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summer, winter, spring (i'm falling for you)

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When Taehyung was four, he met Park Jimin for the first time. Park Jimin was also four, an older four, and he got the furthest on the monkey bars, and his mom always matched his shoes with his shirt and packed him the juice with the fun packaging, and Taehyung was desperate to be friends with him.

And when Taehyung made the decision that he was going to be friends with Park Jimin and marched up to him and asked if he wanted to build a sandcastle together, Jimin had smiled so big and scooted over in the box, sand clinging to his chubby legs, and patted the space beside him. Pat pat smile.

Taehyung was enamoured. Awestruck by Park Jimin.

When they were seven, Jimin an older seven, they told each other they were going to get married when their parents said they were allowed to. It was going to be in the summer by the beach, Taehyung’s favorite season and Jimin’s favorite place. The cake would be funfetti and Jimin’s grandma would make it for them because she’s really nice.

When they were nine, it was the first year they weren’t in the same class, but Jimin ended up sneaking into Taehyung’s classroom for naptime everyday, and eventually the teachers stopped chastising him for it.

When they were twelve, Jimin got his first kiss from a pretty girl with long hair and tall socks and walked around dreamy eyed for a week before she broke up with him because she got bored and Jimin liked her too much. Taehyung climbed in through Jimin’s window every night for another week and read to him outloud because Jimin said Taehyung’s voice was calming even though he kept mixing up the words

When they were thirteen, Taehyung got his first kiss from a girl with bangs and cute bandaids on her knees, and he didn’t walk around dreamy eyed at all. He held her hand for two days before they decided they were better as friends.

When they were thirteen-almost-fourteen, Taehyung got his first kiss from a boy with big doe eyes and a voice like an angel, and decided he liked that a lot better.

When they were fifteen, Taehyung decided that Jungkook was better as a friend too, and he tried not to think too hard about why.

They’re seventeen now.

Not much has changed since they were four.

They’re older now, and closer, but Jimin still smiles at him often and Taehyung is still awestruck every time. Instead of meeting by the sandbox they meet by their lockers at school, just like they did last year and the year before that, and walk home together without their parents because they’re older now. They don’t need chaperones. Jimin doesn’t usually hold his hand as he walks anymore, but he walks a little closer, hooks their arms together sometimes. Studies with his head in Taehyung’s lap.

Jimin still has all the baby fat from when he was four. Taehyung likes to pull on it with gentle fingers until Jimin laughs and swats his hand away. Jimin still fits nicely under his arm.

Taehyung is still enamoured.

 


 

It’s the summer before their senior year, and it’s the first summer they’ve spent apart since they were children.

Jimin went off into the countryside to stay with his grandparents on their farm, miles away in a strange and foreign world where there is limited wi-fi and lots of manual labor. Their hired help had quit suddenly, and Jimin had volunteered despite knowing nothing about farm work. He’d left town two weeks after school had ended.

Now, there are only three days left before school starts up again, their final year, and Taehyung misses Jimin so much he’s starting to get itchy. Is that a withdrawal symptom?

Taehyung takes out his cell phone.

 

~Taetaehyungie~ [5:32pm]
i might b addicted to u?

 

He’s about to toss his phone aside, not expecting a speedy reply, but his phone lights up almost immediately.

 

chiminie [5:32pm]
Withdrawal symptoms?
Poor baby~
Have you thrown up yet? Getting shaky?

~Taetaehyungie~ [5:33pm]
a little itchy
return soon so i don’t die
jiminie relapse

chiminie [5:34pm]
I’m closer than you think ;)

~Taetaehyungie~ [3:34pm]
wait
wait what r u back?

chiminie [5:36pm]
;) ;) ;)

 

Taehyung hops out of his chair, banging his knees against the top of his desk when he scrambles to his feet. The reading he was supposed to be doing throughout the summer and has now been cramming in is scattered around the table. Whatever paper he has in his hands is thrown into the air. "Mom!" He rushes to open his bedroom door and scream into the hallway. "Mom!"

"Tae, please stop shouting," his mom replies tiredly from the kitchen. "What’s wrong?"

"Did the Parks get back?" Taehyung is jittery with anticipation. His leg might be twitching.

"Which Parks?" Taehyung can hear his mother laughing quietly to herself. "The Parks with the pretty daughter, or the Parks with the boy you punched in the face once in middle school?"

"Mom!" It’s a whine. "You know which Parks."

"Hmm." The entire house smells like beef and it’s making Taehyung’s mouth water, but if the Parks are back then Taehyung will skip dinner and run the two blocks to Jimin’s house and eat whatever they’re having for dinner, even though Taehyung loves beef.

Taehyung loves Jimin more than he loves beef and that is true friendship.

His mom walks to the edge of the hallway, apron on, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and leans against the wall by the kitchen to look at Taehyung in his doorway, his eyes wide and excited. "I may have heard from one Mrs. Park that the cutest Jimin in town and his adorable younger brother may or may not have gotten back into town very very late last night." She grins. "Would that be the Parks you were asking about?"

"The only Parks that matter," Taehyung says with a grin, although he has extended family with the name Park, so it’s probably not exactly true.

Or maybe it is.

