(the first time)
The apartment is quiet, late morning light slipping through the half-open windows along with early spring air, still damp from rain during the night before.
Yoongi sits alone on the floor, knees drawn to his chest and pressed against the edge of the table where cold seaweed soup sits beside a bowl of equally cold rice, dry after being left untouched for the last few hours.
He can hear the clock ticking on the wall, the drip of the kitchen sink faucet, a construction truck beeping in the distance. But other than that- silence.
Yoongi flinches at the voice, jostling the table as he turns to find a boy with round cheeks and a stuffed animal clutched in his hands.
“What-” Yoongi begins, but the words die in his throat as he stares at the unfamiliar boy who seems to have materialized out of nowhere in the middle of the apartment. Yoongi swallows dryly.
“Where are we?” The boy asks, and he hugs the stuffed animal- a fluffy tiger, Yoongi realizes- closer to his chest. “Where’s mom?”
A ghost, Yoongi decides, and his arms tighten around his knees. The boy looks so real, though, with messy dark hair and a smudge of something orange on his cheek, one sock slipping off his foot. “You’re in my apartment,” Yoongi mutters.
The boy blinks at him. “Oh,” he says, like it makes sense. He can’t be more than four or five years old, even if he’s taller than the Choi kid who lives across the hallway. Yoongi gets stuck watching him sometimes when their mothers go to the store together, and he always whines at Yoongi for snacks or for games.
This little kid, however, just watches Yoongi with eerily wide eyes. Definitely a ghost.
“How did you get in here?” Yoongi asks quietly, waiting any moment for the boy to shudder and shake like the evil spirit did in that exorcism show Yoongi secretly watched last weekend with his brother.
The boy frowns seriously. “I don’t know. Mom said get ready to go out. But my room is gone. An’ I’m here.”
Yoongi lowers his arms from his legs cautiously. “You’re, um. You’re alive?”
Now there’s a brow furrow to accompany the frown. “Huh?”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Nothing.”
The boy stares at Yoongi for a few more moments before holding out the stuffed tiger. “This is Nana. I’m Taehyung.”
Yoongi looks from the tiger to the boy. “Yoongi,” he says, pointing to himself.
“Yoongi-hyung?” The boy- Taehyung- asks, hugging Nana again.
“Yeah. I’m eight.”
Taehyung squints almost suspiciously. “You don’t look that big.”
Yoongi grimaces at that. “Yeah, well I’m still eight. Today’s my birthday.”
“Really?” Taehyung’s face brightens immediately. “Happy Birthday!” He hurries forward in a near waddle to Yoongi, sock slipping a little further off his foot before he crashes into Yoongi’s side.
Not a ghost? Yoongi wonders at Taehyung leans into his shoulder, warm and a little heavy. “Yah, what are you doing?” Yoongi mumbles, because the Choi kid always tries to climb on him and Yoongi is not the biggest fan of being used as a jungle gym.
“Hugs for your birthday,” Taehyung tells him brightly, and his spindly little arms wrap around Yoongi’s neck, though fortunately they don’t squeeze. “My birthday is in December, which is a long, long time away. But you can come give me a hug on my birthday, too.”
Yoongi grunts under his breath, not sure if he’s happy with Taehyung clinging to him or annoyed at the contact. “We’ll see,” Yoongi says.
The front door beeps, and Taehyung lets go of Yoongi as their heads turn toward it.
“My mom’s home with my hyung,” Yoongi explains, bracing a hand on the floor as he pushes himself up and stands, feet tingling as blood rushes back to them. “She might know your family, and what apartment-”
The door opens, and Taehyung is gone.
Yoongi stands alone, staring to his right where Taehyung had been standing only a heartbeat before.
“Yoongi-yah, happy birthday, sweetheart,” his mother says, Yoongi’s brother following her inside, still in his taekwondo uniform. “Did you eat breakfast?”
“Not yet,” Yoongi mumbles, scratching the back of his head. “I was waiting for you.”
He was waiting for someone, really, so he didn’t have to be alone.
Maybe he imagined Taehyung, then, Yoongi decides as he settles back on the floor beside the table. Maybe the boy was never really here at all.
(the fifth time)
“Yoongi, pass the ball!”
The back of Yoongi’s shirt sticks to his back uncomfortably, plastered with sweat as he throws the basketball to Jaebum, pivoting around the boy guarding him.
Jaebum catches it easily, flashing Yoongi a grin before he shoots, ball sailing into the hoop before dropping to the concrete below.
“Forfeit,” one of the boys from Daesung’s team groans. “Shit, let’s forfeit. It’s too hot for this.”
Yoongi’s lips quirk up on one side as Jaebum gives him a thumbs up, letting the ball roll to the grass on the edge of the court.
“Ice cream’s on you, then,” Jaebum says with a contented sigh.
Yoongi snorts, wiping sweat out of his eyes. “You only get competitive over free food.”
“What else is there to get competitive about?” Jaebum asks.
Yoongi opens his mouth to answer and finds himself somewhere very different from the basketball court behind his middle school.
Trees block the Daegu summer sun, brambles and sticks crunching beneath Yoongi’s sneakers as he shuffles a few steps back, shock fading. There are birds singing here, the flutter of wings from somewhere overhead- no concrete or towering apartment buildings.
“Taehyung,” Yoongi calls, because there is only one explanation to moving from one place to another in less than a breath, though it’s not much of an explanation in itself. A phenomena, maybe. Yoongi learned the word last week in class.
There’s no answer, only a giant black bird taking flight off a low-hanging branch nearby, startling Yoongi for a moment.
“Taehyung, where are you?” Yoongi pulls his sweat-soaked shirt away from his chest and flaps the fabric as he takes a few more steps, squinting into the trees.
The voice is small and a little faint, and Yoongi grimaces as he hurries toward it. “Taehyung?”
“I’m up here.”
Yoongi blinks, turning his face up as sunlight breaks through the trees and he raises his hand to guard his eyes. Taehyung peers back down at him, largely obstructed by leaves but definitely there.
“Where are we?” Yoongi asks, only slightly grumpy at being pulled away from the basketball court. It’s cooler here, and the air feels better, too.
“My grandparents’ farm. Mom took me an’ Eunmi to visit,” Taehyung tells him. The leaves rustle as Taehyung shifts on his branch. “I’m stuck.”
Yoongi wrinkles his nose. “How?”
“I can’t get down,” Taehyung says.
“You got up,” Yoongi tells him, crossing his arms over his chest. “Follow the same way back down again.”
“Can’t,” Taehyung repeats, and Yoongi thinks he sees Taehyung’s lip wobble even from the ground.
Yoongi stares for a few moments before sighing, eyeing the tree trunk suspiciously. He grabs onto one of the lower branches, carefully stepping onto it as it moves beneath his weight. “Hang on a second.”
It takes a little bit of navigating, Yoongi winding his way up the tree to get to Taehyung’s perch te then guide him back down, always staying just below in case the kid loses his grip.
There’s sap on the bark that smears on his palms, and by the time Yoongi’s feet hit the ground, his hands are tacky and smell like the sweet tang of the tree. Taehyung reaches for him on the final branch, and Yoongi lets Taehyung hold onto him as he makes the final jump down.
Taehyung doesn’t let go, however, fingers weaving into Yoongi’s, sticky like Yoongi’s and not seeming to mind that it practically glues them together.
“Mom says you’re not real,” Taehyung tells him, peering up at him from beneath messy hair, longer and longer each time Yoongi sees him.
“I’m still not sure any of this is,” Yoongi answers, even though Taehyung’s hand is warm in his own and Yoongi’s forearm still stings from where a piece of rough bark caught it on his way down. A phenomena, Yoongi thinks, real or not .
“She yelled at me last time I saw you. ‘Cause I was gone for so long.” Taehyung starts walking through the trees, pulling Yoongi along behind him.
Yoongi lets himself be led, not even bothering to feign reluctance.
“Is it magic, hyung?” Taehyung asks, tilting his head to the side to look at Yoongi, too-wide eyes and too-serious purse of his lips.
“I don’t know,” Yoongi murmurs, honest. “I don’t know why any of this is happening.”
“Me too.” Taehyung swings their hands. “There are chickens here. I named ‘em. Want to see?”
Real, a voice whispers in the back of Yoongi’s head, knowing this despite not understanding so much. “Sure,” Yoongi says.
But then Taehyung’s hand is gone, and Yoongi is standing in the middle of an empty basketball court, afternoon sun blazing down and apartment buildings towering in every direction.
He raises his arm slowly, finds the scrape a few inches below the crease of his elbow, rubs his fingers together and finds them still sticky with sap.
(the sixteenth time)
Yoongi taps his pencil against the desk as he stares out the window, song still playing in his head. Jaebum, sleeping in the seat in front of him, twitches briefly, even breathing adding to the white noise of their math teacher droning at the front of the classroom.
Yoongi scribbles down words instead of numbers in the margins of his notebook, cheek pillowed in his left hand.
“You’re writing poems?” Daesung had asked with a laugh when he saw a page at lunch. “Trying to get a girl?”
“Fuck off,” Yoongi had muttered, slamming the notebook closed. “They’re lyrics, not poems.”
And they hadn’t been about a girl. Yoongi liked a girl last year- Jaebum’s older sister who had a pretty laugh and sometimes came to their basketball games. But the flutter in his stomach and the heat in his cheeks around her disappeared over time.
Now Yoongi can’t stop looking at Lee Dohyun. Lee Dohyun, who’s a grade older than Yoongi at school, who’s a guitar player, who’s got a reputation for a take-no-shit attitude, who’s- who’s a boy.
Yoongi’s always been good at keeping things to himself, but this is a secret he buries deep, deep, deep.
Jaebum jerks in his sleep, head coming up from his desk for a moment before he settles again, and Yoongi considers kicking his chair to wake him up before he starts snoring.
But then Yoongi is falling, stomach jolting as he catches himself on his hands and elbows, ass hitting hard floor.
He blinks quickly, pushing himself to his feet in a familiar hallway, though it’s empty this time and not overrun by elementary school students all staring at him and his uniform.
Yoongi turns to find Taehyung with puffy eyes and a runny nose, a dark stain down the front of his shirt as he steps out of the bathroom.
“Hey,” Yoongi says, already closing the distance between them. “Hey, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung wraps his arms around Yoongi, taller now that he’s nearly nine years old. He pushes his face into Yoongi’s chest, sniffing loudly.
Yoongi wraps him up and keeps him there with a careful hold, patting the back of his head gently. “Want to talk to hyung about it?” Yoongi asks.
Taehyung shakes his head, likely smearing snot and tears all over Yoongi’s uniform. Yoongi finds he doesn’t really care, more preoccupied with the crying kid in his arms.
Yoongi hums in understanding, glancing around at the hallway. It’s only a matter of time before a teacher or another student comes by and questions what the hell Yoongi is doing here, but Yoongi sees the door labeled ‘Music Room’ only a few feet away, no light coming through the window.
“You want to sit down at least?” Yoongi whispers.
Taehyung nods into Yoongi’s chest before stepping back a little bit, letting Yoongi lead him into the music room and slide the door closed quietly behind them.
There are drums pushed against the wall, chairs in a little circle, and then the piano at the back of the room.
Taehyung just sniffs again, staring at the floor.
“If we’re quiet, I can play the piano for you,” Yoongi says, not sure of what else to do with a crying Taehyung. No one cries at Yoongi’s house. When Yoongi’s forced to babysit his neighbor’s kids, they only cry over stupid things like losing games or early bedtimes.
But this doesn’t seem like Taehyung’s crying over something stupid. And even if he was, Yoongi would probably still care. Taehyung has that effect on him.
“Yeah,” Taehyung wipes at his cheeks before dragging the back of his sleeve beneath his nose. “Please play, hyung.”
Yoongi nods, taking Taehyung’s wrist and guiding them both to the piano where he sits them down at the bench.
The piano at Yoongi’s school is out of tune, and the E above middle C sticks and the soft pedal doesn’t really work. This piano, though, seems to be in much better shape.
