Jimin returns from Busan with his head in the clouds.
It’s not obvious, but Taehyung notices a lot about Jimin that other people miss. Studying Jimin is a skill he’s honed to make up for the observational skills that don’t come naturally to him. He notices how Jimin doesn’t eat as much when he’s feeling insecure, how he jokes around when he’s feeling hurt, how he tries to solve other people’s problems when he can’t figure out his own. And today, he notices that Jimin’s mind isn’t in Seoul at all.
He unpacks in silence, content to let Jimin stay in whatever distracted haze he’s in until his wrinkled shirts are all stuffed tight into his drawers and his body is thrumming in the silence, demanding attention.
“Hey, Jiminie. Did you miss me?” He jokes, plopping down on Jimin’s bed.
Jimin doesn’t look up from his phone. “No, idiot. Every day I dreaded the thought of coming back here.”
His tone is joking, but the comment rings with a note of truth. Taehyung understands. It doesn’t get easier to leave your family, even after years of infrequent and fatigue laden skype calls.
“Yeah, right. I bet you were too busy napping all break to even have a conscious thought.”
“Isn’t that you?” Jimin drops his phone on the bed and starts picking at his nails. “Actually, I kinda did something this break.”
“What? Don’t lie to me.”
“Shut up! It’s not that unbelievable.”
Taehyung gives him a pointed look.
“Whatever. Believe me or not, I sort of picked up a job at this seafood restaurant. Not as a waiter or anything, obviously, but I helped prepare the fish and stuff in the back.”
Taehyung curls up around Jimin’s feet. “You? Working in a kitchen? You’re too much of a baby to gut fish.”
Jimin’s foot reaches out to push his head away. “I don’t need to hear that from you, the biggest baby I know. And besides, my coworker Nari helped me through it. It wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be.”
“Nari,” Taehyung echoes. “That sounds familiar. Is she one of your friends from school?”
“Yeah. Sort of. I used to have a huge crush on her, actually.” Jimin laughs, the high-pitched and airy kind that makes Taehyung’s chest warm. “But she never gave me the time of day. Sort of bullied me, to be honest.”
Taehyung laughs, imagining a full-cheeked Jimin pouting and desperately pulling at a girl’s pigtails, wondering why she was hitting him.
“I bet that’s not the case anymore. She’s probably regretting not going on a date with a big-shot idol, right?”
It’s the wrong thing to say. Jimin pushes himself up and leans over, finally making eye contact with him.
“That’s not what she’s like, Taehyung. She’s not some fame-hog looking for ways to get into the nearest idol’s pants or wallet.”
Taehyung’s heart starts to beat anxiously, the same way it always does when he knows he’s hurt Jimin and he doesn’t know how to fix it. “I didn’t mean—I’m just trying to look out for you.”
Jimin sighs and leans back down, body still tense. “I know.”
Tension clouds the silence until Taehyung can’t stand looking at the stiff posture of Jimin’s body any longer. “Is she still pretty?”
“Even prettier.” The hard line of Jimin’s mouth smooths out into a dopey smile. “She’s got this sort of natural beauty, you know? Like, she’s got shiny, black hair and and cute pouty lips. And when her hair is up, there’s this curl that gets stuck to the back of her neck. It looks so soft.”
Taehyung reaches up to grab onto a lock of his own hair, sheared short and dry from dye and one too many flat irons.
“That sounds nice. She sounds pretty.”
He only hears a hum in response and then Jimin’s head drifts back to the clouds.
Jimin doesn’t ask about his break and Taehyung doesn’t tell him because then doesn’t have to admit that he spent most of it napping and all of it dreaming about something that will never happen. He dreams that night that his hair is longer and his fingers are shorter. He changes everything until his body is something else, untainted by the plastic airbrushing of celebrity.
Jimin doesn’t mention her directly, but Taehyung still sees the ghost of her in the stories he tells. He isn’t sure what blank face the other members have been filling in every time Jimin slips up to say ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’ but Taehyung has crafted his own image. Sometimes she’s a pretty, delicate thing with doe eyes and a tiny waist. Other times she’s a tomboy with a flat chest and a gap in her teeth. He likes to imagine her as a changeling, with a visage that shifts to match each story.
Taehyung doesn’t hear her name again until he pries it from Jimin’s mouth. And then, like the rush of blood after yanking a tooth, there’s nothing stopping the flow of words from leaking out.
“The first time I saw her it was like I traveled back in time,” Jimin begins. “Like, suddenly I was just Park Jimin from Busan whose biggest worry was how I was going to pass the next math test. She looked exactly the same. Well, almost the same except more mature. She’s been through a lot.”
They’re curled up under the tent of Jimin’s comforter, using the blanket to muffle their voices from Hoseok’s sleeping ears. Taehyung could hear every beat of Jimin’s heart like it was on the bed with them.
“She’s perfect and she doesn’t even know it, and I just don’t know how to prove it to her. It feels like every step I take is a step forward in the wrong direction. I’m taking her somewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s the right way, you know?”
“You’re good at that sort of thing,” Taehyung tries to sound reassuring. “You always know what to say when I have problems.”
“It’s not that easy. Her problems aren’t as simple as yours to fix.”
That hurts. Foolishly, Taehyung wishes he was sadder or more broken or anything to make him seem more interesting, more mature. “It’s not your job to fix her problems.”
“I know, but I want to.”
That’s not how it works. And suddenly, Taehyung thinks he understands her better than Jimin. Because he knows that sometimes a problem lingers under your skin and it hurts worse to dig out than it does to ignore. Sometimes, all you can do is find a way to live through it.
“What’s that phrase that people always say? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. You led her to the water, Jimin, so let her drink on her own.”
Jimin stares at him with wide eyes. For once, he feels experienced and important.
