quit either, but he doesn’t say it aloud.
They spread everything out on the table when they get back and eat indiscriminately; it’s all unreasonably delicious. Jungkook’s still in the same rut of worrying, and he thinks he’s the only one until Taehyung feeds him a piece of pork and asks how long he thinks they can stall before they’ve entirely lost their chance to talk. Jungkook wants to respond with something quippy, but he can’t. He swallows.
“My mom used to have me make pro and con lists,” he says quietly.
“Pro: you’re adorable,” Taehyung responds, reaching out to poke his cheek.
“That’s not a real pro,” Jungkook huffs. “You have to take it seriously.” Taehyung leans back, and Jungkook can see the anxiety in him, wonders why he hadn’t noticed it before.
“It is a real pro, but—ok. Let’s try it.”
Taehyung finds a notepad, and after he’s written “JK thighs” on the pro list about seven times they start trading serious answers. Jungkook can’t help but remember the pro/con list that culminated in him becoming a Big Hit trainee, and he doesn’t want to be superstitious about it, but it seems like a good sign. It feels like they’re getting somewhere, every time they agree on an item to add, and Jungkook gets this aching hope that the list will make everything clear, will produce a magical solution that doesn’t entail him becoming a salary worker or never touching Taehyung again.
It turns out that the list isn’t magical. It feels good to talk it through, to go through their hopes and fears methodically, but eventually they both get tired, and they get in a dumb fight about whether “stick it to the homophobes” counts as a pro, Taehyung oddly adamant that it does. Finally he starts testily piling up the takeout containers, and Jungkook just watches him.
“I’m gonna go check on some stuff,” he says, shoving them into the fridge, and Jungkook gives him space, doesn’t follow him outside.
Instead he puts on more sunscreen and grabs his sneakers and baseball cap. He troops out through the back door, wanders around. It’s sunny but there’s a nice chill in the air, and he ends up jogging around the perimeter of a flooded field, slowly building up into a rhythm. He goes further and faster than he should, doesn’t want Taehyung to miss him or worry, but it feels good. He slows and cools down sooner than he wants, his eyes wandering over the sharp green shoots poking up out of the water.
It’s Taehyung’s idea, in the end. Jungkook meanders back toward the house and finds him laying on the ground under a small pear tree. He nudges his calf with his foot, then gets down on the dirt next to him, the low branches crowding them in.
“You’re sweaty,” Taehyung observes.
“I ran around for a while.” Taehyung glances over, his mouth curving.
“Of course you did.” There’s a silence, and when Taehyung speaks up again, his voice is tight. “What if we just put it to a vote? Just straight up ask them if we can be in a secret relationship?”
“No, no, just the members. Everyone but us gets a vote. Five is an odd number.” Jungkook bites the inside of his cheek, considers. “That way, it’s not just us deciding to risk it. If anything bad happens, it won’t be, like, something we did to them without them knowing.” Jungkook knows this is a good idea, the best they’ve come up with, but he feels his stomach twist. There’s the coming out part, of course—having to tell them what he is. But worse than that is the fear of letting the other members decide for them, the very real possibility that they’ll say no. You can’t do this to us, maknae. Didn’t you already know that being with him was impossible? “I know—it might be scary for you to talk to them about it. I’ve talked to pretty much everyone about stuff, though, and I swear they’ll get it. Or I hope so.”
“No—it’s a good idea,” Jungkook says decisively. “We should do it when we get back.” They’re both still looking up into the branches, and Jungkook overlaps Taehyung’s pinky with his own, and then laces their hands together, his fingertips pushing into the dirt.
They have sex on the guest bed that night, and once Jungkook gets past his preoccupation with the pictures of Taehyung on the wall (“Baby Tae is watching!” “Current Tae needs you to shut up and get in him.”) it’s quieter, serious. Jungkook is focused and attentive, wanting to notice everything, remember everything, and when they finish and the tension breaks, he finds himself crying on Taehyung’s chest. They don’t talk about why, because they both know. Taehyung pulls him in tightly, whispers endless nonsensical endearments into his ear.
They fall asleep naked again, and in the morning it’s brutal to get going instead of just being silly and fond under the covers. Eventually they get their act together, Jungkook washing the dishes while Taehyung goes around doing chores, finishing the laundry and checking on the chickens. They’re only a little late leaving, driving back through all the lonely rice fields. Jungkook fiddles uselessly with the radio, feeling the time slipping by, unable to be clever or interesting or say anything that he wants to. They say goodbye overdramatically at the airport, knowing they’ll see each other again that night, and Jungkook pretends to find it funnier than he actually does. It should be a beginning, but Jungkook is so, so scared that it’s the end.
Chapter 9: running just to keep my hands on you
Jungkook feels dread in the pit of his stomach before it even begins.
They play it out like a fun caper, texting everyone separately that Namjoon called a meeting that afternoon, asking Namjoon vaguely if he can come help them with something at the same time, running up and down the halls when it’s time, yelling about a meeting like they did when they were teenagers and Namjoon would set them loose on the dorm to get everyone to come. When they get into the living room with everyone, Taehyung reveals dramatically that they, not Namjoon, called the meeting. His energy is so nervous that a few of them think it’s just a pointless practical joke, and Jungkook has to assert from his spot behind him that no, it’s not. He and Taehyung are pinging in opposite directions with their stress. Jungkook is quieter, smaller, rooted to the spot, and Taehyung can’t stop pacing through the living room like a caged tiger, turning everything into a whole production instead of just explaining what they want to ask. He says they have a list of questions for them, and Jungkook knows that he’s ad-libbing and that he’s already trying everyone’s patience, but he lets him go anyway.
“First question,” Taehyung says dramatically, holding up a finger. “Is anyone here homophobic?” There’s a pause, a weird energy, and everyone looks around but Jin is the only one with his hand half-raised.
“I’m reading the room,” Jin says uncertainly, trying to turn it into a joke, “and I’m sensing that I should not be raising my hand.”
“Good call,” Yoongi says, leaning back into the couch. Jin gives a half-laugh.
“It’s not weird to be a little homophobic,” he protests good-naturedly. “I’m not saying I hate anyone. I just think it’s a man’s role to start a family.” Namjoon makes a pained face, reaches a hand out and then closes it slowly. Jimin starts to say something, but Yoongi cuts in, spitting words rapid-fire.
“If two men or two women or two people love each other, and they’re consenting adults who want to be in a loving relationship, does that hurt anyone? Or in any way affect you?”
“I guess…no?” Yoongi’s still leaning back, his voice dangerous.
“If two men are in love, do you think it would be better if they lied to everyone and married women instead?”
“This is getting a little intense, don’t you think?” Jin says, looking to Namjoon for support. “What’s this meeting even about?”
“There’s ten questions,” Taehyung says, still pacing. “Question two—”
“Taehyung and I want to be in a relationship,” Jungkook says abruptly, cutting him off. Taehyung stops, looks at him like he knows it’s already over. “We know that a dating scandal would affect everyone, so we’re asking for your permission.” His brain registers for a moment that he’s actually just come out to them all, and it should be scary and exhilarating, but all he can feel is that dread, his limbs heavy and slow.
“You’re asking for—for what?” Namjoon sputters.
“We want to be in a secret relationship,” Taehyung clarifies. “But it’s a decision that would affect you all, if we were ever caught by the public. So we want to put it to a vote.” Jimin gets up suddenly, takes a pillow from the couch to the corner of the room, and yells into it.
“YES.” He pumps a fist, yells into the pillow again. “YES! FINALLY!” Everyone looks shell-shocked as he throws the pillow back and makes his way over. He tries to hug Jungkook and Taehyung at the same time, but he can’t because Jungkook won’t move and Taehyung won’t stay still. “I can’t believe I’m finally seeing this happen—it’s been EXCRUTIATING. Like, literal years of drama.” Jungkook smiles faintly at his enthusiasm. “You’re not going to neglect me, right? Now that you’re actually together and not just obsessing over each other?” Jungkook’s stomach twists.
“I hope not,” Taehyung says vaguely from the other side of the living room.
“Jiminie,” Yoongi says gently. “Come sit. We still have to vote.” Jimin looks at him, frowning.
“You’re seriously going to vote on this?” Jimin asks. “It’s a relationship. Who cares what we think?”
“It’s everyone’s careers,” Jungkook says dully. Jimin looks at him, brow furrowed, while he sits back down.
“What kind of vote?” Namjoon asks.
“Majority,” Taehyung says rapidly. “Excluding us, of course.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. “That makes sense.” There’s a sickening pause. “I guess I should start then.” He leans forward, rubs his hands on his knees. “Everyone gets what we’re voting on, right?”
“On whether Tae and Kookie can be in a—romantic relationship?” Hoseok tries. Jungkook nods.
“And we don’t tell Big Hit. Or anyone else,” Jungkook adds.
“And everyone knows the stakes?” Namjoon asks.
“Idol group knocked from their pedestal as gay dating scandal within the band erupts,” Taehyung says quickly, like he’s ripping off a band-aid. Namjoon nods, and Jungkook feels his chest clench.
