They begin as friends.
Jimin is chubby and small, pinched cheeks and rosy lips, new and shy and painfully awkward.
A boy--tall and gangly. He has a bright smile and caramel coloured skin and Jimin’s breath catches in his throat. “Hi.”
It’s soft and can barely be heard, but the boy grins and Jimin feels a little better. “I’m Taehyung!”
“Jimin,” Jimin introduces shyly. “I’m new.”
“Yeah,” Taehyung cocks his head to the side, hand held out carefully. “I figured. You looked kinda lost.”
Their neighborhood is small and homely, trees springing up from the ground in nearly every house, and for Jimin, this means it’s easy to get lost. He’s been wandering by himself for a few minutes now, and in the very back of his mind he’s sure his mother is looking for him, is worrying herself sick, but Taehyung is beaming.
Taehyung is beaming and Jimin, hesitant and unsure, places his hand in Taehyung's.
His skin is warm and sticky with chocolate ice cream, his fingernails blunt and short, but his fingers fit together with Jimin’s perfectly, sun kissed against vanilla, and Jimin feels his heart flutter a little.
But just a little.
Taehyung blinks at him curiously, huffing out a laugh. “I’m born in ‘95.” he explains, hair falling over his forehead in sleek strands, catching under the bright sunlight. “December 30th.”
Jimin grins. “October 13th,” he admits ruefully, meeting Taehyung’s gaze with a quiet grin. “ ‘95 too.”
There’s a sharp intake of breath, Taehyung’s grip tightening over Jimin’s with a gentle squeeze. “Jimin,” his voice is serious, and Jimin watches him, strangely endeared. “Let’s be friends.”
And it’s like this, that they begin as friends in the heat of a sweltering summer, twelve years old and too young to think much of it, hands twined together under the blanket of a setting sun.
School is strange.
Jimin is new and unsure and shy, scuffing his shoes along the tile of the too-big hall.
There’s a bubble of anxiety blooming in his chest, the door to his new classroom shut firmly in front of him. Carefully, he raises his fist and knocks once, twice, three times, soft and terribly uncertain.
Even through the wood he can hear a distinct murmur of voices, the low thrum of children whispering to each other audible. Jimin stands outside listening to them, the stutter of his heart echoing in his own ears until the door finally opens.
A woman, dressed smartly in a pencil skirt and thin heels, stands above him with a smile. “Park Jimin?”
Jimin nods because in a city like this, small and not very populated, he’s expected. He’s still anxious though, still unsure and timid and not very likely to make friends, but he squares his shoulders and follows the teacher in with as much confidence as he can.
It’s only when he’s in front of a dozen kids, their stares oddly judging for their age, that he falters.
Unconsciously, Jimin curls into himself, the rapid beat of his heart quicker than before. He keeps his gaze on the ground and studies his shoes, the floor, anything he can to keep from reminding himself where exactly he is.
Distantly, Jimin realizes that the woman--his teacher--is speaking, but he only understands when she finishes that this is where he introduces himself.
“Ah,” he mumbles, suddenly aware of how incredibly self conscious he is. “I”m Jimin. Park Jimin.”
There’s a murmur of voices.
“Nice to meet you,” Jimin mutters, staring at his black, polished shoes, the pattern on the white tiled floor. He’s so incredibly anxious, in this second. “Please--please take care of me.”
He bows low but before he can stand again, a voice, loud and hyper and relatively mischievous, shouts out. “Jimin-ah!”
Jimin flinches, looking around uncertainly. He sees a mop of black hair in the back, a familiar boxy smile, a slender frame, and understands.
Jimin hasn’t seen Taehyung, not since that day in front of his house. That was summer, the days long and heated, and when Jimin had finally come home his mother had scolded him beyond belief, her voice higher than he had ever heard before. It’s been a few weeks since then, the hours of summer gradually fading into the start of school, and here Jimin stands, faced with a friend.
Taehyung grins victoriously. The rest of the class looks between them and Jimin can feel the tips his ears turning red too, can feel himself buckle under the weight of too many eyes, but Taehyung pats the empty seat next to him, firm and unwavering.
I’ll take care of you, he mouths easily, a beam spread wide across his boyish features, eyes twinkling with something that looks a little like excitement.
The class is still staring at them and even though Jimin knows they couldn't have seen what Taehyung said, he flushes deeper still, unaccustomed to the fluttery feel of his heart. Huffing out a breath, he waves shyly before bowing to his teacher and making his way to where Taehyung is sitting, sliding into the desk with a soft thud.
Taehyung laughs out loud then, reaching forward until his fingers twine together with Jimin’s, knobby and thin against small and short.
He lays his head on his desk, cheek squished against the wood, and after a second of hesitation Jimin mimics him. Their teacher is speaking again now, murmuring in a soothing voice about workbooks and being on time and they aren’t attracting quite so many eyes anymore, but Jimin is still self conscious.
Jimin is still self conscious but Taehyung definitely isn't, smiling happily when he sees that Jimin’s copied him. He echoes what he mouthed before, simple and unperturbed. “I’ll take care of you, Jimin-ah.”
