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We Own the Sky

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There isn’t a path down to this block of the beach. No worn wooden steps or well-packed dirt to guide their way like earlier. An endless black sky stretches above, bleeding into mile after mile of ocean, and Taehyung clambers clumsily behind Jimin as they maneuver through a litter of driftwood debris and shells and abandoned bottles until their feet press into soft, still sun-warmed sand.

Jimin’s laughter is carried away by the wind, but Taehyung watches his silhouette move in the distance as he dashes into the water. As Taehyung moves closer, he sees Jimin spinning in lazy circles, arms raised high towards the moon, his dark hair whipping around in the summer breeze as his body sways and swirls and arches with the tide, never still, an enchanting midnight recital that Taehyung can only stop and marvel at.

He stands there for what feels like a long time, watching Jimin dance. Remembers his camera around his neck. Lifts it to take a photo with Jimin shadowed by the darkness. Taehyung takes another when Jimin looks up to him with a glittery smile that makes him feel like the ground just dropped out from beneath his feet.

A breath passes and Jimin, still facing Taehyung’s direction, peels off his shirt and tosses it to the edge of the water.

Waits.

Taehyung hesitates and Jimin doesn’t move. So he takes a photo. Because he can. And because he wants to. And because Jimin is letting him. This is okay.

Jimin takes a step back. Steps out of his swim shorts. Stands there, thigh-high in the ocean, completely exposed, and there’s a supernova happening in Taehyung’s heart as he lifts his camera again. As he waits for Jimin to giggle and cover himself and break whatever scene he’s trying to create here.

Jimin doesn’t move, not until Taehyung takes another photo and drops his camera back to his chest; and then he falls backwards into the water, out of sight, and Taehyung sinks into the sand with a gasp. Spell broken.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This trip was supposed to be an ending and here Taehyung is, lying on a beach under a sea of stars, feeling half-hysterical with all the love swelling around his chest.

“Tae?”

Taehyung shudders, that voice too much for the moment, and he slides his hands down his face so his fingertips cover his eyes.

“TaeTae? Sweetheart, you okay?”

A tap against his nose. Saltwater slips down his cheek. Jimin’s peering over him, looking so scared and tender that Taehyung can’t help the laughter that bursts out with his sob.

The sound changes Jimin’s expression, his frown tilting up as he sinks back into the sand. “You scared me.”

“You let me take your picture,” Taehyung responds, and Jimin breathes deep, as if soaking in the statement.

“I did.”

“I thought you said no more pictures?”

Jimin’s put his shorts back on, but his shoulders are still bare and Taehyung wants to run his nose along the dip in his collarbones where a few drops of water glisten. “It’s you,” he shrugs.

“It’s me?” Taehyung echoes, feeling the earth hum around them.

“It’s you,” Jimin’s voice warms the air. He links their pinkies in the sand, and Taehyung feels so light and special and seen and still but he still can’t help but wonder about the wheres and whens and hows of them once being so remarkably right and somehow turning out so terribly wrong.

An ending. This was supposed to be the end.   



 

~~~

 

“Y’know, when we graduated high school, I thought we’d forget each other.”

Jimin’s downed two shots too many but is still a couple shy of hitting his limit. He definitely has it more together than Taehyung, who once again fell victim to Seokjin’s critical hit combo of pouty lips and abuse of hierarchal power, and was talked into drinking some monstrosity of a cocktail that was too pink to be anything less than 50% alcohol.

He’s smelled like wild peaches the whole night and has kissed the forehead of every stranger they’ve passed. Never without asking first, but course everyone says yes. Who wouldn’t say yes to a sweet forehead kiss from a gorgeous boy who looks as if he crawled off a Renaissance stone mason’s work table. It’s devastating. He’s devastating.

Jimin watches idly as Taehyung tip-toes across the curb, one leg lifted high before the other, as if he’s walking a tight rope across a canyon and not the two-inch-tall concrete curb of the sidewalk. “What makes you say that?”

Taehyung shrugs and it throws him off balance. He catches himself on a fire-hydrant, then perches atop it. “Well, tha’s normally how these things go, right?” Taehyung rocks back and forth and back and forth and Jimin comes up behind him to pet his hair. “Childhood friends spend their lives together only to realize that, surprise! Other people exist!” He does little jazz hands and it almost sends him spilling, and Jimin steps in closer so that Taehyung can lean into his chest. “Other people. Cooler people. People they have more in common with. Poof! Gone. Scary, isn’it?”

“You think I’d forget you that easily?” Jimin asks instead of answers, and Taehyung deflates in his arms but doesn’t respond. “What scares you the most, TaeTae?”

“Drownin’,” Taehyung says without hesitation, tilting his head back so his big, dark eyes can meet Jimin’s.

“We talked about this. You wouldn’t even know you were dying if you drowned. Your body just kind of shuts down.”

Taehyung blinks at him, bats really, all heavy and slow. Devastating. Says in a tinny voice, “Sometimes the scariest things n’the world are the quietest.”

He promptly stands after that to give Jimin a private ballet recital. Only, Taehyung’s never taken ballet in his life. He’s never taken any dance classes in his life, actually, and his grand jeté is somewhat respectable but his landing almost sends him face first into a bush.

He laughs on the ground for several seconds and takes Jimin’s outstretched hand. His legs may be wobbly, but his voice is steady when he speaks. “Sometimes the scariest things are the things you can’t feel at all until it’s too late.”

Jimin blinks, loosens his grip, meets Taehyung’s bright gaze. “You’re too philosophical when you’re drunk.”

“’M too philosophical when ’m sober, too. Joonie-hyung says ’m an excellent conversationalist. Says I make him re-think things.”

“I won’t deny that.”

Taehyung grins, tugs on Jimin’s hand so that their arms are a swinging pendulum caught between their sides. Taehyung’s thinking about something. Jimin can always tell when Taehyung is pondering, he just can’t ever tell of what.

They’re almost back to the dorms when Taehyung finally asks, “What are ya most afraid of, Jiminie?”

And Jimin answers resolutely, “The dark,” even though it’s a lie.

Taehyung steps towards him to wrap an arm around his waist, and they’re mismatched heights now so they kind of walk with a limp but Jimin doesn’t try to break away. “Don’t worry,” Taehyung whispers against his cheek, leaving behind a faint trace of peach and redbull as he pulls away just to tug him forward, “I’ll protect you. Always.”

Jimin grew out of his fear of the dark years ago, but he’s never told Taehyung that. Instead he keeps it as the fallback remark because how can he admit that his worst fear is just that—that Taehyung will one day meet someone who suits him better, who is better than Jimin in every conceivable way. That he’ll leave, leave Jimin behind, only it won’t be sudden. It’ll be like drowning. So tediously slow that Jimin won’t have even realized it’d happened until one day he asks Taehyung to pass the remote and there will be no one there to hear him.

 

~~~

 

They’re in the library, but the only one studying is Jimin. He’s also the only one making proper use of the furniture provided. Taehyung is lying on the floor beside Jimin’s table, feet propped up on the ledge with a well-worn copy of To Kill a Mockingbird pinched between his fingers.

The start of the new year brought many resolutions. These included, on Jimin’s behalf, to drink less and work out more. Taehyung, on the other hand, has dedicated himself to reading the entirety of an American top one hundred book list. So far he’s sixteen books in, although Jimin’s being ridiculous and still only counting it at fifteen because he only made it half-way through Moby Dick.

Anyone who purposefully reads the entirety of Moby Dick has too much time on their hands. Or problems. Or both.

Taehyung stopped reading a while ago, though, because Jimin just got his hair trimmed and his bangs bounce in front of his face like a soft cloud every time he brushes them off his brow. Which is often. It’s magical to watch.

“I think we should go camping tonight.”

Jimin smiles at him like he’s being silly, and Taehyung rocks forward until he’s sitting up on his knees. “Why?” Jimin hums and sits still as Taehyung tugs an elastic off his wrist and gathers Jimin’s bangs in his hands.

“I don’t know,” Taehyung shrugs as he smooths Jimin’s hair into a small ponytail. “The adventure? To bond? To get some fresh air?”

“We have classes tomorrow.”

“We can skip. Just the morning ones.”

Jimin just hums at that again, and Taehyung sits on the edge of his desk to admire his work. Jimin cups his cheeks to frame his face, bats prettily and says with squished lips, “We both know that’s not going to happen.”

“Jimin. Jiminie. ChimChim, my pal,” Taehyung rests his elbows on his knees, nuzzles his chin into palms of his hands, turns on his best puppy eyes even though Jimin claims to be immune to them after all these years. “Let’s go camping.”

“Why?”

“I told you why.”

“No, you gave flippant excuses. Why do you really want to go?”

Taehyung taps his fingers along the edge of Jimin’s textbook. He hasn’t played the piano in years, not since his lessons with Yoongi. Maybe he should take it up again. Maybe that should have been a resolution.

He already has too many of those, though.

“To see the stars.”

Sleep more. Sleep regularly. Pass algebra.

“The stars?”

Treat his mom better. Call his grandma more. Use sunscreen. Dye his hair a color from the rainbow.

“I need to make a wish.”

Complain less. Meditate every morning. Bungee jump. Go on an adventure.

“Wait until 11:11 then. I’ll even give you an eyelash. Maybe we can find a wishbone.”

Taehyung wants to say “don’t mock me” but instead he says, “I need something stronger.”

“A star?” Jimin smiles his beautiful, beautiful smile. The one where the left side of his mouth quirks up a little higher than the right. The one that Taehyung thinks is his and his alone to see.

“More like a sky of them,” Taehyung responds softly, giving Jimin’s ponytail a tiny tug that brings a giggle out of him.

“Must be one heck of a wish.” Jimin melts under the attention, and when Taehyung tries to pull away, Jimin leans forward to follow.

Taehyung starts to tug on the hair behind his neck, kneading gently there, and Jimin’s head ends up in his lap and Taehyung holds his breath for so long he feels blurry at the edges.

