The pastel-pink skies were long gone, and instead rain-swollen black clouds were outlined by the city lights. The sky was dark too; it wasn't late, but at this time of the year the night came early, even in Hawaii. The air wasn't cold and the water in the pool was warm, but he could see the figure before him shivering and rubbing his small, long fingered hands on his own arms, the movement illuminated by the reddish lights dotted around the swimming pool. The water seemed red, but a lighter colour than blood; still it made Taehyung think of bleeding and seemed to focus all the unclean thoughts swirling around his head until they were compressed into one single point: The face of the young man before him in the reddish dusk, who was nervously avoiding his eyes.
It wasn't that he had never thought about bedding the shivering man before him: he had, often. But it had never been so close, so tangible, because the other had never been so vulnerable and open as he was at that moment in time. Taehyung wanted to catch that moment, wrap it in tissue paper and keep it in a box, a precious memory to preserve forever. But he was also greedy. The moment wasn't enough, it was a prelude to something else, something violent, risky, but something that Taehyung had coveted for years.
The rain that had been threatening to fall, suddenly came crashing down. A tropical storm with large raindrops that smacked bitingly on their skin. The tense atmosphere suddenly lifted and Hoseok giggled, partly in panic and partly with relief. Taehyung, who had never turned his gaze away from his friend standing opposite, joined his laughter; its intensity and heat washed away in the rain.
"It hurts!" Hoseok shouted, "how can rain hurt so much?"
He ran his hand through his black hair and collapsed laughing. Taehyung could see his eyes, huge and black with the wondering innocence that Taehyung always found hard to gauge. Hoseok was a year older than he was. He couldn't be innocent by any stretch of the imagination. He was at least savvy enough to correctly guess Taehyung's intentions most of the time, and calculating enough to avoid them. But now it was different. This was just a boy in the rain, standing up to his hips in the water of the swimming pool. He looked younger than his 28 years, indeed he always did; but in the rain with his hair wet and slicked back from his face, his bathing clothes sticking damply to his lean, youthful body, Hoseok could have easily been a boy of seventeen.
Taehyung himself felt like a teenager embarking on an adventure, both an awakening and a new beginning. If Hoseok would only comply, just this once. After years of rejection, Taehyung wanted to have this, just for one evening, one night; even if Hoseok never looked at him again. Although Hoseok would, Taehyung was sure of that. And for once, Hoseok wasn't looking away now either, nor was he running away as he always seemed to be doing.
A crash of thunder, and Hoseok let a high-pitched scream fly.
"Taehyung," he shouted over the wind, "isn't it dangerous to be outside during a storm? What if we get struck by lightning?"
"You won't get struck by lightning," Taehyung shouted back, "I'm here, I'll protect you."
It was his cue to take that single step closer to Hoseok, until he could wrap his arms around the other. There was the usual resistance that Taehyung was used to. Hoseok turning to one side to avoid facing him, pushing against his arms to free himself. But the weather gods came to Taehyung's rescue. There was another crash of thunder, and Hoseok actually pushed closer. Without letting Hoseok think, Taehyung seized the moment and did what he had wanted to do for years and had always held back from: he pressed his lips against Hoseok's own, bluish from the cold and trembling with anxiety.
Did the world stop? Taehyung couldn't be sure, at least he couldn't seem to hear the wind howling anymore. In a split second, everything was silent, everything seemed gone, apart from that one point of contact between his lips and Hoseok's. The world was holding its breath and so was Taehyung. The man opposite seemed frozen, in fact everything seemed frozen in time. Taehyung could feel his own hand running up Hoseok's spine until it was cupping his head, pressed against the damp fronds of his hair.
It was not like the time they had been forced to kiss for the camera. Taehyung had been mortally afraid, but in the end it marked the beginning of his almost decade-long obsession with Hoseok. He remembered feeling Yoongi's hand on the back of his own head as he pressed his mouth closer to Hoseok's lips. There had been some laughter, but there was an uncomfortable feeling in the room that something not quite right was happening. Taehyung had been able to feel Hoseok's discomfort under his protective layer of brash good humour. He had the sensation that Hoseok was really kissing him, but in reality he knew it was Yoongi's hands pushing their heads together. Now this was different. It was real. There was no discomfort, no Yoongi; only Hoseok melting under Taehyung's touch at last.