Yoongi is sure to play softly, Taehyung leaning into his shoulder as Yoongi plucks a few notes here and there until he decides on a song, something that always sounded like a lullaby to him.
Taehyung’s sniffing stops slowly, and by the time Yoongi lets the last chord fade, Taehyung is smiling a little.
“Do you know how to play?” Yoongi asks.
Taehyung shakes his head.
“I’ll teach you.”
So Yoongi does, placing Taehyung’s hands on the keys and telling him which fingers to press.
When the bell chimes, Taehyung’s smile- bigger than before- drops instantly. “I don’t want to go to class, hyung,” Taehyung whispers. “Donghwa makes fun of me. He poured chocolate milk on my shirt at lunch because he said it belonged in the trash anyway.”
Yoongi’s jaw tightens, and he wraps an arm around Taehyung’s shoulder. “Then next time you tell him he belongs in the trash,” Yoongi mutters.
Taehyung’s eyes widen. “Hyung!”
“What? If he’s being a shi- if he’s being mean, it’ll make him shut up,” Yoongi says. The hallway begins to grow louder outside the music room, high-pitched giggles and shouts.
Taehyung’s lips press together in a thin line as his brow furrows. “Maybe. I bet no one’s ever poured chocolate milk on you.”
“Not chocolate milk,” Yoongi concedes quietly, giving Taehyung’s shoulder a squeeze before letting his arm fall away. “But other things happen. People saying stupid things.”
“No way,” Taehyung argues suspiciously. “Hyung is cool.”
Yoongi feels his face heat up and he elbows Taehyung in the side gently. “‘m not that cool, Tae. People think I’m stuck up. Too quiet.”
“You’re not quiet,” Taehyung retorts, but his smile is creeping back into place. “When we played hacky sack last time you were so, so loud when you won.”
Yoongi feels his lips curl up in the corners. “‘Cause I beat you every time.”
“Yeah. You’re a mean winner,” Taehyung says, sticking out his tongue. “Mean, mean, hyung.”
Yoongi elbows him again. “Go to class then. Let this mean hyung get back to school.”
“Fine.” Taehyung slides off the piano bench. “Thanks for playing for me, hyung.”
Yoongi nods, starts to say, “Any ti-”
But he’s back in his classroom, empty now except for Jaebum snoring loudly in front of him.
(the twenty-sixth time)
Taehyung grins on the other side of the glass window, waving at Yoongi.
Yoongi tries to hide a smile and fails as he pushes into the art supply store, bell chiming above his head. “What are you doing here?”
“Art,” Taehyung says, stating the obvious as he gives a grand wave to the shop around them. He’s in middle school now, though it’s Sunday and he’s out of uniform, wearing a pair of worn jeans and a baggy sweater- both of which are likely hand-me-downs from his older cousins. “My grandmother gave me some money.”
One of the store employees glances over at them a little suspiciously, and Yoongi gently puts his hand on Taehyung’s shoulder and steers him further into the store past a row of easels.
“What supplies are you looking for?” Yoongi asks.
“I don’t know yet,” Taehyung says, but his eyes are curved happily. “I think I want to paint.”
“Okay.” Yoongi glances around the store. “Let’s go take a look at what they have.”
Taehyung nods, bumping his shoulder lightly into Yoongi’s arm. “I missed you, hyung.”
Yoongi hums, ruffling Taehyung’s hair. “Missed you too, Taehyung-ah.”
(the thirty-fourth time)
“Hey,” Yoongi says quietly.
The flowers outside the funeral hall are bright, evening breeze rustling past them.
Taehyung sits on the front steps in all black, curled over with his head on his knees. He looks up at Yoongi’s voice, though, face blotchy and red, tear tracks on his cheeks.
Yoongi’s throat tightens, but he moves slowly to sit beside him.
Taehyung presses his forehead to his knees again. “My grandfather. It was a heart attack.”
“Ah,” Yoongi murmurs, slowly raising his hand and placing it on the curve of Taehyung’s back. He doesn’t have words for this, never really had words for this kind of thing. When Yoongi’s grandfather died, it had been a stilted, awkward family affair. His father had performed his duties as sangju in the days that followed, from the cremation to the funeral hall to the hundred-days memorial. Yoongi never saw him cry. So Yoongi didn’t cry either.
But now Taehyung is here, shivering in the February chill, letting out a muted sob at Yoongi’s touch, leaning into Yoongi’s side.
“I’ve got you,” Yoongi says, because no other words come to mind- certainly not the ceaseless ends of ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ his family heard before. “I’ve got you, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung presses his face into Yoongi’s neck and cries until the sounds become hoarse and strained and the collar of Yoongi’s jacket grows damp. He keeps his arm around Taehyung until he blinks back to the bus stop near his neighborhood, holding nothing but air.
(the thirty-fifth time)
Yoongi passes over the card with fingers that are only trembling a little bit, black baseball cap pulled down low, glancing up briefly to catch sight of the bouncer appraising the card
Everyone always says Yoongi looks a lot like his hyung.
This is a test of it, he supposes.
The bouncer waves Yoongi through, and he lets out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding, slipping the stolen- borrowed, Yoongi reminds himself- ID back in his jacket pocket.
The drinking age may be twenty, but Yoongi is sixteen and definitely old enough to listen to CYK perform, and he’s going to be on stage of this dive bar tonight.
Just keep your head down, Yoongi thinks as he moves through the crowd to get closer to the tiny stage, everyone too tall and mostly holding bottles of beer or plastic cups of alcohol Yoongi isn’t tempted to try given the smell.
He ends up on the left side of the stage close to the front of the crowd, one of the speakers so close it might be a little too loud. But he finds he doesn’t care that much.
Yoongi turns to find Taehyung squeezing through the crowd toward him, middle school uniform and all.
“Fuck,” Yoongi whispers, eyes darting around to the crowd as he unzips his jacket. “Tae, what the hell are you doing here?”
Taehyung frowns as Yoongi thrusts his coat to him. “I don’t know. We never know, hyung, to be fair. Where-”
Yoongi shushes him, helping him slip the jacket over his uniform. “There’s a show tonight. A rapper. Shit. Here, I’ll walk you to the exit-”
“I want to listen,” Taehyung says. He’s nearly Yoongi’s height, but they’re both still small- still very clearly minors if anyone pays them enough attention.
Yoongi grimaces. “You’re going to get both of us caught.”
“No, I won’t. Stop acting weird,” Taehyung tells him, and there’s already excitement sparkling in his too-large eyes. It’s only been a few months since Yoongi saw Taehyung outside the funeral hall- only four visits between in which Taehyung was quieter than usual. Now Taehyung is practically bouncing, so how the hell is Yoongi going to deny him this? “I’ve always wanted to go to a live show.”
Yoongi groans, though Taehyung’s probably already has picked up that he’s won this argument. “If you get caught, Taehyung-”
“I’ll probably disappear and end up on the street back home before anyone can do anything,” Taehyung says, and he folds his arms over his chest and gives his go-to pout that should’ve stopped working on Yoongi years ago.
“Jesus Christ,” Yoongi mutters, dragging a hand over his face. “Fine. But give me the ID that’s in the jacket pocket. When you go back, I don’t want you taking my brother’s card with you.”
Taehyung’s pout instantly turns into his grin- wide and bright and boxy around the edges.
Yoongi keeps Taehyung in front of him, though they’re getting closer and closer in height each time they see each other.
CYK takes the stage before Yoongi can worry about getting caught much longer, speaker blasting heavy base, pulsing through Yoongi and vibrating deep beneath his skin.
Taehyung jumps along with the crowd, pushing into Yoongi’s side and laughing until Yoongi’s doing it too, dim blue lights and blistering lyrics, adrenaline and sweat.
Yoongi’s heart is still racing when CYK walks off the stage, Taehyung clinging onto his arm.
“That was amazing,” Yoongi says, though his ears are ringing from the volume of the speakers and his voice sounds like it’s coming from underwater. “Fuck, that was...”
Taehyung nods, giggling around a grin. “I know. Fuck.”
Yoongi snorts, elbowing Taehyung in the side. “Don’t swear.”
“Why not? Hyung does.” Taehyung makes a face, sticking his tongue out and crossing his eyes.
Yoongi just laughs, giddy and blood pumping and happy . “Whatever.”
Taehyung grins, taking Yoongi’s hand as they squeeze through the crowd toward the exit. “I’m glad I was here for this.”
Yoongi’s palm is sweaty and it’s crowded and he still can’t hear well from the bass blasting for the show, but Yoongi smiles at Taehyung and says, “Me too. I’m glad you’re here.”
And then Taehyung is gone, and Yoongi steps out of the bar and into the cold night air with teeth chattering half from the rush and half from the chill.
(the forty-second time)
Yoongi flinches, wiping at his face. The back of his hand comes away red, and he leans his head against the wall of the utilities shed.
“Yoongi-hyung?” Taehyung is a few steps away, blinking in the rain as he stares at Yoongi from across the school rooftop. “What- what happened?”
Yoongi shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest, wrapping them around himself as he tries to make himself smaller, sitting curled up as the sky overhead does the crying for him.
Taehyung closes the distance between them, worry written in the downturn of his parted lips and the furrow between his brows as he drops to his knees in front of Yoongi.
“Hyung,” Taehyung says again, insistent.
Yoongi swallows. “I want to be alone right now.”
Taehyung frowns, reaches gently for Yoongi, holds his cheeks between careful warm palms. The rain falls heavier, drops pattering against the concrete rooftop more insistently.
“I don’t think you do,” Taehyung tells him softly. “Or else I wouldn’t be here.”
Yoongi stares blankly at him, face aching and stomach churning. He thinks his nose might be broken.
He was just cleaning after school- cleaning the fifth floor, mopping the hallway.
But Yoongi is quiet and doesn’t have a lot of friends, and more than that, he spends time with fourth-year Lee Dohyun, untouchable, popular, rumored to-
Rumored to be gay.
Yoongi is rumored to be gay, too. But he’s not untouchable.
“Yoongi-hyung,” Taehyung murmurs, and he uses the back of his sleeve to wipe carefully over Yoongi’s lips, his chin, dark blue sleeve of his uniform jacket soaking in the red along with the rain. “You don’t have to be alone.”
Yoongi breathes out shakily, curling in on himself.
Taehyung quietly moves to sit beside him, leaning against the shed.
“Thank you,” Yoongi murmurs, and Taehyung rests his head on Yoongi’s shoulder, wet hair brushing against Yoongi’s cheek.
Taehyung just reaches for Yoongi’s hand, ignoring the bruising knuckles, and weaves their fingers together- holds onto him until the rain stops and Taehyung disappears again.
(the forty-fifth time)
Nothing sounds right.
The piano is a little out of tune, though that’s normal for the fourth or fifth-hand instrument that creaks and sticks. More than that, though- all of the notes are strange and dissonant and it’s not coming out right. Nothing is.
His phone buzzes from the bench beside him, and Yoongi lifts his hands from the keys to check it.
There’s a message from Daesung, one asking if Yoongi wants to meet him at the PC room with Jaebum. They’re over worried, Yoongi thinks. Too protective in the last month since Yoongi showed up to class with a fucked up face, refusing to talk about what happened.
Yoongi stopped hanging around with Dohyun, too- stopped doing much other than going to school and to the academy to study for university entrance exams and then practicing piano.
“Are you going to answer?”
Yoongi startles slightly at the voice, blinking up at Taehyung, perched on the bench beside him.
“No,” Yoongi says, and he puts his phone down on the stand beside the sheet music.
Taehyung has a bit of paint on the tip of his nose- a splash of green right next to his freckle. His fingers are coated in green as well. “Why not?”
“‘Cause,” Yoongi answers vaguely. “You should go wash your hands.”
“You should answer your text messages.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Come on, Tae. If you get paint on anything my mom will freak out.” He slips off the piano bench and Taehyung follows, padding behind him to the bathroom where Yoongi turns on the tap, leaning against the edge of the sink while Taehyung sticks his green fingers beneath the water.