“It is.”

Maybe a sky full of stars won’t even be able to help him find the strength to tell Jimin how he feels. Maybe that’s one resolution that will always be on the list.

 

~~~

  

“You dyed your hair.”

“Does it look stupid?”

“No.” Jimin can hear the wonder in his voice and tries to make it disappear. “No, it doesn’t.”

Taehyung doesn’t look assured and glances to where their reflections stand in front of a darkened storefront window. He ruffles the back a few times, pulls on a strand by his ear, and Jimin’s heart clenches so tightly he can’t breathe when he reaches to finger a stray lock of dusky pink that’s sweeping in front of Taehyung’s eyes. It’s soft and smells faintly of melon. “Tae, it’s perfect. It suits you.”

His distress melts into a smile that makes Jimin feel as if the earth just slowed down a bit, just enough to make the moment, this moment and every moment between them, feel like a lifetime.

“Come on,” Jimin clears his throat and toys with some spare change in his pocket. “We’re gonna be late.”

“We’re always late. You always take too long to get ready.”

They are always late and Jimin does always take too long to get ready. Hoseok knows this. That’s why he, and pretty much the entirety of their friend group, always set the arrival time fifteen minutes earlier for them than anyone else.

“You could have gone ahead, you know.”

Taehyung actually scoffs, then links their elbows together so he can press the side of his body against Jimin’s and still get his hand back into his pocket.

Jimin doesn’t get anything else but the exasperated cough. Because it’s true. Jimin’s late to everything (class, practice, dinner dates, morning runs)—but so is Taehyung. But Taehyung’s only ever late because he waits on Jimin, and no matter how many times Jimin’s told him to go on ahead, Taehyung has resolutely refused time and time again.

They’re running behind tonight as well, but Jimin can’t help but keep his pace slow, casual, even when Taehyung tugs on his arm to hurry.

Because Taehyung’s hair is the color of fresh cotton candy and it glows under the streetlights in such a way that can be called breathtaking, and Jimin can’t stop himself from trying to prolong this moment, every moment, just the two of them, for a few minutes longer.

 

~~~

 

When Jimin realized he was in love with Taehyung, Hoseok was pinning back his hair as he vomited up a half a bottle of watermelon vodka into their shower after the welcome back party the fall of his second year.

“How much did you drink, Minnie?” Hoseok sounds both disgusted and impressed, and Jimin’s past the point of mortification. It’s a well-known fact around campus that Park Jimin can hold his alcohol, and Jimin can remember getting drunk, multiple times, but he can’t recall a time he ever got shitfaced.

“I think the question is why the fuck he drank so much,” Yoongi mutters from somewhere behind, and Jimin rocks back on his heels and focuses on the hand splayed across his shoulders, rubbing comforting circles against his spine. Jimin takes in a steady breath, thinks don’t throw up thinks at least it’s not pink thinks why was Taehyung kissing a boy? thinks why is that boy not me?

“I think I love him.”

Hoseok’s gentle and slightly sarcastic cooing falters. “Him?”

“Taehyung.” Another gush of vodka and mint mojito comes out, and Jimin can practically feel Hoseok recoiling. Some nurse he’s gonna be. Trainer? Something in the medical field. Hopefully something not involving puke. And needles. Or blood. Oh god, Jimin needs to get Hoseok to change his major. “I love Taehyung. Fuck.”

“Our Taehyungie? Kim Taehyung?”

“I’m in love with our Kim Taehyung,” Jimin half says to himself, still processing the words. “I’m in love with my Taehyung.”

Jimin feels his stomach clench, and this time when he hurls, nothing comes out. It feels like his body is rejecting itself from the inside out.

His chest heaves, he blinks back tears. Jimin pushes himself up into a better sitting position and Hoseok is watching him warily, hands poised as if to push him back down so that he doesn’t throw up on the tile or his shoes. “Oh my god, I’m in love with my best friend. I need to tell him.”

Hoseok must sense something Jimin doesn’t because Jimin’s face first against the toilet this time, dry heaving, but only a little stomach acid comes up and it burns on its way out.

“I already sent Namjoon for him, but now I’m thinking I shouldn’t have. I don’t think you’re lucid.”

“I am lucid and I am in love.”

Jimin doesn’t remember anything else from that night, but when he wakes up the next morning, it’s almost 6am and his hair is damp and the sheets smell faintly of lemon pledge. For a second he thinks he’s dying, that he’s gotten alcohol poisoning and this is how he’s gonna go, wrapped in sweltering sheets and smothered by the scent of wood polish.

And then the hand around his waist travels up to his chest and Jimin’s never heard his heartbeat so clear in his ears before.

Taehyung’s beside him, hair splayed around the pillow. The tips of it brush Jimin’s forehead, and Jimin stares at his best friend’s face for several minutes because the sun is rising, zebraing the room in strips of gold, and one of the slivers follows the curve of Taehyung’s jaw and he is beautiful. Taehyung has always been beautiful, but now that Jimin is in love, his beauty is almost unbearable to look at.

“TaeTae.”

Taehyung isn’t a light sleeper, but he hums at the sound of his name, not awake and not asleep, stuck in an earthen limbo.

I think I love you.

Jimin can’t bring himself to say it out loud because it’s a statement that can be both the beginning and the end, and Jimin hasn’t decided which path he wants to take yet.

“Let’s get waffles for breakfast.”

“M’kay…” Taehyung mumbles out, hand tightening on Jimin’s shirt. “Feel better?”

Jimin hums, takes a deep breath.

I think I’m in love with you. I think I’ve always been in love with you.

Jimin listens to Taehyung breathe for what feels like a lifetime, allows himself to simply feel until Taehyung groans, stretches awake, knocks his wrist against Jimin’s nose and then kisses it as an apology.

Jimin doesn’t remember much from that night, but he remembers this:

The scent of lemons and cinnamon and a warmth bordering on stifling, wrapped so thick around his chest Jimin has to copy the breathing cycles Namjoon does for Yoongi when he has a panic attack.

In for four. Hold for seven.

I’m in love with my best friend.

Let go for eight. Repeat.

So this is what heartbreak feels like.

 

~~~

 

They finished eating a while ago, and they’re just sitting on the curb outside Jimin’s dorm, now. Taehyung thinks they’re both waiting for the other to say goodbye.

Instead Taehyung asks, “Have you ever told someone you loved them and meant it?”

Jimin raises his eyebrows in bafflement and Taehyung wants to pluck his words from the air and bury them back inside his chest where they can’t be seen.

“Of course.” Jimin’s confused, and then he must read something in Taehyung’s expression that makes him go serious once more. “Not everyone says it like that. Those exact words. Romantically.” He taps his heels against the concrete, in time to a beat only he can hear. “You can say ‘call me when you get home’ or ‘buckle your seatbelt’ or ‘I heard this song and thought of you’. There’s plenty of ways to say it.”

“That’s not—But doesn’t that make it confusing?”

“For who?”

Taehyung shrugs and he doesn’t know what more to say. He doesn’t know why he asked because he already knew the answer because Jimin’s one of those people who loves everyone and everything, no strings attached.

“I love everyone because I’m supposed to, Tae, because I think everyone deserves to be loved.” Taehyung doesn’t know if he said his thoughts allowed or if Jimin just read his face again, but he doesn’t seem upset. “But just because I love everyone doesn’t mean I’m in love with everyone.”

Jimin looks like the kind of person who would give you his heart if you asked for it. He already wears it on his sleeve, out in the open for anyone to take.

“Did you love her?”

Jimin’s surprised again, but it fades fast into quiet understanding. “I thought I was. I always think I am.”

“Who broke up with who?”

“I broke up with her.”

That surprises Taehyung. The clouds have moved in and the first pattering wave of rain starts to fall around them. His voice is quiet in his ears, “Because you didn’t love her anymore?”

“I still loved her, but not the way she should have been loved.”

Taehyung breathes in so deep it hurts to hold it all in. “How should she have been loved?”

Jimin doesn’t look at him when he says, “Wholeheartedly.”

Taehyung is relieved that Jimin has never loved anyone so much before, and then he’s filled with shame for feeling it, even if it was only fleetingly. Taehyung wants Jimin to feel more love than he knows what to do with.

 

~~~

 

“I wanna run away.”

“What?”

“Not forever, of course.” Taehyung says it like Jimin should know better, which he should, because Taehyung’s always been the nonsensical one out of their little duo, the dreamer extraordinaire, and Jimin’s always been the one to understand that. “I wouldn’t last a month on my own. But I want someone to call me up at three in the morning and say ‘Let’s go on an adventure’ and for once I’ll say yes. And we’ll travel the country and eat cheap food and sleep under the stars and just get away from all of this.”  Taehyung spins in a circle, arms outstretched as if he can catch hold of the whole neighborhood, the entire city, all the stars in the night sky.

Jimin watches him spin and spin and spin. “What’s wrong with all of this?”

Another spin and Taehyung stumbles and catches himself on a light pole and then starts to twirl around that as he speaks. “One of us has loving parents and perfect grades and a career picked out that won’t leave him broke and destitute.”

Jimin joins him on the pole, thinks to himself as thy circle one another, But one of us here has more than five friends and sees the good in everyone and loves life so much it’s almost heartbreaking to watch sometimes.

“Besides,” Taehyung stops, and Jimin tries to sidestep out of the way but just ends up crashing into him. Taehyung laughs as they untangle their legs, only to wrap Jimin up in his arms. “Besides,” Taehyung starts again, rocking them side to side, his hands splayed across Jimin’s back as he stares out across the city lights. “I need to do something, something big,” he says with a quiet resolution. So soft, so serious, so very much unlike the Taehyung that everyone sees during the day. “For just a little while, I want to feel what it’s like to be someone else.”

Jimin watches him watch the sky and tries to picture what he’s seeing. A far-off world where they’re not students and not stressed or broke or disappointing their parents.

