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Jimin isn’t used to being only three.

There are different rules, when you’re three people instead of seven. It means that Jimin becomes aware of just how loud his life has been, this past decade-plus, by virtue of how oppressively quiet it is now, without endless overlapping voices and cheerful bickering. It means that the small touches or glances that aren’t noticeable when you’re shielded by six others, mostly all bigger than you, become more noticeable, more meaningful when you’re one of only three, so he and Taehyung have to be more aware. Less them. It means that any questions Jimin gets from any media are limited to what he thinks his career will look like without the group – it’s a one year hiatus, he says, again and again ‘til he’s choking on the words, it’s only one year – and whether the group is disbanding because of internal disagreements – they’re not disbanding, Jimin always says, it’s one fucking year, he doesn’t say, but wants to – and what he thinks will be BTS’ legacy, and the answer to that last one is that Jimin is Not Thinking About It, thank you very much.

All three of them, the only ones currently in Seoul, are at the company building today. It’s a filming day. Not the good kind – they want Jimin and Taehyung to film their ostensibly-a-surprise goodbye videos for Jungkook, and then, Jimin would bet, to film the actual goodbye, because that’s today, too.

Jimin glances at Taehyung, usually his default course of action for comfort when his brain starts spiralling into worry. The two of them took refuge in Hobi’s studio a while ago, because they’re less likely to be found here and Hobi is the least likely of the hyungs to give them excessive shit about using his space, so long as they don’t make a mess of it.

Taehyung looks contemplative, the ancient old man look he gets sometimes with a little fold of a frown between his brows. He’s sad about Jungkook leaving, probably. Jimin is sad about Jungkook leaving. Jimin is also very deliberately Not Thinking about Jungkook leaving, because he has to be on camera today and he refuses to be on camera being puffy-faced and pitiable if he can help it at all.

The quiet between the two of them isn’t like the quiet born of absence in the rest of Jimin’s life. Their quiet is a carefully nurtured thing, sharp edges weathered away by the years. Simple, non-expectant. Jimin tucks his legs up by his chest, curls into Taehyung’s side. The lengths of their arms are pressed together, so Jimin links them properly, tangles their fingers together for good measure. Taehyung squeezes his hand. Satisfied, Jimin uses his free hand to fish out his phone from his pocket.

He scrolls mindlessly for a few minutes, and then a few more. Doesn’t really process any of it. He considers logging into Weverse to talk to fans, but promptly decides against it. He knows what those questions would be too, about if he’s sad about the ongoing break or if he misses the members or if he thinks the group is disbanding, which is ridiculous and not true and not even a little bit of what he wants to see, because again, Not Thinking about it. Not that there’s anything to think about.

Jimin exhales in a rush.

Taehyung is bouncing his leg, just barely. The feel of it strikes Jimin as suddenly nostalgic – when Tae was younger, his restlessness manifested as movement, non-stop go go go. The very worst of his fidgeting has been PR-trained out of him, out of all of them, but it’s re-emerging now, excess emotions channeled into kinetic energy, pressurized just under the surface of him.

Jimin gives up his futile attempt at distracting himself; puts away his phone and switches to stroking his thumb back and forth over the soft skin at the back of Taehyung’s hand. He traces the bumps of his knuckles, once, then again. The gesture is as much for himself as it is to calm Taehyung. Touching him isn’t the kind of thing Jimin’s grown used to with time, or at least, not used to in any way that makes him want it any less. More like it’s become something Jimin needs, like Taehyung’s hand in his is the equivalent of pushing a magical button and instantly feeling calmer. Safer.

He nestles closer against Taehyung’s shoulder. Tries not to think. Not about any of it.

Finally, after ages more:

“Jimin-ah.”

Jimin draws back just enough to look at Tae; echoes his serious tone, only a little bit teasingly. “Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung holds his gaze and says, not teasingly at all, not apropos of anything, “I want to get married.”

Which is just-

It’s just-

Jimin blinks.

Taehyung doesn’t.

Jimin feels, ludicrously, like he might laugh. It’s just- he’s looking at Taehyung and Taehyung is looking at him, here in the middle of Hobi’s studio on today of all days, a day that feels horribly like an ending no matter how much Jimin tries to ignore it, and Taehyung just said he wants to get married and the whole thing is wholly surreal.

The only words that Jimin manages to say are, stupidly, after far too long of a pause, “To who?”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows, like who do you think.

Now Jimin really does laugh, and it tastes bitter in his mouth, sounds mildly hysterical even to his own ears. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says. The words come out more scolding than he means them to, flat-edged by an upswell of something like panic. Another laugh catches in his throat, high-pitched. Of all the things he could have been prepared for Taehyung to say, that wasn’t one of them.

Taehyung has never been anything but an open book: he’s stung by Jimin’s reaction, that much is obvious. He’s also stubborn. “Why can’t I?” he asks, chin jutting out. “Why shouldn’t I want to ma-”

Now Jimin really does panic, jerking to physically cover Taehyung’s mouth with both of his hands, stopping his words before they can make it out. “Stop,” he says, all aflutter. “What are you even-”

There’s a knock at the door, and Jimin drops his hands from Taehyung’s lips like he’s been scalded.

“It’s fine,” he says, too loudly, to no one; then, with a quick shake of his head, willing himself to sound more normal, more polite, “Come in.”

He forces himself into a smile, head spinning, and it’s only because of more than half his life spent practicing that he manages to seem like anything resembling a functional person as he’s fetched by a PA to go film his not-a-surprise surprise.

Jimin’s sure the video turns out woefully awkward, distracted at the very least, even as he grins and makes jokes to the camera and tries his absolute best to act like he’s capable of thinking of anything other than the look on Taehyung’s face, the way his lips shaped the word ‘married’.

When they let him go, Jimin escapes to where he’s always escaped – he’s in loose enough clothes that he doesn’t even bother changing, just closes the door to the studio and blasts his most obnoxiously loud playlist and moves, throwing himself into a dance like grasping for a life preserver.

The Jimins in the mirrored walls spin, leap, fling themselves around as Jimin does. Here, Jimin looks good. Here, he can focus on nothing but the coolness of the floor under his bare feet, the way he can control the shape of his body to make it move the way he wants it to, to make himself appealing, powerful, adorable, anything he wants. Nothing dependent on outside factors, every outcome what he works to make it.

Jimin dances until it’s hard to breathe, and then he dances more.

When he finishes, posing with the end of the last song, it’s to enthusiastic applause. The sudden noise makes him jump, though when he turns around, he sees it’s only Jungkook. He must have escaped his own camera crew and slipped in, unnoticed.

Jimin gives him half a nod in wordless acknowledgement, chest heaving with the effort of the workout. The worst thing about dance: it ends, and even as Jimin is catching his breath, the weight of his thoughts is pressing in again. He needs to smile, now, brush it off, because Jungkookie’s leaving for his backpacking-slash-performing in tiny venues-slash travel documentary trip later tonight, and he doesn’t need to be worrying about Jimin for that, but Jungkook won’t buy a brave front easily. None of the members would, every one of them too comprehensively known by every one of the others to manage lying very often, so Jimin turns and grabs his water bottle instead, focuses on getting a drink with probably more effort than it really merits.

“Taehyungie was walking around looking all sad,” Jungkook says, mildly, as he approaches. He’s not as subtle as he thinks, never has been. “I think his surprise goodbye video for me is going to be a bummer.”

Jimin sloshes some of his water onto his face, squeezes his eyes shut, tight. Hums noncommittally.

When he blinks open his eyes, Jungkook is watching him, big-eyed and concerned and not even pretending to hide it. “I don’t want to leave while you two are fighting.”

“We haven’t fought in years,” Jimin says. It’s not even a lie, really. He stopped feeling annoyed with Taehyung maybe two minutes after leaving the studio – it’s an inconvenient side effect of loving someone, how awful it makes you at holding grudges, and he and Taehyung very intentionally haven’t let things escalate to a real argument since they were practically teenagers – and the pit in his stomach has settled into a kind of general uneasiness.

Jungkook doesn’t look like he believes him. “Which of you started it?”

Jimin shakes his head, terse. Feels exhausted, all at once. “We don’t fight anymore,” he repeats, then, “I don’t know. Neither of us.”

Off balance. That’s how he feels, like the ground under his feet has shifted just enough to make him question each step. He didn’t think it was a possibility anymore, being surprised by Taehyung on something this big. Tae is like dance, like an extension of Jimin’s own body, like- like a piece of Jimin’s soul, and vice versa, and even the idea of secrets existing between them is laughable, which is why it makes absolutely no sense for Jimin to have been caught off guard by something as ridiculous as Taehyung apparently wanting to get married, of all things, because Taehyung isn’t impulsive about the two of them, which means that marriage is something he’s been thinking about for a while, without telling Jimin-

It’s unsettling. Foreign. Add it to the list.

Jimin tosses his water bottle aside, sits down heavily and drags his sweaty hair back from his face as he does. He needs to shower. He needs to talk to his Taehyungie. He needs the members to be here, filling up the quiet so he can’t get in his own head this much.

Jungkook scoots across the floor until he’s sitting across from Jimin, cross-legged. He looks painfully earnest, the anime-protagonist face he gets. “I can offer to beat him up for you, but then I have to offer the same for him since you’re both really important to me, so-”

Jimin swats at him, layers on the faux-indignation as thickly and cutely as he can. “You think just because you’re bigger than me you could beat me up? This is how you respect your elders?”

“Hey, two hundred and fifty-three days until the other hyungs are back and I can respect them instead!” Jungkook says, beaming like he knows he’s being a brat. Jimin reaches up to pat his head, fond, and can’t help but smile as well, and then, abruptly, he feels like crying.

The thing is-

The thing is, is that Jimin knows this break is something the others think they need. The older ones will get to do the things they’ve missed out on, Jungkook will get to travel and play at being an artsy singer like he wanted, and Jimin and Taehyung will get to focus solely on songwriting for the first time in maybe ever. They’ll all be using their time productively, there’s a plan in place for them to come back recharged and better than ever, it’s all temporary, Jimin knows it’s all temporary, but he also knows that the people he’s safest with in the entire world are all leaving him, and he pets down his little brother’s hair and the thought occurs to him that he won’t be able to do the same tomorrow, for months after tomorrow, and it’s all just very horribly real, all at once.

Jungkook is more perceptive than Jimin gives him credit for, sometimes. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Jimin would like very badly to be selfish. He doesn’t want to have to be anyone’s hyung, he wants to pout and play up his cuteness and have the others do what he says because they pretty much always do, even if they grumble about it; but he is the oldest one here, now, and he flatly refuses to have Jungkook fretting over him and ruining his big adventure for Jimin’s sake, so he straightens up, makes himself into what’s needed.

“Ah, Jungkook-ah, you should worry about yourself, backpacking around foreign countries all alone,” Jimin says. Not quite nonchalantly, but a valiant attempt, he thinks, and clearly good enough bait, because Jungkook rolls his eyes. Piercings and tattoos and all, he hasn’t changed a bit from when he was fifteen.

“I’ll have a camera crew.”

“Is two people a crew, really?” Jimin points out, grateful for the familiar territory of banter.

“More of one than you’ll have,” Jungkook says, and Jimin opens his mouth to retort, only-

“See, but he’ll have me, and I’m scarier than both of you combined.”

Jungkook laughs, and Jimin can’t help but smile as he turns to see Taehyung leaning against the doorframe, watching them both with soft eyes. They all three of them know that Taehyung is the least frightening person on the planet, intrinsically likeable without even trying in a way that means that babies and animals flock to him and that Jimin is both incurably jealous of him and has never once stopped being endeared by him, from way back when they were high schoolers bickering more often than not, all the way to now, when the only time they come close to fighting is when Taehyung gets it in his head to propose out of nowhere in the middle of-

Not the time. Not Thinking About It.

Taehyung meanders in, one of the camera directors following after him as discreetly as they’re capable of being. “Keep ditching them and they might just decide to film me instead,” Taehyung says, and he’s teasing Jungkook but his eyes find Jimin’s, searching. Later?

Jimin holds his gaze, later, and Taehyung gives a little nod, a silent and mutual agreement to save their conversation for when they don’t have a camera on them and a Jungkook looking between them like he’s holding his breath.

“Jimin-ah, tell JK I’m scary,” Tae says, and Jimin nods, very seriously.

“Oh, the scariest,” he says, and watches Jungkook visibly relax, reassured at the two of them acting themselves.

“You couldn’t scare a teddy bear,” Jungkook informs Taehyung, and hops out of the way, laughing, when Taehyung kicks at his ankles, the two of them jump-chasing each other around the room. They look ridiculous. Like boys, still. Jimin adores them.

It’s too soon, too soon, too soon, when the rest of Jungkook’s camera team trickles in and starts looking at their watches. Jimin wants to usher them out and lock the door, get rid of them before Taehyung and Jungkook notice and stop laughing the way they are now. He thinks he could, if he did his scariest face and his ‘I’m richer than you could possibly imagine’ voice, but before he can-

“Time to go?” Jungkook asks, undisguised eagerness in his voice, and at the barrage of nods, he turns around, holds out his arms wide.

Taehyung grabs him around the middle, hugs him tight the way only Kim Taehyung can hug people. “Your music is a gift,” he says, and that’s an exclusively Kim Taehyung thing as well, his ability to say things that belong in the pages of a novel without a single hint of irony. “You’re going to have so much fun sharing it. Love you.”

“You too,” Jungkook says, “ah, you too, you too,” and this part hasn’t changed since he was fifteen either, how easy it is to tell when he’s teetering on the verge of tears.

“Hey, do not cry,” Taehyung orders, punching Jungkook’s shoulder a bunch of times, too light to do anything. “Don’t you dare, if you cry I’ll cry, I mean it.”

“You’ll cry anyways, I know you,” Jungkook snarks at him, shoving a hand at Taehyung’s face, but he’s smiling steadier as he dodges out of the way of Taehyung’s pretend-punches and plants himself expectantly in front of Jimin.

Jimin is not going to cry. If he cries, the other two will break as a matter of absolute certainty, and he can’t do that, today.

God, he can’t do this, Jimin thinks despairingly, but he has to, so he does his best.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Jimin orders, smoothing down Jungkook’s shirt, adjusting his collar. “Don’t sing without warming up. Be safe. Text Hobi-hyung or he’ll worry about you.” Then, helplessly, without meaning to, “Come back when you’re done.” He tries to make it sound like a joke. Has a horrible suspicion it doesn’t.

“I don’t know,” Jungkook says, solemn, though the corner of his mouth quirks upwards. “What if I decide I really like it in, like, Sweden or somewhere?”

“Then we’ll all have to move there and become an Abba cover band, I guess,” Jimin says.

Jungkook pulls a face, the impact of which is undercut by how hard he starts laughing, presumably at the mental image of Namjoon in bellbottoms and platform boots. “Oh, god.”

“I’d do that, I love Abba,” Taehyung says – and Jimin knows he means it, too, he once put ‘Fernando’ on their sex playlist, it was a major point of contention – but he sniffles after, whatever façade of normality he was managing to maintain crumbling to nothing as he swipes roughly at his eyes. Jungkook was right about him always crying on occasions like these. Jimin’s heart breaks a little anyways, the way it always does when he sees Taehyung hurt.

“TaeTae,” he says, pained, and Taehyung’s breath comes out uneven when he exhales, and Jimin doesn’t even have a chance to get through his standard ‘oh no, we’re on camera’ to ‘I don’t care, it’s Taehyungie, he needs me’ mental crisis before Jungkook is dragging them both into a crushing hug.

Too strong, Jimin thinks, squished and small between Taehyung and Jungkook, then, too grown up.

Jimin clings to both of them as tightly as he can. Wonders when Jungkook became the one comforting the rest of them.

“I’m going to miss you both so much,” Jungkook whispers. “I can’t wait to hear all the songs you make for us.” He can’t say anything beyond that, not on camera, but he gives a big smile as he draws back, and Jimin fills in the unsaid blanks, the suggestive have fun, you two and couple jokes and pretend gagging noises that all the members are fond of whenever Taehyung and Jimin act especially romantic in front of them.

“I’ll come back,” Jungkook promises, and Jimin nods around the lump in his throat. Jungkook kisses the top of Jimin’s head, brushes away the lingering tears on Taehyung’s face, before turning to grin at his camera. “Let’s get it!” he cheers in English, shooting little finger guns for good measure, and that’s how he leaves, practically skipping his way out of the room in his excitement. He doesn’t look back.

Jimin wordlessly holds out a hand. Taehyung clasps it in his own, holds it tight. Keeps holding it as Jimin leans his head against him, and the noise of Jungkook’s footsteps disappears into nothing, and just like that, before Jimin’s even had a chance to get used to not being seven, they’re only two.

---

They have too much to do, even now, for Jimin to allow himself to dwell.

They leave for the beach tomorrow, and they’ll be off the clock, officially, but it’s a company-vetted and secured house on a company-vetted and secured beach, and Jimin refuses to contemplate taking that long off, so he can’t not think of the trip as work, or at least work-adjacent.

Jimin is an expert at packing for work trips, by now. He sorts out his electronics and toiletries and clothes, and then he uses the kitchen counter as a writing desk and makes a packing list so he’ll feel more confident that he’s not forgetting anything, and then he adds a special sub-list for Yeontan’s things, since he knows he and Tae will forget otherwise.

Jimin looks up from his list as his phone lights up again. The groupchat with the others has been pinging non-stop for the last hour, one of the few occasions recently that they’ve all been active at the same time, with time zones and all. Hobi, currently in – New York, Jimin thinks? – is fussing over Jungkook’s live-texting of his journey through the airport. The other three are fussing exactly as much while pretending, with varying degrees of success, not to be.

my sweet son all grown up <3 <3 <3

Don’t forget gum so your ears won’t pop like they always do!

Wear your mask + sunglasses. If you get kidnapped without me ill never forgive you.

how come none of u are worrying about me and taetae, Jimin sends, with the most potently adorable-slash-sad emoticon he has for maximum attention getting.

There’s nothing I want to think about less than my 2 little brothers’ sex vacation, actually, Namjoon is the first to respond, matter-of-fact as ever. He’s promptly followed up by At least they won’t be defiling shared spaces from Hobi and yeah joonie its a CONSIDERATE sex vacation from Jin and a particularly judgmental read receipt from Yoongi.

Jimin doesn’t miss any of them at all, actually. it’s a songwriting retreat, he sends.

k have fun on your sex vacation.

A truly excessive amount of laughing emotes from Jungkook follow.

All of Jimin’s friends are assholes.

Jimin misses them so, so badly. He has a nagging suspicion that somewhere along the line, he forgot how to be a person without six other people surrounding him, insulating him. Teasing him and Tae the same way they tease any other member any time one of them gets a crush, the same way Jimin thinks that any group of friends would tease if two of them were together. Jimin likes it, how normal it is, the only place in the world that he doesn’t have to think about how he and Taehyung are both men and all that that entails, where he doesn’t have to act a certain way or restrain himself from acting in others. Just Jimin-and-Tae as an accepted fact of life, simple like kids in preschool.

He looks up from his phone, across the kitchen. Taehyung’s visible from the other room, his tongue poking out between his teeth as he focuses on placing a vinyl record on the player. He’s almost unbearably cute, focused like he is, so Jimin just watches. The needle lowers, and the silent apartment fills with soft crooning in a language Jimin can’t place. French, maybe. One of Tae’s old-timey, hipster songs.

Jimin doesn’t pretend not to have been staring when Taehyung looks up from the spinning record and meets his gaze. Holds his gaze, too; crosses the room and holds out a hand to Jimin, then, once their fingers are laced, tugs him close and sets his other hand at the small of Jimin’s back.

They move slowly, inelegantly to the quiet music from the speakers. Jimin lets Taehyung twirl him out then back in, and when they come together again it’s into more of a swaying hug than any recognizable slow dance. Jimin doesn’t move to correct them, just leans into Taehyung and breathes in his soft bodywash smell, the clean laundry scent of his clothes. Those things, Jimin’s constants, don’t change. Haven’t. The dark strands of Tae’s hair, left to its natural colour or close enough, curl down the nape of his neck, and his breath catches, not noticeable except from this close, when Jimin trails a hand from there to linger in the space between his shoulder blades.

Jimin listens to Taehyung’s breathing evening out again. Feels it when Taehyung blows, gently, at Jimin’s ear. Being silly. Jimin can only see him in his peripheral vision, from this angle, but- see, Jimin is beautiful, sometimes. Can make himself beautiful, any number of different ideas of beautiful and is, he knows, very effective at it, but Taehyung’s beauty is effortless in a way that Jimin has never managed. Complete and total and intrinsic to Kim Taehyung, even from this peripheral view in the soft light of their apartment, every bit of who he is.

Taehyung, his hand broad on Jimin’s back, his temple resting against Jimin’s, is the most beautiful thing in the world, and the most familiar. Jimin knows him, would know him down to his bones, knows him like knowing is something physical, tangible.

It was scary, today, not knowing what Taehyung was thinking. Is scary, still. If things were to change with him, right now, in the middle of everything else-

Jimin pulls back, looks up at him, and finds Taehyung already looking back.

Jimin’s fingers bunch up the fabric of Taehyung’s shirt as they tighten instinctively. “Do you really want to marry me?” he asks. Almost drowned out by the music.

The crease is back between Taehyung’s eyebrows. “Who else would I want, Jimin-ah?”

“I don’t know,” Jimin says. Flustered, because some part of him is forever the chubby-faced teenager with a crush when it comes to Taehyung looking at him this intently, like no one else exists. It makes him ramble. “Ah, we- we’re not old enough to get married!”

Taehyung laughs, quietly and a little bit incredulously. “We aren’t?”

Jimin shakes his head; pitches up his voice, cutely. “You know we have class in the morning, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung plays along without hesitating, slipping into a character. “Can I copy the homework from you? Pretty please?” he asks, pleading puppy dog eyes and all.

Jimin pretends to think about it. “What will you give me?”

“Hmm,” Taehyung says, very seriously, though with a glint in his eyes that means danger. “I have ideas, please give feedback.” And with no more warning than that, he scoops Jimin right off the ground, one arm at his back for support and the other sweeping up his legs as he spins them both around.

Jimin laughs out loud, clutching Tae’s shoulders; laughs harder when Taehyung kisses the crook of his neck dozens of times in rapid succession, right where he knows Jimin’s ticklish, all without putting him down.

“Good feedback, only good feedback,” Jimin manages to gasp out mid-laughter, and takes Taehyung’s face in his hands to kiss him properly, if clumsily, from this angle. Both of their giggles are swallowed into the kiss, and he can feel the curve of Taehyung’s smile, the way it shapes his whole face under Jimin’s palms.

Taehyung sets Jimin down atop the counter, taps his knees ‘til he takes the hint and parts them, leaving room for Taehyung to step in close and rest his head against Jimin’s chest with a contented sigh. Jimin is taller than him like this, and he takes a moment to appreciate the novelty of it before, more habit than anything else, lifting a hand to play with Taehyung’s hair. It’s unstyled, thick and messy and soft between Jimin’s fingers.

Tae’s breath is warm when he exhales against Jimin. He feels more relaxed than before, the last remnants of tension from earlier dissipated between them. Thinking, though, still – Jimin can practically feel his mind still whirring away – so Jimin waits, lets him contemplate as much as he needs to until he can find his words.

“I’ve never really asked you on a date,” is what Taehyung finally says, when he does.

Jimin tucks a lock of hair behind Taehyung’s left ear. “Explain for me, beebee.”

Taehyung exhales, the thinking crease still there in his brow as his eyes flicker to Jimin’s, uncertain. “We’ve never- it’s been almost fifteen years, you and me, most people have babies after that long. But we’re just… us.” Then, instantly correcting himself, “Not ‘just’ like we’re not good, just…” He drums his fingers on Jimin’s thigh, rapid-fire. “Like, you and me love each other more than anyone else has ever loved anyone in the history of the entire universe, right?”

“Right,” Jimin agrees, without hesitating. That’s just the factual truth.

“Right,” Taehyung echoes. “And it’s like in-love kind of love, right?” He pauses, then, once Jimin nods, continues, clearly picking up steam. “Which is why it’s weird that we’ve never actually officially dated. We’ve never even said what we are.”

“That’s not-” Jimin starts and stops in the same breath. That’s not true, is what he was going to say, but he thinks about it now, scanning back over the last half of his life, over those first months of being irrationally annoyed by everything that Taehyung did, over the subsequent all-consuming and obsessive best friendship that gave way to multiple years of intermittent hookups and excuses and weird tension that eventually settled into a mutual trust in the fact that the love between them was and is unconditional and shared and it, for both of them, outside of anything anyone else could hope to know.

The thing between them. Which is…

Taehyung has been waiting, patient, his eyes never leaving Jimin’s face.

Jimin opens his mouth, then closes it. Recovers, sort of. “We know what we are, Taehyung-ah.”

“Best friends?” Taehyung presses. “Boyfriends?”

Jimin crinkles his nose. Best friends is right, but not enough; boyfriends is deeply insufficient for the two of them, the way it implies newness, less-than-permanence. After considering it some more, Jimin holds up his pinky.

Taehyung gives the wisp of a smile as he matches the lengths of their fingers together. “That too,” he concedes. “But do we introduce each other as soulmates for the rest of our lives?”

