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help me hold onto you

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It’s on a completely unremarkable night in August when Taehyung sees Park Jimin for the first time in four years.

Well, it’s sort of remarkable. Taehyung’s kind of on a date, one of those “we’ve been friends for a while and we flirt a lot” situations, both of them unsure of whether things will go any further than that. If they do, that would be fun, but if not, Taehyung’s happy to keep being Yoongi’s friend. It’s also the first date Taehyung has been on in months, the first time he’s cared about one in much longer.

But all of that, all the ways this night felt a little special when he tried to style his hair well and look presentable (as if Yoongi hadn’t seen him in utter disarray countless times, but — still), that all floods out of Taehyung’s mind when he catches sight, across the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, of Park Jimin.

He looks the same. That’s the first thing Taehyung finds himself thinking, that after four years, Park Jimin looks almost exactly the same. He’s thinner, Taehyung notices, which is funny because Taehyung himself keeps getting softer around the middle, his lanky boneyness of teenagedom disappearing. Jimin’s gotten more striking, and Taehyung’s heart plummets at the thought, because Park Jimin never needed any help in being striking.

That’s enough of that though, he thinks, his mind trying to cling to rationality and self-control even when every other part of him doesn’t feel up to it. That’s enough looking. If he stops looking, he doesn’t have to deal with it right now, with this reality he’s somehow found himself in. When he looks away, back to Yoongi, he feels momentarily like maybe he hallucinated it.

“Are you okay?” Yoongi’s asking him, eyebrows furrowed, and Taehyung wonders how to answer that for a moment.

“I just,” he starts. He wants so badly to glance across the restaurant again, to make sure he wasn’t seeing the stray ghost of a memory. But he doesn’t. “I just saw someone I haven’t seen in years.”

“Oh,” Yoongi says, not sounding any more clear on the situation. “I really can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Me either,” Taehyung says, panic hitting him as he does. He was calm before, but he feels — well, less calm, the more it hits him that this is actually happening.

Right? This is actually happening?

“An ex or something?” Yoongi asks, looking cautiously curious.

“No,” Taehyung says, that answer coming easy to him, at least. “No, just...an old friend.”

“Are you okay?” Yoongi asks again, leaning forward and looking concerned. At that exact moment, Taehyung chances another ill-advised glance across the restaurant, and if he thought he was panicking before, it was nothing compared to the way he feels when he realizes Jimin is looking right back at him.

“No, I am not,” Taehyung says evenly as Jimin stands up from his table and starts toward them. “He’s coming over here, and I swear to god, hyung, if you try to leave right now I will scream.” He says the last part in a hissing whisper as Yoongi moves to scoot his chair back, no doubt sensing the imminent calamity and trying to get the fuck out and duck for cover. Taehyung knows Yoongi well enough to know this.

But at Taehyung’s words, Yoongi moves slightly back toward him again, an eyebrow raised. “Got it.”

“Kim Taehyung?”

Taehyung wishes he had told Yoongi to start running and bring him along. He looks up from Yoongi to the man behind him, and he was wrong, Jimin doesn’t look exactly the same. In some ways, it’s easy to catalogue all the things that are different about Park Jimin since they last saw each other.

Taehyung has a bad memory, but he has not ever been able to shake the image of Park JImin with a closed-off expression and dark circles under his eyes in the Incheon airport. The image of Jimin the last time they saw each other. Maybe that’s why it’s so clear, all the ways he’s different now. His cheekbones are more prominent, hair styled sleek and smooth off of his face, and everything about him is narrower, smaller, but maybe, Taehyung thinks, he’s just always remembered Jimin as larger-than-life.

He schools his face into a smile, which isn’t that hard to do. At some point when they knew each other, the sight of Jimin triggered a smile like muscle memory. They don’t know each other anymore, but Taehyung’s body remembers.

“Park Jimin,” he says back.

Jimin smiles faintly. “You always said you wouldn’t stay in Seoul.”

“Things change,” Taehyung says simply.

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees with a nod. His hair falls into his face a little and Jimin pushes it back without a thought, and jesus, it’s like a memory come to life. It’s like a hundred thousand memories come to life in front of him.

“Are you...back in town? Like, for good?” Taehyung asks, because he needs to know. Can’t live with not knowing whether or not he should be looking around every corner for a glimpse at a ghost.

“I don’t know that I’m anywhere for good,” Jimin says with a sheepish grin. “But for the foreseeable future, yes.”

“Wow. Fun!” Taehyung voice sounds so false that Yoongi almost snorts, Taehyung sees it in his periphery, and then he suddenly remembers Yoongi exists. Fuck. “Sorry, Jimin, this is Min Yoongi.”

Yoongi twists in his seat to give Jimin a little wave. It is maybe sarcastic — Taehyung has trouble telling with Yoongi sometimes.

“Hello,” Jimin says to him, voice perfectly charismatic. “Sorry to disturb you. I just, ah...couldn’t believe it was you.”

“Yeah. Me either,” Taehyung says with a smaller smile.

“We should catch up sometime,” Jimin suggests, in the same tone that people always suggest it in. Taehyung puts another smile on his face.

“Sure. Let me know,” he says, and then Jimin is saying goodbyes, apologizing again for interrupting, and Taehyung feels kind of out-of-body over the whole thing.

He looks away, has to look away from where Jimin is walking to his own table, and when he looks back at Yoongi, his expression is hard to read.

Taehyung sighs. “Sorry.”

“Old friend, huh,” Yoongi says, looking at Taehyung disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Taehyung says, gives Yoongi a look. They’ve spent enough time together that Taehyung hopes Yoongi can read it, can tell that this is one of those rare times that Taehyung wants him to drop something.

Yoongi raises his eyebrows again but nods. “Sorry. Don’t mean to pry.”

“Yes you did. You love drama,” Taehyung says, smirking at Yoongi. He wants to get back to...to real life. To things that are not Park Jimin.

“Yah,” Yoongi says with a snort, opening his mouth to argue with Taehyung, and this is better, sinking back into normalcy.

Taehyung isn’t sure how well the date goes, but at the very least, he puts Jimin out of his mind for a few hours. He sits at dinner with a cute boy who he likes, who he thinks is funny, an adult he knows from his adult life, and he can pretend, for a moment, that things are the same as they were when he walked into the restaurant.

Even if he feels like they very, very much aren’t.

 

 

“Jungkook-ah,” Taehyung says on the phone a couple days later, lacking the distraction or self-control to avoid pushing the issue. “Did you know Jimin is back?”

There’s a pause on the other end of the phone, and it’s all Taehyung really needs to hear. He sighs.

“I didn’t know if you’d want to know,” Jungkook says quietly.

“Yeah,” Taehyung says with another sigh. “I don’t know if I wanted to know either.”

“You saw him?” Jungkook asks, sounding a little afraid of the answer.

“Yeah. I saw him.” Taehyung leans back against the brick wall of his balcony. It’s cool out, but Taehyung couldn’t sleep, and sometimes the fresh air helps. He kind of wants a cigarette, a habit he mostly never developed in the first place, but sometimes, times like this, he misses the taste.

“Oh, hyung,” Jungkook says quietly, more tenderness in his voice than Taehyung is used to hearing much anymore. Taehyung closes his eyes.

“It’s okay,” Taehyung says, and he mostly means it. It is okay. Everything’s okay. Nothing’s changed for him, except that...well, except that Park Jimin is back at the forefront of his mind for the first time in years.

“I know, just…” Jungkook is saying. And Taehyung kind of gets it. When Jimin left, Jungkook was there, wide-eyed in the lurch of the crashing wave that was Taehyung-without-Jimin. Sometimes, even when Taehyung didn’t want him to, he got swept up in the current. “Love you, hyung.”

Taehyung laughs a little. “Yeah. Love you too.” He doesn’t know how to tell Jungkook it’s alright, I’m fine, I’m an adult, things are different now.

The truth is, Taehyung is worried none of it is true.

 

 

For a few days, Taehyung wanted to believe that Jimin’s promise to catch up was as genuine as every other promise to catch up that he’s gotten from an old classmate. Which is to say, not very. But the more days that passed, the more Taehyung knew that this particular optimism was unfounded; if Jimin was anything, it was thorough. He knew that Jimin would reach out again, the issue was, he didn’t know what he was going to do about it.

When the time comes, Taehyung stares down at the text on his phone, mulling it over.

hi taehyung, this is jimin! not sure if you still had my number. hopefully this is still yours! just wanted to see if you wanted to grab coffee or something :)

Taehyung didn’t have Jimin’s number anymore. He deleted it a couple years ago, in an impulsive moment. But of course Jimin still had his. He was always more considerate than Taehyung.

There’s a part of him that wants to say no. To make excuses, to avoid it. For one, it’s probably the choice that’s better for him, right? Self-preservation, Namjoon would say. For two, there’s something that feels powerful about that. Something self-assured about not giving in to the way he wants, has always wanted, apparently will always want, to bask in the light Jimin gives off.

He’s hopeless against it, is the thing. Always has been, since the first day they met, and Taehyung couldn’t bring himself to leave Jimin’s company for hours. There’s something bright about him that Taehyung’s drawn to like the flame that draws in the moth. Fitting metaphor, he thinks, considering the number of times he’s almost burned alive.

So Taehyung, quietly and trying not to think too hard about it, texts Jimin back. Doesn’t make an excuse, doesn’t say no. Lets himself get drawn back into a familiar kind of light.

And god, Jimin is stupidly radiant at the corner table of the cafe he picked, a kind smile on his face. The sort of smile that hurts a little bit to view, and suddenly, Taehyung realizes all of this is going to hurt.

(Of course it will. Of course it will hurt, but Taehyung always seems to remember too late to avoid the warmth of Jimin’s fire.)

“Taehyung!” Jimin says, sounding genuinely happy. Taehyung pulls the ends of his cardigan sleeves over his hand and picks at the fabric nervously, wishing he didn’t feel guilty for the pit of dread sitting in his stomach.

Still, though. Still, it’s Jimin, and his warm smile and the crinkle of his eyes, and Taehyung doesn’t have to work too hard to smile back, say, “Hi, Jimin.”

There’s a moment where Jimin stands, moves like he’s maybe going to offer a hug, but then he seems to remember himself. Seems to remember that they haven’t touched in years. Just like Taehyung, Jimin’s body remembers how to know him, moves on instinct, and they pause as they recalibrate.

The moment passes, though, and then it’s just the two of them sitting down for coffee, like any other two people, like anyone in the world. The strangeness of it is all-encompassing, and Taehyung fidgets with his sleeves again.

“How have you been?” Jimin asks, and it’s a loaded question, isn’t it? A question with a lot of answers.

“Tired,” Taehyung says with a small smile. Tired for years. Tired from working, from crawling his way from an unpaid internship with a design company to having a relatively successful freelance career. Tired from the way that things never seem to let him breathe. Tired from trying so hard to grow all the time, his limbs aching with it like they did when he went through growth spurts as a kid. “But happy.” Happy with his friends, the group of people he built around himself in the wake of...well, in the wake of this.

“The same with me,” Jimin tells him, offering him a similar little grin.

“So you’re not touring anymore?” Taehyung asks.

At that, Jimin’s smile goes a little stale. “It’s hard on you, touring. The travel alone is enough to wear you out. I...well, I decided I’d rather be able to keep dancing at all than trying to maintain that.”

Errantly, Taehyung worries about the knee that’s always given Jimin trouble, the knee that used to get sore ever since Jimin fell on it wrong over half a decade ago. Wonders if it got worse, wonders if he got injured. He frowns. “Sorry to hear that,” he says earnestly.

“I guess I’ll look for teaching jobs soon,” Jimin says with that same stale expression. “Since I’m no longer doing.”

And god, it’s like nothing’s changed at all. It’s a conversation they’ve had before, years before, Jimin fierce in his desire to push himself, to never settle, to never stop moving. Fierce enough that when he made the audition for a backup dancer position in some singer’s world tour, he took it. Fierce enough that once he started, he never stopped. Until now, Taehyung guesses, until his body told him he couldn’t anymore, from the sounds of things. It must be killing him, Taehyung thinks.

