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Don't Forget

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DREAM OR NIGHTMARE?

 

Technically it was Taehyung who called it quits, so it perplexed him as to why it was his heart that was twisting in such a way he felt as if he might burst. And that his phone remained silent, lifeless. In the weeks after he often found himself staring pointedly at the device, waiting for the call that deep down he knew would never come. The last image burned into his mind of Kim Seokjin was his backside just before the door of the apartment slammed shut. The memory haunted him like a ghost, often waking him in the middle of the night in a cold sweat; chest heaving, a river of tears streaming down his face.

 

It was Jimin who recommended the service. Taehyung knew of several colleagues and acquaintances who had used the method with supposed success, but he needed to hear a convincing testimony from someone he trusted; his best friend.

 

“Remember when I dated Yoongi?” Jimin asked. Taehyung nodded. “Well, you probably remember more than I do,” the boy laughed. “All I know is he was once someone important to me. But nowadays when I hear that name, I feel nothing.”

 

The two were sitting at their usual corner table of the coffee shop, the seats with the best view of the street traffic outside. For a Sunday afternoon the crowds were quite thin; perhaps the bitter cold prompted people to stay indoors. Taehyung wrapped his fingers around the warm cup on the table, mulling over Jimin’s words with lingering skepticism, licking his lips before taking another sip of his tea.

 

“But Taehyung-ah, you really don’t think the two of you have a second shot?”

 

The boy’s answer was immediate; a shake of the head.

 

“Why not? I’ve never seen you so in love before. What went wrong?”

 

“Me. I’m what’s wrong with the relationship. As long as I’m in the equation it’s never going to work.”

 

“Don’t say that...”

 

“He’s a million times better off without me.”

 

Jimin released a lengthy sigh, running a hand through his hair and looking at his beloved friend in an almost pitiful way.

 

“So you’re really going to go through with this, huh?”

 

Taehyung nodded meekly. “I feel like I’m dying.” And indeed his inner turmoil reflected upon his usually rosy face; the dark circles, the raw cheeks, the fabricated smile.

 

“It will make things easier,” Jimin nodded.

 

Taehyung finished the last of his tea and cleared his throat tentatively before asking the next question. “Don’t you feel like you lost a part of yourself?”

 

Jimin shook his head. “If I hadn’t gone through with it, I wouldn’t have been able to move on the way that I did. And then I never would’ve met Jungkook.”

 

As if on cue, Jungkook returned to the table with two cappuccinos in hand, placing one in front of Jimin and keeping the other for himself.

 

“You guys talking about me?” He asked cheekily, giving his boyfriend’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

 

---

 

Taehyung woke up in the middle of the night again.

 

This time it was a simple dream. But perhaps it was the simplicity of it that made it feel so unbearably real.

 

He was laying in bed with Seokjin by his side, the older boy facing him, eyes drooping with exhaustion. But nevertheless the two exchanged quiet words to each other in the dark; it was their nightly routine, to end the day by first venting about their problems, then subsequently listing all the things to be thankful for instead. The rule was this: if you mention five bad things, you have to think of six good ones so that the end result is always positive. And so like any other night, Taehyung mulled over the course of his last twelve hours, cringing at the thought of certain not so pleasant moments.

“My boss is too demanding with this new project,” he began. Seokjin was already nodding in support.

 

“My coworker is a snitch. Told HR that I’m taking longer lunch breaks than I should be.”

 

Seokjin laughed. “That’s your own fault, Taehyung-ah.”

 

“I spilled coffee on my shirt this morning,” he continued. “I’m still bitter about it.”

 

“Good pun, I like it,” Seokjin encouraged.

 

“Coming home I missed the train, so I had to wait a lot longer for the next one.”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“And when I got out of the train, it literally started raining the moment I left the station,” Taehyung grumbled, his brows furrowing at the thought. “What are the odds...”

 

Rather than answering, Seokjin merely reached out a hand to the boy’s face, running his fingers ever so lightly along Taehyung’s cheek. “And what about the good?” He prompted.

 

Taehyung furrowed his brow in thought. “OH. We had catering at the office,” he grinned. “Fried chicken, it was incredible.”

 

“Thanks for bringing me back some,” Seokjin shot back sarcastically.

 

“Sorry, hyung. I ate it all.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“My coworker brought his new puppy again. He’s teething now but he’s SO cute.”

 

“The little lab, right?”

 

“Yes,” the younger boy gushed, eyes alight. “Can’t we get one too?”

 

“Neither of us have time,” Seokjin chuckled, pinching Taehyung’s cheek. “Unless you want to be a stay at home dog dad?”

 

“That is EXACTLY what I want—“

 

“Forget I said that. Go on.”

 

Taehyung glanced at the ceiling, nibbling on his lip before coming up with a third point. “The barista at the coffee shop below our office gave me a free pastry today.”

 

“Why, were you flirting?” Seokjin frowned, to which Taehyung cackled with delight. “Just my good looks, promise.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“I’m happy we got the new episode for that drama.”

 

“It was a good episode.”

 

“Can’t believe they’d leave a cliffhanger like that.”

 

“Don’t make plans next Monday night.”

 

“Allright,” Taehyung promised sweetly. “Oh. And number five. We got to cook together again today. It’s been a while.”

 

Seokjin nodded, running his hand to the back of Taehyung’s head, intertwining his long fingers with the boy’s unruly hair. “Except you distracted me and we burned the food,” Seokjin teased.

 

“Distracted you with hugs and kisses . Is that a problem?”

 

“Okay, okay,” Seokjin laughed, admitting defeat. “Let’s stay positive. Last one, Tae. Then we can go to bed.”

 

It was a habit of Seokjin’s to wrap his arms around Taehyung and pull him close to his chest as he awaited his final answer. And as Taehyung was enveloped by his hyung’s familiar scent, his warmth, he found himself swallowing down a large lump in his throat, his face already wet with tears.

 

“T-Tae, why? Why the tears? What’s going on?”

 

Lifting his head from Seokjin’s chest so that the two were eye level, his voice small and timid and unsure, he choked as he uttered the next several words.

 

“I miss you.”

 

And like that, his eyes fluttered open in the dark, only to find an empty bed, a drenched pillow, cold sheets.

 

He had to make an appointment for the next day. He had no choice.

 

---

 

The process was lengthy, taxing, expensive. Taehyung had to go through a two hour long consultation, followed by three more sessions of psychological evaluations. And then he had to wait one week in between evaluations and the actual procedure to review guidelines, to arrange for the appropriate preparations.

 

They asked him if he’d had any surgeries within the past year. He marked “no,” and wondered why that would matter. The doctors asked if he’d ever had this procedure done before. “No,” Taehyung marked once again.

 

“We advise patients not to do this more than once.”

 

Taehyung was sure he had chosen the right occasion for it.

 

“It’s a one-time treatment, although the memories won’t disappear all at the same time. The most recent memories will go first, with the very first memories going last. I’d say by the end of the week you’ll have forgotten everything.”

 

The boy nodded as he listened intently, sitting on the edge of his chair, heart thumping wildly in his ears.

 

“You’ll almost feel the memory leaving you. It’ll typically happen just before bedtime, and you may wake up the next morning a bit confused and disoriented. That’s normal. The timeline in your mind versus the timeline of reality will be out of sync. But once you’re fully awake, your brain will register that you’ve undergone the procedure. There will be a mark on your forearm as well so that you’re not alarmed. I’m sure you’ve seen this mark before?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And by the end of the week, once the entire process is complete, the mark will disappear on its own.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“If after two weeks you’re still remembering certain events, no matter how small, feel free to give us a call and we’ll reevaluate.”

 

The next thing he knew he was signing on the dotted line, sealing his fate with the quick swish of the pen.

 

Before the nurses brought him into the “operation” room, the doctor slid one final piece of paper across the table to Taehyung.

 

“What is this?”

 

“This is for you to keep.”

 

He scanned the header of the paper and realized it looked almost like a certificate, the paper stock sturdy and crisp. In refined gold lettering at the top of the page it read:

 

This document certifies that Kim Taehyung on March 3, 2019 has chosen to undergo the Yongsan Clinic memory erasure procedure for any and all memories associated with Kim Seokjin .

 

He felt the touch of cold plastic against his temples as he lay under the fluorescent light.

 

“Doctor, will this hurt?” He muttered as he watched the clinic staff arrange the equipment by his bedside.

 

“No,” the doctor assured Taehyung. “It won’t hurt. Not in that sense.”

 

And the doctor was right. For when he finished counting back from ten and he reopened his eyes he felt as if he had only drifted into a light slumber.

 

“See, quick and easy!” The doctor smiled, giving the boy a small pat on the back.

 

There in the harsh glare of the ceiling lights he could see a new mark on his forearm similar to that of a stamp, emitting a faint blue glow, tiny script reading: “Forgetting Kim Seokjin.”

 

“Not to worry,” the doctor reassured him once more, as if reading Taehyung’s mind. “Only you can see the actual text. To everyone else it simply reads, ‘Yongsan Medical Clinic.’ Gives you the privacy, but gives them the awareness. A win win.”

 

The staff had already departed, leaving just Taehyung and the aloof doctor in the room. “Sit here for a while, you may feel lightheaded. Come out when you’re ready.”

 

“Sorry, doctor,” Taehyung piped up just as the man was about to walk through the door.

 

“Yes?”

 

Sitting on the edge of the table, his legs dangling over the side, hunched shoulders draped in a plain white gown, Taehyung suddenly felt like a little child again.

 

“You said I’ll be able to feel the memory leaving me. Can I ask what it feels like?”

 

The doctor nodded. “Oh, sure.” He paused. “Like breathing out smoke.”

 

*****

 

FIGHT FOR ME

 

The bad memories are the first to go.

 

Their last fight was neither loud nor violent. It was quiet and tired. Perhaps they had gotten all of the chaos out of the way months following up to the break up.

 

On that particular night, Taehyung had just returned from an overseas business trip to a dark and empty apartment. With an angry clang he dropped his keys and bags on the counter before prying his coat off of his back.

 

Taehyung: Where are you.

 

With a heavy sigh and a curt tap he sent the message, then meandered into the bathroom for a hot shower, taking his time and standing underneath the water much longer than necessary. He had a feeling Seokjin wouldn’t be home for a while.

 

And sure enough: two hours later, after Taehyung had already changed into his silk pajamas and unpacked half of his carry-on luggage, he heard the jingle of keys and the click of the lock. Taehyung inhaled and exhaled shakily, the blood already simmering to a boil, willing with all his might to cool down as he padded towards the front entrance.

 

“OH!” Seokjin exclaimed upon seeing the boy step into the hallway. “You’re back,” he slurred, a small smile on his face. With clumsy steps the older boy approached the younger, leaning close in an attempt to place a kiss on the other’s cheek. But Seokjin reeked of alcohol, and if there was one thing Taehyung despised (particularly when he was already in a sour mood) it was alcohol. And so with a terse hand he pushed away Seokjin’s advances, face already dark and sullen.

 

“Why are you back so late,” he mumbled. “Drinking again. Who were you drinking with?”

 

“Friends,” Seokjin answered, an evident look of hurt across his face. But he was trying, trying his best to pretend the little shove from Taehyung didn’t mean any harm.

 

“Which friends,” Taehyung demanded. The older boy ran a hand through his hair, hair that was falling rebelliously into his eyes and refusing to stay put.

 

“Which. Ones.”

 

“Namjoon.”

 

“So not friends. Just one friend.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“The one friend that you know I’m NOT okay with.”

“Taehyung-ah, what’s with you?” Seokjin asked, a slight edge in his voice now. “I don’t get why he’s problematic—“

 

“The way he looks at you.”

 

“You mean the way he looks at his boyfriend? He’s dating someone, Taehyung-ah—“

 

“If he could have you he would.”

 

“Yah, I really—“ He grabbed the younger boy by the wrist, gently pulling him closer despite being met with resistance. “You just got back from your trip. I really don’t want to start off with a fight.” Taehyung was looking at the ground, at the wall, anywhere but at his hyung in front of him. “How was London?”

 

“Really not a great idea to change the subject when I’m pissed,” Taehyung snapped.