 

~Taetaehyungie~ [5:42pm]
b i t c h
i’m omw icb u didn’t tell me :(

~Taetaehyungie~ [5:44pm]
i’m not actually omw that’d b rude
can i pls come over and attack u with love

 

Jimin doesn’t reply right away, and Taehyung wants to throw his shoes on in anticipation. His tennis shoes, not his sandals, because if he’s going, he’s going to be running at a mad sprint down the street and his sandals can definitely not handle that.

Under normal circumstances, Taehyung would be asking Jimin if he could come over while he was already on his way. It’s really been too long, a long long summer spent with Jungkook and Yoongi, a college kid Jungkook has somehow managed to befriend and is possibly in the process of seducing.

Taehyung loves Jungkook, loves spending time with him, and it took Yoongi basically no time at all to become someone important in Taehyung’s life, but neither of them hold a candle to Jimin.

No one has ever held a candle to Jimin.

But, it has been a long summer, and Jimin is probably tired, and hasn’t seen his family very much, and even though Taehyung is disappointed, he has an idea of what Jimin is going to say.

 

chiminie [5:50pm]
Not right now :/
Mom wants some family time lmao and it was a long drive
But…^^

 

Taehyung laughs, flopping backwards on his bed, grinning at his phone. His work is left forgotten on his desk. A paper he should probably be working on has fallen underneath his bed but it’s okay, he’ll get it later. There are still three days before school starts. That’s plenty of time.

 

~Taetaehyungie~ [5:51pm]
swings?

chiminie [5:51pm]
;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;)

 

Taehyung is warm.

 


 

The park where Taehyung met Park Jimin is old and well-lived, nostalgic. Mostly abandoned and quiet at night, tucked away. Not quite secluded. Old like a memory.

It’s their place.

Not too far from their houses that they can’t make the walk in good time, out of the way, in a good neighborhood, well lit. Taehyung’s parents trust him not to get into shit (at least when he’s not with both Jungkook and Jimin, because that’s a recipe for disaster) but he’s still got a curfew. He’s snuck out a couple of times over the years, usually either to run to the gas station for snacks or go see Jimin or come to the swings, but he tries to keep his excursions to a minimum. It’s not worth it to lie to them right now, anyway.

Despite knowing that his parents know exactly where he is and exactly when he’ll be back, it still feels a little bit like freedom.

He hears Jimin long before he sees him. He hears Jimin’s feet beating hard and fast against the pavement. He hears the particular sound and rhythm of Jimin’s breath, recognizes it instantly, even when Jimin is winded and struggling on the uphill climb. It's a sound he'd know anywhere, because it's a Jimin sound, and if there is anything Taehyung is an expert in, it's Jimin. Taehyung would recognize Jimin’s anything, everything, anywhere.

So when Jimin crests the hill and comes into view for the first time since he left at the beginning of the summer, Taehyung has no problems knowing it's Jimin. Not even for a second does he hesitate.

That doesn't mean he’s not surprised.

"Tae!" Jimin shouts, even though it's almost late, even though they're almost beside each other, and waves like he’s trying to get Taehyung’s attention from across a stadium. His face breaks into a grin, eyes curving into little moons, which is fitting, because Taehyung has never seen anyone who reflects the sun quite like Park Jimin.

"Jiminie!" Taehyung stands up from the swing he's been waiting on, arms flinging wide open, just in time for Jimin to launch himself into Taehyung’s chest. When Taehyung wraps his arm around his best friend, he’s warm.

When Jimin looks up at him and beams, Taehyung is struck all over again.

The summer has been very, very good to Jimin.

He’s tan, more gold than brown, and his hair has grown out, a little longer than he wore it before, raked back away from his forehead by his own hands. The baby fat on his cheeks has melted away, his jawline is sharp, and the arms poking out of his t-shirt are enough to make Taehyung think Jimin would have absolutely no problems picking him up right now, which is something that Taehyung then actively tries not to think about because that’s getting into dangerous territory.

The biggest change might not even be in appearance. The biggest difference might be in the way Jimin feels, stands, exists.

Jimin looks, above all else, like he’s sure of himself. Like the ground he’s standing on is steady.

Taehyung is so happy for him.

"I see the farm did you pretty well, yeah?" Taehyung asks, pushing Jimin to arm’s length so he can get a good look at him.

"It’s a lot more work than anticipated," Jimin answers with a laugh, doing a little twirl like he’s a model on a runway. "Hardly recognize myself, nowadays, with my girlish figure." Girlish is not the word that Taehyung would use, seeing the muscle of his arms and the slope of his shoulders and the way his calves flex when he poses ridiculously, hiking one leg up like a pinup girl.

"You still look like you," Taehyung tells him, even though his throat is tight, but the words are genuine. "I would recognize you anywhere."

Slowly, Jimin smiles. "Same to you." He reaches forward and tugs on Taehyung’s ears, his fingers warm. "And look at you, growing into your ears when I’m not looking!" One last tug. "I wasn’t even here to say goodbye."

"Your favorite teasing fodder, gone," Taehyung says with a laugh, shaking his head. "Good riddance."

Jimin pouts, running a hand through his hair. The way it slopes on his forehead looks effortlessly beautiful. "I thought they were cute." One of his hands trails down from where it’s still latched onto Taehyung’s ear and brushes down his arm. "I really do miss them. But you look rather handsome like this."

The sun is fading, but the white of Jimin’s t-shirt is bright and the shorts he’s wearing show bruised knees. There’s a little bit of dirt under his toenails. There are stars in his eyes. He looks the same as he always has.

God.

