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This City at Autumn's Eve

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“Ugh, no, nono nooooo —”

 

Jeongguk digs around the shelves beneath the host stand again as if checking for the fifth time will make his jacket reappear. It’s a hopeless wish, and Jeongguk knows it—but the jacket is black, and it folds up pretty small, and the back of the shelf is really dark and it’s a pretty deep space back there so maybe Jeongguk just missed seeing it the first four times—?

 

Jeongguk’s arm reaches the back panel of the desk without encountering anything that feels like fabric. He sighs, gut dropping in awful resignation. His nicest winter jacket, the only one that keeps him even remotely warm, the expensive one that he’d saved up for knowing he’d need it in the cold Seoul winters—gone.

 

“Hey, did I come in here carrying a jacket?” Jeongguk asks Yugyeom at the servers’ station. Yugyeom is carefully folding cloth napkins in thirds and smoothing them down into a precise crease, his fingers well-practiced at the task. Jeongguk anxiously taps on the desk, computer whirring away in the background.

 

Yugyeom frowns. “No? You weren’t carrying anything when you came in. Sure you didn’t leave it in your car?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No. I know I didn’t, I— fuck, I went to the coffee shop before my shift because I was early, maybe I left it there…”

 

“Just sneak over there right now. It’s slow. I’ll cover for you if the managers ask where you went,” Yugyeom offers.

 

Jeongguk sighs. “Yeah, okay.” He doesn’t love the idea of sneaking out, but he really, really needs that jacket. “Oh, by the way, are you clocked in?”

 

Yugyeom shakes his head. “I’m on break. My section will be live in…let’s see, I set a timer…thirteen minutes.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Okay. I’ll go check next door, then. And I won’t seat you for another thirteen minutes.”

 

Yugyeom smiles. “You’re the best host, Jeongguk-ssi.”

 

Jeongguk offers a weak smile. “Maybe they’ll eventually give me a raise.”

 

“Tell Kang-nim. You deserve a raise, definitely.”

 

Jeongguk will need it if he’s gonna have to replace his jacket, which—after sneaking out of the restaurant to the coffee shop next door and confirming that no, they don’t have any black coats in their lost and found—is looking more and more likely.

 

“Hey, you okay?” Kang-nim asks as he saunters up to the host stand, his suit crisp and perfectly pressed so he can welcome all the rich guests they get, the occasional athletes and celebrities. They’d asked Jeongguk in his interview, actually— how are you with famous people?

 

I hardly know any, Jeongguk had said. There are only, like, ten people on earth who could come in here and I would probably know who they are. And that’s still only a ‘probably’.

 

Jeongguk had never worked in a restaurant before and had really been hoping for something a little more lucrative, but beggars can’t be choosers. Jeongguk was and still is new to Seoul, and he majored in art, so—yeah. Definitely a beggar in that particular idiom. Out of the forty-or-so jobs he’d applied to, Banhyang-Bogjang Restaurant was the only place that even called him for an interview. Jeongguk had taken the job more out of desperation than any actual desire to be a host at a fancy restaurant, but now he’s there practically every day trying to get enough hours to pay his rent and phone bill and still have enough left for cheap instant ramyeon and now apparently, a new winter coat.

 

“Jeongguk-ssi?” Kang-nim asks, waving a playful hand in front of Jeongguk’s face. “Hey, kid, you with me?”

 

Jeongguk sighs. “I just lost my really nice jacket. But it’s okay.”

 

Kang-nim frowns. “Did you check our lost and found?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head.

 

Kang-nim’s smile turns sympathetic. “Go check the back office. I’ll watch the door.”

 

The jacket is not in the office. Jeongguk trudges back to the host stand, rerouting last minute to get a mug full of hot water from the kitchen before he meets Kang-nim back at the front.

 

Kang-nim looks at the steaming mug and laughs. “Oh my god, you’re trash.”

 

Jeongguk huffs a laugh, wishing he could muster up a better response to such a familiar jibe. “It’s cold up here. I’m always freezing. Sometimes I get so cold up here that when I go home, I have to run a bath and make instant ramyeon and sit in my bathtub while I eat the ramyeon.”

 

Kang-nim laughs hard, and then he calms down just to shake his head. “Why are you the way you are?”

 

Jeongguk huffs in fond amusement, the hurt of losing the jacket dulling just a little. “It’s cold. You want all the hosts to be freezing, it’s a fact of life.”

 

“The entire restaurant is on the same air conditioning system,” Kang-nim says. “I don’t have any control over how cold you are. If you’re that freezing, wear more clothes.”

 

“I’m in long pants and a sweater!” Jeongguk protests. “This is not my fault!”

 

“Gain weight,” is Kang-nim’s last bit of advice. Then he sobers and flicks on the screen of the host stand iPad, bringing up the restaurant’s floorplan and the reservation list. “Hey, we’ve got some regulars coming in tonight. The Mins—well, Min Yoongi and his boyfriend, Kim Taehyung, but they’re basically married at this point so we all call them ‘The Mins’. Have you met them yet?”

 

“No,” Jeongguk shakes his head, then thinks back through the past few weeks and realizes that maybe he does remember hearing the name, being told that these people existed and were already sitting in the booth they like. “I mean, I don’t think I talked to them. They came in and sat themselves, sorta.”

 

Kang-nim nods. “Yeah, they’re cool. They like the booth up front by the bar.”

 

“16?”

 

Kang-nim snaps and points at Jeongguk. “You got it, buster.”

 

Jeongguk huffs and shakes his head. “ Buster, ” he mutters to himself, eyeing Kang-nim playfully.

 

“Anyway, don’t seat anyone at 16 until they come. They’re super nice; they’ve been coming in since we opened. They live close. I think Min-nim has been working on a project recently, so they’ve been too busy to come by. I’ll have to ask him about it tonight.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Okay. Anything else?”

 

“We got large parties coming in?”

 

“Just that 14-top business meeting,” Jeongguk says, scrolling to the reservation and opening up the notes about it. “Are they going in the private dining room?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll get it set up,” Kang-nim says, drumming his hands on the top of the host stand. “Okay, let me know if anything comes up. I’ll be out on the floor tonight, and it’s pretty slow. Should be a breeze.”

 

Jeongguk grins. “Yeah, I’ve got it. You know I’m really good at running your restaurant over here, right?”

 

“I know. I owe you.”

 

“Pay me more money!” Jeongguk jokes, smiling as Kang-nim strolls away. The request earns Jeongguk a grin thrown over Kang-nim’s shoulder, but there’s no follow-up, no acknowledgement that Jeongguk has said anything.

 

Jeongguk sighs and resigns himself to his barely livable wage and a winter without a jacket.







🍁







“Hi! Are you new?”

 

Jeongguk blinks at the boy who has suddenly appeared in front of the host stand in a bluster of fall-colored glory, all chestnut hair and bright brown eyes, a maroon sweater and dark corduroy trousers. His skin retains a gold stain of summer sun across it, and his features are like something out of a magazine, geometric and well-balanced. Jeongguk’s stomach does a whole swoop, roller coaster drop exhilaration racing through him as he takes in the easy, effusive energy of the person looking so intently at him. “I’m Taehyung! You’re really cute!”

 

Jeongguk blinks a frazzled staccato rhythm that probably makes him look like he got something in his eye or is going to start crying. Fuck. The pretty kid—Taehyung, that’s Taehyung, pretty pretty Taehyung—keeps grinning and looking at Jeongguk with his big swooping eyes. Behind him, a shorter, soft-featured boy snorts and steps up to the host stand, looking at Jeongguk with something like commiseration and warm sympathy. “Sorry. Taehyung was waiting for me at the champagne bar down the street and now he’s kind of tipsy and very obnoxious.”

 

Taehyung pouts, whole body turning to sigh itself at the boy next to him. “ Hyung.

 

The other boy doesn’t acknowledge the overdramatic misery that is Taehyung, but there’s a grin playing at his lips that tells of fond familiarity and the intimacy of knowing exactly what someone else is doing even though you’re pretending not to pay attention to them. “We have a reservation under Min Yoongi.” His hair is gray and soft, a bit shorter than Taehyung’s unruly mop all mussed with wind and easy tipsiness. Min Yoongi is wearing all black, and his silver hoop earrings are heavier than Taehyung’s delicate studs.

 

Jeongguk’s heart aches and jumps and generally freaks out to look at them both. Fuck. Wow.

 

“Um,” Jeongguk manages when he realizes that Yoongi is looking at him expectantly. Taehyung too, because he’s turned back towards the host stand and his expression has gone whimsical and admiring, his eyes wide and just the slightest bit glassy now that Jeongguk is paying attention. Definitely buzzed, but it’s a cute look on him, his edges blurred into something fairylike and soft. Jeongguk has the sudden urging want to reach out and feel, because that radiance must have the sweetest texture, like the frayed edges of a well-loved blanket you can’t get rid of even though it’s nearly falling apart.

 

“If it didn’t go through or something, it’s no big deal,” Yoongi says. “Trust me, we’re not gonna demand a table if you guys are fully booked tonight. I know it’s a Saturday.”

 

Jeongguk looks down and sure enough, Yoongi’s name is in the guestbook and it has the gold star next to it that means he’s an Important Person. “No, no, sorry! It’s right here! For 7:30.”

 

Yoongi nods, grinning easily and tugging Taehyung back into his orbit as the taller boy gets distracted and starts walking away towards—something. Maybe the cool lamp in the corner. Jeongguk isn’t really sure, but spacey Taehyung is annoyingly cute and Jeongguk’s heart keeps swooping and he’s handling this so badly, he’s making such a fool of himself. They’re going to think he’s the most incompetant host at the restaurant, and they’re regulars , and they matter. And Jeongguk! Is failing! At his entire job!

 

And he lost his jacket today. Boo.

 

“Um, yeah, no, sorry, it’s just been a weird day,” Jeongguk manages. “We saved your favorite booth for you.”

 

Yoongi nods, and Taehyung squeals. “That’s so nice!” Taehyung chirps. “I love that one because you can see out the windows.”

 

Jeongguk huffs and drags Yoongi’s name over to the icon of that particular booth on the iPad screen, and the computer system gives notification that the table is now occupied. Jeongguk steps out from around the host stand and gestures towards the booth. “Right this way.”

 

“So you must be new!” Taehyung says as they mosey over to the booth. “I haven’t seen you before!”

 

“I’ve worked here for…mm, almost two months, I think?” Jeongguk says.

 

“What’s your name?” Yoongi asks. “We’re usually in here all the time, so we like to get to know everyone.”

 

“Jeongguk,” Jeongguk says, heart squirming at the attentiveness Yoongi levels him with. Jeongguk isn’t used to that sort of look from people, not since he moved to Seoul—the look like someone actually cares what you say, and what you think. Seoul is colder than Jeongguk’s sleepy Busan suburb, the people less accessible. Jeongguk gets a lot of faces in front of him that want something from him, that demand service; he doesn’t get a lot of faces that actually care about Jeongguk as a human.

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Jeongguk-ssi! I’m Taehyung, and this is Yoongi-hyung. Well, he’s my hyung, I don’t know if—how old are you?”

 

“Uh—23?”

 

“I’m 25!” Taehyung says. “But Yoongi-hyung is old, he’s 27 already.”

 

“Aish, the disrespect—” Yoongi says, batting at Taehyung’s head and then just grabbing his hair when Taehyung tries to duck out of the way

 

Taehyung laughs heartily and collapses into the booth. “Unhand me, old man!”

 

“I’m so not tucking you in tonight.”

 

“You always tuck me in!”

 

“Not when you’re being a brat.”

 

Especially when I’m being a brat!” Taehyung says, tugging Yoongi into the booth on the same side he’s already sitting on. Apparently they’re that kind of couple. Jeongguk kind of hates them. Hates how easily they fit together, how they sounded like Seoul at first but slowly descended into a satoori that Jeongguk thinks might be Daegu. How happy they seem, how connected they are to each other.

 

Jeongguk, alternatively, can’t even remember the last time he felt connected to anything. Maybe it was that song he found a few weeks ago, but that wasn’t exactly another sentient being. So it probably doesn’t count.

 

“Um. Menus are by the wall,” Jeongguk says unnecessarily as Taehyung grabs one book and holds it so he and Yoongi can share. It aches low in Jeongguk’s abdomen and he tries to focus on anything other than the couple in front of him—but then the only other things to think about are the fact that Jeongguk is freezing as always, and he’s got another five hours left before he’ll be home, and he no longer owns a winter coat. Plus he took the train today because he can’t afford gas for his car right now, and the train adds an extra thirty minutes to his commute.

 

Taehyung and Yoongi both look up with warm, warm grins. “Thanks for the table, Jeongguk-ssi,” Yoongi says. “We really appreciate it. It’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Are you hungry?” Taehyung asks, low voice loud against the dull roar of the crowd in the restaurant. “Do they give you food?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “Not food off the menu, but sometimes the chefs make Family Meal for us.”

 

“Did you eat?” Taehyung asks, frowning.

 

“No, I—I’m the only host on right now, so I can’t go in the kitchen and eat because then there won’t be anyone to greet the guests.”

 

“What do you want?” Taehyung asks. “I’ll order it for you and sneak it up to the host stand. I know you guys aren’t supposed to eat up there, but the other hosts totally do. I’m getting you japchae. Or do you want steak? I will order you a whole steak!”

 

“Taehyung,” Yoongi chides, but he shakes his head up at Jeongguk with a fond grin, and his fingers are entwined with Taehyung’s atop the table, so Jeongguk is pretty sure he’s not really mad. “Seriously, though, are you hungry?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head even though he’s starving. “I’m fine, really.”

 

Yoongi tuts. “We’re definitely ordering you something. We’ll sneak it to you later, yeah?”

 

Jeongguk’s breath is caught in his throat, his eyes wide, every inch of him buzzing with too much attention after too long without anyone actually looking at him, actually seeing. If there’s anything Jeongguk has learned in the two months he’s been living in Seoul, it’s that being alone means being invisible. It doesn’t help that Jeongguk has never been that good at opening up, never good at showing himself to others. He’s friendly with his coworkers and boss, sure, but he doesn’t make friends.

 

Jeongguk is learning how to live alone, and he’s been doing pretty well lately. He’s used to limited intimacy. Kang-nim had tapped Jeongguk’s forearm the other day; it was the most physical contact Jeongguk had experienced in months.

 

“Thanks, Min-nim, but you really don’t have to,” Jeongguk manages. “It was nice to meet you, Kim-nim. Min-nim.”

 

They both shake their heads, Yoongi calmly and Taehyung wildly, which seems to be a theme with them: both doing the same thing, but Yoongi with nonchalant elegance and Taehyung with enthusiastic warmth. “Definitely call me Taehyung-hyung,” Taehyung chirps. “Oh! Hyung, there are new cocktails on the cocktail list! I wanna order all of them!”

 

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Pick one.

 

“How? They all look so good!

 

“You’ll be on the floor if you drink them all.”

 

“You would carry me home!” Taehyung protests, bratty and bright.

 

Yoongi scoffs. “I absolutely would not.”

 

Their bickering and flirting starts to feel private, too familiar for Jeongguk to witness. He awkwardly stacks the extra two place settings on the table so he can carry them back to the servers’ station and steps away from the table as Taehyung erupts into giggles and Yoongi’s mouth twitches up into the fondest little smirk.

 

“Um—your server will be right over,” Jeongguk mumbles under the sound of Yoongi and Taehyung starting in on a discussion about what side plates to order. Jeongguk is used to couples ignoring him, lost in their own little world once they’re settled in their booth, menu spread between them.

