Actions

Work Header

help me hold onto you

Chapter Text

It’s on a completely unremarkable night in August when Taehyung sees Park Jimin for the first time in four years.

Well, it’s sort of remarkable. Taehyung’s kind of on a date, one of those “we’ve been friends for a while and we flirt a lot” situations, both of them unsure of whether things will go any further than that. If they do, that would be fun, but if not, Taehyung’s happy to keep being Yoongi’s friend. It’s also the first date Taehyung has been on in months, the first time he’s cared about one in much longer.

But all of that, all the ways this night felt a little special when he tried to style his hair well and look presentable (as if Yoongi hadn’t seen him in utter disarray countless times, but — still), that all floods out of Taehyung’s mind when he catches sight, across the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, of Park Jimin.

He looks the same. That’s the first thing Taehyung finds himself thinking, that after four years, Park Jimin looks almost exactly the same. He’s thinner, Taehyung notices, which is funny because Taehyung himself keeps getting softer around the middle, his lanky boneyness of teenagedom disappearing. Jimin’s gotten more striking, and Taehyung’s heart plummets at the thought, because Park Jimin never needed any help in being striking.

That’s enough of that though, he thinks, his mind trying to cling to rationality and self-control even when every other part of him doesn’t feel up to it. That’s enough looking. If he stops looking, he doesn’t have to deal with it right now, with this reality he’s somehow found himself in. When he looks away, back to Yoongi, he feels momentarily like maybe he hallucinated it.

“Are you okay?” Yoongi’s asking him, eyebrows furrowed, and Taehyung wonders how to answer that for a moment.

“I just,” he starts. He wants so badly to glance across the restaurant again, to make sure he wasn’t seeing the stray ghost of a memory. But he doesn’t. “I just saw someone I haven’t seen in years.”

“Oh,” Yoongi says, not sounding any more clear on the situation. “I really can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Me either,” Taehyung says, panic hitting him as he does. He was calm before, but he feels — well, less calm, the more it hits him that this is actually happening.

Right? This is actually happening?

“An ex or something?” Yoongi asks, looking cautiously curious.

“No,” Taehyung says, that answer coming easy to him, at least. “No, just...an old friend.”

“Are you okay?” Yoongi asks again, leaning forward and looking concerned. At that exact moment, Taehyung chances another ill-advised glance across the restaurant, and if he thought he was panicking before, it was nothing compared to the way he feels when he realizes Jimin is looking right back at him.

“No, I am not,” Taehyung says evenly as Jimin stands up from his table and starts toward them. “He’s coming over here, and I swear to god, hyung, if you try to leave right now I will scream.” He says the last part in a hissing whisper as Yoongi moves to scoot his chair back, no doubt sensing the imminent calamity and trying to get the fuck out and duck for cover. Taehyung knows Yoongi well enough to know this.

But at Taehyung’s words, Yoongi moves slightly back toward him again, an eyebrow raised. “Got it.”

“Kim Taehyung?”

Taehyung wishes he had told Yoongi to start running and bring him along. He looks up from Yoongi to the man behind him, and he was wrong, Jimin doesn’t look exactly the same. In some ways, it’s easy to catalogue all the things that are different about Park Jimin since they last saw each other.

Taehyung has a bad memory, but he has not ever been able to shake the image of Park JImin with a closed-off expression and dark circles under his eyes in the Incheon airport. The image of Jimin the last time they saw each other. Maybe that’s why it’s so clear, all the ways he’s different now. His cheekbones are more prominent, hair styled sleek and smooth off of his face, and everything about him seems narrower, smaller, but maybe, Taehyung thinks, he’s just always remembered Jimin as larger-than-life.

He schools his face into a smile, which isn’t that hard to do. At some point when they knew each other, the sight of Jimin triggered a smile like muscle memory. They don’t know each other anymore, but Taehyung’s body remembers.

“Park Jimin,” he says back.

Jimin smiles faintly. “You always said you wouldn’t stay in Seoul.”

“Things change,” Taehyung says simply.

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees with a nod. His hair falls into his face a little and Jimin pushes it back without a thought, and jesus, it’s like a memory come to life. It’s like a hundred thousand memories come to life in front of him.

“Are you...back in town? Like, for good?” Taehyung asks, because he needs to know. Can’t live with not knowing whether or not he should be looking around every corner for a glimpse at a ghost.

“I don’t know that I’m anywhere for good,” Jimin says with a sheepish grin. “But for the foreseeable future, yes.”

“Wow. Fun!” Taehyung voice sounds so false that Yoongi almost snorts, Taehyung sees it in his periphery, and then he suddenly remembers Yoongi exists. Fuck. “Sorry, Jimin, this is Min Yoongi.”

Yoongi twists in his seat to give Jimin a little wave. It is maybe sarcastic — Taehyung has trouble telling with Yoongi sometimes.

“Hello,” Jimin says to him, voice perfectly charismatic. “Sorry to disturb you. I just, ah...couldn’t believe it was you.”

“Yeah. Me either,” Taehyung says with a smaller smile.

“I was going to see...I was going to try to reach out to you soon. We should catch up sometime,” Jimin suggests, in the same tone that people always suggest it in. Taehyung puts another smile on his face.

“Sure. Let me know,” he says, and then Jimin is saying goodbyes, apologizing again for interrupting, and Taehyung feels kind of out-of-body over the whole thing.

He looks away, has to look away from where Jimin is walking to his own table, and when he looks back at Yoongi, his expression is hard to read.

Taehyung sighs. “Sorry.”

“Old friend, huh,” Yoongi says, looking at Taehyung disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Taehyung says, gives Yoongi a look. They’ve spent enough time together that Taehyung hopes Yoongi can read it, can tell that this is one of those rare times that Taehyung wants him to drop something.

Yoongi raises his eyebrows again but nods. “Sorry. Don’t mean to pry.”

“Yes you did. You love drama,” Taehyung says, smirking at Yoongi. He wants to get back to...to real life. To things that are not Park Jimin.

“Yah,” Yoongi says with a snort, opening his mouth to argue with Taehyung, and this is better, sinking back into normalcy.

Taehyung isn’t sure how well the date goes, but at the very least, he puts Jimin out of his mind for a few hours. He sits at dinner with a cute boy who he likes, who he thinks is funny, an adult he knows from his adult life, and he can pretend, for a moment, that things are the same as they were when he walked into the restaurant.

Even if he feels like they very, very much aren’t.

 

 

“Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung says on the phone a couple days later, lacking the distraction or self-control to avoid pushing the issue. “Did you know Jimin is back?”

There’s a pause on the other end of the phone, and it’s all Taehyung really needs to hear. He sighs.

“I didn’t know if you’d want to know,” Jungkook says quietly.

“Yeah,” Taehyung says with another sigh. “I don’t know if I wanted to know either.”

“You saw him?” Jungkook asks, sounding a little afraid of the answer.

“Yeah. I saw him.” Taehyung leans back against the brick wall of his balcony. It’s cool out, but Taehyung couldn’t sleep, and sometimes the fresh air helps. He kind of wants a cigarette, a habit he used to dabble in at his most stressed in school, but sometimes, times like this, he misses the taste.

“Oh, hyung,” Jungkook says quietly, more tenderness in his voice than Taehyung is used to hearing much anymore. Taehyung closes his eyes.

“It’s okay,” Taehyung says, and he mostly means it. It is okay. Everything’s okay. Nothing’s changed for him, except that...well, except that Park Jimin is back at the forefront of his mind for the first time in years.

“I know, just…” Jungkook is saying. And Taehyung kind of gets it. When Jimin left, Jungkook was there, wide-eyed in the lurch of the crashing wave that was Taehyung-without-Jimin. Sometimes, even when Taehyung didn’t want him to, he got swept up in the current. “Love you, hyung.”

Taehyung laughs a little. “Yeah. Love you too.” He doesn’t know how to tell Jungkook it’s alright, I’m fine, I’m an adult, things are different now.

The truth is, Taehyung is worried none of it is true.

 

 

For a few days, Taehyung wanted to believe that Jimin’s promise to catch up was as genuine as every other promise to catch up that he’s gotten from an old classmate. Which is to say, not very. But the more days that passed, the more Taehyung knew that this particular optimism was unfounded; if Jimin was anything, it was thorough. He knew that Jimin would reach out again, the issue was, he didn’t know what he was going to do about it.

When the time comes, Taehyung stares down at the text on his phone, mulling it over.

hi taehyung, this is jimin! not sure if you still had my number. hopefully this is still yours! just wanted to see if you wanted to grab coffee or something :)

Taehyung didn’t have Jimin’s number anymore. He deleted it a couple years ago, in an impulsive moment. But of course Jimin still had his. He was always more considerate than Taehyung.

There’s a part of him that wants to say no. To make excuses, to avoid it. For one, it’s probably the choice that’s better for him, right? Self-preservation, Namjoon would say. For two, there’s something that feels powerful about that. Something self-assured about not giving in to the way he wants, has always wanted, apparently will always want, to bask in the light Jimin gives off.

He’s hopeless against it, is the thing. Always has been, since the first day they met, and Taehyung couldn’t bring himself to leave Jimin’s company for hours. There’s something bright about him that Taehyung’s drawn to like the flame that draws in the moth. Fitting metaphor, he thinks, considering the number of times he’s almost burned alive.

So Taehyung, quietly and trying not to think too hard about it, texts Jimin back. Doesn’t make an excuse, doesn’t say no. Lets himself get drawn back into a familiar kind of light.

And god, Jimin is stupidly radiant at the corner table of the cafe he picked, a kind smile on his face. The sort of smile that hurts a little bit to view, and suddenly, Taehyung realizes all of this is going to hurt.

(Of course it will. Of course it will hurt, but Taehyung always seems to remember too late to avoid the warmth of Jimin’s fire.)

“Taehyung!” Jimin says, sounding genuinely happy. Taehyung pulls the ends of his cardigan sleeves over his hand and picks at the fabric nervously, wishing he didn’t feel guilty for the pit of dread sitting in his stomach.

Still, though. Still, it’s Jimin, and his warm smile and the crinkle of his eyes, and Taehyung doesn’t have to work too hard to smile back, say, “Hi, Jimin.”

There’s a moment where Jimin stands, moves like he’s maybe going to offer a hug, but then he seems to remember himself. Seems to remember that they haven’t touched in years. Just like Taehyung, Jimin’s body remembers how to know him, moves on instinct, and they pause as they recalibrate.

The moment passes, though, and then it’s just the two of them sitting down for coffee, like any other two people, like anyone in the world. The strangeness of it is all-encompassing, and Taehyung fidgets with his sleeves again.

“How have you been?” Jimin asks, and it’s a loaded question, isn’t it? A question with a lot of answers.

“Tired,” Taehyung says with a small smile. Tired for years. Tired from working, from crawling his way from an unpaid internship with a design company to having a relatively successful freelance career. Tired from the way that things never seem to let him breathe. Tired from trying so hard to grow all the time, his limbs aching with it like they did when he went through growth spurts as a kid. “But happy.” Happy with his friends, the group of people he built around himself in the wake of...well, in the wake of this.

“The same with me,” Jimin tells him, offering him a similar little grin.

“So you’re not touring anymore?” Taehyung asks.

At that, Jimin’s smile goes a little stale. “It’s hard on you, touring. The travel alone is enough to wear you out. I...well, I decided I’d rather be able to keep dancing at all than trying to maintain that.”

Errantly, Taehyung worries about the knee that’s always given Jimin trouble, the knee that used to get sore ever since Jimin fell on it wrong over half a decade ago. Wonders if it got worse, wonders if he got injured. He frowns. “Sorry to hear that,” he says earnestly.

“I guess I’ll look for teaching jobs soon,” Jimin says with that same stale expression. “Since I’m no longer doing.”

And god, it’s like nothing’s changed at all. It’s a conversation they’ve had before, years before, Jimin fierce in his desire to push himself, to never settle, to never stop moving. Fierce enough that when he made the audition for a backup dancer position in some singer’s world tour, he took it. Fierce enough that once he started, he never stopped. Until now, Taehyung guesses, until his body told him he couldn’t anymore, from the sounds of things. It must be killing him, Taehyung thinks.

He frowns again. He always hated the way Jimin used to get stubborn about this. About how to go after dance, as ephemeral a profession as it is. Jimin would talk about teaching as a last resort, as failure, giving up on the path he wanted.

He sighs, and finally opens his mouth to reply. “You always acted like teaching meant you were untalented. I always thought that was bullshit.”

Jimin’s eyes widen momentarily, and his expression falls. He gives a short little laugh. “Yeah. Well. Like you said, things change.”

They haven’t, Taehyung thinks. Wants to say, but holds himself back, because despite all the ways sitting in front of Jimin makes him feel twenty years old, Taehyung has grown up. And he’s learned to recognize when trying to argue with someone will do nothing but waste both of their time.

“How about you, though? Jungkookie told me a little bit, he said you’ve been doing set design for films?” Jimin says, face back to its usual brightness.

Taehyung nods. “Yeah. I’ve been involved with a few different films now. And then I do some theater work, too.”

“Wow,” Jimin says, smiling big and earnest. “That’s really great, Tae.”

Taehyung nods. It’s strange, catching up with someone who used to know everything, who used to be the first person he’d tell about anything.

“Are you seeing anyone? That guy in the restaurant?” Jimin asks. His voice is casual in a way that Taehyung can tell isn’t completely genuine, and he’s not sure what that means.

“Uh,” Taehyung says, waving his hand noncommittally. “Not really. He’s mostly a friend.”

“Mostly,” Jimin says with a little smirk. “That sounds like you.”

Taehyung doesn’t smile at that. He doesn’t want to talk about his dating habits with Park Jimin. “We’re seeing if we want to date each other, I guess.” Taehyung says instead of acknowledging Jimin’s comment.

“And do you?” Jimin’s asking like they’re still in college, gossiping about their love lives over beer in someone’s little apartment.

Taehyung shrugs. “I’m not sure yet.”

They go quiet then. They shouldn’t be out of things to say already, should they? They used to be able to talk for hours even when they saw each other every day. It’s like the distance, the time, is spread between them on the table of the cafe, and Taehyung isn’t sure how to speak next.

But Jimin, Jimin who has always been more considerate, keeps the conversation going. “I haven’t been seeing anyone either.”

“Right,” Taehyung says, doesn’t mention that he wasn’t going to ask, that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“It’s hard, with traveling so much,” Jimin goes on. Taehyung nods.

“I didn’t know you were still talking to Jungkook,” Taehyung says, because — because it’s been bothering him since Jimin said Jungkookie like it was a normal thing to say.

“Yeah,” Jimin says, though he has the sense to look a little awkward over it. “Not a lot. Just texting every once in a while.”

Taehyung nods again. He wants to know, distantly, who reached out first, but both answers make him feel like shit, so he doesn’t ask. Why shouldn’t Jungkook have reached out? He and Jimin were friends. It’s not Jimin’s fault that Jungkook had to deal with Taehyung when he left, and Jimin didn’t do anything wrong. That was one of the hardest parts of all of it — Jimin never did anything wrong.

But maybe it was Jimin, who sent Jungkook a text just like the one he sent Taehyung a few days ago. Happy, unfazed, like no time had passed at all. That wouldn’t be too surprising. He never tried to reach out to Taehyung again after they first started drifting apart, but...well, Taehyung doesn’t blame him, he guesses.

There’s another little pause, and it would be awkward if Taehyung wasn’t so caught up in his own thoughts and if Jimin wasn’t immune to that kind of thing. “How’s Namjoon-hyung?” Jimin asks to disrupt it.

“Good,” Taehyung says quietly, distracted. “He’s good. Busy with writing, most of the time, but he’s been teaching on the side, too.”

“I bought his last book,” Jimin says with a faint smile. “He’s always been so good.”

(And there’s a line in a poem in that book about him, about them; Taehyung doesn’t have it memorized anymore, doesn’t have it burned into his mind the way he used to, but in a long poem about the way love winds around the earth like a string, there’s a line about two boys drawn in constellations who have been reaching for each other from different hemispheres across the stars for ages, eons, but they’ve never managed to touch. He wonders if Jimin ever realized. He hopes that he didn’t.)

“Yeah, he’s great,” Taehyung says, an honest smile finding its way on his face, because Namjoon is great.

“We should get everybody back together,” Jimin suggests with a grin. “It’d be nice to see all of you at once.”

Taehyung swallows. He cannot think of anything more horrifically awkward than a group outing with the four of them. But it’s Jimin, smiling in front of him, so he nods. “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“I really...I’ve really missed all of you,” Jimin says quietly, voice softer.

Taehyung sets his jaw, doesn’t know what to say to that. Some part of him wants to say something sharp, give voice to the thought of well, you should have come home, then. But it’s not — this isn’t — he sighs to himself. Jimin never did anything wrong. “We missed you too,” he settles on instead, because it’s true.

++

Taehyung’s little outings with his friends have changed in the few years since they’ve left college. They’re less frequent now; they have busier lives than they used to, and it’s hard to line up their schedules. Instead of the cheap clubs in the loud neighborhoods they used to go to, they sit in quieter bars in Sinsadong that Seokjin always seems to know the owner of. And to that point, their guest list is a little different these days.

In college, it was the four of them, Taehyung and Jimin sitting across from Namjoon and Jungkook, a few other friends they liked depending on who was around. For a while afterward, that long year after Taehyung graduated, it was just Namjoon sat in Jungkook and Taehyung’s apartment because they didn’t have the money to go anywhere else.

But things kept moving forward, as things are wont to do. Seokjin came along first, a producer Jungkook met on a movie set he was interning on and complained about nonstop until he started buying Jungkook lunches. And Taehyung quickly learned why — true to Jungkook’s word, he was bossy and loud, but in a weirdly endearing kind of way. He inserted himself into their group of friends so neatly, it was strange to remember that Seokjin hadn’t been there all along.

After Seokjin came Hoseok, the editor Namjoon said he wanted to stay “completely professional” with, despite never seeming able to turn down offers of going out for a drink after their meetings, commonplace enough that soon everyone else was coming along too.

Yoongi is the most recent addition, dragged in with a little resistance after Taehyung decided he liked him enough to share him with everyone. They met on the last movie Taehyung worked on, Yoongi the DP standing in the director’s shadow and bickering with Taehyung all during pre-production over how his sets should lay out. Taehyung thought it was fun, the way Yoongi would get all ornery in the face of Taehyung’s easy-going insistence. He’s a good judge of character, he thinks, and it was easy to see that his friends would like him too.

So that made six of them, a nice number to get a good table at a restaurant. Their chaotic professions made it hard to meet up all the time, but they tried, and they usually did okay. They spent their evenings catching up on the last couple weeks, bullshitting and gossiping and ignoring Seokjin and Jungkook’s joke-arguments until they all got pulled in and asked to referee the nonsense of the day.

Seven, Taehyung thinks, makes one too many. Throws everything off.

Taehyung chose his seat strategically — far from Jimin, but not across from him, forced to look at him all night. Diagonal, but with two people between them for buffer. Next to Hoseok, who he could count on to deflect almost anything. It was — well, frankly, it was stupid. Taehyung feels like he’s in ninth grade trying not to look at the pretty girl who his friend passed a note to on Taehyung’s behalf. It was stupid, but he still did it, just in case.

“Park Jimin,” Jimin introduced himself with a bright smile as he walked up to them outside the bar, bowing to Seokjin, Hoseok, and Yoongi.

“We met,” Yoongi said sardonically, and Taehyung would have stepped on his foot if they weren’t out in the open, and if he didn’t know Yoongi would immediately loudly complain.

“Of course,” Jimin said, unfazed. That was Jimin for you, entirely unflappable in most every situation.

The really, truly depressing thing about this whole situation is that Taehyung’s the one who engineered it. When Jimin texted him asking if they all still go out to their old haunts, Taehyung’s the one who told them about how their plans had changed. Taehyung’s the one who invited him along.

“Is that a good idea?” Jungkook asked him warily when he told him.

Taehyung had just shrugged, weary. “You know it’ll happen sooner or later.”

Because Jimin is infectious and persistent, and because it was clear he wanted to see them. There was no stopping him when he was determined on something like that, Taehyung can’t imagine that ever changed.

Jungkook sighed at him then, and he sighed again, quieter, when Taehyung scrambled into his strategic seat at their table tonight. Taehyung gave him a look, hopefully brief enough that no one else saw, and Jungkook shook his head and dropped it.

It’s fine. Now, Taehyung’s drinking his beer and sitting leaned up against Hoseok’s shoulder just because he can, and it’s fine. Jimin is charming and likeable and easy to talk to, just like he always has been, and Seokjin is getting along with him well. Everyone’s getting along with him well, Taehyung thinks, because they have no reason not to.

“A dancer,” Seokjin says to him, swirling the ice in his cocktail in his hand. “That’s so fun. Feels so exotic.”

Jimin laughs. “Don’t half of you work with movie stars every day? Why would dancers impress you?”

“Speaking as a former movie star —” Seokjin starts, but Jungkook cuts him off with a scoff.

“Hyung, you were a side character in one drama before you quit acting —”

Speaking as a former movie star,” Seokjin insists again. Hoseok snorts, the rise in his shoulder displacing Taehyung’s head, and Hoseok turns to coo an apology at him while Seokjin goes on, self-important as ever. “The profession isn’t that interesting. It’s mostly just pretty people who stand around and say some words they memorized.”

“Dazzling social commentary from Kim Seokjin,” Yoongi intones.

“What else is new?” Namjoon says with a laugh.

“Am I wrong, Yoongi?” Seokjin asks.

“Well, I don’t find them particularly awe-inspiring, but when you work on enough movies, you get desensitized,” Yoongi says with a shrug. “I used to stage manage theatre, though, and dancers always impressed the shit out of me. You watch actors long enough and you think ah, I could do that if I tried hard enough, but god, I will never be able to do dance.”

“I think it’s actually more likely for you to learn to dance than learn how to act, hyung,” Taehyung says with a laugh.

“You’re a bully,” Yoongi accuses, but he’s grinning across the table at Taehyung.

“Taehyung used to act,” Jimin says, smiling over at him, and Taehyung feels singularly strange hearing Jimin say his name in front of his friends.

“Now this is news,” Seokjin says, looking thrilled.

Taehyung rolls his eyes at Seokjin. “Oh, it was nothing. Student theatre type stuff. I don’t think I was ever very good at it.”

“You did accidentally open your eyes in a death scene once,” Jimin says with a wince, and Taehyung laughs, chest light with a sudden gust of nostalgia. Jimin came to see him in that show, the show he can’t remember the name of that played to an audience of twenty, held his face in his small hands and told him he was brilliant even though he very obviously wasn’t.

“It was my spirit leaving my body, obviously,” Taehyung says with a smile down the table at Jimin, watches the way it makes him laugh.

“Acting is really just like advanced lying, if you think about it. Real commitment to a very extended lie,” Namjoon says.

“So you’d be awful, then,” Hoseok smirks.

“Absolutely,” Namjoon agrees, finishing the beer in front of him.

The conversation flows easily, and as the night passes, Taehyung finds it easier and easier to chime in. There’s something addictive about making Jimin laugh — Taehyung’s always felt it, the deep urge to get a smile on his face, but he didn’t expect it to come back so fast, so strong. And at some point, after a couple beers in a couple hours, Taehyung finds himself regretting the seating, wishing he hadn’t been so afraid to be near Jimin.

Self-preservation, Taehyung hears in Namjoon’s voice again, and maybe that’s valid, but Taehyung also knows he was right when he told Jungkook this would have happened eventually. Jimin fits in with them well, and Taehyung knows already that this isn’t a one-time thing. Jimin is here now, real and solid and sitting at their table, and with this distance, Taehyung is stuck between wanting to get closer and wanting to run away. If he had been brave, sat near the fire of him, at least Taehyung wouldn’t feel so cold.

“What was your favorite place to travel to?” Hoseok asks Jimin.

“Oh,” Jimin says, looking like he’s thinking. “I don’t know. I got to go to a lot of nice places.” He stirs his cocktail straw in the drink he ordered, a vodka-something, and rests his chin on his hand. “But honestly, sometimes I feel like I spent most of my time missing home.” He looks up when he says it, and he’s looking right at Taehyung.

It’s like everyone freezes — Seokjin, Hoseok, and Yoongi don’t know what there is to freeze over, but Jungkook and Namjoon go so rigid, it must just seem like the thing to do. Taehyung swallows and looks away from Jimin, a lump in his throat, and leans into Hoseok’s body again, pulls Hoseok’s arm around his shoulder. And Taehyung moving seems to break the spell, because everyone else starts to breathe again.

Taehyung doesn’t look at any of them, keeps his eyes on the table for a few moments until conversation starts back up, and he can slip away without it being a big thing. He brings his empty beer glass with him and walks over to the bar, doesn’t chance a look back at the group to see how his departure is received, if anyone really notices. So it’s a surprise, a moment later, when Yoongi sits down next to him.

“Hey,” Yoongi says.

“Hey,” Taehyung responds, giving him half a smile. Yoongi puts his hand palm-up on the bar, looks at Taehyung expectantly, and Taehyung reaches out to grab it.

They sit there like that, fingers twined together, Yoongi’s thumbs rubbing over his knuckles, quiet. Taehyung doesn’t bother ordering another drink, but he listens to Yoongi order his, and doesn’t feel the need to say anything. Yoongi never seemed like the kind of person to dole out public affection like this, when Taehyung first met him, but he was pleased to learn otherwise, to get a peek behind Yoongi's sarcastic little shell into something softer that liked to hold hands.

“I think I get it,” Yoongi says when his drink is set down in front of him.

Taehyung hums. Doesn’t need to ask what he gets. Yoongi is terribly smart, Taehyung’s always been frustrated about it. All his friends are smart. He’s used to all of them knowing everything, all the time, while he sits there and puzzles things out for ages.

“You can go back, hyung,” Taehyung says, looking at him. “I’m fine.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “I’m either gonna stay over here with you or you’re gonna come back with me, because as soon as I leave, he’s gonna come over here. I got the feeling you wouldn’t want that.”

Yoongi’s feeling is correct, Taehyung thinks. No, he does not want three-cocktails-in, honestly-I-missed-home Jimin coming over to sit with him and say something earnest and kind when the inside of Taehyung feels like muddy pond water. When not a bit of him feels like anything good.

“I wouldn’t,” he tells Yoongi quietly. And then, “You think you get it but I bet you don’t.”

“I get enough of it,” Yoongi says. He leans his head on Taehyung’s shoulder. It’s comforting, the weight of him there.

Taehyung lets out a deep breath. “Do you have a cigarette? Could I have a cigarette?”

Yoongi gives him a look. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I usually don’t,” Taehyung says easily. Yoongi looks mildly suspicious, but pulls him away by the hand, sticks close to him as he leads him outside. It’s cool out for almost-September, and the breeze makes Taehyung hug his arms around himself as they walk around to the side of the building, less crowded than the sidewalk.

Yoongi holds out a cigarette and Taehyung puts it between his lips, leans down toward the flame of Yoongi’s lighter.

“I know smoking’s evil,” Yoongi says, lighting his own cigarette. “But some people sure do look goddamn good doing it.”

Taehyung grins a little. “Oh?”

Yoongi snorts a laugh, takes a drag on his cigarette. “I hate when you pretend you don’t know you’re pretty.”

“Who, me?” Taehyung asks with a teasing smile.

It’s flirting without much heat behind it, the kind of thing they’ve found themselves in for the last couple months or so. Taehyung takes it with a grain of salt usually, and even more so right now, with the way Yoongi keeps looking at him like he’s trying to figure something out.

Yoongi burns through his cigarette faster than Taehyung, and he steps the butt out against the concrete before he moves himself into Taehyung’s space, looks up at him.

“What?” Taehyung asks, flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette.

“Nothing,” Yoongi says. He grabs Taehyung’s right hand, the one not holding the cigarette, and holds it again, stands with him until he’s down to the filter.

“He’s not a bad guy,” Taehyung says suddenly, feeling the need to say so. He doesn’t want that, doesn’t want anyone who doesn’t know Jimin to think he’s unkind. Jimin’s always been kind, especially to Taehyung.

“I didn’t say he was,” Yoongi says.

“He was my best friend,” Taehyung goes on, doesn’t believe Yoongi’s tone. “He was really good to me.”

Yoongi nods. “And then he left.” His tone is impartial.

“And then he left,” Taehyung agrees.

“I don’t think he’s a bad guy, Taehyung,” Yoongi tells him a moment later. “I just thought maybe you’d want some space for a minute.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Taehyung tells him, squeezing his hand.

When they walk back in, everyone’s talking, and things seem normal, which Taehyung is thankful for. Hoseok lifts his arm back up for Taehyung to curl underneath without even looking at him, like it’s second nature, and Taehyung smiles. Settles back in.

 

Namjoon’s first to leave, standing up with a stretch and complaining that he needs to wake up early tomorrow, that he’s teaching a class at nine.

“Can’t believe you’re a sexy professor now,” Jimin tells him with a little smirk.

Namjoon just snorts. “I teach an adult creative writing class. I am not a professor.”

“Still sexy, though,” Hoseok chimes in, and Namjoon pauses, seems to go a little pink. Taehyung rolls his eyes, used to this routine, and Jimin must see him, because he giggles quietly in Taehyung’s direction. Namjoon, of course, does not notice, suddenly very interested in trying to get the zipper up on his jacket.

“Seeya, hyung,” Jungkook tells him when he finally get his jacket zipped, and everyone else follows up with their goodbyes.

Seokjin goes next, and after him, Hoseok and Jungkook seem to think it’s a good idea too. And Taehyung meant to leave with them, to extract himself neatly, but then he comes back from the bathroom and they’ve left, and it’s just Yoongi and Jimin at the table, talking quietly. And Taehyung realizes: ah, Jimin is waiting for Taehyung to be the last one here. He's trying to get him alone. He nods to himself.

“Hyung,” Taehyung says, making Yoongi look up at him. “Aren’t you on set tomorrow morning? You’ve been complaining about how long your shooting days have been for weeks.”

Yoongi looks at him, face impassive. “I don’t start that early.”

“Early enough. You should head out,” Taehyung says, voice casual, hoping that Yoongi gets it. You can go, he’s saying. I got this.

Yoongi studies him for a moment, then nods. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Nice to meet you, Jimin-ah. See you, Tae.”

He gives Taehyung a little half-hug on his way out, and Taehyung replaces him in the seat he was occupying, next to Jimin.

Jimin’s watching Yoongi leave, and his head is still turned toward his small retreating figure when he says, “He’s protective of you.”

Taehyung hums. “That’s just how Yoongi is,” he says, because it’s true. One of the first nights Yoongi came out with them was the night Seokjin dragged them off to a gay club, talking about how he wanted to feel young. When an older guy got too handsy with Jungkook, Yoongi finally got between them and threatened to beat the shit out of him, the fact that he was significantly smaller than the guy notwithstanding. It cemented him in place with them, Taehyung figures, and not just because Seokjin kept saying they could finally become a heist team now that they “had some muscle.”

“Sure,” Jimin is saying, though he sounds disbelieving. “Is he trying to protect you from me?”

Taehyung swallows. He looks down at the table, runs a finger over a notch in the wood. He can’t figure out how to respond to that, what to say, but Jimin is speaking again before he has to.

“Sorry. That isn’t...sorry.”

Taehyung looks up at him. He has his chin in his palm, a sad tilt to his expression. “It’s fine,” Taehyung says quietly.

“I’m sorry about earlier.”

Jimin’s expression looks something close to nervous, Taehyung notices. Taehyung furrows his eyebrows, but doesn’t speak, lets Jimin go on.

“It wasn’t fair, what I said. I was the one who left, I shouldn’t...I can’t come back and tell you that all I did was miss you.”

“You said you missed home,” Taehyung corrects.

“Yeah,” Jimin says quietly.

Taehyung looks down at the table again.

“I never meant to hurt you, Taehyung.”

(Taehyung does not trust himself to look up from the table.)

“Were you ever planning on talking to me again? If we hadn’t run into each other?” Taehyung asks. He’s staring at the wood grain of the table, has to, but his voice is steady while he asks.

“I had been working up the nerve,” Jimin says, laughs under his breath. “Jungkook wouldn’t talk to me about you, besides the basic stuff. Said if I wanted to know how you were, I should ask you myself. And I just...if there’s anything I want, Taehyung, from being back in Seoul, it’s to be your friend again.”

There was a time in Taehyung’s life where he never would have considered the reality that he and Jimin would ever not be friends. They felt invincible, held together with some kind of unbreakable chain that hung tangible between them, and anything that tried to sever it inevitably crumbled. Jimin was his, and he was Jimin’s, forever, and that was just how it was. The idea that Jimin would sit in front of him, voice small, Taehyung unable to meet his gaze, and ask to be friends is — it hurts like salt in a wound.