“When did you get so mature?” Jimin reaches over to ruffle his bangs. “It’s funny, though. That phrase. About leading her to the water.”
Taehyung blinks, trying to understand. “Huh?”
Jimin shrugs. “Just—nothing.”
His shrug pushes the neckline of Jimin’s top down further and Taehyung’s eyes catch on a faded discoloration of skin. He reaches out with a finger to touch it, half-convinced that if he makes contact the mirage will fizzle away and Jimin’s skin will go back to being untarnished. The bruise doesn’t disappear, though, and instead the skin feels warm, like the rim of a soda can after somebody else’s lips have just brushed it.
Jimin notices the patch of skin and pulls his neckline back in place, his cheeks turning a blotchy red.
“Stop looking, you pervert.”
Lips curl into a shy grin. “Yeah.”
“How was it?”
Jimin closes his eyes. “Rough. Messy. Perfect.”
Taehyung can tell he’s remembering it because he can feel Jimin’s heartbeat speed up through the mattress. Every sensation under the blanket is amplified. The heat spreads until Taehyung is almost squirming with discomfort, trying not to picture anything when they’re both so close to each other.
He closes his eyes to distract himself from the temptation of looking down. The warmth and silence eventually get to him, and he can feel Jimin’s breath against his cheek until the steady cadence of it lulls him almost to sleep.
“Hey,” Jimin whispers. “Go back to your bed. Get up before you fall asleep here.”
But Taehyung makes an exaggerated effort to look he’s already asleep and eventually Jimin stops trying to move him. He waits until Jimin settles next to him to scooch in a little closer, playing it off as adjusting himself. He snakes an arm over Jimin’s torso and wonders if it’s thin enough for Jimin to imagine it’s someone else’s.
He wakes up alone on Jimin’s bed.
The quiet rumblings of a one-sided conversation slip under the crack of the door. None of the words are distinguishable, but Taehyung knows it’s with her just from the gentle tone of Jimin’s voice.
Footsteps approach the door and Taehyung shuts his eyes quickly to feign sleep. A door creak, and then the other side of the bed dips. For a second, Taehyung thinks that Jimin will wake him up. But Jimin just climbs back under the covers with him, close enough that he can feel the comforting heat of his proximity.
Lately, he’s been having the discomforting realization that everything in their lives is fleeting. Hair colors, makeup artists, public interest. Everything around them is just one scandal or mismanagement away from slipping through their fingers. Taehyung’s always thought that when something is slipping away, you just need to grip harder. Not literally, but he shoots his hand out onto Jimin’s hip anyway, pressing until his mind conjures the image a fading mark below Jimin’s collarbone.
Jimin must think he’s having a nightmare. In any other situation his hand would have been brushed off already. Taehyung grips hard until his fingers cramp up and his nails have pressed selfish little commas into the skin above his hipbone. Then, he loosens his grip and flutters his eyelashes as if he’s suddenly woken.
When he looks up, Jimin is staring down at him with a concerned expression.
“Your face was scary just now,” Jimin explains. “What were you dreaming about?”
Jimin must think he can fix this easily, too.
“So, who is she?”
Jimin blinks innocently. “Who?”
Taehyung catches Yoongi rolling his eyes. Jimin must not realize that her name has been interspersing his speech like punctuation lately. Whether that’s out of carelessness or because they’re getting closer, Taehyung’s not sure.
“You know. Nari.” Jungkook enunciates the name in an exaggeratingly sweet voice that actually manages to be a decent impression. It gets a genuine laugh out of Taehyung.
“My coworker at the restaurant. I told you guys this, like, a thousand times already.”
“Nobody talks about their coworkers this much,” Seokjin says. “Besides, anybody that can get you in a kitchen to actually do some work must mean something to you.”
Jimin grins. “Maybe she’s just not as annoying as you, hyung.”
“Brat,” Seokjin says hitting him, but laughing anyway.
“But she does. Mean a lot to me, I mean.” Jimin glances at Namjoon like he’s testing the waters, looking for a reaction. Namjoon doesn’t say anything.
Taehyung wonders if he, too, thought that as the months dragged by that the waning hours free for talking, the stress, the distance, the something would pull Jimin from his haze. Maybe he’s also realizing that this isn’t just something he can ignore until time slowly chokes the life out of it. Still, he doesn’t say anything and neither does Taehyung.
“Show us a picture.” Jungkook insists.
“I’m not going to show you a picture."
“Why? Is she ugly?”
“She’s prettier and better than anyone you’ll ever have a chance with in your life, stupid!” Jimin yells, pointing a chopstick out accusingly. It was probably meant to be a dig at Jungkook, but it comes out sounding very genuine and very cheesy. Jimin’s face turns beet red.
Hoseok coos. “That was adorable, Jiminie! So manly! Say something else!”
Taehyung doesn’t join in on the teasing. It stopped being fun weeks ago. He fakes a long yawn behind his hand so he has an excuse to follow Namjoon away from the table.
The confrontation takes longer to happen than Taehyung had predicted. Jimin and Namjoon drag their cold war out for another two weeks before Taehyung walks into the dorm to hear muffled shouts behind Namjoon’s door.
It’s Jimin and Namjoon and Taehyung can’t remember the last time he’s heard them this upset since pre-debut. The seven of them always fought, sure, but out in the open layout of the dorm. There was something that felt wrong about the yelling being confined to a locked room.
“Is this about us? About the group?” Jimin. His voice is higher, the way it always gets when he’s stressed.
Taehyung slips his shoes off quietly, lingers by the wall just outside of the room.
“You know it’s not about that.” Namjoon. “I care about you, and I just don’t think you’re thinking this whole thing through. People are going to say—things. You know how bad it can get. You can’t expect somebody who hasn’t trained for this shit to sit through it and stay stable.”