 

But Yoongi looks up instantly, disconnecting from Taehyung’s rambling to fixate on Jeongguk once more. “Thank you again, Jeongguk-ssi. And you can call me ‘hyung’ if you want.”

 

Jeongguk flushes, all the heat and traitorous longing in him creeping up in what must be bright red splotches on his neck. He studies the table, unable to meet Yoongi’s eyes. “Thanks, hyung. Um. You can just call me Jeongguk.”

 

“Jeongguk-ah, will you tell Yugyeom that I want the Queen’s Crown? That’s the one with creme de violet in it, right?” Taehyung begs.

 

“Stop trying to order drinks from the host,” Yoongi says, scoffing. “Yugyeom will be over in like two seconds.”

 

Sure enough, Yugyeom comes sauntering up just then, and there’s really nothing left for Jeongguk to do after that. His job is to seat the tables and then go back to the host stand to check the next guests in, not to stay and talk to the achingly beautiful boys at table 16 as they flirt with each other and gaze wide-eyed at Jeongguk like they can actually see him, like they like what they see. That’s preposterous. Jeongguk is just a host with a useless art degree and a tiny apartment far out of the city and no prospects but too much pride to crawl home to Busan.

 

“Enjoy,” Jeongguk mutters as he excuses himself from Yoongi and Taehyung’s table. He takes the extra plates and cups to the servers’ station and hurries back to the host stand, gets busy seating other guests, checking people in for reservations, making sure all the servers get an equal-ish number of tables.

 

He doesn’t see Yoongi and Taehyung again. The restaurant is too busy. But sometime later, after he notices with a sinking feeling that 16 is now empty and needs to be bussed, after he pushes away the feeling of liking these cute boys who are apparently regulars and he’s going to have to see them being like that all the time, Jeongguk comes back to the host stand and there’s a to-go box sitting there with his name on it. The container has a little heart creature with super long arms in a polkadot onesie (or is it a space suit?) drawn at the corner and labeled “Super Curious Tata”. There’s also a little circular thing with mismatched eyebrows and a round grin labeled “Shooky the cookie” riding on top of a lop-eared, also-mismatched-eyebrow bunny doodle labeled “Cooky the bunny (that one’s you, JK!)”.

 

Jeongguk blushes and opens the box. There’s an order of kimchi fried rice inside, still hot. It makes Jeongguk’s stomach grumble, but it also makes him want to cry, because holy shit. They actually ordered him something and then stashed it under the host stand for him. And drew him cute pictures, and wrote his name in some pretty, flourishy handwriting that Jeongguk somehow just knows is Taehyung’s.

 

He sneaks a pair of chopsticks from the servers’ station and gobbles up the meal with his head ducked under the stand, careful to only eat half so he can take the rest home to eat tomorrow. That night, he goes home without a jacket. The walk from the train is freezing, but at least he’ll be able to eat more than just a granola bar tomorrow.







🍁







Taehyung and Yoongi come in again just a few days later. Jeongguk thanks them for the fried rice and they both wave him off. He tries to pay them back for it and they almost get mad, both fiercely insistent that they wanted to do something nice for him, that it was no big deal, that they can afford it and please stop insisting you want to pay us back because we just want you to eat delicious foods and you’re really cute with your ridiculous big eyes and bunny teeth and that little scar on your cheek—

 

Okay, so most of that was Taehyung after he’d tried another of the new fall cocktails, the one with absinthe and vodka in it. Yoongi had hushed him quietly, and Jeongguk had worried for a second that Yoongi might get mad, might mistakenly think that Taehyung was interested in Jeongguk or something which—it’s ridiculous to flirt with someone right in front of your boyfriend, right? But Yoongi had just drawn Taehyung back into his arms with a gentle, wistful little sigh, and Taehyung had gone, snuggling up and whining dramatically. “Hyung, I’m kinda drunk now. That cocktail was strong.”

 

“Yeah, I feel like all the new cocktails are pretty strong, actually.”

 

Taehyung had just shaken his head, grinning up at Jeongguk with a wide boxy smile, glowing with stardust and youthful light. “I’m gonna try them all.

 

Taehyung and Yoongi really do come in all the time, and Jeongguk sees them pretty much every visit. He works a lot of hours after all, six days a week if he can because then he can usually come close to 40 hours and that makes for a sort of okay paycheck. It means he can maybe splurge on bubble tea once a month or so, and that’s always an exciting day because the Thai milk tea at the place down the street is delicious .

 

“Jeongguk-ah, do you live here?” Taehyung asks one night, throwing himself at the host stand as soon as he and Yoongi come in. It’s Wednesday, the restaurant serene and dimly lit, quieter than usual.

 

Jeongguk huffs. “I told my manager today that I’m pretty sure I’m the only host who actually works here anymore.”

 

“You are,” Yoongi nods. “I haven’t seen any of the others in weeks.”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip and glances around the restaurant. “Um. Sorry, your favorite booth is taken right now. You wanna—erm. Would you prefer to wait for us to clear it? Or I can seat you right away if you would prefer to dine somewhere else.”

 

Taehyung pouts. “Can we order food up here at these tables by the host stand?”

 

Jeongguk nods, heart skipping the way it does every single time he sees Taehyung, every time he sees Yoongi. They’re usually together when they come in, but every once in a while they’re not. Yoongi came in with someone named Namjoon a couple days ago, and Taehyung met a Jimin and a Hoseok and a Seokjin here for brunch on Sunday. Jeongguk had only briefly met the others, but they’d all seemed very nice. Jeongguk had gone back to the host stand both times feeling overwhelmed by the wonder of people having friends.

 

“Of course! You can—I mean. We would be more than happy to accommodate you here in the lounge area,” Jeongguk says, kicking himself for nearly forgetting the correct wording for when people ask about that. “You’re welcome to start with drinks and I’ll get your booth ready as soon as I can. I’ll let my manager know.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. “We’ll just eat here tonight, at this table right by you! Is that okay? Will we distract you?”

 

Jeongguk’s cheeks go hot. He scrunches up his nose and shakes his head, overwhelmed with affection and painful longing, the kind that comes from looking directly at something and feeling the empty ache within you of not having. So close, and yet so far. Taehyung is right here tapping his fingers up under Jeongguk’s chin with a smile full of warmth, and Yoongi is next to him looking amiable and calm as always—

 

And yet, they’re so unreachable, so lovely and kind and sweet on each other. Jeongguk can’t let his heart trip over itself into a crush, he just can’t . Yoongi and Taehyung are with each other and Jeongguk wouldn’t want to split them up if he could, and even if they did somehow split, Jeongguk’s heart aches painfully for both of them. He couldn’t have just one; it wouldn’t be complete.

 

Also, Jeongguk hardly knows them. A few minutes greeting them and walking them to their table a couple times a week doesn’t count as getting to know someone. Jeongguk has watched a vague acquaintanceship blossom, but it’s not like he’s friends with Taehyung and Yoongi. He just knows who they are, and they know him. That’s all.

 

“You wouldn’t bother me,” Jeongguk says as Taehyung settles on the bench seat next to the host stand, Yoongi sitting down beside him.

 

“I’m definitely going to bother you,” Taehyung insists, but his eyes are sparkling even as he curls into Yoongi. The way they’re sitting side by side, they have to look up to see Jeongguk, and Jeongguk bites his lip and looks at the door. No one is coming in. They only have four more reservations on the books.

 

“It’s not busy,” Jeongguk says. “It’s really okay.”

 

“I wanna talk to you, though,” Taehyung whines.

 

Jeongguk must have a sort of deer-in-the-headlights look about him, because Yoongi huffs and takes pity. “You know, he’s not even drunk tonight? I think you’ve seen a lot of Tipsy Taehyung over the past couple months, but this is not Tipsy Taehyung. This is just how he is.”

 

Taehyung nods emphatically. “It’s true. I am like this. I am very like this. Also, I want the next cocktail on the list. The spiced pear martini.”

 

“That one has a lot of alcohol,” Jeongguk says. “And it’s pretty sweet. And kinda cinnamon-y.”

 

“Does it have Fireball in it?” Taehyung asks, frowning dramatically.

 

“Um? No? Just, um, vodka I think? And some liquor I’ve never heard of, but definitely no Fireball.”

 

“It’s a classy restaurant,” Yoongi teases. “They’re not gonna put Fireball in a fucking 13,000-won martini.”

 

Taehyung crosses his arms, smiling as he huffs up at Yoongi. “I bet they could! I bet it would taste delicious!”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip and hands over the menus they keep behind the host stand. “Here are menus. I’ll make sure the cocktail server comes over to help you.”

 

For the next hour and a half, Taehyung and Yoongi keep up a wildly funny dialogue that involves Jeongguk more often than not. In fact, it seems like the only time Jeongguk spends not talking to them is when he’s greeting the few parties who show up for their reservations and then walking them to their tables. As soon as Jeongguk is alone at the host stand again, Taehyung and Yoongi reel him back in with questions about his job, his life, his family. Jeongguk answers the best he can, even though he’s secretive by nature and not really prone to talking about his problems—and right now, all those things are kind of problems. His job barely pays him the money he needs to survive, but he can’t seem to get an interview anywhere else. His life is going nowhere. His family is far away in Busan and has always been pretty distant, never the kind of people who would do regular meals or even holiday celebrations. 

 

“Don’t you miss home, though?” Taehyung asks when Jeongguk mentions this, the words casual and brief, nonchalant the way functioning adults are supposed to sound when they’re talking about living away from home.

 

Jeongguk pauses, and Yoongi glances up at him and then nudges Taehyung, so subtly Jeongguk almost doesn’t notice. “We miss Daegu sometimes, you know?” Yoongi says. “Seoul is a lot if you’re not from here. Probably even if you are from here, it can be a lot.”

 

Jeongguk huffs, grateful for the out. “Yeah,” he agrees, commiserating, not revealing anything too intimate about himself. The way you commiserate about drab weather or shitty wooden chopsticks that never break apart right. “Sometimes it’s weird being away from home. But it’s not too bad.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head, though, entirely serious and heartbroken for all the world to see. “Well, you guys are lucky. I’m always homesick. I’m not even homesick for home, I just miss everyone I know, I miss them so much when they’re not here. I miss Jiminie and Namjoonie and Hoseokie and Seokjinnie when I haven’t seen them for, like, a few seconds!

 

Yoongi huffs and flicks at Taehyung’s forehead. “You’ve only had like half a drink, Taehyung. You cannot be this drunk and sentimental already.”

 

“I can! I can be sentimental whenever and however I want to be sentimental, hyung!”

 

They’d let the topic of homesickness go after that, but Jeongguk hadn’t been able to shake the mildewy thickness of it in his chest and throat all night, especially when Yoongi had caught him biting his lip and looking angstily at the wall and then given Jeongguk a concerned, knowing look.

 

Jeongguk is all alone. He’s been practicing, and he’s really good at it. He shouldn’t be giving himself away so easily like this. That’s one of the major benefits of loneliness—you never have to give yourself up and risk losing yourself to someone with a stronger will, someone who might use the pieces of you that you give them for nefarious villain plots.

 

When Jeongguk goes home that night, full of food stolen off Taehyung and Yoongi’s shared plate and warm with the knowledge of them the way they are together, and the way they are with him , Jeongguk is pretty sure he’s going to shake apart in the front seat of his beat up old car. He clutches onto the steering wheel and tries to get his synapses to fire correctly as he backs out of his space in the deserted 6,000-won-per-day lot. Tries not to shudder and slip out of the edges of himself as he trembles against the worn fabric upholstery and feels phantom hands all over him, Taehyung’s wide and quick and teasing, Yoongi’s long-fingered and veiny and strong.

 

It’s a long drive home, and worse once Jeongguk gets there and slips inside and sees a mirage of what it must look like in Taehyung and Yoongi’s apartment right now: Taehyung swinging himself inside, one hand on the door frame as he lets gravity do the work and ricochet him home. Yoongi shaking his head when Taehyung inevitably falls too far and nearly hits the floor, but Yoongi grabs him and steadies him and Taehyung laughs, tumbling instead into Yoongi’s chest and resting there, all shiny laughter and purple delight. Taehyung always seems stained through with love, soaking in it and effusing it with every blink of those big angular eyes, smitten with a world that is equally smitten with him.

 

Jeongguk flicks on the buzzy yellow light in his living room/dining room/kitchen area and wonders what Taehyung and Yoongi would look like here. Surely their apartment is much nicer than this one if they can afford to dine at Jeongguk’s expensive restaurant regularly, but the idea of them in this rundown little space is still nice to behold. Taehyung dancing into the kitchen, spinning back because he’s always just a step ahead of Yoongi, grinning and dragging Yoongi into a slow waltz in the refrigerator light. Yoongi letting himself be led, forever in Taehyung’s orbit, warm and lazy. Pliant. Soft.

 

And Jeongguk—where would he be? It’s hard not to picture Taehyung and Yoongi swooping him into their antics, except that’s the worst thing Jeongguk could do, don’t think about it, don’t

 

Too late.

 

Jeongguk can feel their hands, can feel their eyes on him. Can feel them all around him, holding him between them, pressing contact where Jeongguk hasn’t felt human hands in months. It’s mystifying—Jeongguk had never really believed touch-starvation to be a thing until just recently. Had never thought you could get so desperate, could crave even just the tap of someone’s finger on your shoulder—but now he does. And it’s so much worse now that he’s had this wild and wonderful evening with Taehyung and Yoongi. It’s like being a guest star on a famous TV show and getting to become a part of the cast you love for just one episode, but then you’re gone.

 

The show will go on without Jeongguk, and Jeongguk knows he can live with that but suddenly he doesn’t want to. He feels like he can’t, like he’s going to shatter on the floor into a million tiny pieces and never be put back together.

 

He wants and wants and wants, and when he goes to bed, he accidentally cries himself to sleep.







🍁








“Hey, Jeongguk-ah!” Taehyung shouts, skipping up to the host stand, Jimin and Hoseok in tow. Jeongguk greets them all, not making eye contact as he studies the floorplan. It’s busy right now, and Taehyung doesn’t have a reservation. Jeongguk would know. He studies the reservation list every day when he comes in. Not, like, to check to see if Taehyung and Yoongi are coming in, but just because he wants to make sure he can honor all the requests for booths or outside tables, that all the large parties will fit on the banquette seats in the back, that sort of thing.

 

Also, it lets him know if Taehyung and Yoongi are coming in.

 

“Hey, is there any way we can sit somewhere that’s warmer?” Jimin asks, shivering as he looks hopefully at Jeongguk.

 

Jeongguk laughs half-heartedly. He hears this request at least seven times per shift. “Don’t worry, Jimin-ssi. The entire rest of the restaurant is warmer than right here. They just keep the host stand like six degrees colder than everywhere else.”

 

Taehyung nods emphatically as Jimin and Hoseok make sympathetic sounds of dismay. “Seriously, he’s always freezing,” Taehyung says. “He makes his manager go get him mugs of hot water to drink to stay warm.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Sometimes I go home and eat instant ramyeon in my bathtub,” he says without thinking.

 

Jimin and Hoseok laugh, but Taehyung looks overwhelmingly alarmed. “Really? No, that’s—you get that cold?”

 

Jeongguk blushes and shakes his head, laughing the way you’re supposed to, it’s a joke, he’s making light of a very annoying aspect of his work conditions. “It’s fine, Taehyung-hyung.”

