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#bts au
gukyi · 6 months ago
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love me or we both go down | kth
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summary: after going through with an arranged marriage to please his parents and secure his inheritance of the family business, kim taehyung thinks he’s got it all figured out. he doesn’t. apparently just being married to you isn’t enough, not when everybody and their mother can pick up on the fact that the two of you absolutely loathe each other. but taehyung wants his inheritance one way or another, so he decides that desperate times call for desperate measures: the two of you need to fall in love, and you need to fall in love fast.
{enemies to lovers!au, arranged marriage!au, rich kids!au}
pairing: kim taehyung x female reader genre: fluff, angst, smut (i know, crazy right?) word count: 32k warnings: oral sex (m & f receiving), fingering, penetrative sex, multiple unprotected sex scenes (they’re married y’all), fat cock tae, tae has a wife kink, lots of praise, alcohol consumption (but they’re safe), minor character death (not explicit), mentions of heart attack, slow burn like there is no tomorrow a/n: hello and welcome to the fic everyone, literally everyone, has been waiting for! i am so, so, so excited to share this with you all, especially because none other than rose @kinktae​ helped me write the smut, and i am literally forever indebted to her. you all better go spam rose with all the love and support you can because this fic would not be here without her and i love her so much. 
also, to all my readers who aren’t comfortable reading smut, please know that the smut in this fic is not imperative to the storyline, and you skipping past it will not affect your reading experience., enjoy!
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Never in your life have wedding bells felt so ominous.
The sound of them is akin to the sound of strings, of a single piano note in a horror movie, right when the film opens and someone random is about to die on screen for the sake of proving to the audience that this is, in fact, a horror movie. Make no mistake about it; these wedding bells spell doom for you, too. And the most horrific part about them is that just like that poor, helpless soul in the movie, there is no way for you to escape your fate either. 
With only seconds left to go before you have no choice but to promise yourself to the man waiting at the other end of the aisle, you desperately try to think of any last-ditch efforts to get out of this. Many, if not all of them, are utterly useless. 
Feigning sudden illness won’t work, because then your parents will just reschedule the wedding to a later date. Running away is fruitless. Where will you go? The parking lot?
If only you had a lover out there in the audience somewhere that could object to the marriage when the officiant says, “Speak now, or forever hold your peace.” A knight in shining armor that could whisk you out of the venue and off to a new life, far away from here. Too bad all of the people you’ve dated before hate you now. 
Maybe getting married isn’t such a bad thing after all. Instead of having relationships with multiple people who will eventually despise your existence, you only have to have a relationship with one. And the feeling, as has always been, is mutual. 
You bristle as your assistants do some last-minute prepping, fixing your sleeve and adjusting your necklace and making sure you don’t trip on your enormous train. They flutter around you like a swarm of well-meaning but ignorant butterflies complicit in the agenda of your family. None of them have said a word to you about the wedding ever since you arrived at the venue, choosing to talk more about things like the weather. Not that you were ever under the impression they had been hired to entertain you. Maybe they were told to not engage you, just in case you try to conspire with them.
As if they could be of any use in your wildly unrealistic escape plans. 
The truth is that, unless you were to drop dead on this marble flooring right now, you’re getting married. Whether you like it or not.
The doors open. 
You’ve attended red carpets, galas, award shows, and balls. You’ve had hundreds of cameras flashing in your face, the bright light capturing each and every centimeter of you. You’ve had paparazzi waiting outside the restaurants you eat at, the stores you shop at, desperate to catch a picture of you in sweatpants without a drop of makeup on. You’ve been on dates with ex-lovers that looked at you like you were a piece of meat with a credit card. And yet, for some goddamn reason, walking down the aisle in a white dress the size of Pluto, with the rest of your life waiting for you at the other end, makes you feel fucking transparent. 
Face resolute, you clutch onto your bouquet so tightly the flowers feel like they’re about to pop right out of your grasp. Determined not to look at anybody in the audience, you stare straight ahead, right into the eyes of your future husband.
Kim Taehyung, for someone you have seen multiple times drunk off his ass with hickies dotting his neck and jawline, cleans up pretty well. For someone getting married, at least. He dons a simple black tuxedo that still probably costs more than the average car, his caramel brown hair is pushed back off his forehead, and his expression is firm and still. He most certainly has had an equally expensive team prepping him, but they haven’t done too bad a job. The silver lining is that he doesn’t look any more thrilled than you are to be doing this, right here, right now. But to his credit, this is definitely the best he’s ever looked, as far as you’re concerned. 
When you reach him, he offers his hand out to you, a hand that you only accept for the sake of professionalism. The bouquet in your hands is handed off to one of your bridesmaids, and the two of you take your position at the front. Your train drags along the aisle, draping over the few stairs you had to climb to reach the altar, this satin trail behind you that cements you to the floor. It may as well be a ball-and-chain. It’s about as heavy as one, anyway. 
This is the longest you and Taehyung have ever held eye contact. Not that you’re really keeping track of how long the two of you have met each other’s gazes, but if you had to make an educated guess, this would definitely be the victor. Most of the time you end up sneering at each other ten seconds in, but to be fair, those other times you were also not getting married. To one another. In a ceremony attended by hundreds of people. And cameras.
There can be no sneering here. 
“Don’t you look nice?” Taehyung whispers, loud enough so only the two of you can hear. He has that drawling, sickly sweet tone to his voice, the one that you hate because it makes him sound like he thinks he’s so much better than everyone else. “Surprised they were able to makeup that scowl off your face.”
This, of course, brings on a hearty scowl only he can see, your backs both facing the rows of attendees. “How much concealer are you wearing to cover up all of the hickies on your neck?” You quip back easily. It’s not like the two of you are going to pretend he doesn’t waltz around at every club or bar or private venue he can find, looking for his next treat. 
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Taehyung grins, and if you weren’t standing in front of hundreds of people about to get married, there’s no telling what next you would do.
The two of you would probably go on like that for another ten minutes if it’s not for the officiant, who coughs once he’s ready and opens the book in his hands. Next to you, Taehyung straightens, hands clasped together at his front, and lips pressed into a neat line. You do the same. There will be no giggles, no laughter nor smiles, nor any genuine emotion at this wedding. This is a wedding for the sake of politics, for economics, for security, and anyone in attendance would be a fool to think otherwise. Especially you. 
“Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, loved ones, and esteemed guests,” the officiant bellows, listing off as many groups of people as he possibly can in an effort to both include and compliment every person in the audience, “We are gathered here to celebrate the wedding, and future life, of Taehyung and Y/N…”
Taehyung turns to you, grinning in that god-awful way, the way he does when he feels like he’s got something over you. And sure, you can’t think of any punishment quite as bad as this, but what’s Taehyung got to smile about? He’s marrying himself off to a woman he hates, kissing goodbye his days as a free-spirited, heartbreaking bachelor, and promising what may very well be the rest of his life to loving you. That is not cause for celebration. 
But perhaps, to him, your suffering is enough to bring a smile to his face. 
Your vows are, to put it simply, total bullshit. Your family hired someone to write yours and there’s not a doubt in your mind that his family did the same thing. This nonsense talk, this complete and utter garbage that spews from your perfectly-glossed lips, shit about how you promise to love each other until the end of your days, how you promise to take care of each other when you’re sick and accompany each other at every event, every gala, every ball. Shit about how you promise to look only at each other, promise to uphold your family traditions and become a dependable spouse. 
The words don’t belong to you. But the thing is that this marriage was never yours anyway. 
When the kiss comes, there’s a part of you that thinks maybe you should have psyched yourself up a little more for this. When Taehyung pulls you in, placing a stiff hand on your lower back as he brings you towards his chest, your stomach turns and shivers run down your spine. The feeling of his hand on your body, the breath from his lips brushing against your own, are enough to keep you frozen in place. 
He smiles at you, almost as if to ask, “Are you ready?”
And you squeeze your eyes shut, almost as if to respond, “Let’s do this.”
When his lips meet yours, there is almost nothing. Nothing runs through you, nothing explodes, nothing strikes. But when he pulls away and cheers and applause rings out throughout the room, there is something. A little heat, a remnant of a flame, left on your lips. A little sting, just to remind you it happened. 
The entire hall is cheering but nothing about this is worth celebrating. The fact of the matter is that you and Taehyung will never love each other the way that you are supposed to. 
“Ugh, finally.”
The elevator doors haven’t even properly opened by the time Taehyung is loosening his tie, tugging it off over his head as he stretches his head back and runs a hand through his perfectly-styled hair. As he rakes his fingers through his caramel locks, the hairspray and gel loosens, strands falling down by the side of his face, framing his temple.
“Don’t sound so relieved,” you huff out, deciding now is as good a time as any to start getting undressed yourself. Reaching down to lift up the hem of your reception dress, you tug off your heels, already feeling lighter on your feet. Who cares if Taehyung is watching you pull off your stilettos like a defeated movie heroine? You don’t think you can walk another step in those shoes. “We still have to live together, you know.”
“Don’t remind me,” Taehyung says gruffly, brushing by you roughly as he stomps out of the elevator. “I’m just glad the fucking night is over. I swear, seeing that fake-ass smile on your face made me want to gouge my eyes out.”
You storm after him, refusing to be the helpless damsel in this situation. “Oh, like you didn’t also have that exact same fake-ass smile on your face. It almost made me think you were actually enjoying yourself tonight.”
“I was only enjoying the fact that I know you hate this just as much as I do.” It’s perhaps the only thing you will ever be able to empathize with him on. Mutually relishing in the other’s destruction. Taehyung fumbles with the keypad to the door to the penthouse for a moment before you hear the lock click, the door sliding open as the entrance lights flicker on. 
The reason Taehyung’s penthouse is so clean is because he’s never lived here before. Neither of you have—Taehyung’s parents bought it just for the two of you. And as much as you absolutely despise the idea of having to live with him, at least it was not you who paid for your place of residence. 
You can tell Taehyung’s never lived here before because it’s actually quite nicely decorated inside. The ceilings are high and the sleek velvet curtains are pulled open, revealing a shimmering skyline. The furniture is modern and functional, and the whole damn place smells brand new. You’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of entering the place Taehyung lived in before now, and it looked nothing like this. The furniture was worn and stained despite the live-in maid, the house reeked of five hundred different spices that wafted from the kitchen to the living room, and the bookshelves were covered with comics, graphic novels, and old textbooks. 
If it weren’t for the fact that you and Taehyung are rich kids in their twenties that hate each other, you might have actually thought the place looked… homey. 
You don’t have time to be impressed by the interior design and architecture skills of whoever designed this place. Right now, all you can think about is tugging yourself out of your airtight reception dress and passing out on the nearest bed. Which, hopefully, will be as far away as possible from Taehyung’s bed of choice. 
“How many bedrooms does this place have?” You ask, shimmying along the floor so you don’t trip over the hem of your dress. From the looks of it, you can see one giant hallway to your right and a massive, double-sided staircase leading up. 
“Enough,” Taehyung grumbles in response. The hazy stupor from all of the fancy champagne is starting to wear off for the both of you, leaving behind two grouchy, begrudgingly-married individuals who want absolutely nothing to do with each other and have no problems making that known. Whatever golden light of the evening that was making Taehyung at least a little bit more attractive than usual has faded, and now you see him for what he really is: an unceremoniously tired man in a suit. “You want upstairs or down?”
You gaze up at the marble staircase in front of you, then back down at your too-long dress. “Down.” The last thing you want is to trip in front of the man you have to see, every day, for the rest of your life. 
“Fine by me.” Taehyung’s halfway up the stairs by the time he turns back around to say something else. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”
“Yeah.” There’s no point in being hostile now. The both of you are too exhausted to mean anything by it. Besides, what else can you say? Everything to complain about has already been complained about. At least the two of you managed to wrestle out from your parents the stipulation that you would not be going on a honeymoon together. Now that would have been your worst nightmare. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It’s as good of a goodnight either of you are going to get. Taehyung heads up the stairs and disappears around a corner, and you start wandering down the hallway. All the bedrooms look the exact same other than different colors on the walls and bedsheets, but they all look serviceable to you. Clean. Empty. Far away from wherever Taehyung is. 
You pick the one at the very end of the hall just to be as much of a diva as possible, and don’t even bother drawing the curtains before tugging off your dress. It’s past one in the morning, and you’re so high up you don’t think anyone will be able to see you anyway. By the time you’ve stripped naked and are tugging up the too-tight sheets tucked into the mattress, your legs are about to give out beneath you. The bed could be made of rocks for all you care. Anything to lie down on is fine by you. 
Sleep comes fairly easily to you tonight. Once your head hits the pillow you can already feel yourself drifting off, eyelids fluttering shut, but you don’t sleep quite yet. Not before you can think about how this is your life now, sleeping in a foreign bed in a foreign place with a foreign husband upstairs. This is what you will be living in now. Now and forever. 
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Living with Taehyung is, in both the best and worst ways possible, like living with a roommate that doesn’t give a shit about the fact that they live with another person. It’s good, because you and Taehyung hardly see each other and speak even less, which was pretty much the only thing you were asking for when it came to living with him. But it also sucks, because whenever you do happen to cross paths, Taehyung acts like you don’t exist, barely sparing you a hello or even that tight-lipped smile you send to drivers on the road when they let you cross the street. 
Not that the two of you ever engaged in energetic conversation before you got married. But at least the two of you would acknowledge each other, even if only to shoot a glare and a scowl the other’s way from opposite sides of a hotel ballroom. Maybe it’s just because it’s him, but you did always find yourself actually relishing in those little interactions with Taehyung. In this strange, twisted way, it seemed to provide some sort of continuity to your ever-changing life. Like no matter what happened, at least you would know that the two of you would always despise each other. 
To be frank, right now you’re not sure if Taehyung even remembers he got married at all.
Nights have been a lot more sleepless since your wedding day. After two weeks, the reality of it has finally started to settle in. This is your life now. And ever since you realized that, your bed has felt much less comfortable. 
“But the place is nice, right?”
You look around the living room from where you’re sat on the sleek, white suede leather couch, eyes glossing over the bookshelves, the floor-to-ceiling windows, the draping velvet curtains. From here, you can see the entire city skyline, flecks of gold from the windows of skyscrapers against a navy blue background. Slowly, as the moon creeps over the sky and the clock gets later and later, those lights will soon begin to flicker off, one by one. 
“Yeah, it’s not bad.” Nothing to write home about. That is, if home were a place other than here. 
“That’s good. At least you don’t live in, like, a total dump or anything,” Victoria says on the other end of the line. “How’s Taehyung?”
His name alone elicits this deeply-exhausted sigh from your lips, like it’s been ten years since you married and every day has felt worse than the last. “Fine.” You can’t really complain about anything yet, considering that you hardly ever see the man. 
“Just ‘fine’?” Victoria sounds skeptical. 
“Yeah,” you draw out the word, as if trying to convince yourself of its truth. “I mean, it’s like he doesn’t even live here. I barely see him. And when I do, we don’t even speak to each other.”
“That’s good though, isn’t it? You hate him.” Victoria says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. And in a sense, it kind of is. 
“I mean…”
“I know that your life hasn’t exactly… gone the way you had planned, but isn’t this your best case scenario when considering everything?” She asks. “If Taehyung is as distant as you say he is, isn’t it almost like you never married him in the first place?”
As if on cue, you hear footsteps coming down the stairs, heels clicking on the marble as they make their way to the entrance. You whip your head around to find Taehyung, all dressed up in loose, flowy slacks and a flowery silk button-down, strolling down the staircase as he scrolls through his phone, paying you zero attention whatsoever. 
He notices you briefly when he reaches the bottom, meeting your eyes with his own. He offers this measly, unenthused half-smile your way before he grabs his wallet and some house keys from the table by the entrance, opens the door, and vanishes off into the night. 
If you hadn’t been in the living room, you probably wouldn’t have even realized he left. Not that you being present as he’s planning on leaving would have stopped him anyway. This is the sixth night he’s done this in the past two weeks. You could stand by the door and stare him down as he emerges from his bedroom, all dressed up for something you’re definitely not invited to, and he would offer you that same goddamn smile and walk out the door without even blinking. Who he was before you got married and who he is now are no different. Not even a ring could change that. 
“I guess,” you tell Victoria. At least Taehyung hasn’t turned into a helicopter husband. “I don’t know. Maybe I just wish that I didn’t have to deal with him at all.”
Wish you could turn back time. Wish you could worm your way out of an arranged marriage before it was too late. Wish you could go back to the way things used to be. 
You and Victoria talk for another couple of minutes before she regretfully has to end the call, citing both her beauty sleep and an 8AM meeting tomorrow morning as her reasons for hanging up. The moment you put the phone down, you sink back into the couch cushions, staring out the windows at the world below you.
Here’s the deal. What Taehyung does in his free time is none of your business. But also, it’s totally your business, because you are his spouse. A spouse who is an equal amount in the public eye as he is. What he does and does not do has a direct impact on what you do and do not do. 
It’s no secret that when you catch Taehyung sauntering down the stairs looking like a Gucci runway model, it’s not because he’s planning on catching a movie with a college friend and then playing video games for four hours on a couch in a basement. He is going out. To clubs, to parties, to exclusive events that he’s been invited to by his equally-rich friends, all of whom are acting like he’s the same bachelor he’s always been. 
And maybe that’s the real problem with your whole marriage—other than the glaringly obvious issue that it’s a marriage wholly unwanted by the two parties involved in it. Despite the ring on his finger, Taehyung is going out and pretending that nothing in his life has changed while you’re trapped at home, desperate to save you and your family’s reputation by keeping as low a profile as possible. You would give anything to march around the city all day, flashing middle fingers at paparazzi as you shop at your favorite high-end stores and frequent your favorite clubs. But you can’t, because your family’s fortune and influence is on the line. 
And apparently, Taehyung’s isn’t. 
It sort of makes you wonder why it was even Taehyung you ended up marrying anyway. His family isn’t any richer or more powerful than yours. Your spheres have always been sufficiently separate. What was it about him, and perhaps more importantly, his family that drew your parent’s eye? And what was it about marrying you that prevented him from saying no? Money? Prestige? Influence?
You suppose you’ll never know. But whatever mystical force that convinced Taehyung to agree to this must not be as important to him as your reasoning is to you, because it’s become exceedingly apparent that Taehyung does not care that he’s married. He doesn’t care about the ring on his finger, he doesn’t care about his public image, and he most certainly doesn’t care about you.
Perhaps you were naive for thinking this, but you actually believed marriage might tone him down a little. Might age him into a real adult with real world obligations. Instead, it’s only given you a firsthand look into who Kim Taehyung has been and always will be: a selfish rich kid.
You don’t bother waiting around in the living room until he gets back, but you are still awake by the time you hear the door creak open. Taehyung makes no efforts to hide his return. You can hear him chattering loudly on the phone as he stumbles up the stairs, can tell from his gait alone that he is most certainly wasted. You don’t want to know what he did tonight. You’ll probably be able to figure it out anyway when you wake up tomorrow morning and check your social media. 
What were you thinking, marrying him? That he would change? That he would suddenly become someone that you could rely on? You had no choice when you said, “I do,” but you were at least hoping that maybe one day, one day in a long, long time, the two of you would finally see eye to eye. Maybe there would even come a time when you would genuinely love him. How foolish. 
You close your eyes and try to imagine a world where you have married someone you love, someone who loves you back.
Not unlike the many nights preceding it, tonight is sleepless. 
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Unlike your marital status and general disposition, one thing that hasn’t changed about you is your love for extravagant events. Call you conceited, but there is something so much fun about putting on a fancy, expensive dress that you love and getting your hair and makeup done before going to an exclusive gala and posing in front of five hundred cameras. 
Actually, now that you think about it, maybe your wedding could have actually been pretty good, considering it let you do all those things. It’s a real shame there happened to be a storm cloud in the form of Kim Taehyung there to ruin it. Otherwise, you think you would have rather enjoyed that day. 
Tonight is the first event since your marriage where you and Taehyung are both required to show up and act like a happy married couple. Which would probably be a lot easier if you and Taehyung had exchanged more than ten words over the past two weeks. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but there was a part of you that thought you could use your arranged marriage to actually cultivate some sort of meaningful relationship between the two of you. So events like these wouldn’t be such a drain on both of you. 
When Kim Taehyung comes down the stairs, he actually doesn’t look too bad. You don’t know why this sort of thing keeps catching you off guard—like you don’t expect him to look that good whenever you see him. The problem is that you can’t even chalk up the surprise to him wearing tailored clothes or having his hair done. He just looks… good. 
Well, you suppose you do have to look at him every day for the rest of your life. It’s a good thing he’s attractive. At least he’s not sore on the eyes. 
Taehyung and his unfortunate attractiveness aside, the two of you don’t say a word to each other as you join up at the entrance, grabbing any last-minute items like house keys, chapstick, and whatever dignity you have left to spare. You send forced smiles and tight nods each other’s way in the elevator, staring straight ahead in the lobby of your building as the car pulls up to the front door.
By the time the two of you sit down in the back of the limousine, the built-up tension between the two of you is so thick you’re almost positive that even the chauffeur can feel it through the closed partition. 
If you were any more idyllic, you’d probably spend the drive over to the gala staring out the window and imagining yourself in a different life, on a train to nowhere, flowers in your hair and a journal in your hands. Or perhaps you’d be the CEO of your family’s company instead of having that responsibility passed down to a husband you don’t even want, sitting in an office at the top of a skyscraper overlooking the city. Anything. Anything but this.
But the idyllic part of you died when you realized that fantasies like that are nothing but distractions and that daydreams are for romantics and optimists and losers. 
“What’s our plan for tonight?”
Taehyung scoffs. “What do you mean, ‘what’s our plan’?”
You frown. “Well, we’re married, so we at least have to act like it, don’t you think?”
“Isn’t standing there and smiling enough?” Taehyung asks, an unimpressed eyebrow raised. 
You bristle. Maybe that sufficed for your wedding, but there was so much going on it was easy to distract yourself from the gravity of it all. But this event is not about you. It’s not even about either of your families. It’s about someone the two of you are, at best, distantly connected to, through work, through fame, through power. Which means that though the focus will not be on you, there will still be eyes looking your way. Eyes watching your every move. 
“Do you think it will be?” You challenge. Doesn’t Taehyung realize that things are different now?
Taehyung’s lips curl downwards. “What do you expect us to do, shower each other in kisses? We don’t even sleep on the same fucking floor.”
“Maybe I just expected you to act less like a stranger and more like a husband!”
Taehyung sighs. “Don’t.” The word is clipped, short. “Don’t tell me you actually want to be married.”
“I don’t.” It’s a response that you hardly have to think twice about. “But we are, and nothing can change that.” Unfortunately. But it’s a fact that you and Taehyung have both had to grapple with over the past few weeks, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that you are more aware of it than he is. If Taehyung could have his way, he would ignore you for the rest of his life and keep partying with the rest of his bachelor friends until he keeled over and died. 
He huffs next to you, eyes staring straight ahead. You don’t think the two of you have met each other’s eyes in a week. Maybe more. They’re starting to feel as soulless as your marriage itself. “Whatever. What do you want me to do?”
“What do you think?” You cross your arms over your chest. “Just act like you don’t hate me. Can you do that?” The way Taehyung’s behaving right now, you expect that will be a challenge for the both of you.
“Only if you can. I’ll even hold your hand to prove that we love each other.”
“Fine.”
“Fine.”
The idea of holding Taehyung’s hand makes you want to implode. The mere thought sends shivers down your spine. But it’s better than nothing, and that’s good enough for you. At least you won’t have to kiss. 
The rest of the ride there is silent. You drive to this gorgeous mansion just outside the city, bathed in lights hidden amongst the bushes, illuminating both the architecture and the enormous fountain that sits in front of it. In a house this size, you imagine you could probably go your whole life without ever having to come across Taehyung. It actually makes you consider investing in a home that big. 
Taehyung helps you out of the back of the limousine, a cold hand clasping your own as you rest your palm against his. You can feel the way his fingers hesitate as yours make to intertwine with his as you walk towards the entrance, smiling at whatever camera flashes you encounter on your way. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were holding hands with a ghost. 
The moment you step inside and are ushered out of the door’s view, Taehyung’s grip relaxes on yours. For a moment, you think he’ll actually spend the rest of the night like this, a gentle hand wrapped around yours, but then he pulls it away entirely and shoves it back into his pocket. Oh. You frown quietly to yourself. So that’s how tonight’s going to go. 
You don’t make an effort to reach out towards him again. 
For an event concerning people you don’t know a damn thing about, everyone sure seems to know things about you. Other than greetings, you don’t think anyone’s said anything to you about anything other than your recent marriage to Taehyung. Every conversation is punctuated by a Congratulations! you do not feel that you have at all earned, considering you and Taehyung could barely look at each other on the way here.
Maybe Taehyung was right. All you really can do is stand there and smile.
“Oh, don’t tell me… Y/N, is that you?”
The champagne swirls around in the flute between your fingers as you turn towards the sound of your name, looking up to see a familiar face headed your way. 
Kim Seokjin is nice enough. He’s terribly handsome and got a flawless smile, but you know better than to trust those pearly whites of his. The sight of him alone is enough to make your body tense up. There was a reason you had explicitly told your parents not to invite him to your wedding. 
“Seokjin, what a surprise to see you here,” you say, forcing a smile. “I thought you were supposed to be in Switzerland right now.”
“Change of plans,” Seokjin grins back in that awful, awful way, the kind of grin that makes you feel like he’s looking right through you. “I came back early. It’s a shame, though, I missed your wedding.”
You shrug. “It was a humble affair.” It wasn’t. And you’re positive that Seokjin knows it wasn’t an accident that you didn’t extend an invitation to him or his family. 
“Ah, I see,” Seokjin says, nodding his head. He turns to Taehyung next to you, who is making no effort to hide how wholly uninterested in this conversation he is, and holds out a hand. “You must be Kim Taehyung, then. I’m Kim Seokjin. Congratulations on your wedding.”
Taehyung shakes his hand firmly, the air between the three of you growing unbearably palpable. 
“Seokjin’s father is the VP of News Daily,” You explain, eyebrows raised as you try to signal to Taehyung what exactly it means when Seokjin is speaking to the two of you. “And his mother is a popular journalist for the city’s post.”
Seokjin grew up in the world of media, and it seems he’s picked up his parent’s affinity for sticking their noses in places they don’t belong. You know he’s not talking to the both of you out of the goodness of his heart. 
Seokjin laughs, his hand waving away the mention of his parents. “Oh, please. That’s them. I’m just a bored socialite like the rest of you.”
You resist the urge to scoff. 
“Marriage treating the two of you well?” He changes the subject to what he really wants to talk about: you. 
“Of course,” you say quickly, preventing any hesitation on your end. Your empty hand reaches towards Taehyung’s, fingers searching for his between the two of you. But his refusal to join hands does not go unnoticed by you nor Seokjin, who is eyeing the space between your bodies with an eyebrow raised. “It’s just been—well, it’s just been difficult to adjust to a new life. That’s all.”
If you were to describe the face of a non-believer, it would be the exact expression on Seokjin’s face. “Perfectly understandable,” he says, that same toothy smile lacing his features. “But it must be nice, you know, to marry someone you love.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” you say, almost challenging Seokjin to say something even more inflammatory. He must know that all you’re trying to do at this point is save face. Love? Ha! As if. 
“And Taehyung?” Seokjin motions to your husband. 
You can feel the way Taehyung is stiffening beside you. “I suppose we are both lucky and unlucky in many ways when it comes to who we love.”
It’s enough of an answer to get Seokjin off your tail. For now. He bids the two of you a tense goodbye before sauntering off to go poke his nose in someone else’s business, fish for drama, a thread of a rumor he can pick apart with nimble fingers. You wonder if anybody actually likes him. 
The moment he disappears from earshot, you grab Taehyung’s wrist tightly and pull him close to you. “What the hell was that?” You hiss into his ear. 
“What?” You can’t tell if he’s playing dumb or if he really is that dense. 
“You!” You exclaim. “Kim Seokjin is the one person who could easily expose how fake this marriage is and you pull away from me? Right in front of him? You can’t even hold my hand for two seconds, that’s how much you hate me?”
“Who cares what he thinks?” Taehyung says. “He’s just another media rat. No one will even remember we were here tomorrow.”
“But if you keep acting like this, people will start to notice! Why can’t you just act like you don’t hate me, for one night? Is that so bad? Is it that torturous, to spend one night with me?”
“Do not turn this on me,” Taehyung orders harshly. “You’re making a scene. Come on.”
You don’t have time to shout at him for bossing you around like you’re a toddler throwing a tantrum before he drags you out of the venue, the two of you finding a back door to the building that leads outside. The cold air blows against your body, goosebumps popping up against your skin, but you find that the chilly night provides quite the respite after practically overheating indoors. Taehyung makes fire rush through your veins but at least the air can cool you back down. 
Nevertheless, your conversation is not over. It’s just been moved to a more private location.
“You do realize that our marriage isn’t going to suddenly go away, right? That we’re going to have to keep doing this for the rest of our lives?” You remind him, eyebrows raised. There’s a part of you that genuinely thinks he’s completely forgotten that your marriage is permanent.
“Oh, and not holding hands for five minutes for this one event is totally going to change the course of our lives, isn’t it?” Taehyung fights back.
“Don’t act like you did the right thing,” you spit out. “You don’t have to pretend in front of me. I know you don’t give a shit about our marriage.”
“What marriage is there to even give a shit about? Just because we had a wedding and signed some documents does not mean there is a real marriage between us. Look at us,” he motions between the two of you like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “We hate each other. Is this what you would call marriage?”
“But at least I’m trying to get past that!” You exclaim. “You make it seem like being as miserable as possible is some sort of badge of honor. Do you actually want to spend the rest of your life hating the person you married? Or do you want to grow up and try and move on?”
Taehyung frowns. “What I want is for the person I married to stop acting like they’re doing me such a huge favor by pretending to care about us. Especially when all they really care about is their family’s goddamn reputation.”
“No,” you tell him sternly. You are doing him a favor. He just can’t admit that he actually needs help from you. “You are putting zero effort into this. What am I supposed to do?”
“Let it go!” Taehyung shouts. “Maybe one day we’ll actually start getting along, but right now it’s obvious that neither one of us can stand the other. I don’t need you to do favors for me. I can handle it myself.”
You look away, rolling your eyes. “Doesn’t look like it to me,” you mutter to yourself. 
Taehyung cracks. “Fine. You want me to pretend that I actually care about us? I will.” Thank God. Maybe now the two of you will finally start seeing eye-to-eye. “But make no mistake about how I feel about you,” he spits. “Getting married to you ruined my life.”
You stare straight at him and his eyes are swirling, so obscured in the darkness of the night that you might even think he doesn’t have a soul at all. His pupils bore into yours and for once, for once in your goddamn life, after so many years of staring each other down at debutante balls, so many years of witty refrains and snarky insults hurled each other’s way, it feels like the two of you might actually snap. 
Then, a camera flashes.
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Trouble in Paradise! would be a suitable title for the front page of the city’s biggest tabloid… if anything about your life with Taehyung could be considered paradise. Unfortunately for the both of you, that is not the case. 
You don’t need to keep reading the rest of the trashy article on the front page of the daily tabloid to know how much trouble you’re in, nor do you even have time to scroll beneath the terrible photo of you and Taehyung literally shouting at each other before you hear your phone ring. 
You don’t even bother saying hello to whoever’s on the other end. You know it’ll go in one ear and out the other. 
“I assume you know why I’m calling,” your mother’s harsh tone spits from the other end of the phone. There’s no doubt in your mind that she’s standing in the middle of her office, snapping her fingers at her fifteen secretaries as they partake in the worst damage control your family’s had to deal with since your cousin two years ago was caught with a mistress outside a high-profile restaurant. 
“Can I take a wild guess?” You’re about to be scolded into the next century, so you might as well enjoy your last few moments. 
“Don’t get cheeky with me,” your mother warns. “Care to explain why you and your beloved husband made the front page of the Daily Post today?”
“I know,” you sigh, a hand coming up to rub at your temples. It’s eight in the morning, you’ve barely looked at your phone, and you haven’t even brushed your teeth yet. It feels like you’re still asleep, and most certainly lack the energy to deal with this right now. 
Your mother, on the other hand, thinks otherwise. “You know? You know, and you still go out and do this? For everyone to see?”
“We tried to take our argument outside,” you begin to explain, but your mother isn’t having a single word of it. 
“The fact that you thought it was even appropriate to have an argument in a public setting at all astounds me, Y/N. We raised you better than that.” There’s no need for you to even see her face. You’ve grown so used to that disappointed frown over the years that it’s burned into your brain. 
“Maybe you should have thought about that before marrying me off to a man I barely know so I could be someone else’s problem instead of yours,” you bite. 
“We did this for your own good,” she hisses back. “You are married because we love you, and we want you to succeed outside of this family.”
“Then why do you care what the tabloids print about me?”
“Because being married does not mean you are no longer a part of this family,” your mother informs you sternly, lips smacking together. “Your marriage reflects on all of us, and you know that. What will people think of us when they see how terribly behaved you are?”
“Everyone acts like that, and you know it.” How could your mother preach good behavior when everyone, everyone you know, is just as spoiled and entitled as you? There’s no such thing as being altruistic when it comes to people like you. Being genuine, and good, and pure—that will get you ruined. 
You can hear her breathing into the phone when your mother responds, “But not in public, and that is the point. We expect better from you.”
“If you were so worried about me behaving so badly, then why did you even marry me off anyway? You knew that I didn’t want to. What did you think would happen?” It’s a question you wouldn’t have dared ask three months ago. Hell, even a year ago, when it was first revealed you were to be engaged, you wouldn’t have dared open your lips. But things are different now. You’re married to a man that hates you just as much as you hate him. He is making no effort to improve your relationship and seems hellbent on despising you forever. There is no way to get out of it. And if your parents really foresaw all of that, then what was the point in the first place?
“Your grandmother.”
Your mouth shuts. 
“You know she wanted to see you married before she passed,” your mother says, words clipped and biting and harsh. “She cares about you. She wanted to make sure you’d be taken care of.”
“I don’t need anyone to take care of me,” you mutter to yourself like a petulant child. In a way, you sort of are.
“If you want to stay in her will, I suggest you change that mindset.”
You freeze in your tracks. The will?
“Is that a threat?” You ask, positively dumbfounded. Are you being coerced into staying in this marriage because of your grandmother’s will?
You can hear your mother laugh, that muted, knowing chuckle of hers. “It was the deal all along, remember?”
Vaguely, you do. You remember fighting your parents tooth and nail over getting married until your grandmother revealed it was her dream to see you wed. You remember the look on her old, wrinkled face, that soft, sad smile that said she knew she didn’t have much time left. You remember agreeing, because how could you deny her? You remember her promising to remember what you’re doing for her. 
“You’re kidding.”
“I’m not.”
“But—”
“That’s the end of this conversation, Y/N. You fix things with your husband or you’re out of her will. She’s made that clear. I expect you’ll make the right choice.”
She hangs up. 
Well. 
There are a lot of ways to describe how you’re currently feeling, and you most certainly had an expensive education that would provide you with plenty of the vocabulary, but you think the most appropriate words for the current situation would be: you’re fucked. 
At least the feeling is mutual. 
Hardly two minutes after your mother’s brutal phone call, Taehyung comes storming down the stairs, hair still mussed from the night prior, his own phone clenched tightly between is fingers. Even from where you stand in the middle of the living room, you can see the way his eyes are glinting with anger, the veins popping out from his skin. 
“I just got off the phone with my parents,” Taehyung begins, not even bothering to spare a ‘good morning’ your way, “and they are fucking furious about last night.”
You shrug. “Join the club,” you mutter, arms crossed in front of you. What, does Taehyung really think you got off scot-free?
“Don’t act like this means nothing to you,” Taehyung says as he approaches you, footsteps calm despite his demeanor being anything but. “You’re the one who’s so obsessed with keeping up their family’s perfect reputation. You’re the reason we’re even in this mess in the first place.”
“What do you mean, ‘I’m the reason’?” You ask, astounded. Like he’s totally absolved of all blame and just an innocent third party. “You are the reason we went outside. You are the reason we had that argument, because you refuse to accept the fact that we’re actually married and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Right, because holding hands is really gonna show all those people how in love we are. I bet your parents are so thrilled right now.” Taehyung drawls. 
“It’s a start!” You shriek. “God, you’re just so—so infuriating! You can’t accept that this was your fault, too. You just have to turn everything against me and you always, always have to get the last word. It’s like you think you’ll die if you don’t.”
“Like you’re any better,” Taehyung huffs back. “You think I’m the villain because I don’t want to pretend to be in love with someone I’m not in love with. You act like us not holding hands is going to ruin our lives. It was one event! One! It’s obvious we hate each other, so why even try?”
“What, do you expect me to just sit around and do nothing? To act like everything’s fine? Like I’m happy?” As if. This marriage is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. “While you prance around the city with your rich boy friends, going out to clubs and parties and pretending that I don’t exist? Is that what you expect from me?”
Taehyung laughs, this loud, disbelieving sort of noise, like he’s never heard such nonsense before. “Just because we’re married doesn’t mean the rest of my life has to change. Am I not allowed to enjoy myself with my friends? Or are you determined to keep me chained to your side for the rest of our lives?”
“What I want,” you punctuate every word, “is for you to stop acting like you haven’t got stakes in this, too. You think I don’t know how your family works? What being married to me means for you? Because I do. And I know that if we were to divorce, it would be you who would get the short end of the stick. Make no mistake.”
That’s enough to shut Taehyung up for a good few seconds. And it shuts him up, because he knows it’s true. Taehyung’s family may have a little more money, a little more power than yours, but you’ve got a family intimately more connected with the media. One phone call and Taehyung may have a rather messy, rather public breakup to deal with. 
“You wouldn’t,” he says, calling your bluff. 
“Are you sure about that?” You say, sticking your ground. You would never really divorce him, of course, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“I am,” Taehyung says firmly. “Don’t think I don’t know what being married to me is in it for you. What is it? Money? Power? Your father’s CEO position?”
“That’s none of your business,” you snap quickly. Maybe you’re more transparent than you thought. Bristling, you straighten your shoulders and turn back to meet his eyes. “Regardless, it seems we both have a reason to stay in this marriage.”
“It seems we do,” Taehyung agrees with a thin, contained smile. “Then I suppose we can reach some sort of agreement.”
“As in…?” Your interest in piqued. 
“I’ll stop going out with my friends if you stop picking fights with me all the time,” he says economically, like he’s killing two birds with one stone. 
“Only if you agree to also act more like my husband when we’re in public,” you tack on, because you just can’t settle for anything less. 
“Public only,” Taehyung specifies. 
You scoff. “Like I’d even want to pretend to be your wife when we’re in private.”
“Good. It seems we’ve come to a deal.”
“What’s in this for you, huh?” You prod, just to be annoying. Taehyung’s right. There’s a reason you’re not divorcing him the second you get the chance. But there must be a reason why he’s not doing the same thing. 
“Does it matter?” He challenges, a single eyebrow raised. “My life is just as awful as yours.”
Fair enough. 
“Do we have a deal?” Taehyung asks, holding out his hand, that sneaky, devilish grin lacing his features. 
Taking his hand in yours and grasping it firmly is the easiest decision in the world. His palm presses against your own, hot hand meeting your cold skin, and it feels like the two of you are finally finding some sort of balance. You look up into his eyes, burn your gaze into his pupils, watch them glint in the white ceiling light of the living room. 
“Deal.”
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For two people raised on the values of reading the fine print and making educated choices when it comes to business deals, you and Taehyung sure haven’t worked out any of the intricacies of the deal the two of you agreed to. Unlike those business deals your parents constantly agreed to, however, knowing all of the stipulations and provisions of your strange, strange agreement with Taehyung may prove more harmful than helpful. 
Like right now. 
“Wait, we don’t have to be by each other’s side the whole night, do we?” Taehyung asks you, eyebrows furrowed in a knot, as you sit in the back of a big, black van on your way to a mutual friend’s twenty-first birthday bash. 
“There are going to be a lot of cameras there,” you respond. 
“Yeah, outside the entrance to the damn club. You know they won’t be allowed in, so who cares?” Taehyung rebukes. 
You huff out a little sigh, not wanting to get into an argument when you’re literally minutes away from your first public appearance since the whole tabloid debacle from three weeks ago. You and Taehyung could both do with being a bit more relaxed than you normally are when you’re around each other. 
“Hasn’t Clarissa invited hundreds of people? They’ll all notice if we aren’t together,” you remind pointedly. The girl whose birthday party you are attending is an heiress who grew up on the money of two people with a monopoly over the current artificial intelligence market and has millions of followers on social media. There will be notable people there. And people will know the two of you, as well. 
Taehyung rolls his eyes. “That’s the point, Y/N. There’ll be so many people, no one will even care. It’s her twenty-first birthday. Do you think people are going to be sober?”
You purse your lips together. He’s got a point. “How about when we are together, we hold hands. But if you see a friend or something then feel free to say hi.” Taehyung can be afforded that luxury. Especially because the chances of him not bumping into someone he knows is exceedingly low anyway. 
Taehyung nods in agreement. “You too. But I won’t leave you unless I know you’re with someone you’re close with.”
“You don’t have to stay, I’ll be fine,” you say with a small chuckle. What, is Taehyung suddenly worried, or something?
“Yeah, but it would be in bad taste if I left you with someone you didn’t know well. Or alone. Just wanna make sure you’re taken care of.” He shrugs nonchalantly, turning back to look out of the window on his side of the car. 
“Okay.” 
You don’t really have anything else to say to that. You’re sure you can handle yourself if you’re left alone for a few minutes while Taehyung says hi, but you actually find yourself rather appreciative of his resolve to look after you. Or, at least, make sure someone else is looking after you. It’s quite… chivalrous. Strikingly out of character for the Taehyung you’ve become well-acquainted with over the past couple of months. 
By the time you arrive, it’s obvious that Taehyung was right about there being so many people you two practically don’t even exist. Other than the herds of camera crews waiting outside the joint, photographing everyone that steps out of a black car to see what they’re wearing and who they’ve come with, no one seems to be paying you any attention. And in a way, that sort of nonexistence, that anonymity, it’s refreshing. Your entire life you’ve felt like all eyes were on you, like there was constantly a spotlight above your head, but here, the party centers around someone else. 
Despite that fact, Taehyung keeps his promise. He keeps himself pressed closely against you when there’s not enough space for you two to stand side by side, and he makes sure to have a hand gently intertwined with your own as you weave your way through the dozens of bodies in the room. He doesn’t say anything, of course, always looking up and forward instead of beside him, where you stand, but you find that you’re actually quite relaxed with his presence. He spots a bit of a clearing near the back of the first floor of the club, where a whole bunch of leather couches are pressed up against the brick walls, where the two of you can take a breather. 
“Damn, Clarissa knows a lot of people,” you say when you finally settle down, happily plucking a martini from a tray held by one of the many caterers wandering through the venue. 
“I doubt she’s even spoken to half of them,” Taehyung comments. “She and I have maybe spoken once… three years ago.”
“It was enough to get you invited, wasn’t it?” You point out with an eyebrow raised. 
Taehyung nods, chuckling a little. “Touché,” he says, clinking his own cocktail glass against yours. 
You take a swig of the drink, letting it wash down your throat. You’re not exactly sure how else you’re supposed to survive the night. “You must enjoy this, huh?” You muse, looking up at Taehyung from where you’re seated on the couch. He’s standing next to you, looking around the room with a distant gaze in his eye. 
“Enjoy what? The drink? It’s nice,” Taehyung says, having another sip. 
“No, I mean this,” you say, motioning toward the crowd. “The clubbing, the dancing, the drinking. I’ll bet that if you could do this every day for the rest of your life, you would.”
“I’m honored that you think so highly of me,” he deadpans. 
“Just making an observation,” you say, holding your hand up in surrender. “I mean, isn’t this what you used to do every weekend before we got married? Get wasted and party? Wake up in someone else’s bed the next morning? Muscle your way through the week just so you could do it all over again?”
Taehyung shakes his head, a knowing grin on his face. “Looks like someone keeps up with her tabloids. Let me guess, you would scroll through all of those trashy articles on your phone whenever you woke up so you could see what your future husband was doing?”
“I could have never even met you and I would know that that’s exactly what you do,” you say, even though you definitely did do those things before your engagement was announced to the public. “You’re a heartbreaker, Kim Taehyung. I don’t need to read a tabloid to know that.”
“Well, you must be quite the lucky girl, then,” Taehyung comments. “You seem to be taking up so much of my energy that I don’t have the time for that anymore.”
You place a sarcastic hand on your heart. “I didn’t know you were always thinking about me. I’m touched.”
“Don’t get used to it,” Taehyung huffs out, making the two of you both shake your heads as you chuckle to yourselves. First civil conversation you’ve had with each other in a long while, even if there may have been a few blows exchanged. 
The privacy doesn’t last long. Soon after, a huge crowd of people that could honestly still pass for teenagers herds towards the back of the club, all of them wanting to take pictures with each other. You and Taehyung do your best to stay out of the way, but one of the girls recognizes him from the Elle photoshoot he did about a year ago and begins to strike up a conversation with the both of you about your recent marriage. If she was paying attention to anything the tabloids leaked three weeks ago, she doesn’t mention it. Taehyung smiles and happily answers all of her questions, and even offers to take a picture of the group for them. The conversation ends before the two of you even catch her name. 
You’re standing by the line of buffet tables laid out against the staircase leading up to the second floor, no doubt as crowded as this one, when the opportunity for you to speak to someone other than Taehyung finally presents itself. 
“Y/N!”
You’d recognize that voice anywhere. You turn around to see Victoria barreling towards the both of you, not even caring when she accidentally spills a bit of her piña colada on the floor as she does. 
“Hey!” You exclaim excitedly. “I didn’t know you’d be here.”
“Are you kidding? I’m pretty sure Clarissa invited everyone on her, her best friend’s, her best friend’s cousin, and her best friend’s cousin’s dog’s contact list,” Victoria says with a laugh. “It’s nice to see you. I feel like you’ve been holed up in that big ol’ penthouse for weeks.”
“Damage control,” you remind her succinctly. Victoria knows enough that that’s all the explanation she really needs. 
“I don’t know if the two of you have ever met formally,” you say, thinking back to your wedding, where Victoria spent most of her time schmoozing with your parents (who love her) and didn’t even engage with any of the people who Taehyung’s family had invited. “Taehyung, this is Victoria. Victoria, Taehyung.”
“Pleasure,” Victoria says in that loud, unabashedly forward way of hers, holding out a friendly hand. Taehyung smiles back curtly, taking her hand and shaking it gently, so as not to spill any more of her drink. 
“Mine as well. I remember you were at our wedding.” Oh? So he does know her?
“That I was. Oh, I miss that day. The food was excellent. Tonight’s isn’t too bad either. Hope you’re doing well, the two of you. It’s nice to see you getting along,” she says, always the observer. 
Taehyung’s eyes widen a little when he picks up what Victoria is not-so-subtly putting down, but you place a hand on his upper arm to calm him. “It’s okay,” you tell him. “She won’t say anything.”
“My lips are sealed,” Victoria adds. 
“If you wanna go spend time with some of your friends, you can,” you say, giving Taehyung a nudge. He looks positively helpless standing in between the two of you as Victoria out-extroverts him. 
“Alright,” he says hesitantly, even though you know he’s already spotted at least ten people you’re sure he’d want to spend time with over you. “I’ll come find you soon, okay? Don’t go too far.”
You nod, and Taehyung disappears off into the crowd. Not two seconds later, you hear someone else call his name in a familiar tone. 
“I thought you said you hated him,” Victoria points out as the two of you watch his caramel brown hair makes its way throughout the crowd. 
You take another sip of your drink. “I do,” you say. 
Victoria looks at you like you’ve just told her you’ve sworn off custard-filled doughnuts. 
“What?” You ask, feeling suddenly defensive. 
“Nothing,” Victoria singsongs. “It just doesn’t look like that to me.”
“We just need to keep up a good appearance in public, that’s all. You know how mad my parents got when the tabloids leaked all that shit a few weeks ago,” you explain. You’re not sure what all the fuss is about. Taehyung said he would do these things. And he did. That was him upholding his end of the deal. This is you upholding yours. 
“If you say so…” Victoria says, not looking at all convinced. “I guess I’m just surprised that—that you two seem to be getting along so well. Maybe you being married isn’t going to be the worst thing after all.”
You stare back out into the crowd, scanning the top of people’s heads for Taehyung’s familiar locks. In the dim light of the club, you have a difficult time finding his, squinting your eyes slightly as you look around, but eventually you spot him, dancing happily with some old friends of his you recognize. He looks like he’s having a good time. And that makes you feel like maybe, just maybe, this might end up alright. 
“Yeah,” you say, though with the pounding of the bass and the alcohol already rushing through your veins, it doesn’t really feel like your voice belongs to you. You look back at Taehyung, knowing exactly where he is now, and you smile. Just a little. “I guess he’s not so bad.”
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You never do get a chance to meet Taehyung’s friends that night. By the time he joins back up with you and Victoria he’s by himself, a little more drunk than when he left, and ready to go home. And for once, instead of fighting him, instead of insisting you stay an hour more just to make sure you’ve done all of your rounds, you let him take you home. 
Taehyung has been spending a lot more time at the penthouse lately. Perhaps his family’s business happenings are slow, or perhaps he’s actually starting to get more comfortable with inhabiting the same space as you, but he has definitely found himself quite the rhythm in that house of yours. He even comes down to the first floor rather regularly. 
When he’s home, Taehyung is a lot quieter than you thought he would be. Granted, you don’t exactly know what you were expecting in the first place, but it certainly wasn’t him ruminating in one of the home offices while the Beatles play softly on the stereo, nor was it him reading a book in French in one of those big old grandfather chairs in the living room. If you didn’t know any better, you’d probably think he was still absent in that old way of his, ghostlike and silent, like he was occupying the space instead of truly living in it. 
But you do know better, and even though Taehyung is just as noiseless as he used to be, the house already feels a little bit fuller. 
Perhaps the reason you’ve become so keenly aware of his presence over the past few days is because of the notable fact that Taehyung has indeed held up his end of the deal, and no longer goes out with his friends in the evening. Or at all, for that matter. Which strikes you as rather odd, because he’s the epitome of a social butterfly, a thousand contacts in his phone and a whole group of friends he regularly spends time with. Maybe his parents told him to tone down the public appearances, too. And that’s understandable, but don’t they know Taehyung? Can’t they see how much he thrives on social interaction? It almost makes you feel… bad for him. 
To remedy this, you suggest he invite over his friends. Just for a few hours, you swear you won’t mind. 
“Seriously?” Taehyung looks positively shocked when you tell him he can, standing in the doorway of the office he seems to have designated as his own. 
“Yeah, why not?” You say with a carefree shrug. Besides, you’ve never met his friends anyway, and now seems as good a chance as any to introduce yourself. You are his wife, after all. “Unless your parents say you can’t. But it’s not a problem for me.”
“You… don’t mind if I have my friends over for a bit? Honest to God, we’re probably just going to play FIFA for three hours straight,” Taehyung says like it’s some sort of warning. Like the idea of him and his buddies from college are going to sit in the living room screaming at the television, leaving you alone to do literally anything else, is somehow bad. 
You laugh. “It’s fine, really. Call them. I’d actually quite like to meet them.”
Taehyung picks up his phone almost instantly, as if you’ll change your mind in the next five minutes so he better get them over soon, and already you can see the way his face is lighting up, the way his eyes crinkle as he chats to his friends and the way his lips curl upwards when they crack a joke back. Isn’t it obvious? He feeds off of the energy of others. Who are you to deny him such a simple pleasure?
As it turns out, Taehyung’s friends actually end up being quite nice anyway. 
He invites over three, because four people is apparently the perfect number for a hardcore game of FIFA on his Playstation, and they are all very handsome men you have never met before. You suppose like attracts like, after all. 
“You must be Y/N,” says the first one you see when you open the door to let them in. He doesn’t look a day over twenty-one—in fact, he could probably still pass as a college student—and has rather long dark hair that drapes over the sides of his face, covering the edges of his big doe eyes. “I’m Jungkook. This is Jimin and Hoseok.”
“Nice to meet you all,” you say, stepping aside so they can enter.
The shortest one, Jimin, grins in response, and Hoseok, behind him, gives you a wave. It’s refreshing enough as is, not having to exchange formal greetings and shake each other’s hands like you do with everyone else. Hoseok even gives you a bit of a nod, too.“You, too,” he says. “We’ve heard so much about you.”
Oh, have they, now? Interesting. 
“All good things, I hope,” you say awkwardly, forcing a small smile as Taehyung comes bounding into the room, ears perked up at the sound of his friends’ voices. 
“Definitely. Thanks for having us over. We didn’t wanna intrude on the sanctity of your new place,” Jungkook says, gesturing vaguely to the house as a whole. He’s got this excellent, genuine grin on his face, the kind that people who are just happy to be alive always wear. 
Already he’s said enough to charm the shit out of you. Who knew Taehyung’s friends could be so… friendly? “Please, you’re welcome any time. I was just thinking Taehyung was getting a little lonely.”
“There he is!” Jimin shouts excitedly when he spots Taehyung behind the two of you, looking a lot more casual than he normally does when he’s alone with you, having abandoned his usual silky button-down and wide-leg slacks for a loose shirt and some sweatpants. You didn’t even know he had those things in his closet. 
“Hey, everyone’s here!” Taehyung exclaims, just as happy. He squeezes past you to give the three of them a big hug, and it almost makes you feel like you’re intruding on something you shouldn’t be in. Even though this is literally your house. 
“Nice place you got here,” Hoseok comments, eyes drifting around the living room. “Very minimalist, I like it.”
“Sure hope you don’t spill anything on those nice leather couches of yours,” Jungkook says. 
“Yeah, unlike Kook, who has spilled tomato soup on every shirt he’s ever owned,” Jimin jokes, earning laughs from Taehyung and Hoseok and a punch from Jungkook. 
“Moved after we married,” Taehyung says simply, shrugging his shoulders. It’s an easy enough explanation for why it doesn’t look at all lived in. Here’s hoping none of them realize you sleep in different bedrooms. 
“Yeah, congratulations on that, man,” Hoseok says, giving Taehyung a celebratory nudge in the shoulder. “Who’d have thought, out of the four of us, Kim Taehyung would be the first one to settle down.”
The way Taehyung’s body tenses up at that comment does not go unnoticed by you. 
“Seriously, I would have never guessed,” Jimin adds on. “You’re showing us a new side of yourself, Tae. But I’m happy for you.”
Normally, you’d probably take offense at such blatant insinuations that your husband was a former playboy, especially from his equally noncommittal friends. But truthfully, it’s not like you were blind to Taehyung’s transgressions either. And what matters most is the fact that since it was announced publicly, you are the only woman he’s been seen with since your engagement. 
“Me too. You seem to really like her. I’m glad,” Jungkook pipes up, sending a smile your way. You definitely feel like you don’t belong in this conversation. “I think the two of you will be good for each other.”
“Yeah, I hope so,” Taehyung says with a nervous chuckle. His eyes quickly shoot your way, the two of you meeting gazes, your hesitant expressions matching. At least the two of you are on the same page. “Alright, alright, enough,” Jungkook says. “Who’s ready to get their ass kicked in FIFA?”
“You’re on, Jeon. But when I win, you owe me a five-star dinner,” Hoseok challenges. 
“Deal.”
Hoseok, Jimin, and Jungkook immediately crowd towards the couch, and you take that as your cue to leave. But before you can disappear down the hallway, you and Taehyung look awkwardly at each other, hands tied. It’s not like you can say anything to them. 
The truth is that, sometimes, it’s easy to forget that not everyone else knows that your marriage is just for business. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are still people out there that believe you marry for love. 
Isn’t it crazy to think that you used to be one of those people, too?
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“Hey,” Taehyung says when you meet up at the bottom of the stairs again. 
“Hey,” you respond. 
“You look nice.”
You scoff a little to yourself. What, are you exchanging compliments now? “Thanks,” you say, looking him up and down. “You’re not so bad yourself.” Like he ever is. 
“I knew you had taste,” Taehyung teases, and it’s the sort of comment that would have earned him a melon ball to the face back when the two of you were teenagers at a debutante ball, but today only earns him a roll of your eyes as you join hands. You don’t have anything big tonight—just a small dinner to celebrate some sort of business accomplishment for your family, which means that all you have to manage is not ending up in some sort of food fight by the end of the night. 
“I didn’t have a choice, did I?” You retort easily as you get into the car. 
You don’t normally speak a lot on the way to events. Not that you ever did, but even as your relationship has slowly faded from pure hatred to attempts at compromise, you both seem to relish in being able to stare out of your respective backseat windows and into the city that surrounds you. Just out of curiosity, about halfway through the ride you look towards Taehyung to see what he’s up to, and find yourself genuinely surprised to see him leaning against the window with his eyes closed. Is he sleeping? A couple more minutes of gazing at him tells you he is, because his body has gone lax and his breathing has evened out, soft snores leaving his mouth. This ride can’t be longer than twenty minutes. Has he not been sleeping well? Up in that enormous second-floor bedroom of his?
He’s awake by the time the car parks outside the restaurant, this fancy name brand steak place that was chosen solely because the biggest beneficiaries of your family’s new business deal are two sixty-year-old men whose entire diet consists of beef and beer. No cameras tonight, just a small family affair. You and Taehyung hold hands as you enter the restaurant and are led to the private room in the back anyway. 
You and him are seated on the far end of the long, rectangular table, alongside all of the other adult children dragged along to celebrate something that has no effect on their lives. But it’s nice, because the space alone prevents your parents from actively speaking with you, and you and Taehyung can stay in your own little bubble, only chiming in for a toast when necessary. 
“What are you going to get?” He asks you, the two of you gazing at the menu. No matter how fancy this place is, all the options seem to boil down to steak, steak, steak, steak, and caesar salad. Classic. 
“Oh, so you actually care now?” You counter, an eyebrow raised in amusement. 
Taehyung laughs. “Aren’t I supposed to?”
You narrow your eyes at him suspiciously, wise to his usual shenanigans. It’s hard to tell if Taehyung really means what he says, or if it’s all for show. But perhaps he’s asking because he’s genuinely curious, since no one else seems to be paying you any attention. 
“The choices on this menu are simply overwhelming,” you say, motioning to the six options in front of you. 
“I know, I’m so torn,” Taehyung jokes, making you huff out a little giggle. At least he’s still got that same sense of humor. 
You both end up going for a pretty classic steak dinner, which neither of the two of you finish because the damn portions are the size of your head. Dinner is, in and of itself, absolutely mindless, all of your parents talking about things that don’t concern you whatsoever, leaving you and Taehyung to your own devices as you desperately try to make the night go by faster. 
At one point, you notice Taehyung’s foot brushing up against yours, the leather of his loafers brushing against the toe of your patent heel. Thinking someone of it, you push back, foot nudging his back to his own chair. It’s not a second later that Taehyung retaliates, the two of you dancing around each other underneath the table. 
If the two of you were any younger, or perhaps any less resigned to your fate, there’s no doubt in your mind you would be attempting to get Taehyung to fall off his chair in an effort to do the same to you. Footsie means war. But when the both of you know that, at the end of the day, you’ll still be going home to the same place, and waking up the next morning in the same house, it doesn’t feel like this is a battle.
It’s just life. 
Eventually, you meet Taehyung’s eyes with a hesitant smile, shoe pressed against his, stuck in ceasefire. And for once, he doesn’t have that devilish look in his eye, that smug little grin on his face that tells you that he’s going to make you regret whatever it is you just did. He’s just smiling back at you, all pink lips, having found real fun in the little things. 
And that makes you happy. 
The rest of the dinner is uneventful, which, in your book, is about as good as a dinner can go. You cheers to the future of your parents’ relationship with their newfound partners and say a quick goodbye to them both, hurrying out of there before they can ask you any questions on your relationship with your husband. But you don’t spend the car ride in silence on the way back. 
Instead, you say, “Have you been sleeping well?”
The question seems to catch Taehyung off guard. He was already getting in position to take a power nap on the ride home, head pressed up against the window of the car. 
“What?”
“Have you been sleeping well?” You repeat. “I noticed you fell asleep on the way here.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess,” he says, a hand scratching the nape of his neck. “I mean, it’s been hard adjusting, I suppose. But I’ll get over it.”
Hard adjusting? You’ve been together for nearly three months now. Three months worth of sleeping in the same penthouse bedroom, on the same soft-as-a-cloud mattress, underneath the same weighted blanket. And he’s still having trouble? 
“Oh. I mean, I just wanted to ask because you seem really tired lately.”
“I got a lot on my plate, what can I say,” Taehyung says with an empty smile, forcing a chuckle. “I’ll be fine, seriously. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Isn’t that my job?” You remind him. “I am your wife.”
Taehyung doesn’t say anything to that. He just lets out an audible breath, the kind you let out when you’re amused and have something snarky to say, but don’t have the energy to get the words off your tongue. 
The rest of the ride is pretty quiet. 
When you get home, you place your house keys in the bowl by the entrance and take off your shoes, just about ready to take a hot shower and collapse in bed, when Taehyung’s voice stops you. 
“Hey,” he begins, almost hesitantly. You look back at him inquisitively. “I was thinking, maybe, if you wanted, we could start sleeping in the same bed?”
You scrunch your nose up. Not in disgust, but in surprise. In bewilderment. What brought this on, all of a sudden?
“Really?” You ask, because you can’t help yourself. “I thought we liked the separate bed thing. Gives us privacy.”
“Yeah,” Taehyung says with a shrug, “but—I don’t know, it’s stupid. I just thought, you know, since we’re married and all. And it’s been three months.” He looks about two seconds away from backtracking, from shaking his head and going upstairs before you can say anything else. 
“Alright,” you say quickly, nodding your assent. Taehyung’s eyes widen when he hears the word, like he had completely expected you to shut him down the moment he made the suggestion. “If that’s what you want. We can try it.”
“You sure?” He asks, that same hesitant smile from earlier lacing his features. It’s strange. He almost looks… sweet. Nervous. 
You grin back at him. “Yeah, I am.”
Taehyung lets you grab some of your toiletries and your pajamas from your designated bedroom before you head up the stairs together, towards the bedroom he’s claimed for himself. Funnily enough, this is the first time you’ve been in his room. Three months of living together and you haven’t dared step foot on the second floor. 
You don’t know what you were expecting when he opens the door to let you inside. Maybe a room that screamed ‘Taehyung’ a little more than this one does. One that looks like an actual human has been living here. But other than one of his classic silk button-downs draped over a chair, there’s not a shred of evidence someone has actually been sleeping here. You could honestly be fooled rather easily that the shirt, too, is just decoration. 
“You can pick a side,” Taehyung says casually. He grabs his own sleepwear—an old t-shirt and some sweats—and heads into the bathroom to change. 
You wonder why Taehyung has had such a difficult time adjusting. This room is about as lavish as a bedroom can get. And yet. 
Sitting down on the left side of the bed, you begin to remove your own clothes, unzipping tonight’s dress and stepping quickly into your pajamas, hurrying to make sure Taehyung doesn’t catch you half-naked. How funny is that, you think to yourself. You’ve been married for three months and you still can’t bear the thought of Taehyung seeing you without a shirt on. 
When Taehyung comes out of the bathroom, hair all messy and clothes all casual, he grins lazily to himself. “I sleep on the right anyway,” he comments mindlessly. 
Within twenty minutes the both of you are about as ready to pass out as you have ever been, the only lights still on the ones on your respective nightstands. 
“Goodnight,” Taehyung says, reaching an arm over to switch his off. 
“Goodnight,” you tell him, turning off yours as well. And all of a sudden, the room is shrouded in darkness. 
You fall asleep instantly. 
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When Taehyung wakes up the next morning, the first thing he says to you is that he hasn’t slept that well in ages. 
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“You slept together?” Victoria shrieks, so loud you actually have to move your phone away from your ear as you punch in the code inside the elevator for access to your floor. 
“We did not sleep together,” you emphasize. “Okay, well, we sleep together, as in, in the same bed. But we are fully clothed. And not the slightest bit interested in doing anything other than sleeping.”
“I thought you said you liked having your own space,” Victoria points out. “When was the first time you—uh…” she pauses to find the right words, “shared a bed?”
“A couple weeks ago. It’s really not so bad, I don’t know why you’re so hung up over it,” you say, lips pursed. You squeeze the phone between the side of your head and your shoulder, hands full of shopping bags, the string of the handles burning your skin. Maybe you should look into getting a personal shopper. 
“I’m hung up over it because, for the longest time, you have sworn off Kim Taehyung. Called him dead to you. Insulted him every chance you get.” 
You scoff. You don’t need reminding of how much you hated him, how much you can’t believe you have to spend the rest of your life with him. “It’s different now. We’re married. And he said he wasn’t sleeping well. I felt bad.”
“He wasn’t?”
“Enough about him,” you say, shutting her up. You don’t feel like talking about him with Victoria anymore. “Word through the grapevine says that your parents are actually thinking of letting you start your own company?”
It’s enough to distract Victoria. For the rest of the ride in the elevator, she talks animatedly about a new streaming service her parents are considering letting her launch, under their parent business, of course, but it’s her own company nonetheless. And you’re proud of her. Proud she could do something your parents would never dream of letting you do. Proud she could make that happen. 
You push open the front door with the side of your hip after entering in the security code, phone still snug between your ear and your shoulder, when you hear Taehyung call out your name. 
He comes into view from the kitchen, which surprises you because you have, on multiple occasions, made fun of how much of a disaster chef he is, especially because he’s admitted to you he’s not a very good cook. 
“I made brownies,” he says, holding out a plate of the chocolate treats in front of you. Instinct has you dropping your bags on the floor by your feet and reaching out, but you eye him first, suspicious. 
“I have to go,” you tell Victoria, hanging up before she even gets a chance to object to your sudden departure. “You made these?”
“Yes, I did,” Taehyung says, rather proud. 
“And the kitchen is… still standing?” You ask, skeptical. 
Taehyung frowns at you, clearly unimpressed. “How bad of a chef do you think I am?”
“Pretty bad,” you admit with a shrug. 
Taehyung pouts sadly to himself for a moment. “These are good, I swear. Nothing weird in them like vegetables or anything either. I used a box mix.”
“No wonder they look so nice,” you comment snidely, hesitant hand reaching out to grab one. They feel like brownies. So that’s good. 
“Hey, I was the one who had to crack the eggs and shit. Three eggs! And not one eggshell in the bowl!” Taehyung says, clearly very pleased with himself. 
You laugh at his enthusiasm, taking a bite. It’s good. And exactly what you needed after a long day of shopping. “I’m proud of you. They taste good.”
“I knew you wouldn’t doubt me.” Taehyung grins.
“They’re really good, actually,” You amend, genuinely surprised. And the best part is that you can count at least ten brownies left on that plate, which means that you get at least five more. Which, if you had any less self-restraint, you would probably eat all at once within the day. 
“I’m glad you like them. They’re all for us, you know. No one else to share them with,” he says.
“Honestly, I’m probably going to finish them by tonight. You’ll have to make more tomorrow,” you say sheepishly. 
“We can make some together,” Taehyung suggests. 
“I’m looking forward to it,” you respond. The words come off your mouth easily, tumbling from your lips without you having to think about it. You aren’t saying them because you have to. You’re saying them because you want to. Because baking with Taehyung doesn’t actually sound too bad. Especially if it means more brownies. 
“You’ve, uh, you’ve got something,” Taehyung says, gesturing vaguely to the side of his lip. 
“Oh, I do? Yikes,” you say, a little embarrassed. Your hand comes up to wipe at the left side of your mouth. “Is it gone?”
“Wait, here, let me do it,” Taehyung says, reaching out towards you. He presses his palm against the side of your face, cradling your cheek and jaw in his enormous hands, and all at once it feels like your skin is on fire. 
Your body freezes up at the touch, at the way his thumb swipes at the corner of your mouth, right against your lips, wiping away nothing but a goddamn brownie crumb. You look at him, look right at him, how can you look anywhere else when he’s right in front of you like this, and it feels like you are caught in his gaze, a rain droplet trapped on a web, a bee stuck in its own honey. His big, brown eyes sparkle from the ceiling lights, a chocolate sky that mirrors the food he just made for you. He looks at you and his eyes are so soft, so open, so happy to be looking right back at you. God. 
“There,” he says, a moment too late. 
“Thanks,” you stammer out, speechless otherwise. 
You both stand there, looking at each other, wordless expressions drawn all over your faces, no idea what to do next. 
After a while, Taehyung breaks the silence. “Do you wanna order takeout tonight?”
“Okay,” you nod, still a little breathless. Taehyung smiles before retreating back to the kitchen, leaving you standing in the entranceway, shopping bags abandoned by your side. 
You look over to where he’s vanished. There’s a part of you that wishes he hadn’t left. A part of you that makes you want to see him again. 
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Phone calls from your mother are never good. The last time she called… well, you know how that went. So when you see her contact information light up your home screen, it’s only instinct that you feel your heart rate spike. 
“Hello?” The voice that comes out doesn’t even sound like yours. 
There’s no good way to put what comes next. Your grandmother has died. Heart attack. The paramedics got there too late. It was over before it even started. 
For a moment, for a split second, it feels like everything is frozen. Like the world has come to standstill. Your mother’s voice echoes in your ears, suspended in time, the words turning into stone as they crash onto the floor. And when they do, it is as if everything comes back to life. 
Truth be told, you don’t know how long you stay there, sitting on the edge of the left side of the bed, your phone resting lifelessly in the palm of your hand. It feels at once like an eternity and only a second in time. You spoke to your grandmother two days ago. You had promised that you and Taehyung would visit her soon. How can this be happening?
Your phone buzzes relentlessly in your hands, condolences pouring in from every person in your contacts, sorry’s and heart emoticons and If you need anything, I’m always here’s filling up your screen. There’s a part of you that vaguely registers your mother, alongside some of the other members of your family, trying to call you. But nothing can seem to shake you. 
Until—
“Y/N? You still up here?”
You hear Taehyung before you see him. Hear his voice, hear his footsteps, hear the door creak open as he enters your bedroom. Slowly, almost sluggishly, you twist around to look at him, the mere act knocking the wind out of you. Or maybe you were already breathless. 
“Hey, you alright?” Taehyung knows instantly that something is wrong. 
“My grandmother died.” The words sit heavy on your tongue. There’s no point in not telling him. He’ll find out soon enough. He’s… he’s family, isn’t he?
“What?” Taehyung freezes in place. “I—I’m so sorry to hear that, Y/N. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” you say, voice weak but steady. You blink up at him, once, twice, three times, and then suddenly you feel tears running down your cheeks. 
Taehyung doesn’t say anything else. He rushes to your side and sits himself down on the bed next to you, arms wrapping around your body. And you don’t think about the fact that it’s him, about the fact that this is the closest the two of you have ever been. You just let yourself be engulfed in his frame, let yourself be enveloped in his hold as the tears stream down your skin, little hiccups jolting your throat. You close your eyes and press yourself into his arms, head resting against his chest, and wish so desperately that so many things about your life were just a little bit different. 
It must be at least five minutes before either one of you dares to move. Your phone begins to rattle incessantly, that familiar and insistent buzz that the both of you are hard-pressed to ignore. 
“I think you should answer that,” Taehyung whispers into your skin, lips right by your forehead. 
“Yeah,” you sniffle, sitting up next to him and wiping the remnants of wetness by your eyes. Well, Taehyung’s seen you cry. There’s no going back now. “You’re probably right.” You look down at the phone. It’s your father. 
“I’ll be downstairs, okay? Unless you want me to stay,” he offers, looking hesitant. 
You shake your head. “No, it’s—it’s okay. I’ll be fine.”
“Call me if you need me,” he makes you give him a nod of understanding before he finally gets up, hands slowly removing themselves from your skin, leaving little sparks in their wake. Remnants of warmth. Suddenly, you feel much colder. Hardly a minute later he’s out of the room, and you can hear his distant footsteps as they make their way down the stairs. 
Sighing, blinking, and swallowing all at once, you pick up. 
The call passes by in a blur. Your father says the will will take at least half a year to be executed, but that the funeral is already being planned. Your grandmother had hoped you would eulogize her. You agree, but you have no idea what you will say. He says Taehyung is invited but does not need to come if he cannot make it. He says a lot of other things too, about your mother, about your cousins, about your aunts and uncles and your poor grandfather, who passed five years ago, but you can’t even remember them moments after he’s said them. 
When he hangs up, the tears on your cheeks have dried, patches of them left along your skin. You head to the bathroom, getting off your bed for the first time that day, and try to wash away everything that has stained the morning. A part of you doesn’t even want to bother, just wants to slug downstairs and eat as much sugary cereal as you can get your hands on, but you can’t go down there looking like this. Looking so helpless. 
By the time you reach the kitchen, Taehyung is already standing there, on the opposite side of the counter island, a big stack of pancakes in front of him. They look mouth-watering. 
“Hey,” he says softly. “Thought you might want something to cheer you up.”
“Did you make these?” You ask, a little endeared. That was thoughtful of him. 
“Yeah. They’re still warm,” Taehyung says. He holds out a fork. 
You grin. 
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The funeral is a week later. It sucks in every way that something can suck. But not in the same way your wedding sucked, or even the announcement of your engagement. It sucks because it’s a funeral, because you have to stare down your grandmother’s casket when a part of you still doesn’t even believe that she’s gone. Because everyone there is so sad, so melancholy, dressed in all black and looking down at their feet. Because everyone is so sorry for you, so sorry for your loss, everyone has nothing but condolences to offer you. What will those do? They won’t bring her back. They won’t change things. They won’t make you feel even the slightest bit better. 
Taehyung comes. He comes because he offers, and because you want him to. You want someone whose hand to hold. Want someone to smile at you when you’re speaking in front of your entire extended family and trying not to cry. You want someone who is familiar, and warm, and there for you. 
And most of all, you want someone who won’t keep the conversation going when you get home. 
“Do you wanna order Chinese?” He asks, coming into the living room, where you have been sulking on the couch ever since you stepped foot inside the door. 
“That sounds nice,” you force out. 
“Okay. Your usual?”
“Yes, please.” You don’t bother asking how Taehyung already remembers what you like to order when you’ve only gotten Chinese twice in the last three months. 
“I’ll call them.” He disappears off into the kitchen. 
What you do appreciate about Taehyung is how he has defaulted to food as a comfort measure, and how the thought alone genuinely brightens you up a little bit. You don’t know each other very well—still, after three months, you couldn’t even say his favorite color—but he is doing his best, and he is trying his hardest. In some ways, you were unlucky to marry him. To marry someone you didn’t love. To be forced into a union you had no say in, with someone you had so much antagonistic history with. 
But in some ways, your luck has changed. In some ways, marrying him was perhaps the best thing that could happen to you. Taehyung is snarky, a little devilish, and absolutely full of himself, but he is not thoughtless. He is not heartless. He has proven that he is willing to put in the work. That he can grow to care. To change. To compromise. And isn’t that the luckiest thing you could have gotten?
“I’m sure you’re probably sick of hearing people tell you they’re sorry for your loss.”
His voice breaks your reverie, carrying throughout the wide open space of your living room. He’s grinning honestly where he stands, slowly making his way over to you. 
“Kind of, yeah,” you admit. “It’s not going to bring her back. Most of those people probably don’t even mean it.”
“Don’t say that,” Taehyung says, sitting down next to you. “I’m sure they do.”
You look at him skeptically. 
“I mean, they’re sorry for your loss because that loss is causing you pain. And that sucks,” Taehyung explains, albeit a little less eloquently than you thought he would. “I know it sucks for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t like seeing you sad,” Taehyung says honestly, shrugging to himself. 
You scoff a little to yourself. “I would have thought my downfall would be the exact thing the great Kim Taehyung would wish for himself.”
“Maybe a couple of years ago.”
You narrow your eyes. 
“Okay, maybe even a few months ago,” Taehyung admits with a laugh, making you smile, ever so slightly. “But it’s different now. I like it when you’re happy. When you’re snarky and funny and a little evil. Seeing you like this… I don’t like the way it makes me feel.”
“That’s called empathy,” you point out. 
“I’m trying to tell you that seeing you sad makes me sad, stop being a smartass,” Taehyung chides, and that really makes you grin. “There. There’s that smile I was looking for.”
“You’re so annoying,” you say, even though there’s no malice behind it. You give him a little push, palms of your hand pressing lightly against his shoulder as you roll your eyes. 
“Only for you,” he promises. He manages to grab a hold of your wrist as your hand meets his torso, pulling you into him as he wraps an arm around your torso. You gasp a little at the sensation, head falling against his body, fitting snugly in the crook of his neck. He gives your side a comforting rub. “I’m sorry today was so shitty.”
“It was,” you agree. “But Chinese food will make it a little bit better.”
Taehyung looks positively scandalized. “What? ‘Chinese food will make it better’? But not your loving, doting husband?” 
You pretend to think for a little bit, tilting your head up to the sky as you tap your chin with your finger. “Okay. Maybe that, too,” you cave after a bit of waiting, just to be extra bothersome. 
“That’s what I thought,” Taehyung says proudly, looking down at you, eyes sparkling. You can feel his grip tighten as he presses you against his body, letting you rest your head on his side. It feels like the longest hug ever, like you’re wrapped up in a weighted blanket. Only it’s not a blanket. It’s Taehyung. It’s your husband. 
He’s your husband.
“Tomorrow will be better,” he says, and it sounds a lot like a promise. 
You nod against him, letting your eyes drift shut. Things are pretty awful right now. Your grandmother’s dead. The funeral was the saddest family event you have ever attended. You have no idea what’s supposed to happen next. 
But he’s right. He seems to be right a lot these days, actually. 
Tomorrow will be better.
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Taehyung lets you sleep in for the next few days. Next several days, actually. Every time you wake up it’s close to noon and your husband is nowhere to be seen, the right side of the bed cold to the touch. It’s nothing to be worried about, though, because you can still see the noticeable dip in the bed from where he lies upon it, sinking his weight into the mattress. Taehyung’s an early bird and you’ve been having fitful nights ever since your grandmother passed. 
Today, you pull yourself out from underneath the covers around noon, sluggish and still tired, squinting as the near-afternoon light streams through the enormous windows of the bedroom. Taehyung must have thought to keep the curtains open today. 
You pull on the first casual clothes you see in your shared closet, some wide-leg sweatpants and a drapey t-shirt, and trudge downstairs like a raccoon to a trash can, hoping to fish through the kitchen cabinets to find something to eat. 
Taehyung is, as far as you can tell, nowhere to be seen. You can’t seem to hear him anywhere, and a part of you wonders where he’s at when you stumble upon the note left on the granite counter. 
Had a meeting downtown, be back around 1! There should be smoked salmon and some cream cheese and bagels in the fridge. 
Taehyung.
You chuckle to yourself as you read his flowy handwriting, amused that he thought to let you know of, of all things, the available breakfast foods in the kitchen. You check the clock. It’s nearly noon. Which means you have just over an hour of the house all to yourself. 
Having the house to yourself for five minutes is infrequent enough as it is, let alone for a whole hour. So often is Taehyung around, somewhere, holing himself up in one of the dozens of rooms or mindlessly wandering down the hallways. And for how much Taehyung is present, the funny part is that you still have no idea what he gets up to most of the time. Despite your voluntary abandoning of the separate bedroom rule, the two of you are still firm proponents of the sanctity of your personal spaces. There are rooms in the penthouse Taehyung has never been in, rooms filled with your clothes and makeup and accessories for when stylists come over before an event. A sewing room that you had specifically asked your parents for, because a part of you never let go of that childhood dream of being a fashion designer. 
And there are rooms in the penthouse that you have never been in. Rooms with dark wooden doors that have always been kept closed, that you have never stepped foot in. It’s not that you aren’t curious as to what Taehyung gets up to. He could have a goddamn evil lair in one of those rooms and you would be none the wiser. But you don’t go, because he doesn’t go into your rooms. Because you two, despite all the vows you have broken, promised each other you wouldn’t.
An hour to yourself is almost a good enough excuse for you to head back up to the bedroom and take a nap. Not that you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, or that you even had a fitful night last night—hell, you woke up near noon today and already you want to go back to sleep—but what else is there to do when he’s not around? What new freedoms have suddenly been given to you?
You head back upstairs, much less groggy after that delicious bagel of yours, when you catch a whiff of what smells like wet paint coming from down the hallway. It’s potent and immediately invades your senses, prompting you to wonder if that has always been there, or just magically appeared. Maybe you were so sleepy earlier, you didn’t notice it. 
Well, you notice it now. Unable to help yourself, you start to wander down the hallway, towards the source of the smell. God, it stinks. It takes you back to those days in middle school, when you would spray paint projects inside a tiny little classroom, have to step outside for fifteen minutes while you cracked the windows and aired it out. It gets stronger the further down the corridor you go, like a thick, smelly cloud stationed firmly within the walls of the penthouse. And then you realize where it’s coming from. 
It’s an art studio. 
A very messy art studio, you amend to yourself, as you peek inside. The door is wide open, and all of the windows are popped too, but the extra air circulation doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the scent. And all over the floor, the walls, and the tables are canvases covered in paint, denim jackets and pants and shirts with these wide, unafraid brushstrokes. Open cans of spray paint lie discarded on the hardwood floor stained with splotches of red, yellow, and green. 
Is this what Taehyung does in his free time? Is this where he goes, this bright, sunny room at the end of the second floor hallway? Is this what he is making?
You look down in awe at the clothes resting on the floor, splayed out to maximize dry time. Abstract faces, landscapes, and words are painted onto the backs of jackets, the fronts of old white t-shirts. What hasn’t made it onto the clothes has been put on canvases instead, blurs of color mixed together in this purposeful pattern, confidence emanating from every stroke, every dot. It’s not art in the way that the gorgeous landscapes of Monet, the picture-perfect portraits of Kahlo, the messy, unplanned splatters of Pollock are. It’s art in a different way. In a Taehyung way. 
Who knew he loved it so much? 
You almost feel like an invader encroaching on his territory when you lean down to start cleaning up some of the mess, throwing out empty spray-paint cans and tossing out grey paint water. You don’t dare touch any of the work, don’t dare try to move it. You do what you can, washing out the brushes resting in the water and cleaning up the wet splotches of paint on the hardwood. Over time, the thick scent of still-wet paint slowly fades, disappearing out the window as the fresh afternoon air seeps in. And you stand there, in a room full of art, in a room full of pieces that Taehyung has undoubtedly poured his heart into creating, and you smile to yourself. 
That’s how Taehyung finds you ten minutes later, peering into the room after declaring that his meeting had ended early. 
“Thought I’d find you in here,” Taehyung says with a grin as you jump at the sound of his voice, eyes widen when you turn around to see him standing by the door. 
“Oh, hey,” you say sheepishly. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Maybe because this is the farthest room in the house from the front door,” Taehyung teases lightly, coming up behind you. “I see you found my studio.”
“I know I’m not allowed in here,” you admit. 
Taehyung scoffs. “Who says?”
“Didn’t we both agree on that?”
He shrugs. “Sort of. I think we just reached an unspoken understanding we wouldn’t invade each other’s personal space. But it was not in the fine print, no.”
“The fine print of what?”
“That deal we made.”
Right. That deal you made, four months ago, That deal, where the two of you agreed to pretend to be in love with each other during public appearances so you wouldn’t get burned at the stake by your families. Where the two of you agreed not to interact with each other otherwise because you hated each other so much. 
“Oh, yeah,” you say distantly, feeling naive for already forgetting about it. It doesn’t seem to have slipped Taehyung’s mind whatsoever. 
“It’s okay, I don’t mind that you’re up here,” Taehyung says, interrupting that piercing little voice in the back of your head that is asking you why on earth you forgot about that deal in the first place.
“Yeah, I—” You scratch at the nape of your neck, trying to find the words to say. “It just smelled like paint, so I wanted to see what you get up too. And it’s this, apparently.” You motion vaguely to the entire room.
“You sound… surprised,” Taehyung muses correctly. 
“I guess I am,” you surmise. “I’m rather impressed, too, actually.”
“Really?” It’s Taehyung’s turn to sound surprised. 
“Yeah,” you tell him honestly, looking into his eyes. “I—you know, I just came in here because the entire hallway smelled like wet paint and I wanted to know why. But I didn’t know you loved art so much.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Taehyung points out. 
You suppose that’s true. You don’t know his favorite color. His favorite song. His favorite book. For a long time, you didn’t know what he got up to on his side of the penthouse. You don’t know how he met his friends. What he studied in university. Who he has loved in the past. Who he loves now. You don’t know why he does the things he does, and why he doesn’t do the things he doesn’t do. 
But you do know his Chinese takeout order. 
And you do know his hobbies. Well, one of them, at least. 
Who’s to say you can’t learn more?
“Well,” you start with a smile. “I’m your wife, aren’t I? Shouldn’t I begin to learn?”
Taehyung picks up what you’re putting down instantly, grinning in response. “Only if you’ll tell me things about you, too,” he requisitions. 
“I will,” you promise. It’s the easiest one you’ve ever had to make. 
His face is light, bright, bathed in the rays of the afternoon sun. His eyes shimmer as they meet yours, golden flecks more pronounced like this, in this gorgeous, open space, daylight streaming through the windows. Looking at him makes you feel like you are surrounded by warmth, makes you feel like the sun is opening its arms out to you. He has always been gorgeous. Beautiful. But looking at him like this, standing in the middle of a room filled with all the things he loves, a yellow halo surrounding him—he is ethereal. 
Taehyung smiles. “Then I will, too.”
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The hand-holding comes naturally tonight.
The funny thing is, actually, you don’t need to hold hands at this gathering. It’s not an event. Or a public appearance. It’s not even a business dinner. It’s your aunt’s sixtieth birthday party, reserved exclusively for family. Isn’t that strange? That Taehyung is, technically, family now?
For so long you had vowed to stay as far away from him as possible. Vowed to stick it to him whenever and wherever you could, do anything you could to get on his nerves, rile him up. Vowed that when you, one day, took over your family affairs, you would never, ever invite him. Make it known that he wasn’t to be a part of your life. And yet, here you are. Clinging to him despite being well-acquainted with—loved by, even—every other person in the room. Holding his hand like a goddamn lifeline. 
To be fair, Taehyung doesn’t look a hair out of place here. Dressed relatively casually, a smart sweater with a collared shirt underneath it, he smiles warmly at all of your relatives and presents your aunt with a beautiful and very expensive scarf the two of you had commissioned from a designer in Italy, which she absolutely loves. She pinches his cheek and proceeds to wear it for the rest of the night. 
“Damn,” you murmur to yourself as you wander around your aunt’s house, hand wrapped around his arm. “This place hasn’t changed a bit.”
“When was the last time you were here?” Taehyung asks. 
The question actually makes you think for a moment. “I don’t know, maybe five years ago? Last couple of birthdays I was overseas or in school. Had to send her a card.”
“Bet your parents were real pleased with that,” he jokes, making you both laugh. At least you two will always be able to share your experiences of domineering and influential parents with each other. 
“Oh, I’m sure. Just as pleased as they were when they realized how much we hated each other.” You expect that little jest to elicit a laugh out of Taehyung as well, but he just smiles tightly, huffing out a breath of acknowledgement. 
“Eh, it’s not like that now, is it?” He offers up. 
“I suppose not,” you muse, sitting down together on her ancient grandma couch in the living room. No matter how rich your family gets, she’ll never get rid of this thing, that’s for sure. 
One thing you’ve picked up over time is that, for every second Taehyung spends basking in the spotlight, he spends an equal amount of time lingering by the wall, watching the rest of the world turn without him. He’s an observer. He is one by nature, feeling an irresistible pull to understand humans in a way only artists could ever do. He sits down next to you and watches your family in an environment where they can relax, where they can feel comfortable and be casual with one another. 
Very seldom have you ever brought friends to events like these. Small family affairs. But Taehyung isn’t a friend, is he? No, he’s your husband. He belongs here just as much as you do. 
“My family seems to really like you,” you point out. Not that anybody has ever harbored as much disdain for him as you. Your parents called him respectable and polite when they told you you were to be wed. Your grandmother had said he was a dashing young man. He doesn’t exactly have to reach far to be loved around here. 
“That’s my job, isn’t it?” He replies snidely. 
“Oh, just take the compliment,” you say with a roll of your eyes. Taehyung always has to be so difficult. “I’m surprised you aren’t nervous as hell. Last boyfriend I brought to meet my parents was shaking in his Louis Vuitton shoes.”
“Last boyfriend, huh?” Taehyung’s interest has been sufficiently piqued. “And, uh, how many of those have you had?”
You narrow your eyes at him suspiciously, smile twitching on your lips. “Wouldn’t you like to know, Mr. Heartbreaker.” Pretty rich of Taehyung to be asking you such a question when he’s probably had more girlfriends than you can count on both hands. “Not as many as you’ve had girlfriends, that’s for sure.”
“Guess I’m a lot different than all those trashy guys you’ve dated, aren’t I?” He asks, an eyebrow raised as he looks at you. 
“You are?”
Taehyung nods assertively. “Well, yeah. First of all, I’m your husband. Second of all, your parents love me. Third of all, you love me, too.”
You scoff. “Don’t humble yourself. You don’t know me that well.”
“Speaking of which,” Taehyung says, eyes wide as he points to you knowingly, “how about you tell me a little fact about yourself? It’s my job to learn about you, isn’t it?”
“That is my line, watch it,” you sneer, pointing back at him. You wrack your brain for a fact that you can tell him, something more exciting than your favorite color but less weird than one of those terrible icebreaker exercises you had to do in college seminars. Something that has pertinence to who you are. Who you’ve become. “Alright. I used to want to be a fashion designer when I was little.”
Now that catches Taehyung off guard. “Really?” He says, genuinely intrigued. 
You shrug. “Yeah. I learned to sew when I was really little. Been tailoring and hemming clothes all my life. But I always wanted to design my own stuff.”
“Is that what’s in your room?” Taehyung asks. “A sewing machine?”
“Bingo.”
“Wow,” Taehyung says. “I didn’t know that.”
