taehyung/jeongguk ≫ r ≫ 16,627 words ≫ binge drinking
if you experience headaches, nausea, or heartbreak, discontinue use and talk to your doctor because relationships might not be right for you.
|author’s note: this is a sequel to the fake dating au kiss me hard before you go|
“What do you mean, ‘really,’” Jeongguk says, reading the expiration date on a carton of milk and making a face of disgust when he sees that it’s a week past already. “I told you I moved back to school today, this isn’t new information.”
“I thought it would take you a while to settle in, it always does,” Taehyung says. “Uhh, file it in black cabinet under M through Z and make sure you get it in the right one or we’ll never find it again,” he says off to the side. “Especially considering you have those two new housemates Bangbang and Yugyeom.”
“Bambam,” Taehyung repeats. “Where did you say he was from again?”
“Thailand,” Jeongguk says, digging through the milk for a newer carton. “I fear for my tastebuds.”
“He's going to do most of the cooking and Thai cuisine is hardcore. Have you ever eaten a Thai pepper?”
“Well you’re lucky we didn’t know each other when I did, because my mouth was numb for an hour. Not optimal kissing condition.”
“As much as I like to champion myself as a great supporter of partner communication and all that pizzazz, can we get going,” Jimin says flatly, holding a basket of what looks like vegetables. Jeongguk fakes a gag. “You’ve minutely examined every carton of milk on this goddamn shelf.”
“Go back first if you’re in such a hurry.”
“We came here in your Prius!” Jimin hisses.
“Okay, then you can walk.”
Jimin sighs and disappears out of Jeongguk’s field of vision. He is out of sight, out of mind for all of a few seconds before Jeongguk is wrestled into a headlock and dragged out of the eggs and dairy aisle.
“We’re leaving, dude.”
Jimin’s bicep digs into the back of Jeongguk’s skull. Truthfully Jeongguk has enough weight and brute strength against Jimin to throw him off, but he has one hand still pinned to his ear, holding his phone, and another one with a basket. The best he can do is yell, “Unhand me, tiny human!”
“What,” Taehyung says through the phone.
“You cannot ruffle me with names like—ow, what the fuck!”
Jeongguk straightens and picks at his shirt collar to adjust it, sniffing, as Jimin nurses the imprint of teeth on his hand. “Did you just bite me?” he asks in disbelief.
“You bit him? Babe, that’s gross,” Taehyung says. “I’m not really interested in kissing the dead skin cells of my best friend off my boyfriend’s mouth.”
“Sorry. I’ll Listerine before I see you again.”
Jimin looks murderous.
“I can come over after dinner?” Taehyung asks, sounding pleased.
“Yeah. I’ll see you.”
“Okay. I love you.”
Jeongguk coughs. “Yeah,” he replies.
Bambam does not set the apartment on fire.
Jeongguk, however, finishes dinner with watering eyes and a running nose. Yugyeom is already on his fifth consecutive glass of water by the time they toss the dishes in the sink and Bambam keeps swearing I made it mild but there is nothing remotely mild about Jeongguk’s tongue feeling like burnt carpet.
“What happened,” Taehyung says the moment Jeongguk opens the door. He answers simply by leaning over the threshold and kissing Taehyung on his parted lips, the soft, bland taste of his mouth welcome relief against the heat of the pepper still simmering in his mouth. When he pulls back, Taehyung grimaces. “Jesus Christ. You weren’t kidding.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Jeongguk laughs, feeling the hot puffs of his breath burn the insides of his cheeks. Taehyung’s arms have made their way around his neck and he looks over his shoulder. “You want to come in?”
Taehyung and Bambam clash well. Jeongguk does not foresee it but isn’t necessarily shocked, either—Yugyeom is a little more shy and takes more time to warm up, but Taehyung’s effervescence is infectious and he is laughing in no time. It feels different to be living with two people that aren’t Hoseok and Namjoon, who used to be mostly quiet save for when they played their music.
“I like Bambam,” Taehyung murmurs later when they’re snuggled into each other in bed. It’s still hot, the balm of summer unrelenting on their skin, and Jeongguk’s vertical fan oscillates lazily on his desk. The blankets have been kicked to the foot of the bed and Jeongguk is wearing nothing but a pair of basketball shorts and Taehyung just boxers, yet the places where their skin meet are still sticky. “He’s fun. How do guys know each other?”
“We were freshman floormates. After Namjoon and Hoseok hyung moved out, I needed housemates. He needed a house. Yugyeom’s his friend. They’re both in the same class as me.”
Taehyung shifts his cheek to a colder bit of Jeongguk’s bare arm. “Yugyeom is quieter than him.”
“He’s okay,” Jeongguk says, slurs, almost. He has his eyes shut already and fights sleep to stay up and talk to Taehyung, who moved back earlier to start up the opening tours of the year for incoming students. A yawn rises to his lips. “Maybe a little, but he’s nice. Neater than Bambam is.”
“Go to sleep,” Taehyung says. “You’re really tired from moving in today, huh?”
But Jeongguk falls asleep before Taehyung can finish his question, and the last thing he feels is Taehyung pulling a corner of the blanket over his belly.
Summer had been too short.
By ‘summer’ Jeongguk refers to days spent exclusively with Taehyung, as Jeongguk had spent the majority of his actual summer break in a high-rise building sitting at two monitors entering data and crunching numbers. The days he did spend with Taehyung, though, were blessedly sun-filled, a hazy soft white of day, followed by dark purple sunsets and soft gasping moans against his cheeks and ears by night.
