“What’s it like?” The little boy whispers, hands clutching onto his. Six-year-old Taehyung feels the magnitude of the question, and he swallows before speaking up. “Like you’ve got the world in your hands.”
He doesn’t quite understand why he came to this gathering in the first place. True, it’s Park Jimin who asked him to come with a pout on his lips and a plea in his eyes, and true, he always had and always will have a soft spot for Park Jimin, and also true that it’s been years since their last gathering so the older may or may not have guilt-tripped him into spending his last night in Korea with him and not in his own room catching some sleep for the long flight ahead of him.
The bar is conveniently located at the lobby of his hotel, his grand, nice hotel, and not for the first time that night, he muses the purpose of convenience if he isn’t going to make use of it. He wonders idly if anyone would notice if he just sneaks to the lifts a few feet away, but decides against it.
After all, he had come along with good humour, appreciating the effort that his old friend had spent in calling up all their old college gang and even some people he knew from way back, but he really should get going before he oversleeps the next morning and misses his flight.
“It’s only eight in the evening, Tae!” College roommate Jung Hoseok pouts and comes forward to drape himself over him and swallow a gulp from his shot glass, sloshing the liquid over him messily. Taehyung isn’t even mad, doesn’t bother to shove him off. “What happened to all the parties we went for back in college? Lost your touch?”
“Have to be at the airport at eight in the morning,” Taehyung responds easily, settling down into his chair to balance Hoseok’s deadweight and the older nuzzles into him, laughing as he sways and almost hits Jimin.
Jimin reaches out to steady him, fondling his hair fondly. “Still, it’s been years since you came back, Tae. And you never call or update social media or anything when you’re in America.”
“I do art and climb mountains in my free time,” Taehyung says as an explanation, though how it explains why he doesn’t keep in contact, he isn’t quite sure. He swirls his alcohol as his eyes catch the remainder of a blotch of dried paint on his thumb against the rim of the glass. It’s red, bleeding into the flesh in some twisted form of irony and imprinted there from his attempt to capture the burning sunset against a mountain backdrop just that morning. He had decided to scrap the painting, but the remnants remained on his hands, and he put the cup down, suddenly losing the urge to drink. Kim Namjoon and Min Yoongi exchange a glance, but don’t bother to press it. The three of them had been in a musical production club together and they were long since used to Taehyung’s fleeting, swinging moods. Kim Seokjin, on the other hand, Namjoon’s boyfriend and also the unofficial mother of the group, takes the cup away and asks for clear water instead. Taehyung takes it with a short noise of gratitude, and the conversation turns away from him. Back in college, they were a rambunctious, rowdy bunch. They threw words around like confetti and enjoyed one another’s company thoroughly, voices of high and low timbres mixing together like the perfect recipe for planned disasters and organised chaos. Now, there are lulls in the conversations as their sweatpants and loose shirts are swapped for professional-looking dress shirts and in Seokjin’s case, a well-cut blazer. Taehyung doesn’t do much talking, and follows along, feeling like time had stalled for him yet left him all at once. They were still the same group, but some changes are too glaring to go unnoticed.
There is silence for a while, yet another lull in the conversation, and Hoseok clings back onto him, dropping his voice into a conspiratory whisper. “A pretty little birdie told me that a pretty little boy is coming tonight.”
“Hoseok!” Jimin hisses, and Seokjin shakes his head disapprovingly. Yoongi doesn’t respond, and Namjoon tenses a little behind Taehyung’s back. And Taehyung thinks that he understands the nature of the gathering a little more.
“Jimin, sweetheart,” The words taste bitter on his tongue, and he swallows the unwelcome lump in his throat. “You didn’t tell me you invited him.”
Jimin noticeably lost his composure for a moment, grip tightening on his own cup, then relaxes. His features are schooled carefully into an expression of nonchalance as he looks up at Taehyung, eyes carefully guarded. “I thought it was finally time, you know?” His voice is quieter, a little more guarded and defensive. “You guys haven’t met up in ten years. You don’t even come back all that often.”
