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Who Without You

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I don’t belong.

The words stare up from the paper, the black ink stark against the pure white of the sheet of paper. The words, despite being written, are loud. It feels like they are the only words that exist, the only words anyone is ever able to say out aloud.

Who am I.

The next words appear on the paper, the tip of the pen writing them down to accompany the previous words. They don’t feel as loud, not as harsh against the paper. The words feel more significant, however. Slowly, with barely any pressure, the tip of the pen traces the already written words on the paper. Over and over, one letter after another, until the paper breaks easily underneath the slightest pressure from the pain.

The quiet pop of the pen breaking the paper makes Taehyung freeze. His hold on the pen goes slack, the side of it resting against his thumb. He stares at the words, makes him wonder why they hurt so much. They aren’t words released to the world, not words that anyone said out aloud. They are just words on a piece of paper and yet Taehyung feels like someone has ripped his lungs out of his chest.

A foot knocks against his and he startles, pen cluttering onto the table as his focus is being brought back to the world around him. His heartbeat whooshes in his ears as he looks up with wide eyes. He is met with a soft smile, a tilt of a head, gentle yet questioning eyes.

Jimin.

Taehyung feels dizzy with the sudden intake of oxygen, at the feeling of being able to breathe again. He responds with a smile he knows is too weak to be convincing, but he also knows Jimin is in the study zone. He knows that a simple smile from him is enough for Jimin, for now, in this moment. He watches as Jimin’s smile widens just an inch before he turns back to his huge books, littered with words Taehyung couldn’t even begin to understand.

Just for a moment Taehyung lets himself watch Jimin. He watches how Jimin keeps periodically pushing his reading glasses up, how his backwards cap has flattened his dark hair. He watches the way Jimin’s eyes move over the tiny text on the huge books, focused and interested. He watches as something lights up the focused look in Jimin’s eyes, finding something worth writing. Jimin’s hand holding onto the green pen, writing down in his notebook. Taehyung once tried to read Jimin’s notes for his biochemistry class. He didn’t understand a word.

Slowly Taehyung turns to look at his own notes. They are blank. His books are unopened next to him, some still in his backpack. His eyes catch the two short sentences in the paper in front of him. He stares at them, wonders at the painful ache in his chest. Why did he write them? Does he really feel that way?

Taehyung carefully reaches for his discarded pen, feels his hand almost tremble in sudden nervousness. He closes his fingers around the pen and sets it down on the paper. Nothing comes out. The pen stays still. His eyes are stuck on the last words he wrote. Slowly, almost unconsciously, the pen moves to those words, tracing over them again. The words, they feel right in all of their wrongness. It hurts, his chest hurts but it feels significant in a way he truly has no idea about. It grows stronger in his chest, the hurt, but also the significance of it.

Who is he?

He has no answer to that.

The words on the scrap of paper change everything.

 

 

 

He knows who he is supposed to be. He knows how people see him, know what they expect of him. He guesses he used to expect it of himself as well. Now? Now he has no idea who he is. There is what is supposed to be and it doesn’t feel like him at all. It doesn’t feel like someone he should be, someone he wants to be. He doesn’t know what he wants to be but this? This isn’t who he is.

Taehyung has never been what some may call a studious person. He got through high school with the help of Jimin and Namjoon. He got into an alright university because Jimin studied hard for his exams, and Taehyung had nothing else to do than study with him. Now he has started his third year in college and it is everything he doesn’t want. He is studying business because that’s what his parents wanted for him. He is in Seoul because Jimin got into the top university in the city. He went along with it all because he had no other plans. Jimin never pressured him into coming to Seoul with him, never pressured him into studying anything. Jimin has never made Taehyung do anything and yet Taehyung always did everything like he expected Jimin to want to. It made sense. Taehyung didn’t know who he was, so he followed Jimin, followed what made Jimin happy. Because Jimin knew who he was. Jimin still knows who he is.

It seems Taehyung is the only one who has no idea.

Taehyung goes to his classes. He stares at the slides on the screen but finds himself unable to focus. It is a topic he has studied two years for, it is a topic he should know something about. The words on the screen seem gibberish to him, his head a messy mush. He slowly looks around the room, watches as his classmates write on their notebooks, on their laptops. They are listening intently, books open on proper pages. Some of them look passionate about the subject, some of them look like they would rather not be anywhere else.

It makes him frown.

He doesn’t know where he would rather be. He just knows he doesn’t have the passion for this class, for these studies. His notebook is open on a blank page, no words scribbled onto it. His book is still in his bag. The professor’s words make no sense to him. He wants to leave. He wants to leave and find something that makes sense. He stays put. He knows he’s supposed to.

 

The thoughts fill his mind, the doubts and the fears. They won’t leave him alone for even a second, following him to his classes, to the library, to the movies with friends, to the nights when sleep should be the only thing filling his mind. The new thoughts flood him to the point of distancing himself from everything, distracting himself from what usually happens.

The thoughts make him sit down on the couch, on his own, just thinking. His normal shiftiness, restlessness is gone. He can only sit and let the fear fill him to the limbs. He can only distantly hear the front door opening.

He knows it’s Jimin coming in quickly to get his gym bag. It is routine, part of what keeps happening nearly every day. Jimin comes in after classes, rushing in to get the bag, ready packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. At times Taehyung would go with him, enjoying working out together, enjoying watching Jimin dance.

Sometimes Taehyung would try to get him to stay even though he knows Jimin destresses by dancing. He would playfully cling to Jimin, either pouting until Jimin stayed, or sometimes playing it dirty, suggesting things Jimin could never deny him. Most often Taehyung would see Jimin off at the door with a playful kiss, trying how long he can keep him distracted, how late he can make Jimin. This time he does none of those, stays still on the couch, barely reacts to Jimin’s quick shot of quipped greeting. Jimin is out the door before Taehyung quite realizes he was fully in the apartment.

Jimin has a passion for dance, for working out. Jimin is passionate about his pre-med studies, about his future as a medical professional, about his classes that prepare him for it all. Taehyung has neither a hobby he feels passionate about, nor a major he truly loves. He plays video games for fun but he could never call it a hobby, something he works with, works towards bettering himself. It isn’t his passion.

At the thought, his eyes flit to the dark rectangle object on the desk but he looks away. Foolish things, foolish thoughts. Pure nonsense if asked from his advisor, his father, probably most of the world. A camera should never be something to be passionate about, something to want to work on. Only Jimin has ever encouraged him. No one else. Foolish thoughts.

Taehyung gets up to put the camera away, out of sight.

Foolish thoughts.

 

It hits him one evening, sitting in a small restaurant close to Jimin’s campus. There is food in front of him, drinks to occupy himself with for hours. He doesn’t touch any of them. He feels the heat emanating from Jimin, sitting next to him, leaning against him. He wants to shift, wants to move away a little, just to see if Jimin would seek the warmth, if Jimin would move to him without question. He doesn’t move, stays put.

It is a rare gathering of all their friends. Taehyung can’t remember when he’s had everyone around him like this. He knows they are an odd group; one sophomore (a year ahead of his age, the overachiever), two juniors, two seniors, and two master’s degree students. He can’t even recall how they all got together. Jimin and Namjoon from his childhood but the rest? The rest just tagged along at some point.

It hits him that evening, listening to Hoseok talk about his latest casual encounters, listening to Jungkook talk about the conflict of his crush being friends with his ex. It starts a flood of funny and embarrassing encounters with romantic interests. Only he and Jimin are quiet. Neither of them has anything to say on the topic. Taehyung has only ever had Jimin, and Jimin has only ever had Taehyung. It has been that way since they were in middle school, maybe longer. They are each other’s firsts in every imaginable way possible.

They are each other’s ‘only’s as well.

Others go and experiment, others go and meet different kind of people, experience different kind of people. It is just Jimin for him. He is soon 21 years old and he has only ever been with just one person. He glances to his side, looks at the flushed cheeks and the eyes bright with laughter. Jimin is slumped down and leaning heavily against him, laughing at Hoseok’s increasingly ridiculous story. Normally it would make him want to wrap his arms around Jimin, to bring him in closer, nuzzling against the flushed cheeks. This time he remains still. It makes his chest hurt.

