Jimin’s heart is still pounding in his chest, catching his breath as he starts to realize how cold the thin sheen of sweat over his body has made him. He tries to grab for the sheets underneath him, but all of his muscles feel unraveled and jellied. He knows he looks pathetic lying here like this.
The room is dimly lit, the slivers of light from the street lamp outside shining their ugly yellow against the dark wood of the ceiling fan that whips around above him. The light flickers with each spin of the blades, getting caught between them for a half of a second, making the whole room move in slight stutters. The breeze from the fan is causing him to shiver now. He tries to focus on the repeated, blurred motion of the wooden blades to bring him back down to reality. Things like this usually help, though now that he’s stared at this ceiling fan so many times in hopes of a come down, it’s mundanity has worn off. He’s already studied the carved design that circles the base and the way there’s a small catch after every third rotation. It’s barely there, the first time he thought he was just imagining it. He can feel the other side of the bed lift as he gets left alone on the mattress. There’s the sound of a lighter flick and feet padding towards another room.
Jimin closes his eyes, the familiarity of the ceiling only making things worse. He takes a deep breath, but the room smells too much like himself. Even through the scent of clove smoke, burnt out candles, and a tinge of some chemical acidity, Jimin senses himself too strongly. He hopes it’s just because he’s so close to himself. Too close to himself even, his skin feeling a little too tight for comfort. He would just puddle here on the bed if his skin would yield. He’s actively holding himself in, feeling like he may burst at the seams if he lets out a sigh that’s a second too long. He tries emptying all of the air out of his lungs just to see. Unfortunately nothing spectacular happens, he just makes himself even more lightheaded than before. He hears the steps return to him and a towel falls onto his bare stomach. He manages to lift one hand to rest on it, but that’s as far as he gets.
Soft voices filter in, crackling in a language that Jimin doesn’t quite understand. He can see the radio they’re playing from without even having to look. It’s small enough for him to hold in his hands, all grimy, dark wood and dials. He’s held it only once, having been scolded for picking up something so fragile with so little care. Jimin didn’t think he was being careless, but he doesn’t know much about things like that. He does know that he likes this sound. The sound score of evenings like this is people talking about things he can’t hear under the soft crackle of a smoking cigarette and the creaking of old floorboards. And if the night goes well, eventually there will be the gentle scratching of a pencil or the swish of a brush against canvas. He hopes it’ll be one of those nights, but feels like it won’t be if he doesn’t relearn how to move his body soon.
He forgot his eyes were closed. Blinking them open as slowly as he can, Jimin attempts to grip onto the towel under his hand. The rough terry fabric feels foreign against his belly, much less pleasant than skin or sheets, but he carefully cleans himself off. He feels as if he’s moving in slow motion, but he wouldn’t be able to tell. The dim street light is still strobing softly against the movement of the ceiling fan. A small lamp is turned on inside, letting a bit of light flood the corner of the room. With that, Jimin finds enough strength in him to prop himself up against the headboard. The edge of it digs into the soft skin of his shoulder blades now that all of the pillows have been thrown to the floor. He considers leaning down to grab one, but he’s not sure how long he’ll be staying. He may be out trying to hold himself together on his ride home in the next ten minutes. Depends on how generous Taehyung is feeling tonight.
“There’s water on the nightstand,” he says without even turning around to see Jimin. Taehyung’s already fully clothed again, wrapped in a loose, patterned button up and baggy corduroys that look like they’ve been worn for decades before him. He’s digging through a small box on his desk, pulling out different paints in between drags of his cigarette. Taehyung would always do this, regardless of whether he would let Jimin stay or not. Every night Jimin will look at the colors he chooses, wondering if it was anything he did that inspired the choice. He likes to see cadmium yellow and red, he likes to think of himself like that. Against the darkness of Taehyung’s studio apartment, those colors seem special. They refuse to blend in with the surrounding ebony wood and neutral canvas. The sight of prussian blue makes Jimin’s chest clench in a way he wished it didn’t.
Jimin doesn’t know what to respond with or how he would form the words even if he did. He’s too focused on the taste in his mouth. He still tastes their kisses and he knows it will last much longer than he would like it to. He reaches over to grab the glass of water Taehyung mentioned and gulps it down in hopes that it will help wash out the too-familiar tang. Jimin doesn’t know why he expects it to do anything, he can always taste Taehyung long after their nights ends.
