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mudlands & yellow acacia

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PART I


On the first day of senior year, Jimin opens his locker to find a note and a mixtape titled: "The end of summer."

 

Jimin,

I hope you had a great summer this year. My dad thinks this summer was important, the last summer before the last year of high school. With so many lasts, I wanted to start a first. So here’s a first: a mixtape of songs that remind me of you sometimes. Love, nobody.
P.S.: don’t over analyze the lyrics,
overanalyze the sound.

Jimin is effectively creeped out. He holds on to the tape for all four periods before he gets fifth period lunch and wastes no time bringing up to his friends.

"I think it's sweet," Yoongi says. He's not subtle when he side eyes Namjoon and adds: "I know I'd love a gesture of affection every now and then."

Namjoon gawks at him. "I guess declaring it just doesn't do it anymore?"

"Back to me," Jimin says. "This isn't sweet, it's creepy."

"What's creepy about having a secret admirer?"

"Having a locker with openings that aren't big enough to slip in a cassette tape."

“Okay, yeah,” Namjoon says. “That’s a little weird.”

“A little? Try terrifying. Just started the year and I already have someone to dodge.”

Jimin gets up and throws the mix in the trash can along with the note. Yoongi frowns. "That’s cold. You’re not even gonna listen to it?”

“What if it’s just ten hours of someone jerking off? No, thank you.”

They continue to eat lunch in relative silence aside from the echoes of other conversations in the cafeteria. Then Yoongi fakes a sad sigh.

“You know...making a mixtape takes a long time.”

“Stop trying to guilt trip me.”

“I’m not. It’s just… well… whoever it is probably had to dig through their entire collection for the right tape. Play it through and record each song individually for—“

“I know how mixtapes work. Just saying,” Yoongi clicks his tongue. "It’d be a shame to have that hard work wasted.”

“...fuck you,” Jimin gets up from his seat and digs the tape from the trash can along with the note.

Yoongi smiles.

 

Jimin goes through the school day without thinking much about the weird note. He's gotten letters from secret admirers before and usually it's easy to figure out who those admirers are. But this one remains a mystery...not that he's thought about it. His classes go by without much hoopla. Astronomy, calculus, Japanese, British literature, and his elective photography class that he only signed up for because he was too late for drama class.

The only interesting thing that happens in any of those classes is when a kid with shaggy hair and oversized clothes stumbles into the photography room ten minutes after the bell rang. An unassuming guy and yet the only interesting thing. What an anomaly.

At the end of the day, Jimin goes home and pretty much forgets about the mixtape and it isn't until end of the week that he even remembers it exists. No notes in his locker in between the first day and that friday, almost as if his secret admirer knows that he hasn't listened to the first one yet. Weird.

Mostly because he has nothing better to do, Jimin lays on his bed Saturday morning and listens to the mixtape. And it's...beautiful. Most of the songs are ones he hadn't heard before, alternative indie music not really being his type. But they're amazing.

Through the weekend, he listens to the tape again and again. On Monday, he considers bringing it with him to school but he doesn't. He doesn't know why. Maybe it makes him feel special and he wants it to be his for a little while longer.

But he supposes he didn't need to bring it because when he gets to his locker before first period, there's a small pink envelope taped to the front of his locker. Inside the envelope, another tape and a very wrinkled note.

 

Jimin, I'm sorry.

I felt that an apology was the best way
to start this letter off. I didn't realize how
weird it must have been to find a tape
in your locker. I promise you it was nothing
weird. I didn't break in or anything.

The thing is that I feel weird about
telling you. Because the thing is that your
locker used to be mind two years ago.
I'm telling you this because you're a
good person and I know if I ask you not
to look for who had that locker
two years ago, you won't.

So Jimin, please don't look for me.
Not yet. I made you another tape.
Please tell me if you want me to
stop because I will. Thought I hope you
don't want me to stop because all of
these songs remind me of you
and I want you to hear them.

P.S.: Sorry this page is wrinkled.
I wanted to throw it away.

Jimin pockets the letter immediately after he reads it. He looks around the mostly empty hallway hoping to catch sight of the stranger.

It isn’t until he’s in his photography class in the midst of ennui-riffic lesson about Bob Gruen that Jimin figures it out. He tears out a sheet from his notebook and starts to write a response. He chews his lip in contemplation. There are so many questions he wants to ask the stranger but he doesn’t want to scare him away either. What to say?...he decides to just be honest.

 


I feel like you think too highly of me.
I promise not to look for you but not
solely because you asked me to but
because you already expect better of
me. I'm not used to that. I listened to
the first tape. I really liked it. I may
not know you and this exchange
may be strange but I don't want
you to stop. We could do without
another Day The Music Died. I
thought it was strange to find a
tape here, a little creepy at first
but I don't think a person who
listens to the music you do could
be anything short of amazing.
I won't look for you. But I hope
you'll let me find you.
P.S.: Why did you want to throw the note away?

P.P.S.: Why me?


After school that day he lingers in the hallway until the last of the students leave and tapes the letter, in an envelope with a rose drawn on it, on his locker. He just hopes it finds the right person. He doesn't wait to listen to the new mixtape either. As soon as the last bell rings and he's out the door, he pulls out his walkman and listens to it on his walk home. He's surprised by how much he feels listening to songs that reminded a perfect stranger of him.

When he gets school the next day, the topic is brought up in the midst of partial pining and partial prom speculation. Yoongi claims he isn't going but knowing him, he's probably already got a corsage and picked out a matching suit for Namjoon.

(Hoseok claims he's going to ask a certain college freshman but Hoseok claims a lot of things.)

"What about you?" Namjoon nudges Jimin from his side of the lunch table. "Thinking of going to prom?"

Jimin scoffs. "Funny. Who would I go with?"

"Your mixtape admirer?" Yoongi offers and then smirks at Jimin's reaction. "What, you think I forgot?"

"I don't even know who it is. For all I know it could be a teacher being a creep or some of the burnouts playing a very elaborate joke."

"The words 'elaborate' and 'burnout' do not go together."

It's Hoseok who asks: "You listen to the tapes though, don't you?"

Jimin hesitates. "Sometimes.”

"Oh, shit, you’re whipped!” Hoseok exclaims, shaking with laughter. Yoongi doesn’t laugh but it’s clear he’s humored while Namjoon just watches on pensively.

"How can I be whipped? I don’t know anything about this person.”

"It’s in your eyes,” Hoseok says.

"What’s in my eyes?”

"That soft, swooned face you make when you make eye contact with someone and decide you’ll love them forever.”

“I don’t think about them. I dunno,” Jimin shrugs. "Maybe I just like the music on the mixes.”

“I can’t wait to hear them,” Yoongi mutters. "Probably all lovey-dovey modern doo wop.”

Hoseok laughs again. "Please let us hear them, Jimin. It’d be hilarious.”

For some reason Jimin starts to feel angry. Annoyed. Not intensely but just enough to be unable to ignore.

"It’s actually really nice,” he says, interrupting his friends’ teasing. His voice is wound tight and defensive. "It’s good and the lyrics are nice and the melodies...it’s good. It’s not some joke.”

They tell him to relax but none of them make anymore jokes about it. Yoongi looks at Namjoon like he knows something about Jimin that Jimin doesn’t and it’s annoying. Sometimes he really hates his friends for being able to read him so well.

He doesn’t get another mixtape for another two weeks and when he finally does get one, it’s on his birthday.

The envelope taped to his locker is red and there’s a smiley face drawn on it in black ink. Jimin smiles at it when he sees it. He looks around the halls again, to catch a glimpse of someone but, as always, no one is there.

