Oct 21, 2021
102 mins read
Paper Cranes | Kim Taehyung (M)
PAIRING: Kim Taehyung x F!Reader
GENRE: Fluff, smut, angst. Non idol AU. College AU. Best friends to lovers. Slice of life.
WARNINGS: Explicit sexual content, unprotected sex (stay safe!), so much fluff you might pass out
DESCRIPTION: It is said that if someone folds 1000 paper cranes, they will receive one wish. Kim Taehyung has been folding you paper cranes since he was six years old. He won’t tell you what he’s going to wish for once he reaches his goal, but even into your twenties, all you know is that he’s been wishing for the same thing every time.
You’re six years old when you receive your first paper crane from Kim Taehyung.
Your first year of elementary school is almost over—there’s only two months left until summer break, and you’ve been counting down the days until you are finally free to wake up as late as you want and play with your friends until the sun goes down.
That’s also why it strikes you as odd that there’s a new transfer student, his newly assigned seat right beside yours, being introduced to the class. His eyes are big and wide underneath a fringe of dark brown hair, and he’s cute in the way that all kids are cute—with rosy cheeks, big ears, and a shy demeanour that tells you that he would most likely rather have stayed at his previous school.
After a brief introduction of Hello, I’m Kim Taehyung, he shuffles over and takes his seat. He doesn’t really look at you, keeping his head down as he pulls his notebooks from his backpack. You see that the margins are covered in doodles, little cartoons and make-believe stories etched onto every far corner of the page.
You open your mouth to introduce yourself, but the sound of your teacher’s voice has you facing the blackboard once more. You try not to think too hard about the new boy sitting beside you, gently humming to himself as he doodles butterflies in an open meadow.
At recess, you’re playing with a few friends, doing cartwheels and rolling around on the grass. You’re giggling with your friend, Chaeyoung, when you hear a ruckus happening not too far away.
“Hey! Please, no, give it back!”
You glance over and see a group of three known playground bullies who have circled Taehyung, holding his notebook up above his head, so high that he can’t reach.
“What’s so special that’s in here, anyway?” One of the bullies taunts, as he starts to leaf through the pages. “This your diary or something?”
“Please, just give it back,” Taehyung begs, trying to jump up to grab his book.
Another bully places his hand on Taehyung’s chest and shoves him back, and the suddenness of the motion has the smaller boy falling and landing hard on his tailbone.
It’s when you see tears pricking his eyes that you begin to fume. You distantly hear Chaeyoung hissing at you to get back here, you’re gonna get in trouble! as you stomp your way over to the group of boys, ones that you know are in a grade higher than yours. So why are they picking on little kids anyway?.
“Hey,” you bark, tiny fists with white knuckles at your sides. “Leave him alone!”
The bully holding the book swivels in your direction and snorts. “Or what?”
Not one to back away from a challenge or a fight (to Chaeyoung’s dismay—you hear her groaning as she catches up with you), you defiantly stare him right in the eye before you wind back your foot and kick him in the shin—hard.
He yelps and drops the book, and you’re quick to snatch it back. “My big cousin is thirteen and he does judo,” you warn, venom dripping from your voice. “So I suggest you leave both of us alone if you know what’s good for you.”
Having recovered from the kick, the bully glares at you with flared nostrils, and he takes a step forward as if he’s ready to continue this fight. You just lift your chin and cross your arms over your chest, one eyebrow raised. When he sees that you’re not about to back down, he lets out a grunt and mutters, “Ain’t worth it. C’mon, guys.”
And just like that, they turn around and leave.
You hand the book wordlessly back to Taehyung with a trembling hand as Chaeyoung runs over and basically tackles you with a hug. The boy is still on the ground when he accepts the book from your grasp, looking up at you with shiny, doe eyes.
Chaeyoung can’t help but gush in her excitement. “You are so cool! And so tough! Wow! Wait—are you shaking?”
“Oh my gosh, Chae-Chae, I was so scared!” You wail, dramatically collapsing into your friend’s arms as the adrenaline bred from confrontation finally starts to slow. “I thought I was gonna get punched in the face for sure!”
Chaeyoung gasps. “You really think they would hit a girl?”
You roll your eyes. “Dummies with no brains will hit anyone.” You sigh and then turn to ask Taehyung if he’s alright, but when you glance over, he’s already gone. The only evidence that he’d been there in the first place was the patch matted grass where he landed from the fall.
After recess, you and Chaeyoung file back into your classroom, and you wander back over to your desk. To your surprise, there’s something resting atop it, though you had cleared it before going outside.
You get closer and notice that it’s a paper crane, folded with a ripped out page of a notebook that has doodles of butterflies in an open meadow on it. You glance at Taehyung, and he meets your eyes and offers up the tiniest of smiles.
“Is this for me?” You have to ask.
His smile widens, boxy and adorable. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
You cradle the paper sculpture in your hands and examine it carefully. Along the top of one of the wings, in surprisingly neat penmanship, he’d written, “Because you stuck up for me.”
“What they did to you was wrong,” you reply quietly, thumb running along one of the creases. “I hate bullies. I always have.”
Taehyung looks at you with something you can’t quite pinpoint dancing in his vision. After a beat, he gently says, “Don’t throw it away, promise?”
“I would never!” You gasp with mock-indignation. Taehyung just patiently waits for the response he wants to hear, his heart-shaped lips settling in a neutral line. You sigh, and then sincerely respond, “I promise.”
His boxy smile returns, and you can’t help but grin as well.
Maybe the new kid isn’t so bad after all.
You’re ten years old when you finally ask why he’s folding all those cranes.
It turns out that the Kim family had moved walking distance from your house. Their home is a little more isolated, with Taehyung’s parents owning a small strawberry farm with a decent amount of property. It’s ten minutes away by foot, and only a few minutes if you take your bike.