He frowns again. He always hated the way Jimin used to get stubborn about this. About how to go after dance, as ephemeral a profession as it is. Jimin would talk about teaching as a last resort, as failure, giving up on the path he wanted.

He sighs, and finally opens his mouth to reply. “You always acted like teaching meant you were untalented. I always thought that was bullshit.”

Jimin’s eyes widen momentarily, and his expression falls. He gives a short little laugh. “Yeah. Well. Like you said, things change.”

They haven’t, Taehyung thinks. Wants to say, but holds himself back, because despite all the ways sitting in front of Jimin makes him feel twenty years old, Taehyung has grown up. And he’s learned to recognize when trying to argue with someone will do nothing but waste both of their time.

“How about you, though? Jungkookie told me a little bit, he said you’ve been doing set design for films?” Jimin says, face back to its usual brightness.

Taehyung nods. “Yeah. I’ve been involved with a few different films now. And then I do some theater work, too.”

“Wow,” Jimin says, smiling big and earnest. “That’s really great, Tae.”

Taehyung nods. It’s strange, catching up with someone who used to know everything, who used to be the first person he’d tell about anything.

“Are you seeing anyone? That guy in the restaurant?” Jimin asks. His voice is casual in a way that Taehyung can tell isn’t completely genuine, and he’s not sure what that means.

“Uh,” Taehyung says, waving his hand noncommittally. “Not really. He’s mostly a friend.”

“Mostly,” Jimin says with a little smirk. “That sounds like you.”

Taehyung doesn’t smile at that. He doesn’t want to talk about his dating habits with Park Jimin. “We’re seeing if we want to date each other, I guess.” Taehyung says instead of acknowledging Jimin’s comment.

“And do you?” Jimin’s asking like they’re still in college, gossiping about their love lives over beer in someone’s little apartment.

Taehyung shrugs. “I’m not sure yet.”

They go quiet then. They shouldn’t be out of things to say already, should they? They used to be able to talk for hours even when they saw each other every day. It’s like the distance, the time, is spread between them on the table of the cafe, and Taehyung isn’t sure how to speak next.

But Jimin, Jimin who has always been more considerate, keeps the conversation going. “I haven’t been seeing anyone either.”

“Right,” Taehyung says, doesn’t mention that he wasn’t going to ask, that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“It’s hard, with traveling so much,” Jimin goes on. Taehyung nods.

“I didn’t know you were still talking to Jungkook,” Taehyung says, because — because it’s been bothering him since Jimin said Jungkookie like it was a normal thing to say.

“Yeah,” Jimin says, though he has the sense to look a little awkward over it. “Not a lot. Just texting every once in a while.”

Taehyung nods again. He wants to know, distantly, who reached out first, but both answers make him feel like shit, so he doesn’t ask. Why shouldn’t Jungkook have reached out? He and Jimin were friends. It’s not Jimin’s fault that Jungkook had to deal with Taehyung when he left, and Jimin didn’t do anything wrong. That was one of the hardest parts of all of it — Jimin never did anything wrong.

But maybe it was Jimin, who sent Jungkook a text just like the one he sent Taehyung a few days ago. Happy, unfazed, like no time had passed at all. That wouldn’t be too surprising. He never tried to reach out to Taehyung again after they first started drifting apart, but...well, Taehyung doesn’t blame him, he guesses.

There’s another little pause, and it would be awkward if Taehyung wasn’t so caught up in his own thoughts and if Jimin wasn’t immune to that kind of thing. “How’s Namjoon-hyung?” Jimin asks to disrupt it.

“Good,” Taehyung says quietly, distracted. “He’s good. Busy with writing, most of the time, but he’s been teaching on the side, too.”

“I bought his last book,” Jimin says with a faint smile. “He’s always been so good.”

(And there’s a line in a poem in that book about him, about them; Taehyung doesn’t have it memorized anymore, doesn’t have it burned into his mind the way he used to, but in a long poem about the way love winds around the earth like a string, there’s a line about two boys drawn in constellations who have been reaching for each other from different hemispheres across the stars for ages, eons, but they’ve never managed to touch. He wonders if Jimin ever realized. He hopes that he didn’t.)

“Yeah, he’s great,” Taehyung says, an honest smile finding its way on his face, because Namjoon is great.

“We should get everybody back together,” Jimin suggests with a grin. “It’d be nice to see all of you at once.”

Taehyung swallows. He cannot think of anything more horrifically awkward than a group outing with the four of them. But it’s Jimin, smiling in front of him, so he nods. “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“I really...I’ve really missed all of you,” Jimin says quietly, voice softer.

Taehyung sets his jaw, doesn’t know what to say to that. Some part of him wants to say something sharp, give voice to the thought of well, you should have come home, then. But it’s not — this isn’t — he sighs to himself. Jimin never did anything wrong. “We missed you too,” he settles on instead, because it’s true.

++

Taehyung’s little outings with his friends have changed in the few years since they’ve left college. They’re less frequent now; they have busier lives than they used to, and it’s hard to line up their schedules. Instead of the cheap clubs in the loud neighborhoods they used to go to, they sit in quieter bars in Sinsadong that Seokjin always seems to know the owner of. And to that point, their guest list is a little different these days.

In college, it was the four of them, Taehyung and Jimin sitting across from Namjoon and Jungkook, a few other friends they liked depending on who was around. For a while afterward, that long year after Taehyung graduated, it was just Namjoon sat in Jungkook and Taehyung’s apartment because they didn’t have the money to go anywhere else.

But things kept moving forward, as things are wont to do. Seokjin came along first, a producer Jungkook met on a movie set he was interning on and complained about nonstop until he started buying Jungkook lunches. And Taehyung quickly learned why — true to Jungkook’s word, he was bossy and loud, but in a weirdly endearing kind of way. He inserted himself into their group of friends so neatly, it was strange to remember that Seokjin hadn’t been there all along.

After Seokjin came Hoseok, the editor Namjoon said he wanted to stay “completely professional” with, despite never seeming able to turn down offers of beer after their meetings, commonplace enough that soon everyone else was coming along too.

Yoongi is the most recent addition, dragged in with a little resistance after Taehyung decided he liked him enough to share him with everyone. They met on the last movie Taehyung worked on, Yoongi the DP standing in the director’s shadow and bickering with Taehyung all during pre-production over how his sets should lay out. Taehyung thought it was fun, the way Yoongi would get all ornery in the face of Taehyung’s easy-going insistence. He’s a good judge of character, he thinks, and it was easy to see that his friends would like him too.

So that made six of them, a nice number to get a good table at a restaurant, their chaotic professions making it hard to meet up all the time, but they tried, and they usually did okay. They spent their evenings catching up on the last couple weeks, bullshitting and gossiping and ignoring Seokjin and Jungkook’s joke-arguments until they all got pulled in and asked to referee the nonsense of the day.

Seven, Taehyung thinks, makes one too many. Throws everything off.

Taehyung chose his seat strategically — far from Jimin, but not across from him, forced to look at him all night. Diagonal, but with two people between them for buffer. Next to Hoseok, who he could count on to deflect almost anything. It was — well, frankly, it was stupid. Taehyung feels like he’s in ninth grade trying not to look at the pretty girl who his friend passed a note to on Taehyung’s behalf. It was stupid, but he still did it, just in case.

“Park Jimin,” Jimin introduced himself with a bright smile as he walked up to them outside the bar, bowing to Seokjin, Hoseok, and Yoongi.

“We met,” Yoongi said sardonically, and Taehyung would have stepped on his foot if they weren’t out in the open, and if he didn’t know Yoongi would immediately loudly complain.

“Of course,” Jimin said, unfazed. That was Jimin for you, entirely unflappable in most every situation.

The really, truly depressing thing about this whole situation is that Taehyung’s the one who engineered it. When Jimin texted him asking if they all still go out to their old haunts, Taehyung’s the one who told them about how their plans had changed. Taehyung’s the one who invited him along.

“Is that a good idea?” Jungkook asked him warily when he told him.

Taehyung had just shrugged, weary. “You know it’ll happen sooner or later.”

Because Jimin is infectious and persistent, and because it was clear he wanted to see them. There was no stopping him when he was determined on something like that, Taehyung can’t imagine that ever changed.

Jungkook sighed at him then, and he sighed again, quieter, when Taehyung scrambled into his strategic seat at their table tonight. Taehyung gave him a look, hopefully brief enough that no one else saw, and Jungkook shook his head and dropped it.

It’s fine. Now, Taehyung’s drinking his beer and sitting leaned up against Hoseok’s shoulder just because he can, and it’s fine. Jimin is charming and likeable and easy to talk to, just like he always has been, and Seokjin is getting along with him well. Everyone’s getting along with him well, Taehyung thinks, because they have no reason not to.

“A dancer,” Seokjin says to him, swirling the ice in his cocktail in his hand. “That’s so fun. Feels so exotic.”

Jimin laughs. “Don’t half of you work with movie stars every day? Why would dancers impress you?”

“Speaking as a former movie star —” Seokjin starts, but Jungkook cuts him off with a scoff.

“Hyung, you were a side character in one drama before you quit acting —”

Speaking as a former movie star,” Seokjin insists again. Hoseok snorts, the rise in his shoulder displacing Taehyung’s head, and Hoseok turns to coo an apology at him while Seokjin goes on, self-important as ever. “The profession isn’t that interesting. It’s mostly just pretty people who stand around and say some words they memorized.”

“Dazzling social commentary from Kim Seokjin,” Yoongi intones.

“What else is new?” Namjoon says with a laugh.

“Am I wrong, Yoongi?” Seokjin asks.

“Well, I don’t find them particularly awe-inspiring, but when you work on enough movies, you get desensitized,” Yoongi says with a shrug. “I used to stage manage theater, though, and dancers always impressed the shit out of me. You watch actors long enough and you think ah, I could do that if I tried hard enough, but god, I will never be able to do dance.”

“I think it’s actually more likely for you to learn to dance than learn how to act, hyung,” Taehyung says with a laugh.

“You’re a bully,” Yoongi accuses, but he’s grinning across the table at Taehyung.

“Taehyung used to act,” Jimin says, smiling over at him, and Taehyung feels singularly strange hearing Jimin say his name in front of his friends.

“Now this is news,” Seokjin says, looking thrilled.

Taehyung rolls his eyes at Seokjin. “Oh, it was nothing. Student theatre type stuff. I don’t think I was ever very good at it.”

“You did accidentally open your eyes in a death scene,” Jimin says with a wince, and Taehyung laughs, chest light with a sudden gust of nostalgia. Jimin came to see him in that show, the show he can’t remember the name of that played to an audience of twenty, held his face in his small hands and told him he was brilliant even though he very obviously wasn’t.

“It was my spirit leaving my body, obviously,” Taehyung says with a smile down the table at Jimin, watches the way it makes him laugh.

“Acting is really just like advanced lying, if you think about it. Real commitment to a very extended lie,” Namjoon says.

“So you’d be awful, then,” Hoseok smirks.

“Absolutely,” Namjoon agrees, finishing the beer in front of him.

The conversation flows easily, and as the night passes, Taehyung finds it easier and easier to chime in. There’s something addictive about making Jimin laugh — Taehyung’s always felt it, the deep urge to get a smile on his face, but he didn’t expect it to come back so fast, so strong. And at some point, after a couple beers in a couple hours, Taehyung finds himself regretting the seating, wishing he hadn’t been so afraid to be near Jimin.

Self-preservation, Taehyung hears in Namjoon’s voice again, and maybe that’s valid, but Taehyung also knows he was right when he told Jungkook this would have happened eventually. Jimin fits in with them well, and Taehyung knows already that this isn’t a one-time thing. Jimin is here now, real and solid and sitting at their table, and with this distance, Taehyung is stuck between wanting to get closer and wanting to run away. If he had been brave, sat near the fire of him, at least Taehyung wouldn’t feel so cold.

“What was your favorite place to travel to?” Hoseok asks Jimin.

