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lost in the gaps

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Jimin,

If you’re reading this, that means I had an astronomical lapse in judgment and decided to give you something that I wrote when I was drunk and sad and full of bad ideas. You’ve known me long enough to expect that from me now though, so bear with me, okay? This is a story you need to hear.

It starts when we were kids.

Do you remember when we used to spend every day together? That seems like so long ago, when we were younger and I could wake up every morning all excited because I knew you were waiting for me just down the street. Remember that convenience store on the corner, where we’d get ice cream and we’d talk for so long that it would melt all over our hands and we’d look like idiots? And then we’d go to the docks and watch the boats go by and talk until it got dark and we told each other things we never told anyone else?

I miss that. That was before everything started working against us.

 

---

 

Growing up in Busan was annoying most days. Everything Jungkook saw on television told him how amazing Seoul was, with its bustling crowds and bright lights and constant movement. Busan by comparison felt like it was moving at half the speed as the rest of the country, with rolling farmland and endless beaches and harsh dialects that made Jungkook self conscious whenever he heard someone from Seoul speak on TV.

 

But Busan had things that Seoul could never boast about, like the sense of comfort he got when he smelled the saltiness of the sea and saw the imperfections of his hometown in the crooked cobblestone and modest houses, with down to earth neighbors and a constant feeling of belonging.

 

And, of course, Busan had Jimin, which was probably the most important thing of all.

 

When he was five years old, he met his best friend, a short chubby kid two years his senior, soft spoken but fierce, and the two of them had wrestled over a pretty speckled rock that had washed up on the beach.

 

Jungkook had pulled on his hair and Jimin had slapped at his arm until both of them were crying for their parents, abandoning the rock by the shore. Their mothers forced them to sit on the beach together until they could learn to get along, and after about two minutes of stubborn silence, Jimin cracked a joke that made Jungkook laugh despite himself, and he couldn’t remember a day that passed since then that he didn’t see Jimin’s face.

 

It never occurred to him before just how intertwined their lives were with each other; his entire daily routine depended on whatever Jimin was doing that day, and vice versa. They even stayed up late into the night for weeks to ensure that Jungkook was able to test into the same high school as Jimin.

 

The day the results were mailed out, Jungkook was wrought with anxiety, unable to imagine how he could survive through high school without Jimin just a few classrooms away. He waited by the rusted mailbox, biting at his thumbnail and scanning the road.

 

“Nervous?” A familiar lilting voice and warm presence joined him, and Jungkook felt his shoulders sag in relief. He allowed Jimin to sling his arm over his shoulder, smiling at the fact that he now had to stand on his tiptoes just to reach. Jimin told him the previous year never to grow taller than him, and it was with great teasing and triumph that Jungkook surpassed him in height only a month later.

 

“Nah,” he lied, knowing Jimin could see right through him but wanting to keep a brave face anyway.

 

“Liar.” Jimin poked him in the ribs. “It’s okay to be nervous, even though everyone knows you got in. They’d be idiots not to accept you.”

 

“I’m bad at school,” Jungkook insisted. “You wasted your time helping me study, Jimin.”

 

“How many times do I have to tell you, brat?” cried Jimin, yanking Jungkook down to his height so he could ruffle his hair, scrunching up his nose in faux anger. “I’m your hyung!”

 

“You’re standing on your tiptoes to reach my head, hyung.”

 

“Yah!”

 

Jungkook laughed, and forgot why he was ever worried in the first place. Jimin had that effect on him. He secretly thought as a child that Jimin was his guardian angel or something. He quickly found out that was far from the truth, as Jimin was just like any other rambunctious seventeen year old, but somehow he could quash all of Jungkook’s worries just by standing there, and he couldn’t say the same for anyone else he knew.

 

The mailman came, greeting both of them by name because everyone knew each other in that little town, and all sound except for his own heartbeat seemed to stop as he ripped open the envelope. When he saw its contents he froze, Jimin breathing down his neck trying to read over his shoulder, and then he had arms around his neck and bubbly laughter in his ear and Jimin was yelling “I knew it! I knew it! That’s my Kookie!” and Jungkook held the letter against his chest, leaning into Jimin and closing his eyes.

 

The two of them raced down to the beach to celebrate, the letter stuffed in Jungkook’s pocket and their hands intertwined, the salty sea air on their skin and the sun beating down on the hot sand. They ran straight into the gently rolling waves, kicking off their sandals into the sand and hollering nonsense into the sky. They stayed out there for hours, talking about Jungkook’s new school and all of the teachers and plans to study together and the future and everything else they could think of, splashing each other until they were both soaked to the bone with the sea, and Jimin somehow had seaweed in his hair.

 

By then the sun was dipping low on the horizon, a shimmering orange orb in the distance, making the waves look like they were made of gold, and only then did the two of them finally collapse on the sand, side by side with their hands still clasped together.

 

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if we went to different schools. You leaving for high school has been bad enough,” Jungkook said truthfully.

 

“You have other friends, Kookie. You don’t need to wait around for me all the time,” Jimin replied, but he gave Jungkook’s hand a squeeze. “I know what you mean, though.”

 

“You’re my best friend,” Jungkook said. “No one else comes even close.”

 

Jimin didn’t say anything at first, the rhythm of the waves rolling up and tickling their feet the only sound aside from the seagulls crying far off in the distance. They turned to face each other, sand sticking to their damp cheeks and the beginnings of a sunburn on Jimin’s nose, his chapped lips split into a smile. “You’re my best friend too.”

 

It seemed insignificant at the time, but even years later, this moment on the beach with Jimin remained in his mind, and if he closed his eyes he could still feel the breath of the sea and Jimin’s comforting presence beside him.

 

---

 

Still with me? I know that was forever ago, but hell if it wasn’t the happiest time of my life. It kind of felt like we were the only two people on earth, sometimes. After that everything just kind of started to catch up with us. We got older. Things started changing. But hey, we couldn’t stay kids forever, right?

 

---

 

When Jungkook turned sixteen, he realized a couple things. One was that being a teenager kind of sucked. The old man who ran the ice cream cart on the corner said he was too old for free cones now and his parents were getting more and more strict with him about schoolwork due to his college entrance exams looming on the horizon.

 

Another was that he was in love with his best friend.

 

It didn’t come to him as he’d expected from all the dramas and movies, a sudden epiphany that felt like fireworks. It was a slow warm feeling that settled over him and gradually spread throughout his body, from his ears down to the ends of his fingers and the tips of his toes, like being filled up with hot chocolate on a cold day in winter or finding that perfect position under the blankets to sleep.

 

It was looking at Jimin and realizing that he didn’t want to look away, holding his hand and realizing that he never wanted to let go. Hearing his laugh and never wanting him to stop.

 

But Jungkook was sixteen now, and he knew what would happen to him if he made these thoughts known. He knew how Jimin would look at him if he ever told him, and so he simply kept them to himself, hoping that for now, Jimin’s friendship would be enough to soothe the ache in his chest.

 

Even with the looming reality of Jimin graduating high school and moving on to university festering in the back of his mind, Jungkook did his best to preserve every last second of the youth he spent together with Jimin here in this tiny town in Busan.

 

---

 

We both know how it ended. Well, I do. You might not remember this next part, but it’s been the only thing I could think about for the past...shit, eight years? Yeah. Like most things that you don’t remember, it happened when you were drunk. We both were, but for some reason I remember it as clearly as if I was sober.

 

---

 

“What are we going to do without you, Jiminnie?”

 

“Hobi, calm down. He isn’t dying, he’s just enlisting.”

 

“Wasting his youth is what he’s doing! Look at you, Jimin! You’re in your prime!”

 

Seokjin patted Hoseok on the back in an attempt to console him, but from the looks of it, he was going to keep wailing until they got a few more drinks in him.

 

Their friends, both older than them, hadn’t had as much time as Jungkook to process the fact that Jimin was leaving. Jungkook had been the first one Jimin told, after all, even before his own mother and younger brother. That didn’t make it any easier on him, but at least he wasn’t still reeling from the shock here at his going away party.

 

Hoseok and Seokjin were both of age already, but that didn’t matter much. No one had checked any IDs at the bar they’d chosen. It was the night before Jimin’s departure and Jungkook was just glad to be in a building that would serve him alcohol.

 

“I just want to get it over with as soon as possible,” Jimin was explaining to Seokjin. “I can always do college when I come back. A lot of people do it like that.”

 

“You don’t have to justify it to me, Jimin. I understand. Doesn’t mean we won’t miss you, though.” Seokjin was being so reasonable, so understanding, and Jungkook wished he had that kind of self control. That he wasn’t currently feeling as though his heart was being ripped from his chest, leaving a jagged and bleeding hole in its place.