A world where they’re best friends and it doesn’t hurt to just be best friends.  

“Taehyung,” Jimin says quietly. “Do you know what time it is?”

Taehyung nudges his phone out of his pocket enough to check the time, says in the same hushed tone, “2:58am.”

“Kim Taehyung, let’s go on an adventure.”

A moment of consideration, then recognition, and a wondrously slow smile spreads across his face. “Do you mean it?” 

Jimin nods and Taehyung sways into him, knocking their foreheads together.  “You sure? Don’t say things you can’t take back, Jiminie.”

Jimin swallows, bites his lip, and stares at the mole on the tip of Taehyung’s nose when he says, “I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t meant it.”

That’s the best answer he can give, that anyone can give, and Taehyung throws his arms in the air and begins whooping and hollering into the silence of the empty street. He’s shouting out plans, how they can borrow his cousin’s car, that he has a little money saved he wasn’t sure how to spend anyway, that they’re going to get sooooo fat.

And the he stops, turns with quiet resolution, and Jimin doesn’t move, just waits for the inevitable collision as Taehyung lopes his way back over to stand in front of him. Face to face. Heart to heart.

“Park Jimin.”

“Kim Taehyung.”

Taehyung bites his lip. A nervous habit unbeknownst to him.  A purposeful action he does to get what he wants. Jimin hasn’t figured out which yet.

“Park Jimin,” Taehyung breathes out his name again, takes another step forward so that he can wrap his arms around Jimin’s neck. They sway again, caught in a slow dance. “I have been waiting for you to ask that question our whole lives.”

Jimin wants to say that they’ve only known each other six years. Jimin wants to say that all of this is impractical, that he takes back his proposal, that Taehyung is still feeling the effects of the all-nighter he pulled a couple days ago that he has yet to fully recover from.

But Taehyung’s tender eyes keep Jimin’s mouth shut, and Jimin loops his arm with Taehyung’s and begins to lead him towards the bus stop because that’s all he can do in situations like these; fall under Taehyung’s spell and hope that there’s something left to pick up later.

 

~~~

 

School let out a couple days ago and now they’re prepping for the Road Trip to Nowhere which is actually the Road Trip to Everywhere. Taehyung, between cramming for his modern art class and finishing a final portfolio for Drawing, has spent the past two weeks mapping out a course that traverses the entirety of the country. The large sheet of paper is covered in more red sharpie than green land mass.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Taehyung beams, physically bouncing on his heels, and Jimin takes the cooler from him before he spills something again.

“You’re the one who wanted to.”

The cooler is squeezed in between their duffel bags and a tub filled with non-perishable food and a cardboard box filled with library books. Taehyung hands him a sleeping bag, then another. “You’re the one who asked.”

“Because you’re the one who wanted to,” Jimin responds without thinking, and he reaches behind him for the next object and finds none there to grasp.

When he turns, Taehyung is clutching a pillow to his chest. He doesn’t look upset, but his smile is twisted at the edges, unsure of itself. “Are you saying that you don’t want to do this? Because it’s okay if you don’t! I know it’s silly and you have that online class—”

Jimin leans forward, dead weight no stops, and Taehyung drops the pillow to catch him. Jimin tilts his head up, arms dangling at his sides with his chin on Taehyung’s sternum, and says with soft resolution, “Taehyung-ah, I want to do everything with you.”

A stuttering moment of silence, something in Taehyung’s eyes flickers like he can’t quite settle on a thought; but then Taehyung throws him this jaw-dropping grin, fluffs up the front of Jimin’s hair, gives him a wet smack on top of his head… and that’s that. Their relationship in the breadth of three seconds.

They finish loading the car, a faded red SUV that Taehyung’s cousin is loaning them that has probably seen more of the road already then both of them have lived combined. But it has space, enough for a month’s worth of nomadic living, and the gas guzzling isn’t all too terrible. And air-conditioning. Jimin wasn’t about to trek across the country without air-conditioning. 

“Park Jimin.”

“Kim Taehyung?”

Taehyung gives his seatbelt a hefty pull and pulls out his phone to plug in. Gives Jimin a little eyebrow wiggle that makes him laugh, not that it takes much. “Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?”

There’s a dangerous glean in his eyes and it makes Jimin’s heart stutter, like they’re fourteen again and Taehyung’s introducing himself to the class for the first time since moving and Jimin is the only person he looks at as he speaks.  Jimin knew then, with that quiet and powerful stare, that he was about to get into something awfully wonderful.  

The same stare is trailed on him now, his eyes roving Jimin’s face, and Jimin takes in a deep, steadying breath and flips on the radio and tries to keep all the adoration out of his voice when he says, “I’d follow you anywhere.”

 

~~~

 

Four days in and Jimin feels as if he’s going to go mad.

“We’ve stopped in every single major residential province, Tae,” he declares loudly and drapes himself over the console as much as he can without endangering both their lives as Taehyung drives. “We went to the palace, the village, the theme park. What’s next? What other mundane tourist attraction are you going to subject me to?”

Jimin’s not all that upset. Taehyung knows that he’s not actually upset. Jimin loves doing touristy things. But it’s been four days of constant companionship and Jimin is so overwhelmed by the amount of Taehyung’s attention he’s receiving that he’s unsure how to process it all.

There’s always been a barrier before this. School, parents, friends, work, bigoted strangers on the street. But now it’s them and an open road and the impossibility of meeting any of these people ever again and Taehyung is being so unapologetically himself, so warm and tactile and thoughtful that Jimin forgets he needs to breathe sometimes.

Taehyung pats his head and answers with a smile. “The beach.”

After parking the car and loading up a couple backpacks, Taehyung drags him to a ferry terminal where they spend an hour on a boat with fifty other people looking for a summer getaway. Taehyung says they’re in Gusan, a chain of islands off the west coast, and Jimin keeps it to himself that he too took middle school geography.

They spend the rest of the afternoon biking and hiking across the major islands connected by a system of thin, winding bridges. Hundreds of people loiter about at fountains and quaint, over-priced shops. The sandy white beaches are dappled with a rainbow of umbrellas, and they stop to eat lunch at a seafood restaurant that has some of the best shrimp Jimin’s ever tasted.

Jimin’s not sure what they’re doing. Backpacking, vacationing, adventuring. Whatever it is, it feels off, but Jimin’s not sure what this is supposed to feel like, anyway. This is Taehyung’s trip, after all. As long as Taehyung is enjoying himself, then Jimin’s happy.

Taehyung’s been sitting quietly on the ledge of their cliff for a while now, though. According to a brochure, there are supposed to be fireworks tonight. According to a local who definitely had a sweet spot for Taehyung’s fluttery gaze, this is one of the best places to watch.

“What do you want, Jimin?”

Jimin startles, but Taehyung still has his gazed turned to the ocean, his features sharped by the shadows of evening light disappearing on the horizon. “That’s very vague question, Tae.”

“Not if you know what you want.”

“Still vague,” Jimin mumbles and kicks his legs out in the open air in front of them. “Fine. I really want a shower. Hobi-hyung’s scented candle, the sandalwood one. My bed to sleep in instead of the ground or a car seat. I wouldn’t mind a cheeseburger. What do you want?”

“To be happy.”

He feels dry and dusty and dirty, but Jimin scoots over so their bodies are touching, heel to thigh to shoulder, and Taehyung sinks against his side and sighs.

“I’m so tired, Jimin. I wanna feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with my life. I wanna know why my dad left us. I wanna know where my art comes from and where I want it to go. I want to help people, but I don’t know how because there are so many bad things going on in the world and it overwhelms me just thinking about it. I just wanna be happy. Or at least stop feeling so sad.”

They sit there together long after the dark has settled in. It’s still warm, but the cool air of the ocean rises up to meet them and Jimin closes his eyes and breathes in the scent of salt and damp earth and Taehyung’s sunscreen that smells deeply of coconuts. He hated that sunscreen at first, but now it’s become another part of Taehyung, and Jimin can’t hate any part of Taehyung, not even the bad parts. Because Taehyung can be flighty and impatient and indecisive and he always forgets to pick up his trash and sometimes he disappears like he doesn’t care about anyone but himself, but he’s kind. He’s the most sensitive soul that Jimin knows.

Fireworks break their silence, and the sky above shimmers in red and gold and white. It looks as if the stars themselves are bursting. In the distance a crowd cheers. Taehyung grips Jimin’s knee.

“I want to stop disappointing people,” Jimin says quietly, long after the show ends and the real stars come out. Taehyung’s thumb rubs circles into Jimin’s thigh. “I want to be better, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to meet all these expectations.”

“You’ve never disappointed me,” Taehyung says, echoing the tone of his voice. “I think you’re incredible.”

Jimin wonders how that can be. Taehyung, who is so wonderful, so bright and fearless and full of life, thinks he’s this remarkable person. How can that be?

A star overhead blinks and then falls, and all Jimin can think to say is, “Taehyung-ah, make a wish.”

Jimin can’t think of anything to wish for; rather, he can’t figure out how to put it into words, all the longing clobbering around in his chest. So he just sits there in silence for a long while, hoping desperately that the universe will just somehow understand.

When he comes back down, Taehyung is watching him.

Jimin wonders how long his eyes have been open. If he ever closed them.

 

~~~

 

“Jimin, are you awake?”

“I keep having this dream, this nightmare. You’re in it.”

“You don’t die, but you’re gone. You’re in it, but you’re not. Like I know you’ve left and you’re never coming back, and I don’t know what’s worse, you dying or you disappearing. I think they’re different things, but Namjoon-hyung just tells me to sit in on his psych classes.”

“Please don’t disappear on me.”

 

~~~

 

When Taehyung realized he was in love with Jimin, it was all much quieter than he thought it would be.