“Oh,” Jimin says, looking like he’s thinking. “I don’t know. I got to go to a lot of nice places.” He stirs his cocktail straw in the drink he ordered, a vodka-something, and rests his chin on his hand. “But honestly, sometimes I feel like I spent most of my time missing home.” He looks up when he says it, and he’s looking right at Taehyung.

It’s like everyone freezes — Seokjin, Hoseok, and Yoongi don’t know what there is to freeze over, but Jungkook and Namjoon go so rigid, it must just seem like the thing to do. Taehyung swallows and looks away from Jimin, a lump in his throat, and leans into Hoseok’s body again, pulls Hoseok’s arm around his shoulder. And Taehyung moving seems to break the spell, because everyone else seems to breathe again.

Taehyung doesn’t look at any of them, keeps his eyes on the table for a few moments until conversation starts back up, and he can slip away without it being a big thing. He brings his empty beer glass with him and walks over to the bar, doesn’t chance a look back at the group to see how his departure is received, if anyone really notices. So it’s a surprise, a moment later, when Yoongi sits down next to him.

“Hey,” Yoongi says.

“Hey,” Taehyung responds, giving him half a smile. Yoongi puts his hand palm-up on the bar, looks at Taehyung expectantly, and Taehyung reaches out to grab it.

They sit there like that, fingers twined together, Yoongi’s thumbs rubbing over his knuckles, quiet. Taehyung doesn’t bother ordering another drink, but he listens to Yoongi order his, and doesn’t feel the need to say anything.

“I think I get it,” Yoongi says when his drink is set down in front of him.

Taehyung hums. Doesn’t need to ask what he gets. Yoongi is terribly smart, Taehyung’s always been frustrated about it. All his friends are smart. He’s used to all of them knowing everything, all the time, while he sits there and puzzles things out for ages.

“You can go back, hyung,” Taehyung says, looking at him. “I’m fine.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “I’m either gonna stay over here with you or you’re gonna come back with me, because as soon as I leave, he’s gonna come over here. I got the feeling you wouldn’t want that.”

Yoongi’s feeling is correct, Taehyung thinks. No, he does not want three-cocktails-in, honestly-I-missed-home Jimin coming over to sit with him and say something earnest and kind when the inside of Taehyung feels like muddy pond water. When not a bit of him feels like anything good.

“I wouldn’t,” he tells Yoongi quietly. And then, “You think you get it but I bet you don’t.”

“I get enough of it,” Yoongi says. He leans his head on Taehyung’s shoulder. It’s comforting, the weight of him there.

Taehyung lets out a deep breath. “Do you have a cigarette? Could I have a cigarette?”

Yoongi gives him a look. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I usually don’t,” Taehyung says easily. Yoongi looks mildly suspicious, but pulls him away by the hand, sticks close to him as he leads him outside. It’s cool out for almost-September, and the breeze makes Taehyung hug his arms around himself as they walk around to the side of the building, less crowded than the sidewalk.

Yoongi holds out a cigarette and Taehyung puts it between his lips, leans down toward the flame of Yoongi’s lighter.

“I know smoking’s evil,” Yoongi says, lighting his own cigarette. “But some people sure do look goddamn good doing it.”

Taehyung grins a little. “Oh?”

Yoongi snorts a laugh, takes a drag on his cigarette. “I hate when you pretend you don’t know you’re pretty.”

“Who, me?” Taehyung asks with a teasing smile.

It’s flirting without much heat behind it, the kind of thing they’ve found themselves in for the last couple months or so. Taehyung takes it with a grain of salt usually, and even more so right now, with the way Yoongi keeps looking at him like he’s trying to figure something out.

Yoongi burns through his cigarette faster than Taehyung, and he steps the butt out against the concrete before he moves himself into Taehyung’s space, looks up at him.

“What?” Taehyung asks, flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette.

“Nothing,” Yoongi says. He grabs Taehyung’s right hand, the one not holding the cigarette, and holds it again, stands with him until he’s down to the filter.

“He’s not a bad guy,” Taehyung says suddenly, feeling the need to say so. He doesn’t want that, doesn’t want anyone who doesn’t know Jimin to think he’s unkind. Jimin’s always been kind, especially to Taehyung.

“I didn’t say he was,” Yoongi says.

“He was my best friend,” Taehyung goes on, doesn’t believe Yoongi’s tone. “He was so good to me.”

Yoongi nods. “And then he left.” His tone is impartial.

“And then he left,” Taehyung agrees.

“I don’t think he’s a bad guy, Taehyung,” Yoongi tells him a moment later. “I just thought maybe you’d want some space for a minute.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Taehyung tells him, squeezing his hand.

When they walk back in, everyone’s talking, and things seem normal, which Taehyung is thankful for. Hoseok lifts his arm back up for Taehyung to curl underneath without even looking at him, like it’s second nature, and Taehyung smiles. Settles back in.

 

Namjoon’s first to leave, standing up with a stretch and complaining that he needs to wake up early tomorrow, that he’s teaching a class at nine.

“Can’t believe you’re a sexy professor now,” Jimin tells him with a little smirk.

Namjoon just snorts. “I teach an adult creative writing class. I am not a professor.”

“Still sexy, though,” Hoseok chimes in, and Namjoon pauses, seems to go a little pink. Taehyung rolls his eyes, used to this routine, and Jimin must see him, because he giggles quietly in Taehyung’s direction. Namjoon, of course, does not notice, suddenly very interested in trying to get the zipper up on his jacket.

“Seeya, hyung,” Jungkook tells him when he finally get his jacket zipped, and everyone else follows up with their goodbyes.

Seokjin goes next, and after him, Hoseok and Jungkook seem to think it’s a good idea too. And Taehyung meant to leave with them, to extract himself neatly, but then he comes back from the bathroom and they’ve left, and it’s just Yoongi and Jimin at the table, talking quietly. And Taehyung realizes: ah, Jimin is waiting for Taehyung to be the last one here, is trying to get him alone. He nods to himself.

“Hyung,” Taehyung says, making Yoongi look up at him. “Aren’t you on set tomorrow morning? You’ve been complaining about how long your shooting days have been for weeks.”

Yoongi looks at him, face impassive. “I don’t start that early.”

“Early enough. You should head out,” Taehyung says, voice casual, hoping that Yoongi gets it. You can go, he’s saying. I got this.

Yoongi studies him for a moment, then nods. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Nice to meet you, Jimin-ah. See you, Tae.”

He gives Taehyung a little half-hug on his way out, and Taehyung replaces him in the seat he was occupying, next to Jimin.

Jimin’s watching Yoongi leave, and his head is still turned toward his small retreating figure when he says, “He’s protective of you.”

Taehyung hums. “That’s just how Yoongi is,” he says, because it’s true. One of the first nights Yoongi came out with them was the night Seokjin dragged them off to a gay club, talking about how he wanted to feel young. When an older guy got too handsy with Jungkook, Yoongi finally got between them and threatened to beat the shit out of him, the fact that he was significantly smaller than the guy notwithstanding. It cemented him in place with them, Taehyung figures, and not just because Seokjin kept saying they could finally become a heist team now that they “had some muscle.”

“Sure,” Jimin is saying, though he sounds disbelieving. “Is he trying to protect you from me?”

Taehyung swallows. He looks down at the table, runs a finger over a notch in the wood. He can’t figure out how to respond to that, what to say, but Jimin is speaking again before he has to.

“Sorry. That isn’t...sorry.”

Taehyung looks up at him. He has his chin in his palm, a sad tilt to his expression. “It’s fine,” Taehyung says quietly.

“I’m sorry about earlier.”

Jimin’s expression looks something close to nervous, Taehyung notices. Taehyung furrows his eyebrows, but doesn’t speak, lets Jimin go on.

“It wasn’t fair, what I said. I was the one who left, I shouldn’t...I can’t come back and tell you that all I did was miss you.”

“You said you missed home,” Taehyung corrects.

“Yeah,” Jimin says quietly.

Taehyung looks down at the table again.

“I never meant to hurt you, Taehyung.”

(Taehyung does not trust himself to look up from the table.)

“Were you ever planning on talking to me again? If we hadn’t run into each other?” Taehyung asks. He’s staring at the wood grain of the table, has to, but his voice is steady while he asks.

“I had been working up the nerve,” Jimin says, laughs under his breath. “Jungkook wouldn’t talk to me about you, besides the basic stuff. Said if I wanted to know how you were, I should ask you myself. And I just...if there’s anything I want, Taehyung, from being back in Seoul, it’s to be your friend again.”

There was a time in Taehyung’s life where he never would have considered the reality that he and Jimin would ever not be friends. They felt invincible, held together with some kind of unbreakable chain that hung tangible between them, and anything that tried to sever it inevitably crumbled. Jimin was his, and he was Jimin’s, forever, and that was just how it was. The idea that Jimin would sit in front of him, voice small, Taehyung unable to meet his gaze, and ask to be friends is — it hurts like salt in a wound.

“I never stopped wanting to be your friend,” Taehyung says, finally glancing up at Jimin.

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees. “Sometimes things get messy whether we want them to or not.”

“You stopped texting,” Taehyung is saying before he even knows what he’s saying. It’s not an accusation, it’s just — he needs to say this.

“You deleted all our pictures together,” Jimin says back, tone hard to read.

Taehyung winces. He had hoped, distantly, that Jimin had never noticed that. It wasn’t an act of cruelty, it just hurt too much to look at, the two of them smiling together, the picture of his head pillowed on Jimin’s lap, the bright-flash picture of their hands clasped together while they sat on a rooftop they weren’t supposed to be on. Let’s keep going for a long time. I only have you. It was too much, way too much, made him feel like a sore, sorry idiot every time he opened his fucking Instagram, and he just couldn’t do it anymore.

“It hurt,” Taehyung admits. “It hurt to miss you that much.”

“Don’t you think I was hurting too?” Jimin asks. And maybe once upon a time there’d be heat in his voice, the way he got the rare times when they argued. But now, the two of them older and wearier, there’s just a careful kind of sadness.

Taehyung looks him over, swallows before he says, “You’re the one who left.”

Jimin’s the one who looks down now. “Yeah. I was.”

And maybe, Taehyung thinks, this should be it. Maybe he should say I don’t know if we can ever be friends like we were before, maybe they should just be cordial at group gatherings and that should be it. Maybe their time ran its course and trying to get it back would be like trying to keep water cupped in your palm without it dripping through your fingers, messy and bound for failure.

But Jimin never did anything wrong. Jimin left to chase a dream that predated Taehyung, that was bigger than a friend he made in college, because of course it was. Taehyung shouldn’t have expected anything different, should never have let his heart swell big enough to fit Jimin inside of it. Jimin never did anything wrong, and it wasn’t his fault that Taehyung was left to deal with himself, all stretched out and misshapen from years of holding onto Jimin so tight. And how is it fair to tell him now, after all of that, after years, that even though they used to be each other’s most important thing, they can’t even be friends anymore? How is it fair to shut Jimin out, the Jimin who took care of him when nobody else knew how, just because Taehyung got his feelings hurt?

“We can try again,” Taehyung says, voice quiet as he looks at Jimin. Jimin’s lips turn up into a little smile, barely there, but Taehyung can’t help but smile a little back. Feels so good, to make Jimin smile.

“Okay,” Jimin agrees. “I would like to try again, Taehyung-ah.”

And there’s a selfish pang of want, even then, at hearing his name in Jimin’s mouth. And there’s a painful splinter of doubt, even then, that he’ll ever be able to sustain this.

++

Jimin has always been easy to fall in love with. It was never a conscious choice, on Taehyung’s part — not even a conscious anything. It snuck up on him after about a year, the sudden realization that the sight of Jimin, sleep-rumpled on his couch, was his favorite thing to see in the whole world. That all the ways they fit together meant more to Taehyung than he thought.

“What’s wrong?” Jimin asked him that morning, one of his eyes still closed, the world too bright.

And Taehyung, heart in his throat, just shook his head, feeling breathless. He was in love, and it was so overwhelming all at once that he was having trouble breathing. “Nothing,” he said, shook his head again, like he could dislodge this as easy as a dog shaking off water, then fell next to Jimin on the couch and wrapped his arms around him, just like he always had.