 

He’d never let Jimin know how destroyed he was, and the more alcohol he got in his system, the easier it was to forget what they were really here for. He was still a bit of a lightweight, not ever one for drinking, so after only a few trips to the counter, he was already tipsy and stumbling slightly.

 

Hoseok was drunk too, still wailing about all the things Jimin could be doing instead of “growing old on some compound,” and Jungkook wandered over to him, but he was stopped by a slightly sweaty hand clamping over his forearm. Jimin always did have short fingers, and couldn’t close them around Jungkook’s barely defined biceps, but his touch was enough to make Jungkook freeze.

 

“Come with me,” Jimin whispered, and Jungkook allowed himself to be dragged into a corner, still basically visible by everyone else but enough out of the way that no one was really paying attention to them.

 

“What’cha need, hyung?” Jungkook asked, trying to sound casual even as Jimin leaned in so, so close to him, caging him against the wall.

 

“I gotta ask...Do you think I’m wasting my youth, Kookie?” Jimin’s breath was hot on his face, smelling of soju and peppermint and chocolate, which wasn’t the most pleasant combination but Jungkook was too drunk to care. He had Park Jimin’s lips inches from his, how could he possibly be thinking of anything else?

 

“No,” he said. “I’m just gonna miss you, is all.”

 

Jimin looked at him, his eyes hooded and not backing away. “I’ll miss you more.”

 

“You gotta make everything a competition,” Jungkook said, laughing to try and steer his thoughts anywhere except Jimin’s close proximity to him.

 

“‘Cause you always win,” slurred Jimin, so close now that Jungkook could count every one of his eyelashes. “I’m trying to give you incentive here, Kook.”

 

“Incentive to what?” Jungkook gulped. He was starting to sweat, biting his lips in an attempt to remind himself where he was, that just because Jimin’s lips were right there didn’t mean it was an open invitation to kiss him.

 

“To show me how much you’re gonna miss me.”

 

His heart skipped a beat. “I already gave you a present, stupid.”

 

Jimin groaned in frustration and stomped his foot in such a childlike manner that Jungkook giggled. “You’re so dense sometimes. I guess I’m gonna have to show you first.”

 

And then Jimin closed the distance between them.

 

In all the years Jungkook had wished for this moment to happen, he never imagined it would be at a dubiously safe bar with Jimin’s friends only a few feet away and so much alcohol in his system that he could barely stand up straight. The circumstances weren’t what he pictured at all, but the actual act was around what he expected.

 

Soft. Warm. Tasting of peppermint, thanks to the mints that Jimin was always popping in his mouth. If he closed his eyes he could pretend they were out by the beach, sand in between their toes and the salty sea air kissing their skin, rather than in a seedy bar surrounded by strangers who all smelled of soju and whiskey.

 

Jungkook wasn’t experienced with kissing even sober, but he was more than happy to let Jimin take the lead, making a tiny noise of surprise when Jimin licked into his mouth and pushed forward, their lips and tongues sliding together while Jimin’s hands traveled up to cup either side of his face. It was over much too soon when he pulled away, leaving Jungkook with his mouth still hanging open slightly.

 

“Wait for me,” Jimin said, and pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth. “Okay, Kookie?”

 

“Okay,” Jungkook said with wide eyes, swollen lips, and a full heart. “I promise I will.”

 

He supposed he should have seen it coming, really, when the next morning came and Jimin acted like nothing had happened. To him, it hadn’t. He didn’t remember a thing.

 

“I’m so hungover,” he complained while they waited at the train station together. “I think I made out with someone last night, but I dunno who. Did you see anything? I don’t want anyone thinking I’m hot for them or something.” He made a face and Jungkook felt like sinking into the ground and disappearing.

 

“Wouldn’t want that,” he said quietly.

 

The party wasn’t brought up again, and when the train arrived Jungkook had to try his best to stop the tears that were pricking at the corner of his eyes from spilling over as he gripped Jimin as hard as he could in a hug. He didn’t succeed, though he didn’t think Jimin noticed, boarding the train and only getting a small glimpse of his friend waiting on the platform through the half-shaded grimy window.

 

And so Jimin was gone from his life just like that, as quickly as the quiet whoosh of a train speeding down the tracks, away from his town, away from his friends, away from Jungkook. All he left behind were reassurances that he’d write home, and the fading memory of a drunken kiss and a desperate promise.

 

---

 

Two years felt like such a short time when it was our age difference. We grew up together, and aside from you insisting that I call you ‘hyung’ and you graduating first, I never really thought about it. We were just two best friends, and age didn’t matter.

Two years became a long time when it was time that I was going to have to spend without you. You’ll have to forgive me; I didn’t deal with it well.

 

---

 

Going from seeing someone every day of his life to not hearing from them at all was like having a part of him ripped away, leaving him exposed and vulnerable. Jungkook wasn’t sure how he managed to make it through his last year of high school. His entire college entrance exam was a blur of black and white, graphite and a silent room filled to the brim with other students. Jimin had gone straight to Jungkook’s house after taking his.

 

Jungkook had to go back to his own home and lie on his bed alone, thinking about how awful it had been.

 

Not that it mattered, anyway. He already decided he was going to enlist immediately after high school like Jimin had, but without a gap year in between. If he had it his way, he would be on the first train out right after his graduation ceremony.

 

Unfortunately, things didn’t work that way, and it was another few agonizing months before he was finally able to leave Busan behind. It had once been a boring but comforting place to live, a place where he knew he was loved, but now every time he thought of its sandy beaches and rolling farmland he thought of Jimin’s absence, like a giant hole carved away in the city. Without Jimin, there was no point in him staying.

 

Part of him, though he knew it was irrational and ridiculous, thought that maybe, since Jimin only had one year left, they could meet again and Jungkook would tell him the truth about everything and they could run off together.

 

That was impossible, of course, and he knew it, but that part of him was still disappointed when he was face to face with his squad, only one familiar face among the line of men with cropped hair and solemn expressions. They’d survived their grueling training, but many of the people Jungkook had trained with were sent to other teams for different tasks. One boy around his age was sent away for being too rambunctious, while others were sorted into the cushy public service worker section, getting to return home to their families after working.

 

Only one person from his five week training had been ranked with him and sent to the mountain base, the pale, skinny kid who was on the shorter side and surprised everyone by keeping up with the intense training. He’d beaten Jungkook in a few exercises purely by being so damn quick.

 

He recognized Jungkook, too, and approached him while they were settling into their new dorms after getting their assignments.

 

“Hey, I know you.”

 

“You were with me for training,” Jungkook nodded. “Min Yoongi, right?”

 

“And you’re Jeon Jungkook. I’ve never seen anyone do that many pushups in under thirty seconds before.” There was a look of quiet approval on Yoongi’s stern face, and Jungkook latched onto that immediately. He’d take any form of friendship out here, even if it was just exchanging pleasantries with someone every now and then.

 

“I’ve had a little bit of practice,” Jungkook said humbly. “Back home there wasn’t much to do.”

 

“Where’s home? You don’t sound like you’re from Seoul.”

 

“Definitely not. I’m from Busan. You?”

 

Yoongi’s lips quirked up in a wry smile. “Most people know just from hearing me. I’m a Daegu kid. Nice to meet you, Jungkook-ssi.”

 

“Just Jungkook is fine,” he replied, feeling his cheeks grow warm. It was nice, hearing satoori after being subjected to five weeks of their squad leader’s stiff Seoul dialect. Yoongi’s voice was a little gruff, but it was oddly soothing. He liked how his name sounded in that voice. “How old are you? Should I call you hyung?”

 

“I was going to ask you the same thing, actually,” Yoongi said. “I’m twenty-two.”

 

Jungkook exhaled in a nervous laugh. “Oh. Well, shit. I’m only eighteen.”

 

“Eighteen? You came here right after high school?” Yoongi stopped folding his uniform to widen his eyes at Jungkook. “Damn. Props to you, kid. I’d have never survived here when I was eighteen.”

 

They don’t get to talk for much longer before they’re called out with the rest of their group for a debriefing, but even that small conversation was enough to make Jungkook feel a little more at home out at this base secluded in the mountains.

 

Months passed oddly out there. They were one of the luckier bases with a small karaoke building and rec center, though most of Jungkook’s free time was spent either training or playing soccer with the others. It was all just mindless ways to fill the gaps in his day, and then those days turned to weeks and months, and before he knew it, seasons were passing before his eyes.

 

He’d sit talking with Yoongi late at night, looking up at the sky and only half listening, wondering if Jimin ever thought about him while tracing constellations with his finger like they used to when they were young. Even the thought of Jimin existing outside here was odd to Jungkook; even though time was clearly passing, it felt to him that everything had paused while he was gone, and that he’d be going home to find everything exactly how he left it.