 

It was like a flip had switched. Seokjin raised his eyebrows in disbelief, the composure he was desperately holding onto relinquished. “Listen. I’ve had a long day too. You think you’re the only one having a hard time? I stayed at the office till 3AM last night, went back at 6AM this morning. My subordinates are driving me up a wall. The whole team is out of control and I’m the only one trying to keep it together. And so what if Namjoon happened to be free tonight and wanted to catch up? Is that such a crime?”

 

“Yes, but of all people why HIM . You know exactly how I feel.”

 

Taehyung could never look Seokjin in the eye when they were arguing, but Seokjin could. And so as a moment of uncomfortable silence passed between the two, Seokjin stared long and hard at the stubborn boy standing across from him, the boy with hot pools of tears spinning in his eyes.

 

“Taehyung. I can’t help but think no matter who I would’ve met with today you’d still be angry at me. You’re not angry at what I’ve done. You’re just angry at me.”

 

“No.”

 

“Yes you are. And it drives me crazy because there’s nothing I can do—“

 

“It’s when you show up like this, ” Taehyung cried, waving his hand up and down at Seokjin, “That I ask myself when was the last time you gave a FUCK about us? You care about EVERYTHING more than me. Work, friends, Namjoon...”

 

“Would you CUT IT with the Namjoon bullshit?” Seokjin growled. “And you know that every time I try to be there for you you push me away?”

 

“What are you talking about? You’re never here anymore,” Taehyung retorted, voice cracking.

 

“Is it my fault?” With one hand on his hip and the other clutching at his messy hair, he swiveled away from Taehyung to face the wall instead. He was usually quite the expert at hiding his emotions, but perhaps it was the alcohol in his system that night; it was as if a dam had broken. “It’s been fucking hard lately,” he whispered. “You know that. But I still looked forward to you coming home today. And then it turns out like this. I’m exhausted.”

 

“You. Weren’t. Here.”

 

When Seokjin turned back around, Taehyung was crying.

 

“Tae...”

 

“I. Showed. Up.” His voice was shaking. “But you. Weren’t. Here.”

 

Seokjin was always the first to apologize; his face which just moments ago was flushed with fury and hot liquor quickly withered to milk and honey at the sight of fresh tears down Taehyung’s face.

 

“I’m here now,” he whispered, his hand hesitantly reaching for the other’s. “I’m here now. Sorry. Let’s just go to bed and forget about all this.”

 

But Taehyung moved his hand away with lightning speed, his body trembling. “Hyung. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve been through this.”

 

In the deafening silence that ensued, Seokjin tried for a second, third, a fourth time to grab a hold of Taehyung’s hand, only to grasp onto nothing.

 

“I’m tired. I’m so tired of this.”

 

“Then let’s just go to bed.”

 

Through choking sobs: “I’m tired, Jin.”

 

“Let’s talk about our days,” he persisted with determination. “The good and the bad. You can tell me everything. It’s been such a long time since we’ve done this, you’ve been away for so long—“

 

“Stop.”

 

Another bout of deafening silence, except this time the weight that it carried was especially telling. Usually this far into the argument Taehyung would’ve either exploded or given in. But that night he resorted to neither option. He was shattered into pieces.

 

“Let’s break up.”

 

The heaviness hung in the kitchen air like a wet rag, suffocating them both as Taehyung sniffled through his tears and Seokjin’s long fingers balled into fists. The word “breakup” had been brought up twice before, but on both occasions, the moment the notion was mentioned they’d ran towards each other and showered one another with forgiveness. This time the several feet between the two felt more like miles.

 

With glassy eyes and pursed lips, Seokjin whispered in response, “Whatever you want, my love.”

 

Taehyung’s head shot up from the ground, breath catching in his throat.

 

With a swift motion Seokjin grabbed his keys from the counter and strode towards the front entrance.

 

“I’ll leave you alone.”

 

From the same place in the kitchen, Taehyung watched in numbing shock as the older boy’s backside disappeared from view with the slam of the door.

 

In the safety of solitude he crumbled to the floor, knees buckling to the cold kitchen tiles. He lay sprawl-eagled on the ground, tears sliding across his skin and dripping into his hair, his ears. And when he finally thought he could rightly die from the pain, he fumbled for his phone and dialed Park Jimin’s number.

 

“Hyung,” he cried. “We broke up.”

 

Within no more than half an hour his best friend was laying next to him on the kitchen floor, bringing only a quiet companionship and nothing more, nothing less.

 

---

 

The doctor was right. It did feel like smoke. Like exhaling smoke from the very bottom of your lungs and watching it disappear into thin air.

 

Why didn’t you fight for me.

 

*****

 

INCOMPATIBLE

 

It was true that he woke up the next morning as if a heavy weight had lifted from his chest. He certainly slept better, more than the four hours of rest he was accustomed to for the past month. But the moment Taehyung’s eyes drifted to the empty space in his bed and the blue mark on his arm his heart nearly dropped to his stomach.

 

He walked into the office forty five minutes late that morning with swollen eyes, cumbersome steps, a broken heart all over again.

 

It was during his lunch hour that he stepped out of the building, retreated to a small alleyway on a side street, and hastily dialed Jimin’s number.

 

“Hyung,” Taehyung mumbled, biting on the inside of his cheek to hold back another wave of tears threatening to pull him under. “I think Jin and I broke up.”

 

“I know,” Jimin answered gently on the other line. “I was with you the night that it happened.”

 

“You were?”

 

“Yes, my love. You were not alone.”

 

“Why would we—“

 

“You had your reasons. It’s not something you need to think about anymore.”

 

“When did this happen?”

 

“About a month ago. Listen—Tae, I can hear you crying again. Listen. It’s going to feel like you’re going backwards for a while. But at the end you’ll only be going up from here.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Trust me.”

 

---

 

The fights at the end were particularly nasty. And so as Taehyung released each memory there came some relief in the otherwise swellings of pain.

 

They didn’t always fight like this. In fact for the first eight, nine months of their relationship, they hardly fought at all. Only little quarrels and bickerings here and there, peppered in between moments of love and adoration that more than made up for it.

 

Taehyung admittedly was usually the one to start their arguments, finding himself unable to control his myriad of emotions. The moment he allowed anger to seep into his blood it ran wild through his veins. And while Seokjin at first tried his best to combat the disorder, in time he began drawing further and further away, building a wall brick by brick until neither could see unto the other side.

 

Their first serious fight came as a shock to them both. It began in public, of all places, in the middle of a shopping plaza. Try as he might, Taehyung couldn’t remember what had even started the argument. The train ride home was painfully silent, and the explosion happened the moment they stepped through the front door. Taehyung knew he was the one who ignited the fire, but in the hysteria, amongst the screaming and yelling and slamming, Taehyung secretly hoped that Seokjin would be the one to put it out.

 

It was the first time in their picture-perfect relationship that Seokjin wasn’t backing down; he wasn’t apologizing, wasn’t relenting.

 

And that night as Taehyung gingerly climbed under the bedsheets, Seokjin resorted to the couch in the living room instead, his long legs dangling over the armrest, a flimsy blanket draped over his stomach. After three hours of restless tossing and turning, it was Taehyung who tiptoed into the living room, climbing over Seokjin’s body to lay down behind the boy. The space could barely contain one, let alone the two of them.

 

The older boy hadn’t been able to sleep a wink either. His eyes fluttered open as he felt the younger nuzzling his face into the crook of his neck, felt his tentative arms snake around the small of his waist.

 

“Sorry,” Taehyung whispered.

 

Immediately Seokjin turned over onto his other side so that the two were nose to nose. It was evident even in the inky blackness that both looked absolutely relieved to make up and move on. The clock ticked to 3:00AM as Taehyung closed the gap between the two and planted soft kisses: one, for starting the fight; two, for not saying sorry earlier; three kisses, for Seokjin to forgive him and love him despite it all.

 

“Let’s go to bed,” Taehyung whispered, his lips brushing languidly against Seokjin’s cheek.

 

“Mmm,” he replied.

 

But exhaustion quickly overtook them both, and they ended up falling asleep on that tiny sofa, only waking up the next morning by the sound of Seokjin’s alarm.

 

What did they fight about in the end? He grappled at the root of it, wrestled with it, tortured himself as one by one each memory left him to another world. Taehyung carefully contemplated all the possible factors. Maybe it was when his department hired a new director in the fall and work began to consume him. Perhaps it was his jealousy that had festered over the year like a slow burn, eventually setting the relationship on fire. Or could it have been that living together was a bad idea? The two, when it came down to it, were fundamentally very different people. Taehyung was a bit wild, unhinged, emotional. Seokjin was calm, meticulous, simple. “The two of you…” Jimin mused one day to Taehyung. “Are actually quite incompatible.” His best friend burst out laughing at the thought. “Very incompatible. But my God, it’s magnetic. There’s nothing that can be done. You will always find your way back to each other.”

 

He couldn’t recall the reasons; only the aftermath. All that was burned into his mind was the look of exasperation across Seokjin’s face, the inexplicable rage that scorched through his own veins.

 

If I can’t remember, maybe it’s because it didn’t matter.

 

And the truth of that realization was positively crippling.

 

*****

 

PROMISE

 

With every new evening and morning came both relief and confusion and heartbreak all over again, like being battered by waves. Perhaps what cut him the deepest was the certain absence of Seokjin. Waking up alone and knowing that he’d be going home to an empty apartment again. And knowing that at the end of the day, another portion of the slate would be wiped clean, the reset button pressed, and the next day would inevitably come.

 

Halfway through the week, Taehyung arose to a cruel morning where only the good memories remained and the empty bed stared him hard in the face.

 

Seokjin had a habit of buying multiple cartons of ice cream in succession and never really finishing any of them. He’d scoop out the top third of it in one sitting, toss the carton in the freezer, then forget about it entirely and go out scouting for new ones. “Hyung, we’re running out of room,” Taehyung cried one day as he peered into the freezer that was threatening to overflow. “Hyung—“ It was a bad coincidence that Seokjin happened to be standing right behind him in that moment, plastic bag in tow with—Taehyung sighed—another carton of cookies and cream ice cream. A half eaten carton of the very same flavor sat innocently on the top shelf.

 

“Hyung!” Taehyung groaned, trying his best to stifle laughter.

 

“Sorry, Tae. Help me finish that one first.”

 

On most summer nights they’d take their ice cream out onto the balcony, prop their feet up against the railing and pair it with a dessert wine to boot. Taehyung liked to watch the sky fade from blue to lavender to black, liked to watch the lights of the neighboring houses flicker on in the dark. The two lived far from a glamorous life; Taehyung’s apartment was miniscule or “cozy” as they’d call it, with barely enough room for one, let alone two grown men. But in moments like this on their humble little balcony, Taehyung couldn’t help but feel like king of the world.

 

“Hyung, you’re hogging,” Taehyung whined impatiently. “Give me some.”

 

“Okay,” Seokjin replied matter-of-factly before grabbing Taehyung by the cheeks and planting a messy kiss on his mouth.

 

“AISH!” The younger cried, nevertheless licking his lips and relishing in the sweetness. “You’re annoying.”

 

“You like it.”

 

It was late summer, end of August when their AC suddenly stopped working. Taehyung walked into the apartment after work one evening to a stifling heat that sent his head spinning. Moments later, Seokjin followed suit, walking through the front door to see Taehyung tinkering furiously with the broken unit.

 

“Let me call a mechanic,” Seokjin mumbled, sweat dripping from his brow. “This looks hopeless.”

 

They had planned to stay in that evening and cook a quick dinner, then catch up on the latest episode of the drama they were watching. But the heat was like a thick blanket in the room, one that Taehyung in particular was suffocating under. He lugged over their rotating floor fan and planted it directly in front of himself on the highest speed, then reached for his handheld fan and aimed it inches from his face as well.

“Hyung, I can’t do this,” he mumbled desperately as he watched Seokjin give the AC one last look-over.

 

“You’re melting, Tae.”

 

“I’m literally going to die.”

 

“Well we can’t let that happen, can we?”

 

“Certainly not.”

 

“How about we go to the mall and grab dinner there? Should be nice and cool.”

 

“Ready when you are.”