“The others already know us,” Jimin reminds him.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, “okay, but when they start getting married and having families we have to meet. When- like, when I’m writing a memoir, or when we don’t have Namjoonie-hyung to introduce us all as part of a group-”

“Why wouldn’t we have him?” Jimin cuts him off, and he doesn’t intend to link their pinkies so tightly, but he does, ends up gripping onto Taehyung’s finger with all of his own. It must hurt, how tight he’s holding, but Tae doesn’t react. “You think he’s going to decide that wandering around museums and collecting degrees is his calling in life? Is that why you’re doing this now?”

And it’s back, that lump-in-his-throat feeling from earlier, the one that means their hyungs are gone and Jungkookie is off on his own and everything Jimin knows and relies on is spilling through his fingers like water and everything inside him is thinking nonono on repeat like a skipping CD.

“Maybe?” Taehyung says. “Does it matter?”

“They’re all coming back,” Jimin says, almost before Taehyung is finished speaking.

“We’re getting older.”

“They’re coming back and everything’s going to go back to normal in less than a year, so I just don’t see the point in-”

“But even after, eventually-”

“Why bother thinking about things we don’t need to think about, Taehyung-ah?” Jimin asks, unable to keep himself from sounding a little bit desperate. Taehyung’s about to argue, he can tell, so Jimin tosses out, “Even if we were nobodies, you and I couldn’t get married.”

Taehyung’s jaw tightens, almost imperceptibly. That stubbornness, again. “Not here,” he says. Not an argument, exactly. A counterpoint.

“We’re not going to go live somewhere we can’t speak the language,” Jimin says, because it’s not a trade-off with any good options, to think about a future in some other country where he’s allowed to legally marry a man but gets looked at like he’s a child every time he tries to order food at a restaurant and gets singled out as different every time he tries to express himself in broken-off sentences.

“I know.”

“And think how it would risk everyone,” Jimin says, because that’s another thing they both know, the blunt reality that if news of them as anything but platonic friends got out, it would have real, tangible effects on their careers and livelihoods, which means it would do the same to the entire group. None of the others have ever once made them feel guilty about it. Jimin is never not acutely aware of it, anyways. To add any kind of official or ceremonial proof would just be- it’s not something they’re ever going to be allowed, not as long as they’re Bangtan, and not being Bangtan isn’t a scenario Jimin is willing to contemplate, so marriage isn’t something Jimin has ever allowed himself to consider at any length. It’s just not.

“I know,” Taehyung repeats, again. “I really know all that, Jimin-ah, I just-” He’s struggling to find words for what’s happening in his brain, face scrunched up like he’s frustrated, but with himself more than with Jimin, Jimin thinks. “We’re like. Grown ups, now. I want us to… exist. You and me to exist as an us in the world.”

He’s looking at Jimin with his big eyes, now, the ones that mean he needs Jimin to do his soulmate magic and untangle Tae’s thoughts into words that both of them can understand. And Jimin- he loves being the one who can translate Taehyung to the rest of the world, is fiercely proud of it, but right now he just- he can’t be having this discussion, now, so he purposefully sidesteps, just reaches from his perch on the counter and takes either side of Taehyung’s face in his hands. Drags his thumbs over the round of Taehyung’s cheeks.

“Does this feel like it doesn’t exist to you?” Jimin asks, in his most in-charge voice.

Taehyung peers up at him, searchingly. Jimin stares back. There are a dozen conversations contained in that look. That’s not what I meant and you know it, from a quirk of Tae’s brow, and not tonight, from Jimin, the smallest movement of his chin. Taehyung frowns slightly, we’re not done talking about this, though, and Jimin thinks, please, and then Taehyung breathes out a laugh, only a little bit reluctantly, and only a little bit like a sigh. He gives in, because he mostly always will, these past few years, if he thinks Jimin needs him to. Jimin needs him to now.

Taehyung settles his hand at Jimin’s waist, something careful, intentional about the gesture. He peers up at Jimin through his eyelashes, coy. He knows how he looks. “You might have to touch me more, to confirm.”

Jimin, ever-obliging, squishes Taehyung’s cheeks, turning him from devastatingly handsome to unfairly adorable in the span of a second. Taehyung plays along, making fish lips, and Jimin laughs, maybe more from relief than anything else. He wraps himself around Taehyung, arms and legs, and Taehyung locks his arms under Jimin, taking his weight as he tugs him off of the counter. He spins them slowly back into their dance, even though the record finished ages ago and the low hum of dead air from the speakers is the only sound in the apartment.

Jimin gets his feet back on the ground, one at a time, tiptoes first. He loops his arms around Taehyung’s neck and sways the two of them back and forth, almost to the rhythm of Taehyung’s quiet, tuneless singing. “Jimin-ah, my Jimin-ah.”

Jimin presses a kiss to Taehyung’s jaw, just under his ear. “Mine,” he announces, to no one except the two of them.

“Yours,” Taehyung agrees, which Jimin knew he would, because that much – them belonging to each other – will always be as true as anything. A fact.

Their foreheads bump, not hard enough for it to hurt. Still, they both crinkle their noses up, pulling matching goofy faces without pulling away from each other. Jimin nudges his nose against Taehyung’s, taps a finger to his lips, a silent request. Taehyung ducks in and kisses him, quick, teasing, then deeper once Jimin pouts, and Jimin melts into it with a happy sigh.

Kissing is its own kind of conversation, between the two of them. Touch is a language they’ve both been fluent in as long as they’ve known each other. It’s maybe the way Jimin’s most comfortable communicating in general, with everyone he loves, but especially with Taehyung – he likes it, the intimacy of physical contact as a given, any and all permissions long since given so that they can touch each other with a frequency and closeness that feels something like proprietary. That’s how it feels now, mine mine mine like a pulse through Jimin as he tugs at Tae’s bottom lip, nudges their tongues together. As Taehyung presses Jimin back against the cupboards. As Jimin feels the both of them gradually getting hard against the other’s thigh, as Taehyung’s hand moves on Jimin’s back, stroking up and down, touch for its own sake. The heat between them spirals. Builds, slow.

Taehyung makes Jimin feel grounded, tethered; he makes Jimin feel like he’s going to float up into the sky and never come down. Jimin feels and feels, and he always forgets himself when Taehyung is kissing him and now is no exception to that: he’s somehow got his hands in Taehyung’s hair, holding him close, greedy. He tugs at it now, downward, pointedly.

Taehyung’s eyes flicker to Jimin’s, silently checking that Jimin’s asking the question he thinks he’s asking – he is – and then he kisses Jimin again, hard, before moving his lips to Jimin’s neck. Jimin isn’t particularly proud of the breathy noise that that elicits, but he’s not embarrassed, either, because it’s Tae, and he’s mouthing hungrily over Jimin’s pulse point, and Jimin doesn’t have room for feeling anything but want.

Taehyung always kisses him like it’s the most important thing in the world, intense and intent on Jimin in a way that will never not feel overwhelming. Jimin lets his head fall back against the shelves, gives up on trying to steady his breathing as Tae presses one more kiss to his shoulder before sinking easily to his knees in front of Jimin.

“TaeTae,” Jimin coos, because Taehyung likes it when he talks during this, likes it even better when the talking is sweet nothings and compliments. “So handsome, good boy, my lovey, look at you.”

Taehyung is all focus: he lifts the hem of Jimin’s sweater, kisses his abs, the divot in his hipbone. His hands – his hands, they’re so big and beautiful and gentle, Jimin would die happy just looking at Taehyung’s hands, he wouldn’t even need to touch – settle on Jimin’s hips, something possessive to the gesture. He uses his thumbs to push down Jimin’s sweats, kisses the newly bared skin and then lower, lower, to the base of where Jimin is hard and wanting. Jimin winds his hands in Taehyung’s hair again, this time because if he doesn’t he really will float away.

It’s good. It’s them – sex is always good. Good enough, almost, to let Jimin push the whole ridiculous marriage conversation out of his mind, to lock the always-there worry about the others into a tight little box. Taehyung is good and here and the one thing Jimin doesn’t ever need to doubt, and tomorrow they’ll leave for a beach house and pass the time making music and making out and Jimin will probably even miss it, once everything goes back to normal in a few months, because it will.

So everything is good, Jimin decides, and that’s that. Fact.

---

It’s not as though the beach house is particularly off-the-grid, not by any objective standards. Twenty minutes from the closest little village, and that’s where the older lady who takes care of the property lives, and she’ll come twice a week to clean and cook and deliver groceries, and, Jimin has been extensively reassured, she exclusively listens to classical music on an old crank radio and has no idea who or what BTS is; so it’s them and her and no one else in the world, and so the beach house isn’t off any kind of grid, really, but-

It feels it, a little.

“Look, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, leaning halfway out of the window along with Yeontan, both of them twins with their hair blowing in the wind as Jimin parks the car in the long, sandy driveway. He sounds awed. “Isn’t it-”

“Beautiful,” Jimin agrees, because it is, a blue-panelled house, small, with huge windows everywhere and a clean white door and surrounded by enough trees that Jimin can’t see the ocean yet, even though he hears it once he cuts the engine.

“Like a song,” Taehyung says – that’s true as well, there’s something fairytale about the house, the same feeling all of Tae’s songs give Jimin – and they exchange grins. Jimin tosses Taehyung the car keys, slides off his sunglasses, then fumbles to catch the house keys that Taehyung tosses him with zero warning. “Race you!”

“Not fair,” Jimin complains, but he scrambles out of his seat and out of the car – they can unpack their things later, they’ve got time – and is only half a step behind Taehyung once they get to the front door.

The beach house is simple, but simple in the way that means expensive, well-maintained and private enough to confirm it. Yeontan’s nails tap-tap as he skitters across the wooden floor, setting out to explore the place. With a shared look and a nod, Jimin and Taehyung set about doing the same. Jimin takes in the old-style wood fireplace, the kind that warms a whole house in the coziest way possible; the thick curtains that fill up almost every wall, giving the overall impression of softness. There are practical things, too, a mic and a couple of headsets atop a desk in the corner, an old, impossibly heavy-looking piano. Jimin trails his fingers over the keys, plays a makeshift, messy scale. Like he thought: well-maintained.

“Hey,” Taehyung calls. Jimin looks over to the far side of the room, where Taehyung’s standing in another doorway. When their eyes meet, Taehyung grins crookedly, raising his eyebrows just enough to be suggestive. “Wanna be roomies?” That low voice, his flirting voice, combined with the way Taehyung looks, combined with his nonexistent threshold for shame, is absolutely unfairly charming, and he absolutely knows it.

“My life was so much easier when you were just cute instead of hot,” Jimin informs him, fighting a smile that he just knows would be horribly infatuated.

“I contain multitudes, baby,” Taehyung agrees absently, already moving through the doorway to check out the bedroom.

Jimin flashes a smile at his back, shaking his head. Left to his own devices, he crosses the main room and, feeling like a fancy and sad rich lady in a historical drama, pulls aside the curtains. They part to reveal the view from one of the floor-to-ceiling windows Jimin saw from outside. His first, reflexive thought is they’ll see us, but it only lasts until he remembers that they’ve got private property for ages, their own stretch of beach bordered by rocks and forest, and then his second, much nicer thought, is wow.

He makes a lap of the main room, opening the curtains one by one, until the whole place is bright and he’s got a mostly-uninterrupted view of a stretch of white-beige sand, and beyond it, water, the ocean blue and vast and stretching as far as he can see.

Jimin gets it, now, why this place was recommended to them. It’s the kind of view worth writing songs about. Jimin can precisely picture everyone’s reactions to it, Jin-hyung getting grand ideas about deep-sea fishing, and Namjoonie-hyung walking along the beach for writing inspiration and ending up hopelessly lost, and Tae-

Jimin turns at the creak of a floorboard, not quite in time to pose for the first – second? Jimin doesn’t know how long he’s been there – photo that Taehyung takes of him silhouetted against the window, but in time to fluff up his hair and set a hand on his hip, making sure he looks cute for the next one.

“How pretty am I?” Jimin prompts, only partway joking, once Taehyung’s gotten all the pictures he wants.

“So pretty,” Taehyung says, smiling down at the Jimin on his phone, then up at the real thing. “Prettiest, you know that.”

Jimin preens. From anyone else, a compliment like that would be flattery. From Taehyung, it’s- well, it’s flattery too, because Taehyung is an incurable and hopeless flirt who revels in saying outlandishly romantic things to Jimin like he’s commenting on the weather, but it’s also just sincere, achingly so. Yesterday was strange, with its departures and almost-proposals and talk of the future. Today, though, now, basking in Taehyung’s love, his adoration, Jimin feels nothing but full up of love for him. He always is, of course, but sometimes, like now, it occupies every corner of him, makes him feel like he’s glowing neon with it, so he half-skips the few steps between them, grabs Taehyung’s hand and tugs him toward the sliding doors.

“Let’s go in the ocean,” Jimin says, on a whim, and Taehyung lets Jimin lead him where he wants to go, because he always will.

They’re both teetering on the edge of thirty and probably objectively too old for this, sprinting out onto their beach and stripping down to their underwear in broad daylight, but they do it anyway. Taehyung trails his fingers along Jimin’s NEVERMIND the way he always does, fascinated, so Jimin positions himself to show it off a little. He likes the way it makes Taehyung react like Jimin’s the hottest thing he’s ever seen just for having ink on his body. Jimin very much has contemplated getting more tattoos solely to see Taehyung’s reactions. That’s maybe not saying much, because Taehyung could probably make Jimin seriously contemplate, like, robbing a bank or something, if he really set his mind to it.

“It’s cold!” Jimin squeals, once they’ve run into the knee-height waves, and Taehyung splashes at him, soaking his hair and eliminating any thought of escaping the cold. “Haha, hey! You!”

The sun’s beating down, both of them chasing each other around, splashing and laughing up at the clear sky. Tae reminds Jimin of a puppy, sometimes, the way he’s never quite gotten used to being as much bigger than Jimin as he is since he hit the growth spurt Jimin never did. The way he very plainly delights in lifting Jimin over his shoulders and sprinting headlong into the waves to toss him in where it’s deeper.

“The evil is vanquished at last!” he crows, and Jimin plays along, clenching his fists like a cartoon villain.

“You’ll pay for that, Kim Taehyung,” he threatens, as over-the-top sinister as he can make himself sound, and launches himself at Taehyung, knocking him into the water. Advantages of a lower centre of gravity.

They’re stupid together, the way they’ve always been, wrestling around, dunking each other and acting out some nonsensical drama, the plot of which Jimin only half-understands, until they’re both too tired and heavy-limbed to move. They move anyways, neither of them a quitter, unloading their things from the car and making cursory efforts at putting clothes in drawers. Toiletries in the bathroom. Tannie’s food and water bowls in the kitchen.

The beach house looks slightly more theirs by the time they finally sit down with their beers – correction: Jimin sits with a beer. Taehyung sits with one of his more-juice-than-alcohol fruit drink monstrosities – on the weather-beaten deck. From here, they’ve got a perfect view of the sun, just barely beginning to set over the water. The peaks of the waves glitter like strobe lights. Like diamonds.

They’ve wrapped themselves up in each other automatically, unthinkingly, their stretched-out legs tangled together. Jimin’s got his hand resting on Taehyung’s knee, the easiest piece of him to reach. Taehyung’s arm across Jimin’s shoulders is warm, maybe a little sweaty and ocean-damp, but it’s a nice weight, comforting in its familiarity and matched by the warmth of Yeontan curled up and napping against Jimin’s back. If Jimin could, he would stay with them pressed against him like this, feeling loved like love is something tangible, for the rest of his life.

There’s some instrumental track playing from Taehyung’s phone. Acoustic, quiet. Beachy. Jimin takes a sip of his beer, and exhales, slow. He’s sore, but it’s the kind of soreness that comes from a whole afternoon and evening spent laughing. Peaceful kind of sore.

Jimin isn’t good at relaxing, in general. It always takes him a few days to convince his body that he doesn’t have to be anywhere or do anything, and by the time he does, it’s usually time to go back to being busy. He thinks nevertheless, the first real optimism he’s had in days, that if there’s any place he’ll be able to manage it, it’s here.

Taehyung laughs to himself, quietly. At Jimin’s questioning look, he turns his phone so they can both lean in and look. It’s their groupchat with the others, currently popping off, if Jin-hyung going on one of his virtual rants counts as popping off. Tae scrolls up until they get to a message sent by someone else, a photo from Jungkook, a selfie on a cobblestone street. The people passing in the background are blurred with movement, except for the one woman openly gaping at Jungkook. Of course, he’d get recognized even by himself.

Six more messages from Jin have arrived in the time it took Tae to show Jimin the photo. EMERGENCY jk is timberlaking us what did i SAY PEOPLE ??!!!!?!?!!1111

He’s way hotter than timberlake, Taehyung sends, and Jimin snorts; grabs his own phone and sends a giant block of heart emojis, not addressed to anyone in particular, so that Jin will feel supported in his rambling and Jungkookie will feel supported in his being mocked and the others will know he loves them all very much. Multi-purpose hearts.

“Lovers,” Taehyung says, out of nowhere, and Jimin looks up from his phone, confused.

“Hm?”

“Our relationship status,” Taehyung explains. “We don’t like boyfriends, so how do we feel about lovers?”

Jimin makes a face, ignores the way his heartrate kicks up at the topic. It’s almost as bad as ‘boyfriends’. “’Lovers’ sounds like I’m cheating on my wife with you.”

“It’s kind of vintage,” Taehyung wheedles, doing his puppy eyes look, and Jimin refuses to hold his gaze, because Taehyung knows perfectly well that that look will make him cave instantly.

“Vintage like I’m cheating on my wife with you, but in the seventies?” Jimin counters. He knows it’ll make Taehyung laugh, and it does. Proud of himself for being the one to spark that laugh, Jimin removes his hand from Taehyung’s knee for just long enough to tickle under his chin, fond. Taehyung scrunches up his face all cute, leaning into Jimin’s touch.

“I’ll workshop it,” he decides. Jimin must give him a suspicious look – he’s not good at masking himself, around Taehyung – because Taehyung says, innocently, “Unless you just want to get married and be husbands instead?”

“Gah,” or something equivalently eloquent is approximately what comes out of Jimin’s mouth. He feels himself turning pink. “You’re teasing me, now.”

“Yes, it’s very fun,” Taehyung says, completely unrepentantly, though he squeezes the arm around Jimin’s shoulders and doesn’t seem bent on pursuing the topic any further. There’s nothing to pursue. They’re them, no words required, and that’s that, that’s enough, so Jimin snuggles in closer, flings his legs over Taehyung’s lap, and listens to the waves, their steady shushing as the evening darkens.

Two hundred and fifty-one days, he thinks, and buries his face in Taehyung’s shirt sleeve so he can forget everything but them.

---

Complacency, in their line of work, in most things Jimin’s done in life, is tantamount to accepting failure. Jimin doesn’t. Jimin came to the beach prepared.

Their routine, when they fall into one, because they’re good at that, goes like this:

They work out in the mornings, before the sun gets too hot and the slight breeze off the water stops making a difference. A significant portion of workout time is dedicated to Jimin bribing Taehyung with kisses to get out of bed and into shorts so they can jog together along the beach, and Taehyung will do mostly anything for kisses, so it works, but not without a healthy dose of dramatics.

“You know we have to keep up our cardio,” Jimin reminds him, jogging backwards so they can look at each other.

“I don’t have any,” Taehyung pants, all exaggerated despair even as he matches Jimin’s pace. “I’m an artist, my best muscle is my heart- don’t laugh!”

When they get back to the house, Taehyung calls Jimin a gym nut and slinks off to shower while Jimin does his bodyweight exercises on the patio. They trade places after that, Taehyung stationing himself on the patio with his breakfast and Jimin taking his turn to clean up.

Taehyung always writes a note, HEY, HOT STUFF or something equally ridiculous, in the fog on the mirror, left there as a surprise for Jimin. It always makes Jimin smile. He takes pictures of the messages, just for himself, just to have. In the shower, this cramped little cubicle all tiled with off-white, Jimin stands under the spray and runs his fingers down the length of his arms, cataloguing the solid mass of muscle there, the careful balance he keeps between building strength and keeping himself lithe, graceful. They’re two equally important things, looking the way he wants to while still keeping his body tough enough to do everything he asks of it as part of the group.

In the afternoons, he and Taehyung orbit around each other, always in sight but usually working on their own songs. It’s another thing Jimin’s jealous of Taehyung for, the way his mind seems made for music.

“I don’t know how you just- have all these ideas,” Jimin says, not for the first time, after another hour spent humming scraps of nothing, trying to put his feelings to song.

“Sometimes songs are easier than thoughts,” Taehyung says, just simple.

“Your brain,” Jimin sighs, more fond than anything else, and kisses Taehyung’s forehead before heading back to work.

The problem, Jimin suspects, is that he can never quite convince himself to create a song as just a song. He can do lyrics, mostly, can do melody a little better, but he can’t do either without considering how the finished product will be heard and perceived, what it will mean to people, how he can make it say what he wants to in order for it to be a good, comforting thing for anyone who hears it.

On the days when the mental block is too much, Jimin falls back on one of the activities on his Songwriting Retreat Productivity List. Working out is on there, and making music, of course, but so is reading, and that’s what Jimin does on a particularly warm Tuesday when the lyrics aren’t coming. The book in question was recommended by Yoongi before he disappeared off to whatever remote studio he’s currently hiding in for his self-imposed music lockdown. Jimin drags a blanket a ways along the beach and curls up with Yeontan to read while the sun’s still relatively low in the sky. He’s fallen out of practice with reading, since school – he doesn’t make it very far. It’s fine: he’s got two hundred and forty-three days.

Still, that long.

When the sun goes down every day, their routine stretching out honey-slow and sleepy, Jimin and Taehyung eat together, warming up whatever food Ihyun-ssi delivered earlier in the week. More than once – most of the time, fine, it’s most of the time – they eat right from the pot, enjoying the closeness, something almost conspiratorial about the shared impropriety of it.

“Halmeoni would always make it just like this,” Taehyung says one night, only a little bit hard to understand around a giant mouthful of stew. “And you could always tell when my parents sent money, because you could get way more bites that had meat in them, it was like a game.”

He says it casually, but Jimin knows it’s not. Knows that the way Taehyung grew up is something he’s equal parts sensitive about and protective over. It’s the sort of thing Tae talks about without prompting and only on occasion, only when he feels safest. Heart warmed, and aching a little bit too, Jimin doesn’t bother with any sort of inane response, just scoops up another spoonful and feeds it to Taehyung, then strokes Taehyung’s cheek with the back of his hand, just briefly, just soft. If he could, he would travel back in time to find Taehyung when he was small and fold him into a hug, protect him from the world.

As is, Jimin settles for taking care of the real thing. They get ready for bed together each night, brushing their teeth side by side, and then Tae takes Tannie for his last walk of the evening while Jimin replies to any messages that have accumulated throughout the evening. It throws him off, not having the others a room away or a block away, let alone not in the same country. But- it’s fine. Jimin makes it fine, checking in on everyone in the way that each of them needs, and if they’re bad at responding promptly, that just means Jimin will have five nice messages to wake up to in the morning.

“Big spoon?” Taehyung requests, once they’re both shirtless and in comfy sleep shorts and snuggled cozy under the covers, and Jimin obliges, flinging a leg around Taehyung’s hips for good measure. Taehyung slots their fingers together, and he falls asleep holding on to Jimin like that, and Jimin stays up for another couple of hours and then falls asleep holding Taehyung, and that’s the way they’ve always slept best, no matter where in the world they’ve found themselves.

It's a good routine, their routine. The kind of routine where Jimin and Tae can go for days and days without seeing anyone but each other and maybe Ihyun-ssi with their meals, and Jimin doesn’t even mind it, because it’s them. He can almost pretend, out here by the ocean, like the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

Almost.

Taehyung only brings up the marriage thing sometimes. Jimin gets good at deflecting.

It’s fine. They’re fine.

Jimin works out. He tries at writing more music, he reads more of his book, he starts tackling the other items on his to-do list, like ‘get better at making mixed drinks’ – they have fun, with that one – and ‘be consistent in doing your vocal exercises’ and-

Two hundred and thirty days left until their lives go back to normal, and Jimin kisses Taehyung good morning and decides that today’s challenge is going to be improving his ability to do his own makeup. He’s always been fine at the basics, but he wants to be better than fine, to be able to make himself look the way he looks when artists and stylists do his face for him. It’s a good opportunity to practice here, with no one to see if he messes up, so Jimin plays around, sets up shop in the bathroom and does his makeup more dramatically than he usually would on a non-filming day.

It takes him time, enough of it that his legs are starting to fall asleep from the way he’s sitting squished atop the tiny bathroom counter. It’s nearly an hour of alternating between holding his hand steady and zooming in and out of the picture of whatever makeup vlogger girl he’s copying before Jimin decides he’s reasonably satisfied and wanders back into the main room in search of Taehyung praises, which are the best kind of praises.

Taehyung’s sitting at the big old piano, where he’s been since before Jimin started experimenting. It’s not that unusual: Taehyung gets into trances, when a song is coming together in his head. He looks to be in one now, a pencil behind his ear, mad professor style, while he swaps between playing the same chord and muttering to himself and glancing to and from his notebook of lyrics.

Tae gets grumpy if he’s interrupted mid-music, and that applies to everyone except Jimin, which is a fact that Jimin both knows and shamelessly – if selectively – exploits. He does now, crossing the room and, in one smooth motion, laying down on the free half of the piano bench and resting his head right in Taehyung’s lap to get his attention.