The voices on the radio fill in their gaps as Jimin takes the silence as a chance to look around. Everything is exactly how it was last week. The small bistro table by the window is still littered with cut up magazines and unwashed mugs. The antique floor rug is still pushed up slightly on its corner by the leg of a brown leather wingback chair. The same pillow and blanket hangs off of it. There’s a new book on the coffee table, but it’s sitting on top of old junk mail that had been accumulating for the past month. Jimin has the urge to throw it out every time that he’s over, but it feels as if that would be crossing a boundary of sorts. He’s not quite sure where their lines are, but he tries not to cross them by not doing much.
“Are you okay?” Taehyung’s low voice cuts through Jimin’s survey of the apartment. Jimin snaps his eyes away from the small pile of dirty dishes sitting in the sink. None of them belong to a set, each plate a slightly different color from the next. He’s unable to think about it much with Taehyung’s eyes on him. Not to understate his intensity with an overused descriptor, but Jimin has no other word for the gaze than ‘piercing’. He feels pinned back against the headboard as Taehyung puts his paints down and takes a step towards the bed. “You’re shaking,” he says.
Jimin hadn’t even realized he was still shivering. He hadn’t even realized he was still completely naked. All thoughts about his own body had left him the moment he came. He’s just been trying to bring himself back down to reality and not say anything stupid in the meantime. Apparently tonight, as it is most nights, that means not saying anything at all.
Jimin doesn’t even get a word in before Taehyung is putting out his cigarette in the ashtray on his desk and pulling a winter blanket out from underneath the bed. Taehyung holds it out to Jimin, not getting any closer than an arm’s length, before turning back to his canvas. The fabric is much too thick for the early September weather, but as soon as Jimin spreads it out over his exposed body he’s grateful. The dark, woven fabric is a little rough on Jimin’s still sensitive skin, but the warmth makes up for that tenfold. Jimin’s almost tempted to dip his head under the blanket as well, letting himself be wholly consumed in it’s comfort. Instead he just wraps himself up tighter as Taehyung makes his first stroke on the canvas, feeling much more alive than he did a minute ago. Jimin assumes that this is an invitation to stay. It’s never very clear as the words they share are sparse and curt.
Watching Taehyung paint feels different every time. He’s always very tender with his brushstrokes, not one for large, slashing stripes of color. He sways as he paints as if there is music on, but there never is. At least there isn’t whenever Jimin is here. Slow dancing with his canvas, Taehyung takes his time. The thoughtfulness of each stroke is evident in the finished product, but even more so in watching him in the process. He takes slight pauses, stepping away often, only to slowly come back in and place a single stroke. So many small actions adding up to something so much greater than the sum of its parts. Jimin finds it fascinating. He doesn’t know much about art, but he knows that Taehyung is something special. Even if he hadn’t seen his work hanging in galleries he would know. Even if none of his paintings ever saw the light of day outside the four walls of his apartment Jimin would know.
The deep blue of the paint is almost shocking. Akin to a visual ice bath, Jimin feels a chill run down his spine as the brush spreads the pigment wide, soiling the whiteness of the canvas. Taehyung doesn’t stop until the entire surface is covered with varying shades of blue, outlining a form that Jimin can’t quite make out. Despite the harshness of the color, the shapes are soft and almost timid. The curves are gentler and wider than waves, but not distinct enough to be human. Taehyung often paints things that Jimin doesn’t understand, so Jimin’s not sure why he’s grown so curious now. They always include things that Jimin can name, but they’re never combined in a context that he can decipher. He figures he’s just not smart enough to understand.
“What are you painting?” Jimin is asking before he realizes that he is. He never asks Taehyung that kind of question, but the words fell out of his mouth so easily. It feels invasive as soon as he hears his own voice and he wants to take it back before Taehyung says anything. But he still gets a curt answer, “Us fucking.”
Taehyung says it like it’s nothing, not even pausing in his motions for a moment. Jimin doesn’t see it in the painting, he doesn’t see them, but he doesn’t think he would see much either way. He would hope that it’d be brighter than this, though. The lethargic, sweeping blues aren’t exactly what Jimin would like to be equated to in sex. He almost feels bad about the high he’s still riding now seeing how Taehyung must have felt about it all. He’s normally pretty vocal about what he wants, what he likes, so Jimin’s at a loss. Maybe he’s losing his touch. He already wasn’t what Taehyung needed once, maybe it’s happening again.