Taehyung wants to throw up hearts.

He swallows something down. Taehyung has been swallowing it down for years, not really knowing what it is but knowing it might change things, and he isn’t sure that’s what he wants. So instead, he grins. "I’m really glad you’re back," he says fondly, sitting back down on the swing.

Jimin sits down next him, linking their hands together and kicking his legs, gently swinging in tandem. "Yeah." He leans his head back, letting the last of the sun hit his face. "Me too."

 


 

Taehyung is a smart kid. He looks cute and innocent and often kind of lost, distracted, but he’s a smart kid. He knows how things work in a small, contained area, how fast word travels, and he knows what the high school hive mind considers important.

So he knows exactly what’s going to happen when Jimin shows up at school on the first day.

 

chiminie [7:34am]
Mom wants to drive me to school today
So I don’t think we can walk together
:(

 

And that’s fine. It’s a tradition for Jimin and Taehyung to walk to school together in the same way the swings are a tradition — it just sort of happened. There’s no real sentimental attachment there, other than that it’s a thing that Jimin and Taehyung do, and they do it together. Tomorrow they will walk to school together, and it will be just as meaningful as if they had walked to school together today.

The only real downside of not walking together with Jimin, besides not getting to see him in the morning, is that Taehyung isn’t there when the gossip mill starts to turn.

By the time Taehyung rolls into school (7:52, which is the earliest he will ever be once he starts having to wait for Jimin in the mornings) the chatter has already started.

The first time Taehyung hears about it, it’s from a girl in his homeroom.

"—someone should ask Taehyung—"

It’s those words that pull Taehyung out of his lecture induced trance and back into the real world. He blinks for a second, trying to get his bearings, before looking around until he hears someone harshly whisper his name from behind.

It’s one of the girls that Taehyung has been in class with since, like, middle school. Her name is Minji. He’s not quite sure if he likes her or not, but at most he’s rather indifferent. Taehyung doesn’t know if they’ve ever really talked before. "Taehyung," she whispers again. "You’re friends with Jimin, right?"

She asks it like she doesn’t already know the answer, and like Taehyung doesn’t already know the question she’s leading up, but Taehyung politely answers, "Yeah, he’s my best friend," anyway.

The whole school knows that Jimin and Taehyung are best friends. The whole town probably knows. They’re not quiet about it. Taehyung thinks they have a shot at Best Couple in the yearbook this year. He’s telling all of their friends to write in for them. They’ll probably win by a landslide.

Minji doesn’t seem particularly interested in the history of Jimin and Taehyung’s friendship, probably because she’s seen it happening for the last however many years. "What happened to him over the summer?" she asks.

Taehyung looks back at the teacher, but he’s still droning on about the syllabus and doesn’t expect any of them to be paying attention anyway. "What do you mean ‘what happened to him?’" Taehyung asks instead of answering. "He went out to a farm."

He knows exactly what she’s asking, but this is more fun and less awkward for him.

Minji rolls her eyes fondly. "Was it a magical farm?" she jokes. "For him to come back looking like that?"

Taehyung frowns. "He’s always looked like that."

Even as he says it, he knows that’s not strictly true. Everything about Jimin is sharper, stronger, more present, more sure. Taehyung hadn’t been here when Jimin had walked through the hallway this morning, but he knows what it must have looked like to the other students.

But when Jimin was sitting on Taehyung’s bed the night before complaining about all of the reading he has to do, and about how much he hates the first day because of all the boring rules they have to go through, and talking through picking out his outfit for the morning, Jimin looked just the same as he always has. Soft and sweet and Jimin.

Minji smiles at him, shaking her head a little. "Of course, he’s always looked like that to you."

Taehyung knows exactly what she means.

Right when Taehyung moves to turn back to the front, Minji's friend surges forward. "What is Jimin like?"

Taehyung stares at her for a moment. She's newer, only started attending school with them in the past three or four years, but it's not a big school. That's plenty of time for her to know what Jimin is like. Taehyung knows that her name is Jiwoo, he knows that she plays soccer, he knows that she has two older brothers and complains about them often. That seems like a fair amount. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, like, is he nice?"

Taehyung frowns. "He's the nicest," Taehyung answers honestly. "The nicest person you'll ever meet, probably." That much is true.

"What sort of movies does he like?" Taehyung opens his mouth to answer, but before he has time to say anything, Jiwoo presses on. "What kind of candy does he like? When is his birthday?" She giggles. "What's his ideal type?"

This is something that Taehyung should have expected, and maybe somewhere inside he did expect this, knew it was coming, but it doesn't mean he's happy about it.

He looks at her, a little sour. "You should probably ask him yourself," he tells her, and turns around in his seat.

Taehyung hears Minji chastising her as he settles into his chair again, but his mind is somewhere far away. He flips through the syllabus sitting out on his desk idly, unseeing.

This is going to be a very long day, he thinks to himself.

Taehyung is a smart kid.

 


 

Jiwoo, it seems, doesn't take his advice, but everyone else in the student body does.

Jimin and Taehyung always line up their schedules so that, if nothing else, they have lunch together. That much is a tradition, somewhere between walking to school together and meeting at the swings in terms of level of importance. In all of their years together, never once has it not managed to work out. This is the first year in a long time that they don't have homeroom together, and the classes they have together, gym and math and maybe science if Taehyung doesn't decide he hates it and drops, aren't until the second half of the day.