They’re out grocery shopping for Jungkook and Namjoon’s joint birthday party, on behalf of Seokjin who got caught covering a few tutoring sessions this week and couldn’t make it out himself. Taehyung’s the designated cart pusher—an order from Jimin in an effort to keep his hands busy and mind occupied so he’ll stop grabbing snacks off the shelves and sneaking them under the chip bags when he thinks Jimin’s not looking.

Jimin’s always looking, and Taehyung might be getting caught on purpose just to watch Jimin’s pout grow with every scolding.

If anything, cart pushing just makes him jumpier, and Taehyung’s thoughts have even more time to wander what with only having to move in a straight line and avoid the occasional head on collision with another evening shopper. He starts to play games with himself, creating ten-word stories from the titles and captions of packages they pass and seeing how many purple products he can spot before they reach the end of an aisle.

When he’s successfully out-flash-fictioned Hemingway himself and exhausted the stock of purple shelf items (should have gone with red, everything is red because it causes people to feel hungry), Taehyung starts to think about his photography project due next week. Abstraction is the theme, an effort to get them into macro, to look at shapes within a shape. He’s already got a collection of various wall textures going, rusted metal and rotting wood and cracked concrete, all various patterns within the same tonal range.

But then he starts thinking about how many old buildings there are around Seoul, abandoned buildings that have so much hidden character, just wasting away with the elements.

And then he starts thinking about homelessness in Seoul, and, not including the condemned structures, there’s probably enough vacant and foreclosed buildings to end homelessness across the country just in this one city.

And then he starts thinking about how corrupt the government is, that they would never agree to a program to eradicate homelessness because that would mean lessening the class gap despite how shelter is a basic human right and giving people access to it would ultimately boost the economy.

And then he thinks about how a healthy economy would mean less competition between students seeking job opportunities outside of college.

Which would lead to more people pursuing careers they actually enjoy rather than just those offering healthcare and above average minimum wage.

Which would mean Taehyung’s mom would stop subtly complaining about his chosen major.

Which means Taehyung could just take pictures of old buildings and old people and old dogs for the rest of his life.

The slightest pressure against his forehead, and Taehyung blinks and comes back to himself and goes cross-eyed trying to stare at Jimin’s finger tapping against his supposedly furrowed brow.

“Whatcha thinking about, sweetheart?” Jimin chimes, amusement flickering in his eyes, and Taehyung doesn’t hesitate to say,

“School. Homelessness. Dogs.”

Taehyung bites his lip, embarrassed and prepped to explain himself, and Jimin tilts his head, smiling squintily, and says between giggles, “Interesting. Tell me about it later?”

Taehyung nods and Jimin’s face pinches adorably, eyes going remarkably soft, and that’s that. They set off down the aisle, Jimin keeping one hand on the front of cart. Taehyung starts to think again.

Jimin, in that dark green sweater.

Jimin, who hasn’t cut his hair again so it’s starting to spill in front of his eyes.

Jimin, who is just walking, just comparing apples, just trying to find the best deal on noodles and bargain with the meat salesman.

There’s a triumphant look on his face that makes him look younger when he manages to haggle down the beef a few dollars, and Taehyung can see that the salesman looks at Jimin likes he’s dealing with an endearing child. Men and women take second and third glances as they pass by, awed and mystified by his gentle beauty.

And then…

“People keep staring at you,” Jimin stage whispers as he leans across the cart to grab a container of chili powder, and when he pulls back there’s so much warmth in his face that Taehyung feels as if his chest is collapsing. He reaches for Jimin’s hand, just like he’s done for as long as he can remember, and he bites his lip and waits for the moment that Jimin pulls away.

He doesn’t. Jimin just laces their fingers together and tugs him forward and they shop like that for the next several minutes, connected and quiet as Taehyung thinks.

Taehyung doesn’t know many things, not the way Namjoon knows things, but he does know this:

That lobsters never age.

That avocados are poisonous to birds.

That Jimin is beautiful in a way that hurts, and Taehyung has so much love for him that it’s a miracle none of it spills out without him noticing.

“TaeTae?”

Taehyung startles at the sound of Jimin’s voice, the revelation of his own response. Realizes that they’re both just standing in the middle of the produce aisle. Jimin moves closer, reaches to stroke the back of Taehyung’s head, runs his fingers through the tangled fringe around his ears. “You okay?”

Taehyung opens his mouth to speak but the words fall away, and Jimin just looks at him for a small moment. Moves their cart to the side so a woman can get past. Waits.

Taehyung’s terrified that one day soon, Jimin is going to brush him off. One day he’s not going to be able to hold Jimin’s hand like this. One day they’re going to grow up and move on. Away. From each other. Physically, emotionally. In every way possible, they’ll no longer be together.

There’s a quiet little yank below Taehyung’s stomach, then another on his wrist. Jimin’s taken his hand, taken the cart, and guides them through the rest of their list. Starts to talk about this new book he’s reading. Handles getting checked out. Allows Taehyung to just be small and silent for a moment.

  I want to be with you forever, Taehyung mouths to Jimin’s turned back. I want to love you forever.

 

~~~

 

As he steps out of the water after a morning workout swim, Taehyung’s approached by a guy around his age. He’s tall and clean-shaven and has more abs than one person could possibly need, and he stalks right up to him in such a way that people tend to do when they have a goal in mind.

“Hi.”

“Hello.” Taehyung shakes his bangs to fluff them up a bit, glances around to see if the guy might have lost something or someone. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Yongsoo.” He holds out a hand and Taehyung tentatively shakes it. “Sorry to bother you, but I just had to let you know that you are gorgeous.”

“Oh.” Taehyung takes the compliment like a knee to the gut. “Thank you, that’s very kind.”

“I know this is forward,” Yongsoo starts, and Taehyung really takes a look at him this time, discovers that he’s got a classically handsome face. Doesn’t smell. Probably purposefully picked red to wear because it goes well with his complexion. “But would you like to grab a drink with me?”

“Oh,” Taehyung echoes, feeling exposed in the open air. “That’s very, uhm, nice to ask, but—”

An arm around his waist, chin propped on his neck. “Hey sweetheart,” Jimin says a little too loud. “Brought you a soda. Who’s this?”

Taehyung leans into Jimin out of habit, out of comfort, and Yongsoo seems to get some kind of subliminal message going on here.

“Sorry, I should have asked if you were seeing someone. You guys make a cute couple.”

Taehyung doesn’t correct him, and Jimin guides them back to the safety of their setup and releases his waist as soon as the guy from before is lost in the distance.

“Sorry,” Jimin mutters into his towel as Taehyung slips on a shirt and adjusts the umbrella so it’s covering Jimin’s back. He’s starting to get pink around his neck.

“For what?”

“That guy was hitting on you,” Jimin’s voice comes out muffled the more he buries into the sand. “I should have let you handle it, you know, if you wanted to go out with him but I just—You looked terrified so I just stepped in.”

“He wasn’t hitting on me,” Taehyung responds automatically, and Jimin swings out a leg blindly and nails Taehyung in the shin. “Fine! Ouch. He was handsome, yeah, be he wasn’t my type.”

Jimin stills, and Taehyung settles onto his own towel, this time lying out to dry under the sun. They spent an hour searching for a place off the main path, and here it’s quiet save for a few families and couples and a lone straggler dotted here and there.

Taehyung’s dozing when he hears Jimin say something, and he hums for Jimin to repeat himself.

“What is your type?

“Does it matter?”

“I’m just curious,” Jimin says more clearly this time, like he’s lifted his face from the towel. “You’ve never dated anyone. That I know of.”

“If I was dating someone, you would know,” Taehyung responds lightly.

 Jimin pauses then says, “You could have dated before we met.”

“In middle school?”

“A lot of people do.”

“Did you?”

“No.”

“That’s probably the one year you didn’t, then.” Taehyung regrets the statement, but he can’t take it back. Jimin has turned away from him again and Taehyung’s alert now, feels a weight begin to press on his stomach. He doesn’t like this conversation. “I don’t have a type. I just… know.”

Jimin’s voice comes out tiny. “Have you ever known before?”

Only once. Only with you. At least I thought so.

“Yes.”

Jimin doesn’t ask who or where or when, so Taehyung doesn’t push it anymore. He doesn’t know what he’d say, anyway.

It’s you, it’s you, it’s always been you.

 

 

They stay out all day, and Taehyung can feel the warmth of a burn on his shoulders as they pack up the car again to head out for the next stop. Jimin drives this time, and Taehyung leans against the door with his feet on the dash and it’s not safe but it’s comfortable.

Jimin’s high voice begins to spill out not long after he gets settled, and Taehyung sings a chorus here and there or hums along with him when he doesn’t know the words. They harmonize nicely, get silly at other times, and Taehyung eventually settles into stillness as Jimin sings a ballad, something heartbreaking, something lovely.

When Taehyung wakes up, it’s evening and they’re pulling into a campsite a couple hours north of the beach. They decide to sleep in the car that night. They move most of the supplies into the front seats and lay out their sleeping bags on the egg foam mattress they bought a week in when Jimin started to complain of shoulder cramps. It’s a tight squeeze so they sleep close with the windows open to let in cool air and the sound of the summer night; cicadas and crickets and the rustle of the leaves high above them.

“I want you to be happy, Tae.”

It’s sudden and Taehyung doesn’t know what to say to that so he doesn’t say anything. Because he’s not happy, and it’s been so long since he was that he can’t say he even wants to be anymore. Sadness is a constant companion, after all.

 

~~~

 

“Taehyung? Are you awake?”

“I have a secret to tell you.”

“I’m afraid I’m losing everything I understand. And everything I’ve been told is that that’s okay. That new doors open when old ones close. But I don’t want to forget the past and I’m not ready for the future.”

“I wish you were here. I feel like you’re the thing that’s drifting away the most.”

