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no such thing as a beautiful goodbye

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NOW

Jimin closes his eyes and breathes, tries tuning out the cacophony of English all around him by focusing on the gentle brush of the make-up as it's applied to his cheeks and the corners of his eyes. The stylists murmurs at him to tip his head back and it's oddly soothing, just that quiet direction in a language he understands. He does as instructed, pulling in another slow, even breath and wills his heartbeat to slow down.

"Ready?" he hears, an English word he knows. He opens his eyes to see a woman with red hair and glasses smiling kindly at him.

Jimin looks to the stylist for confirmation and, with her nod, turns back to the producer, running a hand self-consciously over the front of his shirt and nodding himself.

"Just this way," she says, holding out her hand to lead him toward the small arrangement of director's chairs placed before a dark backdrop, right at the focus point of two cameras and a small configuration of lighting equipment. Seokjin's sat in one of the chairs already, looking as grossly attractive as always, hair swept back off his forehead and back straight, shoulders tense in a way Jimin's sure he's the only one to really notice. Jimin takes a seat next to him, propping his feet up on the little wooden cross beam of the chair and tries, again, to relax a little.

The interviewer sits facing them, the one camera just over Jimin's shoulder aimed at him, and he lifts his head after a moment, flashing a smile at Jimin.

"Park Jimin," he says, standing up briefly to hold out his hand. "Hi, man.I'm Marc. It's a pleasure."

Instinctively, Jimin takes the man's hand and bows with a quiet smile. "Hello. Nice to meet you," he says in his stilted English before settling back into his chair once more.

"Are you enjoying America?"

"Yes," Jimin answers, proud of himself for not needing Seokjin or the interpreter to step in. "It's very nice."

"Good, good," Marc continues, seeming to relax a little himself. Another stylist steps in, this time to attend to Marc as he keeps speaking. "We'll get started here in just a few moments. Let me know if you guys need anything at all or just wave at the woman in the glasses over there."

"My name's Shannon," calls out the woman with the red hair and the glasses, hiding a smirk. "We'll be ready in five, boys."


THEN

"Chim, you can't just not," Taehyung said through his mouthful of noodles. It actually sounded a lot more like, 'Ihn, ooh an' -uh AHN,' but after a decade of friendship Jimin had no problem interpreting the many variations of Taehyung Speak, including those with food involvement.

He wrinkled his nose at the sight of mashed noodles in Taehyung's half-open mouth. "Yeah, but–"

"No," Taehyung replied, voice much clearer this time, leveling Jimin with a look as he waved his chopsticks. "This is such a break for you. CJ Entertainment is huge. Your face could be on billboards! You could have an action figure! You have to at least entertain it."

Jimin's frown deepened as he stared down at his own noodles.

"Come on, it can't be that weird," Taehyung continued, undeterred, still chewing noisily. "It's not like you haven't seen each other since you broke up. You're even friends. Kind of. Wasn't he at the release party?"

"We fucked at the release party."

"Right," Taehyung said, lips smacking as he finished his bite, already stacking his chopsticks with more noodles. "Exactly my point. You're still friends."

"Just because we fucked doesn't mean we're friends," Jimin replied, trying not to think about how Seokjin had felt under his hands that night, all that lean muscle and smooth skin Jimin once knew so well. America hadn't changed him much, at least not physically and, as frustrating as it was, Jimin was still more attracted to Seokjin than he'd ever been to anyone else in his whole life.

"But you could be. If you talked."

"I don't want to talk," Jimin said plainly, picking at his own noodles. Taehyung sighed heavily and Jimin grimaced at the smell of soy sauce that wafted across the table.

"It's not like you even have the part yet. It's just a reading."

"Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence," he murmured, but it wasn't like Taehyung didn't have a point. And, weirdly, it did help him relax a little. If nothing else, maybe just showing up to the reading would help prove to both himself and Kim Seokjin that he was well and truly Over It. He could wear his nicest shirt (the black one with the silver threading that he knew for a fact Seokjin loved on him) and paste on his sweetest smile and just... do what he did best.

Act.

And then leave without a word.

"Whatever," Taehyung said then, interrupting Jimin's thoughts with another wave of his chopsticks. "You'll get it, I know it. I mean, the radiating sexual tension between the two of you alone will force them to hire you."

Jimin let out a strained hiccup of a laugh. "It's not that kind of movie."

"With you two as the leads? It is totally that kind of movie."


NOW

One of the lights gets moved two inches to Jimin's left as the audio team works on testing the boom and lavalier mics and then the producer is back, the woman in the glasses with the kind smile (Shannon, he remembers, repeating the name silently to himself). Seokjin has been speaking quietly with the interpreter for the past few minutes, some of it general, friendly chatter and some of it logistical planning for the interview.

Jimin wipes his sweaty palms against the knees of his pants and reminds himself to breathe. Though this is hardly his first interview, it is his first in America, the first for a major foreign press where there could be absolute, tangible consequences for any missteps. They've prepped, of course, particularly for the one glaring topic that will almost certainly be addressed. In theory, Jimin knows exactly what he's supposed to be saying, at least in Korean, but he can't lie to himself and pretend he isn't about to shake out of his own skin with nerves.

"Okay, Marc," Shannon says from behind the left camera. "Whenever you're ready."

Marc's smile widens, a friendly flash of extremely white teeth as he taps the note cards in his hand against his knee and looks just beyond Jimin's left shoulder to where the one camera is poised. "Thank you for joining us here at Beyond the Scene. I'm Marc Beeman and today we're sitting with Kim Seokjin and Park Jimin, the two stars of the recent hit Korean film, Kim & Lee, which just last week set a new box office record for a foreign film. Thank you both so much for being here. I know you have a busy day planned so we're totally stoked to be on your list of appearances. How's the jet lag treating you?"

The interpreter quickly and quietly translates for Jimin but Seokjin's already smiling. "Good," he says with a friendly wave of his hand. "We have coffee."

Happy to be able to follow along, Jimin makes a gesture with both of his hands to indicate the enormous size of the coffee he'd had earlier. "Big," he says, laughing softly at the way the interviewer's eyes go wide.

"Drinking like a true LA native already," the guys says before turning to Seokjin. "How about you, Jin? Are you getting to visit any of your old haunts? How long has it been since you were here?"

Seokjin hums then, thoughtful, and instinctively Jimin's stomach tightens. "Four years," he says a moment later, his smile a little more strained this time. "About four years."


THEN

Jimin was halfway through his second drink, glass resting against his thigh, wetting the denim with condensation as he leaned against Namjoon, happily listening in on the conversation between him, Yoongi, and two of the producers who'd helped out on their latest EP. (They'd been introduced earlier, but Jimin couldn't remember their names at all. He really needed to get better at that.) He wasn't really following all of what they were saying, but found something soothing in their eager, excited tones and warm laughter.

Well, Namjoon's at least. Yoongi was mostly quietly grunting in agreement here and there, though that was oddly soothing in its own right. Jimin had always loved listening to the people he cared about most expounding on their passions (even if wasn't one he shared) and he didn't know anyone as passionate about anything as Namjoon and Yoongi were about music.

"Park Jimin!"

He startled at the sudden shout, nearly spilling his drink in the process as he looked up to see his best friend rushing toward him. The others were equally surprised, it seemed, their conversation halted as a wild-eyed Kim Taehyung lunged forward to grab Jimin by the wrist, wrenching him away from Namjoon's side. "Thank fuck. Come here. Come with me."

"What the– Tae!"

"Sorry!" Taehyung insisted immediately, clearly genuinely apologetic even as he continued tugging at Jimin's arm. "Sorry, sorry, so sorry, it's an emergency."

Dread filled Jimin's stomach and he let himself be pulled to his feet, his mind already a mess of trying to figure out what could possibly have Taehyung so frantic. "What's wrong?"

Looping an arm around Jimin's middle, Taehyung shook his head and swung them both around toward the balcony door.

"Tae, seriously. You're freaking me out, what's going on?"

Taehyung still only shook his head, soundlessly yanking open the door and shoving Jimin out onto the balcony. The cool air bit at Jimin's skin and he already regretted that he was still holding a glass of cold liquid.

Worry and fear wound tight around Jimin's esophagus, making his voice harsh. "Taehyung–"

"Jin hyung's here."

Jimin's mouth snapped shut.