“Isn’t that the whole point of this exercise?” You say, just to be smart. 
Taehyung shakes his head, eyes rolling. 
“What about you?” You ask. You can’t imagine what he’ll say. Astronaut. Veterinarian. Or, if he really wants to surprise you, a business executive. 
“A museum curator.”
It is an answer that simultaneously surprises and doesn’t surprise you at all. 
“Fitting,” you muse. “You could have put your own art on display.”
“Pretty sure that’s, like, super unethical,” Taehyung reminds you. 
“So? You’re rich. Start your own museum. Put your own art on display. Live your dream,” you amend. “It shouldn’t be holed up in that studio of yours forever. It deserves to be seen.”
Taehyung smiles at you. “You think so?”
You nod. “Of course. You create beautiful things, Tae.” It’s the first time you’ve ever called him that. And that is not lost on Taehyung, either.
“Thank you,” he says softly, blinking as he looks at you. He doesn’t say anything else. He doesn’t need to.
Later that night, when everyone’s gotten a few drinks into their systems and Bruce Springsteen is playing low on the stereo, Taehyung disappears off towards the bathroom, no doubt because of the excellent soup that was served that night. All by your lonesome, you feel a little stranded, surrounded by your old relatives dancing on the hardwood floor of the dining room, your other cousins too young to actually spend time with. 
In the commotion, your mother comes up to you, swirling a rather large glass of red wine in her hand. 
“Where’s Taehyung?” She asks. 
“Bathroom.”
“No wonder you were alone,” she says with a hearty laugh. “The two of you have been glued to each other’s sides all evening.”
“He’s my husband,” you offer as an explanation. 
“I know, I know,” she says, shaking you off with a smile. Your mother is a lot more casual once she’s had her fill of wine, no doubt her favorite, Bordeaux. A lot more loving, too. “You really made your grandmother proud, you know? She loved you so much.”
“I know,” you say, trying not to get choked up at the mere mention of your grandmother. 
“She was so happy to see you with Taehyung. It made her feel safe that you would be taken care of,” she continues on, barely paying you and your swimming eyes any attention. “She would be so happy to see you with him now, too. How much you love her.”
“I miss her,” you hiccup out, trying to compose yourself. Nothing kills a birthday party like some sad sack crying over her deceased grandmother. 
“I know, darling,” your mother says, calling you by a nickname she has hardly used ever since you turned eighteen. She squeezes you tightly, a small hug of comfort. “I miss her, too.”
Someone calls your mother’s name, distracting her as she wanders off to your uncle, who is asking what the best way to cut the three-tiered cake on the dining room table is. She bids you a goodbye before disappearing towards the kitchen, no doubt ready to make the cutting of the cake an affair all on its own. 
Taehyung comes back soon after, spotting you instantly as you stand around in the living room. 
“Hey,” he says, noticing the wet shimmer of your eyes. “You alright?”
You nod, feeling better already now that he has returned. Now that he is by your side. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I hope those tears aren’t because you missed me,” he says, wiping away a stray one that has escaped from your eyes. You close them as his thumb brushes against your upper cheek, your eyelashes, opening them only when you’ve felt his touch vanish from your skin, leaving little sparks in their wake. 
“No,” you say. But the night makes you honest, and a couple of drinks, even more so. “But I’m glad you’re here.”
Taehyung smiles. “Me, too.”
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For all those days you have spent together, never have you and Taehyung had a night in. Which isn’t necessarily completely surprising, considering how many evening events the two of you have had obligations to attend, considering your differing work schedules and meeting times. Considering that, for a very long time, the two of you had no desire to spend any time with each other at all. 
But tonight, there is nothing on your calendar. No galas, no dinners, no meetings, no schedules. There is only Taehyung, who has spent the entire afternoon up in his studio, inhaling spray paint fumes and doing what he loves. And there is only you, who has spent the entire afternoon wondering what the hell you’re going to do tonight when there is nothing else planned. 
You knock on the door to his studio, catching him right as he’s finishing up another piece. This one is a single flower, painted in broad, confident strokes, bright green and red and sunflower yellow decorating the canvas. 
“Hey, what’s up?” He asks, turning around to face you. 
“Wanna order takeout tonight?” You suggest. 
Taehyung grins. 
Thirty minutes and your favorite Chinese food later, you and Taehyung have settled onto the couch, trays of dumplings and noodles and rice in front of you, an unfunny movie playing in the background. 
You can’t remember the last time the two of you sat on this couch together. Maybe that night you had made the deal? Perhaps not even then. It wouldn’t at all surprise you if you found out that this was the very first time you and Taehyung have sat together on your couch, in your living room, in your house. So often is it occupied by others—Victoria, who sometimes comes over to ooh and ahh at your closet, Jimin, Jungkook, and Hoseok, who sit on this couch and play FIFA like it’s their job, your mother, when she wants to make herself at home in a place that doesn’t belong to her—but never you. Never you and him. 
“This is kinda nice, isn’t it?” You ask, swallowing a bite of dumpling. 
“Chinese food is always nice,” Taehyung responds over a mouthful of cold noodles. 
“Not that,” you say with a sigh, “this. Sitting together. Watching this shitty movie.”
“It’s not that shitty,” Taehyung tries to reason. On screen, the main character is getting pied in the face during some weird college fundraiser. “Okay, it’s a little shitty. But it’s good background noise, right?”
You nod halfheartedly. “I guess.” Silence. You take another bite of your dumpling, not really sure how to continue the conversation. “We don’t really get to do this a lot, you know? Sit and eat dinner and watch a movie together. Like a date.”
“We’re on a date now, are we?” Taehyung muses, eyeing you snarkily. 
“Isn’t that what this is?” You retort. 
He shrugs. “I suppose it is.”
“Tell me another fact about you,” you request, looking over to him where he sits on the opposite side of the couch. 
“About what?”
“Anything.”
Taehyung pauses, ponders for a moment. But he could never say anything wrong. Not when there is still so much you don’t know about him. Still so much you want to learn, so much you want to commit to memory. For so long you have stared at the planes of his face, the curve of his nose, the twinkle in those dark brown eyes. Those you will always remember. But what about who he is? What he loves? Those are things you still don’t know. 
“The very first time I met you,” Taehyung begins, “I asked Jimin what your name was.”
“When was that?” You ask. Despite you being someone who has spent the better part of the last several years vowing never to give Taehyung the time of day, you sure don’t remember when it all started. 
“That debutante ball,” Taehyung remembers fondly, “when we were fifteen. I asked Jimin what your name was because I wanted to ask you to dance.”
“Shut up, no you didn’t,” you say with a scoff. 
“It’s true. You were standing there in that poofy white dress and I wanted to ask you to dance,” Taehyung points out. The fact that he even remembers what you were wearing is shocking. 
Who knew. Who knew, back then, that you would one day grow up to marry him. 
“And what did I say?” You demand more. 
Taehyung laughs at the memory. “I came up to you, and I asked you if you wanted to dance, and you said, and I quote, ‘Who are you?’”
“No,” you say, aghast at your own behavior. Were those really the first words you ever said to KIm Taehyung?
“You did. Don’t you remember?”
You think back. Think back to every year you have ever known Taehyung, every year you have spent scowling at him from across ballroom floors, making some snide remark as you pass by each other in the hallway. Every year you have spent cursing his existence, willing him away from you so he could bother someone else. Every year you have listened to rumor after rumor of girlfriend after girlfriend. You think back and somewhere, somewhere in there, in those dusty corners of your brain and cobwebbed boxes of your heart, is that first memory of Taehyung, too. 
Of him standing there in some generic black suit, black hair swept over his forehead, shoes too big. Of him coming up to you, trying to be as suave as a fifteen year old could be. Of you saying to him, instead of a hello, or even a what’s your name, “who are you?” 
Of him saying—
“And you said, ‘your dream come true’.” Like a dam bursting open, the memories flood back to you all at once. “I remember that.”
Taehyung laughs out loud at the thought of him saying something so cheesy. “Unsurprisingly, you didn’t want to dance with me.”
“You were so—” you begin, but you don’t have the words. Don’t have the words to express how you felt about him that night. Don’t have the words to express how you feel about him now. Thinking about this, talking about it, it is a bridge. A bridge between what was then and what is now. A bridge between who Taehyung was and who you were and who Taehyung is and who you are. “—so unthinkable. I couldn’t believe you had come up to me and said that. I couldn’t believe you had the audacity. But something about that night made me remember you. Made me remember your name.”
“You thought about me after that?” Taehyung asks. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“There is something about you that is unforgettable,” you say, honest and real and true. What else can you tell him? The truth is that you have always thought about him. Whether you liked him or not. 
You finish your dinner and place your trays on the end tables next to you, stacking your empty bowls and plates on top of one another as the movie rumbles on in the background. 
“It is kind of a shitty movie,” Taehyung admits after a while of being wholly unenthused. 
“Yeah,” you agree. “But it’s good background noise.”
Taehyung laughs at your little mockery, warm and deep and from his belly. You look at him. He feels so far away, on the other side of the couch. Feels like he’s miles apart from you. You have spent countless nights clinging to his harm, hand gripped tight in his. And sitting like this, a full couch cushion of space between the two of you—it isn’t enough anymore. So you inch closer. 
And closer. 
And a little closer. 
Until you’re pressed up against his side, legs touching as they rest neatly in front of you, backs stick straight as you stare at the television. 
Taehyung holds his arm up. An open invitation. 
Without asking, you lean into him, resting your head in the crook of his shoulder, in the space right underneath his jaw. You pull your feet up onto the couch and curl into his frame, pressing yourself against him. He is warm and firm and inescapable. He smells of coffee and paint and Chinese spices. He wraps his arm around you and pulls you in, as if there were any other place you’d rather be. 
You sit like that for a while. Wrapped up in each other. Lazing around on the couch as the stars twinkle above your head. The movie ends and the two of you don’t even bother skipping the credits, letting them and the cheesy 80’s pop song play on, a distant soundtrack. 
“I never thought any of this would happen,” you breathe out. 
Taehyung looks down at you curiously. “What? This?”
“All of it,” you admit. “Us. Getting married. That stupid tabloid picture. My grandmother. This. It’s all so new.”
“New things will happen all the time,” Taehyung muses aloud. “We can’t help when things change.”
“You don’t have any regrets?” You have plenty. Regrets that you’ll never become the CEO you wanted to be in college. Regrets that you’ll never become the fashion designer you wanted to be as a little girl. Regrets that you will come to resent this marriage, resent Taehyung more than you have in years past, all because you had no choice. Regrets that your grandmother couldn’t see you now. Regrets that there were so many things in your life you could have changed, but didn’t.
“I thought I did,” Taehyung tells you. “I wanted to spend more time with my friends. I wanted to major in art in college. I didn’t want to marry you. I know you didn’t want to marry me.” He looks down and you look up at the same time, eyes locking, inches apart. “But looking back on it, I’m happy where I am. With what I have.”
“I never thought it could ever be like this,” you say, words falling off your tongue before you even ask them to.
“What?”
“Us.”
There’s no need to elaborate. Taehyung understands. He understands that, half a year ago, you both would have thrown yourselves into a volcano before holding hands with each other. He understands that getting over your hatred for each other seemed like an absolutely insurmountable task. He understands that you had never wanted to marry each other, that you couldn’t believe you would have to spend the rest of your lives with each other. 
And he understands that now, things are different. 
“I’m glad things happened the way they did,” Taehyung begins. “I’m grateful for us.”
You press yourself impossibly closer to him, feel his grip tighten around you. Like this, you can hear his heartbeat. Hear it thump like a drum, steady and firm and unwavering. His heart beats against his chest and you wonder. 
You wonder if he can hear the way yours beats for him, too.
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There were lots of things that made your night in together special. But one of them is the glaring fact that you don’t get them very often. That their infrequency makes them all the more valuable. 
This has become blatantly obvious to you, because right now you are not spending a night in together. Right now you are stuck at a gala that you have to attend for the sake of business, drinking thin flutes of champagne and mingling with people you barely speak to. 
The one good thing about nights like these is that Taehyung looks positively gorgeous in suits. He sort of always has, but you’d never admit that to his face. At least not until now. And as his wife, you are lucky enough to have a front-row seat. 
“I can feel you staring at me all the way from over here,” Taehyung deadpans as he helps himself to a chocolate-covered strawberry from the buffet table. 
You’re too obvious to have any shame about it. “What can I say, I like the view.”
“Hard to believe I was the once the one being shouted at for being inappropriate in public,” Taehyung says with a shake of his head. He bites into the strawberry and eats it all in a single go, tossing the stems into a bin nearby as you join back up in the heart of the crowd. 
“It’s only inappropriate if other people hear,” you tease, letting him guide you, hand intertwined with yours, towards an empty corner where the two of you can snuggle up to one another in (relative) peace. 
“I don’t think the champagne was very good for your filter, Miss Y/N,” Taehyung hisses into your ear, warm breath tickling your skin. 
“Don’t you mean Mrs. Kim?” You pose, an eyebrow raised. 
That seems to do something to Taehyung. It’s not very bright in here, with it being nighttime and all, but even still you can see the way his eyes darken. See the way his lips curl upwards, feel the way his grip on you tightens. It sparks something within you. Something deep in the pit of your belly. 
Something that makes you want more. 
You test the waters. “Mrs. Kim has a nice ring to it, don’t you think, Tae?”
Taehyung looks about a moment away from losing control. But instead of slamming you against the wall in front of all of these people and giving you what you really want, he growls out, low and powerful, “Home. Now.”
He doesn’t need to tell you twice. 
You hail your car outside of the venue and it’s all the both of you can do to not jump on each other right then and there, in the backseat of this giant black van, overcome with want, with need, with everything in between. Taehyung’s leg bounces impatiently the entire ride back, and the feeling of your hand pressed against his doesn’t seem to be calming him down. He pulls you close to him in the backseat of the car, a hand resting on your thigh. You eye him carefully, as if challenging him to be any more daring. He grins. 
Home cannot come soon enough. The two of you tumble out of the backseat and into the elevators, where you mash the top floor button after entering in the security access code, desperate and shameless. The ride seems to take hours, and the heat that surrounds you practically smothers you, covers you, fills up your lungs and chokes you. 
There is nothing left by the time you reach your door. The moment it slams shut behind you Taehyung presses you up against the back of it, pins you against the wood as he hovers over you, eyes tracing your lips. 
“Tell me something,” he demands. 
“What?” 
“A fact. Something I don’t know.”
It doesn’t take much thinking. “I want you,” you breathe out, watch it hit his skin, watch the way his eyes glint in the light of the entranceway. “Please, Tae. I want you.”
It’s enough for him. 
This is not the first time you and Taehyung have kissed. The first time was nearly five months ago, in a chapel, at an altar, surrounded by hundreds of people. It was so unfun that you seem to have eradicated the mere thought from your memory. But you remember that feeling from that day. That feeling you got when you pressed your lips against his, cemented your marriage with a kiss. That heat. That sting. 
Kissing him now—that feeling has returned tenfold. When his lips meet yours, it feels like fire is rushing through your veins, setting alight every nerve it passes, unforgiving and relentless. His enormous hands come up to cup your jaw, fingers pressing against the skin of your cheeks as they pull you close to him, keep you trapped in his hold. This is not the first time you and Taehyung have kissed but it feels like it is—it feels like there is a lotus blooming on a lilypad in your heart, it feels like you have been struck by lightning, it feels like nothing else you have ever felt before. It feels brand new. 
Pressing back against him, he slowly releases you from the cage he has created against the door, spinning around so the two of you can tumble up the stairs and into your bedroom, unable to resist sneaking in pecks here and there as you make your way upstairs. Every step you take you stop, giggle as he presses you against the railing just so he can steal another kiss from you, put his hands all over your body. It’s a wonder the two of you even make it into your bedroom at all. 
When you do, however, all bets are off. Taehyung presses you against the still-made bedsheets with a glint in his eye and a growl on his lips, pupils blown wide as he stares down at you, at your body.
"Aren't you a sight? Laid out so pretty for me," he purrs, robbing a breath from you.
It's a tone you have yet to hear from him. You find yourself growing impossibly hot under his stare, burning with an uncharted desire.
You can hardly wrap your brain around it. Here you are, craving the man you had spent the better half of your young adult life loathing. Maybe it’s the champagne; maybe it’s the way his fingers are running slowly up the length of your clothed torso. Whatever it is, your stomach does flips, unfamiliar to the way your body preens under his touch.
"Don't let it go to your head," you tease, simply because you could.
Taehyung hums disapprovingly, pressing kisses into your neck as he grabs one of your thighs and wraps it around his waist, riding your dress up in the process.
You sigh, exposing your neck further for him as he paints bruises into your neck. It feels like just yesterday you had called him out at the altar for his habit of sporting the very same marks you were soon to wear.
Perhaps you should have thought twice about letting the man you had married purely under business pretenses press his hips against your clothed center, but as he rolls his into yours, your mind falls blank, silencing any and all reservations you should have.
Whimpering, you beckon his mouth back onto yours, tongue meeting his wantonly. 
You feel his fingers creep up the outside of your bare thigh, thrilling you in the most primal way. Reaching the band of your underwear after what felt like entirely too long, he runs the pad of his thumb against the lacy fabric.
 You could scream. He is doing this on purpose. He must be. Surely he knows how badly you were aching for him? For him to fill you– whatever the manner may be.
You let out a whine before you can help yourself, frowning as Taehyung looks pleased with himself, confirming his knowledge of your prolonged pleasure.
"What's that? Did you say something?" he mocks, looking cruel and yet strikingly gorgeous as he smirks above you.
"God, you're irritating,” you huff, hips jerking up against his as he pulls at the band of your underwear, the elastic snapping back into the flesh of your hip. "Just fuck me already."
He tuts, clearly unimpressed by your impatience, "Now, where is the fun in that?"
Your eyes flutter shut as his fingers suddenly snake their way between your thighs. Mouth falling ajar, you grip his shoulders as he runs his middle finger against your clothed slit, trailing up and down your warmth. To think he was still dressed while he was touching you like this...
"No... I think I'll take my time with you," he says.
You mew against his hand, arousal forming against his long digits' ministrations. You have to hand it to him. Taehyung knows what he’s doing. The life of a bachelor has seemingly served him well.
You aren’t usually vocal in bed, but the way he’s purring words of filth to you, breath hot against the shell of your ear as he tells you how hot and slick your pretty pussy felt against his hand, has you gasping and sputtering, your own fingers wrapping around his wrist.
The fabric of your panties provides a friction that toys the line of pleasure and pain, making you thrust up to meet his motions, your humility slipping from you.
Taehyung watches you intently, cock growing hard under the constraints of his dress pants. You look better than he could've imagined, eyes watering and body shivering under his touch, his fingers soaking with your arousal. He can only imagine what you'd feel like with his fingers fully buried into you, rocking them against your velvety walls.
He lets out a groan of his own, turned on by the idea of you fucking yourself onto his fingers, whimpering out his name in ecstasy.
There’s this part of you that faintly recognizes that Taehyung has done this plenty of times before. Plenty of times with plenty of other lovers. But there is a different part of you, that part that bursts with light and hope, that reminds you that he was never married to those other ones. That his allegiance lies with you. And that thought, knowing that deep within you, he is yours, makes your jaw fall slack, pretty noises tumbling from your lips and your thighs clamping around him.
You were close, closer than you care to admit. Every touch against you is careful yet deliberate as he reads the signs of your body, the way it keens and arches into him, offering you words of encouragement as your climax finally hits.
"That's right. Good girl. Let go for me," Taehyung coos, eyes dark and focused on your writhing form.
You cry out into the familiar space of your shared room, head thrown back as you ride out the high, letting it wrack your body, send jolts throughout your veins.
You barely have time to catch your breath when he presses his mouth back onto yours, kiss still as eager as it was when you both first entered your home. You are alight with satisfaction as he pulls away to press a trail of kisses against your jaw.
"I want—f-fuck," you stutter as he finds your already hypersensitive clit once more, rolling his thumb over your now soaked panties in tantalizing circles, "want to make you feel good, too."
Admittedly, this fantasy had crossed your mind once or twice, brought on by the way he carried himself in a suit and the way his large fingers wrapped around the champagne glass; confident, collected, and entirely charming. Who are you to shy away from a man like him? He certainly has always been rather good-looking. 
He pauses his motions, pulling his hand back to sit on your waist. Your dress is of the finest, most delicate satin, and after tonight's activities, completely wrinkled. You can almost hear your stylist's cries of dismay. Whatever. You have a steamer. And why focus on the dress when it’s obvious the two of you are focused on what lies underneath it?
"Yeah?"
"Yeah." You nod, skin still burning from your past climax.
Helping you back up, Taehyung stands. You lick your lips as you sit back up on the edge of the bed, watching intently as he unbuckles his belt, audibly hissing as his pants fall to his ankles, cock visibly straining against the fabric of his underwear. Thank God you don’t have to stand. With the way your thighs still felt weak and how your husband looks like a goddamn Adonis towering above you? Your legs surely would give out underneath you if you rose.
Brows furrowed, Taehyung palms over himself briefly before pulling down the waistband of his underwear, his painfully hard member slapping against his torso.
Your eyes widened on instinct. While the last thing you wanted to do was help inflate Taehyung's already large ego, you were certainly impressed at his size; thick and girthy, his tip red and shining with precum.
He couldn't help but smirk, thoroughly pleased by the way you stared at him unabashedly, chest rising and falling heavily.
"Open up for me," he orders.
And who are you to deny a request from your dear husband?
Your pretty lips wrap themselves around his engorged tip, all remnants of lipstick long gone by now. Taehyung hisses, a hand finding the side of your jaw as you run your tongue against the underside of his cock.
"Fuck, you're so pretty," he grunts, fighting off the urge to grip the back of your head and fuck your throat. As much as he'd love your have you choking and drooling all over his cock – and boy would he – he lets you set your own pace, not wanting to overwhelm you.
It doesn't take long for you to sink your mouth further down, however, clearly set on making Taehyung feel as good as you could.
A low moan erupts from his throat, digits pressing into your jaw in request to take more of him in, which you happily oblige.
You had your eyes trained on him, completely obsessed with the way he panted through pink lips, hissing slightly every time your tongue rolled over his sensitive tip.
Lolling his head to a side, his eyes meet yours, gaze primal and wolfish as he watches the way you worked his cock.
"Doing so good, love. Doing so fucking good for me,” he murmurs.
You hum against his skin at the sound of the sudden pet name, an unfamiliar feeling fluttering in your belly. You push aside the feeling, focusing instead on the way he grunts at the new sensation you had just given him.
Giggling, you pull off his cock, opting instead to press a kiss against his leaking tip, making sure to hold his eyes as you run kitten licks against it.
"God, you're such a tease." He shakes his head in disbelief. 
He looks so good above you, shivering and cursing out praises on how good your mouth feels, how well you take his cock. Running your tongue along the length of his shaft, you become certain that this is a display you can’t imagine yourself ever getting tired of. But you have all the time in the world, right?
"Y/N,” he gasps suddenly, hips jerking towards your face. "Love, I'm gonna-- gonna cum."
"Cum in my mouth, please." Your voice was pleading and desperate. Taehyung had never heard such words spoken more sweetly. 
"Fuck's sake."
You let out a yelp in surprise as his fingers work their way through your hair, bringing your head back down onto his cock. You relax, though, when you feel the hot ropes of his cum hit the back of your throat, your hands finding purchase on his thighs as you do your best to swallow it all down.
Pulling yourself off him, you let out a small cough, eyes watering slightly as you hadn’t managed to prepare yourself with a breath before his release. His large palm runs across the top of your head as you caught your breath, expression flickering with something unfamiliar. Could it be... fondness? 
Your heart stammers at the thought as you stand, slowly stepping out of your dress, letting it drape off of your figure. Taehyung looks absolutely gobsmacked, pupils dark as he gazes at you, eyes unabashedly raking your body. He’s shameless. 
You both are. 
Slowly, you step towards him, fingers reaching out towards his shirt, carefully undoing the buttons as you gaze at each other, expressions unreadable. 
"Tae?” You ask innocently, blinking up at him. “Fuck me?" 
Your polite request makes Taehyung chuckle. 
"Please?" You bring your bottom lip between your teeth, eyes blinking up at him adoringly for good measure. You reach the last button, let his dress shirt drape open. He brushes it off himself, stands there for a few seconds just to let the way you’re ogling his toned chest go to his head. At least he’s good-looking. 
He sighs, probably contemplating some clever rebuttal, but eventually decides against it as his cock is already twitching back to life.
"Alright, love. Turn around. On your knees for me," He orders, making your stomach flip.
To your surprise, you are hardly in place when the warmth of his large hands finds the soft of your tummy, pressing you back into his chest as he pressed a peck to the back of your neck.
You squirm in his hold, whining as that same hand of his grabs hold of your breast, long digit rolling your nipple between their tips. You can’t help but press your ass back into him. His cock feels hot and heavy, pressing against the back of your thigh, making your pussy clench in anticipation. 
You want him.
You want him so bad that you don't know what to do with yourself, shuddering as his free hand runs along the side of your ass, leaving scorching hot trails on your skin wherever he kneads into your flesh. He's touching you everywhere – everywhere but where you need him the most, and the arousal that drips down your thigh mocks you.
"Dammit, please!" You exclaim, running out of patience.
"Please what?" He says, an eyebrow arched.
You shiver, committing the way his middle finger traced your pelvic bone to memory forever.
You puff out a frustrated breath, nearly at your wit's end. "Please fuck me, Tae."
Taehyung pauses, grip on your breast and hip tightening as he lets out a moan. You let one out yourself as you feel him readjust, cock pressing against your slick entrance.
"Fuck, you sound so pretty when you say my name," He grunts. "Okay, baby. I'll fuck you. Begging so nicely for my cock."
You let out a squeak as you're suddenly pushed down onto your hands, back arching as he pushes his fat cock inside your heavenly cunt. He's thick, so thick, that you instinctively grip the sheet underneath you, fingers curled around them tightly as if it means to hold onto your sanity.
Taehyung lets out a shaky breath, angling your hips up so that you could take more of him.
"You feel—feel so good," he admits above you, and suddenly you wish you could see him. See the way his bangs stick to his damp forehead—see the way his tongue swipes over his bottom lip wickedly.
You let that thought go, however, as he thrust into you, making your jaw fall slack and eyes flutter shut. Profanities roll off your tongue unabashedly, helpless under the way his thick member pulls out of you, only to slam back into you.
You weren't expecting this. The way he stretches you out further than anyone had before. Your pussy clenches around him, reveling in the sweet, sweet burn.
He digs into the flesh of your hips, holding you steady as you mew and cry out, pushing your hips back in time to his, trying your best to meet his movements.
"Tae... fuck, fuck, fuck—"
He was filling you to the brim. Filling you tight and deep.
God, the way he was panting behind you was music to your ears. His cock pulses every time you call out his name, voice muffled and buried as you had your head pressed into the mattress, hair messy and bouncing with every hard thrust.
"S'good! Fuck... so, ah, big..." you cry out.
You feel drunk. Intoxicated off this beautiful man and the way he makes you feel a way only he can.
You nearly let out a sob as the rough pads of Taehyung's fingertips suddenly reach around you and find your neglected clit, rolling light circles on the soft and swollen bundle of nerves skillfully.
You are a mess, whimpering and drooling into your expensive sheets, and he filled every inch of you, leaving no place undiscovered. Your high nears, stewing on low heat somewhere near the pit of your belly, waiting for a chance to erupt and wash all over you. Taehyung must be close to, you realize, as his thrusts began to slow down, slamming into you roughly as if chasing after his high.
"Gonna take this load? Huh? Gonna let me cum inside your pretty little pussy?" His voice is straining, as if trying to breathe evenly but merely moments from falling apart.
If only you could formulate an intelligent response, but instead, you are a blubbering wreck, thighs shaking as they threatened to give out underneath you. But somehow, Taehyung knew. He had you. Quicking his motions against your delicate pearl, he could tell you were close too, and he was going to make sure you got there.
Suddenly, you're crying out and convulsing, tears brimming at the ends of your eyes as you feel Taehyung empty into you, collapsing onto his hands as well.
You feel his hot breath against the back of your neck as he pants, breath growing more and more even as the two of you regain control of your bodies and minds.
Pulling out of you, he plops down beside you, and for a moment, the two of you hold each other's gazes, eyes speaking in ways words never could.
Finally, after what feels both like an eternity and just a moment, you work up the courage to say something, moving closer to him as you place a hand on his chest, cushioning your chin as you rested on top of it.  
"Psst," you beckon, voice hushed.
"Yeah?" His voice is husky and tired.
"I’m grateful, too."
"Huh?"
"I’m grateful for us, too."
Taehyung's gaze is soft, and it lingers on you for a second before the sides of his mouth curl up tenderly. He grins down at you, eyes drifting shut. You feel him squeeze you closer, pressing you against his skin. And then, you hear his breathing steady, see his lips part slightly. 
You lean into his chest, eyelids fluttering. “Thank you, Tae.”
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Not unlike the many other mornings you have awoken in this bed, when you open your eyes as the morning sunlight streams through the windows, Taehyung is nowhere to be found. The sheets on his side of the bed are flipped aside, revealing that soft outline of his body from the night before left imprinted into the sheets, a dip in the mattress where he slept. You had fallen asleep all wrapped up in each other, tangled up like vines, but must have separated sometime during the night. Distantly, you register Taehyung’s voice outside, notice his phone missing from his bedside table. He must be on an early morning call. 
You check your phone for the time. Ten o’clock. 
A late morning call, then. 
Still basking in the afterglow of the night prior, you slowly inch your way out of bed, shivering as you pull the covers off you and scoot your legs around so they hang over the edge of the bed. You rub at your eyes until you faintly remember you did not take your makeup off last night, and when your hand comes away covered with black streaks and flecks of mascara, you wince to yourself. There goes five hundred dollars worth of a skincare routine. 
After washing yourself up and applying as many serums as you can to your skin, you wrap yourself up in one of his button-up shirts, the torso so wide that it drapes over you. The tips of your fingers peek out from the ends of the sleeves, and you cross your arms lightly over your chest as you make your way to the door, ready to entice your husband back to bed for round two. What? It’s Saturday. 
You peer around the door to find Taehyung standing a few feet away, facing away from you. He’s shirtless, and as his wife you have absolutely no problems ogling him, the toned curves of his back, the muscles in his arms. He’s always been a looker. You just finally have an excuse to look for yourself. 
You approach him quietly, not wanting to interrupt nor broadcast your sex life to anybody on the other side who may be listening. Already, the idea of crawling back in bed together sends goosebumps along your skin, makes you giddy with anticipation. You’re just about to tap him on the shoulder, lips curled upwards in suggestion, when he says—
“And my inheritance? That’s secured now, right? Because I said I would pretend to be in love with her in public—?”
And it is as if Medusa herself appeared in this room, turning you to stone as your heart thuds to the floor, a hollow, empty noise. 
You don’t hear the rest of Taehyung’s conversation. You don’t even hear the sound of your own heartbeat. This terrible, aching sound rings in your ears, silencing everything in its wake, drowning out even the sighs of your own breath. It is as if you have been frozen solid. As if you have been shot in the stomach. You stand there, feeling absolutely nothing, and all you can do is brace yourself for what is to come. Taehyung’s words were the knife but his next actions will be its removal, leaving in its wake an irreparable wound. 
He turns around, casual and cool, voice still hushed. As if you were still asleep. As if you hadn’t heard anything at all. But when he twists his body and sees you standing there, staring back up at him, lips parted in shock. 
“I’ll call you back,” he tells whoever was on the other side of the line, looking more panicked by the second. He opens his mouth so he can explain himself, but you don’t need him to. You’ve heard everything already. 
“I should have known,” you say, feeling angry and betrayed and sad all at once. “I should have known it was all an act.”
“Y/N, wait, let me explain—”
“What is there to tell me, Taehyung? What are you going to say? That you didn’t mean it? That you thought I wouldn’t find out? That last night was just a one-off?” You demand. The heat from your veins hasn’t left. Still, it simmers through your blood, burning you up from the inside out. “That you didn’t want to lie to me?”
“It’s not like that and you know it,” Taehyung says defensively, brows furrowed. “Just give me a chance to explain myself.”
“Explain yourself? How you pretended, every day and every night, just so you could get some more money in your bank account? So you could make sure you would get your father’s business when he died?”
Taehyung bites back easily. “Don’t act like you weren’t also faking it at some point. I know you were almost removed from your grandmother’s will.”
Your tongue is bitter at the mention of your grandmother. As if Taehyung ever even knew her. “My grandmother has nothing to do with this.”
“Really?” Taehyung challenges. “So you wanting to stay in her will was just a little bonus, right?”
“Don’t,” you say sharply. “It’s different.”
“Different how?” Taehyung spits. “Because right now, to me, it looks pretty similar to what I’ve done.”
“My grandmother died months ago,” you remind him. Her will is no longer the question. It has been written, settled, and executed. There was no reason for you to continue playing along once she took her last breath. No reason—unless you wanted to. “Meanwhile you’ve been keeping your inheritance a secret from me this entire time.”
“We made a deal,” Taehyung says. “A deal that said we would both act happy and pretend to be in love because we both had things we needed to worry about. Family things. Money things. You were a part of this, just like I was. You pretended, too.”
“Well, maybe I stopped pretending!” 
You can’t take it anymore. All this anger, all this emptiness, it’s been bubbling up inside you ever since you heard those first words come out of his mouth. It spills out of you all at once, an eruption from your lips, your heart’s doors bursting open. You have held his hand tightly in your own. You have pressed your lips to his. You have laid yourself bare in front of him. What is there left to protect? What part of you has not already been stained by him, by his touch, by the feeling of his fingers against your skin?
The hallway is silent, but you can hear your cry echo down the corridor. Hear the way it bounces along the walls before fading away. 
“Maybe I stopped pretending,” you repeat, softer this time. You blink and already can feel the streaks along your skin, the tears falling from your eyes. “Did you ever think about that?”
“Y/N, what are you talking about?” Taehyung looks like he’s in disbelief. Like he cannot believe the words you are saying to him. 
Well, that makes two of you. 
“Can’t you see, Tae? Can’t you tell?” You ask, the nickname falling from your lips before you can even help it. You must remind yourself to change that, later. “I’m in love with you.”
They are words you have never said to someone before. Not even your old boyfriends. Words that you always knew you would reserve for someone special. Someone who would touch your heart and make it their own, someone who would leave imprints of their fingers against your chest. Someone who would brighten you up from the inside out, leave you bursting with light. 
Ironic, that Taehyung has become that someone. When he is the one person you never thought could. 
When he has proven, time and time again, that you two just cannot mix. Oil and water. Pastel and acrylic. Satin and silk. 
“You don’t have to say anything,” you spit out quickly, before Taehyung has a chance to respond. “I know it doesn’t matter to you.”
“Y/N, yes it does,” Taehyung begins, desperate and pleading. “I know you heard what I said, but I swear, it stopped being an act for me, too. Things are different now, just like you said.”
“Don’t. Please.” You pull away as he reaches out towards you. Faintly, you remember that it is his shirt you are wearing. Remember that no matter what you do, he will always surround you. “Please, Tae.” You have nothing left. You can’t bear to look at him, but where else will you go? You cannot believe the things he’s said, the things he’s done, but where else would you go?
“I love you, too,” Taehyung says, and a part of you wants so badly to believe him. 
A part of you wants so badly to ingrain those words into your head, carve them into your heart, let him wrap his arms around you and promise that everything will be alright. But things are different now. Just like you said. You and Taehyung are not the same people you were six months ago. Or six weeks ago. Or even six minutes ago. You are helpless and he has proven that he does not care. 
“I have to go,” you say, looking away. You don’t think you could handle turning back to him again. “Please, Tae.”
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung says, and he reaches out once more but you are not there to meet him halfway. Were you ever?
“I know,” you whisper back.
You duck into your bedroom and pack a suitcase of everything you need. Being here is suffocating. Being with him is like setting yourself alight. 
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Victoria has no questions when you show up at her door later that day, suitcase by your side and this ridiculous bottle of Merlot in your hands. You had picked it up on the way over. You sort of figured you might need it. 
“You don’t wanna talk about it, do you?” Victoria asks. 
“Tell me about your streaming service,” you hiccup in response.
Victoria is happy to oblige. She even tells you that she still hasn’t picked a CFO, and that the position would be open for you if you ever wished to take it. 
Funnily enough, what will become of you once your father retires and passes along the company is the furthest away from your thoughts. 
You remember being so worried about that. Being so worried that, once they married you off like every good daughter should be, you would be absorbed into your husband’s life, cut out of your family’s. Your father would choose a cousin, an uncle, or even a friend to take after the business, bestowing upon you a thoughtful inheritance but nothing more than that. All of those years of schooling, finance in college, your MBA soon after, would be wasted, just so you could hang on the arm of your husband for the rest of your life. 
It’s thoughtful of Victoria to think of you for the position. She knows just as well as anyone else that you would be an excellent fit. And if things were just a little bit different, you would be jumping at the offer. 
But your future career plans are on the backburner, along with the rest of your life. 
All you can really do, right now, at this very moment, is wait for things to change. As they always do. 
“Don’t you have an event tonight?” Victoria asks about three days into your stay. She’s given you her favorite (her words, not yours) guest bedroom and an enormous closet to match, despite you only coming over with a carry-on’s worth of clothes. 
You scoff to yourself. “Like I’d want to go to anything with him.”
“Have you even called your parents?” 
“No,” you say, not even caring about the repercussions. There’s no doubt in your mind that they’ll be ringing you soon. And when they do, maybe then you’ll finally work up the courage to tell them what really happened. Tell them that you can’t go back there. Not yet, at least. 
“I’m sorry that this happened to you,” Victoria says as she hands you a bowl of vegetable soup, homemade from a couple of days ago. You nod to yourself, sniffling as you curl into the couch cushions and wish they would absorb you whole. 
There’s no need to ask her what she means by ‘this’. Everything. From your engagement to the marriage, from those tabloids to the deal, from your grandmother’s death to now. It has all been unfair. Life is unfair. And while you’ve always known that, it has been particularly cruel to you as of late. 
Still, when you wake up sometimes, you can still feel him tracing over your skin. Feel his lips hovering over yours, breath fanning out over your cheeks. You turn over and expect to see him lying there, on the right side of the bed, sheets mussed as they cover his figure. You wake up and for a brief moment, for that split, split second, there is peace. And happiness. And love. 
And then there is nothing. 
“Yeah,” you sigh. “Me, too.”
Maybe he really does love you. Maybe things really did change. But you have always been a pragmatic person, always let your head guide you rather than your heart. The secret’s out. Taehyung had an inheritance he needed to secure. You were his path to doing so. Those things haven’t changed. No matter if his feelings did. 
“Hey, look at this,” Victoria says, brows furrowed as she holds out her phone in front of you, revealing a livestreamed interview from the event tonight. 
You peer over. 
It’s Taehyung. 
Of course it’s Taehyung. Who else would she be showing you?
He stands in a clean-cut gray coat, draping over his figure, black dress shirt and slacks underneath, belt wrapped neatly around his hips. He holds his hand up in a wave and smiles politely to the cameras, to the reporters, letting the flashes wash over him like waves in the ocean. 
“Mr. Kim! Mr. Kim!” Someone calls. “Where’s your wife?”
Oh, God.
Taehyung grimaces a little, pursing his lips. “My wife won’t be joining me tonight.”
“Can you tell us why?” They shout. 
“Sorry, no more questions. Thank you for asking though. She’s well,” he says, quickly ushering himself along, entering the venue so no more reporters can bombard him. When he disappears, the livestream immediately moves on to the next guest, but you hardly pay them any attention. 
“Huh,” Victoria says aloud. 
Indeed. Taehyung’s response strikes you as rather odd. Why would he tell the public that? Why not make up a lie, say you’re sick, or you’re overseas, or you’re just late? Why simply tell them that you won’t be there? Surely, Taehyung is just as aware of the consequences of arriving at an event without you as you are. There’s no doubt that his parents will be in contact with him soon, too. No doubt that this will leave a stain on his family. His image. It might even threaten his inheritance after all.
So why not lie?
You frown to yourself, nose scrunching up in confusion. You don’t like where this train of thought leads.
“You okay?” Victoria asks when she sees the bewildered expression on your face.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” you say. Just completely befuddled. It escapes you, why Taehyung wouldn’t just make up some sort of excuse as to reasoning behind your absence. Why he would even show up at the event at all. Certainly, going to the event without you is worse than not going at all. It prompts questions. It spreads rumors. 
Later that night, you get a call from your parents, demanding to know why you weren’t there with him. You say you got sick. You plead with them not to question anything. 
You wonder what happens next. You and Taehyung still have two more events this week. A dinner and a ball. What will you do then?
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Taehyung goes solo for the dinner. You suppose you could have predicted that, considering his apparent willingness to arrive alone for the first event, too. He hasn’t made any efforts to contact you and for once, you’re glad for his silence. Not that you even know what he would say to you, anyway, but at least he isn’t begging you to come back to him. 
The sad truth is that if he did, if he got down on his knees right in front of you and willed you to come back home, you probably would. He has always been impossible to resist. Even when you first met him, when he sauntered up towards you and told you he was your dream come true. You didn’t know it then. But he was. He was everything you would ever want. 
Why would he lie? 
Why would he do that?
You can’t wrap your head around it. What is he getting out of it by telling the truth? By admitting to the paparazzi, to the reporters and the cameramen, that you won’t be there with him. That you will not be joining him. Nothing, certainly. His parents must be furious. His inheritance may be on the rocks. His image might tank. 
So then, why do it at all?
Could it… could it be?
Is it true?
You have loved Taehyung for a long time. Longer than you probably even care to admit. You have always held your head high at events, spoken loudly and without fear, but being with him made you feel safe. Secure. You would hold his hand and know, know that he was holding yours, too. It grounded you. It soothed your worries. 
Does he really love you back?
Taehyung smiles politely and laughs when he needs to at these events, but he doesn’t look the same. Even through the screen you can see those bags under his eyes, that spark that has faded. You hardly recognize him. He looks so lonely, without someone by his side. So distant. 
When you know the dinner has ended, you almost pick up the phone and call him. 
Almost. 
Instead, when the ball rolls around, you ask Victoria if she’s got a spare dress she can lend you.
 Kim Taehyung, for someone you have seen covered in paint splotches, wearing old college hoodies, and fresh out of a restless night’s sleep, cleans up pretty well. For a married man, at least. 
You wonder what the past few days must have been like for him. If they have been as empty as your own. Wonder what it was like, riding alone in a big black van to this hotel ballroom, no one to tease, no one to laugh with, no one to hold. No one to poke him awake if he accidentally fell asleep. No one to make sure he’s okay. 
Taehyung stands right outside of the entrance, waving politely to all of the paparazzi, smiling as the cameras flash, giving them the time of day for a moment before he heads inside and muscles his way through another event without you. 
Or so he thinks. 
You spot him just as he opens his mouth, ready to repeat those same lines all over again.
My wife won’t be joining me tonight. She’s well, though.
And maybe it’s just because you haven’t seen him in nearly a week. Maybe it’s just because he is about to lie to those reporters once more, ready to face whatever consequences come his way. 
Or maybe it’s just because you miss him. Miss him terribly, have been missing him terribly. Being away from him was necessary, but that didn’t make it any less unbearable. Not getting to hold his hand, see his smile, meet his eyes. You and Taehyung may not have always liked each other, but you saw him every day regardless. He became a constant in your life. Not an if, but a when. If everything went to shit, you always knew he would still be there. 
And there he is. 
“Wait! Taehyung!”
Taehyung’s eyes widen as he hears your voice, gaze darting around wildly, mouth parted in surprise. He looks around desperately, scanning the crowd, meeting the eyes of every single person in front of him until he finally looks to the left, sees you rushing up towards him, hiking up the skirt of your dress as your heels tap against the sidewalk. 
And when he spots you, sees you running up to him, his body relaxes, a weight lifted from his shoulders as he beams back at you, relieved and thankful and filled with joy, all at once. And you know, then. 
You know that everything will be okay. 
“Sorry I’m late,” you say sheepishly, cheeks burning as he looks at you, takes in every inch of you, breathes you in and lets you fill him up. 
Taehyung doesn’t respond. You reach out to hold his hand but he grabs your wrist and pulls you in, presses you against his body as he presses his hands against your cheeks, palms burning as they meet your skin, and he kisses you. In front of all these people, he kisses you. 
And goddamnit, you will kiss him back. 
It feels like lightning, like a thunderstorm, like the waves of the ocean are crashing against your heart. It feels like fire, like flames are licking at your veins, sending sparks through your blood. It feels like home. 
You and Taehyung ignore the shouts of reporters, the flashes of cameras, the honks of the cars on the other side of the road. When you part, he presses his forehead against yours and lets the tip of your nose meet his. And you smile. 
“Don’t be alone any longer, Mr. Kim,” you whisper, loud enough so only he can hear. 
“When I’m with you, I never am, Mrs. Kim,” he murmurs back. 
You wonder what those tabloids will be saying about you tomorrow. 
The rest of the night finds the two of you pretty much inseparable. You wrap yourself around his arm and for the first time in a long time, he presses his hand against the small of your back, keeping you close. Like he’d ever lose you again. 
One of your least favorite parts about attending balls used to be the dancing. As a young and eligible bachelorette, you would always have to lock hands with another, let him awkwardly guide you along to the music as you made the worst small talk imaginable, forcing laughter and smiles whenever he said something he thought was particularly funny. 
But, like so many others, things have changed. Things are different now. 
The waltz comes on and you and Taehyung are the first to reach the center of the ballroom floor, letting him rest his hand on your waist as you press yours on top of his shoulder. Let him twirl you around the room as the orchestra plays in the background, a soft, sweet, light little melody that carries you along. 
“I missed this,” you say softly. 
“I missed us,” Taehyung corrects. He pauses for a moment, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry for not telling you about my inheritance.”
“I’m sorry for storming out. I should have listened to you.” you respond easily. You both have plenty to apologize for. But night is darkest right before dawn. 
“I should have said something,” Taehyung says with a shake of his head. “But I was just so—so worried that something would go wrong. And I didn’t know how to explain how I felt about you. I acted in the beginning, too, but then things changed.”
“They always do,” you muse with a grin. 
“I couldn’t believe I had you,” Taehyung admits. “I mean, look at you. You’re gorgeous. And funny. And true.”
“Go on,” you tease, even though you do nothing to hide the smile inching its way across your face, the heating of your cheeks, the simmering of your skin. 
“Oh, shut up. You know what I mean.” Taehyung rolls his eyes. “I just—I felt something for you I couldn’t explain. I still can’t.”
You don’t have to prod any further. You know. Deep within your heart, you know. There is love blossoming in his to match the garden that has bloomed in your own. The flowers that have sprouted in the ashes. He has them, too. And when those petals open and the light streams in, he will know. He will know, too. 
“You make me crazy,” you tell him, whispering gently into his skin. “But I’m a better person when I’m with you. I know I am.”
“I meant what I said, that night,” Taehyung says. Makes you wonder which night he’s actually talking about. “That I’m happy that things have changed. That things happened the way they did. I’m grateful for us.”
“I am, too,” you say. And you are. 
You rest your head against his chest as you dance together, swaying back and forth to the beat of the drums, to the strums of the violins, all wrapped up together like ivy, like vines. Those, too, sit in that garden of yours. Keep you tethered to his side, keep him close to yours. He holds you in his arms and he smiles, because he knows, too. Knows that that garden in your heart will soon have a matching one in his. A mirror image of who you are. Who you’ve become. 
Things change. They always will. But so long as he is by your side, and so long as you are by his, you know. Everything will be okay. 
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It's different, this time, when Taehyung presses you into the mattress. 
There is no rush. Because now you know for certain that all the time in the world is yours. He is yours forever. You are his.
The two of you are a mixture of tangled limbs and shared breaths, the feverish, irrepressible need to give yourself to each other nearly tangible. He breaks the kiss suddenly, and you’re about to break out in protest. That is, until you see him unbuttoning his shirt.
Inspired, you wiggle out of your own clothes, eyes locked on Taehyung's soft torso and the idea that you had married such a beautiful man, inside and out.
Looking back, you wonder if that was always inevitable. If you and Taehyung falling into each other had been written in the stars from day one, sealed as your fate from the moment he came up to you at that ball when you were teenagers. He was going to be a part of your life no matter what. Whether or not you ended up marrying him. But having him like this?
It makes it all worth it.
"Do you like what you see?" That old cocky smirk of his makes an appearance.
You raise a brow, choosing to omit a response as you unclasp your bra, letting it fall from your chest.
Taehyung swallows.
"Do you?" You tease.
His response comes in the form of bites down your necks and licks down your chest, stealing your breath from you. 
Your clothes are somewhere dispelled beside your passionate bodies, growing cold beside the way your two hot bodies warmed one another.
"You are so beautiful," Taehyung praises, fingers coming up to cup your breast, bringing it up to his mouth.
You mewl, wrapping an arm around his shoulders as his tongue toys with your pert bud, teeth grazing it ever so often just to hear the broken gasp that'd always follow. 
"And so sensitive too," he giggles, making you pout. His hands are gentle as if every touch means something. As if you mean something—no, everything—to him. And the most wonderful part is that he means everything to you, too. 
"Shut up." You roll your eyes playfully, gasping as his palm comes down the side of your thigh suddenly in warning. You bite down your swollen bottom lip at the gush of arousal that dampened your underwear in response.
"Watch your tone, love. Of both our positions, you are in the most compromising one." He reminds you. It isn't a threat, and while usually, that kind of tone would thrill you, you couldn't help but want his mouth back on yours already.
"You talk too much." You flop back onto the bed with a sigh. Taehyung watches with interest as your pretty tits bounce in consequence. Extending your hands out towards him, you give him a pouty look. "Just wanna kiss you."
"Is that all I am to you? Just a pair of lips for you to mack on? I've got news for you, sweetheart, there's a brain behind these ravishing good looks." He scoffs in feigned offense, sitting back on his heels.
You giggle.
It seems as though even during the most intimate of moments, Taehyung still found a way to be, well, Taehyung. At least that hasn’t changed. 
"Whatever, pretty boy. Why don't you come over here and put that mouth of yours to good use?" You purr, making his eyebrows raise in surprise.
"Oh? I don't remember you being this assertive when I was pounding you into the mattress last time."
“What, I can’t have a little fun as well?” You tease, grinning as you look up at him, raking your eyes over his figure. 
"Wanna have fun, love?," He murmurs into your ears, hands gripping either of your plush thighs. "Then spread those pretty legs for me, and I'll show you exactly how much fun you can have."
God, you love this man.
You oblige eagerly, breath quickening as he helped you press your knees by your chest, leaving the wet patch in your underwear on full display. 
"My pretty little wife." He sighs dreamily, making heat rush to your core.
Taehyung's cock stood loud and proud, a hot reminder of where the night would eventually lead to. Seriously, how did you get so lucky? You must've been a saint in a previous life, you decide right then. Or at least, the stars have chosen to be rather kind to you in this one.
"Gonna take these off," he mutters, mostly to himself, tugging the ruined fabric over your ass and down your legs, with your help, of course.
Despite your usual display of confidence, lying beneath your husband, spread out like this, has you feeling vulnerable and slightly insecure. But that insecurity vanishes, however, as he lets out a soft moan, fingers moving to spread your glossed lips apart.
"So fucking pretty, baby. Gonna make you feel so fucking good," he groans, leaning down to press his face near your most intimate part.
Pressing a tentatively lick against, his eyes flicker up to yourself, curious to see if you’re okay with him proceeding. And, well, it’s not like you’re going to say no, are you?
Embarrassingly, you rut against him, making him laugh as you drown in your own mortification.
"Need it that bad, huh?" He coos.
"Yes, please."
The rest of your plea is lost in a moan as Taehyung finds your clit, wrapping his pink lips around the sensitive muscle and giving it a generous suck. Your hands are in his hair before you can think to stop yourself, tugging at his scalp deliciously as his mouth makes its way with you.
Thank goodness for this apartment belonging to just the two of you as the noises that tumbled from your lips surely would've left a roommate blushing.
You're panting, begging for more even though you aren't sure how you'd even handle more. It comes as a delight and slight surprise as fingers suddenly slip inside, wasting no time to rub against your velvety smooth walls, curling themselves inside you.
"Fuck, Tae!" you cry out, eyes squeezing shut.
It was pure reflex. Up until now, you had been watching Taehyung intently, completely consumed by the way his mouth moves against you. How his tongue flicks against your needy clit cruelly. It just felt too fucking good.
You're so wet, positively dripping down his chin as he runs his hot muscle up and down the length of your pussy, devouring you like he hadn't eaten in months, and you were his first meal.
Taehyung’s nothing short of addicting, completely and utterly intoxicating, and you slip further and further to your demise with every lick he takes, every press of his tongue against your clit.
He has a hand pressed against the lower half of your torso, feeling the way you jerk and squirm as he makes a mess of you. You’re close and you know it, too, if not by the way you’re calling his name over and over again, then by the way your thighs tremble, hardly even strong enough to stay up.
"Let go for me, love. I've got you." He sounds so sweet, so angelic, despite how filthy what he was doing to you was.
His words are the push you need, and, like a rubber band that has been stretched past its limit, you finally snap, back arching off the bed as you come with a cry. White fills your vision, and your mind goes blank, only sounds of blissful static filling your ears.
His fingers hold up your quivering legs, mouth pressing kisses onto your pussy encouragingly until you simply can't bear it any longer, pushing his mouth away as you stutter out words of sensitivity and overstimulation.
“I’m going to have to request more of that throughout this marriage.” You manage to say once your vision and breath come back to you.
Grabbing one of your hands, Taehyung brings it to his mouth.
“All you need do is ask,” he replies, making you laugh as he presses a kiss to the back of your hand, always a gentleman
Not long after, you find yourself pressed against Taehyung, tongue running against his as he presses his hips into yours. He isn’t coy about his want for you, rolling his cock against your already sensitive center. Warm precum leaks onto your lower abdomen, and suddenly, all you can think about is having him inside you again.
“Taehyung?”
You don’t even need to ask. Hitching your leg around his thigh, he knows exactly what you’re seeking, lining up his leaking cock with your swollen entrance.
Pressing into you, he buries himself to the hilt, groaning out as your warmth envelopes him. You moan out so prettily for him, feeling tight and full with your first orgasm only minutes ago.
“You okay?” he hums, kissing your cheek.
You nod, ears warm at the intimacy of the moment. In many ways, this is nothing like your first time together. You are face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart. Between your bodies could be found more than just desire, but commitment. Devotion. Love. 
“I love you, Tae.” You gush, sighing out as he begins to rock into you.
He falters slightly at your confession but recovers quickly, intertwining his hand with yours and pressing it by your head.
Faintly, you realize. 
That was the first time you had ever told him that.
You look up at him, expecting some wide eyes or even a bit of a nervous tilt to his lips, but all you are met with is a glow. He beams down at you, and your heart swells. 
“I love you, too, Y/N,” he whispers, but you hear the words in your ears loud and clear.
Soft noises fill the room as the two of you become one—hearts synchronizing with one another in silent promise.
It was a promise unlike the one you had made to each other that day at the altar, for this one was real. This one was true.
You shutter with every thrust of his hips, your abused clit finding itself in the crossfire of Taehyung’s passionate motions.
Whimpering, you cling to him, overwhelmed and emotional, like your heart was about to burst. Taehyung lights a fire in you, sends lightning straight through your core. Every word, every smile, every kiss, every touch, they send shivers down your spine, tingles throughout your skin. It’s like you’re falling in love with him all over whenever you see him, whenever his deep brown eyes meet your own.
You remember being so afraid of love that you broke up with all your old boyfriends because of it. Because you couldn’t commit, because you were worried about your career, because they just didn’t give you that spark. But lying here pressed against him, against your husband, you aren’t afraid. Wrapped up around him, tangled up in him, you know. 
Between messy kisses and words of adoration, you find yourself growing closer and closer to your release. Brows furrowed and neck flushed, you come with a soft whimper of his name, coaxing his own orgasm out of him. He lets go inside you, painting you with his seed in a way that pleases you to no end.
Hand still in yours, he gives it a squeeze, pressing a kiss onto your damp chest, right over where your heart beats for him.
“I love you,” Taehyung says again when you meet his eyes, firmer this time, louder. Like he’s worried you didn’t believe him the first time. 
“I know,” you say with a giggle, the words going straight to your head—and your heart. 
Taehyung scowls. “What, no ‘I love you’ back? Is that what I’m hearing?”
“Well, only because you want one so badly,” you tease, pressing a quick kiss to his round button nose. “I love you, too, Tae. Always will.”
“I think I knew, then,” Taehyung says with a fond sigh, nostalgia overcoming his expression. “That first time we met. I knew you would be mine, one day.”
“You got lucky,” you scoff slightly. “But I’m glad things happened the way they did.”
“You’re my dream come true, Y/N,” he says. 
“And you are mine,” you murmur.
As the two of you drift off, all twisted up in each other, so mixed up you can’t figure out where you end and he begins, you think back to that night. That ball. 
“Who are you?” You ask, nose scrunched up in distaste. Before you stood a boy you had never met before, wearing shoes that were too big for him and a suit that was a touch too small. 
He grins at you, running a hand through his perfectly-styled hair fringe swiped neatly over his forehead, and he says, “your dream come true.”
And so it was. 
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don’t forget to message me! ~ and don’t forget to message rose!
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kpopfanfictrash · 5 months ago
Text
Ember Burning (M)
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Author: kpopfanfictrash
Creative Contributor: @baebae-goodnight​ for this MOODBOARD WOO!
Pairing: Jungkook / Reader
Rating: 18+
Genre: Fantasy / Dragon / Enemies to Lovers
Synopsis:  The dragon riders of Duret Ghal are known across the continent; fierce warriors who take to the skies on their leashed, winged beasts. You are the last Dragon Queen of Ashya, ruler of a dying species who can transform from human to Dragon at will. When a new foe emerges which threatens both Dragon and rider alike, you find yourself forced to broker peace with your former enemy. The King of Duret Ghal, and a dragon rider himself: Jeon Jungkook.
NSFW Warnings: oral (male and female), nipple play, fingering, multiple orgasms, big cock, dirty talk, hair pulling (her to him).... tattooed, man-bun jungkook who has a big sword
Trigger Warnings: somewhat graphic depiction of a shoulder injury  
Word Count: 36,079
Soaring through azure-colored sky, golden wheat fields spread out below, you could almost convince yourself duty did not exist. It was easy to pretend while disconnected from the ground – flight broke the strings which bound you to all mortal beings. You ceased to be of flesh and bone and instead became one with the air, the wind, and the wildness of flame in your throat.
The Thadal mountain range loomed ahead, its jagged peaks piercing the sky. Idly, you wondered if they truly did. Legends said Natal, who had created the world and everything in it, formed the Thadal range last of all. Exhausted by the sheer effort of creation, her hand had slipped, causing the tallest of peaks to rise higher than planned. This ripped a hole in the veil which guarded this world from the next and before Natal could fix it, magic slipped through.
It had been the dragons who slumbered in the mountains’ highest peaks who received this blessing.
Dipping a wing, you wheeled about in the air. With the sun at your back, you surveyed the splendor of your realm laid beneath you.
Ashya, land of the Dragons – of which you were Queen.
Stifling the sigh which rose at the thought, you turned from the furthest rim of the world and began the flight home. A return to duty, to obligation and to your human form, as well as the conflict which loomed on the horizon. Not to mention the sleeping King within your castle walls.
Each of these weighed upon your shoulders, replacing the freedom you’d felt in the air. As you shifted to human, donned a gown, and entered the castle, the sun had barely risen above the lip of the world.
And your true day was only beginning.
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From the thunderous expression on Park Jimin’s face, it was clear you needed to do something, and quickly.
Your choices were either to interject and stop a second war from breaking out at your table or sit back and watch while King Jungkook was pummeled into the ground by the esteemed commander of your armed forces.
Admittedly, the second option was tempting. You would so dearly love to watch the crown knocked from King Jungkook’s perfect tresses, but pettiness was unbecoming when far greater evil lurked on the horizon.
With a wave of your hand, you signaled Jimin to sit back.
The remark which had so enflamed your commander came from one of Jungkook’s advisors, a Lord Kim Seokjin you’d only met once prior. He had insinuated, in so many words, the power of your kind was nothing more than a parlor trick. Something to be taken out at parties, but incapable of truly defending your realm.
Jimin’s steely gaze remained fixed on the Lord, a thin line of steam rising from the seat where he sat. It was never wise to anger a Dragon, especially not a renowned fighter like Jimin. There was a reason he’d been named the youngest commander in over a century, and it was only partly because your people had dwindled in size since the last Dragon War.
The Dragon Wars were the reason it was truly remarkable for you to sit in the same room as King Jeon Jungkook at all. Only a hundred years had passed – barely a blink, in the grand scheme of things – since your nations had been labeled bitter enemies.
Duret Ghal, Jeon Jungkook’s nation, was home to the fierce dragon riders. Warriors who tamed the dull, vicious beasts of the mountains and rode them into battle. Their riders were human, although they fancied themselves important because they dared to treat dragons – albeit a less intelligent kind than your own – as glorified steeds.
You, on the other hand, were a Dragon.
Not one like what King Jungkook rode into battle. Duret Ghal bonded with dragons, mere animals ungifted by magic and unable to transform into humans. You were a Dragon, descended from the first magical beings blessed by the veil. Those who had shifted to the flesh of their enemy to defeat humans on their own terms.
At will, you could shift from human to Dragon with barely a thought. Beneath your smooth, human exterior lurked the scales of a dragon, and Lord Seokjin would do well to remember this while he sat at your table.
Tilting your head, you looked his way. “Would you care to repeat yourself, Lord Seokjin? The way you phrased your objection just now made it sound as though you were doubting my people.”
Although Lord Seokjin hesitated, he met your gaze. This surprised you. Few humans had the courage to look a grown Dragon in the eyes. You were well-aware of the rumors which plagued your people.
Some insisted Dragons held power beyond that of humans. This was untrue, of course. Aside from their shifting, Dragons could not use magic. It was only the offspring of a Dragon and human who could wield magic, often called gifts.
Then there was the rumor Dragons retained scales in places best left unmentioned when they transformed into humans – also untrue. Once you became human, you were nearly indistinguishable from your more stagnant counterparts. The main differences were your skin, which ran hotter, the occasional steam from your lips and hidden embers which flickered in the depths of your gaze.
Your unusual eyes were likely the source of the third rumor. Looking a grown Dragon in the eyes would result in paralysis, or worse. This was also untrue, although you liked to encourage it all the same.
It made meeting human dignitaries much more amusing.
“I am not saying Dragons are not fierce,” Seokjin said, backtracking a little. “Merely observing your numbers have diminished since the last Dragon War. Without Duret Ghal’s riders, you would be at a disadvantage against the Mor Empire.”
To this, you had no response because Lord Seokjin was right. He had easily identified your current problem – Mor continued to press upon your southern border, and there were not enough Dragons left in Ashya to defend it much longer.
To your right, Jimin scowled, knowing the truth to this as well.
It was the main reason you’d decided to meet with King Jungkook at all. The reason you considered entering an alliance with a country who’d once been considered your enemy. The Empire of Mor, a nation of humans, had recently decided to rid themselves of all dragons.
This declaration placed both your nation, Ashya, and Jungkook’s at risk.
Ashya, since you were Dragons and Duret Ghal because they rode them. The Mor Empire was led by Emperor Cyan, whose quest for dominance had consumed him since he was a child. His Empire had already gobbled up the quiet Kingdom of Mica to the west and Kindare, to the south. Now he’d set his eyes on the northern wilds.
His largest obstacle to this was the dragons. Few human soldiers could keep from shitting their pants when a great, winged beast breathing fire rose above their ranks. Ironically enough, the sole reason the Mor Empire stood a chance was because the number of Dragons had greatly diminished over the centuries.
There were two main reasons for this.
The first were the Dragon Wars – centuries of bloody conflict between Ashya and Duret Ghal. During this period, dragon riders had fought Dragons for control of the northern border. The wars had caused untold damage on both sides until a truce had been called to save you from destruction.
The second reason for your diminishing numbers were the humans themselves. In order for a true Dragon to be born, two Dragons needed to mate and continue to bloodline. When a Dragon mated with a human, the resulting child was human. Occasionally, this child was blessed with a magical gift, but not always – and they could not shift into Dragon form. Over the years, your kind had mingled with humans until there were few Dragons left.
Hence the need to align yourself with your greatest foe to protect both your people and his. You needed numbers, which Jungkook had. Emperor Cyan had declared war against all northern realms. Only the might of riders and Dragons together stood a chance against him.
It was a mission of fools though, made even more evident by the blatant ill-will around the table. Releasing a sigh, you glanced to where your most trusted advisor, Min Yoongi, was seated on your right.
Min Yoongi was not a Dragon, but a human born with a gift. He could read the emotions of those in the room and determine whether they told the truth. It was magic he’d inherited from his Dragon mother and had come in handy many times during the negotiations.
Subtle, Yoongi nodded.
You managed to stop a second sigh from escaping. It seemed Lord Seokjin was telling the truth. He truly did respect the Dragons, which made his second statement all the more troubling. It would have been easier had he hated you.
“We may be at a disadvantage without Duret Ghal,” you admitted. “But you are equally disadvantaged without Ashya. If our realm were to fall, Mor would come for you next.”
“We could have this same argument for hours, Your Majesty,” Jungkook drawled, speaking up for the first time. “And we have. I grow tired of this stalemate. What are the terms you require to sign the treaty?”
Jaw tight, your gaze shifted to the King seated opposite. Jungkook stared back at you, his gaze dark and lidded in the flickering light of the fire.
Jeon Jungkook was a young ruler, like yourself, but while your transition of power had been relatively peaceful, his had been anything but.
The former King and Queen of Duret Ghal had been slain by his Uncle, Lord Vonner, when Jungkook was only eighteen. Duret Ghal had been close to signing a treaty with Ashya at the time. In said treaty, your hand in marriage had been promised to Jungkook in exchange for unified lands.
Obviously, opposition had existed on both sides of the treaty, but things had not turned violent until Lord Vonner. He’d risen against his sister and brother-in-law, killing them both in their sleep and claiming the throne. At the same time, he had sent assassins to your land and attempted to kill your parents.
He’d only succeeded in killing your mother.
The blood of Lord Vonner’s actions had ended your betrothal, throwing your lands into chaos while your father roared his revenge. It was only once Jungkook had usurped and executed his Uncle that your land had tentatively agreed not to retaliate in force.
This had taken place nearly ten years ago, and still Jungkook was not yet thirty years of age. His youthfulness was apparent everywhere but his eyes. These had been hardened, darkened by all he had seen and done.
Looking at him now, it was difficult to place the boy you had once known.
“Use of your ports,” you answered. “Free travel for Ashyan merchants along the roads to said ports, and then usage without the current fees.”
Lord Seokjin chuckled. “You must be mad.”
A low growl left Jimin’s throat – a warning. “How ironic to hear you speak of sanity, Lord Seokjin,” he said. “When you dare to insult the Queen of Ashya within her castle walls.”
Holding up at hand, you bade Jimin to cease.
Jimin was even younger than you were, and twice as hot-headed. Admittedly, he had good reason to despise Duret Ghal. His father had been killed in a skirmish on the northern border when he was barely twelve. There was a subset of Ghalians who despised the humans who dared to love Dragons. When a Ghalian woman had fled, seeking the protection of Ashya at the northern border, a mob had fought your soldiers and Jimin’s father had died.
Still, Jimin needed to remember you had a job to do. As your commander, he was well-aware of the weakened state of your armed forces. The treaty between Ashya and Duret Ghal needed to happen in whatever way possible.
Ignoring the interaction, Jungkook merely raised a brow. “No fees?”
Although his voice remained calm, a hint of steel lay beneath the silken words. You could hear it plainly, as did Yoongi based on the way he stiffened.
“No fees,” you repeated.
Jungkook exchanged a glance with Seokjin.
“It is not possible,” he said at last. “Our nation’s ports remain the primary source of income for many Ghalians. Now that Mor has conquered Kindare, they have free access to their ports and fail to use ours. It is only the revenue from Ashya which keeps up afloat.”
“I do not ask you to forsake all payments. Merely those from Ashya.”
Jungkook’s teeth flashed in what might have been a smile but came off as a grimace.
“Ashya provides half the sales at my docks,” he informed you. “By granting your nation free trade, you cut my people’s livelihood in half.”
Somewhat chastised by this, you sat back in your seat. You had not realized Duret Ghal’s economic outlook was so dire.
When Ashya had been a land of only Dragons, the fact you were landlocked had not been a problem. You could simply fly where you wanted and take whatever with. Now though, Ashya had more humans than Dragons and you were forced to find more accommodating solutions.
Ashyan craftspeople were famed for their metalwork, in addition to textiles, but such trade would be useless without people to buy and places to sell. For years, Duret Ghal had steadily increased their tariffs, which in turn had steadily crippled your people.
Returning to Jungkook, you clenched your jaw. “And what would we need to give Duret Ghal in order for our demand to be met?”
The corner of his lip curled.
In this singular motion, you were reminded of Jungkook’s somewhat brutal reputation. After the coup of his Uncle, rumor had it Jungkook had been bloodthirsty in his quest for revenge. Lord Vonner had been put to death in the main square of their capital city, roasted alive by Jungkook’s dragon, Nemrys.
You had not faulted him for this at the time, having also lost people at the hands of Lord Vonner. It was hard to imagine the type of pain Jungkook had gone through, losing both his parents and his throne in a single blow. Despite your understanding, you knew some had disapproved. They’d whispered amongst themselves the King had lost a better part of himself on that day.
“Shares in your mines,” Jungkook said in answer to your question. “Given the current situation with Mor, we’ve had difficulty collecting on some of our foreign loans. A fifty percent share in Ashya’s mines would ease our cash flow problems.”
Your lips tightened in response.
Jungkook had managed to touch upon Ashya’s main source of riches, and a large reason for the previous century’s Dragon Wars. Much of the Thadal range fell within your borders, meaning you owned the majority of gemstones on the continent. It meant little without Duret Ghal’s port cities, however. Mor had ceased trading with Ashyan merchants long ago.
Still, it pained you to grant Jungkook access to your most coveted resource. Everything in your nature – Dragon and otherwise – went against it, but sacrifices must be made for the greater good. You’d entered these negotiations aware this might happen. Another advisor, Lord Kim Namjoon, had warned you of it beforehand and yet, you had hoped.
If you did not find a compromise soon though, Mor would overtake you and the point would be moot.
“Ten percent,” you said at last, lifting your chin.
Jungkook’s eyes gleamed. “Forty.”
“Fifteen.”
“Twenty-five.”
“Twenty.”
Jungkook paused, then glanced at Seokjin for counsel. Bending close to the table, Seokjin scribbled something on a piece of paper and sighed. Looking at Jungkook, he nodded.
“Twenty,” Jungkook said, facing you.
You nodded, but before Jungkook could get too cocky, you held up a hand.
“In return,” you said. “All fees will be waived on Ashyan merchants.”
Jungkook stilled, a lone muscle ticking in his jaw. “I can lower the tariff to a flat rate of two and a half percent, but no more.”
The current tariffs on Ashyan merchants ranged from three to eight percent. Two and a half would benefit all Ashyan merchants, but you were uncertain if Jungkook had more to give. Possibly he was low-balling you, unwilling to show all his cards at once.
Glancing at Yoongi, you watched him slowly shake his head. No, the King was not lying.
Blinking, you returned to Jungkook. You had not expected him to show his hand so quickly. Perhaps he also tired of these negotiations. Gaze narrowed, you attempted to read the young King at the other end of the table.
His face remained blank, as inscrutable as your own. A shiver of something traveled down your spine, although you quickly pushed this away.
“We can accept this,” you said.
Jungkook nodded. “Then we are in agreement.”
Pushing your chair back, you stood from the table. “I think we have made enough progress for today. Lord Namjoon will draw up revisions for the treaty.”
Lord Namjoon nodded, near the center of the table. He was also a Dragon, although he rarely saw battle. Namjoon’s talents lay elsewhere, mainly in crafting legislation which aimed to avoid war in the first place. You could not afford to lose a mind like his to some border skirmish.
As you turned around, the skirts of your gown swept the floor. You’d nearly made it to the door when a firm hand caught your arm.
“A moment, Your Majesty,” Jungkook said, his voice low.
Going utterly still, your gaze shifted to his hand on your sleeve. Glancing up, you wished you truly had the power to turn humans to stone. It would have made these proceedings much easier.
Jungkook had dressed casually for the meeting. He seemed to have come straight from his dragon, since he wore riding leathers. He had no crown, unlike you. Amara, your lady in waiting, had insisted you add the thin, silver diadem before leaving. It lent you an air of authority, she’d said.
It seemed Jungkook could command his authority without such trinkets. The realization made you straighten, meeting his gaze several inches above yours.
“Yes?” you said, your voice frosty.
Jungkook released his grip.
A move you thought wise, all things considered. Behind him, you saw your advisors gathering their reams of paper. They chatted amongst themselves, purposefully ignoring the Ghalian retinue. All except for Lord Namjoon, who spoke politely to Lord Seokjin about a provision of the treaty.
To Lord Seokjin’s right sat Kim Taehyung, a dragon rider whose reputation preceded him. The general of Duret Ghal’s army, he had remained silent throughout the entirety of the negotiations. Based on how often he looked out the window, you got the feeling he preferred to spend his time in the sky and not amongst stuffy people.
Honestly, you could not blame him. Even if his kind of flying were a poor imitation of yours – seated astride a dragon, rather than becoming one himself.
Clearing his throat, Jungkook returned your attention to him.
“Is there something you want, Your Majesty?” you said, growing impatient. “I have a nation to run outside of these meetings, you know.”
A smile curled his lips. “I am aware.”
“So long as you are aware, then.”
You moved to walk past, but Jungkook stopped you again. Teeth gritted, you exhaled steam past your lips.
“What?” you snapped, turning to face him.
Something unreadable stole through his gaze. “We need not have these conversations at all,” he said, dropping his voice. “If you would agree to my original proposal.”
Immediately, your expression shuttered.
“Good day, Your Majesty,” you said and walked past.
This time he did not follow, falling silent as you swept from the room. Yoongi and Jimin joined your exit, the latter tossing a haughty look towards the Ghalians. Namjoon remained in the room, likely to continue his conversation with Seokjin.
As you walked away, you tried and failed to push Jungkook from mind. The offer he alluded to was completely ridiculous.
Marriage.
Seven months prior, Jungkook had sent a message to you after nearly a decade. He’d proposed several items, amongst which was a request to resume your failed betrothal. A list of reasons had been provided. Your nations were on the verge of war, the merger would benefit you both financially and would go a long way towards healing the realms.
Equally politely, you had declined.
It had been a long time since you’d sworn not to marry – or mate, as it were. The mating bond was a possibility for both Dragons and humans. Dragons only mated once in their lifetime, which tended to be longer than ordinary humans. Your parents had been mated to each other, meaning you’d witnessed firsthand the tragedy of their ending.
You would choose an heir when necessary, of course. You weren’t so selfish as to plunge Ashya into civil war when you died because you did not wish to mate. You’d even considered a marriage of practical alliance, one with no chance of mating, but the appropriate circumstances had yet to present themselves.
For this reason, amongst others, you had declined Jungkook’s offer.
Coming to a stop in the hall, you bade Jimin and Yoongi goodnight before continuing on your way. The sun had long since sunk below the horizon. Negotiations with Duret Ghal had taken up most of your time since their arrival in Valor, Ashya’s capital city, nearly ten days ago.
Outside your chambers, you nodded to the guards before entering. Once the door fell shut behind you, you released a sigh.
Straightening, you strode to your dresser and seated yourself at the mirror. As you removed your crown to set on its pedestal, you stared at the silver.
It was not as though you wished to be alone forever. Truthfully, you found yourself exhausted at the end of each day. It would have been nice to fall asleep beside someone and wake with them by your side. Each time you imagined the prospect though, you recalled your father’s death and thought better.
Both Yoongi and Namjoon knew the King had proposed.
Not Jimin, which was for the best. If you had accepted Jungkook’s offer, it would have taken a lot to convince Jimin to remain at his post. He had barely accepted the necessity of a treaty between Ashya and Duret Ghal.
Namjoon had been practical when he heard of the proposal, which you had expected. Lord Namjoon could be practical to a fault, known to ‘factor in’ emotional responses when making decisions. Privately, you thought him a nice foil to Jimin.
When you’d told Namjoon about the King’s offer, he had simply nodded and said it made sense. He acknowledged, of course, the difficulties such a match would present, but did not seem to think it would be a bad idea.
Yoongi had been the one who surprised you. As someone with decisive opinions, you’d imagined Yoongi wouldn’t approve of the match. Instead, he had merely suggested you consider the offer. When you had declined, Yoongi had seemed almost disappointed. It could be hard to tell though, since the Lord usually kept his emotions close to the chest.
Undoing the laces of your gown, you let it drop as you entered your bathing chambers. Amara had left heated water and oils, flickering candles set around the edge of your sunken tub. Lowering yourself to the water, you tipped your head back to rest on the edge.
Today ended only the first week of negotiations between you and Jungkook. Another week remained – you could survive this much, you reasoned. One week from now, you’d have much needed relief for your merchants, along with an ally against the looming threat of Mor to the south.
Only one more week, and Jungkook would be gone.
Ignoring the strange tingle which spread down your spine at the thought, you held your breath and lowered yourself underwater.
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Lips pursed, you stared at yourself in the mirror.
Amara hovered, pins in her mouth while tightening your corset. Your dress for the evening was a mix of old and new – although you despised corsets, this one cinched your waist tight enough for the armor-like bodice. Skirts flowed like water to the ground, brushing the floor with emerald chiffon.
Tonight, you had decided to throw a feast honoring the upcoming treaty with Duret Ghal. The event had not been your idea, but Namjoon’s. He believed it would increase the goodwill between you.
You had protested this until Namjoon pointed out there’d been little to celebrate recently. Realizing the truth to this statement, you’d reluctantly acquiesced to two events. Tonight’s feast and a ball, to be hosted their final night before Duret Ghal left.
Inhaling, your eyes watered as Amara cinched the last hook.
“My apologies,” she said, casting a sympathetic glance in the mirror.
Mutely, you shook your head, not blaming her in the slightest. It was not her fault women's fashion tended to be barbaric, more often than not. It was why you preferred to wear looser gowns, ones you didn’t need your lady in waiting’s help to undo.
Amara had been your companion ever since you were little, although you could not exactly call her a friend. You were her Queen, first and foremost. There was no one else in Ashya for you to call an equal.
“Amara,” you said curiously, glancing up. “What do you think of the Ghalian King?”
Startled by your question, Amara nearly dropped the pins she held. Her wide brown eyes stared back at you in the mirror and briefly, you wondered if she thought this a trap. Possibly you needed to work on your resting facial expressions. Yoongi said you were too harsh, but then again, hearing this from Yoongi was the pot calling the kettle black.
“You can answer me honestly,” you said, a bit gentler. “It has been a long week of negotiations and I find myself wondering what people think of the treaty.”
“Well.” Amara looked thoughtful. “I rather think those are two different questions, Your Majesty. Do you wish to know what people think of the King, or the treaty?”
She was correct, you realized. The two were different, even if they were one and the same in your mind.
“Both,” you responded.
Turning towards the mirror, Amara began to fit the bodice over your bust. It was elaborate, with swirls of silver and emerald stitched into the hard lining.
“Well,” she said, hesitant. “Of course, people think the young King is handsome.”
“He is a rider,” you said sharply.
“It is not as important to humans,” Amara reminded gently. “It does not offend so much as it does the Dragons. And objectively speaking, the King is handsome. He could smile more,” she admitted. “But this does not seem to deter from his handsomeness.”
“I suppose not.”
Seeing your expression, she laughed. “You did ask me to speak honestly, Your Majesty. The people find the King handsome, but they do not trust outsiders. Especially Ghalians. Most have a family member who perished in the Dragon Wars.”
None of this was new information, although it did irk you to hear Jungkook’s looks were a topic of conversation in Valor. It was always like this with men versus women. The moment a male monarch had a somewhat pleasing expression, people were willing to forget all manner of atrocities committed in the past.
“And what of the treaty?” you pressed.
Amara bit down on her lip. “Well…”
“Yes?”
“It depends. Some oppose it, much as they did the treaty all those years ago. Others look forward to the potential trade gains. And still others,” Amara said, a knowing edge to her voice, “think you should accept the King’s proposal of marriage.”
Jerking upright, you prompted Amara to nearly stab you with a pin.
“Amara!” you gasped, looking down.
She blinked in surprise. “Yes, Your Majesty?”
“How… did you hear that?” you said, utterly flummoxed.
“It was only a guess.” Amara shrugged, a ghost of a smile at her lips. “Many villagers wondered if there were other reasons for His Majesty traveling all this way. They imagined you must have declined his offer, since nothing official has been announced.”
You stared at her in shock, a bit thrown by the assessment. Perhaps it had been naïve of you to assume no one would guess based on Jungkook’s elongated presence.
“I see,” you said at last. “The skirts, if you please, Amara?”
Sensing you were done with the conversation, Amara nodded and hastened to fasten the fabric. You stared at the dress in the mirror, willing your racing pulse to slow.
Your gown for the evening was emerald green; one of the colors of Ashya, along with the color of your scales as a Dragon. It had always been a source of pride for your parents, as though Natal herself had proclaimed your destiny.
As Amara arranged your train on the ground, you stared at your reflection. Most of what she said you had already known. Ashya had been divided for a long time now on how to proceed with Duret Ghal. You knew whatever choice you made, there would always be those who opposed you.
And yet, it was strange to hear some rooted for a union.
Glancing at Amara, you found yourself curious. “And what do you think?” you asked. “What is your opinion of the Ghalian King?”
Amara’s fingers hesitated on your hem.
“Me?” she said as she straightened. “I am sure I do not know, Your Majesty. I do not know the King personally, so it is hard to say.”
You nodded, having assumed as much.
“Although…” Amara hesitated, drawing your gaze back to her. “How a person treats their servants is usually indicative of their personality. Take Lord Larkin, for example,” she said, naming a wealthy noble at your court.
“What about him?”
Amara looked down. “His servants are skittish. They mostly keep to themselves at the request of their Lord. It is rumored he keeps a strict household, and his wife is inscrutable.”
Knowing what you did about Lord Larkin, these facts did not surprise you. He had an archaic mentality of most things – dutifully, you filed this information away for later use.
“What of His Majesty, then?” you said. “How do his servants treat him?”
“They seem to admire him.” Amara stood straighter. “From what I have seen, they seem to genuinely enjoy working for him and respect him. I know he has a fearsome reputation, but… perhaps it is only towards his enemies.”
“Whom we used to be,” you noted drily. “Until now.”
Her head bobbed in a nod. “This is also true.”
Despite this, Amara’s words lingered as you finished dressing. It was quite possible your feelings for Jungkook personally had clouded your judgement of him as a ruler.
There was not time to linger on this, since Yoongi arrived soon after to escort you to the great hall. You would be the last to arrive for tonight’s feast, which was customary.
Noise from the hall grew as you approached the doors. Tonight’s event would be more casual than the ball a week from now, but casual was relative since you’d been forced to wear a corset and the meal would feature no less than twelve courses.
As the doors swung open and you began to walk in, all noise within the hall ceased. Ashya’s great hall had seen centuries of celebration, along with conflict and conquest. At one point during the Dragon Wars, Valor had been briefly occupied by Duret Ghal. During this time, the banners hung on your walls had been blue and gold, instead of emerald and silver.
Entering the room with Yoongi at your side, you sensed the gaze of every inhabitant upon you. Focusing straight ahead, you did your best to ignore this. It had never felt natural to you, being the center of attention. You did so for the sake of appearances but had never enjoyed the sensation.
At least you had Yoongi, who looked handsome as usual in his formal attire. With his dark, sweeping hair and keen gaze, Yoongi would have made an excellent King consort. Unfortunately, your relationship had never progressed in this direction and frankly, Yoongi was not important enough to consider marriage without love.
Glancing your way, Yoongi caught your eye. “Is there something in my teeth?” he muttered.
Stifling a laugh, you faced forward.
“No,” you said. “I was only thinking about choices.”
Although Yoongi arched a brow, he said nothing in response. Now was not the time for an in-depth conversation. People bowed as you passed, a veritable rainbow of fabrics and colors. At the front of the hall, a table had been placed atop the raised dais. Behind it, the banners of Ashya and Duret Ghal had been strung.
High above, evergreen boughs entwined with the chandeliers, carefully spaced so they would not catch fire. Evergreens were considered sacred, symbols of Natal’s everlasting power. Although the winter solstice had not yet arrived, the air in Ashya was cold enough for them to thrive.
Your visiting guests had already arrived you saw as you approached the dais. To your surprise, you saw women traveled in Jungkook’s party. On the other side of Taehyung stood a lady with dark hair, right hand resting on the pommel of her sword.
Although both genders fought in the armed forces, it was still considered an unusual path for a woman. It was a pleasant surprise to see both men and women amongst the soldiers Jungkook had brought to greet you.
Seokjin wore robes of deep purple tonight, eschewing the colors of either nation. It was nearly as bold a statement as Taehyung, draped in the royal blue of Duret Ghal beside him. As you neared the table, both of them stood, and your gaze finally fell upon the man at the center.
Jungkook was already on his feet, a golden crown on his head in contrast to your silver.
Your gaze traveled lower, realizing he’d worn robes of midnight blue as well. His waist had been bound in a golden sash, robes flowing to accentuate his trim thighs. At his side, his sword remained hidden, a decorative golden tassel placed before the hilt. It was not the broadsword you’d seen him wear on his dragon, but a more formal rapier made for ceremonies and balls.
His gaze lingered on you as you approached, sweeping your body in similar fashion. Your skin burned each place he lingered, flames consuming you from the inside.
At the bottom of the steps you paused, and Jungkook inclined his head. His gaze remained fixed on yours the entire time.
After ascending the dais, you stood before your chair and surveyed the room. Long rows of tables and benches stared back, along with the faces of your many subjects. Taking a deep breath, you raised your chin.
“Citizens of Ashya and Duret Ghal,” you said, your voice ringing out. “We gather this evening in uncertain times. Much as Natal crafted the first light from darkness, so are better things forged in the fire of adversity. Although dark days lie ahead, I know they will only strengthen our bonds to each other.”
At your side, Jungkook listened with rapt attention. The rest of your speech was conciliatory, bland words about coming together for the betterment of both nations. Namjoon had written most of it and, in the corner of your eye, you saw him mouthing the words.
You only went off-book once, near the end.
“It is important now, more than ever, to remain united in the face of such a foe. Mor seeks to wipe us from the map – and why? It is because we are strong.” The entire great hall had gone silent, focused on your words. “We have what they will never obtain and so, they seek to destroy it. To destroy us, but I will not let them. We will not let them,” you corrected, glancing a Jungkook.
He looked at you and nodded.
“And when they do come to face us,” you said, turning forward. “We will show them exactly why they were right to fear our teeth and claws.”
A roar echoed through the hall, several shooting to their feet to vocalize approval. Turning around, you sat in your seat as gracefully as you could and arranged your gown.
Jungkook was next and once he began speaking, Yoongi leaned over.
“Nothing like a little bloodlust to get the party started,” he murmured.
You winced. “How bad was it?”
Yoongi chuckled. “They seemed to enjoy it. Lord Namjoon might not forgive you so easily.”
Glancing down the table, you saw Namjoon rubbing wearily at his temples. You nearly laughed at the sight, schooling your features to neutrality when you remembered Jungkook still spoke.
His speech was brief, which did not surprise you. During the time you’d spent in his presence, Jungkook struck you as a man with little bullshit, or patience.
Once he was finished and seated beside you, you waved a hand for the meal to start.
In the corner of the room, a string quartet began to play. Doors opened on both sides, allowing servers inside holding trays of food. As the first course was set before you – a medley of greens with spiced, mashed nuts – you reached instead for your cup of wine.
Even this strained your bodice, but you managed. One of the many perils of being a woman in power was navigating foreign dinners while wearing a corset.
“The ballroom is beautiful,” Jungkook said by your side.
Surprised, you turned. “Small talk, Your Majesty?”
He shrugged and took a bite of his greens. “You do not seem inclined to discuss important topics outside of our negotiations.”
“And what important topics would you care to discuss?”
Jungkook paused, setting down his fork to face you fully. Eyes gleaming, his lips parted, and you felt your heart start to race.
Yoongi cleared his throat at your side.
Both of you turned to stare at your advisor.
Eyebrows arched, Yoongi motioned towards the front. “The greeting line has begun,” he said.
Realizing he was correct, you sat back in your seat. Already, the line of subjects stretched down the main aisle. Lords and ladies, merchants and townsfolk, all attempting to curry favor with their monarchs. Reaching out, you gripped your wine glass to drink again. Yet another reason you disliked feasts, balls, and the like.
The politicking side of ruling had never come naturally to you, although you did practice. It meant endless hours of hobnobbing, spending time with people fawning for your favor. Still, it was important to meet with your citizens and hear their concerns. If only most of your court weren’t completely unbearable.
Inclining your head, you allowed the first two to come forward.
When they came into view, your expression softened. You had expected nobility, and instead found yourself faced with two tradespeople, by the looks of them. The man and woman had worn their best attire, immaculately neat under the scrutiny of court.
“Merchant Calum and his wife, Natalia,” said the announcer at the front.
You smiled in response to their curtsy and bow.
“Thank you for coming,” you said, and gestured for them to rise. “We are so glad you could join us tonight.”
“It is our honor, Your Majesty,” Natalia said, looking up.
“Is there something particular you came to discuss?”
Her gaze slid to Jungkook and you tried not to stiffen. Likely, they had come to see the King of Duret Ghal. It had been more than ten years since Jungkook had last entered Valor. 
“No, Your Majesty,” she said, her gaze sliding to you. “No favor to ask. We simply wished to see you in person. I apologize for my husband’s lack of speech in your presence,” she said, reaching for his hand. “He lost the ability during a fire in the mines years ago.”