 

 

 

The winter is hitting Seoul harshly, record breaking snowfall hitting the country by surprise. It is in the heavy snowstorm that Taehyung finds himself sitting at the student office, with an administrative staff member staring at him with a grave expression. Taehyung knows his words, his request is a serious one. He knows it isn’t something that is easily just done. Yet, for some reason, for the first time in weeks, maybe even months, he feels like he is at the right place at the exact right time. 

Taehyung stares back at her and doesn’t look away. A week ago, even a day ago he might have been shifty, felt nervous to sit on the uncomfortable chair, staring at the staff member. This time, he feels confident and only stares back at her. There is nothing he is hiding, not from her. He has made his choice, she can’t say no to him. She has tried but Taehyung remained adamant. She stays quiet for a minute, two, more.

With a heavy sigh she signs the paper in front of her before stamping it.

Taehyung leaves the office as a college dropout.

 

 

The reality of the situation hits Taehyung hard the same night. He literally signed his life away. The life he had thus far at least. He sits on the couch in a dimly lit bedroom while the clock is ticking past 2.30am. He can faintly hear the intro music to the game he has on the screen but barely pays attention to it. He doesn’t know where the controller is either. He doesn’t care.

Taehyung has officially taken a step towards something in his life but he doesn’t know what. He only knows he has dropped out of college and thus ruined his chances for a business degree. He can’t find a single fiber in himself to care. He doesn’t know what that tells about himself. He hasn’t told anyone yet. He hasn’t told his friends, or his family, can only imagine the chaos that will come when his father finds out about it. He hasn’t told Jimin.

Taehyung hasn’t told Jimin.

The thought keeps him awake. The thought of having to tell Jimin keeps him up. He stares at the screen unseeing, only focusing on the messy thoughts in his head, the thoughts his mind keeps feeding him. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t told Jimin. He doesn’t even know why he hasn’t told anyone else either. It makes it all true. Telling makes it true. So he remains quiet, doesn’t go to bed when Jimin goes, doesn’t let himself go and find comfort in Jimin’s embrace. It feels wrong because he hasn’t told Jimin.

However, Jimin comes to him. It is as it always is when Taehyung stays up to play; Jimin coming to seek him out. It is just like always and yet it still startles Taehyung when the bedroom door opens, quietly but still loud enough in the silence of the night that it makes him jump. He doesn’t turn to look at Jimin, knows he is going to come over nonetheless.

Quietly, without bothering him, Jimin cuddles against him. He feels warm and comfortable, knows how much he usually loves it when Jimin comes and finds him, too lonely in their bed, needing Taehyung’s company and comfort to be able to calm down and sleep properly.

Taehyung lets himself pull Jimin closer against him, wrapping an arm around Jimin’s shoulders. He keeps staring at the computer screen, doesn’t dare look down at Jimin. He doesn’t know who he is, doesn’t know what he wants with his life. He doesn’t know himself but he knows Jimin. He knows Jimin’s dreams and aspirations, knows what motivates him, what saddens him and angers him. Taehyung knows Jimin better than he knows himself. It has always been that way, Taehyung knowing Jimin better than he knows anyone else in this world. Yet now, for the first time, it bothers him. It bothers him that he knows Jimin better than himself.

Taehyung only has Jimin. It is only Jimin holding him there, the only connection he has and cares about. He just doesn’t know if one person is enough anymore. He doesn’t know if one person should ever be enough. Nothing around him makes any sense anymore. Not his own choices, not his own life, not who he is. None of it makes sense.

Only Jimin makes sense.

The thought makes Taehyung tighten his hold around Jimin, brings him closer. He whispers Jimin’s name, brings his hand up to cup the back of Jimin’s head. He receives a hum in response but it isn’t enough. He needs reassurance, needs some kind of connection to the now, to the one choice he feels that has always made sense; the one choice that should make the most sense.

A little more loudly, Taehyung repeats Jimin’s name as he turns his head towards him. Jimin goes pliantly, still mostly asleep as Taehyung’s lips find his. It takes a moment, a long moment before Jimin returns the kiss, lazy, sleepy. Midway through the kiss, Jimin slows down, like he thinks it’s just a quick kiss before sleep. Taehyung needs more.

With a little shift he turns properly towards Jimin and kisses him, goes with his instincts and kisses Jimin with all the fear and desperation building inside him. It doesn’t take long for Jimin to wake up. Taehyung can feel the confusion, can feel it in the way Jimin kisses. However, Jimin doesn’t ask and Taehyung doesn’t say anything. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

It is easy, it is all something he is familiar with, comfortable with. The feel of Jimin’s skin under his hands, the skin pale against his tan skin. Taehyung knows where to move, knows where to touch, knows how to make Jimin gasp, knows how to make Jimin cling to him, to ask for more. He knows it all and greedily uses it all.

Taehyung kisses Jimin like it is their last night. The thought jolts something in him, scares him to a nearly physical reaction. He bites down on Jimin’s lip before kissing down his neck. He wants to mark the skin, wants Jimin to remember, wants to remind himself. Jimin’s neck remains pale and unmarked.

With a quick move Jimin is on his back on the couch, legs easily falling to the sides to accommodate Taehyung. It is easy and comfortable, the heat inside making them both flushed and panting. The kisses are clumsy, breathlessness getting the best of them. Taehyung wants to keep kissing, wants to be able to ground himself in the familiar, playful battle for dominance. His mind won’t let him.

With a smooth slide in Taehyung feels pleasure he never thought he would tire of. It is familiar, he knows Jimin’s body almost as well as he knows Jimin. It is easy to push his buttons, easy to get him gasping, get him moaning. His body knows exactly what to do and Taehyung can only follow its commands.

It only takes an angled thrust and a flick of a wrist for Jimin to tighten around him, to reach the peak of the pleasure. Taehyung wants to desperately follow him but his mind won’t leave him alone. He knows how this works, his body trying for it, trying to reach for it with franticness. His mind won’t leave him alone. Fear and guilt claw inside his head, an unfamiliar pressure on his chest making him breathless for a whole new reason.

Taehyung buries his head against Jimin’s neck. He feels arms around him, hears Jimin’s gasps and whimpers. He can’t stop, he needs this, his body needs this. He just needs to silence his thoughts. He whispers Jimin’s name, lets some of is desperation bleed through. Jimin’s arms tighten around him, listens to the soothing tone of Jimin’s voice calling his name, the voice letting him tumble off the cliff.

It is a mess, and only Taehyung knows the mess isn’t entirely physical.

Only Jimin makes sense to Taehyung, and now he’s losing the touch on reality even with him.

 

 

 

Jimin is talking about the future, about plans, about holidays with their families. It isn’t new, yet Taehyung feels lost. He is talking about the future like it makes sense, and Taehyung can only imagine that it all does make sense to Jimin. It just doesn’t make any sense to him. Not anymore. It isn’t something he wants. He doesn’t want to talk about family holidays and life after graduation. He doesn’t want any of it.

Taehyung says so out aloud. His words are quiet at first, and he can hear Jimin pause while folding the clean clothes, sees him look up at him. Taehyung knows Jimin hasn’t heard him. It feels harder, it feels infinitely harder to say it a second time. To say the words a second time, like they didn’t just slip out the first time. Confirmation that he means them.

“I don’t want to,” they come out, slightly louder this time, slightly stronger in conviction. Taehyung’s heart skips in his chest, and it feels like his chest is heavy, too heavy.

“Hm? You don’t want to? What do you mean? We did Chuseok with my family last year, I’m pretty sure your mom would skin us alive if we skipped them this year,” Jimin is taking it all in good humor, a small chuckle escaping after his words. Jimin isn’t getting it, isn’t getting what Taehyung is trying to say.