But the sudden grind of third year and final year of university for both Jeongguk and Taehyung, respectively, hits them like an unwelcome blast of hot air. When Taehyung isn’t working, he’s writing his thesis, and when he isn’t writing his thesis, Jeongguk is working. It’s an unwelcome shift of focus that Jeongguk isn’t sure how to work around.
The honeymoon is over, he realizes sadly.
“You worry too much,” Taehyung says on an abnormally cold weekend, abnormal because it was only just pool weather two days ago, weekend because it’s the only time they can be together. He’s curled up in Jeongguk’s bed, typing on his laptop on his stomach, as Jeongguk rocks back and forth in front of his oceanography textbook on the floor. “Stop it.”
“I’m not worrying—”
“You’ve been reading that page for the last fifteen minutes. I know you’re worrying,” Taehyung says. “What’s wrong?”
There isn’t really anything wrong, per se. Conflicts of life and of interest happen all the time and yet Jeongguk cannot shake the feeling that he and Taehyung are run on two diverging paths. In his mind, the future looks bleak but Jeongguk would rather shut up rather than tie another bundle of concern to Taehyung’s shoulders.
“Nothing,” Jeongguk says. “Falling back into the academic environment is jarring and all.”
“Are you sure?” Taehyung yawns, and Jeongguk looks up to see him pillowing his cheek on his arms, smiling sleepily. “We’ve been so busy these days, I feel bad that I don’t see you more often.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s okay, really.”
When Taehyung dozes off in front of his laptop, Jeongguk stands to pull the covers over Taehyung’s shoulders. He wakes up immediately, shifting, making sleepy noises and reaching for his laptop but Jeongguk pushes it gently out of the way so it doesn’t get knocked off the bed.
“Hey, just take a nap,” he says.
“Okay,” Taehyung says, curling his hand in Jeongguk’s to tug him close. “Wake me up in an hour.”
That is the last weekend they get to see each other, at least for a while.
Taehyung picks up another job, from what Jeongguk understands, and his availability plummets. He doesn’t even explain why, just that he needs it, and Jeongguk sees Taehyung in the garage of the bike shop just off the edge of campus as he walks to class every afternoon, frowning over someone’s oily chain or popped tire here and there. Otherwise, he is home for as long as it takes to fall into bed and knock out like a light, and Jeongguk is lucky if he gets a text like long day what about yours babe?
Jeongguk stops getting replies and he is busy too, but it gets him a little down to know that when Taehyung used to stay up far past any reasonable waking hour to talk to him, he can’t keep his eyes open to text Jeongguk back.
“You can’t be too hard on him,” Jimin says, wiping the sweat from his chin. The first practice of the year for their team takes place on a warm evening, the weather doing somersaults back into an Indian summer. The asphalt of the road had shimmered with oil all afternoon. “He’s trying to graduate, work two jobs, and send in graduate school applications all at once.”
“I know,” Jeongguk says, popping the cap of his Nalgene bottle open and closed. “It just sucks not to see him that often.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, though,” Jimin says. “But hey, he spent all of last year pining for you. Let him live a little, yeah?”
And Jeongguk doesn’t know how the idea drives such a deep wedge into his thoughts, but it does. Perhaps the nagging worry has been seeding darkly in the back of his mind all this time, and Jimin’s words only helped it take root. Of course, what did he expect? Taehyung is older, Taehyung is closing this chapter of his life whereas Jeongguk is in the hardest part of it. Of course they already run on different paths, ones that Jeongguk fears will not cross again.
“Babe,” Taehyung says on a chilly evening, pulling back. One of his hands has wandered into the collar of Jeongguk’s shirt and his lips are wet, but Jeongguk trails his hand down Taehyung’s side before he lets it fall away. “Are you with me?”
“Sorry,” Jeongguk says. He sits back against the couch and Taehyung drops his hands from Jeongguk’s face where they had been cupping his cheeks the way Jeongguk liked it. “Sorry, I’m here.”
“Oh,” Taehyung says. “I thought you—well, you asked me to come over and I had a few minutes so I—”
“I’m sorry,” Jeongguk repeats. “If you’re busy you really didn’t have to come, I...”
Taehyung is frowning now. “You?” he prompts.
“You should go back,” Jeongguk says. “You’re really swamped, I know.”
“I am, Jeongguk, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see you.”
“No, it’s okay,” Jeongguk says. He plants a kiss on Taehyung’s forehead. It’s well-meaning but feels a little out of place in the suddenly terse air between them. “I have work to do, too, so don’t worry.”
“Okay,” Taehyung says. His voice is mired with uncertainty but he still smiles and squeezes Jeongguk’s fingers where they are intertwined with his, briefly, before letting go. “I miss you.”
“Take this,” Jeongguk says, standing up and unzipping the jacket that hangs down to his mid-thigh. It’s so huge Taehyung is swimming in it when he puts it on. “It’s cold outside.”
“And even colder without you,” Taehyung says, chuckling. It is only when he’s out the door and gone that Jeongguk hears the sad ring to Taehyung’s laughter.
Jeongguk is transferred to the post office.
Kisum isn’t exactly mean, but she’s iron-willed enough to make Jeongguk scared of opening his mouth around her. She’s nothing like Jieun, quiet and easy to be around. At the same time, she likes music, and reminds Jeongguk of Namjoon, whom he hasn’t heard from in ages.