“Is anyone else home?” Taehyung asks.
“Nah. Dad’s at work and Mom’s out.” Yoongi’s brother moved out for university last year, leaving the apartment even quieter than it was before. “You eat dinner yet?”
Taehyung shakes his head. “Do you have any leftovers?”
Yoongi’s lips tug up in one corner and he nods. “I’ll go heat some up. Also, you’ve got paint here, too.” Yoongi taps Taehyung’s nose, jerking his fingers away when Taehyung pretends to bite, snapping his teeth.
It draws an actual smile from Yoongi, rather than the hint of one.
He sticks the tupperware of soup in the microwave, setting the timer for two minutes before pulling some bowls down from the cabinet.
When Taehyung comes in, there’s still green streaked beside his freckle, and Yoongi just shakes his head.
Taehyung fills the silence between slurps of soup with random bits and pieces about his weeks since he last saw Yoongi. His little sister is fighting with his mom and his little brother broke his wrist, and Taehyung had to go to the hospital with him and Taehyung hates hospitals because they remind him of losing his grandfather, and Taehyung’s made a lot of friends now that he’s in his first year of high school even though there’s one rich kid who picks on him just because he can.
Yoongi nods along, sniffing when the soup gets too spicy.
At some point Taehyung stops talking and stares at Yoongi, cheeks bulging as he chews what must be a giant chunk of pork.
“What?” Yoongi asks.
“It’s your turn.”
Yoongi swirls the remaining bits of soup around in the bowl with his spoon. “The speed of light is about 300,000,000 meters per second,” Yoongi says dryly. “The Japanese occupation began in 1910. Munjong was the fifth king of Joseon-”
Taehyung huffs impatiently. “I don’t want to study.”
Yoongi reaches forward to ruffle his hair. Taehyung is his height now, all lanky arms and legs, golden brown skin and bare feet. “Finished?”
“Almost,” Taehyung says before picking up the bowl and drinking the spicy broth. He smacks his lips exaggeratedly once he finishes, lips stained a little red. “There.”
Yoongi’s phone buzzes again and Yoongi finds a string of emojis from Jaebum, along with, wheeeeere aaaaare youuuuuu?
“Are you going to answer this time?” Taehyung asks, and he snakes his arms around Yoongi’s waist and presses close so he can peer at the screen before his face lights up. “The PC room? Hyung, can we go?”
Yoongi wrinkles his nose. “You might disappear before we even get there. And you’re not wearing shoes.”
“I can wear some of yours.”
“You still have my jacket from last year. You’re not stealing my shoes.”
“Please, hyung? Please?”
Yoongi is weak and Taehyung is Taehyung, so they end up on a bus to the PC room with Taehyung in a pair of Yoongi’s sneakers.
Taehyung grins in excitement, bus humming beneath them and headlights flashing in the night outside the window. He keeps himself pressed against Yoongi’s side, more warmth in the summer heat, but Yoongi doesn’t mind at all- would rather have the weight and the real than to be unanchored and alone.
For the first time in weeks, Yoongi feels less like a ghost and more like a human.
Taehyung disappears the stop before the PC Room, taking Yoongi’s shoes with him. The woman in the seat behind them gasps slightly, but doesn’t say anything- probably questioning her own sanity that a kid just winked out of existence in front of her.
Daesung and Jaebum’s faces present undisguised surprise when Yoongi drops into the chair beside them.
“What?” Yoongi asks, clicking the mouse a few times as he ignores their pointed stares.
“Nothing,” Jaebum says quickly. “Get online. We’re getting fucking obliterated right now without you.”
Yoongi huffs a quiet laugh and joins the game, keyboard a little sticky and some kids on the aisle across from them shouting at each other, but here.
He just wishes Taehyung was here, too.
(the forty-ninth time)
Daesung nods, tapping his pen on Yoongi’s notebook. “This is good. We can definitely use this.”
Jaebum, peering over their shoulders, mutters, “What is swag ?” The English word rolls off his tongue uncomfortably.
“Cool,” Yoongi tells him, reaching toward their soundboard. They all pitched in to buy it, keeping it in Daesung’s room on his desk.
“Why don’t they teach us any useful English at school?” Jaebum complains, leaning heavily on Yoongi’s shoulder.
Yoongi doesn’t really give a fuck about school anymore. He has a semester left, the last round of exams that Yoongi doesn’t want to take.
“Music,” Yoongi had said when his parents asked him what he was going to do after graduating. “I want to produce music.”
It was, apparently, not an option.
But all Yoongi cares about now is piano and the MIDI he, Daesung, and Jaebum all pitched in together to buy- the shows they go to, Jaebum competing with the break dancers, Daesung and Yoongi performing their songs, their music, and-
“Taehyung,” Yoongi says, steadying himself in the dark street.
The boy walking a few steps ahead turns, and it’s him- hoodie pulled up over his hair and glasses perched on his nose. He’s still in uniform, backpack and all. “Hyung?”
Daesung and Jaebum are undoubtedly blinking in confusion at the space Yoongi occupied, but they’ve grown used to the unexplained disappearances over the years, a personality quirk of Yoongi’s that he’ll quietly leave the room unnoticed.
“What are you doing out so late?” Yoongi asks, striding forward to close the space between them.
“Academy,” Taehyung explains. “My parents pulled together the money for extra classes since it’s midterms.”
Yoongi nods in understanding, and they fall in step with each other. Yoongi never recognizes where Taehyung is. They both live in Daegu, but Yoongi is in the northwest and Taehyung is somewhere on the outskirts- somewhere quieter.
“Did you eat?” Yoongi asks.
Taehyung shakes his head. “Just studied. I’m failing math.”
“Ah,” Yoongi nods in understanding. “Fuck math.”
Taehyung giggles, soft and low, and Yoongi feels something gentle and warm behind his ribs at the sound. “Yeah.”
There’s a convenience store across the street, and Yoongi tugs on Taehyung’s arm. “Ramen, Taehyung-ah. Let’s get you dinner.”
The fluorescent lights are harsh and bright as they step inside from the autumn night, and Yoongi lets Taehyung choose a cup ramen for himself before Yoongi buys it.
They eat at the counter, wooden chopsticks and little splashes of broth, and Taehyung slurps contentedly.
“I’ve been thinking,” Taehyung says, noodles hanging out of his mouth.
Yoongi hums quietly, prompting him.
Taehyung chews slowly before he swallows, and he pokes at his ramen. “What’s the meaning of life?”
Yoongi crumples up the receipt lying beside the plastic bowl and chucks it at Taehyung’s head.
“I’m serious!” Taehyung protests.
“You’re too young to be having an existential crisis,” Yoongi tells him. “Once you’re my age-”
“Don’t talk like you’re an old man,” Taehyung retorts. “And it’s not an existential crisis. I just… sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I was a farmer for the rest of my life. Like my grandparents. I could help halmoni around the farm and stay in the same place for the rest of my life. Or I could study really hard and try to get scholarships for university and take a job like my dad and work every day and never see my family. I like art. I like the farm. I like playing games. But my parents are spending money on this stupid academy and all I do is study and study because I’m not smart enough to pass math class and I’m close to failing science-”
“Yah,” Yoongi cuts him off with a frown. “None of that, Taehyung-ah. You’re smart. Grades in your classes have nothing to do with it.”
Taehyung shrugs, staring down at his ramen. “I know that. It’s just… sometimes I feel like I’m working toward something I don’t even know the shape of yet.”
Yoongi listens, nods once, and thinks.
Taehyung is still the same kid who appeared on Yoongi’s eighth birthday with a stuffed tiger and a hug. The same kid with scraped knees and leaves in his hair. The same boy who held Yoongi’s hand and in Yoongi’s lowest moments, who smiles brighter than anyone Yoongi’s ever known.
But he’s growing up, roots deep and branches long- bright eyes that have something older than time lingering in their depths.
“I think,” Yoongi murmurs, “that it’s okay if you don’t have some big dream you’re following, Taehyung-ah. It’s just important that you’re happy.”
Taehyung considers this, ramen forgotten. “It’s not that I don’t have a dream,” Taehyung says quietly.
Yoongi frowns. Maybe he misunderstood. “Yeah?”
Taehyung nods, but he turns his heavy gaze on Yoongi. “Hyung, are you happy?”
Yoongi isn’t usually happy.
He feels heavy most of the time. Heavy and hollow, an uncomfortable contradiction as he goes through the motions of each day.
But music makes him happy. And Taehyung makes him happy, too.
“I am right now,” Yoongi says, and it’s true.
(the fifty-sixth time)
The bus terminal is nearly empty, nearly eleven in the evening on a Wednesday night. Yoongi sits on a cold bench, jacket zipped up beneath his chin with his stomach in knots and his mind floating somewhere above his body.
His parents didn’t want to see him off. His mother argued with him even into this morning. “You’re throwing away your future,” she’d said.
Yoongi hunches over, stares at a man getting on a bus headed for Busan and wonders if his mother is right.
“Where are we going?” Taehyung asks, suddenly sprawled across the other half of the bench.
Yoongi pulls back down- pulls back into himself, anchored again. “Seoul,” he says. His duffel bag is on his lap, stuffed with clothes. On the ground to his right is his box of music equipment, all wrapped in newspaper, carefully stacked before Yoongi taped the cardboard closed.
“You’re doing it,” Taehyung realizes, and his eyes brighten as he looks at Yoongi. He’s wearing sweatpants and a too-thin t-shirt, barefoot in the terminal. “Hyung, you’re doing it!”
“Yeah,” Yoongi says, and he unzips his bag to pull out a sweater. “Put this on. It’s cold.”
Taehyung grins, quickly slipping into it, leaving his hair rumpled though he doesn’t bother to fix it. “This is great. Your music’s going to be huge, hyung.”
Yoongi’s lips tug up at the corners. “What, can you see the future now?”
“Yes. You’re going to be picked up by a label. You’re going to meet Epik High and make tracks with them and produce your own music and release your own mixtape-”
Yoongi elbows Taehyung gently in the side, hiding a laugh by ducking his head. “And what will you be doing?”
“Listening to your music,” Taehyung says seriously. “Helping my grandmother around the farm when I see her. Studying. Visiting my grandmother on weekends and helping with the farm. Painting. Finishing high school.”
Yoongi nods, smiling. “As long as you’re happy, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi tells him.
Taehyung’s grin softens, and he leans into Yoongi’s side. “As long as you’re happy, hyung,” he parrots back. And then- “I’m proud of you.”
Yoongi’s throat is suddenly too tight, and he blinks quickly, looking away.
(the fifty-eighth time)
“Oh,” Taehyung says, eyes widening in surprise.
Yoongi glances around, placing himself at Taehyung’s school in the art room given the easel Taehyung is currently sitting behind. “What are you working on?”
Taehyung’s cheeks turn pink, and he shoves a thin paintbrush back into a water cup on the table beside him. “Just something,” he says. “I didn’t finish in class so I came back up.”
Yoongi paces around the easel, finding shades of deep orange and pink scattered over a darker green that almost looks like trees on the crest of a mountain, a yellow blur disappearing behind it. “A sunset?” Yoongi asks.
Taehyung makes a noncommittal noise. “I guess. How is Seoul, hyung?”
“Good,” Yoongi lies, keeping his eyes on Taehyung’s painting. “I found a studio.” It’s in a basement, and Yoongi can only afford to rent it two days a week, sharing with some other people he met at a show. The equipment isn’t great, but it’s workable. “And I’m writing a lot.” No one’s picking up his songs, though. And when they do, they buy the rights for almost nothing. He works part-time delivering, but it’s barely enough.
But Taehyung smiles at him, eyes curving for a moment before he glances down at his painting. “Do you think… do you think I could come visit you, hyung?”
“I’m visiting you right now, aren’t I? Maybe next time you’ll be around at my place, though-”
“No, I mean actually visit you,” Taehyung says, and he raises his gaze again, something nervous flickering in it.
Yoongi stares. “Like come up to Seoul?”