“It’s not like I’m forcing her into it. I’m leaving the decision up to her.”
“She won’t know what she’s getting herself into. Nobody does. We didn’t.”
“Look, she’s tougher than you’d think. She’s used to people saying things about her. I’m asking her first, obviously, and I think she can handle it! I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if I thought she couldn’t!”
“Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean it stops hurting,” Namjoon’s voice is deep and serious. “I’m saying this for her sake, and yours.”
“I get that. But she needs to know I’m serious about our relationship!” Jimin yells. “You know how it is in this industry. How the paranoia and the scrutiny can make you doubt everything you once thought was essential about yourself. There are days where my friends back home, my family, don’t know who the fuck I am—”
“I know, I know,” Jimin takes a deep, calming breath, loud enough that Taehyung hears it through the walls. “I just—I want her to know that everything is... real. That I’m committed.”
“Ok. I understand,” Namjoon exhales a long sigh. “You have my approval, but it’s not up to me or you. You have to run it by the members and the company.”
A minute of silence, maybe for a hug or an awkward back pat.
“No matter what, Jimin, I just want you to be happy.”
“Hyung. I—Thanks.” Jimin sounds choked up. Grateful.
Before Taehyung can react, the door swings open and Jimin rushes past him quickly towards the direction of his room. Through the sheen of tears in his eyes or the dark of the hallway, Jimin doesn’t notice him. Namjoon does, though, when he leaves the room a second later and glances at his form hunched over on the floor.
When Namjoon gets serious, his eyes pierce into you like they can see through your all your bullshit. Taehyung feels exposed. He imagines he must look pretty vulnerable and transparent, crumpled up on the floor. Maybe due for a talk himself. Or maybe he just looks like a selfish bandmate worried about his group’s reputation.
He’s either a better actor than he thinks, or maybe Namjoon is just too exhausted, but he stays under the sharp pin of that gaze for a long minute without any censure. Eventually, Namjoon walks back into his room and shuts the door behind him without a word.
When he walks into his room, the lights are shut off and Jimin is curled up into a ball on his bed. He’s either napping, or trying to. Taehyung slips in behind him and curls his body around his protectively. He wishes he could do this for Jimin always. He wants to be the shield that stops people from leaving nasty messages about his body, or his singing, or any other lie that sinks into Jimin’s brain like a seed and plants something ugly and stubborn there.
Jimin mumbles something under his breath. It’s two syllables, and that’s enough for Taehyung to pretend it’s him that Jimin is dreaming about.
Nari’s face through the laptop is startled and every bit as beautiful as Jimin had described. She’s nothing like the doe-eyed ingénue of Taehyung’s imaginings. The spark behind her eyes is obvious even through the warping pixelation. He likes and envies her immediately.
His arms coil around Jimin’s body almost instinctively. Nobody will recognize it as the possessive gesture it is, and the thought makes him feel so helpless and frustrated that he almost escalates the show of intimacy. Taehyung has trained to be an idol for years, though, and he knows how to play his part.
He smiles and waves and makes a show of being the perfect, supportive, platonic best friend as she wins them all over in thirty seconds flat. They’ve been idols for so long that anyone untouched by the industry is different and interesting, and she’s different and interesting regardless.
“Boys! We gotta go!”
Jimin’s eyes are desperate, locking eyes with Nari’s through the laptop.
“I thought we had a half hour, hyung?”
There’s nothing they can do about changing schedules. Namjoon says goodbye to her and motions for the rest of them to give Jimin space. Taehyung lags behind at the door just in case seeing his shadow waiting on the other side will make Jimin finish the call faster.
He’d just peeked in his head to see if Jimin was done when he hears him say goodbye.
“You’re the best! I love you!”
He says it so fast, and so genuine.
Taehyung pulls his head out of the doorway and makes his way to the car first. I love you I love you I love you I love youIloveyou . He doesn’t feel like fighting for the front seat for once, instead choosing to settle in the back corner. Jimin pushes himself into the seat next to him a few minutes later. He’s thrumming with the energy that Taehyung finds himself suddenly lacking, like it had been sapped from him with those words.
When the van starts moving, Jimin leans over to whisper in his ear. “I’m visiting her tonight.”
Taehyung shifts slightly to hear him better. “Tonight? After our schedule?”
Jimin nods quickly. “Yeah. I told her there was something coming in the mail, and I’m going to show up on her doorstep to surprise her.”
It’s so very spontaneous and Jimin that his heart hurts thinking about it. “That’s romantic. Just like a drama.”
Taehyung remembers watching Life is Beautiful and Reply 1994 with a lump in his throat and a wary bit of hope in his chest. He wonders if Jimin has seen them.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Do you think she’ll like the surprise?”
It’s so easy to imagine hearing a doorbell and walking down the stairs to see a shy, smiling Jimin standing there. He might push his hair back nervously as he waits for the door to open. The porch light would shine off his perfect, crooked tooth as he smiles and laughs at the surprised look he sees. Maybe he has a bouquet of flowers, or a teddy bear, or something else that girls are supposed to like.
“Yeah, Jimin. She’ll love it. How could she not?”
Jimin returns from Busan with his head in the clouds.
This time, it’s not a happy haze. It’s a storm cloud.
There seemed to be a quiet consensus among the members that they should let Jimin have some space to figure himself out. He hadn’t said a word about what happened, had barely said anything since he got back, but they could all tell it was bad.
Taehyung had texted him late that night from his spot alone under Jimin’s covers—howd it go??— and another half an hour later—dont do anything namjoon hyung would do—but after an hour with no response he’d assumed Jimin was too busy playing the role of caring drama boyfriend to respond. The moody Jimin that returned proved him wrong.
