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"Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.

These, our bodies,  possessed  by light.

Tell me we'll never get used to it."

Richard Siken, Crush

_ _ 

Of all the strands, Taehyung’s always liked number three the best. Perhaps because Seoul 3 is the least tainted by the dark magic steadily infecting their continuum. It’s not a desolate waste like Seoul 5 nor an overwhelming, multi-tiered metropolis like Seoul 2. No one sports cybernetic limbs or implants like Seoul 6 and technology isn’t banned like it has been for years in Seoul 1. The shadows at night are still growing their teeth, still held back by neon lights, and Taehyung doesn’t feel like he has to look over his shoulder every five seconds. His skin doesn’t burn or prickle like it does in Seoul Seven, where all the magic has become tied to blood and he can taste the chill of a widening void on his tongue. 

In Seoul 3, people go about their everyday lives as usual—most completely unaware of the existence of the other strands. The magic remains bright and airy, reminding Taehyung of life, of growing things. Here, he can breathe. Here, he can ignore the war—and his role in it—for a little while. He can just be a boy with a camera around his neck and an oversized coat flapping around his legs. No one will look twice at the newsboy cap pulled slightly down over his face to hide his cybernetic eye. No one knows that his left arm, concealed beneath layers of clothing, is also metal—the flesh one lost in a dark magic attack five years or six centuries ago. (Depending on how you measure time. It’s hard, when you have the ability to jump through it.)

He’s just a boy, enjoying the last few hours of 2023 before the clocks of Seoul 3 tick forward to a new year. 

The best part of tonight, though, is the man walking beside him, staring out at the glimmer of the Han River—smaller than it is in Seoul 2 but not the barren chasm of Seoul 5. But the river’s not important. What is: Jung Hoseok, with his hands buried in the pockets of his plaid coat and his black bangs fluffy across his forehead, styled to make him seem younger. (Though again, they don’t age like normal people, or in any conventional sense of the concept. It’s complicated, like everything about magic and the war.) 

Hoseok’s wide-brimmed hat also shields most of his face from view. Like Taehyung, his left eye is an implant, but Taehyung also knows he’s trying to hide his recently-acquired scars. He’s barely let Taehyung see his face since Taehyung whisked him away from Headquarters and it’s maddening. Hoseok can’t think Taehyung will care, right? He’s got his own scars. Not on his face, true—except for the small ones around his implant that they all share—but plenty elsewhere on his body. It’s the nature of their line of work. The bitter, violent grit of it. None of them are untouched by the war, not after centuries on the frontlines. 

And he loves Hoseok, as fiercely as he loves the other five members of their unit. They were all recruited out of their native strands, went through training together, joined the war together—bound to each other magic and soul. But his feelings for Hoseok have changed shape in the last few years (or decades), morphing into something that simmers restless beneath his skin. Like a once cool river slowly infused with molten lava. It’s an entirely new experience, different from anything  he’s felt before, and he’s taken as much time as possible to sit with it in his hands—examine it, trace the contours of it, and let it settle into the core of him. 

He was planning on telling Hoseok tonight, during this rare moment of peace. They haven’t seen each other in over a year (or a century) and Taehyung has missed him. Ached for him. Yearned in a way that drove him nearly mad with the strength of it, baffled by how fixated his heart had come to be on a single presence. He’s used to solo missions—to time spent in other lives, other skins, other strands, and other eras. He’s passed decades wearing a different face, chasing threads of darkness into the depths of different societies, and he’s never been lonely. 

Until he fell in love. 

What a terrible, glorious thing. 

He doesn’t want to keep it to himself—he’s going to burst if he has to do that. So he planned an evening in Seoul 3, Hoseok’s birth strand, and a supposedly romantic riverwalk with a confession at the end of it. He would have asked Jungkook or Seokjin for advice—because he knows they’ve loved in this way before, each other and others—but they were deployed on a joint mission to Strand 35 before he had the chance to corner them. So he’s winging this … and Hoseok’s barely said a word to him. 