“America would love it,” Jimin mutters, and a smile flits across Yoongi’s face.
“Let’s go around, then,” Namjoon says, his face unreadable. “I know I should start.” He sighs. “You have to understand,” he says a little too quickly, “that I’m voting as RM right now, not as Namjoon.” It’s like a bell rings in Jungkook’s head, and he knows. That’s the first strike. “As the leader, I have to look at for the whole band. And this, if anyone ever found out, would almost definitely end the band. So I have to vote—no.” Taehyung stops pacing for a moment, then starts again.
“Are you serious?” Jimin asks sharply.
“I know this isn’t quite the same,” Namjoon continues like he hasn’t heard him, “but dating bans are…something we all have to deal with. It’s part of the job. I know if we all support each other, we can get through it.” He nods, as if to himself, and turns to Hoseok. “What do you think, Hobi-ssi?” Hoseok tries to smile.
“I don’t like this at all,” he begins. Jungkook hears the second bell. “But I have to go with our leader. You’ll have more possibilities later, but right now this would…close so many doors for you.” He looks back and forth between them. “I don’t want to see you kids hurt. Please forgive me. I have to say no.” Strike two.
“Yoongi-hyung?” Namjoon asks. Jimin looks stung.
“I’m sitting closest to Hobi-hyung,” he interjects loudly. “I’m next.”
“We already know your vote, Jimin,” Namjoon says wearily.
“You’re skipping me?! Everyone else gets to talk, but you’re skipping me?”
“Jimin,” Yoongi says, a hand on his knee.
“I’m sorry, but it’s fucking unacceptable to act like my opinion doesn’t matter.” He’s livid, almost crying.
“Jimin,” Yoongi repeats.
“No, he’s right,” Namjoon concedes. “I’m sorry, Jimin—you’re right. Why are you voting yes?”
“Because I can’t believe you’re all such fucking cowards,” Jimin spits out. “Because you’re choosing the side of bigots you don’t even know over two of your best friends. They’re not doing anything wrong—just fucking let them be happy.” Jimin’s fighting for them, on their side, but Jungkook still can’t feel anything, anything. He’s a rabbit in a trap, just waiting. “That’s all, I guess. So fucking stupid.” He puts his head in his hands, crying quietly, and Yoongi pulls him into his side. Namjoon looks stricken, but he just says:
“Yoongi-hyung?” Yoongi laughs to himself, his teeth bared.
“Yeah, fuck bigots,” he says. “The kids can secretly date. They can openly date—I don’t care.” Namjoon nods. They all turn to Jin.
And Jin is crying silently, and Jungkook realizes it’s because he knows he’s the deciding vote. That’s when Jungkook knows—like, actually, truly knows.
“I’m—” Jin starts. “I’m so, so sorry.” And that’s the third bell. Strike three. “We’ve just—we’ve worked for so many years for this.” Jungkook takes a step back. And then another. Because he can’t listen to any of this, because it’s already over, because it was over before it even started—the world’s most foregone conclusion.
He turns around and walks out of the room. He hears his name, and then someone, Namjoon probably, says they should give him a minute, that they can wait for him. Jungkook’s walking faster now. He opens the door to Jin’s room, goes quietly through every desk drawer until he finds it, the set of keys that Jin isn’t supposed to have. He stops by Taehyung’s room, grabs a hoodie from his bed, a facemask from off his desk. He puts his hood up, the mask on, feels for his phone in his pocket. This next part will be the hard bit, he knows. He doesn’t even bother with walking, just runs down the hallway, back into the living room, hears a confused chorus of voices but keeps going; someone tries to grab him but he’s through, past the kitchen, and no one’s stopping him, and he’s out the front door. He keeps running.
He slows down near the office building and heads for the parking garage, nodding at staff who say hi, trying to look like someone calm and collected who is not about to commit grand theft auto. He makes it to the parking garage without incident, goes up to the third floor where it’s always parked. Sure enough, it’s there, the small black van with tinted windows, whose spare key set is officially listed as “lost” in the Big Hit records. He gets in and starts it, heads for the parking garage exit that’s usually unstaffed. And he’s right—no one’s in the booth, and he punches a code into the receiver, watches the arm lift, and he’s out.
He drives into the city, blood pounding in his ears, because that’s where they always go, and he’s on autopilot. He cycles in his head through places he could go, just to think things over, to be away from the train wreck that’s currently happening in the dorms of Big Hit, that will keep happening whether or not he’s there to witness it. What a fucking idiot he was, to think that he would ever be ok with this possibility, to willingly give up his right to decide this. His hands are shaking, and someone honks and him, and he finds a place to pull over, heart pounding. He needs to think; he needs a plan. He leans his seat back while cars whiz by a lane over, the traffic in Seoul dangerous and unrelenting. This is what his friends are trying to protect him from, he knows. The real world, the vitriol and the apathy. He understands, and he hates it.
He’s eventually able to calm down and think. He knows he’s a sitting duck in the city, that it’ll become a dangerous situation very quickly if he’s discovered by fans or press. He realizes that the best thing would be to go visit his brother in Busan—he’s never made the drive before, but he knows it’s doable, about 5 hours. He finds a Hi-pass unit for paying tolls in the glove compartment, sticks it on the dashboard, and pulls his phone out of his pocket for directions. He should’ve expected it, but it surprises him anyway—the sheer number of texts and notifications on the screen. He tries to unlock his phone without reading them, but a few catch his eye anyway. From Namjoon: Management says they have security footage of you taking a car? What are you doing?? From Jimin: kookie you HAVE to text us back. From Yoongi: we’re playing it off so management isn’t upset. you’re not in trouble just text us back so we know you’re ok. He feels his heartrate go up, opens his maps app as fast as he can because he knows he’ll lose it if he sees anything from Taehyung. He enters the address, studies the route for a few minutes. It’s high speed toll roads most of the way—he can do this. He’ll make it fine. He’ll end up at his brother’s place, and then— That’s where he stops himself. Because there’s no good outcome.
He waits for an opening, eases back onto the road and drives. It’s a soothing, numbing thing, demanding but not too demanding now that he has a purpose and directions. There’s horror on both sides of this trip, but for now he’s untouchable.
He drives for two hours. For a long time he doesn’t think about anything, hums his way through an entire Taemin album start to finish without really paying attention, and it’s a blessing, to have found this kind of numbness. And then, inevitably, he starts to think. He imagines one possibility: quitting Bangtan, going home, maybe trying for a solo career somewhere down the road. Just giving up. And then he imagines the opposite, and he remembers what’s happening right now, that he’s losing Taehyung right in this moment. Because the two things he loves—Taehyung and being in Bangtan—are incompatible, and he always knew that. His entire youth was one, long set-up, a heartbreak years in the making. His breathing gets ragged, and he takes the first exit he sees, wills himself not to think about it, not to cry.
He ends up at a Panda Express. The restaurant is dilapidated, parking lot mostly gravel, a paper taped in the window advertising Chuseok specials that are months out of date. He should be hungry—he hasn’t eaten since breakfast. He can get some food, get gas, keep going. He glances through the giant glass windows before he goes in, sees there’s hardly anyone inside, and wills himself not to be so nervous. He lowers his facemask just barely while he orders, but there’s no double-take, no shock of recognition from the staff. He relaxes a bit, pays and takes his food to a corner by the window so he can leave if he sees more people coming.
He pulls his chopsticks apart and checks his phone out of habit, and then his heart jolts in his chest because right there on the lockscreen is a litany of texts from Taehyung. He only reads the last one: Kookie talk to me please you’re scaring me. He realizes that he’s an asshole, that this is just as hard for Taehyung as it is for him, and he texts back immediately: I’m fine. I’m not doing anything stupid. Please don’t worry about me. He pauses, then texts again. I’ve just loved you since I was fifteen and it’s not something I can move on from. The indicator pops up that Taehyung is typing, and Jungkook turns off his phone.
Jungkook tries to eat, but his stomach is still in knots, and he can’t finish his plate. He hates it when he can’t eat. He realizes that he should probably get going again, and he powers his phone back up to text his brother, fiercely ignoring the other messages. Are you home tonight? he texts. A few minutes later he gets a response: Yes dongsaeng but I’ll probably be too tired from work to video chat. He considers if he should tell him what’s going on, if he should mention the possibility of leaving Bangtan. He texts back: Ok.
He hears a series of bangs from outside the window and looks up in time to see six men slamming car doors and full-out running in the parking lot. A thrill of fear and guilt runs through him—“He’s there. He’s actually there,” he hears from outside, and then the restaurant staff looks up as six world-renowned idols bust through the front door. Shit.
Namjoon gets to Jungkook first, grabbing him roughly by the shoulders. “What are you doing, kid?” he demands, his face twisted with worry. “What were you thinking? Are you hurt?” Jungkook freezes, and Namjoon shakes him. “Jungkook, are you trying to get hurt?” A moment later, Jin is pulling Namjoon off of him.
