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this is the last time

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i.

 

when park jimin figures out he has a ghost in his apartment, his first reaction isn’t to exorcise the place or to move houses. his first reaction is to introduce himself and offer his help in figuring out how being dead works. this may have to do with his lack of basic survival instinct, or the fact that he wasn’t exposed to enough scary movies as a child, or the fact that he was lonely enough to try and make friends with a ghost, or all of the above. probably all of the above.

he’s not psychic, as far as he knows; he just had a sneaking suspicion something was up with his apartment from the start. naturally, he arrived to the conclusion it must be a ghost. naturally.

a conclusive list of evidence: 

  1. the flowers he brought home all died within the first week. and it just doesn’t make any sense, he works at a goddamn flower shop. he knows how to keep flowers alive. the reason lies in the fact that the apartment is always strangely cold. some spots are downright freezing. it’s barely fall, and he keeps finding frost on his windows.
  1. the lights keep flickering, although he can’t find anything wrong with them. sometimes the power straight up cuts off for a while. now, the apartment isn’t located in the better part of the city, exactly, and it is decent at most, but jimin thinks he’s at least paying enough to have lights. he persistently bothered his landlord about it for the first couple of weeks, but when the repairman he reluctantly sent down didn’t find anything wrong either, he gave up.
  1. the increasingly awkward conversation he had in the stairway with one of his neighbors:

“have you had, uh, any problems with your apartment? like, with the lights, maybe...?”

“the lights?”

“power outages...?”

“uh, no, nothing like that.”

“freezing temperature? cold spots...?”

“dude, sounds like you have a ghost.”

  1. he actually sees the ghost, and that’s really all the evidence you need. it’s only for a few seconds, and he is pretty groggy from sleep, but he knows what he saw, thank you very much. he wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and it’s there, standing at the foot of his bed: a young boy, possibly around jimin’s age, looking almost human if not for the silvery glow he has.

they make eye contact. the boy opens his mouth - and then he disappears. like someone turned off the tv.

jimin licks his lips. he didn’t even notice he was clutching the blanket so hard.

“hello?” he calls, and waits for a few beats. “are you here?”

he turns his head so fast he almost snaps his neck, just because he had that creepy feeling someone might be standing next to him; but no one’s there. he lets out a long breath.

“okay,” he says to himself, “okay.”

 

--

 

it happens a few more times after that. the boy appears at the foot of his bed, or in front of the television, or in the bathroom doorway, stays for a few seconds, and disappears before jimin can do anything. he’s not completely sure why he doesn’t feel scared in the least. it’s just an instinct, a feeling he gets. the ghost doesn’t feel malevolent.

jimin doesn’t know a lot about ghosts. he’s not sure if telling a ghost to come out is ever recommended, but it’s exactly what he does.

“you can come out,” he calls quietly, looking around in the dark bedroom, “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

nothing, at first. jimin thinks this might be the longest he’s ever sat still. he worries his lip between his teeth, and waits. it’s worth it, because eventually, the silvery figure manifests at the foot of his bed. jimin swallows, and carefully scoots closer on his bed, as if not to startle a rare bird.

“don’t go away, please,” he says.

the ghost is looking at him like he’s the paranormal phenomenon here. but he hasn’t disappeared yet, which is a good sign.

“who are you?” jimin asks. when the boy doesn’t answer, he adds, in an attempt to build trust, “my name is jimin.”

“taehyung,” the boy says finally. his voice is unexpectedly low. it sounds nice, silky, but also eerily chilling. he licks his lips nervously. “i think i’m dead.”

“no shit,” jimin blurts. then he realizes he should probably be more tactful. “i think you’re, uh, haunting my apartment? which is fine, i’m not going to, like, exorcise you or anything. you seem, uh, cool?”

“thanks,” taehyung says, confusion all over his face. jimin offhandedly notes that it’s a nice face. maybe that’s why he can’t find it in him to be scared. taehyung is just too captivating.  “i don’t, uh. really know how to do this? this ghost thing.”

“i’ll help you figure it out,” jimin says, and immediately thinks, what the hell am i saying? help a ghost figure out how being a ghost works?

but suddenly taehyung’s smiling, and it’s so unexpected and bright that jimin loses his train of thought. he says, “thanks, i’m so relieved!” and jimin thinks, alright, that’s what i’m doing, then. has no idea, really, what he’s getting himself into.

 

--

 

he figures what he can do is help taehyung calm down. the freezing temperature, the power outages are because he’s confused and nervous and not really in control of himself.

they sit on jimin’s bed - jimin sits on the bed, and taehyung mirrors him, only the bed doesn’t dip under him and jimin can see the tips of his toes sinking through the mattress - and jimin makes him tell him about himself. he sort of feels like a counselor at a very messed up summer camp. taehyung answers most of his questions easily - he’s jimin’s age, nineteen; he’s from daegu; he had like three small part-time jobs and was trying to figure out what to do with his life, like jimin; he had a dog (jimin doesn’t ask this but he tells him anyway) - but when jimin asks about his death, he goes quiet.

“i don’t remember,” he says, looking puzzled.

“i can probably help you find out, if you want,” jimin offers, but taehyung shakes his head.

“i don’t think i want to know,” he says, “not yet.”

little by little, it becomes easier for taehyung to control his energy. soon enough he can show up whenever he wants, and stay visible for as long as he wants. it gets less cold; the windows don’t freeze over anymore, but jimin still doesn’t bring any more flowers home. taehyung is settling in, becoming a comfortable presence in jimin’s home. (becoming a part of it.)

it’s pretty fun to watch taehyung learn about himself and the things he can do, though it’s mostly through trial and error. one day, jimin comes home to find his bed in the middle of his living room, flipped upside down.

“how the hell did you even do that,” he asks, and forgets to be angry, instead just being sort of amazed.

