(mono no aware)
“I miss Korean food,” Taehyung says with a muffled voice.
Jeongguk chews on his lip as he squints at his laptop. “Already?” He doesn’t bother to look back at Taehyung, who came into his room without knocking approximately five minutes ago and flopped onto Jeongguk’s neatly made bed. “We’ve only been here three weeks.”
“Yeah, but still.” There’s a rustling noise, and Jeongguk has a feeling Taehyung is slipping under his covers, dirty socks and all. “Think about going on Friday nights to get barbecue. Ordering, like, enough meat for your entire dorm floor but eating it with two friends. Grilling it to perfection.”
Jeongguk’s stomach rumbles and he frowns. “Thanks, hyung. Now I miss it, too.” Jeongguk closes the photo he had up on his laptop screen, a shot of the Kamogawa river from near downtown that he’d taken the weekend before.
“I found a place near the university,” Taehyung says quietly, like he’s revealing some big secret.
Jeongguk removes the headphones he has looped around his neck as he swivels his desk chair around to look at Taehyung. His dorm room is microscopic, so his knees practically brush up against the edge of the bed. “Is it open?”
Taehyung, blanket already pulled up to his nose, peers at Jeongguk with big eyes. “Until midnight. We can just catch the last bus and get dinner. I’ll pay.”
Jeongguk jumps up from the chair. “Let’s go.”
Taehyung launches himself forward, completely unmaking Jeongguk’s bed in the process, and tackles Jeongguk in a hug. “Food, food, food,” he chants in Jeongguk’s ear, making sure to ruffle Jeongguk’s hair before he runs out of the room. “Have to find shoes.”
Jeongguk snorts as he fixes his hair, grabbing his sweatshirt and pulling it over his head. This means, of course, he has to rearrange his hair again as he walks down the hall of the international dorm.
He can hear Taehyung rustling around a few doors away. He’s the only person Jeongguk’s ever met that actually loses his shoes, since he keeps taking them off in random places and forgetting about them. He’s ‘misplaced’ two pairs since they arrived in Kyoto at the beginning of February, probably floating somewhere in the dorm.
Jeongguk makes it to the bottom of the stairs and greets the building manager, an old woman with a thick Kansai accent who Jeongguk can never really understand despite his decent level of Japanese. He grabs his Timberlands from his locker, shoving them on. The clock above the door reads 9:50, which gives them about four minutes to get to the bus stop, or they’ll have to make the half hour walk to the university on empty stomachs.
Taehyung skitters to the front door, hopping into his tennis shoes. “Come on, Jeonggukie, we’re going to miss it.”
The air outside is cool, a little humid from the recent rain showers. But it’s a quiet night, particularly in their area of Kyoto. Jeongguk and Taehyung make it to the bus stop just as the telltale engine groans come from down the hill.
They don’t talk on the bus, a comfortable silence that maybe should be weird considering Jeongguk and Taehyung have been friends for less than a month. It’s not strange, though.
They’re two of five Korean exchange students in their dorm, but they stuck together more than the others. Taehyung had knocked on Jeongguk’s door the day he moved in, wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt and green boxers. He talked to Jeongguk like they were old friends, grinning when he saw Jeongguk’s folder of photos and posters he’d brought from home. The photos were Jeongguk’s own work, mostly shots of places around Busan, and the posters were a mixture of movies, anime shows, and video games that Jimin had gifted him over the years.
So Jeongguk, who is shy and was generally terrified of being friendless during his semester abroad, was more than happy when Taehyung adopted him and introduced him to other students who’d come in a few days earlier.
They found out soon enough that he and Taehyung have quite a bit in common- both majoring in fine arts, both from Korea but outside of Seoul, both with bad habits of staying up late playing Overwatch- both not minding silence, especially on the bus when the guttural engine purr was practically lulling them to sleep.
When they reach the main university stop, they clamber off and into the evening chill. Taehyung loops his arm through Jeongguk’s as they walk.
“I’m gonna eat three servings,” Taehyung mutters.
“Four,” Jeongguk declares, sniffing in the February evening.
The streets are fairly quiet around the university campus, and Jeongguk lets Taehyung lead him through the winding back streets until they reach a restaurant with both Korean and Japanese on the window.
Korea Taste, it reads in both, and Jeongguk smiles a little bit at it as Taehyung pulls him inside.
The restaurant itself is small, lights warm and orange overhead, reflecting in the large glass windows. The restaurant itself is almost completely empty, save for an older man and woman in the corner, several bottles of soju on their table.
“Welcome,” a voice greets in Japanese. “How many? Just two?”
Jeongguk blinks, finding a man approaching them from what must be the kitchen door, holding menus in his hands.
“Yes, just two,” Taehyung says.
Jeongguk just blinks again, unsure of whether the man gesturing to a table toward the back is a waiter or a model. He’s possibly both. He’s definitely both. He sets the menus down on the table and smiles, and Jeongguk’s fingers twitch. He wants to capture the way he looks under the hazy glow of the orange lights- the way it glints on his hair.
“Thank you,” Taehyung chirps.
“Thank you,” Jeongguk manages to mutter, quickly sitting down and averting his gaze since he’s vaguely aware that he’s been staring.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the man says, and Jeongguk thinks he hears a familiar accent in the man’s Japanese.
When his footsteps retreat, Jeongguk leans back in his chair and reaches for the menu, trying to go for some semblance of normalcy.
“So seven orders of samgyeopsal?” Taehyung asks, focused and clearly unbothered by the beautiful waiter. “Do you want Cass? I’ll actually drink some tonight if you order it.”
Jeongguk looks up from the menu.“Um. Sure. Yeah. Wait, are we really getting seven orders?”
Taehyung scoffs, closing his menu. “Jeongguk-ah, my sweet summer child, of course we are. Prepare your stomach.”
That sounds like a challenge if Jeongguk’s ever heard one. And Jeongguk, frankly, has heard many. He raps his knuckles on the table. “Fine. But if you can’t eat more than half, I win.”
“Oh, it’s a competition now?”
“Of course it is, hyung.”
The beautiful waiter returns a few minutes later, and Taehyung orders in Japanese.
“Seven?” The waiter asks.
“Seven,” Taehyung confirms with confidence.
The corner of the waiter’s lips curl up, and he looks from Taehyung to Jeongguk as he turns on the grill between them. “Seven it is.”
Jeongguk feels his face heat up beneath the waiter’s gaze, relieved when the man retreats back to the kitchen.
Seven servings of samgyeopsal later, Taehyung scrapes the last slightly overcooked piece from the grill and shovels it in his mouth.
“I feel sick,” Jeongguk whispers. There’s no food left on the table- just the empty plate where the meat was placed and completely cleaned side dish bowls.
Taehyung groans. “Me too. God, that was so good though. I’m in heaven and hell at the same time. Is that possible?”
Jeongguk nods, wondering if he can unbutton his jeans without anyone noticing. He feels two seconds away from bursting. “It has to be.”
“Enjoy your meal?”
It’s the beautiful waiter, and it takes Jeongguk a moment to realize that he’s switched to Korean with them. It was definitely a subtle Korean accent Jeongguk heard earlier then, though the man’s Japanese seems, at least to Jeongguk’s ear, almost perfect.
“Delicious,” Taehyung says, though he’s grimacing.
The waiter laughs, the sound high and bright. “I’m glad. Where are you two from?”
“Busan,” Jeongguk says, trying not to let his eyes linger too long on the waiter’s lips when he leans down to start clearing the dishes.
“Daegu,” Taehyung answers, though he still sounds a little bit like he’s in pain. “What about you?”
The waiter carefully places the side dish bowls on the empty meat plate. “I was in Seoul the last couple of years before I came here.” He straightens up, turning toward the kitchen, but Jeongguk isn’t quite ready for him to go.
“Are you a student here?” Jeongguk blurts.
The man’s eyes crinkle as he grins, a flash of perfect teeth. “Thanks for thinking I’m still university student age, but no. I’m working at the restaurant while doing some hobbies on the side. Are you here on exchange?”
Jeongguk nods, bobbing his head up and down with a little too much enthusiasm.
“Yeah, just for the semester,” Taehyung answers.
“That’s great. Kyoto’s a beautiful city,” the waiter says. He takes a few steps away from the table before tilting his head to the side. “What are your names?”
“Jeon Jeongguk,” Jeongguk says, unable to stop seeing the way the light makes the man’s skin glow, soft haze around him. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it’s just him.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he says, turning toward the kitchen. “I’m Kim Seokjin.”
“Miyabi was something that went beyond poetry, however. People at court tried to live it as an ideal for their personal lives- the elegance and refinement. This reflects the physical aesthetics of the time, as well as general manners and customs.”
“For the rich people,” Taehyung whispers, leaning over toward Jeongguk. His shoes are off under the table, and he leans back in his seat.
Their Japanese literature TA continues at the front, “Keep in mind while you’re reading that the literature and poetry in this unit comes from the high socioeconomic classes. Many students of Japanese literature without a background in history and politics assume that it is an accurate reflection of Japanese societal values as a whole, but contextually-”
“Okay, I like him,” Taehyung mutters again, shifting back to put his elbows on the desk.
Jeongguk chews on the end of his pencil, doing his best to listen. He didn’t really want to take Japanese literature, but it was the only class being taught in Korean this semester and Jeongguk thought it would be nice to choose a class he wasn’t having to constantly translate for inside his own head.
Unfortunately, the material is multiple layers of hell to get through. The professor seems to make it even more convoluted. The TA, however, has spent about ten minutes going over the upcoming readings and Jeongguk feels like he might be able to do more than stare at the same page for twenty minutes before giving up.
“He’s a lot better than the professor,” Jeongguk mumbles back.
The aforementioned professor, for whatever reason, didn’t even show up to class today. The TA took over last minute, saying he’d explain the reading a little bit for this week before letting them out early.
“Take notes on examples of miyabi you find in the texts this week, and be prepared to explain why you selected certain passages for the discussion next class. Thanks, everyone. Let’s go ahead and end here. Enjoy the rest of your day,” the TA says, pushing thick-framed glasses up his nose.
Jeongguk removes the pencil from his mouth and closes his notebook, which is mostly filled with doodled margins since drawing tends to help him concentrate.
“I’m in love,” Taehyung says as they walk toward the bus stop.
“With who? ”Jeongguk asks, wondering if they passed a dog he didn’t see.
“The literature TA,” Taehyung says a little dreamily. “Do you remember his name on the syllabus?”
“Kim something,” Jeongguk says.
Taehyung inhales so sharply it makes an alarming sound, loud enough that two girls in front of them turn around and give him a questioning look. “Kim Namjoon,” Taehyung says seriously. “I remember. God, I could listen to him talk all day.”
Jeongguk snorts. “I thought you didn’t like Japanese literature?”
“I don’t. But I like him.” Taehyung sighs thoughtfully. “Do you think our professor will forget class again next week so Namjoon can teach us again?”
“The professor would probably forget his head if it wasn’t attached, hyung,” Jeongguk answers.
They head back to the dorms, sitting in the little second floor kitchen with their Japanese textbooks open. Jeongguk manages to destroy his eraser completely before dinner, jaw aching and teeth a little more damaged.
Taehyung looks at the bite marks on the pencil and shakes his head. “You need a lollipop or something, Jeongguk-ah.”
Jeongguk agrees, staring at the pencil morosely.
They make dinner together, which never goes smoothly when it’s just the two of them, but at least they don’t set the smoke alarm off this time. Taehyung goes on at least two tangents about what he thinks Japanese lit TA Kim Namjoon must be like, including how Taehyung decided Namjoon has one dog that he adopted from a local shelter in Korea and left at home with his family before coming to work on his grad degree in Kyoto.
Jeongguk wouldn’t be surprised if Taehyung is right about everything.
Taehyung tends to sleep early on weeknights, however, which leaves Jeongguk to hole up in his room alone after he showers. Towel wrapped around his shoulders, he sits at his desk chair and scrolls through his messages.
There’s a few from his older brother and his mom, about four from Jimin, and over one hundred from the dance team group chat that Jeongguk muted at some point during his sophomore year when he realized he didn’t usually bother to answer anyway.
He’s hit with a wave of homesickness, however, as he reads through the messages now.
His thumbs hover over the screen, and he types out varied versions of miss you and how are you? but doesn’t actually send anything to anyone. With his texting habits, they’d probably be concerned if he did actually answer.
Jeongguk sets his phone down on his desk, tucking his knees to his chest as his chair swivels beneath him. He takes his photocard out of his camera and puts it in his laptop, spending the next hour or so editing the most recent batch of photos.
Most of them are Taehyung at Nishiki market, trying various sweets and sticking his tongue out at Jeongguk. A few are more serious shots, with Taehyung looking into the camera with this intense gaze that makes Jeongguk think he’d be a model if he ever wanted to be. He seems to know how to angle his face so his jawline catches the viewer’s eye, bold nose and thick lashes only making him more striking.
Jeongguk chews on his lip as he scrolls through, copying the best to a folder on his laptop and deleting the others from the card to free up some memory.
There’s one shot in particular at Nishiki market that’s got sunlight filtering in just at the right angle, illuminating Taehyung’s face. It reminds Jeongguk of the lighting at the Korean restaurant from last weekend, which in turn makes Jeongguk think, not for the first time, about the waiter there.
Jeongguk exhales sharply, sliding the card back into the camera and gnawing on his lower lip. He wants to take pictures of Seokjin. He’s considered going back to the restaurant and asking, but he’s not sure how weird that would be. But there’s something Jeongguk can’t shake about Seokjin’s… everything, Jeongguk supposes.
“It’d be weird,” Jeongguk whispers to himself, closing his laptop lid. It’s past one in the morning, but he’s not tired enough to sleep. Sometimes he thinks that he should probably consume less energy drinks during the day. “It’d be weird, wouldn’t it?”
Jeongguk climbs into bed, finally answering Jimin and his mom, though he leaves his brother on read and can’t bring himself to say anything in the dance team group chat. He misses home already, but he thinks that he can keep himself busy enough not to let it get too serious.
That was Jimin’s advice, since he’d spent a semester living in Canada just last year. He’d told Jeongguk to make sure he continues doing the things he loves and stay busy if he started feeling homesick.
“ Your semester will go by faster than you expect ,” Jimin had said. “ You’ll do great, Jeonggukie. Take lots of pictures so you can show me everything when you come back . And try to step out of your comfort zone. ”
Jeongguk flops around on his bed, missing the smell of his detergent back home and his own pillow, and resolves to take more photos this weekend. And if he steps out of his comfort zone, too...
If he can find a way not to make it too weird, he wants to take pictures of Kim Seokjin.
When Jeongguk was six, his parents took him on a trip to Gyeongju. They drove from Busan, Jeongguk in the backseat with his older brother, playing audio cassettes in the car of old trot music that made Jeonghyun complain.
There is only one thing Jeongguk remembers about Gyeongju outside of that long car drive in the summer heat, sun glaring through the windows of the car.
And that is of watching his father take pictures.
-Jeongguk’s brother, groaning that he wants to get ice cream. Jeongguk’s mother, poking at his belly and telling him to smile at the camera first-
-blinking under the cloudless sky, watching as his father turns the camera to old temple behind them-
-Jeongguk rushing forward, wrapping his arms around his father’s leg and asking-
- “Dad, can I try?”
“So,” Jeongguk says, his voice coming out higher than usual as he stares at Seokjin. “I was, um. I want to ask you a question?”
Seokjin blinks at him. Jeongguk has his camera on the table, half a bowl of soft tofu stew in front of him. “Why does that sound like a question?”
“I don’t know?”
Seokjin raises his eyebrows, and Jeongguk feels his face flush in embarrassment.
“Sorry. Um. Can I? Ask you a question?”
“Well,” Seokjin says slowly, “you’ve asked about four now, so I’d say one more is probably alright.”
Jeongguk wonders if this is the moment he should back out entirely. He should’ve brought Taehyung along and made him ask, but he thinks having someone else witness this trainwreck would be worse. Fortunately, it’s the in-between hours for lunch and dinner and the restaurant is empty except for Jeongguk. He’s alone in his humiliation. No one will tell the tale. Besides, perhaps, Seokjin.
“Would you maybe want to,” Jeongguk coughs, then forces himself to continue, “letmetakepicturesofyou?”
Seokjin’s nose wrinkles as he sniffs, and he tilts his head to the side as he inspects Jeongguk. “What was that?”
Jeongguk’s sure his face is a brilliant red by now. “I do this thing,” Jeongguk says, pointing to the camera on the table. “You know. Take pictures. And I wanted to ask you. If you. If you’d be okay with… letting me take some photos? Of you?” Jeongguk wishes the floor would swallow him whole. This was a terrible idea. And he shouldn’t have drank that whole damn can of Monster before he came here. His hands are shaking.