Taehyung blinks down at him like he’s been startled out of a dream, then visibly double-takes, his eyes flickering up and down Jimin’s face, the eyeliner that took him too many attempts to count, the careful pink-red sweep of his lips. Jimin waits, eagerly, for a compliment.

“I think I might be gay,” Taehyung announces, solemn, and Jimin bursts out laughing at the sheer Tae-ness of it, which makes Taehyung’s eyes do the soft thing they always do when Jimin laughs, which in turn makes Jimin’s stomach do the butterflies thing that always happens when Taehyung talks about being gay. He’s good at saying it, comfortable and matter-of-fact as if he were talking about his hair colour. Jimin feels jealous sometimes of Taehyung’s ability to make it so simple for himself – I’m gay, that’s it, easy – without spiralling into overthinking gender and performativity and perceptions and self-doubt the way Jimin does.

“What am I going to do with you?” is all Jimin says, fond, because he doesn’t feel like indulging in his decades-long and extremely annoying sexuality crisis, he feels like being admired by his TaeTae, because Taehyung has never once acted like any of that makes a difference.

“Uh, literally whatever you want,” Taehyung says, so fast and wide-eyed that Jimin can’t help but start giggling all over again. “You’re stunning, Jimin-ah.” Jimin feels stunning, when Taehyung tells him like that, when he looks at Jimin the way he is right now. “You’re every fantasy anyone’s ever had, how can you be real?”

“It’s only practice,” Jimin demurs, and Taehyung shakes his head, firm. His eyes are hungry, that’s the only word Jimin can think of to describe them. It’s an almost-unbelievably heady feeling, makes Jimin feel like the most powerful thing in the world, the way Taehyung wants him so openly.

“Look at you, like something from a dream-”

And that’s it, for Jimin: he surges up and captures Taehyung in a kiss, crushing their lips together. It’s intense from the start, heated, forceful enough that Taehyung flings out a hand to catch their balance; his hand lands on the keys, a discordant mess of notes shattering the quiet, though the sound fades quickly, replaced by quickening breaths, the pop of a button as Jimin pulls at Taehyung’s clothes.

Jimin wasn’t lying, he really honestly wasn’t, when he told the others that this wouldn’t be a sex vacation. It’s just- it’s a rare thing, for the two of them to have this much privacy and time in combination. Aside from a few mildly traumatizing experiences – they told Hobi to knock – and the world’s most awkward attempt at The Talk from Namjoon, the others have always been good about letting Jimin and Taehyung steal the few moments they could, but they were always just that, stolen. This, the ability to take their time, to feel and act without having to rush, feels like an unimaginable luxury.

Jimin has heard that when people have been exclusive for a long time, the spark dies down. If it’s ever going to happen between him and Taehyung, it hasn’t yet. The opposite, maybe, because, really, they’ve both taught each other how to want. Desire, for Jimin, is shaped like Taehyung; sex is shaped like Taehyung, good and nice and fun, and fun shouldn’t be sexy but it is between them, and Jimin loves it, the way that they can switch between playful and exciting and so tender that Jimin wants to cry and Taehyung sometimes actually does cry and every time, it’s just as mind-blowingly safe and good.

“How,” Taehyung says, between fierce kisses, one they’ve stumbled to the bed and Jimin’s got him naked and pinned beneath him. Taehyung hasn’t taken his eyes off of Jimin once. Jimin feels like he must be glowing, right now. “How, today?”

Jimin thinks about it, nibbles on Taehyung’s neck, playful, as he does. “I’m going to ride you, is that good?”

“You’re miraculous,” Taehyung says reverently, rolling them over in one quick movement and catching Jimin’s laugh with his lips, which, sure, is as enthusiastic and Taehyung of a yes he could have given. Jimin’s careful makeup must be utterly ruined, by now. He wants Taehyung to ruin him more.

And, see-

They fought all the time, back in high school. There was, is still a way that Jimin carries himself in the world. He likes to be liked, and more than that, to dictate the terms on which people like him, and from the first moment that they met, Taehyung had a terrifying tendency to see Jimin not as he tried to be seen, but as he was. It made Jimin, already an admittedly-mildly-neurotic teenager, feel on-edge around him, prone to snapping and to getting baited into fierce arguments, which in itself was somewhat terrifying, the fact that this ridiculous floppy-haired boy could provoke Jimin into showing all the worst and ugliest and most carefully hidden parts of himself without even trying. Jimin remembers it clear as anything, the way Taehyung’s eyes would flash and go steely when Jimin managed to provoke him back, which was just incredibly hot, which teenage Jimin was not remotely ready to accept, which only made Jimin snap at him even meaner and uglier the next time.

Jimin also remembers the moment when he realized that Taehyung saw all of that, all the worst parts of him, and liked him anyways. If Jimin was going to be religious, he thinks he would be about that, the- the sacredness of it, of being entirely unafraid to be seen by someone.

“Tae,” he pants, later, now, when he’s holding himself up over Taehyung, opened up and wanting and moving up and down on Tae’s cock, and even now, even when Jimin’s mostly been reduced to sensation and need and nothing else, there’s still that neurotic little part of his brain that hasn’t changed since those early days in high school, the part that sounds like every close-minded bully he ever had, the part that maybe singlehandedly meant that Jimin took five whole years from the time they started sleeping together to tell Taehyung that he wanted to try bottoming, maybe, sometime.

Jimin’s always aware of what he must look like like this, aware of himself in an out-of-body sort of way, like there’s one Jimin who’s secure and pretty and can enjoy having the love of his life inside him without overthinking the gender of it all, and there’s another Jimin who still can’t even process the fact that he allows himself those things, that he’s safe enough to let himself have them without Taehyung thinking any less of him.

Taehyung sees Jimin, is the point, and they don’t fight anymore about anything, and his big hands are settled at either of Jimin’s hips, guiding his movements without taking any control from him. He says, words tumbling over each other, “Don’t stop, Jimin-ah, you’re so good, you’re perfect, whatever you want-” and he calms Jimin’s worry, just like that, just like always.

“You’re perfect,” Jimin echoes, voice strained with effort. He plants both hands flat on Taehyung’s chest, bracing himself, shifting his angle just slightly so that the next time he fucks down onto Tae’s cock, it makes Jimin see sparks, makes his whole body shake. “Taehyung-ah, TaeTae-”

And their bodies are how they communicate from there, Taehyung wrapping one hand around Jimin’s dick and Jimin riding him with an animal kind of need, and they both finish like that, within seconds of each other because they’re that much connected, that much closer than any other two people in the world.

Time stretches out, lazy and blissful and wonderful, as Jimin comes down from the clouds. He watches Taehyung, because he’s always had an eye for beauty, and Taehyung post-sex is the definition of the word: he’s laying there, limbs sprawled out on the bed, with Jimin’s come drying on his stomach and the pinkish stain of Jimin’s lipstick smeared lopsidedly on his mouth. He looks like a mess, or he would if he was anyone else, but he’s Taehyung, so he looks fucked out and beautiful, painted gold around the edges by the sun from outside.

Jimin is pleasantly sore, and slightly less-pleasantly sticky, but he doesn’t move, wants to keep this moment frozen as long as he can. It’s the middle of the afternoon, still bright out. He wants to be lazy, anyway.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, eventually.

Jimin flutters his eyes open. “Mm.”

“My muse,” Taehyung says. It takes Jimin a moment to realize he’s back on his ridiculous relationship definition thing. “What if we’re each other’s muses, how’s that, for instead of ‘boyfriend’-”

“I think if I’m your muse you have to make a statue of me, muses get statues,” Jimin cuts in, still out of breath, and he leans into Taehyung’s palm when Tae cradles his face, clumsy.

“I would,” Taehyung vows, and Jimin bites, gently, into the fleshy part of his thumb, a silent I know you would, you’re already like a statue, look at you. Their eyes find each other again, and it’s a silent exchange of feelings between them, from both of them, I love you, I love you, look at you, I love you, and then Taehyung’s eyes widen, just a little, and he sits up.

He doesn’t bother with putting clothes on, just jogs out of the bedroom – Jimin stares at the curve of his ass as he goes, because he is but a mortal man with the hottest soulmate on the planet – and then comes jogging back a few seconds later, clutching the papers he hastily shoved out of the way earlier.

With some reluctance, Jimin stretches and sits up to watch as Taehyung sits back down, cross-legged in the rectangle of sunlight halfway down the bed, and starts scribbling rapidly into his notebook. He really wasn’t kidding about the muse thing. “Every time I look at you, Jiminie,” he says, fervently, without even looking up from his writing, “It’s crazy, how much everything you do should go in a song.”

“You’re an artist, I remember, I know,” Jimin teases, fond, and scoots down the bed so he can snuggle up to Tae’s right arm – Tae switches to writing with his left seamlessly, no difference in quality – and peek down at the page. It takes him a moment to process. “English?”

Taehyung nods. “I like writing in English,” he says, simple in that particularly Tae-ish way he has. “It’s separate from anything I’d say, so I can tell the truth without feeling like it.”

Jimin combs his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, brushing it back from his forehead. He feels so enchanted by him, by the way his mind works; keeps feeling like that, content and lazy, and then Taehyung peeks at him and laughs.

“What?” Jimin asks.

“I said that so seriously,” Taehyung says. He sounds surprised at himself. “Even though you already knew.”

A beat, and then-

“Silly,” Jimin says. Of course, he knew.

“Silly,” Taehyung agrees, then, sing-song, “Silly, silly,” and he goes back to his notebook, scribbling lyrics in his messy scrawl, and Jimin watches, and neither of them speaks, because words aren’t necessary, when you know each other like they do.

Of course.

---

It’s one afternoon, not any different from any of the other afternoons they’ve had at their beach, except-

This afternoon, for the first time in a while, Jungkook replies to one of Jimin’s messages at a non-ungodly hour, which means that Jimin and Taehyung are both awake to call him, to holler like excited kids when Jungkook’s face pops up, pixelated in the screen of their video call.

They end up sprawled on the couch to talk, Taehyung sitting between Jimin’s legs and leaning back, comfortable, against his chest, with Jimin’s phone sitting on his tummy, propped up against his knees. It’s a careful balancing act, but teamwork has never been an issue, for them –

“Partners,” Tae suggested the other day, when he was laying on his stomach, chin in hands, watching Jimin work out. Possibly – probably? – just ogling Jimin’s abs, which Jimin respected and respects. His abs are wonderful and deserve to be appreciated. “For our word for us, Jimin-ah, how about partners?”

“Are we detectives?” Jimin panted, focused on his workout, and Taehyung stuck his tongue out at him.

– so they make it work, snuggled together as Jungkook gushes about his trip.

“-and then she was telling me how she was scared to ask for a picture in case I wasn’t really me and she was just being racist-”

“’Just’, oh please,” Jimin scoffs, disdainful, and feels Taehyung’s low laugh as he shakes against him.

“Yeah, but listen,” Jungkook says, hardly pausing. “Listen, so nothing happened, but she did show me this really cool underground jazz club, and that’s where I met Marie, and I’m serious, guys, seriously, I understood like two words she said because her accent was so strong, but her calf muscles-”

“Bro,” Taehyung says, appreciative, holding up his hand for a virtual high five, then hastily steadying the phone as it teeters in place.

“It’s so cute that you’re finally having your slutty phase,” Jimin coos, saccharine enough that Jungkook will know he’s being teased, which he must, because the little picture of him on the screen goes all pouty and defiant.

“Whatever, your slutty phase was Taehyungie, that’s way more embarrassing.”

“Fuck you,” Taehyung says, easily, then, “I want to go to an underground jazz club.” He pauses, then, craning his neck to peer up at Jimin, says, reassuring, “Not for a Marie, for the jazz.”

“I know, beebee,” Jimin says, fond, reaching around to rub Taehyung’s chest; then, pre-emptively, “Quiet, you.”

“Aw,” Jungkook coos anyways, entirely obnoxious, because he never really does treat the two of them like his hyungs unless he either wants something or is sad and needs to be babied. He stretches out with a yawn, his face disappearing momentarily from the rectangle of the screen. “Yah, I should go, it’s like two in the morning, here.”

“Two in the morning, oh my god,” Taehyung drawls, faux-scandalized, and Jimin smiles at the way he and Jungkook both dissolve into giggles, “shut up-” “no, you-”

“Jungkook-ah,” Jimin cuts in, because he really does look like he’s going to fall asleep any second. “Listen, we were going to call Namjoonie-hyung tomorrow and talk about some lyrics stuff, do you want to join? And we’ll maybe call the others, too?”

Jungkook yawns again, says through it, barely understandable, “Oh, you can’t, Rapmon-hyung’s at some nature retreat thing all week. No signal.”

Taehyung’s yawning too, now, even more baby bear-esque than usual, like Jungkook’s was contagious. Jimin just stares. “He’s gone?” Jimin asks, faltering. “How did I not know about this?”

“I don’t think he wanted to bother you guys,” Jungkook shrugs, and then Jimin realizes belatedly that he must be doing an awful job at controlling his face, because Jungkook’s eyes go wide in his woah, are you actually upset? look. Perfect, Jimin’s made him worry again. “Jiminie-hyung, it’s-”

“Ah, he has to be more careful,” Jimin makes himself chatter, makes himself keep his tone light and airy. “Going places with no phone signal, I’ve seen horror movies, really, as clumsy as he is, he needs to take care, haha!” He’s got a hand wound tight in Taehyung’s shirt, clutching the fabric tight, grounding himself – not particularly subtle, but Taehyung would have known something was wrong from his voice anyways; he’s already looking from Jimin’s hand to Jimin’s face, getting his who did this to you look in his eyes.

“Jimin-ah?” Tae says, once they’ve hung up from the call with Jungkook, but he doesn’t try to stop Jimin from getting up when Jimin stands.

“It’s nothing,” Jimin says, then, because pretending nothing is wrong will concern Taehyung more than just owning up to it, “It’s nothing for you to have to worry about, I just- I’d like to finish what I was working on, now, alright?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer before fleeing out to the little deck, sitting down hard – too hard – over at the furthest edge of it, where he can dig his toes into the sand of the beach and listen to the ocean and try to drown out the anxious thoughts roaring up in his brain.

Jimin realizes belatedly that he’s scratching his nails along the wooden planks of the deck, again and again, but he doesn’t stop. He didn’t- he doesn’t even know why he’s feeling like this, it’s him being clingy Jimin again, he knows it is, and it’s- it’s stupid, it’s really incredibly stupid, and even as Jimin tells himself that, he can’t avoid the fact that the others are living whole entire lives that Jimin knows nothing about, and he's got no one to blame but himself. Jimin wracks his brain, replaying the past few weeks on fast-forward. Did he get too caught up in this pretend-vacation with Taehyung, pretending it’s just the two of them? Did he unwittingly imply to their friends that he and Tae are too busy for them, draw some line he's always been careful not to draw?

“Ah-” Jimin withdraws his hand sharply from his almost-compulsive scratching against the deck, flinching as he feels a splinter jab under the nail of his fourth finger. He bites back an under-his-breath curse, sucks his finger in some useless attempt at dulling the pain. Embarrassingly – it’s embarrassing even out here by himself – he feels himself fighting back tears. Two hundred and nineteen days, he thinks, and it feels even more unbearably long than usual. Who knows how much worse the distance between he and Taehyung and the others will grow in that time, who knows how much more untangled their lives will become, how much harder it will be to return things to the way they’ve always been? What if this is just the first step of them all forgetting how, and then they’ll get back to Seoul and Jimin and Taehyung will be left alone to face the whole world by themselves-

Jimin scrapes out the splinter with his thumbnail, wincing. It takes him multiple tries, and his finger throbs, and he shouldn’t have even bothered, because his mind is just as uncooperative as before except now he’s hurting physically, too.

He’s maybe teetering on the edge of spiralling by the time that he hears Taehyung’s footsteps approaching. Jimin doesn’t uncurl from where he’s sitting, just stays put as Taehyung sits down behind him and wraps his arms around Jimin’s middle, tugging ever so gently so that Jimin can lean against him, his back to Taehyung’s front, a perfect mirror of how they were slotted together inside.

For a minute, and then another, they just sit quietly, no words. Jimin tries to match his breaths to Taehyung’s. Only partly succeeds.

“I know you said not to worry,” Taehyung murmurs, soft and low, as if there’s anyone for miles who could overhear. “But I could feel you being sad from inside.” Jimin knows it’s not just a figure of speech, either – they’ve both got a sixth sense for the other’s emotional state at any given time.

It takes Jimin a long moment to feel certain that he can speak without his voice shaking. “I can’t make the words right,” he says, frustrated; and the words aren’t the problem, really, not all of it and not even really close, but Taehyung is good at doing what Jimin needs, so he doesn’t push, just hooks his chin over Jimin’s shoulders drums his fingers on Jimin’s tummy.

“Sing it to me?” he requests, so Jimin does, humming tunelessly through the many, many gaps in the melody.

He liked the idea for the song, when he had it, weeks and weeks ago. It was one snippet of a line he thought of, ‘half of me is you, all of me is yours’, playing around with that kind of theme. Playing around just for nothing at all to sound even remotely singable. Nothing is going right.

“It’s pretty,” Taehyung says, then, almost like an afterthought, “What about ‘better half’, for us?”

Jimin frowns. He doesn’t have to enough brain space right now to do this. “That implies that one of us is the worse half,” he says, petulant. “I hate it.”

Taehyung’s breath of a laugh tickles against Jimin’s ear. “I’ll be the worse half, if you want.”

“You’re perfect, hush,” Jimin sulks, tugging Taehyung’s arms tighter around himself – Taehyung obliges, squeezing him closer and burying his face in Jimin’s neck – so that he can stay cozy and warm against him and not think at all. Not of Taehyung’s persistent refusal to accept that the way they are is perfectly good enough, not of their family not telling them things because they think Jimin and Taehyung are too busy prioritizing their own life, not of his own awful inability to write a single fucking line-

Taehyung stops Jimin’s spiralling before it can pick up again in full force. “What if you added in some kind of a pre-chorus after the ‘every breath and every word’ part?”

Jimin lolls his head back against Taehyung’s shoulder. “I can’t.”

“Jimin-ah, of course you can, look,” Taehyung urges, bouncing his shoulder up and down ‘til Jimin reluctantly sits up again. “It would fit, see, what if you did the pretty growly voice thing you do-”

“Blegh,” Jimin groans, slumping all his weight against Taehyung, and Taehyung just laughs, all fond, hauling Jimin up by the armpits.

“You,” Taehyung chides, and he’s doing his babying voice, coddling Jimin the way they do for each other. He loops his arms around Jimin’s waist once they’re both standing, shuffle-walking the both of them toward the house. “You, you, c’mon, you can’t tease me with a song this good and not finish, c’mon, let’s try, for me, pretty.”

And the thing about Taehyung, Jimin reflects, afterward, is that from anybody else, the coddling would be just that. Jimin is very accustomed to being babied by a ridiculous proportion of the people he meets, either because of his face or his personality or some combination of the two – he thinks he’s mostly immune to it, at this point, from most people. From his Taehyungie, though, the comforting words are backed by what Jimin knows is a real, unshakeable, occasionally illogical belief that Jimin is worth it, special. Even when Jimin has his best ever self-esteem days, he can still only dream of seeing himself half as good as Taehyung sees him.

Jimin wants so, so badly to be worthy of being the kind of person Taehyung believes he is.

So:

They write more of the song. Jimin doesn’t know at what point in the afternoon, alternating between sitting pressed side by side at the piano and pacing around the main room, they switch from saying ‘what if you’ to ‘what if we’, but they do, and Jimin’s not like his hyungs, he doesn’t experience the act of creating something from nothing almost every day, but he knows it when he feels it, and today, right in front of his eyes, under his touch, the fragments of song he’s been labouring over knit themselves together into something more, something equal parts him and Taehyung. And they’ve worked on songs together, of course, but never like this, this sort of ground-up creation as a duo with no one else involved at all. Songwriting has never been Jimin’s particular strength, especially not relative to the others. It, like most things, feels easier and more natural with Taehyung. It’s simpler to make lyrics happen when Jimin can hear them in Tae’s voice, an echo or a complement or a harmony to his own.

“You see,” Taehyung gushes, eyes all lit up as he nudges their shoulders together, barely even waiting ‘til Jimin’s done singing the bridge they just finished. “You see, listen to how good you sound. Listen to what you made, Jimin-ah, my god, how are you this talented? How is this fair for the rest of us mortals?”

And Jimin’s smile is real, it’s real when he chases Taehyung around the piano, finally catches him and spins him into a twirl, and then a hug, lifting him right off the ground. It’s the Kim Taehyung effect, and Jimin hasn’t found anything comparable before or since, the way that Taehyung can shrink Jimin’s worries down small just by being there, the way that he can make Jimin feel more steady in himself, more like he can be the person he is and that that’s perfectly good enough. More, Jimin thinks, grinning into the crook of Taehyung’s neck, like he can write a song and have it be something worth listening to; but more than that as well, he makes Jimin feel like he can do this. The panicked pit in Jimin’s stomach from after the call with Jungkookie feels tinier, more manageable. Jimin can fix all the problems he needs to fix and make things – keep things – good for everyone he loves.

Jimin’s not losing anyone. No chance, he’s letting them lose any of this.

“Don’t go anywhere, okay?” he tells Taehyung, on impulse. He smooths down the hair on the back of Taehyung’s head, scritches his fingers in the messy almost-curls at the nape of Taehyung’s neck.

Taehyung hums, rubbing circles across Jimin’s back. They sway back and forth, not quite dancing, still wrapped up in each other. “Ever?”

Jimin shakes his head. “This is enough,” he says, firm. “Let’s just stay like this.”

Taehyung’s smile is audible. “Okay.” He presses sloppy kisses all over Jimin’s cheek, again and again, all goofy. “Okay, it’ll probably make it hard to, like, pee if we can physically never let go of each other, but it’s worth it, let’s get it.”

He looks so pleased with himself at making Jimin laugh, which just makes Jimin laugh more. Jimin thinks it’s maybe a good thing that the rest of the world can’t know about him and Taehyung, because they couldn’t be anything but horribly jealous. Mine, Jimin thinks, smug, and wiggles in closer, silly, to more of Taehyung’s pecked kisses all over his face.

The sun is rising, peeking over the horizon and making the sky blush pink, by the time they start getting ready for bed. They brush their teeth side by side, wash their faces the same way. Jimin cups his hand under the faucet and splashes Taehyung, just lightly, before darting away. Taehyung manages to splash him back, catching the back of Jimin’s neck just as he escapes the bathroom, giggling.

Jimin finishes their bedtime routine methodically, comforted by the sameness of it. He drags the curtains closed over all of the windows, shutting out the sunrise, since Taehyung sleeps easier when it’s dark. He scoops up Tannie from his normal spot curled up in the armchair so he can snuggle with them in bed; then, cozying up under the covers, Jimin sends a hi hello I still love you text to Namjoon, so he’ll have something nice to read when he gets back from his forest retreat, and then similar messages to all the others, too, so they’ll remember that he and Taehyung are still here, still them.

Comforted by the productivity of taking action, Jimin plugs in his phone and amuses himself humming their new song and scratching Yeontan’s warm little belly, and so it’s a good while before he looks up to notice Taehyung standing in the doorway. Not entirely Jimin’s fault: Taehyung’s been quiet, stays quiet now, just standing there watching him, his eyes doing the soft thing they do for Jimin and only Jimin, his lips doing Jimin’s favourite pressed-together, secret smile. The unabashed domesticity of it makes Jimin’s heart flutter.

Jimin beckons to him. “Come,” he says, and makes grabby hands until Taehyung smiles properly and does as he’s told, springing onto the bed so he can flop down right on top of Jimin. Jimin jabs at Tae’s sides until Taehyung rolls off of him. Not far, though: Tannie plods up the bed and cuddles up against Taehyung, and Taehyung cuddles up against Jimin, nestling his way under Jimin’s arm ‘til the three of them make up a nesting doll. Jimin’s arms will get sore if he keeps them like this, outstretched to circle in his Taehyung and their puppy, but he doesn’t let go of either of them, just shuts his eyes, presses his face into Taehyung’s messy hair and breathes deep.

“I wish all my days could be like today.” Taehyung says it like he’s really and literally wishing it to anyone who’s listening, one of his angels, a shooting star neither of them can see.

Jimin curls himself around Taehyung as closely as he can, protective, making himself into a blanket, a spiral shell to hold him and keep him safe. “You’re very sweet,” he says, hopelessly endeared. “My sweet TaeTae. Me too, I wish that, too.”

“Sweet Jimin-ah,” Taehyung echoes, with a smile at Jimin’s words that turns into a yawn, both things crinkling up his eyes adorably. Jimin would do anything for him, and that’s comforting too, the knowledge at last that they’re on the same page about this, that neither wants things to change from what they are.

Nothing to worry about, Jimin thinks, content, and almost – almost, almost – manages to believe himself as he drifts off to sleep.

---

It sounds negative, to say that the next couple of weeks are good in spite of Jimin’s fears, but-

The next couple of weeks are good, in spite of Jimin’s fears. He thinks they can probably chalk it up to the music: he and Taehyung finish the first song, from that day after Jungkookie’s call, and then Taehyung asks Jimin for help with a chorus that h’s been rewriting for days, and then, without discussing it, they just sort of fall into writing together instead of separately. Routine.