 

Jimin and Hoseok look curiously from Jeongguk to Taehyung and it takes Jeongguk a second to realize that Taehyung is studying him very intently, all of his focus thrown into his consideration of Jeongguk’s eyes, and the intensity is kind of disorienting.

 

Finally, Jimin clears his throat. “Jeongguk-ssi, um, I know it’s busy, but do you have a table for three?”

 

Jeongguk uses the excuse to fixate on the screen of the iPad, trying to find a spot he can fit three more people. They’re not really supposed to accept walk-in customers right now, but for Taehyung, Jeongguk would probably give away a reserved table anyway. Not that Taehyung would ever ask for Jeongguk to do that, but that’s kind of why Jeongguk would give the table away. Taehyung is way nicer than most of the entitled guests who come into the restaurant with all their demanding rudeness and generally bad attitudes that make Jeongguk want to ask, “Does acting this way benefit you in some way? Is your life quality improved by being mean to me?”

 

“It’s really fine if you guys are fully booked,” Taehyung says. “We can always squeeze in at the bar or something.”

 

“I can get you a table,” Jeongguk blurts, even though there’s a six-top that’s supposed to be going to table 11 in fifteen minutes. Maybe one of the other booths will finish up by the time that party gets here? “Follow me, please.”

 

“Thanks, Jeongguk-ah!” Taehyung says, grinning bright and beautiful as Jeongguk leads them over to the booth. He can’t see this particular spot from the host stand, but maybe that’s a good thing, because it means Jeongguk won’t get distracted looking at Taehyung from across the restaurant, hoping his constant searching for a head of chestnut hair isn’t being noticed by anyone. Especially not Yoongi, when Yoongi is here too.

 

(Not that Jeongguk isn’t also looking at Yoongi. He definitely, definitely is.)

 

It’s late by the time Taehyung and Jimin and Hoseok finish with their dinner, and they stop by the host stand again on the way out, all grinning and raving about how good the meal was. Jimin and Hoseok run off to the bathroom, and Taehyung leans against the wall next to Jeongguk’s spot while he waits, shoving a box of leftover food into Jeongguk’s hands with a cute little flourish.

 

“Taehy—”

 

No, take it,” Taehyung insists, shaking his head.

 

“Won’t Yoongi-hyung want—”

 

“He’ll want you to have an actual dinner instead of eating those silly protein bars you’re always nibbling on.”

 

Jeongguk pouts. “Protein bars are nutritious.”

 

Taehyung’s expression is skeptical and sharp, the sharpest Jeongguk has ever seen. “You can’t live on them, though. Please. It’s not even that much food, and it’s not like Yoongi and I really need it. But you do.”

 

Jeongguk blushes. He can smell lamb and vegetables and spices wafting up from the container he’s holding and he stashes it under the host stand as quickly as he can. “Thanks, Taehyung-hyung.”

 

Taehyung nods, eyes deep in a way Jeongguk hasn’t seen before, bottomless with swirling empathy and conscientiousness and maybe even—affection? “We like you, Jeongguk-ah. You’re always freezing up here, and hungry. I can’t solve the first one, but I can solve the second.”

 

Jimin and Hoseok reappear, grinning and dragging Taehyung back into their extroverted, jokey antics. “Goodnight, Jeongguk-ssi!” Hoseok shouts as they pull on the door handle to exit and promptly burst into laughter when the door doesn’t open.

 

“Push,” Jeongguk says, a command he has to give about one thousand times a day. “The handles are poorly designed, sorry. Everyone tries to pull. What’s really funny is that some people pull a few times and then just literally give up and walk away. Like they think you can’t go out the front entrance of the restaurant.”

 

Hoseok and Jimin and Taehyung laugh and laugh, and then they push through the doors and into the night.

 

“You should hang out with us sometime, Jeongguk-ssi!” Jimin shouts over his shoulder as they head off.

 

Jeongguk freezes. “Uh. Sure,” he says, shifting on the balls of his feet, knowing it won’t ever happen.

 

“Great!” Jimin chirps, leaning back into the restaurant to shoot Jeongguk a smile. “See ya!”

 

“Bye,” Jeongguk whispers to himself as the three of them burst out onto the street and head off, past the edges of the restaurant windows so Jeongguk can’t see them anymore.

 

He shivers and heads to the back of the restaurant to liberate a pair of chopsticks from the polishing station, and then he feasts himself on Taehyung’s leftovers, aching with the memory of Taehyung’s concern for him.






🍁







The thing about Yoongi and Taehyung is that they’re always unreasonably warm and familiar with Jeongguk when they come in. Yoongi always asks Jeongguk meaningful questions, nothing so deep that Jeongguk wouldn’t want to answer, but something more than just nice weather, huh? Yoongi asks how Jeongguk is doing and he wants to know the actual answer, and Jeongguk, more often than not, gives him the truth in this helpless, stumbly sort of way that always earns him a gummy smile or a look of real concern.

 

Taehyung is rambly and attentive too, but there’s another layer to his conscientiousness, a physicality that Yoongi either doesn’t have or is better at restraining. Taehyung isn’t touchy but it seems like he wants to be; he’s always reaching out his hands towards Jeongguk and then dropping them when he realizes they’re not really in a place where skinship would be appropriate. He studies Jeongguk’s hands and cheeks and hair, fingers tapping with barely restrained energy as he waits for Jeongguk to check them in for their reservation and get them seated. He walks too close sometimes, and he almost slings an arm over Jeongguk’s shoulder one time but Jeongguk watches the moment he catches himself about to do it and then stops.

 

Do it, please, just TOUCH me, Jeongguk wants to say, because he’s aching all the time for any sort of touch—hell, yesterday Yugyeom had accidentally brushed the backs of their hands together and Jeongguk had nearly shivered with how good it had felt, how much relief had existed in that fleeting single second of touch.

 

At night, Jeongguk huddles beneath his covers and thinks, at least I can afford a roof over my head and these blankets. They’re very soft blankets, and Jeongguk snuggles into them and pretends they’re another person, someone to hold him tight and stroke his hair and be touched in return.

 

Two someones, Jeongguk’s near-sleep brain suggests, sneaky with the way it slips the thought in just before Jeongguk drifts into dreams. Yoongi’s hands here, Jeongguk imagines, practically a lucid dream, his fingers twitching as his brain shuts off into the dormancy of sleep. And Taehyung’s around my hips, then my waist, just clinging tight.

 

Jeongguk falls asleep and dreams dirty montages of touch. Dreams Yoongi’s lips at his throat and Taehyung’s hands pressing his legs wide open, both of them arching into the tension of unrestrained pleasure and shrouding Jeongguk’s body with their own skin and bones and sinew. Dreams shivering safe and secure, dreams of edges that you want to tumble over, dreams the way someone else’s hands might play your body perfectly until you crescendo without a shred of self-consciousness, all nerve-endings on fire and skin singing to be held.

 

Jeongguk wakes up aching and sticky and guilty down to the depths of him, toes curling with how easy it would be to turn over and move against the mattress with the kind of intention that leads to—

 

No. Stop. Cold shower. Don’t tempt this, don’t encourage it.

 

The morning light is just peeking in around Jeongguk’s curtains, and the stream of water out of his showerhead is icy and weak. Jeongguk huddles against the tiles, all goosebumps and shame for the visions that still haunt his head: Taehyung and Yoongi and the lovely things they must get up to in their bed, or on their couch, or in their own surely-much-nicer-and-bigger-than-Jeongguk’s shower.

 

Fuck. Fuck.

 

Jeongguk turns off the water as fast as he can and towels himself dry, shivering at the rough of terrycloth against his skin, cold cold cold.

 

At least he’s saving money on hot water, right?








🍁








“Hey, so Kim Taehyung just called and asked if we happen to have his boyfriend’s headphones,” Yugyeom says, sauntering up to the host stand. He stops short of the desk and shivers. “Damn, it really is ridiculously cold up here.”

 

Jeongguk, huddled in a beige cardigan because it’s the only warm thing he owns now that his jacket is officially gone (it’s been weeks and he’s given up on anyone turning it in), nods and huffs. “Yeah. I’m drinking hot water. Kang-nim always laughs at me and calls me trash.”

 

Yugyeom laughs. “You are trash. So, anyways, the headphones? Do you have them up here?”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “Haven’t seen them.”

 

“Damn,” Yugyeom says. “Um, okay, you might wanna go grab the phone from the back and call Kim-nim back? His number’s in the guest book, you should be able to bring it up in the iPad.”

 

Jeongguk gulps and nods. “Uh—yeah. Yeah, okay, I’ll go get the phone. Yeah.”

 

Yugyeom shoots Jeongguk a strange look, but then he shrugs and heads back towards his section of the restaurant. Jeongguk hurries to the office and retrieves the phone, hurries back up front, hurries to pull up Taehyung’s number and punch it in and connect the call.

 

“Hello?” It is unmistakably Taehyung’s low, lovely voice, even muffled through the cheap cordless handset that looks like it came from approximately 2006.

 

“Hi,” Jeongguk blurts, “uh, this is Jeon Jeongguk calling from Banhyang-Bogjang?”

 

“Jeonggukkie!” Taehyung shouts, nearly blowing out the speakers in the handset so Jeongguk has to yank it away from his ear, startled.

 

“Uh—yeah, I—um, I’m really sorry, but I couldn’t find Yoongi-ssi’s headphones—”

 

Hyung, ” Taehyung stresses, “ah, Jeonggukkie, call him ‘hyung’. He gets all sad when we come in and you call him ‘Yoongi-ssi’ all formal-like and then he’s mopey, he mopes to me, like all oh Jeongguk-ah doesn’t feel comfortable with us being so informal, we have to be more respectful of him, but then he’s sad and I have to cheer him up!”

 

Jeongguk—100 percent does not know what to do with any of that information. Just—yep. Nothing. He’s got nothing. His chest is all glowy and his hands are possibly shaking and his head feels like he’s just ridden a spinny ride at the carnival a bunch of times, and—yeah. Basically, he’s just—yeah. Yeah.

 

“Jeongguk-ah? You still there?”

 

Jeongguk takes a deep breath and calms himself down. “Uh. Yeah. I’m sorry we didn’t find the headphones. What did they look like?”

 

“It was a pair of black Beats, fuck, I had them and I was the one who left them there, he’s gonna be so mad—well, not really, probably, I mean he likes me a lot so mostly he’ll probably just be kind of annoyed, but like. I don’t know, I was in with Namjoon-hyung and Jimin for lunch but you weren’t there yet—have you met Namjoon-hyung? He and Jimin are like, the cutest couple—you should hang out with all of us sometime! And bring your friends, I wanna meet all your friends—”

 

A couple comes in the door and Jeongguk has to point awkwardly to the phone, offering a grimace-y grin. The couple nods and waits, although the man looks somewhat irritated that he isn’t being served right away. Jeongguk clears his throat. “Um, I’ll keep an eye out for the headphones and I’ll call you if I find them.”

 

Taehyung’s ramble cuts off. “Oh. Sorry, am I bothering you? Are the people there who want a table? Sorry!

 

Jeongguk huffs. “It’s okay. But also, yes. I’ll call back if I find the headphones.”

 

“Thanks, Jeongguk-ah. You’re the best.” Taehyung’s voice sounds breathless, starstruck, bright.

 

Jeongguk swallows back feelings that threaten to turn into tears for some reason. I wanna meet all your friends, he hears Taehyung’s excited voice say. Inadequacy threatens to overwhelm Jeongguk in a giant wave, because—friends. Friends.

 

Jeongguk doesn’t have any friends for Taehyung to meet. So.

 

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says, automatic.

 

“See you later,” Taehyung says, sounding equally like he’s running on autopilot, a little overwhelmed and airy and too vibrant for his body, his soul escaping the real-world boundaries of the moment.

 

“Goodbye,” Jeongguk breathes, and then he hangs up the phone and looks up at the couple in front of him.

 

They stare for a quiet second and then the man says in a why are you this dumb sort of tone, “Uh, two?”

 

Jeongguk shakes himself out of his stupor. “Uh—yeah! Sorry. Yes. May I have your name, please?”

 

Jeongguk sits the next tables in a daze, head spinning around the delight with which Taehyung had spoken on the phone, on the vague invitation to meet his friends, the idea that maybe Jeongguk will get lucky and find the headphones and then get to call back.

 

And at the end of the night, well. He does.









🍁








“Mina-ssi is using the phone,” Kang-nim says. “Just call him on your cell.”

 

Jeongguk blinks, black Beats headphones clutched in one hand and iPad in the other. “It’s 11:00 p.m. Should I wait until tomorrow?”

 

Kang-nim shrugs. “Up to you. But I know those two; they won’t be asleep yet. Honestly, Min-nim will probably sleep better if he knows we have those.”

 

Jeongguk nods, squirming a little. “You’re sure it’s okay? For me to call a customer on my own phone?”

 

Kang-nim nods. “It’s fine. Doesn’t really matter.”

 

So Jeongguk goes back to the host stand where it’s freezing cold but also quiet, and dials Taehyung’s number.

 

“Hello?” Taehyung answers, just the way he had earlier.

 

“Hi, Kim-nim, this is Jeon Jeongguk calling from Banhyang-Bogjang. Um. I found the headphones.”

 

“Oh! Oh my god, thank you, wow can we come get them right now? Or like, actually, have you had dinner? Do you work tomorrow?”

 

“Huh?” Jeongguk asks, shuffling papers around the host stand to organize them as if he’s not just going to throw them away in a couple minutes when he gets to leave.

 

“Yoongi-hyung is cooking. I’m kinda drunk,” Taehyung giggles. “Wow, I’m so sorry, you always catch me when I’m drunk!”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip, heart tumbling somersaults in his fragile ribcage, threatening to break out and spill aching desire everywhere. He tamps back memories of waking up the other night, eyelids stained with images of Taehyung’s hands clutching Yoongi’s hair, underwear stained sticky with—well. Jeongguk swallows. “It’s okay. You’re nice when you’re tipsy, Taehyung-hyung.” It feels safe to admit that, here in the quiet of the restaurant after-hours, the lights dim, the rest of the staff in the back office or the kitchen, getting ready to go home.

 

“Anyways, like I said. Yoongi-hyung is cooking, and I’m doing chores! If you don’t work early tomorrow, you could come over! Bring the headphones. We have lamb skewers. Or we will once hyung finishes cooking them.”

 

Jeongguk blinks, hardly daring to believe his luck. The anxious, cowardly part of him figures he should just go home, say no, really, it’s fine, I’ll just bring you the headphones and then leave

 

“Jeongguk-ah, please? ” Taehyung whines. “Here, I’ll put Yoongi-hyung on the phone. I feel like you’re hesitating because you don’t believe that Yoongi-hyung wants you to come over too.”

 

There’s a muffled ruckus on the other end of the line, and then Yoongi’s low, raspy voice comes in a Daegu lilt. “Jeongguk-ah? You should come over. I have food for you. And Taehyung is drunk-cleaning. It’s very fun to watch him.”

 

Hyung! ” Taehyung scoffs in the background, and then there’s a smack like maybe they’re kissing.

 

“Seriously, Kook,” Yoongi says. “Come over. I’ll text you the address. Is this your number, or are you on the restaurant’s phone?”

 

“Um,” Jeongguk says. “I—it’s mine.”

 

Yoongi hums. “As soon as you clock out, head this direction. Did you drive there?”

 

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “Um. It takes me a bit to walk to my car.”

 

Jeongguk can hear concern and maybe even disappointment in Yoongi’s response. “Be safe, yeah? You’ve got a coat? Text Tae when you get to your car so we know you made it safe.”