Seokjin’s beautiful eyes narrow. “I only do nudes if they’re at least half tasteful. ”
Jeongguk chokes on nothing. “That’s not-”
“A quarter tasteful,” Seokjin amends, and his mouth is twitching.
Jeongguk is going to discover whether or not it’s possible to die of embarrassment. With the way his heart is slamming against his rib cage, he’s halfway there. “I didn’t mean nudes ,” he wheezes.
Seokjin stares at Jeongguk for half a painful heartbeat longer before he bursts into laughter, leaning forward to brace one hand on the table as he guffaws in these strange, squeaking noises. “Oh, your face,” he chortles, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, not seeming to mind that he’s the only one laughing. “That was perfect.”
Jeongguk slouches in his seat, looking up incredulously at Seokjin as it sinks in that Seokjin is teasing him. “I wasn’t asking to take weird pictures,” he protests, cheeks still burning. “You made it weird.”
“It’s a talent,” Seokjin says, still grinning. He’s a little less model-esque when he laughs, Jeongguk realizes. A little less intimidating, too. He’s still beautiful, though. Jeongguk’s mom would probably say something along the lines of ‘devastatingly handsome,’ like she describes movie stars from the 1980s. In this case, Jeongguk would have to agree.
“If you didn’t want to do it, you could’ve just said so,” Jeongguk mumbles, forcing himself to stop looking at Seokjin, picking up his spoon and rather aggressively getting another bite of tofu. “I just like taking pictures and I think you’d be… a good model.” His voice trails off at the end as he swallows.
Seokjin leans back from the table. “It’s a nice camera.”
“Thanks. I study photography back in Busan, so it was a bit of an investment.” Jeongguk fidgets slightly in his seat, shifting his weight as he shoots a nervous glance back up at Seokjin.
Seokjin’s grin has faded to a much softer smile. “Will you send me the pictures when you’re finished?”
Jeongguk nods, straightening up slightly, wondering if Seokjin is actually considering it. “Yeah, of course. You can post them wherever. Like if you’ve got an instagram or anything.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes. “Please, I’m too old for instagram.”
Jeongguk highly doubts that, but he doesn’t argue. “Okay. Facebook, then.”
“Who uses Facebook anymore?” Seokjin asks.
“Old people,” Jeongguk answers before he can stop himself.
Seokjin stares at him, and Jeongguk stares back, feeling himself panic slightly because Jeongguk probably shouldn’t be acting so familiar with Seokjin so quickly.
But Seokjin snorts, lips twitching again. “Brat. Fine, I’ll be in pictures for you.”
Jeongguk feels his eyes widen in surprise. “Really?”
“Were you expecting me to say no?”
“I mean, kind of,” Jeongguk answers, peering up at Seokjin. “I know it’s a little strange to ask you out of the blue like this.”
“It’s strange,” Seokjin agrees, and Jeongguk awkwardly shoves another spoonful of soup into his mouth. “But I need a solid photo for something I’m working on. And my selfie game won’t cut it.”
Jeongguk chews slowly, finding himself giving Seokjin a judgemental eye. “Did you just use selfie game unironically?”
“So what if I did?” Seokjin demands, his voice pitching higher. His mouth is still twitching, however, and Jeongguk finds himself a little by distracted by how pink and full his lips are.
“Uh,” Jeongguk says.
“That’s right,” Seokjin says, seeming satisfied. He pulls the check out of the pocket of the apron around his waist and sets it on the table. “I hope you enjoyed your meal,” he says sweetly.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk answers honestly, grabbing his backpack off the chair next to him and rummaging around for his wallet. “I’ll give you my line ID and we can set up a time?”
“Sure,” Seokjin says.
Jeongguk rattles off his ID as he hands Seokjin the yen, biting his lip a little too hard when Seokjin’s fingers- long and a little crooked, warm and calloused- brush his own.
“Cool,” Jeongguk says then, standing up and swinging his backpack on. “Thanks for, um, agreeing to do this, Seokjin-ssi.”
“Hyung is fine,” Seokjin tells him, waving a hand dismissively. “And yeah, no problem. Just remember what I said about keeping the nudes tasteful, yeah?”
Jeongguk flushes again. “I’m not taking nudes!”
The bell above the door chimes at that exact moment, and Jeongguk flees the restaurant, head ducked and trying to convince himself the group of university students who just walked in hadn’t heard, or at least hadn’t understood, Jeongguk declaring this.
“Is this your first time here?” Seokjin asks.
They’re at the bus stop at the base of Arashiyama, the slopes of the bamboo forest behind them, mountain looming over the street.
It’s not tourist season, but even so, it’s crowded. Families mill around, couples walking side by side as they stop at street food stalls.
Jeongguk’s camera hangs heavily around his neck, but he’s accustomed to the weight. “No, I came here with a friend a few days after I arrived. We didn’t climb a lot though.”
Taehyung had gotten hungry about half an hour into wandering through the trees, and they’d turned back and bought takoyaki, sitting on one of the benches in the little outdoor food court near the base of the mountain.
“Ah,” Seokjin says. He’s wearing a dark brown sweater beneath a camel overcoat, yet Jeongguk thinks he looks just as perfect in this as his waiter uniform at the restaurant. Jeongguk hadn’t given him any specifications for clothing, and he’s glad he didn’t, since Jeongguk probably would’ve said to wear something black, because black is simple. But the earth tones look good on him. Though, to be fair, Jeongguk thinks everything would likely look good on Seokjin. “I’ve only been once. A friend of mine took me to the monkey park. A macaque stole my hat.”
Jeongguk blinks. “What?”
“There’s a part of the mountain- across the river- where monkeys live. They’re free roaming, but usually they don’t get too close to visitors. I guess my hat was pretty enough that one of them decided to snatch it off my head when I was ducking down to take a picture.”
“Wow,” Jeongguk breathes. “We should go there.”
Seokjin rolls his eyes. “What, you want monkeys to steal your nice camera?”
Jeongguk immediately grabs it defensively. “I’ll protect it.”
“With your life,” Seokjin adds. “Those monkeys get whatever they want with their greedy little opposable thumbs.”
Jeongguk giggles, fiddling with the lens cap in his camera. “Okay, maybe we’ll take pictures somewhere else first. I was thinking we could walk up the mountain a bit- I found some really nice spots last time I think I remember how to get back to- and take some shots.”
“Sounds good,” Seokjin says amicably. “I’m sure if you’re luring me to a secluded area to kill me, my screams will still be heard from somewhere on the hiking paths.”
“Thank you for trusting me so much, hyung,” Jeongguk says as he begins to walk toward one of the trail entrances.
“I trust you with my left pinky,” Seokjin says. “And I already broke it once as a kid, so that thing’s been betrayed before.”
Jeongguk laughs again, a little louder than before.
He’d been worried this would be awkward. He’d actually tried to convince Taehyung to come out, too, but Taehyung had already scheduled a skype session with his family back home for this morning.
“ You’ll be fine, Jeonggukie ,” Taehyung had said, mouth full of cereal and still in his pajamas.
“ I don’t know how to talk to people, hyung ,” Jeongguk had answered, chomping down rather aggressively on his banana.
“ I’m a people ,” Taehyung had pointed out sleepily. “ You talk to me .”
So here Jeongguk is, walking up the trail of Arashiyama with Seokjin, and finding that he was holding up decently well at socialization. Seokjin was, for whatever reason, easy to talk to.
Jeongguk has lived the majority of his life as the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. He was lucky to be taken in by more outgoing people, or to make slow friends with people in the sports his joined through middle and high school, then dance at university.
But small talk, particularly with people he doesn’t know well, is not a skill Jeongguk’s ever acquired.
So it’s strange that conversation is flowing easily now.
“So I convinced them to let me do a dual degree with photography as long as I kept my grades up for classes for my economics major,” Jeongguk explains. “This way.”
They turn onto a small offshoot of the trail, following the sign for some statue that Jeongguk remembers from his walk with Taehyung.
“Are they more supportive now?” Seokjin asks. He’s been doing that- asking a few questions when Jeongguk finds he’s not sure what else to say.
“Yeah, I think so.” Jeongguk hears a sharp intake of air behind him and reaches back automatically, grabbing Seokjin’s wrist as he sees the man’s foot slip on a loose rock.
“Thanks,” Seokjin says, and Jeongguk quickly lets go.
Jeongguk nods, focusing again on the trail and trying not to think about how warm and soft Seokjin’s skin was beneath his fingers. “What about your family? Did they want you to go to culinary school?”
“They were glad that I finished my degree in business first,” Seokjin says. “Something to fall back on.”
It doesn’t really answer Jeongguk’s question, and Jeongguk looks at Seokjin from the corner of his eye to find the man’s face rather impassive. “I think it’s really cool that you’re a chef, hyung,” Jeongguk tells him quietly. Their feet crunch over sticks and leaves, rocks occasionally shifting beneath Jeongguk’s shoes.
Seokjin said he worked at a restaurant in Seoul up until he quit to come to Japan last year. The professional not-a-selfie photo he wants is for the food blog and accompanying video channel he’s been setting up for the last several months.
Jeongguk, who had a hard enough time coming to study abroad for a semester, can’t imagine packing up everything and leaving for an undetermined time frame to live here. It doesn’t sound like Seokjin knew anyone before coming, but instead just showed up with his suitcases. Jeongguk thinks it sounds like there’s a story there, but not one that Seokjin will tell.
“Here,” Jeongguk says, spotting the little cove of trees off to their left.
“This is nice,” Seokjin comments, following closely behind Jeongguk. The bamboo trees tower over them, but the tall grasses at their bases frame the area.
Jeongguk walks around, fiddling with the camera as he squints through the viewfinder and checks the lighting. “Can you stand over here, hyung?” Jeongguk asks, pointing.
Seokjin positions himself, and Jeongguk adjusts the lens, taking a few pictures.
“I’m just checking for lighting,” Jeongguk explains, checking the photos, “so don’t worry about posing or anything for now.”
“Sure,” Seokjin says, depositing his small over the shoulder bag on a nearby rock.
He lets Jeongguk move him around without complaint. Back a few steps. One to his right- no, to his right, not Jeongguk’s. Forward again.
“There,” Jeongguk breathes.
Seokjin’s face glows. The soft green of the bamboo behind him fade out of focus as Jeongguk adjusts the lense and takes several more photos.
“Should I be smiling for this?” Seokjin asks when Jeongguk moves a little it away from him.
“What you’re doing now is good,” Jeongguk says, though he should really be telling him that everything he does is beautiful.
Seokjin hums in response, tilting is head a little bit to the side, looking a little bit to the left, eyes sliding past Jeongguk, full lips parted, line of his cheek soft- a gentle curve down to his chin.
A chilly breeze rustles through the trees, whistling around the trunks and ruffling the tall grass. Jeongguk breathes with it, taking a few steps back and changing the angle of the shot.
Seokjin moves slowly, occasionally shifting and turning his face slightly. It’s not enough to change the lighting, and the click of the shutter continues as Jeongguk captures the path of Seokjin’s gaze, the movement of his mouth as the corners turn up and then down a then down again.
“Like that,” Jeongguk murmurs when Seokjin’s eyes fall directly on the camera. Jeongguk feels his skin prickle beneath his jacket, and he presses his pointer down at the same moment his breath stutters, exhaling around a shudder.
Jeongguk lowers the camera. “Great,” he says. His voice is a little too high, a little uneven. “Um, there’s one more place I wanted to try, if you’d be down. I didn’t make it up to the top last time, but I saw some pictures on a travel blog and it seems really nice. It’s a bit of a walk though.”
“I don’t know if my creaking joints can handle it,” Seokjin sighs dramatically, looking up at the mountain. “Will you carry me down if something snaps?”
Jeongguk finds himself grinning, some of the haze induced by the quiet photographs and Seokjin’s eyes on him fading. “I’ll roll you down.”
Seokjin makes an offended noise.“Yah, I come to the mountainside with you after you ask me for nudes-”
“Oh my god, hyung, for the last time-”
“-follow you into an abandoned part of the woods where I could potentially be murdered-”
“If I was going to murder you, I wouldn’t do it with so many tourists nearby-”
“-bless your camera with my face, and this is what I get? An offer to roll me down the mountainside?” Seokjin glares at Jeongguk, but his lips are twitching again and Jeongguk wants to watch them part- wants to see him smile and hear his laugh.
So Jeongguk grins and says, “Or, rather than rolling, I could... drag you behind me? More stylish.”
It gets the intended result, even if Seokjin calls him a brat between the squeaks of his laughter.
Jeongguk was seven years old when his neighbor’s dog died. She wasn’t outside the apartment building for a whole week before Jeongguk mustered up the nerve to knock on his neighbor’s apartment.
It was a quiet couple who lived inside- the woman, Auntie Yoona, was friends with Jeongguk’s mother. Sometimes Jeongguk’s mother brought over side dishes, and the woman returned the tupperware filled with egg tarts. Those were Jeongguk’s favorite.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Auntie Yoona said, leaning against the door as she held it open. “She died last Tuesday.”
Jeongguk frowned at her as he took in the words. A few months ago, his grandfather died. He didn’t know what it meant then, really. His father said that the man went somewhere far away and couldn’t give Jeongguk sweets anymore.
“Where did she go?” Jeongguk asked. “The same place as Granddad?”
Auntie Yoona squatted down before him, the door closing partially as she braced it with her hand. “I’m not really sure where someone goes when they die, Jeongguk-ah. But I’d like to think that your grandfather and Bomi are somewhere together.”
“But we can’t visit them?” Jeongguk wrapped his arms around himself. “I can’t play with Bomi anymore just like I can’t visit Granddad?”
Auntie Yoona nodded, raising a gentle hand to Jeongguk’s cheek. “Life is always moving, sweetheart. Sometimes we have to go on without people or things we love. But we remember, and a little part of them stays with us when we do that.”
Jeongguk had gone home with an egg tart clutched in his hand and Auntie Yoona’s words on his mind.
The next day, he knocked on his neighbor’s door again, a little less scared of talking to Auntie Yoona. He asked for a picture of Bomi. “To help remember her,” Jeongguk explained.
The picture was lost at some point, maybe in the move from their apartment in northern Busan to further west in the city. But Jeongguk thinks about it sometimes.
That photographs are only to remember.
That life is always moving.
It’s a little too warm, swamped in Taehyung’s alarming number of blankets, but Jeongguk is too content to move as he clicks through the photos he took the day before with Seokjin.
“Wow,” Taehyung breathes. He’s pressed against Jeongguk’s side, silk pajama bottoms matched with a ratty white t-shirt since he’d spilled hot chocolate all over the matching top after dinner. He leans closer to the laptop in front of them.“These are amazing. Like, you’re a great photographer, but he’s… wow.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk murmurs. The shots from the top of the mountain are the best, Seokjin farther away in the frame but still filling it up all the same.
Taehyung hums, hooking his chin over Jeongguk’s shoulder. “You like him?”
Jeongguk shrugs, which jostles Taehyung slightly. “I mean… yes? I like taking pictures of him. He’s a good model.”
“And…” Taehyung prompts.
Jeongguk closes his laptop. “And he’s funny, I guess.”
“Those pictures weren’t just taken by someone who thinks he’s funny,” Taehyung says, shuffling around on the bed so he can gives Jeongguk a frighteningly intense stare-down.
Jeongguk squirms, chewing on his lip. “It’s weirdly easy to spend time with him. And… his nose scrunches up when he laughs. He came to Japan alone with no plans and managed to get a job while trying to start up a food blog and channel on the side. He carries conversations easily, but I feel like he’s holding things back.”
“There we go,” Taehyung says, patting Jeongguk’s arm only to widen his eyes and poke at the muscle. “Shit, Jeongguk, I always forget about how ripped you are.”
Jeongguk flexes automatically.
Taehyung smacks him lightly. “Show-off.”
“You pointed it out,” Jeongguk says, but he grins and ducks his head.
“True.” Taehyung stretches, throwing himself back on his bed, half the blankets beneath him. “Anyway, you really like Seokjin?”
“It’s not like that,” Jeongguk says, flopping down beside him though the mattress can only really fit one and a half people comfortably.
“Then what’s it like? Because it sounds like you’ve got it bad.”
Jeongguk stares at the ceiling. “He’s cool.”
Taehyung wiggles over on his side to face Jeongguk. “Are we doing bro talk now? ‘He’s cool, man. He’s cool. Pretty chill dude, my dudiest dude. My bro.’”
“Shut up,” Jeongguk mumbles, rolling away from Taehyung.