 

Jimin,

I hope you'll forgive me for waiting so long to give you a new tape. I wanted to wait for your birthday. 18, right? I remembered from the class we had together last year. Your friends sent balloons to your home room class. They were yellow. I hope it's not weird that I remember that. You looked so heavenly around all that yellow. Reminded me of sunlight. I hope that's okay to say.

 

..I just realized knowing we had class together could give me away. Please don't look for me.

P.S.: I wanted to throw it away because I'm afraid. But you didn't throw my first tape away even though you wanted to.
P.P.S: Because you're you.

Jimin smiles at the letter, holds it close to his chest before pocketing it and looking at the new mixtape. The label on it reads: “I think you’re beautiful.”

He listens to the mixtape right away, unable to wait because he’s so excited. It’s a good thing he brought his walkman. He only gets to listen to bits and pieces of it in between classes but he’s still happy to do it. He’d rather listen to bits and pieces than have to wait until later. He doesn't know how he's suddenly become so impatient.

He’s thankful when he gets to his photography class because what the syllabus doesn’t say is that it’s basically a free period. Their teacher, Mrs. Choi, lets them eat snacks, listen to music, talk to each other. Just as long as they can work at the same time, she doesn’t mind. Maybe it's because she's still young, a college graduate. Maybe she gets the youths. Or maybe she doesn't care. Either way, Jimin is grateful for her leniency for once.

She has them develop their negatives following the lesson and the instructions she gave on it the day before.

"If you finish developing the negatives,” she instructs. "You can head to the dark room and make your contact sheets. If you don’t make it to the dark room today, please don’t worry about it. The negatives usually take time to get around anyway."

To no one’s surprise: most students don’t get pass the negative stage.

Jimin moves slow without a care during most of the class, listening to the mixtape intently. "New Dawn Fades" is playing and he listens to the lyrics closely, unable to tear himself of the instinct to overanalyze the words. How does this stranger know him so well? Moving so slow, he has no idea how he manages to finish the negatives but he does with thirty minutes of class time to spare.

He considers just staying and pretending to do work to avoid the daunting dark room. (He still doesn’t understand anything about any of the equipment in there despite being explicitly instructed on two occasions). Ultimately though, he decides it’d be nice to get some peace and quiet and no one should be in the dark room. Maybe he’ll hear the music a little better. 

When he opens the door to the dark room, it takes his eyes a second to adjust to the red lighting but not too long to not be surprised by someone inside. The person is facing Jimin but he isn’t looking at him, too busy frantically taking photographs down from the line.

Jimin tries to say hello. At least. Just to be polite. But the guy starts to leave without a single word, photographs bundled up in his arms. But Jimin realizes the guy wouldn’t have heard him anyway.

He’s wearing headphones.

Jimin takes one look at the equipment. The chemicals in the small tubs and the enlarger that looms like a dark cloud. And he hates to be that person but he’s too scared to even attempt trying to figure it out on his own. He turns on his heel and calls out to the retreating figure: "Excuse me?”

The guy freezes, back still turned. It’s like this that Jimin recognizes him. Faded jeans, worn sneakers, big flannel shirt. It’s the kid who was late on the first day. Eventually he turns around and Jimin is surprised to see just how surprised the stranger looks. Pursed lips and eyes so wide, he looks almost cartoonish. His hair is shaggy. Under his flannel shirt, a band t-shirt that Jimin doesn’t recognize.

He’s kind of cute.

"Me?” The guy asks. Stammers. His voice is deeper than Jimin expected.

"Yeah, I,” Jimin points to one of the enlargers behind him. “I have to do a contact print but I don’t know how to work these. Can you help me out?”

The stranger is silent for a while. He looks more and more nervous by the second. "Um...”

He doesn’t say anything more. He just walks forward to an enlarger, keeping one arm tucked tight around the pictures pressed against his chest. He slides a section out of the enlarger, a thin black metal piece, with a single expert hand.

"You put the negative here,” the stranger mutters. Stammers. Why does he seem so nervous? Well, Jimin figures, he’s usually quiet in class. Maybe he just doesn’t like to talk.

The stranger leans back and opens one of the drawers at his legs. "There’s photograph paper in here but be careful about exposing it to light because it won’t work.”

He doesn’t bother to elucidate. He seems to be in a rush. He goes for the enlarger again. He taps his hand against a knob.

"Use this to focus,” he grabs another piece of equipment that Jimin doesn’t recognize. "You’ll put your photograph paper in here first. Before you focus, I mean.”

Standing close to him, Jimin swears he’s trying to pay attention. But the thing is that the stranger didn’t stop his music before hanging his headphones around his neck. Jimin can hear vocals that distinctly sound like Ian Curtis.

Jimin leans closer. He doesn’t know this song but he remembers the band.

"That’s, uh,” he smiles at the stranger. "That’s Joy Division, right?”

The stranger looks at him, startled.

Jimin expects him to say something but he doesn’t so Jimin says: “I like them.”

The guy says nothing. His eyes are down though when eventually acknowledges Jimin by nodding. "You do?”

“I mean I only know one song but,” Jimin laughs. "It was really good.”

Stranger bites his lip. It’s impossible to tell under these lights but he starts blushing too. He doesn’t say anything about the music though. He just continues with instructions. When he’s done, he wishes Jimin good luck and disappears.

Jimin listens to the mixtape for the rest of the class period and starts it over again and again even when he gets home. At home, he reads the letter again and he feels bad.

Because he's starting to think about breaking his promise.

In his last class of the day, Jimin writes a letter while listening to Pale Saints. He tapes the letter to his locker.

 

I was really excited to hear this mix. I couldn't even wait I've listened to it all day. At first it was making me happy but now it's seventh period and I feel sad. You told me not to over analyze the lyrics but I hear, on that first song, a question that keeps coming back to me: "Do you know how I feel about you?" Maybe it's shallow and big-headed of me to wonder if that lyric was from you to me. But I wonder. And I wonder...I want to talk to you. Just a month ago, I wanted nothing to do with you or these letters. And now I don't just get excited to receive them but sad to think that you might never let me find you. Is it crazy of me? I'm probably batshit. But I hear the music you say reminds you of me and all it does is remind me of you. Floating. Can we meet?Maybe? I want to talk to you about so many things. Maybe it's the music making me feel this way but I feel like I can talk to you. Maybe the songs make me feel vulnerable and because you picked them I feel like being vulnerable around you wouldn't hurt.I have so many questions. Can we please meet? Or at the very least, can I have your name? At least something to call you? Let me know.  Please let me know soon. Mix or not. Reply. I don't want to break my promise.

P.S.: What's so good about being me?

What the hell is even happening to him? It's just a mixtape. From a fucking stranger. He shouldn't care as much as he does but, oh god, he does. He leaves the note and, once again, hopes it finds the right person.

 

"Son, the school’s closed,” the janitor, Mr. Song, calls out.

Taehyung looks at him, turning away from Jimin’s locker and smiling apologetically. “I forgot something, I'll just be a second.”

Taehyung quickly pockets the note left for him. It feels weird to not leave anything in response so, as a response for the morning, Taehyung writes the words "In Time" on a blue post-it note. He leaves the note on the locker and leaves the building.

By this time, the football teams and the cheerleaders and all of the athletes have left as well. There's only a few cars in the school parking lot, most of them belonging to the faculty, including Taehyung's rusted red pick up truck. It's beat up and scratched, years and years of being driven by Taehyung's father in his more reckless days, but it runs well and Taehyung likes it.