“Package pickup line is getting long, take care of it,” she says briskly one day as Jeongguk tries to sort new mail at lightning speed so that they get into student’s mailboxes before the new shipment comes in the afternoon. “We’ve been over this.”
“Sorry, sorry,” he mutters, stumbling around a tower of mail crates. “Here, package pickups?”
A small crowd of people shuffles forward to hand off names and mailbox numbers to him, and he pauses when he sees Taehyung’s name on one of them. He wonders vaguely what his boyfriend could have ordered and realizes that he doesn’t recall Taehyung mentioning it to him.
Jeongguk calls out the names on the packages when he get back laden with an armful of boxes, saving Taehyung’s for last so that he can maybe catch a quick word and perhaps a glimpse of a smile. “Kim Taehyung?”
“Hey,” Taehyung says as he takes the cardboard box into his arms. A textbook, Jeongguk guesses. “See you.”
“Uh,” Jeongguk replies, thrown off by how short Taehyung’s words are. “Yeah.”
hey are you free friday night?
Jeongguk’s phone lights up beside his laptop, and he looks away from his paper to reply to the text—one from Taehyung, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t surprised by it. It’s nearing two AM and Taehyung is usually asleep by now.
i have dance practice :/
He doesn’t. Jeongguk has practice on Thursday, but he knows that Taehyung will be wiped out Friday night. Fridays are the days he spends nearly three hours leading tours, at least at this time of the year, a day when families can afford to come down in full platoons to walk around their campus. His voice will be hoarse from talking.
Taehyung doesn’t follow that up with anything else, and Jeongguk chews at his lip.
i can try saturday?
i have retreat this weekend
i will, i miss you
Jeongguk wipes his thumb down the screen of his phone. He hasn’t seen Taehyung in days. Last week he had called Jeongguk at midnight and asked if he could sleep over since his housemates were being assholes (Jeongguk decided not to ask, he and Jimin acted like five year olds on good days to begin with), and he had lay stone still in Jeongguk’s arms all night, sleeping like the dead.
Something between them seems to have broken. Jeongguk is afraid that he had been the one who, once again, was not careful enough.
“Are you really dating someone if you never see them?”
“I think you just single-handedly offended anyone who’s in a long-distance relationship.” Bambam looks up from the pot he’s stirring and Jeongguk stares at it contemplating how much of Bambam’s cooking he can stuff down his throat tonight before his eyes will water from the heat. It’s been two months and Bambam still can’t tone the spice level down. Jeongguk has just learned to take it. “But you’re not in one of those, are you?”
Jeongguk rolls his chopstick back and forth on the dinner table, sticky from old beer and breakfast remnants. It smells of sickly strawberries. “Never mind.”
“If you never see someone, but you talk, I don’t see why you couldn’t be dating,” Bambam reasons. He licks off a dollop of sauce at the end of the wooden spoon, smacks his lips thoughtfully, and reaches for more lemongrass. “But if you don’t talk to them and don’t see them, what’s the difference between that and being strangers?”
Is that what they are?
For what it is worth, Jeongguk thinks that this growing rift is for the best—what Jimin said, especially, about Taehyung leading a different life than Jeongguk is. He is not the only one who does.
“It’s just sad, you know,” Jeongguk catches himself admitting, and Kisum pauses while she’s straightening up from the mail cart. How are you and your boyfriend doing? she’d asked him, after a particularly quiet afternoon.
“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says. “I’m not sure what it is but it feels like something has changed between us.”
The package that Kisum drops into a pile of boxes makes a thud on the floor. “Oh,” she says. “Sorry.”
“Is he graduating this year?” she asks. “Or is he younger than you?”
“No, he’s graduating.”
“Ah, well,” she says knowingly. “Then of course it feels like something has changed between you guys.”
“Don’t you know?” she says. “Almost all graduating seniors break up. It’s just how it is. You leave the world of the university campus and people change. People decide to just break it off now than to drag it out and watch it end in a mess.”
“Yeah.” Kisum crosses her legs on the floor, rests her hands in her lap. “Maybe he wants to let you go without saying it to your face.”
“I’m not saying what he would or what he wouldn’t do, I’m only trying to guess why.” She shrugs. “You know him better than I do.”
Jeongguk does, but he doesn’t know how much of Taehyung he knows anymore. He can’t say how long it’s been since he’s seen Taehyung properly, spoken to him about his day, never mind kissed; the last time they had was that evening Taehyung tried to bring Jeongguk’s attention to him as he pressed him back into the couch, straddling his lap. It had abrupt, an almost-clean fracture that Jeongguk can’t explain and wants answers to more than anything. Answers, he fears, that he doesn’t want to hear.
The truth hurts.
“Maybe you should talk to him,” says Kisum, surveying the troubled expression on Jeongguk’s face.
Jeongguk opens his phone to text Taehyung, but sees that there’s already one there that says meet me at the study lounge on friday night?
sure, Jeongguk replies, but when he ends up in that lounge at the end of the week, Taehyung never comes.
From here, he can smell the ghosts of the afternoon coffee. They seep out from the closed doors of the little coffee shop with a little table by a little window that he had once gazed out of alone, just like this.