“Come back,” Taehyung groans as he throws an arm around Jeongguk’s waist. “I’m touch-starved and need to cuddle.”
“We’ve literally been cuddling for the last hour.”
“Mm. Not enough. Let me snuggle you and tell me about why you have this emotional constipation going on.”
Jeongguk grimaces, elbowing Taehyung’s chest. “I’m not emotionally constipated, hyung.”
“Sounds like you are.”
Jeongguk makes an exasperated noise before he relents, letting himself relax in Taehyung’s hold. His teeth dig into his lower lip. “I like people too much,” he says quietly. “It’s easy for me to like someone.”
“Yeah. So it’s better not to think about it.”
“Have you been thinking about it anyway?”
Jeongguk takes a slow breath in and out. Has he been thinking about Seokjin?
The answer is a very clear yes.
After they finished taking pictures at the top of the mountain, Jeongguk had convinced Seokjin to go to the monkey park. Not that Seokjin really needed much convincing. Jeongguk just asked and promised to buy him dinner. Maybe he also let a little bit of a soft whine into his voice, made his eyes bigger and looked expectantly at Seokjin.
It was worth it.
Watching Seokjin imitate ridiculous ninja moves on their way as he said he would protect his things this time. Bickering with Seokjin about what restaurant Jeongguk had to take him to for dragging him to see the monkeys again. Taking pictures, not at all posed, of Seokjin talking to the monkeys with a hilariously serious expression on his face one second and the nose-crinkled laugh taking over his features the next.
It was worth it, and the answer is yes.
“I’ve been thinking about him,” Jeongguk admits softly.
Taehyung’s quiet breaths puffing on the back of Jeongguk’s neck are the only answer, already sound asleep.
He’s nervous as he waits for Seokjin downtown, which he shouldn’t be.
This is the dinner that Jeongguk owes Seokjin for going to the monkey park with him, not anything more.
Not a date.
Jeongguk had still spent an hour getting ready, his hair not parting in the direction it should and instead remaining a fluffy bird’s nest despite the fact he’d shoved his entire head in the sink in an attempt to tame it.
And Jeongguk had changed outfits three times, not that anyone would know. Everything had been too casual, but Jeongguk eventually settled on all black- since that was, after all, the majority of his closet. Black boots, black jeans, black shirt, black overcoat.
Standing now at the agreed-upon bus stop, Jeongguk wonders if maybe it’s too much black. Hoseok was always telling him to try adding a little color to things.
Jeongguk turns quickly, blinking as he finds Seokjin waving at him as a bus pulls away from the curb behind him.“Hyung!”
The fraying edges of Jeongguk’s nerves- the sweat gathering on his palms and the too fast beat of his heart- are suddenly all Jeongguk feels as Seokjin smiles at him.
Jeongguk follows Seokjin closely through the crowds. This area of Kyoto is always busy, mostly with tourists. At one point, Seokjin reaches back and plucks the sleeve of Jeongguk’s jacket so they don’t get separated at a crosswalk.
Jeongguk stares at Seokjin’s crooked fingers, knobby knuckles and short-clipped nails and wonders what it would be like to hold his hands.
Once they get to the restaurant, Jeongguk forgets he’s nervous.
It’s a conveyor belt sushi place, little plates travelling across the room, looping through the tables. He feels his eyes widen, whispering as they’re seated, “Hyung, do they have a limit on how much you can eat?”
“No,” Seokjin stage-whispers back. “But your wallet does.”
Seokjin asks him about classes and Jeongguk complains about the Japanese literature professor, who unfortunately remembered to show up to lecture today. Jeongguk checks in about whether or not Seokjin liked some of the headshots Jeongguk sent him, and Seokjin jokingly praises himself in a way that maybe would come off as arrogant if he was anyone else, but just seems genuinely funny with him.
“So will it all be about your cooking?” Jeongguk asks, five plates stacked in front of him to Seokjin’s six.
“The blog will be a mix of recipes and reviews,” Seokjin says. He snags another shrimp nigiri from the belt. “The video channel I’m still deciding on.”
Seokjin makes this noise as he chews, something that sounds a little bit like a moan and far too much like it belongs in the bedroom. He’s been doing it periodically, and Jeongguk’s doing is best not to blush.
“You could, um. You could always make a few videos of you trying food around Kyoto and see what the reaction is like,” Jeongguk says, finally removing his chopsticks from his mouth once he realizes he’s been just swirling his tongue around them.
Seokjin hums in agreement, grabbing another plate of sushi.
Jeongguk is fully prepared to pay once they finish, but Seokjin just pats Jeongguk’s arm. “You’re still a student, Jeongguk-ah. I got a good headshot out of the photos you took, so let hyung pay for this.”
They walk to Gion Street with full stomachs, Seokjin again reaching to pull on Jeongguk’s sleeve when the streets get too congested. “I can’t believe you haven’t seen it yet,” Seokjin says as they cross the road. “I think you’ll like it.”
The sky is already dark, but Gion Street is illuminated with lanterns and streetlights, brightening the sides of the wooden buildings. Jeongguk stays close to Seokjin as they walk, head turning from side to side as he tries to take it all in.
“I wish I brought my camera,” Jeongguk says quietly, pulling out his phone to at least catch a little bit of the night.
“You’ll just have to come back,” Seokjin tells him.
“No two nights are the same, hyung,” Jeongguk answers as he taps on his screen to focus, finding an angle that captures the nearest red lantern in the foreground. The light softens in the back, the line of the street cutting across the photo.
Seokjin leans over Jeongguk’s shoulder to see once he’s taken it. “That’s beautiful.”
Jeongguk tilts his face to the side and finds that Seokjin’s nose is nearly touching Jeongguk’s cheek as he peers at the phone screen, and Jeongguk feels the air thin around him while it grows heavier at the same time.
Seokjin is just as stunning in the dim glow of Gion. But it’s the way he’s looking at Jeongguk’s picture- the way he’s actually looking rather than a glance of casual disinterest- that makes Jeongguk’s chest tighten.
“Do you want one of you?” Seokjin asks, straightening back up and leaving room for Jeongguk to breathe again. “I may not be a photography major, but I know the basics.”
Jeongguk flips his phone over in his hands as he says, “It’s okay, hyung. Although I was thinking…” He trails off.
“A dangerous thing for you,” Seokjin teases.
Jeongguk tries to grimace but ends up rolling his eyes and laughing instead. “I was thinking that maybe we could come back here with my camera and I could get some photos with you?” It sounds like a question again, and Jeongguk coughs.
There’s something that flashes across Seokjin’s face. His lips curl up and then tug down again, eyes darting away and then back. His expression settles back on something neutral as he says, “Ah, I’m in such high demand as a model now. Another job offer so soon after the first? Maybe I should hire an agent.”
Jeongguk shifts his weight, pocketing his phone as he tries to determine what exactly just went on in Seokjin’s head. “I mean, if you keep buying me food, I can be your agent.”
“Yah, what makes you think I’m buying you food again?” Seokjin challenges, wiggling his eyebrows at Jeongguk. He starts walking again, and Jeongguk follows.
Now, instead of pressure on his lungs, his stomach is twisting with nervousness. Maybe Seokjin doesn’t actually like spending time with him. Maybe this has actually all been for the one headshot. Maybe Seokjin-
“How about this. I come back to Gion with you for some pictures and you help me film my first video for the channel?” Seokjin proposes.
Jeongguk’s stomach flips, and he breathes out a sigh of relief. The thoughts skitter to the edges of his mind. “I can do that.”
“Okay,” Seokjin says. He looks at Jeongguk beneath the lantern light and some of the softness has returned to his eyes, meeting the teasing glint and making them shine. “We’ve got ourselves a deal.”
Jeongguk falls in love with things very quickly. He fell in love with soccer in elementary school, with running across the field and the feeling of his pulse pounding and his lungs heaving. He fell in love with his neighbor’s dog in middle school, curly fur and wagging tail, always knowing that Jeongguk would bring her sausage from the convenience store. He fell in love with dance in high school, with the bass line resonating in his bones, with the flow of his movement and the beat of the song. He’s always loved photography- ever since that first trip to Gyeongju.
Jeongguk falls in love with people just as easily. Jimin only had to smile once- the curve of his eyes and the rounding of his cheeks- for Jeongguk to begin loving him. Miyeon, Jeongguk’s best friend through high school, offered to share her math book with Jeongguk when he’d forgotten his the first day of freshman year, and Jeongguk began to love her. Hoseok, the dance captain for Jeongguk’s university team, had gently corrected Jeongguk’s posture, adjusted his footwork, and then took him out for dinner with an arm slung around his shoulders, and Jeongguk started to love him.
So Jeongguk loves quickly and easily.
But he’s not naive.
He fell in love- the kind of love where he found himself a little breathless- with a boy on the soccer team in high school. Jeongguk wasn’t good at hiding these things and when the boy caught him staring to long, fumbling over his words and biting his lip, he’d been angry. He’d cornered Jeongguk in the locker room and hit him once, hard, asking if Jeongguk was gay.
Jeongguk was too scared to answer then.
He’d been too scared of falling in that breathless kind of love again for a long time. It was with entering university and joining the dance team and meeting other people who just loved who they loved that Jeongguk let his eyes linger and his heart flutter, learning how to go on dates and how to kiss and how to hold hands.
Jeongguk’s not scared of who he loves anymore. The scars from the high school locker room and the little cut on his cheek from the boy’s ring healed- even if they’ll never disappear entirely.
But now Jeongguk is scared of how this kind of love ends.
Because once, Jeongguk was the one to cut things off. He was too busy and too tired and too lost in his own life his first year of university and knew that he couldn’t do it anymore. He thinks it hurt him more than it hurt Kijun.
Because once, Jeongguk tried to hold on too long to someone who was no good for him, someone who took advantage and never gave, and Jeongguk loved him but had to end it all the same. That had hurt, too- an ache that lasted long after they broke up.
Because once, Jeongguk heard the words ‘I just don’t love you anymore,’ and spent the night curled up in the bathtub crying. He didn’t want to wake his roommate with the sound of his sobs. That was five months ago, and Jeongguk still feels hollow when he thinks of the parts of his heart he gave away without thinking twice.
So Jeongguk is not scared of who he loves anymore.
He’s scared of how .
Jeongguk scrolls through his instagram feed, chewing on his lip as he watches his notifications continue to blow up.
He’s gained almost a hundred followers since he posted one of the pictures he took of Seokjin at Arashiyama. It’s one of the serious shots- Seokjin’s eyes piercing as he looks at the camera though his lips are parted softly, almost in a pout.
He texts Seokjin about it, telling him that if he gets an instagram to promote his channel, Jeongguk can tag him in it. Seokjin messages him back about being too old, and it quickly devolves into teasing. Seokjin is only five years older than Jeongguk, but he seems to like widening the gap. When they’re together, though, it still feels comfortable.
When they go to Gion again the following week, Seokjin poses effortlessly for the camera and talks about a young couple who got so raging drunk the night before Seokjin and his boss had to carry them out of the restaurant and into a cab.
Jeongguk complains about his literature class and tells Seokjin about the terrifying spider that Taehyung found in his room just this morning.
When Jeongguk finishes photos in the twilight, Seokjin captured in his camera beneath the pink-streaked sky, they go to an okonomiyaki restaurant.
Jeongguk films the hot plate from above as the woman working their table spreads the batter in a perfect circle on the flat pan, and Seokjin makes appreciative noises from across the table.
When the woman disappears to let the batter cook, Jeongguk sits down and switches to filming Seokjin instead.
“I’m excited,” Seokjin says, leaning over slightly to breathe deeply. He lets out another one of his borderline suggestive moans. “It smells like it’s got dashi broth in it instead of just water. Ah, Kyoto okonomiyaki…” He flashes a thumbs up at the camera. “They do it right here.”
Jeongguk films on and off, making sure to get lots of clips of Seokjin eating. Seokjin makes him stop a few times to eat, asking if his arms aren’t getting tired.
Jeongguk merely uses the opportunity to say he works out, flexing and noting with a bit of pride that Seokjin’s eyes drag down to Jeongguk’s arms.
“I’ll send you the footage,” Jeongguk says.
They’re on the bus, stomachs full and the smell of grease clinging to their clothes. Jeongguk finds himself pleasantly sleepy, secure between the window and Seokjin’s broad shoulders.
“I’ll be sure to credit you,” Seokjin answers with a yawn. “That was fun, Jeongguk-ah.”
Jeongguk nods lethargically. “I can do it again, if you want.”
Seokjin stiffens slightly beside him, and suddenly Jeongguk is a little less tired- a little more aware of Seokjin. “More photos for more filming?” Seokjin asks with a little laugh. His voice sounds off in a way that Jeongguk can’t entirely describe- something uncomfortable. “Will I become the official model for your instagram account?”
Jeongguk blinks, leaning against the window so he can look at Seokjin. The bus hums around them, moving slowly through the night. “I don’t have to take more photos,” Jeongguk says, biting his lip. “I mean- I, um, like spending time with you, hyung.” He squirms a little bit in his seat, averting his gaze. “And you pay for my dinners, so that’s another plus of filming for you.”
Seokjin is quiet for a few moments, and Jeongguk stares at the unoccupied seat in front of them. “Is it?” Seokjin says, though it sounds more like he’s talking to himself.
Jeongguk shrugs, unsure of how to continue.
Seokjin elbows him gently in the side, and Jeongguk raises his eyes to find Seokjin smiling at him a little softly. “I like spending time with you too, brat.”
Jeongguk feels like there’s more to it there- more to Seokjin’s closed lip half-smile and his hesitation and the thing wavering in his eyes. But he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t know if he should.
It was a terrible idea to agree to this.
Jeongguk has many regrets in life, but this is undoubtedly going to be the biggest.
“Come on, Jeongguk-ah, we’re not teasing you that much,” Jimin says lightly, grinning through the screen.
Taehyung, still shaking with silent laughter, curls around Jeongguk. “Oh my god, please tell me more. I love this.”
“No! No more embarrassing stories,” Jeongguk whines. “Hoseok-hyung hadn’t even heard that one. Why are you telling these?”
Hoseok is a little fuzzy on the screen beside Jimin as the connection weakens. “What makes you think I haven’t heard that one before, Jeongguk-ah? I was at that party. And it was cute, don’t worry. You actually managed three push-ups with Hansol on your back before you collapsed.”
Jeongguk groans, burying his face in his hands.
They’re in Jeongguk’s room on a Thursday night, and Jeongguk’s two best friends back in Busan happened to be together and free at the same time as Jeongguk and Taehyung. So introductions were made and chaos ensued.
“I feel targeted,” Jeongguk mumbles.
“Okay, okay, sorry,” Jimin says, holding up slightly pixelated hands in defeat.
“I’m not,” Taehyung says. “Jeongguk hasn’t gone crazy here yet. These stories are showing me a whole new side of him. Jeongguk-ah, let’s go to the club this weekend.”
“I’m not a partier,” Jeongguk says, cheeks warming. “I just went to dance stuff and didn’t know how to socialize and ended up drinking a lot by accident.”
Hoseok coos. “Little freshman Jeongguk was the cutest. You’ve grown up so well, though, Jeongguk-ah. Look at you now- only a year and a half to go of university, studying in Japan and on your way to graduating with two majors. I’m proud of you.”
Jeongguk blushes harder, ducking his head. “Hyung.”
“How are you doing over there?” Hoseok asks. “There’s not a dance team or anything that you’ve found?”
Jeongguk shakes his head, grateful for moving away from embarrassing stories. “I’m sure there are lots downtown, but not on campus. I’ve been focusing on photography anyway.”
“It’s amazing,” Jimin says. “The guy who’s been in your recent instagram posts, Jeongguk-ah- who is he?”
Jeongguk feels Taehyung looking at him and chooses to ignore it. “He’s an, um, a friend. He works at a restaurant close to campus and is working on a food blog. So I help him out with stuff for it and he models in pictures for me.”
“He’s hot,” Hoseok says bluntly.
Jimin nods. “Very hot.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Jeongguk mumbles. Seokjin is absolutely hot, but he’s a lot more than it too. It’s weird to hear his friends comment on it. He adjusts the angle of the laptop screen. “But anyway, how are you guys? Hoseok-hyung, is grad school every bit as terrible as I picture it?”
Hoseok and Jimin share a look like they’re contemplating prying some more, but then Hoseok answers about grad school classes and Jeongguk breathes a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to talk around the feelings he’s developed for Seokjin- that he doesn’t have to admit them out loud just yet.
One of Jeongguk’s favorite pictures is of Jimin on the coast.