“I can’t do this anymore,” the words almost explode from him, strong and meaningful in a way that Taehyung never thought they could be. He chances a look at Jimin, sees him frozen with the shirt still in his hands. It isn’t folded, clenched in tight hands. Jimin looks pale, a shocked disbelief on his face. Taehyung doesn’t wait for Jimin’s words, keeps talking, needs to get it all out. The thoughts are driving him insane and he needs them out before he loses himself completely. He has lost too much of himself already.

“I can’t do the family vacations, I can’t do the whole dance of ‘whose family are we spending Chuseok this year’. I can’t, Jimin. I can’t do any of it. This future? This, picture perfect power couple that you see us as? I can’t do that, Jimin. It’s not who I am. It isn’t who I am,” the tone of Taehyung’s voice is desperate; desperate for Jimin to understand. Because while Taehyung may not know who he exactly is, he knows this isn’t it. He isn’t one for deskwork, for being an office monkey, he isn’t the picture perfect boyfriend Jimin wants. And Jimin deserves it. Jimin deserves the world and Taehyung can’t give it to him.

“What do you mean?” Jimin’s voice is faint, barely audible in their apartment. Something painful clenches in Taehyung’s chest but he ignores it, he needs to get this all out. He needs Jimin to get it.

“I mean that I can’t do this anymore. This, us. I have to get out, I can’t stay anymore.”

The words are heavy between them. They ring true in a way Taehyung never thought they would. They ring true in away Taehyung never wanted them to. Yet, there he is. Staring at the pale face of his longtime best friend, his longtime boyfriend. He sees the moment his words hit Jimin, the moment the situation hit Jimin more painfully than anything has before.

It is quiet. Neither of them says anything for a moment. Taehyung wants to fidget, wants Jimin to say something, wants to say something himself.

Both of them stay quiet.

The shirt in Jimin’s hands has stretched thin, and Taehyung can distantly remember buying it in Jeju during a school trip. He bought it for Jimin. The shirt is ruined now. Taehyung wonders what else he has ruined.

“Is there…” Jimin pauses, face distorted like it pains him to even say the words out aloud. Taehyung wants to reach out, wants to reassure Jimin, wants to comfort him. He doesn’t do any of it. He stays still, and watches as Jimin’s hands clench into fists, knuckles white with the force of it. He finds himself almost wishing that Jimin would hit him. Maybe that would help them get through this.

“Is there someone else?” Jimin finally asks, making Taehyung look up from the trembling fists. He looks up into angry eyes, dark in a way he doesn’t think he has ever seen. They have had their fair share of fights and arguments, they have been so incredibly mad at each other that Jimin once left for Busan on the last train because he couldn’t bear being in the same city with him. Yet never, never, has Jimin looked at him with such anger and kindling rage. It makes him want to take a step back but the question itself is enough to make him pause, to make him truly consider the question.

Taehyung can’t answer that. He can’t. Is there someone else? No, definitely not, never has been. And that right there is part of the problem for him. It isn’t like he has wanted there to be someone else; in fact, he has never been able to even look at anyone else since he was 15 and pining after his best friend. There has never been anyone but now Taehyung needs there to be someone else. Even just for a while, just for himself.

The need to get to know himself is too strong inside him. He has no idea who he is outside of Jimin. It has always been the two of them. ‘Jimin and Taehyung’, ‘Taehyung and Jimin’. They were a set. Never apart, never seen without the other, attached at the hip. Taehyung used to love it, used to love being seen as the couple to people around them. Now. Now he is lost and wants to find himself, on his own and without Jimin.

Jimin has always been there for him. Always helping him out, always supporting him, always making sure Taehyung had it easy. Taehyung used to take it almost for granted, and now he feels nearly betrayed. He has had it too easy. He has never had to face big disappointments, never had to learn to make big mistakes and own up to them. Jimin always made everything so smooth and easy. Now all Taehyung can feel is the need to face the negativity of the world, to prove to himself he can do it, that he doesn’t need Jimin by his side on every step of the way. He needs to show himself that he is strong, and he is independent. That he can be Taehyung without Jimin on his side.

Taehyung needs to find himself and he can’t do that with Jimin around him. He knows it is ridiculous, he knows it is crazy, but he needs this. Jimin makes things too easy. Like Jimin wants him to remain innocent. Taehyung isn’t stupid. He knows what the world is like. Jimin has just always been a buffer between him and the world, and Taehyung wants to be able to handle the world on his own. He wants to be able to protect the people he loves, and not always be the protected. He just needs to learn if he can do that. He won’t be able to learn it all if Jimin keeps protecting him.

The world is vast, and Taehyung has only gotten an inkling of it. He needs to find himself before he can settle down and live a comfortable life.

Who is Kim Taehyung? Who is Kim Taehyung without Park Jimin at his side? He doesn’t know, and it scares him to the core.

“No,” Taehyung finally whispers, making Jimin glance up at him, something dark flashing in his eyes.

“What?” The word is harsh, spat out with such venom that Taehyung knows should hurt him in the core. He knows it should hurt and he know it will hurt sometime in the future. Now… Now he can only focus on getting it out, getting it all out, somehow.

“No, there is no one else,” the words are soft, but he hopes they ring true enough to Jimin. Because while he may have had trouble answering the question, there has never been anyone but Jimin, not since they became neighbors at the young age of six.

The following silence is deafening. Taehyung watches as Jimin clenches his jaw, the tenseness of his muscles visible to where Taehyung is standing. He doesn’t know why, doesn’t understand how it could be, but it almost seems that his answer was the wrong one. Like Jimin wanted to hear something else completely. Neither of them says anything. Taehyung is at a loss, he never imagined Jimin being quiet like this. He expected Jimin’s temper to flare, expected having to defend himself. He never expected the silence.

“I have to do this,” Taehyung blurts out then, desperate to fill the silence, desperate to say something. He does have to do this. He feels it in his gut, feels the desperate need to do this.  

“What? Someone is making you do this?” Jimin’s voice is filled with scoff and distain, sarcasm dripping from his words. It makes Taehyung wince, makes him want to take a step back and explain. But explain what? Taehyung doesn’t know, doesn’t know what words would get through to Jimin, what words would make most sense. He has to do this but Jimin is right, there is no one making him do this.

“Well, no…” Taehyung’s voice is quiet, almost timid. He can hold his own in a fight with Jimin, has had to learn during the years. Yet now he is at a complete loss. He doesn't know anything else but that he needs to get out. He needs to get out and Jimin is not understanding his need for it. Jimin’s lack of understanding makes him uncertain, makes him almost insecure to face Jimin.

“Yet you have to do this. Without any other explanation than that? Just like that?” Jimin’s voice is increasing in volume, anger starting to bleed through, and Taehyung can only shake his head. He doesn’t know what to say. He knows it is all a mess but he doesn’t know what to say.

“You have to understand,” Taehyung can only try to beg, unable to say anything else, anything more. He just needs Jimin to understand. Only Jimin can understand, no one else ever could. Not before. Only Jimin could, and there is no sympathy, not anymore.

“I don’t have to do anything! You have given me nothing and all you can say is you have to do this? Just like that, leave everything behind?” The words are harsh, anger soaking into the tone so strongly that it hurts Taehyung to hear it, to hear Jimin in so much pain.

“Jiminie - -“ Taehyung tries to get Jimin’s attention, tries to steer the conversation somewhere else, somewhere safer. He knows it is his fault they are in this place, he knows it.

“No. You don’t get to call me that anymore.” The words sound final, determined. There is no sympathy, no compassion in Jimin’s tone anymore. Taehyung has successfully managed to push Jimin away. He never knew he would be capable of it, never knew he would aim for it either. He doesn’t know if this is what he wanted. He feels so detached, feels so out of his element in his everyday life that Jimin pushing him away without an ounce of sympathy doesn’t hurt him, doesn’t shock him like he knows it should.