After that first meeting, you and Taehyung become the best of friends. He makes you laugh with his silly but innocent way of speaking, often acting out skits and things he’d seen on television for you because he knows it makes you giggle when you hear his girly falsetto.
It soon becomes routine for the two of you to go to and from school together, since your house is on Taehyung’s way. Every morning for the last four years, he’s either walked or biked to your house to pick you up. Sometimes when he shows up early, your mother ushers him inside for a post-breakfast snack. Other times, he brings your family baskets of strawberries from the farm, just because he knows how much you like them.
All the while, Taehyung still gifts you with paper cranes.
You think you’ve amassed around a hundred by now. Taehyung likes to make them for you on your birthday and special holidays, interspersed with random ones when he finds an interesting piece of paper he think you’d like, or even newspaper clippings, and his own doodles on lined paper. You keep every single one pressed flat and placed in a shoe box under your bed.
They’re all different sizes, and some of them were made with pieces of scrap paper. But they always have a message written on the wings, and you always cherish them because Taehyung took the time to make them for you.
On the day of your tenth birthday, you throw a party in your backyard. It’s the end of summer, just before school is meant to start up again, and you’re finally an age that has two numbers in it. You feel older, more mature.
And as an older, more mature version of yourself, in your pursuit of knowledge, you can’t help but ask Taehyung as he digs into a second slice of cake, “Why do you fold so many paper cranes?”
Taehyung’s eyes go wide, as if he thought you knew already. “You mean you haven’t heard of the legend?”
You narrow your eyes at him. Taehyung is a few months younger than you, so he’s still nine, a child.
Taehyung shovels more cake into his mouth while he speaks, clearly ignoring Chaeyoung’s look of both disgust and fascination from where she’s been snacking on popcorn not three feet away.
“They say that if you make a thousand paper cranes, you get one wish,” he says simply without offering up much else in terms of explanations.
You wait for a beat in case he’s just taking a dramatic pause, as he’s known to do. When he contentedly licks the icing off his fork, you can’t help but regard him curiously. “What are you wishing for?”
Taehyung only offers you a wink in reply. “If I tell you, it won’t come true.”
Taehyung ends up getting you a charm bracelet with your birthstone on it, as well as a charm with the letter “T” that dangles down from one of the beads. Your mother tells you later that night, after the party has cleared out, that Taehyung saved up all his allowance to buy that for you. She heard so from his mother. You feel warmth rise up to your cheeks as you think of your best friend and his kind, boxy smile and the ten paper cranes he’d neatly stuffed into an envelope in lieu of a card.
This time, the message on the wings says, “You’re finally double digits! Happy birthday! Love, your best friend, Tae-Tae.”
You’re thirteen when you start to look at him differently.
“You want me to what?”
You roll your eyes in an attempt to act flippant, though the hands worrying at the hem of your shirt give you away. “Come on, Tae, it isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Sorry,” he holds up his hand, his eyes still squinted in confusion. “But you want me to what? Why me? Why now?”
You groan, already embarrassed by the question you’d posed in the first place. At the insistence of him repeating your request, you fear you might actually spontaneously combust. The two of you are in your room, sitting on your bed, and Taehyung is staring at you as if you’ve grown a second head from the top of your shoulder.
“It’s just a kiss, Tae. I don’t want to start high school without having kissed anyone before. And you’re my best friend, I trust you.”
“Chaeyoung’s also your best friend,” Taehyung grumbles, his shoulders slumped as he glances anywhere but you. “Why don’t you just ask her?”
“I’m not attracted to her, you dummy,” you huff, arms crossed over your chest.
Taehyung, a budding flirt, cannot help but quip, “So, you’re saying that you find me attractive?”
You roll your eyes again so hard that you’re fairly certain that you just saw the back of your skull. “Don’t be stupid. Are you going to help me out or not? Because if not, I’ll ask Jimin or something, he probably wouldn’t ask as many dumb questions—”
“Jimin?” Taehyung gawks. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
You don’t know why, but you’re surprised when he agrees. You asked, after all. What had you expected? Taehyung is a lot of things, but he has never once let you down in the seven years you’ve been friends. The weight of the verbal contract starts to sit on your shoulders, not to mention the act in question that is about to take place. You wipe your damp palms against your shorts and scoot a little closer to Taehyung, who is staring intently at you with his big, beautiful brown eyes.
You’re so close to him now that you can feel the body heat he radiates. Your eyes scan all over his face, and you think to yourself that he’s grown up a lot since you met him all those years ago. He still hasn’t quite grown into his ears, and he still has the scrawny gangly quality that all early adolescents have in their limbs. But you suppose he’s objectively cute, and not a bad face to kiss for your first.
When you get close enough, you let your eyelids close and you tilt your head just slightly in anticipation. Taehyung meets you halfway, and you feel your heart hammering against your chest as soft, gentle lips press lightly to your own.
You’re expecting a quick peck, for it to happen and then be over. What you’re not expecting is for Taehyung’s hand to reach up and cup your cheek when he senses you trying to pull away, thumb grazing over your skin as you allow yourself to sink into him just a little more.
After a few seconds, Taehyung drops his hand from your jawline and you slowly pull apart. You instinctively run your tongue along your lower lip before nibbling on it slightly, too shy to look at Taehyung in the eye as he scratches the back of his head.
After a thick silence, full of something you can’t quite explain, Taehyung clears his throat.
“So, uh,” he begins, his voice cracking just slightly at the end. “Was it okay?”
You finally look at him, his eyes warm but also apprehensive. You can tell by the way the muscles in his shoulders bunch, and he curls inward as if to make himself smaller. You hate when he does that.