He couldn’t see another option. He couldn’t see himself opening his mouth and letting this dark, selfish thing out. Not when Jimin had always been so kind. So kind, so caring, so good to Taehyung. He never asked for a thing in return for all those nights he spent easing Taehyung’s homesickness, all those times he tried to chase away all the things Taehyung was always afraid of. That’s how they were: Taehyung walked around a little leaky, and Jimin patched him up without a word. Taehyung tried to return the favor anyway, wanted desperately to be a person who made Jimin’s life better, but it’s easy to doubt your success at that kind of thing.

What he is sure of, was sure of, has always been sure of, is that Jimin never asked Taehyung to fall in love with him. So he kept his secret wet and wadded up in the back of his throat, even when he desperately wanted to spit it out. Even with Jimin’s hands tangled in his, small fingers, cold metal of all the rings he wore, and Jimin’s faces inches from his, the two of them smiling at each other because it was so good to be the two of them. Even when the sunrise that Jimin made bloom in his chest felt so bright and warm that Taehyung wanted to overflow with it. Even when Taehyung looked at him, tired and sad in the Incheon airport, the two of them choking on goodbyes.

And if Taehyung had made it through that, had soaked in every bit of Jimin he could and still managed to keep himself together, even when he wanted him so badly he ached, then surely things now would be easier.

Theoretically, Taehyung had even gotten over it. He had enough time, he had gotten over it. The first year after Jimin left, it hung over him, heavy, a raincloud that threatened to burst at any mention of Jimin’s name. But then things got easier.

(And sure, it helped that Taehyung started to make remembering Jimin a risk he rarely had to take — their photos deleted, polaroids shoved in a box, Jimin’s contact deleted in his phone after a year of silence, their old thread of messages erased. Jungkook and Namjoon never mentioned him anymore, a fact that Taehyung couldn’t think about for too long or else he’d feel guilty. Sure, all that helped, but if things were getting easier, that meant he was getting over it, right?)

Surely, Taehyung thinks as Jimin steps into his apartment, things now will be easier.

For all their friction that day at the cafe, all the ways they didn’t quite know how to be around each other, it comes back to them fast. Jimin suggested they just hang out, something low-pressure, and it turned into Jimin with a paper bag full of beer at Taehyung’s door, Jimin sat next to him on the couch with the extra XBox controller, Jimin dying ten times as often as Taehyung in the video game they’re playing and whining the whole time. And with something else to focus on, they don’t have to think so hard about how long it’s been since they’ve done this; with something else to focus on, they aren’t awkward, afraid to look at each other too often, afraid to touch.

Jimin knees him, tries to distract him from the game, and Taehyung cries out, elbows him back, and they’re all over each other before long, Jimin half in his lap, the two of them yelling until the match ends and Jimin sees his losing score on the screen, throws himself backward to wail over it.

“It’s not fair! These games aren’t fair!” He’s whining, and Taehyung is laughing big and open and easy, his happiness persistent and impossible to deny.

“You’re just bad, Jiminnie,” Taehyung tells him, the diminutive coming out of his mouth without a thought. And neither of them freeze up over it, either. It’s easy, it’s so terribly easy to be near him.

They hang out that night, and then again a few days later, with takeout and a stack of movies they used to love to watch together. It’s another distraction, another thing to make it easier to be in the same room, and it works.

“Do you remember,” Jimin starts with a smile on his face at a familiar scene, “you and Jungkook used to act this out all the time, even when Namjoon was embarrassed, and —”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Taehyung agrees with a laugh. They offer comments, olive branches of safe conversation for the rest of the movie, and when Jimin asks if he wanted to watch one more, Taehyung is already offering to make microwave popcorn.

The next week, Jimin calls him early on Saturday and they get lunch, walk around shops downtown without much purpose. It’s the first time since the night at the bar that they’re together, alone, without something to keep their eyes on besides each other, and at first, it’s stifling.

But sometime after they’ve ordered their food and run out of small talk, Jimin looks at Taehyung and says, “Today I saw a mural that reminded me of you.”

And something in the way he says it, how casual it is, feels like home. Feels like nineteen and Jimin texting him about a song he listened to, feels like saying something just because you know the other person cares.

Taehyung does care. “What kind of mural?” He asks.

“Wildflowers,” Jimin tells him. “Painted down a set of stairs. It reminded me of that painting you did forever ago. I loved that painting.”

“Ah, I’m terrible at painting things that are supposed to look like anything,” Taehyung says with a sheepish smile. “I just like colors and shapes.”

“Yeah, I know you do,” Jimin says, smiling back at him. “But I loved that painting.”

“I probably got rid of it,” Taehyung admits, finds himself charmed by the sad gasp Jimin gives. “I got rid of a lot of my old stuff when I moved into my own apartment. There’s some old paintings piled up in one of my closets, but I didn’t have enough room to keep them all.”

“Are you still painting?” Jimin asks him, looking eager to know.

It almost makes Taehyung sad to shake his head ruefully, say, “I don’t have the time anymore.”

“Growing up is terrible,” Jimin says to him with a laugh that doesn’t meet his eyes all the way.

Taehyung hums. “In some ways, yeah. It is.”

And all the ways that the day started out tense, a little nervous, have eased. They aren’t two old friends struggling to remember what they used to talk about, they’re two people learning each other again.

Things aren’t the same as they used to be, and Taehyung finds comfort in that — it’s comforting that the last few years haven’t disappeared, that Taehyung didn’t dream them all up in some horrible coma. They’re different people than they used to be. Jimin is a little more serious, a little less self-deprecating than he was before; he seems more comfortable with himself than Taehyung can remember him being. Taehyung would like to think he grew up, too. Got a little more mature. Hopefully a little stronger than he used to be, the way he always seemed to be a little too soft when things got difficult. But it’s hard to catalog yourself, all the ways things have changed. With Jimin it’s easy, all things he can see right away.

Things between them aren’t the same — but sometimes they’re close, if you squint. Sometimes Taehyung is overwhelmed by the way things feel like no time passed at all. When Jimin grabs his hand to lead him across the crosswalk, and then doesn’t let go for a moment; when he lets his thigh rest right against Taehyung’s on the couch, even though there’s plenty of room for him to spread out; when he gives Taehyung an extra napkin when there’s food on his face and laughs at him quietly. When Jimin lets himself get carried away with how funny he finds things (how funny he finds Taehyung), laughs and lets his whole body fall over against Taehyung, collapsed like a wooden doll, and all Taehyung can do is smile at him.

(Please, Taehyung thinks when he’s faced with Jimin, smiling broadly at something Taehyung said, his hand reached out to rest on Taehyung’s knee (small fingers, cold metal from the rings he still wears), please let things be easier this time.)

They start to spend nights just talking, the way they used to do about everything. Talking about how Taehyung likes set designing, about how he met Yoongi and how Jungkook met Seokjin, about the little personal projects Jungkook’s been working on between editing jobs, about how Jungkook wants to direct so badly. About Hoseok and Namjoon, the way they’ve been dancing around each other for ages now just because Namjoon never lets himself have these kind of things. About Taehyung’s family, about Jimin’s brother, about how neither of them have been home in too long. About how Jimin wants to get a cat, has wanted to get a cat for years now, about Jimin’s ongoing apartment search. And then, later, about how Jimin’s been reaching out to dance studios, seeing if they have any instructor openings.

Taehyung listens carefully, watches the way Jimin’s face moves when he talks about it. Says, “I think you’d be a great teacher.”

Jimin goes a little pink. “I don’t know.”

Taehyung shakes his head. “I do.”

Jimin looks at him for a moment, bites his lip. “How are you always so sure about things?”

Taehyung actually laughs at that, lets his head lean back against the couch. “I’m sure about almost nothing. But when it’s you, and it’s dance, it’s impossible not to be sure.”

Jimin hums, keeps gnawing at his bottom lip. “Must be nice.”

“I was always sure you would make it,” Taehyung tells him quietly. And despite the last few weeks, despite all the time they’ve spent together in an artist’s rendition of the friendship they used to have, they haven’t spoken about this since the night at the bar. About Jimin leaving.

“I don’t know that I did,” Jimin says with a snort. “I was a backup dancer for some pop tours.”

“You got to do what you loved, right?” Taehyung asks. “I think that’s making it.”

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees softly. “I guess so.”

“And you can still do what you love. Just a little different.”

Jimin’s looking at him again, and then he looks down at his lap. They’re curled up small on Taehyung’s couch in half-darkness, because they started talking when it was still light out and they’re still talking now close to midnight, because neither of them ever got up to turn on the other lamp. “People are so lucky to have you, Taehyung-ah.”

That surprises Taehyung. He blinks, furrows his eyebrows. “I...thanks?”

Jimin shakes his head. “You’re just so...you make people feel like they can do anything.”

“Do I?” Taehyung asks, surprised at the sentiment.

Jimin shrugs. “You always made me feel like that, anyway. I forgot what it’s like. To have you.” He pauses, then makes a face, seeming embarrassed. “I mean, not that I ever had you, like, you’re your own person, but —”

“No,” Taehyung argues, shaking his head. “You had me.” And he thinks about some things he shouldn’t say, thinks, I was yours, I was yours from the minute we met, I thought I was always gonna be yours —

Jimin’s nodding slowly. “Well. I like having you again.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees, even though his mouth feels dry and he’s having trouble swallowing. Even though he suddenly feels the urge to cry a little. He’s not going to, but there’s an itch at his eyes, a tightness in his chest.

There’s no helping it, Taehyung thinks. There’s just no helping it, the way his body moves toward the bright light of Park Jimin. Even after years. Even after he thought he had managed to forget the glow of it.

Still, though. For those first few weeks, held between the two of them, it feels manageable. It feels like something he can control, the pulse of desire underneath his skin that he learned to live with, all those years ago. He can learn again. He can control it enough for Jimin to be his again.

He lives his life, the same as he has been for years, but behind it, there’s a warm comfort that Jimin’s there. He and his friends throw the same joint birthday party for Namjoon and Jungkook that they’ve been throwing for years, the one Taehyung was throwing by himself for a little while; the two of them hate being the center of attention, so it works like this, to make it about both of them at once, to make it as small and quiet as the rest of them can stand. It’s the seven of them plus a few more: a few of Jungkook’s friends, Namjoon’s favorite coworker, a mutual friend of Seokjin and Hoseok. Jimin brings Momo, the girl he’s been staying with since he’s been in Seoul.

“We met on this tour in South America, of all places,” Jimin tells him. “I was just thrilled to see another Asian dancer, I definitely wasn’t expecting her to speak Korean.”

“I was sure you were trying to hit on me for like, weeks,” Momo says, laughing and pushing up her glasses. “I was calling Jeongyeon every night like oh god, this guy’s really nice but he keeps buying me dinners, what do I do?”

“I hadn’t had anyone to talk to in months!” Jimin defends himself with a laugh. “I was needy.”

Taehyung smiles as they talk, feeling strange to get a glimpse at what Jimin’s life was like in-between. He figures it’s only fair, since Jimin had to jump headfirst into what Taehyung’s life has turned into in the time he was gone.

“I just started talking about my girlfriend a lot and hoped you would catch on,” Momo says.

“Your girlfriend’s Korean?” Taehyung asks, trying to make polite conversation.

Momo nods. “Yeah. I was only supposed to be in Korea for a year, this study abroad program through my college, but I met Jeongyeon, and.” She shrugs. “I stayed.” Someone calls Jimin’s name from across the room, an old friend of Jungkook’s that they both know, and he smiles broadly, giving them a quick glance as if to say keep talking, I’ll be back before walking over to him.

Taehyung gives him a vague wave, and turns back to Momo. “Cute,” Taehyung coos at her. “How’d you end up in South America, then?”

Momo shrugs at him, but she’s smiling a little bit, like she’s not sure herself. “I don’t know, life just kind of happens sometimes. I’ve been dancing since I learned to walk, an opportunity came up, I figured I’d be crazy not to take it. I ended up traveling for about a year with this touring company.”