No Jin to suddenly intervene and stop them. Taehyung had always wondered about Jin's motives. Every time he got closer to Hoseok, Jin seemingly materialised next to them out of nothing. But he wasn't here now. Taehyung had Hoseok alone with him, of his own free will, his lips finally responding to Taehyung's ministrations, encouraging Taehyung to go further, lips opening under his own, leaving a heart-shaped imprint there.
So Taehyung went further, because who was he to reject an invitation when he had tried to trespass unbidden often enough. He put his hand on the back of Hoseok's head where Yoongi's had been all those years ago, when everything was just beginning, and plunged his tongue down the other man's throat. For a moment, Taehyung thought he had spoiled everything. Hoseok pulled back, but Taehyung gripped his waist harder. He could feel the wet bathing shirt under his fingers and Hoseok's flat stomach resting lightly against his own. Suddenly his body relaxed, and Taehyung knew he had won the first battle. Hoseok was moving his lips; he was kissing back tentatively.
Then there was a crack of lightning. Hoseok tried to jump back again, but Taehyung had got him, pressing his mouth against Hoseok's ear and whispering: "Im taller than you, Hyung, it'll strike me first. Don't be afraid: I'm not." He could feel Hoseok giggle, he was laughing with his whole body. He always did.
How could Taehyung manoeuvre Hoseok out of the pool and into his room in the holiday villa their families shared without destroying the moment? It seemed impossible. The elder would surely shy away as soon as they left the gleaming red pool. It had happened one thousand times before. Taehyung must have been born and born again through the aeons of time just to be rejected and rejected again by Jung Hoseok.
If he didn't change the course of time now, it would never change. Taehyung was feeling melodramatic that night in the storm with the biting rain and the red water of the swimming pool. He had to act now, like ending a curse that had been passed on through generations.
Hoseok let Taehyung lead him by the hand into the villa. It was quiet inside and already late in the evening; the storm just the memory of a noise. Their wet, naked feet slapped against the marble floor and Taehyung wondered how he could make the moment last, and stop Hoseok from retiring to his own room, leaving the younger to return to his own room alone, frustrated and dissatisfied. Hoseok stopped in the middle of the entrance hall and stared at the creamy marble floor as if it held the secrets of the world. The water was drip-dripping off his bathing trunks and his naked legs onto the floor, and Taehyung could feel his confusion.
"Come on, Hyung, you're shivering, let's get you dry." Hoseok looked at him with large eyes.
"You're standing in a puddle, Taehyung," he giggled until Taehyung put a gentle hand on his mouth.
"Shh," he chided, "let's not wake everyone. Come on, you'll catch a cold." He dragged Hoseok behind him up the stairs, the older still giggling, the sound muffled by his own hand.
Hoseok seemed to be in that giddy kind of mood Taehyung has seen him in before, when he was giggly and uncontrollable. Taehyung pushed him through his bedroom door, cautioned him to be quiet and went into the walk-in bathroom attached to drag out two large, fluffy bath towels. Meanwhile Hoseok was rolling on Taehyung's bed, soaking the bedspread with his wet clothes and giggling silently. Hoseok had never needed alcohol to be silly.
"Hobi," Taehyung whispered urgently, "here." He gave Hoseok one towel and wrapped the other around himself. Hoseok now sat shivering on Taehyung's bed, wrapped in the towel, still wearing the wet bathing clothes. Tahyung couldn't stop the thoughts invading his head. Hoseok was right where Taehyung has dreamed him of being.
"You should take off your wet clothes." Taehyung was surprised that his voice sounded fairly normal. "You're cold."
He had seen Hoseok naked before, he wasn't shy about his body, nor had he any reason to be. Hoseok had a perfectly balanced and proportioned dancer's body, masculine in it's strength and feminine in it's grace. He seemed to like his body; it was a perfect dancing machine after all. Taehyung liked it, too. It had invaded his dreams since he saw Hoseok leaving the shower, years ago, unashamedly naked and looking like a god risen from the sea.