“i was trying to make your bed, and it just sort of did that,” taehyung says, tilting his head, looking fascinated rather than apologetic, “interesting, right?”

they spend the evening trying to put the bed back in place. they - meaning taehyung - end up blowing the light in the ceiling and making more dents in the walls and the floor than jimin cares to know about, but despite the damage to his property, it’s the most fun jimin’s had in a long time.

 

--

 

taehyung is:

  1. very much like a puppy, strangely, loud and easily excitable once he gets more comfortable. he keeps trying to do things for jimin: making his bed, rearranging his furniture, even doing the dishes (that one was messy), and jimin never stays mad at him even when he does more harm than good. it’s almost too easy to like taehyung, to fall in love with him a little bit.
  1. beautiful, in an almost unearthly way. first jimin thinks it might be a ghost thing; that it may have to do with the eerie glow he’s always emitting; but as time goes by, he begins to think it’s just a taehyung thing. if he saw him walking down the street, he would turn to look, just the same. his eyes are the most captivating part about him. when taehyung looks at him, it almost feels like he’s staring right into his soul. it’s kind of unsettling, but not in an unpleasant way.
  1. always a little bit sad, in a subtle, indescribable way. again, jimin’s not sure whether it’s a ghost thing or a taehyung thing. it’s not something jimin can coax him out of; it’s like a permanent part of his existence, like it runs too deep within him for jimin to even touch.

(4. rapidly becoming the best friend jimin has ever had. it feels like he’s known taehyung way longer than this. it feels like they were supposed to meet all along.)

 

--

 

“why do you work at a flower shop?” taehyung asks curiously. “do you want to be a florist?”

“maybe,” jimin shrugs. he hesitates. “not really. it’s just a way to make some money.”

“then what do you want to be?” taehyung’s open, interested facial expressions urge jimin to go on.

“i want to be a dancer,” jimin admits. he feels nervous saying it out loud; he has never told anyone, not his parents who didn’t even approve of the dance classes he took in high school; not even the couple of friends in high school he used to be so close to.

“i called it,” taehyung says, looking suddenly proud of himself.

“what? how?”

“you think i haven’t seen you practice around the apartment?” he laughs as jimin buries his face in his hands.

“this is so embarrassing,” he complains, the sound muffled.

“no, don’t worry,” taehyung says. when jimin peeks at him through his fingers, he grins. it makes his eyes turn into perfect crescents. “you’re really, really good. that’s what i thought every time i saw you. wow, he’s really good. he should be a professional dancer.”

“stop it,” jimin says, his face turning pink for a slightly different reason now.

“i’m serious! people would love to see you dance. i know they would.”

“i’m not going to talk to you anymore,” jimin says, pointedly turning his back, but in all honesty, it’s partly to hide his smile.

 

--

 

jimin turns twenty not long after meeting taehyung.

“don’t you want to spend the day with someone, you know, alive?” taehyung asks a little bit hesitantly as jimin comes home with the first ever bottle of soju he’s purchased himself. and three other bottles. “go out and get drunk and all that?”

“what are you even talking about,” jimin says, and maybe he’s feeling bold because it’s his birthday, “why would i want to go out with some co-workers i barely know when i can get drunk right here with you?”

“alright,” taehyung grins, and it makes jimin smile back, like a conditioned reflex, “then i’ll pretend to get drunk with you.”

taehyung can’t drink, obviously, but jimin surely drinks enough for both of them. he remembers singing, loudly and off-key, and taehyung’s voice joining him, just as loud but less off-key; he remembers laughing a lot, dancing on the coffee table, remembers taehyung softening his inevitable fall. he still hurts his ass but at least he doesn’t break anything.

he wakes up on the couch the morning after, tucked under a blanket, which he’s sure is taehyung’s doing. taehyung is cleaning up, obviously concentrating very hard to make clean piles out of the trash littering the floor, the tip of his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth. sometimes he miscalculates and a half-eaten piece of chicken ends up flying halfway across the room, which results in him looking like the chicken personally betrayed him.

jimin watches instead of letting taehyung know he’s awake, with sleepy eyes and a soft smile on his lips, and feels incredibly fond. then he feels incredibly sick as the hangover hits him, and he scrambles up and into the bathroom. taehyung’s cold hand on his forehead is welcomed as jimin hugs the toilet and makes him promise he’ll never let jimin drink like that again.

 

--

 

taehyung hardly has any filter when it comes to the things that come out of his mouth. sometimes this means he’ll randomly say things like, i knew i would like you the moment i saw you, or the shape of your lips is really nice, and he’ll be completely serious about it and jimin will flush red and wonder how anyone can say something like that with such a straight face.

sometimes it means he’ll straight up insult jimin’s clothes and his general fashion sense. jimin honestly prefers that.

“i swear i will find a way to die again just so that i won’t ever have to see you wearing that again.”

jimin jumps. he turns his back to his wardrobe to find taehyung hovering on top of his bed, cross-legged and leaning his jaw on his palm.

“jesus, do you have to do that?” then he looks down at his outfit and frowns. “what’s wrong with this?”

“what isn’t?” taehyung raises his eyebrows. “have you had those pants since you were nine? and what’s with the jumper? i have never seen that color before in my life. i’m not even sure it can be found on the color scale.”

jimin makes a face.

“i can’t believe i’m getting roasted by a ghost. these are comfy.” he does a couple of improvised poses to emphasize his point. taehyung makes a pained noise and dramatically covers his eyes with his hands. jimin only poses harder, throwing in a couple of dance moves, until it makes taehyung laugh.

“listen, you can be comfy and not look like a badly designed cartoon character,” taehyung says matter-of-factly. “strap in, we’re going shopping.”

“you... can’t go anywhere,” jimin says, wondering, for a hot second, if he’s managed to miss something crucial.