Literature has never been Jeongguk’s strong point, but he’s always had strong associations of certain imagery to certain people. A metaphor, he supposes. And when Jeongguk thinks of Jimin, he thinks of the ocean. The beauty of sun glinting on the water and the constant reassurance of the waves. The gentle low tide and the fierce high tide in a storm all coming from the same body. Jeongguk grew up with the ocean and with Jimin.
It was in the early morning, the air warm and thick even with the sea breeze blowing over them. Jeongguk had convinced Jimin to go biking with him to get away from their dorm for a little while.
They took their shoes off a little ways back, strolling with the still evening-cool sand beneath their toes, bikes leaning against the sea wall behind them.
Jimin walked quickly even though his legs are shorter than Jeongguk’s. His hair was dyed blonde, his shirt white and blue stripes, denim shorts with frayed edges. He looks like he belongs here.
Jeongguk swung his backpack off his shoulder and pulled out his camera, popping off the lens cap and taking a few pictures of Jimin’s back.
“Hyung,” he called.
Jimin turns around, sees Jeongguk photographing him-
- and laughs, head thrown back, arms spread wide-
-one with the sea and the sky and the sand.
“Submit the first draft of your essay next week,” Professor Choi says, not even looking at them as he shuts off the projector. “At least five comparisons between the Manyoshu and the Kokinshu.”
Lee Hana raises her hand in the front row of the literature class. “Professor Choi?”
The man sighs loudly, looking at her. “What?”
“Are there any other parameters? Should we be looking at content of the poetry? Some of the literary aesthetics that developed in the time between the two?” Hana asks. Jeongguk thinks she’s probably one of the smartest students in the class. Not that Professor Choi would know, considering Namjoon usually leads discussions while Professor Choi sits at his desk and looks at his phone.
“The parameters are: at least five comparisons between the Manyoshu and the Kokinshu. Do some research. More than… let’s say four pages.”
“Double spaced?” No Seyoung asks.
Professor Choi either doesn’t hear or chooses to ignore her, sweeping out the door a good ten minutes before class officially is over. Not that Jeongguk will complain about that.
Taehyung, chin propped in his hand, mutters, “Well, I feel prepared for this essay.”
Jeongguk snorts, closing his notebook that really only has doodles of Taehyung’s side profile. “Comparison number one: different titles. Comparison number two: written in different years.”
“Hey, Jeongguk and Taehyung, right?” Hana appears at their desk, book bag over her shoulder as she smiles at them.
“Yeah,” Taehyung answers, flashing her one of his big ‘I’m good at making friends’ smiles that Jeongguk is mildly envious of. “How about those essay guidelines?”
Hana snorts. “He’s probably not going to grade them anyway. We’re going to go get lunch close to campus. Want to come?”
Taehyung glances at Jeongguk, and Jeongguk blinks.
“Sure,” Taehyung says, draping an arm around Jeongguk’s shoulder. “What kind of food?”
They end up, unsurprisingly, at Korea Taste . The surprising thing, however, is that Namjoon comes along, roped into it by Hana and Seyoung as they ask him to clarify some points of Professor Choi’s scattered lecture that Jeongguk was only half listening to anyway.
Taehyung is exceedingly happy with this, abandoning Jeongguk on the walk over to the restaurant to keep up with Namjoon, asking a large host of questions that are mostly unrelated to the course.
Seokjin seats them when they step inside- six people from their class and Namjoon. Seokjin already seems to know them all, making effortless small talk with them, since they all seem to be regulars here.
Jeongguk tries not to sulk- tries not to mind too much that Seokjin merely gives him a pleasant greeting like his other classmates.
It’s not until they order that Namjoon mentions Seokjin’s channel, praising his video, that Seokjin actually looks Jeongguk in the eye. “Jeongguk helped me film it,” he says.
“Oh, I thought that was you on Jeongguk’s instagram,” Seyoung says, clapping her hands together.
Jeongguk’s eyes widen. He had no idea she even followed him.
“It was, wasn’t it, Seokjin-ssi?” Hana grins. “Jeongguk, you’re such a good photographer.”
Jeongguk coughs, ducking his head. “I’m still learning. I really like experimenting with lighting, and Seokjin-hyung agreed to model for me a few times.”
There’s a hand on Jeongguk’s shoulder, and he looks up to find Seokjin there. Jeongguk immediately feels his face warm, peering up at Seokjin’s face. “You’re amazing, Jeongguk-ah. Though my face is definitely easy to work with.”
The girls laugh, and Namjoon heaves a long-suffering sigh. “Just once,” he says, “I wonder if I can make it through a meal here without you complimenting yourself.”
“Positive self talk is important,” Taehyung says seriously. “So is food. Can we make the order of japchae two, hyung?” He asks Seokjin.
Jeongguk mostly listens as they eat, blush fading quickly once the attention moves on from him and back to the course content. He shovels food into his mouth and watches as Hana and Taehyung get into some weird argument that’s not really an argument over The Tale of Genji, in which they’re really both just complaining about the titular character in aggressive tones.
The girls are incredibly kind. They’re all from Seoul except for Hana, and she and Taehyung realize quickly that they grew up only a few neighborhoods apart in Daegu.
Namjoon clarifies a few things from the lecture as they pick at the remnants of their food, and Jeongguk actually finds himself nodding along.
Things make a lot more sense when Namjoon is the one explaining them.
Jeongguk has the ends of his chopsticks in his mouth, tongue swirling around the tips, when Seokjin comes by to clear their dishes.
Most of the others trickle out for afternoon classes, including Taehyung, who makes sure to ruffle Jeongguk’s hair before he goes. Namjoon leaves with him for the walk back to campus, and Jeongguk can already see them both gearing up for a continued discussion of post-war literature.
“You haven’t been to Fushimi Inari yet?” Hana asks.
Jeongguk shakes his head. “It’s on my to-do list, though.”
“The weather is supposed to be nice this weekend,” Hana says, sliding the strap of her book bag up over her shoulder. “It’s a good hike if you pack a lunch.”
Jeongguk nods, eyes flicking to where Seokjin is distracted by his phone at the register.
He texts Seokjin that night, asking if he’d want to go to Fushimi Inari this weekend for a hike, curled up in his bed and chewing aggressively on his lip until he realizes he’s two in the morning and Seokjin likely won’t be answering.
When his alarm goes off hours later, however, there’s a notification that Jeongguk quickly reads.
if you bring the snacks, we’ve got a deal.
Jeongguk smothers his face in the pillow and lets out a strangled yodel of happiness.
Fushimi Inari is busy, mountainside teeming with tourists as they wind their way up the red arched torii gates.
Both Seokjin and Jeongguk wear backpacks, Jeongguk in his typical all black and a bucket hat and Seokjin in his earth tones.
They can’t really talk much, too many people jostling around them, particularly near the base of the mountain. But they walk, climbing up and up and up.
It’s not until they’ve been at it for nearly an hour that Seokjin tugs Jeongguk’s sleeve and they stop, moving to the side of the path.
“Nice view,” Seokjin says, uncapping his water. He tilts his head back to drink, exposing the line of his throat and the bob of his adam’s apple.
Jeongguk’s fingers twitch.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk mumbles. “Nice view.”
Seokjin wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before offering the water to Jeongguk. Jeongguk accepts and chugs before actually turning his attention on the landscape Seokjin was referencing.
Kyoto spills out below them, lit up with early spring sunshine. They’re already too high up for a lot of details, but city sprawls, framed by trees on the mountainside.
Jeongguk lifts his camera from his neck, removes the lens cap, and snaps a few pictures while Seokjin sits down on a nearby rock. Jeongguk slides down on the ground beside Seokjin when he’s finished, showing him some of the photos.
Seokjin hums to himself, leaning close to Jeongguk with his cheek nearly brushing Jeongguk’s ear. Jeongguk’s heartbeat goes a little erratic in his chest, wires crossing in his brain as he forgets to scroll and Seokjin has to put his warm, calloused hands over Jeongguk to hit the next button.
“When did you start learning photography?” Seokjin asks, sitting back a little bit as he reclines on the rock, far enough away where Jeongguk no longer has to worry about him hearing the frantic booming of his heart.
Jeongguk turns slightly, staring back stupidly for a few seconds at Seokjin before coming back to himself. “Um. I don’t know. Not formally until university. But I’ve been taking pictures for as long as I can remember.”
Seokjin smiles at him. Sunlight makes him squint, but it brightens his skin and shines on his hair and he’s so, so beautiful. “You’re really good. Even when I’m not in the frame.”
Jeongguk snorts. “Believe it or not, my skill isn’t reliant on your face.”
“And here I thought I was your muse.” Seokjin winks at him.
Jeongguk splutters. “Muse? Please, hyung that’s- that’s like- that’s cheesy.” Maybe Jeongguk likes taking pictures of Seokjin. Maybe he sees an orange glow sunset and wants to see Seokjin in it, painted in hazy golden hues. Maybe he stares a little too long at his laptop when he’d uploading the most recent photos with Seokjin. But muse? Overrated. Outdated. Definitely.
Seokjin lets out a dramatic sigh. “I come with an extra side of cheese, Jeongguk-ah. You should know this by now. It’s my brand.”
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes as he manages to pull his derailing thoughts back on track. “I know.” He snags Seokjin’s water again to drink a little more instead of getting his own out of his backpack and thinks back to the question that began the conversation. “What about you, hyung? When did you learn how to cook?”
Seokjin hums thoughtfully, palms braced on the rock behind him as he tips his face up toward the sky. “Same as your photography, I think. My family always cooked together on weekends. Some of my earliest memories are my mom helping me put on plastic gloves about five sizes too big to help her mix japchae while my dad taught my brother how to slice carrots.”
Jeongguk can picture a young Seokjin- soft cheeks round, lips pouted in concentration, stirring around glass noodles to coat them with oil. “Your whole family cooks, then?”
Seokjin nods. “My mom is still the best. Even after culinary school I can’t compete with her.”
Jeongguk screws the lid back on Seokjin’s water, realizing this is the first time Seokjin has talked about his family in any detail at all. “Do you miss your family?”
Seokjin blinks, chin tilting down as he looks at Jeongguk. “Do you miss yours?”
Jeongguk shrugs. “I do. But I also know I’m going back to see them in a few months. And I haven’t been here as long as you.”
Seokjin’s face does that thing again- a feeling that Jeongguk can’t quite catch flicks across his face before it blinks out, replaced by something smooth and easy. “I’ve only been away for a year,” he answers with a laugh that sounds right but feels wrong. “I’m using my time away from my mom to improve my cooking so I can overtake her as head chef of the family when I go back.”
A few Japanese hikers pull over to their little spot of the path, taking our their phones to get pictures of the view as well.
“Are we going all the way to the top?” Seokjin asks, eyes tracing up the mountain.
“I was planning on it,” Jeongguk answers, deciding to let Seokjin get away with not answering his question without pushing it.
Seokjin stretches, groaning loudly enough for a few of the hikers to turn around and look at him. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“I’ve seen at least ten people my grandmother’s age on the trail so far.”
Seokjin makes a disgruntled noise. “And I’m included in that ten, huh?”
“As if. You’ve got a solid year before then,” Jeongguk retorts with a grin. He shrugs off his backpack, unzipping it and gently putting his camera back in its case inside before looping the bag over his shoulders and wearing it forward-facing. “Here, get on my back.”
“What?” Seokjin laughs. “Jeongguk-”
“I’ll carry you up,” Jeongguk says. He kneels in front of the rock, tapping his own shoulder. “Come on, hyung.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Seokjin tells him, but then his arms loop around Jeongguk, chest against Jeongguk’s back. “You’ll barely make it five steps.”
“Try five minutes.” Jeongguk reaches back to grasp Seokjin’s thighs, taking a deep breath before standing up, pleased to find that Seokjin isn’t too much heavier than Taehyung. And Jeongguk has lots of experience carrying around Taehyung around the dorm when Taehyung decides to go into full clingy lemur mode.
“Is that a bet?” Seokjin asks, his voice a little bit strained in Jeongguk’s ear, pitched higher and a hint breathy.
Jeongguk bounces him, adjusting his grip on Seokjin’s legs and grinning when Seokjin squeaks. “Yeah. Five minutes and you buy dinner next.”
“Brat. I always buy you dinner.”
“Fine, five minutes and you cook dinner for me,” Jeongguk says, starting to walk back toward the path. A few people give them looks that Jeongguk chooses pointedly to ignore, even if it would usually make him blush. He’s more preoccupied with Seokjin on his back.
“And what if you don’t make it five minutes?”
“I cook for you.”
“That seems like an unfair deal. What if you’re a terrible cook?”
“If you give me food poisoning, Jeon Jeongguk-”
“I won’t. And I’m going to win this bet, so it won’t matter.” Jeongguk jostles Seokjin on his back, making him let out a little gasp and clutch Jeongguk a little closer, still careful not to lock his arms too tightly.
“People are staring,” Seokjin mutters in Jeongguk’s ear.
“You should be used to it, hyung,” Jeongguk answers, tilting his head slightly, catching Seokjin’s pink face from the corner of his eye. “You’re… you know.”
Seokjin makes a weird noise, strangely shy as he buries his nose in the crook of Jeongguk’s neck. “Shut up and let me enjoy being carried.”
Jeongguk giggles, ignoring the blush he can feel on his own cheeks as he climbs the path with Seokjin wrapped around him.
His muscles start straining fairly quickly, but Jeongguk is nothing if not determined and, admittedly, competitive.
He’s not sure how much time passes, but eventually, Jeongguk gently lets Seokjin down at the edge of the path beneath a tree that’s starting to bud. “There. At least five minutes,” Jeongguk says, rolling his shoulders back as he turns to face Seokjin.
Seokjin is red to his ears, full lips parted, eyes darting everywhere but Jeongguk’s face. “Yeah,” Seokjin says. “Sure. At least five minutes. Let’s, um, keep going.”
He starts on the path again quickly, leaving Jeongguk hurrying to catch up.
Jeongguk was perpetually the youngest. The younger brother, the youngest cousin, the baby of the family. It never stopped him from playing fiercely with the others, determined to keep up despite his shorter legs and scrawnier arms.
There was a day in August during summer vacation that Jeongguk played soccer with his brother, Jeonghyun, and Jeonghyun’s friends at the field of Jeonghyun’s middle school. Jeongguk was much smaller than them, but he was faster.
He was on Jeonghyun’s team, darting in and out of the fray and scoring a few goals, too. At some point, though, a boy named Myungsoo, the biggest of them all, slammed into Jeongguk and sent him toppling over in the grass.
He remembers clutching his knee, scraped and bleeding, sniffling as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“What a baby,” Myungsoo jeered. “Only babies cry, Jeongguk.”
Jeonghyun shoved Myungsoo’s shoulder. “Don’t be a jerk. It looks bad.”
“Bad for a baby,” another boy laughed. “Man up, Jeongguk. Soccer players fall all the time.”
Jeongguk wiped his face with the back of his hand. “It h-hurts.”
“I’ll take you home,” Jeonghyun said, extending his hand and ignoring his friends.
Jeongguk clung to Jeonghyun on the walk home, limping and trying to stop the tears from leaking out of his eyes, biting his lip. “I’m sorry, hyung,” he hiccuped on the elevator up to their floor.
“It’s okay, Gukie,” Jeonghyun answered, squeezing Jeongguk’s hand. “Mom will get you a band-aid.”
It turned out that Jeongguk needed more than a band-aid. His mother had to get out a piece of gauze and medical tape after she cleaned Jeongguk’s damaged knee, wrapping it carefully as Jeongguk dug his teeth into his lip and wheezed around the pain.
“Does it hurt a lot, Jeongguk-ah?” His mother asked.
Jeongguk nodded, sniffing again and trying not to cry as his lip trembled.
“You can cry, Guk-ah,” Jeonghyun said, still holding Jeongguk’s hand. “Myungsoo’s stupid.”
“Don’t call your friends stupid, Jeonghyun-ah,” their mother chided softly, gentle hands and gentle voice.
“He called Jeongguk a baby for crying,” Jeonghyun retorted with a frown.
Jeongguk curled a little in on himself, knee still throbbing with pain.
“Oh.” Jeongguk’s mother stroked through his hair gently. “There’s nothing wrong with crying sometimes, Jeongguk-ah. It’s a healthy thing. Just like we laugh when we think something’s funny, we cry when we’re hurt or sad.”
Jeongguk took a shuddering breath. “I don’t want to be a baby,” Jeongguk mumbled, his voice wavering around the words.
“Well, you are my baby,” his mother declared as she pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Both of you are. But I cry sometimes. Your dad does, too. Does that make us babies?”