“I should go to my own room,” Hoseok looked up at Taehyung uncertainly, but he wasn’t moving.
“Look,” Taehyung said gently, “I’ll turn around and you turn around and we’ll both get rid of these wet clothes, then you can have one of the bathrobes to wear.” He turned to the wardrobe and extracted two bathrobes, one of which he threw to land on the bed next to Hoseok.
“You don’t need to turn around, I don’t care,” Hoseok claimed, in a voice a lot less brash than his words. He began to peel the tight-fitting shirt he had been wearing over his shoulders. Taehyung smiled to himself and looked away all the same. Hoseok could be both childish and inconsistent, but Taehyung liked that about him. Also he was sure that he would be seeing more of Hoseok soon, so there was no need to hurry. When he looked back, Hoseok was wrapped tightly in the robe, and his lips were back to their customary red, rather than blue. His eyes were darting around the room.
Taehyung threw himself on the king-size bed he slept in alone and patted the mattress next to him. Despite his loud and brash persona, Hoseok was actually extremely reserved away from the rolling camera and not at all forward. Taehyung knew that well enough, in fact he knew all the ins and outs of Hoseok’s soul as if he had studied him, which in a way he had.
There was another crash of thunder and Hoseok jumped.
“Come here,” Taehyung said in a soft voice, “we can turn the lights out and watch the lightning.”
“I’m cold,” Hoseok responded without moving and without turning around, his eyes fixed on the window.
“It’s warm under the blanket,” Taehyung urged. He watched Hoseok’s profile. It was sharp, perfect and cool, like a paper cut silhouette. It took a while, but his features relaxed. He looked at Taehyung out of the side of his eye and graced him with a blinding smile. In a return to his earlier mood of giddy silliness, Hoseok threw himself backwards onto the bed and half onto Taehyung, giggling.
“Shhh Hyung,” Taehyung warned, “we don’t want to wake the whole house.”
“Why not?” Hoseok rolled onto his stomach and grinned at Taehyung. “We could have a party.”
“I’d prefer to have a party just with you,” Taehyung blurted. He watched Hoseok carefully. As a rule, he would blush and deflect if Taehyung got too explicit. Sometimes, he would do his little head tilt and look confused. Very occasionally, he would flash a knowing smile at Taehyung that could almost, but not quite, be interpreted as seductive. This is what Hoseok did now. He glanced at Taehyung flirtatiously out of the corner of his eye and smiled a little. Then he dropped his eyes but kept the smile. He seemed to be waiting for Taehyung to make the next move.
“Come under the blanket.” Taehyung lifted the corner of the bed covers. Hoseok flashed him a coy look from under his eyelashes and pretended to deliberate. Then he grinned and slid under the covers next to Taehyung. Hoseok liked to tease, but perhaps the teasing was to mask his insecurity, Taehyung thought, watching the other young man settle down next to him with enough space so as to not accidentally touch him in any way. Well, Taehyung was tired of playing around and flirting. He reached for the light switch and rolled on top of Hoseok, attaching his lips to those of the man underneath him.
Hoseok froze again, neither responding nor trying to stop Taehyung. It wasn’t exactly encouraging, but Taehyung was at the end of his tether. He decided that Hoseok was a grown man and that he would make himself heard if he didn’t want Taehyung to continue. He concentrated on regaining the momentum they had reached while been they had kissing outside in the pool before. There was a rumble of thunder, a flash of lightning. He could feel Hoseok jump underneath him and then, slowly, Taehyung felt smooth arms being wrapped around his shoulders, a cool hand settling on the back of his neck and gently encouraging him to deepen the kiss.
The buzz and fizzle of that electric night stayed with Taehyung for a long time. The storm, the lightening and the extraordinary night spent with Hoseok. Hoseok is like water, Namjoon had said that once, and it held true in bed as well. Soft and cool, and difficult to pin down, although Taehyung made him submit in the end. They didn’t speak. Taehyung didn’t ask whether Hoseok had ever been with a man before and Hoseok kept his thoughts to himself, too. He let Taehyung plunder his slender body, long, lean thighs clamped around Taehyung’s hips, head flung to one side giving Taehyung access to his neck.