 

It was that line of thought that drove him indoors one afternoon while the rest of the squad was out playing soccer for some meaningless prize from the captain. Jungkook just needed to get away for a while, the gray overcast of the sky bringing down his mood and reminding him that he still had over a year left in this place, over a year without seeing his best friend.

 

The door opened and he didn’t even look up until he heard a familiar gruff voice.

 

“Where are the others?” Yoongi asked, kicking off his boots and shrugging out of his jacket, running his hand across his short cropped hair. He did that sometimes, Jungkook noticed. The habit of someone used to having longer hair. Briefly, he wondered what Yoongi looked like before he enlisted.

 

“Outside playing soccer. I think Captain Jung is giving out karaoke passes to the winning team,” Jungkook responded, leaning back in his own bed.

 

“And why aren’t you out there? Didn’t you say you like karaoke?”

 

Something in Jungkook’s chest fluttered at Yoongi remembering small details about him, and then just as quickly, a feeling of overwhelming guilt crushed the emotion. “I think it’s gonna rain,” he said. “I didn’t want to mess up my hair.” The bed creaked and shifted as Yoongi got up and took a seat next to him, placing his hand on Jungkook’s head.

 

“All three centimeters of it?’

 

“Yeah.” He readjusted his position and winced at the sharp pain in his back from falling the other day. Most of the time it was tolerable, but it would flare up at random times throughout the day; not a big deal, just rendered him immobile for a few seconds as the pain passed.

 

Yoongi watched him for a second, and then scooted himself backward on the bed, behind Jungkook. “Idiot,” he said, “why are you so hellbent on working yourself to death, huh?” Jungkook’s heart began to race at Yoongi being so close to him, and he couldn’t find the words to respond. “Where does it hurt?”

 

“My spine, I guess?” he said. “I’m sore all over, though.”

 

“Lay down.”

 

“What?”

 

“I said, lay down. I’m trying to help you.”

 

Jungkook obliged, albeit hesitantly, settling on his stomach with his head pillowed in his arms and Yoongi’s knees digging into his side. He stiffened when he felt Yoongi’s hands on him, trailing them lower until he reached his lower back, rubbing small figure-eights into his skin through the thin fabric of his shirt. When he began applying pressure, though, his muscles seemed to deflate, and he sunk lower into the bed, exhaling slowly.

 

Yoongi continued kneading into his back firmly but gently, working his way up to his shoulders and untying every knot of tension in his muscles, unraveling him slowly with each stroke of his hands. A moan crept up his throat and he stifled it, forcing out a cough instead.

 

“I didn’t know you were a masseuse,” Jungkook said, mostly to distract himself from the thoughts that were creeping into his head.

 

“I knew a guy in college who taught me how to do this,” he used his knuckles to work out the tension on either side of Jungkook’s spine, “I used to get cramps in my neck all the time from being hunched over a desk.”

 

The image of Yoongi as a college student came easily to him. He pictured oversized sweaters, unkempt hair that he’d muss up every now and then with his fingers, empty cans of coffee littered around a desk filled with textbooks and notebooks. It was cute. It reminded him of someone.

 

“You’re full of surprises, hyung. This feels amazing.”

 

“Yeah, well, usually it’s better to use some kind of oil, and not have a shirt in the way, but,” Yoongi paused when the weight of his words settled in the room, and he chose not to finish his sentence.

 

Later, he justified it to himself as a product of loneliness. He was just lonely, and the last time anyone had touched him was Jimin’s going away party, and Yoongi was funny and his hands felt so good and Jungkook was lonely.

 

He sat up, loving how loose his joints felt, for the first time in ages not having a constant buildup of tension and stiffness and discomfort in his bones, in his muscles, in his mind. Yoongi wasn’t looking at him, regret etched in the soft angles of his face. He was probably thinking of different ways to invent time travel and erase the past few minutes from existence; Jungkook had plenty of experience with that, but what Yoongi didn’t seem to realize was that the best way to forget was to continue forward. Jungkook had only just realized that himself, and so he fiddled with the hem of his shirt, the memory of Yoongi’s hands on him propelling him forward.

 

“I can lose the shirt.”

 

Yoongi’s eyes widened once at this, and then again when Jungkook pulled his shirt over his head. He knew he looked good, his time in training not wasted on his honey-tanned skin and defined muscles that Yoongi had been running his hands over just moments ago. Maybe any other time he would have been embarrassed, shameful, but right now he was lonely and Yoongi’s fingers had felt amazing on his back and his voice was so soothing and his thoughts of Jimin were buried deep.

 

“Right. Okay,” Yoongi said, his eyes locked on Jungkook’s abs. “Okay. The uh, the massage oil--”

 

“Forget it,” Jungkook said, a frustrated twitch in his pants telling him to just go for it. Missed opportunities never came back, he knew that better than anyone, and that thought made him lean over, hand millimeters from Yoongi’s thigh. “Hyung, just touch me.”

 

“Where?”

 

“Here.” Jungkook thought of plush lips and dark eyelashes and drunken promises when he stole Yoongi’s breath right out of his mouth, sliding their lips together in an almost confused way at first, quickly remedied when Yoongi looped his arm around Jungkook’s shoulders and arched into him, his hands roaming and his mouth finding the perfect angle, drawing a moan from Jungkook’s throat.

 

Yoongi’s hands felt rough, calloused from their new lifestyles, but it felt even more amazing on Jungkook’s bare skin, knobby fingers tracing across every dip in his skin, every curve and angle of his bones and muscles, finding the knots of tension and loosening them. Each thread he tugged felt like a memory of Jimin coming unraveled, like a betrayal but not, because Jimin had never loved him in the way he needed.

 

Yoongi was here, Yoongi was touching him the way he needed to be touched, and that was enough, in the moment, for Jungkook to forget.

 

The weeks that passed after this were a blur of manual labor, arbitrary soccer matches for useless material items they’d all forgotten about, with some moments of clarity in between. These were the moments when he and Yoongi found time to sneak away, finding clear areas to talk and give each other what they needed, though it was always hurried and hushed, never enough.

 

One night, late enough that it was technically already morning but not early enough that they were at risk of being caught by an early riser, Jungkook told Yoongi about Jimin.

 

They were in a bathroom stall, Jungkook biting down on the sleeve of his discarded jacket so as not to make a sound while Yoongi fucked him against the wall, his fingers intertwined with Jungkook’s and his breath hot against his shoulder.

 

When Yoongi came, he gasped Jungkook’s name.

 

“I’m in love with someone,” Jungkook said afterward, the two of them sitting against the wall, knees knocking together, lazy with sex and exhaustion from waking up so early. Yoongi looked at him curiously.

 

“Not me, I hope,” Yoongi joked, though something like uncertainty crossed his face.

 

Jungkook laughed and shook his head. “No. Someone I grew up with. We’re best friends.” And then, as an afterthought, “He’s straight.”

 

Yoongi pursed his lips in thought, and then decided not to say anything, instead opting to thread his fingers in Jungkook’s, rubbing his thumb across Jungkook’s slightly sweaty hand.

 

“I just thought you should know,” Jungkook said. “Spirit of honesty and shit.”

 

Yoongi nodded, prompting Jungkook to continue.

 

“He got drunk the last time I saw him. Like, really drunk. I was, too. And he kissed me,” Jungkook stopped as the weight of the memory settled over him. “Told me to wait for him. The next morning he didn’t remember any of it, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel guilty when I’m with you, like it’s betraying him or something, even though he could care less.” It felt good, voicing it all out loud. Freeing, in a way.

 

“Shit, Kook,” Yoongi said. “If you wanted to stop hooking up you could’ve just told me to fuck off.”

 

“No,” Jungkook huffed, eliciting a small chuckle from Yoongi.

 

“I’m messing with you. Is there anything I can do to make it better for you? Want me to pretend like I’m him?”

 

“That’d never work. You’re too much of an asshole. And he’s shorter than you, and has tiny fingers. He’s delicate.”

 

Yoongi snorted. “Alright, so what, then?”

 

“That’s the thing, I don’t need you to be him, I need you to be you. I like you, hyung. I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t.” With those words, Jungkook felt unshackled and trapped all at once.

 

“Are you asking me to be your boyfriend?”

 

“Maybe,” Jungkook said, searching Yoongi’s face for a reaction.

 

“You know I’m four years older than you, right? What about when we leave here, and you can go back to your delicate straight friend with tiny fingers? What then?”

 

“I don’t know,” Jungkook said honestly. “But we still have a year left with each other. We can figure it out.”