Jimin has always loved singing with Taehyung, the synergy they have as performers. He thinks he might love this just as much, the one, two, three songs they play with together. They’re daring with the lyrics, too, romantic enough and explicitly them enough that the label would have a heart attack. There’s a strange kind of freedom in it, Jimin finds, writing only for each other instead of for an audience, for the public. It turns off a lot of his regular inhibitions. Jimin likes writing songs to make people feel happy and comforted; there’s no one he knows how to make happy and comforted as well as Taehyung, so he doesn’t have to think, can just make music.

Today, an impossibly sunny and clear morning – closer to afternoon, maybe, they both slept in – Jimin stands at the kitchen counter, humming to himself as he cuts fruit for their breakfast. He and Taehyung recorded themselves the other day, just a messy little demo, and sent it off to Yoongi to see if he had any ideas. Jimin hadn’t been sure about bothering him – and that was new, that hesitancy with one of the members, and Jimin had hated it and forcefully said “Send it”, so they had – but now he finds himself eager to hear back. It’ll be praise, he thinks, or as much praise as their Yoongi-hyung will openly give. It’s a good song. It makes Jimin’s heart feel warm and fluttery and loving. Tae-feelings.

And so it’s been a good couple of weeks, Jimin thinks, he and Taehyung finally settling into themselves here, not trying to name themselves or discuss impossible things like marriage or do anything to pull themselves further from their normal life, and Jimin thinks that, and then Jimin is wrong.

Jimin uses the flat of the knife to knock the neatly-cut chunks of fruit off the cutting board and onto the plate. He’s about to bring it over to the table, but turns around when a floorboard creaks from near their room and is promptly too distracted to focus on anything at all except Taehyung, fresh out of the shower and wearing only a towel, his still-soaked hair drying at odd angles like a crooked halo.

Yeontan is prancing along at Taehyung’s heels like he owns the place, but Taehyung doesn’t falter, just marches over and squeezes himself in between Jimin and the counter with this determined look on his face.

“Park Jimin,” he says, and Jimin raises an eyebrow at him, very purposefully lets his eyes linger over Taehyung’s bare torso, the knot of his towel sitting low on his hips. No one should be allowed to be this hot. It’s just unfair, ethically speaking. How could he have gotten so lucky, to get to see Taehyung like this?

“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin echoes, touching the soft skin under Taehyung’s belly button, admittedly distracted by the expanse of skin before him, which means he’s not even a little bit prepared for what Taehyung says next.

“Don’t freak out,” Taehyung says, and so Jimin freaks out just a little bit in anticipation, even before Taehyung continues, “Will you go on a date with me?”

“What?” Jimin stares up at him, surprised enough to forget even Taehyung half-naked right in front of him. His hands have come up to rest on Taehyung’s chest of their own accord, fluttering along Taehyung’s collarbone, the droplets of water still lingering there. “You spend every day with me.”

“But I want to spend tonight with you as an official date,” Taehyung presses, looking right into Jimin’s eyes. He has this way of looking, when he says things with conviction the way he is now, like some sort of preacher, something evangelizing about it. He doesn’t feel things by halves, Taehyung. “Romantically, just us. We’ll dress nice and hold doors for each other and everything.”

“Yah, I dress nice anyways,” Jimin says, some ridiculous instinct to deflect, to make a joke, even as he’s stood there in his objectively-not-nice combo of worn out gym shorts and even more worn out muscle tee that he would rather die than be seen in by literally anyone but Taehyung. “What, are you going to buy me flowers, too?”

He says it mostly as a joke. Taehyung doesn’t drop his gaze. “Do you want flowers?” he asks, then, when Jimin shrugs, still a little stunned, “I’ll buy you flowers.” Taehyung squeezes Jimin’s hips, something like nerves colouring the determination in his eyes. “Say yes.”

“Taehyung-ah, why-”

“I’m not proposing to you again, I promise,” Taehyung says. “I really promise, Jimin-ah – I mean, unless you want me to, but- just, please-”

“You don’t have to say please to me,” Jimin cuts him off, crinkling up his face – he doesn’t want Taehyung begging him for anything, he shouldn’t even have to ask, Jimin likes anticipating Taehyung’s needs and wants and making sure he has them before he even thinks of them; it’s only that those wants and needs have never been a capital-D Date before, and Jimin doesn’t know what to do with that at all. But it’s Taehyung, and he’s looking at Jimin with his big eyes, excited and hopeful, and there’s nothing Jimin hates more than even thinking of the two of them fighting, so Jimin finds himself saying, “You know you don’t have to ask, you know I’ll go anywhere you want me to.”

Taehyung smiles so big and gleeful that Jimin almost forgets his minor panic spiral. Does forget it, mostly, at least until they part to get ready, Jimin winning rock-paper-scissors to use the bathroom first – “I’m already naked,” Taehyung complains half-heartedly, and Jimin pats his butt, proud of himself – which means that he’s alone and standing there staring at himself in the tiny bathroom mirror and having to take deep breaths to try and make his heartrate go back to normal.

He thought they were finished this. They agreed, Jimin thought, that time in bed days and days ago, that they were happy with the way things are, that neither of them wanted their days to look like anything other than what they already do. They agreed, no changes, and it was perfect, they’ve been writing songs like nobody’s business, making music together in perfect harmony, except now Taehyung apparently wants to- what, to date?

Jimin doesn’t know how he’s supposed to act, on a date with Taehyung. Presumably differently from how he normally acts with Taehyung, because otherwise Taehyung wouldn’t feel the need to bother, and- and Jimin’s not an illogical person, he knows Taehyung loves him, of course he does, but he clearly wants something more, something that evidently can only be obtained by pretending they’re the kind of people who need to do formal grown-up events in order to be in each other’s company, which is-

It's a lot, and Jimin almost forgot his minor panic spiral, but only almost, so he dresses up for their date like dressing up for an execution, except, like, an execution where he looks extremely cute and handsome, because, damn it, he’s still Park Jimin. He can do this.

He can do this.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, when Jimin finally emerges from the house to meet him at the front steps, that evening. “You look fancy.”

They both do, at least by the standards of the last couple of months. Even amidst his nerves, Jimin can’t not be struck by how dashing Taehyung looks, in a button up and nice pants for the first time since they left the city. He’s as good as his word: he holds out a small bunch of flowers as Jimin approaches, manages to give a wry, self-aware kind of grin at the cheesiness of the gesture.

Jimin picks out the nicest flower – some kind of daisy, dainty with soft pink petals – and reaches up to tuck it behind Taehyung’s ear. The gesture is partly for Taehyung, for the way that he’s looking at Jimin so clearly excited that Jimin’s heart aches, and partly for Jimin himself, comforting himself with touch, even just a barely there brush of the backs of his fingers against Taehyung’s temple.

“Pretty,” Jimin tells him, because he is, and Taehyung rocks up on his toes, all pleased.

“Makes two of us,” Tae says, and without removing his new accessory, he hooks his arm with Jimin’s, all silly, pulling him along with a gentle tug.

Jimin has no idea what to expect – it’s not exactly a tourist destination here, not exactly many options for fine dining – but Taehyung leads them into the little town, they both duck their heads as they pass the couple of people out and about at this late at night, and no one bothers them as they approach a tiny, homey-looking restaurant.

“So,” Taehyung says, shoving open the door with a shoulder and waiting for Jimin to enter first. “So, the whole place is ours for tonight. Very exclusive, I hear people usually wait months just to get a table.”

Jimin smiles in spite of himself, looking around and clasping his hands. The whole restaurant is empty, simple but clearly decorated for the occasion, with fairy lights strung across the ceiling, over the windowsills; a couple of candles flickering cozily on the empty tables.

“Pretty?” Taehyung says now, eagerly, laying a hand on Jimin’s lower back, and Jimin leans into the touch, turning so he can lay a hand on the side of Taehyung’s neck, fond.

“I like it a lot, Taehyung-ah,” he says, and that’s true, even aside from date-related nerves. They both enjoy indulging in extravagance, nice things and experiences especially with and for each other; this is that, clearly something Taehyung’s thought out in advance. Jimin loves anything Taehyung does for him, just about.

“You made it!”

Jimin shifts, angling himself so he’s curved just slightly less into Taehyung at the sound of a newcomer. Taehyung lifts his hand a little higher on Jimin’s back. They don’t have to discuss either change, even out of practice with people’s eyes on them, the way they’ve become.

The owner of the restaurant rambles cheerily as she leads them to a white-clothed table. “Now, don’t worry about dinner, I’ve prepared everything; you both look about my son’s age and I’ve seen how he eats when he comes home to visit, so you make sure you tell your mother you’re being fed well, here, eh?”

Jimin can’t tell which of them she’s addressing, so he just nods and thanks her and smiles politely, waits until she’s retreated to the kitchen to turn to Taehyung, questioningly. “Our mother?” Jimin asks. “Singular?”

Taehyung grimaces. “I told her that we’re brothers so the date thing would be less obvious.”

“Ew,” Jimin says, making a face at the thought, even as he’s laughing at the audacity of it. “Ew.”

“But smart-ew, bro,” Tae says, very clearly proud of himself, and Jimin drags a hand down his face, shaking his head.

He appreciates the forethought, really. They’ve had a break from thinking about appearances, this last couple of months, but their rules for themselves in public are just a fact of life. Jimin has spent as long as he can remember being excruciatingly conscious of the way he holds himself in front of people; that’s just life. He suspects that their rules bother Tae more than him. Nothing about hiding or deceptiveness comes naturally to Taehyung. It’s never really had to, outside of the context of Tae-and-Jimin. In Jimin’s less generous moments, he feels a little resentful of that, the way that Tae meets the arbitrary and unclear standard of bro-ishness that Jimin doesn’t, the one that means that no one second-guesses every look he gives to any man in proximity, looking for an excuse to call him gay more than they already do and make sweeping assumptions about who he is and what he likes and how successfully he’s being a capital-M Man. Not the way they do for Jimin.

Hidden under the tablecloth, Taehyung catches Jimin’s foot between his ankles, and Jimin jumps, startled. “You’re nervous, Park Jiminie,” Taehyung says. Prompting, but not expectantly. Leaving it to Jimin.

Jimin kicks at him, gently, with his free foot. “I’m not,” he says. “It’s you, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be nervous.” Then, defensively, not even a full second later, a blurt, “It’s only- I don’t know how to date!”

It even sounds stupid as Jimin says it, all coquettish. And he’s not, at all, really. They’ve both flirted with other people. Kissed other people, had fleeting nothing hookups with other people, on a few occasions. Usually initiated in front of the other one, and usually on purpose, during that spell of years when they were limited to clumsy makeouts in hotel rooms and transparent attempts to make each other jealous and Jimin still trying valiantly to delude himself into thinking he could be straight, but that’s not the point, the point is-

He’s good at flirting, is the point. Good at making himself desirable. Completely separately, he’s good at existing around Taehyung, good at that like he’s good at breathing, because it’s maybe the only time that Jimin feels like he’s existing entirely as him, nothing more and nothing less and no pretentions about it.

That, Jimin is good at. This, dating, with the formality and baggage and terrifyingly heterosexual pageantry of it, he doesn’t know at all. He thinks this is the kind of thing that not-famous people learned how to do in their teens and twenties; knows, in his head, that this theoretically shouldn’t be any different from any other time he and Tae have gone for a meal together. Can’t quite convince his heart of that fact.

Taehyung doesn’t laugh at him. He never does, when it would hurt. Instead, Taehyung grabs Jimin’s hand between both of his, rubbing like he’s trying to warm Jimin up. “Don’t worry,” he says, serious as anything. “I read a bunch of dating advice articles.” He sets Jimin’s hand back down, pats it, then folds his own so he looks like a CEO in a meeting. “So, what’s your financial situation?”

Jimin knows for a fact that Taehyung is distracting him right now, on-purpose being charming to make him forget to be worried, but that doesn’t stop him from snorting before he can manage to hide it. He wasn’t expecting that. “What?”

“When you’re dating as mature adults you’re supposed to cover the practical things early so you know you have compatible lifestyles,” Taehyung explains in a stage whisper; then, back to his mature adult voice, “Any outstanding arrest warrants?”

Jimin shakes his head. “No, you?”

“All under fake names,” Taehyung says, straight-faced, and Jimin’s smiling again without meaning to.

“What crimes did you do?” he asks, lowering his voice to the most over-the-top sultry whisper he can muster up.

Taehyung mirrors his volume, leaning in close, conspiratorial. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

Jimin leans in too; rests his elbow on the table, his chin in his hand. “We’d be so hot as criminals, though.”

So hot,” Taehyung agrees, then, eyes lighting up, “My supervillain power is turning into animals, what’s yours?”

“’Is’, not ‘would be’?” Jimin laughs, loud and dorky, and hides his face in his hand even as he’s playing along. “Turning into animals is barely even evil, my villain power is…” He thinks about it. “Disintegrating things!”

“You’re terrifying,” Taehyung says, but he says it proudly, then, in the same breath, “I love you.”

Jimin beams at him, proud, and they’ve spent another twenty minutes debating their villain backstories and whether they’d be good nemeses, the food delivered to their table and half-eaten, by the time he realizes Taehyung’s distraction really did work. There’s no room for Jimin to feel nervous about the artificial construct of a date, not when he and Taehyung are just normal, them the way they’ve always been. Jimin’s favourite.

They meander after dinner, taking the long way, side paths to walk back to their beach. The roads are packed dirt, sometimes gravel and pebbles, and it’ll maybe dirty their shoes, but they chase each other anyways, doubling back, tagging each other, dodging and giggling like kids. When Jimin finally catches Taehyung and pounces onto his back, Taehyung makes a big show of collapsing to the ground and needing to be hauled up by Jimin, which sets them both off into laughter all over again. There are no streetlights, but the moon and stars are bright enough for Jimin to see Taehyung’s smile, his ruffled hair.

Taehyung holds out his hand, an invitation. “Hold my hand, bro,” he says.

“It would be my honour, bro,” Jimin plays along, solemn, and laces his fingers with Taehyung’s, squeezes his hand as they fall into step beside each other.

They slip into an easy silence, swinging their joined hands between them.

“Want a secret?” Taehyung asks, after maybe five contented minutes where the only sound is the muffled one-two, one-two of their footsteps on the dirt path.

“Tell me,” Jimin says. He marks it, the way Taehyung glances over at him and then away, something very deliberately casual about it.

“I was nervous too,” Tae says. Casual, casual.

Jimin laughs, disbelieving. “Yeah, right.”

“I mean it,” Taehyung says, widening his eyes the way he does when he’s trying to be convincing. “I really wanted you to like going on a date with me.” Then, the careful lightness of his tone betraying itself with something like vulnerability, “I didn’t want it to be weird.”

It’s there, that flicker of something in his voice, for a split second, and then it’s gone.

Some part of Jimin wants to laugh again. Another part of him, a part he can’t name, feels something like a pang of sympathy. Worry. Both. “When are we ever weird?” Jimin asks. Rhetorical, he thinks, but Taehyung shrugs. “It was just us hanging out, it wasn’t anything different at all.”

Taehyung laughs at that, just once. It’s odd-sounding, almost comes out like a breath after a punch, but when Jimin looks at him again, Taehyung’s lips just curve into a smile. A wry one, like he’s embarrassed at himself. “You’re right,” he says. “Nothing different.”

Jimin said the wrong thing. He can tell that much from Taehyung’s voice, but nothing more, and that’s concerning in itself.

He locks eyes with Taehyung, tell me what’s wrong, and Taehyung swings their joined hands in an extra-big arc, slotting their fingers together more tightly, nothing, worrywart, and they don’t lie to each other, that’s the one rule that’s maybe even more permanent then them not fighting anymore, so Jimin has to believe him. Jimin believes him, he does, so he crowds into Tae’s space once they’re back into the cozy darkness of the beach house, getting in close so that the difference in their height is extra-noticeable.

“Hi,” Taehyung says, softly. Still with- something.

“Hi,” Jimin echoes, and crooks a finger between the top buttons of Taehyung’s shirt, tugs gently and lifts up on the balls of his feet as he does, so that he can press his lips to Taehyung’s from a better angle. Taehyung hums into the kiss, eyes fluttering closed, and Jimin splays out his hand on Taehyung’s chest, feels the steady beat of his heart. Neither of them bothered to turn a light on when they got in, and they’re both painted black and blue by the moonlight through the windows. Nothing else, all shadow around them.

“I’m going to reward you for taking me on such a nice date,” Jimin declares, hushed and silly. “Bro.”

Taehyung laughs, just as hushed (but something, something-), and tightens his grip on Jimin’s hipbone, pulling their hips together when Jimin kisses him again, as intentionally filthy as the last kiss was chaste. “Anything you want, Jimin-ah,” he promises, only a moment delayed. He doesn’t let go as Jimin walks them backwards toward the bedroom, teasing the always-there ember between them into a flame.

It might be Jimin’s favourite thing they do in bed, or at least top five, the times like tonight when Taehyung turns into putty in his hands, trusting and needy and unashamed of either thing. Jimin always wants to take care of Taehyung, but especially when he’s like this, letting Jimin manhandle him onto the bed, undress him piece by piece, take his time worshipping every bit of Taehyung’s body. Tae does a whole-body shiver at the slick coolness of the lube, when Jimin finally touches him.

“Relax,” Jimin orders, a whisper, and Taehyung nods.

“I am, I am,” he breathes, and his back arches – no one is as beautiful as him, he’s like a statue, a painting – when Jimin pushes the first finger into him. The flower from earlier, in Taehyung’s hair all night, has tumbled out, sitting only a little worse for wear on the pillow next to his head.

Jimin likes fucking Taehyung, he loves it, but tonight, he decides, he’s not fingering Taehyung for anything, not preparation, so he doesn’t build to any endpoint, just keeps a steady, consistent pace as he fucks two, then three fingers in and out. Jimin loves it, watching Taehyung go from relaxed to desperate, pushing down onto Jimin’s hand, the never-quite-enough feeling that Jimin knows Taehyung loves just as much.

“Jimin-ah,” he gasps out, finally, shaky, a request.

“My baby,” Jimin says, so fond he can taste it on his tongue, and they sometimes have fun teasing each other, sex like a competition, but tonight, Jimin wants Taehyung content and satisfied and happy, he doesn’t want anything else like he wants Taehyung to be so happy he forgets what it’s like to be sad, so he scoots the rest of the way down the bed and gets his lips around Taehyung’s length, no coyness to it.

“Ah,” Taehyung sighs, almost doubling in on himself at the feeling. Jimin feels himself smiling, ridiculously, around Taehyung’s dick in his mouth; presses down at Taehyung’s stomach to keep him flat on the bed. “Sorry, sorry, I- ah- I’m gonna cry, Jimin-ah, oh, I-”

“I love it,” Jimin says, pulling off with a pop, “I love it, you can, you can do anything, anything,” and he finally, finally, fucks Taehyung faster, harder, pistoning his fingers in and out. He lets Taehyung clumsily feed his cock back into his mouth, feels his lips getting slick, messy with spit and pre-come, but Jimin doesn’t falter, keeps working Taehyung until he spills onto Jimin’s tongue on a broken-off cry, tears spilling out.

He’s so, so beautiful.

Jimin swallows, leans his head on Taehyung’s thigh to catch his breath. He’s all the way hard, tenting his briefs, but it doesn’t feel urgent. It’s a different, better kind of satisfaction, knowing what he can do to his Taehyungie. He wipes his hand on the sheets, because it’s them and they’ve absolutely done grosser; lifts up to smile at Taehyung and make a joke about it, except Taehyung’s eyes are squeezed shut, one of his arms flung over his face.

“Are you hiding, beebee?” Jimin asks through a smile, his voice only a little hoarse.

Taehyung shakes his head. His face is still wet with tears. Jimin can’t tell if they were the ones from before.

The quiet stretches out.

“Taehyung-ah?” Jimin asks, suddenly unsure.

Taehyung doesn’t open his eyes or move his arm to show more of his face. “Can we just go to sleep now?” he asks. He sounds abruptly, absurdly young. “Can we, Jimin-ah?”

“Anything,” Jimin says again, still a little bit thrown, and maybe a little more thrown by the laugh that Taehyung does at that, his echoed “anything”, the edge of almost-bitterness to both. “Are you okay?”

Taehyung breathes out. “I’m just tired,” he says, still in that odd, off, quiet voice. “Sorry, I didn’t- for you-”

“That’s okay,” Jimin says. He crawls up the bed a little ways, braced over Taehyung, so he can brush Taehyung’s hair back from his forehead, smooth his thumb along the arch of Taehyung’s eyebrows. “It’s okay, that’s- you just stay here, okay, TaeTae?”

And Taehyung does as he’s told, he stays where he is while Jimin gets up to fetch a towel to wipe down Taehyung’s thighs, is already still, turned over onto one side and half-dressed in one of Jimin’s giant t-shirts, breathing evened out, when Jimin comes back to shut off the lights.

“Taehyung-ah?” Jimin whispers, but Taehyung doesn’t move. He’s asleep; Jimin would be able to tell if he was pretending. Not that- there’s no reason he’d have to pretend.

Jimin thought he was doing well. He thought they kept tonight good. He can’t understand how they didn’t.

Jimin lifts the covers up from where they’re crumpled at the foot of the bed, smoothing them down over Taehyung before crawling under them himself. He lays his head on his pillow, but only for a split second – Tae’s phone is buzzing from somewhere on the floor. He must have forgotten to put it on silent. Jimin reaches over Taehyung, dangling over the side of the bed and fishing through the pockets of Taehyung’s discarded pants until he can find Tae’s phone, unlock it – password jmni – and turn off the ringer.

The notification shows that the incoming message is from their groupchat with the members, so Jimin opens it, finds himself blinking at the barrage of messages they both missed throughout the evening. A whole conversation, everyone there at once for the first time in ages, and Jimin and Taehyung missed it.

sorry we were at dinner!!! Jimin sends, a little desperately. what’s up what’s up?? He doesn’t bother signing it, since he and Taehyung use each other’s phones enough and text distinctly enough that the others can tell who a given message is from just by their tone.

One of the typing bubbles appears almost instantly. It’s Hobi, I think the others went to sleep/out, jiminah </3

Jimin’s heart sinks. He waits, but his Hobi-hyung doesn’t send anything else, because it’s late, too late, and of course he doesn’t.

Jimin tucks his legs up by his chest, scrunching his toes in the sheets, clutching Taehyung’s phone in both hands. On an impulse – still shaken by Taehyung’s silence, by missing out on their family, the one time it’s all of them – Jimin opens the web browser and searches ‘tips for dating as mature adults’, same as Taehyung said earlier. His hunch was right: one of the results comes up purple instead of blue, previously visited.

Jimin clicks the link, scanning over the clickbait-y listicle that comes up. It’s got all of the questions that Tae asked him, but more that he didn’t. A lot more, like what are your partner’s opinions on marriage and how well do your future ambitions and plans align with your partner’s and what are your thoughts about having children.

It’s strange, then, the clash of feelings in Jimin’s heart. Stress, at the topics of the questions. Sadness, though, too, at the thought of Taehyung reading them and deciding he wouldn’t or couldn’t ask them of Jimin, because he thought-

Jimin doesn’t know what Tae must have thought. The feeling is unfamiliar.

And, see, this was exactly, exactly what Jimin was worried about when Taehyung brought up the whole dating and marriage thing. Jimin’s already pulling himself in a hundred different directions trying to hold together the life they have, the life they love, and the last thing they need is to try to turn that life into something else by getting caught up in all of the stupid grown-up heteronormative relationship milestones society thinks they’re supposed to hit by thirty and mess things up with the others and with each other. Jimin knew this was a bad idea, he just knew it, even as he tried to convince himself to give it a chance.

He tosses Taehyung’s phone aside, listens to it clatter to the ground and can’t bring himself to feel guilty. Jimin lays down, rolling over so he can be big spoon, tucking himself close against Tae’s back and hiding between his shoulder blades.

He can’t stop thinking recently, and he hates it hates it hates it, how much he’s in his own head about everything. Especially, he thinks, especially because none of this matters anyways, because it’s him and Taehyung, and one official date, whatever that even means, won’t and can’t change things, and the group will keep taking up too much of their time to think more about this sort of thing anyways. It’s him and Taehyung, there’s no- they don’t need anything else, there’s nothing lacking that they need a date or a specific word to fill, not at the expense of being there for all of the others.

Overwhelmed, Jimin presses his face into Taehyung’s shirt, snuggling close the way he’s been doing since they were teenagers, because this has always been Jimin’s comfort, his automatic way to fall asleep no matter where in the world they are. Step one, curl up close to Taehyung, step two, breathe in the always-the-same smell of his clothes, step three, fall asleep to his breathing. Except-

Except Jimin is curled up close and listening to Taehyung’s breaths, calm and steady like always, but whatever detergent Ihyun-ssi uses to do their laundry isn’t the same scent they have at home, and tonight, for some reason, that realization curdles in Jimin’s stomach like something poisonous, makes every muscle he’s got tense up.

Abruptly, so much that he’s surprised it doesn’t wake Taehyung, Jimin moves, shifting so that he can hide against the skin of Taehyung’s neck instead of his shirt. And Taehyung hasn’t changed his shampoo or his bodywash, those are the same as ever, familiar and safe, and Jimin takes deep breaths of him until he feels his heart slow down to normal.

It’s only them. It was one date, they’re still them, their world is still as it’s always been. Jimin refuses to let anything happen to threaten that, not to him and Taehyung and not between the two of them and the others, either.

“I love you,” he whispers, the one true fact he’s got to hold on to, and Tae is asleep, so he doesn’t hear, but he knows. Jimin holds on to that, too. To him.