“It was perfect,” you say honestly, sending him the tiniest of smiles, if only so that his worried frown would go away. “Thank you, Tae. Really.”
He clears his throat. “Uh, yeah, no problem. Hey, look, I have to head back home, I promised my parents I’d help with some stuff on the farm tonight. So I’ll see you at school on Monday?”
You watch dumbly as Taehyung is already up and off your bed, straightening out his clothes before making a beeline for your bedroom door. You barely have the chance to say a proper goodbye before he makes himself scarce, slipping out of your room, barreling down the stairs, and out the front door.
Your hand rests upon the warm indent of where Taehyung had just been sitting moments before, and you furrow your eyebrows in an attempt to understand what just happened. You were the one that asked him if the two of you could kiss, so why do you feel so weird about it now? Why did Taehyung touch you like that, like he really wanted you to be in his arms?
You raise your fingertips to softly run along the edge of your lower lip as you replay the kiss in your mind. A thought threatens to weasel its way into your consciousness, but you shove it down and pretend as if the butterflies in your stomach are only a result of being kissed for the first time. You tell yourself it isn’t because of Kim Taehyung, and that you’ll see him at school on Monday and everything will go back to how it was.
Although, you find it harder and harder to keep those thoughts at bay when you discover the paper crane folded in your locker with a small, single heart etched onto one of the wings.
You’re seventeen when everything changes.
You and Taehyung pretend the kiss never happened. You never talk about it after, and part of you wonders if Taehyung wants to talk, but is just too shy or nervous to say anything. Either way, as soon as high school starts, there’s no time to think about such silly things as a preteen kiss.
Everything feels the same, but also different. Your friends start to worry about things like popularity, something that wasn’t that big of a deal just a few years ago. Friend groups split up and people move on to different cliques, girls start wearing tighter clothes and the hallway by the boy’s locker room always smells like cheap body spray.
The one constant in your life, though, is Taehyung.
The two of you share a good number of classes together, and you still walk to school side by side every day. You always sit together at lunch in the cafeteria, and are always speaking in stupid inside jokes that make your other friends roll their eyes at you. You know there are rumours about you and Taehyung, but both of you constantly squash them down.
But it does’t help that neither of you have dated over the past four years since entering proper adolescence. You both just tell people that you don’t have the time, or that you just haven’t met anyone worth being with. And besides, you’re happy with how things are. Why would you want them to change?
You’re best friends, and you always will be. That’s all.
You’re in your senior year and it’s right around the time that everyone is receiving their admission packages for university. You had worked really hard the year previous to get good grades, and you just hope and pray that it’s enough to warrant an acceptance to your dream school.
When your mother hands you a thick, large envelope with the university’s header in the upper corner, you practically rip it from her hands and tear into it right in front of her. Happy tears blur your vision as you squeal upon reading the first line.
We are pleased to offer you early admission to Seoul National University…
The first person that you want to tell is Taehyung.
You grab your heavy winter coat, tug on your boots and mittens, and run as fast as you can down the street towards the Kim’s farm. It had snowed the night before, so it takes you a little longer than usual as your boots crunch through the freshly fallen tufts of white. Because Taehyung’s area is a little more rural, the plows have a harder time getting there to clear everything away. But you pay no mind, overjoyed at the news you can’t wait to share.
When you get to the house, you knock on the door before peering into the side window. You wave at Taehyung as he comes down the stairs, a look of surprise on his face at your sudden appearance.
“Hey,” he greets, opening the door for you. You step inside and he offers to take your coat. He’s grown tall, you realize, as he easily moves around you to hang your things in the hall closet before ushering you further into the warmth of his house.
“Are your parents home?” You query, poking your head around the corner into the empty living room.
“No, they had to go run some errands,” Taehyung shrugs. “Winter’s pretty slow for us here, anyway.” He leads you upstairs to his room, a place where you’ve been thousands of times, and he plops down on his bed as you take a seat next to him. “So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
You try to ignore how Taehyung man-spreads across his duvet, and how thick his thighs have become since he started working out with that sophomore friend of his, Jungkook.
Finally, you blurt out with the biggest smile across your face, “I got in.”
Taehyung immediately sits up, pin-straight. “You did?”
Your smile somehow gets wider as pride and joy spread across his face. “I did.”
“Y/N!” He beams, jumping up and gathering you in his arms. “That’s amazing! You did it! I’m so fucking proud of you!”
You wrap your arms around his neck as his find your waist and you bask in the feeling of being held by your best friend. He’s always been so warm, and on a cold day like today, you welcome his embrace and his love for you.
Finally, you remember to stop thinking of yourself for five seconds and ask, “What about you?”
Taehyung suddenly goes still, and his grip on you tightens just slightly. “I…I’m not going.”
You pull away and look up at him. He’s dejected, eyes downcast and his face angled away from you as if he thinks you’ll be disappointed in him. You’re not, though. You never could be.
Sighing and running your hands along his shoulders in comfort, you say, “I’m sorry, Tae. I’m sure you got offers from other schools though, yeah? You worked just as hard as I did last year to get your grades up.”
“It’s not that,” Taehyung sighs, a crease forming between his brows. “I got in.”
You’re officially confused, taking a step back to purposely put yourself in his line of vision. “You got in? So what do you mean you’re not going? I thought the plan was that we were going to go to Seoul National University together.”
Taehyung exhales hard through his nose and scrunches his face, his eyes closing. It’s the face he gets when he’s overwhelmed with stress, unsure of how to articulate his words. You wait for him to be ready, smoothing out the collar of his sweater to keep yourself occupied. His hands grip tighter on your waist, and it takes you a second to realize that he’s still holding you.
“My parents need help with the farm,” he says quietly. “I declined my offer of admission.”