He slides into the front seat, dropping his backpack on the floor and setting his camera down in the passenger seat. He doesn't leave right away though. He reads Jimin's letter a couple of more times.

What can Jimin call him? Something that won’t give him away...the nicknames he’s been given courtesy of bullies with nothing better to do are a definite no. He can’t just use his initials either. That’d be idiotic. This was supposed to be a simple thing. He never thought that Jimin would want to know who he was.

He starts the car and drives home with the radio on to not think about it. Which doesn’t work. He likes hearing Mariah Carey as the next person but it does little to turn his mind off.

By the time he pulls into the gravel driveway of his family’s home, a single level brick house with a white fence next to it that stretches out for miles. To keep the animals in. There aren’t any other houses for miles. Most of their neighbors are farmers too and need all the land they can get.

When he enters, he’s greeted by the smell of cooked meat, the sound of the TV blaring cartoons, and his three younger siblings screaming playfully. Home.

The oldest of his younger siblings, Taejoon, spots him and calls out to him first.

"Mom said the upstairs toilet’s broken,” he says, not tearing his eyes away from the TV. 

"Is that how you say hello?” Taehyung asks as he hugs the second oldest, Taeil, younger by thirteen minutes. Taeil has a new obsession with bows in her hair and wears them constantly, sometimes all at once. 

Taejoon grumbles but smiles. "Hello.”

"Hello,” Taehyung says. Then to the baby: Taeeun, just a year old. "Hello.”

The baby stumbles toward him on uncertain feet with a huge smile. Taehyung picks her up and asks: "What’s wrong with the toilet?”

"Ask mom,” says Taeil.

Taehyung still holds the baby on his side as he hangs his jacket up by the door and trails down the hall into the kitchen where his mom is flitting about, apron tied tight and specks of flower on her face.

"There’s something wrong with the toilet?”

His mom looks at him and smiles before going back to the food. "Is that how you say hello?”

"Hello, what’s wrong with the toilet?”

"It’s leaking again. It just started so it should be easy to fix.”

"Alright,” Taehyung turns on his heel.

"Wait, wait, wait,” she says. "Was school okay? Anything good happen?”

"Does anything ever?”

Without saying more, Taehyung walks to the back of the house where his room is and drops the baby on his bed, putting his backpack away. He digs out his toolbox from his closet as the baby watches him, entertained beyond reason. Taehyung looks at her.

"Do you wanna help your brother fix the toilet, Taeeun?”

She giggles loudly then turns on her stomach, slides off the bed, and runs away, little footsteps echoing.

Alone now, Taehyung takes a moment to breathe. He loves his family, he really does. And there's nothing he'd change about them. But between school and home, time to breathe is rare. Another minute of quiet and then he forces himself to get up and walk to the "upstairs" bathroom.

Their house is constructed oddly. It's all single level with an open floor plan. But the second bathroom, for some reason, is slightly elevated with three steps before it. Taehyung works. Finishes fixing the toilet. The family has dinner together. He helps his mother put his siblings down for bed, rocking Taeeun and singing her Fleetwood Mac songs.

With his father away on business, a lot of responsibility has fallen to Taehyung. He only gets a couple hours of sleep when his father is away because he has to get up early for farm duties. Homework gets split somewhere in between. When the house is quiet again he has no choice but to think about it. He reads Jimin’s letter again. There’s no way they can meet. Not now. Taehyung isn’t even sure if he wants it ever.

The only choice is to give a name. What can Jimin call him?

One of the guys who likes to give Taehyung a hard time (Alex), pushing him around and throwing things at him, likes to call Taehyung "Farm Boy.” "Farm boy,” "Poor Boy,” "Closet Queer.” Only two of those things is true. His family isn’t poor.

Taehyung thinks on it a bit more.

He puts his pen to a paper and writes. When he’s done, he considers going to sleep but he has more to say. He digs through his music collection and starts working on another tape.

 

On Monday, Taehyung watches, obscured by a wall, as Jimin comes in early and goes straight for his locker. Taehyung smiles when Jimin smiles. He holds his breath when Jimin starts reading. He leaves when Jimin looks around. He always looks.

Jimin,

 

I think it might be annoying to start every letter I write to you with your name. But I like writing it. And I love saying it. Jimin, Jimin, Jimin. You're not wrong to think some of the lyrics are about you. They are. When I heard "Linger" by The Cranberries, I thought of you right away. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable though. I know it's weird. Some anonymous person writing letters to you, mostly songs about love. It's weird. And I'm sorry. But this year will likely be the last year I ever see you and I wanted to be honest for once in my life. Everything about you is beautiful. I wish I could say more. But as much as I like you, I also know there isn't much I know about you. I know you're beautiful inside & out. And that makes me warm. I'd like to meet you. A part of me does. But I'm scared. And I'm not ready. I hope I am one day. I'm not afraid of you. I'm afraid that you won't like what you see. I think I built this up too much. I think you might be expecting something different. Someone who's prettier than me and has long hair, maybe. I'm scared. I can't meet you but please don't break your promise. If you look for me, I think I might break. You're the most beautiful person I know and I'm me. I said I don't know a lot about you. It's true. I do know, from looking, that you like science fiction. You drink too much at parties. And your favorite sweater is the pink one but you don't wear it much because people are mean. I don't know you but I do. Give me time.

P.S.: call me Tate.

From Taehyung’s place in the cafeteria, he can see and hear Jimin’s friends. He had a clean vantage point when Jimin threw his first mixtape away and if not for a crowded room, he would have cried.

Thankfully Jimin went back for it.

It wasn’t his intention to sit so close to Jimin. He’s not a stalker. In fact, he’d already had his seat this year when Jimin and his friends decided to sit so close to him.

Hearing their conversations wasn’t his intention either. On the day he gave Jimin the first mix, Taehyung had his walkman confiscated. With nothing to listen to, he couldn’t help tuning into Jimin and since then Jimin has been the best sound to listen to.

He really tries not to eavesdrop. But he’s curious now. He wants to know how Jimin feels about the latest mix. He’s sure he’s going to say something. For a while, Jimin doesn’t speak. Unusually silent while his friends talk about how they should have seen Rudy instead Beverly Hillbillies when they went to the movies on Friday.

Taehyung almost gives up on hearing anything and is going for his headphones when he hears Jimin ask: "Do any of you know what my favorite book is?

One of his friends, the little one, shrugs and offers a meek, "The House of Mirth?”

Jimin shakes his head at the same time that Taehyung does, unbeknownst to either of them.

Another one suggests: "The Shining.”

Jimin is quiet. When Taehyung discreetly looks up, Jimin is forking at his food looking contemplative. He’s quiet when he answers: "The Sirens of Titan.”

His friends are quiet. One of them says sorry in an offputting way. But Jimin shakes his head.

"You’re not wrong. I don’t know your favorite books. And we talk every day.”

"Your point?”

“...I don’t know.”

Then Jimin says: "If a person notices your favorite book just by looking, just by seeing how worn the edges of the book you carry around are...then they must care a lot.”

Taehyung does.

He does care a lot.

Jimin carries a lot of science fiction books but he reads, The Sirens of Titan a lot more than the others. Taehyung has even seen Jimin finish the last page and then start from the beginning again. Not wanting to invade anymore privacy, Taehyung puts his headphones on and drowns in 80s shoegaze pop.

 

The day passes. Taehyung sits through boring classes. Gets pushed down in the hallway. Gets his clothes taken when he’s in the showers after gym class (he gets them back quickly). At this point, he doesn’t even pay his bullies any attention.