“strap in, we’re going online shopping.”

taehyung has an expensive taste, to say the least. jimin spends five minutes trying to explain to him why he can’t add a 300 dollar gucci shirt to his cart.

“i work at a flower shop, taehyung,” he says as patiently as he can, “what the fuck.”

“fine,” taehyung groans, “just promise me when you get rich from being a world-famous dancer you’ll get this shirt. i always wanted it, but. i’m stuck with this one for all eternity, ugh.”

he grabs at the fabric of his loose-fitting, white button-up. the sleeves are rolled to mid-forearm. the collar is wide and the first button is open. jimin thinks that there are worse shirts to be stuck with.

“alright, i promise,” he says, and laughs when taehyung beams at him, the distaste for his own shirt forgotten in an instant.

 

--

 

maybe it’s the new clothes taehyung helped him pick. maybe it’s because he’s felt happier, more energetic lately. whatever it is, his co-worker asks him out after their shift. she says she’s interested in him. says she thinks he’s funny and charming and cute. jimin is surprised, kind of overwhelmed, and ends up just gaping at her and feeling like an idiot about it.

“call me if you decide you want to go,” she says, in the end, and smiles at him sweetly.

“okay,” jimin says, and is glad he managed even that much.

he tells taehyung, because he tells taehyung everything. and because he’s not sure what he should do, and taehyung usually always has advice ready (unsolicited or otherwise).

taehyung licks his lips, cocks his head at jimin who’s sitting on the couch, slouching as much as humanly possible, legs spread and the soles of his feet flat against the floor.

“do you like her?” he asks.

when jimin shrugs, it’s with his entire body. apparently that’s possible.

“i hadn’t thought about it much,” he says, “she’s nice? i guess? she helped me when the cash register got stuck.”

jimin continues to stare into space. he doesn’t see it, but he would bet 50,000 won that taehyung’s rolling his eyes.

“that’s super romantic,” the ghost says, “truly a story to tell your grandkids.”

jimin groans. “i don’t know, okay? i’ve never dated anyone. no one’s ever told me they like me.”

“i like you,” taehyung says. jimin looks at him. he looks strangely hurt.

“but you’re...” jimin’s not sure where he’s going with the sentence. “no, not like that.”

“like what, then?” taehyung tilts his head. jimin looks at him, and doesn’t know what to say.

“like... in a way where she thinks i’m charming and cute.”

“i think you’re charming and cute,” taehyung says. 

“n- really?” jimin gets distracted for a second. he stares at taehyung, before catching himself and giving his head a shake. “ah, i mean - what should i do?”

he watches as taehyung does the thing with his mouth - the thing he does when he’s thinking, where he stretches and purses his lips and twists his mouth from one side to the other, like he’s exercising the muscles on his face.

“you should go,” he says, finally, “you might like her.”

“yeah,” jimin says, “yeah, i guess so.”

taehyung flashes him a smile when he notices jimin looking. it’s big and nice and it’s almost convincing, but his eyes don’t turn into crescents.

 

--

 

the date is not bad. in fact, it’s pretty good. jimin’s never been on a date before, but he supposes it’s everything a date should be, in theory: they meet at a café she chose. they eat three pieces of lemon cake between them. talk about their likes and dislikes. childhood pets. future plans. they go for a walk in the park. because she called jimin charming, he tries his best to live up to it and picks her a candytuft off one of the bushes. they go see a movie; it’s a thriller, a little bit scary, and she clutches onto jimin’s arm for half the movie, and jimin doesn’t mind because it’s kind of endearing. he walks her home at the end of the evening. she smiles, tells him she had a good time. they hug.

the thing is, it’s everything a date should be. textbook execution. she is nice and very pretty. but somehow, it feels like they won’t be doing this again.

(it’s everything a date should be and jimin doesn’t get why he keeps comparing her smile to another one in his mind. during the movie he thinks, tae would like the main character and tae would love that super dramatic kissing scene.)

so when jimin goes home and taehyung says, tell me all about it, all he can say is,

“it was nice, but i don’t think we’ll go out again.”

what he means is, i wish you could go out with me.

then he explains the plot of the movie to taehyung in its entirety. they reenact the dramatic kissing scene, and it’s more fun than jimin had on the date.

“i wanted to be an actor,” taehyung confesses, hovering horizontally two feet above jimin, who’s collapsed on the floor after laughing himself breathless. “do you think i could’ve?”

“you’re already a star. in my heart or whatever,” jimin says, touching a hand over his chest, and is only able to keep a straight face for about three seconds.

“and you say i’m embarrassing.” taehyung pulls a pillow off the couch and smacks jimin in the face with it, but when jimin peeks at him from behind it, he looks happy.

later, when he’s already been lying in bed for fifteen minutes, his eyes snap open.

“oh my god,” he says to himself, “candytuft symbolizes indifference.”

they don’t go out again.

 

--

 

the winter turns to spring, turns to summer, turns to fall. jimin turns twenty-one. those are the only things that change. he still dances in his living room. still works to save money. still eyes college brochures and the dance programs wistfully. taehyung is still nineteen.

“hey,” jimin says one night, “i’m glad this crappy apartment was all i could afford.”

means, i’m so glad i met you.

the implication isn’t lost on taehyung, who always seems to be able to read jimin effortlessly.

“i’m glad you’re broke, too,” he says, and the boxy smile, the crescent eyes are still blinding to jimin.

 

--

 

the seasons change and jimin gets older and those are the only things that change, for a while. for almost  two years, those are the only things.

the year he turns twenty-two, something happens. it’s like pulling the floor from under his feet. maybe it was childish to assume everything was going to stay the same forever.

it’s september. he comes home from work, and for the first time in almost two years, taehyung isn’t waiting for him. taehyung is nowhere to be seen. the apartment is cold. it’s cold in a way it was almost two years ago, frost flowers on his window.

“tae?” he calls, hanging his jacket and checking the living room, his bedroom, the kitchen.