 

“Oh—uh. Okay.”

 

And then, somehow, Jeongguk is going to Yoongi and Taehyung’s apartment for dinner when it’s almost midnight and he’s really just returning a pair of headphones.

 

“Jeongguk-ah!” Taehyung shouts as he throws the door open, the same way he always shouts when he sees Jeongguk in the restaurant. “Come in!” He immediately drapes himself around Jeongguk with a friendly familiarity that has Jeongguk’s heart thumping in startled smitten beats all off-tempo and nervous.

 

“Um. I brought the headphones.”

 

“Oh, thank you!”

 

“Yeah, Kook,” Yoongi shouts from somewhere deeper in the apartment. “Thanks!”

 

“Wow, the weather has been so nice recently?” Taehyung says, dragging Jeongguk into the kitchen, where Yoongi is stirring a pot on the stove. “I love fall.

 

“You love every season,” Yoongi scoffs, eyes glinting as he teases his boyfriend. Taehyung coos and drapes himself all along Yoongi’s back, pressing a wet smacking kiss to the nape of his neck and then pulling back to reach for a glass of wine, which he downs in a couple quick gulps.

 

“Okay! More wine! Jeongguk-ah, you want some?”

 

“Uh—”

 

“No pressure,” Taehyung assures him, although he’s already pouring more wine into his own glass and then adding some to Yoongi’s. “But you can have some. But you don’t have to. Or if you don’t like wine, we have other drinks? Probably whiskey, Yoongi likes whiskey.”

 

“Um,” Jeongguk says. “Um, I could—I mean. I could have some wine.”

 

“Yay!” Taehyung chirps. He grabs another glass from the cabinet and Jeongguk is struck, for some reason, by the fact that they actually have a full set of wine glasses. They have matching dishes, they have appliances that don’t look like they came from a secondhand store. They have the kind of kitchen and dining room that can host guests, and judging by the constant parade of friends they bring into the restaurant, they actually do host guests. They have a group. They’re not alone.

 

Jeongguk’s chest aches as he accepts the wine. “Thank you,” he murmurs.

 

“Clothes? You need comfier clothes,” Taehyung insists. “Come here!”

 

It only takes about a minute for Jeongguk to find himself clad in clothes that don’t belong to him, soft warm things that sit luxuriously against his skin like a shroud of magic wonder. Jeongguk is ushered into a seat at the table and Yoongi draws him into some easy conversation about new music releases he’s into. Taehyung skips back into the bedroom to continue his drunken midnight cleaning.

 

Soon, Jeongguk’s head is a little hazy with wine. He feels warm and utterly smitten with the way Yoongi has been engaging him in conversation, the way Taehyung has suddenly come to insist on giving Jeongguk a tour of the apartment. “Seriously, though,” Taehyung is saying, traipsing around the bathroom in his tipsy haze, mellifluous and golden. “It’s so nice right now, so fall , and I’m so drunk —well, not really, just tipsy, but doing chores is hard when you’re tipsy, and I’m so—Yoongi-hyung, you’re really pretty. ” Taehyung spins out of the bathroom and into Yoongi’s arms, barefoot in the kitchen, all aglow with alcohol and seasonal delight. Jeongguk blushes and dips his chin, hovering in the background as he watches the scene play out, uncertain of his role.

 

Yoongi looks unreasonably kind. Very soft. He’s a very soft hyung, especially with Taehyung. “Go finish cleaning.”

 

Hyung, ” Taehyung whines, closing his eyes and tipping into Yoongi with an unsteady twirl, and Yoongi has to catch him because otherwise Taehyung is going to fall, and Taehyung is so trusting . It takes Jeongguk’s breath away.

 

“You wanna help me finish up with dinner?” Yoongi asks, holding Taehyung up with a pleased little smile.

 

Yes, ” Taehyung says, closing his eyes and sighing his way further into Yoongi’s arms. “Jeongguk-ah, why aren’t you drunk with me. Be drunk with me, that would be so cute. Us being tipsy and Yoongi-hyung is all fine, but he thinks we’re really cute so he takes care of us, you know?”

 

Jeongguk shrinks into himself and eyes the glass of wine in front of him on the counter. “I—I mean…”

 

“You don’t have to go home,” Yoongi says, nonchalant the way he always is. “You can crash here if you wanna drink and then can’t drive. We have good face wash, and there’s an extra toothbrush under the sink.”

 

“It’s yours,” Taehyung insists, finally opening his eyes so he can fix Jeongguk with a glassy stare. “I got it ’cause I thought one day maybe you’d come hang out with us and have to stay over because you’d be too tired to go home or something!”

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “I…”

 

Taehyung traipses over. He drags Yoongi along, hand in hand, shining in the dim living room light. “Please,” he says, stopping in front of Jeongguk. “We want you to stay here. If you want. Huh, Yoongi-hyung?”

 

Yoongi nods, a faint pink blush blooming across his cheeks. “Yeah,” he acknowledges, holding Taehyung’s hand, bottom lip bitten between his teeth. “You should stay.”

 

Vulnerable and vulnerable and vulnerable. Both of them, overwhelmingly soft, Yoongi so soft on Taehyung and Taehyung so soft on everyone, and Jeongguk is here and somehow they’re both soft on him too, and Jeongguk is so cozy in Taehyung’s sweatpants and Yoongi’s hoodie, and everything in his heart is aching to stay.

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk murmurs, taking a breath and letting it out. Just let it go, he thinks, just let yourself be part of this.

 

“Come on, Jeongguk-ah,” Taehyung says, “help me clean the bathtub!”

 

Still, Jeongguk hesitates for a minute, nervous as he watches Taehyung flounce off in a tipsy daze. Yoongi watches, attentive and calm, collected as Jeongguk is not.

 

“You can go with him, you know,” Yoongi murmurs, reaching out to brush Jeongguk’s bangs out of his eyes. “You don’t have to help him clean, though. Just go keep him company. He likes you.”

 

This makes Jeongguk blush and blush and blush. “Hyung-ah,” he mumbles, picking up his glass of wine and then thinking better of it, thinking maybe he should refrain so as not to get too carefree and embarrass himself.

 

Yoongi’s eyes are indecipherably deep, but warm, and full of some emotion Jeongguk is too scared to name. “We like you, Gguk-ah,” Yoongi murmurs. Jeongguk is trembling, trembling. But Yoongi is steadfast, warm like hot spiced cider and tteokbokki and omurice in the morning. Domestic and familiar. Sweet.

 

“Okay, hyung,” Jeongguk nods, following shyly after Taehyung.

 

“Jeonggukkie, be tipsy with me,” Taehyung begs, dancing back into the kitchen with his hands up over his head, spinning until he stumbles into the counter and catches himself with a delighted sigh. “Please. You’re so safe here, you know? You can be as tipsy as you want and you’ll be safe. Or drunk. You can be drunk, too, like if you get too tipsy and then you’re drunk and Yoongi-hyung will laugh at you but he’ll also rub your back if you throw up, you know? He’s really good at that.”

 

Jeongguk giggles and sips more of his wine, relaxing into the syrupy sweet of it—it really is too sweet of a wine to just be drinking like this, it’s a dessert wine for the love of god—but Taehyung is pouring himself more and then he’s filling Jeongguk’s glass, and they’re clinking their cups together and taking sips, and Jeongguk lets himself smile as he watches Yoongi fondly huff at them, as they sway into the bathroom to finish scrubbing the tub.

 

Taehyung giggles as he works at a spot on the porcelain. “You know, this wine isn’t even good. I always tell Hoseok-hyung he picks the worst wines, and he picked this one and another kind and we drank the other bottle and that’s when Yoongi had to pick me up, because I was drunk but I missed him so he came to Hobi’s house and Hobi didn’t have to go home, you know, because he was with Jin-hyung and Jin-hyung’s got him, and we drunk-dialed Namjoon and Jimin picked up which is how we found out they’re definitely sleeping together, and then Yoongi came and got me and we came home but Hoseokie-hyung made me take this bottle of wine with me and now we’re drinking it and it’s not even good, it’s just sugary but that’s okay because I’m very happy and I like you a lot.”

 

Jeongguk tries to take all that in, he does, but it’s kind of a lot and mostly he just smiles and bumps his nose into Taehyung’s arm and nods in all the right places. “It’s really sweet, hyung.”

 

Taehyung wrinkles his nose. “Don’t call me that, ” he whines, “not right now! Sometimes, okay, but right now we’re the smallest. Well really we’re biggest and Yoongi-hyung is smallest, but don’t tell him that.”

 

“I heard you,” Yoongi taunts from the kitchen.

 

Shhhhh, ” Taehyung overexaggerates. Then he focuses back on Jeongguk. “No, but we’re the young ones and Yoongi can be all nice and hyung-y to us.

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, because he loves having a hyung. Loves having hyungs, even if one of them is currently trying not to be a hyung because he wants to be babied. Taehyung still looks at Jeonggukkie in evaluative concern, though, drunk but also insistently attentive to Jeongguk’s needs, and it makes Jeongguk blush when Taehyung taps his fingers up under Jeongguk’s chin, when he tugs Jeongguk back to the kitchen to get some snacks, because Jeongguk “looks too skinny and needs more babyfat on his cute cute cheeks”.

 

They finish making dinner in easy camaraderie, and then they eat even though it’s nearing 1:00 a.m. Jeongguk is stuffed full of fried rice and kimchi and spicy chicken by the time he’s curling up on the couch, feeling more cared-for than he has in years and years. It’s too heady a feeling to give up, too fleeting a feeling to give into. He can’t let himself have this, he can’t. It’ll destroy him when Taehyung and Yoongi realize how much he likes them, when they inevitably wake up to the fact that Jeongguk wants to be with them. What would Taehyung say if he discovered all of Jeongguk’s guilty fantasies of Yoongi dropping the same kisses to his forehead that he leaves on Taehyung’s? If Taehyung knew the way Jeongguk watches when Yoongi kisses him and wishes Yoongi would kiss Jeongguk that way too, would do even more and more and more—

 

And what if Yoongi found out that Jeongguk wants Taehyung to curl up with him, to be the big spoon and press his big hands to Jeongguk’s glowing tummy and guide him in close. That for every sentimental, romantic fantasy Jeongguk has, there’s another lingering desire underneath, for hands to strip Jeongguk out of his sweater and jeans, to drag him down under the covers and touch him. A desire for mouths all over his skin, sucking sweet bruises to his shoulders and his neck and his collarbones, the sticky insides of his thighs—

 

Jeongguk falls asleep on the couch to the low sound of Taehyung and Yoongi murmuring in their bedroom, all the lights out, the apartment warm and still. In the morning, he wakes early, and slips out without waking his hosts.







🍁







I’m practicing, Jeongguk tells himself as he pours milk into a wine glass and settles at his kitchen table after work the next night, the hours of the day bowing his back into an aching hunch. He needs a bath, but it’s almost midnight and he kind of needs dinner a little more.

 

“Practicing,” Jeongguk says out loud as he pokes his chopsticks at the bowl of rice sitting in front of him. Hunter x Hunter is pulled up to stream on his laptop; a distant aunt had told him he should get a TV so there will be some entertainment when Jeongguk invites friends over, but Jeongguk isn’t worried. Jeongguk doesn’t have things like friends, or the money to buy a TV. Jeongguk has a pretty decent meal in front of him, a job at a restaurant, a degree in art, and cheap-ish rent. Which is about all he can really ask for, all things considered.

 

“I’m practicing for when I get old,” Jeongguk tells himself around bites of rice, talking over the Japanese audio of the show. He’s mostly trying to will away the memories of last night with Taehyung and Yoongi, to forget how Yoongi had texted him this morning to ask if Jeongguk was okay and make sure the couch was comfy, to forget how Taehyung had sent a picture of a dog he saw on the street on the way to work immediately after that.

 

It’s what Jeongguk always tells himself, I’m practicing being alone for when I get old, because I’ll need to get really good at it if I’ve got years and years of this. It’s not even sad anymore. It’s not funny, either—it had gone through a phase, sort of, where he laughed over it. But now it just feels like the truth. “I’m practicing,” Jeongguk says again. “Because I’ve got years and years and years of being alone, so I gotta get really good at it now, you know. Like, I’m already pretty good? But I have to be an expert, because there could be, like, fifty whole years of being an alone-adult, so now while I’m young I gotta practice, and get really good.”

 

He pushes away memories of Yoongi and Taehyung taking care of him, wrapping him into their little solar system like the universe is supposed to run that way. Ushering him into the fold the way they could pull him under their blankets and cuddle up to him and hold him tight.

 

For days after that, Taehyung and Yoongi keep coming in to the restaurant. They keep texting him, and Jeongguk replies, but he tries not to get to comfortable. Tries to remind himself to know his place, to not burden them with himself when they’re so perfectly balanced together, when they’re what they are and Jeongguk is Jeongguk.

 

“I’m practicing,” Jeongguk tells himself, shivering behind the host stand night after night as he watches couples coming in to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, as he watches groups of friends reconnect for girls’ nights, as he watches best friends come in all dressed up just for a fun evening of good food and inside jokes.

 

“What are you practicing?” Kang-nim asks one time when he overhears Jeongguk’s muttering.

 

“Oh, nothing,” Jeongguk says.

 

“Hey, did I tell you my friends and I are going to Okinawa for Christmas this year? It’s gonna be lit,” Kang-nim says.

 

Jeongguk huffs. “It always amazes me how normal people can, like, actually get a group of humans to all do the same thing at the same time. Especially something like a trip to a literal different country.”

 

Kang-nim gives Jeongguk a weird look. “Do you and your friends not go on trips?”

 

Jeongguk swallows. What friends? He wants to say. He comes to work here, and then he goes home. There’s nothing else for him. He’s just waiting for the time to go by, waiting, young as he is, to die just so he can no longer be saddled with the responsibility of filling up all these empty years stretched out ahead of him. “Nah,” he says, instead of saying any of that. “They’re all lazy. They just wanna stay home and play Overwatch.”

 

Kang-nim shakes his head. “You guys are trash.”

 

“I’m starting to think you say that no matter what I say,” Jeongguk teases.

 

“That’s because you’re trash.”

 

You’re trash.”

 

“I am not trash, buster,” Kang-nim teases, and then he walks away.

 

“Trash!” Jeongguk whisper-yells, hoping the customers aren’t hearing this.

 

“I have a reservation,” a haughty voice says, startling Jeongguk towards the door. It’s 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday. They have 76 reservations left on the books. Jeongguk looks at the lady, but she doesn’t say anything else, just looks at him expectantly until Jeongguk sighs.

 

“Um, what’s your name? What time is the reservation for?”

 

“I have a reservation,” the woman repeats, brows furrowing as she catalogues every way in which Jeongguk is currently failing her expectations. “I’d like to be seated now.”

 

Jeongguk flounders a little before taking a deep breath. “Was it for two of you?”

 

Three, ” the lady snaps. “Is that going to be a problem?”

 

Jeongguk still has no fucking clue which reservation is hers, but he shakes his head. “No, of course not, ma’am. I can get you seated right away!”

 

The lady still seems angry, but Jeongguk leads her and her two companions to her table and they don’t complain that he sat them near the back, shockingly enough.

 

Small victories, Jeongguk thinks. “Practicing,” he repeats to himself, feeling alone and very lonely, and reveling in it, because what else can he do.

 

Practice makes perfect, after all.








🍁








“Are you closing again?”