 

~~~

 

They get into their first fight two weeks in.

“I’m going to burn that fucking map, Taehyung.”

Taehyung ignores him and continues to pour over the crinkled and stained paper. It’s seen better, cleaner, days.

They’re trapped in a rainstorm on the side of a highway that’s older than life itself, and Taehyung can’t seem to make up his mind if they should take the next right or left. The map has dictated every move they’ve made the past several days, and usually that puts Jimin at peace. Rules and regulations and guides are safe, they don’t leave room for error, but lately there’s this constant ache in his forehead, right above his eyebrows, that Jimin can’t seem to get to fade.  

“Don’t yell at me, Jimin.”

Jimin gets that he’s been a less than desirable companion the past couple days, that since Taehyung is the only other person here then he gets the brunt of Jimin’s frustrations and that’s not fair. Jimin knows that’s not fair. But Taehyung doesn’t look up at him when he speaks, even to snap at him, and that’s the tipping point. Jimin grabs the map out of Taehyung’s hands and throws open the car door and, in turn, the map along with it.

Taehyung screeches and trips out of the car, and half a minute later he’s scrambling back into the passenger seat with a squeak and a squash, hair plastered to his face as he smooths out the damp paper on the dashboard.

It tears right down the middle, a clean cut, and this is what sets Jimin off.

He laughs so hard he knocks his forehead against the steeling wheel and sets the horn off, scares himself into silence, and then Taehyung is guffawing, bent in half with wracked laughter.

They meet each other’s eye for a brief moment, and Taehyung has still full-force smile on, one Jimin hasn’t seen in weeks, maybe months, and when Taehyung throws open the door to run into the storm again, Jimin follows without thinking.

Taehyung’s sprinting through the open field beside the road and Jimin follows after, shrieking when Taehyung turns on him to catch him around the waist, lift him in the air. They spin and spin and sliding in the mud, a tangle of limbs and laughter as they roll into the grass. Jimin lies faceup and he thinks he might be crying because he’s laughing so hard, but it’s hard to tell with the rain.

Jimin closes his eyes and finds Taehyung’s hand, laces their fingers together. In twenty years, if someone asks him what his favorite memory is, he’ll probably recall this moment, right now. Because Jimin can’t remember the last time he just let himself take in a moment like this. Because Jimin can’t remember the last time someone looked at him like this, the way Taehyung is looking at him now, like Jimin is this glittering, uncharted galaxy. Like, if Jimin told Taehyung that he loved him, Taehyung might just say it back.

 

~~~

 

“You’re staring again.”

Taehyung grunts, tips to the side so that Jungkook’s forced to catch him.

He does, then kind of dumps him on the floor. Taehyung curses thickly and then crawls back onto the sofa to resume his post. His job this evening appears to chaperoning Jimin as he makes out with half the room.  It’s a tough job. Usually there are at least snacks, but this house party has a grossly understocked pantry.

“Am I not supposed to be?” Taehyung asks, narrowing his eyes as a guy gets a little too frisky with Jimin’s butt and Jimin pushes him off with a giggle. Kisses his cheek. Moves on to another corner of the room.

“I’m confused about whether you want Jiminie-hyung to know you’re in love with him or not.”

Taehyung chokes on his water and Jungkook slaps him on the back hard enough to make him cough again. “How do you know that?”

“Because you stare,” Jungkook answers simply, like Taehyung should know better. “All the time. And Jin-hyung told me.”

Taehyung watches Jimin get approached by a girl this time, short and curvy with fantastic boots. He goes gooey under her fluttery touch. “How did Jin hyung find out?”

“From Namjoon-hyung,” Jungkook says.

“Do I want to know where Joon-hyung found out?” The girl giggles. She presses a finger to Jimin’s neck mole. Taehyung gulps down his water. “Does everyone know?”

“Everyone but Jimin-hyung.”

“Guess that’s all that matters.”

They both watch the girl lead Jimin out onto the balcony by the hem of his shirt, and Taehyung goes itchy all over at the thought of Jimin out there alone. What if she tries to drug him? What if he’s not careful and falls over the railing? What if he’s too afraid of being mean to say no if he doesn’t like something?

Jungkook latches onto his belt when he tries to stand, tugs him back into the couch. Pats his thigh in consolation.

“You said you weren’t going to tell him,” Jungkook says without looking at him because apparently Jungkook, like half their friend group, is afraid of acknowledging feelings and that he has them. Namjoon should hold an intervention again. “If you’re not going to confess, you need to let him be his own person.”

“Sounds like a Yoongi-hyung thing to say.” Jungkook’s ears are pink. Taehyung coos and tugs at one, then starts to play with one of the silver hoops there. “I love him. It’s hard.”

“That was easy to say to me. Can’t you say that to him?”

Taehyung smiles at him, pats his cheek, whispers “watch this” as Jimin and the girl stumble back into the room. “Jiminie!”

Jimin glances around, dazed on his feet, but when he spots Taehyung waving he lurches forward, delighted and bubbling over with energy, the girl from before abandoned by the door with a satisfying frown on her pretty face.

“TaeTae!”

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung smiles as Jimin falls into his lap. “Jiminie, I have something important to tell you.”

Jimin sobers up a bit at that, at the serious note in Taehyung’s voice. His hand wraps around Taehyung’s waist, and the heat of his bare skin feels good, soothing and familiar. “What’s up?”

Taehyung’s breathing is loud in his nose. “I love you. I really, really love you.”

Taehyung’s stomach tightens at the light that flashes in Jimin’s eyes because maybe this time—

“Aww, I love you, too Tae.” Jimin laughs and presses a sloppy kiss against his temple. “So, so much.”

Taehyung’s smile is defeated as he lets Jimin kiss him once more, this time on the forehead. And then he’s gone, this bright, buzzing light spreading back into the room that just seems to draw others in, and Taehyung tips back into the cushions with a sigh and a shrug and a smile when Jungkook looks to him, open-mouthed.

“How many times?” He asks.

“Have I confessed?” Taehyung does quick math on his fingers. “Like twelve. He never understands.”

“Have you tried to make him understand? And when he’s not drunk?”

“He’s not that drunk right now. And I don’t think he wants to understand.” Another girl this time, this time long and willowy. She has Jimin pressed against the closet door, mouth locked under his jaw. “I don’t think he wants to know.”

Jungkook has these deep, dark eyes that pull people in. It’s hard to hide things with those eyes, and Taehyung can see the sadness there, a little bit of anger. Taehyung pats his cheek and returns to playing with his ear.

“It’s okay, Kook,” Taehyung murmurs as Jungkook drops the posturing pretense and slouches into his slide to be petted. “I’m okay. It’s better this way.”

Jungkook glances sidelong at him but doesn’t try to fight, doesn’t try to press. They both watch Jimin get led into a bedroom, door shutting loudly, and Jungkook asks him if he wants to go somewhere with less people and more pancakes and Taehyung sniffles wetly and lets Jungkook lead him out by the hand and wonders why, if emotions come from the brain, why he has to carry this ache in his chest.

 

~~~

 

Some of the ink has smeared, but other than that, the map is still legible. They don’t use it as often anymore, only to avoid the major cities and freeways. Now they wing it. Now they ask the locals and guess at how far they are from the shoreline based off the scent of the ocean. They stop in small towns in the early morning for farmer’s markets and pick wild flowers on the side of the road and hike up mountains to watch the sunset. Every few days they’ll call someone—their moms, Hoseok, Yoongi, Jungkook—to let them know they haven’t been eaten by a bear or been mugged or crashed into a ditch. Other than that, their phones stay in the glovebox or hooked up to an aux cord for music. The only piece of technology actively used is the car and Taehyung’s camera.

“I hate that thing.”

Taehyung snaps a few more photos of the view from the trail, and then he turns on Jimin and quickly takes another before Jimin can throw his hands up to hide.

“I thought you liked photography?”

“Only when I’m the one taking the photos.”

Taehyung knows Jimin only hates the photos of himself. Taehyung knows that for someone who likes to be seen, Jimin doesn’t like to be seen. But he still takes the photos—of Jimin eating and Jimin sleeping and Jimin looking out over the ocean as the wind kicks up his hair or trying to feed a one-legged bird.

“Park Jimin.” Taehyung drops the camera to his chest and steps forward to place his fingertips over Jimin’s mouth. Jimin startles slightly, quieting. “You’re the most beautiful person I know.”

Jimin flushes at his words, maybe his touch. Maybe it’s just hot and Taehyung’s reading too far, being too hopeful; except something shifts in Jimin’s expression. He softens, now looking at Taehyung in wonderment, and Taehyung taps his lips once and winks and slips past him to feign taking a picture of the view because Jimin was looking at him like he was seeing Taehyung for the first time. Like if Taehyung told Jimin that he loved him, he might just say it back this time and mean it.

 

~~~

 

“I think you secretly like breaking people’s hearts.”

“I’m not a sadist, Tae.”

Jimin just broke up with his girlfriend. His seventh one. Obviously that number doesn’t include guys. Or one-night stands. Or hook-ups in the dance studio or the epistemology section of the library.

She was sweet and happy and good for him and apparently the sex was amazing and Taehyung hated her but there was no reason for Jimin to suddenly end it.

“There just wasn’t that connection,” Jimin says after he’s drank half his glass, and he’s been swirling the remaining contents around for the past couple minutes. “You know, like something more could come out of it.”

“Are you looking for something more?” Taehyung asks him, flipping the coast in his hands so that it spins between his fingers. “I didn’t realize you were trying to be serious.”

“That’s mean,” Jimin pouts, and Taehyung’s not sure how to breach this subject anymore. They’ve all tried with various levels of intensity. Namjoon soft and coddling, Yoongi stiff and biting. No one can get Jimin to stop saying yes because that’s what he does. He says yes. Short, tall, round, slender, older, younger, blond, natural, an art major, a law student, a drop-out. He dates them all. The only thing they have in common is that they always ask first.

Taehyung can’t figure out why. At first he thought it was because Jimin liked them, then he thought it was out of pity, but now he doesn’t know. Because Jimin’s right, he falls in love with them every single time—but Jimin falls in love with flowers and cute dogs on street corners and the girl at the coffee shop and the boy in the elevator. He loves everyone and everything and Taehyung doesn’t know how he does it.