“Jimin - -“ He starts, he wants to say something, despite not knowing what to say. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

“You should go. Since you so desperately want to.” Jimin is quick to ignore his words. Cold and distant is not something Taehyung would have ever described Jimin as, not towards their friends, and certainly not towards him. Yet, this time it is all he can see in Jimin. Distance, coldness, desperation for aloofness.

Taehyung takes a step towards the door, eyes still on Jimin. He doesn’t know what he expected from this, doesn’t know if this is it. He knows he is doing the right thing, he knows it somewhere deep inside. Yet he keeps looking at Jimin, looking at the tight knuckles and the clenching of his jaw.

“So, you’re just going to leave,” Jimin says then, quiet, and for the first time Taehyung hears complete defeat there. It makes him stop, makes him let out a deep breath. He doesn’t know what Jimin wants.

“You asked me to,” Taehyung offers just as quietly. Jimin asked him to leave, who is he to go against his wish? He is hurting Jimin enough as it is.

“And if I asked you to stay?” Jimin finally glances up at him but the sudden hurt and desperation clawing in Taehyung’s chest must show on his face because Jimin looks away with a bitter twist on his lips. Taehyung can’t stay. He knows he won’t be able to. He has already stayed for too long, already let parts of him disappear, and he is afraid he will never find himself fully anymore. So, he says nothing. Jimin asking him to stay would make it harder but it wouldn’t make him stay.

The silence speaks loudly enough for him, and he gets a humorless huff from Jimin.       

“Thought as much,” the words are simple but hold so much resentment and hurt in them that they make Taehyung flinch. He wants to be able to tell Jimin he will stay, he wants to be able to take the hurt away, but he doesn’t know how, not when he physically cannot stay. He doesn’t know how to take the hurt away when he is the one who is inflicting the pain. He just, he knows he can’t stay. That he won’t stay.

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t feel fair to him. Taehyung needs to do this, he is absolutely desperate to do this. He hasn’t gotten understanding from anyone, hasn’t gotten support from anyone, and now Jimin is refusing to give him an ounce of sympathy. It frustrates him, the lack of understanding frustrates him but his own inability to explain frustrates him even more. Would Jimin even understand?

“You don’t understand,” Taehyung starts and frowns at himself. That isn’t quite right. “You wouldn’t understand,” he says then, realizing that Jimin wouldn’t be able to understand because Taehyung himself doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand where it all came from, how he got here. He only understands the need inside him, and he has to listen to it.

“Understand what? You are not giving me anything. How could I possibly start to understand? So, tell me, Taehyung! Fucking tell me already!” Jimin’s eyes are on him, anger blazing in them, and Taehyung knows it’s just a matter of seconds that the temper will flare. Jimin doesn’t swear, only lets the nasty words come out when he is too hurt and pushed into a corner. Swear words are the biggest sign that Jimin will fight dirty soon, painful words about to come out. Taehyung almost wants it. He is hurting Jimin. He is hurting Jimin, but he can’t stay. He can’t explain.

“I can’t!” The words burst out and for the first time he understands why someone would want to rip their hair off. The frustration is clouding him, clawing at his throat, and Jimin’s words are harsh, and Taehyung doesn’t know anymore. The need to do this is what is driving him, and he knows he has to listen to it. There is nothing else to it.

“I can’t explain. I can’t tell you. Jimin, you aren’t listening to me, you aren’t giving me the room to think, to do this. Why are you not understanding this?” Taehyung realizes he is begging, words watery, the frustration and desperation bursting painfully in his chest. He knows he is right about this, he knows he is finally doing what he needs to do, not just what is expected of him. He is finally taking a stand for himself and Jimin isn’t getting him.

“You don’t get to do that. You don’t fucking get to start blaming me for this! You just decide something like this on your own and that’s that. No one else matters, huh? Just you and whatever the fuck you have in your head that you refuse to tell me, and then you just somehow expect me to understand? To just let you go? You want me to be happy about this? What fucking delusional world are you living in? Stop blaming others and take responsibility for your own fucking thoughts and words!”

The words silence him. Is he blaming Jimin? He doesn’t think so. Jimin is the only thing, the only one who has made sense all these years. He doesn’t blame Jimin, he only wants him to understand. He doesn't know what else he could say anymore. He feels defeated and exhausted. Jimin always made sense to Taehyung. Isn’t Taehyung making sense to Jimin?

“So, go. Just fucking go already since it’s clearly so horrible to even consider staying. You are just springing this on me, without even a hint of explanation, no willingness for discussion, nothing. It’s pure bullshit that you can’t explain. You are leaving, you know you are. So just leave, go do whatever the fuck you want,” Jimin is pushing him away, and Taehyung should let him. If he let him, it would be quick, maybe as painless as possible. Taehyung knows he should go but Jimin is hurting because of him, and he has never quite known how to deal with that.

“I can’t just…” He doesn’t know what he can’t just do but he can’t let Jimin do it like this. Taehyung brought it on himself, brought it between the two of them. Yet, he doesn’t want to do it like this, doesn’t want to end it all like this.

“You can. You just showed that you definitely can just.” The words don’t give any room for argument. They aren’t loud or angry anymore. They are strong and determined. Taehyung can’t fight it. Not anymore.

Taehyung stays still, stares at Jimin. He feels something aching to desperation spreading in his chest. He doesn’t know how to explain it to Jimin. He doesn’t know how to explain it to anyone, doesn’t think anyone would get it. He isn’t sure he could explain it to himself. The quiet of the apartment, of their apartment proves to be too much.

“Just go,” Jimin says, something tired, something completely exhausted bleeding into his voice. It gives a pang in Taehyung’s chest and he takes a step toward Jimin. The action makes Jimin take two steps back, quickly, like he can’t bear to be close to Taehyung right now. Something tears inside Taehyung, but he stays still. He can’t do much else anymore.

“You wanted to leave, so leave,” the tiredness has disappeared from Jimin’s voice. There’s a hint of determination, but that is all Taehyung is getting from Jimin, no other emotions clear in his tone. There isn’t even eye contact. Jimin refuses to look at him. He wants to say something, wants to have Jimin’s eyes on him. It feels too final, and Jimin isn’t looking at him.  

Taehyung takes a step back, towards the door.

Jimin doesn't stop him this time. He doesn’t even look up at him.

Taehyung closes the door behind him, slowly and carefully. It clicks shut and it feels final, despite the key burning a hole in his pocket. He lets out a shuddering breath. His feet aren’t working, aren’t taking him to the stairs. He closes his eyes and tries to take another breath. His head feels too full and completely empty at the same time. He has trouble wrapping his head around what just went down.

 

A sudden thud and a loud cling of something hitting the door from the inside startles him, makes him flinch. He looks at the door and with dread realizes what it was. Jimin just threw the ring at the door. It makes him glance down at his right hand, at the ring there. All of a sudden it feels like it’s burning him all of a sudden, hurting him more than any piece of jewelry ever could. He whimpers in his desperation, fingers slipping on the slippery surface as he tries to rip the ring off. He wants it off, needs it off, needs the pain to disappear now.

The ring finally slips off his finger.

Taehyung clenches the ring in his fist, wants to throw it away, wants to get rid of it, never see it again. Yet he finds himself unable to. He takes another shuddery breath and lets his tight fist go slack. He carefully slips the ring into his pocket. It burns with every step he takes away from the apartment. He welcomes it.

The ring stays in his pocket until he goes back to the apartment to pack his essentials after Jimin has left the house. The ring stays in his pocket until he leaves the apartment behind, every step feeling final, feeling heavy. It stays in his pocket until he leaves Seoul, leaves his life behind. It is still in his pocket when he arrives at his parents’ house, until he is safe in his childhood room. It is only then that he slowly reaches into the pocket to take the ring out, places it carefully onto his desk. It looks simple, insignificant on the wooden surface. He stares at it, fingers resting next to it, somehow unable to move away from it.