Jimin giggles a little, the warmth of Taehyung’s hand heavy in his. He scoots his chair a bit closer, the sound barely audible even in the quiet of their classroom, and murmurs his response, still shy but -
“Of course you will, Taehyung.”
They fall into a routine, after that. School isn’t so strange anymore, not with Taehyung by his side, but Jimin eventually learns that Taehyung isn’t just his.
They sit in class together every day, desk partners and best friends, and sneak notes to one another when their teacher isn’t looking. They’ll write silly things, little anecdotes of the night before or the morning of, Taehyung sometimes doodling a smiling puppy and Jimin often adding on whatever he can, little names or a collar.
They’re doing it again one day when a boy, tall and intimidating, interrupts them.
“Hey,” his voice is loud, the bell having just signaled lunch, and he crosses his arms over his chest, looking only at Taehyung. “Dude, it’s been like, months since you sat with us.”
Jimin glances between them, anxiety trickling through his bones. He’s only now realizing that before he came - before he came, Taehyung obviously would’ve had other friends.
Other friends, boys who are popular and well-liked and better , and Jimin’s gone and taken Taehyung away from them.
Taehyung pushes his hair off his forehead and blinks , eyes round. “Oh,” he grins sheepishly, tapping his pencil against the desk. “Sorry, Jaehyun, but I’ve just been sitting with Jiminie lately.”
Jaehyun looks unimpressed.
Taehyung huffs, linking his elbow with Jimin’s and giving Jaehyun a sweet grin. “I’ll sit with everyone today, okay? Jiminie can come too.”
Jaehyun, Jimin can tell, clearly doesn’t want him there. His nose wrinkles in disdain, and suddenly, suddenly, Jimin is aware of how out of place he must look next to Taehyung. It’s with this thought in mind that he does what he does.
“No, it’s fine,” he mumbles, picking up Taehyung’s hand under the desk and giving it a squeeze, reassuring. “I have a thing to finish before seventh period in the library, so I’ll just -”
Jaehyun interrupts before Jimin can finish. “Yeah! He’s busy, Taehyung, c’mon.”
Jimin looks at the ground but he can feel Taehyung staring at him, confused and unsure. Eventually, after a small pause, he squeezes back. “O-kayyy,” he says hesitantly, still watching Jimin in puzzlement.”You sure, Minnie? I can come with you and we can sit with them another day.”
Jimin’s heart breaks a little.
“Yeah,” he says softly, turning to face Taehyung with a small smile. “Don’t worry about it, Taehyungie. I’ll be fine on my own.”
Taehyung still looks unsure but Jaehyun is impatient and he crows victoriously when hears what Jimin’s said. “Yes! Finally, dude, you’ve been so MIA lately.”
Taehyung nods slowly, getting up and trailing behind Jaehyun like a lost puppy when he turns to leave. He chances a glance behind his shoulder before the door can shut behind him, and when Jimin sees him looking, he grins again, aware that it doesn’t reach his eyes.
“ Go ,” he mouths, gesturing towards the door with his hands. “ I’m fine .”
Taehyung’s nose wrinkles in worry but he nods and waves one last time, pushing his lips out in a pout until he finally disappears from view.
For a few minutes, Jimin sits there. He taps his pencil against his desk in a rhythmic beat, a gentle tuk-tuk-tuk that he loses himself in, distracted and unwilling to think.
It’s only when he drops the pencil that he realizes he doesn’t have anywhere to go.
He stares at it skittering across the floor and huffs out a tired breath. The pencil comes to a stop when it hits the wall, lying sideways with the lead broken off; Jimin bitterly thinks it's an accurate representation of his life, in this second.
Carefully, he stands, slinging his backpack over his shoulder to leave the empty classroom. He wanders the halls, steadfastly ignoring the groups of kids clustered along the walls, and weaves his way through until he comes to the library.
It’s small and cozy, tucked into the very side of their school, haphazardly placed bookshelves littering the empty halls, and when Jimin pads in, the librarian gives him a curious look.
“Here for lunch?” she asks, not unkindly.
“Ah,” Jimin scrambles, shrugging his backpack off and setting it on the carpeted ground with a sheepish smile. “Just--if it’s okay with you, then, yeah.”
“It’s fine, sweetie; another boy spends his lunch period in here too, don’t worry about it.”
Jimin breathes a small sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he makes to leave, but before he can go she gestures for him to come closer.
Tentatively, he does.
She blinks at him before grinning, the edges of laugh lines appearing at the corners of her eyes. “Between you and me,” she says, her voice hushed enough that Jimin has to strain to hear her, “you’re not allowed to eat in the library. But for you, I’ll make an exception.”
Jimin laughs then, nodding his thanks as he wanders off to the very back to find a small nook. It’s barely big enough to fit him, but he curls into himself and tucks his legs underneath his backpack before pulling out a book at random from the shelf nearest to him.