Taehyung in Seoul, seeing Yoongi’s shitty one-room and his basement studio, realizing that Yoongi isn’t doing anything besides working and having his music ripped off, actually meeting Yoongi, not just for a few minutes or a rare half-hour-
“Yeah.” Taehyung rubs his fingers together, smearing paint, and Yoongi tracks the movement. “You can say no-”
“No,” Yoongi says, quickly, his heart beating uncomfortably against his ribs. He doesn’t want Taehyung to see his life. Not like this.
Hurt flashes across Taehyung’s face, his lips pushing forward as he lowers his eyes. “Okay.”
The art room is gone, and Yoongi is standing beside the delivery service’s motorbike in a stranger’s parking lot.
Yoongi grabs the chicken from the back, hurrying into the apartment building and up to the second floor.
“You’re late,” the man snaps.
“I’m sorry,” Yoongi mutters, passing over the chicken. “Your total is-”
The man slams the door shut in Yoongi’s face.
(the fifty-ninth time)
His electricity bill is too fucking high.
Yoongi wears two shirts and a jacket when he’s at home so he can turn off the heater in December, his ninth month in Seoul with nothing to show for it.
Two part time jobs now. A few acquaintances he’s made through shows. No visits to Taehyung since the last one where Yoongi said no, told him not to come to Seoul.
One bottle of soju into the night.
The basement studio he’s renting on Tuesdays and Thursdays to record is warmer than his one-room, so that’s where he’s holed up at two in the morning in this particular moment, chilly fingers wrapped around a quarter-full soju bottle.
The track playing is one he’s been working on for months. Most songs come easily, but this on- this one won’t. Yoongi wrote the words in ten minutes, but no beat matches and every time he raps he finds himself stumbling.
Maybe it’s because he’s trying too hard to figure out the song, or maybe because it’s Taehyung’s birthday tonight and Yoongi hasn’t seen him in fucking months, but his body feels heavy and his chest feels like it was carved out, and Yoongi doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing with his life.
“Cheers,” he mutters to no one, raising the bottle to his lips.
But then he falls, soju disappearing from his hand as he manages to catch himself against a wall.
A hospital, he realizes quickly, the smell of antiseptic and the beeping of machines and the rush of a nurse, shoes slapping the white tile beneath them.
A hospital, he realizes, and the haze of alcohol evaporates. Fear jerks at his feet and makes him move, eyes wide as he looks for Taehyung. Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay, please be-
The door is open to the hallway, a double occupancy hospital room. There’s an old woman in the bed closest to the door and beside her, Taehyung.
Taehyung- safe and uninjured.
He’s fallen asleep, cheek pillowed on blanket near the woman’s hand, an IV hooked into her arm. Yoongi’s only seen Taehyung’s grandmother in a grainy photograph, but he knows this is her.
Yoongi slips inside the room quietly, staying with his back pressed against the wall. There’s a man in the other bed, no privacy curtain between them. There’s no one sitting with him, though, alone in the darkness, light from the hall flooding in through the door weakly.
Taehyung stirs for a moment, hunched over as his arms come to wrap around himself even in his sleep.
Yoongi eases out of his jacket, padding over to him to drape it over Taehyung’s shoulders. He runs his fingers through Taehyung’s hair gently, dark strands long and tangled but soft.
Taehyung breathes out heavily, relaxing.
“Happy Birthday, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi whispers, and he stands beside Taehyung and strokes his hair until he appears in his studio again, empty bottle of soju and dim lights.
(the sixtieth time)
“Again?” Jaehoon asks.
Yoongi nods, tossing back the rest of the cheap beer in his glass.
“Aren’t you going to fight them on it?”
“And who’s going to believe me?” Yoongi asks irritably. “They’re an established recording company, Jaehoon. I don’t have anything on them. You know any lawyers who would take my case for free over one damn song?”
Jaehoon sighs, shaking his head. The music of the club pulses around them, loud and unrelenting. It’s too hot inside the cramped space, but it’s better than another night in Yoongi’s frigid apartment. “I’ll buy you a shot,” Jaehoon says.
Yoongi just clenches his jaw and stares into the dance floor.
This isn’t his scene in some ways. It’s crowded and noisy and the air is thick with alcohol and smoke.
But maybe Yoongi will go home with someone.
Jaehoon brings him a shot of something- whiskey, Yoongi realizes as he tips it back.
His head is starting to spin, limbs feeling a little less like his own, which is good. It’s good that he doesn’t feel like himself. He doesn’t want to. Not when he’s stuck with the failure that is Min Yoongi the rest of the time.
Yoongi buys the next round of drinks, and Jaehoon’s girlfriend arrives a little later and Yoongi is left to nurse his jack and coke with distaste, eyes sweeping around the club until-
Yoongi blinks slowly, setting down his glass and finding Taehyung- Taehyung in his god damn high school uniform in the middle of a club in Hongdae.
“Fucking hell,” Yoongi hisses, sliding out of his seat. He slaps down cash on the counter, doesn’t bother telling Jaehoon he’s leaving before he mutters, “follow me,” to Taehyung and hurries out of the club.
He doesn’t look back to be sure Taehyung is behind him, focusing mostly on getting Taehyung out as quickly as possible.
The night air is cold, February chill and cloudless sky, as Yoongi walks down the street with his hands in the pockets of his ripped jeans.
“Hyung, wait up,” Taehyung calls.
Yoongi stops on the sidewalk, closing his eyes and trying to push the swirling daze of alcohol out of his mind.
“Are you okay?” Is the first thing Taehyung asks when he reaches Yoongi, shoulders brushing.
Yoongi forces himself to open his eyes, finds Taehyung looking at him with worry lining his face. “Yeah,” Yoongi croaks out. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Taehyung frowns like he doesn’t believe Yoongi, but he says, “Okay.”
Yoongi rubs his hand over his face. He knows he still smells like smoke and alcohol. “What about you?”
“Yeah. Last time I saw you… your grandmother, Tae. You were in the hospital with her.”
“She’s better now. It was just a cold that turned into something worse until they treated it. Thanks for your jacket, by the way. I’m keeping it.”
Yoongi nods. He stares at the concrete beneath his dirty boots- beneath Taehyung’s worn sneakers. “Alright. I’m glad she’s okay.”
Yoongi bites the inside of his cheek, trying to ground himself in something. “Sorry you, um. Sorry you had to be in there.”
“It’s okay. They were playing really terrible music, though.”
Yoongi laughs— a short, bitter thing. “Yeah. They were.” He looks up slowly, finds Taehyung looking back at him with eyes that still shine with hurt. “Taehyung-ah,” he says.
Taehyung blinks, lips pushed forward in the hint of a pout.
“I’m sorry I said you couldn’t visit.”
Taehyung folds his arms over his chest. “Why didn’t you want me to?”
“I don’t know,” Yoongi says, and it’s only a little bit of a lie. “We’ve never done that before. Never seen each other outside of these visits.”
“I know,” Taehyung says. “But sometimes I miss you.”
Yoongi feels his eyes burning, feels his throat tightening. “I miss you too, Taehyung-ah,” he says. He misses Taehyung a lot. “But I don’t think-”
“You don’t have to explain,” Taehyung interrupts quickly, and he curls a little over on himself, looking so small in the streets of Seoul. He seems bigger in Daegu, even if it’s backlit by the stretching fields of his grandmother’s farm. In Seoul, everyone feels small. “I just want to be sure that you’re okay.”
Yoongi breathes out slowly. “I’m okay.”
Taehyung nods, rocking back and forth on his feet. “I’m still kind of mad, though.”
“Yeah. I get that.”
“You didn’t even say hello on my birthday.”
“Count the jacket as a birthday gift.”
“No. I want a hug.”
Yoongi rolls his eyes, but he shuffles forward a step and awkwardly holds out his arms.
Taehyung’s face finally brightens, and he wraps himself around Yoongi. He’s unbelievably warm, tall and soft and gentle as he holds Yoongi.
“I missed you,” Taehyung says again.
“You always say that.”
“It’s always true,” Taehyung tells him. “I’m always missing you.”
(the sixty-second time)
“I won! Hyung, I won!”
Yoongi grins, stumbles back when Taehyung launches himself into Yoongi’s arms. “Knew you would,” Yoongi says, a group of high schoolers walking by the gates of Taehyung’s school.
“I’ll get to take it to the Arts Expo,” Taehyung tells him, bouncing on his feet. He’s much taller than Yoongi now, which is ridiculous. “My painting, hyung. My painting .”
“Good,” Yoongi says, and he still reaches up to ruffle Taehyung’s hair. “You’re so good, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung laughs and asks Yoongi to buy him ice cream.
And Yoongi, of course, can’t say no.
He can never say no to Taehyung.
“There’s a scholarship my art teacher said I should look at when I apply for universities next year,” Taehyung says, licking at the melted chocolate ice cream on his fingers.
“Yeah. I think I’m going to do it. I want to do it.”
“Then do it,” Yoongi tells him, reaching across the plastic table they’re seated at outside the convenience store. He wipes the corner of Taehyung’s mouth with his thumb, sticky sweet.
“Ah, hyung,” Taehyung says, leaning away before Yoongi can get all of the chocolate off.
Yoongi clicks his tongue. “This kid.”
There’s pink rising in Taehyung’s cheeks as he protests, “I’m not a kid anymore.”
“You’ll always be a kid to me,” Yoongi tells him teasingly.
But Taehyung scowls at this, all the enthusiasm from winning the art competition vanishing from his face instantly. “I’m graduating next year. You can’t call me a kid when I’ll be eighteen in December.”
Yoongi sighs. “Youth is wasted on the young.”
He expects a jibe from Taehyung, some short retort or poke about Yoongi being a grandpa. But instead, Taehyung glowers at his half-eaten cone. “I’m taller than you anyway,” Taehyung says petulantly.
“Only because I have to hit low to reach you.”
Yoongi flips Taehyung off. “Still tall enough to kick your ass, Kim Taehyung, so be careful with the height insults.”
That pulls a laugh from Taehyung, and Yoongi tries and fails to hide his own smile at the sound.
(the sixty-seventh time)
The stage lights are overbright, beating down on Yoongi as he raps, pulse thrumming and sweat dripping down the back of his neck, fingers curled around the mic while the crowd in the club cheers.
Yoongi finishes his set panting, eyes sweeping the dark room as the shouts and applause echo in his ears, buzzing.
He hasn’t been picked up by a label yet, but he’s still making music- still performing. It doesn’t pay the bills, but Yoongi’s got his part-times for that. And this is what he loves, even if sometimes he feels like his stomach is going to turn itself inside out in the moments before he steps on stage. He misses the reassurance of Daeseung and Jaebum, having his two best friends performing with him.
But now there’s Jaehoon to clap him on the back after he gets down from the stage, to press a bottle of beer into his hand.
Yoongi drinks, talks to the beautiful woman with bold tattoos etched into bronze skin when she compliments Yoongi’s set, lets her press close and thinks that this is what he needs, kisses her in the shadowy corner of the club because he hasn’t had anyone hold him in God knows how long.
They go back to his place, small and growing cold again as the months turn to late autumn. But it’s warm with her body on his, sharp grin on her face. They’re all edges like this— nothing soft or slow in they way they move together, which is what Yoongi needs but not what she wants.
So Yoongi goes fast and hard when she tells him that’s what she likes, her nails digging into his back, raking over his skin when she hits the peak, panting beneath him on the come-down.
When it’s over, the air is heavy, both of them panting slightly, sticky with sweat.
“Thank you,” she says as she stands, pressing a kiss to Yoongi’s cheek. “I needed that.”
Yoongi props himself up on his elbow, brow furrowing as she grabs her clothes. “You can stay if you want,” he tells her.
“No worries. I have a shift tomorrow morning. But you have my number, so hit me up if you want to do this again.” She fastens the top button on her shirt.
“Sure,” Yoongi says. His head is already starting to hurt from the alcohol, and he needs a fucking shower. This isn’t what he expected. He thought at least she’d stay the night- that there would be someone to wake up to in the morning. “Need me to call a cab?”