 

Yoongi thought on this for a while, still rubbing his thumb across Jungkook’s hand. His features were more defined than they had been when they first met, giving him a harsher look, but when he was like this, he reminded Jungkook of a softness he’d only associated with Jimin up until that point. Finally, he sighed and leaned his head on Jungkook’s shoulder. “You kids these days and your relationships. Can’t a guy ever just suck a dick without catching feelings anymore?”

 

That brought a smile to Jungkook’s lips. “So is that a yes?”

 

Yoongi made a noise in the back of his throat that Jungkook took to be a grunt of affirmation and looped his arm around Yoongi’s neck, tugging him closer and trying his damndest not to think about Jimin whispering “wait for me” into his lips all that time ago.

 

The more he learned about Yoongi, though, the more he came to like him. Yoongi was a college graduate, a photography major with disapproving parents and an amusingly intense interest in hip hop music. He’s dyed his hair every color under the sun (“I’ll show you pictures when we get out of here. I looked awful with red hair.”) and had to have a friend give him the chop before he enlisted, much to his dismay.

 

He had someone back home too, the friend at college that always seemed to crop up in their conversations. (“I know how it feels to fall for your straight friend. Namjoon wrecked me, and he had no idea.”)

 

He was harsh, but soft all at once, full of fierce words and banter but just as quick to hold Jungkook close, rough fingers carding through his short cropped hair and trying his best to keep the tension out of his bones. For the first time in ages, Jungkook was able to keep his mind off Jimin, thinking instead of a future that might actually have a chance.

 

And then he got a letter a few months before he was set to be discharged. It was dated several months ago, near the beginning of the year, but the name on the return address was what caught his eye immediately.

 

Jeon Jungkook! I can’t BELIEVE you. Enlisting already? I had to find out from Hobi and Seokjin that you weren’t gonna be at my welcome back party because you were off in the military. I know this is hypocritical, but I don’t know how I’m going to survive the next year here without you, Kookie. I never realized how boring Busan is without you in it.

Don’t die over there, and you make sure mine is the first house you stop at when you come back, okay?

I love you!

Your favorite hyung and best friend,
Jimin

 

“He calls you Kookie?” Yoongi asked when Jungkook wordlessly handed him the letter after walking in on him hunched over it, nearly crumpling the paper from how hard he’d been gripping it.

 

“I hate him.”

 

“Nah, you don’t.” Yoongi sat next to him on the bed and handed the letter back. “You know you don’t.”

 

“Every time I think I can finally get over him, he pulls shit like this,” Jungkook brandished the letter, “and then I’m back where I started.”

 

“You know, I’m kind of inclined to dislike this guy for what he’s doing to you,” Yoongi said, taking the letter from him and folding it gently, placing it on the dresser next to the bed.

 

“No, you’d like him,” Jungkook said. “He would laugh at all of your jokes and whenever you tell him something, you always know he’s listening, and he’s just so…” Yoongi’s hand found his and he remembered where he was. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be talking about this. It’s not fair to you.”

 

“It’s a little too late for that, kid,” Yoongi said, moving his fingers around against Jungkook’s hand like he couldn’t decide if he should squeeze harder or let go. “I kinda already fell in love with you a bit, so all of this is extremely relevant to my interests.”

 

Jungkook’s heart caught in his throat and a tiny noise escaped his mouth when his lips parted in shock. “What?”

 

“Yeah, I didn’t mean for it to happen either, but,” Yoongi shrugged as if they were discussing something that warranted so flippant a response. “You can’t really help these kinds of things. Which is why I don’t blame you for what’s happening with this Jimin guy. You can’t help it.”

 

Yoongi loved him. Yoongi loved him? Someone existed who loved him. Someone who existed in the same place, on the same page as him, someone who was willing to tell him that he loved him while completely sober, with every intention of remembering that fact. Jimin had written I love you in a letter, while Yoongi had said I’m in love with you, holding his hand and looking him in the eye.

 

Jimin was out there, but Yoongi was right here.

 

Jimin was never his, but maybe Yoongi could be. Maybe this was what moving on felt like.

 

“Yes I can,” Jungkook said, finding his voice after what felt like years of silence, sitting there in their freezing dorm while the rest of the world continued on. “I can help it, and I will. I love you too, hyung.”

 

Yoongi grinned despite himself and settled on squeezing Jungkook’s hand harder. “We’re gonna be out of here soon. I know it sounds crazy, and maybe I’m an idiot for this, but if you want a future with me I’d be open to it. You don’t have to agonize over him anymore.”

 

“I’d like that.”

 

The two of them sat there together for what felt like a long time, soaking in each other’s presence until the captain announced over the loudspeaker that gun training began in five minutes.

 

Even through the training, which usually commanded his entire attention, Jungkook couldn’t stop sneaking glances at Yoongi, thinking of the future with him, a future he’d never considered. A future without Jimin.

 

In the moment, that didn’t sound so bad at all.

 

---

 

We broke up two weeks after we were released. He knew about you, so I think he understood. I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but he sends me his photographs sometimes. Whenever I see them I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d stayed with him. If we left the military and moved in together like we planned.

But I know that never would have worked. Not when I knew you were still out there. That’s the whole reason I spent the next two years waiting for a phone call from you, or a letter, or anything at all. It was pathetic, really, how long I waited. Not that it’s your fault. I heard from Hoseok that you went to school, that you were trying to get a degree for nursing at that junior college in Daegu.

And that’s why I waited. You may not remember (I don’t expect you to; you never had reason to cling to all of our memories like I did) but it was me who suggested you become a nurse, back when we were kids.

So that part of me that still loved you (which was all of me) grabbed onto that, even if it was just a coincidence, as something that meant you were still thinking about me.

I was twenty when I came home, and I didn’t see you again until I was twenty-two, but truth be told, I don’t remember much of what I did in between. I spent a lot of time by the beach, I know that much. Jihyun came down with me sometimes, mostly because he said he wanted to get out of the house; without you there, your mom was making him do twice the amount of chores. We didn’t talk much, though. It was hard to look at him, you know? He looks like you.

But none of that is really important. Mostly I just waited for you.

I did promise that I would.

 

---

 

The day Jimin came back to Busan, Jungkook was at the beach. He wasn’t thinking of anything in particular, just letting his mind go blank while the seagulls circled above and the sunlight bounced off the gentle push and pull of the waves.

 

“Hey, ugly.”

 

Jungkook turned and at first thought it was an illusion, seeing Jimin standing there, a halo of light cast around him by the sun. His hair was dyed lighter, its caramel tones catching on the beams, and his tanned skin practically glowing. His face was older, less chubby and round but no less dazzling, and Jungkook fell in love all over again.

 

“Hey, hyung,” he said, momentarily breathless. He was so swept away at seeing Jimin again that he forgot where he was, who he was, pretty much everything. “Long time no see.”

 

Jimin didn’t respond, just started forward and wrapped Jungkook up in a bone crushing hug, one hand on his back and the other tangling in his hair. His face was pressed into Jungkook’s neck, and although he had to stand on his tiptoes now to reach him, he had no less enthusiasm than he did when they were children. Jungkook responded by hugging him back, nuzzling his nose into Jimin’s hair and breathing in his apple scented shampoo.

 

“I missed you,” Jimin said, and he was the first to pull away. He held Jungkook at arm’s length and looked him up and down fondly. “You got taller.” He reached up and poked Jungkook on the tip of his nose. “And you’re so handsome, now. How many girls fell for you while I was away?”

 

Jungkook’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Not as many as you, I’m sure. I can’t even tease you anymore, you’re…” Beautiful? Gorgeous? Perfect? All of the above? He stopped himself before he could finish saying something he’d regret, and instead shook his head, forcing a bigger smile. “I missed you too.”

 

Jungkook followed him back to his new apartment, where Jimin’s mother and younger brother were waiting, and for a moment everything felt normal. They were both grown now, with experiences outside the ones they had with each other, but they were here again, together in their little seaside town.

 

And then Jimin’s mother opened her mouth and asked, “Jiminnie, dear, where’s your girlfriend? I thought she’d be here too. I’ve been dying to meet her.”

 

“She’s at her parents’ house unpacking. Don’t worry, I’ll bring her by sometime soon.”

 

There was a ringing in Jungkook’s ears that seemed to drown out everything else. Jimin had a girlfriend. Jimin had clearly moved on from whatever he’d felt while he was drunk all those years ago and kissed Jungkook and told him “wait for me” while Jungkook was still fiercely holding onto that memory like it was the only thing tethering him to this earth. Jimin had moved on, and Jungkook never seemed to be able to.

 

That night, Jimin invited him out for drinks with a few friends to catch up and do some introductions with the people that had come back with him from Daegu. (His girlfriend included, most likely.) Jungkook went, of course. He was in no way looking forward to it, but he could never refuse Jimin a single thing.