“I never stopped wanting to be your friend,” Taehyung says, finally glancing up at Jimin.

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees. “Sometimes things get messy whether we want them to or not.”

“You stopped texting,” Taehyung is saying before he even knows what he’s saying. It’s not an accusation, it’s just — he needs to say this.

“You deleted all our pictures together,” Jimin says back, tone hard to read.

Taehyung winces. He had hoped, distantly, that Jimin had never noticed that. It wasn’t an act of cruelty, it just hurt too much to look at, the two of them smiling together, the picture of his head pillowed on Jimin’s lap, the bright-flash picture of their hands clasped together while they sat on a rooftop they weren’t supposed to be on. Let’s keep going for a long time. I only have you. It was too much, way too much, made him feel like a sore, sorry idiot every time he opened his fucking Instagram, and he just couldn’t do it anymore.

“It hurt,” Taehyung admits. “It hurt to miss you that much.”

“Don’t you think I was hurting too?” Jimin asks. And maybe once upon a time there’d be heat in his voice, the way he got when they argued. But now, the two of them older and wearier, there’s just a careful kind of sadness.

Taehyung looks him over, swallows before he says, “You’re the one who left.”

Jimin’s the one who looks down now. "I was,” he agrees, and doesn't say anything else.

And maybe, Taehyung thinks, this should be it. Maybe he should say I don’t know if we can ever be friends like we were before, maybe they should just be cordial at group gatherings and that should be it. Maybe their time ran its course and trying to get it back would be like trying to keep water cupped in your palm without it dripping through your fingers, messy and bound for failure.

But Jimin never did anything wrong. He left to chase a dream that predated Taehyung, that was bigger than a friend he made in college, because of course it was. Taehyung shouldn’t have expected anything different, should never have let his heart swell big enough to fit Jimin inside of it. It wasn’t Jimin's fault that Taehyung was left to deal with himself, all stretched out and misshapen from years of holding onto hi so tight. And how is it fair to tell him now, after all of that, after years, that even though they used to be each other’s most important thing, they can’t even be friends anymore? How is it fair to shut him out, the person who took care of him when nobody else knew how, just because Taehyung got his feelings hurt?

“Maybe we can try again,” Taehyung says, voice quiet as he looks at Jimin. Jimin’s lips turn up into a little smile, barely there, but Taehyung can’t help but smile a little back. It feels so good, to make Jimin smile.

“Okay,” Jimin agrees. “I would like to try again, Taehyung.”

And there’s a selfish pang of want, even then, at hearing his name in Jimin’s mouth. And there’s a painful splinter of doubt, even then, that he’ll ever be able to sustain this.

++

Jimin has always been easy to fall in love with. It was never a conscious choice, on Taehyung’s part — not even a conscious anything. It snuck up on him after about a year, the sudden realization that the sight of Jimin, sleep-rumpled on his couch, was his favorite thing to see in the whole world. That all the ways they fit together meant more to Taehyung than he thought.

“What’s wrong?” Jimin asked him that morning, one of his eyes still closed, the world too bright.

And Taehyung, heart in his throat, just shook his head, feeling breathless. He was in love, and it was so overwhelming all at once that he was having trouble breathing. “Nothing,” he said, shook his head again, like he could dislodge this as easy as a dog shaking off water, then fell next to Jimin on the couch and wrapped his arms around him, just like he always had.

He couldn’t see another option. He couldn’t see himself opening his mouth and letting this dark, selfish thing out. Not when Jimin had always been so kind. So kind, so caring, so good to Taehyung. He never asked for a thing in return for all those nights he spent easing Taehyung’s homesickness, all those times he tried to chase away all the things Taehyung was always afraid of. That’s how they were: Taehyung walked around a little leaky, and Jimin patched him up without a word. Taehyung tried to return the favor anyway, wanted desperately to be a person who made Jimin’s life better, but it’s easy to doubt your success at that kind of thing.

What he is sure of, was sure of, has always been sure of, is that Jimin never asked Taehyung to fall in love with him. So he kept his secret wet and wadded up in the back of his throat, even when he desperately wanted to spit it out. Even with Jimin’s hands tangled in his, small fingers, cold metal of all the rings he wore, and Jimin’s faces inches from his, the two of them smiling at each other because it was so good to be the two of them. Even when the sunrise that Jimin made bloom in his chest felt so bright and warm that Taehyung wanted to overflow with it. Even when Taehyung looked at him, tired and sad in the Incheon airport, the two of them choking on goodbyes.

And if Taehyung had made it through that, had soaked in every bit of Jimin he could and still managed to keep himself together, even when he wanted him so badly he ached, then surely things now would be easier.

Theoretically, Taehyung had even gotten over it. He had enough time to get over it, surely. The first year after Jimin left, it hung over him, heavy, a raincloud that threatened to burst at any mention of Jimin’s name. But then things got easier. And sure, it helped that Taehyung started to make remembering Jimin a risk he rarely had to take — their photos deleted, polaroids shoved in a box, Jimin’s contact deleted in his phone after a year of silence, their old thread of messages erased. Jungkook and Namjoon never mentioned him anymore, a fact that Taehyung couldn’t think about for too long or else he’d feel guilty. Sure, all that helped, but if things were getting easier, that meant he was getting over it, right?

Surely, Taehyung thinks as Jimin steps into his apartment, things now will be easier.

For all their friction that day at the cafe, all the ways they didn’t quite know how to be around each other, it comes back to them fast. Jimin suggested they just hang out, something low-pressure, and it turned into Jimin with a paper bag full of beer at Taehyung’s door, Jimin sat next to him on the couch with the extra XBox controller, Jimin dying ten times as often as Taehyung in the video game they’re playing and whining the whole time. And with something else to focus on, they don’t have to think so hard about how long it’s been since they’ve done this; with something else to focus on, they aren’t awkward, afraid to look at each other too often, afraid to touch.

Jimin knees him, tries to distract him from the game, and Taehyung cries out, elbows him back, and they’re all over each other before long, Jimin half in his lap, the two of them yelling until the match ends and Jimin sees his losing score on the screen, throws himself backward to wail over it.

“It’s not fair! These games aren’t fair!” He’s whining, and Taehyung is laughing big and open and easy, his happiness persistent and impossible to deny.

“You’re just bad, Jiminnie,” Taehyung tells him, the diminutive coming out of his mouth without a thought. And neither of them freeze up over it, either. It’s easy, it’s so terribly easy to be near him.

They hang out that night, and then again a few days later, with takeout and a stack of movies they used to love to watch together. It’s another distraction, another thing to make it easier to be in the same room, and it works.

“Do you remember,” Jimin starts with a smile on his face at a familiar scene, “you and Jungkook used to act this out all the time, even when Namjoon was embarrassed, and —”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Taehyung agrees with a laugh. They offer comments, olive branches of safe conversation for the rest of the movie, and when Jimin asks if he wanted to watch one more, Taehyung is already offering to make popcorn.

The next week, Jimin calls him early on Saturday and they get lunch, walk around shops downtown without much purpose. It’s the first time since the night at the bar that they’re together, alone, without something to keep their eyes on besides each other, and at first, it’s stifling.

But sometime after they’ve ordered their food and run out of small talk, Jimin looks at Taehyung and says, “Today I saw a mural that reminded me of you.”

Something in the way he says it, how casual it is, feels like home. Feels like nineteen and Jimin texting him about a song he listened to, feels like saying something just because you know the other person cares.

And Taehyung does care. “What kind of mural?” He asks.

“Wildflowers,” Jimin tells him. “Painted down a set of stairs. It reminded me of that painting you did forever ago. I loved that painting.”

“Ah, I’m terrible at painting things that are supposed to look like anything,” Taehyung says with a sheepish smile. “I just like colors and shapes.”

“Yeah, I know you do,” Jimin says, smiling back at him. “But I loved that painting.”

“I probably got rid of it,” Taehyung admits, finds himself charmed by the sad gasp Jimin gives. “I got rid of a lot of my old stuff when I moved into my own apartment. There’s some old paintings piled up in one of my closets, but I didn’t have enough room to keep them all.”

“Are you still painting?” Jimin asks him, looking eager to know.

It almost makes Taehyung sad to shake his head ruefully, say, “I don’t have the time anymore.”

“Growing up is terrible,” Jimin says to him with a laugh that doesn’t meet his eyes all the way.

Taehyung hums. “In some ways, yeah. It is.”

And all the ways that the day started out tense, a little nervous, have eased. They aren’t two old friends struggling to remember what they used to talk about, they’re two people learning each other again.

Taehyung finds comfort in the new things he learns about Jimin — it’s comforting that the last few years haven’t disappeared, that Taehyung didn’t dream them all up in some horrible coma. They’re different people than they used to be. Jimin is a little more serious, a little less self-deprecating than he was before; he seems more comfortable with himself than Taehyung can remember him being. Taehyung would like to think he grew up, too. Got a little more mature. Hopefully a little stronger than he used to be, the way he always seemed to be a little too soft when things got difficult. But it’s hard to catalog yourself, all the ways things have changed. With Jimin it’s easy, all things he can see right away.

Things between them aren’t the same, either, but sometimes they’re close, if he squints. Sometimes Taehyung is overwhelmed by the way things feel like no time passed at all. When Jimin grabs his hand to lead him across the crosswalk, and then doesn’t let go for a moment; when he lets his thigh rest right against Taehyung’s on the couch, even though there’s plenty of room for him to spread out; when he gives Taehyung an extra napkin when there’s food on his face and laughs at him quietly. When Jimin lets himself get carried away with how funny he finds things (how funny he finds Taehyung), laughs and lets his whole body fall over against Taehyung, collapsed like a wooden doll, and all Taehyung can do is smile at him.

(Please, Taehyung thinks when he’s faced with Jimin, smiling broadly at something Taehyung said, his hand reached out to rest on Taehyung’s knee (small fingers, cold metal from the rings he still wears), please let things be easier this time.)

They start to spend nights just talking, the way they used to do about everything. Talking about how Taehyung likes set designing, about how he met Yoongi and how Jungkook met Seokjin, about the little personal projects Jungkook’s been working on between editing jobs, about how Jungkook wants to direct so badly. About Hoseok and Namjoon, the way they’ve been dancing around each other for ages now just because Namjoon never lets himself have these kind of things. About Taehyung’s family, about Jimin’s brother, about how neither of them have been home in too long. About how Jimin wants to get a cat, has wanted to get a cat for years now, about Jimin’s ongoing apartment search. And then, later, about how Jimin’s been reaching out to dance studios, seeing if they have any instructor openings.

Taehyung listens carefully, watches the way Jimin’s face moves when he talks about it. Says, “I think you’d be a great teacher.”

Jimin goes a little pink. “I don’t know.”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I do.”

Jimin looks at him for a moment, bites his lip. “How are you always so sure about things?”

Taehyung actually laughs at that, lets his head lean back against the couch. “I’m sure about almost nothing. But when it’s you, and it’s dance, it’s impossible not to be sure.”

Jimin hums, keeps gnawing at his bottom lip. “Must be nice.”

“I was always sure you would make it,” Taehyung tells him quietly. And despite the last few weeks, despite all the time they’ve spent together in an artist’s rendition of the friendship they used to have, they haven’t spoken about this since the night at the bar. About Jimin leaving.

“I don’t know that I did,” Jimin says with a snort. “I was a backup dancer for some pop tours.”

“You got to do what you loved, right?” Taehyung asks. “I think that’s making it.”

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees softly. “I guess so.”

“And you can still do what you love. Just a little different.”

Jimin’s looking at him again, and then he looks down at his lap. They’re curled up small on Taehyung’s couch in half-darkness, because they started talking when it was still light out and they’re still talking now close to midnight, because neither of them ever got up to turn on the other lamp. “People are so lucky to have you, Taehyung-ah.”

That surprises Taehyung. He blinks, furrows his eyebrows. “I...thanks?”

Jimin shakes his head. “You’re just so...you make people feel like they can do anything.”

“Do I?” Taehyung asks, surprised at the sentiment.

Jimin shrugs. “You always made me feel like that, anyway. I forgot what it’s like. To have you.” He pauses, then makes a face, seeming embarrassed. “I mean, not that I ever had you, like, you’re your own person, but —”

“No,” Taehyung argues, shaking his head. “You had me.” And he thinks about some things he shouldn’t say, thinks, I was yours, I was yours from the minute we met, I thought I was always gonna be yours —

Jimin’s nodding slowly. “Well. I like having you again.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees, even though his mouth feels dry and he’s having trouble swallowing. Even though he suddenly feels the urge to cry a little. He’s not going to, but there’s an itch at his eyes, a tightness in his chest.

There’s no helping it, Taehyung thinks. There’s just no helping it, the way his body moves toward the bright light of Park Jimin. Even after years. Even after he thought he had managed to forget the glow of it.

Still, though. For those first few weeks, held between the two of them, it feels manageable. It feels like something he can control, the pulse of desire underneath his skin that he learned to live with, all those years ago. He can learn again. He can control it enough for Jimin to be his again.

He lives his life, the same as he has been for years, but behind it, there’s a warm comfort that Jimin’s there. He and his friends throw the same joint birthday party for Namjoon and Jungkook that they’ve been throwing for years, the one Taehyung was throwing by himself for a little while; the two of them hate being the center of attention, so it works like this, to make it about both of them at once, to make it as small and quiet as the rest of them can stand. It’s the seven of them plus a few more: a few of Jungkook’s friends, Namjoon’s favorite coworker, a mutual friend of Seokjin and Hoseok. Jimin brings Momo, the girl he’s been staying with since he’s been in Seoul.

“We met on this tour in South America, of all places,” Jimin tells him. “I was just thrilled to see another Asian dancer, I definitely wasn’t expecting her to speak Korean.”

“I was sure you were trying to hit on me for like, weeks,” Momo says, laughing and pushing up her glasses. “I was calling Jeongyeon every night like oh god, this guy’s really nice but he keeps buying me dinners, what do I do?”

“I hadn’t had anyone to talk to in months!” Jimin defends himself with a laugh. “I was needy.”

Taehyung smiles as they talk, feeling strange to get a glimpse at what Jimin’s life was like in-between. He figures it’s only fair, since Jimin had to jump headfirst into what Taehyung’s life has turned into in the time he was gone.

“I just started talking about my girlfriend a lot and hoped you would catch on,” Momo says.

“Your girlfriend’s Korean?” Taehyung asks, trying to make polite conversation.

Momo nods. “Yeah. I was only supposed to be in Korea for a year, this study abroad program through my college, but I met Jeongyeon, and.” She shrugs. “I stayed.” Someone calls Jimin’s name from across the room, an old friend of Jungkook’s that they both know, and he smiles broadly, giving them a quick gesture as if to say keep talking, I’ll be back before walking over to him.

Taehyung gives him a vague wave, and turns back to Momo. “Cute,” Taehyung coos at her. “How’d you end up in South America, then?”

Momo shrugs at him, but she’s smiling a little bit, like she’s not sure herself. “I don’t know, life just kind of happens sometimes. I’ve been dancing since I learned to walk, an opportunity came up, I figured I’d be crazy not to take it. I ended up traveling for about a year with this touring company.”

“And you and your girlfriend,” Taehyung starts, in an act not dissimilar to scratching at an angry, itchy mosquito bite — ill-advised, more trouble than relief. “You stayed together through that?”

“Yeah,” Momo says. “It was hard sometimes, but...I mean, I just couldn’t imagine breaking up with her, you know? So we made it work.”

Taehyung nods. “Right.” He takes a sip of his drink, looks down at the floor for a moment. Jimin makes his way back over to them in the middle of a laugh, and when Taehyung looks back up he finds himself faced with the whole of it. Overwhelming. He smiles, an instinctual reaction, and the night goes on. Seokjin smears cake on Jungkook’s face, Hoseok hugs Namjoon tight with a hand on the back of his neck, makes kissy noises in his ear and doesn’t seem to realize how red Namjoon gets after.

Jimin and Momo leave relatively early, a fact that Taehyung attributes either to Momo’s influence, or a vast change in character from the Jimin who used to whine at everyone else for ending things too soon at the end of every party. Regardless, it’s easy — the goodbye is easy, the whole night is easy. It’s strange, to be in Jimin’s company again like this, in front of everyone, but diffused between fifteen people, it’s almost normal. It’s almost like Jimin never left at all.

But things feel different when the seven of them are together again, all of them in Taehyung’s apartment. Taehyung finds himself under five sets of eyes that are newly focused, with little to draw their attention elsewhere.

Seokjin and Yoongi are making dinner in Taehyung’s kitchen, complaining about his lack of organization, and Namjoon and Jungkook are arguing over what movie to watch, the way they always do. Hoseok is nearby, looking on at them a little fondly, and Jimin — well, Jimin is leaned against Taehyung’s shoulder, looking through his phone and chiming into the conversations going on around them every once in a while.

“You always want to watch something tragic,” Namjoon is complaining. “I don’t want to watch a drama where people die! I just want to have fun!”

“I care about storytelling, hyung,” Jungkook argues with a whine. “You just care about happy endings.”

“What’s wrong with happy endings?” Hoseok asks. “Doesn’t life have enough misery in it?”

“Oh, let Jungkook like tragedies, it’s good to have a healthy relationship with crying,” Seokjin fusses from the kitchen.

“What would you know about healthy relationships?” Taehyung asks him with a snort.

Seokjin narrows his eyes at him. “Thin ice, Kim Taehyung.”

Jimin laughs from where he’s leaned against Taehyung’s shoulder, and Namjoon turns and smiles at Jimin. When his eyes find Taehyung, though, it fades a little, and Taehyung isn’t sure why. Taehyung gives him a silly look, brings the happy expression back to Namjoon’s face.

“I missed like three years in Korean movies,” Jimin says with a sigh.

“There have been some good ones,” Yoongi says.

“Did you see the one about the lesbians?” Seokjin asks.

“Are you talking about The Handmaiden? That’s so reductive, hyung,” Jungkook says with a snort.

“I disagree, the lesbianism is the highlight of the film,” Seokjin says.

“I didn’t see it, no,” Jimin answers. “Was it good?”

“God, you don’t even know, they’re such a nightmare about stuff like this,” Namjoon says with a whine, but it’s almost drowned out by Yoongi, Seokjin and Jungkook’s conversation, one Taehyung joins in on to talk about how much he liked the stylized design of the film.

“It’s incredible how being friends with a bunch of filmmakers ruins movies,” Hoseok says mildly, underneath the noise of a sort of passionate agreement Jungkook and Yoongi are having about the cinematography in a completely different movie. “I haven’t been able to watch a stupid romantic comedy without a gaggle of criticism in a year.”

“Watch them with Namjoon-hyung, he likes that kind of stuff,” Taehyung says with a good-natured smile. Jimin, amused, turns in toward Taehyung’s shoulder to giggle. Taehyung reaches up to rest a hand in Jimin’s hair, another one of those muscle memory things, and as he does it, he catches Jungkook and Namjoon looking at him, Namjoon with mild concern and Jungkook with...something like annoyance, Taehyung realizes. Hm.

Yoongi and Seokjin bring over dinner after not too much longer, Yoongi bonking Taehyung on the head with the clean end of a pair of tongs when he tries to grab the meat off the plate before it’s set down, making Taehyung giggle. It displaces Jimin’s head on his shoulder, and at Jimin’s surprised little noise, Taehyung turns and gives a cute-voiced apology. It makes Jimin laugh in turn, reaching out to squeeze Taehyung’s knee before he shifts away from Taehyung, going to grab food instead.

And again, Taehyung notices, Jungkook is glancing at them with furrowed eyebrows. Taehyung gives him a questioning look, but Jungkook looks away, like he doesn’t want Taehyung to know he was looking at all.

They eat in a din of overlapping conversations, Jimin’s presence blended into their established rapport so well that it seems like everyone forgot their last get-together with just the seven of them had a few bumpy stops and starts. Yoongi and Seokjin bicker about something, Seokjin’s face getting red the way it does until Jungkook’s cackling laugh distracts them; Taehyung swipes food from Hoseok’s plate until Hoseok notices, smiling apologetically at the glare Hoseok gives him; Jimin is sat next to Namjoon, the two of them talking quietly with smiles, and it’s so familiar, so comforting that Taehyung smiles over at them easily.

Seokjin talks over the movie they watch after dinner, while Yoongi criticizes the cinematography under his breath and Namjoon whines every time. Taehyung doesn’t have enough room for all of them to sit on the couch, so they rock-paper-scissor for it like always, and this time, Taehyung ended up with an arm seat on the couch. When Jimin won the next game, he gave a pleased little grin before plopping down next to him, and now that they’re an hour into the movie, they’ve both shifted, Taehyung leaning against the arm and Jimin lying with his head against Taehyung’s hip, curled up in a little ball. Taehyung has a hand in Jimin’s hair, comfortable there, and Jimin hums when Taehyung scratches lightly at his skin.

And it’s the ghost of a thousand memories, sitting like this with Jimin’s head in his lap, but it’s also something new; with Seokjin and Hoseok’s too-loud voices talking in bouncing tones over the dialogue of the movie, with Yoongi’s complaints about wanting a blanket mixed with Jungkook’s voice when he teases him, this is a new thing, something being created in the moment.

Taehyung doesn’t mean to fall asleep. He’s just warm and comfortable with Jimin curled around him, the voices of his friends filtering in and out of his mind and mixing with the calm score of the movie — and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up to relative quiet.

“Taehyungie,” a soft voice is saying, tone sweet, a gentle touch on his arm. Taehyung reaches a hand out to grab at whoever’s touching him, an instinct, and his hand closes around a smaller one. There’s a soft giggle, the more distant sound of voices in conversation, and then Taehyung opens his eyes to find Jimin hovering over him, their hands clasped together. “You fell asleep,” Jimin is saying softly.

“Oh,” Taehyung mutters. He blinks, looking around, confused.

Jimin smiles at him a little. “I thought I should wake you up before people started leaving.”

“Right. Yeah. Thanks,” Taehyung mutters. He realizes they’re still holding hands, so he lets go, hand hovering uselessly in the air instead.

“JK! Wait for me!” Seokjin is squawking, walking behind the couch, and that makes Taehyung sit up to look at them.

Jungkook is pulling on his big jacket, snorting and rolling his eyes at Seokjin’s antics as Seokjin catches up and grabs his own baby blue peacoat.

“Are you leaving?” Taehyung calls out to them, rubbing at his sleepy eyes.

Jungkook glances at him. “Yeah,” he says, then goes back to zipping his jacket.

Taehyung furrows his eyebrows. “Are you okay?” Jungkook’s not usually so short with him.

“Yeah, what’s up your ass?” Seokjin asks him with a huff. “I mean, besides nothing!” He pauses, then looks around the room when no one laughs. “That was a joke about how Jungkook hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Did you get the j—”

“Hyung,” Jungkook says in a voice that’s a little more annoyed than his usual long-suffering tone. He turns to Taehyung, says, “I have a headache. Overtired, I think. I just wanna go home.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says quietly. “Feel better, Kookie. Text me tomorrow about lunch?”

“Sure,” Jungkook says, but he barely looks at Taehyung. Taehyung frowns, and Seokjin gives him a look, like what can you do?

The two of them leave after a moment, Seokjin with a loud yell of goodbye across the apartment, and Taehyung looks around at the state of everyone else. Yoongi, Namjoon and Hoseok are sitting at Taehyung’s kitchen table, talking about something that’s making Hoseok laugh, loud and bright, an open bottle of wine sitting between them. Jimin is perched on the arm of the couch next to Taehyung, smiling when Taehyung catches his eye.

“Good morning,” Jimin tells him in a teasing voice, then walks over to the kitchen to grab what must be his wine glass, filling it a little from the bottle on the table.

Taehyung pads after him into the kitchen, stretching his arms over his head and yawning as he approaches the kitchen table.

“Sleeping beauty’s awake,” Yoongi says dryly, smirking when Taehyung whines.

“And nobody even had to kiss him,” Hoseok says with a laugh, reaching out to tickle at the skin of Taehyung’s tummy where his shirt is riding up.

“I wouldn’t have said no to a kiss,” Taehyung says, wiggling his eyebrows in Hoseok’s direction.

Jimin laughs quietly, looks at him over the rim of his wine glass. “I’ll remember for next time.”

Hoseok laughs along with him, but Namjoon is notably quiet, and Taehyung can feel Yoongi’s eyes on him, too. Taehyung, though, doesn’t have time to dwell on that. He smiles, moves past it, says, “Oh, you know me, I’m always good for a kiss.”

“Yeah, I remember New Years,” Hoseok says with a smile. Taehyung laughs at the memory.

“Oh?” Yoongi asks, looking interested.

“Is he still kissing everyone at New Years?” Jimin asks. There’s a stain of red wine on his lips, and Taehyung’s trying not to find it distracting.

“No one ever told me to stop,” Taehyung says with a smile.

“I feel left out, then,” Yoongi says with a little laugh. “I didn’t know you at New Years.”

“He’s never kissed me either, isn’t it sad?” Jimin says. He’s smirking a little, looking at Taehyung as he takes another sip of wine.

“I cannot account for my actions when I am drunk,” Taehyung says diplomatically. He’s not sure if Jimin really believes him — after all, when you evade kissing someone for three years in a row, it’s hard for it not to seem conspicuous. Taehyung always wondered if Jimin caught on, what Jimin thought about it, but as usual, Jimin is hard to read. He decides to stop thinking about it entirely, turns to Yoongi instead. “And there’s always next year, hyung.”

“I’ll count down the days on my calendar,” Yoongi says with a snort. Taehyung blows him a little kiss from where he’s standing.

“You want some wine, Taehyung-ah?” Jimin asks. He’s the one who brought it, a fact that Taehyung found intriguing. It’s interesting to learn new things about each other. Apparently as an adult, or at least, more of an adult than they ever were in college, Park Jimin has an affinity for red wine. The bottle’s dwindled quickly, though, in the time that Taehyung was asleep, with Jimin and Yoongi both drinking it.

Taehyung shakes his head, wrinkling his nose. “I hate wine.”

Jimin hums, pouring more for himself. “Your taste has always been a little too sweet, I guess.” He looks at Taehyung with an amused little grin, and the tone of it makes Taehyung blush a bit, for some reason.

“Yah, how come I get a lecture about having baby taste buds when I don’t want wine, but Taehyung’s just sweet?” Namjoon asks in a whining voice.

Jimin laughs, tips his head back to do so, and then he melts over Namjoon, hung onto his back. “Yoongi said that, not me.”

“You worked together. Bullies,” Namjoon says, though he looks pleased with the way Jimin’s hanging on him. They were always like that; Namjoon’s never very physically affectionate, but always welcomed the way Jimin would dote on him. Something about Jimin, about the way he gives all of himself, Taehyung figures. He smiles at the sight of it now.

“You do have baby taste buds,” Yoongi says simply. “I’ve watched you eat plain sugar from the bag.”

“Sometimes I get stressed!” Namjoon defends himself.

“It’s cute,” Hoseok tells him, leaned forward with a smile.

“I —” Namjoon splutters, not managing to finish his sentence, making Jimin laugh quietly. Hoseok looks unfazed, still leaned forward toward Namjoon, and Jimin picks himself up and catches Taehyung’s eye, like they’re sharing a secret, like all of them aren’t perfectly aware of what’s going on with Namjoon and Hoseok.

Still, the sight of it makes Taehyung feel greedy — he missed Jimin looking at him like that, like they’re the only people in the world who understand something the same way. He missed feeling like Jimin’s confidant.

The night wanders on quietly. Namjoon plays quiet music from the bluetooth speaker that Jungkook gave Taehyung for his birthday last year, lo-fi with fuzzy horn sections, and Taehyung thinks it tinges the next couple hours with a warm filter that covers them in specks of noise. Jimin and Yoongi finish the wine, Jimin perched in his own chair for a while but then in Taehyung’s lap, sat firmly with Taehyung’s arm around his waist. And part of Taehyung wishes he had been drinking alongside Jimin and Yoongi, because it’s overwhelming, the casual easy weight of him. Mostly because of the way the rest of them look at him, Namjoon with that tilt of worry to his eyebrows, Hoseok with a casual kind of interest, and Yoongi’s impassive observant expression. It makes Taehyung feel transparent, to have the other three look at them, and it makes him think about the way Jungkook kept looking at him all night, too.

Namjoon is trying to keep up his conversation with Yoongi about — well, Taehyung’s not sure, has been too distracted for the last half hour or so, but he thinks it’s about a drama? But he keeps yawning halfway through his sentences, until he does it enough that Hoseok laughs at him and says, “Joon-ah, is it your bedtime?”

Namjoon sighs. “Kind of, yeah, actually.”

“Come on,” Hoseok says. “I’ll share a taxi with you if you want. It’s getting late.”

“It is, isn’t it,” Yoongi says in the pleasant low hum of his voice. “Hyung should get going, too.”

Taehyung’s least favorite part of nights like this, where he gets to feel warm in the middle of his friends, is when they leave. He always thought he’d grow out of it, his childish, selfish desire to keep his friends closeby, but he hasn’t yet. It’s inevitable, of course, and he doesn’t dwell, but there’s still a part of him that wants to say, “No, stay,” like they’re still kids in dorm rooms who can skip class the next morning in favor of getting breakfast together.

He doesn’t tell them to stay. They’re adults with things to do tomorrow. Besides, Jimin hasn’t announced his departure quite yet, so Taehyung’s not left alone. Jimin is standing up now, though, stretching with a yawn, and Taehyung looks away from the length of him, tries not to look him over. He still feels obvious, like everyone in the room knows everything he’s trying to avoid, and it’s turning the edges of the night uncomfortable in a way he doesn’t want. Jimin pads off to the bathroom with a pat on Taehyung’s head, and Namjoon and Hoseok stand up too, arguing about whether it makes sense to share a taxi when they don’t quite live in the same direction.

“Hoseok-ah, you live near me, I’ll share with you,” Yoongi says. Hoseok deflates a little from the way he was eager to bicker with Namjoon, but he nods, walks over to grab the jacket he brought with him, some brightly colored windbreaker-type thing.

“Taehyung,” Yoongi says quietly when Namjoon walks over to do the same, and Taehyung glances at him. He finds Yoongi looking mildly serious, and he raises his eyebrows, waiting for whatever he’s going to say. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

That surprises him a little, but he nods. “Yeah, sure.” Yoongi hesitates, and Taehyung understands — somewhere more private than here.

He stands from his seat at the kitchen table, walks back toward his bedroom with Yoongi trailing behind him. Yoongi closes Taehyung’s door most of the way, and Taehyung’s lips turn up in a small smile. “Ominous, hyung.”

“No, it’s not, just. I value privacy,” Yoongi says with a self-deprecating little huff of a laugh. He leans against the wall close to the door, and his hand reaches out to run across the surface of a funny little wood carving that Namjoon gave him years ago, a souvenir from a trip abroad.

“What’s up, hyung?” Taehyung asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“I don’t know that we should go on another date,” Yoongi says bluntly.

Taehyung blinks. “Oh. I...okay. That’s fine, hyung.”

“It’s not — I mean, I don’t want to feel awkward about it,” Yoongi says, looking at Taehyung a little sheepishly. “There’s no hard feelings or anything.”

“No, of course,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “Am I allowed to ask why?”

At that, Yoongi pauses. He looks at Taehyung carefully, and somehow, Taehyung feels it coming even before he says, “I don’t want to get in the middle of anything, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung swallows. “I don’t have anything to get in the middle of.”

Yoongi’s eyes go back to the little wooden frog, fingernails running along the grooves of it. “Look,” Yoongi says with a sigh. “If you want me to say it, I will. I don’t know what happened with you and Jimin, I don’t know...what you were to each other, or anything. But it’s clear you were something, and it’s clear that’s not over.”

Taehyung felt it coming, but it doesn’t hurt any less. It’s an old wound opened back up right in front of him, and that’s not Yoongi’s fault, but — it hurts. “Is it?” He asks in a tight voice, feeling afraid of the answer.

“Oh, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi says with another sigh. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to make you upset.”

“I’m not upset,” Taehyung insists, but he can hear the waver in his voice. “It’s — nothing happened with me and Jimin. It’s fine, that you don’t want to go on another date, I just wanted to tell you. We were just friends.”

Yoongi nods. “You told me, that first night, that I didn’t know what happened with you guys. And you’re right, I don’t. I’m not saying you were anything more than friends, I’m just saying — well, there’s something there, Taehyung, and I don’t feel comfortable getting between it.”