 

Their apartment thankfully was mere steps away from the train station, and the train was a direct route to the nearby shopping center. Taehyung stood directly underneath the air vent, fanning at his shirt and staring at the reader board displaying the upcoming subway stops.

 

It was to Seokjin’s surprise when the younger suddenly turned towards him with a bit of a glint in his eye.

 

“Hyung. Let’s get off at the next stop.”

 

“Why? We still have three more to go...”

 

“Just hear me out—“

 

The train had already come to a screeching halt at said station, and Taehyung was already making his way towards the door, eagerly tugging at Seokjin’s hand to follow. He had no choice.

 

“This is the train station...”

 

Taehyung came to a screeching halt in the middle of the platform, whipping around to face Seokjin. “Let’s go to Busan.”

 

“W-what?”

 

“We can make the last train. Let’s go to Busan. I want to see the ocean.”

 

The two stood in the center of a throng of commuters and travelers, weaving in and out and around them as Seokjin stared in shock at the bright-eyed boy awaiting his response.

 

“Well?”

 

“Well if you want to see the ocean, then we must,” Seokjin responded, a smile creeping onto his face.

 

Within seconds they were tearing through the crowd, dashing up the escalator and into the train station, making a run for the ticket booth where much to their delight they were able to purchase two one-way tickets to Busan.

 

“How are we getting back? When are we coming back?”

 

“We’ll worry about that later.”

 

“What’s the plan when we get there?” Seokjin asked as the two of them settled into their seats, Taehyung by the window and Seokjin beside him next to the aisle.

 

“I have no idea,” Taehyung chuckled.

 

The last train was relatively empty, save for the occasional lone business traveler. And so it was the perfect opportunity for the two of them to stir up a riot; Seokjin cracking his usual jokes, Taehyung allowing himself to laugh as loudly as he wanted to.

 

“The ocean. The ocean. Hyung, the ocean.” He peered out the train window at the surrounding darkness and the certain sight of waves battering the shore in the far distance.

 

The moment the two of them descended onto the beach, Taehyung’s shirt was already halfway off of his head. “Taehyung-ah!” Seokjin cried, laughing so hard it was difficult to breathe. By the time Seokjin was shirtless Taehyung was already waist-deep in the water.

 

In the late August evening on the empty shore of Busan they swam further into the sea, pummeled by high tide but persisting forward, saltwater infiltrating their every inch and being. “Hyung,” Taehyung yelled over the sound of the waves, pointing up at the night sky at the sea of stars above them.

 

“Cool enough now?” Seokjin bellowed in response.

 

Taehyung nodded, the biggest and boxiest grin spreading across his face.

 

“Hyung.” The two were bobbing in the water like apples now, squinting in the inky blackness to find one another. “Hyung, you think we’ll still be doing stuff like this? When we’re old and grey?”

 

Seokjin’s eyes widened upon realizing what Taehyung might be implying.

 

“I hope so, Tae.”

 

Even like this, with wet hair falling into his eyes, Seokjin was beautiful. They were treading several feet apart, following the rhythm of the waves, otherwise unmoving. And when Seokjin smiled in Taehyung’s direction, it was as if the older boy was seeing him for the first time. It was that look alone that had Taehyung’s heart racing.

 

“I hope...” The younger ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. “I hope we still have dates like this when we’re—“

 

“When we’re what?”

 

A bout of silence fell over the two as Taehyung broke into a shy smile, glancing up at the stars before quietly slipping under the water.

 

“YAH! Kim Taehyung!”

 

More silence. Seokjin scanned all around at the deserted expanse of ocean and sand, at the never ending horizon before him and a sleepy city behind him. For a brief and haunting moment, he was truly alone; until he felt a hand suddenly grab at his ankles, causing him to let out a blood curdling scream, despite already knowing exactly who the culprit was.

 

“YOU PUNK—“

 

“Married.”

 

They were mere inches apart now, Taehyung having resurfaced from the water, his arms wrapped around Seokjin’s neck, legs wrapped around his waist.

 

His kiss tasted like salt, his eyes contained the stars.

 

“Are you proposing?” Seokjin asked, gently pushing back Taehyung’s sopping wet hair out of his eyes.

 

“I don’t have a ring,” Taehyung mumbled sheepishly.  

 

“Let me do it properly,” Seokjin insisted. “I’ll save up money. We’ll really make this happen.”

 

“You could literally—I’m not joking—take a piece of tin foil and fold it into a ring and I would still say yes.”

 

Seokjin threw his head back in laughter. “You say that now but you’ll beat me up if I actually do that.”

 

“I’m serious. If I can just have you in the end, that’s all I really care about.”

 

“Listen, Tae. It’s important for me to do it right. It’s something you’re gonna have for the rest of your life.”

 

“So is that a yes?” Taehyung asked, eyes sparkling as bright as the stars above them, pressing his forehead to Seokjin’s in eager anticipation.

 

“Taehyung-ah. What do you think I’m doing in the middle of the ocean, 12AM on a weeknight? If I’m not madly in love with you then I must just be mad.”

 

*****

 

MINE

 

Taehyung had to call out of work on Wednesday morning.

 

He didn’t get out of bed until 3:00PM that day. He simply lay there, staring at the ceiling, tears soaking the sheets, eyes flitting between his forearm and the piece of paper sitting innocently on his nightstand.

 

Why would I want to forget you.

 

At 7:00PM, there was a familiar knock on the door. With sad and careful steps Taehyung approached the front entrance and peered through the peep-hole. It was Jimin and Jungkook; Jimin wearing his office clothes, and Jungkook swallowed by his favorite oversized hoodie. Taehyung guessed that he probably skipped classes again that day.

 

“Open up, pabo! We brought you dinner.”

 

With a twist of the knob the front door flung open, and the two stepped into the home as if it was theirs. They plopped the plastic bag down onto the kitchen table, then grabbed an extra chair from the bedroom so the three of them could all sit down and eat together.

 

“Have you eaten at all today?” Jimin nagged. “I tried calling you at noon and you didn’t pick up, you punk.”

 

“Yes,” Taehyung lied meekly, the corners of his lips tugging into an unconvincing smile.

 

“Liar,” Jungkook mumbled, grabbing Taehyung’s box and placing it in front of him. “Eat while we’re watching.”

 

It was nice, Taehyung admitted, to have the apartment filled with noise and sound and laughter again. Jimin scrolled through the music app on his phone, settling for a generic Top 50 playlist, all the while bickering with Jungkook about God knows what. As dejected as Taehyung was feeling, his heart warmed at the simple presence of his friends.

 

“Thank you,” Taehyung muttered with sincerity, opening up his box to a steaming helping of jajangmyun.

 

“Look who’s being nice to me now,” Jungkook chuckled.

 

The three ate at the tiny round table, often having to scoot their chairs aside if one of them wanted to grab something from the fridge or extra utensils from the cabinet. And when the food was demolished (which didn’t take long), Jimin from out of nowhere pulled out a bottle of red wine, sending Taehyung in a frenzy of “no no no.”

 

“Come on, Tae. Just a little bit. To relax. It’ll help.”

 

“Chugging contest,” Jungkook suggested with a glint in his eye.

 

“We are not going to do that—”

 

“Okay,” Taehyung agreed unexpectedly.

 

By the end of the bottle, Jimin and Jungkook seemed to be holding up just fine; Jimin swirling the remnants of the wine in his glass, Jungkook draining the last drop of cabernet into his mouth. But Taehyung had reached another level in the process. While there was still some alcohol left in his cup, he could hardly keep his head up from the table, face flushed and eyes heavy with drunkenness.

 

“Why did we break up?” He whispered, interrupting the momentary silence that had fallen over the threesome.

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this,” Jimin whispered to Jungkook, a look of concern across his face.

 

“It’s okay,” Jungkook replied matter-of-factly. “He needs to get this off his chest. And besides, he won’t remember by tomorrow morning. His most recent memories of Jin hyung will be erased, including this conversation.”

 

“Why?” Taehyung demanded, long fingers wrapping around the stem of his glass.

 

“You were both in a bad place,” Jungkook responded gently.

 

“Who did it?”

 

“Did what?”

 

“Who broke it off?”

 

“You did, hyung.”

 

It was as if Taehyung was in complete disbelief at this statement. He propped himself upright from the table, tilting his head sideways, then shaking it profusely.

 

“Impossible. I would never leave him.”

 

“It was mutual, hyung.”

 

Silence as Taehyung continued shaking his head, chewing on his lip in total denial.

 

“What happened to him after we broke up?”

 

“Well…” Jungkook glanced at Jimin for a nod of approval to continue. “Jin hyung actually came to my apartment the night you guys ended it. He was a mess.” Taehyung was nodding now, his eyes glazed over with a faraway look. “I don’t want to say he’s doing better. But you know how he is. He doesn’t exactly show how he feels.”

 

“But you’re his best friend,” Taehyung pressed. “Doesn’t he tell you things?”

 

Jungkook shook his head. “Not even me. He’a a closed book.”

 

“What’s the last thing you remember about Jin hyung?” Jimin asked, his curiosity piqued. He knew he was perhaps dipping into a dangerous territory, but if talking with Taehyung about it could somehow relieve him of his torment, it was better to discuss it openly.

 

“My most recent memory of him?” He asked, his voice cracking.

 

---

 

It was the day Seokjin moved into Taehyung’s apartment.

 

Seokjin had a great apartment close to Gangnam that, much to his friends’ protests, he gave up in order to live with Taehyung. Taehyung lived close to the Han River and, if you peered through his living room window at a very specific angle you could catch a glimpse of it. And despite the pitiful size of the space, Taehyung was undeniably attached to the place. And so Seokjin ended up being the one to pack up his belongings and move in.

 

There happened to be a flash flood on moving day. It was as if the sky opened up like a giant bucket, rainwater gathering at their ankles as they struggled to move box after box up the stairs and into the unit. By the time the last box was plopped onto the floor, the two were heaving from exhaustion, soaked from the rainstorm, and laughing their brains out.

 

“Should we start unpacking?” Seokjin asked, knowing full well what Taehyung’s answer would be.

 

“No. That can wait until tomorrow.”

 

Their priorities were certainly in order; a shower followed by hot food, a simple but wholly satisfying reward for their hard work that day. As the storm continued to rage on outside, inside was quite the opposite; warm and quiet, like a sanctuary.

 

They had cooked together hundreds of times already, but this was their first meal as a couple living together. Was there an official term for it? Roommates? That didn’t quite suffice. Regardless of their new title or lack thereof, Taehyung was positively giddy at the thought of it.

 

Per their usual routine they peered into the fridge and pulled out whatever ingredients they thought could possibly go well together. No recipe, no agenda. And as Taehyung chopped up the vegetables and Seokjin began boiling the water, the younger could hardly take his eyes off his hyung.

 

“Watch it, Tae. You’re going to cut yourself.”

 

“Watch what, you?”

 

“I’m serious. If you chop off your fingers I’m not helping, you’re on your own.”

 

Taehyung chuckled sheepishly before finishing the last of his chopping duties, then promptly set down his knife and swiveled his body to face Seokjin, leaning in towards the elder so their faces were just inches apart.

 

“What?” Seokjin asked, pretending to focus on the water but a smile creeping onto his lips.

 

“I can’t believe you’re all mine.”

 

“What are you saying,” Seokjin mumbled, again trying to maintain his poise but failing miserably. “I’ve always been yours, Tae.”

 

“But it’s real now.”

 

When the meal was completed and plated, the two migrated to the living room, where they planted themselves on the couch just in time for the new episode of the drama they were monitoring. Per usual they yelled and cursed at the television, particularly at any scene between the two very stubborn and frustrating protagonists.

 

“JUST KISS HER YOU COWARD!” Seokjin bellowed.

 

“IT’S BEEN TEN EPISODES ALREADY!” Taehyung screeched.

 

And when the meal was consumed and the episode came to a dramatic close, it was like clockwork; Seokjin released a long sigh, stretching his limbs like a cat before reclining on his back. Taehyung followed suit, climbing on top of Seokjin and laying with his face buried into Seokjin’s neck. The storm outside had relented now, reduced to a gentle drizzle against the window pane.