“Already got it.” She flashes her phone screen to him. “Night, Yoongi.”
The door closes behind her and Yoongi leans forward, pressing his forehead on his knees. “Fuck,” he mutters.
A sudden noise makes Yoongi jerk upright, wondering if Hyejin came back for something she left behind.
But it’s Taehyung, blinking in the darkness in his pajamas, hair a fluffy mess on top of his head. “Hyung?” He croaks.
Yoongi swears again, quickly pulling the blanket further over his lap. There’s enough light pouring into the room from the street below that Taehyung could accidentally see more than he bargained for if Yoongi’s not careful. “Hey. Shit, give me a second, Tae. I need clothes.”
“Clothes?” Taehyung says.
“Yeah, turn around for a minute.”
Taehyung makes a tired noise, but he does as he’s told.
Yoongi grabs a pair of discarded sweatpants that are in easy reach and squirms into those first.
For a clean shirt, however, he has to pad across the room and grab one from the drying rack.
“Wha- what happened to your back?” Taehyung asks.
“Nails,” Yoongi tells him, not looking back as he pulls a shirt on. He’s really fucking glad he threw out the condom earlier. “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Dressed now, Yoongi turns to face Taehyung and finds him frowning, brow furrowed and anger clear in his eyes. “You could just say it’s from sex. I’m seventeen. I know what sex is.”
Yoongi coughs, awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Right. Yeah, it’s from sex.”
The scowl on Taehyung’s face only intensifies. “So why am I here?”
“I don’t know,” Yoongi says slowly, running his hand over his face. He can still smell smoke in his hair from the show earlier. “Thought neither of us knew.”
Taehyung stares at him, glowering and silent.
“What?” Yoongi asks, exhaustion seeping into his voice.
“It’s you who doesn’t know, hyung,” Taehyung says, and he wraps his arms around his stomach. “Whatever.”
“Why are you pissed?” Yoongi asks incredulously. “I know this probably woke you up-”
“I said whatever. Do you have food?” Taehyung pushes past Yoongi toward the refrigerator, and Yoongi realizes this is the first time Taehyung’s actually seen Yoongi’s apartment in Seoul.
“Not a lot at the moment. I have leftover take-out. The white box,” Yoongi says as Taehyung opens the refrigerator, white light flooding the room. “Jajangmyeon.”
“Good.” Taehyung grabs the box and closes the fridge again.
Yoongi grabs two pairs of chopsticks from the drawer by the sink, passing one to Taehyung. “Sorry you woke up for this,” Yoongi tells him.
Taehyung shrugs, sitting on the minimal counter space because there’s no room for a table or chairs in Yoongi’s one-room.
Yoongi stands in front of him, holding the box with one hand as they eat.
“Sorry for treating you like a kid, too,” Yoongi adds, watching Taehyung swirl noodles on his chopsticks.
Taehyung just gives him a baleful glare. “It’s because you see me as one.”
“I know you aren’t. You’ve grown up a lot. But sometimes I forget you’re not getting stuck in trees anymore,” Yoongi tells him quietly.
Taehyung’s face softens, and he shovels more jajangmyeon in his mouth, cheeks bulging. “Hm.”
“We can always talk about things, though, Taehyung-ah. I know… I know I’m not the best at it, but I’d rather talk with you than have you be angry and dismissive about whatever is bothering you.”
“Yeah,” Taehyung says around his food before he swallows, wiping the back of his wrist over his mouth. “Me too.”
Yoongi feels his lips twitch, picturing an eight-year-old Taehyung doing the exact same thing after inhaling half a watermelon. “How is your last semester going?” Yoongi asks.
“Good,” Taehyung says. “I, um. I got my acceptance for university in Busan.”
Yoongi’s eyes widen. “Fuck, that’s amazing. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Taehyung kicks his feet lightly against the cabinet beneath him. “The scholarships for the arts program came through, so… after graduation in February I’ll be heading there.”
Yoongi wants to ruffle Taehyung’s hair, but his hands are full between the take-out box and his chopsticks, so he grins instead. “Are you excited?”
“Excited and scared,” Taehyung admits.
“You’ll be incredible,” Yoongi tells him. “You are incredible.”
Something flashes in Taehyung’s eyes at that. Something almost like hurt.
Yoongi frowns, opening his mouth to ask if he’s alright, but Taehyung is gone. His pair of chopsticks clatter to the floor in front of the cabinet, and Yoongi is alone again in the darkened apartment.
There’s still half the box of jajangmyeon left, but Yoongi sticks it back into the refrigerator without finishing.
He finally showers, standing beneath the chilly spray, back still smarting from Hyejin’s nails but head replaying the look in Taehyung’s eyes before he disappeared.
Why are you sad? Yoongi wonders. Why does it feel like I’m making you sad?
He curls up in bed alone, thinks of Taehyung doing the same back in Daegu, and has to count up to one hundred- to two hundred- before he can fall asleep.
(the seventieth time)
He stands a little away from the crowd, though Taehyung’s graduating class is fortunately on the smaller side.
There are families everywhere, little kids running around and elderly grandparents hunched over and beaming.
Yoongi spots Taehyung after a few minutes, keeping to the edge of the school’s auditorium and trying to keep out of the way.
He recognizes Taehyung’s grandmother first- silver hair and wrinkled skin, barely coming up to Taehyung’s shoulder.
His little brother and sister are arguing about something, Taehyung’s father holding a camera and trying to get everyone in the frame while Taehyung’s mother fusses with Taehyung’s hair.
Yoongi’s chest aches, and he smiles at them- for them.
“A little to the left. No, the right. Your right,” Taehyung’s father is saying as Yoongi draws closer.
Taehyung’s mouth pops open in surprise before his face breaks into grin, his eyes curving.
“Hello,” Yoongi murmurs to Taehyung’s father, the man startling for a moment before he lowers the camera. “I can take the picture if you’d like one of all of you.”
“That would be wonderful, thank you,” Taehyung’s mother says, accepting the offer for her husband. “Everyone hurry. Eunmi, stop antagonizing your brother. Come on.”
Yoongi takes the camera, squinting through the viewfinder. “Ready?”
“Ready!” Taehyung answers, voice booming through the auditorium.
Yoongi laughs, snapping a photo before taking another two.
“Thank you,” Taehyung’s father says when he takes the camera back. “Do you have a younger sibling graduating today?”
“A friend,” Yoongi says, and he glances at Taehyung. “I wanted to tell him congratulations.”
Taehyung grins. “I’ll help you look for him.”
(the seventy-second time)
Taehyung’s dorm room is bigger than Yoongi’s apartment.
Yoongi stares at it in disbelief, turning in a circle. Taehyung is only half unpacked, his suitcase flung open and clothes flung across one of the beds.
“Hey, hyung,” Taehyung says, seemingly unsurprised as he looks up from a box full of art supplies. “Welcome to my dorm.”
“It’s pretty nice. Or it will be, once you’ve got your stuff unpacked.” Yoongi squats down on the floor beside Taehyung. “Where do these go?”
Yoongi helps Taehyung unpack, jazz music playing softly from Taehyung’s beat-up, second hand laptop in the corner of the room. “Your roommate?”
“He hasn’t come yet.” Taehyung pauses, currently in the middle of shoving shirts into a drawer. His movements are jerky, a sense of manic to them that betray his nerves. “Do you think he’ll like me?”
Yoongi blinks at Taehyung’s side profile, catching the worry there from just half his face. “I don’t know, Tae.”
Taehyung frowns. “What if he doesn’t?”
“Then you can’t help it,” Yoongi says with a shrug. “But I like you. And I’m pretty fucking picky about who I like.”
Taehyung closers the drawer, shoulders relaxing as he tilts his head to the side to look at Yoongi. “You’ve been stuck with me for most of our lives. You kind of have to like me.”
“Nah,” Yoongi says, and he steps forward so he can rap his knuckles on Taehyung’s forehead, chuckling to himself when Taehyung leans away with a scowl. “I don’t have to like you at all. Just am lucky that I do.”
Taehyung’s expression smooths out, lips tugging up into a smile. “Thanks, hyung.”
Yoongi shuffles his feet. “Enough of that. What are we unpacking next?”
The door clicks open before Taehyung can answer, a boy with dyed orange hair stepping through, pulling a suitcase behind him.
“Hello,” he says, eyes flicking from Yoongi to Taehyung. “I’m Park Jimin.”
“Jimin!” Taehyung exclaims, bounding forward only to lurch to a stop in front of him. “Kim Taehyung. I sent you a message last week about-”
“-hanging up strings of lights,” Jimin finishes, and he nods, smiling. Yoongi thinks he looks like a good kid. “I forgot to answer because I wanted to check if my family had any, and we do. I packed them.”
“That’s great,” Taehyung says, and already the energy is rolling off him in waves as he bounces on his feet. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s a good idea. I don’t really have a lot of decorations, but I’ve got lights and some fake candles since the dorms won’t let us have real ones.”
“Total bullshit,” Taehyung says. “I mean, a definite fire hazard, but still.”
“I just want them for the smell,” Jimin tells him.
“Right?” Taehyung seems to realize Yoongi is still there, leaning against Taehyung’s desk. “Jimin, this is Yoongi-hyung. He’s my friend from Daegu. He’s helping me move in today.”
Yoongi nods to Jimin, who politely bows in return. “It’s nice to meet you, Yoongi-ssi,” Jimin says kindly.
Yeah, Yoongi definitely has a good feeling about the two of them as roommates. Providing they don’t sneak candles in and accidentally burn down the dorm. “Nice to meet you, too,” Yoongi tells him before he straightens up. “Tae, I’m going to head out. I think you two have it handled.”
Taehyung’s face falls. “Are you sure? You can stay for a bit more…”
Yoongi shakes his head. This is time for Taehyung to get to know Jimin, and he’s not about to take that for himself. “It’s okay. Have a good first week of classes.”
“I’ll try.” Taehyung pulls Yoongi into a hug, burying his face in Yoongi’s neck. His body is practically vibrating with nervous excitement. “I’m glad you stopped by today.”
“Me too,” Yoongi says, squeezing his arms around Taehyung’s sides before letting him go. “Good luck with him, Jimin.”
Jimin laughs, the sound bright. “I think we’ll get along well.”
“We definitely will,” Taehyung assures him, and Yoongi thinks his eyes are sparkling. He’s shining, even in the mess of his dorm room.
Yoongi waves, stepping out into the hall and letting the door click closed behind him. He wanders then, out of the building and onto campus in the early spring Busan air until he appears again in his apartment, plastic bowl of ramen now gone cold.
(the seventy-sixth time)
“That was incredible.”
Yoongi blinks at the voice, turning and finding a tall man with dimples gawking at him.
“Thanks,” Yoongi rasps. He needs water, or maybe something stronger. The bar went fucking wild at the end of his set, and Yoongi fed off their energy and returned it back to the crowd. Now he’s sweat-soaked and his hands won’t stop shaking. He slides into a seat at the bar, ordering a beer.
“Someone told you me you perform here a lot,” the man with dimples says, sitting down beside Yoongi before awkwardly standing back up. “Wait, um. Is it okay to sit here?”
“‘Course,” Yoongi tells him, wiping at the sweat rolling down the side of his face with the edge of his sweatshirt sleeve. “And yeah, at least once a month. It’s mostly promotion, though. I write and produce. Performing is a bit of a side thing.”
The man’s eyes widen. “Really? That’s— that’s great. I’m actually interning right now at an entertainment company.”
Yoongi raises an eyebrow as the bartender passes him the beer. “Thanks,” he murmurs, then to the dimples man, “You into production, too?”
“Yeah. Well, I’m learning production now. I mostly wrote in basement studios before.”
Yoongi snorts. “Sounds familiar. That’s where I’m making music at the moment.”
“Really?” The man sounds taken aback at this. “You’re not with a company?”
“Nah. Don’t want to give up making the music I want to make,” Yoongi says, and he takes a long sip of beer.
“And if it was a company that gave you that freedom?” the man asks.