They didn’t speak about it afterwards, either. When Taehyung awoke, Hoseok was turned on his side, looking at him. He smiled his heartbreakingly beautiful, wide smile. Taehyung felt something settle in his gut. He wanted to smile back, but it just wouldn’t come.
“We mustn’t tell anyone, Hobi,” he said. Hoseok’s bright eyes clouded over with something like disappointment and hurt.
“I wasn’t going to,” he answered.
“I mean, not even our families. My family would have a fit. We can’t let anyone know.” Taehyung saw Hoseok blink and look aside. He loved the other’s sweetness, the fragility, and he hated that he knew he was hurting Hoseok. But Hoseok looked up at him.
“All right,” his voice sounded unsteady, “it’ll be our secret. I won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s early,” Taehyung said, reaching for Hoseok’s hand, “we could...” but Hoseok withdrew his hand and smiled brightly.
“I should sneak back into my room,” he explained, “I need to take a shower.” He wrapped the bath robe around himself and got up. “If anyone sees me I’ll say that I’m going for an early dip in the pool. See you later for breakfast, Taehyung.”
The minute he left the room, closing the door quietly, Taehyung felt cold. It was as though a cloud had settled in front of the sun. Had he made a mistake? Taehyung was sure he hadn’t. Hoseok was one of the most ambitious of all of them. Surely he wouldn’t want whispers of a gay relationship to surface? He must have misinterpreted Hoseok’s facial expression. Even if Hoseok’s family were more understanding, he knew that Taehyung’s people were traditional. There was no way their superstar son could let them down.
After all, there had been no mention of love between them. Hoseok must know that Taehyung felt a special affection for him. After all, he had always followed him around, since the beginning when Hoseok had tried his best to reject his devotion, sometimes quite brutally. And sure, the other members, especially Jin, had always joked around that Taehyung was in love with Hoseok, but they joked about everyone and it didn’t mean a thing, not really. Anyway, it was Jin who obviously had a little crush on Hobi, and he was just distracting from that.
They would go back to being what they were before, really close friends with a large dose of mutual sexual attraction, and now the spell had been broken, they could secretly continue their relationship when they were alone together. Taehyung was sure that he could never get enough of Hoseok.
The rest of the holiday was full of fun activities and Hoseok’s peels of laughter. But there didn’t seem to be another opportunity for Taehyung to see him alone.
When they got home, Taehyung couldn’t really pinpoint what it was exactly that was different. When they had free time, Hoseok was always busy. Annoyingly though, he seemed to find time to meet with Jin, and Jin was not shy about advertising their meetings on social media and among the others. Jin was Hoseok’s hyung and Taehyung knew it was foolish to be jealous, even if he had always been suspicious of the eldest member. Hoseok had often explained to him how attached he was to the older member, and their affection for one another had always been subtle, but evident.
They were busy, that much was true. They had concerts in Las Vegas to plan, new music to record and there was no more time to relax. Taehyung resumed flirting with Hoseok as they always had, but there was a change. Hoseok would smile and acknowledge him, but shrug him off without responding in kind. When Taehyung blew him kisses, Hoseok would beam at him but his expression was weirdly empty, as though they had never been intimate.
Taehyung went out with a girl. His parents had been asking about his love life and he wanted to offer them something. She was a member of a girl group, they had met occasionally at award shows and flirted. He met her again when he was alone at a charity event and asked her out. His mother was elated, although Taehyung said it was nothing serious, yet.
It was nice going out with someone outside the band. She was pretty and funny and they had a lovely evening. If it hadn’t been for Hoseok, Taehyung might have fallen head over heels for her then and there. But he couldn’t. He kissed her and her lips were soft, but she didn’t smell of vanilla like Hoseok did and she didn’t smile while he kissed her like he did. They promised each other to meet again, soon.