"I'm pretty sure he was invited so we don't need to call the police or anything. Not that, like– I honestly can't believe they asked him to come without telling you and I'm definitely beating both of them up after we fuck tonight, but I wanted to at least let you know what's going on before you ran into him in the kitchen or something."

Jimin's ears were ringing, his stomach somewhere twenty feet below them on the gross, damp alley floor.

Luckily, Taehyung had quick enough reflexes that he was able to catch Jimin's drink as it fell from his fingers. Without missing a beat, he took a sip of it, his face screwing up into a scowl immediately. "How do you drink this stuff?"

"He's. But he's not."

Taehyung's expression softened and his shoulders slumped as he lifted his other hand to Jimin's face. His fingers were warm.

"Is he just– is he visiting or is he like–"

"He's moved back," Taehyung said, voice quieter. "I heard him talking to Minji out in the hall; I guess he got here earlier this week. He's still looking for a place."

Jimin shook his head, not sure how much more he wanted to hear, and Taehyung immediately fell quiet, though he kept his hand where it was, lightly petting Jimin's cheek.

"I can reschedule those beatings for right now if you want, booty be damned. Just say the word."

That was almost enough to crack a smile across Jimin's lips, but all he could manage was the barest huff of a laugh as he ducked his head.

Jimin read somewhere once that getting over a break-up was supposed to take one month for every year spent in the relationship. If that was true, Jimin should have been over it ten months ago. But here he was, hiding on his friends' balcony because his ex-boyfriend, the once-upon-a-time love-of-his-fucking-life, the one Jimin was positive he'd never see again, was suddenly back in Korea. Not visiting, not dropping in to brag about his success or show off his hot American girlfriend, but really back. As in moved back. To stay.

"No," he said after another moment and another slow breath.

"Do you wanna leave?" Taehyung asked carefully. Jimin knew if he said yes, if he said he wanted to leave from this very balcony to avoid going back in and risking even seeing Seokjin's stupid face, Taehyung would spend the next half an hour hunting down a ladder and carry him down like some kind of Disney princess.

But he'd had years to get over this. He would be the better man, damnit.

"No," he said again, meeting Taehyung's eyes. "I was here first."


NOW

"Well, I know it may not seem like it, but America has missed you, man," Marc says with a wide grin. "I may have taken the opportunity to watch a couple episodes of Burnout the other day."

Seokjin makes a face and Jimin can't help letting out a laugh. He's only catching bits and pieces of their conversation, but he remembers the name of the terrible beach sitcom Seokjin had been in, the one he'd left Korea for all those years ago. Jimin had even spite-watched a few episodes with Taehyung who'd assured him he wasn't just being bitter, the show really was terrible. Not to mention more than a little racist and insulting.

"They're all on YouTube if you know where to look," he continues, clearly amused by Seokjin's expression and Jimin's laughter.

"Do you really hate yourself that much?" Seokjin asks, smiling through a grimace.

"All in the name of research, my friend."

Seokjin just shakes his head but it's clear, at least to Jimin, that the smile on his face is more than a little strained. Jimin's certain his own expression must look the same, both of them waiting for the inevitable follow-up question, the one they've spent the past few weeks gearing up for. It feels too soon, but Jimin thinks maybe that's how journalists are here in America: eager to forgo formalities and cut to the chase.

"It's funny how things work out, isn't it?" Marc says, his smile still friendly. "Just really glad to have you back in the States."

"Good to be back," Seokjin replies, perfectly politely though Jimin can't help wondering just how sincerely he means it.

The air remains heavy for another moment. Jimin doesn't even realize he's holding his breath until Marc smacks his cards against his knee. "Anyway, let's talk about Kim & Lee."


THEN

It was a different kind of film than anything Jimin had done before or even been offered. After languishing in low-budget movies from smaller studios and bit parts on television dramas for years, it was something fun and new and interesting. Not that he'd ever been too good for mainstream, blockbuster films; those weren't the parts made available to someone like him. While he never had any issue with the roles he'd received, and was actually exceptionally proud of most of the movies he'd been lucky enough to be involved with, he couldn't deny that getting this part would be huge. It would put his face and his name out there for more big roles and big projects. Potentially bigger paychecks.

But.

"Jimin-ssi, yes, hi. Wonderful to meet you. Please come in."

Jimin bowed as he stepped into the room. A long table was arranged at the far end of the room and he kept his head ducked, smiling politely as he continued bowing to the men and women seated on the other side of it. Three cameras were set up as well, two at either corner of the room and one resting in the center of the table itself, all focused on two currently-empty chairs sat about fifteen feet from the table.

"Seokjin-ssi's just stepped out," one of the men explained before handing Jimin a few stapled pages of the script. Jimin rifled through them quietly, separating out the two scenes he'd be reading. He didn't really need them, his lines already memorized after having a couple days to look at the script, but he appreciated having them just in case.

He was given a few moments to greet the others in the room, the director and casting director and two of the producers, all of whom seemed as polite and professional as Jimin would have expected. Most of them he recognized from the few awards shows and premieres he'd been to, though they'd never spoken more than a few words to one another. After all, he was little more than a B-grade actor, his name largely unknown to a mainstream audience. The fact that he was even here felt like a favor they were granting him, a charitable handout to a struggling up-and-coming. He was entirely out of his depth, an outsider desperately trying to appear good enough in this room of powerful millionaires.

"Please take a seat," the casting director said then, knocking Jimin out of his quiet panic. Her smile was kind as she motioned at the two chairs in the middle of the room. "As soon as Seokjin-ssi returns, we'll get– Ah, never mind, here he is."

Every eye in the room looked past Jimin's shoulder and Jimin himself twisted around to see Seokjin's familiar, beautiful face peeking around the door, followed immediately by his disgustingly broad shoulders.

"Jimin-ssi," he said with a respectful bow and Jimin, not to be outdone, immediately rose to his feet to return it.

It should have been easier than every time they'd run into each other at parties and red carpet events and premieres. Certainly easier than the few times they'd run into each other at the birthday parties and celebrations of their mutual friends. At least this time Jimin knew for a fact Seokjin would be here; he'd had days to mentally prepare himself for just this moment. He didn't have to pretend to be anything more than professional and minimally friendly.

It should have been easier, but Seokjin was wearing a pair of dark, perfectly tailored pants and a white loose-fitting button-down and his hair was swept back off his forehead, round, wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. He was just as beautiful as Jimin had ever seen him and it was, frankly, fucking unfair.

"Shall we begin?" said the director and Seokjin smiled his stupid, goofy smile.

If Jimin were a smarter man he would have pretended to forget all his lines, would have purposefully stumbled and crawled his way through the reading, would have deliberately over-pronounced his words and gestured dramatically. He would have made an ass of himself in front of two of CJ Entertainment's biggest producers and one of Korea's most prominent directors to ensure he stayed exactly where he belonged: with the small studios and the small films and the small roles. He'd have botched this opportunity and gone back home to cry with Taehyung and then maybe attempted to slowly grow a spine in preparation for the inevitable next time he crossed paths with Seokjin at some stupid party. Because that was better than being forced to deal with seeing his face in broad daylight every single day.

But Jimin would be lying if he said he didn't want this job, with or without the involvement of Kim fucking Seokjin.

So he pasted on his own smile and ducked his chin, gaze catching on Seokjin's dark eyes before he opened his mouth and took over the part of Kim Jaehyung.


NOW

"Your director, Choi Donghoon, is just like, he's huge over in Korea, right?" Marc asks and Seokjin's shoulders relax just a little, his smile turning more genuine. "He's a phenomenal director, just amazing. His films are incredible. And you, Seokjin, you're one of the biggest stars over there right now, obviously, so clearly the studio had some idea they might have a hit on their hands."

The interpreter is struggling to keep up and Jimin divides his time between listening to her and glancing over at Seokjin, trying to gauge his reaction.

"But it's like– this movie. Holy crap. It is huge, you guys. Not just in Korea but all over the world! It's insane! It really is just massive over here, like I don't know that we've seen anything like it before, a film that's, you know, it's not even in English and people here just– they love it. Looooove it. Obviously, that's why you're even here sitting with us right now, the demand for this film is just so out of control. But tell me – did you two have any idea it was going to be such a hit while you were filming?"

Seokjin's already shaking his head before the interpreter has finished translating for Jimin.