The pages are yellow and thin, the scent of vanilla and aged paper reaching his senses from the very first words. He reads and reads and reads, a desperate attempt to lose himself in a life that isn’t his, but it’s only after he’s halfway through the novel that he realizes he hasn’t processed a word he’s just read.
He doesn’t realize he’s crying until his tears hit the page. They’re big, slipping down his face and collecting on his chin before dripping down to stain the collar of his uniform, wetness seeping uncomfortably into his skin. Jimin is a quiet crier, and he buries his face into his knees to muffle his noises, rocking himself back and forth in the cramped space.
He doesn’t know why he’s so upset; perhaps it’s because he’s still relatively new, or perhaps it’s because the boy he’s recently come to call his best friend abandoned him. But whatever the reason, Jimin’s heart aches , in the most terrible, painful way.
It’s only for a few minutes that he lets himself cry; the warning bell rings soon enough, and when that happens, he knows he doesn’t have much time left, not unless he wants to go back to class with puffy eyes and a tear stained face.
Because Taehyung will inevitably question him then, his wide, dark eyes pleading, and Jimin doesn’t want him to know how pathetic he is.
It’s with this thought in mind that he carefully tucks the book back where he found it. He sits back on his heels then and rests his head against the wall, focusing on his breathing instead of his thoughts, his hand flat against the gentle rise of his chest.
When the bell rings, Jimin packs everything into his bag, from his uneaten lunch to the assignment that was never due. On his way out, he gives the librarian a crooked grin and a small wave, pushing past the double doors to go back to class, his feet thudding against the tiled floor in an unsteady rhythm.
Just before he reaches, Jimin sees them.
Two figures, two boys , one with a familiar boxy grin and long limbs, laughing. They’re loud, guffaws spilling out of them, their arms slung over each other's shoulders, and when Jaehyun whispers in Taehyung’s ear, Jimin’s heart sinks.
He walks a little faster, looking past them and straight ahead until he’s falling into his seat with a heavy thud. The boy next to him startles, his jaw dropping open when Jimin buries his head in his arms, pushing his chair back to make himself a little more comfortable.
It’s a soft question, asked hesitantly, timid but clearly worried. Jimin huffs out a breath in response, mumbling something into his arms in a sad attempt to avoid the gaze he can still feel, but doesn’t want to acknowledge.
“What was that?”
Jimin buries his chin a little deeper into the darkness he’s made for himself before lifting his head to stare balefully at the boy who’s still watching him, but he wilts a little when he sees who it is.
Jeon Jeongguk is young.
They all are, still only thirteen, but Jeongguk is less than that- 11. With dark, expressive eyes, a button nose, and pink lips, he’s small for his age, even smaller when compared to everyone else in their year. He’s skipped a grade, is smart and quick and witty, but terribly shy all the same; Jimin relates to him well.
“Hey,” he murmurs, sending Jeongguk a small smile, fleeting and quick, but still sure. “I’m fine, Jeongguk, don’t worry about it.”
Jeongguk blinks at him, wide eyes opening even more in surprise. Jimin grows a little uncomfortable under his gaze but he keeps his head rested on his arms, patient until he realizes Jeongguk is still staring at him. “Jeongguk?” he prods, reaching out a hand to poke Jeongguk gently in the arm.
Jeongguk flinches. “You know my name?”
“Yeah? Am I not supposed to?” Jimin can hear the confusion in his voice and he cocks his head to the side at the rush of warmth in Jeongguk’s cheeks.
“No! It’s just--I didn’t think anyone um--actually knew that.”
Jimin stares at him, feeling a sudden wave of pity hit him at the hesitance in Jeongguk’s words. “I knew,” he assures, reaching over and petting his arm gently, keeping a tentative grin in place.
Before Jeongguk can say anything else, Taehyung is sliding into his chair, bridging the gap between them, unaware of what he just interrupted. He turns to face Jimin, a bright, boxy smile spread wide across his features. “Chim! Lunch was so fun today, I wish you could’ve been there.”
Over Taehyung’s shoulder Jimin can see Jeongguk’s features settle into an expression of understanding.
“Yeah,” Jimin mutters, propping his chin up with his hand, trying not to let his feelings show. “Yeah, me too.”
Taehyung doesn’t seem to hear the hesitance in his voice because he carries on, gushing over Jaehyun and how he’s missed him and everyone else, and with every passing word, Jimin can feel himself traveling farther away.
Their friendship is still relatively new, still unexplored and sensitive, and as Jimin watches him, he feels a lump settle in the back of his throat. Taehyung sounds so happy , his voice high with excitement, dark eyes bright with giddiness, but Jimin doesn’t hear a single word he’s saying.
He’s too focused on the sudden thought that for Taehyung, he isn’t special.
He’s a friend, sure, but so is Jaehyun; so is every other boy sitting in this class, a few of the girls even.
Taehyung is lovely, Jimin realizes.
Taehyung is lovely, he realizes, and Taehyung doesn’t need him.
Taehyung is staring at him oddly, brow furrowed and bottom lip pursed. “You okay?” he asks hesitantly, but when Jimin nods, he doesn’t look convinced. “I-”
They hadn’t heard the teacher began her lecture, too busy with one another, and now she stares at them, a stern eyebrow raised in question.