It’s in the dark room, where he usually sits for the entire duration of the class period, that he has the peace he looks for at home and in the rest of the school. Developing pictures, the smell of something as grotesque as the stop bath, is actually soothing. But sometimes the pictures he ends up with stress him out. On the paper sunken in the developer chemicals, the image of Jimin starts to fade into sight. He’s sitting on the bleachers, hair blown in the wind. His head is turned, profile sharp. It was taken from behind.

In Taehyung’s defense, they were assigned in this photography class to capture life as it is and not as it wants to be. That included taking pictures of people and events that weren’t posed. In his defense.

 

But not in Taehyung’s defense stands the fact that he hasn’t turned any of these pictures in. Half afraid of the teacher calling him out and half afraid of sharing these images to anyone but Jimin. They belong to him after all. One day, he’ll apologize to Jimin for all of this. For sending him creepy letters, for making him weird tapes, for taking pictures of him, for practically falling in love with him freshman year. When he’s ready.

 

 

Meanwhile Jimin reads the letter again and mulls over everything that "Tate” had to say. He writes back.

 

 

Tate. I like the way that sounds. I'd like it even more if it was yours. How do you know so many things about me? Are you someone I already know? A friend? Tell me we've met before. Properly. The way you write about me... God... You make me feel seen. Like you've looked at me and you didn't just see a guy with frizzy hair and a hoop earring. You see all the little things too. How? I'll wait for however long you want. Well... Not however long. If we graduate and I still haven't met you, I think that I might break too. Take your time. But please don't make me wait forever. My mom says that there's no such thing as the right time for anything. So you just have to jump in feet first and hope for the best. I'll be the best for you. Long hair, short hair, pretty, ugly. Guy or girl or whatever... I'll be the best. Don't be afraid of what I think.

Love, Jimin

 

 

The very next day of school, Jimin shows up wearing his large pink sweater and smiling like the world is his and he knows it. Black headphones cover his pushed back hair and he’s singing along to The Smiths.

When Taehyung sees him, he can’t help but smile.

Taehyung sits throughout the periods he shares with Jimin with his fists clenched in case anyone has something to say. He’s never been in a fight before but for some reason he thinks he could throw a punch for Jimin.

Fortunately no one says anything.

Taehyung hasn’t written a response to Jimin’s letter or prepared a mixtape yet. So when he passes Jimin’s locker and sees an envelope with “Tate” written on the front, he’s more than surprised.

Taehyung doesn’t open it until he gets home. But he knows it’s a tape. He waits until everyone is asleep to open it. There’s no letter with it.

He plays the tape.

The first thing he hears on the tape isn’t music. It’s not even part of a song. Though it’s melodic enough to be. The first thing he hears is Jimin.

"Tate?” Jimin says and pauses on the recording. “...I don’t know why I'm waiting as if you’ll respond. It’s just me in my room… I'm sorry about the tape. I wanted to make something for you but I'm not as musically savvy… But I wanted to be genuine too. So it might be corny… I don’t know what love is and I'm not claiming to. But these songs… I picked them because they were the first ideas of love I had. When I was little, I'd hear most of them and want love. I didn’t know what that kind love meant then and I don’t know now but these songs made me want it. You,” Jimin stops and makes an embarrassed sound. "As cliché as it may sound, you make me want love like these songs… I hope that doesn’t scare you off… in one of your notes, you said the yellow balloons made me look like sunlight… and I guess, Tate, you kind of make me feel like sunlight...you make me feel yellow. Until next time.”

Taehyung lays in the dark and listens to the tape, crying and smiling at the same time because wow.

Jimin thinks he could be someone worth loving.

 

 

The next day, the air feels different. Taehyung sings in the shower. He takes care of his morning farm duties with a pep in his step. He feels shiny and new. All because of a mixtape.

It’s November and Thanksgiving break us rolling up on them soon. Before Taehyung was excited about getting a break from school. But now he almost dreads it because he wants to see Jimin every day. Even more now. He’s heard so many things about cloud nine but being on it is so different from hearing it. He never wants to come down.

He even brings the tape with him to school. Usually his selection of the day is based on whatever new album was released or, on a scale of 1 to 10, how apathetic he was feeling. But today he brings only one tape with his Walkman because Jimin’s voice is all he needs.

He doesn’t think much of it aside from being happy. Though, by fifth period, he realizes he should have.

He’s walking down the hall with his photography binder in his hands instead of his bag. Usually it’s in his bag. Today he’s not thinking. Today, he's deeply infatuated. He has to pass Jimin’s locker to get to class and right now Jimin is standing there with a friend.

The mix has fallen on "Distant Lover” and he admittedly only feels partially present. He feels like he’s floating down the hall instead of walking.

That is until someone pushes him.

Someone rips the headphones off of him and reality feels like freezing water jolting Taehyung awake as he stumbles.

"What are you listening to?” The jock, Alex, asks him snidely. He puts the headphones on and Taehyung lunges forward to get them back but he’s just pushed down again. He crashes down hard on the ceramic floor and that’s when it happens.

His binder falls from his grip, sliding on the floor and flipping open in the process. That’s when his photos spill out. 

Right at Jimin’s feet.

Jimin and his friend, still clueless, smile at Taehyung reassuringly. Yoongi boldly and profanely suggests that Alex do something else with his time. The two of them are going at it when Jimin kneels down to pick up the photos. And frowns.

Taehyung’s world comes crashing down around him. His mouth goes dry. His skin goes hot and his chest sinks when Jimin picks up one of the photographs and his frown deepens. It must be strange to find pictures of yourself that you don’t remember taking.

When Jimin looks up at him again, the smile that had been there before is replaced by what feels like disgust in its rawest form. Taehyung’s throat goes thick. He starts to pick up the photos when:

"Holy… Jimin, is this you on this kid’s tape?!”

Taehyung can’t help it. With those words, with the look on Jimin’s face, with everyone in the hall staring at him…he cries.

It’s not obvious. He’s not a loud cryer. But the tears come down and he grits his teeth. He tries to save face by ducking his head further, avoiding Jimin’s eyes, and picking up his pictures.

He can still feel Jimin’s gaze on him, can vaguely hear Yoongi and Alex going at it some more. At the very least, he can be thankful that someone is standing up for him.

He stops, stilling completely, when small hands descend in front of him. Jimin is kneeling, helping him pick up the pictures. He glances at them every so often, mostly at the pictures of himself. But he stacks them neatly and passes them to Taehyung without a word.

As he passes the pictures, their hands graze. It feels like an electric jolt.

Taehyung forces himself to look up. Jimin is already looking at him. He’s not smiling...but he doesn’t look angry either.

“I'm sorry,” Taehyung manages to say. Barely. Not even a whisper.

Jimin looks at him a little longer and then he stands up. Taehyung looks back down at the floor, ashamed. He isn’t expecting to hear Jimin’s voice from behind him:

"Give it back.” 

Alex continues: “Jimin, there’s—“

“I don’t care,” Jimin interrupts. He outstretches his hand, open for the walkman. "Give it back.”

“...no.”

Jimin barely lunges forward, lithe on his feet, and snatches the device away.

"Alex,” Jimin says. "Maybe if you stopped being such a jerk, people would actually like having you around. Leave him alone,” then to the few spectators. "What are you looking at? Go to class.”

The students start to disperse. Taehyung hears Alex curse. He still doesn’t have the courage to look up. Not even when Jimin hands him his walkman and wraps a hand around his arm to bring him to his feet. Jimin is looking at him but he won’t look back. He can’t look back. Everything is ruined. He’s ruined everything. Then again it was only a matter of time.

Looking down all he can stare at are his shoes. Worn and dirty. He’s never hated his shoes more than in this moment.