“jimin,” a voice comes, and when he turns, taehyung is standing in front of him, finally, but he’s -

“i feel tired,” taehyung says, and jimin immediately knows something’s wrong, can hear it in his voice, see it on his face. before he can say anything, taehyung is gone.

he doesn’t appear for the rest of the night, or the next morning. jimin keeps calling his name, keeps looking for any signs of him. the light in the living room flickers, and jimin stands still, not even breathing. taehyung doesn’t come. the apartment feels empty without him. it feels like a whole different place.

“you can’t leave me,” jimin says, and no one replies.

 

--

 

when he sees taehyung again, he actually tries to hug him, which is stupid, but with taehyung it’s always been easy to forget he’s less than alive, so he can’t really be blamed for it.

“where were you?” he asks, and a second later notes the difference in the air around taehyung. the way his shoulders are tense, the way he’s biting at his lip.

“i tried to talk to you, but i couldn’t,” taehyung says, “i think something’s... something’s wrong. it feels wrong.” a beat. “i’m scared.”

me, too, jimin doesn’t say.

“what does it feel like?” he asks, trying to sound calm and rational, despite feeling anything but. they used to be the same age, but he’s older than taehyung, now, so he should do that. be calm and rational.

“it feels like i’m losing myself,” taehyung says, and the way he says it makes jimin think, anything but that.

 

--

 

jimin hopes for it to get better, but it doesn’t. he tries to help by talking to taehyung, by trying to guide him to jimin when he’s lost somewhere in between planes, unable to communicate, and sometimes it does help, but only momentarily. it’s taking him more and more effort to just stay visible. sometimes he vanishes in the middle of a sentence.

jimin doesn’t like this feeling crawling up his throat. it feels like something bad is coming.

taehyung told him he feels like he’s losing himself, so jimin tries to help him to hold on.

“tell me about your dog in daegu,” he asks.

taehyung can’t.

“it’s like i didn’t exist before this,” he says, and jimin hates how panicked he sounds, how scared he looks, and it physically pains him to not be able to touch him. “it’s like i was never alive.”

“you were,” jimin says, feels helpless, “taehyung, you were. look at me.”

the closet in the bedroom shakes; the doors spring open, contents spilling on the floor. jimin doesn’t turn to look, stubbornly doesn’t take his eyes off taehyung, who looks back at him, eyes wide. and maybe he finds something in jimin that helps him calm down; maybe the burst of emotion just took most of his energy.

“you’re okay,” jimin says, but it mostly just sounds like he’s reassuring himself, “you’re okay.”

at night, he dreams about the room burning. he jolts awake when he can feel the flames licking at his skin. he expects to see fire, expects to hear it crackling; but his room is fine, quiet save for his own hard breathing and taehyung’s worried voice that’s growing closer.

“just a nightmare,” jimin says, although the way his heart is still racing makes him question if that’s really all it was, “where are you?”

“your left,” comes taehyung’s voice, “but you can’t see me.”

jimin settles back against the sheets. takes a deep breath. wills his heartrate to come down.

“as long as you’re here,” he says. means, stay, please stay with me. “can you talk to me?”

taehyung hums and starts reciting a fairytale about a prince and a frog. jimin is pretty sure he knows the story, although taehyung replaces the prince’s name with his own.

“and the frog’s name was jimin,” he says.

“fuck you,” jimin murmurs. taehyung’s soft laugh is the last thing he hears before falling back asleep.

 

--

 

jimin tries his best to figure out what’s wrong with taehyung and how to help him. he even takes time off work, despite taehyung’s protests.

“you’re saving money for college,” he says, and slides through jimin when he ignores him, making him shiver from the cold. he’s visible for the time being, though his colors look faded and he’s more transparent than he used to be. it makes jimin more worried than he wants to say out loud. “you should go to work, get the money, and become a dancer.”

“this is more important,” jimin says, and taehyung’s face goes through a series of emotions, before settling for something fond, something slightly heartbreaking.

two days after the dream about the burning building, he meets an old lady in the hallway on his floor. she is standing at the end of it, unmoving, unblinking, just looking at jimin. jimin has never seen her before. it’s so unsettling, he walks to his door quickly and tries to ignore her. hopes she will ignore him, too, and not say something creepy.

“he is fading,” a voice croaks.

“jesus,” jimin mumbles and drops his keys. there goes that.

he turns; the old lady is still standing in the same spot, eyes fixed on jimin. jimin feels a chill run down his spine.

“ex... cuse me?”

“the ghost that lives in your home.”

jimin’s heart is thumping in his chest. he’s physically unable to move. he licks his lips, swallows.

“how did you...?”

“i can hear him,” the lady says, and although it’s cryptic as hell, it makes something click.

“you’re not alive, are you?” jimin says, more a statement than a question.

“no.” she cracks a smile, which does nothing to make the situation less chilling. jimin would love nothing more than to get inside, lock the door and find taehyung, but he thinks there must be a reason she’s showing up now, and he isn’t about to waste this chance.

“please,” he says, “can you tell me how to help him? he says he’s losing himself.”

“there’s nothing you can do,” the old lady says, “everything that’s happening is supposed to happen. his soul is being called to the other side. if he fights it for too long, he will stay trapped here, and forget himself, eventually. forget you. do you know what a poltergeist is, boy?”

jimin swallows. his hand is clutching the doorknob. the other one curls into a tight fist.

“yes,” he says, because he’s been reading about this.

“listen carefully.” the old lady takes a step closer. jimin fights the urge to step back. “this place doesn’t need a poltergeist. he doesn’t remember his death, but you must make him remember. once he finds his peace with it, he can move on.”

“move on,” jimin repeats robotically.

“do this before it’s too late,” she says. “it won’t be hard, because you already know what happened here.”

and jimin realizes that he does know.