“Do those exist?” Yoongi asks wryly.
The man nods. “They do. Kim Namjoon,” he says pointing at himself.
“I think,” Namjoon says, “the company I work for might be interested in you.”
Yoongi leaves the bar with his head spinning an hour later, business card for Bighit in hand.
He’s not drunk, not really. But he walks back to his apartment in a daze. After over three years in Seoul— of having his songs ripped off and recording in the basement studio on old, barely functioning equipment— there might be a chance of something different.
He stumbles into his one-room, flicking on the lights, and finds Taehyung sitting on his mattress. “Hi,” Taehyung says. “I got here a couple minutes ago and was starting to wonder if it was a fluke.”
Yoongi shakes his head slowly, closing the door behind him.
“Hyung?” The depths of Taehyung’s voice switch from sleepy to concerned. “Are you—”
Yoongi holds the card out to Taehyung. “I got this tonight.”
Taehyung leans forward to take it, squinting as he reads. “Bighit Entertainment… were you scouted?”
“Not exactly,” Yoongi flops down on the mattress beside Taehyung. “An intern was at the show tonight. Said he was going to talk to his boss and show him my stuff.”
“What?” Taehyung throws himself back as well, though he rolls over on his side to look at Yoongi, grinning. “Hyung! What if you get recruited?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone at the company will like it—”
“Of course they will. You make the best songs,” Taehyung tells him.
Yoongi goes a little cross-eyed looking at the freckle on the end of Taehyung’s nose, so he reaches up to tap it.
Taehyung wrinkles his nose exaggeratedly. “Don’t make me sneeze on you for being pessimistic.”
Yoongi realized the adrenaline high from the show and his conversation with Namjoon has faded, and he rolls over too, closer to Taehyung. “Don’t want to get my hopes up,” Yoongi mutters.
Taehyung used to always smell like tree sap and earth, sometimes like paint. The paint is still there, but there’s also a layer of after shave over it.
Yoongi sniffs him again. “Did you go out tonight?”
“Just to an art show from the seniors in the department. How could you tell?”
“You smell good,” Yoongi says. Taehyung has always smelled good, though. Yoongi thinks he misses the tree sap scent clinging to Taehyung’s hair. Maybe he’s just feeling nostalgic.
Taehyung wiggles closer, slinging an arm and a leg around Yoongi, cuddling him. “You smell like smoke and cheap beer,” Taehyung informs him.
Yoongi elbows him in the ribs. “Then don’t cuddle me.”
“Nope. You’re small and warm and I want hugs.”
“I’m not small,” Yoongi protests, old argument and reflexive defensiveness.
“Tiny hyung,” Taehyung murmurs, and he hooks Yoongi under his chin, nosing into his hair, not seeming to mind the sweat.
“Hmm,” Yoongi hums instead of answering.
He thinks he can feel Taehyung’s heartbeat, steady and strong. It reverberates around him, through him, slowing as Taehyung breathes more and more deeply.
Yoongi’s heartbeat does something very different.
He can hear it in his ears, skipping and speeding, exhaustion pushed aside by the tingling that begins behind his ribs and spreads through his limbs to his fingers and his toes.
He moves slowly, taking the hand currently sandwiched between his thighs and resting it instead on Taehyung’s chest, soft fabric of his shirt against the callouses across Yoongi’s palm.
This is what Yoongi misses every night, though he’s never had it before. This is the ache that he feels beneath his skin, the one he tries to make go away with one-night stands, hoping that someone will stay until morning.
Fear curls in Yoongi’s stomach, cold and weighty, because this is Taehyung. This is with Taehyung and Yoongi shouldn’t feel this way with him. Taehyung doesn’t even know Yoongi’s bi— that he’s interested in men. Would he be pressed against Yoongi like this if he did? Would he look at Yoongi the same way?
Yoongi is supposed to be Taehyung’s hyung. His friend. His protector.
He swallows it down, warmth radiating from Taehyung despite the iciness creeping over Yoongi’s skin.
I can’t feel this , Yoongi thinks. I can’t .
He holds himself stiffly, counting his breaths, until he feels Taehyung disappear, and Yoongi opens his eyes to an empty bed.
He doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or relieved.
Maybe neither. Maybe everything just hurts.
(the seventy-eighth time)
“Finals?” Yoongi whispers, appearing in Taehyung’s dorm room.
Jimin is thankfully sleeping, unperturbed by Yoongi’s sudden appearance, pink hair poking out from the top of his sheets.
Taehyung nods sluggishly. He looks up from his textbooks with bags beneath his eyes. “This is the last math class I’ll ever have to take. I’m so close, hyung. After this semester I can stick with fine arts courses.”
“You’re almost there,” Yoongi murmurs.
The light from Taehyung’s desk lamp sends shadows to caress Taehyung’s face, curving along his jaw and down his nose.
Yoongi determinedly folds his hands in his lap as he sits on the floor beside Taehyung’s desk.
He has to make a conscious effort not to look at Taehyung and want. It helps that whenever he wants Taehyung, the guilt and fear crash along with it.
“Want me to quiz you?” Yoongi asks, keeping his voice quiet.
Taehyung shakes his head and closes his book. “I need a break. Did you hear back from Bighit yet?”
“Yeah. They’re giving me a… a sort of trial period, I guess. They hired me on to work on an album for a girl’s group that recently debuted. Namjoon and I will be helping write and produce.” Yoongi rubs his eyes. “I’m still working delivery, though. The hours are weird. I swear Namjoon is even more fucking nocturnal than I am, so we meet at Bighit’s studio at four in the morning sometimes.”
Taehyung frowns at that, sliding out of his chair to sit on the floor beside Yoongi. “Are you happy?” He asks.
It hurts. It physically hurts, like Yoongi has to strain against reaching forward to trace a smile on Taehyung’s lips with his finger, has to hold himself back from running his hands through Taehyung’s hair, dark and long and curling at the back of his neck now. He’s so beautiful.
“I don’t know,” Yoongi admits, glancing away. “What about you, Taehyung-ah? You look exhausted.”
“I’m okay,” Taehyung says. He leans his head against the side of his desk. “Halmoni isn’t doing well. I think over the break I’m going to go back to Daegu.”
Yoongi reaches to take Taehyung’s hand before the guilt twinges in the back of his head and he drops it instead. “Is she in the hospital again?”
Taehyung nods, and he draws his knees to his chest. He looks younger like this. Softer.
Idiot, Yoongi tells himself. He needs me. I’m still his hyung.
So Yoongi pushes down the memory of Taehyung curled around him, the feeling of his heart racing in his chest, and gently takes Taehyung’s hand, linking their fingers together.
He squeezes Taehyung’s hand gently, and Taehyung squeezes back.
(the eightieth time)
Yoongi lets out a hiss from between clenched teeth, twisting as he looks in the mirror.
The skin around his shoulder blade is mottled with blues and purples.
Fuck the car that ran the red light. Fuck the driver who didn’t bother stopping to see if Yoongi was even fucking alive.
He limps out of his bathroom, tossing his shirt and jacket on the bed. At least he’d been wearing enough clothes that his skin wasn’t hurt any worse. His left shoulder and hip took most of the fall, knee throbbing still from where it was caught under his motorbike.
The delivery he’d been trying to make- someone’s fried chicken- had spilled out onto the road. Yoongi would probably be docked pay for that.
Yoongi opens the refrigerator and finds nothing in it but half a bottle of soju and an egg, immediately closing it again.
The clock on the microwave reads 3:20. He should just go to sleep.
Yoongi’s shirt is still on the mattress, leaving Yoongi to turn and face Taehyung across the room.
“Hey,” Yoongi says thickly, trying to hide his limp as he shuffles over to the bed. “Sorry, you were probably sleeping-”
Taehyung’s hand snags Yoongi’s wrist when he reaches for his shirt. “What happened?” He breathes, fingers warm where they touch Yoongi’s skin. “Hyung?” He sounds horrified, voice still deep and rumbling with sleep.
“Nearly got run over by some idiot running a red light. Swerved into a light post and fell off my bike.” Yoongi doesn’t move to pick up his shirt, staring at Taehyung’s hold on his arm. He’s so tired .
“Did you go to the hospital?”
Yoongi shakes his head.
“Hyung,” Taehyung whispers. “Let’s go now. Let’s get a taxi and—”
“Can’t. I’m not supposed to be working delivery. Got hired on full time with Bighit and I told them I’d focus on producing,” Yoongi mutters.
“Fuck that,” Taehyung says, and Yoongi looks up in surprise to find Taehyung’s brow furrowed in anger. “Come on, hyung.”
“Tae, I—” Yoongi doesn’t have the money for a hospital visit. And he’s so exhausted. “I’m fine.”
“You were in a traffic accident,” Taehyung protests, still holding Yoongi’s wrist and frowning. “It looks like it hurts.”
Yoongi can’t keep meeting Taehyung’s eyes. “‘S not that bad.”
“I just want to sleep.” Yoongi doesn’t mean for it to come out as quiet and weak as it does, but the words slip from his mouth anyway, and he swallows hard as he pulls away from Taehyung. “I just want to sleep, okay?”
He can feel Taehyung’s heavy gaze and chooses to ignore it, snagging his shirt up and pulling it back on, wincing at the movement as his shoulder screams in pain.
Yoongi’s shaking, though he’s not sure if it’s from the lack of sleep or the residual fear of seeing the car flying toward him, of yanking hard on the handles of his bike only to slam into the light post.
Yoongi settles down on the bed, curling up on his right side in a ball. “Just want to sleep,” Yoongi murmurs again.
The mattress shifts as Taehyung sits down on the edge. “What do you need, hyung?” He whispers.
Yoongi shivers, tilting his face up to look at Taehyung. The anger is gone, replaced by wet eyes and parted, downturned lips.
I need you to hold me, Yoongi doesn’t say. He shakes his head instead, hair rustling against the pillow. “I’m fine, Taehyung-ah. Sorry you came here tonight.”
Taehyung blinks, and a tear rolls down the plain of his cheek, another along the edge of his nose.
“Why are you crying?” Yoongi croaks at him, shifting to sit up and doing better this time to hide his wince of pain. “Tae.”
“Stop,” Taehyung says hoarsely. “Stop pretending to be okay.”
“It’s not that bad,” Yoongi murmurs. “I promise.”
Taehyung wipes his face with the back of his hand. “You can say that it hurts. You can say that it hurts and that things are hard.”
Yoongi’s eyes burn and he takes a slow breath in. “It hurts.”
Taehyung nods. His lips are trembling.
“Things- things are hard,” Yoongi manages, and his voice is barely more than a rasp. “Things have been… things have been hard.”
Taehyung nods again. “What do you need?”
Yoongi squeezes his eyes shut, chokes the words back, swallows them down. Hold me, please, hold me — buries them deep.
“Sleep,” Yoongi whispers. “Need to sleep.”
He doesn’t look at Taehyung as he lays down again, tucks his knees to his chest and lets the ache inside and out take over as he breathes.
“Okay,” Taehyung breathes. “Okay, hyung.”
There’s no movement, Taehyung seeming to just stay sitting at the edge of the bed. Out of reach.
In the morning, Yoongi wakes up alone.
( the eighty-third time)
When given the choice of spending another winter in his apartment or becoming roommates with one of Namjoon’s friends from university, Yoongi choose the roommate.
Hoseok is, all things considered, the perfect roommate. He’s a lot tidier than Yoongi, he texts first before he brings home friends, and he’s queer, too. At first, Yoongi thought he was a little too loud, but over the last few months, Yoongi’s come to appreciate Hoseok’s laugh and learned that his random screeches usually were directed at bugs and not at burglars.
He’s also cool with Yoongi inviting Daesung and Jaebum up to Seoul for Christmas— gets along well with them.
Yoongi’s doing better.
His shoulder doesn’t feel like it’s healed all the way, but he’s stopped making deliveries now that his paychecks from Bighit come in consistently, the signing bonus giving him what he needed to split rent with Hoseok.