“I'm sorry,” he whispers again, throat thick and voice shaking.

He passes the photos back to Jimin. They’re his. He tries to say as much but his voice escapes him. He leaves without waiting, without even realizing that Jimin was trying to say something to him.

Taehyung has never skipped school but he skips today, walking right out of the building and not coming back. He drives his car as far as campus as he can and stops just to give himself the dignity of crying alone.

He doesn’t skip the next day though. He goes to school but he does a great job of avoiding Jimin. He takes the long routes to his classes, dodges him in photography class, starts eating lunch in the bathroom so Jimin won’t see him. 

Part of him is happy he waited so long to somewhat confess to Jimin. At least now he can know that he only has about seven months left of making himself invisible.

He’s not even sure why he tries though. He’s sure that Jimin wouldn’t want to talk to him anyway. Taehyung could probably stand right in front of him and Jimin would ignore him. He has a right to.

He can’t even bear to listen to Jimin’s mixtape anymore. It makes him want to cry more than he already does.

 

 

Once the last bell on Friday rings, Taehyung feels relieved. The weekend will keep him safe. Maybe over the weekend he can even make believe he didn’t absolutely ruin everything.

Taehyung wakes up early on Saturday morning as usual.

He rises before the sun, washes, and bundles up to do more work. He tends to the livestock and the fields with his headphones. It’s cold outside. Nothing Taehyung isn’t used to by now. He can still feel the cold even through his thick gloves and coat but it doesn’t matter. He’s feeling kind of numb anyway.

He’s about to get started on fertilizing soil for the new crops when he hears his mother calling him. He always keeps his music low when he’s at home, in case she needs him. He turns toward the house. It’s a distance away but still close as he hasn’t gone deeper into the fields yet. She’s smiling. It’s a weird smile.

"You have a visitor” is all she says before she’s pushing away from the door, revealing Jimin standing at her side.

Jimin is wearing one of his sweaters. A burgundy one. With a black scarf and his signature boots. He smiles uncertainly at Taehyung.

Taehyung’s mother smiles even more, knowingly, and gently urges Jimin outside.

"I’ll let you two talk.”

When his mother shuts the door gently, Jimin stands outside for a while, unmoving. Eventually he starts to meet Taehyung half way, every step almost hesitant. When they’re facing each other, Jimin apologizes: “I'm breaking my promise.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything. He can’t. He’s only ever been good at talking to Jimin when he didn’t have to look at him too. But now Jimin is right in front of him and the sun has started to rise and the orange glow behind Jimin looks a lot like a halo.

So Jimin speaks instead.

"Tate-hyung,” he says with a smile. "Very subtle… my friend is a student assistant to the registrar’s office in his free period. I asked him for your info… I know that’s creepy. But… you took pictures of me without me knowing so I guess we’re even.”

Taehyung blushes and looks down. “I'm really sorry-“

"No, I was just… I just wanted to lighten the tension. Don’t apologize. They were really nice pictures. You made me look pretty.”

Taehyung shakes his head, still looking down. "No, that’s all you.”

This time Jimin blushes. But he doesn’t look away. “Taehyung.”

Oh. Taehyung has never heard that. Taehyung’s name from Jimin’s mouth. He already likes it too much.

"Would you...” Jimin stops. “...would you look at me? I can’t see your eyes.”

Slowly, Taehyung lifts his head. It almost makes him want to look back down, Jimin’s expression. Jimin looks awed.

"You’re beautiful,” he says.

Taehyung is about to look back down. Really. But Jimin reaches out and grazes his palm against Taehyung’s cheek.

They just stare at each other.

Jimin’s hand is so soft. Eventually Taehyung closes his eyes and puts his own hand up to hold the hand Jimin has against his cheek. He hears Jimin murmur: “I don’t know why you’d ever think I would be disappointed.”

Taehyung opens his eyes. Takes Jimin’s hand away from his face and holds it in both of his.

He says to Jimin’s fingers, because he can’t bring himself to look up again, "You’re the kind of person who deserves the world. I'm the kind of person that couldn’t even give you a star.”

Jimin smiles at him. "But you kind of are a star already, aren’t you?”

Taehyung looks up at Jimin. His face is flushed, nose red. It’s cold outside. He lets go of Jimin’s hand and starts shrugging off his coat. He puts it around Jimin despite his concern. He starts to take off his gloves too.

“Taehyung...”

“I don’t want you to freeze to death,” Taehyung gets bold. "Not before I hear what you came here to say.”

With Taehyung’s coat and oversized gloves, Jimin looks soft. It’s not possible to fall even deeper in love in the span of a second, is it?

“I would have just called,” Jimin says. "But I thought you’d might hang up on me. You’re really good at avoiding.”

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me.”

Jimin doesn’t respond to that. Only tilts his head. “...I thought about waiting until the break. To give you time. But I thought if I waited too long, you wouldn’t feel the same way.”

Taehyung doesn’t interrupt again but in his mind, he’s saying that would never happen. He’s felt the same way about Jimin for four years now.

"And anyway… my mom says to jump in feet first,” Jimin bites his lip and pauses again. "Honestly I don’t even think you intended to tell me who you were. And that scares me. Because… I love my family. I love my friends. And I know they care about me. But you’re the first person who really sees me. You see everything. And for some reason you still like me.”

Taehyung doesn’t say, "No, I love you.”

"When I think about it never knowing who you are," Jimin continues, "graduating and just never seeing you, it makes me sad. And I know I barely know you or anything about you but I really feel like I do. And I think missing out on you would be a real tragedy. Like Shakespearean. So,” Jimin suddenly looks shy. "Would you go to prom with me? I know it’s months away but...you can be my pre-prom date too. If you wanted of course.”

“...pre-prom date?”

Jimin shrugs, trying to be casual. "Fancy term for boyfriend. I made it up on the drive here.”

“...you want me to be your boyfriend?”

"Yes,” Jimin says without hesitating. “I mean… if you want to. But yes. A lot.”

Taehyung almost says yes right away. He wants nothing more than that. But he can only frown. "You’re going to college,” he says.

“...I am. So?”

Taehyung’s chest caves in. He shrugs mostly to himself, to make himself think he doesn’t care. “I'm not.”

Again Jimin asks: "So?”

So, Taehyung thinks, we might break up when you leave. So I don’t want to let myself be as happy as I know you’ll make me knowing it won’t last long.

He doesn’t say this though. Still, Jimin seems to hear him.

Jimin steps even closer until their chests are almost pressed together. Like this, Jimin has to crane his neck to look up at him. “Taehyung, if all you ever focus on is the end, you won’t be able to enjoy anything. Don’t be scared,” Jimin says. "I’ll be the best for you. I promise.”

Jimin lifts up on his tiptoes and kisses Taehyung’s cheek. How can his lips still be warm when he’s been standing out in the cold?

When Jimin’s lips are gone, Taehyung misses them already.

He’ll hate himself for this. "Okay,” he says. "I’d love to be your boyfriend.”

Taehyung insists Jimin keep the coat.

Jimin argues with him lightly but gives in when they walk back through the house and Taehyung’s mother starts to insist as well. After Taehyung walks Jimin to his car, Jimin kisses his cheek again and Taehyung thinks he’s dreaming.

 

 

He has a boyfriend.

Jimin is his boyfriend.

His boyfriend is Jimin.

It’s too early in the morning to even attempt to process. 

When he gets back inside, his mother is watching him with a humored expression, arms crossed and gaze teasing.

"And who was that?”

“...Jimin,” Taehyung absently caresses that spot on his cheek.

His mom nearly gasps. "The Jimin?”