Taehyung jerks, turning around to grin sheepishly at the teacher, cheeks flushing red.He bows his head in apology, his hand going under the desk to find Jimin’s, and when their fingers twine together, Jimin squeezes a little, comforting.
The snickers of their classmates are loud around them but Jimin chooses instead to stroke his thumb over Taehyung’s hand, waiting until the laughter has died down before leaning over to whisper in Taehyung’s ear. “I’m fine, Taehyungie. Promise.”
A smile, soft and fleeting, dances across Taehyung’s face, and he nods in relief before squeezing Jimin’s hand. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” Jimin echoes, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat. “Completely sure.”
Jimin doesn’t look at Taehyung again, doesn’t want to risk it in fear of being called out, but he does tangle their fingers together even more, his hand dwarfed endearingly by Taehyung’s.
A few minutes later, after their teacher has gone back to her desk, Taehyung slides over a note. The paper is torn roughly around the edges, and the message is simple and unassuming; genuine.
‘You’re my best friend.’ it reads.
When Jimin glances at Taehyung, he’s beaming. He points at the note, squeezing Jimin’s hand again, eyes stretched into folds of mirth before he writes it again, this time in black ink across the delicate skin of Jimin’s wrist.
“My best friend.”
Jimin gives him an empty smile.
Taehyung doesn’t let go of his hand, keeping their fingers tangled together until the bell rings. Jimin, quick to leave, stuffs his things into his bag; but before he can go, Taehyung hooks his finger into the belt loop of Jimin’s trousers, tugging gently.
“Wait for me,” he grins when Jimin’s gaze meets his, wide and curious. “I want to walk home together, okay? Just let me use the bathroom first.”
“Okay.” Jimin agrees, letting his lips stretch into a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Sure. I’ll be out in the courtyard.”
Taehyung jumps up from his seat to leave, squeezing Jimin’s hand one more time before he’s gone. Jimin, huffing out a breath when he slings his bag over his shoulder, walks out to the front, leaning against a tree for the few minutes that he’s there for.
Taehyung emerges a little while later, but when he reaches Jimin his smile is off; not as wide, or as bright as it usually is. “Hey,” he greets, and even his voice is strange, oddly uncertain. “Ready?”
Hesitantly, Jimin nods. He hands an earphone to Taehyung before looking through the playlist he has on his phone, picking a song at random and passing it to Taehyung so he can choose next. They’ve developed a system, as of late; on every walk home, Jimin will listen to his music and share with Taehyung, and on every walk to school, Taehyung will play his and let Jimin listen.
The music playing now is soft and low, one of the few ballads Jimin saves for when he’s feeling achingly upset. He can feel Taehyung’s gaze on his skin, heavy and searching, but Jimin doesn’t look at him, choosing to sing under his breath softly instead.
The walk is a quiet one, but just before they reach the intersection where they split off, Taehyung stops him. “Jimin.” his voice is low and a little sad. “Hey. Can we talk?”
“We already are,” Jimin grins, but he falters when Taehyung doesn’t. “Yeah. Sure we can, Taehyungie.”
“Okay,” Taehyung takes a deep breath, sucking air into his lungs with a strangely concentrated expression before he tangles Jimin’s hands in his, as he’s done so many times. “Okay.”
Jimin gives him an encouraging nod. Hesitantly, Taehyung begins. “Jiminie,” he says, staring at Jimin in earnest. “That note I gave you--what did it say?”
“That I’m your best friend.” Jimin murmurs, staring at the ground, the cracked leaves beneath his feet.
“Okay.” Taehyung nudges him gently. “You didn’t say anything but I still thought--I mean--I’m yours too, yeah?”
Startled, Jimin finally meets his gaze. “Of course,” he stops, confused as to why Taehyung would be asking him that. “I thought that went without saying.”
Taehyung gives him a small smile. “Then why did you lie to me?”
Carefully, Taehyung folds his limbs together and settles down on the sidewalk, bringing Jimin with him. His smile is wan now, a little empty and a little upset. “If we’re best friends, then - then you should’ve told me that you spent lunch in the library crying .”
“Taehyung.” Jimin curls into himself, a terrible feeling of humiliation bubbling low in his gut. “I’m--”
“Minnie,” Taehyung looks at him from underneath his dark eyelashes, gaze focused. “Did you not want to sit with Jaehyun and the others at lunch? Because you could’ve told me and I would’ve gone with you instead it--it would’ve been fine .”
“No,” Jimin stares at the ground, scuffing his shoe along the concrete, uncertain and tired and unable to think. “That’s not it, I just. I don’t know, Taehyung, they were-”
“Is it me?” Taehyung isn’t looking at him. His shoulders are slumped, backpack slouching sadly by his feet, bottom lip pushed out into a pout, and when Jimin raises an eyebrow uncertainly, Taehyung clears his throat. “If you didn’t want to sit with me anymore, then you could’ve just said, Jimin. I can be annoying sometimes, yeah, but you didn't have to lie to me.”