Jeongguk sniffed, considering. “You and Dad cry?”
“Of course, sweetheart. We all feel things no matter how old we get or how young we are. We don’t need to hide that.” His mother gently wiped Jeongguk’s cheek before patting Jeonghyun’s shoulder. “Now how about some ice cream? It’s a cure for everything.”
Jeongguk was only seven then, wearing his heart on his sleeve, eating ice cream with his mother and Jeonghyun, learning about laughter and tears.
Time gave Jeongguk longer legs and stronger arms and he soon outgrew Jeonghyun and his friends, including Myungsoo.
But Jeongguk thinks sometimes that he hasn’t really changed much since then.
Ice cream is still a cure for most things.
He still doesn’t hide his heart.
“Wait,” Taehyung says, catching Jeongguk’s face between his hands before reaching up carefully to rub something away at the corner of Jeongguk’s eye. “There.”
The line to the club moves forward a few steps, and Jeongguk giggles, already tipsy from the beers they drank at the little dive bar Haruka, one of Taehyung’s friends, brought them to earlier in the evening.
Jeongguk and Taehyung had gotten ready together, Jeongguk putting on eyeshadow for the first time in months. He’d learned how to do it watching Jimin help him put makeup on models during photoshoot prep, though he prefers softer looks on himself.
He did Taehyung’s eyes, too. They both look good, he thinks.
Jeongguk feels good, too.
The inside of the club is cramped, smoke thick in the air. Taehyung wraps himself around Jeongguk as they head to the bar.
Haruka orders shots for them all, her friends that Jeongguk was introduced to earlier (and was subsequently too shy to speak with) cheering loudly. Taehyung gags briefly on the alcohol, before wrinkling his nose and swallowing.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, tugging on Taehyung’s flowy silk shirt, material soft beneath his fingers. “Dance?”
Taehyung grins and pulls Jeongguk toward the dance floor, already full of swaying bodies. Haruka and her friends follow, and they end up in a little circle, moving along to the music and laughing.
There are lots of other students who look to be university age there as well, probably all out on their last weekend before the hell of midterms sets in.
Jeongguk lets the haze of alcohol take over soon enough, throwing his head back and rolling his hips to the baseline of the song. He ends up with his back pressed against Taehyung, both of them giggling.
At some point, Taehyung takes him back to the bar, ordering water for them both. Jeongguk drinks, letting Taehyung pet his hair.
Jeongguk nods. “Missed…” he hums. “Missed dancing.”
Taehyung laughs, and Jeongguk realizes his eyes are closed and attempts to pry them open. “I think someone drank a little too much.”
“Nah,” Jeongguk murmurs, leaning on the bar. “Just tired.”
“Sure, Gukie.” Taehyung scratches behind his ear and Jeongguk fights not to slump over and go to sleep with his face on the bar counter. “Whenever you’re ready to head back, just let me know.”
“Kay. Think I’ll stay here for a bit.”
Taehyung frowns a little. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Jeongguk stifles a yawn. “Go have fun, hyung. I’ll meet you back here in a bit.”
Taehyung plants a sloppy kiss on his cheek before heading back into the fray, and Jeongguk lasts only a few more minutes at the bar, music too loud and people brushing too close before he heads toward the exit, shoulder bumping against the wall as he stumbles down the stairs.
There are mostly smokers on the street, and Jeongguk shuffles a few steps away, close to the stream that runs along the main road.
His mind is still fuzzy, night air crisp as it bites at his flushed face. He fumbles for his phone, pulling it out and texting Seokjin, letters blurry.
ar you aake?
Good enough. He hits send, squinting at the time. It’s only a little past midnight. There’s a chance Seokjin’s awake, and-
His phone rings, screen lighting up. It’s Seokjin.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, mashing the phone against his cheek. “Hi.”
“Are you okay?” Seokjin’s voice is just as pretty over the phone.
Jeongguk lets out a little sigh, wanting to sit down. “Yeah. Why?”
“You told me you were out clubbing.” That’s right. They’d messaged about it earlier today. Joked about Seokjin coming along, though Jeongguk secretly wished he would. “Is everything okay?”
“Huh? Yeah. It’s fine. Just wanted to see if you were up.”
“I’m up,” Seokjin answers, and Jeongguk can practically hear him roll his eyes. “But now that I know you’re not texting me because you’re drunk and lost downtown, I’m going to go back to my regularly scheduled Friday night skincare routine. Goodni-”
“Hyung,” Jeongguk drags out the word, whining slightly as he shuffles toward an empty bench by the stream. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Past midnight? While you’re at the club?”
“I’m outside the club,” Jeongguk clarifies. He realizes he’s slurring a little bit, his words running together. He curls up on the bench. Music bleeds out from the clubs behind him, but it’s muted, fading into background noise.
“Uh-huh. Why aren’t you in the club?”
“Yeah. And I miss you.”
There’s crackling silence on Seokjin’s end of the call, and Jeongguk chews on his lip. The streetlights shine on the water below, glittering across the surface.
“And here I thought our hike of Fushimi Inari was only last weekend,” Seokjin finally says.
Jeongguk huffs. He might be a little drunker than he initially thought.“Yeah. Last weekend. Still miss talking to you. You’re funny.”
A group of loud drunks wander behind the bench, arguing in rapid-fire Japanese that Jeongguk can’t understand in the slightest.
“I’m happy I provide amusement. I should start charging for my stand-up comedy routines,” Seokjin answers.
“Mm. Don’t count on making a living off of it, hyung.”
“Rude. See if I ever buy your dinner again.”
“You still owe me a home-cooked dinner.”
“Are you busy on Sunday?”
Seokjin doesn’t answer right away, quiet again as Jeongguk tilts his head back and looks up at the night sky. It’s clear, far less light polluted than Busan. There still aren’t many stars visible.
“Sunday is good,” Seokjin says, and Jeongguk blinks back to the conversation.
“I’ll send you the address to my apartment?”
Jeongguk shivers, buzz of the alcohol warm but his skin pebbling on his arms just the same. “Yeah. Sweet. Thanks for calling me, hyung.”
“Sure. Why don’t you stay on the phone with me until you find Taehyung again?”
Jeongguk ponders it for a moment. “Are you worried?”
“No. I just don’t trust you since you couldn’t even text a coherent sentence earlier and you sound like you chugged four and half cheap beers at the convenience store.”
Jeongguk snorts. “You’re worried. I’m okay, hyung, really.”
“Prove it. Find Taehyung.”
Jeongguk’s eyes narrow even as he swings his legs back around the bench and stands. “Fine.”
He’s flashed his wrist band at the bouncer and made it halfway up the stairs still cradling his phone to his ear when he realizes Seokjin just manipulated his drunk ass by challenging him to go back to Taehyung.
“You still there?” Seokjin asks. His voice is harder to hear in the club, particularly over the music even in the stairwell.
“Yeah. Just realizing you use my own co- competition- competitiveness against me,” Jeongguk answers, struggling to form the word.
“A whole five convenience store beers,” Seokjin says dryly.
Jeongguk makes a confused noise at the comment, though he finishes climbing the stairs and finds Taehyung at the top.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk says, reaching out his free hand and latching onto Taehyung’s shirt.
“Hi,” Taehyung says, immediately wrapping his arms around Jeongguk’s waist. “Was looking for you. Who are you talking to?”
“Seokjin-hyungie,” Jeongguk murmurs, pushing his nose into Taehyung’s neck.
“What?” Seokjin’s voice crackles over the phone. “Did you find him?”
“Yeah. He’s here,” Jeongguk says sleepily.
Taehyung snags his phone from him. “Seokjin-hyung? Yeah. Hi! How are you?” He’s a little too loud, trying to be heard over the booming baseline from the club. But Jeongguk doesn’t want to move away, content to remain plastered to Taehyung’s side.
“Oh, yeah. It’s been great. Midterms are about to suck all the light from my soul though.” Taehyung pauses, patting Jeongguk’s back. “Yeah, I’m going to take the baby home soon.”
Jeongguk pouts into Taehyung’s shirt. “Not a baby.”
“‘Course not,” Taehyung says, but somehow it sounds like he’s just humoring Jeongguk. “Okay. Goodnight, hyung! I’ll come by the restaurant this week on one of your shifts.”
Jeongguk grumbles, letting Taehyung drag him out of the club and into a taxi, Taehyung rattling off their address in Japanese.
“Why’d you call Seokjin-hyung?” Taehyung asks him, arm wrapped around Jeongguk’s shoulders in the back seat.
“He called me.”
“I texted him. Think he was…” Jeongguk lets out a little sigh, burrowing closer to Taehyung. “Worried.”
“Nothing, Jeonggukie. Just sleep. I’ll wake you up when we’re back.”
Jeongguk spends a solid fifteen minutes at the grocery store on Sunday trying to decide whether he should buy wine or a pack of beer.
He’s only seen Seokjin drink beer before at restaurants, but the adult thing would be to bring a bottle of wine over to dinner, right? That’s what adults do?
Jeongguk is, in fact, an adult. But he’s also a college student and his wine knowledge is limited to Jimin occasionally splurging on nice reds and drinking it from chipped mugs in their apartment.
When Jeongguk shows up to Seokjin’s apartment, he’s cradling the bottle of wine to his chest and hoping it’s not one of those ridiculously dry Spanish wines that Jimin made him try once.
Seokjin opens the door with a smile, and Jeongguk steps inside to a place that smells like home .
It’s a studio. A bed is against the window to the right of the door, kitchen in the back, a low to the ground table with cushions on the floor.
Seokjin’s wearing sweatpants as he helps Jeongguk take off his coat. Sweatpants and a long-sleeve simple shirt, and he looks comfortable and beautiful and Jeongguk blinks a few times before surveying the apartment.
It doesn’t feel like it smells.
The scent of home-cooked food and of the clean laundry that hangs in the corner of the room.
But the walls are bare. Jeongguk doesn’t find a single picture as his eyes sweep the room. The bed is made a little messily, but there’s nothing else that seems like Seokjin. It’s hollow, and it sends a pang of sadness through Jeongguk.
“I made enough for you to take some back to Taehyung,” Seokjin says as he hangs Jeongguk’s coat on the back of the front door. “You can set the wine on the table. Food’s almost done.”
“Thanks,” Jeongguk murmurs, padding with socked feet over to the table before following Seokjin to the kitchen. “What did you make?”
“Jjimdak,” Seokjin says, stirring the chicken and vegetables swirling in the pot. “It’s not on the menu at the restaurant, so I thought I’d make you something you maybe haven’t had in a while.”
“It looks so good.” Jeongguk leans over the stove, sniffing. His mouth waters. “Oh my god, hyung, this smells amazing.”
Seokjin elbows him. “Don’t drool on the food, Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk scoffs, but retreats a few steps back and leans on the counter to watch Seokjin as he adds a dribble of sesame oil. “Can I help with anything?”
“Wine glasses are on the shelf to your left if you want to pour some now.”
Jeongguk nods, grabbing the wine bottle and carrying it to the counter before realizing with horror it’s got a cork in it. It’s fine, he tells himself. How hard can it be?
He’s seen Jimin take a cork out a few times. Simple.
“Where’s your corkscrew?” Jeongguk asks.
Seokjin looks up from the stove. “Huh?”
“Corkscrew,” Jeongguk repeats, pointing at the wine bottle. He should’ve gone with beer.
Seokjin’s brow furrows. “I don’t think I have one.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says. Is it proper adult etiquette to bring a corkscrew with a bottle of wine? “Uh. I can go buy one?”
Seokjin waves a hand airily, pulling out a serrated knife from a drawer beside the stove. “Watch and learn, Jeongguk-ah.”
Jeongguk eyes the knife warily as Seokjin turns down the heat on the stove before advancing toward the wine bottle. “This looks slightly dangerous.”
“Slightly,” Seokjin says, stabbing the knife at the cork. “Don’t try this at home.”
“You are at home.”
“Don’t try this at your home,” Seokjin clarifies, wriggling the knife down clumsily.
Jeongguk grabs onto the bottle as it wobbles on the counter. “I can really just go buy a corkscrew. I saw a grocery store along the way-”
“That would be admitting defeat,” Seokjin tells him, eyes narrowed as he manages to get the knife decently into the cork.
Jeongguk snorts, holding the bottle a little tighter. “Two guys and a knife versus a wine bottle.”
“A game of survival,” Seokjin adds with a grunt, starting to turn the knife a little more as he pulls.
The end result is Seokjin pulling the cork out with a high-pitched battle cry, wine sloshing everywhere as the bottle nearly flies out of Jeongguk’s hands, both of them dissolving into laughter, making the tiny studio apartment sound like home, too.
They don’t talk as much while they eat, Jeongguk preoccupied with chewing the chicken and letting the flavors of the rice wine and sesame oil and chili melt into his tongue. He manages to remember to thank Seokjin between his last few bites, drinking a little more of the not-terrible wine.
“So exactly how drunk were you on Friday night?” Seokjin asks as Jeongguk washes the dishes, Seokjin packing some of the jjimdak for Taehyung in tupperware. He has the last of the wine on the counter beside him.
“On a scale of one to ten? I’d say a solid seven.” Jeongguk rinses a bowl, setting it on the drying rack.
Seokjin hums, tipping the rest of his wine back. “And you decided to message me just to see if I was awake?”
Jeongguk feels himself flush, heat creeping up the back of his neck as he grabs the pot and starts scrubbing it a little too vigorously. “Sorry,” he mumbles to the sink.
“It was cute. You’re a sweet drunk,” Seokjin says, and it sounds off-handed.
Jeongguk glances over his shoulder, finding Seokjin looking very intently at the tupperware as he secures the lid, pressing the plastic edges down with his long, knobby fingers. There’s something oddly genuine about it. Something that feels more like how Seokjin sounds when he looks at Jeongguk’s photographs than how he sounds when he’s talking around an answer he doesn’t want to give.
“Yeah?” Jeongguk asks quietly, prompting, wanting more.
“Mm.” Seokjin’s ears are red. He drums his fingertips on the top of the tupperware before clearing his throat. “You can keep the container after Taehyung finishes. I’m sure the international dorm could use some extra supplies.”
Jeongguk doesn’t care about the tupperware. “Okay,” he says, soapy hands and eyes fixed on Seokjin’s face.
But Seokjin just looks back at Jeongguk, pink lingering in his cheeks from the alcohol. “Do you need to get back home soon? We can watch something if you don’t.”
Jeongguk feels his lips pull down, feels something sink in the pit of his stomach. “Yeah, I can stay” he says, because he doesn’t know what questions to ask instead.
So Jeongguk finishes washing and rinsing, and Seokjin pulls up some variety show on his laptop and they watch on the floor, backs against Seokjin’s bed and shoulders brushing in the apartment with bare walls that still smells like home, probably would still smell like home even if the windows were open to the night air.
The show finishes as the buzz of the wine fades, and Jeongguk is too aware of his own breathing and every heartbeat between the puffs of air that quietly leave his mouth as he bites his lip.
“Hey, hyung,” Jeongguk says.
Seokjin hums questioningly, closing his laptop before turning sleepy, gentle eyes on Jeongguk.
Jeongguk feels the words catch in his throat, tracing the slope of Seokjin’s cheek with his gaze and wishing he could follow the path with his fingertips and then again with his lips.
Oh. Oh, Jeongguk realizes, and his chest pulls and pulls, his heart twisting to the shape of Seokjin’s laughter and calloused hands and the pitch of his voice.
“Are you falling asleep on me, Jeongguk-ah?” Seokjin asks, and his eyes crinkle with his smile.
Jeongguk can’t stop staring. He doesn’t want to. He wants to capture this moment, tries to take a picture in the back of his mind. “N-no. I’m awake.”
Seokjin watches him, smile fading to something softer, warm and gentle.
“Hyung,” Jeongguk whispers.
Something clicks in Seokjin’s head. Jeongguk can see it, watch him as he leans back and an emotion Jeongguk can’t quite read flashes across his face before it closes off entirely. “Go study for your midterms, kid,” he says, lips curving up into something ingenuine. “Come by the restaurant if you need somewhere else to study, okay?”
It’s a clear dismissal, and Jeongguk hesitates briefly before he nods and stands, biting the inside of his cheek.
Seokjin hands him the tupperware of jjimdak for Taehyung, and Jeongguk says goodnight with the ghost of Seokjin’s soft smile tucked away, nestled safely between his ribs.
The bus ride home is quiet, and Jeongguk leans against the window and wonders what he would’ve said if Seokjin hadn’t cut him off.
Hyung, I like you.
Hyung, you’re so beautiful it hurts.
Hyung, I want to hold your hand.
Hyung, do you feel the way I feel?