When Taehyung pushes through the cafeteria doors, he's not sure what he expects.

Well, to be honest, he know exactly what he expects. He expects to see Jimin sitting there at the table by the window, playing on his phone while he waits for Taehyung to get there so they can get in the lunch line together, and when Taehyung walks up, he'll see Jimin smiling up at him, and then Taehyung will pull Jimin up out of his seat and they'll laugh and fall over each other and make stupid jokes while they wait for their shitty high school cuisine.

He's not sure why he expects that, though, when clearly things have changed.

There is a crowd surrounding their usual table, mostly girls wearing their first day best, short skirts and bare legs and curled hair and pretty makeup and big smiles, and Jimin is in the middle, staring at them all, confused but smiling anyway. The sun shines through the window behind him.

He looks like an angel.

Fuck.

Jungkook is sitting next to Jimin, trying not to laugh outwardly at Jimin's confusion and also struggling to not look any of the pretty girls in the eye.

Taehyung feels something that tastes strangely like bitterness.

But one thing doesn't change.

Jimin hears Taehyung coming, looks over at him and smiles bright, waving him over enthusiastically. "TaeTae!" He's wearing an old t-shirt from a concert that they went to together, the logo a little cracked and the colors a little faded, and his hair is pushed back from his forehead again, and his cheeks are a little pink from all the attention. When he sees Taehyung he looks almost.

Relieved.

Taehyung feels relieved, too.

He grins, dismissing his bitterness as the ugly thing he knows it is, pushing it aside for better feelings. He waves back. "Jiminie, look at how popular you are today."

Jimin laughs. One of the girls at the table makes a small, strangled noise in the back of her throat that Taehyung rather relates to. "It seems like the entire student body missed me."

"Maybe you should go away more often," Taehyung teases.

"Maybe," Jimin considers. "But I'm not sure what you would do without me." He reaches up, and Taehyung grabs his hand, his small hand that's warm and fits perfectly, and pulls Jimin to his feet.

Jungkook rolls his eyes. "Gross."

The girls chitter, and a few brave ones surge to follow after them as they walk towards the line. "Jimin, can I sit with you today?" one asks shyly, a pretty girl with straight bangs and eyes that aren't shy at all.

"Oh, yes! Me too!" another asks.

Jimin stares at them for a split second. "Um."

Jungkook snorts.

"I haven't seen Jiminie all day," Taehyung interjects with a cute pout, throwing an arm around Jimin's shoulders. "Would you all mind horribly if I monopolized him, just for today?" He smiles sweetly. "I missed him a lot over the summer."

Unlike Jimin, Taehyung is used to having an effect on girls.

"Thanks," Jimin huffs, once they're safely in line. "They were all really nice but I don't know if I'm ready to have that amount of enthusiasm for all of lunch period." He scratches his cheek. "I don't even..." he shakes his head with a laugh. "It's been a weird day."

"Better get used to it," Jungkook chirps, picking up a carton of banana milk and setting it on his tray before looking critically at the macaroni and cheese sitting out on a cart. "Since you're hot now."

"Jungkook!" Jimin scolds, cheeks a little redder. "That's not it."

"Did you think they actually missed you?" Jungkook laughs. "We all know the real reason."

Jimin looks at Taehyung, like Taehyung might hold the answer he's looking for. "Do I really look that different?"

"No," Taehyung says, and it's the truth. He looks over at the group of girl that is in the process of dispersing. One of them looks over and waves coyly. Jimin barely even notices, thinking it's for Taehyung. Taehyung smiles at her, but he knows it's not for him. "Maybe it will calm down."

Jungkook hums a little, picking through the fruit to find an apple that doesn't look disgusting. "It's just a matter of surviving that long." He grins at them. "Jimin, are you ready to brave the frenzy?"

Jimin laughs incredulously. "The frenzy?"

"Hormonal teenagers are a mess," Jungkook says wisely, as if he's not one of them. "They latch onto a prey and never let them go."

Jimin's eyes widen in horror. "The fuck?"

Taehyung picks up a thing of strawberry juice and hits Jungkook over the shoulder with it before setting it onto his tray. "He's exaggerating," he tells Jimin confidently. "That's not a real thing."

"Remember that girl who sent you a love letter every Monday for three years?" Jungkook says casually. "What was her name?"

"Yeeun."

It's not Taehyung who answers, but Jimin.

"She hasn't done that for a while," Taehyung argues weakly.

"Probably because we started dating publicly and everyone knows you're gay as hell."

"Thank god that stage of my life is over," Taehyung says sourly, throwing a banana at Jungkook.

Jungkook catches it deftly. "I'm all for euphemisms but you throwing a banana at me in public is a little much."

"Yeah, you were never one for exhibitionism."

Jungkook sticks out his tongue.

Jimin remains quiet.

"Hey, Jiminie," Taehyung sings, tossing a pear at his best friend. All that's on Jimin's tray right now is a sad looking salad, so Taehyung also sets his strawberry juice down on Jimin's tray before getting himself another. He's always willing to give away his mac and cheese, but Jimin is already reaching for one of his own. "Are you excited for gym today?"

Jimin is one of those people who loves gym, a rare number, and he's significantly less of an asshole than most of the people who love gym, which means that Taehyung is going to cling to Jimin's side the entire time in the hope that he looks like he's actually doing something while Jimin scores all the points.