 

“I can do this for the rest of my life,” Taehyung confessed sleepily.

 

“Me too,” Seokjin whispered, his hand lazily stroking the back of Taehyung’s head.

 

“I don’t know why, but—” Taehyung folded his arms across Seokjin’s chest and rested his head on top of his hands. “We’ve done this so many times, but it feels so special this time. Am I crazy?”

 

“No, you’re not,” Seokjin agreed, playfully pinching Taehyung’s cheek. “I’ll never forget this day.”

 

---

 

It was the memory that Taehyung had replayed in his mind a hundred times, laying in bed until 3:00PM.

 

On move in day, Seokjin had brought box upon box of his belongings into Taehyung’s home: boxes filled with his clothes and art and various knick-knacks. But as a drunken Taehyung surveyed his apartment now, none of those items were to be found.

 

“He moved everything out, didn’t he?” Taehyung mumbled, tears pooling once more in his eyes.

 

“I did most of it,” Jungkook spoke up. “He was...well you can understand why.”

 

“Sure.”

 

Silence.

 

“Taehyung. Jungkook and I can sleepover tonight. So you’re not alone.”

 

“Okay.” The tears were now sliding down his jawline and dripping onto the table.

 

“You want to set up a fort in the living room, like we used to in college?” Jimin suggested, a small smile on his face.

 

Taehyung nodded, wiping his cheeks with the back of his sleeve. “Will-will I forget all of this tomorrow morning?”

 

Jimin nodded.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Why are you sorry.”

 

“That I won’t remember what you’ve done for me.”

 

“Taehyung-ah. I’ll be here for you for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not.”

 

“What he said. And stop crying and build me a fort,” Jungkook smirked.

 

---

 

It was a devastatingly tiny tent, propped up by kitchen chairs and covered by old bedsheets. And as Taehyung lay sandwiched between the two boys, feeling the rising and falling of their chests by his side, listening to the light sounds of Jimin’s snoring, he slowly, slowly let go of the memory, breathing it out like smoke.

 

“Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung whispered, hoping that the boy was still awake.

 

“Mmm?” He responded, caught in between reality and dreamland.

 

“How is he doing? Really, how is he?”

 

“What answer do you want to hear? That he’s okay or he’s not?”

 

“I don’t want him to feel even a fraction of the pain I’m going through.”

 

A pause.

 

“He will be okay.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And you will too.”

 

The memory is gone.

 

*****

 

IGNORANCE IS BLISS

 

He woke up the next morning on the living room floor, alone, but keen to the voices floating in from his kitchen. Slowly sitting up and peering outside of the makeshift fort, he spotted Jimin in the odd combination of just his glasses and his boxers, sitting at the kitchen table eating toast for breakfast. Jungkook was already fully dressed in the same hoodie as the day before.

 

“You’re not skipping class again, are you?” He could hear Jimin chuckle as he held onto Jungkook’s hand.

 

“I’m going today,” Jungkook answered. “I swear.”

 

“Okay. Text me when you’re done.”

 

“Okay,” Jungkook promised, leaning down to give Jimin a quick peck. “Love you.”

 

“Love you more.”

 

“Don’t even start with me, I will—oh, hyung! You’re awake.”

 

“How are you feeling, Taehyung-ah?” Jimin asked, peering into the living room.

 

“I’ve got a headache,” Taehyung muttered as he rubbed at his temples. “Did I drink last night?”

 

“You sure did,” Jungkook and Jimin answered in unison.

 

Mornings became incredibly disorienting; it was difficult to reconcile the timeline within his mind and the timeline of reality. Taehyung glanced at the little blue mark on his forearm and swallowed down the lump in his throat.

 

“Jimin hyung,” Taehyung whispered.

 

Wordlessly and shirtlessly, Jimin rose from his seat at the table and lowered himself to the floor next to his best friend, wrapping his arms around the boy’s shoulders. “It’s almost over.”

 

---

 

His coworkers noticed his zombie-like state and eventually the little blue mark on his arm. “Yongsan clinic is the best,” his teammate commented, nodding in approval. “My cousin used them last year. Glowing reviews.”

 

“That’s nice.”

 

Perhaps being that it was a Thursday and somewhat closer to the weekend, his coworkers were notably chatty that morning. On a normal basis Taehyung would be in the center of the chaos, but in his justified misery he had no heart to play along. He excused himself to partake in lunch alone, opting to visit the coffee shop below his office building, banking on the fact that the barista would likely slip him free food again.

 

The coffee shop was crowded for the lunch hour rush, as a good five or six people stood ahead of Taehyung in line. One person in particular stood in front of the menu just to the right of the cue, mulling over the various options.

 

“Excuse me, are you in line?”

 

“Hi—”

 

The person in question turned around at the tap on his shoulder and widened his eyes upon seeing Taehyung.

 

“OH! T-Taehyung!”

 

Come to think of it, the man standing before him looked incredibly familiar. Tall with long, lanky legs and floppy hair, dressed in rather casual fashion of loose pants and a baggy shirt. “You...we’ve met, haven’t we?” Taehyung asked, an inquisitive smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

 

“It’s...it’s me. Namjoon.” The self-proclaimed Namjoon was giving Taehyung a peculiar look, one of utter confusion and exasperation.

 

Taehyung couldn’t remember when, where, or how him and this supposed Namjoon had met, but it was certain that they had crossed paths before.

 

“Good to see you again,” Taehyung grinned, pretending as if he’d remembered. “Sorry, were you in line?”

 

“I, uh...yeah. Yeah, still deciding.”

 

“Their vanilla latte is really good,” Taehyung recommended. “It’s sweet, doesn’t even taste like coffee.”

 

“I’ll try that, sure.”

 

The awkwardness hanging in the air was thick enough to slice with a knife. And while Namjoon seemed to be genuinely perplexed by Taehyung’s pleasantry, Taehyung was in turn perplexed as to why Namjoon was perplexed.

 

It was while Namjoon was glancing down at his phone that he noticed the blue mark on Taehyung’s arm.

 

“How...how’ve you been these days?” Namjoon asked tentatively.

 

Taehyung sighed. “Better, I’ve been better. You?”

 

“Can’t complain. AH! I don’t know if you’ve met my boyfriend?” The two were suddenly joined by a gentleman who had just walked through the coffee shop doors. “This is my boyfriend, Hoseok.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Hoseok smiled brightly, extending his hand to Taehyung.

 

“Kim Tae—” It was Taehyung’s turn to widen his eyes in surprise. “Wait a minute…”

 

“Taehyungie?” Hoseok exclaimed, his eyes practically glittering.

 

“HYUNG!”

 

“Yah, what are the odds?” Hoseok exclaimed, giving the younger boy a loud clap on the back. “What a small world, my God. What are you doing in Seoul?”

 

“I work in this office building. You?”

 

“I moved here a couple months ago for work,” Hoseok chattered excitedly. “I’m producing music these days, actually. And you?”

 

“Design. For a tech company. Nothing exciting.”

 

“Well look at you, hotshot. Namjoon-ah, Taehyung and I went to the same middle school.”

 

“Oh, no way!”

 

“Yea, and we used to play basketball at lunch. Tae was a beast. You still play?”

 

“No,” Taehyung shook his head. “I’m rusty.”

 

“Well that’s okay. You can pick it back up in no time, I’m sure.”

 

“We’ll see about that. I’m getting old, hyung. 25 going on 26.”

 

“I’m 27. You’re one to talk.”

 

“Let’s all get lunch sometime?” Taehyung suggested as they neared the register. “Catch up. It’s been too long.”

 

“Of course, we have to. You gotta tell me everything.”

 

Namjoon indeed ordered a vanilla latte. Two, in fact. One for himself and one for his boyfriend Jung Hoseok. Taehyung watched in mild envy as Namjoon threw an affectionate arm around Hoseok’s shoulder.

 

“We’ve gotta go. But it was good seeing you,” Namjoon commented with a soft smile on his face. “Take care of yourself, Taehyung.”

 

“Yes, yes. And you the same.”

 

It was a lovely surprise indeed, to bump into not one but two old friends at once. A bit of a silver lining in his otherwise lackluster day.

 

“You’re back, Tae,” the barista remarked, handing him his usual drink and slipping him a bag with a sandwich inside. “Thought you ditched us for good.”

 

“No, no,” he smiled. “You can’t get rid of me so easily.”

 

*****

 

A MATTER OF TIME

 

The first time Seokjin said “I love you,” was an accident. Because of an accident. Taehyung got hit by a car.

 

It wasn’t a serious case, as far as accidents come. Taehyung had just gotten a promotion at work to Head Designer, which had the boy floating; no, dancing on cloud nine. It was as he was leaving the office that he called Seokjin to tell him the good news.

 

“Hyung, I got the promotion.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“I did, I-”

 

It happened as he was practically skipping across the street, mid-sentence that his phone dropped to the ground with a ringing clang, followed by the inevitable flurry of chaos; the sounds of muffled screaming, crying, car doors slamming, hurried footsteps.

 

Seokjin had assumed the absolute worst.

 

He tried dialing Taehyung’s number over and over again, perhaps for ten minutes straight until the other line finally picked up. Not by Taehyung, but by the voice of a woman, presumably that of an EMC personnel. Seokjin was in a taxi, halfway to Taehyung’s office when the woman advised him to meet at the hospital instead.

 

“Turn the cab around,” Seokjin bellowed.

 

The first words out of Seokjin’s mouth upon bursting through Taehyung’s hospital room doors were “YAH. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

 

“Hyung—”

 

“YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME,” he continued yelling, his eyes glassy as he approached Taehyung perched on the edge of the hospital bed.

 

“Hyung, I’m fine—”

 

“WHY DIDN’T YOU LOOK WHILE CROSSING THE STREET?!” He was now standing directly in front of the boy, one hand clutching his backside as if it were in great pain, his chest rising and falling rapidly, hair windblown and a complete mess, eyes still teary and threatening to overflow at any moment. Taehyung had never seen the calm and collected Seokjin in such a frenzied state before.

 

“It was the ONE TIME I didn’t look that I got hit, I’m not thrilled either!” Taehyung cried, trying his best to stifle his laughter.

 

“I LITERALLY THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD UNTIL TEN MINUTES AGO.”

 

“I’m fine, hyung…” Taehyung let out a giggle.

 

“God I love you, but you drive me CRAZY.”

 

Taehyung’s chuckling came to an immediate stop. “Wait what.”

 

“Are you hurt?” Seokjin asked, reaching out a hand to graze the bandages around Taehyung’s arm.

 

“N-no. Just uh...some little scrapes…”

 

“Let me see.”

 

“I told you,” Taehyung mumbled meekly as Seokjin examined his arms and legs. He seemed to have only sustained injuries from falling against the pavement and nothing more. “The car was going slow.”

 

“Thank God,” Seokjin muttered to himself, quietly releasing a sigh of relief. “You ready to go? You’re okay to walk?”

 

“I’m perfectly fine. I just need a new phone.” His cell phone if anything had sustained the most damage from the incident, a large crack stretching across the front of the screen.

 

“Okay. Let’s go.”

 

From the relatively silent car ride to the mobile store, Taehyung couldn’t stop fidgeting, stealing glances in Seokjin’s direction. For the most part Seokjin remained rather stoic, staring straight ahead at the road, swimming in his thoughts, the tips of his ears a subtle pink.

 

He had taken a while to select his new phone at the store, chit chatting with the employees about unrelated topics in the process. When they finally climbed into a taxi to head back to Taehyung’s apartment, Seokjin finally turned towards Taehyung to catch the boy staring at him.

 

“Are you okay?” Seokjin asked, interlacing their fingers together and bringing their hands into his own lap.

 

“Mhm.”

 

The dark apartment flooded with light as the two entered, laying down their bags and keys on the counter.

 

“I’m going to take a bath,” Taehyung announced.

 

“I’ll wait. I want to see you safely in bed before I leave.”

 

“I’m not going to get hit by a car in the bathroom, hyung.”

 

“At this point, I couldn’t be sure.”

 

When the boy emerged from the steamy bathroom twenty minutes later, he spotted Seokjin sitting on the edge of Taehyung’s bed, scrolling absentmindedly through his phone. He looked up from his screen the moment Taehyung entered the room.