“there was a fire here,” he says.

the old lady doesn’t confirm or deny it, but jimin knows it’s true. the dream felt a little too real. another thought crosses his mind.

“what about you?” he asks. “how do you know this? how long have you been here?”

“long enough to have seen this before,” she says. “let him go, boy. it’s the only way to help him.”

“wait,” jimin says, but she is already gone. he never sees her again.

 

--

 

taehyung’s death certificate says smoke inhalation. the fire was small, and it got barely mentioned in the local newspaper.  they managed to contain it to the third floor, on which most of the apartments were empty at the time. still, there was one casualty. jimin supposes he should’ve known, but all things considered, it’s not the weirdest thing he didn’t know about the fire. people here don’t talk to each other. the landlord just wanted the place sold, and jimin just wanted a place to stay.

jimin’s starting to feel sick. he closes his laptop, runs a hand through his hair. he feels a coldness on his left shoulder.

“jimin?”

jimin turns in his chair. taehyung is barely more than his outlines. jimin draws his feet onto the chair, hugs his knees, and tells taehyung what the old lady in the hallway told him.

“she could be lying,” he says, “we have no reason to trust her.”

“she’s not lying,” taehyung says, and jimin doesn’t think she is, either.

still, he finds himself half-yelling into an empty hallway after taehyung’s vanished again for an undetermined amount of time.

“there’s gotta be something,” he says, and it bounces back from the bare wall, “are you listening? ghost lady? there has to be another way.”

the only one who’s listening is his next-door neighbor, who sticks his head out of his door and shushes him because it’s past ten p.m. jimin shushes him back. then he ends up apologizing because the neighbor threatens to call the police.

“jeez,” he mutters after the neighbor has retreated back into his sad apartment. he sighs. the next thing he says is in his normal speaking voice. “hey, ghost lady. i don’t want to lose him. i don’t.”

the motion-activated light in the hallway blinks out.

 

--

 

they fight about it once, jimin screaming at thin air because taehyung is just his voice, right then. it ends when taehyung makes the mirror on the wall fall with a loud crash, shards flying in every which way. jimin stares at the mess. it has a very sobering effect.

“why are we fighting?” he asks.

“i don’t know,” taehyung’s voice comes as a sigh. “the mirror was an accident.”

“it’s not like you can have any worse luck,” jimin says, “you’re already dead.”

taehyung laughs a tired laugh. when jimin’s crouching down, picking up the shards carefully, he feels his entire left side and both his shoulders being engulfed in coldness.

“are you hugging me right now?”

“yes,” taehyung says close to his ear, “it’s what you do after you fight and realize you’re really only fighting because you’re sad. and because you wish you could stay like this forever.”

“yeah,” jimin says. his open palms are full of glass. he stares down at the pieces, and when he blinks, he can just barely make out taehyung’s faint outlines, his head on jimin’s shoulder, his arms around him.

 

--

 

“i’m sorry for killing your flowers,” taehyung says unexpectedly. “i just wanted to look at them. i didn’t mean to freeze them. 

“i know,” jimin says, a little bit confused as to why taehyung’s bringing up something that happened two years ago, “you don’t have to apologize.”

taehyung is quiet for a moment. jimin is about to ask if he’s still here, when he talks again.

“what were the orange ones called? i liked them.”

“gerberas,” jimin says automatically. “you liked them?”

“they were pretty,” taehyung says, “orange is my favorite color.”

suddenly jimin feels overwhelmingly sad. he swallows down the burning in his throat, and squeezes his eyes shut for a couple of seconds. he wishes that somehow, taehyung wouldn’t notice. he does, of course. he always does. jimin feels a cool breath of air on the side of his face. it moves the hair on his forehead.

“don’t be sad,” he hears taehyung’s voice right next to his ear, the smooth, low register, “there’s nothing sad about it.”

 

--

 

“i don’t want to do this,” jimin says, clutching the papers in his hands. “tae, let’s -“

“i’m barely here, jimin,” taehyung says. he sounds like the wind.

it’s been almost a month since taehyung first disappeared. four days since their fight about whether or not jimin should let taehyung go.

“taehyung, i...” jimin struggles to find words, struggles to know what he really wants to say. he feels helpless; feels small under all these feelings he can’t put into words. he gives up trying. thinks taehyung might know exactly what he means, anyway. “you know?”

surely enough, a voice answers,

“i know.”

 

--

 

his voice may be shaking a little as he reads out what he found on taehyung. when he was born (december thirtieth, 1995), when he died (march second, 2014), how it happened (in a fire). he adds details when taehyung asks, even though his heart feels like it’s trying to climb up his throat. even though everything in him is screaming at him to stop, his mouth keeps moving.

after a torturous while, he can see taehyung manifesting across from him; he grows clearer and clearer, his colors more vibrant. jimin forgets to breathe, forgets to blink. taehyung is barely translucent, and then he isn’t translucent at all. he stands there, his face turned downwards, staring at his own hands, his very opaque, solid hands.

“tae?” a whisper is all jimin is capable of right now. taehyung looks up, meets jimin’s eyes, and, okay, jimin has seen seoul from a rooftop in the nighttime; he has seen the cherry blossoms and the ocean at sunrise and the endless black sky sprinkled with stars; but none of it was as beautiful as this.

taehyung was always beautiful, but now that he’s solid, now that he looks so alive, he’s beyond words. he blinks, and there are tears stuck to his lashes, like crystals.

taehyung is the one who reaches out first, his fingers brushing at jimin’s shoulder, but jimin is the one who crashes into him, really just falling forward until his chest collides with taehyung’s, and then anchoring himself there, hands wrapped around him so tightly he’s sort of glad taehyung doesn’t need to use his lungs. taehyung wraps his arms around jimin’s middle, his fingers spreading out against his back. it’s probably cold, but jimin doesn’t even register it. holding taehyung feels like finally.