“ No ,” Jimin stresses, so firmly that even he’s a little bit surprised. “Of course not, Taehyung. Whoever said you’re annoying can fuck right off, you’re the kindest person I’ve ever met and you’re - you’re my best friend.”
His voice cracks at the end, uneven. Taehyung is watching him with bright eyes now, dark hair falling into his gaze. Gently, he tangles his fingers with Jimin’s, nudging his foot and grinning a little when Jimin startles. “Then?”
Jimin deflates. “You’re popular,” he admits, studying the way his fingers slot into Taehyung’s, the sweetness with which Taehyung listens to him. “And I’m new and shy and -”
“ and my best friend,” Taehyung interrupts him, staring at Jimin with kind eyes. “My best friend, Minnie. Not Jaehyun, not Minseok, just you .”
Jimin is crying again. Taehyung’s voice is so soft, firm and unwavering, a desperate kind of fervor in his words, as if he’s aching for Jimin to believe him. “I know,” Jimin sniffles, looking away and avoiding Taehyung’s gaze. “I know, but I just. I don’t want you to miss out.”
He shrinks into himself a little. “They like you, Taehyung, and you - you like them.”
With gentle hands, Taehyung cups Jimin’s face to dry the tears staining his cheeks. “Not as much as I like you, though. Never as much as I like you.” he murmurs.
“No?” asks Jimin.
“Never,” Taehyung repeats, bringing Jimin close to wrap his arms around him, rocking them back and forth in tandem. “Never-ever.”
“I only have you,” he whispers, burying his face in the crook of Jimin’s neck, twining their hands together under the cotton candy sky. “Just you, Jimin-ah.”
They stand there for the longest time. The wind slinks past them, kisses their skin and knots into their hair, cars rushing by as streetlights flicker on, but Jimin and Taehyung stand there, wrapped in each other, completely and utterly content.
“Tae?” Jimin asks the next day when they’re eating lunch, this time in their usual spot, out by the tree and under the shade. “How did you know? That I was in the library, I mean?”
Taehyung sends him a soft grin. “There’s another boy who spends his lunch in there,” he says, nudging his shoulder into Jimin’s as he settles back against the tree, unwrapping his bento box to feed Jimin a piece of egg. “He’s quiet. Nice, but quiet.”
“Oh,” Jimin breathes.
Taehyung gives him an odd look, but doesn’t question him further. They spend the rest of lunch as they usually do, giggling and complaining and throwing food, but Jimin doesn’t forget what Taehyung said, and when the bell rings, he packs his bag as quick as he can.
“Bathroom,” he replies when Taehyung asks him. “I’ll meet you back in class!”
He jogs back to school, a steady speed that he keeps up just before he reaches the library. It’s empty again, this time without even the sweet librarian from yesterday, but Jimin still lets himself in, wandering the empty halls until he finds who he’s looking for.
Jeongguk has his nose buried in a thick novel, hair falling into his eyes, slumped back against the bookshelf with easy familiarity. A half-eaten apple is held in one hand, his backpack tucked by his feet, and he looks more comfortable here, alone and in a gentle quiet, than Jimin has ever seen him before.
Carefully, Jimin sits down. Jeongguk doesn’t look up, but he does stiffen slightly, uncertainty flickering in his gaze. “
Thank you,” Jimin says softly, nudging his shoulder into Jeongguk’s with a small grin. “For helping me out. I don’t think I could ever thank you enough.”
Jeongguk finally looks at him then. His nose twitches before he lets himself smile, pink lips stretched wide into a bunny grin, too-big front teeth and crinkled eyes.
And when he nods his welcome, timid and flustered but beaming, Jimin realizes that Taehyung isn’t just his, but it’s okay because he doesn’t have to be; Jimin has Jeongguk now too.
Jimin and Taehyung began as friends in the heat of a sweltering summer, but when the leaves begin fading colour, they become a pair of twin suns crashing into each other instead.
Pumpkin spice and pecan pie, mittens and beanies and hot cocoa in the quiet of an early morning.
It’s a season that Jimin doesn’t have much experience with. Where he moved from, it was summer and winter and then a bit of spring, itchy noses and watery eyes, and then summer again -
Fall was rare.
But here, in the warmth of Taehyung’s room, swaddled in his blanket with their hands around matching pusheen mugs, Jimin drowns in the season of fall; the changing leaves and the cloudy skies, a bright grin in the wind of a dark night, a pair of warm eyes in the chill of an early morning.
He drowns in Taehyung.
“D’you like it?”
“Huh?” Jimin glances up from where he had been rubbing his hands together in a desperate attempt to keep them warm.
“The movie.” Taehyung gives him a small grin, a slight upturn of his lips, eyes crinkling prettily to stretch into the edges of laugh lines that eventually, Jimin learns to recognize better than the back of his hand. “D’you like it?”