They’ve walked in silence for nearly half a kilometer now and Taehyung feels like he’s suffocating. Hoseok burns the brightest of them, in heart and in magic, but tonight everything about him feels muted and subdued—orange dulled to a murky brown. Jungkook sketched out the rough details of the mission: the explosion; the monsters, warped by blood magic; the way that Hoseok held them off long enough to evacuate a village that would have otherwise disappeared too soon. The Garden has all kinds of technology at its disposal, but magical wounds are different. There is nothing that can remove the scars of dark magic, only glamors to hide them. But those take up a lot of magical energy and resources, so the Garden reserves them for mission use only. 

Hence the hat tonight and the defensive hunch of Hoseok’s shoulders, as if Taehyung would find him anything other than beautiful. He could turn into a frog or a boar or one of the creepy cybernetic guards of Seoul 10’s king and he would still be beautiful to Taehyung. 

Getting Hoseok to believe that, though … that’s the hardest part. 

Taehyung’s never been good at organizing his thoughts and laying them out in perfect words like Namjoon, all pristine and permanent. His own words get knotted up in his throat, tangle on his tongue, and spill out in the wrong order or with the wrong inflection, landing in an undignified heap that he then has to sort through and correct. 

So of course he opens his mouth and what pours out is: “Let me take your picture, hyung.” 

Hoseok actually freezes mid-step, spine going rigid like they’re in the middle of a Garden training drill. “What?” he asks in a voice of frigid steel. His face is still in shadow, completely obscured by his hat. 

Taehyung flinches. Then rallies himself, chin raised in defiance. He can work with this, and he’s always been every bit as stubborn as Hoseok. “Let me take your picture.” 

Hoseok laughs, grating and knife-tipped. “You can’t be serious.” 

“Of course I am,” Taehyung says. 

Hoseok shifts his weight, a fighting stance. Taehyung imagines that in the big pockets of his coat, his deadly, delicate hands are curled into tight fists. “I didn’t think you’d be that cruel, Taehyung-ah.” 

“It’s not cruelty!” Taehyung insists, grateful that they’ve reached a quiet section of this riverside park and no nosy pedestrians are around to eavesdrop. He’s not interested in memory erasure tonight. 

“You know what happened to me, right?” Hoseok asks, a storm still brewing beneath his words. 

“Of course, I—” 

“Then it’s cruel.” 

“It’s not.” 

“Why do you want to take my picture, then?” 

“Because you’re beautiful,” Taehyung says, as earnest as he can. “And I don’t have any pictures of you.” 

The Garden frowns on material possessions—on clinging to pointless memories across strands—but they’ve let Taehyung keep his small collection of photos. Ones of forests untouched by other humans; of cities that won’t be built for centuries; of cities that will soon be mere ruins; of oceans that hold monsters in their glimmering depths; of stars that are burning out. 

But none of Jung Hoseok. And suddenly he’s desperate to change that. 

Hoseok scoffs at him, turning away. “Beautiful? Fuck off.” 

“You are,” Taehyung snaps, snagging Hoseok’s arm before he can leave. “Why do you never believe me when I say these things?” 

Hoseok stills in his grip, head bent. From this angle, Taehyung can see the smooth expanse of his unmarred cheek, the downward curve of his pretty mouth. “Because you're a good liar.” 

“No.” Taehyung shakes his head and fights the urge to shake Hoseok too. “Not about this, hyung. Never to you.” 

Besides, they’re all good liars. It’s part of why they were recruited in the first place, perhaps even more than their magic and the fact that they didn’t have anyone who would miss them if they vanished. But Taehyung lies on missions, when he wears someone else's face or dons the trappings of another life. He doesn’t lie about his heart. That he keeps pinned to his sleeve, bleeding everywhere, because he’s seen what happens if you lock it away too long. It rots and withers, until only a blackened husk remains. They barely saved Yoongi from that fate—early on or in days yet to come. 

Hoseok finally pulls his arm free, but he doesn’t leave. “You haven’t even seen my face,” he protests. 