At those words, your heart breaks and your mind starts to race. Every thought you have at first is selfish—what will you do without Taehyung? The two of you have spent over a decade together, seeing each other damn near every day. Will your friendship survive the distance between Daegu and Seoul? The plan was to always stick together, to experience college milestones side by side.
You force yourself to push those thoughts aside so that you can focus on Taehyung. You know that SNU is his dream school, too. And not only did he get in, but he had to turn them down. You know that it wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, but he’s always been selfless like that—he’s always put you first and taken care of you, so it’s no surprise that he would do the same for his blood family.
“But it’s not forever, yeah?” You ask gently, brushing a strand of hair away from his eyes. “I’m sure that since you got in already, they can hold your admission until you’re ready.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he nods, but you can tell that he’s done talking about it. He doesn’t want to think of a reality where he’s stuck on his parents’ strawberry farm laying down fertilizer while you’re off in the big city making new friends and having new experiences. You see it in his eyes when he finally meets yours. He’s scared. Terrified of a future without you.
Always able to read his mind, you pull him in for another hug, nuzzling into his neck as you murmur, “You’re my best friend, Tae-Tae. Just because we won’t live down the street from each other anymore doesn’t mean I’m just going to forget about you.”
His inhale is shaky, and it takes all of your willpower not to cry, too. “Promise?”
You don’t know what possesses you, but you rise to your tip toes and press a soft kiss against his cheek. He whips his head to face you with wide eyes, but you just send him a tiny smile and reply, “I promise.”
The rest of senior year, you and Taehyung are practically inseparable—even more so than before. You find out that Chaeyoung also got into SNU, and the two of you manage to work it out so that you two can be roommates when you move into the dorms. You find solace that you at least won’t be completely alone in a different city, though your heart still hurts at the thought of Taehyung missing out on his opportunity.
The two of you spend as much time together as possible, almost as if the clock is ticking down on your friendship with your imminent move coming up. Summer is full of laughter and long nights by the river, reminiscing about simpler times when you were kids. When things didn’t seem so complicated, and distance was never an issue.
Your moving day rolls around faster than you could have ever anticipated. You’ve loaded the last of your things into the back of your parents’ van when you see Taehyung jogging down the street towards your house.
You’d texted him earlier that morning to let him know that you were leaving soon. Of course, he’d known that it was going to be today, but he still wanted to make sure he got to say goodbye to you before you drove to Seoul and out of his life.
When he reaches you, his eyes are misty and red and you’re sure you look just like him. It feels like the end of a chapter, like a pivotal moment where you’re stepping away from your childhood and moving into life as an adult.
Taehyung stops at your feet and just stares at you for a second, his eyes darting all over your face. You look up at him, doing the same, until a tear slips from the corner of your eye and then suddenly you’re sobbing into his chest and he’s holding you and whispering sweet nothings into your ear.
“You’re going to do great,” he promises, rubbing small circles on your back. “You’re going to make so many new friends, because it’s impossible for people not to love you. You’re going to become the city girl that I know you’ve always dreamed of being, and you’re going to make Seoul your bitch.”
You laugh at the last comment, pulling away to look at him again. “Thank you, Tae,” you hiccup.
He smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “And you’ll call and FaceTime me all the time, right?”
You sniffle, giving a nod. “Of course.”
Taehyung reaches up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind your ear. “Promise?”
You exhale shakily, but meet his gaze head-on. “I promise.”
He looks down and something in his line of vision glints. He notices the charm bracelet on your wrist, and he can’t help but chuckle. “I can’t believe you still have that.”
“Of course I still have it,” you say with the tiniest hint of a smile. “It reminds me of you.”
You hear your mother calling you from the passenger’s seat of the van, ushering you that it’s a long drive and you need to leave now.
Taehyung clears his throat a few times, trying to be strong for the both of you. He takes your hands and presses something into your palm, and from the feel of it, you already know what it is. The paper crane in your hand makes you cry more, and Taehyung presses a kiss to your forehead.
“Go on, Y/N. Go find your future.”
Your lower lip trembles as you speak. “I don’t want to leave you.”
This time, when he smiles, the warmth is back in his eyes. “You’re not,” he swears. “We’re best friends, remember? Wherever you go, I won’t be far behind. Just wait for me, okay?”
You promise him again, because how could you not?
Once you’re in the car, you put your headphones on and select the playlist that Taehyung made you of all his favourite songs. It reminds you of him, anchors your heart in Daegu, where he remains on his parents’ farm until it’s his turn to pursue his dreams. You look at the crane that you hold like a precious gem in your palms, and the tears start welling up again as you read the message written on one of the wings.
“Don’t forget about me while you’re off at university. I know you’ll do great things.”
You’re nineteen when you meet Park Jinyoung.
You notice him immediately when you walk into one of your tutorials—an elective on music history that you take because you’ve heard that the professor gives great lectures.
Also, because Taehyung was the one who introduced music to you all those years ago, and you’ve grown to love it too. He also loves hearing about what you’ve learned in lecture when you do get the chance to talk, which, as the years go on, becomes less and less.
It’s no one’s fault, really. Distance makes things hard, as do the responsibilities that come along with being a university student. You have paper after paper due, and Taehyung tells you that he doesn’t want to bother you when you’re in the middle of your studies. Your schedules also just don’t align, with him still helping on the farm and having to be up at the crack of dawn and going to bed early, and with you opting for afternoon and evening classes so that you can get a little more shut eye to start your day.
He still mails you paper cranes every now and then. Not as often as he used to, but it still makes you smile when you get to add another one to your growing collection. You must have close to five or six hundred by now, and you’ve had to start a second shoebox to make sure everything fits.
But Park Jinyoung is different. And he’s here.