“And you and your girlfriend,” Taehyung starts, in an act not dissimilar to scratching at an angry, itchy mosquito bite — ill-advised, more trouble than relief. “You stayed together through that?”

“Yeah,” Momo says. “It was hard sometimes, but...I mean, I just couldn’t imagine breaking up with her, you know? So we made it work.”

Taehyung nods. “Right.” He takes a sip of his drink, looks down at the floor for a moment. Jimin makes his way back over to them in the middle of a laugh, and when Taehyung looks back up he finds himself faced with the whole of it. Overwhelming. He smiles, an instinctual reaction, and the night goes on. Seokjin smears cake on Jungkook’s face, Hoseok hugs Namjoon tight with a hand on the back of his neck, makes kissy noises in his ear and doesn’t seem to realize how red Namjoon gets after.

Jimin and Momo leave relatively early, a fact that Taehyung attributes either to Momo’s influence, or a vast change in character from the Jimin who used to whine at everyone else for ending things too soon at the end of every party. Regardless, it’s easy — the goodbye is easy, the whole night is easy. It’s strange, to be in Jimin’s company again like this, in front of everyone, but diffused between fifteen people, it’s almost normal. It’s almost like Jimin never left at all.

But things feel different when the seven of them are together again, all of them in Taehyung’s apartment. Taehyung finds himself under five sets of eyes that are newly focused, with little to draw their attention elsewhere.

Seokjin and Yoongi are making dinner in Taehyung’s kitchen, complaining about his lack of organization, and Namjoon and Jungkook are arguing over what movie to watch, the way they always do. Hoseok is nearby, looking on at them a little fondly, and Jimin — well, Jimin is leaned against Taehyung’s shoulder, looking through his phone and chiming into the conversations going on around them every once in a while.

“You always want to watch something tragic,” Namjoon is complaining. “I don’t want to watch a drama where people die! I just want to have fun!”

“I care about storytelling, hyung,” Jungkook argues with a whine. “You just care about happy endings.”

“What’s wrong with happy endings?” Hoseok asks. “Doesn’t life have enough misery in it?”

“Oh, let Jungkook like tragedies, it’s good to have a healthy relationship with crying,” Seokjin fusses from the kitchen.

“What would you know about healthy relationships?” Taehyung asks him with a snort.

Seokjin narrows his eyes at him. “Thin ice, Kim Taehyung.”

Jimin laughs from where he’s leaned against Taehyung’s shoulder, and Namjoon turns and smiles at Jimin. When his eyes find Taehyung, though, it fades a little, and Taehyung isn’t sure why. Taehyung gives him a silly look, brings the happy expression back to Namjoon’s face.

“I missed like three years in Korean movies,” Jimin says with a sigh.

“There have been some good ones,” Yoongi says.

“Did you see the one about the lesbians?” Seokjin asks.

“Are you talking about The Handmaiden? That’s so reductive, hyung,” Jungkook says with a snort.

“I disagree, the lesbianism is the highlight of the film,” Seokjin says.

“I didn’t see it, no,” Jimin answers. “Was it good?”

“God, you don’t even know, they’re such a nightmare about stuff like this,” Namjoon says with a whine, but it’s almost drowned out by Yoongi, Seokjin and Jungkook’s conversation, one Taehyung joins in on to talk about how much he liked the stylized design of the film.

“It’s incredible how being friends with a bunch of filmmakers ruins movies,” Hoseok says mildly, underneath the noise of a sort of passionate agreement Jungkook and Yoongi are having about the cinematography in a completely different movie. “I haven’t been able to watch a stupid romantic comedy without a gaggle of criticism in a year.”

“Watch them with Namjoon-hyung, he likes that kind of stuff,” Taehyung says with a good-natured smile. Jimin, amused, turns in toward Taehyung’s shoulder to giggle. Taehyung reaches up to rest a hand in Jimin’s hair, another one of those muscle memory things, and as he does it, he catches Jungkook and Namjoon looking at him, Namjoon with mild concern and Jungkook with...something like annoyance, Taehyung realizes. Hm.

Yoongi and Seokjin bring over dinner after not too much longer, Yoongi bonking Taehyung on the head with the clean end of a pair of tongs when he tries to grab the meat off the plate before it’s set down, making Taehyung giggle. It displaces Jimin’s head on his shoulder, and at Jimin’s surprised little noise, Taehyung turns and gives a cute-voiced apology. It makes Jimin laugh in turn, reaching out to squeeze Taehyung’s knee before he shifts away from Taehyung, going to grab food instead.

And again, Taehyung notices, Jungkook is glancing at them with furrowed eyebrows. Taehyung gives him a questioning look, but Jungkook looks away, like he doesn’t want Taehyung to know he was looking at all.

They eat in a din of overlapping conversations, Jimin’s presence blended into their established rapport so well that it seems like everyone forgot their last get-together with just the seven of them had a few bumpy stops and starts. Yoongi and Seokjin bicker about something, Seokjin’s face getting red the way it does until Jungkook’s cackling laugh distracts them; Taehyung swipes food from Hoseok’s plate until Hoseok notices, smiling apologetically at the glare Hoseok gives him; Jimin is sat next to Namjoon, the two of them talking quietly with smiles, and it’s so familiar, so comforting that Taehyung smiles over at them easily.

Seokjin talks over the movie they watch after dinner, while Yoongi criticizes the cinematography under his breath and Namjoon whines every time. Taehyung doesn’t have enough room for all of them to sit on the couch, so they rock-paper-scissor for it like always, and this time, Taehyung ended up with an arm seat on the couch. When Jimin won the next game, he gave a pleased little grin before plopping down next to him, and now that they’re an hour into the movie, they’ve both shifted, Taehyung leaning against the arm and Jimin lying with his head against Taehyung’s hip, curled up in a little ball. Taehyung has a hand in Jimin’s hair, comfortable there, and Jimin hums when Taehyung scratches lightly at his skin.

And it’s the ghost of a thousand memories, sitting like this with Jimin’s head in his lap, but it’s also something new; with Seokjin and Hoseok’s too-loud voices talking in bouncing tones over the dialogue of the movie, with Yoongi’s complaints about wanting a blanket mixed with Jungkook’s voice when he teases him, this is a new thing, something being created in the moment.

Taehyung doesn’t mean to fall asleep. He’s just warm and comfortable with Jimin curled around him, the voices of his friends filtering in and out of his mind and mixing with the calm score of the movie — and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up to relative quiet.

“Taehyungie,” a soft voice is saying, tone sweet, a gentle touch on his arm. Taehyung reaches a hand out to grab at whoever’s touching him, an instinct, and his hand closes around a smaller one. There’s a soft giggle, the more distant sound of voices in conversation, and then Taehyung opens his eyes to find Jimin hovering over him, their hands clasped together. “You fell asleep,” Jimin is saying softly.

“Oh,” Taehyung mutters. He blinks, looking around, confused.

Jimin smiles at him a little. “I thought I should wake you up before people started leaving.”

“Right. Yeah. Thanks,” Taehyung mutters. He realizes they’re still holding hands, so he lets go, hand hovering uselessly in the air instead.

“JK! Wait for me!” Seokjin is squawking, walking behind the couch, and that makes Taehyung sit up to look at them.

Jungkook is pulling on his big jacket, snorting and rolling his eyes at Seokjin’s antics as Seokjin catches up and grabs his own baby blue peacoat.

“Are you leaving?” Taehyung calls out to them, rubbing at his sleepy eyes.

Jungkook glances at him. “Yeah,” he says, then goes back to zipping his jacket.

Taehyung furrows his eyebrows. “Are you okay?” Jungkook’s not usually so short with him.

“Yeah, what’s up your ass?” Seokjin asks him with a huff. “I mean, besides nothing!” He pauses, then looks around the room when no one laughs. “That was a joke about how Jungkook hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Did you get the j—”

“Hyung,” Jungkook says in a voice that’s a little more annoyed than his usual long-suffering tone. He turns to Taehyung, says, “I don’t feel good. I just wanna go home.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says quietly. “Feel better, Kookie. Text me tomorrow about lunch?”

“Sure,” Jungkook says, but he barely looks at Taehyung. Taehyung frowns, and Seokjin gives him a look, like he’s grumpy, what can you do?

The two of them leave after a moment, Seokjin with a loud yell of goodbye across the apartment, and Taehyung looks around at the state of everyone else. Yoongi, Namjoon and Hoseok are sitting at Taehyung’s kitchen table, talking about something that’s making Hoseok laugh, loud and bright, an open bottle of wine sitting between them. Jimin is perched on the arm of the couch next to Taehyung, smiling when Taehyung catches his eye.

“Good morning,” Jimin tells him in a teasing voice, then walks over to the kitchen to grab what must be his wine glass, filling it a little from the bottle on the table.

Taehyung pads after him into the kitchen, stretching his arms over his head and yawning as he approaches the kitchen table.

“Sleeping beauty’s awake,” Yoongi says dryly, smirking when Taehyung whines.

“And nobody even had to kiss him,” Hoseok says with a laugh, reaching out to tickle at the skin of Taehyung’s tummy where his shirt is riding up.

“I wouldn’t have said no to a kiss,” Taehyung says, wiggling his eyebrows in Hoseok’s direction.

Jimin laughs quietly, looks at him over the rim of his wine glass. “I’ll remember for next time.”

Hoseok laughs along with him, but Namjoon is notably quiet, and Taehyung can feel Yoongi’s eyes on him, too. Taehyung, though, doesn’t have time to dwell on that. He smiles, moves past it, says, “Oh, you know me, I’m always good for a kiss.”

“Yeah, I remember New Years,” Hoseok says with a smile. Taehyung laughs at the memory.

“Oh?” Yoongi asks, looking interested.

“Is he still kissing everyone at New Years?” Jimin asks. There’s a stain of red wine on his lips, and Taehyung’s trying not to find it distracting.

“No one ever told me to stop,” Taehyung says with a smile.

“I feel left out, then,” Yoongi says with a little laugh. “I didn’t know you at New Years.”

“He’s never kissed me either, isn’t it sad?” Jimin says. He’s smirking a little, looking at Taehyung as he takes another sip of wine.

“I cannot account for my actions when I am drunk,” Taehyung says diplomatically. He’s not sure if Jimin really believes him — after all, when you evade kissing someone for three years in a row, it’s hard for it not to seem conspicuous. Taehyung always wondered if Jimin caught on, what Jimin thought about it, but as usual, Jimin is hard to read. He decides to stop thinking about it entirely, turns to Yoongi instead. “And there’s always next year, hyung.”

“I’ll count down the days on my calendar,” Yoongi says with a snort. Taehyung blows him a little kiss from where he’s standing.

“You want some wine, Taehyung-ah?” Jimin asks. He’s the one who brought it, a fact that Taehyung found intriguing. It’s interesting to learn new things about each other. Apparently as an adult, or at least, more of an adult than they ever were in college, Park Jimin has an affinity for red wine. The bottle’s dwindled quickly, though, in the time that Taehyung was asleep, with Jimin and Yoongi both drinking it.

Taehyung shakes his head, wrinkling his nose. “I hate wine.”

Jimin hums, pouring more for himself. “Your taste has always been a little too sweet, I guess.” He looks at Taehyung with an amused little grin, and the tone of it makes Taehyung blush a bit, for some reason.

“Yah, how come I get a lecture about having baby taste buds when I don’t want wine, but Taehyung’s just sweet?” Namjoon asks in a whining voice.

Jimin laughs, tips his head back to do so, and then he melts over Namjoon, hung onto his back. “Yoongi said that, not me.”

“You worked together. Bullies,” Namjoon says, though he looks pleased with the way Jimin’s hanging on him. They were always like that; Namjoon’s never very physically affectionate, but always welcomed the way Jimin would dote on him. Something about Jimin, about the way he gives all of himself, Taehyung figures. He smiles at the sight of it now.

“You do have baby taste buds,” Yoongi says simply. “I’ve watched you eat plain sugar from the bag.”

“Sometimes I get stressed!” Namjoon defends himself.

“It’s cute,” Hoseok tells him, leaned forward with a smile.