Jimin startles, jumping a little when Taehyung tangles his hands in his to push them under the blanket, grip firmly unbreakable. Quietly, he bends to huff warm breath over the tips of Jimin’s fingers, gaze cross-eyed and strangely enough, concentrated. “Um - a lot.”
When Taehyung surfaces, it’s with a beam. “Same,” He grins, bright under the warm light of his bedroom lamp. “I like you alot, too.”
And in that small, fleeting second, a thirteen year old Jimin’s heart flutters.
But he brushes it off.
A slip of the tongue, he tells himself firmly. A slip of the tongue.
Love is strange.
Jimin isn’t aware of it until he is, until he’s turning fourteen, going on fifteen, until he’s giving pieces of himself to another.
They’re in the city when it happens; Jimin, excited and young and impressionable, begs his mother to let him and Taehyung go off on their own.
“If you promise to be safe,” her voice is stern but her eyes are soft, and Jimin can see her relenting. “Then okay. But please--”
“Yes!” Jimin pecks her on the cheek before she can finish, excitement thrumming through his bones. “Yes, yes, yes! We’ll be back at four, swear!”
She raises an eyebrow, skeptical. “That long?”
Jimin nods, grabbing Taehyung’s hand in his, skin soft to the touch. He grins, bright and beaming, whooping loudly when they leave his house to begin the short walk to the train station.
“She said yes , Taehyung, can you believe?”
Taehyung gives him an admiring grin. “The city, ‘chim! We’re going to the city! By ourselves! We’re adults!”
They’re not. They’re not, not even a little bit, not even close, but in that quiet, fleeting second, they feel like they are, and it’s enough.
For them, going to the city by themselves is more or less a rite of passage; it’s a bit like leaving the nest for the first time, akin to being airborne without knowing where they’ll land.
It’s a heady feeling.
The train is crowded when they reach, parents and children bickering on the seats, men in business suits with briefcases hanging onto the railing, women in dresses and heels, expensive purses placed neatly at their feet. Jimin and Taehyung squish into two seats, sharing a pair of earphones with their pinkies linked together.
It’s a short ride, four minutes or a little less, and when the train comes to screeching stop, Jimin barely manages to keep from losing Taehyung at the station.
He clings onto Taehyung’s arm, chubby fingers wrapped tightly over caramel skin until they’re safely out of the crowd and in the upstairs section of the train station. Taehyung laughs before wriggling out of Jimin’s grip to hold his hand instead, smile shy and small and endearing.
“So we don’t lose each other,” he explains, brushing his hair out of his eyes as he pulls Jimin along with him down the bridge and into the city, sunlight slanting over him in bright lines.
Jimin smiles. “We won’t,” he promises, but he makes no move to let go, content to keep Taehyung close to him. “I’ll always find you.”
In their eyes, the city is big and intricate and-- not new exactly, but unfamiliar all the same. “Taehyung,” Jimin pokes his friend and points to the buildings above them, the tall ones that reach for the sky.
“Have you ever been up there?”
Taehyung shakes his head. The building Jimin is pointing to is one of the tallest, a tower with windows and a bridge and tiny people looking down at them. “Nah. Dad said I’m too young, but like, we can go one day? If you want?”
Jimin smiles at him softly, the thought of the years ahead with Taehyung settling warmly in his chest. ‘When we’re older,” he swings their hands back and forth, walking aimlessly down the street. “Let’s go to the Namsan tower in Seoul instead.”
Taehyung turns to look at him before nodding in agreement, his pretty eyes twinkling under the bright sunlight. “Sure, Jiminie. Whatever you want.”
The rest of the walk is quiet, but the birds caw loudly, the chatter of a hundred aimless conversations audible, and Jimin finds himself thinking that if it was with Taehyung, he would go anywhere.
Anywhere, as it turns out, is a small bubble tea shop tucked in between an ice cream parlor and skin care store. Jimin is only fourteen, almost fifteen, and he’s heard of bubble tea before but he’s never been given the chance to taste it.
He grabs Taehyung’s hand without warning and makes a beeline for The Teahouse , the inside lit with dim lamps and pretty curtains. It has a quaint interior, small booths and square tables tucked neatly into the corners, and on the far left is a wall, filled to the brim with small, leaf-shaped papers.
“What’re you getting?” asks Taehyung, peering curiously over Jimin’s shoulder to see the menu, his jaw dropping a little when he finds all the different flavors. “Ooh...try hazelnut? Or caramel?”
Jimin wrinkles his nose. “Ew, no, I could just go to a cafe for that. I think--honeydew, maybe?”
Taehyung nods thoughtfully. “As long as you let me have a sip,” and then he grins, playful and sweet, because both of them know Jimin would give him anything if he asked.
Jimin scoffs before lightly pushing Taehyung away from him, ignoring the red tint in his cheeks. “Shut up, headass. Get your own.”
“But why would I do that when I can just leech off you?”
Jimin grumbles incoherently under his breath as Taehyung laughs, squeezing his hand one last time before he wanders off to study the wall opposite them. Jimin joins him after placing his order, tucking his chin gently into the the crook of Taehyung’s neck to see what he’s looking at.