A week passes by with not a whole lot of noticeable change. As Jimin’s bandmate, his slump is tolerable at best and possible to ignore at worst. As Jimin’s roommate, the slump is a lot more difficult of a burden. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of places for idols to find solitude. Anywhere in public is risky and anywhere in a dorm is crowded. Jimin had apparently chosen their shared room as his sanctuary.
Hoseok pulls Taehyung aside one morning to talk in the hall. He must’ve heard the muffled sniffles last night as well, because the circles under his eyes are darker than usual.
“Do you think we should talk to him about it?” Hoseok asks, voice low and concerned. “It can’t be healthy to keep that all that—whatever he’s feeling—inside. And not to sound selfish, or anything, because I love Jimin like he’s my blood, but I can’t sleep when he’s like this.”
“I don’t know,” Taehyung fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “If he wanted to talk about it, he’d probably say something, right? Maybe he just wants to deal with it alone.”
Hoseok rolls his eyes. “You know how he is. Asks us about all our problems all the time, but makes himself suffer in silence. Selfless bastard.”
Taehyung doesn’t think it’s selflessness so much as it is emotional repression. Maybe denial.
“I’m still not sure interfering is the best thing to do. I think he’d just be embarrassed that we were giving him so much attention, you know? He has his own way of working through things.”
Hoseok shakes his head. “Well, you know Jimin best.”
Was that true anymore? Maybe it was back in the days when their dorm was smaller and they were smaller, too. But now, there’s a side of Jimin that’s secret and sad, hidden to anyone but a girl who doesn’t even talk to him anymore.
He’d lied to Hoseok when he said that Jimin had his own way of working through things. The truth is, Taehyung just doesn’t know how to deal with this new Jimin at all. This Jimin who keeps quiet in the van and doesn’t fold over in laughter anymore is a stranger to him. It’s terrifying, and on top of that, he’s not even sure he knows this new Taehyung, either. This Taehyung, whose brain steeps bitter thoughts until they threaten to spill out of his mouth.
“Hey, cheer up, would you?”
Taehyung’s head snaps up. Hoseok is squinting at him, head tilted to the side like he’s trying to read small print.
“You’ve been looking sort of—” Hoseok begins a baffling pantomime that involves jazz hands and rolling his eyes until the pupils disappear.
It looks so ridiculous that Taehyung can’t help but laugh. “Hyung, what was that? Honestly!”
“Made you laugh!” Hoseok grins brightly, and then suddenly his expression turns serious. “I can tell you’re thinking too much about this lately. Don’t let Jimin drain all your energy, ok? I can’t have both of my suns dim at the same time.”
Tears cluster at the corner of his eyes. Taehyung opens his lids wide, hoping that the air will dry the wetness before Hoseok sees, but it’s a losing battle. Hoseok grabs him by the neck and pulls his body tight against his chest. Even though he’s taller than Hoseok, he feels small and safe wrapped in his arms.
“Stupid, greasy hyung,” he mutters into the the neck his face is pressed against. Taehyung can feel the skin getting damp against his eyelashes. “Stupid, cheesy, stupid—”
“Shh," Hoseok coos. “Don’t say anything, baby.”
They stay like that until Taehyung’s neck starts to cramp and Hoseok’s hand slows its strokes through his hair.
Practice, eat, practice, nap, record, practice, sleep. Repeat.
It’s exhausting—draining, even—but there are also days when Taehyung appreciates the monotony of this mindless routine. On those days, his body can act on some zombie-like instinct and his brain can get the rest it needs.
The only thing breaking routine is Jimin. Taehyung hasn’t snuck into his bed since before his secret trip to Busan. Jimin hasn’t kept him awake lately, either, because Taehyung comes home so energyless that he falls into dreamless sleep before his head even touches his pillow. It’s just another day in a long series of just-another-day’s until suddenly it’s not.
Taehyung is almost asleep when he feels his mattress lower under the weight of another body.
He freezes. Taehyung has always been the one to climb into Jimin’s bed. It had never been the other way around. He almost convinces himself that it must be Hoseok instead, but he could recognize the distinct tempo of Jimin’s breathing even through a microphone in a crowded concert hall.
Nothing is said for an indistinct amount of time. Taehyung can’t even keep track of the seconds, because his heart isn’t beating at a pace he’s familiar with anymore. It’s just silence, and breathing, and waiting. Until—
It’s more breath than words. Taehyung shivers.
“Are you awake?”
Jimin must know he is. Taehyung is a restless sleeper, and he’s still frozen as if moving will break a spell and Taehyung will wake, cold and alone in his own bed, torn from a dream about Jimin as usual.
Taehyung swallows in an attempt to wet his throat.
It still comes out sounding scratchy. Jimin doesn’t say anything for another minute.
“I—” He can hear Jimin wet his lips with a wet slick of tongue. This close, it sounds obscene. “I gave her a ring.”
And that sounds obscene too, but in a different sense. For a second, Taehyung thinks his heart has stopped right along with his body. Even his breath catches until he’s sure his lungs are deflated and shrinking by the second.
“I didn’t, like, propose, or anything. Just a couple ring.”
He breathes again.
“It was supposed to be a promise. Something she could keep and look at to remind herself that I care about her and I’m always thinking about her, too.”
Taehyung likes that—the way that objects can hold memories. He has a shirt hidden away in his home in Daegu that’s a few sizes too big for him. Loose in the arms, big in the chest.
“And, I asked her. About going public,” Jimin laughs, and it’s a bitter, painful sound. “I thought she’d be happy, or something. But she didn’t take it well. She said she’s not ready for all that pressure, and that I was asking for too much. Said I was trying to fix her.”
Jimin gets quiet again.