“Twice in all the years you’ve been gone,” Yoongi adds, helpfully.
Namjoon taps Jimin’s shoulder as a means of comfort, and Taehyung searches for the blame in their eyes, but comes up empty-handed. “He just wants you to get some closure before you forget all about us too.”
“Why do you guys make it sound like I have amnesia? The kind you forget what happens yesterday.” He snorts, trying to play it off. “Anterograde amnesia? I’m not forgetting you guys.”
The lights in the bar are dim, and it bathes everything with a vague sense of confusion even when he hasn’t had a sip of alcohol. Taehyung shakes his head more to clear it than to add emphasis to his former statement, but decides it could serve the latter purpose well too.
“You came back once five years ago and don’t respond to text messages,” Yoongi points out. “We don’t know what’s going on in your life at all. You probably don’t know what’s going on in ours. It’s like you’re trying to cut us off with all your memories of him .”
Taehyung looks down.
Maybe he had expected this conversation a while ago, but he had expected a little more emotion in the air. Maybe some anger to coincide with the blue strobe lights now up to accompany a late-night singer. Or some sadness. Perhaps a sprinkling of nostalgia, and one of them may express their condolences that it never would have worked out well anyway. Now, the only word to describe the atmosphere is-- dead. There’s no tears, no hostility, no blame. Jimin looks resigned , almost. And Yoongi is just regarding him calmly, waiting for a comeback, a retort, anything, but Taehyung can’t even find the energy to come up with one.
He’s tired , and he just wants to go back to his hotel and sleep, and make it to the airport at eight and forget that Seoul exists.
But fate isn’t so kind to him, as the bell to the door chimes softly, and an equally gentle voice calls out to his friends.
Then again, fate has never been kind to him, as his gaze remains resolutely on his cup of clear water and sees the red splotch of paint against it, refusing to look up and acknowledge the searching gazes and worried glances in his direction.
Jimin vacates his seat next to him, and he bites his lip as a toned, tall young man takes it with a whispered ‘thanks’. He ignores the little butterflies pressing up against his chest, simultaneously wondering why they’re called ‘butterflies’ when they should be called ‘bubbles’ instead. Air bubbles that take his breath away and snatch up too much space in his chest to make it hard to breathe. The young man shifts a little, hands finding their way to the edge of his shirt, smoothing out invisible wrinkles around the hem. Out of all the men seated around the table, he’s dressed the most casually, with jeans and a white T-shirt, so similar to how he last remembers him and yet so different, with the way the man’s eyes slide over Taehyung’s shoulders, perhaps in an attempt to find his eyes, but Taehyung isn’t quite sure because he doesn’t want to look up just yet, preserving the moment in his memory just a little longer. He doesn’t know how the night will progress, and if it ends badly, he can at least have this image seared alongside his last memories of the boy this man once was.
“Taehyung,” The soft voice greets, with a hint of trepidation. “It’s been a while.”
“Hasn’t it?” He agrees, finally lifting his gaze as someone, probably Seokjin, slides a small glass over to the young man. His hair had grown a little longer, almost covering his eyes, windswept and a little messy, and he finds himself fighting the urge to comb through it to smooth down the unruly locks. His eyes are just as gentle as he remembers, sitting delicately on top of a face with a strong jaw, stronger than he had last seen. “Jungkookie.”
The nickname had obviously put the younger at ease, he could tell, with the breathless chuckle that escapes his lips and he lets his eyes fall back to the splotch of paint on his hands.
And the night goes on, without a hitch, the group turn their attention to Jimin’s sentimental speeches, trying to keep their attention off the two. They understand the barrier of ten years, and the meeting has gone a lot better than any of them had envisioned.
It had started raining some time towards the end of their meeting, and the others decided to call it a night. Hoseok had been bundled off into the car with a smiling Jimin, and Namjoon had left with Seokjin and Yoongi. There were no more cars out and about for Jungkook (who stays very far from the rest of them) and Taehyung has offered to stay with him in the lobby of the hotel to wait for the staff to call him a cab. It was proving hard, though, given that they had been making awkward small talk for about ten minutes, ranging somewhere between the bad weather and the lack of cars on the street, to what they were both doing for a living.