“I —” Namjoon splutters, not managing to finish his sentence, making Jimin laugh quietly. Hoseok looks unfazed, still leaned forward toward Namjoon, and Jimin picks himself up and catches Taehyung’s eye, like they’re sharing a secret, like all of them aren’t perfectly aware of what’s going on with Namjoon and Hoseok.

Still, the sight of it makes Taehyung feel greedy — he missed Jimin looking at him like that, like they’re the only people in the world who understand something the same way. He missed feeling like Jimin’s confidant.

The night wanders on quietly. Namjoon plays quiet music from the bluetooth speaker that Jungkook gave Taehyung for his birthday last year, lo-fi with fuzzy horn sections, and Taehyung thinks it tinges the next couple hours with a warm filter that covers them in specks of noise. Jimin and Yoongi finish the wine, Jimin perched in his own chair for a while but then in Taehyung’s lap, sat firmly with Taehyung’s arm around his waist. And part of Taehyung wishes he had been drinking alongside Jimin and Yoongi, because it’s overwhelming, the casual easy weight of him. Mostly because of the way the rest of them look at him, Namjoon with that tilt of worry to his eyebrows, Hoseok with a casual kind of interest, and Yoongi’s impassive observant expression. It makes Taehyung feel transparent, to have the other three look at them, and it makes him think about the way Jungkook kept looking at him all night, too.

Namjoon is trying to keep up his conversation with Yoongi about — well, Taehyung’s not sure, has been too distracted for the last half hour or so, but he thinks it’s about a drama? But he keeps yawning halfway through his sentences, until he does it enough that Hoseok laughs at him and says, “Joon-ah, is it your bedtime?”

Namjoon sighs. “Kind of, yeah, actually.”

“Come on,” Hoseok says. “I’ll share a taxi with you if you want. It’s getting late.”

“It is, isn’t it,” Yoongi says in the pleasant low hum of his voice. “Hyung should get going, too.”

Taehyung’s least favorite part of nights like this, where he gets to feel warm in the middle of his friends, is when they leave. He always thought he’d grow out of it, his childish, selfish desire to keep his friends closeby, but he hasn’t yet. It’s inevitable, of course, and he doesn’t dwell, but there’s still a part of him that wants to say, “No, stay,” like they’re still kids in dorm rooms who can skip class the next morning in favor of getting breakfast together.

He doesn’t tell them to stay. They’re adults with things to do tomorrow. Besides, Jimin hasn’t announced his departure quite yet, so Taehyung’s not left alone. Jimin is standing up now, though, stretching with a yawn, and Taehyung looks away from the length of him, tries not to look him over. He still feels obvious, like everyone in the room knows everything he’s trying to avoid, and it’s turning the edges of the night uncomfortable in a way he doesn’t want. Jimin pads off to the bathroom with a pat on Taehyung’s head, and Namjoon and Hoseok stand up too, arguing about whether it makes sense to share a taxi when they don’t quite live in the same direction.

“Hoseok-ah, you live near me, I’ll share with you,” Yoongi says. Hoseok deflates a little from the way he was eager to bicker with Namjoon, but he nods, walks over to grab the jacket he brought with him, some brightly colored windbreaker-type thing.

“Taehyung,” Yoongi says quietly when Namjoon walks over to do the same, and Taehyung glances at him. He finds Yoongi looking mildly serious, and he raises his eyebrows, waiting for whatever he’s going to say. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

That surprises him a little, but he nods. “Yeah, sure.” Yoongi hesitates, and Taehyung understands — somewhere more private than here.

He stands from his seat at the kitchen table, walks back toward his bedroom with Yoongi trailing behind him. Yoongi closes Taehyung’s door most of the way, and Taehyung’s lips turn up in a small smile. “Ominous, hyung.”

“No, it’s not, just. I value privacy,” Yoongi says with a self-deprecating little huff of a laugh. He leans against the wall close to the door, and his hand reaches out to run across the surface of a funny little wood carving that Namjoon gave him years ago, a souvenir from a trip abroad.

“What’s up, hyung?” Taehyung asks, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“I don’t know that we should go on another date,” Yoongi says bluntly.

Taehyung blinks. “Oh. I...okay. That’s fine, hyung.”

“It’s not — I mean, I don’t want to feel awkward about it,” Yoongi says, looking at Taehyung a little sheepishly. “There’s no hard feelings or anything.”

“No, of course,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “Am I allowed to ask why?”

At that, Yoongi pauses. He looks at Taehyung carefully, and somehow, Taehyung feels it coming even before he says, “I don’t want to get in the middle of anything, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung swallows. “I don’t have anything to get in the middle of.”

Yoongi’s eyes go back to the little wooden frog, fingernails running along the grooves of it. “Look,” Yoongi says with a sigh. “If you want me to say it, I will. I don’t know what happened with you and Jimin, I don’t know...what you were to each other, or anything. But it’s clear you were something, and it’s clear that’s not over.”

Taehyung felt it coming, but it doesn’t hurt any less. It’s an old wound opened back up right in front of him, and that’s not Yoongi’s fault, but — it hurts. “Is it?” He asks in a tight voice, feeling afraid of the answer.

“Oh, Taehyung-ah,” Yoongi says with another sigh. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to make you upset.”

“I’m not upset,” Taehyung insists, but he can hear the waver in his voice. “It’s — nothing happened with me and Jimin. It’s fine, that you don’t want to go on another date, I just wanted to tell you. We were just friends.”

Yoongi nods. “You told me, that first night, that I didn’t know what happened with you guys. And you’re right, I don’t. I’m not saying you were anything more than friends, I’m just saying — well, there’s something there, Taehyung, and I don’t feel comfortable getting between it.”

There’s something there echoes around in his head, and Taehyung feels all of twenty-one years old, wants to overanalyze everything about what Yoongi just said, wants to know exactly what he means, wants — wants it to be true. He swallows again, not sure what the swell of emotion he has right now is, exactly, and not sure that he wants to find out.

“Okay,” he says, instead of all the things he wants to say. Because none of the sharp things he’s thinking right now have anything to do with Yoongi — Yoongi has every right to tell him he doesn’t want to go on a date. He agreed to no hard feelings and he meant it. “We’ll just stay friends, then, hyung.” He tries to put on a smile, and knows it’s a failure when Yoongi furrows his eyebrows.

“Hey. Really, I don’t want there to be any kind of —”

“No, no,” Taehyung says, shaking his head. “It’s not...I’m not upset with you, or anything. I promise, we’re perfectly fine. We would have had fun, though.”

At that, the corner of Yoongi’s lips turns up. “I’m sure we would have. Though, I don’t know that it ever would have worked out in the end. I’m a Pisces, you’re a Capricorn,” he waves a hand. “You know.”

“I really don’t,” Taehyung says with a quiet laugh.

“Well,” Yoongi says, letting out a disappointed sigh. “I guess we all have our flaws.” Taehyung laughs again, then steps forward, wraps Yoongi in an easy hug.

Yoongi hugs him back, leans up on his tiptoes to do it, and asks, “Are you okay, Tae?”

“I’m okay, hyung,” Taehyung says back. He pulls away from Yoongi, asks, “You want your New Years kiss?”

“You know, I do,” Yoongi says. “But that probably means I shouldn’t have it right now.”

And that hurts, too. The act of Yoongi pulling back, tidying up all the ways they’ve been goading each other into flirting for the last couple months. Taehyung never stopped to really feel anything big or overwhelming for Yoongi, just that little inkling of curiosity past friendship, but the fact of the matter is, he’s never going to see if he should have, because...because after four years, Jimin is still a disruption in a way he shouldn’t be. He swallows, pulls back fully, the two of them standing apart.

“I’m sorry, Tae,” Yoongi says, seems to have picked up on whatever must have flashed across Taehyung’s face. “I just don’t want to try to compete with what he is to you.”

And that, maybe, is enough to make Taehyung cry, if he thinks hard enough about it. He refuses, though, refuses to do this right now. He shakes his head.

“Don’t apologize. Please don’t apologize, when this is my fault,” he says softly.

“I don’t see it like that,” Yoongi tells him.

“Well, I’m glad, but,” Taehyung says with a shrug. But it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t say. It doesn’t matter when it so clearly is.

“Hyung! Are we sharing a taxi or what?” Hoseok calls from the living room.

Taehyung gives him at least half of a smile, nods his head towards the door. “Better go.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi agrees. He looks Taehyung over, a focused little frown on his mouth. “Taehyung —”

“Hyung,” Taehyung says softly, cutting off whatever apology Yoongi is having trouble swallowing down. “We’re good. Thanks for letting me know. No worries.”

Yoongi nods. “Okay.”

Taehyung smiles again, reaches out to poke Yoongi on the nose. “Now get out, before Hoseok starts yelling again.”

Yoongi huffs out a laugh, rolls his eyes, and Taehyung feels less thrown off-kilter. They walk out together to find Hoseok fussing with a loose button on Namjoon’s jacket, pulling at a fraying thread while Namjoon looks sort of delicately pink over the whole situation. Jimin is nearby, looking amused at the proceedings, but he turns his head toward Taehyung when he catches him coming. Jimin looks between him and Yoongi, lips twitching momentarily into a smirk that makes Taehyung feel...well, something. Something he doesn’t want to look too closely at to pull apart, but nothing pleasant.

He swallows, looks away from Jimin and instead walks over to hug Namjoon and Hoseok goodbye. Namjoon hugs him with more weight than he usually does for casual goodbyes, but Taehyung doesn’t think anything of it, lets Hoseok make cute kissy noises and wiggle at him until he’s embarrassed and giggling. Yoongi just gives him a lingering touch on the back, an almost apologetic smile on his lips until Taehyung mimics Hoseok’s kissy lips and hip shimmy in his direction, and then Yoongi is laughing as he walks out of the door.

And then it’s just him and Jimin, and Taehyung feels lightly on-edge in a way he hasn’t around Jimin since those first few times they saw each other again. Jimin, for his part, is just smiling at him, like nothing’s strange at all. Which for him, Taehyung supposes it isn’t. He’s not the one who just had a man he might have dated tell them that they can’t, because...because of this. Because of them.

Taehyung clears his throat, runs a hand through his hair to get out some of the energy in his fingertips.

“Taehyungie,” Jimin says, a giggle halfway in his voice the way he gets when he’s just a little bit tipsy. Taehyung has a thousand memories of him like this — bright smile on his face, eyes curved into crescents, short fingers grabbing Taehyung’s longer ones as they walked down the sidewalk between bars. “Would it be okay if I stayed here tonight? I kind of feel like I should give Momo and Jeongyeon a night to themselves.”

Taehyung huffs a little laugh. “Are they getting sick of you?”

“Ah, who could get sick of me?” Jimin asks with a little self-aggrandizing shoulder wiggle, but the effect is ruined when he looks at Taehyung from the corner of his eye and giggles again. “I feel bad, I’ve been staying with them for a month already. It’s nice of Momo to let me stay but they’re, you know, a couple, they probably want time by themselves.”

“Yeah, probably,” Taehyung agrees with a snort. “That’s fine, Jimin, you can stay.”

There’s a part of him that’s happy at the thought, overly warm like your hand too close to a heat lamp.

“Mm, thanks,” Jimin says, lounges himself loosely across Taehyung’s couch. His t-shirt is riding up, a good five inches of stomach on display, and Taehyung looks away. Not quick enough, though, because Jimin catches his eye, looks amused. “Tonight was fun.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees.

“I like your new friends, you know.”

Taehyung smiles, finds it hard not to. “Yeah, they’re good.”

Jimin yawns, stretches out, the tips of his toes pointing as he does.

“You sleepy already after just some wine? You’re a lightweight now,” Taehyung teases. He likes Jimin’s offended pout in response. His lips are still wine-stained, and Taehyung wishes he could look away from them.

“I’m going to bed,” Taehyung decides, trying vaguely to clutch onto any amount of control over the situation right now.

“Ah, we used to stay up late,” Jimin chides, picking himself up on the couch to give Taehyung a loose, teasing smile.

“Yeah, we did,” Taehyung says, smiling back at him for a moment. “I’m too old for that now, though. I’m terrible if I don’t get enough sleep.”