"No," he says with a soft laugh and Jimin joins in, also shaking his head.

"That had to be a hell of a surprise, right?" Marc replies. "I know a lot of credit is going to the on-screen chemistry between you two. The epic bromance of it all," Marc says, making quotation marks in the air with his fingers. "Like, that's a big draw for a lot of people. You two actually knew each other before you started filming too, didn't you?"

"We went to the same university, yes," Seokjin answers after the interpreter has filled Jimin in. "Many many years ago."

"Not that many," Jimin argues in Korean, laughing as he swats at Seokjin's leg. "You make us sound old!"

Seokjin only grins as he explains further. "Jimin was in my senior capstone project. He was a sophomore at the time and played my younger brother."

"Ahh, that explains it," says Marc. "Did you guys stay in touch at all or...?"

That's a loaded question if Jimin's ever heard one and he raises an eyebrow at Seokjin, curious to see how he answers it. But Seokjin's expression remains impassive, his shoulders hunching in a shrug.


THEN

Smirking, Jimin crawled onto the couch, draping his legs over Seokjin's lap and leaning into him heavily, somehow managing not to spill his coffee in the process. "Mm, could get used to this," he murmured as Seokjin curled one arm around Jimin's shoulders and dropped the other over Jimin's legs to hold him in place.

It wasn't too early anymore, but not too late either. Both of Seokjin's roommates were still asleep, though Jimin would bet neither of them had gone to bed before a couple hours ago anyway. The whole place was quiet save for the occasional honking car and bustling street noises down below.

Eventually, Jimin would need to get dressed and head off to work; he was leading more classes now that school was on break and his first one began at 11:00. But that meant he had at least one more hour before he needed to peel himself off of Seokjin's lap and attempt to look presentable. Maybe even longer if he succeeded in bribing Seokjin to drive him to the studio rather than taking the train.

He rested his head more comfortably against Seokjin's right shoulder, didn't bother hiding the whine in his voice as he asked, "You sure you have to see your parents tonight?"

Jimin felt the low vibration of Seokjin's answering laugh. "I promised weeks ago. And it's just one night."

"I know," Jimin pouted, turning his head to brush his lips against Seokjin's threadbare t-shirt, nipping playfully at the fabric. "But I've been so spoiled. I honestly don't know if I can manage to sleep at night without at least getting to see you naked first."

"That so?" Seokjin replied with a slow grin, smoothing his hand higher up Jimin's leg. "Someone sounds pretty adickted."

"Oh my god," Jimin groaned, melting into a helpless laugh despite himself.

Grinning, Seokjin's fingers dipped promisingly beneath the hem of Jimin's shorts. "One night at your place won't be so bad, I promise. Besides, I need Taehyung to stop accusing me of stealing you away from him."

Jimin giggled as he brought his coffee to his mouth, speaking against the rim. "Serves him right. Do you know how many times I've been sexiled from my own apartment? At least I don't bring my fuck buddies home every night."

He took a sip, humming at the splash of hot liquid on his tongue and nestled in closer. Then frowned when he realized Seokjin wasn't laughing with him.

They hadn't really talked about what they were now or how things had changed since that night after the wrap party. That was nearly a month ago now, but Seokjin had never been the type to talk much about relationships or his feelings. That was half of what drew Jimin to him in the first place, the infuriating mystery of him. (Well, that and his stupid sense of humor and his kindness and his talent and his fucking grossly beautiful face.) For the longest time, he really thought Seokjin wasn't the least bit interested in him despite how pink his ears got whenever they talked, but he had a hard time being upset about it when Seokjin didn't seem to show affection toward anyone outside of friendly teasing.

That had all changed, of course. Jimin now had an entire torso of purple-red love marks to prove just exactly how into him Seokjin really was.

So maybe...

"Hey," he whispered, shifting again to see Seokjin's face better. "Sorry, that wasn't–"

"I've been thinking about it actually," Seokjin said, his voice quiet but sure and Jimin swallowed the rest of what he meant to say in favor of listening.

"Like. I don't know," he continued, letting out a soft laugh. "I mean, if you want to keep doing this, just the uh... the sex thing. That's fine, I get it. I won't push it. You still have two more years of school and who knows what sort of parts I might get or where they might take me. I know two years is a long time at our age and I don't want to be that guy who tries to hold you back from anything, but I think."

Seokjin fell quiet again and Jimin reminded himself to exhale. And to wait. To give Seokjin whatever time he needed to put words to his thoughts.

"I don't know. I've decided to stay in Seoul for awhile, I think, or for at least as long as I can. I'll be here with Yoongi and Namjoon, so it's not..." He trailed off again, clearly struggling, and Jimin leaned in to press a kiss to the slope of his shoulder encouragingly. "What I mean is, I'll be close. If we want this to be something else."

"Something else," Jimin echoed with a soft laugh. He playfully squirmed against Seokjin's side and pinched at his neck. "Fucking hell, just say you want to date me!"

Seokjin's ears turned a darker shade of pink as he narrowed his eyes. "Hmm, if I had to date you... I'd put you at about... I don't know... early 90s? Maybe late 80s? Definitely older than me."

It took a moment for Jimin to get it.

"You are the worst," he eventually howled, lurching forward to place his coffee mug on the table in front of them and then immediately crawled into Seokjin's lap, straddling him. Seokjin's hands fell to Jimin's waist and his head tipped back and Jimin was positive he's never seen a more infuriatingly beautiful person in his whole entire life. Grinning, he said, "I fucking hate you."

Seokjin's cheeks puffed up under a bright smile. "Hate you back."


NOW

"We lost touch for awhile," Jimin says once it becomes clear Seokjin isn't going to answer. He speaks in Korean, not confident enough in his English to get his point across. "A few years. But we had some mutual friends so when he came back to Korea, we started hanging out again."

It's not entirely the truth, of course. Yes, they had mutual friends, and yes they did occasionally happen to be at the same parties and, once or twice, the same movie premieres. But Jimin certainly hadn't sought Seokjin out or vice versa.

But it's important they appear friendly, an added bit of credibility for when Jimin will inevitably need to grit his teeth and defend Seokjin later.

"Well, that's very cool," Marc says, once again all smiles. "Kinda like fate or something, yeah?"

Jimin can feel his face go warm, a new coil of discomfort slithering into his belly as he lets out an awkward laugh, again glancing over at Seokjin.

"Something like that," Seokjin agrees in English.

"Did you two do anything to prepare for your roles in that sense?" asks Marc. "Like, did you draw on your friendship at all to help flesh out the relationship between your two characters or anything along those lines?"

Jimin nods as soon as he understands the question, ignoring the itch under his skin as he once again answers in Korean. "Some, yes. That's a part of any role, I think, working out with your director and your fellow actors what the relationship dynamics are and how everyone should be interacting, both from an audience perspective, but also the perspectives of the characters themselves."

"We did spend some time off set, more so in the early days, to discuss our own ideas of Jaehyung and Seungwon's backstories," Seokjin adds in English. "Really going into detail around when they met in Barcelona as well as their individual relationships with the woman who spends the whole film trying to kill them. We wanted to make the bond between these two men feel very very real and very strong."

"I'd say you succeeded! From what I hear, the fan fiction about these guys is just off the charts."

Jimin knows all about that, of course. Taehyung harassed him with a few lewd excerpts until Jimin asked him to stop and, while Jimin sees no problem with fan-created works as a whole, he has to admit it's all incredibly awkward given... everything.

He laughs again, automatic and riddled with nerves, as Seokjin glances over at him again, his own smile a little strained. "Guess our hard work paid off."


THEN

The weather was nice enough they could sit outside, coffees in hand as the light breeze brushed Seokjin's hair off his forehead. The peek of sunlight over their umbrella made him scrunch his face up in that way Jimin remembered loving a long time ago, before he decided he hated it.

This was a terrible idea.

It'd be easier, he thought, if the whole thing didn't feel so normal. So casual.

"It doesn't really say so explicitly in the script, but I've had some talks with Donghoon and he seems to think Hyojin dated Seungwon after the whole thing with Jaehyung ."

"So after I left her at the altar," Jimin said, swallowing another sip of his coffee and mulling it over. "Seungwon was her rebound."

There was the tiniest flicker of something across Seokjin's face then, but it was gone as soon as it appeared, replaced with another scrunchy smile. "Yeah. He didn't really say how much time there was between the two, but I feel like maybe a few months or so? And then I cheated on her."