“I’m in the police force,” Jungkook had shifted slightly uncomfortably, but his stance isn’t nearly quite as uncomfortable as he had been when he first settled in the seat next to him. “I don’t think I told you. Never had a chance, anyway.” After the words leave his mouth, he hesitates, eyes darting to Taehyung’s quickly. Eye contact seems to come more easily to the young man now, and Taehyung thinks that being on the police force must have been good for him, despite everything.
“I… I’m not surprised,” Taehyung admits, deep voice taking on a hint of sympathy. “Your parents must be very happy, aren’t they?”
Jungkook hums in response. “Dad is especially happy, you know. Nothing’s more important to him than me inheriting his position in the force and to have done it at my age-- you should see the way he brags about it every family gathering.”
“Ah,” Taehyung sighs a little, not sure what to make of the warmth suddenly overtaking his heart. “I miss him.”
If Jungkook is surprised, he doesn’t show it, only lets a small smile color his face, a small hint of color crossing his cheeks as he looks away, eyes fixated on the crystal chandelier sparkling above the two of them. There is a light glow cast on top his light blush, and Taehyung allows himself to compare this image to the boy in his memories, He can still see a hint of teeth peeking out beneath the man’s top lip, and remembers the fond nickname of ‘bunny’ he bestowed upon the younger in their college days.
The light dances in Jungkook’s eyes, and Taehyung can’t stop the rush of tenderness he feels. Still so pretty. Jungkook shifts his gaze over, and Taehyung feels his breath catch in his throat. So very pretty .
“He asks for you sometimes, you know.”
“He does?” Taehyung is shocked, to say the least. Jungkook hums again, going to play with the hem of his shirt and Taehyung is drawn to newly formed muscles flexing tightly under skin. “Nowadays, it’s always ‘whatever happened to Taetae?’. He loved you so much, you know?”
“I do.” And Taehyung does, actually. He remembers Jungkook’s father fondly, for the most part. “Did you tell him I was going to America?”
Jungkook fidgets a little. “We were under the impression you were gonna come back.” And there it is, the slip in a well-put-together persona, the child hiding under all those walls. A young man, barely out of his teens, gazing out from eyes too innocent for the hard lines of his body. “It was strange living without you around, you’ve come to our house almost everyday since we were like, six years old. Ever since we moved here from Busan, I mean.”
“What are you doing now, anyway?” Jungkook doesn’t look at him, eyes following the flustered receptionist pacing behind the counter with a phone pressed to her ear, evidently ready to get rid of him so she could have her peace and quiet in the lobby. It’s late, already past twelve in the morning, and Taehyung wants to bemoan the fact that he probably isn’t going to get any sleep for the rest of the night but he can’t bring himself to. Not when there is such a soft blanket of affection and sentimentality engulfing the two of them, something he couldn’t even begin to hope for ten years ago and something that had definitely not been on his mind when he stepped off the plane from America.
Unbeknownst to the others, his trip back had been to sell his old family apartment, now that his parents have gone to their family estate in Daegu. Seoul will be nothing more than a pleasant childhood memory after he returns to America, and he thinks that perhaps Park Jimin, his dearest best friend, had some instinctual inkling that this reunion also takes on the form of a goodbye. Vaguely, he feels some ounces of regret and a gentle pain in his heart when he thinks about Seokjin’s affections, Namjoon’s gentleness, Yoongi’s soft gaze and Hoseok’s loud exuberance. He knows he will miss Jimin’s nagging and light-hearted slaps at his shoulder, but he thinks he can cope.
This, though. He will spend a lifetime trying to forget the stars in Jungkook’s eyes and the sound of rain echoing the ocean of tears he wants to cry, the sea of pleas he wants to mouth into the younger’s ears and the mountains he will move for an eternity by his side.
Instead, he smiles, and tears his eyes away from the younger. “I’m an artist. I paint mountains, exclusively.”