---

‘Open book’ isn’t the right description, for Taehyung. He’s more… Taehyung is like a painting, Jimin thinks, lit up under spotlights and splashed in impossibly vivid colours on his own wall of a gallery, that’s how open everything he feels is on display in his face and words and self, every aspect of his being. When Tae is happy, Jimin can tell, and Jimin feels happy too; when Tae is sad, Jimin can tell, and Jimin’s heart won’t be settled until Taehyung is happy again.

Taehyung is quiet, now, and Jimin can tell, and Jimin waits for the quiet to pass the way it always does, but it doesn’t.

The strange thing is, the two of them are talking exactly as much as usual. That’s not the kind of quiet this is. They wake up after their date, and they do their routine, they work out and trade showers and make music, and any time they’re within arm’s reach of each other, they’re touching, a press of hands or a kiss to the nape of a neck.

“Good morning, my babies,” Jimin coos, and he kisses Yeontan’s nose – Yeontan licks Jimin’s nose, his tail fluttering back and forth – and then Taehyung’s, and Taehyung catches Jimin’s arm and kisses his wrist before letting him go.

“Hi,” he says, all soft, and Jimin waits, and Taehyung doesn’t say anything else.

That. That’s the kind of quiet that this is.

If it wasn’t the two of them, Jimin doesn’t think he’d be able to feel it, the way that Taehyung has been ever so slightly withdrawn, since that night. It’s not any one thing – it would be easier if it was – as much as it’s this persistent, unsettling undercurrent of- of weird, of off. Awareness of each other as an extra person rather than an extension of the self, the way they’ve been as long as Jimin can remember.

The tangled, too-heavy knot of tension in Jimin’s stomach hasn’t been this bad in years. Not since he was a teenager lying about how many meals he had in a day.

It’s not like it was then. Jimin refuses. It’s him and Taehyung, Jimin-and-Tae, and whatever this is, this dreadful quiet lurking at the edges of their days, it’s nothing compared to the two of them, so Jimin fixes it. Jimin is going to fix it.

They’ve never written songs the way they are now. This pace, the kind of pace Namjoon and Yoongi will only stumble into once every couple of years, when the inspiration strikes. They record themselves, tinny-quality demos on their phones, and the sound of their voices together almost makes Jimin believe in Taehyung’s angels, in some kind of higher power. For almost a week, Jimin falls asleep listening to the almost-a-waltz sounding track they make; one night, Taehyung taps Jimin’s earphone, so Jimin gives it to him, and they both fall asleep to the same lullaby, one headphone each.

How could you want more than this, Jimin thinks, watching Taehyung’s face slack with sleep. He can just barely hear the song, from this close, lyrics indistinguishable. In his sleep, in a dream, Taehyung’s lips turn down, not quite a frown.

Fix it, Jimin.

Jimin tries to be extra sweet, because he’s better at sweet than almost anyone. “Taehyung-ah,” he says, “look what we got for dinner, look at this!” He cups the dish with both hands, makes a big show of inhaling and closing his eyes, pleased.

“Cute,” Taehyung tells him, and his eyes crinkle when he gives a boxy smile, and then like when they’re on camera, he visibly catches himself – no, Jimin thinks, no no no, don’t – and his smile doesn’t fade, he lays a hand on the back of Jimin’s neck, but it’s just for a moment, tinged with something like melancholy, and then he’s retreating back to himself.

He feels far away.

Jimin doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.

The nights aren’t cold, not quite yet, but they’re getting closer, whispers of autumn in the air. Tonight, the chill is more pronounced than it’s been, so Jimin steals an especially cozy pair of Taehyung’s sweatpants, and one of his hoodies, which he’s fairly certain that Taehyung stole from Namjoon, which is okay, because Jimin knows for a fact that Namjoon borrowed it from Jin five years ago and never remembered to give it back, which is sort of funny, because based on the style, Jimin is maybe ninety percent sure that Jin stole it from Jungkook in the first place.

Jimin sits for a long time, out on the deck in his too-big, stolen-stolen clothes, staring at his phone.

The others are busy. Jimin-

Jimin is happy for them, and that sounds like a lie even in his own head, which is bad. That’s not being a good friend.

Jimin thumbs open the keyboard, and stares at that, too, without typing anything.

Far away. Everyone Jimin loves is going so far from him.

Jimin closes his eyes, a lump in his throat, when Taehyung pads up behind him and drapes himself over Jimin’s back, wordless. And even that- it’s as easy as physical contact has ever been between the two of them, Taehyung’s arms looped around Jimin’s stomach and Jimin’s coming up to hold them in place, and still, still, Jimin feels like he’s touching Taehyung through a curtain, just translucent enough to make him blurry. He can feel Taehyung being- if not sad, if not guarded, exactly, then careful. Careful, of all things, with Jimin.

Taehyung hasn’t suggested a new relationship word for them, not since their date.

“Did you run out of ideas?” Jimin asks, turning in Taehyung’s arms so they can face each other.

Taehyung knits his brows together. “Huh?”

He doesn’t know what Jimin’s talking about, Jimin realizes. Like he’s forgotten the whole thing, and it’s exactly what Jimin wanted, for them to be back on the same page, to be content in the now without going after some nebulous and terrifying future that they’re supposed to want. This is what Jimin wanted, so why does it feel so, so-

“Never mind,” Jimin says, after a moment, because things are fine, he needs things to be fine.

Taehyung reaches up and touches the spot where NEVERMIND sits on Jimin’s chest, habitually, it looks like, and Jimin watches Tae’s hand and then looks up and their eyes meet, and it’s-

Jimin’s breath falters.

He looks into Taehyung’s eyes, reaching out so they can talk to each other silently the way they do, and there’s just- quiet.

Jimin can’t tell what Taehyung is thinking. There’s one terrifying moment of opacity, a white-noise signal in the silent eye contact where they’ve always been able to have their most secret conversations, and then Jimin drops Taehyung’s gaze.

“Are you coming to bed?” Taehyung asks, and Jimin catches his breath, shakes his head after only a moment’s too long of a pause.

“I’m going to stay up for a while,” he says.

Taehyung nods. He gives Jimin a smile, small, and as he lets go of Jimin’s hips, Jimin catches his hand and kisses it.

Taehyung’s smile gets a little more real, and he ducks in to kiss Jimin properly, to touch the tips of their noses together. Jimin stays bent in close, presses his forehead to Taehyung’s and squeezes his eyes shut. Please don’t go from me, he thinks. Not you too.

Taehyung breathes out, almost a sigh. It sounds sad. Jimin doesn’t know if it’s a response to the silent conversation or not. Jimin wants to meet his eyes again, to make Taehyung tell him what he did so that Jimin can fix it and then whatever’s been made scared between them can come back and be okay again; except what if Jimin looks and Taehyung is unreadable again, what if he’s gone from Jimin again? What then?

So Jimin keeps his eyes shut and lets Taehyung go inside, leaving him to the quiet of the sea.

---

The ironic part, maybe, is that it should be a happy day, the day when everything goes wrong.

“Jimin-ah.” Taehyung hooks a finger in Jimin’s belt loop, stopping him on his way past, and Jimin lets himself be reeled in toward the table where Taehyung’s laptop is open amidst a chaotic array of pencils and headphones and open notebooks. “Listen.”

Taehyung’s cross-legged in one of the chairs, smaller than Jimin, so Jimin leans against him, automatically resting his chin on Taehyung’s shoulder as he presses play. It takes Jimin a few moments to place what he’s hearing – it’s their demo, their ‘half of me’ song from weeks ago, the one they sent to Yoongi, and their Yoongi-hyung has done what he always does, which is take building blocks and make them into something amazing. He’s added a simple piano track in the background, strings building up from nothing, somehow managing to sound exactly how Jimin imagined the song and ten thousand times better, all at once. His own voice layers smoothly with Taehyung’s, a duet in the truest sense of the word.

“Oh,” Jimin breathes, softly, as the last harmony fades into nothing over a twinkling smattering of high notes. When Taehyung turns and meets his eyes, his smile is just as gentle, just as struck by this thing they’ve made together.

“We sound good together,” Taehyung says, simple, and Jimin doesn’t know when they started holding hands – they fall into it unthinkingly, as natural as breathing – but he squeezes Taehyung’s fingers, nods wordlessly. For that one still moment, the echoes of their voices singing a love song still disappearing into the air, it’s good. Just good, as normal and them as they’ve been in days and days, and then the moment ends.

“So I was thinking about it,” Taehyung says, absently slotting his fingers with Jimin’s. “And I think it would sound good somewhere towards the end, like, between Spring Song and the- y’know, no title yet, the one with the-” He hums the high-pitched riff they’ve been playing with. “You know?”

And Jimin sort of just- freezes.

He didn’t-

Taehyung’s talking like they were making an album. Taehyung is talking like these songs they’ve been making are the kinds of songs they’re going to show people, and Jimin’s brain just sort of- it stays on that realization, scratched-record style, because all at once it’s like he’s looking at Taehyung from across a gulf, from across an entire ocean, because how, how could Taehyung think that a reasonable course of action when the entire world is looking for proof that the group they’ve dedicated half their lives to is over is to release music separately and basically validate every single rumour Jimin’s been stressing over for months? Jimin can’t even- if marriage is a risk to the group, releasing a duo album of blatantly romantic self-written love songs is just as bad, maybe worse.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, like it’s not the first time he’s tried to get Jimin’s attention, and Jimin jumps, startled. Taehyung raises his eyebrows, concerned, your whole energy just changed.

Jimin drops his gaze. “This is-” he says, then breaks off, reroutes. “You want to put out a whole mixtape?”

Taehyung tilts his head, puppy-like. “I mean, we’ll have to actually record and ask for advice and see which ones actually sound good, but- I mean, we’ve got enough, I think? And they all have, like, a consistent-ish mood, which-”

“We can’t do that,” Jimin interrupts. He tugs his hand out of Taehyung’s grasp, tucking his hair back behind his ears, mostly just for something to do. “We can’t do a whole album of these.”

“What?” Taehyung half-laughs, clearly still focused on the song, on making plans. He doesn’t get it. How doesn’t he get this, when Jimin needs him to? “You don’t think our songs are good?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jimin says, wringing his hands together, digging his nails into the flesh of his other hand. “Just the one song is fine, if you don’t like it we can pick one of the others, alright?” He sounds strained, tense; feels both things as well, which flusters him, because he knows Taehyung will be able to tell, so he moves to leave, to go gather himself, but Taehyung catches Jimin’s arm before he can walk away.

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, finally looking at Jimin properly, curiously. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jimin says. Jimin lies.

“You’re doing anxious Jiminie face,” Taehyung informs him.

“I’m not,” Jimin says, and Taehyung gives him a look, I know you better than that, c’mon, and Jimin drops his gaze, can’t bear to be seen through, right now. “I’m not, I just- I don’t want the others to feel left out.”

It sounds weak, contrived even to him.

“We’ve all released our own music before,” Taehyung says, entirely reasonably, which is even more irritating. “You and I have sung together before.”

“It’s different,” Jimin says, still looking at Taehyung’s hand on his arm rather than into his eyes. Not that he needs to – Taehyung’s confusion is entirely evident even without looking at him.

“How?”

“You know how, Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says, quietly. They’re not naïve, not either of them: Taehyung has to know, he has to, that a collection of love songs they wrote by themselves without any of the others around isn’t remotely comparable to a single, almost-cartoonishly platonic shared track on a group album. He has to know the kind of questions that would invite, questions about what inspired the lyrics, whether the two of them are forming a permanent subunit, whether this album is related in any way to the group disbanding, because of course, that’s what they’ll think, of course it’ll only make up another thing separating the seven of them from the constant Jimin needs them to be-

Taehyung’s face does something complicated, then. It’s the look he gives when Jimin rebuffs him too sharply in front of a camera, when someone pushes at one of his sore spots, when someone insults someone he cares about.

“How?” he asks again, but this time it’s got a stubborn edge to it in the way that means he does, in fact, know exactly what Jimin means, and is making him say it for himself.

Jimin tugs his forearm out of Taehyung’s grasp, opens his mouth to retort and then snaps it shut, willing himself forcefully not to be goaded. They’re not fighting. They don’t fight. They need to make space and let this fizzle out and just stay good, the way they agreed to do, the way Jimin very much needs them to do, except Taehyung, tonight, doesn’t follow their rules.

Taehyung breathes out, a ragged sound, as Jimin pulls out of his grip. He looks almost disbelieving, shaking his head just slightly, again and again. “Of course,” he says, that same awful, hard edge to it. He spins around in his chair, putting his back to Jimin.

“What does that mean?” Jimin asks the back of Taehyung’s head.

“You know what,” Taehyung says without turning around, Jimin’s own words thrown back at him. Intentionally.

Jimin grits his teeth. Closes his eyes and counts to five, very slowly in his head. “Fine,” he says, finally.

“Fine,” Taehyung echoes, and Jimin waits, but Taehyung doesn’t say anything else. He’s not writing in their song notebook again, not doing anything at all except for very determinedly and deliberately not looking at Jimin.

Jimin scowls, crosses the room and sits down heavily in the armchair and tucks his legs up under himself. He takes out his phone and doesn’t do a thing with it either, so that makes two of them sitting in a stilted, strung-tight silence.

Jimin leans over as far as he can without actually standing up, craning his neck to try and get a peek at Taehyung’s expression. He’s wearing his buffering face, the one that means his brain is churning away, working double time.

Jimin looks back down at his phone quickly when Taehyung stands, his chair screeching against the floor as he pushes it back. If Taehyung caught him looking, he doesn’t mention it, just heads for the sliding door and walks right outside without saying a single word.

Jimin stares after him, curious. He can’t fathom what exactly Taehyung is doing, walking straight off the deck and onto the sand and up to the water’s edge. Jimin stands up, then lifts up on his toes, squinting to see what it is that Taehyung’s holding in his hands, and then, once he does-

“Hey!” Jimin shouts, disbelieving, yanking the sliding door open and marching himself straight down toward Taehyung, who is currently standing ankle deep in the shallows, ripping the pages out of his notebook – their notebook, with all of their songs from this summer written inside – one at a time and throwing them into the ocean.

“What are you doing?” Jimin demands, absurdly unsure whether to laugh or yell, and Taehyung ignores him, methodically tears out another written-on page. “Tae- stop, are you crazy?”

Taehyung laughs, and it doesn’t not sound slightly hysterical. “I don’t know,” he says, eyes wild, and crumples up the page, rears back and flings it full force out into the water. At this rate, he’s going to destroy the entire book, all of their songs.

Jimin splashes the last meter or so up to him, snatches the notebook from his hands and clutches it protectively to his chest. “Stop it,” he orders, still at a loss. “We worked hard on these!”

“You want them, now?” Taehyung asks, incredulously, and all of Jimin’s hackles are up at the look Taehyung gives him, accusatory – no, damning in its disbelief.

He’s not being fair. None of this is fair, it’s not Jimin’s fault.

“You’re being mean,” Jimin informs Taehyung, clipped, restraining himself because that’s what they do when they get this close to arguing, because they’re better than they were when they were younger, they don’t fight anymore, not at all.

I’m-” Taehyung looks astounded all over again. He takes a step back from Jimin – Jimin didn’t realize how close they were standing, almost nose to nose – and his eyes are piercing, dark, searching and not finding whatever he’s looking for. “I don’t understand. Why do you keep doing this?” he asks, voice rough and curt the way it gets when he’s frustrated. He hasn’t used that voice at Jimin in years.

“I’m not doing anything,” Jimin says, and Taehyung’s shaking his head before he’s even finished talking.

“You keep pulling back from me.”

“No, I don’t.”

Taehyung scoffs, humourless. “Can you not act like I’m stupid, please?”

“Then stop acting stupid,” Jimin says, sharp. He tries to make his voice flippant on purpose, because he knows it’ll provoke Taehyung just as much as he’s apparently trying to provoke Jimin right now, and he hasn’t gotten any worse at it with time. “I don’t want to fight with you, let’s go.” He holds out a hand, expectant, to lead Taehyung up the beach and back to the house.

Taehyung doesn’t take it. He doesn’t even look at it. “It’s not like I want-”

Something inside of Jimin recoils at the rejection of touch from Taehyung, at the absolute foreignness of the feeling. He curls his fingers in towards his palm, feels like he’s a stranger in his own body, and then, white-hot and implacable, he feels furious, everything bottled up exploding at once. “You’re acting like it’s what you want!”

“I’m not acting like anything, we’re already fighting!” Taehyung says, and Jimin stomps his foot, utterly frustrated, and almost overbalances in the wet sand.

“No, we’re not, because there’s nothing to fight about,” he says, both hands in fists at his side, one around their book of songs and one around nothing at all. “If you wouldn’t keep acting like nothing I do is enough-”

“Oh, when have I ever-”

“Since before we even got here!” They’re both shouting at each other, now, back in each other’s faces but as far apart as they’ve been in ages, both things at once. Taehyung’s so fucking condescending, when he’s angry. “Since everyone left and you decided things weren’t good enough anymore, I’m not pulling back, you’re the one-”

“What am I, Jimin?”

Pushing,” Jimin snaps, an entire summer of trying to hold onto everything and everyone he loves while expecting Taehyung to be holding on as well only to find him just as eager as everyone else to change things, all of it coming to bear in one single, drawn out instant. The world feels silent, his words echoic. “You keep pushing, Taehyung, and I wish you’d just stop.”

It’s an ugly, cruel thing to say. Not the kind of thing Jimin would ever allow himself to say, not to anyone but Taehyung who loves him the most, in whatever twisted logic that is; and the words impact, Jimin watches them impact and thinks, savagely, good. He feels hyperaware of the sound of his own breathing, his heart beating loud in his ears like after a performance.

Jimin can see it happening, then, like it’s in slow motion, the shuttering of something behind Taehyung’s eyes. Between one second and the next, there’s no heat left, whatever anger there was utterly gone and nothing at all left in its place. It’s the wall that Taehyung puts up when he doesn’t trust himself to react, barricading himself behind it so he’s here but not here, gone to somewhere inaccessible where no one can reach him, and Jimin has seen him do it, has been heartbroken by watching Taehyung have to learn to make himself a blank slate, but it’s never-

It's never been at Jimin. He’s never gone blank at Jimin.

Jimin’s breath catches, audibly.

Taehyung nods to himself once, again.

Jimin doesn’t chase after Taehyung when Taehyung turns, wordless, and walks away down the beach. Jimin just stands there in the damp sand, holding their half-ruined notebook, a handful of torn pages fluttering along at his feet.

---

Complacency, in their line of work, is a death sentence, and so Jimin doesn’t allow himself to dwell. Jimin flatly refuses to dwell, actually, because he is Park Jimin and he has better things to do with his time than sit around and be sad about a fight with his Taehyung, so there, so Jimin works out and finishes three entire chapters of his book and tidies their entire bedroom and does every dish in the sink, and then-

Then he sits around and is sad about his fight with Taehyung.

Jimin loves Taehyung more than anything and anyone on the planet, in the universe; that vulnerability is the only explanation, he reasons, for Taehyung’s years-latent but apparently not-at-all-diminished ability to get on Jimin’s nerves like no one else ever has.

If Jimin didn’t love him so much, he thinks he could hate him, really, he does.

The afternoon drags syrup-slow into evening, stretched out uncomfortably, impossibly long. It’s quiet, too quiet, too much room in Jimin’s head for him to feel annoyed with Taehyung, turning their fight over again and again in his head.

How dare he, is what Jimin thinks, at one particularly indignant point, how dare Kim Taehyung act like what they are now isn’t enough, isn’t everything, something to be protected. And then, thinking that, Jimin feels guilty, and then annoyed with himself for that guilt. He’s being reasonable, here. Maybe Taehyung wants to live in some alternate reality where they can get married and release an album of cowritten love songs and duets and not have it risk the safe space they’ve made for themselves, but that reality isn’t theirs, it’s not the one they’ve got.

The reality they’ve got is beyond Jimin’s wildest dreams, happier than he thought would be possible, and still, it means some inevitable degree of hiding, of things they aren’t allowed. Things they can’t be allowed, if they want to keep the things they are, and Jimin can’t- he can’t make sense of it, Taehyung’s willingness to gamble what they have in favour of some gaping and vast and uncertain future.

Jimin could hate Taehyung, if he didn’t love him so much, but he does, so when the annoyance passes, he only feels sad.

Jimin so just hates when people are upset with him. He wants- no, he needs to be loved, by everyone but especially by the people he loves, and most everything he does every day of his life is to earn that love and deserve it and keep it safe. Taehyung’s the one person who’s supposed to just get that, to understand Jimin without words. That’s them, that’s soulmates.

Every single instinct in Jimin is telling him to chase after Taehyung, to apologize and hold him and fix things, fix things, fix things. Jimin doesn’t know how.

He can’t sit still, but he can’t make himself focus on any distractions for longer than five minutes at a time, either. Taehyung is the first person Jimin turns to for comfort; barring that, he wants his friends, but even if they were available, which is entirely less than certain, Jimin knows exactly what they’d all say. If he calls Namjoon, he’ll say something insightful that will make Jimin cry, if he calls his Jin-hyung, he’ll make some joke about Jimin and Taehyung being an old married couple, and honestly, tonight, that would probably also make Jimin cry, which would just be terrible for everyone involved.

Jimin doesn’t feel like an old married couple, right now. He feels painfully young, too young to know what he’s doing, too stupid to process all of his own emotions, too helpless to keep himself and Taehyung safe from the rest of the world, and- and too terribly lonely to be here all by himself, because it’s been dark outside for three whole hours, now, and Taehyung still isn’t back.

Jimin doesn’t dwell. Jimin doesn’t dwell, he doesn’t and can’t, so instead he sits cross-legged on the kitchen floor to hand-feed Yeontan his kibbles just to feel like he’s accomplishing something.

“Your dad is stupid,” Jimin informs Yeontan, who does not seem particularly opinionated one way or the other about the matter. “I’m going to yell at him again when he gets back, just watch.”

Tannie wags his tail, and, overcome, Jimin scoops him up and presses his face into the too-long puff of fur at Yeontan’s neck, tells himself that by the time he’s finished counting to a hundred, Taehyung will walk back in and Jimin will be able to gloat about being the only one who remembered to feed their baby tonight.

Yeontan squirms out of Jimin’s grip, tap-tapping away across the floor before Jimin can get to 90. No Taehyung.

Jimin swipes at his nose, then, with a shake of his head, thinks, this is stupid, you’re Jimin-and-Tae, and stands up and makes a beeline for the counter. He grabs his phone and, without letting himself overthink things, texts Taehyung, you can come back now.

He jumps, startled, at the buzz from across the room. It’s Taehyung’s phone, sat on the piano bench where he must have left it.

Jimin doesn’t cry. Jimin maybe comes close.

He looks down at his phone. Not even a minute has passed since he last checked.

Jimin has worked hard, these past years, to teach himself to be optimistic, to consciously check his own tendency towards anxiety and replace it with purpose, positive thoughts. Tonight, try as he might, he can’t muster it up – he sits there, alone in the too-empty house, and there’s one tiny village almost twenty minutes away and those are the only people for ages and what if something happened to Taehyung and there’s no one there to help him and the last thing Jimin said to him was as horrible a thing as he ever has, what then?

“Fuck,” Jimin says, very quietly; then, digging the heels of his palms into his eyes, “Fuck!”

So he goes out looking for him.

Jimin’s never really processed just how much beach they’ve got between them and any other kind of civilization. He starts walking in the last direction he saw Taehyung go, and the lights from the beach house fade away in minutes, and then there’s no one but Jimin and the sand and the water, the occasional distant whispers of wind through trees. No Taehyung.

The weather at night isn’t as nice as it was, earlier in the summer – Jimin walks and walks, and the wind picks up as he goes, sending his hair flying this way and that, sending sand skittering over his sandaled feet. It’s cold, this late, and Jimin finds himself walking with his arms folded across his chest, wishing he’d thought to put something on over his t-shirt.

“Taehyung!” he tries calling, but there’s no answer, and so Jimin keeps walking, scanning back and forth, all alone, still.

It’s really only a fluke that Jimin sees Taehyung when he finally does, because he wasn’t looking in the ocean, because obviously, except Jimin double takes, and double takes again, and it’s him. Or- it can’t be anyone but Tae, the figure standing in the ocean, far enough from the shore that he looks small and half-obscured by the waves, his hair wind-tossed and wild and making him look like even more of a formless thing.

Jimin doesn’t even think before he’s running straight into the ink-dark water after him. “Taehyung!” he calls, but he’s inaudible from this far away, so he keeps wading closer, movement getting more difficult as the water gets deeper. Jimin’s entirely aware of the difference in their heights, now, the water lapping at his neck with every incoming wave even though it’s just at Taehyung’s shoulders.

“Taehyung!” Jimin has to all but shout to be heard over the wind and the water, grabbing Taehyung’s arm as soon as he’s close enough. Taehyung jumps, startled.

“Wha- Jimin-ah?”

Jimin’s scanning him up and down, looking for- he doesn’t know what. Nothing happened, he doesn’t even know why he’s being like this, why he feels like he just ran a marathon. “What do you think you’re doing?” The words come out more ‘panicked mom’ than ‘righteously angry’, but Jimin doesn’t spare any energy to feel embarrassed. He can’t tell if he’s more furious or relieved.

“Thinking?” Taehyung says, then, in the same breath. “Why are you here?”