"Mmm," Jimin hummed, tapping the end of his pencil against his notebook. "Classy."

"You left her at the altar!" Seokjin balked with a laugh.

"Still didn't cheat on her."

The whole conversation should have been awkward, Jimin thought. As far as he knew, Seokjin had never cheated on him and there was no altar at which to leave anyone, but that didn't change the fact that he did leave. He did make a choice that broke Jimin's heart. Talking about a similar sort of thing, even through the veneer of fiction, should have felt awkward, or even painful.

But maybe four years of distance has healed the wound better than Jimin realized.

Or maybe they were both acting even now, simply feeding off each other's desperate desire to avoid discomfort at all costs.

"Funny how these guys are supposed to be close but neither of them have shared their relationship histories with each other," Seokjin said then as he relaxed back into his chair, the sun once again hitting him in the eyes. "I know a lot of that is due to the whole secret assassin thing, but it's still. Fuck, I don't know. It's weird. Don't you think it's weird?"

"Maybe they're both ashamed," Jimin said because he'd had some time to wonder the same thing. "I think Jaehyung is. What sort of guy dates a girl for three years, asks her to marry him, and then just leaves?"

And there it was.

Jimin had let his guard down, let his carefully structured facade fall away without noticing, and even if they were still just talking about the script and their characters, Jimin could hear the hint of accusation in his own tone. Four years ago, the statement would have been far more pointed and intent, likely coupled with a piercing look and raised chin. It would have been all challenge.

And right then, even without any intended edge, Jimin could still clearly see the blade cut skin. Seokjin tried to hide it, and maybe someone else wouldn't have noticed it, but it was clear as day to Jimin.

He didn't know whether to feel guilty or vindicated.

The tips of Seokjin's ears were bright pink as he let out a quiet, stilted laugh,. "That makes sense, yeah," he said with a nod.

Jimin laughed, his automatic response to emotionally fraught situations, and then took another sip of his coffee. "Anyway, these guys are just made of secrets. What's one more?"

It wasn't the best deflection ever, but Seokjin seemed grateful for it all the same, his shoulders slowly relaxing. Gradually, a little haltingly, the conversation melted into Seokjin joking over what other secrets his character might have ("He ate his twin brother in the womb! He hates dogs! He's actually a 300-year old vampire!") and Jimin found himself laughing despite himself. He'd have liked to say the tension completely evaporated, but that wasn't quite true. They were both still being careful, both dancing around the giant elephant in the room, but it was better than Jimin had hoped for and for the moment that was enough.


NOW

"I think it's safe to say Kim and Lee will go down in the history books as one of the best movie dude duos of all time," Marc continues. "Right up there with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Riggs and Murtaugh."

Jimin has absolutely no idea who any of those characters are, but he smiles and nods along all the same.

"So let me ask you: Considering how much time you two spent trying to make this friendship between your characters look as authentic as possible, and also the fact that you're actually good friends behind the camera as well, was it hard at all to play out the more violent scenes? I'm talking about that one in the kitchen in particular. I mean, you two were actively trying to kill each other there and it's just– it's so intense! It almost reads like a brutal break-up with a significant other, you know?"

There's no hint of discomfort on Seokjin's face this time and Jimin tries his best to mirror him, still smiling as he shakes his head.

"The physical part of it was very hard," Seokjin replies. "I'm not great at stunt choreo at all and never have been. I had to rely a lot on my double, Jeon Jeongguk, who is just amazing, by the way, but the emotional factor..."

"Not hard," Jimin interrupts, saying at least that much in English before switching over to Korean. "We'd established, at least between each other, this intense emotional bond right from the start. We knew how close these two were, how much they trusted one another. To have that literally explode in front of them only ignited those emotions."

Seokjin nods, jumping in then. He speaks in English, which Jimin knows is preferable to the interviewer and probably to the audience who will eventually be watching, but it makes him feel small and stupid all the same. He carefully keeps himself still and schools his expression, not wanting to let any of his irritation show.

"There's a fine line between love and hate," Seokjin says, "but a pretty solid one between trust and betrayal. When someone you've spent so many years trusting, someone you considered your very best friend, is suddenly this entirely different person and they're trying to kill you..." He trails off with a laugh, shifting a little in his chair. "The emotions there aren't difficult to convey."

"Oh, I don't think there's any denying your acting talents. Either of you. I just meant like... was it difficult on a personal level? For instance, did it affect your friendship off the set?"

Seokjin meets Jimin's eyes again, a million words hidden in his expression and Jimin has no idea where to even start with deciphering them.


THEN

"I just don't understand what the fuck happened," Jimin groaned from where he was stretched out on the floor of his and Taehyung's living room. He had one leg propped over Taehyung's lap, taking full advantage of his best friend's massage skills. Taehyung gave his calf a warm squeeze and some of Jimin's ire and irritation bled away under a long, low sigh.

"You're making sex noises again."

"Shut up, you love my sex noises."

Taehyung dug his thumb in then, right into the knot below the bend of Jimin's knee, and every muscle in Jimin's body drew tight as he bit back a whimper. "Fuck," he exhaled, once the white-hot pain had faded enough that he could remember how to breathe and he glared up at Taehyung. In some ways, the pain was good; if nothing else, it very briefly helped take his mind off the ache that had been sitting in the middle of his chest for days.

"That's better. Much more productive," he said, easing up the tiny little circles only a little. "Anyway, have you tried talking to him?"

"Of course I have. That's the whole point. I've tried, but he's completely blocking me out."

"You see him literally every single day. You work together. He can't avoid you forever."

"Apparently, he can!" Jimin argued, dropping one hand against his stomach and tipping his head up to glare to the ceiling. "He hides away in his trailer every minute we're not actively on set which, you know. Whatever. That's fine. It's not like we were sneaking away to fuck around before."

"Well, that's disappointing," Taehyung quietly interjected.

Jimin ignored him. "We're both professionals and I recognize he needs time to get away and recoup in between scenes. He's always needed more time alone than I have anyway."

"Very noble."

"But he outright refuses to answer my calls. He'll only sometimes respond to my texts and usually that's just to say he's too busy or suddenly has an appointment with someone somewhere out of the blue. And I know it's bullshit. I know it is because I know him. He's fucking ghosting me. Again."

"To be fair, he didn't really ghost you the first time."

"He moved to the other fucking side of the world, Tae. That wins him a goddamn gold medal in the Ghosting Olympics."

"Eh," Taehyung shrugged. "I wouldn't give him higher than a bronze. His technique was lacking." He gave Jimin's leg another squeeze and then followed it up with a light pat, signaling he was finished.

Grunting, Jimin dropped his foot back to the floor and forced himself to sit up. He was sulking and he knew it, but if there was one person in the world who could tolerate him at his most pathetic, it was Taehyung. So he let himself indulge for the moment, shifting over to lean into Taehyung's side, sliding their fingers together between them.

"I just don't understand. Things were... god, it was so good, TaeTae. So good. It felt like college all over again, you know? But better. I was really starting to think we were starting over, ever since Spain. So I don't– I wish he would at least tell me what I did wrong," he grumbled, staring down at their hands, Taehyung's nearly dwarfing his own.

"You don't know that it's you."

"It was last time."

He didn't need to look to know Taehyung was frowning at him, could feel it in the gentle squeeze of Taehyung's hand. It was an old argument and not one he was very eager to delve back into no matter how overwhelming his self-loathing.

"How long has he been doing this again?"

Jimin's frown deepened. "I don't know. The last couple weeks?"

"Do you think he's seeing someone else?"

The mere idea of that made Jimin's insides shrivel like a sun-dried grape, but he still shook his head. "He's never been like that."

"Maybe he picked up some bad habits in America," Taehyung said, his voice low and careful, and Jimin's grump of a laugh could only be described as bitter. "What about that kid you're always talking about? Jeongguk? From how you talk, they seem close."

"Definitely not," Jimin replied, much more certain about that much. "Gguk has a boyfriend. Some dance instructor he never stops talking about. He actually gave me the guy's card a few weeks ago after..." he trailed off for a moment, frowning harder. "After Seokjin let it slip that I used to dance."

Again, he didn't need to look at Taehyung to read the unspoken Well, isn't that interesting? and just shook his head again. "There's no way."