 

Taehyung’s grin is wild and windswept as he leans against the host stand, chin propped up on one hand, hair mussed up from how he’d blown through the doors into the restaurant with all his usual tizzy.

 

Jeongguk looks at his watch and then nods. “Yeah. Just a half hour left.”

 

Taehyung frowns. “Do you always close? It seems like you always close.”

 

Jeongguk smiles, offering the same expression he gives to everyone when they start questioning his schedule. “Well, I only have this one job. And everyone else here has two jobs, so like—they have to get up early, but I don’t, so I always offer to close. Plus I really need the hours.”

 

Taehyung’s frown stays. “Do you get enough sleep?”

 

“I get plenty,” Jeongguk says. “Really. I sleep in.”

 

Taehyung hums, still studying Jeongguk with his big, probing eyes. “You’ve been quiet lately. Are you okay?”

 

Jeongguk blinks. “Huh?”

 

“We text you but you don’t seem like you want us to. Do you not want us to? It’s okay if you don’t, just, I like talking to you and I like sending you pictures of stuff. You can send me pictures too! If you want to. Or I can stop messaging you if I’m being, like. Too much.” Taehyung looks down and picks at some flaw in the wood of the host stand, suddenly shy and kind of skittish.

 

Jeongguk’s heart trips on guilt and the frantic urge to fix this, to make Taehyung stop looking so dejected. “What, no! No, sorry, I’m just—I didn’t want to bother you, so I didn’t—don’t wanna overwhelm you by texting back too much. I guess.” It sounds so silly said aloud, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.

 

Taehyung looks up, eyes as wide as the moon. “No, you couldn’t. Please, Yoongi-hyung thinks so too. We wanna hear from you, we wanna know your day is good and you got home safe. That kind of thing.”

 

Jeongguk blushes. Looks at the host stand, then back up, then back down. “Oh. Um. Okay. I’ll—I’ll text you back. I promise.”

 

“It’s okay if you don’t,” Taehyung insists. “Just—it’s okay if you do. Also.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Okay.” There’s a pause while they both stand there, neither looking at the other, both chewing on their bottom lips. “Um,” Jeongguk finally says, “did you want a table? I think the kitchen is closing up early tonight. It’s been really slow so probably they’ll stop cooking at like 10:40 instead of 11:00.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. “Did you drive here?”

 

Jeongguk furrows his brow. “Yes? I always drive.” Well, except when he takes the train, but he has to walk kind of far from his apartment to the nearest station, which is hard when it’s getting to be winter and he still doesn’t have a jacket. He can afford a little extra gas money over an extended period of time, but not the lump sum that a jacket would cost. “I live a little bit outside the city.”

 

Taehyung nods. “Where’d you park?”

 

“Same place as always. It’s like six blocks north of here.”

 

Taehyung’s eyes go wide and affronted. “That far? No way, it’s not safe walking that far at night.”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head, laughing half fake and half just tired of having this conversation over and over with his coworkers, who all pay the exorbitant parking garage fees and insist that Jeongguk should too even though he literally can’t afford it . The lot Jeongguk parks in isn’t too far to walk to without a coat (yet, at least), and it’s the only cheap lot he can find, and Jeongguk is strong, so he can fight anyone who tries to hurt him. Not that anyone ever tries. “No one ever bothers me. I give off really good don’t-talk-to-me vibes,” Jeongguk insists. “It’s really fine.”

 

Taehyung looks at his watch. “No. Lemme walk you, at least.”

 

Jeongguk pouts, even though his heart is skipping traitorously and he feels like he’s tumbling over himself, heart all a jumble of affection for the cute boy smiling at him and jealousy at the other cute boy Yoongi who gets to have Taehyung in every conceivable way—“How will you get home, then?” Jeongguk asks, half-heartedly hoping that it’ll dissuade Taehyung from this sudden generosity. But also kind of terribly hoping it won’t.

 

Of course it doesn’t. “I’ll be fine,” Taehyung laughs. “Or if you’re really that concerned, you can drive me to the train station afterwards. I didn’t drive today.”

 

Jeongguk nods, blushy and biting his lower lip. “Okay. But I’ll drive you home. Not just to the train station, that’s ridiculous.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. “Are you working tomorrow? It’s Saturday tonight. You always work Sunday brunch.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah, I open.”

 

“So you can’t drive me all the way home and then drive yourself home and then come back here first thing tomorrow morning! You’ll lose too much sleep!”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “Hyung, it’s fine. Really.”

 

“Nope,” Taehyung says. “But if you wanted, I mean, you could just stay at mine and Yoongi’s. We live closer to here than you do.”

 

Jeongguk’s whole heart is flipping over and over in his chest, his every molecule fracturing to stardust as he thinks of it: the soft of Yoongi and Taehyung’s couch, the way it had felt last week when he dropped off Yoongi’s forgotten headphones. He’d left before Taehyung and Yoongi had woken up, but there had been a few minutes in the morning where Jeongguk had imagined Taehyung yawning his way into the kitchen and stumbling over the coffee table so Yoongi had to catch him. Yoongi, equally sleepy and grumbly and silent like he always is on Sunday mornings when he and Taehyung sway over to their usual booth, yawning and begging for coffee.

 

(Yoongi always perks up over the course of the morning, caffeine and sweet foods raising his head off Taehyung’s shoulder and straightening him in his seat until he can flirt with his lovely boyfriend, both of them watching Jeongguk like they know something he doesn’t.)

 

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says. “I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head, hair flying all around in earnest protest. “You wouldn’t be intruding! And we’re coming in tomorrow for brunch anyways, we have a reservation! You can check! You can drive us back here if you want. Like a trade. Come home with me tonight and stay over, and we’ll all come back together tomorrow morning. Oh! And you can borrow my clothes. You just have to wear black, right? I have a really nice gauzy button-down thing that’ll definitely fit. I mean, only if you want, I always talk about this and Yoongi-hyung says I shouldn’t pressure you…”

 

Jeongguk is running out of reasons not to just agree. And he really wants to agree, so like— fuck. “I mean.”

 

“Please?”

 

“Jeongguk! You’re cut,” Kang-nim yells across the floor, signaling the end of his shift.

 

“That means you can leave, right?” Taehyung asks, blinking all moony-eyed and pretty.

 

Jeongguk nods. “You can walk me to my car, hyung. But really, I should really go home.”

 

Taehyung nods, apparently willing to let it go even though he looks suspiciously not disappointed. None of his usual dramatics arise at all, actually, but Jeongguk just chalks it up to late-evening exhaustion and clocks out. Taehyung babbles all about his day on the way to the car, and then they climb inside and Jeongguk starts the quick drive to Yoongi and Taehyung’s to drop off his lovely, darling passenger.

 

By the time they get to Taehyung and Yoongi’s, Taehyung’s lack of disappointment at Jeongguk’s refusal of his offer to stay over is clear: he never expected to lose this battle, and of course, he somehow doesn’t. In the eight minutes it takes to get from the restaurant to the apartment, Jeongguk has someone been convinced he has to stay. It doesn’t help that Yoongi marches down to lecture Jeongguk all the way out of the car and upstairs, Jeongguk in this daze of too much care and consideration as Yoongi and Taehyung guide him in with all their you have to get more sleep s and we need our favorite host to give us our favorite table so you must be well rested for Sunday brunch es and please, Kookie, we WANT you to stay! s.

 

“It’s really fine, I can just go home,” Jeongguk says weakly even though the door is already shut and locked behind them, coats and shoes already off, all of them snuggled on the couch together. All of them. Because somehow Jeongguk is curled into the soft cushions he was imagining just a half hour ago behind the freezing cold host stand, but now he’s warm and wrapped in soft blankets and he’s wearing Taehyung’s sweats and t-shirt and Taehyung is at his side leaning back against Yoongi, not touching Jeongguk but almost. Almost.

 

“Mm. Missed you today,” Yoongi says, open in a way Jeongguk is less familiar with. He’s only seen this side of Yoongi once before, when he’d come over last week: the private, intimate side that’s warm and comforting, the secret face that hides behind a gruff public persona. Yoongi really is as soft as they come, but in secret. Taehyung always wears his heart on his sleeve no matter who’s watching, and seeing them together like this is making Jeongguk’s heart do flip-floppy, twist-turny things.

 

Taehyung squirms in Yoongi’s arms so he can get his chin at the right angle for a kiss. Yoongi drops his mouth to Taehyung’s and Jeongguk hurriedly looks away, trying to will back the warm violet glow that yearns and aches in his tummy, wishing for that. Wishing for them both , for Taehyung leaning back in his arms, for Yoongi pulling him into a sweet, familiar press of one mouth to another.

 

Jeongguk stares at the wall and yawns. There’s a soft smack as Taehyung and Yoongi pull back from their kiss, and then Taehyung is cooing and there are gentle fingers prodding at Jeongguk’s cheeks. “Are you tired, honey? Oh my god, sorry, we’re keeping you up—“

 

“No, it’s fine,” Jeongguk says through his yawn, trying hard not to swoop himself into Taehyung hands and then just slip into his arms, collapsing to his lap and falling asleep there.

 

“No, come on, Yoongi-hyung, we’re keeping him awake,” Taehyung frowns. “We’ll go to our room. Jeonggukkie, if you get cold, come in and wake me and you can get in our bed and snuggle with us!”

 

Jeongguk blushes and coughs a little, and then Yoongi tugs Taehyung’s hands back away from Jeongguk’s skin in a move that makes Jeongguk fight to hold back a whimper.

 

Taehyung doesn’t hold back his little whiny noise, though. “Hyung—”

 

“You’re embarrassing him, Taehyungie,” Yoongi says, shooting Jeongguk a cozy, comfortable look. “Koo, there are more blankets in the hall closet.”

 

“Thanks, hyung,” Jeongguk mumbles, tugging the blanket he has now into his chest like a bad replacement for Taehyung, who is currently all lazy and begging attention against Yoongi’s ribs.

 

“But if you did come get in our bed, I’m sure this one really wouldn’t complain,” Yoongi jokes, hands going tickly along Taehyung’s sides all of a sudden, startling a shriek out of the younger boy.

 

Jeongguk huffs, heart twisting in this awful disoriented longing—because what? What does this—what does Yoongi—does Yoongi know that Jeongguk wants Taehyung with a bone-deep agony that makes Jeongguk’s whole body tremble? An agony Jeongguk has only ever felt for one other person, which is the boy dating Taehyung?

 

“I wouldn’t,” Taehyung yawns, and then he stands and stretches and of course the bottom edge of his shirt rides up and his plaid pajama bottoms are slung low on his hips and there’s this sliver of skin and Jeongguk just wants to get him mouth there, and his hands

 

And of course, Yoongi puts his own long, dextrous fingers right along Taehyung’s hips and squeezes, eliciting a whimpery squeak as Taehyung relaxes back into his boyfriend’s chest, Yoongi standing and curling up behind him, shorter but somehow able to envelope all of Taehyung’s easy drowsy loveliness into himself. Taehyung slumps down and tips his head back onto Yoongi’s shoulder, a facsimile of something that could be much hungrier, more desperate, if there were a decided lack of clothes.

 

Jeongguk flushes and busies himself with getting the blanket arranged over his toes.

 

“Goodnight, Guk-ah,” Taehyung sighs, eyes closed as he lets Yoongi guide him out of the room.

 

“Night, kid,” Yoongi says just as he gets Taehyung through the door to their bedroom. He turns to fix Jeongguk with a piercing look. “For the record, I wouldn’t complain if you got cold and came to bed in here either.”

 

Then the door is shut between them, and Jeongguk’s head is all awhirl, his stomach twisting itself in knots that he’ll never get to untie, because surely he’ll die of confusion and sleepy lust before anything like an explanation can be given.

 

Jeongguk curls up on the couch, dreading the long night ahead of him, sure that he won’t be able to sleep. But there’s something about the low, drowsy murmur of voices in the other room and the hum of the refrigerator and the muffled noise of the city outside that lulls Jeongguk’s head away to dreamland. He’s asleep within minutes.







🍁








“You doing anything fun this weekend?” Yugyeom asks. He’s hovering around the host stand even though servers aren’t supposed to. Kang Baekhyun-nim says go away, Jeongguk is supposed to say when servers come up and bully him, but it’s slow and Yugyeom is the best server in the restaurant anyways, so Jeongguk doesn’t really mind. Plus, he never complains about how Jeongguk is assigning tables. He just comes up to keep Jeongguk company.

 

Jeongguk shrugs. “I’ll be here. As always. You?”

 

Yugyeom grins. “Yeah, a couple of my buddies and I are going to that festival down in Hongdae. We went last year and got so drunk, oh my god.”

 

Jeongguk huffs. “Sounds fun.”

 

“Yeah, it was crazy, like these American girls ended up like sorta joining our group even though their Korean was terrible and our English is, like, also terrible? But we were all using our phones to translate stuff, and they were super flirty, and we had so much fun!”

 

Jeongguk frowns. “Didn’t the same thing happen to you recently at some bar you guys went to? I feel like I remember you telling me about that.”

 

“Oh, that girl? She was French, actually, but yeah! She came up to me and we were chatting for a while; her Korean was really good. Or, like, we could have an actual not-nonsensical conversation.”

 

Jeongguk nods, baffled by literally every aspect of this extremely nonsensical conversation. Jeongguk has never been approached in a bar—not that he really goes to them that often, but still. He used to go sometimes, back in Busan with a couple of the guys he still thinks of as friends even though the designation comes with a pang of hurt when he remembers that they haven’t really talked to him since he moved to Seoul. “That’s cool. Did you get her number?”

 

Yugyeom shakes his head. “Nah. But I’ve been talking to this American girl who teaches English at an elementary school…”

 

Yugyeom carries on for a while, and Jeongguk listens, his brain feeling drenched in disbelief and apathy. It’s like he knows these sorts of things take place, knows that drunk American tourists tend to be flirty and Yugyeom is good-looking so it’s no surprise those tourists flock to him. Yugyeom’s friends are all pretty hot, and they’re outgoing—and they actually go out, so of course they’re going to talk to more people than Jeongguk ever does.

 

But still. There’s that niggling seed of self-doubt creaking and groaning in Jeongguk’s chest, somewhere right at the center of him. The thing saying you don’t get approached by people because you don’t deserve to be approached, the thing saying you shouldn’t try to talk to anyone because no one should be forced to talk with YOU. It’s strange how it doesn’t hurt anymore to think that. It’s not a chip on Jeongguk’s shoulder; it’s just a fact of life.

 

“I hope you have fun this weekend,” Jeongguk says as Yugyeom finally finishes his rambling and heads back towards his section to give his tables more water.

 

“Thanks,” Yugyeom says, flashing Jeongguk a grin. There’s a part of Jeongguk that hurts when Yugyeom doesn’t ask him to join the fun, but mostly Jeongguk is just relieved. If Yugyeom did ask, Jeongguk would say no anyways. Jeongguk will be here, at work, trying to get enough hours to make ends meet.

 

He taps the iPad to bring up the reservation list for the weekend. There’s a booking for a party of four under the name Min Yoongi. In the reservation notes, it says, Yoongi and Tae bringing in Hobi and Jin. I know you can read this, Jeongguk-ah. Hope you’re having a nice night. -Yoongi

 

Jeongguk blushes and switches back to tonight’s reservation list, pulling his sweater off because he’s suddenly weirdly hot.

 

“You seem less cold tonight, buster,” Kang-nim says when he saunters up a few minutes later.

 

Jeongguk nods. “Did you turn the a/c off?”