Taehyung had asked to meet him here. He is one of the last of the students to be there. Post-midterm slumps have arrived and anyone who tries to study on a Friday night is kidding themselves. In the almost-evening of the premature autumn nightfall, icy puddles shiver on the sidewalk, silver with lamplight. It is so quiet that Jeongguk, for a moment, can pretend that he is all alone.
He’s not sure why Taehyung asked to meet here of all places. He can’t possibly still be on campus at this hour, unless he had something come up that he didn’t tell Jeongguk about. He’s done this so much recently that Jeongguk wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Not that he has to tell Jeongguk where he is at any given point during the day—but Jeongguk thinks it weird that they have gone from inseparable to this. Whatever this is, a mildewed stagnation of what they had before. It leaves a bad taste in his mouth and a bruise in his chest.
hey are you coming soon?
His thumbs hover uncertainly over the keyboard as the message sends. Then,
i can come find you if you
But Taehyung has started typing, and Jeongguk pauses. The grey dots pop in and out of the window, until finally all it says is
yeah i’m at the university center study lounge
are you on the way i can come to where you are it’s pretty shitty weather
are you sure
did you have something to tell me???
Jeongguk chews on his lip. Taehyung reads it right away, says the notification, so he must still have his attention on the chat window. For several tense minutes, there is no reply. When the grey bubble comes up again Jeongguk’s phone has already dimmed, and he taps the screen just in time for the words on the screen to appear.
lets break up
At first they don’t register in Jeongguk’s mind. He has played this scenario out in his head a million times, feared it coming for weeks, and yet he still isn’t ready when it happens. For a wild moment he wants to laugh and say that this is all part of a prank, right, this is just a prank. A prank, like the old days, ones that had been filled with laughs and yearning looks and quiet touches.
But pranks are over and this is reality, and this is Taehyung saying, let’s break up.
And what can he say? Why? The thought is laughable. Both of them know why, and Jeongguk can’t even be angry. Let’s talk, as if Taehyung even wants to hear Jeongguk stutter through his feelings. The bruise in his chest burns soft and black and he goes from feeling like a ball of tangled dread to nothing at all.
Jeongguk’s thumbs type by themselves and he doesn’t know how long he sits there or how cold it is on his face when he walks back home.
The thing about breakups is that it isn't all about the poetry.
It isn't all about the sad guitar chords, it isn’t about lonely flowers growing in hard-packed soil. It isn't about the black and white stock photos and the cloudy days. It isn't about sitting in bed alone and staring out the window. Jeongguk doesn't have the kind of time for that.
Poetry is easy. Poetry is shitty things in pretty words.
Instead, it's about oversleeping his alarm. He misses his morning class and fuck, it takes attendance. It's about accidentally ripping the mildewed faucet handle off while brushing his teeth. Later he holds two breakfast eggs so tightly in his fingers that they both break each others’ rounded sides, and all Jeongguk can do is watch and feel the cold strings of yolk and white drip through his fingers and wonder where unconscious strength like this comes from when he is so extraordinarily tired. He walks outside only to realize a mile away from home that the wind is cutting his skin, and he has no jacket, and no one to run after him with a red woolen coat shouting it’s freezing, are you crazy?
Suddenly it's not so much about the beauty of heartbreak—really, there is nothing remotely beautiful about washing bits of slimy eggshell off his fingers—but more of how strangely the world moves around him now that he’s been knocked out of orbit.
And above all it's about going on with life smiling, because that’s the only way he knows how to be okay. He pastes yellow caution tape over his lips and hopes that people get the message—move along, nothing to see, in time this mess will be something beautiful again.
Jeongguk runs into Taehyung on the big sidewalk that runs through campus, cutting through the soft roll of land. Pedestrian traffic is thick enough that is makes weaving unsafe, so he walks with his board beneath his arm. Realistically, Jeongguk shouldn’t have seen him at all, what with so many people around, but he does—two friends, lovers, not quite enemies, just strangers with memories.
Taehyung is wearing his guide tee, and a university hoodie embroidered with his name on the sleeve. Sticky adrenaline dips into Jeongguk’s stomach, and he scrambles for something to say—but Taehyung relieves him of that responsibility.
This time Jeongguk is the one who find himself standing stupidly alone in the middle of the walkway as Taehyung turns his back on him and walks back the way he came. His form is swallowed up in the throng of students, and the realization finally comes to a head—it’s over, it’s done. We’re done.
Time passes, and Jimin fills it up even if he doesn’t know it.
He doesn’t know it because Jeongguk doesn’t tell him what happened. The fewer people that know, the less real this is, and the easier it is for it to be buried under new laughs and dance routines. Of course, Jeongguk can’t control what Jimin hears from Taehyung, but just judging from the way he acts, he doesn’t think Taehyung brings it up to Jimin at all. Which is fine. It’s fine.
This is what Jeongguk tells himself and though Jimin doesn’t seem to believe it initially, with enough I’m fines and I don’t want to talk about its and even the stray I'm better off without him if I’m honests, Jimin reluctantly lets it go. Jeongguk doesn’t know if he truly believes him or if Jimin is smart enough to know that Jeongguk can’t put it into words, as he can't with most things, but he is thankful that Taehyung’s name no longer fills Jimin’s mouth anymore.