"Hmm. Well." Taehyung slid his hand free so he could skim his fingertips over Jimin's knuckles, petting lightly. "Want me to check with my boy toys, see if they might have some dirt?"

Jimin huffed, the sound a little closer to a laugh though still not quite there. He turned his hand palm side up, wrapping Taehyung's dangling fingers in a grateful squeeze. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't really need anyone else to know I fell for his stupid charms yet again."

"Oh, ChimChim," Taehyung murmured softly, freeing his fingers so he could wrap his arm securely around Jimin's shoulders and pull him in close. He pressed a kiss to Jimin's temple and nudged him with his nose. "Who wouldn't be fooled by that face? You're only human."

This time Jimin did laugh, and also gave Taehyung a sharp elbow in the side.

"I deserved that," Taehyung said, laughing through a wince as he pulled Jimin closer, presumably so Jimin couldn't do any further damage. Jimin let himself be tugged, needing solace from his best friend even if said best friend was kind of an asshole sometimes. He closed his eyes, then scowled when he realized there was wetness leaking through and his throat was starting to close up. He turned his face more firmly into Taehyung's chest, cursing internally as he struggled to keep his breathing under control, angry beyond belief that nearly five years later he still wasn't over the first boy who broke his heart.

The only boy who ever had it in the first place.

"Baby." This time, there was no hint of teasing in Taehyung's voice. He carded his long fingers through Jimin's hair and pressed a kiss to the top of his head and Jimin let himself break.


NOW

"I realize neither of you are probably Method actors, but like you said, emotions are high," Marc continues. "Did some of that bleed through after the director called cut?"

"I wouldn't really say so, no," Seokjin finally manages after a moment and Jimin grips his leg tighter, overwhelmed by just how absurd that answer is even if it's technically not a lie. After all, it's not the film that ended their friendship. That went up in flames years ago when Seokjin ripped Jimin's heart from his chest and took it with him to America. And it's worse now only because Seokjin brought that heart back, offered to heal it, then stabbed a knife through it in front of the whole fucking country.

In his darker moments, Jimin still wonders if this had been Seokjin's plan all along. If he'd convinced the producers to hire Jimin, a wannabe, struggling actor with only a handful of small movies to his name, just so he could start to gain Jimin's trust and humiliate him all over again.

The Seokjin he fell in love with all those years ago never would have done such a thing, of course. Not even to his greatest enemy, not that Seokjin even had one.

But Jimin's not sure anymore that he's ever known Seokjin at all.

"It's easy for that line between fiction and reality to get a little muddy, especially where such strong emotions are involved, so I can't say some days weren't more difficult that others. But that's just part of the job." Seokjin isn't looking at him as he speaks, his focus intent on Marc. Jimin's glad for that much, at least; there's too much weight behind what Seokjin's saying and what he's carefully leaving out.

Marc laughs and there's nothing mean or vindictive in it at all, but Jimin's nerves still rankle at the sound.

"You say it like it's no big deal," he says. "Like carrying that sort of emotional baggage for days or weeks on end doesn't even phase you."

"Well, we do get paid a lot of money," Seokjin points out. "That helps."

"Right, you do get some perks!" Marc says with another cringey laugh. "Good paycheck, free food on set... even some travel, right? I heard you actually shot some of the film on location in Spain, didn't you?"

Nodding again, Seokjin says, "Yes, the first three weeks of production were shot there."

"And how was that? Did you enjoy it?"

"Some of it," he answers with a rough sort of laugh, glancing quickly at Jimin.

Jimin feels like his heart is about to crawl its way up his throat, but he manages to paste a smile on his face and nods along. "It's beautiful. And... very good food."

Neither of those are lies, but it's not what Jimin remembers most about those three weeks.


THEN

The clock on the nightstand read 4:26 AM in glaring red LED. Jimin did the math in his head; it was nearly noon in Korea. No wonder he couldn't sleep.

Except that wasn't the real reason.

The real reason had an arm curled around Jimin's waist and was breathing softly against the back of his neck. It was naked and warm and had spent two hours mapping every inch of Jimin's body with his mouth after they'd returned from dinner.

Jimin stared at the clock, watched the 6 flip to a 7. He thought about texting Taehyung, but his phone was too far to reach without jostling the man behind him and he wasn't sure what he'd say anyway. Hey, I fucked up again. I'm weak. What the fuck is wrong with me? Taehyung would probably just reply with a bunch of dirty emojis and a flowery diatribe detailing all the ways in which he thought Jimin was perfect and, while it might make Jimin smile, it wouldn't do anything to combat the fact that Jimin had actually fucked up. Again.

Why did he keep doing this to himself?

He closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep. They had a fairly easy schedule the next day, just some dialogue in a busy piazza, a deliberate break from the more physically strenuous scenes they'd been filming for the past week.

When Jimin opened his eyes again, the clock read 5:33 and he officially gave up.

Quietly, and as carefully as possible, he removed Seokjin's arm from around his waist and slid along the mattress until he was right at the edge. He grabbed his underwear off the floor, slipping them on as he got to his feet, and grabbed his shirt on his way out to the main room of his suite, footsteps silent on the carpeted floor. It wasn't until he was pulling the shirt on that he realized it was actually Seokjin's, the collar gaping around his neck as the fabric hung loose from his shoulders.

He collapsed into the couch, drawing his legs up close, and rested his head on his knees as he stared out the large window into the glittering Barcelona night.

"Hey."

Jimin jerked, startled by the sudden, low voice despite it being barely louder than a whisper.

Seokjin stood naked in the doorway of the bedroom, his hair mussed and cheeks puffy from sleep. He was both absolutely gorgeous and ridiculously adorable and Jimin didn't know who he hated more in that moment: Seokjin for being so stupidly beautiful or himself for being so stupidly helpless.

"Why'd you leave?"

Jimin didn't move from his spot, but ducked his face further against his arms. "Couldn't sleep."

"Mm," said Seokjin, wiping the back of his hand against his eye and letting out a yawn. His lips tugged into a smile as he shuffled closer. "You're wearing my shirt," he said as he took a seat next to Jimin, reaching out to pinch lightly at the fabric before smoothing an arm down Jimin's side. "Looks good on you."

It would be so easy to sink back right now, to curl toward Seokjin and tip his head up for a kiss. Maybe spend another hour sleepily touching and tasting each other until the sun began to peek through the curtains.

But Jimin closed his eyes and pulled in a breath instead.

"You can go."

The hand on his side stilled but didn't pull away, the air suddenly heavy between them.

"Do you want me to?" Seokjin asked.

And Jimin hated that question. It was too complicated, too tangled in years of memories and years of pain and months and months of weakness. Would it even matter in the end, he wondered. Did he really think he could be strong the next time he'd had a little too much soju and Seokjin was standing intoxicatingly close? What was there to stop this from happening over and over again?

Seokjin was still right next to him, his hand now heavy and warm on Jimin's back. He could hear the soft hitch in Seokjin's breath, like he was preparing himself to say something, probably trying to find the right way to say goodbye before deciding against it.

He slid his hand higher and Jimin went tense, squeezing his eyes shut as Seokjin combed his fingers through the hair at Jimin's nape.

"This isn't just sex for me."

He spoke quietly and evenly, no mistaking his words. Jimin swallowed.

"I should have said something sooner, I know, I just... it still feels fragile. Like... like if I acknowledge what's happening, the whole thing will shatter."

Jimin finally opened his eyes then and tipped his head to glare at Seokjin. "Acknowledge what? That your ex is still so pathetic for you he can never say no?" he asked, words catching in his throat before Jimin could shut them away.

"You're not pathetic," Seokjin countered, his voice still soft. "You've never been pathetic. Jimin–"

"I can't fucking do this anymore. I can't–" Frustrated, Jimin uncurled and reached back to shove Seokjin's arm away before facing him fully. "I can't keep fucking you and pretend everything's okay. It's not okay. I'm not okay."

Seokjin stared at him and the only way Jimin could think to describe the look on his face was gutted. Somehow, that didn't make him feel any better.

"I'm still in love with you."

"Oh, fuck you," Jimin snarled, his tone not nearly as biting as he'd intended.

"I never stopped. Never. Going to America was the worst decision I ever made and I never ever wanted it to be the end of us. Never."

"You're so full of shit."