The door to his room opens behind him. It takes a minute for him to turn around. His grandmother stands there, staring at him before her gaze slips to the ring on the desk. She raises her eyes back to meet his, and he can only offer her a weak smile. He hasn’t said a word to his parents yet, hasn’t told them why he is there all of a sudden, with only one bag and a backpack with him. He hasn’t told them that he is leaving either. He figures him dropping out of college was enough to handle.

Yet when faced with his grandmother, with her usual understanding soft eyes dark with judgement and disappointment, he wants to tell her everything. He wants to hear her tell him that everything will be fine. He knows he won’t hear those words, not from her. She is kind, but she is not a liar.

Despite the judgement in her gaze, she sweeps into the room and gathers him into her arms, hugging him like when he was five years old and found out their pet bunny had died. She doesn’t say a word and his tiny grandmother makes him feel like the five-year-old all over again. He doesn’t cry, doesn’t let out a sound. He does, however, stay in her arms for longer than he ever has.

Taehyung needs to learn to face the world on his own. But just for a moment he takes the unconditional love she offers him, lets her surround him and hide him from the world.

It is with his backpack and camera that Taehyung finds himself on the plane. He fiddles with the settings on his camera, absentmindedly switches it on and off. He doesn’t know why he has it with him, why he took his camera, out of all things, with him. He likes photography but never made a big deal out of it. Only one person knew how much he likes it, how much he looked up to photographers. Only one person knew, and that person always supported him with it. Only one person, and now there are none.

Taehyung takes a quick snapshot out the window of the plane. It is cliché, the settings are not correct, the lighting poor. Yet, the blurry picture with pinked clouds on the screen of his camera sets something free in his chest. Something shifts, and he feels alive.

He doesn’t leave his camera behind even once.

The camera becomes his escape, it becomes his rock, his support, a part of him. He takes photos of everything, finds himself searching for himself in those pictures. He doesn’t find the answers he’s looking for, doesn’t properly even know the questions he wants answered. Yet, he still feels like he is a step closer to discovering them, discovering himself. So, he keeps taking photos.  

Taehyung keeps traveling the world, keeps photographing the countries he visits, the people he meets. He wants to show the reality of it, skipping touristy spots and photographing the local spots, the hidden shops and secret lives of the local people. Somewhere, along the way, the local people start wanting to see his photos, want to see how he sees them, how he sees the locals’ lives.

It is after a month of traveling that he posts his first photo on Instagram on the prompting of a friend he met on the road. It isn’t the last. It becomes a habit, becomes an easy way to express himself but also a way to show the interested locals the photos he takes. It becomes a way for him to show the world a part of him he never even knew existed. He feels that spark inside him again.

Somehow, along the way, people start liking his photos. Somehow, a famous person that Taehyung had never heard of, shares his photo of when he visited her hometown. Somehow, his little account blows up with follows and likes. Somehow, he finds himself being featured in articles, shared by more famous people. Somehow, Taehyung finds a way to fund his travels.

Somehow, Taehyung finds himself able to breathe again. Feels another spark of life inside him. He feels closer to the answers he so desperately wants.

 

 

 

The first person he sleeps with, after almost a whole year of aimless traveling, is somewhere in Manchester. She is small and athletic, cute and sweet. It feels easy to go with her, not an ounce of doubt filling him as they stumble into his hotel room. Taehyung throws up after she leaves. He takes the longest shower he has ever taken, scrubs every single part of his body until the skin is red and sensitive. If some of the water drops going down the drain that night are not just from the shower, no one needs to know. He would deny it anyway.

The second person is a tall and broad guy somewhere near Cologne. It doesn’t feel good. No, that isn’t right. It does feel good but it doesn’t feel right. His hands are the same size as Taehyung’s, gripping harshly, keeping Taehyung in the present. Taehyung has slowly come to despise the present. He doesn’t throw up this time but he does take a long shower. His skin is even redder than the time before.

It takes closer to a dozen encounters in Europe, Australia, and Canada over several months before he meets someone, someone worth more, and something shifts. He’s gorgeous with his wavy short hair. Taehyung meets him in Seattle on a sunny and chilly day. Something shifts, and Taehyung finds himself in a car, riding down the coastal road to California. The guy is brazen, knows what he wants. Taehyung appreciates that, finds it relieving.

Taehyung reaches out a hand, by muscle memory at this point, takes his hand in his. Too big, too rough. He glances at him, sees the raised eyebrow and the pointed look at their hands. He isn’t impressed. Taehyung doesn’t reach out for his hand again.

It makes him remember driving on the quiet streets of coastal Korea, remembers reaching out the same way. A welcoming hand, always quick to interlace their fingers. Remembers how often his hand was raised to meet soft lips, an accompanying giggle escaping every time. A painful ache makes itself known, wanting to spread, wanting to take over. Taehyung is quick to push it down, quick to not let it spread. Those memories have no place here.

The boy with the wavy hair makes for an excellent model. Taehyung falls in love with the California coast, the sudden falls of the cliffs, the red and vast sunrises and sunsets. Taehyung falls in love with the lighting, with the backlit shots. He falls in love with the Californians, with the artistry and open-mindedness of people in San Francisco, with the hospitality of people in Santa Barbara. The drive of people in Los Angeles gives him a boost, just as the people in San Diego have him relaxed with their easygoing attitude.

Taehyung wants to say he falls in love with the guy along the way. He wants to say he fell in love with him just as he fell in love with California. He may have even thought so for a moment, in his desperation for a connection. Yet when he crosses the border for Tijuana, he doesn’t look back as the guy stays back. Taehyung quite enjoys the quiet it offers him.

Taehyung expected the short relationship to put him off, to make him want to keep going with casual encounters he learned to somewhat enjoy. He expected to want to sleep his worries away with other people. It doesn’t happen. His mind tries to flash him images of comfort, of meaningful touches and unconditional love. He pushes them away.

Meetings become more common but not many become more than his friends. Taehyung learns to enjoy proper connections, doesn’t look for the lust and passion anymore. He finds it sometimes, is able to even find the passion and connection a few times. None of them last long. Taehyung doesn’t know if he wants them to last long. Perhaps that is where it always falls through. He never stays long in one country, in one continent. It doesn’t help him find the connections.

He can’t bring himself to mind much.

All the connections give him amazing photos, amazing opportunities to see secret spots, to immortalize the people and the places. He visits sites of natural disasters, starts taking photos of people more than sceneries. Half of his income goes to charity. He doesn’t know when he started receiving enough to give back to communities. At least something good is coming out of his travels.

 

 

 

It is during a celebration somewhere deep in mountain areas of Ethiopia that Taehyung realizes he has never let himself miss Korea. He has kept going forward, forced himself to experience new things, made himself go and see new things. It has been nearly three years since he left. Not once has he stopped and thought about the consequences of his actions, of him leaving. Not once has he stopped and thought what he left behind.

Ethiopia is nothing like Korea. Nothing about the mountain ranges and the vast wilderness should remind him of Korea. Yet he finds himself sitting on a high rock looking over the village, finds himself watching the celebratory dances and the wide smiles of the people, and misses Korea. He misses the food, the culture, the people. He misses his family, misses their dog. He misses his friends, misses the easy acceptance he had always received, no matter the situation.

Taehyung looks at the people, at the generous people who have fed him despite being an outsider, who invited him to an annual celebration he still has no idea what it is about. He looks at them, belly full of delicious food and feet sore from trying to learn the dances of the tribe. He looks at the community, at the acceptance of each other, the easy way they show affection to each other.

Taehyung misses his friends more than he has missed anything in his life. The heavy, strong pang in his chest makes him gasp for breath. He misses his friends, but mostly he misses --  

With a quick movement Taehyung raises his camera, takes a few quick snapshots, despite knowing they would not come out well. He needs something to distract his mind from the images his mind keeps flashing him of a gentle smile, of crinkled eyes, of soft hands. He needs his hands to do something, needs his focus on something completely different.

There is a reason he never lets himself miss Korea.

The quick snapshots he shoots that night to distract himself get almost twice the likes his usual photos do. People mention raw emotion. Taehyung regrets posting them. A constant reminder. He doesn’t know why he posted them in the first place.