“this isn’t going to last, is it,” he mumbles into taehyung’s shoulder.

“don’t you dare cry, park jimin,” taehyung warns, and jimin makes an actual, physical effort not to. he sniffs, detaches his forehead from taehyung’s shoulder, and tries to look defiant, which probably just looks pathetic and sort of adorable.

“why would i cry for you?”

taehyung smiles. it’s warm and sad and jimin wishes there was a way to permanently burn it onto his eyelids. taehyung takes a step back.

“dance with me,” he says, holding out his hand.

and jimin takes it, takes it without hesitation, like he’s never been more sure of anything in his life. the first thing taehyung does is lift their joined hands up high and spin jimin, and jimin shouldn’t be surprised, really, but he still stumbles a bit, and taehyung catches him, hand firm on his lower back. jimin breathes out a laugh, and taehyung pulls him close; he looks super serious, their hands outstretched like they are about to tango; and jimin laughs, the way only taehyung can make him laugh, dipping his head into the nook of his neck.

it’s less like dancing and more like stumbling together with some degree of grace. taehyung’s low, smooth voice is in his ear. he’s humming something, an old-sounding melody. jimin closes his eyes to it, fingers curling in the back of taehyung’s shirt. if he just holds on, if he doesn’t let go, maybe he can physically stop taehyung from leaving.

he feels taehyung’s cold hands on either side of his face, guiding it up to meet his eyes.

“promise me you’ll apply to that damn dance program,” taehyung says, firmly but not unkindly, “and remember that gucci shirt when you make it.”

“i’ll remember,” jimin manages, and the next second taehyung is leaning forward to touch his cold lips gently against jimin’s. this, too, feels like finally, as much as it feels like goodbye.

“i’m so glad i got to meet you,” taehyung voices what jimin has been thinking all this time, whispers it against his lips, “even if it was a little bit late.”

jimin can’t talk, but the way he presses his lips to taehyung’s means: me, too. means: i’ll miss you. means: i love you. and taehyung knows.

in the end, it doesn’t matter how tightly he’s holding onto taehyung. one moment he’s grabbing at a shirt, a shoulder, and the next he’s grasping at air.

his entire body shakes, his knees giving out and connecting with the floor. he’s always been the type to feel emotions with his whole body. he stays curled up on the floor, for minutes, for hours, who knows. he can already feel the difference. he can feel taehyung is gone.

still, he doesn’t cry. it feels like someone cut off a vital part of him that he needs to live, but he doesn’t cry. don’t you dare, taehyung said. jimin knows what he meant is, there will be a time. he stays on the floor for a while longer. he pulls himself together.

 

--

 

he doesn’t dress in black or stay holed up in his room under the blanket, because those are the sort of things that taehyung would’ve kicked his ass for. instead, he dyes his hair orange and submits an application to the dance department in one of the top colleges in seoul.

he goes to the audition. when he dances in front of the evaluators, he imagines dancing in his living room. he imagines it’s late summer, the spotlights are the sunlight spilling in through half-closed curtains, and taehyung is the only one watching. he keeps his eyes closed the entire time, for a different reason than the evaluators think. they comment that it was impressive.

the answer comes in a letter three weeks later. congratulations.

“i got in, tae,” he says to the empty apartment.

the moment he stops holding back with everything he has is the moment the tears finally fall, and then they don’t stop falling. this is why he waited until after he got accepted. he collapses under their weight, the letter getting crumpled in his grip. his emotions are all jumbled together, and he couldn’t name all the reasons he’s crying if he tried, so he doesn’t try, just lets it roll over him like waves.

it feels like there’s no end to it, but ultimately, there’s an end to everything.

 

--

 

ii.

 

leaving busan is easy. leaving the apartment is... less easy. he stands in the hall with the last cardboard box in his arms for what feels like hours, and just looks at the rooms. he doesn’t feel sad, exactly, but it feels strange. what used to be home for him and taehyung, now just feels like a collection of rooms without purpose. it was taehyung, after all, that made it feel like home. (it was taehyung that was home.)

his eyes slide over and then return to a fist-sized dent in the living room wall near the floor level, and he remembers the time they were trying to get jimin’s bed back to the bedroom. it feels like yesterday. it feels like taehyung was here just a second ago. it feels like it all happened in a different lifetime. he wonders vaguely if he’s going to have to pay for the wall. on a whim, he moves a chair in front of the dent.

he leaves most of the furniture behind. there’s no room in the car he borrowed from his brother, anyway. takes the glass vase he used to have gerberas in.

his new apartment close to campus is nice enough. it’s smaller than the one in busan. it doesn’t have a ghost in it.

jimin unpacks slowly, and tries not to think about anything when he hangs his clothes in the closet and a bunch of bright-colored sweaters stands out from the rest, obviously more taehyung’s taste than his own. he goes out and gets some gerberas, sets them on the table next to the window in the living room. when they wither, he replaces them with new ones.

orange gerberas mean happiness. they mean, you are my sunshine.

 

--

 

a week later he sees a small article in the newspaper. it’s something about a local artist jimin’s never heard of; but the thing that catches his eye is the name of the owner of the recording studio the artist is using. kim namjoon, 24, it says, and jimin is hit with three years’ worth of memories.

he was one grade below namjoon, but they were in the same clubs, which is why they became friends. he fell out of touch after high school when he moved back to busan; it was a different time, then, jimin had different struggles, with himself and his parents and his dreams, but he’s still sorry about it. he feels nervous looking up namjoon’s phone number, wonders how he’ll react, if he remembers jimin at all; but the worries turn out to be unnecessary as namjoon picks up, recognizes his voice immediately, and proceeds to yell excitedly into his ear for the next five minutes straight. jimin laughs, and his cheeks hurt from not smiling so wide in a long time.

he meets namjoon for drinks at a bar they used to walk past on their way to school.