"The one and only.”

So he may have talked about Jimin a little bit with his mother when he was, like, fourteen. Big deal.

She looks properly thrilled. "Well, what happened? What did he say?”

“...can you help me pick out a tuxedo for prom?”

His mother shrieks in excitement so loudly that the sound wakes the rest of the kids.

 

On Sunday evening, Taehyung talks to Jimin on the phone. Only after everyone has gone to bed because no interruptions.

"Your turn,” Jimin says softly on the other end.

"Okay...” Taehyung hums. "Um… why did you go back for the tape after you threw it out?”

"You saw that?”

“I sit kind of close. And I was nervous about giving it to you, I couldn’t help but notice.”

“...I'm sorry.”

"Don’t be.” Taehyung continues: "You went back for it after all.”

"Yeah… I went because my friend made me think about it, how much work you may have put into it. And I guess a part of me was curious too.”

"About what?”

"About who would care enough about me to do that. Then when I heard I was curious about who could think of me in that way. You had to pick The Cranberries...”

Taehyung laughs and starts to sing a little of the melody. His voice isn’t at all like dolores’ but it’ll do. "You're so pretty the way you are, you’re so pretty the way you are.”

Jimin responds to that with a lyric from "Luna”: “I'll sing for you if you want me to.”

Jimin keeps singing and Taehyung keeps listening until Jimin stops. "It’s my turn to ask, isn’t it?”

"You don’t have to. I'm more than happy to just listen to you sing.”

Jimin groans and Taehyung can practically see him blushing. "Stop… first thing you noticed about me?”

He doesn’t even have to think about it. "That would be the first day of high school. September… four years ago. You were late. And I was lost. So when you came into the building, I saw you right away but I don’t think you noticed me. You were wearing a lot of white,” Taehyung chuckles. “I remember that. White t-shirt. White sneakers, they were vans. You even had a white swatch… I didn’t think you looked like an angel but that’s because back then I wasn’t this cheesy.”

Jimin laughs.

"But the first thing I noticed? Your smile. You were running like ten minutes late to class but you didn’t look panicked. And you were smiling like getting there at all was good enough for you. I remember your smile because it made me smile. Haven’t been able to look at you smile without smiling back ever since.”

Jimin is quiet for so long, Taehyung thinks he hung up. But then Jimin exhales wistfully and says, muffled: "You can’t just say things like that, Taehyung.”

"Why not?”

"Because it makes me want to kiss you and I can’t until tomorrow.”

Taehyung finds himself blushing to an empty bedroom and hugging his pillow closer to his chest. He’s hesitant when he says: "I’ve never… no one’s ever… I haven’t dated anyone before. I don’t know what to do. I hope I'm not terrible.”

Jimin laughs quietly in disbelief: "You made me a series of personalized mixtapes with the sweetest letters. You’re already the best boyfriend in the world.”

Ah. Taehyung gets it. "Yeah,” he says. "Don’t do that. Because I wanna kiss you too.”

Neither of them say anything, both just smiling in giddy silence, twirling the phone cord.

Then Taehyung breaks it: "Do you want me to drive you do school tomorrow?”

Jimin smiles so hard his cheeks hurt. "Do you want to drive me to school tomorrow?”

"Yes. I’d love to.”

"Okay. Tomorrow.”

"Tomorrow.”

"Tomorrow,” because neither of them really want to say goodbye.

 

Taehyung gets up early the next day. He works through his morning tasks as quickly as he can and then, to his own surprise, heads to Jimin’s house. It’s still too early to be going there. But he feels like he should be doing just that for whatever reason.

When he pulls up to Jimin’s house and spots Jimin springing out the front door like he’d been ready for hours, Taehyung feels vindicated. As Jimin comes down the driveway, Taehyung gets out of the car to walk around and open Jimin’s door for him. His parents raised a gentleman after all.

When they’re standing side by side, just before Jimin gets into the passenger side, he lifts up on his tiptoes again and kisses Taehyung’s cheek. Taehyung doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of this.

“I'm so happy it’s finally tomorrow.”

Taehyung, enamored as always, starts to lean forward. He told Jimin he’s never dated anyone before and that’s true. But he’s also never been kissed. He doesn’t know where he gets the boldness to be the person trying to initiate one.

But Jimin leans away. He’s still smiling though and simply says: “I don’t wanna start making out with you where my parents could still see. It’s a little weird,” then: "Should we get breakfast?”

"Let’s go,” Taehyung nods. "I’ll get you the best hash browns money can buy.”

 

With an hour left before school starts, Taehyung and Jimin sit in Taehyung’s truck parked in a McDonald’s parking lot.

Jimin ordered a simple McMuffin. Taehyung, a breakfast burrito. Jimin got coffee. Taehyung got orange juice.

And he has no idea why he’s committing this memory.

But Taehyung thinks it might be useful to remember the way the morning sky looks behind Jimin through the passenger seat window. Or how he sounds when he laughs this early in the morning. He wants to remember all of it.

Jimin’s hugged his legs to his chest and is leaning against the passenger door. He sips at his coffee and thinks. "Did you ever write me any letters before these?”

Taehyung almost doesn’t say. It’s embarrassing. But still: "Yes. Several.”

"Did you ever try to give them to me?”

Taehyung shakes his head. "Couldn’t bear it.”

"You keep saying stuff like that. Like I would have breathed fire if you even spoke to me.”

"Have you ever had to speak someone as beautiful as you?”

“I'm doing it right now!” Jimin laughs at Taehyung’s embarrassed expression. Taehyung tried to hide his smile by looking down.

"It’s different,” Taehyung says. "There are a lot of pretty faced people in the world. There are a few pretty-souled ones. But being both is rare. And being you...”

"You’ve said that before,” Jimin muses. "About liking me for being me. What does that mean?”

“...it means you’re the only person I know in the entire school who actually puts their tray away instead of leaving it for the lunch ladies to pick up. You’re the only person I know who’s on a first name basis with the janitors and you greet them when you see them. You say good morning and good afternoon instead of just walking by and pretending they aren’t there. You’re, like… popular-”

“I am not.”

"But you don’t really care about it. You don’t act like it makes you better than anyone. It’s because you’re you… I just like you.”

Jimin goes quiet, simply smiling and blushing, suddenly avoiding Taehyung’s eyes.

Taehyung finds his voice. “...do you… um, what do you -- is there anything you like about me?”

"Honestly?”

Taehyung nods.

"At this point, I think it’d be easier to name all the things I don’t like about you. It’d take less time.”

"Oh, is that so?”

"Yeah. For one: I don’t like that you took so long. We could have done so many things together by now.”

Taehyung reaches out and takes hold of Jimin’s hand. He’s caressing the back of Jimin’s thumb when he says:

“I guess that just means we’ll have to make up for lost time.”

Jimin playfully scowls. "You mean to tell me you’ve been this smooth and you still waited four years?”

 


Jimin holds his hand when they get to school and they walk the halls aimlessly, talking about nothing, until the time for first period closes in and they separate.

Not before Jimin gives him another kiss. On the cheek.

When lunch rolls around, it isn’t soon enough. When Taehyung meets Jimin in the cafeteria, he has to restrain himself from going for a hug.

Being with Jimin is like having a sweet. You have one and all you want to do is have it all the time. Just being next to Jimin is amazing. But his excitement dies down a little when Jimin says: "Come on, I want you to meet my friends.”

Taehyung hesitates. "Are you sure?”

"Yeah, of course.”

But don’t they think the mixtapes are silly? Won’t they make fun of him? They definitely aren’t going to like him. That’s the only part that Taehyung says out loud.