It’s better, and it’s worse. Jimin is his last connection to Taehyung. Jeongguk supposes cutting off that last lifeline is a good thing, but he looks back on this past year and more and he isn’t sure what he remembers—well, he remembers failing geological catastrophes, he remembers that dance showcase at a university across the country and the showcase they did for the hospital fundraising event. There are little acmes, little zeniths, and they stand proud and sparkling in his memory, but it is only looking at half of the picture.
“Are you feeling okay recently?”
Seokjin’s voice pokes at the edges of Jeongguk’s attention where he’s hunched over GDP charts and graphs on Jimin’s floor. Bambam and Yugyeom have some of their open mic friends over and Jeongguk needs to study for a quiz tomorrow, one that he can’t afford to fuck up or he’ll be in hot water.
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk says, and really, he is. “Okay, so maybe that finance quiz is going to put a boot up my ass, if I’m honest, but I did ace that oceanography midterm! Many bragging rights earned, Jimin was properly chastised. He said I was going to fail again, I’ll show him—and my paper for literature class came out as less of a train wreck than I had expected. Not that I’m saying it was a good paper, but—”
“I didn’t ask how well you were doing in your classes, but keep up the good work,” Seokjin interrupts. “I asked you, are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine,” Jeongguk repeats. “I’m feeling fine. I could do with more sleep but really, hyung. I’m okay.” He frowns. “Why, did Jimin tell you something?”
“He doesn’t need to tell me everything,” Seokjin says, and there is a haunting maturity in his words. Jeongguk remembers that Seokjin has done this too, as much of an adult as he is, and still works around people Jeongguk’s age every single day. He knows what he’s talking about.
“There’s nothing to know,” Jeongguk says offhandedly. He flips a page for the sake of creating background noise and wishes Jimin would come back from buying them all dinner already, he needs his infectious laughter in his ears. He dipped out almost half an hour ago and while it hasn’t been awkward talking to Seokjin, it’s been quieter than usual. “I’m single and I feel fine. Lighter, you know, less responsibility. Now I can do whatever I want. I don’t even have to look presentable if I don’t want to be.”
Seokjin doesn’t answer, turning back to his own work, but it’s a noisy kind of silence, one where what’s unspoken is louder than what is.
“Nothing, you said that there’s nothing to know,” Seokjin says. “And you said you’re fine.”
“I—yeah, I’m fine.”
“Well, that’s good. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll try to help, even if Jimin would probably be better at that.”
“Is he doing okay?”
Seokjin looks up from his laptop very slowly, as if giving Jeongguk time to take that question and stuff it back down his throat from where it came. Then, “Are you sure that’s a question you want answered?”
“You guys would not fucking believe what I just saw out there,” Jimin says, barging back in through the front door, laden with takeout boxes. “Some guy just—!” He senses the tautness of the air around him then, and balks on the doormat. “Everything all right?” he asks, plastic bags rustling quietly around him.
“Yeah,” Jeongguk says, getting to his feet. “I want my dinner, did you ask them for extra hot sauce?”
“As if I could forget,” Jimin says, toeing off his shoes. Jeongguk relieves him of some of the takeout boxes. “You’d hand my ass to me on a platter if I did.”
“Well,” Jeongguk says, opening the styrofoam bowl of miso soup on Jimin’s dining table, “I’m not saying you’re wrong.”
“Thanks, babe,” Seokjin says as he gets up from the couch, pressing a kiss to Jimin’s cheekbone as takes he his order too. Jeongguk looks away quickly. “How much do I owe you?”
“It should be on your receipt,” Jimin says. “But if you don’t have any money on you right now, don’t worry about it.”
“I owe you twelve eighty-six,” Jeongguk says unnecessarily, and Jimin looks at him.
“Uh, yeah, whatever your receipt says,” Jimin replies, looking confused. “If you don’t have exact change right now, just get it to me at practice.”
“Okay,” Jeongguk says, sitting down, breaking open his chopsticks. He eats in silence as Jimin and Seokjin chatter, and it fades to white noise as Jeongguk spoons more hot sauce over his meat. He wants to look at his phone, even though he knows that there isn’t much to look at. It gives him something to do.
“You’d have to ask Jeongguk about that.”
“Huh, what?” he says, looking up from his Yikyak app.
“Gross, swallow your food, mongrel,” Jimin says with mock disgust. Jeongguk makes a show of sticking his tongue out before chewing and downing his mouthful. “Hyung was wondering what it must be like to get pepper sprayed in the face, and I said he’d have to ask you.”
“What the fuck. I’ve never been pepper sprayed in the face.”
“Didn’t you get cologne right in the eyes once? You said you couldn’t see,” Jimin asks. “That can’t have been fun.”
“Oh.” Jeongguk swallows and suddenly the taste of beef on his tongue is rancid. “Uh. Yeah, but those are totally not the same things, though. Also I was, like. Really high that night.”
Get out! Get out! Not fucking today, Satan!
“I remember,” Jimin says.
“Oh,” Jimin says, “sorry, I for—”
“It’s fine. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. All good, don’t worry about it.”
And Seokjin looks like the only person at this table who does not believe Jeongguk’s words.
The rest of January is low profile if Jeongguk doesn’t count the part where two girls named Sorn and Yujin slide into their dance team for their new semester. The presence of two new members means that suddenly there is enough of them for him to lead his own subgroup and Taemin does not hesitate to approach him with the proposal.