“You were gone for hours, do you even realize how big the waves can get?” Jimin demands, half-hysterically. He shoves Taehyung, not even enough force behind it to knock him off his feet. He can’t think, he can’t do anything. “What if you died, huh?”

Taehyung looks down at Jimin’s hands on his chest, then back at Jimin. “My feet are still touching the bottom,” he says, and he looks and sounds so genuinely baffled in such a distinctly Taehyung way that Jimin feels his eyes well up.

“I thought you left,” Jimin says, and bursts into overwhelmed tears, and that’s when a particularly tall wave hits them both in the face. It leaves Jimin spluttering on salt water, blinking frantically to try and clear his vision, not that it was particularly good anyways, in this utter darkness.

They both grabbed onto each other, shared instinct, when the wave hit, and now Taehyung squeezes Jimin’s hand in his, catching his attention. “We should,” he shouts, gesturing with his chin toward the direction of their house in the far distance. Jimin nods, still coughing out water, and they turn as one to start wading back to the shore, slipping in the wet sand and almost pushed off their feet by waves the whole way. Their fingers stay interlaced, and Jimin feels the pressure of Taehyung holding on even as his own start to go numb with the cold.

“Heat,” Taehyung says, through chattering teeth, once they’re inside, dripping water all over the floor. Yeontan is barking, hopping around their feet. “We need to warm up, I’ll-”

Jimin can’t find words, so he just nods, bringing his arms around himself. He can’t tell if he’s crying or if he’s just drenched, still taken aback by the strength of his own outburst, the whole-body relief of finding Taehyung, the desperate need to fix this, now that hasn’t left all day.

He supposes that Taehyung must get a fire started, must cajole Jimin into stripping out of his wet clothes and into dry sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Jimin moves like he’s on autopilot, finds himself sitting in front of the fireplace, legs tucked up by his chest and arms wrapped around his knees, without really knowing how he got there. Taehyung’s next to him. Not close enough. Neither of them moves to bridge the gap.

They haven’t fought like that in years.

Jimin watches Taehyung warming his hands by the flames. Stares at the shapes of his knuckles, the way his hands haven’t stopped trembling, not yet, not really. A twig snaps, cracking in the heat, the only sound.

“I wouldn’t go anywhere without telling you,” Taehyung says, quietly, ages later, breaking the silence. “I was coming back.”

Jimin can’t bring himself to look away from the soft orange glow of the fire.

Taehyung is the only person who makes him like this, this irrationally emotional and this awful at controlling it, repressing it under niceness and sweetness and unattainable sexiness, as needed.

Jimin tries to breathe. It’s shaky, uneven.

Jimin knows he’s lucky. He’s unimaginably lucky, to have someone who makes him feel so much. He knows that. He loves Taehyung more than he loves being right about things. That is fact. The both of them love each other too much for fighting.

Fix it, Jimin orders himself, and so he takes a breath, says, “I’m sorry,” except that Taehyung says the same thing at the exact same time and then Jimin forgets to convince himself to not be angry, too busy being surprised.

“What are you saying sorry for?” he asks, at a loss.

Taehyung is staring too. Jimin watches his adam’s apple rise and fall as he swallows, apparently bracing himself. “Well,” he says, and the hesitation in his voice makes Jimin want to burst into tears. “Everything?”

Taehyung crosses his legs, dragging his sleeves down over his hands. He seems to be making himself small, minimizing the amount that he encroaches on the painstaking distance between them. “I was trying to…” He falters, and it takes a moment before he starts talking again. When he does, he speaks steadily, slowly, the way he does when he’s having trouble translating his thoughts to words.

“It hasn’t been just you and me for a long time, and I know how I am, I never- I make plans and then I don’t finish them, I’m not good at doing things properly.” He shakes his head, looks away from Jimin and into the fireplace. His words start coming in a rush. “And now everything is changing and I guess I felt worried of- you know, what happens if our future is another thing I have ideas about that I never follow through on, and then you find out that we’re not actually good at being- like, people together, as a real couple, in the world, so I just- I wanted us to have plans, because-” His voice shakes, just barely, and he bites down on his lip, hard, before blurting, “What if we’re just like this because we’ve always been like this?”

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin says, more a breath than any audible kind of speech. He feels- his brain isn’t working right, refusing to process Taehyung’s words. Jimin has never once considered a future without Taehyung in it. He doesn’t- he doesn’t consider the future, period, if he doesn’t have to. It’s them, that’s just… it, they’re it, there’s nothing Taehyung could possibly do or not do to make himself not Jimin’s soulmate anymore, and the idea that Taehyung has any doubt at all about that fact is so wholly ludicrous that Jimin can’t even fathom it. How can he- Jimin thought he knew-

“I didn’t mean to make you not comfortable,” Taehyung mumbles, maybe taking Jimin’s silence for disapproval. He shrugs, self-deprecating. Says, “I want too much, I think.”

Jimin’s shaking his head, cutting Taehyung off almost before the words are out of his mouth. “You don’t,” he says. “You don’t, Tae-”

“Can-” Taehyung starts then falters. Jimin almost wishes he’d look angry again, like before, because that was infinitely better than the Taehyung sitting here now, speaking so heartbreakingly softly, curled in tighter on himself with every word, like he’s trying to sink into the floor. “Can we still be best friends?”

Jimin stops breathing. “What?” he says, after the space of one thundering heartbeat, two. “Can we still- what?”

Taehyung’s eyes are fully closed, now. There are tears collecting on his lashes, glittering in the firelight. “I know you don’t want things the way they were, and that’s- whatever you want, it’s okay, just-”

“It’s not okay,” Jimin says, horrified. His brain is doing the sirens it does whenever Taehyung is upset. Jimin wants to burn the world down. “You think I don’t want you?” The words even sound wrong, utterly impossible.

Taehyung’s hands disappear further into his sleeves. “You said to stop, Jimin-ah,” he says, all but inaudible.

Jimin’s breath leaves him like a punch. It’s one of those moments, then, where an asteroid could hit and Jimin wouldn’t notice it. He doesn’t like when people around him are feeling negative things in general, but when it’s his Taehyungie, of all people, looking as utterly defeated as he does, everything that Jimin has been panicking about for months dims to nothing, irrelevant in an instant. His Taehyung is hurting, has been hurting, and it’s Jimin’s fault, and there could be cameras, a stadium of screaming fans, anything and anyone and none of it would matter except for the need to make Tae not hurt anymore.

Jimin flings himself at Taehyung, full-force, instinctually and clumsily folding him into a hug. He’s most of the way in Taehyung’s lap, utterly overlapping in his space, and they’re going to get too warm, body heat and the warmth of the fire combined, but Jimin tries to get closer, closer still, clutching Taehyung as tightly and desperately into his arms as he’s physically capable of doing, trying to pour every ounce of love he has into the gesture, into him.

“My baby,” Jimin says, aghast, pressing his cheek against Taehyung’s, still not close enough. “Taehyung-ah, my sweet love, my love, that’s not what I meant, that’s not it at all, I always want you, always, how can you not know that?” He’s crying all over again, worse than in the ocean, his voice coming out fractured, gasping. “How can you not know how much I love you?”

It’s all playing his head like a movie, then, weeks and weeks of proposals and songs and attempts to label their relationship, and Jimin saying no to all of it, and – how, how – Taehyung thinks that that was a no to him rather than to the horrible prospect of change, of altering what Jimin loves so much. The realization sinks into Jimin’s gut like a knife. All of his pathetic attempts to cling to normalcy, and he’s ruined it all anyways.

Taehyung’s eyes widen as he peers up at Jimin, taking him in. “Don’t cry,” he pleads, even as he’s blinking away his own tears, though he hasn’t once looked as heartbroken as he does now that he realizes that Jimin is crying too. “Please don’t cry, that’s not what I was-”

“I know,” Jimin says. Taehyung’s big hands are up at his face, smudging away his tears, and Jimin copies, and they both look ridiculous, he’s certain of it, clinging to each other’s cheeks and talking through sobs and sharp breaths. “I know it wasn’t, but listen-” He holds tighter to Taehyung’s face, looks him right in the eyes. “I want to sing with you always,” Jimin says. “I want to spend time with you always, I want you to be mine until we’re old men, I never want you to want anyone else except me and I’ll never ever want anyone but you. Feel, feel.” He grabs at Taehyung’s hand, presses it over his chest so he’ll be able to feel the way Jimin’s heart is hammering.

He doesn’t realize that his hands are shaking until Taehyung clasps both of them in both of his own, holding them together so tightly it almost hurts, steadying him. Jimin curls his fingers around Tae’s, his vision blurry with tears.

“I want you to make all your plans around me, I want you to never stop touching me, I’m so greedy about you, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung looks as though he isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry – he seems utterly at a loss, shaking his head, eyes wide like he can’t believe them, or maybe doesn’t dare. “But,” he says, tentative enough to break Jimin’s heart all over again. “But you said…”

“Not stop like stop us,” Jimin says. “Stop like stay, stop like stop trying to change things. I don’t want us to change, I love us, Taehyung-ah, I-”

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung breathes out, his voice utterly wrecked, and it shouldn’t be possible for them to clasp their hands any more forcefully than they were, but they do now, wound together, bent into each other’s space so they may as well be one creature.

“You thought I was breaking up with you?” Jimin asks. He can hardly even bring himself to say the words.

“Weren’t you?”

No,” Jimin says, as vehemently as he’s said anything in his life. “No, never-”

They’re almost talking over each other, now, overlapping sentences. Taehyung lets out a sob, a sound of utter, visceral relief. “Jimin-ah-”

Never, TaeTae-”

“Then why-”

“Because,” Jimin says, and he doesn’t know how honest he’s going to be before he just- is, choking on a laugh that comes out like a sob. “Because I’m so scared.”

They’re sitting so close, hands clasped between them, faces pressed together along the lengths of their noses, that Jimin can feel Taehyung’s breath on his lips when he speaks, quiet like they’re sharing secrets, any trace of anger gone. “Of me?”

Jimin shakes his head, and their noses nudge together as he does. Taehyung is home, he couldn’t be scary if he tried.

“Of people finding out,” Taehyung guesses.

Jimin shakes his head again, then, upon consideration, with a sniffle, “Yes, but that’s always.”

“Then…” Taehyung leaves the silent question hanging, unspoken, and this is the part where Jimin deflects, where he changes the subject so they don’t have to think about this, except- except they’re already thinking about it, they had a mostly-mutual breakdown in the ocean about it, and Taehyung is looking at him with his most earnest eyes, searching for answers, and he thought Jimin didn’t want him when the truth couldn’t be anything further from that, so Jimin closes his eyes and just talks.

“What if it changes everything?” he asks. “What if- what if you and I release a whole album of love songs as a duo, and we go and get secret-married and start being a grown-up real couple and then the others come back but we’re all used to being separate from each other by then and then that’s it, we’re all just… done.” The words come spilling out, blurring together in Jimin’s haste. “And then you and me are just- in the world, and we have to deal with all the shit that that means, because of how people expect us to live our lives, and we don’t get to be around people who really know us anymore and we’re never this happy and easy again.”

Jimin breaks off, out of breath. He feels frayed at every single edge he has, feels the panicked knot of his anxiety thrumming in his chest like something pressurized. “I don’t want to lose the way things are for us,” he says, finally, and he even manages to look Taehyung in the eye. “I don’t want things to change.”

Taehyung is visibly trying to collect himself, that’s what the look on his face means, Jimin knows. He’s not doing great at it, but he swipes at his nose, now, sniffles. It feels like a bomb’s been detonated between them, like they’re sitting here in the aftermath. “You think us doing grown-up relationship stuff would change things?”

“How could it not, Taehyung-ah?” Jimin says, the words impossibly heavy, and he and Taehyung look at each other, the weight of it settling between them, and then, as one, they’re clinging to each other. Crying together, this time, and it’s better than before, better than crying because of each other, but maybe worse, too, because Jimin doesn’t think this part is as easy to fix.

This part, he thinks, isn’t a fight. It maybe just- is.

Jimin hates it. If he could freeze time, stop the world right now, or better yet, years ago, when the seven of them had all the time in the world ahead of them, he would, without hesitation. He thinks he’d give up the money, the fame, maybe even the attention, if he could have that. All he wants is his Taehyung, and he wants the two of them to be surrounded by the people who know them and understand them and love them individually and as a pair. He wants to be allowed to keep existing in this impossibly stretched out bubble of youth the group has afforded them, this permanent boyhood where he can hold Taehyung’s hand as much as he wants and have it be chalked up to acceptable levels of affection, where he’s been able to spend most every day since he was seventeen with the person he loves and where their hyungs and Jungkook know about that love and it can just be that, love, without any of the real-world homophobic baggage and no expectation of Jimin to be either whatever bullshit macho caricature he’s supposed to be settled into by this age or the perfect, sexless doll people project onto him.

Jimin doesn’t know what his life looks like, outside of their bubble. He’s so, so frightened to find out.

His skin feels sticky from crying, his throat sore from the same. Taehyung, still cradling Jimin’s face, uses his thumbs to smudge away the tears from under Jimin’s eyes. Jimin does the same for him, and then they’re just looking at each other, cracked open.

“I hate not knowing what comes next,” Jimin admits. Mostly whispers.

“I’ve maybe noticed that about you, once or twice,” Taehyung says. It’s a pitiful attempt at a joke, really, but Jimin gives just the grossest, least attractive sniffle-laugh ever, and then he swipes at the tear tracks on Taehyung’s face again, uselessly, mostly just to touch him. It helps, a little.

“It’s scary,” he says.

“I know,” Tae says, simple, and he’s maybe the only person in the world from whom that never feels like a platitude, because he’s been here every step of the way. He sets his hand on the back of Jimin’s neck, and Jimin lets himself be tugged into another hug, burying his face in Taehyung’s shoulder and letting Taehyung rock them back and forth, like soothing a baby. That helps, too.

Jimin doesn’t know how long they stay there, holding each other. Minutes, hours. He comes back to himself a piece at a time, aware in increments. The rise and fall of Taehyung’s chest as he breathes. The smell of saltwater on their hair, the taste of it on Taehyung’s skin when Jimin touches his lips to his collarbone. A damp patch, where Jimin has been leaning against Taehyung’s hoodie.

“I got your shirt all wet,” he says, pulling back enough to sit up, just a little, without leaving Taehyung’s lap.

“It’s okay,” Taehyung says. “I blew my nose on yours.”

“Ew,” Jimin says, but it’s through a smile, shaky but real, and then Taehyung tugs down his own sleeve and uses it to wipe at Jimin’s nose, so they’re even. “I love you,” Jimin tells him, and Taehyung nods.

“I know,” he says. The moment has its own gravity, even with how many uncountable times the words have passed between them before tonight. “I do know that, Jimin-ah.”

Jimin touches Taehyung’s neck, his cheek. Presses their foreheads together. Soulmate, he thinks, with all the strength he has, my love, my Taehyung, only love of my life, my soulmate, my soul.

Taehyung lets out a long, shaky exhale. It’s a sound of visceral relief, of peace as he understands what Jimin is telling him, and Jimin feels Tae relax against him, feels, almost as tangibly, Taehyung thinking the same things for him. My soulmate, my Jiminie, my love, my angel. Jimin basks in it, nuzzling their noses together.

He feels exhausted, in a very physical way, like he’s just finished a concert. Still, he musters up an almost-grin. “I can’t believe you went in the ocean to think,” he teases.

“Where else would my thoughts go?” Taehyung asks, just so matter-of-factly nonsensical, and Jimin loves him, loves him, loves him. He laughs, wet and brokenly, sits up as tall as he can and kisses Taehyung’s forehead. Just once, no intent behind it but comfort, seeking and giving,

Taehyung’s arm is around Jimin’s back, and he runs his palm over the planes of it, smoothing up and down, a broad, gentle pressure. It’s quiet, he’s quiet, and then-

“I was looking for our songs,” he admits, his lips downturned with regret. He scrunches up a handful of Jimin’s shirt, smooths it back down. “I was thinking, too, but I was looking for them. I think they’re gone.”

Jimin kisses his cheek, so overcome with love he’s dizzy with it. This ridiculous man he loves. This boy and his heart. “It’s alright,” Jimin says. “We remember them.”

Taehyung peeks up at him, and Jimin nods, reassuring, and watches the reassurance work.

Taehyung drags a hand down his face, quick. Blinks, hard. “Can we be done fighting now?” he asks, like maybe he’s as tired as Jimin feels, and Jimin nods.

“Sleep?” he asks, question for a question, and Taehyung nods a yes as well, and so they extricate themselves from each other enough to stand, and then, without a word, they’re holding each other again, walking into their room without separating.

They lay down in the same way, both unwilling to let the other out of arm’s reach. Usually, Jimin will either big spoon or stretch out his arm so that Taehyung can hug him from the side and use him as a pillow, but tonight they stay holding each other face-to-face, a pair of brackets. Jimin touches the soft skin of Taehyung’s belly, the hollow of his throat. Taehyung brushes a lock of Jimin’s hair out of his face, so, so gentle a touch that Jimin would maybe cry again, if he wasn’t all cried out.

“My Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, then again, almost a question. “Mine.”

“Yours,” Jimin agrees, and scoots close enough that they can fall asleep with their foreheads touching again, sharing breath, and Taehyung lays his hand over Jimin’s between them, and that’s the last thing Jimin’s aware of, their fingers laced together – unchanging, never changing, at least that – before he drifts into sleep.

---

It’s a different kind of weird than it was after their date.

What it feels like, Jimin reflects, is opening the window to the aftermath of a storm that spent all summer building. There’s a stillness so hard-earned it feels tangible in the air, the whole world cloaked in a particularly loud kind of quiet that Jimin feels hesitant to break.

Fights between them have always felt apocalyptic, both of them stubborn and – Jimin thinks they’re self-aware enough to admit it – prone to dramatics, which is why they made the conscious choice to stop having fights at all. It’s been good for them, Jimin really does believe, the mutual agreement for each of them to prioritize the other’s happiness over their own ego, to trust that the other was doing the same thing, and they did. They do.

Last night, Jimin thinks, wasn’t ego. He doesn’t know how to pick up after that kind of a fight, where the problem that made the fight doesn’t just go away when they make up, where it’s not the sort of thing one of them can just give in to the other over.

They stay in bed together for a long time, the morning after. Jimin wakes up to the soft touch of Taehyung’s fingers combing through his hair; snuggles closer so he can wrap his arms around Taehyung and breathe him in, reassuring himself that they’re still okay.

“Hi,” he whispers.

“Hi,” Taehyung whispers back. He doesn’t stop playing with Jimin’s hair. Jimin doesn’t want him to, doesn’t want to break their quiet, so he pulls the sheets up over the both of them, making them a cave, soft-lit by sunlight through the white cloth.

It’s a while later, dozing on and off, touching all the while, that Taehyung traces the shell of Jimin’s ear with one finger. “Should we talk about it?”

Jimin bites lightly at the fabric of Taehyung’s shirt. “After?” he asks. “We will, but- later?” Then, honest, “I need to hold you more.”

He’s not as good at Taehyung at saying things like that without getting shy or blushy; case in point, Taehyung nuzzles closer into Jimin’s neck, says, “I’d like you to hold me too, Jimin-ah,” without even sounding flustered at all.

And so that’s what they do, spending the whole day in bed together, only getting up to walk Yeontan or fetch something to eat from the kitchen. The ground between them feels fragile, tender in its newness, like they’re both re-finding their footing after falling out of the habit of arguing. Jimin thinks they let go of each other for maybe, maybe two minutes that entire day – they’re touching constantly, hands or legs or everything overlapping, neither of them particularly capable of letting go, or willing to even if they were.

They make out lazily, tangled in the sheets, as the sun sets, kissing for its own sake, not working up to anything. Jimin likes Taehyung’s tongue against his, likes sharing breath with him, the two of them one creature again, the way they both feel best. Jimin presses two fingers to the plush of Tae’s lips, to his bottom teeth, and shivers, pleased, when Taehyung closes his mouth around them, when he kisses Jimin’s fingertips as Jimin finally withdraws them.

The next morning, still smelling of ocean and the sweat of a full day spent cuddled together in bed, they shower together, crammed into the too-small cubicle and holding each other under the water, just closeness, talking with touch the way that’s always come naturally to them.

They take their time washing each other, careful with it. Jimin lingers as he lathers bodywash on Taehyung’s shoulders, his chest; he kneels down to give kisses to the perfect, so-beloved softness of Taehyung’s tummy before soaping that up, too.

“You,” Taehyung says, so much tenderness in his voice as he pulls Jimin back to his feet that Jimin can only close his eyes and bask in it, and so he lets Taehyung take his turn shampooing Jimin’s hair and taking the opportunity to style it into some kind of ridiculous soapy mohawk.

“You,” Jimin chides, fond, and there’s never really been a line for the two of them between play and sex and peacemaking, so it’s the most natural thing in the world that their legs have been slotted together, occasionally and gently rocking their hips together almost since they got in the shower; just as natural for Taehyung to reach down to get them off, one of his big hands wrapped around both of their dicks at once. It’s certainly not the most sophisticated way they’ve had sex, but it feels important all the same, comforting in how them it is, and it stays them when Jimin lifts up to kiss Taehyung and ends up with shampoo in his eye while Taehyung tries clumsily to direct him under the water to rinse it out, ‘til both of them are left giggling uncontrollably and probably not all that clean at all.

They pass the whole day like that, hardly speaking beyond the necessities, just being with each other, just being bodies. It’s not until two evenings after their fight, when they’re laid out in the sand, their arms stretched out between them so they can hold hands, Jimin playing absently with Taehyung’s fingers, that it’s safe enough, Jimin’s anxiety enough of a quieted thing that he finally breaks their armistice.

“I didn’t know what you were thinking at all,” is what Jimin says, because that’s what he’s been thinking about since the other night, or at least a big part of it. “Or- why you were thinking it. I thought I did, but I didn’t, this whole summer.”

The realization is still surreal. Counterintuitive. He turns his head to look at Taehyung. Taehyung looks back, nods, simple.

“I thought I knew all your thoughts,” Jimin says. Admits. It sounds… prideful, out loud.

“I thought I knew all of yours,” Taehyung echoes, maybe a little bit hushed, like he knows how it sounds as well. They stare into each other’s eyes, both seeking answers.

Taehyung raises an eyebrow, guess what I’m thinking right now.

Jimin scrunches up his face, pretend-scolding, don’t think about my butt while we’re having a serious conversation, and Taehyung giggles – “You totally knew I was thinking about your butt, didn’t you?” “I totally did.” – and Jimin touches his cheek, then his chin, fond.

Taehyung’s smile turns something like wistful as he reaches across the tiny space between them and tucks Jimin’s hair back behind his ear. “It’s not… it’s not bad if we fight a tiny bit, you know?” he offers. “It’s not bad for us to have to get better at doing that, together.”

Jimin huffs out a breath, sends little grains of sand skittering out from the mildly put-out force of it. For some reason, it makes Taehyung smile.

“How much did perfectionist-you hate hearing that?”

“A lot,” Jimin bursts out, fully aware that he’s being ridiculous, but too stubborn not to be. “We’re perfect and the best and no one’s as good as we are together.”

Taehyung curls his fingers around Jimin’s, lifts Jimin’s hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles. Jimin can feel the way he’s smiling. Can hear it, bemused and echoing all the way through Taehyung’s voice when he sighs, unbearably fond, “Ah, Park Jiminie.” He squeezes Jimin’s hand twice, dwarfed in his own, and rolls over so he’s laying on his back, so he can grin up at the sky. “I love you so vastly.”

It disarms Jimin. That was maybe what it was supposed to do. They still know each other that much, Jimin thinks.

He thinks of Taehyung’s teary face, the other night. Thinks of him standing in the ocean, all alone.

Jimin holds a little tighter, wrapping all of his fingers around the length of one of Tae’s. “How,” he says, eventually, once he’s taken a deep, bracing breath. “How do we get better at knowing each other?”

Taehyung doesn’t gloat. Neither of them do, when it’s important, really. “The mature relationships article said communication is key,” he suggests, and Jimin bites back his instinctive argument.

It’s laughable, on the face of it. There are a million different ways in which he and Tae talk, almost constantly, in touch and in kisses and in eye contact and shared laughter. They’re in tune. Same wavelength.

Except for when Taehyung thought Jimin was breaking up with him. Except for how they’ve apparently been talking around each other all summer.

Except for those.

They haven’t been like that with each other in years. Jimin didn’t think they knew how anymore.

He doesn’t want to be prideful about this. Not about Taehyung. That’s what it comes down to, maybe.

Jimin nods, as much concession as he can manage. It dislodges another little pile of sand. Taehyung nods as well. It feels like a truce, like a pinky swear.

Communication. Okay, Jimin thinks, taking a breath. Okay.

So:

So they go slowly.

Slowly means they make a pillow fort.

It’s a fairly elaborate endeavour, all the pillows and blankets off their bed and the couch combined into a cozy little nest for them, just enough room for Jimin and Taehyung and the special Dessert For Dinner they decided to make as their reward for being mature about things. They feed each other excessively sugary ice cream until they can’t eat anymore, and then they set a timer on Tae’s phone so they won’t get distracted making out and tasting the fake-strawberry flavour off of each other’s lips for longer than ten minutes, and then they start.

“Okay,” Taehyung says. His lips are extremely pink and shiny, from the ice cream or the kissing, Jimin can’t tell. Jimin tugs on the knee of Tae’s pajama pants and Taehyung takes the hint, scoots in closer so they’re fitting together like puzzle pieces, Jimin sat cross-legged in between Taehyung’s outstretched legs. “Okay, your turn, go.”