 

“Hey,” Taehyung mumbled, tentatively approaching Seokjin until he was standing directly in front of his hyung. Without thinking Seokjin wrapped his arms tightly around Taehyung’s torso and buried his head into the boy’s stomach, his nose picking up the familiar scent of strawberries. “Hyung, can’t you stay?”

 

“I should get going,” he whispered, pulling away from the embrace and looking up at Taehyung. “We’re both tired.”

 

“So stay,” Taehyung urged. “Just stay.”

 

“I don’t have any of my things…”

 

“Just use mine.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Taehyung settled onto the bed and watched as Seokjin ambled over to his dresser, pulling open the middle drawer in search of a pair of pajamas for himself. “You know,” Seokjin began with an embarrassed chuckle. “When you dropped the phone and I heard all the noise in the background, I almost had a heart attack. I started screaming. Everyone in the office was looking at me. They probably think I’m crazy now.” With a swift motion he tore off his button down, then picked out an old tee shirt and pulled it over his head. “I was crying in public. The cab driver must’ve thought I escaped from an insane asylum—”

 

“You said you love me.”

Seokjin whipped around so quickly Taehyung feared he’d snapped his neck.

 

“What?”

 

“You said you loved me today.”

 

“I did?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“When?”

 

“Earlier in the hospital,” Taehyung responded, trying to steady his voice but failing. His heart was pounding wildly in his ears. And it didn’t help now that Seokjin was sitting close to him wearing his shirt, smelling like him ...he was both aroused and confused.

 

“When you...when you were yelling at me,” Taehyung stuttered, wringing his hands together underneath his blanket. “Remember?”

 

It was evident that Seokjin was nervous too, as he racked his brains concerning said incident. Taehyung waited with bated breath, watched as not only the tips of Seokjin’s ears turned a bright red, but his entire face, too.

 

“I think I remember now,” Seokjin spoke slowly and deliberately, eyes downcast to Taehyung’s long fingers fidgeting with the blanket.

 

Licking his lip, Taehyung pressed on courageously. “So when you said that…” He cleated this throat. “What did you mean?” And he prepared his heart for the worst.

 

“That I love you?” Seokjin asked shyly, finally looking up from the bed and into Taehyung’s eyes. “What else could I mean?” He laughed. “I guess I didn’t even realize I said it because…” He trailed off. “Because it’s something I don’t have to think about. I just know.”

 

He paused in his speech and glanced at Taehyung, chewing on his lip nervously as he awaited a response from the boy. “I’m sorry I sprung it on you. Especially in a situation like that.”

 

Taehyung merely nodded. “Okay.”

 

“Okay?” Seokjin repeated in disbelief. “OKAY?” He gave the boy a good shove. “Yah, that’s all I get for pouring my heart out?”

 

But without warning, Taehyung took the opportunity to grab Seokjin by the neck, tackling him down to the bed so that they were laying side by side, face to face.

 

“You don't know how long I’ve waited to hear you say that,” Taehyung whispered gleefully.

 

“For how long?”

 

“Since the second week we started dating.”

 

Seokjin laughed out loud, placing his hands on either side of Taehyung’s face. “Impossible.”

 

“No, really hyung. If I had said it back then I would’ve meant it wholeheartedly. I just didn’t want to look like an idiot.”

 

“It’s okay,” Seokjin whispered. “No one looks cool when they’re in love.”

 

The L word. It sounded like music and honey to their ears. And the way it sat on their tongue felt foreign, unfamiliar. But both were more than happy to embrace it and make it their own.

 

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” Taehyung repeated like a broken record. “Tell me when you start to get sick of it.”

 

“Never.”

 

“I can’t believe you love me too.”

 

“It was inevitable. It was only a matter of time.”

 

“Maybe I should get hit by a car again.”

 

“I’ll kill you myself before that happens.”

 

*****

 

I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU

 

Taehyung could write a book; no, a whole trilogy about why be loved Kim Seokjin.

 

Kim Seokjin was patient. Nothing seemed to phase him, anger him. If the food arrived late at the restaurant, so be it. In his eyes that only meant more time to chit chat, which was never a bad thing. If Taehyung was having a shit day and needed to vent, Seokjin was always at the ready, all ears and a bucket of ice cream.

 

Kim Seokjin was funny. He had a way of turning everything into a joke, which in some rare cases would backfire, but for the most part had Taehyung in stitches. There were days where they’d lay on the ground and simply laugh at the sound of each other’s laughter; Taehyung’s low and surly chuckle, Seokjin’s squeaky windshield wipers. Sometimes he’d laugh so loud in public spaces that heads would turn and Taehyung would have to hide his face in mild embarrassment.

 

Kim Seokjin was sacrificial. Taehyung loved the AC, while Seokjin admittedly hated it. Taehyung recalled one unseasonably warm spring night wherein he decided to keep the unit off for Seokjin’s sake, even if it meant he himself had to endure a sheen of sweat. He woke up the next morning quite comfortable but, much to his alarm, the familiar hum of the AC and a shivering Seokjin by his side.

 

Kim Seokjin had no pride. He was always the first to say sorry, even if it wasn’t his fault. There were times early in their relationship where Taehyung would pull on his strings just to get a reaction out of him. But Seokjin never played games in return. And over time Taehyung learned to do much the same.

 

And Kim Seokjin’s kisses; his kisses were divine, as if he was repenting. Like velvet, like red wine. Like they had all the time in the world. As if he were memorizing every curve, every line, every valley of Kim Taehyung.

 

*****

 

NO MORE GAMES

 

Jimin was right. The doctor was right. The process was messy.

 

There were frequent lapses in his memory, little things. Like when he opened his freezer door one day to find a whole row of half eaten ice cream cartons. “When did these all end up here?” He muttered to himself.

 

---

 

A small part of him felt bad about third wheeling all the time, but another part of him needed his friends desperately. Being alone in that apartment was driving him insane.

 

And yet any time he was with Jimin and Jungkook, he was itching for answers. He wanted to ask Jimin what had really happened between him and Seokjin, frame by frame. He wanted to pester Jungkook with the burning question: where is he now?

 

The three of them were lifting weights at the gym when Taehyung brought it up once again.

 

“I just need to know why it didn’t work out.”

 

“You don’t though,” Jimin retorted. “That’s the whole point.”

 

“Jungkook, I know you have his number,” Taehyung continued doggedly.

 

“Nope,” Jungkook lied.

 

“What’s your phone passcode? Your birthday? Jimin’s birthday? I’m going to find out.”

 

“Aish, hyung!” Jungkook snapped, lowering the dumbbell with a huff. “It’s really over, just let it go!”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You really want to know?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“He took the money he was saving for your engagement ring to put a down payment on an apartment in Yeouido.”

 

Taehyung’s eyes widened at the word “ring.” He was going to propose?

 

“But I—I thought he was living in Gangnam.”

 

Jungkook wrinkled his nose. “Gangnam? Oh, right. That was a long time ago. But then he eventually moved in with you, and then after the break up he crashed with me for a month or so, and now he’s on his own again.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Don’t look back, Taehyung,” Jimin urged gently. “Let everything go.”

 

---

 

They made it official in an arcade, of all places.

 

The two had been seeing each other exclusively for about a month before the deal was sealed. Seokjin took his time in moving the relationship forward, and while Taehyung thought he could rightly burst from impatience, he knew this boy would be worth waiting for.

 

It was post dinner and dessert, bleeding quite late into the evening on a Friday. The weather was just starting to cool, which meant Seokjin was wearing a chic looking leather jacket, Taehyung a just as trendy jean jacket. They traded their money for a bag full of tokens and went from one machine to the next. Seokjin was usually calm and collected, but he became almost animalistic when it came to these games. And while Taehyung too had a competitive spirit, he secretly loved seeing this crazy side of Kim Seokjin.

 

There was one last token left, one that they couldn’t use for anything, really. “You want this?” Taehyung asked, flipping the coin deftly between his fingers.

 

Seokjin eyed the coin with a small smirk on his face. “Sure, I’ll take it.” Taehyung dropped the coin into the palm of Seokjin’s hand. “Let’s play one last game.”

 

“But—”

 

“Not on the machines. Just you and me here.”

 

Taehyung raised his eyebrows. “Go on.”

 

Seokjin tapped the side of the coin with inscriptions on it. “Heads. We date.” Taehyung swallowed down the lump in his throat. “Tails…” Seokjin tapped the other side of the coin, the blank side. “We stay friends.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Ready?”

 

“Go for it.”

 

With a flick of the wrist he flung the coin in the air. Both sets of eyes followed it faithfully as it landed on the table with a clang and began spinning suspensefully on its side.

 

Come on, heads…

 

Tails.

 

They looked up from the coin at each other, a look of both amusement and bewilderment upon each other’s faces.

 

“Aw, that’s too bad,” Seokjin sighed dramatically, reaching for the coin. “I was hoping—”

 

But before he could grab a hold of the token, Taehyung’s lightning fast hand got a hold of it instead, promptly flipping the coin with a loud smack to the other side.

 

“Oh, would you look at that?” Taehyung smirked with great satisfaction. “Looks like we’re dating.”

 

To which Seokjin threw his head back in laughter, squeezing the boy’s hand.

 

Their first kiss was that night too.

 

Jimin gave Taehyung hell for not having kissed him yet. “It’s been weeks! What are you, in fifth grade?”

 

“Can you shut up and let me live?” Taehyung snapped back. “He’s hard to read, I don’t know what he’s thinking. Don’t want to attack him and scare him off.”

 

But finally on that night, on that fateful, long awaited night, the once murky waters were now crystal clear, and Taehyung had ascended to Heaven. Their fingers interlocked in the chilly evening, they took their time to walk back to Taehyung’s apartment, all the while with the younger boy babbling on the side.

 

“Are we dating? Are we really, actually dating?”

 

“Yes,” Seokjin repeated for what felt like the hundredth time.

 

“You’re not messing with me, right? It wasn’t just a game?”

 

“Yah, if I played those kind of jokes on you how cruel would I be?”

 

“So no?”

 

“No, Tae. I’m serious.”

 

“Okay. I just want to make sure.”

 

“We’re together.”

 

“Even though technically I cheated?”

 

They had just rounded the corner and were now standing under the awning of Taehyung’s apartment building, illuminated by a dim lamplight.

 

Seokjin laughed. “Well I’m glad you did. Otherwise we may not be here.”

 

But Taehyung didn’t seem to want to let it go, nor let him go. In the chilly evening he kept his hand firmly interlocked with the older boy’s.

 

“Go upstairs,” Seokjin urged. “You’re going to freeze out here.”

 

“I hate to ask again, but I just want to be 110% sure…”

 

It was then that Seokjin lost it. Without warning he took Taehyung’s face in his hands and leaned forwards, brushing their lips together before pulling away in a huff.

 

“You believe me now?”

 

Taehyung was grinning ear to ear now, donning his signature boxy smile. “I think so,” he whispered before going in for more; this time slower, more passionate, like fire on a hearth. To make up for the last three weeks.

 

He almost wished Jimin was there to witness it. The neighbors certainly may have, but he could care less what the world thought in that moment. For to him, Kim Seokjin became his world.

 

*****

 

WHY?

 

“What were we.”

 

“Friends.”

 

“Liar.”

 

“At least just think of it that way. Friends, maybe something a little more. But it just didn’t work out.”

 

“Why I do I feel like I loved him.”

 

“Why do you feel that way, Taehyung?”

 

“If I didn’t love him, why would I want to forget him?”

 

*****

 

BREATHE

 

No one could accomplish much work between the hours of 4:30PM and 5:30PM on a Friday. The entire office became restless, eyes flitting from the computer screens to the clock and back.

 

And when the clock finally ticked to 5:30PM, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief, a mad dash for the door, a frantic wave of goodbyes as one by one each coworker dipped out of the door on their way to freedom. “Have a good weekend!” Taehyung’s teammate smiled in his direction. He nodded politely in return.

 

“Taehyung-ssi, want to come to happy hour?” Another teammate patted him on the back. “It’s been a while since you’ve joined us.”

 

“I already have plans,” he lied through his teeth. “Maybe next week though?”