 

Kang-nim shakes his head. “No, everything’s the same as usual.”

 

Jeongguk shrugs. “Yeah. I guess I’m just used to it now. Being cold, or whatever.”

 

Kang-nim slaps his hand on the host stand and walks away. “See ya, buster.”

 

He leaves Jeongguk to his racing thoughts and his skipping heartbeat.







🍁








The third time Jeongguk falls asleep at Taehyung and Yoongi’s, it’s after another closing shift. Yoongi had been the only one to come into the restaurant, and he’d been goading but sweet when he’d found out Jeongguk had taken the train that evening. He’d coaxed frightened-rabbit Jeongguk into his back seat because as it turned out, Taehyung was passed out in front with his face smushed against the glass.

 

“He had a long day, so I went to his office to pick him up. We got dinner at the barbecue place down the way from your shop, and we were both gonna come in and grab you but then we were waiting here for your shift to be over and he just totally fell asleep. Also, there’s lamb skewers in the box back there. I had them boxed up for you. Are you hungry? Did you eat?”

 

Of course Jeongguk is hungry. Of course he didn’t eat. He works in an upscale restaurant that doesn’t let its employees have any of the food they make, unless you want to buy it. It’s half price, but employees don’t make enough money to even afford that. Jeongguk hasn’t eaten since the measly piece of toast he had for breakfast.

 

It’s too much, it’s all too much. But Jeongguk is hungry and it’s cold outside and the car is so warm , and pretty soon there’s soft, guitar-heavy slow music playing through Yoongi’s speakers and they’re driving down the road to Taehyung and Yoongi’s apartment, Jeongguk scarfing down lamb skewers in the back seat, Taehyung letting out little snuffly sleep sounds in the front. Yoongi bobs his head while he drives, hair shiny and gray in the dark glow of street lamps. It’s a short ride to the apartment. Jeongguk spends it starving for food and touch, and guilty that he’s taking one and longing for the other. Yoongi and Taehyung should give him neither.

 

When they get parked and Taehyung has to be woken up, he clings to Jeongguk and yawns into his throat the whole walk upstairs. “Come on, let’s go to bed,” he says, slumped against Jeongguk as they wait for Yoongi to unlock the front door. His hands are weak with sleep as they fist in Jeongguk’s shirt. Taehyung clings like a child, and Jeongguk indulges him, because he’s also kind of indulging himself. Food and touch, and for some reason, Jeongguk gets both.

 

Yoongi shoots them both a look as he opens the door, and guilt floods Jeongguk’s stomach. Once they’re inside, Jeongguk pushes Taehyung away. He’s sleepy, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, Jeongguk is taking advantage. Fuck. Fuck.

 

Taehyung slumps to the floor to drowsily yank at his shoes. He doesn’t make any actual progress in getting them off. Yoongi coos and kneels down to help him, and Taehyung blinks blearily and makes grabby hands at Jeongguk.

 

“Bed,” Taehyung slurs. “Wanna go to bed.”

 

“Hey, you gotta brush your teeth first,” Yoongi says, chiding and fond. His eyes glimmer as he stands and then helps Taehyung up. It’s dark, the only light a wash of silver-gray from the moon shining in the open window above the dining table. They haven’t turned on a lamp. The air feels dusky and magic, all grayscale, vintage wonder like something out of an old romance film.

 

“Um. Thanks for driving me,” Jeongguk says. He had been half expecting a ride back to his own house, but now that he’s here, he’s kind of glad. Secretly, in this annoying guilty way that keeps happening because here he is taking advantage of the hospitality of these two brilliant starboys standing in front of him, weary and ready to snuggle up and fall asleep. Taking advantage of their beauty and grace and kindness, repaying them with dirty dreams that end in Jeongguk awake and shaking hot with want, with domestic dreams that leave him crying into his sheets for how lonely he is, and how alone. Repaying them with absolutely nothing, only for some reason they keep coming back, and bringing him back here, and Jeongguk cannot for the life of him figure out why.

 

“Kookie, come sleep with us,” Taehyung says, yawning at the end. “It’s cold in here. I forgot I left the window open.”

 

It is kind of cold. Yoongi goes to the window and shuts it but there’s still a lingering chill, the same perpetual coldness that haunts the host stand and prickles goosebumps at Jeongguk’s skin all night while he’s at work. He almost doesn’t notice anymore. It’s just a part of the job, part of his life. Being cold.

 

“I’m fine, hyung,” Jeongguk says, blushing as he moves for the couch. “Really.”

 

Taehyung looks sleepy and out of it and hurt. “No, what? No, come—come to bed, why are you sleeping out here?”

 

“Taehyung,” Yoongi says, a warning there that makes Jeongguk’s blood run cold. Fuck. Fuck, is Taehyung—is he overstepping his bounds, does Yoongi think Taehyung would cheat on him? With Jeongguk? Fuck, fuck, fuckfuckfuck—

 

“Really, I can sleep on the couch. I don’t want to intrude,” Jeongguk blurts.

 

“Please, it’s cold, ” Taehyung says, shaking his head all childlike and genuinely confused, like he really doesn’t get what’s going on here. Jeongguk kind of feels the same way. “I’ll be worried if you’re out here and you’ll be cold and I won’t sleep and—”

 

“Tae,” Yoongi says, kinder this time, pulling his boyfriend into his arms. They’re both speaking in more accented voices than usual, satoori drawling their consonants into a Daegu lull that makes Jeongguk ache for his own home, for Busan. “Tae, don’t pressure him. You’ll be fine. I’ll rub your shoulders until you fall asleep, if you want.”

 

Taehyung shakes his head again, adamant. “No, I—Kookie, if you don’t want to, it’s fine, but— please, if you—if you wanna then you can , please come snuggle with us—”

 

“I—hyung, I—” Jeongguk starts, panicking as he looks at Yoongi.

 

But Yoongi only smiles back. “You can,” he says, nodding. “Taehyung’s right. If you want to come sleep in our bed, then you should. We want you to.”

 

Jeongguk’s skin goes hot and tight, itchy with guilty desire. “I…I don’t…”

 

“You don’t have to,” Taehyung says, although he’s so bereft and sorrowful at the thought of it that Jeongguk thinks no, no, I have to, I want to, how could I not want to? Someone like you should never feel so sad or look like that.

 

“It’s okay,” Jeongguk says. “I mean—I—yeah. If it’s really okay. It…it is kinda cold out here.”

 

“Yeah, for sure,” Yoongi says, light, settling into Jeongguk’s excuse like he knows how much Jeongguk needs it.

 

Taehyung nods eagerly, reaching out for Jeongguk, wrapping his fingers tight over Jeongguk’s shoulders when he comes close enough to reach. “Please. Thank you. Come on, I’m tired.”

 

“Yeah, you are,” Yoongi huffs, shooting Jeongguk a conspiratorial look. “Come on, Kook-ah. You need your sleep too. And I’ll rub your shoulders after I finish Tae’s. He’ll fall asleep after like two minutes anyways.”

 

“I will,” Taehyung admits, easy like all this is just how things are now, how they’ve always been. How they always will be. “Carry me, Jeongguk-ah!” He yips, and then he jumps into Jeongguk’s arms, and Jeongguk catches him, easy. This is just how things are now.

 

He carries Taehyung to the bathroom at Yoongi’s request, and together they get Taehyung into jammies and help him wash his face and brush his teeth. Or, like, they encourage him while he moans about how sleepy he is.

 

They all curl up, little animals getting ready to hibernate. The blankets are crisp and cool but they warm easily against the flush of the skin of three boys far from home, dizzy in the swell of Seoul and struggling to make ends meet, but together. Not alone, not lonely.

 

And oh. Jeongguk is getting out of practice.

 

He falls asleep thinking of how bad he’ll be once this is over. How much more work he’ll have to do to prepare for the long, cold winters ahead, with nothing and no one. How he’ll have to train himself all over again on how to live alone.

 

Tonight, though, he curls up with two other humans, and lets himself be a part of something.







🍁







When Jeongguk wakes up, Yoongi isn’t there. It’s just Taehyung with him in the wide expanse of a bed nearly too big for the room it lives in. Taehyung’s eyes are wide open, luminous and big with wonder as he takes Jeongguk in. “Hi.” Taehyung’s voice is low and reverent.

 

Jeongguk flushes. “Hi.”

 

“G’morning,” Taehyung rasps. He reaches up and tucks hair behind Jeongguk’s ear. “Yoongi-hyung had work. He left an hour ago.”

 

Jeongguk blinks. “Oh. Um.”

 

“Wanna make breakfast with me?” Taehyung offers, rolling onto his back and stretching, a yawn escaping him as he relaxes again. “Not yet, though. After we nap some more.”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip. “Um. I should probably go…”

 

Taehyung’s frown is instantaneous and devastated. “What? Wait, do you have a morning shift? Are you late, is it—”

 

“No, Taehyung-hyung, relax, it’s fine. I don’t work until later tonight. I just…should go.” Because it’s not okay for Jeongguk to be here in the bed of a boy he wants with every tiny scrap of himself, wants with all their combined ragged edges, their cuts and bruises and scrapes, their homesickness and their sorrow. Wants with all their victories, too. Wants every facet of Taehyung and Yoongi, and hearts aren’t supposed to do that, especially not to two people who are already so in love.

 

Jeongguk curses himself and resigns himself to his fate.

 

Taehyung apparently has other ideas.

 

“You don’t have to leave,” he says, heart offered up raw and bleeding like always. So willing to say anything that passes through his mind, no matter how vulnerable it makes him. “If you’re worried Yoongi-hyung will be mad, he won’t be. I promise.”

 

Jeongguk ducks his head, ashamed he’s been caught out so easily. And if Taehyung knows Jeongguk thinks Yoongi would be mad, then he must know there’s something for Yoongi to be mad about. Which—there kind of is. Because Jeongguk is kind of half or maybe more than half in love with Yoongi’s boyfriend, and he’s the same more-than-half in love with Yoongi, but—that kind of seems beside the point. Jeongguk is betraying both of them. He shouldn’t be here, he shouldn’t— fuck.

 

“Please stay,” Taehyung is asking when Jeongguk tunes back in. “Please, I want you here. Yoongi wants you here. He was sad he had to leave for work, but he didn’t want to wake you.”

 

“Tae,” Jeongguk whispers.

 

“Guk-ah, it’s fine,” Taehyung says. “It’s not—whatever you’re thinking, if you’re thinking it’s—but it’s not, it’s like—” There’s a breathless pause, a cliff-drop moment where Taehyung looks like he’s trying so hard to scrabble for solid ground but then he’s just falling, just tumbling into honesty the way honesty is so often tumbled into—“Yoongi doesn’t think I’m cheating. Won’t think that, he’s not thinking it’s cheating because it’s not cheating I promise, sorry I’m flustered and my words get all long and meandering when I’m flustered but I like you and I want to cuddle. Yoongi knows it’s not cheating.”

 

Jeongguk blinks. What even—what is he supposed to do with all that? That’s like—like how can he even go through all the meaning there, what does Taehyung want to reassure Jeongguk of? That it’s not cheating because it’s platonic, which means Taehyung doesn’t have any feelings for Jeongguk (the most likely scenario, honestly) and doesn’t realize Jeongguk is head over heels for him? Or that it’s okay for Taehyung to have a romantic or even physical relationship with someone who isn’t Yoongi? Is that a thing? Shouldn’t there be some negotiation first?

 

But Taehyung is giggling awkwardly and there’s a hollowness to the look of him, something emaciated and cold. Cold like Taehyung’s whole body has been doused in ice water and he doesn’t know why because he’s just a puppy. A sweet, lovely little puppy who just wants love and instead gets rejection.

 

Jeongguk can’t resist. He nods, helpless, and agrees to stay, thrilled to have an excuse that he has to, Taehyung looks so sad and then he looks so happy when Jeongguk says okay, he’ll stay and nap some more, he’ll stay for breakfast after.

 

Yoongi gets home later on, apparently finished with whatever called him into his office on a Saturday. “We spent the morning cuddling and then made breakfast,” Taehyung announces when Yoongi walks through the door.

 

Yoongi’s smile is comforting and sweet. “Did you have fun?”

 

“Yes!” Taehyung shouts.

 

Yoongi nods, sure of himself. He looks at Jeongguk. “Thanks for staying with him. He’s been going on and on about how you always escape before breakfast.”

 

“I have, ” Taehyung bemoans.

 

Jeongguk swallows the tangle of confused affection and terror and lets himself have this. “Um. Sorry.”

 

Taehyung and Yoongi both shake their heads. “It’s okay,” Taehyung says. “We know you’re shy.”

 

“Taehyungie,” Yoongi chides, but it’s fond and sweet as always. Triggers Taehyung’s usual grin.

 

“Anyways, Jeongguk-ah,” Taehyung says, “we’ve been thinking. And we really enjoy you, so we thought—we want to meet your friends!” He traces his fingers up Jeongguk’s arm, making him shudder.

 

Oh. Fuck. Not what Jeongguk was expecting, not at all. He lets out a harsh little laugh, deflated and dull. “Uh—that’s not—I mean, it’s just. I mean. It would be weird, wouldn’t it?”

 

Taehyung frowns, baffled and kind of hurt. He drops Jeongguk’s arm. “What do you mean?”

 

Yoongi looks at Jeongguk with a stern grimace, a hand falling to Taehyung’s shoulder, protective as he always is of his younger, more vulnerable boyfriend. “If you think we’d be weird to them—”

 

“Do you think they won’t like me?” Taehyung asks, suddenly insecure, eyes all shiny like in a minute he could start crying. “Is that it? Is it because I’m so—” He cuts off and makes a big flaily, exuberant gesture that admittedly doesn’t do a bad job of summing up the general impression you get in a quick, one-off meeting with Kim Taehyung. Overwhelmed and surprised by the enormity of him, by the sheer volume of feeling one human can contain and then burst over with in a dazzle of brilliant sparks.

 

Jeongguk shakes his head, frantic, berating himself already for what a mess he’s made of this. “No, it’s not—it’s not that, it’s not that at all, Tae-hyung, please, I don’t think you’re—I would want you to meet my friends, really, it’s just—it’s just. You can’t.”

 

Taehyung’s face falls further, head hanging as he drops his hands to his lap and scuff a foot against the floor. Yoongi looks stony and unsure, perturbed on Taehyung’s behalf. Jeongguk looks away.

 

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says after a second, “I didn’t mean to make you feel pressured, or uncomfortable.”

 

Jeongguk closes his eyes and fights back tears, feeling stupid and pathetic and angry at himself for ever letting himself end up like this. For making Taehyung look so fucking sad, for making Yoongi’s hackles rise as he tries to comfort his boyfriend and protect him from such a mean force that would put such a sorrowful look on his face. That would make him feel unworthy and not wanted.

 

The way Jeongguk feels all the time. Unworthy. Not wanted.

 

“But um,” Taehyung murmurs, “if it’s not because of me, then why not? Is there…is there a reason we can’t…meet your friends?”

 

Jeongguk looks up, mouth pressed into a sharp little line. “Yeah,” he says, hoarse. “I don’t have any.”

 

Taehyung’s expression goes from sad to confused in an instant. “Huh?”

 

“I don’t have any friends,” Jeongguk says. In for a penny, in for a pound. “That’s why you can’t meet them. There’s no one to introduce you to.”

 

It’s very, very quiet for a second, and very, very still. Then: “Oh,” Taehyung says. “Oh, Kookie, I didn’t—baby, I’m sorry.

 

Baby? Jeongguk blinks back confused tears. “It’s fine.”