The atmosphere amongst the group was strange. They were under stress, but there was something more. Taehyung was sure that as Hoseok had promised to keep their encounter a secret, he certainly had. But somehow, the other members had picked up on the tension between them. They had never been particularly supportive of Taehyung’s crush on Hoseok, now they were downright disruptive.
If Taehyung wanted to hug Hoseok on stage, then Namjoon was right there to break the hug up, while Hoseok himself spent most of his time hovering around Jin, who had hurt his hand. If Taehyung tried to speak to Hoseok, he would do everything in his power to avoid being alone with Taehyung. Until one day, unbelievably, Hoseok wanted to talk.
“I think we should meet one evening,” he said to Taehyung seriously, “and talk a few things over.”
“Anything, Hyung, anything.”
Taehyung hoped they would be meeting in Hoseok’s apartment, but disappointingly, he asked him to come to his studio in the company building. It was late afternoon, Yoongi and Namjoon were also pottering around their studios and didn’t seem to be inclined to leave anytime soon. They had their doors open and were shouting across the corridor. They greeted Taehyung with surprise, and Yoongi raised an eyebrow. Taehyung could feel them watching him as he went further down the corridor to where Hoseok had his own area.
Taehyung knocked and entered the studio to find Hoseok hunched over his phone, long legs pulled up onto his chair. He greeted him with a wide smile. He was growing his hair out and his skin looked as smooth as silk. Taehyung wished he could touch it.
“Taehyung,” he patted the chair next to him, “sit down. I think a little conversation between the two of us is long overdue. Are you thirsty? Can I get you something to drink? I’ve got my own fridge in here, so it’s all cool...”
“No,” Taehyung interrupted, “I just want to talk. Please. I’ve been trying to for weeks now.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was avoiding you,” Hoseok offered with characteristic honesty, “I didn’t really know how to react after what happened between us in Hawaii…”
“I’m sorry Hyung, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. We’ll work something out.” Taehyung knew the moment he had spoken that it was a lie. He would never go against his family. But he wanted Hoseok so desperately that at that moment, he could have killed for him.
“Please, don’t apologise. We should have spoken beforehand. These things happen and I am an adult, as you are. But all that is in the past and not what I wanted to talk about.” Hoseok took a deep breath.
“I wanted to talk to you first, and explain. I’m worried you might take this the wrong way. Yoongi and Namjoon and I have been talking. We feel that we’ve come to the end of an era. We’ve been starting to look into solo projects. We think that we should all take some time out from the group to work on our own. We’ve been together for nine years, we’ve run out of stories. We’ll take some time out and when we get together again, we’ll all have grown and can tell new stories as a group again.” Taehyung felt anger rise in his throat. He turned on Hosoek.
“So you, Yoongi and Namjoon have decided to break up the group. I suppose you agreed to get back at me. All that sweetness and kindness is an act. You’re vindictive, you want to punish me for not being with you. Petty, that’s what you are. I’m glad I rejected you.”
There was a flicker in Hoseok’s eyes that told Taehyung that he had overstepped.
“As far as I am aware,” Hoseok hissed very quietly, “I never offered to be with you in the first place. This has nothing to do with you. You overestimate your influence over my life. I’ve wanted this for a long time, since I did my mixtape in fact. I wanted to do something for myself and not be the eternal sunshine of the group for once. Because that’s not all of me. I wanted to tell you before we get together with the management to talk about arranging this, precisely because I knew you would react angrily. It’s not an evil plan. We’re not disbanding. There will be projects for all of us to work on. And when we get back together, we’ll be like new.”
“I don’t want this,” Taehyung growled.
“It’s frightening, isn’t it?” Hoseok said. “I think so, too. Doing something on your own after you’ve been a team for so long. But look at it this way, we haven’t been really creative for a long time. We need fresh input and a fresh vision. When we come back together, we’ll be stronger than before. And I promise that we will all come back together. I promise.”
Taehyung left, wordlessly. He ignored Yoongi and Namjoon as he passed them. He knew Hoeseok was right and he knew that he could make something of this. But he would never forgive Hoseok, ever.