 

“I’m going to drag you out. Mark my words.”

 

He followed the familiar path from the office building to the escalator leading down to the subway station, scrolling through his phone to find his favorite playlist when he suddenly got a text message.

 

Jungkook: Yo. What are you up to.

Taehyung: On my way home. Gonna stay in. You?

Jungkook: Going out to the bars with Jimin and his high school buddies.

Taehyung: Haha. Good luck with that.

Jungkook: Please come and keep me company.

Taehyung: You can manage.

Jungkook: Just come.

 

Heaving a sigh, Taehyung stood in the middle of the subway platform, watching two trains rumbling in opposite directions pass him by. Go home and wallow in sorrow and confusion in bed, or go out and marinate in drunkenness and misery? Neither option seemed all too appealing. But he ultimately ended up choosing the latter, jumping onto a northbound train to meet his friends at the designated bar.

 

Upon entering the space, he noticed immediately the smell of stale ale and cigarettes, the sight of girls in skinny dresses and boys choraled in packs around them. Shouldering past a sea of already tipsy partygoers, he came to a halt when he spotted Jungkook, per usual swallowed in his oversized hoodie, today donning a pair of round spectacles, looking oddly out of place.

 

“Oh thank God,” Jungkook mumbled, promptly handing Taehyung a glass of ginger ale disguised as beer. “You actually came.”

 

“You owe me,” Taehyung chuckled, taking a sip of the drink, eyes scanning for the other member of their trio.

 

“Jimin’s been flirting around,” Jungkook sighed bitterly, nodding in the far corner of the bar where Jimin seemed to be catching up with old friends.

 

“Ohhh, our Jungoo is jealous?” Taehyung cooed, laughing at the expression of annoyance across the younger boy’s face.

 

“No comment.”

 

“Go and claim your man.”

 

“I can’t. I don’t want to rain on his party—”

 

“Actually, looks like you won’t have to.”

 

For Jimin had spotted Taehyung’s arrival and was now working his way across the crowded room.

 

“Tae,” Jimin exclaimed, pulling his best friend into a vice like grip. “Boy am I glad to see you out and about.”

 

“It’s been months,” Jungkook chimed in.

 

“Celebratory shot?” Taehyung knew that look on Jimin’s face; a smirk tugging on his lips, a glint in his eye, one of pure mischief.

 

“Fine,” Taehyung gave in, he too smiling as Jimin cheered in victory. “Just one.”

 

“THAT’S the spirit!” Jimin cried, now battling his way to the bar to order a round of shots for the boys.

 

“You’re doing alright though?” Jungkook asked, peering into Taehyung’s face. “You seem better.”

 

“I do feel better, yes.”

 

“It’s only going to get easier from here.”

 

Jimin turned from the bar, balancing two shot glasses filled to the brim and handing one off to Jungkook, then Taehyung, then finally grabbing one for himself.

 

“Cheers,” Jimin exclaimed, lifting his shot glass high in the air.

 

“Cheers to what?” Jungkook asked.

 

“Oops. I already drank it,” Jimin admittedly sheepishly, wiping his mouth of the excess liquor.

 

“You crazy bastard.”

 

Alcohol always had a certain effect on Taehyung. He was not particularly well equipped to handle it; after one, perhaps two shots he had a knack for getting sloppy, fast. And as the whiskey burned down his throat and settled peculiarly in his stomach, he could feel the blood in his body rushing to his head, his cheeks. And the already stuffy room was starting to feel smaller and smaller by the minute.

 

“Jimin, can you get me some water?” He mumbled.

 

“Bartender, glass of water please?”

 

“Thank you.” Cupping the glass with both hands as if his life depended on it, he relished in the feeling of the cool liquid, closing his eyes and hoping that just a couple sips more would help to steady his heart.

 

“This stuff sure is strong,” he commented.

 

“You’re doing well, Tae,” Jimin smiled, giving his friend’s shoulders a good rub. But just as he was about to open his mouth to finish his train of thought, another small cluster of friends crowded around the boy, calling out his name at varying intervals of intoxication. And once again he was whisked away, disappearing in the crowd and out of sight.

 

The water wasn’t working. Sip after sip he hoped that his vision would clear and his head would stop pounding, but the longer he stood in the middle of the bar the more he felt as if he was being constricted, suffocated. The rowdy crowd, the booming music certainly wasn’t helping. And perhaps the expression on his face was giving it away, for now Jungkook was looking concerned again.

 

“Hey. You want more water…”

 

“I—”

 

It was in that moment that two girls, perhaps a bit drunk themselves, accidentally slammed into Taehyung, nearly knocking him over and causing him to spill half of what was left in his glass onto his shoes.

 

“Oh my god,” one of them gasped, looking genuinely apologetic but with a small smile on her face. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?”

 

He wasn’t. The room was spinning. He wasn’t breathing. He was gasping for air. He could tell that this girl and her friend were eyeing himself and Jungkook like candy, perhaps thinking this was a rather opportune event on their part. But with a small shake of his head and a look of utter desperation, Taehyung turned to Jungkook and pleaded, “I have to get out of here. I don’t know what’s come over me. I have to go.”

 

“I’ll go with you,” Jungkook offered immediately. The two girls walked away in a huff, perhaps frustrated as to why they were being completely ignored.

 

“No,” Taehyung insisted, pushing his nearly empty glass of water to Jungkook, already backing away and moving towards the exit. “I just...I just need time alone. Away from here.”

 

“Hyung…”

 

“I’ll text you when I get home.”

 

“HYUNG!”

 

The moment Taehyung stepped out of the bar and into the cool night air, he stumbled towards the curb where he quickly waved down a cab to head home. He rolled down the window and leaned his head back so that the wind was rushing over him, closed his eyes and chanted over and over again to himself: breathe, breathe, breathe.

 

Once inside his apartment he tumbled into the living room and collapsed onto the sofa, ripping off his shirt that had constricted him all day and chucking it to the ground.

 

“What is going on with me,” he groaned, running his long fingers over his heated face, hyper aware of his chest heaving, cold sweat beading across his forehead. It couldn’t have been the alcohol. It was something else entirely, another monster threatening to eat him alive from within. The blue mark on his forearm felt as if it were burning through his skin.

 

He blinked open his eyes to the popcorn ceiling, then lowered his gaze to the rest of the living room which, he had to admit was not at its best. Clothes strewn all over the floor, empty snack bags scattered across every surface, the fort from the other night still partially standing in the middle of it all. What used to feel like a home was now nothing but a shell.

 

He could see a sliver of the Han river from where he lay, just a small pocket of it glimmering in the moonlight beyond the trees. The more he fixated on the water, the more he wanted to be next to it. It had been so long since he had gone there.

 

The next thing he knew he was prying himself from the sunken couch and stumbling into his bedroom, rummaging in his closet for a large hoodie and a pair of running shorts. With an odd urgency he slipped his feet into his long forgotten sneakers, grabbed the keys from the counter, and slammed the door shut behind him.

 

In the chill of the night air, he maneuvered down the familiar streets of his neighborhood, eventually crossing the main road and onto the pathway along the river. In the early evenings of spring the park was mostly abandoned, save for the occasional couple lounging under the trees. And so the only sound Taehyung could hear was that of his own footsteps pounding against the pavement, the lapping of the river against the banks, and every ragged breath escaping from his lips.

 

He wasn’t a runner by any means. But he used to know of someone who enjoyed it immensely. And it wasn’t that he picked up the habit, but at the very least he learned to appreciate it. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes of jogging, but his legs were already starting to feel sore, rusty, his chest wringing in great pain. Yet strangely the pain prompted him to run even faster; he picked up his pace until he was nearly in a sprint, as if determined to reach the ends of the Earth before sunrise.

 

He could feel his lungs giving out, begging for him to stop, to pause, to rest. But he didn’t want to. It was something about this river. For the first time in a long time, he felt like he could breathe.

 

---

 

Seokjin was late to their first date; and not by a forgivable amount of time. “I’m sorry,” Seokjin had called Taehyung breathlessly five minutes after not showing up. “I’m getting stuck at work and I can’t leave for another half hour or so. Can you wait for me? It’s fine if you don’t want to. I’m sorry—”

 

“I’ll wait,” was Taehyung’s simple response.

 

It was the very first few weeks of autumn, meaning the weather was positively perfect; not too warm, not too cold. Taehyung stood outside of the restaurant for a few minutes before deciding to wander around the nearby storefronts, poking his head into a bookstore, a florist, a pharmacy. And when he had finished his various explorations, he gently sat himself down on the bench in front of the restaurant window and simply waited, tapping his foot nervously on the ground.

 

It was an hour later that he finally showed up.

 

Sweat dripping from his brow, panting but trying his best to hide it. He was still wearing his business attire; a sharp looking suit with a plain buttondown underneath. “God, I’m sorry,” He mumbled, running a hand through his hair. “You shouldn’t have waited. We could’ve rescheduled.”

 

“It’s okay, I have nothing better to do,” Taehyung smiled sheepishly.

 

In a secluded corner of the restaurant they settled into their seats, Seokjin tearing off his blazer and draping it over his chair, Taehyung sitting across from him and watching him in a sort of stupor. They had only met once prior to this date and the meeting had been far too brief for Taehyung to remember the little details of Kim Seokjin.

 

But as the food arrived to the table and Seokjin enthusiastically dug into his portion, Taehyung realized that it was his moment to fully indulge, to marvel and memorize every bit of this impossibly beautiful human being.

 

He worked in finance. His title was something too obscure and too complicated to comprehend. He had an older brother who was working overseas at the moment, and although Seokjin never mentioned it explicitly, it sounded as if he came from a rather wealthy family. And yet he remained ever so polite to the wait staff, speaking to them as if he was inconveniencing them with his requests. “Well what about you?” Seokjin asked, his eyes filled with curiosity. “What do you do?”

 

“I’m a designer,” Taehyung replied, a deep blush creeping to his cheeks. It was somewhat of a relief to see that the tips of Seokjin’s ears were red too.

 

“So that’s why those photographs turned out so well,” Seokjin laughed. “You’re the artistic type.”

 

Taehyung felt a bit guilty that he just couldn’t stop staring . His eyes kept drifting downwards to Seokjin’s lips, a pair of lips that almost caused him to gasp out loud at the sight of them. Perfectly plump and soft like little pillows. Perhaps he didn’t realize he was grinning like an idiot until Seokjin interrupted his chaotic train of thoughts. “Are you okay?” Seokjin asked, peering into his face.

 

“I’m lucky,” Taehyung mumbled.

 

“Huh?”

 

“I said I’m good, you?”

 

To which Seokjin shot him an incredulous look before breaking into awkward laughter.

 

Taehyung had never been in love before. His previous “relationships,” if you could even call them that, lasted a maximum of a month before they dissolved into pieces. “Am I difficult?” Taehyung asked Jimin one day as he wallowed in his loneliness. To which Jimin laughed and responded, “Difficult to pin down, Taehyung-ah. That’s all it is.”

 

And it was true. Taehyung was a free spirit, a drifter, his mind constantly wandering and searching, restless and carefree and childlike. But it wasn’t until that night with Kim Seokjin, as the two exited the restaurant and took a cab to the Han River for a post-dinner stroll, that Taehyung suddenly knew he no longer wanted to roam as he always had. He wanted to find a place to call home. And home was standing right in front of him.

 

As the night prolonged, the air came with a certain bite, characteristic of fall and its bitter moods. But much to Taehyung’s delight, it only prompted the two to walk closer together. They ambled along the water as if they could keep going until the very end of the road, and although Taehyung’s feet began to throb with pain, his heart too was throbbing with yearning.

 

It wasn’t just Seokjin’s devastatingly good looks, although it certainly didn’t hurt his case. It was the way he spoke, slow and steady like the ripples along the water, the way he laughed, like a melody. Their time together passed far too quickly for Taehyung’s taste; their conversation effortless, their synergy like breathing. Like sand sliding down the curves of an hourglass. For as the clock ticked close to midnight and it appeared as if the evening would wrap up soon, there came a panic that set in over Taehyung. He didn’t want Seokjin to leave. Not now, not ever.