 

“This is my girlfriend, Hyoyoung,” Jimin said, arm in arm with a very pretty girl with small red lips and long silky black hair, light blush on her cheeks and her slender fingers resting on Jimin’s forearm. “And this is my friend Taehyung. We met at university.” Jimin continued to speak, but Jungkook had long since tuned him out, unable to tear his eyes away from everywhere the woman was touching him. Her fingers on his arm. Her foot gently brushing his from her seat next to him. Her shoulder against his.

 

At some point during the night, after a few drinks, Jungkook found himself alone with Taehyung while Jimin (and his girlfriend, his pretty new girlfriend named Hyoyoung who wouldn’t stop touching him) were off elsewhere.

 

Taehyung was around his height, a little shorter but nothing too noticeable, and he was as tan as Hoseok, his skin a warm beige. His lips were a little pouty, and when he spoke they stretched out like a rectangle, which was charming in its own right, but what really struck Jungkook were his eyes. They were a little droopy at the ends, a little hooded, but very dark and big and attentive, like he wouldn’t miss a single detail.

 

Jungkook had never been good at small talk, but Taehyung made it easy, flitting from topic to topic without a care, and all too happy to stand there talking about nothing at all with Jungkook for half the night.

 

It was mostly Taehyung doing the talking, Jungkook just nodding and listening, but his low voice was like honey in his ears, drowning out everything else and making him feel a bit dizzy. His lips had a nice shape, and the mole on the tip of his nose was cute.

 

“You’ve known Jiminnie a long time, huh?” Taehyung asked, resting his head on his cheek and taking a sip of his drink.

 

“Yeah, since we were kids.”

 

“I can tell. You seem really close.”

 

“We are.”

 

“He’s great, isn’t he? I grew up in Daegu, but I swear if I’d known my platonic soulmate was out here in Busan the whole time I’d have told him to get his ass over there faster,” Taehyung laughed, and Jungkook’s heart lurched at the word ‘soulmate.’

 

“I knew someone from Daegu,” Jungkook said, mostly to steer the topic away from Jimin. “In the military. He told me he had red hair once, too.” He gestured to Taehyung’s hair, dyed a firetruck red.

 

“Nice!” Taehyung said appreciatively, his eyes lighting up when Jungkook mentioned his hair. “I like you already. You’ve got great taste in friends.”

 

“Actually, uh,” Jungkook glanced over to where Hyoyoung was laughing at something Jimin said, her petite hand covering her mouth. “He wasn’t my friend. We were together.”

 

Taehyung’s lips fell into an ‘o’ shape, and then slowly curled into a grin when he realized Jungkook hadn’t been joking. “Well then.” He knocked back the rest of whatever had been in his glass and raised one eyebrow. “I guess that’s good news for me.”

 

“It could be.”

 

He supposed he didn’t mind, then, when he ended up in the alleyway behind the bar with his tongue halfway down Taehyung’s throat and Taehyung’s hand down the front of his pants. He didn’t mind when he woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed with Taehyung’s warm arms around him, and didn’t mind when Taehyung asked him to stay.

 

He didn’t mind when the same thing happened the next couple nights, either.

 

“You’re fun,” Taehyung said one cloudy afternoon after he and Jungkook had spent the day touring the boardwalk; Taehyung hadn’t spent much time in Busan before this, and asked Jungkook to show him his favorite spots in the city. Jungkook never said it out loud, barely allowed himself to think it, but the best places in his mind were all of his and Jimin’s old haunts from their childhood. The boardwalk, the beach, the arcade, the ice cream cart on the corner. “I like you a lot, Jungkook.”

 

“I like you too, Tae.” Jungkook took the two ice creams that the old man running the cart gave him and handed one to Taehyung, who kissed him right there in broad daylight, his lips tasting like chocolate and his bubblegum lip balm.

 

“Do you want to be official?”

 

“Official?”

 

“You know,” Taehyung took another bite off the top of his ice cream. “Doing more stuff like this, out in public and not just in my bedroom. Boyfriend stuff.”

 

“Sure,” Jungkook said without thinking. “Let’s be boyfriends.”

 

Taehyung’s charming boxy grin didn’t leave his face the entire day, and Jungkook had to admit he enjoyed himself as well. Taehyung was so easy to talk to, and he could prattle on for hours about anything, and all Jungkook had to do was sit back and listen. It was an amazing way to get his mind off Jimin and Hyoyoung, and it certainly helped that Taehyung was a very affectionate person.

 

He’d see Jimin’s fingers laced with Hyoyoung’s and he’d barely have time to feel the jealousy that always cropped up before Taehyung filled it with warmth, holding his hand so tightly that it felt like a vice.

 

Yoongi had been a secret, something only the both of them knew about; no one knew when they came together, and no one knew when they drifted apart, either. With Taehyung, everything was out in the open. He kissed Jungkook in front of anyone, not caring who was looking or what they were saying, held his hand everywhere they went and never forgot to tell him that he was “just the best.”

 

It was only natural that Jimin found out, pulling him aside with hurt in his eyes. “You never told me. Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“What, that I’m gay? That I’m with Taehyung?” He wasn’t quite sure why he was so defensive, why Jimin’s expression was making him so upset.

 

“Both. I know we had some time apart, but I’m your best friend,” Jimin said. “I thought we told each other everything.”

 

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, hyung,” Jungkook said, and then Taehyung bounded over, latching onto Jungkook’s arm and looking between them with his eyebrows raised.

 

“Why so glum, chum?” he chirped, pinching Jimin’s cheeks.

 

“It’s nothing,” Jimin and Jungkook said at the same time, exchanging glances and then looking away. Taehyung shrugged and neither of them brought it up again, but after that, something changed in the way they spoke to each other. Jimin seemed to walk on eggshells around him, and always looked down whenever he saw Jungkook and Taehyung together. It made Jungkook’s blood boil, but he pretended like everything was fine, and threw himself into his relationship like he hadn’t before.

 

Months passed, and Jungkook still couldn’t look at Hyoyoung, and Jimin still managed to find the floor very interesting whenever Taehyung was within a few feet of Jungkook. Somehow everyone else around them seemed to be oblivious to whatever was happening, and after the fourth month, Taehyung told Jungkook “I love you.”

 

They were at the beach, ironically enough, Jungkook listening to Taehyung explaining his theories about deep sea creatures and the existence of mermaids, and then out of nowhere he turned and said, “Hey, I love you.”

 

It was all so familiar, Jungkook remembering how proud he’d been that he convinced himself he’d been in love with Yoongi, that he could start a new life without Jimin. But he knew now that wasn’t going to happen. He did love Taehyung, he knew it from the way his heart leapt when he was around, from the way he made him feel like he was home, even miles away. But he wasn’t in love the way he was with Jimin.

 

He knew all of this, but he still turned to face Taehyung and said, “I love you too.”

 

Maybe this time it would be different, he thought, kissing the wrong person on the beach with sandy fingers and salty lips. Maybe this time he could move on.

 

---

 

Part of me wished we were still apart. Being around you, having everything except how I felt out in the open like that, having to see that you weren’t the perfect person I remembered, but still loving you anyway… It was so hard, Jimin.

 

---

 

Eventually Taehyung had so many of his things at Jungkook’s apartment that he asked, “Do you want to move in with me?”

 

“I thought you’d never ask, Kookie,” Taehyung said, reaching over and ruffling his hair, pressing a kiss to his temple. “I’m basically half moved in anyway.”

 

Jimin took the news exactly how Jungkook thought he would: with a half smile that didn’t reach his eyes and a poorly disguised nervous laugh. Somehow this only made Jungkook more determined in his decision, and even asked if Jimin would help them move the rest of Taehyung’s things over. He agreed, but there was a look of short panic that crossed his face for a fraction of a second.

 

“You guys are pretty serious then, huh?” Jimin asked, heaving a box onto the counter. Taehyung was still outside, and it was the first time they’d been alone in a long time.

 

“It’s been a year,” Jungkook said. “I figured it was about time.”

 

“Damn,” Jimin whistled. “A year already? Where does the time go?”

 

“I ask myself the same thing every day, hyung.”

 

Somehow, Jimin and Hyoyoung were still an item, though Jungkook wasn’t going to jump at the opportunity to bring that up.

 

“What happened to us?”

 

The question came out of nowhere, Jimin just looking up from the box he’d been holding and biting his lip, catching and holding Jungkook’s gaze with sad eyes.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“We used to be best friends, Kook. Now it feels like we have this...thing in between us, like something changed.” He walked over and placed his hand on Jungkook’s shoulder. “I miss you.”