“Then show me.” 

Taehyung wants to hold him, but he knows he’ll get punched if he moves too close right now. Hoseok in fight mode is a force to be reckoned with and the tension in his arms tells Taehyung he hasn’t come out of it yet. 

“Please, hyung,” Taehyung begs. “You think I’d judge you? I thought you knew me better than that.” 

Hoseok sighs and the fight finally bleeds from him as his shoulders slump and his chin tips down, further obscuring his face until all Taehyung can see are his pink lips and sharp jaw. He’s quiet for several breaths and this time Taehyung lets it linger, knowing that Hoseok is fighting an internal war he’ll never fully understand. He doesn’t care about being vulnerable with people that he loves, but it isn’t as easy for Hoseok. 

“Take it off, then,” Hoseok says at last, and it takes Taehyung a moment to realize that he means the hat. 

"You’re sure?” he asks, hand hovering near Hoseok’s head. 

“I won’t be able to make myself do it,” Hoseok grits out. “So take it off.” 

Taehyung obeys before Hoseok can second-guess himself, snatching the hat from his head and replacing his newsboy cap with it. Once he’s stuffed the discarded cap in his pocket, he turns his attention back to Hoseok, who has raised his head and is glaring at the river over Taehyung’s shoulder. The streetlamps lining the path cast him in gold and illuminate the still-healing scars on his face. Five long furrows mangle his left cheek and jaw, extending all the way down to his neck and the corner of his mouth—all an angry red. Fresh scars also starburst out from his cybernetic eye, which catches the light and glows like an animal’s in the dark. Taehyung traces them with own gaze across Hoseok’s eyebrow and up to his hairline, where they disappear beneath the protective fall of his bangs. 

It is undeniable that Hoseok’s appearance has been altered forever. Where he once seemed youthful and almost dainty, he now looks much more like the hardened war vetern he actually is. But by the gods, he’s still beautiful. These scars are proof of life, of fight, of survival, and Taehyung wants to capture them as a reminder that this man that he loves won’t give up anything easily. This man that he loves is brave. 

Even now, he’s holding still for Taehyung’s inspection, in spite of the coiled tension back in his spine. 

“Well?” he snaps. “Hideous, right?” 

“No,” Taehyung says gently. Hoseok still flinches like he’s suffered a blow. “Not at all, hyung. You should still let me take your picture.” 

“Why? ” Hoseok half-shouts, taking a threatening step forward. 

“Because I love you!” Taehyung yells back. 

Hoseok freezes again, mismatched eyes widening. And then he sighs, stuttering and tired. “I love you, too, Taehyung-ah, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore reality.” 

Taehyung shakes his head again in frustration. Gods, this isn’t how he wanted this to go. 

“I don’t love you like that,” he says and then pauses because well he does. He still loves Hoseok like family, like an anchor, like a thread woven through centuries and worlds, tying him to bedrock. “I mean, I love you more,” he elaborates. 

“More?” Hoseok says in confusion. 

“I love you like I want to kiss you.” Taehyung fidgets, playing with the strap of his camera and wishing again that he was better at this. “Like I think about you all the time and I miss you when you’re not around. That kind of love. The kind they write stories about.” 

Hoseok’s mouth drops open, stretching the scars on his cheek, and Taehyung can’t tell if it’s a good or bad reaction. He never paused to consider the possibility of Hoseok rejecting him and he sees now that he should have. Don’t assume things, Yoongi has told him a hundred times before, but that’s hard when it comes to his heart. 

“You want to kiss me?” Hoseok says, still stunned. 

Taehyung nods, jerky with nerves. He’s kissed a lot of people during his work for the Garden but never as himself, never as Kim Taehyung with all his masks and disguises stripped away. Never as someone in love. 

You,” Hoseok repeats, “want to kiss me? ” 

“Yes,” Taehyung says in exasperation. “Why is that so hard to believe, hyung?” 