“He’s fine, Joonie. Look at him—he’s fine. He just needs space.” They’re all around him then, their expressions upset and demanding, and Jungkook thinks that this is the worst he’s ever felt. He considers actually crawling under the table.
“Jungkook, what were you doing?” Namjoon asks again, Jin still holding his arms loosely.
“I was going to my brother’s. In Busan,” he answers faintly, as if that explains anything. He sees Namjoon relax a touch, like he’s relieved to hear something that makes sense. Jungkook swallows. “How did you find me?” Taehyung sits next to him in the little plastic booth.
“Our love connected us,” he says.
“You didn’t turn off location sharing on your phone,” Yoongi clarifies.
“Kookie, are you ok?” Jimin asks quietly.
“I’m fine,” Jungkook answers, not meeting his eyes.
“Let’s just get back,” Hoseok says soothingly. “We’ll drive you, ok? And we can talk about it later.” Jungkook feels his hands start to shake.
“We’re definitely going to talk about it,” Namjoon says dangerously. Jungkook feels dizzy, his throat tight.
“I mean, I’m not going back.”
“Kookie,” Taehyung says beside him, his voice frightened, questioning.
And that’s when Jungkook breaks down, right there in the little plastic booth, his whole body shaking. He leans down onto the cheap faux-wood table and buries his head in his arms, sobbing brokenly into his elbow.
He realizes Taehyung is saying his name over and over: “Kookie, Kookie, Kookie baby. It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok. Don’t cry, Kookie, it’s ok.” Because of course, of course Taehyung tries to comfort him. Because that’s what Taehyung does—he takes care of people and worries about them and throws his whole heart open, like it doesn’t even matter if he gets hurt. He’s stroking Jungkook’s hair, his fingers gentle, and Jungkook feels his chest wrench, and he can’t stop sobbing. “We’ll figure it out, Kookie, ok? We’ll figure out it.” Taehyung’s saying, his voice thick. “Nothing will really change, ok? We’ll still be best friends, like we always were.” Jungkook flinches. “Kookie baby. Please, Kookie, please don’t cry. We’ll fix it, ok? It’ll be just like before.” Jungkook can’t take it anymore, can’t handle Taehyung lying about how it’s going to be ok.
“Why are you saying it’s fine?” he asks him, voice breaking. “Don’t you even care?” He looks up, and they lock eyes. And it’s in that moment that Jungkook realizes his mistake, realizes that Taehyung is desperate, on the edge, that he was hiding it for Jungkook’s sake. He sits up, tries to take it back, but it’s too late—Taehyung’s face crumples, and he grabs the back of Jungkook’s shirt in his fist, shoves his head into his chest.
“Of course I care,” Taehyung says, and it’s agony, hearing his voice break like that, and Jungkook grabs the back of his neck, puts his other hand around his waist and pulls him firmly into him, holds him while he cries.
“God, Tae, I’m so sorry,” Jungkook whispers. “I’m such an idiot.” Taehyung shakes his head, seems like he’s trying to answer but can’t. They’re there like that for a while, Jungkook staring at nothing and holding Taehyung as tightly as he can. He realizes that his friends have formed a tight circle around them, silently shielding them from the restaurant staff. He feels thankful and protected, but mostly he just feels the inevitable closing in. They’ll calm down, and they’ll go home, and that’ll be the end.
There’s a kind of tremulous gasping noise, and Jungkook looks up to see Jin crying, and he almost smiles because of course Jin looks majestic and beautiful when he cries, like some sort of model hired to advertise sadness, and Jungkook has never been able to figure out how Jin got that gift from the universe, of never having to ugly cry.
“Fine,” Jin says unsteadily, trying ineffectively to wipe away his tears. Then he says it again, louder: “Fine.” Jungkook feels Taehyung go still in his arms, an unaccountable wisp of hope. And then Jin leans down, his hands on the table and his voice low, and says it: “You can be in a relationship, ok?”
“Jin-hyung,” Namjoon says warningly.
“No,” Jin says, his voice quiet but intense, “it’s not your call anymore; it’s mine. I hadn’t finished voting yet, and now I have. The boys can date. That’s my final decision, and I have seniority so no one better fucking question it.” Taehyung looks at him, eyes wide. “Now stop crying, you overdramatic boyfriends.”
It should feel like elation, but instead it just feels like relief, like careening toward a crash and stopping at the very last second. Jungkook feels guilty and woozy and lost, and he knows he should be apologizing to everyone, but Taehyung just holds his hand and leads him to one of the vans, and they fall asleep on top of each other in the backseat while Jin drives them home. It’s dark when they get back, and Jin sits them down at the kitchen bar, serves them bowls of kongnamul guk and hovers to make sure they eat. There’s muted conversation in the living room, and Namjoon keeps drifting in like he wants to say something, but Jungkook just kind of stares off into space while Taehyung slurps beside him, and he holds Taehyung’s hand on top of the counter the whole time even though he knows it looks dumb. When they finish Jungkook actually asks if they can go to bed, like he’s a kid. Namjoon turns around at the fridge, his eyebrows raised, but Jin lets them go. They shuffle back to Jungkook’s room and lay next to each other in the semidarkness, and Jungkook keeps crying even though he knows he shouldn’t.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers finally. “I’m so sorry if I scared you. I just…I couldn’t hear them say no.”
“You could’ve talked to me,” Taehyung says to the ceiling. “I wouldn’t have told anyone where you were.” Jungkook inhales sharply, and Taehyung’s voice gets smaller. “You cut people off, when you’re upset, and I get it, but it just feels…it feels really shitty.” Jungkook nods, doubles over on the bed, feels like trash. “Kookie.” He nudges his chin up. “How many times do I have to tell you it’s ok?”
“They said no,” Jungkook says raggedly. “I was going to lose you.”
“You didn’t, Kookie.” Jungkook roughly wipes away his tears, nods, but doesn’t quite believe it. Taehyung sighs, looks at him. “You know it wasn’t going to matter, right? Whatever they voted. It would’ve made it harder, but it wouldn’t have really mattered.”
“What do you mean?”
“I would’ve waited for you, idiot. I would’ve waited it out, no matter how many years we had left, and I would’ve given you secret blow jobs on special occasions. And then, the day the band went on hiatus, I would’ve married you in an illegal surprise ceremony in front of the Blue House.” Jungkook looks at him, eyes wide.
“Yes.” Jungkook swallows, thinks.
“That’s really specific.”
“Because it was my actual plan.” Taehyung takes his face in his hands and kisses his cheeks, his nose, his forehead. “You worry too much, Kookie. Nothing was actually going to separate us. We’re the two who found our destiny.” Normally Jungkook would play it off, would say it was cheesy, but tonight he feels like his whole body is aching, bursting, and he says:
“None of this is a coincidence.” Taehyung gives him a boxy smile, and he sings the whole song to him, his voice dark and quiet, right in his ear. He bounces a bit and does his best impressions of the rap line when he gets to their parts, and then he’s immediately serious again on the vocals, and Jungkook feels like some sort of star or moon finding its center of gravity, coming home.
Chapter 10: call it what you want
The Panda Express employees have camera phones, of course, and one of them apparently figured something was up when six men with brightly dyed hair made a scene in their restaurant. The photos hit the press late that night. Taehyung finds them the next morning, blearily passing his phone over to Jungkook and then rolling over to smoosh his face into the pillow. Jungkook feels a surge of anxiety. The images are mostly of their backs, which is fine, but there are a few grainy zooms where the person managed to get a picture of him crying through a gap in the circle. Jungkook reads the article carefully, heart in his mouth. The main angle is that the maknae had a breakdown in a restaurant hours from Seoul, that the stresses of idol life must be too much for him to handle. Taehyung is only described as clearly upset by Jungkook’s distress. He goes to Navar to see how other outlets are reporting it, and everything seems similar—a scandalous public breakdown, an overworked maknae in crisis. He gives Taehyung a running commentary, and he mostly just groans into the pillow.
Moments later there’s a knock, and Namjoon comes in, already fully dressed and profoundly tense. Jungkook gets up hurriedly, pulls on some sweatpants over his boxers, but Taehyung just sits up in the bed, looking grumpy and ethereal in an oversized t-shirt. Namjoon turns Jungkook’s computer chair, sits down deliberately.
“The story isn’t too bad, right?” Jungkook says without preamble, pulling a shirt over his head. “It’s just, like, I’m overworked or something.” Namjoon nods, but he still looks on edge.
“That’s the angle so far. We can deal with that.”
“There’s something else,” Taehyung intuits, his voice low. Namjoon rubs the back of his neck, not making eye contact.
“Yeah. A publication contacted the company last night. Or, I guess, just one person, a journalist, to give us a heads up. They’re putting out their own version of the story sometime today, but this one has another source.”
“What’s different about it?” Jungkook asks roughly.
“This one is about you and Taehyung in an illicit relationship.” Jungkook curses.
“How would they even get that out of what happened?”
“Who’s the source?” Taehyung asks flatly.