 

Jungkook ghosted his hand over where Jimin was holding onto him and then settled his fingers on top of Jimin’s, keeping his hand in place. “We’re getting older, I guess. We were apart for so long, you know?” He watched Jimin’s expression fall as he spoke. “But for what it’s worth, I miss the hell out of you too.”

 

Right then, Taehyung came bursting in yelling about a dog he saw out on the street, then stopped when he saw the two of them standing there. Jimin pulled his hand away and Jungkook shoved his in his pockets. Taehyung’s face darkened for a fraction of a second, so quickly that Jungkook swore he imagined it, and then perked back up as quickly.

 

“Only a couple more boxes to go, guys!”

 

After that, it seemed like things were mostly normal again, or as normal as they could be. There were no more awkward silences between them, though Jungkook did notice that Jimin never did look too long when Taehyung kissed him or held his hand.

 

And that was the other thing: after that afternoon in his (now their) apartment, Taehyung always seemed to be around whenever it looked like Jimin and Jungkook were going to be alone. He wasn’t hovering or being overbearing, but his presence was enough to make looking at Jimin feel wrong, in a way.

 

“Kookie?” It was late, a little past midnight, and Jungkook was still awake texting Jimin. Taehyung shimmied over to Jungkook’s side of the bed and nestled his head in the crook of Jungkook’s neck, peering at his screen. “What are you still doing up?”

 

“Just talking to Jimin hyung,” he said, though he immediately set his phone on the nightstand and turned over, kissing Taehyung’s forehead. “Sorry if I woke you up, babe, you can go back to sleep.”

 

There was a beat of silence where Taehyung’s face was partially covered by shadows, and then he shifted his position on the pillow, sporting a sly grin. “Well, now that we’re both awake…” He tiptoed his fingers across Jungkook’s collarbone. “Hm?”

 

“Rain check? I’m kind of tired.”

 

“Okay.” Taehyung rolled back over, settling in so that his back was pressed up against Jungkook, fitting into the gentle curve of his body like he did every night, and Jungkook slung his arm over Taehyung’s waist. “Good night. I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

Even after Taehyung’s breathing turned into rhythmic snoring, Jungkook lied awake, the guilt clawing at his insides keeping him unable to fall asleep and making Taehyung’s soft skin feel like thorns piercing at him.

 

Even with Taehyung watching them every now and then, and Hyoyoung hanging around Jimin, he and Jungkook still found time to themselves sometimes, and when they did, it was almost like they were kids again. They weren’t quite as touchy as they had been back then, not as carefree, but in those moments it felt like he had his best friend all to himself. During those times, he was able to put aside that guilty feeling hanging over him; when he was with Jimin, his friend commanded all of his attention, everything else pushed to the back of his mind.

 

Then he saw the ring on Jimin’s finger.

 

“What’s that?” he asked, almost dreading the answer.

 

Jimin’s answer was directed at his hands, unable to look him in the eye. “Oh. I...I’m engaged. To Hyoyoung.”

 

Jungkook nodded, feeling like his head was filled with water, seeping into his lungs and making it hard to think or even breathe. “When did you propose?” he said, remembering that he needed to respond. He managed to put on a smile, though he couldn’t imagine that it looked realistic at all.

 

“I didn’t. Hyoyoung asked me over dinner last night and I...said yes.” Jimin still wasn’t looking at him and it made Jungkook’s whole body feel numb.

 

“Congratulations.”

 

That night, Jungkook went back home to his apartment (no, his and Taehyung’s apartment) and found Taehyung sitting on the couch playing video games. He turned when he heard the door opened and a bright smile broke out over his face. “Hey, babe. How was your day?”

 

“Good,” he replied, still moving on autopilot. “Jimin’s engaged.”

 

His expression unchanging, Taehyung said, “I know! He called earlier. Isn’t that exciting?”

 

“It’s great.”

 

He joined Taehyung on the couch, picking up another game controller and leaning against him, drawing his legs up onto the cushion. Taehyung stiffened for a millisecond and then settled against Jungkook, their bodies fitting together comfortably, as couples tended to do. They were a good fit, Jungkook thought. They had so much in common, and got along so well, and Taehyung loved him. He could love Taehyung, too.

 

Especially now that Jimin was never, ever going to be his.

 

He didn’t mean to do it, not really. But throwing himself headfirst into a relationship that he never really gave his all to in the first place began to backfire in the worst way possible. Taehyung noticed that he was suddenly always home, always asking to go out together, always planning dinners, and he gradually started losing the brightness that had drawn Jungkook to him in the first place.

 

Jungkook felt like a leech, stealing Taehyung’s happiness without any way of fixing what he’d done. Nothing he was doing was genuine, and it didn’t take a genius to realize it. Every “I love you” tasted like ash on his tongue, but he couldn’t stop. Not when this was his only escape from seeing the one person he’d waited his entire life for planning his life with someone who wasn’t him.

 

A month after Jimin announced his engagement, Jungkook returned home late after spending the night drinking, only to find Taehyung sitting at the kitchen table with his chin resting on his hand and a book open in front of him.

 

“Hey,” Jungkook said, peering at him curiously. His head was still a bit fuzzy from the drinks, but even like this he could tell something was wrong.

 

“Hi, Kookie,” Taehyung said. “You were out late, huh?”

 

“You didn’t wait for me, did you? I’m sorry, babe.”

 

“It’s okay,” Taehyung closed the book and met Jungkook’s stare with one of his own, making Jungkook shift uncomfortably. It was like he was probing his expression, watching everything he did. “Hey, I love you.”

 

“I...love you too, Tae.”

 

The atmosphere shifted. Taehyung didn’t say anything for a long time, and when he did it was nothing Jungkook wanted to hear. “I can’t do this anymore,” Taehyung said quietly, a shadow over his dark eyes and a tight frown on his lips.

 

“What are you talking about?” demanded Jungkook, his heart thundering in his chest.

 

“You don’t love me.”

 

Jungkook’s mouth opened and closed, and he stared at Taehyung’s sad eyes for a long moment before finally replying, “Yes I do.”

 

“Don’t lie. You love Jimin, I know you do. I knew all along, but I thought maybe if I stayed with you long enough you could get over him,” Taehyung’s voice was quivering, his mouth curled in a pained grimace, but he continued on. “You never did, and I just ended up falling in love with you, but you never stopped looking at him.”

 

“Tae--”

 

“I’m not an idiot, Jungkook. I know you probably think I am, for staying with you even though I knew you loved someone else, but I just. I just thought I had a chance. I thought since Jimin’s getting married you would give up, but…” Taehyung wasn’t looking at him anymore, instead staring holes into his palms, laid flat on the table. “I just can’t do this.”

 

He knew. He knew all along, that Jungkook was using him, and yet...and yet, there he was, he’d stayed for over a year, watching the person he loved pine for someone else. How could Jungkook blame him? Wasn’t he doing the same thing?

 

Only in this case, he was the one doing the hurting.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said breathlessly. “I’m so, so sorry, Taehyung.”

 

Taehyung didn’t say anything, just getting to his feet and looking smaller than Jungkook had ever seen him. “I’m going to go. I’ll be back tomorrow to get all my stuff.”

 

That night, there was a noticeable absence in his bed, but Jungkook didn’t deserve to feel sad about it. He hurt Taehyung, spent a year pretending he was in love with him, tangling their lives together so tightly that it hurt when they pulled apart, and he had the nerve to feel upset now that Taehyung was gone? He felt sick to his stomach.

 

He got a phone call from Jimin at around one in the morning, and answered it with a sense of dread.

 

“Jungkook, Tae is at my place. He said you guys broke up?” Jimin’s voice was strained, confused, and Jungkook felt his heart wrench at the sound. “What the hell happened?”

 

He wasn’t you. “We just didn’t work out.” He wasn’t you. “It happens.”

 

Jimin came by the next morning to help pack Taehyung’s things, and it reminded Jungkook of that afternoon the previous year where they’d been doing just the opposite. Now the room felt naked, being stripped of Taehyung’s personality and leaving it as plain as when Jungkook had first moved in. None of them said anything for a while, just placing things in boxes and hauling them down to Taehyung’s truck, until finally Jimin whispered something to Jungkook while they were alone in what was once Taehyung and Jungkook’s bedroom.

 

“Can you tell me what really happened? Tae won’t tell me.”

 

Oh, how Jungkook wanted to tell him. He would give anything to tell Jimin every detail, starting from the beginning, but he saw the ring on his best friend’s finger, saw the way it caught the light and remembered Hyoyoung’s delicate hands on Jimin’s tanned skin, a matching ring glinting there too. He couldn’t.

 

So he said, “There’s nothing to tell. It just wasn’t working.” He placed the sweater he’d bought Taehyung for Christmas in a box, running his hand across the soft fabric and wishing it didn’t have to be this way, and then he felt Jimin’s arms around him, pulling him close and holding him tightly. His heart stuttered and then sped up, completely caught off guard.