December 30th arrives, and Yoongi holds his breath.
It doesn’t happen until nearly eleven in the evening when Yoongi’s dozing in a chair Daesung and Jaebum both already asleep on the sofa, Hoseok having retreated to his room hours before.
Yoongi falls on his ass in the hallway of Taehyung’s sophomore dorms.
Yoongi swears under his breath as he clambers to his feet, shoulder bringing that familiar pain back.
He grumbles slightly as he finds Taehyung door only a few steps away, knocking twice.
It’s Jimin who answers, hair now dyed black. “Yoongi-hyung?”
“Hey.” Yoongi rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry I got into Busan so late. I wanted to wish Tae a happy birthday.”
Jimin smiles at him, stepping aside. Their dorm is more of an apartment now, two separate rooms. “He drank a bit too much at the bar earlier. Our friends were going overboard with buying shots.”
“Got it,” Yoongi says. He kicks off his house shoes and hopes Jimin didn’t notice he was wearing them outside. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Tipsy and definitely need a shower, but good.” Jimin takes a hand through his hair, then his eyes narrow almost knowingly. “Are you staying the night?”
“No. I, ah, have somewhere to be tomorrow morning.”
Jimin blinks in surprise, but nods. “Okay. See you around, hyung.”
“See you, Jimin,” Yoongi says, and he knocks on Taehyung’s door while Jimin disappears in the bathroom.
There’s a muted groan on the other side of the fake wood, so Yoongi cracks the door open. “Tae? It’s me.”
“Hyung,” Taehyung slurs, sitting up in bed. There’s a glass of water on his nightstand, which Jimin must have left for him. “You came.”
“I’m here,” Yoongi says, and can’t help but smile fondly. “Happy birthday, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung staggers up and shuffled across the room to wrap himself around Yoongi, warm and encompassing.
Yoongi tenses for a moment, unable to reciprocate the easy affection now that Taehyung’s touch means something different. Something more than it should.
Taehyung makes a happy noise, a low sound caught in his throat that’s almost a purr.
Yoongi sniffs. “You smell like soju.”
Taehyung just hums again, burying his nose in Yoongi’s neck and clinging onto Yoongi like an octopus.
“Water,” Yoongi says, and waddles toward the night stand with Taehyung wrapped around him.
Yoongi gently pushes Taehyung toward the bed, and Taehyung sits, slouched over. Yoongi grabs the cup and presses it into Taehyung’s hand.
Taehyung lifts his head, fingers curling around the cup.
God, he’s so fucking beautiful.
He’s wearing a white button-up and skin tight leather pants, his hair still long, curling at the nape of his neck, meeting smooth brown skin. His lips part as he raises the glass, and Yoongi watches his throat bob when he swallows before he sets the water down again and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I don’t like drinking,” Taehyung informs Yoongi, words a little slurred. “But I’ve never been drunk before so I thought I’d try it.”
“Yeah?” Yoongi asks, blinking a few times and shaking his head at himself. He sits carefully beside Taehyung, trying not to focus on the line of his nose or the edge of his jaw.
Taehyung hums. “You know, I’ve only kissed someone once. Well, a girl kissed me. In high school. She was nice, but I realized I don’t like girls, you know?”
Yoongi’s heart lurches. “Taehyung-ah,” he says quickly. “You’re drunk. Maybe we should talk about this when-”
“I’m not the one who has a problem talking about things,” Taehyung interrupts, wide eyes narrowing as he glares at Yoongi. “That’s you.”
Yoongi looks away. “Drink some more water, Tae.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.” Taehyung mutters. “How many times do I have to tell you ‘m not a kid. I’m twenty. I’m twenty.”
“I know,” Yoongi says evenly, even though he thinks his brain is on overload.
Taehyung just told Yoongi he doesn’t like girls. Taehyung is also very drunk. And Yoongi is kind of freaking out. Right.
Taehyung shifts on the bed. “I drank a lot ‘cause I wanted to kiss someone tonight. A couple guys were dancing with me at the bar and I thought about it.”
Why didn’t you? Yoongi wants to ask. His hands are shaking. He takes the water from Taehyung and takes a gulp.
“If I asked,” Taehyung says, and his eyes are fixed on Yoongi as he braces his hands on his sheets, leaning back on the bed. “Would you kiss me?”
Yoongi nearly drops the glass, heartbeat pounding as he sets the glass down on the nightstand again with shaking fingers.
Would I kiss you? Yoongi can’t even fucking look at Taehyung without wanting him— all of him. His lips included. But Taehyung doesn’t want Yoongi like this. He wants a kiss because he’s drunk, not because he wants Yoongi, and—
“You’d say no,” Taehyung mumbles, and his head drops, chin on his chest. “Fuck, I can still taste the soju. I hate alcohol.”
Yoongi thinks he might throw up, his heart slamming against his chest. What’s happening?
He asked so fucking easily. Just like Taehyung could’ve kissed the people he was dancing with earlier, he could kiss Yoongi now, because it doesn’t matter to him.
And why would it?
Taehyung doesn’t have feelings for Yoongi.
Yoongi would just be a pair of lips and a warm body to him. An experience.
Yoongi stumbles off the bed, raking his hand over his face. “I have to go,” he whispers, chest aching.
“Fuck,” Taehyung murmurs to himself.
Yoongi’s eyes burn as he lets himself out of Taehyung’s room.
He hears the water still running in the bathroom, glad that Jimin isn’t out to see Yoongi as he heads for the front door, letting himself into the hall again.
There’s wetness on his cheeks, and he wipes his face with the sleeve of his sweater as he walks aimlessly out of the building and into the cold December air, shivering until he’s pulled back to his apartment in Seoul, nose running and eyes puffy from crying.
Daesung is awake, and he’s staring right at the spot that Yoongi reappeared.
“So my suspicions are confirmed that you’re a fucking time traveler or something,” Daesung whispers, since Jaebum is snoring on the sofa beside him.
Yoongi wipes at his face again. “Not a time traveler.”
“Are you— fuck, you’re crying.” Daesung blinks several times before sliding off the sofa to squish himself on the chair beside Yoongi. He puts his arm around Yoongi’s shoulders. “I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about your magic teleportation shit right now.”
“Not really, no,” Yoongi says, huffing an almost laugh.
“Right. Later, then,” Daesung says, and he squeezes Yoongi closer.
( the eighty-fourth time)
Yoongi doesn’t know how to make something gentle.
He rubs the back of his neck, the tracks staring him down from the computer monitor.
Nothing is working.
It’s the debut song for one of the younger Bighit trainees, a kid named Jeongguk who is soft and kind and watches Yoongi and Namjoon with big eyes when they ask him about the kind of songs he wants to sing at their concept meeting with the creative director.
Bighit is a small company, meaning that Jeongguk’s future very much rides completely on his ability as a singer and Yoongi’s ability as a writer and producer instead of on name value and commercial value.
“Something comforting to people who listen to it,” Jeongguk had said quietly when Yoongi asked him what he wants to sing.
Yoongi doesn’t know how to put that into his music. He’s spent so long spitting his anger and hurt at the world- at his parents, at the suffocating years of school, at the kid who punched him in the face while calling him a gay freak, at everything . He doesn’t know how to make something gentle.
Something moves at the edge of Yoongi’s vision, and he drops his hand from his neck to find Taehyung standing by his studio’s keyboard.
Neither of them speak.
Yoongi saw him last in Busan— ran away from Taehyung on his birthday after Taehyung asked for a kiss like it meant nothing.
That was nearly a month ago, now.
Yoongi’s tongue darts out to wet his lips. “Hey.”
Taehyung’s face is unreadable for a moment before he sits down on the piano bench. “Is this your studio?”
“It’s really cool.” Taehyung’s voice is soft, and he bounces the balls of his feet on the floor. “I’m sorry. It’s okay if you don’t forgive me, but I’m sorry.”
“What?” Yoongi rolls his chair back away from the soundboard. “What are you sorry for?”
Taehyung looks away. “I made you uncomfortable. I- I shouldn’t have asked you that.”
“It’s okay,” Yoongi says. It is. Yoongi wouldn’t have been uncomfortable if he didn’t want Taehyung. If he just saw Taehyung as a friend wanting to kiss someone for fun, just for the night. “I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye.”
Taehyung turns his eyes back on Yoongi again, and they bare into him, always seeing . Yoongi swallows down the fear that he’ll see too much.
“I’m working on a track,” Yoongi says, turning back to face the monitor. “Kind of stuck.”
Taehyung is silent for a moment behind him before asking, “Can I hear it?”
“Yeah.” Yoongi turns it on, lets Taehyung listen.
Taehyung asks for Yoongi to play it again, so he does.
Then he’s pulling the keyboard bench forward, peering at the track and asking Yoongi questions about the soundboard and the audio levels and the lyrics and the singer.
There’s something tentative about his voice still, something unsure and worried and Yoongi’s stomach twists itself in knots as he answers until he eventually stops after another play through of the song and says, “Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung, now at Yoongi’s side on the left, looks at Yoongi with unveiled apprehension.
“I’m not mad,” Yoongi tells him.
Taehyung bites his lip, chewing on it for a moment. “I fucked up. I know I shouldn’t have asked you that.”
“Tae,” Yoongi reaches forward, pushes back hair from Taehyung’s forehead. His heart twists. “It’s okay.”
Taehyung’s teeth release his lower lip. “I kissed Jimin?”
A pang shoots through Yoongi’s chest, and he takes a steady breath before prompting, “Yeah?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t weird. We kind of made out for a bit. But he’s got a crush on a guy in his dance department and I—” Taehyung visibly swallows. “I don’t like him like that. He’s my best friend.”
Yoongi nods, but the ache is spreading through his ribs. He forces himself to smile. “Thought I was your best friend.”
Taehyung’s face looks so fucking hurt . But he nods. “You are, too. And I think I said it that night. That I’m gay.”
“Yeah. Thank you for telling me.” Yoongi takes another slow breath. “I’m bi.”
Taehyung’s lips quirk up, but his smile is small and sad. “Thanks for telling me,” he answers in turn.
All the years that Yoongi worried over Taehyung finding out— worried that Taehyung would see him differently. But it’s just the two of them in Yoongi’s studio, soft smiles in the quiet.
Yoongi breathes again. In and out.
“Are we okay?” Taehyung asks, and his voice is deep and shaky and Yoongi wants nothing more than to cradle Taehyung’s face between his palms and press their foreheads together, reassure him in any way he can.
“We’re okay,” Yoongi says instead, and he turns toward the computer. “Now tell me what you think if I cut out this part here.”
( the ninety-first time)
“It’s your song.”
Yoongi’s head turns left and right, a shopping center around him, kids running with their families, escalators whirring and music blaring and- it’s the song Yoongi produced, Jeongguk’s voice floating through mall.
Taehyung stands before him, grinning. “Hyung, they’re playing your song .”
Yoongi’s mouth pops open in disbelief. The track was released earlier this week. Yoongi hasn’t heard it on the radio once. But it’s playing here, streaming through the speakers. “Holy shit,” he whispers.
Taehyung laughs once, a deep giggle that Yoongi can’t ever get enough of, and darts forward to throw his arms around Yoongi’s shoulders. “Hyung, it’s your music.”
“Holy shit,” Yoongi repeats numbly, but his locks his hands around Taehyung’s back and presses his forehead to the juncture of where Taehyung’s shoulder meets his neck and breathes the moment in.
Taehyung is holding him, and Yoongi twists the silky fabric of Taehyung’s shirt between his fingers and clings, gives himself this, just for today.
( the ninety-eighth time)
Yoongi raises his beer, tapping the glass against Namjoon’s Sex on the Beach and Seokjin’s whiskey. Hoseok raises his glass of water.
“Congratulations,” Seokjin says, his eyes twinkling. “Now that you two are famous producers, you’re buying hyung all the drinks, right?”
Yoongi rolls his eyes. He’s pretty sure Seokjin has more money than him and Namjoon combined. He’s still not entirely sure how Namjoon started dating Seokjin, and he’s not confident Namjoon is sure either from the way Namjoon sometimes spaces our while he stares at his boyfriend.