“Was I that bad?” Jimin laughs as best as he can, trying not to let any of his slightly panicked thoughts slip out in between his words. It sounds somewhat convincing, but his words fall flat near the end. A part of him hopes that Taehyung hears the genuine disquiet in his voice and reassures him, but a bigger parts knows that would never happen even if he did. These days, they don’t talk much in the first place. They haven’t talked like that in a long time. But Taehyung does respond, “No, it’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like?” Jimin doesn’t know why he’s prying like this, but he can’t stop himself now. Self conscious with every stroke added to the canvas, he curls himself up tighter. He tries not to look for himself too closely. He’s started shivering again despite the heat of the thick blanket.
Taehyung takes his time in trying to find the answer to his question. He always thinks through every word that comes out of his mouth, no matter how frivolous. Jimin’s gotten used to sitting in that few seconds of silence, broken only by a voice so smooth and hollow that it feels like it’s coming from the pit of his own stomach. Leaning over to silence the wavering radio voices, Taehyung sighs, “I don’t know yet. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
Jimin hums like he understands, but he doesn’t. He’s relieved that the somber aura of the painting doesn’t inherently mean that he’s a terrible lay, yet Taehyung’s non-answer leaves something to be desired. Jimin doesn’t know how much he can ask, how many words they can share before it becomes too much and they pass the invisible line that they have laid out for themselves. Jimin usually doesn’t mind the silence. Most days he actually cherishes the wordlessness of their relationship, but today it feels unbearable. He wonders if this feeling has been building up for weeks and he was just too distracted to realize. Either way, it’s too late. He feels cut open and left out to spill helplessly.
Unspoken words roll around silently under Jimin’s tongue as he watches Taehyung continue to paint in silence. He only breaks the rhythm of his brushstrokes to light another cigarette and tap it out in the ashtray every once in a while. The sea green glass has grown smoky and disgusting from the constant use. Even with Taehyung’s extensive care for his antique objects, it’s no match for the dark ash that refuses to stop collecting in every small crack and indent. Jimin used to ask him to stop smoking and it worked for a little while. It obviously didn’t last long and it’s not Jimin’s place to say anything about it now. He was surprised at how little time it took him to realize that, how quickly he was able to detach.
Now without the radio humming, Jimin feels like he’s suffocating in the quiet. He’s not sure if Taehyung wants him to stay the night and fall asleep in his bed while he stays up painting until the sun rises. It wouldn’t be the first time, but Jimin feels different about it right now for reasons that still remain a mystery to him. Nothing has changed, nothing has been said. There’s not a milestone or anniversary coming up any time soon that Jimin’s aware of. And Taehyung’s acting more or less the same, so Jimin assumes that whatever he’s feeling is all in his head. A blanket is just a blanket and blue paint is just blue paint. Nothing more, nothing less.
As if he feels Jimin’s uneasiness, Taehyung sets down his paintbrush and cigarette to float over to the record player and pick something that will gently shatter the silence. He takes his time examining each vinyl, tenderly flipping through the yellowing paper sleeves, reading each title as if the collection isn’t something that he’s been closely curating for his entire life. Jimin watches as he finally makes his decision and lays a record on the turntable. As soon as the needle drops, the small apartment is filled with crackling strings, bellowing and sighing from the speakers. Though quiet and soft, the music is enough to allow Jimin to let go of the breath he didn’t even know he was holding.
Taehyung doesn’t even spare a glance over towards Jimin, but moves like he knows he’s in the room. That he’s watching him. Every move he makes seems almost performative, lasting just a second too long just so that Jimin catches it. But as soon as that thought passes Jimin’s mind, he assures himself that it’s just a figment of his imagination. He’s thinking too deeply into the things that don’t matter. He’s looking too closely at transparent things.
He almost misses it when Taehyung starts to hum along to the ebbs and flows of the violins. The deepness of his voice slips in between the mournful instrumentation like it’s meant to be there. This scene, the sound seems so familiar to Jimin somewhere deep in his stored memory, but he can’t remember the last time he’s heard it. Maybe a year ago. No, at least two. It may have been sometime during the winter where they spent a week together at Jimin’s apartment, sitting out on the roof every day until the sun set or they got too cold. Whichever came first. Jimin does know far too well that Taehyung hasn’t been back in almost two years. He tells himself that it doesn’t bother him, but he also tries not to think about it much.