“I don’t know, man,” Jeongguk says. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to lead a whole—”
“Howon and I can’t stick around forever,” Taemin says. “We are alumni and you already make all the showcase bookings for us, so it’s only right that you take the position if we’re going to leave.” He nods at someone in the rest of the group, still following in Howon’s lead to a sequence of particularly tricky footwork. “Besides, Hwasa already agreed to be co-captain with you if you took up the lead.”
“Hwasa?” She is two years older than Jeongguk and he won’t even pretend for a minute that he isn’t scared of her. “Isn’t she graduating?”
“She’s staying behind another year to finish up her triple major. I know, she’s insane, I just didn’t ask.” Taemin eyes him. “And Jaein and Yeri. Who else am I going to count on to see those two to the top?”
And that is how Jeongguk becomes one of teams captain-elects, and everyone seems to agree unanimously that he was going to take the position at the mantle after all. He laughs with giddiness when Hwasa gives him a hug of congratulations after practice and tries not to look at her spiked, five-inch suede pumps that she regularly practices in because his dick hurts just looking at them.
“I hope you’re ready to start creating choreographs instead of just learning them,” she says. “I got high hopes for you, Jeon.”
And the rest of the month quiets down until the last week of January, cold and snowy. The sleet is wet on Jeongguk’s clothes as he slouches into the post office for his shift.
“Oh, look what the cat dragged in and pissed all over,” Kisum says. “Help me sort the mail, we got a huge shipment of belated Christmas packages today. They’re all over by the carts.”
“Got it,” Jeongguk says, sinking into one of the rolling chairs and wheeling himself across the office. There really is a small mountain of packages, and Jeongguk sighs as he starts sorting them into piles and writing out slips for all the mailbox numbers.
The morning passes steadily. Jeongguk sees, with some relief, that the clouds start parting in the early afternoon before he’ll have to pack up and rush off for his class. Just as his shift starts winding down, the phone rings. He is the closest, so he reaches for it with a pencil and package slip still in hand.
“Hi, this is the post office,” he says briskly. Quiet static filters through the other end for a few moments longer than usual. “Hello?”
“Who is this?”
Holy shit. Jeongguk would know this voice anywhere—anywhere, across the soccer field at night, or just behind him accompanied with a rhythm of footsteps, or curled up against his ear, damp and ragged. But right now, this is work.
“This—this is the university post office.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry, I thought—sorry, I mistook you for someone I knew,” Taehyung laughs. It sounds so easy. “I’m sorry about that, it’s been a long day.”
“It’s no problem, I get it,” Jeongguk says, and he does. “How can I help you?” The words don’t come out fast and smooth as Taehyung’s do, but Taehyung seems to have moved on from that little hiccup and he’s jumping right into his request.
“I have a package coming soon, but since I didn’t order it online, there’s no way for me to cancel the order myself,” he says. “Is it possible that when it arrives at the post office you guys just redirect it back to sender? I’ve already contacted them so they’ll be expecting it.”
“Oh, uh, yeah, we can do that,” Jeongguk says as he reaches for the wrinkled memo pad jammed between the nightmare of a desk and one of the filing cabinets. “Where was it going and around when is it supposed to get here?”
“Around February fourteenth,” Taehyung says, and his voice is unreadable now. “It’s addressed to Jeon Jeongguk, Magnolia Court, East Tower, Room 604.”
Jeongguk writes it down and his bones feel so extraordinarily empty. The way Taehyung’s tongue had smoothed over his syllables of his name is something he didn’t know he missed so much until he has it again. His day has been alright so far but now there is an acidic burn in his nose, in this throat.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?”
And Taehyung does, softly, slowly, and Jeongguk moves his eyes over his own address as Taehyung recites it back to him again. He knows he should hang up now, before he does anything even more stupid, but,
this is work, and there is a protocol Jeongguk must follow. He is glad for it, glad for a script laid out for him to read when he doesn’t know what to say or do.
“All right,” he says, dragging the words out in the way people do when they finish up something and talk at the same time. “Something wrong? Got the wrong present for bae?”
“Ah, I think he would have liked it, actually.”
“Oh,” Jeongguk says, throat constricted. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s no big deal, don’t worry about it. Let me know if there are any complications or anything.”
“Of course.” Jeongguk says as cheerily as he can, and it sounds passable, even genuine.
“No problem, have a good day.”
Taehyung hangs up first and Jeongguk listens to the line go dead. Kisum bustles past him with an armful of returns packages in her arms, and all Jeongguk can do is watch the ink of his address in thick black Sharpie bleed through the paper.
Jeongguk’s slogan becomes, the best way to get over someone is to get under someone.
It’s been a while since he’s taken up this mantra. It’s been a while since he’s needed to.
Bambam and Yugyeom can’t stop giving him salacious grins over breakfast on the days they all get up around the same time and Jeongguk doesn’t have to heart to to explain that he’s a serial rebounder, and that those girls and the occasional guy deserve better. Even if it is just casual hooking up, they deserve someone who’s only looking for a casual hookup—not someone trying to fuck the sadness out of his system.
None of them ever come around again. Jeongguk doesn’t have it in him to give too many fucks about it. The girl tonight is really, really pretty, and Jeongguk doesn’t feel the immediate need to imply that he wants her to leave, and leave now, since she’d insisted on dropping by his place since it was closer than her own. He vaguely knows her, a classmate from his financial analysis class that had asked to look at his chicken scratch notes at the beginning of the semester. Still, her breath against his shoulder is strange and foreign. She shifts her body in bed then, and Jeongguk’s eyes fly open when he feels her mouth press into his clavicle where the tattooed dragon rears its head.