“park jimin,” namjoon greets him, and hugs him so tight jimin thinks his ribs might break. “wow, your hair is different.”

like his hair isn’t bright mint green and considerably shorter than the last time jimin saw him.

“i just liked the color,” he smiles. “what’s up with you? i hear you got yourself a recording studio.”

they spend the evening catching up. it’s genuinely welcoming to hang out with namjoon again. it’s almost like back in high school, but without hoseok, who namjoon tells went to study dance abroad. when he tells namjoon he’s currently a dance major, too, namjoon isn’t even surprised; he grins widely and pats him hard on the back.

“i’m glad you decided to go into it,” he says, “we always thought you should, because of how good you were. i’m proud of you.”

they talk about jimin but mostly about namjoon. namjoon buys the first round, jimin buys the second, and after that he loses track, but someone keeps ordering drinks and that’s the most important thing.

it’s nearing midnight when namjoon says something jimin is one hundred percent not expecting to hear. he asks,

“do you believe in ghosts?”

jimin spills most of his shot onto the table. he stares at namjoon, who blinks at the puddle of soju between them. he realizes he should probably answer.

“yes,” he says, and can’t predict for the life of him where this conversation’s going.

“would you believe me if i told you i know someone who has a ghost in their apartment?”

“i would,” jimin says, “i really would.”

 

--

 

jimin doesn’t know min yoongi, but he seems like a good guy based on namjoon’s description. when namjoon asks if yoongi could call him, he says yes, because he doesn’t believe in not helping people when he might be able to. he doesn’t sleep that night. the hole taehyung left feels gaping, again.

yoongi calls the next day.

“namjoon said you might be able to help?” he says, sounding unsure, “with a ghost related thing?”

you could say i’m familiar with the situation.

“you want to get rid of your ghost?” jimin asks, because he can do that. he knows how.

“i want to make sure he stays,” yoongi says, and jimin thinks, oh. thinks, here we are, again.

 

--

 

jimin’s not sure what to expect when he goes over to yoongi’s place. the first thing he notices is the cold, and it’s like busan all over again.

yoongi is nice, in a blunt, rough sort of way, and has a very obvious soft spot for jungkook, even though he keeps calling him a brat. and jungkook reminds him of taehyung in as many ways as he is completely different. he’s not sure what he was expecting to feel, but all that surfaces is genuine fascination for jungkook and at his and yoongi’s relationship. what jimin picks up from them is immense fondness for each other, obvious even with their bickering, an easy, comfortable closeness. it’s the kind of thing he can’t help but smile at, but that also feels bittersweet.

he does what he can, which is tell them about taehyung. tells them what happened, roughly. how he went away. how jimin doesn’t know where “away” is. it’s not the easiest thing he has done. all three of them sit in silence afterwards. jimin wishes he could do more, because he likes jungkook and he likes yoongi and he knows. knows what it’s like. he’s thinking of the old lady he met just once in his hallway when he says,

“you might find a way to stay. maybe, if you really don’t want to, you won’t have to go.”

it’s a feeble attempt at making jungkook feel better. a maybe is all he can give him.

yoongi stops him as he’s leaving.

“hey,” he says, a little bit awkward, but that just makes the gesture all the more meaningful, “taehyung. i think he’s at peace now. i think he’s okay.”

jimin smiles, and it’s genuine.

“thank you for saying that,” he says.

means, i’d give everything just to hear his voice.

 

--

 

“what were you, you and taehyung?” namjoon asks, and jimin can tell he’s been thinking about it for a while.

he considers.

“we were best friends. more than that. soulmates,” he says, “we were never quite anything, and we were everything, all at once.”

he thinks it answers the question pretty well. if there is anyone who can understand half the things he just said, it’s probably namjoon.

 

--

 

yoongi calls him twice in the following weeks. the first call means jimin is going to spend some of his time looking up information on jungkook, looking up the cause of his death. at least yoongi won’t have to do it himself. jimin is glad to give him at least that small mercy. the first call means they are preparing for the worst, but that there is still time.

having run out of ideas, he gives yoongi the address to his old apartment.

“i met someone there once,” he tells him, “she might not show up, and she might not be able to help, but she’s the only one i can think of who might know something.”

“she was cryptic as fuck,” yoongi tells him when they meet up in the library for a research session, “she just told me there’s nothing i can do, that i should let him go, and then insulted my hair. i had to leave because i was about to lose my cool and someone threatened to call the cops.”

“that’s mr. gyeong,” jimin says and rolls his eyes, “glad to know he’s still doing fine.”

the second call, almost two weeks later, means time has run out.

“i’m sorry,” jimin says on the phone and means it.

“it’s not your fault,” yoongi answers.

“still,” jimin says.

the cherry trees blossom early this year. he dyes his hair pink, along with the season. taehyung would love it, he knows.

 

--

 

it really is like busan all over again.

he gives them as much privacy as he can. he can’t help but steal a couple of glances at them; they’re talking with their heads close together, in hushed voices, and jimin can’t hear what they’re saying, nor is he trying to. when he looks again, they are kissing. he turns his face away. his chest hurts.

he doesn’t see jungkook disappear, but he hears his last words, spoken louder than the other things they said. i love you. when jimin looks, yoongi is standing alone. his eyes are fixed on the empty space in front of him. were his chest not moving slightly along his breathing, jimin would think he’s looking at a statue. his face is wet. something drips down jimin’s own cheek, too. he brings his sleeve to his face and wipes it away. again, there are many reasons for it.

“yoongi,” he calls, and repeats it a few more times when yoongi doesn’t react.

yoongi blinks, slowly.