He hears Jungkook inhale sharply.
The words confirms something, and a metaphoric stone emerges between the two of them. Taehyung holds his breath and feels his lungs burning as the stone grows to the size of mountains he paints. The younger freezes up just as the receptionist runs over to tell them that the cab they had meant to call was broken down by the road and there’s no other cab available for Jungkook. Taehyung thanks her, not hearing the words leave his mouth but forcing his voice out anyway, and cautiously reaches out to draw Jungkook closer to him. The younger doesn’t seem to register his touch, following numbly behind him as he brings him back to his hotel room.
“You can stay the night, we can get you back home first thing in the morning,” Taehyung offers, not knowing what else to say after dropping the bomb on the younger. “I’m sorry Jimin decided to call you out today, I hope no one at home is worrying about you. You should call them, by the way,” Taehyung adds, hurriedly.
“Taeta--” Jungkook shakes his head violently, hair flying into his eyes. “Taehyung, please, don’t.” Collecting his thoughts visibly, he fixates his gaze on Taehyung’s lithe fingers opening the door to his suite room. “I can get a motel room close by, I really don’t want to intrude--”
Taehyung pauses. Does the thought of me disgust you so much that you don’t even want to stay in the same room? He calculates his next actions carefully, contemplating. “It’s a suite room,” He says at last, eyebrows knitted, biding his time. “I can take the couch. My fault you were called out tonight.”
The door opens, and Taehyung’s fingers run over the stain on his thumb self-consciously. His things are (mostly) packed, with a stray shirt and canvas strewn around here and there, but in a manner so typically Taehyung , he has left stray pieces of himself in every corner of the suite room, something that Jungkook understands and relates down to the very essence of his being. Like how Taehyung has left his mark on his life and left, leaving traces of his presence everywhere in the remnants of an identity that he can’t seem to recover.
Like the wooden carving in the shelf turned ever so slightly, revealing a power socket with the switch still on. Jungkook could imagine the older charging his phone there just hours before the meeting with their friends. And the open magazine on the glass table next to the couch. The door stop nudged out of its position and next to the wrong end of the wall so the door is not quite open, nor closed. Little details that scream Taehyung, the same Taehyung that left so many years ago and somewhere in this new Taehyung in front of him. Taller Taehyung. Broader Taehyung. Taehyung with longer hair, tickling the sides of a slender neck and a collared shirt that nineteen-year-old Taehyung would have wrinkled his nose at.
Nineteen-year-old Taehyung would have cut up this very shirt and paraded it around campus, and people would have gladly bought it from him the very next day to make their own fashion statements.
But this is Taehyung of another age and time, and he turns around to search for something in Jungkook eyes. Jungkook merely looks back at him, allows him to look for whatever he’s seeking, and the older’s gaze flickers away from him, a soft smile, relieved, makes its way to his lips. He suddenly remembers a different smile, a grin with way too many teeth in it to be perfect, but he misses it with a burning passion for a moment as Taehyung turns away completely to pick up the abandoned sweatshirt, offering it to him as he looks around, evidently for pants more comfortable than the jeans he has on. He pushes the thought away, blaming it on what little alcohol he had had earlier in the evening, and tugs the sweatshirt on as Taehyung’s back is towards him. The older turns back around with a pair of sweatpants obtained from on top the couch, smiling the no-teeth smile again. “Are you really not going to call home and let them know you’re not going to be home ‘til morning? Girlfriend, boyfriend, fiance or something?”
Jungkook’s hands go to his jean pocket slowly, fishing out a metallic and outdated model of a phone, running through the contacts he probably should be informing. Junghyun, his older brother, who is on his honeymoon. No calls there, definitely. His parents? He had already shot them a text earlier that morning about the gathering.
“I don’t think I have to inform my parents,” He says at last, flipping the cover of the phone shut with a click. “They probably assumed I am crashing at a friend’s place.”
Taehyung looks vaguely amused. “They’re not wrong.”