For one, he looks like a Disney prince. Like someone had pulled him from a designer fashion catalogue and plopped him in the middle of your tutorial. You’re nearly late, so the only remaining seat is next to him. He smiles shyly at you when you sit down, and you try to hide the blush dusting your cheeks behind the length of your hair.
You dig into your bag for your laptop and flip it open as your TA walks into the room, prepared to take notes. But then you check the battery on your computer and notice that there is definitely not enough of a charge to keep it alive for the duration of your class.
Cursing yourself for not charging it overnight, you notice that the man sitting beside you has the same model. You muster up all your courage, turn to him and ask, “I’m really sorry about this, and I’m usually not this unprepared, but do you happen to have a laptop charger I can borrow? We have the same one, so I figured—”
He smiles at you and your stomach does flips. “Of course.” He pulls the charger from his backpack and hands it to you, and you gratefully take it and plug in your computer. “I’m Jinyoung, by the way.”
“Y/N,” you introduce, shaking his offered hand.
“You know,” he says after a beat, a drawl in his voice that has a tiny hint of mischief in it. “Letting you borrow my charger is a pretty big favour, considering that we’re basically strangers. I think I might need some kind of repayment.”
You raise an eyebrow at him curiously. “Oh? Like what?”
“A cup of coffee,” he states. “After class?”
There’s no use in hiding your blush now. You smile, biting your lip. “I can do that.”
It doesn’t take long for Park Jinyoung to become your boyfriend. You and Chaeyoung move into the off-campus apartments after your freshman year, and it turns out that Jinyoung lives in the building next to yours. He’s as sweet as they come, the perfect, doting partner, someone that loves you and isn’t shy about it, either.
He holds your hand in public, guides you by the small of your back through large crowds, brings you flowers just because he feels like it, and proudly shows you off to his friends when you’ve hit the six month mark of your relationship.
His only thing is that he thinks the charm bracelet you’re wearing is weird. So he asks you to take it off. And so you do, and sits in your jewelry box, pretty much forgotten.
Things are good. Really, really good.
But of course, life always likes to throw curve balls your way.
One afternoon, you’re sitting on the couch with Jinyoung in his apartment, his arm wrapped around your shoulders as you watch some true crime documentary on Netflix after an early dinner. It’s just starting to get good when your phone rings on the coffee table, the loud buzzing startling you as you take a look at the screen.
You pick up and in a confused tone, answer with, “Mom?”
“Hi, sweetie,” she replies, sounding tired.
You sit up straight, suddenly on high alert. Your mother doesn’t really like phone calls, much prefers texts for some reason (she’s partial to emojis, and you almost regret downloading the keyboard onto her phone), so the fact that she’s calling at all is unusual.
“Is everything okay?”
She’s quiet for a second, and you can hear your pulse in your ears. Jinyoung pauses the movie and adjusts how he’s sitting so that he can fully face you. He gives you a curious look but you just shrug your shoulders helplessly.
Finally, your mother sighs and says, “Taehyung’s grandmother passed away two nights ago.”
You suddenly feel cold all over. Why are you only hearing about this now, from your mom of all people? Why hadn’t Taehyung told you himself? You try to think of the last time you spoke to him, and you realize that it’s been months. Ever since you and Jinyoung started dating, you’ve completely neglected him. And the realization that you promised you wouldn’t starts to weigh on you, and you’re crying before you know what’s happening.
“When’s the funeral?”
“Tomorrow,” she responds. You immediately stand up and swipe at your eyes, grabbing your coat from the front hall of Jinyoung’s apartment. He rises to his feet and pads after you, confusion plain as day on his face.
“I’m getting on the next bus,” you say. “See you soon.”
“What’s going on? Is everything alright?” Jinyoung asks in a minor panic as you grab your things and already have a hand on the doorknob.
“Family emergency,” you say, already weary. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back for class on Monday.” You rise to your tip toes and press a lingering kiss to his lips, to reassure him more than anything that you’re going to be okay. “Love you.”
“Love you too,” he murmurs against your mouth, stealing another peck. “Text me when you get to your parents’ house, okay?”
You nod. “Okay.”
You manage to catch a late bus to Daegu, and you make it home just before midnight. You text Taehyung to let him know you’re coming home, and you just get a heart emoji in response. You know how close Taehyung and his grandmother were. She practically raised him while his parents were busy making ends meet. She was always so kind and so warm, a precious soul who treated you like you were also her grandchild. She used to braid your hair and make you flower crowns when you were small, and the world is a little less bright without her.
It feels weird being back home. Since Seoul is so far, you don’t get to visit as often as you’d like. You really only make it home for the holidays, and even then, you don’t stay very long. But now that you’re here, everything seems so small. Everyone knows everyone else’s business, and it’s just not like that in the city. Everyone there is too busy focusing on achieving the next goal to worry about the trivialities of others. There it’s so loud, with cars and buses and drunken college students in the streets every weekend.
Here, it’s quiet. And in your neighbourhood too, it’s dark. Living on the border between rural farmland and suburbia means that there aren’t as many street lights to illuminate the roads. You haul your overnight bag over your shoulder and make your way up the driveway to your front door.
Your mom is there before you can even knock, pulling you into her arms in a tight hug. You can tell she’s been crying. Taehyung’s family is your family too, after all.
“You must be exhausted,” she says, kissing your crown. “Why don’t you wash up and get some rest?”
You can’t help but agree, your back stiff from sitting on a coach bus for three and a half hours. But once you’re all settled into your old room and lying in your childhood bed, you find yourself unable to fall asleep. You toss and turn for about fifteen minutes before you rest flat on your back and sigh loudly.
Turning your head, you see the framed photo of you and Taehyung from his birthday the year you turned eight. It was winter wonderland themed, and you and the other kids were allowed to make snow forts in the big field behind their house. The photo was of you and Taehyung cheek-to-cheek with rosy cheeks and noses from playing in the snow. It makes your heart ache thinking of the pain he must be in. So you send him a text.