The handwriting on the leaf-shaped paper is small and bubbly, clearly written from a fangirl.
“ I wish I was rich and that I could marry Mark oppa from got7 :(“
Jimin wrinkles his nose. “Are they all like that?”
Taehyung laughs, moving away to look at the others. “No,” he says, lifting a few to read them, lips stretched into a smile. “Some of them are genuinely sweet.”
And they are. One of them wishes for health, another for love, yet another taped high above their heads for a youth unexplored.
“If you could write down a wish, what would it be?”
Jimin blinks at Taehyung curiously. “Um,” he tilts his head to the side, unsure. “I don’t know?”
Taehyung gives him an unimpressed look. “Amateur,” he scoffs, kicking Jimin in the ankle lightly.
Jimin frowns. “Hey! I just need to sit on it for a bit, don’t be mean. ”
(Truthfully, Jimin knows. He’s known it from the second he understood what the wall was, had thought about it before Taehyung could even ask. He just doesn’t want to admit it outloud.)
The barista in the front calls his order then and before Jimin can leave to pick it up, Taehyung goes for him. Jimin waits patiently, reading the rest of the leafs until there’s a gentle tap on his shoulder, Taehyung standing too close but not close enough. He pushes a mint green drink into Jimin’s hand, and in the other, presses a dry piece of paper into his palm, barely bigger than the width of his wrist.
Taehyung grins. “I asked the barista for one of the leafs when I picked up your drink. She said they don’t really give them out anymore because the wall is too full, but she’ll make an exception for us because we’re cute.”
Taehyung laughs and pushes him forward before gently shoving a pen in his hand. “Make a wish, Minnie.”
Nervous and a little unsure, Jimin chews on his bottom lip. He chances a look at Taehyung, who’s staring at him him expectantly, and before he can tell himself not to, runs up to the counter to hurriedly ask the barista for one more leaf.
She gives him a sweet grin. “For your friend?”
Jimin beams, keeping quiet until she gives him a leaf to shyly correct her. “For my soulmate.”
When he presses the leaf into Taehyung’s hand, it’s with a smile. “We’ll do it together,” Jimin murmurs, feeling his heart swell with affection when Taehyung nods in agreement. “It’ll be a memory.”
Quietly, they write down their respective wishes. Jimin, still shy and unsure, shoves his into his pocket, unwilling to let Taehyung see. It’s only when they’ve left the shop, Jimin’s honeydew bubble tea held carefully in Taehyung’s hand, that Jimin tells Taehyung he forgot something back at their table.
Taehyung raises an eyebrow. “What did you leave?”
Jimin waves him off. “Nothing, Taehyungie, just give me a minute.”
“I can come with you--”
“No,” Jimin interjects, slowing to a stop before firmly putting his hands on Taehyung’s shoulders. “Just--meet me at the lotte market in ten minutes, okay? I’ll be back by then.”
Taehyung blinks at him, unsure.
“Please?” Jimin tries, rubbing his hands together in a begging motion. “I’ll buy you strawberry pocky.”
Taehyung grins, and Jimin’s heart skips a beat at the twinkle in his gaze. “If you promise.”
“Promise,” Jimin repeats dutifully, having to keep from crowing in victory when Taehyung nods his assent.
“Okay,” Taehyung agrees, smiling a little bigger. He turns around and begins walking, hands shoved in his pockets. “See you there, Minnie!”
Jimin watches as he turns the corner, hiding his smile behind his hand when he lazily makes his way back to the bubble tea shop. The barista is still there when he arrives and she gives him the same grin as before, if not a little brighter. “Back so soon?”
Jimin shrugs sheepishly. “I just--had something I needed to do before I left.”
She nods knowingly, pointing to the far left corner, before raising her eyebrows in a teasing manner, “If you were looking for where he hung his wish, it’s somewhere down there.”
A flush rises high on Jimin’s cheeks. “Um, no--that--it’s okay.”
She laughs, high and pretty and sweet, and Jimin can feel the heat in his cheeks. “Suit yourself.”
Jimin nods again, unsure and a little embarrassed. He digs into his pocket to find the leaf from before and awkwardly ambles over to the far end of the wall, opposite from where Taehyung had hung his. Carefully, Jimin finds a place in between a wish for a pet and a wish for good luck, twining the string into the little rack with shaky hands.
It hangs there, scrawled over in black, the pale lavender of the paper catching the light as it swings, and Jimin--
Jimin turns on his heel and with one last, shy wave at the barista, leaves the shop.
He doesn’t look back.
After that first day in the city, Jimin and Taehyung make it a routine of sorts.
They don’t return to the same bubble tea shop as before--no, Jimin makes sure of that; instead, he drags Taehyung off to a different one called Chatime . It isn’t as pretty or quaint or even as good, but Jimin begs Taehyung and eventually he gives in.
And it’s like this, that they begin spending their weekends. Every Saturday, they’ll take the train to the city, sitting side by side with their pinkies linked together, a pair of shared headphones dangling between them. They’ll have to rush to make it through the business crowd, and then it’ll be giggles and laughter from there on, all the way down until they reach Chatime.