Jimin doesn’t know how much time has passed with him sitting and watching. The sun had set long before he even stepped foot into the apartment building, so there are no tell tale signs from the light outside unless the sun decides to start rising. He doesn’t think he’s been here that long, but there’s no telling. It’s easy to get wrapped up here with the cluttered, warm corners and private conversations. With Taehyung. Taehyung moves like a whirlwind, whipping up, carrying along everything that crosses his path and never holding on. He’s been like this as long as Jimin has known him and at this rate it seems as if he will never dizzy or tire. He’s the calm at the eye of the storm, not feeling the reverberations of his own tempest. Jimin feels the harsh winds starting to pull at him again. It’s not like he’s ever had a choice.
“I miss you,” Jimin admits, not realizing what he actually said until the words are hanging heavy in the space between them. Those were among some of the three words they silently promised to never tell each other, but he misses those winds. Though his nostalgia may be rose-colored, he means it. He hates the way he sees his words register in Taehyung, his shoulders stiffening and his brush strokes stuttering to a halt. Jimin knows he should’ve stayed silent. He almost slips out from under the blanket to get dressed and disappear right then and there. But Taehyung’s voice stops him.
“No, you don’t,” Taehyung sighs, though his exhale doesn’t release any of the tension held in his body. His words trail off as if he’s about to conjure up the reasons why, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to. His silence is enough to get Jimin to dig through the memories that he purposefully neglects: the memories of fragmenting and coming back together but not really.
Jimin remembers the day that they broke up. After a year of fervor and a month of indifference, they fell apart too easily. It was eerie how normal everything else seemed. After your world breaks in two, it’s strange back to slip back into the real world and see that it’s been continuing on without you. Jimin would see Taehyung saying, “I can’t be what you want me to be,” everytime he closed his eyes, but no one cared. He still had to go to work, buy groceries, take the subway deeper into the city. The people brushing past him on the sidewalk didn’t care that he felt like he was falling apart every time he saw someone holding hands. They didn’t ask if him if he was sad that he never had that. They didn’t stop and listen to him cry about how maybe he does need too much and maybe, just maybe, wanting to be Taehyung’s only one was too much to ask. They didn’t care. So it wasn’t long before Jimin didn’t care either.
He thought that something in his heart may die when they started seeing each other again with a no-feelings-attached caveat just a few months later, but he surprised himself by feeling fine. It was too formal to feel anything in the beginning anyway. Jimin would come over, they’d fuck, Jimin would leave. They only spoke when necessary, vocalizing what they wanted and needed from the other. It wasn’t until about a month ago that Jimin starting staying the night every once in a blue moon. No additional words would be shared in the bed or in the morning, they just held each other through the night and separated in the morning. Jimin didn’t know why it started happening, but he didn’t question it much. It was nice and it was warm. He remembers being able to bury himself in Taehyung’s chest for the first time since they had been apart. Being able to breathe in the familiar scent of smoke and cardamom.
Jimin has to stop himself from shaking his head in a futile attempt to get his mind to cease. He’s spent too many nights already remembering being too lonely, too clingy, too jealous, too careless, whichever issue was the most convenient to blame that time. He’s tried blaming Taehyung too, but that effort was always in vain. In his heart of hearts, Jimin knows that the cause of their demise isn’t on himself alone, but it’s always been easier to carry the weight in isolation. It’s easier to trace back where they went wrong when he’s only following his own steps.
“Yes, I do,” Jimin softly argues, choking on his own voice. Though the words sound childish, he knows what he’s feeling is real and he has the right to say it no matter how tense it makes the room. He’s spent long enough making his feelings small and palatable.
Taehyung puts his brush down and fully turns to Jimin for the first time since they both came. Jimin can’t decipher the look on his face. He used to know him so well, but his intuition has grown rusty in their time apart. The painting peeks over Taehyung’s shoulder, all swirling blues and slices of jade green. It looks calm now, pushing against the disquiet between them.
“Jimin.” He doesn’t remember the last time he’s heard Taehyung say his name, “Why are you saying this?” He takes half a step closer to the bed, so small that Jimin wouldn’t have noticed if he wasn’t looking so closely at every move Taehyung is making. He’s asking a question that Jimin doesn’t have any semblance of an answer for. His desires are just as lost on him.