[Sent 12:31am] Y/N: Hey. Can I call?
[Received 12:33am] Tae-Tae: Ok.
You tap the phone icon beside his name and wait as it rings. Taehyung picks up almost immediately, but he’s quiet on the other end.
You take the opportunity to speak first. “Hi.”
After a second, Taehyung responds, voice heavy with melancholy. “Hey.” He lets out a derisive laugh with no joy behind it whatsoever. “It’s good to hear your voice again. I was starting to think you forgot all about me.”
You don’t know how to address your absence in his life, and you don’t think you’re ready right this second to tell him about Jinyoung. So you deflect.
“How are you holding up, Tae-Tae?”
He’s quiet again, and you hate it when he gets like this. When he doesn’t know what to say, or how to process what he’s feeling aside from crushing despair, so he just stays quiet because he knows how much you hate to see or hear him cry.
Finally, he croaks out, “I’m not.”
You feel a tear slide from the corner of your eye down your cheek as you sit up in bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He laughs again, hollow and empty. “What would be the point? She’s gone.”
“I’m really sorry,” he cuts you off. “But I just…” He sighs hard on the other line and you play with a loose thread on your comforter as you wait for him to be ready. “Is it okay if we talk tomorrow? I just…have some stuff I want to say that I can’t do over the phone.”
You bite your lip, exhaustion just now beginning to settle into your bones. “Y-Yeah. Okay. Sure.”
“Okay,” he repeats, more to himself than anything. There’s another long stretch of silence, and then quietly, he adds, “I miss you.”
Miss. Not past tense. Present tense. His choice of words doesn’t escape your notice, and guilt starts to weigh heavily on you. Taehyung is supposed to be your best friend in the whole world, the person you’d spent every day with from ages six to seventeen. You love him, and he loves you, and you’re supposed to tell each other everything.
So why is it that he couldn’t tell you about his grandmother? And why is it that you feel like you can’t talk to him right now?
You realize you’ve gone quiet on your end and respond, “I miss you too, Tae. Try to get some rest, alright? I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you.”
He takes in a shaky breath and lets it out slow. “Okay. Goodnight.”
And then he hangs up.
The funeral takes place on a dreary Saturday. It isn’t raining, but it’s overcast. Taehyung stands with his family as he grips his mother’s hand. You stand with your own at their side, though you can’t quite see Taehyung when he’s flanked by both his parents. You hear him though, the quiet words of encouragement he sends to his mom, his voice thick as he works through the tightening of this throat to offer her comfort.
Other people in the neighbourhood, aside from just Taehyung’s family, also show up for the funeral. His grandmother was loved by many, and it at least warms your heart to know that she lived a long, happy life.
After the burial is over, Taehyung’s family hosts a reception at their home. You smooth out the fabric of your black dress after one of Taehyung’s cousins offers to take your coat. Gazing into the living room that is packed with friends and family, you try to spot Taehyung, but can’t seem to find him.
You wonder if maybe he’s in his room, just wanting to be away from all the noise for a second. You know that he wants to talk to you, to tell you something. But you can’t help but be a little worried, especially after how he’d ended the call last night. You know he’s hurting, and all you want to do is help.
So you slip past the crowd huddled around the refreshment table and tiptoe upstairs and down the hall, towards his bedroom.
You notice his door is slightly ajar, and he’s sitting on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. You knock gently so as not to startle him, and he turns to look at you before rising to his feet.
He’s taller now, you notice. Broader too. He’s grown into his ears, his hair getting long with his fringe obscuring his eyes. His heart-shaped lips are pressed tightly together in a worried frown, and there’s a crease forming between his brows that you want to smooth out with the pad of your thumb. He looks…handsome. Different, but he’s still Taehyung. Your Taehyung.
You hate how breathless you sound as you say, “Hi.”
Taehyung doesn’t move at first. He just looks at you, eyes darting all over your face. He looks like he’s seen a ghost. You can’t stand the thick tension that settles between the two of you, so you boldly stride over to him and loop your arms around his middle, burying your face in his chest. He stiffens at your touch, but after a second, you finally feel him embrace you back.
You squeeze him a little tighter and that’s when the dam breaks.
“Fuck,” he whimpers, leaning his weight on you as you feel tears hitting your shoulder. You rub small circles against his back as he cries, his body wracked with sobs. You guide him back towards the bed and help him sit once his breathing evens out, and you fetch him some tissues from his desk so that he can blow his nose.
You sit beside him, still rubbing his back with your head on his shoulder. He doesn’t really make any move to touch you or hold your hand like he used to when you were kids and one of you was having a hard time. The thought of it makes your heart sink. Have you two really grown so far apart?
The silence is long and awkward. Something you’re not used to with Taehyung. But you suppose, it’s been two years since you’ve properly seen him in person. Even when you’d come home for winter break, things with your family are always so hectic that you never really get to see anyone outside of your extended relatives before you have to go back to school. There are so many things that are different now. You aren’t children and life stops for no one.
You whip your head to face him, eyes wide. You never told Taehyung about him. Not for any particular reason, it just…never came up.
You swallow past the dryness in your throat. “How did you—”
“Your tagged photos on Instagram,” he replies quietly, staring at the floor. “I saw it last night before you called. And,” he notes, gesturing to your bare wrist. “You’re not wearing your bracelet anymore.”
Your hand immediately stills.
“Why didn’t…” He reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. You move your hand away from his back, settling it into your lap to nervously fiddle with your fingers. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a boyfriend?”
You search for words, but come up short. “I…”
“You what?” Taehyung spits. “You get your first boyfriend, and then what? I don’t exist anymore?”