Hoseok makes an aborted move towards his face then stuffs his hand in his pocket again and looks away. “We’ve known each other … a long time by any definition. Why now? What changed?” 

“I don’t know.” 

It feels impossible to answer, to sift through the tangle of time and strands that are their lives. They’re not normal by any convention and so he doesn’t have an epicenter for the earthquake change that’s rumbled through him. It happened gradually, it happened all at once, it happened a century ago, or a handful of years, or it will happen at some point in their futures—does it really matter? 

“You don’t know,” Hoseok echoes, sounding hollow. 

“Do you remember anything from your childhood? From your time before the Garden, besides being born in this strand?” Taehyung argues. 

A heavy pause. “No.” 

“But it happened. You exist and you grew up, so it was real, right? This is real too.” 

Hoseok blinks at him, apparently rendered speechless. Taehyung finally dares to step closer and take Hoseok’s hands—his gloved fingers twining with Hoseok’s bare ones, their palms pressed tight together. He can feel the cybernetic veins running just beneath Hoseok’s skin, replacements for when he almost bled out on one of their first missions. The Garden doesn’t like too many modifications, but they’ll consent to life-saving ones for their operatives. It’s why they’re all a patchwork of mismatched pieces, metal and flesh, human and not. 

Hoseok shudders out an exhale as Taehyung leans closer, lips brushing the scarred lobe of Hoseok’s ear. “Let me take your picture,” he repeats. “I’ll prove it to you.” 

“Prove it?” 

“That I love you. Like the stories.” 

Hoseok closes his eyes, lashes feather-light and so delicate against his skin. “Fine. Take my damn picture.” 

Taehyung grins, boxy and wide, and presses his cold lips to Hoseok’s scarred cheek before Hoseok can worm out of his grasp, briefly tracing the roughened skin and ignoring Hoseok’s squawk of either surprise or outrage. He pulls back quickly, already expecting the slap that Hoseok lands on his arm. It’s the flesh one and the force of the blow stings, which only makes Taehyung even giddier. By the end of the night, he thinks he’ll be up amongst the clouds—like the airman of Seoul 15, who weave through the skyscrapers with their metal wings unfurled to catch the light of a sun that never sets. 

“Aish,” Hoseok huffs, but his ears are red from more than the winter chill, “insolent brat.” 

Taehyung just winks at him and raises his camera. “Stand by the river, hyung? In the light.” 

Hoseok looks nervous again—ready to reach for the collapsable sword Taehyung knows is tucked into a hidden compartment of his coat—but he obeys, shuffling a few steps to the side until he’s under the glow of the streetlamps and leaning against the railing that separates them from this section of the river. Taehyung raises his camera to his eye, adjusting his exposure as he peers through the viewfinder at Hoseok and the play of light and shadow across his face. He looks mysterious and ethereal, dangerous and fragile. He stares at the lens of Taehyung’s camera like he’s looking at a monster or an apparition. He doesn’t smile and Taehyung doesn’t ask him to, even though he thinks Hoseok’s smile is one of the most breathtaking things he’s ever seen—right up there with the floating metropolises stretched across the gold skies of Strand 78. 

Taehyung presses down on the button. The shutter clicks, loud. It’s an old film camera but with a flick of his fingers, it morphs—insides changing and shifting—until he’s holding something more modern in his hands. 

“Taehyung,” Hoseok hisses. “That’s a violation of—” 

“No one’s going to catch us,” Taehyung insists. The Garden might try to control as much of their lives as possible, but they haven’t figured out mind reading yet. At least not any kind that can get around a natural magical block, which they all have. 

He checks the picture and sees it’s too dark. “Just a few more,” he says to Hoseok, who is still glaring at him but without much heat. He ups his exposure and Hoseok sighs, leaning back against the railing again. 

Taehyung takes three more photos and thinks that Hoseok looks beautiful in all of them, still staring defiant at the camera—the fire in his eyes a contrast to his relaxed position. But he feels too far away.

“Look out at the river,” Taehyung says, joining him on the railing. 