Jimin presses the soles of his socked feet together. “It makes me scared that you thought I would ever not want you,” he says, truthful. “That’s not even a possibility in my head.” He wiggles his toes, pushing them together. He’s fidgeting, and he knows it. Not camera ready, he thinks drily. “It made me scared that the way we are isn’t enough for you to know that. This is embarrassing.”

“You’re not embarrassing,” Taehyung says. He tucks his arms around Jimin’s waist, toying with the band of Jimin’s pants. “The way we are is everything. Nothing is more important.”

“But you think it’s possible that I would ever stop wanting you,” Jimin presses. This, more than anything, is what’s been weighing on him since their blowup. Taehyung is his to take care of, Taehyung willingly puts his heart in Jimin’s hands to protect. If he has any room at all for doubt, it means that Jimin hasn’t been loving him properly. Jimin can’t bear the thought.

Taehyung is chewing his lip, thinking, thinking. Jimin smooths down the crinkled fabric of Taehyung’s shirt, over his heart.

“I don’t think we’d stop being soulmates,” Taehyung says, finally. “You’re- you know, the whole reason I was born is to be yours, that’s permanent.”

“I’m yours too,” Jimin insists. “We’re each other’s, TaeTae-”

“I know,” Taehyung says, squeezing Jimin’s hips once, reassuring. “I do, it’s more…” His tongue pokes out as he thinks. “It took us a while, to get to as good as we are for each other. I wanted to make sure we were prepared so we’d be able to keep going when things around us aren’t the way they’ve always been.”

Jimin must react more obviously to that last sentence than he means to, because Taehyung’s eyes flicker to his, watchful. “My turn?” he asks, then, when Jimin nods, bracing himself, “Don’t you think we were scared of the same thing? Of how it would be when things change?”

“If,” Jimin corrects. “If things change.”

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, the argument gentle, but obvious, and Jimin shakes his head, finds himself scrunching up Taehyung’s shirt in his fists all over again, nudging their foreheads together.

“That’s it,” Jimin says, trying to will Tae to understand, to make his words do what he needs them to. “That’s the whole- we’re not afraid of the same thing, because you’re skipping ahead like everything is already over.” Taehyung rubs his hands along Jimin’s thighs, to his criss-crossed knees and back, and Jimin forces himself to take a breath in time with the gesture, to focus on their closeness, let it ground him. “I was never worried about us,” he says, quietly, once he can. “I was worried for us, for how it would be for us if we lost what we have now, not that we wouldn’t be an us anymore. I don’t know why you thought…”

He trails off, overwhelmed.

Taehyung looks stricken, worrying at a stray thread of Jimin’s shorts. Jimin knows that they’re both aware of the same thing, the tightrope they’re walking between capital-C Communication and fighting again, and that neither of them wants to lose their balance.

“I didn’t think we would stop being us without the group,” Taehyung says, eventually. Maybe abashedly, a little bit. “I just wanted to make sure.”

Jimin shifts to tuck his knees up by his chest, sitting curled up in a ball so he can scoot even closer to Taehyung, bury his face in Tae’s shoulder. “I want you to be sure,” Jimin says, muffled. Then, so softly he can hardly hear himself, “I’m already sure.”

“Ah, Jimin-ah, don’t-” Taehyung sounds pained; looks it, too, when he draws back, a hand on either side of Jimin’s face. “Listen to me,” he says, firm. That way he gets, sometimes, where he looks all-of-a-sudden more man than boy. “I don’t know if you realize-” he breaks off with a breathless kind of a laugh, shaking his head. “I thought I was going to spend my whole life working on a farm.”

He rubs a thumb over the apple of Jimin’s cheek, eyes shining, and Jimin closes his eyes, leans into the touch.

Taehyung talks, low and fervent. “You’re a miracle, Jimin-ah. The fact that I got to meet the love of my life in high school, that I get to be here, in a place like this, and take care of my family for the rest of their lives while I still get to make music with you, it’s- in my heart, that’s a miracle. Really, so literally, you’re a miracle, a true one.” He kisses Jimin’s forehead, leaves his lips to linger there like he knew Jimin was about to ask him to. “I’m sure about you. You’re the only thing I’m sure about, sometimes. That doesn’t mean I don’t know how rare you are. How rare we are. I want to protect it, that’s all.”

Which is-

It’s not what Jimin expected, from him.

I protect you,” Jimin says, somewhere between bemused and surprised – Taehyung is his baby, Jimin keeps him safe from the world, Jimin does more than enough worrying for the pair of them – and then surprised again when Taehyung smiles.

“I know you do,” he says, through a laugh. “I know, and I was trying to take my turn this time, for once in fifteen years, but you’re too damn stubborn, Park Jiminie-”

And then they’re both giggling, and Jimin’s worries about Communication were for nothing, it turns out, because they don’t end up fighting at all, not the whole rest of the night; they end up watching Howl’s Moving Castle until they fall asleep snuggled up together in their pillow fort like a pair of kids, and when Jimin wakes up, he feels lighter, feels like maybe he understands something he didn’t before.

It’s easier, the Mature Adult Communication thing, after that first time.

They’ve always been good at falling into routines, so they do that now, adding talking into their daily activities. Or- they’ve always talked, they’ve spent all summer talking non-stop and still always have more to say to each other, but now they make a point of talking about the hard stuff, the stuff that’s harder to make into words. Like-

“I kind of felt like you weren’t listening to me,” Taehyung tells Jimin, one evening. “Like, you’ve always listened, but then you muted me and kept acting like things were okay.”

and-

“I don’t like it when you walk away,” Jimin says, later in the week. “It makes me feel so bad, when you leave me by myself.”

They almost fight again, a couple of times, their fine line strung taught.

Neither of them yells. Neither of them walks away.

They talk, and they listen, because this, loving each other actively, on purpose, is a thing that they’re good at, together.

They rework a couple of the new songs they’ve been writing. They write a couple more, lyrics pouring out like the floodgates have been opened.

Kim Yeontan,” Taehyung sings, in his absolute most booming opera voice while Jimin rolls on the ground, laughing uncontrollably. “You light up my li-i-ife.

Jimin claps, “That’s the title track, that’s the single!”, and Taehyung falls on top of him, giggling as well, and they roll around while Tannie eyes them from his spot on the couch like you’re both insane.

It feels easy again between them, the way they’re supposed to be. Jimin didn’t realize how much tension he was holding inside of himself, these last few months, until it’s begun to relax.

They walk together, a week or so on, hand in hand along one of the winding village roads, and Jimin takes his turn to ask another question.

“Has it really been upsetting you that we never picked a relationship word for us? All this time, has it-”

“No,” Taehyung says, and Jimin peers over at him, skeptical, but he looks like he’s being truthful. “No, I never really thought about it, until I did.” Jimin gives him a look, wry, at that maze of a sentence, and Taehyung gives a little laugh. At least he’s self-aware. “C’mon, you know what I mean. Recently. And, like, even then, it was more that you really didn’t want to and I didn’t know why. It made me feel confused.”

“It’s not-” Jimin starts then falters, wanting to make sure he says what he wants to, properly. “You’re already all of the words to me. I really mean that!”

“You as well, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung says, and shoots Jimin a wink, all pretend-cocky, when their eyes meet again. They swing out, joined hands stretched between them as they round the corner in the road before coming back together, matching up their steps again. The evening is cloudless, all rainbow colours in the sunset.

“Okay,” Jimin says, “okay, but I want to make sure that you know why-”

“You don’t have to explain,” Taehyung cuts him off, shaking his head. “You told me you’re sure, you told me to be sure, that’s- it’s enough for me, Jimin-ah, I shouldn’t have not trusted us, you don’t need to justify-”

“I want to,” Jimin insists, because he doesn’t half-ass things, that’s not him. If they’re communicating, they’re going to Communicate, damn it. “It’s not that I don’t like the idea of us being- you know, husbands or- whatever, partners or anything like that, but our lives are like this perfect dream, we’re a dream, and I feel like doing all that stuff that normal people do means waking up.”

Taehyung is listening intently, Jimin can tell from his expression, but he makes a joke all the same, like maybe he can tell that Jimin is getting flustered. “I don’t know,” Tae says, lightening the mood. “Have you seen me? Imagine being married to all this, that seems like a dream to me.” He does a body roll, right there in the middle of the street, and Jimin’s eye roll is immediately and deeply undercut by the smile he can’t hide.

“Definitely husband material,” Jimin agrees.

“Nah, I’m Jiminie material, exclusive, no returns or exchanges,” Taehyung says, all proud of himself, and Jimin presses a kiss to Taehyung’s cheek, fond.

“Jiminie husband material.”

Taehyung gives him a Look, somewhere between reproachful and fond. “I can’t tell if you’re being an incredibly cruel tease or if this is you reconsidering the marrying me thing,” he says, and Jimin is spared from having to respond – I don’t know, is what he was going to say, and that realization catches him by surprise, because before it would have been a panicked no – by both of their phones buzzing in unison, which means it’s the groupchat.

Jimin checks his for the both of them, tilting the screen so Taehyung will be able to see. It’s Jin, spamming the conversation with excessive photos for the first time in a whole month.

someone tell me how hot I look IMMEDIATELY, he texts, and Namjoon replies right then as well, Incredibly massive amounts of sex appeal, hyung, and somehow manages to sound deadpan even in writing.

Jimin squeezes his phone tighter, mostly unconsciously. “I just don’t want to change what’s good,” he says, a too-belated answer to Taehyung’s almost-question, spoken through the sudden lump in his throat. “It’s good, what we have.”

Taehyung’s eyes are soft when Jimin looks up at him, uncertain. “Jimin-ah,” he says, while Jimin puts his phone back into his pocket. He looks careful, his thinking furrow creasing the space between his eyebrows. “You know how you got sad when I thought you didn’t want me?”

Jimin nods, unsure where exactly Taehyung is going with this.

Tae shrugs. Says, very frank, “I don’t think you’re giving the others enough credit. Think how mad they’d be if they found out you think we’d all stop being a family after the group ends.”

“They’re coming back,” Jimin says, instinctively tensing up at the suggestion of the group being over. He says it maybe more abruptly than he means to, but Taehyung’s voice stays gentle.

“I know,” he says. “We’re not done yet. Not close. But, you know, some day in the future, whenever it is, when we are- they’re always our brothers. We always belong to them.” He squeezes Jimin’s hand tighter. “We’re sure about each other. We can be sure about them, too, right?”

Jimin’s exhale is a little shaky, a little bit more forceful than usual. He never has been able to muster up a good answer to Taehyung’s ability to cut to the quick. Jimin’s good at untangling Taehyung for the world, but Taehyung is good at untangling the world for Jimin, of making things seem plain and simple and true in a way that Jimin’s not good at doing on his own.

Taehyung’s right, of course. None of their hyungs would give Jimin a moment’s rest if they found out he was doubting them. But- but it’s not them he’s doubting, Jimin reasons, not really.

“We’ve been lucky, you know?” Jimin says, and if Taehyung is confused by the non-sequitur, he doesn’t show it, just nods, stays quiet as Jimin finds his words. “To have the five of them. They’ve kept us- this, I mean, us like you and me-” he lifts their joined hands to show what he means, “-safe. Safe from the world.” Jimin feels himself smile, cringing a little too, at the memories. “They put up with us being teenagers with crushes, oh, god-”

Taehyung nods, reflective like an old man. “Jungkookie was the first person I ever told I was gay,” he says; then, dry, “Well. I told him I liked you. Then I started crying. Then he started crying. It was very embarrassing for everyone involved.”

Jimin giggles, bumping their shoulders together. “You two,” he says, full-up with love for his Taehyung, their friends, how them the story is. Crybabies.

Jimin doesn’t think he has the words for it, how much of a gift it is to have people who know about them, Jimin-and-Taehyung as a unit, people who are protective of them, who see his and Tae’s love as something good and special. And he knows- he knows Taehyung is right, he knows the others won’t stop loving them, but there’s such a difference between loving people and seeing them every day versus loving people and only seeing them on special occasions, going off on different paths that only occasionally intersect.

There are different rules, when you’re not seven. Different rules for how men can interact without questions. Jimin doesn’t know them, doesn’t know where to even start.

Jimin doesn’t have the words for that, but he tries. “I like that we don’t have to be anything for them,” he says, disentangling his fingers from Taehyung’s, only momentarily, only so that he can link their arms instead, holding onto the crook of Taehyung’s elbow so they can snuggle closer as they walk. “You know when you’re little, before you know about expectations and like, society, and what being straight even means, and you don’t have to think about how to exist, you just- are? As you? They keep us so safe from the world, Taehyung-ah.”

Taehyung’s Namjoon impression is immediately recognizable, the overly-ponderous way he’s nodding and steepling his fingers like a professor. “Hm, so you’re subconsciously equating normal life with the isolating and compulsorily heterosexual version of adulthood you spent years dreading.”

Which is just-

Of course, Taehyung sees the words underneath Jimin’s words. He always has.

Jimin schools his face, adds in his own best attempt at a Namjoon-esque, “Let’s unpack this,” and their mock-serious staring contest lasts maybe five seconds before they both dissolve into giggles.

Taehyung doesn’t force the subject, not today. Jimin would love him for it, if he didn’t love him already.

It’s complicated. Maybe more complicated than communication, in general. His own sexuality isn’t a topic Jimin particularly likes or feels comfortable with, and that discomfort makes him feel bad in its own right, an awful mobius strip of simultaneously feeling too gay and not gay enough. It’s taken him years and years to feel safe enough to look the way he feels best, to police his own actions and mannerisms even slightly less than he spent most of his life compulsively doing. And even then, even as far as he knows he’s come in self-acceptance, it sometimes – often – feels impossible for Jimin to untangle which of his thoughts on the matter are even really his versus which ones come from the thoughtlessly or actively cruel things kids said growing up versus which ones come from having his entire teenage and adult life commented upon by millions and millions of people.

It's the kind of thing that seeps into other things, Jimin thinks, colouring more areas of his life than it has any right to; and Taehyung thinks the same thing, he must, because a couple of days later, when the two of them are shoulder-to-shoulder at the bathroom sink, washing up at the end of the day, he asks Jimin, “Do you wish you weren’t gay?”

Jimin spits out his mouthful of toothpaste. “Why are you asking that?” he asks, carefully.

Taehyung shrugs. “I feel like a lot of the stuff that you worry about is related to it. Not just in a people finding out way. That part I get. More… in general.” He’s got a dab of foaming cleanser still sitting on the tip of his nose; Jimin lifts up on his toes mostly-unnecessarily to wipe it off as he contemplates how best to answer. Communication is hard when you don’t want to give an answer, he’s learned. Harder, maybe, when you don’t know an answer.

“I don’t… wish I wasn’t gay,” Jimin says, finally, and only trips on the word a little. He runs his tongue over the front of his teeth, checking that they feel clean. Maybe delaying a little bit more. Taehyung watches, patient. “I wish it wasn’t such a thing.

Taehyung looks thoughtful. “I kind of like that it’s a thing,” he says. A counterpoint, a curious one, not an argument. “Separate from all the bad stuff, it’s- there’s all this history and music and art and ideas.”

Jimin tilts his head, not quite conceding. “It’s different for us, I think,” he says, taking his time screwing the cap back onto his toothpaste. “Like, if I was a girl, you wouldn’t be attracted to me, right?”

“I’m always attracted to you,” Taehyung says, no hesitation at all, and Jimin smiles at the compliment, at the speed of it.

“I know, my beebee,” he reassures. “But- for you it’s like, you’re a man and you like men, right? The man thing is part of it, for you.”

Taehyung nods. “It’s not, for you?”

Jimin holds out his hand, and Taehyung passes him the bottle of facial cleanser they’ve been sharing. “It’s not not, just-” Jimin makes a face. “It’s like, you’re a man and I’m a man and I only like men, fine, but what does that even mean? The whole idea of masculinity is so arbitrary if you stop to think about it for like, ten seconds, and then the man thing comes with all these gender rules and expectations for who I am and what my relationships look like, it’s so… icky. I hate it.” It comes out childish, not nearly as sophisticated or eloquent as Jimin hoped. He knows Taehyung is listening anyways, can tell by the way his brow his furrowed that he’s really thinking about Jimin’s words.

Jimin has finished cleaning his face by the time Taehyung says, slow, “I think I… eighty percent get it.”

“Eighty percent is okay,” Jimin says, and means it. “It’s a weird topic. Gender stuff is weird.” He doesn’t say it in a particularly self-deprecating way – it is what it is, probably just one of those things that will always make him falter a little; he’s been through enough that it won’t stop him doing what he likes anymore – but Taehyung frowns.

“Weird isn’t bad,” he says. He sounds like he’s ready to fight a non-existent enemy on Jimin’s behalf, and it makes Jimin laugh, touched.

“Okay, Taehyung-ah,” he says, and is about to busy himself putting away their toiletries, but Taehyung grabs his arm, stopping him before he can.

He loops his thumb and ring finger around Jimin’s wrist, then his thumb and middle finger. “Jimin-ah,” he says, looking Jimin right in the eye. He looks like a storybook character, like a prince from a fairytale, when he speaks with conviction like this. “It’s pretty cool that we can be gay differently together.”

Jimin’s stomach flutters. “Really?”

Taehyung nods, eager as anything. “Really, so you should do whatever you want, okay?” he says, earnest. “You’re the coolest person on the planet. Every gender thing you do is so cool and good and sexy, Jimin-ah, I mean it.”

Jimin is caught by surprise at the lump in his throat, when Taehyung says that. It’s not- Jimin knows Taehyung is attracted to him pretty much always, that goes both ways. To hear it so frankly, though, in this context, a direct response to what Jimin’s spent multiple decades struggling with and still isn’t as comfortable about as he would like to pretend to be-

On an impulse, and maybe partly so he won’t start crying, Jimin rifles through one of their makeup bags left sitting on the bathroom counter. He finds the little tube he was looking for, catches Taehyung’s chin to tilt him down to a better angle, and Taehyung literally just finished cleaning his face, but he purses his lips, lets Jimin apply a layer of excessively glittery, 90s-esque lip gloss.

“Sexy,” Jimin says, decisive, as he leans back to admire his work.

“Yeah, I know, babe,” Taehyung says in his most fathoms-deep and obnoxious manly voice, which is immediately undercut by the kissy face he makes and peace sign he flashes.

If fifteen year old Jimin could see himself now, Jimin thinks drily, and can’t tell if the thought makes him want to laugh or cry. He feels the same kind of torn whenever he looks back at pictures of himself as a teenager, back when they were just starting out and he looked like he flunked out of Masc 101, desperately attempting to will himself into being something he wasn’t and isn’t.

You’re in love with the handsomest man alive, Jimin imagines telling his past self. And he loves you back. You-you. Real you.

They wander out to the porch to watch the sunset, the way that’s become a habit. Jimin mostly ends up watching Taehyung, which has been a habit for as long as he can remember. He hasn’t gotten bored of either habit yet, not once.

Taehyung really is like something from a fairytale, Jimin thinks, watching him now. Tae is humming one of their songs to himself, murmur-singing the occasional word, seemingly at random. Him, in his giant cardigan, his backwards baseball hat over his mop of messy hair – it’s getting long again – and his face as unkempt as Jimin’s seen it, between multiple weeks’ worth of stubble and the remnants of today’s sparkly lip gloss. He’s the most pure person Jimin has ever known. Not in some condescending, childish way, just- he’s always been so completely himself, and it’s such a precious thing in their line of work and in the world in general.

If Jimin is a miracle, Taehyung is a revelation. A truth.

Jimin nuzzles his face against Taehyung’s cheek like a cat. It’s scratchy, they both are. They can shave together tomorrow.

Taehyung smiles his special, softest Jimin smile at the gesture, mouths “I love you”. Jimin kisses the tip of his nose before curling up, his head pillowed in Tae’s lap. Taehyung’s arm is around Jimin’s back almost before Jimin’s settled in place, his thumb rubbing a steady back and forth along the nape of Jimin’s neck.

Jimin supposes he must doze off like that, between Taehyung’s touches and his quiet humming and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, because when he wakes up, he’s momentarily disoriented by how dark it’s become. The air against his skin is cooler than it was before, the night breeze coming off of the ocean, but Jimin doesn’t feel cold. It’s easy enough to see why: he’s got Yeontan curled into a ball of fluff against his chest, Taehyung’s too-big cardigan draped over the both of them like a blanket, and Taehyung’s thigh still under his head like a pillow.

Jimin shifts, stretching out without moving enough to disturb Tannie or Taehyung. Taehyung is asleep now too, sitting up, with his head lolling forward at an angle that makes Jimin’s neck sore just by looking. He hasn’t moved at all, not even the metre or so it would take to be able to lean against the siding of the house. Jimin knows Taehyung enough to know that it – the staying – was for him. Tae wouldn’t have even given his own discomfort a second thought.

Jimin rolls enough that he’s lying on his back, enough that he can look up at Taehyung’s sleeping face. He feels, not for the first time and not for the last, overwhelmed with love, overflowing with it. Everything this summer, every up and down and willful and accidental miscommunication, hasn’t shifted the conviction that Jimin feels for this, for him. It’s simple fact: Park Jimin has belonged to Kim Taehyung, know it or not, since they were practically children; he will belong to Kim Taehyung, he knows with absolute certainty, for the rest of their lives. When he says Taehyung is his soulmate, he doesn’t mean that flippantly or as a term of endearment – it’s real. Jimin truly does believe that, in a way that would sound insane even to him, if he couldn’t feel it. As is, the only option that really makes sense is that the universe shaped itself to bring them together, made them for each other on an atomic level.

He remembers-

The first time they kissed, eighteen and in a cramped bedroom in the dorm with Hobi snoring cluelessly from five feet away, Jimin can recall clear as day the precise look Taehyung had on his face.

“Do you feel that?” is what Taehyung said, after they kissed that first time. His eyes were still closed, his voice hushed and reverent, and something about it had reminded Jimin surreally of religion, like their kiss had been something holy instead of two awkward teenagers with absolutely no sexual experience squished into a twin sized bed and touching their lips together so carefully it barely felt like a touch.

Taehyung looked like such a boy. Jimin had kissed a boy. It could ruin the whole group. It could ruin Jimin’s life. He wanted so badly to do it again. He wanted to scream.

Taehyung opened his eyes and met Jimin’s. Jimin-ah, is it just me-

Looking into Taehyung’s eyes felt like looking into an open wound, like Taehyung was holding out his heart with no thought that Jimin could break it. Just like that. Jimin was so jealous of him he couldn’t breathe.

“I feel it,” Jimin said back, and what he meant was I feel you, it’s not just you, how am I ever going to want to kiss someone else again, and it was the god’s honest truth, and then Jimin got up and stress-cried in the bathroom for forty minutes, and it would still be years from that first kiss before either of them admitted to loving the other, but right from that moment, it was them, Taehyung and Jimin as incontrovertible truth, and the point of that, the fact of that, is-

The fact is, they belong to each other. They want to belong to each other, that’s what they’ve decided.

The other fact, Jimin thinks now, staring up at the long-since memorized angles of Taehyung’s face, the dark waves of his hair blocking out the stars, is that they’re not the same as they were when they started. Jimin breathes out, forces himself to sit in the truth of that.

Those kids in the too-small bed, walking to school, seeing the world, arguing over nothing and making excuses to touch each other and spending their entire adult lives shaping themselves around the other – those kids are part of them, still, but not them anymore, not really. And Jimin can’t help but grieve their loss, has maybe spent all summer doing that without realizing it, but – and this, he realizes, is the important part – he wouldn’t trade the version of Taehyung he’s got now to get those kids back. Wouldn’t trade the version of himself that he’s got now, either. Jimin loves what he and Taehyung have become. He’s loved all the things they’ve become together, all these years.

He guesses the kid he was would have been scared to become the person he is now, as well.

They’re not the same as they were when they started. That’s the point, Jimin supposes, against every perfectionist and cowardly and anxious instinct he has, the fact that you can know everything about someone and still have to keep learning how to know them and to fight with them and what they need when they become new versions of themself. He wants to do that, for Taehyung. With Taehyung.

So.

Jimin pets Yeontan’s tiny little head. Pets Taehyung’s knee where it pokes out from the hem of his shorts. They’re both warm. Both his.

So: Jimin still wants to freeze time, to barricade himself with a protective wall of the people who love them and stay in their now for forever. He doesn’t think he’ll ever stop wanting that.

He thinks, though, he might want to see what later looks like, too. He wants the next now, with Taehyung. Will always want that.

Fact, Jimin thinks, and feels the kind of determination that makes him brave, the kind that comes from love. In the distance, the waves shush against the sand again and again, changing and unchanging.

So: Jimin starts to plan.

---

“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin says, and it’s a declaration, but not of war.

Taehyung has been sitting at the piano, playing the same three notes for the past forty minutes, in one of his Taehyung trances, though he looks up as Jimin slides onto the bench next to him.

“Park Jimin,” Taehyung echoes, giving Jimin a quick smile before turning back to the keys, which will not do.

Jimin takes a deep breath. It’s us, he reminds himself. Good change. “Do you have plans tonight?”

Taehyung looks up again, tilts his head this time, clearly not sure where Jimin is going with this. “No?”

“Good,” Jimin says, and he crooks a finger in Taehyung’s collar, tugs him sharply, just close enough to be tantalizing. It’s easier to be confident when he plays it up, makes it a performance. “We’re going on a date.”