There is a silence, and Taehyung settles beside him on the couch. He is more glad than he would admit, actually. The familiarity of this moment feels like home, security he hasn’t had since he knocked on the other’s apartment door and found the place to be empty. Taehyung turns to him, eyes on his, and he looks back. There’s a silent struggle, and the older gives up a moment later. Jungkook allows himself to be pleased for a little bit. He can hide things now too, he’s had practice.
“You did choose to be a policeman in the end, huh?” Taehyung finally says. “I would have thought you went on to become a film director. Didn’t you consider switching to that?”
“I do some of that on the side.” Jungkook feels words on the tip of his tongue and he chews on them thoughtfully. Taehyung is studying the canvas in the corner of the room with a smudge of red paint on it, a color that stained his hands and clung on with everything it had, refusing to let go. There’s an obscure silhouette of a mountain taking shape, but he can’t make it out, so he gives up, drawing his gaze back to Taehyung, who has his head oh his knees and his bare feet tapping on the soft cushions of the couch periodically. “I… I’ve wanted to film Busan’s oceans for a while, actually. But work has been busy.”
Taehyung’s feet tap slightly faster, but his expression remains serene.
“Hyung,” Jungkook struggles with the word on his lips. He doesn’t really call anyone by affectionate honorifics anymore, especially given his high position in the police force, but impulse tells him that it was then or never. And so he pushes on. “Hyung, are the beaches in America comparable to Busan beaches?”
He barely knows how to respond to the question, the wavering question that held the weight of a thousand promises between the two of them. It was the burden of ten long years, the authority of absence and the whispered vows from a time even further behind those years. Taehyung feels the force of the memories take him like a bad summer storm, feels the rain outside his window on the panes of his own heart and wants to choke back a sob that isn’t there.
He wants to turn back the time, wants to never leave America and never come back to Seoul. Wants to stop his past self from getting on the plane and coming back to Seoul to sign the sale papers in person and agreeing to meet Park Jimin and by extension, all his college friends. He wants to chase back all the time in the world and go back to a time he had never spoken to Jeon Jungkook on a wintry afternoon when the latter had been little more than a scrawny little boy hugging a schoolbag to his chest and walking into the apartment next door. He wants to stop his six-year-old self from saying hello and offering to carry the younger’s bag for him. It would have been a breeze if he just took the pain he had suppressed for ten years and ran away with them, burying them and marching on with the sun in his eyes and blinded to everything else in his past.
Maybe Jimin was right, maybe he did have a bad habit of running away from his problems, because he’s taken to running away from this bad breakup for ten years and was so close to getting rid of it all together, when fate decides to remind him of why he wants to do it in the first place. Now that the lead in his story is here and sitting right in front of him, he forgets how it all started and ended, and remembers everything in between.
He has heard it said somewhere that breakups are best dealt with during the day, when light deceives the mind and throws together a mirage for people to believe that all will be well. It is when night rolls around and the self is alone with memories and thoughts and how it should have been, how it could have been, that breaking up is hardest and making up is easiest.
“I don’t know, Jungkook,” He whispers with a lump in his throat, fighting to keep the tears in. “I’ve never been to a Busan beach.”
“The waves are deafening, hyung.” Jungkook gives him a watery smile. “I’ve been there thousands of times and it never changes.”
“Really?” And Taehyung lets the tears fall. “I still prefer mountains.”
Jungkook exhales, leaning forward, and Taehyung counts the dewdrops on his eyelashes. “What’s it like?”
His voice is barely more than a whisper, and Taehyung is hit by the full impact of a grinning child with bunny teeth staring out from his shining doe eyes.
“Like you’ve got the world in your hands, Kookie,” He recites from memory.
Swallowing, he registers the younger’s head finding its way gently into the crook of his neck, nestling into the material of his dress shirt with a deep sigh. A hand hesitantly, slowly, makes its way to his sleeve, and dances around the edge. “Does it not change for you, too?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Taehyung sniffs. “They’re just fucking bitches to climb, really.”
Jungkook laughs, a watery one, and they stay like that until they fall asleep.