There’s something there echoes around in his head, and Taehyung feels all of twenty-one years old, wants to overanalyze everything about what Yoongi just said, wants to know exactly what he means, wants — wants it to be true. He swallows again, not sure what the swell of emotion he has right now is, exactly, and not sure that he wants to find out.

“Okay,” he says, instead of all the things he wants to say. Because none of the sharp things he’s thinking right now have anything to do with Yoongi — Yoongi has every right to tell him he doesn’t want to go on a date. He agreed to no hard feelings and he meant it. “We’ll just stay friends, then, hyung.” He tries to put on a smile, and knows it’s a failure when Yoongi furrows his eyebrows.

“Hey. Really, I don’t want there to be any kind of —”

“No, no,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “It’s not...I’m not upset with you, or anything. I promise, we’re perfectly fine. We would have had fun, though.”

At that, the corner of Yoongi’s lips turns up. “I’m sure we would have. Though, I don’t know that it ever would have worked out in the end. I’m a Pisces, you’re a Capricorn,” he waves a hand. “You know.”

“I really don’t,” Taehyung says with a quiet laugh.

“Well,” Yoongi says, letting out a disappointed sigh. “I guess we all have our flaws.” Taehyung laughs again, then steps forward, wraps Yoongi in an easy hug.

Yoongi hugs him back, leans up on his tiptoes to do it, and asks, “Are you okay, Tae?”

“I’m okay, hyung,” Taehyung says back. He pulls away from Yoongi, asks, “You want your New Years kiss?”

“You know, I do,” Yoongi says. “But that probably means I shouldn’t have it right now.”

And that hurts, too. The act of Yoongi pulling back, tidying up all the ways they’ve been goading each other into flirting for the last couple months. Taehyung never stopped to really feel anything big or overwhelming for Yoongi, just that little inkling of curiosity past friendship, but the fact of the matter is, he’s never going to see if he should have, because...because after four years, Jimin is still a disruption in a way he shouldn’t be. He swallows, pulls back fully, the two of them standing apart.

“I’m sorry, Tae,” Yoongi says, seems to have picked up on whatever must have flashed across Taehyung’s face. “I just don’t want to try to compete with what he is to you.”

And that, maybe, is enough to make Taehyung cry, if he thinks hard enough about it. He refuses, though, refuses to do this right now. He shakes his head.

“Don’t apologize. Please don’t apologize, when this is my fault,” he says softly.

“I don’t see it like that,” Yoongi tells him.

“Well, I’m glad, but,” Taehyung says with a shrug. But it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t say. It doesn’t matter when it so clearly is.

“Hyung! Are we sharing a taxi or what?” Hoseok calls from the living room.

Taehyung gives him at least half of a smile, nods his head towards the door. “Better go.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi agrees. He looks Taehyung over, a focused little frown on his mouth. “Taehyung —”

“Hyung,” Taehyung says softly, cutting off whatever apology Yoongi is having trouble swallowing down. “We’re good. Thanks for letting me know. No worries.”

Yoongi nods. “Okay.”

Taehyung smiles again, reaches out to poke Yoongi on the nose. “Now get out, before Hoseok starts yelling again.”

Yoongi huffs out a laugh, rolls his eyes, and Taehyung feels less thrown off-kilter. They walk out together to find Hoseok fussing with a loose button on Namjoon’s jacket, pulling at a fraying thread while Namjoon looks sort of delicately pink over the whole situation. Jimin is nearby, looking amused at the proceedings, but he turns his head toward Taehyung when he catches him coming. Jimin looks between him and Yoongi, lips twitching momentarily into a smirk that makes Taehyung feel...well, something. Something he doesn’t want to look too closely at to pull apart, but nothing pleasant.

He swallows, looks away from Jimin and instead walks over to hug Namjoon and Hoseok goodbye. Namjoon hugs him with more weight than he usually does for casual goodbyes, but Taehyung doesn’t think anything of it, lets Hoseok make cute kissy noises and wiggle at him until he’s embarrassed and giggling. Yoongi just gives him a lingering touch on the back, an almost apologetic smile on his lips until Taehyung mimics Hoseok’s kissy lips and hip shimmy in his direction, and then Yoongi is laughing as he walks out of the door.

And then it’s just him and Jimin, and Taehyung feels lightly on-edge in a way he hasn’t around Jimin since those first few times they saw each other again. Jimin, for his part, is just smiling at him, like nothing’s strange at all. Which for him, Taehyung supposes it isn’t. He’s not the one who just had a man he might have dated tell them that they shouldn't, because...because of this. Because of them.

Taehyung clears his throat, runs a hand through his hair to get out some of the energy in his fingertips.

“Taehyungie,” Jimin says, a giggle halfway in his voice the way he gets when he’s just a little bit tipsy. Taehyung has a thousand memories of him like this — bright smile on his face, eyes curved into crescents, short fingers grabbing Taehyung’s longer ones as they walked down the sidewalk between bars. “Would it be okay if I stayed here tonight? I kind of feel like I should give Momo and Jeongyeon a night to themselves.”

Taehyung huffs a little laugh. “Are they getting sick of you?”

“Ah, who could get sick of me?” Jimin asks with a little self-aggrandizing shoulder wiggle, but the effect is ruined when he looks at Taehyung from the corner of his eye and giggles again. “I feel bad, I’ve been staying with them for a month already. It’s nice of Momo to let me stay but they’re, you know, a couple, they probably want time by themselves.”

“Yeah, probably,” Taehyung agrees with a snort. “That’s fine, Jimin, you can stay.”

There’s a part of him that’s happy at the thought, overly warm like your hand too close to a heat lamp.

“Mm, thanks,” Jimin says, lounges himself loosely across Taehyung’s couch. His t-shirt is riding up, a good five inches of stomach on display, and Taehyung looks away. Not quick enough, though, because Jimin catches his eye, looks amused. “Tonight was fun.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees.

“I like your new friends, you know.”

Taehyung smiles, finds it hard not to. “Yeah, they’re good.”

Jimin yawns, stretches out, the tips of his toes pointing as he does.

“You sleepy already after just some wine? You’re a lightweight now,” Taehyung teases. He likes Jimin’s offended pout in response. His lips are still wine-stained, and Taehyung wishes he could look away from them.

“I’m going to bed,” Taehyung decides, trying vaguely to clutch onto any amount of control over the situation right now.

“Ah, we used to stay up late,” Jimin chides, picking himself up on the couch to give Taehyung a loose, teasing smile.

“Yeah, we did,” Taehyung says, smiling back at him for a moment. “I’m too old for that now, though. I’m terrible if I don’t get enough sleep.”

“You’re never terrible,” Jimin says. Taehyung doesn’t know how to handle that, and he goes still for a moment. He recovers quick enough, tries to laugh it off, but he’s not sure it sounds convincing. He needs to go to bed.

“Goodnight, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, aiming for a smile. Jimin’s still in jeans and a sweater, but Taehyung knows he’ll sort himself out; he always has. “There’s extra pillows and blankets in the bin under the couch.”

Jimin makes a noise of agreement. “Night, Tae.”

Taehyung spares little thought for his nightly routine; he skips skincare, just brushes his teeth quickly before he gets into bed in pajamas. He feels strange and empty and he is very much looking forward to closing his eyes and forgetting about this feeling. He wants to sleep this off and wake up tomorrow morning to a note from Jimin thanking him for letting him stay, a lukewarm cup of coffee Jimin made him before he left, like he used to do sometimes. He’s going to get lunch with Jungkook tomorrow and feel normal, completely normal with nothing wrong at all.

He tells himself this, over and over with his eyes screwed shut in bed, but the trouble is that he’s still awake. He’s a kind of awake where he feels horribly aware of his consciousness, of the noise of the air conditioning, of the sound of distant footsteps from the floor above him. The kind of awake where he can’t keep track of how long he’s been lying here — fifteen minutes? Two hours? Both seem possible. He sighs, turns over in bed onto his side, and nearly screams when he sees the door of his bedroom ajar and a shadow standing in it.

“Shit,” Jimin says from the doorway, looking startled himself. “Sorry, Tae. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s — fine,” Taehyung says, a hand on his chest to calm his quick-beating heart. “What’s up?”

Jimin sighs, leans his weight against Taehyung’s doorframe. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, me either,” Taehyung says quietly.

“Could…” Jimin trails off, looking over at Taehyung in a way that honestly, he can’t quite make out with his glasses off and his contacts out. “Would you mind if we…”

You can say no, Taehyung tells himself, knowing exactly what Jimin’s trying to figure out whether or not he’s allowed to say. You should say no.

But he’s tired, still has that weird empty feeling, and the thought of curling up around someone makes him want to cry a little, so he nods. “Yeah. Share with me,” he says, voice quiet.

Jimin doesn’t hesitate before walking forward, and Taehyung shuffles over to make room for him. They used to do this in beds half this size, pressed and bent together like some strange kind of origami. They folded over each other enough times that maybe they were supposed to have made something pretty.

For all the strange melancholy rattling around Taehyung’s head, the feeling of another body warm in bed next to him does maybe more than it should. And maybe, Taehyung realizes, the thing he’s feeling is loneliness.

He looks over at Jimin, clear again this close up, and finds Jimin looking right back, an unnaturally hesitant expression on his face. Or maybe it’s not unnatural, but it’s unfamiliar when it’s aimed at Taehyung.

“You know, I had to re-learn how to sleep alone,” Jimin says with a small smile. After I left, that’s the end of the sentence that he left off. “I got so used to sharing a bed with you.”

Taehyung swallows, tries to smile back. The truth is, he did too. The truth is, he’s still no fucking good at it. There’s a body pillow wedged behind him against the wall to prove it. He spent too many nights in Jungkook’s bed, those months after Jimin left, just because if he tried to fall asleep by himself, he’d be up half the night.

“I’ve never been good at doing anything alone, though,” Jimin jokes. His smile looks less sleepy now and more...Taehyung’s not sure. Self-deprecating?

“Me either,” Taehyung tells him with a quiet little breath of a laugh.

Jimin hums, turns the corners of his lips up again before he rolls over onto his other side, back facing Taehyung. And Taehyung, unsure he’s allowed but unable to stop himself, reaches out to sling an arm over Jimin’s waist, chest hovering close to Jimin’s back. Just like they always did. Just how they always fit together.

And it’s another kind of ghost, but this one’s harder to reckon with. This one reminds Taehyung that he spent years like this, curved around Jimin’s back with his nose pressed to the nape of Jimin’s neck, wishing to kiss him there just once. He spent years folded just like this, thinking that maybe he and Jimin could fold together into something like forever. Hoping, with all the foolishness of first love, that they could have this forever.

Taehyung is lonely. Maybe Taehyung has been lonely for a while. Maybe he’s been lonely since the morning Jimin told him he was leaving, years ago, or maybe even earlier than that. Maybe he’s always going to be lonely, he thinks dully, because maybe he’ll always want more than what he can have.

“Goodnight, Taehyung,” Jimin says in a pretty little breath. It’s familiar, it’s so familiar, just as familiar as staring at the back of Jimin’s neck with half-open eyes.

“Goodnight, Jiminnie,” Taehyung murmurs back.

And for a little while, drifting off to sleep, Taehyung lets himself find comfort in the press of them together, even though he knows full well how dangerous it is.

++

Jungkook bails on lunch the next day. His text saying so is short, but Taehyung doesn’t think much of it; Jungkook’s never been the best texter. What gives Taehyung pause is that the day after that, Jungkook doesn’t answer his text at all, and sends him to voicemail twice.

The thing is, Taehyung has known Jungkook for a long time, and he can smell his passive-aggression a mile away. The confusing part isn’t what Jungkook’s doing — he’s ignoring him, obviously — but why. He can’t think of any reason Jungkook has to be particularly upset with him. But clearly he is, so Taehyung decides that the rest of his Sunday will be spent addressing that.

They deal with these things differently, after all. Jungkook avoids conflict at all cost and Taehyung, a big believer in not beating around the bush, likes to face things head-on. And since Jungkook won’t take his fucking calls, he grabs his keys and heads out of his apartment with a sigh and a backpack slung over his shoulder, with the idea that even if Jungkook won’t see him, he can go to the little cafe down the street from his apartment and get some work done.

As it turns out, though, the backup plan wasn’t necessary. He rings Jungkook’s bell like normal and Jungkook lets him in like normal, and Taehyung’s almost wondering whether the last day was a fever dream before he catches sight of Jungkook’s sullen face as he opens his door.

“You’re mad at me,” Taehyung blurts out instantly, still standing outside Jungkook’s apartment door.

Jungkook, holding the door open in one hand, lets a wave of annoyance pass over his face. “I’m not mad at you.”

“Oh my god, you’re a horrible liar,” Taehyung says. Jungkook presses his lips together, irritated, but steps away from the door and lets Taehyung in. Taehyung looks down as he kicks off his shoes and finds a familiar pair of clunky sandals, endearingly out of season.

“Namjoon-hyung is here?” Taehyung asks.

“Namjoon-hyung is here,” Namjoon’s voice calls from around the corner. He pokes his head around it and gives Taehyung a little smile.

“Namjoon-hyung is here,” Jungkook agrees with a little sigh.

“So,” Taehyung starts in a voice that he knows is annoying. “To recap, you blew me off yesterday, and ignored me all day today, and you’re hanging out with Namjoon-hyung, and you’re not mad at me.”

Namjoon’s face goes pinched. “I hate watching you two argue. It’s like when you’re not sure if puppies are playing or hurting each other.”

“We’re not arguing, because I’m not mad at you,” Jungkook insists, shooting Taehyung an unimpressed glare.

Taehyung sighs, walking over to Jungkook’s sofa and sitting down. “Jungkookie, I just wanna know why you’re upset. I don’t want you to be mad at me. So let’s fast forward half an hour to the part where I wear you down and we deal with it.”

Jungkook crosses his arms at Taehyung and pouts in a way that Taehyung can’t help but to find cute, before he lets out a frustrated breath. Namjoon, from where he’s standing against the wall, looks between them. He keeps his eyes on Jungkook just long enough for Jungkook to meet his gaze and make a little noise like a complaint, and then Jungkook sighs again, sounding annoyed.

“This thing with Jimin is fucked, hyung,” Jungkook finally says as he looks back at Taehyung, his jaw set and serious.

Taehyung isn’t sure what he was expecting — maybe just some stupid slight he had committed carelessly, that he would apologize for and do better with next time. But he certainly wasn’t expecting this, for Jungkook to throw Jimin’s name at him like a knife. Out of the corner of his eye, Taehyung catches Namjoon let out a little sigh as he tips his head toward the floor.

“What do you mean?” Taehyung asks Jungkook quietly.

Jungkook’s jaw is still set, but he looks away from Taehyung when he says, “I had to watch what happened when he was gone, you know. I had to — I was the one who dealt with what happened when he left.”

“Hey,” Namjoon interjects, but his voice is soft. “I was there too.”

“I know,” Jungkook says back to him in a conciliatory grumble. “I know you were, but it was different. Me and Tae lived together, and I had to live with it.”

There’s a ball of guilt getting bigger and bigger in Taehyung’s stomach at the way Jungkook’s talking. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to be saying — there’s an apology making its way out of his mouth, the thousandth in a series that he’s given Jungkook for having to see all the awful, messy parts of him for so long. For having to spend his free time trying to put out buckets for all the leaks that Taehyung was springing, his whole foundation threatening to crumble from it.

“Sorry, I’m not trying to make you feel bad,” Jungkook says once he looks at Taehyung again. “I’m really not, I don’t...sorry. I shouldn’t have said —” he cuts off with a sigh, closing his eyes for a minute. “I just meant that I’ve seen every part of this. I saw you fall in love with him, and I saw what happened when he left. And you were so fucking sad, hyung.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees quietly, looking down at his knees on the couch. “I was.”

“He broke your heart,” Jungkook says. “I love Jimin, I’ve always loved Jimin, but I watched him break your heart, and that changes things.”

Taehyung looks up at Jungkook, furrows his eyebrows. “It’s not like he did it on purpose.”

Jungkook sighs again. “Yeah. I know.”

“It was my own fault, that my heart got broken,” Taehyung tells him, eyes still trained on the lint on the knee of his pants.

“Whose fault will it be this time?” Jungkook asks. At that, Taehyung picks his head up, looking at Jungkook sharply.

“It’s awful to watch you fall in love with him again,” Jungkook says quietly. There’s a hurt look on his face, and the guilt is starting to make Taehyung nauseous by now. “It’s so frustrating, hyung.”

“You don’t get it,” Taehyung says, voice soft mostly just because he’s afraid that if he speaks any louder, he’ll break. Maybe this conversation took him by surprise, but it’s so overdue that Taehyung feels everything he never said to Jungkook and Namjoon piling up high and threatening to topple over. “I don’t want it either.”

“Then stop!” Jungkook says, sounding angry again. “Stop — stop hanging all over him and holding his hand and letting him sit in your lap and call you pet names and all the shit — all the shit you’ve always let him do. Stop doing it back! Just stop, because it’s gonna get bad, hyung, it’s gonna get just as bad as it was before.”

“I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to — how to not want him,” Taehyung manages. He feels unwilling to hold himself back — if Jungkook wants to talk about this, then he’ll talk about this, all the ugly parts of this that he doesn’t know how to come to terms with. All the things he’s been trying not to say even to himself, because it all makes him feel so pathetic.

“I know it’s bad, I know it’s gonna be so bad, but having him again is like...it feels so good. I thought I was over it. I really did, I’d barely even thought about him in so long.” He takes a breath, looks down at his lap. “But it’s like I see him and I just can’t help it, I just don’t know how to. It’s so easy to forget about how bad it was, in the moment of it. Like, he smiles, and he holds my hand, and I can’t think about anything but that.” He feels a little sick to his stomach, and his eyes are blurry with quiet tears when he blinks, surprising him only a little. “I know it must sound so stupid. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like when he’s around, I feel like myself again.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says in a gentle voice, walking over and sitting down on the other end of the couch. “Tae, you can’t say that.”

“I know it’s fucked up,” Taehyung says sadly. “I know. But sometimes it feels like the realest part of me was the part that loved him.” He wipes his eyes, trying to stave off a real cry he feels bubbling in his chest.

From where Jungkook’s standing, Taehyung hears a sniffle, and when he looks over he finds Jungkook’s eyes wet, too. “I hate it when you cry,” Jungkook complains in a wobbly voice.

“Well, I don’t like it either,” Taehyung says, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes again. He sniffs, loud and ugly, and distantly thinks about how Jimin was the only person since his grandmother who would sit next to him while he cried, take his face in his hands and wipe away Taehyung’s tears with his thumbs while he said sweet, quiet things. The memory of it makes things worse, spurs a terrible ragged sob, and he buries his face in his hands for a moment to get himself back together.

When his breathing’s calmed back down a little, he moves his hands, but he doesn’t have it in him to look back up again. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice hoarse and wet. “I’m really sorry.”

“For what?” Namjoon asks quietly. At least he sounds stable. Taehyung knows Jungkook is crying now too, because he always cries when people cry.

“I don’t know, all of it. I’m sorry for putting you both through it the first time and I’m sorry — I’m sorry for how I’ve been since he’s come back. It’s hard for me too, to — to be like this again.” He balls his hands up, digs his nails into his palms. “We didn’t even know each other for that long. I only knew him for four years, but when he left, it was like — I had to figure out who I even was without him. And I did that, I thought, I worked so hard to do that, and now he’s back and I feel...I feel like maybe I was just lying to myself this whole time.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says again, and Taehyung looks up at him, feeling guilty. “You’re your own person. You’ve always been your own person, and I get that you didn’t feel like that when he first left, but. You were. And you are. You’re a different person than you were four years ago, too, you know. You grew a lot.”

“I don’t feel like it,” Taehyung tells him petulantly. “I feel like an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Jungkook chimes in, sniffing again. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that. I just don’t want to see you hurt again.”

Taehyung sighs, leans his body back so his head is hanging upside-down from the arm of Jungkook’s sofa. “I know I need to get it over with and talk to him. But it’s like...I just got him back, you know? I don’t want to lose him again.”

Namjoon and Jungkook are quiet, save for Jungkook’s soft sniffles, and Taehyung just stares at Jungkook’s upside-down wall, the upside-down poster hanging there.

“You don’t know that you'l lose him,” Namjoon offers finally.

Taehyung doesn’t move to look at him. “No, but I know that I might.”

Jungkook sighs big and heavy and stomps his way over to sit down between the two of them. “I just want you to be happy, hyung,” he says in a quiet voice.

Taehyung does sit up at that, blood rushing back down from his head. “I know. Thank you,” he says.

“Taehyung,” Namjoon starts, and Taehyung shifts his gaze over to see Namjoon’s furrowed brow. “I just...the longer you wait, the more it’ll hurt, if things turn out like you’re worried they will.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees easily. His tears have passed, leaving him damp and sad, and he nods. “Yeah, I know. Easier said than done, though, hyung.”

Namjoon nods at him. “Well. We’ll be here, no matter what happens.”

And Taehyung almost smiles at that — at the assurance that no matter what happens with Jimin, he has people who love him.

“Speak for yourself. Jungkook’s already ghosting me,” Taehyung jokes weakly, and Jungkook turns to him with the quickest offended expression Taehyung’s ever seen him muster.

“How dare you, how dare you —” he’s saying, reaching out to smack Taehyung’s shin.

Taehyung laughs, a familiar kind of joy at pestering Jungkook, and he does feel like himself. A welcome feeling.

++

Jimin found out he was leaving a month before he had to get on the plane, but nothing felt real until about three days beforehand. Jimin, ever-responsible, was living out of his suitcases by the last week, all his superfluous belongings donated or thrown away, and for the last three days, he wheeled himself into Taehyung and Jungkook’s apartment to stay. His own tiny studio apartment had been cleaned out top to bottom, thanks to a day the four of them gathered to scrub it (though Namjoon was mostly good for wiping down particularly tall surfaces.)

It was sad from the start, those three days. Every time one of them said something, it’s like they were trying to pick out thorns before anyone touched them. Everything had an unspoken ache to it, even when the three of them were all together. Namjoon stayed, too, for most of the time; Taehyung and Jungkook’s tiny apartment was stretched as far as they could get it, and it still wasn’t enough to escape the looming shadow of Jimin’s absence.

At night, Taehyund and Jimin crowded together, unspeaking, wrapped tight around each other as Taehyung tried not to count time, tried not to think forty-eight hours until he’s gone, a depressing inner monologue that he couldn’t quite manage to silence. There was nothing to say between them, so they stayed in the quiet and the dark.

Well, Taehyung thinks now — there was a lot to say, maybe. A lot of things Taehyung still doesn’t know how to.

Jimin’s flight was the cheapest one he could get, a red eye with at least three layovers. It meant Taehyung waking Jimin up at eleven PM after his attempted nap that Taehyung crashed, unwilling to sit by himself and leave Jimin alone in his bed. It meant Jimin looking up at him from under Taehyung’s blankets, puffy and bleary-eyed and sad, and Taehyung trying not to cry. Taehyung stayed in his bedroom while Jimin went to go say goodbye to Jungkook and Namjoon; Jungkook would cry, and Taehyung couldn’t stand to watch it.

It was just the two of them on the ride to Incheon that night, each of them wheeling one of Jimin’s big suitcases. They bought tickets for the cheaper train, which meant they were standing with the suitcases held steady between their feet in front of the packed seats, but Taehyung mostly remembers Jimin’s hand in his, the tight grip they shared as they looked out the windows.

The furthest Taehyung could go in the airport was just before security, and the sight of the line made Taehyung’s heart feel leaden in his chest. This was it, this was all he got, this was — this was Jimin, standing in front of him, purple shadows under his eyes and a far-away sad look on his face. It was all the parts of a boy he loved, round cheeks and pink lips and small hands all clutched together on the neck pillow he was holding. It was goodbye. Taehyung felt like he was going to collapse with the weight of it all.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jimin muttered, breaking the fifteen-minute silence since the last time one of them spoke.

“Yeah,” Taehyung agreed softly. “Me either.”

They were surrounded by people, even at the odd hour, but Taehyung barely noticed them. Barely noticed anything besides Jimin (Jimin, who was wearing a t-shirt stolen from Taehyung, whose eyes were pink from crying.)

“It’s not forever,” Jimin said. He had said it before, a couple days ago, in a scared-sounding whisper. Taehyung nodded.

“I know,” he said. It couldn’t be forever. It didn't feel possible for the two of them to ever say goodbye forever. But when you got so used to someone sticking to you close, warming you up before you even realized you were cold, it was impossible for it to not feel like a significant loss.

“You’re my best friend, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin said, his lips twitching into something resembling a smile for a moment.

Taehyung felt his eyes go wet, but he willed himself to keep it together, at least for the next few minutes. “You’re mine,” he said quietly in return.

They were standing close together, quiet, looking at each other like — like they did sometimes, a thing that Taehyung was always too afraid to question much. And Taehyung, despite his best efforts, wanted so badly to kiss Jimin. To hold his face in his hands and kiss him goodbye, the way that should make sense. The way they should be. It would be a perfect excuse, Taehyung thought desperately. He shifted forward, closer to Jimin, and Jimin just watched him without any surprise on his face.

Taehyung could do it. He could kiss him, if only just to say he’d done it once. This wasn't goodbye forever but it’s goodbye, it was something new and different and terrifying, and for once, Taehyung didn't have a guarantee that no matter what happened, Jimin would be at his side. The very least he could do was kiss him.

But, Taehyung thought, what hurts worse — to jump and fall, or to stand on the edge wondering? At least if he stayed on the edge, he didn't need to worry about how to survive after he got hurt. Taehyung moved forward again, wrapped Jimin in a hug with all he had. And he always found himself there, words jumbled and thoughts a mess, but at least he could rely on his hands to speak for him, to figure out what he wanted. Maybe he’d never be able to tell Jimin the way he loved him but at least he could wrap him up tight and desperate and convince himself that maybe Jimin already knew.

“Tae,” Jimin said, voice soft and sad in his ear, but Taehyung didn't let go. He didn't move for a long time, until he was sure people were looking at them, but fuck, what does it matter. He pulled back just slightly from Jimin, just enough to see him, and he knew that this was the moment where he had to choose how he was going to walk away.

In the end, the jump down just looked too scary. Taehyung kissed Jimin’s cheek, a quick thing, and Jimin barely even reacted.

“You’ll be great,” Taehyung said, trying to muster up a smile. He reached out and grabbed both of Jimin’s hands, for the last time in Taehyung didn't know how long, and tried so hard to seem happy.

“You’re so —” Jimin started, then turned his head for a moment. When he turned back, his eyes looked wet again. “I love you, Taehyung.”

“Love you too,” Taehyung said with that fake smile still on his face. “Good luck.”

“You too,” Jimin said back, voice soft.

Taehyung let go of his hands, and Jimin clenched his fists for a second before he took a step back, toward the line for security.

They didn't say goodbye after all. Jimin just brought a hand up and waved, looking so goddamn sad that Taehyung wanted to beg him not to go. He didn't though, of course. He just mirrored Jimin, bringing his own hand up in a wave. He stood at the edge of the cliff, looking down, and wondered if he missed his only chance to jump.

++

“I think it’s nice,” Taehyung comments, looking at the kitchen. “Roomy, for a studio.”

The real estate agent nods. “It is. And this building is brand new, so you have new appliances, everything is state of the art —” she’s cut off by the melodic ringtone of her cellphone, and she looks down at it briefly. “Ah, excuse me. You two look around, I’ll be right back.”

Jimin is wandering over to the windows, looking out. Taehyung walks over to join him. “Do you like it?” Taehyung asks curiously. Jimin isn’t very good at things like this; he’s too indecisive to be alone with salespeople, all he does is wear them out. When Jimin asked him to tag along, Taehyung knew why. He knows how Jimin thinks, or at least he used to.

“I think so,” Jimin says. “It’s weird, I never thought I would be...looking for somewhere permanent, in Seoul.”

Taehyung hums. “Thought you said nowhere was permanent for you.”

“Well,” Jimin says, “More permanent than I’m used to, anyway.” His arms are folded across his chest as he looks out at the city.

Taehyung looks at his profile, then back out the window. “How come you came back to Seoul, anyway?” He’s wondered for a while, but it always felt a little too close to the nerve they never touch. It feels relevant now though, as Jimin agonizes over his budget and rifles through savings to find an apartment in the most expensive city in the country.

Jimin chuckles. “Lots of reasons, I guess. I got used to it after a while, so familiarity. And of course, I knew you were still here.” He gives Taehyung a sidelong glance, a jokey little smirk on his face, but Taehyung just swallows.

“Do you mean that?” Taehyung asks. His voice stays casual, he’s careful of that, but. The longer you wait, the more it’ll hurt, that’s what Namjoon said to him last week, and he was right, Taehyung knows. And he’s not trying to put all this out in the open here, in this little studio apartment they’re touring, but maybe he can try to say some of it. A little of it. It’s not bravery as much as it is exhaustion.

But the real estate agent walks back in, her high heels noisy on the smooth floors, and she says, “So, what do you think?”

Jimin turns away from Taehyung, back to the realtor. “I like it, but I’d like to see a few more.”

“Sure, of course,” she says smoothly, smiling at both of them. “Let’s drive over to the next building.”

Taehyung’s question stays in that studio apartment, because Jimin doesn’t offer him an answer once they leave. That’s fine, Taehyung thinks. That’s okay. The answer scares him anyway. It’s for the best.

Sometime soon, though, Taehyung thinks as he looks at Jimin’s silhouette in front of the window of a different high rise, sometime soon he’s going to have to say a lot of things with scary answers. He has to.

Jimin turns around from where he was staring out of the window, a little smile on his face. “What do you think? Do you think I could live here?”

“Sure,” Taehyung answers easily. “I think it suits you.”

Jimin’s smile spreads, and he turns back to the window. “It’ll feel good. To have a real home again.”

“I’m glad you’re home,” Taehyung tells him, and tries not to catalogue all the minute ways Jimin’s expression changes.

Sometime soon, he reminds himself. Sometime soon, they’ll need to talk. But for now he walks over to the window, tries to get used to the view and the way Jimin feels standing beside him again.

Chapter Text

Taehyung thinks that things are pretty par for the course, as far as Jimin’s birthday is concerned. They’re on Homo Hill, they’re drunk, and Jimin is at the bar flirting with a bartender, so really everything feels eerily similar to Jimin’s last birthday in Seoul years ago. Except it was just the four of them that night, and tonight they’ve managed to drag Seokjin, Yoongi and Hoseok right along with them.

“I’m too old for this,” Seokjin complained as they walked into the club, but Taehyung thinks he looks in his element now, standing against the wall chatting with someone tall and handsome. Hoseok was dancing the last time Taehyung saw him, happy and loose, and Yoongi is sitting with Namjoon and Jungkook at a little table, both of them looking at him with big earnest drunk eyes all cute.

Taehyung’s perched at Jimin’s side, because of course he is. He’s not sure where else he would be. He has his fourth drink in his hand, and he’s tuning in and out of Jimin giggling at the bartender; he’s seen Jimin flirt with enough bartenders that it’s hard for it to catch his interest.

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says in a long, drawn-out whine. Cute, it’s really cute. Taehyung turns to him to find Jimin with his chin in his hand, looking over at Taehyung with a playful expression. “You look like you’re falling asleep.”

“I never drink anymore,” Taehyung says in explanation. He never liked the act of drinking much in the first place, and usually did it as the means to an end, but even the fun of being drunk lost its luster after a few years of nights like this, he thinks. It’s not something he makes a habit of, but it’s Jimin’s birthday, and this is tradition.

“You need to wake up, Taetae. You need to dance with me,” Jimin says. He stands up from his barstool to walk closer to Taehyung, to lean into his space.

It’s been like this all night, really. Jimin’s always been a good drinker, and after Seokjin looked thrilled to find someone who could actually keep up with him, the two of them proceeded to get riotously drunk very quickly. And Jimin drunk means Jimin loose-limbed and laughing sweetly, overly tactile and affectionate with everyone, but especially with Taehyung. Maybe it’s just because they’ve had so much practice with touching each other, because they know a thousand different ways to lean on each other’s shoulder and put a hand on each other’s waist. Taehyung doesn’t mind, really, but he keeps getting drunker and Jimin keeps himself close.

“You remember how good of a dancer I am,” Taehyung says with a quiet laugh. Jimin is standing in front of him, nudging his thighs apart to stand between them.

“Oh, you’re fine,” Jimin assures him with a bright smile. “You’re not nearly as bad as Joon-hyung.”

“Gee, thanks,” Taehyung says with a snort, but he’s smiling back at Jimin. Jimin wraps his arms around Taehyung’s neck, looking down at him all happy, and Taehyung would like very much for Jimin to keep smiling.