 

Don’t say something stupid, Taehyung

 

It was too late.

 

“Can I just say something?” He suddenly asked, pausing in his step. Seokjin too slowed to a halt, as the two were now standing opposite one another.

 

“S-sure?”

 

“I like you.”

 

Seokjin’s eyes widened to the size of sand dollars. “Oh.”

 

“I knew from the moment we met that I like you.”

 

“Okay—“

 

“And right now, after everything today, I can say without a doubt in my mind that we would be good together.”

 

The following silence that ensued was particularly painful for Taehyung, as he chewed on his lower lip and watched Seokjin process the sudden confession with a furrowed brow. It was too late to take back everything he had spilled out just moments ago. And while part of Taehyung regretted it immediately, another small part of him did not. For he knew that there was no chance he could keep the feeling to himself.

 

“Thanks,” Seokjin finally muttered, the tips of his ears cherry red. And it wasn’t because of the cold.

 

“Yea, sure.”

 

When Seokjin dropped Taehyung off in front of his building, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever see the beautiful boy again. “I’ll call you,” Seokjin promised with a soft smile before giving Taehyung a squeeze of the hand.

 

“Okay,” Taehyung replied weakly, mustering a smile in return.

 

The moment he stepped into his apartment, he collapsed onto his bed, buried his face into the pillow, and let out a muffled scream so atrocious he was certain his neighbors had to have heard him.

 

“KIM TAEHYUNG!” He screamed, laying on his back and staring at the ceiling, feet kicking furiously. “YOU WENT AHEAD AND RUINED IT. YOU REALLY DID THAT.”

 

He spent the rest of the night fitfully glancing at his cell phone screen until he drifted off into a restless sleep. This is why you’re single, he thought bitterly to himself. You’re not difficult. You’re an idiot. An absolute, blasted-

 

It was when he woke up the next day that he saw the text messages from Kim Seokjin.

 

Seokjin: Good morning :)

Seokjin: You miss me yet?

Seokjin: ...I hope so...

Seokjin: Cuz I’d like to see you again.

 

---

 

As Taehyung practically flung himself down the abandoned pathway he found that he could no longer see what was lying in front of him, his vision blurred by fresh pools of tears, his chest heaving as he panted; no, sobbed. And relentlessly the memory began departing from him, piece by piece so that he had to stop in his tracks, his cries ringing pitifully in the otherwise peaceful night.

 

For it no longer felt like it was leaving him, like he was exhaling smoke. This time it felt more like the oxygen was being robbed from his lungs. And it was excruciating in every kind of way.

 

*****

 

I JUST KNOW

 

He rolled out of bed on Saturday morning with every inch of his legs aching. He practically crawled to the kitchen to make a humble meal out of cereal and milk, then threw on an old sweatshirt and headed out the door.

 

That morning he had agreed to meet Jimin in the shopping mall a couple stops away from his apartment. The complex was crowded with weekenders window shopping at a leisurely pace. Taehyung spotted Jimin within the crowd and hurriedly joined him on his little mission.

 

“It has to be perfect,” Jimin declared, entering an expensive looking jewelry store with dogged determination.

 

“I’m sure Jungkook would like anything from you, hyung.”

 

“It’s our one year anniversary. I can’t mess this up. How about I wouldn’t let myself live it down.”

 

“Fair.”

 

They smiled politely at the store clerk behind the glass counter as they poured over the various silver rings on display.

 

“Maybe this one,” Jimin whispered, pointing at a particularly expensive set. Taehyung’s jaw dropped upon seeing the pricetag.

 

“That’s a lot, Jimin-ah.”

 

“I’ve been saving, it’s okay.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah. That’s why I’ve been so stingy lately. It’s all for this.”

 

Taehyung watched in awe as Jimin asked to try on the set he was eyeing, watched in a speechless daze as he slipped the smaller ring onto his finger and smile with satisfaction.

 

“It’s Jungkook’s style, too,” Jimin exclaimed, holding up his finger to the light to get a better look.

 

“You really love him, don’t you?” Taehyung asked.

 

Jimin laughed. “I’m obvious, aren’t I?”

 

“You think he’s the one?”

 

“I know it,” Jimin confirmed with such confidence it was impossible to protest.

 

“How do you know?”

 

“I don’t even know how to explain it, Tae.” He watched as his best friend wrinkled his nose, gears in his head churning for an answer. “I sort of just knew, the moment we met.”

 

“Ah.”

 

“You know that gut feeling?”

 

Taehyung remembered that he too had felt that before at one point in time.

 

“Yes.”

 

---

 

He got a text on Saturday afternoon from none other than Jung Hoseok.

 

Hoseok: Hi Tae! Good bumping into you.

Hoseok: Hope you don’t mind, Joon gave me your number.

Hoseok: Wanna grab lunch tomorrow? Joon will be there too.

Taehyung: Of course, hyung. Can’t wait.

 

And perhaps it was because he was finally meeting with someone new for a change, but suddenly Taehyung felt inspired. He took one look around at his filthy apartment and knew he had to perform a deep cleaning. Starting from the living room, he gathered all of the empty snack bags and tossed them in the trash, then collected his clothes and threw them into the hamper. He began disassembling the fort, but decided against it and left it standing in the middle of the room instead. Jimin and Jungkook would probably visit again soon.

 

His bedroom was much more of the same chaos. Taehyung worked methodically, from one section of the room to the next, even dusting the surfaces, a task he never pursued voluntarily.

 

It was as he was bent over on his hands and knees, scouring underneath his bed that he discovered an envelope sitting innocently amongst the dust. With a stretch of the hand he grabbed the envelope and turned it over to its front side. “ Tae ,” it simply read in messy font. The envelope was sealed, never opened.

 

With a burning curiosity, he peeled open the back flap of the envelope and removed from within a card boasting a rather plain design on the front and inside, two pages worth of a disorderly scrawl. He settled down onto the ground, crossing his legs, trying his best to decipher the handwriting he couldn’t recognize.

 

Tae,

One year together. How time flies.

You’re in the next room as I’m writing this, watching your anime as usual. And you keep yelling at me to join you, but I have to get this down on paper while it’s still on my heart.

I remember when we first met. Do you? I remember every moment of it, like a movie reel. Always felt it was sort of serendipitous, the way we found each other. The timing, the place, everything had to be perfect. Was it dumb luck or maybe fate? I’d like to think the latter.

It hasn’t been easy lately for the both of us. Sorry for all the ways I am lacking...for all the times I wasn’t there for you. I don’t deserve your love, and yet you continue to give it freely.

The truth is, even though I don’t deserve you, I still want you. I want to walk by your side for many more years to come, until we’re old and grey, Taehyung-ah. We could fight and make up a thousand times from now until then and I would never get tired of it.

Don’t forget that I love you. You’re always doubting me, second-guessing me when I tell you this. Maybe I do a bad job of showing you. But remember our first date, when I was an hour late to that restaurant? I never told you this, but I was so afraid you would get tired and leave, that you wouldn’t wait for me. But when I showed up and you were still sitting there, you don’t know how happy I was. When I went home that night I couldn’t stop smiling. I swear, my roommate thought I was possessed.

Because I can’t believe I got so lucky. That for some reason out of all these people in this world you picked me.

I hope I don’t sound too cheesy, but I can’t imagine my life without you anymore. To be with you is like breathing.

So remember, Taehyung-ah. I love you, I love you, I love you. I hope you never get tired of hearing this. I’ll never get tired of saying it.

You’re yelling at me again. I guess I should stop and join you now, haha.

P.S. Did I mention I love you?

 

Taehyung searched for a name at the bottom of the letter. There was none.

 

Who are you?

 

He held the card in his hands for a long time, turning it over again and again, tracing the edges with his fingers, rereading the letter ten or so times, at a complete loss as to what to do with it.

 

He tossed it into the trash for a full five minutes before he scrambled back to find it again, retrieving it out of the garbage and tucking it into his sock drawer.

 

*****

 

DON'T FORGET

 

He knew it was a bit pathetic for him to be staying in on a Saturday night, but he justified the notion by saying he had plans for Sunday morning. It all balanced out.

 

For some mysterious reason he was craving cookies and cream ice cream that evening. He rummaged through the various cartons in his freezer until he found one that hadn’t been opened yet. I’ve got to throw out all these other ones.

 

Sitting on the balcony with his bare feet propped up on the cold railing, he dug into the carton and relished in the sweet taste of vanilla and Oreo. In the waning light he retrieved his cell phone out of his pocket to see a couple new messages from Hoseok.

 

Hoseok: Is this cafe okay? It’s halfway between us.

Taehyung: Works fine. What time?

Hoseok: 11:30AM?

Taehyung: A bit early, no?

Hoseok: It’ll get crowded if we go later…

Taehyung: Okay fine, 11:30 it is.

 

Stuffing the phone back into his pocket, he happened to glance at the little blue mark on his arm again, letters so subtle, so miniscule that he had grown used to it within a week’s time. In the cold light of dusk the little blue characters looked even more melancholy than usual. “Forgetting Kim Seokjin.”

 

He placed another spoonful of ice cream into his mouth, letting it melt slowly on his tongue as he pondered the question he’d asked himself a thousand times that day alone.

 

Why would I want to forget him?

 

---

 

Kim Seokjin.

 

Taehyung only remembered ever meeting him once.

 

It was late August when the two met. The kind of sticky hot summer day that merited AC on full blast. Taehyung had spent most of that day holed up in his apartment, drinking iced teas and playing video games until an old college buddy of his texted him and begged to meet up that night.

 

“You can come over to my place,” Taehyung had suggested. “AC and iced tea all day.”

 

“Can we actually meet by the river? You live close, no?”

 

He grumbled in protest as he pulled on an old tee shirt and a pair of loose fitting pants, then departed from his little ice box and stepped into the horrifying heat.

 

But when he arrived at the actual pier by the river, it was difficult to maintain his guise of annoyance. For the sun was slowly but surely lowering itself in the sky, dipping closer and closer to the water and setting the clouds on fire in the process. And standing on the pier so close to the water there came a lovely breeze that ruffled through his hair, toyed with his clothes, providing a small relief for the boy.

 

The riverside came alive in the summer. Most of the students were finished with exams and enjoying summer break to its fullest, the hot air punctured by the sounds of raucous laughter and the occasional scream and squeal. Couples lazed on the grass beneath the camphor trees, families strolled along the pathway with no agenda. Somewhere in the distance there was a man busking on his guitar, singing sweet, sad melodies for whoever cared to listen.

 

Taehyung had been walking around with his headphones in his ears, but he opted to remove them instead, tucking them into his pocket. He closed his eyes in utter contentment, allowing the breeze to tease him and the faraway music to enchant him.

 

His friend was running a bit late. He had blamed it on the traffic. Taehyung chuckled. Classic excuse. But with such a view, Taehyung didn’t mind waiting at all, his eyes fixated on the liquid gold before him, the ships gliding through it in the horizon.

 

It was as he reached the very end of the pier that he felt a small tap on his shoulder.

 

“Hey!”

 

He had turned around with a big grin on his face, expecting to see his old friend standing behind him, but happening upon a complete stranger instead. A man just slightly taller than himself, donned in running gear, sweat dripping down his forehead and neck, his shirt too soaked with perspiration, his face cast in a golden glow by the sunset behind them.

 

“I’m sorry,” the stranger apologized breathlessly. “Can you take a picture for me?”

 

“Oh!” Taehyung exclaimed in mild surprise. “Sure.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Taehyung had never seen anyone look so beautiful while sweating.

 

The stranger removed the phone from his waistband, swiped up to unlock it and handed the device to Taehyung.

 

“I just moved to Seoul last month,” he explained as he leaned against the railing. “My mom always wants my pictures, she misses me.”

 

“So I’ll make sure to take a good one,” Taehyung smiled, positioning himself behind the camera lens. “You want horizontal or vertical?”

 

“Horizontal.”

 

“And more of the view or…?”

 

“Little of both.”

 

“On the count of three. One, two-”

 

The boy on the other side of the lens was hardly smiling for the camera, but he in all honesty didn’t need to. His face as it is seemed to be doing all the work for him. And the last of the sun’s rays seemed to be lending a helping hand as well.