“Uh—” Namjoon pulls his phone out of his back pocket, scrolls for a minute. “There’s a, um, ‘exclusive insider source,’” he reads, “’who can confirm that the bandmates are in a relationship because of what he saw at a party in Hong Kong.’” Jungkook’s stomach drops. Taehyung’s already getting up, grabbing his phone.
“I’ll be back,” he says, and then he’s out the door. Jungkook sits leadenly on the bed. Of course that idol went to the press; of course they’ll never escape this. Namjoon looks at his phone again, and they both wait in silence, Jungkook feeling guilt pressing on him like a physical force.
“Is that an actual thing, then? Something happened in Hong Kong?” Namjoon asks finally, his voice contained.
“Kinda. Yeah,” Jungkook says hollowly. He realizes this is only the first time he’s going to have to watch one of them deal with the consequences of his mistakes. It hurts like hell. “I can’t believe I already ruined everything,” he whispers. He wants to tell Namjoon that he’s sorry, but he doesn’t think he can do it without breaking down.
“Jungkook,” Namjoon says sharply. Jungkook looks at him, waiting for a rebuke. “Don’t take it all on your shoulders like that.” Jungkook blinks.
“I know you’re the leader, but I did this,” he says slowly. “It’s my fault.”
“That’s not—” Namjoon rubs his temples in frustration. “Jungkook, I’m the one that failed you. Part of why I came to talk is to apologize.” Jungkook looks at him, taken aback. “I’ve been watching you struggle with this for—for a long time now, even though I didn’t realize it. I missed a lot of chances to support you. And the first chance you actually gave me, I really messed up.”
“Rapmon-hyung, that’s not—”
“Please give me a chance now, to do better.” Jungkook feels his throat tighten.
“But—you were right,” he says. “About everything. Everything’s already messed up.” Namjoon looks thoughtful.
“The thing is…I know you, Jungkook. I know you did your best. This might blow up, or it might not, but either way I’m on your side.” Jungkook nods, overwhelmed, afraid that he means that the other members might not be. Taehyung floats back in and perches on the bed.
“Sorry. Back,” he says shortly. He has that affectedly casual look he gets when he’s in the middle of something not casual at all. And then, because this is the weirdest morning of Jungkook’s life, Namjoon formally apologizes to both of them, bowing at the waist. Taehyung’s eyebrows go up past his bangs.
“RM-hyung, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Jungkook protests again, bowing back compulsively.
“Man,” Taehyung mutters. “Wanting to bone Jungkook has had some weird fallout.” Namjoon makes an odd noise, and when he straightens up they realize that he’s choking out a laugh.
“We appreciate the gesture, and we accept it,” Jungkook blurts formulaically, trying to salvage things.
“You were right, hyung, that we all have dating bans,” Taehyung says. “It really isn’t fair of us.” Namjoon leans back and crosses his arms, looks arch.
“Let’s just say that when I find someone worth breaking mine for, I’ll expect you to be first in line to support me.” Jungkook nods, feels the ghost of a smile, and Taehyung salutes him. “Here’s the thing,” he adds seriously, “management is almost for sure going to call a meeting, so we need to be on the same page. Is there anything I should know about Hong Kong?”
Jungkook grimaces, but before they can answer Namjoon’s phone is vibrating. He looks at it in frustration.
“It’s them, sorry. I’ll be back.” Taehyung grabs Jungkook’s arm urgently as Namjoon walks out, and Jungkook knows he was right that something else is going on. Taehyung pulls something up on his phone and then passes it over wordlessly. It’s just a short text conversation, but Jungkook’s heart jumps into his throat as he reads.
“for a good time call”?
What? Who is this?
it’s flower boy
you might want to reconsider being a source for that article
Lol or what
lol or there’ll be a story about you too
Cute try but you wouldn’t
it’s my whole career on the line. you wanna bet on those odds?
It’s too late, even if I wanted to retract
Story’s coming out
powerful guy like you can’t pull a tabloid article?
Of course I could
I just don’t see any reason to
see you around
“Shit,” Jungkook exhales. “So that’s it, then. It’s coming out.” Taehyung shakes his head sharply.
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you kidding? He says he can’t stop it—or won’t—or whatever. And he’s a jerk with ties to the Blue House or something.” Taehyung gives a small laugh.
“He’s scared. He wouldn’t have texted me back if he wasn’t. He’s bluffing, I’m not, and he’s going to retract.” Jungkook watches him flick his hair out of his eyes.
“It’s really distracting how spooky sexy you get when you’re mad.” Taehyung’s lip curves up.
“I’m gonna put in an anonymous tip to the police about that sketchy group chat. I should’ve done it ages ago.” They hear Namjoon finishing the call, and he leans around the doorway.
“Meeting with Big Hit in a few hours. Come out to the living room so we can strategize.”
Thankfully Jin is the only one waiting when they get there, and Jungkook sinks down next to him while Taehyung bangs around in the kitchen.
“I have to apologize to everyone,” he says anxiously, and Jin pulls him in by the shoulder.
“Not to me,” he says magnanimously. And then he adds: “As long as we all acknowledge that I’m the hero here, for changing my vote,” and Jungkook laughs a little. Namjoon wanders in and paces, texting, and Taehyung appears eventually with two coffee mugs. Jungkook takes one gratefully. He feels Jin’s hand tighten on his shoulder. “I’m really…” he starts, looking back and forth between them as Taehyung sits down. “I don’t ever want to see you kids hurt like that again. So, I guess I should say: best wishes. For your…relationship.” Taehyung raises his eyebrows while he sips, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Hobi feels really shitty about his vote too,” Namjoon observes, still pacing. “Or that’s my guess, at least, since he’s been in the practice rooms since five am.”
“Damn,” Taehyung exhales.
“Yeah. I know he loves a good unnecessary dance practice, but this is a little excessive.”
“Maybe he’s mad I’m ruining his career,” Jungkook mumbles. Jin shakes his head.
“No, I talked to him last night. He feels bad. So go easy on your hyungs.”
“Don’t tell my boyfriend what to do,” Taehyung says casually, and Jungkook chokes on his coffee.
“Tae,” Namjoon says warningly, looking at his phone, but Jin just casts his hands up dramatically, like he’s addressing the heavens, and launches into a speech about how his heroism has created a monster.
They all gather eventually, Hoseok showing up last and sitting on the floor, covered in sweat, and they hash it out. Jungkook apologizes until they all tell him to shut up, Taehyung conspicuously does not apologize at all, and Jungkook realizes at one point that the weirdest, best part is that they all know now, about everything he’s been trying to repress for years, and it doesn’t change anything at all.
Their plan is to have the united front that Jungkook wanted to go back again to Busan, was afraid Big Hit wouldn’t approve another vacation, and made the bad decision to try to go anyway. It comes out that Jungkook lied about going to Busan before, that he was actually with Taehyung, and there’s a lot of collective retching noises, but Hoseok actually looks weepy, lays back on the carpet.
“Why do we say he was upset, though?” Jimin asks.
“Same thing as the tabloids. Stress,” Yoongi says. “Delayed reaction from world tour.” They all know it’s the only right answer, even though Jungkook is frustrated at having to look like he can’t handle the schedule. The discussion gets to Hong Kong, and Jungkook is starting to feel like a career-ruining traitor again when Namjoon gets another call. He comes back into the room afterward almost vibrating.
“It’s not getting any worse,” he announces. “That other story isn’t coming out.”
“Their source backed out,” Taehyung says quickly, and Namjoon looks at him, brow furrowed.
“Yeah.” Jungkook feels a flood of relief, slides off the couch and flops face-first onto the floor.
“So the only bad press now is just that Jungkookie had a stress breakdown?” Jimin says excitedly. “That’s nothing. We can eat that for breakfast.” Multiple people start talking at once, and Jungkook flips onto his back, makes eye contact with Taehyung.
“You’re a magician,” he tells him quietly. “A magical, merciless, extremely spooky magician.” Taehyung’s smile gets so big that he hides his face in the couch.
The meeting with management is long and predictably torturous. Jungkook apologizes formally, bowing until his back hurts, but some of the seniors still don’t seem satisfied, and the tension is palpable. No one brings up the story about him and Taehyung at all—Jungkook wonders if Namjoon was even supposed to tell them about it—so it’s relatively easy to lie about getting stressed and making dumb decisions. The other shoe doesn’t drop until the very end.
“We should also mention,” a senior says to Namjoon across the glossy conference table, “that we’re pushing back the Jungkook mixtape project, since his schedule is already overloaded.” He shuffles through some papers, and there’s a charged silence. Jungkook knows that talking back won’t help his case, will only make him look less mature, and he tries not to react at all. Namjoon pushes back a bit, asks a few questions, but they’re firm on it. Jungkook retreats further into himself. “Ultimately, it’s what we think will be best for him,” the senior is saying. Jungkook hears a noise, realizes that Jimin is slowly tearing the meeting agenda into pieces under the table.
“Is this a punishment?” Taehyung asks suddenly. The room looks at him.
“V-hyung,” Jungkook says quickly.