“I just—I didn’t know what to do. I left the next morning and left a note and— shit , I don’t even know if she’s doing alright—I’m such a stupid—fucking—”
Jimin’s voice finally breaks and Taehyung turns around to bring him in close. He stokes Jimin’s hair, whispering soft words and saying anything that might calm his shaking shoulders. You’re not stupid, she’s going to be alright, you did your best, youmeaneverythingtome. Eventually, the jerking motion slows until Jimin is calm in his arms.
This is the first time Jimin has opened up to him without prying, Taehyung realizes. But he tries not to flatter himself. That slow simmer of emotion must have finally reached its boiling point, and Taehyung guesses he’s just the lucky receptacle stopping it all from spilling onto the floor.
Red eyes blink up at him. They’re surprisingly focused and clear.
“I love you,” Jimin breathes against his chest, right over the skin where his heart beats.
Taehyung closes his eyes. “I love you, too.”
When one word means two things, sentences can hold secrets.
“Come on, I’ll do anything. I’ll cook you dinner.”
“Your cooking sucks. No.”
“Please,” Jimin begs. “You’ve been working out more lately, right? You can think of it as leg day.”
Taehyung scoffs. “Leg day was that four hour dance rehearsal we just had. No.”
“Pretty please?” Jimin is obviously trying to make himself look especially cute by pouting and fluttering his eyelashes. Taehyung looks away before Jimin can figure out that it’s working.
“Stop being pathetic, it’s really gross. Why are you like this? Have I ever done something just because you begged me to?”
It’s true, too. He really needs to stop giving in to Jimin’s whims.
“Well, not this time. Here.” Taehyung holds out a hand. “I’ll help you up and that’s it.”
Jimin grumbles a few unhappy comments under his breath but grabs onto his outstretched hand anyway. Taehyung tugs him up sharply.
“There, you big baby. Now you can walk all by yourself.”
Their walk back to the dorm is filled with comfortable conversation and Taehyung feels happier than he has in a while. It’s refreshing to see this side of Jimin again. There are still days where he’s distant and cold, but he has good days as well and they’re happening more often.
Their front door comes into view and disappointment tightens up his chest. Taehyung slows down his steps a little, just to catch a few more seconds of this blissful peace. In front of him, Jimin stops abruptly.
Taehyung almost runs into Jimin’s back but catches himself before any collision happens. When he looks up, he thinks Jimin’s face has gone pale and he’s looking off into the distance blankly.
“What? Jimin, what’s wrong?” Taehyung starts to get frantic. The cold sweat on his back from practice starts to drip again as he begins to imagine the possibilities, anxiety overwhelming his thoughts.
“No, it’s just—I forgot my phone in the practice room,” Jimin groans.
“Oh my god,” Taehyung laughs. “Don’t sound so serious. I thought you were having a meltdown or something.”
“I am,” Jimin whines. “My legs are literally going to fall off if I have to walk all the way back there.”
“It’s not even that far away. What good are all those muscles if you’re so lazy?”
“They’re just for show. The ladies love them,” Jimin says with a cheesy grin.
Taehyung punches him in the arm. It makes contact with a little more force than he intended, but he can’t find it in himself to regret it. Not when his heart is still sore from thinking about the type of person Jimin works out for.
“I’ll go get your phone. I think I forgot my charger and snapback in there, anyway.”
“Seriously?” Jimin’s eyes light up with an energy Taehyung hasn’t seen in weeks. “You’re my savior, TaeTae.”
He launches at Taehyung to wrap him up in an aggressive hug.
“Get off!” Taehyung shoves him away, laughing. “You’re sweaty!”
Once he’s in the practice room, it takes Taehyung a few minutes to spot Jimin’s phone. It’s pure chance that he spots the dark case hidden below a sweater while he’s bending down to pick up his charger. He presses the home button to check if it’s still on and a flood of blue lights up the lock screen.
Underneath the flashing numbers telling the time is a picture of the ocean from above, waves nothing but indistinct scribbles at a distance. There’s something oddly captivating about the picture. Taehyung can’t look away. He stares at it, not closing his eyes, and his vision starts to blur at the edges with the need to blink. But he can’t. The jutting edge of rocks on the bottom of the screen sends a wave of vertigo washing over him until suddenly he feels like he’s going to topple over the edge into the hungry waves blow and his lungs are filling with water and he’s gasping for air but it won’t go in his lungs and there’s salt filling his mouth—
A sharp sensation on his hipbone sends Taehyung reeling back into reality. He hadn’t even realized he’d been walking forward, but somehow he’d managed to bump into the corner of the table at the back of the studio. On the ground is a porcelain bowl Seokjin had been eating from earlier that day, fractured in pieces.
It was a nice bowl, Taehyung remembers. He bends down to collect the pieces, taking care to avoid the jagged edges. There are only six in total. It’s not difficult to fit them back together, like a sharp and dangerous puzzle.
There are are tiny cracks of air where the edges meet. Taehyung runs his finger along the space there. He’d read once that Japanese craftsmen would fill in the cracks of broken pottery with gold. Kintsukuroi, it was called. Golden repair. An art born from the idea that what’s broken does not need to be hidden, but embraced. It’s a beautiful and scary idea, Taehyung thinks, to draw attention to what is most vulnerable.
When he lets go of his hand the pieces scatter back onto the floor. Instead of picking them back up, though, he grabs Jimin’s phone. Types in the passcode because he knows it, just like he knows everything about Jimin. He scrolls through KaKao Talk until he’s hovering over Nari’s contact information. The timestamp from the last conversation is the same as that day Jimin left for Busan.
A thought crosses Taehyung’s mind and his hands start to shake. He’s not sure if he’s being thoughtful or thoughtless, selfish or selfless. All he’s sure about is how lonely those pieces of porcelain had looked on the ground and how Jimin’s voice shook as he’d said shit , I don’t even know if she’s doing alright—I’m such a stupid—fucking—
His mind goes blank as he types it. Hey, Nari. This is Taehyung.