“I see,” you said gently.
Looking at him, you signed your thanks for his attendance tonight. The man brightened, signing back gratitude for the invitation. His wife beamed, thanking you once more as the announcer stepped forward to hurry them on. It seemed their allotted time in your presence was up.
As they left, Jungkook glanced at you curiously. “Where did you learn how to sign?”
“Occasionally, one wishes to communicate without being overheard.”
Jungkook allowed the matter to drop but continued to look your way.
The true story was longer.
A year before your father had passed, you’d decided to join the Ashyan forces. You had called it a part of your training, but the reality had been the castle was empty and cold after your mother died.
No one had known who you were when you enlisted. You’d entered a regiment far enough away for few people to have ever walked the streets of Valor. It was where you’d met Jimin, whose parents had been Dragons of relative unknown. Under your parents’ regime, Jimin would never have been named commander.
This had been one of the first laws you overturned after your coronation – the blood laws, which had decreed only noble lines could serve in certain positions. Jimin was more Dragon than most of the realm. He fully deserved the title of commander.
While you served in the army, you’d also fallen in love for the first time. Leo had been human, from a western province so far away, it nearly fell off the edge of the map. An encounter with riders had left him without speech, so everyone in your regiment had learned to sign to communicate.
Unsurprisingly, your love had not lasted. As soon as Leo discovered who you were, things had come crashing down. When your father’s condition had worsened and you returned to the castle, your title and demands were placed on display.
Leo was ultimately forced to make a choice – a life of duty with you, or relative freedom in the western wastes. He chose the latter.
None of this was pertinent to your conversation with Jungkook though, and so you kept quiet and welcomed the next guest. A wealthier Ashyan merchant, to whom you made veiled references about lower tariffs which seemed to please him.
Once he had gone, you realized Jungkook continued to glance your way. Ignoring him, you motioned for the next group to be brought forward, but when they came into view, you stiffened. Following your gaze, Jungkook took in the two men who’d made you go still.
Lord Larkin and his son, Lord Declan – the very same nobility Amara had spoken of earlier. While you’d never liked the pair of them, your opinion had obstinately worsened based on what she’d said.
Lord Larkin bowed, silver hair shining in the candlelight above. His son, Declan, lowered his head as well. You waited a moment longer than necessary before asking them to rise.
“Lord Larkin,” you said flatly. “And Lord Declan. What a pleasure to have you both attend tonight.”
“The pleasure is ours, Your Majesty,” Larkin said with a nod. Casually, he glanced at Jungkook. “We wished to extend our welcome to the rider King, as well. It is certainly unusual to see a human seated beside an Ashyan Queen.”
Jungkook merely smiled.
Admittedly, the gesture didn’t do much to brighten his countenance. The warmth of his smile failed to reach his gaze. On the table, Jungkook tapped his long, agile fingers. You realized with some surprise they had been inked.
Tattoos were not uncommon amongst soldiers, but it was rare to see them amongst members of nobility. You found yourself curious what other marks the King bore.
“I imagine it would be unusual for any man to side beside your Queen,” Jungkook said calmly. “Dragon, rider, or any variation within.”
The implication to Lord Larkin was clear – you are not seated beside her, either. Seeming to understand, Larkin’s eyes flashed while he inclined his head.
You fought not to smile.
Lord Larkin owned two of the largest mines in the Thadal range and was integral to the Ashyan economy. It would be unwise to anger him or his family, a line you’d tiptoed around since your coronation. Especially once it became clear Lord Larkin wished to align his son, Lord Declan, to you in marriage.
For a while, you had considered the idea. Their family was powerful, in possession of both lands and titles which would enrich the crown. Lord Declan was also a Dragon, ensuring the royal Ashyan line would continue unhindered.
It had been Yoongi who advised caution. You were still young, new to the throne and with plenty of time to make an heir. Better to first gain control of your nation and consider the offers of a political marriage after. You had known even then Lord Declan was not your mate, no matter how much his father wished for him to be.
Mates were a mysterious thing in your world. They could be either Dragon or human and did not always present themselves in an obvious manner. A person could stand before their mate several times before realizing the bond.
People spoke of the signs, though. Some likened the beginnings of the bond to slow trickles of energy. Others described it as sparks caressing their skin. Still more mentioned an invisible thread which tied them to one another.
None of this you’d felt with Lord Declan, so you felt fairly comfortable saying he was not the one. And yet, you knew Lord Larkin would continue to bide his time.
“It is unusual for a male to sit by my side, you say?” you mused, sipping your wine. “Whatever do you imagine Lord Yoongi to be, Your Majesty?”
Lord Declan laughed, which prompted a glare from his father.
Jungkook tore his gaze away from the Lord. He glanced instead at Yoongi, who seemed determined to ignore your conversation while he finished his greens.
“A very pretty piece of décor,” Jungkook said at last.
At this, even Yoongi smiled. Stifling a laugh, you returned to the Lords who remained standing before you.
“He is most horrified to hear it, I am certain,” you said. “Although if His Majesty considers Yoongi’s looks to be his best asset, perhaps he is the foolish one at this table.”
Jungkook smiled at this, reaching out for a sip of his wine. He seemed more relaxed, less formal and you marveled at the change in his features.
“Is there anything else you wish to discuss?” you said, returning to the Lords.
Their time with you had been longer than the townspeople but then again, this was oftentimes the way of things. Lord Declan nodded, but Lord Larkin simply looked thoughtful, glancing between you and Jungkook. At last, he bowed his head.
“That is all,” he said. “Thank you both for your hospitality.”
Once they had left, you sagged in your seat.
“Pretty.” Yoongi snorted. “I shall have to write home and tell mother immediately.”
Jungkook laughed in response – a real, honest sound which made your heart flip in your chest. It was your first time hearing such a noise from his lips during this visit. It fractured your thoughts into a million pieces.
Rather than confront any of these pieces directly, you looked at Yoongi. “Now, there is food in your teeth,” you said.
Yoongi shrugged, lifting his spoon to fix his reflection. Returning to the waiting line, you gestured the next guests forward.
The rest of the evening passed smoothly. Most of your conversations were kept short, allowing only enough time to greet and move on. By the end of the line, your head was beginning to ache.
Collapsing into your chair, you released a sigh. The line, consumption of wine and lack of food had begun to create the perfect storm. At the next lull of music, your stomach growled in a most unbecoming fashion.
Closing your eyes, you prayed to Natal no one had heard.
“Have you eaten at all?” Jungkook asked from your side.
Opening your eyes, you wondered if perhaps the goddess was busy. Or maybe she simply didn’t care about mortal whims and petty Queens. Looking to your side, you found Jungkook frowning at your full plate.
“I have eaten some,” you said, and cut into the meat.
Before you could stop him, Jungkook had raised a palm to signal the server. “Was there a problem with your plate?” he asked, returning to you. “Or do you simply prefer to eat alone?”
Startled by how earnest Jungkook sounded, you were silent while waving the server away. The poor man fumbled a little, taking a few steps backwards before he turned around.
“Nothing of the sort,” you said, glancing at Jungkook. “The food is fine, and I do not care about eating before others.”
He seemed baffled. “Then, what is it?”
“It is my corset,” you hissed, lowering your voice. “Or have you never sat beside a woman at dinner before?”
Jungkook’s eyes widened, drifting below your neckline. Amara had done an exceedingly good job at making certain you filled out the bodice. A lone muscle ticked in Jungkook’s jaw before he looked up.
“I have sat beside women before,” he said.
“What a delight.” Reaching out, you plucked wine from the table. “I am glad to hear it is not my responsibility to teach you about the fairer sex.”
His gaze narrowed. “Corsets are not as fashionable in Duret Ghal as they are here, Your Majesty,” Jungkook said lowly. “I have never had the pleasure of removing one before.”
Gaze snapping to his, you met his darkened stare. A flicker of heat curled in your belly, making you feel even more light-headed.
Before you could respond, Seokjin asked a question and Jungkook was forced to turn away. Hastily, you sat back and faced forward again. Reaching again for your glass, you took a large sip of wine.
Amara was not wrong. Jungkook was handsome and you were no better than the many people who’d come here tonight to look at the attractive, young King. Inwardly, you cursed your weak morals.
“He is not wrong, you know.” Yoongi continued to chew on your other side. “You should eat before coming to these events, Your Majesty.”
You shot him a look. “And when I desire your opinion, I shall ask it, Lord Yoongi.”
“I thought you paid me to advise you?”
“Only under specific circumstances.”
“And what circumstances would those be?”
“When I ask.”
Yoongi laughed, setting down his fork to reach for his glass. “Will you at least send up food to eat afterwards?’
“Of course,” you said, pushing your meat aimlessly away. “This is not my first gathering, you know.”
Yoongi nodded and the two of you fell into comfortable silence. The conversation had lessened some of the tension between you and the King. And yet, you continued to be aware of his presence beside you.
On the table, his hand rested close enough for you to see. Tanned fingers entwined with black ink, his palms roughened by callouses, proof of the leather he gripped when he rode.
Jaw taut, you continued to drink from your glass of wine. Long before it was considered polite, you yearned to stand and retire for the evening. People danced after the final courses, but it was a paltry thing compared to a real ball.
Once most of your guests had begun to leave, Namjoon agreed it was acceptable for you to go. With great relief, you stood and said your goodbyes. Yoongi went with you, following you towards a separate hallway to avoid foot traffic in the castle. Halfway down the hall, you heard someone say your name from behind.
Turning around, you found King Jungkook striding towards you. His robes swished about his ankles, head held high despite the wine and the hour. As he came to a stop, you turned towards your advisor.
“You may go, Yoongi,” you said, dismissing him. “I will return to my rooms after speaking with His Majesty.”
Yoongi hesitated, then took his leave. You watched him disappear down the hall, waiting until he turned the corner before you spoke again.
“It will seem suspicious for us to leave at the same time, Your Majesty.”
Jungkook made a dismissive noise. “I am not concerned by the thoughts of people in there.”
“An odd way to think of your subjects.”
He considered you standing before him. “You have a very low opinion of who I am and how I run my Kingdom.”
“No,” you said. “Merely of the idea of you running mine.”
Jungkook blinked, taken aback by your statement, but his confusion did not last long. After a moment, he stepped forward to close the space between you.
“Is this what you think of me?” he asked, voice low. “You think I asked for your hand in marriage – why? To become King of Ashya without the difficulties of waging war?”
“It would be a practical way to go about it.”
Jungkook’s gaze scanned your features. “I do not desire to rule Ashya in your stead. Merely to provide the best solution for both our peoples.”
Standing this close, you could feel the heat from his body. His scent was a living thing, wrapping your limbs, coaxing you closer – teeth gritted, you fought the need to take a step backwards.
“That is what you say, Your Majesty.”
He stiffened. “Are you calling me a liar?”
“I believe there are things you do not tell me.”
“And what about you, Your Majesty?” Jungkook tilted his head. “You have declined my offer of marriage and have yet to give a reason.”
“Do I need to give you one?”
“I would like one.”
“I should think you used to disappointment by now,” you said. “Such is the lot of Kings and Queens.”
He stared at you for a moment, his features softened by candlelight. A feeling almost like regret stole through you, gone before you could fully embrace it.
“Do you remember the last time you visited Duret Ghal?” Jungkook asked, which surprised you.
You stared at him a moment. The suddenness of the question pushed all retorts from mind. Thus far, you had held firm to your vow not to marry by convincing yourself the man standing before you was your enemy.
Now though, he asked if you remembered.
In truth, you did.
It had been your seventeenth birthday when you last traveled to Duret Ghal. The occasion had been to finalize your parents’ treaty, as well as formally meet Jungkook as your betrothed. You had met a few times before then, as children, but it had been a long time since those days.
Duret Ghal was a land of icy wilderness, except during the summer, when harsh winter snows melted to expose greenery and cliffs. Rumors said the dragons kept their bays clear of ice, but you had gone at the wrong time of year to see this in person.
To the north of Duret Ghal lay the Irik Sea, a fathomless expanse of foamed troughs of water. Its only mountains to speak of were the famed Cliffs of Oria, which circled the capital city of Ebril. It was within these cliffs the famed dragons nested.
Ebril was situated along the coast, known equally for seamen as much as their riders. The people of Ebril were known to be craggy and sharp, much like the topography. Despite their reputation, Ebril was a city of learning. Built from the white limestone which lined its cliffs, it was occasionally referred to as the jewel by the sea.
Ebril had not been the only thing which fascinated you on that trip. You had found Jungkook equally intriguing.
He had been different then. Still quiet, but in a studious way. His hair had been shorter, as though he could not be bothered with the time it took to comb it.
Upon your arrival, you had thought Jungkook hated you. He could not seem to stand being in the same room as you for very long. Still, he had not seemed antagonistic and so, you had resigned yourself to a loveless marriage and spent time exploring the city.
One morning, you’d woke to find the day warm enough for a trip to the cliffs. Your parents had been busy from sunup to sundown, negotiating the treaty you now found yourself crafting. Back then though, you’d been blissfully free of obligation and duty.
Having never seen the Cliffs of Oria, you’d gone to the stables to secure a mount. Strictly speaking, you did not need one as a Dragon. Ideally, you preferred to fly by yourself, but your parents had warned you against shifting in Duret Ghal.
Although some things had changed since the Dragon Wars, many Ghalians still did not trust your kind. It was never a good idea to push boundaries, especially not when the treaty depended upon it.
You had even borrowed Amara’s clothes in an attempt to blend in. It had been a practical move on your part, since you’d been packed only dresses.
When you’d arrived and requested a horse from the palace stable hand, he had looked you up and down before sneering.
“You’re Ashyan,” he’d said upon hearing your accent. The word Ashyan sounded like a curse. “I heard some of your kind had come to the castle. Thought you could fly without horses, huh? What need do you have with a Ghalian mount?”
You’d been so taken aback, you blurted out the first thing which came to mind.
"If you know so much about Ashya,” you’d told him, gaze hard, “then surely you know more humans live within its borders than Dragons. Humans cannot sprout wings any more than a man like you can see reason.”
The man’s eyes had bugged, taking a threatening step forward – as a soft laugh echoed through the courtyard. Surprised, both of you had turned towards the sound.
In the archway of the stables, Jungkook had shut his book in one hand. “That was funny,” he said, looking at you.
Upon seeing the Prince, the stable hand had paled.
“Your Highness,” he said, hastening to bow.
Jungkook’s gaze slid towards him, any trace of humor disappearing. He stared at him coldly and for a moment, you’d seen a hint of the King he would become.
“I believe the lady asked for a horse.” Jungkook had spoken calmly. “Were you about to deny the request of a royal guest to the crown?”
He did not call you the princess and for a moment, you had wondered if he knew.
“Of course not, Prince Jungkook,” the stable hand had stammered and for a moment, you’d felt a modicum of pity for him.
Then the man had cast you a dark look entering the stables and you'd quickly forgotten your mercy. Instead, you’d found yourself wondering how loud he’d scream if you shifted.
Jungkook cleared his throat.
Looking at him, you’d found him lingering in the entrance to the courtyard. Curiosity washed through you, wondering if he intended for you to thank him. The idea was vaguely insulting. You could have handled one measly human.
“I did not need your help, you know,” you had said.
Jungkook had merely arched a brow. “Oh, I am aware.”
“Good.”
Turning around, you had considered the conversation to be over. While you stood and waited for your horse though, you realized Jungkook did not leave. After another moment, you’d turned towards him.
“Then, why did you interject?” you’d asked, suddenly curious.
Rather than answer immediately, Jungkook had crossed the courtyard. He came to a stop before you, forcing you to tilt your head back to see him. For a human, you remembered him being quite tall.
That close, you’d seen Jungkook’s eyes for the first time. They were not all brown, as you’d imagined. Instead, you saw many colors within – auburn, hazel, and a deep, burnished gold. 
Meeting his gaze frankly stole your breath away.
“You are my guest,” Jungkook had said. “And my betrothed. It is my duty to protect you.”
Looking away, you’d tried not to smile. Despite the fact you were trying not to laugh, it felt oddly wrong to be free of his gaze.
“Why are you smiling?” Jungkook had asked, confused.
“I am sorry,” you had said, biting back a smile. “It is only… well. Is that how women are raised in Duret Ghal?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Before you could answer, the stable hand had emerged with a horse in tow. Accepting the reins he gave, you’d placed a foot in the stirrup and swung into the saddle. Settling your weight, you’d leaned forward and pet the horse’s long mane.
Glancing up, you’d locked eyes with Jungkook. “You speak of women as though they need protection. I must say, it has never been something I needed or wanted,” you’d said quietly, then clicked your heels and steered the horse away.
You had not looked back as you rode from the castle, but felt the weight of his gaze between your shoulder blades the entire way. It had sent the strangest energy across your skin but once you reached the trail, you managed to push both this and Jungkook from mind.
The sea had always been a subject of endless fascination for you. Crossing the grassy plains which topped the Cliffs of Oria, you’d found satisfaction in the salty taste of the air.
After nearly an hour of riding, you’d slowed to a stop. Before you, the Irik Sea had stretched in an endless display of blue. It reminded you of the sky with its limitless potential. As soon as you thought this, you had the dearest wish to fly.
Glancing away, you realized you’d seen no other humans for miles. Quietly, you slipped from your horse and tied him to a tree.
Entering a nearby thicket, you’d changed from your clothes and placed them under a rock. When you transformed to a Dragon, it tended to shred whatever clothing you wore.
Naked as the day you’d been born, you stood under the sky and tipped your head back. Allowing the transformation to take hold, warmth had spread through your veins until – opening your eyes, you were a Dragon.
Humans referred to this as the change, but you’d never found it to be an accurate descriptor. It was not as though you changed from one thing to the other; merely shifted to a different part of yourself. You were always a dragon and always a human. To be a Dragon was to be both.
Wings unfurled, you’d bent and leapt into the sky. It always took you a moment to reorient after shifting. Your senses of sight, smell and hearing were sharper as a dragon, although some things were different.
Beating your wings against the sea breeze, you’d risen and fallen while surveying the cliffs. From this height, you’d been able to see the smaller cities which dotted the fields of the capital. Ebril shone like a star on the distant shore. Instead of flying towards this, you turned in the opposite direction. You had no desire to be seen and send their women into hysterics.
Remembering Jungkook’s words, a jet of flame left your nostrils in a wicked snort. The idea of protecting a Dragon was laughable. Wheeling sideways, you’d traveled further out over the ocean. It had been silver-green at the time, bright as the clearest Ashyan jewel.
Growing bolder, you’d flown lower and skimmed the waves with your toes. Swooping higher, you’d circled again before diving straight down. When you plunged beneath the surface, the coldness of the Irik snatched fire from your lungs. Sputtering, you’d breached the surface and shot into the air to hang there, gasping.
Then you grinned and dove again.
For the first time in months, you’d allowed yourself to have fun. Ever since you’d turned sixteen, you’d become infinitely aware of your title and duty. Your duty to marry, to someday become Queen and leave your childhood behind. You’d wondered why you needed to give up fun and freedom, all for someone else’s hand.
In truth, the idea of marriage had scared you. Riders enjoyed taming dragons, or so the legends had said. They’d taken your ancestral creatures and turned them into beasts who willingly did their bidding. You had no desire to do anyone’s bidding but your own.
After a long day of flying, you’d tucked in your wings and returned to the cliffside. Although you had told your parents where you were going, they would worry if you were not back in time for dinner. Approaching the spot where you’d left your things, you realized a second horse had been tethered beside yours.
Searching the plains, you’d immediately spotted Jungkook. He lazed in the sun at the edge of the cliff, book open on his stomach and one arm behind his head.
He did not so much as look up when you landed, although the noise from your wings must have been deafening. Dropping into the thicket, you’d quickly returned to human form. With trembling hands, you’d pulled back on Amara’s clothes.
As you exited, Jungkook remained in his same position. Upon seeing him there, you’d stopped and looked away. Perhaps he had not seen you after all.
“How was your swim?” Jungkook had asked, eyes still shut.
Your stomach had dropped.
“I can explain,” you’d said, stepping forward.
One eye opening, Jungkook had frowned. Pushing himself to his elbows, he’d surveyed you and it had struck you suddenly how beautiful he was. Brown curls and soft gaze, above a lean body.
“What do you have to explain?” he’d asked, sounding curious.
“I – well.” For the first time, you’d found yourself flummoxed. “I did not mean to take advantage of Duret Ghal’s hospitality.”
This seemed to amuse him. “Are you… apologizing for using the sky, Your Highness?”
“No. Well, yes.”
Something in your expression made Jungkook soften. Closing his book and setting it aside, he’d stood from the ground and began to walk closer. He came to a stop near enough to see the tiny mole beneath his lip.
“Some Ghalians fear Dragons, it is true,” he’d said quietly. “But you need not ever fear this from me, Your Highness. If someone asked you not to fly in my Kingdom, please consider this to be a formal revocation.”
You had stared at him a moment before arching a brow. “It could be dangerous to fly, though. I might be in need of protection.”
Jungkook had paused for a moment before laughing, his head thrown back and smile wide. It was the same laugh he’d made tonight at the banquet.
“Forgive me for earlier,” he’d said, lowering his head to meet your gaze. “It was foolish of me to imagine I might protect a mighty Dragon.”
Although he’d adopted a teasing tone, seriousness lit his gaze. You found you rather enjoyed it. Enjoyed him, against all better reason. The slightest of thrills went down your spine.
“Foolish, indeed,” you’d murmured.
In your mind though, you’d wondered if perhaps you were the foolish one.
Although the day had been nearly ten years ago, you had never forgotten it. Never forgotten the boy who’d wanted to protect a Dragon.
The answer to Jungkook’s question was a resounding yes.
Yes, you remembered. Perhaps too much.
“I remember some,” you said, fighting to keep your voice steady. “Not all.”
Jungkook paused. “I see.”
“If that is all, I shall –”
“We were to be married before,” he said, expression inscrutable. “Is the idea of marrying me now so repulsive?”
“I do not find you repulsive,” you said on instinct.
Too late, you realized you’d eliminated an answer. You did not find Jungkook repulsive, so your reason for declining was something else.
He considered this. “No?”
“I do not,” you admitted. “But I also don’t know you, Your Majesty. Our former betrothal ended nearly ten years ago. The intention was to mend a rift between two nations. The situation is different now. Now, we have a common enemy to unite us.”
“And once Mor is defeated?”
“The defeat of a mutual enemy will be enough.”
Jungkook gave you a look which plainly said, will it?
Growing increasingly frustrated, you stepped forward until you stood nose to nose. Tilting your chin higher, you fought the overwhelming tide of his cedar and sunshine.
“You asked if I remember our last meeting and I do,” you said hotly. “I also remember the carnage which followed. Do not ask from me more than I can give, Your Majesty.”
A shadow crossed Jungkook’s expression, quickly followed by anger.
“If you remember so well,” he said, eyes narrowed. “Then surely you remember it was my Kingdom, not yours which paid for the coup in blood. It took me many years to rebuild what my Uncle destroyed.”
“I did not mean –”
“I think you did,” he interrupted. Taking a step back, he allowed cool air to pass between you. Stiffly, he bowed. “Thank you for the evening, Your Majesty. Enjoy the remainder of your night.”
Turning around, Jungkook strode down the hall until he disappeared.
You remained still for a moment, staring after him and wondering what you had done. All you’d wanted to do was to steer the conversation away from your vow not to marry. Instead, you’d insulted a man who had done nothing to harm you – at one point, he’d even wanted to protect you.
Gathering your skirts, you turned and walked away. Yoongi had not waited for you, for which you were grateful. You had no doubt he’d side with King Jungkook regarding your display this evening. Anyone with half a brain would, you supposed.
Still, it was too much for Jungkook to expect you to marry him simply because you had once been engaged. You’d been right about one thing – the situation was different now. You were different now and could not afford to let Jungkook get any closer.
You’d witnessed firsthand the kind of disaster such unions wrought.
Climbing the steps to your chamber, the crown on your head felt heavier tonight than ever before.
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The sun had not yet risen when you left your bed the next morning. Donning a gown, you hastily braided your hair and slipped outside. Nodding hello to your guards, you hurried down the corridors and out a side door.
As the land of Dragons, Ashya had developed unique features attuned to their needs. One such accommodation were the sheds – tiny, low buildings with large yards beyond them. They rested on the opposite side of the stables, since horses tended to be spooked by dragons and the main purpose of the sheds was for Dragons to shift.
Entering the one closest, you shut the door and began to undress. Hanging your clothes on the wall, you strolled into the enclosed yard. Its walls were high enough to ensure no passersby saw, yet large enough to encompass an adult Dragon.
Inhaling a breath, you tipped your head back and let the shift come. Wings unfurling, you opened your eyes and set your forelegs upon the ground. Bending low to the dirt, you pushed yourself upwards and into the sky.
Soaring over the castle, you began to fly southeast of the city. Valor sprawled out beneath you, a haphazard city of cobblestone and flint. Smoke curled from the chimneys, the earliest households waking for the day.
To the east, the foothills of the Thadal mountains were covered in pasture. Sheep and goats grazed there; their wool favored by Ashyan merchants. Circling overhead to ensure all was well, you found yourself satisfied and began to climb higher.
This was one of your favorite pastimes. Flying high enough that even your Dragon’s breath froze in your lungs, crystallizing in bursts until you could no longer bear it. Then you dove, tucking your wings in to hurtle towards the ground.
At the last moment, you snapped your wings open and rode the wind.
Snorting a thin stream of smoke, you slowed as you approached the mountains. The first rays of dawn broke over the horizon, spilling their light between the rocky crags. Inhaling fresh morning air, you flew further south.
The Thadal range was truly one of the wonders of the continent. Flying between towering peaks, you did not question why the Dragon Wars had been fought for its riches. The mountains went on for miles in the east, a flight you’d only made once. It had taken you nearly a week to cross the entire range and at its end you’d found a desert similar in size to the Irik Sea.
When you had returned, your father had berated you. Your mother had died only a year prior and he had only recently managed to pull himself together. If you had died, he’d shouted, the entire future of Ashya was lost.
It was a heavy burden to bear, but one you’d shouldered after his passing. Everything you did was for your nation and people. You would be enough for Ashya and would guard against the kind of attachments which might put this at risk.
As the sun slowly rose, the tightness in your stomach increased. With the rising sun came the responsibilities of being Queen. You had a schedule to keep, meetings to attend with Duret Ghal, your advisors and a large group of nobles.
Tucking in your wing, you began to turn – only for bright, searing pain to hit you in the shoulder.
Crying out, you fought to keep stable while twisting around. Wings beating the air, you frantically searched for your attacker. Vision blurred, you scanned the tree lines below and found nothing.
A second bolt shot towards you. With great effort, you managed to dodge the strike, rolling in midair. Mid-twist, you realized a large iron bolt remained lodged in your shoulder.
Stomach curdling, you realized what danger you were in. Only Mor had crossbows strong enough to kill a Dragon. Somewhere beneath you lay a Mor patrol.
Searching the woods, you felt hot drops of blood dripping from your scales. Before you could retaliate, before you could so much as inhale, an arrow of darkness shot into your vision.
Jungkook, astride his dragon, Nemrys, laid waste to the mountain.
A great wave of fire engulfed where the Mor patrol had been. Faint screams rose from below, a final shot fired but its aim was way off, as though whomever had done so, did so out of panic.
Wings flapping, you tried to stay aloft, but to no avail. It was hard to bring down a Dragon with a single bolt, but Mor had perfected their technology over the past century and you’d been caught unawares.
Nemrys continued to torch the forest even as you dropped, struggling to stay alight. Vision turning black, you thought you heard Jungkook yell – or maybe it was your own subconscious – before you spiraled down, wings cutting through branches before you hit the ground.
Everything went dark after that.
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Groggily, you woke to the sound of your name being called.
Fabric had been draped over your torso, softer than the dirt beneath your back. As you opened an eye, you realized you’d shifted to human. This happened occasionally when you went through a great shock.
As soon as you thought this, you remembered the attack. When you attempted to sit upright, a gentle hand gripped your shoulder. Re-focusing through the haze, you realized it was Jungkook who knelt beside you.
His expression remained on your arm. A shudder of pain wracked your body, which had been covered by his cloak, you realized.
Except for your shoulder, that was.
Catching a glimpse of it on the ground, you winced and forced yourself to look away. The lower part of your arm remained unscathed, but the upper portion was in bad shape. All you could see was blood, shredded muscle, and bone peeking through.
“The arrow,” you breathed, head spinning. “Where is it?”
“Knocked loose when you landed,” Jungkook said, tight-lipped. “Which was lucky, given how large the bolt was. Had you shifted while it was still in your shoulder… I do not know what might have happened. Still…” He paused. “You have lost a lot of blood.”
Turning aside, Jungkook began rummaging through a pack on the ground. Dizzily, you glanced around the forest clearing.
“W-where is Nemrys?” you asked, your teeth chattering.
Jungkook looked back with alarm. “I left him in the clearing,” he said. “There was not enough room for him to land.”
“And this is… your cloak?”
Jungkook nodded but said nothing more. He was dressed in all leather, a broadsword strapped to his back in a pragmatic sheath. When he turned your wrist over, you let out a hiss and his gaze snapped to yours.
A war seemed to wage within him as Jungkook sat back on his heels. “You have lost a lot of blood,” he repeated.
“There are healers in Valor,” you said, struggling to sit up. “You must bring me to them.”
Jungkook gripped your good shoulder again. “You cannot shift in this state, and I fear moving you would aggravate the wound ever further.”
You glared at him from the ground. “What do you propose, then?”
Even as you spoke, it occurred to you the situation might be bad. Right now, shock and adrenaline kept the pain at bay, but it would soon wear off.
“I stopped the blood flow as best I could,” Jungkook said. “But it continues to bleed. I fear you may lose consciousness before we reach the capital.”
Panic rose, choking whatever retort you had to say. If you lost consciousness now, it would only be a matter of time before your organs began to fail. You could not die here. You would not; not on an unknown forest floor, miles away from your home.
You would not be brought down by a single Mor patrol before you even got the chance to face them on the battlefield.
“What are the options,” you said, returning to Jungkook. “Do you have a tourniquet with you? Can Nemrys cauterize my wound? I can survive the loss of a limb, Your Majesty, but I will not leave Ashya so poorly defended.”
Jungkook stared at you a moment before he slowly exhaled.
“There is another option,” he said at last.
“Whatever it is, you best do it quickly. Before I pass out and leave you to wrestle with your conscience alone.”
Suppressing a grimace, Jungkook finally nodded and rolled up his sleeves. It exposed sinuous forearms and ink which, in any other circumstance, you might have found appealing. As it was, you merely found them distracting.
Jungkook hesitated before laying his hands on your arm.
“You must…” He paused, then swallowed. “You must trust me, Y/N.”
The use of your first name was shocking enough for you to fall silent. Nodding, you stared at the sky and laid as still as you could. The pain had begun to set in; you could feel phantom tingles from your injured limb. Dull, shooting pain which throbbed in your shoulder.
At first, nothing happened.
Jungkook’s hands remained on your arm and for a moment, nothing changed. Then – a flurry of sparks skittered down his hands. They sank into your skin so quickly, you thought you’d imagined it.
In response to this, the pain flared, and you arched your back.
“Steady,” said Jungkook, calloused hands on your body. It could have been your imagination, but his dark eyes seemed to glow. “The pain will be gone soon.”
As he spoke, more and more sparks traveled down his forearms. They increased until a golden stream of light poured from his fingertips, fracturing into pieces and – healing you, you realized.
Each place the golden light touched, your muscles reknit. Blood flowed back to the wound as your skin stitched itself together. Shocked, you stared at the evidence of your wound being erased. A bead of sweat rolled down Jungkook’s brow, his color turning sallow while you stared in alarm.
“Jungkook,” you rasped, chest rising and falling. The steady stream of light continued to brighten. “Jungkook – enough.”
He inhaled and jerked back, severing the connection.
Still breathing heavily, you stared at him in shock. The forest around you seemed darker, as though it, too, missed the light. Missed the golden magic which had poured forth from his fingers.
Shakily, you pushed yourself to a seated position, one hand on his cloak to hold it in place. Glancing down, you saw your shoulder and went still. He had healed you. Somehow, Jungkook had healed you.
Experimentally, you flexed the muscles and watched the skin ripple, undeterred.
You’d heard of healing magic but never experienced it in person. Magic was rare enough for not all gifts to be born in the same lifetime. There was also the small matter of neither of Jungkook’s parents being Dragons. Only a human with a Dragon parent could inherit magical gifts.
“Explain,” you said, gaze lifting to him.
Jungkook blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Explain,” you repeated, not looking away. “How did you heal me?”
Finally understanding, Jungkook sat back on his heels. Twisting around, he rummaged in his pack for a canteen and unscrewed the cap. As he took a long sip, Jungkook stared at the forest.
His exhaustion was clear, and you felt a glimmer of regret at your words. Regret – and something else. Something warmer, which wrapped you in golden tendrils as easily as his magic.
Clutching the cloak, you stared and realized you were being unfair. First and foremost, he had saved your life. Everything else could wait.
“Thank you,” you said quietly.
Jungkook stilled.
“I do not know how, nor why you healed me,” you continued. “But… thank you for doing so.”
Setting down his canteen, Jungkook waited a moment before turning to face you. He seemed to wrestle with some inner emotion.
“You are welcome.” After another beat, he reached into his sack. “Here,” he said, pulling out a ball of clothes. “If you wish to change into my spare clothing, you may. I can wait over there.”
Once you accepted the bundle, Jungkook stood from the ground. Dusting his palms on his pants, he swayed a little before he steadied himself. Before you could comment on this he was gone, trekking across the clearing.
Silently, you unfolded the clothes in your lap.
They included a tunic and trousers, along with a leather belt to hold them in place. Scuffed boots made up the last item of the pile. Running a thumb up their side, you attempted to determine their make.
“Why do you have all this?” you asked, looking up.
Even from here, you could see Jungkook’s cheeks redden. “Nemrys and I were once trapped by a snowstorm. We were forced to camp for the night in the mountains. Ever since then, I’ve always carried supplies. Get dressed,” he said, turning around. “I promise not to look.”
Tough you bristled, you watched and true to his word, he did not turn around. Once you were certain of this, you stood from the ground and began to dress yourself. His tunic was much too large, as were the trousers, forcing you to tighten the belt to its final notch. The fabric was soft and warm though, smelling of him.
Again, you marveled at your ease of motion. You’d seen your shoulder before Jungkook had done his healing and knew the situation could have been worse. If you hadn’t bled out in the woods, you might have lost the limb. Even in older accounts of magical healing, you knew it could be dangerous work. Healing required knowledge of muscles, veins, ligaments, and nerve endings. It was simple to patch up skin – harder to make everything beneath it work again.
Whatever magic Jungkook had, it was powerful.
Once you were fully dressed, you approached him on the other side of the clearing. Jungkook continued to stare pointedly at the woods, only turning around when you tapped his shoulder. He swiftly took in your outfit, gaze darkening at the sight of his clothes on your frame.
Ignoring the possible meanings his look could contain, you cleared your throat.
Jungkook’s gaze jumped to yours. “Are you ready to go?” he said, a bit brusque. “Nemrys is willing to fly us both back.”
Your jaw fell a little. “You wish for me to ride a dragon?”
“I expect you not to undo the gift I gave. Although I fixed your shoulder the best I could, I’d prefer a healer examined you back in Valor. It would be bad,” Jungkook added, seeing your expression, “if the Queen of Ashya were to plummet from the sky after my attempted healing.”
Much as you hated to admit it, he had a point. Magic was tenuous – even you knew how complicated healing magic was.
“Fine,” you muttered. “I will ride back with you.”
When you moved to walk past him, Jungkook grabbed your arm. Bristling somewhat, you stared at his hand on your sleeve.
“What?” you huffed, looking upwards.
Jungkook met your gaze. “Before we go,” he said slowly. “There are things you should know. Things we need to discuss.”
“Such as?”
“Such as my magic,” he said, releasing your arm. “My magic, where it comes from, and what it means for Ashya.”
You stared at him, not understanding.
Jungkook exhaled and ran a hand through his hair. Dark strands fell around his face, partially concealing the worry in his gaze. Of what, or for whom, you did not know.
“Do you know the origin story of magic?”
His voice had deepened, softened a little. Something about this and his expression convinced you not to snap back. Every child on the continent knew the origin story.
“Of course,” you said curiously. “Natal ripped a hole in the veil and before she could close it, magic seeped through.”
“True.” Jungkook nodded. “In your version of the story though, only your kind were gifted with magic. This is not the case. All dragons have magic.”
The world around you seemed to tilt. What Jungkook said was impossible and yet, he seemed utterly serious. For a moment, you wondered if he’d also been hurt in the attack. Perhaps he’d hit his head in his haste to heal you.
“You are the only kind of dragon who can shapeshift,” he continued. “Other kinds of magic exist, though. There are other types of power the dragons can wield.”
“Impossible,” you whispered, finally finding your voice.
“It is true.” Jungkook’s gaze remained level. “Riders can use the magic of the dragon they’re bonded to. It is why I can heal. Nemrys comes from a long line of dragons with healing magic.”
“It cannot be,” you said, reeling from the implications. “Only the descendants of Dragons and humans are born with magic.”
“And riders, once they bond.”
You stared at him a moment, then shook your head. “We would have known. We would… we would have known if someone else could use magic. How could we not?” you demanded.
A shadow of something bitter crossed Jungkook’s expression. “I am sure you are aware there are parts of Duret Ghal which disapprove of magic.”
You did not know how this could relate to the dragons and their riders but allowed the detour to continue. It could not be worse than the sudden revelation magic was different from what you’d always imagined.
“I am aware,” you said flatly. “A ridiculous notion. Magic wins wars.”
“True.” Jungkook seemed to weigh his words. “But those born with gifts are viewed as a necessary evil by some within Duret Ghal. A tool for battle and nothing more. If these people had discovered their leaders had magic?” Jungkook shook his head. “A century ago, Ghalians would have revolted.”
Your eyes narrowed. “They would accept you ride dragons, but not that you have magic?”
A ghost of a smile crossed Jungkook’s lips.
“Humans are gifted magic when a Dragon and human mate,” he explained. “For many years, Duret Ghal considered Ashya and Dragons to be our enemy. You can understand why the idea of magic was an inherent threat.”
“…I suppose.”
“They only accepted the riders because Ghalians imagined the same thing you did – that the dragons we ride are a tame, subservient species compared to your own. It is not so.”
“No?”
“No.”
Unable to fathom this, you looked away at the forest. If everything Jungkook said was true, then the history of your nation – of your continent – was a lie. The Dragons of Ashya were only different in that they could shapeshift. The rhetoric you’d believed your whole life, that you were somehow more than the rest, was untrue.
The dragon riders had magic and, realizing this, you turned back.
“Why did you heal me, then?” you asked. “If the Ghalians feel so strongly about magic, surely you would wish to keep this a secret?”
Jungkook hesitated.
“We were… aware of the risk coming here. For many years, I have been trying to convince the other riders to reveal themselves,” he explained. “It was the coming war against Mor which convinced them, in the end.”
“What does Mor have to do with it?”
“Everything,” Jungkook said. “Mor has declared a war on all dragons, including those of Duret Ghal. Their technology is beyond ours. When they do come, it will be a bloody battle. If we do not fight with our full capabilities, we might fail. I will not allow this to happen.”
“And so,” you said slowly. “You healed me because… you had already decided to reveal your magic?”
An amused gleam entered his gaze. “Amongst other reasons,” Jungkook allowed. “Though you may not believe it, I rather enjoy having you around, Your Majesty. It would be a pity to waste a life such as yours.”
There seemed to be deeper meaning to his words, but you had no time to dissect it. Stepping closer, Jungkook looked down.
“We had planned to reveal our magic once the treaty was signed,” he explained. “Your injury simply moved up the timeline.”
“I see,” you said, somewhat dazed by his presence so close to your own.
Jungkook nodded, then turned to continue, but something within you kept you from moving. Staring at the back of his head, you realized the words you truly wanted to say.
“And the other dragons,” you said slowly, then stopped. “What about them?”
Paused at the edge of the clearing, Jungkook turned around. Wariness had entered his gaze.
“I do not know this is my story to tell,” he admitted. “But since you cannot speak directly to Nemrys, I can tell you what he told me.”
Jungkook glanced overhead and you wondered if he searched for the time. Or, you realized, he could be communicating with Nemrys.
You had known rider and dragon had a bond. This had been well-documented throughout history, but not much else was known beyond their ritualistic ceremony. Whether dragon and rider could converse was a controversial topic amongst historians, but based on what Jungkook said, it seemed they could.
Based on what he did now, it seemed they did.
“Thousands of years ago,” Jungkook finally said, looking down. “Natal broke the sky and magic flowed in. It entered all dragons who slept in the mountains below. The magic manifested in different forms. A line of dragons known for compassion became healers. Another line, known for passion and wildness, became stormmakers. And another, always curious, became the shapeshifters.
“Human beings were originally from the south, but as they moved north, they encountered the dragons. Wars were fought between them, bloodier than any of our recent conflicts. Many were killed on both sides, until the head of the shifter dragons decided to become human.
“There was dissent amongst the dragons as to whether this was wise. Many did not like the idea of stooping to the humans’ level, but the shifter line proceeded despite their caution. Your kind founded Ashya and lived in peace for a while.
“Over time, changes took place. Small, at first – and then larger. Some of the shifters chose not to shift, even though they could. Some decided they preferred human form over dragon. In an important conflict, the shifters sided with humans. Certain lines of dragons deemed this to be unacceptable.
“The most feared magic amongst dragons was – and still is – that of the memory dragons. These dragons, though rare, can manipulate thought, memory and perception. As punishment for siding with the humans, they took away your memory of all dragons. Stole your ability to communicate while in dragon form. Over time, your kind have forgotten what you once were.
“It was a terrible punishment. One which has not been given since. That is the whole truth,” he finished quietly. “That is the knowledge which has been kept from your kind.”
Falling silent, Jungkook allowed time for his story to sink in. The forest around you was silent as well, as though it, too, were holding its breath.
You could only stare while struggling to comprehend. If what Jungkook said was true, then you were not different from other dragons – or, you were, but not in the ways you’d once thought. They were as intelligent, as cohesive, and knowledgeable as you were. More, perhaps, if they had hidden this from you for so long.
“And so, rider magic,” you said, a bit hoarse. “How…?”
“Ah.” Jungkook gave a wry smile. “The riders did not come until later. Call it Natal’s judgement, if you will. As time went on, some of the dragon lines grew more curious about humans. One of them somehow bonded with a human. This continued to occur until finally, the King of Duret Ghal himself became a dragon rider.”
“And the riders,” you said, trying to piece it together. “They can use their dragon’s magic?”
Jungkook nodded.
“And you speak to them?” The barest hint of wonder entered your voice. “Can you speak to all dragons?”
“Only the one we are bonded to,” Jungkook said, a bit softer.
“I see.”
He gave you a look. “I know this is a lot to take in.”
“No. Well, yes,” you said as you shook your head. “You have given me much to think on, Your Majesty.”
Jungkook’s expression shuttered a bit at the formality, but he inclined his head. “Indeed, Your Majesty,” he responded.
You stared at him for a moment, taking in the dried sweat on his forehead from the energy spent healing you. Something had changed between you, and you did not know how you could turn back.
“Thank you,” you said softly.
Jungkook glanced up. “For what?”
“For many things, I suppose. For healing me. For trusting me with the truth. I owe you a life debt, Your Majesty.”
An unreadable look passed over his face. “I imagine there will be many life debts between us before this war comes to pass.”
He was not wrong and for a moment, you allowed yourself the luxury of imagining you might face this war together.
“A fair point,” you allowed.
Glancing past him, you surveyed the clearing. Nemrys must be nearby, or Jungkook would not have gotten to you so quickly. Suddenly, the prospect of meeting another dragon held an entirely different meaning. All this time, you had assumed them to be less intelligent than your own and had treated them as such. You could only imagine how little they thought of you.
Nemrys would likely be less thrilled to have you riding him, than you would be in the saddle.
“There is another reason I healed you,” Jungkook admitted.
You glanced his way in surprise. “And what reason was that?”
Jungkook walked closer, step by step until he was barely a foot away. Reaching out a hand, he adjusted his tunic where it fell on your frame. His thumb brushed your bare collarbone and in response to this, you barely suppressed a shiver.
“You said you did not know me.” Jungkook swallowed. “It seemed a shame for our time to be cut short before I could remedy this fact.”
With that, he dropped his hand and walked away.
You stared as he left, feeling utterly thrown until he spoke again.
“Follow me,” Jungkook called. “Nemrys is impatient. Not unusual for a dragon, but he does make a good point. People will be looking for us – I was expected back nearly an hour ago.”
Glancing overhead, you realized Jungkook was right based on the sun's position. It had risen nearly above the treetops, meaning Jimin would have people looking for you soon.
Jungkook kept going as you followed, striding from the clearing you’d made when you fell. It took only a few minutes before the trees had thinned enough for you to come face to face with Nemrys on the ground.
His scales were ebony in color, dark as the night sky above during the witching hour. Only one golden eye could focus on you at a time, but the one which did remained steady as you entered.
Nemrys did not seem happy to see you, and you did not blame him. Dragons were a territorial bunch, whether shifter or otherwise. If Nemrys considered you a threat to Jungkook, he would stop at nothing to protect his rider.
As you exited the forest, Jungkook looked up. “No,” he said sharply, walking around Nemrys’ side.
Curious, you turned and realized he wasn’t speaking to you.
“What did Nemrys say?” 
A growl left Nemrys’ throat, clawing at the ground with a single, curved talon.
Jungkook sighed in response, looking skyward. He seemed thoroughly exasperated, and it was one of the most natural expressions you’d seen on him thus far.
“Nemrys asked if you wished to ride in the saddle, or have him carry you,” Jungkook said at last, looking down.
Gaze narrowed, you turned your head to Nemrys. If you did not know any better, you could have sworn his upper lip curled. To be carried by a dragon meant to dangle upside down from their claw while they flew through the air.
“No, thank you,” you said, walking closer. “Although, I do have something I wish to say to Nemrys.”
Coming to a stop before him, you looked Nemrys in the eye. Nemrys slowly blinked, as though he were extremely uninterested in whatever you had to say.
“Thank you,” you said, your voice softening. “Thank you… for telling me, through him.”
Nemrys stilled.
“And for healing me,” you added, bowing your head. It was a sign of great trust to expose your neck to a dragon. “I cannot find the words to express my gratitude.”
After a moment, Nemrys exhaled and lowered his head as well. Glancing up, you met his gaze and felt something unspoken pass between you.
“He thinks you might find the saddle more comfortable,” Jungkook said, sounding a bit amused at the side.
Lips twitching, you took a step backwards and looked now at Jungkook. Nemrys snorted again, steam exhaled past his lips. In response to whatever he’d said, Jungkook’s cheeks turned a bit pink.
“What was that?” you asked, curious.
“Nothing.” Jungkook glared at the dragon. “Nemrys said we should go.”
Nemrys snorted once more, steam rising as he hauled himself to his feet. It did not seem Jungkook was telling you the entire truth, but the importance of this faded when you saw the saddle. It had not seemed as high when you were also a dragon.
“You sit up… there?” you asked, coming to a stop.
Jungkook hid his smile. “It isn’t as dangerous as it seems,” he insisted, placing a hand on the ladder. “You just climb all the rungs until you reach the top.”
Nodding, you placed one foot in the stirrup and firmly gripped the ladder. As you began to climb, hand over foot, you found yourself holding your breath. Eventually, you reached the top and swung a leg over.
“Careful,” Jungkook called from the ground. “I still want my healer to take a look at your shoulder.”
“I have healers, too,” you grumbled, settling onto the leather.
Jungkook climbed after you, swinging his leg over to land firmly behind you. His right hand found your waist, tugging you back until your spine met his chest. None other would dare touch the Queen in such a manner but then again, Jungkook was also a King.
“I know,” he said, his breath warm on your ear. “But mine are accustomed to dealing with magical healing.”
Unable to argue, you gripped the front of the saddle. Unconvincingly, you tried to make yourself believe it would be like riding a horse. Jungkook’s hand gripped your hip, distracting enough that you nearly forgot what you were doing.
As Nemrys bent and spread his wings, you forced your eyes shut. It was a silly thing, but you’d never flown through the skies when you were not the one in control.
You felt, rather than saw, when the ground fell away beneath you. Wind whistled past your ears, the force of gravity pressing you against Jungkook’s chest. He said nothing in response, merely curled his fingers into the hem of your tunic.
One you felt comfortable, you opened your eyes against the rushing wind.
For a moment, vertigo overtook you and you felt a bit nauseous. It felt wrong to fly in your human body, with nothing protecting you if you were to fall. The feeling only lasted a moment though, before you began to marvel at the landscape beneath you.
It looked different with your human vision – as a dragon, you could see UV as well as blue, red and green. Vision as a human was softer, the mountains before you a muted grey-green. Even the air felt colder without your dragon skin.
Unbidden, you shivered, and Jungkook’s hand tightened.
“It is different,” you breathed, staring hard at the ground.
Jungkook chuckled, low in your ear. “Different for me, too,” he admitted. “I have never flown with another person before.”
Startled, you turned and found his face close to yours. You had not thought about this when you moved, but now found yourself inches away from his lips.
“Never?” you murmured, your words caught by the wind.
“Never.”
Again, the same shiver swept your spine, so you forced yourself to face forward. The wind continued to blow, ferocious and cold, but Jungkook managed to stay warm behind you. Eyes drifting shut, you allowed yourself a moment to bask in his presence.
Only a moment before you pulled yourself together.
All too soon, you arrived at the castle courtyard. Landing in the open space by the gates, you realized a search party had already gathered. Sliding down from Nemrys, you barely paused to give thanks before hurrying on.
Midway to the castle, you saw Jimin break ranks as he jogged to see you. Scanning your frame, his silver-blonde hair blew haphazardly in the wind. Coming to a sudden stop, Jimin glanced past you, his eyes widening when he realized you’d come from Nemrys.
Before he could speak, Namjoon skidded to a stop beside him.
“Y/N,” he gasped, lowering both hands to his knees. “By the veil, you scared us.”
Guiltily, you turned. “I am sorry,” you told him. “I am fine, though. I promise. I apologize for making you worry.”
Jimin continued to stare at Nemrys. “Your Majesty. What –”
“It was my fault,” Jungkook interrupted, striding into the circle. He came to a stop alongside you, as though he belonged there. “I saw Her Majesty injure herself while out flying and insisted on escorting her back to the castle.”
Namjoon looked at you in alarm. “Is this true? Are you hurt?”
“Only a dislocation,” you assured him. “Nothing to worry about.”
Although Namjoon nodded, Jimin continued to frown.
“A dislocation,” he said slowly, his gaze flicking to yours. “While flying?”
“Momentarily blinded by the sun,” you explained. “Hit a cliff and was forced to shift back to human.”
“And… Jungkook saw?”
Both Jimin and Namjoon glanced at Jungkook, who jumped into the story without missing a beat.
“Nemrys has excellent vision,” he said with a shrug. “Better than I, that is for certain.”
Jimin still seemed suspicious, but he eventually nodded. “We are glad to see you safe, Your Majesty,” he said. “I will go and tell the search party to stand down.”
“Thank you,” you said quietly.
Jimin began crossing the courtyard, leaving you alone with Namjoon and Jungkook. You fully intended to tell Namjoon and Jimin the truth, but now was not the right moment. Too many ears were listening.
“Is Yoongi furious?” you asked lowly. “How many meetings have I missed?”
Namjoon gave a rueful smile. “He will get over it. Your meetings for the morning have been postponed. The afternoon remains.”
“Good,” you said, stepping forward. “I will just –”
“Your Majesty,” Jungkook said, and you paused. “I did hope you would see the healer on my staff before returning to duty.”
He stood to your side, looking at you earnestly. Namjoon glanced between you; his surprise further increasing when you eventually nodded.
“His Majesty is correct,” you admitted. “I do feel fine, Namjoon, but it is better to be safe than sorry. I will have things to discuss with you after.”
Namjoon slowly nodded, seeming to understand. “Anything I need to know now?”
Glancing around, you ensured no one could hear. “A Mor patrol,” you said quietly. “Barely fifteen miles south. They were the true cause of my injury, but they are no longer a worry.”
Namjoon’s brow creased even further. “Are you certain you are alright? If it was a Mor patrol, you may have–”
“I am fine,” you cut in, quiet.
Namjoon hesitated before he nodded again. “Alright. I will have Jimin send soldiers to search the surrounding mountains.”
“Thank you. Tell Yoongi I will be up as soon as I can. And have Amara send me new clothes,” you added as you walked past. “I believe it sends the wrong message to wander around in His Majesty’s leathers.”
Namjoon nearly choked on his response while turning to leave.
“Well?” You glanced sideways, at Jungkook. “What are we waiting for?”
Turning his laugh into a cough, Jungkook began to walk forward. “Nothing,” he said.
Following his footsteps, you realized he went towards the guest entrance of the castle. Jungkook had not landed near the sheds, which made sense. Dragons and riders did not take kindly to one another. You supposed you and Nemrys now made the exception.
As you entered the halls of the castle, a draft brushed your exposed skin and you shivered. Pulling Jungkook’s clothes tighter, you considered the excuse he’d fed to Jimin.
“You said Nemrys saw me from the sky,” you said, breaking the silence.
Jungkook looked your way in surprise. “Should I have said something different? You did not seem inclined to discuss your injury out there.”
“No, you are correct. However, I now find myself wondering how did you see me this morning? Did you follow me from the castle, Your Majesty?”
Coming to a halt at the next corner, Jungkook turned sideways to face you.
His gaze flickered in torchlight. “Are you accusing me of following you?”
"Merely asking.”
Jungkook’s eyes narrowed. “If you must know, I was also out for my morning ride. I saw a Mor scout and had tracked them back to that mountain when I saw you get shot.”
“How very convenient,” you said, lifting your chin.
A muscle in his jaw ticked, stepping closer. “Is it?” he murmured. “I find it tiresome to have my honor continually called into question, Your Majesty.”
“Can you blame me?” you said. “You have kept many secrets from me, it would seem. Some are more substantial than others.”
“I also saved your life.”
“A debt I am well-aware of.”
A door creaked open down the hall.
“Oh – I am sorry,” a chestnut-haired man said, peeking out. “I heard arguing and wanted to make sure no one needed my help. Carry on!”
The man was about to duck back inside, when Jungkook held up a hand.
“Wait, Hoseok,” he said, not looking away from your gaze. “I need you to do something for me.”
The man – Hoseok, it seemed – paused halfway across the threshold. His gaze slid to yours, clearly recognizing you for who you were.
“Are you sure?” he asked slowly.
Jungkook nodded, turning on his heel as he strode down the hall. You were left with no choice but to follow, glaring daggers at his retreating backside. Something about the King made your blood boil, making you see red as you traveled in his footsteps.
“This is my healer, Jung Hoseok,” Jungkook said, coming to a stop. “Hoseok, this is the Queen of Ashya. I would appreciate it if you looked at her shoulder.”
Hoseok hesitated, glancing past Jungkook to you. After a moment, he nodded and stepped inside. 
“Of course,” he said with a bow. “Please, come in.”
Inclining your head, you walked past Jungkook to enter. The space past him was tidy, though there was not much light to see by, aside from the fireplace. Possibly the room had belonged to an Ashyan healer, although you could not be certain. You rarely traveled into the guest wing.
Once Jungkook had joined you, Hoseok crossed the room to pull open a cabinet. Rummaging around, he set several jars on the counter.
Jungkook lingered by the door, leaning a shoulder to the wall to stare at the healer.
Deciding the best thing to do was ignore him, you glanced away. One minute the King was tender, binding your wounds with the utmost of care and the next, he seemed ready to bite your head off. It was maddening.
Glancing around, you took in herbs, linen, and jars of salve. On the hearth was a fire, crackling merrily beneath a large, copper pot. The scents of witch hazel and thyme filled the room, a natural antiseptic.
“Hoseok is the best healer in Duret Ghal,” Jungkook said, by way of introduction.
Hoseok snorted. “I do not know about that,” he said as he turned around.
“Careful.” Jungkook arched a brow. “Her Majesty may take you at your word and see an Ashyan healer instead.”
Hoseok made an unbecoming sound before he looked up, stricken. “I did not mean insult, Your Majesty,” he said, a bit panicked. “It is only –”
“It is alright,” you interrupted. “None of my healers are accustomed to wounds healed by magic. I would prefer you look at my wound, regardless of what you have to say about Ashya.”
Hoseok shot Jungkook a surprised glance, who nodded.
“The Queen’s wounds were severe,” Jungkook said quietly. “An iron bolt to the shoulder while in dragon form. She crashed through the forest and shifted on impact. Had lost a lot of blood when I arrived.”
“I see.” Hoseok glanced your way, sympathetic. “I am so sorry to hear it, Your Majesty.”
With anyone else, you might have thought the words sounded patronizing, but not with Hoseok. He had an earnest way about him; you imagined he couldn’t tell a lie to save his soul.
“I would not care to repeat the experience,” you admitted.
Briskly, Hoseok scanned your body. “Left shoulder?”
Surprised, you said, “Yes.”
He nodded, rolling up his sleeves to walk around the table. An empty jar stayed behind on the counter, the flames from the hearth casting flickering light on the floor.
Hoseok stopped. “In order to evaluate your arm, I will need you to remove the tunic, Your Majesty. Is this alright?”
You nodded, then glanced at Jungkook.
Cheeks a bit pink, he seemed to take the hint. “I will take my leave,” Jungkook said, his hand fumbling for the door. “Should you have further need of me, Your Majesty, you may send Hoseok to find me.”
“Which might be rather difficult,” Hoseok observed. “Given Hoseok is currently tending to Her Majesty’s injury.”
Jungkook rolled his eyes but hid a smile as he left. The door fell shut behind him, leaving you and Hoseok in total silence. With a rueful smile, he glanced your way.
“Apologies,” he said with a shrug. “Jungkook and I grew up together, so we tend to forget our formalities when others are present.”
“We?” you said, arching a brow. “It seemed you were the only one forgetting your manners, healer Jung.”
Hoseok’s eyes widened, unsure how to respond until you laughed.
“I am sorry,” you said with a smile. “It is cruel to tease when you do not know my nature.”
Hoseok paused before throwing his head back to laugh. Eyes shining, he wagged a finger in your direction as he walked away. “You are funny,” he said, pulling out a bowl. “It is no wonder the King seems to enjoy your company.”
“Is that so?”
Hoseok seemed not to hear your question, selecting some linen to lay on the counter. “There is a partition in the corner,” he said, nodding towards it. “Fabric is laid on the stool, so you can wrap it around your midsection for modesty.”
The partition was barely more than a folding screen, but it did the trick. Stripping free from Jungkook’s tunic, you folded it neatly and placed it on the stool. Winding the fabric around your breasts, you covered them tightly and stepped outside.
Glancing up as you exited, Hoseok set down his work. “You may sit on the stool,” he instructed. “That will do for the examination.”
Taking a seat, you waited for Hoseok to come around the counter. Gently, he took your wrist and turned it this way and that. Raising your arm, he examined its mobility until he seemed satisfied. Deft fingers moved up your arm, applying gentle pressure to several key points. When you failed to react, he prodded deeper.
Aside from the occasional twinge, you felt nothing unusual. After a while, Hoseok took a step back and nodded approval.
“Jungkook did a good job,” he said as he turned away.
“Is that all?”
“Not quite.” Hoseok stepped behind his table. “I will make you a salve, Your Majesty. This will ease any stiffness you may feel from the magical healing. Magic requires a great deal of energy, some of it yours. You may feel more tired than usual.”
“Oh,” you said, a bit thrown.
You had never questioned the toll of magic before. Yoongi had never complained about using his gift to help your council.
Pulling things from his cabinets, Hoseok began to mix and measure in a bowl. He was quiet for a while, content to do his work while you watched. After a while, he cleared his throat.
“I imagine it was a shock,” he said. “To be healed in such a manner.”
You stared at him a moment, unsure how to respond.
“It was… unexpected.”
Hoseok laughed as he looked up. “That is one way to put it,” he agreed. “The first time Jungkook healed me, I screamed like the veil was being torn apart. Thought he was trying to hex me.”
“Is such a thing even possible?” you said, smiling despite yourself.
Hoseok shrugged. “It seemed as likely as a rider having magic. I am sure Jungkook told you, but most in Duret Ghal are unaware of that particular secret.”
Silent, you nodded. Jungkook had, indeed, explained to you the image of magic in his homeland.
After a moment, Hoseok sighed. “The perceptions of Ghalians have changed greatly since the end of the Dragon Wars, but some of the fear remains. There are some who, no matter what we say, will believe magic and all Dragons are evil.”
“Not those His Majesty rides, though?”
Hoseok gave you a wry smile. “They do not view those dragons as the intelligent creatures you and I know them to be. Jungkook wishes to change that,” he said. “But it will be a difficult path. One he is determined to set upon.”
“I see.” You paused. “Forgive me for being blunt, but why are you telling me this?”
Hoseok resumed making the salve. “When Jungkook first revealed his magic to me, I was upset. He had lied. Kept something important from me for such a long time. It took me a while to understand that he, himself, did not always view his magic to be a gift.”
You stared at Hoseok a moment. 
Jungkook had seemed so confident when he healed you, and had always seemed different from the Ghalians who despised magic and Dragons. It had not occurred to you his reasons for keeping his magic a secret may have also been personal.
Hoseok was right. Changing perception within Duret Ghal would be difficult. Jungkook had taken a great risk by revealing his magic to you. A risk you did not wish to examine too closely for the moment.
“Is the examination finished?” you asked, rising from the stool.
Hoseok looked up in surprise. “Oh, yes. Feel free to get dressed, Your Majesty. I will finish this salve and send you on your way.”
You nodded and retreated behind the partition. Once you were no longer visible, you allowed yourself to fully breathe. Hoseok’s words painted a different picture of the Ghalian King. Magic had always been viewed as a gift in Ashya; you should have recognized the stigma elsewhere.
Unwinding the fabric from your torso, you returned to Jungkook’s clothing. His scent was everywhere, enveloping you fully.
It made you remember the ride with him on Nemrys, his body warm and solid behind you. Closing your eyes, you pushed this memory from mind. More and more, you found yourself considering Jungkook as a man instead of your enemy, and such thoughts were dangerous.
Fastening the belt, you stepped outside and found Hoseok waiting.
“Here,” he said, handing over a jar of salve. “If you need more, please send word and I shall bring it immediately.”
“You are too kind,” you said, accepting the bottle. “I appreciate your help, healer Jung.”
“Hoseok.”
“Hoseok,” you agreed with a nod.
Not wishing to overstay the welcome, you gave him a last smile and walked towards the door. One hand on the knob, you paused.
Hoseok looked up at your silence. “Yes?”
A thousand questions sprang to mind – silly, inane ones of no use to anyone. What Jungkook had been like as a child, why he’d once needed to heal Hoseok and reveal his magic. You found yourself wanting to know more, wanting to know him and again, this was dangerous.
“Nothing,” you said, pulling open the door. “Thank you again for your services.”
Hoseok nodded and smiled as you left the room. Amara was waiting for you in the hall, a fresh bundle of clothes in her arms.
“Thank Natal,” you sighed, taking the dress. “It would have caused a lot of talk had I worn the King’s clothing upstairs.”
Hiding her grin, Amara followed you inside the empty room across the corridor. Once the door was shut, she began to help you dress.
“Did you fall in a pond?” she asked innocently, tugging on your laces.
You winced while lifted your arms. “Nothing so exciting. I was caught unawares during my flight and needed to shift. My morning dress is still in the sheds, unfortunately.”
Amara nodded, finishing the final button as you turned around. “I will get it,” she said, gathering Jungkook’s clothes and the salve to exit the room.
Left alone with your thoughts, you hesitated a moment before following suit.
Jungkook had not waited for you.
You were not sure why this mattered. It didn’t – it should not and yet, you couldn’t stop the sinking feeling it somehow did. Shoving the feeling aside, you managed to seem unruffled by the time you reached your first meeting.
The day only grew longer from there.
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When people imagined the duties of the crown, they typically thought of the more extraordinary parts. Being coronated, going to war, grand marshalling parades and the like.
The reality of ruling was far less glamorous. It was one tedious decision after another, with the most minute turn of phrase sparking ire or admiration. It was sitting through meeting after meeting while you listened to weather reports, updates from mines and concerns about a two and a half percent tariff still being too high.
By the time your meetings ended, the sun had long since sunk below the horizon. Wearily, you returned to your rooms and tried to forget the day. It did not seem possible only this morning, you’d feared for your life while bleeding out in the forest.
The only thing which drove you on was the thought of shutting yourself in your chambers, sinking into a bath and closing your eyes. A wish which seemed destined to be thwarted, you saw when you entered.
Min Yoongi had seated himself in an armchair by the fire, his expression steeled like a weapon of war.
“We need to talk,” he said simply.
Coming to a stop at the table, you inspected the salve Hoseok had made. He had not given any instructions on how to apply it, and you wondered if you should have Amara find out.
“Do we?” you said, lifting your gaze to his. “Need I remind you who amongst us wears the crown, Lord Yoongi?”
“And need I remind you which of us pays the other for their counsel?”
Hiding a smile, you pulled out a chair. As much as Ashya’s stability depended on your authority, you were not above thinking yourself impervious to counsel. If Yoongi had something he wished to speak to you about, it was likely important.
“Shall I guess what this is about?” you asked. “Or, are you going to eventually tell me?”
Yoongi did not waste your time. “What happened this morning?”
“I was injured during a flight.”
He made a noise of dismissal. “Are you truly telling me the Queen of Ashya was injured on a routine flight? That you spotted a Mor patrol and became so distracted, you crashed into a mountainside and dislocated your shoulder? Again,” he said, gaze hardening. “What happened?”
Slowly, you exhaled. “The truth is far less believable.”
“Try me.”
And so, you explained. Everything. Your flight this morning, the Mor patrol which had shot you down from the sky. The way you shifted to human before Jungkook arrived to heal you. You told Yoongi about Jungkook having magic, as did all riders. You explained about the different dragon lines, how they all had magic and were not unintelligent, as you had previously assumed.
Once you had finished, Yoongi stared at you and blinked. “That…” He shook his head. “Is equally insane, but at least you are now telling me the truth.”
He had questions then – many of them, and you soon settled into a familiar rhythm. Planning for different eventualities, laying out who to tell and when. Yoongi, along with Namjoon, were your sounding boards for strategy. When you’d given all the answers you could possibly provide, Yoongi fell silent, staring into the fire.
At last, he stood and walked towards the window. Pouring whiskey from a crystal decanter, he swirled this in one hand before he returned.
“This will change things,” Yoongi said, taking a sip of his drink.
“It will.”
“If what you say is true,” he said slowly. “We have acquired an entire new arsenal against Mor. Who knows what kinds of magic lie within their rider ranks? There has not been a healer born for many decades in Ashya.”
“Some of them will be passive powers,” you warned.
Yoongi waved a hand. “It is still a gift. Still magic. In all Jimin’s plans, he has only accounted for the gifts of humans between us. That number will now double! Triple, even.”
“His Majesty only revealed his magic to me because he was forced,” you countered. “We cannot count on them in upcoming battles with Mor. He could still decide otherwise.”
Yoongi gave you a look. “He said he was planning to reveal it after the treaty was signed, yes?”
“Yes, but –”
“But what, Your Majesty?” Yoongi’s eyes narrowed. “What reason do you have now not to trust the King? What lie could you possibly have prepared for me this evening?”
Freezing in place, you could only stare. Yoongi seldom spoke to you like this. For one, you were his Queen and for another, he usually understood you better than to yell.
After a moment, Yoongi sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. He looked tired, you realized. Hoseok’s words from earlier came to mind, about how magic required new energy. You wondered how much Yoongi had used his gift these past few weeks.
“I am sorry,” Yoongi said, and looked as though he meant it. “I did not mean to sound so harsh.”
Choosing not to respond, you waited instead for him to elaborate. Yoongi rarely said things without meaning them.
Closing his eyes, the dark of his lashes dusted paler cheekbones. The veins in his eyelids were prominent, stark against the rest of his skin.
“It can be exhausting to have a gift like mine,” Yoongi said quietly. “All day, I can sense other people’s emotions, yet cannot shut them out. It can be useful, but it is also tiresome. Oftentimes, I am not sure which emotions are mine. It is especially trying,” he said, eyes opening, “when someone continuously lies in my presence.”
“Me?” you said, taken aback. “When have I lied to you, Yoongi?”
Yoongi stared into his glass for a moment, seemingly weighing the consequences of whatever it was he had to say.
“Each time you say you do not wish to marry the King.”
You went still, staring at him from across the table. Within the confines of your chest, your heart began to beat faster.
“I do not mean you are lying on purpose,” Yoongi said, then paused. “Or maybe you are. It can be hard for me to tell. All I know is your emotions are murky each time you speak, as though you are battling something inside.”
“You think… I desire to marry His Majesty?”
Yoongi considered for a minute. “I do not know,” he admitted.
“And yet, you presume to know a great deal,” you said, drumming your fingers on the table. “Why would I turn the King down if I wished to marry him?”
“I am sure I could not say.”
“Hazard a guess.”
Yoongi’s eyes narrowed. “Fine.” He took a long sip of his drink. “When you are around Jungkook, your emotions get lighter. Happier. And yet, there is sorrow as well. I do not know if this is because of His Majesty, or the idea of marriage itself.”
Staring at Yoongi, you refused to move. He was dangerously close to hitting upon something important. Something you’d worked tirelessly to hide, even from yourself.
“Is it Leo?” Yoongi asked, a bit gentler. “Do you still love him?”
Yoongi had not served with you in the army, but he knew about your former love. Early on in your reign, you’d asked Yoongi to go about certain steps to protect Leo from harm.
“No,” you exhaled. “It has been a long time since I chose my path, and he chose his.”
“Pride, then. Perhaps you do not like the idea of ruling beside someone else.”
“It is not that,” you muttered.
“Hm.” Yoongi tilted his head. “That is the truth.”
“Stop doing that,” you said with a roll of your eyes.
“Perhaps it is the idea of losing your independence, then. Or possibly…” Yoongi paused as something seemed to occur to him. “Ah.”
“What? What is it?”
“It is the mating bond, is it not?”
Going utterly still, you stared at him from across the table.
“Y/N,” Yoongi said softly. “Not all marriages occur with a mating bond. Not all loves do, either. And it is still possible Jungkook could be your mate. Humans have mated with Dragons before. It is not impossible for him to–”
Realizing what he meant then, a laugh left your lips. It sounded bitter, even to you. Yoongi thought you didn’t want to marry Jungkook because he wasn’t your mate. He thought you wanted to marry for love, when the truth was the exact opposite.
“I know it is possible,” you gasped, interrupting. “I know it is possible because Jungkook is my mate, Yoongi. I have known this fact since I was seventeen and visited him for the treaty.”
Yoongi’s eyes widened as you pressed on.
“I felt it even then,” you whispered, the words pouring out. “It was hardly anything at that age, barely more than a brush of energy against my skin, but… I knew. I knew the mating bond lay between us.”
Silence fell between you, the weight of what you’d said settling over the table. Eventually, Yoongi managed to shake himself free from his stupor.
“Then what is the problem?” he demanded. “If you two are mates, surely this is even more reason for you to accept his proposal. It must be a sign from Natal.”
Jaw clenched, you looked away. The mere thought of accepting the bond brought a dull roar to your ears, twisting your insides into knots. You could never forget what occurred after your trip to Duret Ghal, nor the solemn vow you had made at your coronation.
“I cannot marry him,” you said stiffly.
Incredulity entered Yoongi’s gaze. “But Y/N –”
“I cannot,” you said, turning your head. “Yoongi, you know as well as I do how bonds like this end. How it looks, how it feels for someone to lose their mate. I vowed when I accepted the crown it would be the only constant in my life.”
Pity filled Yoongi’s gaze as realization dawned.
“Y/N,” he said after a long moment. “You are not your father.”
The silence in the room drew as taut as a bowstring.
“It killed him,” you whispered. “The loss of my mother killed my father. You know this to be true. It may have taken him five years, but from the moment she died, he began to die as well. I cannot – I will not – do that to myself, or to Ashya.”
Yoongi stared at you a moment before he looked away.
It was a silent truth acknowledged throughout the Kingdom. Dragons had a long lifespan, but the mating bond was something other and strange. It only occurred once in a lifetime and was a love so deep, so true that to lose one’s mate was to lose oneself.
Your father had tried, at least. He’d stayed alive for you, for his Kingdom, but it had not been enough in the end. After five years of trying, he’d finally given in.
It was why you’d enlisted after your mother’s death. You had seen how her loss was killing your father and could not bear to be around for the process.
When you finally returned to accept the crown, you’d made your vow. The same fate would not befall you. You would not become your father and leave Ashya at risk. You would not accept the mating bond – which meant you would not accept Jungkook.
Even if every fiber of your being wished to do so.
Jungkook was not yet fully your mate. He needed to be aware of the bond, for one and you needed to accept it, for another. Tendrils already existed, but it was not the same thing as the full bond in place. Once you accepted, there would be no return.
“Not everyone views their mate as a bad thing,” Yoongi said quietly.
Startled, you looked up. “They are fools, then.”
He frowned at his glass. “Are we not all fools in love, though?”
“Precisely the reason I do not care to accept it.”
Smiling sadly, Yoongi lifted his drink and drained the rest. His expression shifted from resignation to thoughtfulness while he set down his glass.
“They say the loss of a mate is akin to ripping one’s heart from their chest,” he mused. “They say it is an unbearable pain, one which cannot be endured.”
“Are you trying to help me?”
He paused. “I only wonder… for such unimaginable pain, there must be unimaginable beauty before it. What could be so wonderful that to be without it would be close to death?” Yoongi shook his head. “Maybe the loss of a mate has no parallel because its happiness has no parallel, either.”
Struck by this statement, you looked into the fire.
“It is not a bad thing to want happiness, Your Majesty.”
Brow furrowed, you continued to stare at the leaping flames. It was not a bad thing to want happiness, but the mating bond had never meant such a thing to you.
Not until Jungkook. When he had arrived a week prior, you’d kept him at arm’s length for two reasons. One had been his title and Duret Ghal’s legacy, but the other had been self-preservation.
You could not miss what you did not know. Unfortunately, each passing day brought you closer together and you feared when he left, it would tear your heart from your chest.
Still, it was better than accepting him as your mate.
Yoongi stood from the table and stretched his arms overhead. Looking up, you appreciated the silence he gave you. The truth of the bond was something you hadn’t told anyone. To share it with him felt like a weight lifted.
“There are more negotiations tomorrow,” Yoongi said, returning to business. “With the secret of the riders’ magic revealed, we will need to factor this into our military discussions.”
“Agreed,” you said quietly.
Yoongi considered you a moment longer before he turned around. As he reached the door, Yoongi paused on the threshold.
“I understand your hesitance, Your Majesty,” he said quietly. “I would not blame you if you decided not to accept him. It is only for your happiness I urge you to reconsider. Not all of us are gifted with a mate,” he said simply, and walked out the door.
As the door shut behind him, you stared at the wood.
You remained seated for some time, listening to your heartbeat, and imagining it entwined with someone else’s. This was the second secret of yours only Yoongi knew.
The other was you hadn’t wanted to accept the throne at all.
When your father had died, you’d been content to stay in the armed forces, living a life of anonymity while you served Ashya. You had planned on relinquishing the crown, but Yoongi had known and convinced you to return. He’d been the one to talk some sense into you, saying if you truly wished to serve Ashya, you’d do so best in the role you’d been born into – as its Queen.
Duty had been thrust upon you sooner than it should have; yet another reason why you resented the bond. You should not have become Queen when you did. You should not have had to accept the burden so soon and yet, you had. It had been the right course and you deeply loved this nation.
It was why you refused to put Ashya through such a thing again.
And yet, you could not help but think upon Yoongi’s words. It was not a bad thing to want happiness for yourself.
After a long time, you roused yourself from the table and went to bed.
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The first time you’d felt the bond had been at the cliffs, although you had not realized what it was at the time.
It had only been later, in the middle of Duret Ghal’s gardens, you understood the gravity of what you felt for Jungkook. Or rather, what you one day might feel.
After the day you spent riding, you’d began to notice Jungkook’s presence more and more. He could usually be found in one of two places – in the palace library or out on his dragon, Nemrys. You had found yourself watching for him, somehow attuned to his presence.
Even with all this, the magnitude had not stricken you until the night of the ball. On the last night of your trip, Duret Ghal decided to celebrate both your betrothal and the anticipated treaty. No expense had been spared for the evening. Even now, you remembered the sounds of the orchestra playing, chandeliers bright above as the people laughed and danced.
At some point, you’d searched for the Prince and found him no longer inside. Curious, your search had led you out the northern doors, onto a patio which overlooked the gardens below.
Duret Ghal had been colder than Ashya, but during the summer the evening air had been pleasantly cool. Wandering away from the castle, you’d drifted amongst the flowers until you came upon him.
Jungkook had faced away from you, his hands clasped behind his back while he watched the tree above with its delicate, orange blossoms. His eyes had been closed; wayward, dark strands of hair blown over his face.
Realizing you’d intruded upon a personal moment, you turned to take your leave, and stepped on a twig. 
Jungkook’s eyes had flown open and when he saw you, he smiled.
The sight sent such simmering warmth through your chest, you’d nearly stopped breathing. White-hot energy blazed across your skin, brightening the world while you basked in his gaze.
That had been the moment you realized. Jungkook was your mate.
“I – I am sorry,” you’d stammered, turning to leave. “I am intruding–”
“Not at all.” Jungkook’s gaze sought yours in darkness. “Please. Stay.”
After a moment of consideration, you had acquiesced. The closer you moved, the more aware you’d become of his energy. Suddenly, all the wives’ tales and legends about mating made sense. The bond had been real, and you felt it for Jungkook.
Jungkook had smiled at you, then returned to the flowers. “Were you also tired of the people gathered inside?” 
“Yes,” you’d murmured.
None of the people inside had been him.
Forcing yourself to look up, you had focused on the tree. It was not a species native to Ashya; its delicate, floral scent was unfamiliar. Between its boughs, the night stars had peered down. Legends said stars were where Natal’s veil was thinnest and otherworldly magic seeped through the cracks. You liked to imagine stars held some kinship to dragons.
Jungkook had cleared his throat. “I must admit,” he’d said. “You are not at all what I imagined you to be.”
“No?”
You had turned sideways to face him in the moonlight.
“Not that it is a bad thing, mind you.”
Heart racing, you you’d smiled. Jungkook had looked your way, his expression gentle in the light from above.
“It is not?” you had whispered.
Turning fully to face you, Jungkook had stepped closer. His right hand flexed at his side, as though he had yearned to reach out and touch you.
“No,” he’d admitted.
His gaze had dropped to your lips.
Your throat had gone dry. “What were you expecting?”
“I do not know,” he’d said. “I thought I might resent you. For taking away my choice to marry. For forcing me to become King before I was ready. For reminding me duty will always be greater than our happiness.”
Each word he said had sunk your heart like a stone. It had been how you’d felt at the start of your journey, but perhaps not then.
“Now though,” he’d said, and you lifted your gaze.
“Now?”
Without quite meaning to, you’d drifted closer. The space between you had lessened to several inches, the heat from his body near-tangible.
“Now,” Jungkook had said, barely audible. “I find myself intrigued by what the future will hold.”
Before you could respond to this, before you could say you felt the same, a shout had echoed throughout the gardens.
“Prince Jungkook!” someone had called.
Springing apart, your heart had protested the movement. You had known then exactly who Jungkook was. He was your mate, your betrothed and for a fleeting moment, the world seemed a magical place.
One month following, his Uncle had staged his rebellion.
Soon after, you’d learned what the mating bond truly meant.
The world had not seemed quite so wondrous after that.
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“So.” Jimin arched a brow. “I assume you have brought us out at this unseemly hour to do more than stare at one another through the mist, Your Majesty.”
Giving Jimin a withering look, you chose not to respond.
Yesterday had been full of meetings with little importance to the Ghalian treaty. After telling Yoongi of your vow and bond, you’d found yourself more aware of Jungkook’s presence than ever before.
Everything which had taken place over the past forty-eight hours resulted in three facts. The first being, you could not afford to spend more time in the King’s presence. Already, your façade of indifference was crumbling and would only worsen as time went on.
Second, Mor had become bolder in their travels north. It would only be a matter of time before war arrived on your borders. You needed to be prepared.
Which led you to your third point. Jungkook’s reveal of magic could turn the tide of the war; it needed to be factored into your discussions as soon as possible. Which was why you’d asked Jungkook to bring whomever he deemed appropriate to the field this morning.
Glancing around, you found Jungkook looking back. He was dressed in his flying leathers again, simple armor reinforced at the joints with lighter metal. No breastplate, his hair unadorned and a broadsword strapped firmly across his back.
He’d brought Taehyung with him, along with the woman rider you’d seen at the feast and Lord Seokjin. The last one had surprised you, since you hadn’t thought Seokjin a rider. From Ashya, you’d brought Jimin, Namjoon and Yoongi.
“We are not here to stare,” you explained to Jimin. “But to fly.”
Jimin hesitated. “With each other,” he clarified.
It was not a question but a statement, and the woman rider across the circle seemed to share in his sentiment. She stared distrustfully at the group gathered on your side.
Yoongi squinted up at the sky. “Why am I here, then?” he wondered aloud.
“To observe,” you informed.
“Scintillating,” he said, looking down.
Namjoon laughed as several other people attempted to hide their smiles. Ignoring all this, you focused instead on Jungkook’s delegation.
“I believe I have met everyone except you,” you said, looking at the woman.
“Maia,” she said, boldly meeting your gaze. “I am a rider in His Majesty’s forces.”
“One of our best,” Jungkook added, as Taehyung nodded.
Maia had large, dark eyes and short hair bound in a plait down her neck. Her features were pretty, delicate in contrast to her hardened exterior. You respected her for being in the delegation but found yourself appreciating her even more for her no-nonsense response.
Nodding once, you looked away. The pride in Jungkook’s voice when he spoke had not escaped you; nor had the way Maia glanced in his direction, as though pleased by the mention.
Jungkook was not yours to want, you reminded yourself. You’d made sure of this with the vow you continued to uphold. Still, you felt your jaw clench as you refocused on your surroundings.
“Is this a serious request?” Jimin asked in disbelief. “You truly wish for us to fly alongside the riders.”
Pointedly, Seokjin cleared his throat. “I believe it is not considered polite to question the Queen’s sanity in her presence?”
Jimin glanced at him, stunned as Yoongi started to laugh. His smile widened, eyes nearly disappearing when Jimin turned to face him, incensed.
“What?” Yoongi snorted. “That was funny.”
“Regardless,” you said, a bit louder. “There is much to discuss. His Majesty has shared information about the riders, their dragons and what they can do which may change the battle against Mor.”
Maia’s glanced at Jungkook in disbelief, and she was not the only one. Taehyung also turned his head sharply, which surprised you. You had thought Jungkook would tell his general he’d revealed his magic in the woods.
It appeared not. Seokjin was the only one who did not look surprised, examining the nails on the back of his hand.
“What the riders can do,” Namjoon said, picking up on the key phrase. “I assume you refer to something other than flying, Your Majesty?”
“I do, yes.”
When you looked at Jungkook, he nodded.
“She is referring to our ability to use magic,” he explained. “The bond which links rider to dragon allows us to do more than just ride them. It grants us access to their magic, similar to humans who are born with a gift.”
Namjoon’s eyes widened, as did Jimin’s.
Both listened as Jungkook went on to explain the history of dragons and magic on the continent. When Jungkook healed a paper cut Namjoon had on his thumb, your advisor gasped and looked on in wonder.
“A healer.” He shook his head. “Truly amazing. How large of an injury can you heal?” Namjoon asked, and you knew he was already thinking ahead to battle.
Someone like Jungkook behind the front lines, healing soldiers as they were injured, could provide an untold advantage.
“He healed me in the woods the other day,” you informed them. “A Mor patrol shot me down with a crossbow, and His Majesty saved my life.”
Jimin’s eyes widened. “It would seem we are in your debt then, Your Majesty,” he told Jungkook, seeming displeased by the thought.
Jungkook merely shook his head.
“Let us not speak of debt, Jimin,” you said before Jungkook could speak. “If we are to work together, we must stop thinking of our relationship as a ledger. Instead, we must learn to work as a unit.”
Yoongi arched a brow, clearly amused by your shifted stance.
“Hence our flying this morning,” Jungkook agreed.
Looking his way, you nodded.
This was what you’d decided after your conversation with Yoongi. Although you had not changed your mind about accepting Jungkook’s proposal, the least you could do was set aside your own differences. If you chose not to accept him as your mate, that was your decision – but first and foremost, you were Ashya’s Queen.
You had made a vow to do whatever you could for your country, and this meant working closely with the Ghalians.
“Is it only healing magic?” Namjoon asked, sounding curious. “Or are there other kinds?”
Rather than answer, Jungkook looked at Taehyung, who rolled up his sleeves. Walking out of the circle, he came to a stop several paces away.
“There are other kinds of magic,” Taehyung said, and it was one of the first times you’d ever heard him speak.
Taehyung’s voice had a deep, earthen quality. It was soothing, rhythmic and you stared at him with interest as he spread his hands.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then Taehyung closed his eyes and storm clouds began to gather. You stared at the sky as it darkened, russet-tipped thunderheads swirling overhead. As the wind whipped his hair, Taehyung opened his eyes and you saw they’d turned silver.
A bolt of lightning shot from his palms, lighting the sky above a deep purple. He let the tempest continue until his point had been made. Then, teeth gritted, Taehyung lowered his arms and allowed the clouds to disperse. As quickly as they’d come, the clouds disappeared, leaving only mist and the rising sun.
Everyone from Ashya stared.
“His dragon is a stormmaker,” Jungkook explained. “It is rare for one of their kind to bond with a human. It has not happened within living memory.”
Yoongi was the first to regain himself. “Do all riders have magic?”
“No,” answered Maia. “It is similar to when a Dragon and human have a child. The child does not always have a gift. It is the same with riders and dragons. I, for example, have no magic.”
“Yes, but you have a dragon,” Yoongi pointed out, which made her smile.
“I do have that,” she acknowledged.
Almost sheepish, Taehyung rejoined the circle with his hands in his pockets. His gaze had returned to dark brown, but you could not seem to shake the memory of silver. It was a tremendous power you could use on the battlefield.
Abruptly, you turned to Jungkook. “How were you planning to keep that a secret?” you demanded, waving a hand. “I should think it would have been obvious once your rider started throwing lightning around.”
“Hence why we planned on explaining after the treaty,” Jungkook said mildly.
“All this time.” Namjoon finally found his voice. “Magic in Duret Ghal has been passed down by the riders, not Dragons?”
“Both,” Seokjin corrected. “Riders cannot pass on their magic to their children. It is only the offspring of Dragon and human who can be born with gifts. Like your advisor,” he said, nodding to Yoongi.
Yoongi arched a brow. You had not spoken openly about his magical abilities, but you supposed word got around.
Namjoon continued to frown. “Most peculiar,” he said slowly. “When a shapeshifting Dragon mates with a human, their offspring can inherit one of many magical gifts. Not just shapeshifting.”
“Uzza, my dragon, has a theory about that,” Taehyung offered. “He believes dragons have a more fixed nature than humans. When magic is passed down through dragons, it remains the same, but with humans… we are more fluid.” He paused, then shrugged. “Magic becomes whatever form the human is closest to.”
“Fascinating,” Namjoon breathed.
“Which is why I asked the King and his riders to join us this morning,” you announced. “Once the treaty is finalized, we will fight together against Mor. It is time we learned how to use everything in our arsenal.”
Jimin, who had remained silent throughout the demonstration, finally nodded.
Despite his personal feelings towards Duret Ghal, he would always place Ashya above all else. If the magic of the riders was something you could use to your advantage, Jimin would be the one who figured out how to do it.
Still, you knew this must hurt. You were not the only one who noticed Jimin’s reticence. Taehyung had been watching your commander from across the circle, and he now cocked his head as he took a step forward.
“You are Park Jimin, are you not?” he asked.
Jimin met Taehyung’s gaze. “I am.”
Taehyung nodded. “I have heard stories of you, both on and off the battlefield. Neither of us led our respective armies when your father was killed,” he said, a bit quieter. “But all the same, I am sorry for your loss.”
Jimin’s eyes glinted. “Sorrow does not bring back the dead.”
“No, it does not.”
Jimin stared at him a moment, until some of the anger faded from his gaze. Finally, he looked at the castle and exhaled.
“Are we to fly this morning?” he asked, returning to you. “If we are, we should probably go before the sun gets too high.”
You nodded, uncertain what had just transpired.
“We should leave, then.” Jimin turned away. “I will need to know the full capabilities of your riders. General Kim,” he called out as he walked. “Can you control the lightning, or merely call it?”
Taehyung fell into step alongside him, discussing strategy as they left the field. You watched them go, amazed Jimin had released his past so easily.
Namjoon sighed. “Must I fly as well, Your Majesty?”
You hid a smile. “If you truly wish to stay on the ground…”
Grumbling beneath his breath, Namjoon turned to follow Jimin across the field. You knew you should go as well, but something within seemed to hold you back.
“And what about you?” you asked, glancing at Seokjin. “Are you a rider?”
Seokjin grimaced. “No, Your Majesty. My mother sent me to the bonding ceremony, but all I succeeded in was falling off several dragons.”
“It is where we met though,” Jungkook said, jumping in. “I admired his honesty and wit. Enough that, when I became King, I requested Lord Seokjin be appointed to my closest court.”
“His honesty has been well-noted,” Yoongi said drily.
Maia laughed, her features losing some of their earlier tension. Yoongi glanced her way in surprise, a pleased flush spreading across his cheeks.