 

“I’m here for you,” Jimin said into Jungkook’s chest. “I always will be.”

 

But as they loaded the last of the boxes into Taehyung’s truck and watched him drive away, Jungkook had never felt more alone.

 

---

 

It wasn’t fair to Taehyung. I regret that now. I used him and I knew I was doing it, but I couldn’t stop. Taehyung was safe, and fun, and he loved me when I needed someone to, but in the end it wasn’t his love I was looking for.

You get it now, right? I don’t have to say it?

 

---

 

For a while, Jungkook became very good at pretending like the wedding wasn’t happening. He could ignore the glint of gold on Jimin’s finger, could ignore the wedding talk every time they all went out for drinks, could even ignore when Jimin called Hyoyoung his fiancee.

 

But then Jimin asked him something he couldn’t ignore, something that wrecked every wall Jungkook had been building around himself, every mask he’d been wearing to show what a good friend he was, and not someone who was wishing away his best friend’s wedding.

 

“Will you be my best man?”

 

Best man. There was no getting around it now. He wasn’t standing in the wedding opposite Jimin, but off to the side, watching him marry someone that wasn’t him, a beautiful girl that he loved. He couldn’t pretend anymore. It was over, this was it. He was the best man and nothing more, Jimin’s best friend and his best man and the one supporting him for the wedding that Jungkook had been secretly wishing would disappear.

 

“Of course,” he said, trying to focus on the way Jimin’s face lit up at his response, his teeth flashing and his eyes curving up instead of on the cloudiness that was filling his own mind. Of course, Jimin. Of course. Anything for you. I’d do anything for you. “I’m honored you asked me.”

 

Being the best man at the wedding involved spending a lot of time with Hyoyoung, who was quiet and unassuming, but had the eyes of someone who knew a lot more than she let on. She played the part of the demure, polite girlfriend, but Jungkook could always feel her eyes boring into him and he couldn’t tell if it was because she was just disapproving of him as a person or if she knew.

 

Whatever the case, Jungkook didn’t think about it very much, just trying to keep his head clear for the remainder of the planning process. If he could get through the next hour, then he could get through the next day, and then the next month.

 

He accompanied Jimin and his mother to the tailor to get his suit fittings, and with a month left until the wedding, Jungkook couldn’t afford to be anything less than the best friend he could be, with nothing on his mind other than his utmost support.

 

But seeing Jimin standing in front of the mirror with his suit on while the tailor was stooped down fixing the hem on his trousers, he could feel his resolve begin to falter. It wasn’t how good he looked in a suit, not at all. It was the way Jimin’s mother had her hands clasped together with tears in her eyes when she saw her son in his wedding outfit, and the way Jungkook had always imagined himself there beside him, and all of this was just so wrong.

 

He was wrong for even thinking that, and he knew it, knew that Jimin wasn’t his, that he was fixating on a childhood crush and a drunken kiss that only he remembered. His head knew this to be the truth, but his heart just wouldn’t listen.

 

“Are you ready?” It was the night before the wedding and Jungkook wasn’t anywhere close to being mentally capable of being ready, but the least he could do was ask how Jimin was holding up. This was all about him, after all. Jungkook could, and would, set aside his feelings that had ruined so much in his life to support his best friend.

 

“Yeah,” Jimin replied with a nervous half-smile that didn’t meet his eyes. “Ready as I’ll ever...as I’ll ever be.”

 

Jungkook gripped Jimin’s shoulder and shook him gently. “You’ve got this.”

 

Jimin didn’t say anything for a second, just looking up at Jungkook with an expression Jungkook had never seen before. “I’m really happy you’re here with me, Kook.”

 

Jungkook couldn’t bring himself to respond.

 

---

 

The next day was a rush of calling the wedding hall and fussing over the catering and going over the guest list, Jimin in particular agonizing over the list his parents handed him, complaining that he didn’t even know half the people in attendance. Hyoyoung was absent for most of the day, waiting in the bridal room, probably taking pictures with her parents and friends. The hours were dwindling down, and Jimin had abandoned his suit jacket on the chair in one of the back rooms of the hall, his hair stylist continuously smacking his hand away every time he tried to run his hand through his hair out of nervousness.

 

Jungkook had finished getting ready about an hour ago, and was now lingering in the back room for moral support and to avoid any conversation with the other members of the wedding party, or god forbid, Jimin’s parents. They’d been gushing about the wedding ever since the engagement, and there was only so much of “Hyoyoung and Jimin are so perfect together” that he could take without feeling ill.

 

Finally, with one hour left until the wedding began, Jungkook found himself alone with the groom, his hair styled up and half his suit still draped over the chair. “You should put this all on,” he said, getting to his feet and holding the jacket out in front of him. The tie fell to the floor and he picked that up first, shaking his head.

 

“Just leave it. I can’t do this.”

 

“Yes you can,” Jungkook said, slipping the tie around Jimin’s neck and began working on tying it. “You’re charming, and handsome, and funny, and there’s nothing…” A pause. Deep breath. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”

 

“No, I really can’t do this, Jungkook, you don’t understand--”

 

“I don’t know how to tie this,” Jungkook interrupted, tugging at the messy knot he’d made of Jimin’s tie. “I messed this up.” He couldn’t listen to Jimin having second thoughts about this wedding, because Jungkook had been doing so good at burying all of his own thoughts about it, and it was almost over. He just had to make it through the ceremony.

 

Jimin looked down at the tie and then back up at Jungkook, his eyebrows furrowing together and a funny look in his eye and then time seemed to stop when he brought his lips up to meet Jungkook’s.

 

Jungkook froze and Jimin pulled away, horrified, his eyes bugging and darting wildly for something to look at that wasn’t Jungkook. “Fuck, I… I’m sorry, I just…”

 

“Jimin--”

 

“I have to go greet the guests, I...bye.” Jimin turned to bolt out of the room, his tie still a mess and his jacket lying crumpled on the floor, but Jungkook grabbed his wrist before he could leave and spun him back around, his heart thumping so hard that it was difficult to breathe.

 

“Jimin! What…”

 

A shadow fell across Jimin’s face as he looked down, his lips parted slightly and his posture loosening. All the fight was leaving his body and when he returned his gaze to meet Jungkook’s, the sadness in his eyes hit Jungkook like a tidal wave. “I know it’s wrong, but I just wanted to kiss you.” When the words left his mouth he looked scared again, whispering, “No. Just forget it, okay?”

 

“What if I don’t want to?”

 

“Are you…” Jimin said in barely more than whisper, and Jungkook’s expression was almost dreamlike when he responded.

 

“If you want me to.”

 

“I...do.”

 

That was all it took, and then there was warmth on his lips that spread through his whole body, right to the tips of his fingers that he threaded through Jimin’s hair. It was nothing like how he imagined it would be, all fireworks and butterflies exploding in his stomach; it was just warmth and the feeling of comfort, the feeling that this was exactly where he needed to be.

 

But reality had a habit of inserting itself when it was unwanted, and then Jimin’s hands were flat against Jungkook’s chest, pushing him away and shaking his head.

 

“We can’t.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because!” His lip was quivering, his hands balled into fists, his eyes tinged red from holding back tears, and now he was raising his voice, staring right at Jungkook. “Because I’m getting married and I’m in love with you and that’s wrong, but it was okay because it was just me being an idiot pining after my best friend, but if you love me then it’s just…” He trailed off and tore his eyes away, instead glaring daggers into the band on his finger. “Just…”

 

Jungkook had waited twenty five years to hear those words. Twenty five years of tightening chests, furtive glances, hushed whispers and touches so charged that they felt electric. Twenty five years of lying to himself and dragging other people down with him and now, finally, it was out in the open, the weight of their confessions making the room feel as though it was filled with water. Jungkook felt like he was choking, gasping for breath, but also finally able to breathe all at once.

 

“Jimin.”

 

“Jungkook, don’t.”

 

Jimin’s hands were still so small, never fully growing into them, and they still felt so warm when Jungkook held them in his own, the cold metal of his wedding band burning his skin. “Jimin, do you love her?”

 

His eyes were fixed on their joined hands and his voice came out very small. “No.”

 

“But you’re marrying her.”

 

Jimin didn’t answer, slipping his hands out of Jungkook’s. “I have to,” he said finally.

 

“Jimin. Do you love me?”

 

The answer came immediately. “Yes.”