Jimin frowns. "What makes you say that?”

“I dunno… they’ll think I'm a creep.”

Jimin steps even closer, takes one of Taehyung’s hands. "They’re my friends,” he says. "They’ll think you make me happy and that’s all that they’ll care about.”

But there are other things, Taehyung wants to say. It’s too soon for them to start dating. Other people don’t get it. But Jimin squeezes his hand and he looks so hopeful, Taehyung decides none of it really matters. They grab their lunch. It’s pizza day. And they sit at the lunch table Taehyung has been mesmerized by all semester.

Two of Jimin’s friends are on the opposite side of the table. One on the same side, sitting on Jimin’s left. It’s the one on the same side who’s the first to say anything and when he does it’s with a smile.

"The man, the myth, the legend. We didn’t think you were real.”

Taehyung doesn’t say anything. It takes him a while sometimes, usually to a fault but the guy smiles wider so he must be doing something right.

“Hoseok,” he reaches his hand over. Taehyung takes it. "How’d you get into Jimin’s locker?”

Taehyung pauses. He looks to the others who seem genuinely interested and to Jimin who looks apologetic.

"I, um… that… it was my locker before.”

"That’s before? Not now, right?”

The tall one on the other side speaks up: "You make a habit out of opening other people’s lockers?”

"Guys, shut up,” Jimin says, embarrassed and defensive.

"We’re asking reasonable questions.”

"You’re making him uncomfortable. And, besides, just because no one has ever done anything romantic for you in your lives doesn’t make every romantic gesture creepy.”

It should be over but Taehyung finds himself speaking up anyway. “I was nervous. Wasn’t thinking. I wrote about ten other letters the few days before and I kept convincing myself not to give them to Jimin and… by the time I actually worked up the courage to, I was too nervous. But it won’t happen again,” he finishes rather lamely.

Jimin squeezes his hand again. "It hasn’t happened again. So if you guys would-”

"Were you also nervous when you took those pictures of him on the bleachers?” this comes from the only one Taehyung knows. Yoongi.

“Yoongi!”

"It’s okay,” Taehyung says to Jimin, surprising himself. He looks back to Yoongi. “I wasn’t nervous, it’s just… one of the first things they teach you in art class is to capture beauty when you see it.”

Yoongi looks unimpressed though. "So you captured it.”

Taehyung shrugs. "Barely. It’s impossible to catch it when it’s that intense.”

"Is it?”

"Have you ever tried to capture a sunset with a disposable camera?”

Hoseok and Namjoon make sounds of approval while Jimin blushes behind his sweater paws and tries to pretend he isn’t as affected as he is.

Yoongi stares at Taehyung a little longer and then shrugs without saying anything else. But Taehyung doesn’t miss the way he watches him throughout lunch.

 

 

In photography class, Jimin makes eyes at Taehyung from his side of the room while their teacher talks about the next project: capture something abstract.

Later in the class period while other students are working in their journals, Taehyung slips into the dark room because he’s always allowed (perks of being "talented” with his camera) and Jimin makes an excuse for why he needs to use the dark room and slips in after.

When Jimin shuts the door behind him, he takes only two steps forward into Taehyung’s arms and wraps his around Taehyung’s shoulders.

He waits only a second, catching the glint of red light reflecting Taehyung’s eyes before he kisses him.

Properly.

Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with his arms so they just hang limp at his sides. He knows how awkward that is but he can’t be bothered to care when Jimin — the Jimin — is kissing him for real. It’s better than the daydreams.

Lucky for him, Jimin knows what he’s doing and takes hold of Taehyung’s hand, guiding it to the small of Jimin’s back and pulling away just the slightest to whisper: "Like this.”

So Taehyung wraps his arms around Jimin’s waist and this is how their first kiss happens. In a dark room with a glaring red light reeking of processing chemicals.

And it’s amazing.

They barely do any work after that but somehow they still manage to get work done. Jimin has finished his contact sheets and is sitting on the table used for cutting.

Taehyung is still developing his pictures when Jimin asks:

“Taehyung...do you think you could love me?”

Rocking the photo paper in the small bin of stop bath, Taehyung doesn’t look up when he admits truthfully: “I think I already do. To be honest...”

"But,” he continues. “I don’t really know what love feels like. Like you. But sometimes I feel like my chest could actually burst when you look at me and I think that might mean love.”

Coy Jimin. "It sounds more like a heart attack.”

Then Jimin asks: "How do you think you could love me when even you said you don’t know anything about me?”

“I don’t know...people say the infatuation stage only lasts six months. It’s been four years. At what point does it become love?”

Jimin shakes his head, fond and wondering. "Kim Taehyung...you really are full of surprises.”

"You are too...you don’t know anything about me but you still wanted to date. I didn’t know decisions were made that fast.”

"Fast?...I wanted to ask you out since that second tape.”

They laugh.

Jimin looks down and toys with the edges of his sweater. “I don’t know...haven’t you ever met someone...like at a party? And you don’t know this person but you guys start talking and you realize you’d rather be talking to this stranger than anything else? The party’s loud and wild and there are people everywhere. But you’re talking to this stranger and everything feels a lot calmer? Maybe you spend the rest of the night talking, maybe you don’t. But the comfort and ease you felt was instant. It was real.”

Jimin looks up.

Taehyung chuckles bashfully. "I’ve never been invited to a party.”

Jimin scowls and tries to throw a discarded piece of paper he finds but of course it goes nowhere.

“I don’t know,” Jimin says again. Quiet. “I feel more comfortable with you than I have with friends I've known for years.”

“...maybe you trust too easy.”

"Maybe… or maybe we’re just soulmates. It’s why doing this is so easy,” Jimin gets up and kisses Taehyung again.

Somewhere down the line, they’ll make a habit out of that: kissing in the dark room instead of working. Somewhere down the line, the last time Taehyung stands in the dark room, he’ll be hit with a wave of sadness at the memories he made.

But that’s later.

For now, Taehyung just makes himself content in making himself a part of Jimin's life. When he drops Jimin off at home, Jimin exits the car and makes it all the way to his front door when he suddenly turns around, sprints back to the car and gives Taehyung another kiss. It's then that Taehyung realizes that no matter how many kisses Jimin gives him, he'll never get tired of it. He makes it home in a pink daze.

 

 

He sits with Jimin and his friends at lunch again. And again. Until he becomes a regular patron at the table. By the last week before Thanksgiving break, he gets used to it: Yoongi's watchful eye and his sometimes disparaging remarks.

He even gets used to very un-subtle ways Namjoon and Yoongi are affectionate toward each other (and even gets used to the fact that they think they are being subtle). He gets used to Hoseok going on and on about some college freshman named Seokjin in his dual enrollment class, how Hoseok always says he'll ask him out but never does. He gets used to Jimin holding his hand under the table too. Sometimes they even play a little game, writing things on the back of each other's hands. Secret messages that they laugh about, a private conversation right there in public.

He's writing "a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e" on the back of Jimin's hand when the topic is brought up.

The question comes from Namjoon. "Are you two going to celebrate this egregious offense of a 'holiday,' Jimin?"

Jimin looks up from his lunch, drawn away from the message on his hand. "Thanksgiving?" he shakes his head. "Not that I want to anyway, of course. I'm sure my mom would drag me to some dinner but my parents aren't here so it's fine."

No one even bats their eyes at that, all of them nodding in understanding without saying anything more.

It's Taehyung who asks: "Your parents aren't...?"

"They work a lot," Jimin answers quickly. "Sometimes they have to leave. Like now."

"...what will you do for the break then?"