In the background, the steady beat of wings filled the air. When you turned, you saw Jimin in Dragon form rising above the sheds. His scales were a dazzling gold, sparkling as he flew across the morning sun.
Taehyung had joined atop his dragon, Uzza. Uzza had scales of slate grey, faded to blue along his spine and his shoulders.
As you watched them both fly, a bout of longing swept through you. Seeing a rider and Dragon fly alongside one another had not been something deemed possible before.
Their wings were swiftly drowned out by Nemrys’ arrival, who circled once overhead before landing beside Jungkook. Bowing, you kept your gaze fixed on his. Nemrys inclined his head in turn, then released a snort.
Jungkook grinned. “He wishes to know if you plan on being shot again.”
Rolling your eyes, you turned to walk away. Jungkook laughed at the sight, the sound of it echoing as you crossed the field.
Once inside a shed, you stripped quickly from your gown and laid this on the bench. Only a few days ago, you’d assumed dragons mostly unintelligent and now, one of them was insulting you. The realization made you smile.
It made the world seem wider, somehow. As though more things were possible than you’d previously thought.
Shifting quickly to Dragon form, you lifted from the ground and hovered above the sheds. In the distance, you could see Taehyung alongside Jimin on his dragon. Glancing west, you spotted Namjoon and Maia rising to join them.
Namjoon’s scales were a deep purple, a jewel-tone Ashyan miners would envy. Maia’s dragon, whom you did not know the name of, was a grey pale enough to be confused with blue. As you flew towards their group, Taehyung pointed from his dragon, Uzza.
Craning your neck, you saw Jungkook on the ground. He watched from below, wind whipping his hair as Nemrys beat his wings. Leaning down, he murmured something to Nemrys, who bent his legs and took off. Far below, you heard Seokjin whoop.
With a roar, Jimin dove towards the ground. Taehyung followed suit, along with Namjoon and Maia. Once Jungkook had reached you atop Nemrys, you joined in the show.
It was strange to fly as a group. Dragons were solitary creatures, only banding together when necessary for survival. When you did fly with others, you communicated through a combination of flame and roars, signaling what direction you were about to take.
Soaring higher, you turned your head and saw Jungkook beside you. From the back of Nemrys, he grinned and something warm bloomed in your chest. You recalled what it felt like to fly with him, against him. Something within you ached to feel this again.
This was not the time to reminisce though, so you attempted to focus on the moment at hand. That first flight didn’t last long – you were still monarchs, after all, and the day remained before you. Still, your heart felt lighter when you landed on the ground.
For a first foray between nations, things had gone relatively smoothly. Even Yoongi seemed pleased by the progress, speaking with Taehyung and Jimin as they returned to the castle. The success of today made the impossible seem possible.
Including some things you’d never let yourself imagine.
Jungkook’s face while he flew, his eyes bright and smile wide, played like a loop again and again in your mind.
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After another full day of negotiations, the treaty between you and Duret Ghal began to come together. It was a good thing, since Jungkook and his delegation would leave in the next couple of days.
Preparing for sleep that night, you reached for the jar of salve Hoseok had given you and found it empty. You’d applied it every morning and night, whenever the muscle ached, or you found yourself tired. It had helped a great deal, so now you hesitated. Flying this morning had been strenuous on your muscles.
Amara had left, gone to visit her family in the city for the evening. In her absence, you strode across your room and opened the door to the hall. You instructed one of your guards to bring the empty jar to Hoseok and ask for a refill.
While you waited for them to return, you changed into a nightgown and robe. You had just finished washing your face when a knock came from the hall. Expecting the guard returned with your salve, you strode from your chambers and pulled open the door.
You found yourself face to face not with a guard, but with Jungkook.
“Your Majesty,” you said, freezing in place. “I – to what do I owe this pleasure?”
Jungkook stared at you for a moment, then pulled a jar from behind his back. “I brought the salve from Hoseok,” he said. “I heard you were in need of more.”
“I am.” You blinked. “But you did not need to do that.”
His gaze searched yours, lingering when he dropped to your parted robe. Although you wore a nightgown beneath, you were suddenly aware of the sheer material.
Hastily, you closed the robe tighter.
Cheeks reddening, Jungkook looked up. “It was no trouble,” he said, only to pause. “May I come in, Your Majesty? I do have something I wish to discuss.”
“Ah, so there is an ulterior motive.”
Despite the humor in your voice, you hesitated. Glancing past him, you saw your guards and decided whatever Jungkook had to say, it was best to hear it in private.
“Alright,” you said, stepping aside. “You may come in.”
Surprise crossed his face, though it quickly disappeared. Nodding his thanks, Jungkook entered the room as you shut the door. You stared at it for a moment, gathering your courage before you turned around.
You’d brought many men to your chambers over the years. Yoongi had been in here only the other night, but something about Jungkook’s presence felt different. He was too big, taking up a space no one else could.
Perhaps it was this bond you felt for him, this tingling down your spine at having him so near. Your very soul ached for him, even as you denied him.
Jungkook wandered inside, taking in the décor. A fireplace took up much of the north wall, light flickering over the rug at your feet.
Coming to a stop at the table, Jungkook set down the jar.
“Why did you come?” you asked quietly.
Turning around, Jungkook found your gaze.
You realized the very real danger you were in. Not because Jungkook was your mate. He was, yes, but it was so much more than that. You genuinely enjoyed his company. You found yourself listening for his remarks when you sat by his side, trying not to laugh whenever he made a joke.
It was hard to separate the supernatural from the natural when it came to Jungkook. In a world where mates did not exist and souls were cast adrift, you thought you might have loved him even then. 
Perhaps this was the true magic of the mating bond, after all. Rather than let you wonder, Natal brought you an equal, someone who’d uplift your spirit rather than drag you under.
“You asked for additional salve,” Jungkook said again.
“I did.” You cocked your head. “A servant could have brought that, though – or Hoseok, if he chose.”
“Indeed, he could have.”
A shadow crossed Jungkook’s expression at this, gone before it could be fully realized. He took a step closer, skirting the table to come to a stop. With his height what it was, you were forced to look upwards to see him.
“The soldiers Jimin sent to search the mountains returned this afternoon,” Jungkook informed you. “They found no other Mor patrols so close to Ashya.”
“That is good to know,” you said with a nod. “We will need all the time we can to formulate a plan of attack.”
Thus far, Mor had made no overt advances against you. There had been skirmishes on the southern border, a few miles gained or lost with occasional pushes, but nothing serious. Mor’s full army remained within their own land, biding their days until they chose to strike.
It was only a matter of time before things boiled over. It made sense for Jungkook to discuss Mor’s movements with you, but he’d never visited your chambers to do so before.
“Is there something else you came here to say?” 
Jungkook arched a brow. “Is it possible I might have come simply to enjoy your presence?”
“You could have.”
“Then, what is the problem?”
“The problem,” you said, narrowing your gaze, “is you seem to be the kind of person who says one thing and means another.”
His gaze darkened. “I suppose you would know, Your Majesty.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Rather than answer this, Jungkook turned away. Staring out the window, he seemed to consider his words before he turned back.
“You are a conundrum, Your Majesty,” he said at last.
You sniffed. “That sounds like something a man might say when he does not understand a woman.”
“You are right,” Jungkook said lowly. “For I do not understand you at all.”
This made you blink. It was your own words from the night of the feast, thrown back in your face.
“In what way?” you demanded.
“We knew each other before, and yet you pretend to be strangers. You fight so valiantly for your own kind and yet, keep them at arm’s length. You decline my proposal of marriage,” he said, taking a step closer, “and yet, you consider a political union with another.”
You stared at him for a moment, utterly thrown. “A union with whom?”
“Lord Declan.”
A laugh escaped before you could help it. “Lord Declan is not my betrothed.”
“He tells people he is.”
“Then he is a liar,” you ground out.
Jungkook paused. “Did you consider his offer?”
“I considered your offer, as well.”
“Which you declined.”
“I shall decline him as well, should he ever gather the courage to actually ask me.”
Jungkook hesitated at this, curiosity entering his gaze.
“Why, though?” he asked, a tad softer. “Why decline everyone who asks for your hand? Is there someone else? The man who taught you to sign in the army, perhaps.”
At this, your eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“Merely a guess,” Jungkook said quietly.
Looking abruptly away, he rubbed his thumb to his forefinger in an anxious gesture. You wished he would stop. The gesture made him seem far too human, far too genuine, and tempting and true.
Before you could consider the ramifications, you said, “I do not love someone else.”
You were not sure why you said it. Certainly, it would have been easier for Jungkook to think your heart belonged to another and yet, you could not bear to watch the light fade from his eyes.
Jungkook turned his head to see you. “So, it is me, then,” he said quietly.
“No. And also, yes.”
He frowned. “Clear as mud, Your Majesty.”
You laughed, although there was no humor to it. “What do you expect me to say? That you have convinced me after a week of interactions? That I am awed by your presence, Your Majesty? Is this what you seek in return for healing me in the forest? My hand in marriage?”
Jungkook looked stricken. “No,” he breathed. “Not that. Never that. I would never demand such a thing.”
Something in you softened at his sincerity.
“Then, what?” you asked quietly. “What is it?”
“I just… I wish you would tell me why.”
Unable to meet his gaze, you glanced away. It was a fair question. Jungkook had been nothing but good in the time he’d been here. It occurred to you suddenly that by choosing not to mate, you were taking away his one chance at the bond, as well.
Slowly, you turned back to face him. “I made a vow,” you said, so soft you could hardly hear. “When I became Queen, I vowed I would never marry. It is not something I can turn my back on.”
It was a half-truth, but enough for now.
Jungkook’s brow furrowed. “Why would you make such a vow?”
“Many reasons,” you said. “The main being I wish to belong only to myself and my country. Anything else, and I would do my people a disservice. When I accepted the crown, I said Ashya would always come first.”
The way Jungkook was staring at you made you feel on display, as though he saw through to your very soul and knew what you were made of.
“It is a tricky slope, is it not?” he said at last, stepping closer.
This step brought him within touching distance, the heat of his body seeming to reach out to yours. Something golden and strong brightened between you.
“What do you mean?” 
Jungkook did not look away. “Is the best version of yourself the one without help? Without support? You say you do not wish to do your people a disservice, but is it a disservice to lead while you are unhappy?”
“And you think... marrying you would make me happy?”
“Maybe not,” he admitted, his gaze soft. “All I know is the life you speak of does not sound like a life at all.”
Having no response to this, you could only stare when Jungkook took your hand in his. Lifting your hand, he kept his gaze on yours. As he lowered his gaze, his lips slowly brushed the back of your fingers.
When he released you, you found you could not move, could hardly breathe. It seemed impossible to hide your reaction when Jungkook looked up.
You wanted him. You wanted him so badly it hurt and yet, something continued to hold you back. All you could see when you looked at Jungkook was the pain in your father’s eyes when he learned your mother had died.
“I will take my leave,” Jungkook said when you did not respond. “It has been a long day, and you must be tired.”
You nodded, unable to do more than that when he turned to go.
Halfway to the door, you had the sudden urge to do something. To call out, to ask him to come back, to reveal the bond you felt strengthening between you.
In the end you did none of it. The fear of being broken was greater than your want to be whole.
Jungkook turned at the door. “My offer will stay until I go,” he said before he went.
The door shut behind him, leaving you in silence. Exhaling, you walked to the table and uncapped a decanter. Pouring yourself a glass of wine, you sat before the fire and drank every drop.
It was a long time before you managed to fall asleep that night.
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During your flight the next morning, you went north instead of south. Although Jimin had not found additional Mor patrols, your run-in with them had increased your caution. Soaring above the tree line, the sun brightening the horizon, your heart felt heavier than it had in a while.
When you finally landed and hurried inside, you were entirely alone.
For the first time, this did not strike you as such a good thing.
Independence had always been one of your most prized possessions. Your crown had stripped you of so much – your youth, freedom, and the first man you’d loved. Now though, you wondered what you’d given up by clinging to your ideals so tightly.
You did not have much time to consider it. The ball for Duret Ghal was tonight, and the day after tomorrow, their delegation would leave. You would sign the treaty in the morning and then they would be off.
Jungkook’s offer of marriage would disappear with it.
Amara had outdone herself with your dress for the evening. It was crimson in color, falling in gauzy pleats from a golden, metal bodice. Amara had dusted gold powder across your shoulders, resulting in a shimmering aura.
Red was neither the color of Ashya, nor of Duret Ghal. It was the color of fire, of passion – and of love, you realized with a twisting stomach.
Again, Yoongi was your escort and even his eyes widened as you stepped out the door.
“You are going to give someone a heart attack,” he chuckled, extending his arm.
You merely shook your head as you walked down the hall. The crown you wore tonight was gold, as well. A relic from an ancient Queen of Ashya before the colors had changed to silver and green.
“I am sure they will be fine,” you responded. “It is not as though I plan on shifting in the middle of a waltz.”
“It would certainly liven things up if you did.”
Although you gave Yoongi a look, you quickly fell silent as you approached the ball. Beyond the shut doors, you could hear muffled noises of music and laughter.
“Did Namjoon tell you about the dancing?”
Sharply, you turned your head. “No, he did not. What dancing?”
“Apparently, it is the custom in Duret Ghal for their monarch to lead the first dance.”
“I wish His Majesty the best of luck, then.”
Yoongi hid a smile. “You will need to dance also, Your Majesty.”
“Why is that?”
“Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the concept of balls,” Yoongi mused. “Typically, there is food, dancing, general merriment…”
“I know what a ball is, Yoongi.”
“You seemed confused by the prospect of dancing, though.”
“By the prospect of dancing with His Majesty, yes.”
“Now I am the one who is confused, because –”
“Fine,” you ground out as the doors began to open. “I will dance the first song with His Majesty. Nothing more.”
Yoongi grinned, patting your arm as you entered the room.
The ballroom had been lavishly decorated for tonight’s event. Taking it in, you passed over iced draperies, flowers and foliage spilling from every surface. People were gathered throughout, leaving room in the center of the ballroom for you to dance. An orchestra sat poised in the corner, awaiting your entrance to start the first song.
As you and Yoongi descended the spiral staircase, you only had eyes for the opposite side, where the delegation from Duret Ghal already stood. To where Jungkook was standing, watching your entrance.
His robes were similar to those he’d worn at the feast, although the colors tonight were black and gold. Long robes cut to mid-calf, tied in the middle by a black sash. Sigils of gold had been stitched into the fabric, with a thin chain of gold curved across his chest.
Lifting your gaze, your breath caught in your throat. Jungkook’s hair had been bound in a half-bun, the dark tresses broken only by his golden crown.
Walking closer to him under the lights, everything else seemed to fade. Despite your best efforts, something between you had shifted and now that it had, you couldn’t turn back.
You started imagining what the future would look like beside him. Not a future where you were lesser, but rather where you had support. Strength, like he had offered. Oddly enough, the image did not scare you as it once did.
Stepping onto the dais to turn around, you looked at the crowd. In your peripheral, you could see Jungkook looking at you. Ignoring him, you focused instead on your racing heart. You could almost feel it beat in tandem to his, yearning to run at the same pace.
It was not necessary to greet your guests, nor give a speech of pretty words. Instead you simply turned to face him as the music began. Jungkook held out his hand, waiting until you placed your palm over his.
Jungkook’s fingers curled about yours, leading you on the dance floor. People parted as you walked, leaving a space at the center. Jungkook pulled you to face him, placing a hand on your waist as you settled yours on his shoulder.
You looked up. Meeting your gaze, Jungkook took a step backwards to lead you in the first move.
His grip on you tightened as he led you in a spin. Jungkook was a good dancer, although this did not surprise you. By this point he could have announced he was the goddess Natal, herself, and you would have taken it in stride.
This image made you smile, unable to stop it as he swept you around.
“Why are you smiling?” Jungkook asked, his voice low.
Startled, you glanced up and wished you had not. This close, you could see everything, and it made your heart ache.
“I was imagining something funny,” you murmured.
Jungkook’s hand slid to the small of your back. Heat scalded your spine, making your head spin.
“Not about me, I hope,” Jungkook said, his lips dangerously close to your ear.
“And if it were?”
His grip on you tightened. “I would like to know the joke.”
Looking up, you met his gaze. “Does it ever tire you?”
Jungkook blinked.
Others had joined the dance at this point, entering the floor in a promenade. Multicolored skirts and robes swept circles around you, leaving you floating at the center of it all.
“Does what ever tire me?” Jungkook asked.
“This,” you said, glancing at your surroundings. “The pressure. The weight. The constant duties, expectations and never-ending loneliness of wearing our crowns.”
For a moment, Jungkook was silent, and you feared you’d overstepped. Then he exhaled, pulling you closer. His thumb brushed against the bare curve of your back.
“Every day,” he admitted.
Before you could respond, the song came to an end.
Couples stepped apart, talking, and laughing in the lull between songs. You and Jungkook stared at one another, the only two in the room as far as you were concerned. For so long, you had convinced yourself having a mate would be a bad thing.
Perhaps it was for some. For your parents, their bond had ended tragically, this was for certain. But for the first time, you wondered if keeping yourself from happiness because you didn’t want to be hurt might simply be a different kind of hurt itself.
When a hand tapped you on the shoulder, you nearly jumped.
Whirling around, you found Lord Declan before you. You stared at him for a few moments, wondering why he was here.
“Your Majesty.” Lord Declan bowed low at the waist. “Would you do me the honor of having the next dance?”
Of course – this was a ball. You would be expected to dance with others, not only Jungkook. Feet faltering, you glanced sideways but before you could decline, Jungkook took a step back.
“She is all yours,” he said, turning around.
Jungkook disappeared, his midnight-colored robes swishing about his ankles. Lord Declan closed in, forcing your attention away as the orchestra began the next song.
“Yes,” you said, trying to focus. “You may, Lord.”
Lord Declan entered where Jungkook had left off, his right hand slipping beneath yours as his other found your waist. His touch felt wrong, as though you’d put the opposite glove on your hand.
“How fortunate the first dance of the night was a short one,” Lord Declan said with a chuckle.
Startled, you glanced up. “I beg your pardon?”
“I envy your patience, Your Majesty,” he continued, oblivious to your tone. “Had I been forced to spend so long these past weeks in the presence of riders…” Breaking off, he shuddered. “Your control is exemplary.”
Had Lord Declan been a wise man, he might have noticed the heat simmering in your gaze. Or the way your spine stiffened, a lone muscle ticking in your jaw. As it were though, Lord Declan was not a smart man, and so he continued to throw caution to the wind.
You were not certain when you’d become so defensive of Jungkook, but the fact remained the Lord’s comments made you see red.
“I do not know that I would call my control exemplary,” you said, your tone deceptively light. “Indeed, my Lord, I find my courtiers often say things I find infuriating.”
Lord Declan paused, clued in by your choice of words.
“If I have said something to offend Your Majesty…”
His steps were not as graceful as Jungkook’s, nearly stepping on your toes as you turned around. Dodging the gesture, you glanced aside and realized Jungkook had not left the dance floor. Instead, he danced with Maia at the edge of the room. While you were watching, Jungkook threw his head back and laughed.
Unpleasantness curdled your stomach despite your insistence he was not yours to want.
“You have said something to offend me, Lord,” you said, returning to Declan. “Either you are ignorant or stupid, and I pray to Natal you are not both.”
Lord Declan stared, his jaw sagging a little.
“We face an enemy,” you said, voice lowering. “Our enemy is not Duret Ghal, nor is it their riders. I suggest you cease speaking such heresy before I wonder if the mines your family owns would do better in the hands of someone else.”
His eyes widened. “Your Majesty, I do not think –”
“Then we are in agreement,” you said, dropping your arms to take a step back.
Turning around, you stalked towards the edge of the dance floor, barely managing to keep your steam in check. When you glanced again at the offending corner, Jungkook and Maia had disappeared.
Driven by a mix of emotions you dared not name, you slipped beyond the courtiers and out a side door. Eyes closed, you allowed the night air to wash over you. Coming to a stop at the edge of the gardens, you opened your eyes to take in the Thadal mountains.
It was colder than it had been a few weeks ago. The winter solstice was coming, and your human skin could only protect you from so much. Still, you could not stomach returning to the party and so, you kept walking, entering the dark hedges.
You let yourself wander, following the twists and turns with nothing but your heart as its guide. When you turned a corner and found Jungkook before you, it almost was not a surprise.
The moment was overlaid with another memory, from ten years prior. The night you’d realized Jungkook was your mate and looked to the future with wonder.
He was alone again, facing away as he stared into an empty, cracked basin. The fountain had been turned off for the winter and before you could speak, Jungkook sighed.
“Were you not enjoying the party?” he asked.
Walking forward, you came to a stop beside him. “I might ask you the same thing,” you said, staring into the basin. “I saw you enjoying yourself during the last dance.”
Jungkook turned his head.
“Are you jealous, Your Majesty?” he murmured, his gaze flinty.
“Merely noting the obvious,” you said, refusing to face him. “You call me a conundrum and yet, you dance with another woman while proposing marriage to me.”
“One dance.”
“So, there has never been anything between you?”
Jungkook paused. “I will not pretend to have been celibate these past ten years. Neither should you, Your Majesty.”
Looking at him, you attempted to calm the roiling feelings within you. It was not right to feel like this. Not right to be jealous, to berate him when you continued to decline his offer.
“Am I correct,” he said, his voice low, “in thinking you do not want me for yourself, yet you do not want anyone else to have me either?”
“That… that is not fair.”
“Perhaps you know how I feel, then,” Jungkook said, his gaze hardening.
Startled, your eyes widened as he took a step closer. Coming to a stop right before you, Jungkook looked down.
“Watching you entertain other men,” he said hotly. “Watching you dance with other men, consider other men while you continue to deny what lies between us. What we are to one another. My former betrothed. And my mate,” he added, his gaze like dark fire.
Speechless, you could only stare in response.
Jungkook knew.
He knew and had said nothing this entire time. You wondered when he’d realized but lost your head entirely when he lifted a hand. Pressing his thumb beneath your chin, Jungkook tipped your head up.
Bending, he brushed your lips against his. The kiss was chaste, sweet – and wildfire erupted in response. Before you could stop yourself, your hand had fisted in his robes to drag him down. You kissed him back hungrily, fiercely as the heat consumed you.
Jungkook seemed to burn just as bright, crushing you close. His arms wrapped around you, tongue eagerly flicking against your lower lip. When you parted beneath him, he licked into your mouth. Inhaling his scent, you wanted him closer.
It was not at all how you’d imagined it to be.
You had thought once you gave in, it would feel like erasing yourself. Removing the old to make way for the new, but it was not like that at all. Letting him in only made you feel stronger.
Thumbs skimming your cheeks, Jungkook angled you upward and kissed you again. He drew a shuddering breath before he forced himself to stop.
Slowly, his eyes opened and he stared at you, his chest rising and falling.
“If you do not want this, though.” Hoarse, his thumbs caressed your skin. “I do not wish to force it upon you. You should not marry me because of a bond, Your Majesty. Nor should you because you think it’s what’s best for Ashya. I want you to marry me because you want to. Nothing more.”
When you did not respond, Jungkook’s expression began to shutter and he took a step backwards. His hands fell to his sides, the air between you turning cold.
All too late, you realized you’d waited too long. You should have said something immediately, should have done something other than kiss him like a maniac.
“Thank you,” Jungkook said. “For the hospitality you’ve shown Duret Ghal these past weeks. Whatever your feelings are for me, I look forward to signing the treaty tomorrow.”
Before you could say anything more, Jungkook walked past you and left the gardens. You were left alone beside an empty basin.
You stayed there for a while, staring at the looming Thadal mountains, and wondering how in the world you had gotten things so wrong.
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When you returned to the proceedings of the ball, Yoongi was smart enough not to ask where you had been. He seemed to know anyways, based on the look on your face.
Stiffly you stood and surveyed the dancing couples. Whenever you cared to look, you caught glimpses of Jungkook on the opposite side.
You tried not to, but this proved to be difficult now that you knew. Jungkook knew you were his mate. You knew what his lips tasted like. All of this you knew and could not forget.
It was his last words which ran again and again through your mind. Jungkook knew you were his mate and yet, he’d said nothing because he wanted you to choose him for him. It was such a foolhardy, romantic notion it made your heart ache.
Even with Leo, you had not felt this way. If you had been honest, you had known your relationship would be doomed from the start. Leo had never challenged you in ways which made you grow. You’d kept him at arm’s length, never giving him the opportunity to know your true self. 
After the death of your parents, you’d been in a dark place. You had made the vow not to marry out of an attempt to protect yourself. Perhaps you’d grown beyond needing such things.
The next time you looked, Jungkook was looking back.
He glanced away quickly, but he’d looked. The realization made you take a step forward but before you could go to him, Yoongi leaned in.
“What did you say to him when you danced?”
Surprised, you glanced in his direction. You thought Yoongi meant Jungkook but then realized he looked at Lord Declan. Declan seemed flustered, pointedly looking anywhere but at you while Lord Larkin glared from across the room.
You stifled a snort. “Only the truth.”
“Which was?”
“That like it or not, Duret Ghal are our allies, so they better start acting like it.”
Quietly, Yoongi laughed as he straightened. “No wonder his father looks as though he swallowed something sour.”
Guiltily, you looked away. “I am sorry if I caused you trouble,” you said, knowing Yoongi would be the one to clean it up. “It is only –”
“You were right.” Yoongi nodded. “The world is changing, and they can either change with the times or be left behind. I am glad you said something.”
Shooting him a grateful look, you glanced again across the room and realized Jungkook had disappeared. Scanning the rest of the ball, you spotted some of his delegation but not their King. Maia was dancing with Namjoon and to your surprise, you realized Taehyung had asked Amara to dance.
Jungkook was nowhere to be seen. Despite his absence, you forced yourself to stay until Yoongi deemed it socially acceptable for you to leave. The last thing you wanted was to put the treaty in jeopardy because you’d overlooked proper etiquette.
As the evening went on, candles guttered low in the chandeliers and guests began to thin out the dance floor. People started disappearing, traveling home in groups of two and three. Sometime around midnight, you finally bade Yoongi goodnight.
Forgoing his offer of escort, you took a side hall and exited the ball. It was a quiet walk to your chambers, a silence which did not lessen once you were inside.
Removing your crown, you set this on your dresser and stared out the window. You wondered if this was your future. A cold, lonely existence where you always ended up in your room alone.
Jungkook was right.
You kept everyone at a distance because you were afraid of being hurt. You were afraid if you let them in, you’d grant them the power to tear your heart in two. The problem was you weren’t sure how much longer you’d have a heart to give.
It already felt like a feeble, weakened thing within your chest. You didn’t know how to make it work like it should. So accustomed to your own company, you were unable to respond to true acts of friendship. This struck you as a poor kind of ruler for any nation. 
It made you wonder if the vow you’d once made held no further weight.
Now was time to decide what kind of ruler you wanted to be, what kind of person you wanted to be moving forward. Your life could still be wondrous if you so wished.
Abruptly, you turned and strode for the door.
Your guards seemed surprised to see you leave, but let you pass by with a nod. Once in the hallways, your feet seemed to know the way. Down one hall, then the next, you found yourself entering the guest wing before your mind could catch up.
Depending on stature, guests of the crown stayed with varying proximity to your personal quarters. It was not far to the rooms Jungkook occupied, the most lavish guest suite in the castle.
Outside his room, your steps slowed before coming to a stop. Jungkook did not have guards posted outside his doors. Some might have seen this as a sign of naiveté, but you saw it for what it was. A symbol of trust.
Lifting a hand, you knocked on his door.
It took him a few seconds to answer, rustling noises telling you he was within. When he swung open the door, your mouth immediately went dry.
Jungkook had changed from his formal attire to a more casual tunic and trousers. It took a great deal of effort to keep your eyes on his face, and not wander towards the ink you saw peering out from his sleeves.
Surprise flickered in the depths of his gaze, although he quickly concealed it. Leaning a shoulder to the frame, Jungkook arched a brow.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Your Majesty?”
Any words you wished to say dried up like a stream in the desert. Finally, you managed to rouse yourself.
“May I come in?” you asked.
Jungkook paused. For a moment, you were afraid he might tell you to go. You had turned him down so many times; surely it was time for him to return the favor.
Then he dipped his head and stepped aside, allowing you entrance. Heart pounding, you slipped past him and stood at the center of the room.
His rooms were your guest chambers, so you had obviously seen them before. Occasionally you met with foreign dignitaries or visitors. Jungkook had stayed long enough though, that portions of the room had begun to seem like his own.
The black and gold robes he’d worn to the ball were draped over a partition. A trunk remained half-open beside a table, full of stacks of books. It reminded you of your visit to Duret Ghal so long ago, where he could often be found in the library.
“Would you like wine?” Jungkook interrupted your thoughts.
Mutely, you nodded and reached for the crystal decanter. Midway there, Jungkook’s hand caught your wrist.
“Allow me,” he said, moving past.
You stopped and watched him pour two glasses of wine. One after the other, Jungkook set them down on the table.
“You knew,” you said quietly. “You knew you were my mate.”
Jungkook hesitated, continuing to stare at the wine.
After a moment, he lifted a glass and took a long sip. “Yes,” he admitted. “I knew.”
“When?” you demanded.
His eyes narrowed, looking up. “When did you know, Your Majesty?”
“At the end of my last visit to Duret Ghal.”
“I knew the moment I saw you,” he said quietly.
“You – what?”
Jungkook set his wine down. “Your arrival was scheduled for shortly before sundown,” he said. “My parents had dressed me in my best clothes, and I remember being angry about it. I remember standing there fuming, waiting for you to arrive. And then you did.”
His eyes shone. “I had never seen someone so beautiful.”
Hearing him speak, your breath caught in your chest. Jungkook began to walk closer, his expression inscrutable.
“I avoided you for a few days,” he continued. “Mates are rarer in Duret Ghal and for a while, I didn’t know what I was feeling. Even once I realized, I resented the bond. It was difficult enough to accept my own magic back then.”
“What changed your mind?”
“You.” His lips curled in a smile. “You surprised me. I found myself liking you despite myself. I started to realize the bond might not be such a bad thing.”
“So… this entire time, you have known,” you said in disbelief.
“I have.” His expression darkened. “As have you, it would seem.”
Guilty, you looked away. You had and it had not occurred to you to tell him.
That was a lie. It had occurred to you and you’d decided against it, because you did not think you could stomach denying the bond to his face.
Reaching out, Jungkook took your hand. The gesture was so simple, it nearly broke you in two. Glancing down, you marveled when he brushed his thumb over your skin. Jungkook gave you space to think until you found the courage to speak.
“You know my mother was killed ten years ago,” you said quietly. “My father survived the attack, but they were mated and when she passed… he could not bear it.” After a pause, you looked up. “He died five years later, and those five years were as torturous for everyone else as they were for him.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Jungkook murmured.
“He tried,” you said, forcing yourself to remember.
To remember the days when your father had tried to go on. He’d tried for you and for Ashya, but it had not been enough. There had been no light in his gaze, no meaning behind his odd smiles. Although only your mother had died in the attack, you’d lost both your parents.
“I know he did,” you continued. “But the pain of losing his mate was too much. Everything which had been important simply faded away. I swore after he passed the same fate would not befall me. It is why I said no to you,” you said, your grip tightening. “It is not because I feel nothing. I said no to you because you are my mate.”
His thumb continued to soothe over your skin. “And now?” he asked, wondering. “Did you come here simply to say this?”
“No. Now I find myself wondering if in an attempt to spare myself pain, I created agony of a different kind.”
Jungkook’s gaze softened. “I meant what I said earlier, Y/N. I don’t wish for you to agree out of some sense of duty, or an unearthly bond.”
A shiver went down your spine at hearing your name on his lips.
“That is not why I am saying yes,” you said, lifting your chin.
Surprise flared in his gaze. “No?”
“No.”
Deciding you needed the wine after all, you tugged your hand from his and turned towards the table. Lifting the glass to your lips, you let the sweet burn fill your throat.
In the corner of your eyes, you could see Jungkook watching. Waiting.
“I am saying yes because I want this,” you breathed, turning around. “I want you. I have wanted you since the day you followed me to the cliffs. I’m scared,” you admitted, barely more than a whisper. “I’m terrified of what you might do to me. Of what I might do to you. But I don’t want fear to hold me back anymore.”
Jungkook continued to stare at you, jaw working while he thought through what to say. His fingers began to tremble, fighting the rising tide of emotion.
“We face a difficult path,” he said at last.
You nodded. “I know.”
“The history between our people. Revealing the magic of the riders. War on the horizon,” he said, taking a step forward with each reason he listed.
“Do you not want me to say yes, Your Majesty?”
Jungkook came to a stop before you.
“I want you to say yes so badly it hurts,” he said hoarsely. “But I don’t want you to accept not knowing what it means.”
“The bond scared me for a long time,” you told him. “The idea of belonging to someone. Of no longer depending solely upon myself.”
“And why is that?”
“Loss of control.” Your smile was fleeting. “The idea has always terrified me more than any enemy. I feared the bond would mean losing myself… that it would mean…”
“Giving a part of yourself away.”
Quiet, you nodded.
“Did you not think, though,” he said, reaching out. “Giving a piece of yourself away might mean gaining something in return?”
Taking your hand in his, Jungkook laid them both on his heart.
You stared at your hand, splayed beneath his on his chest. The idea had not occurred to you, and yet – perhaps it should have.
“I have no doubt you will remain independent,” Jungkook insisted. “Accepting this bond would not change that. I would not want that to change.”
“But if I were to die –”
“Love is always a liability,” Jungkook quietly said. “It is. And yet, where would we be without it? My love for Nemrys, for Duret Ghal and the riders saved me when my parents died. A world without love is not one worth fighting for.”
Ever so gentle, you brushed the curve of his hand with your thumb.
Jungkook’s grip on yours tightened.
“Yes,” you breathed. Chest practically touching, you looked up to see him. “I know all this, and I’m saying yes.”
For the first time, you let yourself look at him fully.
You had known he was beautiful, but the truth was he was nearly unbearable. Strong jaw, soft lips and eyes which burned as fierce as any Dragon. You did not look at them though, wanting to take in the rest of him first. Lifting a hand, you cupped the side of his face.
Jungkook shivered at your touch. Startled, you glanced up and met his gaze. The need you found within nearly undid you.
For so long, this had been building inside. Suddenly the idea of you tolerating, let alone enjoying another man’s company seemed a strange concept. Jungkook was your mate, someone who had never once cowered from who and what you were.
Turning his head, Jungkook’s lips brushed your palm.
“What are you thinking?” he murmured.
“I am remembering earlier. Your kiss in the garden.”
His gaze darkened. “What do you want from me, my Queen?”
The addition of the word my sent a thrill down your spine.
“You,” you said, knowing how true it was.
You wanted every part of the man before you. Wanted to know him, breathe him in, drink from his cup and bask in his light. The man who’d known you were his mate and hadn’t claimed you, but rather waited. Waited you to come to him.
Rising on your tiptoes, your hands slid to his neck and you kissed him again.
You kept your pressure light, the opposite of the searing kiss you’d previously shared. Pulling away, you savored the press of his chest, the warmth of his body and the weight of his hands. When you opened your eyes, you found Jungkook smiling.
Pressing your lips to his again, you moved a bit closer. Jungkook seemed content just to kiss, trading gentle pressure – until you pulled back, teeth catching on his lower lip.
A growl loosened from his chest, low and primal.
Sliding a hand behind your neck, Jungkook tilted your head upward and waited for you to nod. When you did, he crushed your lips to his in a kiss equally fierce as it was possessive. Breath stolen, you gave him your desire and what was left of your heart.
Warmth flooded your veins, heating you from the inside out. With limbs of molten fire, you kissed him back until his tongue swiped at your lip, demanding entrance. You parted easily for him, a whimper leaving your throat as you melded together.
Jungkook groaned, pulling close to kiss you again. His fingers traced the skin at your nape, trailing your spine to firmly cup your ass. Nestled between his legs, Jungkook allowed you to feel every inch of his hardness.
Your skin was aflame, as though lightning had zipped across it. Reduced to only sensations, you shivered at each one you felt. His thumb, fondling the dip of your waist. Your nipples, turgid against the fabric of your gown. The sharp, aching pulse which steadily grew between your thighs.
“Oh,” you gasped, head tipping back.
Jungkook kissed each inch of exposed skin you gave him.
“Is this what you want?” he murmured.
“What I want, my King,” you panted, regaining some of yourself. “Is for you not to stop.”
Lips curved in a smile, he lifted his head. “I rather think your King is more appropriate, no?”
You arced a brow. “What is the difference?”
“One implies you are my subject and the other implies I belong to you.”
“And which do you prefer?”
His gaze glinted in firelight. “Allow me to show you, my Queen.”
Barely pausing, you breathed, “And which usage was that?”
With a soft sort of chuckle, Jungkook walked you both backwards until your spine hit the wall. Bending his head, he brushed his lips against yours until you were aching. Until your need for him became fire, racing through your veins in a silent demand.
Sliding his thigh between your legs, Jungkook paused when you gasped. Swiftly giving in, he covered your lips in a kiss which seared to your soul.
Slipping your hands higher, you marveled at the breadth of his torso. Years of riding had hardened his body, making you wonder what he looked like beneath the tunic.
One hand on the wall, Jungkook’s other fisted in your skirts as he tugged you closer. Sharply, you inhaled when he yanked up the fabric, exposing your knee to the gentle press of his thumb. A moan left your lips as your head hit the wall, eyes fluttering open.
Jungkook stopped. “Is it too much?” he asked, releasing your skirts.
“No.” You shook your head. “I want more. I want you”
His gaze darkened. “Then you shall have me,” he promised, covering your mouth with his.
His kiss was rough, lips bruising as your hands found his hair. Arching against him, you reveled in the hard panes of his body. It seemed wherever you had space, Jungkook had been made to fill it.
Hand in your skirts once again, Jungkook pulled them higher to press his thigh in between. You inhaled at the contact, his muscles rigid and hard in all the right places.
Before you could do anything else, Jungkook bent and grasped the back of your thighs. Wrapping you around his waist, he kept your body close as he walked towards the bed. Lowering you to the floor, his hands remained on your waist.
“Turn around,” Jungkook rasped, and you obeyed.
Facing the bed, you felt his fingers trace over the bodice of your gown.
“May I?” he asked, his voice shaky.
“Please,” you whispered.
Carefully, Jungkook began undoing the laces and hooks. As the fabric was loosened, exposing your skin to his gaze, you closed your eyes. His fingers skimmed your shoulders, sliding the fabric lower until it hit the floor.
Bared to his gaze, you felt your breath hitch. Cool air played over your skin, perking your breasts, and drifting between your thighs. The gown was sheer enough to necessitate you wore no undergarments beneath it, leaving you naked before him.
“Y/N.” Jungkook sounded hoarse. “Please… please face me.”
Slowly, you did so as you opened your eyes.
Jungkook stared, his eyes dark as night. Jaw tense, his gaze slowly dragged down your body. You felt the intimacy of it as he trailed your throat, lingered at your breasts, your ass, and between your thighs.
When he finally returned to your face, the heat between you was scorching. Throat parched, your body felt one with the fire.
“Now, you,” you murmured.
Without looking away, Jungkook lifted a hand to begin undoing his tunic. Once it was loose, he pulled this overhead in a single motion. As it hit the floor, his hands went to his trousers. With bated breath, you watched him remove the laces.
Swallowing once, you stared at his chest bathed in soft firelight. Swirling dark lines stretched across his shoulder, encircling his bicep, and traveling to his wrist. You saw words and symbols but had no time to peruse. Later, you promised yourself. Later, you’d worship the ink with your lips and tongue.
A dark smattering of hair trailed from his abs, disappearing into trousers he undid with deft fingers. Once these had been pushed to the floor, you found another reason to swallow.
You were not what anyone would call shy, but something about this felt more intimate than it ever had. Baring yourself to Jungkook meant more than just sex. You’d accepted the bond, accepted what lay between you and acknowledged him as your mate.
Seeming to understand, Jungkook took a step closer as he bent his head. His hands slid to your waist and he kissed you gently.
When he pulled away, you saw vulnerability in his gaze.
“Y/N,” he said.
You marveled at the sound of his name on your lips. “Jungkook,” you returned, and watched him smile.
Bending again, his lips found yours as his hands skimmed your body. You settled between his legs, feeling slightly light-headed from the press of so much skin. Jungkook’s hand slid lower, gripping one of your thighs to wrap around him. He gave the same treatment to the other, twisting you around to lay on the bed.
Pressing a knee to the mattress, Jungkook crawled forward and bent his head. Lips soft, he began to kiss down your body. Your hands gripped his back, trailing to find the twin dimples nestled at the base of his spine.
When Jungkook’s mouth brushed your breasts, he paused. Instead of giving in and devouring you whole, he slid a hand between your thighs and found how wet you were. Gaze lidded, he looked up as he cupped your sex. A single finger slid over your silken entrance.
Lifting the same finger to his lips, Jungkook leisurely tasted you. When he pulled his finger out, you saw it had been licked clean.
Growling in approval, Jungkook bent and closed his lips over your breast.
“Oh,” you gasped, arching beneath him.
Your nipple was already hard, peaked with desire. Jungkook sucked on it eagerly, pulling your breast taut before he raised his head. Moving on to the next, his thumb remained behind to skim over your nipple.
He continued with this sweet torture until you’d had enough.
“No more,” you gasped, curving a hand beneath his jaw.
Releasing your breast, he lifted his head. “I want to taste you,” Jungkook breathed. “I want to know what it’s like to have you fall apart on my tongue.”
Easing yourself onto your elbows, you slowly spread your legs.
“Do your worst, Your Majesty,” you said, gaze glinting.
Jungkook grinned, lowering himself to the sheets. His mouth was hot, open as he kissed your waist, your belly and lower. You did not know where to look – his entirely naked ass, or his dark head of hair before your dripping sex.
Dragging his nose up your thigh, Jungkook deeply inhaled as he centered himself. Lowering his head to your sex, he gave a tentative kiss. Even this sent a sweeping shudder through you. It took nearly everything you had not to moan like a maiden in heat.
Opening his mouth, his tongue swirled once and you nearly dissolved. Liquid heat pulsed through you, cumulating between your thighs in a sinful wave. Worshipping you with his tongue, Jungkook tore moans from your lips, one after the other.
Swiping his tongue in another slow circle, he coaxed your body to arc from the bed. With a throaty chuckle, Jungkook looked up. Hair mussed and lips wet, he looked like something divine.
“Do you want more, my Queen?” he asked lowly.
“Yes,” you exhaled, unable to look away.
A devious smile spread across his lips. Lowering his mouth, Jungkook resumed his ministrations until you were gasping his name.
“Oh,” you groaned, broken as he continued to eat you out.
Gripping your thighs, he pushed them further apart to better get at your sex. Legs splayed on the bed, you framed his broad shoulders as you reached for his hair. Another growl left him as you fisted your hand in the strands. Hips rising and falling with the motion of his mouth, your head fell limply back on the bed.
“Yes – yes,” you said, chasing the sweet pleasure with your hips.
You hardly knew what you were doing as you moved, never having felt this way before. Jungkook seemed equally entranced, his eyes snapping open to meet yours above. The bottom half of his face was wet with your juices and while you should have felt modest, instead you felt righteousness. Intoxication. Possession.
This was your body which made him look like this, half-feral with need as he ground into the mattress. “Yes,” you gasped, gripping harder as your legs started to shake. “Yes, Jungkook.”
Pleasure built from within, threatening to drown out everything but the man between your thighs. Slipping a finger to your entrance, Jungkook drew lazy circles over your sex. His tongue moved in quick, agile motions against your swollen clit.
“Come for me,” he panted, lifting his head.
Your lips parted when his finger slipped in. Gripping his hair, your hips bucked against him as he added another and curled. Crying out his name, you came hard and fast around his hand. You think you said Jungkook, amongst other things, as you went limp on the mattress, your hands falling to the sheets.
Jungkook slowly relented, gently kissing your hip, your chest and all the way up your throat. Smiling softly, he settled beside you to drape an arm over your waist. Chest rising and falling, you stared at him in wonder.
You’d often wondered what the mating bond felt like. If something would snap into place and all of a sudden, your mind would belong to someone else. Whatever you’d imagined, it had not been this. This felt as natural, as right as when you flew.
Tracing a circle on your inner thigh, Jungkook looked up. “Do you want more?”
His other hand parted your legs, cupping your heat to show you what he meant. Inhaling softly, you reached down and encircled his wrist with your hand. Jungkook went still.
“Yes,” you murmured. “But not like that.”
His eyes lightened. “How, then?”
“I want all of you. Inside me,” you said. “I take the potions monthly.”
The potions were a trio of liquids sold by most apothecaries throughout the continent. They did everything from preventing pregnancy to protecting against diseases and easing your monthly flow. Arching a brow, you glanced pointedly at the headboard.
Smiling softly, Jungkook retracted his hand. Pushing himself upwards, he shifted to seat himself against the same headboard.
You could not have imagined a more beautiful sight. With mussed hair, his skin dark with ink and flushed with arousal, Jungkook was artwork himself. Lifting yourself to your knees, you positioned yourself over his thighs and lowered your gaze.
His cock was impressive, although you had already known this. He would be the largest you’d ever taken, that was for certain.
Reaching down, you wrapped your hand gently around him. Gaze half-lidded, Jungkook stared as you dragged your hand upwards. A hiss left his lips, though he held himself back.
“Careful,” he warned, shifting his hips.
Brushing your thumb across his head, you spread already-leaking fluids down his hardened shaft. Lowering your body, your mouth slid over the reddening tip. With a flick of your tongue, you relished his soft moan of approval. Next, was a swirl, before you slid off with a pop and began to move your fist.
“This is not your first time,” Jungkook observed, breathing heavily.
“Neither is it yours, Your Majesty.”
Bending again, you took him all at once in your mouth. Gasping his chuckle, Jungkook’s hands skimmed your torso to land on your rear. For a while, the only sounds which filled the room were the sloppy sounds of you sucking.
“It is not,” he panted, fingers digging into your ass. “And yet, I cannot help but be envious of all who came before me. Of all who’ve known the sweet pleasure of your lips on their cock.”
Removing him from your mouth, you looked up.
“There is no need to be jealous,” you said, rising onto your knees. Not looking away, you swung a leg over his hips. “You are the one who has me now.”
Something proud, almost territorial entered his gaze.
Gripping you by the waist, Jungkook pulled you even closer. “Do I?” he murmured, lips brushing your throat. “My Queen. My betrothed. My mate,” he breathed, nipping the skin.
A not unpleasant shiver ran down your spine. Reaching beneath you, you gripped his cock to position at your dripping entrance. Still, you did not take him inside.
Realizing Jungkook awaited an answer, you nodded. He had you.
“Then tell me,” Jungkook demanded, looking into your eyes.
Lowering yourself, you felt his tip brush your entrance. “You have me,” you whispered. “My King. My betrothed. My mate.”
With each word, you took him in deeper. Jungkook sat upright, right hand cupping the back of your neck to bring you closer. Clasped to his warm, damp skin, you sank down on his cock.
“That’s it,” he murmured, hot in your ear. Other hand gripping your ass, he lowered you even further. “You can take more of me, can you not?”
You could and you did, not wanting to wait any longer. Hands digging into his back, you kept your chests pressed together as you sank even further. No matter how much you took, there always seemed to be more to give. Jungkook’s cock stretched you open, making you work to fit all of him inside.
“Oh,” you whimpered, gripping him tighter.
Jungkook grunted and stroked the side of your neck with his thumb. “There you go. Take all of it. All of me,” he exhaled.
A now-familiar shiver swept your spine as you moved. The last inch pushed you past your limits, but finally you felt him bottom out. For a moment, you could not breathe from the feeling of fullness. Of rightness. Of completeness.
Him sheathed inside you felt indescribable, only improved when Jungkook shifted his hips and finally moved.
“Oh,” you gasped, eyes flying wide.
“Y/N,” he groaned.
Lifting yourself higher, your nipples brushed his chest as you eased yourself down. Jungkook’s hand remained on your spine, rolling your hips as he thrust from below. Kissing him slowly, you bit down on his lip and took him in deeper.
Jungkook began to move, spearing you with his cock as you spread your legs. His kisses became harder, more desperate as a steady thrum of power built in between you. Soon it was your hips chasing his, not the other way around.
Lowering his head, Jungkook caught your breast with his mouth. Lips parting, you began to fuck him harder as you slammed your hips down. His tongue teased one rounded breast, switching to the other while his thumb flicked the first.
Dropping onto his length over and over, you marveled at the feel of him moving inside you.
“Jungkook,” you moaned, head thrown back in ecstasy.
His hands seemed to be everywhere. Clasping you to him, skimming your torso, flicking your pebbled nipples as the wave of pleasure built. Toes curling beneath you, you panted from the effort of trying not to come.
As though he could sense this, Jungkook began speeding up. Clasping you to him, he thrust into you harder, filling you with each languid roll of his hips. As your lips found each other, the strange tide of longing crested into a wave.
Winding your fingers into his hair, you tipped your head back and bared your neck to his teeth. Jungkook scraped them up your throat, whining his approval as you rode his cock. Hands gripping your ass hard enough to bruise, his hips moved even faster as he sought completion.
With his dampened skin pressed to yours, his scent began to envelop. Each moan he gave you was freely taken. Each sound you made, he swallowed whole. You were not sure how long you existed in this state, simply reveling in the pleasure from each other’s bodies.
On the edge of release, you felt the bond between you tighten. It was difficult to tell where one of you ended and the other began. Slamming your hips down to his, Jungkook was equally fierce, plunging inside you.
“I cannot hold on much longer,” he gasped.
You nodded, stroking his temple with a sweat-slicked thumb. “Together.”
Jungkook nodded, lips seeking yours in a question you answered. Hips quickening, limbs tightening, you let yourself fall into the release he offered. As you came undone, it was Jungkook you held onto. Somewhere within the bright haze of your pleasure, you felt Jungkook release as well. Thick, hot spurts of cum painted your insides white. 
You reveled in it, trembling at the idea of a future where he’d do this again. Where he’d whet you with his seed, stuffing you full in the hopes you might bear his child. The notion made you whimper, squeezing with your walls as you felt him begin to leak out. 
Although your breathing slowed, the haze of joy lingered. The mating bond became almost visible, shining crystal-clear in what had previously been darkness. It stayed with you; humming and golden, and fearfully strong.
Lifting your head, you met Jungkook’s gaze.
He had not become someone different. Neither had you and yet, something between you had changed. It was still Jungkook beneath you, inside you and with his arms wrapped around you. Now though, you knew what he was to you. Your mate. You had chosen him, and he had chosen you.
Based on his expression, you knew he felt something similar.
One of your hands slid down his chest and settled over his heart. Beneath your palm and warm skin, you felt his heart keeping pace with yours.
“Oh,” you murmured, eyes shining.
Leaning forward, Jungkook brushed your lips with his. Clasping your hand in between you, he rested his forehead to yours.
You knew obstacles lay ahead. You knew but somehow, they all seemed more possible with him by your side. With him as your partner, your mate, your betrothed.
Opening your eyes, you met his gaze and smiled.
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© kpopfanfictrash, 2021. Do not copy or repost without permission.
Author’s Note: Thank you so much to everyone read this long! I hope you enjoyed :)
Character Ask Game found here
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latetaektalk · 11 months ago
Text
after i left you | jjk
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“when you decided to meet up with taehyung for dinner to reconnect, you didn’t expect to see jungkook, your ex, on a date with his current girlfriend and not to mention, end up fake dating taehyung.”
genre: exes! AU, fake dating! AU, enemies to lovers-ish! AU, unrequited feelings-ish! AU, angst, fluff
pairing: jungkook x female reader 
word count: 38.985 
warnings: cursing, reader feels very guilty in this one, alcohol consumption (nothing major/bad though)
playlist: happier - ed sheeran, just asking - aquilo, my tears ricochet - taylor swift, one last time please - dodie
a/n: uh, super nervous to post this because ive never written so much before, but i had a ton of fun and i hope you guys enjoy it! if you guys have any problems reading, liking or reblogging it, please let me know! im not sure if tumblr can handle such a word count, so id appreciate it if you guys would tell me if something doesnt work and ill figure it out! anyway, hope you guys enjoy this as much as i enjoyed writing this!
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The restaurant Taehyung picked was big but cozy. It was one huge room that stretched out further than your eyes could see. It was soaked in golden light, soaked in warmth and comfort. Everything was made out of wood, dark rich wood, and it smelled like home-cooked food. The smell wafted through the entire place. 
“‘Let’s all have dinner,’ they said, huh?” Taehyung said and looked around, no Yerim or Yoongi in sight. You laughed and shrugged.
“Yeah, sucks that they had to cancel last minute, but next time, we’ll be all together,” you said and skimmed the hard edges of the menu in your hands.
“Yeah, I know, but I thought we’d find the time once you returned,” Taehyung sighed and put down his menu with a frown.
“Definitely sucks,” you agreed and put down your menu as well. “But I’m happy that at least you and I could find the time.”
Taehyung and you smiled at each other and you could still barely believe it, could still barely believe that you were not only back in your hometown, but sitting in front of Taehyung and having dinner with him. It was all very surreal to you, and even though barely half an hour had passed since you had first seen Taehyung again in four years, things felt like they had never changed. There was no awkwardness, no long silences or weird tension between you. Both of you had simply picked up from where you left off. 
“Tell me, Y/N, how was America?” Taehyung asked and plopped his elbow onto the table before letting his chin fall into his open palm and tilting his head to the side. You mirrored him and let out a hum, the golden light pouring down both of your faces and bringing out the corners of your features.
Taehyung’s hair had grown out a lot since you had last seen him. In fact, it was permed now. And even though both of you had finished puberty by the time you had left, he seemed to have gotten a little taller. He had somehow grown into his face and turned into one gorgeous man with fluffy and luscious locks.
“Well, exhausting. I was always studying and pulling all-nighters, and it was so hard at times. The homesickness certainly didn’t make it any easier,” Taehyung smiled, “but it was- it was so worth it.”
“That’s great,” he said and you knew he meant it, knew he was genuinely happy for you. You beamed at him. “You really enjoyed it, didn’t you? America, I mean.”
“Yeah, it was- it was great, truly,” you said with a nod and remembered all of the memories you had made over the past four years. “It was really what I needed. Really the time of my life.”
Taehyung’s smile widened into a grin and you let your words sink in, sink in for him and for you as well. It was in the silence that you felt the guilt come back, hit you square in the face and leave you breathless.
You leaned back and grabbed the edge of the table. You lowered your head and Taehyung perked up, feeling the shift the moment it had happened.
“I’m sorry.”
Taehyung raised his brows at you and let his hand fall onto the table as he leaned forward, trying to see what you were apologising for.
“I- I feel bad,” you started up again and tucked a strand behind your ear. “It sounds like I didn’t enjoy being here and-”
“No, Y/N, don’t,” Taehyung reached over the table and grabbed your hand, taking it into his, “There’s no need to apologise. You worked your butt off to win that scholarship and fulfilled your dream. That’s great.”
“Yeah, but I abandoned you guys,” you mumbled and shrugged. You pulled away your hand, but Taehyung was quick to tighten his grasp, quick to put his other hand over yours and squeeze your hand. 
“Stop saying that, Y/N,” Taehyung shook his head at you, eyes drilling holes into your head as you continued to stare down at your lap, “You didn’t ‘abandon’ us. That’s bullshit and you know it.”
Taehyung pulled on your hand and waited for you to raise your head, and when you did and met his gaze, he offered you an even bigger grin than before.
“You don’t have to feel bad for going to America to go study,” he said and tilted his head to the side, bangs tickling his eyes. “We were and still are genuinely happy for you.”
“He wasn't.”
Taehyung’s hands tightened around yours at your words, and he pressed his lips into a thin line, giving you a look that had you shifting in your seat and shrugging in defense.
He hadn’t been happy for you at all when you had told him you had won a scholarship to go study in America. You had expected hugs and cheers, but received cold stares and bitter words instead. When the summer had neared its end and you had to leave, he hadn’t been there. Taehyung, Yerim and Yoongi had all hugged and kissed you goodbye, had wished you the best, but he, the person you had wanted to be with you right now the most, had been by your side.
You were eighteen, barely an adult, when you had boarded the plane to America without him kissing your forehead and wishing you the best, and you never forgot that, forgot just how unhappy and miserable you had made him.
“He wasn’t,” you repeated like it excused your words in any way. Taehyung opened his mouth to launch into a speech, a speech you already knew by heart without having heard it a single time. 
“Y/N-”
“This place,” you started and pulled your hand away, gesturing around you. “It’s nice.”
Taehyung blinked at you, obviously contemplating whether or not to allow you to change the subject like that, and you were more than glad when he leaned back into his chair and nodded.
“Yeah, it opened recently,” he said with a smile and you smiled right back at him. Both of you shared a look for a moment and after many years of friendship, there was no need for words, no need for you to thank him for letting you off the hook like that.
“It’s so nice,” you repeated and you barely heard Taehyung’s laugh as you let your gaze wander, taking it all in.
Seemingly every table was filled, and everybody was in their own world. You could hear laughter and shrieks in between the conversations, and a smile stretched across your face. Your eyes softened at the sight of loving couples and you ignored the pulling in your chest, ignored the yearning for what they had sitting deep within you.
“I really like it here,” you said and Taehyung stuck out his chest a little. A smirk was painted on his lips and pride was glimmering in his eyes. You chuckled a little and let yourself sink into the chair before your gaze travelled through the room once more.
The restaurant seemed to be frequented by a lot of couples, and you understood why. This place reminded you of the restaurants Jungkook would take you to from time and time again to show you how much he appreciated you, one of those restaurants he had taken you to when he had confessed to you and told you he loved you for the first time.
“This is totally a place for him.”
You said it without meaning to, said it without thinking, and when your eyes locked with Taehyung’s, you both shared a knowing gaze. Panic wanted to flush through your chest—because was Taehyung going to circle back to your previous words?—but then, he smiled at you and nodded.
“Yeah, totally is. It’s his favourite restaurant actually,” Taehyung said and you weren’t surprised. “He dragged all of us out here on opening day.”
“Opening day?”
“Yeah, can you imagine this place on opening day? This place had been hyped up months before its opening. So, it was fucking insane when we got here. He almost got into two fistfights that day,” Taehyung laughed and sighed at the memory.
“The hostess couldn't find his reservation and he insisted that he had made one like months ago. Yeri literally had to talk him down. And when we finally got to our table, he almost fought Yoongs because he said he didn’t like it here,” Taehyung told you and shook his head with a grin plastered on his lips. “Can you believe?”
“Honestly?” You raised your brows and you didn’t answer your question because Taehyung and you exploded into more laughter. “Shit, he hasn’t changed at all, has he?” 
“He is dumber now,” Taehyung smiled and scrunched up his nose. “Definitely still an idiot.”
You nodded and this time when you both fell silent, there was no guilt building up inside of you, no coming back to the surface. 
“How is he?” you asked and Taehyung puckered his forehead. He tapped the table with his one hand while he ran his other one through his fluffy locks.
“He’s,” Taehyung hesitated and your heart stopped in your chest, but then you saw the smile pulling on the corners of his lips, “good.” Taehyung paused a moment before nodding. “He’s good. Recently finished up his studies and started his first job. He’s enjoying it.”
You smiled.
“That’s great. I’m happy for him.”
You meant it, meant it because he had deserved so much more, deserved better. When you had last seen him, he and you had been wrecks, crying and sobbing and angry messes, and it was great to hear that he wasn’t anymore, great to hear that he was doing better now. 
“Is he, you know, uh seeing-” you trailed off as the rest of the question got stuck between your teeth like chewing gum, but Taehyung knew what you wanted to ask. He gave you a look, a look you weren’t sure how to interpret. There seemed to be pity and almost sorry in his eyes.
“Yeah, he is.”
You expected that answer, expected it because someone as amazing and great and funny as he was more than desirable but it still hurt to hear. You couldn’t stop your chest from tightening and your heart from sinking a little deeper inside you, shrinking in itself. You wanted to tell yourself to stop, wanted to tell your heart to not be like that because you had no right to feel like that, had no right when you had been the one leaving him. 
He had every right to move on, had every right to forget about you and be happy with someone else. But your heart simply couldn’t help itself from clenching in your chest like you were the one that had been left behind and not him.
“Wait, where are you?”
Taehyung and you snapped your head around when the girl next to you suddenly spoke up, thinking both that she was talking to you. Neither of you had taken notice of her before or looked at her when the hostess had led you two to your table. Until now, she had been typing away on her phone, waiting in silence, but right now, she had her phone pressed against her ear, definitely talking a little too loudly.
“What do you mean you can’t find parking? There’s a huge parking lot right next to the restaurant.”
Taehyung and you locked eyes when it clicked with both of you that she was not talking to you two. You shared knowing looks, remembering the same thing.
“He never found parking either,” Taehyung mumbled and both of you leaned closer to one another, not wanting for the girl to hear that you had eavesdropped on her conversation. Smiles played on your lips and you snickered. 
You recalled the many times you had sat in his car and cursed at him for running another red light because you were late, again, because of him, recalled the many times you would sit in a restaurant on your own or in the mall, waiting for him with your phone pressed to your ear as he assured you over and over again that he had planned in time for traffic, but that it was just worse than ever before.
“And he always had his excuses,” you snorted and shook your head. “‘There was a fire, so I had to turn around and take this huge detour.’ I think there was a fire somewhere every other week.”
Taehyung laughed and grinned at you. “Oh, but I think ‘Someone dropped a bunch of mirrors on the road and when I tried to turn around, I couldn’t because there were a bunch of cars, so I had to wait until they cleaned up the road.’ is still my favourite.”
“Ugh, he’s such a drama queen, I swear,” you groaned and leaned back into your chair. 
“I have no idea how you dated him for most of high school. Like he’s so exhausting sometimes,” Taehyung mumbled and shook his head.
“Oh, you spent just as much time as I did with him,” you said with a roll of your eyes and Taehyung wiggled his finger at you.
“I didn’t date him though. There’s a difference,” he argued and you dismissed his words with a quick shake of your head before crossing your arms in front of your chest at a certain memory.
“Does he still insist on having his cucumbers diced and not sliced because sliced cucumbers don’t taste as good?” 
“Please, don’t remind me. Every time I think about that I want to stop being friends-”
“Wait, where are- oh, I can see you already,” the girl next to you said into her phone and Taehyung and you froze at her interruption. Both of you looked at each other and before either of you could get back to your conversation, you were interrupted once more.
“I’m so sorry, but I swear the traffic was just out of this world today.”
Your eyes grew wide at his voice and your heart plummeted into your stomach when you heard his voice. You recognised it immediately, would have recognised it even if you had been deaf. You could never not recognise it, could never forget his voice. Your heart thumped in your chest, thumped painfully, as you turned your head and your eyes landed on him and his eyes landed on you.
His lips parted the slightest bit as he looked at you, frozen, and he gripped the back of the chair as his brows furrowed together at your sight.
“Y/N?”
Your name slipped off his tongue and confusion etched onto his face. Hearing him say your name sent your heart into a frenzy, had the panic bulldoze you away and your brain short circuit. The world went silent, the conversations all around you faded away and left you in silence with him. Time seemed to stand still as he and you looked at each other, desperately trying to process what was happening right now.
“Jungkook.”
His name felt dry and heavy on your tongue, felt like cement, felt like something you had been wanting to say forever now, but had avoided saying because you knew you had lost the right to say it and therefore had never said it again, until now. Until now when he was standing wide-eyed in front of you.
“Wait, what’s happening right now?” 
The question barely registered with you as you continued to stare at Jungkook, continued to stare at the boy that had once meant the world to you, continued to stare at the boy that you once had the right to calling him your boyfriend, continued to stare at the boy that still had your heart in such a tight grip that he managed to send it into a frenzy and have panic pumping through your veins merely with his sight.
Jungkook had changed. Now, he was taller and stood out in this crowded restaurant, towered over every other guest. Jungkook demanded attention from everyone, from you, and you were willing to give it to him because how could you not?
His hair had grown out, was longer now than you had ever seen it before and you wanted to comment on his tattoos when you saw them, juxtaposing his golden and warm skin. From the day you had met Jungkook, he had been talking about all of the tattoos he had wanted to get once he was old enough, and you almost couldn’t believe that he had actually finally gotten some. You wondered if he had to go behind the back of his parents or if they gave him their approval since he was an adult now.
“Uhm, babe?”
It was the word ‘babe’ that had you snapping out of it, that had the world start turning again and the time unfreezing, conversations returning to their original volume. It was the word ‘babe’ that had your eyes tearing away from Jungkook and to the girl sitting next to you instead. Her brows were raised and her gaze was drilling into Jungkook’s as he slowly pulled himself together too.
For the first time, you actually looked at the girl, actually gave her some of your attention. Until now, she had just been the girl sitting at the table next to you, been the girl typing away on her phone, been the girl having a conversation a little too loudly, but now, she was the girl who had waited for Jungkook, was the girl who had called Jungkook ‘babe’.
Now, she was the girl who was seemingly Jungkook’s girlfriend.
Jungkook sank down in his chair, but the confusion never left his face. His eyes stayed on you before his gaze wandered to his left, meeting Taehyung’s. When he locked eyes with him, Jungkook’s whole face dropped once more, eyes growing bigger and wider than they were before.
“Taehyung?” Jungkook almost yelled and drew the attention of some people around you, but none of you could muster up the energy to give them an apologetic smile. 
“Hi, Kook,” Taehyung managed to cough out and filled the awkwardness and silence with it. Jungkook crashed against the back of his chair with a thud as he gazed into nothing, brain desperately trying to process this.
Taehyung and you exchanged glances, both of you not knowing what to do or to say. This wasn’t what either of you had prepared for. Both of you had only signed up to have a nice dinner and catch up while tiptoeing around the topic of Jungkook and you. You knew you were going to see him again because he was still friends with Taehyung, Yerim and Yoongi and so were you, but you just hadn’t thought that you were going to see him today.
“Okay, uhm, babe, could you please explain to me what’s going on right now?” 
For the first time since he had arrived, Jungkook looked at the girl who was most definitely his girlfriend. His eyes were still wide when they met hers and there was a strained smile on her lips as she drilled her gaze into him, demanding some sort of answer from him, but he couldn’t deliver. He opened his mouth, but his throat felt scratchy and dry and so, he could only stare into nothing again.
“I- I need some water,” Jungkook managed to blurt out, reaching across the table to grab her glass of water and gulping it down like he hadn’t drunk something in years. He devoured it in seconds and stared at it with big eyes, mentally cursing at it for not holding more water for him to gulp down. 
Jungkook put down the glass, but he didn’t let go of it and instead held it, tightening his grip around it until his knuckles turned white.
“Okay, uh,” Jungkook started and massaged his temple as he screwed his eyes shut, fighting off the headache that made him think his skull was going to split open. 
“Uh, so,” Jungkook sighed and puckered his forehead before peeling his eyes open and gesturing towards Taehyung. “This is, uh, Taehyung. I- I’ve told you about him, babe, right?”
“Yeah, oh,” the girl next to you perked up and turned her gaze to Taehyung, offering him a genuine albeit tense smile. You couldn’t blame her, this was still very awkward.
“Yes, Taehyung. Hi! I’ve heard so much about you. I’ve been dying to meet you.” Taehyung forced a smile on his lips and it looked genuine, but having known him for so long, you could spot the difference right away. 
“I’m Heejin.”
Heejin.
A pretty name for an even prettier girl. It suited her, suited her to have such a beautiful sounding name. Of course, she did and you almost scoffed, scoffed because your name paled in comparison to hers. Hers had a pleasant ring to it, but yours just sounded off and wrong now. 
“Heejin, yeah, I’ve heard of you too.” Taehyung nodded and extended his hand. She took it and they both shook hands for a moment before she turned to you, her smile still tense, but the genuineness shimmered through.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I know-” Heejin trailed off and looked over to Jungkook for help, but he had his eyes locked with yours. And with that simple look, you knew.
He hadn’t told Heejin about you.
And judging from the way he was slightly shaking his head, he wasn’t planning on doing so just now. Taehyung and you understood immediately, but it had another dose of panic rushing through both of you.
“I’m Y/N,” you offered and extended your hand to Heejin like Taehyung had because this was the polite thing to do, the right thing to do, and for once in your life, you had to do the right thing regarding Jungkook.
“Hi, Y/N. Heejin,” she smiled, taking your hand into her perfectly soft one, and you made sure to smile at her too as you shook her hand. You smiled at her as much as one could smile at your ex’s current girlfriend. “It’s nice to meet you.”
No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t nice to meet Heejin, wasn’t nice at all. You wanted to shout it into her face, tell her you already hated her for simply existing and taking your place in Jungkook’s life and heart, but you swallowed all of the bitter and petty words, swallowed your anger aimed at her that was truly only anger at yourself, and nodded.
“Yeah, really nice to meet you, Heejin,” you said and let go of her hand, eyes turning to Taehyung instinctively. He offered you a smile, a smile that had your heart calming down a little, but then your eyes wandered to Jungkook and it sped up again. He sat up straighter and cleared his throat.
“Heejin, here- she’s, uh-” Jungkook stammered and the rest of his sentence refused to come out, leaving him with his mouth open and staring back at you.
“I’m his girlfriend,” Heejin finished with a smile and Jungkook and you locked eyes. It almost looked like he wanted to correct her with the way he sat up, with the way his back straightened out, but he didn’t. He didn’t correct Heejin because there was nothing to correct. And you knew that.
“Yeah, exactly, right,” Jungkook confirmed with a quiet voice and a nod. You tore your gaze away and looked around, looked around the room and stared at anything as long as it meant that you didn’t have to look at him, see him sitting across the girl who was his girlfriend.
You couldn’t bear the sight, couldn’t bear it to see Jungkook here with his girlfriend. You weren’t prepared for this, but you didn’t think that anything could have prepared you for this, for this bitter reality anyway.
“And, so, how do you all-” Heejin didn’t finish her sentence and gestured between all three of you instead. You shared a glance with Taehyung, asking him to say something because you couldn’t right now, couldn’t bring yourself to explain how you all knew each other.
“Uh, well, we all went to high school together. We were all friends back then,” Taehyung said and shifted in his chair to cover up the pitchiness of his voice. Heejin nodded at his words and looked between you all three once more before gesturing at all three of you again.
“Oh, okay, but why was Kook so shocked-”
“Well, it’s been a while since Kook and Y/N have seen each other, right?” Taehyung smiled and you could see the trembling corners of his lips. You nodded in confirmation because Jungkook was still somewhat stuck processing all of this.
“How come?”
“Well, I, uh,” you rubbed the back of your neck, “I moved away for college.”
You did. It wasn’t a lie, but it was also not the whole truth either because you moved to America and not to some neighbouring city that was half an hour away. Jungkook raised his brows at you and pursed his lips together, but you refused to look back at him, focusing instead on keeping the smile on your face for Heejin.
“Yeah, it was surprising for Kook to see Y/N, huh?” Taehyung asked and put his hand on his shoulder, and Jungkook looked at him before humming in confirmation and forcing a smile onto his lips.
“Surprising, for sure. Shocking, too.”
You folded your arms in front of your stomach and bit on your lip, trying to ignore the thudding of your heart ringing in your ears.
“Oh, so, this is like you guys reconnecting again?” Heejin asked and you begged her to stop asking any more questions, to stop trying to understand this because, fuck, this was only going to end badly. The truth was ugly and terrible and you didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to look it into the eye, couldn’t face it and look at it, at least not yet.
As much as you wanted to open your mouth and swiftly change the topic, the words were stuck to your tongue like gum stuck to the sole of a shoe. It was helpless.
“Wait, but why wasn’t Kook invited-”
“Well, actually, this isn’t us reconnecting again,” Taehyung interrupted and you turned your head to him. He placed his hand on the table and beckoned for yours, and too confused to use your own brain, you just put your hands into Taehyung’s. Bad decision as it turns out.
“This is actually a date.”
You almost pulled away your hand, but Taehyung was quick to hold onto it and tighten his grasp. Your heart was now beating out of your chest and you were sure everybody could hear it, were sure it was louder than the whole room.
“Y/N and I are dating.”
This time, you didn’t try to pull away your hand. This time, you actually did the opposite and tightened it. In fact, you tightened it so much that your knuckles turned white and Taehyung had to hold his breath to stop the groan from slipping.
“Right, yeah, boy and girlfriend. Super duper in love,” you croaked out with a tight smile before lowering your gaze. What else could you say? 
Jungkook drilled his eyes into your face. You could feel the holes he was staring into you right now, but you refused to look at him, refused to spare him a glance and possibly see his reaction to the revelation that Taehyung and you were supposedly dating. 
Even if it was a lie, an obvious lie, a lie that only needed to be told because Jungkook hadn’t told Heejin about you yet, it still knocked the breath out of Jungkook and had him bending over, still had his face etching into something else, into something unreadable.
“Wait, oh my God,” Heejin squeaked and her hand found her mouth as it split apart into a grin, covering it as her eyes flickered between Taehyung and you. “This is a date? Then-” 
Heejin turned to Jungkook with the most excited smile on her lips before whipping her head back to Taehyung and you.
“This is totally a double date then!”
The shock didn’t wear off for another five seconds, but when it did, you offered Heejin the most convincing smile you could muster up. Taehyung put his hand on yours when you tightened it around his other one a little too much, but you didn’t let go.
There was no way out, no revealing this was all a lie anymore and he was to blame. He was the one that had started it and dragged you along.
“I guess,” you said through a tight smile.
The scruffing and scraping of Jungkook’s chair against the hardwood floor when he got up rang loud, painfully loud in your ears and you cringed. He held up the glass of water and only looked at Heejin, but somehow you knew his words were meant to shoot through your heart.
“I’m gonna get you some water, babe.”
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There was just something about the summer evening air that always managed to relax you, managed to calm you down and ground you again. 
The warm breeze blew through your hair and filled your lungs with much-needed oxygen, oxygen you had been craving for since you had first seen Jungkook again. He had taken your breath away, stolen it and left you dealing with the agony and pain with finding it again as you desperately tried not to suffocate.
The last hour had flown by you, had passed you in a blur. As much as you tried to, you couldn’t recall what you had talked about, couldn’t even recall what you had ordered and what your dish had tasted like. Everything was so hazy. The only thing you knew for sure was that it had taken Jungkook far too long to fill up a glass of water and that when he had finally returned, there was a glass of water in his one hand and a glass of whiskey in his other one.
At one point, you had gotten up with an excuse of needing to make a call and before anyone could protest, you had fled out of the restaurant. You did contemplate taking a cab and going home, but you couldn’t even bring yourself to unlock your phone—not to mention, leave without a word.
Going inside was just as difficult though, so you stayed outside, and simply let the view dawn on you. Because a restaurant like this, of course, had to be located on a small hill that overlooked the city, had to have the most gorgeous view.
Your hometown wasn’t magical, wasn’t pretty at all, but with the sun slowly dipping below the horizon, the warm sunshine turned the cracked streets into golden rivers and the lines and lines of cars waiting at the red lights into boats. The street lamps decorating the cracked streets resembled fireflies, buzzing and bright.
For a moment, you forgot, forgot about the world around you, forgot about the tension poisoning the air inside the restaurant and making every breath more and more unbearable and deadly, forgot about the web of lies you were slowly sinking into, forgot about the aching of your heart every time you looked at Jungkook.
For a moment, you forgot that Jungkook and you weren’t dating anymore.
“You’re dating Tae now?”
You jerked around at the question, eyes finding him instinctively. Your breath hitched in your throat and you opened your mouth to answer, but no sound would escape you.
Jungkook stood there, a few metres away from you, with his hands in his pockets and his head tilted to the side, and, God, was he just gorgeous, so breathtakingly gorgeous, beautiful, pretty.
Even though his tone was light and almost playful, his face was hard. Jungkook looked at you for another moment before his gaze wandered to the view in front of him. His eyes were cold, cold enough to turn the golden rivers into ice, cold enough to freeze the boats, cold enough to kill the fireflies.
“You know I’m not. He just panicked. Tae’s always been a shit liar,” you chuckled, trying to lighten the situation and cut down on some of the tension, unfreeze the world, but you fell short and failed miserably. Jungkook let a smile pull on the corners of his lips, but it was gone within a second.
You were frozen when he started closing the distance between you two. When he finally stopped next to you, there was a noticeable gap between you, a gap big enough to have your heart wrenching and twisting in your chest. 
Fuck, this was what Jungkook and you had become, huh? Two people that couldn’t even stand close enough to each other without that awkward and horrible gap between you.
There used to be a time when there was no gap, no space, used to be a time when you were always in each other’s arms, used to be a time when the air wasn’t cold and the world frozen. But there also used to be a time where you two could only smile and grin at the other, used to be a time where there were no hardened faces and cold gazes.
There used to be a time that was just Jungkook and you together.
“Yeah, that’s a fucking mess,” Jungkook laughed humorlessly and you didn’t join him, didn’t try to. “How are we gonna fix that?”
“I don’t think we need to,” you said with a frown and turned to him for a moment, but he didn’t reciprocate your gaze. You got the message and turned to face the city again, looking out like you hadn’t been doing that for the past minutes.
“I doubt we’re gonna see each other again, right? I mean-” you trailed off and shrugged, rocking on the balls of your feet as you struggled to finish your sentence.
“I mean, I would like to if that was okay and fine with you, if you’re ready for that, but I understand if you’re not.”
Jungkook turned to you, blinking at you for a second before ultimately turning away and looking out again.
“Yeah, no, you’re right,” he chuckled dryly and you thought you could even hear a scoff. “Are you going back? Leaving to continue your adventure? Is this just a pit stop before you’re off to continue your adventure?”
The words stung, cut into you and your heart clenched at them. A cold breeze blew through you, gutted you, and you were left shivering and with goosebumps covering your entire body. Your throat knotted into a mess, and you wanted to look at Jungkook, see his expression, but you trained your gaze on your frozen hometown, trained your gaze on it like it didn’t shatter your heart to see it like that.
Jungkook had every right, every right to be bitter and cold, but it didn’t mean it hurt you any less for him to treat you like that, treat you like you hadn’t been each other’s worlds at one point of your life.
“No.” You shook your head, desperately trying to rid your voice of its trembling. “I- I’m staying.”
Jungkook didn’t say anything, didn’t respond, didn’t even react in the slightest way. You thought maybe he hadn’t heard you, but when you dared to peek at him, you saw the way the lines of his face had deepened. He had heard you, loud and clear.
You both drowned in the silence, sank into it, deeper and deeper with each second, and you crossed your arms in front of your chest, tightening with each passing moment.
“Did you stay in touch with the others? Yoongs? Yeri?” 
You shifted on your feet and tucked a strand behind your ear. “No- I mean, we tried, but after like a year or two, we slowly lost contact with each other. We did check on each other every couple months and texted every now and then, but we- we did definitely drift apart.”
“I guess then they were meant to come too, right? Tonight?” 
“Yeah, they were, but they had to drop out last minute. We, uh, always said we were gonna have dinner once I returned,” you mumbled and Jungkook hummed at that, nodding a little. Both of you stayed silent for a while, and even though you wanted to say something, cut into the silence because it allowed you to think and right now, you didn’t want to think, you couldn’t come up with anything to say.
“How long have you been back?”
Your gaze wandered to your feet and you kicked the dirt a little, digging into it with the tip of your shoe.
“Uh, I got back a little over a week ago,” you whispered into the air and tightened your arms around your chest. Jungkook nodded, but he didn’t look at you.
“Why are you back?” Jungkook asked and when you struggled to answer his question, he scoffed. Your silence was telling, said more than you ever could. 
“You came back for a job, didn’t you?”
You didn’t reply, didn’t tell him you hadn’t come back just for a job, but because you had missed home, had missed your family, had missed Taehyung, Yerim, Yoongi and more importantly, had terribly missed him. You had missed everything and everyone here so much you couldn’t even put it into words, but you said none of that, didn’t correct Jungkook.
The wind blew through your hair and the once warm breeze that had filled your lungs with the oxygen you so desperately needed filled your lungs now with sharp and piercing icicles this time. You hugged yourself more, tighter. You tried to warm yourself up, but no amount of hugging yourself was enough to melt the ice in your lungs.
“What are you, uh, doing out here?” you asked and turned a little to Jungkook, eyeing him with a raised brow, but he didn’t reciprocate your gaze this time either.
“Heejin’s cold,” Jungkook answered after a beat of silence, brows knitting together as he kept his focus in front of him. “I’ve got a jacket in my car.”
You hummed and a small smile made its way onto your lips. You totally got it. You were cold too, freezing, in fact, but there was no jacket for you, no Jungkook running out for you to get it and warm you up.
“You still got a whole closet in the back of your car, don’t you?” you asked with a slight smile, trying to lighten the mood, but when you turned to Jungkook, your smile fell off.
Instead of flushing red in embarrassment or laughing because of how well you still knew him after all these years, Jungkook stared into your eyes, harsh lines etched onto his face. It wasn’t the kind of stare that had your heart thumping and your throat constricting and kaleidoscopes of butterflies in your stomach flying. No, it was a piercing kind of stare, the kind that had your breath hitching in your throat in the worst way possible and your heart sinking into your stomach.
“Don’t.”
The message was loud and clear, delivered with one simple word, but it was enough, enough for it to click in your mind. You didn’t try to catch your heart as it sank deeper and deeper inside you, as it sank down to the ground and came closer and closer to shattering into tiny little pieces that would take you ages to glue together again.
You opened your mouth to say something, but your tongue was a mess in it and the words sat deep in your stomach. It took you two more tries, two more times of you opening and closing your mouth for you to finally unknot your tongue and drag the words to the surface.
“You haven’t forgiven me, have you?”
You worded it like a question, but you knew the answer. It was written all across Jungkook’s face, surrounding him the moment you and he had locked eyes, spilling from his mouth every time he opened it.
Jungkook’s lips tightened into a hard line and his jaw locked up as he eyed you before ripping his gaze away to stare off into the sky and scoff quietly into the air. His hands balled up into fists at his side and his Adam’s apple bopped up and down as he desperately tried to keep his composure. 
You had seen all of this before, had watched him try and fail not to punch the air and let his anger out. Jungkook had done the exact same thing, had made the same face after you had told him you were going to America.
You expected him to blow up in your face, to explode, to burst at all of his seams and rip apart and scream, yell, curse at you because that was what he had done, what he had done the last time, but to your surprise, Jungkook didn’t, didn’t do any of the things you had expected him to.
“Fours years,” Jungkook scoffed, holding up four fingers like you didn’t know just how much four was. “We dated for almost four fucking years.”
You bit on your tongue, heart tumbling and rumbling in your chest like it was about to burst out and fall to her knees and beg for Jungkook’s forgiveness.
“And you left,” Jungkook continued, anger dripping from his words, but his voice was quiet, barely above a whisper. “Just like that.” 
He snapped his finger and you cringed at the sound. It rang in your ears, pierced through your eardrums.
“Remember our promise?” Jungkook asked you and you could hear his voice wavering and shaking. “Remember our promise of forever?”
You wanted to tell him that you did, that, of course, you fucking remembered your promise of forever. It had haunted you, kept you awake every night, eaten you up and chewed you out every morning and kicked you to the floor every time it slipped your mind the tiniest bit.
“You know how people say that you always learn something from a relationship?” Jungkook asked you and you wanted to beg him not to, not to continue. You couldn’t handle this, couldn’t handle this much longer and you weren’t sure just how long you could keep it together.
“The only thing you taught me was that people are selfish.”
You were sure that you were drawing blood from your tongue now, were sure that your heart was on her knees now and begging, begging for Jungkook to just please forgive her. You thought that was it, thought he was going to scoff at you and walk away, but Jungkook wasn’t quite done.
“I really do hope that you’re right and we won’t see each other again after this.”
If you thought that Jungkook’s eyes were cold before, they were icy and freezing now. They were icy and freezing enough to bring in the new ice age, icy and freezing enough to stop time. Your lungs were shredded by the icicles, ripped apart by them like they were paper, and your heart shattered on the frozen ground, turning into dust before ultimately being dragged away by the wind and into Jungkook’s hands. And he crushed it, crushed the tiny pieces of your heart into powder.
There was no repairing anymore, no glueing the pieces together because there was nothing to repair or glue together or fix in any way or form.
Jungkook didn’t say another word, didn’t spare you a single glance when he turned on his heel and walked away, walked away with your pulverised heart on the ground and your world cold and frozen. The golden rivers didn’t burst through the ice, the boats didn’t unfreeze and start sailing again, the fireflies didn’t come back to life.
It stayed, lingered.
Your world took its time to come back, and you watched it, watched it slowly resemble what it once had been before Jungkook. When you looked at it, however, it wasn’t quite the same. The golden rivers weren’t rivers, but only weak streams, and the boats had shrunk into simple rafts. The fireflies were only humming now, barely illuminating their surroundings.
And this time, when you looked down, you didn’t forget, didn’t forget about the world around you, didn’t forget about the aching of your heart every time you looked at Jungkook.
This time, you didn’t forget that Jungkook and you weren’t dating anymore.
This time, you almost suffocated.
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By the time you had reached your table, you slumped into your chair, falling into it with wobbly knees, defeated and panting. Taehyung and Heejin were too wrapped up in a conversation to really take notice and Jungkook, well, Jungkook did the thing he had grown to excel this evening, staring into nothing.
There was a jacket around Heejin’s shoulders, hugging her form and it took you one single glance to know. One glance was enough to prompt you to reach for your glass of wine and down it. The wine burned your tongue and your throat on its way down, and it was what you needed.
Because the jacket wasn’t just any jacket. It was the jacket you had bought for Jungkook with the money you had gotten for your 17th birthday, was the jacket he had called his favourite, was the jacket you had worn as much as he had, was the jacket both of you had used as a blanket when you had held a film marathon the day before school started again, was the jacket you had worn when you had told him you were going and he had demanded back from you.
And now, Heejin was wearing that jacket.
“You okay, sweetie?” 
You looked up and stared straight into Taehyung’s face. His brows were raised and you could feel Heejin’s eyes on you too. And you almost frowned at him and questioned the ‘sweetie’, but then it hit you again. You were dating Taehyung.
“Yeah, uh, I just had a shitty phone call,” you dismissed quickly with a wave of your hand, realising that you definitely shouldn’t have one-shotted your wine like that. “It’s fine. I’m just a little tired from talking.”
Heejin nodded at your words and seemed happy with the answer, but Taehyung’s eyes stayed on you for a few more seconds. He could read between the lines, could piece together what had happened outside.
“What were you talking about?” you asked, gaze finding Heejin because looking at her was easier than looking at Taehyung. 
“Oh,” Heejin placed her hands on your armrest and a frown settled on her face, “we were talking about films. Did you know that Taehyung has never watched ‘Titanic’ before?”
Your eyes wandered to Taehyung who had put on a smile and was shaking his head at Heejin’s words, but you could see that he wanted to question you, ask you what had happened outside.
“You haven’t?” you asked, trying to change the subject from you to him.
“The only film I haven’t watched yet.”
“Can you believe?” Heejin said it like it was a big deal and to her, it seemed to be. Her mouth was slightly agape and her eyes were blown out as she looked at you, obviously expecting for you to react the same way, thinking you were going to be as appalled as she was by the fact that Taehyung had yet to watch ‘Titanic’.
Maybe if you were in a better mood or maybe if Jungkook wasn’t sitting literally an arm’s reach from you or maybe if Heejin wasn’t his current girlfriend right now, you would play along, act appalled and criticise Taehyung for never having watched ‘Titanic’, call him a film illiterate even though you haven’t watched it yourself yet.
“I mean, I’ve also never-”
“Do not finish that sentence, Y/N,” Heejin cut in and while everything was in good fun, you couldn’t help but feel miffed and weirded out by her words. You two didn’t know each other and acting like you did was, well, weird to say the least.
But Heejin didn’t pick up on your tightening smile and slight raise of your brows, too busy acting appalled to notice any of that.
“Okay, that’s it. It’s decided.” Heejin clapped into her hands and looked at Jungkook to grab his attention. “I’m hosting a film night at my place next week. I can’t walk this Earth knowing that you two have never seen the masterpiece that is ‘Titanic’. It’s a must, a cult classic.”
Your eyes locked with Taehyung’s first and he had the same panicked look on his face before he turned to Jungkook, but you avoided his general direction, not wanting to look at him.
“Wait, no, babe, you can’t just host a film night,” Jungkook jumped to argue with Heejin and you swallowed.
“I really do hope you’re right and we won’t see each other again after this.”
“Why not?” Heejin asked with a tilt of her head and blinked at Jungkook as he stammered for a reason.
“Because- you just can’t. That’s not how this works.” A deep line formed between Jungkook’s brows and Heejin as she frowned at his unconvincing argument.
“What do you mean it’s not how this works? If you wanna host a film night, you ask people if they are down for it and host it. I just did that.”
Taehyung and you looked at each other, both deciding to stay silent. Not only was this the most that Jungkook had contributed to this ‘double date’ so far (without counting your conversation you had had with him outside, of course), but it didn’t seem like either of your places to chime in.
“No, babe, you announced you were going to have a film night and essentially demanded them to be there,” Jungkook said and Taehyung and you shared another glance. Heejin furrowed her brows and a pout formed on her lips. She wasn’t taking this nearly as serious as Jungkook was, but it seemed to dawn on her that he was.
“I don’t see where the problem is, babe. I thought you guys were all friends. Isn’t a film night a great way to reconnect then?”
Jungkook opened his mouth to argue against her, but he couldn’t come up with something to say. He wanted to tell Heejin that reconnecting with you was at the bottom of his list of things he wanted to do right now, wanted to tell her that you weren’t just an old friend of his, but his first love, the girl who had meant the world to him for years, the girl who had taken his heart and kept it before deciding it and he simply weren’t enough and shattering his heart, breaking it into dust and leaving him having to pick up the pieces again. 
You were the girl who had haunted him every hour of the day ever since you had left.
“Isn’t it great that we found a couple that’s cool and our age? We can do so much stuff together. Also, Taehyung did say you were all friends once, right? And Taehyung here is still your friend. I really don’t see the problem here. Am I missing something?”