 

“No, I—you have to join our friends then, we have—we have friends, we have four friends—”

 

“Three,” Yoongi says. “I’m friend-broken-up with Namjoon right now.”

 

Taehyung huffs. “Are you guys fighting over a song again.”

 

“No. He made Hobi cry the other night and he hasn’t apologized yet so I friend-broke-up with him.”

 

Hyung, ” Taehyung stresses, getting caught up in the moment—but then he remembers Jeongguk and turns back to him, wiggling his toes where they’re squished beneath Jeongguk’s thigh and grinning wide. “Anyways, JK. I have four whole friends you can have. And Yoongi has three, but sadly it’s not seven whole friends because three of those friends are the same friends. You’ve met them, they’re Namjoon-hyung and Jimin and Hobi-hyung and Jin-hyung. You can have them too! They’ll definitely be your friends!”

 

Jeongguk huffs, heart thudding in the familiar way it always does when Taehyung is being unfairly cute like this. “Thanks, hyungs,” he whispers, although there’s an oily splotch of guilt staining his insides, guilt when he looks at Taehyung and wants to kiss the mole on the tip of his nose, and wants to kiss the wide expanse of his thick upper lip, and wants to kiss his monolid and his double lid one after the other.

 

“You don’t have to thank us, kiddo,” Yoongi says, and when Jeongguk looks at him, the guilt doubles, because Jeongguk’s butterfly-infested stomach is bursting to life under his look too, and it’s not fair, it’s just not fair that these two beautiful humans have found each other and are so rightfully in love, and that they’ve found Jeongguk too—but Jeongguk will never be a part of what they have. Not really.

 

“No, I—” Jeongguk doesn’t know what he wants to say. Doesn’t know how to put all these tangled feelings into words: the fear that he won’t be good enough, that the friendships won’t work out. That they’ll hang out once or twice and then Jeongguk will fall by the wayside as he always does, not someone that people hold onto. Not someone worth keeping around. “Taehyung-hyung?” Jeongguk asks, head spiraling back to something. “Did you really think—I mean. Do you think people wouldn’t…like. That I wouldn’t introduce you guys to my hypothetical friends because…because of you?

 

Taehyung shifts uneasily and Yoongi sits down beside him, taking his hand as Taehyung worries at his bottom lip. “I, uh. I’ve always been—lonely. And my family is kind of poor. When I moved to the city, my mom bought me this really expensive jacket, actually. So I could hopefully fit in. And make friends. Because I’ve always been…like, sometimes people think I’m weird. And I’ve mostly made my peace with it, but I’m also like—I still get insecure over it, sometimes, I think. Even though it’s easier now that I have friends who actually like me. Like, they like me. Not just a fake version of me.”

 

Jeongguk nods, his heart feeling all pummeled and pulped out, squishy and yearning to be burnt away because there is nothing in the world that could repair this sort of utter destructive decay, this knowing that Taehyung has felt the way Jeongguk feels all the time, when Taehyung is so undeserving of that. “That’s stupid that people ever said you were weird, hyung. I don’t think that at all. I love how you say things. And see the world. Every time you say stuff, it’s amazing.”

 

Taehyung blushes. “Thanks, Kookie. But every time you say stuff, it’s amazing, too. So you definitely deserve to have friends who will like you for it.”

 

Jeongguk wants to refuse, wants to shake his head, stall this out before he can ruin it later on, once he’s had a taste of connecting with other humans again. He’s already kind of ruined from the two people in front of him; how will he handle four more? “It’s okay. No rush.”

 

“No, seriously, we’ll arrange something,” Taehyung promises. “And until then, you definitely have us!”

 

“Yeah, Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi says, voice soft and collected and warm as always. “If you think you’re the only one here who’s ever felt the way you’re feeling right now, just—I don’t know how much it helps, but you’re not. We’ve both been…”

 

Taehyung’s eyes are old and kind of hollow, but wise, and kind, and serious. He nods. “Yeah,” he says, squeezing Yoongi’s hand. “Yoongi-hyung too.”

 

Jeongguk blinks back tears. “I don’t want you to feel that way,” he says, “either of you. I don’t want you to be lost and alone.”

 

“We’re not,” Yoongi says. “Not anymore. Not all the time, at least.”

 

“Sometimes,” Taehyung admits, but it’s with a lightness that tells of belief in better days, trust that someone will pick you up and dust you off and help you keep going. “It still creeps up, but it’s better now. For both of us.”

 

Yoongi nods agreement. “It’s better. And we want it to be better for you too.”

 

“You have us now,” Taehyung says, smiling gentle and sweet. “It’ll be better, at least a little.”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip and tries to believe.







🍁








Jeongguk starts waking up in Yoongi and Taehyung’s bed more often than he means to—although to be fair, he doesn’t really mean to ever wake up there at all, so any amount of waking up there is really more than he intends. He wakes up there on a weekday morning and gets up gingerly so as not to rouse his bedmates, sneaking back into his clothes and out the door with a huffy-teary sigh. He wakes up there on a Saturday and Yoongi stirs when he’s slipping back into his jeans. Yoongi almost manages to call out to him, Jeongguk is sure, but Jeongguk avoids eye contact and gets away before sleepy-morning-Yoongi can form any actual words.

 

One morning it snows. Jeongguk opens his eyes and Taehyung is crouched on his knees next to him, Yoongi still passed out on Jeongguk’s other side.

 

“Look, Guk-ah!” Taehyung whisper-shouts, big hands holding open the blackout curtains over the window above the bed. “Snow! Snow!”

 

Jeongguk sits up blearily and rubs his eyes as Taehyung lies back down, looking up at Jeongguk as he curls into the pillows. Taehyung is all awash with silver snow-light looking like a dream in his ivory pajamas against ivory sheets. His hair is dark and his eyes are warm and his lips are candy-pink. Jeongguk wants very much to kiss him.

 

“Look, Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung insists, yawning and curling back up into the blankets like a soft little animal safe in its den for the winter. Jeongguk looks out the window and admires the thin blanket of white draping everything all clean and wintery. He laments his lack of a winter coat, because he still hasn’t bought a new one—but at least for now, he’s tucked up in a warm space with two human heaters. When Jeongguk looks down after just a couple minutes, both of them are asleep. Taehyung’s eyes are half-closed as always and his breathing is already slow even though just a minute ago he’d been chirping and admiring the snow. Jeongguk huffs in amusement and ponders how to get out of bed without waking him back up, or waking Yoongi.

 

“Just stay, kid,” Yoongi says all of a sudden, low and raspy with the morning. Jeongguk startles a little, and Yoongi makes a cooing sound. “Careful. Tae can use the rest. He’s always bouncing around with energy, but he doesn’t sleep enough. I swear, half the time he’s the way he is because he’s just punchdrunk from lack of rest.”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip and leans back against the headboard, focusing on Yoongi. “Um. Yeah.”

 

Yoongi smiles. “You guys are cute. Looking out at the snow like that.”

 

Jeongguk’s blush must be very obvious. Jeongguk’s crush must be very obvious, Yoongi has to know. “Thanks.”

 

Yoongi nods. “Lie back down, bunny. It’s cold.”

 

Jeongguk’s hands are very freezing, it’s true. His ears, too, and his nose. At least his feet are nice and warm beneath the thick, downy duvet. “It’s okay, hyung,” Jeongguk whispers. “I should go.”

 

“Tae will be sad,” Yoongi says, casually, like he’s not—what? Suggesting that his boyfriend will be sad if the other boy in their bed leaves right now? Isn’t that what Jeongguk is supposed to do? Get out from between them, stop interfering the way he has been, oh god, what if Yoongi is mad at him, what if Taehyung is hurt, what if—what if—

 

“It’s okay, you know.” Yoongi is sitting up now, facing Jeongguk head-on. “It makes me happy. To see you guys like that. To know you guys are here, in my bed. With me.”

 

Jeongguk’s insides twist all up into terrified knots, confused knots, all the knots he’s had for the past two months of knowing these unreasonably pretty, lovely humans called Taehyung and Yoongi. “Oh.”

 

Yoongi huffs. “And Taehyung likes it too. He says I baby him too much, but it’s better when you’re here because then I mostly baby you.”

 

That’s not exactly untrue. Yoongi does have a weakness for Jeongguk that somehow surpasses the size of the massive continental soft spot he has for Taehyung. Yoongi is always trying to feed Jeongguk new and delicious foods, making sure he’s drinking water, texting him randomly to remind him to take deep breaths and relax his shoulder muscles and his jaw. Jeongguk is always so surprised to find that he’s tense. He never notices it until he gets one of those messages and consciously relaxes himself.

 

Jeongguk’s throat feels suddenly raw and breathless with hope and guilt. “Yoongi-hyung, I—I.”

 

Yoongi’s eyes are very wide, and very open. Vulnerable, the way he lets Jeongguk see him, and the way he asks to see Jeongguk. “Wanna make breakfast with me? I have some fuzzy socks you can wear so your feet don’t get cold.”

 

Jeongguk nods. “Okay, hyung.”

 

“We’ll make strawberry pancakes.”

 

“For breakfast?

 

“Taehyung’s favorite,” Yoongi explains. “Come on. He’ll be so happy when he wakes up.”

 

A happy Taehyung is one of Jeongguk’s favorite sights in the whole universe, really. Jeongguk nods and follows Yoongi to the kitchen. Yoongi puts on a nice wintery playlist and gets out the ingredients for strawberry pancakes, and Taehyung stumbles in a few minutes later, eyes lighting up when they land on Jeongguk.

 

“Jeonggukkie,” Taehyung says, a glint in his eyes that looks familiar. The same look he gets when he looks at Yoongi, only he’s looking at Jeongguk, he’s falling into Jeongguk’s arms and demanding attention the way he so easily does.

 

“How are you?” Jeongguk asks, breathlessly imagining what it would be like to drop kisses all over Taehyung’s cheeks.

 

“I’m bouncing up and down above heaven,” Taehyung says, relaxing himself entirely into Jeongguk’s arms, trusting his fragile human body to Jeongguk’s strength. Jeongguk holds him up, overwhelmed and honored to be given this duty, this gift. His heart skips a beat on hope. Yoongi grins and presses a kiss to Taehyung’s forehead, and then to Jeongguk’s.

 

Jeongguk swallows and hugs Taehyung close.







🍁








Days pass, then weeks. Jeongguk feels this persistent pulse inside of him that urges him: say something. Tell them. But still he says nothing. Taehyung’s eyes are always luminous and wide. Yoongi’s mouth is always parted on a sigh, pink and rosy.

 

Jeongguk sleeps in their bed, makes breakfast with them, dresses in their clothes.

 

And still, he says nothing.

 

There is evidence, of course, that Yoongi and Taehyung are still as strong as ever, affectionate as they live hours of their life without Jeongguk. A bruise on Taehyung’s neck that makes Yoongi blush and stutter even as Taehyung pulls his collar lower to show it off. A Sunday brunch at the restaurant where Taehyung and Yoongi get a little too tipsy on bottomless mimosas and end up kind of making out in their booth, and then sneaking off to the bathroom together, emerging minutes later looking a little more disheveled than is appropriate for a public place.

 

Jeongguk still goes home alone most nights. Still practices loneliness, only it’s harder now, more aching because sometimes he isn’t lonely, sometimes he feels connected . It was easy, three months ago, when Jeongguk was at a point where he’d spent so many months and years feeling utterly desolate that he couldn’t even remember what it was like to know another human, that he couldn’t feel the pain of never having anyone, because he couldn’t even remember what it is to have someone.

 

Now, he has two someones, or at least—he thinks he maybe sort of does. Whatever they are, however much they try to wrap him up into their little unit, Jeongguk still doubts. Still practices going home alone, taking the long way even when it’s cold and he still doesn’t have a winter coat. One night he makes the mistake of mentioning that in front of Yoongi and suddenly he’s being forced into Yoongi’s too-big puffy jacket.

 

“It fits Taehyung, and he’s always stealing it anyways, so you should just take it.”

 

“But won’t Tae—”

 

“He has, like, four giant leather coats for the winter; he’ll be fine. How many coats do you have?”

 

“Uh—I mean, I have some hoodies—”

 

“You just told me you lost your only one,” Yoongi chides. “Just take the damn jacket. And be safe tonight when you walk to your car.”

 

Jeongguk wears it that night on the walk to the 6,000-won lot, head down, earbuds in, talking to no one. No one tries to talk to him. When he gets into the driver’s seat, he texts Yoongi.

 

Thanks for the coat. Made it safely to my car.

 

Wanna come over?

 

Jeongguk bites his lip, hesitating. Oh, I can bring you the coat. Yeah.

 

That’s not why, Yoongi says back. But drive safe. See you soon.







🍁







Jeongguk goes out for drinks with Taehyung and Yoongi and all their four/three friends (Namjoon is apparently still not forgiven, according to Yoongi, but probably that’s mostly just an inside joke at this point). Jeongguk has a good time. Jeongguk laughs.

 

Worst of all, they actually seem to like him. Which is impossible; Jeongguk isn’t someone you like. Jeongguk is just someone you keep around for a bit, a toy with not very many tricks up his sleeve, and once you’ve seen them all, you shouldn’t be burdened with him anymore.

 

At the end of the night, though, they all ask for Jeongguk’s number, and then they add him to their group chat.

 

“Seriously, Kook! We wanna dance with you!” Jimin and Hoseok insist.

 

“Do you like crabs? We should go to the aquarium!” Namjoon says, causing Jimin to poke him and pout that Namjoon has never asked him to the aquarium even though they’re officially boyfriends now.

 

I’m going to cook you so much food, ” Seokjin says, fierce in a way that’s almost scary. Or maybe that’s just because he’s so terrifyingly handsome.

 

“Oh,” Jeongguk says, fumbling for words. “Um. I—I can cook, like some stuff?”

 

Do you like cooking? Do you know how to hold a knife? Did you know that a sharp knife is a safe knife? ” Seokjin demands.

 

Jeongguk blinks, shell-shocked. “Um. Do you always speak in italics?”

 

I will teach you how to cook so many dishes and you can make them for Yoongichi and Taetae and then they won’t starve to death because Yoongichi can only make chicken and noodles and Taetae wants to live on Panda Express—

 

Seokjin carries on, ranting about how the culinary arts can improve the lives of people everywhere, most especially the lives of his friends, but Jeongguk is kind of overwhelmed because Seokjin is talking like—like Jeongguk is, just, always gonna be around Yoongi and Taehyung. Like—like. Like Jeongguk is a part of them, Taehyung-and-Yoongi, like Jeongguk? Lives there? Or is? What? Their third boyfriend?

 

Taehyung is caught up playing some weird hand game with Jimin and Hoseok, but Yoongi is watching Jeongguk with magnanimous eyes. He flashes Jeongguk a smile when he catches Jeongguk looking at him in terror, still barraged by Seokjin’s uncontainable chaos.

 

“Jin-hyung, hyung, ” Yoongi says, putting a hand on Seokjin’s flailing arm. “Dude, calm down. You’re scaring our maknae.”

 

Our maknae.

 

Jeongguk bites his lip to hide a smile, and out of nowhere, Taehyung appears to tap his chin up.

 

“Look at me, Kookie,” Taehyung requests, studying him carefully.

 

Jeongguk allows it, but not without a frown. “Um. Do I have food on my face or something?”

 

Taehyung shakes his head. “Nah. I just wanted to look at you. Hmm.”