Taehyung photographs a wedding for a friend he meets on the road. He stays invisible as he shoots the moments that make the day the most memorable and important day of the couple’s life. He takes photos that talk of unconditional love, of acceptance, of finding happiness in each other. He sees the radiant smile the bride gives the groom. He sees the gentle hold he has of her hand. He sees tears in their parents’ eyes. He photographs it all. Ignores the pain of it all.

Later, alone in his hotel room, he finds himself having to delete more photos than he expected. His pain too evident in the photos, the lighting and the angles talking of too much wistfulness. He deletes them, angry at himself, angry at the pain in his chest.

The day is the most painful Taehyung has had in two years.

He says no to the next request for a wedding. He vows to never photograph a wedding.

Any other commissions he does, helps out a friend here and there with their events. He finds himself enjoying it, capturing people’s emotions, capturing the atmosphere of the events.

He says no to weddings so many times that no one asks him after a month anymore. He thinks he had written it on his Instagram profile as well.

 

 

 

The lighting of the bonfire, the darkness of the night, the soft sounds of the music, they all take him back to a moment years ago. He feels he is transported back into the memory in the past, where soft but moody music was in the background, where the lighting fit the moodiness of the music, fit the atmosphere of the night.

It is almost like he is right there with him. Taehyung’s mind keeps feeding him images of him dancing, moving to the beat, fluidity of motion like Taehyung has never seen elsewhere, not since then.

It all reminds him of the video he shot with his phone so long ago, years ago. It reminds him of the video hidden deep inside his phone, where he is dancing, eyes closed and just feeling the music. It’s a dark video, shot in poor lighting in the dusk of the evening. It ends with him turning around, with him looking at the camera, looking Taehyung, and smiling. A smile so soft, so intimate, only ever reserved for Taehyung.

The memory of the moment, of the video hits Taehyung hard, making him scramble for his phone, needing to watch it, needing to see that smile, the intimacy of the dance, of that smile. The sudden franticness of it almost bowls him over, frantic like he never has been. Just for that one video.

Something desperate is clawing in his chest, making him frustrated, making him growl under his breath when the phone doesn’t come out of his pocket as easily and smoothly as he needed it to. His fingers slip on the slippery surface of the phone, and for a second, he is certain it’s going to fall through his grasp, hitting the rocks below him. The thought is enough to make him stop, top make him take a deep breath and calm down; calm himself down enough to take the phone out of his pocket and calmly slide the screen open.

As Taehyung scrolls through his gallery he sees snapshots and videos of people he has met during his travels, of people he befriended, people he felt something more for, people he left behind. None of them matter. None of them matter when it’s not them he yearns for, when there is just one person in his mind that desperately needs. It takes a moment, the longest moment, to realize that all the videos on his phone are no older than two years. His scrolling comes to an end, a photo of Edinburgh castle followed by photos of the Scottish moorlands.

Taehyung went to Scotland several months after his departure.

It hits him then; a sudden memory of sitting on a plane, reaching for his phone, just to realize it wasn’t on him. A lost phone, lost somewhere in the large and busy airport of Schiphol. All the memories gone in an instant, all the videos and photos of his past life. It didn’t bother him then, he only bought a new phone with merely a shrug.

It bothers him now, bothers him in a way that he can’t deal with. There are no videos, no soft smiles, no silly selfies, no intimate proofs of his past. No matter how much Taehyung scrolls through his galleries, the videos and photos don’t appear. There are no more saved messages, no voice messages, not a sign of his life before his travels. It is almost as if all was wiped away, like it all never happened.

Taehyung’s scrolling gets more frantic, more desperate, but the more he stares at the faces of people he barely knows, of places he barely visited, the angrier he gets. The anger makes him grip the phone tightly in his fist. The memories still haunting his mind, memories of intimates smiles and private moments, they mix with the anger burning in his chest.

The phone hits the wall with a deafening crash.

Taehyung finds himself panting, hands clutched into tight fists at his sides. The pain in his chest doesn’t lessen but something, somehow, calms inside him as he watches at the broken pieces of his phone. It almost feels poetic; broken beyond repair. He huffs out a humorless laugh and turns away, sits back down on the stairs of the bungalow.

A figure approaches him through the sand of the beach. The bonfire illuminates the figure in a way that Taehyung would usually reach for his camera. This time he doesn’t. He watches the figure approach him, recognizes him as he gets closer. Matt, his travel companion, dark and handsome, short and built. Taehyung gets a raised eyebrow at the sight of the broken phone. He only shrugs as response. There is no explanation he wants to give, no explanation that would make sense anyway.

Matt doesn’t ask. Taehyung thinks that’s partly the reason he lets himself be pulled up and into the bungalow. If that night is filled with images of smooth and pale skin instead of tan and lean, Taehyung doesn’t tell anyone.

The broken phone goes easily forgotten. There was nothing irreplaceable there anyway.

 

 

 

The one who gives Taehyung the last final push is in Los Angeles.

During the years of traveling, Los Angeles has become Taehyung’s pitstop of a kind for new locations. It is where he can take a breather for a few days, where he can get Korean food when homesickness gets to be too much, it is where he can take a flight to nearly anywhere in the world.

Funnily enough, he isn’t even in K-town when he meets her. For once he is out without a camera, enjoying a leisurely day walking down the Santa Monica pier. The sun is beating down on him more strongly than the LA sun usually does. It is without thought that he slips into a café, finding himself a seat in the comfort of the airconditioned space.

It is then that he hears Korean spoken somewhere in the café. It never fails to give him a pang in his chest, never fails to affect him. He doesn’t look around. Hearing Korean in LA, in Santa Monica isn’t a rare occurrence. Yet, it is the only thing his ears seem to pick up in the bubbly café. It is after he hears an inhibited laughter that he finally turns his gaze from the pier to look carefully around the shop. He sees them, a group of three girls on a table a few down from his.

One of them looks up as Taehyung looks at them. He offers a careful smile before looking away. The cold tea he sips on almost goes down the wrong pipe as he gets startled when the girl sits down in front of him. She introduces herself as Seolhyun. It’s easy with her. She is unafraid, passionate, confident in who she is. Taehyung finds himself relaxing within minutes with her. There is something about her that he has missed, that he hasn’t felt in years.

They talk the whole day. They see each other on the weekend, during the following week. It doesn’t grow tiring, it doesn’t become boring with her. She’s different and Taehyung isn’t sure if he is ready for it.

She lets him hold her hand when they drive. She giggles at his jokes. She falls off her chair laughing when he plays around with Pop Rocks before demanding to try some herself. She doesn’t demand him to tell her where he sometimes goes at night, in the early mornings. He doesn’t tell her, doesn’t invite her along. She respects that.

It is only after three weeks that Taehyung decides to take her with him when he leaves for Europe. She fits, she fits like no one else has during his travels. She isn’t surprised his request to join him, only makes a few calls and is on board after that. Taehyung appreciates it, the ease of it. She’s impulsive, a free spirit, and it is all Taehyung needs for the moment.

Seolhyun is the only one he has invited along for trips to other countries. Everyone else so far has been someone in that country, and in that country alone. This time, he wants her with him. Taehyung ignores the images flashing in his mind of promises made somewhere in his past life, of promises and plans of traveling together, of seeing the world together. He ignores the pain that wants to flare when he sees her instead of someone else. He wants her with him. She is the one who he has right now. No one from his past, just her.

She looks at him like he is everything amazing in the world. He wants to return the favor, thinks there are moments when he almost can, but he won’t, he can’t. He already knows who holds everything amazing in the world, and he can’t give that title to her, no matter how he wishes he could. He doesn’t know if she knows. He doesn’t know if he wants to know if she knows. It is easier this way.