And again, Jungkook was left processing Heejin’s words, prompting Taehyung to jump in.
“Yeah, no, we were friends and, yeah, Kook and I still are friends.” A nervous smile played on his lips as Taehyung shot you a glance, a glance you could barely meet. There was a moment where Heejin was just waiting for any of you to say something, a moment where neither Jungkook nor you met his gaze. It was at that moment that Taehyung made the decision.
“Next week you said?”
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By the time you finally step out of the restaurant, the sun had made its way back home and fallen asleep, leaving the golden stream and rafts and fireflies to the moon. 
“Y/N!” You turned around at the call of your name and watched Heejin jogging towards you, hands reaching for your wrists. “Next week, right? Promise me. Next week.”
She smiled right into your face, smiled one of those genuine and big and beautiful smiles, one of those smiles that could charm anybody, and that included you.
“Yeah, next week,” you said and nodded. Heejin’s hands squeezed your wrists and her lips split apart into a grin. With a quick turn of her heel, she was facing Jungkook, who had come to a stop behind her with Taehyung to his left.
“Oh, it’s gonna be great,” she cheered and took hold of Jungkook’s hands now, squeezing as she jumped around him. The displeased look, which had etched onto his face when Heejin had declared this to be a double date and deepened when Taehyung agreed to the film night, slipped away. 
Jungkook couldn’t resist her, couldn’t resist Heejin and for the first time in four years, you saw a smile spread across his lips.
Fuck.
“This was great,” Taehyung cut in before Jungkook could lean in for a quick kiss because he always did, always leaned in for a quick kiss whenever his heart pounded a little too much in his chest, and it definitely did, definitely did pound a little too much just now.
Jungkook and Heejin looked at Taehyung and once again, you froze up when he took your hand into his. The fact that you two were dating slipped your mind again and again throughout the night.
“Yeah, definitely was,” Heejin agreed and interlaced her fingers with Jungkook’s, but unlike with Taehyung and you, it was normal for them to hold hands, second nature. “Right?”
She nudged Jungkook with her elbow and he looked at Heejin, looked at her like he wanted to disagree. Maybe it was because it was rude to disagree and say that one hated the night or maybe it was because Jungkook’s heart melted in his chest seeing Heejin looking at him like that, but a second smile found its way onto Jungkook’s lips.
“Sure was.”
Jungkook said it looking at Heejin, gazing into her sparkling eyes, and you wanted to look away, but you couldn’t, couldn’t because they were like a car accident, but the most beautiful and at the same time, ugliest and most painful car accident this world had ever seen. 
Heejin and Jungkook were in love, in love with each other.
“Right, definitely,” Taehyung cut in, breaking up Heejin and Jungkook as he drew everybody’s attention to him. You squeezed his hand a little tighter.
“We’ll text, yeah?” Taehyung continued and Heejin nodded at his words, beaming as she let go of Jungkook’s hand. You wanted to grab her by her shoulders and tell her not to, not to ever let Jungkook go, but then you realised that she wasn’t actually letting go of him, wasn’t letting go of him the way you had let go of him.
Heejin stretched out her arms and wrapped Taehyung into a hug, a hug he reciprocated without letting go of your hand, which led to you kind of hugging Heejin too. 
“Goodbye, Tae. It was so nice to have met you,” she said into his ear before turning to you and wrapping you into her arms. “So, so nice to have met you, too, Y/N.”
You also didn’t let go of Taehyung’s hand and neither did he when Jungkook leaned in for the hug. 
“Yeah, nice to have met you, too,” you breathed out, quiet, but it was enough for Heejin to pat you on your back and let go.
“We’ll text,” Heejin said as she stepped back to make space for Jungkook to hug you. He and you locked eyes, both knowing exactly what Heejin was expecting of you two. 
There was this terrible moment of hesitance, and you were ready to throw up a hand and give Jungkook a simple wave, but he leaned forward and stretched out one arm. You leaned forward too with your feet planted metres away from him, which led to a rather awkward half-hug thing, but it was definitely more than both of you could offer, more than anyone could really ask for.
Jungkook patted your back two times, and you frowned because who patted someone’s back twice and only twice? The ‘hug’ didn’t last longer than a second before both of you jumped away from each other.
“That was so awkward,” Heejin chortled and threw her head back, loud and beautiful laughter resounding in the air. Jungkook’s cheeks did what they should have done when you had commented on how he had a whole closet in the back of his car: flush.
“Whatever. We’re old friends, remember?” Jungkook argued and it was definitely the sight of Heejin laughing that had him do what he, again, should have done when you had commented on how he had a whole closet in the back of his car: laugh.
“Anyway, we’ll see each other,” Jungkook mumbled into your general direction before taking Heejin’s hand into his and leading her away from you two, throwing up his hand for a wave. Heejin beamed at Taehyung and you and you mustered up the best and most convincing smile for the last time this night.
“Bye. We’ll be in touch.”
“Bye.”
You didn’t say ‘bye’, too focused on the way Jungkook fixed the jacket that was slipping off Heejin’s shoulders, and when it almost landed in the dirt, your heart dropped. You wanted to catch it, take it and hold it close to your heart because that was your jacket. Jungkook caught it though just in time and you let out a breath.
“Really squeezing my hand here, huh?” Taehyung pressed through his smile and you looked down at your hands, realising only now that your knuckles had turned white. Immediately, you let go.
“I’m sorry,” you mumbled, face flushing hot. Taehyung simply dismissed it with a smile, but you could see him lightly knead his hand, stretching it to get the blood circulating again.
“It’s fine.” Taehyung tilted his head at you. “I guess you don’t have a car yet, right?” You were about to respond, but he didn’t give you enough time. “I can give you a ride.”
“Yeah, that would be great.” You nodded and Taehyung and you made your way to the parking lot. He held the car door open for you and when you were both strapped into your seats, you turned to him. “You didn’t have anything to drink, right?”
“Nope, been sipping on my water the whole night,” he chuckled as he put the keys into the ignition, slowly pulling out of the parking lot. You nodded and sank a little into the seat. The tension that had been sitting in your shoulders and in every single one of your joints slowly escaped you and you let out a sigh.
You typed your address into Taehyung’s phone, Google Maps doing the rest, and for a few minutes, both of you simply drove in silence, enjoyed it. The night had been hard on both of you, and you two were definitely ready to jump into your beds and go to sleep. The silence was exactly what you needed right now, at least you thought that was what you both needed.
“What happened outside?”
You should have expected him to ask because, of course, he would, but it still had you turning your head to him and eyes growing wide. Taehyung met your gaze and you put your hands together in your lap, thumbs rubbing against one another.
“Well,” your feet pressed into the ground, “he, uh, asked me if I was gonna stay here and if we all kept in touch. And,” your voice quivered only the tiniest bit, but Taehyung noticed, “how long I’ve been back and everything.”
You shrugged. “The basic things, you know. Nothing special.”
Taehyung hummed and his brows furrowed together with his lips pulled into a thin line. He was clearly not believing you completely, not buying what you were selling him. You pressed harder against the ground, begging for it to give in and let you sink into a hole.
“Anything else?”
Lying was stupid, lying to Taehyung was even stupider, but you seemed to like to be stupid today.
“Nope.” You said the last syllable with a pop and it had Taehyung’s frown deepening and his gaze digging into you when you two stopped at a red light. 
“Y/N.” A sigh followed and you lowered your gaze before shaking your head as your teeth sank into your tongue.
“Fine,” you breathed out and slammed back, head hitting your seat definitely too hard. “We- well, he-”
Taehyung turned to you, but you stared out the window, realising that you were almost at home now. His eyes dug into your face and you sighed, thinking of a way to word all of this.
“We- technically, we didn’t talk much at all. At least I didn’t,” you started again and took your time to get it all together. “But- he did say that he,” a heavy sigh slipped past your lips and you gnawed on your tongue before deciding to just say it, “learned from our relationship that people are selfish and that he hoped he would never have to see me again after this.”
Taehyung was stunned, stunned silent and you wished he would say something, react in some way. The tension came rising back, stretching every one of your joints to the point it hurt.
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Taehyung muttered underneath his breath and when you turned to him, there was anger etched onto every line of his face. It was burning in his eyes and it had you quickly jump to Jungkook’s defense.
“No- it’s fine. I get-”
“No, Y/N, it’s not fucking fine,” Taehyung interrupted and to your dismay, you had reached your front door. He parked rather smoothly and when you came to a stop, Taehyung turned to you.
“Don’t say it’s fine because we both know it’s not,” Taehyung said and you didn’t meet his eyes. “It’s rude, unnecessarily rude. I get it. He’s pissed and you hurt him and whatever, but it’s been four fucking years. And he’s literally the one that broke up with you-”
“Well, I was leaving for America-”
“But you wanted to try, right? You didn’t want to break up, right?” Taehyung asked and you didn’t say anything. “See! You wanted to try, but he refused. Don’t even get me started on the fact that he didn’t say goodbye to you at all. You go to America and he doesn’t even bother to show up at the airport after dating you for almost four years, not to mention text you or call you on the day to wish you well? I haven’t forgotten that bullshit yet.”
You pressed your lips into a thin line and lowered your gaze.
Taehyung sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, I still love him. He’s my friend after all, and it’s not like I don’t get it why he’s mad. I do, in a way, and not because I ‘hate’,” Taehyung made air quotes around the word hate, “you for going or anything, but because it was surprising. But still saying shit like that is not okay.”
“It’s fine,” you tried again, but your words seem to have the fire in Taehyung growing because he shook his head vigorously.
“Stop saying that! It’s not.” Taehyung paused, taking a moment to breathe. “It’s definitely not. He’s so-” Taehyung threw up his hands and pressed his lips into a hard line, words failing him as his anger consumed him more and more. 
“We all thought he was over it.”
“He isn’t,” you mumbled and Taehyung ‘duh’s your answer, realising himself that Jungkook was far, very far from getting over you leaving, not to mention forgive you in any shape or form.
Both of you sat in silence for a while and your fingers itched for the door handle. You hated this, hated this because Taehyung didn’t get that you were fine, didn’t get that you were fine with the way Jungkook treated you because you had fucked up and now, these were the consequences.
“You don’t have to do this.”
You kept staring out of the window, kept staring like you couldn’t feel Taehyung’s eyes dig into your profile and demand for you to look at him, kept staring like you couldn’t hear him.
“There’s no one forcing you to go next week. You could just simply-”
“I know,” you said and sighed. You leaned forward and covered your eyes, pressing on them slightly as you thought of everything that had happened today, thought of every little interaction you had shared with Jungkook.
“I know,” you muttered before looking up and turning your gaze to Taehyung, cheek falling into your open palm. “I know.”
Taehyung and you looked at each other for a few seconds.
“You’re still gonna go, huh?”
You sat up straight and unbuckled your seatbelt, arms stretching out to pull Taehyung into a hug. He reciprocated it and you tightened your arms around him a little more than you usually would, chin resting on his shoulder.
“You’re still great, Tae.”
Taehyung chuckled and patted your back, sinking deeper into the hug. You were the one to pull away, but you rested your hands on his shoulder and looked him dead in the eye.
“No, really,” you smiled and squeezed his shoulders. “You’re really great, Taehyung.”
Slightly embarrassed by your words, Taehyung looked down at his hands.
“You’re stupid, Y/N.”
You laughed.
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When you came out of the shower that night and checked your phone, a frown etched onto your face.
[You’ve been added to the “DD” group chat]
[Unknown Number - 11:24 PM] : hi! it’s heejin here and I just wanted to ask if next saturday works for everyone!!
[Unknown Number sent in location]
[Unknown Number - 11:24 PM] : my address!
[tae - 11:27 PM] : uh DD?
[Unknown Number - 11:27 PM] : double date. couldnt think of anything else realy
[tae - 11:27 PM] : okay lol but yeah should work
[Unknown Number - 11:32 PM] : yeah, think I can make it too
[Unknown Number - 11:32 PM] : okay, great! only gotta wait for y/n’s answer now
[tae - 11:32 PM] : wouldnt expect an answer any time soon lmao shes too stupid to text
[You - 11:48 PM] : you take a shower once and immediately people talk shit about you :)) 
[You - 11:48 PM] : but should work for me too
[tae - 11:48 PM] : love you too sweetie! and goodnight!!
[You - 11:48 PM] : :))))
When you went to save Heejin’s number, you got distracted by her profile picture. She was smiling right into the camera, smiling the same smile she had smiled at you. It was almost scary how genuine her smile looked even through a simple picture. No one smiled like Heejin. 
Her number was saved rather quickly, but when you went and clicked on Jungkook’s number, you were, once again, distracted by his profile picture. You should have expected it for Jungkook to have Heejin and him together as his profile picture, but it still shocked and surprised you, had your lips pressing into a hard line.
Jungkook had his arm around Heejin and she was looking at him, mid-laugh There was a proud smirk on his lips, that proud smirk he got whenever he managed to make someone laugh. Both looked at each other and the sun brought out both of their eyes, brought out the love in them. You could practically see it glimmering in their pupils.
Your heart tumbled in your chest, tumbled in the most painful way possible, but you ignored it, ignored it because what else were you going to do? Complain? You had no right to.
And as you let your phone slip into your pocket, a certain thought planted itself into your mind, robbing you of the peace and quiet you thought you would get once you were at home. The roots dug deeper and deeper into you until it was ingrained in you, swimming through your blood and consuming you whole, chewing you up over and over again simply to spit you out.
You would have been Heejin if you hadn’t left.
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“What is she like?”
There was a beat of silence for a moment and you hugged your knees you had pulled close to your body self a little tighter at the question.
Your phone was laying on your desk, speakers on.
“Well,” Taehyung sighed, “she’s- she’s nice, I guess.”
Taehyung said it like a question, clearly choosing his words carefully as he tried not to offend you in any way, and you almost smiled at that. 
“Yeah, she’s nice,” you agreed.
“That’s great,” Yerim started, uncertainty swinging in her words. “Right? That’s great that she’s nice, right?”
No one answered and after a while, you pressed your lips into a thin line and nodded.
“Yeah, it’s great,” you said and you could hear Yerim exhale in relief. You chewed on your lip, and tried not to think about how it was not great and that you hated that Heejin was nice because it made hating her so much more difficult.
“I’m happy for him.”
This time when you said it, you weren’t sure if you really meant it, weren’t sure if you could say it from the bottom of your heart. Jungkook still, of course, deserved so much more, deserved better, but the thought that he was doing so much better with Heejin left a bad and bitter taste on your tongue. You didn’t want to think or feel like that, but your heart was selfish, just like he had said.
“That’s nice,” Yoongi mumbled and his voice was muffled, but the familiar snarky tone came through perfectly. “Nice of you to lie like that.”
You bit down on your lip and buried your face into your knees.
“Dude,” Taehyung said and used ‘dude’ like he always did whenever he was getting mad and refused to use one’s name. 
“What? We all know it’s a lie,” Yoongi said, matter of factly. “It’s not bad. It’s commendable that Y/N’s trying, but let’s not act dumb and oblivious to it.”
“Yoongi,” Yerim sighed from the other side of the line, groaning. “You can’t just say something like that.”
“We were all thinking it.”
You pressed your face further into your knees, squeezing your eyes shut as you hugged your legs closer to your chest.
“Dude,” Taehyung warned again, voice dropping significantly, and you could picture Yoongi rolling his eyes at him before sitting up to defend himself.
“All I’m trying to say is that it’s stupid to lie and pretend that it doesn’t suck that Kook is with Heejil or whatever her name-”
“Heejin,” Yerim threw in and there was a beat of silence before Yoongi continued again.
“Okay, fine, Heejin, but it doesn’t really matter,” Yoongi paused and the silence that settled was deafening and you begged him to continue. “What matters is the fact that Y/N shouldn’t need to pretend to be happy for him. They both hurt each other and acting like Y/N only hurt him is so fucking stupid. Kook’s really gotta learn how to be civil and not act like a complete ass-”
“Tae!” You cut in and looked at your phone like he could see you. “You told them? I thought we agreed on leaving that out.”
“Please, you seriously didn’t think I wouldn’t tell the others, did you?” Taehyung scoffed and you huffed, brows furrowing together as you fixed your phone with a glare like it was to blame for this.
“And I’m happy that he did tell us, Y/N,” Yoongi said and you groaned, burying your face once more into your knees now. “You don’t deserve to be treated like that. I get it that Kook’s mad because it was all very sudden and quick and you were his first love or whatever, but it’s not a reason to be an ass to you.”
You didn’t respond, and for a while, the silence lingered on. It was almost unbearable, but you couldn’t think of anything to say, knowing already you were going to be shut down anyway.
“You don’t have to do this,” Yoongi said and sounded exactly like Taehyung. You looked up and put your chin on top of your knee before closing your eyes and taking a deep breath.
“Yeri?”
There was a shuffle and a moment later it was followed by a sigh. “No, I do agree with the others. Kook can be mad and everything—we all get it in a way—but it’s not an excuse to be an ass to you and say hurtful shit like that. You’re not selfish for following your dreams. Also, didn’t he technically break up with you? So, actually, I don’t get why he’s still mad at you.”
You stayed silent.
“Again, you-”
“I know, Yoongs,” you groaned. “I know that I don’t have to do this,” a heavy sigh slipped past your lips, “but it’s just this one time anyway and unlike what you guys might think, I’m not hurt by what he said.”
Neither Taehyung nor Yerim nor Yoongi said something for a while and just as the silence was about to become too unbearable and just as you were about to tell them you had to do something and therefore, hang up, Taehyung spoke up.
“You’re stupid, Y/N.”
You peeled your eyes open and lowered your gaze, a tight smile splitting apart on your lips.
“I know.”
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You couldn’t recall how this had happened, how a simple film night turned into a dinner party, but somehow you were all standing in the middle of Heejin’s kitchen, preparing dinner. Taehyung and Jungkook were manning the stove, cooking the meat and Heejin and you were cutting up vegetables for a salad.
“Careful!”
You froze at Heejin’s voice and looked up, eyes locking with hers. Jungkook and Taehyung stopped messing around and turned their focus to you two, brows raising at the sudden exclamation. When you looked back down where Heejin’s fingers had curled around your wrist, you realised that you were about to cut off your fingers. Immediately, you let go of the knife and forced a laugh to spill from your lips.
“Shit. Good catch.”
“You okay? Almost cut off your fingers there,” Heejin said with a small smile and you quickly nodded, ignoring the gazes that were digging into your back. 
“Yeah, uh, just spaced out a little,” you mumbled and Heejin laughed, returning to cutting up the rest of her carrots. 
You grabbed your glass of wine and when you took a sip from it, your eyes locked with Taehyung’s. There was a deep line etched between his brows and in an attempt to smooth it over, you smiled at him. It took him a second, but he smiled back at you and seeing his smile had your smile turn into a genuine one.
Your gaze wandered and locked with Jungkook’s. You looked at him without meaning to. Your gaze just automatically travelled to him. His face was stiff and hard. Harsh lines were carved into it and you thought he was going to say something, scoff at you, but then he turned around without a word.
Taehyung and you looked at each other once more and his jaw locked up, but you shook your head. When he sighed, you thanked him with a smile and turned away, putting your wine glass down to focus on your vegetables again.
“Oh.”
Heejin stopped and looked up, raising her brows at your sudden exclamation.
“What?” she asked with a tilt of her head and you pointed at the cucumber on her cutting board.
“I, uh, like them diced more,” you said and Heejin blinked at you, expecting you to be joking. “Yeah, I- I just think cucumbers taste better diced.”
You shrugged and Heejin’s light laugh filled the air before she nodded and started dicing the cucumber.
“Okay, sure thing. Diced cucumbers it is.”
You smiled at her. “Thanks.” 
Heejin waved it off. You stopped yourself from shaking your head at yourself because a week ago, Taehyung and you were rolling your eyes at Jungkook for preferring his cucumbers diced, but here you were, making sure his cucumbers were going to be cut the way he liked them.
“So, tell me,” Heejin started when you picked up the knife. She tucked her hair away and looked at you. “What was Kook like in high school?”
You stopped chopping your tomatoes and bit on your lip. You struggled to think of something to say and Heejin’s staring certainly didn’t make it any easier.
“He, uh, well, the same, I think,” you started and your words had Heejin chuckling. “I mean, I don’t think he really changed that much since.” You kept cutting up your tomatoes, eyes focused on the task in front of you. “At least, I doubt it. He didn’t change much during high school, so, I don’t think he did now.”
“Well, what was he like during high school?” Heejin asked again, not getting the answer she had been fishing for.
“Funny and kind,” you said without missing a beat and surprised yourself. You paused before shrugging and transferring your tomato wedges inside the big salad bowl. “He’s—not to gas him up—but he’s always been funny and kind, I guess. Like, he’s just always had a good heart.” You took the last tomato, starting to cut it up into wedges too. “He’s always just cared about others around him and tried to make others happy. It’s- it’s really nice and sweet.”
“That’s-”
“Like, one time he stayed after school with,” you quickly swallowed the ‘me’, “uh, one of our friends for hours because they had lost their keys. And they didn’t even ask him to stay. He just did it himself and helped them out because they were, like, freaking out and on the brink of tears. And they weren’t even friends at that point. They were just classmates, but he- that didn’t matter to him. He helped them nevertheless.”
You laughed at the memory a little, remembering clearly how panicked you had been when you had realised that you had lost your keys.
“But he also definitely has his dramatic tendencies, and he’s also very picky with his food. I’m sure you know by now- oh, and he’s constantly late. At this point, it’s just chronic. Don’t get me started on his shitty excuses.”
You put away the last tomato wedges and your grip around the knife loosened. With your eyes on your hands, you sighed and without noticing, a smile stretched across your lips.
“But nevertheless, he’s a really amazing and great person.”
Heejin had long stopped dicing the cucumber and simply stared at you. When you looked up to her, you realised that maybe you had said too much. Your heart dropped into your stomach at the realisation and you were about to dismiss your words when a smile grew on Heejin’s lips.
“That’s great to hear,” she said and you couldn’t figure out if she meant it or not. “Sounds like you two were close.”
“Well, no- He was known for being kind and funny at our school. Ask anybody, they’d say the same thing about him,” you laughed and you hoped you could hide the wavering of your voice. “And if anyone was close to him, then it was Taehyung.”
“What was I?”
Taehyung stood next to you and you were about to respond when he took one of the tomato wedges and plopped them into his mouth. He stopped chewing when he saw the diced cucumbers and he looked at you, but you avoided his gaze.
“Don’t eat all of them. It’s for the salad. Also, are you done with your thing?” you said when he mindlessly reached for a second tomato wedge. You slapped his hand away, eliciting a gasp and whine from him.
“You’re mean, Y/N,” a pout formed on Taehyung’s lips, but you simply rolled your eyes at him, “and, yeah, Kook is finishing everything up.” He rubbed his hand. “Also, what was I?”
You sighed and put down the knife, reaching for the kitchen towel hanging from Taehyung’s shoulder to wipe your hands on it. “Close to him during high school.”
Taehyung raised his brows for a second before his gaze wandered behind you and it clicked in his mind. “Talking about the past, huh?”
“Yeah, Kook rarely ever talks about it,” Heejin said and you took the little piece of uncut cucumber from her cutting board, wanting to busy yourself with something.
“What are you guys talking about?” Jungkook turned off the stove and walked up to you, stopping behind Heejin.
“High school,” Taehyung said and Jungkook’s eyes shot to you. His gaze dug into you, but you acted like you couldn’t feel it, couldn’t feel him looking at you and instead kept your focus on dicing the cucumber in front of you.
“Yeah, you never wanna talk about it, babe,” Heejin repeated again and Jungkook frowned at her words.
“It wasn’t a good time.”
For just a second, you stopped focusing on the cucumber and instead focused on the icicles slowly forming in your lungs and the piercing breeze blowing through your chest, but you pulled it together and ignored the cold spreading through you.
“Wait, seriously?” Heejin asked and looked at Jungkook with raised brows. 
“Yeah, I guess-” Jungkook shrugged and you could feel Taehyung’s eyes on you as you poured the diced cucumbers into the salad bowl. “It wasn’t-”
Jungkook looked over to you for a second, but you didn’t meet his gaze. You just kept staring at the cutting board and over your head, Taehyung shot Jungkook a look that almost resembled a glare. 
“I just don’t like thinking back to that time.” Jungkook shrugged once more and you let go of the knife. It hit the cutting board with a faint thud that had your face contorting and Taehyung tensing up next to you. His fingers pulled on your wrist and wrapped around it, thumb brushing over your skin to soothe you, but it did nothing to thaw the icicles hanging from your lungs, sharp and ready to steal your breath.
“I mean it’s not like it was awful or anything. I did have my friends and a g- uh, stuff like that, and at the time, I thought it was great,” Jungkook continued on, and your heart froze up more and more with each of his words.
His eyes wandered to you, digging into you as he continued,
“But great things always have to come to an end.”
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Taehyung was glued to your side for the rest of the time, and you thanked him with a smile when you felt like you could muster up one. He shot one right back at you and by the time dinner was actually served, you had almost completely forgotten about Jungkook’s words and the way they had frozen up your heart.
You almost forgot.
Because for some reason, you were the one sitting across from Jungkook. When Taehyung and you had noticed, you couldn’t switch anymore. And so, Jungkook and you made sure to keep your heads low and your legs tucked underneath your chairs.
“How come?”
You looked up and blinked at Heejin as she quickly swallowed the rice to continue talking.
“How come both of you haven’t watched ‘Titanic’?” she asked and pointed between Taehyung and you. 
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a reason, right?” you said and looked at Taehyung for confirmation. He hummed in agreement and shrugged, stuffing his face with some of the salad.
“Do you guys just not like romcoms?”
“Uh, wouldn’t say we don’t like them,” Taehyung mumbled, “but we don’t really watch them either.”
“Yeah, most are just a little too unrealistic for me,” you added and took a sip from your wine. 
“I get that. Unrealistic romcoms are definitely the worst,” Heejin laughed. “Kook and I really enjoy romcoms though.”
You almost told Heejin that you knew that, that you knew very much that Jungkook was a sucker for romcoms. He had been the romantic of you two, taking you out on the most extra dates, making sure that you always felt special, trying his hardest to make your relationship into a romcom.
“Netflix has put out some really great and realistic ones though recently,” Heejin continued. ”Like, ‘Set It Up’ is really great and funny and ‘To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved Before’ while a little more cheesy, is still very great.”
“You really like romcoms, don’t you?” you asked and Heejin beamed at your question, clearly excited about the prospect of talking about romcoms in depth.
“Yeah, I absolutely love them,” she sighed and leaned forward a little, her smile widening. You smiled back at her because it was truly hard not to smile at Heejin.
“What’s your favourite one?” you asked and Heejin’s smile grew into a grin, eyes glossing over as the excitement etched onto her face. 
“Hard question, but I’d say ‘About Time’ and ‘Someone Great’ are some of my favourites,” Heejin said and you perked up.
“Didn’t we watch ‘About Time’?” You looked over to Jungkook without meaning to and when he met your gaze, his eyes were big and flushed with panic. Quickly, you added, “We watched it together, right? All of us?”
Your head whipped around to Taehyung and he was mid-bite, caught off guard. 
“Yeah, no, we, uh, did,” Taehyung coughed out, slightly choking on his rice.
“Wasn’t it great?” Heejin said with a big grin and you nodded, taking a big sip from your wine.
“W-what was the other one again? ‘Someone Great’? What is that one about? I don’t think I’ve heard of it,” you said, changing the topic. Jungkook quickly went back to focusing on his food, but Taehyung was still looking at you out of the corner of his eye.
“Oh, it’s about Jenny—she’s the main character—who is a journalist, and she lands her dream job, but to fulfill it, she has to move across the country,” Heejin started to explain and you thought you were hearing wrong. You almost choked on your own spit and you weren’t the only one noticing the similarities because Jungkook slowly raised his head and looked at you.
“Her boyfriend, Nate, of, I think, nine or ten years ends up breaking up with her because of it and then she and her friends, like, try to forget about everything and cheer her up. It’s a really good film. They also all have their own respective relationship problems and we also get to see Jenny’s and her boyfriend’s relationship through flashbacks,” Heejin finished up telling and Taehyung’s hand found yours. You let go of your fork to interlace your fingers with his because right now, you needed someone to hold onto.
“It’s not your conventional romcom,” Heejin said with a smile. “It’s why I love it so much. It totally brings up the question of love or work and what’s the right choice.”
You hummed and looked away, deciding not to look at Jungkook because you didn’t want to see the way his features contort and harden. You had seen it once already, had seen his face split apart in pain once before. You had seen it when you had told him you were leaving, and ever since, you hadn’t gotten it out of your head. It had haunted you all of these years. 
You knew if you looked at Jungkook right now, the guilt and bad memories would bubble up and chew you out again. A lump would lodge itself into your throat and your heart would tighten into an impossible knot and everything in your body would ache and scream and tears would prick your eyes and your lungs would freeze to ice. 
At the sight of it, you would be left on the floor, gutted and breathless and in pain and frozen.
“What do you think, Y/N?”
You were more than caught off guard by the question and you scrunched up your brows, tilting your head to the side as you met Heejin’s gaze.
“Like, the fact that her boyfriend broke up with her and she essentially had to choose between love and work. What do you think about that?” Heejin blinked at you and her expression was hard to read. Her lips were pressed into a thin line and her brows were slightly raised.
You stammered for something to say, incredibly aware that all eyes were on you. Jungkook seemed to be staring holes into you, almost like he was challenging you to say the wrong thing. Taehyung squeezed your hand even tighter now and you couldn’t thank him enough because it offered you enough strength to croak out, 
“I don’t know.”
For a moment, there was silence.
“Well, I think it was fair of her boyfriend to break up with her because leaving like that was just shitty,” Jungkook piped up and Taehyung scoffed quietly underneath his breath, whispering an ‘of course’ to himself.
“I wouldn’t say breaking up with her was fair at all,” Taehyung argued and you squeezed Taehyung’s hands, wishing he wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t start all of this, but you couldn’t get through him. He couldn’t feel your hand tightening around his, could only feel the anger coursing through his veins.
“How is breaking up with her not fair if they were going to break up anyway? It was inevitable. She essentially left him for a job. Might as well just do it instead of dragging it out,” Jungkook said and put down his fork and knife, leaning back to cross his arms in front of his chest.
“Dude, no, it wasn’t,” Taehyung spat out and tried his hardest to keep his voice level. “They could have tried, tried to work it out somehow. Maybe they would have broken up later, but not trying at all and then being mad at the other person is not fair at all and fucking ridiculous.”
Heejin looked between Jungkook and Taehyung as they threw words at each other’s heads like doing so would make the other understand. You sank deeper into the chair and never more did you wish for a hole to appear underneath you and swallow you. In fact, you wouldn’t mind if the hole swallowed you and never spat you out again.
The conversation had taken a different turn than Heejin had intended it to go and you hoped and prayed she wouldn’t piece it together, wouldn’t figure out what exactly was being said right now, wouldn't manage to read between the lines.
“Can you really blame her boyfriend, though?” Jungkook was slipping now. The anger was consuming him slowly and wholly, taking over him. “I- he must have been so caught off guard by the news that she was moving away. It’s not okay or fair to keep that shit from him all the time and then expect him to be fine with it or supportive after telling him-”
“Yeah, I get it. It sucks that she kept it from y- him, but ever thought that there was a reason, huh?” Taehyung was breaking as well and the mask of friendliness and neutrality was sliding off, sliding off so fast he couldn’t catch it. Not that he bothered to. ”Ever thought that she kept it a secret from him because she was scared and didn’t want to hurt him? Like, fine, dude, be mad at the moment, but hating her forever and not even bidding her goodbye-”
“You don’t seem to get just how hurt I- he was, Taehyung. It’s not that easy-”
“How is it not that easy to be a decent human being? If he loved her, if he really loved her, he would have realised that it was her dream and wished her well-”
“Well, if she really loved him, she wouldn’t have left him like that! But she did because she’s selfish.” 
At this point, Jungkook and Taehyung were essentially screaming at each other, words bitter and far too loud.
“Dude, how is it selfish to chase your dreams? Also, what the fuck are you trying to say? Is she meant to always choose him over everything-”
“No, that’s literally not what I’m saying. She should have talked to him-”
“And she did, but he didn’t listen. What was she gonna do? Harass him into listening?”
“No, because at that point, when he refused to listen, she had already messed it all up! She had already broken him. Fuck, they were literally dating for years and years and one day, she just tells him she’s gonna leave? Like, what the actual fuck? What about their promise of forever? What about that? Was he not enough for her now?”
Jungkook was glaring at Taehyung with his eyes blown out wide and his chest heaving, lungs aching for air.
“She can go fuck herself for that!”
Your knuckles turned white around Taehyung’s hand and your teeth sank into your tongue. It was your poor attempt to numb the pain rippling through you now with even more pain.
Jungkook’s words were dripping with venom and anger. They sliced into you and pushed out any warmth inside you, leaving you freezing and cold. They poisoned you, sent the icicles crashing down from where they had been hanging, and they pierced through your lungs and filled them up with blood. You could feel yourself choke, suffocate slowly and painfully as his words replayed over and over again in your mind like a broken record.
You wanted to press your eyes shut and run away. You didn’t want to hear any of it anymore, didn’t want to have to listen to Taehyung and Jungkook screaming at each other, yelling like it was a battle of who could be the loudest.
Your eyes locked with Jungkook’s and while his stare was cold and hard, colder and harder than you had ever seen it, there seemed to be something else glimmering in his eyes too. And that something made him look like he knew he had gone too far, look like he knew exactly what his words were doing to you, but right now, he didn’t care, didn’t care just how much he was hurting you because in his mind, you had hurt him first, had hurt him worse.
So, hurting you was okay, justified even.
Taehyung fixed Jungkook with a glare, but he simply held his own, eyes digging into Taehyung’s as much as his eyes were digging into Jungkook’s. Taehyung’s nostrils were flared and his jaw was locked to the point it had to hurt. Both slipped into a staring contest either were more than determined to win.
At the end though, it was Jungkook who tore his gaze away, but the anger and frustration were etched onto every line and edge of his face. 
Taehyung scoffed before throwing his fork down on the plate and jumping up. His chair hit the floor and you were about to pick it up when he yanked on your hand. You stumbled after him more than anything else and as Taehyung led you around the table and out of the kitchen, your gaze met Heejin’s.
Her brows were drawn together and for once, there was no hint of a smile on her lips. You wanted to apologise to her, tell her it was all fine—even though you weren’t even sure if it was—but then you saw her hand on his knee underneath the table and suddenly, there was an unbelievably uncomfortable knot sitting in your throat, stopping you.
“I hope you don’t choke on your fucking diced cucumbers, dude.”
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[yoongs - 08:23 PM] : @y/n @tehyung how is the dinner going?
[yeri - 08:34 PM] : ohh, yeah, how is it? are you guys still stuck watching jack draw rose like one of his ~french girls~??
[yeri - 08:34 PM] : also yoongs do you have taes name saved wrong in your phone??? wtf
[yoongs - 08:57 PM] : have you guys gotten to that stupid door scene yet?
[yeri - 09:14 PM] : are you ignoring me? 
[yoongs - 09:43 PM] : @y/n @tehyung didnt you guys say youd try to go home asap
[yoongs - 09:43 PM] : how long is dinner and a film? or are you guys ignoring us?
[yeri - 09:45 PM] : tae, are you ignoring us like yoongs is ignoring me right now?? like y/n i get bc she sucks at texting, but you? tae? not responding? :o
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[You - 04:57 AM] : hey, yoongs! please dont say anything to yeri or tae, but could you give me his address? kinda urgent.
[yoongs - 09:14 AM] : are you okay? why are you texting me at 4?
[You - 09:14 AM] : im fine. ill tell you all about it later. just give me his address please
[yoongs - 09:15 AM] : uff fine
[yoongs sent in location]
[yoongs - 09:15 AM] : its 201
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In high school, you hadn’t been nearly as close to Taehyung as you were now. It wasn’t because you hadn’t been friends with each other, but rather because he had been so close to Jungkook already. Even after your friend group had formed, the two always had a different kind of bond, a deeper one. And even after Jungkook and you had started dating, their bond had been just as strong as yours had been with Jungkook. 
It had never bothered you because Taehyung and Jungkook had known each other forever, had known each other since they were in diapers. In fact, Yerim, Yoongi and you had always poked fun at that, always joked that those two were the true couple of your friend group. 
It was why you should have expected this to happen when you knocked on Taehyung’s front door.
“Jungkook?”
Your lips parted slightly as you stared at him with big eyes. He was equally as shocked as you were, clearly not checking who it had been before opening the door.
“How’d you get in?” he asked with a furrow of his brows and you stammered before pointing behind you.
“Uh, someone let me in when they were walking out,” you explained and Jungkook scoffed slightly, head shaking from left to right as he cursed his neighbour.
Jungkook was donning a simple white T-Shirt and grey swats. You had seen him in this outfit more times than you could count when you had dated, but it still had your heart quickening because, fuck, he did look good dressed like that.
And as you stared at him, all of the memories of yesterday came rushing back to you and immediately, you lowered your gaze to your feet.
“He isn’t here. Didn’t come home yesterday,” Jungkook mumbled, knowing exactly why you were here and that you definitely were not here for him. Judging from your reaction upon seeing him, you hadn’t expected to see him. Another scoff almost escaped him, but somehow, he managed to swallow it. 
When you looked back up to him, Jungkook was already walking away, but the door stood wide open. Interpreting him leaving the door open as inviting you inside, you stepped in and closed the door behind you.
You tightened your grip around your tote bag as you walked inside, steps light. You were ready to run right out if Jungkook was to ask you why the fuck you invited yourself inside, but he didn’t. He just walked into the living room and sat down on his U shaped couch before pulling out his phone and mindlessly scrolling through it.
Unsure what to do—not only because you had never been here before, but also because you hadn’t expected to see Jungkook—you stopped behind him, not daring to take a single step inside the living room.
It was small and most of the room was taken up by the U shaped couch, but somehow it still looked home-y and cozy. Something about it, about the way the furniture was arranged and the room was decorated screamed comfort and you knew Jungkook was to thank for it. 
“Jesus fucking Christ, just sit. Looks like I’m not letting you.”
You snapped around to see Jungkook rolling his eyes at you. He gestured around him, offering you the rest of the couch, but you hesitated to do just what he had told you to. His eyes continued to burn into you and after a second and some internal debating, you wandered around the couch and sat down, choosing the seat that was furthest from Jungkook’s.
The gap between you two was huge, enough to fit Taehyung, Yerim and Yoongi between it, and you were more than thankful for it because the tension was palpable, thick, so thick a knife couldn’t even cut through it, so thick it could stop a bullet.
You put down your tote bag next to you, but you held it close to you, protecting the food inside. After a few seconds of silence, you pulled out your phone, unlocking it to open Taehyung’s and your chat.
[You - 09:32 AM] : where, uh, are you right now?
[You - 09:32 AM] : please come home asap. im sitting in the living room with him and its awkward as fuck. hurry
[You - 09:32 AM] : also why the fuck didnt you tell me you lived w him??
You were about to make a new group chat, add Yoongi and Yerim to it and panic text them when Taehyung came online and started typing.
[tae - 09:32 AM] : wtf??
[tae - 09:33 AM] : why the fuck ar u at my place?? you know where i lve?
[tae - 09:33 AM] : im there asap
[You - 09:33 AM] : i made you food as a way to say sorry
[tae - 09:33 AM] : go into my room its in the back. on the left second dor
[tae - 09:33 AM] : why sorry????
[You - 09:34 AM] : okay good. hurry
[You - 09:34 AM] : uh well your fight with him???? you forgot abt it?
[tae - 09:34 AM] : no ofc not
[tae - 09:34 AM] : but
[You - 09:34 AM] : omfg what does it matter. just come home
[tae - 09:35 AM] : fine
You sighed and hoped that Taehyung was going to come back in the next ten minutes or so because you couldn’t stand being in a room with Jungkook any longer. You just couldn’t forget that he was right here, that he was just sitting a few metres away from you, in the same room as you.
“But she did because she’s selfish.”
“When he refused to listen, she had already messed it all up!”
“She had already broken him.”
“He wasn’t enough for her now?”
“What about their promise of forever?”
“She can go fuck herself for that!”
You pressed your lips together and let your head fall, eyes squeezing shut as you tried to block it all out, tried not to think, but it was hard, hard when the person you had hurt the most in the world was sitting right there. You wanted to fall to your knees and beg for Jungkook’s forgiveness, but you doubted you had a right to even do that, not to mention talk to him.
The guilt had been eating you up since yesterday evening and continued on as you laid in bed, desperately trying to get some sleep. In the end, you watched the sun creep up the sky, painting your hometown in a tragic orange. 
“Here.”
You peeled your eyes open at the sound before slowly raising your head to see Jungkook standing right in front of you, hands buried in his sweats. He nodded towards the coffee table and when you looked at it, a cup of coffee was sitting on top of it.
“Looks like you haven’t slept in years,” Jungkook scoffed, almost like his words were meant to hurt you, but for once, for the first time since you had seen him again, they had warmth spreading through you. 
“Oh, thanks.”
You reached for the cup of coffee, and it was bordering on cold, but when you took a sip from it, you could feel the sun start to shine in your chest and thaw the remnants of the icicles that had stayed behind from yesterday, shine away the mess that yesterday had left behind.
“Thanks,” you mumbled again, but Jungkook had already turned on his heel and sat down again. You didn’t care, didn’t care because that had just been the first somewhat civil interaction Jungkook and you had shared and you couldn’t help but treasure it.
If you were completely honest, the coffee tasted okay at best and kind of bad at worst, and maybe it was because you were incredibly tired so any caffeine was welcomed or maybe it was because Jungkook had given you the cup of coffee, but somehow that was the best cup of coffee you had ever had. It dissolved on your tongue in the best way possible. 
“Uh,” you turned to Jungkook and he looked up from his phone, brows shooting up as his lips pulled into a thin line. You wanted to say something, but your voice had to have dissolved with the coffee because you couldn’t get it to come out.
You simply pointed at your empty cup of coffee and after a few more seconds of incredibly awkward staring, you managed to croak out, “Where can I put, uh-”
“Just leave it on the coffee table,” Jungkook said before immediately turning back to his phone. You nodded nevertheless and did as you were told.
You pulled out your phone too, and, so, you two sat there for a while in silence as you waited for Taehyung to come home. Almost twenty minutes had passed at this point and because you were too focused on your phone, you didn’t notice Jungkook turn off his phone and put it back in his pocket, didn’t notice him press his lips into a thin line before sighing and looking up to you.
“You remember how I like my cucumbers cut?”
Your eyes shot to him and you could feel the heat crawl up your neck at the question, recalling clearly how he had reacted when you had insinuated how well you still knew him, how that had led to him fixing you with the most piercing stare and ended with him telling you that you taught him that people were selfish and that he hoped you were right and that he didn’t have to see you again after this.
“Uh,” you started before carefully continuing, “yeah. I- I do.”
And it was then that you watched Jungkook crack a smile.
He smiled like he hadn’t essentially told you to go fuck yourself yesterday, smiled like you hadn’t broken his heart, smiled like everything was fine between you two. For the first few seconds, you thought your brain was playing a joke on you, thought you were seeing wrong and that the coffee was hitting you just really hard, but then-
“I thought it was dumb that I prefered diced cucumbers.” Jungkook scrunched up his nose and tilted his head at you, and a smile stretched across your lips, heart tumbling in your chest.
“It is,” you said, “but I’ve been kind of dumb these days.”
You shrugged and Jungkook’s smile widened the tiniest bit, and you had to bite on your lip to stop your smile from growing into a grin, from growing a little too big.
“I swear they taste better diced-”
“Oh my god,” you groaned and rolled your eyes at Jungkook in faux annoyance. “You still seriously think that-”
“I don’t think, I-”
“Yeah, I know you don’t think,” you said and slipped back into teasing Jungkook like nothing had ever happened between you two, like you had never left, like he hadn’t hated and resented you for it, like you hadn’t hurt each other, like yesterday hadn’t happened.
Jungkook gasped at your words, and you giggled when you saw the smile pulling on the corners of his lips that he was so desperately trying to hide, relieved to know that you hadn’t crossed a line.
“Damn, I didn’t miss this, Y/N,” Jungkook said with a light laugh and you noticed instantly that Jungkook had said your name. Your heart tumbled in your chest, involuntarily, and as much as you had tried to hide it by biting it away, a grin split apart on your lips.
For once, there was no tension in the air, no cold lingering around you two, no icicles forming in your lungs. For once, your joints weren’t tightening to the point it hurt and ached, no stiffness stretching you straight. For once, you felt somewhat comfortable around Jungkook, somewhat at ease.
“What did you miss then?” 
“You.”
The answer slipped past Jungkook’s lips, rolled off his tongue without a second thought and you knew it, knew he hadn’t meant to say that, knew he hadn’t intentionally said it when you saw the blood rush to his face and paint his cheeks a bright and blaring red.
Your lips parted slightly and you blinked at Jungkook. Both of you both fell silent again and snapped your heads around, avoiding each other’s gazes as much as possible. And slowly, you could feel the tension fill up the room again, seep into every crack of the room, but this time it was different. 
This time the silence was loud, louder than Taehyung and Jungkook had been yesterday when they were screaming at each other. And with each second it lingered in the stifling air, you felt like it was urging you to say something, urging you to break it and tell Jungkook all of the things you had been wanting to say.
And so, you did, did break it, but you didn’t say the things you had been wanting to say. You said the thing you knew was okay to say.
“Heejin is nice.”
You whispered it into the room, whispered it so quietly like you didn’t want to break the silence that had been begging to be broken. Your eyes stayed on the ground, stayed focused on anything that wasn’t Jungkook, and he did the same, didn’t look up either.
“Yeah,” Jungkook breathed out and propped his arms on his knees, body leaning forward. “I guess she is.”
You nodded, barely registering his answer because you weren’t actually listening for it, not that you could have if you had wanted to because your heart was thumping in your ears, each beat as loud as a bomb going off right next to you. 
“H-how long have you two been dating?” you asked and you were honestly not sure why you were asking because simply thinking about Heejin and Jungkook together hurt you. Somehow you had been spared of their relationship details so far and you were more than thankful for that.
“Well, uh, a couple months,” Jungkook said with a cough. “Almost six now, I think.”
“And she hasn’t met the others yet?” you asked and peeked over to Jungkook. He only lowered his head even more and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Yeah, no, she hasn’t,” Jungkook mumbled.
“How come?” you continued in an attempt to lighten the whole situation, but somehow the air seemed to grow thicker with every word you exchanged. 
Jungkook took his time to answer, eyes scanning the floor like the words would appear on it if he stared long enough, like someone would whisper into his ear why Heejin hadn’t met his friends yet, like he would remember what his reasoning was.
“I- I don’t know,” Jungkook ended up sighing before curling up into himself, head lowering even more as if he was aiming to plant it to the floor.
“How’d you meet?” you asked.
“How does anybody meet anybody these days? Dating apps.”.
“What-”
“Did you date?”
The question was simple, each word easy to understand, but you had difficulties figuring out what he was asking you.
“When you were there, I mean. Did you date?”
You stammered for an answer, words running away from you like you were children playing Tag on a sunny day with your friends, and you were losing, miserably. The air was knocked out of your lungs and it took you seemingly an eternity to finally get it together and cough out some words, words that put together resembled an answer.
“I- yeah, I, uh, did.” You grimaced at yourself, head lowering to avoid Jungkook’s gaze the same way he had avoided yours before.
“So, you had, like, a serious-”
“No,” you cut in a little too fast. “I mean I dated, but nothing was really serious. I never had anything like a proper- you know.”
The corners of Jungkook’s lip curled up the tiniest bit at your answer.
“How come?”
You sighed and gripped your tote bag next to you, wondering now where the fuck Taehyung was because hadn’t he said he would hurry? 
“It just never felt quite right, I guess.” You shrugged and shifted from left to right, fingers tightening around your tote bag. “They were all funny and kind, but- I guess you could say that something was missing. Like, I don’t know, the spark or whatever.” Another shrug. “But also not like I had time to date. Was busy with my studies anyway.”
Jungkook hummed and for a moment, you both fell silent again. You were about to pull out your phone and mumble something about checking where Taehyung was to change the subject to something lighter, easier, when he cut in.
“Anyone significant though?” Your eyes shot to him and you raised your brows at him. His face was neutral, but there was definite curiosity swimming in his pupils. “Like, memorable? Anyone that stuck around a little longer? Or, you know, you liked-”
“No,” you said with a vigorous shake of your head. “No one that was in any way memorable or significant. Most just- they just kind of blur together.”
Jungkook looked at you for another second, words sinking in with him before he nodded and hummed. Both of you lowered your gazes again and fell into the all too familiar silence, tension creeping up on you.
But before you could be forced to break the silence once again and word vomit all over yourself, there was a rumbling and a frantic turning of keys. A second later, the front door flew open. Hectic and clumsy steps followed and soon enough, your eyes landed on a frazzled and panting Taehyung.
He stopped in the middle of the room, right in front of Jungkook and you. His chest heaved and judging from the sweat running down his temple, he had run a good amount.
Jungkook looked away when Taehyung stumbled into the living room, and instantly, you could feel a change in the air. The tension sat on your chest, suffocating you as it seeped into every corner of the room.
“My room,” Taehyung panted before pointing at you and into the hallway, not sparing Jungkook a single glance as he turned on his heel. You didn’t follow his words and only tightened your grip around your tote bag.
“I, uh,” you cleared your throat and Taehyung stopped, turning around to look at you with raised brows, confused, “I’d rather stay, uh, here.”
“What?” Taehyung asked and irritation started to mix with his confusion. “Why?”
His eyes dug into yours like he was trying to tell you just how little he wanted to stay here, and you sighed, tucking a strand behind your ear. Your tongue swiped across your bottom lip and you could feel your heart quicken in your chest, quicken impossibly.
“I-” you lowered your head before finally mustering up the courage to say it. “I know I said I came here to say sorry for yesterday, but I’m also here to say that I’d like to stop—I guess you could call it fake dating, right?—well, anyway, I’m here to tell you I’d like to stop fake dating you,” you thought to yourself, unsure how to call what Taehyung and you had been doing, “or whatever.”
“Why?”
“Because,” you started, voice quiet and calm, and you couldn’t look at Taehyung or Jungkook as you explained yourself because, fuck, all of this was so ridiculous and dumb, “I don’t like it. I don’t like lying. It’s stupid.”
You shrugged and when you looked up to Taehyung, he had his brows raised at you and his hands on his hips, obviously not believing you at all.
“You’re literally ly-”
“Also,” you cut in, not wanting to give Taehyung a chance to disagree with you and because you had to get everything out right now before the courage left you and you were staring at the floor once again. “Also, it’s just not fair to Heejin. She doesn’t deserve to be lied to you. She’s a good person and if she finds out that we’ve been lying to her, she- I don’t know, might break up with, uh, you know.”
Your eyes flickered to Jungkook. He was already looking at you, and maybe it was because your heart was beating in your ears, tumbling way too loud in your chest or maybe because you couldn’t properly look at him for more than a second, but you couldn’t read his expression. There was something in his eyes, but you couldn’t quite figure out what exactly.
“And we don’t want that, right?” 
Your voice wavered as you said the words and you hoped it would go unnoticed, hoped that neither Taehyung nor Jungkook listened closely enough to hear the waver. You folded your arms over your stomach, focusing back on Taehyung. He eyed you, continued to do so and you had to try your hardest not to shift and look away. 
“Fine,” Taehyung sighed, gaze tearing away to let it wander before his eyes returned to you like he had come to accept your decision just now. “What do you suggest?”
“I- uh,” you flashed Taehyung a nervous smile and wrung your hands together, “I don’t know. I- I figured we’d come up with something,” a short pause, “together.”
When you looked over to Jungkook again, he was staring at the floor before meeting your gaze, obviously not thinking he was going to be included in this. You wanted to muster up something that resembled a smile, but looking at him was something you couldn’t do, so, your eyes flickered to Taehyung. No smile for Jungkook.
“Together,” you repeated and Taehyung sighed, head lowering for a few seconds as he squeezed his eyes shut. When he looked up again, there was a deep line etched onto his features.
“Fine,” Taehyung breathed out before wandering into the room again and sitting down right opposite of Jungkook. 
All three of you occupied one side of the U shaped couch, Jungkook the left, Taehyung the right and you the middle.
“Okay, uh,” you started when the silence continued on too long, leaning forward to grab Taehyung's attention. “I- I’d say we have to break up amicably, right?”
You looked over to Taehyung for some kind of reaction, but his eyes were fixed on Jungkook and his eyes were fixed on Taehyung as well. Your head started to throb and you knew it was a matter of time until it split apart. Unable to take it any longer, you clapped your hands together and cut through some of the lingering tension.
“I thought we were gonna talk,” you said, voice quiet because you were too scared to speak up too loudly. You looked at Taehyung only because looking at Taehyung was easy and looking at Jungkook was not. “Let’s talk then, please.”
Taehyung and Jungkook locked eyes once more, the corners of their lips turned down, but both came to a mutual conclusion.
“Okay,” Jungkook sighed and shifted in his seat. 
“Yeah, fine,” Taehyung mumbled quietly, arms unfolding to rest on his knees. 
There was a moment of silence as he thought.
“You said break up amicably, right?” Taehyung pointed at you and you nodded. “Yeah, sounds like a good idea.”
“What does it matter if you two break up amicably or not?” Jungkook questioned with a furrow of his brow and Taehyung sighed.
“It matters because if Y/N and I don’t break up amicably, we can’t hang out in the future. So, if Heejin were to see us, it’d be weird,” Taehyung explained and the irritation was dripping from his words.
“You guys wanna hang out in the future?” Jungkook asked and Taehyung contorted his face at him.
“Yeah, of course, dude. Why the fuck wouldn’t we? We’re friends,” he said and shook his head at Jungkook, scoffing slightly.
“Don’t-”
“Okay, great. Break up amicably. How though?” you cut in before things could escalate any further, turning to Taehyung for some answers, but he simply shrugged.
“How about,” Jungkook started and ran a hand through his hair, “How about you two start acting annoyed with each other the next time we meet up? Like, start dropping hints and then, I’ll make some comment about how you two have problems and then, when we see each other again, you two are broken up.”
“Yeah, I doubt that Heejin would like to meet up again after yesterday,” Taehyung said and you hummed in agreement.
“Are you sure this is about Heejin not wanting to meet up or just you?” Jungkook bit back and you sighed inwardly, regretting not taking Yoongi or Yerim with you as support.
“Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?” Taehyung sneered with a scoff and a breathy chuckle, and you were certain your skull was going to break into pieces.
“What am I talking about? How about the fact that you didn’t come home yesterday?” Jungkook asked and pointed at Taehyung, the knit deepening between his brows.
“What does that-”
“Tae, please,” you interrupted and closed your eyes, hating every second of this. “Just don’t, please.”
You peeled your eyelids open and locked eyes with him, shaking your head from left to right as you were on the verge of giving this up and going home. Taehyung’s gaze softened when he saw how tired you were, irritation washing out of him in an instant.
“Yeah, no, you’re right. I’m sorry,” he mumbled, hand reaching for yours and you took it, squeezing it to thank him silently. You two shared a look and both of you were too occupied to notice Jungkook lowering his head and scoffing silently to himself, teeth sinking far too deep into his lip, so much so it should hurt.
“Okay, so, how-” you started, letting go of Taehyung’s hand to concentrate on the conversation again. “How did you imagine us meeting up again? Because I also don’t think that Heejin would want to meet up after yesterday.”
You glanced into Jungkook’s direction, but he kept his head low, acting like he was thinking when in reality, he was trying not to burst. 
“Maybe we could convince Yeri or Yoongs to host a game night or whatever,” Taehyung offered as a solution and you thought about his words for a moment before nodding, a smile tugging on the corners of your lips.
“Yeah, that sounds like something,” you said and turned to Jungkook slightly, glancing into his general direction to gauge his reaction.
“But,” Jungkook started, head raising a little as he looked at Taehyung with his brows slightly knitted together, “that’d mean Heejin would meet-”
Jungkook didn’t finish the sentence, deciding to swallow the rest of it instead and Taehyung and you exchanged a glance, giving him a few seconds to make up his mind again as to what he wanted to say.
“Yeah, no, that’s fine,” Jungkook sighed at the end, nodding, and Taehyung and you locked eyes once more.
“Great. I can talk to them about it,” you said with somewhat of a smile on your lips and Taehyung hummed in agreement and Jungkook just rubbed the back of his neck.
Stifling silence fell over all three of you, but then you remembered why you had come here in the first place. You dug through your tote bag and pulled out one tupperware box before pulling out another one. You placed them both on the coffee table and pushed them into their direction.
Taehyung and Jungkook looked up when they heard the sliding of the tupperware boxes and almost simultaneously, they furrowed their brows together and glanced at you. You didn’t meet either’s gazes, deciding to fiddle with the strap of your tote bag instead. 
“Breakfast,” you said with a shrug and it took Taehyung grabbing his box and removing the top for Jungkook to finally stop staring at you and grab his box.
“You made me food too?” Jungkook asked and stared at the box in front of him before glancing back up to you. You lowered your head even more, cheeks growing hot underneath his eyes.
“Well, no, not really,” you started, clearing your throat. “I mean I didn’t know you lived with Tae, but since he always used to eat so much I figured one box wasn’t enough and so, I made two, but I’m pretty sure two boxes were too much anyway. So, this works out perfectly actually. But it’s just a bunch of stuff I found in my fridge and threw together. Really nothing special.”
You shrugged more and Taehyung mumbled something underneath his breath, but you couldn’t catch it. Without a fork or a chopstick or any cutlery, he dug in, biting off a piece of the fried egg.
“Fuck, it’s good,” Taehyung said with a slight scoff like it was infuriating to him that your cooking (Could it be considered cooking though because you just made some bacon and fried egg and cut up some vegetables?) didn’t completely suck.
“Thanks,” Taehyung mumbled in between bites, enjoying the food so much that he couldn’t even raise his head to look at you.
You nodded and glanced at Jungkook, who had snapped out of whatever he had previously been and finally removed the top of the box, marvelling at the food in front of him. And just like Taehyung, he dug in, fingers first. You watched Jungkook try the bacon and shake his head as he chewed, a smile overtaking his lips more and more as he continued eating.
Jungkook looked up, eyes locking with yours and with the softest smile, he nodded at you.
“Thank you.”
And you nodded right back at him with your heart tumbling far too loudly in your chest.
“You’re welcome.”
All three of you fell silent and for a while, Taehyung’s and Jungkook’s constant chewing was the only thing that rang in your ears at all.
“Uh, Tae, could you give me-” Jungkook pointed at the box of tissues in front of Taehyung, out of his reach. He looked up at Jungkook’s voice, blinking for a few seconds because this had been the first time Jungkook had talked to him in a civil manner. Taehyung nodded and shoved the little piece of carrot into his mouth.
“Yeah, no, sure thing,” he mumbled before taking a tissue and leaning over the table to give it to Jungkook. He took it, wiping his fingers and mouth before locking eyes with Taehyung once more.
“Thanks,” Jungkook mumbled quietly and Taehyung smiled to himself a little before waving it off.
“Sure thing,” Taehyung mumbled equally quiet and you had to stop the grin from growing on your lips. 
For a few more seconds, you sat there as Taehyung and Jungkook practically devoured the food you had made (neither bothered to go to the kitchen and get some cutlery though) before you crossed your arms in front of your chest and turned to Taehyung.
“Why were you so late?” you asked and he looked up, a piece of fried egg hanging from the corner of his mouth. “And where were you that it took you half an hour to get back?”
Taehyung rolled his eyes at you and swiped across his mouth with the back of his hand, swallowing heavily. “I crashed at Yoongi’s, and I swear the traffic was just out of the world this morning. I hit more red lights-”
“What? Was there a fire? Or did someone drop a bunch of mirrors on the road?”
Jungkook choked next to you and you watched him cough and pat his chest, trying desperately not to suffocate. Taehyung and you exchanged glances, and even though it had been incredibly awkward and tense just mere minutes ago, things were slowly changing.
When he finally managed to swallow his food, Jungkook locked eyes with you and you tried to hide it, but a smile grew onto your lips, eliciting his cheeks to grow hot and red.
“You guys never believed me,” Jungkook mumbled, a dramatic pout forming on his lips, and when you looked at Taehyung again, both of you burst out into laughter.
“Can you blame us though? Fires? Broken mirrors?” Taehyung laughed, forgetting everything that had happened between Jungkook and him.
“Why would I lie? There’s literally no reason for me to-”
“Because you forgot time and are now running late and trying to shift blame because you don’t want to get shit on for being late, again,” you offered as an explanation, falling into the same old teasing you all used to do when you were all still in high school and your biggest worries were if your mother or Jungkook was going to drive you home today and if Jungkook was going to stay at your place or if you were going to stay at his.
“I would never do that,” Jungkook argued and you rolled your eyes, exchanging a knowing glance with Taehyung. “Hey! No, don’t look at each other like that. I can see you guys.”
“Never thought or said you were blind,” Taehyung grinned and plopped a small tomato into his mouth. You hummed in agreement, grin growing bigger and brighter when you saw Jungkook scoff and shake his head at Taehyung and you.
“It’s always been you two against me,” Jungkook complained and Taehyung and you rolled your eyes simultaneously, scoffing.
“Please, if anything it was always you two,” Taehyung pointed at Jungkook and you with a piece of carrot before pointing at himself, “against me.”
“That is not true-”
“It was,” you said and locked eyes with Jungkook, nodding. “We’ve gotta admit it. We bullied Tae more than Tae and I bullied you.”
“So, you did bully me then,” Jungkook said and you rolled your eyes in faux annoyance.
“You’re focusing on the wrong thing,” Taehyung started and pointed at you, waving the piece of carrot around like it wasn’t food. “Y/N never got bullied. Only we did.”
“Oh my God, we never did bully you,” Jungkook said with a dramatic turn of his head and you scoffed, shaking your head because, oh, you did get bullied.
“Yoongs bullied me,” you corrected with a raise of your finger. “And if anyone didn’t get bullied, it was Yeri.”
“No, Yoongs bullied Yeri,” Taehyung said with his brows furrowed together and dismissed your words with a wave of his hand, after having finally eaten the piece of carrot. “You know who actually didn’t get bullied?”
“Yoongs,” Jungkook replied and all of you locked eyes, the realisation dawning on you. There was a beat of silence before you all started talking again, simultaneously.
“That bitch really bullied all of us relentlessly, but never got some of it back.”
“How did we not notice earlier?”
“Looks like we’ve got some bullying to do, huh?”
Another beat of silence followed before you locked eyes once more and all started laughing, pearls of laughter spilling from your lips, loud and beautiful.
And all of the tension and stiffness was gone, gone as you laughed your hearts out. Everything that had happened between you three was forgotten for a moment, the grudges were at the back of your minds, locked away for now, and you took it, took whatever the universe gave you that resembled normalcy. Deep down, you knew things were going to be awkward and tense once you all saw each other again, but for now, it was different, was like it used to be. 
Everything was great.
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“I thought you guys would never come,” Yerim laughed, trying so hard to hide the nervosity, but you could hear it. She threw her arms around Jungkook’s neck, pulling him into a hug as he mumbled some excuse into her ear.
“Yeah, sorry.”
You watched Yerim and Heejin meet for the first time and you caught pieces of their conversation, listening to the usual spiel that consisted of ‘Oh, I’ve heard so much about you.’ and ‘It’s so nice to finally meet you’ before plopping a chip into your mouth, deeming whatever Yerim and Heejin were talking about as not interesting.
You had decided to busy yourself with the snacks in the kitchen when the bell had announced Jungkook’s and Heejin’s arrival, coming to the conclusion beforehand that if you looked busy, you didn’t have to get the door and do the obligatory greetings and hugs. With the way the door to the kitchen stood open, you could only see parts of the living room, but you had a perfect view of the front door. You, however, were somewhat hidden by one of Yerim’s plant. Essentially, you stood in the perfect spot to observe without being observed yourself.
“I thought you hated these chips.”
Your head whipped around at his voice and you realised only now he was already standing next to you, fingers grabbing the chip you had been about to eat. A gasp slipped past your lips as you watched him throw the chip into his mouth and lean against the table, shifting his whole weight onto the table.
“Yoongs!” you said, exasperated, but he didn’t care at all, grabbing a handful as he watched Yerim, Heejin and Jungkook exchange pleasantries at the front door.
“Didn’t you say the last time we hung out that these were too stale and bland in your opinion?” he asked, eyes never leaving the people at the front door, and you shrugged, plopping another stale and bland chip into your mouth.
“Opinions change.”
“That was last week.”
“Fine, so maybe they are too stale and bland in my opinion, but Yeri doesn’t have anything else,” you grumbled and threw another chip into your mouth, barely allowing yourself time to swallow and realise (again) just how horrible these chips were and why exactly you hated them.
“Shouldn’t you be saying hello right now?” you asked with a furrow of your brows and Yoongi scoffed.
“Why would I? I don’t live here. Yeri does,” Yoongi said with a scrunch of his nose. “Also, these are fucking horrible.” He looked at the chip in his hand with narrowed eyes. “God, they are stale and bland. I think these are those healthy chips or whatever.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” you said, not really caring about the chips anymore, “but you haven’t met Heejin yet.” You nodded into her direction. “You should say hello.”
“Shouldn’t we all say hello to her regardless of if we’ve met her before or not?” Yoongi asked, plopping another chip into his mouth seconds after complaining about them. “So, shouldn’t you too?”
“I- Yeah, technically, I guess. But it’s different for you,” you argued.
Yoongi scoffed and shook his head, pausing a little as he focused on Yerim, Heejin and Jungkook again before snapping out of it. 
“I tell you what,” Yoongi started before shoving a handful of chips into his mouth, chewing to the end before continuing, “you go over there and say hello and then, I’ll do the same thing.”
You stared at Yoongi, but he didn’t meet your gaze, enjoying the view of Yerim, Heejin and Jungkook in the distance instead, and you huffed before mumbling underneath your breath for him to forget it. Both of you ate chips in silence for a few more seconds before he nudged your elbow with his hand, accidentally dropping a chip when he moved a little too quickly, but he didn’t mind or care at all.
“Tae’s going in,” Yoongi informed you and at his words, you looked up to see that, yes, Taehyung was, in fact, walking up to Yerim, Heejin and Jungkook, a strained smile on his lips.
“Yeah, probably because we aren’t,” you mumbled and Yoongi hummed in agreement. “Always there to save the day.”
“Look at Yeri’s panicked smile,” Yoongi said and pointed at her, and as much as you tried not to, you laughed a little, eliciting one from him.
“We’re bad people, Yoongs,” you snorted and he shook his head at you as he watched the horror unfold in front of him. 
“They haven’t made up yet, have they?” Yoongi asked and judging from the way Taehyung and Jungkook were hugging each other (or, well, actually not hugging each other because they were doing that awkward thing Jungkook and you had done the last time you had ‘hugged’ each other, and that was definitely not a hug.), it was obvious what the answer was.
“Obviously not,” you said and reached for your glass of water to wash down the salt. “Things are better though. Last time, they were ready to jump each other’s throats.”
Yoongi snorted and it was then that you remembered and looked over to him.
“Remember how I asked you for Tae’s address? Why didn’t you tell me he was crashing at your place then?”
A smirk formed on Yoongi’s lips and you wanted nothing more than to throw your glass of water into his face. The fact that he was still not looking at you only added to your irritation and frustration with him. 
“You told me not to tell Tae and Yeri, so I didn’t.”
“Yoongi!” you growled and jabbed him in his ribs, eliciting a breath from him. “You should have told me! Do you know how weird it was when he opened the door? You’re impossible sometimes.”
You scrunched up your brows and gritted your teeth, but Yoongi just cackled next to you, obviously enjoying your misery very much.
“You know what?” you asked and put down your glass of water with a little more force than necessary. “I take it back. We aren’t bad people. You are. You’re straight up a dick.”
“Oh, I never agreed with you,” Yoongi said and you frowned at his words, not getting what he was saying. “I know that I’m a bad person, but, trust me, you’re definitely not.”
Your frown deepened and you were about to ask him what he was talking about when Yoongi finally looked at you and stopped eating the chips, letting the few pieces in his hand fall back in the bowl. He dusted off his hand and straightened up to look at you properly.
“Look around yourself, Y/N,” he said and threw his hands into the air. “We’re at a fake game night party or whatever this thing is that you forced Yeri to throw, so you could act ‘annoyed’ with Taehyung because you’re fake dating him and you’re only fake dating him because that dumbass ex of yours, who is also somehow our dear friend, Jeon fucking Jungkook, forgot to tell his current girlfriend that you dated during high school.”
You tore your gaze away and bit on your tongue, trying desperately not to squirm underneath Yoongi’s gaze.
“This is fucking ridiculous,” Yoongi continued and you lowered your head, squeezing your eyes shut. “This is literally the dumbest thing ever. You’re making sure Jungkook, who, again, I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, is your ex, keeps his current girlfriend because he, again, was a dumbass and forgot to tell her about you. And on top of that, he’s been acting like a complete fucking asshole to you.
“Obviously. you’re not a bad person. You’re a fucking saint for putting up with and doing all of this.”
“It’s not like that-”
“Don’t try to convince me otherwise, Y/N,” Yoongi cut in and shoved his face with chips again before regretting it immediately and scrunching up his face in disgust. You peeled your eyes open just in time to watch him drink all of your water, but this time you didn’t complain. You simply sighed and crossed your arms in front of your chest.
“I hurt him-”
“And?” Yoongi argued with a groan. “Stop blaming yourself for everything. We hate it if you do that. If Yeri wasn’t so freaking weak and had stuck to our agreement, this wouldn’t be happening right now.”
You shook your head and pressed your lips together. Yoongi didn’t understand, didn’t understand just what you had done and how much you had actually hurt Jungkook. In fact, none of your friends understood, understood why it wasn’t as easy as they seemed to think it was.
They hadn’t been there when you had told Jungkook you were going, hadn’t been there to witness him crumble apart in front of, hadn’t been there as his anger took over him and consumed him whole, hadn’t been there when Jungkook’s begs for this to be a joke turned into deafening screams and ultimately into bitter words.
“Out!” 
You flinched, flinched because Jungkook had never raised his voice withyou, had never looked at you like that. There was no warmth, no light, no love swimming in his eyes. All you could find was anger and pain, and you wished you could say you weren’t the reason for all of that.
His face contorted and hardened into something unreadable, something you had never seen before, and you wanted to soothe over every line, wanted to kiss them over and over again until they were gone. Even with the anger etched onto his face, Jungkook was painfully beautiful, heartbreakingly so.
“Please. Just let me explain, babe-”
“No!” Jungkook cut in and pointed at you, finger jabbing the air like it had wronged him and not you. Your heart rang in your ears and you were almost certain he could hear it too, hear it thumping in your chest. 
“Kook, please-”
“Do not call me ‘Kook’. I’m not fucking ‘Kook’ or ‘babe’ or even fucking ‘Jungkook’ to you. You’ve got no right to call me by my name anymore!”
A new wave of tears streamed down your face at his words. They pierced through you like bullets, hitting you in rapid succession and at the end, you were laying on the floor, on the brink of death.
“You’ve decided to- decided to leave me, no, us for your stupid adventure. You’ve fucking decided to break our promise! Remember our stupid fucking promise of forever?” Jungkook pressed through gritted teeth and took a step towards you, hands waving wildly around him. “You don’t get to say my name, don’t get to act like everything’s fucking fine and I’m your ‘Kook’ or ‘babe’ or whatever the fuck you call me after breaking it!”
You hiccuped and let your head hang as the realisation dawned on you that he was gone. He had slipped out of your reach and walked, no, ran away. He had put oceans and continents between you two, and there was no more asking him to come back anymore.
You knew then, he and you were done.
More curses slipped past Jungkook’s lips, but you couldn’t hear them, couldn’t hear the accusations he threw at you. For that, your heart was breaking and sobbing far too loudly in your chest.
You weren’t sure how much time passed, how long you stood there and cried your eyes out as he paced up and down his room, but by the time, you managed to lift your head, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, elbows resting on his knees and hands folded together with his gaze stuck to the floor.
And you weren’t sure how much time passed, how long you stared at him until he opened his mouth again.
“I really really love you,” Jungkook mumbled through gritted teeth and you knew he wished he didn’t love you anymore.
You wanted to grab him, cup his face and whisper into his ear over and over again just how sorry you were, whisper into his ear until words stopped making sense and the stars rained from the darkened sky.
“I really do,” Jungkook scoffed, but tears spilled from his eyes, involuntarily and far too many. Too proud to cry in front of you now, Jungkook covered his face with his hand and sank his teeth into his bottom lip, but even then, he couldn’t silence the sobs and sniffs. They banged on the walls of his throat and bursted through his lips.
And you hated it, hated seeing him like this, hated seeing his entire body shake and tremble, hated seeing his face contort in pain, hated seeing the tears collect at his chin and drip to the floor, hated seeing his lips quiver uncontrollably, hated seeing him desperately try to keep it together.
You hated seeing Jungkook cry.
But he was, and all because of you.
You were to blame, to blame for the state Jungkook was in right now. You had inflicted that pain on him, had broken and shattered his heart, had made him cry.
“Please, just let me explain-”
“There’s nothing to explain, Y/N,” he said, a sob erupting from his lips again, and you shook your head, trying so desperately to say something, but your tongue was tied into a messy knot. You wanted to tell him that there was so much you wanted to say, so much that needed to be explained, but you couldn’t bring yourself to, couldn’t bring yourself to form the words necessary.
Slowly, Jungkook looked up to you, hand falling into his lap, and when your eyes met his, your heart raptured in your chest. His features were twisted in pain and agony as the tears scared his beautiful face.
“You’re leaving.” Jungkook whispered it into the silence like you didn’t know. 
“You’re leaving me.”
You closed your eyes at his words, shaking your head like you were about to disagree, but you couldn’t, couldn’t even bring yourself to make a single sound. 
The anger in Jungkook’s voice had dissipated into the air and been replaced by disappointment and hurt. And if you had to say which one was worse, Jungkook screaming at you or Jungkook simply looking at you with tears streaming down his face, you would choose the latter every fucking day.
Because without the anger and the screams to numb you, to silence your thoughts and mind, it was obvious, glaringly obvious. 
You had broken Jungkook.
“I hope you’re happy,” Jungkook continued, voice cracking in the worst way possible, and a deaf man could have heard that he was lying, could have heard the bitterness swinging in his words.
“I hope you’re happy knowing you’ve hurt me.”
“You don’t get it, Yoongs,” you mumbled quietly to yourself before looking at your hands. “None of you do.”
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You had always preferred game night over film night. You just always thought that it was so much more fun to play games than to sit in darkness and watch some film half of you didn’t watch anyway or had already watched. Your competitiveness and need to win certainly played into your preference of game night over film night. But right now, you would choose film night over game night any day, would never have another game night ever again if that meant you could switch to having a film night now instead.
You really had no idea what Yerim had been thinking when she had decided to draw lots to determine the teams. 
“So, we need a total of seven points to beat them, right? Both rounds?” Heejin asked you and you nodded, your heart racing more and more as you waited for the game to begin.
2 rounds of Taboo. 90 seconds to get through as many words as possible.
“You sure you don’t wanna be the one explaining? I’m sure you’re better at this than I am,” you said and Heejin shook her head at you.
“Trust me, I’m definitely worse than you,” she smiled. “If we wanna win, it’s best if Kook and you do the explaining.”
“Are you ready, Y/N?” Yerim asked you, her finger hovering above the start button, and you turned around to her before nodding. It was a complete lie, you weren’t ready, but you didn’t think you were ever going to be. 
You always got nervous right before you started playing a game, but this time, it was different, different because it mattered so much more if you won or not. Never had you wanted to win more, and the thought of possibly losing had your stomach churning. You couldn’t disappoint, disappoint him because you knew that he was just as competitive as you, if not more so.
“Go!”
You picked up the first card and scanned it.
Tattoos
Ink
Permanent
Skin
“Okay, uh,” you turned around and looked at Heejin and Jungkook, “they are like paintings or sketches.”
“Black and white paintings?” Heejin guessed and you shook your head, biting your lip as you thought of something else to say.
“Uh,” you tucked a strand behind your ear before looking at him, “ you always said you wanted them and they can be in any colour.”
“You always said you wanted them and they can be in any colour‘? What is she talking about?” Taehyung laughed at your poor attempt at describing the word ‘Tattoos’ and you started to panic even more.
“Stop guessing. You’re not on her team,” Yoongi said with a slap to his arm and Taehyung simply dismissed him with a wave of his hand, but he kept his mouth shut.
“Once you get them, they’re forever.”
“Jesus, Y/N, did you get worse at this?” Taehyung laughed and you could hear Yerim’s laugh mix with his. You couldn’t blame them though because you were really struggling to come up with a way to explain ‘Tattoos’.
“Why is Y/N describing and not Kook? Wasn’t he always better at this than her?” Yerim asked and you regretted not putting up more of a fight when Heejin had told Jungkook and you to do the explaining. 
You had always been better at guessing and Jungkook had always been the one better at explaining. You had your roles, but with Heejin on your team now and refusing to do the explaining, you had to step up.
“You got into this huge fight with your parents once because they didn’t like them- oh, you’ve got some now on your freaking hand!”
“Tattoos!” Jungkook exclaimed and you let out a squeal. A smile flashed across your lips before you nodded at him and picked up the next card, the previous card landing on the floor.
Valentine
 February 14
Red
Love 
“45 Seconds,” Yerim said and you turned to Heejin and Jungkook with wide eyes, quickly starting to explain.
“Okay, uh,” you said and tucked a strand behind your ear, brain trying to come up with a way to word this correctly. “It’s a holiday at the start of the year.”
“New Years?” Heejin said and you shook your head at her.
“Later.”
“What holiday is at the start of the year but not New Years?” Taehyung asked and once again, Yoongi slapped his arm, telling him not to guess.
“Easter?” Heejin said and you shook your head.
“30 Seconds,” Yerim interjected and you wanted to curse at her because this was really stressing you out.
“Fuck, uh,” you turned to Jungkook. “We always made fun of it because we thought it was just so commercialised.” You gestured wildly around yourself. “It’s for couples-”
“Oh, Valentine! February 14th-”
You cheered once more before picking up the next card, letting the other one fall to the floor once more.
Harry Potter
Film
Scar
Magic
“Uh, this is easy” you mumbled. “It’s a fictional character.”
“Sherlock Holmes? Iron Man?”
“No, let me finish first,” you shot back with urgency in your voice. “ He’s really famous-”
“Iron Man!”
“No, God, just let me finish!” you groaned and Jungkook sat back down a little more, lips pressing together to let you talk. Heejin smiled next to him and placed her hand on his knee, trying to calm him, but Jungkook had his eyes fixed on you, desperately trying to get that win.
“15 Seconds,” Yerim smiled, definitely enjoying the distress in your eyes far too much.
“Okay, uh, we can get this one,” you said, stumbling over your own words. 
“You can do, like, quizzes.”  You looked at Jungkook once more. “We did them too!” You gestured between him and you. “You got really pressed because you got Hufflepuff, but you wanted-”
“Oh, Harry Potter,” Jungkook said and snapped his fingers.
“Time’s up!” Yerim said and you dropped the card in your hand.
“Three points, right?” Heejin counted on her fingers and turned to Jungkook and you. 
You let out a long sigh, feeling the stress wash out of you a little because now, you got to do the part you were actually good at, guessing.
“Yeah,” Jungkook nodded as he got up and stretched, preparing himself for the next 90 seconds. “So, four points.”
You walked past Jungkook, slumping into the seat he had just sat in. Your heart was still beating way too fast and the adrenaline was pumping through your veins like a bullet train.
“We can do this, right?” Jungkook asked and turned back around, standing in the middle of the room. When you realised he was looking at you, talking to you, you could feel the heat creep up your neck. “You know, like we used to?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” you muttered, far too embarrassed to respond properly. He blinked at you before nodding and walking up to Yerim, who was shuffling the cards.
“‘Like we used to’?” Heejin asked and turned to you with a furrow of her brows. You cursed Jungkook and slowly nodded.
“Yeah, uh, he and I were kinda always a team when we played Taboo,” you said before cleaning your throat and avoiding Heejin’s gaze as much as you could.
“Dream team,” Taehyung interjected and you rolled your eyes at him, leaning towards Heejin a little too slap his shoulder.
“‘Dream team’?” Heejin asked, but before you could answer, Yerim, thankfully, interrupted.
“Next round!” she announced and turned to Jungkook, nodding at him when he did. “Go.”
Immediately, Jungkook picked up a card and you turned around again, putting all of your focus on him and winning.
“So, this is something I want but it’s not a thing or object. It’s, like, alive.”
“Dog?” you started and he quickly shook his head. 
“Cat?” Heejin tried and before Jungkook could shake his head, you interrupted.
“No, he wants a dog, not a cat,” you mumbled, brows furrowing together as you thought about Jungkook’s words, trying to figure out what he was talking about until you got it. “Oh, a family!”
“Yes!” Jungkook grinned and gestured for you to think further. “Right, but that’s not it. When you have a family, you have-” 
“Kids?” You quirked a brow at him and Jungkook nodded.
“Okay, right, another word for kids is-?”
“Children!”
“Yes!” Jungkook cheered and grinned at you before throwing the card away and grabbing a new one. He read it and nodded to himself.
“It’s once a year, but not a holiday.”
“Not a holiday?” Yoongi mumbled quietly to himself even though he had told Taehyung not to guess.
“Say more,” you told him and Jungkook sighed, wrecking his brain before pointing at you.
“It’s your favourite day of the year and- You get a bunch of presents and, oh! We threw you a surprise-”
“Surprise party?”
“Yeah, but why did we-”
“My birthday! Is it birthday?”
Jungkook beamed at you and you mirrored him, beaming right back. Your heart was pounding in your chest, but now, it was out of excitement. You could practically taste the win on the tip of your tongue. 
“Okay, uh, this is hard,” Jungkook sighed after picking up the next card. He frowned before looking up. “It’s something you can eat.”
“Food.”
“Yeah, but that’s only the second word,” he said and gestured for you to think further again. “Like, ice cream-”
“Ice cream food? Food ice cream? Ice food cream?” you blurted all out, screaming one word after another, and Jungkook frowned at you.
“‘Ice food cream’? Maybe you’re not that good at guessing,” Jungkook laughed with a shake of your head, and you rolled your eyes at him, mumbling underneath your breath that it had been a long time, but your words fell on deaf ears. “No, it’s not ice food cream. It’s something you shouldn’t eat much of.”
“Sugar?” you guessed, but Jungkook shook his head at you.
“45 seconds,” Yerim said and Jungkook and you looked at each other, eyes wide. The need to win sparkled in both of your eyes and quickly, panic rushed through you, replacing the excitement.
“Say more-”
“There isn’t more. You’ve just gotta think- food is the second word!”
“But what about ice cream? Why did you-”
“Ice cream is-”
“Cold?”
Jungkook groaned, “No, I don’t mean cold.”
His brows furrowed together as he wrecked his brain before he thought of something and pointed at you again. “Okay, uh, we used to go to this one place all the time! Remember our midnight dinners? And the category of food that they sell is what we’re looking for.”
“Oh! McDonalds!” You snapped your fingers. “Junk Food!”
When Jungkook nodded at you, you squealed, watching him turn around and pick up the next card.
“If they get this next point, they won, right?” Yoongi asked Taehyung, but you answered.
“Yeah, we beat you then, losers,” you grinned and Jungkook laughed at your words before he turned to the card in his hand, scanning it.
“They’re really good at this, aren’t they?” Heejin asked Taehyung and leaned into him to make sure neither Jungkook nor you could hear her. Not that you two would have anyway, far too focused on the game at hand to pay her any attention, completely forgetting that she was on your team too.
“Yeah, both are incredibly competitive, so they work well together. Like, they practically always know what the other is thinking,” Taehyung mumbled as he watched you shuffle in your seat, not noticing the way Heejin looked at him at all.
You raised your brows when you saw Jungkook freeze up upon reading the card. His jaw didn’t go slack nor did his eyes go wide, but you could see, could see right away that something was wrong.
“Uh? What’s wrong?” you started, but even then Jungkook didn’t look up, eyes fixed on the card in front of him. Slowly, the others seemed to notice too, heads turning to see a frozen Jungkook. 
“20 Seconds.”
You exchanged a glance with Taehyung, but he shrugged at you, and so, you looked at Yerim for some help as she stood right next to Jungkook. She squinted as she tried to read the card herself.
“Oh, shit,” she blurted out and pressed her hand on her mouth when she realised that she had spoken without meaning to. She looked at Jungkook, mouth opening as she struggled to decide to say something or not, but then he snapped out of it.
Jungkook glanced at Yerim’s phone in her hand and looked up to you, eyes locking with yours like before, but this time, it was different. You immediately felt that there was a shift and you had a feeling that it was bad.
“It’s, like, a place you could say.” Jungkook’s voice quivered the tiniest bit, but you noticed immediately. You raised your brows and leaned even more forward, as if you could coax the word out of Jungkook that way.
“Really big,” he continued and looked at you like you should know what he was talking about now. When you furrowed your brows at you, he sighed, “You were there for the past four years.”
“Oh.”
Your entire face dropped as the realisation dawned on you and you sat back. You felt Taehyung eyeing you with worry etched onto his face, about to say something, but Yoongi put his hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Only Heejin was more lost than ever, but you paid no one any attention, far too shocked to say anything. 
All of the memories, all of the memories connected to America and all of the pain it had caused not only you but Jungkook when you had left to go there, hit you so hard you feared whiplash. 
“5.”
You tried to say something, tried to give the answer because you knew it and you really didn’t want to lose, but somehow you just couldn’t. Your voice was gone, had disappeared. The word didn't hurt you, but you knew it hurt him, and that was one thing you didn’t want to do ever again.
“4.”
Jungkook and you kept eye contact as Yerim counted the seconds and you watched his brows furrow together and his lips press together in a thin line. He was debating internally, trying to figure out what he wanted, if the win was worth it, worth the memories and pain.
“3.”
Your eyes were fixed on him and when you saw Jungkook sigh a little and nod at you, you knew right away what he was telling you.
“2.”
You nodded at him too.
“America-”
“1.”
And even though Jungkook had told you to say it, the guilt still bubbled up and formed icicles in your lungs, piercing tiny holes in them, and you could feel the blood slowly filter in, suffocating you.
Jungkook and you kept staring at each other, and you should look away because there was no reason for both of you to be still looking at each other, but you couldn’t. 
“Does it still count?” Heejin asked, breaking the silence, and looked at Yerim.
Yerim’s eyes were trained on Jungkook and you, and only when you two tore your gazes away and looked at her, did she speak up. 
“Yeah, it counts.”
Jungkook and you whipped your heads around, looking at each other with big eyes. For a second, both of you didn’t know how to react, but then, the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile. Your lips split apart into a big grin and squeals and cheers escaped you two. You jumped up and Jungkook ran towards you, hands held up for high-fives. You reciprocated it and both of you beamed at each other.
“We won!” 
Jungkook laughed at your words and nodded, eyes softening as he watched the joy spread on your face.
“Yeah, we did.”
His words were soft, incredibly soft. A whispered secret almost. 
“Yeah, we did,” Jungkook repeated with a nod and a smile. “We did.”
You looked at Jungkook and even though you should look away again, you couldn’t. You two were locked into each other’s eyes, locked into each other’s eyes like it was just Jungkook and you in this room, in this world, in this universe, like you were falling in love with one another all over again.
And for a moment, it truly felt like that, felt like it was just him and you in this room, in this world, in this universe.
But then, his gaze flickered to Heejin.
Your eyes grew wide at the same time and your smiles almost slipped off your faces before you both turned to Heejin and let out another round of cheers and squeals.
“We won, Heejin!” Jungkook said and you held up your hand for a high-five. She blinked at both of you and you thought she was going to ask you two what the fuck that just was, confront you on forgetting her for the second half of the game, but then a smile split apart on her face.
“Yeah, isn’t that great?” she smiled and gave you a high-five.
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After another round of Taboo and a few rounds of Charades and Pictionary (which you all won), you were exhausted, definitely spread thin. The adrenaline got to you, but so did actively avoiding your friends’ stares and trying not to get too swept up in the games and forgetting about Heejin again. So, when no one paid attention to you, busy with cleaning up and preparing for the next game, Werewolf, you snuck away.
“Best part of Yeri’s tiny flat, isn’t it?”
You didn’t turn around at Yoongi’s voice.
“Truly is.”
Yerim had a tiny flat, but she had a balcony. It was tucked behind the kitchen and, you had almost not seen it when you had walked in and looked for some peace and quiet. Yerim’s fridge blocked the glass door a little because, after all, the flat was tiny and so was the kitchen. 
The railing of the small balcony was lined with flowers, flowers that Yerim had texted you far too much about, flowers that had gone from blooming to dying to almost blooming to what they are now, almost dying.
Yerim had sent you pictures of the view when she had first moved in, but standing on here yourself was different. Truth be told, the view wasn’t the best, wasn’t breathtaking, nothing compared to the view you had gotten to enjoy at the restaurant, but it was enough to ground you, calm you down and give you the sense of peace and quiet you had looked for.
“You okay?”
You snapped out of your thoughts and looked at Yoongi, offering him a smile as you nodded.
“Yeah,” you said.
“That’s nice,” he hummed before leaning against the railing with his arms, careful not to hurt the flowers. “You sure, though?”
Yoongi peered up at you and you thought about his words for a moment. You had truly thought that this would be worse, that it would be awkward and weird as hell, but you had to say it wasn’t. When Jungkook turned out to be your partner (You had Yerim to thank for that. How was drawing lots to determine the teams a good idea?), you had truly thought that things were only going to go down from there. To your surprise, they didn’t.
There had been some tension between Jungkook and you, but the moment you picked up the first card and desperately tried to explain ‘Tattoos’ to him, both of you completely forgot about it, and instead worked together to win.