“Because it doesn’t make sense otherwise. We have an open schedule now.”
“Please let me apologize on V-hyung’s behalf,” Jungkook says. “We understand your decision.”
“We don’t,” Taehyung says, unafraid, and Jungkook puts a hand on his knee, silently wills him to stop.
“I think some of us are confused,” Namjoon says carefully, “because now seems like the best time for him to work.” Hoseok, still strung out from his hours of dancing, cuts in tremulously.
“I will quit.”
“Hobi-ssi,” Namjoon says, closing his eyes in frustration, “that’s not—it’s not that dramatic.”
“I will quit if you don’t let the boy sing.” Namjoon rubs his temples.
“He’s still going to sing. We’re just pushing back his solo project.” Disastrously, Jin gets in on Hoseok’s weird energy and echoes him:
“Let the boy sing!” Jungkook sits frozen, wondering if this is what it’s like to see a group piss off their superiors so much that they’re forcibly disbanded.
“What we’d like to say,” Yoongi says rapidly, “is that we think Jungkook would recover best if he’s able to do what he loves and keep working on his music.”
“No,” Hoseok insists. “I’m saying I’ll quit if you don’t let the boy sing.” Namjoon puts his head in his hands.
“Also I would like more hair freedom,” Jimin blurts out, and Taehyung kicks him under the table.
And then a miracle happens, which is that Bang Si-hyuk laughs. They all go quiet.
“I think many of us are still tired from the tour,” he says, “and from a very long meeting.” Jungkook looks at him, his heart in his throat. “Let’s table it, and we’ll make changes in the future if Jungkook needs them.” One of the seniors argues back respectfully, and Jungkook sits there in disbelief during the back-and-forth, softly punching Taehyung’s thigh under the table for lack of any other outlet. Bang Si-hyuk is firm on keeping the original schedule, and the tension in the room dissipates, and Jimin rips the meeting agenda one more time in a way that seems almost triumphant.
The meeting starts rolling to a close, and they’re getting through concluding remarks from the seniors when there’s a sniffing noise, and Jungkook looks over to see that Hoseok is barely holding it together, a tear snaking down his cheek, right there at Big Hit’s fanciest conference table. Jungkook feels grateful and also deeply mortified. Yoongi tries awkwardly to comfort him, and the upshot is that it’s the fastest any meeting has ever ended.
Things settle back to normal. Except, of course, not normal at all, because now he and Taehyung are ok, and he can grab his hand almost whenever he feels like it, and when they’re with the others Taehyung sits on Jungkook’s lap so often and so stubbornly that Jin gives up complaining about it. Jungkook makes sure to talk to everyone individually—especially Hoseok, who it turns out has a complex in common with Namjoon that he’s been failing him for years.
“J-Hope-hyung,” Jungkook protests, frustrated. “You’re fine.”
“I could see it sometimes, when you were younger,” Hoseok admits. “The way you acted with him. I kind of thought…that I could warn you away. Tease you out of it.” He rubs his forehead. “I understand now, and I’m ashamed.”
Jungkook has no idea what to do, but luckily Yoongi comes by and defuses things, talks him through it, and they all three end up getting shit-faced and try to adapt some old choreography to a Halsey single. Jimin comes by, and Yoongi sits down immediately and protests that he’s not good at dancing, so Jungkook and Hoseok teach it to Jimin instead. They get decent at it, especially Jimin, who is not drunk, and they’re doing a run-through and really feeling themselves when Jungkook notices Taehyung watching amusedly from the doorway and falls directly onto his butt.
Jungkook doesn’t even know where to start with thanking Jimin, so one afternoon he just writes up a list of compliments and reads it out to him in the living room, and Jimin loves it, alternately giggling and gasping.
“Finally, I promise not to neglect you, even though I’m in a relationship,” Jungkook reads, his ears red. “And the shoes you wore yesterday were good.” Jimin collapses on the couch, hand over his heart.
“If all the other members die in a tragic accident, you have to marry me,” he says sincerely. Jungkook clears his throat, laughs despite himself.
“We already pinky promised that years ago.” Jimin smiles beautifully.
Jungkook kind of assumes that they’re through all the drama now, and he savors the lazy, post-tour time, working on lyrics and editing video and trying not to tackle Taehyung when he sees him unexpectedly. One day, though, Yoongi interrupts them when they’re all in the kitchen eating breakfast.
“I have, um, a quick announcement,” Yoongi says. They look up, curious. “Well then. Good morning to you all.”
“Good morning,” Namjoon echoes, incredulous.
“I figured I should let you know that—” he pauses, scratches his head, plunges on, “that Jiminie and I have been hooking up for, um, quite a while now. We don’t really know where it’s going to go, or if it’s going to be more than that, but…that’s a thing.” Jungkook hears Jimin squeak—he looks over to see him practically alight with happiness. Yoongi continues decisively. “Considering we’ve kept it from you all, I think it’s pretty clear that we can keep it from the public. We’re not asking for your permission.” He pauses, and the room is completely silent. “Anyway.” Yoongi drums lightly on the table with his fist, gives them an awkward thumbs up. “Good talk, everyone.” He pulls his hood up and walks out of the room, and they hear the front door slam.
Jungkook glances around—Jin and Hoseok are looking at Namjoon in shock, like they’re waiting for direction, but Namjoon is frozen, his mouth slightly open. Taehyung catches Jungkook’s eye, gives him the world’s most adorable knowing look, eyebrows raised, his mouth a happy line.
“So that was…unexpected,” Namjoon says finally.
“Maybe it’s—maybe it’s a joke?” Jin asks weakly. Everyone looks over at Jimin, and he’s beaming.
“It’s definitely not,” he confirms beatifically.
“Oh my god,” Hoseok says violently. “Oh my god.” Namjoon pats him on the shoulder.
“It’s surprising for sure,” Namjoon says, puzzled at his delayed reaction.
“No, not the hookup thing,” Hoseok counters, waving him away. “Jimin, how long has this been going on?”
“I dunno.” Jimin pauses, thoughtful. “A year?” Hoseok looks like he’s seen a ghost.
“Park Jimin,” he says emphatically. “Kept a secret. From all of us. For a year.” Namjoon and Jin look floored.
“Jimin kept a secret,” Namjoon repeats. “Is that even scientifically possible?”
“I know secrets about Jimin I don’t even want to know,” Hoseok says, awed. “I know about his first kiss and the kind of porn he was searching for when he got that computer virus.”
“I know his resident registration number,” Jin says.
“How did we have no idea?!” Jimin crosses his arms, looking increasingly smug.
“I kinda knew,” Jungkook volunteers.
“We definitely knew,” Taehyung corrects. Namjoon shushes them.
“We’ve truly entered an unknown world here. Do you think we have to tell management about this new development of Jimin being able to keep a secret?” Jimin looks like he’s about to burst, and finally he sticks out his tongue, pumps his fist.
“You fuckers all doubted me,” he half-shouts, “and look at me now!” He springs into action, grabs his coat. “Enjoy the drama—I’m gonna go find Yoongi and probably kiss him, because he just did something really brave. Peace!” He pulls his fuzzy grey coat on and bounces out of the room. Namjoon shakes his head, looking dazed. Then Jimin leans around the corner. “Oh, and FYI the band name is now Gay Boyscouts. If you’re not a gay boyscout then get out.” And he’s gone again.
“I’m probably bi,” Jungkook calls after him.
“Still counts!” Jimin yells back triumphantly before crashing out the front door.
“Do you believe in destiny?” Taehyung asks him one night, leaning on his elbow. Jungkook considers it.
“I dunno. No? I believe in choices.” Jungkook turns onto his back, looks up at the ceiling. “Like, we make our own meaning out of things, but that doesn’t make them any less, um, meaningful. I guess.” Taehyung blinks at him.
“I was gonna turn that into a bad pickup line, but you took it too seriously.”
“Oh.” He glances over, sees Taehyung looking at him fondly. “I get superstitious, too,” he adds, despite himself. “About lists and stars and stuff.”
“If I impress you by saying something deep about fate, will you blow me?” Jungkook laughs, pushes his shirt up, kissing down his soft belly.
“Nah. I’ll do it for free.”
There are a lot of upsides to dating your best friend and bandmate. Taehyung is kind and chaotic and clever and relentlessly supportive of Jungkook’s work on his mixtape, which is actually coming along now. He also has this kind of magical ability to not be ashamed of things, and Jungkook is trying, but he’s only slowly, slowly getting better at it, unravelling years of self-doubt and shame.
They’re both in the loveseat one afternoon, Taehyung’s legs draped over Jungkook’s lap, sharing a bag of shrimp crackers that they stole from Jimin. Taehyung’s on his phone reading articles about the Panda Express incident, ignoring Jungkook’s protests that it’s a bad idea. Eventually he just tuts darkly.
“These idiots think I’m crying because of the pressures of idol life. And I’m actually crying because I want to suck your dick.” Jungkook chokes on a cracker. “I’m so done with all of this.” Taehyung abruptly turns his head, yells across the dorm. “Hey JIN-HYUNG!”