The rest of the message is everything he’s kept inside for the past month. He remembers every time he heard Jimin cry and every time he felt helpless and he channels it into the text. Taehyung’s sure it comes out sounding nonsensical and rambling, that it may not even make sense, but if she cares about him it should make her feel something.
He doesn’t expect Nari to reply, but she does. She doesn’t offer an excuse—just the straight truth. She’s a good person, and Taehyung can tell she thought she was doing what was best for him. But Taehyung can still hear Jimin’s desperate voice, choking up and just wanting to know if she’s alright and that’s how he knows that it’s not enough, that she needs to call him and tell him.
I’ll think about it, okay? Thank you, Taehyung. For taking care of him, too.
Taehyung’s eyes burn. Doesn’t she understand that he’s doing this because he can’t take care of Jimin at all? After all his failed attempts to make Jimin laugh, to bring him snacks when he skips dinner, to massage his muscles when he collapses after practice—in the end, this is all he can do.
She makes it sound like he’s actually doing something good when in reality, Taehyung is just satisfying his selfish need for Jimin to be happy again. He needs to see Jimin’s eyes disappear under his eyelids from laughing too hard and his lips crack from smiling too wide. It’s not selfless or kind orgood at all because he’s doing this for himself. Because he’s only happy when Jimin is.
Taehyung doesn’t send a reply back. Instead, he deletes the texts and checks the mirrored wall to make sure his eyes look clear. He gathers up his charger and Jimin’s phone and walks back to the dorm, this time alone.
Jimin is flipping through a magazine when he finally makes it back to their room. His hair is wet like he’s just gotten out of the shower.
Jimin looks up and Taehyung tosses the phone to him.
“Thanks. What took you so long?”
Taehyung pauses. “I knocked over a bowl. I was trying to figure out if it was worth saving or not.”
“Clumsy idiot,” Jimin rolls his eyes and turns his attention back to the magazine. “So did you save it?”
Truthfully, he’d left the pieces scattered on the floor where they’d fallen for some unlucky person to step on or clean up.
But the bowl isn’t what he’s thinking about when he replies.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Taehyung’s caught Jimin listening to something on his phone the past couple of days more times than he could count.
It gives Taehyung a covert sense of satisfaction that he was the one to bring that look of transparent happiness onto Jimin’s face by convincing Nari to call. But at the same time, he feels slightly nauseous every time Jimin reaches for his phone. Sometimes he wants to shake Jimin by the shoulders and tell him that he’s the one who did it, just so he will acknowledge Taehyung for a second.
It’s hard to stay bitter when the mood in the dorm is better than it has been in a long time. Taehyung refuses to let his jealousy tamper with the way Jimin’s contagious happiness has spread to the other members.
For once, dinner is the chaotic affair that it used to be. Jungkook and Yoongi tease Jimin for the dopey look on his face, and Seokjin punishes Taehyung for how loud he’s being by giving him dish duty alone. It’s not so bad, though, because he can listen to the happy chatter of everyone still lingering in the kitchen while he scrubs at the plates. By the time he’s on his last dish, everybody has cleared out and he dries everything in silence.
When he makes to leave the kitchen, Taehyung spots a lone figure on the living room couch. It’s Jimin, listening to the message on his phone again. Taehyung is close enough that he can hear the tinny alto of Nari’s voice, but not enough to make out the actual words.
“When did you fall in love with her?”
Jimin snaps his head up like he hadn’t even realized there was somebody in the room with him. He puts his phone down which, if Taehyung is being honest, was mostly the motivation for asking that. It’s an intrusive question, and it comes out of nowhere, but Jimin makes no signs of discomfort.
Instead, Jimin shrugs. “I’m not sure. Is that something you can really put a timestamp on? Maybe the moment I saw her again in the restaurant.”
“Do you really believe in that? Love at first sight?” Taehyung asks.
“Well, not so much love at first sight. But I think there are people that you feel a connection with right away,” Jimin says. “And as soon as you meet them you know they’re going to be important to you. Like, don’t you think we had that connection when we met?”
Jimin must not even realize what he’s suggesting.
“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees softly.
“Exactly. Case in point.”
Taehyung sits down on the couch next to him, shoving his feet beneath Jimin’s thighs for warmth. Jimin doesn’t say anything, just lifts his legs up a little so Taehyung’s toes can get beneath them more easily.
“I thought you would say something more romantic.”
“Romantic? Like what?”
Taehyung stares down at his feet. “I don’t know. Getting stuck on the top of a ferris wheel or looking up at the stars or something. Something with more violins and staring into each other’s eyes.”
Jimin laughs. “You’re cute, Taehyungie. You’ve been watching too many dramas.”
Of course, Taehyung thinks bitterly. After all, what would he know about love?
“But,” Jimin continues, more seriously. “There was one time, I guess. It was the same day we—you know.”
Jimin cuts himself off, stuttering, and Taehyung does know.
“We went cliff diving. And I had no idea what we were doing at the time, but she was driving and looked so determined so I just ran along with it. She said she wanted to get over her fear of the ocean. It was some sort of healing thing for her, you know? Facing her fears. I could tell it meant something more to her than me, because when she came out of the water she looked—so—”
Taehyung guesses that he’s picturing her, because Jimin looks like he doesn’t realize he’s in the room again. He closes his eyes, trying to picture himself inside the blue of Jimin’s lock screen in Nari’s place. He can almost feel the salty wind on his skin and the rocks beneath his toes.
“—alive?” Taehyung finishes for him.
Jimin shoots him a startled look, like maybe he didn’t realize he hadn’t finished his thought out loud.
“Yeah. Exactly.” Jimin says, tone surprised.