Maybe because Taehyung’s only ever loved Jimin he can’t seem to spread his love to anyone else. Sure, he loves his mom and grandparents and his friends; but that’s a softer, low maintenance kind of love. It takes no effort. It’s natural. It doesn’t tear him apart inside. It doesn’t make him want to sprint across the city at midnight or yell from the top of a building.

It doesn’t make him want to take a road trip and sleep in the dirt and dance in the rain and eat a live octopus and get drunk under the stars.

“What are you thinking about?”

Jimin has wind-mussed hair and this squinty, adorable smile and Taehyung answers honestly when he says, “You.”

Jimin seems pleased by this answer, and Taehyung puts a marker in the book he’s been reading to give him more attention. “Remember that April Fools’ Day when we gave Hobi-hyung the package of Oreos?”

“And replaced half the cream inside with toothpaste? Hell yeah.” Jimin laughs and it comes out all squeaky, more breath than sound. “Remember when we spent the night in that haunted house?”

A burst of laughter and Taehyung knocks his head against the back of the seat. “Oh god, I try to forget. Seokjin-hyung screamed so much he was hoarse for three days.” Taehyung glances over and Jimin is watching him curiously. “What? Is there something on my face?”

“You’re so beautiful, Taehyung-ah.”

His eyes are painfully, exquisitely honest, and then Jimin smiles so tenderly that Taehyung feels his heart breaking all over again and Taehyung’s never wanted to kiss him as much as he does right now. Taehyung wants to kiss him with everything that he has and all that he is, and for a fleeting heartbeat, Taehyung is terrified that Jimin can see that he does.

But then Jimin looks away, sticks his hand out the window as if to catch the wind, the sky, and Taehyung reminds himself that kissing Jimin will ruin everything.

 

~~~

 

“You’re giving up on him.”

Jimin wonders if he’s been obvious. How many of the others have noticed. If this is a conversation he can continue to avoid.

Hoseok’s steady stare says it isn’t.

“There’s a difference between giving up and giving in, hyung.”

Hoseok kicks at the floorboards, drags his heel along the ground, body swaying to the tepid beat in the background. Practice is over, but they’re still here, not quite going over the new choreo but not quite making up their own, either.

Hoseok glides, slides, pops to a stop and stares into the mirror, looks down at Jimin as he stretches his calves.

“I think both of them are just synonymous with quitting,” Hoseok finally says, and Jimin rolls his eyes because of course he would say that.

“That’s right, hyung. I’m quitting. I’m quitting him because I can’t keep living like this, expecting more when there’s nothing more to give.” Hoseok stops playing around, focuses his gaze on Jimin’s expression. It feels a little cracked. He feels a little cracked. “I need to move on, Hobi-hyung.”

There’s nothing in his exclamation that Hoseok can argue with because Jimin’s tried. He’s tried to find some reason to keep loving Taehyung—his open-mouthed smile or his obnoxious laughter or the way he braids Jimin’s hair while he naps—but it’s all so exhausting to love and receive no love in return. Not the same kind of love. And Jimin would rather keep Taehyung as a friend than lose him altogether.

“You know he doesn’t love me the same way,” Jimin says, exhaustion creeping into his voice, making it crack. “Hyung, you know that.”

Hoseok doesn’t deny anything, just tips his head back as a big sigh gusts out of him. “Let’s get some drinks, Jiminie.”

Jimin stopped drinking because last time he did he realized he’s in love with his best friend. Maybe this time he’ll realize that he can live without him.

 

~~~

 

Their second fight comes at the four-week mark.

Jimin got drunk. Jimin hooked up with a guy.

In the car.

Taehyung refuses to get in.

“You’re acting like a fucking child, Tae.” Jimin is livid and still a little drunk, and Taehyung shouldn’t argue with him when he’s like this but he’s tired.? He just wants to fall asleep and wake up in two years and be past all of this. “You’re acting like we’re not grown adults with sex drives. Who the fuck cares who I sleep with? You’ve never cared before.”

Every time, every time. I’ve cared every time.

“I don’t give a flying shit who you sleep with, Jimin, I care about where.” Taehyung cares about everything. He cares about the where and who and the how and the why. Where did it happen and who did it happen with and how did it happen and why wasn’t it with me? Anger roils up inside of him. “God, why do you have to be such a slut?”

His words echo against everything, and Taehyung inhales sharp and turns to find Jimin, lip quivering and eyes wide. Tears streaming.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung falters, reaching for his cheeks. “Jimin, I’m sorry—”

Jimin shoves him off, crawls into the car, and locks the doors.

Taehyung sleeps in the dirt that night.

 

~~~

 

Here’s the thing about cycles. It’s easy to acknowledge them. It’s hard to break out of them.

“Look, Jimin.”

Jimin wonders how many times someone has started a conversation with his name like that. Like he’s a disappointment. Like they could do better.

“You’re sweet,” Junho smiles, a dimple peeking out, but Jimin doesn’t think it’s nearly as cute as it was when they first met. Namjoon’s dimples are better by leaps and bounds. “But this just isn’t working between us.”

Jimin still can’t quite get words out, so Junho keeps talking.

“It’s obvious that you don’t want more. There’s someone else, I get it. This is just a waste of time.”

The embarrassment of being broken up with at a semi-public event where all their friends can see them is stifled by the flare of anger that prickles his neck. “What?”

A couple girls glance their way and Junho shifts so that Jimin is hidden from view, like he’s making an attempt at privacy. “Come on, Min, you know what I’m talking about.”

Jimin feels bleary at the edges, wishes he hadn’t had that third drink, wishes he was making such a disgusted face but he can’t help it. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. What do you mean there’s someone else? You think I’m cheating?”

Junho sighs and rubs at a spot above his eyebrow. “No, not cheating. I’m talking about Taehyung, Jimin.”

“Tae?” Jimin’s voice is too loud again and he spots Namjoon tilt their direction from the kitchen, trying to catch his attention to see if he needs help. Jimin probably does. Jimin’s too tipsy for this conversation. “Why are we talking about Tae?”

Junho is nice. Not like a façade of nice that Jimin receives sometimes when people just want to have a fun time. He’s a good guy. But Jimin can tell this looped conversation is getting to him, and he shifts so that he’s leaning further in to rest on the wall. Tired. He looks tired.

Jimin is tired.

“Because he’s obviously the one you want to be with,” Junho says quietly, and it takes a few seconds but the words stop jumbling around enough to make sense and when they do, Jimin is livid.

“You’re breaking up with me because of Taehyung?” Jimin hisses, standing to full height so that Junho is forced to back up.

“Come on, Jimin, you can’t be surprised.” That’s not it, that’s not the problem. “I’m not angry, I just don’t get why you said yes to me when you have him.”

“I don’t—I don’t have him,” Jimin snaps, and Namjoon is definitely making his way over now. “He’s not mine.”

“You’re definitely each other’s whatever. Please don’t cry, Jimin.”

He’s not. He’s not supposed to be crying but this gross sob forces its way out of his mouth and Jimin bites his tongue to cover the sound. “Don’t—Don’t tell me wh-what to do.”

 “Jimin—”

“Jiminie?”

It’s not Namjoon. Namjoon’s still a few yards away, now flanked on the side by Yoongi. It’s Taehyung who’s within touching distance, curled around the bend in the hallway with furrowed brows that only crease deeper the longer he looks at Jimin’s face. “Are you okay? What’s happening?”

Junho rolls his eyes and anger rattles through Jimin’s body. His arm shoots out, catching Junho on the shoulder, and Junho stumbles back in surprise rather than from the force and Jimin knows that Junho would never hurt him, but Taehyung is suddenly there, standing between them, pressing Jimin behind his back while another arm hangs heavy in the air as a barrier.

“Go home,” Taehyung growls, and a shiver runs down Jimin’s spine at the sound. “Now.”

Junho lifts his hands, exasperated, and meets Jimin’s eye over Taehyung’s shoulder. “See what I’m talking about?”

“You don’t know anything,” Jimin bites back and Taehyung’s hand tightens on the fabric of his shirt as if to tell him to shut up.

 “Whatever,” Junho mutters, looking between them both, and there’s something mean about his face now, something Jimin should have picked up on weeks ago. “I was trying to be nice, but you’ve obviously got issues. Everyone warned me not to go out with the school slut.”

It happens quick. Taehyung is there, and then he’s not. He’s right up in Junho’s face and has him by the collar of the hoodie and the music screeches to a stop and there’s this sickening crunch of bone on bone as Junho digs his fist against Taehyung’s cheekbone and Jimin just—

“Fucking hell!”

“Touch him again and I will fucking kill you,” Jimin spits, lowering his leg from where it was still raised after his knee collided with Junho’s nose. There’s a lot of blood. A couple guys scramble over to carry Junho through the apartment, out the front door. Namjoon’s there, and Yoongi and Hoseok, who is cradling Taehyung’s head and asking him concussion questions.

Taehyung’s eyes are bleary but his smile is beaming when Jimin drops in front of him. “Did I get ‘em?”

“Yeah. Yeah, you got him, sweetheart.” Jimin gives him a wobbly grin, brushes the bangs from Taehyung’s forehead. “Thanks for defending my honor.”

“Anything,” Taehyung grins, closing his eyes, giggling when Hoseok snaps at him to keep them open. “Anything for you. Love you.”

Hoseok and Namjoon haul Taehyung to his feet, and as they pass, Hoseok finds his gaze and just shakes his head.

Shame, weeks of it, maybe months, rolls through Jimin’s stomach so thick he ends up hunched over a trashcan, Yoongi rubbing his lower back, his dark voice whispering soft nothings as Jimin just sobs, as all the ribs in his chest break under the weight of his heart.

 

~~~

 

“Do you really think that I’m a slut?”