“WHAT?” Jin yells back from somewhere.
“Hey remember that time I cried, and you felt so bad you said it was ok for me to suck Kookie’s dick?” There’s a pause.
“It makes me VERY UNCOMFORTABLE when you phrase it that way.”
“HEY JIN-HYUNG did you know the gay and bi members of this group literally outnumber you?”
“I’m pan,” Yoongi shouts from somewhere.
“Sorry, Yoongi-hyung! GOOD TO KNOW,” Taehyung bellows. “Hey Jin-hyung did you know the gay and bi and pan members of this group LITERALLY OUTNUMBER YOU?”
“Will you BACK OFF, Tae?” Namjoon yells from his room. “Seokjin-hyung and I have been TALKING about it, and he’s ADJUSTING and LEARNING TO QUESTION HIS INTERNALIZED CULTURAL BIASES.”
“And stop yelling across the dorm!” There’s a silence, Jungkook crunching wide-eyed on his shrimp crackers. And then Jimin yells redundantly from out of nowhere:
There are also, occasionally, major downsides to dating your best friend and bandmate. For example, one time they get in a fight, and it really is Jungkook’s fault, so after they make up Jungkook tells his boyfriend that he owes him, that he’ll clean his room or wear an embarrassing outfit or whatever. For a week or so Taehyung doesn’t act on it, and then one day when they’re all quietly eating takeout in a hotel room, Taehyung looks up from his japchae and says conversationally:
“Jungkook’s kink is my aegyo.” Jungkook gets into a coughing fit over his ramen.
“It’s not,” he says as soon as he can, eyes watering. He looks around at everyone. “That is not my kink.” Jimin is sniggering uncontrollably, but everyone else looks unphased. “I don’t have a kink,” he adds, a few seconds too late.
“Jungkookie,” Namjoon says between bites, “we’ve known that was your kink since way, way before we knew you weren’t straight.” Jungkook feels himself go even redder, shakes his head emphatically.
“We used to joke that you’d fall head over heels as soon as we found you a woman who could do the Pingu voice,” Yoongi adds.
“You’re joking,” Jungkook says, his mouth going dry. Yoongi shrugs.
“It’s sweet!” Hoseok insists. “Nothing wrong with being into aegyo.” Jungkook rounds on Taehyung.
“Did you put them up to this?” he demands.
“Course not, baby,” he says calmly. He wipes some sauce off of his hand onto Jungkook’s arm in lieu of finding a napkin. Jungkook turns to Jimin, pleading.
“Jimin. Jimin. You’d tell me, right? You wouldn’t play along.” Jimin’s convulsing with giggles, hiding his face. “Jiminie, you have to tell me.” He leans across the bed, grabs his foot. Jimin looks up, teary-eyed from laughing.
“It’s not—it’s not a joke,” he gasps out. “The best part is that it’s completely true.”
It feels like they’re working on the mixtape forever, that it’ll never actually be finished. There are parts that Jungkook is proud of the whole time, shards of inspiration that seem like they emerged in the studio already fully formed. There are other parts, though, that just feel like work, and he’s worried that they’re not good enough, that everyone will be able to tell that they just hammered out that bridge because they needed something before the final chorus. He seesaws relentlessly between feeling productive and totally incapable. He knows the producers can salvage almost anything, that they have readymade singles in their back pocket if nothing works out, but he wants this to really be his. He bothers Namjoon and Hoseok and Yoongi a lot. Yoongi is maybe the easiest to talk to, because he doesn’t ever tell Jungkook what to do, but he also kicks him out every time it gets too late and Jimin comes by, which Jungkook thinks is pretty unfair considering Jimin will purposely lay on Jungkook and Taehyung and gossip about nothing when Taehyung tries to get him to leave them alone.
It seems like there are too many gaps, too many missing ideas, and then one day Jungkook realizes that things are actually coming together, that it’s close to complete. He gets cold feet, worries that nothing is good enough. He has trouble sleeping, keeps waking up with urgent ideas of things they need to change, and the notes app on his phone is filled with nonsense like: “Add elephant sound to background of track 5” and “Airplane pt. 3 feat. J-Hope: same rap but even faster” and “Album cover: photo of Tae eating fries.” And then one day it’s actually, truly finished, and Jungkook makes them all troop to the parking garage and squish into an SUV to listen to it, since he has this thing about car speakers. He’s in the passenger seat with Taehyung, just slightly askew from his lap, and Taehyung rubs the back of his hand soothingly while he watches everyone’s reactions, his heart in his throat. They’re quiet until the end, and then Hoseok starts yelling about how great he is, and it’s overwhelming and kind but Jungkook would prefer real feedback. He gets it from everyone over the next few weeks in bits and pieces, fixating on the few stray criticisms until Taehyung threatens to tell Yoongi what they did on his studio couch if he doesn’t stop overthinking.
Management starts preparing him for promotions, booking shows for him to debut the singles. Namjoon gets excessively worried about the solo interviews Jungkook will be doing, afraid he’ll slip up and say something about Taehyung, so he makes him practice for them. One afternoon Namjoon puts together a whole fake panel for him, makes Jungkook sit on the coffee table across from him, Hoseok, and Jin. They ask him interview questions one after another, Jin occasionally trying to trip him up with a rapid-fire personal question. Taehyung’s curled up in the armchair with his phone, and eventually Jimin comes by and sits on the rug. Jungkook gets frustrated. It’s been a quarter of an hour at least, and he thinks it’s pretty clear he’ll be able to answer questions without yelling about his lust for Taehyung on national television. So he starts giving them real answers.
“Is there anyone special this album is dedicated to?”
“Hmm. I’d have to say probably the love of my life Kim Taehyung. Have you heard of him?” Namjoon rolls his eyes, asks:
“Who will you be celebrating with when the EP debuts?”
“I’d say my family and bandmates and ARMY, of course.” Namjoon nods. “And the love of my life Kim Taehyung.” Jungkook can see Taehyung giggling quietly, shifting in his seat out of the corner of his eye.
“Do any of the songs connect to personal stories?” Hoseok asks.
“That’s a great question. Lots of them do. For instance, ‘Star-Crossed Boy’ is about a story Taehyung told me once. And ‘Cinnamon’ is inspired by the color of his eyes.” Hoseok seems to find this cute, but Namjoon is giving him a death glare.
“Take it seriously, maknae,” he says dryly.
“I did! Don’t you think we’re good now? I’ve been getting press training since I was fifteen.”
“Do any other songs relate to personal stories?” Jungkook gives him a challenging look.
“Well, ‘Breathless’ is about spending time with my boyfriend in the shower.” The room erupts into protests and denials. “And about making out with him in RM-hyung’s studio when he had to go take a call.”
“He’s inventing things,” Hoseok asserts unsteadily. “He’s messing with us.”
“He’s not,” Namjoon says, head in his hands. “I know what he’s talking about with that last one.”
“Do you ever think of your hyungs when you do these things to disrespect them?” Jin asks dramatically. “Do you give your hyungs a single thought?”
“I think about one of them,” Jungkook mutters, and Jimin gives a little scream of laughter.
“Did you…did you clean the shower?” Hoseok asks. “Wait—never mind. Don’t answer that.” Taehyung looks up from his phone.
“I swallowed it,” he says innocently. And that’s the absolute end of everything—Namjoon begs them both to shut up and Hoseok jumps up on the couch like he’s facing a physical threat.
“What happened to our innocent dongsaengs?!” Jin laments.
“That lyric about the waterfall,” Hoseok says, eyes wide, teetering on the couch. “I thought it was a metaphor.” Jungkook shrugs, only a little embarrassed.
“I don’t care anymore what you say in your interviews,” Namjoon groans. “Just please don’t tell us anything else about this ever again.” Taehyung salutes him.
“Group bonding time is fun,” Jimin says brightly.
It’s utterly odd to do promotions alone. Jungkook waits backstage alone, performs alone, and he keeps thinking he’s missing something, left something important behind. There’s an on-location video shoot in a national park, and he’s gone for a day and a half. The dorms are already quiet when he leaves, most of the members on a short vacation, and the shoot itself is even quieter. The staff and crew are friendly, but Jungkook still feels like everything’s too orderly, and he keeps looking over his shoulder expecting one of his hyungs to show up.
The odd feeling is compounded with anxiety on his way back to Seoul. They’re all supposed to be on mini vacations while Jungkook promotes, but Taehyung’s decided to stay back—officially to work on his solo track, unofficially to get alone time with Jungkook. Jungkook knows that when he gets back to the dorms tonight Taehyung will be the only member still there, that Jimin and Yoongi left that afternoon, and he’s happy about it, but he also can’t keep his fingers from drumming nervously on the armrest. Getting to be openly—secretly openly, at least—together has meant a lot more time fooling around, and a lot more time holding hands in semi-public places, but they haven’t actually had sex in a while because seven people in one dorm isn’t ever actually private, and Jungkook can’t get over the consciousness of them knowing, the potential mortification if someone hears them. Taehyung, of course, doesn’t care at all, but he’s also always patient with Jungkook’s weirdness. Between that and the thing Jungkook’s planning to ask about tonight, he can’t help but feel anxious and lame.