“I thought we were done,” Hoseok gripes, already turning to follow Taehyung’s instructions. Because Hoseok loves him—a love forged in fire and battle, fortified by loss and sacrifice, even if it hasn’t taken the same shape as Taehyung’s. 

“Almost,” Taehyung promises, raising the camera again. Now the light falls on the scarred side of Hoseok’s face, illuminating him. “Close your eyes.” 

Hoseok obeys and Taehyung takes a picture. Checks on his magically enhanced camera and knows immediately this is the one. Hoseok’s hair flutters in the wind, brushing off his forehead, and his lashes fan across his marred cheek. The scars look softer, washed out by the artificial glow of the lamps and the camera’s lens, but remain prominent, unavoidable, an intrinsic part of Jung Hoseok now. Still Hoseok is gorgeous. With them, because of them, in spite of them—however you prefer to define it. Taehyung simply folds them into his love of Hoseok, the love that he feels radiating from the picture, obvious in the contours of Hoseok’s face, the healthy gold of his skin, the way the light caresses him, the way the black river beyond beckons. 

"Okay," Taehyung says. "Now I'm done." 

Hoseok opens his eyes. "Good." 

"Do you want to see it?" 

Hoseok's mouth purses. "No." 

"I think you should look," Taehyung insists, gentle. "It's proof of my love, remember?" 

Hoseok's mouth remains a triangle of displeasure but he shoves his hands into his pockets and allows Taehyung to turn the camera around, showing him the photo in the viewfinder. His eyes widen as he takes it in, then his brow furrows. 

"That's... really me?" He sounds dubious, uncertain in a way that wedges an ache deep between Taehyung's ribs. Hoseok so rarely doubts himself—preferring to remain a source of strength for them all—but it seems that even after all this time, the war finds new ways to burrow into them and change pieces of who they are and were and might become. 

"It is," Taehyung says. "It's how I see you." 

Hoseok's brow furrows and he reaches up to trace his fingers over the digital portrait. "I look..." 

"Beautiful."

Hoseok huffs. "Not bad." 

"Beautiful," Taehyung insists. 

"If you say so."

"I am literally saying so, hyung." 

Now he gets a flicker of a smile, tugging up the corner of Hoseok's mouth and gone in a blink. "Still want to kiss me, Taehyung-ah?" 

"Yes." Taehyung hesitates. "If you want me to." 

Hoseok hesitates too. He still hasn't asked for his hat back. "Have you ever been in love before?" 

"You know the answer to that." 

Hoseok shoots him an exasperated look. "We've spent lifetimes apart. Of course I don't." 

"You do." Because this is Hoseok avoiding the subject, making excuses, and Taehyung is determined not to let him. 

"I don't..." Hoseok shakes his head. "I don't feel worthy of that. Of being your first... romance." 

Taehyung grabs his hand again, holding on tight. He doubts Hoseok would open a portal and leave him here, but he'd rather be safe than sorry. Sometimes, Hoseok is more unpredictable than even Jimin, who is so skilled at illusions that he's tricked Taehyung multiple times. 

"Why not?" 

"I'm not good at loving people." 

"That's not true." Hoseok is incredible at loving all of them. He's kept their unit knit together through so many dark days, dragged all of them back from numerous abysses and precipices and points of no return. 

"Fine, I'm not good at being loved." 

Oh. That might be true because Hoseok is also prickly, like a pufferfish or a porcupine or the birds with spiked, metallic feathers that patrolled the ruins of Seoul 16. He is a labyrinth concealed behind a smile, but Taehyung has spent years learning how to navigate him. 

"That's okay," he says now and raises Hoseok's hands so he can kiss the back of them, just for the way Hoseok's lips part in flustered surprise. "You don't have to be. I'm good at loving you." 

Hoseok arches an imperious eyebrow at him. "Oh you are?" 