Jimin is standing over him with two Styrofoam cups of gas station coffee and the face of someone who was just told that their dog has cancer.

Taehyung scrambles to blink away the tears before they form. He doesn’t deserve to cry for Jimin. “No. No, I don’t. I never have. You are filled with so much love and so much beauty and I am so sorry for making you feel like anything less than that.”

It looks like Jimin is torn between accepting him and stepping on him.

“If this happens again,” Jimin says quietly, eyes lined with red, “I won’t forgive you.”

“It won’t,” Taehyung sniffles. “I promise.”

“Don’t make promises, Tae.” There’s a look on Jimin’s face that Taehyung has never seen before, at least never directed at him. “All I get are broken promises.”

Jimin hands him a drink and slips around to the driver side as Taehyung stands and cracks his back, wipes his eyes, tries to forget how Jimin just looked at him like he’s a stranger.

 

~~~

 

They stay the next night at Taehyung’s parents’ house in Daegu, and then they pass through Yeongcheon and Pohang and Uljin in silence. They don’t stop to swim. They don’t stop to watch the sunset or go to quaint cafés or take photos of small woodland creatures for Namjoon. Something has shifted between them. There have been worse fights, physical fights, but Taehyung was right. The most dangerous and frightening things in life are often the quietest.

 

~~~

 

“Taehyung?”

“I have a confession. I’m not afraid of the dark anymore.”

“But I am afraid of all the people you meet when I’m not with you. Maybe they could be for you all the things that I am not. Maybe you’re only happy with me because you don’t know any better. Maybe I wasn’t made for anyone. Maybe I was made to be alone.”

“I’m terrified of being alone.” 

 

~~~

 

Taehyung hits his breaking point after twenty-four hours of silence.

He pulls over. Ignores Jimin asking him what they’re doing. If everything is okay. Because things are not okay, they are not okay, and Taehyung doesn’t know how to fix them because they’ve been broken for so long now.

“Taehyung!”

It’s not that high. A ledge more than a cliff. Taehyung still screams the whole way down, and the water feels like a slap to the face when he hits but at least it feels like something.

He stays under for as long as he can, staring up at the sun dappled surface, and when he finally feels a little fire in his lungs he kicks up fast and gasps when he breaks through and—

“YOU FUCKING IDIOT!”

Taehyung screeches as hands shove him under the water, and when he sputters back up into the air, Jimin’s mid-rant. “—cking died you piece of shit! If you want to die that badly I’ll fucking help you!”

Jimin goes for another dunk, and Taehyung grips his hands and spits a mouthful of saltwater in his face. Jimin shrieks, flailing and cursing so thick in dialect that Taehyung doesn’t understand anything he’s saying so he laughs instead. Because the adrenaline is still wringing out his body. Because Jimin just jumped off a cliff for him.

“I what?” Jimin asks, inhaling thickly, and Taehyung grabs him by the collar of the shirt and pulls him in closer so that he can press his forehead to Jimin’s temple.

“You just jumped off a fucking cliff,” Taehyung laughs, breathing him in. “We just jumped off a cliff.”

“Holy fuck,” Jimin whispers, looking up to where they stood just minutes ago. “Holy hell. Don’t tell my mom. I need to tell Jungkook. Ohmygodwejumpedoffacliff.”

Jimin’s face is alight with sheer delight, and Taehyung pulls him in close again and gives him a brief, fierce hug because he missed his best friend and Jimin giggles into his neck and they’re okay. They were always okay.

They’re dry by the time they make it back up the mountainside to the car, and there they feast on sandwiches and bananas and Jimin is still in such a thrill daze that he doesn’t even fight Taehyung off when he pulls out his camera.

“Min, c’mere.”

Jimin leans in so that their cheeks are brushing, and Taehyung holds up the lens and snaps a photo and refuses to let Jimin see it when he asks.

“We’re adorable,” is all Taehyung says, then tucks away the camera and asks if they can get away without showering now.

 

 

Later, when Taehyung is napping in their makeshift bed in the car, Jimin pulls out the digital camera to see what was so special Taehyung felt the need to hide it.

He has to filter through a dozen images of frogs and thrice that many of stalls and old people and flowers from the market they visited, but Jimin finds the picture from this afternoon and holds his breath for so long that all the air in his lungs make his heart thud harder against his rib cage.

They’re both damp and golden and smiling so wide their bottom teeth are showing. They have a lot of photos composed like this, close as they can get. Laughing. But this is different. This is Jimin squinting into the camera like he’s looking into the sun and Taehyung watching him fearlessly like he’s in on some kind of secret.  

Jimin swallows and curls in on the camera, flipping through all the photos. Photos of the ocean and the forests and fields and clouds and people at the beach and people in the in streets and Jimin. Jimin tucked up against the car door sleeping. Jimin with a stalk of wheat grass playing with a cat in the street. Jimin splashing through a tide pool, ceremoniously holding up a starfish with a missing arm.

Jimin remembers Taehyung taking half these photos. Jimin doesn’t remember looking this in love in any of them.

He puts the camera case back, and in the morning he tells Taehyung that they’re going to share the designated photographer position. He doesn’t make up an excuse. Jimin tells him that there won’t be any photos with him in them, and that’s unacceptable, but he doesn’t fill the whole truth, either. He doesn’t say that he wants to remember Taehyung like this, warm and tan and happy, six months from now in the dead of winter when this will all just feel like a dream.

 

~~~

 

Jimin is not a writer. He’s not an artist. He’s not a reader. He’s not a movie watcher. He’s not an athlete or a cook or an explorer. Taehyung wonders what he does with himself, not just to stay amused, but how he keeps living without pouring his heart into something, anything, besides work or school or trying to appease people.

But then Taehyung will catch him singing—in the kitchen as he scrambles eggs, in the shower as Taehyung brushes his teeth, in the park as they play with all the dogs that have been let off their leashes. Jimin sings when he thinks no one is listening, but Taehyung’s always listening because Jimin’s voice—singing, cracking, shouting—is his favorite sound in existence. And if Taehyung sings, then Jimin will always join in, so Taehyung sings all the time. Not because he thinks he’s good, not to hear his own voice, but to hear Jimin’s.

 

~~~

 

“Was that book forty-three?”

“Forty-four.”

“I’m still not counting Moby Dick.”

“Then you can sleep outside this time.”

 

~~~

 

Taehyung is forgetful, but Jimin knows it’s because he’s an artist.

Taehyung doesn’t know the date of a single birthday of anyone close to him—friends, family, co-workers. He doesn’t remember to clean his room or take out the trash or water the plants. Sometimes he doesn’t remember to eat. Or sleep. Or to go outside for at least ten minutes a day. He definitely doesn’t remember to go to appointments, or to make them.

At first, Jimin wanted to leave him because of that, because being friends with someone shouldn’t involve being their parent, as well. Except that Taehyung remembers Jimin’s meal at every restaurant they’ve been to, even if they’ve only been to it once. Taehyung remembers that Jimin only drinks Americanos with two packets of sugar and always puts lemons in his water because it helps with his acne, and that his favorite color is sky blue, and that he likes to wear ball caps because they cover his face because Jimin really, really hates his face.

Taehyung remembers everything that’s not important to anyone else but him, so Jimin takes care of the rest.

 

~~~

 

*A letter to Taehyung, written on the back of a crumpled receipt shoved under the floor mat*

 

God, you are everything I have ever wanted.

How I have I lived before this? Before you? Before hearing your voice and feeling your touch and seeing the way you care about people. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind and it’s driving me insane and I hate it, but I love you. God, I love you so much.

 

~~~

 

*A letter to Jimin, written in the margins of a newspaper tucked into the glovebox*

 

Remember that night at the concert when I lost my hat and you spent an hour searching for it in the dark? Remember the night I got so sick I called you crying and you came to my room at 3am and rubbed my back until I could breathe again? Or the time you took me to the sea for the first time, and I told you that I wanted to dance so you took me into your arms and we waltzed to the sound of the waves even though there were people watching, or the time we were waiting outside the gas station at midnight and you told me I was beautiful even though I hadn’t showered in two days. I’ll always regret not telling you that, in those moments, those moments where everything was so simple and so alive, I was slowly falling in love with you.

 

~~~ 

 

It happens when he’s restocking their cooler. Water bottles, beer, a bottle of white wine an old woman at one of the stands gave him because he has the face of an old lover. Taehyung thanked her with a kiss on the cheek, bounded through the bustling street so unlike the crowds back in Seoul. Everyone here is a morning person. Everyone here loves the sun. Everyone here is happy to be here and what do they have that Taehyung doesn’t?

“Tae?”

Jimin slides up to him, a hand on the back of his neck, and Taehyung tries for an easy smile and it comes out smeary and wrong and Jimin dumps their groceries in the back seat and wraps Taehyung up in his arms and sings.

Taehyung cries for the first time in weeks, can only think about why he can’t be normal and just appreciate things and why he has to be so uselessly sad when there’s nothing to be this sad over.

“I’m sorry,” he weeps into Jimin’s shoulder, shaking his head back and forth as Jimin shushes him. “I’m so useless, I’m sorry.”

“Sweetheart, no.” Jimin holds the back of his neck, shuffles them so they’re behind the car and out of view of passerbys. “My darling, no, you’re wonderful. You’re just sad. That’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.”

“You’re not sad,” Taehyung cries, his face hot and sticky against Jimin’s skin.

“I am. I get sad a lot, too. And so does Joonie-hyung and Yoongi-hyung. Lots of people are sad, Tae. We all handle it differently. It’s okay to cry.”

So Taehyung cries harder, because it’s painful to think about his friends feeling the way he does right now. Because it hurts to think about how much pointless suffering happens in the world that he can’t help.

They stand there together, in each other’s arms, until Taehyung loses the feeling in his legs but regains the feeling in his chest. Jimin buys him an ice cream to eat from the trunk while he finishes shopping. They splurge on snacks, eat half of them within the hour even though it’s still mid-morning. Jimin pulls up a hotspot so they can watch a movie about a dog where the dog doesn’t die.

It’s Taehyung’s turn to drive, but Jimin takes over without say, and they’re cruising along the coastline with the windows down and a cornflower sky and surrounded by the scent of wildflowers, and Taehyung realizes again that he’s been in love with Jimin for as long as he can remember. Before this trip. Before the supermarket. Taehyung’s loved Jimin since their first day of school together, when Jimin so brazenly matched his stare with his adorable, smiling eyes.

Taehyung’s smiling when Jimin asks, “What are you thinking about?”

And Taehyung doesn’t hesitate when he says, “you.” Doesn’t try to mask the fondness like before. Because Jimin is his best friend, the most beautiful person in his life. Because everywhere Taehyung is, Jimin always follows.

 