He instantly feels better when he gets back and actually sees Taehyung, but he tenses up again when he goes to clean up. Apparently he takes too long in the shower, because Taehyung pokes his head in to ask what he’s doing, and Jungkook is so startled he throws the shampoo at him. Taehyung disappears with a thump, and Jungkook slides out after him, panicked. He’s sitting on the floor rubbing his shin, and Jungkook kneels anxiously.
“Shit, Tae—are you ok?” He casts about for any way to help.
“What the hell, Jungkook?!”
“I’m sorry—you scared me. Did I hit you?”
“No,” Taehyung grumbles. “I hit my leg, though.” Jungkook puts a wet hand on his shin, then pulls it back, realizing he’s not helping. Taehyung looks a little mollified, though. “You’re like a bag of nerves tonight—what’s your deal?” Jungkook tugs a towel down from the wall to put in his lap, ignoring the amusement that flits across Taehyung’s face.
“You surprised me, ok—and there’s this thing I’m gonna ask you later, and I’m just stressed.” Taehyung rolls his eyes.
“So just ask me instead of drowning yourself in the shower and violently assaulting me.” Jungkook winces.
“Is it really bad?” Taehyung shakes his head.
“Probably just a bruise.” Jungkook feels a water droplet slide down his back. “I’m waiting.” Jungkook pushes his wet hair back off his forehead in frustration.
“I was going to ask you to top,” he grinds out.
“Oh.” Taehyung looks at him. “Where’d that come from?” Jungkook exhales, fights the urge to hide his face.
“I dunno. I’ve just—wanted to try. We don’t have to, if you won’t like it.” Taehyung taps him under the chin.
“You always worry about the wrong things, Kookie.” He pushes a stray hair off Jungkook’s forehead, then pulls his hand back. “Of course I will.” Jungkook feels a fluttering in his stomach, a different shade of nervousness. Taehyung bites his lip. “Don’t dry your hair.”
“Huh? I still have to finish.” He glances back; the shower’s still running behind them. Taehyung grabs the shampoo from where it’s rolled against the wall, hands it to him.
“Fine. Just hurry up. And don’t dry your hair.”
Jungkook only gets half dressed, pulls on some sweatpants and finds Taehyung in his room, leaning against the headboard of his bed. Taehyung throws his phone aside a bit too hard when he comes in, and Jungkook raises his eyebrows.
“Now who’s assaulting who?”
Taehyung’s holding his elbows in a little tight, his legs straight, and Jungkook is overwhelmed by how much he cares about him, wants him not to worry. He pads over and nudges his right thigh until he moves it, sits between his legs, moves so that he’s straddling him. Taehyung scoots away from the headboard to give him more room.
“Alright?” Jungkook asks. Taehyung runs a hand through his hair, then drags a wet trail down his neck.
“Yeah,” he breathes.
“There a reason you wanted me dripping everywhere?” Taehyung draws a finger through the water droplets on his chest.
“Because it’s sexy, idiot. Wet-haired Jungkook is, like, a whole other category of Jungkook.”
“Oh.” Taehyung looks effortlessly handsome in an obnoxiously patterned button-down, and Jungkook both is and isn’t in a hurry to get it off him. He undoes just a few buttons while Taehyung messes with his hair, slides the shirt over so one side is flush against his neck and the other is off his shoulder. He feels his stomach flutter again. “You ever consider modeling?” he asks wryly, his hand on his neck. Taehyung raises his eyebrows.
“Says Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue over there.” Jungkook lets out a laugh.
“It’s just wet hair. I don’t get it.” Taehyung toys with his earring.
“Maybe when you’re older.” Jungkook laughs again.
He strokes Taehyung’s chest through the fabric and kisses from his shoulder in to his neck, lays his tongue against his throat before he takes the sensitive skin gently between his teeth, and Taehyung makes a noise under him, tugs at his earlobe. Jungkook rolls his hips into him without thinking, and Taehyung holds him there, puts his thumb across his lips and kisses his forehead.
“How do you wanna do this?” he asks, his voice dark. “You can stay here, if you want.” Jungkook shakes his head slightly.
“I want—I want you to be in control,” he says, his lips moving against Taehyung’s thumb.
“Fuck. Ok.” Taehyung drags his thumb down and kisses him open mouthed, still holding him against him, and they stay there for a while, Jungkook fighting his instinct to get him under him.
Finally Taehyung takes him under the knees and eases him off. He crowds into his back and directs him with his hands on his waist until Jungkook is laying on his belly, Taehyung at his side, almost on top of him. He rubs circles in his back, whispers in his ear.
“You have to promise to talk to me, ok? To tell me how you’re feeling.” Jungkook nods into the pillow, his stomach fluttering with nerves. “Don’t do that thing where you get too quiet.” Jungkook nods again. Then his voice gets darker as he adds, “Pants off for me now,” and moves away. Jungkook obeys, hears Taehyung rooting around in his bedside drawer. He gets back on his stomach, feeling vulnerable.
A moment later, Taehyung’s above him again, and he feels the fabric of his shirt drag against his back, his naked dick against his side. He inhales sharply.
“We’re gonna go slow until you feel good.” He bites his earlobe softly. “Is tongue ok?” Jungkook has no idea, but he says yes. Then he feels his nerves spike and adds hastily that he showered very thoroughly. “I know, baby,” Taehyung whispers, amused.
He drags his hands through Jungkook’s hair again and then down his back, kisses along the wet strip. Jungkook shivers, inhales sharply when he reaches his ass. He tries not to clench up, feels Taehyung tugging at his hips and lets himself move, gets on his hands and knees for him. And then Taehyung’s mouth and tongue are everywhere, teasing and insistent and maddening, and every time Jungkook thinks about his face in his ass he wants to die of shame and arousal. He works Jungkook up, gets him unsteady on his hands, and then there’s a pause, the click of the lube cap, and Jungkook feels his finger pressing into him. He tightens, surprised.
“You’ve gotta talk to me, Jungkookie.”
“Sorry,” Jungkook breathes.
“It’s scary. I’m fine,” he says shortly. He feels Taehyung lay his forehead on his back in consternation.
“For fuck’s sake, kid.”
“I’m fine,” he insists. “Just go, please.”
Taehyung’s finger moves against him again, slowly, and Jungkook tries to control his breathing, to let it happen. He reminds himself how much he trusts Taehyung, that he wanted to do this.
“Is that it? All the way?” he asks when he feels his finger enter. Taehyung laughs quietly.
“No, baby. Not yet.” Jungkook exhales in frustration.
“I’m fine,” he adds redundantly.
“Uh huh.” He feels Taehyung pressing gently back and forth. “Just keep talking.”
It takes Taehyung so long to get a second finger in that Jungkook starts to get pissed and panicky, tells him he wants a third even though he has no idea if he does. He hisses with pain when Taehyung tries, and he feels him pull out immediately.
“Kookie.” Jungkook flops down, tears pooling in his eyes because he’s the lamest person alive. Taehyung flips him over, looks wrecked when he sees him, cups his cheek with a hand. “Kookie.”
“Please don’t be mad at me,” Jungkook whispers.
“Jeon Jungkook, I swear to god.” He’s laying down on top of him, covering him with his whole body, gathering him in. “It’s not something to be mad about. You’re good—you’re perfect.” Jungkook nods, still pissed and ashamed. They stay that way for a while, Taehyung being sweet and fond, Jungkook barely able to breathe with him on top of him but not wanting him to move. Finally Jungkook asks him to try again. Taehyung looks unconvinced.
“Why don’t we just leave it for now?”
“I can handle it,” Jungkook resolves. He rolls Taehyung off of him, gets back on his stomach.
“I can.” Taehyung sighs loudly.
“This is a weird thing to get competitive over.”
“Please, Tae,” Jungkook says, back on his hands and knees. “Please just try one more time.”
Taehyung does. He starts over from the very beginning, rims him again until he’s trembling, works him patiently with his hands. This time he strokes him on the outside too with his other hand, and it’s so hard not to ask for his mouth on him, to keep himself in check. When Taehyung has to pause to put on a condom he gives Jungkook a litany of compliments—on his thighs, his voice, his ass—and it’s extremely odd and sweet and just distracting enough that Jungkook doesn’t tighten up too much when he starts to enter. Taehyung goes quiet as he pushes in, and Jungkook gets harder when he thinks about why. The pressure increases, and it’s scary, but it only hurts a little. His heartbeat quickens, and he wills himself to relax. Taehyung starts to drag at him before Jungkook expects, before he bottoms out. Jungkook realizes he’s trying to find the right angle, and then he does, and then it’s hard to think at all. It’s an entirely different thing, a thing that arcs through his whole body—he starts to feel need, instead of fear, pooling in his belly.