So, with a smile, you mirrored Yoongi’s stance, resting your elbows on the railing like him and leaning forward before letting your cheek fall into your open palm and turning to him.
“Yes, I’m sure, Yoongs,” you said. “Thanks for asking.”
Yoongi blinked at you before chuckling quietly to himself and turning his head away, eyes watching the sun dip below the horizon.
“How are you though? You okay?” you asked and watched as Yoongi let out a long and heavy sigh, eyes staying on the horizon.
“I hate this. So, wouldn’t say I’m okay.”
“You do? Sure you’re not hating this because you’re losing constantly?” you teased.
“Yes, Y/N, I do and, yes, I’m sure it’s not because I’m constantly losing. I’m not Kook or you. I don’t need to win. I don’t care that much,” Yoongi said with a roll of his eyes and another sigh. “You realise how dumb all of this is, right?”
You looked at Yoongi, raising your brows at him.
“We’re only doing this so you can act annoyed with Tae and then you two can break up or whatever, right?” he asked you and you nodded. “And that’s what’s dumb about this.”
You tilted your head at him, eyes narrowing as you tried to figure out what exactly he thought was dumb about your plan.
Yoongi sighed once more. “You realise you don’t owe Heejil, or whatever her name is, an explanation, right? Fucking just text her that you’re broken up. Or, you know, better yet, don’t tell her because, again, you don’t owe her anything. She isn’t a friend of ours. She’s just the girl your ex and our dumbass friend is dating.” 
The annoyance was dripping from his voice as you continued staring at him. “Or, like, make up some story and the next time she sees you, just tell her that. You think she’s really gonna question that? She doesn’t know when you or Tae are lying.”
You blinked at Yoongi because how had none of you thought of that before? He was right. You didn’t owe Heejin any sort of explanation, but here you were, meeting up to put on a whole show (that you didn’t even put on) to give her some sort of explanation.
Yoongi seemed to be able to hear his words click in your mind because he scoffed at you. “You guys are fucking dumbasses.”
Now, you scoffed too, scoffed at yourself because, once again, Yoongi was right. You were dumbasses and you couldn’t believe neither Taehyung nor Jungkook nor you thought of this.
“Shit.”
Yoongi chuckled and shook his head at you, the corners of his lips turned downwards.
“Yeah, shit.”
You pressed your lips together as you let Yoongi’s words fully sink in with you, dawn on you and float away.
“Hey, guys.”
Yoongi and you turned around at Yerim’s voice, straightening up in an instant. You watched her slide the glass door open, a bowl of chips pressed to her chest as she stepped out.
“What are you two doing out here?” she asked with a tilt of her head.
“Oh, we-”
“Hiding,” Yoongi stated like it wouldn’t get you two in trouble and you whipped your head around to him, hand hitting his arm as you fixed him with a glare.
“Yoongs,” you growled, but he just laughed a little and rolled his eyes at you.
“Hiding?” Yerim questioned with a raise of her brows and tapped her foot like a mother about to scold her children.
“Yeah, hiding,” Yoongi continued and gripped the railing behind him, leaning against it. “We didn’t want to subject ourselves to that bullshit out there any longer. It’s really weird out there.”
“Yoongs, don’t say that. Yeri put effort into today. It’s not that weird-”
“Nope, Yoongs is right,” Yerim sighed and uncrossed her arms, tension washing out of her in an instant. She took a handful of chips and shoved them into her mouth, and as she chewed, a pout formed on her lips. “It’s weird as fuck outside. I don’t know what we’re doing really. Like, we’re playing games and everything and I guess it’s fun or whatever, but something’s just kinda off.”
Yerim shook her head and Yoongi grabbed a couple of chips as he chuckled at her words.
“Told you,” he said and you shoved him away when he grinned into your face, not appreciating the smugness. 
“I mean,” Yerim started again before eating another handful of the chips, “you’re right. Heejin’s nice, but I honestly think she makes things weird-”
“You think it’s Heejin?” Yoongi laughed with a shake of his head before pointing at you. “It’s Y/N and Kook. They’re the ones making it weird.”
“Excuse you? How am I making it weird?” you asked with big eyes, swatting Yoongi’s hand away,
“Please,” Yoongi scoffed with a raise of his brow. “How are you not making it weird? Kook and you are totally in your own world. It’s like you two are dating again, and we’re all, like, six wheeling.”
You scoffed and stared at Yoongi with your jaw open. Your hands balled up into fists at your side and you shook your head at him.
“Bullshit,” you said. “It’s not like that at all.”
“Sure, keep telling yourself that,” Yoongi said, enjoying the way you got all worked up. And before you could stop him, he had placed his hand against your forehead. “Woah, your face’s literally heating up.”
You shoved his hand away, lips pressing together into a line as you shook your head at him and waved him off.
“Bullshit,” you pressed through gritted teeth. “It’s just the sun. It’s summer. It’s hot.”
“Yeah, sure,” Yoongi scoffed at your reasoning, and you were about to curse at him when you realised that you getting worked up was exactly what he wanted.
You turned to Yerim for backup, but she simply stared into her bowl of chips and shoved her face with it, actively avoiding your gaze. A scoff slipped past your lips and you mumbled curses aimed at Yoongi underneath your breath, deliberately ignoring the fact that it was definitely not hot enough today for your face to warm up like that.
Yoongi was ridiculous, definitely ridiculous. Jungkook and you just get carried away when you play games. You were competitive, nothing more. 
Your heart definitely only beat so hard and fast in your chest because the adrenaline was pumping through your veins, and you were only so incredibly happy about winning a stupid game of Taboo because it had been a long time since you had played against your friends, making the wins even sweeter.
It was nothing, nothing like Yoongi had said.
Jungkook and you were acting nothing like you two used to when you dated.
“Uh.”
All three of you looked up at the interruption, and your breath hitched in your throat when you saw him. He stood there, gripping the handle of the glass door as he awkwardly shifted from one foot to another. A tiny smile pulled on the corners of his lips while he looked between Yerim and Yoongi, but not you.
“Hey, Kook,” Yerim said and did this terribly awkward dance with Jungkook as she tried to step away and make some space for him, but there was none left, and you couldn’t help but laugh a little. The fact that you were upset just seconds ago was completely forgotten.
“Sorry,” you mumbled between laughs when Yerim turned around to glare at you, and you had to bite your lip to hide the grin that tugged on the corners of your lips. 
Yoongi eyed you with narrowed eyes before he shook his head and sighed. He kicked himself off the railing, and his hand landed on Yerim’s shoulder, stopping her from continuing this terrible dance with Jungkook and drawing her attention to him.
“Yeri, didn’t you want to show me this one thing that you got recently?” 
“What?” Yerim furrowed her brows at him and it took Yoongi raising his brow at her for her to get it. An uneasy and tense smile stretched across her lips before she nodded her head, far too vigorously. 
“Ah, yes, right. That, uh, thing. I- I remember. Let’s check it out, yeah?” Yerim laughed, and you frowned at her words, not believing her even for a second.
Your gaze drilled into Yoongi to ask him what the hell he was thinking he was doing, but he was avoiding your gaze expertly. And when you looked over to Yerim, she had essentially buried her face into the bowl of chips, and you wanted to throw it over your shoulder and demand her to look at you. 
Without really meaning to, your gaze travelled to Jungkook. When you looked at him, his eyes were already on you. His expression was unreadable and you didn’t know what he was thinking, but you knew that it was a bad idea for Yerim and Yoongi to leave you alone with him, knew that you didn’t want them to walk away. Because what were Jungkook and you? Back to being friends? Was it okay to laugh and tease each other now? Or was Jungkook still mad at you?
But before you could say something, Yerim and Yoongi had walked away, had left you standing alone on the balcony with Jungkook right in front of you.
He didn’t step out, didn’t join you on the balcony, and instead chose to stand at the glass door with his hand still gripping the handle. It was like he was ready to slam the door shut and walk away if things started to get a little too much for him, if this conversation didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to.
And you gnawed on your lip as he stared at you, stared at you like he had done before when you two had won your first round of Taboo. Just before the silence got too unbearable to handle and the tension too thick for you to breathe in, Jungkook opened his mouth.
“I missed you.”
Your heart stopped in your chest, stopped in your chest like maybe if it stopped, time would stop and you would get to enjoy the moment a little longer. You had no idea how long you simply blinked at Jungkook, but by the time you finally managed to get your thoughts together and properly look at him, he was shifting from one foot to another with his knuckles white around the grip of the glass door and his eyes dancing around, looking at everything except you.
“What?”
When Jungkook spoke up again, there was the slightest quiver in his voice. The slightest quiver that told you just how nervous and uncertain he was, how much he feared you laughing into his face.
“I meant it when I said it. I missed you.”
It didn’t sound like a joke, didn’t sound like he was messing with you at all, but it still took your brain seemingly forever to comprehend his words, to realise that he was completely and utterly serious.
“You did?” you asked in a whisper and Jungkook’s gaze found the floor, a breathy chuckle escaping him before he nodded.
“Yeah, I did.”
You blinked at him before your lips curled up into the softest smile.
“I did too.”
Jungkook raised his head and looked at you, and you watched the corners of his lips curl up into the most beautiful and dazzling smile. This time when he smiled at you, it was nothing like the smile he had given you when you had sat in his living room or when you had both realised you had won. No, this smile was different. It was the smile you had dreamt of every night, was the smile you had remembered every morning, was the smile you had longed to see on his lips again ever since you had first seen it.
It was the smile Jungkook showed you when he had whispered the three words for the first time, 
“I love you.”
And so, your heart surged in your chest, rose above and beyond, reached the sky and the stars, touched the sun and moon, and when she fell back down, she didn’t land in your hands. No, she landed in his hands.
“I missed having you around, you know,” Jungkook started, voice still quivering as he spoke. “I missed being able to call you up or text you and talk about everything and anything until we both just fell asleep. I missed showing up at your doorstep and going out for our midnight dinners with you. I missed laughing at other couples for stressing over Valentine before going out ourselves and being one of those stupid cheesy couples we made fun of.
“I missed having my best friend around.”
Jungkook stepped out on the balcony and closed the glass door behind him, hands at his side. There was a heavy sigh, and instantly, you knew. Slowly, his gaze met yours and he stared into your eyes with that look, that look that broke you.
“Why did you have to leave me?”
You sank your teeth into your lip and wrung your hands together, chest rising and falling far too quickly as you ran out of breath simply thinking of the answer. There was so much weighing on you, so many things you wanted to say, but couldn’t say, couldn’t because you couldn’t handle it, not even years later.
“You know why,” you breathed out, eyes searching the floor for words, for words that would escape you.
“Please, tell me again,” Jungkook asked and you wanted to ask him why he wanted to know, why he so desperately wanted to bring it all up again when he and you had done such a good job tiptoeing around it before.
“I-” You shook your head at yourself and you thought that maybe Jungkook would interrupt you and tell you he had changed his mind and didn’t want to hear it again if you paused, but his silence demanded for an answer. 
So, you gave him one, one that was worded badly and didn’t even begin to explain why you left, but it was an answer, the most you could do right now.
“I- it was my dream,” you managed to croak out and you expected a scoff, but Jungkook simply looked at you, waiting for you to continue. “It was my dream to study in America. So, I did it. I- I fulfilled my dream.”
The quietest sigh escaped Jungkook and even though you could barely hear it, you felt your heart tumble in his hands at the sound of, felt her start to slip through his fingers.
“Have I ever told you what my dream was?”
You looked up at his question  and shook your head, unable to make a single sound, not to mention say something.
Jungkook smiled to himself before he wandered over to you, feet stopping right where Yoongi had stood, next to you. And once again, you noticed the gap, the gap between him and you, the gap that seemed to never really close.
“I’ve had it since the start of high school, but unlike you, I didn’t fulfill it,” Jungkook started, eyes gazing into the sky. “I still want it and I do think I’m gonna fulfill it one day, but I don’t think I’m gonna do it the way I thought I would.”
Jungkook shook his head and you were really not sure how to process his words, or what he was trying to tell you. 
“It’s stupid and childish, I guess, but I really thought I would fulfill it, fulfill it the way I had dreamt of.” Jungkook laughed to himself before he fell quiet again.
Slowly, he turned to you, eyes glazing over as he looked at you, looked at you with his incredibly beautiful eyes. You could see the warmth, the light, the love in them, but there seemed to be something else swimming in his pupils, and you hated it when you realised what it was. 
Sadness.
You bit on your tongue as you watched the wind blow through Jungkook’s fluffy hair and mess it all up, and even then, Jungkook was still breathtakingly gorgeous. And with the sun going down behind you, the most beautiful and heartbreaking halo was cast upon him, surrounding him, hugging him.
“You were my dream, Y/N.”
Your heart didn’t fall to the ground and shatter into pieces because she tumbled too much in Jungkook’s hands. She fell to the ground and shattered into pieces because Jungkook didn’t hold on tight enough, because he couldn’t hold on tight enough.
“You and me, forever. Together. A house, a kid or two, maybe a dog. Really, anything you wanted. That was my dream,” Jungkook whispered, words slipping off his tongue quietly and slowly, like it was a secret, a secret meant to be only shared between him and you.
The corners of Jungkook’s lips curled up into the saddest smile you had ever seen when he continued, “I thought we were going to be together and grow old. I truly thought one day I would get the pleasure and honour of watching you walk down the aisle.”
Jungkook raised his hand and for a moment, it seemed like he was going to cup your face, seemed like he was going to stroke your cheek, but then, he hesitated. It was like he remembered, remembered then that you were not like that anymore, were not dating anymore.
And so, Jungkook shook his head at himself and curled his hand into a tight fist, knuckles turning a painful white before he let his hand drop and swing by his side. It was like if he didn’t curl his hand into a tight enough fist, he would lose and cup your face, stroke your cheek anyway.
“I really thought you were my dream.”
There was no malice in Jungkook’s voice as he spoke. He wasn’t trying to make you feel bad or trying to hurt you. He was simply trying to be truthful, but the truth was ugly and terrible and neither of you liked it very much. But at least, the truth didn’t hurt Jungkook, it only hurt you, only stabbed you in the chest and asked you where your goddamn heart was, only cursed at you for leaving Jungkook, the one boy who had loved you more than anything else in this world.
“Do you regret it?”
You hated that question, hated it so much because, fuck, you didn’t know. You didn’t know if you regretted it, if you regretted leaving Jungkook. You regretted that he and you broke up, regretted the way you two broke up, but did that mean you automatically regretted going to America? Did that mean that going to America was the wrong choice? 
And even though you asked yourself these questions, you didn’t want the answers, didn’t want to know them because, fuck, you were afraid of them, afraid to realise that you regretted both and you had fucked up your chance of true and lasting love with Jungkook and spent all of this time, all these years in a foreign country without your friends and family for nothing.
You lowered your head and squeezed your eyes shut, trying to keep your skull together as it threatened to split open.
In the silence, Jungkook’s steps were loud, ringing in your ears, deafening. And you contorted your face and bit on your lip when you heard Jungkook slide the glass door open, a heavy sigh slipping from his lips before he spoke up, mustering up the best smile he could,
“We’re still gonna bully Yoongs for bullying us, right?”
You chuckled because how could you not? Of course, Jungkook could still make you laugh. It was a sad chuckle, but it was a chuckle no one else could have ever elicited from you.
You lifted your head  and peered at Jungkook over your shoulder, peered at him even though it hurt you to. He was just too beautiful to not look at.
“Yeah, we’ll still bully Yoongs for bullying us.”
You almost didn’t see the way the corners of Jungkook’s lips curled up into something that resembled a smile, almost didn’t see it with the tears swimming in your eyes, blurring your vision.
“Amazing.”
Jungkook nodded at you, fingers tapping the glass door before he turned around and walked away. And even though you shouldn’t, you watched him, watched him slip away more and more, watched him walk away from you.
You turned back around and only realised then that the sun had almost completely dipped below the horizon. The sky was painted an incredibly mellow and sorrowful orange, and even with your heart shattered on the floor and guilt leaving gaping holes in your chest, you had to smile.
And with that smile on your lips, the tears rolled down your cheeks, sparkling in the sunlight as you let them flow, flow because you didn’t see a reason to wipe them away. Sometimes it was good to just cry, let yourself feel.
“Tell me you’re not crying.”
His voice was quiet, barely above a whisper, but you heard them. You pressed your lips together at his words because, of course, he would also come out to talk to you. You really should have expected it, should have expected it because he was simply that great.
“Well, guess you gotta give me a second then,” you said and rubbed on your cheeks, quickly wiping away the tears you knew were going to have his blood boiling and anger unfurling in his stomach.
“Y/N,” Taehyung sighed as he stepped out on the balcony, glass door clicking shut behind you as his hand gripped your elbow and turned you around. 
“What did he say?” You shook your head, smiling at him as much as possible, but your smile did nothing to soothe the deep line between Taehyung’s brow, did nothing to loosen the grip he had around your elbow.
“Tell me. I don’t care if he’s my friend, he’s-”
“No, stop,” you interrupted with a shake of your head and placed your hands on his shoulder, lips splitting into a grin because truly, Taehyung was the greatest, the greatest friend you could have ever wished or asked for. “It’s nothing. He didn’t say anything.”
You knew with the way Taehyung was eyeing you that he didn’t believe you, didn’t believe you for a single second, but you also knew that you could spend hours trying to convince him otherwise and he still wouldn’t believe you.
“You sure you don’t need me to beat him up a little?”
You laughed. “You think you can beat him up?”
Taehyung scoffed at your words and tried his hardest to look offended, but even he had to smile a little. 
“I’d try for you,” he said and you laughed again, shaking your head from left to right. The thought of a beaten up Taehyung popping right into your head.
“Let’s be honest here, he would just beat you up. No offence.”
Now, Taehyung laughed as well, laughed because he knew you were right. And for a moment, both of you only smiled at each other. For a moment, things seemed great and like he wouldn’t bring it up again that you had just been crying.
But just like a wise man once had said, great things always have to come to an end. 
“You shouldn’t feel guilty.”
Taehyung’s smile disappeared and your hands slid off his shoulder. You sighed, knowing exactly what he was talking about even though he didn’t specify. 
You closed your eyes and took a few deep breaths before humming and peeling your eyes open, head cocking to the side.
“Well, I also shouldn’t stay up so late and get more sleep, but here I am.” Your attempt of humour wasn’t well received at all. Taehyung didn’t even fake a smile at you, and you quickly let yours slip away, realising the weight of the situation and just how serious he was.
“Y/N, I mean it. You shouldn’t feel guilty,” Taehyung said, stressing every word of his last sentence like he wanted to drill it into your head, like he wanted for you to remember it, like he wanted to tattoo it into your skin so you would never forget. 
“It’s not that easy,” you said in a quiet whisper and Taehyung pursed his lips, hands burying into his pockets as he suppressed the sigh from slipping.
“But it’s not like you try either, right? Not like you try to free yourself from all of that guilt,” Taehyung argued and you almost groaned because, once again, he showed you that he had no idea.
“Taehyung, it’s really not that easy. I can’t just wake up and say ‘Well, it’s his fault that he got hurt-’”
“That’s not what I’m asking from you. Yes, you can’t wake up and say that, but you can wake up and say ‘It sucks that Jungkook got hurt by me leaving and was unable to properly forgive me for not telling him earlier, but aside from that I didn’t do anything wrong because I simply chased my dream.’. I’m not asking you to wake up and be all ‘Jungkook can suck a dick.’. That’d be ridiculous, but I’m asking you to stop blaming yourself.”
You tore your gaze away and crossed your arms in front of your chest as you suddenly realised how mesmerising Yerim’s flowers were.
“It’s trying, trying to feel less guilty. That’s what I’m asking from you. And I realise it’s a process, but for the love of God, can you start it?” Taehyung said and tried to get you to look at him again, but you whipped your head around. 
“None of you understand,” you whispered and Taehyung scoffed, hands running through his hair as he tried not to snap.
“But we do!” Taehyung groaned and you turned around to look at him, ready to shut him up and tell him how exactly he was wrong, but he continued, “You seriously think that Yoongs or Yeri or I weren’t hurt by the news of you leaving? You seriously think that we weren’t mad too? You seriously think it was easy for us to go to the airport and wish you well? No!”
Taehyung gestured wildly around himself, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, as he tried not to shake you and yell into your face to wake the fuck up.
“It wasn’t. It sucked because while, yes, none of us dated you, we still loved you,” Taehyung said, leaning forward to stress his words. “We were hanging out every day for four years, spending every minute together, and then suddenly, at the start of our last summer, you tell us you’re going to America?”
You swallowed heavily and bit on your tongue.
“It wasn’t easy and it fucking sucked, but we still wanted the best for you, still wanted you to go because we knew just how much you wanted to and how much you had worked for it. You deserved it, truly,” Taehyung said, voice growing soft as he calmed down a little. 
“It was why we did go to the airport with you and wished you well,” Taehyung spat out and for a moment, he stopped, paused and put his hands on his hips, eyes piercing through yours as you struggled to hold his gaze.
“Do you realise that you haven’t said his name?”
You blinked at Taehyung, unable to say anything as a lump lodged itself into your throat, growing bigger and bigger with every word that left him.
“I don’t think you’ve said ‘Jungkook’ or ‘Kook’ even once except for that time when we first saw Kook in the restaurant,” Taehyung said and you really thought he wouldn’t realise. “You feel so guilty you can’t even say his name. It’s fucking ridiculous.”
You uncrossed your arms and let them slip to your side, eyes darting across the floor as you tried to find your words, but you couldn’t.
“And what hurts and frustrates me the most aside from the fact that you will not recognise that your guilt is, in fact, ridiculous, is that Kook treats you like shit. And he’s so rude to you even though you go out of your way to fucking dice his cucumbers, even though you and I are fake dating for him, even though you organised this entire thing to break up with me so Heejin will never find out that all of this is a lie and you’re in actuality Kook’s ex.”
Taehyung was heaving at the end, chest rising and falling as the world spilled from his lips like an overflowing bucket. He levelled you with a gaze and a few seconds passed by before he spoke up again. But this time he wasn’t on the edge of yelling, this time his voice wasn’t dripping of urgency and frustration, this time he was calm.
“Look, I’m not saying that you did nothing wrong and that Kook has no right to be mad at you at all.” You pressed your lips together. “You did just leave, did just apply for that scholarship without telling us beforehand. That sucked, and you shouldn’t have done that. You should have at least told him.”
Taehyung ran a hand through his hair as he gazed off into the sky, eyes squinting when he looked right into the disappearing sun.
“But it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for him to act the way he does. You’ve both fucked up, but it’s been years.”
You leaned against the railing and let out a long sigh, eyes wandering to Taehyung. He offered you a smile and while you felt the corners of your lips quiver and your lungs ache, you smiled back at him. 
“You two obviously have a lot to work through,” Taehyung said and you threw your head back into your neck, gaze finding the sky.
“Where do I start?”
And without missing a beat, Taehyung answered,
“Start by forgiving yourself.”
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When Taehyung came home that night after dropping you off, he found Jungkook in the kitchen, McDonalds bag sitting on the dining table.
“Got anything for me?” Taehyung asked as he made his way over to Jungkook, sitting down opposite of him and crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Jungkook didn’t respond or look at Taehyung, simply putting down his burger on the wrapper that functioned as a makeshift plate before rummaging through the brown bag and tossing a cheeseburger at Taehyung.
“You took Heejin home?” Taehyung asked as he peeled the wrapper away, wondering how Jungkook had made it home before him when he had been at McDonalds before. 
“Uh, she insisted on going home herself. Called her an uber,” Jungkook mumbled between bites and Taehyung stopped unwrapping his burger for a moment to eye him before nodding and continuing. 
“I’m sure everything’s fine,” Taehyung said, trying to make Jungkook feel better, but he shrugged and didn’t really react. 
Interpreting Jungkook’s silence as him not wanting to talk, Taehyung didn’t say anything more and focused on the food in front of him, biting into his burger that was disgustingly cold now, but after the night he had, any food was welcomed, even if it tasted of artificial flavouring and left his throat dry.
And for the next few minutes, Jungkook and he sit in silence, eating. At one point, Jungkook reached for his second burger, tossing Taehyung another one even though he hadn’t finished his nor asked for one. Two bites into his new burger, Jungkook paused and stared at some point in front of him, just not at Taehyung.
“She broke up with me.”
Taehyung looked up, but Jungkook kept his eyes trained in front of him.
“Heejin broke up with me.”
A second passed before Taehyung put down his burger and straightened up. He wasn’t surprised because Yoongi had been right when he had told you that Jungkook and you had been in another world. A blind man could have seen that there was something between Jungkook and you.
“You okay?” Taehyung offered and forgot that he was, deep down, still mad at Jungkook, forgot that Jungkook still made him want to rip out his own hair. 
Jungkook scoffed before dropping his burger. It landed halfway on the wrapper and halfway not, but he didn’t care enough to adjust it. He leaned back and covered his face with his hands, fingers digging into his eyes.
Taehyung was about to make his way over to Jungkook, about to pull him into his arms because he was clearly not doing well, but before he could even move a single centimetre, Jungkook’s hands fell away and he looked up to him.
“Yeah, I am.”
It sounded like Jungkook couldn’t believe himself, like he was angry and frustrated with himself for being able to say that he was okay and mean it, like he wanted to be the opposite, crying and bawling instead.
“I’m okay,” Jungkook said, head shaking from left to right as he furrowed his brows and scoffed at himself. “How am I okay? How am I okay when Heejin, my fucking girlfriend, just broke up with me?”
Taehyung blinked at Jungkook, knowing exactly that he needed to rant right now, needed to get all of the words out.
“She told me to get her an uber and after I did, she turned to me and said that she thought we should break up,” Jungkook recounted, eyes unblinking. “Just like that. We broke up just like that.”
He rubbed his eyes and groaned before snapping out of it and looking back at Taehyung.
“I- I didn’t even fight her on it when she told me to call her an uber. I just did. I did as she told me to, but- but as her boyfriend, I shouldn’t have, right? I should have insisted on driving her home, but I didn’t. I- I knew I should have. I was screaming at myself to, but I just couldn’t. And when she told me we should break up-” Jungkook paused and gestured around like that would finish his sentence. “I, again, didn’t fight her on it.”
A bitter scoff escaped him and Taehyung watched Jungkook shake his head at himself, obviously confused by himself. “Instead of insisting to talk about it or whatever, I just went to fucking McDonalds.” Jungkook punched the bag and it tipped over, slow and sad. “I went to McDonalds! Can you fucking believe? Instead of driving home my girlfriend or fighting for my relationship, I just said okay and went to get food at the shittest place ever.”
Jungkook gestured around himself wildly, hands flailing around like he was drowning and trying to gasp for air. His voice grew in volume and the desperation and frustration seemed to thicken more and more, lacing his every word as he rambled on.
“And it all just doesn’t make sense because it’s not like I don’t care. I do. I do care about Heejin, but it’s just- it’s just-” Jungkook shook his head and pressed his lips into a thin line as he scanned the room for the rest of his sentence. “I just don’t know anymore. I don’t even know why she broke up with me.”
When Jungkook looked at Taehyung, it hurt him to see the frustration swimming in his eyes, hurt him to see how helpless he was. And so, Taehyung sighed and sat up even straighter, gaze levelling Jungkook’s.
“Do you love Heejin?”
“She’s my girlfriend.”
“Was,” Taehyung corrected with a raise of a finger. “But that doesn’t answer my question, Jungkook-” 
Jungkook furrowed his brows at him and shook his head at him.
“What? It does answer your question,” Jungkook said, staring at Taehyung like he had just said the most ridiculous thing ever. “She is- was, whatever, my girlfriend, so, of course, I love her.”
Taehyung scrunched up his nose at Jungkook’s answer and slid his burger to the side to lean forward and be a little closer to Jungkook, needing to look right into his eyes as he said the next word.
“Do you, though?”
Taehyung didn’t give Jungkook a chance to answer.
“Do you seriously love Heejin or do you assume you do because she was your girlfriend?”
Taehyung eyed Jungkook as the words sank into the air and dawned on him, as they replayed over and over again in his head, as they started to push through everything inside him and reached his heart.
“Jungkook, don’t you think there was a reason why Heejin and you had been dating for almost six months and we hadn’t met her yet? Don’t you think there was a reason why you never told her about Y/N?”
He looked at Taehyung, his gaze hazy and clouded with questions. Jungkook had no idea, had no idea why Heejin had broken up with him. She had simply smiled at him and wished him well before getting into the uber, no reason. But he also hadn’t tried to stop her from getting inside and demanded an answer. He had just accepted it with a nod and gotten into his car.
But now, with Taehyung looking at him, gaze digging deep into his, he started to think, started to replay the events of this evening, started to dissect every interaction today. 
He thought about how you all had played Taboo, thought about how you had smiled at him when he had gotten the first word, thought about how you had essentially beamed at him when you two had gotten closer and closer to the win, thought about how you had squealed and jumped up when you had realised you had won, thought about how beautiful you had looked standing on the balcony with the wind blowing through your hair and the sun highlighting your beauty, thought about how he wanted to hold you close to him when he saw you standing there, thought about how you had smiled at him when you had told him you had missed him too, thought about how you were the only thing he could think of.
“I love Y/N.”
The corners of Taehyung’s lips curled up and he nodded.
“I still love, Y/N.”
And once again, Taehyung nodded.
Jungkook slumped into his chair, hands in his lap as he stared at some chip in the dining table, mind far, far away. Never had he been this confused before, never had he ever struggled this much to process anything before.
But at the same time, it made sense, made sense that he was still in love with you. How could he not be? How could he not be when you were the only one that had ever made him so happy that the corners of his lips had started hurting from all of the grinning and his stomach aching from all of the laughing and his lungs screaming for oxygen? How could he not be when you were the smartest, kindest, funniest. most talented, brilliant, inspiring and prettiest person he had ever met?
It made so much sense that Jungkook was still deeply in love with you after all this time, it hurt his brain.
And so, he stayed silent, stayed silent even as Taehyung reached over and bit into his burger after finishing his own.
“What do I do?”
Jungkook surprised himself when he spoke, not intending to, but once the words were out, he wanted the answer. Taehyung put Jungkook’s burger down on his own pile of cheeseburger wrappers and brushed his hands off.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to tell her. I want to try again. I want to hold her in my arms and kiss her until the sun rises-”
“Okay, calm down, Kook,” Taehyung laughed and leaned back into his chair. “I get it. You wanna rush over to her and profess your love to her in this grand romantic gesture, but take a moment and think about it, about everything.”
Jungkook lowered his gaze and looked up after two seconds, chest pressed against the edge of the table and legs itching to carry him to you.
“You think she’s still up-”
“No,” Taehyung cut in and pointed at Jungkook, burger abandoned to the side once more as he leaned forward. The smile that had pulled on his lips before disappeared.
“Kook, I need you to think about how you’ve treated Y/N these past weeks.” Jungkook straightened up and his legs tucked themselves under the chair when the memories came crashing down on him. “Really think about it.”
And so, this time, Jungkook did think about it, did take a moment and let all of your interaction run through his mind. And the longer he did, the longer he thought about what he had said to you and how he had treated you, the more he wanted to punch himself, the more he wanted to turn back time, the more he wanted to fall to his knees and beg you to forgive him, beg you to just please not hate him.
Jungkook ran a hand through his hair, fingers clawing on the roots as he cursed himself.
“Bad, isn’t it?” Taehyung said and cocked his head to the side. 
“What do I do?”
“Well, I’d apologise first if I were you and I’d take all responsibility for what, well, you’ve done. And I’d tell her that if she doesn’t feel the way I do, that it’s fine and I will do anything in my power to not make it awkward for her and the fact that she’s friends with my friends.”
Jungkook hummed, hummed because he really couldn’t do anything else. He just couldn’t believe how blinded he had been, how blinded he had been by all of that ugly and unresolved anger and pain.
Taehyung let Jungkook think for a while, think before he leaned forward again and said what he had been trying so desperately to tell him, what he had been trying to get through his thick skull all this time.
“But before that, Kook, I need you to realise that when she made your promise of forever, you were teens. Remember how dumb and stupid we were back then? And I know you felt like Y/N was being selfish and leaving you behind to go study in America, but in reality, she was following her dreams. And you thought that those dreams didn’t include you, but they did. You were the one that broke up with her. She did not break up with you. You did.”
Taehyung paused for a second, arms crossing in front of his chest. 
“You decided to not be in her dreams.”
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You banged on the door, banged on it like you were about to kick it in, banged on it like your life depended on it, and when it finally opened, you almost banged on his chest, fist stopping mid-air.
“Who the fuck- Y/N? What are you doing here? It’s five in the morning- wait, why are you all wet? Did you run through the rain?”
You shoved your phone into his face and he squinted, your screen blinding him. The overhead light above you did barely anything to illuminate the hallway you were standing in, leaving both of you essentially in darkness. 
It took him a few seconds, a lot of blinking and wrapping his fingers around your wrist to hold your phone away to finally see what you were showing him.
[heejin - 11:21 PM] : hi! I wasnt sure if I should tell you this or not and I honestly contemplated not to
[heejin - 11:21 PM] : but at the end, I think you should know
[heejin - 11:21 PM] : I’m not too sure what exactly is going on between kook and you, but for what it’s worth, kook and I broke up
[heejin - 11:22 PM] : I hope you two figure out whatever is between you two because I do think you two would be cute. you definitely got my blessing!
[heejin - 11:22 PM] : dream team ;)
Your knuckles turned white around your phone before you let your arm drop to your side. Your heart was pounding in your chest, pounding so much that you were certain that she was trying to leap out of it and fall into his hands again.
Jungkook blinked at you, mouth agape as he struggled to find his voice, struggled to take you all in because did you really stand in front of him, soaked to the bones, hair all tangled up and wet from the rain, chest heaving like you had run all of the way here or was he simply dreaming? Did he finally fall asleep?
“Did I wake you up?” you panted and shifted from one foot to another, expecting him to slam the door in your face.
“N-no, I, uh, I wasn’t sleeping,” Jungkook said and you looked at him before nodding and letting your gaze travel to the side. Your brows pinched together and Jungkook was about to invite you in because, again, you were soaked to the bones, but then, you took a deep breath and opened your mouth.
Here goes nothing.
“Look, Jungkook, I debated with myself for the past four or so hours whether or not I should come here. And then, it started to rain, and, well, I know that you love your romcoms. And even though I also know you probably wanna be the one to execute the grand romantic gesture because you are you and you love so fucking deeply and wholly, I decided that I’m gonna do this because, well, you deserve it.
“When I left for America, I- I truly thought I was going to move on from you at one point, thought you were going to turn into an old love, a memory. I thought that one day I’d tell my grandkids about you, Jungkook, and how you were my first love and how happy you had made me and how bitter our ending had been, but,” you shook your head, “but the truth is, you still have such a hold on my heart. You’re still vibrant and alive in my mind, imprinted in there.
“And I know I’ve hurt you by leaving, but I didn’t leave because I stopped loving you, Jungkook,” tears filled your eyes, “I left because having you, having you by my side, as my boyfriend, Jungkook, made me believe that anything was possible, made me want to reach for the stars, fulfill my dreams because before America, you were my dream. You were the one thing I had wanted for so long, and then, I had you. Then, you were mine, and I was on cloud nine.
“I’ve felt so guilty all this time and beaten myself up for leaving because you were obviously still so angry and hurt by that, and unlike what you might believe, I never wanted that, never wanted to hurt you in any way. I need you to understand that I didn’t leave because you weren’t enough. You were and are enough, Jungkook. I left because you made the impossible seem possible, and so, I thought you’d be my side forever, even if oceans and continents and whatever were between us.
“And I realise that was selfish, selfish of me to just expect you to be fine with it. I should have talked to you, told you about the scholarship and my plans and not broken our promise like that. But I didn’t, and I made you think that everybody is selfish and that you weren’t enough. But that’s not true.” You shook your head and swallowed heavily, trying not to choke on your own tears. “Jungkook, you taught me that people are wonderful and amazing and you made me feel like I was more than enough, beyond enough. And you deserve to feel the same way, so, I’m deeply sorry for failing to do just that and for leaving without a proper explanation and talking to you beforehand.
“I know you probably don’t wanna hear this because you probably hate me now, but even if you decide to slam the door in my face and curse me out for the rest of my life after this and forget about all that I’ve said, I want you to know one thing. 
“I love you. I love you so much it hurts, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop, not even if you hate me.”
Jungkook looked at you, gazed into your eyes, and truly, you thought time stopped. You waited, waited for him to say or do something and it felt like eternities were flying past you as you stood there, blinking at him. And even with tears in your eyes, blurring your vision, you could see him clearly, could see Jungkook standing right in front of you.
“Y/N, oh, my love,” Jungkook started, voice shaky before he took a step closer to you. His hand reached up and he cupped your face. Your cheek was cold, cold from the rain, but the moment he touched you, you felt warmth push through you, through your chest, felt the remnants of icicles melt away in your lungs.
“Please, don’t apologise. I should be apologising to you, should be the one banging on your door and begging for your forgiveness. I don’t hate you. I could never truly hate you.” Jungkook swallowed, voice cracking as the words continued spilling from him without a pause. “I- I’m the one that fucked up so badly, I don’t even know how you can still love me. I hurt you so much, said so much dumb shit and made you feel so fucking guilty when you shouldn’t have felt guilty.” He shook his head at himself and held onto you a little tighter like he was scared you were going to slip away if he didn’t. “I’m so sorry, my love, for being so incredibly blinded by anger and pain for so long. I’m so sorry for hurting you and making you feel like you needed to apologise to me.
“Tae is right. I should have taken you to the airport and wished you well. I should have been there with the others and said goodbye. I shouldn't have screamed at you and stayed at home-”
“Kook, babe, no,” you choked out and grabbed his wrist, holding onto it as you shook your head at him. “Don’t apologise. I- I should have talked to you before. You had every right to be mad at me. I understand why you didn’t go. I understand why you couldn’t do it. It’s fine-”
“But I don’t want it to be fine,” Jungkook interrupted and your fingers tightened around his wrists. “I don’t want it to be fine because I know I hurt you by not being there. And I never want it to be fine or okay or whatever if I hurt you.”
Jungkook and you looked at one another, vision blurry and just as the first tear began spilling from the corner of your eye, you took a step towards Jungkook, closing the gap that had lingered between you two and pressed your lips to his.
You kissed Jungkook, kissed him standing on the doorstep of his front door, kissed him standing there, soaked to the bones, kissed him like it was just you and him in this universe. Your body leaned into his and your hands were desperate for him, desperate to just touch him. You grabbed onto whatever skin and piece of Jungkook you could get, and he did the same, but your kiss was soft and calm, the opposite of your hands. You held onto you like you were drowning, like you were Rose and Jack.
You moved your lips against his and your smile grew the longer you kissed Jungkook. And you wondered if he could also feel the sun shine in his chest, if he could also taste the honey and sugar and love trapped between your teeth, if his skin was also prickling everywhere you touched him, if fireworks were also exploding in his stomach like they were in yours, if this was enough of a grand romantic gesture for him.
You wondered if Jungkook could feel just how much you loved him.
The sun rose behind you two, and when you two pulled away to breathe, you smiled at each other. 
Jungkook didn’t let go of you and neither did you. He cupped your face once more and pulled you close to him. Your breath mixed with his, heavy and varied, but it was all good, all good because smiles were on your lips, all good because you had each other again.
“My love,” Jungkook breathed, and gazed into your eyes the way he had when you had won that round of Taboo and smiled at you the way he had when he and you had stood on the balcony. “I love you.”
“Kook, babe,” you started, pecking his nose before beaming at him, beaming at him like you had used to, beaming at him because he was your sun and your dream. “I love you more.”
Jungkook leaned in for a quick kiss, leaned in the same way he used to whenever his heart pounded a little too much in his chest. And you pressed right back against him, lips finding his, and you knew,
Jungkook was warmth.
Jungkook was home.
Jungkook was love.
“Fucking finally.”
Jungkook and you pulled apart and jerked around to the source of the sound, and when you saw them standing there, behind you, your heart stopped mid-beat. Your jaw went slack as you blinked at them, unable to process what was happening right now.
“Worth it, right?” 
Jungkook and you whipped your heads around one more time, and it was then that you saw Taehyung standing behind you, hands shoved into his pockets and body leaned against the door to the living room.
“Eh, was kinda obvious that this was gonna happen at one point,” Yoongi mumbled with a shrug, clearly unbothered, but Yerim was the complete opposite, hands pressed to her mouth as she tried to stop the squeal from spilling free.
“Oh my God!” she shrieked, voice so high it hurt and Jungkook and you cringed. “I- I’ve been literally dreaming of this!”
“So, worth it, right? Coming here?” Taehyung asked again and squeezed himself between Jungkook and you to step out into the hallway, prompting you to move to the side a little.
“Yes, absolutely!” Yerim grinned and nodded vigorously, and for a moment, you thought her head was going to come off.
“What’s happening right now?” you asked and your hands found Jungkook’s, your fingers lacing with his for some kind of support.
“Oh, yeah, I heard you banging on the door, so, I called up Yoongs and Yeri and told them to get their asses here because our best friends don’t get back together without everybody here to witness it,” Taehyung explained with a shrug.
“Wait, how did you two make it here in time?” Jungkook asked, thumb brushing over your hand as he stepped closer to you to look at Yoongi and Yerim.
“Yeah, unlike what you might think, Kook, traffic isn’t always so bad and there aren’t always fires around,” Yoongi smirked and Jungkook gasped behind you. 
Taehyung, Yerim and you looked at each other, jaws going slack before you started grinning and all three of you had to bite your lips to stop the laughter from spilling free. Jungkook tugged on your hand and you tried your hardest not to laugh, but when you looked at him, you just couldn’t stop it.
Pearls of laughter spilled out and you took Taehyung and Yerim with you. Taehyung placed his hand on Jungkook’s shoulder and gave him a comforting squeeze, and Yerim hid behind Yoongi, trying her hardest to avoid Jungkook’s gaze.
And even though he was offended and tried to keep looking like he was truly offended, he couldn’t help but laugh with you all, couldn’t help himself when he saw you grinning at him like that.
“Can we go now?” Yoongi smiled when you all had calmed down, the bags under his eyes darkening with every second he wasn’t in his bed. “It’s five in the morning and usually, I’m in bed during this time.”
Taehyung smiled at him. “Only if you say, it was worth it.”
Yoongi groaned and threw his head into his neck, not enjoying that answer at all. Yerim giggled and nudged him with her elbow, but instead of just saying it was worth it, Yoongi decided to argue with Taehyung.
“It was so obvious that they were gonna get together again. I honestly wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t called me.”
“Min Yoongi, are you seriously telling me that you wouldn’t have minded missing out on our best friends getting back together?”
“Honestly? Yeah.”
“He’s lying. Yoongs loves Kook and Y/N together.”
“What’re you talking about, Yeri? I don’t-”
“Do I have to remind you that you texted me last week that you couldn’t believe that they weren’t back together yet?”
“Oh, Yoongs, that’s so cute.”
“Why would you believe her, Tae? It’s bullshit!”
Too busy watching Taehyung, Yerim and Yoongi argue with each other, you didn’t notice Jungkook turning away. So, when you suddenly felt cotton brush against your arms, you were more than surprised.
“What?” you blurted out before looking down at yourself and seeing one of Jungkook’s jackets around your body. 
“Thought you might be cold. You know, with all of that running through the rain and everything,” Jungkook hummed with a shrug and you stared at him for a little before you smiled at him again. You leaned up and pressed a quick kiss against his lips, a kiss that had the corners of his lips curling into the most beautiful smile.
You hugged Jungkook’s jacket closer to your body, trying to keep that warmth in your chest locked down. The smell of his detergent and sweat mixed with your senses and you felt all dizzy, but it was the good kind of dizzy, the kind of dizzy you loved, the kind of dizzy only Jungkook could ever make you feel.
And when he wrapped his arms around you, you quickly wrapped your arms around him too. Your lips brushed against his neck and you left a kiss there, trying to make sure that he would never ever forget that he was more than enough, never ever forget that you loved him like nobody else in this world.
And with his arms around your body, you, once again, felt like the impossible was possible, like the stars were yours to grab, like nothing could ever come between you, but unlike before, you knew that this time, it was all true.
“I love you,” you hummed into Jungkook’s ear and he smiled into your hair before tightening his arms around you.
“And I love you.”
Jungkook and you gazed into each other’s eyes, sunlight sparkling in your pupils before you both slowly leaned into each other, more and more. Your eyes flickered down to his lips and you knew that any second now, he would kiss you. And the thought alone had your heart racing and your breath hitching and your hands shaking but in the best ways possible. And right as your lips were about to connect,
“Fine!” Yoongi grunted and silenced Taehyung and Yerim, cutting them mid-sentence and Jungkook and you mid-kiss. “It was worth it. I missed Kook and Y/N and I’m more than overjoyed to see them together again! My heart is literally melting in my chest and I can’t wait to go home because I wanna shriek and scream into my pillow!”
Jungkook and you turned your heads around to see a panting Yoongi. His eyes were big and nostrils flared as he glared at Taehyung and Yerim.
“Happy now?” he asked through gritted teeth and he looked between Taehyung and Yerim, who were exchanging glances with each other. There was a beat of silence and a second later, the two burst out into laughter. Jungkook and you had to grin too, but you still shook your heads at your friends, the situation far too ridiculous.
“Hey, Yoongs,” Jungkook called over your head before looking at you. When you nodded at him, he turned back to Yoongi, who was, at this point, fuming and mumbling to himself, cheeks red. “You can go home now.”
“Thank you!” Yoongi grumbled and threw his hands into the air, but before he could turn around and drive home with his cheeks and the tips of his ears bright red, Jungkook interjected,
“But you are a dumb, little bitch.”
Yoongi’s jack went slack as he furrowed his brows at Jungkook, more than caught off guard by the sudden insult. It was clear he was struggling to process it, but so were Taehyung, Yerim and you, all three of you going silent at Jungkook’s words.
It took you a moment to understand why Jungkook had said what he had said, and when you did, you burst out into laughter.
You gasped for air as you threw your head back, laughter rippling through your chest, and Jungkook joined you, bending over as he laughed his heart out as well. And soon enough, Taehyung joined you two, finally making the connection himself. Yerim started laughing as well, but only because Taehyung, Jungkook and you were laughing.
Yoongi was left blinking at you three as he struggled to decide whether he was offended or amused, and judging from the smile tugging on the corners of his lips, it was the latter.
“Not like that,” you said with a shake of your head and Jungkook shrugged at you.
“What? Isn’t that we were talking about when we said to bully Yoongs?” he asked with that proud smirk on his lips, that proud smirk he always got whenever he managed to make people laugh. Taehyung and you shook your heads at him, both definitely not thinking of calling Yoongi ‘a dumb, little bitch’ when you had agreed to bully him a little. 
It took a while, but soon your laughter died down, but the grins stayed on your lips.
“Definitely not like that,” Taehyung agreed with you, fingers wiping away the tears, and you three locked eyes with each other, grinning, no, beaming. 
Yoongi sighed after he had enough of whatever this was, and turned on his heel, but once again, before he could go, Jungkook interjected,
“Hey, I think you should all just crash here. It’s, well, early and probably better for you two to not get behind the wheel right now.”
Yoongi opened his mouth to protest, but then, he stopped himself and paused, gaze levelling Jungkook’s.
“I get your bed?”
“Sure thing, I’ll kick you out of it,” Jungkook grinned and even though that had not been the response he had wanted, Yoongi shuffled inside, Yerim right behind him.
“I’m happy you guys are back together,” she told you two as she walked past you and you grinned at Jungkook, a grin he returned right away.
Taehyung let out a sigh, lips still pulled into a smile before he, too, shuffled inside, gaze meeting yours when he did. 
“Thank you.”
“Yeah, seriously. Thanks,” Jungkook hummed and Taehyung laughed before waving you two off, dismissing your words with a flick of his hand.
“No need to thank me,” Taehyung grinned. “I’m just happy that you two are back together.”
Both of you wanted to disagree, but Taehyung silenced you with a smile. And right as he was about to turn into the living room to figure out where Yerim and Yoongi were going to sleep, he looked over his shoulder and met Jungkook’s and your gaze.
“You can name your firstborn after me if you’re truly thankful.” A pause. “Taehyung Jeon. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?”
“You think we would name our firstborn after you?”
“You think I would take Kook’s last name?” 
Jungkook gasped next to you and took a step back, hand gripping your elbow to draw your attention to him. His brows were slightly furrowed together and his mouth agape.
“What’s that supposed to mean? What’s wrong with Jeon?” he asked and you stared at him.
“Gonna leave you two alone now,” Taehyung laughed, not wanting to see where that conversation was going, and joined Yerim and Yoongi in the living room.
“Nothing. Don’t you worry about it,” you said with a smile and stroked Jungkook’ cheek, and instantly, he melted into your touch, frown washing away. “It’s fine. It’s a nice last name.”
You pinched Jungkook’s cheeks, making him pull away and just as he was about to complain and tell you not to pinch his cheek, you continued,
“You know, fine and nice for now.”
Jungkook’s eyes grew big at your words and before he could ask you what exactly you meant with that, (because you knew he was going to. It was Jungkook after all.), you closed the door behind you two. You patted his chest and took his hand to lead him to the others, but he stopped you, pulling you back to him, smirk on his lips.
“You wanna fulfill Tae’s wish?” Jungkook asked with a quirk of his brow and you looked at him, lips pressing into a line. When you didn’t respond, the smirk fell away, prompting you to smile at him again. 
“Let’s join the others, yeah?” you said with a wink, enjoying teasing him a little too much. You didn’t wait for an answer and turned on your heel, but once again, Jungkook stopped you.
“How about we fulfill my dream, then?” 
Jungkook looked at you with the same smirk on his face again, and before you could stop yourself, you laughed at him, shaking your head from left to right. You leaned up to him and planted a kiss on his cheek before patting his chest and walking backwards, pointing at him as you did.
“Just get me a towel.” 
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→  links don’t work, but don’t forget to message me with any thoughts/feedback! i’d love to hear it!
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noteguk · 6 months ago
Text
bad influence: collection
Status: ongoing
All stories are written out of chronological order. Please do not copy, repost or translate any of my works. I only post here on tumblr. 
The drabbles are part of the main storyline!
↳ more lore about the bad influence couple can be found under the “bad influence” tag! 
↳  spotify playlist // all texts // chronological order // bi extras
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↳ BAD INFLUENCE
— summary; in which you know Jungkook is a bad influence on you, but you can’t avoid falling for him every time.
— contents and warnings; pwp, badboy!jk x goodgirl!reader, car sex, dirty talk, fingering, hair pulling, breast play, jk has a big dick and an attitude, unprotected sex (condoms are your friends), jk being kind of a douche, use of the word “slut”, cum eating, creampie, cockwarming, possessiveness, he slaps her ass like once, enemies to fuckbuddies pretty much
— words; 4.5k
→ drabble one: first meeting 
→  drabble two: mid-sex arguments 
↳ BAD BEHAVIOR 
— summary; in which staying late to volunteer at a self-help meeting was the best decision you made in a while. 
— contents and warnings; the endless adventures of badboy!jk x goodgirl!reader, public sex (in a church…), dirty talk, fingering, degradation (name calling) but also praise, unprotected sex, clothed sex, creampie, cum play, there is a window and also reflections, rough sex, cockwarming, jk being a lil shit because that’s his main personality trait, jk smokes (only mentioned), enemies to fuckbuddies: dawn of the first day 
— words; 8.2k
→ drabble three: hickeys 
→ drabble four: calming you down
→ drabble five: jungkook’s bday bj
→ drabble six: be quiet
↳ BAD REPUTATION 
— summary; in which you have to deal with some strange emotions for the first time.
— contents and warnings; smut, angst, fluff, the endless adventures of badboy!jungkook x goodgirl!reader, enemies with benefits/enemies to lovers ;), mutual pining, huge trigger warning for feelings (I know, gross), jk smokes, jealousy, a bit of possessiveness, the oc is Confused and Angry over nothing, Jisoo would trade jk’s soul for one corn chip, the oc gets shamefully drunk, vague mention of drugs (no use), mean arguments :((, the smut warnings include: dirty talk, unprotected sex (don’t be dumb), oral sex (female receiving), grinding, fingering, cockwarming, edging, multiple orgasms, begging, overstimulation, praise, dom!jk x sub!oc, breast play, creampie, orgasm control/denial  
— words; 19,6k (don’t mention it)
↳ BAD ATTITUDE
— summary; in which Jungkook finally learns how to behave. Kind of.
— contents and warnings; pwp, smut, badboy!jk x goodgirl!reader, enemies with benefits/enemies to lovers, brattysub!kook x dom!reader, actually more of a switch!kook/switch!reader, the oc is kind of a demon with teasing because payback is a bitch, bondage, edging, dirty talk, begging, oral (m receiving), female masturbation, cockwarming, unprotected sex (don’t be dumb), creampie, stuffing, Taehyung makes a cameo, terrible use of the two wolves meme I’m so sorry
— words; 7,2k
→ drabble seven: nerves 
→ drabble eight: night drive
→ drabble nine: pregnancy scare 
→ drabble ten: slow 
↳ BAD HABIT 
— summary; in which your little secret starts to get out of hand.
— contents and warnings; smut, sprinkles of fluff and angst, mutual pining, the endless adventures of badboy!jk x goodgirl!reader, enemies with benefits/enemies to lovers, smoking, mentions of alcohol, mention of vomit, jk and Jisoo are mortal enemies, Taehyung gets his eureka moment, and for the smut warnings: dirty talk, spit kink, dom!jk x sub!reader, breast play, rough sex, mild possessiveness, grinding, so much kissing, oral (fem receiving), cum eating, spanking, manhandling, bondage (using a belt… anyways so-), unprotected sex (don’t be dumb!!! this is fiction), very vague corruption kink, creampie, cockwarming (no one is surprised), praise, degradation makes a comeback (+ use of the word “slut”), the long awaited return of jk being mean, orgasm control/denial, oc kinda cries out of frustration but she’s having a good time, they are in love but are too dumb to realize
— words; 16,7k
→ drabble eleven: home
→  drabble twelve: sexting 
→ drabble thirteen: almost
→ drabble fourteen: sidetracked 
↳ BAD ROMANCE 
— summary; in which the two of you finally make it official.
— contents and warnings; gross fluff, a bit of angst, smut, badboy!jungkook x goodgirl!reader, enemies to lovers, honestly emotionally constipated idiots to lovers, so much mutual pining, cinematic parallels, cute dates, a spark of jealousy/possiveness (mostly playful), the return of car sex, dirty talk, breast play, dom!jk x sub!reader, fingering, spitting, oral (female receiving), cum eating, semi-clothed sex, unprotected sex (don’t be dumb!!), a fuckton of praise kink bc jk is going through it, another glimpse into the demon that lives inside the oc lol, begging, mentions of marking (hickeys), creampie, cockwarming (you already know), jk is whipped and he’s not even hiding it anymore, it’s official ladies!!!
— words; 18,4k
→ drabble fifteen: tribulation
→ drabble sixteen: too much, too little 
→ drabble seventeen: payback 
→ drabble eighteen: hold your breath
→ drabble nineteen: [redacted]
6K notes · View notes
firebettercallnct · a year ago
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STOLE YOUR SHIRT
pairing; jungkook x reader
sum; the morning after a hook-up yn can't find her clothes. having no other choice she decides to steal one of jungkook's shirts, thinking she would never see him again. little does she know, jungkook had just transferred to her school for his last year.
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genre; crack, fluff, slight angst, fake dating!au, f2l, highschool!au (they're both 18)
warnings; slight homophobic behavior, slight mention of abuse, tiny violence, mentions of bullying* (they're really slight like in only 1 or 2 parts)
side pairings; namjin, yoonseok
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profile introductions
part one
part two
part three
part four
part five
part six
part seven
part eight
part nine
part ten
part eleven
part twelve
part thirteen
part fourteen
part fifteen
part sixteen
part seventeen
part eighteen
part nineteen
part twenty
part twenty one
part twenty two
part twenty three
part twenty four
part twenty five
part twenty six
part twenty seven
part twenty eight
part twenty nine
part thirty
part thirty one
end
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*bullying is never okay unless you're bullying a pigeon !
4K notes · View notes
kpopfanfictrash · 7 months ago
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A Holly, Jolly Crisis (M)
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Author: @kpopfanfictrash as part of the Once Upon a Holiday... collaboration with @underthejoon , @fantasybangtan​ , @lamourche​ , @hobidreams​ , @suga-kookiemonster​ , @junghelioseok​  
Creative Contributor: @baebae-goodnight made this ridiculously gorgeous moodboard TT
Pairing: Hoseok / Reader (female)
Genre: Ex-Best Friends to Lovers / Rom-Com / Angst (?) / Holiday
Word Count: 36,243
Rating/Warnings: 18+ for sexual content. Fingering, Hoseok has a dirty mouth, Y/N semi-jokingly offers to slap him & he’s into it, condom-less sex, squirting, multiple orgasms, rough sex. Multiple friends/family members mention the reader has lost weight, but the reader’s exact weight isn’t specified. Seokjin uses a spatula as a microphone.
Summary:   At this time last year, you thought you had it all. A kick-ass screenwriting job for the hottest TV show in LA, an actor boyfriend whose career was taking off and an affordable apartment with not one, but two bathrooms. Fast-forward to now and you’re single, soon-to-be jobless and searching for a way to scrape together January rent. Everything seems to be falling apart, which was why you told your family you weren’t coming home for the holidays. Enter your little sister, Sara, who recently became engaged to her boyfriend, Yoongi and needs you home to celebrate. The biggest problem? Returning home means you’ll be forced to face everything and everyone you left behind, including Yoongi’s best man – and your ex-best friend, Hoseok.
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Dear Y/N Y/L/N,
Thank you for taking the time to send our team your screenplay for One for the Money. It was a pleasure learning about your characters and ideas.
Unfortunately, we did not select your spec script at this time for further consideration.
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Not wanting to read the rest of the rejection email, you returned to your inbox and moved the message to trash. Releasing a sigh, you slumped in the hard, plastic airport chair underneath you. This had to be your fifteenth rejection email this month, which didn’t bode well for your screenplay’s future.
The screenplay in question was your self-written TV series – One for the Money. You’d been working on it for years and had just begun sending it out to studios. When a screenplay was written outside a studio and shopped around after, it was often called a spec script. This stood for speculative screenplay and you supposed that right now, this was the best descriptor.
A screenplay without a studio was practically nothing. Speculative, indeed.
Glancing up from your phone, you saw the flight’s status on the board had moved from green to red – delayed. Stifling another sigh, you switched apps on the screen and checked the weather. Winter storms were sweeping through the Midwest, resulting in a delay of holiday travel. This was precisely the reason you hadn’t wanted to go home this year.
Well, it wasn’t the only reason you dreaded your return to Josen Falls. You hadn’t seen your family in over a year but had still planned to stay in LA over Christmas. A wrench had been thrown in these plans when your sister, Sara, became engaged to her boyfriend, Yoongi.
Yoongi had only had one request when it came to wedding planning – for them to be married in the same church his parents had been, a beautiful venue north of the city. Of course, the only available date within a three-year time frame was June 30th. Seven months was practically nothing to plan a wedding, but Sara was determined to make it happen; hence the need to have you at home.
Don’t get you wrong – of course, you were excited about Sara and Yoongi. You’d been the one who introduced them, after all, through your former best friend. They were perfect together and you were nothing but ecstatic to see your little sister so happy. The only unfortunate part about her life coming together was it happened to come at the same time as yours falling apart.
A year ago, you would’ve said you were on the right path. Things had been going well in nearly every part of your life. Your TV show was on its second season, you’d been dating Darren for nine months and had found a reasonably priced one-bedroom apartment in a coveted neighborhood. Everything had been looking up, considering your previous year in LA, where paychecks had been scarce, and you’d been dangerously close to asking your parents for money.
Now, you found yourself in the same situation. Uncertain where your next paycheck was coming from, recently single and unsure how you were going to make rent next month.
Your coveted Hollywood job had been as a screenwriter for The Drop, a critically acclaimed show which ended abruptly this year after a dispute with the main actor. The third – and final – season was set to air in the new year on Netflix, but after that you’d be out of a job.
Hence the desperate pitch of your spec script to every mainstream television producer with an open inbox. Suffice to say, things were not going well.
This was evidenced by the uncomfortable chair you’d squeezed yourself into, having been forced to give up your pass to Admirals Club. The cost couldn’t be justified right now. Forlornly, you stared at the ticket sticking out of your purse.
It had been nearly a year since you’d last visited home. At first, this hadn’t been a purposeful decision. You’d been swamped with work, preparing for the Golden Globes and seasons one and two of The Drop. Your ex-boyfriend, Darren, had been nominated for an Oscar last year, resulting in a lot of holiday parties to attend.
Last year, you’d been too busy to come, but all that had changed in a matter of months. It began back in March, when contract negotiations stalled with your leading actor, Tory River. Tory fancied himself a method actor, so when you refused to pay him the GDP of a small country, he decided to walk. Without him, the studio had to scrap the show. Better to leave things at three solid seasons than add a lukewarm fourth without the main star.
You were told in May the third season would be its last and were highly encouraged to seek out other shows. Nothing had panned out since and then, at the end of the summer, you were dealt another blow.
You should’ve known things were bad when Darren, your ex-boyfriend, called you himself instead of Molly, his assistant.
When you first met Darren Carmichael in LA, he was a struggling actor from Des Moines, Iowa. The Darren of September 2020 was no longer the Darren of early 2019, though – he’d long ditched the Midwest accent in favor of designer shades and loafers. High off his Oscar nomination and with job offers to spare, you should’ve suspected something was wrong from his genuine contriteness of tone.
The first thing he said to you was, “Did you pass a newsstand today?”
At first, you’d been baffled because no one walked past newsstands anymore. Logging into Twitter, you immediately saw why your boyfriend had been worried.
DARREN CARMICHAEL AND CO-STAR, JESSICA AVEC, CAUGHT CANOODLING ON SET OF RECENT MOVIE!
Frozen, you’d barely listened while he pleaded his case. Instead, you scanned the article and felt your insides tighten with each word. Darren and Jessica had been caught making out when no cameras were rolling. You were only mentioned as a footnote, and not even by name.
Darren was previously dating a screenwriter in LA, although this seems to have ended several weeks prior.
You had wanted to scream, wanted to call up the author and berate them for proper sources, but you didn’t do any of that. Instead, you sat dejectedly while Darren yammered on and on about why he’d done what he’d done.
That had been the worst part. He hadn’t apologized to you – not really. Instead, he’d gone on about how hard it had been for him to be away, surrounded and worshiped by more available people. You had your career, he’d argued. You had other things, you didn’t need him and what he felt for Jessica seemed like the real thing.
Darren thought you should break up so he could begin dating her.
Numbly, you’d hung up the phone and immediately blocked his number. That had been nearly three months ago, but the sting of the breakup remained.
It wasn’t as though Darren had changed overnight. When you first met, he’d been the super-cute barista at your favorite coffee shop. You two bonded over being unable to find appropriately caffeinated beverages in LA and the rest, as they say, was history.
Then Darren landed a role as a recurring character on a popular Netflix show. What seemed like overnight, he became America’s heartthrob. Still, Darren didn’t change right away. He went to work every morning, came home in the evenings and continued to attend the same parties, run in the same circles.
Soon though, Darren was invited to more exclusive gatherings and slowly, his invitations transitioned from “Darren plus date” to “just Darren.” You hadn’t protested at the time, not overly interested in canapés and pretentious conversation. The time you did spend together dwindled, going from Facetiming each night on his movie set to a harried phone call every other day.
Maybe you should’ve been more suspicious. In hindsight, all the warning signs had been there, but you’d been too busy and worried about The Drop’s future to do anything about it. Darren had become distant and withdrawn, but you’d been okay because you’d become distant, too.
After you blocked his number, you kicked him out of your apartment. Packing everything he owned in boxes, you set these on the lawn and shut the door. It was unfortunate it rained before he could pick them up, but that couldn’t be helped. You refused to see him again – you even went so far as to have your assistant, Jimin, pick up Darren’s keys.
Jimin had done so gleefully, perhaps too gleefully, but you didn’t care. Darren had tried to contact you a few more times, but eventually he got the hint and the last time you’d checked, he seemed blissfully happy with his vapid co-star.
Gritting your teeth, you exhaled. That wasn’t fair – you had no idea what Darren had told Jessica about you. For all you knew, she could’ve thought you two had been broken up.
Regardless, things had gone steadily downhill for you over the past year. Single, nearly unemployed and running low on your savings, you could easily call this a low point in your life. Worst of all – your family didn’t know the full extent of things.
They knew you’d broken up with Darren, of course – that had been front page news. They also knew your TV series was ending but had no idea you struggled as much as you were. Each time they called, you meant to tell them, but something managed to choke you every time.
Maybe it was how excited your mom was about the upcoming nuptials. Or maybe it was how diligently your dad watched The Drop. Admitting you didn’t have next steps felt like defeat, so you’d purposefully kept things brief until you had something to tell.
The problem was none of your next steps seemed to be panning out. Again, your mind wandered to the rejection email in your trash.
“Excuse me? Are you Y/N Y/L/N?”
Blinking, you looked up and felt your heart sink.
The guy standing before you looked around college-age, dressed in a MORDOR FUN RUN t-shirt and wire-rimmed glasses. Clutching his laptop to his chest, he looked at you hopefully and you felt your heart sink even further. He had to be a film nerd.
“Um, yeah,” you said, trying to smile. “That’s me.”
This had happened to you several times before. Even if you weren’t an actress, your name appeared at the end of every episode of The Drop. It hadn’t taken long for starry-eyed screenwriting ingénues to find you on Instagram.
Usually, you were patient in your responses, giving them as much advice as you could without being discouraging, but Lord of the Rings here had caught you on a bad night.
“No way!” he gushed. “I’m such a big fan of your writing. I swear, I’ve memorized the entire first season of The Drop.”
“Not the second, though?”
His face fell. “No, well – I, it’s a long series and…”
“I’m kidding,” you said with a smile. “That’s really nice.”
“I want to be a screenwriter myself, someday,” he said, shoving his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I’m in a program at UCLA and am searching for a summer internship. Any advice for someone who’s just starting out?”
Hesitant, you looked him up and down and wondered how honest to be. He seemed nice, looked hopeful and you were one hundred percent sure the industry would crush him.
“You want some advice?” you said as you stood from your seat. The light on the departures board had changed from red to green.
Eagerly, the guy nodded.
“Alright, here it is.” Slinging your bag over your chest, you said, “Don’t be a writer.”
The guy’s expression faltered. “What?”
“Don’t be a writer,” you said. “Screenwriting is one of the most fickle, unforgiving jobs in existence. Job security? None. Creativity? Only as much as shareholders allow. The industry will eat you up, spit you out and no one will give a damn. The glamorous profession you’ve dreamt of doesn’t exist. The best advice I can give is run the other way.”
The guy stared at you, wide-eyed and for a moment, you felt a modicum of pity. Brushing this aside, you steeled your spine – better for him to find out now, while he could still change his major to something stable, like accounting.
“I, uh…” He paused, and then swallowed. “Thanks, I guess?”
“No problem,” you said, brushing past him as group numbers began to be called. At the last second, you hesitated and turned around. “Best of luck in whatever you decide, though. Happy holidays, and all that.”
“Happy holidays,” he mumbled, in a daze.
As you entered the line, you bit down on your lip and began to regret your outburst. Some of your bitterness was based on your own experience; maybe his would be different. The guy had seemed excited and you’d just crushed his dreams.
Narrowing your gaze, you forced yourself to straighten. It would’ve happened to him sooner or later – of that you were certain. Better to warn him now than for him to learn it the hard way. You only wished someone had been kind enough to tell you this years ago.
Actually – a sliver of discomfort entered your thoughts since someone had told you this last year. Someone had warned you about Darren, about your job and LA, but you’d chosen not to listen. Instead, you’d let your friendship crumble and hadn’t spoken to them since.
Just another reason going home for the holidays was going to suck. Going home meant you’d be forced to see Yoongi’s friends, which meant you’d be forced to see Hoseok. Yoongi and Hoseok were close, after all – they’d become friends in college, which was when Yoongi had been introduced to Sara.
It had been nearly a year since you and Hoseok last spoke, despite having once considered him to be your best friend.
So, there it was. Reason six hundred and sixty-six why the holidays would suck. You were single, jobless and facing the imminent prospect of two weeks with people who either had their shit together or were a constant reminder of why you did not.
As you boarded the plane and settled into your seat, you pulled out your headphones and cranked up the volume. If you weren’t feeling particularly Christmas-y, you could at least try to numb the pain with alcohol and music.
Starting now, you decided, as you closed your eyes. Happy holidays, indeed.
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Exiting the Terminal at LaGuardia airport, you found yourself shivering in the sudden cold. Despite having worn the warmest jacket you could find, nothing prepared you for the frigid blast of air on your face. Heat lamps were scattered beside the taxi stand, but this seemed to do nothing but attract hopeful crowds of tourists.
Bypassing them all, you dragged your suitcase to the end of Terminal B. This was the agreed-upon meeting place for all family members. Your sister, Sara, was on pick-up duty tonight. She lived and worked in New York City, so the airport had been an easy stop on her way to Josen Falls. Your hometown was only an hour outside the city, but it might as well have been Mars for how much cab drivers charged to get there.
Lugging your bag to the end of the row, you saw Sara’s black Subaru parked at the front. As soon as you were within view, the driver’s side door flung open.
“Y/N!” she yelled, exiting the car. “Y/N!”
You couldn’t help but laugh, half-running the last several paces to crush her in a hug. Your sister squeezed you back, trying – and failing – to lift you from the ground. Once finished, she took a step back and adjusted her glasses.
“You look skinnier,” she said with a frown.
Re-grabbing your bag, you rolled your eyes. “I’m not skinnier.”
“Have you lost weight?”
“I mean, some but –”
“Nope,” said Sara, lifting the trunk of her car. “I’ll call mom on the way home. She can heat up mac and cheese, or something.”
Shoving the handle on your suitcase down, you heaved this from the ground to place in the trunk. As annoying as Sara’s criticism was, you couldn’t help but salivate at the thought of your mom’s mac and cheese.
“Ugh,” you said as you entered the car. Plopping in the passenger seat, you buckled your seatbelt. “Honestly, that sounds amazing. Even the mac and cheese on the west coast is low-carb and no butter.”
Sara looked at you in horror. “Why would anyone do that?”
“Beats me. Masochism?”
“Must be,” she said, shaking her head and putting the car in drive.
Pulling from the curb, Sara eased seamlessly into traffic. She waited until you’d reached the highway to turn on the music, just like dad did.
“Anyways,” she said, drumming her hands on the steering wheel. “Everyone’s super excited to have you home. It’s been what – over a year since last time?”
“Around that, yeah,” you said, shifting uncomfortably.
Slouching lower in your seat, you turned to look out the window. It wasn’t snowing, but it had clearly snowed within the past couple of days. A greyish-blue sludge remained on the highway.
Sara glanced sideways.  “Don’t slouch,” she said. “You’ll wrinkle those really cute pants – which, by the way, can I wear tomorrow night?” Beatific, she smiled. “Mom and dad are throwing me a tiny engagement party. Obviously, you’re invited.”
“Oh. Did you say tomorrow, because –”
“Nope!” Sara cut you off. “No excuses, big sis. You’re my maid of honor, so you have to be there. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Sighing loudly, you slumped in your seat. “Has anyone told you how annoyingly single-minded you are?”
“Often. I tell them I get it from my older sister.”
You snorted, but you knew she was right. You were equally stubborn – it was what had led to your current situation. Your family only knew the barest details about your life. If they knew the full extent of your failures, they’d instantly offer to help you out.
For you though, this would be considered the ultimate blow. When you moved to LA, they’d been hesitant about your career as a screenwriter. It had taken everything in you to prove you could do this. If you began to fail now, it would only prove them right.
You’d planned on telling them about Darren last month, but then Sara got engaged and everything was put on hold. Suddenly, your mom was consumed by the wedding; she barely had time for anything else. Everything was lace veils that, and yours forever that. It was hard being reminded of your singlehood in your own apartment, let alone each time you called your family.
As Sara continued to drive, her diamond engagement ring glittered in the lights of the highway.
“It’s even bigger in person,” you said, nodding across the console.
“That’s what she said.”
“Sara!”
“Sorry!” She cracked up. “You just look so tense. But yeah, I love the ring. Yoongi picked it out himself. Well, that’s not entirely true. He had some help from – uh, from no one,” she said, abruptly changing her tone.
“Oh, really?” you said, amused. “He had help from no one?”
“Yep.” Sara nodded.
You sensed bullshit on this but let it slide, reaching out to turn up the heat. If Sara didn’t want to say who, there was probably a reason. The reason you suspected made your heart twinge, but you didn’t want to think about him right now.
It wasn’t long before Sara pulled from the highway, street signs and buildings becoming familiar. You hadn’t flown much before college, so the trip from the airport to Josen Falls was still new. Just another way your life had changed since high school.
“So, where’s this engagement party happening?” you asked, glancing sideways.
“Where else?”
“Raffi’s,” you both said at the same time.
Sara grinned and nodded. “Where else? It’s our celebration restaurant. Mom and dad had to uphold tradition.”
“Obviously. Who all’s invited?”
Barely noticeable, her hands tensed on the wheel. “Oh, the usual. Mom and dad, a bunch of the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Min, of course,” she said, naming Yoongi’s parents. “Some friends from high school. My bridesmaids. And uh, Yoongi’s groomsmen.”
“Oh.” You paused. “So, is –”
“Hoseok coming? Yeah.”
“Right,” you said, turning to look out the window.
Sara sighed softly. “That’s not going to be weird, is it?”
“Weird? Of course, not. Why would it be weird?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because of the whole ‘Hoseok thing?’” She made air quotes around the last two words.
“You mean how we once were best friends and now, I don’t even know what color his hair is?”
“That’s the one!”
“Hey, listen.” Reaching out, you touched her arm. “I promise things will be okay. Hoseok and I are adults – just because we’re not friends anymore doesn’t mean we can’t be in the same room together.”
“Promise?” she said, giving you a glance.
“Promise. It’s my baby sister’s wedding, after all. I have a contractual obligation to ensure nothing goes wrong.”
“We-ll,” said Sara. “You can’t be held responsible for everything that goes wrong. Like, what if cousin Sybil decides to wear white to the wedding? That wouldn’t be your fault.”
“It would be if I didn’t bring a spare dress for her to change into.”
Sara cracked a smile. “Okay, but what if the florist mixes my bouquet up with a prom one? That wouldn’t be your problem to solve.”
“That’s what cars are for! I’d drive to the florist and make them switch it back.”
“Well, what if Yoongi suddenly gets cold feet and decides I’m not the woman he wants to marry? That definitely wouldn’t be your fault.”
“You’re right,” you said, examining your hand. “It’d be his fault, and then it’d be his problem because I’d murder him. Cold blooded. He can run, but I’d hunt him down, tear off his testicles and make you a potpourri bag.”
“Oh my god.” Sara cackled. “That’s so violent. You’re the best.”
“And as the best maid of honor!” you declared. “I promise your engagement party will go off without a hitch. Hoseok, or no Hoseok.”
“Alright, alright.” She grinned. “Thanks, sis.”
“Anytime.”
As you passed through the downtown of Josen Falls, familiar butterflies began to fill your stomach. Not ones of excitement though, but ones of dread.
Sinking lower, you hoped none of your neighbors were feeling particularly nosy. So little happened in Josen Falls, you were certain your breakup with Darren was still front-page gossip. You could already hear the neighborhood busybodies.
What a shame they cancelled that show of yours, dear. What’s the next project? Nothing? Well, what about that actor you were dating? What’s his name – Darren! He was wonderful in that one movie. He seems like such a nice boy. Oh, you’re no longer together? Well, are you dating anyone new? No? Well…
Closing your eyes, you leaned your head to the seat. Everything would be okay. All you needed to do was get through two weeks and you’d be back in LA. Your façade could last that long. Who knew – maybe if it held, you could apply to a few acting jobs when you returned.
Opening your eyes, you saw Sara drive past Whalen Court. Your home was two streets over, but Whalen Court was where the Jungs lived. Craning your neck, you watched their street disappear in the rearview mirror. You thought you saw lights were at his home but couldn’t be sure.
Before you knew it, you were entering your garage and Sara had placed the car in park.
“Home, sweet, home,” she sang, opening the door.
It took you a moment to convince your legs to work. Home, sweet, home was one way to put it.
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The moment you stepped across the threshold you knew this had been a mistake.
“We’re home!” Sara yelled, shutting the door.
It wasn’t long before your mom rushed around the corner, beaming when she saw who had arrived.
“There she is!” she cried, crushing you in a hug. “Our star daughter, come home to visit us mere mortals for the holidays!”
Instantly, your heart sank. You should’ve known the first words out of your mom’s mouth would be a reference to your supposedly successful career.
“Hey!” Sara cried, dropping your bag. “What am I, chopped liver?”
“No,” said your mom, squeezing you tightly. “But we just saw you last week, dear. You and Yoongi came over for dinner.”
“Well… fine, that’s true.”
Your mom laughed, pulling back to hold you at arm’s length. Giving you a critical sweep head to foot, she frowned.
“Sara was right. You’re too skinny.”
Jaw dropping, you turned. “When did you have time to text mom?”
“At the stoplight,” Sara said, breezing past.
Your mom stared in alarm. “Well, I certainly didn’t know that. Sara, that was very dangerous. You shouldn’t be texting while driving.”
“There she is!” sang your dad, entering the front hall. “The prodigal daughter returned!”
“Dad,” you groaned, but laughed when he hugged you.
Pulling back, your dad wiped his forehead and realized he still held the spatula. “Right, dinner,” he said, turning around. “Got to stir the sauce every minute or it congeals! Put your bag by the stairs, Lucy and I’ll bring it up later!”
Lucy was your dad’s nickname for you, even though your name wasn’t remotely close to the moniker. When you’d been a child, you’d been an absolute terror, so Lucy was short for Lucifer. Your Grandma Jan nearly had a heart attack when she learned of the name’s origin.
As your dad disappeared into the kitchen, you returned to your mom. “You know I’m going to bring my suitcase up myself, right?”
“Oh, sure.” She nodded. “Leave something for him to carry, though. You know your father likes to feel needed. Like he’s the man of the house, or something.”
Despite yourself, you grinned. Your dad was as far from toxic masculinity as a person could be. He sang only falsetto harmony to songs in the car, did all the cooking, and had a self-proclaimed ‘weakness for soft blankets.’
Your mom gave a shrug. “Sometimes,” she added.
Laughing, you grabbed the handle of your suitcase and pushed it down. Lifting this up, you left your laptop bag in the hall for your dad to carry. You wouldn’t need it for work, anyways.
With this somewhat depressing thought, you began to lug your things up the stairs. Halfway to the second floor, your mom poked her head over the banister.
“Y/N?” she called.
“Yeah?” you said, struggling to balance your things as you turned.
“There’s toothpaste and shampoo in your bathroom, but you’re sharing a hair dryer with Sara. I put it in her bathroom! Just make sure you knock because, you know…” Your mom lowered her voice. “Yoongi may stay over some nights.”
“Mom,” you said, hiding your smile. “I think I’ll manage.”
“Alright!” She disappeared from view. “So happy you’re home!”
You heard her laugh when she entered the kitchen and for a moment, you stood there and exhaled. Darren had never come home with you for the holidays, so you couldn’t be sure how your parents would have reacted, but you doubted he would’ve gotten the same treatment as Yoongi.
Your parents had always liked Darren, but he’d been considered an outsider. Darren had grown up in the Midwest, while Yoongi hailed from the same town. Yoongi was also more down to earth than Darren ever had been. You couldn’t imagine Darren waking up early to help your dad cook pancakes, but Yoongi did that each time he slept over.
Shaking your head, you continued up the stairs. It didn’t really matter how Darren was different from Yoongi, since Darren wasn’t here, and he wasn’t your boyfriend.
As you continued to climb, the sounds of the first floor began to fade. Pictures were hung carefully on the wall, proof of your past your dad refused to take down. Photos of you with little league trophies, Sara in her cheerleading uniform and a terrible grouping of photos from middle school.
Passing the ones on the landing, you paused to trace over familiar faces. These photos were all from your Senior prom. Only one was the obligatory shot with your date, looking prim, proper and perfectly coiffed. The rest were of you and your friends – mainly, you and Hoseok.
Placing your suitcase on the ground, you stepped closer. Hoseok had the same mop of floppy, brown hair he had throughout most of your childhood. Grin wide, his right arm was slung over your shoulder. In one photo, you two were posed back-to-back, Men in Black style. In another, you did the classic 80’s roommates sitcom pose. The final shot had you dragging your smiles wide, eyes crossed and tongues stuck out at the camera.
When you were in elementary school, Johnny Ludowski had said if someone pushed you from behind with your eyes crossed, they would get stuck that way. Hoseok had been terrified of the idea ever since, but you’d managed to convince him to do it on prom night – only for Seokjin to sneak up and push him from behind.
Screaming bloody murder, Hoseok had then proceeded to chase Seokjin around the yard, brandishing his boutonniere pin as a weapon. You couldn’t help but smile at the memory, although this quickly faded. It had been a long time since you and Hoseok were that close.
Despite attending separate colleges, you and Hoseok had remained best friends throughout. You’d seen him each holiday, summer and even during long weekends at home. Except for the drought sophomore year when you began dating Ren What’s-His-Face, of course. Ren hadn’t liked your friendship with Hoseok, which ended up being one of the reasons you eventually broke up.
It was after college when things began to fall apart.
You’d lived on the east coast for a year and a half, staying in New York as a copy assistant for the New York Times. This job left you feeling thoroughly disillusioned by anything to do with the media. Craving creativity and distraction, you began applying for screenwriting jobs on the west coast.
Hoseok had been in grad school at the time, working two jobs and nearly as busy as you were. The little free time you had was spent together; that summer in the city was one of the best of your life, aside from the whole hating-your-job thing.
When you landed a screenwriting job at the start of the next year, the offer took Hoseok fully by surprise. He was on the cusp of graduating to start his PhD for behavioral psychology. You’d thought the timing was perfect – Hoseok would be so busy with school and research, he’d barely have time for you in New York.
Hoseok saw things differently. That was your first big fight – admittedly, you may have waited too long to tell him about the move. It had just been so difficult to figure out timing. You kept putting things off until finally, it was a week before Christmas, and you needed to move in two weeks.
You bit the bullet right before you went home, curled up on your sofa while you watched a movie. During a commercial break, you told him and Hoseok went still, though you saw him trying to hold it together. This was your dream job, and he’d wanted to be supportive.
Well – dream job was a loose term. It had been a crappily paying job writing for a kids television show, but you’d hoped it would lead to bigger things down the road. Hoseok had been remarkably calm until you said when you were leaving. Then he froze, staring at you in shock as you repeated the date.
Even that though wasn’t enough to end your friendship.
You patched up that fight quickly, unable to stay mad at each other for long. Hoseok had even helped you to move, packing up your New York apartment and flying with you across the country. He was the first guest you hosted in your new apartment, although apartment was a loose term for the hovel you lived in.
A four-bedroom apartment with only one bathroom and three other roommates. Hoseok had taken exactly one step inside before he turned around and said, “Absolutely not.”
Grabbing you by the wrist, he’d semi-jokingly tried to drag you to the curb. You’d laughed, managing to convince him that yes, this was your place and no, it wasn’t dirty and yes, you’d look for a new apartment as soon as you could afford to. Hoseok had begrudgingly agreed, making your room look as homey as possible before he had to leave.
That year was one of the hardest for you on record. Living on your own in LA, twenty-four and surrounded by unfamiliar people. Your roommates were nice, but they weren’t your friends, and they had their own problems with crazy jobs to boot. It was rare you saw them outside the house.
When you first met Darren, it had felt like fate. He’d also been lonely, a recent transplant from the Midwest and you’d instantly bonded. This had been March 2019, right after you’d begun writing for The Drop. Your PBS show had ‘released’ you – a fancy term for fired – in July and you’d waffled for a while before The Drop picked you up in November.
The Drop’s success had turned your work life around, but your personal life didn’t pick up until Darren. All throughout this, you were still best friends with Hoseok. Despite being an entire country apart, you continued to text, call and visit when you could.
As luck would have it, Hoseok planned on visiting at the end of the summer, so you were excited for the chance to introduce him to Darren. Darren’s career had begun to take off and he was in the middle of shooting what would be his first Oscar nomination. You found yourself thoroughly smitten and had recently begun saying the l-word to each other.
By the time Hoseok’s visit came, you felt as though you were on top of the world. Finally, your life was going as you’d imagined. Perfect job, perfect boyfriend – everything was beginning to fall into place.
You picked Hoseok up on a Thursday, balmy wind whipping his hair as he exited the terminal. When he saw you, he broke into the biggest smile and you remember feeling your heart twist a little. For the first time, an inharmonious chord sounded and you began to grow nervous about Hoseok meeting Darren.
Even the ride from the airport felt strange, with Hoseok quieter than usual after putting his things in the trunk. He’d rolled down the window when you entered the highway, soaking up the Los Angeles sunshine. As you passed a familiar exit, he’d frowned.
“Hey.” Hoseok had sat up, squinting out the window. “Am I going blind, or did you just pass the exit you usually take?”
Uncertain, your fingers drummed the wheel. “You’re not going blind.”
Hoseok looked at you suspiciously. “What’s going on?”
What was going on was you’d moved in with Darren about a week prior. It was still new and had been impulsive, but one of your roommates had stayed up fighting with her fiancé again and you’d simply snapped. Darren had suggested you move and it had seemed like a reasonable option.
“Okay,” you’d said, grip tightening on the wheel. “Don’t freak out.”
“Why would I freak out?” Hoseok had said, wondering. “I wouldn’t freak out, unless…” Trailing off, he looked at you sharply. “Are you… living with this guy, Y/N?”
“First off, his name is Darren and yes. I’m living with him.”
“Are you serious? You’ve known him for what, five minutes?”
“We’ve been dating for five months, actually –”
“Oh, so much better.”
“Don’t be an ass,” you’d said as you scowled.
Hoseok had rolled his eyes and settled back, but the tension between you lingered. He was quiet when you parked at Darren’s place, warming a little when he first met your boyfriend. Hoseok had always been good at putting on his mask when he needed to.
Later that night, Darren needed to run to the studio, so you and Hoseok had sat on the patio and made homemade margaritas. Begrudgingly, Hoseok agreed Darren’s apartment was nicer than the shithole you’d lived in and given his approval.
It had been tentative, though – you could tell. Deep down, you knew something lingered between you. Resentment, maybe because you hadn’t told him and anger from you, since Hoseok couldn’t just be happy for you and Darren.
The silent truce held until his last night of the trip. That night you went for drinks with Darren and his friends, who were quickly becoming your own. Except for Jimin, who hated Darren because he once saw him litter, and rarely chose to attend the same events.
At some point, you’d gone to the bathroom and when you came back, you found Hoseok with an odd look on his face.
“What’s up?” you’d said, sliding into the booth. Darren had wandered off, grabbing another round of drinks at the bar. “Why do you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
Hoseok had slowly turned to face you.
You’d hesitated, stomach dropping because you knew that expression. Jung Hoseok was usually the nicest, most positive person you knew. When he decided to be serious, it was no laughing matter.
“Y/N…” Hoseok considered his next words carefully. “Are you happy with him?”
“What?”
“With Darren,” he’d clarified. “Do you love him?”
“I… what’s with the third degree all of a sudden?” you’d said, laughing nervously.
“I don’t know. Maybe nothing.” Hoseok had paused. “Look. This is super awkward, but I think Darren was texting someone earlier.”
You had frozen, staring at him with blank eyes. The bar around you seemed to blur into nothing.
“I… Darren?” you’d said finally, shaking your head. “That’s impossible. Who was it?”
“I didn’t get a good look at the name,” Hoseok said. “I just saw him type ‘u up?’ to someone. He angled away when he noticed me looking. I asked him who it was, and he said a friend. Then he left for the bar.”
Mind whirling, you’d glanced at the bar. Darren laughed with his friends, chatting as though nothing were the matter. When he’d seen you, he’d grinned and shot you a wink. Your heart flip-flopped in your chest because his actions just didn’t match with what Hoseok said.
Unwittingly, resentment uncurled in your stomach. At one point, you would’ve overanalyzed Hoseok stepping in to be your white knight. Back in high school, you’d fancied yourself to be in love with your best friend, but that had been a long time ago. When years passed and nothing happened between you, you’d forced yourself to move on.
It was never a sign of anything more when Hoseok didn’t like your boyfriends. He was a protective friend and you could live with that, but not when it got in the way of you making life choices.
Defensive, you’d turned back. “Well, maybe it’s not what you thought it was.”
Hoseok’s eyes had widened. “Come on, Y/N. You have to admit that doesn’t look good.”
“Well, no,” you admitted. “But I’m not about to ambush him in a bar, Hobi. Not over something you may or may not have seen on his phone.”
Annoyance clouded his expression. “Are you seriously going to trust him over me?”
“He’s my boyfriend, Hobi. He deserves for me to at least hear him out. I promise I’ll talk to him later.”
Looking away, Hoseok gave a harsh laugh.
“Talk to him. Sure, that’ll work.”
“What?”
“Oh, nothing.” Hoseok returned to you, gaze fierce. “I guess I’m just not surprised. You’ve been so distant ever since you started dating Darren – just like you were with Ren. Whenever you date someone, Y/N, you get so caught up in them you forget who you are.”
You had reeled backwards, staring at him in shock. “Are you… serious, Hobi? Have you ever stopped to wonder if maybe I’m not the problem here – maybe you are?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re unreasonably protective!” you’d said. “Every time I date someone, you don’t like them and then you butt in until they break up with me. That’s what happened with Ren, you know. He thought you were in love with me.”
Hoseok’s jaw dropped. “Can I not tell you what I think? I’m supposed to be your best friend! Of course, I want the best for you. And Ren was an ass! If he felt that threatened by you having guy friends, he didn’t deserve you.”