“You still have more money than either of us,” Namjoon says in lieu of Yoongi’s thoughts.
Seokjin shrugs. “Semantics.”
Namjoon leans forward in his seat. “Facts.”
“Congratulations, guys,” Hoseok says, cutting off the soon-to-be couple bickering.
“Thanks, Seok-ah.” Yoongi smiles fondly at his roommate, taking a swing of beer.
Jeongguk’s album is making its way up the charts, attention split between Jeongguk’s angelic vocals and the lyrics, which Yoongi saw one review describing them as “a beacon to those coming of age, a comfort to youth who are hurting.”
Things are good.
Yoongi reminds himself of this several drinks into the night, when Hoseok goes dancing in the swarm of bodies and Namjoon and Seokjin retreat to a booth in the back, not doing anything but sitting with their arms wrapped around each other but somehow looking too intimate for Yoongi to intrude.
They’re sweet together, Yoongi thinks.
Something stirs in his stomach, not quite jealousy but somewhere in that family.
Yoongi keeps trying to find what he sees in Taehyung in someone else. He tries to find a heart with the depth of the ocean, hands that curl around tree branches with the same excitement as they do paint brushes, a voice that carries enough warmth to last through the harshest winters, feet that walk farmland with more care than they do city streets, eyes that see past walls and into souls.
But it’s just Taehyung.
It’s only ever Taehyung.
Yoongi goes out to the dance floor, can see Hoseok a little bit a way dancing with someone, head thrown back on the man’s shoulder.
It’s Itaewon. Yoongi could pick up a man here easily.
None of them are Taehyung.
They’ll never be Taehyung, Yoongi reminds himself, and he sees a tall, thin guy in a leather jacket staring at him at the edge of the dance floor. Let him go. Move the fuck on.
So Yoongi nods when the man asks him to dance, let’s himself be tugged around so the man can kiss his neck, move both of them to the music.
Yoongi closes his eyes. Maybe this is someone who will stay until morning. Maybe he and Yoongi will want more from each other than a one-night stand.
Yoongi turns so he’s facing the man, leans in to kiss him.
He tries not to wish it was Taehyung instead.
“Come home with me,” the man whispers.
Yoongi nods, pulls back and open his eyes. “Yeah.”
He shifts, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Let me tell my friends I’m—”
Taehyung is there.
Taehyung is inches away when Yoongi steps forward.
Taehyung is there, but Yoongi only catches a glimpse of him before he disappears in the crowd.
“Taehyung,” Yoongi calls, brow furrowing. That was him. Taehyung’s here, though he’s— running? “Sorry,” Yoongi murmurs to the man behind him. “I think I see a friend.”
Yoongi hurries forward, slipping through gaps in the throngs of dancers, squeezing around and between.
He sees a flash of Taehyung’s face by the exit, and Yoongi runs, heart beating all too quickly in his chest.
“Taehyung?” His feet hit the concrete of the sidewalk, but Taehyung is gone.
( the ninety-ninth time)
Yoongi touches the keys on the piano, notes humming back through him as he rolls out the chord and switches to a minor.
It’s been a while since Yoongi played ivory keys rather than the plastic ones on keyboards.
The piano is tucked away on the top floor of the BigHit building, afternoon sunlight streaming through the window.
He’s working on his own mixtape again, now that Jeongguk’s album is out and Yoongi’s between projects. There’s a song in the back of his head that he’s written the words for, and the melody is unfurling now.
He has most of the tracks for the mixtape finished. This one is the final piece.
This one is for Taehyung. The song that’s gentle. Because Taehyung reminds Yoongi that he can be treated gently still.
It’s been almost six months since Yoongi saw him. The longest it’s ever been that they haven’t seen each other. Yoongi’s starting to wonder if it was even Taehyung at the club.
It can’t all be a hallucination.
Daesung and Yoongi talked about whatever this phenomena is. Taehyung is real. All of this is real.
But it’s been half a year.
Yoongi and Hoseok have a nicer apartment. Yoongi has money for better clothes, for groceries, for the little dog that he and Hoseok adopted. He has a name for himself as a producer. He has a life in Seoul.
But Taehyung’s not it in now.
He wishes he’d told Taehyung to come up to Seoul all those years ago. He wishes he had Taehyung’s phone number— had made himself a part of Taehyung’s life instead of holding himself at a distance. Because now he’s waiting to see Taehyung again and hoping whatever brings them together hasn’t ceased to exist.
The melody trails off, and Yoongi leans over the piano, bracing his elbows on the music stand and burying his face in his hands.
He rubs his eyes and then—
Then his elbows slip and he steadies himself, straightening as his heart lurches in his chest.
Taehyung is in some kind of art studio, sitting on a stool behind an easel.
Yoongi exhales shakily. He’s here. They haven’t been cut apart. Yoongi is here and Taehyung looks up from his painting with a bit of blue smeared across his chin.
“Hi hyung,” he says, like it hasn’t been half a fucking year .
“Tae.” Yoongi’s throat is tight as he steps forward. “I didn’t know if I was going to see you again.”
“Sorry, hyung.” Taehyung sticks the thin brush he’s using in a jar of water. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up, a bracelet dangling on his wrist.
“I missed you,” Yoongi says. “I was so fucking worried, Taehyung.”
“It’s been a while,” Taehyung murmurs, and he looks out the window beside him, warm light filtering into the studio. “We’re not okay, are we?”
It’s been six months and Taehyung is distant and everything is fucked and Yoongi doesn’t know why. He closes his eyes and breathes. “I want us to be.”
They’re both quiet for a moment, and then Taehyung says, “I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember.”
This feels like goodbye and Yoongi fucking hates it. Yoongi raises his head, forces himself to open his eyes. “I love you too, Taehyung.”
“No,” Taehyung says, and his brow furrows at he looks at Yoongi. “Hyung. I love you. I’m in love you.”
“You asked me when I was in high school if I had a dream. You were talking about the future, but I was talking about you,” Taehyung says, and Yoongi’s head spins. “It’s always been you.”
Yoongi can’t make words. He can’t think .
“I paint the sun into every piece I make, because it’s always been you, hyung. I’ve spent my whole life loving you but you’re always out of reach. It’s like I’m chasing the sun around the world again and again and—” Taehyung’s voice breaks, his face screwing up as he lets out a sob. “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t. I’m trying not to love you like this. I want us to be okay but I don’t know how to not love you like this.”
Yoongi chokes. “Taehyung—”
“I saw you kissing him,” Taehyung sobs, and he curls forward on the stool. “I don’t know who it was but I saw you with him and I realized that you’re only ever going to see me as that kid you grew up with. And that’s- that’s okay. I just have to learn how to see you that way, too.”
He wasn’t anyone. He wasn’t you.
Yoongi takes a shaky step forward. “Taehyung-ah, please look at me.”
Taehyung shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I just need more time. I don’t want to lose you, but I can’t do this.”
“I—” Yoongi jerks back to the piano, to Seoul, to life without Taehyung like he’s physically being pushed away. He gasps, hand coming up to clutch his heart over his shirt as it twists. “ Fuck. ”
Yoongi pulls out his phone, dialing Namjoon as he runs out of the piano room and down the stairs.
“Hey, hyung, what’s—”
“I’m leaving the studio now. Can you lock up?”
“Yeah,” Namjoon says, confused on the other end of the call. “You’re leaving early?”
“I have to catch the next train,” Yoongi breathes.
( the first time, again)
He goes to Daegu.
It was Busan first, two hours on the train south and a taxi to Taehyung’s university. But Jimin was alone in the apartment. “Tae went home for the weekend,” Jimin said. “He’s- he’s really sad, recently, hyung.”
“I’m going to fix things now,” Yoongi answered quietly. “I’m going to try.”
The bus to Daegu was next, following Jimin’s directions on how to get to Taehyung’s family farm.
His grandmother died last year. Yoongi saw him before the funeral. But his parents took over the farm, and now—
Now Yoongi’s going there.
He has to take another taxi, afternoon light turning golden as it draws closer to evening. The apartment buildings turn to old houses, and soon those fade to open stretches of trees and fields and land.
The taxi driver stops, and Yoongi passes over his last bit of cash before stepping outside.
He recognizes this.
The small farmhouse. The patch of trees beside it. Yoongi remembers the trees.
He walks toward them instead of the house, something tugging his feet forward.
Everything is painted in early fall colors, warm and soft.
Yoongi finds Taehyung sitting beneath a tree, head resting against the trunk and his bare feet digging into the dirt.
“Hey,” Yoongi says.
Taehyung startles, eyes widening as they find Yoongi. They’re bloodshot, puffy from crying, but they watch Yoongi with undisguised surprise. “I didn’t call you,” Taehyung tells him.
Taehyung stares at Yoongi like he can’t believe he’s here. “You only come when I call.”
Is that what it’s been? Yoongi appears in Taehyung’s life whenever Taehyung calls him, and Taehyung—
He comes when I need him. When I need someone, Yoongi realizes. He’s been calling out to Taehyung too, ever since he woke up alone on his eighth birthday. Taehyung must have learned this and figured out how to control it, but Yoongi hasn’t.
“I see,” Yoongi murmurs, and he sinks to the ground beside Taehyung and reaches forward to take his hands.
“Hyung,” Taehyung mutters, trying to pull away.
“I needed you,” Yoongi tells him, “So I came here.”
Taehyung shakes his head. “It’s never worked that way before, has it?”
“No. But I did something a little different this time,” Yoongi says. “You didn’t let me say anything earlier, Tae.”
The sun is setting beyond the trees, golden hues streaked now with pink and orange.
“I don’t want you to say anything to me because you feel guilty,” Taehyung whispers, and he won’t look Yoongi in the eye. “This is something I have to do. It was already hard enough, hyung, don’t make it harder.”
Yoongi lets go of one of Taehyung’s hands so he can cup his cheek instead, tilting his face up. “It’s so hard, Taehyung-ah, not to love you. I tried. I just want to be with you, if that’s still something you want.”
Taehyung lets out shaky breath. “What- what—”
“I took a train and a bus and two cabs to get here because I needed to tell you. Because I’m in love you and I’ve been in love with you for years now and I’m a fucking idiot for pushing you away because I thought you would never feel the same.”
Taehyung stares at him, eyes glistening. “What are you saying?
"I love you. I'm in love with you."
"You’re in love with me?”
“Yeah. So fucking in love with you, Kim Taehyung,” Yoongi whispers, and he leans in to press the foreheads together.
“You… you’re actually here? You’re here with me?” Taehyung asks, and he grasps at Yoongi’s shirt like he doesn’t believe Yoongi won’t disappear.
They hold each other, careful and trembling and Taehyung is shaking just as much as Yoongi.
"I'm sorry I made you wait so long," Yoongi says. "But I'm here."
Taehyung eliminates the space between them slowly, eyelashes fluttering closed before he presses his lips to Yoongi’s.
Taehyung kisses him gently.
Yoongi doesn’t know if the salt on their mouths is from his tears or Taehyung’s, wet and bitter though the kiss is anything but.
This is the sweetest Yoongi has ever been kissed.
Yoongi rubs his thumb over Taehyung’s cheek and kisses him back, kisses him for every moment he didn’t say he loved him. And then, because he hasn’t said it enough— “I love you,” Yoongi whispers into Taehyung’s skin. “I love you, Taehyung-ah.”
Taehyung’s fingers loosen their grip on Yoongi’s shirt only to drag over his chest, one hand settling at the back of Yoongi’s neck and the other over his heart. “I love you, hyung,” Taehyung says, and he looks into Yoongi’s eyes, and Yoongi feels bare beneath his gaze. “I love you.”
Yoongi drags his lips over Taehyung’s cheek, wraps an arm around Taehyung’s waist. “You caught the sun,” Yoongi murmurs to him, and he strokes Taehyung’s hair. He smells like tree sap again. “How does it feel?”
Taehyung breathes out slowly. And then he smiles.