“You’re never terrible,” Jimin says. Taehyung doesn’t know how to handle that, and he goes still for a moment. He recovers quick enough, tries to laugh it off, but he’s not sure it sounds convincing. He needs to go to bed.

“Goodnight, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, aiming for a smile. Jimin’s still in jeans and a sweater, but Taehyung knows he’ll sort himself out; he always has. “There’s extra pillows and blankets in the bin under the couch.”

Jimin makes a noise of agreement. “Night, Tae.”

Taehyung spares little thought for his nightly routine; he skips skincare, just brushes his teeth quickly before he gets into bed in pajamas. He feels strange and empty and he is very much looking forward to closing his eyes and forgetting about this feeling. He wants to sleep this off and wake up tomorrow morning to a note from Jimin thanking him for letting him stay, a lukewarm cup of coffee Jimin made him before he left, like he used to do sometimes. He’s going to get lunch with Jungkook tomorrow and feel normal, completely normal with nothing wrong at all.

He tells himself this, over and over with his eyes screwed shut in bed, but the trouble is that he’s still awake. He’s a kind of awake where he feels horribly aware of his consciousness, of the noise of the air conditioning, of the sound of distant footsteps from the floor above him. The kind of awake where he can’t keep track of how long he’s been lying here — fifteen minutes? Forty-five? Both seem possible. He sighs, turns over in bed onto his side, and nearly screams when he sees the door of his bedroom ajar and a shadow standing in it.

“Shit,” Jimin says from the doorway, looking startled himself. “Sorry, Tae. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s — fine,” Taehyung says, a hand on his chest to calm his quick-beating heart. “What’s up?”

Jimin sighs, leans his weight against Taehyung’s doorframe. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, me either,” Taehyung says quietly.

“Could…” Jimin trails off, looking over at Taehyung in a way that honestly, he can’t quite make out with his glasses off and his contacts out. “Would you mind if we…”

You can say no, Taehyung tells himself, knowing exactly what Jimin’s trying to figure out whether or not he’s allowed to say. You should say no.

But he’s tired, still has that weird empty feeling, and the thought of curling up around someone makes him want to cry a little, so he nods. “Yeah. Share with me,” he says, voice quiet.

Jimin doesn’t hesitate before walking forward, and Taehyung shuffles over to make room for him. They used to do this in beds half this size, pressed and bent together like some strange kind of origami. They folded over each other enough times that maybe they were supposed to have made something pretty.

For all the strange melancholy rattling around Taehyung’s head, the feeling of another body warm in bed next to him does maybe more than it should. And maybe, Taehyung realizes, the thing he’s feeling is loneliness.

He looks over at Jimin, clear again this close up, and finds Jimin looking right back, an unnaturally hesitant expression on his face. Or maybe it’s not unnatural, but it’s unfamiliar when it’s aimed at Taehyung.

“You know, I had to re-learn how to sleep alone,” Jimin says with a small smile. After I left, that’s the end of the sentence that he left off. “I got so used to sharing a bed with you.”

Taehyung swallows, tries to smile back. The truth is, he did too. The truth is, he’s still no fucking good at it. There’s a body pillow wedged behind him against the wall to prove it. He spent too many nights in Jungkook’s bed, those months after Jimin left, just because if he tried to fall asleep by himself, he’d be up half the night.

“I’ve never been good at doing anything alone, though,” Jimin jokes. His smile looks less sleepy now and more...Taehyung’s not sure. Self-deprecating?

“Me either,” Taehyung tells him with a quiet little breath of a laugh.

Jimin hums, turns the corners of his lips up again before he rolls over onto his other side, back facing Taehyung. And Taehyung, unsure he’s allowed but unable to stop himself, reaches out to sling an arm over Jimin’s waist, chest hovering close to Jimin’s back. Just like they always did. Just how they always fit together.

And it’s another kind of ghost, but this one’s harder to reckon with. This one reminds Taehyung that he spent years like this, curved around Jimin’s back with his nose pressed to the nape of Jimin’s neck, wishing to kiss him there just once. He spent years folded just like this, thinking that maybe he and Jimin could fold together into something like forever. Hoping, with all the foolishness of first love, that they could have this forever.

Taehyung is lonely. Maybe Taehyung has been lonely for a while. Maybe he’s been lonely since the morning Jimin told him he was leaving in a month, or maybe even earlier than that. Maybe he’s always going to be lonely, he thinks dully, because maybe he’ll always want more than what he can have.

“Goodnight, Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says in a pretty little breath. It’s familiar, it’s so familiar, just as familiar as staring at the back of Jimin’s neck with half-open eyes.

“Goodnight, Jiminnie,” Taehyung murmurs back.

And for a little while, drifting off to sleep, Taehyung lets himself find comfort in the press of them together, even though he knows full well how dangerous it is.

++

Jungkook bails on lunch the next day. His text saying so is short, but Taehyung doesn’t think much of it; Jungkook’s never been the best texter. What gives Taehyung pause is that the day after that, Jungkook doesn’t answer his text at all, and sends him to voicemail twice.

The thing is, Taehyung has known Jungkook for a long time, and he can smell his passive-aggression a mile away. The confusing part isn’t what Jungkook’s doing — he’s ignoring him, obviously — but why. He can’t think of any reason Jungkook has to be particularly upset with him. But clearly he is, so Taehyung decides that the rest of his Sunday will be spent addressing that.

They deal with these things differently, after all. Jungkook avoids conflict at all cost and Taehyung, a big believer in not beating around the bush, likes to face things head-on. And since Jungkook won’t take his fucking calls, he grabs his keys and heads out of his apartment with a sigh and a backpack slung over his shoulder, with the idea that even if Jungkook won’t see him, he can go to the little cafe down the street from his apartment and get some work done.

As it turns out, though, the backup plan wasn’t necessary. He rings Jungkook’s bell like normal and Jungkook lets him in like normal, and Taehyung’s almost wondering whether the last day was a fever dream before he catches sight of Jungkook’s sullen face as he opens his door.

“You’re mad at me,” Taehyung blurts out instantly, still standing outside Jungkook’s apartment door.

Jungkook, holding the door open in one hand, lets a wave of annoyance pass over his face. “I’m not mad at you.”

“Oh my god, you’re a horrible liar,” Taehyung says. Jungkook presses his lips together, irritated, but steps away from the door and lets Taehyung in. Taehyung looks down as he kicks off his shoes and finds a familiar pair of clunky sandals, endearingly out of season.

“Namjoon-hyung is here?” Taehyung asks.

“Namjoon-hyung is here,” Namjoon’s voice calls from around the corner. He pokes his head around it and gives Taehyung a little smile.

“Namjoon-hyung is here,” Jungkook agrees with a little sigh.

“So,” Taehyung starts in a voice that he knows is annoying. “To recap, you blew me off yesterday, and ignored me all day today, and you’re hanging out with Namjoon-hyung, and you’re not mad at me.”

Namjoon’s face goes pinched. “I hate watching you two argue. It’s like when you’re not sure if puppies are playing or hurting each other.”

“We’re not arguing, because I’m not mad at you,” Jungkook insists, shooting Taehyung an unimpressed glare.

Taehyung sighs, walking over to Jungkook’s sofa and sitting down. “Jungkookie, I just wanna know why you’re upset. I don’t want you to be mad at me. So let’s fast forward half an hour to the part where I wear you down and we deal with it.”

Jungkook crosses his arms at Taehyung and pouts in a way that Taehyung can’t help but to find cute, before he lets out a frustrated breath. Namjoon, from where he’s standing against the wall, looks between them. He keeps his eyes on Jungkook just long enough for Jungkook to meet his gaze and make a little noise like a complaint, and then Jungkook sighs again, sounding annoyed.

“This thing with Jimin is fucked, hyung,” Jungkook finally says as he looks back at Taehyung, his jaw set and serious.

Taehyung isn’t sure what he was expecting — maybe just some stupid slight he had committed carelessly, that he would apologize for and do better with next time. But he certainly wasn’t expecting this, for Jungkook to throw Jimin’s name at him like a knife. Out of the corner of his eye, Taehyung catches Namjoon let out a little sigh as he tips his head toward the floor.

“What do you mean?” Taehyung asks Jungkook quietly.

Jungkook’s jaw is still set, but he looks away from Taehyung when he says, “I had to watch what happened when he was gone, you know. I had to — I was the one who dealt with what happened when was gone.”

“Hey,” Namjoon interjects, but his voice is soft. “I was there too.”

“I know,” Jungkook says back to him in a conciliatory grumble. “I know you were, but it was different. Me and Tae lived together, and I had to live with it.”

There’s a ball of guilt getting bigger and bigger in Taehyung’s stomach at the way Jungkook’s talking. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to be saying — there’s an apology making its way out of his mouth, the thousandth in a series that he’s given Jungkook for having to see all the awful, messy parts of him for so long. For having to spend his free time trying to put out buckets for all the leaks that Taehyung was springing, his whole foundation threatening to crumble from it.

“Sorry, I’m not trying to make you feel bad,” Jungkook says once he looks at Taehyung again. “I’m really not, I don’t...sorry. I shouldn’t have said —” he cuts off with a sigh, closing his eyes for a minute. “I just meant that I’ve seen every part of this. I saw you fall in love with him, and I saw what happened when he left. And you were so fucking sad, hyung.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees quietly, looking down at his knees on the couch. “I was.”

“He broke your heart,” Jungkook says. “I love Jimin, I’ve always loved Jimin, but I watched him break your heart, and that changes things.”

Taehyung looks up at Jungkook, furrows his eyebrows. “It’s not like he did it on purpose.”

Jungkook sighs again. “Yeah. I know.”

“It was my own fault, that my heart got broken,” Taehyung tells him, eyes still trained on the lint on the knee of his pants.

“Whose fault will it be this time?” Jungkook asks. At that, Taehyung picks his head up, looking at Jungkook sharply.

“It’s awful to watch you fall in love with him again,” Jungkook says quietly. There’s a hurt look on his face, and the guilt is starting to make Taehyung nauseous by now. “It’s so frustrating, hyung.”

“You don’t get it,” Taehyung says, voice soft mostly just because he’s afraid that if he speaks any louder, he’ll break. Maybe this conversation took him by surprise, but it’s so overdue that Taehyung feels everything he never said to Jungkook and Namjoon piling up high and threatening to topple over. “I don’t want it either.”

“Then stop!” Jungkook says, sounding angry again. “Stop — stop hanging all over him and holding his hand and letting him sit in your lap and call you pet names and all the shit — all the shit you’ve always let him do. Stop doing it back! Just stop, because it’s gonna get bad, hyung, it’s gonna get just as bad as it was before.”

“I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know how to — how to not want him,” Taehyung manages. He feels unwilling to hold himself back — if Jungkook wants to talk about this, then he’ll talk about this, all the ugly parts of this that he doesn’t know how to come to terms with. All the things he’s been trying not to say even to himself, because it all makes him feel so pathetic.

“I know it’s bad, I know it’s gonna be so bad, but having him again is like...it feels so good. I thought I was over it. I really did, I’d barely even thought about him in so long.” He takes a breath, looks down at his lap. “But it’s like I see him and I just can’t help it, I just don’t know how to. It’s so easy to forget about how bad it hurts, in the moment of it. Like, he smiles, and he holds my hand, and I can’t even think about how it hurts because it feels so good.” He knows his eyes are wet now, feels it without really feeling it. He feels sick to his stomach, and his eyes are blurry with tears when he blinks. “I know it must sound so stupid. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like when he’s around, I feel like myself again.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says in a gentle voice, walking over and sitting down on the other end of the couch. “Tae, you can’t say that.”

“I know it’s fucked up,” Taehyung says sadly. “I know. But sometimes it feels like the realest part of me is the part that loves him.” He wipes his eyes, trying to stave off the ugly sob he feels bubbling in his chest.

From where Jungkook’s standing, Taehyung hears a sniffle, and when he looks over he finds Jungkook’s eyes wet, too. “I hate it when you cry,” Jungkook complains in a wobbly voice.