It is sometime after nearly two months of traveling together, that Taehyung starts to fear he is leading Seolhyun on. He doesn’t mean to, doesn’t want to do so. He cares about her, wants only the best for her. Yet whenever she hints something about the future, Taehyung doesn’t see it with her. He knows she doesn’t expect anything of him, they went into this with casual thoughts, mutually. Both of them know it isn’t casual anymore. Yet it isn’t serious either. Taehyung can’t allow it to be, something holding him back too strongly.

Taehyung’s fears come to a stop when they are in a tiny café at an even tinier village somewhere south of Naples. He is holding her hand in his, fingers stroking hers in a lazy pattern, but he isn’t looking at her, comforted by the mere presence of her.

“Who was she?” Seolhyun’s voice is soft, curious, not a hint of judgement in her voice. The question, more than the sudden sound of her voice still manages to startle Taehyung and he almost drops her hand as he whips his head to look at her. She tilts her head to the side in question and it jolts something painful in his chest and he looks out onto the street. He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to tell it was a he and not a she but feels it would be too insensitive.

“You get these wistful smiles from time to time, like it’s someone else’s hand you wish you were holding sometimes,” she tightens her hold around his hand for a moment. He glances at her, doesn’t let go of her hand. He also doesn’t say anything. She knows already, what else is there to say?

The silence between them goes on for a long moment, not awkward, not comfortable. Like something hidden has been exposed and both are dealing with the outcome. He doesn’t know what it means, what it means for him, and what it means for them. Seolhyun doesn’t let go of his hand, keeps the hold light and gentle.

Taehyung slowly gets up, looks down the street that could take them to the beach. He gives the lightest of tugs on her hand and turns to look at her. Her smile turns wistful. Like she just lost something she barely had. She still gets up, not letting go of his hand. This is now. They are both able to enjoy the now.

The photos on the beach that evening get the most comments on the wistfulness of it all. He supposes that they are, wistful that is. Her beauty doesn’t fade but something shifts between them.

Some weeks later, somewhere in midst of staring at the most gorgeous aurora Taehyung has ever seen, Seolhyun tells him she’s going back to Italy, feels that once wasn’t enough for her. She doesn’t ask him to go with her, and he doesn’t offer to go. It’s the beginning of the end for them but they still make the most of it. They are both able to enjoy the ‘now’ without the worry of tomorrow. Yet somehow, for some reason, after her admission of her decision, he starts seeing someone else in her place.

When they are feeding reindeer and she giggles in delight, it isn’t Seolhyun he sees. When they try cross-country skiing just for the heck of it on a frozen lake, he doesn’t see her being the one stumbling. All of a sudden, the notion of her leaving, of him losing her, makes his mind quip him with images of what should be, never leaving him alone.

After her words, after her admitting she is going to go on with her travels without him, it is almost like they become closer friends instead of something more they used to be. Hotel rooms with queen beds become rooms with two beds, hugs become shorter instead of long and lingering, one armed hugs more common than proper embraces. Intimacy disappears gradually as the days go by, and it surprises Taehyung that he doesn’t long for it, doesn’t find sadness in losing it. Seolhyun doesn’t shoot him wistful looks either, not anymore. The timing is perfect for them.

This time she is the one who leaves first, going through her gate at the airport. She stops before going in, turns to look at him. She looks happy, looks cute and excited. Taehyung smiles at her and watches her grin at him before disappearing into the tunnel. He surprises himself by standing there for a moment longer, finds himself feeling a type of longing. He could have fallen for her if he had let himself. She would have fallen for him, if he had let her.

Just as he is walking to his own gate, he gets a message from her. A friendly reminder, she writes, about a promise he made to her. A promise to go back to Korea next, to go back and to face some of what he left behind. He felt guilty at the time, agreeing to it. His next flight is to Tokyo. With a connecting flight to Seoul. He has never been more nervous to fly.

Being in Japan feels too close for comfort. It feels too close and yet at the same time, for the first time in three years, too far. Taehyung knows he promised Seolhyun that he would go to Korea next, but as he has a layover in Tokyo, somehow his subconscious makes him decide to skip on the connecting flight to Seoul. He isn’t surprised to see the ‘Boarding Completed’ sign at the gate. He doesn’t mind.

Taehyung takes his time in Japan. Taking time seeing something new, seeing some of his favorite spots. Then, after not stopping for even a day, traveling Japan for two more weeks, the distance to Korea starts to feel too far. Like Korea is calling for him, and he desperately wants to listen to its call, for the first time in his life.

The fear, however, is strong, and he deliberately misses the flight to Seoul he bought for himself, for the second time. He doesn’t leave the hotel for the whole day, hiding like someone could come and forcefully drag him onto the flight. He stays hidden, ignoring the guilt and the longing. Despite hiding, he does, however, check his little brother’s SNS accounts, and sees a series of photos him playing with their dog. It makes him pause, makes him smile a weak but content smile. His family is back in Korea.

Taehyung doesn’t miss the next flight to Korea.

 

 

 

It is difficult staring at the boxes in his room. There are no words indicating what they have inside of them. He just knows his family went to Seoul to get all his belongings from his, Jimin’s, apartment. He isn’t surprised the boxes are unpacked. They take up most of his childhood room, cover the walls and a large portion of the floor. Not a single member of his family was happy with his decision back then. He doesn’t think they are happy even now. He sees it in unpacked boxes, sees it in the way his younger siblings have trouble talking to him, like they don’t know who he is anymore. He sees it in the way his parents talk in short sentences, barely look at him properly. He even sees it in his grandmother’s eyes, the silent judgement still there underneath of all the joy of him coming back.

He doesn’t blame them.

Three years is a long time to be gone.

It takes him closer to an hour for him to be able to reach for the first box. He doesn't know what frightens him so much about it, facing the past or facing Jimin. All these boxes are from their apartment, all the items in all the boxes in front of him contain memories from their years together, their life together. Not a single one of the items will be unaffected by the memories.

Taehyung has been on the run from Jimin since he left three years ago, hasn’t faced him, hasn’t let him invade his thoughts. He has been on the run, like a desperate man escaping his past. Now he is about to be faced with what he left behind. He is about to be face to face with his past. In the least painful way possible, he thinks. Maybe it makes him a coward, he doesn’t care.  He knows it won’t be painless at all, knows it will hurt and it will beat him down. It will hurt but still be less painful than actually facing Jimin and all he decided to leave behind three years ago. 

The first few boxes are filled with clothes. They are neatly folded in, perfect in the way only Jimin does them. Despite the anger Jimin showed him last, it seems he helped his parents pack his bags with great love. Taehyung knows none of that love was spared for him, knows it was all for his parents. He is sure his parents like Jimin more by now, they already did since their teen years.

It is after two more boxes of clothes, and two boxes of games and movies, that Taehyung stumbles on the worst possible box. He didn’t even consider it a possibility.

Photos.

Hundreds of them.

Taehyung is sure the photos in the box are all the photos they ever had in their apartment. He doesn’t take any of them into his hands, just stares at the piles and piles of them in the box. He can see a photo of Jimin dancing, one of Taehyung’s favorites. He had made it into a larger one and framed it in their living room. He is sure the framed photo is somewhere in the boxes as well.

The next photo Taehyung sees is of the two of them, a silly selca where Taehyung has pushed himself close enough to Jimin to squish their cheeks together. Taehyung himself is frowning in the photo, like it took great effort to get into the frame, while Jimin is laughing with his eyes crinkled and head leaning against his.

Just as Taehyung spots a photo of the two of them, with their arms around each other’s shoulders, ready for their first day in elementary school, he closes the lids of the box. It’s enough. Three photos are enough. They are too much. Carefully he folds the lids down, hands trembling. He can’t seem to be able to breathe, and he has to slide down from the bed onto the floor. With great effort he brings his knees up, buries his face against them as he wraps his arms around his legs. He counts to three as he lets out a shuddery breath, counts to three as he takes in just as shuddery a breath. He tightens his hold around his legs and keeps counting. He keeps counting just as he tries to keep the memories at bay, keep the ghosts of his past somewhere hidden, somewhere he has wanted to bury them for the longest time.