Surprising Jimin seems to be all Taehyung can do lately to hold his attention, so maybe it’s a good thing that Jimin doesn’t understand him as well as he thinks.
“I can imagine. It sounds—” Taehyung pauses, searching for the right word. “—romantic.”
Liberating is what he thinks.
“It was. She was really brave,” Jimin continues. “I think that’s what stood out to me the most, out of all of it. The look on her face when she realized she’d actually done it.”
It brings Taehyung back to the conversation they had in his bed, which seems so distant now.
“I think I get what you meant earlier. When you said it was funny that I was talking about ‘leading her to the water’.”
Jimin nods. “Yeah. But I’m not so sure I had anything to do with that. I think she led herself.”
Taehyung tries to think of some words of comfort, but it’s too late. Jimin is back inside his head.
Taehyung thinks he could confess right there and Jimin wouldn’t realize what he was saying. But still, the way Jimin is staring blankly off into space gives Taehyung the chance to look at him without repercussions. So Taehyung leans his head against the couch and stays there, studying what Park Jimin looks like when he’s in love and imagining what it would be like to be on the other side of that gaze.
Eventually, Jimin yawns and the two of them head back into their room to sleep. The last thing Taehyung hears before he falls asleep is the distant sound of an answering machine.
The night is cold enough that Taehyung wishes he’d grabbed a sweater before he’d settled down on the cushy chair of the building’s roof. It’s too late, because now that he’s sat down the seat is too comfortable for him to vacate. But he’s brought enough makgeolli up with him that he’ll be pleasantly buzzed soon enough and his body will convince itself that it’s warm, so he doesn’t bother being too concerned about the goosebumps rising on his arms.
Taehyung reclines in his chair and stares up at the dark night. Stars are dimly visible in the sky, weakly peeking out from behind a thin curtain of smog. It makes him wish he’d paid more attention in school so that he could remember the names of any constellation, maybe trace it with his finger like real life connect-the-dots.
He’s a few bottles in when he hears the hinges creak on the door leading up to the roof. He hears footsteps make their way over to him, stopping right behind him. The person hasn’t said anything yet, is just hovering silently at his back, so Taehyung figures it’s either Namjoon or Yoongi.
“It’s a little cold out to be up here in just a t-shirt.”
It’s Namjoon. Taehyung isn’t surprised. He’s always sort of babied Taehyung, despite being only one year older. It was probably necessary back when he was younger and a little more careless, but the years have matured Taehyung so Namjoon has probably held onto the habit out of instinct more than anything else.
“Really? I don’t feel cold at all,” Taehyung jokes, waving an empty bottle in the air.
Namjoon laughs and finally steps into view. Unlike Taehyung, he’s dressed for the whether in a heavy sweater. He’s always been a intuitive person, Taehyung thinks enviously.
“You want one, hyung?”
He offers the bottle with the expectation that Namjoon will reject it, but he actually looks at Taehyung’s outstretched hand for a long minute, face considering.
A second later, Namjoon’s sitting down in the chair next beside him, taking a long drink and turning his face up to the stars. He probably knows all of the constellations, Taehyung guesses.
They drink in silence for a while. Taehyung can’t remember if they’ve ever drunk together before, but he doesn’t think they have. Never just the two of them, anyway. Namjoon is a solemn drunk, choosing to drink alone more often than not and not speaking up much when he’s in a group. Still, the atmosphere is comfortable and Taehyung smiles to himself as he feels the buzz that hit him a while ago grow stronger.
Taehyung’s eyes fixate on two bright stars shining down from opposite sides of the sky. He thinks that maybe the way they’re shining so much brighter than all the others is their way of communicating to each other, that maybe they’re talking even over lightyears of space and time.
“Do you ever wish you could just reach out and pinch the sky?” Taehyung asks. “Just, like, take the stars in your hands and rearrange them a little.”
Namjoon hums in thought beside him.
“I think that humans have tampered enough with things we shouldn’t have. It’s best to leave things as they are.”
Taehyung groans. “You’re no fun, hyung. Dream a little. Play along.”
“I’m serious. Don’t you think it looks nice how it is? How could we make that any better?”
It does look nice. Taehyung’s not an artist, but even if he was he doesn’t think that he could make anything look more perfect than this random arrangement of light.
“So do you think they’re there for a reason? That every star is there in that place because they’re meant to?”
Namjoon takes another deep gulp of liquor.
“I think that everything in the universe is there completely by chance. Entropy, you know? There’s no reason that the star right there—” He points out to the sky arbitrarily and slides his finger over. “—and that one over there are not next to each other. They just aren’t. But it’s still beautiful anyway.”
Taehyung shakes his head. “No, it’s not. It’s sad.”
“Sad things can be beautiful too.”
Maybe he drank more than he thought. What were they talking about again? Stars? Suddenly Taehyung can’t remember. Maybe drinking wasn’t such a good idea, either, because his head is overflowing with thoughts that have been kept hidden for too long and the alcohol has made his throat slippery enough that they’re all starting to slide out.
“Do you think—” Taehyung starts again, nervously but words flowing out without any signs of stopping. “That some things just aren’t meant to be? That even though that star might want to be with that star over there, it doesn’t matter at all? Even though that star wants it so, so much? And—and that maybe the universe just isn’t ready for them to be together yet? But that someday maybe that first star can—can—the universe will—”
Taehyung cuts himself off as his throat closes up with the first symptoms of impending sobs. He clenches his eyes shut, willing the tears to stay back and hoping that Namjoon won’t say anything. He knows neither will happen, though.
Taehyung braces himself for the worst, but Namjoon doesn’t finish his sentence. And suddenly, Taehyung realizes with clarity that he never will. Namjoon can’t say anything because he knows, and Taehyung knows, that there’s nothing they can really do about what he’s asking. And they can’t even say what it is out loud because as soon as it’s out there, it’s real, and then they have to actually deal with it.