So they dance. They alternate between something silly, Taehyung putting on faces as he moves, and something more genuine. It’s not like it’s real dancing, just a sort of rhythmic club thing really, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jimin looks good doing it. He looks good smiling too, eyes mostly closed as he moves his body, grin wide. There’s sweat on his skin, Taehyung notices as he lets his body move with the music. He feels light, his limbs feel...not heavy enough. He wants another drink.

Taehyung stays on the dancefloor with Jimin for three songs before he leans in so Jimin can hear him, half-yells close to his ear, “I’m getting a drink.”

Jimin reaches his arms out to wrap around the back of Taehyung’s neck again, to clutch at him loosely. “You gotta come back though.”

“I’ll come back,” Taehyung says, trying not to lean overly into Jimin’s touch.

“Promise?” Jimin asks, pulling back to look at him with his big drunk smile. And Taehyung smiles back, even though it feels kind of hollow in his stomach.

“Promise,” he says. Jimin takes his arms back only to offer out his small pinky, face illuminated by a purple spotlight overhead. Taehyung puts his own pinky out to twist around Jimin’s, and they bring their knuckles together until their thumbs can touch.

Jimin giggles before letting his hand go, but Taehyung still feels the grip of it as he walks back over to the bar, waving to the bartender to grab their attention.

“Taehyung-ah,” a voice calls over to him, and Taehyung turns to see Seokjin a few people down, grabbing a glass off of the bar and walking over to him.

“Hyung,” Taehyung replies happily, smiling at the sight of him. Seokjin raises his eyebrows, must see something in Taehyung that he finds surprising.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you drunk,” Seokjin says with a smirking laugh.

“Nope,” Taehyung agrees good-naturedly. “Probably not.”

Seokjin hums, looking him over. “Well, make good choices.”

“What about you?” Taehyung asks, wiggling his eyebrows. “What choices are you making?”

Seokjin shrugs, tips his drink back into his mouth. “I think I may choose to get phenomenally railed by the guy with the cheekbones over there.” Seokjin gestures to the guy he’s been with off and on all night, and the guy happens to catch them looking, offers a little wave. He really does have nice cheekbones.

“Good for you,” Taehyung says, giving an amused laugh. It’s easy to be amused when he’s this drunk.

“It is good for me,” Seokjin agrees emphatically, posturing himself tall and arrogant like he likes to do sometimes. “Where’s birthday boy, anyway?”

“Dancing,” Taehyung answers easily. “Oh, I have to get back to him.”

“Weren’t you getting a drink?” Seokjin asks him with a snort. “Did you forget?”

“Oh,” Taehyung says again, turning back to the bar, confused, vaguely remembering that thought. “Right.”

“Make good choices, Taehyung-ah!” Seokjin says again, blowing him a kiss before walking off, back over to his own fixation for the night.

Taehyung doesn’t know what a good choice would be. He goes back to the bar, manages to successfully order and pay for another drink, and then he lets his body carry him back to Jimin. He promised, he promised Jimin, so he has to get back soon. Luckily, Jimin’s right where Taehyung left him, dancing on the outskirts of the main dancefloor, moving easily to the rhythm in a way that just looks good. When they were younger, Jimin would go out of his way to dress himself up for nights like this, in outfits Taehyung only ever saw him wear in nightclubs. Tonight, he’s dressed like normal, really. Jeans and a black t-shirt, loose on him but tucked in, his little black boots that he wears to death. It should be casual, but it just looks so good on him. Jimin’s charismatic enough to make anything look good on him, really. Taehyung never understood why he used to try so hard.

Jimin catches sight of him, then, and his face transforms into a smile big enough that his eyes are crinkled into crescents. Taehyung smiles back, inevitable, and takes another sip of his drink before he carries himself forward, unsteadily at best, toward Jimin.

“Taehyungie!” Jimin yells over the music with his wide smile still in place.

“Jiminnie,” Taehyung says through a laugh in return, letting Jimin crowd into his space. Jimin wraps arms around Taehyung’s middle and leans in close, face nuzzled into his neck, and Taehyung gulps, the sensation too strong with this much alcohol in his system.

“Missed you, honey,” Jimin says right in his ear, audible even over the music, and it’s like touching a live wire, the odd shock to his system it brings, the way it makes his mind go dumb and his stomach go sick.

In a split second, his mood shifts. This happens to him sometimes when he drinks too much; his whole body just tilts all of the sudden, and Taehyung feels decidedly off-center. The sugar from his drinks is making him nauseous, and Jimin’s so close, and Jimin called him honey, and all Taehyung can think about is the fact that everyone around them must think they’re a couple. Jimin’s leaned so close, close enough to kiss him — Taehyung looks down at his face, so close, so pretty, sweat on his skin, the pink of his lips and his cheeks, and he pulls back abruptly.

“Taehyungie?” Jimin asks, face tipped up toward his, and Taehyung swallows harshly.

“Feel really sick,” he replies in a rush, face hot. “I gotta go.”

Jimin’s face falls, and a new wave of nausea passes over Taehyung. He can’t deal with Jimin sad right now, he can’t deal with any of this. He needs to find — well, someone, someone who can help him deal with things. Namjoon, his brain supplies him. Namjoon will help, Namjoon helps. He stumbles back away from Jimin, wonders if he should apologize, but he can’t think about it right now. He has to find Namjoon.

He stumbles back off of the dancefloor, over in the direction of the table he saw Namjoon sitting at earlier, with Jungkook and Yoongi. Jungkook and Yoongi have wandered off now, but Namjoon is still there, sitting with Hoseok, the two of them sitting close. Taehyung feels a rush of relief at the sight of them, and he walks up decisively.

“Hyung,” he says, voice sounding too loud, but then, so does everything.

Namjoon and Hoseok stop talking, both look up at him immediately, and Taehyung sees concern on Namjoon’s face, confusion on Hoseok’s.

“What’s up?” Namjoon asks.

“I need to leave,” Taehyung says. And maybe it’s the worried tilt of Namjoon’s eyebrows, or maybe it’s the four and a half drinks, but he feels his eyes start to well up, tears held back. He doesn’t even know why, just — everything all at once feels terribly overwhelming, and he needs to get out.

Hoseok’s frowning now, and he nods. “Are you okay?”

“No,” Taehyung answers easily enough, feeling amused at the question, somewhere in his swimming head. He swallows, blinks his eyes in the hopes the tears there won’t fall, and watches Namjoon and Hoseok stand up together and gather around him without another word.

“Okay. Let’s go back to my apartment,” Hoseok is telling him with a hand on the small of his back, and Taehyung nods dumbly.

“Sorry,” he mutters, a misplaced apology, and Hoseok makes a dismissive noise in his throat.

“It’s fine, Taehyungie. Joon-ah, come on, help me take him home,” Hoseok says. Namjoon is hovering on Taehyung’s other side, and he walks alongside them as Hoseok leads Taehyung outside. Taehyung takes a gulp of cool air, feels the sweat on his skin go cold, and closes his eyes for a moment when they stop walking.

“Who let you drink so much, huh?” Hoseok asks, voice quiet and calm. It’s so comforting, Taehyung almost wants to cry again. He just shakes his head, leans forward to rest on Hoseok’s shoulder. He’s so tired, he feels so rotten inside, he just wants to close his eyes. He doesn’t keep track of Hoseok and Namjoon’s muttered conversation about a taxi, just waits, still, until Hoseok tells him to walk again.

In the quiet of the cab, with Taehyung sat between Hoseok and Namjoon, he lets out a heavy exhale. “Namjoon-hyung,” he says softly. “Can you tell Jimin I left?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees quietly. He has a hand on Taehyung’s knee, steady, and Hoseok has a hand in his hair, thumb stroking against the base of his neck, and it’s all just so...just so much.

“You’re both too nice,” Taehyung says quietly, sadly. He’s sad now, fully and all at once. Maybe this is why he stopped drinking, because it makes him feel so lost at sea, bouncing between emotions too fast and getting motion sickness.

“Aish, tell me about it,” Hoseok jokes, and then ruffles Taehyung’s hair. “Not to you, though.” He makes a little kissy noise next to Taehyung’s ear, and Taehyung lets out a soft little laugh. Namjoon just tightens his grip on Taehyung’s knee, leans his head against Taehyung’s shoulder, and Taehyung leans his head right back against Namjoon’s.

The next hour is a bit of a blur; Hoseok leads him up to his apartment, and then he’s being given pajamas and blankets and a little bottle of raisin tea to prevent a hangover, and mostly, Taehyung just lets Hoseok keep telling him what to do and where to go. Eventually, somehow, Taehyung finds himself tucked in on Hoseok’s couch, Namjoon hovering overtop of him and making sure there’s water on the coffee table for him.

“Hyung,” Taehyung mutters, and Namjoon looks down at him sweetly, and Taehyung kind of wants to cry again. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Namjoon asks, one corner of his lips turning up.

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says with a sigh. He closes his eyes for a moment. “Everything.”

“Yah,” Namjoon mutters weakly. “Don’t be silly.”

Taehyung laughs a little, blinking his eyes open heavily. “Okay,” he agrees, even though it feels like a lot to ask of him right now.

 

One minute there’s Namjoon, big round face haloed by the lamp in the corner of Hoseok’s living room, and the next minute, it’s morning. Well, the next minute, he’s aware that it is brighter than it was the last time he remembers being conscious. Drinking always makes time work funny. The light paired with his groggy hangover headache and sore neck convinces him that he was at least somewhat asleep for some amount of time, but it doesn’t exactly feel like it. There’s a fatigue in his brain and his bones, and he groans quietly to himself, rolling over on Hoseok’s couch. His eyes are still closed, and he thinks that’s a good thing right now, because he’s still not sure he even wants to be awake. If he had more energy, maybe he would make a mental pros and cons list, but as it is, he’ll just keep his eyes closed and see where he lands.

Taehyung’s eyes are still closed when he hears Hoseok’s voice, soft but carrying in his little apartment. Taehyung’s not even sure where it’s coming from, really, he just hears Hoseok ask, quietly, “What’s up with them, anyway?”

Taehyung wonders who he’s talking to, if he’s on the phone or something, but then he hears Namjoon’s voice answer, in similar hushed tones. “Don’t bring it up with him. He’s been dealing with it for years, the backstory is so —”

“No, I don’t need the backstory. I just mean...why aren’t they together? Jimin’s like, in love with him, right?”

His eyes crack open, and he stares at the back of Hoseok’s couch incredulously. First he was just incredulous because Namjoon is still here, Namjoon must have stayed the night, but then — well, then he had other things to be incredulous about.

Namjoon, from across the apartment somewhere, sighs. “I don’t know.”

Somehow, that response is comforting. At least he’s not the only one in the dark. He decides, though, that if Hoseok keeps going it’ll hurt his feelings to hear, so he chooses that moment to stretch his arms, yawning loudly and groaning at the feeling of his stiff muscles stretching.

“Is that my Taehyungie?” Hoseok calls in his noisiest, cutest voice, like he’s suddenly become aware that Taehyung was in the room.

“I guess,” Taehyung answers, rolling onto his back and groaning again. Now that he’s actually decided to be awake, his body has helpfully reminded him that he got drunk last night, and that he doesn’t usually handle that well. He feels mostly alright, but his mouth tastes like something died in it, and there’s a deep-seated kind of fatigue settled over him.

“Do you want coffee?” Hoseok asks, and Taehyung shakes his head.

“Don’t drink it,” Taehyung mutters, patting around his little messy blanket lump on the couch to find wherever the hell his phone went.

“Oh. Right,” Hoseok says, tilting his head with a frown. “Well, I’m gonna make some breakfast.”

Taehyung looks over at Hoseok, feeling warm over him and his oversized sweatpants. “I love you,” he says earnestly, and Hoseok winks, shooting him a little finger gun that turns into finger hearts.

Namjoon is standing leaned against the wall in the kitchen, and when Taehyung lets his gaze drift over to him, he looks like he’s avoiding Taehyung’s eye.

“Namjoon-hyung,” Taehyung calls, only a little bit to torture him, and watches as his cheeks go a little pink, like he’s been caught. “Do you know where my phone is?”

“Uh,” Namjoon says, looks like he’s thinking. “I think you had it when you were falling asleep. Is it in the couch cushions?”

“Come help me look,” Taehyung instructs him, and Namjoon sighs as he walks over, reaching out to move the blanket out of the way and feel around.

“You stayed over?” Taehyung whispers to him once he’s there, and Namjoon groans quietly.

“Stop,” he mutters with a little whine, “Nothing happened.”

“Something happened, or else you would have gone home,” Taehyung accuses softly, feeling around on the couch for his phone.

“We just talked!” Namjoon says defensively in an angry little whisper. Taehyung smiles at him.

“About what?” Taehyung asks, wiggling his face up close to Namjoon’s.

Namjoon’s cheeks are red. “Yah, Kim Taehyung,” he huffs, and then he makes a little “Aha!” noise as he pulls Taehyung’s phone out from under a throw pillow. He makes a face at Taehyung and then walks off, back toward Hoseok’s kitchen like there’s any reality where he helps Hoseok make breakfast.

Taehyung rolls his eyes, but decides to drop it despite his curiosity. He watches the boot-up screen on his phone, leaning back against Hoseok’s couch and trying not to think about the gross, fuzzy feeling in his head (from the drinks) or the vague ache in his chest (from everything else that happened last night.) He listens to the sing-songy way Hoseok talks instead, laughing as he hears Hoseok reprimand Namjoon for almost dropping an egg he was tasked with handing to Hoseok. It’s a weird warm thing, waking up in a friend’s home, and he hasn’t experienced it in a while. It makes him feel cared for, like he’s tucked away from the rest of the world in a way he thinks he might need at this particular moment in time.

He holds onto that feeling for exactly as long as it takes for his phone to turn on and show him nine missed calls and three voicemails, all from Jimin, between one and three in the morning. His heart sinks.

“Taehyungie! Taehyungie, Taehyungie, T’yungie —” There’s background noise that drowns him out for a moment, and then Jimin’s voice comes closer again. “Where’d you go? Joonie said you left. Did you leave? Come back out, Taehyungie, Jiminnie misses you.” Then the automated message of his voicemail. Taehyung presses the delete button.

“I miss you,” Jimin says in his second message, his voice a drunk whine. “Tae, I miss you. Nothing’s as fun without you. Come back to the bar, I’m still here, I’ll wait for you — yes I will. Don’t tell me what to do, Jeon Jung—” The call ends. Taehyung presses delete.

Jimin’s voice comes softer on the third message. “Taehyung-ah,” he starts, a quiet hum behind his voice like a car running. He pauses, long enough that Taehyung wonders if Jimin meant to call him at all, and then Jimin says, “Goodnight, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung sits on Hoseok’s couch, finger hovering over the delete button on his voicemail before he instead just hangs up, turns his phone screen off and closes his eyes for a moment. Part of him wants to lay back down, cover his head with the blanket, and just take a day off from his life. A day off from dealing with all of that. Let Hoseok make him breakfast and listen to him and Namjoon bicker about what movie to see in theaters next week and pretend for one day that he doesn’t have to deal with this.

But he thinks about last night, about the way he had to run with his tail between his legs, and then he thinks about last week, the night when Jimin fell asleep on his shoulder and Taehyung couldn’t convince himself to push Jimin off but had a pit in his stomach the whole time. He thinks about everything else, every little isolated incident he’s fixated on for years, and just...feels tired. He’s tired of keeping his hopes high on the surface and ignoring the problem. He’s tired of waking up lonely and having only himself to blame for it. He’s just tired. He needs to deal with this. He sighs again, rubs the sleep out of his eyes and the hair out of his face, and trudges up off of the couch.

“Hoseokie-hyung,” Taehyung says, walking over toward Hoseok’s back at the stove. “Can I borrow these clothes?” He isn’t sure where his from last night ended up, and regardless, he can think of few things he’d rather do less than put on his sweaty, tight-fitting club clothes right now.

Hoseok turns around, shooting Taehyung a confused look as he looks him over. “Yes, you’re absolutely free to borrow my 2009 Dance Retreat t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants covered in paint, Taehyung. Why, are you leaving?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. “I gotta go…” he ponders what to say for a moment, but he decides to say nothing at all, waving his hand in a gesture that hopefully Hoseok won’t follow up on. Namjoon’s looking at him keen-eyed, but Taehyung doesn’t explain any further. Namjoon can figure it out, anyway.

Hoseok hums, stirring his pot on the stove. “Alright. Good luck,” he says, and then he turns around, beckoning Taehyung over with a nod.

Taehyung squeezes between Namjoon and Hoseok into Hoseok’s little kitchen, and Hoseok grabs him into a hug, a big sweet one the way Hoseok likes to pretend he always is. He squeezes Taehyung, making a high-pitched little noise in his ear until Taehyung laughs, and then Hoseok kisses the top of his head.

“Take care of yourself, Tae,” Hoseok says quietly, astutely, and Taehyung so badly just wants to lean into him and not think about this.

Can’t, though. He sighs a little, pulls back and nods at Hoseok. “I will,” he says, because he’d like to believe it’s true. Namjoon reaches out and puts a hand in his hair from behind him, and Taehyung smiles a little to himself.

“See ya,” he says to Namjoon, turning to look at him, and Namjoon nods, looks at Taehyung like he gets it. He probably does.

When Taehyung walks out of Hoseok’s apartment, he breathes deep, cool air filling his lungs.

Alright, he thinks. Alright. And he’s off.

++

In their third year of university, Namjoon and Jungkook both got the flu in the span of the three days before Jimin’s birthday. This complicated things. At that point, they had a pretty standard Jimin Birthday Routine, and now Taehyung was left with the shell of a plan but no guests. It wouldn’t be as fun to go to their usual club without them, Taehyung figured, so he did his research on an alternative. They were really too young for the fancy rooftop bar Taehyung picked instead, but he thought Jimin would like it, and he was right.

They dressed up nice, in the only suit jackets they owned, and pretended they were real people. It was an odd change of pace — Taehyung was used to spending Jimin’s birthday drunk and messy, yelling at each other happily over the din of some DJ’s house playlist. He was used to Jimin flirting with bartenders and anyone else in his line of sight, Taehyung included. Then they would stumble back home, hands held, and fall asleep half-dressed because Jimin was too drunk to take off his faux-leather pants.

Instead, he found himself surrounded by a quiet, classy crowd of genuine adults, and they must have stuck out like sore thumbs, but Taehyung just remembers feeling grown-up. They stood on the roof even though it was a particularly cool October night, next to one of the patio heat lamps the bar put up there with cocktails in their hands that were triple the price they were used to. And Jimin looked happy, Taehyung remembers.

They stayed til late, later than most of the other patrons, and for a while the roof was sparse. That’s when they ended up at the corner of the roof, by themselves mostly; Taehyung was mostly sober, but Jimin was still at least a little drunk.

“What’s your favorite part of Seoul?” Jimin asked him, glancing away from the skyline in front of him to look at Taehyung.

Taehyung looked right back, at the way Jimin was backlit by city lights, at the way he styled his hair off his face, at the pretty look on his face. “You,” Taehyung said easily just to make Jimin smile. It worked, Taehyung noted with a smile as Jimin giggled, covering his mouth with his hand. Then he reached out toward Taehyung, wound their fingers together and pulled him closer.

They stood like that for a while. Close together, holding hands, looking out at the city — and Taehyung remembers thinking that maybe he could have this forever. That he’d be happy like that.

++

The trudge from Hoseok’s apartment across town to his own feels like its own kind of walk of shame. There’s something about being hungover in someone else’s sleep clothes on the metro that makes him feel kind of like someone who shouldn’t be there, like he stepped into a different reality by mistake. Maybe he should have had some of Hoseok’s coffee after all.

At the very least, the metro ride gives him time to think. To come up with a tentative plan of action.

Step one is to take a fucking shower, which helps. Taehyung’s always believed in the restorative properties of a good shower. Next is to dig out the old box he never fully unpacked from his last move, out of his shared apartment with Jungkook and into his own place. It’s stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere else — knick knacks he doesn’t want to put out but can’t bring himself to get rid of, weird stuff from school. And leaned up against the back of the large box shoved into his closet are a few old paintings. He has a couple of his own paintings hanging in his apartment, but only his favorites; Taehyung’s always thought that hanging your own artwork seems a little like narcissism. Still, there are some he wanted to keep. Most of the overlarge canvases he got rid of, but these were reasonable enough to keep stored.

The first one he recognizes from the year where he tried very hard to not look like Basquiat and still sort of looked like Basquiat sometimes. All odd faces and big colors. There are a couple others he leafs over, projects he was too proud of to give away. But he finds what he’s looking for soon enough.

He remembers it being bigger, but memories do that to things, he figures. It’s a field of wildflowers in reds and purples, their shape a little clumsy, but he liked to lean into that when he painted. The paint is thick and textured, but even more so on the sky, a swirl of dark blue and teal that spins into a yellow moon. There’s dots of white that look somewhere between flowers and stars, and Taehyung remembered thinking that it was lucky both would work. He remembers painting it, a weird starry night sky over the field he remembered in Daegu near his junior high, where all the boys would stomp on the flowers as they started to bloom every spring and all the girls would yell at them for it. More than painting it, though, he remembers Jimin seeing it.

In retrospect, it’s easy to feel embarrassed over the sweet way Jimin would handle Taehyung back then. Hug around him and mutter in a quiet, awed voice, “Wow, Taehyungie. I think it’s beautiful.” He remembers Jimin inching a hand out to touch the strokes of paint, hardened and dry by the time Jimin saw it, but he was delicate anyway. That’s how Jimin always was with Taehyung, gentle and steady.

Anyway. Taehyung swallows, shakes his head. Anyway.

From a nearby plastic tub full of weird odds and ends, Taehyung grabs a roll of silver ribbon he bought years ago and ties his best bow around the painting, trying to make it even the way Jungkook’s always are. It’s not much, really, but he thinks he likes it. He likes it even as he shoves it into a reusable shopping bag before he heads out the door again.

Jimin made it back to his own apartment last night, Jungkook informed him earlier, though Taehyung’s guessing it was a struggle, judging from the number of knife emojis Jungkook used. Taehyung should probably call to be sure he’s home, but he doesn’t, too worried it’ll put him even more on edge than he is currently. Instead, he shows up entirely unannounced, feeling vaguely like he’s out of his mind as he punches in the keycode to Jimin’s apartment building.

When Jimin comes to the door in response to Taehyung’s knock, it’s almost a relief how awful he looks. It’s nearly one in the afternoon, but he looks like he might have just woken up; his face is puffy with dark bags under his eyes, and he’s wearing a t-shirt backwards with a big stain on the front, maybe coffee.

Jimin eyes him over, looking deeply confused, and Taehyung smiles sheepishly. “Hi,” he says, offering a little wave.

Jimin keeps staring at him. “Are you supposed to be here? Is this a plan I made?” He asks, sounding equal parts confused and tired.

“Oh,” Taehyung says, momentarily amused. “No, sorry. I just, uh, came by. I have a gift for you?” He tries, hoping that will make sense to Jimin’s hungover brain.

“Okay,” Jimin murmurs, sounding like he might still be a little lost, backing up and letting Taehyung in. “Sure. Hi, Tae,” he says finally, patting him on the back briefly.

“Last night finished up well for you, then,” Taehyung says with a little huff of laughter.

“Yeah, so well,” Jimin says sarcastically, rubbing his face. “Turns out I’m too old for this shit now. I’ve been nauseous since I woke up and I have a migraine,” Jimin whines, his hangover specialty, and Taehyung is almost endeared by the familiarity.

Taehyung steps into Jimin’s new apartment properly, which looks about the same as it did two weeks ago when he moved in. There’s a few boxes of his stuff, most of everything he owns, piled up in a corner, but otherwise the little studio is sparse. The only furniture he has so far is a mattress, a clothing rack, and an arm chair they found at a vintage shop last week. (And Jimin’s taste usually skews more modern, but he looked pleased when Taehyung showed him the chair, and there was that inescapable rush of happiness that Taehyung feels anytime Jimin is pleased with him; Taehyung was glad he ended up getting it.)

“You look like you woke up about twenty minutes ago,” Taehyung tells him with a snort. Jimin glares, face sour.

“Thanks,” he says, making a face at him, but he softens after a moment. “Are you alright? Weren’t you sick last night?”

“Ah,” Taehyung says, a pit in his stomach. “Yeah, I wasn’t feeling well. Hoseokie took me home.”

Jimin hums. “I’m glad you’re better off than I am.”

Taehyung laughs, and then, because sometimes he can’t help himself from pressing down on a bruise, he says, “You called me last night.”

Jimin pauses, looking back at him with an unreadable expression. “Oh. Did I?”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, his words feeling weird and hollow and loaded, like if he says the wrong thing, he’ll accidentally hurt himself in the process. Jimin just looks at him, nods before giving him an apologetic kind of smile. “Hope I wasn’t too embarrassing.”

“You’re always embarrassing,” Taehyung tells him with a smirk, and Jimin rolls his eyes again, walks up to him and hip-checks him a little bit before reaching for the shopping bag in Taehyung’s hand.

“Didn’t you say you had a gift for me? Or are you just here to add insult to injury?” Jimin asks, whine still in his voice, and Taehyung laughs as he pulls the bag back out of his reach again.

“You don’t get to call it injury when you’re the one who did it to yourself,” Taehyung says, lifting the bag up over his head so Jimin can’t grab it.

“Stop being mean to me, I’m delicate,” Jimin complains, giving up on reaching for it relatively quickly.

Taehyung rolls his eyes, though his fondness is unavoidable. He takes a step back from Jimin, puts a hand on his shoulder to steady him. “Alright, alright.” He sets his bag down on Jimin’s kitchen counter and pulls the painting out in one sweeping motion, suddenly nervous about it for a reason he can’t really place. Maybe he’s just nervous about everything right now. Regardless, though, he gathers the strength to look up at Jimin once he’s holding the painting wrapped in its bow, and he finds Jimin looking surprised.

“Oh, Taehyungie,” Jimin says softly, stepping toward him to take the painting. “Taehyungie, you’re so sweet.”

The words make Taehyung feel a little nauseous himself, but he can’t help but feel warm at that. Jimin’s looking over every inch of the canvas, that careful way he’s always looked at anything Taehyung made, and then he looks back up at Taehyung.

“You really found it for me?” Jimin asks, voice light and sweet and so — so easy to fall in love with, Taehyung thinks. He swallows, nods. “Yeah. Yeah, of course,” he mutters, feeling flustered. “Do you still like it?” He jokes.

“Of course I do,” Jimin says softly, looking back at the painting again. “Ah, how nice to have some art to hang,” he says with a little laugh. “Thank you, Taehyung.”

Jimin looks touched, all soft around the edges, and Taehyung...well, he reminds himself why he came here in the first place, and he suddenly can feel all the weight of his own nerves. Rip it off like a bandage, he thinks to himself. There’s no right time, is there? He’s waited long enough for a right time, anyway, even if there was one. Maybe it happened years ago, maybe it flew right by him while he was too distracted to notice, busy playing with Jimin’s fingertips just because he could.

But here he is, in a very much not-right time, looking at Park Jimin and wishing he could kiss him. So he thinks this is as good a time as any.

“Hey,” he starts, then feels his entire body recoil as Jimin looks up at him. “Actually, can we, ah...talk?”

Jimin furrows his eyebrows but he nods, setting the painting down. Taehyung grips awkwardly at the straps of his shopping bag, head trying to sort out some words to say with not enough time to really do it well. And why didn’t he prepare this part? Why didn’t he think of something to say? Why was he so concerned with so much else, when the words were always going to be the worst part?

He huffs a breath out, tries to just hurtle past every single doubt staring him in the face, before he looks up at Jimin again. “Jimin, I…” (And what should go next, he wonders? Like you? That feels childish, doesn’t it? He can’t say love you, not like this, not after so long.) “I have feelings for you,” he lands on uncertainly. He has to stop himself from wincing as he says it, but he makes it, the words hanging out in front of him unsteadily. After a moment, a beat of silence, he glances up at Jimin properly, feeling sort of like the ground under his feet might break at any moment.

The expression on Jimin’s face is...hard to read. Is that...concern? Taehyung wonders, feeling frantic at the thought, but then — then Jimin’s eyes go wide and he bolts from the room. For a second Taehyung prepares to really panic, but then comes the sound of running feet on tile, and then the extremely unfortunate noise of Jimin throwing up into his toilet.

Ah, he thinks, before his mind promptly goes entirely blank. Maybe when he looks back on this, the soundtrack of a love confession followed by the loud, horrible sound of vomiting will be funny. Of course, that assumes a future where Taehyung isn’t absolutely humiliated by every single second of this, and at the moment he feels like that’s maybe a little generous of an assumption.

Taehyung stands there in Jimin’s kitchen, frozen for a moment before his base human instincts push him to go to the sink, get a glass of water for Jimin. Distantly, he can hear the sound of the toilet flush, and then the bathroom sink run, and Taehyung isn’t sure if he’s glad for that or not because it means Jimin will come back out here soon, and he’ll have to deal with the fallout of this properly.

When Jimin walks back out, his face looks pale and shell-shocked, and Taehyung feels like he’s been punched at the sight of it. He extends his arm automatically, like a well-programmed robot, and Jimin takes the glass of water from him.

“Uh,” Jimin starts, voice quiet. “Sorry. That wasn’t, um...I...sorry,” he says, sounding uncomfortable.

“No, right. Of course,” Taehyung responds dumbly, because he’s not sure what else he could say.

“Okay. You...feelings?” Jimin asks him, his pitch going up. “What kind of feelings?”

Taehyung wonders if he’ll vomit next. “Well,” he says awkwardly, “The romantic kind.”

“Right,” Jimin says again, nodding, before gulping down a bunch of water. He nods again, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, then looks up at Taehyung. His expression is visibly nervous, and Taehyung’s heart sinks.

“Taehyungie,” Jimin starts, voice sounding apologetic already, and oh my god, Taehyung cannot fucking cry right now, he cannot fucking cry right now, he cannot — “I really don’t know how to respond to that,” Jimin says, cutting off Taehyung’s own internal monologue.

“Ah,” Taehyung manages, giving his own nod. “That’s — I mean...that’s...fine.” He aims for something like an apologetic smile, but it must fail miserably, because Jimin looks immediately worried.

“Oh no,” Jimin mutters, stepping forward and hugging Taehyung tightly. It’s fast enough that Taehyung doesn’t see it coming, and he doesn’t have anything to do but just be held in Jimin’s arms, not sure if he’s allowed to reciprocate in this moment. “Oh Taehyungie, I’m really sorry, I just…” Jimin pulls back, looks up at him so close. He smells like toothpaste.

“Taehyung, you’re my best friend,” Jimin tells him. “No matter what you’ll always be my best friend. Right?”

“Right. Yeah,” Taehyung says stiffly, nodding. “Sorry to...to burden you with this.”

“You’re not a burden,” Jimin says, voice so gentle. He reaches up a hand to stroke over Taehyung’s hair, lets it rest on Taehyung’s cheek before he pulls it back, and Taehyung, for the first time in all of this mess, lets himself wonder if you can touch me like that, shouldn’t you love me back?

“I’ll go,” Taehyung says, afraid if he stays any longer he really will cry. He sees Jimin’s face fall again, concern etched onto it, so he shakes his head. “It’s okay, Jimin. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay.”

Jimin nods, but he looks unconvinced. “Okay,” he says, voice almost a whisper.

“Feel better, okay?” Taehyung says, trying again to wear something like a smile. “I’ll see you soon.”

And Jimin’s expression, worried eyebrows knitted together, the sad line of his mouth, stays right in the front of Taehyung’s mind for his whole numb train ride home.

 

Taehyung spends the rest of the day in bed, and finds that he doesn’t even remember much of getting home.

He remembers Jimin’s hand on his face. He remembers Jimin’s frown. He remembers Jimin’s voice when he said Taehyungie, sounding so fucking sorry. And sure, Taehyung was nervous, has been nervous for years, has been so afraid of this moment, but he thought — well, it’s just that he thought…he sighs to himself, lying under his sheets.

He remembers that night in the damn airport, thinking surely we’ll end up back together, though. Just so certain, like Jimin always made him feel. Sure, this now, but later, you. Later, us.

But it’s later, Taehyung figures. It’s later, and the universe put Jimin back into his life, and Jimin said no.

He pulls the blanket over his head and tries very hard to think of absolutely nothing at all. To think of anything besides Jimin’s hand, Jimin’s face, Jimin’s sad little voice. It’s pathetic, this whole thing, but he lets himself lie there anyway. And he stays there, feeling numb, until he hears his own front door opening, and he sits up with a pang of fear.