Jimin will inevitably order coffee, because after the first few times he’d realized that it was his favorite, easily better than the honeydew and the hazelnut and even the caramel. Taehyung will drink a little and wrinkle his nose, ask why Minnie, it’s so bitter, just--why? And Jimin will laugh, but after the month of November passes, he begins ordering passion fruit tea instead.
Because when he does that, Taehyung beams and Jimin remembers the first time he had bubble tea at all; remembers the dim, pretty lights of a small tea place tucked in between bigger shops, remembers the feeling of euphoric independence, the heady rush of blood in his veins when he realized that they were on their own for the first time, remembers the wish, dangling there on the wall, small and innocuous and unassuming--
And then remembers that there are things he would do for Taehyung that he wouldn’t do for anyone else.
Jimin is in his second year of secondary school when he realizes that with time, there comes change.
Inevitably, they leave behind their childhood, leave behind the laughter and the baby fat and the unwavering honesty of being young, and change.
They watch porn together.
At the tender age of sixteen, Jimin and Taehyung, wrapped in each other under the sill of Taehyung’s window, watch porn.
Taehyung’s gaze is heavy on his skin, voice low and sleepy. “Jiminie.”
Jimin blinks at him from where his head is nestled in the crook of Taehyung’s neck. “What?”
“I’m bored. Let’s watch Haikyuu?”
Jimin heaves a long, drawn out breath, tightening Taehyung’s ten year old Dumbo themed blanket around his shoulders. “Again?”
“Again.” Taehyung repeats solemnly.
Jimin hides his face in Taehyung’s shoulder, mumbling something incoherently as Taehyung searches for his DVD. They sit back against the wall, Taehyung’s arm around Jimin’s shoulders, Jimin’s hand tangled with Taehyung’s, the laptop balanced precariously on both of their knees, and thread their fingers together as they wait for the opening credits to load.
A moan. Soft and breathy and very obviously female.
“Shit,” Taehyung breathes.
The screen in front of them isn’t Haikyuu. It’s a woman, her legs stretched obscenely until her knees touch her head, a cock plowing roughly into her, the disgusting sound of skin on skin echoing from the tinny speakers.
“Turn it off,” Jimin hisses, reaching forward when Taehyung doesn’t.
“No,” Taehyung doesn’t look at him, his cheeks flushed red and sucked in, but his voice steady; certain. “Let’s watch.”
Jimin doesn’t want to. He doesn’t like the sounds, the actors, the quality, but--
He maybe likes Taehyung.
They watch for the next thirty minutes in a still sort of silence, the only noises audible the ones coming from the grainy laptop.
Jimin feels a little sick, a horrible, uncomfortable bubble of disgust making itself known in the very dredges of his stomach. “Taehyung-”
“You can go,” Taehyung doesn’t look away from the screen, keeping his gaze firmly on the movie as he speaks. “This is Seokjin hyung’s DVD and this is the only chance I’m ever gonna get to watch it, but if you want-- you can leave.”
HIs voice is stiff and low, and Jimin--
“Yeah,” he mutters. “Yeah, it’s um--it’s getting late. I should go.”
He dusts his jeans off as he stands, Taehyung seated neatly on the floor still. It feels a little uncomfortable to be leaving like this, a little forced and unnatural, but Jimin isn’t able to stomach it any longer.
He mumbles a soft goodbye as the door shuts behind him, waving to Taehyung’s mother when he lets himself out of their house and walks down the street, his hands shoved in his pockets. It’s fall again, the leaves rustling in the wind, swaying and crumbling into dust under his feet.
When he reaches his house, he slips in quietly, not wanting to wake his parents. His bed is soft, the sheets chilly and untouched, and it smells a little bit like strawberries when he buries his face in his pillow.
The night is quiet, and Jimin, wide awake and uncertain, tentatively pulls out his phone and searches the internet with a stuttering heart.
Porn , he types in, fingers shaking.
The window is open and a light breeze filters through the billowing curtains, airy and a little bit mocking.
It’s not so much a revelation as it is a confirmation. The first link he clicks is the first one he sees, and it’s immediate; loud noises, shaky breathing, deep moans, and--
A lack of discomfort.
Carefully, Jimin slips his hands underneath the waistband of his boxers. His fingers, small and chubby, wrap around his half hard cock, and he twists his grip, fucking shallowly into the loose fist he’s made.
It’s with a muffled cry that he finishes; in the darkness of his bedroom, alone and sweaty and young, he realizes a few things.
Jimin realizes that he isn’t uncomfortable. The video he’d watched with Taehyung had made him feel strange and horribly sick; it wasn’t arousing, not even a little bit erotic to him. He’s known for a while now that he wasn’t as into girls as a few of his classmates were, that he, a 16 year old pubescent boy, would rather spend time with his best friend than with the prettiest girl in their school.
He realizes that that was a stupid thought to have.
He gradually, wistfully, achingly realizes that he may be in love; stupidly in love.