Taehyung asks him breathlessly, for the millionth time, if he’s ok, and Jungkook says he is, asks him hesitantly for more. Taehyung curses and moves faster. Part of Jungkook wants to cry in frustration at the lack of friction against his dick, has to stop himself from putting a hand on it, and the other part of him wants to draw this out forever: the pressure of Taehyung inside him, the spiraling pleasure as he drags against his prostate again and again. Taehyung starts to lose himself, gets messier and more domineering, and Jungkook’s arousal sharpens. He wants to see more of this side of him—as much of it as he can. He plays into it a bit.
“So good,” he tells him. “You give it to me so good, hyung.” Taehyung likes that a lot. Jungkook’s on the edge, but it’s like his body doesn’t know what to do with this new stimulation, doesn’t know if he can trust Taehyung to keep going, to hit it right—he worries stupidly that he’s going to stop and then asks him not to, his voice betraying his anxiety.
“Jeon Jungkook, I will fuck you until the end of time.” Jungkook wants to laugh, but Taehyung’s getting louder in that way that always tears him apart, and he leans onto one hand, pulls desperately at himself with the other, and loses it, his whole body shuddering. He does his best to stay up for Taehyung as the pleasure hits him, and then he can hear the change in him as he comes too, and Jungkook doesn’t know how a moan can be so gorgeous. And then all he can hear is breathing, and Taehyung lays his face on the small of Jungkook’s back, both of them a complete mess.
Taehyung pulls carefully out of him, and Jungkook finally lets himself fall onto his belly. There’s a moment where Taehyung’s messing with the condom, and then he’s turning him over.
“I missed you, beautiful. I missed your face,” he says, kissing him all over, and Jungkook laughs at him but feels his heart swell. “Was it good, baby?”
“It was good,” Jungkook says, his voice raw—Taehyung kisses his eyebrow, his chin, his nose.
“You did so, so good, Kookie.” Jungkook feels floaty and satisfied and also like he might cry. They trade endearments in a kind of haze, Taehyung tangling his fingers in Jungkook’s hair. The obnoxious button-down shirt is still hanging off one of his shoulders, riding so low that Jungkook can see the top of his nipple, and somehow he looks both dirty and ethereal. Jungkook wants to ask if this was different for him, but he doesn’t know how, so instead he asks:
“Do I have to call you oppa now?” Taehyung puts a hand over Jungkook’s mouth.
“Oh my god.” Then he laughs. “Save that one. It’ll make me go to pieces.” Jungkook quirks his brow, and Taehyung takes his hand back to cover his own face.
“Well that’s a new discovery.”
“It’s nothing,” Taehyung insists.
“I want to be your oppa,” Jungkook chants, “I’m so hungry for your love.”
“Jungkook.” He nuzzles Taehyung’s forehead with his nose, bothers him until he moves his hand aside.
“I want to be your oppa; I’ll have you, just watch.”
“I’m not singing my part.” Jungkook laughs, kisses him on the mouth.
“You’re extremely cute.”
“Shut up.” Jungkook nuzzles his nose, nips his lower lip.
“My little Taehyungie. My oppa at last.”
“What happened to you wanting me to be in control?” Jungkook laughs, kisses him again.
“Sorry I was so terrible,” he admits.
“You weren’t terrible,” Taehyung says. “And if anyone ever gets mad at you for not being comfortable with something, you should beat them up, not apologize. Or I’ll beat them up.” Jungkook bites the inside of his cheek, realizes he’s right.
“My protective oppa.”
“You have to stop saying that.”
“How are you so good at it? At bottoming?” Taehyung rolls onto his back, and Jungkook kisses his bare shoulder.
“It helps when you have Korea’s sexiest man between your legs.” Jungkook scoffs.
“I don’t even know where to start with you.” Jungkook pushes Taehyung’s hair out of his face, waits for a better answer.
“You’re, like, safety,” he says finally. “You always have been. I dunno. I feel safe with you.” Jungkook blows out his cheeks, considers. “And also we like different things, and that’s ok.”
“I like everything you do,” Jungkook says seriously.
“Why are you shaking up my heart?” Taehyung sings quietly. Jungkook surges up, pumps his fist.
“Yes.” Taehyung’s groaning, rolling over onto his belly.
“I didn’t mean to! You got it stuck in my head!” Jungkook lays obnoxiously on top of his back.
“I can’t wait for you to sing it to me in concert.”
“Please tell everyone,” Taehyung groans, “when I die of shame, that my only regrets are not boning you sooner, and also allowing you to talk to me after we bone.”
Later on they switch, and Jungkook knows he’s overeager, but he’s having trouble controlling it. He’s fucking into him too fast when he thinks, out of absolutely nowhere: I’m going to marry you, and the idea hits him so forcefully that he slows down. Taehyung whines, but he keeps the new rhythm.
“I’ll sue you,” Taehyung protests, squirming, and Jungkook smiles.
“We’ll get there. I want you to feel everything, baby.” It’s the first time he’s called him that, and Taehyung looks up at him wide-eyed, his chest rising and falling. Jungkook kisses his forehead, moves deeper, just a shade faster, until his eyes flutter closed again.
Everyone comes back, one by one, and the dorms get busy and loud. Jungkook isn’t willing to give up sex with Taehyung again, though, so he doesn’t, finds himself praying more and more often to some unknown architecture deity for the walls to be thicker than he thinks. No one complains, at least. Not even Jin, who seems to have finally reconciled himself to the state of things. One morning Jungkook and Taehyung are quietly eating cereal at the kitchen bar while Jin makes coffee, and Namjoon’s giving him a hard time about something when Jin abruptly turns on him.
“You should talk,” he says dramatically. “You don’t have a leg to stand on. You voted against our power couple, and never even changed your vote.”
“Seokjin-hyung, I don’t think it’s really fair—”
“Your official stance is still that they should deny their love and suffer,” Jin says, pointing at them. Jungkook looks up, spoon in his mouth.
“That’s not my stance.”
“How are we supposed to know? You never changed your vote!” Namjoon turns to them at the bar, his hands clasped, expression pained.
“Kids, I hoped this would be clear by now, but in case it isn’t I’d like to say that I officially support you dating and change my vote.”
“Baller,” Taehyung says nonchalantly.
“You think a half-assed apology is enough?” Jin insists. “What disrespect for the Bangtan bureaucracy—you have to change it for real, at an official meeting.”
“You changed yours at a Panda Express,” Namjoon counters.
“All of us were there! The meeting hadn’t ended!”
“’I’m voting as RM, not Namjoon,’” Jin imitates. “Man up, Joonie! Man up and let those boys date!” Things escalate from there, and Jin ends up chasing Namjoon around the living room with the giant foam pitchfork. Taehyung takes a bite of his cereal.
“I think our love is tearing BTS apart,” he says coolly. They make eye contact, and Jungkook looks down at his bowl, smiling. Jin and Namjoon thunder into the kitchen, Namjoon gasping for air, Jin berating him for not knowing what love is. They skid to a stop on opposite sides of the island, and then Jin reaches across and hits him with the foam pitchfork and they gallop back out to the living room. Jungkook finishes his cereal and frowns at his bowl, wishing he had more. Taehyung wordlessly extends his own spoon and feeds Jungkook a bite.
“Do you ever think…” Taehyung starts. “Joonie-hyung and Jin-hyung?”
“Nah,” Jungkook says quickly. “That’s crazy.”
“You’re right. It’s crazy.” Taehyung pauses. “But like…”
“No, you’re right. It’s extremely possible.”
Jungkook still turns into a machine sometimes, especially when he’s stressed, but Taehyung knows he’s needy and bratty pretty much all the time, so it seems like a fair trade. He stays to watch a late dance practice one night, sits on the floor and remembers the last time he did this, how Jungkook seemed like he was on the other side of a wall, thick with layered years of him being so close but so, so untouchable. Taehyung knows everyone stresses about keeping them in line, making sure they’re careful in public. He does his best, because he wants to protect them, but on another level he doesn’t care in the slightest. They all have each other, and nothing will change that. He knows it’s silly to believe in fate. But he does, because they’re the two who found their destiny.
They’re recording a new album, and it’s rewarding but also really frustrating, and one day Namjoon negotiates a long lunch for them. It’s the first sunny day in forever, so after they eat they go up to the roof with a few blankets, and they spread out and laze around. Taehyung is being a handful, flitting from person to person doing weird voices and dances, and he’s so extra that when Jungkook finally pulls him down and kisses him, no one makes any retching noises, and Yoongi actually claps in gratitude. He kisses him softly until he’s calmed down, laying on the blanket looking at him. The others are still talking and relaxing, their bodies and voices overlapping. And Jungkook thinks that they’re stars or moons or something, all seven of them, and they’re home.
If you've made it through to the end with me here, I'm so freaking thankful, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading. When I started this, I felt really unworthy of being able to write any kind of Taekook fic, and I certainly didn't expect it to turn into an actual whole story. Writing this was exhilarating and frustrating and took over my life to the point that I kept giving my friends fic updates instead of life updates. I appreciate any and all feedback, but most importantly I want to know what jokes made you laugh.