Taehyung’s mouth drops into a perfect ‘o’ of shock, and Jimin watches the shock turn into delight like it’s happening in slow motion, wills himself to memorize the sheer glee he sees on Taehyung’s face as he processes Jimin’s words so that he can think back on it and feel happy for the rest of forever. “Really?”

Jimin loves him. He kisses Taehyung, helpless with affection, and then one kiss turns into two turns into Taehyung flinging his legs over Jimin’s, curving together so he’s mostly in Jimin’s lap, and Jimin plays with the hair at the nape of Taehyung’s neck, makes a wordless sound of protest as Taehyung breaks the kiss.

“Jimin-ah,” he says, blinking a bunch of times, shaking his head just slightly. Jimin touches Taehyung’s lips, fascinated by the shine of spit lingering there. “You don’t have to do this for me.”

That’s enough to make Jimin frown. “Who says it’s for you?” he asks, because- well, it is for Taehyung, but it’s not something Jimin is doing out of obligation, forcing himself into. It’s for both of them, because Taehyung was brave for Jimin, reaching out all these months, so Jimin is going to be brave for him, too. They change together. They change for good, they decided.

Jimin brushes back Taehyung’s hair, puts on his sexy and confident voice again, and tilts his neck so he looks his absolute most handsome when he says, “I’ll pick you up at eight.”

Taehyung’s brilliant smile is back, then, and brighter than ever. “I want to bite your neck, it’s so smooth.”

“Shh, I’m being cool and hot,” Jimin pouts.

“Sorry, sorry, it was very cool and hot,” Taehyung promises, but he’s smiling from ear to ear, practically giddy and not even trying to hide it.

He looks like the sun, better than the sun, and Jimin loves him so much it’s legitimately physically painful, so he kisses Taehyung’s nose, just a quick peck, then leaves with at least some of his dignity intact to go power pose in the bathroom until he’s feeling functional again.

It's cloudy out, the sky a pretty greyish blue as evening comes, which isn’t ideal, but Jimin’s prepared enough that he’s confident that everything else will be. It certainly starts out that way, once Taehyung steps outside to where Jimin’s been waiting for him on the porch – “I asked,” he explained inside, “so I have to pick you up.” He’s wearing suspenders over his dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, which makes him look like a handsome young art history professor, which is one of Jimin's favourite looks of his, which Jimin thinks Taehyung definitely knows; Jimin, in return, wore his absolute tightest pair of pants, because he knows that Taehyung gets borderline incoherent at the way they make Jimin’s thighs look. It’s nice, knowing those things for each other.

Jimin maybe ogles Taehyung’s forearms a little as he jogs closer. Really nice, knowing those things.

Jimin tucks the little sprig of wildflowers he prepared into Taehyung’s lapel, fussing over the positioning maybe a little more than necessary. Conscious of Taehyung’s gaze on him, of him worrying that Jimin doesn’t really want to be doing this, Jimin draws back and gives a little bow, because he defaults to character work when he’s nervous, apparently. “Your majesty.”

Taehyung goes along with the roleplay, because he always does. “Jimin-ah,” he gasps, over the top dramatic, the back of one hand laid against his forehead. “But you’re only a humble stablehand, what will the kingdom say?”

“Fuck the kingdom,” Jimin says in his best, most dashing leading man voice. “Run away with me, Taehyung-ah.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Taehyung says, fake-swooning, and he’s so ridiculous and adorable and Jimin’s favourite favourite favourite, so Jimin grabs his hand, tugs him into a run, the two of them slipping along through the sand. They veer close enough to the water that Taehyung kicks some up, splashing at Jimin’s ankles.

“Hey!”

“Oh, damn, guess you’re gonna have to take your pants off,” Taehyung says, pretend-wistful and with zero remorse at all, and it’s so shameless that Jimin surprises even himself with how hard he laughs. Hard enough that he stops running, almost doubled over with giggles. It feels like relief.

He leans against Taehyung, laughing ‘til he’s sore with it, trusting that Taehyung will keep him on his feet. That’s what he does, for Jimin.

Jimin swipes at the couple of tears that snuck out – happy tears, he thinks. He’s happy, tonight – and smiles up at Taehyung. “I know,” he says, midway between excuse and explanation, because he knows that tonight was supposed to be the two of them taking a grown-up step, “I know we’re supposed to be doing a mature adult grown-up official date, but-”

“Shh.” Taehyung cuts him off, abruptly, and Jimin stares, taken aback. “Did you hear that?” The beach is silent save for the two of them. Jimin tilts his head, confused, and Taehyung grabs his hand, eyes wide as they dart this way and that. “It’s the palace guards, Jimin-ah, run, run!”

And just like that, like permission, they’re back in their world of pretend, the both of them indulging the other one’s nonsense as they run along the beach, shrieking with laughter and twirling each other around, just the two of them sprinting headlong towards their date.

It's perfect. It’s just incandescently perfect in the way that only Tae can make Jimin feel, every single one of Jimin’s anxieties disappearing into the sound of their footsteps and the breathless ache in his lungs at the exertion, like dance, this feels like dance, or it does until Taehyung trips over a piece of driftwood, arms flailing wildly, and stumbles directly onto his ass.

“Oh,” Jimin gasps, dropping to his knees next to Taehyung, instantly on the border of panic once he sees the twist of pain in Taehyung’s face. “Are you hurt?”

Taehyung shakes his head, ears just the smallest bit flushed with embarrassment at jolting them out of their game. “No,” he says. “No, don’t worry about me, stand up, you’re going to get your pants all sandy.”

“I don’t care,” Jimin tsks, but he stands, holds out a hand to help haul Taehyung to his feet. Taehyung has always been terrible at hiding his hurt in front of Jimin: it’s immediately evident that he’s favouring one leg over the other, holding tight to Jimin and barely putting weight on his left ankle.

“Taehyung-ah,” Jimin starts, fully prepared to fuss over him, but Taehyung shakes his head, manages two obviously-laboured steps forward before Jimin grabs his belt loop to stop him. “Your foot-”

“I’m good,” Taehyung says, determined as anything, and tries for another hop. Jimin’s the one who’s been working out more the last couple of months, though, so he loops his arms around Taehyung’s waist and physically prevents him from moving, tries to support Taehyung’s weight while he’s at it. Taehyung squirms. Jimin holds fast. “Take me to my date, please.”

“You can’t walk on your ankle if it’s hurt,” Jimin says, torn between endeared and exasperated, but Tae just shakes his head.

“I’m not missing this,” he says, stubborn – damn it, it’s endeared, Jimin is more endeared than exasperated by a mile – and they get into a staring contest about it, and Jimin likes his odds, he really does, except for then Taehyung plays incredibly dirty and hits Jimin with the full force of his puppy eyes pleading face, and one thing leads to another leads to Jimin piggy-backing Taehyung the rest of the way, picking his way along the beach extra slowly so as not to jostle Tae’s sore foot.

Taehyung goes out of his way to be the most distracting passenger ever, nuzzling into Jimin’s neck, kissing behind his ear. “So strong,” he coos, because he is cruel and evil and definitely trying to make Jimin get hard right here in nature. “You’re so strong, it’s so hot when you carry me-”

“I’m throwing you in the water,” Jimin threatens, but he doesn’t, just adjusts his grip under Taehyung’s thighs to make sure he’s supporting him properly, and they’re both in good spirits in spite of the injury by the time they make it to the outcropping of almost-flat rocks where Jimin set up their picnic.

Jimin wandered along the beach for ages, these last few days, trying to find the most picturesquely perfect spot possible for their date. He and Tae have both always had an eye for beauty, especially for beauty to show the other, and Jimin knows enough about Taehyung to know that the spot he chose will speak to his soul, the way that the rocks jut out into the water like a natural invitation, the way whatever kind of chemistry made up the rocks makes them glimmer almost as much as the wave tips, even on a grey day like today. The whole scene is set off to its most beautiful advantage by the red and white checked blanket Jimin laid out this morning, corners weighed down by piles of pebbles and the entire middle piled high with dishes of food that he spent forever arranging.

He hears Taehyung’s intake of breath next to his ear. “You did all this?”

“I didn’t want to have to do the brothers lie again,” Jimin explains, leaning his head against Taehyung’s. “So I thought, if it’s just us…” He trails off, nervous again, suddenly. He wants this to be perfect, for Taehyung.

“Jimin-ah, look at this, you’re wonderful,” Taehyung enthuses, squeezing Jimin tighter as they approach the picnic blanket, like he could feel Jimin getting nervy.

“Look,” Jimin says, as he helps Taehyung down from his back, helps him to sit. “Look, I got your favourites, and I ordered tiramisu specially from the bakery, and I even got strawberries from the- what is that?” Jimin cuts himself off, midway to sitting down, and stares, horrified, at the food he spent so long laying out. Every single dish is swarming with dozens of tiny ants, dark little pinpricks making themselves at home in each dollop of whipped cream, on every shiny fruit.

No,” Jimin moans, mortified.

“Extra protein?” Taehyung suggests, then, when Jimin shoots him a deeply traumatized look that, if not full of daggers, is at least armed with them, he reaches out and rubs Jimin’s back, soothing. “No, don’t be sad, c’mon-”

Jimin buries his face in his hands, wills himself not to stress and stresses anyways. He feels an ant crawl across his arm, and doesn’t bother to flick it off. Taehyung does it for him.

“Stuff keeps going wrong,” Jimin says, words squished up against his palms.

Taehyung tugs his hands down, leaning in close to bump their noses together, reassuring. “Hey, no, I’m having so much fun, Jimin-ah,” he says – and he’s being sincere, is the worst part, Taehyung is so good and wonderful and loving that he’s actually convincing himself he’s having a good time on this disaster of a date – and then he tugs at the corner of Jimin’s lips, gives him his own smile, conspiratorial. “Besides, this just means we used up all our bad luck for the night.”

The end of his sentence is drowned out by a roll of thunder.

They both look upwards, and both promptly get a face full of rain as the skies open up. Like they’re on a fucking cue.

“…you’re joking,” Jimin says, incredulous. It’s coming down in sheets, the soaking, no-escape kind of rain that means that, within seconds, his carefully styled hair is plastered flat to his head, that Taehyung’s shirt is soaked enough to cling to him and be mostly see-through, and Jimin can’t even enjoy the chance to stare at Taehyung’s chest, because really.

The good news, Jimin supposes, is that Taehyung’s ankle can’t be hurt that badly, since, when they make a break for it, he’s managing an off-beat sort of run-hopping, laughing hysterically all the while. At least one of them is having a good time? Jimin is not dismissing the possibility of him being delirious with pain. Maybe delirious with hypothermia, from the rain? Maybe both, oh god.

They’re both entirely, comprehensively drenched by the time they make it back to their beach house; they skid to a stop, pressed together in the doorway, huddling under the barely-there overhang from the rain, not that it really matters at this point.

“This was a terrible date,” Jimin despairs, frustrated, and Taehyung is already shaking his head.

“It was perfect,” he laughs. “You’re perfect.”

“Shut up,” Jimin grumbles, petty.

“No,” Taehyung says, because he is and always has been shameless. “You’re so beautiful.” He brushes back Jimin’s soaked hair, and Jimin peers up at him, softening in spite of himself. Taehyung sounds awed, amazed in the way that he only gets when he looks at Jimin, as he says, “You’re the most beautiful person in the world, I want to stare at you forever.”

And, really, truly, still and always, Jimin has never had a defense against him, not when he’s like this.

“Stare at me forever,” Jimin requests, preening under Taehyung’s praise, his gaze, the way that Taehyung can make him feel like the most desirable person in the world.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, matching Jimin’s smile with his own.

“Okay,” Jimin echoes.

“Okay,” Taehyung says, whispered, now, the two of them and no one else as they press their foreheads together.

You’re an angel, is the look Taehyung is giving him, and Jimin pokes out his tongue, Kim Taehyung, you’re so cheesy, and then Taehyung glances out past Jimin and Jimin recognizes the look that means he’s just had an idea that’s generally either going to get them scolded by Namjoon or their label.

“Oh no,” Jimin has time to say before Taehyung takes his hand and pulls him back out into the rain, an impish grin taking up his whole face. “Ah, Taehyung-ah!”

The rain is utterly pelting down, hasn’t lessened a bit in the time it took them to run back here; Jimin thinks it could be hailing, it could be a hurricane and he wouldn’t notice it one bit, right at this second, because Taehyung gets one big hand on Jimin’s jaw, eyes blazing, and tilts Jimin up and kisses him, kisses him, kisses him, and Taehyung doesn’t always take advantage of the height difference between them, but when he does, when he does-

“Romantic, TaeTae,” Jimin gasps out, breathless but not too breathless for teasing, because the two of them are nothing if not genre savvy. “So romantic, you’re like a movie,” and he feels Tae’s giggles when he tugs him in to kiss him again, heated, this time, clutching fistfuls of Tae’s shirt in his hands, careful not to put too much of his weight on Taehyung’s hurt ankle.

When they pull back, it’s only because they’ve run out of air, half-drowned in the rain. Jimin trails his hand along Taehyung’s jaw, watches the drops tremble at the touch, replaced by new ones faster than Jimin can brush them away.

“Forever is a long time,” Jimin says. “To look at me.”

Taehyung is shaking his head, hasn’t torn his eyes from Jimin’s since their lips parted. “Not long enough.”

The sky flashes brilliant lightning-white. Taehyung looks up into it as it fades, squinting right into the rain, his lips parted in awe. He’s Jimin’s muse, partner, lover, best friend, soulmate; he defies words in any language, and Jimin can’t give him the date he deserves, but he can give him this.

“I have some answers,” Jimin says, bringing Taehyung’s attention back to him with a tap on the chest. “For the questions for mature adult relationships, I looked them up and I have ideas, for how we spend the rest of our life.”

“Jimin-ah,” Taehyung breathes out, and his eyes are so soft Jimin almost kisses him again and gets lost in it and ruins the whole thing, but- he wants to do this. He needs to do this, for himself as much as for Tae.

“Ask me,” Jimin insists, nodding, beseeching. “Ask me how we spend it.”

Taehyung’s lips are curling up into a smile, the kind that means it’s happening unconsciously, amazedly, in spite of himself. His Jimin smile. “How do we spend the rest of our life?”

“I want my Grammy, first,” Jimin says, to make Taehyung laugh out loud, then, “And then we’ll all keep performing until we can’t, and then we’ll switch to doing those stupid sit-down acoustic concerts with no choreography so we can keep going even longer.”

Jimin touches the corner of Taehyung’s smile, unable to stop himself. He’s smiling too, the huge and dorky kind of smile he only really does around Taehyung. “And even when we’re not touring or making music, we still see the others all the time because they love us so much, and Jungkookie is still my little one even though he gets even more ripped, and none of the others will admit it but you and I are Jin-hyung’s children’s favourite uncles, because we give the best presents and let them stay up extra late when they visit.”

Taehyung’s eyes are bright, starry, looking at Jimin the way he always has. Attentive, listening like he’s genuinely fixated on the story, like Jimin’s words mean something. “Where do they visit us?”

“Oh, we have houses everywhere,” Jimin waves a hand into the rain, feigning nonchalance. “And we take turns getting to decorate them, so-”

“String lights!”

“-so half of them can have string lights,” Jimin finishes, even though the chances of him actually denying Taehyung something are less than zero. He tickles under Taehyung’s chin. “And they all have enough bedrooms for everyone to visit whenever they want, and every house has a home studio attached, so you can write songs for me.” He makes himself cute, looks up at Taehyung, bossy on purpose. “Some of them we can release, but I want some secret only for me.”

“Mostly everything I write is for you,” Taehyung says, and he says it in the not-quite-ironic voice he uses when he knows he’s saying something impossibly charming; although he adds after, more seriously, “I’ll really need Namjoonie-hyung’s help to make the lyrics flow better, though, so he’ll probably have to know about them.”

Jimin adores him.

“That’s fine,” he says, hiding a smile. Probably unsuccessfully. He doesn’t care, not when Taehyung is looking at him and practically bouncing with anticipation, a kid entranced by a bedtime story. A raindrop is perched, quivering on the tip of Taehyung’s nose.

“What else?”

“Hm.” Jimin lets his imagination wander, resting his hands on the sopping wet fabric plastered to Taehyung’s chest when Taehyung snakes his arms around Jimin’s waist, tugging him in close. “Good floors, so I can dance. Mirrors.” He draws the picture of it in his mind, imagines the coziness of it. The safety. A fireplace, to remind them of the beach house. Maybe bunk beds in one of the guest rooms, to remind them of being trainees. A cute little puppy bed for Tannie. “The only people allowed to visit would be the others and our families,” Jimin decides, “and so the master bedroom is ours and all our things are mixed in the same closet and we sleep together always and they all know it.”

Even saying it sends a thrill down his spine, one Jimin won’t even try to blame on the chill from the downpour. Theirs. “And our bedroom, TaeTae, it has the biggest bed.” Jimin says it suggestively on purpose, finds himself thrown off when Taehyung kisses his cheek, hard and almost childish, a look in his eyes like he’s bursting with joy.

“You’ll be a very cute old man,” he says, and it’s so unashamedly sweet that Jimin bursts out laughing.

“Shut up,” Jimin manages to get out, through giggles. “I was talking about us in bed and you’re imagining me old? That’s so gross!”

“It’s the truth!” Taehyung protests, laughing as well, he always laughs when Jimin does. “It’s the truth, really, you’ll look so nice, I can see it already.” He’s so earnest it takes Jimin’s breath away, sometimes. A lot of the time. That piece of him has never once changed.

The images come into Jimin’s mind, unbidden. Taehyung with silvery-grey hair, Taehyung with glasses and an old man hat and laugh lines on his face. If he keeps getting more handsome with age the way he has been thus far, Jimin might die before they get to retire together, but when they do, when they do- Jimin pictures Taehyung’s hand knotted and veiny, laced with his own, Taehyung letting Jimin lead him along to show him something beautiful he knows Taehyung will love; he pictures himself and Taehyung tiny the way old people always seem tiny, looking over all of their trophies and awards and reminiscing about their younger years, a lifetime’s worth of memories, all of them made together.

Oh, Jimin thinks, and he thinks the rain will hide the way his eyes well up, but he’s smiling anyways, too much to care. Oh, he wants that. He wants to see his Taehyungie like that. To be seen like that.

“You will,” Jimin says, and if his voice shakes a little with teary laughter, if Taehyung’s grip tightens on his hips, neither of them pulls away. “You’ll see it.”

“Promise?” Taehyung asks, ducking his head just a little, and Jimin nods, bumps their foreheads together. Always, always, you know. I do. I know.

Thunder roars from right above them, drowning out the ocean, the raindrops. Jimin doesn’t even notice, swept off his feet and into a spinning hug by Taehyung.

“Careful with your leg!” Jimin shrieks, laughing too hard for it to be anywhere near as commanding as he intends, and Taehyung doesn’t put him down, just keeps spinning the both of them in the pouring rain; and oh, oh, to love and be loved like this-

Jimin’s not afraid, not at all, not of this.

---

---

---

There’s no reason for Jimin to wake up, really.

It’s only the first snow, and it’s been a long time coming. Jimin blinks awake, sees the snowflakes drifting down past their window. Not thick enough to count as any kind of disturbance, not in enough quantity to muffle any of the normal noises of the sea.

Jimin stretches out, yawning and scrubbing at his eyes. It’s hard for him to move much, between Taehyung wrapped koala-style around his middle, the thick stack of blankets layered over the both of them. If Jimin squints, he can just barely make out the fluffy lump that is Yeontan cozy on Tae’s other side, the now-familiar silhouettes of their things scattered all over the bedroom, mingled together. Routine. Almost like a home.

The first snow. Jimin processes that belatedly, brain still sleepy-slow, half-dreaming.

They’re heading back to Seoul at the end of the month. Everyone else is, too. Winter took a hundred hundred years to get here; winter came more quickly than Jimin could have expected.

The room lights up blue.

Jimin pats around, finally reaches his phone and squints down at the screen. There’s an ongoing call in the groupchat, which is strange, because even now that they’ve all gotten over themselves and started messaging as regularly as they all want again –

“I thought you were all too busy,” Hobi-hyung sobbed, months ago, during the most horribly emotional seven-way video call Jimin, also sobbing, had ever experienced, and he sobbed right back, “I thought you were all too busy,” and they all cried until it turned to laughter, because no one had ever accused the seven of them of being smart

 – even now, they usually just call whoever they need to talk to at any given time.

Jimin must have made more noise than he intended, because Taehyung stirs.

“Whosit,” he mumbles, borderline incoherently through a huge yawn which makes him cute enough that Jimin legitimately has to clutch his own heart and catch his breath before smoothing down Taehyung’s hair – “Go back to sleep, beebee.” – and accepting the call.

At a glance, it looks like all five of the others have already joined, already mid conversation.

 “-like the words ‘beauty sleep’ mean nothing to you people,” Jin is saying, and then Namjoon, staring at the camera from a deeply unflattering and incredibly wobbly angle,

“Wait, am I still on mute? Hyung, was I-”

“Jimin-ah!” Hobi waves from his little square on the screen, seemingly the only person to clock Jimin’s arrival. Hobi gasps. “Wait, is everyone here? Oh my gosh, everyone’s here!”

Yay,” Jin drawls, facedown in his pillow, and Jimin can’t not giggle at him, even as he’s turning the volume down to barely anything to avoid waking Taehyung again.

“Yah, you know you’re happy to see us-”

Yoongi cuts in, low. “Who even called?”

Jungkook is the one who pipes up, the first time he’s spoken since Jimin joined the call. “I forgot the time differences,” he says. He’s sitting outside, it looks like, a city skyline pixelated behind him. “Sorry, guys.”

“Fly back here so I can kick your ass for waking me up,” Jin says, with no real animosity to it.

Next to Jimin, Taehyung sits up, awake for real now. Jimin scrunches his fingers in Tae’s hair apologetically, but Taehyung just leans against his shoulder to squint blearily at the screen. Jimin scoots over just enough that the camera can capture both of them.

Namjoon – still at an unflattering angle, but at least his phone seems steady enough, now – is the one to keep them on track, because he generally is, when it comes to the seven of them. “Jungkook-ah, did you need something?”

“Oh!” Jungkook’s practically bouncing up and down. “Yeah, I figured it would be easier to do feedback all at once, hyung-”

“Which one, you have to specify-”

“I was gonna, Suga-hyung, Yoongi-hyung I mean, I had this idea for Jimin and Taehyungie’s song-”

“Huh?” Taehyung asks, voice still raspy with sleep. Jimin shares the sentiment.

“You know,” Jungkook says, “the-” He hums and Jimin and Taehyung tilt their heads to one side, in unison.

“The riffy one?” Jimin asks. “Hyung-”

Yoongi sighs. “I was going to surprise you,” he says, all pretend-gruff, warming Jimin’s heart immediately, because sweet gestures from their Yoongi-hyung are always extra-special. “I know you both said it didn’t fit the vibe for your mixtape, but I really feel like you had something with the-”

“Let me guess, the riff?” Hobi teases, and Yoongi very visibly pretends like he’s not actively smiling.

“Ah, fuck off.”

“Okay,” Jungkook cuts in, all eager. “Okay, but I was recording the ad-libs you asked for, hyung, and then I was thinking how good it would sound to have something like, looping over Hobi-hyung’s part, and-”

“Wait wait, specify which part, we gave him the last bit of mine before Jimin-ah comes in with the-”

Taehyung stretches, taps at Jimin’s shoulder so Jimin will sit up too, making enough room for Taehyung to position a pillow behind Jimin’s back, supporting him more comfortable. Jimin gives him a smile in fond thanks, scoots down a little when he sits back so that Taehyung will be able to go back to leaning on him, his legs flung over Jimin’s lap the way they both like. Tae does, and then he holds out his hand, and Jimin takes it, tangles their fingers together.

Jimin ends up looking at their rings. Jimin doesn’t think he’ll ever not end up looking at their rings.

They’re not proper couple rings, really, not even matching. Jimin’s is dotted with shimmery stones and Taehyung’s engraved in a vaguely floral pattern, both thin enough that they can be worn with other rings and jewelry without attracting attention. Their rings didn’t come with any kind of ceremony or paperwork, and they bought chains to wear them on most of the time to avoid questions, but here it’s just the two of them, so the rings are on their fourth fingers, unmistakeable in their meaning.

The sight of the rings on their hands still makes Jimin’s stomach flutter, in a way that’s a little bit fear – it will always be a little bit fear, he thinks, and that’s maybe the inevitable trade-off they have to make for the life they’ve chosen – but a lot more happy. Whatever they are, for each other – they’ll pick a word someday, maybe, or a handful of them – they’re each other’s. Always and for keeps.

Wearing that truth on his hand feels easier than expected, with Taehyung. That’s how Taehyung makes things, for Jimin.

Jimin squeezes Taehyung’s hand, and Taehyung squeezes his back, gives Jimin a glancing, secret smile before going back to bickering with the others, loudly enough that he may as well not have been asleep at all. Jimin doesn’t let go of his hand, doesn’t loosen his grip. They’re Jimin-and-Taehyung, separate from the world but still part of it, and they’ll tell the others about the rings when they’re all together again, and then that little piece of the world will have part of them, too.

Their bedroom is midnight-dark and full of the overlapping voices and laughter of their family making music together; they’re two, and they’re seven, and Jimin closes his eyes, listens, and smiles.