It’s your turn to sigh. “Taehyung, you’re not being fair.”
“No, you know what, fuck that,” he seethes, getting up from the bed so that he can pace back and forth in front of you. You look up at him helplessly, wringing your wrists as he fists at his hair. “You promised me, Y/N. You fucking promised.”
You’ve made so many promises to Taehyung in the past that your brain short circuits trying to figure out which one he means. Frustrated, you challenge, “Promised what?”
You regret the words as soon as they leave your parted lips. Taehyung stops, his hands now hanging limply at his sides. His hair is a disheveled mess, and you swear you catch a glimpse of a falling tear as the light catches it on its way to the ground. When he answers, it’s barely above a whisper.
“That you’d wait for me.”
You feel your heart fall into your stomach, and you stand up, reaching for him. “Tae, I—”
He moves away from you, and you retract your hand as if you’d been burned. He reaches for something on his desk, and you can’t help the shaky exhale that leaves your lungs when you see that it’s another paper crane. This time, it’s made with black paper, and you can see the inscription done with silver ink.
“Here,” he mumbles, holding it out for you to take. “I made it for you yesterday when my mom told me you’d be coming back.”
You accept it, because how could you not? Wave after wave of guilt washes over you. It shouldn’t feel like this, you think, with Taehyung. This is your best friend in the whole world, the one you share everything with. Guilt isn’t something you should feel for having met someone, for accepting love from someone else. It isn’t fair that he’s making you feel guilty for being happy. For living your life. Nothing about anything makes sense anymore, and when you look back up, Taehyung is already halfway out the door.
“Tae,” you call out one last time. He turns, and his face doesn’t suit the sadness that mars it. You don’t know what to say, so you settle on, “I’m really sorry.”
He offers you a solemn half nod. “Thank you for coming. Grandma would have been happy to see you.”
And then he’s gone, leaving you in the solitude of his empty bedroom.
You look down at the paper crane, heavy in your palms. You read the words etched onto the wing and it makes you hate yourself just a little bit more.
“Thank you for not forgetting about me.”
You allow yourself just one minute to cry. One minute to face the fact that you feel like you’re losing the most important person in your life, and you don’t know what to do to fix things. You let yourself break down from the sadness of being all alone in a house that used to feel like an extension of your home. But now…it’s just a house. It’s just a house in a small town that has nothing left for you.
So after your sixty seconds are up, you muster up all your energy and do the only thing you can.
You go back to Seoul.
You’re twenty when the shift happens.
It’s also when things start to fall apart.
You haven’t spoken to Taehyung since his grandmother’s funeral. It’s been months. Your birthday came and went without a text from him, and it was the first time you cried yourself to sleep since you were in high school.
You feel like a piece of your soul has been ripped from your body. And what’s worse is that you know that if you were to give Taehyung a call, he would answer. Regardless of whatever fight you two are having, no matter how angry or frustrated or confused you are with how you feel, you know that if you need him, he will be there for you no matter what.
But you don’t call.
Because you’re scared.
Scared of what, you aren’t entirely sure. But after returning to Seoul from Daegu, something changed. You’d started isolating yourself more, focusing only on school and not spending time with any of your other friends or going out like you used to.
Jinyoung notices as well—notices that you don’t invite him over as often as you used to, that he needs to coax affection from you when you used to give it so openly. He definitely notices when you fake an orgasm just to be done with sex. Your mind has just been so preoccupied, and part of you had believed that being intimate with your boyfriend would snap you out of it.
But the entire time, your mind is elsewhere. And you don’t know how to ask him to stop, so you squeeze down on him and moan like you know he wants to hear, arching your back off the bed just so that he’ll hurry up and get off of you.
Once he’s finished, Jinyoung rolls back onto the mattress and stares at the ceiling. Your room is dead silent, save for the sound of the both of you catching your breaths. You take your blanket and tug it up so that it’s covering your nose and mouth, hoping that he won’t notice your obvious discomfort at just lying in bed beside him.
Jinyoung exhales hard through his nose. “You wanna tell me what’s on your mind?”
You bite your bottom lip so hard, you’re sure you’ve broken skin. “Nothing’s on my mind.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” Jinyoung remarks, sitting up and running a hand through his dark hair. He leans his elbows against his bent knees and stares off into the distance. “I know you’re in love with someone else.”
His remark shocks you so much that you sit up and scoot away from him, sheets clutched tight to your body. “What are you talking about?”
Jinyoung observes your body language and snorts, but it’s not one full of mirth. It sounds sad, like he’s finally coming to terms with something he’s been wrestling with for months.
“Even now,” he notes, lightly gesturing to your posture. “I just told you that I know you’re in love with another man, and instead of reassuring me and telling me that I’m crazy, you’re hiding. You’re hiding because you know I’m right.”
Your mouth feels so dry. You try to squeak out, “Jinyoung, that’s not true, I just—”
“Don’t,” he says with a tone of finality to it. He reaches down and grabs his boxers first, then slips out of your bed to gather the rest of his clothes. “I’m not stupid, Y/N. I know you’re not happy. Fuck, I’m not happy. And that’s not what a relationship is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be two people in love, not one person in love and the other pining over some guy from back in Daegu.”
Your blood runs cold. “W-what did you say?”
He exhales slowly, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. His face is scrunched in regret, as if he’s just revealed something he wasn’t supposed to know.
“When you came back from Daegu after you had that family emergency,” Jinyoung explains, “You seemed…different. Sadder. You wouldn’t talk to me about it, so I spoke to Chaeyoung. She told me about that friend of yours, Taehyung? The one who would always send you the paper cranes in the mail?” He chuckles derisively. “Best friends since age six. How am I supposed to compare to that?”
Your lower lip starts to tremble. By now, he’s fully dressed. “Jinyoung, you’re being unfair.”