 

“And I love you. Ever since we were kids. I’ve done a lot of things in the past few years that I’m not proud of, all because I thought I didn’t have a chance with you. I was about to stand in your wedding, as your friend, and now that I know you love…” The words were tumbling out, and he just barely managed to stop himself, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment and biting at his lip. “I just can’t wait for you anymore, Jimin. Either you leave me, and you go marry her, or…”

 

The air felt like it weighed a ton, all noise sucked from the room save for Jungkook’s heartbeat thundering in his chest, and then Jimin spoke.

 

“I’ve kept you waiting long enough.”

 

---

 

The aftermath of announcing the cancellation of the wedding and calling off the engagement wasn’t quite as bad as what Jungkook had been expecting, and he had about a million different scenarios in his head, each one more horrific than the last.

 

What actually happened was:

 

Jimin’s parents left. They just walked out. Got on the first train back to Busan, and refused to answer anyone’s calls. A few of the guests followed suit, and the ones who stayed gossiped at full volume, not caring that everyone could hear what they were saying.

 

(“I always knew that Jeon boy was trouble. But to think he dragged poor Jimin down with him…”

“Disgusting. How could they do this to their families?”

“Poor Hyoyoung-ssi…”

“Disgusting.”)

 

Hyoyoung herself didn’t say a word, just standing there in her wedding dress, expensive and foreign and useless now, not taking her eyes off Jungkook. In the moment, though, Jungkook couldn’t find it in himself to care much. Not when Jimin was standing next to him, hand around his waist and the feeling of finally being on the same page.

 

Leaving the chaotic wedding hall behind, the two of them ran, hands clasped together so tightly that Jungkook wasn’t sure where his skin ended and Jimin’s began. He knew they looked ridiculous, two grown men running toward the beach, both with expensive suits and gelled hair and eyes rimmed red from the tears they’d shed, but that wasn’t even close to being on his mind.

 

They collapsed in the sand, kicking off their shoes and watching as the waves soaked through the soles. Their socks were the next to go, and then the ties, cufflinks, suit jackets, all of it piled on the beach and being claimed by the waves, now a sopping mess of black.

 

“I think we just lost the deposit on these,” Jungkook gasped out, though he was smiling, and Jimin shook his head.

 

“I don’t care.” His hands were wet, the sand clinging to his skin as he held Jungkook’s face and kissed him like he was trying to fit all the wasted years into this one moment. This beach was where it had all started and now it was the place where they started. Not as friends, but as two people who loved each other and had waited far too long.

 

“I fell in love with you right here,” Jungkook said. “Maybe even right when I met you, and I just didn’t realize it.”

 

“Me too, I think.” Jimin ran his thumb over his bottom lip, lost in thought. “My parents, they always told me this kind of thing was wrong. I always thought it was hopeless, you know? But in the end I was just trying to keep myself from loving you when that was never even possible.”

 

“That’s funny. I was doing the same thing.”

 

It was late, very late when they made it back to Jimin’s apartment, shivering and dripping ocean water all over the floor. They didn’t bother with the lights, choosing to hold onto each other and stumble through the darkness to the bedroom, where Jimin fumbled with the bedside lamp before Jungkook pulled him by the arm onto the bed.

 

It still didn’t feel real, even with his lips and hands mapping out every inch of Jimin’s soft tanned skin partially illuminated by the dim lamp. He felt plush lips brushing against his collarbones, small familiar hands gripping his waist, fitting there perfectly like they were made to fit to each other, and it was so difficult to believe that any of this was real.

 

The sound of Jimin gasping out Jungkook’s name as their shared heat seemed to burn white hot between them was all he needed to be convinced that he was here, Jimin was here, and after all these years they were finally together. No more reaching out and just barely missing each other, no more years spent wondering where he stood.

 

“I love you,” Jimin whispered into his shoulder, unwilling to let them be apart even for a second, clinging to him under the thin sheets and tracing his finger down the dips and curves of Jungkook’s body, lingering on the smattering of light bruises near his clavicles.

 

“I love you too.”

 

This was real.

 

---

 

A few weeks later, Hyoyoung stopped by to pick up the last of her things from Jimin’s apartment. They never lived together, her parents the epitome of conservatism, but there were always leftovers with a relationship. A shirt left draped across a chair. A phone charger left plugged into the wall. Photographs left in albums.

 

A wedding ring, abandoned along with the false promises that accompanied it.

 

“I’m sorry,” Jungkook said when he opened the door and saw her standing there, the picture of composure, her delicate features slipping only for a moment when she saw him. “Jimin’s out shopping, but I can leave--”

 

“It’s fine,” she said. “May I come in? I only need to grab a few things.”

 

Jungkook stepped aside to allow her inside the apartment, eyes trained on the ground while she looked around a bit, her expression a tight unreadable mask. “You settled in quickly,” she commented.

 

“I’m sorry,” Jungkook repeated. “I can leave, I--”

 

“I already told you, it’s okay. I want you here.”

 

The silence was deafening, Jungkook’s palms beginning to feel clammy while Hyoyoung peered around Jimin’s apartment, picking up items here and there and adding them to her bag. His first instinct was to flinch when she picked up the framed photograph on the dresser of Jimin and Jungkook from their childhood. She opened up the back and closed her eyes for a moment. He must have gotten rid of whatever photo she’d been looking for, whatever photo had been in that frame before, and Jungkook wanted nothing more than to leave the room.

 

“Hyoyoung-ssi, I know you don’t like me, maybe it’s best if I--”

 

“You stole my fiance from me. Of course I don’t like you, Jungkook-ssi,” Hyoyoung said, casually as one could, raising her gaze to meet his. “But I’m not an unreasonable person. I knew Jimin didn’t love me. He was never going to admit it, though, and he was good to me. We were good for each other. He could have been successful with me; my father was prepared to set up Jimin to take over his company when he died.”

 

“Do you want me here just so you can tell me how awful I am?”

 

“I want you here so you can look me in the eye. So you can see what you took Jimin away from. And so you can ask yourself if all of this was worth it. Is a future with you, disgraced from his family, unable to get married or have heirs, really worth his happiness?”

 

Jungkook looked at her, eyes sharp and calculating, lips set in a line, her gaze unfaltering and her stance almost mechanical. She tried so hard to appear strong, unbothered, but Jungkook could see it in the way her fists were clenched at her sides and her breath was hitching ever so slightly. She was heartbroken. She’d been affected by this in ways she’d never admit to herself, and Jungkook felt a pang of sympathy that overpowered the brief moment of second-guessing his choices that her words had brought on.

 

“I can’t answer that,” he said, after a long pause. “I don’t know if Jimin regrets choosing a future with me. But I do know that I love him, and I’m happy just knowing that.”

 

Hyoyoung adjusted the bag holding her last few possessions, the last reminder that she had once had Jimin, and nodded. “Then I wish you both the best, Jungkook-ssi. Just don’t forget the people you hurt on your way to get here.”

 

How could he forget? Yoongi’s sad eyes, Taehyung’s angry tears, Hyoyoung’s controlled heartbreak, all of it was as clear in his mind as the day it had happened, and it was those things that spurred him onward, solidifying his decision. Without this, what would those moments of heartbreak have been for?

 

Jimin arrived home a little later, arms full of groceries and a serene wash over his face, lips turned upward slightly when he saw Jungkook. “Hey,” he said.

 

“Hey,” he said back, grinning.

 

For the first time in his life, Jungkook felt content.

 

---

 

It was a while before things felt normal, before everyone in town stopped whispering every time they saw Jimin or Jungkook out together, before everything that had happened stopped looming over them. It was slow, nearly a year and a half passing before their eyes, but neither of them paid much mind to it. They had so much lost time to make up for, so much that they needed to do, but now that they had each other, there was no rush. For once, they could just...live.

 

It was a windy day in April when Jungkook found the letter he’d written for Jimin, back when he thought he’d be handing him off to someone else, back when he’d been about to accept that they’d never have a chance together. It wasn’t a very happy letter, and had been written when he was drunk and feeling hopeless, but it told a story, one that he knew Jimin needed to hear.

 

So on that windy day in April he pocketed the letter and asked to go on a walk, only to find Jimin already with his jacket on, about to ask the same thing. Their hands found each other, as they tended to do, and as always, found themselves walking along the beach. That was where it had all started years and years ago, with two little boys fighting over a pretty looking rock.

 

“I need to give you something,” Jungkook said, taking Jimin’s hand and placing a letter in his open palm, then closing his fingers around it. “Read it later, okay?”

 

Jimin examined the envelope, a bit crinkled from its age, and nodded, then bit at his lip with a bashful yet determined look in his eyes. “I need to give you something, too,” he said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out something small, concealing it in his hand, then turned so he was facing Jungkook head on.

 

And then he got down on one knee.

 

---

 

I don’t have to say it, but I will anyway. I’m in love with you, Park Jimin. I always have been, and I always will be.

-Jungkook