“No,” he says, voice as loud as gunshot in the sleepy air between them, his body jerking away reflexively. She lifts her head to squint at him, and there’s still a hickey on her neck where Jeongguk had sucked one red and angry, but she sits up in bed and stares down her nose at him for a moment longer before gathering up her clothes.
“Sorry,” she says tonelessly. Jeongguk doesn’t watch her go but he does say bye, half-hearted as he is. “See you around, Jeongguk.”
He lies there, feeling the bed cool. It’s already cold and this winter especially so, and Jeongguk doesn’t get up to shower for a long time. Then he rolls onto his stomach, shoving an arm under his pillow and propping his chin upon it as he checks his phone.
There are texts from his roommates and Jimin. Hwasa, too. He doesn’t open them and knows that at least this way they’ll think he hasn’t seen their messages. Aimlessly does he open his Yikyak app, watching as it loads, refreshes. On a Friday night most of the Yaks feature two kinds of people: those who stay in and watch Netflix and those who go out and get turnt. He reads through them, scrolling until he sees a particularly long one that looks halfway sober. It’s titled ugh.
hooked up with a really hot guy with bomb dick game but i could tell that he missed his ex so much i could feel him looking at someone else when he looked at me #byefelicia
She is the last person Jeongguk takes to bed for a while.
Jimin isn’t stupid, and it does not take him too long to figure it out.
It happens Jeongguk is rushing out of the post office, late for dance practice. Since Taemin and Howon have handed the reigns mostly to him and Hwasa, she’s going to have his ass for not being punctual. Taking the steps down two at a time while simultaneously trying to pull on his jacket and backpack isn’t one of Jeongguk’s brightest ideas, but he makes it down to the ground floor without faceplanting anyway.
He takes a moment to collect himself, slowing his step to adjust his jacket, and throws a cursory glance at the study lounge. It is comfortable, with its walls made of glass and a perimeter lined with a high bar table and matching chairs. No, it isn’t the person who’s playing some hardcore Hasee Bounce on Neopets (Jeongguk forgot that website existed until now) that catches his attention, but a familiar face that he didn’t think he would see again so soon.
Well, it’s not very soon. Months have passed, perhaps more than he’s aware of, but the sight of Taehyung’s face punches him right in the nose and he feels his heart drown in his blood. Taehyung is laughing at something Jeongguk cannot hear, with someone Jeongguk does not recognize, and he hasn’t seen that kind of happiness in Taehyung’s eyes in so long. The someone isn’t Sujeong, not any of Taehyung’s friends that he’s mentioned—he’s tall and broad and looks like he’d dwarf Jeongguk if he stood up from his seat.
Taehyung is happy, and that is all Jeongguk wanted. That’s what he has told himself, after all, for all this time. If Taehyung was happy then what was a little temporary misery on his part, right?
Jeongguk turns on his heel fast, then, and runs right into Jimin.
“Whoa, hey,” Jimin says. “What are you still doing here? Don’t you have practice now?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” Jeongguk says, about to sidestep Jimin, but he can’t go with his voice sounding this tight and brittle. Not in front of the entire dance team. “Uh, what are you here for?”
“Oh, I’m going to introduce someone to T—” Jimin clamps his mouth shut, forgetting, and tries again. “Uh, I’m meeting some—”
“That’s great,” Jeongguk says. It shouldn’t hurt but it does. “Okay, see you—see you la—”
His voice cracks then, and he brushes past Jimin roughly before he can see Jeongguk’s expression crumble, one he has built carefully for so long. Jimin catches his hand, grip vise-like, but Jeongguk is stronger and yanks it away.
“Jeongguk!” Jimin says, jogging after him into the chilly air outside. “Shit, Jeongguk, I’m so sorry, I keep slipping up—I shouldn’t have said it, I didn’t realize.”
“I said it’s fine,” Jeongguk says, throat barely opening enough for him to force the words out. They are curt and clipped and shake under the effort of carrying his tears on their shoulders. “You should go, I’m already late.”
“Jeongguk,” Jimin says, continuing to jog a little to keep up with Jeongguk’s pace. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t—I didn’t know you were still—still sad about it, you really said it was fine and I began to believe you but I’m sorry, I forgot.”
This makes Jeongguk speak, and he’s made it to the big sidewalk, the same one that he had first turned tail and run from Taehyung’s open arms. “I said, it’s fine,” he repeats, and this time even as he says it the tears finally slip down his face, hot and traitorous, heavy in the way that tears are when they’re held in for too long. They streak down his cheeks and Jeongguk can see them dampening the soft red suede of his jacket, dripping from his chin. “It’s fine. Leave me alone.”
“You’re not fine!” Jimin insists, nearly skipping now to match pace with Jeongguk. “Jeongguk, listen—”
“No, you listen, hyung,” Jeongguk says. The salt of his tears smarts on his face in this cold. It makes his chapped lips sting. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“How can there be nothing to talk about when you’re literally crying?” Jimin says.
“There is nothing to talk about. You are going to go introduce him to someone. I am going to go to dance practice. Then I’m going to go home and do work and fuck around on the Internet for a while. Maybe if someone wants to, they can come over and fuck, but there is nothing to talk about here between me, and him, or me and him, or whatever it is you want to talk about.”