"I wanted you to go with me. And I understand why you didn't want to, why you couldn't right then, of course I do, but it was never my intention for us to be over. I wanted to make it work."

"You chose your career over me."

Jimin saw the bob of Seokjin's adam's apple as he swallowed and their eyes met again. "So did you," he said and despite the soft, quiet tone of his voice, Jimin felt it like a punch to the chest, his shoulders caving as he shook his head.

"Fuck you, why are you–"

"I want it to work this time," Seokjin continued, reaching out but thinking better of it at the last minute, his fingers just a breath away from Jimin's knee on the couch. "Please. Please, Jimin. I want this. I want you."


NOW

"I've actually been wanting to go there for years," Marc says, still smiling genially. "Not for work, just as a tourist. More fun that way."

"I wouldn't know," Seokjin say with a soft laugh.

"Well, maybe I'll just have to invite you along! I'm sure you'll be able to find time, right?"

Seokjin's grin widens and, while Jimin knows they're not flirting, that Seokjin is simply being friendly and polite, that he's only doing his job, he can't help feeling more and more out of place.

And then it gets worse.

"Then again, you might not want to have anything to do with me after my next question," Marc continues, his face twisting into a somewhat exaggerated grimace as he looks from Seokjin to Jimin and back again. "I hate to do this to you, but I know it's something a lot of people out there have been talking about."

Beside him, Jimin can feel Seokjin tense up. He shifts in his chair, sitting more firmly against the back and squaring his shoulders as he takes in a breath. But he nods, a silent approval for Marc to continue.

And Marc does. "What can you tell me about this Kevin Grant ordeal?"


THEN

The door to Seokjin's apartment was barely open before Jimin stormed in. Instinctively, Seokjin stepped back, eyes wide and hands already held up as though to protect himself. Which was smart, honestly. Jimin felt a hairsbreadth away from throwing punches, as useless as they might be.

This was hardly the first time Jimin has been at Seokjin's apartment, though it had been a few weeks now. It still looked almost exactly the same with its too-white furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows and delicate art features.

Jimin fucking hated the sight of it.

"I saw them," he said turning his ire onto its rightful recipient. There wasn't a chance Seokjin didn't know what he was talking about. "I saw every single one of them and I don't care how much of your dick Dispatch blurred out or how many times you deny it, it's you. I know it's you, what the fuck, Jin?"

Seokjin winced, but he didn't move forward. He stood perfectly still, a perfect, beautiful statue in the middle of his expensive apartment. "Jimin."

"Don't," Jimin seethed. "Don't– fucking lie to me. I deserve at least that much."

At that, Seokjin's shoulders caved and his head dropped forward. He ran a hand across the back of his neck. "Fuck."

"I just– I don't understand why," Jimin continued, his voice cracking. "I thought we were trying again, I thought you wanted–" He cut himself off, frustrated with his inability to keep his emotions under control. The rage and humiliation swirling beneath his skin was too much to contain and he turned away, pacing as he let out a low, sharp yell, hands balled into fists. He wanted to hit something, the wall or the table or one of Seokjin's stupid fucking ceramic statues.

"Was this your plan all along?" he asked instead, whirling back on Seokjin. "Huh? Did you pull some strings with the company? Convince them to hire me just so you could fuck with my head one more time?"

"No," Seokjin breathed, eyes wide and devastated. He'd always been an incredible actor. "Jimin, no, that wasn't–"

"Spare me," Jimin snarled again, fighting the lump in his throat with a shake of his head. "I can't believe I fell for it, that's the worst part. I can't believe I was so fucking stupid."

"Jimin," Seokjin said again, taking a halting step closer, stopping when Jimin put a hand up. "Please, just–"

But Jimin was done, throat closing up as he stalked past Seokjin, back toward the door. He didn't even know why he'd spent the money to come all the way to Seokjin's apartment, didn't know what he'd been looking for, what he'd expected. He should have known Seokjin would only continue to lie to him.

"You are the single worst thing that's ever happened to me," he said, the figure of Seokjin blurry from the tears Jimin refused to let himself shed in Seokjin's presence. "I fucking--" His throat closed up and Jimin swallowed against it, forcing out a final, "I hate you so fucking much," before he slammed the door behind him.


NOW

Seokjin lets out a quiet, almost bitter exhale that's nothing like a genuine laugh at all. He shrugs. "Why don't you tell me? Everyone has a different story right now."

Marc's smile is equally awkward, but he nods in agreement, settling back in his chair with his note cards once more. "Alright. Well, let's get right to it then. Kevin Grant is an actor here in the States mostly known for a handful of commercials and walk-on roles in various films and TV shows. Looks like he's made a few appearances on Street Detective and Lagoon Bay, but nothing to make him very well known. Just recently, however, he released a handful of uh... shall we say, risqué photographs that he claims are you. He's also stated you two have been secret lovers for years."

"Not really a secret anymore," Jimin murmurs quietly under his breath in Korean. Seokjin shoots him a look.

Marc glances between them, clearly uncertain about whether he's allowed in on the joke, if he's allowed to smile or not. "What did he say?"

Seokjin shakes his head, lips still twisted in a smile that doesn't reach his eyes.

"No secret now," Jimin says, this time in English. His voice is a bit sharper and he honestly can't say whether his irritation is mostly directed at Seokjin or at Marc. He just knows this is already as awful to endure as he'd feared.

Marc's smile is still more than a little unsure, but he looks to Seokjin again. "I'll cut right to the chase then," he says. "Can you tell me if there's any truth to his claims?"

Jimin already knows the answer, of course. He doesn't need to sit here and listen to Seokjin lie yet again even if that's exactly what he's supposed to do. Their whole purpose here is to essentially regurgitate lines hammered into them by the production company and PR department, to "set the record straight" on Seokjin's scandal, both capitalizing on and squashing the rumors swirling around both him and the movie since it broke.

But Seokin is quiet and Jimin gets tired of waiting for him to speak, finally shaking his head and saying in English, "No. Not true." The words feel like acid on his tongue.


THEN

"You should've just made me your plus one," Taehyung said, cracking open another bottle of soju and sliding it across the table toward Jimin. "I could've made out with you on the red carpet and changed the dialogue of the whole night."

Jimin's lips twitched into a half grin as he curled his fingers around the new bottle. "I'm tired enough right now, and drunk enough, that that almost doesn't sound like the worst idea ever."

"Also, I'm a genius," Taehyung agreed definitively and Jimin tipped his head back for another drink.

Taehyung took a bite of pork belly, chewing loudly before he continued. "It doesn't sound completely awful, at least. You mingled and rubbed elbows and looked amazing, right? That's what premieres are really all about. No one's actually there to see the movie."

"Honestly, it would have been better if people were there just for the movie."

"Instead of the bullshit?"

"Instead of the bullshit," Jimin confirmed, rubbing a hand over his face and leaning back heavily in his chair. He was still wearing his suit, or at least most of it. He'd dropped the jacket over the back of the couch and the first three buttons of his shirt were undone, but the rest was still in place. It was some kind of miracle he hadn't dropped half his samgyeopsal all over the expensive fabric.

Taehyung fell quiet and Jimin took another gulp of his soju. He felt better than he had earlier, more at ease in the safety of his own apartment with his favorite person in the world. There was no one here to ask his opinion of those stupid pictures, or if he had any idea Seokjin might be gay, or if he'd ever heard of this fucking Kevin Grant. He didn't have to pretend he and Seokjin were still friendly, didn't have to stand next to him and smile for the cameras, didn't have to tell every reporter and interviewer and random person with a recording app on their phone just how great Seokjin was to work with.

This still wasn't the end of it either; there were more promotions ahead of them yet, more now than initially planned since Seokjin's little scandal. But at least he was on the downward slope now.

"You know what the shittiest part of this is?"

"Hmm," Taehyung said through another bite. "That you got all fancy and could be getting laid by half of Gangnam but instead you're stuck here with me? Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

Jimin's lips twitched upward in a faint smile and Taehyung winked at him across the table.

Despite himself, Jimin laughed, but continued on after giving Taehyung's shin a light nudge with his foot under the table. "That I'll never be able to not see him again. Normal people get that, you know? They shut the door on someone, break up and move out, and for the most part, they never have to see that person's face again unless they happen to randomly run into each other at the grocery store or something. But I won't ever get that. Even if the hyungs all stopped hanging out with him or start making sure we won't be at the same parties, even if he and I weren't in the same industry, he's a fucking movie star, Tae. His stupid face is all over the place all the time. I can't escape it. Not ever."