Of all days to get robbed, he thinks to himself, but then he hears a voice yell, “Yah! Hyung!” And he brings a hand to his chest, letting out a breath. It’s Jungkook. Of course it’s Jungkook.

There’s the noise of Jungkook setting something down on Taehyung’s kitchen table, a loud familiar clatter, and then Jungkook is stomping his way back toward Taehyung’s bedroom. The image that Jungkook gets to take in once he gets to Taehyung’s doorway is a good one, Taehyung’s sure, judging from the deep sigh Jungkook gives.

“Yeah,” Jungkook says with his heavy exhale, putting his hands on his hips and nodding to himself before he stomps on ahead into Taehyung’s room and bounds into his bed.

“What are you doing here?” Taehyung asks as Jungkook straightens out Taehyung’s blanket. Jungkook pushes his shoulder down onto the bed before he collapses into Taehyung’s side, burying his face in Taehyung’s neck aggressively, like an oversized puppy.

“I’m very intuitive,” Jungkook tells him, voice muffled, and Taehyung actually snorts. “Namjoon told me,” he admits after a moment.

Right, Namjoon — he texted Taehyung “fighting!!” with no context as Taehyung was moping his way back home (because apparently Taehyung was plenty transparent at Hoseok’s this morning), and Taehyung, in a fit of self-pity, just replied “too late.” Namjoon, in his infinite wisdom, must have understood that just fine, because here they are.

“Great,” Taehyung intones miserably, and Jungkook bites him, right on the neck. “Yah, what was that for?” Taehyung whines.

“Sorry, it just felt right,” Jungkook tells him. He pulls his face up, looking down at Taehyung. “I brought food to make you dinner.”

“Oh, god,” Taehyung moans. “Are things that dire?”

“Look, you’re going to let me take care of you or I’m going to tie you down and make you let me take care of you,” Jungkook tells him with a little huff.

“Sounds sexy,” Taehyung answers.

“Hey,” Jungkook tells him, looking at him more seriously. “You don’t need to pretend to be okay right now, you know.”

Taehyung swallows, looking up at him. “Okay,” he says.

Jungkook nods down at him before he pulls himself up the rest of the way, sitting on his knees straddled over Taehyung. “Come on. Come lay on the couch while I cook, at least.”

Taehyung does; he follows behind Jungkook, blanket slung over his shoulders still, and settles himself onto his couch while he listens to Jungkook sing every ballad he can think of from memory as he chops onions. And Taehyung realizes, suddenly, how familiar this is. How much it feels like the few days after Jimin left, with Taehyung numb and sad and Jungkook a warm presence just over his shoulder, humming whatever song was stuck in his head and making extra ramen for Taehyung at dinner because Taehyung couldn’t make himself get out of bed.

That, more than anything else, is what makes Taehyung’s eyes finally well up as he’s lying there. He’s quiet about it, not wanting to elicit any more pity than he already has today, but after hours of feeling deflated and empty and numb, he finally lets himself cry a little. He watches the line of Jungkook’s shoulders in his oversized black t-shirt and he wipes at his eyes every few minutes, feeling a sort of single-minded self-pity. He’s sure Jungkook notices — Jungkook is good at noticing things — but he doesn’t comment on it, continuing to hum to himself as he cooks.

Some twenty minutes or so later, Jungkook calls, “Taehyung-ah. Come over here, get some food.” And Taehyung picks himself up, wipes at his eyes again where they’re wet, still wet, still crying in that quiet way where he feels like it won’t end anytime soon. But Jungkook seeing him crying is the least of his worries so he does what Jungkook asks, walks over and reaches out to take the bowl he saw Jungkook holding, chopsticks resting against the side. Jungkook isn’t holding it anymore, though, Taehyung realizes in the split second it takes for Jungkook to wrap him in a hug.

Taehyung makes a wet noise, sort of involuntarily. Gross. “Sorry,” he mutters in a warbled voice.

“Shut up,” Jungkook tells him in a grunt as he hugs Taehyung tighter.

“I’m gonna get snot on you,” Taehyung grumbles against Jungkook’s shoulder.

“I said shut up,” Jungkook says, pinching his back. Taehyung makes a noise of complaint, but stops talking. He lets himself just stand there and breathe, tears falling half-heartedly down his face.

“You always apologize. Stop apologizing,” Jungkook tells him, voice muffled. “It’s not a big deal. I love you, don’t I?”

Taehyung doesn’t respond, except to hug Jungkook back properly, closing his eyes for a moment.

Jungkook balls a fist in Taehyung’s shirt. “I’m really sorry, hyung. I’m really sorry you’re hurt.”

Taehyung pulls back, looks at Jungkook, vision a little blurry from crying. “Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung says in a low voice. “Be honest. Did you think...did you think that it would work out? Me and Jimin?” Getting the words out hurts a little, like they’re barbed, but he just...needs to know. Wants so badly to know if he was out of his mind this whole time, crazy for even hoping.

Jungkook looks away for a moment, eyes watery like he always gets when someone cries. “Hyung, do you really want me to answer that?” Jungkook asks, eyebrows furrowed when he looks back at Taehyung.

“Yes,” Taehyung answers him, not looking away from his eyes. “I won’t ask you about it again. I just want to know.”

Jungkook sighs, brings a hand up to wipe his face. “Yeah,” Jungkook says finally, arms crossed in front of his chest. “I did.”

Taehyung looks down at the floor, breaking their eye contact. “Me too.” He sniffs, wiping his face with his sleeve. Jungkook reaches over to the kitchen counter and grabs a paper towel, handing it to him.

“Come eat something, okay?” Jungkook says. “You’ll feel better.”

Taehyung nods. Wipes his face off and lets Jungkook lead him by the hand to the table. Jungkook puts on a radio show while they eat, and he doesn’t leave Taehyung’s side, pressed against Taehyung despite all the room at the table.

Eventually, he thinks to himself, taking a bite of the dinner Jungkook made him. Maybe eventually, someday, he will feel better. He supposes he doesn’t have much choice but to believe it.

++

Everyone always says the risk of a confession is worth it. That the potential good outweighs the bad. He thought it to himself for years, about how it would never be as bad as his nightmare scenario, so he might as well do it. And maybe it’s still not quite that bad — after all, the real nightmare scenario was their friendship ending all over again. They’re not there. But Taehyung has learned, in the last month, that they grey area just short of nightmare isn’t great.

After Jimin’s birthday, they stopped...talking as much. Their hourly messages turned to daily, turned to once weekly, and everything started to feel strange.

They haven’t spoken about it. That’s one strange thing. Neither of them have mentioned anything happening at all, like it was all a weird hangover fever dream, and sometimes he wishes he could believe it was. Unfortunately, he can still conjure up all the gory details, so he’s well aware that it did, in fact, happen.

The others are aware too, at least vaguely. Taehyung doesn’t think Namjoon or Jungkook explained anything in full to them, or even gave them the whole story, but they’ve all figured it out at least a little. But it goes unspoken, less of an elephant in the room and more like a house cat they all keep getting startled by, sneaking up on them at inopportune moments.

The thing is, no one tells you how to navigate these situations. So he tends to fall back on his most reliable skill, lying. Acting. It’s easy to pretend everything’s normal with Jimin, at least in the moment, when he doesn’t have to think about it because there are other people’s eyes on him. The two of them know how to be Taehyung-and-Jimin so well, who bicker and finish each other’s sentences and flirt a little, just for show. So that’s what they are. A performance of sameness, of affectionate push and pull, all right there on the surface for everyone to see. It’s easier, Taehyung finds, to pretend that he can forget what happened when they’re in public. When they’re around the others, it’s almost like he can believe them. And he likes it; he's not sure that he's supposed to like it, but it feels good. It always, always feels good to slot perfectly into place against Jimin.

But then, when the group dissolves at the end of the night, there’s an instant burst of panic as the five of them try to do the math on how they can make sure Taehyung and Jimin don’t end up alone together. Taehyung knows it, Jimin knows it, and they both pretend they don’t. It’s easier that way, and it feels better than the alternative. Then Taehyung goes home, thinks about the way Jimin sat in his lap when he was making some joke about musical chairs, thinks about the way Jimin put on a voice to ask Taehyung, “Yah, are you single?” With a laugh and a wink. Taehyung laughed along in the moment, turning his voice funny to play along, the eyes of an audience on him. Taehyung thinks about it, wonders if it was always a joke for Jimin.

Sometimes, Taehyung thinks, it really didn’t feel like a joke.

It’s hard not to fixate on those things now, especially when he’s alone. On all the times when Taehyung was almost sure Jimin must have been feeling the same way he was. In love, but nervous, too afraid to say it out loud. Unsure of how to really face it. All the quiet moments where Jimin called him something too sweet to be friendly, where he ran his fingertips across the nape of Taehyung’s neck, where he doted on him, where he looked at Taehyung like it was real.

By their third group gathering in a month, only the fourth or fifth time Taehyung has seen Jimin since his birthday, it’s starting to leave an ugly bitter taste in the back of his throat, which almost feels unfair. It's not like this is Jimin's fault, Jimin's idea - they both play along in equal measure. Sometimes Taehyung even initiates things, calls Jimin a pet name, compliments him easily like he always has. But it's starting to burn, even when he basks in the momentary happiness it allows. Before, before Taehyung’s botched confession and everything that followed, it was different. There was a glimmer of hope as Jimin kissed his cheek and held his hand, a little thrill of affirmation, of he might really like me. With that gone, Taehyung starts to wonder — if Jimin doesn’t love him, then what is he after? What’s in it for him? The praise? The attention? The way Taehyung has always oriented himself toward Jimin, the way Jimin has made himself the center of Taehyung’s orbit? It feels ugly, that thought, and he knows that can't be it. He knows Jimin, and he's better than that. But this act between them is starting to turn on him, he finds, make him feel bitter in a way he doesn't like. The grey area is hard. Ignoring this, he’s finding, is getting hard.

They’re at a bar tonight, the seven of them, a few of them with beers, a few with soju. Taehyung runs his finger down the side of his water glass in front of him on the table, collecting condensation with his fingertip. He feels burnt out, no energy to be particularly outgoing tonight, even though he’s barely seen anyone in two weeks. He hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

He’s not paying much attention to the story Jimin is telling, or to Yoongi’s jokes while he’s telling it. It’s some work story, Taehyung thinks, about a dance student; he’s been tuning in and out. “I told her I was flattered, but that it couldn’t work out,” Jimin says with a laugh. “I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or anything. She’s just a kid, I remember having crushes on teachers when I was that age. It’s kind of sweet, right?”

“It’s only sweet if she grows out of it,” Jungkook says, and Hoseok makes a noise of agreement.

“Come on, who wouldn’t grow out of a crush on Jimin?” Yoongi teases. “Everyone has to come to their senses eventually.”

“Hey!” Jimin exclaims in an offended voice. “I’ll have you know I’ve seduced many people for life.”

“Totally,” Yoongi says sarcastically. Taehyung connects two water droplets on his glass, watching them combine and fall down rapidly.

“I have! Really! I’ll even present my first piece of evidence: my lifelong husband, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says, and Taehyung is startled enough to hear his own name that he looks up, right at Jimin flourishing his hands at him.

The table goes quiet — for once, it seems, they’ve stumbled too close to the truth for anyone to know what to do with it. Jimin’s flourishing hands drop awkwardly in the moment of silence.

Taehyung swallows, unable to look away from Jimin suddenly, and feels his face getting hot. It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? This whole thing. It’s so embarrassing that all of his friends know he’s in love with Jimin, and that he doesn’t love Taehyung back. They know and they watch them play-act like this, and — Taehyung’s just so tired, suddenly, of making a fool of himself. Of feeling pitied by just about everyone, and pretending like it’s not happening. Of both of them trying to create normalcy for the sake of their audience, and dropping it when the night ends. He tightens his jaw, and then he says, “I’m not your husband. I’m not your boyfriend.”

Jimin’s face falls, eyes going wide, and the awkward silence at the table extends uncomfortably. Taehyung is disappointed to find that if anything, he only feels more embarrassed now. Maybe even humiliated. He stands up abruptly, not sure of his plan, but sure that he needs to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. He walks decisively toward the door, shoving his jacket on as he pushes outside and takes a deep cold breath. He stands out there in the cold, just breathing, before he walks around to the side of the building to avoid his problems in peace.

After a couple minutes, a figure walks toward him, and Taehyung doesn’t say anything as Yoongi leans against the wall next to him, shaking a cigarette out of a pack into his hand.

“You want one?” Yoongi asks, and Taehyung just shakes his head. Yoongi hums in acknowledgement, and Taehyung listens to him spark a lighter and take a drag, sort of a comfortable familiar sound. Taehyung keeps waiting for Yoongi to say something, something smart that will maybe make him feel better, but it doesn’t come. Yoongi lets them stay quiet, just the noise of him smoking and people walking by on the street. Minutes tick by, and Yoongi finishes his cigarette, turning to put the butt out on the brick wall behind them.

Taehyung is starting to wonder what his next move is here, what exactly he’s planning to do about all of this, when it’s decided for him. Jimin turns the corner, looking between him and Yoongi with furrowed eyebrows.

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says after a moment of hesitation. “Can I talk to you?”

Taehyung folds his arms to have something to do with them, feeling tired. “I don’t want to talk right now, Jimin.” He’s looking down at the ground, because he just doesn’t have the energy for this right now. He just — can’t do this right now. Yoongi is leaned against him almost, a warm presence, and that at least is reassuring. Taehyung thinks about Jimin calling Yoongi protective, the first time they all met; maybe he had a point.

Jimin sighs, shoulders drooping. “Tae, I just wanted to — can we please talk in private for a second?”

Yoongi, for the first time since he offered Taehyung a cigarette, speaks. “Clearly he doesn’t want to,” Yoongi says in a flat voice. Taehyung glances at him, a little surprised, but Yoongi’s expression is neutral.

Jimin, on the other hand, looks angry in a way that Taehyung recognizes easily. He always did have a quick temper. “This is really none of your business, hyung,” Jimin says, voice gone a little cold.

Yoongi raises an eyebrow. “I’m just trying to keep the peace. He said he didn’t want to talk to you.”

“He can speak for himself,” Jimin argues.

Yoongi just snorts, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes. “Clearly. We all heard him speak for himself when he told you he’s not your fucking boyfriend.” Taehyung furrows his eyebrows at Yoongi, but doesn’t stop him.

Jimin’s expression has only gotten more annoyed, a side of him that Taehyung hasn’t seen in years. “He’s not yours, either.”

“And I had the good sense to stop flirting with him in public once we figured that out, thanks,” Yoongi says in a patronizing voice, eyes narrowed slightly at Jimin.

“Hyung,” Taehyung interrupts finally, not wanting to hear any more, voice betraying his hurt.

Yoongi looks at him quickly, face sagging with guilt. “Sorry," he says after a moment, voice quiet. "Sorry, Taehyung.”

Taehyung shakes his head, sighs a little. “It’s fine,” he mutters. Just because he didn’t want to hear it didn’t mean Yoongi was wrong, really.

“I’ll...do you want me to stay, or go?” Yoongi asks Taehyung quietly, turned to him like Jimin isn’t there. Taehyung looks him over, uncertain, but this is inevitable, isn’t it?

“Go. We’ll be fine,” Taehyung tells him in a soft voice. Yoongi nods, looking up at Taehyung for a beat too long before he walks off, not sparing a look at Jimin, who’s stepping closer to Taehyung.

“So, uh,” Jimin starts, the anger starting to dissipate from his expression. And then he pauses, like he doesn’t know what to say next, and Taehyung — Taehyung snaps, a little.

“We need to stop,” he says. Jimin looks at him, face blank, like he doesn’t get it. “It’s starting to hurt, Jimin. To look and act like we’re together, when I know we aren’t.”

“We’re acting how we’ve always acted,” Jimin says, voice quiet, expression a little sad.

“That was before you knew I was — I had feelings. For you,” Taehyung says, only barely dodging the word “love” and feeling on-edge about it. “It’s different. You have to know that it’s different now.”

“I’m...sorry,” Jimin says eventually, sounding the part. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t...I wasn’t thinking.”

Taehyung looks at Jimin, the downturn of his lips, the way he can’t look Taehyung in the eye. It hurts. Of course it hurts. It hurts so badly to be in love with someone who can’t look you in the eye. “I think we need to take...I don’t know. A step back, or something. I can’t do all this, Jimin.” His own voice sounds sad, he notices, way more distantly than he should. “I can’t pretend like nothing happened anymore.”

“Okay,” Jimin says. His voice his soft, and when Taehyung looks at him, he looks so sad. There’s a pit in Taehyung’s stomach at the sight of it; it’s always so disorienting, to see the person who’s always taken care of you look so upset. An uncomfortable role reversal that Taehyung finds almost impossible to think about right now without feeling incredibly guilty. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Taehyung.”

“I know,” Taehyung tells him. “It’s okay.” And he’s not sure if that’s true or not, but he figures it will be, eventually. Hopefully, maybe. He swallows. “I want to be your friend. I don’t want what happened before.”

“Me either,” Jimin agrees.

“I don’t know how to...to work through this, I guess. So I need to figure that out. I just can’t do both at the same time, Jimin,” Taehyung says. He feels a little bit like every feeling he’s had in the last month is swirling around his brain at once, a mixture of guilt and self-pity and confusion and desperation for things to just go back to normal. But when you’re in love with someone for most of your friendship, he’s not sure what normal even is. He doesn’t know where to start, and everything just keeps getting muddier

“I’ll be here,” Jimin tells him, his mouth lifting into an almost-there smile. “I’m not going anywhere. And if I can do anything —”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I...sorry, but you kind of can’t.”

Jimin nods, looking slightly uncomfortable with that answer. “Right. Yeah.” He shifts his weight on his feet, rocking back and forth for a moment. “I don’t know whether to tell you I’m sorry or I love you.”

And Taehyung knows he doesn’t mean it like that, but the words still make his heart stop for a moment. He shakes his head. “You already said you’re sorry and I already know you love me.” He offers a smile back to Jimin, small and tired. And before Taehyung can process seeing Jimin move forward, he crashes into Taehyung in a messy hug, their bodies colliding together.

“Yeah, well. I’m sorry. I love you,” Jimin tells him quietly. He has his arms wrapped around Taehyung’s back, holding him tight, and Taehyung wishes that it made him feel like it always used to. Sort of invincible, and warm, and full. He doesn’t know what it feels like now, but it doesn’t feel right. He’s tired of nothing feeling right with Jimin.

“We’ll be okay,” Jimin says, like he’s trying to convince himself.

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees. He can’t figure out if it’s a lie or not, and as he rests his chin on the top of Jimin’s head, he can’t find it in him to care. Hopefully. Maybe. Eventually.

Chapter Text

Lately, Jimin’s found himself thinking about the first time he’d ever seen Taehyung upset. They’d only known each other for a handful of months, and for all that time Taehyung was a sort of confusing ball of light, bouncing around him happily. Confusing mostly because Jimin had never met anyone with less worry dragging them down — Jimin’s own mind was constantly consumed with things to worry about, and it was almost baffling to meet someone so clear and light, all thin blown glass made to look unbreakable. He took everything as it came, head-on, a pleasant expression on his face, and Jimin found it bizarre and captivating.

He welcomed having a friend; they had met by chance, really, at a school event, but he was the first person Jimin had met in Seoul who managed to seem friendly without intimidating the hell out of him. Jimin liked him, this strange person he met, but it was hard to feel like he could relate to him at first.

Jimin remembers vividly how it felt for that notion of Taehyung to shatter in his mind — how it felt to step back, look sideways a little, and see Taehyung in a clearer light. He remembers the image, Taehyung with his face and his shoulders turned in, a different version of himself. He was sitting on his dorm room bed, face in his hands, and when Jimin walked in he looked up with red eyes. Jimin felt a little shock for a moment, at someone he had already started painting with golden sunshine colors in his mind turning just right for Jimin to see their blue parts.

“Oh,” Jimin remembered saying in a soft voice. “Oh no.”

“Jimin,” Taehyung muttered from his spot. “Right. I — sorry, I lost track of time. I forgot you were coming over.”

“I...yeah. Sorry. Your door was cracked open. I should have knocked.” Jimin felt himself say the words, but he couldn’t stop looking at the way Taehyung’s face looked all wrong. No sweet glint in his eyes, no easy amusement at the corner of his lips.

“No, it’s —” Taehyung’s voice cracked, and Jimin could almost feel it, almost hear the sound of something in him cracking too. It was a resonant crack, the kind Jimin didn’t know what to do with. He swallowed, and without thinking about it any more, he walked forward, raised a leg up to get up onto Taehyung’s bed and crawled over to him. Before today, he thought, he wouldn’t have. Before Jimin could see a fracture line spreading down Taehyung, a weak point, he’s not sure that he would feel like he could. In that moment, though, it was easy. He put his arms around Taehyung, in a crooked awkward hug, and leaned his forehead against Taehyung’s temple.

Taehyung, in his arms, let out a ragged breath. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I wanted to,” Jimin told him quietly. “I want to help. Does this help?”

Taehyung didn’t say anything else. He just nodded against Jimin’s shoulder. So Jimin hugged him a little tighter, like maybe he could force the pieces of him back together if he tried. It was worth a shot, anyway.

They sat like that for a while. Taehyung talked, in bits and pieces, in that slow way of his. Where he only tells you a little at a time because he doesn’t know how to put what’s next. Jimin was getting used to that already, even so soon after knowing him. He talked about missing home, about missing his grandparents and his siblings. He sounded lonely and lost, and Jimin thought this was the best he had understood Taehyung so far. Jimin knew lonely and lost, after all.

Jimin, for the first time since he moved to Seoul half a year ago, felt close to another person in a way that made him feel terrifyingly hopeful. This was the first real thing he felt with anyone in so long, wrapped around Taehyung in his shitty dorm room bed. Since friends years ago, maybe, before Jimin turned so focused and competitive with himself, back when he let himself care about anything but dance and school. And god, what a scary feeling.

Jimin was mulling that over, the warm pulse of fear in his mind, when Taehyung pulled back and looked up at him with red, puffy eyes. “Jimin-ah,” he said softly. “Thank you.”

And there was simply no amount of nerves or worry that could stop him from saying, “Anytime, Taehyung-ah.”

And he meant it. He decided then and there that he meant it.

++

A step back. That’s what Taehyung had called it, a couple weeks ago when they stood outside the bar and Jimin finally saw how deep the wounds he left were. He didn’t mean to, he never meant to, but thinking about that just makes him spiral into guilt. A long spiralling slide down as he wonders just how much he’s hurt Taehyung in the last five years.

So he steps back. Embarrassed, guilty, sorry, he steps back. He and Taehyung haven’t spoken one-on-one in weeks, their text thread moving lower and lower down Jimin’s list of recent messages. He still gets invited to their group gatherings, still replies in their seven-person group chat, but less. That’s only fair, he figures. He doesn’t get to stay on equal footing in the group of friends that Taehyung brought to him in the first place. They should all resent him, really, and it’s charity that they don’t. Yoongi seemed to that night, though Jimin’s not sure if that makes him feel better or worse about the whole situation. But Jungkook — Jimin has a feeling Jungkook isn’t thrilled with him either.

His mind, anxious, quick to fidget with any thought until it weighs on him, holds him in limbo for a few weeks, hanging indecisively between the idea that everyone hates him and that everything’s fine. Wake up, commute to work, teach a class, everyone hates you, stop overreacting, call your friends, wait don’t, everyone hates you — it’s a space Jimin is familiar with, but it still isn’t fun to be in, and god, Jimin thinks he picked the worst possible time to start living alone. He’s never been good at it; he’s always liked how having other people in his space would remind him that he’s real, that he’s a person, that he needs to take care of himself. Left to his own devices, he gets a little lost.

His least favorite part of everything, of all of this, is how much he misses Taehyung. Or maybe it’s how guilty he feels for missing Taehyung.

 

It takes Jimin three weeks after that night at the bar to gather the courage to just call Jungkook already. It feels something like a solution, a salve at least, for the way he’s spinning in circles unproductively in his head, just feeling vaguely guilty all the time. Sometimes he feels so out of touch with himself, like the inner monologue in his head is just a dramatic, unhelpful tenant who he has to try to take care of with no idea how. He feels bad about everything, but he’s not able to figure out exactly how he feels about what, or why, or how to fix any of it. Talking to someone else, talking to Jungkook, will at least be a small reprieve. Maybe even a step forward.

(Or maybe it will go terribly and Jimin will just feel even worse, and —)

“Hey,” Jimin says when Jungkook picks up, relieved that he doesn’t have to leave a voicemail.

“Hey, hyung,” Jungkook says, sounding distracted. “What’s up?”

“I am...kind of losing my mind right now, actually,” Jimin says, trying to play it off like a joke with a laugh. “I’ve been cooped up alone too much, and I was just — I thought of you, and I missed you. I just wanted to see if...I don’t know. You were free?”

“Oh.” Jungkook pauses. “I...yeah. I’m free.”

There’s another pause, then, and Jimin feels nervous for a moment. It’s a familiar kind of nerves; he remembers feeling like this when he first reached out to Jungkook about moving back to Seoul. He didn’t ever want to look too closely at what was causing it, the tightness in his gut just thinking about walking back into the life he left, and he doesn’t much want to now, either. (It’s hard to ignore the Taehyung at the center of it all, though.)

“Do you want to come over?” Jimin asks, pushing through his own anxiety. “I think I could use the company.”

“Sure, hyung,” Jungkook tells him, and Jimin tries not to listen for annoyance in his voice.

Things with Jungkook will be fine, he tries to convince himself. It’ll make him feel more settled, less rattled over the Taehyung situation, just to talk to a friend again. It’ll make him stop wallowing in guilt over everything. It will feel normal. Right?

 

Things don’t feel normal.

“Hey!” Jimin greeted Jungkook when he arrived, so forcefully trying to project cheerfulness that he saw Jungkook look taken aback for a moment. He hesitated, blinking, before he responded in turn, and that was Jimin’s first hint that things weren’t going stellar.

Jimin carried on, hoping he could just push through whatever awkwardness was hanging between them, but he could tell Jungkook wasn’t convinced. It only took half an hour of forced conversation, Jimin trying valiantly to remember how they usually talked to each other, before he broke. He was familiar with the panicked, frantic feeling in his brain — he’d been dealing with the sharp pinpricks of anxiety for years, but in his years abroad, he at least learned to try and lean away from it instead of leaning in.

He sighs, sitting on his couch across from Jungkook, whose face had been hard to read since he walked in.

“Hey,” Jimin starts. “I’m sorry things are weird.” He figures it’s an okay place to start, anyway.

Jungkook raises his eyebrows. “I really thought you were gonna keep bending over backwards to not talk about it.”

Jimin winces. “That’s...fair,” he admits.

Jungkook shrugs at him. “I guess I’m glad you’re sorry.”

“I...didn’t mean to make things such a mess,” Jimin says quietly.

Jungkook hums in acknowledgement, and Jimin looks at him, examining his expression closely.

“You know I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Jimin says, voice even softer, afraid of the realization he’s having. The realization that maybe Jungkook has actually already taken a side.

Jungkook sighs, brings his knees up to his chest. He would look young if it wasn’t for his hair, longer now than it ever was on the young version of Jungkook he knew. “That’s what I wanted to think, yeah,” Jungkook tells him. “I don’t want to think you’re an asshole, hyung.”

“But?” Jimin prompts, swallowing nervously again. His stomach feels sunken in, hollow and twisted up all at once.

Jungkook looks up from where he was picking at a fray in his jeans to make eye contact with Jimin. “But...I really thought you knew. Before all of this. Years ago, I thought you must have known how Taehyung felt.”

Jimin feels nauseous, made to look at it head-on like this. Motion sickness from the very suggestion. He’s reminded of why he always avoids confronting these things. And of course it’s Jungkook — kind, but wickedly observant and smart, always good at telling Jimin something new about himself. And that feels even worse, the idea that Jungkook’s been watching him this whole time, waiting for him to stop doing it all wrong.

“I…” Jimin thinks, pauses, swallows hard. “How long have you known?”

Jungkook shrugs. “Well, I wasn’t certain until I nursed Taehyung out of his breakup coma when you left. But I had a guess before that.”

“You had a guess,” Jimin repeats.

“Hyung,” Jungkook starts seriously. “Everyone had a guess. Taehyung is a pretty open book.”

Jimin wishes that didn’t make him feel worse. He isn’t sure what to say, stomach still feeling hollow and strange over the whole conversation.

Jungkook keeps talking. “I just...even after you left, part of me always thought...I don’t know, that you felt the same way, I guess.”

Jimin looks at him, heartbeat loud in his ears. “You did?” He asks, almost in a whisper. It’s not really a conscious choice, but maybe that’s just all he can muster at the moment.

Jungkook is still hugging his knees to his chest, looking down at the rips in his jeans rather than Jimin. “There was this time back before I even knew you very well, we went out drinking with the four of us. You got really drunk,” Jungkook says with a soft chuckle, not much of a smile on his face. “And I ended up helping you home. I don’t think you remember, you didn’t the next day, but you got kind of sad on the train and when I asked you what was wrong, you told me you just wanted Taehyung forever. You wanted to be with him forever. You said it really serious.”

Jimin feels his face go hot. Jungkook’s right, he doesn’t remember, but that makes it worse. “I cannot believe you never told me that.”

Jungkook shrugs again. “I didn’t think I needed to. I thought I was witnessing, like, a breakthrough that I shouldn’t have been there for. Like you realized, all of a sudden. And ever since then, I just...hoped you would both eventually get there. It seemed like if anyone was meant to sort their shit out and figure it out together, it was you guys. When you told me you were coming back...I just assumed…” Jungkook trails off.

“Oh,” Jimin says softly. He gives a humorless laugh. “Yeah, that would have made sense, wouldn’t it?”

“So you didn’t know? And you didn’t...feel the same way?” Jungkook asks him, finally looking back up at him.

Jimin feels a familiar frozen kind of feeling. Like he isn’t sure how to get any of what’s in his head out in the open for anyone else to see.

“You know I never realized I liked men before I met Taehyung?” Jimin asks, and watches Jungkook’s face transform with confusion. He can relate. “The first couple weeks I knew him, I couldn’t figure out what it was about him that made him seem so interesting to me. And then I saw him kiss a boy, casually, in public, and something clicked. I never wanted something like that before, and I didn’t even know I wanted it until I saw it in front of me.”

“No,” Jungkook answers quietly. “I didn’t know that.”

Jimin nods. “I thought it made me seem immature,” he says. “To have not figured it out before. To not be confident about it. I always told people I realized in high school, so I didn’t seem so behind.”

He stops talking, gathers his thoughts for a moment. And it’s hard, because none of them want to come along — they’re so used to running to the corners where he never looks. “I always feel like I’m the last person to know anything. And I’m definitely the last person to figure out what to do about it.”

“I meant what I said to you that night, I guess. I did want Taehyung forever. Sometimes I would look at him and everything just felt right, and easy, and perfect, and I wanted to keep it so bad. And that scared the shit out of me. Taehyung scared the shit out of me, for so many reasons,” Jimin says with another small laugh. “He was so sure of himself all the time. He made friends with everyone, and it was so easy for him. He was just this...this person with his arms wide open, letting everything in, floating around like it was no big deal. He was so handsome, and charismatic, and he was the scariest person I had ever met, and he liked me.”

Jimin sighs to himself, leans back against his couch. “He knew everything about me and cared about me so much and I cared about him so much. And yeah, I guess I...should have known. That Taehyung treated me differently, that it was something else. But I...I don’t know, I never looked too hard at it, and Taehyung never made me. We were just like that. I thought it was just...us.”

“I know you had reasons for leaving,” Jungkook interjects quietly, looking over at him with a more serious expression than Jimin usually sees on him. “Reasons that weren’t about Taehyung. And I always figured maybe some reasons that were about Taehyung, but — whatever. You left, for your own reasons. I could always get that, but...why did you come back? To Seoul?”

Jimin looks back at him, then closes his eyes, embarrassed to voice this out loud for the first time. “I was so lonely,” he admits softly. “I kept waiting for it to feel less lonely, but it never did. And I just...finally broke. Literally,” he says, patting a hand on his left kneecap, flinching at the phantom pain of a bad fall. “So that didn’t help. But mentally, too. I couldn’t keep ignoring all of the reasons I regretted leaving anymore. It...really wears on you, apparently, to keep that up for years.”

Jungkook snorts. “No shit.” Jimin shoots him a look, and Jungkook looks right back.

“It was selfish, hyung,” Jungkook tells him. “To run out of the picture and just waltz right back in without even trying to figure out why you left in the first place. And, you know, the fucking ramifications of it. You ghosted Taehyung —”

“Hey,” Jimin starts. “I stopped reaching out because he started deleting every picture of me from all of his social media.”