“You still love him.”
Jimin says it like it has dawned on him. He’s come to a complete stop, standing there dumbly as he searches Jeongguk's face with sad, sad eyes. He rounds on Jimin, eyes dry now, and his voice is colder than ever.
“Don’t,” he snaps, “say that around me again.”
“Jeongguk,” Jimin says, “You say you’re fine, but. I think that is your biggest pretend.”
“You’re lucky you called in when you did.”
It sounds like, you’re lucky I like you, and yeah, Jeongguk probably is. His tattoo artist is a tiny little thing, small enough, probably, for him to tuck under his arm with space leftover. Kwon Boa is punk rock meets pastel and has more piercing than ear, but ever since Jeongguk had come in twice to get the dragon on his bicep touched up she’s seen him as a regular.
“Sorry,” he says, pulling off his beanie and stuffing it into the pocket of his red jacket, a little damp on the shoulders from the drizzle. “But you said this is okay, right?”
“Depends how big you want it,” she says. The snap of her gloves is loud even over the gentle rain that patters across the windowpanes now, blurring the world outside into a runny wash of lights. “And what it is that you want.”
“I brought a picture,” Jeongguk says, unearthing the folded up piece of paper from his pockets. It is a little damp from being held against his body all day and Boa unfolds it, studying it with a slight frown.
“Another dragon?” is all she offers as an answer.
“Well, this one’s a little different.”
“That it is.” The paper rustles as she tacks it up against the corkboard and pulls the latex gloves on, motioning for Jeongguk to sit down in the seat. “It’s swallowing its tail. Any reason why?”
He sits. “It’s an ouroboros. The symbol of cycles and eternal returns.”
“I see.” She doesn’t ask any more questions, sensing Jeongguk’s reluctance to share any more. “Where do you want it?”
“Along the rest of this arm,” Jeongguk says, slipping his right arm out of the sleeve of his tshirt, lifting the hem until it rests on his shoulder. “You don’t need to make it a perfect circle around my forearm or anything, but as long as it is fills up the rest of the space and is swallowing its tail, that’s good.”
“Black and red, I’m guessing?”
“You know me.”
“This’ll take at least one more session, you know,” she warns him, and Jeongguk nods as she screws on the tattoo pen tip. “And it won’t be a short one.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jeongguk says. She rolls up to his side in her stool, wiping down his skin, nods at the one Jeongguk already has. The dragon’s head stretches over his collarbone, red and fierce. Jeongguk glances down at it.
“How’s that treating you?”
“Fine,” Jeongguk says. The prickling pain of the tip against his bare arm is unwelcome but familiar, and he tries not to feel the ghost of someone else’s mouth on blackened scales painted into his arm.
Jimin doesn’t approach Jeongguk about it again, and they both pretend neither of them remember it happening. It works, somewhat. Sometimes Jeongguk asks Jimin what he did for that day, and all he’ll say is, “oh, stuff, I guess,” and Jeongguk knows not to ask more.
Oh, but he wants to.
Jeongguk reasoned that forgetting would be easy. Really, he’s quite good at it, as he can look back at the things mentioned in class that very day and find that he can’t recall taking half of his notes—which is probably why he keeps failing those earth classes. And yet here he finds himself, once again, with blood on his hands from another broken heart. This time it’s no one else’s but his own.
He’s an idiot, but what else is new?
Not this, anyway. Jeongguk’s phone is cold in his palm. He never actually noticed how warm it always was, cradled in his hand as he and Taehyung watched anime curled up together on the couch, much to Jimin’s eternal chagrin.
It is a stupid idea, but Jeongguk isn’t exactly known for his social brilliance, and it isn’t until he hears the quiet puff when the message sends that he panics, and realizes what he’s done. His fingers had been aching to do it, maybe, tense and sore in the knuckles like he’s had too much caffeine. Now the sensation is replaced with cold adrenaline.
Fuck it. It’s too late to put his phone on airplane mode and wait for the cyberspacial dead-end, so Jeongguk just stares at the deep blue speech bubble. It takes everything in him not to scroll back up and look at the heaps of hearts and kiss emojis that Taehyung signed all of his texts with, but he does it. He puts his phone down and listens to the symphony of snoring from the other room, muted and rhythmic through the walls like rain and thunder.
Fuck him. Taehyung will see it, and Taehyung will wonder. Taehyung will overthink just like Jeongguk is doing now. Or, he won’t at all, but it will ruin his entire day. Jeongguk knows. He can picture it now, Taehyung walking under a dark cloud that he forces sunshine through for his job, and it’ll weigh on his shoulders like rain-soaked clothing.
Fuck this. Day in and day out Jeongguk gets through his minutes and hours congratulating himself on things he does well and things he does right. And he is honest with himself, he does quite a bit well and right, so much that Taemin and Howon will ask him to lead their dance team subgroups for upcoming performances. He got an A- on his public finance midterm. He likes his post office coworkers (this is an achievement any day of the week).
Fuck everything. Here he is, sleepless. The ceiling is maddening in its tranquil whiteness and Jeongguk makes a mental note to himself that he is going to pin his notes up there the very next day so if he can’t sleep, at least he can stare at his diagrams of ocean floors.
Something possesses him to check his phone again. He can’t sleep until he does. There are no new notifications, and he expected nothing else, but something catches his eye that leaves his lungs punched thin and sticky.
Read 3:54 AM