Brow furrowed, Taehyung considered it. Then shrugged and waved his chopsticks at Jimin as he said, "You could always follow his lead and move to, like, Russia or something."

Jimin's lips twitched into a faint grin. "You're full of good ideas tonight."

"Only catch is you have to take me with you. Think we can get a bag big enough to smuggle my boyfriends?"

Laughing, Jimin fell forward against the table, the lip of his soju bottled tipped toward Taehyung in a one-sided cheer as he said, "We can probably fit Yoongi in a carry-on."

"It's decided then," Taehyung said with a bright smile. "I'll start on the paperwork tomorrow."

Jimin giggled again, his cheek smashed against the top of the table as he closed his eyes. He was grateful for Taehyung's unending support and his humor, grateful to have at least one person who knew the truth when he had to lie to everyone else in the world.

He could only hope that, eventually, this would all be behind him.


NOW

Marc glances at him, clearly surprised, but Jimin isn't sure whether it's the sharp tone of his voice or the fact that he's spoken in English again. He doesn't much care either way, nerves prickling under his skin as he pushes forward.

"Talk movie now," he says, fighting the burn under his cheeks because he knows his English isn't great, especially compared to Seokjin's. He hates how people might think of him when they watch this, how Americans might perceive him, which only makes him hate Seokjin even more for putting him into this position, for humiliating him on so many fucking levels.

Marc's smile turns overly friendly and he says something Jimin doesn't understand. He turns to the interpreter, but she doesn't have time to translate before Seokjin speaks.

"It's true."


THEN

"You're... what?"

There's no air left in Jimin's lungs. No air in the room. There's a ring of black all around Jimin's vision, closing in fast.

"It's only for a few months, maybe a year at most."

"A year?"

"Hey, it's okay," Seokjin said, frowning gently in concern as he lifted a hand to smooth the hair from Jimin's forehead.

Flinching, Jimin jerked away.


NOW

"Excuse me?" Marc asks after a moment of stunned silence, voice cracking into a laugh of disbelief.

Seokjin's left hand is tucked between his leg and the inside of the chair, fingers twitching nervously against the smooth fabric of his pants. His face is pale, eyes wide, but his chin is lifted and his voice is firm when he says again, "Not, uh. Actually, not all of it is true. But the pictures... Yes. Those are me."

It's completely off script, an abrupt left turn from everything they've been instructed to say and, panicked, Jimin turns to look beyond the cameras and the lights toward where their team of managers and stylists and PR agents are huddled together. They all look just as shocked as Jimin, mouths hanging open before the lead manager takes an aborted step forward, fire in his eyes.

"I... okay. I see," says Marc, glancing uselessly down at his notes before shaking his head, dumbfounded. "So did he–"

"I was in a relationship with Kevin Grant at the time those photos were taken. That much is also true."

It's nothing Jimin doesn't already know, but the confirmation still stings, jaw clenching as he looks away, staring at the ground.


THEN

Seokjin dropped his hand, eyebrows furrowing. He looked hurt for some reason, like he was the one being left behind. "I thought maybe you could come with me," he continued, quieter now. "Not right away obviously, but in a few months after you graduate. If you want."

"To America?why? Why can't we just stay here? I thought we were gonna move in together. I thought–"


NOW

"Does this mean you're, uh..." Marc trails off with an awkward laugh. Jimin's ears are ringing. "This feels like a rude question, but are you gay?"


THEN

"I still want all of that," Seokjin said, reaching for Jimin's hand.

Jimin yanked it away.

"You want to leave."

"I don't want to leave you," Seokjin says, sounding almost frantic. "That's not what this is about. Please, Jiminie. It's a really good opportunity, not just for me, but for both of us. As a couple."

Jimin still couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but shake his head, just the idea of leaving his parents and his brother and all his friends behind. He couldn't do it.

"It's not the perfect place, I know that," continued Seokjin. "But it's. They're more accepting of some things over there than they are here, you know? I think it could be a really good thing. We could... we could come out together and be ourselves for the first time ever. You could still dance too; there are so many places in LA that would kill to hire you."

"No," Jimin finally managed, voice cracking as his chest started to cave in. He wasn't ready for any of this, wasn't ready to pack up his whole life and move half way across the globe, wasn't ready to start all over in a place where he couldn't even communicate with anyone, wasn't ready to come out. "You didn't even ask me, you just–" His chest shuddered.

"No."


NOW

Though the question is obviously directed at Seokjin, there's a part of Jimin that feels like he's being put on trial here too. This isn't his scandal, but he's being forced to deal with it not only as Seokjin's co-star and colleague, but as his ex two times over. He's had to face Seokjin's infidelity directly for months and now has to back up his lies for the sake of the film and both their careers.

And now Seokjin's changing the rules. Again.

The silence in the room is overwhelming. Jimin's afraid to glance toward their management team now, as though Seokjin's breach of terms is indicting him by association.

"I've dated both women and men," Seokjin finally says, his voice still clear and almost eerily calm. He's always been a better actor than Jimin. "But mostly men."

Jimin finally lifts his head to look at Seokjin. Only the tinge of pink to Seokjin's ears gives him away.

"I see," says Marc, sitting heavily back in his chair again. "Wow. So, uh... I mean, you've been denying these allegations since they started up several weeks ago. What's changed?"

Finally, Seokjin falters, gaze darting only briefly toward Jimin before skittering away to land beyond the cameras. Jimin doesn't look to them this time, his attention fully on Seokjin. He's dying to know the answer to this one himself.

Seokjin's lips twitch and he lets out a soft exhale. "Honestly, I'm just tired. Kevin reached out to me a couple months ago, letting me know he had the pictures. They're from years ago, back when I was filming Burnout. We dated for a couple weeks at that time, maybe a month. I'd just gotten out of a long term relationship back, uh. Back home."

Seokjin doesn't look at Jimin when he says it, doesn't give any indication of Jimin's involvement. But Jimin still hears it loud and clear.

Fuck.

"We met on set and then hung out a few times and eventually, well."

"Do you remember taking the pictures?"

"Some of them," Seokjin replies with a slight wince. "To be honest, it was a really hard time for me. Not that I'm trying to make excuses, I just... I drank a lot back then to deal with things so there's a lot I don't remember."


THEN

The contract was already signed. Flight already booked. Jimin didn't ask where Seokjin was planning to stay or how he was able to afford it. He figured Seokjin's parents were helping him or he'd managed to save up in the two and half years sharing a place with Yoongi and Namjoon.

He didn't go with Seokjin to the airport. He didn't say goodbye.

Two weeks later, he woke up to a slew of drunken messages on his Line account. After twelve hours, four sojus, and one very long talk with Taehyung, he deleted all of them without replying.


NOW

The laugh Marc lets out then is more than a little forced. "Yeah, we've all been there, brother," he says, clearly trying to lighten the heaviness in the room.

It doesn't work.

"So, uh," he says, stumbling more now as he frowns down at his cards. "You mentioned he reached out to you. Was there anything in particular he wanted?"

"Yes," Seokjin says, this time not hesitating. "Money. I paid him several times over the course of many weeks to stop him releasing the pictures."

"So he blackmailed you."

"Yes," Seokjin replies after only a brief hesitation.

"Did you stop paying him eventually or..."

Marc trails off and Seokjin shifts in his chair. Jimin honestly can't remember if he's breathed at all in the past few minutes.

"I did stop, yes," Seokjin eventually says. "It was for more than just the money. I would like to not go into why but it was my choice to stop paying. Just as it is my choice now to stop lying."

"Alright, that's– yeah. Of course. Uhm."

A stir of commotion from their management team knocks Jimin out of his daze, his heart still pounding as he startles in his chair. Their agency lead is hurriedly calling for the end of the interview, the woman in the glasses quietly trying to calm them and Jimin meets Seokjin's gaze, a million more questions filling his head before Marc quietly clears his throat.

"Yeah, so let's uh. We went a little off course there," he says, glancing nervously toward the commotion just behind him. "I'm glad you could tell your story on your own terms, Seokjin. Truly. Thank you both again so much for speaking with us."