It takes longer than he would ever want to admit to pull himself back together, to raise his eyes to face the boxes in front of him. He rests his cheek against his knees and lets out a heavy breath. He listens to signs of his family in the house; to the sports channel on the TV, to the clinking from the kitchen, to the barking from the outside. He hears them all, and he feels like he can breathe just a little more easily.

Taehyung lets the tight hold around his legs go, lets them slide down to rest lax on the floor. He leans back against the bed and takes a deep breath, this time strong and steady. He doesn’t look at the boxes, can’t dare to even glance at them anymore. There is too much buried in there, buried inside the boxes, and he isn’t ready to take them out. He may not be actively running away anymore but he still isn’t ready to face the past.

With slightly shaky hands Taehyung reaches for his camera bag, starts to slowly take all the items out with great care. He feels himself gradually calming down as he cleans his camera, the motion of it comforting in its familiarity. He continues unpacking the camera bag, needing to feel some sort of control. The last pocket he checks is tiny, to the side, mostly forgotten during the years. His fingers close around a tiny piece of plastic. It makes him frown, no recollection of ever having put anything in the pocket.

Carefully, slowly, he takes out the piece of plastic.

It feels small in his hands, the tiny and slim SD card. Memories flood him as he looks at it. He hasn’t taken it out since he left Korea. It has been waiting in his old camera bag for three years, the photos in it unseen by anyone. Even Taehyung himself hasn’t seen them, photos taken in a hurry, with desperation. He never thought to check them, even back when he took them. Two days before he left. Two days before he had all that anger aimed at him. Two days before his life changed drastically.

Taehyung plays with the card, tosses it up in the air, catching it in his hand. He juggles it between his fingers, staring intently at the black surface of it. He doesn’t remember much of what kind of photos he took, doesn't remember anything but the fear festering inside him, snapping shots after shots without any real direction. All he remembers with certainty is that they are all of Jimin. He hadn’t even looked around the two of them, hadn’t even considered photographing anything but Jimin. For the last time.

Taehyung swallows against a suddenly dry throat and gently closes his fist around the card, bringing the hand to rest against his forehead as he closes his eyes. He is tempted to slip it into his camera, tempted to see the photos he took all these years ago. He takes a deep breath, glances at his camera. It would be easy, so incredibly easy to see the last photos he took before he fled the country, fled the life he shared with Jimin.

The temptation is real. It feels so real and strong, despite the knowledge that there is only pain awaiting him if he decides to give in. He swallows harshly, takes a deep breath, and goes to reach for the camera. There is a sudden shout for dinner from downstairs, his grandmother’s voice still strong and carrying all the way upstairs. It startles him, making him almost drop the SD card. He glances at it, then at the camera.

With careful fingers Taehyung pushes the card back into the tiny pocket he originally fished it from. It can wait. The photos can wait a little longer. His past can wait a little longer.

 

 

 

Taehyung stares at the apartment building, at the convenience store on the ground floor. It has changed into a 7/11 sometimes during the years he was gone. He doesn’t remember what it used to be, only remembers frequenting it enough to know all the employees by name. He lets his gaze go up a few stories, looking up for the familiar tiny balcony on the 4th floor.

The balcony is just as tiny as he remembers, paint chipping off the railing. The curtains in the window are different; bright orange. They used to have white curtains. Jimin loved the light coming through, even in the mornings. Taehyung learned to appreciate them as he realized how it illuminated Jimin in the early mornings, still in bed and perfect for photos. Taehyung still has those photos at his parents’ house.

The urge to go into the building and up the stairs is strong. He wants to go up and knock on the door for 42. He wants to see if the staircase still has the loose railing. If the elevator is as slow as it used to be. He wants to see if the scuff marks are still on the ceiling on the 4th floor corridor. He always wondered how anyone had managed it. He wants to see if the door will be opened by a boy with kind eyes and floppy hair.

Slowly, deliberately, Taehyung turns around and leaves the building behind. It makes his heart ache more than he thought possible. Every step he takes away from the apartment he used to share with Jimin, his heart resonates painfully with the longing, with the disappointment of his past.

It is with carefully constructed detachment that Taehyung manages to leave the building behind, manages to go through the subway gates and into the subway. Suddenly everything starts to feel too familiar, memories of them riding the subway flashing in his mind. He sits down and looks at the people around him, going about their personal missions of the day. His hands itch for his camera, the only escape he has from his mind. He shifts, awfully uncomfortable with his surroundings, aches to get out.

His stop fortunately comes quickly, letting him escape quickly from the confines of the dim subway car. He jogs up the stairs, two steps at a time, desperate to feel the cold air, desperate to see the sky. He is out of breath as he reaches the top of the stairs. People are looking at him oddly, but he pays them no mind. It isn’t them he is here for.

Taehyung slowly straightens up, looks around. The surroundings are unfamiliar, new and unexplored. He has never been there, with anyone. He lets out a deep breath and takes in a shaky one. No memories, no disappointments. A new area. He takes in another breath, this one significantly less shaky than the previous one. He glances around, ignoring the looks people are shooting him. It’s Seoul, people should be used to odd people.

With slow steps, Taehyung picks a direction, pushing his hands into his pockets. The February air is freezing, and for a flash of a moment he wishes he was back in Hawaii, or Bali, or Australia. The moment goes as fast as it came; there is no room for such thoughts, not anymore.

A tall apartment building is where Taehyung finally stops. He walked past it two times, nerves getting the best of him, only now finally able to stop there. He lets his gaze follow the floors all the way up, wondering what kind of people live in the top floors, what kind of views they have, what kind of lives they have. He smiles to himself before letting his gaze drop to the closed, locked front door. He stares at it for a full minute, wonders if he has to press the intercom to get in.

An older lady exits the building in a hurry, eyes on her phone, a Bluetooth set in her ears as she speaks quickly with authority. Taehyung follows her with his eyes, itches for his camera again, but is quick to dismiss the thought as he rushes to the closing door. He can’t afford to miss the chance he’s been given. He gets inside and thanks whatever deity that there is no one at the front desk. He lets out a breath and makes his way to the elevators. Everything is fancy and clean. He smiles to himself again, the smile not disappearing right away this time.

The elevator pings as it reaches the 18th floor, a tinny female voice telling him to watch out for the doors. The 18th floor and he is only at halfway point of the whole building. Taehyung almost wants to take the elevator all the way up, wants to see if he would bump into someone who lives up there. His curiosity is weaker this time, weaker than the determination burning inside of him.

The grey carpet on the corridor muffles his footsteps and it almost makes him stop. He does slow down his pace, somehow taken aback by the fact. He frowns and glances down the corridor. It even smells fancy. The thought makes him smile a little again, frown disappearing, and he picks up the pace, walking all the way down to the end of the corridor. There is only one door there.

The determination is wavering as Taehyung is faced with the door. He shifts from one foot to another, hands still stuck in his pockets. The tiny doorbell looks inconspicuous, knows it isn’t a big deal to press it. It shouldn’t be a big deal to press it. It shouldn’t be, and yet it takes a minute, two, three, of him staring at the little button. He takes a shuddering breath, tries to shake it off.

A shaky finger presses the button.

Taehyung can hear the ring of it inside the apartment, wonders if he is there at a bad time. It is evening, after work hours, but who knows. It takes a moment, a long enough moment that Taehyung considers leaving, using the moment to escape. Just as he decides to leave, already takes a step backwards, the click of the door echoes in the corridor.

All of a sudden Taehyung finds it hard to breathe. The door opens, slowly, too slowly, too fast.

Floppy hair, kind eyes.

Taehyung’s whole body is trembling.

Tall stature, long legs.

“Hey, Joonie hyung,” Taehyung breathes out, looks at his old friend, looks at the ‘dad of the group’. Back in the day. He doesn’t know if the door will be slammed right in front of him, if he’ll be bodily removed from the building. He doesn’t know but his nervousness, all that fright has disappeared.

This is it.

The end.

Or the beginning of a new era.