But instead, Jeongguk gets off the bus near the international dorm, pads quietly past the entrance after taking off his shoes and retreats to his room, nestling beneath the covers and thinking of blank apartment walls and the feeling that flickered across Seokjin’s face before Jeongguk could put a name to it.
Jeongguk remembers with alarming clarity the first time he saw Hoseok dance.
Jimin had dragged him to the dance practice during Jeongguk’s first week of university, overwhelmed by the size of the campus and the number of students in his classes and the syllabus of his first photography course.
His mind was constantly buzzing. He picked at his sleeves and chewed on his lip until it bled, puffy and wince-inducing everytime he forgot it was split and nervously bit down on it again.
But then, in a practice room in the basement of the fine arts building, Jeongguk watched Hoseok teach eight-counts and followed along in the back, trying to hide behind Jimin despite his height.
And Hoseok danced . He moved with balanced power- each beat demanding attention effortlessly.
Jeongguk almost forgot to follow along, caught up in the lines of Hoseok’s body.
Jimin told stories when he danced, but Hoseok did something a little different. It was raw, an overwhelming wave of emotion that made Jeongguk forget about his split lip and the anxiety bundled in his chest.
Jimin introduced them once class finished, Jeongguk wringing his hands and peering at Hoseok from underneath his bangs.
Hoseok was kind and smiled and told Jeongguk to call him hyung, and Jeongguk did. There was a sense of familiarity, Jeongguk realized, that came from watching someone dance like that- when they share a part of themselves.
Over a year later, Jeongguk photographed Hoseok dancing for his photography midterm project.
By then, he knew Hoseok better.
He knew that Hoseok often covered stress with laughter and sadness with smiles. But dance was always real.
Hoseok danced, pausing when Jeongguk told him to hold a pose, white fabric Jeongguk dressed him in flowing around him.
And afterward, maybe because they both felt a little exposed, worn down around the edges, they bought kimbap from the convenience store and walked to the beach where they sat and talked until nearly three in the morning, walls down.
Jeongguk learned more about Hoseok in that one night than he had in the entire year before, learned about how much Hoseok held back about his concerns and fears for the future and regrets of the past.
When Jeongguk went through the photographs, selecting the best to edit and submit, he realized it was all there on the screen, reflected back at him.
He captured the moments of Hoseok’s guard lowering, of his eyes closing and his jaw loosening, lips parted and lashes against his cheek.
Jeongguk spent hours going back through his photographs of his friends and his family, looking at their faces and realizing it was like that in so many of them. He captured moments of them laughing more often than not. One was of Jeonghyun flipping Jeongguk off on a family trip, tired and grumpy. One of Seoyoung, his friend in high school who went to university in Seoul, hiding her smile behind a hand while her eyes sparkle. One of his parents sitting on a picnic blanket at the park, his mother crossing her eyes at the camera while his father looks at her with an aching tenderness that almost doesn’t match her silly expression.
All of them were real.
Jeongguk loves that about photography- about dance.
It’s always real.
Midterms crawl by, dragging Jeongguk along.
By Wednesday, Jeongguk and Taehyung are running on fumes. They drag themselves to Korea Taste with their textbooks after lunch. Seokjin lets them sit in the corner and study as they eat. When the last of the customers from the lunch rush leave, Seokjin comes by to tease them back to life.
Taehyung laughs at their antics, which somehow became Seokjin quizzing Jeongguk on Japanese vocabulary and chopping him in the neck with the side of his hand every time he got an answer wrong.
They leave a little less dead on the inside, roping Seokjin into going to the kamogawa river with them this weekend to celebrate surviving midterms.
“I’m too old for your friends, Jeongguk-ah.”
“Haruka’s a grad student,” Taehyung points out.
“And you’re not that old,” Jeongguk adds, rolling his eyes.
So Seokjin agrees, only slightly reluctantly, to come along.
Friday sees Jeongguk staggering out of his last exam with a raging headache, going straight to Taehyung’s room in the dorm and curling up in his bed, refusing to move until Taehyung coaxes him out with promises of ordering food.
“So,” Taehyung says in the kitchen around a mouthful of pizza. “Did you tell Seokjin-hyung what time we’re meeting tomorrow?”
Jeongguk looks up from his own slice, nibbling at a little bit of cheese drooping off the side. “Yeah.”
“Cool, cool.” Taehyung shoves the rest of his slice in his mouth, cheeks bulging as he chews while his eyes drill a hole in Jeongguk’s head.
Jeongguk frowns, licking his fingers. “What?”
Taehyung swallows. “Just wondering if you had more feelings to share. About Seokjin-hyung.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk stares down at the greasy pizza box. “I do. I mean, I have feelings. I mean…” He breaks off awkwardly with a shrug.
The teasing he expects from Taehyung doesn’t come, and he glances up at Taehyung to find him watching seriously, waiting for Jeongguk to keep talking.
So Jeongguk bites his lip, tilting his head to the side. “I like Seokjin-hyung a lot. I don’t know if he feels the same way. Sometimes I think he might, but whenever he seems like he’s going to tell me something that’s… that’s what he’s really thinking, he turns around and shuts the conversation down.”
Taehyung hums thoughtfully, reaching for another piece of pizza. “I thought you were going to be like that at first.”
Jeongguk blinks in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Big muscly guy from Busan, wears all black and timberlands, quiet and a little intimidating,” Taehyung says, ticking his fingers up on his free hand. “Just didn’t seem like you’d know how to talk about emotions.”
“What? How do muscles mean I can’t have conversations about my feelings?” Jeongguk asks indignantly, only to frown harder. “I’m intimidating?”
Taehyung ignores him. “Seokjin-hyung looks the opposite. He has this friendly vibe going on. He talks to everyone so easily and seems like he’s got life figured out. He comes across as really laid-back. Like an open book, you know?”
Jeongguk feels his eyes narrow in confusion. “But he’s not an open book at all.”
“Right. Like I’ve told him about the first dog I’ve ever had all the way to my last ex-boyfriend who wasn’t into foot stuff, but I know literally nothing about him except that he’s from Korea, he’s working on a food blog, and he thinks sugar gliders are the second cutest animal after baby sloths.” Taehyung shoves half a piece of pizza in his mouth again, and Jeongguk is less caught off guard by it this time.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says quietly. “I guess I still don’t know much about him either.”
“People open up on their own time,” Taehyung says with his mouth full before he swallows. “But it doesn’t hurt to meet them halfway. If I hadn’t approached you on your first day here, do you think we’d be friends now?”
Jeongguk considers, pulling at one of the little cardboard tabs of the pizza box. “I don’t know. Maybe not.”
Taehyung nods. “So, if you feel up to it, maybe you could take the first step here. Just so he knows it’s safe to do the same if he wants.”
“You mean… tell him how I feel?” Jeongguk asks, and Taehyung nods again. Jeongguk bites his lips. “And if he doesn’t like me the same way?”
Taehyung reaches over with greasy fingers, patting Jeongguk’s hand. “Then I buy you fried chicken and we play Overwatch until you feel better.”
Jeongguk exhales raggedly. “I’ll think about it,” he says.
“Okay,” Taehyung answers. “Can I have the last piece of pizza?”
Seokjin gets along almost too naturally with Haruka and Taehyung’s other friends, switching between Japanese and Korean easily.
Jeongguk sits between Seokjin and Taehyung at the restaurant downtown, stealing some of Seokjin’s udon once he’s finished his own.
Seokjin elbows him, and they end up poking each other in the side for the rest of the meal while Seokjin carries on a conversation with Haruka about her graduate research, which Jeongguk understands very minimally thanks to the linguistics terminology he has zero knowledge of in Korean or Japanese.
They buy beer at the convenience store next, taking it down to the Kamogawa as the last traces of sunset fade from the sky, sitting down beside the river. Jeongguk manages to make semi-successful small talk with some of Haruka’s friends and finds himself leaning into Seokjin, breathing in the smell of home and woodsy aftershave.
Every time Seokjin laughs, Jeongguk finds himself smiling, unable to stop watching the way his eyes crinkle and his lips tug up into a grin, the way his shoulders shake.
He realizes a few beers in that Seokjin hasn’t looked at him once. Almost pointedly. But he hasn’t brushed Jeongguk away either.
Some buskers start playing further down the waterside path, and Jeongguk leaves his beer can to wander over. He finds a woman with a guitar sitting beneath the glow of a lamppost, singing something as gentle as the night.
He watches, entranced, as her fingers dance along the neck of the guitar.
Jeongguk nearly jumps, head jerking to the left to find Seokjin standing beside him, white long-sleeve tee and beige overcoat.
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, smiling. “Yeah, she is.”
Seokjin nods, and they watch quietly until she finishes the song and they clap along with the small audience she’s drawn around by the river.
“Do you play anything, hyung?” Jeongguk asks, leaning a little closer to Seokjin so he can speak quietly.
“Just guitar,” Seokjin murmurs back. “But not very well.”
“Guitar? Do you have one here?” He doesn’t remember seeing one at Seokjin’s apartment, but he can picture Seokjin holding one easily- wonders what his voice sounds like when he sings.
“No, I left it in Seoul.”
The answer is simple, but it feels weighty.
Jeongguk slowly reaches down toward Seokjin’s hand, but changes his mind last minute and tugs on Seokjin’s sleeve instead. “Let’s go for a walk, hyung.”
Seokjin nods, and they start down the path along the water. There are still plenty of families out, a mother pushing a stroller past them.
“Do you think you’ll buy another one here? If you’re staying for a while, I mean.” Jeongguk lets go of Seokjin’s coat, fingers itching to reach for Seokjin’s but instead finding the pockets of his own jacket instead.
“Maybe. I don’t miss it enough.”
Jeongguk blinks at that, looks a little closer at Seokjin’s side-profile and finds his cheeks pink, though he’s unsure if it’s from the beer or the night chill. “What do you miss, then?” Jeongguk asks softly.
Seokjin doesn’t answer for a few moments, just their feet crunching over the gravel. Then he lets out a soft breath. “Let’s sit for a bit.”
Jeongguk frowns, but he follows as Seokjin leads him to the grass closer to the water.
Seokjin plops down on the grass, but there’s no accompanying exaggerated groan, no joke about his old joints.
Unease forms in Jeongguk’s stomach, and he curls up beside Seokjin, knees tucked to his chest and arms wrapped around his legs. He waits for Seokjin to speak, biting on his lip hard enough to hurt.
“Jeongguk-ah, you’re a good kid,” Seokjin starts, and there’s a strange tinge to his tone, one that sets Jeongguk further on edge.
“I’m not a kid,” Jeongguk answers automatically as he hugs his knees closer to his chest. This weight is palpable, hanging in the air like a fog. “Are you drunk, hyung? Maybe we should get some wa-”
“Beer is necessary for this conversation,” Seokjin says, and he drags a hand over his face before turning his unreadable gaze on Jeongguk. “I left Seoul,” he tells Jeongguk after a deep breath, “because I needed to get away from people that I hurt.”
Jeongguk stares, the current of the river whispering in front of them, lamp light behind them. “People you hurt?” Jeongguk repeats, because he can’t picture Seokjin hurting someone.
Seokjin rakes his hands through the grass at his sides, now looking away from Jeongguk and staring out at the river instead. “I ended a relationship that I’d been in for almost four years. I was with my best friend’s brother. Our families had just come to terms with… with coming out to them that we were gay and living together as a couple and not as roommates like they thought. We managed to bring them together, even though it took almost a year. And then I left.”
Jeongguk feels every heartbeat like drum beat, echoing through him and resounding behind his ribs. “What happened?”
Seokjin shrugs, his lips twitching and twisting like he wants to laugh or cry but will do neither. “Nothing. I realized that I didn’t love him. So,” he pauses to rub the back of his neck, “I decided to move to Japan when I ended things. Make it a clean break.”
Jeongguk’s brow furrows. “Isn’t there more to it, hyung?”
Seokjin laughs, but it doesn’t sound like him. “Maybe. But I wanted to tell you, Jeongguk-ah. Just so you could see.”
“See what?” Jeongguk asks, and it’s heartbeats and heaviness in his stomach and teeth digging into his lower lip. When Seokjin doesn’t answer, Jeongguk tells him despite the tightness of his chest, “You can talk to me about anything. I- I want to listen.”
Seokjin looks at him then, and his eyebrows pull together and his lips tug down and for a moment. But then he shakes his head. “You’re sweet, Jeongguk,” he says quietly. “So please don’t feel anything that will make this hard on you.”
Jeongguk blinks, once, twice. He hears the water tumble over rocks in the river and faint voices from a group of people further up the bank and the sound of his own heart crack, a quiet little cry that escapes it.
He wants for a moment to deny it. He wants to tell Seokjin that he must’ve misread something- that Jeongguk doesn’t have feelings that will make this difficult. He wants to laugh and play this off as a funny misunderstanding.
But Jeongguk just takes a slow breath, lungs protesting around it with a twinge, and nods. “Okay, hyung,” he whispers instead. “I’ll try.”
Seokjin turns his face away again, back toward the river.
They sit together in the darkness, Jeongguk curled in on himself and Seokjin within arm’s reach, and-
“What if it’s too late?” Jeongguk asks softly, eyes stinging as he looks out at the water. “What if I already… if I already like you a lot, hyung? Should I stop?”
Seokjin shudders beside him, and for a moment neither of them speak. “Yes,” he says, and his voice cracks. “You should stop.”
Jeongguk nods, chin pressed to the top of his knees so hard it hurts. He shifts, stretching his legs out in front of him and trying not to shake. “Okay.” He swallows, throat too tight. “Can you tell me something first?”
The grass rustles, and Seokjin hums a quiet affirmation.
“Do you like me, too? In a way that you’re trying to stop?” Jeongguk asks the river- asks the night.
There’s a hand on Jeongguk’s cheek then, calloused palms, crooked fingers, but somehow gentle all the same.
Jeongguk leans into the touch. “Hyung,” he whispers.
Seokjin’s mouth is every bit as soft as it looks, warm and careful as it brushes against Jeongguk’s.
Seokjin kisses him like goodbye, kisses his top lip first and then the bottom and then the top again until Jeongguk inhales shakily and kisses him back- kisses him like hello, one hand rising to cup Seokjin’s jaw and keep him there, keep his kisses and his warmth and his touch.
Jeongguk gasps when Seokjin pulls away, the crack in his heart widening into a gaping wound and his chest aches .
“Sorry,” Seokjin whispers, and his eyes are wide- frantic and apologetic. And they’re wet. “I’m sorry, Jeongguk-ah, I shouldn’t have-” He breaks off, shaking his head as he scrambles to stand. “That was unfair.”
“Wait,” Jeongguk jumps to his feet, reaching for Seokjin, finally, finally taking his hand. “Hyung, please. You can talk to me. If-if you want to.”
Seokjin stares at Jeongguk, and he can hear his pulse in his ears and the earthquake in his chest. “It won’t work out,” Seokjin says, but he doesn’t pull away from Jeongguk. “I’ll hurt you.”
Jeongguk links his fingers through Seokjin’s. “You don’t know that. We can talk about this.”
Seokjin shakes his head, his eyes shining. “It won’t last,” he murmurs, and he pulls his hand from Jeongguk’s. “We won’t last. It’s better this way.”
Jeongguk watches him walk away, fingers twitching. For once, though, he doesn’t want his camera. This is a moment he doesn’t want to remember. This is a feeling he’d like to forget.
The assignment was to photograph water in motion.
Jeongguk was in his freshman year at university, overwhelmed by his course load and close to failing a required math course in the core curriculum. Exhausted and constantly teetering over the edge of his regular anxiety into something much darker and deeper, Jeongguk broke up with his first boyfriend during finals week.
He still thinks that his heart trembled apart more than Kijun’s did, because maybe, though Jeongguk was the one to end things, Kijun didn’t care for him as much as Jeongguk did.
With three days left until the photography assignment was due, Jeongguk took the bus west, close to the neighborhood where his parents lived.
There was a stream that ran beneath the backstreets, one that was an offshoot of a much louder, much more forceful river.
Jeongguk walked quietly in the winter afternoon, boots on concrete.
He took the stairs down from the road so he was level with the stream and listened to the current, the gentle bubbling of the water as it passed over pebbles and between rocks.
There was a spot where the stream narrows, a boulder at the edge of the water. Jeongguk stepped onto it easily before crouching down and angling his camera upstream.
The current, sweeping smaller rocks away, carrying them down, down, down-
-as the sun dances across the surface, glittering in the winter air-
-never stopping, stream always whispering. It’s water in motion, but frozen in that moment with the sound of the shutter.