“yeah, i’m fine,” he says, even though jimin didn’t even ask. his voice is rough. his eyes are red around the edges. his entire being seems tired. he’s not fine, of course he isn’t.

jimin spends the night on yoongi’s couch. he doesn’t want to leave yoongi alone, and jimin doesn’t really want to be alone tonight, either. he lies awake until four in the morning, staring at the shadows in the ceiling and listening to the pitter-patter of the rain against the windowpane. he thinks about taehyung. thinks about jungkook. hopes, from the bottom of his heart, that they still exist, somewhere.

 

--

 

they make a pact with namjoon to make sure yoongi is not left alone for prolonged periods of time, to make sure he knows he always has someone to talk to. he gets self-destructive, namjoon tells him. yoongi keeps telling them he’s fine, like a song on repeat.

“just shut up,” jimin says, “you’re not fine, and you don’t have to be. let’s just be not fine together.”

it’s one of their more heartfelt talks, sadly. but jimin thinks namjoon has it covered; he’s known yoongi longer, and he’s better with words.

jimin focuses on dragging yoongi out with him three times a week for the next two weeks. he calls it a support group for People Who Have Seen Too Much. yoongi makes a face and looks sort of constipated but rolls with it.

they go to a dog shelter because jimin is thinking about getting a dog. and because puppies are the healthier coping mechanism in comparison to alcohol.

“you should get this one.” jimin turns, and yoongi is squatting with a golden retriever puppy between his legs, scratching behind its ears lazily as the puppy bounces excitably. jimin crouches down next to him, and the puppy nuzzles into him with such vigor he almost loses his balance.

“good boy,” jimin laughs, “what’s your name?”

he reaches for the tag in the dog’s collar, which is not easy because the dog won’t stay still.

“V,” he reads out loud, frowns a little bit, “that’s it? V?”

“short and pithy,” yoongi shrugs one shoulder and stands up, brushing the dog hair off his pants, “i like it.”

the puppy waggles its tail and stares up at jimin with its big puppy eyes. jimin tilts his head.

“huh,” he says.

 

--

 

iii.

 

he hears it from namjoon.

“yoongi told me,” he says on the phone, “jungkook came back. he doesn’t know how, but it looks like he’s here to stay.”

it’s a beautiful afternoon. the street under jimin’s window is strewn with pink cherry pedals. the gerberas look so bright in the sunlight that it hurts his eyes. V is sleeping on the edge of the carpet in the warmth of the sun, having tired himself out. it’s been almost half a year since taehyung.

“i’m glad,” jimin says. means it.

the single pink carnation he’s started keeping among the gerberas means, i’ll never forget you.

 

--

 

jungkook really is back. wholly, completely. still dead, but very much here, very much himself, as he greets jimin by lifting him half a feet into the air the moment he sets foot in the apartment. jimin laughs in surprise. says, “i’m glad you’re back” once his feet are safely on the floor again.

then he asks the obvious question yoongi and namjoon have surely already asked.

“what happened?”

jungkook merely shrugs, vague as can be.

“i don’t really remember anything about it,” he says.

jimin looks over at yoongi, who shakes his head to say, no one knows.

“did you see a white light?” namjoon half-shouts from yoongi’s couch, and knowing namjoon, he’s at least half-serious. they get into it, throwing jokes back and forth. jimin listens absentmindedly, but his thoughts are elsewhere.

suddenly, jungkook turns to him, and looks him straight in the eye. it’s so unexpectedly serious and intense that jimin’s breath catches in his throat.

“you don’t have to worry about taehyung,” jungkook says. jimin has never heard him use that tone before. it’s almost like someone else is speaking. it sends a chill down his spine.

he holds the eye contact for a while longer. jimin parts his lips, but all that comes out is a shaky breath.

then jungkook looks away, his whole posture changing, relaxing, like he never said anything.

“what are you talking about,” jimin tries to ask, “what did you see?”

but jungkook won’t answer him, no matter how he asks, nor does he mention it again. when jimin asks him again a week later, he doesn’t even remember saying anything about taehyung.

he keeps coming back to the the old lady in his hallway. the more he thinks about it, the surer he becomes that she was like jungkook. that she was able to stay for something or someone. what irks him about it is how she kept telling them to let them go. he thinks about bringing it up with yoongi; but there’s no way yoongi doesn’t already know, that he doesn’t wonder about the exact same thing. that he doesn’t, despite being happy, worry about jungkook.

 

--

 

everything aside, he’s not going to say it doesn’t hurt at all. it does hurt. jungkook managed to come back, through whatever deal, whatever trade he made, and jimin knows it’s all for yoongi; doesn’t need to ask to know this.

if he’s right, jungkook gave up his chance at peace, maybe for eternity, just to spend a few more decades with this one person. jimin can’t say it doesn’t make him jealous. he can’t say it doesn’t make him miss taehyung like crazy, that he doesn’t feel the pain from losing him all over again.

he wants to be happy for them; and he will be, from the bottom of his heart. but for now, it’s going to hurt for a little bit. he lets it.

 

--

 

(iv.)

 

“just once more, once more,” jimin is giggling, already dizzy from the spinning.

the carpet in the living room has been rolled aside. the chairs have been pushed to the edges of the room to create a personal practice floor. sunlight is pouring in through the crack in the curtains. dust dances in the beam of light.

“are you kidding me, you did that move perfectly,” taehyung rolls his eyes, but his smile hasn’t left his face once. “you’re already good enough, jimin, you’re better than good enough. you can send the application any time, i guarantee you’ll get in. stop stalling and follow your damn dream.”

“just watch me one more time,” jimin says, holding up a finger, and laughs at taehyung’s faux exasperation.

his face is probably flushed pink. he feels breathless. it’s the spinning and the laughing and the fact that it’s summer and taehyung’s here with him. he feels like he’s in love, and he can’t tell if it’s with summer, with dancing, or with taehyung. possibly all three. it feels like nothing outside of this moment matters.

“alright,” taehyung smiles, and it’s enough to rival the sun, “but this is the last time.”