This is not actually much different than their usual dynamic. One is always sticking to the other.

"I get to show off my hard-earned summer bod," Jimin says, laughing. "No one will be able to stop me."

Jungkook raises an eyebrow. "Do you have abs now?" He reaches teasingly towards the hem of Jimin's t-shirt, fingers wiggling.

Jimin takes a step back, laughing, out of the line of fire. "No," he admits. "That requires like, actually doing sit-ups and shit." He thinks for a moment. "Maybe I should do that."

"Please don't become a meathead," Taehyung whines. "I've already got Jungkookie, I don't need you betraying me, too."

"You'd love me either way," Jimin tells him pointedly, making another salad and putting it on Taehyung's tray next to his sad, greasy looking burger.

"Yeah," Taehyung sighs. "I probably would."

 


 

Gym is, overwhelmingly, a mistake.

Both because of who Taehyung is as a person and also because of the Jimin Complication.

It’s not that Taehyung is particularly out of shape, it’s just that he doesn’t really care about getting into shape, so he’s strong enough and fast enough and has enough stamina that he’s not going to start heaving after running a lap or two.

That being said, he doesn’t really enjoy these sorts of games.

The ones where the competitive prey on the weak.

Dodgeball.

He’s competitive, but only about like, maybe food? And video games? Not high school Murder Ball. So usually he sticks to Jimin, who is competitive but miraculously not an asshole, and trades friendship for protection.

Which leads him to his other issue.

The Jimin Complication.

Jimin has always been strong, in shape, has good stamina, all the things Taehyung tends to cut corners on, but his general physiology is a soft one, one that Taehyung is rather fond of if only for the fact that people tend to underestimate him. Jimin is his wild card. His ace. No one knows what’s going to hit them as soon as Jimin gets the ball. One second there is a cute marshmallow in front of you and the next moment you’re out and you can’t even be mad about it.

Except now Jimin looks like that, and while it’s definitely, definitely not a problem, Taehyung doesn’t really think people are underestimating him anymore.

Jimin walks out of the locker room in shorts that barely meet dress code and a t-shirt that’s a little too old and too tight but Jimin wears anyway because he’s just like that, and the girls in the class start salivating. But it’s not just the girls that are looking.

Well, the girls and Taehyung, but what else is new.

When it comes time to pick teams, Jimin is the third one picked, and there's a weird gleam in the team captain’s eyes that tells Taehyung they’re not going to end up on a team together. Which is kind of annoying.

Taehyung is strong enough and fast enough that he's not last, somewhere in the middle, and when the teams line up, he's looking across the line at Jimin, fake crying while Jimin rolls his eyes.

It’s not the first time they've been on opposing teams, and Taehyung doesn't know what the captain expected to happen when he pointedly picked everyone except for Taehyung, but he’s in for a rude awakening.

Jimin is a great teammate, but he’s a shit of a best friend.

He spends the first fifteen minutes trying to get Taehyung out at all costs.

The first time this happened, Taehyung had barely gotten to play, spent most of his time sitting in the corner threatening to untie Jimin’s shoelaces when he’s not looking, even though he was mostly fine with not having to run.

Today he’s prepared for it.

After years and years and years of Jimin being a little shit, Taehyung has gotten really good at making days like this a game. Jimin can run circles around him, has a stronger throwing arm, and is all around more likely to play dirty, but Taehyung knows all of Jimin’s tricks and has had years to develop his evasive maneuvers.

Fifteen minutes in and Taehyung is still in the game.

Of course, Jimin has also not gotten anyone else out, and the team captain looks a lot like he’s starting to regret his choice.

"Face your fate like a man,” Jimin shouts at him over the general clamour, chucking a lurid yellow ball with a huge chunk missing out of the side at Taehyung’s face with the force of a particularly motivated 17-year-old, which is a surprising amount of force when the 17-year-old is a Park Jimin who’s been lugging hay for the past two months.

“You’ll never take me alive,” Taehyung tells him, dropping to the floor and rolling out of the way. His prime method of avoidance. Taehyung calculates that he can use it approximately twice more before Jimin starts shooting lower to counter him. He rolls behind another student, a pretty girl with extremely strong arms and impeccable aim. He uses her body as a shield while he climbs to his feet.

Jimin is already moving into a better position, another foam ball ready for fire. “You say that every time, bitch,” he sings. “And yet somehow I always win.”

“It’s because you’re the worst,” Taehyung yells at him, picking up a ball and chucking it blindly.

In reality, Taehyung’s aim is way better than Jimin’s, better than most people’s, but he’s on the run so it makes things rather difficult. So he throws it with the force of a desperate man, which is possibly more force than that of a motivated 17-year-old, and he’s not expecting it to hit. Not at all. He sees Jimin see it coming, sees the laughter on Jimin’s face right before he takes a step to move out of the way.

Jiminie!

Jimin freezes, just for a moment.

It’s not Taehyung, or Jungkook, who are usually the only people who attend this school who call Jimin so familiarly. Jungkook isn’t even in this class. For a split second, a ridiculous one, Taehyung wonders if it might have been himself, it’s so unexpected. But the voice was much higher, more of a scream, significantly more feminine, and when Taehyung looks around, it’s from a girl. Her name is Mina, if Taehyung remembers. She looks like she might have been cheering, her hands pulled up in little, encouraging fists.