Taehyung tries to keep his promise of chicken and Overwatch, but Jeongguk doesn’t feel like eating or playing. He doesn’t ask many questions.
Jeongguk thinks he saw enough answers in Jeongguk’s eyes when he returned to the others by the Kamogawa Saturday night without Seokjin.
He goes to class on Monday, tucking himself in his hoodie. Spring rain comes, gray skies and a chill in the air. Jeongguk catches a cold in the middle of the week, leaving him sniffling with puffy eyes and coughing into his elbow through his classes.
His phone is full of unanswered messages from Jimin and Hoseok and his mom, and he answers them at three in the morning, curled up beneath his blankets and determined not to sound as miserable as he feels.
“Mono no aware,” Namjoon says in their literature class on Friday, leading the discussion after Professor Choi packed up early and left.
Jeongguk stops his sketch of lips that look a little too much like Seokjin’s lips in the margins of his notebook to scribble down the words.
“It’s hard to find a translation for this in Korean- or in any other language, really. Some will call it ‘the pathos of things,’ but it can’t quite encapsulate the meaning of this particular Japanese literary aesthetic,” Namjoon tells them. “It’s a feeling of beauty and sadness wrapped together, almost a longing or wistfulness for something that can’t or won’t last. There’s a few examples in your readings from this week. Did anyone make note of them based on the prompt?”
Jeongguk’s throat feels strangely tight as he stares at his notebook.
“Cherry blossoms,” Hana says at the front of the room. “A few of the poems used cherry blossoms as imagery of mono no aware.”
“Right,” Namjoon agrees. “Cherry blossoms are the most common example you’ll see used to express mono no aware. Many people consider them incredibly beautiful because they last for such a short time. We’ll actually see them blooming here in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eye out for them, and consider how you feel when you look at them. Do you find them more moving because of how finite they are? Or do you think that they’d be just as beautiful if they lasted?”
Jeongguk bites the inside of his cheek, fingers curling around his pen as the sketch of Seokjin’s lips seems to grow more and more realistic before his eyes, the memory of how they felt on Jeongguk’s fading.
The rest of the discussion is background noise, and Jeongguk can only think of Seokjin whispering, “ It won’t last. We won’t last.”
Jeongguk waits in the library while Taehyung goes to an elective class on woodblock art, Japanese textbook open though he finds himself not really looking at it.
Jeongguk blinks, looking up to find Namjoon with a book bag, holding a coffee with steam curling up from the dark surface and a little brown bag. He stands quickly to greet him. “Namjoon-ssi. Hello.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt your studying.”
“It’s okay,” Jeongguk assures him quickly. “I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything.”
Namjoon leans over slightly to look at Jeongguk’s textbook. “You’re in a pretty advanced language class.”
Jeongguk feels his cheeks warm and he shrugs. “Taehyung and most of the Korean students are a level above me. I didn’t study much Japanese back home.”
“No? What’s your major?” Namjoon asks before shuffling back a step. “Or- sorry, if you need to study-”
“It’s fine,” Jeongguk says quickly. “If you want to join me, I don’t think I’ll be getting much work done anyway.”
So Namjoon sits, shares the pastries he bought at the library coffee shop with Jeongguk, and asks Jeongguk questions about photography and Busan. In turn, Jeongguk learns that Namjoon is finishing his masters in East Asian literature with his focus on post-1960s feminist Korean and Japanese writers.
“But I’m hoping to go for my doctorate,” Namjoon adds, pushing the last pieces of the cinnamon roll toward Jeongguk.
“You’d make a good professor. I mean, you already kind of do,” Jeongguk says.
Namjoon flushes, smiling down at his coffee. “Thanks. I like teaching a lot. I know sometimes I can ramble, but being a TA for the lit class this semester has been a really great experience.”
“It’s a interesting class,” Jeongguk says, mostly honest because he’s interested in it when Namjoon actually explains the content rather than Professor Choi. He bites his lip. “Like today, we talked about mono no aware?”
“Yes.” Namjoon looks up at him. “Did you have questions about it?”
Jeongguk wipes his sticky fingers on the edge of the paper pastry bag, material crinkling. “More of just… wondering why people think something is beautiful if it only lasts for a short time. I mean, what made this such a long-lasting image in literature?”
Namjoon hums thoughtfully. “I guess that could be a psychology question. Why do people like sad movies?”
Jeongguk blinks. “I don’t like sad movies.”
“Okay,” Namjoon laughs lightly. “But some people do. I like sad movies because they’re moving. They make me feel something- a sense of empathy, which is another way mono no aware can be translated.”
“So people like to feel sad that beautiful things don’t last?” Jeongguk asks with a frown.
“I suppose so. If something lasted forever, would it still be special?” Namjoon returns his question with his own.
Jeongguk’s brow furrows as Namjoon takes a sip of his coffee. “I think it would be,” Jeongguk says. “When I take photographs, that’s what I try to do- take a moment and make it last. Capturing a memory so it doesn’t end.”
“But would you say the moment itself still ends? That you’ve captured a piece of it to remember once it’s over?” Namjoon sets his cup down on the table.
Jeongguk stares at it, noting the steam has stopped. He thinks of Gyeongju and Auntie Yoona’s dog and Jeonghyun’s graduation and Jimin at the beach. He thinks of Seokjin in Gion’s lantern glow, of his lips against Jeongguk’s and the feeling of his hand on Jeongguk’s.
“I guess,” Jeongguk says slowly. “I feel like the moment stays alive through the photograph in some way. If we remember something, it’s not over.”
“Hm.” Namjoon tilts his head to the side, nodding thoughtfully. “I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it like that before. But it’s an interesting point. It makes me think of the expression about keeping memories alive.”
“Jeongguk-ah! I want curry for dinner. We should- oh,” Taehyung stops abruptly in front of the table, gaze locking on Namjoon. “Hello, Namjoon-ssi!”
“Hi, Taehyung,” Namjoon stands up with a smile. “Great work on the last writing submission. Really thoughtful analysis.”
Taehyung’s face lights up. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure if it would all make sense.”
“It did. You supported all your claims with the text,” Namjoon assures him before turning back to Jeongguk. “I won’t keep you. But if you ever want to continue the conversation, feel free to stop by Professor Choi’s office. I’m there on Tuesdays.”
Jeongguk nods. “Thank you.”
Namjoon leaves with a wave, and Taehyung watches him go with wide eyes. “He said I did great on the last submission,” Taehyung hisses at Jeongguk.
Jeongguk snorts. “He wrote that on your paper, too, hyung.”
Taehyung makes a face. “Yeah, but he said it now. Come on, let’s go get curry.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk gathers his things, slipping on his bag and falling into step beside Taehyung as the leave the library. “Can we get ice cream after?”
Taehyung slings his arm around Jeongguk’s shoulder, bumping the side of his head into Jeongguk’s. “Of course, Jeongguk-ah.”
They go to a hole in the wall curry restaurant first and then stop by the convenience store to buy ice cream. It starts to rain, so they eat inside at the counter, watching cars crawl by on the street.
Jeongguk finally calls Jimin.
He doesn’t mean to, but the second he hears Jimin’s voice, he cries.
He knew he would. Jimin is Jeongguk’s safe place. His person. The one who lets Jeongguk feel whatever he feels and makes sure he knows it’s okay- that everything will be okay.
Jeongguk sniffs, staring up at his ceiling. “Hi, hyung.”
Jeongguk lets out a watery laugh. “I didn’t know I was that obvious.”
“You haven’t answered my texts in a week. I’d be angry if I wasn’t so worried.” Jimin speaks gently, and Jeongguk closes his eyes and pictures that they’re in the same room- the same country, even.
“It’s okay. I just want to know how you’re doing.”
Jeongguk thinks about it, rolling over on his side so he can curl up. “Can you tell me about you first?” He asks quietly.
Jimin lets out a little puff of air. “Okay. We’ve already started practicing for the senior dance showcase in January.”
“That’s, like, nine months away.”
“Yeah. I think I’m going to hate the piece I’m dancing to by the end of it.”
“You’ll overperfect it, too. People will be blinded by your performance. You might actually knock them out of their seats.”
Jimin snorts. “Thanks.”
“What about classes and student-teaching?”
“Classes are fine. Student-teaching is so much fun, but more exhausting than I expected.”
“How’s the kid that tried to eat his own eraser last time you were there?”
“Oh, last week he glued his desk-mate’s fingers to the table with rubber cement. It was a barely contained disaster.”
Jeongguk feels himself smiling slightly as he nestles down further on his pillow. “The dance team?”
“Good,” Jimin says, and there’s the sound of his desk chair rolling back that Jeongguk recognizes easily. “It feels like huge gaps are missing with Hoseok and the other seniors who graduated gone and you studying abroad, though. It’ll be good to have you back next semester.”
Jeongguk sniffs again, pulling his blanket over his head. “You only miss me for my dancing?”
“And the way you’d let me do laundry at your apartment complex.”
Jimin laughs, but it turns a little soft at the end. “And I also miss your hugs and your cackle when you win games. I miss getting boba with you on Thursday nights and having you sleep over at my place on weekends and talking to you about little things that feel like big things in the moment.”
Jeongguk wipes at his face, cheeks wet with tears again.
“I’m here,” Jeongguk whispers. “I miss you, hyung.”
“Oh, Guk-ah,” Jimin murmurs. “I miss you, too. Are you really homesick right now?”
Jeongguk shakes his head, hair rustling against his pillow, before realizing he has to verbalize it. “No. Not really. I just… I’m sad. And I wish you were here or I was there.”
“I wish we were together, too. Do you want to talk about why you’re sad?”
Jeongguk hiccups. “Um. Remember… remember the guy from my instagram posts?”
“I really like him.”
“Yeah. And I think he likes me, too. But he also said I should… I should end my feelings for him because we won’t work out.”
Jimin is quiet for a moment before he says, “I’m sorry.”
Jeongguk bites his lip. “I really like him. He said I should stop, but then he kissed me. I don’t know how to feel.”
“You’re allowed to take time to figure that out.”
“It’s just that… I was confused. And sad. And- and maybe a little angry.” Jeongguk tucks his knees to his chest. “We haven’t talked in a week, and I keep thinking about him, hyung. But what am I supposed to do when he walks away like that? He won’t talk to me about anything and I feel like he keeps everything to himself, so I’m never really sure what he’s feeling or why he’s feeling it.”
“That’s really hard. For both of you,” Jimin says.
Jeongguk thinks of the crack in Seokjin’s voice and the wetness in his eyes. “I think he’s scared,” Jeongguk says quietly.
“It sounds like it,” Jimin agrees gently. “It’s got to be lonely- pushing away the people you care about.”
“So why does he do it?” Jeongguk asks, throwing back the blanket. Seokjin’s apartment is empty and he doesn’t talk about his family or his friends or his ex-boyfriend. He laughs and smiles and covers up all the hurt. “Why is he all alone in Kyoto?” Jeongguk whispers, and the cavern in his heart aches. For a few moments it’s quiet, the line crackling between his dorm room in Japan and Jimin’s apartment in Korea.
“I don’t know, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says eventually, breaking the silence.
Jeongguk rubs his eyes, rolling over on his back again. “I want to know.”
Jimin sighs softly. “You always care so much, Jeongguk-ah. I hope he deserves it.”
Jeongguk stares up at the ceiling and murmurs, “He does.”
Jeongguk’s favorite picture of his dad is one where he’s laughing, lines fanning out around his eyes. His mother is poking his cheek, grinning as she teases him.
His parents were always quick to say, “ I love you .” They were ready to hug Jeongguk and Jeonghyun and tease them and support them.
Jeongguk came out when he was eighteen, finding it easier to do it on the phone with his mom when she’d called him about his plans for new years and Jeongguk was months into a relationship with Kijun.
He’d been nearly hyperventilating as he spoke, stuttering the words out in his empty dorm room.
His mother just said, “Is he good to you?”
Jeongguk caught his breath, staring out the window above his roommate’s desk. “I… yeah. He is.”
“That’s it?” Jeongguk asked.
His mother chuckled. “I’d like to meet him, when you feel comfortable with it. Thank you for telling me. Jeongguk-ah, all that matters to me is that whoever you love loves you right back.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk said, and he thought of that picture of his father laughing and his mother smiling and realized she wanted that for him.
He realized he wanted that for himself, too.
Cherry blossoms bloom.
Jeongguk finds that he can’t stop feeling an unpleasant tangle of things every time he sees them, which around Kyoto is quite a bit.
He goes on a picnic with Taehyung and Hana along with the other Korean exchange students at one of the parks on the east side of the city. The trees are all covered in pink, rustling lightly in the wind.
Jeongguk brought his camera, but he doesn’t take any pictures.
They complain about assignments and professors and talk about home and how their time in Japan is already half over.
They leave at sundown, and when Hana suggests they go back to Korea Taste for dinner, Taehyung is quick to suggest that they try somewhere around the park instead. Jeongguk flashes him a grateful look, ache a little bit deeper and a little bit louder.
“Are you going to talk to him?” Taehyung asks that night as they take their shoes off in the lobby of the dorm, and they both know who.
Jeongguk thinks about cherry blossoms and Seokjin saying, “ it won’t last ,” and the hollow pain in his chest and murmurs, “I don’t know what I want to say.”
Taehyung nods thoughtfully. “Do you know what you want to do?” He asks next.
Jeongguk pauses, one foot still lodged in his boot.
He wants to hold Seokjin’s hand. He wants to fill up Seokjin’s apartment with photographs and do stupid things like open bottles of wine with a knife and flick soap bubbles at Seokjin when he washes the dishes. He wants to go on hikes with him and take pictures of him by the river because he looked so, so beautiful beneath the moonlight. He wants to kiss him again, but smile afterward. He wants to love him. He wants Seokjin to love him back.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “I do.”
Jeongguk waits outside the restaurant on Friday night.
It’s been two weeks since he saw Seokjin. Two weeks with no contact between them, when they used to talk every day. Two weeks of Jeongguk hurting and healing and wondering, three in the morning bouts of loneliness and random trips to the convenience store for ice cream with Taehyung and late nights studying and dinners with other exchange students in the dorm.
It’s been two weeks since he saw Seokjin, so when Seokjin steps into the dark wearing his light beige overcoat, all the air leaves Jeongguk’s lungs.
Seokjin jerks to a halt, blinking rapidly beneath the streetlight as he realizes Jeongguk is there, standing in the sidewalk. “Jeongguk?” He asks, and his voice is a little too high.
“Hi,” Jeongguk says.
Seokjin stares for a few moments, lips parted and eyes almost glassy. Then he seems to recover, smiling mechanically. “How have you been?”
Jeongguk can feel his heart against his ribs, but he wants to do it right this time. He holds out his hand to Seokjin instead. “Let’s go for a walk, hyung.”
Seokjin makes a quiet, wounded noise caught between a sigh and groan. “Jeongguk-”
“If you changed your mind about how you feel about me, I’ll go,” Jeongguk says, and he swallows hard- swallows back the fear and the frantic drumming of his pulse in his throat. “But if not, please walk with me, hyung.”
Seokjin breathes out shakily, tilting his face up. The streetlight casts strange shadows across his features, caressing his nose but hollowing out his cheeks, beautiful and untouchable. But then he reaches forward, slipping his hand into Jeongguk’s.
Jeongguk shivers, linking their fingers together. He starts to walk, Seokjin momentarily lagging behind before he matches Jeongguk’s steps.
For a few minutes, they don’t talk. Their shoes slap softly against the sidewalk as Jeongguk leads them toward the edge of campus, the night quiet, too late for most students to be out. The path behind the university is small, mostly backstreets. But there’s a small park, and Jeongguk takes them there, pavement turning to grass.
“Jeongguk-ah,” Seokjin finally says, tugging him to a stop. There’s a patch of cherry blossom trees behind him, and Jeongguk thinks that, despite everything, he wants to take a picture of this, too.
Jeongguk doesn’t let go of his hand, watching his face instead, studying every line and curve and knowing exactly how they transform when he smiles or when he frowns or when he’s concentrating or when he’s tired.
“I’m sorry,” Seokjin tells him, and he looks down at the grass, moonlight on his shoulders- on his hair. “I don’t know why I keep making this harder. I shouldn’t have-” he breaks off, brow furrowing.
“Kissed me?” Jeongguk asks quietly. “Disappeared for two weeks?”
“That,” Seokjin agrees, but the lines between his eyes don’t relax.
“Started to like me?” Jeongguk adds, even softer than before.
Seokjin’s chin jerks up, and he blinks at Jeongguk a few times before his eyes dart away again. “Jeongguk-”
“Can you just tell me something real, hyung? Because the whole time I’ve known you, I’ve let you see me. And everytime I try to see you , it’s like you throw up these walls,” Jeongguk says, desperation bubbling to the surface as he holds onto Seokjin’s hand a little bit tighter.