Taehyung smiles, unintimidated. "I am." He slides his hands up Hoseok's arms, his shoulders, the sides of his neck, until he can cup Hoseok's narrow face in his hands and sweep his thumb along the prominent bone of his cheek. Hoseok lets him and that is a testament unto itself. “I’m patient, and just as stubborn as you are and I’m not afraid to tell you how I feel.” Hoseok’s face twists in a grimace beneath Taehyung’s hands and Taehyung laughs softly. “And I don’t mind that you’re not comfortable with saying any of it back to me.” 

He tips Hoseok’s chin up so he can press their foreheads together. “So, do you want me to kiss you?” 

“I don’t know,” Hoseok murmurs and Taehyung tries not to let his heart sink. He steps back, giving Hoseok space again and wordlessly removes the hat from his head, handing it to Hoseok. 

Hoseok puts it back on, tipping it low over his eyes, and turns to the river. 

“Have you ever thought about me this way?” Taehyung can’t help asking. 

“No,” Hoseok answers truthfully. The hunch of his shoulders is defensive, like he’s trying to retreat into an invisible shell. “But I’m thinking about it now.” 

Hope blooms again. “And?” 

“It’s … not a bad thought.” 

The bloom unfurls, spreading flowering vines through Taehyung’s chest to wrap around his heart. He grins, so wide his cheeks ache with it.“Yeah?” 

“Aish, don’t look so smug,” Hoseok admonishes without turning around. “Of course it isn’t a bad thought. But the Garden—” 

“Doesn’t have to know. We don’t have to give up everything to them. Not until we die.” 

Death means absorption into the shared consciousness that forms the roots of the Garden’s tree—echoes of lives ended, accessible for those still breathing, still fighting, who might make use of their knowledge. Taehyung has only dipped his mental fingers into that rushing river, that deep, terrifying lake, a few times. It was such a deluge of voices and memories—hopes and fears, dreams realized and abandoned, loves cherished and lost, violent deaths and other lives ended in a quiet sigh—that he instantly felt like he was drowning. But for now, agents like him and Hoseok still have autonomy. The Garden can choose their missions and demand their loyalty, but they cannot dictate who they love. 

Hoseok sighs, curling his fingers over the railing. “It would still be hard. We spend so much time apart … wouldn’t this just hurt?” 

“Yes,” Taehyung agrees. “It would.” 

“And you wouldn’t mind that?” 

“Not if it meant having you when I could.” 

“You like me that much?” 

“Hyung,” Taehyung says in exasperation. This stubborn man. “I love you.” 

“Oh.” Hoseok says and Taehyung slides his arms around Hoseok’s waist, hugging him from behind, caging him in with as much tenderness as possible. 

“You still don’t believe me?” 

“I’m just processing,” Hoseok insists, defensive. “It’s a lot.” 

“Is it really?” 

Hoseok sags a little in Taehyung’s embrace. “I don’t know.” 

Taehyung runs his hands down Hoseok’s sides and curls them over his hips through the thick fabric of his coat, intimate and soothing. “I’m not asking for easy, hyung. Nothing is easy, I know that. It would hurt and it would be hard, but getting to have you? That’s worth it to me. Am I worth it to you?” 

“Of course you are,” Hoseok says instantly. “I care about our cause but it’s you I’m fighting for. All of you.” 

Taehyung nuzzles Hoseok’s scarred cheek under the brim of his hat. In his pocket, he can hear his watch ticking steadily closer to midnight. Only a few minutes left of this year. 

“I guess I just never let myself think about more, ” Hoseok continues. “It didn’t seem like a possibility, so it was pointless to dwell on it.” 

Taehyung hums in quiet agreement. 

“And I guess I never thought you would see me that way.” He twists to look at Taehyung, a dubious expression on his face. “ I’m really your type?” 

Taehyung frowns. “Of course you are.” 

Not that he thinks he really has a type in the conventional sense of the word. He doesn’t prefer one hair color over another, or a certain body shape, or even a particular gender. The people who are the most beautiful to him are the ones with presence, with heart, who live life bold and uncompromising. And that has always been Jung Hoseok. 