Jungkook grunts in response, heaving the covered canvas into the living room. The sun is already up in the sky, winter apparent in the air with all its chill. He feels the uncomfortably prick of sweat under his thick coat, rendering him both cold and hot at the same time. His hands burn with something akin to anticipation, to excitement, but he reins all of that in. His mother walks out of the master bedroom in their apartment in a quaint little corner of Seoul, ready to greet her son. She clicks her tongue as she watches him struggle with the object in his hands. “I thought you were going to a college gathering, not some art exhibition. Where did you get the money to pay for this, anyway?”
“He probably picked it up from the street somewhere,” His father left his post in the kitchen, morning paper thrown into a heap onto the chair beside him. “Here, let me give you a hand.”
Jungkook’s mother shakes her head, moving forward to uncover the canvas.
She is greeted with a stunning painting of a mountain at sunset, the splashes of red, yellow and orange blending together to fade into pinks and purples amid a rapidly darkening sky. There are birds dotting the horizon line, and she finds her hand reaching up to carefully trace over the bumps and ridges created by the paint on the canvas. Even to the untrained eye, it is beautiful in all its glory, and she draws her hand back, lest she accidentally stain the artwork. “You did not pick this up from a street somewhere!”
“No,” Jungkook’s smile grows wider. “Taehyung painted this.”
His parents exchange a glance.
“Taehyung?” His mother’s gaze flicks over to him, studying him carefully. “The boy who used to stay next door?”
Jungkook hums in agreement, still looking at the painting. The atmosphere turns slightly uncomfortable, but Jungkook has his hands on the painting, and its callous and rough texture reminds him of Taehyung’s hands, splotched with dried paint. Serenely, he turns around to meet his mother’s gaze square-on.
“The boy you… dated?” His father stumbles around the word. Lips curling just a little. He doesn’t blame him. His father learned to treat their relationship like taboo, celebrating their friendship yet avoiding their love like how one would avoid the rose bush in favour of the flower. Jungkook doesn’t really blame him, though, they’re past that. Father and son are close, and maybe twelve years on, they can learn to be a little more forthcoming, a little more understanding than what they had been back then.
His father sighs. “You wouldn’t have gone to find him if I hadn’t told you that some housing agent came with visitors to buy his apartment, would you?”
“Probably not,” Jungkook admits. “I wanted to see if anything’s changed between us. Before he leaves all of this forever.”
“Ten years, Jungkook,” His mother reaches out a hand cautiously, tugging him on the forearm. “That’s a long time. Twelve years-- it’s even longer.”
“And you’re absolutely sure,” His father tugs the painting out of his hands, facing him. Jungkook lets it go, searching his father’s eyes for any form of accusation, any form of blame, that his younger son did not choose what his older son had. A normal family. But there’s none. Twelve years ago, there was disappointment. Ten years ago, there’s guilt. Now, nothing. Just calm acceptance.
And maybe, after more than a decade, they can finally open this can of worms.
“I am,” Jungkook replies easily, steadily. “I am who I am, Dad.”
“He didn’t say anything to convince you?” His mother prods. “He didn’t want to get back together?”
“Taehyung doesn’t dictate my life, Mom,” Jungkook laughs, a weight off his shoulders. “I would have been gay no matter what.” He turns, leaving the painting in his father’s hands. “I’m going back to Busan this afternoon. I’ve already bought my ticket.”
“Don’t you have work?” His father calls after him, painting still in his hands. He looks like a lost child, not sure where to put the painting, nor his hands. “I quit,” Jungkook calls from his room, a backpack on his bed and clothes haphazardly packed into it. “This morning.”
His parents come to stand beside his door, both marble statues in their stillness. Jungkook flies around his room with purpose and emotion, a whirlwind of the youth that was denied from him more than a decade ago. “I just want to do things for myself for once. I’ve had more than enough experience to last me a lifetime, and I want to thank you guys for everything you’ve done for me. My job, my identity, for what it is right now,” Jungkook turns around, eyes shining with unshed tears, and his mother, too, is crying. “But you need to let me go. Let me chase after my own dreams.”