“I don’t mean to,” Seokjin says, and he shakes his head. “I just- I don’t know how to stop. Or how to talk about things like this.”
Jeongguk breathes slowly, feels Seokjin’s fingers between his own. “Do you want to try?”
Seokjin finally looks back at him, heartbeats and cherry blossoms. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Do you want to, hyung?” Jeongguk asks, and he steps closer until their chests are nearly brushing and Jeongguk can see the ache that he feels behind his ribs mirrored in Seokjin’s eyes, unguarded.
“I want to,” Seokjin whispers. “I want to, but I don’t want to hurt you, Jeongguk-ah. This will end. You’ll go back to Korea and the distance won’t work out, or one of us will decide our feelings changed, or-”
“It’s okay if it doesn’t last,” Jeongguk murmurs, all the thoughts and tangled feelings from the last two weeks pulled apart and dissected and raw and terrifying. He squeezes Seokjin’s hand. “It’s okay if it ends and it hurts because at least we had this. I really like you, hyung. I like us. I like us more than I’m scared if it ending.”
Seokjin breathes out slowly, and Jeongguk could count his eyelashes, could run his fingers along his brow line to smooth the worry away. “Are you sure?”
Jeongguk nods, bringing their foreheads together. “You don’t have to be lonely anymore, hyung. I want you, if you want me, too.”
Seokjin closes his eyes, lashes against his cheek. “I want you.”
Jeongguk kisses him slowly, breeze rustling past them. He winds his arm around Seokjin’s back and holds him close, holds onto the feeling of his lips moving against his own, holds onto the warmth of Seokjin’s hand cupping the back of his neck, holds onto the little gasp Seokjin makes when Jeongguk tastes his mouth, holds onto the way Seokjin shivers once before he melts, holds onto this for as long as it lasts.
-a cloud of petals, trees heavy with water drops from this morning’s gentle rain-
-slow current of the stream below the bridge he stands on, gray skies above casting muted light on the water-
-sunlight breaks through the clouds-
-and the moment passes.
“Your final essay,” Professor Choi says, and Jeongguk jerks back to consciousness at the words, wiping the corner of his mouth, “is to choose a literary aesthetic we’ve discussed and expand upon it using literature we’ve studied in the course. You can supplement it with contemporary media or even your own personal experiences, too. Yes, um, Hani.”
“It’s Hana, Professor. How many of the literary pieces from this semester do we need to include?”
Professor Choi is already gathering his things, ignoring the other raised hands throughout the classroom. “An appropriate amount would be more than one,” he says, and then he’s out the door.
“I’m honestly not surprised anymore,” Taehyung mutters as the class lets out a collective sigh.
Namjoon clears his throat from his desk at the edge of the room. “If anyone wants to go over the paper with me, feel free to come ask or bounce some ideas off of me.”
So Jeongguk waits with Taehyung, Hana, and Seyoung as they take turns talking to Namjoon about some potential ideas for the papers, most of the other students milling out of the classroom to lunch.
“What about you, Jeongguk?” Namjoon asks, clearly noting that Jeongguk is just hanging around behind Taehyung.
“Oh,” Jeongguk bites his lip. “I was thinking of maybe talking about mono no aware.”
Namjoon hums as he nods. “Any ideas on how to supplement the literature?”
Jeongguk adjusts his grip on his book bag. “I was thinking of using certain relationships portrayed in recent movies and books that have the image of cherry blossom trees in the background of romantic scenes and, um, how these relationships are representative of mono no aware.”
Namjoon smiles. “I think that’s a great idea, Jeongguk.”
“Thank you,” Jeongguk says, ducking his head.
“So,” Taehyung prompts as they walk toward Korea Taste . “Your plan for the final essay- would your big feelings talk with Seokjin-hyung over the weekend happen to include some cherry blossom trees, or-”
Jeongguk elbows him in the ribs.
It still feels a little raw when Jeongguk and Taehyung step inside the restaurant, catching the tail end of the lunch rush. But Seokjin seats them with a smile quirking up the side of his mouth, winking at Jeongguk and making him laugh and, somehow, blush. And he hopes, even if he shouldn’t hope, that the rawness will fade and the tear in his heart will stitch itself together- that this won’t end like Seokjin fears it will.
“Can you take a step back?” Jeongguk asks, adjusting his lens. “The lighting is a bit… yeah, there.”
Seokjin wrinkles his nose at the camera, and Jeongguk takes several pictures of him like that. “You owe me so much food for making me come out this early in the morning.”
“Sure, hyung. Only if you let me pay for once.” Jeongguk shuffles over a little to the left. It’s only a little after sunrise, Ninnaji temple quiet and nearly tourist-free.
“Oh, I’ll let you pay. I’m going to order sushi until you have to roll me out of the restaurant,” Seokjin tells him loftily.
Jeongguk snorts. “Fine.” He knows Seokjin won’t let him pay. He knows Seokjin knows, too.
“Roll me like sushi,” Seokjin adds in a whisper.
Jeongguk groans, Seokjin laughs, and Jeongguk snaps another picture. “You used that joke on your last channel video, hyung. You can’t use it again .”
“I didn’t know you watched my videos,” Seokjin says, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Of course I do,” Jeongguk mumbles.
Seokjin finally stops pulling faces, letting his head tilt a little to the side, eyes piercing as he looks directly into the lens.
Jeongguk forgets to breathe for a moment, nothing but the click of the camera capturing Seokjin and the soft pink blossoms behind him, pale blue sky. The morning is painted in pastels, Seokjin glowing among the colors, cheeks flushed from the chill, hair slightly mussed from running a hand through it while they walked through the grounds.
“Um,” Jeongguk says, flipping the viewscreen on. “Want to see, hyung?”
Seokjin nods, coming over to stand behind Jeongguk, hovering close enough that his chest nearly touches Jeongguk’s back, like he wants to press against him but can’t quite find the nerve.
So Jeongguk leans into him, turning his head to press a kiss to Seokjin’s cheek, doing his best to ignore the flutter in his stomach. “Here, you can scroll through.”
Seokjin wraps his arms around Jeongguk to hold the camera in front of them, and Jeongguk relaxes against him, butterflies settling the frantic beat of their wings to something softer.
“This is such a good shot. You always make the lighting look so beautiful,” Seokjin murmurs in his ear, and he spends a little time on each photo until he gets to the one Jeongguk too of him laughing at his own sushi joke. “Oh. I like this one.”
Jeongguk smiles. “Me too.” He turns his camera off, letting it hang from his neck again as he pulls out his phone. “Can I take one of us?”
“How’s your selfie game?”
“Oh my god, hyung, I told you. No one says selfie game anymore.”
“I say it.”
“Like I said, no one says it anymore.”
“Yah, Jeon Jeongguk.”
Jeongguk giggles, throwing his head back against Seokjin’s shoulder and pressing the capture button again and again as Seokjin switches between calling him insufferable and kissing his neck, calling him a brat and kissing his jaw, kissing his cheek, kissing his lips.
They walk around the rest of the temple with their hands clasped, and the air feels lighter the further they go. The breeze picks up as they’re leaving, pink petals swirling down from tree branches and onto the roots underfoot.
Jeongguk watches them fall and thinks, realizing, it’s okay if it doesn’t last.
It’s okay if it doesn’t work out and if we get hurt, because we still had these moments.
And Jeongguk wouldn’t trade this feeling of Seokjin’s hand in his for anything.
There’s a picture Jeongguk prints from his last week in Kyoto, one of Taehyung and Seokjin eating matcha ice cream. Taehyung is barefoot, leaning back beneath the umbrella of the table outside the convenience store. Seokjin has ice cream on his nose, his tongue out as he tries to lick it off.
Taehyung giggles, pointing at Seokjin. “Your tongue isn’t long enough.”
“Well then you lick it off for me.”
“That sounds overtly sexual. Your boyfriend is like, two feet away.”
“Fine. Jeongguk-ah, please come lick the ice cream off of me.”
Laughter, Seokjin’s high and squeaky and Taehyung’s breathy giggle, Jeongguk joining in and grinning around the camera-
“You’re frozen again,” Jeongguk complains.
“It’s your apartment wifi,” Seokjin fires back, but the screen starts moving again.
Jeongguk sits in his new room, barely bigger than his dorm back in Kyoto. He’s only just started unpacking, more preoccupied with getting ready for classes to start in the fall semester. It’s still unbearably hot and sticky in Busan, and Jeongguk is shirtless.
He’s also shirtless because he knows it’ll make Seokjin’s eyes wander.
“Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?” Seokjin asks next, grimacing as he squints at his phone.
“I’m wearing shorts,” Jeongguk counters, falling back in his bed. “But it’s like a sauna here, hyung. I’m going to show up to the first week of classes with sweat stains.”
“Manly,” Seokjin snorts. “Grunt at them a few times and flex and they’ll pass it off as part of your image.”
Jeongguk giggles. “What image, hyung?”
Seokjin moves from the kitchen to the main part of the room, and Jeongguk catches a glimpse of the pictures on his wall- a couple of him and Jeongguk, one of the two of them with Taehyung, a few of people Jeongguk learned were Seokjin’s parents and brother, one of Seokjin and his best friend, the man nearly a head shorter than Seokjin with a gummy smile across his face. “Your image,” Seokjin repeats, like that explains everything. “You know, the one you ruin the second you start talking.”
“I can’t tell if I’m being insulted or complimented.”
“Both and neither,” Seokjin answers confidently.
Jeongguk rolls over on the bed, propping his phone up on his headboard. “Okay, well thanks and screw you in equal parts then.”
Seokjin winks. “Well, you can’t do the second part now that you’re back in Busan…”
“I guess that means we’ll just have to figure out my next visit to Kyoto. Or figure out when you’re coming back home,” Jeongguk adds the second part a little softly, watching for Seokjin’s reaction.
Seokjin hums, glancing away from the camera. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking.”
Seokjin hesitates, so Jeongguk waits patiently as he decides what he wants to share. “I called my mom last week, right after you left. She really wants me to come home for Chuseok. And your birthday is at the beginning of the month, so maybe I’ll come back in September.”
Jeongguk blinks. “To visit?”
Seokjin exhales, static across the video call. “I don’t know. My lease needs to be renewed then. So if I want to move back, it would be a good time.”
Jeongguk nods, waiting for more. After a few moments, he realizes Seokjin is done. He bites his lip. “Whenever you’re ready to come home, hyung, I’ll be here if you want me.”
Seokjin smiles, a small, soft one. “I want you, Jeongguk-ah.”
Jeongguk’s fingers twitch, and he reaches forward and screenshots the frame.
“What was that?”
“Screenshot,” Jeongguk mumbles, letting his head fall forward and speaking through a mouthful of pillow.
Seokjin snorts. “One day you’re going to get tired of taking pictures of my face, Jeongguk.”
“No,” Jeongguk says softly, “I don’t think I will.”
Jeongguk takes a noon KTX from Busan to Seoul and then the airport line to Incheon. He’s still nearly an hour early, and he waits, alternately pacing and sitting and standing.
The notification comes from Seokjin that he’s landed, and Jeongguk chews furiously on his lip in impatience.
When Seokjin comes through security, it’s in a plain white t-shirt and a black baseball cap.
He’s still the most beautiful person Jeongguk’s ever seen.
Jeongguk nearly tackles him to the ground with a hug, Seokjin staggering back from the force of it.
“Hi,” Jeongguk says, burying his face in Seokjin’s neck. He smells a little like sweat and airport, but beneath it is still him. Home.
“Is this attempted murder?” Seokjin laughs, but his arms come up to wrap around Jeongguk’s waist, holding him close.
“I missed you,” Jeongguk says.
“What a coincidence. I missed you, too,” Seokjin answers teasingly, pinching Jeongguk’s side.
Jeongguk draws back to smack Seokjin’s chest in retaliation before taking his hand and grabbing his suitcase handle. “You said your friend will pick us up at six?”
Seokjin nods. “He was tracking the flight, though, so he might be a little early. I’ll, um. I’ll call him.”
Jeongguk nods, squeezing Seokjin’s hand. They’d talked about getting back from the airport, and Seokjin had said tentatively that he could text his best friend- the short man in the photograph with the gummy smile- to see if he’d be willing to drive them to Seokjin’s parents’ place.
Seokjin pulls his phone out from his pocket with the hand not clasped in Jeongguk’s, and his fingers tremble around it. Jeongguk knows there’s over a year and a half of time between Seokjin and his friend- hurt and space.
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, pressing into his side. “I’m here.”
Seokjin exhales shakily, nodding. He raises his phone to his ear.
Seokjin turns at the voice, low and gravelly, so Jeongguk turns with him.
It’s the man from the picture, his hair a blue-silver now instead of black, but unmistakable.
“Yoongi,” Seokjin says, and his grip around Jeongguk’s fingers tightens as he pockets his phone again. “Hi. Um. Thank you for-”
“Shut up,” Yoongi mutters, striding forward.
Jeongguk tenses, eyes darting to the strangers ambling past with suitcases, lets go of Seokjin’s hand and readies himself to step in between them.
But Yoongi’s arms go up, open, and he folds Seokjin into a hug.
Jeongguk watches as Seokjin crumples, hunched over as he sways with Yoongi, both of them mumbling things that Jeongguk can’t quite make out with the soft rumble of the airport around them.
When they break apart, Seokjin’s eyes are red and his lips are quivering, and Yoongi wipes his face with the back of his sleeve.
“Got here early,” Yoongi says gruffly, sniffing. “Thought I’d come in to get your ass before you decided to hop on a flight back to Kyoto and leave me again.”
Seokjin lets out a small, watery laugh. “I think I’ll be in Seoul for a while now. And I promise if I go somewhere, I’ll let you know before I disappear this time.”
Yoongi grunts an affirmation, sniffing again and clearing his throat before his gaze falls on Jeongguk. “Is this the guy you mentioned in your message?”
Jeongguk shifts his weight, uncertain, giving Yoongi a small bow, unsure of what Seokjin told Yoongi and how well received he’ll be. Seokjin dated Yoongi’s brother for so long- formed a kind of family with him. Seokjin also left because of Yoongi’s brother, broke their family apart. Seokjin’s whispered bits and pieces of the story to Jeongguk, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever fully understand the weight of it- the cracks and the frays and the scars.
“Yeah. This is Jeongguk. Jeongguk, this is-”
“Yoongi,” Yoongi finishes, and then he’s pulling Jeongguk in for an stiff hug as well, awkward because of the height difference for a moment, awkward because Jeongguk is caught off guard.
But when Yoongi steps back, he looks at Jeongguk and smiles slightly. “Thank you,” Yoongi says.
Jeongguk feels his throat tighten with a feeling he doesn’t understand, but he nods.
“Let’s go,” Seokjin says. “You two can bond together groaning at my jokes in the car. My mom wants us all home in time for dinner.”
So Jeongguk pulls Seokjin’s suitcase while he holds his hand and Yoongi walks on Seokjin’s other side, airport buzzing around them.
As Yoongi gets into the driver’s seat in the parking garage, Seokjin pushes Jeongguk against the passenger’s side door and kisses him quickly, leaving Jeongguk to chase after his lips. But Seokjin just grins, a little lopsided thing that’s almost a smirk, before climbing into Yoongi’s car.
Jeongguk listens to Seokjin tease Yoongi in the front seat, answers questions when Yoongi asks and groans along with him at Seokjin’s jokes.
The sunset paints the sky orange- paints the inside of the car in golden light.
Jeongguk breathes the moment in to remember this- the day Seokjin came home.
He wants this for as long as it lasts. He wants Seokjin’s sunsets.
He wants dinner with Seokjin’s parents, Seokjin’s family teary as they pile on him with hugs and questions and I missed you .
He wants to hold Seokjin’s hand under the table, watch as Seokjin seems to realize that this is all real- that he’s not alone.
He wants to learn how to open an actual bottle of wine with Seokjin in his parents’ kitchen, Yoongi regaling him with stories of Seokjin’s crazy days in undergrad and the night Seokjin tried to open a bottle of beer with a shoe.
He wants to fall asleep wrapped around Seokjin on the pull-out couch in the living room, warm and loved and loved .
He wants this for as long as it lasts.
Jeongguk’s favorite picture of Seokjin is one from years and years ago. One he took near the top of Fushimi Inari when they both lived in Kyoto. Seokjin is only half-looking at the camera, his eyes a little wide and his cheeks pink as he stands, looking down the mountainside.
That was the day, Seokjin said, he started to fall in love with Jeongguk.