“Which you had to go looking for to notice,” Jungkook accuses.

“Yeah, I did! I did go looking for them. I was alone, Jungkook. I was alone after being so together for so long, and I went looking for those stupid pictures and their stupid captions all the time. And it’s like one night I just fucking disappeared, like Taehyung wanted to pretend we were never friends at all, like he was — I don’t know, making room for someone else. Like he had a new...person. And I just couldn’t handle that. I always knew I was more replaceable to him than he was to me, but —”

“Replaceable?” Jungkook asks in surprise. He furrows his eyebrows at Jimin. “Are you that deep in your own head, you can’t see that he’s never loved anyone like he loves you?”

It feels like a punch. It feels like pressing on a new bruise, an instant soreness. “I’m too smart to be that optimistic about anyone,” Jimin says, voice stiff.

“No, you’re too busy criticizing yourself to see anything for what it is,” Jungkook says, standing up. Jimin, nervous, follows suit. Jungkook opens his mouth, looks like he wants to keep talking in his frustrated tone, but then he just sighs and shakes his head.

“Look. I don’t know how you feel. I don’t even know if you know how you feel. But you know how Taehyung feels, and you need to figure out what you want from him. And then you need to let him know. Okay?”

No, not okay. No, absolutely fucking insurmountable. Has Jungkook been listening? That’s the whole problem. He doesn’t know how to figure out what he wants from Taehyung — he never fucking has! He stares at Jungkook, thoughts racing, and it must be a long enough moment that Jungkook starts to feel bad for him. He steps forward, wraps his arms around Jimin in a tight hug.

“I love you, hyung. I know you’re not good at this. But you owe it to him.”

Jimin nods against Jungkook’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“You should tell him that too,” Jungkook says, breath against Jimin’s neck in a way that’s comforting despite the way his words give him another pang of guilt.

Jungkook leaves.

Jimin spends the rest of the evening circling around his neighborhood in the cold, hoping to outpace every thought in his head, just to get a little break. The knowledge that this is going to take him so much longer to figure out weighs heavy in his mind, but for a few hours, at least, he lets himself stop thinking.

++

When Jimin left, what he missed most was their mornings.

They had lots of mornings, spread across apartments and dorm rooms and years of their lives. Jimin remembers the first one, waking up with Taehyung wrapped around him after a night out that they were too drunk to end alone. They were squeezed in a twin-size dorm bed, pressed together uncomfortably, and the sensation was still new then. To be held. Maybe, actually, it was the first time someone had ever held him like that.

He woke up feeling warm and surprised. He stayed still, not sure of the etiquette here — in fact, he wasn’t sure about any bit of this, if it was normal, if he was supposed to be here. He knew Taehyung was affectionate, but this felt like maybe too much? Maybe it was embarrassing? Maybe Taehyung would be upset with him?

A million concerns lined themselves up in his mind, taking turns giving him more and more things to worry about, and maybe he would have listened to them if Taehyung hadn’t stirred behind him, where his chest was pressed against Jimin’s back. The queue of anxious thoughts in his mind quieted as he used every bit of his sense of hearing to listen to Taehyung groan and yawn close to his ear. The breath against his neck was new, too, and he found he liked the warmth.

Taehyung muttered, “Morning,” and then he pulled Jimin in closer, hugging against him tighter.

Oh, Jimin thought. Okay. It was okay, then. He let himself be held, mind going quieter than he was used to it being on a regular basis, and he...liked it. Liked the feeling of Taehyung behind him, around him, even if it was too warm under the covers. Sunlight was coming in through the curtains, but the sun wasn’t high enough to shine directly, so instead the room just glowed. And when Jimin closed his eyes, he could still see it, warm and comforting.

It was the most relaxed he had felt in a year. Maybe more. He exhaled slow and heavy, let the tension he always carried around in his shoulders go, and swallowed. He wondered, distantly, in his quiet mind, if he was allowed to like this so much. Just distantly, though, because Taehyung made him surer of things than he would be otherwise. Taehyung thought this was normal — he could think this was normal too.

So Jimin settled back into Taehyung’s arms, closed his eyes, and stayed there for three years.

 

And on mornings years later when he woke up alone, in a capsule of a bunk bed on a tour bus in another country, he found sometimes that he ached with phantom pain at the thought of it.

++

Jimin spends the next week of his life in a distracted haze, thoughts spinning in useless circles every day.

He takes the train to work, takes the train home, hears figure this out echo in his head on a loop, just frequent enough that it’s hard to let himself focus on anything else. Especially frequent when something reminds him of Taehyung — a dog on the street, a shop window, a jazz record in a cafe he’s never been to before. One night Jimin hears a ballad that Taehyung used to sing at karaoke, and he freezes in front of the store he’s walking by, where the door opening let the sound out. He stays there, staring in at the window, lit up in the dark winter evening, and feels a rush of sadness wash over him with the sound.

Work is a good distraction. It’s hard to think much about himself at all in front of a room full of teenagers in spandex looking at him with grudges in their eyes as he walks them through a section in a song over and over again, until it’s right. This choreography takes a lot of his energy, too, which he’s thankful for. It makes sleep easier.

“Hey,” Eunbi calls to him after the kids leave one night. She’s holding an extra water bottle, and throws it to him from arguably too far away. Jimin surges forward to catch it, giving her a look.

“Yeah?” Jimin asks, twisting the cap off. Eunbi looks him over, only a little judgmental — and he knows exactly what it looks like when she’s being judgmental, after months of working in the same dance studio. She kind of sighs to herself, and then she asks, “Are you alright?”

Jimin blinks, standing there holding his open water bottle and staring at her. It’s maybe the most personal thing she’s ever asked him. Not that he minds; he likes the way she manages to be both no-nonsense and extremely charming, helpful but not too familiar. Jimin likes her — they fell into a sort of friendly professional rapport with each other almost immediately after meeting. But it’s new, her expressing interest in his life outside of small talk. And her expression is new too, almost like she’s concerned but doesn’t want to be.

“I — yeah, I’m good,” he answers her finally, after far too long of a pause. He takes a sip of his water and tries to project normality. When he lowers his head back down and looks at her, her eyes are narrowed, unimpressed. Fully judgmental now, then.

“I mean, you’re not good. Like, keep your business to yourself if you want to, but you don’t have to lie,” she says with a shrug. “You’ve seemed out of it for a while, so I figured I’d try to be a nice person, that’s all. But you don’t have to talk about it, I mean —”

“Sorry,” Jimin interrupts her, echoing in the studio against the mirrored walls and gymnasium floors. “Thanks for asking. Just...personal stuff. Messy personal stuff, that’s all.”

Eunbi nods at him, giving him a sympathetic look. “Sorry about your messy personal stuff.”

“Oh, you know,” Jimin says vaguely, waving his hand dismissively. He glances over at her and she almost looks like she’s waiting for him to go on, and — Jimin’s been listening to nothing but his own thoughts for days. He can’t help himself. “Sorry if this is really personal, but — have you ever dated someone you were friends with first?”

Eunbi looks at him for a moment. “A few times, yeah,” she tells him.

Jimin nods. Opens his mouth, closes it, shakes his head. “Sorry,” he says again. “This is probably a weird conversation to have at work, with a coworker. Sorry.”

“Hey, stop apologizing,” Eunbi says, sits down on the floor of the studio. “You’ve been a nervous wreck for weeks. I’ll give you dating advice if that’s what it takes to get you to start scolding during class again instead of letting everyone off easy.” She’s smirking from her position on the floor, palms flat behind her on the polished wood floor.

Jimin sighs to himself before nodding. “Fair enough.” He sits down next to her, and it suddenly reminds him of being in college, the way he and his friends would stay behind in the school practice rooms, the feeling of being too vulnerable while surrounded by mirrors. Weird.

“It’s a long story,” he starts, “But my best friend...I guess they’ve had feelings for me for a long time. And I never...I don’t know how to know how I feel about that.”

“That does sound messy,” Eunbi comments. Jimin breathes out a laugh to himself.

“You never thought of them like that before?” She asks, looking curious.

Jimin runs a hand through his hair with a sigh. “I’ve always just thought of them as — them. We were really close. He was like my other half.”

“Oh thank god you’re gay,” Eunbi says immediately through a quiet sigh of relief.

Jimin goes pink. “Oh. Oops,” he mutters.

Eunbi shakes her head and waves him off, her chin-length hair swinging around her face. “Don’t worry about it, me too.”

Jimin breathes out a matching sigh of relief. “Good.”

“You know other half is what married couples say, right?” Eunbi asks him, getting back on track. She’s raising an eyebrow at him.

Jimin feels the warmth return to his face. He feels caught, but he didn’t do anything wrong. He swallows. “Yeah, but...it’s different. I think.”

“So you’re best friends. You’re really close. He’s your other half. But you don’t have feelings for him?”

“I don’t...know,” he admits quietly. “Before this, before he told me, I just...we were just different. I’ve never had another friends like him, where we just...where everything was so easy. I never questioned anything about our friendship, because he never did. He acted like I shouldn’t read into anything, so I...didn’t.” He finishes speaking and becomes aware that his face feels hot now, an embarrassed blush on his cheeks that keeps getting worse. “God, this is embarrassing. I’m sorry to dump this on you —”

“No, no. I’m invested now,” Eunbi says, dismissing him. She looks at him with her eyes narrowed, like she’s trying to figure something out. “Not to be juvenile, but you never thought about even kissing him?”

The question is so surprising to Jimin, mostly because he hadn’t even thought to ask it. The situation felt bigger than that — he was too busy overanalyzing every interaction the two of them ever had, every facial expression he’s ever seen Taehyung make. He hadn’t even considered asking himself about something as simple as attraction.

Maybe, though, he just hadn’t felt the need. After all, it’s an obvious answer. He remembers years of watching Taehyung kiss his way through New Years parties, throwing himself at people with an easy laugh and smudged dark red lipstick that he had a girl apply to his lips in the bathroom. And he remembers, even through fuzzy drunk memories, a sting of jealousy. He never thought much of it; of course he wanted to kiss Taehyung. Didn’t everyone?

“All his friends want to kiss him,” Jimin says with a little laugh. Eunbi looks unimpressed. “Yeah, but I’m assuming he doesn’t wanna date the rest of them,” she tells him simply.

Jimin blinks at her. “I hadn’t thought of it like that,” he admits.

Eunbi rolls her eyes good-naturedly at him, laughing quietly. “Hey, I don’t wanna rush you into any conclusions, but I think if your best friend is your other half and you’d like to kiss them, you might like him too.”

“Right,” Jimin agrees, feeling dazed by the conversation.

“So good luck, I guess,” Eunbi tells him, pulling herself up off the floor. “If you show up to work on Monday bitchy again instead of all quiet, I’ll know you’re back to normal and you maybe have a boyfriend.”

“Hey,” Jimin chides her.

“I thought we were getting personal,” Eunbi tells him with a smirk. She tucks her hair behind her ear before reaching a hand down to help him up.

Jimin takes it, pulling himself onto his feet, but he feels sideways as he stands upright. Tilted decisively at an angle as he reels from the way someone was able to look him in the eye and tell him the answer was obvious.

 

Some amount of time later, he finds himself waiting for his train home. He doesn’t remember the walk there. He was too busy thinking about the time a few months ago, the night he stayed over at Taehyung’s after a group gathering and crawled into his bed just like he had always done. It was second-nature, even after a four year break, and before he fell asleep that night he thought to himself how much he had missed it.

Waking up the next morning felt even better. It felt like a dream — a literal dream, because Jimin had dreams like that a lot while he was abroad. About waking up in Taehyung’s bed, the world muffled outside of the calm of his blankets. It was real, though, the arm around his waist, the smell of another person. It wasn’t unlike being eighteen and letting himself be held for the first time. The sudden knowledge that this was something he could just...do.

When he looks up again he’s home, hanging his coat on the rack and kicking his shoes off messily, barely even aware of putting one foot in front of the other. He stops in front of his small kitchen table, looks down at the painting that’s been sitting on it since his birthday, and swallows. He remembers a younger Taehyung, paint-stained fingers and a goofy smile and the way he blushed when Jimin complimented the same painting then. The way Jimin liked it, making Taehyung feel good, because Taehyung looked so happy.

Selfish, Jungkook called him. For coming back to Seoul without figuring this out. He’s right, Jimin knows; Jimin’s always been selfish. He likes taking, and he’s good at it. He wants attention, he’s needy for affection, he’s always had hungry eyes and hands desperate to be held. That was the thing, though. Taehyung never made him feel greedy. Taehyung just smiled, held Jimin steady, no conditions.

Taehyung was the first person he was ever good at taking care of. There was something about the way Taehyung trusted him so fast, so open and easy, that made Jimin want to protect him, and he was more than happy to follow through on that urge. It felt so good to help Taehyung, a person who anyone could tell was kind just by looking at him. Jimin found that he would do so much for the rush he got when Taehyung looked up at him, told him, “I love you, Jiminnie,” voice sweet and earnest. To be looked at like you’re something lovely by someone like Taehyung —

Jimin looks at the painting and he thinks about Taehyung’s face in the alley the last night they spoke in private and he starts crying before he realizes he’s doing it. The tears are involuntary, and he barely reacts to them as he picks up the canvas, runs his fingers over textured paint.

“Shit,” he mutters to himself, just to hear the sound of his own voice, anything other than the noise of his thoughts swirling around his head. “Fuck.”

Jimin takes a shower. He stands still and quiet under the water, and wishes quietly to himself that there were someone to wash his hair for him. He wishes someone would dry his back with a towel, hold him close to their chest even if he doesn’t deserve any of it right now, because suddenly he feels so...fragile.

He wishes it was Taehyung. But that’s not new.

You might like him too.

The memory of Eunbi’s smirk as she said it, not unkind, just teasing, makes him feel embarrassed.

Why are these things so easy for other people? How can they look at him and expect him to know how he feels about anything, let alone something as big and strange as this? Something as important as Taehyung?

Jimin washes his own hair, dries himself off, and goes to bed by himself.

++

Jimin has been wondering, would he have been able to handle this better if Taehyung told him years ago?

Maybe if they were still twenty, and Taehyung had looked at him sweet and honest and told him he liked him, maybe things would be different. Maybe they’d stay up all night talking about it, kiss just to try it out, spend three days in each other’s dorm beds and leave as boyfriends.

Jimin can’t talk to Taehyung about it now. That’s the part that’s so hard, he thinks, but he knows he can’t open his mouth to Taehyung until he has it figured out. It wouldn’t be fair to do anything else. When they were twenty, before Taehyung had carried years of ache and before Jimin had packed some more onto his back, that wouldn’t have been part of it.

It’s an interesting alternate reality, the one he dreams up while he stirs his coffee. The one where Jimin listened to what Taehyung must have been trying to tell him with his arm around Jimin’s waist in bed, chest warm against Jimin’s back, hands steady. The one where Jimin never left. The one where Taehyung didn’t scare him so bad that he ran.

That’s the other thing he can’t look at himself in the mirror about. He’s been lying about it for so long that it hurts more to tell himself the truth now than it ever would have back then, but he knows it’s true. He knows Taehyung was part of the reason why he left.

Or maybe not Taehyung specifically, but — the idea of him, at least. The fear he couldn’t ever shake, that they couldn’t last forever. That he loved Taehyung way too much to not get hurt eventually. School was ending, and Taehyung was going to stay put, get a good job he deserved, get to do art some way, somehow, because that’s who Taehyung was. Patient and determined and able to make anything into something good for himself.

Jimin wasn’t like that. Jimin wanted big things that never came for him. He worked and he worked and he never quite managed to get what he wanted. So of course Taehyung wouldn’t last, not after they got into the real world and met other people. Taehyung was good at people too, in a way Jimin wasn’t, really.

He remembers one night close to graduation, when they went to some class celebration or something. He remembers watching Taehyung from across the room, chatting casually to a girl Jimin didn’t know. And he thought to himself then, without much reason to but unable to stop himself, I bet he’ll get married young. It made him nauseous instantly, just the thought, and he refused to think more about that. Because as soon as Taehyung found something real, Jimin wasn’t sure where that left him. Probably not waking up in Taehyung’s apartment anymore, if he had to guess.

Because they had always been something other — bigger than friends, but infamously not together. They repeated it countless times to acquaintances, friends, even family once, when Jimin’s younger brother visited him in Seoul. A joking little explanation of their relationship, because everyone could tell it was too much. Neither of them had ever dated anyone that stuck, but Taehyung would one day, Jimin knew. He was too good not to find someone who loved him.

You might like him too, he hears again in his mind at the memory. For the millionth time in the last few days, since the night Eunbi said it.

He thinks it would have been different, if they had done this earlier. He wishes they had done this earlier. He wishes — Jimin sighs, putting his coffee down on the table. Not for the first time, he wishes he was a different kind of person altogether.

He misses Taehyung. He misses Taehyung and he needs to figure out why and how and in exactly what way and it’s been sitting on his chest, heavy and demanding his attention, for almost two weeks. Or maybe longer than that, but that’s the problem, he’s not sure. It’s everything he hates, this mess of sticky feelings he’s been living with, impossible to shake, and he’s so frustrated with it.

He sighs to himself, coming back into his body and out of his thoughts, rubs a hand across his face, and decides to take a small break from feeling sorry for himself. It’ll be waiting for him later, he knows, so he figures he might as well get out of his apartment for a little while and take a break from himself.

It feels almost good to walk outside, wearing nicer-than-necessary clothes and listening to other people exist. He gets a snack from a vendor on the street, looks at shop windows, watches people on the sidewalk, and for the better part of an hour, manages to get out of his own head a little bit.

He careens right back into his own head, though, when he steps into a cafe to warm the cold from his cheeks and almost runs right into Namjoon and Hoseok. Jimin stumbles back to avoid a collision, and he watches Hoseok swoop in quickly to grab Namjoon’s coffee cup out of his hand before he can spill it as he steps back as well. When Hoseok looks toward him, Jimin watches surprise register on his face.

“Oh! Jimin!” Hoseok says, extending his arm to hand Namjoon his coffee back.

Jimin pauses, knocked bodily back into everything he was avoiding thinking about. “Hi,” he says after a moment that’s maybe too long. He puts a smile on his face to make up for it. “Sorry, hyung,” he adds, looking toward Namjoon apologetically.

Namjoon shakes his head, grabbing his coffee from Hoseok. “No, it’s fine,” he says kindly, eyes narrowing from his smile, and Jimin feels comforted, distantly. Namjoon has always felt comforting to him.

“I really like this place, Jiminnie, thanks for telling me about it,” Hoseok tells him happily. “Funny running into you!”

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees with a nod. “I’m just...out and about.”

Hoseok is looking at Namjoon for a moment, and Namjoon looks back at him. He looks blank, and then he seems to get whatever Hoseok is sending to him telepathically because he nods. Jimin raises an eyebrow, waiting to be clued in.

“Namjoon-ah, I’m going into that bookshop next door. I told you I want to look for a gift,” Hoseok says, patting Namjoon’s shoulder. “Meet me over there.”

Namjoon nods, waving at him. “Yeah, one sec.”

Jimin raises his other eyebrow, looking between them.

“It was good seeing you, Jiminnie,” Hoseok says, stepping forward toward him. He puts a hand on Jimin’s shoulder too, pauses for a moment before he says, “I hope you’re doing good. Let’s see each other soon, okay?” And sometimes Jimin has a hard time getting a read on Hoseok, the way he’s so good at being loud to cover anything quiet, but in this moment Hoseok reeks of honesty and gentleness. Frankly, it’s enough to make him ache a little, but that’s not really Hoseok’s fault.

“Sure, hyung,” Jimin answers, hoping he doesn’t sound too emotionally affected from someone showing him even a small amount of care. He’s been sensitive lately.

Hoseok walks out, leaving Jimin with Namjoon. Jimin turns to him expectantly and Namjoon says, with a sheepish smile, “You got a second to talk?”

Jimin makes a considering face as he wonders what exactly this conversation is going to be about. He nods, leading Namjoon over to a small table tucked off to the side. “What’s up?”

“Ah, it’s not a big deal or anything, I just...wanted to let you know, I guess,” Namjoon starts, looking almost embarrassed? Jimin smiles, amused a little — he knows it’s not anything too serious, or Namjoon would get to his point. “Me and Hoseok started dating.”

Oh. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t that. “Oh wow,” he manages, pulling a smile onto his face. “That’s great, hyung.” His throat feels tight. He tries not to think about it.

“It’s a...new thing. And telling people is even newer,” Namjoon says with a nervous laugh. “I just wanted to tell you.”

“I’m really happy for you, hyung,” Jimin says, voice trained into something positive and polite. Not that he’s not happy for Namjoon — Jimin’s been watching Hoseok circle him since he met him, and he was kind of rooting for them. It’s just that he hadn’t thought about it since before — well, the Taehyung thing. Jimin swallows.

Namjoon, perceptive as he is, must be able to sniff out something off in Jimin’s expression, because his eyebrows furrow slightly. “Hey, I wanted to say, I know things are kind of —”

“Can I ask you something, hyung?” Jimin interrupts, wanting desperately not to hear the end of Namjoon’s sentence. He can tell from the soft tone of his voice.

He catches Namjoon off-guard, but he nods at Jimin after a moment.

“You think a lot,” Jimin starts, laughing softly to himself. “How did you figure out whether or not Hoseok was a good idea?”

Namjoon looks him over. Jimin looks down at his own hands on the table.

“I didn’t,” Namjoon answers him after a moment. Jimin looks back up at him curiously. “I don’t know if he’s a good idea or not.” Namjoon laughs at himself, a familiar self-deprecating smile. “I mean, we work together. It’s kind of a mess, really, isn’t it? But,” he pauses, makes a what can you do? kind of hand gesture, “it seemed worth a try.”

Jimin nods, pulling at one of the rings on his fingers just to have something to do with his hands. “What if it goes wrong?”

Namjoon lets out an exaggerated sigh, still smiling a little. “Well, I’ll need to find a new editor. And that would really be annoying, starting over like that. Hoseok is a good editor and I trust his opinion, you know? In the grand scheme of things, though, probably a short setback. Not the end of the world. And besides, what if it goes right?”

Jimin stares at him, like if he looks hard enough he could maybe absorb some of Namjoon’s optimism. He doesn’t know what to say, how to convince Namjoon that it isn’t that easy. “Most things with me tend to go wrong,” he goes with, voice quiet.

“I know you think they do,” Namjoon tells him. Jimin winces, nodding; he should have seen that coming, the way Namjoon can tell someone they’re being stupid so kindly. “But you’ve always thought a lot of things about yourself that I didn’t agree with.”

Jimin looks sidelong out the cafe window, sitting with that. He sighs. “Even if — I mean, even if anything was an option,” he starts vaguely, “Hyung, do you really think...I don’t know, that we could do it right?”

“Jiminnie, nobody knows you better than Taehyung and nobody loves you more,” Namjoon says. “You know that, right?”

Jimin looks over at him, not sure how to react to that. Namjoon doesn’t wait for him to. “Nobody knows Taehyung better than you, either. When you left, me and Jungkookie realized how much of him he only trusted with you. I think if you finally talked about all this, you could be really good for each other.”

Jimin hums, eyes feeling a little wet, not trusting his voice at the moment. He looks back out the window, away from the earnest look on Namjoon’s face.

“I think it’s worth a try, anyway,” Namjoon says quietly. “For people who love each other as much as you two.”

“Hyung,” Jimin says, swallowing. “If I fuck it up again, how do I move on from that?”

“At least you’ll know you tried to fix it.” Namjoon reaches out, puts a hand on top of Jimin’s on the table, and the touch almost startles him. “This time, don’t leave.”

Jimin looks back at Namjoon and sees a kind look on his face, honest and convincing because Namjoon tends to say things that he really believes with enough sincerity that he makes other people believe them too. Comforting to see he hadn’t lost his touch, really, Jimin thinks.

“Talk to him, Jiminnie,” Namjoon tells him, squeezing his hand before he stands up from his chair at the cafe table. Jimin nods, because Namjoon has convinced him he should.

Jimin lingers at the table even after Namjoon walks out of the cafe, and he watches out the window next to him as Namjoon walks into the bookstore next door. He sits there long enough to see him and Hoseok walk back out, holding hands in a way Jimin can tell from here is tentative. And something about it, the thought of something new and warm that he knows Namjoon well enough to know is careful, makes him feel acutely lonely and acutely stupid.

It’s not a sudden realization, this thing he’s come to after weeks and months. Not like he’s always seen in movies and dramas, where it only takes the right glance and touch of the hands to know you have feelings for someone. It’s not a lightbulb going off. Instead, it feels more like he started peeling back a tiny piece of wallpaper in the run-down house sitting at the center of him, and once the mess was made, he had to keep going, inch by inch with his fingernails until it was all gone. It’s easy to get lost in, that kind of thing, until you step back and realize you tore down more than you thought, that you’ve started something you have no choice but to finish.

Jimin leaves the cafe without getting a drink after all.

++

Sometimes, on weekends when Jimin and Taehyung wanted to particularly indulge themselves, they would build forts in Jimin’s living room. They dragged Jimin’s mattress out into the living room and spent way too long building a structure big enough to watch a drama on someone’s laptop and laze around inside of, and they would shut themselves in like they were still in junior high instead of college.

Jimin remembers one of those weekends, after they had each had a couple beers and were lying on their backs staring up at the patterned quilt they used for the ceiling of the fort, they were talking. Just talking, aimlessly and endlessly like they were good at doing, bickering in between. Jimin was tucked against Taehyung’s side, the skin of their torsos touching where their shirts had ridden up from wriggling against the sheets lazily. He felt warm, only partially from the beer and the warm light filtering in from the lamp outside of the blanket walls. Mostly just because he liked this, and he needed it after a long week.

Taehyung turned to him and asked, “How’s it going with Yejun?”

Jimin blinked to himself. Right. He had forgotten. “I...stopped seeing him, actually,” Jimin said.

“Oh no,” Taehyung said, pulling himself up onto his elbows to look over at Jimin. “Did something happen?”

“Ah, not really,” Jimin said, shaking his head. “Just felt like it ran its course. We didn’t have a lot in common.” Jimin had liked being with him well enough, Yejun, the guy from his friend’s writing class. He seemed nice. The sex was kind of fun. It had just started to feel…boring, after dating him for a few weeks.

It was weird — Jimin always found himself wishing he was with someone, that he had someone to infatuated with, but as soon as these things started, he felt his interest in them drain. Maybe it was a defense mechanism or something, or maybe he just was too busy to really want to have a boyfriend. It was always too annoying, the way that dating someone cut into his time with the rest of his friends. He was supposed to have a date tonight, actually, before he talked to Yejun the other day and called things off.

And really, Jimin thought, glancing at Taehyung, he’d rather be here anyway.

++

A week before Taehyung’s birthday, Jimin finds himself outside of Taehyung’s apartment building, taking in a deep breath before he punches in the code to the building and lets himself in. It’s cold out, sharp cold air filling his lungs for a moment, and he thinks the shock to his system is good for him.

It’s Friday night, a time and day that he and Taehyung agreed on over text; Jimin has been restless and itching with nerves for a week, but he figured the least he could do was give Taehyung warning of this conversation. But hi, are you free sometime this week to talk? in a mid-afternoon message was the warning he gave, and even his immediate panicky follow-up of (nothing bad?) didn’t do much to convince him he wasn’t being dramatic.

Charitably, though, Taehyung gave him a time. So Jimin, armed with a small gift bag, an outfit that took more effort than usual and an extremely nervous pulse, showed up.

When Taehyung answers the door to his apartment, he gives Jimin a small smile that doesn’t reach his eyes and it stings worse than the wind outside did. “Hi,” Taehyung says, voice small too. The pulse of guilt hits Jimin immediately, and he swallows, trying to ignore it.

“Hi,” Jimin echoes. They both pause for a moment, looking at each other uncertainly, and then Taehyung takes a step back, ushering Jimin forward, and they remember how to be people again. They go through their normal people tasks — Jimin takes his shoes off, Taehyung offers him a drink, a practiced script — and they eventually find themselves at Taehyung’s dining table. There’s the noise of the electric kettle on the counter, because Jimin let himself accept Taehyung’s offer of tea. It will be something to wrap his hands around, at the very least.

Jimin sets the gift bag he’s been holding onto the table, scooting it over toward Taehyung. “I brought you a birthday gift. Sorry it’s early, I bought it a while ago, and I just...wanted to give it to you now.” Jimin says. “I don’t — you’re not obligated to like, invite me to anything, if you do anything. For your birthday. So I just wanted to make sure you got it.” He blinks, biting down to keep himself from nervously babbling.

Taehyung raises his eyebrows, taking the gift bag curiously. When he reaches in and fishes out a jewelry box, Jimin feels suddenly and intensely embarrassed. Why did he bring a gift? Is this manipulative? Jewelry feels manipulative. Not that he’s ever given anyone jewelry before, but. He keeps his eyes trained on Taehyung nervously, watches as Taehyung opens the box slowly and his face looks surprised in...an okay way? Maybe?

“Oh,” Taehyung says, lifting his fingers to the necklace in the box. “From that vintage shop. You went back for it?”

“You really liked it,” Jimin offers as an explanation. He watched Taehyung look at it in the case in the shop, eyes fixated on it, and Jimin wanted him to have it. It was a desire for Taehyung to have something he loved that made him come back for it weeks later, even if it was kind of silly and expensive.

Taehyung’s eyes linger on the necklace, thumb brushing over the dangling green stone hanging from the gold chain, but he drags them up to meet Jimin’s. “Yeah, I did. Thank you.” His expression is hard to read, and it makes Jimin squirm in his seat.

Unable to hold himself back any longer, and unable to hear Taehyung thank him for anything before he says it, Jimin says in a rush, “I’m so sorry.”

Taehyung’s face turns more serious, but the surprise stays. He sets the jewelry box down on the table in front of him. “What?”

“For everything,” Jimin says, feeling single-mindedly focused in a familiar way. Not unlike the way stepping onto a stage for a performance used to feel, really, the way his mind feels empty and he feels too blinded by stage lights to look at the audience. He’s looking right at Taehyung, but he can feel the glare of a spotlight. “For...I don’t know, acting like things were normal, even after you told me how you felt. But also for not telling you when I came back to Seoul.” Jimin pauses, then feels the need to add, “And maybe for coming back at all. And...for not texting you.” He pauses again, looking at Taehyung, the way his face hasn’t changed. “And for leaving.”

Silence hangs between them. Taehyung is good at letting silence hang. Jimin knows he needs to stop talking, let Taehyung absorb that, but he’s practically vibrating with nerves at this point and he wants to just keep going.

Behind his head, Taehyung’s electric kettle clicks off, and Jimin flinches out of his focus on their conversation.

“Ah,” Taehyung mutters, standing up.

Jimin squirms, unwilling to stop his momentum. “It’s really fine —”

“No, no,” Taehyung waves him off. “I’ll get you tea.”

The air is quiet and Jimin feels tense. He wishes he didn’t, but it’s unfamiliar, this kind of purposeful vulnerability, not to mention catching up on five years’ worth of it.

“Do you really mean that you’re sorry you ever came back?” Taehyung asks him, voice quiet. Jimin turns in his chair to look at Taehyung in front of his kitchen counter, carefully pouring hot water into a ceramic mug for Jimin.

“No, not like that,” Jimin says. “I mean that...I’m sorry I did it how I did. I should have talked to you before I moved back here for — well, for you,” he admits softly.

Taehyung looks up at him, face still hard to read, but there’s something sharp there. Jimin swallows.

“Taehyung, I’ve been thinking a lot,” Jimin starts, voice feeling too quiet when he hears it out loud. But he’s too nervous to be able to change it much, really. Taehyung is looking at him still, something searching in his expression. “About why I acted the way I did back then, why I left. It was a good opportunity, there were real reasons, but...there was something else, too. I’ve never been very good at knowing how I feel, so it took a lot of time to figure out how scared I was back then. And why.”

Taehyung’s face goes confused. He turns away from the kitchen counter to face Jimin. “In school? What were you scared about?”

Jimin breathes in deep, exhales heavy. “You’ve always been really brave, Taehyung. And so — so certain about things. I’ve never had any of that, you know. I’ve always just been this mess of anxiety and worry. Meeting you was like meeting another species, the way you just let yourself...be. And I think it was good for me, in a lot of ways, but it was also so scary sometimes.”

Taehyung looks at Jimin, looks like he’s waiting for more. Right, more — Jimin has more. He has so much more he has to say, even if he’s not sure how to say it.

“You looked at me like you were so sure. All the time,” Jimin says, struggling saying something that feels so delicate out loud like that. “You did even after I came back.”