Winter is a curious time, Taehyung muses to himself.
The cold winds have made most of the mountains inaccessible to tourists. He isn’t allowed onto the peaks to paint either, so he makes do at an inn about halfway up the mountain. There is the occasional snowboarder or skiier here and there, but he pays them no heed as he drags a chair noisily to the porch, sitting down with his sketchbook and a piece of charcoal. He likes the peace and quiet of winter months, the chill that settles down deep into his bones and curling his hands around a small charcoal bit to etch out details onto a rough piece of paper.
His hands are numb, and Taehyung likes it that way. Likes to feel that nature left its imprint on him, just as a certain someone has left their imprint and gone away like nothing’s changed, like everything’s changed.
Has everything changed, though? Has nothing changed? Have you changed, or have I changed? Taehyung pours the answers to those cryptic questions into his artwork, squinting through the dimming lights as he tries to capture the snow on the pine trees, and a lone bird chirping in the silence of the woods. The inn’s lights have not come on yet, and for now, he is completely and utterly alone in the silence of the mountains.
Anything that helps him pretend he’s never gone back to Seoul. Anything that helps him pretend that he had never met Jungkook. Anything that helps him pretend that he hadn’t first met Jungkook on a calm, wintry day like this one, more than twenty years ago.
He remembers nothing of the cold back then, though, as he puts down the charcoal and scrutinizes his sketch. He remembers the heater of their apartment block blasting at full power. He remembers shaking Jungkook’s hand, his parents’ hands, slinging his arm around Jungkook’s shoulders as he shows him around the building. He remembers how warm Jungkook’s hug is, how big his eyes are, and the heat that settles in his stomach as the boy waves goodbye with a smile that’s too big for his lips but he smiles anyway. Back then, he was all loud and boisterous laughs and Jungkook is his silent shadow. Now, he’s the one stuck in this stillness, this dead part of the world, while Jungkook is surrounded by friends and family, surrounded by warmth and cheer, and he’s the vibrant one. The smiling one. The expressive, emotive one.
He waves the innkeeper off with a hand, not even bothering to look back. “I’ll come in in a bit, give me a few more minutes to finish this.”
His phone rings. Once, twice. He glances at it, then cancels the call from his agent.
Setting the charcoal aside, he looks at his phone again. The wallpaper has never changed after so many years, through countless different phone models. A picture of a Busan beach that Jungkook sent him once in middle school, on vacation. The image is grainy, because phone cameras weren’t so advanced back then, but it is the first picture he backs up in his phone, and the only picture that he has multiple copies of. That same vacation, Jungkook had promised to bring him to the Busan oceans he had spoken so highly of, to hear the waves and feel it in all its glory. He had agreed happily, but they had never gotten around to it.
He has never been to Busan. Probably never will.
If he could turn back time, he reckons he’d have fought harder.
“None of that matters now, does it?” He mumbles to himself. “We’ve grown up now.”
But neither of you chose anyone else. You’ve grown up alone, away from each other, and maybe this is the truest form of love and desire-- that you’ve grown apart and still yearn for the other.
He ignores his traitorous little thought.
His phone rings again, startling him out of his reverie. Without looking at the screen, he brings it to his ear. “What?”
There is the sound of heavy static on the other end. That doesn’t sound like his agent, who should be in her posh office with good reception. He brings the phone away from his ear, and nearly chokes at the name that swims up.
“Taehyung!” The voice on the other end is too familiar. “Please don’t hang up!”
And Taehyung doesn’t. “What do you want?”
“Listen.” There is the sound of panting on the other end. “Just. Listen.” A louder crackle, and Taehyung imagines the younger brandishing his phone, swishing it around to face someone. Or, something.
The innkeeper switched on the lights to the inn. The forest in front of him is now bathed in a warm yellow light, and Taehyung feels impossibly warm, the flush starting from his neck and making his toes curl as it finally dawns upon him what the younger called him for.