Jimin shrugs. "Marathon the X-Files, maybe?" he laughs. "I don't know. Not really worried about it either way, a break is a break."

Taehyung hesitates, not because he's unsure, because it's probably not normal. But still he asks. "Do you want to come to my house? For dinner?"

Jimin looks at him, surprised.

"Just dinner?" Yoongi asks suspiciously.

Taehyung doesn't look away from Jimin when he answers: "You can meet my family. If you want. Or if--"

"I'd love to."

 

 

On the day that Jimin comes to his house, three days after the break's begun, Taehyung's father has returned too so the house is louder than normal when Taehyung opens the door for him.

His siblings are screaming and chasing each other around the house, partly being chased by Taehyung's dad when he isn't helping his mom the kitchen. The baby is crying. There's smoke in the kitchen because Taehyung didn't watch the stove when he was supposed to.

(He'd like to note that that isn't his fault completely. He was distracted checking the mirror every three seconds to make sure the sweater he was wearing was neither too formal nor too sloppy.)

To Jimin's credit, he doesn't seem perturbed by the onslaught of sheer chaos when Taehyung opens the door. If anything, his eyes just widen the slightest but he smiles warmly, chin tucked behind a large white turtleneck. Taehyung stares for too long.

"Are you gonna let me in?"

"Sorry," Taehyung says. Jimin enters the house and looks around. "I didn't think you'd really come."

"Why's that?"

"I dunno. Still feels like a dream, I guess."

Jimin stares at him for a while. Then he rolls his eyes and looks away: "I'm not kissing you right here, Taehyung."

Before he can argue, Taejoon and Taeil rush into the living room laughing and chasing each other in a circle around the coffee table. Taehyung's father follows in soon after but immediately stops when he spots Jimin.

"Ah, the thief."

Jimin blanches. It's the first time Taehyung has ever seen him nervous. "Sorry--excuse me?"

Taehyung's father comes forward and takes Jimin's hand, shaking it with a strong grip. "You're the one who stole my son's heart. Heard a lot about you."

"Oh," Jimin exhales. Taehyung can feel the relief coming off him in waves. "Yeah, I guess that's me. But I suppose he's had his revenge because he stole mine too."

Taehyung's dad smiles. "Perfect response. Now, what are your intentions with--?"

"Please stop, dad."

"You're right. The interrogation should be wait until dinner's ready, good thinking," his dad looks back toward Jimin. "Alright. Well, make yourself at home. And practice your answers now."

Taehyung takes Jimin's hand and starts to guide him down the hall. The two are quickly interposed by Thing 1 and Thing 2.

"Jimin, this is Taeil and this is Taejoon. Taejoon, Taeil, this is Jimin--"

"Are you gonna marry my brother?"

"Okay," Taehyung says, taking hold of Jimin's hand again and walking faster. "On second thought, you don't really need to know them. They're not important."

When they get to the kitchen, Taehyung's mom is throwing all kinds of spices into a bubbling pot of rice. Taeeun is still crying, albeit more quietly now, whilst walking about the room.

Taehyung sighs. "Mom, you know you can let us help sometimes."

"Oh, that's sweet, love, but you're a disaster in the kitchen."

"Your expectations are just too high," then to Jimin as way of explanation: "Culinary school graduate."

"Perfectionism runs in your blood," his mom says and when she's pleased with whatever she's sprinkled into the pot, she turns around and smiles at Jimin. "It's lovely to see you again. I hope you like delicious meals because that's the only kind of meal I make."

Jimin laughs and then, seemingly without thinking, goes to pick Taeeun up and Taeeun surprises all by actually reaching for him. When Taeeun is safely in his arms, resting on his hip, she stops crying.

"Aw,” Jimin coos. "You just needed a little attention.”

He smiles at Taehyung’s mother who is just as shocked as Taehyung. Taeeun is usually pretty closed off to strangers. When Jimin looks back down at Taeeun, cooing words of comfort, Taehyung’s mom mouths to him: "He’s a keeper.”

After a while Taeeun crawls off of Jimin, having been comforted that she got a little more attention and joins the other kids, barely keeping up on her stubby legs. From the kitchen, Taehyung takes Jimin out back again to the open field. The sun is setting.

"Every time I come out here, the sky is orange," Jimin says looking up.

"Is that a good thing?”

Jimin smiles at him. "It’s awfully close to yellow.”

 

 

Taehyung shows Jimin the animals. The cows and the sheep. He takes him further back and shows him the horses. He shows him how to brush a horse’s man with his hand on Jimin’s from behind. They kiss again and get nothing done. After dinner, Taehyung takes Jimin to his bedroom and sits on his bed nervous while Jimin looks at the posters on his wall and the albums of his music collection.

Jimin is sliding his hand across the face of a Cream vinyl sleeve when he says: "You know there are these things called CDs now, right?”

“I know,” Taehyung says. “I have a few. But I'm not gonna replace all this vinyl, are you kidding me? What will I leave for my children?”

Jimin smiles at him. "Which one’s your favorite?”

"Favorite album?...Jimin, that’s an unanswerable question.”

"Try.”

“I can’t.”

"Top five?”

Taehyung sinks from the bed and settles down on the floor next to Jimin. He looks at his collection. "At the moment.”

"What?”

"Top five at the moment,” Taehyung says and reaches for an album. "It’s subject to change and you can’t hold me to it.”

"Fair enough.”

Taehyung holds up his worn copy of Highway 61 Revisited. "Number five.”

"Bob Dylan?” Jimin makes a face. “I never figured you as one for folk music.”

"Okay this is not a folk album. This is the album that caused him to be booed off stage at a folk festival. This is Rock Dylan.”

Jimin is still smiling when he says. "Oh, you’re such an elitist.”

"It’s not my fault that I know and enjoy his music. Okay, number four,” Taehyung holds up Led Zeppelin II.

Jimin quirks a brow. "Not Led Zeppelin V?”

Led Zeppelin V is not as good.”

"Number three,” Taehyung holds up Nina Simone's Silk & Soul. "Now for the truth: I can’t love you if you don’t love this album.”

Jimin scoffs and takes the album from Taehyung’s hand. "I can’t love you if you think this one is better than I Put A Spell On You.”

Taehyung fakes a pout. “I guess we can’t love each other then.”

“I guess not.”

They fake glare at each other. Taehyung is the first to fold, breaking into a smile and kissing the tip of Jimin’s nose.

"And this one is number two,” Taehyung holds up The Queen Is Dead.

Jimin furrows his brow and gets a closer look at the cover. "The Smiths?”

"The one and only.”

"You put them one of my tapes, didn’t you? Let me hear this one.”

Taehyung puts the album on and they sit together on his bedroom floor listening in silence, watching the record go round.

They hold hands during “I Know It’s Over” until “The Boy With The Thorn On His Side” when they start to cuddle. Taehyung with his back leaning against the side of his bed, legs spread with Jimin sitting in between them, Jimin’s back pressed against Taehyung’s chest.

Taehyung has his arms wrapped around Jimin’s waist from behind and they continue listening intently. It’s when “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” begins to play and Morrissey sings "To die on your side is such a heavenly way to die” that they kiss again. 

Taehyung captures Jimin's bottom lip in between his. Jimin deepens the kiss by slipping his tongue in when Taehyung allows him to. It's dizzying. It's amazing. This one is much slower than the other kisses, much more different. They stay in the same position when they do it, Jimin turning his neck to the side and Taehyung meeting him halfway. It’s kind of lazy. But it feels enthralling.

The kiss feels like a promise and Taehyung can taste forever on Jimin’s lips.