Taehyung keeps staring, for a ridiculous second, until he hears a huge thud and a shout from who he knows is Jimin, even through the noise of the gymnasium. A thunk, then, presumably from Jimin falling back onto the floor.

Somehow, Taehyung’s ball landed.

It landed right on Jimin’s face.

Taehyung blinks.

He feels a soft hit against his leg, and when he looks down he sees a little green ball rolling away.

The gym teacher blows his whistle. “Taehyung,” he says tiredly. “Since you’ve managed to get yourself out conveniently right after breaking a student, would you mind taking him to the nurse?”

Taehyung blinks again.

Around Jimin, there are at least three girls and one guy, a big burly jock looking fellow with a full beard even though he’s still a minor. One of the girls is down on her knees, looking dangerously close to performing mouth to mouth. All Taehyung can see are Jimin’s feet, kind of rocking back and forth, seeings the top of Jimin’s head when he tries to sit up and one of the girls pushes him back down.

“You shouldn’t move,” she’s saying firmly. “What if you’ve broken your neck?”

“Oh god, there’s so much blood.” Another girl buries her face in her hands.

And she’s not wrong, there is. It’s a nosebleed. They bleed a ton. Taehyung’s had enough of his own that he’s not too worried about it. He won’t say he’s not a little disturbed, when he gets close enough and sees the way Jimin’s hands are covered in red. His head is tipped back, his neck is definitely not broken (why the fuck would it be broken), and Taehyung only feels slightly possessive when he shoos the mini crowd away. Only slightly possessive when he pulls Jimin’s hands away from his face, not minding the blood, and inspects the damage.

“You owe me so much ice cream, you bastard,” Jimin says plainly, a little thickly, blood dripping down his nose to his top lip.

Taehyung grins at him, pulling Jimin up to his feet. Only slightly possessive. “How about a piggyback ride to the nurse first?”

 


 

The nurse is an old woman with silver hair, a stern expression, and a jar of red lollipops, and Taehyung happily sucks on one while she frets over Jimin until the bleeding stops.

“Irresponsible,” she tuts, throwing away a tissue dyed reddish brown.

Jimin glares pointedly at Taehyung over her shoulder and Taehyung hums cheerfully, kicking his legs.

It doesn’t take too long for the bleeding to stop, and Taehyung is glad for it, because his lollipop is almost gone, and also he has Jimin’s blood all over his gym shirt and he’d rather like to change. He feels kind of bad about how Jimin’s nose is a little swollen, but it’s not too bad, definitely not broken, and Jimin is already laughing at a joke Taehyung tells him, so he doesn’t feel all that guilty.

It’s not called high school Murder Ball for nothing.

“These stakes are too high,” Jimin notes, touching the side of his nose with gentle fingers. Delicate. Press press press. The skin around his lips is a little red, a little tender from rubbing the blood away, and the neckline of his shirt is completely wrecked. He flares his nostrils experimentally and winces. “My nose is too big a sacrifice.” He slips off of the nurse’s bed and picks up his nasty tissues before throwing them away and making his way to the door.

“Pretty sure there’s a big nose joke in there.” Absolutely sure. “I’ll spare you.”

“If my nose is big, it’s your fault,” Jimin protests, still laughing. He holds the door open for Taehyung and smacks him on the ass semi-aggressively as he passed. “You nailed me in the face.”

“Okay but to be fair, I didn’t actually think it would hit!” Taehyung laughs. “I can’t believe you bit the dust because a pretty girl called your name.”

There’s a rustling behind him, and Taehyung narrowly avoids being flying kicked by a grinning Jimin in an empty hallway. “It was surprising!” he insists. His cheeks are kind of pink. Cute. “It’s not like it happens very often!”

“Yeah, well.” Taehyung turns and faces Jimin, walking backwards. “Better get used to it. Everyone is now thirsty for Park Jimin.”

Jimin frowns. “Sounds fake.”

“Accept it.”

He laughs, jutting his chin out defiantly, but it’s cute instead of firm. “Never!”

Taehyung surges forward, ducking down so he’s looking up, too close to Jimin’s face, teasing. “I can’t believe my best friend is going to become super popular and abandon me forever.”

Jimin hooks his arm around Taehyung’s neck. “Bitch, I might. You’re annoying.”

It’s Taehyung’s fault, really, for starting it. He knows as soon as he hooks a leg behind Jimin’s knee and tries to take him down that it’s a bad decision. Not because they’re in an abandoned hallway and could be caught scuffling at any moment, and not because Jimin is injured and Taehyung should feel bad about it, but because Jimin is merciless and extremely strong and Taehyung really doesn’t stand a chance.

As soon as Jimin feels Taehyung try to pull him to the ground, the arm around Taehyung’s neck goes down to hold the back of Taehyung’s shoulders. He twists, somehow, in some feat of athleticism that Taehyung can hardly begin to comprehend, and after a moment where he doesn’t know up from down, he finds himself on the ground, Jimin on top of him, holding him up with one arm so his head doesn’t hit the floor, grinning.

Shit.

Taehyung has a lot of regrets. One of them is how close Jimin’s face is.

Another one is the way that Jimin’s arms are flexing to hold them both up.

Because, wow.

Breathless.

Taehyung is breathless.

Jimin seems none the wiser, still grinning. “Are you sure you wanna start this?”

No.

Taehyung isn’t sure at all.

What is he even starting?