“Sure, but Darren isn’t like that!”
“You’re right,” Hoseok said with a scowl. “He’s worse. I think he’s cheating on you, Y/N.”
Abruptly, you’d stood from the table. “You’ve been weird ever since you got here,” you’d said, fighting back tears.
Hoseok had stood as well. “Yeah, well maybe if you’d told me what I was walking into, I wouldn’t be acting weird. You said Darren was just some guy! Said you barely saw him between all your work on The Drop. How in the hell are you living together?”
Cheeks heating, you’d shrugged aside his words because you didn’t have an answer. Hoseok was right – you’d downplayed your relationship each time you two had spoken and you didn’t know why.
“I think you should go,” you’d said stiffly, folding your arms over your chest. “I’ll talk to Darren, I promise, but I think you should go.”
Hoseok had stared at you a moment, breathing ragged. “Is that… is that really what you want?”
No, it had not been what you wanted. You hadn’t wanted to see Hoseok leave, but you couldn’t fathom a response which didn’t hurt either one of you more.
“Yeah,” you’d said softly.
Hoseok had swallowed. “I… alright, fine.”
Finishing the last of his drink, Hoseok had set his money down and called a cab. You’d mumbled an excuse to Darren later when he asked, saying Hoseok hadn’t been feeling well. By the time you returned home from the bar, Hoseok was asleep. You barely talked the next morning on the drive to the airport.
It wasn’t as though you and Hoseok had never fought before that night. You didn’t make it through nearly two decades of friendship without ups and downs, but this had to be the longest down you’d ever had. One of you usually broke down and called the other, but not this time. This time felt oddly final.
The distance had hurt you at first – really hurt. It felt almost like a break-up, that’s how strange it was to have Hoseok out of your life. Luckily, you’d had Darren to help pick up the pieces. Losing Hoseok had brought you closer to Darren and for a while, you’d thought that was how things were meant to be.
Obviously, you’d begun to rethink things lately.
You never did ask Darren about the text Hoseok saw and now, you realized Hoseok had probably been right. It was painful to imagine Darren cheating on you so early on. The idea of him falling in love with his co-star hurt a lot less than the idea of her being the latest in a long line of flings.
Swallowing hard, you picked up your suitcase and continued down the hall. Entering your old room, you flipped on the light and shut the door. Opening your suitcase, you began to unpack and then released a sigh, flopping down on your bed.
Staring up at the ceiling, you couldn’t help but smile. Glow-in-the-dark constellations speckled the paint, some of them nonsense and others mirroring the real thing. It’d taken you and Hoseok hours to glue them in place. He’d been obsessed with Greek Mythology at the time – talk about a behavioral psych project – and you’d been terrified of the dark.
Familiar constellations stared back at you. Cassiopeia, Orion, and your personal favorite – the little dipper. You loved the idea of Polaris, the North Star, calling you home. There were less conventional constellations there, too. Directly overhead was the outline of a dick.
It had been a joke at the time, intended to be moved, but Hoseok had used the Krazy Stick glue. Your parents had been furious, grounding you for a month in retribution. Still, the sight never failed to make you grin.
Your smile faded though, realizing how long it’d been since you last laughed with Hoseok. Rolling onto your side, you wondered what tomorrow night would bring. Sara had forwarded the party details to your calendar when you got home and you highly her saying it’d be a small affair.
You liked Yoongi a lot and were incredibly happy to have him in the family. He’d gone to your same high school as you but had been a year older and you hadn’t become friends until college. Yoongi and Hoseok attended the same University and had bonded over their shared hometown.
That was how Yoongi had met Sara. You, Hoseok and Yoongi had hung out one night when Sara decided to show up at the bar. The rest, as they say, was history.
It wasn’t a surprise you’d see Hoseok this weekend. You’d known as soon as you agreed to come home it would likely happen. You had hoped though, with weeks to prepare, you would’ve come up with something better to say.
It had been a year since you’d talked and during that time, Hoseok had been proven right about everything. It would be humiliating to face him, more so than anyone else. Nausea prickled your stomach and you sighed, closing your eyes.
You could do this, you told yourself. A week of polite chit-chat, skirting around important topics and pretending to everyone you had your life together.
Then, you could return to LA and fall apart again.
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The next morning you found yourself seated around the breakfast table, wondering if you’d been wrong to dread coming home. Honestly, there was nothing better than your dad’s homemade omelets in the morning.
As soon as you began eating though, your mom asked what jobs were on the table and you instantly realized it had been a trap. You brushed her questions aside with vague remarks about choosing the right next step. Once you were finished, you hightailed it upstairs before your mom could pry any further.
Coincidentally, Jimin had sent over a bunch of job postings that morning. None of them were super interesting, but at least they were something. A Disney Channel show about a hidden princess, a reality TV dating show, and a crime-thriller drama. With a sigh, you pulled your laptop closer and sent your resume and examples.
At this point, you just needed something to make rent at the end of this month. You could figure out your career after that, but until then you had bills to pay. A few seasons of a successful show weren’t enough to guarantee success in this business. You couldn’t afford to have any pride.
Sighing again, you finished sending out emails and closed your laptop. Staring out your room’s window, you watched the street below.
Mrs. Haberdash power-walked on the sidewalk, jabbering a mile a minute to Mrs. Mum on her other side. Both were dressed in the latest Target athletic wear line. Seeing them, the corners of your lips lifted. Hoseok had always called them the tweedles – after Tweedledee and Tweedledum. This had been the height of hilarity for twelve-year olds, made even more hilarious by the fact that Mrs. Haberdash’s first name was Dee.
The Tweedles happened to be two of the most annoying creatures on the planet. Mrs. Haberdash was the neighborhood busybody, but Mrs. Mum was the one you really had to watch out for. She usually chose to garden out in her front yard, trimming the same bush while listening to all her neighbors.
You hadn’t missed them much in LA, but it was comforting to know they were up to the same old tricks. Josen Falls felt like this each time you returned. You didn’t realize how much you missed things until you were here, surrounded by people who’d shaped your early life.
Josen Falls never seemed to change in any of the ways that mattered. It was the land time had forgotten; a town where people bought name brand groceries only if they had a coupon. A place where Lou, the milkman, was more known than any Hollywood actor.
Indeed, your initial decision to leave for LA had always been met with confusion. It was bad enough a lot of your friend group currently lived in New York. They were viewed with vague suspicion, including Yoongi and Sara, whom Mrs. Haberdash called ‘hoity-toity’ behind their backs. This was Josen Falls’ version of the b-word.
Speaking of whom – Sara had greatly misled you when she said all you needed to do was show up tonight.
As it so happened, a lot needed to be done before the party started at 7:00 PM. You spent most of the day running errands, going down Sara’s checklist with painstaking precision Jimin would’ve been proud of.
Jimin was your only real friend in LA. You’d happened upon him purely by chance, working the shit PBS job you’d had for less than a year. Jimin had been the assistant for all writers at PBS, so when you began writing for The Drop, you’d managed to finagle him a job as well. Jimin had been your assistant ever since, taking on additional clients as his fame grew.
Currently, he worked for you pro bono, but this couldn’t continue for much longer. Jimin always waved aside your insistence of paying him back. He said you’d made his career, but you hated having this hanging overhead. Once you started working again, Jimin would be the first check you’d cut. Simply put, he was the best in the business, and he deserved to be paid.
Despite this, Sara’s list of demands would’ve made even him flinch. You needed to get floral centerpieces, the cake from the bakery, procure blue and silver streamers and drop baking supplies off at your grandma’s. This was only the front side.
By the time you returned home around six, Sara was in a tizzy. Everyone needed to leave for the restaurant in forty-five minutes, and you still needed to shower. Hurrying upstairs, you yelled that everything was under control. After the fastest shower of your life, you made good on your promise and rushed out the door at 6:40 PM.
Your mom had left earlier to ensure decorations were perfect, so when you got there, Raffi’s was a veritable winter wonderland. Blue and silver streamers hung from above, paired with elegant flowers and vases on the table.
There wasn’t much time to appreciate this, though, since guests began to arrive soon after you did. Yoongi was the first one through the door, following Sara’s detailed instructions down to the T. When he entered, Sara’s anxiety melted as she rushed to greet him. Yoongi let out a muffled grunt when she hugged him, but from the goofy grin on his face, you knew he was faking.
Yoongi was a man of medium-height, slight build, and an intense demeanor. Luckily, your sister was the type of person who instantly saw through that. When she first met Yoongi, he’d barely said two words to her, and she saw it as a personal challenge. She would get Yoongi to speak to her.
Little did she know, he’d been harboring a fat crush on Sara since she walked through the door. Sara tended to have that effect on people. When Yoongi did speak, it was to blurt out in frustration he fucking liked her. Sara had been the one floored at that point.
Pulling back from the hug, Yoongi removed his coat to hang on the rack. As he entered the main room, he spotted you and walked over. Sara stayed by the door to greet Yoongi’s brother.
“Y/N.” Yoongi grinned, coming to a stop. “Long time, no see.”
“The longest,” you agreed with a smile. “It’s good to see you.”
You had missed him – that wasn’t a lie. Part of the downside to staying in LA was missing time with your friends from home. Of course, you still had the friend group chat, but it wasn’t the same.
“You don’t have a drink.” Yoongi observed your bare hands.
“Not yet.”
“Sara will fix that soon.”
As though on cue, your sister popped up beside you. “Here you go, Y/N!” she said, handing over a glass of red wine.
Yoongi winked and you laughed, accepting the glass you were handed. Catching this exchange, your sister pouted.
“Were you talking about me?” she said.
“Yes.” Yoongi squeezed her against his side. “Terrible things, all of them.”
“Good.” Sara raised her drink to her lips. “How boring would it be if people complimented you when you left the room?”
Snorting, you tried not to spit wine back in your glass. The other hardest part of living across the country was being away from your sister. Sara loved taking care of people – already, you saw her scanning the room for who else needed a drink. Even though she was the youngest of the family, she loved to play hostess.
As Yoongi sipped his whiskey, neat, you noticed his eyes continually stray towards your sister. It was sweet. His world truly seemed to revolve around her, and you couldn’t help but hope someone would look at you that way one day.
As another of Sara’s bridesmaids arrived, she squealed and darted across the room. Yoongi sighed and followed, taking his whiskey with. He waved goodbye, not seeming unhappy in the slightest as he followed your sister.
You watched them go, glad Sara could enjoy the party despite the small ache in your heart. As happy as you were for them, you couldn’t help but look at Sara and Yoongi and see yourself. Not long ago, you’d had someone to stand beside you at parties. Darren wasn’t that person to you anymore, though. If you were being totally honest – Darren had never been that person to you. Not in the same way Yoongi was to Sara.
Sighing quietly, you took a large sip of your wine and looked up as the door opened.
A gust of snow blew in, along with a familiar face, and all the blood instantly drained from your expression.
Whirling around, you chugged the rest of your wine as you made for the bar. The taste made you wince – no wine was meant to be chugged – but it couldn’t be helped. There was absolutely no way you’d be in direct line of sight when Jung Hoseok entered the party.
Setting your now-empty glass on the bar, you gave the bartender a weak smile as you ordered another. While he was busy with this, you tapped your fingernails against the counter. Quickly, you glanced over your shoulder.
Hoseok remained in the entrance, not looking in your direction – thank the lord. He was paused in removing his coat, nodding at someone who stood before him. Based on the back of their head, it seemed Hoseok was talking to Mr. Min, Yoongi’s dad.
His jacket was unfamiliar, a plaid pea coat thrown over a white button-down. As he bent, your eyes widened, and your breath caught in your throat. Hoseok had dyed his hair black, which was something he’d always wanted to do – and was that an undercut? Shit.
When Hoseok laughed, his eyes crinkled, and you felt your heart tighten. As he fully removed his coat, you saw the outfit underneath. He’d paired the crisp, white shirt with navy pants and those dumb Balenciaga sneakers he loved to wear. When you saw them, you nearly groaned but caught yourself just in time.
Hoseok’s gaze flicked up.
Instantly, you turned and saw your wine before you. “Thanks,” you said, sliding a dollar across the bar as a tip.
Grabbing the glass, you immediately moved as far as you could from the entrance. All you needed was a group of people to disappear into. You picked the first one you could find, wedging yourself between two older women who moved aside easily.
As soon as you looked up, you realized you’d chosen wrong.
The Tweedles stared back, along with a few other neighborhood busybodies. Mrs. Haberdash seemed thrilled, while Mrs. Mum looked – well, she looked how she always looked. Barely awake.
Weakly, you smiled. “Hi,” you said with a wave.
“Y/N!” Mrs. Haberdash clapped her hands. “Home for the holidays, I see. What a surprise!”
Although it wasn’t a question, you found yourself nodding as though it was. “Yes,” you agreed, taking a sip of your wine. “Had to be home for all the celebrations.”
“Oh, of course, of course. But how awkward,” she said, lowering her voice a pitch. “Why, we all saw the tabloids. Your mother told us not to say anything, but you’ve been through such an ordeal. That actor boyfriend of yours… what’s his name again? Derek?”
“Darren,” you said with a tight smile. “We broke up over the summer. I don’t see how that’s related to Sara and Yoongi, though.”
“Oh, it’s not,” Mrs. Haberdash assured. “It’s just so brave of you to show up here, all alone and –”
“She’s not alone,” said a familiar voice, stepping into the circle. “She has me.”
Kim Seokjin slung an arm around your neck, pulling you close in a semi-chokehold. It was less a romantic gesture than a modified wrestling move, but that was Seokjin. One of your closest friends growing up, he now lived in Seattle, so you were pleasantly surprised to find him home for the holidays.
“Oh!” Mrs. Haberdash looked between you. “I apologize. I didn’t know the two of you were, um, well…”
“Lovers?” Seokjin supplied helpfully.
Mrs. Haberdash nearly spit out her drink.
Turning around, you plucked a mini quiche from a passing tray. “Here, sweetums,” you said, lifting this to Seokjin’s lips. “Open wide!”
Before he could oblige, Mrs. Mum cleared her throat. “I’m out of wine,” she said, much to your relief. “Dee, why don’t we…?”
“Ah, yes,” said Mrs. Haberdash. Shaking her head, she seemed to compose herself. She’d been staring, a bit dazed, at Seokjin’s open mouth. “Well, it was lovely to see you, Y/N…”
Trailing off, she practically ran from your presence, the rest of her group following within seconds. Once they’d all disappeared, Seokjin snorted.
“Damn,” he said, looking at you. “I really thought you were going to feed me that mini quiche. You know what food play does to me, Y/N.”
“Gross,” you laughed, wrinkling your nose. Stepping out of his chokehold, you gave Seokjin a hug. “It’s good to see you, despite your weird kinks.”
“Same.” Seokjin pulled back to give you the swift onceover. “Yoongi was right. You’ve lost weight.”
“Will everyone stop discussing my appearance?” you wondered out loud. “Guess what – my weight? Off-limits!”
“Sorry, sorry!” Seokjin laughed. “I mean, you look hot whatever weight you are. Yoongi had to issue a group ban to his cousins, telling them the maid of honor was off limits.”
“Really?” you said, glancing around you with interest. “Why’d he do that? Maybe I want a rebound.”
“Take that up with Yoongi,” he said. “But seriously, Y/N, it’s good to see you. It’s been awhile since you came home.”
Exhaling softly, you glanced down at your glass. “Don’t make me give you the same excuses as Mrs. Haberdash,” you said quietly. “I’ve been busy. Out in LA, getting my heart stomped on, you know. The usual.”
Seokjin was silent a moment and when you looked up, his gaze was shrewder than he had any right to be.
“You’re right,” he said at last, plucking the empty drink from your hand. “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about what alcohol we want to drink next. I think I saw Namjoon at the bar.”
“Joonie?” you said, perking up as you followed.
Seokjin was right – as you approached the bar, you saw another childhood friend, Kim Namjoon, leaning against the counter. As a rising civil rights lawyer in New York, he was now considered to be something of a Big Deal, but this didn’t stop Seokjin from trying to give him a wedgie.
Namjoon dodged. “Thanks,” he said, only to spot you behind Seokjin. His eyes widened. “Y/N!” Namjoon said, nearly spilling his drink to wrap you in a hug. “I didn’t know you were coming home tonight!”
“Yeah,” you said, grinning as you pulled away. “Just got in last night.”
“It’s so good to see you.” Namjoon beamed.
“Yeah, yeah.” Seokjin leaned on the counter. “An appletini for me and for the lady, a glass of your cheapest red wine.”
The bartender stared, baffled and you came to his rescue.
“Chianti,” you said, then returned to Namjoon. “Ah, seriously. I’m so glad we’re all together again.”
“Same,” he said, looking you up and down. “Wow, you look –”
“I swear to god. If you say one thing about my weight.”
“… cheerful,” finished Namjoon weakly. “Must be the holidays.”
Seokjin snorted, turning with a green martini in hand. You accepted the glass of red wine he handed you and glanced around. Despite your earlier threats, it was good to see them. Like most things about Josen Falls, you never realized how much you missed them until you were here.
Scanning the room, you realized the restaurant had started to fill. You spotted Sara and Yoongi walking in, stopping to chat with Lana, who owned the local coffee shop. Just behind them stood your mom and to her right – your stomach swooped.
To her right was Hoseok.
He was chatting with one of your aunts, making her laugh in a way she rarely did. Dimly, you hoped they weren’t talking about you.
Forcing your gaze to Seokjin and Namjoon, you took a sip of your wine. “Wow,” you exhaled. “So, how long has it been?”
“Let’s see.” Seokjin swirled his appletini. “I think the last time we were together was for Namjoon’s sister’s wedding. So, what was that – last spring? Damn, that feels like forever ago.”
“It’s been nearly eight months,” Namjoon agreed. “Seems longer. Especially since Y/N was only there for part of the weekend. She left early to be with – uh, to go do something. I don’t… remember what, exactly.”
Shutting up, Namjoon’s cheeks turned pink and you tried not to laugh. He’d been about to say you left to be with Darren on the set of his movie. This, of course, had been before you knew Darren was cheating on you.
“It’s alright,” you assured him. “Don’t feel like you need to tip-toe around it. It’s just the Mrs. Haberdashes of the world I’d rather avoid.”
“Tweedledee?” Namjoon made a face. “Is that who Seokjin rescued you from?”
“The one and only.”
“She was asking Y/N about that douchebag,” said Seokjin. “Acting like Y/N needed to be pitied when really, this is a good thing! Y/N is free from all that hair gel and we have our Y/N back.”
Blinking, you stared at him for a second. You hadn’t realized how your friends felt about Darren. Sara had alluded to something similar when she was drunk, but you hadn’t realized the true extent. Possibly Hoseok had been right – you did tend to get blinders when you began dating someone.
Glancing around, you began to panic when you realized Hoseok had moved. Covertly scanning the premises of the bar, you failed to spot him anywhere else.
Leaning casually backwards, you glanced at the hall – no Hoseok. This put you on edge, the same way being in the room with a dangerous animal might make one nervous if they couldn’t see it.
“Crick in your neck, Y/N?” Seokjin said pleasantly. “Namjoon went to school for a long time. He probably knows how to fix that.”
“I went to law school, Seokjin, not med school.”
“Are the two different?”
“I’m going to the bathroom,” you announced before Namjoon’s eyes could bug out any further. Placing your glass on the counter, you turned and patted his arm. “Catch up with you later, okay?”
Both of them nodded, Seokjin taking a long sip of his drink before frowning. As you left, you heard him say, “But seriously, Namjoon. What do you do for a living?”
Namjoon sounded vaguely insulted in his response, so you slipped to the hall. Continuing to scan the restaurant, you found yourself distracted by the sheer amount of people around you. Hoseok was nowhere to be seen, which only served to increase your nervousness.
You were so busy looking for him, you failed to notice where you were going. As you turned the corner, you tripped on a rug and stumbled – straight into Hoseok, who exited the next room.
Both of you reeled, trying and failing to right yourselves.
“Shit!” you blurted, grabbing his shoulders in an attempt not to fall.
Hoseok’s right hand encircled your waist as you fell against him. His back hit the wall, your chest flush to his while you stared at him, wide-eyed.
Meeting your gaze, Hoseok froze underneath you. His hand remained on your waist; your body curved against his in a way which felt strangely intimate. Heat radiated between you for a moment, and then you came to your senses, remembering who you were and what you were doing.
“I – I’m sorry,” you said, scrambling backwards. “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”
“Me neither,” said Hoseok, sounding hoarse.
Hearing his voice, you forgot what to say. You thought you’d been prepared to see him again, but now you realized how woefully wrong you’d been. Nothing could prepare you for standing before him, with Hoseok holding himself like that – as though you were a stranger.
Swallowing away your discomfort, you met his gaze. You could do this, you told yourself. You could smile, thank him for coming and then move past.
“You look good,” you blurted out.
Or – you could do that. Inwardly, you cursed.
Hoseok blinked. “Oh. Thanks.”
You waited for him to continue, but when he didn’t, you began to feel foolish. Wishing the earth would swallow you whole, you glanced past Hoseok and stared at the door.
You hadn’t been lying, though – Hoseok did look good. Had you been through a breakup, you would’ve said he was the winner. You two hadn’t been dating, though. You’d only been best friends; he’d only been the most important guy in your life before your friendship had ended.
The pain of this burned, stinging the back of your throat.
Hoseok slowly exhaled. “So. Yoongi said you’re Sara’s maid of honor?”
Surprised, you glanced back. You’d nearly forgotten. “Yeah,” you said. “You’re going to be Yoongi’s best man, right?’
“Yep.”
“… Cool.”
Silence fell between again and, somewhat miserable, you looked away. Hoseok clearly had nothing to say and you couldn’t think of anything better to say than cool. He seemed so unmoved, so unruffled by your presence and you could barely hold it together.
You couldn’t help wondering what Hoseok had heard about you. You wondered if he knew you’d broken up with Darren, if he knew The Drop was ending after this season. You wondered if he knew you thought about him way too much to be considered normal.
While you were wallowing in self-pity, Hoseok cleared his throat. This time when you looked, he seemed vaguely uncomfortable.
“Look,” Hoseok exhaled, but you never found out what he was going to say, since Jungkook came barreling around the corner.
“Y/N!” he yelled, rushing forward.
You let out an oof, laughing as he hugged you. Jungkook was one of your sister’s best friends from high school and had since become one of yours by default.
Pulling back, Jungkook glanced between you and Hoseok. “Oh, hey Hobi,” he said, as though nothing was wrong. “Yoongi was looking for you a minute ago. Said something about cufflinks in your car?”
“Oh, shit.” Hoseok winced. “Which room is he in?”
Jungkook pointed and Hoseok, after a glance in your direction, nodded and left. He didn’t say goodbye before he disappeared and you stood there for a moment, staring at his back.
Deep down, you’d known this was how things would go. Nothing had changed since you stopped being friends except, you’d broken up with Darren. While that may have started the fight between you and Hoseok, it had been over a year since. Lots of hurt and confusion had come between you. It was foolish to imagine something might have changed.
“Want another drink?” Jungkook interrupted your thoughts. “Namjoon and Seokjin are inside at the bar.”
Nodding gratefully, you followed Jungkook into the restaurant, realizing belatedly you hadn’t gone to the bathroom. Not that you’d needed to go. That had only been an excuse to escape Hoseok, which had majorly backfired.
As you rejoined the group at the bar, you ordered another drink and tried to forget. It was strange to be in the same room as Hoseok and not stand beside him. Some basic, molecular part of yourself refused to accept the fact you were no longer friends. This part of yourself longed to cross the room and tell Hoseok about your run in with the Tweedles, but you couldn’t.
Still, you forced yourself to keep smiling. This was Sara and Yoongi’s night, after all. Pushing Hoseok from mind, you drank and attempted to forget the mortification you felt each time you caught sight of him in your peripheral.
It was in this way the night passed. By the end, you were relieved to make it through without major incident. Your friends were the last to go, Seokjin shrugging on a bomber jacket you deemed completely inappropriate for the temperature outside. He kissed you on the cheek, loudly calling you his lover again for Mrs. Haberdash’s sake (who had left an hour prior) until Namjoon physically pulled him out the door.
You helped your mom clean until she shooed you away and told you to leave. Your dad, who’d been labeled designated driver, grandly bowed before leaving to heat up the car.
It was your job to wrangle Sara, who had her arms wrapped around Yoongi’s neck and was refusing to go. Yoongi, whose cheeks were pink with alcohol, didn’t seem to mind, but he flushed a darker shade once he realized your dad was waiting.
“C’mon babe,” he said, handing Sara over to you. “I’ll see you tomorrow! Promise.”
Sara sighed, but allowed herself to be extricated and led out the door. Hoseok had left around the same time as Seokjin and Namjoon, so he wasn’t there when you entered the parking lot. It had begun to snow again, so you walked as fast as you could towards your dad’s car.
Placing Sara in the backseat, you entered the passenger side and turned on the radio. It was tuned to the Christmas station, which made you think about holidays when you were children. The night felt largely the same, with Sara singing in the backseat while your dad harmonized in falsetto.
You laughed and joined in but couldn’t seem to shake the heavy weight from your chest. If this were really like your childhood, Hoseok would have texted at least twice by now.
As it was, your phone remained empty the rest of the way home and you fell asleep that night wondering what he’d been about to say.
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The next day passed uneventfully, with Fridays being low-key around the house. Both your parents were working, only taking off the next week for Christmas, so you and Sara lounged until your dad’s conference calls became too distracting.
Heading up to your room, you opened your laptop and sat at your desk. Staring at the screenplay pulled up on the page, you sighed. One for the Money was your pet project, something you’d worked on the past few years whenever you had spare time. It had been on hold for a while due to The Drop, but you’d had more time to work on it lately.
The spec script was finished, but each time you sent it out, you received negative responses. It would’ve been helpful had the studios given you critique, but nothing so far surmounted to anything more than a corporate template.
You had re-read the script many times, hoping to spot whatever it was everyone hated. Unfortunately, you seemed to be having about as much luck with this in your bedroom as you had in LA – aka, no luck.
Maybe this had something to do with your surroundings. Each time you glanced up you spotted another reminder of Hoseok. Beneath your desk was a stain from the night you’d dared Hoseok to fit as many marshmallows in his mouth as he could. He’d gotten to fifteen before he nearly choked and spat the glob on the carpet. As it turned out, marshmallow goo was surprisingly hard to clean.
That had been the only time your mom had gotten mad at Hoseok. Normally, he walked on water at your household, but your mom had gone so far as to gently admonish him that day. Hoseok had been extremely apologetic, scrubbing on both hands and knees, but the stain refused to come out.
Glancing away, you tried to think of something else, but your gaze found your bed and you were gone once again. You recalled the night your Grandma died; you’d refused to answer Hoseok’s texts. He’d been so worried he’d climbed up the trellis beneath your window and knocked until you let him in.
Hoseok had stayed the entire night, holding you and letting you cry into his grey hoodie.
Shutting your laptop, you let out a sigh. This room was too distracting – every other room in the house would be distracting, as well. Shoving your things in your bag, you slung this over your shoulder and stood from your desk. What you needed was a fresh change of pace.
Hurrying downstairs, you paused at the landing to yell you needed the car. Your dad yelled back, “Sure, Lucy!” and you grabbed the keys from the hook. Throwing on a coat, you got in his sedan and – shivering violently – drove the several blocks over to your favorite coffee shop.
As you entered Lana’s Corner, holiday bells jingled overhead. The woman behind the counter looked up, breaking into a smile when she saw it was you.
“Y/N!” Lana gushed, rushing forward. Wrapping you in a warm hug, she squeezed and took a step back. “You’re home! I heard you went to LA and made something of yourself. Way to go!”
Shaking your head, you attempted a smile. “Well, tried to, anyways.”
“No, no – none of that,” she said, shaking her finger as she returned behind the counter. “You’ve done wonderful things and there’s more to come. I can feel it. The usual?” she asked, stopping at the register. “Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows?”
You paused, since this had been your favorite drink in high school, but you rarely drank hot chocolate these days. As much as you hated to say LA had rubbed off on you, it was a lot of sugar for mid-afternoon.
Deciding, fuck it, you shrugged. “Sure,” you said, heading to your old table by the windows. “Thanks, Lana!”
Shrugging from your coat, you draped this over your chair and sat down. Lana was odd in that she insisted people eat and drink before paying a dime. Said she didn’t want to charge people if they didn’t enjoy her food – you’d fought this for a while but had eventually given up. Lana was even more stubborn than you.
Pulling out your laptop, you opened your email and saw Jimin had sent more jobs. Releasing a sigh, you opened the first one.
Lana brought your hot chocolate within minutes, placing it beside your laptop to cool. You continued to work while you sipped the confection. There was something about your screenplay you clearly weren’t seeing, but you had no idea how to take a step back and be more objective.
Midway through editing, you felt your phone ring in your pocket. Digging around in your bag, you pulled it out to answer.
“Hello?” you said.
“Hello!” a bright voice chirped. “Y/N?”
“Yes, this is she. With whom am I speaking?”
“Oh, you’re too much!” the other person said with a laugh. “No need to be so formal, darling. This is Daisy from MTV. You applied to our screenwriter position yesterday?”
Frantically, you racked your brain for which TV show this was.
“Uh, right,” you said, scrolling through your inbox. “Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly!”
“Of course, of course. I have to say, we were surprised to see your resume! Someone who used to write for The Drop isn’t exactly our usual suspect.”
“Oh, well… I have a varied interest across all forms of media.”
“Mm, is that so?”
There was rustling on the other end, as though Daisy were sifting through papers. Biting down on your lip, you scanned more of Jimin’s emails while she paused.
“I assume your assistant told you about Roulette?”
Immediately, you stopped looking and felt your heart sink.
Roulette was a terrible reality dating show Jimin had sent your way. Its premise was the following – someone went on three dates and was asked to choose one person at the end. The catch was one date was someone they’d passed over on a dating app, one was someone who’d passed over them on a dating app and the third was the ex of someone in their real life.
You hated the premise for multiple reasons, but mostly because you couldn’t believe someone wouldn’t recognize any of these people. Especially the supposed ex of someone they knew.
Teeth gritted, you said, “Right, of course. Jimin told me about the concept and I found it so interesting. Lots of room for conflict.”
“Bingo!” Daisy laughed. “Conflict is reality TV’s bread and butter. I like to think of it as the new recipe for storytelling. Rather than the classic rising action, climax and falling action – it’s all rise. You know Shakespeare was considered uncultured in his time, right? He wrote plays which appealed to the masses and now, our kids study him in lit class. Maybe one day people will study the Kardashians.”
Lips parted, you struggled to keep up with her dizzying rhetoric. Honestly, someone probably should study the Kardashians if they hadn’t already. Say what you wanted about their culturally appropriating asses; they knew how to make money.
“That would be… something,” you said, realizing she wanted an answer. “Anyways, what questions did you have for me?”
“Oh, nothing so formal as that.” Daisy laughed. “Why don’t you just pitch me a few ideas for the show? Where would you suggest for a first date?”
Networks sometimes did this, asking writers during the interview if they had ideas. Normally though, you at least were given a heads-up this was coming. Staring into your hot chocolate, you scrambled for concepts.
“Um, let’s see,” you said, stalling for time. “They could go to an arcade?”
“Hm.” Daisy tsk-ed. “That kind of thing has been done to death. Anything else?”
“Sure, uh… there are bars where you can go axe-throwing. It’s supposed to be oddly therapeutic.”
“Interesting, interesting… any other ideas? Something a bit more… original?”
Vaguely annoyed by her tone, you straightened in your seat.
“Okay, well,” you said. “If it’s a dating show, there’s no time for pining. I say you throw them into situations where emotions are heightened. Make them fall for each other faster. Maybe something with a shark cage, or skydiving, or cliff-jumping.”
“Adrenaline is always good!”
“Yeah,” you said, relaxing a little. “My ex-boyfriend and I repelled down a waterfall on vacation and it was terrifying, but super romantic after. You feel closer to someone after escaping a near-death experience.”
“Love that!” Daisy sounded interested for the very first time. “Was this with your ex-boyfriend, Darren Carmichael?”
Blinking, you weren’t sure how she knew that about you. It seemed the screenwriting world was smaller than you’d thought.
“I – uh, no,” you said, lying through your teeth. “Someone else.”
“Oh.” Her voice fell flat. “Well, these are all great suggestions, Y/N. I like your style. What do you say we end things here, and someone will call you in a few days with the offer?”
“I – so soon?” you said, eyebrows shooting up.
“We like to work fast around here. I hire based on gut feeling.”
Wincing a little, you stopped yourself from telling her this was a poor hiring practice. Research had shown hiring from ‘gut feeling’ led to discriminatory practices, since it almost always led to hiring people who looked and thought like you did.
“That’s… great,” you said, however weakly.
“So, we start shooting the second week of January. We’ll need you onsite the first week though, make sure everything is lined up and ready to go.”
“Oh. That’s so soon!”
“Is that a problem?”
“Ah – no, not at all,” you hastened, trying to remember when your plane flight back to LA was. “Just excited to get started.”
“That’s what I like to hear! Alright, tell your assistant to keep an eye on his email and we’ll be in touch. Any questions for me before I go?”
“No,” you said with a shake of your head. “None here. Thank you so much for this opportunity.”
“Listen to you.” Daisy chuckled. “So cute. Talk to you soon, darling! Happy holidays, and all that.”
She hung up, leaving only a dial tone as you stared at the wall. Slowly lowering your phone, you let out a sigh.
You didn’t want this job. The show sounded terrible, but there was nothing you could do. You needed to work to pay rent and put food on the table. You could afford to be picky once you’d managed to save a bit more.
Rubbing your temples, you brought your now-empty cup of hot chocolate over to the counter. Setting this down in the bin, you glanced around the café. Lana sometimes disappeared to make the baked goods herself.
Craning your neck, you glanced towards the back room as the door behind you opened.
“Y/N?”
You whirled, elbow hitting the cup and nearly knocking it from the counter. Catching this just in time, you exhaled in relief and looked up to see Hoseok.
He hovered just inside the door, unwrapping his scarf. Snowflakes were scattered across both hair and coat, quickly melting in the warmth of the room.
“Careful with that.” Hoseok glanced at your cup. “You’ll take someone’s eye out.”
Against all better judgement, you grinned. “A Christmas Story?” you said, naming the movie he misquoted. “Really?”
Hoseok simply smiled. A Christmas Story was his dad’s favorite holiday movie – as a result, Hoseok knew every line and could quote it by heart, even though he hated the movie. Forced osmosis, he liked to say.
“What can I say?” he said, glancing over your shoulder. “Tis the season. Hey, Lana!”
“Hoseok!” Lana bustled out of the back room. “It’s been too long since I last saw you. I hear you’ve been up to impressive things yourself.”
Hoseok looked vaguely embarrassed.
“Nah,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “Just the usual, you know.”
“Your mom says you’re working on your dissertation? And that there’s talk of you working at the University once you’re done?”
Surprised, you glanced at Hoseok. You hadn’t heard that, but then again, you wouldn’t have. Of course, Hoseok wouldn’t have told you he was after his dream job.
Indeed, his cheeks were faintly pink while facing Lana. “Ah, yeah.” Hoseok gave a little laugh. “We’ll see what happens. I still have a little while before I get my doctorate.”
“Always knew you’d save the world,” Lana said. “You and Y/N, the unstoppable couple.”
Instantly, your cheeks began to heat. “Oh, we weren’t –”
“Not a couple, we –”
Both of you stopped and looked at each other.
Eyebrows raised, Lana began to back away. “I left some dishes soaking in the other room – just came out because I heard the door chime. Y/N, I’ll ring you up when I’m back!”
She disappeared, leaving you and Hoseok alone. Resting your hip on the counter, you glanced again at Hoseok. He seemed a bit flustered, but didn’t say anything more, looking instead at the specials overhead.
Releasing a sigh, you turned around to wait.
Hoseok cleared his throat behind you. “So, listen,” he said, surprising you into looking. “I wanted to talk to you last night about something.”
“What about?” you said, turning fully to face him.
Hoseok pushed a hand through his hair. Cut black strands fell about his face, making you stare. Quickly, you snapped yourself out of this.
“I can’t believe you got an undercut,” you said before you could stop yourself.
Hoseok froze. “Huh?”
“Your hair,” you said, gesturing loosely. Great – another awkward remark about Hoseok’s appearance. “You always said you wanted to do that. I guess I’m just surprised you did it.”
Hoseok paused, then gave you an odd look. “Yeah, well. There’s been a lot of things I wanted to do but didn’t. Figured an undercut shouldn’t be one of them.”
Feeling oddly thrown by this statement, you nodded and turned back around. Leaning over the counter, you searched for Lana and saw no one. With a sigh, you drew back and pondered whether to just place money on the counter and leave.
Lana calling you a couple hadn’t been a coincidence. Ever since you were little, most people in town had assumed you were dating – at first, it had been funny, but now it was something of a sore spot for you. Especially because you’d liked Hoseok back in high school and nothing had happened.
“Right,” you said tightly. “Okay.”
Hoseok hesitated.  “Anyways, I wanted to apologize about last night. I know I was abrupt in the hall. I just… Yoongi hadn’t warned me you’d be there. I thought you were still in LA.”
“Ah.”
“Not that that’s an excuse,” he continued. “I was rude to you, and that’s not okay.”
“No, Hobi, I – I mean, Hoseok,” you corrected, cheeks heating when you said his nickname. “It’s understandable. It’s been… a long time since we’ve talked.”
Hoseok was quiet for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”
The silence between you few and this time, you were the one who looked away first. If Lana didn’t return soon, you were going to leave a ten on the counter and call it a day.
“That’s not all I wanted to say,” Hoseok said, surprising you.
Brows raised, you turned back. “It wasn’t?”
He slowly shook his head.
Some people might have been unnerved by this version of Hoseok. Usually, Hoseok was the loudest person in the room. Always laughing, smiling, or telling someone a joke. He was the life of the party, but this side of him existed, too. The quieter, more serious version of Hoseok. The version who laid on your bed and made-up random stories about the time Orion fought your giant dick constellation.
Lips twitching, you smothered this thought. Hoseok wasn’t your friend anymore and you weren’t reminiscing together.
“Look.” He paused. “This is awkward.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Hoseok gave you a look.
“Sorry, sorry,” you said, trying hard not to smile. “Please continue.”
He rolled his eyes, and the gesture was so normal, you felt the slightest of tension drain from the air.
“Anyways,” he said. “I know we’re not friends anymore, but we’re going to be in this wedding together. You’re Sara’s maid of honor and I’m Yoongi’s best man. We’re probably going to cross paths at some point.”
“Maybe literally, if we’re forced to walk down the aisle together.”
Hoseok’s lips twitched. “This is serious, Y/N.”
“I know,” you said, smile disappearing. “You’re right, this is weird. But you’re also right – this isn’t about us. This is about Sara and Yoongi.”
“Exactly.” Hoseok nodded. “Which is why I think we should try and get along. You know, for the sake of the wedding.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” you said. “Bloodshed never looks good in wedding photos.”
“It’d clash horribly with their color scheme.”
A snort escaped you. “No one wants that.”
“Okay, cool.” Hoseok paused. “So, it’s settled? We call a truce for the wedding.”
“For the wedding,” you agreed. “And then… after?”
“What about after?”
Hoseok seemed genuinely baffled, which made you want to sink through the floor. It was just having him here, bantering with him like you used to – you couldn’t help wondering why you were fighting. It didn’t make sense for Hoseok to ignore you like this.
It wasn’t as though you were still mad at him about last year. You weren’t holding a grudge about the way Hoseok had cut you out of his life, treating you as though two decades of friendship could be easily tossed aside.
Okay, maybe you were a little mad.
“I… don’t know,” you said at last. “Never mind.”
“Alright.” Hoseok hesitated. “Well … that’s all I wanted to say.”
“Okay.”
By this time, all the snow had melted in his hair. It made the strands look a bit damp, mussed by his scarf and you fought the sudden urge to smooth them down. His appearance annoyed you. Hoseok never took proper care of himself, yet he continually butted into your life and tried to fix all your problems.
Not wanting to stay any longer, you reached into your purse and pulled out a ten. Placing this on the counter, you turned away.
“Well. See you around,” you told Hoseok.
“I heard The Drop got cancelled.”
You froze.
Slowly, you turned back to see him. “What did you say?”
Hoseok had the nerve to look sympathetic, which you found to be maddening.
“I heard the show was cancelled,” he said, sliding his hands in his pockets. “It’s a shame, really. I liked it. Second season was even stronger than the first.”
Blinking, you found yourself taken aback. Hoseok had been your friend when the first season aired – he’d had nothing but good words to say about it at the time, but you didn’t know he’d watched the second. Obviously, the two of you had never discussed it.
“You did?” you said, tentative.
Hoseok nodded. “Yeah. I… could tell which parts you wrote, you know? It was cool. You always had the best lines.”
Warmth blossomed within you, even as you did your best to stamp it out. Of course, Hoseok could say a few words and thaw all your ice. He knew exactly which compliments meant the most to you and knew how to wield them. The direction with The Drop had always bothered you – some of the twists had felt stale – but Hoseok knew which lines you’d written. He’d liked the lines you wrote.
“Thanks,” you said, a tingle spreading down your spine.
Hoseok smiled. “So, what are you doing now?”
Equally fast, the warmth within you fizzled. Glancing at the board, you scrambled for something to tell him which wasn’t Roulette. Hoseok would hate the idea of you doing a reality TV show – he knew you; he knew your ambitions and he’d know this to be a step backwards.
“Well, I…”
“It’s also cool if you don’t have something lined up,” Hoseok said, far more astute than he had any right to be. “Life doesn’t always work out that way.”
“I know.”
“Of course.” His smile disappeared. “Well, I hope you like whatever you do next, then.”
You highly doubted this but forced yourself to smile. It didn’t make sense to burden Hoseok with your problems – it wasn’t as though you were friends anymore.
“Thanks,” you said quietly. “I hope you get that teaching job.”
“Thanks.”
Hoseok didn’t expand further and you shifted your weight, sensing you had nothing more to say. You’d exchanged pleasantries, set the stage for wedding interactions and somehow managed not to tear each other's heads off. That was a start, at least.
“Well,” you said, turning around again. It seemed Lana wasn’t coming back out. “I have to get going, but I’m glad we ran into each other.”
“Same.” Hoseok nodded. “I’ll see you around, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan,” you said before leaving.
Returning to your table, you began packing your things. Sliding your laptop into your bag, you buttoned your coat and grabbed your gloves. Too much had happened in the past hour for you to even consider continuing your screenplay.
Faltering in your movement, you wondered why you hadn’t mentioned that to Hoseok. He’d always used to read your scripts before you went to LA. Even when you worked for PBS, Hoseok was your first sounding board before you hired an editor. Tentatively, you wondered if he’d do that again for you.
There had been many nights in New York when he’d lounge on your couch, listening to you make up stories over copious glasses of wine. Silly stories, where Hoseok was a superhero with the ability to turn water into wine – and only that. Thinking about ways for lame, wine-drinking superhero Hoseok to save the day had been one of your favorite pastimes – one of his, too.
Shaking your head, you put on your hat. It would be weird to ask him to read. The two of you hadn’t spoken in nearly a year. Things would need to be warmer to ask him for a favor and in order for that to happen, you’d need to talk to Hoseok about what had happened.
As you left the shop, you glanced over your shoulder and saw Hoseok scrolling through his phone at the counter. He didn’t seem affected by your conversation, and you wondered if you were the only sentimental one between you.
Sighing lightly, you pulled your bag higher and walked out the door. You didn’t look back, so you didn’t see Hoseok glance up when you left, his gaze lingering.
Outside, you tugged your hat lower as you walked to your car. It had begun snowing while you were inside, forcing you to scrape newly formed ice on your windshield. As you entered the driver’s side, the car came to life and you remembered Hoseok’s comment about bloodshed not matching the wedding colors.
Stifling a snort, you backed out of your spot. It was hard not to slip into the same repertoire you once had. Just being around him made you feel more like yourself, made you remember times when you knew who you were and what you wanted from life. Lately, you’d been feeling so lost.
You could do this, though. You could navigate the holiday season intact and return to LA where you could work on pulling yourself together. You didn’t need to see Hoseok much more before leaving.
There was the neighborhood holiday party, and a few more outings related to Sara’s wedding. Heart sinking, you realized you were forgetting the most important event. Tomorrow was the holiday cookie baking championship – quite possibly the most anticipated event of the season.
Kim Namjoon and his family hosted every year, and things usually got competitive. You would obviously see Hoseok then, since he’d been one of the inaugural participants. This realization made your heart instantly sink.
The neighborhood holiday party was one thing – that party was for grown-ups, kids, and everyone in between. The holiday cookie baking championship was for you and your friend group. Attending with Hoseok would feel like old times, which could only serve to worsen the hurt.
With a sigh, you pulled out of the lot. It wouldn’t do to worry about that now. Tomorrow would come soon enough.
Still, you stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up some goods. Like hell were you going to be shown up by Hoseok on your own turf.
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“Ladies and gentlemen.” Seokjin paused, frosting-covered spatula held before him like a microphone. “Friends and family, children of all ages – except that’s a lie. No children should be participating in today’s adults-only activities. They should all be in the basement watching Elf with Namjoon’s grandma. Anyways, NOW!” he said, lifting the spoon overhead. “Now, is the moment you’ve all been waiting for!”
“Is the moment the one where you stop talking?” said Taehyung, lounged by the fireplace.
Jungkook snorted. “Burn.”
“Wrong.” Seokjin leveled the spoon at them both. “Just for that, Taehyung, you only get the brown sprinkles from Halloween. Namjoon!” he cried. “Take note.”
Namjoon looked up, alarmed. “Take note of what?”
“Henceforth, Taehyung only gets the poop-colored sprinkles.”
Jungkook leaned over to Taehyung. “I’ll give you some of mine, bro.”
“Tight,” he said.
They fist-bumped.
Seokjin looked at the ceiling. “Anyways, where was I?”
“You were telling us the moment we’re waiting for,” said Hoseok, hip leaned against the counter. “We’re all waiting with bated breath.”
Namjoon snorted and you laughed, as Seokjin glowered in frustration.
“I expect this from the rest of these hooligans,” he said, shooting you a disappointed look. “But not you, Y/N.”
Weakly, you shrugged.
The annual holiday cookie competition was a longstanding tradition, hosted by the Kim house each year the weekend before Christmas. It had begun when your high school hosted a holiday bake sale and required each student to bring one kind of cookie to sell.
You’d all gathered at Namjoon’s to bake and somehow, this had turned into an annual tradition. Seokjin – who was competitive about the most mundane things – assigned ratings the second year, which led to Hoseok declaring revenge in year three. For two months, he’d practiced making madeleines, but Seokjin stubbornly declared him only second place.
Ever since then, the cookie making had become an out-and-out war. More people joined as word of the event spread. Jungkook and Taehyung became contestants during college, along with Sara. This added unforeseen stress to the proceedings, since neither one of them could bake. Taehyung set his cookies on fire his second year, leading to a famed three-year ban he constantly sought to erase.
Yoongi was the last person from your group to join, but this was just as well, since Yoongi was an actual chef. It was usually down to him and Seokjin to win the grand prize. You’d been the one absent most recently, choosing to stay in LA over the holidays the last year.
Despite this, it was nice to gather in Namjoon’s home again. His mom greeted you with the warmest of hugs, making you feel guilty you hadn’t been around sooner. For two years, you’d been so concentrated on work and your life in LA, you’d barely thought about what you were missing.
Last year when you hadn’t come home for Christmas, you’d made sure to visit at a different point in January. It meant you missed all the holiday traditions though, which were usually when you saw everyone else.
Seeing all your friends in one place sent a surge of warmth through you.
“The moment,” said Seokjin, pausing for emphasis.
“Will you just get on with it?” Yoongi groaned, seated beside Sara at the kitchen table.
“The annual holiday cookie baking championship has begun!” Seokjin cried. “Namjoon, ring the gong.”
Again, Namjoon looked baffled. “What gong?”
A tinny gong noise rang through the room, courtesy of Jungkook holding up his phone.
“Begin!” Seokjin said, brandishing his spoon like a sword.
Everyone began moving, standing from their chairs to fall into line. Namjoon and his mom had carefully pre-packaged cookie-making kits the night prior, although many contestants chose to bring their own tools.
You’d only bought decorative touches, so you joined the line, ending up at the back behind Namjoon’s sister. Pulling out your phone, you checked your email and frowned. Daisy had said she’d send over an offer, but nothing had come through. There still was time, but you’d imagined her to be one of those people who worked at lightning speed.
“Bored already?” said Hoseok, interrupting.
Startled, you glanced up. “What – no!” you said, returning your phone to your pocket. “Just checking my email. Nothing important.”
Hoseok arched a brow, clearly not believing you, but wisely choosing to remain silent as you moved up in line. Seokjin pressed play on his holiday music playlist, filling the kitchen with Mariah Carey’s holiday vocal runs.
“Got anything special planned this year?” Hoseok said, spotting your empty hands.
“Not really,” you said with a frown. “I stopped at the grocery store to get some decorations, but nothing as show-stopping as years past, I’m afraid.”
Hoseok made a tsk-ing noise with his teeth. “Hope you’re ready to lose, then.”
“Hey!” Despite yourself, you laughed. “I’ll have you know my cookies are based on substance, not flash.”
Hoseok shook his head sadly. “Flash is literally a category, though. Remember? Seokjin added it five years ago.”
“Oh, shit. He did, didn’t he?” You paused. “Damn, I guess it’s been a while.”
“I guess so.”
Hoseok fell silent as you took another step forward. Glancing around, you saw people already staking out their claims for baking. Seokjin had snagged the table by the stairs, Taehyung and Jungkook were in the kitchen and Yoongi rolled out utensils under the window. Yoongi never used the pre-made kits, choosing instead to bake from scratch every year.
Collecting your bag, you wound through the kitchen and came to a stop. There were only a few tables left, and only three chairs remaining. While you scanned the room, you saw Jungkook pull out a bag of cookie cutters shaped oddly like –
“Are those penises?” you said as Hoseok came to a stop alongside you.
Hoseok squinted at him with interest. “Huh, yeah. Guess so! Can’t imagine Mrs. Kim will rate those highly for style. Definite risk.”
Namjoon’s mom was one of the judges every year, having been roped in after Seokjin continually declared himself in the top three.
Shaking your head, you entered the living room and realized only one table was left. Hoseok followed suit, seeming to realize this at the same time. Awkwardly, he hovered while you set down your things.
“You can work here if you want,” you said, nodding at the open space.
Hoseok glanced at you in surprise. “Really?”
“Sure. I think we can be civil for an hour of baking cookies, don’t you?”
Hoseok’s lips twitched, setting down his things. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I seem to remember the year you threw a knife at Namjoon when he burnt your cookies.”
“Okay, I didn’t throw the knife. I accidentally dropped it.”
“While?”
“… While I was threatening to castrate him.”
Hoseok cracked up, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
Even you couldn’t help but smile, arranging your supplies in the order you’d need them. In the corner of your eye, you saw Hoseok doing the same and for the first time, took in what he was wearing.
Hoseok was dressed in an emerald sweater and black jeans, along with those same Balenciaga sneakers. A few strands of dark hair hung over his forehead; brow furrowed while he worked on his layout. The sight made your stomach swoop.
Like always, you banished the feelings immediately. Hoseok was good-lucking and the sky was blue – neither one had anything to do with you. Back in high school, there’d been a period when Hoseok’s good looks would have been crippling to you. Hoseok had gone through puberty seemingly overnight. One day, he’d been your nerdy best friend and the next day, girls whispered about him whenever he walked past in the halls.
Jung Hoseok, with the infectious laugh. Jung Hoseok, with the devastatingly sharp profile. Jung Hoseok, who could effortlessly make someone feel special. Freshman year of high school, you’d had glasses, braces, and terrible acne while Hoseok had been the golden boy. It had been unthinkable for him to look at you like that, so in self-preservation, you’d learned to tune the emotion out.
Once you began dating Ren, you got over your crush on Hoseok. That was when you realized falling for someone else was only antidote in existence for your best friend. Hoseok was too charming for his own good – he caught people in his web without having to try. He could never know you’d once been in love with him. Honestly, you would never live such a thing down.
You’d tried distancing yourself from Hoseok even before Ren, but it hadn’t really worked – not even when Hoseok began dating Fiona. Fiona had been nice, or so you thought before she became jealous of your and Hoseok’s friendship and demanded he stop hanging out with you. Hoseok didn’t follow her instructions exactly, but your friendship definitely took a blow.
When you went to college and met Ren, you only drifted further until Hoseok broke up with Fiona due to long distance.
When you began to date Darren, things had felt safe but now you were single and all those same, unwanted feelings came rushing back. Hating how easily Hoseok did this to you, you fixed your gaze on the table and tried to trap the emotions.
It was hard not to notice how good Hoseok looked. He’d changed since you’d last seen him. Jaw sharper, shoulders broader, he filled out the sweater better than before. The slope of his nose remained unchanged, though – this had always been your favorite thing about him. Hoseok’s profile could bring people to their knees.
Of course, the idea of Hoseok on his knees made your face heat, so you hastily began measuring out the ingredients. Carefully reading the instructions, you dutifully followed the steps Mrs. Kim had laid out. You knew Mrs. Kim had been the one to write them, since Namjoon also couldn’t bake for shit.
“So,” you said, scooping flour into a bowl. “How’s the research going?”
Hoseok glanced your way. “I – uh, really good. I like it.”
“Always knew you’d save the world,” you said, echoing Lana’s statement.
Hoseok gave a small laugh. “Nice of you to have such faith. The world’s a pretty fucked up place.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
Hoseok fell silent, measuring and mixing ingredients before him. Silence fell between you – a more comfortable kind than before and for a moment, it felt like old times again. Hoseok beside you, your friends laughing in the next room and Christmas cookies on the table.
After a few minutes, he looked up.
“Y/N,” Hoseok said. “Can I ask what really happened with –”
“Y/N,” Sara gasped, appearing at your elbow. “You have to come quick. Seokjin stole Jungkook’s penis cookie cutters and it’s about to be world war three in the kitchen!”
“Oh my god,” you groaned, but laughed, nonetheless.
Glancing apologetically at Hoseok, you brushed off your hands and hurried after Sara. Inside the kitchen, Seokjin held Jungkook’s penis-shaped cookie cutters above his head in the air. Jungkook didn’t seem pleased in the slightest, rolling up his sleeves in a menacing matter. You’d seen them play-fight enough times to know the situation would end with something probably broken.
“Whoa – hey,” you blurted, stepping between them. “What’s going on?”
“Seokjin stole my things.” Jungkook pouted, crossing his arms.
Your head swiveled to Seokjin. “Care to comment?”
Seokjin sighed. “This is a holiday cookie baking competition,” he said. “Penises aren’t holiday inspired.”
“Not true!” Jungkook cried. “I was going to decorate them in red and white stripes, like candy canes. Holiday dick is a thing.”
“He’s right,” agreed Sara. “It’s a thing.”
Despite yourself, your lips twitched. Seokjin seemed like he was seconds away from losing his shit though, so you shot Sara a look which said be quiet. Yoongi was laughing his head off somewhere in the back, utterly unhelpful.
“Since this is Namjoon’s house,” you said. “We should let him decide. Namjoon?”
Namjoon pretended to think. Shoving glasses higher up the bridge of his nose, he left a streak of flour behind.
“Hm,” he said thoughtfully. “As much as I’m inclined to agree with Jungkook – holiday dick is, indeed, a thing – my mom’s one of the judges. It’s a no-go.”
Jungkook groaned as Seokjin fist-pumped the air.
“Fine, fine.” Jungkook snatched the bag of cookie cutters from Seokjin. “I’ll make them normal – and boring. Far be it from me to ruin the holiday spirit!”
One crisis down, you relaxed and glanced at Sara’s cookies. They looked like unappetizing blobs, but Sara had a knack for making them taste good. Yoongi’s would be both, of course – beautiful in appearance and delicious to eat.
As you surveyed the kitchen, you felt that same sense of rightness within you. It had been too long since you’d last seen your friends. The aching loneliness you got in LA didn’t exist here. Dimly, you thought it’d be nice to somehow combine the two.
It was mostly your fault things were this way. Once you fought with Hoseok, your friend group had been forced to make separate group chats. People always forgot to give updates in both, so it usually ended up being a mishmash of miscommunication.
Without meaning to, you’d slowly drifted from your favorite people in the world. Out of sight, out of mind, as they said. Being home made you realize how much you’d missed them. It was easier to convince yourself you were fine when you lived in LA, surrounded by LA people, places and things.
The sound of your phone interrupted your train of thought. Pulling it from your pocket, you recognized an LA number and started.
“Excuse me,” you said, squeezing past Sara. “I have to take this.”
Heading out the side door and onto Namjoon’s patio, you exited the kitchen. It was cold outside and you shivered, but you didn’t expect to be out here for long. Breath frosting before you, you answered the call.
“Hello?”
“Y/N! Darling!”
Daisy spoke in the same, too-bright falsetto which made you wince. “Hi – Daisy!” you said, attempting to smile. “So good to hear from you again.”
“Yes, of course – listen, Y/N, I’ll get right down to it.” Someone laughed in the background, and you wondered where Daisy was. “I wanted to tell you we’ve decided to go in a different direction.”
The air seemed to constrict and the holiday music, which had once seemed so cheerful, felt suddenly mocking. Staring straight ahead, you felt your grip tighten on your phone.
“I – what?” you breathed.
“Your interview was great, and we loved you, but we’ve decided to hire someone else.”
“I…” Trailing off, you shook your head. “You said I had the job, though?”
“Things change, darling. You know the industry.”
“But… we only spoke yesterday!”
“Yes, and things have changed since then. We had the most unbelievable interview this morning – you won’t believe their date ideas. So creative. Shocking!”
Something sallow and bitter curdled in your stomach. “Shocking, for a dating show?” you heard yourself say. “What could possibly be creative about that?”
“Ouch.” Daisy laughed. “Don’t be bitter because someone else’s ideas were better than yours. Well, I must get going. Wrap party, you know! Just wanted to call, so you knew not to wait for the email. Toodles!”
She hung up, leaving you alone on the patio.
Numbly, you lowered your arm to your side. It was still cold, and you knew you should head in but somehow couldn’t bring yourself to move. Staring at the darkness of Namjoon’s backyard, you fought back the rising tide of panic.
This had to be it – a new lowest of the low. A job you hadn’t even wanted but had decided to take because you needed money was reneging their offer.
Fingers trembling, you shoved both hands in your pockets and tried not to cry. Already, you felt the tears threatening to spill on your cheeks.
Everything had been so shitty lately. You’d barely been able to mourn your dream job before Darren had cheated. Just like that, your entire support system in LA had crumbled and you’d been left alone.
Eyes closed, you forced yourself to exhale. Maybe if you’d listened to Hoseok you wouldn’t be in this situation. He’d tried to warn you about Darren, and you’d pushed him aside. You hadn’t wanted to believe him – hadn’t wanted to bring that lie crashing down yet.
Darren had fit in with the life you’d envisioned for yourself. He’d fit with the new version of you, the version who wasn’t in love with her best friend and who hadn’t fled halfway across the country because she was escaping said feelings.
If you were being honest, your crush on Hoseok hadn’t ended in high school.
It returned after college, reemerging with a vengeance during the time you lived in New York. Hoseok and you were both single, the first time this had happened since high school. You’d fallen for him all over again – feelings he didn’t reciprocate, which partially led to your decision to move.
It wasn’t as though Darren had been the perfect boyfriend. You weren’t mourning him as the love of your life, or anything like that.
There had been times during your year and a half together when you weren’t happy at all. Darren had drunk a lot, oftentimes to excess and had often collapsed on the couch rather than make it to your bed. He was sweet when he wanted to be, but cruelly honest at other times.
In fact, when you first discovered he’d cheated, your immediate response had been shock, rather than hurt. The public manner of his split had been the worst part, not the actual cheating itself. You’d barely thought about Darren since you two had ended things, which seemed to beg the question of whether you’d loved him at all.
Shaken by the thought, you hugged yourself tighter and felt your lip start to tremble. Everyone inside seemed to have their shit together. They had friends, families and jobs they enjoyed. You’d given up the first two in order to have the last and now, you had nothing.
Without meaning to, a tear fell to your cheek.
At that moment, someone pulled open the sliding door to the patio. Frantically wiping the tear, you turned your head and saw Hoseok.
Hoseok froze, uncertain, the holiday music louder behind him.
“Hey,” you said, swallowing thickly. “I – what’s up?”
His gaze roamed your face. “Nothing,” he said at last. “I just hadn’t seen you in a while. Wanted to make sure you were okay.”
He was being nice, you thought, stomach plummeting. Nicer than you deserved, so you turned around and resumed looking at the forest. It was pitch black beyond the tree line, which seemed fitting for your current mentality.
“Oh,” you said dully. “That’s nice of you.”
Hoseok paused. “You’re not okay, are you?”
Weakly, you snorted. “What gave you that idea?”
Not choosing to respond to this, Hoseok stepped outside and shut the door. The glass muffled the music, making it seem as though you were in your own world. As Hoseok walked closer, the crunch of snow beneath his sneakers grew louder.
Hoseok came to a stop. “Why are you crying?”
“I’m not.”
He released a low laugh. “Come on, Y/N. I’ve known you since we were five. I think I know when you’re pretending not to cry.”
“Don’t do that,” you muttered, still facing the yard.
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t pretend we’re friends again, all of a sudden.”
Hoseok was quiet for a moment. “I’m not,” he said. “I just… I can’t pretend not to know you, okay? I know we fought and haven’t talked in a while, but I can’t let you cry out here alone. I’m not an asshole, Y/N, no matter how much you want me to be.”
Of course, he wasn’t. You’d never thought he was but weren’t sure Hoseok would believe you if you said that. Hoseok was the most caring, selfless person you knew. He’d be standing out here even if you were his most bitter enemy, let alone someone he cared about.
Slowly, you turned. “Things aren’t… going as well as I let on.”
“No?”
“No. You know Darren broke up with me, right?”
Hoseok’s lips thinned in the darkness. “I saw the headlines, yeah.”
Closing your eyes, you sighed. “Did you hear what I said, though? Darren broke up with me. I didn’t even notice he… well.” You paused. “You warned me about him, I guess. And I did nothing about it. Who knows how much longer I would’ve stayed if he hadn’t done what he did.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing it happened, then.”
You opened your eyes to stare at the woods. “I think I loved him, at some point. I guess it didn’t matter in the end.”
“It mattered,” Hoseok said.
“Did it, though? I loved him, and he broke up with me. I gave up so much for him,” you said, gaze narrowing. “Coming here has made me realize how much, I guess. I tried so hard to fit in with his idea of the perfect girlfriend and now, I just feel… kind of stupid.”
“You’re definitely not stupid, Y/N.”
“No?” You glanced at him blankly. “You saw through him right away. Must’ve been nice to find out you were right, after all.”
Hoseok’s face tightened. “I would never be happy to hear that,” he said quietly. “I hoped I was wrong, Y/N. Of course, I did. I never wanted you to get hurt.”
“Then why’d you hurt me?” you said, turning to face him fully.
Hoseok’s eyes widened, wind whipping his hair.
“Why’d you hurt me?” you said, still holding back tears. “Why’d you cut me out of your life? Do you have any idea how much that hurt, Hobi?”
“I…” Hoseok faltered. “I didn’t… realize you felt that way.”
“Didn’t realize?” you whispered. “Hoseok, you were my best friend.”
Something unreadable crossed his expression, gone before it could fully be formed. Hoseok turned to look at the forest.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” you exhaled, breath frosting again. “Well.”
Hoseok was silent for a moment, staring at the tree line and then he glanced sideways. “Who was the phone call?”
Surprised, you looked over. “What?”
“The phone call,” he said, glancing at your hand. “Who called and upset you? You seemed fine inside, making cookies.”
You knew he was changing the subject, but you let him. Talking about the past seemed too real to face right now.
“Oh,” you said. “Well. The job hunt isn’t going as well as I said. I wrote a screenplay, but no one is interested. I also applied to a bunch of random shows, but nothing’s panned out. Oh – except,” you said bitterly. “Yesterday, I got an offer to write for this reality dating TV show.”
“You?” Hoseok arched a brow. “The professed self-hater of reality TV?”
“I guess that came out in my interview, since they retracted the offer. That was them calling to tell me.”
“Well, they’re idiots, then.”
“Or maybe they realized I’m a sinking ship and they should probably jump before my bad luck spreads to them.”
“Y/N,” he chastised.
“I know,” you sighed, some of the fight draining from you. “I guess it’s a good thing. I didn’t want that job anyways. But it’s just… it was my last option, you know? That was it, that was the bottom of the barrel and I couldn’t even get that. How pathetic.”
“It’s not pathetic,” he insisted.
“No? Because I feel pretty pathetic right now.”
Hoseok was quiet a moment. He shifted his weight and then, out of nowhere he said, “I puked on my first day of student teaching.”
Your head whipped to him in surprise. “You – what?”
“I puked.” Hoseok nodded. “I was so nervous I’d say the wrong thing, I ran to the bathroom and hurled my guts out. I’ve never gotten stage fright, but something about teaching brought that out in me. I don’t know if that’s what I want to do with my doctorate.”
“I…” You stared at him wonderingly. “Why are you telling me this?”
Hoseok half-smiled. “You can want something a long time, and not have it end up being what you thought. It’s not a bad thing to change direction, Y/N.”
“That’s… true.”
“I’m not saying to stop applying,” he warned. “I think you should because you’re ridiculously talented and those west coast assholes are lucky to have you. Just… maybe apply to something different.”
“What do you think I should do, then?”
You waited, truly wanting to know his opinion. Hoseok had always been the one person who could make sense of your spirals. Something about him made you automatically respond.
Hoseok shrugged, the light from inside playing over his features.
“You said you wrote a screenplay?”
“Yeah.”
“Huh.” He paused. “You should send it to me.”
Both your eyebrows shot up. “Really?”
“Really,” he said, a hint of a smile to his lips. “I mean, I used to read your stuff before, didn’t I?”
“You did.”
“Then it’s settled.” Hoseok nodded. “You’ll send me your screenplay and I’ll let you know what I think. Okay?”
“Alright,” you said slowly. “Maybe I will.”
Before he could respond, the sliding door opened again.
“There you are! They’re out here, guys!” Jungkook yelled, turning over his shoulder. “What the fuck are you doing?” he said, returning to you. “It’s cold as balls out.”
Leaving the screen door wide open, he retreated to the kitchen. The holiday music was louder now, but slightly less mocking than before. When Hoseok met your gaze, you could tell he was fighting a smile.
“Want to head back in?” he said.
“Yeah,” you said, brushing him as you breezed past. “I heard it’s cold as balls out.”
Hoseok laughed as he followed, and you felt the smallest weight lift from your chest. You still didn’t feel like you had all the answers, but at least Hoseok didn’t seem like he hated you anymore. That was a step forward if nothing else.
As you entered the kitchen, some of your earlier despair seemed to lessen. Hoseok crossed the kitchen to Yoongi, grinning at something he said, and you felt another strange wave of sadness.
Just being with him made you feel better. Even with hard conversations, even with Hoseok telling honest truths, you never got the feeling he wanted to hurt you. It made you long for how things were before and not for the first time, you knew you’d made the wrong decision last year.
Choosing Daren over Hoseok had been the worst mistake of your life. Not because Darren had cheated or because things between you had ended, but because Hoseok meant more to you than anyone ever had in your life.
Maybe ever would.
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The next morning you were awakened by a pillow thrown at your face.
“Get up loser,” Sara said from above. “We’re going shopping.”
Groaning at the bad Mean Girls reference, you rolled over. Sara laughed, throwing another pillow which lamely hit your back.
“Seriously,” she whined. “It’s ten in the morning and the cake tasting is at eleven. Unless you don’t want to come anymore…?”
Remembering today’s plans, you bolted upright in bed. Today was the one wedding planning event you really did want to attend – today, Sara was going to taste the cakes.
“No!” you blurted, throwing your covers aside. “I’m in! Just give me ten minutes!”
Sara laughed, retreating and closing the door to your room. Hurrying into your bathroom, you brushed your teeth, washed your face and made yourself presentable. As you entered the kitchen for breakfast, you found everyone seated around the table.
“Y/N!” Your dad grinned at the stove. “I’m making omelets again. Do you want one?”
Warily, you glanced at Sara, who nodded.
“Yep,” you said, heading for the coffee pot. “Sounds like a plan.”
Pouring yourself coffee, you inhaled the steam. Your dad’s omelets were always a risk because he tended to throw whatever he’d made for dinner the night before into the eggs. Sometimes this resulted in momentary brilliance – his crab cake and blue cheese omelet was a thing of legend. Sometimes though, things fell flat. The spaghetti omelet came to mind.
Once you were seated, your mom began to go over the plans for today. She wouldn’t be able to join the cake tasting but would meet you later at the invitation store.
Before long, you were being shoved out the door since Sara was suddenly concerned about Sunday morning traffic. You didn’t bother to point out Josen Falls didn’t have Sunday morning traffic. By now, you recognized signs of your sister’s stress enough to know when to be quiet.
As you entered the cake shop, you felt your phone buzz in your pocket. Ignoring this, you hurried inside and began to unwarp your scarf. Chimes jingled above the entrance, causing Paul to pop out of the back room.
Paul had owned the shop for what seemed like forever, ever since his dad had passed and he’d taken it over. His cakes were a thing of legend up and down the east coast.
“Sara!” He beamed. “And Y/N! What a surprise! Are you two ready for cake?”
“Hell yes,” Sara said, undoing her coat. “I’ve been dreaming about this for weeks, Paul. Honestly, this is the main reason I’m getting married.”
Paul laughed, retreating behind the counter. “I won’t waste your time with pleasantries, then,” he said. “Let’s get right into it.”
Sara settled on a stool, patting the one beside her for you to follow suit. As you did, you remembered the buzz in your pocket and pulled out your phone. There was a notification on Instagram, which made you frown. Maybe Lord of the Rings airport guy had found you.
Opening the app, you saw the username and froze.
DarrenToLive had sent you a message. Reading his name, you felt the world tilt. It had been months since you’d last seen Darren in your inbox. You’d tentatively unblocked him on Twitter at the start of November and then, when nothing happened, unblocked him on everything else. It seemed Darren had realized this now.
As though your hand had a mind of its own, you clicked read.
DarrenToLive: hey, y/n… I saw on your story you went home for the holidays. How are things going?
Immediately, your gaze narrowed. The message blurred, a million thoughts racing through your mind. Darren had some nerve to reach out to you over Christmas – and while he had a girlfriend, no less. Because when you went to his profile and clicked on the first photo, it had been taken by Jessica Avec. Your jaw clenched.
Fingers hovering over the message, you debated whether to delete, block or cuss him out, but then Paul emerged from the back room holding a tray of cake.
“Alright!” Paul set the tray down. “We’ve got a lot to taste here.”
Slowly, you slid your phone back in your pocket. You could deal with Darren later, you decided. He was unworthy of your attention at the moment. Folding both hands on the table, you tried not to salivate at the treats before you.
“I went through your list, Sara,” he said with a nod. “And I think we’ve got some good options here. First up is almond cake, vanilla bean frosting and fresh raspberries. Second is chocolate fudge cake, chocolate crème brulee and salted caramel sauce. Next is pink berry cake, dark chocolate mousse and berry preserves. Last, a hazelnut cake with milk chocolate mousse and bittersweet ganache.”
“Oh,” said you and Sara in unison.
Paul laughed at your faces. “And of course, champagne,” he said, placing two glasses before you. “I won’t hover and make things weird, so feel free to taste and I’ll be back in a half hour. Keep in mind we have plenty of other cakes, too! This is your day!”
Sara stared at the tray, her eyes shining as Paul left.
“It’s just so beautiful,” she said, sounding a little choked up.
You laughed, placing a fork in her empty hand. “What are you waiting for? Dig in!”
Sara obeyed, pulling the plate towards her, and taking a large bite.
“Oh my god,” you moaned. “This is heaven.”
“It really is,” she happily agreed, hazelnut crumbs on her lips.
Reaching out, Sara took a sip of champagne and dug feverishly into the pink berry cake. You continued this way for a while, switching between cake and champagne until there were only crumbs left.
Leaning back, you surveyed the wreckage. “So?” you said, turning to Sara. “Which one is it?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “They’re all delicious. If I pick one, the rest will feel left out.”
“They’re cakes, Sara. They don’t have feelings.”
“Spoken like an emotionless rock.”
“Hey!” you said, swatting her forearm. “I have emotions, I’ll have you know. I was devastated I didn’t win the holiday cookie competition yesterday.”
Sara laughed. “Oh, please. You weren’t even listening by then. No one was except for Seokjin and Yoongi.”
“Well, that’s because they’re the only two real competitors every year.”
“Not true! There was that year Hoseok decided to take things seriously,” Sara said. “He almost won.”
“Wasn’t that the year Yoongi made pizzelles?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, so Hobi had no chance.”
Sara laughed again. “Alright, fair. Yoongi can’t help being blessed with so many skills.”
You mimed retching.
“Honestly! He’s good-looking, smart, clean, knows his way around the kitchen. Knows his way around other things, too.”
“Sara!” you yelped, shoving her shoulder. “I don’t want to hear about my little sister’s sex life, thanks.”
Giving you a devious grin, Sara returned to the cake. Taking another bite, she chewed thoughtfully around a mouthful of frosting.
“Did I see correctly last night, though?” she said, sounding curious. “Were you actually talking to Hoseok again?”
“I… not really, no.”
Sara gave you a look. “So, your mouth was just moving, and nothing was coming out?”
“We’ve decided to be cordial.” Blithely, you took a sip of champagne. “You know, for the sake of your wedding.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“It’s true!” you said. “I’m your maid of honor and Hoseok’s Yoongi’s best man. It would be weird if we just refused to talk.”
“I guess,” Sara said slowly. She sighed. “What happened there, anyways?”
“It’s… a long story.”
“You always say that.”
“Because it is,” you said, staring at your plate. “I don’t know. It was a lot of things, I guess. We’d started growing apart when I moved to LA. And then I began dating Darren… you know none of my boyfriends have ever liked how close I am to Hobi.”
“Well, that’s because all your past boyfriends were trash, Y/N.”
“They haven’t been – alright, fine,” you admitted. “They were trash. Anyways, Hoseok came to LA when I had just moved in with Darren and I, um… I hadn’t exactly told Hobi yet.”
Sara’s eyes widened. “Wait, seriously?”
“It had just happened!” you protested. “My roommates were shit, Hoseok knew that. When Darren suggested I move in with him, it just made sense.”
“So, why didn’t you tell Hobi?”
Falling silent, you stared into your glass of champagne. In all honesty, you had no answer to that. It’d always been hard to talk about your relationships with Hoseok. Maybe some messed up part of yourself still hoped he had feelings for you. Maybe the same, messed up part didn’t like the idea of Hoseok knowing you were really taken.
“I don’t know,” you admitted. “Every time I thought about telling him, I just couldn’t. I knew Hoseok wouldn’t like it.”
Sara nodded, picking at the crumbs on her plate. She so clearly wanted to say something, it almost made you laugh. Say what you wanted about your sister – she wasn’t subtle.
“What?” you said, arching a brow. “What is it you want to say?”
Sara hid a smile. “You know me too well. All I was thinking was…” Trailing off, she shook her head. “Maybe there’s a reason Hoseok’s never liked any of your exes.”
“Because they were assholes?”
“No – well, yeah,” Sara conceded. “But also, I don’t know. We always kind of thought you two would end up together.”
You froze.
“We?” you managed to squeak out. “Who’s we?”
“You know.” Sara waved a hand. “Me, Yoongi, Namjoon. A bunch of us actually. We always thought you were perfect together.”
“Me and… Hoseok.”
“Don’t play dumb,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “You spent so much time together growing up! You were always holed up in your room, always inseparable at parties. It just seemed natural you’d start dating.”
“We were just friends, Sara.”
“Yeah. I guess I see that now.”
Returning to your plate, you pushed the cake around. Other people thinking you’d end up with Hoseok was news to you. You wondered if they saw something you didn’t. Even if they did though, they’d been proven wrong time and time again.
Hoseok had never felt that way about you, despite your on and off feelings for him over the years.
“Hoseok thought Darren was cheating on me,” you said quietly.
Sara looked up. “Oh, Y/N.”
“Yeah,” you exhaled, pushing your plate away. “That’s what led to our big fight. Things already weren’t great between us and when Hoseok visited, he suspected Darren of cheating. I took Darren’s side and Hoseok left the next day.”
“Y/N,” Sara said softly.
“I just… Hoseok was right, in the end.” Looking down, you swallowed. “Maybe he was back then, too. I should’ve listened to him, but I didn’t. And now I don’t know how to apologize. It’s been so long.”
“It has been a long time.”
“Too long,” you said, looking up. “How can I even start?”
Sara hesitated. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t apologize to him, Y/N – but isn’t there blame on his end, too? Sure, you fought, but he could’ve reached out as easily as you.”
“Maybe.”
“Not maybe,” said Sara, scooping up the last bite of cake. “Definitely. Look, you don’t need to be friends with Hoseok again. That’s not what I’m trying to say. It just… it was nice seeing you together again. That’s all.”
“Yeah,” you mumbled.
“But look at me.” Sara straightened. “Going on about Hoseok when we have much more important things to discuss. Namely, are there any other cakes to try?”
“Paul did say he had more flavors in the back.”
“I feel like it would be a disservice to this establishment and to ourselves if we didn’t take full advantage of that offer. Paul!” she called, leaning over the counter. “You said something about other cakes?”
Paul laughed, disappearing to grab the next tray. Although you appreciated the change of subject, Sara’s words continued to run through your mind.
The idea of all your friends thinking you and Hoseok would be together was more shocking than it probably should’ve been. You couldn’t help but mull over this for the rest of the day, in the car ride home and throughout dinner that night.
Later, when you sat at your computer and stared at the screen, you made a sudden decision. Opening your email, you typed Hoseok’s name and sent him your screenplay. Pressing send, you shut the laptop and slid into bed.
It took you a while to fall asleep, staring at the little dipper above you.
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Wedding planning was put on hold the next day, everyone’s attention shifting towards the holidays. With only two days left until Christmas Eve, it was time for the annual neighborhood holiday party.
The neighborhood holiday party had been a tradition ever since you were little – even before the holiday cookie competition caught on. It was formal attire, hosted by a different family in the neighborhood every year. This year the Jeons were the hosts, which was a good thing because they only lived a few blocks away.
On the drive over, you stared out the window and tried to silence the butterflies in your stomach. Seated in the middle seat, you felt like a high schooler again. It certainly didn’t help that, once again, you found your thoughts entirely consumed by Hoseok. Just like in high school.
You couldn’t stop thinking about what Sara had said, how everyone in your friend group thought you’d get together. Truthfully, you’d thought the same many times prior, but nothing had ever come to fruition. Sometimes it had been because of him – and sometimes because of you.
The last time had been because of you.
Before you left New York for LA, there had been a moment between you and Hoseok you’d done your best to forget. You’d been close at the time, always at one or the other’s apartments in between classes or work. Your job back then had been terrible, even worse than the PBS one after.
When you texted Hoseok on Friday you needed to work Sunday, he’d showed up at your door holding red wine and take-out. You spent yet another evening watching dumb movies and drinking, but this one had ended differently than the rest.
As the credits rolled on the movie and you finished your last glass of wine, you’d sighed and rolled over on top of the couch. Hoseok had been seated on the floor, legs splayed and leaning against the cushions.
When he turned to face you, he was mere inches away. You remember the muted light from the TV playing over his features, making your heart skip for a second.
The movie had been tense, which had caused Hoseok to run his fingers through his hair in frustration. As a result, the strands stuck up every which way, making you smile.
Hoseok had smiled in return. “What?” he’d said, a bit lower than usual.
“Nothing,” you’d laughed, making his smile widen.
“Seriously, what?”
“Nothing!”
Reaching out, you’d tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. Hoseok went still, staring at your hand resting near his cheek. You’d moved to retract this, but Hoseok had reached up and caught your hand in his.
You could still remember that feeling. That dizzy, pulse-pounding feeling of his hand in yours. You’d felt it at various points in your friendship, but never so clearly as lying on the couch, inches away from his lips with your hand in his.
Hoseok’s thumb lazily brushed your wrist, causing a warm jolt of pleasure to shoot to your core. His lips parted, as though to speak – and your phone had rung in your pocket.
Scrambling upright, the moment broke when you answered the call. Hoseok fell back, looking stunned and he made an excuse to leave after that. You hadn’t discussed it the next day and it wasn’t long after you announced your move to LA.
The two events weren’t necessarily connected – or maybe they were.
Now, even you were beginning to have doubts. After that night, you’d realized you were developing feelings for Hoseok again. Maybe a tiny part of you thought that by moving away you’d force yourself to move on.
As you approached the Jeon’s, you found those same butterflies emerging. You and Hoseok had never talked about that night. Maybe there had been something there, something he’d felt, and your act of self-preservation had simply been running away.
“Y/N,” your mom said, returning you to the present.
Startled, you looked up. “Yeah?”
She smiled in the rearview mirror. “We were just saying your Aunt called the other day to say she’d started watching The Drop. She loves it! Can’t wait for season three.”
“Oh,” you said, sinking lower. “That’s great.”
“I’ll admit,” your dad laughed. “We were kind of nervous when you said you were quitting your job to move to LA and start writing, but you’ve really made a name for yourself, Lucy. We couldn’t be prouder of you.”
“Oh… good. Thanks, dad.”
“It’s nothing short of incredible!” added your mom.
You nodded, unable to respond as you looked out the window. Saying they’d been nervous was a bit of an understatement. Your parents had tried their best to dissuade you from moving to LA. They had meant well, but to your parents, the best career path was a stable one. Dreams were nice, but they mostly belonged between the pillow and sheets.
Just once, you wished your parents would say they were proud of you without needing an accomplishment attached. Of course, it was great to be successful and make money, but it was hard when it often felt like those were the only things valued by your family.
As your parents parked, you exhaled and unbuckled your seatbelt. Narrowly avoiding stepping in a snowbank, you followed your parents up the sidewalk and into the Jeon house. Their front door was open, holiday music spilling into the night.
Steeping inside, you unbuttoned your coat and glanced around. Jungkook’s parents were well-off, which showed in his mom’s Christmas decorations. Garland twined up every bannister, and you spotted no less than three Christmas trees from your place near the front door.
Hanging your coat up in their closet, you fought back a shiver as you turned around. You may have gone a bit overboard on the dress code, but it had been a long time since you’d wanted to look nice. For the two months following your break-up, you’d mostly wallowed and slept in your sweatpants.
In November, you’d started dating again, but it had only ended in disaster. One guy, after you had successfully dodged a goodbye kiss in his car, had the audacity to text you saying you’d left something. After you’d searched your things in a panic, thinking you’d dropped something in his car, he finally texted back ‘a kiss from me.’
You stopped going on blind dates after that. All this to say tonight was your first night dressing up in a while and you were determined to make it count. And if a certain someone happened to eat their heart? That would only be a benefit.
Smoothing the red velvet of your dress down, you glanced up and spotted Hoseok.
He stood in the kitchen, back to you, but you’d know his profile anywhere. He wore a purple suit which on anyone else would look tacky, but on him looked effortless. Trust Hoseok to show up in a jewel-toned suit and completely steal the night. When he turned, you saw his hair had been styled so that only a few pieces fell over his forehead.
When he saw you, he froze. The bowl of limes in his hands went forgotten as Hoseok’s gaze slowly traveled your frame. Each place he lingered caught fire, leaving embers in his wake when he finally met your gaze.
Before you could speak, the door opened again, and a cold breeze blew in. You shivered, jumping forward and the moment was broken.
Namjoon looked up while undoing his scarf. His jaw dropped. “Y/N!” he said with a whistle. “You look ridiculously good tonight.”
“Just tonight?” you joked, squeezing Namjoon around the waist when he hugged you.
By the time you turned around to face Hoseok, he was already gone.
“And all other nights,” said Namjoon, wrestling free from his coat. “But especially this one. You look like you’re here to break hearts, which doesn’t seem like the best use of Christmas spirit.”
“No?” you said, linking arms to travel into the kitchen. “Pity.”
As you entered, you realized with some disappointment Hoseok had left for the next room. The look on his face had reminded you of senior Prom, when you’d exited the limo and Hoseok had stammered something about how you looked like an angel. You’d brushed it aside but secretly, had daydreamed about it for months.
Jungkook’s mom stood near the stove, removing a tray of appetizers. She waved with her oven mitt, which you returned with a smile. Namjoon didn’t allow you to linger though, pulling you into the family room.
“We’re here!” he called.
This seemed to be the room people your age had claimed. Your parents disappeared into the dining room, all kids went to the basement and you landed in the family room with other quasi-adults.
“Y/N!” Sara called, already perched on Yoongi’s lap.
“How did you get there so fast?” you wondered aloud – only to choke, realizing Yoongi had worn a red suit and Santa hat.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it?” said Seokjin, appearing alongside you. “Since only one person is allowed to sit on Santa’s lap.”
Laughing, you shook your head as you turned. “It’s something I would’ve expected from you, honestly,” you said.
“It crossed my mind,” Seokjin admitted. “But then Yoongi and I did rock, paper scissors and I lost.”
“Ah, that explains it.”
Seokjin walked with you across the room to stand before Jungkook’s makeshift bar. Jungkook wore a holiday sweater which consisted of a t-rex chasing two gingerbread men across the front.
Only one other person stood before you in line. When Seokjin saw Mrs. Haberdash, he grinned and pulled you into his side.
“Stop trying to sext me!” he said loudly, ensuring she heard. “I don’t need this right now!”
Mrs. Haberdash turned around and froze, then mumbled something about being needed in the next room before she scurried off. Rolling your eyes, you took a step forward.
“I don’t think that was necessary,” you said to Seokjin, although you were laughing. “She hasn’t said anything since the party about my being single.”
“Oh, well.” He shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.”
“Drink order?” said Jungkook, shaking a cocktail shaker in each hand. “We’ve got everything! Gingerbread mules, candy cane cosmos, rum punch... you name it, I’ll make it.”
“I didn’t know you could bartend,” you commented, spotting the bowl of limes Hoseok had carried behind the table.
“I can’t.” Jungkook shrugged. “My motto is – the drunker you are, the less you’ll care about how the drink tastes.”
You stared at him a moment. “Yeah, I’ll have wine.”
Namjoon laughed, waiting while Jungkook poured you a glass. It didn’t take long for the rest of your friend group to arrive. Taking a seat on the couch beside Seokjin, you entertained a conversation about whether The Witcher TV series was great cinematography or merely a guilty pleasure.
Around your second glass of wine, Taehyung bounded in from the kitchen to announce a holiday drinking game. Turning on the Hallmark Channel, he taped a large poster board to the wall – “When did you make that?” said Hoseok, appalled – and began to explain the rules.
“Rule number one!” Taehyung tapped the board. “If a character’s name is related to Christmas, you drink. I’m talking Noelle, I’m talking Holly, I’m talking Kris, Tinsel – yes, there was once a character named Tinsel. If any of those names appear, you drink. Rule number two! You spot mistletoe, you drink.”
Jungkook groaned, settling cross-legged on the floor. “We’re all going to be wasted.”
“Yes,” Taehyung agreed.
“Hopefully, it makes your drinks taste better,” said Seokjin from the couch.
Jungkook held up his middle finger.
“Jungkook!” scolded his mom, walking past the door.
Embarrassed, Jungkook put his finger back down. His ears turned bright red, much to the laughter of everyone else in the room.
“Right, anyways,” Taehyung said. “Here’s a new rule that I just made up on the spot – whoever isn’t paying attention to the movie and is the last person to drink has to take two sips.”
Laughter ensued, but once the movie began, you realized Taehyung had been serious. He and Jungkook dubbed themselves the Christmas Patrol and traveled around the room to ensure the rules were being followed.
This resulted in Seokjin tackling Jungkook midway through the movie, insisting he had not been the last person to drink when a magical deal was struck with an angel. They nearly knocked over your glass of wine and so, extricating yourself from the sofa, you told Namjoon you needed to use the bathroom.
Hoseok had stayed away ever since your arrival. He’d barely said anything besides a brief wave and hello. You wanted to ask him if he’d gotten your screenplay but didn’t want to pry. If Hoseok had read it, he would’ve told you already. Likely, he was busy with other holiday things.
As you entered the kitchen, you paused at the window. Thinking about your screenplay made you think of the other night, when Hoseok had checked on you at Namjoon’s and you’d completely broken down. He had just been trying to be nice and you’d completely embarrassed yourself, going on about Darren and how difficult work was.
You needed to remind yourself you weren’t friends anymore. Hoseok couldn’t be there for you the same way he used to be, and you shouldn’t expect that. Releasing a breath, you set your wine glass on the counter.
“Y/N?”
Whirling, you found Hoseok on the threshold. He’d wandered into the kitchen, a stack of dirty plates in one hand.
“Oh – hey, Hoseok,” you said.
He nodded, walking past to set the dishes down in the sink. Turning around, Hoseok wiped his hands on a tea towel. He glanced at the wine glass you’d set on the counter.
“Didn’t want to chance one of Jeon’s holiday drinks?”
You managed a smile. “Didn’t want to risk it.”
Hoseok nodded, silence falling between you, but he still didn’t leave. Glancing past him, you wondered if you’d ever get over this terrible awkwardness. There were so many things you wanted to say but didn’t think were appropriate.
You needed to be careful because it would be too easy to fall back in love with him. Once those floodgates were opened, you weren’t sure how to close them. It was easier to linger in this half-state, where you weren’t really friends, but Hoseok didn’t hate you, either.
“I read your screenplay,” Hoseok said.
Startled, your gaze moved to his. “All of it?”
“Well, you only sent me the first episode,” Hoseok said with a smile. “But yeah, all of it.”
“And? What did you think?”
Hoseok paused.
“Oh, no,” you groaned, leaning against the counter.