No, Taehyung realizes, they won’t talk about it at all. Taehyung will keep pretending and Namjoon will keep ignoring because that’s all they can do. The closest they can get to talking about it is to talk about stars that aren’t really stars, anymore.
All the hopelessness and frustration that has been building in Taehyung’s stomach for years expands like a star dying until he finds that he’s bent over in nausea.
“Taehyung? Tae—? What’s wrong?”
He hears the desperate tenor of Namjoon’s voice like he’s speaking through thick glass.
“I’m—I feel sick,” Taehyung forces out shakily through the lump in his throat. He sits up slowly, waiting for the nausea to settle a bit.
“Did you drink too much?” Namjoon asks, but Taehyung can tell that he knows the real reason that his stomach is turning over on itself.
It’s too much trouble to correct him so Taehyung nods anyway.
“Maybe you just need some fresh air.”
Taehyung is about to point out that they’re on the roof already and that he isn’t making any sense when Namjoon cuts his thoughts off with a serious look on his face.
“We have the next few days free from schedules. Maybe you should take a few days to yourself. Get away from—” Namjoon moves his hands in a circular motion, gesturing around the roof. “—this. The dorm.”
The dorm probably isn’t what he really meant, but Taehyung understands anyway.
He’d been planning on taking the next couple of days to catch up on sleep and spend the waking hours under his warm blanket. He gets what Namjoon means even more, now, because suddenly the prospect of that seems stifling in a way that it hadn’t before.
“Yeah,” Taehyung nods. “Maybe I will.”
Namjoon doesn’t say anything—just stares at him with those eyes that see everything. Taehyung feels the tears coming again.
“Hyung.” He leans over to lay his head on Namjoon’s shoulder so that his eyes are hidden. “Thank you.”
Namjoon doesn’t offer any words of comfort. He just reaches up and strokes Taehyung’s hair. They stay there until the wet spot on Namjoon’s shirt is long dry and the stars fade into the yellowing sky of dawn.
The sun is merciless on his skin, but Taehyung can’t bring himself to care as he takes in his surroundings with a sense of wonder.
Busan is worlds different from Daegu.
He’s been here before, but looking at it through the smudged car window during family trips hadn’t done the landscape justice. The cliffs look like something out of a nature calendar or a photographer’s wet dream.
He’d parked his rental car at the foot of the bluffs and by the time he reached the top, his leg muscles were burning. Still, there was something peaceful about his surroundings that made the pain feel almost out of body.
Taehyung didn’t bother bringing anything up with him. Without his phone, the cliffs feel even more like an oasis away from society. Leisurely, he pads over the grass toward the point where rock cuts a jagged gash into the soft blue of the sky.
Standing at the edge, he remembers filming that music video all those years ago, except there’s no stunt double up here with him on the precipice this time. Climbing the stairs, looking over the edge—it all seems like a distant memory now. Before all the fame, before they made it big, they were just a bunch of kids with a dream that seemed unattainable. Now, looking back, it seems inevitable. He misses the days where they were just dreaming. Eating whatever they could afford in their cramped practice room, exhausted to the point of delusion.
They’re all exhausted in a different way, now.
He unlaces his shoes and slips off his socks after them. After a moment’s thought, he takes off his shirt and jeans as well so that the wind is blocked only by his thin cotton boxers. He stands in front of the world, unprotected.
Here, almost naked at the edge of the cliff, Taehyung thinks the world can see him for who he is. Not a golden boy, but a gilded one. Because behind a protective layer of stage-ready foundation, he’s just a boy who cares too much, likes Park Jimin a little too much, likes boys a little too much.
It’s something he can finally admit to himself up here where there are no buildings in sight.
There’s no sign of society, nothing to remind him of the expectations that it represents. How there are people who need help but can’t get it, and people who want love but aren’t allowed it. For a moment, he can escape the cruel world and the way he desperately reaches out for a hand that doesn’t reach back.
He walks up to the edge, toes digging into the dirt, making a little imprint where he’s standing. The water looks so far below him even though he knows it can’t be more than forty feet.
As he gazes over the water, he thinks of Jungkook, Yoongi, Seokjin. Hoseok’s comforting arms. Namjoon, with his sad, perceptive gaze and weary words. He thinks of Jimin’s arms, tight around his torso that time he snuck into his bed.
In a few years, Seokjin will join the army and the rest of them will trickle in after. They’ll take with them every bauble and memory that built up in their dorm until it’s vacant for BigHit’s next wunderkind to replace them. Their group messages will dwindle until there’s just a few messages a week, then a few a month. Until suddenly, they’re learning more from reading the news than they are from each other.
In a few years, Jimin will move into a quaint little home with Nari and they’ll buy one set of everything. They’ll invite Taehyung over for dinner and play the role of perfect host, perfect couple. Taehyung will bring a date he pretends to love, and they’ll all make small talk until Taehyung forgets that he left his heart between his arms, under Jimin’s sheets, in the place they used to call home.
A running start propels his body over the edge.
He doesn’t breathe at all in the air.
The second he hits the water, the waves beat at his body like he’s an intruder. His limbs fight back in a desperate battle, attempting to push himself against the water and back up toward the air that his lungs strain for. He’d sunk deeper than he expected, and he remembers deliriously that the long climb had made his legs weary from the start. For a second, he almost thinks he isn’t going to make it. But his shaking fingers finally push through the membrane between water and air and he surfaces with a wet gasp.
He coughs up the salt from his throat, choking and spluttering around the water, and takes a second to feel the warmth of the sun beating down on his hair. Slowly, he takes a deep breath in, out, in again.
He breathes. The air tastes fresh.