So Jimin shrugs as he says, “I don’t know. I felt it.” He tries to focus his eyes on the flickering candle on Taehyung’s desk when he gets no response. The flame jumps swiftly, being pushed around by the air from the open window behind it. Jimin can’t feel it from where he sits, but the warm night breeze gently threatens to put out the fire. It wouldn’t take much for the small flame to disappear into smoke. Jimin can tell that Taehyung is searching for the right words without even having to move his gaze from the melting candle. His body in Jimin’s periphery, Jimin can see his fingers picking at themselves, making light fists at his side.
“You miss us,” Taehyung clarifies.
“I suppose you’re right.” Taehyung’s words have always been more perspicuous than Jimin’s.
Though now neither of them know where to go from here. Jimin feeling this way doesn’t warrant any action on either of their parts and god only knows what Taehyung is thinking. Jimin may have just ruined the last part of his life that had Taehyung in it. This very well may be the last time he’s sitting in this bed, hearing the ceiling fan still click away above them. He was watching Taehyung paint like it was nothing. If Jimin knew what he was about to let himself say he would’ve watched a little more closely, etching the image into memory. The way Taehyung was humming gently, swaying to the music, dancing with his easel. Jimin’s words may have made tonight the last time he’s been able to touch Taehyung, hear him gasp breathlessly with their lips only inches away from each other. Taehyung would always hold him so carefully, fuck him so tenderly. Better than anyone else. This could be the end to all of that.
“I’ll go,” Jimin whispers as he swings his legs off of the bed. His voice shakes a little more than he would like it to. As soon as he throws the blanket off of himself, he remembers that he’s still naked. He feels himself almost start to blush under Taehyung’s gaze before leaning down to grab his own clothes from the floor. He tries not to upset himself when Taehyung doesn’t stop him as he pulls his pants on. He expected as much, so he tries to ignore the sting. Breaking their one unspoken rule by speaking on it is probably the highest offence. Jimin puts his shirt back on and tries to shake off the heat building up in his throat before heading for the door. Passing by Taehyung has never felt this hard and Jimin couldn’t even explain why. He feels as if nearly nothing has been said, yet the fantasy world that he’s been building for the past few months is already crumbled at his feet. He grabs at the door handle, trying to memorize the feel of the cool metal.
“Jimin, don’t leave,” Taehyung’s voice wavers after him. Jimin’s never heard him say his name like that. Desperate. It shoots through his chest and pulls him back into the middle of the room. Leaving is the last thing on Jimin’s mind when he hears it. The door has never looked more repulsive.
The Taehyung that Jimin turns back around to see is not someone that he is familiar with. This Taehyung isn’t seen by anyone, reserved for nights of drinking or thinking alone. Jimin wants nothing more than to reach out and touch, feeling that his voice won’t be enough to communicate, but he doesn’t want to take another wrong step. He already feels the thin ice cracking underneath him with every passing second. Another misplaced word and they both fall through.
“I want you here,” Taehyung’s whisper is accompanied by a crystalline tear that falls hard and fast. Jimin almost gasps as he sees it leave a shining trail across his skin. He can’t help but lift his hand to Taehyung’s cheek, using his thumb to brush away the other tears that are starting to collect at his bottom lashes. Taehyung leans into the touch, closing his eyes as Jimin gently dries his eyes. With a deep sigh, more quiet tears fall, dampening Jimin’s fingers. The warmth of it is unfamiliar, but not unpleasant. Jimin lets his thumb slowly slide back and forth across Taehyung’s cheekbone, hoping that his touch is soothing. It’s all he has to offer right now.
Taehyung opens his eyes and grabs Jimin’s wrist. He starts to guide Jimin’s hand away, but stops suddenly as his face drops. Bringing a shaky hand up to Jimin’s chin and pulling it away wet and glistening, Taehyung’s eyes well up again. Jimin didn’t even realize he had started crying himself. He blinks and feels his own tears fall this time. Taehyung brings his hand up to mirror Jimin’s own, resting on the salty dampened skin. It feels more intimate than anything they’ve ever done naked.
“Can you stay here?” Taehyung asks, so quiet that Jimin can barely hear him just inches away, “With me?” Jimin gives a near imperceptible nod, but he knows Taehyung can see it, feel it. Words have always failed on them, but their bodies know each other as well as they know themselves. Cut from the same cloth, it’s no surprise that they always find themselves fitting back together.