There’s a heavy sigh, off to the side. “Boys.” It’s a tired voice.

Jimin drops Taehyung the rest of the way to the floor like he’s a hot potato and scrambles to his feet.

It’s their math teacher. His eyes are flat. “Please find a secluded corner for that next time,” he says, unamused. “But for now, it’s probably best to get to class.”

 


 

The student body is pretty shallow, so Taehyung expects the hoopla to calm down after a week or two.

It’s not that Taehyung even begrudges everyone for suddenly taking notice of Jimin. He wants everyone to take notice of Jimin. If Jimin losing a little weight and gaining some muscle and getting a tan is what it takes for people to notice, then Jimin’s personality will do the rest, won’t it? Taehyung has no doubts.

Still, there are some people who would surely pitter off into non-existence, or as close to that as you can get in high school, which is pretty close, as soon as the novelty of Jimin wears off, and Jimin would be left with a fair few new friends who appreciate him as he should be appreciated and a fun story to tell of the beginning of his senior year.

To a certain extent, this does happen.

Sometime between the second and third week of school, the girls stop huddling around, become a little less bold, stick to googly eyes in the hallways and giggles when eye contact is made, and then to admiring from afar, a soft sigh or two. The boys stop trying to talk to Jimin about shit he’s clearly not interested in.

(Once, a boy tried to befriend Jimin and convince them to room together in college during the same conversation. 1) that’s kind of creepy, and 2) Jimin is spoken for. Taehyung doesn’t remember this kid’s name because Jimin had merely thrown his arm around Taehyung’s shoulders and told him he already had a roommate before walking away.)

(Taehyung tries not to be too pleased about it.)

It would have tapered off, Taehyung thinks, because looks only get you so far, even in high school, but then there’s Hoseok.

Hoseok is popular for a multitude of reasons.

1) He’s mildly famous on the internet for his dance videos.

2) He’s got cheekbones and a jawline that could cut glass.

3) He’s God’s answer to the lack of sunshine in the winter, and somehow has been permitted to light up the warmer months as well.

4) He’s one of the nicest people Taehyung has ever met.

All of these are good and valid reasons. Taehyung actually likes Hoseok quite a lot, as little as he knows him. He’s got a good reputation, a good heart, and the good social standing matters very little. Taehyung’s life is rarely affected by the social hierarchy.

Even Hoseok, honestly, as well-known as he is, is kind of on Taehyung’s peripherals until he starts popping up a little more.

He’s one of the most common people hanging around Jimin, not in a weird way, just opting to sit at their lunch table every once in a while. He’s a master at ignoring the way Jungkook’s mouth drops open whenever he decides to sit with them. He’s a master of making Jimin laugh, and that makes Taehyung like him completely, with his whole being, because honestly, that’s what he looks for in good people.

Taehyung is coming to realize exactly how much the social hierarchy is going to have an effect on his life, because Hoseok has lasted past the initial decline of interest, and that almost makes Jimin popular by default, which makes Jungkook and Taehyung...popular-adjacent. The step-sisters of popularity.

And then, one day, Hoseok opens his mouth, and Taehyung remembers there's a fifth reason that Hoseok is so popular, and that's because 5) he's the captain of the soccer team.

The only reason this matters literally at all is because he asks Jimin to join.

"Ah..." Jimin laughs nervously around his dry hamburger. "Hasn't the season already started?"

Taehyung's eyebrows go up. "Is that your only qualm?" It's more out of surprise than disbelief.

"The season has like, barely started. It's a baby still. Hasn't even started crawling yet," Hoseok says firmly.

Jungkook snorts unattractively into his milk. "Try outs were last week."

Hoseok throws a wadded up napkin at Jungkook and doesn't spare him a glance. "A baby, Jimin."

Taehyung rolls his eyes. "Do you even know if he plays soccer?"

"We've played together before," Hoseok replies, and that's definitely a surprise. Taehyung raises an eyebrow at Jimin.

It's kind of cute, the way Jimin blushes and avoids his gaze.

"And he's good," Hoseok whines.

This is not a surprise. Taehyung has been playing with Jimin for years, various different sports. Taehyung is better at baseball but lacks all desire to run, so soccer is a game they only play when there's more than than just the two of them. Jimin is fast, and honestly kind of aggressive, competitive to a fault, and level headed, and a great teammate, and a great person, and great all around.

Jimin doesn't usually believe him, but that's okay.

"I know you only play for fun," Hoseok is saying, "so I wasn't going to ask you, but we're short. Pretty much our entire offensive line graduated last year." He pouts over-dramatically. "I'm desperate and willing to beg."

Jimin laughs awkwardly. "Please don't do that."

Taehyung laughs. "I thought you liked begging."

Jungkook's expression flattens. "I'm going to ignore that."

"Please do." Jimin rolls his eyes and knocks over Taehyung's basket of food before ignoring him completely, pointedly, in favor of Hoseok.

Taehyung grins and eats a fry off of the table.

"I don't know how I feel about being on a team without trying out," Jimin tells Hoseok honestly. "That seems kind of..."

Hoseok shrugs. "It happens all the time," he admits. "I mean, not all the time, but we're a high school team. The coach can let you come to practices on like, probation or something, and see if you mesh well. But when I say we're desperate." He makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "We're desperate."

Jimin twiddles his thumbs. "Am I your last choice or...?"