 

“Okay?” Jeongguk says, confused. “I—that noise sounded bad…”

 

Taehyung shakes his head hard, hair flying out all around him. “You look pretty, Jeonggukkie! That’s all.”

 

Jeongguk shivers. “Hyung-ah,” he whispers, something for only the two of them.

 

“Come on! Wanna go to noraebang?” Jimin suggests, leaping up onto Namjoon’s back and laughing when the elder stumbles and then has to basically collapse against the side of a building to keep himself upright. “Am I that heavy?” Jimin cackles.

 

“No, just—you know I have no coordination,” Namjoon laments.

 

“So noraebang!” Hoseok says, insistent and warm. “Jeonggukkie, can you sing?”

 

Jeonggukkie, Jeongguk mouths to himself, unable to process the fondness and ease with which Hoseok says it. “Uh—kinda?”

 

“Great! Because I can’t sing at all! ” Hoseok shouts, clearly tipsy from the somaek he’d been drinking at the restaurant.

 

“Aish, stop being modest,” Yoongi complains, swinging an arm around Hoseok’s shoulders as the group starts migrating down the street. “We all know you just say you can’t sing in order to lower our expectations so when you do a good job, we have to compliment you.”

 

“Hyung! I’d never!” Hoseok insists.

 

Jeongguk loses himself in the warmth of Yoongi’s jacket around his shoulders, and the way the snow is starting to fall along the cracked Seoul pavement, and the thrill of being with people you really, really like, who really like you.

 

Taehyung grins and holds Jeongguk’s hand, squeezing tight when Jeongguk tries to let go.

 

“Please?” Taehyung pouts.

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk whispers.

 

Young, and opulent, and ephemeral, they bleed into the night, edges blurring until all seven of them are one. A blue-gold image of splendor and romanticism. Something that maybe you could be, if you were lucky. Something the world needs more of. Camaraderie, acceptance, love.







🍁








It’s morning and Jeongguk has a rare Saturday off. It’s snowing again outside. He’s in Taehyung and Yoongi’s kitchen, and they’re all talking about nothing in particular, and Jeongguk says something about how he thinks Yoongi’s pajamas are the cutest when suddenly there’s a whimper and a body all pressed up against his and Jeongguk is being kissed.

 

Taehyung pulls away and his cheeks are pink, his eyes caught between delight and shock and worry.

 

Jeongguk’s fingertips fly to cover his lips. “I—I um—Tae-hyung—”

 

“I’m sorry,” Taehyung squeaks, covering his own mouth with his hands, eyes dropping to utter worry. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I just—I just couldn’t help it, I want to kiss you so bad all the time. I’m sorry!”

 

Jeongguk blinks, entirely dumbstruck. His lips are tingling, his insides aching with how much he wants to launch himself forward and hold Taehyung close and beg to be kissed again.

 

“Taehyung,” Yoongi says, calm and nonreactive. Like he’s not surprised at all by what’s just happened even if Taehyung and Jeongguk clearly both are. “Tae, we talked about this. You were gonna ask him, remember?”

 

Taehyung nods emphatically and frets, “I know, I’m sorry, Jeonggukkie I shouldn’t have kissed you like that, I just got so overwhelmed and you’re so pretty and I’ve wanted to—like forever, I wanted to kiss you and I didn’t mean to but I just—can I kiss you? Is that okay, is it—can I please?”

 

“There you go,” Yoongi murmurs, coming up to wrap his arms around Taehyung from behind, nuzzling his face into Taehyung’s shoulder. “Love you, Taetae.”

 

“Love you too,” Taehyung chants, earnest. He’s still looking at Jeongguk, though, eyes wide and intrepid and empathetic, and Jeongguk is shaky against the countertop and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t know what Taehyung and Yoongi are doing. Doesn’t know what comes next.

 

“Huh?” Jeongguk blurts. Apparently it’s all he can muster.

 

Taehyung’s shoulders slump, and Yoongi pulls his head up so now they’re both looking at Jeongguk, kind of serious and concerned.

 

“Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi starts, slow and questioning.

 

“I’m sorry!” Jeongguk says, closing his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t—Yoongi-hyung, I didn’t mean to, I don’t want—you guys shouldn’t break up, I’m just—I’m sorry, I don’t know what to—I’m so confused right now, maybe I should go—”

 

“What?” Taehyung asks, horrified. “No, no no, Jeonggukkie I’m sorry! Please I won’t kiss you again, sorry I did it, sorry I asked after I did it without asking I’m sorry—”

 

“No don’t be sorry! It’s okay—”

 

Jeongguk. Taehyung. ” Yoongi’s voice is low and commanding, halting all the frantic energy of the kitchen and giving Jeongguk a second to take a breath. “Jeongguk, stop apologizing. Taehyung likes you. He told me. And I like you too. So it’s fine. I mean, unless you don’t like us, which—would be fine, but you should probably tell us.” He looks old and worn and resigned at the end, bitter with himself for daring to hope—what?

 

That Jeongguk— likes them?

 

“Of course I like you,” Jeongguk blurts, too overwhelmed to censor himself anymore. “I—I didn’t know how to—because you’re…”

 

Taehyung softens, shoulders relaxing as he stands up a little straighter and steps towards Jeongguk, eyes wide and innocent and hopeful. “You like us? The way we like you?”

 

Jeongguk bites his lip, shrinking. “I…yes,” he murmurs. “I want to…want to kiss you. I want to kiss you, too.”

 

“Both of us?” Taehyung asks.

 

“Yes,” Jeongguk admits, hanging his head. “I wanna—both of you.”

 

“Okay,” Yoongi says, in his soothing, lovely voice. “That’s okay. That’s what we want, too.”

 

“We talk about it,” Taehyung breathes, wondrous and bright. “We talk about it all the time. How much we wanna kiss you. And other stuff.”

 

Jeongguk squeaks, and Yoongi offers his signature little “Taehyung,” but he’s chuckling against Taehyung’s shoulder, pressing kisses to the exposed skin along the back of his neck.

 

Jeongguk swallows. “I…”

 

“If you want to,” Taehyung says, and suddenly his eyes are old and wise, and Jeongguk sees a glimmer of something ancient there, some spiritual depth that makes Jeongguk’s youthful hurricane emotional capacity shrink a little. Taehyung has lived a thousand lives before this one, Jeongguk thinks. Taehyung has been all manner of things: an idol, a strawberry farmer, an astronaut, a king. Little things, too, non-human things. A tiger. A bottle cap.

 

Jeongguk nods, hardly daring to take, even though the offerings are being spread before him, even though the bearers of the gifts are pulling him on, asking him to take. “I want that,” Jeongguk admits. “It’s just—hard. I’m not…good with people.”

 

Taehyung and Yoongi frown together, in that mirrored relationship-y way they have. “What do you mean?” Taehyung asks. “Everyone loves you!”

 

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I—I mean. Short-term, sure, I can—people are friendly at my job, and it’s—but after a while, I just…realize they can’t see me. Like, me -me. And I get lonely.”

 

“Lonely,” Taehyung whispers, nodding. “You told us we couldn’t meet your friends.”

 

Jeongguk shifts, uneasy. Yoongi comes out from behind Taehyung to take Jeongguk’s hand. “I think this is a conversation for blankets and the couch.”

 

“And tea,” Taehyung insists, already moving to get the kettle going.

 

They end up wrapped in multiple throw blankets on the deep, squishy couch that doesn’t match any of the other furniture in the living room. The one Jeongguk has slept on a few times, except now he always ends up in the bedroom.

 

“Every time I’m really lonely, I just think of it as practicing,” Jeongguk says, leaning against Yoongi, his feet in Taehyung’s lap. They’re all a cozy little pile, like wolves huddling up to guard off the chill of snow.

 

“Practicing?” Taehyung asks, sounding scandalized and hurt.

 

Jeongguk nods. “Like, when I’m at home and I make dinner and eat it alone and don’t text anyone and don’t have plans, ever—like, ever. I just think—well, this is the rest of my life. So I should practice it now, being lonely, I mean. Or being alone. I’m just practicing for the rest of my life, because I’ll need to be very good at this if I’m going to survive for a while—like, years and years, probably, I mean, I go to the gym and I’m pretty healthy so like, I’ll probably be alive for a pretty long time, I guess—but being lonely the whole time. Alone. Lonely. Alonely. Does that make sense?”

 

Jeongguk is rambling now. Jeongguk always rambles when he feels self-conscious, or uncomfortable, or like he doesn’t want to talk about something. He usually rambles about something else, though, not about the literal thing they’re sitting here talking about.

 

Taehyung and Yoongi squeeze him close, tuck the blankets tighter around him, press kisses to his forehead and his cheeks and his shoulders and his palms. “You don’t have to be lonely, Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi whispers.

 

“You’ve got us now,” Taehyung promises. “So you shouldn’t be alonely . Not just me and Yoongi-hyung, but the rest of us. Our four friends.”

 

“Three,” Yoongi grumbles.

 

Jeongguk giggles. “Still not friends with Namjoon-hyung?”

 

“No, now he’s mad at Hoseok-hyung,” Taehyung teases.

 

“Oh, I forgot about that,” Yoongi nods, grinning at Taehyung. “So actually, we only have two. Jimin and Jin-hyung.”

 

“I still have four,” Taehyung says, raising his hand like an eager first-grader hoping to get called on because he definitely knows the answer to what the teacher has asked. He even wiggles around a little, laughing, his white teeth beautiful in their barely misaligned curve that Jeongguk wants to taste again and again and again.

 

“Wait, I guess I have four,” Yoongi says, “because of you guys.”

 

“I have the most friends!” Taehyung chirps. “I have you two, and Jin-hyung, and Hoseok-hyung, and Jiminie, and Namjoon-hyung—wait, Jeongguk has all those too, except instead of having himself as a friend he has me and that’s—wait, you should be friends with yourself, that’s a thing, and oh! We could get doggos and have more friends, I’ve always wanted a pomeranian and Yoongi-hyung you should go back to Daegu and convince your mom to let you bring Holly up here and then Holly and our hypothetical pomeranian can be friends—”

 

“Jeongguk-ah, can I kiss you?” Yoongi asks softly, the words just for Jeongguk as Taehyung keeps rambling on in that endearing, meandering way of his, the one Jeongguk loves loves loves.

 

Jeongguk blushes and nods. “Okay, hyung,” he whispers. “You can.”

 

Yoongi eyes him, skeptical. “You’re still thinking all this is gonna end, aren’t you? And you’ll be alone again.”

 

Jeongguk drops his gaze. “It’s okay, hyung. I’m really good at it. I like being good at things.”

 

Yoongi makes a sad, accepting sort of sound, and then their foreheads are pressed together. “You could try being really good at not being lonely. If you wanted. You know, since you’ve already mastered loneliness.”

 

It’s an annoyingly convincing challenge. Jeongguk bites his lip and sighs, feeling a little bit tricked, but in a way he doesn’t mind. “Well. When you put it that way.”

 

“—and Jiminie wants us all to go to brunch this Sunday, Jeonggukkie are you working?”

 

Taehyung, I’m trying to kiss our boyfriend here,” Yoongi gripes, flicking Taehyung on the forehead. That gets Taehyung to be quiet real quick.

 

“Can I watch?” Taehyung asks, shameless and wonderful.

 

“Jeonggukkie?” Yoongi asks, looking to Jeongguk with piercing, lovely eyes.

 

Jeongguk blushes and nods, shy all of a sudden. “Yeah, okay, Taetae.”

 

“Yes!” Taehyung shouts. “Okay, hurry up! I’m excited!”

 

Yoongi’s mouth is warm and sultry, so different from how Taehyung’s had been, but just as nice, and just as welcoming. Homey.

 

Taehyung is clapping when they break apart. “Now me! Now me! I wanna kiss our boyfriend again.”

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk mumbles, letting himself be tugged back in.

 

“You do realize what you’re agreeing to, right?” Yoongi asks, all warm and sarcastic, sand and beaches and a summer breeze. “We said our boyfriend. You’re okay with that part too?”

 

Jeongguk pulls away from Taehyung and hardly manages to ignore the bereft whiny noise that comes out of Taehyung’s throat. “Yeah, I know, hyung,” Jeongguk says. “I’m really good at being boyfriends.”

 

He’s actually not. This is a blatant lie, and Yoongi and Taehyung know enough of Jeongguk’s past that they must know it. But both of them just look at him, overjoyed. “Yeah, I know you will be,” Yoongi says.

 

“Can you stay over tonight?” Taehyung asks. “There are so many activities we can do!”

 

Jeongguk giggles. “Yeah? Like what?”

 

“I mean, there’s movies, and you can help me try to get my green glowy stars to stick—I’ve been having trouble, they keep falling down and smacking me in the night—oh! And sex, I totally want to have sex with you if you want—”

 

Jeongguk splutters and moans and hides his face in Yoongi’s chest, and Yoongi pets his hair. “Okay, okay,” Yoongi chuckles, “calm down, Tae-baby. You’re overwhelming him.”

 

“But! I wanna kiss him! I wanna make him all—dizzy, and pretty, he’s so pretty —”

 

“Taehyung!” Yoongi barks, but it’s fond.

 

Jeongguk can’t help it. He sits up and grabs Taehyung’s arms and hauls him in, crushing their mouths together in a frantic kiss that Taehyung returns just as eagerly. Their tongues flick out and then Taehyung unceremoniously licks his way into Jeongguk’s mouth, and Jeongguk is weak in the knees and shaky and falling over, only there’s Yoongi behind him to hold him up, and suddenly he’s sandwiched between two people, two mellifluous and beautiful boys who like him, who want him to be here, who don’t want him to be lonely.

 

Jeongguk and Taehyung break apart with a dizzying smack . Taehyung looks stunned. “What was that for?” He asks, fingers pressing his lips in a mimicry of Jeongguk’s reaction earlier, after the first kiss they’d shared.

 

Jeongguk giggles. “Payback, hyung. For kissing me in the kitchen.”

 

Taehyung blinks, collapsing sideways into the back of the couch. “Fuck. That was—now I’m all—c’mere.” He makes grabby hands, and Jeongguk goes, sliding into his lap, giggling when he feels Taehyung’s body all tight and strung out and wanting .

 

“Fuck, you guys are pretty,” Yoongi curses.

 

“Can you stay?” Taehyung begs. “You can stay, right, Jeongguk-ah?”

 

Jeongguk shivers, and lets himself melt into the body before him, and into the body behind. Tangled up on the couch, the velvet rays of snow-laden sun shining in the windows at midmorning. “Yeah,” Jeongguk whispers, awash with daylight, all golden and brand new. He sighs, and practices holding on, instead of running away or letting go like he always has. He’s good enough at those things already. “I can stay.”

 

The winter mutes the passage of time out the window, and a new magic fills the room. Incantations of intimacy, a spell Jeongguk surrenders to, letting it guide him to his companions, who lead him through the storm. It is scary, at first, but Jeongguk tells himself to be courageous. Taehyung and Yoongi remain patient and kind. They spend the day in a charmed sort of stupor, all giggling together, sometimes serious, sometimes sad. And then they spend the next day the same, and the next after that. They go back to work or to the store or to see their other friends, but mostly that winter, they hold onto each other.

 

I’m practicing, Jeongguk tells himself when his heart thumps too hard and he thinks it would be easier to flee, to lock his heart away. I’m practicing being not-lonely.

 

“Stay,” Taehyung and Yoongi always remind him when he’s feeling scared. “Stay.”

 

When they say that, Jeongguk always settles. He feels calm, and careful. I’ve got this.

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk always says. “I’ll stay.”









❄️