“Why?” Hoseok mutters. 

Taehyung opens his mouth to rattle off a list but Hoseok wriggles and gets an arm free, pressing his palm over Taehyung’s lips. “That was rhetorical, please don’t actually tell me.” He looks genuinely distressed about having to sit through a litany of praise and Taehyung decides to be merciful. 

“Fine, but you have to take my word for it, hyung. You’re my type.” 

“Okay,” Hoseok says and blows out a calming breath. “Okay, I’m your type.” 

“Am I yours?” Taehyung asks, genuinely curious. 

Hoseok blinks at him. His cheeks are reddening. “Yes,” he says after a moment, a little strangled. “Yes, you are.” He pauses, chewing on his lip. “But I don’t know if I’m on the same page as you yet, Taehyung-ah.” 

“As long as you’re willing to read the book, hyung,” Taehyung says, all cheek.

And Hoseok actually laughs—a full-bodied, cackling laugh of delight that Taehyung basks in, uncertain of when or if he was going to hear it again. “I am,” he says when he gets himself under control, affectionate warmth in his voice. “I promise I am.” 

Taehyung smiles at him, feeling as light as dust particles. He reaches into his pocket and actually checks his watch: three minutes. 

“C’mon,” he says, threading his fingers through Hoseok’s again and opening a portal. “We should get a better view.” 

“Taehyung-ah, we’re not supposed to—” 

Taehyung pulls him through the portal before he can continue his protests, closing it quickly behind them and opening a new one onto the empty rooftop of a nearby skyscraper. From here they can see all of the river and the neon city beyond it, even if the air feels close to freezing at this height. 

“Wow,” Hoseok breathes, still clutching Taehyung’s hand. “You know, I spend so much time focused on the darkness, I forget how beauty is left. Especially in untouched strands like these.” 

“This is one of my favorites,” Taehyung says. 

Hoseok smiles at him, hat tipped up so Taehyung can see all of his face. He seems lighter now, too, some of the earlier shadows banished. “Me too.” 

Taehyung checks his watch again. “One minute to midnight.” 

Hoseok hums, looking out at the city. “Thank you for this, Taehyung-ah,” he says softly. “For bringing me here.” 

He spent almost a week in a magically induced coma, while technicians and healers repaired as much of the damage as they could, and then two weeks after that confined to Headquarters. Taehyung witnessed the effect it was having on him, turning him moody and restless and angry. It was easy to plan a little excursion and only a little more difficult to sneak Hoseok out of their apartments and to Seoul 3. 

“You’re welcome,” he says now. “I wanted to spend time with you.” He hesitates, then adds, “and confess somewhere that wasn’t headquarters.” 

Hoseok laughs again, bordering on a giggle. “I agree, this is much more romantic.” He opens his arms, beckoning Taehyung closer. “So you should kiss me now.” 

Taehyung comes, hands landing on Hoseok’s shoulders. “Yeah?” 

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, and there’s no more hesitation in his eyes. “Kiss me, Taehyung-ah.” 

So Taehyung does, ducking under the brim of Hoseok’s hat and sealing their mouths together. Hoseok is warm and alive and he holds onto Taehyung like an anchor, like something solid and grounding. The clock reaches midnight as Hoseok deepens the kiss and the fireworks that explode over the city are a pale echo of the ones resonating in Taehyung’s bones, sinew, cells. For these precious moments, there is no war still waiting, no hard decades and centuries stretching out in front of them, no lifetimes in someone else’s skin. They’re just two ordinary boys sharing a connection at the dawn of a new year. 

“Okay,” Hoseok whispers in his ear, barely audible over the bang of the fireworks. His fingers dig into Taehyung’s back and his body stays pressed close to Taehyung’s own. “I get it now.” 

Taehyung grins against his skin, too caught up in the feel of him to pay attention to the colorful sky above them. He thinks he’s younger than he’s been in years. “Then you should kiss me again.” 

And Hoseok does, fierce and full of love. 

As real as anything Taehyung’s ever felt.