He laughs again, louder this time. “I’m being unfair?” He scoffs. “You’re supposed to be my girlfriend. We’re supposed to be partners. If you’re having a hard time, you’re supposed to be able to come to me. I’m the one who has been here through everything, and yet I’m the one being tossed aside like I don’t matter.”
“But you do matter,” you insist, shifting to rise to your feet. Tears are blurring your vision now, but through the mist, you can see Jinyoung holding out a hand to stop you.
“I get it, you know,” he says, so quietly you almost miss it. “Really, I should have seen it coming. You used to talk about him all the time. Your friend from Daegu. You never told me his name because you wanted to protect me, right? Didn’t want me to know that you were only dating me so that you could get over him?”
You’re more confused than ever. “No, Jinyoung, that’s not it, you have it all wrong, I love you, I—”
“Please,” he cuts you off, voice strained. “Please just…let me talk, okay?”
You hiccup through a quiet sob as you hug your knees to your chest under the blanket. You nod. You can see in his eyes that he’s really hurting. And so if he needs to say his piece, you will let him. He deserves as much.
“I should have known right from the beginning when I found those boxes of paper cranes under your bed.”
Your heart stops dead in your chest and suddenly you’re furious. Wave after wave of confusion, anger, and betrayal wash over you as he continues to speak. Jinyoung was snooping around your things? Had he read all the messages that Taehyung had written for you over the years? Those were meant for the two of you only, not for anyone else.
You squeeze your eyes shut, trying to calm your mind. You want to scream at him. You want to tell him to get out, to leave, to never speak to you again. But then you open your eyes, and you see him standing by your bedroom door, eyes full of tears, heartbreak weighing his shoulders. And that’s when you know that you can’t.
As much hurt as you feel right now being confronted in this way, you know that Jinyoung is hurting even more. You don’t know exactly how long ago he found the cranes—he may have mentioned it, but you still can’t properly focus. You just know that the two of you aren’t meant to be. Maybe you were when you first met, and the two of you really were happy for the year and a half that you dated. But the space between you, both physical and metaphorical, is too great of a gap to conquer. And at this point, you don’t even know if you want to try.
And it’s the uncertainty that Jinyoung reads on your face clear as day.
“I’m going to go,” he says, placing a hand on the doorknob to your bedroom. “But we had a good run, yeah?”
A tear slips from your eye and rolls down your cheek. “The best.”
He shoots you a half smile before shoving his free hand into the pocket of his jeans. “Lock up after me, okay?”
You don’t shift to rise from the bed, but agree anyway. “Okay.”
And then you’re alone.
You slide your clothes back on, a simple tank top with an oversized hoodie and a pair of sweatpants. You make sure the front door to your apartment is locked, your fingers lightly grazing over the door handle where Jinyoung had been not moments earlier.
It’s hard to breathe in the silence. You feel your lungs starting to constrict, and then the tears start pouring out. You slide to the ground, back against the door as you cry into your sleeves. It takes you a minute to gather the strength to get up in search of your phone, but all you know is that right now, you’re not okay. Right now, you can’t be by yourself.
You’re dialling the number by muscle memory alone before pressing the device up to your ear. It rings once. Twice. Three times. And then—
His voice floods your ears and you let out a sigh of relief as it washes over you. It’s just your name, but when he says it, it sounds like music. You’ve missed his deep baritone so much over the past year that as soon as he speaks, you immediately break down again.
“Where are you?” He immediately asks. You hear him shuffling, and the sound of car keys. “Are you at home?”
You sniffle, trying to calm your breathing. “Y-yeah.”
“Okay,” he says gently, and your heart clenches. You really don’t deserve a best friend like him. “I’m on my way.”
He hangs up before you get a chance to argue. You text him your address just in case he’s lost it, although you know that he probably knows it off by heart by now. You know that Taehyung is driving all the way from Daegu, so you curl up on the couch and decide to watch a movie to distract yourself while you wait. The movie plays, some chilling true crime documentary, and you jump slightly when you hear a knock on your front door.
Turning off the television, you scramble over and peer through the peephole.
You throw the door open and you’re breathless, looking up into the molten brown eyes that you hadn’t realized just how much you’ve missed. You just stare at him for a second, eyes searching his face, his brows furrowed in concern. He’s doing the same, taking you in, as if it’s the last time he’ll ever lay eyes upon you.
“Hi,” he says in a rush. You launch yourself into his arms at that, pressing your face to his chest and collapsing into a fit of sobs. Taehyung holds you steady, stronger arms than you remember leading you back into your apartment as he closes the door behind him with his foot.
He guides you to your couch and sits you down before you’re clinging to him again. You feel like an idiot for calling him and making him drive all the way down from Daegu just to comfort you through a break-up, but you suppose that’s the magic about Taehyung. You didn’t even have to ask, didn’t have to say anything other than his name and he was already on his way over.
Taehyung’s arm pulls you closer to his side, and you end up halfway in his lap with your head resting on his shoulder. Your nose brushes against the crook of his neck, and he stiffens for just a second before relaxing once more. He smells like cedar wood and cypress, a comforting smell that fills you with nostalgia.
After a few seconds, you squeak out, “I’m sorry, Tae-Tae.”
He glances down at you, and you can’t help but notice how close his face is to yours. “For what?”
“Making you come all the way here,” you say, moving away from him to give yourself a little distance. The rush of emotions filling you is too confusing—you blame it on the fact that you haven’t seen your best friend in about a year, and not the fact that he’s even broader and more chiseled than the last time you saw him.
Jinyoung’s words echo through your mind and you squeeze your eyes shut. You were just dumped by your boyfriend of over a year, how are you already thinking about someone else? You feel so conflicted, because you don’t