Jimin is barely aware enough to answer him with a nod and a smile, his stomach a twisted mess as Marc looks just beyond Jimin's shoulder again to address the camera. "This has been Beyond the Scene with Kim Seokjin and Park Jimin of Kim & Lee. If you haven't seen the movie yet and you love smart action films with killer dialogue, I definitely recommend checking it out. Until next time and as always, enjoy your popcorn, movie lovers."

The rest happens in a blur, voices rising as soon as the camera's are off, crew members rushing in to unclip their mics, dozens of people grabbing their phones, the space filling with conversations in both English and Korean. Their lead manager looks as though he's about to vibrate out of his skin, his face an alarming shade of purple as he waits for Seokjin.

The stylist assigned to Jimin pulls him aside, her eyes kind as she quickly touches up Jimin's foundation. Jimin wonders if he's managed to sweat it all off yet.

"You're okay?" she asks, her voice a welcome calm in the madness around him.

He manages to nod though it feels like a lie. He scans the room for Seokjin, heart sinking when he finally catches sight of him slipping out with a group of managers.

Gently, the stylist turns Jimin's head back to face her so she can work on his lips, whispering kindly. "You will be."


THEN

Grinning, Jimin stepped in closer, effectively pinning Seokjin between himself and the wall. Seokjin's cheeks were flushed an adorable shade of pink, hair disheveled in a way that made Jimin want to run his fingers through the soft strands again. Seokjin really was absolutely gorgeous, especially with his cheeks all scrunched up in a cute, squinty smile and his lips puffy and bruised from Jimin's kisses.

Jimin could feel the pulse of the music at his feet and through the wall, the loud chatter of their friends – all the cast and crew of the film plus more than a few people he'd never seen before, on or off campus – filled the air around them. There was still a month left before the seniors would be graduating, but the energy of the impending end was all around, filling the space, making everything feel transient and weirdly fragile.

In many ways, this felt like Jimin's last chance. After graduation, Seokjin would probably be moving, if not out of Seoul then definitely out of the apartment he shared with Yoongi and Namjoon. Without the film, there wouldn't be any reason for Jimin to see him again. This was all he had and one night with Seokjin was better than nothing at all.

"This almost feels wrong," Seokjin said, gaze dropping to Jimin's lips. His hand was warm on Jimin's hip, fingertips slipping expertly beneath the fall of Jimin's shirt.

"Mm. Almost?"

Seokjin leaned in closer, bumping his nose against Jimin's. Jimin breathed him in, didn't even care that Seokjin's breath smelled like a mix of gochujang and booze. "You've spent the last month pretending to be my little brother."

"But I'm not actually your brother," Jimin giggled, gaze once again dropping to Seokjin's mouth as he slipped one hand under Seokjin's shirt, tracing the line of his abs with his fingertips.

"Which is why I said almost."

Jimin arched an eyebrow, his grin turning more evil. "Unless you have a thing for that. I'll play along, I don't mind."

Seokjin's laugh was beautiful and ridiculous, an adorable honking noise that forced Jimin to abandon Seokjin's abs in favor of reaching up to cup his face. His cheeks filled Jimin's palms as he shook his head. "Don't have a thing for that," he said, eyes locking on Jimin's as he calmed. "Just a thing for you."

Jimin smiled so hard his face actually hurt and he pushed up to brush his lips against Seokjin's. Whispered, "Come home with me."


NOW

There are still six more interviews scheduled for the day. The first is delayed by more than half an hour due to an emergency meeting between Seokjin, Jimin, and the entire American PR team on a conference call with the Korean team. Seokjin's choice to come clean has thrown them all on a new trajectory and, if Jimin is feeling uprooted and thrown into the wind, he can only imagine what Seokjin's going through.

But Seokjin remains polite and obedient through the meetings, head ducked against the lectures and the shouting, nodding where appropriate.

"This must be rectified in the next interview," their PR lead instructs. "We're working to ensure that the portion of the last interview will not be aired and you will return to denying the allegations."

Seokjin shakes his head.

"This doesn't need to be worse than you've made it already, Seokjin-ssi."

Though his tone and his words remain polite, Seokjin says, "I will not continue to lie. I'm happy to not talk about the matter at all, but should it come up, I won't lie."

Jimin stares down at his own hands and remains silent, but he shifts his leg beneath the table, unseen by the others, to press his foot gently against the side of Seokjin's. Though he might be imagining it, he thinks he can feel some of the tension drain from Seokjin's shoulders even as the agency lead glares at him from across the table.

"Fine. We will request all mention of this ordeal be removed from any questioning. Should you mention one word of it on your own, I assure you there will be repercussions."

Beneath the table, Seokjin lightly knocks his knee against Jimin's and says, "Understood."


SOON

After the seemingly endless interviews and meetings and discussions with the production company and PR teams, Jimin charms a copy of Seokjin's hotel key card from the management team and lets himself in. He orders room service, which is cold by the time Seokjin finally finds his own way back well after midnight. Seokjin screams and jumps nearly three feet in the air when he finds Jimin waiting for him on the couch of Seokjin's suite. Jimin laughs fondly, but Seokjin's shoulders remain tense, his demeanor cautious even after he's calmed down.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, guarded, and Jimin approaches him carefully, taking one of Seokjin's hands in his own.

"I think we need to talk," he says, marveling at the weight of Seokjin's hand in his own and breathing him in. Seokjin opens his mouth to speak and Jimin shakes his head. "Not yet," he clarifies because exhaustion is written all over Seokjin's face and he's swaying forward like he barely keep himself upright. Jimin gently places a hand on Seokjin's waist and meets his eyes. "I have a lot of questions, but they can wait."

For a moment, Seokjin only looks at him, his gaze searching, and Jimin offers him a smile, small and hesitant before stepping back to lead him to the bedroom.

Seokjin follows, likely too worn out to protest, and his posture remains awkward, tense like he doesn't know what to do with his hands. Jimin stays close, selfishly needing the proximity after spending the last several hours stuck in his own head. He's gone over everything what feels like hundreds of times now, re-examined so much of what he thought he knew.

Jimin swallows as he tips his head back to meet Seokjin's eyes, curls one hand gently in the fabric of Seokjin's crumpled shirt. "First, uh..." he starts, his voice careful, "I really need to say I'm sorry."

The expression on Seokjin's face falters, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

"I never listened. I never gave you a chance to explain," Jimin tells him, smoothing his hands up Seokjin's sides. "And if I'd just come with you the first time none of this would have happened."

"That wasn't your fault."

Jimin shakes his head, his heart sore not only from the months and years of his own hurt, but from all that Seokjin's been wrestling with for just as long. It's all twisted up with his own guilt and frustration now that he knows so much of it could have been avoided if only he hadn't been so stubborn all those years ago, so unwilling to see past his own hurt and listen.

"Some of it was," Jimin whispers, lifting one hand to graze his fingers along Seokjin's jaw.

Later, he'll take his time carefully unbuttoning Seokjin's shirt and peeling it off his shoulders. And Seokjin will let him, neither say a word as Jimin strips Seokjin down to his underwear before slipping out of his own clothes. He'll take out his contacts and brush his teeth with his finger and they'll wash their faces standing side by side in the bathroom. Then, still in their underwear, they'll slip into Seokjin's bed and settle in under the covers, side by side and facing each other.

Jimin will be the first to reach between them, but Seokjin will meet him halfway, their fingers linking together on the mattress as Jimin slides closer. "Can I kiss you?" he'll whisper, quiet enough to nearly be lost in the darkness. Some part of him will expect a murmured rejection, partially due to Seokjin's exhaustion but more so the fact that Seokjin owes him nothing. After all this time, all the misunderstandings, they're both going to need time to heal and Jimin can't fool himself into believing it'll be easy.

But Seokjin will nod and tip his head, his lips soft and dry when they meet Jimin's and just as sweet as Jimin's ever remembered. It will be yet another first kiss for them, this one more tentative and unsure than any other they've ever shared. Seokjin will be the first to press it deeper and Jimin will open immediately at the slow slide of Seokjin's tongue along his bottom lip, exhaling in what he can only describe as relief.

There will be time for questions later, for answers and explanations and more apologies. There may be no fixing their missteps and mistakes, no getting back all their wasted time. But there will be another chance for them, and the opportunity to finally get it right.

On their own terms and, more importantly, together.

end.