“Well, I don’t like it either,” Taehyung says, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes again. He sniffs, loud and ugly, and distantly thinks about how Jimin was the only person since his grandmother who would sit next to him while he cried, take his face in his hands and wipe away Taehyung’s tears with his thumbs while he said sweet, quiet things. The memory of it makes things worse, spurs a terrible ragged sob, and he buries his face in his hands for a moment to get himself back together.

When his breathing’s calmed back down a little, he moves his hands, but he doesn’t have it in him to look back up again. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice hoarse and wet. “I’m really sorry.”

“For what?” Namjoon asks quietly. At least he sounds stable. Taehyung knows Jungkook is crying now too, because he always cries when people cry.

“I don’t know, all of it. I’m sorry for putting you both through it the first time and I’m sorry — I’m sorry for how I’ve been since he’s come back. It’s hard for me too, to — to be like this again.” He balls his hands up, digs his nails into his palms. “We didn’t even know each other for that long. I only knew him for four years, but when he left, it was like — I had to figure out who I even was without him. And I did that, I thought, I worked so hard to do that, and now he’s back and I feel...I feel like maybe I was just lying to myself this whole time.”

“Taehyung-ah,” Namjoon says again, and Taehyung looks up at him, feeling guilty. “You’re your own person. You’ve always been your own person, and I get that you didn’t feel like that when he first left, but. You were. And you are. You’re a different person than you were four years ago, too, you know. You grew a lot.”

“I don’t feel like it,” Taehyung tells him petulantly. “I feel like an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Jungkook chimes in, sniffing again. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like that. I just don’t want to see you hurt again.”

Taehyung sighs, leans his body back so his head is hanging upside-down from the arm of Jungkook’s sofa. “I know I need to get it over with and talk to him. But it’s like...I just got him back, you know? I don’t want to lose him again.”

Namjoon and Jungkook are quiet, save for Jungkook’s soft sniffles, and Taehyung just stares at Jungkook’s upside-down wall, the upside-down poster hanging there.

“You don’t know that you will lose him,” Namjoon offers finally.

Taehyung doesn’t move to look at him. “No, but I know that I might.”

Jungkook sighs big and heavy and stomps his way over to sit down between the two of them. “I just want you to be happy, hyung,” he says in a quiet voice.

Taehyung does sit up at that, blood rushing back down from his head. “I know. Thank you,” he says, trying his damndest to offer Jungkook something kind of like a smile.

“Taehyung,” Namjoon starts, and Taehyung shifts his gaze over to see Namjoon’s furrowed brow. “I just...the longer you wait, the more it’ll hurt, if things turn out like you’re worried they will.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees easily. His tears have passed, leaving him damp and sad, and he nods. “Yeah, I know. Easier said than done, though, hyung.”

Namjoon nods at him. “Well. We’ll be here, no matter what happens.”

And Taehyung almost does smile at that — at the assurance that no matter what happens with Jimin, he has people who love him.

“Speak for yourself. Jungkook’s already ghosting me,” Taehyung jokes weakly, and Jungkook turns to him with the quickest offended expression Taehyung’s ever seen him muster.

“How dare you, how dare you —” he’s saying, reaching out to smack Taehyung’s shin.

Taehyung laughs, a familiar kind of joy at pestering Jungkook, and feels like himself. A welcome feeling.

++

Jimin found out he was leaving a month before he had to get on the plane, but nothing felt real until about three days beforehand. Jimin, ever-responsible, was living out of his suitcases by the last week, all his superfluous belongings donated or thrown away, and for the last three days, he wheeled himself into Taehyung and Jungkook’s apartment to stay. His own tiny studio apartment had been cleaned out top to bottom, thanks to a day the four of them gathered to scrub it (though Namjoon was mostly good for wiping down particularly tall surfaces.)

It was sad from the start, those three days. Every time one of them said something, it’s like they were trying to pick out thorns before anyone touched them. Everything had an unspoken ache to it, even when the three of them were all together. Namjoon stayed, too, for most of the time; Taehyung and Jungkook’s tiny apartment was stretched as far as they could get it, and it still wasn’t enough to escape the looming shadow of Jimin’s absence.

At night, Taehyund and Jimin crowded together, unspeaking, wrapped tight around each other as Taehyung tried not to count time, tried not to think forty-eight hours until he’s gone, a depressing inner monologue that he couldn’t quite manage to silence. There was nothing to say between them, so they stayed in the quiet and the dark.

Well, Taehyung thinks now — there was a lot to say, maybe. A lot of things Taehyung still doesn’t know how to.

Jimin’s flight was the cheapest one he could get, a red eye with at least three layovers. It meant Taehyung waking Jimin up at eleven PM after his attempted nap that Taehyung crashed, unwilling to sit by himself and leave Jimin alone in his bed. It meant Jimin looking up at him from under Taehyung’s blankets, puffy and bleary-eyed and sad, and Taehyung trying not to cry. Taehyung stayed in his bedroom while Jimin went to go say goodbye to Jungkook and Namjoon; Jungkook would cry, and Taehyung couldn’t stand to watch it.

It was just the two of them on the ride to Incheon that night, each of them wheeling one of Jimin’s big suitcases. They bought tickets for the cheaper train, which meant they were standing with the suitcases held steady between their feet in front of the packed seats, but Taehyung mostly remembers Jimin’s hand in his, the tight grip they shared as they looked out the windows.

The furthest Taehyung could go in the airport was just before security, and the sight of the line made Taehyung’s heart feel leaden in his chest. This was it, this is it, this is all he gets, this is — this is Jimin, standing in front of him, purple under his eyes and a far-away sad look on his face. It’s all the parts of a boy he loves, it’s round cheeks and pink lips and small hands all clutched together on the neck pillow he’s holding. It’s goodbye. Taehyung feels like he’s going to collapse with the weight of it all.

“I don’t know what to say,” Jimin mutters, breaking their fifteen-minute silence since the last time one of them spoke.

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees softly. “Me either.”

They’re surrounded by people, even at the odd hour, but Taehyung barely notices them. Barely notices anything besides Jimin (Jimin, who’s wearing a t-shirt stolen from Taehyung, whose eyes are pink from crying.)

“It’s not forever,” Jimin says. He said it before, a couple days ago, in a scared-sounding whisper. Taehyung nods.

“I know,” he says. It couldn’t be forever. It doesn’t feel possible for the two of them to ever say goodbye forever. But when you get so used to someone sticking to you close, warming you up before you even realized you were cold, it feels like a loss.

“You’re my best friend, Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says, his lips twitching into something resembling a smile for a moment.

Taehyung feels his eyes go wet, but he wills himself to keep it together, at least for the next few minutes. “You’re mine,” he says quietly.

They’re standing close together, quiet, looking at each other like — like they did sometimes, a thing that Taehyung was always too afraid to question much. And Taehyung, despite his best efforts, wants so badly to kiss Jimin. To hold his face in his hands and kiss him goodbye, the way that should make sense. The way they should be. It’s a perfect excuse, Taehyung thinks desperately. He shifts forward, closer to Jimin, and Jimin just watches him without any surprise on his face.

Taehyung could do it. He could kiss him, if only just to say he’d done it once. This isn’t goodbye forever but it’s goodbye, it’s something new and different and terrifying, and for once, Taehyung doesn’t have a guarantee that no matter what happens, Jimin will be at his side. The very least he could do is kiss him.

But, Taehyung thinks, what hurts worse — to jump and fall, or to stand on the edge wondering? At least if he stays on the edge, he doesn’t need to worry about how to survive after he gets hurt. Taehyung moves forward again, wraps Jimin in a hug with all he has. And he always finds himself here, words jumbled and thoughts a mess, but at least he can rely on his hands to speak for him, to figure out what he wants. Maybe he’ll never be able to tell Jimin the way he loves him but at least he can wrap him up tight and desperate and convince himself that maybe Jimin already knows.

“Tae,” Jimin says, voice soft and sad in his ear, but Taehyung doesn’t let go. He doesn’t move for too long, until he’s sure people are looking at them, but fuck, what does it matter. He pulls back just slightly from Jimin, just enough to see him, and he knows this is the moment where he has to choose how he’s going to walk away.

In the end, the jump down just looks too scary. Taehyung kisses Jimin’s cheek, a quick thing, and Jimin barely even reacts.

“You’ll be great,” Taehyung says, trying to muster up a smile. He reaches out and grabs both of Jimin’s hands, for the last time in Taehyung doesn’t know how long, and tries so hard to seem happy.

“You’re so —” Jimin starts, turns his head for a moment. When he turns back, his eyes look wet again. “I love you, Taehyung.”

“Love you too,” Taehyung says with that fake smile still on his face. “Good luck.”

“You too,” Jimin says back, voice soft.

Taehyung lets go of his hands, and Jimin clenches his fists for a second before he takes a step back, toward the line for security.

They don’t say goodbye after all. Jimin just brings a hand up and waves, looking so goddamn sad that Taehyung wants to beg him not to go. He doesn’t though, of course he doesn’t. He just mirrors Jimin, bringing his own hand up in a wave. He stands at the edge of the cliff, looking down, and wonders if he missed his only chance to jump.

++

“I think it’s nice,” Taehyung comments, looking at the kitchen. “Roomy, for a studio.”

The real estate agent nods. “It is. And this building is brand new, so you have new appliances, everything is state of the art —” she’s cut off by the melodic ringtone of her cellphone, and she looks down at it briefly. “Ah, excuse me. You two look around, I’ll be right back.”

Jimin is wandering over to the windows, looking out. Taehyung walks over to join him. “Do you like it?” Taehyung asks curiously. Jimin isn’t very good at things like this; he’s too indecisive to be alone with salespeople, all he does is wear them out. When Jimin asked him to tag along, Taehyung knew why. He knows how Jimin thinks, or at least he used to.

“I think so,” Jimin says. “It’s weird, I never thought I would be...looking for somewhere permanent, in Seoul.”

Taehyung hums. “Thought you said nowhere was permanent for you.”

“Well,” Jimin says, “More permanent than I’m used to, anyway.” His arms are folded across his chest as he looks out at the city.

Taehyung looks at his profile, then back out the window. “How come you came back to Seoul, anyway?” He’s wondered for a while, but it always felt a little too close to the nerve they never touch. It feels relevant now though, as Jimin agonizes over his budget and rifles through savings to find an apartment in the most expensive city in the country.

Jimin chuckles. “Lots of reasons, I guess. I got used to it after a while, so familiarity. And of course, I knew you were still here.” He gives Taehyung a sidelong glance, a jokey little smirk on his face, but Taehyung just swallows.

“Do you mean that?” Taehyung asks. His voice stays casual, he’s careful of that, but. The longer you wait, the more it’ll hurt, that’s what Namjoon said to him last week, and he was right, Taehyung knows. And he’s not trying to put all this out in the open here, in this little studio apartment they’re touring, but maybe he can try to say some of it. A little of it. It’s not bravery as much as it is exhaustion.

But the real estate agent walks back in, her high heels noisy on the smooth floors, and she says, “So, what do you think?”

Jimin turns away from Taehyung, back to the realtor. “I like it, but I’d like to see a few more.”

“Sure, of course,” she says smoothly, smiling at both of them. “Let’s drive over to the next building.”

Taehyung’s question stays in that studio apartment, because Jimin doesn’t offer him an answer once they leave. That’s fine, Taehyung thinks. That’s okay. The answer scares him anyway. It’s for the best.

Sometime soon, though, Taehyung thinks as he looks at Jimin’s silhouette in front of the window of a different high rise, sometime soon he’s going to have to say a lot of things with scary answers. He has to.

Jimin turns around from where he was staring out of the window, a little smile on his face. “What do you think? Do you think I could live here?”

“Sure,” Taehyung answers easily. “I think it suits you.”

Jimin’s smile spreads, and he turns back to the window. “It’ll feel good. To have a real home again.”

“I’m glad you’re home,” Taehyung tells him, and tries not to catalogue all the minute ways Jimin’s expression changes.

Sometime soon, he reminds himself. Sometime soon, they’ll need to talk. But for now he walks over to the window, tries to get used to the view and the way Jimin feels standing beside him again.