The sound of water hitting sand. Of feet thudding against soft grains. Wind howling in the air. In his mind’s eye, he sees his wallpaper come to life. Middle-school Jungkook running through the water with his brother, whooping with delight. Grown-up Jungkook jogging through the sand, laughing impossibly loud at the sheer joy of showing him his childhood home, the waves deafening in all their magnificence. Jungkook as the anger from their separation, the longing for each other through all of a decade, the hesitance at meeting each other and now, the joy of a long-forgotten promise fulfilled. Jungkook as himself, Jungkook as Taehyung, Jungkook as everything Taehyung used to need and Jungkook as everything Taehyung wants right now.
You never actually lose anything, Taehyung’s mind whispers. They’re just out of sight, out of mind, for a little while. Then you find them again, and you realize the’re never truly gone .
“Did you hear that?” Jungkook is shouting on the other end, and Taehyung only just realizes that he’s crying. The cold wind is biting into his cheeks, but Kim Taehyung feels so, so warm.
“Yes, thank you Jungkookie.”
“Thought I’d make good on my promise,” There is an underlying smugness in his tone, and Taehyung can hear the smile. He laughs, a watery one, and sniffles.
The innkeeper is beckoning him to go inside again, before temperatures drop. Taehyung stands up, dusting himself off from the rubber dust of his sketching, and grins through his tears. “I wanted to show you the mountaintop. You know, the birds singing and all.”
“But your obnoxious voice just scared the only bird away,” Taehyung sniffles again. “If you get on the next flight to America, though, I can show you for real.”
There is a pause.
“You’re… Inviting me over?”
“Dumbass,” Taehyung chokes out. “I’m going to send you the address. Come before I change my mind and leave you to die in an avalanche.”
There is a muffled cheer on the other end, then something that sounds suspiciously like sobbing. Taehyung ends the call, walking into the inn with a spring in his step.
Winter might be cold-- winter mountaintops are even colder. In truth, though, the sparks of warmth are always there no matter the season, just like a warm rock blends into a summer beach, yet melts winter ice.
He still doesn’t understand why he has to entertain gatherings like this. He chalks it up to the fact that he can’t resist Park Jimin’s pouty lips and pleading eyes, but he’s been entertaining the older’s requests for gatherings far too often in the past few months.
And he’s doubting the fact that the gatherings are healthy for Hoseok, as he looks over, mildly concerned, at Yoongi only barely managing to hold the older up by his waist.
Seokjin, ever the caring member of the group, slides a cup of water over. Namjoon picks it up and hands it to Yoongi. The older holds it to Hoseok’s lips, but Hoseok empties the entire cup onto the seat.
Taehyung looks over politely.
“Hi babe,” A voice comes cheerily from the door, and he snaps upright, the familiar feeling of his lips twitching upwards coloring his face with a blush and making him feel so, so warm. “Sorry I’m late!”
“How’s filming going, Jungkook?” Jimin greets. The younger picks up a random glass and raises it in a toast. “Wrapped up today.”
Taehyung reaches for his hand under the table. He picks it up and squeezes.
“Oh, right, what were you guys going to announce?” Seokjin looks up from wiping at the spilt water. “Jimin called us all here so that you guys could announce something?”
Taehyung is starting to understand the nature of this gathering just a little more now.
“We met my parents again recently,” Jungkook quips. “As, you know, boyfriends.”
“How did it go?” Jimin all but sang.
“Very well,” Jungkook confirms, bumping Taehyung’s shoulder with his. “The wedding date is set.”
And as the rest of them collectively raise their glasses in cheer, Taehyung realizes that love is just this. Love is finding their way away from each other, then back together. Growing together and then apart.
Love is I want you, all of you, with all of me. Love is two whole people coming together to build something new, something better than what they could have been apart. Love is warmth on the coldest wintry days, hearing the waves of a summer beach on the top of a mountain, and Jungkook’s hand in his.
About six months later, as they get married in the familiar mountain inn, Jungkook spins Taehyung dangerously close to the edge and he laughs.