You’d known Hoseok long enough to know his pauses were never good. Hoseok was a careful speaker when he gave criticism – excruciatingly honest, but he took the time to say what he meant; no more and no less.
Hoseok laughed. “You haven’t even heard what I have to say.”
“No, but I know you,” you said with a shake of your head. “When you don’t love something, you pause before deciding how best to crush my spirit. Go on, then. Get on with it.”
Hoseok rolled his eyes. “I don’t purposefully crush your spirit.”
“Just an unintended side effect, then.”
“Do you want to hear what I have to say, or no?”
You mimed zipping your lips. “Yes, please. Continue.”
Hoseok paused again, and you hid your smile. For a few seconds, it had felt like you were friends again. This used to be your routine whenever Hoseok read something of yours – his hesitation before he critiqued, your endless moaning and Hoseok asking if you wanted him to stop.
“I liked it a lot.”
“Liar.”
“Let me finish!” Hoseok laughed.
“Alright, alright,” you said, holding up both hands.
“I did like it,” Hoseok said, fixing you with a glare. “It was bright, smart and full of hilarious one-liners. The friend group was relatable and fun. It’s just… the main character.”
“Jaimie? What about her?”
“She’s…” Hoseok hesitated. “She’s just unlikable.”
“What!” you blurted. “What’s unlikeable about her?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “She’s too perfect. It’s too hard to relate. She’s got everything under control, you know? Who wants to watch a show about a person so perfect they make you feel like an idiot in comparison?”
You closed your mouth, realizing it had fallen open. “That’s not… she has flaws!”
“Name one.” Hoseok arched a brow. “And overly clumsy, or having unruly hair aren’t flaws.”
Your lips twitched. “Damn.”
“I meant everything else, though,” said Hoseok. “I really do like the premise. And the friend group is hilarious but real, you know? They’re not trying too hard. I just think the lead could be more realistic. People like that, you know. They like it when a person has flaws.”
“Oh, please,” you said with a sigh. “People always say that, but they’re so quick to turn on a character the second they do something wrong.”
“I still think it’s better to show someone relatable,” Hoseok argued. “Someone who’s real. Someone who keeps trying, even when they’ve messed up.”
He’d moved closer during the course of his speech, close enough for you to smell his shampoo. It wasn’t the same one he’d used back in high school. It was odd, the things you remembered about the past. You could recall the smell of Hoseok’s high school shampoo with vivid clarity but didn’t remember the last time Darren had made you smile.
“Someone who keeps trying,” you said, tracing over his features. “Is that really what you think, Hobi?”
A shadow crossed over his face. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Because.” Looking away, you set your jaw. If you didn’t ask him now, you never would. “Why… didn’t you call me back, then?”
“What?”
“I called you,” you whispered, barely audible. “So many times after you left. I kept calling you and trying to talk, but you just ignored me. Why, Hobi?”
He swallowed at the nickname. “I… Y/N…”
“That’s not an answer,” you said, finally looking at him.
All your frustration finally rose to the surface. Sara’s words came back to you with sudden clarity – yes, there was blame on your end, but there was also on his. You hadn’t told anyone this, but you’d called him so many times after he’d left for New York. You’d tried to patch things up and Hoseok hadn’t let you.
“We’ve had fights before, but nothing like this,” you accused. “A year, Hobi. It’s been a year since I’ve seen you. That’s not a fight! That’s you deciding we shouldn’t be friends and that hurt, Hoseok. It fucking hurt.”
“I decided not to be friends with you?” he demanded, eyes flashing.
Gone was the sunny, cool Hoseok of earlier and in his place stood a stranger. You couldn’t remember the last time you’d seen Hoseok this mad. Maybe the day you’d fought in the bar.
“Yeah,” you said.
“That’s rich,” Hoseok said, stepping closer. “Considering you’d stopped confiding in me long before I visited you in LA. I didn’t even know where you lived! I didn’t know you’d moved in with your boyfriend. You refusing to listen about Darren was just… the last straw.”
“The last straw?” You laughed, but it wasn’t a nice sound. “You’re acting like I was a difficult child, or something. You were my friend, Hoseok. My best friend! And the second things got difficult between us, you ran.”
“It wasn’t only that night,” Hoseok snapped.
He was inches away now, the air between you so thick with tension, hurt and something unknown. He looked so good and you were so angry – it all swirled in your chest, becoming the perfect storm.
“Then, what was it?” you demanded.
His gaze darted towards your lips. “I – I had to put distance between us, Y/N. It was better that way. Healthier.”
“Healthier?”
“Yeah.”
“So, what are you saying? I was toxic to you, or something?”
“No,” Hoseok groaned, shoving a hand through his hair. “God, Y/N, no. What I’m saying is I –”
“Y/N?”
Both your gazes shot towards the door, finding Sara hovering over the threshold. She glanced between you and Hoseok, and you realized belatedly how little space there was between you. Hoseok’s chest practically touched yours, his lips inches away from your own.
Dizzily, you exhaled and willed your heartbeat to slow.
“Yeah?” you said, trying to clear your head. “What is it?”
Exhaling slowly, Hoseok took a step backwards.
Looking as though she wished she were anywhere else, Sara glanced at her phone. “Um,” she said, lifting it up. “I just wanted to tell you Darren is calling…”
Confused, you stared at her a moment until it sunk in.
Darren – your ex-boyfriend – was calling your little sister. Brow furrowed, you attempted to make heads or tails of this news. It made about as much sense as her barging in to say yellow snow had been declared a health supplement by the FDA.
“I – Darren?” you said, puzzled.
“Yeah.” Sara shrugged. “I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered and that’s what he said. He said you never responded to his last text and he got worried. Honestly, I didn’t even know he had my number.”
Slowly, you closed your eyes.
You’d decided not to respond to the Instagram message the other day, re-blocking him from all your social media. This was a gross invasion of privacy to reach out to Sara like this. Dimly, you recalled giving him Sara’s number the time you lost your phone in case of an emergency.
Before you could speak, Hoseok let out a soft laugh. “Of course,” he said quietly. “You’re texting him still?”
Your eyes flew open. “Hoseok, no, I –”
“Yeah, okay,” he said roughly, brushing past you to walk down the hall.
You stared at his back, too stunned to move. Everything Hoseok said about needing distance came back to you. He said your break-up wasn’t just about the last fight you’d had. Questions began to burn in your mind, but aside from that you felt angry.
After everything you’d told him, after everything you’d confessed about Darren, Hoseok still thought you’d gone crawling back.
Suddenly livid, you pushed yourself off the counter. As you passed Sara, you paused. “Block him,” you said. “I didn’t answer him earlier, so I definitely don’t want to answer him now.”
The corner of her lip quirked up. “You got it, sis.”
You walked past, catching Hoseok at the door as he pulled on his coat. Grabbing him by the elbow, you turned him sideways to face you.
“Hey,” you said. “What the fuck?”
Hoseok stared at you, bewildered. “What?”
“Why did you leave?” you demanded, gesturing at the kitchen. “We were in the middle of a conversation.”
Hoseok glanced in the direction you pointed. “I think the conversation was over.”
“It was not over.”
“Oh, come on, Y/N.” Hoseok rubbed his temples. “We always do this. We’re best friends until you date someone and then – poof! You’re gone. That’s why I didn’t call,” he said, teeth gritted. “It was easier not to be friends with you while you were dating.”
“Okay, but I’m not with Darren anymore!”
“Who was just calling you, then?”
“That’s not – that was a coincidence!”
“Right.” Jaw tight, Hoseok looked away. “Look, Y/N. You can date whoever you want, but you deserve better than that guy. You deserve someone who looks at you and sees someone real, not just whatever they can get from your career.”
“What’s that… that’s not what I had with Darren,” you said, reeling a little.
Hoseok returned to you. “Maybe not. Maybe he really did love you, but he never deserved you, Y/N. None of them have ever deserved you.”
“What do you even care, anyways?” you said hotly.
Hoseok went still. In the background, you could hear distant laughter and holiday music but, in that moment, all you could hear was the beating of your own heart.
Eventually, he shook his head. “If you don’t know that by now,” Hoseok murmured. “Then I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Finishing buttoning his coat, Hoseok opened the door. He paused for a moment, snowflakes drifting past as he glanced back to see you.
His expression softened a little. “You look beautiful tonight, by the way,” he said, and then he was gone.
You were left staring at a closed door, a chill in your veins which had nothing to do with outside.
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Wandering inside, you poured a glass of wine some might call ‘obscenely full.’ What you really wanted to do was leave, but your parents had been the ones who’d driven and were, unfortunately, your only way home.
Besides, it would only hurt more to go home alone and cry in your bed. Instead, you forced yourself to stay and seated yourself on the couch beside Seokjin. He shot you a concerned look, but you shrugged it aside and took a deep sip of your drink.
Ignoring your phone, you tried to focus on the drinking game you were playing. Hoseok’s words continued to occupy your thoughts though, making you wonder what he had meant.
If you don’t know that by now, then I guess it doesn’t matter.
That’s all he’d said, as maddeningly unclear as he usually was. You wanted to find him and shake him, to clarify what he meant. Of course, it mattered. It mattered what Hoseok thought because he was the only person you ever thought about.
That was twice now you’d asked why he’d cut you out, only to receive a vague answer. It had hurt you – you hadn’t been lying about that. Compared to your break-up with Darren, losing Hoseok had been far worse.
It had hurt so bad in the months after, you’d briefly lost your mind and last October, you’d flown out to New York to see him.
You had never told Hoseok that, but you did. It had been two months since he’d left in LA and you were growing desperate, trying and failing to get him to return your calls. At the last minute, you’d booked a plane flight, hopped in a cab from LaGuardia and shown up at his apartment – just in time to catch Hoseok coming home from a date.
You had stood there on the sidewalk, duffle bag slung over one shoulder while he laughed at something his date said. Vision blurring, you could still recall the nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach. You had remained long after they went inside, then hailed a cab to the airport and flew home that night.
On your way, you’d realized Hoseok had been right. Possibly, your time as friends had come to an end because you were acting insane. It was insane to fly across the country on a moment’s notice. It was insane to feel this wicked, burning jealousy each time you saw him with someone else.
Deep down, you knew something was wrong. It was wrong to have feelings for Hoseok while you were dating Darren and so, you hadn’t contacted Hoseok again after that. You’d cut him out of your life the same way he did to you – only yours hadn’t worked out, because here you were.
Eyes shut, you leaned back on the sofa. Even now, you heard Hoseok’s critique in your mind. He’d called your main character too perfect, not flawed enough. Hoseok had always been the one who said your flaws were okay. Growing up, he’d been the one who encouraged you to be messy, to make mistakes and fail if you wanted.
Opening your eyes, you felt the raw pain of missing him hit you again. It was even worse now because last time, you’d assumed Hoseok had left because of Darren. Now, you knew he’d left because of you. Hoseok didn’t want you anymore.
As the night came to an end, your emotions hovered close to a breaking point. You stood in the foyer, smiling bleakly while you thanked the Jeons. They disappeared inside, leaving you and your family to pull on your coats.
Gently, Sara leaned over to touch your arm. “Is everything okay?” she murmured.
Dimly, you realized you hadn’t touched base after Darren called her.
“Yeah,” you said, then paused. “And no.”
She gave you a sympathetic look. “I saw you talking with Hobi. What happened? It looked as though you’d been fighting.”
“A little,” you said, giving a weak smile. “Long overdue, I guess. He made some good points. I’ve been… caught up in things lately.”
“Yeah, but –”
“Y/N!” your mom interrupted, pulling on gloves. “You know who I spoke to tonight? The Donoghue’s! Their son is thinking of moving to LA, so I told them you’d reach out. I thought it might be nice, since you’ve done so well for yourself out there.”
Any other night, you would have smiled and nodded. The Donoghue son was probably nice, but right then, you found yourself at a breaking point. Everything for the past year had been piling on and suddenly, the frayed knot in you snapped.
“That’s not a good idea,” you snapped.
Your mom stopped, looking at you in surprise. “Why not?”
“Because I’m not doing well,” you blurted out. “I’m barely hanging on, and LA is terrible. My boyfriend cheated on me, I’m about to be jobless and every major studio keeps rejecting my spec script. Everything is falling apart, and I can barely keep it together anymore!”
Eyes wide, your dad stared with his fingers stilled on his zipper. Sara froze as well, one arm in her pea coat.
“Y/N?” your dad asked, sounding tentative. “What’s going on?”
“I was about to say the same thing,” said your mom, a bit stiff. “Why don’t we have this conversation in the car?”
“Oh, sure,” you said, giving a bitter laugh. “Because it’s embarrassing to talk about my problems in public, right? It would be terrible if the neighbors heard I’m struggling. Well, I’m done pretending everything is okay.”
“Now, Y/N,” your dad started, but you cut in.
“This is exactly why I didn’t want to come home for the holidays,” you huffed. “I didn’t want to pretend I was fine for two weeks. Didn’t want to pretend to be perfect. Because that’s the only daughter you want, right?”
Both of your parents stared as, tears brimming, you pushed open the door.
“I’ll be in the car,” you muttered and walked outside.
Sara was the first one to move, pulling on her coat and hurrying after. Your parents soon followed, keeping a wary distance between you while entering the car.
Most of the way home, you stared out the window. At some point, Sara reached out to squeeze your knee. Sara had always been the oddball of the family. The only one for whom emotions came easy, the only one well-equipped enough to have the tough conversations. Everyone else pushed things aside, shoving them down until they blew up in their face.
It seemed your problems were large enough now to blow up.
When you parked, you made to exit the car, but your mom cleared her throat. She looked over the front seat and, to your surprise, you saw tears in her eyes.
“Y/N.” She exhaled. “We never… we never wanted you to feel like you had to be perfect. Or like you couldn’t tell us things. Of course, we’ll always have our opinions, and they might not be what you want to hear – wait, let me finish,” she said, seeing your face. “We want what’s best for you and we don’t want you to struggle. Like you’re doing now. That doesn’t mean if you are struggling though, we won’t love and support you. I’m so, so sorry you thought that.”
Now, you were the one who had tears in their eyes.
“She’s right,” said your dad. “Of course, we’re proud of what you’ve done. But we’re also proud of you for taking risks, for not being afraid and going after what you want. We’re just as proud of you now as we were before. Maybe more so.”
“Oh no,” you mumbled, wiping your cheek.
“Yeah, oh no,” said Sara, also tearing up.
Snorting, you turned to laugh at her through your tears.
“You and your sister,” said your dad with a meaningful glance at Sara.
“You know I can’t handle emotional speeches!” said Sara, blowing her nose on her sleeve.
“We love you both,” said your mom with a faint smile. “I’m sorry if we don’t say that enough.”
Opening your door, you got out and hugged your mom tightly. Walking into the house, you began to relax for the first time in ages. Telling your parents was such a massive weight lifted from your chest.
You hugged your dad as well, burying your face in his coat. Your parents loved to tell the story of the first time you saw fireworks. You had been a toddler, mad at your dad for some reason when the first rocket had launched. Terrified, you’d immediately forgotten your anger and scrambled into his arms. There, you’d hidden until the fireworks had subsided.
You were no longer a child, but you couldn’t help wanting that shelter sometimes. People always said when you grew up, you’d need your parents less and maybe this was true, but it didn’t mean you stopped needing them entirely.
When you finally went upstairs, you found you couldn’t sleep. Lying on your back, you stared at the constellations and both your words and Hoseok’s continued to run through your mind.
Sitting up, you turned on the light and pulled out your laptop. Frowning at your screenplay, you opened a new document and slowly exhaled.
Leaning forward, you began to write.
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For the next day and a half, you were lost in your work. Despite it being the day before Christmas Eve, there really wasn’t anywhere for you to be. Once you told your parents you were writing, they left you alone, making themselves scarce on the main floor of the house.
Locked in your bedroom, you made mug after mug of hot chocolate and slowly tore down the block in your mind. Something Hoseok had said set a fire beneath you. Your main character was unlikeable and unflawed. You could change that – you could write someone inherently flawed and still somehow likeable.
As you began the new script, a familiar world bloomed in your mind. At the top of the screenplay, you wrote Untitled: An Unlikely Superhero Story. The main character’s name was changed from Hoseok to Carlos, but you kept most of the story the same.
Carlos was a college student in his senior year. He came from a long line of famed superheroes but somehow, the genes seemed to have skipped over him. The only power Carlos had inherited was the power to turn water to wine. Very biblical, and a fun party trick, but not exactly the crème of the crop.
That is, until disaster strikes the country, and Carlos is the only available superhero to stop a new super-villain.
Head bent to your keyboard, you lost yourself in the new story. You added yourself without thinking, as Carlos’ best friend, Raya. Ray is hopelessly in love with Carlos and everyone around them knows except him.
Unlike with your prior screenplay, the words seemed to flow from somewhere deep within. While you were writing, you no longer found yourself concerned about whether people would like Carlos and Raya. Instead, you simply focused on the story you had to tell.
You were so busy writing you almost didn’t hear the soft knock at your door. Continuing to type, you wrote several more lines before someone said your name.
“Y/N?”
Glancing up, you realized Yoongi stood at your threshold. Surprised to see him without Sara, you dropped your hands from the keys and sat back.
“Yoongi!” you said, rubbing your eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
Yoongi nodded and glanced about your room. It had been a while since he’d last been here. He and Hoseok became friends during college and by then, you’d mostly moved out of your parents’ house. Still, Yoongi and Hoseok had hung out with you on breaks, so the room wasn’t unfamiliar.
“Sure.” Yoongi glanced at your laptop. “You seemed pretty invested in what you were doing.”
“Writing my screenplay,” you said, and then paused. “I thought of something I wanted to change, and things kind of spiraled.”
“That’s good.” He nodded. “I hope your writing goes well.”
You waited, but he said nothing more and after a moment, you glanced at the screen. You didn’t want to be rude, but you were kind of on a roll. If Yoongi wanted to talk about wedding plans, Sara was right downstairs.
“Is that… all?” you asked. It wasn’t like Yoongi to interrupt you for nothing.
After a moment, he sighed and glanced down the hall. Downstairs, you could hear a Christmas movie playing. He was probably in the middle of watching it with Sara. Somewhat uneasily, Yoongi looked back.
“That’s not all,” he admitted.
“Is it… do you want to come in, or something?”
Yoongi considered. “I saw you talking to Hoseok in the kitchen last night.”
Uncertain, you froze. It seemed your argument with Hoseok had been less private than you’d thought.
Awkwardly, you cleared your throat. “Oh? I’m sorry if we were being loud… I didn’t mean to interrupt the movie, or anything.”
His upper lip twitched. “You didn’t. I went to the bathroom and heard you two arguing.”
“Oh. Right.”
Yoongi sighed. “I really shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Doing what?”
“Talking to you about any of this.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better,” you said. “I have no idea what ‘any of this’ is, so it’s almost like we’re not talking at all.”
“What did you and Hobi fight about?”
You paused. “I… that’s kind of personal, Yoongi.”
Folding his arms, Yoongi leaned a shoulder against your door. He didn’t look away, which made you feel oddly on display.
“What’d you say to him?” he asked.
Immediately, you bristled. “Why does everyone assume I said something?”
“Because you tend to be the more clueless one.”
“I am not clueless,” you sputtered.
Yoongi gave you a look. “Well, what’d you fight about then?”
“I – I don’t know. A lot of things,” you said, falling back in your chair. “I got mad at him for cutting me out last year and he kept saying things were better this way.”
“What way?”
“I don’t know,” you said, frustrated. “A way where we’re not friends, I guess.”
“Well. Were you ever really friends to begin with?”
Startled, your eyes widened. “Of course, we were!”
“Y/N.” Yoongi stepped forward. “Think back. Really think. Why did all of your past boyfriends hate Hoseok so much?”
“I… I don’t know. Toxic masculinity? Guys always are threatened by male-female friendships.”
“It’s because Hobi was in love with you,” Yoongi said bluntly. “Always has been. He’s been in love with you for so fucking long and all your boyfriends knew it. Hell, everyone’s known it but you.”
Although you opened and closed your mouth, no noise came out.
Staring at Yoongi, the room started to spin. What he said made no sense. Hoseok couldn’t be in love with you. He couldn’t be in love with you because you would’ve known. Somehow, you would’ve known. He had been your best friend for nearly two decades. There was no way you would’ve missed something important like that.
“Hobi…” you managed to say. “Hoseok is in love with me?”
Seeing your expression, Yoongi softened. “I don’t know about love, present tense,” he corrected. “I know it destroyed him when you left New York. When you first told him about Darren, I think it finally scared Hoseok into doing something. He was coming to confess to you that weekend, you know.”
“He was what?”
“He was coming to confess,” Yoongi repeated. “He wanted to tell you he loved you, but you picked him up from the airport and said you’d moved in with Darren.”
“I – no,” you said, horrified.
Something like pity entered his gaze. “Yeah. He’d kill me if he knew I was telling you this, but you’ve both been idiots for so long. You’re not even speaking to each other, which is just stupid.”
“But…” Dizzily, you shook your head. “Why are you saying this, then? You don’t even know if Hoseok feels the same way.”
“Please.” Yoongi scoffed. “Hoseok might be your best friend, but he’s also mine. I saw the way he looked at you at my engagement party. Hell, I saw the way you looked at him.”
“How… did I look at him?”
Yoongi paused. “Like you’d come home.”
Swallowing hard, you looked away. You had no words left to say because Yoongi was right – Hoseok was home. He meant more to you than anyone ever had in your life, more than anyone ever would, and you were a fool for thinking this could be friendship.
There was a reason you’d wanted to skip an entire season rather than see Hoseok again. Why losing Hoseok had hurt worse than losing Darren; why seeing Hoseok last week had instantly crumbled your defenses, and a phone call from Darren could easily be dismissed.
You loved Hoseok. You always had.
“If you don’t love him,” Yoongi continued. “I honestly have no idea what’s going on. Haven’t you ever wondered why neither one of your relationships last?”
“I don’t know,” you mumbled. “We keep picking crappy people?”
“True.” He raised a brow. “But maybe the reason you keep picking crappy people is because you both know you’re right for each other but are too cowardly to say anything. It’s easier to say nothing and keep being friends than risk losing each other completely.”
You stared at Yoongi over your laptop. “Let’s say that’s true. Let’s say Hoseok used to love me. Why are you telling me this now?”
Yoongi hesitated. “You’re both clinging to the past so desperately, I don’t think either of you see what’s in front of your noses. Hoseok went after you last time. I think it’s about time you knew and decided what to do next.”
“And what if you’re right?” you said softly. “What if the idea of losing him is too much to bear?”
“Well, that’s the thing.” Yoongi gave a sad smile. “You don’t really have him right now, do you?”
With that, he turned to leave your room. Halfway into the hall, he paused. “Hope the rewrite goes well,” Yoongi said, then disappeared.
You stared at the empty door frame for a long time after that.
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Letting the influx of emotions you felt after Yoongi’s visit fuel you, you finished writing around 3:00 AM Christmas Eve. Falling asleep in the light of your laptop, you awoke groggily around 4:00 AM and moved to your bed to continue.
Your alarm went off early and for a moment, you thought you were under attack and nearly fell out of bed. Then you remembered that, in a moment of stupidity, you’d done this to yourself. Wearily rolling from bed, you padded into the bathroom and washed your face.
Around 8:00 AM, you pulled on your coat and rushed out the door, yelling to your dad you needed to borrow the car. Luckily, he was fine with this and soon you were seated in the car on your way to Kinko’s. It was the only copy place open on Christmas Eve, which you sorely needed since your dad’s printer was broken.
After printing out your screenplay, you drove all the way to Hoseok’s and parked at the curb. Here, you took several deep breaths and stared at his house.
It was as familiar to you as your own. There had been a point back in high school when you may have spent more time here than at your own house. You’d even had sleepovers because, to quote your mom, ‘it was only Hoseok.’
This thought made your cheeks heat because he had been anything but ‘only Hoseok.’ You’d be lying if you said you’d never thought about him that way in high school. You had often thought about Hoseok naked, and then immediately felt guilty because he was supposed to be your best friend.
If what Yoongi said was true though, you were the biggest pair of idiots because you’d liked Hoseok at the same time Hoseok had liked you. You’d both wasted so much time, love and energy on other people.
Removing the key from your ignition, you pushed open the door and promptly stepped in a snowdrift. Groaning out loud, you glanced down. Shaking your shoe free of snow, you limped awkwardly up Hoseok’s driveway. Shoe squelching, you muttered some choice words about snow and where it could shove its puffy, white ass.
“… Y/N?”
Startled, you whirled and saw Hoseok emerging from his garage, snow shovel in hand. He stared at you in confusion, having seemingly overheard everything you just said. When he realized you were limping, his gaze dropped to your foot.
“Oh.” Hoseok paused. “Sorry. I hadn’t shoved yet.”
“Hi. It’s okay,” you said, air frosting before you.
Hoseok nodded but didn’t add on and you felt suddenly nervous. This was Hoseok standing before you. It was Hoseok and yet, it wasn’t, because your Hoseok was completely untouchable. Your Hoseok was your ex-best friend, your childhood crush, and the man you were desperately, unrequitedly in love with.
This Hoseok – the one who maybe loved you back – was a stranger.
Remembering why you’d come, you tucked the papers under one arm and hurried forward. Hoseok was wearing a red puffer jacket which matched his cold cheeks. Coming to a stop, you fought the sudden nausea within you.
“Hey,” you repeated.
Hoseok stared at you, a little bewildered. He seemed like he didn’t understand why you were here, and you wilted a little, remembering how you’d left things at the holiday party.
“Why are you here?” Hoseok asked, echoing your thoughts.
“I wanted to give you this.”
Awkward, you thrust out both hands with the papers. Hoseok stared blankly at the pages, then looked at you.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s my screenplay,” you said. “Well, my new screenplay. I came up with a different idea after we talked.”
Despite himself, a glimmer of curiosity entered his gaze. Hoseok glanced once more at the pages. “And why are you giving it to me?”
“Because I want you to read it,” you said.
Hoseok’s gaze flicked to yours. “I don’t think you really want my opinion, Y/N.”
“I do, though.”
Something uncertain seemed to enter his gaze the longer he looked at you. “Y/N…” Hoseok said lowly. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be friends.”
“Hoseok… please,” you said quietly. “Please read it. Just this once?”
Hoseok looked at you another moment, then nodded and took the papers. Your hands touched for the briefest of moments and you felt your heart skip, but then he pulled back and the cold settled in.
No matter how much you wanted to blurt what Yoongi had said, you stopped yourself. This was what you’d decided sometime around midnight. It would be cheating to simply relay to Hoseok how Yoongi had said he felt. You needed to show him in your own way what he meant to you.
Hence, the screenplay and ungodly hour.
Hoseok looked at the papers, then back at you. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll try to read this sometimes this week, okay?”
Your heart sank a little, but you nodded. “Okay.”
That was all you could hope for, really. One thing was for certain – your friendship couldn’t continue the way it currently was. Something needed to change, one way or the other.
After another look, you nodded and turned towards your car. Sliding into the seat, you cranked up the heat and pulled from the curb. You tried not to look in the rearview mirror but failed as soon as you reached the stop sign. Glancing up, you saw Hoseok turn the papers over in hand.
Then you turned the corner and he disappeared.
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Christmas Eve was fairly typical in your house.
Christmas Day was the main event; you usually spent this at your grandma’s house. All your aunts, uncles and cousins would gather, and you’d spend the day drinking mimosas and unwrapping gifts by the fireplace.
There was tons of cooking to do, so your mom usually went over the night before to help. Usually you, your dad and Sara watched Christmas movies at home but this year, Sara was spending Christmas Eve at Yoongi’s. Your dad had volunteered to help your mom cook, which left you alone in the house for the evening.
You’d been invited to your grandma’s place, of course, but it was a halfhearted invitation, and you knew it. Your grandma was nothing if not a perfectionist and had zero patience for your brand of burnt toast. Besides, someone needed to make sure the Christmas lights were turned on.
In this way, you found yourself alone on Christmas Eve. Weirdly, this didn’t upset you at all. Wrapping yourself in your fuzziest blanket, you made yourself a cup of hot chocolate and settled in to watch the Grinch. Everyone else in your family refused to watch with you because you could quote every line by heart – and often did.
You tried not to think about Hoseok but kept coming up short. Every few minutes, a memory would drift to the surface and you’d wonder if he’d read your screenplay yet, if he’d understood what you’d meant and if he had any thoughts.
Frown deepening, you turned up the volume and tried to drown out your thoughts. It was Christmas Eve, and you had the entire place to yourself. You’d be damned if you let Hoseok –
A knock sounded at your front door.
Pressing pause, you sat up and listened. Someone knocked again and, setting down your mug, you stood to pad down the hall. It was around 7:30 PM, but you weren’t expecting either your parents or Sara back until 11:00 PM, which meant it had to be someone else.
Maybe a neighbor. It wouldn’t be the first time a strand of lights had come loose from your roof and landed on someone’s lawn. Halfway to the door, the person knocked a third time, and you noticed a shadow on your doorstep.
“Coming!” you yelled. In your haste, you’d nearly forgotten about the blanket wrapped around your shoulders. “Hang on!”
Undoing the lock, you opened the front door to find Hoseok before you. He stood on your porch, clutching your papers and looking indignant.
“What is this?” he demanded, thrusting them forward.
You stared at him in alarm. “Um. My new screenplay?”
“Right.” Hoseok paused. “Let’s start there. This person – Carlos. Is he based on me?”
“I…” Suddenly hesitant, you tugged on the blanket. “A little. Maybe.”
“Okay. And his best friend – Raya,” Hoseok said. “Who’s that?”
Awkward, you shifted your weight to your other foot.
This was what you’d intended by giving him the screenplay. You’d wanted Hoseok to understand how deeply you felt about him, how much you’d missed having him in your life. Hoseok had always been a superhero to you, even if he didn’t know it.
“She’s…” Helpless, you looked at Hoseok. “She’s Carlos’ best friend.”
Hoseok stared at you a moment. “Alright.” Looking down, he flipped through pages until he found the one he sought. A page scrawled with your handwriting. “And what about this?” Hoseok demanded, turning it around. “What’s this?”
Slightly cross-eyed, you read your own writing.
To the only person who’s ever seen the real me. Here’s how I see you.
Swallowing hard, you looked up. “It’s dedicated to you,” you said, a bit hoarse.
Slowly, Hoseok lowered the page.
Something uncertain entered his gaze, as though he didn’t dare to believe what you said. The idea of this made you want to laugh – the idea of Hoseok not understanding how you felt for him. He was so indescribably out of your league and somehow, he thought you didn’t want him.
“Alright.” Hoseok spoke quietly, taking a step forward. “I’m going to ask this again, at the risk of sounding like an absolute idiot. Who’s Raya, Y/N?”
He was inside now, across your threshold and still, you fought back a shiver. Mistaking this for cold, Hoseok turned and shut the door. In the warm glow of your hallway, he turned back, his cheeks red with cold.
“Me,” you whispered, gathering all your courage. “She’s me, Hobi.”
Hoseok seemed to stop breathing.
“I didn’t know how else to explain,” you said in a rush. “I just… Hobi, do you know why I didn’t want to come home for Christmas?”
Mutely, he shook his head.
“I didn’t want to see you,” you confessed. “I could barely hold things together in LA, where I had my own life which didn’t involve you. Coming home and seeing you, knowing you weren’t mine and not being able to do anything about it? I couldn’t stand the idea,” you admitted. “I just couldn’t.”
Hoseok paused, and then said, “You were with Darren, though. You loved him.”
“Maybe,” you said softly. “Or maybe he was someone I could keep at arms-length. Someone who couldn’t really hurt me. Do you know how I felt after he cheated?”
“I – I don’t.”
Roughly, you exhaled. “I was hurt. But more than that, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed I’d stayed with him for as long as I had. What does that say about how fucked up that relationship was? When you love someone, you care about what they do. You care if they love you back, or not. You… you want to cross entire countries just to say how you feel,” you said, all in one breath.
Hoseok’s eyes widened. “I – how did you…? Yoongi,” he breathed as he realized.
For a second Hoseok looked so livid, you nearly smiled.
“Don’t hurt him,” you said, stepping closer. “He’s the only reason I’m telling you any of this. I had no idea… I mean, you were certainly no help.”
“I was no help?” Hoseok’s gaze narrowed. “Do you have any idea how many times I tried to tell you?”
“I’m guessing zero,” you scoffed. “Seeing as I never realized what you were trying to say.”
Hoseok looked at you a moment, still wearing that giant, red puffer jacket. It reminded you of one he had in high school, one he saved up all winter to buy. He lost it that spring at a party – the same one you had your first kiss at. That night was also known as the first time Hoseok got drunk.
“The first time I tried to tell you I loved you, I was eleven,” Hoseok said softly. “It was the first time you slept over at my house and you fell asleep playing mario kart. You looked so pretty, even though you drooled on my pillow. I whispered I love you.”
“You… you told me you loved me when I was asleep?” you said, stunned.
Hoseok’s upper lip twitched. “The next time, we were fourteen. You got food poisoning at Wild Fun Land and I spent that night holding your hair over the toilet. After a really gross bout, you looked up and mumbled, ‘Hey, Hobi. Can you call Sara and tell her I won’t be home for dinner? Tell her… something came up.’ Then you looked at the toilet, wiggled your brows and I lost it. I told you I loved you, but I don’t think you understood.”
You realized then your mouth was hanging open, but somehow couldn’t find the strength to close it. You also remembered that day, but Hoseok was right, you’d thought he meant it in a friend way, not in a real I love you way.
“You… you tried to confess after I made a vomit pun?” you squeaked.
“The third time,” Hoseok continued, as though you’d said nothing. “We were both sixteen. It was that time Jungkook convinced everyone to go camping. We were the last ones outside, star-gazing in that field and you told me you loved the little dipper. You said you loved the idea of something guiding you home. I said–”
“You said I was that to you,” you whispered, remembering.
A strange, fluttery feeling began to take flight in your stomach. You remembered that night, too. You’d been deeply in love with Hoseok at the time but lacked the courage to tell him. His words that night had sustained you for weeks, but when you’d returned and nothing happened, you’d slowly lost hope.
“Then there was prom,” Hoseok said, stepping closer. “That was the last time I tried to tell you – for a while, at least. Do you remember? Your asshole date made out with someone else on the floor, and I found you crying in the family restroom. Do you remember what I said to you?”
“You said you hoped his eyebrows fell off.”
“After that.”
“You said,” you whispered, suddenly parched. “You said it didn’t matter what my date thought, since I’d always have someone who thought I was the most beautiful girl in the room.”
“Me,” Hoseok said quietly.
Staring at him, you wondered how you could have ever been so stupid. When he said it like that, it all fell into place, but you remembered being so confused at the time.
“That was the last time?”
Hoseok hesitated. “When you began dating Ren, I tried to keep my distance. I tried to move on, but then we were together in New York… I don’t know. I realized I’d never stopped loving you. I didn’t know how to stop loving you.”
“So, you came to LA,” you murmured.
He nodded. “The night we almost kissed haunted me for months. I wanted to say something so badly, but then you said you were moving… I figured it was a sign. But then you left, and my feelings wouldn’t go away. I needed to tell you, or I’d never move on.”
“But I’d moved in with Darren.”
Hoseok’s jaw tightened. “I… I couldn’t handle being friends with you like that,” he said quietly. “I was in love with you and it was killing me. I needed to try and get over you. The only way I could think to do that was to cut you out of my life.”
“It makes sense,” you whispered, even as your heart lodged in your throat. “Did you know I came to see you?”
Hoseok’s brow furrowed. “What?”
“Last October. I missed you so badly, I flew to New York. I don’t even know what I meant to say, but then I got to your place and saw you coming back from a date. I – I realized you were right. We couldn’t be friends.”
He looked at you quizzically and you buried your face in your hands.
Slowly, you shook your head side to side. “It sounds so stupid now that I’m saying it out loud. God, how did I not realize? I loved you, Hobi. I loved you so much and it was all right there! I hated all your girlfriends. Not because they were stupid – although they were – but because I couldn’t stand the idea of you being anyone else.”
“Hey, hey,” Hoseok said, gently taking your hands in his.
He lowered them to your sides, waiting until you looked up. When you met his gaze, you tentatively traced over his face in a way you hadn’t before.
He was so beautiful.
You’d always thought this but hadn’t let yourself linger because it hurt too much to see him. It was dizzying to look at him now, to have him so near and know you were allowed. Hoseok wanted this as much as you did.
“So.” Hoseok still hadn’t let go of your hands. “If I’m Carlos and you’re Raya, does that mean…”
“I love you, Hoseok,” you said without skipping a beat.
Happiness bloomed in his gaze. You’d said it during your rambles, but this time felt different. This time felt real – a moment in the present and not a regret from the past. Hands slipping to your cheeks, Hoseok thumbed your skin before he lowered his head to yours.
His lips were cold at first, warming as they moved against you. His hands slid into your hair, repositioning your mouth to deepen the kiss. Slowly, he walked the two of you backwards, letting your hips hit the wall as the blanket fell from your shoulders. Your head started spinning when you pulled him closer, clutching his waist and opening your mouth.
Grinning into his lips, you reached for his jacket to try and unzip him. The puffiness was getting in the way and you wanted to feel him against you. Hoseok obeyed, refusing to stop kissing as his right hand found yours, tugging down the zipper.
When his coat hit the floor, you realized he was dressed in a dark suit and button-down. His head bent, determined to pick up where you’d left off, but you pushed him back.
“Hang on,” you said, sweeping him with your gaze. “Holy shit.”
Hoseok paused, breathing hard. “What?”
“You’re wearing a suit.”
“Yeah.” He looked at you, bewildered. “I came straight from mass.”
“Hm.” You cocked your head. “I should probably talk to my therapist about why I find that hot.”
Hoseok chuckled and leaned in. Rather than kiss you, he pressed your hips to the wall and rested his hand by your head. Slowly, his gaze trailed your frame.
“I… Hoseok,” you said, heart beating faster. “I’m wearing pajamas.”
You were. They were matching flannel – short sleeves and short-shorts, but still hopelessly Christmas-y and endlessly dorky. Your sister had insisted you wear them on Christmas Eve, so you could wake up in them tomorrow morning.
Hoseok’s gaze glinted. “Mhm. What’s your point?”
“Stop… stop looking at me like that,” you said, a bit breathless.
His gaze flicked to yours. “Like what?”
“Like…” You swallowed. “Like you’re undressing me in your mind, or something.”
Hoseok grinned.
“Stop,” you laughed, shoving his shoulder.
He didn’t move. Instead, Hoseok lowered a finger to your clavicle and slowly dragged down. Equally gently, he undid a button. The top of your pajama shirt parted and Hoseok exhaled.
“Fuck,” he muttered, hand curling on the wall. “You have no idea how many times I’ve imagined seeing you naked.”
His voice made you shiver, pressing closer when his arm slid around your waist. Hoseok swallowed and lowered to kiss you again. His lips were softer, more tentative and you found yourself melting. Arms finding his neck, you pulled him even closer to feel him flush against you.
“So.” Hoseok pulled back, kissing the corner of your lips. “I hate to say something which might break the mood, but…”
“Yeah?”
“Your parents aren’t home, are they?”
Snorting, you buried your face in his neck. Hoseok smelled good, like citrus and linen. After breathing him in for a second, you looked up to see him.
“No,” you told him. “No one will be back for hours.”
“Good.”
Without further preamble, Hoseok resumed kissing you. You lost yourself in the feel of his hands, the touch of his lips and the delicious way Hoseok tasted. Sucking on his lower lip, you nibbled a little before you pulled back. Hoseok groaned, thumb stroking your neck as you opened your mouth.
Your hands slid under his suit jacket, trying to pull him even closer. Hoseok undid another button on your top to leave it half-open.
“Fuck,” he muttered, looking down.
“Hobi.” You pushed your hips to his. “Take it all the way off.”
Sharply, he looked up and his jaw clenched. “Are you trying to kill me?” he said, sliding a finger down your chest. Hovering over your breastbone, he awaited further instruction.
Watching him, you reached up and undid the final two buttons. Inhaling, Hoseok pushed off your top until it fell to the floor. You were left standing in only your shorts, which had ridden up in a somewhat obscene manner.
Hoseok wet his lips.
“Hobi,” you groaned. He looked up. “Touch me.”
“God.” He slid both hands up your ribcage. “You are, aren’t you? You’re trying to kill me.”
Palms cupping your breasts, Hoseok flicked over each nipple. He stared appreciatively as they hardened, aroused by his touch.
“You had this bikini,” he said suddenly, looking up. “A white string bikini you wore to the pool senior year. Every guy in our grade loved that bikini,” he confessed, dipping his head. “We all used to pray the AC would be on, because then your nipples would be crystal fucking clear.”
“Hey!” you blurted, losing all train of thought when Hoseok’s lips closed around a nipple. “Oh,” you said breathlessly, head hitting the wall.
Hoseok continued, merciless as his tongue swept upward. He teasingly brought one to a peak, then the other, flicking the first with his thumb.
God, you were wet – so fucking wet, you were surprised Hoseok couldn’t tell as you ground on his leg. Hoseok had wedged his thigh between yours, giving you the perfect seat while he played with your breasts.
“H-hobi,” you whimpered.
Lifting his head, Hoseok smirked. There was something about seeing him fully clothed while you ground on his leg which set off a needy, primal part of you.
“We should go upstairs,” you said, glancing past him.
Hoseok went still. “Yeah?” he asked, his gaze searching yours.
“Yes,” you said with a nod. “I need you. Now.”
Without another word, Hoseok grabbed your wrist and made for the stairs. You laughed when he pulled you along, remembering to scoop your top from the ground as you went. Slapping his ass, you followed his lead and Hoseok paused on the landing to press you to the wall.
Beneath your terrible middle school photos, he kissed you, unable to keep from smiling.
“No more,” you whined, pulling back. “I want to see you naked.”
Hoseok snorted but followed you down the hall and into your bedroom. You walked inside but he paused, choosing to linger on the threshold instead.
“Fuck.” Hoseok glanced around. “I can’t believe you’re inviting me up to your room. Sixteen-year-old me is reaching through the time continuum to give me a high five.”
Taking a seat on your bed, you threw the shirt to the ground. Leaning back on your elbows, you arched a brow.
“What are you talking about?” you said, baffled. “You’ve been in my room plenty of times.”
His eyes gleamed as he walked closer. “It’s not the same,” Hoseok said, beginning to undo his belt. His jacket, then his pants found their way to the floor. “Do you know how many times I jacked off to the idea of you touching yourself in this room?”
“Oh,” you whispered, a bit breathless.
Without breaking his gaze, you slid the shorts from your waist and pushed them to the ground. Now, you were entirely naked. Spreading yourself on the sheets, you let Hoseok see you. Normally, you weren’t this aggressive in bed. Normally, you went along with whatever your partner wanted, but this was Hoseok. You needed him to know how badly you wanted him.
Eyes widening, Hoseok undid his shirt. As soon as this was gone, you sucked in a breath. Hoseok was gorgeous. You’d known this of course, but his body was all lithe muscles and golden skin. His hips had an indent you loved – you saw this only briefly before he unzipped his pants.
Still looking at you, he lowered them to the floor, and you forgot how to breathe for a minute. You forgot everything but the sight of Hoseok standing naked before you.
Walking towards the bed, he lowered a knee to the mattress and slowly pushed you back. Your lips met as you inhaled, pulling him closer, grabbing a hold of whatever you could. There was so much to see, so much to touch – hands trembling, they slid down the broad panes of his back. Hoseok’s legs nestled between yours, your arousal getting all over his thighs.
Mouth opening, his tongue swept forward as you whimpered his name. Lowering you to your back, Hoseok kissed slowly down your front to close over a breast. Sucking into his mouth, his hips rolled against yours.
Gasping, your pelvis rocked forward, feeling his cock at your thigh. You needed him inside you so badly. Needed his length, his fingers, his mouth – it didn’t matter.
“Please, Hoseok,” you said, pulling up on his shoulders until he kissed you again.
“This isn’t fair,” he protested.
“What isn’t?”
“You.” He pulled back to sit on his heels. With one hand, Hoseok fisted his cock and stared at your dripping cunt. “We’ve been making out for ten minutes and already, my balls feel so tight, I’m going to come the second I get inside you.” His eyes widened. “I mean. If that’s… I don’t want to assume…”
Melting a little, you reached up and pulled him down to your chest. Wrapping your legs around his waist, you nudged his cock with your center. This had to be the wettest you’d ever been in your life.
“You feel that?” you whispered, biting his ear.
Hoseok shuddered, fighting to keep still.
“That’s me saying I want you to fuck me so hard I can’t walk tomorrow.”
Inhaling sharply, Hoseok reached down and slid a finger into your cunt. You groaned, clenching as you fell back on the bed. Hoseok pulled his finger back out, closing his mouth around the digit to suck it clean. Eyes closed, he exhaled.
“Mm.” He opened his eyes, dark with arousal. “God, I can’t wait to make your legs shake. Lick your whole pussy clean while you ride my face.”
Unwittingly, your eyes widened. “Hobi!”
Grin wicked, he leaned to cage you with his arms. “Yeah?”
“You…” Your face felt like it was on fire. “I’ve just… never heard you talk like that before.”
“Did you like it?” he murmured, brushing your neck with his lips.
“Yeah,” you said, arching upwards. “Tell me what else you want to do to me.”
Reaching down, Hoseok slid his finger back inside you. Sinking in deeper, he made wet, squelching sounds as he slowly fucked you. His thumb began rubbing your clit.
“Well first,” he murmured. “I want to fuck you like this – looking at you. Watching you come.”
You shuddered when he added a second finger, working you open. Hoseok curled his fingers in a forward gesture, brushing a spot deep inside you which made you moan.
“I wish we were somewhere else,” he said, adding a third finger. “I wish we had all the time in the world so I could do everything I have in mind. Eat your pussy like the meal it is. Lie back and let you ride my face. Have you hanging off the bed while I fuck your throat.”
“Shit,” you breathed, eyes slightly glazed.
Glancing down, Hoseok saw your arousal dripping around his hand. He smirked. “You like that, huh?” he murmured, pressing a kiss to your temple. “Want me to fuck your throat, baby?”
“Yes,” you groaned, head thrown back on the bed.
He made a noise partway to a growl, then abruptly pulled out his fingers. You gasped, clenching hard around nothing while you looked at him in dismay.
“I was so close,” you groaned. “Hobi!”
“I know,” he said, returning to rubbing your clit. “I know, but fuck – I can’t wait any longer to be inside you. I need to know what your pussy feels like around me.”
“Oh,” you exhaled. “Okay.”
Hoseok’s lips found yours, moving slowly as he thrust between your legs to get his cock wet. Each time he slid past your pussy, you whimpered and Hoseok grinned, pulling back.
“Hoseok,” you said through gritted teeth. “I swear to god, if you don’t –”
He laughed. “Okay, okay,” he agreed and pushed his tip inside you.
Immediately, he froze.
“What?” you said, searching his face.
“Shit,” Hoseok cursed.
“What?” you whimpered, genuinely distressed at feeling him so close but not inside you. If he didn’t move – and soon – you might cry or come.
“Condom,” he blurted. “I didn’t grab one before coming here. Do you have one?”
Stomach sinking, you shook your head.
“Shit, shit, shit.” Hoseok hung his head. “I’m sorry, baby. We don’t have to–”
“I’m clean,” you said, and he froze. “I got tested after the breakup and I haven’t been with anyone since. I’m on the pill, too. So…”
Slowly, Hoseok looked up. “You want me to fuck you… raw?”
“If you want…”
You said this, uncertain because Hoseok had the oddest look on his face, as though your words physically pained him.
“Fuck, yes I want,” he whispered. “I’m clean, too. I promise. Got tested last month.”
“Okay,” you said, slipping your arms around him. “I trust you, Hobi.”
Gaze melting, Hoseok nodded and bent to kiss you again. With each roll of his hips, he worked his cock deeper. Lips parted, you groaned and enjoyed the feeling of him filling you. Hoseok moved slow, rubbing your clit with his thumb the entire way.
Somewhat dazed, you imagined what it would’ve been like to lose your virginity to Hoseok. It probably would’ve been much more pleasurable than the way it actually happened.
Finally, Hoseok exhaled as he bottomed out. Lowering himself to his elbows, he gave an experimental roll of his hips.
“Oh,” you whispered, clutching him closer.
Hoseok’s eyes shone in the darkness above you. “What’re you thinking?”
“I’m thinking… how nice it would’ve been to lose my virginity to you.”
His jaw clenched. “You can’t just… fucking say things like that, Y/N.”
“Why not? You said way dirtier things to me earlier.”
“This is different, though,” he argued. “I actually could’ve been that person. I’ll never forgive the asshole who made you bleed.”
Heat rose to your face. “I should never have told you that.”
Hoseok shifted on top of you, causing his cock to go deeper. “No,” he exhaled, gaze roaming your face. “I’m glad you told me. I’ll just try and erase that experience from memory.”
Before you could ask what that meant, Hoseok thrust his hips forward. Your lips parted as he filled you, gasping a little as your hands found his back. Slower, he pulled out and pushed back inside. Spread out underneath him, Hoseok kept you at his mercy with each roll of his hips.
His cock was – oh my god, you’d never felt anything like this. Each toe-curling thrust of his hips had you biting back moans. You’d had sex, but you didn’t think you’d ever been fucked like this. Like Hoseok knew what he was doing and wanted to make you come – needed to make you come. Already, you felt yourself tightening, unable to withstand the steady thrust of his cock.
“Oh my god,” you groaned, burying your face in his shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” Hoseok said, trying to see you. “Slower?”
“No. I – I’m gonna come soon.”
“Oh?” He paused. “Already?”
“Stop it,” you groaned. “Who knew you were a fucking god amongst mortals?”
When you looked up, he smirked and slid his palms to your thighs. “Hold these open for me,” he said, thrusting in slow, shallow strokes.
You obliged, holding your thighs open so he could see you fully.
“Fuck.” Hoseok’s breath hitched a little. “About to come and I haven’t even done this.” Dragging his knuckles to either side of your clit, he squeezed and made you gasp. “Or this,” he added, moving to cup your breasts.
Tugging your nipples between fingers, he deftly pulled down and made you moan. Hoseok did this again before letting go, lowering himself to his forearms with a wicked smile.
“But baby already wants to come,” he said, kissing you softly. “This gorgeous pussy just wants to come on my cock. Is that right?”
“I can’t decide if I want to slap you,” you groaned, chest heaving. “Or tell you – fuck yes, it does.”
Hoseok’s gaze narrowed. “Shit. Both sound good to me.”
You moaned again, and this time Hoseok had pity on you. Hand sliding between you, he began to fuck faster and roll your clit with his thumb.
“That’s it,” he grunted, hips slamming against you. “Such a good girl, about to come so hard on my cock. Relax, baby. Let me take care of it,” he said, moving faster.
He began to fuck harder, deeper and everything within you tightened to a breaking point. Everything was too much, so sensitive – whimpering his name, you shuddered apart. A fresh wave of arousal soaked the sheets and Hoseok went still, hips faltering against yours.
Dazed, you managed to open your eyes. You wanted to tell him to keep going. You wanted to tell him to come inside you, but before you could utter a word, you saw Hoseok’s face.
“Oh,” you said, wincing as you looked down. “Sorry. I squirt sometimes – is that weird?”
Hoseok stared at you like he’d won the fucking lottery. “Is it – weird?” he breathed. “Weird? That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen, Y/N.” Gaze glinting, he pushed your thighs upwards and onto your chest. “Wanna see if I can do it again.”
You nodded, trembling – and then gasped when Hoseok let go for real.
Back arching, you moaned as he began to fuck you. Hoseok moved hard and fast, his cock pounding relentlessly into your needy pussy. You could barely catch your breath but somehow, this just made you want it more. Jaw slack, you could only lie there and take it as you tightened around him.
He seemed determined to make good on his promise, giving in to the mind-numbing feeling of fucking you hard. You began to see stars, so whipped for the feeling of his cock pounding into you. Crying out his name, you arched your hips up to his.
He slammed into your g-spot, making you tremble beneath the force of his onslaught. Unyielding, he drove you towards your second orgasm of the night. Everything was overwhelming, making you clutch at him harder. The sensation was nothing but pure lust and pleasure – and then you broke, seeing black as you came for the second time.
You felt yourself clench, arousal gushing from your pussy to soak the sheets again. Hoseok groaned, saying your name when he finally came. Rope after rope of cum filled your cunt and when he was finally done, he pressed a kiss to your cheek.
Eyes fluttering, you let out a shaky laugh. Hoseok exhaled, chest pressed to yours as his expression softened.
You grinned up at him, still breathless. “Wow.”
“Yeah.” He smiled dreamily back. “Wow.”
When he tried to roll but keep himself inside you, you laughed.
“Hobi –”
“Shh. Let this happen.”
“Hobi!” you snorted, smacking his chest.
“What?”
“I need to clean up.”
Although his lips turned downwards, he sighed. “Alright, fine.”
Once he’d pulled out, you rolled from bed and hurried into the bathroom. After cleaning yourself up, you wandered into your bedroom and froze.
Hoseok had pulled all your sheets from the bed and stood helplessly in front of your closet.
“Uh.” You leaned your shoulder to the door. “What’re you doing?”
“I was trying to change your sheets, but your mom must keep them someplace different now.”
Unwittingly, you started to grin. It was just so strange having Hoseok in your room, trying to clean up after giving you the best double orgasm of your life. A good weird, though. The best kind of weird.
Heading into your bathroom, you returned with fresh sheets. “Here,” you said, handing them to Hoseok. Scooping the others from the floor, you stood. “I’ll throw these in the wash and be back.”
“Right back!”
You rolled your eyes at the demand but hurried to the laundry room and back. When you returned, you found Hoseok waiting for you in bed, sheets freshly changed. Slipping under the covers, you snuggled against his side.
Hoseok kissed the top of your head, leisurely stroking your arm with one hand. You stayed there for a while, happy to just be together again.
Then, Hoseok cleared his throat.
“What?” you said, looking up.
“I don’t remember if I said.” He sleepily smiled. “I loved the new script.”
“Really?”
“Yeah.”
“The lead isn’t too perfect?”
Hoseok laughed, a bit sheepish. “I may have been projecting a little.”
“You were right, though. She was terrible.”
His gaze softened, looking at you. “No,” he said quietly. “But also, you can have the best screenplay in the world, Y/N and it’s still a game of chance. You’re talented and one day, everyone will see that. If not this screenplay, then the next one.”
His words were warm, settling over you like a blanket. Hoseok always believed in you when you couldn’t believe in yourself. You had more confidence in yourself now but sometimes, it was nice to have someone who supported you unconditionally. Someone without an agenda or anything in it for themselves. Someone who loved you and whom you loved back.
“Hobi?” you said, laying your head to his chest.
“Yeah?”
“Are we dating?
His chest shook as he laughed. “If you want to be.”
“I want to be.”
“Good. Me too.”
You nodded, waiting a little longer and then said, “Hoseok?”
“Yeah?”
“Don’t fall asleep,” you warned. “If my parents come home and find you naked in my bed, you won’t live long enough to see the honeymoon phase.”
Hoseok snorted and you laughed, rolling over to kiss him again. Eventually you got out of bed, put on your clothes, and went downstairs to watch the Christmas movie, but nothing seemed to change the ear-splitting grin on your face.
With Hoseok beside you and hot chocolate in hand, you begrudgingly admitted it may have been a good idea to come home for the holidays, after all.
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Author’s Note: Thank you for reading 😊 HAPPY HOBI-DAYS, ALL!
© kpopfanfictrash, 2020. Do not copy or repost without permission.
4K notes · View notes
noteguk · 7 months ago
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bad influence | jjk | m
— summary; in which you know Jungkook is a bad influence on you, but you can’t avoid falling for him every time. 
— contents and warnings; pwp, badboy!jk x goodgirl!reader, car sex, dirty talk, fingering, hair pulling, breast play, jk has a big dick and an attitude, unprotected sex (condoms are your friends), jk being kind of a douche, use of the word “slut”, cum eating, creampie, cockwarming, possessiveness, he slaps her ass like once, enemies to fuckbuddies pretty much 
— words; 4.5k
— author’s note; I got carried away because I don’t know how to control myself!!! Also bad boy Jungkook is a fucking concept and I’m exhausted. Have fun. //  BAD INFLUENCE COLLECTION
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You didn’t even know who you were trying to convince when you told yourself that you wouldn’t fall for Jungkook’s cheap charms anymore because, clearly, that wasn’t working. Every time you saw him, every dumb promise you made in front of the mirror came crumbling down, erasing your defenses along with it. 
That whole “falling for the bad boy” fiasco was really pathetic, and you knew that terribly well. You thought you had prepared yourself well enough to see through that mess of testosterone and leather jackets, of hollow smirks and messy dark hair. You knew better than to get involved with someone that didn’t take anything seriously and, worse, that mocked you for doing the opposite. 
You knew that Jeon Jungkook was nothing but trouble and, yet, you came crawling back to him every single time.  
“Fuck,” he moaned against your mouth, his eyes flickering shut at another roll of your hips. His voice was so deep, so rough, that you felt yourself clenching around nothing, a small whimper dripping from your lips as you pressed your panties against his bulge one more time. “You should wear skirts more often, you look like a sexy schoolgirl.”
You rolled your eyes, struggling to keep your balance on his lap. Straddling him on the driver seat of his car really wasn’t how you thought your night out would end, but it wasn’t all that surprising either. “I fucking hate you sometimes,” you spat.
Jungkook smirked, taking one of his large hands to the back of your head. “Only sometimes? I should try harder, then.”
You were left without a chance to respond because, within a second, he was pressing his lips against yours in a deep, sensual kiss. Jungkook always made out with you like he was about to lose you, like he was drowning and you were his last, desperate gush of air. Jungkook had been the only one who had ever kissed you like that, so messy, but yet so passionate; every curl of his tongue against yours making you melt in his embrace. You, of course, would never tell him how much you liked it, your pride would never allow you to do so.
His palm was firm and hot against your cheek, tilting your head slightly to the side so he could deepen the kiss. His other hand was tenderly placed on your hips, guiding them as you continued to grind against his clothed erection. The air inside his car was so heavy that you felt as if you couldn’t even breathe, only small whimpers echoing between your mouths at the gentle caresses of your clit against the fabric of his pants. 
But, as much as Jungkook was having fun, that grinding session was starting to annoy him a bit. He had been waiting to have you all night — going through the motions of boring bar conversations and brushing off the shameless flirting of other girls — and he wasn’t going to spend his sweet time just dry humping you like you two were horny teenagers. 
So, he took his shot as you raised your hips from his. Before you could move your body down once again, one of his hands traveled beneath the hem of your skirt, his nails pressing down on the skin of your thighs as he made his way towards your pussy. Jungkook had been daydreaming about your cunt wrapping around his cock for far too long then, and he needed to remind himself of how good that felt. 
“Fuck, babygirl, look at you… You’re soaked and I didn’t even touch you yet.” Jungkook smirked wickedly, his fingers faintly tracing its way up and down your clothed folds. You shivered at the contact, biting on your lip to avoid moaning out — he, of course, noticed that. He had quite the natural talent when it came to seeing what made you tick. “Why are you holding back, baby? Afraid that someone will hear you?” 
Your only response was a shaky breath from your nose, the words far too complicated to leave your mouth. Only Jungkook, in all of his great self, was able to make you such a mess so quickly, and you hated your body for being so reactive under his touches. It was the expectation, you noticed, the anticipation of knowing how well he fucked you, of knowing he was only taking his time before ruining you. 
Without hesitation, he pulled your panties to the side and placed two of his fingers between your pussy lips, barely brushing your entrance. Jungkook covered his digits with your wetness and moved them toward your clit, pressing them delicately on your sensitive nub. “I asked you a question, baby.” 
A bit overwhelmed, you breathed out, trying to keep yourself composed. It was almost impossible when it came to him. “Yeah, I don’t want people to know,” you admitted. 
He knew that, of course. It was a common worry amongst the two of you — especially when Jungkook had such a thing when it came to risky places to have sex in. Fucking you in his car, right outside the bar where you two had accidentally ran into each other, was far from being one of the most out-there situations he had created. 
“Hm? Know what?” He continued playing his self-indulgent game, pressing down on your clit. Your body jilted at the contact, mouth parting slightly and hands resting on his broad shoulders as he began slowly moving in circles over your sweet spot. “That pretty little ___ isn’t such a good girl, after all?” 
“J-Jungkook,” his name was a pathetic moan that died on your tongue, barely a whispered plea as he continued his advances on your clit. You had broken down so easy and so fast, you didn’t even remember you had once promised yourself that you would never come back to his bad boy shenanigans. 
But it was so, so hard to keep yourself away from him. You were only human, and Jungkook was this little demon ruining you just a bit more every time. 
“Are you worried that they’ll know that, beneath all those good grades, all those nights spent studying in your room, all that fucking charity work...” His fingers pressed harshly against your clit and your back arched, making you almost hit the steering wheel behind you. The thought of accidentally pressing down the horn made your blood run cold, and you forced yourself to lean back against his chest. “That under all that, you’re still a slut for my cock?” 
Your eyes fluttered shut, pleasure starting to climb up your spine as his voice guided you towards the past. All the times you snuck out during the night, all the times he fucked you raw after just bickering with you in front of your friends. All the times you told everyone that he was just a pile of trouble, and yet you begged for him to bury himself between your thighs until you were crying out his name. Really, it was difficult to find a bratty clapback when he was fucking you senseless, and Jungkook seemed to like that discovery just as much as you. 
And still, sometimes he didn’t like when you didn’t answer him. 
“You’re so shy all of a sudden…” he trailed off, taking one of his hands to pull up your crop top. He didn’t take it off, especially when he knew you’d freak out being topless in a public parking lot, he just needed to have better access to your bra. “You aren’t this quiet when you’re around other people, though. Always mocking me, being so mean…” 
“Don’t play the victim, you do the same to me,” you found the strength to respond, making Jungkook stop his motions on your clit right away. You sighed in frustration, your shoulders falling as you watched him lick his lips. “Why did you stop?”
“I’m waiting,” he said.
“For what?” 
“For an answer, baby.” He smirked. “You’re so mean. You always leave me hanging.” 
“That’s not true,” you said, taking your hands to his nape. There, you played with the strands of his hair, making him groan after a harsh pull. “What’s the question?” 
Jungkook hummed, taking his free hand to your bra and cupping one of your breasts — his other one was still paused, hovering over your clit like an unspoken promise. “Do people know?” He repeated, unclamping your bra with one swift motion and pushing it up along with your top. “Do they know how much of a dirty girl you are?” 
You swallowed hard and pushed your body against his fingers, trying to find some more friction. “I’m not,” you said, but could not believe your own words. “It’s just—“
The lie vanished the second that his lips found your nipple, his velvety tongue coming out to circle around it before he gave you a harsh suck. You pressed yourself closer to his mouth at the contact, and you could no longer hide the needy moan that escaped you — which seemed to satisfy Jungkook. 
“You’re not?” He spoke as he pulled away from your breast. Jungkook’s fingers slithered away from your clit and dove inside your pussy without further warning, making you cry out his name. No matter how many times you touched yourself, your fingers could never compare to his larger ones, making you stretch out so sweetly around them. “So why are you soaking my fingers like this? That’s so filthy, baby...” 
You clenched your teeth. “God, you’re so annoying.” 
“And you’re so wet,” this time, however, the mockery in his voice had faded a bit, giving space to a newfound wave of lust. As much as Jungkook loved to tease you, he was quite fast to break too — and the lewd sounds of your pussy were making him lose his mind. “Are you remembering all the times I fucked you before? All the times I pounded this tight pussy until you were crying? Begging for my cock?” 
God, you could feel as the heat started to spread down your body, guided by his words alone. When you spoke again, your voice wasn’t as firm as you expected. “J-Jungkook, that’s not…”
“Not what, baby?” He interrupted, tilting his head to the side. You hated how clothed he was, but you couldn’t deny that you wanted to ride him like that — in that stupid leather jacket of his. “You didn’t like it?”
“I- I did.” It was getting hard to think when his thick fingers were pumping in and out of you so well. “I loved it.”
Those words left your throat before you could stop yourself, and your heart almost sank when you realized you had actually praised Jungkook, local douchebag, for something. You knew that he wouldn’t let that go anytime soon. “Loved being fucked like a good slut, right?” He asked, moving his fingers faster. You moaned especially loud when he started pushing them apart, scissoring you. 
“Yes,” you gasped, utterly defeated at that point. 
“Hmmm… so let me ask you again, and I expect a direct answer this time,” Jungkook said, leaning his head against the crook of your neck. His voice was a cloud of heat against your skin, vibrating up and down your body. “Do people know that you’re a slut for my cock?”
“No,” you finally responded, fingers digging on his hair. Your pleasure was increasing so fast that you knew it was just a matter of time before you were cumming around his fingers, like you had done so many times before. “Only you know, Jungkook.” 
That seemed to really satisfy him, because it was his turn to grunt against your flesh. The sound of his voice, so hoarse and guttural, made you clench around his fingers. “You’re getting so tight, baby.” He breathed out, unable to hide the desire that coated his words. Jungkook really needed to feel that delicious pussy of yours around his cock before he went insane. “Close?”
This time, your answer didn’t take long to come out. “Yes.”
“I have another question for you,” he started, and you would've rolled your eyes at him if you weren’t so awfully close to your high. “Do you wanna come on my cock or my fingers?”
“Both, please,” you moaned out and rolled your hips against his hand, dignity long forgotten. You wondered what your friends would say if they knew you were pleading for Jungkook, of all people, to make you cum. 
“Not both, you have to pick one.” Jungkook stopped his movements for the second time that night, and you couldn’t help cursing out at the absence of motion. You clenched around his fingers, making a sly smirk spread across his features. “I’m feeling especially greedy tonight.”
“Fuck you,” you said, taking a moment to organize your thoughts. As much as you really, really needed to cum, the idea of not having Jungkook’s dick inside you was much worse than waiting just a few more minutes to have it. “Your cock.”
He smiled and, for a moment, he almost looked innocent. Almost. “I thought so,” Jungkook teased, giving you one final pump of his fingers and watching as you bit your lip at the abrupt feeling. “I know you love it.” 
You scoffed. “You have such an attitude.” 
“Maybe,” Jungkook said as he removed his fingers from your pussy, watching how they shimmered, coated by your wetness. He looked up at you and took his hand towards your mouth. “Let me see you taste it,” he told you, tapping on your bottom lip. Obedient, you opened your mouth for him, allowing for his digits to slither inside. With a whimper, you sucked him like you would his cock, curling your tongue around him in a way that left Jungkook cursing out. “So fucking hot.” 
His eyes were focused on your mouth as he pulled his fingers away from it, swallowing dry at the “pop” sound it made when it left your lips. “Now,” he almost groaned, “let me taste it.” 
Jungkook crashed his mouth on yours, making you moan against his kiss once again. His tongue hungrily danced with yours, searching for your taste as his hands grabbed your ass, pressing you down against his aching member. You never wanted something as much as you wanted to feel him inside you right then, and Jungkook also didn’t want to wait any longer. 
He smirked against your mouth when he heard the sound of his zipper opening, your hands working fast to pull his pants down. “I told you that you love my cock.”
“God,” you complained, pulling at the hem of his pants. Jungkook raised his hips from the seat so you could slide them down, bringing his underwear along with it. “Do you ever stop talking?” 
“Only when you let me eat you out.” His cock had sprung free, resting against his abdomen as your hands moved to grab it. Again, another compliment that you would never give him, but Jungkook had one of the prettiest (and biggest) dicks you had ever seen; already so enlarged and red-tipped, leaking with pre-cum. Just looking at it made you horny, and it wasn’t long before you were taking it in your hand, giving it a few pumps before brushing your thumb over his crown, spreading his wetness all over it. “Fuck, that feels good.” 
The pleasure in his voice almost blinded you for a moment, making you forget what had been your intention in the first place. However, as you felt yourself clenching around nothing, you came back to your senses. 
“I wanna feel your warm little cunt around me, baby,” Jungkook breathed out, watching as your hand continued to pump him. 
“You’re lucky I’m feeling especially nice tonight,” you told him, placing your thighs closer to his center. With a grunt of expectation, Jungkook’s eyes followed as you raised your skirt with one hand and guided his cock towards your heat with the other one. “Ready to make your schoolgirl fantasy come to life?” 
He opened his lips to respond, but his voice was lost the second that you pressed his tip against your opening, coating his cock with your warmness. “Fuck, baby,” he moaned, hands grabbing your ass as you sank down on him. 
“Oh, God,” you whined as you bottomed out, your walls pulsating around him as you got used to his size. No matter how many times he fucked you, you couldn’t get used to his large size and the amazing way he filled you up like no one else could. “Jungkook, you’re so big.” 
That was another comment that, unfortunately, you could not hold back. Because you hated yourself, that was why. “You can take it, baby,” he said, pressing down on your ass. “Be a good girl and take everything.” 
With his added force, you sank down until you had all of him inside you, practically sitting against his thighs by the time you were done. Taken away by the delicious feeling of his thick cock inside you, you started slowly setting a pace, moving up just so you could crash back down; the sound of skin on skin filling the still, muffled atmosphere of his car. 
“Shiiiiit, ____, you’re so tight.” He breathed out heavy, watching the way your bodies connected; the way his dick was coated by your wetness. “I can’t get used to it, it’s the best pussy I’ve ever had.” 
Now it was your time to be carried away by his compliments. It was stupid, but having Jungkook praise you (especially after he spent most of his days making fun of you) had you feeling over the moon. Before you could hold yourself back, you were already setting up a rhythm, bouncing up and down on him in a way that got him seeing stars; moaning in delight every time you rolled your hips on him. 
“Fuck, yeah, ride this cock,” Jungkook groaned, thowing his head back against the seat. His hair was a mess, falling over his eyes and gluing against his sweaty forehead; and yet he looked like sin incarnated as you fucked yourself onto him. Those saliva-coated lips, those furrowed eyebrows, and the deep, hungry gaze that he sent you way every time you sunk down on him would be the death of you. 
Jungkook breathed out as you started to pick up your pace, your hands pressing down on his shoulders as your ass bounced against his thighs. “Such a good slut,” he praised breathlessly, taking one of his hands to brush a strand of hair away from your eyes.  “Such a filthy little thing.” 
Pride forgotten, you knew what he wanted to hear. “O-only for you,” your words were a confusing mess of syllables, mind drunk on the feeling of his big cock pumping in and out of you. Only Jungkook could fill you up like that, only he could make you such a mess so quickly. 
“Oh, I know, baby.” His palm came down heavy against the globe of your ass, stinging your skin and making you cry out in an amazing mixture of pain and desire. You whimpered at the feeling that his slap left behind, your eyes dazed and unfocused as you looked down at the boy. “This pussy is all mine.” 
You called out his name as he started thrusting up, the force of his movements increasing your pleasure immensely. You loved when Jungkook started to get rough with you, when he started to use you like you were just a doll for him to seek his own high. 
He pulled on your hair, making your head tilt backwards and presenting him with a glorious view of your neck. Jungkook groaned against your flesh, his lips and tongue attacking your skin in a way that you knew would leave marks the following day — just the way he liked it. “I want to fuck you forever,” he moaned, “Wanna make this pussy so messy with my cum. Mark it as my own.”
“It’s yours, Jungkook,” you told him, lost in the buildup of your pleasure. “It’s all yours.”
He groaned, and the force of his hips snapping against yours only increased. Weak, you allowed your body to tumble against his strong chest, letting him use you the way he wanted it. 
“Such a tight and wet pussy for me,” he moaned out through clenched teeth. Jungkook looked almost animalistic then, only wanting to fuck you until his stamina ran out. “Say my name, baby.”
“J-Jungkook,” you gasped. 
“Louder,” he hissed, buckling his hips higher. The feeling of his cock thrusting upwards and reaching even deeper inside you got you seeing stars, eyes rolling back and mouth falling open. “I want everyone to hear it. Hear how good I make you feel, hear that this pussy is all mine.” 
Any other time, you would refuse to do something so absurd — but, at that moment, your mind was floating far away from that car, and all that you wanted was to be a good girl for him. “Jungkook!” you called his name louder, moaning out at you felt his cock throbbing inside you. 
“Again,” he rasped out, his jaw clenching. 
“Jungkook, fuck!” You almost yelled out, the world turning into nothing as you continued to fuck yourself on his cock. Moments like those were wonderful: all your problems went away, and you could only focus on the way he made you feel so deliciously full. 
“Ah, that’s it, shit,” he cursed out, member throbbing inside your pussy, “I’m gonna fucking cum.” 
You cried out at the thought, wanting nothing more than to see him cuming because of you. “C-Cum inside me, please.”
“Yeah, baby,” he said, his voice lost in pleasure. You could feel his desperation from the way his hips crashed against yours with much more force, hitting deep inside you. “Take everything.” 
His mind went blank when you clenched around his cock, wiping everything away from him but the delicious feeling of your walls sinking down on him. Jungkook looked like he was in a haze, his eyes unfocused and teeth sinking on his lip, barely watching the way he disappeared inside you. He only needed a bit more to be pushed over the edge. 
“Please, fill me up, Jungkook,” you begged. His eyes darted towards yours, watching your face. He could see that you had tears pooling at the corner of your eyes, a faint heat in your cheeks. God, he had completely ruined you. “Please, I need your cum.” 
And that was it. His orgasm hit him like a tidal wave, a deep groan leaving his throat as he spilled himself inside you, hearing the lewd sounds of your wetness as he continued to thrust up against your pussy. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he cursed, head falling against the seat once more. Jungkook’s eyes closed as he felt the last drops of his cum being milked by you, his mind a jumble of broken words and disconnected ideas. “Oh, fuck, baby, fuck. Take it, baby, fuck...” 
Of course you did as he asked, and you took every drop of his cum until it was starting to spill out of you. You couldn’t even look down, but you were sure that you were a complete mess between your legs. “J-Jungkook, I’m so close,” you cried out, drunk on the feeling of his thrusts. 
“God, that’s it.” He pressed down on your hips, overwhelmed with the feeling of your walls clenching around his sensitive member. Jungkook loved it, though, loved seeing you cum around his cock like it was all that you ever wanted to do; loved watching your face as you looked at him with so much desperation that he almost grunted out. You really were a precious thing. “Make a mess on my fat cock, come on, baby. Let me see you cum for me.” 
His request was like magic to you, and you came right after, calling his name amidst breathy moans and high-pitched whimpers. Jungkook kept whispering in your ear as you rode your high, praising how good you were for him, how good you felt around him, until you crashed down against his chest, absolutely spent. 
Still, you had experienced enough sexual adventures with Jungkook to know that he still wanted two more things before he called it a night. He had his particular tastes. 
“Let me see it.” Jungkook told you about a minute later, and you knew exactly what he wanted you to do. With your thighs still trembling a little, you leaned back against the steering wheel and pushed your body upwards, letting his dick slip out of you. Jungkook hummed in delight as you pulled up your skirt and he watched his cum dripping down your thighs, painting your folds in a delicate shade of white. He always loved to admire his work. “So fucking pretty… and all mine.”
You had to bite down your lip not to whimper at the touch of his fingertips against your pussy, catching a bit of his cum on them. He took it to his mouth, humming around his digits as he tasted himself. “You always make such a mess,” you complained. 
“Shut up, I always clean it.” Jungkook sighed, looking at you almost tenderly. “You know what I’m gonna ask.”
Yes, you did. 
You sighed. “Fine.”
Jungkook hummed happily as you propped yourself over his cock once again, now half-hard, and placed it back inside you, sinking down until you were sitting on his lap. “Good girl.” He sighed in bliss, his hand caressing your hair as you rested your head against his broad chest. You didn’t understand why Jungkook loved staying inside you after sex, but you couldn’t deny that you weren’t bothered by it. You just liked to pretend as if you were. “Feels so nice.” 
You pressed yourself against his chest. “I hate you.” 
He chuckled and wrapped his arms around your lower back. “No, you don’t.” 
And you hated that he was right.
BAD INFLUENCE COLLECTION
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gukyi · a year ago
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midas | jjk
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summary: jeon jungkook was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the power to turn whatever he wants into pure gold. you were born with healing and invisibility powers but without a cent to your name. so when you’re plucked off of the streets for pickpocketing and assigned to be his minder as punishment, you realize you’re going to have to overcome a lot more than class differences if either of you are going to get what you want.
{enemies to lovers!au, ceo!au, magical realism!au}
pairing: jeon jungkook x female reader genre: fluff, comedy, angst word count: 32k (my hand slipped) warnings: alcohol consumption (brief), mentions of bruising and injuries, characters being emotionally constipated and afraid of commitment, your usual guyi e2l lineup a/n: finally!! oh god this fic took forever to write and just kept getting longer and longer. remember when i overestimated the wc by saying 25k-30k? yikes. anyway, i hope you all enjoy this monster! nothing says gukyi like a jk e2l fic, am i right?
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The best time to be on the streets is just past noon on weekdays and eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings. When every working professional is out on their lunch break or weekend brunch, basking in the nice weather by choosing to fill up every outdoor dining area available to them. When they plop their bags, their purses and totes, on the chairs opposite them or onto the pavement beside them, thinking that the plastic fence that guards them will be enough to deter pickpockets and thieves. 
Unluckily for them, they usually fail to consider the prospect of someone invisible swooping in to steal the bills from their wallets, a nondescript force reaching into their purse as they stare down at their phones while they eat, forkfuls of to-go salads and pasta dishes stuffed into their mouths. 
Pickpocketing is a skill that the most desperate learn and the shameless master. Normally, people work in teams, one person to distract and the other to fish for the wallet, grabbing the cash and credit cards before tossing it onto the sidewalk and disappearing without a trace. If you wanted to be especially good at it, you would have to be able to complete the entire thing in less than thirty seconds, in the time it takes for people to switch trains in the subway stations. 
But when you work alone, you don’t get that luxury.
But you suppose that the higher powers above, whatever they may be, are relatively benevolent, because in exchange for your prickly personality, you were blessed with the gift of being invisible. 
Unfortunately, that’s something that you don’t need magic to feel. 
The truth is that it’s always been easy to ignore a girl who has no family, no friends, and no money. Living isn’t the hard part, living with purpose is. Nobody wants to pay any attention to someone who has nothing, literally nothing, to offer in return. At least, nobody interesting. 
The only times when you ever feel truly at peace are when you’re sleeping, and when you’re walking down the streets of the city, letting the rest of the world pass you by without sparing you a second glance. You’ve never been one desperate to stick out, to make an impression. Never been someone that people stop to do a double take at when they walk past you. Strange as it sounds, you love the feeling of being insignificant. It is, in a way, liberating. 
So far today you’ve hauled eighty dollars and a subway card from the wallet of some poor tourist standing outside of a bakery looking at a map the size of Jupiter. Some people you feel particularly bad about robbing, but a bald man with dad sunglasses and a fanny pack isn’t one of them. Besides, being pickpocketed is a classic tourist experience. You’re actually doing him a favor. Something to check off of his bucket list. 
You stow away the money and the card into your pocket, bills folded neatly into your raggedy jeans, rips and holes lining the fabric not for fashion, but from wear alone. You’ll make a mental note to buy yourself a croissant or something later. A treat to reward yourself for all of the hard work you’re putting in today. You’ll be able to pay off your phone bill for the next month with this money.
When the lunch breaks are over, you’ll probably retire to your bed and wallow in self-pity for a little before returning for the dinner rush. Having no life is a constant job, and you don’t even get any legally-mandated breaks to keep you going. Every moment you aren’t on the streets is another moment you aren’t making any money. It’s sort of like being a salesman, which, if you think about it, is just a legal way to rob people. When have salespeople ever sold something of real value?
With the eighty dollars on your mind, you start to scope out nice bakeries on your route, coffee shop signs and pastries on display in the window, looking for a nice place to settle down and buy yourself something sweet. Seeing as you live off of Campbell’s soups and bread from dollar stores, anything is an upgrade. 
You walk a couple more blocks before stumbling upon one of those picture-perfect bakeries, with pristinely decorated cupcakes and cakes lining the window display. You can tell that this place is good because there’s a line out the door and a little seating area that is packed to the brim. However, you are currently invisible, which doesn’t accommodate purchasing goods particularly well, but you make a mental note to return to the bakery a little later when people can actually see you. As if you’d ever turn right here, in front of all of these people. 
While you’re here, you decide to snoop around the line and the outdoor seating area to see if anybody strikes your fancy. Everyone standing either has their bag on their shoulder or their wallets gripped tightly between their fingers, so that’s off the table. But, there is one woman wearing a massive wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses as she chows down on a pink strawberry cupcake, her Louis Vuitton tote bag sitting a good two inches away from her, possibly even out of her periphery. 
Bullseye. 
There’s never a need to be stealthy when you’re already invisible, so you trot over, eyeing the woman to make sure that she can’t see anything in front of her. She doesn’t seem to be paying any attention, so you quickly reach down into her bag, a close watch on her gaze, hand fishing around amongst the receipts and the lipsticks and hand sanitizer until you feel her leather wallet. Nimble fingers fumble with the zipper until the tips come into contact with the crisp dollar bills, which you quickly nick and stuff into your pocket, bounding off without a trace. 
Halfway down the block, you surreptitiously glance at your haul—two hundred dollars!
That’ll be enough to last you and your phone bill for the next three months, at least. 
You’re so busy mentally applauding yourself for your pickpocketing skills that you don’t notice someone standing right in front of you. At least, you don’t notice until you crash into them, the surprise forcing you to turn. 
You sputter out an apology, hoping that whoever it is you’ve nearly run over isn’t observant enough to notice that the currently-visible thing they bumped into was previously invisible, and that’s when you notice exactly who it is that you’ve collided with. 
It’s the woman from the bakery, Louis Vuitton bag and everything. And she’s staring you down like there’s no tomorrow, arms crossed over her middle-aged chest as she sends daggers at you. Oh, you’re so fucked. 
“Sorry?” You say unhelpfully, already knowing the direction of this conversation. This woman wouldn’t be sending you a death glare if she didn’t already know who you are. They definitely did this just to trap you, set you up like a mouse and a cheese trap. 
“Don’t play stupid, Y/N,” she orders. “You must already know why I’m here.”
“I was hoping you’d let me off the hook?” You say guiltily, her hand already wrapping tightly around your wrists as she handcuffs you, sharp metal pressing against your wrists. One wriggle and you know that there’s no magicking yourself out of these. They think of everything, they do.
“Tell that to the courts,” she snaps, effectively shutting you up as she drags you away, money digging a hole in your pocket as you begin to envision yourself six feet under. You’re as good as dead, caught red-handed.
Well, life was good while it lasted. At least you might never have to have Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup anymore. 
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There’s no such thing as an attorney in the Realm. No such thing as a fair trial (even if they say there is), no such thing as defense and prosecution. No grand juries, no crowds, no sketch artist. Just a judge with a stick up his ass and a punishment to be delivered. You’re either guilty or a liar. 
And you’re rather good at being both. 
“The charge is as follows,” says the burly man at the head of the makeshift courtroom, reading off of a piece of parchment like it’s 1433 and the printing press hasn’t been invented yet. “Burglary, possession of illegally-gained goods, and petty theft.” Because charging you for burglary alone wasn’t enough, apparently. You have a sneaking suspicion that they invented the other two charges just so they could have more to punish you for. “Does the defendant have anything they wish to say?”
“Don’t you guys have anything better to do with your lives?” You ask with a dramatic sigh, having already resigned yourself to your fate. “Like, you could be playing golf round after golf round instead of sitting here, charging an orphan girl with no money.”
“This is my job,” says the burly man. Clearly he has never done anything fun in his entire life. 
“Also, stealing is my only crime, right? So do you really need to punish me like I’ve murdered someone?”
“You burglarized a Realm Leader,” he deadpans. As if Realm Leaders really wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and carry around a three-thousand dollar Louis Vuitton bag on their days off. 
“You set me up,” you accuse. Might as well go out swinging. “What if I charge you for lying, huh? How will you be punished?”
“Anything else?”
“Fuck you,” you spit. 
The burly man sighs, thinks about the potential verdict for approximately two seconds, and says, “The court finds the defendant guilty of all three charges. Sentencing will now be arranged.”
Big whoop. You could sniff out your ’guilty’ verdict from three miles away, knowing that the Realm takes plenty of pride in charging its constituents for whatever crime that they can invent. You slouch back in your chair as the judge and his heartless buddies discuss your punishment. You suppose that being jailed might not be too bad—you’d always have meals and a place to sleep, even if you would have to give up magic in return. And community service would also be alright. You’d be fine with cleaning up the expressway that runs through the city, though knowing the Realm, they’d probably put you up to some stupidly dangerous magical task. And at this point, death seems rather inviting, and would solve everybody’s problems because they wouldn’t have to deal with you and you wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore. 
The judge coughs, summoning the bare minimum of your attention. “The court has reached a sentencing decision for the convicted. We are offering you two options, of which you may choose one.”
Right, like you’d willingly volunteer for both punishments. 
“You may either be sentenced to serve time in the Realm Penitentiary for six months with the possibility of parole after four, or conduct supervised community service until the task at hand has been completed. Please select which option you would like.”
It’s like asking you to choose between being given one hundred dollars or having to pay one hundred dollars. What does the Realm think people will pick? Do they really think anyone in their right mind would choose to be jailed, forbidden to use their magic, and then let the Realm trick them into thinking parole is really an option, over some measly community service?
“Community service,” you say gruffly. 
“Excellent,” the judge says, writing something with a quill and ink because apparently, ballpoint pens are too complicated. “Your community service will be supervised by a Realm Leader with visionary powers, so you will not need to meet with them in order to discuss your progress, nor will they watch you in person.” And they said that crystal balls aren’t real. 
“What do I have to do?” You ask. Knowing them, it’ll probably be something like scrubbing all of the toilets in the Penitentiary, or going deep into the Amazonian forest to collect some magical sap or fighting off a magical beast. Something that could serve as a death sentence, or at least be extremely unpleasant, in the hopes that it’ll get you off of their backs. 
“The court will be assigning you as a minder to correct the ways of another mage,” the judge states. 
A minder? 
So, your community service is that you have to be a glorified magickal babysitter?
Well. It could be worse. 
“Alright, fine,” you say, though it’s not like you have a choice one way or another. Where was your minder? Why weren’t you assigned one, instead of just being hauled off by an undercover Realm leader to be sentenced for the same crime three times over? “Who will I be assigned to?”
The judge looks down at the parchment in front of him through his tiny old man glasses, and says, “Jeon Jungkook.”
Huh?
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Jeon Jungkook lives on the top floor of an apartment complex the size of the Empire State Building and worth more than your entire life. There are ceiling-to-floor windows that span the entire perimeter of the penthouse, a whole security team in the lobby vetting every single person that walks through the automatic glass doors, and an elevator with a touch-screen instead of buttons. It sickens you, the fact that some people can live like this. The fact that some people have known only this world as their entire life, and have not once glanced the other way. 
Getting to Jeon Jungkook’s front door isn’t the hard part. The Realm gave you succinct instructions and permission to use your powers whenever necessary throughout the whole thing, two things more than you thought they would. It’s easy to slide by the big buff security guards when they can’t see you. Easy to turn in the comfort and privacy of the elevator, easy to figure out which door is his when he’s the only person who lives on the top floor. 
The hard part is getting there without feeling like you’re way in over your head. Getting Jeon Jungkook to stop abusing his powers will be no easy feat. He’s rich, powerful, and spits on people like you, people who are not either of those things. Not to mention the fact that if he really wanted to, he could just turn you to gold and set you up in his penthouse like a statue, frozen in time. 
For once, the only thing that makes you feel a little bit better is the Realm. They’ve handed you a strict order that neither you nor he can magic your way out of, lined with stipulations and regulations and requirements that both of you will follow or so help you God. If Jeon Jungkook doesn’t comply, he, his company, and his reputation are done for. 
So at least there’s that. 
Jeon Jungkook’s front door is made of a deep mahogany brown and about thirteen feet tall, towering over you just to serve as a reminder that he can pretty much afford to buy out the entire city if necessary. You feel like an ant in comparison, an insignificant little thing, no money, no power, no nothing. 
A fluorescent doorbell light flashes beside the door frame. 
The sound echoes throughout the hallway you’re standing in, a classic ding-dong noise that reverberates across the walls. 
“Coming!” A voice from inside calls. Is Jungkook expecting someone?
You quickly make any last minute efforts to look as presentable as possible—well, as presentable as someone who lives in a dilapidated, abandoned house at the edge of the city can be—before the door opens. 
For someone who’s got money to burn, Jeon Jungkook sure as hell doesn’t look like it. He’s wearing an oversized button down that hangs loose by his thighs, ripped jeans, and a pair of charcoal grey socks, like he got home from work five hours ago and decided to change into whatever feels most comfortable. 
“Oh, good, I called and they said that you would be another twenty minutes,” Jungkook says, breathing out a sigh of relief. “Let me go grab my wallet, you can just set the pizza down on the counter.”
“Uh, I’m not—”
Jungkook rushes off down one of the fifteen different hallways that branch off of the main living room, leaving you stranded as you wander into his massive abode. Windows line the walls, giving you a perfect view of the city below you, twinkling lights of skyscrapers as people slowly leave their offices and return home. His kitchen alone is double the size of where you live. How can one person possibly take up all of this space? Doesn’t it ever get lonely?
You wait awkwardly besides the counter, which is pizza-less, until Jungkook returns, a shiny black wallet between his fingers as he fumbles for some cash. And normally, you have zero qualms stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (aka, yourself), but seeing as he thinks you’re providing a service, you have the compassion to feel at least a little bit bad. 
Jungkook stops when he notices the bare countertop. “Uh,” he begins with a frown, “where’s the pizza?”
“I’m not the pizza delivery guy,” you explain hesitantly. You don’t suppose Jungkook would have opened the door otherwise. 
“Then where is the pizza delivery guy?” He asks, like you somehow know. 
“I don’t know,” you tell him. Was an interrogation supposed to be a part of this?
“Who are you?”
“I’m Y/N,” you say, hesitant to