 

Just as Taehyung was about to press the shutter button, his eyes flitted to the corner of the screen, where the battery was showing a dismal 1%. And sure enough before he could finish counting, the screen devolved to a resolute black. Taehyung gulped, lowering the phone to his side.

 

“I think your phone died.”

 

“Oh shoot,” the boy mumbled. “It was at 3% before.”

 

“It was at 1% just now.”

 

“Ah, it’s okay. Thank you any-”

 

“I can use my phone,” Taehyung piped up, digging his own device out of his pocket.

 

“Oh!” The stranger exclaimed in pleasant surprise. “That’s so nice of you, thank you.”

 

Taehyung took the liberty of snapping four or five shots, tackling the photograph from several different angles before he finally decided he was satisfied with the outcome. The stranger seemed to be impressed by the boy’s professionalism, and even more-so when he peered over Taehyung’s shoulder to get a quick preview.

 

“Oh wow,” he laughed. “I didn’t ask for a photoshoot.”

 

“If you asked me, then you did.”

 

“Can you send those to me?”

 

“Of course. What’s your number?”

 

Taehyung watched with bated breath as he tapped his number into the device and handed it back to him.

 

“What’s your name?” The stranger asked.

 

“Taehyung. Kim Taehyung. You?”

 

“Kim Seokjin.”

 

“Nice to meet you.”

 

“Likewise.”

 

“First time running here?”

 

“Yeah. It’s incredible, the view.” He glanced over his shoulder at the red sun, now two-thirds of the way below the water. “I’ll be back for sure. You waiting for someone?”

 

“Friend,” Taehyung nodded. “We’ll take a walk though. No running for me.”

 

Seokjin laughed, wiping the sweat away from his forehead. “Then I won’t bother you much longer. Send them to me, those pictures.” He was stepping away now, his legs picking up speed in a backwards jog.

 

“I will.”

 

“Don’t forget!” He yelled from a distance, waving his hand goodbye.

 

“I won’t.”

 

Don’t forget. The last words Taehyung would remember from Kim Seokjin.

 

The ice cream was gone, the carton finally empty. With a gentle thud Taehyung set it on the ground, licking his lips to capture even the remnants of it. He had quietly replayed this memory the entire day throughout every little task, every quiet moment he had. Sitting on the train on his way back from the mall, his eyes closed, the back of his head against the glass window. Cooking dinner for himself in an empty kitchen; a composite of leftovers, really. Watching TV alone, flipping through the channels until he settled on a drama he felt like he had seen somewhere before. All the while he could only think of one person and one person alone. Kim Seokjin.

 

The little blue mark on his arm stared him hard in the face, as if reminding him that the end was inevitable, that the process must be completed. “Forgetting Kim Seokjin.” He was still “forgetting.” Soon, he will have forgotten entirely.

 

But why would I want to forget you.

 

For the man in his memory, despite the brevity of it (Taehyung counted; their interaction was at most three minutes long), haunted him. Eyes that seemed to hold the universe in its depths, that sparkled when he spoke. A laugh so unique, so peculiar that Taehyung couldn’t help but giggle too at the thought of it. A gentle smile that caused Taehyung’s poor heart to perform somersaults, backflips, cartwheels. It was a gut feeling, what he had felt in the pit of his stomach. As he watched Kim Seokjin leave the pier and continue running on the path in the opposite direction, he had a funny feeling that this wouldn’t be the last time they’d meet. That they’d certainly see each other again.

 

I don’t want to forget you.

 

Taehyung shook his head in defiance, absentmindedly stroking the blue mark on his arm as he stared out into the darkness engulfing him on the little balcony. He couldn’t pinpoint why his heart was so unsettled, so restless, so unruly at the prospect of letting go a person he hardly knew. He had a name, a face, nothing more. This should be easy, he thought, willing himself to believe it. But another wave of emotion overcame him and he suddenly felt like crying.

 

If I have to go to such great lengths

 

He was crying again.

 

To forget him

 

He wiped the tears away as fast as he could, but they fell even faster.

 

Then I must’ve really loved him.

 

He could feel the memory starting to leave him. Like a fish being dragged out of water. Like rain drying up in the sun. He leaned his head back against the chair and squeezed his eyes shut, resisting the sobs coming forth as the sights, the sounds, the sunset, the music, the river and its people faded from color to grey to nothing.

 

“No. No, no, no,” he heard himself saying through gritted teeth. “Wait. Wait. Hold on. Wait.”

 

But time would not wait for him.

 

He was moving on automatic pilot. Blindly he leapt from his seat and grabbed at the screen door, pushing it aside and tumbling into the dark apartment once more. Sprinting into his room, he didn’t bother flicking on the light and beelined straight for his nightstand and the unassuming piece of paper resting upon it.

 

“Wait, wait. Please, wait—”

 

Grabbing a nearby pen, with shaking hands he began to write as fast as his hands would allow.

 

“Kim Seokjin. Kim Seokjin. Your name is Kim Seokjin,” he sputtered.

 

He couldn’t see the paper anymore, could feel his tears dripping onto its surface.

 

Han River sunset

Summer

He was running

Picture asked me said yes

Eyes like stars

When he smiles

Kim Seokjin

 

And when the blue mark slowly faded away to nothing and the pen dropped to the ground, he sat in that silent room with a wrinkled paper in his hands, tears still streaming down his face, breath catching in his throat, a look of utter bewilderment as he sank to his knees.

 

Why am I crying.

 

*****

 

EPILOGUE: I CAN'T

 

Lunch on Sunday morning was wonderful. It was a good thing that Hoseok suggested for them to arrive a bit earlier. Half an hour after they were seated the restaurant became impossibly crowded. They each ordered their own dish and shared a pile of waffles amongst the three. Hoseok and Taehyung chatted away animatedly, while Namjoon interjected rather shyly on the side once in a while. At least he seemed to be less awkward and tense from their previous meeting, Taehyung noticed. And so the three of them got along quite swimmingly, even swinging by the cat cafe next door to kill some time in the afternoon.

 

After Taehyung bid goodbye to Namjoon and Hoseok, he decided to run through his list of errands for Sunday afternoon. Stopped by the grocery store to buy more eggs and milk. Picked up his dry cleaning from the cleaners. Dropped off the manga he had just finished at the library.

 

And at the end of the day, he paid a visit to Jimin’s apartment for a hearty dinner of grilled meat and rabokki. The three of them; Jungkook, Jimin, and Taehyung cooked together, blasting music from Jimin’s playlist, laughing until they cried at Jungkook’s antics, sitting at the dinner table long after the meal was over and talking until the trains had stopped running and Taehyung had to take a taxi home.

 

“Just sleepover,” Jimin insisted. “Borrow my clothes for work.”

 

“I can’t fit in your clothes,” Taehyung protested, stretching his arms and yawning. “I’ll see you guys on Wednesday.”

 

“Get home safe,” Jungkook nodded.

 

“I’ll text you guys.”

 

“I love you, Taehyung-ah,” Jimin cried as Taehyung approached the door with his bag slung over his shoulder.

 

“Love you more.”

 

“Love you the most,” Jungkook interjected.

 

“We’re not going to start this now,” Taehyung warned. “Because I will literally destroy both of you. With my love.”

 

He made sure to set his alarm as soon as he climbed into bed, for his body was reeling from exhaustion in such a way that he feared he’d fall asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.

 

It was as he set his phone down on the nightstand that he noticed the crumpled up piece of paper. Out of sheer curiosity he reached for the document and squinted at the writing in the dark. Ah, right. It was the certificate for the procedure he had just undergone at YongSan clinic. But why was the paper in such horrible shape?

 

His eyes scanned down until he spotted the nearly illegible writing scrawled in the black space. Some of the writing was blotted out by what looked like giant teardrops. “Eyes like the stars,” he mumbled to himself, as perplexed as he could be. “When he smiles...what is this, a poem?” He bit his lip as he deciphered the three letters at the very bottom of the certificate.

 

Kim Seokjin.

 

Nothing.

 

I guess it really worked, he thought rather cheerfully to himself, as he repeated the name over and over again, curious as to whether it would stir within him any memory, any thoughts, feelings. But in the quiet of the night as he tucked the certificate in his sock drawer and padded back to his bed, he realized that the name meant nothing.

 

“I guess it really worked,” he mumbled to himself. I’ll make sure to write a good review for the clinic.

 

If he had felt anything before drifting off into a peaceful slumber, perhaps it was a nagging sense of emptiness. Of something missing. As if he had lost a part of himself.

 

But that’s normal, he rationalized. No one ever really feels complete.

 

---

 

Taehyung was not the least bit surprised when Jungkook moved in with Jimin. He moved in on a Saturday afternoon in late May. It had rained like crazy the entire day. Taehyung was there to help.

 

He himself started becoming restless, too. His lease would end in August, and the more he stayed in that apartment, the more despondent he became. He wanted change. He needed change.

 

And so in June, he began the official job searching process, brushing up on his work documents, even taking a brand new professional photograph for his resume. The promotion to Head Designer certainly helped him to shine, so much so that he was snatched up by another agency by the first week of July.

 

Things were moving fast in the right direction.

 

He started shopping for different apartments, ones closer to center city, more accessible to the new office. “I’m ending my lease,” he informed his current landlord. Just speaking that statement into reality was like a sigh of relief for the boy.

 

He spent the last two months of his time on the old lease wandering by the river while it was still close to him. With July and August came the monsoons, the unbearable heat, the chorus of cicadas at nighttime. But Taehyung was inevitably drawn to the river, often asking friends to meet there instead of the movie theater or dinner at a restaurant. He would walk up and down the water for an hour or so, making sure to detour onto the pier that stretched out onto the water.

 

There was always something happening in the summer. Buskers playing their music for anyone that would stop and listen, singing slow and languid melodies into the otherwise sweet night air. Children running and screaming, couples canoodling.

 

If there was anything Taehyung would miss about that old apartment, it was the river that ran beside it.

 

On his very last night at the tail end of August, he sat in a room stacked full of boxes, plastic covers tied over his couches, only a couple of empty plastic water bottles sitting on the kitchen counter. The plan was to crash at a colleague’s place for the night, then proceed with moving early the next day.

 

He glanced at the time. 6:00PM. He was to meet his co-worker in Myeongdong around 8:00, so he still had an hour or two to spare. Flicking off his light and slamming the door behind him, he descended down the steps and headed towards the river once more on this route he had traversed perhaps a thousand times.

 

“You’re always here,” Jimin had mentioned one evening several weeks before, the two of them gazing at the ships passing on the horizon. “You never get tired of the view?”

 

Taehyung shook his head. “Never.”

 

“Lots of good memories here, huh?”

 

Taehyung nodded. “Is there a word for this...feeling nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced?”

 

Jimin pondered the question for quite some time before answering, “Not that I know of.”

 

“Well that’s how I feel about this place,” Taehyung said with a smile. “I don’t know why.”

 

But tonight, he was alone. He walked past the busker with the guitar and nodded in his direction. You could say they were on friendly terms now. He meandered to the end of the pier, closer and closer to the river until he was standing right before it, the sun balancing itself delicately on the water, slipping slowly beneath the skyline and taking the light with it.

 

Why does this view wring my heart so.

 

With a contented sigh, the boy took one last look at the milky dusk descending upon his surroundings before turning on his heel in the direction of the city. But to his surprise, the moment he turned around he felt his body slamming into another.

 

“OH!” He cried out, leaping a few feet backwards. “I’m sorry, I-”

 

“No, I—oh—”

 

A bit disoriented, he looked up from his feet at the source of the voice, eyes meeting that of a stranger. Or was it? Because before he could even process what had happened his heart was pounding wildly against his rib cage, pulsing in his ears.

 

And suddenly it was as if he forgot how to breathe. Not in the sense that his breath was being taken from him. If anything, it was the opposite; as if he’d been laying there unconscious for a long time, and he had suddenly awoken, his lungs filled with air once more.

 

Eyes like the stars.

 

“Taehyung-ah.”

 

The man in front of him: he was crying.

 

“Taehyung-ah,” he repeated once more.

 

But when he smiles—

 

“Kim Seokjin.”

 

*****