“I was sure,” Taehyung says softly. “I always felt sure about you.”

Jimin gives a weak laugh. “That’s fucking terrifying, Taehyung.”

“Weren’t you sure about me too?” Taehyung asks.

“Yeah,” Jimin answers. “That’s what made it even scarier.”

Taehyung frowns. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“I know you don’t,” Jimin says with a half-smile. “It’s not how you work. But to me, you were like this...unbelievable person. Everyone loves you. And even though I was your favorite, I felt like it was only a matter of time until I wasn’t. Especially once school ended.”

“You really thought that?” Taehyung asked, voice quiet and surprised.

Jimin shrugs. “I don’t know. I thought it enough. One of the reasons I jumped so fast when I got that touring gig was...I was just scared, Taehyung. Of you, and the way I felt so close to you, so attached, and how badly it would hurt when you...I don’t know, moved on to something else eventually,” he mumbles the ending, embarrassed even as he says it. “So I left first. I ran.”

Across from him, Taehyung’s eyebrows are furrowed like he doesn’t understand.

“And — and I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out, but,” Jimin swallows, heart thumping uncertainly. “I realized most people must not feel that way about someone they just want to be friends with. And that I never felt that way about anyone else.”

Jimin picks his posture up, tries to put on a brave face, takes a breath leading up to the finale of this speech, near-rehearsed with the amount of time he spent writing out all the things he wanted to say tonight. “I don’t want to take a step back, Taehyung, that’s why I came over. I don’t — I never wanted to think about it, about the way we are with each other and what it meant, because I convinced myself I didn’t need to. Because we were too close to need to. Because we were always just...us. But I’ve been thinking about it.”

Taehyung doesn’t speak. Just looks at him, jaw set, waiting, listening.

“I want you in every way,” Jimin says, and now his straight, square shoulders feel at odds with the softness of his voice. “I think I always did.”

There’s a moment of silence, a pause. Jimin feels his heartbeat, loud and erratic, and for a moment there’s more fear. Nerves. Doubt that he should have done this at all.

Then Taehyung lets out a deep exhale. “Stand up, will you?” He asks softly. Jimin, scared out of his wits, obliges. He gets up from his chair, looks across the few feet of space between them. “Just to make sure I’m understanding you —” Taehyung starts, but Jimin interrupts him.

“I have feelings for you, Taehyung,”

Taehyung nods slowly, looking down at his kitchen floor, and then he laughs to himself.

“What?” Jimin asks.

“I can’t believe you really gave me a whole speech,” Taehyung says, sounding amused. “I didn’t have a speech.”

“I told you, I’ve been thinking a lot,” Jimin says, trying to sound only a little defensive.

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees, still smiling. “It takes you an hour to figure out what pizza toppings you want, I can’t imagine the amount of thinking you’ve been doing lately.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin complains, putting a whine in his voice.

“You’re so stupid,” Taehyung tells him, laughing a little. “You’re a real idiot, Park Jimin.”

“Yah,” Jimin whines, but Taehyung is walking toward him with a smile on his face, and Jimin finds it terribly infectious.

“I sit around for years with this. Pacing around, keeping it to myself,” Taehyung says, stepping into Jimin’s space. “And the thought just hadn’t occurred to you.”

“I think I didn’t want it to occur to me,” Jimin tells him, looking up at him but not quite meeting his eyes. “We were so good, Taehyung. I loved you so much, I really — I thought you were so great. And you treated me so...so sweetly,” Jimin says with an embarrassed little laugh, only a little self-deprecating, “And I convinced myself to just follow your lead. Thinking about it more would have made it harder for me, and I...was selfish.”

“I was selfish too,” Taehyung says. “It was selfish to not tell you how I felt earlier. I didn’t want to mess us up.”

“I’m sorry for the last couple months. Those were selfish too. Even after you told me, I still...tried to push it under the rug. It was shitty, and I’m sorry that I hurt you. I was just...desperate. I came back to Seoul hoping we would feel the same as we always did, and I didn’t want it to disappear again.” Jimin bites his lip, pausing before he goes on, looking up at Taehyung’s face. “And I’m sorry for leaving.” It’s almost a hug, this thing they’re in, except they’re not quite touching. Just hovering close to each other, tangential, like they’re afraid to close the gap any further. “I really am.”

“It’s okay,” Taehyung tells him, voice softer now. “I’m glad you came back.”

Jimin nods. They look at each other for a moment, faces close.

“You should have told me,” Taehyung says. “That you were scared of...I don’t know, how I made you feel. Of me. I didn’t know.”

“It felt so awful. I didn’t want you to know I was scared of anything. You weren’t scared of anything,” Jimin says, looking down from Taehyung’s gaze. “And it wasn’t because of you. You were just you. It was my fault for being...me.”

“Hey,” Taehyung says. His voice is serious. “I like you. I’m glad you’re you. Being you doesn’t need to mean that you worry over stuff that you don’t tell anyone else. If you told someone else, they might help you worry about it less.”

Jimin blinks at him. “You make it sound easy.”

“It is easy, once you get used to doing it.” Taehyung’s face is so earnest, it makes Jimin flustered. He puts a hand on Jimin’s shoulder, steadying. “You’ve always taken care of me, Jiminnie. I can take care of you too.”

“You do take care of me,” Jimin tells him quietly. He doesn’t know how to explain that he’s never felt like he was getting the short end of the deal here.

“I can take care of you better,” Taehyung argues. “If you tell me what’s in your head.”

“I...thanks,” Jimin says softly. He doesn’t have to fight Taehyung on this, he realizes. He can just try to accept it, that someone actively wants to care for him enough to say it outright. Enough to hear the problems he invents for himself, the obstacle courses he sets in his mind that make it more difficult to enjoy anything without doubting it. It feels uncomfortable letting himself believe it, but he tries, for Taehyung’s sake.

“I was scared of lots of things, for the record,” Taehyung tells him, and Jimin looks up at him, waiting for more. “For one, I was scared of anything between us changing. I pretended for a long time, that I didn’t feel like this. And I was so scared that you would find out, or…” He trails off, looking own at the floor. “I was scared of losing people. After my grandma…” He looks to the side, shakes his head. “You put me back together, you know. I didn’t want to lose you too.”

Jimin swallows. It’s been a long time since he thought about that. “It was unfair of me to think that,” he says softly. “Of course you were scared of things. Sorry.” Taehyung nods, looking him in the eye again.

“I’ve had a rough couple of months,” Taehyung tells him, giving a humorless chuckle. “Trying to figure out what we are, what we ever were if you didn’t have feelings for me was...hard. I guess I didn’t realize how much I was expecting that you’d want me back, until you said you didn’t.” As he says it, Jimin can see fatigue in Taehyung’s expression, like maybe he hasn’t been sleeping well. Jimin knows the feeling.

“I’m sorry,” Jimin says again. “I think I was the last one to know that I had feelings for you. I’ve never had anyone like you in my life, Taehyung, I didn’t...you were like home. And you never seemed to question that, so I didn’t either. It felt really good not to question it. ”

“I felt like that too sometimes. Like maybe I just shouldn’t have ever questioned anything about our friendship, because it felt so easy. Before I figured out how I felt, but after too. I guess I don’t really blame you.” Taehyung sighs. “I always knew we were different people. We do feelings really differently. It’s okay that it took you a while to get there, and...thanks for the apology,” he says.

“Anytime. Let me know if you ever want a refill on any of those apologies. I think I owe you a few,” Jimin tells him, feeling slightly breathless with relief at the knot that’s been in his chest over this for weeks slowly untightening. It feels surreal, almost, for this to actually happen, to have a distant view of a maybe-happy ending on the horizon. Taehyung moves his hand back from Jimin’s shoulder to his upper back then, pulling him in slightly closer.

“Jiminnie. You really like me?” Taehyung asks in an almost-whisper. And after weeks and months of trying desperately to analyze the way Taehyung makes him feel, really feel, the big real feelings that Jimin by nature has always avoided looking at, he can recognize the fondness he feels. It’s warm and sweet and Jimin wants to reach his hands out and hold Taehyung’s face, the way he always has. Wants to hold Taehyung in the palm of his hand and kiss his forehead gently, because that’s how Taehyung has always made Jimin feel. He feels a heart-deep shiver, looking at the sweet expression on Taehyung’s face. Taehyung has always been so sweet.

“I like you a lot,” Jimin answers him. He presses a half-step further, their chests pressed together. And then, because he’s feeling punch-drunk without much to lose, he asks, “Can I kiss you?”

“Idiot,” Taehyung tells him again, sounding breathless, and then he leans down. Jimin lifts onto his toes to close the distance between them, and he meets Taehyung in the middle eagerly.

There’s a feeling of relief, kissing Taehyung. A sigh of comfort, like letting the tension in your shoulders relax after a long day. It feels like someone scratching your back in a spot you hadn’t even realized had been itching for years. And if Jimin had still had any doubts about his own feelings before coming here today, they’re gone now, in the face of how good it feels to kiss Taehyung, the way it feels like they should have done this from the beginning.

“Oh,” Taehyung breathes, pulling back to exhale.

“I was always jealous, on New Years,” Jimin tells him quietly, feeling compelled to say exactly what’s on his mind. “Watching you kiss everyone but me.”

“Jealous,” Taehyung repeats, dull surprise in his voice. “Very platonic.”

“I thought I was so needy,” Jimin offers with an apologetic half-smile. “That I didn’t like seeing you give anyone attention but me. But...I guess maybe I just wished I got one too.”

“Stop talking,” Taehyung tells him, and Jimin laughs into their next kiss. Taehyung brings his hands up to hold Jimin’s jaw, and Jimin feels lit up at the touch. His hands feel good there, familiar but new, comforting but shocking. Jimin lets his arms wrap around Taehyung’s waist, pulls himself in tighter against Taehyung, and it’s remarkable how he fits there just like he always has.

They kiss like they’re trying to make up for lost time. Maybe it’s subconscious. In a breath, Jimin mutters, “I missed you.”

“Really,” Taehyung mutters, “Stop talking.”

“Shouldn’t we talk more?” Jimin asks. He’s gotten the impression from Namjoon that these things involve a lot of talking.

“Probably,” Taehyung agrees, but he goes back in for another kiss and Jimin follows easily. After all, he and Taehyung have always been able to communicate pretty well through touch.

Taehyung is a good kisser, and that’s maybe the least surprising thing Jimin’s ever learned about him. Still, it’s nice, to be held so gently, kissed so well by him. Jimin feels hot with it, the strange feeling of being wanted so much. After all, no one has ever wanted him the way Taehyung does, and he certainly hasn’t wanted anyone else like this before either.

In fact, a troubling thought crosses his mind as they kiss — if this is what it’s supposed to feel like, what was he doing with the people he’s dated before this? Why didn’t he ever notice that it never felt as right as this does? Maybe that’s why he always felt himself drifting from anyone who paid him attention after a few months. Everything felt impermanent, uninteresting next to something like Taehyung, even if Jimin hadn’t really figured out why they slotted together so well.

He doesn’t have the capacity to linger long on that, though. This isn’t a time for introspection; he’s had enough of that lately. This is a time for Taehyung’s tongue licking into his mouth, a hand on his jaw and the other in his hair, Jimin’s hands on Taehyung’s chest now. Jimin pulls away from Taehyung for a moment so he can back himself up against the counter, moving his hands to push himself up onto the surface. He pulls Taehyung in by his shirt, spreading his legs so Taehyung can stand between them.

“Oh,” Taehyung says again. He moves the forgotten teacup full of nothing but hot water, pushing it further away from them on the counter, and then he places his hands on the tops of Jimin’s thighs, moves them up to his hips with a glance upward at Jimin’s expression. Taehyung looks up at him cautiously, like he’s waiting for Jimin to stop him.

Jimin says, “I want you. You know that, right?”

“I’m adapting,” Taehyung tells him. “You rejected me recently.”

Jimin winces. “Did I say sorry for that yet?”

“Maybe. I’ve lost count,” Taehyung says. “I think the apology is implied in the kissing.”

“I want you. I’ve always wanted you, I think,” Jimin says, voice quiet on instinct, like saying the truth too loud will make an alarm go off. “It just got all mixed up.”

“I’m glad you figured it out,” Taehyung says. His hands are back on Jimin’s thighs now, and Jimin likes them there.

“Yeah, me too. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting on your kitchen counter like this right now, and I’m really enjoying it so far.”

“I think it’s really hot that you’re on the counter,” Taehyung tells him earnestly.

“I do too,” Jimin says in a stage whisper, leaning in close to Taehyung’s ear with a smile. He turns his head and presses a kiss to Taehyung’s temple, a familiar gesture. It feels better, though, when it’s followed up by Taehyung leaning up to meet his mouth with a kiss, insistent and slow.

Jimin leans into it, pressing forward into Taehyung’s body, and god it feels good. For as scary as this felt to him for the past month, when he’s been running this scenario through his head over and over again to figure out how he feels about it, it feels so easy in the moment. Like lying his head on Taehyung’s lap on his couch, or curling up against his side. Jimin figures they did so much of the work years ago; they already know how to fit around each other, how to touch each other softly, with care. They’ve always been attracted to each other the way stubborn opposite magnetic poles are, refusing to part. It’s easier to lean into it than it ever was to figure out where the line they were supposed to stop was.

It’s so easy to keep kissing Taehyung, slow and heavy, their chests pressed together. Taehyung’s hands run up and down his thighs, thumbs running across Jimin’s inseam, and Jimin has his arms wrapped around the back of Taehyung’s neck, holding him close. It’s so good, and Jimin thinks the last time he felt so reverently about making out with someone, he was probably fifteen.

Maybe this is how it feels when you love someone, he thinks, and the thought catches him by surprise. He pulls back from Taehyung, an involuntary flinch, and Taehyung looks at him, eyes questioning. Jimin shakes his head dismissively — no time for that particular train of thought right now. Instead, he says, “This is really good.”

“Yes,” Taehyung agrees easily, and then he leans down to kiss Jimin’s neck. Jimin sighs, leaning his head back. Taehyung brings up one of his hands to unbutton the top button of the loose button-up shirt Jimin has tucked into his little black jeans, pulling his shirt collar back to kiss Jimin’s collarbone. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t pick an outfit that made him look good, but mostly just to trick his own confidence; he didn’t think it was a practical concern. He likes the little ceremony of it, though, someone unbuttoning his shirt. He thinks about Taehyung undressing him, purposeful and patient, and it sounds so hot that he pulls Taehyung back up to kiss him on the lips, urgently because he needs it. Jimin brings his hands back down to Taehyung’s waist, then his hips, before pushing underneath the hem of Taehyung’s sweater.

Taehyung’s softer in the stomach and the hips than he ever used to be, back when Jimin knew his body arguably too well. He’s filled out more in the last few years. Jimin likes it, the way Taehyung feels solid under his hands, the way his body gives way softly. Jimin’s thumbs brush lightly against Taehyung’s stomach as he moves his hands up his bare sides, and Taehyung makes a soft noise in his throat, encouraging.

“Are we gonna do this on the counter?” Jimin asks, pulling back just enough from Taehyung’s mouth to say it. “Because I’m in favor of the idea.” Taehyung pulls back further to look at Jimin.

“What are we doing, exactly?” Taehyung asks him, and Jimin pauses, looking to gauge his reaction. Taehyung’s expression is open, curious.

“Whatever you want,” Jimin answers, glancing down to Taehyung’s lips before he pulls his gaze up, to the flush on his cheeks and the freckle on his nose and then the brown of his eyes.

“Took you two months to figure out you have feelings for me but ten minutes to decide you’re ready to have sex with me?” Taehyung asks, expression teasing, but Jimin sees his blush go deeper. It’s sweet, Taehyung is unbearably sweet, and that’s not a new thought or feeling but it certainly feels better now that he’s kissed him. It’s like he has an outlet for the concentrated affection Jimin feels built up in the hollows of him, stacked and stored for so long.

“Yes,” Jimin tells him easily. “Being attracted to you comes very easy to me. And having the feelings part figured out makes it even easier.”

“Good to know,” Taehyung mutters, sounding slightly overwhelmed.

Jimin pulls back — maybe he was misreading Taehyung, maybe this is too fast. “We don’t have to do anything if you don’t want, it’s really —”

“No,” Taehyung interrupts, shaking his head. “I’d really like to have sex with you. I told you, I’m adapting.”

“Oh,” Jimin says, unable to stop a small pleased smile from showing on his face. “Okay. So, counter?”

“I am not having sex with you for the first time in my kitchen,” Taehyung tells him decisively. “I want a little more romance than that, Jimin.”

Jimin pouts. “You think I can’t give you romance on a kitchen counter?”

“I don’t find anything romantic about surfaces without pillows,” Taehyung says with furrowed eyebrows. “Some of them may be sexy, but they are not romantic.”

Jimin hums. “Okay. Tell me about your romantic plan, then.”

“There’s no plan,” Taehyung tells him, leaning into Jimin’s touch. “Just wanna be on a bed. Maybe light some candles. I’m a simple man.”

Jimin brings one of his hands up to slide up Taehyung’s torso, pushing his sweater up as he goes. “Candles. That is kind of romantic.”

Taehyung’s hands grab Jimin’s hips, thumbs on his hip bones. “I’ve maybe thought about this a little.”

It makes Jimin feel warm, thinking about Taehyung thinking about this. He feels warm over the way Taehyung says things like that, too, the way something honest and vulnerable will fall out of his mouth carelessly, like he doesn’t understand why he would ever keep it to himself. He’s always been like that, and it’s always sent a little thrill up Jimin’s spine. What’s more nerve-wracking than someone who tells the truth?

“The sex is gonna be really good, isn’t it?” Jimin asks, voice soft as he leans close enough to Taehyung that their noses rest against each other.

“It has been every time I’ve thought about it,” Taehyung teases, and Jimin takes the bait, leans in to kiss him again urgently.

Maybe it’s stupid, rushing into sex like this before they even really figure out anything else. It certainly wasn’t what Jimin was expecting from the evening. But the two of them are who they are — affectionate, handsy, desperate for each others’ touch. Maybe this was inevitable, their magnetic poles sticking together immediately and resolutely, finally lined up correctly. It would explain why Jimin is finding it so difficult to pull away.

They move off of the counter eventually, but don’t get far before Taehyung backs him into a wall, setting him momentarily on fire. Jimin bites Taehyung’s lip, angles himself so the top of his thigh grinds against Taehyung’s dick, already half-hard. Taehyung lets out a little surprised noise, voice deep and warm in Jimin’s ear, and Jimin is obsessed with it. He’s consumed with the need to draw out a thousand more of those noises, all low and pretty and turned on. It’s sort of overwhelming, the way just kissing has made him need to touch every inch of Taehyung, make him his.

In staggering steps, pausing every few to kiss again, breathless, they make their way across Taehyung’s apartment. Outside of Taehyung’s bedroom, he pulls away, making a face at Jimin.

“Sorry for the mess,” he says, looking embarrassed.

Jimin snorts, amused. “I don’t care what your bedroom looks like, dummy. There’s no amount of dirty laundry that would make me not want to fuck you right now.”

“What an honor,” Taehyung tells him, pinching Jimin’s waist in a ticklish spot. Jimin jumps, groaning in complaint.

“Tickling me is also not romantic. If you can veto kitchen counters, I can veto tickling.”

“I didn’t veto kitchen counters forever, just like, the first time —”

“I think it could be first-time level romantic! It’s spontaneous, it’s passionate,” Jimin argues, and Taehyung looks at him for a moment like he’s weighing that argument.

“But my bedroom already has lube in it,” Taehyung says. “What’s less romantic than sitting naked on a cold kitchen counter waiting for me to get lube?”

“I would say that this conversation is getting close,” Jimin says.

Taehyung looks flustered for a moment, then makes a good-naturedly annoyed face. “I keep telling you to stop talking.”

“Seems like if you really want to shut me up, you would fuck me,” Jimin says with a shrug.

“I’m trying to,” Taehyung retorts with a huff, and Jimin lets out a laugh, bright and happy. It feels so good, a normal bickering conversation between them except with Taehyung’s hand on Jimin’s waist, the memory of his lips still tingling against Jimin’s. Jimin has always liked teasing Taehyung, the way Taehyung would pout and whine, and he can see the pout in Taehyung’s expression now. It’s so endearing, everything about Taehyung is so endearing. Jimin leans up to kiss him again, because he can, because it’s such a satisfying response to the way he’s burnt up with love for Taehyung sometimes. He’s just so cute, so sweet, Jimin wants to dig his hands into him, sink his teeth into him. That’s a familiar feeling, the same one that always made him squeeze Taehyung into a hug or pull at his arm until Taehyung whined. Like a puppy tugging at a playmate’s ear, nipping with his teeth. It feels better expressed like this, though, with his teeth biting into Taehyung’s bottom lip and a hand finding its way to Taehyung’s ass.

Taehyung pulls him backward, through the doorway and into his bedroom. They stumble through, hands on each other, until they reach Taehyung’s bed. His room really is a mess, but Jimin’s apartment is too after weeks of being preoccupied and lonely. The mess doesn’t phase him, it almost feels fitting; Jimin has always felt like Taehyung knows the messiest parts of him in a way most people didn’t. It’s silly, but it’s comforting to see some of Taehyung’s mess in front of him, real, reminding him this isn’t supposed to be perfect.

Jimin has spent a lot of his life looking for perfection. He likes to believe he’s grown up a little since then, gotten more comfortable with facing reality instead of pushing himself blindly toward a goal. Starting teaching has been like that, a negotiation with all the parts of himself that were allergic to settling. It’s taken him months to figure out that teaching feels good, in a lot of the same ways performing felt good. It feels even better sometimes. There’s still guilt tucked messily into his chest over the last few months with Taehyung, but he tries to use the same logic now, that they’re okay even if Jimin didn’t figure this out sooner. Even if he should have done it better. It can still be good. They can still be something really good. A bit of tension he hadn’t realized he was carrying relaxes in him, and he tosses himself backward against the bed, looking up at Taehyung.

“When you thought about this,” Jimin starts, propping himself up on his elbows as he looked over at Taehyung, still standing at the edge of the bed, “Who topped?”

Taehyung looks momentarily surprised, but adapts quickly. “Depended on the day,” he shrugs. “I want to, though, if that’s alright.”

He says it with an earnestness that pushes aside Jimin’s teasing act, catches him off-guard and makes him laugh, endeared. “Yeah. It’s alright,” he says, and then he reaches a hand out toward Taehyung, waving for him to come onto the bed.

It feels strange, so much anticipation built between them in the quiet of Taehyung’s bedroom. Years’ worth, Jimin figures, even if he was slow to feel it. The air around them is heavy as they go back and forth in the awkwardly human dance of kissing, pulling clothes halfway off, rearranging bodies. Taehyung leans overtop of Jimin, shirt off, pants unbuttoned, and pauses.

“Is there anything I should know?” Taehyung asks him.

“Like what?” Jimin asks, picking his hips up off of the bed to finish taking his pants off. Taehyung has a hand on Jimin’s hip, resting there still after pushing at the waistband of his jeans, and all Jimin can think about is how much he’d like Taehyung to keep touching him.

“I don’t know. Specific likes or dislikes. Requests.” Taehyung shrugs with one shoulder.

“Hm,” Jimin mutters, thinking. He brings his hands up to run down Taehyung’s chest, still feeling a little giddy at the casual touch. He’s missed touching Taehyung so much, and now there’s so much of it to do. “I can’t put weight on my knees for very long. It’s a little limiting. Nothing else specific, though. I’m flexible.”

Taehyung nods down at him. Jimin feels curious. “What about you? Do you have anything to share? Likes and dislikes?” His hands are at Taehyung’s sides, warm against his skin.

“I like you,” Taehyung tells him, leaning his weight further down until he’s low over Jimin on the bed, most of them touching. “I like your mouth. And your tattoos,” he mutters, bringing his hand up to run lightly over the lettering on his chest. “And your hands, and your legs.”

Jimin feels a blush rise from his chest to his face. “That’s — now you made me look bad,” he huffs, flustered. Taehyung grins down at him, pleased, and Jimin pouts.

“I told you, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”

“Well, I’ve — thought about you, too” Jimin argues, voice going a little timid after a confident start. He pushes through it, though, ignoring the anxious voice in his mind that sounds panicked, out of its depth. He swallows, brings his hands up to Taehyung’s jaw. “I like your ears, and your freckles. I like your voice. And your body. I’ve always really liked your body.”

Taehyung hums. “And you still do?” He asks, a chuckle in his voice, though he looks flattered.

“I think I like it more,” Jimin answers honestly. “But I’d like your body no matter what, because it’s yours.”

“That’s sweet,” Taehyung tells him, a shy smile on his face. “I do also like a bunch of other weird stuff, but I figured we probably weren’t gonna go there right now.”

“When are we?” Jimin asks. “Tomorrow?”

“Maybe next week,” Taehyung offers.

“Wow, a whole week. That’s a long buffer. How weird? Like able to purchase from a sex store, or something more niche?”

“How many purchases do you make at sex stores?” Taehyung asks him, head tilted to the side curiously.

Jimin shrugs with one shoulder. “I told you, I’m flexible.”

They look at each other for a moment, the air between them sparking with something new and fun and wholly them, before Taehyung says, “You’re so sexy,” and Jimin replies, voice quick, “Then touch me more,” and they’re back to kissing. It feels urgent.

Taehyung follows directions — his hands are all over Jimin, and the feeling is comforting, thrilling, somehow both at once. It’s been a while since they were so closely acquainted with each other’s bodies, and it feels like Taehyung is trying to learn his all over again. His hands brush against Jimin’s skin, up and down his chest, his stomach, his sides.

“Stop,” Jimin says through a breathy laugh with Taehyung’s hand on his ribs, breathes the words against Taehyung’s lips. “You know I’m ticklish there.”

“Just checking,” Taehyung tells him before another soft kiss. His fingers move up to Jimin’s nipple, pressing experimentally.

“Ah,” Jimin breathes, mouth dropping open on instinct. Taehyung kisses his cheek, then his jaw, pressing his thumb against Jimin’s nipple again before skating his hand down to Jimin’s stomach, just at the waistband of his briefs. His hands are big, Jimin knows this logically, but the only person who’s been touching him lately is himself, and the difference in the feeling is a little shocking.

“Wanna touch you,” Taehyung breathes against Jimin’s jaw, voice deep, and Jimin feels it reverberate against him.

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees easily. “Yes.” He lifts his hips again, inviting Taehyung to undress him, and Taehyung catches on, pushing Jimin’s briefs down his hips until Jimin can kick them off.

Taehyung is looking him up and down, a dazed sort of look on his face, and Jimin feels a surge of confidence. This, at least, Jimin is comfortable in. Demanding attention, getting someone to look at him the way Taehyung is looking at him. Every familiar feeling is amplified, electrified, new and strange, but underneath all that it’s the same rhythm of sex that Jimin is used to. He’s always liked being wanted.

“Get on your back,” Jimin tells him, looking right back, and Taehyung nods. He pulls back off of Jimin and flops to his side, looking up at Jimin expectantly. Taehyung’s half-hard in his little boxer-briefs, and the look of him leaves Jimin a little hungry. Without much more thought, Jimin straddles Taehyung’s waist, seating himself just above Taehyung’s dick and looking down at him with half-lidded eyes.

“Oh,” Taehyung mutters on impact, and Jimin watches his eyes drag up and down his body again, slower, more intentional. “You’re gorgeous.”

“Yeah?” Jimin asks, shifting his weight back until he can almost feel Taehyung against him. Taehyung nods below him, hips shifting up toward Jimin, and Jimin takes it as encouragement. He scoots back just enough to feel Taehyung’s hard-on pressed against the curve of his ass, moves backward against him. Taehyung lets out a low noise, thrusts against Jimin what little he can with Jimin’s weight on him. Jimin exhales, wanting. He wants a little more of this, though, first. He leans forward, letting his weight rest against Taehyung’s body, their chests flush, and kisses Taehyung once, hard. Taehyung kisses him back enthusiastically, hips still thrusting up slow and rhythmic against Jimin’s ass.

Jimin reaches for Taehyung’s hand, and Taehyung’s fingers grip his, a gesture so sweet that Jimin lets it stand for a moment before he continues what he had in mind, bringing their clasped hands to his ass before letting go. Taehyung catches on, big hand gripping Jimin’s hip and moving down. Jimin hums at the feeling, Taehyung’s grip digging into the meat of his thigh, spreading him just slightly like it’s an experiment. He leans down and kisses Taehyung’s jaw, down the side of his neck, and Taehyung touches him slowly, all gentleness with a strong grip that gets stronger, like Taehyung’s trying to figure out where Jimin’s line is. Jimin doesn’t stop him, likes the feeling, likes it even more when Taehyung really commits and lets his nails dig into Jimin’s skin.

“Feels good,” he murmurs against Taehyung’s neck, and Taehyung nods. And as much as he’d like Taehyung to keep doing this, keep edging closer to the inside of his thighs, he has other plans. He moves his body down, out of Taehyung’s grip, so he can kiss down the rest of Taehyung’s throat, down to his collarbones and then his chest. Taehyung makes another low noise, and Jimin wants to hear a million of them, doesn’t want them to stop. He kisses down to Taehyung’s nipple, kissing across his chest to the other one too, listening to Taehyung’s sharp exhales and half-moans. He’s hard now, pressed insistently against Jimin’s stomach, and Jimin feels his mouth water at the thought. He looks up at Taehyung through his eyelashes and finds Taehyung looking back at him, neck craned up to do it. Jimin runs his tongue along Taehyung’s nipple and Taehyung’s head falls back against the bed with an exhale.

Jimin pushes himself further down, kissing down Taehyung’s stomach until his lips are touching the soft fabric of Taehyung’s underwear. Taehyung’s legs fall further apart at the feeling, leaving Jimin between them with a racing heart. He mouths lazily at Taehyung through his underwear and Taehyung moans quietly, hips bucking up. Jimin brings a hand to the inside of Taehyung’s thigh, rubbing at the skin there and making Taehyung twitch a little. He moves his hand further up, until he can slide his thumb past the leg of Taehyung’s boxer-briefs, touching the skin just underneath. The noise Taehyung makes then is a little louder, and Jimin likes it.

He keeps up like that for a minute, kissing at Taehyung through the fabric, hands moving to almost touch him, until Taehyung speaks up in a raspy voice. “Please,” he says, “More.” And Jimin never did like telling him no.

Jimin pulls back, moving his hands to pull down Taehyung’s underwear a little roughly, impatient now. And now it’s his turn to look at Taehyung, body long and pretty, cock hard. Kind of big, but Jimin knew that already. He feels momentarily grateful that he’s been channeling all of his anxious energy into frequent masturbation lately, fucking himself often enough that this shouldn’t take too much preperation.

First things first, though, he lies back down between Taehyung’s thighs, pressing kisses from Taehyung’s thigh up to his hip. Taehyung props himself up on his elbows, and when Jimin notices, he looks up at Taehyung to meet his eyes.

“Hey,” Jimin breathes, letting out a breath of laughter.

“Hi,” Taehyung replies simply, voice soft. His face is open and honest and lovestruck, so sweet that Jimin was sure his skin had tasted of sugar this whole time. Jimin swallows, feeling a pulse of nerves at the way Taehyung loves him, the weight of it. But then he exhales, focuses on the warm rush in his chest, the roller coaster feeling in his stomach that reminds him how happy he is right now.

He wants to say something to Taehyung, but it’s shaped too much like “I love you,” in his mouth, and he can’t do that right now. So instead Jimin does something that comes more naturally to him and licks his lips, puts his hands on Taehyung’s hips before leaning down to press a kiss at the crease of his thigh. Taehyung brings his hands on top of Jimin’s, moves to interlace their fingers again, and Jimin lets him. He keeps his left hand joined together with Taehyung’s, but brings his right hand close to his face, bringing Taehyung with him.

Jimin looks up at Taehyung as he leads Taehyung’s fingers to his mouth, dropping his own hand once Taehyung catches on, his eyes widening slightly. He slips two fingertips into Jimin’s mouth and Jimin licks at them, amused when Taehyung’s cock twitches. Taehyung pushes his fingers farther, and Jimin leans forward, making it easier for him. He licks around them, up to the pads of his fingers and then back down, enjoying the way Taehyung is squirming underneath him as he does. When he pulls his head back up, he nips gently at the pad of Taehyung’s index finger before pulling his head back altogether. Taehyung moves his hand to follow his mouth, but Jimin grabs it with his own hand, leading it down to Taehyung’s cock.