"Only because I know how you are with like." Hoseok makes a vague gesture with his hands that Taehyung gets immediately. Jimin makes a sound of understanding. "The guys are really nice, though."

"If they're not, I'll destroy them," Jungkook says, taking another sip of his banana milk.

"I'm the captain, so I think that will be my job," Hoseok reminds him.

"Wouldn't it be Tae's job?" Jimin asks lightly, resting his cheek on his palm. He smiles softly. "Best friend trumps all."

"I'll go to the gym so I have the upper body strength to fight for your honor," Taehyung confirms, grinning. "I'll become a menace."

"You're already a menace."

"This is gross," Jungkook mentions, fake barfing into his pasta. "Stop being gross."

Hoseok laughs. "Shouldn't you be used to it?"

Jungkook looks at Hoseok darkly. "They're constantly getting worse."

"Better," Taehyung corrects.

Jimin is chewing on his bottom lip, thinking, eyes far away. "If I go to a practice, will that mean I'm committing, or...?"

"The coach will be happy to have you for a practice or two," Hoseok assures him. "He probably wants to test you out before making anything official anyway."

"I think you should do it," Taehyung tells him, popping a grape into his mouth. "It might be fun."

Jimin frowns. "What if I'm not good enough?"

Hoseok is about to say something, but Taehyung beats him to it. "You'll always be good enough," Taehyung says with a smile, tossing a grape at him. "I've seen you play. You'll be fine. And it might be nice just to like, meet some new people and I don't know...sports are supposed to be fun if you like that sort of thing, right?" Taehyung wouldn't know.

"It looks good on college applications, too," Hoseok chimes in. "We're a really good team."

Jimin whines, letting his head fall on the table. "That's what I'm worried about."

"I think you should trust Hoseok, for what it's worth." Taehyung steals the grape back from where it fell on Jimin's tray.

Jimin peers at Taehyung from over his arm. "Will you come to my games? If I play?"

"I'll make you a huge banner," Taehyung says firmly. "I'll raid Hobby Lobby and buy out all their glitter. My room will sparkle even in the dark. Your name will be in giant bubble letters made by my own hand."

With a grin, Jimin sits up again and sighs fondly. "Okay," he tells Hoseok. "I'll come to a practice. No promises."

 


 

Jimin is on the team by the end of the week.

Taehyung had know it would happen. Jimin is a team player, easy to get along with, and a hard worker. He's also a Yes Man, and if Hoseok asked him to, Taehyung can't imagine Jimin would have ever said no.

Over the years, Taehyung has become Jimin's No Man, but he honestly thinks Jimin would enjoy it, so he sends Jimin off the practice with a warning about making sure it's not too much of a time commitment and a quiet good luck.

It's a lot of a time commitment, but Jimin thinks he can do it, so Taehyung thinks he can, too.

It means it's just Taehyung and Jungkook walking home from school together most days, but Taehyung is okay with that too, as long as he gets to see Jimin other times.

That's where things are getting kind of tricky.

Hoseok was right when he said that the soccer team is a good one, and the soccer team is entirely populated by people at the top of the social food chain, so if being friends with Hoseok made them popular-adjacent, being on the team made Jimin on the cusp of highly coveted high school stardom.

That fact that he is hot and mysterious probably tips him over the edge.

Mysterious is probably a misnomer, but considering that through their entire school careers Taehyung and Jimin mostly kept to each to a very small friend group, he supposes it's not unlikely that people are curious about him.

He wonders what will happen when they find out Jimin is nice and funny and soft and well-mannered and hard-working and talented and beautiful.

Will they try to be his best friend, too?

Taehyung wonders what it was that drew him to Jimin's sandbox that fateful day. He remembers it being Jimin's monkey bar prowess, but maybe it was because he'd never seen the sun in a person's face before.

Taehyung because Jimin's best friend because of one reason.

Because Taehyung is enamored.

Things have changed, and Taehyung has a more complete picture to base their friendship off of, but Taehyung is still enamored.

So when Jimin starts spending more time at practice, more time with Hoseok, more time with some of the other kids that follow him around because they're finally realizing how bright he is, Taehyung isn't upset, he's just proud.

Like a dad, maybe.

Or maybe not like a dad at all, but Taehyung doesn't want to think about it too hard.

Jimin gets invitations to parties, asked out on dates, out to see a movie with some of his new friends, and Taehyung is proud.

A little lonely and a lot proud.

But it's okay, really, that Jimin is spreading his wings, because Taehyung is usually right by his side. Always by his side, if it counts when Taehyung isn't literally right there, because Taehyung will support him forever and always.

And when Friday comes, and it's the day that Jimin always comes over to Taehyung's house and his mom makes a big dinner and they fall asleep watching YouTube videos and eating sweets, Taehyung doesn't even blink when the popular kids invite Jimin to come out with them.

"I've got a date," Jimin says, without hesitation, slipping his hand into the crook of Taehyung's elbow.

"A friend date," Taehyung clarifies, even though he's not really sure why.

Jimin pauses. "He's going to buy me ice cream."

Taehyung blinks. "I am?"

"You are," Jimin tell him firmly.

Taehyung sighs. "I am."

And then Hoseok smiles. "Of course."

Taehyung never has to worry about Jimin making new friends, or Jimin having no time, or Jimin trying new things where Taehyung can't follow, because they always seem to meet back right back where they started, and every time, it's something solid.

Unmoving.

Taehyung is enamored.