~~~

 

Jimin’s always been a romantic, but he’s never been close to the definition of a lover. He’s promiscuous and messy. He loves with his clothes off. With empty beds on Sunday mornings and empty chairs at family dinner. With harsh lips and frantic touches that never last the night. With his heart hidden under the safety of his sleeve instead of out in the open where anyone could get to it and use it against him.

Jimin watches Taehyung as he talks to a man at the flower stand, the bushel of daisies and sunflowers in his hands long forgotten because they’ve lost themselves in conversation. Taehyung throws his head back and laughs like he’s not afraid of people hearing, of seeing him. Like maybe if he’s a little louder, he can spread a little more joy.

Jimin used to think that he had so much love to give. And he does. Jimin knows he does. That’s why he always said yes to everyone. But he’s realizing that maybe he has a lot of love to give, but he only wants to give it to one person. Maybe he only said yes to others because the person who mattered would surely say no.

But Jimin’s here with a gorgeous boy with a gorgeous heart on a shimmery summer day and he’s tired of running away.

 

~~~

 

It’s the day after the skinny-dipping and Taehyung’s not sure if they’re fighting but he knows something is wrong, and he knows it’s not his fault because Jimin is the one who started this sweet, confusing, aching game last night and now he’s withdrawn and Taehyung can’t handle the emotional whiplash. Can’t handle this kind of silence.

Dirty blue clouds bruise the sky, an oncoming storm, and Taehyung sighs deeply through is nose. “We can’t move past this if you don’t tell me why you’re upset.”

Jimin doesn’t acknowledge him at first, just stays wrapped up in the passenger seat for almost twenty miles.

“My mom called.”

No hint of a smile in his voice. Jimin loves his mom. Taehyung doesn’t know why that’s a problem, his mom calling, and then he starts painting all these scenarios where his dad has had a heart-attack or they’re house has burned down or the family dog has finally kicked the bucket and Taehyung clears his throat and says cautiously, “I don’t understand.”

Jimin’s voice is softer, almost tentative when he speaks again. “I didn’t pass my medicinal chemistry lab.”

Taehyung relaxes his shoulders as relief spills through his limbs.

“I still don’t understand.”

“They kicked me out of the program, Taehyung.”

Before he can respond, Jimin flings open the side door and Taehyung screams until he realizes they’ve come to a four-way stop. Jimin’s heading towards a hillside, and Taehyung pulls off the road and tries to steel himself for whatever conversation this is going to be and finds himself floundering for solid ground.

“That was unnecessarily dramatic, just so you kno—”

“You don’t fucking understand, Taehyung.”

Taehyung bristles at that because he hates confrontation, avoids it whenever he can. Except with Jimin. With Jimin everything is different. With Jimin he’s crossed off half his resolutions. With Jimin he’s jumped from a cliff and swam naked in the ocean at midnight and danced in the middle of a thunderstorm and has memorized every gleaming star in the night sky.

“Then help me to understand, Jimin,” Taehyung says desperately, because that’s how Jimin makes him feel. Like he’s caught mid-fall and there’s no going back to the beginning but the ground is nowhere in sight. “Chim, talk to me.”

Taehyung’s seen this fire in Jimin’s eyes before. Against the guys that bullied Jungkook his freshman year. Against the jerk that punched Taehyung in the face at that party. Against Yoongi, even, when he holed himself up in his room for two weeks and wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even Namjoon.

Taehyung’s never had this look turned on him before.

“I just got kicked out of the pre-med program, Taehyung!” Taehyung flinches and Jimin doesn’t seem to notice. “I just wasted almost two years of my life on absolutely nothing! But of course you wouldn’t understand that because you don’t give a shit about anything but art and having fun.”

Taehyung has to bite his lip for a moment to keep it from quivering. “That’s not fair.”

“You’re not denying it.”

“I’m not your verbal punching bag, Jimin, so knock-it off.”

Jimin starts as if to respond to that, but then shame passes across his face like he’s understood that he’s being horrible. That he’s being hurtful. Why do they just keep hurting each other?

Taehyung is warm all over, and he digs his heels into the soft earth and doesn’t know what to do with his hands and he’s tired, he’s tired, he’s tired of carrying this heavy thing between them.

“Take the courses again, Jimin.” The sob that was working its way up his throat becomes a laugh. “If this is that important to you, do something about it. Talk to the people you need to talk to. Make a case. Just do something,” Taehyung yells, stepping forward and then back, still flinging his arms around. “But let me ask you something. When you first heard the news, were you honestly upset that you weren’t going to be a doctor, or were you upset because you didn’t meet everyone’s expectations?”

Jimin gnaws on his bottom lip and thunder crackles overhead. “That’s not fair.”

“You’re not denying it,” Taehyung bites back, and his tongue feels thick and he wants to stop but he can’t. Not anymore. It’s been over a month, over a year since they started this game. He wants it to be over.

“Jimin, you’re amazing,” Taehyung breathes, and the air feels like it’s pushing him down, pinning him in place, and he fights against it. “You’ve always been amazing. But you do all these things because you want attention and recognition, like you think you have to earn your worth. You don’t know what it’s like for people to look at you like you’re a failure. Not for real.”

“Taehyung,” Jimin starts, and Taehyung shakes his head. There’s so much distance to cover between them. When did they stop talking to each other?

“You don’t—” Taehyung gasps, realizes he’s crying, and Jimin’s in front of him pulling him in, cupping his cheeks, like he can’t stay away when Taehyung is breaking apart. “Shit happens in real life, Jimin. And it’s scary. And we make mistakes and suffer for them and get worse sometimes but we are real life and I like my life with you, Park Jimin, and all the fear in the world isn’t going to stop me from loving you.”

The first pattering of rain falls around them, picking up ferociously as they stand there together, and Jimin strokes his cheeks even though it doesn’t do any good, now, the rain now falling so heavy around them.

“You don’t mean it.” Jimin has to yell to be heard, and Taehyung watches as water slides down his nose and cheeks. “You don’t mean it the same way I mean it, Tae.”

“How do you know?” Taehyung shouts back. “What way to do you love me, Jimin?”

“I want to come home to you. Every day,” Jimin tells him, and his eyes crinkle at the sides when he smiles. Taehyung thinks he might be crying, too. “I want to sleep beside you and wake up to you next to me in bed in the morning, or to the sound of you in the shower, or because you burnt eggs because you’re a god-awful cook but that’s okay because Jin-hyung’s been giving me recipes.” Taehyung laughs, he cries. Jimin goes up on his toes to press their foreheads together. “I want to… Tae, I want to make love to you, and then I just wanna lie there naked with you and not feel ashamed of myself. I want you on your good days and even more on your bad ones because I’ll know you’ll need me just as much as I need to you. I want to grow old with you and adopt a dog and maybe adopt kids and I just want to hold you all the fucking time.”

Jimin leans back and reads his expression and smiles, brushes the sopping bangs from Taehyung’s eyes.

“That sounds amazing,” Taehyung tells him, almost stricken, and places his hands on Jimin’s waist and adores the way Jimin’s eyes flutter with the touch. “But what if I can’t get give you amazing? What if I can’t give you all that? What if you want more?”

“My sweet, sweet boy, I don’t want more,” Jimin says, coming in close again. His tone is fierce. “I just want you, Kim Taehyung.”

Jimin’s hands are under his shirt, sliding across his back, and all these thoughts are bursting in and out of Taehyung’s mind, tangling up in each other. “I’ve loved you for years, Park Jimin,” Taehyung says against the corner of Jimin’s mouth, not quite kissing him, not sure if he’s allowed. “I’ve told you so many times.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I was afraid.”

“Are you afraid now?”

“Not of you,” Jimin says in that voice again, like he’s never been so sure in his life. “Not anymore.”

And then Jimin tugs him forward, and Taehyung’s hands sink into that beautiful hair. He closes his eyes, and when Jimin kisses him, all the noise in his head swishes out and thunder claps above them so loud the earth shakes under their feet and then it all. Just. Stops.

Taehyung pulls away to look up to the sky, watches as a patch of blue spreads above them. Jimin’s laughing so hard he’s bent in half in hysterics, and Taehyung holds him close as they both catch their breath, rocking back and forth, not wanting to let go, so bowled over by this impossible situation.

“Kookie’s gonna be so jealous when he hears. Talk about cinematic.” Jimin kisses him sweetly this time, a peck on each cheek and his forehead and the fullest part of his mouth. “What do we do now?”

Taehyung brushes the water off Jimin’s eyelashes and hums. They have one more day left before they have to head back, and the road is empty and the sky, their sky, spreads untouched for miles above them.

“Park Jimin.”

“Kim Taehyung?”

Taehyung bumps their noses together and Jimin sinks against him with that wondrously slow smile. “Would you like to go on an adventure with me?”

Jimin’s arms wrap around his neck and he nods and nods and says so sweetly, “I have been waiting for you to ask that question our whole lives.”

 

~~~

 

*A letter, unaddressed, written on the back of a photo found in Jimin and Taehyung’s apartment*

 

It’s you. It’s always been you. It will always be you.

Let’s visit the ocean again, soon. I want to kiss you under the stars.