Jimin guides Taehyung’s fingers down the length of his dick, leaving a trail of Jimin’s spit as he goes. Something in Jimin feels deeply satisfied at it, like he’s just done something to mark his territory. All the parts of him that always wanted to twist posessively around Taehyung are pleased in a way that makes his stomach flip a little. Jimin’s hand rests on top of Taehyung’s, and with their fingers almost intertwined, Jimin leads Taehyung’s hand to grip loosely around his dick, his own hand working with Taehyung’s.

Jimin lets his mouth fall open, lowers his head again, just enough that the head of Taehyung’s cock can sit on his tongue, slide against his spit-wet lips. He licks around the head lazily as his hand moves with Taehyung to stroke him, slide getting easier with the spit. Taehyung lets out a hard breath, and Jimin glances up at him briefly to see his eyes closed, face turned up toward his ceiling serenely.

“Pretty Taehyungie,” Jimin says, pulling his mouth back momentarily, and it startles Taehyung into looking at him. He has a satisfied little smile on his face, confident, and Jimin likes it. There’s a pang in Jimin’s chest at that, a sudden reminder of how much he likes the person Taehyung is right now. The person Taehyung was five years ago is special to him, something fragile wrapped in cloth in his chest, kept safe, but this Taehyung is different and good. Steadier, quieter, a little more serious. Jimin wonders if he is too.

He stays like that for a couple minutes, teasing Taehyung with his tongue as his hand moves slowly. He’s savoring it a little. The longer he goes, the harder Taehyung exhales, eyebrows knitted together as his mouth falls open. “Jimin,” Taehyung mutters, pulling his hand away from his dick, and Jimin pulls his head up to look at him, going still.

“Wanna touch you,” Taehyung tells him again, tone a little desperate this time. “Come here.”

Jimin pulls back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand before pulling himself back up the bed toward Taehyung. Taehyung has his arms out, ready to grab Jimin into a close hold before Jimin’s even prepared for it.

Taehyung doesn’t seem concerned with giving Jimin time to react. “You’re so sexy,” he breathes, bringing a hand to run down Jimin’s side and across his ass. He turns up on his side so they’re facing each other, next to each other on the bed, and it’s another moment of familiar-but-not. Taehyung brings his hand back up Jimin’s body, then down his chest and slowly down to his stomach, and Jimin leans into the touch, tilting his head up to kiss Taehyung again. Jimin hums, content, and when Taehyung lets his hand wrap around Jimin’s dick, the noise gets caught in his throat, sounding strange.

Taehyung lets out a little laugh, and Jimin pulls back, offended. Taehyung’s hand is still around his dick. “Don’t laugh at me,” Jimin says, face pulling into a pout without his permission.

“You sounded funny,” Taehyung defends himself. He smiles sheepishly at Jimin.

“You look funny,” Jimin retorts with no particular heat in his voice.

“Really?” Taehyung asks, sounding and looking earnest.

Jimin looks him over with the pout still on his face. “No,” he admits. Taehyung laughs again, his face pressed into the crook of Jimin’s neck. On instinct, Jimin reaches behind his head to put a hand in his hair, fingers gripped loosely, and Taehyung exhales, sounding pleased about it.

They wind tightly around each other for a while, hands moving, Jimin breathing heavy as Taehyung touches him just enough to tease. Eventually Taehyung moves away from him to grab lube and Jimin is left lying there alone momentarily, pulse loud in his mind. He’s aching for more; he looks over at Taehyung’s back hungrily, eyes darting from the breadth of his shoulders down to his ass. When Taehyung turns back toward him, Jimin doesn’t even have it in himself to be ashamed.

“Come on,” Jimin tells him, shifting his hips on the bed just to have something to do. “I need you.”

Taehyung blinks at him, eyes big and slow. He seems frozen for a moment before he moves back toward Jimin, settling back into the way they were wrapped up before, facing each other on their sides. Jimin moves to envelop him quickly, getting arms around the back of his neck and hiking one of his knees up over Taehyung’s hip. He feels the urge to cling, which isn’t uncommon when it comes to Taehyung, but more intense than he’s used to.

“You need me?” Taehyung asks him, voice deep and soft. He has his face pressed close to Jimin’s neck, his breath tickling Jimin. He kisses the side of Jimin’s throat gently.

“I need you all the time,” Jimin says. It feels more honest than he knows what to do with. Taehyung exhales against Jimin’s skin, kissing his neck again, rougher.

“You promise?” Taehyung asks him. He pulls his head back, and Jimin glances down to find Taehyung looking up at him, radiating the kind of vulnerability that makes Jimin want to sweat and clench his jaw, puts a tremor in his hand. Jimin swallows, forcing himself to take the full brunt of Taehyung, the sheer terrifying Taehyungness of it all, without flinching away. He can do this. He wants to do this.

“Yeah,” Jimin breathes. “I promise.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything else in response; he takes the hand that he just slicked with lube and brings it abruptly back down to wrap around Jimin’s dick, gripping him properly this time. Jimin makes a noise, surprised, but closes his eyes at the feeling. Taehyung strokes him slowly, steadily, thumb sliding up the vein on the underside of Jimin’s cock. Jimin whines softly, bucking his hips toward Taehyung. His legs are spread wide, one of his knees still straddled up over Taehyung’s hips, but he still wants more. More contact, a better angle, Taehyung to go a little quicker. He lets out a shuddering breath as Taehyung mouths against his neck, messy with spit and teeth — Jimin likes it too much, he thinks.

It surprises him, the way he suddenly feels like he might tip over the edge as Taehyung’s hand keeps moving on his dick. “Tae-Taehyungie,” he stutters, gripping into Taehyung’s upper back with his fingernails. “Stop,” he manages in a breath, and Taehyung goes still quickly, pulling his face away from Jimin’s neck to look at him. Jimin exhales roughly, trying to ignore the way he wants to buck his hips forward, rut against Taehyung til he comes. He breathes deep for a moment, resting his forehead against Taehyung’s shoulder.

“I want you to fuck me,” Jimin says in a weak voice, leaning his head closer to Taehyung’s chest to press an errant kiss to his collarbone. “You can’t make me come yet.”

“Ugh,” Taehyung says, and Jimin can tell without looking that he’s joking, maybe even making a face. Jimin smiles weakly against Taehyung’s skin. “I wish we could just go for infinite rounds.”

“I mean,” Jimin says, feeling put-back-together enough to bring his head up, look Taehyung in the eye. “We can’t go for infinite rounds all at once, but I’m up for infinite rounds.”

“Maybe if we start with like, a few a day, we can start to make real progress,” Taehyung suggests, a laugh in his voice.

“Yeah, maybe just like three, or four, or maybe five rounds a day,” Jimin agrees, leaning up to kiss Taehyung. The two of them break out in smiles, though, not able to keep the kiss going for long.

Jimin reaches for Taehyung’s still-slick hand, grabs him by the wrist and brings his hand past his dick, lower; Taehyung gets the point quickly and eagerly, fingertips brushing down Jimin’s perineum before he feels them press gently at his entrance. He’s reminded suddenly of how long it’s been since he’s done this. The feeling makes him shiver, goosebumps on his skin. Taehyung lets his index finger keep pressing, pushing into him shallow and slow. Jimin sucks in a breath at the feeling, tensing for a moment, but it’s good, an easy stretch. His hips relax, just barely rocking back against Taehyung, letting him push in deeper.

They keep it up, Taehyung going slow, inch by inch, finger by finger, until Jimin is trembling around the full length of his first three fingers, both of them breathing heavy. Jimin feels pulled taut, voice cracking every few seconds, his skin sweat-damp.

“Pause,” Jimin breathes, eyes pressed closed, trying to back away from another looming orgasm. Taehyung’s fingers are so close to his prostate, and he wants to rock his hips back to get him there and keep him there, but he makes himself stay still. His fingernails dig into Taehyung’s shoulders again, but if Taehyung minds, he doesn’t mention it.

“You good?” Taehyung asks him, and Jimin swears he can feel the low rumble of his voice everywhere on his skin. Fuck, he’s turned on.

“Yeah,” Jimin replies, voice shaking. “Just...gimme a second.” He lets out a few deep breaths, trying to calm back down. “This isn’t going to last long, is it?” He asks, letting out a shaky laugh.

“I don’t think there’s any reality where it takes me longer than a minute and a half to come,” Taehyung says, sounding unfairly put-together.

“Maybe by round ten we’ll manage to last five minutes or so,” Jimin says with another weak laugh. He feels a little delirious at this point, if he’s being honest, so absurdly turned on that everything feels a little funny. With a deep breath, he pulls his hips up, away from Taehyung’s fingers, and Taehyung pulls the rest of the way out. Jimin shudders again at the feeling before flopping over onto his back, turning his head to look at Taehyung expectantly.

Taehyung nods, looking comically serious as he pulls himself up on his knees. Jimin lets his legs fall open, making room for Taehyung, and Taehyung scoots himself over until he’s between them. He grabs Jimin’s hips like he’s going to lift him, and Jimin helps, lifting his lower half up to be repositioned; when they finally settle, Taehyung is sat on his knees, legs spread, with the backs of Jimin’s thighs resting on the tops of Taehyung’s, suspended a little in air. Jimin’s legs fall further apart and Taehyung’s hands slide up his sides, brushing up to his chest then back down to his hips.

Jimin picks himself up on his elbows to look at Taehyung, his cock half-hard between his legs as he unwraps the condom he grabbed earlier, forgotten on the other side of the bed. Jimin watches Taehyung slide it onto himself, then grab the lube again, slicking himself up with an exhale as he strokes himself briefly, just enough to get hard again. When he finishes, he looks at Jimin, hesitating for a moment like he’s looking for reassurance.

“Are you —” Taehyung starts, but Jimin doesn’t have the patience to let him finish. “Yes,” he interrupts, eager and aching, and Taehyung just nods. He nods to himself again after a pause before shifting his hips forward and pressing into Jimin.

And oh, god. Jimin sees stars immediately, oversensitive and so beyond ready to come. He lets out a whine, uncontrollable, as Taehyung presses his length into him slowly. He’s vaguely aware of Taehyung letting out a heavy breath, like he’s holding himself back, but he can barely even focus on anything outside of his own body.

“Taehyung,” he breathes, swallowing hard. “You can — you — please.”

“Right,” Taehyung agrees, voice audible even through the rush of blood in Jimin’s ears, and then he pulls out before thrusting in again, quick, making Jimin feel sort of like he’s been electrocuted.

The slow restraint doesn’t last long. It’s only a few thrusts before Taehyung leans his body over Jimin’s, pushing Jimin’s legs closer to him, angle getting deeper. Then things go fast; Taehyung’s hips pumping, breathy sounds falling out of his lips above Jimin’s face, so pretty. Mouth so pretty, face so pretty as he loses himself, one of his hands wrapped loose and uncoordinated around Jimin’s cock. Jimin tries to hang on, but he comes first, body going tight and tense as he slams head-first into the most intense orgasm he’s had in recent memory. He lets out a shaking groan, body still moving in time with Taehyung’s thrusts, and before the sound drops out of the air, Taehyung follows him over the edge, crying out in a low voice on a final pump of his hips as he comes.

Their bodies go limp, Taehyung dropping his weight onto Jimin as his hips twitch through the last of his orgasm, and Jimin pants against Taehyung’s shoulder, feeling weak.

“Fuck,” Taehyung mutters in a trembling voice. Jimin hums, physically incapable of forming words at the moment. “That was really good, right?”

In response, Jimin wraps his arms around Taehyung, letting one hand run down his back while the other comes up to stroke his hair, tugging his hair a little bit. He kisses Taehyung’s shoulder gently twice, then bites at him softly, just because he wants to.

“Yeah,” Jimin breathes. He doesn’t want to move, likes the weight of Taehyung on top of him, even kind of likes the feeling of him still inside of Jimin. It feels kind of overwhelming and overfamiliar in a way that he finds comforting, which probably says something about them, but he doesn’t care. When Taehyung twitches backward like he wants to leave, Jimin groans slightly and pulls him back.

“Stay,” he says, tightens his arms around Taehyung. “This feels good.”

Taehyung hums low in Jimin’s ear, lets his body relax on top of Jimin’s. And Jimin, for all his nerves and indecision, for all the ways he’s been wondering for weeks if he’s even capable of knowing how he feels about something as big as this, knows that this is right. He feels like something’s been clicked into place, a satisfying solution to a years-long puzzle. It’s a big swooping feeling, a full-body kind of catharsis.

Maybe he really does love him. The real way, the big way that he’s always avoided before. The thought is electric, sends a jolt through him, and he closes his eyes tight. He can figure that out another time.

“Can I stay with you for a while? Or is that too much?” Jimin asks, voice just above a whisper. Taehyung pulls back a little and Jimin lets him, lets Taehyung look down at him with his hair sweaty against his forehead and his face open and sweet. And for some reason Jimin feels incredibly fragile in this moment, like all the vulnerability of all of this is hitting him all at once.

“Stay forever,” Taehyung tells him in his usual low, honest cadence.

Jimin swallows, blinks at Taehyung before he pushes himself up a little to meet Taehyung’s lips in a kiss. “Okay,” he breathes against Taehyung’s mouth.

It feels like a promise, and it feels strange and magic around the edges, and it feels scary, and it feels good. Jimin wraps his arms around the back of Taehyung’s neck again and pulls him back in.

Eventually they pull apart, clean up just enough to feel like people again, but neither of them get dressed. They curl around each other, bare in more ways than one, hands on each other like they’ve never touched before. Jimin feels tired, eyes heavy, but it’s against his will; he’d much prefer to stay awake, memorize the way the rise and fall of Taehyung’s breath feels against his back again, skin against skin. His mind is racing, too, keeping him more awake than he should be.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers into the dark of Taehyung’s bedroom at some point, the sentiment eating at him again. “About everything.”

Taehyung doesn’t respond right away, and Jimin wonders if he’s already asleep. But then his voice comes, sleepy and low. “I forgive you.”

“You do that too much,” Jimin tells him. Taehyung hugs him tighter, pulls him back against his chest.

“No I don’t,” Taehyung argues. “I know you think you’re the only one of us who can fuck up, but you’re wrong. And you forgive me when I fuck up, too.”

Jimin swallows, feeling surprised at the warning burn of tears coming to his eyes. Little ones, not a big heaving cry, just reactionary pinpricks at the bracing wind of Taehyung’s kindness.

“Will you still forgive me tomorrow?” Jimin asks. Tomorrow, when they’re dressed again, when their endorphins have slept this off, when the shock is gone.

“Will you still be sorry?” Taehyung asks back.

“Yes,” Jimin answers easily. He imagines it will probably take him months, maybe years, to stop feeling apologetic about this.

“Then yes.” Taehyung’s hand traces shapes on Jimin’s ribcage, the touch light, and he presses a kiss to the nape of Jimin’s neck.

Jimin brings one of his hands up to hold Taehyung’s, fingers fitting together just like they always have.

“Goodnight, Jiminnie,” Taehyung says with a sleepy little sigh, squeezing Jimin’s hand before his grip relaxes again.

Jimin sleeps better than he has in months.

++

The thing that Jimin didn’t predict about all of this is the way he and Taehyung both seem to be compelled to stick together as tight as possible. He should have, maybe, but it feels like something out of their control, the way he can’t bear to take his hands off of him, the way Taehyung seems to return the feeling. They wake up stuck together, sweaty from proximity but neither of them moving, and they shuffle off to the shower together without much conversation about it. It just feels more natural than separating, than sitting apart from each other for even ten minutes.

Jimin’s not complaining, though. It feels like the level of touch, of affection, that he’s been chasing from Taehyung for years. In retrospect, they make so much more sense to Jimin now, now that they can press together wetly in the shower and kiss, barely even sexual, just for the sake of closeness. The way he used to want to crawl under Taehyung’s skin and stay there — he can’t believe he didn’t recognize it sooner.

They stumble through a shared morning routine like they’re tied together for a three-legged race, almost comically. For as tight as they’re bound together, though, it doesn’t feel like much of a change in their dynamic otherwise. Taehyung sings a little ballad to himself while he makes rice and fried eggs; Jimin laughs at the little surprised noises he makes at cooking oil popping against his skin; they get pulled into a stupid little play-fighting conversation that escalates into a weird roleplaying scene with fake voices; it feels like them.

It feels natural to fall back together after they eat their simple breakfast, pressed against each other on the couch in their underwear. It feels like the culmination of a thousand quiet morning between them, in sleep clothes and mussed hair and with their arms around each other. This — Jimin wrangled into Taehyung’s lap, hands on his shoulders, under his jaw, down his arms, wherever he can reach, Taehyung’s arms wrapped around Jimin’s waist, their lips pressed together — this feels like a reasonable escalation.

“Are you still looking for romance?” Jimin asks Taehyung as he kisses his way down Jimin’s neck, over the faint red marks he left the night before. “Or are you up for fucking me here?”

“Only if you’ll fuck me on the kitchen counter later,” Taehyung answers, looking up at Jimin with a teasing expression.

“Are we still trying for a few times a day?” Jimin asks with a smirk.

Taehyung’s about to reply back, matching Jimin’s smirk, but the sound of a knock on Taehyung’s front door interrupts him, both of them turning to look at the door with surprised faces. They both pause, but before either of them can react, his lock turns, and there’s the noise of voices on the other end.

For a moment Jimin is convinced this is some sort of polite and extremely ill-timed robbery. But instead, Jimin, frozen in place straddled over Taehyung’s lap on the couch, is met with the surprised expression of Jungkook over the back of the couch. He feels himself flush instantly, eyes widening.

“Oh,” Jungkook says, holding eye contact with Jimin.

“What?” Another voice, Namjoon’s voice, asks. And Jimin still hasn’t moved, feeling unable to in the moment, so he gets to repeat the experience with Namjoon as he shuffles into the doorway. To Namjoon’s credit, he looks much more embarrassed than Jungkook does as he realizes what they’re reacting to.

“Hi,” Jimin says weakly, giving an embarrassed smile.

“Jiminnie, get off me, please,” Taehyung mutters, and Jimin flops off onto the couch, blush going deeper at the realization that he hadn’t done that yet. Taehyung turns on the couch to face the two at the door, looking much less flustered than Jimin thinks he should.

“Are you naked?” Jungkook asks with a complaint in his voice.

“No,” Taehyung answers easily.

Jungkook gives a relieved sigh and walks in. “Good,” he says. Jimin grabs a blanket from the back of Taehyung sofa, covering himself with it quickly. He glances back to Namjoon in the doorway, who looks like he’s questioning Jungkook’s logic but follows him in anyway.

“You didn’t answer any of my texts,” Jungkook tells Taehyung with an annoyed pout. “I was worried about you.”

Jimin glances at Taehyung, whose eyes widen cartoonishly. “Oh shit,” he mutters, then gets up from the couch and scurries off quickly to his bedroom.

Jimin looks between Jungkook and Namjoon, pulling the blanket over himself further in the quiet. “Good to see you both,” he offers weakly.

“So things went...well, I guess,” Namjoon replies.

“Thanks for the advice, hyung,” Jimin says quietly, and Namjoon, likely despite himself, gives him a small smile.

“Wow,” Taehyung’s voice echoes down the hall, “Twenty-three missed messages.”

“Yeah, you dick! I thought —” Jungkook glances back at Jimin. “Sorry, Jimin,” he interjects, before turning back to Taehyung, “I thought you got broken up with again.”

“Yeah, that’s really understandable,” Taehyung replies calmly. “But no!” He smiles brightly at Jungkook, evidently trying to get rid of the annoyed look from his face through sheer force of will.

“Well great. I’m glad you’re having a good morning,” Jungkook says, still trying to sound irritated, but Jimin can hear the relief in his voice. “You can go back to...whatever you were doing, then. I’ll take all of my deep worry and concern and just leave.”

“I mean, I’d probably recommend that, yeah,” Taehyung tells him with a clap on the shoulder. Jungkook gives him another glare before Taehyung breaks, letting out a little laugh at himself. “Sorry, Kookie. I didn’t think. Thanks for worrying about me,” he says quieter, more serious.

Jungkook rolls his eyes, but it’s good-natured. He looks back at Jimin again, then between the two of them. “So you’re...so this is happening?”

Taehyung looks at Jimin for the answer, so Jimin gives it. “Yeah,” he says, trying to gauge Jungkook’s reaction to that. Not negative, at least, it seems.

“Sorry if you wanted some time before we knew,” Namjoon says, aiming it mostly at Jimin, and Jimin feels a familiar rush of warmth toward him.

“No, it’s...I understand why you would worry,” Jimin tells him, looks toward Jungkook too. “If you knew I was...that we were seeing each other yesterday. I get it. It’s okay that you know.”

There’s more he’d like to say. More apologies he should give, he guesses, for the fact that they’ve been the ones who have had to clean up the Taehyung-shaped messes he’s left. It doesn’t seem like the right time to do all that, but the weight of his guilt sits with him as he looks at Jungkook.

“I’m glad you figured it all out,” Jungkook tells him, voice more serious now.

Jimin nods, lets a small grin spread on his face. “Me too. Thank you.”

“We should probably go, Jungkook,” Namjoon says, and that seems to remind Jungkook that Taehyung is standing there in his underwear.

“Right. Yeah.” He turns to Taehyung, giving him a menacing look. “You owe me for this stress.”

“I’ll buy you dinner,” Taehyung tells him easily. He grabs both sides of Jungkook’s face and squeezes them together, making his lips pucker. Jimin laughs to himself at Jungkook’s squished cheeks and angry eyebrows. Taehyung leans in and kisses Jungkook on the cheek then, big and exaggerated, and Jungkook looks even more annoyed. “Maybe like next week, though, because I think I’m going to be busy for a while.”

“I already got it, okay, you don’t need to tell me out loud,” Jungkook complains with a whine. “I lived with you when you two weren’t dating, I don’t even want to begin to imagine.”

At that, Namjoon looks concerned, like the thought just occurred to him. “Hm. Yeah,” he says quietly. “We should go.”

Jimin blushes again, face warm, and covers his face. “I don’t like this,” he says into his hands.

“Good,” Jungkook tells him, making a teasing face at him. Despite the situation, Jimin feels a little relief at that; things have been a little strained with Jungkook since the last time they saw each other in person, that night in Jimin’s apartment.

“See you soon,” Namjoon says, pulling Jungkook along. “We’re happy for you.” Jimin is a little touched at that, even under these stupid circumstances.

When he hears the front door click closed again, Jimin groans to himself, burying his face in his hands again.

“What?” Taehyung asks. Jimin looks up, and Taehyung continues to look entirely unfazed

“That was embarrassing,” Jimin answers, standing up from his spot on the couch, still wrapped in the blanket. “Don’t you feel embarrassment?”

“Sometimes,” Taehyung responds. “Rarely. Very rarely, with Jungkook and Namjoon. Also,” he says, stepping into Jimin’s space and wriggling his way under the blanket, “I’m kind of, like, unshakably happy right now.”

“Oh,” Jimin says, looking up at Taehyung’s pleased, earnest face. “Well, that’s sweet.”

Taehyung leans in, puts his hands on either side of Jimin’s face and presses a kiss to his lips. It’s so nice, the ease of the motion, and Jimin’s eyes stay closed for a moment even after Taehyung pulls back.

“I’m happy too,” Jimin tells him. “This feels good, Taehyung.”

“This?” Taehyung asks, looking around at them and the blanket.

“No,” Jimin tells him with a quiet laugh. He puts a hand out against Taehyung’s chest, skimming along the skin just under his collarbone. “The other this.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung says. He strokes across Jimin’s cheek with one of his thumbs, and Jimin feels cared for, warm. The sun is just high enough in the sky that it’s starting to come through Taehyung’s windows, and Jimin feels bright with it, with all of it.

“Did you miss me in the mornings?” Jimin asks, because the thought has simply lived inside his own mind for too long to keep it to himself anymore.

A ghost of a smile twitches across Taehyung’s face in response. He breathes a soft laugh before he says, voice soft, “Yes.” He brings his hands down to Jimin’s waist, one looping around to spread across his lower back, pull him closer. Jimin does him one better, drops the blanket he’s still holding behind Taeyung’s back, abandons it in favor of wrapping his arms around Taehyung tightly and hugging him, burying his face in Taehyung’s neck.

And Jimin is glad to remember how nice it is to be held.

++

The next week of Jimin’s life passes in a blur, a heart-skipping sort of lightness following him around every day. The days are just an excuse to get to the nights, back to Taehyung’s apartment, dinners eaten pressed together on the couch instead of at the table, too unwilling to be apart. They laugh and kiss and have more sex than Jimin has ever had in such a short period in his entire life.

And god, it’s good.

It snows all week, making Taehyung’s apartment feel even more like an oasis, a warm little bubble of warmth and light in the middle of a Seoul-shaped snowglobe. Christmas comes and they make hotteok for breakfast, get sticky with sugar and watch the snow fall out the windows before getting back into bed for the rest of the day. And among all the touching, the easy curious press of skin they can’t seem to stop, there’s talking. Some of the conversation too serious for the circumstances; when Taehyung asks Jimin if he feels comfortable calling Taehyung his boyfriend, it’s while Jimin’s hand is on his dick, during a particularly slow and conversational round of foreplay.

He’s not sure that anyone would recommend to discuss the future of a new relationship while on your knees, but it seems to be working for them, so Jimin doesn’t see a reason not to.

He knows he needs to go back to reality soon; he has his own home, and can’t spend every second of his free time with Taehyung. They should take it slower, go on real dates instead of living like they’ve been together for all these years, but it’s nice to have it for a little while. A sugary little honeymoon bubble, something they can let themselves indulge in after so many years of bittersweet.

Jimin decides he’ll go home after New Years, go back to his normal life, start trying to convince himself that this thing with Taehyung is just normal now.

First, though, he’s decided that a New Year’s birthday party for Taehyung is essential. It’s an old tradition he’d love to revive, and he’s certainly in a mood to celebrate these days. In between workdays and nights with Taehyung, he invites their friends, just the seven of them, and even gathers some decorations. Taehyung is tasked with cleaning his apartment, making it seem less like a messy sex den than it’s looked for the last week.

Jimin goes home the morning for the party, eager to raid his own wardrobe again, feeling pleased in a teenager kind of way to have someone to dress up for. In his best-fitting jeans, a t-shirt just short enough to show a sliver of skin at his hips, and a cardigan that Taehyung bought him years ago, he feels cute. He feels cuter when he gets back to Taehyung’s and he crowds into his space sweetly, kisses his jaw insistently. And it’s just...nice. Every day, Jimin thinks about how nice it is. Sometimes so much that he forgets to feel guilty about how much sooner they could have had this.

The night is good. It’s so good to see everyone again, after his strange self-inflicted isolation from them all for so long, too guilty to face Taehyung’s friends. They share too many bottles of champagne spread across Taehyung’s living room, laughing loudly over the music, curated by Jungkook.

Early on, Jimin seeks out Yoongi, powering through his bubbling nervousness over seeing him one on one by the overwhelming urge to make things okay.

“Hyung,” Jimin says, stood just behind him. Yoongi turns to him, looking the way he usually looked to Jimin, hard to read and a little intimidating.

“Jimin-ah,” Yoongi responds, not unfriendly.

“I just wanted to say,” he pauses, his nerves getting the better of him in his hesitance. “I...sorry, for the last time we talked.”

Yoongi pauses for a moment, looking him over. “Thanks for saying so,” he says after a moment, nodding at him. “I was a little harsh too.”

Jimin shakes his head. “I get it. Trust me, I...get it. The urge to protect him,” he says, nodding toward where Taehyung is chatting animatedly with Seokjin on the other side of the living room. “I couldn’t see anything clearly. It hurt to have someone point out I was hurting him. I think I was maybe a little jealous of you.”

“That’s flattering,” Yoongi replies with a little chuckle. “I’m glad you guys worked it out. Really. I know we haven’t known you long,” he says, and Jimin fills in the we, Seokjin and Hoseok, “But we’re all happy for you.”

“I’m glad he has you. You seem like a good friend,” Jimin tells him. It’s maybe a little more forward and open than he’s used to being, but he supposes that’s what spending all his time with Taehyung does to him.

“Yah, you don’t need to get sappy,” Yoongi complains, making a face, and then it’s Jimin’s turn to laugh at him.

Jimin feels the familiar sensation of Taehyung behind him, wrapping his arms around Jimin’s middle and resting his chin on top of Jimin’s head.

“You two getting along?” Taehyung asks, less joke in his voice than he intends, Jimin thinks.

“I was actually just in the middle of threatening him, so how dare you interrupt,” Yoongi tells Taehyung in a deadpan voice.

“I honestly think I would bet on Jimin in a fight, hyung, and not just because he’s my boyfriend. He’s weirdly strong.”

“I do not need to hear about your sex life,” Yoongi tells him with a grimace. Taehyung lets out a laugh at that, surprised.

“Yoongi-hyung, come here, tell Seokjin-hyung —” Jungkook starts, calling from the sofa, but he’s interrupted by an incomprehensible shriek from Seokjin.

“Clearly, I’m needed elsewhere,” Yoongi says in a sarcastic voice. He gives them a grin and a little salute as he walks off.

Jimin finds Taehyung’s hand on his waist and locks their fingers together loosely, comfortable. Taehyung sways them back and forth a little, bobbing along with the rhythm of a semi-familiar song playing from a speaker on the other side of the room. Jimin turns and matches his energy, the two of them dancing lackadaisically and sharing smiles.

 

By the countdown to midnight, Jimin is comfortably tipsy, laughing too much at everyone’s jokes, stuck to Taehyung’s side like glue. And it’s another memory rewritten, the feeling of Taehyung steady against him replacing the feeling of a handful of New Years spent reckless and lonely, wanting something he didn’t know he wanted.

When the clock strikes twelve, Taehyung abandons tradition and kisses him. It’s the hundredth time they’ve kissed today, but it still feels...purposeful. Like a conscious act of improving on the past. They stay close together afterward, both of them caught in the novelty of it, and Jimin feels a grin bloom on his face, a flush hit his cheeks.

The other are distracted, laughing about something, teasing Namjoon, maybe? But he and Taehyung are suspended there in each other’s air, noses almost touching. And quietly, just barely loud enough for Jimin to hear, Taehyung says, “You know I love you, right?”

Jimin isn’t expecting it, but it doesn’t surprise him too much, either. He nods, smile still on his face.

“Give me some time to reply to that, okay?” Jimin asks in return. He has a feeling Taehyung expected that, but he’s trying to get into the habit of saying how he feels instead of assuming Taehyung knows.

“You can have as much time as you want, Jimin. I’ll be here,” Taehyung tells him. Jimin nods again. And he knows, in the deepest, scaredest parts of him that this is it. That if anything is love, it’s this. But he’s slow and cautious by nature, after all, and he’s glad Taehyung knows that.

“Can you two knock it off? Haven’t you been fucking for like ten straight days, can’t you take a moment to be present?” Seokjin calls over to them in a faux-bitchy little voice, and Jungkook lets out a little high-pitched giggle.

“Oh, just let them be,” Namjoon argues, clearly also tipsy from the way he’s leaned against Hoseok’s chest.

“Don’t speak to me, honeymoon phase number two,” Seokjin says flatly.

“Please. Do you think they’re even capable of a honeymoon phase, with their combined anxiety levels?” Yoongi snorts, gesturing over to the Hoseok-and-Namjoon shaped pile on the couch.

“Hey!” Hoseok responds, but there’s a surprised laugh falling out of his math. Jimin joins along, turning back toward the group but letting his hand stay in place where it’s resting on Taehyung’s thigh.

 

Later in the night, after everyone managed to stumble into cabs close to three in the morning, it’s Taehyung and Jimin again, alone in the quiet warm mess they all created. Most of the lights are out, and there’s snow falling outside again, and something about the light coming in from outside and the fizzy feeling of champagne still sparkling in his head makes him grab Taehyung by the hand and lead him out to the little balcony. Taehyung giggles and follows, pliant in Jimin’s hands in a way that Jimin can’t get enough of lately.

It smells clean and fresh outside, the way winter smells, and looking at Taehyung feels so distinctly like looking at fireworks, all bright excitement and a little bit of awe. There’s that big swooping feeling in his chest again, the one that comes so often these days, the thing he’s trying not to call love.

“Happy birthday,” Jimin tells Taehyung instead of the other thing, the harder thing. That will come with time, he thinks.

“I love you,” Taehyung says in return.

The snow is cold, but Jimin feels overheated, like maybe there’s cartoon steam coming off him. He leans toward Taehyung and grips at him greedily, squeezing the soft skin at his hips. They kiss, and the motion is a little lazy this late at night, this much wine in their systems, but it feels just as needy and desperate as the first time they did it.

It’s a new year, Jimin thinks. And for the first time in a long time, he feels optimistic about that.